IRISH CHAMPIONS WEEKEND REVIEW, GOLD CUP MUSINGS AND CYRNAME

APPLE’S JADE DESERVES CHAMPION CHANCE

I, and plenty of others, have been banging on about how APPLE’S JADE (166) should go for the Champion Hurdle, and happily that looks set to happen after she dismantled her rivals in the Irish Champion Hurdle in a blistering time running right up to her best.

Commander Of Fleet Apple’s Jade Off You Go
To 2 out 95.05 94.30 97.89
To line 76.46 73.94 72.93

As you can see from the above she got to the second last in the fastest time of the three hurdle races on the card, and she proceeded to blast home 2.5s quicker than Commander Of Fleet did in the longer novice race.  There was a handicap hurdle run over the same distance, and she was 3.6s quicker to 2 out in the comparison with that race, and she was only a second slower from there to the line.  When running all this and making the necessary adjustments I reach a figure of 166, which matches her Hatton Grace performance and seems to be where we are with the mare.

So, she now looks set to go for the Champion, and if she runs to form then with the weight allowance something is going to have to put in a low 170 performance to beat her.  Of the horses lining up only Buveur D’Air looks capable of doing that.

I’ve written in the past about how she thrives on her racing, and since moving to Ireland her form when coming back after a 6 week break or less reads 1121111111, with her sole defeat by a nose in the Fighting Fifth in 2016, a race she should really have won.  Her form off a longer break reads 122211331.  There will be a 38 day gap before the Champion so there will be no excuses on that front.

Now she is a relatively short price though I think one has to try and find some flaws in her, and those manifest themselves in her jumping a bit out to the right and whether the sharper track will play to her strengths.  But that is scraping the barrel a bit and realistically I think she should be the clear favourite now.

SUPASUNDAE (154) was a distant 16 lengths back in second and ran up to the form of his other runs this season.  Now a nine year old I think his form is some way below his peak last year and I don’t see him being pacey enough now for two miles on decent ground, and unlikely to get home in a strong three mile test.

PETIT MOUCHOUR (148) was third and looks difficult to place now rated 158 over hurdles, but he can run his race in Graded contests still.

I mentioned that a horse will have to run a low 170s figure to beat Apple’s Jade at Cheltenham, but if the nature of the track and race doesn’t suit her to her maximum I think something will still have to run up to 165.  Of the entries there are only two horses who fit the bill, namely Buveur D’Air and MELON (147).  That may seem a strange statement to make about a horse just beaten 21 lengths but for the last few weeks I’ve had it in my mind that this horse loves undulating tracks.

Melon ran to a mark of 166 in the Champion Hurdle last year, and if the mare doesn’t run up to her best I think he can get much closer back on an undulating track.  His form on such tracks reads 22132F, this includes three runs at Cheltenham where he was beaten just two lengths in the Supreme on just his second start over hurdles, finishing third in a slowly run race in the International under a penalty and a neck defeat in the Champion itself last season.  He was going well when taking a fall three out in the Punchestown Champion at the end of last season and whilst he has been well beaten on both starts so far this season, they have both come at Leopardstown and I’m increasingly tempted to take the chance that Cheltenham revitalises him.

Placed horses in the previous years Champion have a good record in the following year with Brave Inca, Punjabi, Binocular and Hurricane Fly all winning in such a manner in recent years, and at prices of 20/1 I think Melon is worth chancing to get involved again back on an undulating track.

 

ARAMON CAPABLE OF OVERTURNING FORM WITH KLASSICAL DREAM…AND WINNING THE SUPREME

This years novices have taken a while to get going but they look like being a fair crop, and one of the best looks to be ARAMON (153) who was just denied by KLASSICAL DREAM (152) in the two mile Grade 1 Novice at Leopardstown.

  Sassy Diva Sir Erec Klassical Dream Dallas Des Pictons
To 2 out 160.03 163.27 156.92 167.77
To line 43.38 40.79 43.71 41.83

As you can see in the above, Klassical Dream went much quicker to two out in this race, and whilst this told in the latter stages they still only came home fractionally slower than Sassy Diva did in the mares handicap.  The overall time was strong and points to a figure of 152 for Klassical Dream.  This marks him down as a good novice but there are a few ahead of him in my pecking order.

One of those, ironically, is the horse he beat here, ARAMON (153) and I’d be confident about him overturning this form in the Supreme come March.  He put up a blistering figure (158) when winning the Future Champions and he paid the price for having to make up ground on the winner here and just got overhauled in the closing stages.

I like the fact that he has won both his starts on undulating tracks and I think Cheltenham could really suit him…he travels well, and looks to have a fair turn of foot.  He appears to be slightly overlooked in the market at 12/1 to me for a horse that has now run in three Grade 1s, winning one of them by 10 lengths and just getting touched off here.

The other hurdle race on the card worth looking at is the run of SIR EREC (138+) who won a slightly farcial renewal of the juvenile race.  As you can see they got to two out 6.35s slower than they did in the novice race, and whilst they fairly sprinted home from there with him clocking a time nearly 3s quicker from two out, I can only adjust him up to 138.  I’d be fairly confident he’s better than this but at short prices for the Triumph I’ll be looking to take him on.

 

BELLSHILL AND ROAD TO RESPECT JUST OFF THE TOP GOLD CUP CONTENDERS

The ground reduced the Irish Gold Cup to just four runners but it saw BELLSHILL (172) and ROAD TO RESPECT (172) battle out the finish with the former just prevailing.

La Bague Au Roi Bellshill Whisperinthebreeze
To 2 out 268.35 262.46 258.47
To line 44.09 43.73 45.93

The merits of this race are evident in the sectionals shown above, where Bellshill was quicker to two out and quicker to the line than La Bague Au Roi was in the Flogas over three furlongs shorter.  He was also 2.2s quicker than Whisperinthebreeze was to the line in the handicap chase, although they went a blistering pace in that race.  When I adjust for the distances and finishing speeds I reach a figure of 172 for both the winner and runner-up.  This puts them in the Gold Cup picture but I think you are going to need to be a 175 horse to win this years renewal and I can’t help but feel the pair of them are a fraction off the required standard.

BELLSHILL (172) proved that he can go left handed, but it would have to be a concern that his Cheltenham runs have been fairly lamentable.  While ROAD TO RESPECT (172) has run to this sort of figure a few times now I just feel that if grading horses in the Gold Cup I’d be giving him an A, rather than an A+.

So, where do we go for the Gold Cup?  The horses I have capable of running to 175 or more are – Presenting Percy, Native River, Might Bite, Thistlecrack, Clan Des Obeaux, Bristol De Mai and Balko Des Flos.  Of those the latter looks completely gone at the game, as does Might Bite and Thistlecrack is now 11 years old and looks too exuberant to get the Gold Cup trip.

Presenting Percy has been priced up favourite, and I suppose I can understand that as he was excellent in his comeback over hurdles.  I’ll wait and see if he runs beforehand, but backing favourites isn’t my bag so I can let him go.  Equally I can pass on Native River, last years winner has finished placed in both his starts this year and whilst the test of the Gold Cup no doubt suits him, I can’t help but feel that exertions will start to catch up with him before too long.  He has now run in a four miler, Ladbroke Trophy, Welsh National, Gold Cup, Betfair Chase and King George and now a nine year old I can leave him alone too.

That leaves us with my old friend Clan Des Obeaux and Bristol De Mai.

 

WILL CHELTENHAM SUIT CLAN DES OBEAUX?

I wrote previously about how I liked CLAN DES OBEAUX (175) for the King George, and he duly delivered.  He had his Gold Cup prep at Ascot last weekend where he put up a run similar in standard to his Betfair and King George runs, travelling and jumping well before dispatching TERREFORT (160) by 11 lengths.

Mister Malarky Calipto Clan Des Obeaux Cyrname
To 3 out 250.80 253.40 250.84 246.99
To line 58.13 54.68 53.55 54.32

Happily there was a handicap chase over the same distance won by Calipto, and you can see that Clan Des Obeaux got to three out 2.56s quicker and still came home from there 1.13s faster.  Throwing in the comparison with the other races on the card and I reach another red hot finger for Clan Des Obeaux of 175.  He is clearly a live contender for the Gold Cup.

The one doubt I have in my mind for him for that contest is whether the course will suit.  He has run four times at Cheltenham with form figures of 2262, and one of those 2s should be a 3.  His last two wins have come at Kempton and Ascot going right handed on flat tracks with short run ins after the last, and he will now go to the Gold Cup going left handed, further and with a long uphill finish.  I just don’t think that is what he wants and given he is now a 5/1 shot for the race it isn’t cheap to find out if it will suit.

Which leaves us with one horse for the Gold Cup, who ironically has the same question mark about the track at Clan Des Obeaux but is over six times the price for the race.  And happily Bristol De Mai has beaten Clan Des Obeaux on the two times they have both completed their races.  Now I fully appreciate that Bristol De Mai’s best runs have come at Haydock, but I’ve long had a theory that he is best fresh, and whilst we have to pay 5s to find out if Clan Des Obeaux handles Cheltenham, we can get 33s and bigger about finding out if Bristol De Mai can act round there, and that is my kind of bet!  Especially as seemingly no one else seems to like him!

If we look at his form since he’s stepped into open company, his form when fresh (first two season runs or five week break) over 3m or more reads 211121F, and whilst those include three wins at Haydock they also include a Charlie Hall win and a 2nd in a Grade 1 at Aintree where he had Clan Des Obeaux back in third.  He put up a staggering time when he won the Betfair Chase this season on good ground to throw out the heavy ground theory about him, and whilst he fell in the King George it was still too early to know what would’ve happened.

He now looks set to go to the Gold Cup on the back of a 79 day break after the King George, and Twiston-Davies did this with Imperial Commander when he got beaten in a photo by Kauto Star in the Betfair before bombing in the King George only to roar back and triumph in the Gold Cup.  The consensus view is that Bristol De Mai won’t act around Cheltenham but he was 2nd in a JLT as a five year old and tanked through a Gold Cup when only six before fading into 7th after a mistake at the last(only Mill House and Long Run have won Gold Cups as a six year old since the 60s).

He will have to come back from a fall which isn’t ideal, but he is very much the finished article now he is eight years old, and he had a wind op last season.  If they get a clear run with him and he acts round Cheltenham he is the best staying chaser around on my numbers.  Yet we can get 33/1 NRNB and I’ve been picking up wild prices on the exchanges for him which just seems crazy.  I’ll hold my hands up if I’m wrong, but it is a cheap play to find out!

 

CYRNAME PUTS UP AN INCREDIBLE PERFORMANCE

When reading some of the reactions to the Ascot Chase at the weekend I find myself amused how preconceptions about a horse dictate the consensus reaction.  Everyone thinks now that CYRNAME (186) is the Ascot version of Bristol De Mai and can’t be trusted away from there, but he has just put up one of the best performances of the last decade in winning this Grade 1 and I wouldn’t want to discount him showing this not to be a one off freak run.  Take him out of the race and everyone would probably have been raving about WAITING PATIENTLY (169) toughing out a repeat win, but he just seems to be a well-loved horse.  Happily such preconceptions provide betting opportunities though!

As you can see from the previous sectionals, Cyrname was nearly four seconds quicker to three out than the next best and still clocked the second fastest closing time from there to the line.  He wasn’t ridden out either so scary as it is to think, he could’ve gone faster than this!

He put up some big figures for me previously (in the 160s) but I confess to being somewhat taken aback by the improvement he’s shown on his last two starts.  They have removed the hood and let him bowl along in front and that certainly looks to have done the trick with him.  This was quite simply a sensational performance.

He is just a seven year old, but his form looks to be that he needs a run, with his form off breaks longer than eight weeks reading 5673 since joining Nicholls.  Toss out his runs left handed and focus on his runs over 2.5m or more and his form reads 2111 with his only defeat by a neck in a Grade 1.  He looks top class and I would be wary of suggesting that he can’t show this form away from Ascot.  The right-handed thing may have some merit but the King George looks his for the taking next season and I’ll be interested to see if he gets overpriced when going the other way around.

 

CAN AL DANCER WIN THE SUPREME AFTER A HANDICAP WIN?

AL DANCER (158) had put up some big numbers winning two handicaps this season, but he stepped up again when landing the Betfair Hurdle as favourite and now looks set to try and overturn one of the big Cheltenham stats in landing a Grade 1 race after winning a handicap.

Dashel Drasher Brio Conti Al Dancer Worthy Farm
To 3 out 153.16 147.96 146.51 153.08
To line 69.23 69.17 67.8 73.33

As you can see from the sectionals above, Al Dancer clocked the fastest time to three out and then was quicker still to the line.  Even after adjusting for the shorter distance this was a red hot performance from the winner and he now goes to the Supreme with a favourites chance.

He isn’t clear on the figures though and I’ll be looking elsewhere.  With the allowance for four year olds, FAKIR D’OUDAIRIES (159*) comes out top on my ratings, with ARAMON (158) matching this run from the winner and a plethora of horses in the high 140s/low 150s who could step up.  So, I wouldn’t bank on the winner overturning the handicap stat for all that the was very good here.

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FLOODED BUT NOT OUT! PICKING OUT SOME PERFORMANCES FROM THE LAST FEW WEEKS

First of all, apologies for lack of blogs recently.  Unfortunately, we have been flooded, and whilst water in all its bounty is essential for life on this planet, it isn’t half a pain when covering the first few inches of flooring in your home!  But less moaning from me and onto some standout performances recently….

BRILLIANT ALTIOR DOES THE IMPOSSIBLE AND BEATS UN DE SCEAUX ON BAD GROUND

I had to take a reasonable helping of humble pie last weekend as ALTIOR (180) returned on his seasonal debut and ran right up to his best in dispatching UN DE SCEAUX (176) at Sandown in the Tingle Creek.  I’ll remain slightly stubborn in maintaining that the horse still looks as if going up in trip would suit, but there is no doubt that he is the standout two miler around at the moment.  Unfortunately, the deluge of rain prior to the Tingle Creek makes easy comparison with the novice chase significantly harder but nonetheless it is interesting in so much as it shows just what Un De Sceaux does in these conditions, and how brilliant Altior is to be able to handle it!

  Dynamite Dollars Altior Difference
First to 4th 88.44 90.84 2.4
4th to 4 out 51.42 49.67 -1.75
4 out to line 79.95 83.22 3.27
TOTAL 219.81 223.73 3.92

As you can see, Altior clocked a total time 3.92s slower than Dynamite Dollars did in the earlier novice chase over the same trip….this is hardly surprising considering the deluge of rain that arrived.  But it is the middle section from the fourth to four out that shows the scale of what happened here.  This is roughly where Un De Sceaux took over the running, and in doing so proceeded to tow Altior along to the extent that he went 1.75s quicker than Dynamite Dollars did, and carried 7lbs more in doing so.  I wasn’t expecting them to be faster at any stage considering the deteriorating conditions!  Unsurprisingly, this effort told in the latter stages, and they were 3.27s slower to the line, but considering the ground and effort exerted this is still pretty remarkable.  SAINT CALVADOS (162) and SCEAU ROYAL (156) are decent animals, and just wilted once the pace picked up.  Altior clocked a time 21.5s quicker for the equivalent section of the London National, and all this indicates he’s run up to his best figure of 180 for me.

It now seems that there isn’t a horse around to trouble Altior over two miles, so it is probably worth considering where he stands amongst the greats in the two mile game.  Lording over everyone in this division on my figures is SPRINTER SACRE (194), who on the bare figures would dismiss Altior with ease.  However, Altior is a horse that seems to hold something back for a late turbo drive at the end of his races so I’d be reluctant to rely on Sprinter being so far superior.  In reality, I’d say the difference is probably somewhere between the two, but that isn’t to take anything away from Altior….it’s just Sprinter Sacre is arguably the best horse of recent times together with Kauto Star.  On soft ground he might even get the better of Sprinter in their mythical match-up.

Being the contrarian at heart, I will still stubbornly take Altior on – he’ll certainly give some attractive each way options especially once NRNB and betting w/o comes out!  He still runs as if he wants to go up in trip to me though, and it may be that his undoubted class enables them to get away with it over two miles…maybe the soft ground he’s had recently helps him?  Maybe one day it’ll catch up with them?!  If it ever does I want to be picking up the pieces left over!

In winning this race he proved me wrong though, as I was very keen for UN DE SCEAUX (176) to go for the Champion Chase back in March (so was my bank balance) when the ground went in his favour.  On this showing he’d have been a gallant second though, so at least I now have an answer instead of wondering what if?!  There isn’t much more to say about the runner-up – his constitution is remarkable, and his ability over two miles on soft ground is something else, he can just go a freakish pace.  He ran right up to his best here, but unfortunately it still wasn’t enough to defeat the exceptional winner.

I had been keen on the prospects of SAINT CALVADOS (162) prior to this on the back of some remarkable performances he put up last season before bombing in the Arkle. He’d returned at Navan and ran OK (154), and got his conditions here when the rain came, but once Un De Sceaux found another gear down the back he got found out.  All is not lost though…he is still only five, and has looked much more tractable this season, which bodes well for him stepping up in trip as connections intend to do with him in the future.  Certainly on pedigree that looks a good move, and he did stay on past Sceau Royal to regain third on the run in.  It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses going forward as last seasons runs were so exciting.

APPLE’S JADE DESERVES A SHOT AT THE CHAMPION

I was keen on APPLE’S JADE (166) to go for the Champion last season, but she ended up going off a short priced favourite for the Mares Hurdle without a prep run and duly got turned over.  Whether that was the main reason, or the apparent explanation that she was in season at the time is one that’s hard to answer.  What isn’t up for debate though is that she looks right back to her brilliant best this season.  She won on her reappearance at Navan running to a mark of 153, but duly stepped up on that, as she usually does, with a startling run here in the Hatton’s Grace.

Chief Justice Quick Grabhim Apple’s Jade Wonder Laish
166.5 168.97 160.19 170.73
60.89 60.07 63.45 62.25

As you can see from the above sectionals to and from three out, she went a much faster pace than the three races over two miles, despite going half a mile further, and duly matched her previous best rating in clocking 166 on my scale (same as her Aintree romp as a four year old).

The debate now revolves around her Cheltenham options – Champion, Mares or Stayers.  I would firmly be in the former camp in this respect as getting 7lbs from Buveur D’Air he’s going to have to run right up to his best to beat her.  There are some theories about that she is jumping a bit right-handed and may be better this way round, and she undoubtedly thrives on her racing so I wouldn’t want to see her go there fresh.  It seems to me the obvious target for her is the Irish Champion.  Should she win that as she should then the decision becomes much much easier for connections!

 

QUICK GRABHIM STILL TOP OF THE NOVICE HURDLING TREE… FOR NOW!

Last years novice hurdlers had seemingly endless strength in depth, and we’d already seen Samcro, Mengli Khan and Next Destination put in huge runs on the clock by the same stage compared to this year.  So, QUICK GRABHIM (152) still remains top of the tree for now.  He clocked the fastest time from three out on this card and duly overturned form with stable companion ARAMON (144) in landing this Grade 1.  I’d be disappointed though if there wasn’t something better that emerges or progresses in the months ahead though.

If there is to be a horse to do so it may well come from the Olly Murphy stable.  He already has Thomas Darby and Itchy Feet, but unleashed BREWIN’UPASTORM (142+) at Huntingdon on Sunday.

Brewin’upastorm William H Bonney Difference
31.34 31.15 0.19
41.03 40.35 0.68
105.93 106.18 -0.25
123.39 123.37 0.02
158.1 159.59 -1.49
188.47 190.05 -1.58
197.32 199.29 -1.97
209.86 212.53 -2.67

As you can see in the comparison with the two mile handicap hurdle on the card won by William H Bonney, the winner clocked a time 2.67s quicker, coming home much faster and seemingly within himself.  He was carrying 13lbs less in weight but even when allowing for this it marks him down as a very smart horse for the future.  He could well end up being the best of the Murphy three.

 

SANTINI MAKES A GOOD START OVER FENCES

By all accounts the RSA Chase is done and dusted as SANTINI (154) made a pleasing start over the larger obstacles at Newbury.  The comparison with the handicap chase won by Kapcorse over a furlong shorter shows this run in a good light

Santini Kapcorse Difference
15.46 15.09 0.37
32.49 31.91 0.58
66.26 64.89 1.37
79.08 77.32 1.76
92.95 90.63 2.32
107.18 104.45 2.73
120.44 117.75 2.69
156.11 153.05 3.06
183.78 180.96 2.82
195.33 193.34 1.99
206.43 205.15 1.28
219.48 220.12 -0.64
239.26 239.51 -0.25

They went a much slower pace in this race, but Santini duly blasted home to make up the difference by the line.  When I adjust for this finish, I give the winner a mark of 154.  This is a fine start to his chasing career…I wouldn’t get carried away though, as the staying chase division looks hot this season with Next Destination still to come, and we later saw a remarkable run from TOPOFTHEGAME (157) at Exeter a week later.

Siruh Du Lac Topofthegame Difference
7.37 8.06 0.69
16.04 17.11 1.07
29.52 30.45 0.93
64.52 64.11 -0.41
74.31 74.36 0.05
85.72 86.15 0.43
159.71 158.89 -0.82
172.41 171.48 -0.93
183.22 182.24 -0.98
192.61 191.63 -0.98
247.58 245.53 -2.05
254.8 252.97 -1.83
263.37 261.32 -2.05
277.09 274.06 -3.03
289.76 286.26 -3.5

Topofthegame missed the start by some twenty lengths, and had to make up ground quickly (you can he made up 1.34s between the fourth and fifth fences and ended up clocking a time 3.5s quicker than Siruh Du Lac did in the handicap over the same course and distance.  He ended up finishing second, but this was only down to his earlier exertions to make up the early deficit.  Although he’s had a second season over hurdles, he looks destined for big things on the back of this run if he can iron out some of his quirks!

 

KNOCKNANUSS ANOTHER TWO MILE STAR FOR THE MOORE TEAM

I’ll confess to never being a big fan of Sire De Grugy, but I was of Ar Mad, and the Gary Moore team look to have another top two mile prospect on their hands in KNOCKNANUSS (163) who made a mockery of a two mile handicap chase at Newbury.

Knocknanuss La Bague Au Roi Aso
146.47 152.61 150.69
86.27 81.1 85.93

The above times show the times taken to get to and from five out on the two mile course, and you can see that Knocknanuss went much faster than the other two races (admittedly over longer).  He did slow from there but wasn’t far behind Aso.  When I adjust for the distances and weights carried this comes out as the best two mile novice chase performance of the season so far.  I was surprised to see him priced up at 20/1 in what is currently an open year for the Arkle.

The other excellent novice chase performance also came on this side of the water, and it wasn’t from LALOR (152) who clocked a slower time than SCEAU ROYAL (162) did for the same course and distance at Cheltenham in November.  No, we are off to the rather less fashionable scenes of Carlisle where VINNDICATION (160) won a hot looking novice chase in November.

Vinndication Ryalex Difference
13.16 12.32 0.84
22.55 21.05 1.5
49.81 46.75 3.06
64.62 60.31 4.31
81.73 76.24 5.49
95.93 89.7 6.23
173.61 167.79 5.82
181.86 176.69 5.17
195.61 192.34 3.27
208.45 206.89 1.56
217.99 216.68 1.31
243.34 244.2 -0.86
255.61 258.09 -2.48
269.9 273.67 -3.77
281.96 287.15 -5.19
300.31 308.93 -8.62

As you can see from the comparison with the handicap chase won by Ryalex, Vinndication clocked a time 8.62s quicker, and fairly blasted home at the end of the race having been slower initially.  There was some rain around, but even when I make an allowance for this I still award the winner a big number.  He maintained his unbeaten record here, and looks an exciting prospect for Kim Bailey.  It does look as if he will need soft ground to be at his best though.

 

BRISTOL DE MAI DOES IT AGAIN!

It never ceases to amaze me how having an opinion on a horse can rile people up so much, especially when one backs it up with figures.  I gave BRISTOL DE MAI (186) a huge figure when he won the Betfair Chase last season on heavy ground, and was roundly ridiculed when he failed to repeat it again.  I came up with a theory that he was at his best fresh though, and this was born out in his form – if you count his first two runs of the season and a five week break thereafter, his form since Oct’16 reads 2211121 with his only defeats coming over an inadequate trip in a two runner race, another when conceding weight all round in a hot handicap chase and when second to Might Bite at Aintree.

He duly rocked up fresh for the Betfair Chase again this season and proceeded to match the stellar figure he clocked up last year.  Happily, there is a handicap chase over the same course and distance to instantly see the merits of this performance.

Bristol De Mai Vintage Clouds Difference
52.61 55.51 -2.9
65.43 68.98 -3.55
78.5 82.67 -4.17
90.86 95.63 -4.77
103.63 109.41 -5.78
143.18 151.33 -8.15
158.09 167.21 -9.12
171.87 181.56 -9.69
185.79 196.36 -10.57
238.66 251.13 -12.47
251.45 264.03 -12.58
264.12 276.41 -12.29
276 288.78 -12.78
288.84 301.91 -13.07
326.98 340.31 -13.33
340.64 353.93 -13.29
353.48 366.75 -13.27
367.21 381.27 -14.06
381.64 396.56 -14.92

As you can see Bristol De Mai clocked a time 14.92s quicker from the first jump than the (Grand National favourite!) Vintage Clouds did less than an hour later.  He was quicker throughout the race.  Even when I run the comparison with the other races on the card I have to give Bristol De Mai the same huge number I gave him last season.

Now, I’m not arrogant or stupid enough to believe that he is going to run to his figure every time he is fresh, and by all accounts he isn’t easy to keep right.  However, last season he had a run in the Charlie Hall where he tussled with the game Blaklion before winning this race.  He therefore wasn’t fresh enough to compete at Kempton on Boxing Day on a strict reading of his form.  The million dollar question is will he be fresh enough this year?!  This was his first run of the season so the theory goes that he should be ok.  He handled better ground in this race so the heavy ground theory can be thrown out the window.  I see he’s priced up at 8/1 currently for the King George and that feels about three points too big if one wanted to pay to find out if he can replicate this form.

Back in second was NATIVE RIVER (182) who continues thrive at the top table of staying chasers.  I actually noted that he has progressed with every chase run he’s ever had on my figures since he won the Hennessy – 161,171,171,173,174,180,182.  Can he go on again from here or is this were things plateau?  Gun to my head I’d say this is probably the peak of his powers which marks the Gold Cup winner as top class, albeit a notch below the recent stars such as Cue Card, Don Cossack and Vautour.  In my book he should be the Gold Cup favourite though.

THISTLECRACK (180) ran a remarkable race to finish third, travelling sweetly but losing ground at his obstacles.  He’s now a ten year old though and has clearly been fragile in the past, so I wouldn’t want to bank on him going forward, for all that he is brilliant.

The horse I definitely want to be with going forward is CLAN DES OBEAUX (177) who finished fourth.  He’d previously won the Graduation chase on this card the previous year, but seemed to jump out to his right a bit on this occasion.  With that in mind, my interest in him as only intensified with him set to run in the King George on Boxing Day.  A right handed flat track looks sure to suit, and being only six he is the one horse in the field with almost sure fire improvement to come.  A quick peek at his form suggests he should come on for the run, and the main caveat would be he would probably like some rain.  Kempton can typically come up with good ground, so I’ll be doing the rain dance after my Christmas dinner…..hopefully he can pay for the flood damage!!!

THINK AGAIN ABOUT SAMCRO, AND SOME NOVICES TO NOTE

GO AGAINST THE CROWD AND GET WITH SAMCRO FOR THE CHAMPION HURDLE

Let’s turn back the clock three years to November 2015, and a seven year old son of Germany is 1/6F to win first time up at Punchestown.  He duly loses, and his credentials are questioned by all and sundry.  That horse was of course Faugheen who went down to multiple Grade 1 winner Nichols Canyon in that Morgiana Hurdle before putting up the best hurdle performance of the last decade when winning the Irish Champion Hurdle two starts later.

I mention that race as I can’t help but feel history is set to repeat itself as another son of Germany, SAMCRO (170) has just been defeated at long odds-on on his first start.  Similarly to Faugheen, his run is being dismissed, but just like Faugheen’s Morgiana run it was blistering on the clock.  Faugheen was thought to need the run in that Morgiana, but the time that day was sensational.  Now three years later, everyone is disappointed by Samcro, but on the clock his run was every bit as sensational!

Let’s look at how it breaks down in comparison to the other races on the card

First Approach Sancta Simona Bedrock Brosna George
To 4 out 133.6 133.22 128.65 135.27
To finish 86.96 85.73 83.67 87.37
Total 220.56 218.95 212.32 222.64

As you can see from the above, BEDROCK (167) clocked the best time for every breakdown – to four out he was 4.57s quicker than the next best Sancta Simona, and from there to the line he was still 2.06s quicker and did so carrying 9lbs more in weight than the Grade 3 winner.  Even when I compare the time with the longer races on the card and adjust accordingly, I still reach the same massive figure.

Now the winner has been sold to race in America, we are left to focus on the illustrious runner-up.  He was giving 5lbs to the race-fit winner, and comes out running a huge number himself (coincidentally exactly the same figure I gave Faugheen when he was second in the Morgiana!).

It usually pays in this game to go against the consensus view, and having been dead against him staying over hurdles and everyone convinced he was a Champion Hurdle sure thing, I am now pleased to say that the views of myself and the herd have flipped entirely!  The herd now want him to go chasing, and I’m now sure he will leave all before him in the Champion Hurdle division and rival Faugheen’s performance in the Irish Champion when it comes around.  Running this sort of figure on his first start over hurdles marks him down as the superstar we all know he is, and giving 5lbs to a race-fit rapidly improving horse under such conditions should by no means be dismissed.

Look at it another way, without Bedrock in the race he’s beaten SHARJAH (156) five lengths and given him 8lbs!  I can only hope that Bedrock’s connections got a king’s ransom for him, as they have given up a legitimate Champion Hurdle horse, with the potential to run in big races on the flat – they won’t get another one like him in a hurry!

 

QUICK LOOK AT THE TOP NOVICES SO FAR

With the ground yet to facilitate many horses coming out to run so far, there haven’t been too many performances of note, but I’ll highlight the top three novices I’ve rated so far – two of them trained by Olly Murphy!

Top of the tree so far is QUICK GRABIM (150) who ran on the same card as the aforementioned Bedrock at Tipperary in October.  He clocked a good time in his own right when winning the Grade 3 Novice Hurdle on the card and his form has been backed up with Pearl Of The West winning at Cheltenham.

Cheltenham is where we saw the second best novice so far in THOMAS DARBY (148), he clocked a time 3.38s quicker than handicap blot Storm Rising did over the same course and distance and looks a lovely prospect for connections.

Olly Murphy also has another top prospect on his hand in ITCHY FEET (147) who clocked an excellent time in a hot listed race at Kempton.  He was just 0.24s slower than Verdana Blue was over the same course and distance, but carried 7lbs more, and is duly put in at No.3 in the novice hurdle tree.

Last years novices were a red hot crop…it’ll be interesting to see if anything comes out to usurp these three soon!

CLUES APLENTY AT CHEPSTOW

This Chepstow meeting has improved in quality in recent years, and again there look to be plenty of clues to take out of it ahead of the rest of the jumps season.

PYM IS NO ALTIOR….YET!

It is often seen in racing where an owner of a prominent horse has a newcomer run in their colours, and comparisons between them are often made.  Such comparisons look to be wide of the mark for the connections of Altior though, as PYM (125+) made his hurdling debut at Chepstow.  There were two divisions of the Novice Hurdle and we can see easily how the two races compare when looking at the sectionals:

Pym Rocco Posh Trish Grand Sancy Garo Du Juilley
To 4 out 176.96 175.66 171.41 175.48 170.99
From 4 out 51.09 50.88 54.11 51.2 53.01
Total 228.05 226.54 225.52 226.68 224

If we just look at the comparison with the other novice hurdle on the card won by Rocco we can see that Pym was slower to four out, and then slower to the line from there, to clock the overall slowest time for the two mile course on the card.  Now, the nature of the race being slowly run meant that we were unable to see what Pym is really made of, but it is still concerning that the times from four out don’t compensate for this.

You can be fairly certain that Henderson has left plenty to work on, and that Pym will improve from here, but he is going to need to step up a hell of a lot to be a feature in a novice hurdle division that will be full of expensive purchases from here there and everywhere.

The other novice hurdle is also worth discussing, as it saw a ride that garnered a fair amount of controversy.  ROCCO (131) won the race, but it was the run of the second BENNY’S BRIDGE (129+) that got social media going!  Paddy Brennan was fairly motionless on Benny’s Bridge, and indeed the racing post comments say, “….kept on same pace, perfectly capable of winning.”  He fairly cantered past the winner after the line, and the visual impression didn’t look great for Brennan for all that the horse looked tricky.  Either way, given the focus on the luminaries in the other novice hurdle and the controversy here, there’s a chance that this race gets underrated.  On the clock, it actually was the stronger race of the two!

 

ANOTHER SATURDAY HORSE FOR SOPHIE LEECH

One of my favourite horses of last season was Man Of Plenty, who gave plenty of extra place fiends such as myself lots of fun regularly hitting the frame in handicap hurdles at big prices.  Connections look to have another horse capable of mixing it in the big handicap hurdles this season in GARO DE JUILLEY (144) who landed the Silver Trophy in taking style.

As we can see from the times above, he actually clocked the fastest time for the two mile course, despite racing over 2m3.5f.  The full breakdown of times is here:

Pym Rocco Posh Trish Grand Sancy Garo De Juilley
74.33 74.32 70.23 73.91 71.23
17.65 17.55 16.95 17.24 17.43
13.27 12.43 12.84 12.72 13.06
71.71 71.36 71.39 71.61 69.27
12.3 11.94 12.75 11.91 11.93
10.81 10.59 11.19 11.26 10.51
17.46 17.43 18.85 17.38 18.45
10.52 10.92 11.32 10.65 12.12

As you can see the pace was much stronger in this race, and it is the middle sectionals that catch the eye where Garo De Juilley ran 69.27, 11.93 and 10.51 to bolt clear in this race.  That paid its toll on the horse as he came home slower from there, but was still able to hold on and had the race duly won.  It was an impressive turn of foot and shows that he is probably as effective over 2m as over this trip which gives plenty of options for the season ahead.  He was winning this off 134, and I’d be wary of underestimating him.

Last seasons renewal of this race saw plenty of winners come out of it, including Sam Spinner, so POINT OF PRINCIPLE (144), WHATMORE (141), DANS LE VENT (139), THECLOCKISTICKING (144) and CAPTAIN CATTISTOCK (145) all look worthy of consideration in the coming months.  They all look attractively treated on their marks and should pay their way.

 

GRAND SANCY WORTH FOLLOWING

I bored people silly banging on about how hot last years novice hurdle division was, but the juvenile division was a strong one too, and the four year old handicap hurdle this weekend looks another race to follow for the months ahead.  Indeed subsequent Swinton Hurdle winner Silver Streak won this race last year.

This years winner GRAND SANCY (135) looks to have benefited from a wind op and the brilliance of Paul Nicholls training.  The time was similar to that of the race won by Rocco, but Grand Sancy was carrying 5lbs more in weight.  Considering the slowly run nature of the contest and how keen he was travelling at the rear of the field this was an impressive performance from the winner.  Doing this off a mark of 125, he looks sure to be one to progress from here.  Note that Nicholls had the now 152-rated chaser Dolos finish second in this race last year.

PADLEYOUROWNCANOE (141) and NAYATI (131) are the other two in the race who ran ahead of their marks in the race.

 

SPIRITOFTHEGAMES MAKES A FINE CHASING DEBUT 

The novice chase looked a strong heat on paper, and it proved to be so on the clock as well, as SPIRITOFTHEGAMES (150) made a fine chasing debut.  The race lost something when Master Tommytucker fell in the home straight when going well and he is surely going to be an exciting chaser for Nicholls, but we can only guess how he would have finished…and we know how Spiritofthegames finished from the sectionals:

Spiritofthegames The Young Master Still Believing
223 223.03 231.49
58.4 61.44 61.48

The above shows the times taken to get to and from five out on the 2m3.5f course covered in all three races.  As you can see Spiritofthegames clocked the same time to five out, but came home three seconds quicker from there.  This was done over a half mile shorter trip, but he was carrying 10lbs more in weight.  Adjusting for all this and I gave the winner a mark of 150.

He was a good hurdler last season, indeed I rated him 148 when second in the Lanzarote, but he looks to have kicked on again for this chasing debut.  Whether he progresses from here is to be seen, and it may be he will be more one for the decent handicaps in the spring than the top novice chases.  Last year’s novice hurdlers were outstanding, and so this looks set to be a strong novice chase year as a result and so Spiritofthegames might find life tough should he go for graded races in the near future.  He was fifth in a county hurdle, 3rd in the Betfair, and second twice at Kempton in the Lanzarote and a decent handicap on Boxing Day…. He looks well suited to big field races, and I’ll have him high on my shortlist for the spring festival handicaps.

 

HISTORY TO REPEAT ITSELF FOR GREATWOOD HURDLE?

The standout race on the clock for the meeting was that of BALLYMOY (156) who won the two mile handicap on Sunday in a hot time.  This race was won last year by Misterton, with Elgin in 4th, who subsequently finished 1st and 2nd in the Greatwood Hurdle.  Given how hot this race looks to be I found myself wondering if history could repeat itself?!

First let’s see just how good they were on the clock, these are the times taken to get to four out and from there to the line for the two mile section covered in all the hurdle races on the card:

Montestrel Secret Investor Ballymoy
177.4 173.23 168.69
53.42 53.51 55.57
230.82 226.74 224.26

 

As you can see they went a much faster pace in this race, getting to four out nearly five seconds quicker than Secret Investor did in the Persian War.  The novices only made up two seconds from there, and Ballymoy was carrying 12lbs more than Secret Investor.  After making the necessary adjustments for this I still reach a figure of 156 for the winner.

Bought for £75k after two defeats in PTPs, he was relatively disappointing when beaten in a bumper and novice hurdle (albeit behind Simply The Betts and Kalashnikov).  A wind op though looks to have unlocked the key to this horse, as this was his fourth win on the spin after a novice hurdle campaign that culminated in a win in a hot handicap at Sandown.  Winning here off 139, depending on how he is reassessed, he looks well capable of landing a big handicap hurdle this year.

He may struggle to confirm the form though with I’M A GAME CHANGER (153) who ran a remarkable race for one that was so keen and pulled hard throughout the contest.  Indeed he was well clear of the field going down the back, so to only get beaten two lengths was remarkable.  If they can get him to settle better, and assuming he comes on for this run he looks the one to beat should the two clash again in the Greatwood.  Hobbs had a torrid time of things last season, so it is unsurprising that some of his string could be relatively well treated this year.  I’m A Game Changer was running here off 138, and I’d be confident he can run to a mark pushing 160 should he settle.  Hopefully this run will take the freshness out of him, and with a big field and strong pace in a Greatwood he can land the race.

I’ve been a big fan of the third placed horse VADO FORTE (139) since he won at Warwick last season in a good time.  He ran another big race here, but was unfortunate to bump into two well handicapped horses.  He has the size to be a chaser, and one would assume that is where connections will go with him now.  On his form and running style he looks one perhaps for the novice handicap chase on day one of the festival as he likes to drop out, and a strong pace helps him settle.  Hopefully Tom Lacey can get him handicapped in the golden zone of 140-145 for the race!

 

CHARBEL HANDLES STEP UP IN TRIP

The final race worth talking about is that won by CHARBEL (162) who beat the returning BARON ALCO (150) in a good time in the 2m3.5f handicap chase.

Drinks Interval Kings Lad Charbel
223.7 230.79 221.16
61.71 57.77 60.52

The comparisons with the other two chases on the card is shown above, and you can see that Charbel was 2.5s faster to five out than the smart Drinks Interval, and 1.2s faster still to the line.  He did this carrying 9lbs more in weight.  Even after adjusting for the half mile shorter trip I still have to give Charbel a mark of 162.

This was a first win beyond two miles for the horse, and given how he finished I wouldn’t be averse to trying to go further still.  Connections seemed to rule out Cheltenham in the near future given the horse has had two nasty falls at the track, so flat tracks may be where we see him at his best.  I don’t think a King George entry would be wasted money!

He was beating BARON ALCO (150) who was returning for the first time since running 2nd to Road To Respect in the 2017 Festival.  Perhaps Baron Alco was feeling the effects of the long layoff here which meant he was reeled in on the line by Charbel.  He was promoted to favourite for the BetVictor Gold Cup on the back of this, and whilst I have rated him higher than this on his previous run, I’d be wary of assuming he’ll come on for it.  Indeed he would look an obvious bounce candidate.

A KERRY NATIONAL FOR KERRY LEE!

The excitement is starting to build by the day as the jump season looms ever closer on the horizon, and there is a good chase in Ireland today with the Kerry National.

Three of the four that head the market represent the Mullins/Elliot yards, but I confess to not being wildly keen on any of them.  There is no doubt that Blazer has a good race in him but 3m on soft ground doesn’t scream that opportunity to me for all that he finished a good second in a beginners chase under such conditions in Dec 2016.  I can certainly let a Mullins/JP fav go at the prices.

Elliot is typically well represented and his two at the head of the market are Jury Duty and Rogue Angel.  Again, neither get me wildly motivated to get involved, with both running to marks that their ratings already represent.  Of course, Elliot is a genius in these type of races but at the prices I can let someone else pay to find out.

Snow Falcon is a horse that will win a big handicap of his mark of 148, but I think the ground has gone against him today, so I find myself looking (as ever!) at the bigger prices to find an angle. And two interest me….

The first is VIEUX MORVAN (145) who still looks nicely treated off a mark of 138, and has Shane Shortall taking off a useful 3lbs today.  He earnt his mid-140s figure from me when running a huge race behind Last Goodbye last season with subsequent Irish National winner General Principle back in fourth.  That was on soft ground, which he gets again today and he was going well enough when brought down at Galway off this mark last time.  The step back up to 3m looks fine having finished 2nd in a Grade 3 in France over 3m2f and and prices of 12/1 look fair to get involved with favourable each way terms around.

The second I am playing is BISHOPS ROAD (151) who could well reward some enterprising placing from the appropriately named Kerry Lee!  Usually 10yo aren’t my bag, but Kerry Lee has a good record with older types like this, and it is the fact he comes here fresh after a 201 day break that really piques my interest.  His form on soft ground off a break of 6 weeks or more reads 111142, and it is ironically those last two defeats that merit further investigation for this race.  He was 4th in Nov 2016 at Newcastle off a mark of 154 beaten just 9 lengths behind Otago Trail (+10lbs now), Bristol De Mai (+11lbs) and Definitly Red (+22lbs) and 14 lengths clear of the 5th horse that day.  He now runs off today off a mark of 139….a mere 15lbs lower!

He was 2nd last year first time up in the Rehearsal Chase again at Newcastle off a mark of 144, just getting collared late on by Beware The Bear.  He has dropped down to 139 now but his subsequent runs last year can be excused with him not being fresh or on ground too quick.  He looks well treated off a mark off 139 today with conditions in his favour, and will surely be primed to run a big race.  At 14/1 he is also worth playing.

GALWAY PREVIEW

It’s the time of year where I only see the light of day to go surfing, but in the midst of all the torture that is the flat racing season, there is an annual glimmer of light as the Galway Festival looms on the horizon and brings with it two of the biggest jumps handicaps of the year.

The Galway Plate saw the emergence of future Ryanair (and potentially Gold Cup) winner Balko Des Flos last year, and there is a similar type that interests me for the race this year in CALINO D’AIRY (159).  He represents the same connections as last years winner, and while I don’t feel is going to be as good as that one, I still have him well capable of winning this race off 145.

He was thrown in the deep end last season when upped in trip to 2m4f at Aintree for the Grade 1 Manifesto Chase, and ran a mighty race to finish 3rd beaten just five lengths after making a slight mistake at the last and staying on in the run in.  The time of that race was excellent, and compared favourably with the race won by Might Bite and marked Calino D’Airy down as a horse to stay on the right side of.  That was the furthest he’d run since his point to point win over three miles, and the extra distance of the Galway Plate looks set to suit him fine with plenty of stamina in his French pedigree on the dam side.

He is currently 16/1, but that is only with Bet365 so I won’t claim that as a price, but there is some 14/1 available and I think he should be clear favourite for this race.  His two visits to the track have yielded two wins over fences so everything looks primed for a big run before returning to Graded company and trying to emulate last years winner.

There are a few others of interest, but the two I fear most are A Rated and Vieux Morvan who look unlikely to get in, and indeed the connections of the winner have the top two rated horses in the race so can run all of theirs to force out the lighter weighted threats.

The other big handicap for us jumps fanatics is the Galway Hurdle, and there has been a recent race that I think holds the key to this years renewal as the time was very good.  Joey Sasa won the Grade 3 Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary at the start of July but it is two of his rivals that day who interest me here.  First up is SHARJAH (156) who was third that day.  I banged on last year endlessly about how good I thought last years novice hurdlers were, and this lad was set to win a Grade 1 at Christmas before falling in one of the most remarkable races I’ve ever seen.  He struggled on heavy ground the remainder of the season but returned at Tipperary to finish a fine third, giving 4lbs to the winner.  He only concedes a pound in the Galway Hurdle and I fancy him to turn the tables and reverse the form with more to come from the exciting five year old.  Softer ground would temper enthusiasm somewhat but it is unlikely to get as bad as some of the ground he encountered in the main jump season.

The other one of interest to me is very much from left field, but when I rated the race he actually comes out very well.  It takes a lot for me to like a horse with 44 runs over hurdles, and indeed one that has been beaten in this race four times before!  But PLINTH (151) looks quite well treated compared to some of the market protagonists and looks set to be a wild price for the race.

Horse Distance Beaten Weight turn with Plinth (lbs)
Joey Sasa 0 17
Wicklow Brave 1.5
Sharjah 3 14
Slowmotion 5.5
Tigris River 5.5 12
Plinth 9.5

The above table shows the result of the Grade 3 Grimes hurdle down to Plinth in 6th, who was actually conceding weight to most of his rivals in that race. As you can see, he was beaten 9.5 lengths in the race, but gets a 17lbs turn in the weights with the winner.  With the aforementioned Sharjah he was 6.5 lengths behind and gets a 14lbs turn in the weights, and with Tigris River he was 4 lengths back and gets a 12lbs swing.  He is actually weighted to beat all those rivals and whilst they are all towards the head of the market, Plinth is almost the outsider of the field at 40/1.

As ever with a horse of this type there are a few caveats, and his Galway record isn’t great, though he was 8th last year of a 7lb higher mark, and his form looks best in smaller fields.  But off a mark of 135, and at probably a crazy price on the exchanges on the day I won’t be able to resist getting involved!  Interestingly in his stable tour on the ATR website, connections seem to think he went up 5lbs for Tipperary to a mark of 139….they might be in for a bit of a shock to see he runs off 135! (He is down to run off 135 on RP website and HRI).  Considering how seemingly unfancied he is it is perfectly possible that a claimer like Donal McInerney might take another 3lbs off his back.

The rest of the race looks full of over hyped badly handicapped horses and I hope the Tipperary race holds the key.

CHELTENHAM 2018 REVIEW

CHELTENHAM DAY 1

HURDLES

NOVICE CROP LIVE UP TO THE BILLING

In the endless build up to this year’s festival, I found myself increasingly contemplating walking into the sea and not turning back as pundit after pundit lambasted the quality of this year’s novice hurdling division.  I’ve been keeping my own figures since 2009, and can safely say that in terms of strength in depth this is one of the deepest novice hurdling divisions I can recall.  When going back through the replays and times of this year’s Supreme then, I was happy to see this backed up as SUMMERVILLE BOY (162) put up a good performance on the clock to beat Betfair Hurdle winner KALASHNIKOV (162).

The other race on the card over the same distance was the Champion Hurdle and the direct comparison between the two races highlights the merit of this year’s novices.

Summerville Boy Buveur D’Air Difference
44.07 45.79 -1.72
91.64 92.38 -0.74
116.11 117.18 -1.07
137.53 139.14 -1.61
176.73 177.37 -0.64
195.01 195.68 -0.67
222.79 222.51 0.28
237.53 237.67 -0.14

As you can see from the above SUMMERVILLE BOY (162), when timed from the first jump, actually clocked a marginally quicker time than Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air.  They went much quicker earlier on in the Supreme, reaching the second 1.72s quicker, and this told in the latter stages as the Champion Hurdler runners made back time.

The faster earlier pace, meant that this was more of a stamina test, especially on heavier ground than normal.  Summerville Boy had previously clocked a good time when winning the Tolworth over two miles, and he clearly has scope to stay further.  Indeed, he made a mistake at the last here and still had enough in the tank to get by the runner-up up the hill.  There are plenty of 2.5m and 3m performers in his pedigree as well.

The owner has intimated that he is set to stay hurdling next season, and he can take high rank in that division.  Despite his two Grade 1 wins coming on bad ground, connections believe he will be even better on better ground.  That remains to be seen, but I would perhaps be worried about him in two miles races on good ground as he clearly stays well, and I would be wary of him getting outpaced.  If he is to do the rare Supreme/Champion Hurdle double, I would imagine he may need softer ground again or for the race to be run at a very fast pace.  Alternatively, they could look towards the Stayers Hurdle should they elect to not go straight over fences.  Wherever they decide to go with him though, he is one of the most exciting prospects around ahead of next year.

KALASHNIKOV (162) came very close to doing the “impossible” and coming to win a Grade 1 event off the back of a handicap run, but was unfortunate to bump into an exceptional winner.  He was also behind the winner in that hot Tolworth Hurdle, and were it not for Summerville Boy there would be a fair amount of hype building up about this guy.  Racing more prominently, and being quite keen, this was a huge run from him and continues the marked progression he has made this season.  I’ve rated his hurdle runs this year 146, 134, 150, 152 and now 162…..he is obviously going the right way!  He is from the family of Kicking King, and the trainer has intimated that chasing is going to be on the agenda next year.  He will no doubt take high rank in that division and, as with the winner, connections are entitled to have Gold Cup machinations on their mind down the line.

The front two pulled a few lengths clear of the pack, but that isn’t to say that the rest of the field aren’t worth discussing.  Far from it!!

In third was MENGLI KHAN (160) who had previously clocked a hot figure when winning the Royal Bond earlier in the season.  That run looked to have left its mark as he underperformed since then, but freshened up by his trainer, he bounced back here to run a huge race.  Seeing him up close for the first time, he is a massive horse, surprisingly considering he is flat bred.  Given his size, and connections, he may well go chasing, but I would be keen to see how he fares in open company over hurdles next season.  He got outstayed by the front two here, but perhaps on better ground and with less of a stamina test he can land a Grade 1 hurdle next year.  Indeed considering his size, and the fact he is only a five year old, I wouldn’t mind seeing him have a tilt at the Champion itself.

Fourth was PALOMA BLUE (158) who looks a lovely chasing prospect for next year, and would be at the forefront of my mind for the Arkle next year, as the bad ground probably counted against him more than any of the others in the race.  CLAIMANTAKINFORGAN (156) was fifth and coming from the point to point sphere, looks another nice prospect for novice chasing.

In sixth was WESTERN RYDER (153) who also was perhaps inconvenienced by bad ground here, and was hampered two out.  On better ground and with another year on his back I wouldn’t rule him out featuring in Grade 1 hurdles next season.  He was second, in a good time, behind Vinndication prior to this, and he could go under the radar considering he was “only” sixth here.  Another to bear in mind is LOSTINTRANSLATION (152) who was rated just 134 lining up here, but had clocked a good time when winning at Newbury in December (Black Op was 4th).  His mark will surely go up from here, but look out for him should he line up in a handicap hurdle, as he will likely still be ahead of his new mark.

 

BUVEUR D’AIR NOT AS GOOD AS LAST YEAR

Whilst the novice hurdling division looked hotter the more you looked at it, the Champion Hurdle division this year looked the opposite.  So it was no surprise to see last year’s winner BUVEUR D’AIR (166) go off the 4/6f this year, but it was perhaps a bit surprising to see him run so close by eventual runner-up MELON (166).

Plenty has already been said about the weakness of the two mile hurdling division this year, and Buveur D’Air had been beating up inferior rivals with the minimum of fuss prior to the this race.  I rated him 172 last year, so he hasn’t matched that on my figures, but this was heavy ground so perhaps that was a bit on an equaliser.  He goes into next year the favourite again, but with a plethora of novice hurdlers set to step into his yard I fancy he’ll have to be the 2017 Buveur D’Air to retain his crown for a third time.

(One thing to note with his run in comparison to Summerville Boy was the turn of foot he showed between two out and the last where he clocked a time of nearly a second quicker!  Also bear in mind they were carrying 3lbs more in weight in the Champion).

I confess having to eat a portion of humble pie with regards to MELON (166) who stepped up on his previous form to the tune of 10lbs to go agonisingly close here.  With the benefit of hindsight, this was just his seventh run over hurdles and he is trained by a master but even so this was a big step up in form.  Maybe he relished the heavy ground here (it was his first time on it) but it is probably more likely that Mullins just unlocked some improvement in the six year old and he had a decent pace to run in.  He probably didn’t act well in the hood last time as well.  Should connections elect to have another go at the Champion next year he looks to be the main Mullins two mile hurdler now.

MICK JAZZ (162) ran a fine race back in third, running to a similar mark to his previous efforts.  A strong traveller, he no doubt enjoyed the decent pace of this race but is just below the top grade in this division.

 

APPLE’S JADE FAILS TO FIRE

The shock on day 1 came as APPLE’S JADE (145) was beaten at short odds in the Mares Hurdle.  Despite this race being over further, the time of it was some way behind the two mile races.

Summerville Boy Buveur D’Air Benie Des Deux
176.73 177.37 181.82
60.8 60.3 62.89

For the sections they overlap, you can see that BENIE DES DEUX (147) got to the third last 5s slower than Summerville boy, but was still 2s slower from there.  And it was a similar story in the comparison with the Champion.

It has emerged that Apple’s Jade was in season, and this could explain her underperformance.  But I’ve been banging on endlessly about how she needs a run to be at her best, and the evidence for this does stack up.  She was racing here off nearly an 11 week break and since moving to Ireland she has now raced six times off a break of that or more, and her form now reads 122213.  Off the back of a recent run her form is 11211111, with her only defeat by a nose in the Fighting Fifth she should’ve won!

At her best I don’t think there is a hurdler around that could give her weight and a beating, so I’m already hoping to get inflated odds about her in her next run.  I’m hoping that will be in the Aintree Hurdle.  Much as I would love to have seen her go for the Irish Champion Hurdle and then the Champion this week, she does look at her absolute best over 2.5m, and she put up a remarkable performance when winning at Aintree as a four year old.  Should Buveur D’Air line up, I’d be keen on her chances of toppling him.  Though with an Irish trainer’s title battle at stake, she may well stay in Ireland, but wherever she goes next I will be with her….hopefully at a decent price!

CHASES

BRILLIANT FOOTPAD LANDS THE ARKLE…BUT HOW WILL HE COPE WITH BIGGER FIELDS?!

Despite the small field, the Arkle was one of the more intriguing clashes of the week, and duly saw one of the standout performances as FOOTPAD (172) slammed his rivals by fourteen lengths.

Footpad Coo Star Sivola Rathvinden Mister Whitaker
142.41 148.64 156.16 152.3
56.09 59.87 58.96 58.56

Timing the four races where they overlap (from the third in the two mile race) we can see just how much quicker Footpad was in comparison to the three other winners.  In a direct comparison with Mister Whitaker, he got to three out nearly 10s quicker, and still came home 2.5s faster!  Ok, the other races were all over further and of inferior quality, but even when adjusting for all this I still give Footpad a figure of 172, and it marks him down as a novice chaser of the highest quality.

Given how strongly run this race was I wouldn’t mind seeing the winner go up in trip from here.  On pedigree he can handle it, and with Min and Douvan around the trainer may elect to keep his chess pieces apart next year.  One caveat with him is that all his wins have come in small fields, with eight being the biggest field he’s contested successfully.  Whether that is just coincidence or a marked preference for him remains to be seen, but in fields of nine or more his form reads 723F243.  If connections have Gold Cups on their mind, I’d like to see him prove comfortable in a big field before getting with him.

Disappointment of the race was undoubtedly SAINT CALVADOS (109) who had put up some blistering performances on the clock this season, and with the ground going his way looked set to run a big race.  However, I’d said in the build-up that he had had three hard races in a short space of time – his three wins came on 30th Dec, 17th Jan, 10th Feb – and considering the manner of his running style and on soft ground they look to have left their mark.  I’d rated him on par with the winner here prior to this, and if they leave him off to come back a fresh horse next season I’d be wary of opposing him, especially on soft ground.  If he was mine, I’d pull stumps on this season and come back next year and go for the Tingle Creek first time up.  He’d be some sight round Sandown jumping from the front, and I’m not sure anything could live with him….Altior may be too far behind by the last for his turbo gear to make a difference!

 

CHELTENHAM DAY 2

HURDLES

SAMCRO SET TO BE ONE OF THE GREATS

I’ve probably bored people silly going on about SAMCRO (166) this season, but I’m not going to stop now as he put up a stunning display to win one of the hottest novice hurdles seen at Cheltenham.  Plenty were denigrating his run last time in comparison to the juveniles, but it was his Navan run prior to that where he put in a remarkable time.  It was the best figure I’ve given a novice hurdler pre-Cheltenham, and so it was with some relief that he went and delivered the goods in the Ballymore.  To put his figure in context here, I’ve only got Altior (168) ahead of him for novice hurdle performances at the Cheltenham festival….and there is some evidence he could’ve gone higher!!

First let’s look at the clock, and happily there is an easy comparison to make with the Coral Cup over the same course and distance.

Samcro Bleu Berry Difference
20.2 19.1 1.1
71.87 71.56 0.31
119.82 120.06 -0.24
168.29 169.8 -1.51
194.64 195.27 -0.63
217.1 217.69 -0.59
254.95 255.85 -0.9
271.49 273.17 -1.68
296.91 299.5 -2.59
311.41 313.94 -2.53

Despite a relatively slow early pace (they were 1.1s behind by the second), Samcro clocked a time 2.53s faster than Bleu Berry did in the Coral Cup, and did so despite carrying 5lbs more in weight, and losing a shoe!!!

Samcro Bleu Berry Veneer Of Charm
183.08 184.29 184.28
56.46 58.09 58.94

When we look at the three hurdle races as timed from the first in the two mile course, the merits of the Ballymore become even more obvious!  They were over a second quicker to three out, and still Samcro clocked a time 1.63s quicker than Bleu Berry to the line, and 2.48s quicker than Veneer Of Charm in the Fred Winter.  In the last comparison, Samcro went 4.5f further and carried 7lbs more in weight!!

Even more remarkable, as mentioned, he apparently lost a shoe, and considering this was on heavy ground and that he looked to be idling in front I’ve little doubt that on better ground and with his shoes still on, he could’ve clocked a 170+ number.  Quite simply, he is the most exciting horse we’ve seen.  This was a red hot renewal of the race, and he has travelled all over his rivals to win by three lengths.

Where he goes from here is just so exciting for a racing fan.  He’d have won the Champion Hurdle this year if they’d gone for it I think, so if they did decide to stay hurdling he will take all the beating there.  But considering his connections, he looks sure to go chasing, and I noted that in the immediate aftermath of the race Elliott said he wouldn’t be afraid to go back to two miles with him.  The fact that he was winning over 2m5f on heavy ground here then is even more meritorious.  I would imagine it will be a choice between Arkle and JLT next year…and then all roads will lead to the Gold Cup in 2020.  I think he’s going to be that once in a decade horse that Kauto Star was in the “noughties” and be capable of winning over all distances 2m to 3m+ at the top level.  Right now, if he stays sound, in the future he could well be heralded as one the great horses.

However, brilliant as Samcro is, that isn’t to overlook those he vanquished.  Plenty has been written about how well the Supreme that Altior won has worked out, and this race looks like being a similar type, if not better!

In second was BLACK OP (163) who in any normal year would’ve been a fine winner of this race, going in by five lengths!  He is unfortunate to bump into a freak, but do not underestimate him as he is progressing nicely and looks set to be a top novice chaser for connections.  He did win a bumper on good ground, but this year has looked comfortable on softer ground, and given how well he went up the hill here trips up to 3m look sure to suit, and he must rate a top RSA candidate for next year.

NEXT DESTINATION (158) was the second highest rated novice hurdler on my figures this season, but failed to fire to some extent here, staying on to finish third.  I had previously thought he could go well in a Supreme, but that looks well off the mark with how he got outpaced here only to stay on up the hill.  A point to point winner already, chasing and the three mile division would look to be on his agenda where he should clash with Black Op again.

One of the main horses I want to take out of the race is SCARPETA (158) who was prominent throughout the contest and ran a huge race to finish 4th.  Bought relatively cheaply, he is rated just 75 on the flat, where he was last seen finishing 4th in a Newmarket handicap over two miles.  Given that background and how well he ran here on heavy ground, this looks a live contender for the Stayers Hurdle next season.  His form on the flat came on better ground, and considering he got 2m there, should find 3m well within his compass next season.  The three mile hurdling division is wide open, but I think this five year old could step up and mix it in that division.  This was just his third run over hurdles, and he’s clocked a figure of 158.  That he’s a flat bred horse with form on better ground, the fact he’s done this over 2.5m on heavy is very encouraging for his future in staying hurdles.  In the meantime that flat mark of 75 looks….lenient!

DUC DES GENIEVRES (157) and VISION DES FLOS (156) were 5th and 6th but still merit big figures from me based on the strength of the race.  Both of them are only five year olds, and with another years on their backs look fine prospects for next season.

 

CHASES

ALTIOR SHOWS THAT TURN OF FOOT AGAIN

There are only two races over fences on Day 2, but they saw two of the best performances of the week.  Starting with the Champion Chase, we saw ALTIOR (180) prove his wellbeing after an interrupted campaign by clocking an excellent figure.

Presenting Percy Altior Difference
8.59 8.25 -0.34
32.16 30.69 -1.47
53.74 51.75 -1.99
67.86 65.49 -2.37
80.48 77.85 -2.63
92.9 90.27 -2.63
112.63 109.59 -3.04
149.53 147.18 -2.35
178.9 178.02 -0.88
186.72 186.14 -0.58
206.12 202.84 -3.28

Comparing with the RSA won by Presenting Percy for where the two races overlap, we can see that at one stage Altior was 3.04s ahead, but that the RSA winner had regained most of this ground back to be just 0.58s behind at the last.  Altior then kicked in the turbo drive and came home in 16.7s vs 19.4s for Presenting Percy.  To highlight this even more, Footpad clocked 18.03 for the same stretch the day before!

This does now seem to be the nature of the way Altior races.  He seemed to get a bit outpaced at one stage, being niggled along but then finds this incredible turn of foot at the end of his race to win powering away.  The way he runs and the fact he did this on soft ground, would scream out that he should go up in trip.  I would imagine this may well get tested in something like the Melling Chase at Aintree.  Henderson did the same thing with Sprinter Sacre, and on the long flat run in, the turn of foot that Altior has could be something to behold, especially on better ground!

It could be though that it is only at two miles that he can unleash this turn of foot, and that over 2.5m he may not have so much in reserve.  I’d like to see them try though, but either way he is one of the best two mile chasers we have seen.

MIN (172) can count himself unfortunate, as were it not for the winner he would now be a dual festival winner himself.  He is a good horse in his own right, and I’ve now rated him 172 a number of times, so that would suggest is the level he is at.  A free going sort, he looks set to contest all the top two mile chases his connections see fit.

I was surprised to see DOUVAN (?) line up after a year off, but he looked to be going well before crashing out four out.  No one can say with any certainty how things would’ve panned out, indeed it is perfectly possible that having been off for some time he would’ve been fairly beaten by the end of the race.  However, at his best I’ve clocked Douvan at 186, and based on that he would have the beating of Altior.  If he gets a cleaner run to the race next year their clash could be a classic, though connections have intimated stepping up in trip is an option.  Wherever, he goes, let’s hope they can get him back to his peak as at that level he may well be the best around.

 

PRESENTING PERCY A LIVE GOLD CUP CANDIDATE

There had been plenty of talk about the campaign that PRESENTING PERCY (173) had in the run-up to the RSA, and I confess to being in the camp that wasn’t a fan of it.  It goes to show how much I know, as he went on to win the RSA in a fine manner, and step up markedly on some of the figures I’d given him previously.

Presenting Percy was 3s behind Altior in the comparison at one stage, but fairly turned on the taps as he was just 0.58s behind at the last.  Unsurprisingly he doesn’t have the Champion Chasers turn of foot, especially after going a mile further, but it was still an excellent run and he rates a fine winner of the RSA (I had Might Bite 176 last year by way of comparison).

He looks to have all the makings of a Gold Cup candidate for next year having now won twice at the festival, and with proven stamina having won of 3m5f earlier in the season.

He could well renew rivalry with MONALEE (166) who ran a fine race in his own right, but couldn’t match the winner in the latter stages.  Perhaps better ground would see him close the gap, but he will still be up to contesting all the top three mile races next year.

 

CHELTENHAM DAY 3

HURDLES

FARCICAL PACE LEAVES PLENTY OF QUESTIONS UNANSWERED IN STAYERS HURDLE

There was a ridiculously slow pace seen in the Stayers Hurdle this year, and it leaves the race difficult to weigh up going forward.

Delta Work Penhill Difference
14.44 15.5 1.06
26.43 28.18 1.75
56.99 59.46 2.47
109.79 112.87 3.08
153.84 158.46 4.62
196.01 204.01 8
210 218.57 8.57
221.74 230.76 9.02
249.73 260.76 11.03
297.82 308.69 10.87
337.51 346.28 8.77
351.47 360.65 9.18

The Pertemps is over the same course and distance and was won by DELTA WORK (150), and the comparison above just shows the extent of how slowly run the Stayers Hurdle was.  By three out they were 11.03s behind!  From there they did make up nearly 2s in time, but even adjusting for that I still can’t give a decent rating to the winner.

Unsurprisingly, it was like a cavalry charge up the hill with almost everything in with a chance.  But it was PENHILL (143+) who emerged victorious after a year off.  He has now won his last four starts off a break of 11 weeks or more, and has only met defeat on an undulating track over hurdles at Punchestown last year when finishing second.

SUPASUNDAE (141+) was second and considering this was slowly run on heavy ground still leaves questions as to whether he truly gets three miles.

SAM SPINNER (137+) was the guilty party in setting the crawl from the front, and one can’t help but feel that he should’ve taken things up sooner.  There were plenty of pacey two and half milers in behind him on the run to the line, and he just got swamped by them.

LAURINA WOULD’VE GONE CLOSE IN THE SUPREME

I’m not going to get into the debate on whether the race should exist or not, but regardless of that LAURINA (155) put up a fine performance in winning the Mares Novice Hurdle.

Delta Work Penhill Laurina
143.98 150.23 141.41
53.65 51.96 57.02

As you can see they went a much stronger pace in the shorter race, unsurprisingly, reaching two out 2.5s quicker than they did in the Pertemps for the same stretch.  Laurina came home slower from there, but was heavily eased in the closing stages and could’ve gone much faster if required.  I’ve allowed for a degree of this and awarded her a figure of 155 as a result.

She’d have been getting 7lbs from the boys in the Supreme and that would appear to be sufficient to see her go close in that race.  With the program around for mares at the moment, she may not tackle the geldings, but if she did she is capable to mixing it with them based on this run.

CHASES

IS BALKO DES FLOS A GOLD CUP HORSE?

I copped a fair amount of abuse in maintaining that UN DE SCEAUX (170) should’ve gone for the Champion Chase this season. (“You really are clueless” was a personal favourite).  So it was with a degree of smugness that I watched the Ryanair unfold with BALKO DES FLOS (174) emerging victorious.

Going back to Un De Sceaux first.  We are always being told that the plethora of entries given to horses, Mullins in particular, is to keep all the options open so they can be flexible should conditions and situations change.  Now, Un De Sceaux is a freak of nature on heavy ground… I’m not sure anything can go with him in such conditions OVER TWO MILES.  Entering him in the Champion Chase always seems a folly, given conditions invariably come up on the good side.  So, given we saw a rarest of race occurrences, and a heavy ground festival materialised, why wasn’t Un De Sceaux reverted to the Champion?!  They will never get another chance to win the race with him again.

I know Mullins has Douvan and Min for the race, but they are in different ownership.  Surely it should be down to what suits each horse best, and not for the trainer to maximise their own chances of winning more races?!  I’ll finish my rant there, but I must say if I was the owner of Un De Sceaux I would question why he was ever entered for the Champion in the first place given his conditions came up and he still didn’t run!!!  He probably wouldn’t have beaten Altior, but the race would’ve been a different affair altogether with him blasting off from the front and playing catch me if you can over two miles.

He was of course the defending Ryanair Champion, but won the race last year on better ground, and given how exuberant he is in his races he got found out here on soft ground at this distance.  He still ran a good race mind, and would’ve won but for bumping into a horse going right to the top in my view.

Shattered Love Balko Des Flos The Storyteller
224.11 220.52 226.17
77.33 81.08 81.08

You can see how much quicker they went in the Ryanair from the above comparisons with the other two races over similar distances on the card.  Balko Des Flos reached four out 5.65s quicker than The Storyteller did in the Plate, and still came home in the same time from there and carried 6lbs more.  He was 3.59s quicker to four out, and then 3.75s slower than Shattered Love was in the JLT, but she was carrying 13lbs less in weight, and running over a furlong less.

Putting all the data together, and I reach a figure of 174 for Balko Des Flos.  I’d rated him 169 when he was just touched off in the Christmas Chase over 3m, and he is clearly at the top table of chasers around.

I’d like to see him have another go at three miles, as he ran so well here at a fast pace on soft ground over 2m5f.  On better ground he is capable of being in the Gold Cup picture.  He is now a festival winner, and being only a seven year old may still have some improvement to come.  He travelled all over this field having gone a fast pace, and looks right out of the top drawer to my eye.  Looking at his pedigree I noticed the dam is a half-sister to a 3m4f hunter chase winner, so there is stamina in his genes.  Given this year’s Gold Cup was a brutal race that may have bottomed a few horses, there only looks to be Footpad and Presenting Percy coming out of the novice chase division capable of mixing it in a Gold Cup.  I certainly wouldn’t underestimate Balko Des Flos should he go that route.

AND GIGGINSTOWN MAY HAVE THE NEXT RYANAIR WINNER IN SHATTERED LOVE!

As you could see from the previous sectional splits, SHATTERED LOVE (166) came home much quicker from four out when landing the JLT.  This is to expected given how much quicker they went in the Ryanair, but her time is still very favourable when compared to the plate, and merits a mark of 166.

She has now won five of her six chase starts, with her one defeat coming against Jury Duty when going down by just three quarters of a length.  She is clearly a good mare, and could well find herself defending the Gigginstown crown in the Ryanair next season.  Her best form does seem on softer ground though so she may always need that to be at her optimum.

That said though, there were decent horses in this field who couldn’t give her weight and given she is such a big horse, it may prove difficult to concede her weight in the future.  TERREFORT (165) was unfortunate to bump into the winner and comes out close on the figures when adjusting for the weight.  This was just his third start in this country and still only five years old he looks to have an exciting future ahead of him.

BENATAR (161) ran a fine race considering how keen he was in the early stages and he looks one to be with going forward.  I’d say the same about KEMBOY (159) who matched the figures I’ve previously given him.  Rated just 145 prior to this, he could be one to land a nice handicap chase at some point.

It was also good to see FINIAN’S OSCAR (158) get somewhat back on track.  I don’t think he’ll live up to the hype that has previously been thrown his way, but he is still a good horse, though may be a notch below Grade 1.

Back in seventh was BIGMARTRE (148) who I’d rated highly on his Newbury win earlier in the season.  I’m not sure Cheltenham is his track, and I’d still keep him in mind for the Manifesto Chase at Aintree that the trainer won with Arzal.

 

CHELTENHAM DAY 4

HURDLES

NO CHAMPIONS IN THIS TRIUMPH

It has proved nigh on impossible for juveniles to step up into the Champion Hurdle picture the following season, and it doesn’t look like that trend is going to end this time as FARCLAS (152) reversed form with MR ADJUDICATOR (150).

Farclas Mohaayed Difference
48.29 46.98 1.31
91.3 91.29 0.01
105.02 105.44 -0.42
116.1 117.06 -0.96
144.78 145.01 -0.23
192.73 193.25 -0.52
232.38 232.9 -0.52
247.83 248.56 -0.73

 As you can see from the above comparison with the County Hurdle winner Mohaayed, Farclas clocked a time just 0.73s faster, and did so carrying 3lbs more in weight.  But Mohaayed was winning (a relatively poor) a handicap hurdle off a mark of 139 and with that in mind I can only rate him 152, in line with his previous run.  He’s going to have to step up markedly next season to tackle the existing hurdlers and the red hot novices that stick around.  The same problem will go for Mr Adjudicator.

APPLE’S SHAKIRA (137) ran in line with some of the previous figures I’d given her.  Even getting weight I only had her in amongst the rest of her rivals based on what they’d done prior to this.  Ultimately, I don’t think she’s that good, though it would look that a step up in trip should suit her.

On a personal note, I was disappointed that SUSSEX RANGER (77) failed to land a blow.  He looked on edge in the preliminaries, got quite warm and raced keenly after flattening the first hurdle.  He has clocked a number that would’ve seen him go close in this race and I’d hope that he may get back on track at Aintree.  Indeed, the long run in could see this relentless galloper to best effect.

ALBERT BARTLETT A STRANGE RACE….AGAIN!

I stopped punting on the Albert Bartlett a few years ago, as it just seems a race that throws up wild results year on year.  The theory doing the rounds this year was to go for the experienced horse in the line-up.  KILBRICKEN STORM (145) came through to win on his 5th start over hurdles….though there were plenty more experienced rivals in the race.  This race was run at a fast early pace (I’ll put the figures in the appendix), and the leader emptied on the run up the hill to give way to the eventual winner.  What the form is worth considering how the race unfolded I wouldn’t want to guess.

CHASES

NATIVE RIVER WINS BRUTAL GOLD CUP

The Gold Cup this year largely turned into a duel between NATIVE RIVER (180) and MIGHT BITE (176) that will live in the memory.  The merits of the run are obvious on the clock:

Native River Pacha Du Polder Le Prezien
12.72 12.88 12.6
50.15 50.85 49.51
64.33 66.09 64.43
a75.54 77.79 75.91
86.78 89.11 87.67
102.39 105.6 103.57
117.28 120.85 119.05
134.65 139.29 137.09
155.25 161.27 158.14
184.27 192.45 187.76
195.95 205.16 200.38
215.39 225.08 218.91

 

Where all three races overlap, Native River still clocked a 3.52s quicker time that Le Prezien did for winning the Grand Annual, despite racing 10f further and carrying 2lbs more in weight.  He actually got to the last 4.43s quicker!  It was a savagely run race.

That said though, I think on better ground the placings would be reversed.  Native River thrives in soft ground, and this was his 4th win on the bounce under such conditions.  He was just touched off in the four miler two years ago and has won a Welsh National and a Hennessy, so his stamina came into play here as he galloped his rivals into submission.  It was a brilliant performance.

However, do not underestimate what this will have taken out of the winner.  He looks set to be put away for the season and that looks sensible to me, as this must’ve taken its toll.  Should he come back next season and get soft ground again he will be the one to beat.

MIGHT BITE (176) looked to have the measure of the winner but couldn’t pick up in the bad ground after the last.  He would’ve been suited by better ground, and I think would’ve won had such conditions prevailed.  Alas, they didn’t, and unfortunately he will be a ten year old next season.  Brilliant as he is, I can’t help but feel the Gold Cup might have slipped through their fingers.  Like the winner, do not underestimate the lasting effect this race will have on the horse.

That then follows for the rest of the horses.  ANIBALE FLY (172) ran a big race, and would look attractively weighted in the National, but I’d worry about him backing that up.  And ROAD TO RESPECT (168) ran a fine race on ground that probably didn’t suit.  He is just seven years old so may be able to come back for another crack if minded.

I think the one thing to take away from this Gold Cup is given how savagely it was run (it was 14.76s quicker than the Foxhunters) that one should be wary about how horses come out of the race.  Footpad, Presenting Percy and Balko Des Flos look the ones around to step up should places be vacated.

 

Appendix

I’ve attached all the raw data I’ve taken if you want to play around with the figures yourself.  Note these time the winner from the first flight in their respective races.

Summerville Boy Buveur D’Air Benie Des Deux
    11.24
    42.84
44.07 45.79 49.17
47.57 46.59 47.77
24.47 24.8 25.62
21.42 21.96 21.18
39.2 38.23 38.08
18.28 18.31 17.75
27.78 26.83 28.8
14.74 15.16 16.34

 

Footpad Coo Star Sivola Rathvinden Mister Whitaker
    13.14  
    15.76  
    42.21  
    12.17  
    26.49  
  7.98 9.13  
  23.65 24.24  
  22.39 22.58  
  15.12 15.75  
  13.45 13.95 12.58
  13.13 13.3 15.79
  20.58 20.54 41.16
11.26 39.86 40.25 12.91
23.31 34.63 34.15 25.88
8.15 8.65 9.15 9.32
21.28 22.39 23.87 23.67
19.66 20.73 22.13 21.95
13.59 14 14.58 14.67
12.34 12.95 13.04 13.33
11.79 12.91 13.36 12.68
18.99 19.88 20.62 19.97
36.61 37.13 39.41 36.71
30.18 31.62 32 31.8
7.88 8.58 8.64 8.66
18.03 19.67 18.32 18.1

 

Samcro Bleu Berry Veneer Of Charm
20.2 19.1  
51.67 52.46  
47.95 48.5 46.19
48.47 49.74 49.25
26.35 25.47 26.78
22.46 22.42 22.94
37.85 38.16 39.12
16.54 17.32 17.09
25.42 26.33 27.05
14.5 14.44 14.8

 

Presenting Percy Altior
23.46  
22.18  
14.23  
13.08  
12.94  
20.19  
37.68 10.85
33.06 23.21
8.59 8.25
23.57 22.44
21.58 21.06
14.12 13.74
12.62 12.36
12.42 12.42
19.73 19.32
36.9 37.59
29.37 30.84
7.82 8.12
19.4 16.7

 

Delta Work Penhill Laurina
14.44 15.5  
11.99 12.68  
30.56 31.28  
52.8 53.41  
44.05 45.59 47.73
42.17 45.55 42.2
13.99 14.56 13.79
11.74 12.19 11.19
27.99 30 27.72
48.09 47.93 46.51
39.69 37.59 40.72
13.96 14.37 16.3

 

Shattered Love Balko Des Flos The Storyteller Missed Approach
      11.45
      37.63
      14.9
      12.28
      12.2
  12.77 12.44 17.39
15.32 16.16 15.59 16.01
41.47 41.05 40.88 18.48
12.13 11.99 12.62 22.27
21.28 20.26 21.28 32.95
12.62 12.07 12.59 13.36
36.84 35.82 37.64 39.02
14.28 13.86 14.38 15.02
11.49 11.51 11.36 12.34
10.79 11.01 11.45 11.57
15.67 15.77 16.04 17.12
14.45 14.38 14.86 15.35
17.77 16.64 17.48 18.57
19.6 19.97 20.54 21.34
28.37 29.23 29.84 30.11
11.44 12.08 12.09 12.06
17.92 19.8 18.61 18.38

 

 

Farclas Mohaayed Kilbricken Storm Blow By Blow
    14.6  
    12.03  
    30.12 10.78
    51.86 42.65
48.29 46.98 43.31 50.46
43.01 44.31 42.38 44.75
13.72 14.15 14.07 15.13
11.08 11.62 11.72 12.34
28.68 27.95 28.79 29.63
47.95 48.24 49.24 49.54
39.65 39.65 41.9 40.41
15.45 15.66 16.37 15.9

 

 

Native River Pacha Du Polder Le Prezien
12.56 12.74  
37.71 38.13  
15.26 15.4  
11.84 12.87  
11.45 11.48  
16.2 16.91  
15.54 16.34  
17.96 18.22  
22.22 23.03 11.77
32.26 32.95 20.67
12.72 12.88 12.6
37.43 37.97 36.91
14.18 15.24 14.92
11.21 11.7 11.48
11.24 11.32 11.76
15.61 16.49 15.9
14.89 15.25 15.48
17.37 18.44 18.04
20.6 21.98 21.05
29.02 31.18 29.62
11.68 12.71 12.62
19.44 19.92 18.53

 

 

CHAMPION HURDLE PREVIEW

Looking at the Champion Hurdle entries for this year I can’t help having a similar feeling to last years Champion Chase.  Every pundit you read or listened to last year was lambasting the Champion Chase as terrible outside the favourite and not worth any punter looking at.  I wrote at the time that I found this slightly confusing as with an odds on favourite and the potential each way implications for a race that could cut up it seemed to me like a very appealing race to get involved in from an antepost perspective.  This years Champion Hurdle looks very similar to me…. we have a short odds on favourite that no one can see getting beaten, and it being largely dismissed as a betting proposition.

To my eye though looking at the entries, we are looking at maximum field of 10 and there is the chance that it could cut up to 7 or less by the off.  That makes it top priority for me when looking at Cheltenham antepost races!

Let’s go through the runners… (I’ve listed their best rating this season first, and their best ever after)

BUVEUR D’AIR (154,172) – The defending Champion was a brilliant winner last year and is the short odds on favourite to go in again this season.  Similar to Douvan last year if he’s at his best and runs to it on the day, he will win.  But, these are still animals and not machines so let’s see if we can find an angle in.

His only defeat over hurdles has come at the hands of Min and Altior in the hot Supreme from 2016, so we can tenuously take some comfort in the fact he has lost on this course. This season he has run three times in very slowly run races on soft ground beating a total of nine rivals.  In the Champion he’ll likely face the quickest ground he’s raced on this season and as many rivals as his previous three runs combined!  Henderson is on record as saying he takes plenty of work and is it perhaps possible that the ease with which he is winning could be detrimental come the big day?!

FAUGHEEN (165,179) – That 179 figure came in his Irish Champion Hurdle romp a few years ago and I don’t think it’s being controversial to suggest that he won’t be running to that mark again.  I have rated him 165 on his run behind Supasundae and that is probably as good as he is now.  That is actually the clear best piece of two mile form this season and at a general 6/1 for the Champion now I am probably keener on his chances than many are.  However, he is now ten and I can’t help but think that they had him cherry ripe for the Irish Champion and I’m not sure how much more will be left in the tank considering the issues he’s had in the past.  Also, I feel he may now be better on softer ground and I wonder whether he may end up getting taken off his feet in the big race.

MY TENT OR YOURS (149,166) – A year older than Faugheen the old stager My Tent Or Yours comes back for another crack at the Champion.  Second in a Supreme and two Champions it was nice to see him gain a success at the track (albeit on the New Course) in December.  That was a slowly run affair though and he was getting weight from most of his rivals.  Now he’s eleven I’d be inclined to look beyond him this year.

MELON (154,156) – Was a big talking horse last year and posted a big figure on debut, but for me he hasn’t really progressed from that.  I’m inclined to think the figures he’s been running to are just as good as he is and with that in mind I can leave him alone at the prices.

WICKLOW BRAVE (-,168) – One of my favourite horses in training I actually backed him for this race last year, and was feeling pretty smug as he travelled well down the hill but hope soon turned to despair as he faded into 7th.  Of course he then came out and won the Punchestown Champion with a front running ride!  He is again going to come here fresh (if at all) and his form off a ten week plus break reads 915027 with the only victory coming in a maiden hurdle when sent of 2/5.  With that in mind I’m going to reluctantly pass him over, and he’s been found already this year given he is a best price of 20s.

ELGIN (155,155) – 7th in last year’s Supreme he has been a good horse for connections this season in landing a Greatwood and Kingwell Hurdle.  However, I’ve only been able to rate him 155 and that doesn’t scream Champion Hurdle contender to me, for all that this is an open year behind the favourite.

MICK JAZZ (160,160) – The horse that picked up the Grade 1 hurdle at Christmas when Faugheen bombed he was then third behind that horse and Supasundae in the Irish Champion.  I’ve rated him as a 160 horse and that puts him in the mix regarding the field in this race.  Since moving to Elliott he hasn’t been out of the first three over two miles and was in fact only a length and three quarters behind Labaik in a novice hurdle last year.  Still only seven and with the potential for better ground suiting he is a strong traveller that is of definite interest at 33/1.

CH’TIBELLO (146,161) – Was another that I’d backed at big prices last year only for him to be ruled out on the morning of the race.  He’d run some big figures in defeat last year but unfortunately hasn’t reached the same heights this year on my numbers.  There is the chance that better ground will suit him come the big day but I’d be inclined to say that injury and preparation have meant that he isn’t quite as good as last year this time round.

VERDANA BLUE (155,155) – With Apple’s Jade set to go for the Mares Hurdle, her sex looks set to be represented by Verdana Blue.  She was actually fourth in last years Mares Novice Hurdle and has run to a decent level this season in good two mile handicaps.  Getting 7lbs from the boys puts her in the mix for this race and her run last time out gives some cause for optimism as she travelled well but couldn’t pick up in the bad ground at Newbury.  All her wins have come on good and good to soft ground and with that in mind she is worth considering for all that she had a hard race last time out.

JOHN CONSTABLE (150,160) – One of the horses to race against the favourite this year, John Constable is an interesting contender for this race.  He was 6th behind My Tent Or Yours in the International and then runner-up when chasing Buveur D’Air at Sandown.  But both those races were on soft ground and this horse thrives on better ground and the better weather!  He won the Swinton Hurdle by 14 lengths last year, and the the Summer Handicap off a mark of 150.  His form in two mile hurdle races on good ground with a five week break reads 17F11 (fell when likely to be second in hot handicap) and the fact he has been running good races on unsuitable ground this winter is encouraging.  I reckon he’s a stone better on better ground and that will put him in the mix come the big day should the ground go his way.  With Davy Russell the owners retained rider he’ll also have the ideal jockey to get him into the frame.  He’s actually regally bred being a full brother to St Leger winner Leading Light, and as one of the younger horses in the field I’m interested to see how he goes in top company on good ground.  In an open year he can go well at a big price.

 

CONCLUSION

Obviously Buveur D’Air is going to be tough to beat, but the shape of the race screams an each way angle and there are a few to focus on.  I’m against the old boys My Tent Or Yours and Faugheen, and also Wicklow Brave first time up.  Elgin and Melon haven’t posted a figure yet to suggest they can be competitive even in this open a renewal of the race.  And Ch’tibello seems to be a bit below the horse that came into last years race with such promise.

With that in mind I’m left looking at Verdana Blue, Mick Jazz and John Constable.  Verdana Blue had a very hard race in the Betfair Hurdle on bad ground, and with just a 31 day break I wonder if that will leave it’s mark as she steps up into Grade 1 company.  Mick Jazz is of interest at 33/1 but at an even bigger price (and with the hope that Davy Russell rides him instead) I’m chancing JOHN CONSTABLE at 50/1 each way.  He has a blue blooded pedigree, and has been running good races on bad ground this season.  In the hope that he can step up on better ground I don’t think he is a 10/1 chance to hit the frame, and he is 20/1 in the w/o market (has been 33s though so maybe wait for the day of race special markets).

  1. BUVEUR D’AIR
  2. JOHN CONSTABLE
  3. MICK JAZZ

(Potential curveballs – there are three horses that should be running here in my opinion, namely Supasundae, Yorkhill and Apple’s Jade.  It seems unlikely that any of them will show though, but they are the three horses genuinely capable of shaking up the favourite if he is in his best form)

WAITING PATIENTLY STARS AND OUR DUKE IS BACK…BUT IS IT ALL TOO CLOSE TO CHELTENHAM?!

WAITING PATIENTLY FULFILLS HIS POTENTIAL

I’ll confess to not being one to get too into stories involved in racing, but even I found it hard not to feel the soul stirring as CUE CARD (166) rolled back the years and led the Ascot Chase field a merry dance by setting a brutal pace.  Even then it was perhaps even more heart-warming to see WAITING PATIENTLY (169) come and win the race for Ruth Jefferson who has taken over the licence from the late Malcolm Jefferson.  Waiting Patiently had previously clocked a good time at Kempton in eye-catching style, and duly delivered on the potential of that performance here.

The novice chase on the card was run at a farcically slow pace so I’ve just put up the sectionals with Regal Encore in the three mile handicap by way of comparison:

Regal Encore

Waiting Patiently

Difference

34.3

33.59

-0.71

44.63

44.04

-0.59

55.89

54.88

-1.01

67.8

66.1

-1.7

96.76

94.14

-2.62

112.93

109.99

-2.94

155.48

150.92

-4.56

167.45

162.67

-4.78

185.36

180.28

-5.08

198.71

193.68

-5.03

233.08

226.99

-6.09

243.68

236.78

-6.9

254.89

247.32

-7.57

266.71

258.35

-8.36

293.15

284.74

-8.41

307.75

300.04

-7.71

321.61

315.49

-6.12

 As you can see from the above, Waiting Patiently got to the fence two out 8.41s quicker than Regal Encore did in the longer handicap.  This pace told on the run in as he came home 2.29s slower, but even allowing for this and the shorter distance this was still an excellent performance from the winner.  He loomed up travelling well behind Cue Card on the run-in and won the race fairly convincingly.

He has now been shortened for the Ryanair Chase, though connections seem reluctant to commit to that race at this stage.  To be honest, I’m inclined to agree with them.  For starters, regardless of how easily he seemed to travel in this race, this was still run at a frenetic pace on soft ground and will have left its mark on the horses.  With just three and a half weeks to go to the Ryanair that has to be a concern.  The long term plan seems to be the King George and that looks perfectly sensible to me.  He’s already won at Kempton, and his ability to travel well off this pace here over 2m5f suggests three miles at Kempton should prove no bother to him.  He’s undoubtedly one of the stars of the jump game now, and considering he is still only seven there may be more to come yet.

CUE CARD (166) showed something like his former self here and by setting a brutal pace was able to use his latent stamina to see of his rivals.  He also benefitted from the soft ground here but I’d be worried about him going forward.  For starters, as with the winner, this effort will have left its mark and perhaps even more so in his case as he was no doubt trained for this day.  I’ve heard some people say this was a career best for Cue Card but that is a laughable statement, as I make it about 20lbs below his optimum.  I think it’s probably best just to see this run as being able to appreciate seeing him one more time in something resembling his old self!

Considering how savage this race was, I’d be worried about some of the other horses in behind with their Cheltenham prospects in mind.  Perhaps it was no bad thing to see CONEY ISLAND (?) pulled up early on, as he made jumping errors and just couldn’t live with the pace being set.  A similar thing happened on his previous start, but with only one realistic rival and the ensuing pace collapse that rival saw he was able to overcome losing ground that day.  On this occasion there were top class two and a half milers and stayers who could live with the pace, and he wasn’t able to get back into the race.  It looks to me as if three miles plus will be on the agenda for him now.

OUR DUKE BACK TO HIS BEST

There was an intriguing clash in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran which saw OUR DUKE (168) give weight and a beating to the highly touted novice chaser PRESENTING PERCY (160).  Strangely, for two horses perceived as stayers and potentially unsuited by the drop back to 2.5m here, it was their pace in the latter stages that was impressive!

Some Neck

Our Duke

Tongie

13.19

12.77

12.44

24.75

24.2

23.18

86.92

86.91

84.33

100.91

101.21

98.26

115.71

116.06

113.08

130.8

131.39

128.73

147.66

148.58

147.59

197.04

199.05

201.23

208.88

210.4

212.45

219.37

220.24

222.53

232.69

232.97

235.73

 As you can see the overall time for the sections timed from the first jump in the two mile race saw a similar overall time to Some Neck in the beginners chase.  But when we drill into things a bit deeper we can see that they went a slower pace in the Red Mills.

Some Neck

Our Duke

Tongie

197.04

199.05

201.23

35.65

33.92

34.5

 The above shows the times taken to get to three out and then from there to the line.  As you can see, Our Duke was 2s behind at three out, but fairly motored home to the line 1.73s quicker.  When I adjust for this and tie in the comparison with the shorter handicap I give Our Duke a figure of 168.  This isn’t far off some of his stellar runs from last season (earnt 174) and suggests that he is starting to fire again.

However, enthusiasm is tempered somewhat as this race was run in bad ground and the front two got into a fair old battle to the line.  With just three and a half weeks to Cheltenham that isn’t ideal and I’d be worried about this race leaving its mark on both of them.

PRESENTING PERCY (160) comes out on the same figure I gave him for his last chase win.  Interestingly, I had his Pertemps Hurdle success at 158, and whilst he looks to be a good staying novice chaser, I’m not sure he’s as great as everyone seems to be building him up to be. Usually when horses keep hitting the same sort of mark that tends to be how good they are.  Now he may step up massively on better ground at Cheltenham, but with the tough race here I’m keen to take him on in the RSA.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE SOME NECK AND UP FOR REVIEW

As you saw from the previous sectionals, SOME NECK (156) ran a fine time in his own right, with UP FOR REVIEW (152) setting a decent pace before finishing second.  Both horses have had their problems and were coming here off long layoffs and assuming they can hold their form after this run they are both of interest to me going forward.  They didn’t quite have the pace of Our Duke or Presenting Percy in the latter stages of their race, but they had gone quicker here and I wonder whether both will come into their own when upped to three miles.  They are worth keeping in mind anyway as they seem to have been slightly overlooked with some of the other performances from the weekend taking centre stage.

Their overall time was actually slightly quicker, but I’ve made a meaningful adjustment for the way Our Duke came home from two out, and hence arrive at a lower figure for both Some Neck and Up For Review.  In essence, they were able to clock a similar time as they went quicker early on!  But their runs were still good on the clock, and I think both of them are of interest going forward.

I WOULDN’T SPEND £20K TO SUPPLEMENT ELGIN FOR THE CHAMPION HURDLE

Each to their own obviously with what they do with their money, but it seems strange to me to pull a horse out of a race and then plan to stump up a large supplementary fee a few weeks later!  But that is apparently going to be the plan with ELGIN (153) who won the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton in a good time.  But it was bang in line with some of his previous efforts this season and I’m not sure I’d be rushing to splash the cash to supplement him for the Champion.

Breaking Ground

Elgin

Fortunate George

Embole

25.77

24.14

24.9

26.04

87.38

81.18

86.14

89.43

114.25

105.51

113.12

117.3

128.96

119.2

127.81

131.91

189.15

176.78

189.1

189.95

212.38

199.53

214.18

212.82

227.35

215.03

230.12

227.97

 On the clock this rated a figure of 153 for Elgin which is in line with figures I’ve given him this season (best of 155).  As you can see his overall time from the first was way quicker than anything else on the card, but it was the only race run at any meaningful gallop.

Breaking Ground

Elgin

Fortunate George

Embole

189.15

176.78

189.1

189.95

38.2

38.25

41.02

38.02

 The above shows the splits to and from three out, and it shows just how much quicker they went in the Kingwell.  Elgin did well to still come home in similar time to the other races but they were relatively lowly affairs (Breaking Ground was winning off a mark of 81) and with all the comparisons I just get a similar figure for Elgin as before.

Now it goes without saying that this is an open Champion Hurdle behind the favourite, and I guess with him probably going up to 155 after this connections are thinking of going for the Grade 1 rather than a handicap.  But it does rather beg the question of why they pulled him out of the race in the first place!  I’ve got all the likely runners in the Champion ahead of Elgin and with his seeming preference for soft ground I must admit I’d be reluctant to part with £20k to go for the Champion Hurdle.  He could well hit the frame and earn a bit of cash for connections, but he’s not on my radar for the race.

CH’TIBELLO (146) was a horse I was keen on for last years Champion Hurdle at a big price each way, after he posted figures around 160 in the run up to the race.  Unfortunately he met with a setback on the morning of the race and given he didn’t reappear until mid-December last year I wonder whether he has had a few niggles beyond that.  His runs this season have seen him earn figures of 145,141 and 146 and I just wonder if he’s not the same horse this time round. That’s a stone below what I think he’s capable of.  Better ground could see a renaissance of some description but I think I’ll leave him alone when bad each way plans are being made this time round.

LE PATRIOTE ADVERTISES THE LANZAROTE FORM EVEN MORE

I confess to being puzzled time and time again when handicap marks are given or adjusted.  Plenty of novices seem to be let in lightly on handicap debuts, and at the other end of the scale some handicappers get absolutely clobbered for winning races in poor times.  However, the way William Henry has been only put up 6lbs for winning this year’s Lanzarote Hurdle is one of the biggest head scratchers I can recall!  The form of the race was advertised again at Ascot with LE PATRIOTE (137) winning a handicap hurdle in fine style.

Point Of Principle

Le Patriote

Ballyheighue Bay

11.15

10.73

10.54

56.19

55.34

54.74

72.01

70.67

71.03

121.68

119.84

120.13

139.78

137.96

138.42

203.8

198.66

201.68

213.43

208.61

212.33

253

248.42

255.7

267.2

262.16

271.5

282.39

277.45

288.83

 The merits of the performance are evidenced in the sectionals above that show the strength of the run on the clock when compared to the other two races on the card.  This earns the winner a mark of 137 from me, and considering he was winning this off a mark of 127 it’ll be interesting to see how he is reassessed.  He has been well backed on his three starts since moving from France and clearly shows plenty at home.

The main take out for me from this race though was that William Henry has to go close in the Coral Cup.  I rated him 160 in the Lanzarote, and he is currently 151.  I don’t often get involved in Cheltenham handicaps antepost with no extra places on offer but with James Bowen likely riding I struggle to see how this horse doesn’t go very close on the day.

RETURNING AND FUTURE STARS

NATIVE RIVER AS GOOD AS EVER ON RETURN

As a general rule of thumb I tend to be against horses who have interrupted preparations, injuries and significant layoffs.  The last weekend saw two of the big names in jump racing return oFf said preparations, and both look as good as ever.

First up was NATIVE RIVER (174) who put up a good display to see off CLOUDY DREAM (159) on his comeback run at Newbury.  Happily, there was a handicap run over the same distance to enable a relatively straightforward comparison for Native River’s credentials:

Native River

Indy Five

Difference

14.35

14.15

0.2

53.8

54.07

-0.27

85.23

85.5

-0.27

98.72

98.69

0.03

111.09

111.19

-0.1

127

127.06

-0.06

145.2

145.47

-0.27

179.62

180.32

-0.7

192.8

193.25

-0.45

207.07

207.93

-0.86

221.79

222.74

-0.95

235.71

236.75

-1.04

273.7

275.78

-2.08

302.72

305.38

-2.66

315.02

318.15

-3.13

326.35

329.71

-3.36

340.81

344.98

-4.17

360.91

366.68

-5.77

 As you can see, Native River clocked a time 5.77s quicker than Indy Five did in the handicap as timed from the first jump, and did so carrying 17lbs more.  I’ve made a small adjustment to allow for the worsening ground between the two races but still reach a figure of 174 for Native River that suggests he’s come back as good as ever.

He’s been shortened in the Gold Cup market on the back of this but I’d be hesitant to get too carried away. Firstly, this was his first run since the Gold Cup last year, and he’s just run a good time on relatively bad ground…the bounce brigade will be salivating at the prospect of him running at Cheltenham.  Indeed there was an excellent Timeform article out this week that shows the difficulty for good grade horses missing most of the season and having one run before Cheltenham.  Secondly, having been beaten in last years Gold Cup it is difficult to argue he can go better this year – only Kauto Star has bucked that trend recently.  And finally, he probably needs the soft ground that he got here to be at his best.  In conclusion, good run (excellent even), leave alone at short enough prices for the Gold Cup.

CLOUDY DREAM (159) has proven to be a bit of a disappointment this season.  He put in a good time to just go down to Smad Place at Aintree but up to three miles on his last two runs he hasn’t gone through with his effort having travelled with promise.  Perhaps the soft ground on each occasion has been against him and a step back to 2.5m may be the way to go.  There is a lot of talent under the engine and I’d be wary of underestimating him as some seem to be.  He hasn’t had his optimum conditions on his last three runs, but back to 2.5m on decent ground and I wouldn’t rule him out.

AND ALTIOR COME BACK AS GOOD AS EVER TOO

As someone who tends to stand against short priced favourites, it was a relatively chastening afternoon as no sooner had Native River gone in, then ALTIOR (172) swiftly followed.  The comparison of the relative times for the two horses over the course timed from the first jump in Altiors race makes interesting reading:

Native River

Altior

Difference

15.91

16.76

0.85

34.11

34.37

0.26

68.53

69.48

0.95

81.71

83.02

1.31

95.98

97.73

1.75

110.7

112.56

1.86

124.62

126.34

1.72

162.61

163.41

0.8

191.63

192.33

0.7

203.93

205.08

1.15

215.26

216.28

1.02

229.72

230.83

1.11

249.82

249.89

0.07

 As you can see, Altior clocked near enough the same time as Native River for the equivalent distance, but did so over 7f shorter.  On the basis of this I’d be giving Altior a relatively lowly figure, something in the mid-150s.  However, I have developed some adjustments over the years that are applicable here and give a guide, in my opinion, to his true underlying ability.  From the table above you can see that at one stage he was 1.86s behind, but had made up all of this gap by the finishing line.  Clearly then, the slow early pace, and relatively slow pace throughout the race has affected the overall time.

I make an adjustment then for him making up this difference, and this then spits out a number of 172.  Interestingly, POLITOLOGUE (167) comes out on a similar mark to his Haldon Cup win, so I’m inclined to go with this.  But I’ll freely admit that on the basic clock numbers this wasn’t a brilliant performance.  It’s only when digging into the comparison that you can see how much time he made up, and he did so relatively easily.

Similarly then to Native River we have a horse who hasn’t run since the end of last season, and has now shortened up in price (even more so in this case) for Cheltenham.  Again, one can look at that Timeform article and the difficulty top horses find in trying to win on comeback and then again at Cheltenham.  He’s clearly a top class horse, and his turn of foot at the end of his races is remarkable, but after this campaign and now odds on for a Champion Chase, he’s not for me.

POLITOLOGUE (167) matched his Haldon Cup success, but this is a notch below the heights that Altior can reach.  Similarly to Exeter, the conditions were bad here, and he probably needs conditions as such to be competitive in top class Grade 1 company over two miles.  With that in mind I am lukewarm about his Cheltenham prospects, and he’ll probably need to go up in trip on better ground this spring.

KALASHNIKOV HIGHLIGHTS STRENGTH IN THE NOVICE HURDLERS

With the magnitude of coverage online and podcasts, I confess to getting slightly peeved at the continued denigration of the novice hurdling division this year.  As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time on racing, collecting my own data, and compiling my own figures, I can say that this is actually one of the strongest novice hurdling divisions in terms of depth.  The year Altior won the Supreme was exceptional, and there is perhaps only one horse that can be talked of in such company (Samcro) but the strength in depth beneath is extraordinary.  I counted at least a dozen who have posted 150+ figures this year.

One of those duly landed the Betfair Hurdle, and KALASHNIKOV (152) is firmly in the upper echelons of this years novice hurdling crop.

Whatswrongwithyou

Talkischeap

Kalashnikov

57.19

53.61

51.74

72.15

67.77

65.39

93.05

88.23

85.2

114.44

108.96

105.1

177.1

171.69

168.3

199.62

197.22

193.43

219.14

221.2

215.92

235.12

240.68

232.44

 The above shows the times taken from the first jump in the two mile races, and you can see straightaway that Kalashnikov clocked the fastest time.  They went a fierce early pace in the Betfair, and indeed were 9.34s ahead of the novice hurdle run over the same distance earlier on the card.  This told in the latter stages, as Kalashnikov clocked an overall time of 2.68s quicker, but the merits of this run are still obvious and I’ve given him a mark of 152.  This is 2lbs up on his run in the Tolworth.

Kalashnikov has now been cut to 7/1 for the Supreme, and whilst I rate him one of the better novices around I struggle to find much appeal in that price.  Chief in my concerns is just what a hard race he had here.  They went a strong pace in bad ground, and I’d be worried that this run leaves its mark.  Furthermore, preparation in a handicap hurdle isn’t the perfect preparation for Cheltenham Grade 1 that you may think, for all that it highlights a horses toughness.  My Tent Or Yours, Get Me Out Of Here, Darlan are three that ran in the Betfair Hurdle before getting beaten in the Supreme (albeit running well) and I can’t help feel that history will repeat.  I can certainly see him hitting the frame in a Supreme, but something may just chin him.

I’d also be inclined to believe that he will be better up in trip, and for all that he is supposed to be better on better ground he was under the cosh from someway out here before staying on best.  The pace of this race was strong, and that is evidenced further as the next two horses in the race are also probably better suited by further.  Both BLEU ET ROUGE (152) and SPIRITOFTHEGAMES (135) look likely Coral Cup candidates for me.

I was keen on the chances of KAYF GRACE (110) in this race, but she was quite keen on the outside and was up in the vanguard early on.  On pedigree she should also be suited by stepping up in trip, and the ground probably went too far against her on the day (they were largely unrecognisable in the closing stages).  I’m going to give her another chance in the Mares Hurdle come Cheltenham, as her Kempton form was in a good time and the form has been franked.

WILL SAINT CALVADOS HANDLE BETTER GROUND IN THE ARKLE?

There was a remarkable performance at Warwick, as SAINT CALVADOS (172) obliterated his rivals in a manner not dissimilar to how Un De Sceaux can get rivals out of their comfort zone on soft ground.  The two runner race on the card was run at a farcical pace, so the only comparison to make is with the handicap over 2.5m, but the figures are still startling:

Saint Calvados

Casse Tette

Difference

10.42

11.38

-0.96

43.26

46.38

-3.12

54.04

57.51

-3.47

63.06

67.05

-3.99

131.93

138.59

-6.66

140.69

147.83

-7.14

149.12

156.54

-7.42

159.17

167.19

-8.02

167.28

175.02

-7.74

196.11

205.84

-9.73

206.81

217.65

-10.84

225.04

236.2

-11.16

 As you can see Saint Calvados clocked a time 11.16s faster that Casse Tette did in the handicap chase, and did so carrying 4lbs more.  Even allowing for the shorter trip this was still the best 2m novice time of the season for me.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Kylemore Lough, a Grade 1 winner, was setting the fractions in the handicap chase (the above are Casse Tette’s times) and he wasn’t going as fast as Saint Calvados.  Yet he tired on the run in and was overhauled by the winner.

Saint Calvados now goes to the Arkle and if he can translate this sort of form to Cheltenham then he looks a threat.  As ever, things aren’t that straightforward.  First up, this was his 3rdrun since the end of December, and considering his style of running that will take its toll no matter how easy he looks to be doing things.  Of equal concern is his suitability to better ground at Cheltenham, and the undulations.  I’m by no means an expert on knee actions, but he has to have one of the more pronounced ones that I can recall, almost appearing to be stamping on the ground as he runs.  These two things combined temper enthusiasm for Cheltenham.

Being a stubborn contrarian at heart, I’d be keener on the chances of NORTH HILL HARVEY (131) who was beaten out of sight here.  But that may be no bad thing!  He looked to drag his back legs through one of the fences early on, and perhaps that was a result of the savage pace Saint Calvados was setting, but it meant he conserved some energy on the way home as he came back in largely his own time.  This is a horse who has a good record fresh so easing him back home is one way to spin a positive on this run.  And indeed with it four and a half weeks to Cheltenham he may have been a bit undercooked for this.  He also has a fine Cheltenham record and with question marks about the suitability of the track for Footpad, Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir we do at least know that North Hill Harvey thrives round there.  He’s run to a mark of 162 for me, and if others fail to act on the course he looks a fair each way proposition to me at 25/1 now in a race that could cut up.