BUVEUR D’AIR SET TO BE ONE OF THE GREATS
It occurred to me that there is a degree of irony in the year everyone was denouncing the Champion Hurdle as sub-standard, that the winner could turn out to be one of the very best hurdlers in recent times.
BUVEUR D’AIR (172+) confirmed the form of his Champion Hurdle win and then some, when fairly romping away with the Aintree Hurdle. Always travelling best, he won going away under a hands and heels ride to confirm his superiority over the current (injury free) hurdlers.
The other hurdle race on the card was the juvenile race over a half mile shorter, and the sectionals compare as follows, when comparing times from the first jump in the shorter race:
|Defi Du Seuil
As you can see, Buveur D’Air clocked a time 0.7s faster over the same section as the juvenile race and did this despite running over half a mile further, carrying 7lbs more and doing so well within his comfort zone. It was a pure top class performance and underlines my view from Cheltenham that he is a Champion Hurdler worthy of the moniker. When adjusting for the weight and race distances I give the winner a mark of 172, and considering the manner of his win and that he is only a 6 year old there is scope for him to improve from this mark.
It must then follow to look at his prospects for next season. First of all, I hope they skip Punchestown as his last two runs will have taken a lot out of him and I would worry about another one leaving its mark. Next season though must revolve around him defending his crown at Cheltenham and I confess to being slightly surprised that he is as big as 4/1 to accomplish that task. On my marks even a fully fit Annie Power getting weight would struggle to match him, and it remains to be seen if either she or Faugheen return to the track. Only the soon to be 9 year old Arctic Fire would have the tools in his locker to lay a glove on the Champion on my numbers. Considering Altior is half the price at 2/1 when potentially having to lock horns with Douvan, Min or Yorkhill…the 4/1 about Buveur D’Air would make some appeal as he likely just has to get to March in one piece.
MY TENT OR YOURS (166) and THE NEW ONE (164) are both now getting on in years and have been firmly dismissed by the winner now. My Tent Or Yours deserves to win a big race and I would be interested in his prospects at Punchestown should they decide to go there. The New One has always been just below the top grade, and he can pick up his usual assortment of Champion Hurdle trials next season and finish 5th in the big one….again!
I was keen on the prospects of RASHAAN (147) in this race, mostly due to his form in small fields on good ground. Before this run, his form in single figure fields on ground soft or better read 1121211. He is below Grade 1 level and was found out here, but can run to a number in the mid-150s on my figures and if he gets a small field race in Ireland as they often do he can win races.
DEFI DU SEUIL SOME WAY OFF CHAMPION HURDLE CLASS….AT THIS STAGE
If there is a worse antepost price than the 8/1 currently available about DEFI DU SEUIL (153) for the Champion Hurdle then I’d like to see it. The sectionals of his win on the same card as Buveur D’Air show just how inferior he is, and he would need to take a massive step up to challenge next season. Not only that but the record of 4 years olds shows how tough it is, and the fact he is in the same ownership and the option of chasing on the table must surely extinguish any enthusiasm in his chances. He could improve for sure but just keeps hitting the same mid-150s numbers without progressing to me, and he makes no appeal as a betting prospect for the big race.
DIVIN BERE (152) continued his progression after just getting touched off in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham. Already rated 145 he is likely to go up further after this, and could be in a difficult position to place next season as a result. I wouldn’t discount him in handicap hurdles as with improvement he can be a threat in that sphere having shown affinity for a big field already.
The interesting horse to take out of the race to me was the third place runner BEDROCK (147). Trained by Dan Skelton this was just his second start over hurdles after finishing down the field in 5th on his debut in the Adonis when jumping poorly. The fact that he was put in there on his debut surely shows the high regard he is held in my connections, and this 90 rated 10f flat performer improved markedly here and is a nice prospect to go to war with next season. That he could finish 6 length 3rd in a Grade 1 on just his second start over obstacles is admirable and with his trainers record in big handicap hurdles he rates a horse to keep on the right side of next season when all those big handicaps are surely on his agenda.
FLYING ANGEL AND TEA FOR TWO WOULDN’T HAVE CHALLENGED AT CHELTENHAM
There was an interesting double of sorts as two horses who were perceived as unfortunate at Cheltenham were victorious at Aintree.
FLYING ANGEL (160) was badly hampered in the JLT and then nursed home to finish a long way behind the protagonists. It was more to do with not fully racing at Cheltenham than his class though that enabled him to win here. This is shown in the lower numbers run by CLOUDY DREAM (159) and TOP NOTCH (155).
Cloudy Dream travelled well in this race but there are two reasons for his lower rating here…the trip and his big performance at Cheltenham taking it out of him. I believe a combination of the two and meeting a rival who hadn’t fully raced at Cheltenham that perhaps had the stamina edge on him contributed to his demise. He remains an exciting prospect for next season.
Top Notch ran below par and again the effort of Cheltenham probably took its toll. As a result Flying Angel was able to prevail, but don’t kid yourself that he was capable of winning the JLT. For starters Yorkhill had plenty in the tank to see off any challenge, and at best he could have hit the frame….in all likelihood he would have finished an admirable 4th.
In remarkably similar circumstances TEA FOR TWO (160) prevailed in the Bowl after unseating Lizzie Kelly early on in the Gold Cup. Not fully racing at Cheltenham aided his victory here…even more so when considering the pace that CUE CARD (160) went.
||Tea For Two
When looking at the sectional comparison of the two races, you can see that they went harder in the longer race won by Tea For Two. Cue Card was given an aggressive ride, and they understandably tired towards the end to clock a time 3.77s slower than the shorter race, having been 1.63s ahead early on. Adjusting for this and the longer distance I am happy to rate both winners around the 160 mark…they are both good horses on their day but rivals running below par or too aggressively when combined with the lack of racing they had at Cheltenham allowed them to prevail.
CUE CARD (160) was given an aggressive ride, as discussed, but he himself fell 3 out in the Gold Cup. Last year he was able to bounce back and romp to victory in this race…I am afraid to say he just looks to be on the downgrade now at 11. Perhaps with a more efficient ride he could have won here, and perhaps there is one last big race in the great horse…but the percentage play would have to be to take him on next season should he race again. There are monsters on the scene ready to take over his crown as we shall come onto later.
TWO MILE HANDICAP CHASE WORTH FOLLOWING
The two mile handicap chase that closed the card was run at a decent pace…they were 3.5s ahead of Flying Angel at one stage in their run. They understandably tired from there but I think this race will throw up plenty of winners. DOUBLE W’S (152), THEINVAL (156), BUN DORAN (147), YORKIST (141) and ROMAIN DE SENAM (140) should all be well handicapped enough to land big handicaps in the near future. Bun Doran especially could be interesting in a big field 2.5m handicap chase next season, he was 6th in the novice handicap chase at the festival and would rate a fair Bet Victor Gold Cup prospect at this stage.
FOX NORTON JOINS THE CHASING TOP TABLE
Colin Tizzard had a quiet festival, and so it was especially encouraging that FOX NORTON (174+) was able to go so close in the Champion Chase there. Stepping up to 2.5miles here he progressed further and clocked an excellent time when slamming some strong rivals impressively.
When comparing his run with that of Might Bite in the longer novice chase we can see how impressive Fox Norton was on the clock.
Running at a stronger pace he was able to clock a time 3.5s quicker than Might Bite when timed from the first jump in the 2.5m race. Understandably they tired a bit in the longer race, but this was still an exceptional performance from Fox Norton, who now looks set to stay at this distance or even go up further to 3 miles in the King George. On his pedigree I wouldn’t be crazy about his chances of thriving at 3 miles, and so the option of dominating the 2.5m division would be my choice (the owner already owns the Gold Cup winner). In all likelihood I would say they will attempt to test his stamina at Kempton and get beaten there, before reverting to the Ryanair along with Un De Sceaux. That clash is a mouth-watering prospect already.
SUB LIEUTENANT (166) ran another good race but just couldn’t match the impressive winner in the closing stages. I wrote in my Cheltenham review that he seems to thrive on undulating tracks, and so was somewhat surprised to see him go off favourite here. His form on undulating tracks over 2.5m reads 13111322 with defeats coming against Un De Sceaus, Sizing John and Djakadam. I’d still like to see them try him at 3 miles again though, he is related to Lord Windermere, and would be a likely candidate on pedigree. He couldn’t go the pace of the winner here and was staying on in a strongly run Ryanair chase…with connections lacking an obvious Gold Cup candidate and his love of undulating tracks there are crazier outsiders for the blue riband next season.
MIGHT BITE FEELING THE EFFECTS OF MONSTROUS CHELTENHAM RUN
Plenty has been written about MIGHT BITE (170) and his remarkable run at Cheltenham. He wasn’t up to his brilliant best here, and I think that is down to the Cheltenham run taking so much out of him just 3 weeks ago. He was much more composed and measured here, jumping well throughout and always holding his old rival WHISPER (168) on the run in.
There were glimpses of his maverick brilliance in the race as he would step on the gas and have all of his rivals in trouble in behind making mistakes. But he wasn’t at his top level here, and understandably so considering the effort he put in at Cheltenham. Fortunately, it sounds like connections are drawing stumps on this season and then his campaign largely writes itself…Betfair Chase, King George and Gold Cup. Cue Card and Bristol De Mai lie in wait in the first of those, and he should have enough to see them off with the former on the downgrade and the latter probably not in his league (though he would be a danger considering his form at Haydock). The King George will probably see him take on doubtful stayers Fox Norton and Un De Sceaux and I’m always against horses returning from injury as Thistlecrack will be. Which should then leave him to try and run his rivals ragged in the Gold Cup to land the million pound bonus. He promises to be some sight next season and I would be keen to take big odds about him landing the huge bonus and landing all 3 races.
Whisper chased him home again, and connections intriguingly eyed up the National as his target for next season. Only rated 155 before this run, and given his excellent form at this meeting, that would make sense to me as he will have to run against an array of top class horses next season at the top table. I’d like to see him go for the Hennessy to start with to prove that he can handle the stamina test of the national, but assuming that he passes that test then he is of interest in the big race next year.
HURDLE RACES THROW UP INTERESTING PROSPECTS
I’ll tackle the 3 hurdle races on the card together, and you can see their sectionals here for the same 2 mile section they all covered.
||The World’s End
RATHER BE (148) won the opening 2.5m handicap hurdle from the two JP McManus horses DREAM BERRY (145) and GEORDIE DES CHAMPS (146). Rather Be was one of my handicap horses to follow at Cheltenham and I was devastated when he was hampered and unseated in the Martin Pipe race…he would’ve gone close there for sure. He was beaten a head by Couer De Lion at Sandown in February when trying to give that rival a stone (before weight allowances) and ran to a big number that day in the 150s. Couer de Lion backed up my opinion of the race when running well in the Triumph and happily Rather Be was able to hold off two well handicapped JP horses to prevail here. They clocked a time just 0.6s slower than the grade 1 novices, despite going half a mile further and the three of them can be a threat in handicap hurdles next season. Rather Be is a half-brother to Sign Of A Victory, he won this off a mark of 136, and is capable to being a mid-150s+ horse. Similarly, both Dream Berry and Geordie Des Champs are capable of holding their own in big handicap hurdles off their likely revised marks in the low 140s.
(On a side note, the horse that finished 3rd behind Couer De Lion and Rather Be that day is rated just 118. That horse is the David Bridgwater trained ACCORD, and I was interested that he was entered in a plethora of handicap hurdles before Cheltenham and in fact in the Supreme itself before not running in any of them. Wherever he goes next he looks to be well handicapped on my ratings…he was also close in behind Thomas Campbell at Cheltenham earlier in the season).
I wrote in my Cheltenham review that PINGSHOU (149) was an eye catching horse in the parade ring, and he duly proved his previous form at Cheltenham was no fluke by winning cosily here. A simply massive horse, he is the epitome of a chaser in the making, and he should make a fair one based on this run. Below par at Cheltenham, Tizzards horses were under a cloud there, he bounced back to his best form to beat some useful novices. He should be an exciting recruit over the larger obstacles if they can keep him sound (he has bled in the past).
Pingshou clocked a time 0.6s faster than Rather Be did in the handicap hurdle, but this was over a shorter trip albeit carrying 2lbs more. Adjusting for this I reach a mark of 149 which shows him to be an able novice. If he can improve for fences as he should he can be a top novice chaser.
The winner travelled prominently and kicked on up the run in away from MOUNT MEWS (145) who backed up his excellent win last time out at Kelso. That was on heavy ground, and long term he may prove better on a softer surface but he was still able to run a good race here. He rates an outstanding prospect for Trevor Hemmings.
MOON RACER (132) disappointed again after pulling up at Cheltenham, he clearly has his problems and much as I hope they can unlock his talent down the line, this fragile sort may never show his full potential. The Greatwood Hurdle next season may be the last throw of the dice!
THE WORLD’S END (148) won the Grand Sefton in a close finish from BEYOND CONCEIT (148), DEBECE (147) and CONSTANTINE BAY (147). They tired up the run in after a pace that was faster than the two shorter races earlier on the card, and when adjusting for this it points to smart performances from the four main protagonists. That said though, they need to improve 20lbs to challenge Nichols Canyon, who like Buveur D’Air looks head and shoulders above his rivals looking ahead to next season in the staying hurdle division.
YANWORTH HANDLES STEP UP IN TRIP
YANWORTH (166) proved able to handle the step up in trip to 3 miles when landing the Grade 1 Liverpool hurdle. Well beaten in the Champion Hurdle he perhaps lacks the pace for 2 miles at the very top level, but was able to run up to his best marks here up in trip.
When comparing his run to the handicap hurdle over the same trip earlier on the card, we can see that they went a much stronger pace in the Grade 1, reaching a maximum of 5.66s ahead. The pace then slower and handicap hurdle closed to within a second. But the Grade 1 horses were still able to come up the run-in faster than FOUNTAIN’S WINDFALL (144), extending their advantage from 1.01s to 2.54s at the line. Making this more impressive was the fact they were carrying 9lbs more.
Yanworth now looks set to tackle fences next season. I’m never a huge fan of horses having an extra season over hurdles prior to chasing, and though he is likely to be a player in the novice chase division next year he could be worth opposing. Trip wise at this stage the JLT must be the favourite as his intended target to my eye.
SUPASUNDAE (165) confirmed the promise of his excellent win in the Coral Cup, and was only narrowly eclipsed here by the winner. Seemingly able now to handle this longer trip he looks a likely candidate for the Stayers Hurdle next season, with good ground seemingly a prerequisite. Nichols Canyon lays in wait though!
Likewise for SNOW FALCON (164) who adds to the Irish staying hurdling contingent next season. A strong traveller in his races, he didn’t find much off the bridle here. He was going well when falling behind Unowhatimeanharry earlier in the season and clearly rates a contender in the top staying hurdles next year should connections elect to go down that route.
FINIAN’S OCAR AND CAPTAIN FOREZ ARE EXCITING NOVICE CHASERS
FINIAN’S OSCAR (152) won the Mersey Novices Hurdle for Colin Tizzard and Alan Potts, and rates a fine novice chase prospect for next season. Having missed Cheltenham, this was his second Grade 1 hurdle win of the season, despite starting it in the point-to-point field. With a summers improvement likely he can take high rank in the novice chase division next season. Together with Pingshou, the Potts look like reaping the reward their investment deserves.
They went a decent early pace in the Grade 1 race when compared to the handicap hurdle run over half a mile shorter later on the card. Their overall time was just 0.28s quicker, but with the longer distance and extra weight I’m happy to award Finian’s Oscar 152 for this run.
He wasn’t the only exciting novice chaser in the race though, as he was chased home by CAPTAIN FOREZ (149) who looks crying out for fences next year. To my eye he would look a 3 mile chaser in the making, so he did well to get so close to the perhaps speedier winner here on decent ground and a tight flat track. His dam was a half-sister to a 3 mile winner and surely that’s where his future must lie next year…the RSA 2018, the Gold Cup 2019?!
ONE FOR ARTHUR AN EXCELLENT NATIONAL WINNER
I don’t do times for races over the National fences as there is only one a day, and I’m not a big fan of cross card analysis. That said though the winner of this years looked exceptional, travelling well and winning impressively.
Rating the race through BLAKLION (158), I have both him and CAUSES OF CAUSES (160) on their marks I had them prior to the race, so this makes sense to me. ONE FOR ARTHUR (163) gets a big number as a result and he followed up his eye catching win in the Classic Chase at Warwick over 3m5f confirming him as a classy staying chaser. It may be a jump to argue the winner as a Gold Cup horse but still only 8 years old this was just his 11th chase start he could still improve. National horses have run well in the blue riband before and he could stay into a place if Might Bite lines up and sets a crazy pace in the race next year!