SUMMER HURDLERS COULD ENTER THE CHAMPION PICTURE

It has been a consistent trend over the last few seasons with the quality of jump racing over the summer months improving year on year.  Usually, I can hibernate from May to October, going surfing and generally forgetting about racing….but these days quality animals can appear over the summer.  Penhill for instance was a winner at last year’s Galway festival, and it isn’t inconceivable that the big handicap hurdles this summer have thrown up a couple of hurdlers that are worth their place in the top races over the winter months.

Starting at Galway, I thought the big handicap hurdle wasn’t the greatest renewal of the race when looking through it at first glance.  But it was a very open renewal and the front horses fairly spread-eagled the field.  The winner TIGRIS RIVER (153) continued his progression under Joseph O’Brien, but I think got a masterclass ride from Geraghty to collar SWAMP FOX (161) on the line, with five lengths back to AIRLIE BEACH (148) in third.

Oakly Tigris River Difference
44.57 41.26 -3.31
62.69 59.23 -3.46
87.37 84.35 -3.02
111.23 107.75 -3.48
122.61 118.98 -3.63
142.86 139.17 -3.69
183.59 181.06 -2.53
202 197.83 -4.17
218.97 213.47 -5.5

As we can see from the sectional comparison with the other hurdle race on the card above, Tigris River clocked a time 5.5s quicker from the first flight in the two mile race compared to Oakly in the novice race over a half mile further.  What is especially noticeable is the time from two out where he was just under 3s quicker in the Galway Hurdle.  The novice hurdle over two and a half miles was of a decent standard, and the time comparison of the Galway Hurdle points to some classy figures for the protagonists, even after adjusting for the shorter trip and weights carried.

The winner TIGRIS RIVER (153) was landing his third race in a row after successes at the Curragh on the flat, and over hurdles at Bellewstown.  One of the battalion of Coolmore horses that JP McManus has acquired, he had run well in handicap hurdles (including in this last year) and has hit a new high figure on my ratings in landing this.  Still only a 6 year old, it is perfectly possible he can continue to progress further.

He was given a fine ride by Geraghty to pick up the runner-up SWAMP FOX (161) who perhaps went for home a bit soon but looked set to hold on until Geraghty galvanized Tigris River to collar him on the line and win by a neck.  I don’t know too much about Barry Brown who was claiming 7lbs on Swamp Fox, but it would be no shame in being outridden by Geraghty.  Swamp Fox finished a clear second here off a mark of 148, and I rate him nearly a stone higher now in the low 160s, putting him not out of place in a Champion Hurdle.  Furthermore, he is still only a 5 year old and potentially capable of improving on this level still.  I notice there is plenty of stamina in his pedigree, with his mother from the family of Beef Or Salmon, and indeed he has already won over two and half miles.  In a strongly run Champion Hurdle his stamina could come into play and he is worth a shot in that company…. Equally up in trip it may be worth trying him in the Stayers Hurdle division.  Saying all that though, the turn of foot he showed from two out shows he has the pace for this sort of trip.  He certainly isn’t a horse to underestimate at this stage of his career either way!

This was the second run of the week for Swamp Fox after finishing a close second in a flat handicap earlier in the week.  To run such a huge race after such a short lay off further adds to confidence that he is potentially a big player in the top hurdle races this coming season.

AIRLIE BEACH (148) was my main fancy for this race, and was prominent throughout before the leading pair took over at the finish.  But she was a game third having been up with the pace.  I have rated her higher than this previously, which may be a tad on the high side in hindsight, and this sort of mark seems a fair reflection of her ability at this stage.  She is in foal to Mount Nelson and won’t run too much after this, if at all.

 

The other race I want to talk about is the Summer Handicap Hurdle ran at Market Rasen.  Similarly, this has improved in quality over the years recently and was won this year by JOHN CONSTABLE (160) off top weight and in a decent time.

Hestina John Constable Blue Comet Whatzdjazz
61.09 58.31 59.78 58.89
69.85 67.13 68.76 67.64
120.3 117.45 121.3 119.77
135.67 133.79 137.51 136.06
149.38 148.12 152.35 150.62
204.84 202.66 209.08 207.79
214.18 210.68 218.04 216.08
234.68 228.79 237.83 233.93

You can see the sectionals timed from the first jump on the two mile course above in each hurdle race, and they clocked comfortably the fastest time in the Summer Handicap Hurdle.

Hestina John Constable Difference
61.09 58.31 -2.78
69.85 67.13 -2.72
120.3 117.45 -2.85
135.67 133.79 -1.88
149.38 148.12 -1.26
204.84 202.66 -2.18
214.18 210.68 -3.5
234.68 228.79 -5.89

In comparison with the other two mile race on the card won by the Dan Skelton trained Hestina, John Constable clocked a time nearly 6s quicker…and carrying 9lbs more.  It was an excellent performance from the winner, doing so off a rating of a 150 and one that I think merits a mark 10lbs higher that again puts him in range of running with credit in a Champion Hurdle.  He has improved markedly on his last two starts and is a full brother to St Leger winner Leading Light…I wouldn’t want to bet that his improvement stops here!

 

So, there you have it, two potential Champion Hurdle runners coming to prominence over the summer months!  I should point out that I have both Buveur D’Air and Apple’s Jade another 10lbs plus clear of both Swamp Fox and John Constable but the latter pair both seem to be on an upward trajectory and seem to be being dismissed in the general consensus….they could surprise a few!

GALWAY HURDLE PREVIEW

This isn’t a vintage renewal of the Galway Hurdle at first glance, but I do think it is one of the most open.

I had a shortlist of five after going through the race plenty of times, and two appeal to me above the others.  With decent each way terms around there can be an argument for backing all five, but I’ll discuss the main two I fancy in a bit more detail.

Willie Mullins won this last year with Clondaw Warrior, and he runs again off top weight.  Ruby Walsh has plumped for Max Dynamite, but it is the mare AIRLIE BEACH that I want to be with.  She ran up a sequence of wins as a novice hurdler last year, culminating in victory in the Grade 1 Royal Bond beating subsequent Grade 1 scorers Saturnas and Penhill, as well as Grade 2 winner Forge Meadow.  It was billed at the time as a sub par renewal but the time stacked up well with the other races on the cards.  She was then given a break before running down the field at Chelenham but was just about the only horse to give Apple’s Jade any sort of race at Punchestown.  Setting the pace she was no match for the exceptional winner, but held off Karalee to be second.  Again the time of the race was good, and even though she was put in her place by the winner, Airlie Beach had to lead most of the way and ran a solid enough time herself.  She ran on the flat two weeks ago, and given she seemed to thrive on her racing last year I hope that was being used as a tune up for this.  She runs off a mark of 141 and I think she’s capable of better than that and outrunning odds of 16/1.

Interestingly, she is in foal to Mount Nelson… The excellent Kevin Blake covered this topic in detail and it would be a somewhat topical result should she triumph!

The other one I’m really keen on is another Mullins runner, but this time the Seamus Mullins trained FERGALL.  I backed him at a big price in the Swinton at the backend of the season, and was sitting smugly to myself as he made a bold move round the entire field and started to pull away up the Haydock straight.  Unfortunately, my smugness was shortlived as John Constable loomed into view and careered away.  “Oh well, at least he’ll get second” I thought to myself, just as he ploughed through the final flight and fell.  The winner of course has gone on to win the big summer handicap hurdle prize, and I rate him 160, i.e. just below Champion Hurdle class.  Fergall looked set to take a respectable second that day and runs here off just a 1lb higher mark of 141.  The excellent Kevin Jones takes off a useful 5lbs and I think he can outrun odds of 28/1.

He is a hardy handicap hurdler, having just been touched off at Ascot twice, the latter time behind Brain Power and that experience can count for a lot in a race as tough as this.  He was actually 8th in this race a few years ago behind Thomas Edison when trying to make all.  I think he’s improved since then (he actually missed a season in 2015/16 so perhaps has less miles on the clock than your average 10 year old) and he ran a nice race on the all weather recently that should set him up nicely for this.

The other three on my shortlist were Tigris River, Joey Sasa and Automated.  They all look to have something in hand on their marks and should run well but AIRLIE BEACH and FERGALL at big prices are the two for me.

GALWAY AND GOODWOOD CUP MUSINGS

A briefish post with some musings on the Galway Plate and Goodwood Cup……

There are a plethora of horses to like in the Galway Plate this year, but there are two that leapt off the page at me and are the two I have best handicapped in the race.

The first has been well found, and on form it is no surprise to see BALKO DES FLOS head the market.  A decent novice hurdler, he was 5th in the Albert Bartlett, and 4th in the Sefton before switching to fences last year.  I gave him a big number when he finished 3rd in the Flogas Novice chase in February behind Disko and Our Duke, beaten just 8 lengths.  With the subsequent exploits of those two it is easy to see that he is potentially very well treated off a mark of 146.  He fell when going well enough in front in the JLT at Cheltenham, before rounding off his season finishing third in a hot handicap chase at the Punchestown festival.  With a bit of juice in the ground at Galway this week suiting him as well, all the signals point to him running a big race.  Road To Riches went off 7/2 favourite for this last year, and I can see him being similarly supported, so the 8/1 currently is probably only going to get shorter.  He is capable of being a 160+ performer to me, and looks sure to run well off 146.

The other one I like is bit darker, and his price could be very much influenced by jockey bookings as Willie Mullins has a number of likely runners at this stage.  But I think HAYMOUNT has a huge chance running off a mark of 145.  A solid, if unspectacular novice hurdler, he firmly left that form behind on his chase debut in November at Punchestown where I rated his win highly.  He had horses such as Coney Island, Mall Dini and Woodland Opera in behind him that day and they are now rated 157, 141 and 149 respectively.  He then finished a close second to Bellshill in a Grade 2 before finishing 3rd and 7th over marathon trips in the four miler and Irish Grand National…I don’t think he’s necessarily a 3 mile plus staying chaser and dropping back to 2m6f here I think is sure to suit.  The other aspect of his form that appeals to me is his record fresh.  He won a Tipperary bumper on his racecourse debut (Joshua Lane was 3rd that day), and finished a neck second to Royal Caviar over in a 2 mile maiden hurdle on his seasonal debut in 2015.  His massive run in dispatching Coney Island last year also came on his seasonal debut, and he’s going to come here off a break of 107 days.  At 16/1 he seems a fair each way to price to me….it will be interesting to see who gets the ride considering Mullins could end up running four or five.

I’m still trying to get my head around the Galway Hurdle which at this stage looks a somewhat weak albeit open affair.  But I can’t let an old friend go unbacked in the Goodwood Cup today.

The favourite Big Orange has now been labelled the “people’s horse” whatever that means.  What I know it does mean is that he is going to be a dreadful price wherever he runs.  Cue Card was given a similar moniker recently, and as much as I love him he was rarely a betting prospect.  That leaves us with plenty of value on offer and I can’t let WICKLOW BRAVE go unbacked.

He came of age when romping to victory in the County Hurdle a few years ago and since then has been an admirable horse for connections.  It seems to me the key to the horse is to have a bit of cut in the ground.  Since that run, on ground softer than good, over 14f-16f his form reads 11133311. His defeats include a close third in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot, a monster run behind Nichols Canyon and Faugheen, and a 3rd in the Fighting Fifth when running too soon after that big run.  The last two times he has encountered such conditions he has won the Irish St Leger and the Irish Champion Hurdle!  The going stick today is reading 6.8 which to me seems firmly in the Good to Soft range despite the clerk of the course calling it good (it wouldn’t be the first time a clerk has called it differently to suit popular horses).

Wicklow Brave was fourth behind Big Orange in this last year, but the ground was good to firm that day, with the rain in the race not getting into the ground in time.  On softer ground today I think we can reverse the placings, with Big Orange in need of better ground.  I’ve rated Wicklow Brave in the mid-160s over hurdles, which should translate into a 120ish number on the flat so he has the quality to threaten the favourite.  Last time out he went for home too soon and just got collared by Rekindling, giving that runner a stone in weight.  That may turn out to be hot form with the winner on my mind for the St Leger.  In the mean time, at a big price I think Wicklow Brave can take on the people’s horse today!