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.
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|
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.
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!