SAMCRO, BRISTOL DE MAI AND MIN ON A WEEKEND TO SAVOUR

SAMCRO IS ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING HORSES

It says a lot when a horse has won a Grade 1 by 57 lengths, and still isn’t the horse I’m almost giddy with excitement over after the weekend.  But SAMCRO (164) might just be the most exciting horse we’ve seen after bolting up in a Grade 3 race over 2.5m at Navan today.

Ratoute Yutty Samcro Balbir Du Mathan Red Devil Lads
17.66 18.23 18.14 18.82
32.7 32.98 32.91 34.5
68.46 68.45 69.66 70.78
101.1 99.29 100.37 102.23
116.77 114.28 115.77 117.58
141.91 139.13 140.94 142.54
196.64 192.46 195.93 197.73
212.97 208.29 212.68 214.82
226.51 220.86 227.26 229.36
242.53 236.05 245 246.55

The sectional comparisons with the other hurdle races demonstrate the scale of this performance.  He clocked by far the quickest time of the four hurdle races and did so going half a mile further than two of the other winners.  But what really marks him down as something to get very excited is the manner in which he won and the speed he showed in winning.  We can see this clearly when breaking down the sectionals:

Ratoute Yutty Samcro Balbir Du Mathan Red Devil Lads
196.64 192.46 195.93 197.73
45.89 43.59 49.07 48.82

The above shows how long they all took to get from the first jump in the two mile race to 3 out, and then from 3 out to the line. As we can see Samcro clocked 192.46s to 3 out, 3.5s quicker than the next best time from Balbir Du Mathan.  Amazingly he then proceeded to blast home in 43.59s, 2.3s quicker than the next best time set by Ratoute Yutty in the opening race.  I’ve upgraded him on the basis of these numbers and have given him a mark of 164 as a result.  In truth this may still be underplaying his ability.

To put up this sort of performance on just his 2nd start over hurdles on the bridle is simply extraordinary.  Make no mistake this is a very very special horse.  It’s scary to think just how good he can be, he’s unlikely to be a betting proposition ever again but for a horse racing fanatic I just can’t wait to see what he does.  He looks a nice mover, and has already won a bumper on better ground than what he was running on today, and could well improve for better ground.  All we can do is marvel at him and pray he stays sound.

I am a fan of Next Destination who looks special himself, but Samcro could be as good as we’ve seen.  After the race I was left thinking that the only way he doesn’t win the Ballymore is if they decide to go for the Champion Hurdle.

 

BRISTOL DE MAI PUTS IN A STUNNING PERFORMANCE “AT HOME”

All the talk on Saturday though was about one horse, and that was BRISTOL DE MAI (186) who won the Betfair Chase by a staggering 57 lengths.  Plenty of people have said this is an impossible race to rate but with three other chases on the card we can at least give a good attempt at trying!

Hainan Clan Des Obeaux Bristol De Mai Chase The Spud
14.48 15.3 14.46 14.89
27.93 29.6 27.03 28.09
40.91 42.94 39.39 40.73
86.24 88.2 81.69 84.94
103.54 104.54 97.48 101.46
119.37 119.55 112.28 116.83
136.5 135.18 127.94 133.2
196.41 191.51 184.37 191.22
209.68 204.33 197.02 204.6
223.89 217.72 210.76 218.53
236.97 230.15 223.29 232.07
249.63 242.37 235.38 245.07
292.39 283.11 276.74 289.16
308.24 297.77 292.32 305.34
323.32 311.84 307.01 320.04
339.81 327.9 323.54 336.46
357.14 345.37 341.45 353.65

Timing all four races from the first jump in the 2m5.5f race won by Clan Des Obeaux, Bristol De Mai clocked the fastest time of 341.45s.  He did the damage early on going from the 6th to the 7th jump in his race in 42.3s, the next best time coming from Chase The Spud in 44.21s.  He just got horses out of their comfort zone, and especially on this sort of ground.

Hainan Clan Des Obeaux Bristol De Mai Chase The Spud
308.24 297.77 292.32 305.34
48.9 47.6 49.13 48.31

The above table shows that he got to 3 out in 292.32s, 5.45s quicker than Clan Des Obeaux did over half a mile shorter.  Understandably he came home slower from 3 out, but the savage effort he put in to that stage had already told, and he came home relatively comfortably.

The debate now is whether he can replicate this form elsewhere?  This was very much a home fixture for him, a flat track on heavy ground, and indeed I gave him a big figure when he won the Peter Marsh here last year.  This was another league though and I just can’t help but wonder that a horse that has the latent ability to put in this sort of run must be able to do something like it when “away from home”.  Interestingly Twiston-Davies mentioned he had some issues last year before running down the field at Cheltenham and Aintree.  It will be fascinating to see how he goes when seen again, I would be sceptical about dismissing this as a one off performance.

 

MIN REAPPEARS IN STYLE

As if Samcro and Bristol De Mai weren’t enough, we were also treated to seeing the comeback run of MIN (172) who was very impressive in dispatching two rivals with minimal fuss, but also in an excellent time on the clock.

Min Dounikos Persian Wind
11.63 13.23 13.31
22.00 24.61 24.36
79.38 86.11 83.64
92.21 100.10 97.52
105.56 114.58 111.46
119.48 129.73 126.09
136.86 147.72 143.45
189.05 198.11 193.78
200.23 208.58 205.32
210.34 217.65 215.62
222.82 230.03 229.44

Min clocked the fastest time by nearly 8 seconds when timed from the first flight on the two mile course.  He was actually 16s quicker than Dounikos ran over the same course and distance!  All this points to Min being just as good as he was last year when I gave him a big rating when winning Racing Post Novice Chase at Christmas.

This was the first time we’d seen him over 2.5m and he looked to handle it well.  With Douvan set to return soon and probably stick to 2m the obvious target for Min looks to be the Ryanair and odds of 12/1 seem very generous at this stage.

CHELTENHAM REVIEW

SPEED NOT STAMINA WON THE RACE FOR FINIAN’S OSCAR

Friday at Cheltenham saw the second run over fences for one of the big hype horses of the season in FINIAN’S OSCAR (151) and he duly went and won, defying a penalty in doing so.

What A Moment Doitforthevillage Finian’s Oscar
8.38 8.06 8.54
30.76 30.07 31.47
51.84 50.81 53.38
65.13 64.12 67.23
77.37 76.53 80.25
89.68 88.3 93.08
109 106.64 113.26
146.41 143.47 151.28
177.97 173.44 181.02
186.33 181.37 188.25
206.45 199.21 203.89

As we can see Finian’s Oscar clocked a time faster than they did in the longer handicap chase, but slower than the handicap over 2miles.  But this doesn’t tell the whole story.

What A Moment Doitforthevillage Finian’s Oscar
146.41 143.47 151.28
60.04 55.74 52.61

The times in the above table show first, the time they took to get to 3 out, and secondly from 3 out to the line. (Using where all three courses overlap as the start point).

This shows that they went a very slow pace in this race, nearly 8 seconds slower to 3 out than they did in the two mile chase.  But then Finian’s Oscar fairly motored home, reaching the line 3.13s quicker.  It was a fair turn of foot by the horse, and whilst the overall time was nothing special, when I adjust for this finish I’ve given him a figure of 151.

He now keeps on hitting the same sort of marks for me though, and I’m now beginning to wonder if he’s going to live up all the hype surrounding him.  It’s fairly clear that he’s a good horse, but I’m not quite buying into the hype yet.  Perhaps when he gets a stronger pace he’ll really thrive, but until that happens I’ll be in the negative camp for now.  It would seem that either the Arkle or JLT Chase is on the cards at the moment, and I’d probably lean towards the former given he can stay beyond 2miles but also seems to have a strong turn of foot.

The runner-up MOVEWITHTHETIMES (141) tried to win the race with one run but just got out sped to the line by the winner.  There is plenty of stamina in his pedigree and this sort of trip may be the minimum he needs.  I noticed that he’s been dropped a pound to a mark of 145 after this race, and that would get him into the novice handicap chase on day 1 over 2.5miles.  He may also be a candidate for the three mile handicap chase that day as well.

 

NOVICE HANDICAP HURDLE WORTH FOLLOWING…AS USUAL!

As usual, the novice handicap hurdle at this meeting looks like working out again.  The winner MAGIC DANCER (133) had put up a good performance earlier in the week at Kempton and duly followed up here off the same mark.

Magic Dancer On The Blind Side Difference
34.68 37.76 -3.08
77.19 81.88 -4.69
109.52 113.77 -4.25
134.65 138.3 -3.65
168.24 171.66 -3.42
186.8 190.04 -3.24
210.63 214.05 -3.42
229.2 232.09 -2.89

As we can see, the winner clocked a better time than On The Blind Side did in the longer Grade 2 Hurdle later on the card.  Even when adjusting for the shorter trip I still get to a decent number for the winner, considering he was winning off a mark of just 113.  Raised to 124 after this will make life harder for him, but he was rated 102 on the flat at one stage and there could be more to come.

OXWICH BAY (129) was second again and seems to keep bumping into decent and well handicapped horses!  There is a race for him to be won off his new mark of 121.

CHAMPAGNE CITY (134) advertised the form of Silver Streak in running a good race to finish third here.  Perhaps doing a bit too much in front he maybe set the race up for the winner.  He was badly hampered at the start at Chepstow in that hot race, but even though he got put up a couple of pounds for this he could still be well treated.

 

APPLE’S SHAKIRA LOOKS SHORT FOR THE TRIUMPH

As a general rule I tend to be sceptical of horses with illustrious relations, and there were mutterings that APPLE’S SHAKIRA (137) had nothing like the ability of her sister Apple’s Jade.  However, she was well backed and duly usurped Triumph Hurdle favouritism from GUMBALL (124).  But quotes of 4/1 seem crazy short to me!

Apple’s Shakira Thomas Campbell Coole Cody
44.71 46.4 45.62
77.42 79.83 79.58
102.31 106.03 105.67
136.04 140.97 141.42
154.39 160 160.43
179.88 185.24 184.66
199.83 203.88 202.88

She clocked the fastest time of the three hurdles races on the Saturday, but did so over the shortest trip and carrying 20lbs less in weight than the other two winners.  Furthermore, conditions were horrendous on Saturday and the ground worsened throughout the day, and she benefitted from being ridden wide on the track compared to the runner-up who took the inner quagmire route to the line.  I wouldn’t be getting carried away with her myself, especially considering some of the talent that’s been acquired in France.

SPEEDO BOY (114) ran round the back of the field to get some more hurdling experience.  He would’ve despised this ground and I note he has been given a mark of 120, which considering he has reached RPR of 104 would seem very workable.  I wonder whether this may be the last time we see him before the Fred Winter.  Though he may need to go up a bit to ensure a run in that race.

 

PERFECT CANDIDATE WINS A THRILLER…MAYBE FROM THE NATIONAL WINNER!

The 3m3f chase was a thriller won by PERFECT CANDIDATE (162) from the closing VICENTE (160)

Black Corton Perfect Candidate Splash Of Ginge
8.86 8.59 8.35
31.91 31.4 31.27
53.21 53.53 53.63
66.77 67.95 68.11
79.19 80.98 81.21
91.68 93.31 93.71
110.8 112.79 113.82
149.69 152.34 152.11
180.7 186.83 183.94
189.1 195.79 192.86
206.65 215.34 212.7

The winner clocked the slowest time of the three chases for their equivalent sections, but did so over the furthest distance and most of the time difference came at the end when they were understandably tiring in the ground.  I’ve given the winner a mark of 162 and he is clearly very smart when he gets his conditions…namely 3miles plus, soft ground and race fit from a prep run as he was here.  It is probably stretching things to suggest he could land a blow in a Gold Cup, even on heavy ground but he would probably deserve to line up.  Either way, look out for him when he gets his conditions.

I was surprised to see Vicente getting so well backed, as the ground seemed to be dead against him.  But he seemed to cope with it ok, and he just seems to be a thorough stayer these days.  His jumping can be a bit sketchy and that maybe cost him the win here.  If they can iron out his jumping I’d be interested in his chances in the National, where he fell at the first this year.

 

SLATE HOUSE LOOKS A STAR OF THE FUTURE

Of all the horses I saw in the flesh at Cheltenham, perhaps the most visually impressive horse to look at was SLATE HOUSE (148).  He proved good looks are not his only attribute as he travelled well in the race winning from the closing runner-up SUMMERVILLE BOY (147). 

Melrose Boy Elgin Slate House
37.22 36.41 40.08
81.8 80.48 82.25
116.77 113.54 115.62
143.43 138.3 141.19
179.63 171.47 175.27
198.64 189.23 193.34
223.02 212.48 216.75
243.2 232.43 235.66

I’ve estimated the sectionals for Slate House where they by-passed some of the flights in the straight.  But even after this his time was only 3 seconds slower than the winner of the Greatwood Hurdle, and he was carrying 6lbs more.  Furthermore, this difference can be accounted for in their slow start before they strode on.  Slate House settled well, and is such a free mover will surely be better on better ground.  He looks every inch a chaser but can be a feature in the big novice hurdles in the spring before embarking on that game.  He looks very exciting to me.

 

ELGIN LANDS THE GREATWOOD

I’d been keen on THE NEW ONE (166) once the ground went on the Saturday and he duly ran a massive race off top weight to finish 4thELGIN (155) and MISTERTON (147) just had too much in hand for the old warrior and pulled clear of the rest of the field in the style of smart horses.  Depending on their reassessment the winner can be a feature in conditions races and the runner-up could land a big handicap himself.

 

FOX NORTON AS GOOD AS EVER

With the news today that Sizing John is not going to run in the Betfair Chase I wonder if that leaves the door open for FOX NORTON (170) to go for the King George.  He won on soft ground on Sunday over two miles and is clearly as good as ever, and looks like he can be a threat whatever trip they decide to go over.

North Hill Harvey Fox Norton Difference
11.34 11.11 -0.23
35.73 34.18 -1.55
43.7 42.19 -1.51
65.17 63.7 -1.47
85.46 84.39 -1.07
98.6 98.08 -0.52
111.03 110.85 -0.18
122.98 122.68 -0.3
141.68 141.4 -0.28
178.73 178.39 -0.34
209.24 208.58 -0.66
217.4 216.72 -0.68
237.53 235.75 -1.78

The sectionals above show that he clocked a time 1.78s quicker than the smart NORTH HILL HARVEY (162) did in the novice chase over the same course and distance.  He carried just a lb more in weight so I make the difference between them 8lbs on this day.

I’ve rated Fox Norton in the mid-170s last season, and this was a fine seasonal reappearance.  Wherever they decide to go with him he is going to be tough to beat.  Connections did intimate that they may stick to two miles with him, and with all the problems surrounding others in that division this year, he perhaps should be favourite for the Champion Chase!

North Hill Harvey himself was impressive when landing the novice chase in a good time.  I just feel there will be a better two mile novice chaser out there but he will certainly prove his worth in that division this season.  He goes next for the Henry VII Chase at Sandown where a clash with Capitaine could prove very informative.

 

THE MACHINE STUTTERS BACK INTO LIFE AT PUNCHESTOWN

By far and away my least favourite commentator in racing is Mike Cattermole.  And my least favourite bit of commentary from him is in Mikael D’Haguenet’s Ballymore hurdle win where he says the horse has “not found anything” just as he comes there swinging on the bridle two out.  A close second is his commentary for Faugheen’s champion hurdle win where he proclaims “and he is a machine” as Arctic Fire devours the ground behind him to only go down by just over a length.  That moniker “The Machine” seems to have stuck now for FAUGHEEN (152) and it was good to see the engine started again in the Morgiana Hurdle on Sunday.  However, whilst everyone else seems to have gone into hype overdrive I can’t help but feel that the engine in this “machine” has developed a bit of a stutter in the 665 days since we last saw him.

Top Othe Ra Faugheen Let’s Twist Again Dom Dolo
48.03 45.45 52.51 49.16
78.02 74.13 84.31 79.76
117.09 112.38 126.04 120.25
132.89 127.73 141.86 136.6
162.23 157.29 171.55 166.18
172.15 166.88 181.33 176.34
205.69 199.82 216.52 211.63
218.54 213.45 229.95 225.01

As we can see from the sectionals for the four hurdle races on the card, he did clock the fastest time as timed from the first flight on the two mile course (we’d expect him to do so!).  He set a quick early pace getting from the first to the second 2.5s quicker than TopOthe Ra did in the earlier handicap hurdle.  His overall time was 5.1s quicker and he did so whilst carrying 2lbs more in weight.  Comparing these two races, and the other two hurdle races on the card though and I can only get to a mark of 152 for the former champion.

The one time I felt he truly deserved his nickname was when last seen in the Irish Champion Hurdle where I gave him a mark of 179.  This comeback run I’ve rated nearly two stone lower than that.

He’s going to be ten by the time next year’s Champion Hurdle comes around and the last winner that old was Sea Pigeon back in 1981.  I’m no massive stats fan but when shopping in the short price end of the market I want to have everything in my favour and combining his ongoing years with this underwhelming performance on the clock leaves me happy to take him on in the market.

He came home from 3 out here just 0.15s quicker than Top Othe Ra did in the handicap hurdle.  Sure, he had done a lot more up to that point but I think this questions the intuitive impressive reaction to the visual performance in the race.  He beat three rivals here who patently hated the ground and this lead me also to wonder whether that is another reason to be against him in March.

Regardless of the actual going they will call it good to soft on the day, but it’s perfectly possible that there will be more give on the A435 into the track than there will be on the course.  This is a horse who has won over 3 miles on heavy ground in his novice days and he can sustain a relentless gallop on that sort of ground.  He won on soft ground over 2.5m at Ascot when reportedly he stripped very fat, and he went down by just half a length to the monster Nichols Canyon on soft ground in this race two years ago (that was a hot time that day regardless of the consensus view of the race).  He then slammed Arctic Fire out of sight on soft ground in the Irish Champion Hurdle when last seen.  The one time he has encountered ground officially described as “Good” was when beating the now 143 rated chaser Ballyalton by 4.5 lengths in the Neptune over 2.5m.  Now nearly 10 years old is it possible that on genuinely quick ground over two miles he could get found out?  It would be on my mind if playing at short prices.  He seemed to relish the ground in this race to me.

Finally, there are plenty better paddock judges than me who said he looked fit for this run, and this would back up Mullins quotes that they have had him ready to go for a while.  With all the attention this horse garners they surely left nothing to chance.  The fact that he has returned a figure someway below his best triggers alarm bells for me.

I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again and I know this sort of view won’t be popular and he may blow them all out of the water in March.  But a 10 year old who’s been off for nearly two years beats 3 rivals unsuited to conditions in a time someway below his best is now 9/4 favourite for the Champion Hurdle.  That’s not the sort of bet that gets me excited.

 

MIGHT BITE AND APPLES JADE RETURN

NMIGHT BITE MAKES SOLID REAPPEARANCE…NOTHING MORE!

There were two big seasonal debuts this weekend just gone, and the first one I want to look at is the one made by MIGHT BITE (151) who won a four runner race at Sandown in solid style.  I still maintain that I’ve never seen a performance like his win in the RSA at Cheltenham, but he seemed a much more straightforward horse at Aintree and it was more of the same on this run as he travelled well to easily dispatch some solid rivals.

Jameson Might Bite Houblon Des Obeaux
7.94 8.39 8.21
14.32 15.12 14.86
54.86 58.3 57.12
69.77 73.55 72.09
83.58 87.93 85.7
142.75 148.33 145.15
163.83 169.3 166.2
171.71 176.92 174.23
179.66 184.35 182.53
195.26 200.06 198.31
209.08 213.64 212.26
217.19 221.67 220.81
223.71 227.97 227.38
262.85 267.52 267.92
276.88 281.47 282.49
290.6 294.47 296.2
308.11 310.89 311.95

 

On the clock though I can only get to a number of 151 for Might Bite for this run.  As we can see, he clocked a time just a second quicker that HOUBLON DES OBEAUX (141) did in the veterans chase over the same course and distance carrying just a pound less.  I’ve adjusted a bit for his faster finish, but it is still a run nearly two stone below what I felt he is capable of in the aftermath of his RSA win.  Obviously, this is just his first run of the season and there are bigger days on the horizon, but his jumping was a bit too big and overall I felt a bit disappointed by him on this run.  It may be that that mega effort in the RSA has left it’s mark, certainly he’ll need to be stepping up on this run to win the King George.  Overall this was just a solid run from him.

 

JAMESON AND WESTERN MILLER LOOK NOVICES TO FOLLOW…ALONG WITH THEIR OLD RIVALS!

I was much more taken with the novice handicap chase on the card won by JAMESON (147) who just managed to collar the front running WESTERN MILLER (151).  They clocked a much faster time in this race, finishing 2.8s quicker than Might Bite did in the half mile longer race for the same course, and only carried 3lbs less.  When adjusting for this and their slightly slower finish I’ve given the winner a mark of 147, which is in line with the mark I gave him at Ffos Las when beaten by West Approach.

The pair of them were thirteen lengths clear of the third placed horse and this was a decent performance to my eye.  The runner-up has probably improved for fences and going up to this 2.5m trip, and he equally gives some credit to the performance of Capitaine who slammed him by 22lengths on his previous run.  Both West Approach and Capitaine are lined up to run at Cheltenham this weekend and I’ll be interested in their prices on the day.

Jameson and Western Miller though are clearly smart novices in their own right, and were running here off marks of 129 and 133 respectively.  The novice handicap chase on day 1 is now 0-145 and should they get into that race they would look nice prospects for it at this stage.

 

APPLE’S JADE WINS ON RETURN

The other big reappearance on Sunday was from APPLE’S JADE (154) who won the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan over 2.5m.

Icantsay Mengli Khan Apple’s Jade Oscars Den
14.05 15.3 14.47 15
29.9 32.25 30.43 30.98
69.63 74.96 70.5 71.11
96.12 102.15 97.78 98.26
122.34 128.12 124.6 125.02
136.67 142.67 139.44 139.49
197.98 200.32 199.74 201.29
211.65 212.88 212.18 213.6
227.06 226.4 225.8 227.31
246.96 242.28 241.49 243.84

 

As you can see from the sectionals above, Apple’s Jade clocked the fastest time from the first flight on the two mile course.  She also clocked the fastest time from 3 out (as shown below) and with that in mind I would love to see them let her take her chance in a champion hurdle.  She jumps hurdles so well that she can take lengths out of her rivals, and I feel in a strongly run race she can use this to full effect.

Icantsay Mengli Khan Apple’s Jade Oscars Den
48.98 41.96 41.75 42.55

 

She typically improves for her racing, and so her putting in a mark of 154 here gives plenty of optimism for the future.  I think she’s capable of a stone better than this and so Buveur D’Air and Faugheen would have to be on their A-game to give her 7lbs and a beating.

 

FOOTPAD SHOWS FINE TURN OF FOOT

FOOTPAD (156) put in a fine debut over fences at Navan, and I had to time the race a second time as he showed a turn of foot that I hadn’t previously associated with a horse I felt more suited to three miles over hurdles.

Clarcam Footpad
17.61 19.15
50.71 54.46
82.88 87.96
94.32 99.24
107.54 112.67
133.19 139.18
160.09 166.8
190.93 196.75
210.28 214.13
228.67 230
240.92 241.25

 

The overall time wasn’t anything special, he was fractionally slower than Clarcam was over just a furlong shorter, although carrying 5lbs more in weight.  But the turn of foot he showed was impressive.

Clarcam Footpad
30.64 27.12

From three out to the line, Footpad was 3.5s quicker than Clarcam.  They had gone much quicker in Clarcam’s race, but even accounting for that this points to a fine debut chase performance from the winner.

He clearly can stay further than this sort of trip, and now combining in a turn of foot and fine jumping he is clearly of interest as an Arkle horse.  I’m not sure I’d have him as favourite at this stage, but he certainly warrants interest in the race.  He is yet to win on good ground and that would have to be a concern should he mop up races in Ireland and go off a short price in March.

 

BALL D’ARC IS BRILLIANT ON HEAVY GROUND

There was an excellent performance on the clock from BALL D’ARC (166) at Naas on Saturday.

Ball D’arc First To Boogie Mossback
14.39 15.95 15.3
63.1 67.85 65.73
86.55 92.56 89.27
104.38 111.62 108.04
138.74 147.49 143.72
151.03 160.96 157.13
165.59 175.98 172.57
197.34 208.06 204.83
211.39 221.77 218.83
231.6 242.29 237.58

 

As we can see from the sectionals, he clocked by far the best time of the three chase races on the card, and even when I adjust for the half mile shorter trip this was a red hot run.  I note that on ground with heavy in the description he has now run 5 times over fences winning 3 times.  One of his defeats was by just half a length to Ballycasey, and the other defeat was finishing runner-up on his debut.  Clearly on deep ground he is worth following.

I was interested in the run of ORDINARY WORLD (151) in second, in as much as the winner loves this sort of ground, he absolutely hates it!  He ran big numbers last year behind Min and Altior and I wonder if they’ll target something like the Grand Annual.  He could get beaten over the winter months on deep ground and then pop up on much quicker ground in the spring and land a touch in a big handicap chase for connections.  He has some relations who have done well over 2.5m so even going up to that trip could merit a bet.

 

SERIOUSLY HOT MAIDEN HURDLE ALERT!

There have been some good novice hurdles already this season, but the best one so far may be the one won by NEXT DESTINATION (156) at Naas.  On paper it looked strong and it certainly lived up to expectations on the clock.

Red Jack Early Doors Next Destination Oscar Knight
16.11 16.23 15.99 16.7
71.29 69.21 69.49 71.38
103.27 99.62 99.64 101.4
150.72 146.08 146.47 148.02
166.41 161.59 161.79 163.47
201.88 196.04 197.25 199.26
215.72 210.09 211.43 213.49
230.82 225.41 226.02 229.06

 

Next Destination clocked a time 3s quicker than Oscar Knight did in the handicap hurdle over a furlong further on the card, and did so carrying 20lbs more in weight.  The more eye-catching performance though was when comparing it to the grade 3 hurdle on the card won by Early Doors.  Next Destination clocked a time just 0.6s slower but ran over 3f further and carried 13lbs more.  All the ways I played with the figures, I gave him a red hot number of 156.  He was half a second quicker from the last to the line than anything else!  He looks a live candidate for the Ballymore…the only problem being that Samcro lies in wait!  But at this stage that looks a potential clash to savour.

The vanquished horses were thirteen lengths back but put up performances of merit themselves and will be winning maiden hurdles and could be handicap hurdles to follow.  Someday, Paloma Blue, Laverteen and Pallasator are worth keeping an eye on.

SOUTHFIELD ROYALE HANDICAPPED TO GO WELL IN BADGER ALES TROPHY

There is a horse declared for the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton who if returning to his best looks absolutely thrown in.

SOUTHFIELD ROYALE was 4th in a red hot renewal of the four miler won by Minella Rocco with Native River second.  He looks best on his first two runs of the season and a five week break thereafter.  Before last season his form under such conditions read 11212114 with the first 2nd behind War Sound in a novice hurdle when trying to concede that rival a stone in weight, and the other runner-up berth coming when going down by half a length to Twelve Roses over a probably inadequate trip at Exeter.  As mentioned he was 4th in a red hot renewal of the four mile chase in 2016.  He was actually highly rated enough to go for a Grade 1 at Punchestown and was sent off as short as 4/1.

He didn’t reappear until January last year suggesting something was amiss and Mulholland said he’d had one or two niggles, and his season subsequently bombed with form figures of 0F0 (although he was going well in the Kim Muir before falling).  As a result he now runs off a mark of 138, and the fact he is back out at this time of year must give hope that they have ironed out whatever issues he was having last year and had a smoother preparation.  He looks dangerously handicapped on his best form (was also 2nd to Tea For Two in Grade 1 at Kempton), and goes well fresh.

I’ve rated him in the mid-150s previously and a price of 12/1 is worth paying to find out if he’s back on track.  Mulholland “won” this with The Young Master a few years back before disqualification and has had a 3rd and 5th place the last two years.  There is rain due to hit the track but he is versatile with regards to the ground with wins on good and heavy.

NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES FROM THE LAST FEW WEEKS…

HOW GOOD COULD POLITOLOGUE BE?!

I’m going to go through some of the horses that caught my attention in the last few weeks, but top of the list is one from Exeter yesterday, where POLITOLOGUE (168) was very impressive in landing the Haldon Gold Cup.

Ask The Weatherman Ballyoptic Politologue
38.89 37.58 33.78
50.04 48.37 43.46
62.65 60.87 54.6
140.86 138.15 128.82
154.27 151.03 141.61
165.74 162.09 152.64
175.83 171.58 161.91
233.8 228.2 218.06
241.91 235.97 225.67
251.88 244.6 234.17
268.24 258.46 248.35
282.45 272.16 263.25

As we can see from the sectionals above Politologue clocked much the best time from the first flight in the 2m1.5f course.  The Haldon Gold Cup was run at a fierce pace in the ground, and indeed plenty of decent horses were struggling from well out.  Only his stablemate SAN BENEDETO (164) could go with the impressive winner who idled on the run in after perhaps hitting the front too soon.  But he was going so well that Sam Twiston-Davies had little choice but to let him go on at that stage.  We’d expect the time of the race to be quicker than the other two races run over three miles but even after adjusting for this the winner reaches a red hot number.

The mighty Altior now lies in wait in the Tingle Creek and Politologue goes there with a live chance of upsetting the Champion Chase favourite.  He reportedly had a racecourse gallop prior to this and provided this run hasn’t taken too much out of him he should be some sight over the Sandown fences.  Longevity is not a feature of top class Nicky Henderson chasers (Sprinter Sacre, Long Run recent examples) and I would be wary of taking short prices about Altior in what has the potential to be a red hot division this year.

The runner-up was 12lengths behind Altior at Sandown and so on that run Politologue still has something to find.  But this six year old grey can certainly step up to the plate and it will be fascinating to see how far he can go in this division.  San Benedeto can also land a big race this season given he has now run to this number twice.

 

BALLYOPTIC IS TOP CLASS

The other classy performance on the Exeter card came from BALLYOPTIC (162) in the novice chase over three miles.  From the sectionals we can see he clocked a time 10seconds quicker than Ask The Weatherman did in the handicap chase getting further and further ahead as the race went on.  Even after adjusting for the 17lb weight differential, this was a top class debut from the winner and surely marks him towards the top of the staying novice chasers.  Rated 155 over hurdles he looked to take well to the chasing sphere with his exemplary jumping.  Twiston-Davies won the RSA with Blaklion two years ago and surely has another live candidate in Ballytoptic.  His best form does seem to be on softer ground so that would temper ones enthusiasm initially but it would be dangerous to underestimate him.

ELEGANT ESCAPE (149) was second and ran to the same mark I gave him previously.  He is a decent staying novice chaser and perhaps a candidate for the four miler.  Certainly prices of 50/1 seem crazy at this stage for a horse of his calibre.

BARNEY DWAN (145) was back in third, and ran a very likeable race.  No match for the classy winner the Pertemps runner-up could be a live candidate for the three mile handicap chase on day one of the Festival.

 

WORTH WAITING FOR WAITING PATIENTLY

At Carlisle on Sunday we saw the reappearance of WAITING PATIENTLY (156+) in a four runner chase.

Mister Whitaker Waiting Patiently Difference
13.55 12.62 -0.93
22.99 21.74 -1.25
49.53 46.59 -2.94
63.49 59.89 -3.6
79.12 75.07 -4.05
92.19 87.99 -4.2
168.85 164.73 -4.12
177.26 173.03 -4.23
191.76 187.5 -4.26
205.22 200.9 -4.32
214.4 210.14 -4.26
239.08 234.69 -4.39
251.3 246.79 -4.51
265.11 260.54 -4.57
276.81 272.75 -4.06
295.58 291.79 -3.79

There was another chase on the card over the same trip, and we can see from above that Waiting Patiently clocked a time 3.79s quicker, and did so carrying 16lbs more.  I’ve awarded him a mark of 156 but feel confident he can progress from this.  His trainer muted the December handicap chase at Cheltenham over 2.5m and that looks a nice race for them to target.  He beat Politologue last year and is clearly a classy chaser and probably a live candidate for the Ryanair where quotes of 20/1 make some appeal.

 

GOOD NOVICE HURDLERS AT CORK

I’d rated the Punchestown hurdle won by CRACKING SMART (149) highly and it was good to see the winner go in again at Cork on Sunday, beating the classy ROBIN DES FORET (145).

Shady Operator Cracking Smart Granny Biddy
16.29 16.65 16.55
29.68 30.01 30.41
94.63 94.63 96.26
113.82 113.04 115.74
127.43 126.59 129.61
180.88 180.64 184.32
195.86 196.15 199.69
208.07 209.75 212.66
216.9 219.95 222.48

Stepped up to 3 miles here, the winner looks a smart candidate for the Albert Bartlett at this stage.

The horse he beat at Punchestown, won the opening novice hurdle on the card. SHADY OPERATOR (146) clocked a good time here and is clearly a decent prospect for JP McManus and Joseph O’Brien.  He clocked the fastest time of the three hurdle races, but this was over the shortest distance, so I rate Cracking Smarts run over a mile further as the better performance.  Either way the two of them are classy individuals and worth following.

Shady Operator had two nice horses in behind him, and the three of them were well clear of the rest of the field.  CASTLEBROOK (142) won a PTP by 30 lengths and looks a nice recruit for Alan Potts given he is only four years old and has his best years ahead of him and over longer trips.  Back in third was DAYBREAK BOY (140) who was a decent flat horse (rated 99) he could be one to bear in mind for handicap hurdles.

 

BENATAR LOOKS TO BE THE NEXT STAR FOR THE MOORE TEAM

I’ll confess to never being a fan of Sire De Grugy, but I’ll certainly be joining the fan club for what looks to be the next Moore star horse in BENATAR (153) who won what looked a decent novice handicap chase at Ascot off top weight and a mark of 142.

Benatar Exitas Go Conquer
27.11 26.93 29.31
43 42.11 45.7
82.5 80.18 87.4
93.81 91.43 99.23
111 108.46 116.62
123.85 121.01 129.91
155.02 151.7 161.2
164.78 161.78 170.64
175.08 172.26 180.29
185.88 182.74 190.9
211.81 208.35 216.48
226.62 222.5 231.52
240.73 235.79 246.29

 

He clocked a slower time than Exitas did in the handicap chase, but did so over half a mile further and carrying a whopping 27lbs more in weight.  Adjusting for all this I give him a figure of 153.  He was 4th behind Finian’s Oscar at Aintree on his last run over hurdles but looks to be a fine recruit to chasing.  In some quotes I found, Gary Moore seems to imply this horse may be as good as anything he’s had and if he can build on this chase debut as he should he can take high rank in the novice chase division.

 

QUITE BY CHANCE SHOULD GO FOR THE BET VICTOR GOLD CUP

The two mile chase won by EXITAS (142) was run at a good pace, and the winner clocked a fine time in finishing 5s quicker than Benatar did when timed from the same first fence.  He was running with a featherweight though and I am more interested in the runner-up QUITE BY CHANCE (155) who himself finished 13 lengths clear of the third.  Rated just 144 here he is entered up in the Bet Victor Gold Cup and is an interesting candidate for that.  He was 4th in the December version off a mark of 147 and perhaps goes there a bit under the radar.

 

IS DISKO A GOLD CUP HORSE?

Over in Ireland DISKO (169) confirmed the promise of his novice campaign with a fine reappearance in the Grade 2 chase at Down Royal over two and a half miles.

Outlander Disko Poormans Hill
28.45 27.79 28.47
39.62 38.51 39.69
63.87 61.7 63.69
72.24 69.84 72.14
113.16 109.63 114.17
154.74 150.59 157.36
170.52 165.96 173.61
180.74 176.27 184.13
207.03 202.38 211.22
225.28 220.56 230.56
250.7 246.02 256.83
261.08 256.48 266.85
270.9 266.36 276.2

As we can see from the sectionals, Disko clocked a time 4.5s quicker than Outlander did in the Grade 1 chase.  Even when adjusting for the half a mile shorter trip here Disko ran a red hot figure and confirms himself as one of the top chasers around at the moment.  Successful over 3 miles at Punchestown last year he looks to be the main Gigginstown candidate for the Gold Cup at this stage.  However, his pedigree suggests that sort of trip may be beyond his optimum and in what could be a vintage renewal of the race this year he may get found out in the latter stages.

 

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO OUR DUKE?!

The Grade 1 chase over 3 miles beforehand was won by OUTLANDER (154), but the time was nothing special and the form doesn’t look to be worth following to me.  The noteworthy run, or lack of it, came from OUR DUKE (103) who was never travelling and subsequently found to scope dirty.  He clocked numbers in the mid-170s for me last year and had the beating of the aforementioned Disko.  If he can bounce back from this he can still be a Gold Cup horse and this was clearly not his running.

 

IS BRISTOL DE MAI THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK?

The Charlie Hall Chase was billed as a clash between two of the older brigade, but the younger BRISTOL DE MAI (167) ended up victorious as both Coneygree and Cue Card failed to get round.

Daklondike Born Survivor Bristol De Mai
11.36 11.27 10.83
23.45 23.33 22.09
34.57 34.46 32.95
91.98 93.23 88.41
104.48 104.79 100.42
115.15 115.16 111.13
126.1 125.57 121.63
142.98 141.33 137.87
189.08 185.03 183.95
199.87 195.44 194.04
211.28 206.35 204.88
222.07 216.4 215.29
236.74 230.5 228.9

This was a red hot performance from the winner, who actually clocked a time 1.5s quicker than Born Survivor did in the mile shorter race!  He goes for the Betfair Chase at Haydock with a live chance, and clearly relishes the soft ground that is typically found there.  Sizing John will have to be at his best to see off the young pretender.  The current prices are about right though and it’ll probably be just a race to savour.  Cue Card fell again but seemed to be going well at the time.  His best form is on soft ground as well and given his age will surely be primed for the Betfair Chase.

BLAKLION (161) just failed to collar the winner on the run in and was getting 6lbs in weight so is certainly the inferior animal.  To my eye his best runs have come on undulating tracks and I’d like to see him go for the Gold Cup before his seemingly intended target of the Grand National.  He can make the frame in the blue riband at a wild price (currently 66/1).

 

MELON STILL NEEDS TO IMPROVE TO THREATEN BUVEUR D’AIR

Friday at Down Royal saw the reappearance of MELON (152), but I confess to still not buying into the hype around him.  This was just in line with some of his previous numbers and he needs to be finding improvement soon to be a Champion Hurdle threat.

Poli Roi Just Janice Melon Alaliya
29.37 27.55 27.27 29.55
49.6 47.13 46.72 50.39
86.65 83.59 82.28 87.57
134.79 131.72 130.09 135.96
166.08 161.51 159.4 166.9
188.68 183.68 181.21 190.4
216.59 211.06 209.14 221.97
230.43 223.45 222.08 235.31

As we can see from the sectionals, he clocked a time just 1.4s quicker that Just Janice did over the same trip and whilst she is an admirable mare he needed to be showing more for me to merit Champion Hurdle talk.  He is entitled to improve on this reappearance but he will certainly need to!

 

SMAD PLACE ROLLS BACK THE YEARS

Back at Aintree there was a fine performance from SMAD PLACE (170) in landing the Old Roan Chase.

Vintage Clouds The Romford Pele Smad Place
17.23 17.68 15.36
29.74 30.06 27.07
41.89 42.57 38.43
67.41 67.65 63.07
90.21 90.56 85.42
103.05 103.89 98
125.5 127.08 120.19
168.2 169.23 161.49
185.71 185.62 177.59
198.53 197.69 189.09
211.04 209.06 200.86
236.94 233.15 224.35
260.07 254.24 245.74
272.64 266.68 258.38
294.75 289.55 280.73
309.15 303.55 294.29

They clocked a much better time than the other two chases on the card (run over half a mile further) and this was a run that ties in with some of Smad Place’s best form.  Now ten years old this was clearly a main target for him, and he was 110% fit for the race.  With that in mind the horse to take out of the race is the runner-up CLOUDY DREAM (165) who seemed to travel well but got outbattled by the super game winner.

I think the jockey would like another go at riding the race as he got tied up on the inside and had to switch round the winner.  He was closing at the finish but the line came to the rescue for the admirable grey winner.  But Cloudy Dream is only seven, and surely has bigger targets ahead of him this season…the first being the Bet Victor Gold Cup.  He is capable of running to a higher mark than this and if he can do so he can certainly land the big handicap race at Cheltenham.  Together with Waiting Patiently, Malcolm Jefferson has two of the most exciting horses around and can land big prizes this season with the pair.

 

FOXTAIL HILL AND LE PREZIEN CAN LAND BIG HANDICAPS

At Cheltenham the star performances of the Saturday went to FOXTAIL HILL (158) and LE PREZIEN (162) in the handicap chase over two miles.

Cogry Foxtail Hill Double Treasure
7.92 7.85 8.2
29.8 28.75 29.25
50.42 49.2 50.83
63.73 62.71 64.6
75.77 75.32 77.34
87.84 87.6 89.12
106.5 106.4 108.01
142.9 142.58 145.51
173.5 172.23 177.28
181.3 179.73 185.59
200.6 195.78 203.74

From where the courses overlap, we can see just how much faster Foxtail Hill was in winning this race, albeit over a shorter trip.  Clearly allowing him to bowl along over two miles has seen him excel.  With that in mind I would be hesitant about taking prices about him in the Bet Victor Gold Cup.  He is a likeable horse, but I would reserve judgement about him being able to sustain this sort of pace and form over half a mile further.  He could be more of a Grand Annual horse.

Le Prezien was the only one to come out of the chasing pack and challenge the game winner.  Backed off the boards here he was clearly at his very best and may need time to recover from this run.  Only raised 6lbs to 150 he can win a big handicap off that mark.

Interestingly I rated SIZING PLATINUM (152) just 1lb higher than when he was runner-up in this race last year.  Of course last year he was beaten by Fox Norton, and whilst I don’t think the two horses are quite in that class they are certainly decent individuals.