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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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).



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!



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.



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.



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