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.

 

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