UK CHRISTMAS REVIEW

MIGHT BITE WAS OK IN THE KING GEORGE

The showpiece race of the Christmas period had the appropriate hype, but proved to be a bit underwhelming on the clock as MIGHT BITE (164) emerged victorious.  There were two other chases on the card and the comparisons make for interesting reading.

Hell’s Kitchen Black Corton Might Bite
12.29 12.85 12.54
25.75 26.55 26.68
36.47 37.44 37.67
71.55 72.44 73.24
85.44 85.87 86.66
100 100 100.85
144.63 143.71 144.89
154.44 153.81 154.86
191.33 191.27 192.05
203.56 203.6 204.26
217.24 217.2 217.69
228.24 228.26 228.41
262.7 265.55 262.66
275.66 279.36 276.64
289.74 294.43 291.79
300.18 305.53 302.93

As we can see Might Bite clocked a time 2.6s quicker than BLACK CORTON (150) over the same course and distance, as timed from the first flight in the shorter race won by Hell’s Kitchen (more on him later!).  The consensus seems to be that his rivals were burned off one by one, but when we look at the sectionals closer he did the damage in the latter stages of the race.

Hell’s Kitchen Black Corton Might Bite
228.24 228.26 228.41
71.94 77.27 74.52

The second table above shows how long each winner took to reach the jump four from home, and as we can see they all got their in broadly the same time.  But Might Bite came home 2.75s quicker than Black Corton, and with this fact I’ve given him a figure of 164.  Interestingly this is the same figure I gave him for his Kempton run last year where he fell at the last with the race at his mercy.

Inevitably attentions now turn to the Gold Cup.  So far this season I’ve given him a figure of 151 for his Sandown success, and 164 for his victory here.  He’ll need to step up on those numbers, and I think he can should the ground be better than it was here.  I still have his RSA win live in my memory, and hopefully he can fulfill his potential that that victory promised.  His jumping will need to improve though as he was quite big at some of his fences, and there will be no room for error on the big day.

The second horse DOUBLE SHUFFLE (163) has been used to crab the form of this race, but it would be dangerous to underestimate him as he is very unexposed at three miles plus and was running on well at the finish here.  With plenty of stamina in his pedigree and just about to turn eight, I’m sure there is a big staying race to be won with him.  Considering connections have had success in Ireland previously I wonder whether he may get an entry in the Irish National, or perhaps even go for the Punchestown Gold Cup.  He’ll be better on better ground in the spring too, and is definitely worth keeping onside.

Disappointment of the race was undoubtedly BRISTOL DE MAI (138) who faded once the pace quickened.  The accepted view seems to be that he is just a heavy ground Haydock specialist and that is undoubtedly where he is best.  I think though that he would have been better setting a stronger pace from the off here, as he couldn’t go when the tempo quickened in the latter stages.  Some of Twiston-Davies horses have been running below form too, and I wonder whether Haydock has left its mark on him.  Either way he’ll probably be completely disregarded should he race away from his perceived home conditions, and he’ll be too big a price as a result.  That’s fine by me for a horse that is capable of doing what he can do!

 

HELL’S KITCHEN AN EXCITING PROSPECT

As you can see from the sectionals previously highlighted, HELL’S KITCHEN (162) put in a good performance on the clock in the shorter 2.5m race on the Kempton Boxing Day card.  He still got to four out in the same time as Might Bite did in the King George, but proceeded to blast home from there 2.58s quicker than him, and 5.33s quicker than Black Corton.

This was an exceptional performance on the clock from the winner, and when I adjust for the shorter distance I still struggle to split him and the King George winner.  Considering he was winning this race off a mark of just 137 it was a remarkable run.

He is a huge horse and clearly has his quirks as shown by him being keen in the past and being allowed to bowl along here.  He was winning here over 2.5m and I’d be interested in his chances in an Arkle if he blasted off from the front.  Wherever he goes he deserves a second look.

MISTER WHITAKER (147) ran a fine race to go down by just a length and a half to the winner, but he was receiving 12lbs in weight.  He was running off a mark of 125 here, and after reassessment should be capable of winning a nice race.  The pair were 19 lengths clear of the 3rd horse and at the age of five he is clearly going the right way.

TOUCH KICK (133) was back in third and looks a fine prospect for staying chases in the future.  In touch to four out, he couldn’t go the pace of the protagonists here but being from the family of Big Buck’s that is perhaps to be expected over 2.5m round Kempton.

 

IF THE CAP FITS IS THE TOP BRITISH NOVICE HURDLER

On the same card over hurdles we saw a fine performance from IF THE CAP FITS (154) in the opening novice hurdle, one that propelled him to the top of the tree of novice hurdlers in Britain.

If The Cap Fits Buveur D’Air Golan Fortune
18.16 17.67 18.25
67.52 68.67 69.58
77.83 79.03 80
122.46 125.38 125.46
145.51 149.94 149.58
192.71 197.33 198.43
209.27 212.4 214.79
220.57 223.31 226.98

He clocked a time 6.4s quicker than Golan Fortune did in the handicap hurdle on the card, and was quicker throughout his race.

If The Cap Fits Buveur D’Air Golan Fortune
192.71 197.33 198.43
27.86 25.98 28.55

He got to the jump two from home 5.72s quicker than Golan Fortune did, and still came home 0.69s quicker, and did so carrying 13lbs more in weight.  Even allowing for the shorter distance of his race this was a top performance from the winner, who was conceding weight to some smart rivals.

Connections were talking as if the Supreme would be a likely target and that looks sensible to me.  Menorah won this race before success in the Festival opener, and he looks up to the standard and style of a Supreme horse.  Perhaps most importantly though, they can avoid Samcro!

 

BUVEUR D’AIR IS A FREAK

On the face of it the Christmas Hurdle was a deeply unsatisfactory race with BUVEUR D’AIR (150++) clocking a slow overall time to beat THE NEW ONE (147).

However, the first thing to note is that his hurdling is improving all the time and he now jumps his obstacles as slickly as any horse I can remember.  Apple’s Jade is similar, but this guy is maybe even better.

The second thing to note is the closing sectionals he clocked.  He got to two out much slower than If The Cap Fits did (4.62s), but came home from there 1.88s quicker in a very short space of time.  He had to be woken up to do this but then staggeringly came home on the bridle at this sort of pace.  He remains the horse to beat in March.

 

KAYF GRACE HAS A LIVE CHANCE IN THE MARES HURDLE

The other big performance over hurdles at Kempton came from KAYF GRACE (156) in the closing handicap hurdle of the meeting, and she looks an exciting prospect for the rest of the season.  She has clearly been fragile as this was just her 3rd run over hurdles, but she is a mare on the upgrade.

Redician Midnight Tune Kayf Grace
18.2 19.39 18.74
66.25 71.05 70.71
76.68 81.4 80.66
124.18 128.29 126.49
151.4 152.43 150.5
207.1 205.96 201.55
226.66 226.93 218.26
239.71 241.71 230.21

As you can see she clocked comfortably the fastest time of the three hurdle races on the card as timed from the first jump on the two mile course.  The manner of it though can be shown in how quickly she motored home.

Redician Midnight Tune Kayf Grace
151.4 152.43 150.5
88.31 89.28 79.71

Redician was a visually impressive winner of the opening juvenile hurdle, and has been quoted at 25/1 for the Triumph.  But that looks a pipedream when comparing his run to Kayf Grace over the same course and distance.  Kayf Grace got to four out 0.9s quicker, and then came home 8.6s quicker to the line and did so carrying 6lbs more in weight.

There was a headwind noted for the first race, and I have made an adjustment for that, but every way I play with the numbers I have to award Kayf Grace a big figure for her win here.  Even more impressive was the manner of her victory as she travelled well and was barely asked a question to ease to victory.

This run puts her up there with the best of the mares around over hurdles, and the 33/1 that is still available is a ridiculous price for the Cheltenham Grade 1.  Being from the family of Denman, she should handle the step up to 2.5m fine, and whilst there may be a concern about better ground, over a longer trip she should handle it.  She was winning here off a mark of just 132, and assuming she goes up to a mark of around 140 after this she can go in again… the Betfair Hurdle would be an obvious target for her before going for Grade 1 success on the big stage at Cheltenham.

EDDIEMAURICE (142) would have been an eight length winner were it not for him bumping into the mare here, and with connections talking about going over fences he can land a novice handicap chase without too much difficulty.

 

POLITOLOGUE NOT GREAT AGAIN, BUT CYRNAME BACKS UP HIS RUN LAST TIME

I’d given POLITOLGUE (158) a big figure of his reappearance at Exeter and raved about him since, but I was disappointed in him after his Tingle Creek win and I confess to being underwhelmed about him again after his Kempton success too.

Cyrname Politologue Difference
13.45 13.49 -0.04
28.12 27.2 0.92
74.64 71.02 3.62
84.99 80.98 4.01
123.27 119.3 3.97
135.25 131.65 3.6
148.35 145.09 3.26
158.48 156.12 2.36
192.1 190.67 1.43
205.16 204.45 0.71
219.72 220.42 -0.7
231.37 233.89 -2.52

As you can see from the sectionals above CYRNAME (162) clocked a 2.52s quicker time than his stablemate, whilst carrying just 2lbs less.  Politologue was idling in the latter stages after being left out on his own with Special Tiara falling, but was kept up to his work by Sam Twiston-Davies.

They did go a faster early pace, being 4s quicker at one stage and considering he won over 2m1.5f at Exeter on soft ground I was left wondering if trips beyond the minimum two miles will be his long term forte.  He is now going to be freshened up for an assault at the Champion Chase, and Nicholls is a master at that sort of thing.  I am still concerned though that his previous Cheltenham festival runs saw him finish 20th in the Coral Cup and 4th in the JLT.  But Dodging Bullets had a previous festival record of 494 before winning the big one, so Nicholls does have previous with this sort of horse.  But gun to my head and I’ll be looking elsewhere for the winner of the big race, his last two runs have just not been good enough for me.

Going the other way though is his stablemate CYRNAME (162) who put up a big performance on the clock behind Bigmartre on his last start, and happily backed it up with a good run on the clock here.  He looked better suited to going right handed at this track, which is unfortunate for the big targets but there are enough races like the Pendil where he can go this way round.  This run did advertise the form of that Newbury race won by Bigmartre and that horse is an exciting prospect for the spring.  And of course the favourite that day was the aforementioned Hell’s Kitchen who unseated early on!

 

CONEY ISLAND IS UP WITH THE BEST STAYING CHASERS AROUND

Back before Christmas at Ascot we saw the return of CONEY ISLAND (170) who won a remarkable renewal of the Sodexo Graduation Chase over 2m5f.

Coney Island Mr Medic Gold Present
10.47 9.88 10.52
20.93 20.38 21.56
32.12 31.83 33.17
60.87 61.58 62.68
76.89 77.84 78.60
118.35 119.62 120.50
130.01 131.61 131.97
147.22 149.47 149.39
160.31 162.77 162.22
192.42 197.02 195.16
202.44 207.17 205.51
212.86 217.95 216.29
223.76 229.28 227.61
250.77 256.23 255.14
267.39 271.22 270.48
284.28 285.11 284.51

The overall times for all three races from the first flight in the 2m3f race were remarkably similar as we can see from the above table, but the manner in which those times were reached was drastically different.

Coney Island Mr Medic Gold Present
250.77 256.23 255.14
33.51 28.88 29.37

From the second table we can see he got to two out 5.46s quicker than Mr Medic, and 4.37s quicker than Gold Present.  He did so carrying 11lbs and 4lbs more in weight respectively.  Furthermore, the initial sectional he ran from his first flight to the second was 1.77s quicker than Gold Present.  They just went a savage early pace in his race.

ADRIEN DU PONT (145) set the pace in this race, and is a good horse in his own right, but he was left legless having set the fractions he did.  Remarkably Coney Island gave him 11lbs in weight and was stoked up to chase the pacesetter and did so in a visually impressive manner.  To do that after the pace he’d gone was some effort, and even more remarkably he was then back on the bridle to cruise home at his own pace up the straight. He could’ve gone faster than this and put up the biggest rating I’ve given a chaser yet this season.

He is now a 12/1 shot for the Gold Cup and that seems a fair price.

 

SAM SPINNER IS PROBABLY THE RIGHT FAVOURITE FOR THE WORLD HURDLE NOW

It was devastating to see Nichols Canyon lose his life at Leopardstown today, he was one of the most likeable horses in training, and one of the best hurdlers in recent years on my figures.  He beat Faugheen on merit, despite what others say, and got his big day in the limelight when landing the Stayers Hurdle earlier this year.  I’m unashamed to admit I shed a tear this afternoon, and it’s awful that he won’t get the chance to emulate Inglis Drever for his owner and land further renewals of the big race.

The winner of the big race in March now may be SAM SPINNER (160) who is clearly rapidly improving after landing the Long Walk Hurdle from notorious rogue L’AMI SERGE (157).

One Of Us Sam Spinner Hunters Call
16.38 15.67 15.78
68.64 65.58 64.89
96.91 93.31 91.93
144.45 139.65 137.78
154.47 149.22 147.13
197.37 190.29 188.03
212.57 205.03 201.71
229.79 222.03 217.52

The winner set the pace throughout to clock a time 4.51s slower than Hunters Call did in the top class handicap hurdle over a 9f shorter.  But he did this carrying 18lbs more in weight, and when combining this with the adjustment for the extra distance I reach a figure of 160.

With UNOWHATIMEANHARRY (149) on the downgrade, and with Nichols Canyon no longer around there is room at the top for a new name.  Sam Spinner is just about to turn six and at this stage looks to have a favourites chance for the big race.

 

HUNTERS CALL IMPROVES TO ROB SILVER STREAK

That headline is rooted in pocket talk I’m afraid, but I will commend Olly Murphy for garnering sufficient improvement from HUNTERS CALL (144) to land the big two mile handicap hurdle at Ascot.  In doing so he slayed one of my long term projects for the race in SILVER STREAK (142).

As we saw previously, they clocked a faster time than they did in the 9f longer Grade 1 as we’d expect them to in this shorter race.  Adjusting for this and the winner looks to have stepped up about a stone on his previous form on his first start for Murphy.  He has been raised to a mark of 137 as a result and will need to step up again to land another pot like the Betfair Hurdle.  I’ve noted a previous interview with the trainer where he remarked he was finding it difficult to win a second time with his new recruits after their initial improvement.

SILVER STREAK (142) still ran a fine race to be second and in doing so ran up to his Chepstow form.  The ground was probably softer than ideal for him, and I hope he can land a big handicap in the spring on good ground.  He is still only four and capable of progressing further and win off his new mark of 133.

Some of the placed horses also merit attention, and none more so than VERDANA BLUE (155), who continued her progression and she looks to be another exciting mare for her trainer to go along with Kayf Grace.  BLEU ET ROUGE (155) was returning to hurdles from an aborted chasing career and made good progress to finish 4th, he is capable of landing a big handicap off a big weight in Ireland.

I’ll confess to being confused as to why MAN OF PLENTY (133) continues to be ignored in the market wherever he runs but he is a remarkably consistent horse who runs well in big handicap hurdles.  I wouldn’t discount him landing a big pot at some stage.

WEEKEND REVIEW…SIZING JOHN RETURNS, UN DE SCEAUX IS A FREAK, A GOLD CUP OUTSIDER AND A TOP TRIUMPH HURDLE PROSPECT!

SUSSEX RANGER SHOULD BE TRIUMPH FAV

I’m going to start this week’s review in a place you may not expect, namely in the Juvenile Hurdle trial won by SUSSEX RANGER (148).  You can see why I want to do so when you see the performance he put up on the clock in comparison with the other two hurdle races on the card.

Sussex Ranger On The Blind Side Cap Du Nord
To 3 out 133.59 136.14 138.77
From 3 out 86.87 87.94 87.39

The above table shows the times taken from each winner to get from the first flight in the two mile race to three out, and then from three out to the line.  As you can see, Sussex Ranger got to three out the quickest of the three winners, 2.55s quicker than the highly touted On The Blind Side in the Grade 2 race over half a mile further.  You’d expect him to tire having done that, but amazingly he actually came home quicker from that point, just over a second quicker in fact to win by 14 lengths.  He was carrying the same weight as On The Blind Side, and 10lbs more than Cap Du Nord did in the handicap hurdle.

I’ve played around with the numbers a fair amount, but always come up with a red hot figure for a juvenile, and one that puts him comfortably clear of the current crop.  Quite how Apple’s Shakira is 9/2 and this lad is 25/1 for the Triumph is beyond me.  He reminded me a bit of Detroit City, in being a big horse who can just gallop relentlessly and for longer than his rivals.  Considering the Moore’s have a good record in the Betfair Hurdle I half wonder if they may send him there.  But the Triumph has to be the long term target, the nature and trip of the New Course would be right up his street.  For him to put up this figure on just his second start over hurdles marks him down as a top class juvenile hurdle prospect.

 

ON THE BLIND SIDE IS NO THREAT TO SAMCRO

As impressive as Sussex Ranger was, I was surprised to see ON THE BLIND SIDE (139) being lauded so highly considering the relatively poor performance he put up on the clock.  I didn’t rate his last win at Cheltenham that highly and he’s only put up a slightly better figure here.

As you can see from the previous sectionals, he was actually the slowest to the finish from 3 out, and even when adjusting for the extra distance of his race, I end up with a figure of only 139.  I saw people mentioning him as a threat to Samcro in the Ballymore but that is quite frankly laughable at this stage.

 

FORGET THE NATIONAL, BLAKLION IS A GOLD CUP OUTSIDER

I mentioned in my write up of the Charlie Hall Chase, that BLAKLION (169) was a potential Gold Cup outsider, and he emphasised that point further when gagging up in the Becher Chase at the weekend.

Blaklion Gas Line Boy Difference
14.54 13.76 0.78
33.8 33.75 0.05
47.43 47.99 -0.56
93.5 96.49 -2.99
106.25 109.22 -2.97
118.96 122.1 -3.14
131.46 134.33 -2.87
146.44 149.79 -3.35
165.24 169.22 -3.98
179.08 182.88 -3.8
196.11 200.24 -4.13
207.3 211.42 -4.12
220.93 224.98 -4.05
234.8 238.44 -3.64
248.4 252.86 -4.46
300.85 305.45 -4.6
314.13 318.84 -4.71
349.57 353.99 -4.42

As you can see from the above comparison with Gas Line Boy in the Sefton, he actually clocked a winning time 4.42s quicker for the comparative course despite going 5f further and carrying 6lbs more.  After adjusting for this I’ve given him a figure of 169, which is actually in line with the sort of numbers he was clocking in his novice chase days when he won the RSA.  Given his good record at Cheltenham and his obvious ability to get a trip and the likely jump up the weights he’s going to take after this win I’d be tempted to go for the Gold Cup itself if I were connections.

 

TWO MILE CHASES AT SANDOWN WERE A BIT UNDERWHELMING

Back at Sandown on Saturday, the two main highlights on the card were the Tingle Creek and Henry VIII but I confess to being a bit underwhelmed by both races on the clock.  I’ll deal with both races together here.

Sceau Royal Politologue Benbens
12.91 12.56 13.84
68.83 67.37 72.26
88.43 87.18 93.09
96.25 94.83 101.28
103.87 102.89 109.42
118.77 118.11 125.27
131.86 131.62 139.22
139.44 139.38 147.28
145.18 145.63 153.86
181.12 183.60 191.64
194.09 196.89 204.82
206.66 209.20 217.66
221.14 223.45 232.29

As you can see both SCEAU ROYAL (161) and POLITOLOGUE (159) clocked faster times than Benbens did in the London National.  This is no surprise as their races were over just shy of two miles rather than 3m5f!  When I adjust for the distance difference I can only get to figures of around 160 for both winners of the big races.

SCEAU ROYAL (161) just keeps hitting the same figure over and over again on my numbers, and usually this tends to point to him just being this good and nothing more.  He’s a good horse but it would have to be a weak Arkle for him to win… that may be the case this year, but I can’t help but feel something a bit left field is going to emerge a la Western Warhorse a few years ago.  If anyone can think of anything….let me know!

Sceau Royal Politologue Difference
12.91 12.56 0.35
68.83 67.37 1.45
88.43 87.18 1.25
96.25 94.83 1.42
103.87 102.89 0.98
118.77 118.11 0.66
131.86 131.62 0.24
139.44 139.38 0.05
145.18 145.63 -0.45
181.12 183.60 -2.48
194.09 196.89 -2.81
206.66 209.20 -2.54
221.14 223.45 -2.31

If I was underwhelmed by Sceau Royal, I was perhaps even more disappointed by POLITOLOGUE (159) who won the Tingle Creek from FOX NORTON (158).  As we can see from the comparison with the novice race, he was actually 2.31s slower, but did carry 5lbs more, and when I adjust for this I give him a figure a shade lower than Sceau Royal.

I’d given him a bigger number for his win in the Haldon Gold Cup, and it may prove he’s slightly more suited to softer ground than it was here.  He’s actually never been out of the first two when completing on soft ground or worse.  I certainly find it hard to envisage him winning a Champion Chase on good ground despite the trials and tribulations of Altior and Douvan, especially if Min or indeed Yorkhill revert to take him on.  Remember he was 20th in a Coral Cup, and 4th in the JLT so his previous Cheltenham festival experience isn’t great.

FOX NORTON (158) seemed to underperform here with no obvious excuse.  Perhaps the stable is under a bit of a cloud (Finian’s Oscar was dreadful in the novice chase) but probably more likely is that on this sort of ground he needs 2.5m+.  He won the Shloer Chase on soft ground over 2 miles, but he was awesome in the Melling Chase at Aintree this year over 2.5m on good ground and I note there is now talk of him going for the King George.  It’ll be interesting to see how he gets on in that race but at this stage I think the intermediate trip is going to prove his optimum.

 

UN DE SCEAUX IS JUST A FREAK ON HEAVY GROUND

I was keen to take on UN DE SCEAUX (172) in the Hilly Way Chase, thinking he may struggle under a penalty first time up on horrendous ground without regular partner Ruby Walsh there to help him settle.  He made me feel quite foolish by blasting apart his rivals, and we can see the scale to which he did this when comparing it with the other chase on the card won by Shattered Love.

Un De Sceaux Shattered Love Difference
26.87 28.89 -2.014
42.14 45.93 -3.787
57.55 62.70 -5.147
102.84 112.60 -9.754
132.16 144.18 -12.024
154.09 168.18 -14.096
170.30 184.62 -14.321
201.81 218.02 -16.214
229.75 246.78 -17.025
246.50 262.20 -15.698
264.30 276.33 -12.033
279.45 288.28 -8.830

As you can see from the sectionals above, at one stage he was a ridiculous 17s quicker than Shattered Love ran in her race. Unsurprisingly his rivals were left toiling in his wake (fortunately Ballyoisin got up when taking an unnecessarily tired fall two from home) with only TOP GAMBLE (140) able to chase him home in any sort of proximity.  That rival was running in near enough optimum conditions, but was no match for the winner.

Unsurpisingly, Shattered Love closed the gap to 8.8s by the finish line, but Un De Sceaux was heavily eased down in his race as well.  Quite simply it was an outrageous display on ground so bad that racing was abandoned soon after.

Clearly he revels in these sort of conditions, and is susceptible in two mile races on better ground.  I think he was fortunate they were so liberal with the overnight watering before the Ryanair Chase this year, and if he doesn’t get so lucky this year I’d be keen to take him on on better ground.  The only time he’s not won on soft ground or worse in this country is when he didn’t complete the course!

 

SIZING JOHN STILL THE ONE TO BEAT

I copped a fair degree of abuse for the high ratings I gave SIZING JOHN (171) last season, so I was somewhat relieved to see him put up a good performance on the clock when returning successfully in the John Durkan yesterday.

Sizing John Avenir D’une Vie White Arm
32.76 31.04 33.61
50.83 48.15 52.09
83.42 80.39 85.8
97.67 94.84 100.48
122.98 120.72 127.09
139.03 137.96 144.51
152.26 151.83 159.14
184.05 184.6 193.9
201.17 202.74 213.01
227.08 229.07 241.19
240.77 241.88 255.01
254.63 255.1 268.62

As we can see he actually clocked a time half a second quicker than they did in the strong novice chase run over half a mile shorter but was actually much slower at the start of his race, nearly 3s slower at one stage.  He was impressive therefore to clock a faster time and when adjusting for this and the extra distance I give Sizing John 171, and this would appear to be an excellent seasonal debut for the horse.  He’s surely going to improve from here, and for going back up to three miles.

There are plenty of pretenders knocking about at the moment, namely Might Bite, Bristol De Mai and Yorkhill, but they are going to have to be on their A-game to topple the king.

STARS OF PRESENT AND FUTURE ON SHOW AT NEWBURY & FAIRYHOUSE

APPLE’S JADE WOULD BE A THREAT IN THE CHAMPION HURDLE

For me the clash between APPLE’S JADE (160) and NICHOLS CANYON (158) was too close to call with both going into the race under what looked their ideal conditions.  The former had had a prep run, and the latter was fresh and running on soft ground.  Yet Apple’s Jade put in a visually impressive performance to win the race by nine lengths.

Espoir D’allen Mengli Khan Apple’s Jade Davids Charm
19.62 16.82 16.65 15.97
66.52 55.64 56.98 55.33
87.17 73.02 75.09 73
133.95 115.74 119.14 116.44
164.43 144.73 149.64 145.88
190.04 169.45 175.1 170.62
223.07 203.79 208.28 204.76
237.7 219.96 223.8 221.65
249.09 231.71 235.13 234.66

We can see though from the sectionals above that she actually clocked a time slower than both Mengli Khan and Davids Charm, albeit in a race half a mile longer.  Yet when we drill down into the sectionals the merits of this run become clearer.

Espoir D’allen Mengli Khan Apple’s Jade Davids Charm
190.04 169.45 175.1 170.62
59.05 62.26 60.03 64.04

She was able to set relatively moderate fractions to 3 out (ignore the Espoir D’allen race that was run at a farcical crawl), over 5s slower that Mengli Khan and 4.5s slower than Davids Charm.  Yet she was able to rattle home to the finish line in just 60s, 2.25s quicker than Mengli Khan, and 4s quicker than Davids Charm.  Adjusting for the distance and weights carried I’ve given her a mark of 160, this is a progression from her first run but still a bit below some of the best figures I’ve given her.

It seems her main target is going to be the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham and I wouldn’t disagree with the philosophy of putting her in the race she has the best chance of winning.  But I think she could be a live threat in a Champion Hurdle.  She hurdles so well, and clearly possesses a fair turn of foot, if she got a soft lead she would be hard to peg back especially with the boys giving her 7lbs.  On my figures both Faugheen and Buveur D’air would have to run right up to their best to achieve the task of giving her weight and a beating.

NICHOLS CANYON (158) wasn’t able to match the pace of the winner in the latter stages, and now may well be an out an out stayer.  He certainly seemed to start to struggle over shorter trips last year when beaten over 2miles, and perhaps even this 2.5m distance isn’t sufficient for him to run to his optimum?  However, there is no shame in going down to one of the best mares of recent times and considering he had a hard season last year and a bit of a setback over the summer (he missed his engagement in America) this was a fine comeback run.  He remains the one to beat in the stayers hurdle for me.

SUPASUNDAE (156) ran a nice race in third, staying on and going past tired horses.  This ground wouldn’t have suited and it would appear they are going to target him at the stayers hurdle as well, and odds of 20/1 would seem a fair bet at this stage.  He is exceptionally well bred, with his mother a half-sister to Nathaniel and he only just got beaten in the Grade 1 over three miles at Aintree.  I do wonder if he would relish the stamina test of the stayers hurdle over the new course though.

 

WILL MENGLI KHAN LIKE BETTER GROUND?

The Royal Bond saw the best clock performance on the card as you can see from the above sectionals.  The winner, MENGLI KHAN (158) put up a fine effort in winning going a strong pace and seeing off his rivals who emptied on the run in.  They were a second faster to 3 out than Davids Charm was in the handicap over the same distance, and yet Mengli Khan still came home 1.8s quicker to the line.  It was a fine performance, and puts him down as one of the top contenders for the Supreme at this stage.

However, there has been plenty of talk about his size and for such a big horse putting up this sort of performance on soft ground I do question how he will perform on the likely better ground in the spring.  His only win on turf came on soft ground, and he had a win on the all-weather yet the two times he ran on ground described as good he was beaten 7 and 22 lengths respectively.  It would be on my mind when playing at short prices for the Supreme anyway.

 

DEATH DUTY SHOULD BE CLEAR FAV FOR THE JLT

Over the larger obstacles on the card we saw a fine performance from DEATH DUTY (160) in winning the Grade 1 Drinmore.

Death Duty Presenting Percy Difference
25.14 26.06 -0.92
49.86 50.76 -0.9
92.99 92.76 0.23
104.43 105 -0.57
124.2 124.14 0.06
144.85 145.35 -0.5
164.28 164.19 0.09
173.82 173.62 0.2
204.19 204.15 0.04
225.88 226.06 -0.18
246.2 246.15 0.05
269.17 271.02 -1.85
289.61 294.43 -4.82
300.29 305.72 -5.43

He went a steady enough pace as we can see from the sectionals above, in fact reaching 3 out in near enough identical time to Presenting Percy in the longer handicap chase.  However, from there Death Duty showed a fine turn of foot ending up clocking a time 5.43s quicker.  He ran in the Albert Bartlett last year, but for him to have this sort of turn of foot off a slow pace the 2.5m distance of the JLT looks ideal.  With Finian’s Oscar and Willoughby Court yet to fire on the clock yet this season he should be clear favourite for the race in my opinion.  I could arguably mark this run up more than I have done given the sprint finish he showed and he looks very much capable of winning at the festival.

 

PRESENTING PERCY MAKES ANOTHER MOCKERY OF HIS HANDICAP MARK

PRESENTING PERCY (160) won the Pertemps off 146, so I guess none of us should have been too surprised that he dotted up in a handicap chase off a mark of 145 here.  He didn’t show the same sort of turn of foot as Death Duty did in the shorter race, but he didn’t need to and travelled very well before winning this race in fine style.  A hefty rise in the handicap to a mark of 157 looks well justified on the clock and surely sees him go for a race like the RSA at Cheltenham.  After adjusting for the longer distance of this race and weight difference with Death Duty I actually have them on the same mark, though I still feel that Death Duty is the classier horse.

His mother is a half-sister to Irish National runner-up Western Charmer and I wonder whether we may see him go for that race later in the season.

 

TOTAL RECALL DEFIES HANDICAP MARK AGAIN

I’d written about TOTAL RECALL (154) after his Limerick win earlier in the season, and suggested he could be a live contender for the Ladbroke Trophy.  Obviously, I didn’t follow my own advice so it was a bit galling to watch him collar WHISPER (168) on the line.  I’ve given him the same mark on the clock as last time, and this is therefore likely just how good he is and quotes of 25/1 for the Gold Cup seem fanciful to me.

Elegant Escape Gold Present Total Recall Overtown Express
15.35 14.79 14.85 14.26
32.80 31.68 31.49 30.74
65.29 64.19 64.45 63.51
77.89 77.09 76.89 75.67
91.58 90.53 90.29 89.14
105.60 103.90 104.18 102.83
118.81 117.35 117.65 115.85
153.77 152.69 153.36 151.39
181.10 180.51 180.58 179.17
192.65 193.02 192.42 190.37
203.47 204.67 203.27 201.34
217.16 220.12 217.80 215.67
235.62 239.94 236.50 235.62

The sectionals above are taken from the first flight in the two mile race won by Overtown Express, and we can see that Total Recall clocked a similar time to both that winner and Elegant Escape.  But he was only carry 10st8lbs here and adjusting for that and the race distance I actually ended up giving him the same mark as I did at Limerick.  Good as Willie Mullins is as a trainer, I’d suggest this is just as good as the horse is and is going to be difficult to win with having been put up to 156 after this.

WHISPER (168) was agonisingly caught on the line, and has now been narrowly touched off both here and in the RSA.  This sort of number is bang in line with previous figures I’ve given him and marks him down as an excellent horse.  Yet it probably just shows that his RSA conqueror is a potential freak of nature as without his antics after the last Might Bite probably would’ve beaten Whisper by at least 12 lengths and put up a number in the mid-180s…. he looks the horse to beat at both Kempton and in the blue riband at this stage.  Whisper himself will deserve to take his chance in the big race but it would be a bit underwhelming were he to triumph.

 

SAMCRO FORM BOOST ALERT!

That headline is a bit tongue in cheek, but we did see a fine performance from ELEGANT ESCAPE (155) in winning the Grade 2 Chase over just shy of 3 miles on the same Newbury card.  He chased home Samcro in a point to point, but is clearly developing into a fine horse in his own right.  This figure was a step up on his last two performances and puts him into the upper echelons of staying novice chasers.  Native River won this race for the Tizzards, and I wonder if we may end up seeing him in the four mile chase at the festival…. He would be a prime candidate for that race for me.

Elegant Escape Gold Present Total Recall Overtown Express
192.649 193.015 192.424 190.371
32.144 35.264 33.236 34.277

As you can see, Elegant Escape clocked the fastest time from 3 out, and they were no slouches to that point either.  He actually clocked the same time over the same distance as Overtown Express did in the nearly mile shorter race. I just feel he may not be quite classy enough for an RSA though.

 

IS BIGMARTRE THE NEXT ARZAL?

One of the most admirable, and underrated in my opinion, horses of the last few years was Arzal for Harry Whittington.  He went on to win the Manifesto Novice at Aintree regularly hitting a figure of 166 on the clock, and it was devastating to lose him in April 2016.  Fortunately, it looks like the trainer has another potential Grade 1 winner on his hands in BIGMARTRE (157), who won a novice handicap chase at Newbury off a mark of just 137 but in a red hot time.

Bigmartre Willoughby Court Oldgrangewood
14.45 14.99 14.79
30.70 31.74 31.75
62.60 64.64 64.80
74.43 76.75 77.34
87.75 90.10 90.94
101.56 103.92 104.94
114.21 116.83 118.25
150.30 153.28 154.28
178.48 180.08 182.37
190.76 191.27 193.94
201.09 201.98 204.79
215.19 216.86 218.88
234.32 236.33 238.11

He clocked the fastest time of the three chases on the card, as we’d expect given his run was over half a mile less.  But he did so carry the most weight, and it was the sectional performance that marks him down as a future Grade 1 horse for me.

Bigmartre Willoughby Court Oldgrangewood
190.76 191.27 193.94
43.56 45.07 44.17

 

He got to 3 out quicker than both Willoughby Court and Oldgrangewood did in their races, and still came home in 43.56s, just over 0.5s quicker than the latter and 1.5s quicker than the former.  It was a fine performance, and I wonder whether his trainer may follow the “Arzal route” to Aintree and skip the festival altogether and target that Grade 1.  He should not be underestimated, and I note with interest that he’s only gone up 6lbs to 143.  He can go in again in another handicap off that mark should they elect to go for another one.

The runner-up CYRNAME (154) is also worth following, and has been left on a mark of 139 after this.  Nicholls surely won’t pass up the opportunity to land a big pot off that sort of mark.

DUSKY LEGEND (152) was going well when coming to grief 2 out and should land a nice race herself, especially if getting a mares allowance somewhere.  She was 3rd to Let’s Dance at Cheltenham and has clearly developed into a fine chaser.

 

WILLOUGBY COURT IS NO STAR

I wrote after the Neptune at Cheltenham, that I didn’t think the race was that great, despite the hype around Neon Wolf, and I’m still not sold on WILLOUGHBY COURT (150) who didn’t put up that great a performance to justify being cut to 8/1 for the JLT when winning his 2nd chase start at Newbury.  This sort of figure is in line with his performance in the Neptune and he’s going to need to improve markedly for me to challenge a horse such as Death Duty come the spring.

He clocked a quicker time that Old Grangewood did over the same distance, but did so carrying 4lbs less, and was nearly a second slower from 3 out to the line.  He’d gone quicker to that point but even with that adjustment and comparing him to the much quicker Bigmartre I reach a figure of 150.  He’s entitled to progress from here, but he’s going to have to.

 

REAL STEEL BURSTS INTO THE SUPREME PICTURE

The final horse that I want to talk about is REAL STEEL (144) who won a maiden hurdle at Thurles in fine style, and in a good time.  He came with a tall reputation from France where he was 2nd to Izzo at Fontainebleau who went on to win a Grade 3 at Auteil, and given time to settle in at Mullins and develop he could be the first star horse for the newly formed Mullins/Sullivan partnership.  He looks to be the stables main Supreme contender at this stage anyway.

Dawn Shadow Real Steel Highandmighty Pound A Stroke The Church Gate
173.68 175.83 182.23 178.48 184.94
52.00 49.68 54.33 54.35 56.77

As we can see from the sectionals above, he clocked comfortably the fastest time from 3 out in just 49.68s, and was 2nd fastest to that point. When comparing his run to the others on the card, I’ve given him a number of 144 which is excellent for a first start over hurdles.  Knowing the Mullins stable he will surely progress from here and should be one of the main contenders come Cheltenham.  I confess to being surprised to still see prices of 20/1 about for him.  I’d think if he were in the Ricci colours he’d be half that price, but people are going to get used to seeing the red of Jared Sullivan more and more.