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.



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.



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 (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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.

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