UN DE SCEAUX, LA BAGUE AU ROI, THE NEW ONE AND SAINT CALVADOS REVIEWED

UN DE SCEAUX BRILLIANT ON HIS GROUND AGAIN

The Clarence House was run at a startling pace, and gave us another opportunity to see just how brilliant UN DE SCEAUX (168) is when he runs on soft ground.  The extent of this performance is evident when comparing it on the clock with the other chase runs on the card.

Drumcliff Acting Lass Un De Sceaux
30.88 30.99 28.76
47.73 47.90 44.47
91.62 91.10 85.38
104.11 103.18 97.54
122.45 121.24 115.79
135.91 134.85 129.53
171.85 170.21 164.28
182.68 181.47 174.82
193.65 192.65 185.77
205.18 204.61 196.83
234.59 234.64 225.32
250.65 251.02 242.18
264.42 265.32 258.60

From the first fence he jumped to the line, he clocked a time 5.82s quicker than Drumcliff, and 6.72s faster than Acting Lass.  There was a frantic early pace on in this race, and Un De Sceaux actually reached two out around 9s quicker than the other two winners on the card.  The other two made up some time from there, but Un De Sceaux was just ridden out under hands and heels to the line.  When all the factors are taken into account, I’ve given him a mark of 168, which is a bit below his best but he could probably have gone faster in the latter stages.

He is clearly brilliant on this soft ground, in fact I don’t think there is horse that can live with him over two miles on this sort of ground.  I was interested to see him marked up at 6/1 NRNB for the Champion Chase, and if you don’t mind tying up your money that looks worth taking.  The only way he is going to run in the race is if we get soft ground on the Wednesday, and in that case he surely goes off favourite.  With the usual faster ground he will surely run in the Ryanair and you’d get your money back.  Even if he did still rock up in the Champion, he’d probably be shorter than 6s in an open year.  Don’t forget the one time he ran in the race he was only beaten by Sprinter Sacre, and had future winner Special Tiara just behind him in third.

He’ll probably go for the Ryanair on better ground though.  The problem here is that he is already 5/2 NRNB, and with that in mind I’d probably chance that he isn’t as adept on quicker ground.  He is ten years old now, and his legs may struggle to rattle off a sounder surface.

The frantic early pace was set by SPEREDEK (160) who put up a fine front running effort to finish second, and he probably had the beating of BRAIN POWER (158) before that one came down.  He looks set to go for the Ascot Chase back here in February and if he can translate this sort of form over the longer trip he’d be a live contender for it.  He’s only just turned seven and clearly going the right way and has in fact already won over 2m7f.

LA BAGUE AU ROI COULD WIN A STAYERS WITH HER ALLOWANCE

Over hurdles on the Ascot card, LA BAGUE AU ROI (149+) won the Grade 2 hurdle easily and suggests she could be a threat in the Stayer’s Hurdle.

Nayati La Bague Au Roi Jenkins Vinndication
15.74 16.33 16.00 17.05
63.13 65.12 66.20 67.82
93.24 95.15 96.33 98.84
145.00 147.57 147.48 150.21
155.16 157.64 157.12 160.40
200.42 200.94 199.22 203.24
219.04 216.88 215.23 218.53
237.07 234.83 231.98 233.19

The overall time she clocked was a bit slower than Jenkins (2.85s) and Vinndication (1.64s) as you can see above.  But those two races were over shorter distance, and La Bague Au Roi was eased in the closing stages.  With that in mind I’ve only been able to rate her 149, which coincidentally was her official rating going into this race.  She is capable of better than this and with a weight allowance in the Stayers she should be capable of being in the mix.

She has been beaten in her only run at Cheltenham to date in the mares novice last year, but that was over 2m1f, and she has now won both her starts over three miles.  On pedigree that trip looks to be fine for her, and she’s won on better ground too… she could provide her trainer with another Stayers Hurdle.

IS THE NEW ONE REGRESSING?

Whilst it was good for the soul to see THE NEW ONE (148) win the Champion Hurdle Trial for the fourth year in a row at Haydock, looking at it from a purely analytical point of view I find it hard to get too excited about the run.

Joke Dancer First Flow The New One Donna’s Diamond
15.3 14.53 14.46 16.11
30.02 28.71 28.8 31.69
100.85 97.68 96.46 101.63
115.21 111.44 111.06 115.98
140.19 134.6 135.84 140.67
189.87 184.24 186.05 191.77
203.58 198.14 199.98 205.69
217.09 212.16 213.22 219.13
241 235.39 234.99 241.44

In comparison to the other race over the same distance, starting with the novice hurdle winner First Flow, he clocked an overall time just 0.4s quicker from the first to the line.  He was actually only six seconds quicker than Joke Dancer in the opening handicap, and that horse was winning off a mark of just 115.  However, he was quicker in the closing stages from two out to the line:

Joke Dancer First Flow The New One Donna’s Diamond
203.58 198.14 199.98 205.69
37.42 37.25 35.01 35.75

As you can see he was 2.24s quicker from two out to the line when compared to First Flow, however the was just 0.74s quicker over this section compared to Donna’s Diamond who was winning over just shy of three miles.

Factoring all this together and I’ve given The New One a mark of 148, which is a pound lower than the figure I gave him for his run in the Christmas Hurdle.  In fact his marks so far this season give me cause for concern that now he has hit double figures in age he may be regressing.  His marks in chronological order this year are 164, 166, 153, 149 and now 148.  He has a good record on soft ground, and I did in fact have one of my biggest each way bets in a long time on him in the Greatwood Hurdle, but his form on the clock since then has looked below par to me.

He now looks set to go up in trip for the Stayer’s Hurdle, and whilst he has an excellent record on the new course, I struggle to get too excited about his prospects.

CH’TIBELLO (140) was one of my outsiders of interest in the Champion Hurdle last year, and indeed was on my radar for this year’s renewal.  He tried to win this race with one late move, but was outstayed on this ground on the long run in to the line.  On better ground he can be in the shake-up in the Champion….albeit a respectable distance behind Buveur D’Air.  I’ve rated him around 160 before, and hopefully he can find that form again on better ground.

SAINT CALVADOS A THREAT IN THE ARKLE

Before those races, earlier in the week we saw a fresh name enter the Arkle picture as SAINT CALVADOS (165) won a novice handicap chase impressively at Newbury.

Horatio Hornblower Saint Calvados Difference
16.49 13.94 -2.55
34.79 30.13 -4.66
68.88 62.46 -6.42
81.9 74.86 -7.04
95.83 88.6 -7.23
110.21 102.33 -7.88
123.69 115.53 -8.16
161.52 152.24 -9.28
192.1 181.31 -10.79
205.36 193.26 -12.1
217.66 205 -12.66
234.27 220.43 -13.84
255.55 242.19 -13.36

The other chase on the card was run over 2m7.5f by Horatio Hornblower, but as you can see from the above Saint Calvados clocked a time 13.36s quicker from the first to the line over the two mile course, and was carrying 8lbs more in weight.  Even allowing for the shorter distance of the race this was a red hot performance from the winner.  He was even eased in the latter stages so he could have gone faster too.

I was intrigued to hear his trainer say he was 10lbs better than his previous star horse Arzal.  I rated that horse 166, so if he is capable of that sort of run then this horse is a major threat to Footpad who has looked the best two mile novice around this season.

As ever, things are never that straightforward.  This was just the sixth run of his life, and the second he’s had in this country, and all of those efforts have been on soft ground.  This leaves some doubt about his ability to handle potentially quicker ground for starters, as does his ability to handle the undulations of Cheltenham.  If he can adapt to the different conditions he is a live player in the Arkle.

WEEKEND REVIEW…WAITING PATIENTLY, WILLIAM HENRY, GETABIRD AND INVITATION ONLY

WAITING PATIENTLY WORTH WAITING FOR

The star performance of the weekend was undoubtedly that of WAITING PATIENTLY (164) who thrashed his rivals in a Listed race at Kempton over 2m5f, with the clock backing up the visual impression of the performance.

Mercian Prince Waiting Patiently Fountains Windfall
12.38 12.36 12.26
26.68 26.47 25.73
37.59 37.65 36.66
73.66 74.2 73.36
87.14 87.53 87.18
101.14 101.44 101.39
147.1 146.47 146.76
157.37 156.25 156.9
194.98 194.37 195.85
207.04 206.57 208.23
220.11 220.01 222.28
230.45 230.56 233.01
263.56 263.15 266.89
276.32 275.28 279.89
291.21 288.24 293.94
303.35 298.53 304.89

As you can see from the sectionals compared with the other two races, he clocked by far the best time as clocked from the first flight.  He was carrying less weight than the other two winners, and going a shorter distance that Fountains Windfall, but even allowing for these factors he deserves a big rating.

What was perhaps most impressive is the turn of foot he showed in the latter stages of the race, and seemingly doing so within his comfort zone.

Mercian Prince Waiting Patiently Fountains Windfall
230.45 230.56 233.01
72.9 67.97 71.88

The above table shows the time that each winner took to reach four out, and from there to the line.  As you can see Waiting Patiently got to four out in near enough exactly the same time as Mercian Prince in the handicap chase run over the same distance.  From there though he scooted home 4.93s quicker.  He was also quicker throughout than Fountains Windfall was in the three mile chase, and that horse is now being touted as a live RSA contender!

He is no doubt an exciting horse, having only just turned seven so it’s worth looking at his profile a bit closer.  First up, there seems to be some consensus that he needs soft ground.  On looking at his form initially that would look to be the case but his two runs this season have both come on good to soft, and the one time he ran on ground described purely as “good” he went down by a length to the top class Cloudy Dream as a four year old.

The obvious target for him would look to be the Ryanair, where he would likely clash with Un De Sceaux.  The one problem is that his perceived best conditions would also suit that rival who is a bit of a freak on soft ground, so his best chance would be on better ground which shouldn’t inconvenience him as much.  He goes there with a live chance.

Long term the King George back at Kempton would look a suitable long term target next season, there’s plenty of stamina in the pedigree and we can see he handles the track fine.  I’m not sure his stamina would extend to the Gold Cup, but he would certainly be an interesting King George contender.  I’m pretty sure he can progress further from this performance and join the elite horses around at the moment capable of posting 170+ numbers.

FOUNTAINS WINDFALL DESERVES TO GO FOR RSA

I’ve struggled to get to grips with FOUNTAINS WINDFALL (150+), going back and forth about whether he’s an RSA candidate or not.  He was three lengths clear and going well when coming down in the Kauto Star at Christmas, and made amends at the weekend by winning a relatively weak handicap off a mark of 146.

I’ve only been able to rate him 150, as he was eased in the closing stages, but he’s probably capable of putting in a mark of around 160.  That would tie in with what he could’ve done if standing up on the last two times where he’s fallen when in contention.  He deserves to go for a big race like the RSA, but I’d probably be a bit underwhelmed if he won the race.  They did go quite slow in this race, and I don’t think the Kauto Star at Christmas was that strong on the clock either, so whilst he’s no doubt a good horse, I’ll wait and see what turns up on the day, especially with some big names in Ireland still to race.

WILLIAM HENRY LANDS A HOT LANZAROTE HURDLE

I was keen on a few outsiders down the weights in the Lanzarote Hurdle, but as it turned out the classy top weight WILLIAM HENRY (160) proved to be well ahead of his mark and was suited by reverting to hurdles after a disastrous experiment with chasing.

Redicean Chef Des Obeaux William Henry Jenkins
19.18 18.67 18.18 17.98
69.52 67.76 66.76 67.72
80 77.25 76.64 77.54
127.04 122.21 121.55 124.64
152.05 146.6 145.23 148.36
201.58 199.19 194.2 195.35
217.92 217.33 211.99 212.42
229.63 230.41 224.29 224.75

As you can see from the table above, he clocked a time 5.34s quicker than Redicean did for the two mile course, despite going five furlongs further.  He managed to clock an overall time faster than Jenkins too, but this was due to the faster early pace, as we can see now:

Redicean Chef Des Obeaux William Henry Jenkins
152.05 146.6 145.23 148.36
77.58 83.81 79.06 76.39

They went a much stronger pace in the Lanzarote, as you can see above, he got to three out 6.82s quicker than Redicean did in the two mile juvenile hurdle.  Unsurprisingly, the younger horse made up some time from there but he only made up 1.48s and was carrying less weight…and of course hadn’t gone as far.  Jenkins made up more time in the latter stages, and rates higher than Redicean as a result, but the overall time, and factoring in weight and distance still points to this being a hot race.  The comparison with Chef Des Obeaux, the winner of the longer race over three miles, highlights things further.  He got to three out 1.37s quicker, and came home 4.75s faster from there.  All this data points to a figure of 160 for William Henry, who was clearly well ahead of his mark of 145.

He’s only been put up to 151 after this and that looks lenient, making him a live contender for the Coral Cup, which connections landed with Whisper off a big weight.  If he gets three miles he would have a shot in a Stayers Hurdle, and with plenty of flat staying performers that perhaps is a possible eventuality.  Interestingly, his mother was a half-sister to Strangely Brown who ran in a Stayers Hurdle.  A race like the Aintree Hurdle may be perfect for him, but wherever he goes he is an unexposed hurdler who I want to be on the right side of.

With the winner putting up a good figure, it follows that the horses in behind look interesting for subsequent races.

SPIRITOFTHEGAMES (148) ran a big race, going down by just three quarters of a length.  This was just his sixth run over hurdles and he would also look to be a live contender for the Coral Cup.  Similarly lightly raced was the third placed RED INDIAN (146) who should land a handicap.

Back in fourth was TOPOFTHEGAME (151) who like the winner was reverting from an unsuccessful foray over fences.  This is the time of the year than Nicholls does his flu jabs for horses, and he actually hasn’t had a winner yet this year so this run reads very well in that context.  He does look every inch a chaser and remains an exciting prospect in that sphere having only just turned six.

DIESE DES BIEFFES (146) went off favourite but still ran a fine race to finish fifth.  He put up this sort of number when second to If The Cap Fits, and with that run only eighteen days prior to this perhaps this came a bit soon.

COEUR BLIMEY (139) ran very well to finish sixth considering the number of jumping mistakes he meant, and LE PARIOTE (132) made a pleasing UK debut for the Newland yard.  He may be suited by a drop in trip as he was bang there travelling well two out but didn’t seem to quite see out the race.

HOOD GETS JENKINS BACK ON TRACK

I gave JENKINS (151) a big rating when he won on his debut at Newbury over hurdles last season.  Happily that figure was backed up by the exploits of the vanquished horses with Bags Groove, Captain Forez and Pingshou.  Rather unhappily Jenkins seemed to go completely off the rails but the application of a hood and setting him out in front at Kempton on Saturday looks to have done the trick with the horse, and hopefully he can progress from here.

He clocked a time 4.88s quicker than Redicean did over the same distance, and carried a pound more in weight, with the younger horse only making up 1.35s from two out.  Jenkins actually clocked the fastest time from three out.  It’ll be interesting to see if he can go on from here, as the promise of that Newbury debut led one to believe he was going right to the top.

MR WHIPPED A LONG TERM PROSPECT…..ALONG WITH VADO FORTE!

The Grade 2 Leamington Novice at Warwick was won by Willoughby Court last year before going onto Cheltenham glory, but I don’t feel that MR WHIPPED (121+) is going to be doing the same this year though he does look a nice long term prospect for Henderson.

Vado Forte Black Ivory Mr Whipped
11.45 12.27 12.35
54.45 57.11 58.23
117.25 120.14 121.21
130.98 134.04 134.89
146.3 150.38 150.77
190.65 194.08 193.38
202.88 205.46 204.97
215.15 217.87 217.69

Mr Whipped clocked an overall time from the first flight in the two mile race just 0.18s than Black Ivory did in the longer race, but this was largely down to the slow pace of the race.

Vado Forte Black Ivory Mr Whipped
146.3 150.38 150.77
68.85 67.49 66.92

As you can see there, Mr Whipped was 0.39s behind Black Ivory at three out, but came home 0.58s quicker.  He travelled seemingly well within himself to do this, and then idled in front so I’d be fairly confident there is a lot of horse still to be found here.  Big races this spring may be too soon on the horizon, but he’s in the right hands to develop into a fine chaser next year.

Rather surprisingly the same can be said about the winner of the lower class novice handicap hurdle that opened the card at Warwick, as VADO FORTE (130) obliterated his rivals in fine style.  He was easy to clock in the big field, looking much bigger than his opponents, being fitted with a big white nose band, and travelling noticeably better than anything else in the race (it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen the race, you can spot him a mile off coming through the field).

As we saw from the sectionals, they went a fast pace in this race, getting to three out over four seconds quicker than the other two races.  The other two races made up time from there, but perhaps not as much as one would expect, and Vado Forte came seven lengths clear of his field in fine style.  He’d not settled in his racing prior to this, and the decent pace of this big field handicap clearly helped in that regard.

He’s gone up to a mark of 112 after this, which would look to underrate him a fair amount.  He would look able to land another race from that sort of mark, and then long-term looks a nice chasing prospect.

GETABIRD NEEDS TO IMPROVE TO WIN A SUPREME

I’ll never quite understand some of the talk surrounding Cheltenham that seems to require a short priced favourite for a race to be deemed “up to scratch”.  On my figures this year’s crop of novice hurdlers is as deep as I can remember, and this probably explained why the Supreme didn’t have a clear favourite.  However, everyone seems to happy now that GETABIRD (141) is as short as 5/2 for the opening race of the festival.  But on the figures he’s going to have to improve a fair amount to win that race.

Getabird Impact Factor Goaheadmakemyday
31.64 31.79 33.3
56.95 57.69 59.21
101.15 102.88 104.17
130.54 133.8 134.84
146.86 150.7 151.07
172.23 176.98 176.57
186.38 191.61 190.74
215.08 221.83 221.93
227.27 234.84 235.67

He did clock the fastest time of the three races on the card, but the other two contests were relatively weak affairs and so this is no surprise (the mare Goaheadmakemyday was winning off a mark of 97).

He was consistently quicker throughout in comparison to the maiden hurdle won over the same distance by Impact Factor (121), but was in fact carrying 10lbs less than that horse in winning this race.  His overall time was 7.57s quicker, and on this ground at Punchestown over two miles I can only get him to around 20lbs better than Impact Factor after the weight adjustment.

So, alarm bells are ringing for me already when I hear that he is now a short priced favourite for the Supreme.  Horses like If The Cap Fits, Summerville Boy, Sharjah, Reel Steal, Kalashnikov, Jetz and Slate House have all put up better figures than him this season and look like potential rivals.  Now what is apparent in the post-race analysis is that he is expected to come on for the run, and Mullins will no doubt have him ready to fire come the big day.  But he will have to find at least a stone of improvement to win the Supreme, probably 20lbs in fact, and at a short price I could watch and see rather than pay to find out.

Now if that alarm bell was quietening, another one flared up straight away, and it revolved around comments made by Patrick Mullins.  I’ll copy them straight in here from Racing UK, and then explain my concerns:

Getabird hasn’t got the most fantastic confirmation in the world and that probably counts against him,” he said. “He hasn’t got the greatest set of front legs”

Now he was winning here on soft/heavy ground, and he won his hurdling debut on heavy, and perhaps given his legs issues the softer ground helps him.  He did win his bumper on better ground but jumping at Cheltenham on its undulations on much quicker ground has to be a concern for a horse of that nature with bad front legs. The ground will be called good to soft, but will likely be proper good ground…for a horse with his issues that wouldn’t be ideal.

MENGLI KHAN (136) is another who has put up a big figure this season when winning the Royal Bond. He’s disappointed since then, though was going well before running out through the rails at Christmas where he would likely have put in another 150+ number.  He was probably feeling the effects of that incident here.  He’s a horse with plenty of ability and if he can get back on track can be a threat again.

INVITATION ONLY CAN LAND ONE OF THE BIG NOVICE CHASES

Whilst this years novice hurdlers are a strong batch, I don’t feel the same can be said about the novice chasers.  I didn’t think last years novice hurdlers were a great crop, and that has probably filtered through to the novice chase division this season.  It would make sense that the three standout horses so far were second season hurdlers or didn’t race at Cheltenham – Footpad, Sutton Place and INVITATION ONLY (148++) are the three.

Invitation Only put up an excellent figure on the clock when beating Any Second Now, and duly followed up here.  He wasn’t as good on the clock this time, but this was down to the race being run at a crawl…we can still see evidence of this latent ability though.

Bilbo Bagins Invitation Only Glencairn View
236.56 239.55 242.04
70.97 62.9 67.5

Bilbo Bagins won the handicap chase over the same course and distance, and looks deserving of a mark around 115/120 having won his race by half a length with the pair eleven lengths clear of the third.  Invitation Only was 3s slower to three out, with the race being run at a sedate pace, but flew home from there 8s quicker to the line.  I can only get to a figure of 148 as a result of the slow early pace, but would be confident of him being able of producing much better…and this would be in line with his run last time out.

The JLT or RSA looks to be potential targets, and it is frustrating in this day and age that we don’t know!  Previously the RSA would’ve been done and dusted as a target, but he’s capable of winning the JLT too.  Wherever he goes I want to be with him.

LANZAROTE HURDLE PREVIEW

One of my favourite races of the season is the Lanzarote Hurdle run at Kempton this weekend over 2.5m.  This year’s renewal sees sixteen (hopefully!) go to post, and there are three that take my eye as being well treated, one at the front of the market and two at bigger prices.

I’m not too keen on most of those at short prices, River Frost for JP McManus heads the market and I can see why that may be as his seasonal reappearance saw him finish a two lengths fifth at Chepstow and the form has worked out well with Sam Spinner and Wholestone finishing ahead of him.  He’s gone up 3lb since as a result though and is now bang on the mark I’ve rated him for Chepstow and the Coral Cup, so I can let him go at the prices.  William Henry is reverting back from a disastrous chasing adventure, as is Topofthegame who fell on his only attempt at the larger obstacles.  Bags Groove has won his last two starts and gone up 12lbs to 145, which again is bang on what I’ve rated his last two runs.  Le Patriote is having his first start in the UK and has been well backed but it’s hard to get involved now with so many unknowns about him.  Coueur Blimey is of interest, but again has gone up to the sort of mark I’ve rated him previously.

The one I do like towards the front of the market is DIESE DES BIEFFES (145) who looks well treated off a mark of 135 on his last start on this track.  He was second to If The Cap Fits that day who looks a live contender for the Supreme, and Diese Des Bieffes put up a good figure finishing second, four and a half lengths clear of the third.  He comfortably beat the now 133 rated Highway One O One on his first run this season and the horse he beat on his second start, Show On The Road, won a novice hurdle by thirteen lengths at Exeter on New Year’s Day.  He now steps up to 2m5f, and on the visual impression of his Kempton run that looks like it should suit fine, and most of his siblings have prospered over further than two miles, with Caid Du Berlais in the family tree.  He’s by Martaline, whose top rated jumps horses include Dynaste, Disko, Agrapart and Ucello Conti, so I’m comfortable that he’ll be able to handle the step up in trip.  If he can improve on his last start then a mark of 135 could be made a mockery of come the race.  Mitch Bastyan is a brilliant young jockey who takes off 5lbs to boost confidence even further.

The second horse on my shortlist is WISHFULL DREAMING (133) who has his first start for Olly Murphy having moved yards from Phillip Hobbs.  I was devastated when Hunters Call beat Silver Streak in the big handicap hurdle at Ascot before Christmas, and that was a case of Murphy finding masses of improvement in a horse having his first start for him.  Now it’s unlikely that he’s going to be doing a drastically better job than Hobbs, but if he can find some improvement in the horse, or if he thrives in his new yard then he looks potentially well treated off a mark of 127.  He won on his handicap debut at Chepstow in 2016 off a mark of 123 by five lengths, but has been unsuccessful since then.  But I’ve had him running to a mark of 133 previously, and indeed he was a good fourth behind Brain Power at Sandown in December 2016.  He’s been well backed on all his starts since going off 7/4, 5/2, 11/10, 3/1 and 7/2 but hasn’t been able to reward that confidence, though it suggests there is a decent engine under the bonnet.  I think this may be the time to catch him fresh first time up, with his form off a long break reading 11F, with the “F” coming when leading in a handicap hurdle at Tanton won by Amour De Nuit (now rated 20lbs higher).  The first time tongue tie goes on, and with Aidan Coleman booked a price of 20/1 looks worth chancing.

The final one on my list is DINO VELVET (133) who looks a wild price at 25/1.  He was 5th behind the aforementioned Silver Streak at Chepstow on his seasonal reappearance, after running with credit to finish 8th in the Fred Winter (made a mistake at a crucial time), and I think he’s coming into this race a bit under the radar.  He was stepped up to two and a half miles last time at Newbury, where he travelled well before flattening out a bit to finish a seven length fifth.  But he reportedly had a bit of a setback in his preparation, and if he’s over that and had a smoother build up to this race I think he can outrun his odds here.  On pedigree the step up to this sort of trip should suit with his mother a half-sister to listed winner Pop Art (won over 2m2f), and his one win in this country came at Sandown so there’s a chance he may be better going right-handed too.  He may be better suited to a flatter track as well, with his form off a recent run away from undulating tracks since moving to King reading 122.  I think there’s scope in his mark of 123 having rated him 10lbs higher than that, and I’m glad to see Wayne Hutchinson take the ride as he is very good in these big field handicap hurdles.  It’s also interesting that he’s going to sweat down to a weight of 10-4 (lowest weight in last 12 months is 10-2).

Hopefully all sixteen stand their ground for the race, and if so I think these three are worth backing each way.  I may even throw a few quid at the tricast just in case!

JUVENILE AND NOVICE HURDLERS AND A QUICK LOOK AT IRELAND OVER CHRISTMAS

FINALE THE BEST JUVENILE RACE SO FAR

I wrote recently about the excellent performance on the clock put up by SUSSEX RANGER (152) at Sandown, where he put up a better display than the highly touted (and overrated) On The Blind Side.  I was keen on his chances in the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow at the weekend and he put up another good run on the clock, but he pulled hard early on in the race and was pipped in the latter stages by WE HAVE A DREAM (154).  The merits of the race are shown when looking at the sectionals clocked from the first flight in the two mile race:

Diablo De Rouhet We Have A Dream Flemcara
73.71 72 74.13
95.12 93.45 95.41
184.42 182.26 184.53
195.71 193.29 195.92
226.33 223.37 227.34
238.86 234.63 240.06

As you can see the winner clocked the fastest time for the section timed, and was in fact faster throughout compared to the longer races on the card.

Diablo De Rouhet We Have A Dream Flemcara
184.42 182.26 184.53
54.44 52.37 55.53

 He was quicker to 3 out, and from there to the line when compared to the other races.  This was to be expected considering it was a Grade 1 over 2miles compared to 2.5m and 3m in the supporting hurdle races.  But when adjusting for this I still award the winner the best juvenile rating of the season to date.

Unsuccessful in three hurdle runs in France, this was We Have A Dream’s third win from three runs in this country and he deserves his place towards the top of the Triumph market.  He travelled better than the runner-up, and certainly settled better and looks to possess a better turn of foot that ultimately won the race on the day.

Sussex Ranger backed up his Sandown run, proving it no fluke by largely doing everything wrong here and yet only going down by a length and a half.  Far too keen in the early stages, it says a lot for his ability that he was able to run so close here having wasted energy early on.  The third place horse who behaved similarly poorly early on ended up 11 lengths back!

He battled on gamely in defeat, but I wouldn’t rule out the prospect of him overturning this form come the Triumph.  For starters there will be more hurdles to jump, and he is a noticeably adept jumper who was inconvenienced by there being 2 hurdles omitted here.  He outjumped the winner at the last. There is a long run from three out to the line in the Triumph but with the emphasis on stamina on the new course and the uphill finish I still think he can land the big race.

MERCENAIRE (139) was keen in the early stages as well, but unlike Sussex Ranger wilted in the latter part of the race to finish third.  I was amused to hear Nick Williams say he’s probably run to 130 here to try and plant that figure in the mind of the handicapper.  I’ve rated him 139, and should he get the favourable rating suggested he would surely go for and have a live chance of landing a consecutive Fred Winter at the festival for the trainer.

 

SUMMERVILLE BOY AND KALASHNIKOV ARE YET MORE TOP NOVICE HURDLERS

This season has been one of the strongest I can recall in terms of strength in depth in the novice hurdle division.  Samcro sits atop his throne, looking down on everyone, but I can add two more horses to the 150+ section after the Tolworth Hurdle on Saturday that was won in a fast time by SUMMERVILLE BOY (155).

Crucial Moment Poppy Kay Summerville Boy Call Me Lord
16.23 16.25 15.24 15.18
93.84 93.80 87.57 90.53
104.66 104.12 97.36 100.94
116.73 115.71 108.51 112.76
137.77 137.15 128.91 133.53
196.90 194.77 188.76 193.88
212.18 210.16 205.06 208.76
228.56 226.56 221.75 223.90

The race was run at a strong pace set by MONT DES AVALOIRS (139) but the winner travelled noticeably well in landing the race.  The scale of the early pace in the race can be shown here:

Crucial Moment Poppy Kay Summerville Boy Call Me Lord
137.77 137.15 128.91 133.53
90.79 89.41 92.84 90.37

As you can see the winner got to 3 out 4.62s quicker than Call Me Lord did in the handicap hurdle over the same course and distance.  Understandably this was unsustainable and he slowed from there, but still clocked a red hot time overall, and I’ve awarded him a lofty number as a result.

This marks him down as another one of the good novice hurdlers this season, and his ability to travel well at a frenetic pace bodes well for the spring festivals where he can land one of the big prizes before embarking on an exciting novice chase campaign next year.

The runner-up KALASHNIKOV (150) struggled to go the breakneck pace here, perhaps being inconvenienced by the ground as well.  I’ve seen plenty of people write in glowing terms about him, and he is undoubtedly a nice horse for his rookie trainer.  But I’d be surprised if he was able to land a big prize this spring, though he deserves to line up in one I feel he is a notch below the top tier.  He could be one for handicaps next year.

 

COULD NEXT DESTINATION GO FOR THE SUPREME?

Whilst it was disappointing not to see a clash between the top two novice hurdlers seen this season, NEXT DESTINATION (160) still put up a good display to win the Grade 1 over 2.5m at Naas on Sunday.  Whilst plenty seem to feel the choice is between taking on Samcro in the Neptune, or going for the Albert Bartlett, I wouldn’t mind seeing him go for the Supreme over 2miles.  Firstly, let’s look at the merits of his win on the clock.

Another Barney Next Destination Mick The Boyo
14.66 14.91 15.38
65.3 66.08 68.33
94.18 94.01 98.17
138.66 137.52 142.9
152.56 150.72 156.96
188.22 185.89 193.43
201.89 199.25 207.57
217.81 214.16 222.5

There were two other races on the card run over half a mile shorter, yet Next Destination clocked a much faster time than both of them despite running the longer distance.  Furthermore, he showed plenty of gears in winning the race in the latter stages.

Another Barney Next Destination Mick The Boyo
152.56 150.72 156.96
65.25 63.44 65.54

As you can see in the second table, he got to 3 out in 150.72s, quicker than the other two races on the card, and still came home nearly 2s faster from there to the line.  This isn’t the first time that he’s showed plenty of pace in the latter stages of his races either.  On his hurdling debut at this track, he was half a second quicker from the last hurdle to the line than the other winners on the card.

Interestingly, he actually won the same point to point as Champagne Fever, though the races were run very differently with Next Destination clocking a slower time in a slower run race.  And I wonder whether history may repeat itself, as Champagne Fever was in people’s minds for longer trips before reverting and winning the Supreme.  This horse jumped noticeably better here, and with a good pace over two miles I think that weapon could be used to full effect, and it was interesting to note Mullins talk along similar lines.  He clearly has plenty of pace and I just wonder whether the Supreme is a livelier runner than people think.  On pedigree he is from the family of Liss A Paoraigh who won a Grade 1 hurdle over two miles.

 

There was stacks of racing of Christmas in Ireland so I’ve stuck with just a few races to focus on.  If anyone has any horse they want to ask about, I’ll be happy to discuss.

WILL THERE BE TOO MANY RUNNERS FOR FOOTPAD IN THE ARKLE?

I was keen on the chances of ANY SECOND NOW (155) in the Racing Post Novice Chase after he’d run a good time behind Invitation Only last time out.  He put up a good performance again here to finish 2nd but was fairly put in his place by FOOTPAD (168) who now goes to the Arkle as a short priced favourite for the race.

This looks fair enough to me when you look at the sectionals he put up in this race:

Tisamystery Footpad Difference
40.21 41.17 0.96
54.46 56.11 1.65
86.57 87.9 1.33
109.38 109.76 0.38
126.4 126.26 -0.14
139.57 139.29 -0.28
155.21 154.46 -0.75
174.48 173.35 -1.13
191.03 189.61 -1.42
220.32 217.02 -3.3
240.89 237.48 -3.41

As you can see he clocked a time 3.41s quicker that Tisamystery did in the handicap chase over the same course and distance, and did so carrying 26lbs more in weight.  When allowing for that I give the winner a red hot number of 168.  He deservedly heads the market for the Arkle.

As ever though one has to be picky when looking at a short priced favourite for a big race at Cheltenham.  Firstly, his last two runs at the Festival have seen him finish 3rd in the Triumph and 4th in the Champion Hurdle.  This doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t handle the track as both runs were fine, but it would be in the back of my mind, especially as he seems to be a horse that likes softer ground.  However, more prevalent in my concerns is whether he can handle a big field.

His form in races of 8 runners or less reads 1311114211, with two of his defeats coming when trying to give weight to Jer’s Girl and Apple’s Jade, and when going down by a length in the Irish Champion Hurdle.  His only bad run under such conditions came when 4th in the Ryanair Hurdle this time last year.  His form in fields larger than 8 runners reads 723F243.

The average field size in the Arkle since 2011, when the JLT came into the fixture list, is 8.4, so it may be worth seeing if a decent field turn up on the day to oppose him.  The smallest field sizes have been when Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig and Douvan were short priced favourites and there may be more appetite to take on a horse like Footpad, who whilst he has been brilliant in his two starts to date, doesn’t have the same aura as the aforementioned horses…..yet!

ROAD TO RESPECT STEPS INTO THE GOLD CUP PICTURE

I’d given ROAD TO RESPECT (170) big numbers last season, but wasn’t sure if he was capable of stepping into the Gold Cup picture on what I’d seen of him this season.  He proved me wrong by landing the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown in fine style, and is a solid Gold Cup prospect now.

Road To Respect Snow Falcon Difference
19.79 20.73 -0.94
36.43 38.56 -2.13
68.14 71.03 -2.89
110.12 114.21 -4.09
124.64 128.97 -4.33
156.88 161.65 -4.77
178.96 185.34 -6.38
195.36 201.48 -6.12
208.48 214.33 -5.85
224.1 230.46 -6.36
243.21 249.63 -6.42
259.06 265.54 -6.48
287.51 296.26 -8.75
308.45 317.41 -8.96
308.45 317.41 -8.96
308.45 317.41 -8.96
472.45 483.41 -10.96
496.45 504.41 -7.96

The other chase on the card was won by Snow Falcon over 3f shorter than this race, but Road To Respect ran the equivalent distance 7.96s quicker, carrying just 2lbs less.

He looks to be a better horse going this way round, and of course won over the New Course at last year’s festival, and fits just about every stat you can throw at him regarding the Gold Cup.  At the back of my mind I would be a bit underwhelmed if he won the Gold Cup, but he is probably as solid an each way prospect as you could hope for in the race.  Might Bite and Coney Island might have the “sexier” profile that is looked for these days, but I’d be wary of underestimating Road To Respect.

BALKO DES FLOS (169) like the winner is now only seven years old and is clearly progressing well too, should they elect to go to Cheltenham with him he’d be a lively outsider in the Gold Cup, but may be more suited by the Ryanair.  He was outstayed by the winner here, and won the Galway hurdle of 2m6f back in the summer.

OUTLANDER (167) is a horse I’ve spent plenty of time looking at without coming to a satisfactory conclusion regarding his form.  What one can say is his runs in the UK have been fairly disastrous so it would be no surprise were they to wait until Punchestown with him.

YORKHILL (111) looks set to return to two miles, and I don’t have much to add other than that looks perfectly sensible considering the nature of how he raced here.  If he does prove suited to that test then he will be hard to beat in the Champion Chase even if Altior turns up.

SUTTON PLACE LIVES UP TO EXPECTATIONS

Those who read some of my blogs last year will have been bored slightly by my obsession with SUTTON PLACE (163) who I rated one of the best hurdlers around, in fact I only had Buveur D’Air and Nichols Canyon ahead of him.  You’ll be pleased to hear than the infatuation continues this year as he made an excellent start over fences at Fairyhouse on New Years Day.

Capture The Drama Sutton Place Difference
23.24 22.78 -0.46
52.13 50.75 -1.38
77.48 76.92 -0.56
122.67 123.19 0.52
134.9 135.43 0.53
154.82 155.48 0.66
176.95 178.03 1.08
196.67 197.65 0.98
206.12 206.9 0.78
238.18 238.69 0.51
261.23 261.33 0.1
282.31 281.88 -0.43
308.28 306.39 -1.89
333.49 328.54 -4.95
346.62 339.66 -6.96

There was one other chase on the card, run over 3m1f, but Sutton Place clocked a time of nearly 7s quicker, despite carrying 26lbs more in weight.  This points to a figure of 163, in line with some of the numbers he was getting over hurdles and marks this down as an excellent start over fences.

What was most impressive is how effortlessly he put away the runner-up in the latter stages, and he is capable of better than this as he progresses over the larger obstacles.  He has been a fragile horse, this was just the 8th of his life, and it would seem that soft ground is a necessity for him – he pulled up on the one time he ran on ground with good in the description.

This raises concerns regarding the festival, but he is one of the classiest novice chasers around – I only have Invitation Only and Footpad ahead of him on my numbers.  This was over 2m5f, and he showed that this sort of trip is suitable so the JLT would look a logical target should they elect to come over to Cheltenham.  Last year saw plenty of overnight watering on the Wednesday night in order to preserve the ground, and should they do so again the Thursday of the JLT could be the perfect distance and time for him to land the pot he deserves.