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.

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