Looking at the Champion Hurdle entries for this year I can’t help having a similar feeling to last years Champion Chase.  Every pundit you read or listened to last year was lambasting the Champion Chase as terrible outside the favourite and not worth any punter looking at.  I wrote at the time that I found this slightly confusing as with an odds on favourite and the potential each way implications for a race that could cut up it seemed to me like a very appealing race to get involved in from an antepost perspective.  This years Champion Hurdle looks very similar to me…. we have a short odds on favourite that no one can see getting beaten, and it being largely dismissed as a betting proposition.

To my eye though looking at the entries, we are looking at maximum field of 10 and there is the chance that it could cut up to 7 or less by the off.  That makes it top priority for me when looking at Cheltenham antepost races!

Let’s go through the runners… (I’ve listed their best rating this season first, and their best ever after)

BUVEUR D’AIR (154,172) – The defending Champion was a brilliant winner last year and is the short odds on favourite to go in again this season.  Similar to Douvan last year if he’s at his best and runs to it on the day, he will win.  But, these are still animals and not machines so let’s see if we can find an angle in.

His only defeat over hurdles has come at the hands of Min and Altior in the hot Supreme from 2016, so we can tenuously take some comfort in the fact he has lost on this course. This season he has run three times in very slowly run races on soft ground beating a total of nine rivals.  In the Champion he’ll likely face the quickest ground he’s raced on this season and as many rivals as his previous three runs combined!  Henderson is on record as saying he takes plenty of work and is it perhaps possible that the ease with which he is winning could be detrimental come the big day?!

FAUGHEEN (165,179) – That 179 figure came in his Irish Champion Hurdle romp a few years ago and I don’t think it’s being controversial to suggest that he won’t be running to that mark again.  I have rated him 165 on his run behind Supasundae and that is probably as good as he is now.  That is actually the clear best piece of two mile form this season and at a general 6/1 for the Champion now I am probably keener on his chances than many are.  However, he is now ten and I can’t help but think that they had him cherry ripe for the Irish Champion and I’m not sure how much more will be left in the tank considering the issues he’s had in the past.  Also, I feel he may now be better on softer ground and I wonder whether he may end up getting taken off his feet in the big race.

MY TENT OR YOURS (149,166) – A year older than Faugheen the old stager My Tent Or Yours comes back for another crack at the Champion.  Second in a Supreme and two Champions it was nice to see him gain a success at the track (albeit on the New Course) in December.  That was a slowly run affair though and he was getting weight from most of his rivals.  Now he’s eleven I’d be inclined to look beyond him this year.

MELON (154,156) – Was a big talking horse last year and posted a big figure on debut, but for me he hasn’t really progressed from that.  I’m inclined to think the figures he’s been running to are just as good as he is and with that in mind I can leave him alone at the prices.

WICKLOW BRAVE (-,168) – One of my favourite horses in training I actually backed him for this race last year, and was feeling pretty smug as he travelled well down the hill but hope soon turned to despair as he faded into 7th.  Of course he then came out and won the Punchestown Champion with a front running ride!  He is again going to come here fresh (if at all) and his form off a ten week plus break reads 915027 with the only victory coming in a maiden hurdle when sent of 2/5.  With that in mind I’m going to reluctantly pass him over, and he’s been found already this year given he is a best price of 20s.

ELGIN (155,155) – 7th in last year’s Supreme he has been a good horse for connections this season in landing a Greatwood and Kingwell Hurdle.  However, I’ve only been able to rate him 155 and that doesn’t scream Champion Hurdle contender to me, for all that this is an open year behind the favourite.

MICK JAZZ (160,160) – The horse that picked up the Grade 1 hurdle at Christmas when Faugheen bombed he was then third behind that horse and Supasundae in the Irish Champion.  I’ve rated him as a 160 horse and that puts him in the mix regarding the field in this race.  Since moving to Elliott he hasn’t been out of the first three over two miles and was in fact only a length and three quarters behind Labaik in a novice hurdle last year.  Still only seven and with the potential for better ground suiting he is a strong traveller that is of definite interest at 33/1.

CH’TIBELLO (146,161) – Was another that I’d backed at big prices last year only for him to be ruled out on the morning of the race.  He’d run some big figures in defeat last year but unfortunately hasn’t reached the same heights this year on my numbers.  There is the chance that better ground will suit him come the big day but I’d be inclined to say that injury and preparation have meant that he isn’t quite as good as last year this time round.

VERDANA BLUE (155,155) – With Apple’s Jade set to go for the Mares Hurdle, her sex looks set to be represented by Verdana Blue.  She was actually fourth in last years Mares Novice Hurdle and has run to a decent level this season in good two mile handicaps.  Getting 7lbs from the boys puts her in the mix for this race and her run last time out gives some cause for optimism as she travelled well but couldn’t pick up in the bad ground at Newbury.  All her wins have come on good and good to soft ground and with that in mind she is worth considering for all that she had a hard race last time out.

JOHN CONSTABLE (150,160) – One of the horses to race against the favourite this year, John Constable is an interesting contender for this race.  He was 6th behind My Tent Or Yours in the International and then runner-up when chasing Buveur D’Air at Sandown.  But both those races were on soft ground and this horse thrives on better ground and the better weather!  He won the Swinton Hurdle by 14 lengths last year, and the the Summer Handicap off a mark of 150.  His form in two mile hurdle races on good ground with a five week break reads 17F11 (fell when likely to be second in hot handicap) and the fact he has been running good races on unsuitable ground this winter is encouraging.  I reckon he’s a stone better on better ground and that will put him in the mix come the big day should the ground go his way.  With Davy Russell the owners retained rider he’ll also have the ideal jockey to get him into the frame.  He’s actually regally bred being a full brother to St Leger winner Leading Light, and as one of the younger horses in the field I’m interested to see how he goes in top company on good ground.  In an open year he can go well at a big price.



Obviously Buveur D’Air is going to be tough to beat, but the shape of the race screams an each way angle and there are a few to focus on.  I’m against the old boys My Tent Or Yours and Faugheen, and also Wicklow Brave first time up.  Elgin and Melon haven’t posted a figure yet to suggest they can be competitive even in this open a renewal of the race.  And Ch’tibello seems to be a bit below the horse that came into last years race with such promise.

With that in mind I’m left looking at Verdana Blue, Mick Jazz and John Constable.  Verdana Blue had a very hard race in the Betfair Hurdle on bad ground, and with just a 31 day break I wonder if that will leave it’s mark as she steps up into Grade 1 company.  Mick Jazz is of interest at 33/1 but at an even bigger price (and with the hope that Davy Russell rides him instead) I’m chancing JOHN CONSTABLE at 50/1 each way.  He has a blue blooded pedigree, and has been running good races on bad ground this season.  In the hope that he can step up on better ground I don’t think he is a 10/1 chance to hit the frame, and he is 20/1 in the w/o market (has been 33s though so maybe wait for the day of race special markets).


(Potential curveballs – there are three horses that should be running here in my opinion, namely Supasundae, Yorkhill and Apple’s Jade.  It seems unlikely that any of them will show though, but they are the three horses genuinely capable of shaking up the favourite if he is in his best form)



I’ll confess to not being one to get too into stories involved in racing, but even I found it hard not to feel the soul stirring as CUE CARD (166) rolled back the years and led the Ascot Chase field a merry dance by setting a brutal pace.  Even then it was perhaps even more heart-warming to see WAITING PATIENTLY (169) come and win the race for Ruth Jefferson who has taken over the licence from the late Malcolm Jefferson.  Waiting Patiently had previously clocked a good time at Kempton in eye-catching style, and duly delivered on the potential of that performance here.

The novice chase on the card was run at a farcically slow pace so I’ve just put up the sectionals with Regal Encore in the three mile handicap by way of comparison:

Regal Encore

Waiting Patiently





















































 As you can see from the above, Waiting Patiently got to the fence two out 8.41s quicker than Regal Encore did in the longer handicap.  This pace told on the run in as he came home 2.29s slower, but even allowing for this and the shorter distance this was still an excellent performance from the winner.  He loomed up travelling well behind Cue Card on the run-in and won the race fairly convincingly.

He has now been shortened for the Ryanair Chase, though connections seem reluctant to commit to that race at this stage.  To be honest, I’m inclined to agree with them.  For starters, regardless of how easily he seemed to travel in this race, this was still run at a frenetic pace on soft ground and will have left its mark on the horses.  With just three and a half weeks to go to the Ryanair that has to be a concern.  The long term plan seems to be the King George and that looks perfectly sensible to me.  He’s already won at Kempton, and his ability to travel well off this pace here over 2m5f suggests three miles at Kempton should prove no bother to him.  He’s undoubtedly one of the stars of the jump game now, and considering he is still only seven there may be more to come yet.

CUE CARD (166) showed something like his former self here and by setting a brutal pace was able to use his latent stamina to see of his rivals.  He also benefitted from the soft ground here but I’d be worried about him going forward.  For starters, as with the winner, this effort will have left its mark and perhaps even more so in his case as he was no doubt trained for this day.  I’ve heard some people say this was a career best for Cue Card but that is a laughable statement, as I make it about 20lbs below his optimum.  I think it’s probably best just to see this run as being able to appreciate seeing him one more time in something resembling his old self!

Considering how savage this race was, I’d be worried about some of the other horses in behind with their Cheltenham prospects in mind.  Perhaps it was no bad thing to see CONEY ISLAND (?) pulled up early on, as he made jumping errors and just couldn’t live with the pace being set.  A similar thing happened on his previous start, but with only one realistic rival and the ensuing pace collapse that rival saw he was able to overcome losing ground that day.  On this occasion there were top class two and a half milers and stayers who could live with the pace, and he wasn’t able to get back into the race.  It looks to me as if three miles plus will be on the agenda for him now.


There was an intriguing clash in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran which saw OUR DUKE (168) give weight and a beating to the highly touted novice chaser PRESENTING PERCY (160).  Strangely, for two horses perceived as stayers and potentially unsuited by the drop back to 2.5m here, it was their pace in the latter stages that was impressive!

Some Neck

Our Duke



































 As you can see the overall time for the sections timed from the first jump in the two mile race saw a similar overall time to Some Neck in the beginners chase.  But when we drill into things a bit deeper we can see that they went a slower pace in the Red Mills.

Some Neck

Our Duke








 The above shows the times taken to get to three out and then from there to the line.  As you can see, Our Duke was 2s behind at three out, but fairly motored home to the line 1.73s quicker.  When I adjust for this and tie in the comparison with the shorter handicap I give Our Duke a figure of 168.  This isn’t far off some of his stellar runs from last season (earnt 174) and suggests that he is starting to fire again.

However, enthusiasm is tempered somewhat as this race was run in bad ground and the front two got into a fair old battle to the line.  With just three and a half weeks to Cheltenham that isn’t ideal and I’d be worried about this race leaving its mark on both of them.

PRESENTING PERCY (160) comes out on the same figure I gave him for his last chase win.  Interestingly, I had his Pertemps Hurdle success at 158, and whilst he looks to be a good staying novice chaser, I’m not sure he’s as great as everyone seems to be building him up to be. Usually when horses keep hitting the same sort of mark that tends to be how good they are.  Now he may step up massively on better ground at Cheltenham, but with the tough race here I’m keen to take him on in the RSA.


As you saw from the previous sectionals, SOME NECK (156) ran a fine time in his own right, with UP FOR REVIEW (152) setting a decent pace before finishing second.  Both horses have had their problems and were coming here off long layoffs and assuming they can hold their form after this run they are both of interest to me going forward.  They didn’t quite have the pace of Our Duke or Presenting Percy in the latter stages of their race, but they had gone quicker here and I wonder whether both will come into their own when upped to three miles.  They are worth keeping in mind anyway as they seem to have been slightly overlooked with some of the other performances from the weekend taking centre stage.

Their overall time was actually slightly quicker, but I’ve made a meaningful adjustment for the way Our Duke came home from two out, and hence arrive at a lower figure for both Some Neck and Up For Review.  In essence, they were able to clock a similar time as they went quicker early on!  But their runs were still good on the clock, and I think both of them are of interest going forward.


Each to their own obviously with what they do with their money, but it seems strange to me to pull a horse out of a race and then plan to stump up a large supplementary fee a few weeks later!  But that is apparently going to be the plan with ELGIN (153) who won the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton in a good time.  But it was bang in line with some of his previous efforts this season and I’m not sure I’d be rushing to splash the cash to supplement him for the Champion.

Breaking Ground


Fortunate George






























 On the clock this rated a figure of 153 for Elgin which is in line with figures I’ve given him this season (best of 155).  As you can see his overall time from the first was way quicker than anything else on the card, but it was the only race run at any meaningful gallop.

Breaking Ground


Fortunate George










 The above shows the splits to and from three out, and it shows just how much quicker they went in the Kingwell.  Elgin did well to still come home in similar time to the other races but they were relatively lowly affairs (Breaking Ground was winning off a mark of 81) and with all the comparisons I just get a similar figure for Elgin as before.

Now it goes without saying that this is an open Champion Hurdle behind the favourite, and I guess with him probably going up to 155 after this connections are thinking of going for the Grade 1 rather than a handicap.  But it does rather beg the question of why they pulled him out of the race in the first place!  I’ve got all the likely runners in the Champion ahead of Elgin and with his seeming preference for soft ground I must admit I’d be reluctant to part with £20k to go for the Champion Hurdle.  He could well hit the frame and earn a bit of cash for connections, but he’s not on my radar for the race.

CH’TIBELLO (146) was a horse I was keen on for last years Champion Hurdle at a big price each way, after he posted figures around 160 in the run up to the race.  Unfortunately he met with a setback on the morning of the race and given he didn’t reappear until mid-December last year I wonder whether he has had a few niggles beyond that.  His runs this season have seen him earn figures of 145,141 and 146 and I just wonder if he’s not the same horse this time round. That’s a stone below what I think he’s capable of.  Better ground could see a renaissance of some description but I think I’ll leave him alone when bad each way plans are being made this time round.


I confess to being puzzled time and time again when handicap marks are given or adjusted.  Plenty of novices seem to be let in lightly on handicap debuts, and at the other end of the scale some handicappers get absolutely clobbered for winning races in poor times.  However, the way William Henry has been only put up 6lbs for winning this year’s Lanzarote Hurdle is one of the biggest head scratchers I can recall!  The form of the race was advertised again at Ascot with LE PATRIOTE (137) winning a handicap hurdle in fine style.

Point Of Principle

Le Patriote

Ballyheighue Bay































 The merits of the performance are evidenced in the sectionals above that show the strength of the run on the clock when compared to the other two races on the card.  This earns the winner a mark of 137 from me, and considering he was winning this off a mark of 127 it’ll be interesting to see how he is reassessed.  He has been well backed on his three starts since moving from France and clearly shows plenty at home.

The main take out for me from this race though was that William Henry has to go close in the Coral Cup.  I rated him 160 in the Lanzarote, and he is currently 151.  I don’t often get involved in Cheltenham handicaps antepost with no extra places on offer but with James Bowen likely riding I struggle to see how this horse doesn’t go very close on the day.



As a general rule of thumb I tend to be against horses who have interrupted preparations, injuries and significant layoffs.  The last weekend saw two of the big names in jump racing return oFf said preparations, and both look as good as ever.

First up was NATIVE RIVER (174) who put up a good display to see off CLOUDY DREAM (159) on his comeback run at Newbury.  Happily, there was a handicap run over the same distance to enable a relatively straightforward comparison for Native River’s credentials:

Native River

Indy Five
























































 As you can see, Native River clocked a time 5.77s quicker than Indy Five did in the handicap as timed from the first jump, and did so carrying 17lbs more.  I’ve made a small adjustment to allow for the worsening ground between the two races but still reach a figure of 174 for Native River that suggests he’s come back as good as ever.

He’s been shortened in the Gold Cup market on the back of this but I’d be hesitant to get too carried away. Firstly, this was his first run since the Gold Cup last year, and he’s just run a good time on relatively bad ground…the bounce brigade will be salivating at the prospect of him running at Cheltenham.  Indeed there was an excellent Timeform article out this week that shows the difficulty for good grade horses missing most of the season and having one run before Cheltenham.  Secondly, having been beaten in last years Gold Cup it is difficult to argue he can go better this year – only Kauto Star has bucked that trend recently.  And finally, he probably needs the soft ground that he got here to be at his best.  In conclusion, good run (excellent even), leave alone at short enough prices for the Gold Cup.

CLOUDY DREAM (159) has proven to be a bit of a disappointment this season.  He put in a good time to just go down to Smad Place at Aintree but up to three miles on his last two runs he hasn’t gone through with his effort having travelled with promise.  Perhaps the soft ground on each occasion has been against him and a step back to 2.5m may be the way to go.  There is a lot of talent under the engine and I’d be wary of underestimating him as some seem to be.  He hasn’t had his optimum conditions on his last three runs, but back to 2.5m on decent ground and I wouldn’t rule him out.


As someone who tends to stand against short priced favourites, it was a relatively chastening afternoon as no sooner had Native River gone in, then ALTIOR (172) swiftly followed.  The comparison of the relative times for the two horses over the course timed from the first jump in Altiors race makes interesting reading:

Native River










































 As you can see, Altior clocked near enough the same time as Native River for the equivalent distance, but did so over 7f shorter.  On the basis of this I’d be giving Altior a relatively lowly figure, something in the mid-150s.  However, I have developed some adjustments over the years that are applicable here and give a guide, in my opinion, to his true underlying ability.  From the table above you can see that at one stage he was 1.86s behind, but had made up all of this gap by the finishing line.  Clearly then, the slow early pace, and relatively slow pace throughout the race has affected the overall time.

I make an adjustment then for him making up this difference, and this then spits out a number of 172.  Interestingly, POLITOLOGUE (167) comes out on a similar mark to his Haldon Cup win, so I’m inclined to go with this.  But I’ll freely admit that on the basic clock numbers this wasn’t a brilliant performance.  It’s only when digging into the comparison that you can see how much time he made up, and he did so relatively easily.

Similarly then to Native River we have a horse who hasn’t run since the end of last season, and has now shortened up in price (even more so in this case) for Cheltenham.  Again, one can look at that Timeform article and the difficulty top horses find in trying to win on comeback and then again at Cheltenham.  He’s clearly a top class horse, and his turn of foot at the end of his races is remarkable, but after this campaign and now odds on for a Champion Chase, he’s not for me.

POLITOLOGUE (167) matched his Haldon Cup success, but this is a notch below the heights that Altior can reach.  Similarly to Exeter, the conditions were bad here, and he probably needs conditions as such to be competitive in top class Grade 1 company over two miles.  With that in mind I am lukewarm about his Cheltenham prospects, and he’ll probably need to go up in trip on better ground this spring.


With the magnitude of coverage online and podcasts, I confess to getting slightly peeved at the continued denigration of the novice hurdling division this year.  As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time on racing, collecting my own data, and compiling my own figures, I can say that this is actually one of the strongest novice hurdling divisions in terms of depth.  The year Altior won the Supreme was exceptional, and there is perhaps only one horse that can be talked of in such company (Samcro) but the strength in depth beneath is extraordinary.  I counted at least a dozen who have posted 150+ figures this year.

One of those duly landed the Betfair Hurdle, and KALASHNIKOV (152) is firmly in the upper echelons of this years novice hurdling crop.




























 The above shows the times taken from the first jump in the two mile races, and you can see straightaway that Kalashnikov clocked the fastest time.  They went a fierce early pace in the Betfair, and indeed were 9.34s ahead of the novice hurdle run over the same distance earlier on the card.  This told in the latter stages, as Kalashnikov clocked an overall time of 2.68s quicker, but the merits of this run are still obvious and I’ve given him a mark of 152.  This is 2lbs up on his run in the Tolworth.

Kalashnikov has now been cut to 7/1 for the Supreme, and whilst I rate him one of the better novices around I struggle to find much appeal in that price.  Chief in my concerns is just what a hard race he had here.  They went a strong pace in bad ground, and I’d be worried that this run leaves its mark.  Furthermore, preparation in a handicap hurdle isn’t the perfect preparation for Cheltenham Grade 1 that you may think, for all that it highlights a horses toughness.  My Tent Or Yours, Get Me Out Of Here, Darlan are three that ran in the Betfair Hurdle before getting beaten in the Supreme (albeit running well) and I can’t help feel that history will repeat.  I can certainly see him hitting the frame in a Supreme, but something may just chin him.

I’d also be inclined to believe that he will be better up in trip, and for all that he is supposed to be better on better ground he was under the cosh from someway out here before staying on best.  The pace of this race was strong, and that is evidenced further as the next two horses in the race are also probably better suited by further.  Both BLEU ET ROUGE (152) and SPIRITOFTHEGAMES (135) look likely Coral Cup candidates for me.

I was keen on the chances of KAYF GRACE (110) in this race, but she was quite keen on the outside and was up in the vanguard early on.  On pedigree she should also be suited by stepping up in trip, and the ground probably went too far against her on the day (they were largely unrecognisable in the closing stages).  I’m going to give her another chance in the Mares Hurdle come Cheltenham, as her Kempton form was in a good time and the form has been franked.


There was a remarkable performance at Warwick, as SAINT CALVADOS (172) obliterated his rivals in a manner not dissimilar to how Un De Sceaux can get rivals out of their comfort zone on soft ground.  The two runner race on the card was run at a farcical pace, so the only comparison to make is with the handicap over 2.5m, but the figures are still startling:

Saint Calvados

Casse Tette






































 As you can see Saint Calvados clocked a time 11.16s faster that Casse Tette did in the handicap chase, and did so carrying 4lbs more.  Even allowing for the shorter trip this was still the best 2m novice time of the season for me.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Kylemore Lough, a Grade 1 winner, was setting the fractions in the handicap chase (the above are Casse Tette’s times) and he wasn’t going as fast as Saint Calvados.  Yet he tired on the run in and was overhauled by the winner.

Saint Calvados now goes to the Arkle and if he can translate this sort of form to Cheltenham then he looks a threat.  As ever, things aren’t that straightforward.  First up, this was his 3rdrun since the end of December, and considering his style of running that will take its toll no matter how easy he looks to be doing things.  Of equal concern is his suitability to better ground at Cheltenham, and the undulations.  I’m by no means an expert on knee actions, but he has to have one of the more pronounced ones that I can recall, almost appearing to be stamping on the ground as he runs.  These two things combined temper enthusiasm for Cheltenham.

Being a stubborn contrarian at heart, I’d be keener on the chances of NORTH HILL HARVEY (131) who was beaten out of sight here.  But that may be no bad thing!  He looked to drag his back legs through one of the fences early on, and perhaps that was a result of the savage pace Saint Calvados was setting, but it meant he conserved some energy on the way home as he came back in largely his own time.  This is a horse who has a good record fresh so easing him back home is one way to spin a positive on this run.  And indeed with it four and a half weeks to Cheltenham he may have been a bit undercooked for this.  He also has a fine Cheltenham record and with question marks about the suitability of the track for Footpad, Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir we do at least know that North Hill Harvey thrives round there.  He’s run to a mark of 162 for me, and if others fail to act on the course he looks a fair each way proposition to me at 25/1 now in a race that could cut up.



The build up to the Irish Champion Hurdle revolved around the debate about whether FAUGHEEN (165) was capable of dining at the top table of hurdling again.  I’ve been firmly against this horse this season, seemingly being one of the few people underwhelmed by his comeback run.  However, I confess to warming to his chances again in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham after he finished second in the Irish version to SUPASUNDAE (168).  As ever, the first place to look is the clock:

Tower Bridge Supasundae Off You Go
37.45 36.16 36.29
50.46 48.62 48.71
98.91 97.44 98.16
123.67 121.9 121.87
140.79 138.59 138.13
174.18 170.73 171.57
205.62 201.59 203
220.89 217.19 218.79

 As you can see from the above, Supasundae clocked the fastest time from the first flight on the two mile course to the line.  But we can see the quality of this performance when drilling down a bit further.  The following shows the times taken by all three winners to get to three out, and then from there to the line:

Tower Bridge Supasundae Off You Go
140.79 138.59 138.13
80.1 78.6 80.66

From here we can see that Supasundae was 0.46s slower to three out compared to the winner of the handicap hurdle Off You Go, but then came home from there two seconds quicker.  Furthermore, he did this carrying two stone more in weight.  Adjusting for this sprint finish, and in the comparison with the novice race over further, I’ve reached a mark of 168 for the winner.  This is slightly ahead of where I had him when finishing second over three miles and Aintree last year.

It now seems that he is set to step back up to three miles and go for the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham.  Whilst he is undoubtedly a classy horse, I do have my reservations about him seeing out a good three miles with the uphill finish at Cheltenham.  Firstly, the ground will have to be good, as I feel that he got away with two miles here on softer ground.  He is probably an out and out two and a half miler, but may get away with three miles on a very sound surface.  Now the issue here is the potential for overnight watering on the Wednesday night.  Last year he won the Coral Cup on the Wednesday when the ground was arguably at its quickest, but they then put 10mm on overnight.  If they did this again I would be worried about him getting the trip, even allowing for his undoubted class.  The second reservation I have is that there may be a potential opponent to beat him.  The more I think about the more I think the JP McManus camp are going to take inspiration from their decision to revert Buveur D’Air to hurdles last year, and do the same thing with Yanworth in the Stayers Hurdle this year.  He had Supasundae a length behind him over three miles at Aintree, and has seemed an unconvincing chaser to date.  If he was mine it would be a straightforward decision to go for it.

Returning to Faugheen, this marked a return to form on my figures after I only rated him 152 on his comeback.  He did of course disappoint at Christmas, but this looked much more like it as he led from the front and just met a horse at his peak on the day.  He is now a ten year old, so that tempers enthusiasm for the Champion somewhat, and he was still a stone below his absolute best.  But there is a dearth of top two milers around at the moment, and with Ruby back on board and if the race developed into a tactical affair I wouldn’t rule him out of causing an upset.

A further five lengths back in third was MICK JAZZ (160) who just ran up to his form at Christmas, and is now in the rest of the pack of runners in the Champion competing for place prize money.  JEZKI (154) ran well, but this now seems to be just as good as he is now he is ten.

Back in fifth was MELON (154) who now keeps hitting the same sort of figure again and again.  For what it’s worth these are his numbers over hurdles, starting with his debut – 152, 156, 145, 152, 152 and 154 in this race.  He just doesn’t seem to be progressing as expected.

Even further back was DEFI DU SEUIL (135) who ran poorly again.  I was against him this season, but he has run so far below his form last season to suggest that something must be amiss.  On my figures he would’ve finished 4th if running to his best form.  It is probably worth pulling stumps on this season and performing a full MOT and see if anything comes to light.



I must confess to my delight at seeing three chase runs all run over the same distance on Saturday at Leopardstown, and when one of those includes a big field handicap it makes the task of ratings very easy!  Happily, the numbers that came out were bang in line with what I had for the protagonists before this meeting.

MIN (172) won the Grade 2 Dublin Chase in fine style, putting his Christmas run behind him and beating his old rival SIMPLY NED (158) by twelve lengths, and current champion SPECIAL TIARA (157) a close third.

Min Patricks Park Footpad
39.17 40.19 40.01
53.28 54.65 53.87
84.36 86.43 85.15
106.64 109.80 107.58
122.03 125.79 123.00
134.73 138.69 135.70
150.49 154.38 150.99
171.11 174.26 170.05
186.50 190.15 186.35
216.67 218.87 216.32
236.96 238.96 237.77

As you can see, Min clocked a time 0.81s quicker than the brilliant FOOTPAD (168) in the novice equivalent.  A direct comparison of the two races is interesting:

Min Footpad Difference
39.17 40.01 -0.84
53.28 53.87 -0.59
84.36 85.15 -0.79
106.64 107.58 -0.94
122.03 123.00 -0.97
134.73 135.70 -0.97
150.49 150.99 -0.50
171.11 170.05 1.06
186.50 186.35 0.15
216.67 216.32 0.35
236.96 237.77 -0.81

As you can see, Min was 0.97s quicker at one stage, but Footpad then turned on the gas to be a second ahead a few flights later and 0.35s ahead at the last flight.  Min then regained the lead on the run in to finish 0.81s ahead, but perhaps Footpad had a bit more in the tank (I haven’t factored that in though).

Comparing the two races together, and with the handicap chase, I’ve given Min a figure of 172.  He certainly looks a major player in the Champion Chase.  I still hold doubts in my mind about whether Altior will turn up at all, and with Yorkhill flopping again, and Douvan still yet to be seen, it looks like Min will be the one to beat come the big day.

I was drawn to the eye-catching run of ORDINARY WORLD (151) who was running a mighty race before making a dreadful error at the final flight and coming to a near stand-still and plodding home for fourth.  This horse just has to have good ground to be at his best, and he did in fact finish 3rd in last years red-hot Arkle.  With the ground potentially quickest on the Wednesday I can see him well outrunning his current odds of 50/1 and hitting the frame.  Special Tiara finished 3rd in the Champion as an eight year old for Henry De Bromhead, and I wonder if he’s doing a similar job with this horse, just bringing him along slowly to peak in the spring.  He’s been running nice races on unsuitable ground, and I like his chances of being in the mix come March on better ground.


FOOTPAD DOES LOOK TOUGH TO BEAT IN THE ARKLE…(if he gets his conditions!)

The equivalent novice race saw FOOTPAD (168) put in another fine round of jumping to see off PETIT MOUCHOIR (162) in the Arkle.  If ever there was a horse that has improved for fences it is this one, as he just seems to love jumping and has thrived this season.  However, he is now an odds-on favourite for the big race in March, and we aren’t going to get rich backing him.  So, what angles can we find to take him on?  Firstly, as has been mentioned before, his Cheltenham record reads a 4th and a 3rd.  Now this isn’t a bad record, and he is undoubtedly better over fences, but when taking on a short odds favourite it’s a fair starting point.  Perhaps more pertinent is this horses record on good ground, which reads 2334, with his best run ironically coming when 2nd in the Irish Champion to Petit Mouchoir.  He was ridden patiently that day and did rather pick up the pieces.  And as I’ve highlighted before, he does seem better in a small field, with his largest field success being 8.  If there are enough runners to take him on at Cheltenham on good ground something could well beat him.

Is that horse Petit Mouchoir though?  He ran a fine race here after a setback saw him not run since 18th October until this contest.  But again this is a horse whose Cheltenham form is 3rd and 8th, so perhaps he isn’t the answer to the Arkle conundrum either.  On my figures he has run the same figure here as North Hill Harvey, and with that one set to run soon, I’d be interested in his chances, along with how Saint Calvados handles better ground.



The Flogas looked one of the hottest races of the season, but unlike plenty I confess to being a bit underwhelmed by the winner MONALEE (160).  My reasons of this come when we look at the sectionals for the three chase races on the card, which saw a handicap over the same distance, and the Gold Cup over three miles.

Monalee Edwulf Last Goodbye
21.26 20.73 19.86
38.79 38.26 37.36
72.6 72.24 71.2
117.32 118.03 114.77
132.91 133.95 129.82
166.9 167.86 163.37
190.61 191.94 187.7
207.44 207.97 204.43
220.91 221.07 217.7
236.62 236.72 233.26
255.87 255.99 252.98
271.3 271.8 269.2
300.51 301.68 298.59
321.64 322.42 318.93

As you can see, Monalee actually clocked a time 2.71s slower than LAST GOODBYE (154) did in the handicap over the same distance.  They went a slow pace in the Flogas in comparison to the handicap reaching four out 3.36s slower:

Monalee Edwulf Last Goodbye
236.62 236.72 233.26
85.02 85.7 85.67

From there Monalee only came home 0.65s quicker!  He was carrying 17lbs more in weight, and hence I’ve accounted for this and given him a mark of 160, which is exactly what I rated him on his debut over fences.  He is now around 4/1 or 5/1 for the RSA, but I wonder whether he benefited from leading from the front in this race, and if something in behind may be suited to a stronger run race.  There is the counter argument that Monalee himself may be suited by a longer trip and better pace and ground too, but I find myself a bit underwhelmed by him at this stage.

The Willie Mullins pair AL BOUM PHOTO (159) and INVITATION ONLY (159) chased him home and are of interest going forward.  The former is still only six and could well be open to improvement, whilst the latter clocked a good time when winning at Navan in December.  I’d imagine Mullins will split them come Cheltenham, but both could be of interest there.  I confess I am disappointed that neither were able to overhaul the winner here, but perhaps the slow pace made that difficult.  With Mullins no doubt targeting the spring with both of them don’t rule out them featuring in some big races come the festivals.

Similarly, can be argued with a few more in behind in what turned into a bit of a bunch finish off a slow pace.  Perhaps of most interest going forward is THE STORYTELLER (153) who made eye-catching progress before looking to get a bit outpaced in the latter stages.  Being a sibling to a few three milers he looks open to progression up in trip again, and indeed beat a decent Mullins horse in January 2017 over the longest distance he’s been when winning over 2m6.5f by nine lengths over hurdles at Thurles.  Maybe the Ultima Handicap over three miles on day one at Cheltenham is a logical target, being rated 147 before this…with improvement possible when going over three miles and better ground he could be interesting for that contest.

Disappointment of the race was Sutton Place, who put up a good time on the clock on his debut, but didn’t jump well here making a few mistakes before pulling up.  He does appear to be very fragile, but does have undoubted class…don’t forget that he gave weight and a beating to Supasundae last year.  Hopefully he can fulfil that potential.



Some of the moves on the exchanges were “interesting” to say the least over the weekend at Leopardstown, and I was surprised to see EDWULF (157) trading at 150 five minutes before the off, and then collapse in price to 100 points shorter.  I was then even more surprised to see the horse that nearly lost his life at Cheltenham last year make a Lazarus like comeback and pip OUTLANDER (157) on the line in the Irish Gold Cup.  However, heart-warming as the story is, I struggle to see this race having an impact on the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

As you can see from the previous sectionals, the time was relatively slow with the winner getting to four out 0.1s behind Monalee, and then 0.7s slower to the line from there.  He ran the same time from four out than the handicap winner, having been 3.5s slower to four out.  Even allowing for the longer distance, I can only get to a figure of 157 winner, which is actually the figure I gave for his handicap win at Naas last year before the festival.  This is probably as good as he is.

Outlander looked set to win at Leopardstown again, before being collared by the winner in the shadow of the post.  He ran about 10lbs better than this at Christmas so perhaps was feeling the effects of that run, but more likely was suited by a stronger pace that day (they were much quicker than the shorter race on the card).

DJAKADAM (147) came here after a 38 day break, which I thought might have freshened him up enough after his disappointing run at Christmas.  Things looked positive in that regard as he jumped with elan from the front.  However, he weakened on the run in to finish third and now nine years old looks as if that Grade 1 win may elude him.

OUR DUKE (141) was on a comeback mission of his own, and looked to be going ok before making a bad mistake.  He stayed on well to finish 4th but again looks a shadow of the horse of last season.

KILLULTAGH VIC (157) looked to be coming to win the race before falling at the last.  I’ve put him in at the same figure as the front two, but he may well have one by a few lengths.  Even with that and considering his interrupted past I find it hard to see him featuring in a Gold Cup.



I’ve probably bored people silly this season going on about SAMCRO (160) but he clocked the best figure I’ve given a novice hurdler pre-Cheltenham when winning at Navan on his last start, and I confess to watching this race with nervous anticipation at what he might do.  That turned out to be another good run, but not as brilliant as before.

Allatrix Mr Adjudicator Samcro Total Recall
37.28 35.50 36.29 38.26
49.48 47.29 48.00 50.55
97.21 95.20 95.52 98.02
122.86 120.48 120.24 123.63
139.56 137.77 137.28 140.74
172.15 170.26 169.78 173.37
204.63 201.91 202.47 206.14
220.31 217.51 218.48 222.14

The sectionals above show that MR ADJUDICATOR (152) actually clocked a faster time than him when clocked from the first flight.  Samcro was carrying 10lbs more in weight though, and this combined with the comparison with the other races on the card points to a figure of 160.  This is still a good number (only Next Destination has matched it this season in the novice hurdling division) but still a bit below his Navan romp.

The splits from three out shed some further light on proceedings:

Allatrix Mr Adjudicator Samcro Total Recall
139.56 137.77 137.28 140.74
80.75 79.74 81.20 81.40

As you can see from this, Samcro was 0.49s quicker to three out, but 1.46s slower from there to the line.  Now he wasn’t fully stretched to do this, and he had had a setback in missing some previous engagements so there is plenty of hope that he will improve from this run.  But on these figures I think the Ballymore race will suit.  He settles well in his races, and travels powerfully, and thrived over 2.5m last time when the race was run at a good pace.  Wherever he turns up I think he’ll win, but the Ballymore looks a logical target, and hopefully we’ll see something very special.

DUC DES GENIEVRES (152) caught most peoples eye when travelling well on his Irish debut in a Grade 1 at Naas in January.  Dropping back to two miles here he proved that run no fluke by clocking a good number in his own right.  He looks to be in the mix for the Supreme, though I still harbour (probably false) hopes of Next Destination dropping back in trip into that race.

PALOMA BLUE (149) was third on his hurdling debut behind Next Destination and looks to be going the right way.  He was actually 2nd to Fayonagh in a Grade 1 bumper at Punchestown last April, so is clearly a classy sort.  Rated just 134 before this run, I’ll be interested to see what mark he gets as he could be one to catch the handicapper off-guard.



As you can see from the sectionals above, MR ADJUDICATOR (152) clocked a good figure when winning the Grade 1 juvenile hurdle on the card.  He came home from three out the quickest of the three hurdle races on the card, and has clearly built on the promise of his debut run.  He looks to be in the mix for the Triumph, which certainly looks a competitive race this year.

I say that, as you can add FARCLAS (151) into the mix too.  He ran a nice race when 2nd to ESPOIR D’ALLEN (125) at Leopardstown, but unlike that horse seemed to prosper off a better pace in this race.  Bought off the flat in France, it’ll be interesting to see how he develops from here.

Espoir D’Allen has been winning farcically slow run races before today, and refused to settle here in a stronger run race and that proved his undoing.  Until he clocks a good time, I’ll be in the sceptical camp about his chances going forward.



The Mares Handicap hurdle that opened the card was won in a good time by ALLETRIX (139) who made a mockery of a mark of 118.  Sure to go up a fair amount for this win, she may still be able to go in again.  She was quicker throughout her race than Total Recall was in the three mile hurdle, and when adjusting for the 2m2f distance of her race, I give her a figure some 20lbs ahead of the mark she was running off.

But of more interest to me was the run of BARRA (148) in second.  Niggled along at the back of the field, she made remarkable progress to make her way through horses and finish a respectable second behind the thrown in winner.  She ran a big race at Cheltenham last year in the mares novice when second to Let’s Dance, and looks like she is worth trying over 2.5m again in the Mares Hurdle on the back of her run here.  She was travelling very well at Cheltenham last year before not quite having the pace of the winner and she looks a wild price at 50/1.  Apple’s Jade looks set to go straight to the festival with no prep run, and on that I make her vulnerable.



One of the features of this jumps season has been the lack of top two mile hurdlers.  The Irish Champion has just been won by a horse dropping back in trip, and he’s beaten a ten year old former champion to do so.  In this country, we’ve seen BUVEUR D’AIR (154++) run three times and be relatively unchallenged in any of his starts.  He is clearly the best we have in this country, and assuming he can still thrive in a stronger race he looks set to be tough to beat come Cheltenham.

Countister Buveur D’Air Topofthegame Landin
148.20 143.48 140.88 148.12
89.86 89.73 93.63 94.58

As can see he didn’t go as farcically slow as Countister did in the opening race on the card at Sandown, but he was still 2.6s slower than TOPOFTHEGAME (152) was in the mile longer handicap hurdle on the card to three out.  From there though he did come home 3.9s quicker, and was only really shaken up once JOHN CONSTABLE (150) looked like getting anywhere near him.  These sort of races are unsatisfactory and leave us guessing somewhat as to the potential of the current Champion.  I’ve rated him 172 last season, and I suspect we may see him go better than that come March.  But with that not guaranteed the race does have a nice each way shape, with him being as short 2/5 already.  I’ve already discussed that Faugheen isn’t one to rule out, but outside of Apple’s Jade and Supadundae, challengers look thin on the ground among the likely opponents.

Indeed, I am drawn to the challenge of his Sandown rival John Constable.  I’ve rated him 160 in the past, and he’s been running nice races this season on unsuitable ground, including last time at Cheltenham.  If better ground brings about improvement he can outrun his odds and make the frame in the Champion with Cheltenham master Davy Russell likely onboard.



I wrote previously about the Lanzarote Hurdle being a hot race, and it was nice to see that backed up as TOPOFTHEGAME (152) won a good handicap hurdle over just shy of three miles at Sandown.  They went a good pace in this race, getting to three out much quicker than the other races on the card, and he did still come home quicker than the winner of the novice handicap that followed.  I’ve given the winner a figure in line with his Lanzarote run, and I’m looking forward to seeing him resume his chasing campaign next season…he could go right to the top.



Back at Cheltenham last week we saw APPLE’S SHAKIRA (146) maintain her 100% record at Cheltenham and indeed this season, in winning the Triumph Hurdle trial.  I’ve written before about how she was yet to put up a good time on the clock, but this was much more like it as she overhauled LOOK MY WAY (138) on the run in.  The comparison with the other hurdle races is as follows:

Apple’s Shakira Santini Agrapart Remiluc
41.19 41.84 44.3 44.15
63.73 64.7 67.64 67.91
75.93 77.34 80.21 80.66
104.79 107.01 109.97 109.95
149.79 152.14 154.85 153.01
192.72 195.35 197.38 194.33
216.18 218.48 220.75 219.05

These times are taken from the second flight on the two mile course as this is where all four races overlap, and as you can see Apple’s Shakira did clock the fastest time of the four races.  There was persistent drizzle throughout the day so I have made a small adjustment for the ground worsening but it wasn’t a huge difference.

Apple’s Shakira Santini Agrapart Remiluc
149.79 152.14 154.85 153.01
66.39 66.34 65.9 66.04

As you can see from the second table, she got to two out much the quickest of the four races, so it was good to see her run at a fair pace for the first time.  It looked to me as if Geraghty was trying to educate her a bit by letting the runner-up get away from her slightly before urging her to chase him down.  She did so, and pulled clear on the run to the line.  The table above shows that all four races came home from two out in remarkably similar times, separated by just 0.5s.  Apple’s Shakira was carrying the lowest weight though and with this I’ve given her a figure of 146.

She will be getting an allowance in the Triumph, and so is right in the mix for the race.  But this now looks a deep year for juveniles with We Have A Dream, Sussex Ranger, Mr Adjudicator and Farclas all on the scene too.  Furthermore, her action suggested she relished the softer ground here and I’m not sure how she’ll handle better going should she encounter it in March.  At the prices I’ll be against her.



It’s almost getting beyond a joke now with how many good novice hurdlers we are seeing this season.  As a guide I tend to value anything above a figure of 150 as a good novice, and we’ve just seen a plethora of them this season.  Perhaps this is something to do with the money being banded around these days for jumping stock?

Well, you can add SANTINI (154) and BLACK OP (153) to the list as they pulled well clear of their rivals in the Grade 2 novice on the Cheltenham card.  As you can see from the sectional comparisons above, they went a quicker pace in relation to Agrapart in the Cleeve, reaching two out 2.71s quicker and then came home just 0.44s slower.  Carrying just a pound less, and adjusting for the shorter trip and this was a classy run from the two protagonists.

Santini came out on top on the run to the line and looks a lovely individual for the future.  His action suggested better ground may suit and he looks a top candidate for the Albert Bartlett and then as a future long term staying chaser.  Henderson won the Albert Bartlett with Bob’s Worth previously, and this fellow is capable of following in those footsteps.

In second was Black Op, who travelled noticeably well throughout the race but made a mistake at the last that probably cost him the race.  Unlike the winner he looks potentially better suited by softer ground, so may struggle in the spring but looks an exciting novice chaser for later in the year.



AGRAPART (158) again proved that he is very tough to beat on bad ground as he won the Cleeve Hurdle from the smooth travelling WHOLESTONE (155).  The winner was the one horse to dip below 66s for the run from two out, and clearly relishes these conditions, having won here on heavy ground before and landing a Betfair Hurdle when able to get his toe in.  There isn’t much to say about him really… if a freak monsoon hit Cheltenham in March, supplement him and he’d be hard to beat.  Otherwise forget about him until the ground is bad again!

Wholestone travelled well but again suggested that he doesn’t quite see out a proper three mile test.  He looks set to be part of a two pronged attack for his owners with L’Ami Serge and I’d be marginally keener on the latter for the race.  There are only two hurdles in the latter stages of the race which may suit the old rogue, and don’t forget he was only just pipped off a big weight on this course over two miles in the County last year.



Over fences we saw DEFINITLY RED (152) come out on top in the Cotswold Chase, but he again failed to impress on the clock, and talk of a Gold Cup challenge looks fanciful to me.

Mister Whitaker Frodon Definitly Red
15.08 15.43 15.89
57.5 57.47 34.63
69.35 69.55 57.3
89.92 91.09 90.24
101.99 103.69 103.13
139.15 140.9 140.66
153.21 155.37 154.91
164.71 166.99 166.28
175.83 178.49 177.23
192.13 195.57 193.34
207 210.7 208.38
224.72 228.91 226.69
245.69 249.88 248.52
276.03 279.81 279.13
288.06 291.42 291.63
307.07 308.9 311.76

Taking the times from where the three races overlap, you can see from the above how much slower Definitly Red was.  Even adjusting for the longer trip and the fact that rain was getting into the ground all the time I struggle to get his figure for the race above 152.  Indeed the most I’ve ever rated him is 154.

Mister Whitaker Frodon Definitly Red
245.69 249.88 248.52
61.38 59.02 63.24

They did go a fair pace in this race, getting to three out 1.36s quicker than Frodon did in the shorter handicap chase on the card, but that effort told on this ground and over the trip as he came home from there 4.22s slower.  Might Bite still looks the one to beat come the Gold Cup, though he hasn’t burnt the clock yet this season I suspect he is being trained with that one day in mind and based on what he did in the RSA last year there could be plenty more to come from him.

If there was a Gold Cup challenger in this race I suspect it was BRISTOL DE MAI (142).  Now I know that has probably made you spit your coffee at the screen or stop reading altogether…but bear with me!  He’s now largely been written off, but being a contrarian at heart I’m reluctant to do the same.  One thought I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while now is whether he has to be mad fresh to show his best form.  If we use the Nick Mordin line of fresh being a horses first two runs in a season or a five week break thereafter, this theory could have some merit.  He’s run ten times in open company over fences and his form when “fresh” reads 22111, vs 37563 when he hasn’t been “fresh” (including his last two runs now).  One of those runner-up finishes when fresh was in a two runner race over an inadequate 2.5m trip, and the other when carrying top weight and coming out best at the weights giving nearly a stone and a beating to Definitly Red.  The victories include his two Haydock routs, and it may well be that he is just a horse for bottomless ground round there.  But his last run there was brutal on the clock, and it would be no surprise if that run has left its mark on the horse.  Should he turn up in the Gold Cup he will have had a 48 day break from this run, so the theory goes that that should be sufficient rest for him.  The last two times he has run his followers have had to pay 3/1 and 7/4 to find out if his Haydock form can be replicated elsewhere.  Now he is 33/1 NRNB and should he go there he will have had a sufficient break.  If he fails again then it would seem to hold true that it’s Haydock only for him, but at that sort of price it’s cheap enough to find out if the freshness theory holds up.

He tanked through the Gold Cup last year before finishing 7th, but that was off just a 34 day break, and he’d picked up a knock from his Newbury run.  If he was mine I’d have left him off entirely from the King George this year.  Imperial Commander was beaten a nose by Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase in a brilliant time, before disappointing in the King George.  He then went straight to Cheltenham and won the Gold Cup for the same trainer.  Let’s see if 48 days is sufficient to get Bristol De Mai to do the same!



The standout chase performance on the card came from FRODON (163) who blasted up the hill in a good time off a slow pace as you can see from the previous sectionals.  At one stage he was 3.67s behind MISTER WHITAKER (144) who won the novice handicap chase on the card, but was just 1.31s behind at the line.  Doing this off an 18lbs higher mark puts him down as a live Ryanair contender. I remember him winning the two and a half mile handicap chase in December at Cheltenham when the rain came, and I’d be worried about him backing up this run on better ground for all that he has form on it.

I was pleased to see Mister Whitaker back up the promise of his Kempton second behind Hell’s Kitchen by winning in a good time in his own right in the novice handicap chase on the card that was run at a good pace.  He has gone up to a mark of 137 now, and connections will surely have everything crossed that he can sneak into the handicap on day one.  THEATRE TERRITORY (141) was second, and looks capable of landing a race off her revised mark of 132.  She didn’t look in love with the ground and a sounder surface should suit, so look out for her in the spring.