SUPASUNDAE PROVIDES PLENTY OF FOOD FOR THOUGHT
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|
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|
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.
BRILLIANT MIN SHOULD GO CLOSE IN THE CHAMPION
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.
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:
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.
MAY PAY TO LOOK BEYOND THE OBVIOUS IN THE FLOGAS
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.
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:
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.
EDWULF A NICE STORY BUT NO GOLD CUP HORSE
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.
SAMCRO GOOD AGAIN BUT LOOKS LIKE BALLYMORE THE RACE TO GO FOR
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|
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|
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.
MR ADJUDICATOR AND FARCLAS ENTER THE TRIUMPH PICTURE
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.
BARRA A THREAT IN THE MARES HURDLE
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.
BUVEUR D’AIR UNCHALLENGED AGAIN
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.
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.
TOPOFTHEGAME A FUTURE CHASING STAR
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.
APPLE’S SHAKIRA ONE TO TAKE ON IN THE TRIUMPH
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:
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.
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.
SANTINI AND BLACK OP ARE TWO MORE TOP NOVICE HURDLERS
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 EXCELLENT IN HEAVY GROUND
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.
DEFINITLY RED UNLIKELY TO FEATURE IN GOLD CUP…BUT COULD BRISTOL DE MAI?
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|
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|
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!
FRODON LOOKS BEST ON SOFT GROUND
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.