First of all, apologies for lack of blogs recently. Unfortunately, we have been flooded, and whilst water in all its bounty is essential for life on this planet, it isn’t half a pain when covering the first few inches of flooring in your home! But less moaning from me and onto some standout performances recently….
BRILLIANT ALTIOR DOES THE IMPOSSIBLE AND BEATS UN DE SCEAUX ON BAD GROUND
I had to take a reasonable helping of humble pie last weekend as ALTIOR (180) returned on his seasonal debut and ran right up to his best in dispatching UN DE SCEAUX (176) at Sandown in the Tingle Creek. I’ll remain slightly stubborn in maintaining that the horse still looks as if going up in trip would suit, but there is no doubt that he is the standout two miler around at the moment. Unfortunately, the deluge of rain prior to the Tingle Creek makes easy comparison with the novice chase significantly harder but nonetheless it is interesting in so much as it shows just what Un De Sceaux does in these conditions, and how brilliant Altior is to be able to handle it!
|First to 4th||88.44||90.84||2.4|
|4th to 4 out||51.42||49.67||-1.75|
|4 out to line||79.95||83.22||3.27|
As you can see, Altior clocked a total time 3.92s slower than Dynamite Dollars did in the earlier novice chase over the same trip….this is hardly surprising considering the deluge of rain that arrived. But it is the middle section from the fourth to four out that shows the scale of what happened here. This is roughly where Un De Sceaux took over the running, and in doing so proceeded to tow Altior along to the extent that he went 1.75s quicker than Dynamite Dollars did, and carried 7lbs more in doing so. I wasn’t expecting them to be faster at any stage considering the deteriorating conditions! Unsurprisingly, this effort told in the latter stages, and they were 3.27s slower to the line, but considering the ground and effort exerted this is still pretty remarkable. SAINT CALVADOS (162) and SCEAU ROYAL (156) are decent animals, and just wilted once the pace picked up. Altior clocked a time 21.5s quicker for the equivalent section of the London National, and all this indicates he’s run up to his best figure of 180 for me.
It now seems that there isn’t a horse around to trouble Altior over two miles, so it is probably worth considering where he stands amongst the greats in the two mile game. Lording over everyone in this division on my figures is SPRINTER SACRE (194), who on the bare figures would dismiss Altior with ease. However, Altior is a horse that seems to hold something back for a late turbo drive at the end of his races so I’d be reluctant to rely on Sprinter being so far superior. In reality, I’d say the difference is probably somewhere between the two, but that isn’t to take anything away from Altior….it’s just Sprinter Sacre is arguably the best horse of recent times together with Kauto Star. On soft ground he might even get the better of Sprinter in their mythical match-up.
Being the contrarian at heart, I will still stubbornly take Altior on – he’ll certainly give some attractive each way options especially once NRNB and betting w/o comes out! He still runs as if he wants to go up in trip to me though, and it may be that his undoubted class enables them to get away with it over two miles…maybe the soft ground he’s had recently helps him? Maybe one day it’ll catch up with them?! If it ever does I want to be picking up the pieces left over!
In winning this race he proved me wrong though, as I was very keen for UN DE SCEAUX (176) to go for the Champion Chase back in March (so was my bank balance) when the ground went in his favour. On this showing he’d have been a gallant second though, so at least I now have an answer instead of wondering what if?! There isn’t much more to say about the runner-up – his constitution is remarkable, and his ability over two miles on soft ground is something else, he can just go a freakish pace. He ran right up to his best here, but unfortunately it still wasn’t enough to defeat the exceptional winner.
I had been keen on the prospects of SAINT CALVADOS (162) prior to this on the back of some remarkable performances he put up last season before bombing in the Arkle. He’d returned at Navan and ran OK (154), and got his conditions here when the rain came, but once Un De Sceaux found another gear down the back he got found out. All is not lost though…he is still only five, and has looked much more tractable this season, which bodes well for him stepping up in trip as connections intend to do with him in the future. Certainly on pedigree that looks a good move, and he did stay on past Sceau Royal to regain third on the run in. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses going forward as last seasons runs were so exciting.
APPLE’S JADE DESERVES A SHOT AT THE CHAMPION
I was keen on APPLE’S JADE (166) to go for the Champion last season, but she ended up going off a short priced favourite for the Mares Hurdle without a prep run and duly got turned over. Whether that was the main reason, or the apparent explanation that she was in season at the time is one that’s hard to answer. What isn’t up for debate though is that she looks right back to her brilliant best this season. She won on her reappearance at Navan running to a mark of 153, but duly stepped up on that, as she usually does, with a startling run here in the Hatton’s Grace.
|Chief Justice||Quick Grabhim||Apple’s Jade||Wonder Laish|
As you can see from the above sectionals to and from three out, she went a much faster pace than the three races over two miles, despite going half a mile further, and duly matched her previous best rating in clocking 166 on my scale (same as her Aintree romp as a four year old).
The debate now revolves around her Cheltenham options – Champion, Mares or Stayers. I would firmly be in the former camp in this respect as getting 7lbs from Buveur D’Air he’s going to have to run right up to his best to beat her. There are some theories about that she is jumping a bit right-handed and may be better this way round, and she undoubtedly thrives on her racing so I wouldn’t want to see her go there fresh. It seems to me the obvious target for her is the Irish Champion. Should she win that as she should then the decision becomes much much easier for connections!
QUICK GRABHIM STILL TOP OF THE NOVICE HURDLING TREE… FOR NOW!
Last years novice hurdlers had seemingly endless strength in depth, and we’d already seen Samcro, Mengli Khan and Next Destination put in huge runs on the clock by the same stage compared to this year. So, QUICK GRABHIM (152) still remains top of the tree for now. He clocked the fastest time from three out on this card and duly overturned form with stable companion ARAMON (144) in landing this Grade 1. I’d be disappointed though if there wasn’t something better that emerges or progresses in the months ahead though.
If there is to be a horse to do so it may well come from the Olly Murphy stable. He already has Thomas Darby and Itchy Feet, but unleashed BREWIN’UPASTORM (142+) at Huntingdon on Sunday.
|Brewin’upastorm||William H Bonney||Difference|
As you can see in the comparison with the two mile handicap hurdle on the card won by William H Bonney, the winner clocked a time 2.67s quicker, coming home much faster and seemingly within himself. He was carrying 13lbs less in weight but even when allowing for this it marks him down as a very smart horse for the future. He could well end up being the best of the Murphy three.
SANTINI MAKES A GOOD START OVER FENCES
By all accounts the RSA Chase is done and dusted as SANTINI (154) made a pleasing start over the larger obstacles at Newbury. The comparison with the handicap chase won by Kapcorse over a furlong shorter shows this run in a good light
They went a much slower pace in this race, but Santini duly blasted home to make up the difference by the line. When I adjust for this finish, I give the winner a mark of 154. This is a fine start to his chasing career…I wouldn’t get carried away though, as the staying chase division looks hot this season with Next Destination still to come, and we later saw a remarkable run from TOPOFTHEGAME (157) at Exeter a week later.
|Siruh Du Lac||Topofthegame||Difference|
Topofthegame missed the start by some twenty lengths, and had to make up ground quickly (you can he made up 1.34s between the fourth and fifth fences and ended up clocking a time 3.5s quicker than Siruh Du Lac did in the handicap over the same course and distance. He ended up finishing second, but this was only down to his earlier exertions to make up the early deficit. Although he’s had a second season over hurdles, he looks destined for big things on the back of this run if he can iron out some of his quirks!
KNOCKNANUSS ANOTHER TWO MILE STAR FOR THE MOORE TEAM
I’ll confess to never being a big fan of Sire De Grugy, but I was of Ar Mad, and the Gary Moore team look to have another top two mile prospect on their hands in KNOCKNANUSS (163) who made a mockery of a two mile handicap chase at Newbury.
|Knocknanuss||La Bague Au Roi||Aso|
The above times show the times taken to get to and from five out on the two mile course, and you can see that Knocknanuss went much faster than the other two races (admittedly over longer). He did slow from there but wasn’t far behind Aso. When I adjust for the distances and weights carried this comes out as the best two mile novice chase performance of the season so far. I was surprised to see him priced up at 20/1 in what is currently an open year for the Arkle.
The other excellent novice chase performance also came on this side of the water, and it wasn’t from LALOR (152) who clocked a slower time than SCEAU ROYAL (162) did for the same course and distance at Cheltenham in November. No, we are off to the rather less fashionable scenes of Carlisle where VINNDICATION (160) won a hot looking novice chase in November.
As you can see from the comparison with the handicap chase won by Ryalex, Vinndication clocked a time 8.62s quicker, and fairly blasted home at the end of the race having been slower initially. There was some rain around, but even when I make an allowance for this I still award the winner a big number. He maintained his unbeaten record here, and looks an exciting prospect for Kim Bailey. It does look as if he will need soft ground to be at his best though.
BRISTOL DE MAI DOES IT AGAIN!
It never ceases to amaze me how having an opinion on a horse can rile people up so much, especially when one backs it up with figures. I gave BRISTOL DE MAI (186) a huge figure when he won the Betfair Chase last season on heavy ground, and was roundly ridiculed when he failed to repeat it again. I came up with a theory that he was at his best fresh though, and this was born out in his form – if you count his first two runs of the season and a five week break thereafter, his form since Oct’16 reads 2211121 with his only defeats coming over an inadequate trip in a two runner race, another when conceding weight all round in a hot handicap chase and when second to Might Bite at Aintree.
He duly rocked up fresh for the Betfair Chase again this season and proceeded to match the stellar figure he clocked up last year. Happily, there is a handicap chase over the same course and distance to instantly see the merits of this performance.
|Bristol De Mai||Vintage Clouds||Difference|
As you can see Bristol De Mai clocked a time 14.92s quicker from the first jump than the (Grand National favourite!) Vintage Clouds did less than an hour later. He was quicker throughout the race. Even when I run the comparison with the other races on the card I have to give Bristol De Mai the same huge number I gave him last season.
Now, I’m not arrogant or stupid enough to believe that he is going to run to his figure every time he is fresh, and by all accounts he isn’t easy to keep right. However, last season he had a run in the Charlie Hall where he tussled with the game Blaklion before winning this race. He therefore wasn’t fresh enough to compete at Kempton on Boxing Day on a strict reading of his form. The million dollar question is will he be fresh enough this year?! This was his first run of the season so the theory goes that he should be ok. He handled better ground in this race so the heavy ground theory can be thrown out the window. I see he’s priced up at 8/1 currently for the King George and that feels about three points too big if one wanted to pay to find out if he can replicate this form.
Back in second was NATIVE RIVER (182) who continues thrive at the top table of staying chasers. I actually noted that he has progressed with every chase run he’s ever had on my figures since he won the Hennessy – 161,171,171,173,174,180,182. Can he go on again from here or is this were things plateau? Gun to my head I’d say this is probably the peak of his powers which marks the Gold Cup winner as top class, albeit a notch below the recent stars such as Cue Card, Don Cossack and Vautour. In my book he should be the Gold Cup favourite though.
THISTLECRACK (180) ran a remarkable race to finish third, travelling sweetly but losing ground at his obstacles. He’s now a ten year old though and has clearly been fragile in the past, so I wouldn’t want to bank on him going forward, for all that he is brilliant.
The horse I definitely want to be with going forward is CLAN DES OBEAUX (177) who finished fourth. He’d previously won the Graduation chase on this card the previous year, but seemed to jump out to his right a bit on this occasion. With that in mind, my interest in him as only intensified with him set to run in the King George on Boxing Day. A right handed flat track looks sure to suit, and being only six he is the one horse in the field with almost sure fire improvement to come. A quick peek at his form suggests he should come on for the run, and the main caveat would be he would probably like some rain. Kempton can typically come up with good ground, so I’ll be doing the rain dance after my Christmas dinner…..hopefully he can pay for the flood damage!!!