Having not done a weekend review for a while and having a free Saturday night for a change means I can post some views leading up towards the spring festivals and with testing ground the order of the day at all jumps tracks racing yesterday, you needed a horse who truly saw it out, especially at Haydock where I was in attendance with fantastic company.
The day began with the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle which went the way of Abracadabra Sivola under an inspired ride from Sam Twiston-Davies who let him stride on and made every inch of the running with the favourite Aurore D’Estruval half a length behind in second having travelled like the best horse throughout. They both pulled a long way clear of the third horse The Green Ogre. Whether the winner heads to Cheltenham remains to be seen but the second would be highly interesting if taking her chance in the Fred Winter or further down the line the conditional handicap at Aintree which her trainer took with another mare last year in Cockney Sparrow but it could be possible that she may need softer ground to be at her best being out of Nickname, a chaser who had a reputation for loving soft ground.
The Rendlesham on paper looked to be easy pickings for Celestial Halo however the testing ground plus a lack of match fitness told in the end when finishing third. He will come on plenty for that with the World Hurdle in mind. In saying that, Seeyouatmidnight was given a wonderful ride by Ryan Mania and was the second winner in a row to make every yard of the running. This was a highly deserved victory with this being the highlight in the career of his trainer Sandy Thomson. Although he went into today’s race underrated on only his third start over hurdles, he boosted his growing reputation by claiming another big name after his beating of both Regal Encore on debut at Hexham and Racing Pulse at Musselburgh. Connections didn’t give him an entry at Cheltenham but were very keen to aim him instead at Aintree with everything looking towards when he goes chasing next season.
The Grand National Trial was a real war of attrition but it was yet again another big handicap for Venetia Williams but this training performance takes some doing with Rigadin De Beauchene winning first time out with his stable-mate Emperor’s Choice making it a 1-2 for the yard. Williams said afterwards to the crowd around the paddock that this race had been the main aim for Rigadin De Beauchene this season but talk of the Scottish National was mentioned. He would need this ground which he revels in to be seen at his best. Emperor’s Choice ran another tough and honest race after his recent success in the West Wales National which was ran in similar desperate conditions and emerged from this with plenty of credit. Nuts N Bolts would be interesting for me on better ground in something like the Scottish National as he plugged on bravely to take fourth.
Of the Crabbie’s Grand National entries, Our Father ran an odd race. He needed cajoling along early doors by Conor O’Farrell before travelling quite well until he was asked for his effort where he found nothing and he remains very difficult to get right. Hawkes Point appeared to labour on this ground with the same comment applying to Soll whilst Merry King was badly hampered before hitting his usual flat spot however he didn’t come out of it and was pulled up. Across The Bay was struggling badly when unseating five out.
On a more sour note, it was disappointing to hear that Conor Ring, the hero of Haydock’s last meeting was given a ten day ban after Peter Marsh winner Wychwoods Brook fell three out when out on his feet. Although the ground was extremely testing, it was perfectly safe to race on however watching the horse’s stride shorten to a virtual walk on the run to three out and yet his jockey felt the need to jump the ditch. The main thing about this issue was that the horse was ok afterwards however the actions of the jockey leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
Top Wood was yet another front runner to make all the running when taking the Pertemps Qualifier with this being a great training performance after being off the track over a year for David Pipe and Conor O’Farrell. He looks a nice type who could be a nice staying chaser in the future based on this. He could potentially end up running in the Final itself at the Festival however the main concern would be whether he could back this effort up after being off the track so long.
The most intriguing contest for me beforehand was the Albert Bartlett Trial. Although the winner was very impressive in Toubeera, the main market principals of Oscar Rock and Wuff both disappointed with the latter dropping away tamely. The winner was taking yet another big prize for trainer Venetia Williams who has excelled over the winter especially with deep ground. Bobcatbilly jumped well when taking the novice handicap under AP McCoy and the Walrus Hunters Chase went deservedly to another all the way winner in Ockey De Neuillac and it was heart-warming to see connections of the placed horses celebrating like they had won.
Outside of Haydock, Ascot’s card looked to hold some potential Cheltenham and Aintree clues with the meeting starting with the expensive purchase Un Temps Pour Tout hardly coming out of second gear in a very impressive performance under Tom Scudamore with both him and the Haydock juvenile winner Abracadabra Sivola paying a huge compliment to Zamdy Man who beat them last month at Haydock. The step up in trip helped him settle and the likely race to go for at Cheltenham would be the Neptune where he could be a massive threat to the big players in Faugheen and his own stable-mate Red Sherlock.
The Reynoldstown Novice Chase definitely didn’t disappoint with O’Faolain’s Boy overcoming his abysmal run at Haydock where he scoped badly afterwards to show his strong suit of stamina when beating the highly regarded Many Clouds. The race itself was a joy to watch with Many Clouds, O’Faolain’s Boy and Gevrey Chambertain all jumping like seasoned handicappers however the way the latter stopped so quickly was a major cause for concern. The winner was given a fantastic ride from Barry Geraghty as he allowed Gevrey Chambertin and Many Clouds take each other on in front on the final circuit before timing his run to perfection and with his target being confirmed as the RSA Chase, he should give a good account of himself although the record of Reynoldstown winners going onto win the RSA leaves a lot to be desired with only Alberta’s Run achieving the double. If Many Clouds lines up in the same race, he would also have a chance especially as his jumping will hold him in excellent stead.
For those who read my Grand National weights piece (http://jpfestival.com/grand-national-2014/grand-national-2014-weights-published-preview) then you will know what’s coming next. The run from Teaforthree in preparation for Aintree was brilliant. He jumped fantastic especially down the back straight where Noel Fehily was getting him to make ground at every fence and battled courageously against Restless Harry who has now finally turned a corner over fences. For an Aintree trial, I couldn’t have been happier with the way he ran but the prices he is now considering we are seven weeks away are a bit pathetic, especially as the Grand National is not just about one horse. Talking of Aintree, Chance Du Roy ran a much better race than he did in the Peter Marsh and he is another who could run a big race come the day.
Just like last week at Newbury on Splash Of Ginge, Ryan Hatch used his valuable seven pound claim to take another big handicap hurdle with Kaylif Aramis who had received a breathing operation since his last start but the ride itself was superb with Hatch even taking a pull to not go the pace that Tom Scudamore was setting on Heath Hunter.
The feature event of the day the Ascot Chase couldn’t have been won any easier by Captain Chris who earned another fully deserved Grade One. Unfortunately, connections seem to think another bid at the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the right idea and yet again his tendency to jump right will be his downfall over twenty two fences. In saying that, his form this season has been superb and whilst he deserves to run in the blue riband, Punchestown is the ideal place to go for the Guinness Gold Cup. Cloudy Too ran a lovely race for a horse still on the upgrade whilst Hunt Ball showed he still retains his old ability albeit on ground he despises whilst Medermit will come on enormously for that run.
The two mile novice hurdle looked a fascinating contest on paper with Mountain King luckily maintained his unbeaten record over hurdles. He wouldn’t have if Wilde Blue Yonder hadn’t fallen at the final flight when drawing clear. He looks a very useful horse however once he stops making those silly type of mistakes then he could be potentially a serious horse. His turn of foot today was especially eye-catching on really bad ground so he will be exciting in the spring if we get better ground at the spring festivals. It is also possible that he could go for a confidence booster but he remains an exciting prospect for the future.
Finally, there were two Champion Hurdle preparations both over two miles in the Kingwell at Wincanton and the Red Mills Trial at Gowran Park. Melodic Rendezvous followed up his Haydock victory to just see off Zarkandar on ground that looked worse than what he won on at Haydock. It was a great performance considering he looked to not go entirely on possibly the worst ground he has encountered and although his trainer Jeremy Scott said after his Haydock win that he would only go to Cheltenham on soft ground, he could reconsider especially as last year he thought the horse would be better on good ground and he still remains an interesting contender for the Champion Hurdle.
Take nothing away from Zarkandar and Grumeti either. For a horse that is now better over further, Zarkandar looked the one to beat going to the last and has battled all the way to the line. The World Hurdle would be his first run over three miles and if he gets the trip, he would have a serious chance while Grumeti would be interesting in a race like the County Hurdle even off a big weight.
Un De Sceaux never came out of second gear in the Red Mill Trial Hurdle with a bloodless success. All roads did look to lead towards Cheltenham however Willie Mullins came out today and said that the Champion Hurdle was unlikely at this stage of his career. This is another case of Mullins playing his cards right to benefit other horses in his stable. He doesn’t want to run Un De Sceaux knowing that Hurricane Fly would struggle going a proper end to end gallop and potentially Annie Power will divert to the World Hurdle which does take some of the intrigue from the race. Whilst writing today, My Tent Or Yours was another key Champion Hurdle contender to come out and win a Jumpers Bumper at Kempton showing his engine.
With Cheltenham coming up, the videos/blogs will hopefully come more frequently with a preview hopefully tomorrow night!