Monthly Archives: December 2014

Ladbroke Hurdle Weekend Review

After last weekend surprising a few, myself included, with some of the quality that we got to witness, this weekend was more disappointing for several reasons. Most notably the two feature events over hurdles at Ascot on Saturday, with both races leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. Before I go into this weekend’s action, I shall be writing a Christmas blog review which will cover plenty of racing from both sides of the Irish Sea and should be posted around New Year.

L'Ami Serge won as he pleased after the departure of Emerging Talent.
L’Ami Serge won as he pleased after the departure of Emerging Talent.

Friday at Ascot featured two Graded novice events with Nicky Henderson saddling two short priced favourites. The first of those was L’ami Serge in the Supreme Trial and his task was made much easier by the fall of Emerging Talent who was travelling just as well at the second last. Once that had taken place, all he had to do was scoot clear of Killultagh Vic who looks to want much further than two miles. We didn’t really learn that much about the winner whose experience from France stood him in good stead here. The prices on offer for the Supreme at the Festival do not tempt me one bit. Emerging Talent won’t be going to the Festival which is the right thing to do, especially with his gawkiness and with future lying over fences next season.

Henderson was looking for a quick fire double thirty five minutes later with Josses Hill making his debut over the larger obstacles against more experienced rivals in Ptit Zig and Dunraven Storm. Throughout the race, his round of jumping was inconsistent compared to the slickness of his main market rival Ptit Zig who went on to maintain his unbeaten record with a fair bit of ease.

Ptit Zig was far more fluent than his market rival Josses Hill.
Ptit Zig was far more fluent than his market rival Josses Hill.

The winner had reportedly not schooled very well when originally jumping fences at home but his two wins at Exeter and Warwick had clearly helped with his confidence with this being by far his most professional round. The step up in distance also looked to hold no issue and his next target looks to be the Dipper on New Year’s Day.

Josses Hill does deserve credit for his performance. For the number of jumping errors he made and for his reappearance; to be there going to the second last is a testament to the horse’s ability. He will clearly come on for the run but he will need to brush up markedly on his jumping.

Dunraven Storm looked to be feeling the effects of a hard campaign so far and will probably go off for a break now whilst Gary Moore’s runner Traffic Fluide shaped with plenty of promise having jumped well before dropping away. It will be interesting to see what connections do with him next as he looks a horse with some potential.

Irish Saint jumping the final fence before going on to victory.
Irish Saint jumping the final fence before going on to victory.

Saturday’s Graduation Chase on paper looked a tough race to analyse with question marks about every contender but Irish Saint won with plenty in hand. Beforehand, I had concerns about whether this run would be coming too quick after his effort in the Henry VIII but it wasn’t the case. Clearly suited by the step up in trip, he was mostly foot perfect and was on top of Puffin Billy before that rival made his exit at the final fence. He is certainly capable of Graded success over fences this season and as suggested after his third to stablemate Vibrato Valtat two weeks ago, races like the Scilly Isles at Sandown or the Pendil at Kempton look perfect targets before ideally going to the Festival for the JLT as this distance currently looks his ideal.

Thomas Crapper ran well enough without troubling the front pair and looks one that we will be seeing in the novice handicap at the Festival, especially with his excellent record at Cheltenham. Grand Vision kept jumping out to his left but did run better than he did at Uttoxeter. He definitely has a decent race in him going left handed on ground similar to this. Drop Out Joe looks a thorough stayer and justified this by doing his best work late on. Like I said after his last start, the National Hunt Chase at the Festival looks the long term plan and gaining valuable experience here won’t go amiss.

Just like last time out, Puffin Billy didn’t jump the best and made several mistakes before taking a horrific fall at the last and for a moment it looked as though the worst had happened. Thankfully, he rose to his feet but will be monitored over the next few days. A spin over hurdles could be the confidence boost that he needs to get over such a nasty experience.

Yet again, a big race on a weekend split opinion massively, some for the worst. The JLT Long Walk Hurdle became the latest episode in which social media exploded about the same jockey who seems to be the only person to get abuse regardless of what he does. Luckily for readers, I won’t make you endure another rant about the subject but it is tiresome to read these narrow-minded opinions.

You get the point.

To the race itself, Reve De Sivola became the third horse to win the Long Walk for the third time, joining Big Buck’s and Baracouda to hold that honour after being headed before battling back to defy Zarkandar who travelled like a dream and looked all over the winner going to the last. However, Zarkandar idled after the last allowing Reve De Sivola one more bite of the cherry, which he duly took.

Reve De Sivola leads the Long Walk Hurdle field with a circuit to go.
Reve De Sivola leads the Long Walk Hurdle field with a circuit to go.

There is no denying that Reve De Sivola is a horse with a bundle of talent, he just has his very own unique way of showing it. He recovered from a bad mistake at the third which got a mention in the post-race interview with Lydia Hislop on Racing UK, with jockey Daryl Jacob saying they met it on a perfect stride but for whatever reason, the horse disagreed and nearly catapulted him out of the saddle.

He recovered quickly at the head of the pack and led for the majority of the way before looking a sitting duck when Zarkandar strolled past.  But he fought back tenaciously to regain his crown under a power packed ride from Jacob. Although he won this for the third time, it’s hard to imagine him winning another race this campaign as the Long Walk is his race in the season with Jacob alluding to the fact that Cheltenham is a track that has never really played to his strengths, even though he has won there in the past.

Although he was beaten, I do think Zarkandar has run his best race in defeat. The statement may sound quite brash but the way he travelled with such ease and his slickness over his hurdles (apart from the last) was very impressive on the eye. Going to the second last, the result looked a foregone conclusion with Sam Twiston-Davies pulling double over Reve De Sivola. Just after the last, he began to idle which suggested he needed company and once Reve De Sivola passed him again, he rallied again.

Zarkandar looks a betting proposition in the World Hurdle at 14's.
Zarkandar looks a betting proposition in the World Hurdle at 14’s.

As mentioned above, Sam Twiston-Davies got his abuse but without trying to sound like I defend every ride he has, what exactly did he do wrong? It’s not like he went too soon or too late, especially as Zarkandar has never proven in the past to be a flashy bridle horse. The ground here was probably soft enough for him even though he has form in it and back on better ground in the World Hurdle, we could potentially see a career best effort over three miles or one that matches his Auteuil success. With question marks about leading contenders and their ‘wellbeing’, the 14/1 on offer is definitely worth a play at this current time.

Aubusson was back in third beaten twenty three lengths and probably ran to his limit over hurdles. Softer conditions would have helped but even then, it wouldn’t have been enough to help him finish closer. A race like the Rendlesham at Haydock would be a good place to go with his love of soft ground and around a track where he gained his biggest success. Medinas was disappointing with the race at Newbury looking to have left a mark whilst Dell’ Arca looked a non-stayer.

The Young Master is certainly going the right way.
The Young Master is certainly going the right way.

The Mappin & Webb Silver Cup brought welcome justice for The Young Master and his connections after his disqualification due to being ineligible for the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton. His last start had shown that there was no limit to his potential and again, this was evident here. The slight concern during the race was that he kept jumping out to his left but he had more than enough in hand to win comfortably. I doubt the handicapper will put him up as much as he did after Wincanton but he is entering the realms of being good enough for Graded prizes and he also has the option open to go back into novice company if Neil Mulholland wishes to go down that route. A race like the Argento in January could be the place to see where to go with him for the remainder of the season.

Houblon Des Obeaux has run yet another solid race carrying top weight, this time against a well handicapped horse. The problem with this is the handicapper will have to raise him again and winning handicaps will be tough, although his best efforts have come in them. He could easily head back to Cheltenham for the Gold Cup or carry top weight in the Grand National, where the handicapper may show some leniency towards him.

Le Reve improved on a disappointing run in the Hennessy to suggest he can land a decent prize this season, potentially the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton or the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown with how well he goes right handed. Hey Big Spender showed himself again to be in good heart with all roads probably leading back to next year’s Rehearsal Chase. Sound Investment shaped like a horse that would benefit from dropping back down in trip in a race like the Newbury Gold Cup in March. Via Sundown shaped better than he did in the Hennessy but needs more help from the handicapper whilst Ardkilly Witness was a big disappointment as he was fading when making a bad mistake three out.

Bayan sticks his neck out to defy Pine Creek.
Bayan sticks his neck out to defy Pine Creek.

The Ladbroke looked a competitive field beforehand with plenty going in with a chance. The end result was another that questions the integrity of the rules of British Racing. Both the winner Bayan ridden by Davy Condon and the runner up Pine Creek ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies used the whip more times than the allotted amount of eight. Condon used his at least fifteen times and incurred a fifteen day ban and forfeited his prize money whilst Twiston-Davies got a four day ban.

The rules are there for a reason and punishments should be harsher if the offender breaks the rule considerably. In this instant, Condon nearly went over double the limit permitted. To implement the rules better, surely the punishment shouldn’t just affect the jockey, as fifteen days on the sidelines for winning a big race by breaking the rules just isn’t enough.

Activial looks the ideal type for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
Activial looks the ideal type for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

The race was run at a suicidal pace made by Balgarry who gave way quickly at the top of the straight. Bayan deserved his big handicap success after two placed efforts in the Coral Cup and the Galway Hurdle but will probably be handicapped out of good races now. Pine Creek travelled really well and was one who was able to make significant ground up from the back of the field. Both he and Activial look ideal candidates for the Betfair Hurdle, the latter showing that he looks a good deal better than his handicap mark. He came to win the race but over jumped the second last which didn’t help his chances. He would even prefer the ground to be softer so for a first time out effort, it was a solid run.

Shelford was up with the pace and although he was close up, he did very well to remain there considering he looks to want further than two miles. A race like the Lanzarote at Kempton looks tailor made for him as he is definitely still better than his handicap mark. Garde La Victoire will be suited by a sounder surface and a step up in trip. He could very easily make up into a Coral Cup contender, even with a lofty handicap mark whilst his stablemate Hello George is another that will improve going up in distance. Clondaw Warrior was outpaced and looked very one paced, Cool Macavity would appreciate better ground, Jebril shaped with promise for a horse with a lack of experienced and Pyromaniac was never involved and is best watched next time out.

Balgarry was given absolutely no chance by the pace he set.
Balgarry was given absolutely no chance by the pace he set.

The ride on Balgarry was one of the more senseless ones I’ve seen recently. For a horse that has been off the track over two years, to set a pace like that and not even be allowed a chance for a breather is just ridiculous. Backers (myself not included) would have the right to feel aggrieved as he was basically given no chance whatsoever. It wouldn’t be surprising if there was another day in mind this season, something like the Imperial Cup, a race which the Pipes have an excellent record.

Up at Haydock, it was great to see a favourite of mine in Sleepy Haven win in convincing style. He needed his first run at Sandown and he looks to have improved on his form from last season. He looks a horse that connections could have a bit of fun with over the coming few months.

Sleepy Haven looks to be going the right way.
Sleepy Haven looks to be going the right way.

Boondooma jumped economically when boosting the form of his second to Melodic Rendezvous in the novice chase, although I would argue if that rival had turned up here, he would have been beaten comprehensively by Dr Richard Newland’s charge. He will be just as effective over two and a half miles and has turned a corner since his chase debut which was haphazard behind Puffin Billy.

The Pirates Queen was given a superb ride by Denis O’Regan who stalked and pounced on the game Bitofapuzzle in the Mares Listed novice hurdle, doing her for a turn of foot on the run in. The winner also gave another boost to her third behind Blaklion in the Persian War whilst the runner up shaped as though a step back up in trip would suit more.

Broadway Buffalo finally got it right at the fifth attempt over fences under an ice-cool Conor O’Farrell who let the leaders take each other on and he just crept into the race before scooting clear to beat Toby Lerone. A return to Haydock for the Peter Marsh would be the likeliest option but more long term; the Kim Muir could be a race to suit. The runner up has looked revitalised by blinkers and just bumped into a horse that looks ahead of the handicapper. He can definitely take a big pot by the end of the season whilst Fill The Power did well to recover from a bad mistake at the first and will be better over further.

The handicap hurdle looked a competitive race but was turned into a rout by Kilcooley who was given a fantastic ride by Charlie Deutsch who just wound it up leaving the back straight and gained an unassailable advantage. His form had taken a boost on Friday when L’ami Serge won and the step up in trip looked to help as well. It will be interesting to see where he goes next but a race like the National Spirit at Fontwell could figure in plans. The final race went to Closing Ceremony who looks a good staying chaser for the future as he followed up his course and distance win from last month with similar tactics.

Un De Sceaux on his way to his first success over fences.
Un De Sceaux on his way to his first success over fences.

Over in Ireland, Un De Sceaux made up for his chase debut departure by sauntering clear of his rivals from the start and never looking back. He beat Smashing, the only horse who even tried to go with him by twelve lengths with him thirty lengths clear of Legal Exit back in third. It was easy enough for Un De Sceaux. He pitched slightly at the first which probably helped his cause but he did everything on the bridle again. He will be out just after the New Year where he will likely mop up another novice chase but the key question is whether we will see him over for the Festival or not? Personally, I hope we do. His exhilarating front running would be a joy to watch plus we would get to finally see how good he is.

Eyecatchers

Traffic Fluide – One definitely to take for the future.

Zarkandar – Take the 14’s for the World Hurdle.

Shelford – Still looks well handicapped and will reap the rewards back up in distance.

Ludlow & Value At Risk Review – 17th December 2014

For a normal Wednesday leading up to Christmas, we were treated with two quality meetings from Newbury and Ludlow with some really nice pointers for the future, especially in the novice events. I was in attendance at the latter with fellow OnTheOtherHoof contributer Michael Andrews (yes he’s alive still!) where we enjoyed some highly competitive handicaps, a fascinating maiden hurdle and a bumper in which the winner looks a smart acquisition to the racing game. This was also accompanied by a mares’ novice hurdle which featured some potential on show, especially the first two home.

The two mile maiden hurdle began the card with Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson gaining the first leg of their double on the card with Days Of Heaven, who won easily in the first time hood, but not after some of his pre-race antics which cost him at both Aintree and Newbury. He walked around the paddock as quiet as a mouse, however, once led out onto the course he became lit up and for a moment, it looked as though he would bolt to the start. Luckily, Barry Geraghty kicked his feet out the irons and managed to get him to the start in one piece.

He then misbehaved as the race started but unlike Newbury, he didn’t forfeit much ground to his rivals and travelled by far the best horse throughout the contest before kicking clear under a hands and heels ride. Once he’d jumped off, he was relatively keen but he did settle down, the hood being a massive help. Whilst he clearly has his quirks about him, he is definitely a very talented individual and it will be very interesting to see what mark the handicapper gives him. He could very easily be the type of horse for a Betfair Hurdle, in which he could get covered up in a big field and produced late with his turn of foot.

The runner up Alto Des Mottes had bumped into one at Taunton in Zulu Oscar and did the exact same here. On paddock appearance, he looked a shell of a horse who can only keep on improving and he can definitely win a similar event in the none too distant future. Sir Ivan performed well on his hurdles debut apart from a mistake three out and plugged on at the one pace. A step up in trip will see him in a much better light.

The Philip Hobbs pair of Ink Master and Neck Or Nothing were both interesting for different reasons. The former shaped well for a long way and is better than the bare result shows as he did set a fair enough tempo. He is another now eligible for handicaps where he could take potential advantage of a nice mark. The latter had physically matured over the summer and looked a different horse than what contested the Champion Bumper, however, he did work himself up before the race as he sweated up badly and got rid of Richard Johnson down at the start. He did travel kindly but didn’t have an answer when the leaders kicked going to the second last. He will need to handle preliminaries better if to fulfil the promise shown in bumpers last year.

Further down the pack, two others caught the eye. Routine Procedure who finished tenth beaten sixty six lengths looked a lovely chasing type who would improve once he went markedly up in trip and Amoruccio who should get a mark after today and similar comments apply.

The feature staying handicap chase went the way of Royal Player for Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs. Having made a mistake at the first, he was given a lovely patient ride, especially as he was keen during the early part of the race. He got into a nice rhythm at the rear of the field and picked off each contender one by one, finishing with Gorsky Island who was going for the hat trick of wins at Ludlow.

It was a fine performance from the winner who was only having his second start over fences under rules but he has some interesting Point to Point form, having finished fifth behind No More Heroes and third behind Racing Pulse. Where they go next will depend on what the handicapper makes of it, however, he cannot go up too steeply in grade with him needing at least one more run over fences.

Gorsky Island did absolutely nothing wrong here. He jumped really well and travelled like the winner for the majority of the contest and was beaten simply by a better handicapped horse on the day. Although he is out of Turtle Island who was a renowned soft ground lover, he has shaped well on good to soft ground and if having a big spring target, the Topham Trophy could suit him with his fluent jumping. The drop in distance there wouldn’t be a concern at all as he looks as though he would be able to lay up with the pace.

Grove Pride ran his best race for almost two years as he jumped for fun in the lead at his trainer’s local track. If finding a similar race over course and distance, he should be able to get another win out of him whilst Five Star Wilsham travelled well enough and if he drops down the weights again, he definitely has the capability to win a race.

Opening Batsman was a shade disappointing as he seemed to get outpaced on the final circuit before plugging on. He isn’t one to give up on just yet, especially if he is re-equipped with the blinkers that he had in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown. He could return to Kempton for the Racing Plus Chase which he won two years ago whilst other market rival My Wigwam Or Yours drifted out in the market just before the off and failed to build on his debut effort over fences behind Ned Stark.

The mares’ novice hurdle saw the return of Tara Mist who was sent off a shade of odds on. She gave her backers two notable moments of concern; the first one being at the fourth last where she completely guessed at the hurdle and again at the last. However, she had plenty in reserve to see off the tough Ballyhollow who attempted to make every yard of the running.

Tara Mist had shown a fair level of form in mares bumpers last season including when third behind Avispa in the Aintree Mares Bumper, a track which would have been too sharp for her over two miles. This distance at the moment is ideal for her and she will definitely get three miles in time. Another mares’ novice hurdle just to get her jumping better would be an ideal plan for the current moment before Graded company later in the season.

Ballyhollow also had useful bumper form with Tara Mist having finished behind her twice last season. She went very well from the front and would be suited by a stiffer test of stamina. She will make a nice chaser when she goes over the larger obstacles.

The concluding bumper had a fascinating contender in Chocca Wocca, a daughter of Chomba Womba who was also trained by Nicky Henderson and she duly obliged to give Geraghty/Henderson a double on the day in very taking style, beating what looks a pretty useful field with two other newcomers Wabanaki and Sandygate filling out the places.

Chocca Wocca after winning the bumper. Photo courtesy of Michael Andrews.
Chocca Wocca after winning the bumper. Photo courtesy of Michael Andrews.

Although she was receiving the seven pound fillies’ allowance, it was a highly impressive debut. Compared to The Outlaw who finished fourth here, Chocca Wocca was tiny but was lovely to look at. The main attribute to her winning performance was the way she stuck her neck out in a really likeable manner. The obvious long term aim would be the Aintree Mares Bumper where a flat track on goodish ground would really play to her strengths. Her turn of foot out of that ground today was noteworthy.

Wabanaki was plenty relaxed enough in the parade ring but once he got on the track, he decided to play up a little bit, which he is entitled to do as it was his racecourse debut. In defeat though, he has ran a more than respectable enough effort giving Chocca Wocca seven pounds. Sandygate also ran a nice race on his debut and will shape better over a much longer distance in time. The Outlaw misbehaved on his way out onto the course when dislodging Sam Twiston-Davies and seemed to resent the use of the whip in the closing stages by hanging violently. He may just need more time to mature but it could also reflect his character.

To end the blog, one standout performance at Newbury deserves a fair mention having got the excitement levels sky high. The hurdling debut of Value At Risk. A very useful bumper horse, he first went into my notebook on debut at Fairyhouse where he made his own running and won very nicely before winning again at Leopardstown over Christmas. Those two performances were enough to convince me to back him for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham where he disappointed slightly but then bounced right back when third to Shaneshill at Punchestown.

He was going to be included in my horses to follow pieces, however, due to an error in which I believed he’d moved stables; it felt ethically wrong to have him in the list when with his former trainer. Skip forward to November and he is moved to Dan Skelton, an exciting addition to the yard of one of the up and coming stars of the training ranks.

Just like his first bumper win at Fairyhouse, he went out and made every single yard of the running and won as he pleased. He beat a rival in Foryourinformation who ran last time out at Newbury and was beaten seven and a quarter lengths by Out Sam. Value At Risk beat him twenty two lengths on the bridle. In the post-race winning interview, he paid homage to his former boss Paul Nicholls which spoke volumes and gets me really excited for this horse’s future. Why? It means that Value At Risk has gone to the right trainer who knows to look after him this year and build him up in a manner similar to what Nicholls would with his star chasers. All I can say is, he will definitely be featuring on my horses to follow list next year when going chasing.

Eyecatchers

Ink Master – Shaped better than the distance beaten suggests and will be interesting in handicap hurdles.

Routine Procedure – A long term prospect.

Gorsky Island – Something like the Topham Trophy could suit really well.

Opening Batsmen – When he gets blinkers back on.

Chocca Wocca – The Aintree Mares Bumper should be the main target and a speed track like Aintree would suit.

Value At Risk – Need I say more?

International Meeting Weekend Review

Whilst this weekend on paper didn’t look that exciting, we were treated to some brilliant performances from established stars and plenty of exciting up and coming talent showcasing their credentials for the future with the International Meeting at Cheltenham taking centre stage.

Kings Palace making it two from two over fences.
Kings Palace making it two from two over fences.

Friday began with the rematch between Kings Palace and Sausalito Sunrise from the Open Meeting. On this occasion, Kings Palace was giving away three pounds compared to the five he received last month. However, the manner in which he beat his main rival here was more comprehensive. His fast and accurate jumping an absolute joy to watch plus his turn of foot after the last was decisive.

Whilst he has won twice over three miles around Cheltenham, he doesn’t lack toe and come Cheltenham in March, he could be extremely vulnerable in the RSA as he would probably do what he did in the Albert Bartlett this year; set a strong gallop and leave himself open to stronger stayers. The JLT could be potentially at this stage in his career the better option, even with the possibility of taking on Vautour. One other thought that comes to mind is after this meeting twelve months ago when taking the Bristol Novice Hurdle; we didn’t see the horse until the Festival so it will be interesting to see if he has another run in between.

Sausalito Sunrise was firmly put in his place here but has still put in a respectable effort. On the evidence seen so far in his career, he looks a thorough stayer and may just lack the tactical pace needed for a race like the RSA, however, the National Hunt Chase would look an ideal target for this likeable type.

His stablemate Return Spring ran a really encouraging race having jumped well for the majority of the race before ploughing through the final fence. He stayed on eye-catchingly up the hill and almost nabbed second place. He looks the type of horse that will excel in staying handicap chases, with races like the Midlands National and the Scottish National in the spring looking suitable aims. Vivaldi Collonges will benefit massively for his chasing debut and could even go back over hurdles to protect his novice status until next season.

Starluck and Goohar jump the last together.
Starluck and Goohar jump the last together.

Elsewhere on Friday’s card, it was great to see one time Champion Hurdle contender Starluck back in the winners’ enclosure after the two mile one furlong handicap hurdle. Ulzana’s Raid continued his progression for Alan King and the returning Wayne Hutchinson when just denying the ultra-consistent Big Easy whilst Martin Keighley left Prestbury Park with a double courtesy of the old stagers Benbane Head and Any Currency in the cross country, the latter deserving his day in the sun after his agonising defeat at the Festival this year. Sadly, we lost 2013 Festival winner Big Shu after he suffered a heart attack which left a few questions needing to be answered regarding welfare issues.

The final race on the card has in the past proven to be a hugely informative novice hurdle towards the future with the likes of Noland, Tidal Bay, Darlan and Ballyalton all recent winners. Seedling looks a smart enough type who retained his novice status for this season. His best piece of form last season was a length second behind Wilde Blue Yonder at Newbury and is now three from three this season. The 33/1 quote for the Supreme wouldn’t be something of interest to me but he could go into competitive handicaps depending on what the handicapper makes of this performance.

Some Plan still looks a long way from the finished article as he ran far too freely for Paddy Brennan but looks fairly useful based on this effort and his previous form leading into this. A step up in trip in the future will definitely suit him with similar comments applying to the beaten favourite Padge. He was keen early on before allowing speedier types a massive head start which he was never going to make inroads into. Having looked more of a stayer when second to Shantou Bob at Ffos Las, he could be one for the EBF Final at Sandown in March where that stiffest test of stamina will suit much more than the minimum trip.

Hargam and Karezak battle it out over the final flight.
Hargam and Karezak battle it out over the final flight.

Saturday’s action at Cheltenham began with the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial in which the odds on favourite Hargam went one better on his second start over hurdles for Tony McCoy and Nicky Henderson to see off Karezak. The winner was plenty keen enough at the start but settled nicely and most importantly, he jumped economically without being flashy before knuckling down in a battle with the runner up.

Karezak has some of the most useful form in English juvenile hurdles having just beaten Golden Doyen on debut before coming up short against Old Guard at Newbury. The first time visor has brought about some improvement and he went down fighting. Stars Over The Sea’s jumping has been brought into question on both his hurdle starts and again he wasn’t particularly fluent before being beaten comprehensively by the front two. One that deserves to be taken out of the race is Boss Des Mottes. He had disappointed when sent off favourite at Doncaster on his hurdling debut in the UK but here he travelled better than the distance beaten suggests. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him line up in the Fred Winter come March time.

Peace And Co could not have been more impressive on British debut.
Peace And Co could not have been more impressive on British debut.

Whilst talking about juvenile form, Doncaster hosted a Grade Two which couldn’t have been won more impressively by new Triumph Hurdle favourite Peace And Co who took up the running at the fourth flight and did everything on the bridle under Daryl Jacob, his slick hurdling being his main attribute which he had shown also on debut in France. Bookmaker reaction was as expected and he is as short as 5/1 in places for the Triumph which wasn’t surprising considering the manner of his success.

Champagne West wasn't the most convincing at his fences on Saturday.
Champagne West wasn’t the most convincing at his fences on Saturday.

Only three set out for the novice chase in which Champagne West justified his position as market leader to beat Un Ace but not without some scrappy leaps on the way round. The complexion of the race changed at the fourth last when the leader Little Jon crashed through the wing of the fence. Fortunately, both he and his rider Sam Twiston-Davies got up fine. This left Champagne West in front, however his jumping wasn’t as fluent as it was on debut which allowed Un Ace to challenge on the run in, but the winner used his speed to assert his authority. The winner could return here for the Dipper on New Year’s Day to get some more match practice in before the RSA in March.

The feature novice chase at Doncaster went the way of the improving Virak for Nick Scholfield and Paul Nicholls although the race lost some of its sparkle when the fences up the home straight were omitted due to the low sun. Although Nicholls has the likes of Saphir Du Rheu and Southfield Theatre at Ditcheat, Virak remains unbeaten in three outings this season and is definitely going the right way.

Virak is certainly going the right way over fences. 75's for the RSA on Betfair looks generous.
Virak is certainly going the right way over fences. 75’s for the RSA on Betfair looks generous.

The interesting thing to note is that he has taken the same route as Black Thunder did last season so if lightning is to strike twice, we will see him next at Warwick on Classic Chase day. For an ante-post wager’s sake, the greedy side of me wishes he goes to the Festival and runs in the RSA where he would definitely go into the race as an underrated horse but his price of 200’s on Betfair was too big considering the manner of his Haydock win. At the time of writing, he is 75/1 and that is still on the large side when you look at horses priced up lower than him.

Wakanda outran his odds and will be interesting once stepping into handicap company whilst Killala Quay may benefit from going back over hurdles as he was beaten fairly quickly here. Kaysersberg might have proved the main threat to Virak had he not fallen heavily at the last but happily, both the horse and Gavin Sheehan got up fine.

The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup didn’t look the strongest renewal on paper and was a strange race with Niceonefrankie, a horse that had looked handicapped out of this after his Ascot win going in again. He took it up at the third fence and never saw another rival and could be called the winner four out when Splash Of Ginge departed when travelling okay. Being honest, it’s not a race that looks likely to work out majorly, the one eyecatcher being Splash Of Ginge who had jumped really well until being caught out by the landing at the fourth last.

Blaklion and Ryan Hatch jump the last on their way to an easy success.
Blaklion and Ryan Hatch jump the last on their way to an easy success.

A contrast in fortunes for Nigel Twiston-Davies changed for the better when Blaklion, partnered by Ryan Hatch who replaced Jamie Moore after his fall from No Buts in the previous race, went and dominated his rivals in the Bristol Novices Hurdle under a penalty. He travelled supremely well throughout with the step up to three miles bringing about plenty of improvement as he put the race to bed in a matter of strides, ridden with a ton of confidence by Hatch.

Blaklion has a fantastic attitude towards racing, highlighted last season when tenaciously battling to victory in a Haydock bumper and he hasn’t done much wrong over hurdles yet. The Albert Bartlett will be his main aim and he will go there with a leading chance. Anteros has obviously appreciated the step up in distance as this is by far a career best effort. As long as the handicapper isn’t too harsh, there should be a decent handicap or two in him over the trip.

The jury’s out slightly on Port Melon who again travelled well in first time cheekpieces but unlike the Open Meeting, he was left behind pretty quickly by Blaklion. It is probably too late to consider going chasing this season so a drop in grade to get some confidence could be the ideal plan. Parish Business plugged on after being headed going to the second last whilst Binge Drinker looks as though he would need four miles to be at his best.

The New One with Vaniteux upsides at the last.
The New One with Vaniteux upsides at the last.

The feature race of the weekend was the International Hurdle and The New One again cemented his position near the head of the market in the Champion Hurdle with a decisive performance, giving eight pounds to Vaniteux. Even though I didn’t write a blog for Betfair Chase day, The New One impressed me that day with his jumping and again here he was foot perfect before using his speed to outsprint Vaniteux with the pace set by Zamdy Man not especially quick. Whilst I’m firmly on the side of Faugheen for the Champion Hurdle, The New One has earned my full and utmost respect again, the memories of clattering the last on his return at Kempton now a distant thought.

Vaniteux travelled extremely well and looked much happier on this better surface than he encountered in the Greatwood. A slight mistake two out wouldn’t have helped his cause but he was still on the bridle going to the last before The New One left him trailing in a matter of strides. In receipt of eight pounds, if there was going to be a day where he might have beaten The New One, this was probably it. However, he was firmly put in his place and being realistic, he won’t trouble the main players in the Champion Hurdle which makes him difficult to place for the rest of the campaign.

King Of The Picts could be a well handicapped horse.
King Of The Picts could be a well handicapped horse.

Olofi may be flattered slightly by the lack of pace with how close he has finished to both The New One and Vaniteux but it is brilliant to see him back in good order. King Of The Picts caught the eye for a couple of reasons. The slow pace would not have suited him at all but he jumped well and travelled nicely before inevitably getting outpaced on the run down to the second last. He then flew up the hill to nab Zamdy Man for fourth place.

He looks interesting with an aim towards the Festival with his handicap mark of 140 which gives him the options of the County Hurdle, the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe. He would be a fascinating contender in either of those races. Zamdy Man clearly didn’t show his best here and probably wants the ground softer whilst Bertimont travelled through the race but just couldn’t go through with his finishing effort.

Former Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby stamped his class in the Relkeel Hurdle on ground that was probably softer than ideal to beat Volnay De Thaix comfortably. His hurdling was really sharp and he looked much more comfortable with the step back up in trip. He was entitled to idle late on but never looked in danger.

Rock On Ruby underlining his true class.
Rock On Ruby underlining his true class on ground softer than ideal.

Connections now have an interesting dilemma. Do they come back for the Festival and have a go at the World Hurdle or do they go straight to Aintree for another go at the Aintree Hurdle? One would imagine he would have a break now with the likely softer conditions over the winter before returning for a spring campaign. If he does go for the World Hurdle, he will be a fascinating contender with the obvious question being would he see out the trip. Personally, I’m not convinced he would however, his class could see him through and in the words of Noel Fehily “He’d go through the pain barrier for you.”

Volnay De Thaix didn’t jump as fluently as he has done in the past but ran respectably without looking a major threat whilst Brother Brian has ran a career best in third. If the handicapper doesn’t completely hammer him for this effort then he could easily come here for the Pertemps where three miles on good ground could really suit. Lac Fontana ran a lifeless race and this wasn’t his true running so he is worth forgiving.

Away from Cheltenham and Doncaster, my personal highlight of Saturday was seeing one of my old favourites West End Rocker take the Veterans Chase at Lingfield under a superb ride from Tom Bellamy, his first win since the 2011 Becher Chase at Aintree.  Whilst he handles better ground, some of his best performances in his career have come on really testing ground and he travelled by far the best of these veterans before going away to win handsomely.

Shaneshill and No More Heroes upsides at the last.
Shaneshill and No More Heroes upsides at the last.

Sunday’s feature was the Navan Novice Hurdle in which Shaneshill was sent off a warm order however he was denied by No More Heroes, one of the horses to follow from the jumps preview video. Two and a half miles is probably the minimum distance he would want to go and whilst it was a tactical affair, he showed that he can quicken, made all the more impressive by the fact Shaneshill was ridden for a turn of foot who has ran with plenty of credit himself.

If No More Heroes does come over for Cheltenham, the Albert Bartlett would be his target but he is all about the future. Shaneshill would probably be a Neptune type but with the firepower from the Mullins yard, he could possibly be the second or third string in the race.

Eyecatchers

Return Spring – A big staying handicap chase later in the season would be well within his compass.

Padge – Once he goes back up in trip, watch out for him in a handicap. The EBF Final could be the race for him.

Boss Des Mottes – Shaped better than the distance he was beaten.

Virak – The 75’s on offer for the RSA is lenient compared to others in the same market.

Splash Of Ginge – Better ground in the spring could see him win a big pot over fences.

King Of The Picts – Could potentially be well handicapped come March.

Tingle Creek/Becher Chase Weekend Review

After a couple of weekends away from the reviews due to other commitments, Sandown’s Tingle Creek Meeting and Aintree’s Becher Chase Day were the main events over the weekend in the UK to concentrate on. With Sandown having two days, I will concentrate on the weekend in chronological order starting with a couple of races from Sandown’s Friday card and one from Exeter which had small fields however they featured some excellent finishes.

Bivouac leads Storm Force Ten and Baron Alco up the Sandown hill.
Bivouac leads Storm Force Ten and Baron Alco up the Sandown hill.

The Juvenile Hurdle threw up a lovely prospect for the future with Bivouac who despite kicking the last flight out of the way, won a shade cosily for Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson. Even though he’s only a three year old, he already looks a proper chasing type who deserves plenty of time to grow up. Storm Force Ten had some useful form on the flat and ran a nice race on his hurdling debut for the Waley-Cohens and trainer Andrew Balding. He can definitely progress from this whilst Baron Alco ran a brilliant race conceding ten pounds to the whole field. All three are worthy enough to make their mark further on in the season in big pots.

Vyta Du Roc and Tara Point take the last flight in the Winter Novice Hurdle.
Vyta Du Roc and Tara Point take the last flight in the Winter Novice Hurdle.

The race of Friday was undoubtedly the Grade Two Winter Novices Hurdle which featured the closest finish of the weekend with Vyta Du Roc just holding on under a penalty from Shantou Bob with long-time leader Tara Point close up in third. All three deserve credit in different ways and all look top class individuals for the future.

The winner Vyta Du Roc showed plenty of guts after looking beat going towards the second last when Tara Point went clear but he saw out this trip really well and showed plenty of guts up the Sandown hill. Whilst he holds an entry in the Ladbroke towards the end of the month, two and a half miles looked to suit really well and the race Red Sherlock won on Trials Day this year would look an ideal next target.

Shantou Bob was the first off the bridle and it was a testament to his ability that got him so close. In this company, he will definitely want further and he looks an Albert Bartlett type based on this effort. The Challow at the end of the month on really soft ground could be a race to consider.

Tara Point is a horse that I have a huge soft spot for. She got into a lovely rhythm out in front and her jumping was a huge asset for the majority of the race before a mistake at the second last cost her some momentum. She did battle on after the last but couldn’t quite muster another challenge. One thing she will need to do is learn to settle in her races as that could have cost her victory but she remains one exciting talent and it is refreshing to see Paul Nicholls want to pitch her in against the geldings.

Nicholls didn’t have to wait long for compensation when Black Thunder put in an immaculate round of jumping in the Intermediate Chase to win by a cosy eleven lengths. He missed last weeks’ Hennessy Gold Cup with a preference to come here and he put this race to bed in convincing style. He looks a proper stayer but has a touch of class about him. His next nominated target was the Argento in January and he could even make up into an outsider for the Gold Cup. Failing that, he could easily be a Grand National contender on a sounder surface.

The other horse to talk about from this race is Corrin Wood who, like Black Thunder, gave us a sight to behold with them both jumping from fence to fence before Black Thunder’s fitness advantage became evident. To be fair, Corrin Wood stuck to his task resolutely and was done for second on the line. It will be interesting to see where he heads next as he holds a few big entries over Christmas.

Saphir Du Rheu won easily on his second chase start.
Saphir Du Rheu won easily on his second chase start.

Away from Sandown, Exeter staged a competitive renewal of the Harry Dutfield Memorial Novices Chase which went the way of the redemption seeking Saphir Du Rheu who made amends for his Newbury unseat in electric style. He jumped as though he was on springs and readily scooted away from some fair rivals, the notable disappointment being Deputy Dan who couldn’t go the pace over this trip. The winner had a rating of 165 over hurdles and on this showing, could be even more exciting over the larger obstacles. For the time being, two and a half miles would be his ideal distance, with the Dipper Novice Chase on New Year’s Day a good place to get some practice around Cheltenham before the Festival.

Saturday at Sandown was almost threatened by the cold weather but went ahead. I am only going to review the Grade One chases as there wasn’t much on the undercard apart from the JP McManus double with two horses in Cup Final and Snake Eyes who both have a lot more to give in competitive handicaps.

Vibrato Valtat on his way to winning the Henry VIII Novices Chase.
Vibrato Valtat on his way to winning the Henry VIII Novices Chase.

On paper, the Henry VIII Novice Chase looked to be a match between Irish Saint and Dunraven Storm as Court Minstrel wasn’t going to appreciate the underfoot conditions and Vibrato Valtat having a reputation for stopping once hitting the front. Safe to say, I wasn’t expecting Vibrato Valtat to storm up the Sandown hill to win going away from Dunraven Storm having looked a horse in the past who only wins on the bridle, albeit with a bundle of talent. If this is the new Vibrato Valtat, then he looks potentially very exciting going forward and with that potent turn of foot, he could be very dangerous in the Arkle come March time depending on his opposition. However, a note of caution is advised as I would like to see him back this effort up before making comments about genuineness.

It is a shame Dunraven Storm’s career has been blighted by injury, as on his day he is a hugely talented horse. He backed up his two wins at Exeter and Cheltenham here nicely and whilst looking unlucky on the run in, he was beaten by the better horse on the day. If connections are keen to keep going currently, the Wayward Lad at Kempton on the 27th December would be a good place to go as he appreciates going right handed.

Irish Saint shaped as though he would want at least two and a half at Grade One level but still ran a respectable race back in third. He could be one to return back to Sandown for the Scilly Isles in February whilst Court Minstrel hated the ground and will likely be put away for a spring campaign, be that handicap chases like the Grand Annual and the Red Rum or top class novice chases.

Dodging Bullets puts it altogether to take the Tingle Creek.
Dodging Bullets puts it all together to take the Tingle Creek.

Beforehand, the Tingle Creek looked a race where we hopefully see a new kid on the block emerge in what looks a pretty weak two mile division. Sadly for more than one reason, the end result was sour. Dodging Bullets made it a Grade One double for Paul Nicholls in convincing style from the veteran Somersby back in second with Nicholls again filling out third place with Hinterland.

The form going forward doesn’t look to inspire towards bigger targets in the spring but take nothing away from Dodging Bullets who put in a career best effort having travelled and jumped the best. In previous years, his form has tailed off once we reach March and April so he wouldn’t be a trustworthy bet in the Champion Chase. Somersby showed his consistency yet again with another placed effort in this race but with him as close as he was, this must surely bring a huge question mark over the race.

Hinterland made a mistake early on but has run well in the first time hood. He could be one for the Champion Chase if he was fresh as he was travelling well when hampered at the fourth last and if his issues in the past can be kept away. Balder Succes looked to not enjoy the ground and made two crucial errors which cost him any chance of victory. He could go to Kempton for the Desert Orchid if the ground isn’t similar. Although he has won on soft and heavy ground, the ground was described as very tacky and his soft ground wins would have come on a surface which is easier to move through. Both God’s Own and Vukovar will need to brush up on their jumping if they are to feature prominently at this level in the future.

Oscar Time holds off Mendip Express to take a famous win in the Becher Chase.
Oscar Time holds off Mendip Express to take a famous win in the Becher Chase.

Aintree’s feature contest on Saturday was the Becher Chase which looked a hugely competitive renewal on paper with twenty five lining up. In the end, the old man of the party Oscar Time rolled back the years under a fine ride from Sam Waley-Cohen, fending off the late charge of Mendip Express under Will Biddick with Saint Are and Alfie Spinner filling out the places.

Oscar Time and Sam Waley-Cohen return to the winners' enclosure after the Becher Chase. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.
Oscar Time and Sam Waley-Cohen return to the winners’ enclosure after the Becher Chase. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.

Oscar Time had previously run into the frame twice in the Grand National so these fences held no fears for him. Waley-Cohen kept his cool when Our Father went for home crossing the Melling Road and had enough in reserve to deny Mendip Express after the Elbow. The race yet again proved that age is no barrier and it would be no surprise even at the age of fourteen to see him return for the Grand National in the spring, although Sam Waley-Cohen was keen to say only if the horse was showing the right signs.

In defeat, Mendip Express was given a beautiful patient ride by Will Biddick. Allowed to find his feet early on, first impressions during the race going past the stands were that he wasn’t enjoying the challenge of Aintree but the next time he was spotted was just after Valentines where he was travelling ominously well. He crept into contention but just found the winner too good on the day and ran a fantastic race, proving that you can still come from behind around the National course on a horse good enough.

Mendip Express clearing the last fence under Will Biddick. Photo courtesy of Innerlight Racing.
Mendip Express clearing the last fence under Will Biddick. Photo courtesy of Innerlight Racing.

Connections said post-race that he was sticky early on and just needed time to warm to the challenge but the encouraging fact was he didn’t make any jumping errors. Once he’d warmed up, his jumping was foot perfect. He was introduced to the Grand National betting however, his trainer Harry Fry was keen to stress this was as far as he would want to go. If the handicapper isn’t too harsh, he would have a few options open to him but he does need to go left handed.

Saint Are still looks a well handicapped horse based on this effort. A mistake at the third fence lost him some ground but on the whole he jumped nicely and ran all the way to the line after getting outpaced on the run to two out. He will have a big day somewhere in the spring when getting better ground. Alfie Spinner really took to these fences well and ran his usual consistent race. It’s a shame that his handicap mark isn’t high enough for him to get a run in the Grand National itself as he looked to really enjoy this test but there is time to get his mark high enough.

Kruzhlinin stayed on resolutely up the run in. The Grand National looks the ideal target once again.
Kruzhlinin stayed on resolutely up the run in. The Grand National looks the ideal target once again.

Chance Du Roy ran his usual consistent race over these fences whilst Renard was one who got outpaced at a crucial stage before staying on through beaten rivals. The eyecatcher of the whole race was Kruzhlinin. He wasn’t given a particularly hard time but flew home late in the day to grab seventh, running on in similar fashion like he did in the Grand National. If I had to pick one out of the Becher for April, it would be him, especially if given a more positive ride.

Highland Lodge jumped these fences well but looks to have regressed a fair bit whilst Our Father looked the likely winner going to the second last before stopping quickly after the last. The problem is that he goes very well fresh before disappointing for the rest of the season so it was effectively his only chance to win all year.

It was fantastic to see Shakalakaboomboom show his old enthusiasm which we didn’t see in the Grand National this year with him showing up for most of the way before getting tired. He is another that could pick up a nice prize on better ground during the season. Mon Parrain didn’t jump these fences like he did in the 2011 Topham whilst Green Flag was a big disappointment. That wasn’t his true running so it will be interesting to see what comes to light. Across The Bay showed up well for a fair way before fading away quickly.

Of those that didn’t complete, Al Co looked to hate the experience as he made several bad errors on the way round before being pulled up; Burton Port was pulled up after a mistake at Becher’s lost him his position whilst Just A Par was another well fancied contender to disappoint. This track would have looked to have been his ideal but for whatever reason, he just didn’t perform.

Benbens had jumped pretty well up until he unseated Ryan Hatch but it was too far out to suggest where he might have finished whilst Knock A Hand blundered at the ditch going down to Becher’s giving Micheal Nolan no chance. The fact finding mission for Goonyella didn’t go to plan as he unseated Jonathan Burke at the very first fence.

Sam Winner and Nick Scholfield return after the Listed Chase. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.
Sam Winner and Nick Scholfield return after the Listed Chase. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.

The Listed Chase was ruined to an extent by the sun playing a major role, with it ensuring all the fences up the home straight were missed out, made all the more amusing by the fact it disappeared behind the clouds as the race began. Sam Winner was given a brilliant ride by Nick Scholfield who had to persevere by pushing and shoving along from some way out on a track that wouldn’t play to his strengths at all. His stamina reserves were enough to see off Medermit and Ma Filleule, who was inconvenienced by the missed out fences having jumped well on the whole.

With the Gold Cup picture looking extremely wide open, Paul Nicholls could be tempted to give Sam Winner a go, even though the Grand National has been nominated as his main target where he will definitely be near the top of the weights, possibly even top weight once reassessed.

Medermit will be difficult to place but he remains in good heart with himself and deserves a win somewhere this season whilst Ma Filleule was disadvantage by the lack of fences jumped but travelled all over the winner before not finding much off the bridle. She has the option of the new Mares Listed Chase at Doncaster over Christmas. Jumping errors crept back in for Holywell who had looked much better on his previous start at Carlisle and he had made a scrappy error before unseating Richie McLernon at the open ditch. The jury’s now out again on his Gold Cup claims.

The Grand Sefton ended Aintree’s card and it was the unfancied Poole Master who made most of the running under Tom Scudamore and fended off the enigmatic Cedre Bleu with Benny’s Mist and top weight Rolling Aces filling out the places. The winner showed far more than he had on previous visits to Aintree and had looked in the grip of the handicapper after his two wins in early 2014 which sent his mark rocketing up. He will now be even harder to place after this.

In defeat, Sam Waley-Cohen has given Cedre Bleu a superb waiting ride, knowing as soon as he comes off the bridle he will find absolutely nothing. His jumping was foot perfect and jumping the last, he was sat on Poole Master’s tail looking ready to pounce but not even Waley-Cohen, a genius over these fences, could coax a winning effort out of the horse. He will probably return here for the Topham in April and repeat exactly what he did here.

Benny’s Mist ran a much better race on his return here without headgear showing his liking again for these unique fences whilst Rolling Aces really jumped these well and looked outpaced before staying on towards the finish. An end to end gallop in the Topham could be his ideal optimum back here in April with similar comments applying to Hunt Ball who would appreciate better ground as well.

Rebel Rebellion made a bad mistake three out which ended his chances and he looks in the grip of the handicapper whilst Persian Snow lost his chance when hampered by the fall of Up To Something at Valentines. He stayed on stoutly and he could even benefit by going up to three miles. Dolatulo made a bad mistake on the run down to Becher’s but hasn’t disgraced himself here whilst Champion Court was laboured here having shown a sign of returning to himself in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.The only faller was Up To Something who had jumped well until departing but it was too far out to suggest where he would have finished.

Jumping was the name of the day as Wishfull Thinking rolled back the years again to win the Peterborough Chase.
Jumping was the name of the day as Wishfull Thinking rolled back the years again to win the Peterborough Chase.

Sunday’s Peterborough Chase was yet another advert for our old veterans with Wishfull Thinking putting in a stunning display of front running and jumping, a staple of his novice chase performances from 2011. With no front runner in the race, connections decided to revert to those old tactics which worked a treat. Although Eduard looked the likely winner going to the last, he made a mistake which allowed the evergreen veteran another bite of the cherry. If his wind problems have been resolved, he fully deserves a go at the Ryanair at the Festival, especially on his beloved good ground.

Eduard was having to be niggled throughout the race suggesting that two and a half could be on the sharp side for him but was travelling better going to the last before making his untimely error. He is one that will definitely appreciate better ground in the spring and something like the Betfair Bowl at Aintree could really play to his strengths. Wonderful Charm ran his race back in third but you can’t help but feel he will always be a nearly horse. He is worth another go back at three miles though.

Eyecatchers From The Weekend

Saint Are/Alfie Spinner – Former still looks well handicapped and the latter if he could get his mark up for April.

Kruzhlinin – Stayed on eyecatchingly and the Grand National looks the ideal target.

Rolling Aces/Hunt Ball – Both jumped the National fences really well and on better ground could both play major roles in the Topham Trophy.

Mala Beach – One I didn’t get a proper chance to write about but was very taken with his beginners chase win at Punchestown. The Topaz at Leopardstown would be a good target over Christmas.

This week, the blog ends with a sad postscript as we lost two of our beloved warriors in Balbriggan and Oscar Whisky. Balbriggan had improved plenty for a move to Gordon Elliott and was in the form of his life having won the Troytown at Navan just two weeks ago. He sadly broke down on the flat and couldn’t be saved.

RIP Balbriggan. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.
RIP Balbriggan. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.

Oscar Whisky’s record spoke for itself. Sixteen wins in twenty eight starts including three at Grade One level, two of those coming in the Aintree Hurdle. Described by regular pilot Barry Geraghty as a ‘warrior’, it’s hard to disagree. His constitution was incredible. Few would have believed he would win his second Aintree Hurdle in 2012 after the hard race he endured in his only encounter with Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle. Even his effort against Uxizandre at Aintree this April after a horrific first fence fall at the Festival showed his hardy nature and he will be sorely missed on the racecourse.

RIP Oscar Whisky.
RIP Oscar Whisky.