Yesterday’s racing from both Haydock and Ascot embodied most feelings that National Hunt fans go through. From the dazzling highs of Cue Card’s performance in the feature event to the disheartening lows of Master Of The Sea’s fatal injury which marred the Fixed Brush Hurdle. This review will mostly cover Haydock’s action with a look at some of the action from Ascot.
Moujik Borget defied a 619 day absence to win under Liam Treadwell beating Ruler Of All who looked the likely winner on the run in. The body language of his connections in the winner’s enclosure said it all afterwards but take nothing away from the winner with that long absence with an excellent training performance as well from Venetia Williams.
The intermediate hurdle went the way of Rolling Star who looked an imposing individual in the paddock with Nicky Henderson saying afterwards that his physical development was notable over the summer. He did have to work for this with Doyly Carte running a blinder on ground probably softer than ideal whilst Far West disappointed back in fourth. The winner is now in a difficult position as he has to improve again with a step up in grade but where he goes will be interesting, especially as the Champion Hurdle could come under consideration however he would have to improve at least twenty pounds to get competitive in one. As of Far West, he travelled well before fluffing three out and looked outpaced. He could already want two and a half miles over hurdles although his future lies as a chaser.
The staying handicap chase had the first three in the weights fighting out the finish from a long way out. Nuts N Bolts became Lucinda Russell’s second winner of the day with an across the card double after Kris Cross won at Ascot. He travelled extremely well throughout the gruelling stamina test and came home best of all to beat Red Rocco and Ace High with them being fifteen lengths clear of the fourth horse Incentivise. The winner’s trainer muted the idea that the Scottish National was the long term plan although shorter term, he could feature well in the Welsh National with soft ground looking to suit him well. Red Rocco has changed stables over the summer and didn’t look the best in the paddock so it was a surprise to see him run so well first time out. He plugged on past Ace High to finish a good second and he also has a Welsh National entry although that could come too soon for a horse of his experience.
Apart from the first fence, Ace High jumped beautifully for Tom Scudamore and was given a wonderful positive ride for his new connections. He faded towards the end although he wasn’t exactly stopping. He has a decent prize in him over a marathon distance off his current mark and like the first two has an entry in the Welsh National and with his liking of Chepstow, he could go very close in that race. One in behind that can win another handicap chase this season is Lively Baron who travelled sweetly before coming off the bridle and was soon beaten. After the three leaders had finished, it was noticeable that he still had more to give as he flew up the run in compared to some of the others and he could go down a few pounds for that effort.
The two and a half mile handicap hurdle looked to have some potentially well handicapped horses and it was proved when More Of That took the honours under a power packed McCoy drive to beat Blue Fashion and Special Catch. In my Wetherby blog, I mentioned that he won that race with plenty in hand and he was only raised seven pounds for that effort. He was outpaced in this better race before charging home. He looks a useful horse who can go in again in a handicap hurdle before going chasing next season. The runner up Blue Fashion caught the eye in the paddock. A massive chasing type for the future, he upheld his French form with a fine debut in Britain and I cannot wait to see him go chasing next season. Anything done over hurdles will be a bonus. Special Catch improved markedly for the step up in trip and is another that would be interesting over fences whilst Home Run ran well in this better race. The confusing run of the race was Clondaw Kaempfer. He jumped as if he’d been schooled over fences and still travelled well at the top of the straight before not picking up as he should’ve. He still looks a very good horse and possibly needed the run so watch out for him next time out.
The Fixed Brush Hurdle had a fantastic finish with Gevrey Chambertin holding on from Utopie Des Bordes under a brilliant ride from Tom Scudamore which firmly put me in my place for thinking he wouldn’t last home. The winner now looks set to go chasing and with Pipe having won two of the last three renewals with full brother Grands Crus and Dynaste, he has big footsteps to fill but there is no reason why he won’t go on to achieve similar things over the larger obstacles. The runner up ran a great race over the longer trip plus these obstacles looked to suit and I think she would handle fences with relish having jumped them in France. She will be difficult to place from now on.
Lie Forrit looks a changed horse with Lucinda Russell and with her stable in flying form, it was no surprise to see him run so well. Having compared his marks over hurdles and fences, with the new yard he could be worth another go in a handicap chase off a mark of 121 and is another in her yard likely to be primed for the Scottish National. The eyecatcher of the race for me though was Alfie Sherrin who I mentioned in the video but the effort he put in wasn’t expected with him staying on nicely to be placed. Although he hasn’t had a mention in my JPFestival Grand National pieces, he is back on my shortlist after today’s effort and his handicap mark over fences still looks lenient with Aintree in mind.
Of the unplaced horses, Gullinbursti deserves a favourable mention as this probably came too quick after his Market Rasen win but he showed he is in good heart unlike last season and there are prizes to win with him. Two Rockers raced very keen early on in the race and this looks to have finished his challenge as he was one of three to break away from the pack before coming back to them. A chasing career looks the plan now and he is still an exciting horse. An unlikely mention goes to The Knoxs who travelled up nicely and was in the process of outrunning his massive odds before a shocking mistake three out with him being pulled up after it pretty quickly. He cantered back in his own time and he remains interesting off his hurdles mark.
As mentioned earlier, the race was marred by the loss of Master Of The Sea. I won’t dwell on it much as Michael dealt with it beautifully in his piece plus I cannot find the right words myself to describe how you feel when a horse meets an end that isn’t deserved. Of course in this great sport you have to be prepared for every situation that is thrown at you but it is a harsh reminder of the cruel nature that horse racing can spring upon us every so often and especially as Master Of The Sea was one of Michael’s favourites.
The Betfair Chase lived up to its expectation although for different reasons as Cue Card smashed the opinion that he didn’t stay three miles with a devastating display to beat Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti. Under a superb ride from Joe Tizzard, he took no prisoners from the front with his jumping being mostly good on the whole. His run in the Haldon Gold Cup proved he is still a classy individual but the performance here was probably his best ever plus on reflection, he had the best form going into the race as he is the only horse able to live with Sprinter Sacre over both two and two and a half miles. On that reckoning, if he stayed, he won and that was the case. It was wonderful to see the affection that connections had for the horse after the race plus Colin Tizzard’s post-race interview showing the emotion and passion this majestic sport has. The future looks bright for Cue Card with plenty of options open for him. The King George looks the obvious race for him and having proven his stamina; he can go off in front like today and set a true gallop. More importantly, the Gold Cup can now come under serious consideration and he definitely would be a worthy winner.
Dynaste ran the race of his life beginning his career as a second season chaser. He did what several people predicted in that he travelled like the winner going to two out but the winner probably stripped fitter although even with a run, I don’t think he would’ve passed Cue Card. The King George looks the obvious plan for him with his performance from the Feltham being very impressive and he would hold an excellent chance. Whether he can reverse form with Cue Card remains to be seen.
Silviniaco Conti ran a fine race back in third and connections can be pleased with the way he acquitted himself. He jumped smartly and looked a big threat turning for home but there will be plenty to work on with him. His next target could be the King George although personally, the Lexus would probably suit better with him running better going left handed rather than right handed. Long Run ran much better than he did at Wetherby but seems to have lost some of his pace. The Grand National was mentioned in post-race comments and the race as it is now would look to suit him especially as Sam Waley-Cohen has an excellent record around the track.
The obvious disappointment of the race was Bob’s Worth but the sharp track and the ground were the key issues and he was beaten before leaving the back straight. Instantly, Barry Geraghty has said not to take negatives from this and believes the Lexus could be his type of race on a more galloping track. He still remains the one to beat in March where he will be fully tuned for that one day.
The final race at Haydock was a demolition job from Sydney Paget who jumped and galloped his opposition into the ground from the front. He looks set to go up for that and the ideal target for him next on similar ground would be the Welsh National given his strong galloping style. Silver By Nature ran a blinder on his comeback when he usually tends to need the run badly so it was a huge surprise to see him come second. Although flattered by the winner, he still has a big staying handicap chase in him and if the ground came up soft at Ayr next April in the Scottish National then he would be a very deserving winner.
Although I was at Haydock, I kept up with most of the racing from Ascot but the two feature events are what I will concentrate on. The Amlin was a match between Al Ferof and French Opera with the Paul Nicholls trained grey winning comfortably in the end. His jumping was mostly neat and accurate although there was one or two fences which he reached for on the way round but he did make his own running which can affect his equilibrium. The King George will suit him especially if Cue Card turns up and there is no reason not to think he wouldn’t last out the three mile trip.
The Coral Hurdle sadly lost some of its intrigue when Magnifique Etoile fell in front of the stands with a circuit to go. Thankfully, he got up absolutely fine and for good measure, jumped the final fence on the chase course immaculately. He will definitely have another day in the sun. The market principals ended up fighting out the finish with Annie Power using the weight difference to her advantage when claiming Zarkandar after the last. Bookmakers reacted by cutting her for the Champion Hurdle but I wasn’t that impressed by her as one or two leaps on the way round weren’t the best but she is entitled to improve a fair bit for the comeback plus she did battle tenaciously against a very good horse. Zarkandar ran a great race in defeat giving ten pounds to his main rival but where they go with him next will be interesting.
Thank you for reading this and I will be back next week with a review of the three days at Newbury plus the feature events from Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth card.