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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.