Here is tonight’s OnTheOtherHoof preview covering the Channel Four action from Sandown, Ffos Las and Wetherby with the feature race being the Grade One Scilly Isles Novice Chase with Irish Saint bidding to be Paul Nicholls fourth Graded winner on a Saturday in a row. He faces four rivals including Champagne West who lost his unbeaten tag over fences behind Ptit Zig on New Year’s Day. Just the two of us tonight with @Lukeelder13 and @AdamWebb121 who take you through the action.
With Cheltenham just around the corner, we will be starting our previews and would like your suggestions for potential guests on the videos. They could be jockeys, trainers, owners or any racing personality that could be realistic for us to try and get. You can either leave them in the comments below this or tweet them to @OnTheOtherHoof. Good luck with your bets tomorrow!
The Festival is getting closer and closer with Cheltenham’s Trials Day meeting being the centrepiece of the weekend, the last chance we can get some Festival clues from the home of National Hunt racing. We also had some informative action from Doncaster relating to the Festival and other spring targets plus a fantastic card yesterday from Leopardstown.
The JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial revolved around the hugely impressive Doncaster winner Peace And Co who was sent off a very warm favourite however he gave his backers cause of concern early on as he was exceptionally keen due to the complete lack of pace with nobody wanting to make the running. The new tactics worked well enough as he travelled by far the best before putting the race to bed in comfortable style, albeit showing some signs of greenness. The winner will now be next seen in the Triumph Hurdle itself and whilst he deserves to be favourite, the price is pretty ridiculous with it as short as 6/4 in spots. I think he is the most likely winner of the Triumph but I couldn’t put him up as a selection with his price so skinny.
Karezak continues to improve in juvenile hurdles and this is by far his best effort over timber. He took up the running after the second last but was just a sitting duck for Peace And Co. He could potentially be the each way value of the Triumph having only been beaten three lengths here and is still a relatively big price compared to the favourite. Whilst the whole field were affected by the lack of pace, Zarib was one that was especially keen disputing the lead with Ibis Du Rheu and has definitely improved upon his Newbury win back in December. He has the option for both the Triumph and the Fred Winter depending what the handicapper assesses him with better ground likely to suit as well.
Storm Force Ten was outpaced once the tempo quickened up sharply after the second last before he stayed on well up the hill to almost grab third from Zarib. He shaped with plenty of promise when behind Bivouac at Sandown and although he was getting seven pounds from that rival here, this was certainly his career best over hurdles. He would definitely have a leading chance in the Fred Winter and his mark should go up sufficiently to get into that race. Bivouac looks a long term chasing prospect and was badly inconvenienced by the lack of a gallop. He clattered through the last flight but was beaten at the time. He probably won’t return for the Festival which would be a wise decision for his future.
Ibis Du Rheu was a disappointment however, there were positives to take from the performance. He will certainly improve once he gets a lead in a race as he looked very green running into hurdles, almost as if he was going to run out at them. On the whole he jumped well enough but his keenness ended any chance he had. On appearance, he looks to have plenty of growing to do and it wouldn’t surprise to see him next season as a decent handicap hurdler like his half brother Saphir Du Rheu. He shouldn’t be returning to the Festival in March but for the future, he is one firmly to keep on side.
The Timeform Novices Handicap Chase was missing Ned Stark who was a non-runner but it still looked particularly strong contest on paper and it didn’t disappoint with Generous Ransom, an eye-catcher last time out when staying on at Kempton behind Stellar Notion, improving on that effort to take his second victory over fences. The stiffer track definitely suited here and he travelled powerfully before idling in front.
There was definitely plenty left in the tank and a step up to three miles in time will no doubt bring about improvement. He remains on the eyecatchers list as he deserves to be kept on side and would go very well in a Festival handicap chase, apart from the novice handicap as I think the Old Course would be too sharp for him over that distance. If his mark isn’t high enough, then the three mile handicap chase on Grand National day would suit him well.
Astigos improved on his Newbury third behind Gevrey Chambertin and nearly capitalised on the winner slowing up on the run in. His handicap mark is too low for the big spring Festivals but he still has time on his side to get his mark up, although his mark could be preserved for next winter. Irish Cavalier caught the eye for the Rewards4Racing Novices Handicap Chase having travelled well on the heels of the leaders. He was slightly outpaced before staying on strongly up the hill behind two better handicapped horses on this occasion. Although he will need to jump slightly better, he has the capability to improve again and his mark should get him into the race.
Carole’s Destrier put in a much improved effort over a distance probably on the sharp side for him and a return to three miles will definitely help. Perfect Candidate stayed on up the hill after getting outpaced at the top of the hill and is another that will benefit from going back up in distance. Mosspark was a shade disappointing in the first time headgear and it could just be that over this distance they were going a yard too quick for him. He holds an entry in the National Hunt Chase and whilst he wouldn’t be my idea of a fancy for the race, he could be very interesting as they would go a stride slower which would help his jumping. Stellar Notion made a couple of jumping errors but considering he looked a sitting duck, he wasn’t beaten that far overall. A return to a flatter track would be of benefit.
Many Clouds gave yet another boost to his Hennessy Gold Cup success when remaining unbeaten this season with a gutsy victory in the Betbright Cup, finally getting the Cheltenham monkey off Oliver Sherwood’s back with this being his first win at the track since the year 2000. Throughout his career, he has threatened to be a very good horse and this is the season where he has kicked on to repay the faith his connections have had in him.
The race was fairly muddling with a stop-start pace set by the winner and Black Thunder, which definitely wasn’t a help to some in behind but take nothing away from the performance of Many Clouds as his claims as a genuine Gold Cup contender were cemented. The only concern I would have come March is whether he needs genuine soft ground to be at his most effective.
One horse affected by the pace of the race was the runner up Smad Place who was another to give the Hennessy Gold Cup form a positive outlook. He was pulling for his head early on due to the lack of early pace and was also inconvenienced by Dynaste on the home turn who was entitled to keep him in behind Many Clouds. To give him credit, for him to finish as close as he did with how much he pulled was a testament to the horse. Whilst he was receiving eight pounds from the winner, he is entitled to come on plenty for this effort having needed the run in the Hennessy.
If there was a horse to take for the Gold Cup then Smad Place would be the one for me at an each way price. Sure, he may not be a Gold Cup winner but you cannot fault his record at the Festival with him placing three times out of four, his only below par effort coming in the Triumph Hurdle when shaping as though he needed further. The 25/1 with William Hill and Boylesports looks big enough considering he probably has more going for him than most of the key contenders lining up.
Dynaste was back in third and whilst he wasn’t stopping up the hill, he has been beaten by two stronger stayers than him on the day. Due to the pace, his jumping wasn’t as fluent as it has been in the past. You suspect connections will drop back to the Ryanair, the race where he would have his most realistic chance of Festival success. The Giant Bolster was another that didn’t enjoy how the race panned out and looked to be struggling with over a circuit to go. He got himself back into the race before losing his position again. He will definitely be seen in a better light when presented with an end to end gallop in March and wouldn’t be one to dismiss. Black Thunder looks to want a stiffer test of stamina on this evidence whilst Theatre Guide shaped better than the distance he was beaten. It will be interesting to see where he heads in the spring.
The Neptune Trial centered around the exciting talent that is Value At Risk who had come over from Ireland to be trained by Dan Skelton and had made such a huge impression when bolting up on hurdling debut at Newbury. He was sent off a very well backed favourite but had to settle for second best behind Ordo Ab Chao for Alan King, returning from a below par effort at Sandown behind Vyta Du Roc in the Winter Novice Hurdle back in early December. He travelled well behind the leaders and took it up after the last; showing a likeable attitude to fend off the favourite. He will get entries for both the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett and would have definite claims in both races.
If he did turn up in the latter, he would be re-opposing Value At Risk who shaped like a strong stayer. On second viewing, he wasn’t as outpaced as originally thought between the last two hurdles and he fought back tenaciously up the hill. If there was one to take for the Albert Bartlett from the weekend, this was the horse as it was confirmed by Dan Skelton that this was the plan. His jumping had improved from Newbury and the 14/1 best price looks generous considering he was only beaten less than a length. The only small concern I have is about him settling but with a stronger pace guaranteed, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.
The horse that travelled the strongest throughout was Vago Collonges but when push came to shove, he didn’t look the most genuine when putting in his effort. I will give the benefit of the doubt having read comments that his wind may not have been completely right, although it was pleasing to see him boost his form from earlier in the season with Maximiser at Haydock, who is sadly out for the season with a setback. Robinsfirth is a horse that will come into himself next season as he still looks relatively weak but he does have plenty of ability. It may be wise to miss the Festival with him and give him an easy time of things for the remainder of the season.
Some Buckle made a significant move after the second last and looked to have place claims before weakening back in fifth. This was a solid effort in his toughest task over hurdles to date and whilst he may not be good enough for a novice hurdle at the Festival, his future lies over fences next season. Present View wasn’t good enough to hold his own against some smart novice hurdlers but has ran respectably with his next target being the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton. Both Thistlecrack and Stiletto were way too keen for their own good and were both comprehensively outclassed in the end whilst Native River was yet to be asked a question when taking a nasty looking fall two out. He would have been another pointer towards the Challow and it would be silly to assume where he would have finished but he was shaping well at the time of his departure.
Having suggested in the Christmas review that Saphir Du Rheu could return hurdling, the Cleeve Hurdle looked a retrieval mission for him after his novice chase career went astray with an unseated rider on chase debut at Newbury and a fall at Kempton in the Feltham on Boxing Day. The apple of Paul Nicholls’ eye managed to get his season back on track and whilst he made it look like hard work, it was pleasing to see him stick his head down and battle up the hill to fend off the six time Grade One winner in Reve De Sivola with another up and comer in Un Temps Pour Tout back in third.
The winner travelled strongly behind the leaders but did look slightly in trouble on the run down to the final flight but showed guts to match his class on ground probably not ideal either. Better ground will help him a fair amount, and the World Hurdle now looks the aim. His current price of 7/1 seems fair considering the majority of his main market rivals all have questions to answer and he is now confirmed a definite runner. On Friday’s video, I mentioned having a theory about the horse however it was blown out of the water by the cool ride given by Sam Twiston-Davies who sat quieter in the saddle on the way round compared to Kempton.
It was interesting to hear Paul Nicholls comparison of Saphir Du Rheu to Big Bucks after the race over the tannoy. Nicholls described Big Bucks as ‘gutless’ over fences compared to Saphir Du Rheu who is more ‘brave’. I have no doubt in time that Saphir Du Rheu will learn to respect his obstacles more as he gets older and he will no doubt be a leading player come the Festival for the World Hurdle.
Reve De Sivola ran a far better race than expected after his heroic effort in the Long Walk last month at Ascot. He made this a fair test for the young pretenders and to his credit, battled all the way to the line on a track where he has never really shown his best form. He will probably line up in the World Hurdle however, he would need very testing ground to be at his most effective. For his comeback run, Un Temps Pour Tout ran a really nice race having jumped and travelled very sweetly before his effort petered out in the last one hundred yards, which it was entitled to having not seen the track since May. He definitely saw out the three miles which was a question mark beforehand and he’ll re-oppose the front pairing in March. Whether he can reverse the form remains to be seen and would he be as effective on better ground.
Cole Harden jumped out to his left violently at the second last and faded away on ground probably soft enough for him. With the yard form questionable at present, he is definitely worth forgiving plus I’m not convinced Cheltenham’s his track. Unconfirmed suggestions post-race were that he had a breathing problem. If so, let’s hope it’s rectified and hopefully we see him at Aintree on Grand National day for the Liverpool Hurdle.
The Druids Nephew ran a race full of promise heading towards the Festival, with the most suitable race being the Baylis & Harding Handicap Chase on the first day. His handicap form over fences this season looks strong with his second to Sam Winner at the Paddy Power meeting and his seventh to Many Clouds in the Hennessy and he would go there with a big chance. Olofi clearly didn’t stay three miles and may also benefit from dropping into handicap company at the Festival.
The final handicap hurdle went to the ultra consistent Lightentertainment who gave Chris Gordon his first ever Cheltenham winner and was a welcome tonic after the sad loss of King Edmund last week. He did exceedingly well to win considering the lack of hurdles to jump plus he looked one of the first beaten. The horse to take out of the race was Dell’ Arca for the County Hurdle as he should have won this contest. He should be reassessed for this and even then he will still be competitive come March.
Doncaster hosted some quality action and the first of three races to focus on is the Lightning Novices Chase which went to Three Kingdoms who did well to recover from a bad mistake at the third last to see off the tough Solar Impulse to gain his second victory over fences. The winner will be even better on good ground and could be one to skip the Arkle with and go to Aintree with. Solar Impulse chased home Josses Hill last time out and almost beat Three Kingdoms here. This was definitely a career best and he would deserve a go in the Arkle where he could easily run into a place if the race cuts up, especially as it has the potential to.
The Albert Bartlett Trial looked easy pickings for Blaklion on his return to three miles but was another short price favourite to be beaten by Caracci Apache who was given an unbelievable ride by Nico De Boinville as he was struggling a fair way out and not really travelling but perseverance was the order of the day. He clearly doesn’t look straight forward as he collided with the rail right on the line and Cheltenham could come too early for him this season. If connections go to the Festival, it would no doubt be the Albert Bartlett but he would need to travel much better than he did here.
Blaklion was ridden similarly here to his Cheltenham run but took a long time to go past the tough Zeroeshadesofgrey who put him to the sword a long way out. Although he has run well in defeat, I’m not entirely sure what to think of the run but he does go to the Festival with his chance for the Albert Bartlett. It could just be that needs to be freshened up having had plenty of runs.
Zeroeshadesofgrey was meant to run in a Pertemps Qualifier on Friday at Huntingdon and has ran a solid race back in third, proving the trip at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day was on the sharp side for him. He wouldn’t be out of place either in the Albert Bartlett and already has Festival experience from the bumper and is proving himself to be a very good horse for Neil King whilst Binge Drinker travelled really well but when the tempo quickened, he was left flat footed. A real stamina test is what he wants and he will definitely make into a National Hunt Chase contender next season when he goes chasing.
The Skybet Chase had the potential to go to an improving young chaser and If In Doubt proved to be one with a comfortable success on handicap debut. His jumping early on left a lot to be desired but it did improve once the race warmed up and he has won like a horse that is ahead of the handicapper. He will probably go for the Baylis & Harding on the first day of the Festival but he would need to jump better.
Baileys Concerto has been a wonderful servant for Dianne Sayer. His improvement from a mark of 96 last March to 134 here has been a joy to watch and the step up in distance here held no barriers for the horse. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he could improve again on this run and saw him in another three mile handicap chase. Night In Milan has ran an excellent trial for the Grand National, a race which he missed by one last year but there is no concerns about him getting in this year. He could return for the Grimthorpe as his final race before Aintree where he would be competitive off a racing weight.
Another horse muted for Aintree is Renard and he stayed on again back in fourth after getting outpaced. He doesn’t strike me as a Grand National winner but the type to run a decent race. Lost Legend didn’t convince on his first try at three miles over fences and although he won at Kempton on Lanzarote day, his handicap mark looks tough enough. Fairy Rath ran well for a long way before finding the three mile distance stretched his stamina. Back down in trip, he definitely has more races in him, something like the Newbury Gold Cup in early March before a go in the Topham Trophy which has been the long term plan.
Medermit can be forgiven for this effort as he returned lame whilst his stablemate Godsmejudge looked to need this outing badly and was pulled up. He showed enough promise towards the Grand National and will hopefully have another run before Aintree whilst Royal Player looked to find this too much this early in his career.
Yesterday’s action at Leopardstown had some outstanding performances for various reasons, with the three Graded contests all holding their clues towards March. The Irish Arkle looked one of the most exciting novice chases of the season with three genuine Graded chasers taking their chance to boost their claims for the Arkle.
The race most certainly didn’t disappoint with one of the best performances I’ve seen in a novice chase from Un De Sceaux who jumped beautifully and nimbly in front and then quickened off a fairly strong gallop to make two very good horses in Clarcam and Gilgamboa look pedestrian. To give ten pounds to a Grade One novice winner in Clarcam and win without Ruby Walsh having to get serious by fifteen lengths just underlines the horse’s scary natural talent.
Although he wanted to get on with things out in front, Walsh was able to settle him more and he didn’t look as buzzed up as he was on chasing debut at Thurles or at Fairyhouse. At this moment in time, he looks the likely winner of the Arkle even with his running style as I don’t think anything could go with him once he kicks off the bend going to the second last. The last horse to make all the running in the Arkle was Anaglog’s Daughter back in 1980 and I fully expect Un De Sceaux to do exactly the same. At a time when the National Hunt game needs a big name for the public to get attached to, this horse could potentially be the blockbuster.
Clarcam who was so impressive over course and distance at Christmas was made to look ordinary here, which he most certainly isn’t. He jumped well but just wasn’t able to live with Un De Sceaux from the second last and off level weights in the Arkle, he would only be fighting it out for a place. Gilgamboa looked outpaced before Un De Sceaux kicked for home and would be much happier going up in distance for the JLT at the Festival where he would hold strong claims in what will likely be the strongest novice chase at the Festival.
Words cannot describe Hurricane Fly. Now a twenty two time Grade One winner after taking his fifth Irish Champion Hurdle. Yesterday summed up what he is. Having looked to be in trouble down the back straight and looking one of the first beaten, his class got him back into the race and showed yet again the heart of a lion to battle against Jezki. He had that battle won before Jezki made a shuddering error at the final flight.
This performance also underlines his longevity and the fact that he isn’t regressing in the slightest, a testament to Willie Mullins and his staff. Whilst the heart would love to see him win a third Champion Hurdle at Prestbury Park on the 10th of March, the head says he needs very testing ground for it to be a reality as on this slightly better ground over two miles, he looked vulnerable for a moment. It was a shame not to see him get an entry in the World Hurdle as on better ground and going a stride slower than they would in a Champion Hurdle, it would be fascinating to see how he would fare against the top staying hurdlers.
Arctic Fire has confirmed himself here to be a worthy Graded hurdler following his more illustrious stable mate home, proving here that he is worth a place as the Mullins third string in the Champion Hurdle. On spring ground as well and a thorough end to end gallop, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world were he to finish in the frame.
The team tactics for the JP McManus horses failed to work with Plinth unable to set a gallop and go far enough into the race to suit Jezki, who sat on his tail for the early part of the race before disputing the lead around the halfway mark. This move was always going to leave him vulnerable to Hurricane Fly and once they turned for home, it was inevitable the same result was going to happen again. He was beaten before the last flight mistake which he did well to stand up at and he was run out of second place by Arctic Fire. The saving grace for Jezki’s supporters is the improvement we are likely to get from him come March time.
Tiger Roll looked last time to want a step up in trip and the same comment applies after this run. Fiscal Focus ran a really encouraging race for his second try over hurdles, travelling really well until the leaders kicked for home and he was left due to a lack of experience. He would be worth his chance in the Triumph Hurdle against his old age group or if they believe he wouldn’t get up the hill, a trip to Fairyhouse or Punchestown in the spring would be the ideal targets as I wouldn’t expect him to come over for Aintree, even though the flat track would suit him well.
The Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle had a strong favourite in No More Heroes who was unbeaten this season going into this race. However, he was a tad disappointing when fifth behind Gigginstown’s second string Outlander who got back to winning ways over hurdles, reversing the form with Martello Tower from Limerick over the Festive period. He travelled really well and was ridden with plenty of confidence by Paul Townend. Once he was asked to quicken away, he did so impressively but against horses that will likely be better at three miles. The Neptune was nominated as his Festival target by trainer Willie Mullins who was completing a Graded treble and in his stable of superstars, he’d probably take a high enough rank. His price for the race is skinny enough.
Martello Tower probably wasn’t suited by the drop back down in trip compared to the winner but has ran a solid race in defeat. If he doesn’t go to Cheltenham, the likely big target for him would be the Punchestown Festival over three miles. Killultagh Vic was given a different ride altogether compared to Ascot when second to L’ami Serge and the step up in distance here certainly suited better. He would certainly go to the Festival as a second or third string but wouldn’t disgrace himself. Windsor Park was given a strange ride by Davy Russell as he gave the leaders a head start before jumping into the back of Hurry Henry at the second last. If he had been ridden closer to the pace, I feel he would have at least finished second although it could just be a below par effort.
No More Heroes didn’t jump with much fluency compared to his other two starts this campaign with Bryan Cooper never looking completely happy. If he were to miss Cheltenham, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise. Especially as at the end of last season, Gordon Elliott was mindful to look after the horse with his future lying next season over fences. Another factor for the disappointing run could be down to fitness as Elliott had said after his last start that he would go straight to the Albert Bartlett, similar to Road To Riches at Gowran earlier this season where he was brought in earlier than planned. He is definitely a much better horse than this showing.
Next weekend may provide further clues towards the spring with Sandown holding a decent enough card on Saturday plus the potential to see King’s Palace in action at Wetherby, albeit against weak opposition in the Towton Novices Chase. We also have Musselburgh’s excellent Trials Day and based on the entries so far with two races being reopened, it looks to have some quality about it.
Eyecatchers From The Weekend
Storm Force Ten – Has the potential to be one of the leading UK contenders for the Fred Winter.
Ibis Du Rheu – Not this season but he deserves a mention towards next season and beyond.
Generous Ransom – Keep him on side.
Irish Cavalier – Could be one for the Rewards4Racing Novice Handicap Chase.
Smad Place – He is definitely the E/W value in the Gold Cup market.
Value At Risk – 14’s for the Albert Bartlett could potentially be a decent price right now compared to the day.
Saphir Du Rheu – Obvious eye-catcher but he holds leading claims for the World Hurdle.
The Druids Nephew – The Baylis & Harding Handicap Chase on the first day would suit well.
Dell’ Arca – The County Hurdle would suit perfectly.
Binge Drinker – Staying novice chaser next year.
Fairy Rath – A drop back in distance will see a return to the winner’s enclosure.
With only fifty days until the Cheltenham Festival, the past weekend has given us plenty of thoughts leading towards March with the return of the horse dubbed as the Black Aeroplane in Sprinter Sacre at Ascot whilst The New One bid to cement his position as England’s leading Champion Hurdle hope in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock. Over in Ireland yesterday, Vautour was on the comeback trail after his blip at Leopardstown over Christmas behind Clarcam.
Ascot’s card began with a juvenile hurdle which went the way of the Newbury winner Top Notch for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty but was made to work pretty hard for it by Golden Doyen who put behind him his run at Chepstow where you can forgive any horse a bad run on desperate ground with Maxie T back in third.
The winner already shapes like a stayer and whilst they are the types that tend to win a Triumph Hurdle, he strikes me as one that would get outpaced before staying on into the frame as opposed to winning the race. We will see the best of him up in distance but it won’t be this season unless they go into handicap company as he isn’t a novice due to winning a hurdle race last March. Golden Doyen is definitely worth his place in the Triumph Hurdle and remains a likeable type but whether he’s good enough is another matter. Maxie T looks a longer term prospect whilst Ahio showed enough to suggest he will win a race or two in the future.
The OLBG Mares Hurdle looked a competitive race on paper and the result has a strong feel to it with the novice Bitofapuzzle showing marked improvement for the step up in distance to three miles after a good effort at Haydock last time for Harry Fry and Noel Fehily beating recent Kempton winners Carole’s Spirit and Land Of Vic. The winner came from the Point to Point field and this was a career best effort. Connections felt post-race that this would be the race that really made her as a horse with this being the first truly run race she has experienced over obstacles under rules. She did finish her race very tired and now goes for a break before returning in the spring. With three miles looking to be the main help to her, the mares race at the Festival wouldn’t be on the horizon unless the ground was extremely testing.
Carole’s Spirit was flattered on her last win at Kempton but has ran her usual game race here, putting it up to Bitofapuzzle from a fair way out. She also finished out on her feet and has booked her ticket for March. The drop back down in distance shouldn’t inconvenience her much. Land Of Vic made several mistakes before staying on too late in the day whilst Fairytale Theatre gave a boost to Carrigmoorna Rock’s win in Ireland with a solid effort back in fourth.
The Holloways Hurdle provided an across the card double for Venetia Williams with Baradari adding to Aso’s win at Haydock when getting up in the final strides to deny Lyvius in a thrilling finish with Le Mercurey finishing strongly back in third. On the run-in, jockey Aidan Coleman looked mindful about his use of the whip but found enough and appreciated the step up in distance. He could return for the limited handicap over course and distance next month and a rise in the weights shouldn’t inconvenience him.
Lyvius made a mistake at the third last which didn’t cost him too much and looked the likely winner going to the second last. Once he hit the front, he didn’t do very much which allowed Baradari another bite of the cherry which he duly took. He looks difficult to place despite his consistency. Le Mercurey ran a far better race here than on his UK debut at Newbury in a race which has worked out unbelievably well. Although it was a step up, it was still a strange effort as he travelled strongly before looking to stop very quickly in the straight. He then finished with a wet sail to grab third on the run to the line, albeit under hands and heels from Noel Fehily. He is clearly a long term prospect, the type of horse that his trainer will excel with over the next few seasons and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him miss the big Festivals in the spring with a novice chase campaign in mind for the autumn.
I’m still convinced we will see more improvement from Garde Le Victoire once he gets decent ground and he ran a perfectly respectable race giving weight all round. The Coral Cup looks the ideal place to go at the Festival where an end to end gallop should also help his jumping out as well. Rayvin Black ran a good race despite not seeing out the extra distance whilst Abracadabra Sivola jumped terribly and may be more suited by finding suitable targets in France.
The Clarence House was the main focus point for horse racing fans on Saturday with the eagerly anticipated return of Sprinter Sacre, the best two mile chaser I have seen in my lifetime and likely to ever see. His problems over the last year or so have been documented and the racing fan in me wanted the Sprinter Sacre of old to return and completely dominate his rivals.
He was settled in fourth position by Barry Geraghty and travelled well enough throughout the race and did show some signs of his former self, most notably at the fourth last when Geraghty asked him to jump which was brilliant to see. However, when push came to shove in the straight, Geraghty wasn’t hard on the horse and once Dodging Bullets kicked on past him, he was looked after with an eye towards the future.
The race has split opinions on what we can expect from Sprinter Sacre in the future. Personally, I don’t expect to see any improvement from here even though connections are adamant there is more to come. Yes, Barry Geraghty was quick to look after him. Yes, he wasn’t given such a hard race after the final fence, but the horse would not have gone to Ascot unless he was fighting fit and ready to go. The other worry I would have regarding March is what response Barry Geraghty gets once put under pressure. Even though they wouldn’t have wanted to give him a tough race, a small tap with the whip could have helped to see for future purposes if he would find anything at all if asked.
I don’t believe at all that the horse come here needing a run as Nicky Henderson would have wanted a fair idea to see where he stood with him before making a decision based on the future. The next port of call will be Cheltenham and whilst I would love for him to regain his Champion Chase crown, it looks a tall order, even with the weak opposition in the current two mile division.
Although the race centred around Sprinter Sacre, this was definitely a career best effort from Dodging Bullets who put to bed the comments about his resolution and has so far this season upheld his form strongly. The Tingle Creek he won may not have been the strongest of renewals but he now adds some substance to it with his victory here. If he continues in this fashion then he must go close at the Festival and winning jockey Noel Fehily seemed confident on his chances, especially as he now looks the horse he once threatened to be earlier in his career.
Twinlight has ran well enough here but still doesn’t convince completely. He looked at one stage as though he was going to finish tailed off before staying on again past Somersby into third. It would be a surprise if he were good enough to win the Champion Chase. Somersby was given a forceful ride and ensured it was a true test for those in behind. For a horse of his experience, his jumping was shoddy and it was no surprise to see him fade as he did.
The two mile five furlong handicap chase provided Paul Nicholls with another winner in the shape of Rebel Rebellion who gave conditional Jack Sherwood another big Saturday winner after Silsol on Hennessy day. Given a wonderful positive ride, the winner travelled far kinder than he has done on more recent efforts and was always finding plenty to fend off top weight Fox Appeal who benefited from a fantastic patient ride from Richie McLernon. Tom Jonasson, assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls was quick to rule out the Grand National as he wouldn’t stay that far and said a return to the Topham would be the plan, but a rise in the weights after this will probably prove too much there.
Fox Appeal has the ability to win a big prize over fences and one day he will put it all together in a big race. A race like the Racing Plus Chase round Kempton could suit him if getting three miles. Failing that, he could be the type for the Galway Plate as he performs better going this way round and the distance would suit. Eastlake ran his best race for sometime here before fading in the closing stages. This improved effort can be built upon and he is another likely to return to Aintree for the Topham where he jumped the fences really well whilst Tenor Nivernais looks to be crying out for a go at three miles after getting outpaced.
Haydock’s Peter Marsh card wasn’t the strongest and I am only going to concentrate on two races as I actually found the feature contest impossible to weigh up with the field strung out across Merseyside. I will say though that the winner Samstown was given a ride that should be considered a candidate for ride of the season by Brian Harding who could easily have given up after a bad mistake early on but his patience paid off and whilst he almost threw the race away after the last, there looked to be extra in the tank. He may return to Haydock next month for the Grand National Trial which will probably be just as much hard work as Saturday was.
The Rossington Main Novices Hurdle (I’m using its official name as it most definitely wasn’t a Supreme Trial) went to Aso, a horse certainly going in the right direction for Venetia Williams who was following up in this race after Zamdy Man’s win twelve months ago. This was certainly a career best so far and he handled the heavy ground here without any issues. He holds an entry in the Betfair Hurdle and he wouldn’t be out of place there, especially if the ground came up really testing. It’s worth noting the recent record of the race with how novices have performed.
Kiama Bay backed up his effort over course and distance in November when he clearly would have won having kicked clear between the last two flights. He clearly appreciates a speed track like Haydock and connections may be tempted to give him a break and wait for the Swinton in May, especially as he goes on any ground whilst Qewy put up a respectable effort on his hurdles debut and can definitely win next time out for a drop in class.
The Stan James Champion Hurdle Trial looked to be a racecourse gallop for The New One with an added bonus of prize money. Even giving eight pounds to the whole field; the end result was quite unbelievable. Although he won, it was a lacklustre display compared to his usual high standards as he just scrambled home to deny the bold bid of Bertimont and Harry Skelton.
His jumping on his last two starts at both Haydock in November and Cheltenham has been faultless but here, it had clearly regressed. On first viewing, I thought he looked beat as early as the third last when Harry Skelton sent Bertimont on in a wonderful piece of race-riding which put The New One to the sword. It was only in the final two hundred yards that he was able to get past and stamp some authority on the race.
The really testing ground could be put forward as an excuse for this but let’s not forget he was only just beaten on similar ground less than two years ago by a mudlark in At Fisher’s Cross on Trials Day. Sam Twiston-Davies also commented that The New One was following early pacesetter Got The Nac to the right at each hurdle which I find strange considering how far clear he was. But if this was the case, you could argue that Twiston-Davies should have dropped him in behind other rivals who would have given him a better toe into the race and could potentially have helped with his jumping. His jumping to the right could have also been caused by a slight niggle as it’s a tendency that we haven’t seen before. This will hopefully be sorted out before March, as out of the big three in the Champion Hurdle market, he looks the most vulnerable on the back of this performance.
In the end, his class has shown through but this performance doesn’t leave me brimming with confidence going towards the Festival. It would be extremely naive to believe this was The New One at his absolute best but even at something around seventy five percent, he should be beating these rivals with his head in his chest.
Bertimont ran a fine race in defeat and almost benefited from a stroke of genius from Harry Skelton who took advantage of the odds on favourite’s shoddy jumping at the third last. He looked the likely winner for about ninety percent of the home straight before getting run out of it. As he seems more suited to a flat track, it could be worth stepping him up in trip for the Aintree Hurdle as his fast, accurate jumping would hold him in good stead there.
The final performance of the weekend to look at was Vautour’s win in the Killiney Novice Chase at Leopardstown. It was effectively a confidence booster with him allowed to do his own thing in front. He was novicey at a couple but on the whole his jumping was fine and always going to hold Real Steel when that rival fell at the last. The question I have is whether he deserved cutting in the ante-post markets for Cheltenham. For me, he shouldn’t have. He didn’t really prove much but this is a step back in the right direction. Depending on what Un Des Sceaux does next Sunday, it is more likely we’ll see him in the JLT where he will face a stiff enough task in bidding for back to back Festival wins.
This week’s piece ends on a sombre note with a tribute to the veteran King Edmund who sadly died in a heavy fall at Ascot doing what he loved best. The popular twelve year old was a model of consistency for both Chris Gordon and his main rider Tom Cannon winning nine of his fifty six starts, including two novice hurdles last month at Lingfield and Plumpton in the space of forty eights hours, showing that his enthusiasm still shone brightly. He took a relatively small stable to the majority of the big Festivals including Cheltenham and Aintree, even having a short spin over the Grand National fences in last year’s Topham Trophy. RIP.
After a bumper blog that covered the action from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day, I felt a week away from writing the blog would be of benefit so I could return fresh for one a week later from a weekend that normally throws up some useful pointers towards the future spring festivals. Warwick staged its biggest card of the year with the eleventh running of the Classic Chase taking centre stage and I decided at the last minute to go down for the day as I’d never been before. I will very briefly cover Kempton’s Lanzarote card and the dominant effort from Supreme favourite Douvan at Punchestown.
The first race to be covered from Warwick is the Listed novice chase which went the way of Sego Success for Alan King and Tom Cannon who put up a career best effort to beat Grand Vision with the favourite Deputy Dan back in third on ground that was fairly testing. The winner showed plenty of improvement in the jumping department than he did at both Chepstow and Wetherby and was given a lovely ride by Tom Cannon who didn’t panic when Grand Vision kicked on for home and when he hit a flat spot.
He still showed some signs of greenness but he is definitely going the right way over the larger obstacles. The target nominated by King for Cheltenham was the National Hunt Chase which looks ideal, especially as he hit a flat spot which wouldn’t help him out in a RSA. He would be worth an each way flutter at this stage, especially with some doubts about Don Poli turning up here. Further down the line, he will definitely make up into a horse that would enjoy stamina tests, including the likes of Chepstow, Ayr and potentially Aintree in time.
Grand Vision jumped like an old hand and thoroughly enjoyed himself out in front and plugged on resolutely once passed by the winner. He would be of big interest in a handicap chase on a galloping left handed track whilst Deputy Dan needs to clean up his jumping. This was a better effort than we saw at both Exeter and Chepstow but he clearly hasn’t replicated his hurdles form over fences so far. Mickie jumped poorly in rear and never looked happy whilst Mosspark ran better than his finishing position suggests as he walked through the third last fence. He looks to want a confidence booster down in grade as would It’s A Steal who was struggling a fair way out, however it was found post-race he had lost a shoe.
The Pertemps Qualifier was another signifier that Jonjo O’Neill’s string are returning to form with the well treated Join The Clan giving Patrick Cowley his first success in the United Kingdom beating the progressive Closing Ceremony. The ride on the winner could have been very questionable had the runner up been galvanised into another effort as Cowley did kick early enough but his mount had enough to last home. He had showed enough promise at Cheltenham previously to suggest he was coming back down to a favourable mark and he duly obliged here. The Final would probably be the plan however he needs another win and rise in the weights to guarantee a place.
Closing Ceremony hasn’t done much wrong on his recent outings and this was another good effort. If he were to line up for the Final, he would go with a definite chance but he may want the ground on the softer side. Vandross improved a fair bit for the step up in trip here and would be of definite interest next time out at three miles. Top Wood travelled strongly throughout the contest and looked likely to play a hand in the finish but likely needed this run. He has several options open to him including a return chasing whilst Big Hands Harry was a major disappointment on his return hurdling and is one to leave at the moment.
The Leamington Novices Hurdle looked a penalty kick for Shantou Bob as on the figures he looked to be a fair distance clear of his rivals but he ran a lacklustre race to be third behind Three Musketeers and Ballagh however excuses emerged afterwards from trainer Warren Greatrex stating a wind problem and also potentially a burst blood vessel post-race. Although he hit a flat spot here just like he did at Sandown, this time he never gave the impression he was going to have a big hand in the finish and his class has probably got him third place. If he is to go to the Festival, you would hope the problems here will have been rectified.
In talking about the defeat of the favourite, take absolutely nothing away from the winner who gained trainer Dan Skelton and brother Harry his biggest career success to date and at his local track as well. He did show signs of greenness at the second last but he is more than entitled to with this being his third ever race but he quickened when it mattered to win a shade cosily. The Skeltons continue to impress me hugely as a combination, especially with their way of thinking and decision making. As soon as Three Musketeers had pulled up, the first thought wasn’t the Festival, it was to do what they feel is best for a long term prospect who looks very exciting. If we see him at a major Festival this season, Aintree would be the place to see him and a step up to three miles there would bring about further improvement.
The runner up Ballagh improved on his first outing over hurdles when he was second to Different Gravey at Newbury and although that rival ran below-par at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, Ben Case’s charge has upheld that form here as have the third Days Of Heaven and the fourth Seven Nation Army. The step up in distance clearly suited as well and he will definitely win a novice hurdle dropped down in grade. He could be another to benefit from missing the Festival this season. Anteros is one for handicaps now between this trip and three miles. He definitely has the capability to win one. Flintham found this too much at this stage in his career but he is all about jumping fences next season, as is Aliser D’Irlande but he looks to want a bit of time and we should see more next season.
The Classic Chase wasn’t for the faint-hearted and yet again showed the genius of Paul Nicholls who put first time blinkers on Hawkes Point who duly obliged under Sam Twiston-Davies who gave him a fine ride to see off Theatrical Star with Shotgun Paddy putting up an excellent performance carrying top weight back in third. The standing start was yet another farce on a Saturday afternoon and Twiston-Davies had to be wise to get a position early on after his poor effort in the Welsh National. His jumping has always been solid and here was no exception and used his stamina to grind it out here. I would like to see the blinkers work again and the Grand National would only be a realistic target if the ground came up soft or worse.
Theatrical Star put up a career best effort here and saw out the distance really well. Better ground would suit and trainer Colin Tizzard mentioned the Grand National as a potential target and he would need to improve again to feature there. Shotgun Paddy put the Welsh National behind him with a solid effort back in third having jumped much better from the front, apart from a shuddering error at the third last. This was his Plan B for the season so it remains to be seen if he gets an entry at Aintree but if he turns out fresh, he could potentially go to Haydock for the Grand National Trial where conditions would suit him well.
The final race on the card threw up two nice horses for the future in Copper Kay and Big Chief Benny. Whilst they were both very immature, that comment especially the case for the latter in the preliminaries, both showed enough to suggest that they will have bright futures on the racecourse, especially as they both put almost twenty lengths between themselves and the third horse. The runner up in particular comes out positively as his pedigree suggests he will improve for a trip over hurdles being related to performers such as Macgeorge and Chief Dan George.
Away from Warwick, I’m going to keep Kempton short and sweet as we didn’t learn too much. The main things we did learn was that Tea For Two was ridiculously well handicapped in the Lanzarote when routing a good field of handicappers by sixteen lengths, Balder Succes is a two and a half miler who would have every chance in the Ryanair if he went to Cheltenham and Sleepy Haven is still a highly progressive horse who backed up his Haydock win from Tommy Whittle day. The only horse worth of note for the future was Dell’ Arca who will probably head back to the Coral Cup with every chance like he did last year.
The final performance to cover was Douvan’s effortless success in the Moscow Flyer Novices Hurdle at Punchestown. There’s not really much to add than he jumped well and won hard on the bridle. Willie Mullins has said that he will go straight to the Festival without another run and he looks a strong favourite for the Supreme. The only concern I have at this stage is whether he will find improvement on better ground and I’m not fully convinced he will. A bet I have had in the Supreme over the last few days will improve for a sounder surface and 25/1 about Silver Concorde was far too tempting to resist. His hurdling debut wasn’t entirely the best but on ground he would have hated, he is well worth forgiving and on good ground in the spring, we will see a completely different horse.
Over the next few reviews, I will begin to underline my antepost bets for the Festival with plenty of reasoning and potentially the Grand National if I do decide to place one. Thank you for reading this week and I shall be back next week hopefully with racing from Ascot and Haydock to dissect.
Sego Success – You can back him at 12’s (I took 10’s due to using certain bookmakers) for the National Hunt Chase each-way, there are worse bets out there for the Festival at this moment.
Vandross – Will be winning handicap hurdles around this distance.
Three Musketeers – Would be of serious interest later this season were he to line up in the Sefton at Aintree.
Big Chief Benny – Was extremely immature in more ways than one and he looks to have a nice future ahead of him.
Cheltenham 2015 Antepost Bets (So Far)
Balder Succes 14/1 Champion Chase (Paddy Power) – Placed in November (Looks hugely unlikely)
Zarkandar 8/1 E/W World Hurdle (Bet365 NRNB)
Sire De Grugy 4/1 Champion Chase (Bet365 NRNB) – This is definitely worth the risk, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Sprinter Sacre at the moment.
Before I begin this mammoth task of reviewing the Festive action, I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and a great New Year with plenty of winners unlike myself. Although there is a lot to look at, I tried to be as selective as possible but like normal, I’ve probably gone overboard. I would like to thank you for the continued support for the blogs over the year and I hope to continue the blog throughout 2015, including the Flat season which I haven’t done in the past.
Kempton is the first place to start the Boxing Day analysis and the card began with a novice hurdle where Jollyallan maintained his unbeaten record over hurdles with a workmanlike success over two very useful rivals in Sempre Medici and Arzal. The winner will need to improve on his jumping but that should be the case on spring ground in the Supreme. Harry Fry was keen to stress post-race that Jollyallan needs more race experience before he wishes to commit him to the Festival, however, his future lies when going chasing next autumn.
The runner up Sempre Medici was probably on the losing end of the argument when blundering away any chance. With the amount of talent the Willie Mullins yard possesses in the novice hurdle division, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see this horse be a similar type to Arctic Fire and end up in a race like the County Hurdle where a really strong pace would suit him really well. Considering the pace he went early on, Arzal did extremely well to finish as close as he did. He claimed the notable scalp of West Wizard over course and distance in November and does look a useful yardstick.
The novice handicap chase looked to have some well handicapped horses on paper and Stellar Notion showed here that he still looks capable of plenty more with a lovely round of jumping for Paddy Brennan and Tom George. Making use of his long stride, he made every inch of the running and whilst he made a mistake at the last, there was plenty left in the locker to fend off Knock House. The future looks bright and if his mark is minded, the obvious race in the spring would be the first day of Cheltenham in the novice handicap but in time, he will prove to be better than handicap company.
Knock House ran really well in second having given King’s Palace and Sausalito Sunrise a fair race at Cheltenham before fading to finish last that day. He will definitely win his fair share of big races over fences around this distance. Generous Ransom was doing his best work late on after making an error mid-race and looks as though he will appreciate a step up to three miles sooner rather than later. Keep him on side as the season goes on.
One other I am convinced has a big prize in him over fences or hurdles at this distance is Katgary. Whatever big target he ends up in this spring, he will be worth chancing as although he has been comprehensibly beaten on his three starts, there looks to be a long term plan. River Maigue was a huge disappointment and looks to have gone off the rails.
The Kauto Star Novices Chase looked to have plenty of strength and depth beforehand however the race fell apart big time and went to the horse who jumped by far the best in Coneygree who maintained a good gallop for three miles whilst his main rivals fell by the wayside, most notably Saphir Du Rheu who went at the seventh. This was a famous success for the Bradstock family and for jockey Nico De Boinville with this being their first Grade One success.
The winner didn’t get it his own way early on with Carraig Mor taking him on for the lead before he got too close to the eighth and unseated Noel Fehily and once his main rival Sausalito Sunrise departed six out, the race was left for him as Virak wasn’t travelling and Warden Hill was tailed off.
Trend lovers will make the note that no horse has ever won both this race and the RSA but Coneygree is a through stayer and I had my doubts whether Kempton would be a track that would play to his strengths. Cheltenham will definitely suit but the worry there would be if him and King’s Palace take each other on from an early stage. The Reynoldstown at Ascot has been nominated as a potential target before the Festival, a race the Bradstocks won with Coneygree’s half brother Carruthers.
Warden Hill needed riding away from the start and looked outclassed before the carnage took place but won his match race with Virak for second place after the final fence. It’s difficult to know where to go with him with the same comment applying to Virak who was struggling heading into the back straight. It could just be that this race was one too many in this part of the season but the RSA Chase bet looks more hopeful than realistic now.
To the non-finishers, Sausalito Sunrise had jumped well and was keeping tabs with Coneygree when falling in the back straight. Hopefully the injury he picked up isn’t too serious as he still looks an above average staying novice chaser. Carraig Mor had jumped well and set a decent pace with the winner before getting the second in the straight wrong and sending Noel Fehily into the Kempton turf whilst Creepy made a desperate mistake at the fourth and never recovered.
Saphir Du Rheu is becoming incredibly frustrating. He is undoubtedly a huge talent as he proved over hurdles last season and when he won at Exeter; jumping supremely well. He fiddled his way over the first fence but had got into a fine enough rhythm before getting the seventh wrong. Post-race, Paul Nicholls said he would have plenty of schooling which means they haven’t given up with fences just yet but if another incident similar to this were to happen, we could easily see him back over hurdles and potentially lining up in a weakened World Hurdle with big question marks lingering over the main protagonists.
The Christmas Hurdle was seen as a one horse affair beforehand with the exciting talent that is the unbeaten Faugheen dropping back to two miles for the first time since his Punchestown rout back in the spring. Here he never came out of second gear to beat Purple Bay by eight lengths. The only moment of doubt he gave his backers was a slight error at the last but the manner in which he disposes of his rivals just takes your breath away. At this current time with a lack of potential superstars in the National Hunt game, Faugheen is the shining light which the sport needs. He was cut to be as short as even money favourite for the Champion Hurdle and with more improvement still to come, the limitless potential is scary, even though he will face his toughest test to date on the second Tuesday in March against The New One and Jezki.
Purple Bay would be well worth a go in the Champion Hurdle as he has really turned a corner recently with him backing up his Elite win at Wincanton. Whilst he was never going to match Faugheen, he beat the rest convincingly. Blue Heron went out and set the pace but was a sitting duck when Faugheen loomed up alongside going to the second last but he has ran his race. He could easily go to Haydock for their Champion Hurdle Trial next month and whilst he isn’t good enough to win a Champion Hurdle, a lack of runners next month could be an incentive to pick up some good prize money.
Sign Of A Victory travelled strongly but looked to be found out by the softer conditions. He looks difficult to place as he would be carrying near enough top weight in all the competitive two mile handicap hurdles but looks a shade below top class. Sgt Reckless was another to struggle on the ground and looks to need top of the ground so expect to see him out plenty in the spring whilst Irving can be forgiven due to lameness.
With the reversals of Saphir Du Rheu and Irving, Paul Nicholls didn’t need to wait long for his Christmas tonic when Silviniaco Conti took back to back King George’s under a sublime ride from Noel Fehily with a display of front running both Desert Orchid and Kauto Star would have been proud of. Apart from the fourth last where horse and rider looked to have a disagreement, his jumping was superb and he has looked a different horse since the fitting of cheekpieces on his last start at Haydock in the Betfair Chase.
He cemented his position as favourite for the Gold Cup and as Britain’s leading staying chaser. 2015 looks his ideal opportunity to finally get his turn on the Gold Cup roll of honour. No horse has ever done it on their third attempt in the race, however The Fellow won it on his fourth attempt in 1994, having twice gone down agonisingly in photo finishes. Whilst Silviniaco Conti is winning races like the Betfair and King George through his staying ability, three miles on flat tracks compared to three and a quarter on an undulating track could be his undoing come March time. In saying that, he is clearly the one to beat.
Dynaste improved on his Betfair Chase effort back in second, another to benefit from the addition of cheekpieces. He travelled kindly but Silviniaco Conti had the whole field in his grasp turning for home and once he kicked, he wasn’t for catching. Interesting quotes that came out from David Pipe indicate that a route will be plotted back to the Ryanair to defend his crown which would be far better than aiming him at the Gold Cup where he would be a non-stayer.
Nicholls had a 1-3 with Al Ferof filling the same position as he did twelve months ago, running a similar race. This now looks enough proof to suggest a drop back in trip will be of benefit, with Nicholls wanting to convince owner John Hales to have a go at the Champion Chase,a race which he won with One Man, another grey who had stamina limitations when it came to the Gold Cup. With that division looking extremely open, he could easily drop back to two miles and be a key player in the division. The same comments also apply for Champagne Fever who ran far better than he has done at this time of the year in the past. He was keen enough behind Silviniaco Conti but was still travelling really well going to the third last before failing to see out the distance in a one paced fourth. When allowed to go a gallop in March, he could be very dangerous as his display in the Arkle was breathtaking.
Cue Card ran his best race this season but he looks to have become regressive since his injury. The Ryanair would be his ideal target at the Festival, as it would John’s Spirit who ran a brilliant race considering Jonjo O’Neill’s yard aren’t firing at present. A mistake three out did finish his chance but he travelled like he normally does in the big field handicaps we have come accustomed to in which he stalks and pounces late. Menorah hadn’t travelled as well as he did in both the Charlie Hall and the Betfair when making a shuddering mistake at the fourth last. He was probably beaten before he made that error.
Wetherby had the Rowland Meyrick as its feature event on Boxing Day and it looks a potential pointer towards the 2015 Grand National with Dolatulo who stayed on stoutly to see off former winner Cape Tribulation. Back over regulation fences after a spin over the Grand National fences at Aintree in the Grand Sefton, the step up in distance looked to bring about some improvement and a tilt at Aintree in the spring looks the plan.
It’s a shame the owner of Cape Tribulation doesn’t want him to go to Aintree as he would be an ideal National type who jumps well and has a touch of class. He was given his usual patient ride and still looks well handicapped for a big staying handicap chase, probably the Scottish National.
Corrin Wood jumped beautifully out in front and is one that will have Aintree as a main aim considering his trainer but I would have my doubts about him staying although he will be a sight to behold for the first three miles. Cedre Bleu is another going to Aintree in the spring; whether that be the National or the Topham remains to be seen. If the Waley-Cohens have a runner in either Long Run or Oscar Time then expect to see him in the Topham as Charlie Mann has expressed his intent on wanting Sam Waley-Cohen to ride him.
Over in Ireland at Leopardstown, Willie Mullins began his day with another impressive French import success with odds on favourite Alvisio Ville taking the opening contest. You could crab his jumping as it wasn’t particularly tidy but his best leap came at the last and he instantly went clear of his field, winning as he pleased on the bridle. A step up in class will be the next port of call but with the amount of talent within the Mullins yard, it’s difficult to predict where we will see him next. He could turn up in the Deloitte in February, a race won by Vautour on his way to Cheltenham Festival success.
The Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle looked a formality for Kalkir to increase his reputation for the Triumph Hurdle however the odds on favourite had to settle for second with 33/1 outsider Fiscal Focus landing the spoils on his hurdles debut. A decent enough performer on the flat, he finished second to the globe-trotting Adelaide in a maiden last October at Leopardstown and he handled the ground much better than Kalkir.
Some may look at this as a one off but the winner has got form on better ground as well and is more than entitled to improve upon this effort. Kalkir will still be a key player for the Triumph given a sounder surface Back in fifth, Thunder Zone caught the eye as he wasn’t knocked around much when beaten and looks a similar type to Clarcam who went on to contest the Fred Winter.
Talking of Clarcam, he is now a Grade One winner over fences after a comprehensive performance in a race that took away some of the invincibility that Vautour has possessed. Whilst Vautour underperformed, it would be unfair to ignore the winner who looks a very smart acquisition to chasing and was always travelling far sweeter than the favourite. With Clarcam’s ability to also be as effective on a sounder surface, he would have definite claims in the Arkle, although five year olds have struggled since the weight allowance was taken away.
Vautour never looked happy on the soft ground and did extremely well to recover from a shocking mistake at the fifth last. It was a similar run to that of Champagne Fever in this race twelve months ago and he should return to top form in time for the Festival.
The second day of Kempton’s Christmas Festival featured some humble pie from the past when Vibrato Valtat proved his Sandown win was no fluke when taking the Wayward Lad Novice Chase with the use of tactical speed to beat Three Kingdoms. The Kingmaker at Warwick looks an ideal place to go and although he is a novice, part of me wishes he gets a Champion Chase entry with the division looking so questionable.
Three Kingdoms has surprised a few over fences this season and he looks a smart acquisition. Better ground would have helped his cause and the Grade One at Aintree in the spring will feature high in his plans. Deep Trouble wants better ground as well and was in the process of running a solid race when falling heavily at the last. He looks an ideal type for the novice handicap at the Festival, remembering how he improved for the step up in trip at Punchestown.
God’s Own has now disappointed twice although here he had to make his own running which wouldn’t have suited. He still has plenty of options open for him whilst Grandouet looks finished; a sad sight for the former top class hurdler.
The Desert Orchid Chase looked an ideal place for Balder Succes to get his season back on track but Special Tiara under an inspired Barry Geraghty jumped and galloped his rivals into the ground, with only Balder Succes able to get close to him. It’s a race not really worth analysing in full detail as most of the field were beaten a long way out.
Chepstow hosted its biggest meeting of the year with the two features being the Finale Juvenile Hurdle and the showpiece; the Coral Welsh National. Simon Munir and Issac Souede already have the ante-post favourite for the Triumph Hurdle in Peace And Co but they unleashed another smart prospect in Bristol De Mai who ran out a very easy winner of the Finale under Daryl Jacob for Nigel Twiston-Davies.
The way he disposed of above average juvenile hurdlers with contempt was hugely impressive and the manner in which he galloped to the line suggests there is plenty more to come. Karezak has fairly strong juvenile hurdle form having chased home Hargam on his most recent start at Cheltenham but was made to look pretty ordinary here by Bristol De Mai. The only question mark you can have going forward about the winner would be his ability to handle better ground, having looked extremely comfortable on this soft ground. Of the rest, Golden Doyen didn’t look happy on the ground and although he has won on soft ground at Cheltenham, he never looked like winning. He is worth forgiving and given another chance on better ground.
The Coral Welsh National featured a false start (What is it with Grand Nationals and false starts?!) and a thrilling finish in which Emperor’s Choice just outstayed Benvolio after three miles and five furlongs of Chepstow’s marathon. Although I didn’t write a blog after the Betfair Chase meeting, Emperor’s Choice went into my notebook as he looked to carry plenty of condition that day and duly backed last time out at Sandown. Did I back him here? Of course not.
He was always in the front line and looked as though place claims were at best going to the final fence. But he found his second wind and fought back tenaciously to defy another prominently ridden horse in Benvolio. With his love for soft ground and a stamina test, a return to Haydock for the Grand National Trial would probably be the right place to go and whilst he will probably get an entry for Aintree, he would need testing conditions to feature.
Benvolio did absolutely nothing wrong in defeat having travelled and jumped really well in the first time blinkers. When Glenquest took it up going to the last, he looked the likely winner but he battled back against that rival, only to get past and be overtaken himself by Emperor’s Choice. He is another like the winner who would be a candidate for Haydock’s Grand National Trial but Aintree may come a year too soon. Off his highest mark at the age of 11, Glenquest has ran a great race and whilst his mark’s too low for Aintree, the Irish National looks an ideal place to go.
Monbeg Dude yet again ran his usual consistent race but I’ve questioned for a while whether he actually needs to be ridden with these exaggerated hold up tactics. He’s now a more straightforward horse and also jumps much better than he did two seasons ago. I’m also unsure where to go with him now as the Grand National trip looked to stretch him and he isn’t Gold Cup class. The pre-race fears for Shotgun Paddy were soon realised when making a shocking mistake at the second fence and he was subsequently pulled up at the top of the home straight with a circuit to go.
Although Leopardstown had action on day two, to cut the blog down I have decided to ignore it as the Dial-A-Bet Chase left me scratching my head with Twinlight’s win and no obvious contender emerged for the Champion Chase.
The Christmas Hurdle (Staying version, not Faugheen’s rout again) featured At Fishers Cross on a retrieval mission after a below par effort on his return behind Cole Harden. Again, his jumping wasn’t tidy and it was left to Lieutenant Colonel and Jetson to fight out the finish with the former coming out on top to give Sandra Hughes a second Grade One success after the death of her father Dessie. The step up to three miles definitely brought out some extra improvement and it was a good piece of race riding from Bryan Cooper to keep Davy Russell and Jetson on the rail. The obvious aim is the World Hurdle and he goes there with a more than realistic chance. One thing is for sure, it would raise the roof if he were to succeed.
Although Jetson would be labelled as a handicapper, he has shown his capability to mix it now thrice at the top level and is another in a very open year worth a go in the World Hurdle plus Davy Russell seems to get on really well with him. Front running tactics seemed to be of benefit to him and he can be ridden handier in his races. It was good to see Monksland run a race with plenty of promise on his return to the track for the first time since winning this race two years ago however, you will need to tread carefully with ante-post betting, especially with his issues.
At Fishers Cross. Yet again, the jury’s out. If you fancy some humorous reading about this race, have a look at Lydia Hislop’s excellent Road to Cheltenham blog which also features some intriguing opinions about the Festive period, some I agree with and vice versa. He does clearly have his issues and again, the suggestion from me would be to chasing with him and if that doesn’t work then retire him as he struggles making a shape over hurdles.
Glens Melody was again, a non stayer and all roads should lead back to the Mares Hurdle at the Festival where she will probably take on her more illustrious stablemate Annie Power. One of the main questions going into the race was the well-being of Briar Hill who we haven’t seen since his crunching fall in the Albert Bartlett. The main thing was that he travelled nicely through the race but I’m unsure whether he stopped due to a lack of stamina or his fitness as he is notoriously a lazy horse at home who saves a bit for himself.
The Lexus Chase was the other main Gold Cup trial on show over the Festive period and it threw up probably Ireland’s best chance to win the race in Road To Riches who proved here that he isn’t a one-dimensional horse as he was taken on for the lead and wasn’t flustered at all. He also proved that he is a strong stayer by beating the likes of On His Own and Sam Winner, two horses who revel over the Gold Cup distance and would over further as well. A doubt beforehand the winner was softer ground but he handled it well enough and with his record on better ground, he goes to Cheltenham with a big chance.
If On His Own could jump straight at his fences then he would probably be a Grade One winner as he kept jumping out to his right, suggesting he is better going the other way round. Take nothing away from this effort though as he proved that on his day, he’s a genuine Graded chaser with those two seasons aiming him at the Grand National proving to be pretty wasted. Mind you, I find it hard to believe he got beat on this very card three years ago in the Paddy Power Chase off a mark of 125 when brought down after looking beat. The Bobbyjo at Fairyhouse, a race he won before going on to Cheltenham would be his ideal warm-up.
In my Becher Chase review, I suggested that Sam Winner could have a go at the Gold Cup and potentially be top weight for the Grand National. It is now certain that he would get top weight for Aintree after a career best effort here and I’m beginning to warm a lot more to the horse. Although I wasn’t old enough for the era, he reminds me of a top class chaser from the early 1990’s, the type that would be considered to run in both the Gold Cup and the Grand National.
The first time cheekpieces helped sharpen him up as he wasn’t running in snatches here but the fact he was able to race prominently was more down to the lack of early pace from Road To Riches and On His Own. He did well to recover from an alarming error in front of the stands with a circuit to go and was in front going to the last before being headed on the run-in. Some may criticise the form of this race with Sam Winner being so close up, but over the last two seasons what has he done wrong over fences ignoring his Scottish National flop? Yes, he looked very one-paced at both Cheltenham and Aintree but given a strongly run Gold Cup, he would be a certain stayer plus the cheekpieces would certainly help, as would better ground.
Boston Bob is difficult to write up as he was a never nearer fourth but for the future, I doubt whether the Gold Cup trip would bring about improvement from him, his best form coming arguably over two and a half miles. Carlingford Lough ran a really nice race on his return and looked a serious contender going to the final fence before lack of fitness told. The one thing stopping me from backing him for the Gold Cup was the appalling round of jumping he put up in last season’s RSA.
After the John Durkan, I was very tempted to back Lord Windermere for the Gold Cup but I was left feeling slightly disappointed here. Yes, the ground wasn’t completely in his favour but the impression yet again is all about one day in March which goes against what Jim Culloty said after his return to action. Bob’s Worth sadly looks the force of old and whilst connections were pleased and insisted he would come on for the run, it’s not a similar case to his Haydock run last season where he was caught out by the speed test.
As mentioned above, Simon Munir and Issac Souede have the juvenile hurdle division covered and yet another plausible Triumph Hurdle candidate in Top Notch was unleashed at Newbury. Even though he made it look harder work than the other pair, he was carrying a double penalty and did it well to see off Mick Jazz who travelled ominously well but the winner ground it out, looking more of a stayer than a speedier type. It could be that he needs softer ground to feature in the Triumph but he does give his owners a nice headache to have.
Mick Jazz looks a similar type to his stablemate Activial and it would be no surprise to see him miss Cheltenham this season. Maxie T and Ryeolliean both look horses to keep on the right side of, the former when given a handicap mark and the latter next time out.
The Challow Hurdle on paper looked a small and select field but the whole field all acquitted themselves with a fair bit of promise. It went to the Cheltenham winner Parlour Games who was given a supremely confident ride by Noel Fehily to beat two high class novices in Vyta Du Roc and Blaklion with plenty of patience.
Whilst there is a misconception that horses by his sire Monsun love plenty of juice in the ground, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest he is more effective on faster ground. The Neptune was nominated as his Festival target and on better ground he goes there with a live chance. John Ferguson has really turned a corner this season with some really notable smart performers who are proving to be consistent as well and this was his second Grade One success after Ruacana was fortunate in the Finale Juvenile back in January 2013.
Vyta Du Roc has clearly improved for the step up in trip and upheld the form of his Sandown win, which received ‘a’ boost (as far as I’m gonna go with that word) with Tara Point winning a nothing contest in an easy manner at Taunton. He looks a proper stayer and the Albert Bartlett would probably suit him better than the Neptune as he would get plenty of time to get into a rhythm.
In saying that, he would likely meet Blaklion and over three miles, I’d take Blaklion to reverse this form with both rivals that have finished ahead of him. It wasn’t Ryan Hatch’s fault as he has had to use his horse’s known stamina to try and expose the others but whatever he would have tried, the likely result would have been the same as Parlour Games used his speed from the Flat like he did at Cheltenham. Back over a course and distance where Blaklion excelled a couple of weeks ago, he goes to the Albert Bartlett with a leading chance.
Despite his inexperience and signs of greenness, One Track Mind showed plenty to suggest he has a bright future and to only be beaten six and a half lengths in a fairly strong Grade One at this stage in his career bodes extremely well for the future. He will be in his element once he goes chasing, as will Arpege D’Alene who was outpaced here but looks a real long term prospect and one that Paul Nicholls will do very well with in the coming years. Native River was also well worth a go at this level and didn’t disgrace himself at all. Overall, this looks an above average Challow Hurdle.
The final day of Leopardstown saw Hurricane Fly defend his unbeaten record at Leopardstown in the Ryanair Hurdle, an incredible twenty first Grade One success which showed his trademark battling qualities to see off Jezki again with his stablemate Arctic Fire close up in third. After the race, Willie Mullins declared he was the best horse anyone has ever trained, a high accolade for a horse of his calibre.
The argument now is whether he will return to Prestbury Park to attempt to regain the crown back from Jezki but for whatever reason, he has never shown the sparkle at the Festival which he usually does in Ireland plus with stable-mate Faugheen staking his claims, it could be that he stays at home for Punchestown in the spring. In between that, a record twenty second Grade One awaits back here in January in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Jezki was the closest he has ever been to Hurricane Fly in defeat and actually out-jumped him at the final flight before The Hurricane dug deep and repelled his younger rival. He will steadily be brought back up to the boil for the defence of his crown but he will face a difficult task to overcome Faugheen and The New One.
Arctic Fire has ran the race of his life back in third and whilst some may question the form with his close proximity, the faster pace compared to the Fighting Fifth would have helped him plenty, especially as an end to end gallop suits him much more. He deserves his chance in a Champion Hurdle but he would be there to potentially steal a place if one of the leading contenders under performs.
What I said about King Of The Picts last time out in the International review stands; a big field handicap off his mark would be extremely realistic. Tiger Roll travelled well until an error two out knocked him back. A step up in trip would be the right way to go with him now.
A deserving mention goes to Carrigmoorna Rock who was an easy winner of the Grade Three Mares Hurdle after the departure of Analifet at the second last having yet to be asked a question. However, I find it hard to believe she would have beaten Carrigmoorna Rock as she would have needed to relish the step up in distance which was the main question going into the race. Carrigmoorna Rock looked to appreciate the step up in distance and the Cheltenham dream for her owners is definitely alive and for a small syndicate of friends who I got the privilege to meet when RaceMaking at Newbury, it would be brilliant for them to own a Festival winner.
The Topaz Novice Chase looked a race full of quality beforehand and didn’t fail to deliver with a strong display of stamina on show from Don Poli who maintained his unbeaten record over fences on ground probably softer than ideal. The Festival target remains up in the air but he would hold a strong chance in either the RSA or the National Hunt Chase, preference for me would be the RSA if they believe him to be a Gold Cup contender for the future. Plus, he would get a strong pace set by King’s Palace and Coneygree to aim at which should see him in his element.
Apache Stronghold is another to have options open for him having jumped and travelled well under different tactics. He was just outstayed by the winner and a drop back in trip wouldn’t go amiss. A race like the PJ Moriarty in February wouldn’t be a bad place to go before making a decision on the JLT or the RSA.
Lots Of Memories tried to make all the running but was firmly put in his place by two smart novices, as was Mala Beach who had conditions to suit here and he looked very one paced back in fourth. Shanahan’s Turn would ideally want better ground but this was still a under-par effort whilst it’s sad to see The Tullow Tank not going on with the promise he showed on chase debut. It could even be that a return hurdling could be on the cards.
New Year’s Day
Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day fixture was highly competitive and featured some potential clues for later on in the season, not just the Festival.
The first race of the 2015 year went to Harry Fry with the likeable Thomas Brown who looked beat on the turn for home but stuck to his task admirably to see off Robinsfirth. Fry said post-race that the horse is still ‘learning about the game’ but you cannot question his attitude as he fought tenaciously and galloped all the way to the line. The Albert Bartlett was mentioned as his preferred option over the Neptune and it’s easy to see why as he looks all about stamina and grinding it out. The runner up improved for the step up in distance and should make a nice chaser next season.
The drop in distance may have proved the undoing of Zeroshadesofgrey having won easily on his last two starts over three miles and he remains a fair prospect for Neil King. He looks to still have a bit of growing to do as well. The Henderson pair of Different Gravey and Birch Hill both looked as though they were going to be tailed off at one stage before both passing beaten horses on the run-in. The latter had a fair reputation but hasn’t exactly gone on since his Point to Point win and the former didn’t improve on his Newbury win. Brother Tedd and As De Mee could be nicely handicapped horses and weren’t completely disgraced.
Mon Parrain appreciated the first time blinkers when taking the staying handicap chase, reminding us of the promise he showed three years ago in the Topham Trophy with the way he travelled and jumped. Although he only beat Our Father by a length, he did it comfortably enough under a lovely ride from Sean Bowen and if the blinkers aren’t just a one trick implement then he will go on from this. The Grand National was mentioned post-race but I feel he wouldn’t have the stamina although if he jumps like he did today, he would give his rider a wonderful spin round for a fair distance, with Paul Nicholls giving a hint that Bowen could potentially keep the ride come Aintree.
Our Father surprisingly has put two runs together for the first time in ages and whilst he has a nice race in him off his mark, caution must be advised. Saint Are got outpaced again and stayed on into third, similar to the Becher Chase. When given good ground in the spring; he will strike. Just A Par was also revitalised by first time blinkers but he does look hard to place but will appreciate better ground.
Nicholls didn’t need to wait long for his next winner as Ptit Zig followed up his impressive Ascot win with another clinical display, beating a very smart opponent in Champagne West. Before his chase debut, comments about him taking his time to come to hand schooling were imprinted in my mind but he now looks a man with the way he attacks his fences. There is always room for improvement but he looks a very exciting proposition and a return to the Festival for the JLT looks the plan.
Having been more in the Saphir Du Rheu camp for the race, this performance has swayed me towards Ptit Zig who unlike his stable-mate hasn’t put a foot wrong over fences. The most exciting part is that he looks as though he could go to the very top over fences and be a major name to take the National Hunt scene by storm.
Champagne West is another leading novice chase contender and he jumped far better than when winning here in December and has improved again. The RSA looks his ideal target with the step up to three miles expected to bring out more and as he can be ridden more patiently, he has every chance to reap the rewards come March. Top Totti jumped fine and will probably mix it over hurdles and fences; a return for the Mares Hurdle is more than likely to be on the cards.
Ned Stark was beaten here but take nothing away from his performance here as he looks a real stayer in the making. His jumping apart from a peck at the fourth last was decent and whilst he probably won’t trouble the principals in the RSA, he looks one to have on side next season, potentially in next season’s Hennessy Gold Cup.
Clondaw Kaempfer looks to find jumping fences easier than hurdling and will have a good race in him come the spring, potentially in handicap company. Little Jon had taken a liberty or two before departing at the final ditch. A confidence booster wouldn’t go amiss for him whilst Urban Hymn never jumped with any fluency and was a major disappointment.
In the International review, Splash Of Ginge got a favourable mention when he unfortunately fell at the fourth last. He made no mistake this time in the feature handicap chase under a new rider in Jamie Bargary who rode him with the confidence of a true professional and made his seven pound claim look hugely valuable. For a small horse, his nimbleness over his fences is a big advantage for him and his leap at the last resembled dear old Fondmort in the Tripleprint back in 2002. His profile is similar to Double Ross who went on to finish third in the JLT and whilst he will go up in the weights, the Byrne Group Plate with a claimer on could be the race with the JLT in particular looking a strong race this year.
Hunt Ball showed he still retains his enthusiasm and went really well from the front. This suggests he still has a big prize in him off his handicap mark; that race potentially being the Topham as he jumped the National fences so well on both his previous visits. Caid Du Berlais ran far better than his previous attempt over course and distance in the December Gold Cup where he was pulled up. The only issue for me is whilst he shaped like further would suit, his Galway Plate effort where he didn’t stay lingers on the mind. The Byrne Group Plate would be the plausible Festival target with the race now returning to its original distance in 2015, having been run over a furlong shorter in 2014.
Rolling Aces has changed somewhat this season. He now shapes like a horse that looks to want a trip these days and he stayed on stoutly up the hill after getting outpaced at a crucial stage. He is one that will go to Aintree in the spring and it wouldn’t surprise entirely were he to get a Grand National entry. He looks unexposed over staying trips and would be a very interesting runner if he took up his chance there.
The one to take from the race is Tenor Nivernais who made a mistake at the fourth last and would have finished much closer but for that. His trainer Venetia Williams has a good record in the Byrne Group Plate having saddled Idole First in 2007 and Something Wells in 2009 to victory and his handicap mark has some leniency.
The most popular result on New Year’s Day for the Cheltenham crowd was Rock On Ruby’s second win at the track this season, giving the runner up Vaniteux eight pounds and beating a fair field as well. This looked a stiffer task and on ground again that was soft enough, his class prevailed. Over this longer trip, he can get himself into a lovely rhythm and he looks so relaxed through his races which is wonderful to see. If he goes to the Festival, the World Hurdle is the only race he will get an entry and I just have my doubts about him seeing out three miles.
Vaniteux is now in a very tricky position as he has been put in his place now by two top class horses when getting weight. A drop back in trip will help him but options seem very limited. Cole Harden ran a race full of promise and stayed on stoutly up the hill, nearly nabbing second from Vaniteux. The 25/1 for the World Hurdle tempts me slightly but it could be that a flatter track suits him more.
The race was a starting point for Beat That; not seen since his win at Punchestown back in the spring. He was keen enough early on but travelled really well before blowing up on the home turn. My enthusiasm has been dampened with his no show at both Newbury and Ascot earlier in the season and I would like to see him have another run before the World Hurdle before wanting to recommit to him.
The last race to be covered is an Exeter beginners chase which featured the return of the highly touted Whisper who was making his belated return after a highly successful spell last season over hurdles but was turned over by Caesar Milan, a horse that had disappointed massively on chase debut behind Ned Stark. The winner improved a great deal for first time cheekpieces and jumped much better here for Nick Scholfield, the second of his three winners on the card. Apart from leaving his back legs in the first open ditch, Whisper jumped nicely enough but looked outpaced by the winner and was never able to cut back the deficit. He will come on plenty for the run and like Beat That, he needs watching next time out.
Eyecatchers from the Festive Period
Generous Ransom – A step up to three miles will help him plenty.
John’s Spirit – Shaped really well with the yard out of form. The Ryanair looks a race he could do very well in.
Thunder Zone – A horse that could be a Fred Winter type.
Sam Winner – Hasn’t done much wrong over fences and deserves a go in the Gold Cup.
Maxie T – Watch out for when he gets a handicap mark.
Ryeolliean – One for next time out.
Arpege D’Alene – A real long term prospect and will be featuring prominently on 2015-16 Horses to Follow.
Ptit Zig – Britain’s best chance in the JLT and continues to improve.
Ned Stark – Keep him onside when he goes up to three miles and beyond.
Tenor Nivernais – Looks an ideal type for the Byrne Group Plate.
Wishfull Dreaming – I haven’t covered the race but he did awfully well to win his bumper having clipped heels.
Drucilla – Ran in Exeter’s bumper on New Year’s Day and showed plenty of greenness but his granddaughter of former Gold Cup runner up and Grand National placed Dubacilla should be winning her share of races.