It’s that time of the year where the nights begin to roll in and the blog makes a return for the upcoming few months with reviews of the National Hunt action each weekend leading up towards March/April time. This weekend always signals the return of the jumps, however this year has more significance with Chepstow now a two day fixture with £250,000 worth of prize money up on offer and they were rewarded with plenty of quality entries.
Newton Abbot’s final meeting of the year threw up some eye-catchers to take forward over the coming months, the day beginning with a smart performance from Simon Squirrel in the 2m2f novices’ hurdle. A promising bumper winner at Chepstow in April 2014, he was far too keen behind Supasundae in an especially good bumper at Ascot and despite being keen enough early on, his jumping on the whole was decent and travelled strongly for Sam Twiston-Davies before seeing off Barranco Valley by a comfortable 2 lengths. His dam Misty Heather is a full sister to Rock On Ruby and whilst he lacked the scope to jump fences, Simon Squirrel has plenty of size about him and looks very much the embryonic chaser that Nicholls excels with.
Barranco Valley and Wade Harper both ran with plenty of credit on their hurdling debuts. The former was held up and made significant headway to chase the leaders approaching the second last but was always going to find the winner too good for him. He looks a horse that will improve when going further as will the latter when he learns to settle in his races.
The full brother to Cole Harden was one that was considered for the Horses to Follow piece as he will definitely win races over hurdles without making such a big impression. Long time leader Kilkishen’s mark of 135 looks excessive compared to his achievements in Ireland whilst the disappointment of the race was Going For Broke who was being nudged along leaving the back straight and failed to land a blow. Like many horses in those colours, there will be other days for him in the future.
The staying handicap hurdle went to the tenacious Milan Bound who battled on well on the short run in to deny Rydon Pines who looked the likely winner approaching the last. The winner was given a fine ride by Johnson who wisely fought for track position after the third last with Morito Du Berlais and gained that advantage but looked beaten on the run down to the last. The first time tongue tie looked to be of benefit to him and it wouldn’t be surprising if him or the runner up went chasing now. Rydon Pines came there to win the race approaching two out and his jumping let him down, most notably at the last when a good jump was a necessity. Whilst mentioning chasing for him, he still remains on a fair mark over hurdles and he could potentially turn up in a Pertemps Qualifier if connections aren’t keen on going chasing over the coming weeks.
On The Bridge ran a game race in third after setting a very sedate gallop which meant the whole field effectively finished in a heap. He’s a standing dish in these handicap hurdles but will find it more difficult to win races over the coming months. Just A Normal Day faced the stiffest task of his career so far and acquitted himself well. He’s another like the runner up that could turn up in a Pertemps Qualifier in the coming weeks on decent ground, potentially the one at Aintree’s Old Roan meeting. Gevrey Chambertin is best described as a recalcitrant character these days and was having to be niggled along to stay in touch. He doesn’t look handicapped currently to win over hurdles despite possessing a fair amount of ability.
Considering Morito Du Berlais finished last, he was beaten less than 5 lengths which augurs well for the upcoming season. He was outpaced when the tempo quickened but stayed on nicely before ultimately shaping as if he would come on a fair amount of the outing. Chasing will be the next port of call and he still remains one to be excited about in staying novice chases.
Irish Cavalier opened his account for the new season with a comfortable success in the Intermediate Chase having travelled and jumped nicely on the whole, over-jumping due to freshness at the first and a slight error at the last the only causes for concern in the jumping department. He was eased down by Paul Townend on the run in to ensure he had an easy race as possible and whilst the gap to Henryville was only half a length, he was value for a lot further. His next planned race is the Charlie Hall at Wetherby where he could potentially face Grand National winner Many Clouds and he could very easily turn up with a big chance in the Hennessy Gold Cup, a race second season novices have an excellent record in.
The ride on Henryville divided opinion. Heavily backed into 15/8 favourite before the off, he was dropped in last by Noel Fehily who wanted to take his time and give the horse confidence at his fences after only winning an egg and spoon contest at Fontwell last Friday. On second viewing of the race, I can see the clear argument that he was ‘tenderly handled’ by Fehily and whilst the ride in the closing stages wasn’t pretty viewing for those who backed him, his jumping leaving a lot to be desired throughout the contest and he doesn’t look the most natural recruit to chasing.
Even with a cleaner round of jumping, he would still have needed more to beat Irish Cavalier who was toying with his rivals close home. It’s difficult to suggest where to head next with Henryville, his rating of 156 over hurdles meaning he has to run in Graded hurdles where he’s reached his level whilst he lacks fluency jumping fences.
Art Mauresque has ran a fair race on his return after a summer break and is still eligible for novice chases until the end of the month, a race over 2m4f at Cheltenham where he should get decent ground looking an ideal place to go before tackling open company again whilst Cloud Creeper looks impossible to place off a mark of 152, paying for his consistency last season. Shantou Magic was slightly disappointing with the yard normally firing at this time of year whilst Seventh Sky’s jumping let him down and he looked in trouble a fair way out.
One other horse worth a mention from Newton Abbot is the Philip Hobbs filly Copper Kay who won the closing bumper, quickening up smartly. She had some useful form already to her name, a win at Warwick when beating Big Chief Benny in January and a fourth in the Listed Mares Bumper at Sandown behind Babylon Des Mottes so it was hardly a surprise to see her show her rivals a clean pair of hooves. She will likely go novice hurdling now and rates as a fair prospect for the yard.
Chepstow’s two day meeting began with an intriguing novice hurdle with the two big English yards in Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson represented. It was the latter who gained the upper hand with decent bumper horse Altior who was left clear after the fall of Desertmore Hill at the third last who brought down Nicholls’ runner Brave Jaq.
The winner, a son of High Chaparral, raced keenly throughout off a very slow pace set by Desertmore Hill and his hurdling improved as the race progressed. He looked to be well on top when disputing the lead three out and was left to come home a comfortable winner by 34 lengths. Bigger and better targets now await him but he looks the type that would need decent ground to be seen at his best. The Grade Two at the Paddy Power meeting may be a suitable target if getting conditions required but he will need to settle a lot better in his races, which should happen when getting a faster pace to chase.
With a yawning gap back to the placed horses who were effectively running to get handicap marks, the fallers are more noteworthy. Like the winner, Desertmore Hill didn’t settle particularly well in front due to the sedate pace he set but looked to be fighting a losing battle when diving and taking a very heavy fall three out. Brave Jaq had moved onto the heels of the leader leaving the back straight but had just begun to be niggled at when being brought down. He was an unknown quantity coming into this and, on this effort, looks to have a fair amount of growing to do physically. Kid Kalanisi was creeping closer when badly hampered by the melee and paid the price when over-jumping at the second last.
The mares novices’ hurdle saw the return of Aintree winner Hollies Pearl who was made to work hard by Brise Vendeenne and Rene’s Girl in a race which concentrated on this trio. The winner did look in trouble going to the third last when Brise Vendeenne stole a couple of lengths but she managed to get back on terms to win going away at the line. A worrying tendency throughout the contest was that she kept jumping out to her left frequently and whilst she will gain valuable experience from this, she will need to learn to jump a lot straighter.
The runner up Brise Vendeenne is a half sister to Vroum Vroum Mag and comes from a really nice National Hunt family. A mistake at the second last didn’t help her with the winner hanging in towards her at the last and considering she isn’t exactly the biggest compared to the winner, she stuck on nicely for pressure and should be winning on her next start. Rene’s Girl ran with plenty of promise and is another ready made winner of a similar contest in the next couple of weeks.
The 2m3f novice chase on paper had plenty of depth to it but it went to the only horse with previous chasing experience Cocktails At Dawn who obliged to give Nicky Henderson and Nico De Boinville a double after Altior’s success earlier on. In the past, his jumping has been an issue but he has become a different horse since being allowed to make the running which he showed at Sandown in April and on Saturday. Whilst he was given an easy time of it, it will be interesting to see how he would cope at a higher level when taken on for the lead and pressured in the jumping department. He will probably go to the Paddy Power Gold Cup but in that environment, his jumping will need to be spot on.
As De Mee fared best of the debutants over fences having raced with his usual high head carriage and ran on nicely to finish second. Connections should be more than delighted with the run with improvement likely to come when stepping up in trip. Similar comments apply to Native River who was niggled along turning for home and was staying on well when landing flat footed at the final fence. He finished off his race well and from this field, these are the pair that will be the likeliest to reach the higher levels over the larger obstacles.
Blaklion’s a real trier. Although he isn’t the biggest, the amount of effort he put in to jumping fences is admirable but he just doesn’t look a chaser. He will pay his way for connections as his attitude is superb but I’d be seriously worried about him at a higher level over fences. Regal Encore caught the eye for several reasons. One reason being he surprised me in that he jumped a lot better than I thought he would over fences and he stayed on after the last to grab fifth from Pearl Swan on the line. It’s glaringly obvious what his long term plans are and they don’t really need to be stated. Racing Pulse was a disappointment having dropped out turning for home. It could just be that he needed the outing after such a long absence but he is best watched next time out.
The competitive four year old handicap hurdle went the way of Tea In Transvaal who was winning her fourth race on the bounce since joining Evan Williams, seeing off Karezak and Dexcite in the closing stages to give Williams and jockey Paul Moloney the first of two big race wins on the card. Placed in maidens on the flat as a two year old behind Classic contenders in Taghrooda and Lightning Thunder, she raced up on the front end with plenty of enthusiasm and showed a more than willing attitude battling off her main rivals close to the finish. Depending on how the handicapper assesses this, she is capable of continuing her winning streak.
Karezak emerges with plenty of credit in defeat having very nearly pulled off a big double for Alan King who had won the Cesarewitch with Grumeti five minutes earlier. He will be a standing dish in these big 2m handicap hurdles for the yard and the logical target would be the Greatwood at the Paddy Power meeting. Dexcite benefited from the drop back to 2m after being outstayed on his last start at Newbury last season and is another that looks a well handicapped horse going forward, despite failing to settle early on here.
The disappointment of the race was the fact Monsieur Gibraltar stopped very quickly after travelling well through the contest. He was beginning to be pushed along before making an error four out and the writing was on the wall fairly quickly, pulled up after the third last. His trainer believed post-race that he choked which signifies he will likely be off for a wind operation and it remains to be seen when he next appears on a racecourse.
The Silver Trophy completed the Williams/Moloney double in the shape of top weight Court Minstrel who was sent off a baffling price of 40/1 after winning at Perth last time out. Given a perfect waiting ride from Moloney, he pounced after the last to scamper away in what looked a strong race on paper and although this looked a stiff ask and he didn’t get the strong gallop he adores, it was probably a career best effort from a horse that thrives in big field handicaps. With his handicap mark going up a couple of pounds after that, it may make sense to go back over fences with him and aim at a race like the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter at the beginning of next month.
The runner up Rock The Kasbah has run a fine race on his return to action for a horse with his relative inexperience and he should have a very productive season whether he stays handicap hurdling or goes chasing whilst Hurricane Hollow has performed with plenty of credit back in third. He still has a big handicap hurdle win in him but needs decent ground to be seen at his best.
Our Kaempfer plugged on into fourth having travelled up looking the winner and he probably just needed this which will have put him spot on for wherever he goes next. The Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle at Haydock may come under consideration for him, as it may do for Tea For Two who looks to want further than 2m3f now and connections know what it takes to win after sending out Aubusson last year. Rons Dream forced the pace and will appreciate softer ground over the coming months whilst Mantou found little off the bridle after travelling well.
Sound Investment looked to need the outing with Harry Cobden doing well to recover at the first flight but does look handicapped out of races over fences, a bold thing to say when his trainer improved him considerably last season. The Tourard Man will benefit for a return to 3m whilst The Liquidator looked a non stayer after travelling strongly through the race. He could be one for the Greatwood with Pipe’s excellent record at the Paddy Power meeting but you have to hope everything is 100% with him after his setback.
The 3m handicap chase is one of those races that screams that National Hunt racing has returned with old friends returning year in, year out and this went to Drop Out Joe who jumped superbly for Aidan Coleman, making up a fair amount of ground up the home straight by taking lengths out of his rivals. Although Buachaill Alainn and Doing Fine were staying on in the closing stages and looked threatening, Drop Out Joe had enough in hand to fight off their attentions. With his jumping, the first race that came to mind was the Becher Chase in December where he could use his key asset to get his rivals potentially into trouble from a fair way out.
Buachaill Alainn ran a cracker back up to his highest mark since being a novice chaser with him appreciating decent ground. Bowen won this race two years ago with Al Co who went on to win the Scottish National and it wouldn’t surprise if he went for his winter break before returning for a spring campaign with Ayr being his main target. Doing Fine failed to see out 4m in the National Hunt Chase and ran a solid enough race here on his return. He may just be one to return for the Welsh National at Christmas.
Sego Success travelled strongly throughout but needs to sharpen up his jumping if he is to win a big staying handicap this season, the Classic Chase probably being ideal having won as a novice around Warwick and that trip looking the end limit of his stamina. Audacious Plan looked to need this run and remains unexposed at marathon trips. He could also return over Christmas for the Welsh National where deep ground wouldn’t be a concern based on his second to Heathfield at Punchestown. It was a shame to see Sausalito Sunrise pull up when he did as he had travelled and jumped well before appearing to go wrong and was pulled up sharply by Richard Johnson. Thankfully he was checked over and nothing was found to be amiss but it has to be a concern going forward.
Sunday’s card began with a juvenile hurdle which featured two very fair French recruits in Adrien Du Pont and Sceau Royal who fought out the finish, the latter finishing in front on the track before the latter got the race in the stewards room due to interference on the run in between the pair. You can argue the case either way but the deciding factors for the stewards look to be Daryl Jacob, whilst riding out hands and heels, not changing his whip hand to correct Sceau Royal who took Adrieu Du Pont off a true line and the margin of a short head.
I’m not going to go into details of which opinion is right or wrong, as the subjects of stewards enquiries has been tedious enough the past couple of weeks but the positive from the race is that we have two decent juvenile hurdlers to look forward to. Sceau Royal jumped well apart from the last flight and Adrien Du Pont looks a horse whose very much a long term prospect as he dwarfed his main rival with his size. Both horses will appreciate softer underfoot conditions whilst the latter will need to settle better in his races as well.
The 3m novice chase looked to be all about the imposing Beast Of Burden who jumped well for Paul Townend and was beginning to stamp his authority on the race when meeting the second last wrong, giving his rider no chance of staying in the saddle.There is no doubt he was by far the best horse and it won’t be long before he’s in the winners enclosure over fences but take absolutely nothing away from the winner It’s A Close Call who jumped boldly for Sam Twiston-Davies.
He would have been clear second best which would have been no disgrace against a horse with potential to go a long way. With Nicholls’ horses looking to need the outing, there looks to be a fair amount of improvement to come and looks to rate as one of the better staying novice chasers in the yard. He could potentially head to Cheltenham a week on Friday if connections are willing to turn him out quickly or he could wait for the Paddy Power meeting.
Abracadabra Sivola ran well enough on his English chasing debut whilst Cloudy Copper looked in need of the run and a potential staying handicap chase project from a yard which has an excellent record in that particular sphere. Of the rest it was pleasing to see Berkeley Barron back on the racecourse after showing a fair amount of promise over hurdles for Philip Hobbs. He jumped nicely in rear but just couldn’t go the pace once the tempo lifted. He should come on for the outing nicely and looks one to keep a close eye on over staying distances.
The 2m3f handicap chase finally saw Astracad back in the winners enclosure for the first time since April 2012 at Perth when galvanised by Jamie Bargary to deny Third Intention on the line. A wind operation was cited as finding extra improvement plus his record fresh is decent despite not winning. Third Intention ran an excellent race in defeat having looked the likely winner going to the final fence. He appeals to have a good season running around in top Graded races looking for prize money but not as a betting proposition.
Wilton Milan ran a decent race on his debut for Dan Skelton but doesn’t look a horse that will improve much on his current handicap mark whilst Present View looked in need of the run which made this effort more than satisfactory. His likely first target would be the Paddy Power Gold Cup, a race in which he was third last season to Caid Du Berlais. The ride on Top Gamble raised a few questions as this flamboyant front runner was dropped out in rear where he failed to jump with any fluency. The plan mentioned before this run was the Paddy Power Gold Cup and he would need to improve significantly on this effort.
The Persian War Novices’ Hurdle looked a winnable opportunity for Emerging Talent but he disappointed again when finishing fourth to Roadie Joe who became the third big winner for Paul Moloney and Evan Williams this weekend, another similar to Tea In Transvaal in that he continues his 100% win record for the yard. The amount of improvement he has shown since winning a bumper at Worcester has been quite extraordinary and he looks a horse that connections haven’t got near the bottom of yet. He may have one more run before going for a winter break.
Cardinal Palace looked to improve for the step up in trip but with his close proximity to the winner, it raises question marks about the form but it could just be that the first two home had a fitness edge over their main rivals. The third Definite Outcome ran a pleasing race on hurdling debut where he looked a big threat going to the third last before getting outpaced by the front two and possibly needing the outing. Whilst he handled the ground fine, softer ground wouldn’t go amiss for him.
As mentioned earlier, Emerging Talent was disappointing considering he ran a similar race to most of his efforts last season. His jumping was indifferent throughout and it was concerning to see him weaken again in the closing stages in the manner he did. It just could be that he needs to be sent novice chasing in the near future which could bring out the horse connections believe him to be.. However, he needs to be treated with a fair amount of caution.
The eyecatchers list returns again at the end of the piece and I can only hope it will prove to be as useful as it did last year. Thank you for all the retweets and comments about the National Hunt preview, they were hugely appreciated and whilst both runners so far haven’t ran, they both shaped with promise for the season ahead. Apologies for the lack of pictures as well, once the season commences it tends to be easier to find better/more recent pictures of the action!
Simon Squirrel – Impressive hurdling debut and looks a real chaser of the future.
Brise Vendeenne – Inconvenienced by the winner jumping into her and she looks a more than capable mare.
Dexcite – Looks a well handicapped horse and is able to win next time out.