With less than a week to go until the tape rises for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Luke Elder and Calum Madell are joined by special guest and twice Cheltenham Festival winning jockey Nick Scholfield to cover the four Championship races at this year’s meeting. Nick also answers questions put to him about his likely rides including leading Triumph Hurdle contender Zubayr and other horses at the yard of champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
Before I begin the mammoth task of reviewing the action since Boxing Day, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year with plenty of winners and enjoyment of some brilliant racing over the Festive period. The review will be done in chronological order from Kempton’s Boxing Day meeting to today’s action from Plumpton and Naas.
Kempton kicked off proceedings with Altior continuing his unbeaten record over timber in the opening novice hurdle for trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey Nico de Boinville, making it four from four despite hitting a flat spot turning for home. Once ridden for his full effort, he soon established an unassailable advantage and found plenty for pressure to scamper clear of some fair rivals in behind to win as he pleased by 13 lengths.
The more I see of Altior, the more I like him. Whilst he won on hurdling debut at Chepstow, he raced far too keenly and it was a concern to see how he would progress going forward in better company. Although he still raced slightly with the choke out at Kempton, he switched off better due to the gallop set by Marracudja and produced a career best over hurdles. The fact he beat Simon Squirrel by 21 lengths here compared to just 5 and a half last time at Cheltenham’s Paddy Power meeting suggests we are dealing with England’s leading hope so far for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and is worthy of a position near the head of the market with his continual progression. Better ground will also be of huge benefit for the son of High Chaparral.
Open Eagle filled the runner up spot and produced his best round of jumping to date. He loomed up menacingly approaching the second last but was comprehensively put in his place by Altior. A step up in trip will probably be on the agenda sooner rather than later and it wouldn’t surprise to see him in a handicap hurdle later in the season. Marracudja set a fair gallop but like many of Paul Nicholls runners looked to find little off the bridle. The yard form will crop up a few times throughout the piece but he does look to have ran his race whilst Simon Squirrel wants better ground to be seen at his best and remains of interest, especially when tackling the larger obstacles next season.
The two hurdling debutants Meet The Legend and Gwafa both emerge with some credit. The former was running for the Skeltons for the first time in the Highclere colours and raced far too freely even with the hood on. He will have learnt plenty for the experience whilst the latter had some quality handicap form on the Flat and jumped well enough on the whole. He will have no issue winning an ordinary novice hurdle and should prove competitive in decent handicap hurdles.
Henderson didn’t need to wait long for another winner thanks to Full Shift taking the novices handicap chase for Barry Geraghty and his retainer JP McManus in an eventful contest where several had their jumping severely tested. It was a marked improvement on his chasing debut at Newbury when well beaten behind Arzal but was all out here to hold on from Bekkensfirth who had survived a dreadful mistake at the third last. His jumping was better than most but he still made niggly mistakes and would need to improve on this in future.
The runner up Bekkensfirth jumped the best until his error three out and did well to fight back against Full Shift. On this showing, he wouldn’t be inconvenienced by a step up in distance and should continue to win more novice handicap chases. Sirabad was keen again in the hood but travelled strongly into the race before looking to not see out two and a half miles. The instant suggestion would be to step back down to the minimum distance but he still looks a weak finisher and a horse that would appreciate more time to strengthen and develop. Rock N Rhythm seemed to enjoy these new tactics but the handicapper needs to relent slightly.
Of those that failed to complete, Antony’s jumping was poor compared to Sandown and the writing was on the wall before leaving the back straight whilst Buckhorn Timothy had made jumping errors and was still travelling ok when falling six out. West Wizard crumpled on landing at the last after stopping quickly for new connections but was thankfully fine whilst Unique De Cotte spectacularly unseated Tom Scudamore around halfway.
The Kauto Star Novices’ Chase saw Tea For Two provide Lizzie Kelly with a historic success when she became the first woman to ride a Grade One winner over jumps, a feat she almost achieved on Aubusson at Auteuil in November when denied by the evergreen Thousand Stars and Ruby Walsh in the Grand Prix d’Automne.
What was quite astounding about his performance was how much he found in the closing stages considering how keen he raced early over a trip which held concerns pre-race. His jumping had been electric at Exeter on chase debut and it was a more assured round rather than him being flashy, with Lizzie Kelly keen to ensure that he got into an early rhythm over the first couple of fences. Although he saw it out well to the line, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he came back in distance for either the Scilly Isles at Sandown, where the jumping test would suit ideally, or the Pendil back at Kempton. For the future, going back left handed shouldn’t pose any issues even though his record going the other way has a stronger look.
Southfield Royale ran a much better race than expected on a track that wouldn’t necessarily play to his strengths and delivered his best round of jumping which has clearly improved on each start this season. Aintree has been muted as the target rather than Cheltenham where a sounder surface will bring about more improvement.
Native River emerged with plenty of credit back in third. The track clearly didn’t suit yet he still battled on tenaciously after making several errors on the way round. A stiffer test of stamina and a stronger gallop will see him in a more positive light. The RSA has been mentioned as the target over the National Hunt Chase so the 33’s on show looks generous each way value considering he will be better suited to the conditions of an RSA rather than last week.
I don’t really want to dwell much on the Christmas Hurdle as Faugheen proved he was back to form with an easy success over The New One in the manner in which you would have expected. On that evidence and what we saw later in the week from Nichols Canyon (see below), he remains the clear one to beat come the Champion Hurdle. The New One’s old tendency of jumping right emerged in the closing stages and a step up in trip is probably the ideal route to take whilst Hargam ran well and reversed form from the International with Old Guard who ran slightly flat. A break should do him good before a crack at the Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f in the spring. I’m already looking forward to him going novice chasing next season as he has the capability to be a high class chaser and a prime example to showcase the ability of Notnowcato as a National Hunt sire. Sign Of A Victory wants faster ground and a Flat campaign next summer could just be the right way to go with his mark of 87.
The King George on paper looked to have everything. The highest rated chaser in Don Cossack, the young pretender in Vautour, the resurgent Cue Card, the winner of the last two years Silviniaco Conti and the gallant Hennessy winner Smad Place.
What the race delivered was a Christmas cracker that will live long in the memory with Cue Card stealing the prize from Vautour in the dying strides and keeping alive the Jockey Club £1 million pound bonus after his Betfair Chase saunter. This time Cue Card had to dig deep to reel in Vautour, who had looked the likely winner turning for home. His King George record before this success had been questionable and whilst he didn’t look completely in love again with Kempton, his class managed to get him through.
Treatment of a trapped epiglottis in the summer has transformed Cue Card’s form, bringing him right back to his very best. The same horse that burst onto the National Hunt scene in the Champion Bumper as a four year old in 2010. The horse that dominated the Ryanair Chase in 2013. The only horse capable of getting close to Sprinter Sacre in his prime. One of the highlights of this National Hunt season is the return of the old guard. It would have been a braver man than myself to predict before the Charlie Hall that Cue Card would be in line for the £1 million bonus and Sprinter Sacre would be unbeaten this season
Plenty of credit rightly goes to the horse but we shouldn’t forget the human side. Trainer Colin Tizzard has done a marvellous job to get the son of King’s Theatre back, the new stable built on the yard has aided with breathing and his usually pronounced head carriage not so prominent in his races. Jockey Paddy Brennan has built up an excellent rapport, a man whose confidence and mojo has returned with a vengeance. He was adamant at Haydock that he was back on a Gold Cup horse for the first time since Imperial Commander and his comments to Matt Chapman on ATR’s On The Line regarding the King George made for interesting listening.
“When I rode him in the Charlie Hall, I didn’t really have an opinion on any race at Cheltenham. When I rode him in Haydock, I pulled up and I thought ‘Oh my God I’ve just ridden a Gold Cup horse again’ and that’s genuine. When I went to Kempton, he missed the first and second and I thought we we going no where. All he did was stay. Personally I don’t think he was in love in Kempton and class got him through. I think he’ll stay and I wouldn’t swap him for anything.”
Sometimes with connections of horses you take their comments with a pinch of salt. But I seem to remember Brennan when he rode Imperial Commander and his belief in the horse’s ability to stay and win a Gold Cup. He was proven right on that occasion and whilst there is still a question mark over Cue Card’s stamina for 3m2f round Cheltenham, he heads there with a realistic chance of becoming the second horse to win the bonus after Kauto Star in 2007 (albeit under Betfair’s sponsorship). I do think Djakadam is currently the one to beat but if Cue Card happens to be thereabouts going to the final fence, nobody will be shouting him home more than me.
Lastly, racing can be a difficult game at times and loyalty is something rarely seen all through the sport. So for owners Bob & Jean Bishop to maintain the faith in Tizzard and to be rewarded with two of staying chases biggest prizes is richly deserved. We sadly lost Bob Bishop last Wednesday, the news breaking on New Year’s Day. He got his last hurrah from Cue Card in the King George and the scenes if the horse could do the unthinkable in March for everyone involved, there won’t be a dry eye in the winners enclosure.
Vautour ran a fine race in defeat. He was a lot sharper than his return to action and despite jumping slightly to the left, it wasn’t as deliberate or noticeable compared to Ascot apart from the final fence when showing signs of tiredness. Having tracked Silviniaco Conti for the first circuit, he led going away from the stands and always looked comfortable going his pace compared to his rivals in behind until after the final fence when run down by Cue Card.
Did Vautour see out the 3m trip? The answer; yes. Connections wish to keep all options open until closer to Cheltenham and whilst there’s only one Cheltenham Gold Cup, it may be wise to wait a year. He’s only a 7 year old who has plenty of time on side and with his trainer’s approach to the Festival of ‘Win as many races as possible’, it wouldn’t be the biggest of shocks were he rerouted to the Ryanair or the Champion Chase depending on how Un De Sceaux gets on in his next start. Although Mullins would dearly love to win the Gold Cup, he already has two other leading contenders in Djakadam and Don Poli who have proven themselves as strong stayers. There’s likely improvement to come from Vautour back at Cheltenham on spring ground but it won’t be as much as some expect.
Both Cue Card and Vautour could have ended up being the bridesmaids of the piece had Don Cossack not fallen at the second last. Just like his previous start at Down Royal, he didn’t travel particularly well and a mistake at the last with a circuit to go knocked him back. From that point onwards Bryan Cooper was nudging away, trying to keep tabs with the leaders. It’s testament to the horse’s ability that he still had a winning chance going to the second last before capsizing but the issue with Don Cossack going forward is this recent trait of not travelling well through his races, something that is paramount in a Gold Cup, and he will certainly face an uphill struggle if having to be niggled along with a circuit to go.
Al Ferof proved again that he isn’t good enough at the top level over 3m but ran respectably to be third. Owner John Hales has given up on the Gold Cup and has said he will go straight to the Ryanair as a fresh horse. We could also see Smad Place heading there after being given a bizarre ride. Beforehand it was expected that he would try to go from the front and use his asset of jumping like he did in the Hennessy. Instead, he jumped off tracking the leaders and was never able to land a blow, a mistake at the ditch going away from the stands leaving him on the back-foot. In the end, he proved not to be good enough but the new tactics seen on his previous two outings had looked to revitalised him so the change seemed a poor decision.
As for Silviniaco Conti, the sarcoid issues and other factors seem to be stacking up against him. He jumped well in front but once headed by Vautour, he seemed to lose interest and dropped away tamely before being pulled up three out. The obvious suggestion is to give him a break before bringing him back in the spring for the Bowl at Aintree. The Grand National would be the last race on my mind.
Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival hosted two Graded contests on the opening day with the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle taking centre stage first on the card. Apple’s Jade picked up the first of many Graded successes for Willie Mullins over the Festive period under a power-packed ride from Jonathan Burke to deny Jer’s Girl who had attempted to make all the running. The winner had only one start in France where she had been impressive enough at Vichy and she showed a willing attitude on ground that looked testing enough for her. It’s likely she will return for the Grade One over course and distance in February but it wouldn’t surprise me if the form of this was reversed by Jer’s Girl.
The daughter of Jeremy jumped well in the lead for Robbie Power and had he been more forceful going to the final flight, she may well have held on but lost valuable momentum. She also showed excellent tenacity when the winner challenged and is a definite runner back here in February. The Triumph Hurdle may not be suitable as her trainer Gavin Cromwell seems convinced she wants cut in the ground to be at her most effective.
Footpad stopped quickly after travelling strongly and may just appreciate a sounder surface whilst Campeador did well to finish where he did after pulling hard throughout. The application of a hood should help his chances in future and given connections, he could easily be a candidate for the Fred Winter. Rashaan was a disappointment considering how impressive he had been previously on similar ground at Fairyhouse. Let’s hope he can return to form next time for his small connections who have turned down large money offers to live the dream.
The Grade One Racing Post Novices’ Chase which beforehand looked a race full of strength and depth was turned into a demolition job by the most exciting novice chaser this season in Douvan who barely broke sweat under substitute rider Patrick Mullins. The only slight causes for concern came at the final two fences where he wasn’t completely fluent but the way he dismissed Sizing John, the horse who had finished 7 lengths behind him in the Supreme was quite extraordinary. This time he beat him 18 lengths without having to come off the bridle. There’s little more to say than barring injury, here’s the banker of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
Sizing John was never travelling from an early stage so praise must be given as he tried to give Douvan a race turning for home but was simply put in his place by a potential star of the future. The son of Midnight Legend still remains exciting. He still has the potential to be a Cheltenham Festival winner but as long as connections avoid the Arkle and head for the JLT where the step up in trip on better ground will bring about plenty of improvement. His main market rival Shaneshill doesn’t completely convince me as having the makings of a top chaser and he’s available at 12/1. He’s well worth the risk at that price. Velvet Maker was completely outclassed whilst Ttebbob under different tactics was a major disappointment and stopped very quickly.
With the Welsh National at Chepstow being postponed until 9th January due to waterlogging, the main UK focus was on Kempton’s second day of their Winter Festival which started with a juvenile hurdle where Paul Nicholls saddled the Prix Finot winner Favorito Buck’s whose sire Buck’s Boum is a full brother to four time World Hurdle winner Big Buck’s. The writing was on the wall when ridden along after the third last and he was pulled up quickly on the approach to two out.
Christmas 2015 was a strange one for Team Ditcheat with some of their horses running well and others running well below what was expected of them. The only recent winners for the yard came on New Year’s Day when landing an across the card double but it’s better to have the issues with yard form at this stage of the season rather than March and April where the nine times champion trainer could be able to capitalise with a fresher team to go to war.
It was left to Gibralfaro to snatch the prize from Duke Of Medina who had made an enterprising move after the third last to try and run the finish out of his rivals which almost worked. The winner, another shrewdly purchased Alan King juvenile, was an improving stayer on the Flat in France and needed every yard of a sharp 2m to get the leader. It was a more than likeable performance for a hurdling debut and his trainer is keen to get another two runs into him before sending him to Cheltenham where, on this evidence, he would appreciate a truly run Triumph Hurdle on Cheltenham’s New Course which favours stayers rather than speedier types.
The Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase brought together two of England’s top 2m novice chasers in Vaniteux and Ar Mad who served up the first part of a Nicky Henderson/Gary Moore clash with the latter confirming his Henry VIII win to be no fluke in the slightest, as he fought back tenaciously after being headed by the former two out, showing another side to a horse that could have been considered one dimensional after his two Sandown wins. Again, Ar Mad’s jumping was a joy to watch. His quick and accurate style forced many of his rivals into jumping errors, most notably Arzal and The Saint James but when headed at the second last, it looked inevitable Vantieux would clear away. However, a flying leap at the last compared to Vaniteux gave him half a chance and he fought back like a tiger under an excellent ride by Josh Moore to grab back the advantage, winning by a neck.
After Sandown, Gary Moore wasn’t entirely sold on going back left handed with Ar Mad but he is worth a second chance, especially under these new tactics which have worked a treat. If he is to have a preparation left handed, perhaps the Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster or the Kingmaker at Warwick could be two ideal places to look at. The latter choice would be a sight to behold if handling going the other way round with those five fences in quick succession down the side of the course. Let’s not forget either that Ar Mad was giving the runner up weight with his Grade One penalty and both his Graded wins are backed up by the clock, especially compared to the Graded chasers that ran later on both cards.
It would be harsh to say Vaniteux was a disappointment as he has bumped into a very good horse on the day but he had every chance to seal the race up the home straight yet failed to. An uncharacteristic blunder at the first fence didn’t faze him and he again jumped soundly but he has had a questionable attitude before when coming under pressure. Arzal made a couple of mistakes on the way round but proved himself capable of winning a decent novice chase before the season finishes. Ittirad acquitted himself well with the step up in grade after two wins in smaller novice chases at Worcester and Newton Abbot. Decent ground looks the key to him and could be the type for the Red Rum at Aintree whilst The Saint James made a shocking mistake at the eighth and failed to recover.
Thirty five minutes later, Henderson and Moore did battle again in the Desert Orchid Chase. This time with their established former champions. We finally got to witness a real horse race between Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy. The first time was the beginning of Sprinter Sacre’s issues, a fibrillating heart in this contest two years ago causing him to pull up before a rematch in this year’s Champion Chase where neither were at their best.
Let’s be honest here. If you had told me after the Haldon Gold Cup that Sire De Grugy would come out next time and win the Tingle Creek, I would have thought you were mad. If you had also told me Sprinter Sacre would return and win the Shloer Chase after his efforts last season, the phone number for the nearest Priory would have swiftly been found and called.
Fast forward two months. Sire De Grugy won the Tingle Creek in a controversial finish and Sprinter Sacre showed some of the old spark remained when taking the Shloer by 14 lengths. One of the comebacks of recent seasons and greatly appreciated by National Hunt fans who had thought the former shining light of the 2m division had burned out.
Just like the Wayward Lad, we were treated to a fantastic duel but it was Henderson who brought the score level. In victory, we saw a different Sprinter Sacre. One I never thought existed before last Sunday. The ability to knuckle down in a proper battle to fend off Sire De Grugy on the run to the line, his only previous experience in a battle coming at the hands of Dodging Bullets in the Clarence House at Ascot where he found zilch for Barry Geraghty’s small urgings.
Although he travelled well enough off the pace set by Somersby, Kempton looks sharp enough these days as he wasn’t able to make up ground in the manner he did in the Shloer. Ideally Nico de Boinville would have been in front much earlier than the final fence and the return to Cheltenham in March should play more to his strengths. The Champion Chase is likely where we will see him next and the apple of Henderson’s eye will go there with as good a chance as any of the main market principals lining up.
Sire De Grugy backed up his Tingle Creek effort and served it to Sprinter Sacre up the home straight until a final fence blunder handed the momentum to his main rival. There was no disgrace in the performance and arguably, he will be more at home on softer ground. The Clarence House at Ascot will be his next port of call and on testing ground, he would be hard to beat. Quicker ground at Cheltenham would be a concern if wanting to back him ante-post for the Queen Mother.
Vibrato Valtat ran well for a horse crying out for a step up in trip and whilst he is just shy of top class, the Ascot Chase in February will likely be there for the taking. Somersby has been a terrific servant to connections down the years and this looks likely to be his final season before a deserved retirement whilst Sir Valentino completed in his own time.
To quickly round up the rest of Kempton, honourable mentions go to The Last Samuri and Cannon Fodder. The former staked his claims for a potential bid at the Grand National with a fine performance of jumping and staying in the 3m handicap chase. He might just lack the experience for Aintree this season whilst the latter was dwarfed by the runner up Desert Queen but showed huge determination to take the mares handicap hurdle; her first win in over two years. And thoroughly deserved it was.
The closing handicap hurdle won by Zulu Oscar featured a Paul Nicholls horse returning after an absence in Monsieur Gibraltar who had pulled up at Chepstow after choking mid-race. His first appearance since having a wind operation was encouraging for the future having travelled nicely before being looked after in the closing stages by Sam Twiston-Davies. There is a decent handicap hurdle prize to be won this season and is one to keep a very close eye on wherever he goes next.
Ivanovich Gorbatov started off Leopardstown’s second day by staking his Triumph Hurdle claims with an impressive hurdling debut for new owner JP McManus and Aidan O’Brien. Lightly raced on the Flat for O’Brien, the son of Montjeu was slick over his obstacles and showed a taking turn of foot to see off the filly Let’s Dance who already had winning hurdling experience in France. At this current moment in time, he shouldn’t be that short for the Triumph and I’d be more than happy to wait until nearer the day before committing myself to backing him.
The Paddy Power ‘So Quick, So Easy iPhone App’ Chase saw the return of Arkle winner Un De Sceaux who had missed last month’s Tingle Creek at Sandown. All the natural exuberance from last season was in full force as he blazed a trail until the second last fence where him and Ruby Walsh had a disagreement, ending with him on the floor. Post-race Walsh made the comparison towards Moscow Flyer, an outstanding two miler of an elite generation who, until his defeat to Rathgar Beau at Punchestown in 2005, had form figures over fences of either ‘1’ or ‘U/F’. The fall isn’t much of a concern yet. Apart from a fall on chase debut and last week, his jumping has been sound on the whole but his price is still short enough for a horse yet to prove himself at the highest level outside of novice company. Whilst it was great to see Flemenstar win, the race is worth very little going forward apart from Un De Sceaux.
In stark contrast, the Future Champions Novices’ Hurdle had plenty of depth with Long Dog earning a second Grade One success after making most of the running at a steady pace. It wasn’t a flashy performance and he arguably wasn’t one hundred percent on the day but his attitude cannot be questioned as he kept on finding after looking vulnerable turning for home. When he won in the summer at Galway, the suggestion of him being a horse for the Cheltenham Festival baffled me. All he has done since is improve consistently and now deserves to be mentioned as a genuine Festival contender, although on decent ground a step back up in distance would suit best, the Neptune looking the ideal race.
In behind Long Dog, it was a rough race on the bend where Tombstone was impeded by Woodland Opera falling back through the pack and did well to come from an uncompromising position. A slight mistake at the last didn’t aid his cause before he stayed on well to grab second. The Deloitte in February would be the sensible place to head next to determine whether you go down the Supreme route or up in distance for the Neptune. Petit Mouchoir is definitely a horse that will be suited by further but still needs time to learn to settle properly in his races. It was only his fourth start and with plenty more improvement to come, he remains one of the more exciting novice hurdlers but it could be that Cheltenham comes a year too early.
Bleu Et Rouge was another to make up late significant ground and has a decent prize in him later this season, although he may just need testing ground to show his best. Falcon Crest travelled well before finding little for pressure in the closing stages. Having had three starts over hurdles, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he got an entry for the Boylesports Hurdle at the end of January off a mark of 136 where he would be a well handicapped improving type.
Bachasson looked to dislike the ground which is surprising considering his last win in a NHF contest where he hit the ground fairly hard. Better ground in the spring will be a help and he may be one for Fairyhouse whilst you can forgive Woodland Opera’s run as he was beaten in a matter of strides, similar to Ttebobb from the same yard.
Day three of Leopardstown began with an interesting 2m4f maiden hurdle which went the way of hurdling debutante Chain Gang who stayed on all the way to the line to catch Minella Aris. The son of Midnight Legend needed every yard of the trip to win and will be suited by further whilst the runner up kept jumping to his left throughout. The horse of interest in the future is Road To Respect who stopped quickly after getting an easy lead but he looks a weak individual who needs time to develop and better ground to be seen at his best.
The Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle had the potential for an Irish contender to stamp their claim as a leading World Hurdle contender. Instead, we had a surprise result with the improving Prince Of Scars coming from handicap company to win comfortably from Alpha Des Obeaux and Albert Bartlett winner Martello Tower. The winner has put his form from last season well behind him since joining Gordon Elliott’s yard and looks a real chaser for next season. Prices of 16/1 for the World Hurdle aren’t particularly appealing as he looks to need softer ground.
Alpha Des Obeaux was left in front too early after Snow Falcon’s fall at the fourth so his performance can be marked up as he was forced to make his own running which left him vulnerable to the winner. If Ireland has any horse with a realistic World Hurdle chance then it’s him as he will improve for better ground in the spring and the 20/1 is fair each way value.
Martello Tower was entitled to need the outing, trainer Mags Mullins feeling he would come on for the run but he just doesn’t appeal for March unless the ground came up testing. He looked in the Albert Bartlett to just be a resolute galloper with a lack of pace and it showed here when having to be niggled after three out just to maintain his position. The impression left from his last two outings is that on decent ground he would struggle.
The decision to run Arctic Fire here seemed a bizarre one. In saying that, he wouldn’t have won at two or two and a half miles as he beaten a long way from home and looked laboured without possessing his usual finishing kick. The drop back to 2m will benefit him and we will hopefully see him in the Irish Champion Hurdle before another bid at the Champion Hurdle in March.
The Lexus Chase lost most of its main stars in the build up. Coneygree who had this and the King George as options is out for the season, Djakadam missed this with the Argento Chase in January the preference and Road To Riches due to an unsatisfactory scope. The turnout was pretty disappointing in the end which made the race look a penalty kick for Don Poli. Although he won, it was an underwhelming success even by his standards.
Having seen him in the flesh at Aintree, he looked more fine-tuned compared to several of Mullins other stable stars and it’s evident to see why with his style of running. Even off a steady pace set by On His Own and Foxrock, he was having to be ridden along to stay in touch approaching three out. Once he got to the lead, he looked all out to hold off First Lieutenant. His die-hard fans will all shout from the rooftops about how lazy he is and a race like the Cheltenham Gold Cup will bring him alive but he has to improve plenty to be troubling the likes of Djakadam, Cue Card and Road To Riches. He could easily do that but the fact Mullins is already talking about the Grand National as a potential target one day signifies he may just lack the pace needed for a Gold Cup.
There’s an argument as well that First Lieutenant could have won if given a more forceful ride by Davy Russell. It was definitely forceful enough after the final fence with the use of the whip down his neck looking unpleasant. Had Russell given him a couple of smacks behind the saddle, we could have seen a different result but it wouldn’t have suited Gigginstowns’ best interests. Another of the old guard that has returned to some decent form, it’s good to see First Lieutenant show resemblances of his old form but he will be difficult to place after looking on a fair handicap mark in the Hennessy.
Foxrock ran a decent race at a track he has shown his best form at and his big day will likely come in the Irish Hennessy unless one of the big guns turns up. On His Own showed a liking for returning to regulation fences after two no shows in cross country contests but he’s never been entirely reliable whilst Sir Des Champs proved the form of his comeback run to be worth very little, a race which was handed to him on a plate thanks to a strange ride on Rubi Light at Thurles. Carlingford Lough showed no promise compared to this race last season and is probably waiting for decent ground in the spring.
Nicky Henderson has a good recent record in Newbury’s opening juvenile hurdle on Challow day for owners Simon Munir & Issac Souede with the likes of Grandouet and Top Notch succeeding before going onto bigger and better things and they look to have another useful recruit in Fixe Le Kap. Only a juvenile, he has the build of a chaser already and raced lazily throughout but once Jeremiah McGrath got stuck into him he responded well for pressure to fend off Tommy Silver in the final hundred yards.
It seems surprising that the son of Kapgarde is the first to emerge as a genuine Triumph contender for Henderson, a division he tends to do well in and the end to end gallop will see the best of him. He already has enough experience of jumping so the ideal place to go is the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham’s Trials Day to give him vital experience of the course and distance. With the reasons listed above, 20/1 with Skybet for the Triumph is more than a fair price.
Tommy Silver ran with plenty of promise on hurdling debut having jumped well in the main and shouldn’t find it difficult to win a juvenile hurdle in the coming weeks whilst Kasakh Noir failed to build upon a hugely impressive course and distance win at the Hennessy meeting although time may show that he bumped into two decent horses.
The Grade One Challow Hurdle had a small but select trio head to post but the race lived up to expectations with the unbeaten Barters Hill showcasing himself to be one of the leading staying novice hurdlers on either side of the Irish Sea by winning his first Grade One for trainer Ben Pauling. The son of Kalanisi still showed signs of greenness passing the stands with a circuit to go when needing a reminder to keep his concentration on the job and also at his hurdles with jockey David Bass having to make his mind up for him.
Turning for home he looked slightly vulnerable when coming off the bridle but he’s exceptionally deceptive, a trait now well known from his bumper days. Whilst he’s always saving a bit for himself, the way he dismissed Politologue and Label Des Obeaux was hugely impressive. His Listed/Graded bumper form stands up strongly as does his maiden hurdle success at Huntingdon with the second winning a decent contest at Cheltenham which contained Politologue and post-race, connections stated the likely Cheltenham target would be the Albert Bartlett on decent ground where the step up to 3m should bring about further improvement and is currently the clear one to beat. The fact he’s showing this level of form over hurdles makes me even more excited about what he could potentially achieve later this year when going novice chasing. I’d also go as far as saying he’s the most exciting winner of the Challow Hurdle since Denman romped to victory on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham in 2006.
Politologue would arguably have gone very close under a penalty at Cheltenham but for jinking and unseating Sam Twiston-Davies. He travelled strongly through the race before not finding as much for pressure as expected and similar comments apply to Label Des Obeaux who had looked decent on his two British starts. Both are nice horses but it could be that they have bumped into a very smart prospect in the winner. As an aside, Ireland’s likely leading contender for the Albert Bartlett Up For Review was impressive enough in the Doran’s Pride Novices’ Hurdle at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve but will need to improve for decent ground if he is to be a danger to Barters Hill.
Leopardstown’s fourth and final day saw No More Heroes continue his progression over fences when stepping up to 3m for the first time over the larger obstacles when taking the Grade One Neville Hotels Novices’ Chase with considerable ease. Having taken a keen interest in the son of Presenting’s career since his 39 length rout in a bumper at this meeting two years ago, it’s always pleasing to see a horse you have a high opinion of from an early stage make into a top class chaser.
His current price for the RSA Chase is skinny enough but on his chase starts to date, he has looked so assured in the jumping department and whilst some are concerned about the prospect of him handling decent ground, it shouldn’t be an issue. The only time he has encountered good ground was when he was clearly over the top at Punchestown at the end of last season. I wouldn’t be adverse to him having one more run before the Festival, just to keep him ticking over and a either the Flogas over 2m5f back at Leopardstown or the Ten Up at Navan over 3m would slot in perfectly.
The Ryanair Hurdle saw Faugheen’s Morgiana successor Nichols Canyon take on Fighting Fifth victor Identity Thief with the former making it six Grade One wins over timber. From a long way out the race turned into a match between the pair, a mistake at the second last not helping Nichols Canyon but he showed a tremendous attitude to battle back at the last and outstay Identity Thief in the conditions. Even though he handles testing ground, Nichols Canyon clearly wasn’t at his best on this occasion.
It will be interesting to see whether he has another outing before the Champion Hurdle and he still rates as the main danger to the more illustrious Faugheen on reputation but his record speaks for itself. After the Festival, the Aintree Hurdle would be tailor made for him with the majority of his stablemates likely to have other targets.
Identity Thief has improved again from his Fighting Fifth effort and has underlined his Champion Hurdle credentials after slightly losing his way last season. Better ground shouldn’t be an issue come March and he would hold definite each way claims before going on next season to potentially make into a quality chaser. Windsor Park was disappointing but it was more down to the negative tactics used rather than the horse flopping. The only real piece of evidence we have of him performing over hurdles came at the Festival when actually ridden properly and those backing him ante-post for March will only have his Neptune win to cling on to for a glimmer of hope.
New Year’s Day
The ground was desperate at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and with plenty of good horses disappointing, the majority of the form does look questionable. What doesn’t though is Seeyouatmidnight’s determined effort in the Grade Two Dipper Novices Chase with an all the way success, seeing off Blaklion by just over 3 lengths with Le Mercurey a further 20 lengths away in third. The winner’s jumping was a joy to watch and he underlined his RSA Chase credentials. His trainer Sandy Thomson stated that he doesn’t exactly need deep ground to be at his best which gives more confidence towards a Festival bid. The likely next port of call is the Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby before a return to Cheltenham in March.
Blaklion appreciated the stamina test over this distance and has bumped into a fair horse but he doesn’t convince to have the scope to make a real top chaser. It seemed strange to see Le Mercurey out so quick after his Ascot win with the yard seemingly under a cloud and he weakened tamely on the long run to the final fence whilst Volnay De Thaix hated the ground and lacked fluency. Three Musketeers never really looked comfortable whilst Minella Rocco has been a huge disappointment since going chasing.
The Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle looked highly competitive on paper but was turned into a procession by Camping Ground in a really likeable manner after taking up the running at the top of the hill under Leighton Aspell for Robert Walford. Sent back hurdling after a fall in the Peterborough Chase, the success may have come as a surprise to some but he had decent form as a younger horse in France and a classy performance over fences at Warwick off 145 last February.
A wind operation after a fine fourth in the Imperial Cup has clearly improved the son of Goldneyev who now heads for the World Hurdle via the Cleeve where he will have a rematch against Thistlecrack who he finished ahead of at Sandown. The form is questionable to an extent but if Lil Rockerfeller has ran his race in second then we are looking at a 160+ rated hurdler who wouldn’t need to improve much to figure in March. Lil Rockerfeller has proven himself again as a model of consistency but has ruled himself out of handicaps. He could be the type that heads for the National Spirit at Fontwell at the end of February.
There’s little point in discussing Cole Harden as the season revolves around one day but you would have at least expected him to finish closer to Camping Ground. Aurore D’Estruval travelled well through the contest before shaping as if in need of the outing. Her long term target is the Mares Hurdle whilst Top Notch disappointed for the first time in his career and can ultimately be forgiven. Whisper has also become disappointing and is difficult to assess, just like stable mate Bob’s Worth.
Sandown’s Tolworth Hurdle saw Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh over in England chasing more Grade One success which they achieved yet again with Yorkhill who handled the testing conditions in a professional manner to see off O O Seven whose trainer Nicky Henderson was seen giving Mullins his marching orders back to Ireland in the most eloquent fashion. Considering it was just Yorkhill’s second start over hurdles, his nimbleness from one side of a hurdle to the other was a huge asset and he was entitled to wander under pressure due to greenness in the closing stages after travelling so effortlessly into the race at the second last.
On this evidence, he looks more of a stayer rather than a speedier type, the obvious Festival target being the Neptune where he would improve a great deal for decent ground and could follow in the footsteps of French Holly in 1998 and Monsignor in 2000 who both did the double. O O Seven lost his unbeaten record over hurdles but wasn’t disgraced in the slightest. He is another that will be suited by a step up in distance whilst Agrapart confirmed his Aintree victory not to be a fluke with a good run back in third. Welsh Shadow was beaten a long way out having not been particularly fluent at his hurdles and can be forgiven easily.
To end the blog, a couple of stand out performances from today starting with L’Ami Serge who jumped well on his chase debut in desperate conditions at Plumpton, albeit out to the left. The first victim seemingly of the latest phenomenon that is a trapped epiglottis, he showed no ill effects here and a fine leap at the last signified there was plenty left in the tank even on bad ground. He will need more chasing practice but has plenty of options between 2m and 2m4f over the next couple of weeks.
Shaneshill continued his unbeaten record over fences when beating Sizing Codelco at Naas but he was more impressive in the sense that his ability got him out of trouble rather than his jumping being outstanding. The last two fences in particular were heart in mouth moments and of the Mullins battalion sent chasing this season, he looks the most opposable going forward to the bigger tracks like Leopardstown and Cheltenham where more stiffer fences compared to Naas and Thurles are a major cause for concern which were also highlighted above when discussing Sizing John.
Sizing Codelco put up a career best back in second and was more sure footed than the winner but he was eventually overcome by Shaneshill’s natural ability. He probably isn’t one for Cheltenham this season but could easily head to Aintree for the Maghull, a route taken by Sizing Granite last year. Kitten Rock was ultimately disappointing, his high head carriage potentially caused by a wind problem. It was also found post-race that he was lame but he now has plenty of questions to answer.
The final race to be covered from the last eight days of racing is the Grade One Lawlor’s Hotel Novices’ Hurdle where Bellshill cemented his position as clear favourite for the Neptune after taking an unspectacular victory with most of his market rivals under performing. The ground was probably as testing as he would want it and his jumping was sketchy at times but his class saw him through. There’s plenty still to work on but it’s worth remembering that he thrived on his racing towards the back end of the season so you would imagine there’s a fair amount of improvement to come.
The Deloitte at Leopardstown will likely determine where we see him at the Festival but he certainly isn’t devoid of speed and with the Wylies having Up For Review for the Albert Bartlett, it’s almost certain he will head for either the Supreme or the Neptune. The form of the race is hugely questionable with the proximity of 127 rated Last Encounter. Whilst he’s been a consistent performer, you wouldn’t be considering him for any major prizes in the spring.
Anibale Fly didn’t look completely in love with the ground today and was minded by Barry Geraghty whilst Marakoush failed to build on his quite remarkable success at Punchestown. Stone Hard was soon beaten once turning for home and it wouldn’t surprise were he to bounce back at one of the Irish spring festivals.
Sizing John – Not essentially an eyecatcher but take the 12’s for the JLT.
Falcon Crest – Boylesports Hurdle would be very interesting off 136.
Monsieur Gibraltar – Showed promise and once the yard is fully firing, he will land a big handicap.
Road To Respect – A more long term prospect rather than a ‘Back next time out’ type.
Fixe Le Kap – 20’s for the Triumph Hurdle looks generous.
Two and a half weeks to go now until Cheltenham is upon us and today was essentially the final Saturday to throw up clues towards the Festival as well as several staking their claims towards the Grand National. Kempton’s Betbright Chase meeting was the main attraction with four Graded contests the centre of attention plus an appearance from Sire De Grugy at Chepstow after his dramatic unseat in the Game Spirit at Newbury.
The Adonis Juvenile Hurdle has thrown up Triumph Hurdle winners in the past with the likes of Soldatino in 2010 and Zarkandar in 2011 who both did the double. This year’s renewal didn’t have the strongest feel to it but the performance of Beltor was one of the best from a juvenile this season. He took a keen hold throughout for Tom O’Brien but the manner in which he travelled and then put the race to bed in a matter of strides was hugely impressive with O’Brien just using hands and heels, especially on ground like that.
Bookmakers reacted by cutting him to as short as 12/1 but sustained money throughout the day now sees him as short as 8/1 (11/1 best price). After his Ludlow win which has worked out extremely well, trainer Robert Stephens was keen to dampen talk of the Festival suggesting that Aintree might well be the preferred option. That view may have changed after today but wherever he goes, he’s worth full respect. My gut feeling would be to miss Cheltenham for Aintree as a flat track on better ground would see plenty of improvement, even from today.
All Yours showed less awkward tendencies than he did at Taunton but has simply found one too good for him. He only holds a Fred Winter entry at the Festival and would surely be an interesting runner for Paul Nicholls who also has Bouveril for the race. Bivouac was surprisingly backed into a short price favourite considering soft ground was always going to be a big negative for him and he ran accordingly. When he gets spring ground, you will see a much better horse. With his trainer’s strangehold on the Triumph, it could be that we see him at Aintree where the two and a half mile novice would look to suit him as he would be recieving a fair amount of weight from his opposition.
Others to note include Cape Caster and Primogentiure. The former travelled strongly before being outclassed and whilst he has form on softer ground, he would be interesting on better ground in the spring. He may not get into the Fred Winter but the juvenile handicap on the final day at Sandown could be the race to aim at. The latter was making his debut over hurdles and didn’t look at ease on the ground having done all his racing on good ground in Ireland. It wouldn’t be a shock if he was allowed to take his chance in the Triumph to gain some valuable experience before retaining his novice status for next season.
The Pendil Novice Chase became a match between Irish Saint and Melodic Rendezvous once God’s Own was withdrawn on account of the ground. It was left to the favourite Irish Saint who made all the running to give Paul Nicholls his eighth win in the race out of the last ten runnings.
He was given a no nonsense ride by Sam Twiston-Davies who simply went out in front and exposed Melodic Rendezvous’s jumping frailties, with that rival making a significant error five out which effectively ended his chances. On the whole, the winner jumped economically and apart from guessing at the third last, it was always going to be one result. The JLT would be the winner’s target if he goes to the Festival but connections may be more inclined to wait for Aintree where he could stay at this trip or go up to three miles.
Melodic Rendezvous tried to go with the winner but his jumping suffered as a result. Although he looks to have the size and scope to be a chaser, it just hasn’t worked out for him. Because of him trying to go with Irish Saint, he paid for it late on when being run out of second by Hollow Penny. It’s hard to find a suitable target as he has reached his ceiling over hurdles and doesn’t look to have it in him to make a top class chaser. The runner up will be a different horse on good ground and could be the type that enjoys something like the Summer Plate at Market Rasen.
The Dovecote Novice Hurdle had a small but select field which went the way of Days Of Heaven who was gaining the biggest success of his career to date beating Vago Collonges. The winner has been a tricky character throughout the season with him learning how to race slowly but surely. His behaviour was much better than has been the case and the application of the hood has helped him to switch off more in his races. He also did well to survive a shuddering mistake at the second last which didn’t check his momentum before going on to win a shade cosily. Due to his general buzziness, he was withdrawn from the Supreme, his acid test coming in April at Aintree where he would have to cope with the largest crowd he has encountered. If he overcomes the preliminaries, he should be hard to beat depending on opposition that turns up.
Vago Collonges is a strong traveller but just like Trials Day, he failed to finish off his race. The suggestion from Sam Twiston-Davies post-race on that occasion was his breathing may not be helping him and the application of the tongue tie seems to suggest this. When he returns after the summer for novice chasing, it would be no surprise to see a much improved horse once a breathing operation has taken place. The Grey Taylor ensured a fair gallop but was pushed aside easily. He should improve for a step up in distance and could be interesting in a handicap at either Aintree or Ayr.
The Betbright Chase didn’t look the strongest renewal beforehand but a different opinion has been formed post-race. In a race that was run at a furious gallop by Renard, you needed a thorough stayer and in the end, it was a fine weight carrying performance by Rocky Creek who finally showcased the potential that he has threatened to show in the past. Having had a breathing operation last summer, his comeback run was promising enough behind Road To Riches before he disappointed in the Hennessy. He jumped and travelled beautifully throughout for Sam Twiston-Davies who gave him a confident ride and kept him wide looking for better ground before seeing out his race decisively.
He was cut to 14/1 best price for the Grand National and with Rhyme N Reason and Rough Quest both winning this race before going onto Aintree glory in the same year, Rocky Creek has every chance to do the same. The obvious question would be whether he’d see out the distance but last year he looked to have a winning chance going to the second last before his breathing stopped him. On that basis and having had a much better preparation, he would have a brilliant chance with Twiston-Davies already looking keen to take the ride at Aintree.
Le Reve has continued to improve throughout the season and considering the ground was probably plenty soft enough for him, he ran a fine race in defeat having raced handily throughout. The ideal aim looks the Bet365 Gold Cup at the end of the season before a campaign aiming at the 2016 Grand National where he shouldn’t have any issues going left handed. Bally Legend ran his best race since winning this contest twelve months ago but is very hard to predict. This was probably his main target so he wouldn’t be one to necessarily take forward whilst Ardkilly Witness finished very tired but ran a lot better than he did at Sandown.
Godsmejudge was another to run an excellent Grand National trial having got outpaced at a crucial stage before staying on through beaten rivals. He shaped with more promise than he did at Doncaster in January and nothing in this run put me off his Aintree chances. Trainer Alan King wants one more run with either the Grimthorpe in two weeks time or the three mile handicap at the Festival the only two logical targets before the National.
Tenor Nivernais didn’t appear to see out the distance which was slightly disappointing considering the way he stayed on at Ascot previously. Rajdhani Express was also a non-stayer but jumped and travelled with real menace before fading away late on. On better ground, the Topham Trophy is a race that looks tailor made for him and with Sam Waley-Cohen’s record around the National fences, he would be one firmly on the shortlist.
Of those that didn’t complete, Easter Day made a shuddering error at the second fence and was sensibly pulled up soon after. Tap Night made an error at the first before unseating Richard Johnson at the third and Fox Appeal was another whose jumping let him down as he got rid of Richie McLernon. The Rainbow Hunter clearly hated the ground on his comeback whilst Chartreux ran absolutely no race whatsoever and Renard paid the penalty for setting the strong gallop early on.
With the previous race looking an ideal Grand National trial, the Bobbyjo Chase also had potential Aintree clues with the return of Spring Heeled for Jim Culloty. He did his Aintree credentials no harm with him jumping exhuberantly throughout before getting tired late on which he was entitled to do on ground he wouldn’t have liked. The race went to small field bully Roi Du Mee who fought off Foildubh in the closing stages. Aintree was mentioned for the winner but as a small field bully who likes to dictate, he may struggle getting to the lead. My Murphy is another entered for Aintree but would only go if the ground came up on the softer side.
The final race to concentrate on is the return to the winners enclosure of Sire De Grugy at Chepstow. Giving a fair amount of weight away to three rivals, he jumped a lot better than he did at Newbury and when asked to come up at the final three fences, he duly obliged on each occasion. This can give the Moores plenty of confidence and the Champion Chase is now firmly back on the radar where he shall return with leading claims to defend his crown.
Primogeniture – Will hopefully retain his novice hurdle status for next season where he will definitely be winning races.
Vago Collonges – One to watch next season when he goes novice chasing.
Godsmejudge – Lovely National trial.
Rajdhani Express – Topham Trophy on decent ground is well within his grasp even off his handicap mark.
To end the blog this week, this is what I started last week before deciding it wasn’t worth much time to continue and I feel the write up of the first from Ascot deserves a mention. Next weekend’s blog may be short and sweet compared to others I’ve written but closer to the Festival, some written previews will go up on this and other sites.
Ascot’s card in a way summed up the National Hunt season a whole; hugely disappointing. Field sizes being the big issue. The largest coming in the bumper with ten runners with the rest of the card having single figures in each race. With decent prize money on offer, why aren’t owners who are normally the first to complain when there is a lack of it actually supporting these meetings?
The opener looked a match on paper between Lanzarote winner Tea For Two and Arpege D’Alene who was fifth in the Challow Hurdle. In the end, it was the latter who obliged for Sam Twiston-Davies and Paul Nicholls but it didn’t look likely going down the side of the course as he was being ridden along to stay in touch. His jumping kept him in the race and he showed a really tough attiude to battle back against the odds on favourite.
Just like his course and distance win back in November, he was putting in his best work in the closing stages which shows no fears to step him up in distance. He misses Cheltenham and if he does run again this campaign, the Sefton at Aintree has been mentioned, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea to put him away for the summer as he will be a top prospect in the big staying novice chases next season and a name we shall hear plenty more of in the coming years. It wouldn’t surprise me either if he had a wind operation over the summer as something may have been affecting him to get outpaced in that way.
Tea For Two was certainly not disgraced, especially as his jumping has improved a ton since his debut round Kempton. He travelled far better than the winner and looked the likely winner on the turn for home before getting outbattled on the run in. He is a big fine strapping type who will also make his mark when he goes novice chasing in the autumn.
Buckhorn Timothy has improved over the last couple of months and has probably exceeded expectations against two smart horses. His trainer Colin Tizzard has some very interesting horses to go novice chasing with next season including the likes of Robinsfirth and Native River and this horse certainly would deserve a creditable mention.
Our first Cheltenham Festival 2015 preview kicked off with a bang with special guest Nick Scholfield and surprise special guest Sam Twiston-Davies who joined us very briefly to preview the four Championship races that take place next month.
Thank you for all the contributions to the show, we shall be back as usual on Friday covering the BetBright Chase from Kempton and we shall continue our Festival previews next week. We shall let you know which races on Twitter and on the blog so you can get your questions to us.
What a three days of racing. The type of weekend where once you’ve gone through it all you need a good lie down. Both sides of the Irish Sea held some top quality action with Super Saturday at Newbury and Leopardstown’s Irish Hennessy card being the main attractions, upheld by some solid meetings elsewhere.
It’s rare that a Friday afternoon would get such a mention but with the quality of racing on show at both Kempton and Bangor, I felt it was worth covering those cards as well as there were notable horses at both venues.
Kempton’s card attracted some fascinating contenders for its two mile and five furlong novice hurdle, none more so than West Wizard who has been beaten twice in the same novice hurdle at the track two years running. On this occasion he was running over further but the odds on favourite again found one too good for him in Minella Rocco, an expensive purchase for JP McManus who looked to win with a fair amount in hand for Tony McCoy and Jonjo O’Neill.
Both horses travelled by far the best throughout the contest but when it mattered most, Minella Rocco had too much class for West Wizard who didn’t find again like has promised to do before. The winner doesn’t hold any fancy entries indicating that he is very much a long term prospect; one for chasing next season. It’s hard to suggest a target for West Wizard as he clearly hasn’t lived up to the hype of what his stable have expected of him. He does have a handicap mark of 136 so connections may consider going down that route with him but he isn’t one to trust.
Scorpiancer has ran respectably back in third and could be one to benefit from a wind operation as he didn’t look to see out the race. Flying Bandit will be interesting once he goes back into handicap company having shown enough here to suggest he can win one. Pyrshan was runner up to a Graded winner in Ordo Ab Chao on hurdling debut and will definitely make his mark in handicaps. Two that caught the eye further back were Rock On Oscar and The Last Euro. The former pulled away his chance and looked a horse that will need a fair bit of time to mature whilst the latter shaped with promise and is another long term project.
The Graduation Chase looked a good opportunity for Josses Hill to gain more experience of chasing after looking sketchy on his first two attempts at Ascot and Doncaster but yet again, his jumping left an awful lot to be desired and had to settle for second behind Third Intention who made most of the running for man of the moment Daryl Jacob.
On his third start over fences, Josses Hill was still guessy at a couple, including the ditch going away from the stands where he gave his supporters heart failure by standing off too far. His technique hasn’t improved much either with him lingering in the air which currently holds him back from being a top chaser. The Arkle was confirmed as the plan post-race but he hasn’t had an appropriate test. The Kingmaker would potentially have been an ideal place to go with the five fences down the back straight providing a true test for a novice. He is one to avoid at the Festival; even for each way purposes.
Take nothing away from Third Intention though who was giving the runner up eleven pounds and bounced back from a fall last time at Haydock. He did something that hasn’t been known of him completely in the past and battled all the way to the line. His slick jumping was his main asset and with his main competitor losing ground in the air, he was gaining, in particular at the final fence. The Topham was nominated as a target by Joe Tizzard, son of trainer Colin and he would be an exciting ride over those fences.
Caesar Milan wasn’t given the best of rides by Sam Twiston-Davies as he decided to kick for home too early although it did look a race winning move for the early part of the home straight. He has clearly turned a corner in cheekpieces and is definitely worth a chance depending on where he turns up next whilst Thomas Crapper had a good blow out with the novice handicap chase at the Festival firmly in mind for him.
The first division of the bumper provided some compensation for Nicky Henderson when Newsworthy made a winning debut for owners Michael Buckley and Rich Ricci. At one stage up the straight, it looked as though Midnight Cowboy would get the upper hand with the winner showing signs of greenness but he eventually put the race to bed. Of the front pair, the runner up looked a more long term prospect whilst the third horse Bilzic did too much in the middle part of the race and was a sitting duck for the minor honours close home.
The second division looked to have more substance in the entries but again, it went to Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty with Ok Corral who fought off the favourite High Bridge despite being slightly green in the closing stages. The winner looked to have more to give compared to the runner up and may have handled the softer ground better. Both Henderson bumper winners weren’t mentioned post-race for the Champion Bumper which seems fair, as both would be too inexperienced. High Bridge should be better on a more sounder surface being out of a 1,000 Guineas winner but he isn’t one to get excited about.
The Unit travelled well but went round the inside where the ground wasn’t as nice compared to going out wide whilst Antartica De Thaix was keen early on but travelled nicely before lacking a turn of foot. Both him and Baraza, a full brother to Nacarat, both look stayers and should be kept on side.
Great Try got off the mark at the third attempt over hurdles at Bangor, doing so in a professional manner under Nick Scholfield in what looks a fair enough race. With this being an EBF novice hurdle, this qualifies him for the Final at Sandown over two and a half miles which should suit him well. The runner up Hedley Lamarr ran a race full of promise on his debut in the familar colours of the Hitchens, famous for horses like Toby Tobias and Golden Freeze. If allowed to, he will certainly make his mark somewhere later in the season. L’Aigle Royal would probably appreciate going back up in trip after being put in his place here by the front two whilst Bringithomeminty was a disappointment, his jumping lacking fluency.
The three mile novice hurdle looked a match between Mendip Express and Beast Of Burden which went the way of the latter who won easily under Paul Townend. He made the majority of the running and relished the step up in distance, even with a slight error at the last. He is certainly worth a place at the Cheltenham Festival but I would be inclined to see him in the Neptune at this stage of his career rather than the Albert Bartlett as three miles on a more galloping track may just find him out at this stage of his career.
Mendip Express certainly wasn’t disgraced back in second, especially with his slickness over hurdles and was able to keep up with the winner for a fair way. He wasn’t beaten that far in the end and that should have put him spot on for the Festival Handicap Chase on the first day where he would have a big chance.
The Hunter Chase that ended the card wouldn’t have looked out of place at any of the major spring meetings and even though eight were pulled out due to various reasons, it still looked a strong contest for the sphere. As readers from last year may remember, Teaforthree was a horse that I had convinced myself that defeat was out of the question in the Grand National so you can imagine my shock when he unseated Nick Scholfield right under my nose at the Chair. Having watched the race back on numerous occasions, he wasn’t travelling with his usual enthusiasm and excuses emerged with an injury suffered during the race.
For today’s run, there was enough evidence to oppose him with. He usually needs a couple of runs before he reaches his peak and the drop back in distance looked to be an inconvenience. However, class prevailed with him travelling and jumping in the manner in which we have become accustomed to over the last few seasons, gaining his first win since his National Hunt Chase win at Cheltenham in 2012. The plan is to go to Cheltenham for the Foxhunters but he needs another win to qualify for the race. The Walrus Hunter Chase at Haydock could be a target; especially with the £10k bonus if you win that and the Cheltenham Foxhunters before a third crack at the Grand National.
Pacha Du Polder chased the winner throughout and whilst he was a useful performer at his best, giving eight pounds to Teaforthree proved too much. He only needs a win or another second to qualify for Cheltenham or Aintree with the latter looking a more preferable option over a trip that would suit him more. The other class horse Calgary Bay travelled up omniously going to three out before getting very tired. The market beforehand suggested he may need this outing and that was proven. He will no doubt be competitive in hunter chases over the coming months.
The main UK action of the weekend came in the form of Super Saturday with Newbury firmly in the limelight with a high quality card with some taking performances and some shocks along the way from both equines and human.
The opening race on the card was the two mile novice hurdle in which Qewy built upon his hurdles debut in Graded company behind Aso at Haydock when winning for John Ferguson and Tony McCoy, the first of two winner for him on the card. He jumped slickly throughout and used his tactical speed from the flat decisively against some fair opposition. He would need to improve again if he were to feature in the Supreme but with the improvement he has showed here, it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if he did.
Doncaster winner Cardinal Walter loomed up dangerously having travelled strongly but was firmly put in his place by Qewy and made to look one paced; he will no doubt find a decent handicap hurdle in the spring. Royal Vacation has ran well on his hurdles debut and has performed to a fair level, suggesting that he will win a couple of novice hurdles before embarking on his chasing career.
Bouveril didn’t particularly look the strongest of finishers and could just need a summer at grass to grow up mentally and physically. Cloonacool could be used as the marker for the race, having beaten the Betfair Hurdle winner Violet Dancer on his last start at Kempton which gives this race a solid look whilst Risk A Fine was far too free for his own good and faded away tamely.
The Denman Chase looked an ideal opportunity for one of the top staying novice chasers Coneygree to cement his Cheltenham Festival position against seasoned chasers and he put in a performance similar to the Feltham where he put his rivals to the sword and one by one, they fell by the wayside, albeit this time down to jumping errors as opposed to falling.
A seven length success over Hennessy runner up Houblon Des Obeaux who looks to have ran to his mark suggests he isn’t far off Gold Cup class this season and his style of racing is just an absolute joy to watch with fast accurate jumping and the ability to get his rivals into trouble, something very few horses possess.
The performance was similar to Gloria Victis, like Coneygree, a novice who had both the RSA and the Gold Cup as potential targets after routing a field in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton. He was also ridden by Richard Johnson who deserves plenty of credit for the ride he gave Coneygree as he allowed the horse to do what he pleased but when asked up the home straight, he responded superbly.
The million dollar question – Do connections opt for the RSA or the Gold Cup? I’m now convinced that if he goes down the novice route then he will be extremely hard to beat, even with his running style and if they decide to go for the blue riband, he would certainly have a strong chance of winning. Whilst a lack of experience would be the concern, his jumping has been faultless so far and his relentless galloping have made him so endearing to the public.
Houblon Des Obeaux has been a model of consistency this season and deserves a big race win with this being his third second place finish this campaign. This was his Gold Cup and he was comprehensively put in his place by Coneygree which underlines how much talent the winner has. He may go to Cheltenham but his record isn’t the best. He could go to Sandown for the Bet365 Gold Cup again where hopefully he’d get further than the first fence unlike last year. Unioniste was outpaced here before staying on stoutly up the home straight, showcasing his attributes for the Grand National. Paul Nicholls did also mention the Grand Steeple Chase de Paris which is another race that could suit him very well.
Both Taquin Du Seuil and Harry Topper’s jumping were exposed by Coneygree. The former did look a danger going to three out before fading away, suggesting that the distance stretched him. He would probably head towards the Ryanair now with him showing more positive signs compared to Haydock whilst the latter wants softer ground and a similar galloping track. Double Ross showed more here than at both Haydock and Kempton but wants to go back in trip.
The Game Spirit Chase marked the return of last season’s Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy but the centre of attention shifted elsewhere as soon as the race finished with the shock announcement from nineteen times champion jockey Tony McCoy of his retirement at the end of this National Hunt season after gaining his 200th winner of the season on Mr Mole. McCoy’s retirement will get talked about more in due course on the videos and in written form closer to the end of the season.
To the race itself, the performance from Mr Mole was staggering. He gave about fifteen lengths away at the start when whipping round and almost looking reluctant to race. He got himself back into it early with the lack of a true gallop from Uxizandre but to make up that ground early on and to win in that manner was pretty impressive. A notoriously difficult horse in the past, this is yet another complete turnaround from Paul Nicholls who yet again has revelled in the challenge of making the horse a complete package. The Champion Chase now looks a realistic target and this is the exact same route Nicholls plotted out with a certain Master Minded in the 2007/08 season. With most of his main rivals having question marks hanging above them, the case is looking fairly strong for him and he could provide Tony McCoy a farewell present; a Champion Chase victory.
Both Upsilon Bleu and Karinga Dancer were here for prize money and have been rewarded but they were both outclassed. Uxizandre went out to make the running but was left behind quite easily by Mr Mole before his spectacular unseat at the final fence. It’s hard to know where to go next as he didn’t do anything here to enhance his Festival credentials.
Strangely, that’s my way of thinking with Sire De Grugy as well. His fencing was far from fluent and he had threatened to get rid of Jamie Moore on more than one occasion before the final open ditch. With the ease Mr Mole won, I doubt he would have beaten him and whilst he’s entitled to come on plenty for the outing, this performance raises yet more questions about the Champion Chase rather than answer those before this contest.
As usual, the Betfair Hurdle was hugely competitive affair but it gave trainer Gary Moore a welcome tonic after the reversal of Sire De Grugy when he took the race for the third time with Violet Dancer who joined Heathcote and Wingman on the roll of honour for the Moore stable.
He was given a fantastic ride from the front by Gary’s son Josh who used the horse perfectly in first time cheekpieces and was never out of the first two. Left in the lead when Chieftain’s Choice fell at the last flight in the back straight, he built up an advantage that just wasn’t pegged back by the chasing pack. His jumping was much sharper than it has been in the past and these tactics looked to suit him well and he will no doubtedly head to the Festival for either the Coral Cup or the County Hurdle but unlike here, it will be harder to make most of the running and have something in reserve.
Cheltenian improved on his effort in this race a year ago when he was fourth by going two places better. He was another to be ridden handy and would have benefitted from that. It will be interesting to see where he goes next as he has plenty of options including going back chasing as he did jump well on chase debut behind the ponderous Josses Hill at Doncaster. Activial has ran another strong race after getting outpaced on the turn for home. He will be suited by going up in distance but the Coral Cup on normal Festival ground may prove too much for him as he did disappoint at Aintree on good ground.
Calipto was patiently ridden and travelled strongly throughout the race but once off the bridle, he looked fairly one paced. The suspicion is that he isn’t as well handicapped over hurdles as thought by connections and he will probably step up in trip before the season is out. Jolly’s Cracked It looked to be thrown in at the deep end and was given a perfect confidence boosting ride in rear by Nick Scholfield. This looks the race that may make a man of him and whilst a Festival novice hurdle is probably out the question, he will almost certainly win another race or two before the season finishes.
The eyecatcher of the whole race was Arzal as plenty went wrong throughout the race. Normally a front runner, he was inconvienienced by the standing start and was further back than ideal. He then was caught on heels passing the winning post with a circuit to go before getting badly impeded by the fall of Chieftain’s Choice which knocked him back to last place. For a couple of strides, it looked as though he wasn’t travelling at all well but he then picked up the bridle again and was allowed some time to recover. He was nursed onto the back of the main group before somehow finishing sixth. Without those problems endured in running, he would definitely have been in the frame and he has done incredibly well to be only beaten fifteen lengths.
Forced Family Fun would have finished closer having not made a blunder at the second last whilst On Tour was given a strange ride by Paul Moloney. On a horse that gets further than the minimum two miles, instead of sitting more handy, they held him up. Once he realised he was too far back, he made a mid-race move that used up too much energy and left him vulnerable after the last flight. Balgarry just wasn’t good enough on the day and may benefit with a confidence booster in a smaller contest whilst Wicklow Brave was a huge disappointment considering the amount of money that came for him. Ballybolley was beaten at the time when hampered two out but keep an eye on him if he goes to Aintree as the conditional jockeys handicap hurdle would suit him really well.
Of the non-finishers, Fascino Rustico had travelled kindly for Harry Skelton and hadn’t gone for his full effort when making a mistake and falling at the second last, bringing down Ebony Express and hampering Vasco Du Ronceray who was well beaten at the time. Fascino Rustico may well have placed and may well be a type for something like the Swinton at Haydock. It was a relief to see Ebony Express get up ok after a horrific looking tumble but he didn’t look to be going anywhere at the time. Chieftain’s Choice had jumped well up until departing whilst Goodwood Mirage barely took off at the first and gave Tony McCoy a pretty nasty fall. He then galloped off and decided to take on the open ditch in the back straight and from that evidence, I doubt he’ll ever make a natural chaser!
The three mile novice chase was a match between long odds on favourite Kings Palace and Vivaldi Collonges with David Pipe’s charge looking to regain his position at the top of the RSA Chase market after Coneygree’s sucess earlier on the card. Whilst he maintained his unbeaten record, he did give his backers a scare or two on the way round, esepecially at the three open ditches jumped. With showing that accuracy we have become used to, we did see his first real error at the third last when standing off too far and almost landing on top of the fence, doing extremely well to stay on his feet. Although he won a shade cosily, it did give Vivaldi Collonges a chance at victory as he did look vulnerable for a couple of strides.
Bookmakers were unimpressed and he actually drifted with a couple of firms. Even then, he doesn’t tempt me for the Festival at all. If Coneygree turns up in the RSA then he has competition for the lead and he would be vulnerable not just to that rival but to the whole field behind him that would stalk and pounce. Even without Coneygree, I would hold the same concerns that just like in the Albert Bartlett, he would set the race up for a stronger stayer. Vivaldi Collonges jumped better than he did on debut behind Kings Palace but it could be worth keeping his novice status for next season where he could gain plenty more experience.
The Listed Bumper that ended the card looked strong on paper and again went to an all the way winner in Barters Hill who remains unbeaten after three starts for Ben Pauling and defied all comers in tenacious style. There was a moment of concern passing the stands where his mind wandered towards the paddock exit and up the straight when taken on first by Final Nudge and secondly by the four year old Buveur D’air but he wasn’t for passing. The Champion Bumper could easily be tempting for connections and he could fare well there but would need to make the race a true stamina test from the front.
Others to note from the race for the future include Final Nudge who shaped well for a long way, Duke Des Champs who probably needed the run and Present Man who disappointed although he wouldn’t be the first horse to disappoint in this race and bounce back; Thomas Brown being a prime example twelve months ago.
Warwick’s feature contest was the Kingmaker Novice Chase, which looked a match on paper between Vibrato Valtat and Top Gamble but it was turned into a procession with Paul Nicholls’ grey showing his class to dispose of an unbeaten novice whose jumping has impressed many. He was ridden with a huge amount of confidence by Sam Twiston-Davies but his jumping wasn’t as good as it has been in the past. He took a liberty at a couple along the side of the course but brushed those fiddly errors aside to beat Top Gamble comfortably giving him three pounds. He is now as short as 6/1 for the Arkle and whilst he looks Britain’s best chance of an Arkle winner, he comes up against a potential superstar in Un De Sceaux and I would expect him to be fighting out second with Clarcam, although he would need to iron out the errors made here.
Top Gamble jumped beautifully up until four out where he misjudged his takeoff and landed in a bit of a heap. He also made a slight error at the third last but was quickly back on the bridle however he was brushed aside by a smart novice. Although he has lost his unbeaten record over fences, he still emerges with plenty of credit but could be difficult to place.Turn Over Sivola has ran respectably back in third and will probably be one for the Red Rum at Aintree where he ran well last year behind Parsnip Pete whilst Kings Lad probably found the pace too hot down the side of the course. A step back up in distance would help his cause.
Leopardstown’s final main meeting before Cheltenham always throws up various clues and today was no exception. The Spring Juvenile Hurdle has thrown up the last two winners of the Triumph Hurdle and threw up a potential contender in Petite Parisienne who was impressive enough for her second hurdles start beating her stablemate Kalkir. She was in receipt of six pounds from the whole field (Bryan Cooper putting one overweight) and showed plenty of guts to battle all the way up the straight. Whilst her jumping was novicey in parts, she will surely improve for even better ground but she will need to considering the British juveniles.
Kalkir looked much happier than he did at Christmas on desperate ground but was beaten fair and square here. It’s hard seeing him reverse positions with the winner in the Triumph. Prussian Eagle appears to have shown improvement for slightly better ground after chasing home Fiscal Focus over Christmas and another Mullins juvenile hurdler in Dicosimo at Gowran. These three put twenty lengths between themselves and the fourth but it doesn’t look likely we saw the Triumph winner here. Vercingetorix made a bad mistake at the first and was a major disappointment, the first considerable one for owners Simon Munir & Issac Souede. That didn’t look his true running but that may sway the decision to keep him at home.
The Deloitte Novice Hurdle had yet another from the Willie Mullins stable sent off a short price favourite in the enormous grey Alvisio Ville who had attracted significant support not just for this race but for the Neptune at the Festival. But the bubble surrounding him burst when he was beaten into third by yet again, another Mullins stablemate in Nichols Canyon who shrugged off his unseat at Christmas in taking fashion, using the exact same tactics used to full effect on Vautour and Champagne Fever.
He was able from the home turn to use his flat speed to full effect and win by a comfortable three and a half lengths. Whilst the form of his Royal Bond win looked questionable, he was a class above them and the same comments apply for this performance here with much stronger opposition. With that potent flat speed, it may suit best going down the Supreme route and using the same tactics like the previous two winners listed above. Windsor Park improved on his effort two weeks ago when not given the best of rides. He was always going to come off second best to the winner and shaped like the Neptune would suit him but his jumping again would need to improve.
The hype surrounding Alvisio Ville has been pretty scary and he was well backed considering he had only won a maiden hurdle on Boxing Day. He jumped a lot better than on debut but was keen enough early on. That and the lack of experience probably told in the closing stages but he was beaten by a better horse on the day. With plenty of time on his side, he doesn’t need to go to the Festival this year when he has been brought for the purpose of going chasing. Silver Concorde shaped with more promise than on hurdling debut but the enthusiasm on my Supreme antepost bet has dwindled whilst Sempre Medici remains interesting if given a feasible handicap mark.
The Flogas Novice Chase looked an ideal target for Valseur Lido to remain unbeaten and book his ticket to the Festival in either the JLT or the RSA but the form of his Drinmore win was reversed by Apache Stronghold who was given an incredible ride by Paul Carberry considering he didn’t jump as well as he has done in the past. He paid a huge compliment to Don Poli who beat him over Christmas in the Topaz and was certainly suited by this intermediate trip under a patient ride. Trainer Noel Meade confirmed the JLT was his Festival target and he goes there with a definite chance as the end to end gallop should really play to his strengths.
Valseur Lido lost nothing in defeat but was just beaten by a slightly better horse on the day. He jumped and travelled like he did in the Drinmore and handled going the other way round. If he goes over to the Festival, you’d hope he would turn up in the JLT as he doesn’t shape yet like three miles would be right up his street. If he didn’t go, the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse could potentially be easy pickings. Adriana Des Mottes showed no ill-effects of her bad mistake at Limerick and has ran to a similar form level shown on that occasion as she would have finished a clear second behind Gilgamboa. She could easily drop back into her own company and win some decent prizes.
The Tullow Tank put in a much better effort than of recent times having travelled omniously well before getting outpaced after the second last. He is worth another go over three miles and this effort may have convinced his connections to ponder going to the Festival for the RSA. Jarry D’Honneur’s jumping was sketchy out in front and he unseated of his own accord at the last. A confidence booster in a lower grade will help.
The sad part of the race was the demise of Le Vent D’Antan who had jumped beautifully before overjumping at the last and injuring a shoulder. It’s a part of the sport no one wants to happen but for a small stable like Liz Doyle to lose their stable star, it’s heartbreaking. A one time favourite for the Champion Bumper in 2013, he had shown plenty of promise so far over fences to suggest he was above average. RIP.
The Irish Hennessy provided the fairytale with Tony McCoy, fresh from announcing his retirement at Newbury, gaining his first (and only) success in the race under a never say die effort on Carlingford Lough to repel the improver in the pack Foxrock with last season’s Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere running an eyecatching race back in third. The scenes that greeted the winner post-race were reminiscent of what Hurricane Fly received last month when winning his fifth Irish Champion Hurdle.
Carlingford Lough built upon his effort in the Lexus Chase where he travelled well before looking in need of the run. He did well here to recover from a mistake at the second last to run down Foxrock after the last to win going away. After this performance, he merits consideration for the Gold Cup but the concerns are based on the way he jumped around Cheltenham in last season’s RSA. It will be interesting to see whether McCoy chooses him or Shutthefrontdoor.
Foxrock continues to prove me wrong and this was by far a career best effort. He came off the bridle after the third last and found plenty for pressure, leading over the last fence before being caught on the run in by the winner. Connections may be tempted to supplement him for the Gold Cup but it could just pay to wait for the Punchestown Gold Cup this season with him.
Lord Windermere ran a much better race than he did in the Lexus. He was ridden more forward and unusually for him, he was probably in front plenty soon enough which has never been the case before. Considering he was only beaten eight and three quarter lengths, compared to last year when he was beaten twenty six lengths by Last Instalment, this was a Gold Cup preparation to be pleased with. Better ground here was a big positive compared to the testing ground he encountered over Christmas and he will now tick over until going back to defend his crown with as good a chance as any.
Boston Bob was never put in the race whatsoever having just hacked around at the back of the field. Bookmakers pushed his price out after this effort and whilst I wouldn’t be a backer of the horse, it seemed an unwise decision to let him drift. The concern for the Gold Cup would be if he gets himself out of position, whether that be by design or him getting outpaced. The other way to potentially look at this effort is that connections may have half an eye on the Grand National with the weights due to be published a week tomorrow.
Talking of Aintree, Home Farm ran a fair trial towards Aintree and would definitely be competitive there off a workable mark whilst First Lieutenant didn’t show very much for his National ambitions. Texas Jack put up a more competitive effort compared to recently but has never looked a true three miler. If kept in similar form, the Melling Chase could be his type of race having disappointed previously at the Festival whilst On His Own kept jumping out to his right and showed his inconsistency.
The Raymond Smith Memorial Hunter Chase featured some old faces including 2012 and 2013 Cheltenham Foxhunters winner Salsify making his return to action and Mossey Joe but it was left to Willie Mullins and son Patrick with one time Grand National favourite Prince De Beauchene who didn’t jump as well as he did at Thurles but battled thoroughly to deny On The Fringe who was given a very patient ride by Nina Carberry.
The review of Prince De Beauchene could be described as pointless due to the fact he won’t be eligible for either the Cheltenham or Aintree Foxhunters, although he may return for the Grand National where he would give Patrick a thrill of a lifetime before failing to see out the trip. On The Fringe would be interesting in the Aintree Foxhunters as he has failed to get up the hill twice at Cheltenham although his main aim is likely to be Punchestown. Salsify was far too fresh on his return but showed that he was still in good enough form to suggest a return to Cheltenham is possible.
Exeter staged a good quality card on Sunday and three races are worth a mention. It was great to see Native River back in the winners enclosure after his fall on Festival Trials Day when taking the Listed novice hurdle and taking a notable scalp in Emerging Talent who still frustrates his backers as he travels so strongly through his races before finding little for pressure.
Both the front two will have smart careers when they tackle fences in the future, especially the runner up who just needs to grow up physically and mentally. He is with the perfect trainer in Paul Nicholls who will bring the horse along steadily to peak at the right time. He will no doubt leave his hurdles form behind once he goes jumping fences in the autumn.
For a moment on Trials Day, it looked bad for Native River so to see him taking this prize was pleasing. That gives the impression he would have gone quite close on that occasion and this is a nice boost to the Challow Hurdle form. He is more than worth his place at the Festival but sadly only has the Albert Bartlett entry. He would be more than worth his place in a Neptune but unlike the big Grade Ones, I’m unsure whether you can supplement for novice events.
Kalane was firmly put in his place by two smart horses but there’s no reason to believe he isn’t fairly useful himself and should make a good chaser in the autumn. The disappointment of the contest was War Sound who pulled far too hard for his own good and was comprehensively beaten. He is far better than what he showed yet but he has plenty of learning to do.
The Pertemps Qualifier looked one of the strongest so far and finally Regal Encore put it all together over hurdles with a comfortable success. The step up in distance looked to suit him really well and if progressing from this, he would almost certainly be able to make his mark in a Festival handicap but he is still one I wouldn’t completely trust. Alavian made it a JP McManus one-two and he was another to benefit from going up in distance although he was looked after significantly in the closing stages. If he is to make the Pertemps cut, he needs his mark to go up several pounds and it will likely be touch and go whether he scrapes in. Similar comments apply to the The Tourard Man who is currently in the form of his life and is worth his go in the Final.
Big Easy deserves to win a big handicap hurdle and whilst he would run his usual honest race, I don’t think he would have more improvement in him to win a Pertemps however the next home Knight Of Noir could potentially have more to come and is on my shortlist of three I have currently for the race. The other two being Brother Brian who chased home Rock On Ruby back in December and Edeymi who caught everyone’s attention last week at Musselburgh behind Dawalan.
Morito Du Berlais wouldn’t get in the Final based on this effort but hasn’t finishing winning over hurdles this season. He should win a decent handicap on good ground before the season is out. Unowhatimeanharry ran respectably from out of the handicap and has definitely shown enough to suggest he can bang a staying handicap hurdle. Pineau De Re shaped with plenty more promise compared to his previous effort at Carlisle and just managed to qualify. With improvement likely, he will run well at the Festival before attempting to regain his Grand National crown back where he should give another good account of himself.
Aubusson just failed to qualify but that could be a blessing in disguise as he could now be put away for the remainder of this season and be brought back for a chasing campaign in the autumn. Southfield Royale didn’t show his true running at all and can be forgiven whilst Ambion Wood likely needed this outing after a fair amount of time off the track.
Southfield Theatre got back to winning ways in the novice chase under replacement jockey Noel Fehily after chasing Carraig Mor home at Newbury on unfavoured soft ground. Back on better ground and allowed to make his own running, it was the best he has jumped over fences so far but it would have been touch and go had chasing debutant Val De Law stood up at the final fence as he was mounting a serious challenge. He looks a smart recruit for Jamie Snowden and was outrunning his odds when taking a heavy tumble. Happily, he got to his feet and galloped away unharmed. Whilst he holds no obvious entries, a race that could suit him towards the end of the season is the Future Champions Novices Chase at Ayr over two and a half miles.
The pace throughout was a stop start affair and they have sprinted up the straight and for a horse who has got form over further in Southfield Theatre, this shows he has tactical pace as well. Although it was the best he has jumped over fences, at this stage in his career, missing Cheltenham wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world as the RSA can be a particularly brutal test for a horse. With the pace he showed here, the three mile Grade One at Aintree could suit him really well under a bold front running ride, as he could potentially get his opposition into trouble down the back straight.
Melodic Rendezvous was sticky at a couple of fences but this was a much better effort than on his chasing debut at Bangor when scraping home against Boondooma. He did look the likely winner until a mistake three out put him on the back foot. Considering the ground was probably as lively as he would have wanted it, this was a good effort and there is no doubt he will bag a few novice chases with more cut in the ground. The Pendil at Kempton has been mentioned as a target but he will bump into England’s leading JLT hope Ptit Zig.
Thank you for reading this bumper edition which I hope makes up for not doing a blog last week. Next week features the Ascot Chase and the Grand National Trial at Haydock which will be an attritional test and I’m sure the Cheltenham video previews will begin soon.
Caesar Milan – Was better than the result suggested.
Great Try/Hedley Lamaar – The winner has the capability to go well in the EBF Final whilst the runner up is worth keeping an eye on.
Arzal – No luck at all in running and should be backed next time out.
Lord Windermere/Boston Bob – That will have put the former spot on to defend his Gold Cup crown whilst the latter wasn’t given a chance to show anything.
Knight Of Noir – Looks interesting for the Pertemps Final.
Val De Law – Looks a smart horse for Jamie Snowden and if his confidence isn’t affected, he should win novice chases.
With a cracking weekend of racing upon us, here is our preview which focuses on the Channel Four action from Newbury and Warwick with the feature event being the Betfair Hurdle, formerly known as the Schweppes/Tote Gold Trophy which has thrown up Champion Hurdle winners Persian War and Make A Stand and various top class performers including more recently, Zarkandar and My Tent Or Yours. We also look at the Grade One action from Leopardstown on Sunday where Willie Mullins looks to have a strangehold on all the Grade Ones on the card.
On the video tonight we have @Lukeelder13 and @AdamWebb121 plus a guest appearance from @calummadell as he was doing work for Timeform. Our Cheltenham Festival previews will begin either next week or the week after and if you have any suggestions for potential realistic guests then please send them in.
Adam – Barters Hill – 4:40 Newbury
Luke – Jolly’s Cracked It – 3:35 Newbury
Calum – Calipto – 3:35 Newbury