Matt Tombs / Monday 18th March 2013 / 15:10
I’m lucky enough to have seen some brilliant horses but visually nothing compares with watching Sprinter Sacre. It’s very hard to compare horses from different generations, especially given so few top horses run in handicaps nowadays, so I can’t say Sprinter Sacre is the best I’ve seen - but my gut feel is that he is.
The way he absolutely blew away former champion chaser Sizing Europe by 19l on the bridle was a joy to watch. As an 11 year old, Sizing Europe probably isn’t quite as good as he was but he was unbeaten in 4 races this season recording RPRs of over 170 in the last 3, which implies he’s still a top class horse. Full marks to connections for taking Sprinter Sacre on in the championship race and not ducking the issue and leaving it a complete non-event. He’s been a fantastic horse.
When looking at all time greats longevity is a key criteria and was perhaps Kauto Star’s greatest quality. By contrast, some brilliant horses shine only over a short period – Master Minded is a good example. Let’s all hope Sprinter Sacre stays sound and we can relish him over the next few seasons.
Wednesday kicked off with the 4 miler and Rival D’Estruval and Tofino Bay had gone clear in the straight when Rival D’Estruval hit the top of the second last and came down. One of the fascinations of this race is trying to calculate which horses will stay 4m. Tofino Bay looked one of the most likely, but he was out on his feet having perhaps helped force too quick a pace - and got mugged by the strong staying Back In Focus close home.
You can’t know how Rival D’Estruval would have got up the hill either but I imagine he’d have won if he’d stood on his feet as it’s unlikely he’d have folded quite as dramatically as Tofino Bay did, (who looked tired rather than idling to me,) especially with the strength of Derek O’Connor to help him up the hill.
Now it’s a level weights novice chase the 4 miler has become a classier event and the way these 3 pulled clear suggests they’ve all got bright futures over fences. Back In Focus is a real mudlark and whilst it’s slightly concerning the way he got done for toe coming into the straight, it may have been a case of him not picking up on the less testing ground. He’s a realistic contender for the staying open Grade 1s in Ireland next season, though the way Leopardstown drains these days he’s not so sure to get his conditions.
The Neptune has been an amazing Champion Hurdle trial and it invariably pays to side with the speed horses, even against classier staying types. This year’s renewal ought to have been a great betting race, even on dead ground, as it cut up badly and almost all those at the front of the market were stayers.
For some reason I couldn’t fancy The New One despite him being the only speed horse in the race, (other than Chatterbox who it was hard to imagine was going to be streetwise enough for this). I talked myself into backing one of the stayers, Taquin Du Seuil, who was predictably nowhere near quick enough. The winner benefited from a steady pace but was much the best horse on the day and connections are looking at a crack at the Champion Hurdle (8/1) next season.
He’s entitled to be aimed at it on the strength of this, but I’m not sure he’s quite got the pace of some previous Neptune winners, though I keep underestimating him and may be doing so again. Given there was a bug in the yard preventing some of their main contenders running, it was a fantastic training performance from Nigel Twiston-Davies to have 2 winners and 5 places from 11 runners at the Festival.
Rule The World ran a blinder for Mouse Morris (all 3 of whose runners finished 2nd and who is often underestimated at the Festival.) This was all the more meritorious as he is seen a big, raw type by his trainer. He looks just the sort for the RSA chase next year.
For many Pont Alexandre’s bubble was burst here but I thought he ran well over what was always likely to be too much of a test of speed. (Ironically, the same connections’ Ballycasey was scratched from the Albert Bartlett and Pont Alexandre might well have won that if lining up.) He’s the beau ideal of a steeplechaser and this was only his 4th run so he may well improve past the front two in time. He looks the ideal type for the RSA too but with the Jewson and 4 miler as alternative targets, ante-post betting on Festival novice chases is fraught with danger now, especially on horses from a yard that’s likely to have to keep top prospects apart.
Taquin Du Seuil was a bit disappointing and given his fine run on good to soft against My Tent Or Yours over 2m, I’m not sure the ground was wholly to blame, despite his action. He’s best judged after another run.
The RSA is often the Festival race where the relative strength of the renewal changes most in retrospect. Time my show this was a better race than it looked, but with the winners of the 2 Grade 1s at the trip ducking the issue to run in the Jewson and 4 miler and my idea of the most likely winner, Rocky Creek, being saved for the future – this looked a weak renewal.
They went very steadily and so this wasn’t quite as attritional a test as it threatened to be on the dead ground. That suited the winner Lord Windermere who was having his first try beyond 2m5f and had looked a doubtful stayer beforehand. Given that he stumbled just before they turned into the straight, he might otherwise have won a bit further. It’ll be interesting to see how gets on in open company next season – 33/1 for the Gold Cup is probably about right and the Ryanair might become an option.
I backed Lyreen Legend and I thought I might collect on the run in but he was very much 2nd best of the finishers in the end. It’s not clear whether he didn’t stay or got done for toe by a quicker horse in a steadily run race. He’s very tough and so could easily go to Punchestown, in which case we’ll learn more about his prospects for next season there.
The hard luck story of the race was Boston Bob, who Ruby Walsh said had blossomed in the last few days, (after he’d passed him over to ride Unioniste.) Boston Bob came storming through to lead at the last but he’d had only 2 runs over fences and his inexperience caught him out, falling when asked for a big one by Paul Townend. He looked the winner at that stage and given his inexperience and that his trainer has never appeared happy with him all season, he rates the best prospect of these for next season if none the worse for his tumble here. He’s 25/1 for the Gold Cup.
I doubt any trainer had worse luck with realistic Festival contenders being ruled out with injury than Alan King, so it was great to see him have a 1-2 in the Coral Cup. Medinas became the highest ever rated winner off 148 and this little horse clearly has a big heart and keeps improving. He has form over further and deserves a chance in the big staying hurdles next season with the division looking so open. He’s not quoted for the World Hurdle at the moment but at this stage there’d be much worse outsiders.
The runner up Meister Eckhart is a very different type but this was a good performance (off 143) and he looks a lovely prospect for novice chases and, already proven over further, might well get the RSA trip next season. It was another astonishing training performance from Willie Mullins as 11 year old Fiveforthree defied a 2 year absence to finish a close 3rd.
The Bumper was as fascinating as ever and for the second year running Willie Mullins produced a big price winner in 25/1 shot Briar Hill. The conventional wisdom was that son Patrick would be on the stable’s leading hope, with Ruby riding a longer term prospect. That only made Briar Hill’s demolition all the more impressive. Already a point winner, he looks a cracking prospect for novice hurdles, though 8/1 for the Supreme is unappealing.
It’s usually the case that plenty of the Bumper field are too immature for the race itself and there are plenty of the also rans who should leave this form well behind over obstacles next season. One is the 4 year old Le Vent D’Antan who was keen and didn’t get an ideal passage. He looks the type to improve for professional handling when sent over obstacles next season.