Matt Tombs / Monday 24th December 2012 / 11:25
The shadow cast by the absent champion Big Buck’s grew even longer in the Long Walk Hurdle as Reve De Sivola ran right away from a couple of decent types, (3m1f, heavy.) He was thrashed by Big Buck’s at Newbury, but that was his first run for a year and perhaps he’s improved massively off it. He looks much happier over hurdles and Nick Williams’ yard is in better form than this time last year so it’s possible this should be taken at face value. Given he’s won a novice Grade 1 (at Punchestown) on good ground, that interpretation would make 12/1 for a very open World Hurdle look generous.
It’s hard not to be disappointed with both Smad Place (beaten 14l) and Trustan Times (beaten 20l). Time may show they faced a top class horse and these sorts of conditions string horses out but neither look contenders for the World Hurdle, (out to 20/1 and 25/1 respectively) unless they can improve massively on decent ground. It was taking a bit of a flyer adding the latter to the portfolio and it hasn’t worked. Unless he bounces back to form, I’ll definitely be going in again on this market at some stage.
This year’s Ladbroke must have been one of the most competitive handicap hurdles of recent times (10/1 the field in the morning) so it was impressive to see Cause of Causes bolt up off 142, (2m, heavy.) What was particularly eye-catching was that on a day when few horses managed to get competitive from off the pace in the heavy ground, he came from a mile back. He was placed in the Galway Hurdle and the Racing Post at Cheltenham so 25/1 was a bit of an insult.
He’s a second season novice, (by which I mean a horse who ran without winning last season, rather than a horse in his second season that is no longer a novice – I always find it confusing when people try and describe a horse’s relative inexperience in open company by calling them a “second season novice” when they’re not actually a novice!) With a sizeable hike in the ratings looking likely, he may be weighted out of the big handicaps but he has plenty of experience and looks a contender for the Supreme or Neptune. To put that in context Get Me Out Of Here was 2nd in the Supreme after winning the Betfair Hurdle off 135 and Darlan might well have won the Betfair off 146 but for falling, before also finishing runner up in the Supreme. He’s not quoted for either at the moment – I’d be interested in him for the Neptune in particular if Gordon Elliott goes down that route as he seems to handle any ground.
The other interesting horse at Ascot was Wyck Hill who won the 3m handicap chase off 135, travelling like a good horse in the conditions. He’s rising 9 but has had only 14 races and looks the classic type to be underestimated for the small but capable Bridgewater yard. Understandably they’re eyeing up the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton, after which his handicap mark might have gone. However, if he doesn’t attract too much more attention from the handicapper in the interim, he looks the right type for the 3m open handicap chase on the opening day of the Festival.
We’ve seen some really good 2m novice hurdlers already this season, suggesting the Supreme could develop into a vintage renewal. Puffin Billy has been as impressive as any and laughed at Up To Something (who received 7lb) in the Grade 2 at Ascot, (2m, heavy.) It’s great to see Oliver Sherwood with a good horse again and he's a worthy market leader in some books for the Supreme, (11/1). He looks a 2 miler and whilst Oliver was hedging his bets, I'd be surprised on what we've seen so far if he ran in the Neptune, (12/1).
Another possible for the Supreme is former Group 3 winner on the flat Poet, who won a strong looking maiden at Newbury, (extended 2m, soft). He’ll be 8 by race day having taken up jumping late in life, but hurdled well enough here and seems to act on any ground. He doesn’t have the obvious sort of profile for the Supreme but that’s reflected in his price (33/1) and he’s best judged after another run.
There are few more enjoyable sights than a really good prospect like Simonsig, looking a natural on their chasing debut. It may have been the worst Grade 2 of the season at Ascot on Friday, (2m3f, heavy) but Simonsig jumped beautifully and understandably wasn't off the bridle to beat a 92 rated opponent. He has to show he can jump at championship pace but you couldn't be anything other than optimistic at this stage. 9/4 for the Arkle may look short but the vibes around this horse are really strong and I wouldn't be that keen to be laying it, for all there are 2 or 3 worthy opponents waiting.
At the other end of the speed spectrum, Restless Harry got off the mark over fences at the 4th attempt in a graduation chase at Newbury, (3m, soft). Whilst I’d mentally had him down as disappointing over fences, he’d actually been beaten less than 4l in each of his previous attempts, behind smart sorts like Join Together and Teaforthree. The four miler is now on the agenda and he’ll be one of the few you’d be convinced has the class (rated 150 over hurdles) and will stay. However, he really needs booting into his fences as he’s not a natural so jockey bookings will be even more crucial than usual. The pace of that race might suit and he’s now 3rd favourite at 14/1.
Cantlow had been a real eye catcher on his first 2 runs over fences and he broke his maiden at the 3rd attempt at Plumpton on Monday, (2m1f, heavy) beating the promising Oscara Dara by 1¼l. He looks to be being set up for a crack at something like the 3m handicap on the opening day of the Festival (currently rated 138, 5lb lower than over hurdles.) That’s not escaped anyone’s attention though and 12/1 makes no appeal at this stage.
It was a quiet week in Ireland but one of last season’s most hyped novices, Midnight Game, continued to repair his reputation by giving the decent Joxer 10lb and a 1l beating in the listed hurdle at Thurles, (2m, heavy.) This developed into a sprint and didn’t really tell us much more about the winner. He’s apparently never produced on the track what he’s shown at home and with better ground promising to suit he could be interesting off 149 for the County Hurdle as he can hardly go up for this. He’s 33/1 for the Champion.
Finally, it’s hugely disappointing to hear that any horse is injured, especially a cracking prospect for the top chases like Al Ferof. When it’s the best staying hurdler I’ve seen in Big Buck’s it’s even worse. He’ll be rising 11 by the time they hope to get him back on the course so it’ll be a big ask. The last 12 months has already seen us say goodbye to 3 genuine champions from Ditcheat (Kauto Star, Denman & Master Minded,) and if we don’t see Big Buck’s again, I for one will miss his brilliance.