Matt Tombs / Monday 12th November 2012 / 12:25
The Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter has traditionally been one of the best handicaps of the season and whilst only 5 lining up on perfect jumping ground was disappointing, you couldn’t have wanted to see a more impressive winner than Cue Card. Going right handed for the first time the 6 year old annihilated Edgardo Sol and Menorah (who gave 3lb), winning by 26l off 157, (extended 2m1f, good to soft). With Edgardo Sol looking badly handicapped and Menorah ridden as if in need of match practice he may have been flattered, especially as he goes well fresh, but visually he looked a really good horse here.
His beating For Non Stop easily giving him 7lb at Newbury last season, (extended 2m2f, soft) reads really well now and he looks a genuine contender for championship honours - the big question is at what trip? If anything happened to Sprinter Sacre he might well be favourite for the Champion Chase (14/1) if lining up and he looks a worthy favourite in an open looking Ryanair (7/1) with Joe Tizzard suggesting 2m4f is his best trip.
However, he heads for the King George and a good performance there will lead to the Gold Cup for which 33/1 looks big. His dam ran in the Grand National and his half brother ran in Punchestown’s Grand National trial over 3m4f earlier this year, so on breeding he has a great chance of staying. Key to whether he gets 3m+ will be how well he settles but he’s a fascinating contender for the King George (10/1) and hopefully my 25/1 ante-post vouchers will be paying for my Christmas.
The day got even better for Cue Card’s connections when their Theatre Guide outgunned long odds on Hinterland (who received 8lb) in the novice chase over the same trip. Hinterland must have been 20l clear of him turning in but may have chased too fast a pace set by Peckhamecho and found nothing when headed after 2 out. It might be that’s as good as he is but he’d be interesting back at 2m with the emphasis on speed. The winner was 7th to Darlan in the Top Novice at Aintree and looks as if he’ll get further. It’s hard to know what he achieved here and he’s best judged after another run, (25/1 for the Arkle.)
It’s 14 years since Teeton Mill won the Badger Chase at Wincanton before taking the Hennessy and King George. Whilst The Package isn’t entered in the King George, he looks a realistic contender for the Hennessy after readily outpointing Michel Le Bon, the pair well clear, (extended 3m1f, good to soft). He’s had plenty of problems but the vibes from the Pipe yard before the race were that the 9 year old was improving. He won off 139 here and if Tidal Bay or Burton Port run off 166 in the Hennessy he should get a decent racing weight.
Zarkandar was believed to need the run in the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle (2m) and Ruby chose to ride Prospect Wells (who received 17lb), but class told and Zarkandar showed a good attitude to prevail by a neck. Whilst this often isn’t that competitive, it was a good performance off 163 and he seems to be maturing nicely, (didn’t look straightforward as a juvenile). Top juveniles have a shocking record in the Champion Hurdle at 5 but the likes of Binocular and Punjabi have won at 6 in recent years and he looks a realistic contender (10/1). He heads to the Bula next, though stamina is his strong suit and steadily run conditions hurdles may not suit him.
There were several good prospects in the Grade 2 Rising Stars Novice Chase (2m5f) and it was the in form Venetia Williams yard that provided the winner in Houblon Des Obeaux, (who gave the field 4lb). This 5 year old looked a real stayer as a hurdler (4th in the 3m handicap at this year’s Festival off 140) so it was impressive to see him show the toe to take control of the race early in the straight. It’ll be interesting to see how this form stands up – 25/1 for the RSA looks about right. Runner up Poungach ran a strange race, looking as if he would be well beaten before running on strongly to take 2nd from Court in Motion on the line. He has plenty of ability but doesn’t look straightforward (out to 33/1 for the RSA.)
It looked really testing going at Naas on Saturday with horses finishing tired, so Jezki’s performance looked all the better given his marked preference for a sound surface, (4 year olds hurdle, 2m, soft to heavy). He made some decent types, including Triumph 2nd Hisaabaat, look very ordinary on just his 2nd start over hurdles. He’s into 16/1 for the Supreme and at this early stage he looks a genuine contender, with the Royal Bond next.
Beginners’ chases at the big Irish tracks are usually fiercely competitive at this time of year but Grade 1 winning novice hurdler Dedigout frightened off the opposition at Punchestown, (2m4f, heavy.) He looked a natural over his fences and brushed aside a poor field winning by 33l on the bridle. He heads for the Drinmore which looking at the entries could be a vintage renewal. He’s 20/1 for the RSA.
Champion Hurdle runner up Overturn will probably be the highest rated hurdler (164) going chasing this season and he made a good start when easily justifying long odds on favouritism at Sandown, (2m, good to soft.) He didn’t beat much but he looked a natural at his fences and given the fantastic record of top class hurdlers in the Arkle, 8/1 ought to be tempting. However, he may be better over further (won over 2m2f on the flat) and so it’s possible Donald McCain might run him in the Jewson (16/1) as he did with Peddlers Cross. Additionally, I can’t recall a 9 year old winning the Arkle and I just get the feeling a younger horse will improve past him.
At Towcester, Highland Lodge was an impressive winner of a decent beginners chase (extended 3m, good to soft.) This 139 rated hurdler looks a staying chaser with a good future as he jumped well for a debutant in the main. However, he doesn’t like good ground and has to prove he’s equally effective going left handed so can’t be backed for the RSA at the moment (25/1).
With So Young a non-runner the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan looked a penalty kick for Voler La Vedette, who was sent off 1/7, (2m4f, soft to heavy). I’m a big fan of Andy Lynch but he didn’t need to gift a 25l lead to Whatuthink (levels) and whilst she got to within a couple of lengths in the straight she’d used her energy to get there and had nothing more to offer coming to the last. Lynch sensibly accepted the situation after the last rather than give her a really hard race. It may be that this is a season too far for the mare after some tough battles last season, but equally she might go off too big a price for the Hatton’s Grace now on the back of this.
Sizing Rio took the Grade 3 novice hurdle (2m) on the same card, showing battling qualities after looking set for a comfortable victory over Ted Veale. He might well improve for better ground and 33/1 for the Supreme is a fair price, albeit there are plenty of contenders emerging for that already.
Last, but in many ways most, Flemenstar was fantastic again at Navan in the Fortria, (2m). For a horse who apparently needed the run badly, to dismiss Big Zeb (who gave 3lb) so easily was really impressive. The John Durkan over 2m4f is next before a first try at 3m in the Lexus.
Full brother Barafundle was an out and out stayer for whom 3m was on the sharp side over hurdles (rated 140) and on breeding Flemenstar ought to improve for a step up in trip. The likes of Kauto Star and Kicking King were also campaigned only over 2 – 2½m the season before they won the Gold Cup and had similar stamina questions to answer at the equivalent stage of their careers. Of course he might not stay but the bigger concern for those of us with ante-post Gold Cup vouchers is that he wasn’t deemed a good traveler in his younger days. 10/1 looks big for the Gold Cup as his form is a fair bit better than 6/1 favourite Sir Des Champs, whom he may meet in the Durkan.