Matt Tombs / Monday 18th February 2013 / 14:00
After so many horses had disappointed following a gruelling King George, it was great to see Cue Card and Captain Chris run so well in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase, (extended 2m5f, soft.) Captain Chris had just joined Cue Card at the 2nd last when diving at it and it’s hard to call what would have happened otherwise. He wasn’t going better at the time but has more stamina and it would have been a close call. Whilst he obviously prefers going right-handed, he’s jumped much straighter in his last two runs and 25/1 for the Gold Cup is a big price for a horse with his talent.
Cue Card might have won anyway but it looked as if this trip stretches his stamina. He got a soft lead here, which he wouldn’t get in the Ryanair and that race has generally fallen to a stayer at the trip. As an opponent of the watering down of quality at the Festival with all the extra races, I was delighted to hear owner and trainer sounding as if they wanted to run in the Champion Chase (14/1) not Ryanair (4/1). (If he was owned by some, they would doubtless be asking for a 2¼m chase at the Festival which would suit him ideally.) Lets hope connections stick to their guns and take Sprinter Sacre on. Cue Card’s the horse who’s come closest to giving him a race so far, (in the Arkle), and given a more positive ride from the front this year he’d at least be in a position to exploit any chinks in the favourite’s armour.
Finian's Rainbow was on the face of it disappointing again, but it wasn’t a surprise he needed this and nothing he’s done previously suggested he’d be likely to get home in the ground anyway. The Ryanair (16/1) looks the wrong target and if he does run at the Festival, it must make sense to defend the Champion Chase crown, (20/1). He has questions to answer now but could easily improve hugely for good ground and it’s worth remembering he was disappointing in his prep run before winning the Champion Chase last year. If he does defend his title, the 13/2 in the ‘without Sprinter Sacre’ market would look appealing as he could be ridden for 2nd.
Anyone doing serious ante-post punting months in advance of the Festival, needs to be able to handle a good chunk of the bets being non-runners. I’m pretty philosophical when the horses I back get injured or aren’t good enough. By contrast, I’m finding the unwillingness to run Rocky Creek in the RSA (12/1) inexplicable. He didn’t look to enjoy going right handed in the Reynoldstown (3m) but still comfortably saw off 148 rated Houblon Des Obeaux, which makes him a leading contender.
Rocky Creek jumps and travels well (crucial in holding a position in the RSA) but isn’t a quickener – he’s the sort of classy, relentless galloper that does so well in the race. He doesn’t appear to have the pace for a Gold Cup, looking a totally different type to Silviniaco Conti (who was placed in a Bula) who bypassed the race last season – so why miss his best chance of Festival glory? He’s with very shrewd connections so you have to respect their judgment but it’s not just my wallet talking when I say I think he should be running in the RSA.
Houblon Des Obeaux ran another sound race and is the sort of stayer who would be likely to be underestimated in the RSA (33/1). He’s an uncomplicated sort though and given he stays so well the amateur rider’s 4 miler might be the right race for him - 16/1 would look very big if he was aimed at that with a leading jockey booked.
Earlier in the afternoon, Up And Go ran away from a fair looking field in the novice hurdle, (extended 2m3f). He’s unbeaten when completing and would have each way claims in the Neptune (16/1). Connections see him as more a horse for next season though – it’s worth noting Donald McCain says he takes a huge amount of work to get fit, so don’t expect fireworks at the start of next season.
The 2m novice hurdle on the card was a fascinating match up between Triumph hope Far West and Supreme hope River Maigue. The race itself was close to farcical as they crawled for even longer than many races on testing ground this winter and Far West took advantage of the 9lb weight for age allowance to sprint clear. I doubt this told us anything about his Triumph prospects (13/2). With a pointing background this would hardly have suited River Maigue but he looks really short at 12/1 for the Supreme as he’s been beaten in 2 of his 3 hurdles races and his Kempton win hasn’t worked out.
The Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton (2m, heavy) had cut up during the week and Zarkandar had an even easier task than his 1/3 odds implied with his main market rival bombing. He’s 3 from 3 this season and Paul Nicholls has made no secret of the fact he’s a different horse from last season. The concern is whether he has the toe to hold a position when the taps are turned on, and the fact that Ruby Walsh had no hesitation discarding him for 9 year old Hurricane Fly doesn’t instill confidence. 11/2 for the Champion Hurdle looks about right.
At Haydock, the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle (3m, heavy) didn’t look to contain real World Hurdle candidates and Across The Bay took advantage of the 4lb he received from Trustan Times to record a 1¼l victory. The winner is being aimed at the National not Cheltenham and 40/1 probably underestimates him. The runner up is 33/1 for the World Hurdle and whilst he’d need to improve hugely for good ground to win, he may well take his chance in such an open year.
Tap Night got his chasing career back on the road with an easy defeat of the useful front-running The Tracey Shuffle (133 rated hurdler who received 7lb) at Ayr, (2m5f, heavy). He’s looked better in a strong run race on good ground so far and the Jewson looks the obvious target (25/1) as that might well cut up. It’s worth noting he was entered for a handicap later in the week and got a mark of 140, 6lb below his hurdle rating. That’ll presumably go up in light of this but if the handicapper is dozing then he’d get in the 2½m novice handicap on the first day and he’d have a great chance there, (16/1).
On his first run over hurdles for nearly 2 years, Peddlers Cross landed the 1/5 odds to win a minor 2m6f event at Musselburgh, (good). He clearly had problems last season so it’s good to see him back on the track and he’s returned sufficiently well to suggest he’ll win more races. However, the aura around him both during his races and off the track is that he’s not the horse he was. In some ways he reminds me of another former Neptune winner Mikael D’Haguenet who looks well up to bossing average horses in these sorts of race (officially 2 stone in hand here) but when he has to go through the barrier in top races he won’t be able to cut it anymore. He’s out to 14/1 for the World Hurdle and makes no appeal in the absence of proving himself in a good race in the interim.
The hunter chase division has looked weak this year but a realistic new challenger to Salsify emerged from what is usually one the best hunter chases, (the Walrus at Haydock, 3m, heavy,) in Cottage Oak. He was a fair (129 rated) chaser for Gordon Elliott, though was pulled up at 66/1 in the 4 miler last season. He’s entitled to improve again for a sound surface and is one to consider for the Foxhunters (10/1) though jockeys play a huge part and his 7lb claimer has had only 3 rides under rules, (and won’t be able to claim in the Foxhunters).
Finally, every punter knows what it’s like to follow a horse off a cliff. The fear of missing out after a string of losing bets on the horse can cloud your judgment. Trying to avoid such cliffs carries it’s own pitfalls though – perfectly illustrated by my deserting So Young on Saturday despite having kept banging on that his best form was over 2m on testing ground. He finally got perfect conditions and bolted up without my winning back any of the money I’d lost on him.