Anonymous / Monday 17th December 2012 / 11:10
The Bula (International) Hurdle (2m1f, heavy) looked a cracking renewal with Zarkandar taking advantage of the 4lb he received to beat Grandouet 2l, with Rock On Ruby 6l further back in 3rd. The winner was first off the bridle and whilst he found plenty off it, I just wonder if he’ll have the tactical speed for the Champion.
Grandouet comes out best at the weights and wasn’t given a hard time here on his first run for a year. He’s a very different type, with loads of toe, but he hasn’t found that much off the bridle so far. They’re both 7/1 for the Champion Hurdle, which looks about right. I wouldn’t give up on Rock On Ruby who would have been much closer if he hadn’t got the last all wrong. 10/1 looks generous given conditions are likely to be the virtual opposite of what they were here and he’s proved he can handle a fast run race on good ground.
Whilst the Kingwell was mentioned as a possible target, all 3 could go directly to the Festival. Connections are entitled to take whatever path they deem is best for their horse, but it can't be in the broader interests of the sport for fit, healthy horses to have just one run in the main season. Whether it’s via bonuses like the WBX million or other initiatives, we need to get the top horses racing regularly again. No horse in the modern era has won the Champion Hurdle without running after Christmas and so the exaggerated cotton wool tactics don’t look to pay dividends anyway. I’d be likely to be opposing Grandouet and Rock On Ruby in particular if they don’t get some more match practice in the interim.
The big handicap chase (2m5f) was won by 4 year old Unioniste. Paul Nicholls continues to push back the boundaries and this was an amazing performance for such an inexperienced horse from (ignoring his riders claim) a mark of 143. It also paid a big compliment to Dynaste who thrashed him here last month. 14/1 for the Jewson looks interesting for Unioniste as few of those at the head of the market are likely to run and this looks his trip.
The Relkeel Hurdle (extended 2m4f) proved another canter round for the top class Oscar Whisky as he dismissed 2 inferior opponents at 1/5. He has nothing to fear from domestic opposition at around this trip. If the ground came up soft for the Champion Hurdle he’d have a good chance (14/1) but I get the impression Nicky Henderson is considering the World Hurdle (25/1) again.
In the 3m novice hurdle Coneygree galloped through the mud to enhance his reputation when beating Aerial (who received 7lb) by 6l. Ladbrokes stand out 12/1 for the Albert Bartlett looks pretty big as he looks versatile ground-wise and is in danger of being underestimated for his small yard.
For a horse who'd split Champagne Fever and Mozoltov on heavy ground in the Grade 1 Bumper at Punchestown, Melodic Rendezvous was allowed to go off a huge 4/1 in the novice hurdle at Cheltenham (2m1f, heavy) on Friday. He duly took advantage for the in-form Jeremy Scott and looks worth a step up in grade now. He also looks versatile ground-wise and is 25/1 for the Neptune.
Mozoltov himself had made his hurdling debut at Gowran the previous day (2m2f, soft) and bolted up by 24l from a weak field. He’s another exciting novice for the Mullins team and is 20/1 for the Neptune. We’ll know more about him once he tackles better opposition.
With all the controversy around the reduction in the number of novice chases, it’s worth noting that there were 3 novice chases for stayers on Saturday, which attracted only 14 runners between them. The Grade 2 at Lingfield, (3m, heavy) was taken by Court In Motion who acts well on that sort of surface. He’s not just a slogger but I doubt he’s quite classy enough for the RSA (33/1) and the mooted drop back in trip for the Jewson (16/1) doesn’t look the right call.
At Cheltenham, (extended 3m1f, heavy) Our Father was again unable to back up a good seasonal debut and was well beaten by Highland Lodge. The winner looks to need plenty of cut in the ground, so doesn’t appeal as an ante-post proposition for the Festival, (20/1 for the RSA). At Doncaster Rocky Creek outstayed Molotof, (3m, good to soft.) He looks the right type for the 4 miler and is worth following.
The most high profile novice chaser in Ireland this week was Boston Bob, who made rather hard work of landing a beginners chase at Navan, (2m4f, heavy) by ½l from You Must Know Me. The runner up is really unexposed though and stays well, so time may show this was a smart effort in desperate ground. Boston Bob’s a galloper rather than a quickener so will be seen in a better light in true run races over 3m. He’s held in the highest regard by the Mullins camp but he didn’t look happy from an early stage in the Albert Bartlett and with question marks over the track and the likely sound surface, he can’t be backed for the RSA (out to 10/1).
The bookmakers benefit that is the Grade 1 Navan Novice Hurdle produced another long odds-on loser in Don Cossack, who was well beaten when coming down at the last. Pont Alexandre, (2m4f) made all and galloped them into the ground. This was impressive but based on this limited evidence he’d be better off in the Albert Bartlett (10/1) than the Neptune (8/1). The concern with him is that Willie Mullins said afterwards that he’d only started working well at home when the ground got really soft so I’d want to see him perform on better ground before considering backing him for the Festival.
Whilst some aspects of ante-post Festival betting are common to all races, (eg needing a horse that will shorten significantly,) the approach required can be radically different. For example, as I mentioned when putting up Oscar’s Well for the Arkle last week, that’s a predictable race and we’ve already got an idea of the likely main protagonists. By contrast, I haven’t a clue what’ll run in the Foxhunters, so I can’t accurately predict Salsify’s chances – it’s more a case of imagining what price he’ll be if he lines up, rather than whether I fancy any of the opposition.
He won pretty easily as a 7 year old and with the decision to keep him to hunters, (unlike Kingscliff and Cappa Bleu, the other two young horses to have won this in recent times,) he’s surely going to be a short price if he gets there in decent form. Whyso Mayo won as a 9 year old and was 2/1 the following year, and Salsify may be even shorter. He usually takes a couple of runs to come to himself so his comeback 2nd on unsuitably soft ground to Tammy’s Hill was really encouraging, and he’ll get plenty of assistance from Colman Sweeney in the saddle. I’m kicking myself for missing the 12/1 but 10/1 still looks very big. It’s a long time since a young winner on the upgrade has come back to defend the title which might be why he’s being underestimated.
1pt Salsify to win the Foxhunters @ 10/1
Finally, it was sad to see the end of Kauto Star’s time at Ditcheat descend into back-biting and recriminations. Only those involved know the full story but it certainly didn’t show the yard in a good light. I’m a huge fan of Paul Nicholls who is a genius, particularly at keeping older horses sweet. Equally importantly, he was the trainer who revolutionised openness with the press and race going public. It’s easy to forget how much more fun our sport is, and how much easier it is to bet successfully, than before he led that change.
Nobody gets it right all the time though, and it looked as if plenty of those at Ditcheat made the classic mistake of thinking Kauto Star was their horse. He isn’t, he’s Clive Smith’s. Even if he had previously led Paul to think Kauto would remain there in retirement, (and I’ve no idea if that’s the case,) he’d be perfectly entitled to change his mind. By allowing his team free rein on the issue, they’ve ended up looking petulant with the boss’ tacit approval. Nicholls was man enough to admit to being embarrassed by the affair and it was good to see the stable back in the headlines for the right reasons on Saturday.