Matt Tombs / Monday 10th December 2012 / 10:30
The retirements of Kauto Star, Denman and Master Minded threatened to leave a void at the top of the chasing ranks but the season has been a joy of new stars emerging from last season’s novice ranks. We’ve seen stars but this weekend I think we saw two superstars – quite possibly the Gold Cup and Champion Chase winners in Flemenstar and Sprinter Sacre.
With Bog Warrior a late withdrawal I had undivided loyalties and enjoyed Flemenstar outclassing Sir Des Champs in the Durkan, (2m4f, heavy). My immediate reaction was the race was roughly what I expected with Flemenstar having the advantage of a run and being more effective at the trip.
However, the vibes afterwards were interesting. Flemenstar had had a leg infection and had only come to himself a couple of days before the race. If anything the impression was that he should improve markedly again next time, (in the Lexus.) It’s hard to imagine 3m being a problem. He’s apparently grown into a good traveler, (not taken to Cheltenham last season because he didn’t travel well) so 7/1 for the Gold Cup looks generous for those not on at fancy odds.
By contrast, Willie Mullins attempts to put a brave face on it lacked conviction. It sounded like Sir Des Champs was pretty fit and that he expected him to be much more competitive. Whilst he should improve for a step up in trip and better ground, if the two were trained by each other’s trainers, Sir Des Champs would be being written off as a Gold Cup prospect, yet he’s also a 7/1 chance.
Many head-to-heads fail to live up to expectation for different reasons, but in the Tingle Creek the reason was predictable in the form of the phenomenal Sprinter Sacre, (2m, soft). Whilst not jumping quite at his imperious best, he exuded class and ran down Sanctuaire after the pond fence, dismissing him with the same contempt he’s shown every other rival over fences. Sprinter Sacre really is a monster and, like Big Buck’s, we may see him winning a succession of races easily. 4/7 for the Champion Chase is arguably generous – he’s exceptional.
If there’s to be a realistic challenge to Sprinter Sacre it’s likely to be from a horse improving rapidly. One possibility is Days Hotel who was restricted to 2 runs as a novice due to injury but bounced back from a year off to thrash Realt Dubh, (who gave 2lbs), in the Grade 2 Hilly Way (2m soft to heavy). It’s possible that few of those near the top of the Champion Chase market will take Sprinter Sacre on and 16/1 about Days Hotel is a great price for those who like to back each way, for all he has to prove himself on good ground. He’s one to look out for once the ‘betting without’ markets open.
The Grade 1 novice chase at Sandown, the Henry VIII, (2m) rather lacked star quality. Captain Conan looked professional getting the job done at 4/7 and is now 7/1 for the Arkle. He’s a worthy contender without looking like the winner at this stage.
I’m hoping the Arkle clue on Saturday came from Navan instead, where Oscars Well got his chasing career back on track with a dominating display, (2m1f, heavy.) It was obviously pleasing to see him jump so well after a nasty fall last time, but the speed with which he put the race to bed so far out was the most impressive aspect. For those who didn’t take the 16/1 for the Arkle on Friday, 12/1 is still generous given the pace he possesses, now he’s proved he had no ill effects from his Punchestown fall.
That Navan card featured 3 good events for novice hurdlers. The first, a 2m maiden, was won in promising style by the much vaunted Un Atout. He disposed of Fickle Fortune with a minimum of fuss and deserves a crack at the top novices over Christmas. He’s 16/1 for the Supreme and Neptune, but it’s too early to know how he’ll fit into the Mullins squad to work out what his Festival target will be, (he’s apparently seen as a stayer).
The second (also over 2m) was won by Champion Bumper 4th Moscow Mannon. He’d recovered from a pulled muscle in the autumn, but still shaped as if he’d improve for the run here. He’s due to step up to 2m4f for a Grade 2 at Naas next month. He’s 25/1 for the Supreme and Neptune with connections seemingly leaning towards the latter. He’s the type to be underestimated in the run up the Festival, coming from a small stable.
The third was a novice event over 2m4f won by Rule The World, though the form is difficult to assess with 2nd favourite Bonisland not looking straightforward. On a line through Our Vinnie he looks to have a bit to find with Coneygree in the staying novice hurdling division, though a step back up to 3m on good ground should bring about improvement. He’s 25/1 for the Albert Bartlett.
The listed intermediate chase at Sandown (extended 3m, soft) hasn’t lived up to its ‘future stars’ title for some years but Bold Sir Brian is just the sort to be underestimated in the Gold Cup. Lucinda Russell showed she could produce a horse on the big day when the ill-fated Brindisi Breeze turned over Boston Bob in the Albert Bartlett and Bold Sir Brian strode away from Pacha Du Polder (who gave 4lb) for a facile 16l win. The 6 year old was rated 155 coming into this and deserves a crack at a Gold Cup trial now.
Rival D’Estruval had finished a decent 2nd to Bold Sir Brian in a graduation chase at Carlisle and easily took a novice chase at Kelso over an extended 2m7f, (soft). He apparently won’t run until the 4 miler at the Festival. Like many in that race his stamina needs taking on trust but he appeals as a likely contender at this stage, (not quoted at the moment.)
Hereford is due for imminent closure but if they’d been able to attract the sort of horses who contested the novice chase, (2m, soft,) on Wednesday more often, the future might be different. Salden Licht was rated 155 over hurdles 2 seasons ago and faced Vulcanite who’d been raised 11lb to 145 after winning a handicap hurdle at Fakenham last time. Neither jumped fluently but Vulcanite looks to barely get 2m, for all that he stayed well on the flat, and he showed enough toe at the business end to get the job done by ¾l. Both are talented but I’d be concerned about Vulcanite getting up the hill in the Arkle (40/1) and he may stick to sharp tracks, whilst I’d want to see how Salden Licht (33/1) progresses from this.
Those holding ante-post vouchers for Fingal Bay in the RSA were left pretty glum on Friday when he ran out at the 3rd last at Exeter, (extended 2m3f, soft). The 1/12 shot had repeatedly jumped violently left and Richard Johnson looked to have done the right thing getting him up against the rail to keep him straight, but he ducked the issue leaving the race at Chartreux’s mercy. Fingal Bay’s out to 16/1 for the RSA and has plenty to prove now.
Some horses who don’t take to novice chasing are rejuvenated back over timber and Bear’s Affair might fall into that class. He scooted up at Aintree in a 2m4f handicap hurdle, (soft) off 140. He has lots of options but it’d be interesting to see him tried over 3m, (not run over further than 2m5f so far.) Nicky Henderson doesn’t have an obvious contender for the World Hurdle (33/1) so may be tempted to give it a try in what looks an open renewal, Big Buck’s apart.
I’m still adjusting to Hunter Chases being run at this time of year, but I was delighted to see last season’s champion Salsify make a good comeback at Wexford when 2nd to Tammy’s Hill, (who received 4lb, 2m6f, soft to heavy). Salsify would have been nowhere near full fitness here (beaten in a point and then pulled up in his first hunter last season) and is much better on good ground. As a 7 year old he could well improve from last season and 12/1 is a huge price as if he gets there in decent order he’ll be about a third of those odds.
Finally, the most heartwarming result of the week was the £110,000 Becher Chase falling to Hello Bud just before his 15th birthday. If they’re sound and enjoying their racing, there’s no reason for these veterans to be retired just because they’ve reached a certain age. More racehorses hate retirement than get injured in their dotage on the track and hopefully we’ll see Hello Bud over the national fences again. He’s a credit to connections.