Matt Tombs / Monday 4th November 2013 / 11:00
The first Grade 1 of the season is the JN Wine at Down Royal, (3m, yielding to soft). There was a turn up as outsider Roi Du Mee bolted up by 12l. It would be easy to dismiss this as simply substandard Grade 1 form with Sizing Europe not jumping well and First Lieutenant not yet having hit form, (also better going left handed.) Whilst the vibes from Gordon Elliott have never been that he’s a Grade 1 horse, he won 6 of his last 7 last season and keeps improving. Willie Mullins rarely has his big guns, like Sir Des Champs, at concert pitch for the Lexus and Roi Du Mee is just the type to be underestimated if allowed to take his chance. He likes testing ground so isn’t an ante-post proposition, but 40/1 for the Gold Cup is a bit of an insult.
The big race in Britain was the Charlie Hall at Wetherby (3m1f) and the officially good to soft ground looked quite testing after a lot of rain. That favoured Harry Topper, who jumped poorly early on but stayed on strongly to deny Wayward Prince (who gave 4lb) by a neck, close home. He’s reminiscent of Kim Bailey’s Gold Cup winner Master Oats in that he’s a high glass galloper. The last 2 Gold Cups have fallen to that type but the feeling is that he’d get tapped for toe in a good ground Gold Cup. He’s unexposed but his jumping will need to improve with experience - 33/1 for the Gold Cup is probably realistic at this stage.
The highest profile hurdler of the week was Jezki, who ran in the 2nd season hurdlers race at Down Royal, (2m, good to yielding.) They crawled round and he was given one squeeze by AP and eased clear to win on a tight rein. We learnt nothing new here and he heads for the Morgiana for a mouth-watering clash with Hurricane Fly and Our Conor. A strongly run race will suit him, but he wouldn’t want testing ground. He’s been clipped into 8/1 for the Champion Hurdle and the vibes from Tony McCoy afterwards were strong.
Racegoers love a character and old Tidal Bay produced another terrific late run to wear down Medinas (who received 4lb) close home in the Grade 2 hurdle at Wetherby, (good to soft). He’ll be 13 in a few weeks but Paul Nicholls is brilliant at keeping old stayers sweet and he shouldn’t be underestimated in Grade 1 chases when the ground is testing.
Paul Nicholls won the second season chasers Grade 2 at Down Royal, (2m4f, soft,) for an astonishing 6th year in a row with Rolling Aces, who jumped well for a cosy 2l victory. He was 7lb well in at the weights but it looked as if Argocat (who gave him 4lb) had come to claim the race at the last, only to fall. Rolling Aces stays further but might just have the right blend of speed and stamina for the Ryanair. Argocat was sent off a crazy 20/1 here and Tom Taaffe’s 5 year old might be the one to take out of the race if none the worse for his tumble. Neither are quoted for the Ryanair, though Rolling Aces is 50/1 for the Gold Cup.
Another strong chase for 2nd season horses was the Grade 3 2m chase at Naas, (yielding to soft). Twinlight was the classic sort to be underrated, having won a handicap (off 146) at the Punchestown Festival - running against those who’d contested Grade 1s in the spring. The strong travelling 6 year old has looked a pure 2 miler but Willie Mullins is considering stepping him back up in trip now. The theory presumably being that as he settles better he should get further. He’s one to keep an eye on, as he’s the type to continue to be underestimated.
Neptune 2nd Rule The World had looked a great prospect before breaking down at Punchestown. Fortunately he seems to have recovered quickly and he was a workmanlike winner of a decent minor hurdle at Naas, (2m4f,) looking like he’ll come on a ton for the run. Unsurprisingly after such a serious injury, Mouse Morris is delaying a switch to fences until next season. He’s not an ante-post proposition (20/1 for the World Hurdle) as there must be a temptation to keep it low key this season. If all goes well he has the raw ability to contest a World Hurdle so would be worth considering in the run up to the Festival.
Defy Logic is one of the novice chasers I’ve most looked forward to seeing this autumn and he duly bolted up in the 2m beginners chase at Naas, beating a couple of 130 hurdlers by 19l. He’s still a bit lairy (wears a hood) but his freewheeling style is well suited to 2m chases. He jumped pretty well on debut here and is the sort to get opponents in trouble early on – especially in Ireland as the races are often steadily run in testing ground so rivals won’t be used to going that quickly in the first half of the race. 16/1 for the Arkle looks more than fair.
Don Cossack had been hugely hyped as a novice hurdler last season only to disappoint after a good debut. He bounced back to winning ways in a beginners chase at Galway, (2m6f, heavy) spread-eagling a reasonable field. He jumped well enough and it will be fascinating to see if he can build on an impressive seasonal debut - unlike last season. I’d want to see him run again before considering backing him for the Festival, (16/1 for the RSA).
Taquin Du Seuil was a leading novice hurdler last season, winning the Challow before not being suited by a steadily run Neptune. He’s always looked a staying chaser in the making but started off over the minimum trip on heavy ground at Ffos Las. He jumped adequately – it looked a classic case of a good horse being asked to be conservative at the obstacles first time. The opposition was fair and he won cheekily on the bridle. He’s 16/1 for both the RSA and the Jewson, with the former making more appeal.
The best chase for novices run so far was the beginners at Punchestown on Wednesday, (2m4f, yielding to soft). Given it was his seasonal debut and he was supposed to need the run, this was a really impressive start by Morning Assembly over a trip likely to be short of his best, (won 3m Grade 1 novice at the Punchestown Festival on bad ground.) He jumped well and given this was only his 7th start, he should continue to improve. Pat Fahy has trained Grade 1 winners before like Mariah Rollins and he looks to be being underrated from his small yard - 25/1 for the RSA is really tempting.
There won’t be too many hurdlers rated higher than Raya Star (157) going novice chasing this season. He made a winning debut at Uttoxeter beating Tanerko Emery (rated 147 over timber) by ½l, (2m, soft). The winner jumped much better and that won him the day. Raya Star is 20/1 for the Arkle and Tanerko Emery 25/1, though Raya Star might be interesting tried over 2½m over fences. He was first off the bridle in last season’s Christmas Hurdle but stayed on well to be 4½l 2nd to Darlan, running on past the likes of Countrywide Flame.
Many Clouds was a fine 2nd off top weight (136) in last season’s EBF Final, which has a good tradition of producing smart chasers. He jumped well and easily disposed of some decent rivals in a beginners at Carlisle (2m4f, heavy.) He didn’t really quicken when asked to win his race and just stayed on. A step up in trip should suit – He’s 25/1 for the RSA, though the 4 miler could be an alternative.
It’s always great to see a promising horse really take to fences and Sizing Rio was superb at his obstacles when running away from a decent field at Cork, (2m4f, soft.) He’s only 5 and is described by Henry De Bromhead as his great white hope for the future. Whilst 3m should suit in time, it may be Henry won’t want to expose him to the RSA (not quoted) this season, and the Jewson (25/1) could well be his race. He looks a top class prospect.
The Liquidator had been a good 4th in the Festival Bumper before winning the equivalent at the Punchestown Festival. He demolished a poor field at Carlisle (2m1f, soft) winning by 11l on the bridle. He really impressed as a natural jumper, and if he can translate that to the higher tempo of a better race, he ought to be a contender for the Festival novice races. It’s hard to tell what trip will suit at this stage but he doesn’t look slow so the Neptune (20/1) or Supreme (25/1) look the more likely targets.
Gilt Shadow (2nd to The Liquidator at Punchestown) looks a horse with a future after thrashing useful yardstick Rock The World in a maiden hurdle at Down Royal, (2m, yielding to soft). He travelled like a good horse in a race run at a decent gallop and is bred to stay. He could easily be underestimated from his small yard if pitched into the domestic Grade 1s. He’s not yet quoted for the Festival novice races.
Oscar Rock was arguably the best British bumper horse last season, bolting up at Newbury with the first 2 in the Aintree Bumper and the 6th in the Cheltenham Bumper well behind. He started his hurdles career in a low key race at Wetherby and brushed aside an ordinary field easily, (2m4f, good to soft). His jumping was novicey on occasions but he clearly has an engine. His dam won a 3m novice hurdle and he looks to stay well. He could well outclass the stayers in the Albert Bartlett (12/1) though he might have the toe for the Neptune (12/1). He’s an exciting prospect.
The Grade 3 novice hurdle at Cork, (3m, soft) was won in convincing style by Lots Of Memories. He was really green when clear in the closing stages and looks open to stacks of improvement. He’s 33/1 for the Albert Bartlett – he’ll need to get much more streetwise to win that but is talented and worth keeping an eye on.
It was a weak maiden at Cork, (2m4f, soft) but Azorian looked a good novice when bolting up by 21l on the bridle. He’s a staying chaser in the making but he might well be up to Grade 1 company as a novice hurdler first. He’s 20/1 for the Neptune, though whether that or the Albert Bartlett (not quoted) is the right race will be better judged after another run.
On the assumption stablemate Annie Power won’t run against Quevega at the Festival, the race desperately needs a new girl on the block to give it some interest. Jessica Harrington’s 4 year old Gambling Girl might just be that after hosing up in a Grade 3 mares novice at Down Royal (2m, good to yielding). Other than fluffing the last with the race won, she jumped well and after just two races over jumps is open to any amount of improvement. Of course she has 2 or 3 stone to make up on Quevega and has the option of novice races, but Whiteoak, the only other winner of the Mares race at the Festival, was a novice and Gambling Girl looks the type who could make that sort of progression.
Finally, one of the imponderables of analysing races is the impact a hard race(s) will have. Some horses can take lots of them, for others one hard race can bottom them. Sometimes a horse can take a lot of hard races well in one season only to return a shadow of their former self the next season. Long Run had 3 really hard slogs through the mud in the King George, Gold Cup and at Punchestown last season, holding his form really well. He doesn’t run well fresh and scoped badly after the Charlie Hall and so he might well bounce back. However, it might be that those hard races have left a mark. Sir Des Champs ran in the last 2 of them and Bob’s Worth had a hard race at Cheltenham – I’d want to see them show their wellbeing before thinking about backing either for the Gold Cup.