Matt Tombs / Monday 2nd December 2013 / 13:30
The triple Grade 1 card at Fairyhouse is always one of the highlights of the season and this year was run on unusually quick ground, (good to yielding). With the ground in his favour in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, (2m4f,) it looked a question of whether Jezki would get the trip, which he did, but I suspect he’ll be much better back at 2m on a left handed track.
It was hard to glean much from this as he missed the last two and so AP just let him cruise home, (didn’t use his stick). He was no more than workmanlike and based on that, 9/1 for the Champion Hurdle looks right. I’m keeping the faith and my main concern is that he’s had 2 easy races so far and he’d benefit from taking on the big boys before Cheltenham. I think being left in his box after Christmas did him no favours in the Supreme and I hope connections don’t repeat the tactic.
The Royal Bond Novices' Hurdle (2m) didn’t contain the hotpot it often does, but looked to have lots of depth. The Tullow Tank looked headstrong at the start and jumped only adequately here, but he’s clearly got an engine. He’d hung badly right handed previously so you’d want to see how he gets on in a good race going left handed, but I wouldn’t want to be laying 25/1 for the Supreme, (16/1 for the Neptune).
The other one to take out of the race is Arctic Fire who was making a quick reappearance after slipping up last weekend at Gowran. He met trouble in running and was a fast finishing 3rd (beaten 1½l). He was pushed out to 33/1 for the Supreme but is now 20/1, which more accurately reflects his claims.
In the Drinmore Novices' Chase (2m4f) I’d been keen to take on Don Cossack, as the ground looked too quick and he’d seemed a bit soft in a finish. He showed plenty of fight here though and was comfortably on top of 150 rated Carlingford Lough at the line. Plenty were putting him up for the RSA (14/1) but I’m not sure he wants a real test of stamina and Gordon Elliott didn’t seem to either. 16/1 for the Jewson makes more appeal but I wonder if he’ll be focused on a domestic campaign, on his favoured soft ground, this season.
The Hennessy looked to lack class before hand, but very few would have predicted it would fall to the winner of last season’s Topham, Triolo D’Alene, (extended 3m2f, good.) He’d been a late plunge for the Paddy Power last season and Barry Geraghty had got off Hadrian’s Approach to ride him, so the clues were there. Few of us completed the puzzle. As Nicky Henderson pointed out, this will have ruined his mark for the National, but it looks well worth it. He’s only 6 so further progress couldn’t be ruled out, (unusually for a Hennessy winner, even off 147, he’s not quoted for the Gold Cup).
Rocky Creek ran a fine race, suggesting he might well have won the RSA if he’d been aimed at that. The Mullins big guns often aren’t primed for the Lexus, so the plan to try him in that next looks sound. Theatre Guide had looked the best of the outsiders and ran a blinder over a trip that may stretch his stamina. He might be one for the 3m handicap on the opening day of the Festival, depending on his mark at that stage. If there was a hard luck story it was Lord Windermere who was impeded by the fall of Katenko. That can’t have helped but he was beaten a long way. He’s worth another chance, but the RSA form has taken plenty of knocks.
World Hurdle favourite At Fishers Cross was getting 4lb from Celestial Halo in the Grade 2 hurdle at Newbury, (extended 3m, soft). Celestial Gold was tanking along in front and At Fishers Cross had been shaken up to close to within a length, when getting the 2nd last all wrong and losing any chance. I’m not convinced he was going to win anyway and the World Hurdle (6/1) now looks wide open. Winner Celestial Halo must be a joy to own and train, having started on the flat more than 7 years ago. Whether he can win a World Hurdle (16/1) at 10 I doubt, but he owes nobody anything.
The Grade 1, Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, (2m, good,) revolved around the fitness of My Tent Or Yours. His jumping was a bit rusty in that he wasn’t that quick through the air, but he didn’t make mistakes and settled better. When asked to win his race he settled it very quickly. My initial reaction was to be impressed, but the context at that point was that the Henderson big guns had been misfiring. Tony McCoy wasn’t that upbeat afterwards but he may have felt the race wasn’t strong enough to tell him much. He’s now favourite for the Champion Hurdle in some books, but is available at 9/2.
From an ante-post point of view, the interesting horse in the race was Cockney Sparrow who was beaten a comfortable 3l, but finished ahead of 150+ horses Grumeti and Melodic Rendezvous. She is being aimed at the Mares Hurdle (7/1). That’s usually a weak race and the other 4 at the head of the market are all trained by Willie Mullins. It wouldn’t be Willie’s style to run them and potentially stop the Quevega 6 timer, so there may be few realistic contenders. Quevega will be 10 and 2m4f on a sound surface might not be enough of a stamina test for her now.
We clearly don’t know what else will line up at this stage, but it’s unlikely there’ll be anything else that could put up this sort of performance in a Grade 1 over 2m against the geldings. She looked to stay 14f on the flat and, going at mares pace, 2m4f shouldn’t be a problem. I can see her outspeeding Quevega up the hill and spoiling the party. 7/1 looks tempting as she’s being aimed at the race and even assuming Quevega lines up, I can see her starting pretty short.
If ever there was a good example of the dangers of getting involved in the hype of a novice hurdle prospect before they’ve jumped a hurdle in public, it was West Wizard, who was turned over at 1/6 at Kempton, (2m, good). The whispers from Seven Barrows were that West Wizard was their next big star but he was easily disposed of by Festival Bumper 13th Sgt Reckless. The winner had been only an ordinary 3rd on his hurdles debut and at this stage there’s no reason to see either as Supreme horses.
Hardly a week has gone by this autumn without John Ferguson introducing a smart flat horse that makes an impressive hurdling debut. This week it was 105 rated Mijhaar, who won a listed handicap over 12f in May. Equipped with a hood he jumped well and hosed up on the bridle in a novice at Doncaster, (extended 2m, good.) He’s 25/1 for the Supreme but connections have an array of possibles for that so it’s a watching brief for now.
Paul Nicholls had suggested Just A Par might be his best novice chase prospect this season. It had therefore been disappointing when he was brushed aside by Shotgun Paddy, (well beaten next time,) on debut. He got back on track with a comfortable 14l win over Third Intention, (who gave 7lb,) at Newbury, (3m, good too soft.) Nicholls described him as green as grass and, as a thorough stayer, he has next season’s Hennessy in mind. In that context he’s not an ante-post proposition for the RSA (20/1).
From what we’ve seen so far, Wonderful Charm is Nicholls best novice chaser, and he made it 3 out of 3 when a cosy 6l winner of the Grade 2 at Newbury, (2m4f, good to soft.) He jumps, travels and looks to stay well, so the RSA (16/1) would look the obvious race but he’s been running at intermediate trips and his owner expressed a preference for the Jewson, (12/1). I could see him getting tapped for toe in the Jewson, so it’s a watching brief for now.
Another interesting staying novice chaser is Donald McCain’s Indian Castle who beat 133 rated Seymour Eric an easy 2l at Wetherby, (3m1f, good to soft.) He jumped really well and stamina looks his strong suit. He might be one for the 4 miler, (not quoted).
Finally, just when you thought Ascot had shown unbeatable form regarding ineptitude with clients, the artists formerly known as Newbury Racecourse have emerged as rivals. I'm all for "dress" events like Royal Ascot, but on a cold winters day watching jump racing, it's ludicrously anachronistic to object to someone wearing smart denim or trainers. The stands were a long way from full, yet if you wanted a drink between races you spent almost all of the intermission queuing. If you stood on the concourse starting your drink as the next race commenced that was fine, but if you moved onto the first step of the terrace you were shooed off.
If you were seeing a top class card you might grudgingly accept this. But with all the good novice races and the Gerry Fielden moved to the Thursday and Friday, it's the Hennessy, the Long Distance Hurdle and lots of humdrum handicaps. Newbury is seeking a new MD. It needs to be someone with some empathy and people skills - or it may be time to move its big races to tracks that provide a more enjoyable experience for racegoers.