Matt Tombs / Monday 28th October 2013 / 11:00
Punters have short memories. It’s only a couple of years since every horse Paul Nicholls sent novice chasing was sent off very short, as punters piled into them blind. Nicholls novices that won impressively on their debuts over fences were made short priced favourites for Festival races. Now, with Nicky Henderson in the ascendency, they might be being underestimated.
The most exciting of his 3 novice chase winners this week was Wonderful Charm who’d looked a useful prospect when winning a Grade 2 novice hurdle a year ago but was only seen out once after that, when never competitive in the World Hurdle. Sent straight over fences this season, Paul Nicholls’ 5 year old jumped well at Fakenham and had too much class for Bear’s Affair, sauntering clear to win by 8l, (extended 2m5f, good.) He was good off a long stride and quick and clever when on a short stride, which should stand him in good stead as he takes on the better novices. He looks a candidate for top novice honours and 16/1 for the RSA looks generous.
Exeter saw a fine return to action from Nicholls’ Sonofvic who beat the odds-on Kentford Grey Lady (who received 7lb) by 12l in a beginners chase, (extended 2m7f, good to soft). The winner ran in two Grade 2 novice chases two seasons ago, (RPR of 147), but had been off for 19 months since a fall over hurdles. Emma Lavelle said Kentford Grey Lady would need the run and, having raced with the choke out, she got tired in the straight and was allowed to coast home, so it’s hard to know what Sonofvic achieved here. Both look possibilities for the RSA at this early stage but we’ll know more about their chasing prospects after another run, (Sonofvic is a 20/1 chance which looks fair).
In a 2m4f beginners chase at Fontwell, hurdles form came to the fore as 140 rated Black Thunder and 149 rated Fox Appeal had a terrific dual up the hill, with the former all out to win by a neck, (soft). Black Thunder was still in with a shout in the Coral Cup (running off 145) when coming down 2 out and whilst he probably wouldn’t have won, he was running a good race off a big weight. He looks worth a shot at graded company now, though the vibes from the Nicholls yard weren’t that he was one of their top novice chase prospects. Fox Appeal lost little in defeat and looks to have matured from the wayward novice hurdler of early last year. He’s a real stayer so may reverse the form at 3m+. He might be good enough for the RSA, though the 4 miler could be another option for both.
Ironically, of the 4 novice chasers Nicholls ran this week, it was the most hyped, Just A Par, that was the only disappointment. He was well beaten by Shotgun Paddy at Chepstow in a novice chase, (3m, soft). The winner was yet another for Emma Lavelle who’d disappointed in the first quarter of the year when the yard was out of form. He jumped better than the runner-up (who was a bit slow through the air) and had far too much toe in the closing stages. If Just A Par is anything like as good as the Ditcheat team think, then Shotgun Paddy is an RSA contender. Visually this was a taking performance, though he apparently needs plenty of cut. All in all 25/1 is about right.
The beginners chase at Carlisle (2m, good to soft), was shaping up into a good finish before Jet Master (rated 125 over hurdles) unseated 3 out when going well and Eduard (139 over hurdles) sprawled on landing 2 out. That left Tolworth runner up Pendra, (also rated 139,) to coast home. It’s impossible to tell how they’d have fared if all completing without mishap, but Pendra deserves the credit for doing so. He was backed into favouritism for the Coral Cup off 139, so is clearly highly thought of. He’s 25/1 for the Arkle, though the Jewson (16/1) might be the right option.
Shutthefrontdoor had run well in the Pertemps Final at the Festival when 3¼l 4th off 144 during his novice season. He made his debut over fences in a warm contest at Aintree, (2m4f, good to soft) when driven out to beat Beeves (who gave 5lb) by ½l. He isn’t really a quickener and will be suited by a good step up in trip. Whether he’ll have the class for the RSA (25/1) is debatable but connections have a good record in the 4 miler (not quoted) and that might be his race at the Festival.
The Grade 2 Persian War novices hurdle at Chepstow often throws up a talented type – the last 4 winners were Wonderful Charm, Fingal Bay, Silviniaco Conti, and Reve De Sivola. Emma Lavelle’s fine form continued as Timesremembered bolted up by 6l, (2m4f, soft). He’d only edged home in a Uttoxeter maiden earlier in the month, (shortly after joining Lavelle’s yard), so this was a huge step up. He’s much less experienced than many winners of this and, whilst the market principles disappointed, he looked good here. He’s a feasible contender for the Neptune or Albert Bartlett, (both 20/1).
There was a strong looking novice hurdle at Fontwell on Wednesday, featuring a stack of point or bumper winners, but it was turned into a procession by Shantou Magic who bolted up by 9l, (extended 2m2f, soft). His bumper 4th to Red Sherlock at Ascot had been boosted by 2nd home The Skyfarmer winning at Newton Abbot and he looked a good prospect here. Charlie Longsdon sees this point winner as a chaser in the making, but he may make his mark in top novice hurdles with the Challow a feasible target. He could be a Neptune (40/1) or Albert Bartlett (not quoted) type.
The Festival Bumper hasn’t produced the usual glut of winners so far, though it’s early days to be concluding on the strength of the form. There were mixed messages on Saturday. 5th home Purple Bay had been disappointing in a bumper earlier in the month but bounced back with a cheeky 1l win at Stratford, confirming the Aintree Bumper form with Dakar Run, (extended 2m, soft.) He jumped well enough on debut here and it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on when tackling better company.
Festival Bumper runner up Regal Encore was an 8/15 disappointment in a maiden at Aintree, (extended 2m, good to soft) when 2¼l 2nd to Garde La Victoire. The winner was very keen early and wasn’t fluent at the last 2, so probably rates value for further. He was a narrow winner of an ordinary 3 year olds bumper a year ago in his only previous run so was unexposed, but this was a big step up. He looks a pacey sort so might be the right type for the Supreme. Regal Encore was obviously a bit disappointing but time might show he bumped into a smart novice here. He should improve for the experience and a step up in trip.
Memories of the great Istabraq are still fresh and it would be fantastic for the sport if Aidan O’Brien starts training jumpers seriously again. Getting a smart hurdler early on might help rekindle his enthusiasm and Carriganog made it 2 from 2 when bolting up in a fair novice at Wexford, (2m, soft). He’s a chaser in the making but shouldn’t be underestimated as a novice hurdler and could easily end up in the Supreme or Neptune.
The Old Roan Chase at Aintree has attracted horses rated in the 170s like Kauto Star, Exotic Dancer, Voy Por Ustedes, & Master Minded in recent years. This year’s renewal lacked a bit of class, looking full of exposed types. It therefore wasn’t a surprise that the 3 that filled the places were the only 3 who were novices last season - with Conquisto belying stamina doubts to run down Astracad close home, (2m4f, good to soft). This was only the winner’s 8th chase so there should be more to come. However, winning off 150 here means there’ll be few handicap options now, (he’ll be reassessed for the Paddy Power). Horses off the flat have a shocking record in open Grade 1 chases and this may be his day in the sun.
Saturday’s extended 2m handicap chase at Chepstow often attracts a good field and Sire De Grugy showed himself a high class horse as, off 161, he thrashed Arkle 6th Majaja (who received 11lb) by 11l, (soft). In any normal year, that would result in a short priced quote for the Champion Chase. 25/1 is about right given Sprinter Sacre’s daunting presence.
Finally, it was wonderful to hear that Denman is on the mend after a life threatening infection. Denman was a true great, the best Gold Cup winner I’ve seen when demolishing Kauto Star in 2008, (beat him in all 4 of their Gold Cup clashes except in 2009 when running off an interrupted preparation.) We’ll never know, but I don’t buy the theory that Kauto Star wasn’t himself that day – I think Denman put Kauto under so much pressure, (on a course/trip that suited Denman better,) that he bullied him out of the race.
Harry Findley claimed then that Denman had broken Kauto Star’s heart – but if anything Denman came close to breaking his own. Denman put so much into his races that he looked exhausted after his Gold Cup win in a way the beaten horses didn’t. It took him a whole season to recover but he then produced another titanic performance to win the Hennessy off 174, giving 22lb and a 3½l beating to What A Friend, who won Grade 1s on his next two starts. Overall, Denman is, for me, the 2nd greatest staying chaser of the modern (post Desert Orchid) era behind Kauto Star, (whose performances away from Cheltenham make him the best). I can’t think of a top class horse I’ve seen put more into his races than Denman and he’ll hopefully recover to enjoy the long and happy retirement he deserves.