Matt Tombs / Monday 18th November 2013 / 14:00
In some ways it’s disappointing that a horse with the profile of John’s Spirit, (10th chase run from a mark of only 139), could win the Paddy Power - as it suggests we’re lacking emerging stars in the chasing ranks, (extended 2m4f, good). He’ll probably go down as a good handicapper in the mould of Little Josh or L’Antartique rather than an Exotic Dancer, but his hold-up style makes it harder for the handicapper to get hold of him so he may not have finished winning yet. Jonjo O’Neill has already exceeded last season’s total of 90 winners and it’s great to see him at the top of the trainers championship, for all he doesn’t have the big guns to win it this year.
Having put up the 2nd for the last two years in some ways I’m glad I deserted Colour Squadron at the last minute. Having been badly hampered by a faller 2 out, Colour Squadron looks the horse to take out of this. He’s clearly not straightforward but this was only his 5th run over fences and he could be fancied to turn the form round if they meet again here in the equivalent race next month. He’s not quoted for the Jewson but shouldn’t be underestimated if running in it, as he could be better than a handicapper.
If JonJo does have a future star in his yard it may be Taquin Du Seuil. Whilst they only started racing coming down the hill in the novice chase, I was quite taken with his performance when giving 164 rated hurdler Oscar Whisky 5lb and beating him a neck at Cheltenham, (extended 2m4f, good). The way he looked to get done for toe in the Neptune after winning the Challow meant it was easy to pigeonhole him as an embryonic 3 miler. It might be that Oscar Whisky isn’t the horse he was – but Taquin Du Seuil may be a contender for the Jewson (12/1), Arkle (12/1) or RSA (16/1). Jonjo isn’t one for hyping up his horses but he clearly thinks Taquin Du Seuil is a potential top notcher. Given all his options he’s not a betting proposition at this stage.
Smad Place has been placed in 2 World Hurdles and, after an unfortunate mishap on his chasing debut, duly made amends in a beginners at Exeter, (3m, good to soft.) They went slowly and the sprint didn’t suit him - he had to be rousted along to assert in the straight. Given he’d come down last time, he jumped well but he does lack a gear. He’s 16/1 for the RSA but could be the type to get beaten in small field novice chases before running well in the RSA itself.
One possible rival in the RSA is Le Bec, who gamely beat Shutthefrontdoor ¾l at Cheltenham, (extended 3m, good). The runner up has looked a bit slow and with Albert Bartlett runner up African Gold flopping, it’s hard to evaluate this form. Le Bec is 20/1 for the RSA, which looks about right. He’s the sort to be underestimated in the run up to the Festival.
Champagne Fever made an impressive debut in a good beginners chase at Punchestown (2m4f, yielding.) He jumped well for a debutant and was clever when he needed to be, being pushed out to beat Corbally Ghost cosily by 4l. There was some real hyperbole from some commentators afterwards, (the runner up was beaten 15l by Morning Assembly last time), with suggestions that there’s nothing capable of beating him the Arkle, (5/1). He’s a worthy favourite but he’s no Sprinter Sacre or even Simonsig at this stage, for all Ruby Walsh was impressed. Willie Mullins was keeping the Jewson and RSA as options so you couldn’t back him for the Arkle now.
Whether Champagne Fever runs in the Arkle may in part depend on how Felix Yonger progresses. He’d been a fair 2nd to Simonsig in the 2012 Neptune and returned from a year off with a smooth win over 2m4f in May. Dropped back to 2m on his reappearance in the Grade 2 at Punchestown, (yielding), I didn’t think he’d have the toe to go with Defy Logic, but he ran all over Paul Nolan’s runner in the straight, winning by 2½l. The way they pulled quickly clear of some decent types suggested this was top novice form. Willie Mullins suggested he’ll stick to 2m over the winter. He’s 16/1 for the Arkle and 14/1 for the Jewson and the former looks too big.
I’d been unimpressed with Dodging Bullets on his chasing debut at Kempton and had him down as one to take on when he lined up in the Grade 2 novice chase at Cheltenham, (2m, good). With Ted Veale disappointing this looked a match and he was too good for Raya Star, winning by 5l. Paul Nicholls said he’d improved hugely since Kempton and is relaxing better now, so he could be progressive. Equally, this might have been a weak Grade 2. His chances are better judged after his next run, (16/1 for the Arkle). The runner up is unexposed at 2½m and deserves another chance when stepped up in trip.
The Grade 2 Florida Pearl novice chase at Punchestown looked well up to scratch and Morning Assembly outbattled Don Cossack on the run in to prevail by ½l, (2m6f, yielding). Both jumped well and Don Cossack looked the more likely winner, especially when landing running at the last, but Morning Assembly found loads. They cleared away from 2 good yardsticks and the winner looks a real RSA contender (16/1). That would be tempting if Pat Fahy wasn’t also considering the 4 miler, which is being won by top novices these days. Don Cossack might not be a strong finisher but perhaps this trip stretched him (first try beyond 2½m) and the Jewson (33/1) rather than the RSA (16/1) could be his Festival race.
Arvika Ligeonniere was a facile winner of the Clonmel Oil Chase on Thursday, (2m4f, yielding) beating Toner D’Oudairies (who received 4lb) on the bridle. He didn’t seem to have a problem with a sound surface and the big issue is whether he can be effective left handed. If he is, the Ryanair (20/1) looks a realistic target as he’s really talented. He’s effective at 2m and if Sprinter Sacre didn’t line up in the Champion Chase, Arvika Ligeonniere would have leading claims if handling the track, (25/1).
There’ll be a few people writing off Hurricane Fly after an unimpressive win at 1/16 in the Morgiana, (2m, yielding). However, he’s never been at his best in this, (beaten by Solwhit and Muirhead the first time he contested it, (his only defeat in Ireland) and might have been in trouble when Go Native fell at the last the other time he ran.) He’s out to 6/1 for the Champion Hurdle but he tends to improve a lot between this and Leopardstown at Christmas so shouldn’t be written off. Connections of Jezki must be kicking themselves for bypassing this race.
The 2m conditions chase at Cheltenham looked to depend on which Kid Cassidy showed up. Fortunately, this headstrong sort was beautifully ridden by Tony McCoy and mowed down 169 rated Sire De Grugy (who gave 10lb) on the run in. Kid Cassidy relishes a fast run race and hold up tactics. He’s 25/1 for the Champion Chase but there may be more value in the ‘without Sprinter Sacre’ market, (not yet quoted,) as he looks the type to run past beaten horses that try to put it up to the champion.
A bit like the Paddy Power, there didn’t look any superstars in the making in the Greatwood Hurdle (extended 2m, good), but it was laudable effort from Dell’ Arca to win this on just his 4th race over hurdles, (off 128). He’s still a novice so could easily progress into a Supreme or Neptune horse, (not yet quoted). He’s one to keep an eye on.
The whispers last season were that Faugheen was Willie Mullins’ best bumper horse, though in the event he only made his debut in May. Willie found him a weak maiden by Punchestown standards to start off in and he had a nice school round (2m6f, yielding). Ruby said he was too keen and he’ll apparently be dropped back in trip next time. He’s 14/1 for the Neptune but its too early to be guessing Festival targets for him.
It was a Mullins purchase from France who caught the eye at Cork as Valseur Lido hosed up in a decent 4 year olds maiden hurdle, (2m, soft to heavy.) He’s 16/1 for the Supreme and is exciting, but he’s one to assess after another run.
The entries for the Grade 2 novice hurdle at Cheltenham suggested it would informative but the field cut up and Sea Lord didn’t handle the dead ground so The Liquidator might have been flattered, (extended 2m, good). Visually though it was a taking performance. He could run in the Supreme (14/1) but at this early stage he might well have the right blend of speed and stamina for the Neptune (20/1).
Finally, Hurricane Fly set a world record (jumps & flat) of 17 Grade 1 wins on Sunday – but there are twice as many Grade 1 races as there were 15 years ago. The likes of Istabraq used to run in ungraded races and champions of previous eras ran in handicaps. All 19 of Hurricane Fly’s runs for Willie Mullins have been in Grade 1s. Hurricane Fly is a true champion, one of the very few who deserve to be termed great, but this isn’t an important record.