Matt Tombs / Monday 20th January 2014 / 11:45
I’d thought 2m1f on heavy ground might stretch Sire De Grugy’s stamina, but couldn’t have been more wrong as he bolted up in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. Perhaps he has an issue with the track at Cheltenham rather than a stamina problem, (although the ground on the chase course at Ascot didn’t look that bad, which was backed up by the times, so this was less of a stamina test than I’d expected.) He has by far the best form over 2m this season and whilst he won’t beat a top form Sprinter Sacre, he may well not face one. 3/1 for the Champion Chase is about right in a race where there are few realistic candidates.
Thursday was Thurles’ big meeting of the year and they were rewarded with a good renewal of the Grade 2 Kinloch Brae Chase, (2m4f, soft.) Texas Jack just edged out Baily Green and Last Instalment (who gave 2lb). Many were labelling the winner as a Grade 2 rather than Grade 1 horse and, whilst that’s probably right, he’d be interesting dropped in trip. In his 9 chases he hasn’t raced over less than 2m3f. This wasn’t the first time he’s travelled really well, and he may just not find much off the bridle, but equally it might be a stamina issue. He isn’t entered in the open Grade 1s at Cheltenham so would need supplementing for the Champion Chase.
Baily Green had apparently needed the run when bombing over 2m1f at Christmas and returned to form here. I’m still open minded about what his trip is and with Mouse Morris a master at peaking horses for the Festival, he’s an interesting outsider for the Champion Chase and Ryanair, (25/1 for both.) Last Instalment had been a leading novice in 2011/12 and ran a blinder on his come back from nearly 2 years off. Hopefully he’ll remain sound but as owner Michael O’Leary pointed out – horses don’t come back from those sorts of problems to win the Gold Cup, (50/1).
Melodic Rendezvous had disappointed in the Fighting Fifth but had pulled muscles there, and returned to form in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock, (2m, heavy,) beating Ptit Zig (who gave 4lb) by 4½l. Many have him down as a mudlark, but he ran well on a sound surface when winning the Elite in November, (breeding suggests good ground will be fine.) All that said, I suspect he’s not quite classy enough to win a vintage Champion Hurdle (33/1).
Rule The World has been one of the heartwarming stories of the season. Badly injured at the Punchestown Festival, he’s bounced back quickly and won the Grade 3 Limestone Lad hurdle at Naas easily, (2m3f, soft to heavy.) He heads for the World Hurdle (25/1,) but was well held by Zaidpour at Christmas on his only try over 3m and we may see the best of him when he goes over fences next season.
What had looked a good Grade 2 novice chase at Haydock, (2m5f, heavy), was rendered much less informative when Gevrey Chambertin was scratched and O’Faolains Boy looked to go wrong in the back straight. That left Taquin Du Seuil with a simple task, though he looked tired enough in the closing stages. He shapes as if he might be just below the top novices so 9/1 for the JLT isn’t tempting.
The 3m Grade 2 novice chase at Naas is usually a real test of stamina, and a couple of recent participants, (Four Commanders and Tofino Bay) were subsequently placed in the 4 miler. Foxrock outstayed the promising Sizing Gold to win by 7l, (soft to heavy.) They looked to go a good gallop in the first half of the race and Foxrock may have improved on his 9l 3rd in the Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas. He’s 10/1 for the 4 miler and will presumably have the assistance of trainer Ted Walsh’s daughter Katie, who won the race 4 years ago on Poker De Sivola. He goes for another Grade 2 at Navan next month, which will be his 5th chase start. With that experience he looks a leading contender for the 4 miler.
Clondaw Court was the Mullins team’s number one hope for last season’s Festival Bumper before missing the race with a minor problem. He was disappointing on his hurdling debut at Leopardstown when scrambling home over 2m, (apparently scared himself early on when landing on top of a flight.) He looked much better at Thurles when bolting up by 18l in a decent novice over 2m6f, (soft). On the limited evidence we’ve seen, he’s a stayer and the Albert Bartlett (16/1) was mooted by Willie Mullins afterwards, although the vibes were that he isn’t easy to train, so he’s a risky ante-post proposition. Clondaw Court is owned by Rich Ricci, who also has Faugheen and Vautour. If he wants to keep them apart that might involve abandoning plans to step Vautour up in trip, instead running him in the Supreme.
The Grade 2 Rossington Main novice hurdle, (2m, heavy), featured £450,000 French import Un Temps Pour Tout, but he couldn’t cope with the highly progressive Zamdy Man. The strapping 5 year old Zamdy Man was apparently very weak during his juvenile campaign, and has looked a different horse this season. He’s bred to stay further but has run at 2m so far – 33/1 for the Supreme looks to underestimate his chances as, whilst he goes well in the mud, he looks to handle decent ground too.
Champagne West’s form had got a boost when Deputy Dan won a Grade 2 last week and he defied a double penalty in good style in a novice hurdle at Ascot, (2m6f, heavy.) He’s progressing really well and is qualified for the Pertemps Final, although the handicapper will have his say again now. He might be good enough for the Albert Bartlett (16/1,) having a not dissimilar profile to At Fishers Cross, being a progressive 2nd season novice.
The British hunter chase season kicked off at Newbury in what’s usually a strong contest. There was an interesting winner in 8 year old Foundry Square, who’d returned to Steve Flook, (where he began his career in points), after a spell with Nigel Twiston-Davies. Foundry Square had been in the mix with Green Flag and Imperial Vic in a novice chase in October when falling at the last, (probably would have finished 3rd but wouldn’t have been beaten far). I don’t know much about his jockey Will Telfer, for whom this was a 2nd winner under rules, but he’d be unable to claim his 7lb in the Foxhunters where he’d be riding against the crack amateurs - so 25/1 isn’t quite as appealing as it appears at first sight.
Pearlysteps was another hunter chase winner to catch the eye at Towcester, (extended 3m, heavy.) He didn’t beat much but won by 34l and was 143 rated at his peak. We’ll know more about how much ability he retains after he runs in a better race – he’s 20/1 for the Foxhunters. For those considering a bet on that race, it’s worth noting that Rival D’Estruval ran in a Graduation Chase this week and Mossey Joe has been out of training due to an ongoing ownership dispute. It’s a market to keep an eye on as, what had been shaping into a strong challenge to dual winner Salsify, might be thinning out.
Finally, I’m usually cautious about criticising actions that took place behind closed doors - as you rarely know the full story. However, in the case of the Big Buck’s ride saga, what Paul Nicholls has said publically looks enough to show Daryl Jacob’s attitude as extraordinary. How on earth could he not want that ride? If Big Buck’s wins a 5th World Hurdle, aged 11 and after serious injury, it’ll be the race he’s remembered for. The television replays in years to come will be of the 5th title not the first 4, and Jacob would have been remembered as the man who rode him to that 5th win. The sheer courage of jockeys is one of the ingredients that make the sport wonderful, but being courageous doesn’t mean you’re not weak mentally - as Jacob has shown himself to be. Paul Nicholls, rightly, has no time for that sort of attitude - it’s odds-on that Sam Twiston-Davies will be the No 1 jockey at Ditcheat next season.