Matt Tombs / Friday 10th April 2015 / 09:58
The ground was just on the slow side of good, (as advertised,) on the first day and little change is expected for day two. The feature event on the 2nd day is the Grade 1 Melling Chase over 2m4f.
Champagne Fever (7/2) has threatened to be a top class horse over fences but the jury is still out. He’d been prone to throwing in the odd stinker, but his form this season is pretty solid. He’s won Grade 2s over this trip at Clonmel and Gowran, and didn’t stay when a respectable 10½l 4th in the King George. He was upsides Don Cossack, though probably just getting the worst of it, when tipping up at Thurles, (that came just 3 weeks after the King George and he may have been a bit flat there.) He missed the Champion Chase after being bitten by Un Atout in transit, arrives here fresh and this is probably his trip. He looks a worthy favourite.
Don Cossack (4/1) looked a bit soft earlier in his career, but he’s a much tougher customer now, and he was giving Champagne Fever 2lb in the race at Thurles. I was slightly disappointed the way he got tapped for toe in the Ryanair and this is more a test of speed. One or two of these may be a bit quick for him.
Sire De Grugy (9/1) has been a top class horse over 2m, and given how well he’d taken his races it was a bit of a surprise he ran moderately in the Champion Chase, 18 days after his impressive Chepstow win off 172. If he is back on form after a month off, and stays the trip, he’ll win. Lots of Champion Chase horses get the trip in this, but he looks like an out and out 2 miler.
Al Ferof (13/2) has had plenty of training problems but has lots of ability. His Paddy Power win off 159 two seasons ago suggested he’d be a top class horse, but he’s been dogged by issues since, (wind operation since his last run). He’s looked at his best on his seasonal debut for the last 3 seasons and the break since the King George might work in his favour. It’d be no surprise to see him win, but I’m not keen on backing horses with his sort of profile.
Balder Succes (8/1) has the right sort of profile for this in that he’s more of a speed horse than a stayer at the trip. Whilst this race falls to horses from both the Champion Chase and Ryanair, when the best clash the 2 milers tend to prevail and it’s usually the speedier Ryanair types that win. A sharp 2m4f would look ideal and he won the Maghull at last year’s meeting. If you take the view he doesn’t like Cheltenham and so forgive a lacklustre Ryanair win, he looks too big a price.
I’d love to see Cue Card (7/1) bounce back, and his 2nd to Sprinter Sacre two years ago in this would almost certainly be good enough. He hasn’t looked the same horse since returning this season from his pelvic injury and there’s just too much to take on faith to back him at this stage.
When to keep faith with a horse and when to accept its not as good as you thought, is a perennial punting problem. Given Champagne Fever was scratched and Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy flopped, I was really disappointed Simply Ned (22/1) could only finish 17l 5th in the Champion Chase. He was ridden from off the pace and made a mistake at the 4th last that effectively ended his chances, before staying on - suggesting he might be ready for this sort of trip.
His splitting of Uxizandre and Dodging Bullets in the Shloer looks very good form now, and he got stuck in the mud at Leopardstown. If you forgive him his Champion Chase run, he should be much shorter. Sticking to the obvious paid dividends on the first day with Silviniaco Conti, and Champagne Fever is tempting, but he’s not the proven top notcher Silviniaco Conti was – so I’m giving Simply Ned one more chance.
1pt Simply Ned to win the Melling Chase (15:25) @ 22/1
Whilst none of the main protagonists from the RSA line up in the 3m1f Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase, its a decent renewal, with plenty of horses that looked RSA types earlier in the season, looking to restore their reputations.
I’m a fan of Saphir Du Rheu (7/4) and, whilst these fences take more jumping than most in Britain, I still think he’ll make it as a chaser, despite tipping up twice in his 3 runs over fences. However, everyone else clearly does too and he’s a fair bit shorter than I thought he would be, so I have to oppose him on value grounds.
Irish Saint (6/1) was a springer in the JLT market, backed from 16/1 into 8/1 on the day. Whilst he was demolished by Vautour, so was everything else, and he was only just over 3l behind runner up Apache Stronghold. He did pay for trying to mix it with the winner there and looked to have a hard race. It showed he was on an upward curve though and he’d be a threat if that race hasn’t left its mark and he stays the trip, (not raced beyond 2m5½f so far.)
Ainsi Fideles (9/1) rattled up a 5 timer between July and September and looked the classic sort to get found out once the better horses came out in the autumn, which is what looked to happen when he was thumped by Splash Of Ginge at Cheltenham’s October meeting. It was therefore surprising that he could win even a poor Reynoldstown, beating smart but inconsistent sorts Deputy Dan and Virak, (the latter a good winner off 144 since). If you take the Reynoldstown form at face value he’s right in this, but that race looked to fall apart and I suspect he’s not a Grade 1 novice.
Irish Cavalier (9/1) won the extended 2m4f novices handicap at the Festival off 137, (though that only had a 6lb weight range, so was almost like a consolation JLT). He definitely shaped as if a step up to 3m would suit and he might be better than a handicapper.
I backed Rawnaq (18/1) in the Plate and he ran a blinder at 25/1 off 141 on just his 4th chase start. He was beaten 2¾l in 3rd and might have given the winner plenty to think about had he jumped the last well. He still looks to be underrated for his small yard, but I’m a bit surprised to see him lining up in this rather than yesterday’s 2m4f novice Grade 1. He has flat form over 2m, but his form over jumps doesn’t suggest that 3m1f will suit.
By contrast, Carole’s Destrier (7/1) has looked really at home over 3m+. He had the advantage of race fitness when beating Carraig Mor at the start of November and won a handicap off 142 easily at Ascot in February, before landing the odds easily back in novice company last time. He was trying to give Irish Cavalier 8lb when 5l behind him in a novice handicap in January and there shouldn’t be much between them again.
Close Touch (18/1) has been a bit of a hype horse, and on occasions has looked as if he could be something special, especially when demolishing Many Clouds in the EBF Final 2 seasons ago. He was an impressive winner on his fencing debut at Wincanton at Christmas but has flopped twice since. Reports from Seven Barrows are that he’s regained his sparkle and, whilst there are concerns he might want softer ground, he adds a fascinating dimension to this.
However, at the prices I like Carraig Mor (14/1). He lacked a run when beaten by Carole’s Destrier at the start of the season, but was impressive when beating the much more experienced Southfield Theatre by 1¼l in a Grade 2 at Newbury. Southfield Theatre was giving 7lb and probably likes better ground, but Carraig Mor beat him cosily and Southfield Theatre was a good 2nd in the RSA.
He tipped up early on in the Kauto Star and then bombed at Haydock. Given a break he won easily on his return at Exeter over an inadequate 2m3½f. Alan King had never made any secret of how highly he rates Carraig Mor and if he puts it all together he can win this.
1pt Carraig Mor to win the Mildmay Novices’ Chase (14:50) @ 14/1
The Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle over an extended 3m tends to turn into a real test of stamina, as they go pretty quickly. With 17 lining up, that’ll probably happen again.
Having a theory about the nature of a race is crucial – whether as a punter or a trainer, but it can be dangerous. Willie Mullins had worked out that the Martin Pipe was much more of a test of stamina than the extended 2m4f trip might imply – and he won it with subsequent Gold Cup runner-up Sir Des Champs and RSA winner Don Poli.
This year he won it again with Killultagh Vic, but Mullins’ heavily punted 3/1 favourite, Roi Des Francs, could finish only 3rd off 139. It looked very much a case of Roi Des Francs (13/2) needing a step up in trip and the Albert Bartlett might well have suited him better. He looks a big price here.
1pt Roi Des Francs to win the Sefton Novices Hurdle (16:40) @ 13/2