Matt Tombs / Monday 22nd December 2014 / 17:48
Most of us are in racing for the occasional horse that takes the breath away, the rare sort you look forward to all week before they’re going to run. Un De Sceaux is firmly in that category for me and is one of the most exciting horses I’ve seen. That’s in part because he looks to have a stellar level of ability, but also because of his ultra-aggressive style of racing. The excitement is heightened by the fact that he jumps low and fast and, at the gallop he goes, you’ve always got your heart in your mouth watching him.
After failing to the get the landing gear out when miles clear at Thurles, he looked like he’d learnt from that at the first at Fairyhouse, (2m, soft,) maintaining his balance when pitching slightly on landing, and he jumped well thereafter. He won on the bridle, beating 145 rated hurdler Smashing, (4th in the Coral Cup off 143,) by 12l with 30l back to the 3rd. He’s 4/1 for the Arkle and, assuming Vautour doesn’t take him on, it’s hard to see what can beat him if he jumps round.
Whilst Un De Sceaux looks a pure 2 miler, one novice chaser that might run at any trip between 2m-3m at the Festival is Ptit Zig, who won a good Grade 2 at Ascot, (2m3f, soft.) He was 6th in the Champion Hurdle, (rated 157 over timber,) but had apparently been a slow learner in jumping both types of obstacles. He’d clearly benefited from experience and having previously been a bit careful, he jumped best when the race really quickened in the straight here to beat Josses Hill, (who received 4lb,) by 9l. Paul Nicholls thinks he might be a stayer in the making as afterwards he was talking about Gold Cups down the line. The JLT (10/1) looks the most likely Festival target for this season, though soft ground could see him run in the Arkle (12/1).
Josses Hill had been a good 6l 2nd to Vautour in the Supreme before winning the Top Novices at Aintree. A splint problem had delayed his return and this was a hot contest to begin his fencing career, (he was a bit keen on his first run since April). His jumping was a real mixture – when on a stride he looked really good, but he looked hesitant and novicey when he wasn’t. He might be the type that needs plenty of experience before the Festival – though Nicky Henderson has a great record in the Arkle with lightly raced sorts, (Tiutchev and Simonsig both won after two chase runs, with the former looking a suspect jumper beforehand.)
Paul Nicholls has another classy novice in Irish Saint who won an interesting Graduation Chase, (that was in effect a Novice) at Ascot, (extended 2m5f, good to soft.) He beat Thomas Crapper, (who received 7lb,) by 13l, though Puffin Billy would have been 2nd but for taking a heavy fall at the last. Irish Saint was a shade disappointing in the Henry VIII but perhaps he needs a trip now. He’s 16/1 for the JLT, but it’d be interesting to see him tried at 3m.
Boondooma looks a progressive type over fences. After a moderate 18l 4th to Puffin Billy at Ascot, he bustled up high-class hurdler Melodic Rendezvous at Bangor. He made it 3rd time lucky at Haydock, (2m, heavy,) beating 132 rated Ifandbutwhynot by 12l. Rated 137 over hurdles it’ll be interesting to see what chasing mark he gets – if it doesn’t exceed 140, he looks the right type for the novices handicap on the opening day of the Festival.
Val De Ferbet looks a staying type and was a taking winner of a good beginners chase at Fairyhouse, (3m, soft). He jumped particularly well on his fencing debut and was a cosy 3¼l winner from a couple of decent yardsticks, in Noble Emperor and Busty Brown. He’ll need to improve a fair bit further for the RSA (33/1) but looks just the type that’d get into a rhythm and exceed expectations against some flashier sorts.
The Young Master had bolted up at Wincanton off 130, (subsequently disqualified on a technicality,) and followed up in good style at Ascot off 144, beating Houblon Des Obeaux by 2½l, (3m, good to soft.) He’s only 5 and looks to be improving fast, so this puts him in the mix for the RSA (16/1), although the 4 miler is under consideration.
The World Hurdle looks more open than ever after Reve De Sivola completed a hat-trick in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, (3m1f, good to soft.) He’s been a star for connections – this was his 6th Grade 1. He loves Ascot but didn’t jump that well and this was better ground than he likes, so it was a particularly good performance. He’ll be 10 in March though and they tend to get this thorough stayer at it early on in the World Hurdle, so 25/1 looks about right.
Zarkandar looked like he must win after the jumping the last. Sam Twiston-Davies said he was idling in front, which is probably true, but its debatable how well he saw out the trip. He’s 14/1 for the World Hurdle and if they go the usual steady gallop there, (over 1f shorter,) you’d fancy him to reverse the form, albeit I can’t see him quite winning.
L’Ami Serge had been an impressive winner of the Gerry Feilden on his British debut off 132. He followed up in a 3 runner Grade 2 at Ascot, (2m, soft,) beating Champion Bumper 6th Killultagh Vic easily by 7l. Nicky Henderson sees him as a pure 2 miler and the Supreme (14/1) is the target. He’ll face some of Willie Mullins’ speedier novices there but is unexposed and looks the leading British contender at this stage.
Killultagh Vic is more of a staying type. He’d been keen in the past and settled better here, which will hopefully help him as he steps up in trip. This should have given Willie Mullins a line on the British novices – he’s 20/1 for the Albert Bartlett and 33/1 for the Neptune. Emerging Talent, (who received 7lb,) looked liked he’d play a hand in the finish, when crashing out 2 from home. Hopefully that won’t have affected his confidence. He might benefit from running in a maiden next but could easily end up at the Festival, possibly in the Neptune (33/1), though he’s a chaser in the making.
Value At Risk had been a smart bumper horse, (2¼l 3rd to Shaneshill in the Grade 1 at Punchestown after being too keen and meeting trouble in running when 13th at Cheltenham.) Switched from Philip Fenton to Dan Skelton he bolted up by 22l in what looked a decent novice at Newbury, (2m3f, soft.) He’s a half brother to 2008 RSA 3rd Battlecry and looks to be a stayer. He’s 14/1 for the Albert Bartlett and 16/1 for the Neptune. He looks a cracking prospect for the Skeltons.
Lucinda Russell won the Albert Bartlett 3 seasons ago with the ill-fated Brindisi Breeze and might have another contender in Kingswell Theatre, who hacked up by 21l in a novice at Newcastle, (2m6f, soft.) With his main market rival getting tired it’s not clear what he beat here, but he jumped well and looks the type of relentless galloper that thrives in the Albert Bartlett, (25/1). He’s a full brother to 138 rated chaser Prince Tom, who’s won twice on good to firm, so might improve again for better ground.
Kauto Grand Mogul, (a half brother to Kauto Star), hadn’t jumped well enough in a Grade 2 at Navan when only 4th to Free Expression, but was much better back in a rated novice at Thurles, winning an ordinary event by 32l, (extended 2m6f, good.) If you forgive him that poor run at Navan, he’s been progressive and, whilst he’s not quoted for the Albert Bartlett, that might be a realistic target.
Finally, it’s great to see the new ‘veterans series’ being backed up with good prize money. Racing fans love to see these old familiar faces and having a separate category of races gives them a chance, away from young unexposed types in ordinary handicaps. I mentioned a couple of years ago that such a series with a final would be a great innovation, (though I suggested a conditions race.) I also mooted a weight-for-age scale, (as applies to young horses like Djakadam in the Hennessy,) and still think that’s a good idea. If horses are sound and enjoying themselves then campaigning them into their teenage years must be a good thing, (especially with the drop in numbers of horses in training.) Victory Gunner won last year at 15 and has twice been 2nd this year at 16 and has a big following for a horse rated 103.