Matt Tombs / Monday 29th December 2014 / 16:14
There’s always the flip side of a view – I’d thought with so many speed horses in the King George and only one proven stayer, one of those speed horses would stay, and do Silviniaco Conti for toe. The flip side was that being the only horse with stamina assured, he could, and did, draw the sting from his rivals – making all and jumping well to win by 4½l, (3m, good to soft).
He’s the best 3m chaser around at the moment and has a fantastic record on flat tracks, having won 5 open Grade 1s. The big Gold Cup question mark for me isn’t stamina, it wouldn’t surprise me if the extra 2½f suited – it’s the track. He’s had 2 bad experiences at Cheltenham, falling heavily and then going sideways under pressure on the run in, in the last two Gold Cups. The cheekpieces might have made him a completely different horse, but horses that’ve been beaten the first time they run in the Gold Cup have a dire record, (in the last twenty years See More Business is the only one to have won the Gold Cup after being beaten the first time he ran in the race, and he was carried out so wasn’t beaten on merit.) 3/1 is fair on his best form, but I couldn’t back him until he’s proved himself at the course.
I’ve got a vested interest having backed Dynaste for the Gold Cup, but it’s really depressing for a horse that’s a staying on second in a King George to even be considered for the Ryanair (5/1) rather than the Gold Cup (33/1). Given the favourite has a bad record at the track and its 12/1 bar, it looks really winnable so why wouldn’t you try and win the most important race in the calendar? It was a substandard Ryanair he won last season, and I think he’ll be vulnerable to a faster horse if he contests that again. Once more non runner, no bet is available, (Skybet go 20/1,) I’ll be looking at topping up my Gold Cup bet as I think he’d have a great chance if Silviniaco Conti doesn’t perform again.
The star of the show at Kempton was Faugheen who demolished an ordinary Grade 1 field in the Christmas Hurdle, beating 161 rated Purple Bay by an easy 8l, (2m, good to soft). A lot’s been made of his jumping and he clearly isn’t the most natural – but the only mistake he made here was at the last with the race won. He has a mighty engine, 2m and good ground look to suit and he’s a worthy favourite for the Champion Hurdle, (11/8). He faces two top class horses in Jezki and The New One though, and if all 3 get there he’ll surely be a bigger price on the morning of the race, so there’s no point backing him at this stage. He’s hugely exciting and could become one of the greats - for all Willie Mullins thinks Hurricane Fly (20/1) is the one they all have to beat at Cheltenham!
The Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase, (2m, soft) at Kempton was won by Special Tiara, who put in some spectacular leaps, making all to beat Balder Succes, (who gave 5lb,) by 2¼l. Special Tiara has looked a horse who has struggled to stay 2m at the gallop they go in top races and it might be now, rising 8, that he is seeing out the trip better. It’ll be a stiffer test in the Champion Chase but the likely better ground should counteract that and 25/1 looks a big price with so many question marks over the market leaders.
The vibes are that Balder Succes will be stepped up in trip now, but connections shouldn’t be too disheartened by this, (comes out the best horse,) and the stiffer track at Cheltenham should suit, for all he has been on the deck there a few times in the past. The Ryanair hasn’t been a good race for horses stepping up out of the 2m division and 14/1 doesn’t appeal. He’s 20/1 for the Champion Chase and Skybet’s 16/1 non runner, no bet is tempting.
The British 2m novice chasers are a hard bunch to work out. The obvious conclusion is that there isn’t a star amongst them but that was the consensus about the Irish staying novices 2 seasons ago as they were all finishing in a heap - and they turned out to be a strong crop. Vibrato Valtat had looked a quirky sort but he’s now won a Grade 1 and a Grade 2, albeit they look at this stage to be weak races for the grade. His latest win was in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad where he seemed to show a better attitude under pressure to beat Three Kingdoms by ½l, (2m, soft). The winner is 20/1 and the runner-up 25/1 for the Arkle – I doubt they’d see much of Un De Sceaux if he were to jump round, but that’s far from certain and if he doesn’t something has to win. Neither look Arkle horses to my eye but perhaps I’m underestimating the British form.
Grade 1 Kauto Star (formerly Feltham) novice chase winner Coneygree isn’t an easy horse to weigh up either. With key rivals Saphir Du Rheu, Sausalito Sunrise and Carraig Mor all tipping up and Virak a non stayer, he was left with nothing to beat and coasted home by 40l, (3m, good to soft). The form is impossible to evaluate but he looked a fine staying prospect as a novice hurdler two seasons ago, and appears to have come back from injury as good as ever. He is 14/1 for the RSA but is best judged after another run, (the Reynoldstown at Ascot was mooted,) especially as the RSA could be a strong renewal. Whilst winners of the Kauto Star have a dreadful RSA record, (several of the beaten horses have won,) that wouldn’t put me off Coneygree too much as he looks the right sort – some of the Feltham winners have looked speedier types than usually win an RSA.
The form of Close Touch’s chasing debut is easier to assess – he was an impressive winner of what looked a hot novice at Wincanton, (extended 2m4f, soft,) beating Wilton Milan by an easy 11l, jumping well. He’d annihilated a good field in the final of the EBF novice’s handicap hurdle in March of last year, winning by 12l from Many Clouds, (who gave 6lb,) off 130. He looks an exciting recruit to fences but seems to enjoy plenty of give underfoot which would be a concern for his Festival prospects. It’s hard to evaluate his ideal trip at this stage, but he might not get enough chasing experience for a tough race like the RSA (16/1) so the JLT (14/1) might be a better option.
The 2m novice hurdle on the King George card is usually a strong event, (Menorah followed up in the Supreme in 2010,) and Jollyallan looked a talented horse when beating Sempre Medici by 4½l, (good to soft). He has looked green this season and whilst he has the talent to contest the Supreme (25/1), it might be that Harry Fry will want to keep him to quieter waters this season with chasing in the autumn in mind. Given the amazing team of novices Willie Mullins has, Sempre Medici might not make the team for the Festivals but he could be a dark horse if he does. He needs to improve his jumping but it would have been close if he hadn’t made a mess of the last and 33/1 is tempting given the stable’s record with outsiders in the race, (Tourist Attraction was 25/1 and Ebaziyan 40/1).