Matt Tombs / Wednesday 18th March 2015 / 15:15
After overnight rain and steady drizzle in the morning the ground was officially soft, with the jockeys concurring with that description. For the early races on both the hurdles and chase tracks they were getting through it well as it was dry underneath, and the times were decent. As the ground got chewed up, it became more testing for the later races on each track.
The Gold Cup looked really open this year. With the one proven top class horse, Silviniaco Conti, again not acting on the track, there was the opportunity for the new guard to seize the title. There were seven 2nd season chasers and a case could be made for all of them – but it was the novice Coneygree who jumped and galloped them all into the ground. He clearly handles cut, but on fresh ground the time was only 5.5s over standard, over 22 seconds quicker than when Bob’s Worth won two years ago – so he’s not simply a mudlark.
This was a brilliant result for racing on so many counts. First and foremost it was a case of a tiny yard, with a family bred horse, winning the sport’s blue riband. The sport needs the mega-yards and the mega-owners, but lots of the romance has ebbed out of the game during the last decade, as the small owners and syndicates have virtually ceased to get a look in at the top end.
Secondly, it was a triumph for boldness, for challenging the orthodoxy and doing it your way. A consensus had built that novices shouldn’t run in championship races, with some verging on saying it was irresponsible that Coneygree should be asked to contest the Gold Cup, (citing the ill-fated Gloria Victis.) To see so much humble pie being eaten afterwards left the pleasantest of tastes in the mouth.
Thirdly, there is always something special about a front-runner jumping boldly and getting good horses out of their comfort zone in the middle part of a race. Seeing a horse show a dazzling turn of foot off a steady gallop is one thing, but seeing a horse bulldoze a field, Denman style, is really special.
Fourthly, the Bradstocks kept faith with conditional jockey Nico De Boinville, even after he was banned for Coneygree’s previous run and a top jockey, (Richard Johnson) had taken the mount.
All hail the Bradstocks, and lets hope Coneygree stays sound and competes at the top level over the next couple of seasons. 8/1 to retain his crown looks big, for all Willie Mullins stellar novices will provide formidable opposition.
The vibes about Djakadam had been really strong in the run up to the race, and he ran a blinder in 2nd, beaten 1½l. He’s only 6 and provided this doesn’t leave a mark, he should be a major force in the top staying chases over the next few years. He’s another who appreciated the cut in the ground and it’ll be interesting to see how effective he is on good going. 12/1 for next year’s Gold Cup looks about right.
By contrast, the late rain was very much against Road To Riches and you have to think he would have gone close on good ground, (beaten 3½l.) He jumps and stays and really looks to have matured mentally. He’s 16/1 for the 2016 Gold Cup and on the prevailing sound surface that’s fair value, with the same proviso that a hard race here hasn’t bottomed him.
The only other one to get into it was Holywell. He’d struggled to find his form for much of the season, but is very much a spring type. He’s not quite quick enough for a Gold Cup though, and just got done for toe after the 3rd last. Given the way the weights are shaped for the Grand National now, he might be more one for that next season, rather than the Gold Cup, (25/1).
The Albert Bartlett featured my nap of the day, Martello Tower. With the rain in his favour, I couldn’t believe he drifted from 10/1 to 14/1, as a real staying test looked to suit him ideally. He was his usual tough and game self in a battle and never looked likely to get beaten on the run, winning by ½l from Milsean, with No More Heroes a further 1l away 3rd.
He gave weight and finished in front of Windsor Park over 2m4f at Leopardstown on his previous run, so he’s not just a slogger. He has won a point and, already 7, I’d expect him to be novice chasing next season. He’s 14/1 for the RSA and looks to have just the right credentials for that.
Milsean had been disappointing on his last two runs but ran a cracker from the front here, only giving way to a more battle-hardened opponent on the run in. He looks another chasing type and it’ll be interesting to see how copes on better ground. He’s 25/1 for the RSA.
If there was a hard luck story it was No More Heroes on whom Bryan Cooper went for a gap up the inner approaching the last, and had to switch. It’s hard to know what would have happened had he got a clear run, but my impression was that Martello Tower was pricking his ears close home and had a fair bit left had he been challenged. No More Heroes is another from the pointing field and is favourite for the RSA (12/1). He looks a lovely novice chasing prospect.
The only other horse to feature was the much less experienced Arbre De Vie, who was beaten only 4¾l on his 4th start over jumps, (reported to have run too free early on.) He was the only one to get into it from off the pace and looks as good a prospect as any of these. It will be interesting to see whether he is aimed at the World Hurdle or a novice chasing campaign next season.
Nicky Henderson hadn’t had a great week, with only a win in the Pertemps, until he had the first 3 home in the Triumph, with Peace And Co justifying strong support and always looking to be holding Top Notch by a neck. The winner looks talented but I’m not sure he’s that straightforward. He’s big enough for fences and it’s hard to see him trouble Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle (12/1.) That said, the British 2m hurdling division is so weak, he could easily have a good season in conditions races.
It didn’t look a strong renewal of the Foxhunter and the rain was very much against the favourite Paint The Clouds. It produced an impressive winner though in On The Fringe who bolted up by 17l. He’d looked a non-stayer in his two previous attempts in the race, last year and in 2011. In that sense he was reminiscent of Baby Run in proving his stamina in no uncertain terms, (for all they didn’t go that quickly). He’s 10 but this was only his 15th start under rules, and he’s a classy type for hunter chasing, so could easily follow up next season.
By far the most frustrating result of the week was watching Wicklow Brave hack up in the County Hurdle off 138. I’d been convinced he was going to win a big handicap and had been backing him accordingly, only to lose faith here and see him win on the bridle at 25/1. It’d be no surprise to see him up to the task in graded races, especially on decent ground.
The Martin Pipe has been a Willie Mullins benefit in recent years, with top class chasers in the making Sir Des Champs and Don Poli scoring. Killultagh Vic has plenty to live up to having just chinned Noble Endeavour here. This was a good effort off a lenient looking mark of 135 and, although not a fluent jumper of hurdles, Killultagh Vic might be the type who’ll be more suited by fences.
There was a fantastic ovation in the stands as the great AP McCoy came out for his last ride at the Festival, in the Grand Annual named in his honour. There was no fairytale though as Ned Buntline could only finish 4th. Next Sensation had been 1¾l 4th off 142 under a cut-throat ride in the race last year, but had been out of sorts this season. That resulted in him running off just a 1lb higher mark and he scored in good style. He looks better than a handicapper and so it would be no surprise to see him follow up at Aintree, (better ground should suit).
It was a good week for the portfolio with 4 winners. There were also two each-way 2nds amongst 4 runners up and a couple of 3rds. None of the portfolio’s long shots came in to give a stellar return but it produced a 22pt (62%) profit on settled bets. In a Festival full of great performances from young horses, a successful week punting was the icing on the cake.