Matt Tombs / Monday 24th November 2014 / 12:35
The Grade 2 Coral Hurdle at Ascot, (extended 2m3f, soft) saw the return of the monster Faugheen who toyed with his rivals to win by 3¾l. His jumping tends to be less fluent in steadily run affairs like this, but he pinged the last when really racing. Willie Mullins says he’s stronger now, (struggled to keep condition last season,) and with 2m and good ground looking to suit better, he’s the one to beat in the Champion Hurdle. Given the place Hurricane Fly has in Mullins’ heart, it wouldn’t surprise me if Faugheen were kept away from him in the interim. If he doesn’t take Hurricane Fly and Jezki on in the two Leopardstown Grade 1s, (nor The New One in England,) he may not shorten much from 5/2.
The Betfair Chase was a cracker with Silviniaco Conti outstaying Menorah in the soft ground to win by 2l, (3m.) The cheekpieces worked, they went a good gallop and Silviniaco Conti had ideal conditions. He has a first rate chance in the King George, (4/1). He’s had 2 bad experiences in the Gold Cup and 8/1 isn’t tempting. Menorah ran a blinder on ground slower than ideal. With his problems seemingly behind him, he has a chance of reversing the form in the King George (12/1) if the ground is better. Whether he’d get the trip in a truly run Gold Cup (25/1) is debatable and the Ryanair (25/1) might be the right race.
Unlucky Champion Hurdle 3rd The New One beat Zamdy Man 2¾l at Haydock, (2m, soft.) The New One jumped as well as I’ve seen and picked off Zamdy Man, quickening well when asked for his effort. He remains 7/2 for the Champion Hurdle. He’s a top class performer and deserves to get there with a clear run and show what he can do. Zamdy Man was conceding race fitness and experience to the winner and acquitted himself well in his first race out of novice company, finishing 5l clear of 161 rated Melodic Rendezvous. Whilst his form is on testing going, his breeding suggests better ground may suit. He may go novice chasing now, though I’d be tempted to take the winner on again, on better terms, in the Bula.
Plenty of classy types lined up in the Grade 2 Amlin Chase at Ascot, (2m3f, soft.) It was great to see Al Ferof bounce back to form. He jumped and galloped solid mid-160s horses Somersby and Wishfull Thinking into the ground, giving them 4lb. Given he was reported to need the run this was a taking effort. After completing a simple task in this last season he was disappointing, but apparently was suffering from ulcers. If he holds his form this time he looks a genuine contender for the Ryanair (16/1) but his owner is determined to go for the Gold Cup, (25/1). In the meantime 12/1 for the King George looks on the generous side.
Ballycasey hadn’t looked to stay 3m+ in the top novice chases last season but his record at intermediate trips is excellent and he enhanced it by running away with a competitive minor conditions event, (main rival Moscow Mannon jumped poorly,) at Gowran, (2m4f, heavy.) He’s the type to be underestimated after being a hype horse last season, and looks to have strong claims in the Ryanair, (16/1).
Albert Bartlett 2nd Deputy Dan jumped a bit to his right, but easily beat 147 rated hurdler Far West in a novice chase at Plumpton, (2m4f, heavy.) He looked like winning by 10l but tired visibly close home and was only 2¼l ahead at the line. I’m open minded about his trip, he might be worth a try at 2m. He’s not quoted for the Arkle but is 20/1 for the JLT.
Stablemate Puffin Billy looked an exciting novice hurdler 2 seasons ago, but the wheels came off and he suffered a life-threatening bout of colic last season. Having blown away the cobwebs at Exeter, he was an impressive winner of a good beginners chase at Ascot, (2m3f, soft,) beating Neptune 4th Killala Quay by 8l. He looked to enjoy being out front and would be worth trying back over 2m, (33/1 for the Arkle, 20/1 for the JLT.) He’s fragile so is a chancy ante-post proposition but has the raw talent for Festival Grade 1s.
Chasers are a relatively new experience for John Ferguson but he has an interesting prospect in Supreme 12th Three Kingdoms, who looked a natural when beating 138 rated Thomas Crapper, (who needs further,) an easy 3l at Leicester, (2m, good to soft.) It’s 10 years since a horse off the flat, (Contraband,) won the Arkle, (25/1). It’ll be interesting to see how he gets on upped in class.
After a bloodless win at 2/9 at Exeter on his chasing debut last week, I’d said 157 rated hurdler Ptit Zig was best judged after another run. Being a slow learner about jumping Paul Nicholls must have been delighted to find him an even worse race at Warwick, (2m, soft,) where he had another school round at 2/11 and we learned little more. He’s 16/1 for the Arkle but a step up in trip looks on the cards, (20/1 for the JLT.) He’s the sort you’d want to see run in a better race before assessing his Festival chances.
British trainers complaining they can’t find a 3 runner beginners chase for a good horse to start his chasing career, should take note of the beginners Vautour won at Navan, (2m1f, soft.) He faced six 130+ hurdlers in an excellent 16 runner event. He made all, jumping well and coasted home. Mullins described him as “as exciting a novice chase prospect as we’ve had for a long time.” He’s 5/1 for the Arkle but with Un De Sceaux looking a pure 2miler that’s far from certain to be his target. He should have no problem with 2m4f, (7/2 for the JLT.)
Martin Pipe winner Don Poli jumped well on his chasing debut in a strong looking beginners, beating the useful Wounded Warrior by 2½l, (2m4f, heavy.) This was a fine start over a trip too short and he looks a contender for the top staying novice chases in Ireland. He’s 10/1 for the RSA but Willie Mullins was talking about the 4miler afterwards.
Shaneshill was backed into 7/2 favourite for the Champion Bumper when running an excellent 1½l 2nd to Silver Concorde, before turning the form round on easier ground at Punchestown. He began his hurdling career in an ordinary maiden at Fairyhouse, (2m4f, soft to heavy,) winning un-extended by 4l. Both Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins were complimentary about his jumping over the Easifix obstacles, but I thought he was no better than adequate. We know he’s got an engine and, whilst this performance didn’t set pulses racing, there’s plenty of time for him to justify his position at the head of the market for the Neptune, (10/1).
Whilst Shaneshill might be the highest profile novice hurdler in Mullins’ yard, the vibes suggest Tell Us More is the most highly regarded at this stage. This point winner bolted up in a Gowran bumper in March and returned to make all and win unchallenged in a maiden hurdle, (2m, heavy.) He jumped boldly, if a little big on occasions, and could be anything. Mullins has described him as a stayer, but he clearly has plenty of boot. Bryan Cooper described him as the “nicest young horse I’ve sat on for a while.” He’s exciting, (14/1 for the Neptune).
Douvan had won a 4 year olds hurdle in France in the summer and bolted up at Gowran in a winners-of-one, (2m, heavy). This looked a decent contest and he’s another terrific Mullins prospect. He still looks a bit weak and there’s plenty of improvement to come, (14/1 for the Supreme).
Outlander went off favourite for the Grade 1 bumper at the 2013 Punchestown Festival. Off since then, he hosed up by 11l in a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse, (2m, soft to heavy.) He didn’t beat much here and Willie Mulllins reported he’ll step up in trip now. He’s 20/1 for the Albert Bartlett and 25/1 for the Neptune and we’ll know more about him after another run.
Mullins says Milsean is a stayer but he had enough pace to win what looked a good maiden at Navan over 2m, (soft.) He’s a chasing type and with the experience from a point he jumped pretty well here. He’s 16/1 for the Albert Bartlett, which might be his race.
The Irish trainers must have been relieved to see no Mullins runner in the Grade 2 Monksfield novice hurdle at Navan, (2m4f, soft.) It looked a good race beforehand, though a couple disappointed and Martello Tower might have won if he’d stood up. Free Expression looks a cracking prospect though - he still looked green here and should improve further. He’s 16/1 for the Neptune and Albert Bartlett.
Jolly’s Cracked It is to be aimed at the Grade 1 Tolworth after confirming the course and distance form with Nicky Henderson’s Clondaw Banker at Ascot, (2m, soft). He’d jumped really quickly until blundering two out, but had enough in hand to win. He’s 25/1 for the Supreme, though Harry Fry thinks he’ll stay further. He looks a good prospect.
Maximiser had been an eye-catching winner on his hurdling debut and he followed up by easily, turning over odds-on Vago Collonges at Haydock, (2m4f, soft.) He’s a fascinating prospect for his small yard – 33/1 for the Albert Bartlett looks on the generous side.
Finally, imagine you were in charge of a sport and tasked with attracting new spectators. You might think a core strategy would be to get the best competitors / teams taking each other on. In football if the season was structured so Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Man United didn't play each other until March and maybe not even then - do you think football would decline a bit in popularity? Yet that's what the authorities, racecourses and trainers seem hell bent on achieving. With so many uncompetitive Champion Hurdle trials already, why not introduce another one? That's what happened at Haydock on Saturday, (The New One won at 1/3.) It was run on the same afternoon as Ascot's long-standing conditions race over an extended 2m3f, (which Faugheen won at 1/4,) and 7 days before the Fighting Fifth which will probably be a Grade 1 in name only. When people wonder why racing struggles to get young people into the sport - one reason is that the greed of trainers, racecourses and the authorities, results in an endless stream of what must seem like boring, non-events to anyone considering becoming a racing fan.