Matt Tombs / Wednesday 29th October 2014 / 14:20
The Grade 2 Persian War novice hurdle at Chepstow is often the first big novice of the season in Britain. Given that novices breaking their maiden late in the season retain their novice status until the end of October, sometimes the winner won’t qualify for the Festival novices races. This year’s winner Blacklion, (now 4 from 4 under rules,) is a novice all season and accounted for a good field in the style of a smart staying novice here, (2m4f, soft.) Nigel Twiston-Davies suggested the Albert Bartlett (20/1) was his likely Festival target and he looks a genuine early contender.
Dan Skelton’s yard is very much on the up, (25 winners already this season after notching 27 in his rookie season last year.) His novice hurdler Shelford was having only his 3rd run over timber when benefitting from experienced handling by Harry Skelton to fend off the strong travelling Aubusson in the valuable Silver Trophy at Chepstow, (2m4f, soft.) He was only winning off 127 here but this looked a good race and he either heads for a graded contest at Cheltenham, or the Challow, next. He was a 2miler on the flat and looks like he wants a staying trip over hurdles. He’s not quoted for the Neptune or Albert Bartlett yet, but could easily end up a contender for one or other.
Mares maiden hurdles aren’t usually competitive but the unbeaten Morning Run had to give a stone to the decent Louise Royale at Tipperary, and won by a cosy 3¼l, (2m good). She won 3 bumpers during the summer and jumped pretty well here on her hurdling debut. It was interesting to hear Patrick Mullins say that she’s done “nothing to suggest she isn’t as good as we thought she was”. That’s usually Closutton speak for a horse being a top class prospect. She might be good enough for the Supreme or Neptune.
Punters are often prejudiced against 2nd season novices – on the basis they’ve been exposed the previous year as not good enough for the top novice races. That’s often the case but sometimes young horses are just immature in the first season hurdling and Henry Higgins might be a case in point. He was well beaten in 3 graded juvenile races last season but improved on the flat, (won off 80 when stepped up 1m6f and is now rated 91). He had a simple looking task in a 4 year olds hurdle at Gowran (2m, good) and duly won on the bridle, impressing with his jumping. He’s worth keeping an eye on in better company.
Sheamus had won two bumpers during the summer and made a winning start over hurdles at Fairyhouse, (2m4f, good). He was giving 8lb to the placed horses here and won by a cosy 1¾l. He seems to like a sound surface and may well be a name to remember in the spring for races like the Neptune, as he might not run too much over the winter. He’s held in high regard by the Dessie Hughes team.
Battle Born won 2 bumpers last season before an 8l 6th to Ballybolley in the Grade 2 at Aintree. He’s an uncomplicated frontrunner and thumped Champagne At Tara, (who’d ran respectably in 2 hot novices last season,) by 12l at Uttoxeter, (2m, good to soft.) Charlie Longsdon believes he’ll improve for a step up in trip and labeled him exciting. He handles soft ground well and it’d be no surprise to see him in the Challow. Whether he’s more of a Neptune (33/1) or Albert Bartlett (not quoted) type remains to be seen. <
Alan King's yard has started the main season really well and he looks to have a fine prospect in Miles To Memphis who is now unbeaten in 2 bumpers and a hurdle, after winning a novice at Fontwell, (extended 2m2f, good to soft.) He's highly regarded and Wayne Hutchinson gave him the sort of confident ride a good horse can be given, and he cruised clear after the last. He's bred to stay but looks to have plenty of boot so has a bright future. He's 33/1 for the Supreme and 25/1 for the Neptune. Those sorts of prices would be tempting if I had more of an idea of what sort of trip will suit him best.
The most extraordinary novice performance so far came from Tea For Two when running down 135 rated My Wigwam Or Yours, (who gave 7lb,) late on at Kempton to win by 2l, (2m5f, good to soft.) Tea For Two sweated up, took a fierce hold and ballooned some of the flights. He looked at one stage as if he would be well beaten in consequence, but he’s clearly got talent. He was ridden by trainer Nick Williams,’ wife’s daughter Lizzie Kelly, (who claims 7lb,) here. Tea For Two doesn’t look an easy ride and might benefit from more experienced handling. He’s bred to stay and might be an Albert Bartlett horse if he goes the right way.
This is the time of year where the phrase “could be anything” gets plenty of use. A classic example is Maximiser who jumped really well on his hurdling debut at Carlisle (2m4f, soft) trouncing 1/2 shot Master Dee by 36l on the bridle, (who in turn was clear of the remainder.) The runner-up was described by Donald McCain, in last week’s stable tour, as a horse that didn’t jump well enough in two hurdles last season so they left him a novice in the hope he’d win 2 or 3 this season. He jumped fine here and goes on soft ground – so whilst he’s clearly no world beater, he doesn’t sound like a mug. The form’s impossible to assess but Maximiser has won a point and looks a stayer. He’s clearly better judged after another run, but might be underestimated in the Albert Bartlett for his small yard.
One of the strongest maidens run so far was at Ffos Las, where Shantou Bob kept his unbeaten record, just edging out the strong finishing Padge and long time leader Fletchers Flyer, (2m4f, good to soft.) The winner won fairly on the day but Padge looked likely to improve most for the appearance and Fletchers Flyer would probably have won with a good jump at the last. All 3 look really promising types and it’d be no surprise to see one of them in the shake up for the Festival Grade 1s come March.
The Grade 3 novice at Tipperary at the start of October is normally for top summer hurdlers, but Rich Coast might be better than that. He won a listed contest on the flat over an extended mile a year ago, and is rated 110 on the level. It’s taken him a while to get the hang of things over hurdles but he beat a decent yardstick in 134 rated Macnicholson, (who gave 4lb,) by an easy 3½l here, (2m, good to yielding.) Noel Meade sees him as a Grade 1 novice and he’ll run in the Royal Bond if the ground hasn’t gone by then. He’s not quoted for the Supreme and clearly needs to progress for that. He might be in the right place in the handicap for the County Hurdle (138) now - his pace on the run in was impressive here and he should be suited by a fast run race on good ground.
A similar type is Hash Brown in that on form he only looks a top summer jumper. He’s now won 3 out of 5 hurdles, culminating in beating 125 rated Sang Tiger 2l on the bridle, in a weak Grade 3 at Limerick, (2m5f, good). He had to be shaken up coming into the straight before cruising home. That didn’t mark him out as obvious Festival material but what was interesting was that Michael Hourigan said “It was a poor race and I was a bit disappointed by him. Maybe he’s not as good as I think he is.” Hourigan knows a good horse when he sees one, having trained the likes of Dorans Pride and Beef Or Salmon, and when he says he has a good horse it’s generally paid to take notice. He has to improve a lot for the Neptune but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if he was up to it.