Matt Tombs / Monday 2nd February 2015 / 17:29
The market for the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown, (extended 2m, soft,) was a classic case of the triumph of expectations over form. 154 rated Garde La Victoire looked to set a high standard but went off a massive 11/4 3rd favourite. He’s tough and game and deserves to take his chance in the Champion Hurdle (66/1) - given the lack of depth in the race it would be no surprise to see him run into a place. However, Philip Hobbs reports he’ll try and win off the highest mark this century at the Festival, in either the County or Coral Cup.
Jollyallan, (who received 2lb,) lost his unbeaten record over hurdles, just being ground down by a streetwise opponent. Whilst this suggests he’s not a superstar novice, the form puts him right in the mix for an average Supreme (20/1). Given that he looks far from the finished article he might be more a horse for next season, but shouldn’t be underestimated if taking his chance at the Festival as he looks talented enough.
Hidden Cyclone has been knocking on the door in good races for 2 seasons and got a deserved first Grade 2 success over fences when beating Twinlight, (who gave 8lb,) by 5l in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown, (2m, soft.) He heads for the Champion Chase (14/1) now, but there are a few who might take him on for the lead there, and I doubt he’ll be quick enough on good ground.
The Grade 1 action this week was the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown, (extended 2m4f, soft). The ex-French mare Gitane Du Berlais came here an unknown quantity having had only one run for Willie Mullins, when trotting up in a mares beginners chase at Limerick. She was getting 4lb weight-for-age as well as the 7lb mares allowance here and, after looking a bit green early on, made all to beat solid 150 rated yardstick Irish Saint by 8l. She could be anything and it was great Willie Mullins said afterwards she’d go to Cheltenham rather than pot hunt in Ireland. He nominated the JLT (16/1) which looks the obvious target. My RSA fancy Champagne West never got into a rhythm and ended up tipping up 5 out. He’ll be suited by a step up in trip but he’ll need to jump much better if he’s going to be a factor in the RSA, (20/1).
Sail By The Sea is obviously well thought of as he was backed into favouritism when 6¼l 3rd to Grumeti, (who gave 5lb,) at Plumpton on his fencing debut. Back in calmer waters at Chepstow he bolted up in a poor novice, (extended 2m, heavy.) He’s in the hands of the same connections that won the Arkle with Western Warhorse last season. He heads to the Arkle now and, whilst he has loads to find on form, he’s 66/1, so given Un De Sceaux might frighten the opposition off, causing only 5 or 6 to turn up, he’s arguably each way-value.
It’s the time of year when rapidly improving novices can go from rank outsiders to interesting each-way prospects in the Festival Grade 1 novice hurdles. There were a few contenders this week, including Bentelimar who gave weight and a beating to some smart types in a listed novice at Punchestown, beating All Hell Let Loose, (who received 3lb,) by 3½l, (2m, soft). For a horse who’d been running over further he showed a good turn of foot to put the race to be between the last two, (lost momentum at the last or would have won further.) He’s 50/1 for the Neptune, but has had 8 hurdles runs and might be more one for the handicaps, (rated 131 before this.)
Musselburgh are a great advertisment for what a forward thinking course can do in attracting good horses. Their ‘trials’ day was run on good ground and kicked off with an interesting 2m novice hurdle. Some Plan made all, galloping his rivals into the ground to win unchallenged. His jumping is still a bit novicey but he looks to have the ability to go the gallop in the Supreme. He’s 33/1 for the Supreme, but the real clue might be to the chances of Seedling (33/1) who gave him 4lb and beat him 1½l at Cheltenham last time.
In the 3m novice hurdle on the same card, Shanroe Santos made it 2 from 2 over hurdles since joining Lucy Wadham from Ireland, (where he won a point). He’s entered in the Albert Bartlett (50/1) but would probably need more experience before taking on such a tough race. He’s one to keep an eye on in the interim.
Fascino Rustico made it two from two since switching from Paul Nicholls to Dan Skelton when beating Zip Top by 9l in a novice hurdle at Newcastle, (2m, soft.) He’s 50/1 for the Supreme but looks more one for the handicaps. He might take in the Betfair on Saturday if he gets in under a penalty, otherwise he might be one for the County or Coral Cup, (needs one more run to qualify.)
Otago Trail did a real demolition job at Wincanton, beating Scoop The Pot by 23l, (2m, heavy.) It’s hard to know what he beat here but visually he was impressive. He heads for the Supreme (33/1) only if the ground is soft according to Venetia Williams. He’s definitely one to look at each-way when NRNB is available.
A potential dark horse for the Grade 1 novice hurdles is Boru’s Brook, who slammed Keys by 16l on his hurdling debut at Plumpton, (2m, heavy.) The form’s hard to weigh up as the runner-up had been a smart type (RPR 137) but hadn’t run for 3 years and the odds-on favourite was beaten another 16l. Boru’s Brook was keen here and looks like he’d be better in a faster run race, though he may want cut in the ground. He’s 100/1 for the Supreme and 80/1 for the Neptune - those who like having a couple of quid on rank outsiders could do a lot worse.
The Hunter Chase division has been crying out for some new blood this season and 8 year old Current Event could be it. He was a 139 rated chaser for Paul Nicholls last season. Switched to Rose Loxton, (but still partly owned by Paul,) he had won 7 points in a row before an impressive hunter chase debut when beating Walden, (who ignoring claims received 3lb,) by 6l at Musselburgh, (3m3f, good.) It might be a weak renewal of the Foxhunters this time and he looks a leading contender, as he’s just the type to get into a good rhythm.
It’s impossible to know what sort of field will line up for the Foxhunter at this stage so any bet is inevitably a bit of a shot in the dark, especially as the relative quality of the jockeys is an unknown factor. That worked a couple of years back with Salsify at 10/1 (albeit luckily!) and I’m keen to take the 14/1 Coral are offering about Current Event, based on a gut feeling about the likely quality of the opposition.
1pt Current Event to win the Foxhunter Chase @ 14/1
Finally, I’ve been a big fan of veterans chases, (and would be a supporter of one at the Festival with a weight for age system.) Newbury’s plan of extending veterans races to hurdlers is a good idea but it seems ludicrous to allow 8 year olds to run. Many hurdlers are in their prime aged 8 – Istabraq, Hardy Eustace and Brave Inca have all won the Champion Hurdle as 8 year olds this century, whilst Rooster Booster and Hurricane Fly won it at 9. Baracouda, Inglis Drever and Big Buck’s have all won the World Hurdle aged 8 this century, with Inglis Drever and Big Buck’s also winning at 9, as did Solwhit. Lets have veterans hurdles, but only for veterans – even if it means small fields to start with, whilst the impact of their introduction feeds through into older hurdlers being kept in training.