Matt Tombs / Tuesday 5th May 2015 / 15:26
Faugheen gave a dominant display in the Grade 1 2m hurdle, to take his career record to 11/11, beating old rival Arctic Fire easily by 8l, (good to yielding). Ruby said they went a bit quicker than at Cheltenham and visually that looked to be the case, without it looking a fast gallop. Faugheen jumped better here in the main, (generally the faster the pace the better he’s seemed to jump), and won in the style of the great horse he might well become.
Arctic Fire came here off the back of a horror fall at Aintree so its not clear what Faugheen achieved, but he deserves to be as short as 5/4 for next year’s Champion Hurdle, as opposition looks thin on the ground, (I’d be surprised if the Ricci’s campaign Douvan against Faugheen next season.)
Arctic Fire ran a solid race, (jumped well enough,) but it’s hard to tell if he was affected by that bad experience at Aintree. It might simply be that in a faster run race Faugheen’s superiority was more marked, though the better gallop looked sure to suit Arctic Fire. He was only 8½l clear of 142 rated Dell’ Arca, which suggests that he was below his best here. He’s a hard horse to assess and whether he’ll be the same horse next season is open to question. He’s only 12/1 for the Champion Hurdle and I’d want to see him prove his wellbeing next season before backing him, (might also be switched to the flat).
It’s rare to see 2 ex-Champion Hurdlers, in a season where they’d won Grade 1s at 2m-2m4f, running over 3m. The 3m Grade 1 hurdle was a fascinating clash between old rivals Jezki and Hurricane Fly, with Jezki proving more suited by the step up in trip, winning cosily by 1¾l, (yielding). His breeding suggested he’d get this trip but there was a concern about how he’d settle. He took quite a tug and the fact that he got home in the circumstances opens up more options for him next season. He’s 8/1 for the World Hurdle and whilst no horse has ever won both races, he has to be a factor. He’s 25/1 for the Champion Hurdle and he’s yet to contest a fast run race over 2m since he won the Champion last season, so I wouldn’t rule him out.
On breeding Hurricane Fly didn’t appear likely to stay, and whilst he ran a great race, he didn’t look like the trip suited him. He’s 20/1 for the World Hurdle but he’ll be 12 next season and that doesn’t appeal. It’s hard to imagine him winning again at the Festival and perhaps he’ll be trained just for the Grade 1s in the winter in Ireland next season, where he’s likely to get the soft ground he loves.
The first Grade 1 of the week was the 2m novice hurdle, in which Supreme winner Douvan frightened off most of the opposition, (unusually including from his own stable.) He travelled and jumped really well again and outclassed Supreme 3rd Sizing John to win easily by 7½l, (good to yielding). If anything, this was more impressive than Cheltenham in the manner in which Douvan shrugged Sizing John aside. Douvan looks the type to improve a fair bit for a summer out at grass and he looks a wonderful prospect for next season – Willie Mullins describing him as as good a horse as he’s ever had.
Willie pointed out that he hurdles so well, that it would make sense to go down the Champion Hurdle route. In isolation that’s true but if Faugheen stays sound then I’d be surprised if Douvan doesn’t go novice chasing, (the Ricci’s don’t have too many obvious top prospects for novice chasing at this stage,) so 10/1 for the Champion Hurdle doesn’t appeal. 7/2 about any horse for the Arkle at this stage looks skinny, but you can see why the bookmakers are ducking him.
Not too many horses win 4 Grade 1 novice hurdles but Nichols Canyon did just that when taking the 2m4f event easily by 7l, (good to yielding). Ruby Walsh put his hands up to getting the tactics wrong in the Neptune, (dropped him in and he was much too keen,) and since he’s reverted to more forcing tactics he’s scored in good style at Aintree and here. There had been concerns about him handling a quicker surface but it didn’t look a problem and he looks the sort of tough type who’ll train on well next season.
Willie Mullins seems keen to send him down the Champion Hurdle (20/1) route. Presumably he’ll be ridden aggressively over 2m, but whether he has the basic speed for that is questionable. The concern if he stepped up in trip would be whether he’d get home if ridden from the front, or whether he’d settle if held up. He’s 14/1 for the World Hurdle but might just be best over intermediate trips.
Alpha Des Obeaux ran a sound race in 2nd and looks a lovely novice chasing prospect but the one to take out of the race might be 4th home Sempre Medici, who traveled easily but didn't look to get home. Like the winner he initially looked clumsy over his obstacles but his hurdling technique is improving. He’s rated 147 and might be much better back at 2m – he could be the right type for something like the Greatwood next season. He’s not quoted for the Champion Hurdle but there will be worse outsiders.
It looked a strong renewal of the Grade 1 3m novice hurdle, (good to yielding). Favourite Shaneshill had run a blinder to be 2nd in the Supreme, (after an interrupted preparation,) but had got outstayed earlier in the season over 2m4f and looked an unlikely stayer here. He travelled predictably well but didn’t get home. He’s a cracking prospect for novice chasing next season over shorter trips. He’s 12/1 for the Arkle, though at this early stage Douvan looks the likely Mullins A-lister for that and Shaneshill might be one for the JLT, (no prices yet.) If the same connections Nichols Canyon goes down the Champion Hurdle route, Shaneshill might be given another try in a 3m hurdle to see if this was just an end-of-season effort. He’s 25/1 for the World Hurdle.
Killultagh Vic had been in many people’s minds for the Albert Bartlett, but the combination of a tendancy to pull hard and a favourable handicap mark, meant he ran in the Martin Pipe instead. He followed up his success there and would have probably won more decisively but for losing momentum with a mistake at the last. He looks the ideal type for the RSA (20/1) but he could easily end up in the World Hurdle (25/1).
Thistlecrack had shown hugely improved form stepped up to 3m, when winning the Grade 1 Sefton at Aintree. He was tapped for toe at a crucial stage here but he stays really well. He’s apparently been hard to train and doesn’t appeal as an ante-post proposition but will make a lovely staying novice chaser next season if he stays sound. He shapes as the sort who would need an ‘old fashioned’ strongly run RSA (16/1) to show his best – I’d be concerned that a small field and steady gallop would compromise his chances.
Heavy rain overnight had turned the ground soft on Saturday. A Grade 1 hurdle for mares is almost a contradiction in terms and Annie Power had only to prove she had recovered from her nasty fall at Cheltenham to have a school round here, (2m2f). Thankfully she had, and jumped soundly outclassing her rivals. It was interesting to hear Ruby Walsh say she’d lost a bit of her speed, (she had to be pushed out up the straight.) Depressingly, she’s likely to be aimed at the Mares Hurdle (6/4) next season, (I can already hear the phrase “unfinished business”.) If connections do refrain from pot-hunting, she’s 10/1 for the World Hurdle and it’d be great to see her take her chance in the championship event, but you’d want NRNB before backing her.
The final Grade 1 of the meeting was for 4 year olds and the mare Petite Parisienne produced a taking display to win by 8½l, (2m, soft). Assessing seemingly improved displays at this time of year is always difficult, especially in juvenile races. She’d been well beaten off in the Triumph (21l 5th) and whilst that might have been partly lack of stamina, she did run well in a decent mares race over 2m4f at Fairyhouse. She’s 10/1 for the Mares Hurdle and would be a good understudy if Annie Power misses the race.
Avant Tout had been a hard horse for the handicapper to assess. After winning his maiden over 2m, he was 4¾l 4th to Bentelimar in a decent looking listed contest over 2m here in February. He didn’t look straightforward there and was pulled up at 100/1 in the Albert Bartlett. He got in off 129 in the 3m handicap hurdle and was a convincing winner by 3¼l, looking to have plenty in hand, (yielding). The fact that Willie ran him in the Albert Bartlett when he had so many to choose from suggests he’s well regarded and he could be the Closutton dark horse for next season.
There are a lot of bumpers at the Punchestown Festival but there is a Grade 1 event, and it went to Bellshill, (2m, good to yielding). Like all of the Mullins bumper battalions he was disappointing at Cheltenham, and whilst he ran well at Aintree he was put in his place by Barters Hill. In hindsight, that pair were miles clear and that form looks very good now. Bellshill bossed this from a long way out and readily pulled clear of Disko and Modus, (who was 2nd in the Cheltenham Bumper). Willie thought they went to slowly at Cheltenham and that Bellshill is a Neptune (12/1) type, rather than one for the Supreme.
Three other bumpers produced horses that looked like they might be Cheltenham Festival contenders next year. The 2m2f bumper produced a cracking finish between Champers On Ice and First Figaro, the pair pulling 22l clear of a couple with fair form, (good to yielding). There had been talk for both beforehand and they look really good prospects – perhaps for the Neptune. Petit Mouchoir was a taking winner of the valuable Goffs sales bumper, (2m, good to yielding). He’d already won a point and switches from Gordon Elliott’s Gigginstown academy to Willie Mullins next season. He might be one for the Albert Bartlett. Willie already trained the other taking bumper winner, Yorkhill, who is also a point winner. He looked a speedier type and is 16/1 for the Neptune.