Matt Tombs / Thursday 30th April 2015 / 09:49
The ground was reportedly riding yielding to soft yesterday and it’ll probably be similar today, despite the official going being yielding. Yesterday was the classic tough end of season punting day, where many of the form horses looked over the top – hopefully today will prove an easier card to bet on.
Whilst the overall quality of Thursday’s card isn’t quite as high as the first two days, it is an Un De Sceaux day – and any day he runs is a good day. The opposition is very weak though in the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase over 2m and he’s understandably 1/5.
The biggest problem might be the presence of Just Cameron, who is a front runner, and so might get Un De Sceaux at it. Un De Sceaux looked much more amenable to restraint when winning the Arkle though, and his ability to sprint off any gallop gives Ruby Walsh plenty of options. I got the impression he was just being schooled round at Cheltenham to minimise risks as he had so much in hand – I’m expecting the same here.
The Grade 1 World Series Hurdle over 3m is in some ways the most fascinating event of the week. It pits former champion hurdlers Jezki and Hurricane Fly against each other over a new distance and the big question is which, if either, will stay the 3m trip. There are a few potential front runners, but a steady gallop wouldn’t be a surprise and, whilst that will help both get home, it might be an issue for two horses who have been keen at 2m in the past.
Hurricane Fly (5/2) has been a truly great horse, but has run exclusively at around 2m since winning the Hatton’s Grace in 2010. He’s been best suited by sprinting off a crawl over 2m in bad ground, and whilst his brilliance has won him plenty of races under other conditions, he’s never looked to be crying out for 3m. There are too many doubts about him getting the trip to back him at a short price.
Jezki (7/2) has more recent form over 2m4f, having won the Hatton’s Grace in 2013 and then looking a fortunate winner of the Aintree Hurdle earlier in the month, when Arctic Fire fell at the last. He’s looked best off a strong gallop on good ground over 2m, in particular when winning his Champion Hurdle. Running in steadily run races this season, including the Champion, hasn’t looked to play to his strengths.
It might be that he’s settling better now, (the hood was left off at Aintree and he didn’t look too keen,) which will help him get home. His half brother Jetson (20/1) stays 3m well and his ill-fated full brother Jenari looked as if he might develop into a stayer so his breeding is encouraging, but he looks short enough.
The confirmed stayers are led by Gigginstown’s pair Dedigout and Lieutenant Colonel. Bryan Cooper has chosen the in-form Dedigout (13/2) who has won his last 3, including the Grade 2 Galmoy over 3m on testing ground at Gowran. The more rain that falls the better and he’s the solid each-way option. Lieutenant Colonel (10/1) beat Dedigout in the 3m Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas but he was race-fit there, whereas Dedigout was returning after a year off. He went off 7/1 for the World Hurdle but was much too keen in first time cheekpieces and didn’t get home. They are left off here and he could easily bounce back.
Thousand Stars (14/1) has been a star for connections, winning nearly £1m in prize money. He has a great record over 3m+ in France but the races are usually run much slower there, and he’s run only fairly in his 2 attempts over 3m+ in these islands. This looks a big ask as an 11 year old.
This looks ripe for another upset and it could come from Lots Of Memories (40/1). Paul Fahey’s horse doesn’t seem to like the winter, and ran a blinder at this meeting last year to be an unlucky in running 2½l 3rd to Beat That and Don Poli in the 3m Grade 1 novice hurdle.
His chasing career has been a bit hit and miss, but he beat Fine Rightly, (subsequent Grade 3 winner,) and Champagne James, (sent off favourite for the Kim Muir,) at Navan, and was a good 14l 3rd to Don Poli in a Grade 1 at Christmas. Paddy Kennedy can’t claim his 5lb here but Lots Of Memories is a talented horse and 40/1 looks good each-way value given the big two could easily not get home.
1pt e/w Lots Of Memories in the World Series Hurdle (17:30) @ 40/1
One intriguing event this week is the appearance of Rivage D’Or (11/2) in the sales ring on Thursday. Gigginstown have decided to sell their Cheltenham Festival cross-country winner. Given the vast sums they plough into racing, the return for this sale will be in the roundings and to many it will seem an odd decision. The Cheltenham Festival cross-country is so specialist and is won so often by veterans, that Rivage D’Or looks to have an outstanding chance of winning again next year. I’m not a fan of the race and it may be the O’Leary’s aren’t either - and would rather allocate the money to buying a prospect for the Grade 1s at the Festival. If that’s the case it’s refreshing in an era of pot hunting.
It’s very rare for a horse to win on his cross-country debut at Cheltenham. No horse had done it in the Festival cross-country and Uncle Junior in 2011 was the only one in recent times to have won any cross-country race at Cheltenham on his first run in a cross-country. That made Rivage D’Or’s performance all the more impressive when sprinting off the inevitable crawl to win easily by 2¼l.
The course at Punchestown is different and today is the feature cross-country race of the week, the La Touche (4m1f). It predates the conventional courses so, unlike Cheltenham, didn’t need to be squeezed into the middle of the track. It’s therefore not as tight and there are a lot more banks. That said, the basic requirements are pretty similar and there have been plenty of specialists on both tracks. Garde Champetre who was 4/5 at Punchestown and 6/13 at Cheltenham and Spot Thedifference who was 2/5 at Punchestown and 7/10 at Cheltenham, are probably the best examples.
Quantitativeeasing (6/4) looks a terrible favourite and his price can only be based on the fact he was deemed unlucky at Cheltenham. He was still going nicely when Jonathan Plouganou nearly fell off Toutancarmont and the horse crashed through the rail taking Quantitativeeasing with him. Quantitativeeasing often travels well but rarely finds much these days, and he was beaten at odds-on here by Ballyboker Bridge (16/1) in February in what looked a really weak race. He looks the lay of the week.
A few of the others can be given a chance. Keep On Track (20/1) was 1½l 2nd to Love Rory in the Risk Of Thunder here in November over 3m. He bombed at Cheltenham the following month and king-of-the-banks Enda Bolger sold him on, which has to be a concern.
Willie Mullins runs two, including the evergreen 14 year old Uncle Junior (6/1), the choice of Patrick Mullins. He was a fine second to Balthazar King at levels in November at Cheltenham and was only 3¼l behind Rivage D’Or when giving him 13lb at the Festival. He enjoys a massive 23lb swing here – in conventional races you’d expect that to be much more than enough, but I’m not sure it will be under these conditions. He won this 3 years ago but has been well beaten on 4 subsequent starts on this course.
Willie’s other runner, Dogora, (8/1) is an interesting horse to have switched to cross-country races. He’s only 6 and two seasons ago was 3rd in the Grade 1 juvenile hurdle at this meeting. He’s a maiden after 10 starts over fences and has essentially become frustrating, looking to down tools when seemingly facing a simple task at Fairyhouse in February. He might have been rejuvenated by the switch to cross-country at Cheltenham, finishing a fine 5¼l 4th to Rivage D’Or. It’s anybody’s guess how he’ll react to the banks, but if he takes to them he could be a player here.
Given how slowly they go in cross-country races, weight is much less of an issue, so whilst at the weights Rivage D’Or might look to have a lot to do, and he has to prove the banks suit as well as Cheltenham’s course, I’m not worried about either.
Garde Champetre won the Cheltenham Festival cross-country off 129 and then followed up the following year as a 10 year old off a 21lb higher mark. He wasn’t improving hugely – the extra weight had relatively little impact. The agility Rivage D’Or showed at Cheltenham, (really slick at the banks,) suggested he’d love it here. I’m getting stuck in.
1pt Rivage D’Or to win the La Touche Cup (16:50) @ 6/1