Matt Tombs / Monday 26th January 2015 / 10:57
In any sport, real fans watch to see the occasional talent that is truly special. For me Un De Sceaux is the horse I enjoy watching most at the moment - he’s exceptional in the gallop he goes and how fast he still seems to be running at the line. In a cracking Irish Arkle at Leopardstown he destroyed Clarcam, (who received 10lb,) and Gilgamboa by 15l on the bridle, jumping superbly, (2m1f, yielding to soft.) This was an off the scale performance, matched only by Sprinter Sacre as a 2m novice in my memory.
He won on debut on officially good to soft in France and the time, (only 5.8s outside standard,) suggests the ground was close to good at Leopardstown. His breeding isn’t easy to evaluate but his sire Denham Red’s progeny have a 28% strike rate on good to firm, (best other progeny Ouzbeck loved fast ground,) and his dam’s sire April Night’s progeny have a 22% strike rate on good to firm. I doubt decent ground will be a problem at Cheltenham – my concern is how this buzzy type will take the razzamatazz of the occasion, (got warm before the race here). If he copes with it, and jumps round, he wins the Arkle (10/11) - and continues on the road to greatness.
One horse who achieved greatness some time ago is Hurricane Fly, who made it 10/10 at Leopardstown when winning the Irish Champion Hurdle, (2m, yielding.) He looked in real trouble in the back straight on this less testing ground, but he was hard trained for this and battled his way back into it. With Jezki again not looking to quicken off a steady gallop, Hurricane Fly looked like he was getting on top when Jezki blundered at the last. Hurricane Fly is 9/1 for the Champion Hurdle but unless it’s really soft that doesn’t appeal.
The race wasn’t run to suit Jezki at all and AP McCoy looked anxious not to give him a hard race. Connections will need to ensure they have a better pacemaker for Cheltenham – if they do, he ought to beat Hurricane Fly there and has the look of an each-way bet to nothing (13/2.) Arctic Fire was given too much to do again but should be a different proposition on good ground in a fast run race and has each-way claims in the Champion (20/1).
The Thyestes at Gowran Park, (3m1f, heavy,) revolved around talking horse Djakadam who ran off 145, after flopping off 3lb lower in the Hennessy. He fully justified the hype, having mastered The Job Is Right when left well clear at the last. This still leaves him plenty to find in the Gold Cup (16/1,) but having only just turned 6 he’s clearly on a steep upward curve and it’s not out of the question he could bridge that gap. His sire Saints Des Saints does tend to produce progeny who like bad ground, and Djakadam has little experience of a sound surface, which would be a concern if the ground were genuinely good for the Gold Cup.
The more obvious Gold Cup trial was at Cheltenham in the Grade 2 BetBright Cup, (extended 3m1f, soft.) It was great to see the race a proper trial this season, but they crawled round and all 6 had a chance in the straight. Many Clouds isn’t the easiest horse to assess. I’d thought he might not get home in the Hennessy and he was very tired after his victory. The relative test of speed here seemed to play into his hands and he got first run. As a 2nd season chaser on an upward curve he has ideal Gold Cup credentials (10/1,) but this is form I’d treat with a bit of caution, (he also wouldn’t want the ground to dry out too much.)
Smad Place received 8lb and was beaten 1¼l so looks to have plenty to find in the Gold Cup (25/1,) but he’s a real stayer and, if it’s a fast run Gold Cup, he could surprise a few people back on a sounder surface. Dynaste was ridden like a suspect stayer and I’d argue that he got tapped for toe rather than outstayed. David Pipe has always seemed desperate to run him in the Ryanair (11/2) not the Gold Cup, (33/1). I’m resigned to that happening but it’s shaping up into a stronger Ryanair this season and I don’t think he’ll have the pace to beat the likes of Don Cossack - I’ll be looking to take him on.
The Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle (3m, soft,) at Cheltenham looked a proper World Hurdle trial but it was slightly disappointing that veteran Reve De Sivola could come out the best horse on the day, going down by a neck to Saphir Du Rheu, (who received 4lb,) with Un Temps Pour Tout, (who received 6lb,) a further 2½l away 3rd. Saphir Du Rheu hurdled pretty well considering he’s been chasing and Paul Nicholls thinks he might want better ground nowadays. The World Hurdle looks wide open but 7/1 is no more than fair. Un Temps Pour Tout travelled well but his run flattened out in the straight. I’m hoping it was a case of the run being needed – he’s 16/1 for the World Hurdle. 6 times Grade 1 winner Reve De Sivola has been a fantastic servant and nearly bagged another big payday here – he’s 25/1 for the World Hurdle but would need it hock deep.
Dedigout is a real mudlark and, with conditions to suit at Gowran, he improved on his comeback run at Christmas to get up in the dying strides to win the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle, (3m, soft to heavy.) He had a massive reputation as a young horse, and when he gets his ground he’s a high-class performer. He’s unlikely to get those conditions in the World Hurdle (33/1) but is the classic type to back NRNB (25/1). Gigginstown also own joint 3rd favourite Lieutenant Colonel so its pretty unlikely that Dedigout will run unless conditions suit – and he’ll be much shorter if they do. Monksland was getting 5lb here and just got chinned, despite jumping the last two flights quicker than the winner. He’ll be better suited by a quicker surface but I doubt he’s quite good enough for the World Hurdle (20/1).
Un De Sceaux’s form got a boost when Smashing thrashed 140 rated hurdler Upsie, (who received the 7lb mares allowance,) by 33l in a beginners chase at Gowran, (2m2f, heavy.) Upsie jumped well and there seemed no fluke about it, albeit she was eased off close home. Smashing was well beaten by both Un De Sceaux and Don Poli and it’ll be interesting to see what mark he gets, (rated 145 over hurdles.) He’s in the Arkle (40/1) and JLT (33/1) but a handicap might be a better option, (he wouldn’t want the ground drying out too much.)
Three Kingdoms had been touched off in the Wayward Lad by Vibrato Valtat but got the better of a driving finish in the Grade 2 Lightning novice chase at Doncaster, (extended 2m,) just getting up on the line to beat Solar Impulse, (who received 3lb), by a neck, (good to soft.) Whilst the runner-up looked to be idling, Three Kingdoms made a bad mistake 3 out and I’d fancy him to confirm the form. He’s entitled to take his chance in the Arkle, (Hills pushed him out to 33/1,) but he looks a fair bit behind the Irish novices. John Ferguson said AP McCoy suggested he might want a step up in trip, (33/1 for the JLT.)
The Grade 2 Classic novices hurdle at Cheltenham, (extended 2m4f, soft,) has a cracking roll of honour and looked as competitive as ever. Ordo Ab Chao is highly thought of by Alan King, who maintained the faith after he bombed at Sandown last time. He bounced back here to beat Value At Risk by ¾l. Ordo Ab Chao is 20/1 for the Neptune, though I suspect he’s not quite good enough for that. Value At Risk is bred to be an out and out stayer and looks more of an Albert Bartlett (14/1) horse, though it’d be no surprise to see him bypass the Festival with chasing in mind in the autumn.
The Grade 2 River Don novice hurdle at Doncaster, (extended 3m, good to soft,) provided a bunched finish, but that shouldn’t be used to downgrade the form. Caracci Apache looks far from the finished article and went sideways on the run in, getting up close home to beat Blaklion by a head. Whether the winner is streetwise enough for the Albert Bartlett (16/1) is debatable. I can see him getting too far behind as they come down the hill – he might be more next season’s horse. Blaklion lost little in defeat here and whilst he doesn’t look a star he has plenty of experience and that’s counted for a lot in the Albert Bartlett (14/1).
Outlander had been disappointing when beaten in receipt of 6lb by Martello Tower at Limerick over 3m. That was a real slog though and back over 2m4f in a Grade 2 novice hurdle at Leopardstown, he reversed the form emphatically in receipt of 5lb this time, (yielding). Outlander looked much more suited to this shorter trip and the Neptune (10/1) looks his race. Martello Tower looks much more an Albert Bartlett (16/1) horse - both look decent value.
Finally, with the entries for the 4 level weights novice chases at the Festival out this week, I was struck by how comparatively weak a hand the leading British trainers seem to have. Jonjo O’Neill doesn’t have a single entry and Nicky Henderson has only Josses Hill and Close Touch. Donald McCain has 3 entries in the staying races, none of which have any obvious chance. Philip Hobbs has Champagne West and Sausalito Sunrise, David Pipe has Kings Palace and Alan King has Sego Success. Only Paul Nicholls looks to have a strong team – with leading JLT contender Ptit Zig, backed up by the likes of Southfield Theatre and Vibrato Valtat.