Matt Tombs / Monday 15th December 2014 / 19:08
The New One put up arguably his best performance so far when giving Vaniteux 8lb and beating him easily by 4½l in the Grade 2 Bula (International) Hurdle at Cheltenham, (2m1f, good to soft.) The runner-up might prefer better ground, but this was still a taking effort - if anything The New One looks to be getting quicker. His jumping has never been his strong suit but looks to be getting better with each race. He’s 3/1 for the Champion Hurdle and whilst that’s hardly great value given Faugheen and Jezki are in the mix, he has obvious claims – and it’s looking increasingly likely that he’ll be the only one from Britain that does. Nigel Twiston-Davies sets a great example to his peers in not ducking a challenge and it would be fantastic if The New One took Faugheen on in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
2012 Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby had been a bit in and out since but bounced back to form to win the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham, (extended 2m4f, good to soft,) beating 158 rated Volnay De Thaix comfortably by 2¼l. He’s 25/1 to emulate More Of That by following up in the World Hurdle. He’s never shaped as a stayer but they often go steadily in the World Hurdle and, even though he’ll be 10 come March, that’s quite a big price for a horse of his ability in such an open renewal.
Kings Palace had beaten Sausalito Sunrise by 4l when getting 5lb at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting. They re-opposed on the new course over an extended 3m1f, (good to soft,) with Kings Palace conceding 3lb this time. It made little difference as Kings Palace jumped nimbly in front, making all to win impressively by 7l. This puts him right in the mix for the RSA, and he looks a worthy favourite (7/1). It’s shaping up into a strong renewal though and if you wanted to pick holes in his chances, he did capitulate in the Albert Bartlett last season, (might have done too much too soon,) and Tom Scudamore looked to be at pains to hold him together in the straight here. If he isn’t over enthusiastic in the early part of the RSA, he’ll be a formidable opponent.
Albert Bartlett 4th Champagne West had shown a good engine when winning a novice chase at Cheltenham last month. That race was compromised by half the fences not being jumped, and he certainly looked as if he could have used more experience when putting in an indifferent round, when following up there by beating Un Ace by 1½l, (2m5f, good to soft.) He looks the type who could do with more practice in calmer waters before taking on the big guns. It’s shaping up into a strong RSA this season and I’d want to see him jump much better before considering backing him, (20/1).
Melodic Rendezvous was rated 163 over timber going into last season’s Champion Hurdle so has some of the classiest hurdles form of this season’s novice chasers. He made a winning debut in a Novice at Bangor, (extended 2m1f, heavy,) but it was hard work. He jumped a bit carefully and was all out to beat 134 rated hurdler Boondooma by ½l. He’ll be 9 by the Festival and high-class hurdlers coming to chasing at that age, when they can no longer cut it over hurdles, have a dire record. Rock On Ruby, Overturn, Captain Cee Bee & Barton have all been beaten a long way in the Arkle at short prices. He’s 40/1 for the Arkle and that’s easy to resist, even if he were to get his favoured testing ground.
I doubt Virak was at the top of Paul Nicholls’ novice chase pecking order at the start of the season, but he keeps improving and made it 3 out of 3 over fences when bolting up by 13l in an ordinary Grade 2 at Doncaster, (3m, soft.) Sadly it was another farcical race with half the fences omitted, but he travelled and jumped the fences that were there pretty well. He’s 25/1 for the RSA which is the obvious target, though he’s not slow and the JLT (20/1) is an alternative. He’s just the sort of tough, unflashy type to be underestimated.
Understandably John Ferguson’s Godolphin cast-offs have generally done much better in bumpers and hurdles than chases, but he might have his first good chaser in Three Kingdoms, who made it 2 from 2 over fences when beating 139 rated hurdler Ifandbutwhynot, (who received 7lb,) 1½l at Newcastle, (extended 2m, soft.) He jumps pretty well and ought to be better on a sound surface. Horses off the flat don’t have a great record in the Arkle, (Contraband in 2005 was the last winner,) and 25/1 looks a fair reflection of Three Kingdoms’ chances.
Lots Of Memories was just 2½l behind Beat That in the 3m Grade 1 novice hurdle at Punchestown, so it was a surprise to see him dropped back to 2m1f on his 3rd chasing start at Navan, (yielding to soft). He looked to relish the faster pace and beat a good field easily by 11l. He’s due to step back up to 3m at Christmas but might be more one for the JLT (not quoted) than RSA (40/1) on this evidence. He shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle has been a graveyard for odds-on favourites, with Don Cossack (8/15), Mount Benbulben, (5/6) and Pandorama (2/7) amongst those turned over in recent years. Champion Bumper 2nd Shaneshill (4/9) joined the list when outgunned close home by No More Heroes who won by 1¾l, (2m4f, soft.) The winner has a big reputation at Gordon Elliott’s yard and, whilst he might be a 3m chaser in the making, he showed lots of toe in a steadily run affair here. Whether he’d be better suited by the Neptune (12/1) or Albert Bartlett (8/1) is not clear but Gordon Elliott pointed towards the latter race, (he’s owned by Gigginstown so his Festival target will be influenced by their other contenders.) He’s an exciting prospect.
Shaneshill hadn’t jumped too well on his hurdling debut at Fairyhouse. He was better throughout most of the race here, but made a mistake 3 out and wasn’t quickly away from the last, having looked to be coming to win his race. He’s out to 10/1 for the Neptune, but with room for improvement in his jumping, he remains a contender for that. It’s possible he was outstayed here so might be worth a try at 2m, though the Neptune is very much a test of speed at the trip.
Blaklion had been done for toe over 2m5f at Cheltenham last month in what turned into a sprint. Stepped up to 3m back at Cheltenham, he fulfilled the promise he’d shown in the Persian War, jumping well and cantering home by 11l, (good to soft). He looks to have nice blend of speed and stamina and the Albert Bartlett (12/1) looks a realistic option.
Zeroshadesofgrey recorded a 3rd wide margin win over hurdles when bolting up by 33l under a double penalty at Doncaster, (extended 3m, soft.) He’s a bit brave and inclined to reach for his hurdles but he clearly has an engine and he’s getting plenty of experience, which should stand his jumping in good stead when he steps up in class. He was only 15th in the Champion Bumper but was too keen and it often pays to ignore a poor run in that race, as so many inexperienced horses don’t cope with the occasion. He looks to combine a cruising speed with stamina and might be a dark horse for the Albert Bartlett, (25/1) with better ground unlikely to be a problem.
Many horses off the flat come hurdling off a string of defeats, but Ebony Express won his last two on the level off 76 & 78 and made it two out of two over hurdles with a facile success at Carlisle, (2m1f, heavy.) He jumped better the quicker they went and goes on fast ground. He heads for the Tolworth next and could develop into a candidate for the Supreme, (33/1).
Finally, my very long list of Willie Mullins’ potential star novice hurdlers is getting whittled down to a more manageable size. My current best guess on the main contenders for the 3 Grade 1, all-age novice hurdles at the Festival is Douvan, Morning Run & Nichols Canyon for the Supreme; Killultagh Vic, Shaneshill & Tell Us More for the Neptune, and Black Hercules & Outlander for the Albert Bartlett. Other Mullins’ inmates who look like they might challenge for a place in those races include Aminabad, Killer Crow, Max Dynamite, McKinley, Measureofmydreams, Milsean, Sempre Medici, Thomas Hobson & Very Much So. They’ll doubtless be one or two we’ve not heard of yet – it’s an unbelievable squad and it’s quite possible he’ll win all 3 races, (16/1).