Matt Tombs / Monday 3rd December 2012 / 10:25
The domination of the 2nd season chasers continued with Bobs Worth leaping to Gold Cup favouritism (5/1) after a quality display to land the Hennessy off 160, (extended 3m2f, good to soft.). He jumps, gallops and will be suited by the race so rightly heads the betting. In an average year, he might not need to improve to win, but if most of the protagonists get there it’ll be a vintage renewal and some will have more toe, so 5/1 looks right. The Argento at Cheltenham (where he’s unbeaten) looks the obvious next step, with 3m on a right-handed track in the King George (10/1) not looking likely to suit.
Tidal Bay ran a stormer off 166 to be beaten 3¼l and looks better than ever, rising 12. Paul Nicholls is a genius at keeping these older horses sweet, and their longevity adds so much to racegoers enjoyment. Whilst its unlikely a 12 year old would win, 25/1 for the Gold Cup is generous on form, especially if the ground was soft. He’d be a worthy understudy for the World Hurdle if anything went wrong with Big Buck’s.
First Lieutenant ran a blinder off 159 to be 8¾l 3rd, again shaping as if the trip didn’t suit. He’s 16/1 for the Gold Cup but surely connections will aim him at the Ryanair, (which they sponsor). That’s proved a test of stamina at the 2m5f trip and going left handed on the prevailing good ground would be ideal. This was the first time I’d been convinced by the horse as he tried really hard and given that the front four in the market, (Cue Card, Al Ferof, Flemenstar and Silviniaco Conti,) could all end up in the Gold Cup, I took a bit of the 14/1 Boylesports were offering on Saturday evening. He’s into 10/1 and looks a worthy contender.
Earlier the amazing Big Buck’s strolled to his 18th consecutive win in the Grade 2 hurdle (extended 3m, soft.) It’s always hard to tell from a soft race, but he still looks at the peak of his powers and an astonishing 5th World Hurdle (10/11) is on the cards. It’s a shame at this stage that connections didn’t take the bold route and go for the handicap off 174 at Haydock. Horses running from such marks have an excellent record, (the best handicapped horses tending to be out of the weights), and it would have better indicated the extent of his greatness than his cantering round here.
The star of the show on the triple Grade 1 card at Fairyhouse was Arvika Ligeonniere in the Drinmore novice chase (2m4f, soft). Whilst Ruby couldn’t hold him early on, he gradually settled and jumped superbly, not allowing some decent horses to land a blow. He’s coming back to 2m at Christmas and looks to have plenty of toe. He outclassed these so it’s hard to know what his best trip is, (10/1 for the Arkle & 12/1 for the Jewson.) He’s a serious contender for either, with good ground not a problem.
The Royal Bond novice hurdle (2m) has a rich roll of honour and Jezki really impressed me in ending Champagne Fever’s (who gave 3lb) unbeaten run. He looks like he’ll be better left handed and will certainly improve for decent ground so looks the one to beat in the Supreme. Dodging Bullets sets a high standard but I’m not sure he’ll see out the trip in a fast run race and whilst there are lots of promising horses like Don Cassock who could be anything, Ladbrokes 14/1 has been cut to 12/1 this morning but it still looks too big. It’s early to be dipping our toes into the ante-post water in novice hurdles but I think he could be something special and he warrants a small bet. Champagne Fever isn’t a two miler and ran a sound race. The Neptune (11/1) is a race for fast horses and I think he might run in the Albert Bartlett (14/1) given his relentless style of galloping. He still looks a top prospect.
1pt Jezki to win the Supreme Novices @ 12/1
The Hatton’s Grace (2m4f) was won in decent style by Zaidpour, who had too much toe for Monksland. Soft ground is crucial to the winner and 20/1 for the World Hurdle doesn’t appeal. It may be that this is as good as Monksland is but he got tapped for toe before staying on strongly and would be interesting tried over 3m. My fancy So Young travelled well to the 2nd last but made a mess of it and was beaten immediately. Maybe Paul Townend wasn’t holding onto much but I think he ran better than it looked and he might go off a backable price next time.
The previous day Bog Warrior got a confidence booster in a handicap hurdle, (2m4f, soft). He was chucked in off 122 if he was well in himself and he bolted up with his head in his chest. This was a shrewd move from Tony Martin and this brilliant but fragile horse still could be a Gold Cup contender if he can be held together. 66/1 is an enormous price, though it’s odds-on you won’t get a run for your money.
Midnight Game became disappointing having had a huge reputation as a novice hurdler but he won the 2m hurdle easily from 150 rated Staying Article (who gave 5lb). He’s 40/1 for the Champion Hurdle and is best judged after running in better company.
The 3m novice chase at Newbury, (soft) looked to have been won by the well backed Benefficient before he tired and got mugged by Harry Topper (who received 3lb) close home. It was the 2nd time in 2 chase runs that the winner had looked beaten before his stamina came to his rescue. He apparently misses the Festival this season but is one to keep an eye on. The runner up isn’t that consistent but ran a cracker on ground softer than ideal and the Jewson looks the right race for him.
Dynaste confirmed the impression he made at Cheltenham, jumping well again and looking a top class novice in dismissing Court In Motion and Theatre Guide, (2m4f, good to soft). He’s rightly favourite for the RSA (6/1) though I wonder whether the Jewson will come under consideration (7/1). BetVictor’s 6/1 non-runner, free bet for the RSA is tempting.
Interpreting maiden hurdles is often more about the visual impression than form assessment and I was taken by Puffin Billy. He’d looked classy in winning 2 bumpers easily and tanked his way round in a steadily run race at Newbury, jumping well and sprinting clear after the last, (extended 2m, soft.) He’s 20/1 for the Supreme and Neptune and is one to follow.
I’ve learnt the hard way not to bet in small field conditions hurdles on bottomless ground and I dodged a bullet at Newcastle as Cinders and Ashes got stuck in the mud whilst Countrywide Flame hosed up in the Fighting Fifth, (2m, heavy.) The winner handled the ground well and John Quinn is favouring a crack at Hurricane Fly in the Istabraq, (12/1 for the Champion). When Cinders and Ashes (16/1) was winning ordinary novice hurdles on testing ground last winter Donald McCain insisted he’d be better on good ground and he deserves another chance as he never looked happy here. The winner had the advantage of race fitness and both are best judged after their next run.
The eyecatcher of the week was Cantlow who was again 2nd in a 2m novice chase when chasing home Sire De Grugy (who gave 7lb) at Lingfield, (heavy.) He wasn’t asked to challenge in the straight and allowed the pure 2 miler Sire De Grugy to quicken clear before closing under hands and heels to within 1¾l at the line. He’s one to consider when stepped up markedly in trip in handicap company – the open 3m handicap on the first day of the Festival looks a suitable target.
Finally, as I stood in the stands at Newbury on Saturday I felt a bit short-changed. The Hennessy has inevitably been weakened by the Betfair Chase but what rankled was the absence of the Grade 2 2m4f novice chase, the 2m novice hurdle and now also the Gerry Fielden. They’ve all been moved since the meeting expanded to 3 days when there’s barely enough decent races for 2 days. There seems to be a delusion amongst some courses and the BHA that we’re still in a boom market where all the big Saturday meetings can evolve into mini-festivals. With foal numbers down and many owners having to walk away from the game, the scope of these meetings needs reducing to provide quality Saturday racing not endless humdrum handicaps. Hennessy day has been a never-miss for me but when Big Buck’s isn’t around I can see myself looking at this card and deciding not to bother – I’d rather have been at Fairyhouse on Sunday, that’s for sure.