Matt Tombs / Monday 28th January 2013 / 11:55
When you’re making a long round trip in a day to see racing, it’s the rare horses like Sprinter Sacre that make the journeys seem shorter. He put in another superb display to demolish his rivals in the Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham (extended 2m, heavy.) Barry Geraghty described him as being ‘level pegging’ with Moscow Flyer, which is some compliment but well deserved.
It’s always hard comparing greats from different eras and Moscow Flyer had the advantage of racing regularly against two of the best 2m chasers of modern times, (Azertyuiop and Well Chief,) to help show just how good he was. By contrast Sprinter Sacre is running against a sub-standard bunch but in terms of visual impression, I’ve never seen anything better. He’s 2/5 for the Champion Chase and every true racing fan will want to see him win it in style.
What had looked a strong renewal of the Argento, (extended 3m1f,) cut up with both Bobs Worth and Tidal Bay being scratched with minor niggles. Their absences left the race looking very open and it looked like being a fairytale comeback for 2010 Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander, but he was nailed close home by Cape Tribulation (who gave 6lb.) They’re 25/1 and 33/1 respectively for the Gold Cup but unless it comes up very soft I’d be really surprised if either are in the shake up.
The Cleeve Hurdle (3m) revolved around whether Oscar Whisky got the trip, and he was ridden to get it. He was beaten a neck and whilst some will argue that he can be ridden more confidently in the World Hurdle (5/1) now, they only went steadily in bad ground here and the jury’s still out whether he’ll get home in a fast run race. (Its worth noting Barry Geraghty thought he wasn’t going well after 2m so he might have been below par here.) Reve De Sivola proved his Long Walk win was no fluke, staying on gamely to land the spoils. He’s tough and genuine and assuming he can still handle good ground, (won a novice Grade 1 on it 3 years ago,) 5/1 looks fair in an open renewal.
The Grade 2 novice hurdle (extended 2m4f) featured 3 horses unbeaten over hurdles this season. At Fishers Cross had won over 3m here off 131 and he ground down The New One close home. The winner, a second season novice, has been a revelation this winter and the right Festival race looks the Albert Bartlett where going a stride slower should help hold his jumping together. There’s a strong suspicion that a faster surface won’t suit though and 6/1 is easy to resist.
The New One travelled like the best horse in the race but didn’t see it out as well as the winner. If it was lack of stamina that caused his defeat then he’s still a leading player for the Neptune but it may be this is as good as he is and it was surprise to see him still as short as 5/1. Coneygree is an out and out galloper and this developed into a bit of a sprint (they didn’t drop 66/1 shot Fiddlers Bid until they turned into the straight). He’d benefit from more positive tactics and being pushed out to 14/1 for the Albert Bartlett looks an over-reaction.
In the Grade 3 2m5f handicap chase, Katenko put in another impressive display to run right away from a competitive looking field off 147. He stays much further, looks really progressive and is the sort who could surprise the more established chasers in the Gold Cup (33/1). He also paid a big compliment to his Ascot conqueror Wyck Hill, who was raised only 4lb to 140 for beating him. The handicapper may reassess Wyck Hill now, but he’ll take a lot of beating off that sort of mark in the open 3m handicap on the opening day (16/1) if connections decide to wait rather than go to Kempton.
It was Irish Champion Hurdle weekend and Hurricane Fly duly bolted up at 1/6, (2m, heavy). You couldn’t fault this performance and 14 Grade 1s is a great tally for all there are 3 level weights 2m Grade 1s in Ireland during the winter. The only concern is that on a cold, sleety day he sweated up and I’m worried that he’ll run his race in the preliminaries at Cheltenham as he may have done last year. He’s 3/1 and the one to beat in the Champion Hurdle but doesn’t appeal as being good value ante-post. Binocular made a belated seasonal debut and, never having gone well fresh, it wasn’t a surprise he wasn’t competitive. He’s 20/1 for the Champion Hurdle and it takes a leap of faith to see him winning it again.
The 2m4f Grade 2 novice hurdle was won in style by Pont Alexandre. He was carrying a 10lb penalty for his Grade 1 win at Navan and whilst the fall of Anonis which took Seefood out of the race took away some of the depth, he disposed of decent types Sizing Gold (who received 4lb) and Our Vinnie (who gave 1lb) easily. Given that connections have Ballycasey for the Albert Bartlett it wasn’t a surprise Willie Mullins nominated the Neptune for him. He looks a galloper though and you need a really quick horse for that on the prevailing sound surface, so 4/1 doesn’t appeal at this stage with good ground an unknown, (especially as if Ballycasey doesn’t make the Festival he may run in the Albert Bartlett.)
The Irish Arkle (2m1f, heavy) was a perfect example of a set of connections being on the ball. Benefficient had won only a beginners chase at Down Royal from 4 starts over fences and was beaten 16l by Arvika Ligeonniere over course and distance at Christmas. He looked to have no real chance but with only 2 lining up against him there was always the possibility of picking up the pieces and with Arvika Ligeonniere falling and Oscars Well ploughing through the last, a £42,276 prize fell into Benefficient’s lap. They’ll be plenty of owners of similar horses wondering why they weren’t running. He’d have no chance in the Arkle unless similar carnage ensued but is better over further. He’s 25/1 for the Jewson but Tony Martin thinks he might be better on a flat track.
Arvika Ligeonniere is out to 10/1 for the Arkle but whilst this obviously wasn’t the ideal prep, in what may be a 3 horse race that looks big. It was desperately disappointing Oscars Well couldn’t take advantage of the favourite's exit (may not have won even if he’d jumped the last). He’s lost his way over fences and it looks time to tear up the ante-post voucher.
In the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran on Thursday, Bog Warrior was much too strong for Zaidpour (who gave 4lb), running out a comfortable 3¼l winner, (3m, heavy.) He made all and this looked to prove his stamina. We know he has plenty of boot, having thrashed Flemenstar over 2m, so the issues from an ante-post perspective are fragility, preference for testing ground and choice of race. Interestingly for a horse who’s run on right handed tracks for all 4 runs this term, he again looked like he’d be better going left handed (jumped left over fences in the Drinmore as well.) He’s 10/1 for the World Hurdle, which looks about right given the uncertainties. If he lines up on soft ground, he’ll take all the beating, but connections were keeping the option open of going back over fences.
Finally, it’s great that top races are rescheduled as a matter of course these days. That racecourses have been prepared to let other venues host their best races is laudable, but is it really necessary? Had Cheltenham not been raceable on Saturday they’d have raced on Sunday – the races weren’t going to be given to other tracks the following weekend. Cheltenham had more races worth saving, (1 Grade 1 and 4 Grade 2s) but why not just allow every course to either run their meetings the following day or the next weekend, rather than hand the good races to other venues? It’s not a problem that they clash with other races the following week and it shouldn’t be one rule for Cheltenham and another for the other courses.
It would be great if similar co-operation was shown between courses whose meetings go ahead – there was one Grade 1 each side of the Irish Sea on Saturday and both were run within 5 minutes of each other, calling for a decent turn of foot from spectators at the courses. It really can’t be hard to schedule meetings to keep the big races apart. That apart it was a great day’s racing and with the top ticket price only £25, was a lot better value than on most Saturdays.