Matt Tombs / Monday 19th November 2012 / 15:25
Al Ferof was a really impressive winner of the Paddy Power on Saturday. Friendless in the market, he looked badly handicapped in the context of this. However, he travelled beautifully and when Walkon found plenty to challenge him, he defied his welterweight in great style, (extended 2m4f, soft.). He won off 159, the highest mark since Dublin Flyer 17 years ago and given how much stronger this contest is these days, it has to go down as a top class run.
This ought to have been a really hard race for a 6 year old, but he travelled so well, I’m not sure it’ll have taken that much out of him and he looks to have a good chance in the King George. 8/1 might be generous with a competitive looking field in prospect but no stand out performer. This was probably a good enough performance to win a Ryanair (8/1) but it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up in the Gold Cup (20/1).
For punters perhaps the most interesting moment of the day was when Paul Nicholls, perhaps unguarded in the elation of victory, said “the horses weren’t really right last year, not the form they’re in now”. The big yards can still have lots of success when the horses aren’t flying and time may show he has plenty waiting to show a lot of improvement. Whilst Nicky Henderson looked to hold all the aces at the start of the season, 7/4 is suddenly looking decent value for Nicholls to retain his tile – his horses are definitely right now.
The Open meeting had kicked off with a duel between the two British horses shortest in the RSA market, Fingal Bay and Dynaste, (who received 5lb, extended 2m4f, good to soft). The pace was steady and Dynaste travelled and jumped really well, before powering clear after the last. It’s tempting to think that 3m hurdlers will be slow when going over fences but it may be that Dynaste is suited by intermediate distances at this stage of his career, so I wouldn’t be taking 8/1 for the RSA at the moment. Supporters of Fingal Bay shouldn’t be too disheartened – he’s a galloper not a horse who quickens, so a slowly run race didn’t suit, (yard not in top form either). It might not be until the RSA that we see the best of him, (12/1).
Later on Friday in the novice hurdle, (extended 2m,) Dodging Bullets overcame having to make his own running to readily account for a field full of promising types. This didn’t tell us much new about this speedy type and rated 150 he continues to set the bar for the Supreme. 16/1 still looks big.
There won’t be many horses that impress with their jumping on debut over fences more than Our Father this season. He thrashed a fair looking field (extended 3m, soft) and although most of the others were carrying penalties and the going strung them out, he was taken really wide and covered a lot more ground. He was a disappointment when favourite for the 3m handicap hurdle at the Festival (off 148) but is set to make a better chaser and he looks the type who could pop away in the RSA and get into a rhythm. 14/1 looks fair.
The big 2m handicap hurdle on the Sunday of the Open meeting often throws up a winner who’ll cut it in top company (6 of the last 10 winners of the Bula have run in it.) With star turn Darlan defecting because of the soft ground, that may not be the case this season with Olofi looking a good handicapper not one for graded races (won off 136 here, soft.)
Earlier in the afternoon, Captain Conan took a decent looking 2m novice chase from Sire De Grugy. Both were rated 147 over hurdles but the winner was much less exposed and he should be up to taking on the best novices. He’s 10/1 for the Arkle but the stable has hot favourite Simonsig and he didn’t look that quick here so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the Jewson, though Nicky Henderson apparently sees him as a 2 miler.
There were lots of interesting types in the 2m5f novice hurdle, which was won in good style by Coneygree. In theory this was part of a series of races building up to the Neptune but that requires a really fast horse and, like many winners of this sort of race, Coneygree might well be best aimed at the Albert Bartlett, (20/1 for both.) He looks a good prospect.
The first Grade 1 hurdle of the season, the Morgiana at Punchestown, drew a disappointing field of 3 and looked a match between Hurricane Fly and Go Native, (2m heavy.) With no pace in the race, Ruby made all on Hurricane Fly and whilst Go Native looked to be travelling really well in typical Carberry style, it looked to me as if he was struggling to get to Hurricane Fly when falling at the last. The fact that Carberry felt the need to go for a big jump probably backs that up. Hopefully he’s none the worse and both are Champion Hurdle contenders, without shaping like winners at the moment, (the winner is 6/1, the runner up 20/1).
The first of the two Grade 2 novices chases (2m) at Punchestown looked to be at the mercy of Oscars Well who was getting weight from rivals he was miles clear of on hurdles form, (backed from 5/6 to 8/15.) He crashed out at the 2nd though and it’s to be hoped this doesn’t dent his confidence, (out to 16/1 for the Arkle). That left Twinlight to outpoint Baily Green (who gave 3lb) by 1l. Neither look Arkle horses at this stage.
In the second (2m6f), Back in Focus outstayed Lyreen Legend after the runner up had looked to be going best 2 out. The winner is an out and out stayer who looks tailor made for the 3m novice at Leopardstown at Christmas. He has a great record on testing going but bombed on his only run on good ground in the Sefton at Aintree so it was interesting to hear Willie Mullins describe him as having a good ground action. If he can handle a sound surface he could be an RSA contender (20/1). The runner up may end up in the Jewson rather than RSA and is one to keep an eye on.
Champion Bumper winner Champagne Fever began his hurdles campaign with a facile win from a poor field at Cork, (2m soft.) He shapes like a stayer and whilst he may try to make all in Ireland on soft ground over the winter at 2m, I’d expect to see him line up in the Neptune (14/1) rather than the Supreme (12/1), but that’s likely to depend on what else Willie Mullins has come March.
The previous day at Punchestown, one of the hype horses from last season, Minsk, made his return to jumping. This 103 rated flat horse was a close 2nd on debut at Fairyhouse and brushed Glen’s Melody aside with the minimum of fuss (2m4f, heavy.) The runner up had won all 3 starts in bumpers but there was nothing else in the field so the form’s hard to assess. He’s best judged after another run, (14/1 for the Neptune.)
At Clonmel on Thursday, Sizing Europe ruthlessly jumped inferior opponents into the ground, (2m4f, soft), cantering home 20l clear. It looks as if connections ideally want to run him over 3m on decent ground at Christmas, which makes the King George more likely than the Lexus. He’ll also be entered in the 2m Grade 1 Dial-A-Bet at Leopardstown which sounds like a back up in case the ground is testing at both venues. The first post-Kauto Star King George is shaping up into a fascinating renewal but for those prepared to risk not getting a run for their money, 14/1 looks big as the ground often is decent and he’ll be less than half that price if lining up on a sound surface.
Finally, in terms of eyecatchers, the main one this week was Kid Cassidy. The programme to teach him to switch off continued in the 2m handicap chase at Cheltenham on Friday. It may well be that the Grand Annual will be the time we see the best of him - a year after I hoped, but he remains a horse of real potential.