Matt Tombs / Monday 11th February 2013 / 07:40
The Irish Hennessy (3m, soft to heavy) was something of a let down with Bog Warrior withdrawn, and exaggerated waiting tactics being employed on Flemenstar rather than using his jumping to put Sir Des Champs under pressure. The outcome was predictable as Flemenstar again looked to be running all over Sir Des Champs, before failing to get home. The Flemenstar / Casey story has been a wonderful thread running through racing for the last year or so and lets hope connections stick to their guns and take on Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase (5/1), rather than run in the Ryanair (4/1).
Sir Des Champs jumped better than in the Lexus and had the race run to suit. As a horse that hasn’t looked easy to train, he seems to be peaking nicely as the Gold Cup approaches. There’s a lot of blind faith in the Mullins magic though, as on form, 5/1 looks too short and I’d be worried about his jumping in a big field.
The other 2 all-age Grades 1s were also unsatisfactory from a Festival point of view with Willie Mullins seeming intent on splitting his best horses rather than running each in the Festival race that would suit best. Boston Bob was tapped for toe in the Moriarty (2m5f) but has lots of stamina and came with a late rattle to edge out Texas Jack. He wants at least 3m (2nd in the Albert Bartlett last year) and it was hard to fathom why the Jewson (16/1) rather than the RSA (7/1) I s the target. Connections also have Back In Focus for the RSA but he looks ground dependent, and unless it comes up a bog I can’t see Boston Bob being competitive in the Jewson so why not run them against each other if needs be?
Paul Townend was excellent on Champagne Fever in the Deloitte, although Bright New Dawn wasn’t asked to chase him down until the straight, (beaten 1¾l, 2m2f, soft). With a more positive ride I could see the runner-up reversing the form if they both lined up in the Neptune, (33/1). However, Champagne Fever is oddly going for the Supreme (20/1) despite being described by connections as “clearly not a 2miler” after his defeat by Jezki in the Royal Bond, (their Pont Alexandre is favourite for the Neptune).
The contrast with the JP McManus approach was stark after My Tent Or Yours put up a brilliant performance to run away with the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, (extended 2m, soft.) I thought he had a really stiff mark (149) but he made a mockery of it and was value for more than his 5l defeat of Cotton Mill. Despite the fact the owner had previous favourite Jezki for the Supreme, the vibes were that My Tent Or Yours will take him on, rather than be supplemented for the Champion. The highest mark a Supreme winner has been given in the last decade is 154 and he must have run to around 160 here, so he has outstanding claims with good ground not likely to be a problem. As and when the Champion is ruled out 9/4 would look big, for all Jezki (9/2) is a quality opponent. Cotton Mill wouldn’t have liked the ground here and is entitled to take his chance in the Champion – 25/1 looks about right.
I was also impressed with Silviniaco Conti in the Denman Chase (3m). It wasn’t really his 7l beating of Cheltenham specialist The Giant Bolster (who received 4lb), but how well he travelled through the race for a horse apparently well short of peak fitness. He looked a classy type here for a horse Paul Nicholls described as a stayer rather than being quick. 11/2 for the Gold Cup looks more than fair as his form matches up to Bob’s Worth’s. The concern is whether he’ll handle the undulations at Cheltenham.
With Simonsig scratched it was a weak renewal of the Game Spirit Chase (2m1f) that Wishfull Thinking won with a strong late run. He’s had all sorts of breathing issues and whilst the Ryanair looks the race for him, he’s being aimed at the Champion Chase (33/1). He looks the type to be ridden for 2nd so will be interesting in the betting without markets.
Just when I finally thought I’d spotted a horse whose target had become clear, Unioniste was confirmed on course for the RSA Chase after just holding on in the 3m novice chase from Hadrian’s Approach (who gave 1lb). The winner travelled much the best and looked set for a clear cut win but the runner up rallied on the run in and would have won a in a few more strides. Unioniste doesn’t look the type for the RSA (10/1) and looks one to oppose if running there rather than in the Jewson (20/1).
At Warwick, the Grade 2 Kingmaker novice chase (2m, heavy) was just getting interesting when Fago took a really novicey fall 2 out. He looked to be getting the better of Majala (who gave 2lb) at the time but didn’t get the landing gear out. He has an engine but I’d be concerned about his jumping in the Arkle (out to 12/1.) Majala got very tired close home and whilst it’s hard to see him winning the Arkle, 50/1 is a bit of an insult.
Earlier on the card, Molotof, who had run well behind Dynaste and Rocky Creek over 3m in his last two runs, looked to enjoy the drop back in trip to land a decent handicap off 143, (extended 2m4f). He’s only entered for the Jewson, which looks like it may cut up, so as a horse that is now likely to be rated close to 150, he looks overpriced at 33/1.
On Sunday Puffin Billy finished lame when readily outpointed by Melodic Rendezvous at Exeter, (2m1f, heavy). Hopefully the runner up is none the worse but there has to be a doubt about his participation at the Festival now – 25/1 (Supreme) & 16/1 (Neptune). It’s hard to know what the winner achieved here. He’s 8/1 for the Supreme and 12/1 for the Neptune - the latter looks the more winnable race at this stage and he’s looked to have plenty of stamina.
The positive news for the portfolio was Salsify getting up close home to beat Tammy’s Hill in the Hunter Chase at Leopardstown, (3m). The soft to heavy ground would have been really against Salsify so it was good to see that he’s improving rapidly, as he did at this time last year - the extra 2½f on likely good ground will suit ideally in the Foxhunter. I can see him starting pretty short on the day and 5/1 is still good value for anyone not already on.
For those looking for something for a Festival handicap, Tennis Cap has been transformed with front running tactics and took a 2m handicap at Leopardstown off 127. He’s not quoted for the County or Coral Cup but would be an interesting contender for either if the British handicapper doesn’t overreact.
An interesting novice for handicap hurdles is Mr Mole who beat Melodic Rendezvous comfortably in October at Exeter, (2m1f, good to soft). He was really green when beaten at long odds-on next time and, after a 3 month break, returned to that course and readily took a handicap off 126, beating Home Run who was on a 6 timer. Paul Nicholls described him as a chaser in the making and he’s clearly immature so it’s questionable whether the hurly burly of the County (16/1) would suit, but he could be a seriously well handicapped horse.
Inish Island had been a close 2nd to At Fisher’s Cross (who gave 3lb) in a 3m handicap at Cheltenham and franked the form by taking a Grade 3 at Clonmel (2m6f, heavy.) He’s 16/1 for the Albert Bartlett but the vibes were that he’s a fair way behind Ballycasey in the Mullins pecking order, which puts into perspective the 6/1 offered against both Ballycasey and At Fisher’s Cross.
Finally, something needs to be done about horses being withdrawn from big events on the morning of the race. Bog Warrior was again withdrawn from a Grade 1 where connections also had Sir Des Champs declared. As a confirmed front runner, the race could have been very different had Bog Warrior run and punters can’t have a sensible bet given the uncertainty. There’s no point the authorities fining the likes of Gigginstown a few thousand as it will make no difference, and we can’t realistically say that owners have to withdraw or run all their horses in a race, as sooner or later someone will then run a second string when they’re not sound.
The ownership of the best horses has condensed enormously and whilst it’s easy to love the romance of the Flemenstar story, we’d have no sport if the likes of the O’Leary’s walked away. If such owners want to ensure they have a single runner for the Grade 1s, then racing needs to adapt. If owners want to declare a reserve, in case their number one horse has a last minute hold up, then they should be allowed to do so. It’s similar to horses being declared to run only if there is/isn’t rain overnight and what matters is that the public know the score.