Matt Tombs / Monday 4th February 2013 / 16:45
1pt Unaccompanied to win the Mares Hurdle @ 7/1
If you want to bet ante-post, especially at long odds months before the race, you’ve got to expect a decent proportion of your bets not to line up. Neither Lambro nor Tap Night looked good enough for the Ryanair or Jewson respectively at the weekend and the vibes suggest Paul Nicholls may not run Rocky Creek in the RSA – but after seeing Darlan fall fatally at the last in the Champion Hurdle trial at Doncaster, it put ante-post vouchers into perspective. Rock On Ruby (7/1) took advantage to beat Countrywide Flame (20/1) but I’m not sure we learned much more about their Champion Hurdle chances here.
The BHA is finally cottoning on to the fact that most people aren’t at work on Sunday, which makes it an obvious day to stage good racing. Musselburgh’s ability to produce decent ground (good to soft,) attracted a quality card and the star of the show was Overturn who put up a really classy effort in the 2m novice chase, beating the useful Tetlami by 29l. This was a classic case of a bold front runner over 2m being able to put a good rival under so much pressure he could never get into the race.
Neither Overturn (4/1) nor Simonsig (5/6) have been in a race over fences yet so your view is likely to be based on visual impression. The sight of Overturn and Arvika Ligeonniere piling it on from the front and seeing how the potentially brilliant Simonsig copes with it, will be fascinating. Whilst you couldn’t say a horse that’s finished 2nd in the Champion Hurdle doesn’t act at Cheltenham, Overturn has been best on a flat track and whether he can pull off trailblazing tactics at Prestbury Park remains to be seen. Equally, the last time Simonsig came off the bridle in December 2011, he found nothing against Fingal Bay – he’s more mature now but if it becomes a battle he won’t find Overturn an easy horse to pass.
Whilst I take my hat off to Donald McCain for his initiative in getting a 2m novice chase especially put on for Overturn, the BHA shouldn’t have agreed to it. There was a good 2m4f novice chase on the card and there is a 2m Grade 2 at Warwick on Saturday. Warwick’s management must be furious – their Grade 2 hasn’t attracted more than 6 runners in the last 5 years and most renewals have had an odds-on favourite. It smacks of the bad old days of a race specifically tailored to Best Mate being put on at Exeter because none of the many top staying chases provided him with tailor-made conditions. Connections of the best horses should have to work with the fixture list like everyone else.
The novice hurdle (extended 3m) was rendered less informative when the gambled on According To Trev and the favourite Aerial didn’t look to give their running, leaving Superior Quality (now 33/1 for the Albert Bartlett) to beat Lord Wishes (40/1) by ½l. It’s probable this form isn’t special but it’s worth keeping an eye out for how runners perform next time, because if it actually was a good race, the first two are big prices for the Albert Bartlett.
I’d not been encouraged when Tony McCoy headed for Punchestown rather than Musselburgh and Tap Night was a hugely disappointing 4/7 favourite in the 2m4f novice chase. The crawl wouldn’t have suited but he didn’t jump fluently and whilst he should improve for a fast run race, it’s hard to see him winning the Jewson now (out to 33/1). Viva Colonia just held Desert Cry (who gave 4lb) by ½l and heads for the Grand Annual. He was rated 135 coming into this (4lb below his hurdles mark) and that’s the sort of rating novices have done well from in the past.
A bad day for the portfolio got worse when my Ryanair outsider Lambro could finish only a fair 5¾l 4th in the €70,000 2m handicap at Punchestown, (heavy.) The top handicaps are obviously heavily targeted and you need to be really well in to win, but even allowing for his needing further on better ground, he really had to win this off 142 to have a chance in the Ryanair, (50/1). Lastoftheleaders is an inconsistent but talented performer and was winning this off 138. Arthur Moore saddled another 10 year old, Tiger Cry, to win the Grand Annual a few years ago and if he doesn’t go up too much for this he’d have a chance if the ground is softish.
It was eye-catching that Tony McCoy rode outsider Quiscover Fontaine (never dangerous 8th) rather than runner up Alderwood. That implies he already has his Grand Annual mount lined up, so Mark Walsh would ride Alderwood here and in the Grand Annual, (12/1). Kid Cassidy (14/1) is the obvious one but it’s worth following the vibes in the run up to the Festival.
Earlier on the card there was a cracking renewal of the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer novice hurdle (2m) and Mozoltov added to Willie Mullins’ army of top novice hurdlers when readily accounting for two hype horses Don Cossack and Ned Buntline. The winner heads for the Supreme next and 20/1 looks big if the horses he beat here are anything like as good as their trainers think. It’ll be interesting to see if Ruby chooses him, Pique Sous or Dodging Bullets.
In the Tied Cottage Chase (2m), Sizing Europe easily accounted for 147 rated Foildubh (who received 8lb), by 10l. Henry De Bromhead is waiting to see how the Champion Chase and Ryanair shape up but unless Flemenstar heads for the Champion Chase, I think Sizing Europe will (7/1). Sprinter Sacre looks a freak but horses aren’t machines and if he doesn’t perform Sizing Europe may have little else to beat so I suspect connections won’t miss the Championship event.
On Wednesday at Leicester, the promising Module made it 2 out of 2 over fences at 1/4 (2m, heavy.) He jumped well but I thought he was no more than workmanlike in the closing stages. It’s a dangerous game saying what trip will suit a young horse who’s unbeaten when standing up in this country, but he shapes as if the Jewson (20/1) will suit a lot more than the Arkle, (40/1). Both prices look about right.
I was underwhelmed by Captain Conan’s performance in the 2m4f Grade 1 novice chase at Sandown, (heavy). This can be the weakest Grade 1 of the season and despite looking to have a simple task (1/2) he’d have been beaten by Third Intention (now a maiden after 5 runs over fences) had he not stopped on the run in. He’d twice been well beaten by Captain Conan over 2m and Nicky Henderson has a difficult decision between taking on stablemate Simonsig in the Arkle (20/1 - all his best form is over that trip), or the Jewson (5/1). The perceived wisdom is he’ll run in the Jewson but the substance hasn’t matched the hype so far and he looks one to take on if starting a short price for that.
It looked like an interesting renewal of the Grade 2 Towton novice chase at Wetherby, (3m1f, soft) and chasing debutant Goulanes stayed on to collar Super Duty (who gave 7lb) on the run in. This was a decent effort from a horse having just his 3rd start under rules but his lack of experience over fences and the way he struggled to hold his position, makes the RSA (33/1) or 4 miler (16/1) look a tall order. Super Duty doesn’t look the type of stayer for the RSA (25/1) either, but would have each way claims in the Jewson (33/1) on better ground.
The Mares race at the Festival is usually really uncompetitive and the news that Unaccompanied (7/1) runs is a pleasant surprise. I head to the bar when the silly cross country race is on and the prospect of Dermot Weld’s mare taking on Quevega will get me back out into the stands. Unaccompanied won an open Grade 1 hurdle over 2m (beating Thousand Stars in the Istabraq) last season and stays well enough on the flat (close 3rd on heavy ground in a 1m6f listed contest in the summer) to suggest the 2m4f trip, at a mares’ gallop, should be well within range.
Quevega is a top class mare but she’s 9 now and even Willie Mullins’ genius at getting her to win this without a run can’t go on forever. Quevega has only 4lb in hand on RPRs and with 6 year old Unaccompanied possessing the better turn of foot, 4/6 and 7/1 doesn’t reflect their chances in what’s close to a match on all known form.