Matt Tombs / Monday 24th December 2012 / 12:20
1pt Riverside Theatre to win the King George @ 11/2
1pt Oscars Well to win the Racing Post Novice Chase @ 7/4
The King George looked like being a vintage renewal but the injury to Al Ferof and the defections of Sizing Europe, Sir Des Champs & Finian’s Rainbow have taken some of the gloss off.
Favourite Long Run (2/1) seems to have lost his speed and now needs a thorough test of stamina. If the ground had been good I'd have been confident taking him on over 3m, but it looks as if it'll be pretty testing and if he’s ridden more aggressively, he could run the finish out of the others. I get the impression that the Gold Cup is the race connections think they can win though and I wouldn't want to back him at a short price.
I backed Cue Card at 25/1 before his Haldon romp so I’m in the camp that thinks he'll get the trip, (dam ran in the National.) The deluge isn't doing him any favours though, as not only does it make it more of a stamina test, he can be keen early on and if they're going a steady pace in heavy ground I can see him running his race in the first couple of miles. Colin Tizzard is confident he settles better now so hopefully that won’t be an issue - he's 11/2 and that's about right.
I feared both Al Ferof and Sizing Europe, but with them out of the way the one I think that’s the best value is Riverside Theatre, (11/2). He was an excellent 2nd in this two years ago and then won 3 Grade 1s in a row at intermediate trips. He shapes as if he needs 3m or more now and acts really well round Kempton. He needs to be fresh so Nicky Henderson hasn't run him yet and he looks to have everything in his favour here.
Of the others, Grands Crus (9/1) has the potential to win this judged on his Feltham victory but has had an interrupted preparation. I don’t like backing horses unproven at the grade, who’ve been under a cloud, at that sort of price. Kauto Stone (8/1) has to prove he can run two good races in a row and his Down Royal run looks well short of what’s required anyway. The Giant Bolster (10/1) looks much better at Cheltenham than elsewhere so I’d be surprised to see him win either.
Had the ground been the usual decent surface, I wouldn’t have wanted to dilute a strong hand but I’m less confident about Cue Card now. I’ve long thought Riverside Theatre one of the most underrated horses in training and 11/2 looks big so I’m going to save on him, with the advantage that, of the 3 market leaders, we’ve got the big plus of Barry Geraghty in the saddle.
The Christmas Hurdle looks a fascinating renewal. Countrywide Flame (2/1) runs here rather than at Leopardstown and arrives on a roll after thrashing Cinders and Ashes in the Fighting Fifth. The ground was desperate that day though and it looked a case of the runner up not handling it. He was running over further on the flat and it’s questionable whether a sharp 2m round Kempton will suit him, even allowing for the ground. Against a strong field I think he’s pretty short.
By contrast, the track should suit Darlan (11/4) ideally as he’s loads of toe and has looked much better on flat tracks. Unlike the other main protagonists he hasn’t the benefit of a recent run and having missed two engagements due to heavy ground, faces that prospect again. I think he’s just about the most likely winner but he’s not much shorter in my tissue.
Cinders and Ashes (9/2) bombed in the Fighting Fifth and the prospect of more heavy ground must be a concern. He’ll find Darlan a much more formidable opponent here than around Cheltenham and with a question mark hanging over him after Newcastle, what at first sight looks a generous price is probably about right.
Handicap form is brought to the party by Raya Star (9/1) who won a 2m handicap at Ascot off 149, (good to soft.) That form is looking a bit shaky at the moment and it gives him a fair bit to find here. He was thrashed by Oscar Whisky on his first try over 2½m and this may be his trip, but he doesn’t look a Grade 1 horse at the moment.
Paul Nicholls relies on second season novice Dodging Bullets (12/1). He was 4l behind Countrywide Flame in the Triumph when the yard was out of form and has won a 4 year olds race and a Grade 2 novice at Cheltenham this autumn. This sharp track should suit and I’d be interested on better ground but I think he might not get home unless they crawl round, (Countrywide Flame will presumably ensure that doesn’t happen).
It’s not often that the highest rated horse in an open Grade 1 is a 20/1 shot but 159 rated Get Me Out Of Here is. He’s obviously a lot more exposed than the others but it does look a big price for a horse that’s looks to be still improving. He was hampered in the Betfair Hurdle when a close 2nd to Zarkandar (levels) off 151. He was then 2nd stepped up in trip off 155 in the Coral Cup. He beat Brampour easily on his comeback run over 2m before getting stuck in the mud back at 2½m behind top class Oscar Whisky.
Understandably Tony McCoy has chosen Darlan as he’s much less exposed and might feasibly be a Champion Hurdle horse, but there’s nothing like as much between them as the betting suggests. If the ground isn’t too bad I’ll be backing Get Me Out Of Here on the day if he’s still around 20/1. He really doesn’t look to like testing conditions though so I can’t put him up now with the forecast as it is. If it’s a bog, it’s a race not to have a bet in.
With Dynaste looking hard to oppose but likely to be long odds-on in the Feltham, it’s over to Leopardstown for the other bet. Whilst too much is often made of horses needing a specific trip, (good horses tend to be effective at a range of trips,) the most specialist division of 2m chasing is where trip is most crucial. The ability to jump at such speed (in good 2m chases) is a rare commodity and quality horses dropping back in trip often struggle against 2 milers of similar ability.
The Grade 1 novice chase over 2m1f at Leopardstown on Wednesday presents just that conundrum as it looks a match between Arvika Ligeonniere (5/6) and Oscars Well (7/4). The former was a runaway winner of the Drinmore over 2m4f showing loads of toe. I'm a big fan and wouldn’t be surprised if he was the best novice around. However, I doubt he should be odds-on against a horse significantly his superior over hurdles, over a trip that may be short of his best and without Ruby Walsh.
Oscars Well ran to an RPR of 164 in the Champion Hurdle and Irish equivalent last season and has loads of pace. He should have no problem holding a position behind Arvika Ligeonniere and he stays well enough that the finish being run out of him shouldn't be an issue.
Oscars Well got his chasing career back on track at Navan last time with a powerful display and in my tissue I’m struggling to split his proven class and the huge promise of Arvika Ligeonniere. My gut reaction is Oscars Well might win at 2m and Arvika Ligeonniere at 2m4f. Although there's nothing much in it in my book, there is with the bookies. Oscars Well is 7/4, which is the wrong price and well worth a bet.