Matt Tombs / Friday 5th April 2013 / 10:45
1pt Flemenstar to win the Melling (3.05) @ 7/1
1pt Rocky Creek to win the Mildmay (2.30) @ 11/4
1pt Giorgio Quercus to win the Topham (3.40) @ 33/1
The Melling Chase is a mouthwatering prospect with Sprinter Sacre, Flemenstar and Cue Card locking horns, and last year’s winner Finian’s Rainbow on a retrieval mission – it’s the race of the season. Any day you get to see Sprinter Sacre racing is a good one and he was majestic again in the Champion Chase, dismissing his one serious rival, Sizing Europe, by 19l. Visually, I’ve never seen a more impressive chaser and it’s hard to know how good he is - he’s certainly already worth a rating well into the 180s. He could easily be a 190+ horse on what we’ve seen (officially rated 188) and he’s going to be extremely hard to beat wherever he runs.
However, he faces much his hardest test to date here. Firstly, he’s stepping up to 2m4f (it’s great that connections aren’t wedded to the ‘easy’ route of 3 or 4 Grade 1s over 2m each season.) Much has been made of the stamina in his pedigree but it’s also possible he’s a 2 miler pure and simple. In what is likely to be a really strongly run race it’s quite feasible he won’t stay – I wouldn’t read too much into it, but he was beaten in an ordinary novice hurdle the only time he’s been stepped up to 2½m.
The obvious parallel is Master Minded. He also won the Champion Chase on the bridle by 19l – and he beat a 7 year old defending champion (Voy Por Ustedes) not an 11 year old ex-champion. He looked unbeatable at that time and was rated 186, only 2lb lower than Sprinter Sacre. He started 2/5 in this race and was beaten 18l by Voy Por Ustedes – not looking to get the trip, but perhaps having a harder race at Cheltenham than it looked.
On paper Sprinter Sacre faces a harder task than Master Minded did. Flemenstar has looked much the classiest chaser in Ireland this season, blowing Gold Cup runner up Sir Des Champs out of the way over this trip at Punchestown. He didn’t get home under restraint over 3m in the Lexus and was under the weather when edged out in the Irish Hennessy, again over 3m.
He’s going to be allowed to bowl along and use his jumping here and no horse has been able to live with him yet when he’s done that – though of course he hasn’t taken on anything of Sprinter Sacre’s class yet. Whilst he was ‘only’ rated 173 for his Punchestown win, he could easily be a lot better than that as Sir Des Champs didn’t have the class to test him over that trip. If there are stamina defects in Sprinter Sacre’s make up, Flemenstar’s bold jumping, front running style will expose them ruthlessly. He missed Cheltenham and comes here a fresh horse, though this is his first trip to England and whilst his trainer is confident he’s matured into a good traveller that is a lingering concern.
Cue Card was fantastic in the Ryanair, beating a good field decisively and First Lieutenant franked the form yesterday. In a normal year he’d be a worthy short priced favourite for this. He’s a top class horse but he’s facing one, and possibly two, exceptional horses here. His jumping is much the least good of the 3 and he won’t get a soft lead out front with Flemenstar in the race. He also goes well fresh and although he won the Ryanair comfortably, he has quite a hard race to get over.
My book is 4/7 Sprinter Sacre, 100/30 Flemenstar, 9/1 Cue Card, 25/1 any other winner. The best prices are 4/11 Sprinter Sacre, 7/1 Flemenstar, 7/1 Cue Card so it’s not a hard decision to work out which horse to back if you want a bet – but this is such a good race that it’s one to relish more than bet on.
It’s just as well that the Melling Chase is such a great race as the rest of the card is disappointing. Incredibly, only 5 go to post for the Top Novices’ Hurdle (average field this century 12) - with it looking a tap in for My Tent Or Yours (8/15).
The presence of the Manifesto has led to only 6 lining up in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase (3m1f) and for the first time in 13 years there is no runner from the RSA. I’ve banged on that Rocky Creek (11/4) was the ideal type for the RSA - to some extent the Mildmay Novice Chase (3m1f) is time to find out whether I was right. This less stiff course might not be ideal for him but the presence of Dynaste helps make the book and he’s too big at 11/4.
Dynaste (2/1) is the big imponderable of the race. He looked brilliant in the autumn and if you think he’ll reproduce that sort of form, he should be odds-on. However, having travelled well in the Jewson his effort really flattened out and the concerns about his effectiveness in the spring and on good ground are increasing. I couldn’t back him at short odds with those question marks.
Sea of Thunder (8/1) is a genuine fast ground horse. He bolted up on quick ground at Clonmel in September and ran a decent race on dead ground to be 2l 2nd to Sire Collonges at Cheltenham in October with decent sorts like Ackertac well beaten. The ground is crucial to him – had it been genuinely good I would have been backing him, but significant (3-4mm) further watering occurred last evening so it’ll probably be on the easy side today and the fancy prices disappeared last night.
The Grade 1 Sefton novice hurdle has been a minefield for punters in recent seasons, with Lovcen (8/1) last year being the shortest priced winner since Black Jack Ketchum 7 years ago. Plenty of short priced favourites have bitten the dust in the meantime including Fingal Bay (13/8) and Albert Bartlett winner Wichita Lineman (4/6,) so I wouldn’t want to be ploughing into At Fishers Cross at 11/8, even before concerns about his effectiveness on better ground and a hard race at Cheltenham are factored in. Given how downbeat AP McCoy was about his chances at the Festival until the ground got really soft, he’s one I’m itching to take on.
I’d been anticipating he’d be opposed by a stack of promising unexposed types but it may not be that strong a field against him. The obvious one is Road To Riches (6/1) whose looked a horse with a real future when beating some decent types including Pride Of The Parish in Ireland. The emphasis is very much on future though and he’s probably more a horse for next season over fences.
I’d fancied Our Vinnie at a double figure price but he’s been taken out this morning. Having looked at the others again, I can make similar cases for several of them at the prices. Whilst I was hoping for a stronger field to take At Fisher’s Cross on with as I thought he’d still be pretty short – if you want a bet in this race, then laying him would be the advice.
The Topham Handicap Chase (extended 2m5f) is an incredible race for specialists where handicap form over park fences seems to go out of the window. In the last 9 years, 7 of the winners had run in the race before and another had run in the National - only five year old Gwanako was having his first run over the National fences. 8 of the 30 runners have run in the race before with another 3 having experience over the National fences in other races.
Of the newcomers to the National fences Walkon (28/1) is only 3lb higher than when an excellent 2nd in a much better race (the Paddy Power) and 2lb lower than when again 2nd at Cheltenham to Unioniste, (who received 17lb). If he takes to the fences and the ground isn’t too quick, he could outclass these.
Chance Du Roy (12/1) is the obvious choice of those to have run in this before, having finished 2nd to 3 time winner Always Waining on his debut over the fences last year off 148, and he gets in off 2lb lower this time. He did fall in the Grand Sefton in the autumn though and it’s a long time since any horse won this off such a high mark.
At a much bigger price, I’m chancing Giorgio Quercus (33/1). He’s 14lb lower than when showing well for a long way in this last year off 150, only to fade into 10th. He looks as if he’s been trained for this all season by Nicky Henderson, who’ll be delighted with his handicap mark of 136. Nicky won this race with Liberthine 7 years ago who’d also been amongst the also-rans the previous year and it’s worth remembering this horse was good enough to run in the Arkle 2 seasons ago. I think Barry Geraghty may have made the wrong choice with Triolo D’Alene and in a typically open renewal Giorgio Quercus is good value.