Matt Tombs / Monday 26th November 2012 / 14:00
The big races in Britain were run on unusually soft ground on Saturday and punters who can interpret the form will be at a big advantage. The Betfair Chase was won by Silviniaco Conti who jumped much better than Long Run to score by 2½l, (3m, soft). He benefitted from a Walsh masterclass in front here and bypasses the King George, (7/1 for the Gold Cup and may not run before then.) He might be the type to keep surprising me but he won’t get to dictate in the same way in championship races and this may be his day in the sun, (metaphorically).
Long Run jumped scratchily and his proven stamina wasn’t used to put the winner under pressure. He looked like he’ll benefit from match practice - he’s out to 10/1 for the Gold Cup and that looks about right. The Giant Bolster ran a sound race in 3rd and he should progress again on better ground back at his favoured Cheltenham, (25/1 for the Gold Cup.)
The fixed brush handicap hurdle (3m) has produced some smart winners and Trustan Times put in a really good effort to win off top weight (142). The six year old didn’t look to take to chasing and having won this off a higher mark than Grands Crus and Dynaste he looks worth a shot at the top staying hurdles given the paucity of opposition to Big Buck’s. He’s 20/1 for the World Hurdle and would be a live outsider if proving he can cope with better ground.
Captain Chris was very much favoured by the weights in the Amlin Chase at Ascot and Richard Johnson scraped paint all the way round to keep him straight at his fences, beating For Non Stop (who gave 6lb) by 3¾l, (extended 2m3f, heavy). The winner looked far from straightforward and he won’t get away with Johnson’s clever mollycoddling again in the King George - 12/1 doesn’t appeal with stamina also a question mark. Finian’s Rainbow hasn’t gone as well fresh as his record suggests and giving the weight away in unsuitably testing ground was a big ask. He’s well worth another chance, but this looked to confirm he wasn’t a stayer and the Champion Chase (9/1) or Ryanair (10/1) look the Festival options.
The top horses over intermediate trips are often underestimated and Oscar Whisky was only a shade of odds-on in the morning but was backed into a more accurate 8/15 before bolting up in the Grade 2 hurdle (extended 2m3f.) He treated some good horses with disdain here and looks a champion at this distance. A hat trick in the Aintree Hurdle is the likely priority – he’s 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle but would need unusually soft ground, (seemed to relish the heavy ground here).
The 2m handicap chase at Ascot looked competitive but the long absent William’s Wishes showed a good turn of foot to run away from Champion Court after the last. He was only running off 135 and his light weight helped in the ground - but having shown form on good ground previously, he looks worth following. The 2m chase division lacks depth and whilst he’ll go up a fair bit for this it may not be enough to stop him unless he bounces, (didn’t have too hard a race). It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him lining up in the Champion Chase.
Nicky Henderson is amongst a number of trainers who’ve complained that the reduced number of novice chases means too few opportunities, but he could hardly have wished for a less competitive event than the one Broadbackbob won on at 30/100 on Monday at Plumpton, (2m4f, good to soft.) Given the excellent £60,000 bonus offered if the winner of certain novice chases at the track wins a chase at the Festival, Plumpton deserve better fields. They went no pace here and he was careful in the first half of the race before jumping much better once they started racing. He may have been slightly fortunate to beat Cinders and Ashes last season but it was still a smart effort - his best trip isn’t clear but this may be it and he looks to have the potential to contest the Jewson (20/1).
The novice chase at Haydock on Friday (2m6f, soft) featured 5 runners rated 138 or higher over hurdles. In the tiring ground two came clear and Poungach got his career back on track by beating Super Duty by 2¼l. He looks a really idle type as the first time cheekpieces didn’t stop him needing to be stoked up a long way out, but he showed he was tough at the business end. He’d be interesting tried over a marathon trip and might be one for the four miler, though he’s not obviously an amateur's ride.
Later on that card Clondaw Kaempfer looked a good prospect in the listed novice hurdle, (2m) beating a fair type in Lienosus (who received 6lb) comfortably. For a pointer he looks a speedy type and he’ll be interesting in top novice company, (16/1 for the Supreme and 12/1 for the Neptune.)
It was a quiet week in Ireland and Hidden Cyclone took the next step on the road towards top company by easily accounting for RSA 3rd Call The Police (who received 4lb) by 4¼l at Gowran, (2m4f, heavy). Shark Hanlon hadn’t had a winner since Hidden Cyclone won in late October and further progression looks likely with experience and as the stable hits better form. He’s got plenty to make up with Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs but looks well worth his place in the Lexus. He’s a classic ‘visuals’ horse. You couldn’t be sure if he’s up to championship level at the moment, but if watching his runs you think you can see something special - 25/1 would be generous for the Gold Cup.
The other notable runner at Gowran was Aupcharlie, the Champion Bumper 3rd from 2 seasons ago, in the beginners chase, (2m4f). He was a bit disappointing as a novice hurdler but looked a natural chaser, easily accounting for a decent field and he might well come into his own over longer trips on better ground. He hasn’t always convinced with his finishing effort and we’ll know more once he tackles better company. He’s 25/1 for the RSA.
The Supreme Novices is often the biggest race for hype horses at the Festival. With a few horses having already shown strong form on the track, it was good to see one of the hype horses, Don Cossack, also look a really good prospect when easily beating a fair type in Sizing Gold at Navan, (2m, heavy.) He looked a natural jumper, which should stand him in good stead as he goes up in class. He remains 12/1 for the Supreme, but connections are talking of a step up in trip, (14/1 for the Neptune), and looking after him for a chasing career so he doesn’t appeal as an ante-post bet.
On the same card, Sword of Destiny defied a drop back in trip to 2m1f to account for Darwin’s Fox by 6l in the beginners chase. Given the hard race he had less than a month earlier against Buckers Bridge this was a taking performance. 25/1 for the RSA looks really generous for such a talented horse, though he hasn’t proved himself on good ground.
The Grade 2 2m4f novice hurdle was run in the fog so you couldn’t see much more than Busty Brown outstayed some highly touted opponents. Trying to analyse this probably isn’t a good use of energy, but the winner is 16/1 for the Albert Bartlett. He’s worth keeping an eye on.
Finally, as I only follow the top end of jumps racing I rarely go to meetings during the week, but on Tuesday I went to Folkestone given its imminent closure. As a Man of Kent I did feel a bit nostalgic, especially as the beer (Hobgoblin) and food (Thai is excellent) are better than plenty of Grade 1 tracks. Sadly, the reality is we have far more courses than is economic and they’ve been kept alive artificially through the levy. The inability of tracks to stage their own racing and so attract sponsorship and good horses makes it hard to see how a course like Folkestone can really progress. Concentrating what money we do have on a smaller number of higher standard courses is probably the future, so I suspect other small courses will also close over the next few years.