Matt Tombs / Monday 8th April 2013 / 14:15
It may not have been the race of the season in that it wasn’t really a race – but Sprinter Sacre was ludicrously good again in the Melling Chase, (2m4f). The extra ½m was no issue at all as he breezed past Ryanair winner Cue Card and won hard held again by 4½l. He has to prove longevity and his effectiveness over further to prove he’s better than Kauto Star and Desert Orchid but in terms of sheer talent only, I think he’s already the best of modern times.
His French breeders have said he needs to be running at 3m and every racing fan will be hoping for good ground at Kempton at Christmas and that connections are brave, (4/1 for the King George). With the possible exception of stablemate Simonsig, there looks nothing exciting coming out of the novice ranks, and if he follows the same path next season there’s unlikely to be any real challenge for him.
Perhaps it’s the embarrassment of riches currently at Seven Barrows, but listening to Nicky Henderson you get the feeling he wants to be bolder with his top horses. Cheltenham will, rightly, always remain his top priority but boldness was rewarded here and with a horse this good his legacy really matters. Hacking round in level weights 2m races where he has 30lb in hand isn’t the legacy this magnificent horse deserves. More immediately, he’ll hopefully go to Punchestown before being roughed off for the season. He’s 1/2 for the Champion Chase.
Cue Card ran a blinder to keep tabs with Sprinter Sacre for so long. That may have been because Barry Geraghty didn’t want to let Sprinter Sacre stride on too soon on his first try over 2m4f. He’s a top class horse in his own right and on decent ground has an excellent chance in the King George. If you knew Sprinter Sacre wasn’t going to run, then 12/1 would be a steal and I think he should be 2nd favourite.
It’s hard not to be disappointed with Flemenstar as on form there was no way he should have been so far behind Cue Card. Whether it was the travel, the ground or whether a hard race when ill in the Irish Hennessy has taken it’s toll – he was below form here. He has a bit to prove now to show he’s the superstar he looked earlier in the season.
The Top Novices’ Hurdles (2m) was a desperately weak renewal with only 4 going to post, and only 1 runner from the Supreme, runner-up My Tent Or Yours. This looked an open goal (4/11) and despite jumping poorly early on he warmed to the simple task to win on the bridle. This proved nothing but he remains a leading contender for the Champion Hurdle (7/1) next season, though connections are mulling over a switch to fences. He’d be an obvious contender for the Arkle, (not yet quoted.) The other 3 will need to jump much better to have a future over obstacles.
It’s frustrating when you have a chunky bet on a horse and it gets turned over, only to win next time, at what in retrospect looks a juicy price. That’s what happened when Jewson 2nd Dynaste (9/4) bounced back to form in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase (3m1f). He looked a top notch novice again here and dispelled fears about his effectiveness in the spring on good ground.
16/1 for the Gold Cup looks generous as, of the 4 in front of him in the market, Sprinter Sacre is an unlikely runner and the other 3 had hard races in this year’s renewal. The King George (8/1) is the obvious target given his Feltham win, but its much more likely he could face Sprinter Sacre or Simonsig as well as the likes of Cue Card there.
His Excellency confirmed himself a smart novice, running another good race without ever looking like winning. He has plenty of ability and is versatile but isn’t one to trust in a finish. They were well clear of Rocky Creek who was disappointing for all that this track might have been a bit sharp for him. It was interesting to hear co-owner Andy Stewart saying that this run ought to get him well handicapped for the Hennessy next season and he might prove more effective on genuinely good to soft ground.
The Topham tends to be a race where experience over the National fences counts for a lot, but this year’s finish was fought out between two newcomers Triolo D’Alene and Walkon. Triolo D’Alene had been a quiet fancy for the Paddy Power Gold Cup but has got stuck in the mud during the winter leaving him well handicapped off a 6lb lower mark (132) here. He’s apparently not been an easy horse to train but he’s the type who might well enjoy further success over these obstacles, for all he wouldn’t look to have the stamina for the National itself.
Walkon might be more of a National type having stayed on really well to give the runner a race here. That’s the third time this season he’s been runner-up in a big handicap and he certainly deserves to win a decent pot. He’ll be up the low 150s now so his mark will need some managing with the National in mind.
Having thought that Giorgio Quercus was the Henderson plot horse for this, you’d reckon I might have considered backing Triolo D’Alene at 28/1 in the morning when Barry Geraghty chose him instead. Giorgio Quercus was running well before David Bass was knocked off by a loose horse 4 from home. He jumps these big fences well and should be a player in these events as he remains well handicapped.
Listening to connections comments about a horse can be an invaluable aid to punting, and AP McCoy tends to be pretty forthright about the horses he rides. Even those closest to a horse often get surprised though and I had let myself get convinced that At Fishers Cross wouldn’t act on good ground, in some part due AP expressing the same view. That theory can be put to bed as he bolted up again here in the Grade 1 Sefton (extended 3m) – admittedly from an ordinary field.
His win crowned a good day for Cheltenham form in the graded events. Crucially, his jumping is improving and that should stand him in good stead in open company next season. He deserves to be amongst the favourites for the World Hurdle but 5/1 isn’t a betting proposition.
Just A Par had bustled up Many Clouds (subsequent runner up in the EBF Final off 136) at Exeter and ran well for a horse having just his 3rd run under rules here. Paul Nicholls clearly saw this light campaign hurdling as getting experience into him for novice chasing next season. He’s not quoted for the RSA at the moment but looks a potential contender for that.
The 2m4f handicap hurdle looked a cracking affair, with stacks of potentially well handicapped types. The honours went to the novice Minella Forfitness (off 135) who had run with the choke out and looked immature in previous starts. For a horse held in high regard in the Henderson camp, he’d been kept to lower grade races this season as he learnt his job. He’s run mainly on decent ground so far and this former point winner looks a super novice chase prospect when getting his conditions next season.
Clerk’s Choice is still only 7 and was rated 160 when beaten only 11½l in Hurricane Fly’s first Champion Hurdle in 2011. He’s very ground dependent though, and excels on proper quick ground. He’ll go up a few pounds from 141 for this but having got the 2m4f well enough on his first try, there are plenty of options for him during the spring. He shouldn’t be underestimated if getting ideal underfoot conditions. Meister Eckhart followed up his fine run in the Coral Cup with another good effort here off 147. Alan King has made no secret that he thinks he’ll take high rank as a novice chaser next season.
The Mares’ Bumper produced a good performance from the unbeaten Legacy Gold who made it 3 out of 3 in fine style for amateur Stephen Crawford. She’d beaten Runswick Royal on debut, who went on to run a good second in the 4 year old’s Grade 1 on Thursday, so her form was there for all to see. She’s quite small but she has an engine and if she takes to hurdles, she could easily end up at the Festival for one of the novice hurdles next season.