Matt Tombs / Wednesday 2nd January 2013 / 12:00
It’s always dangerous to get carried away with form in bottomless ground but with so much of the racing taking place on it, (every race below was run on heavy going,) calculating how horses will react to the likely sound surface at the Festival will be even more important than usual.
A heavy ground King George is rare and the form of Long Run’s victory needs treating with caution. The race was full of horses stepping up in trip and few got home. Stamina is his strong suit these days and he ground down Captain Chris close home. It was great to see him record another big win but the suspicion remains that something will do him for toe in the Gold Cup. Kempton probably suits him better than Cheltenham and whilst the extra 2½f should help, I think he’ll need plenty of give in the ground to win – he’s now 7/1.
Captain Chris had looked a difficult ride when winning at Ascot but jumped much straighter here and ran a blinder, only to get outstayed. If he can prove as effective going left handed, 25/1 for the Gold Cup would be tempting as much better ground will suit. It’s worth noting the front two had hard races here and might benefit from being freshened up.
It’s hard to weigh up Grands Crus’ effort following a breathing operation. He ran well until fading in the straight, (lots of good horses behind.) Conditions should have been ideal though and the jury’s still out, (33/1 for the Gold Cup, 12/1 for the Ryanair.)
Cue Card didn’t get home after running keenly – whilst it’s hard to make judgments about his chances of staying the Gold Cup (40/1) trip from running in this sort of ground, the Ryanair (6/1) looks the obvious target. Connections will doubtless be checking that Sprinter Sacre gets to the Champion Chase in one piece, as he’d have fair claims in his absence (20/1).
When discussing the race in the stands just before the off I said I wasn’t worried by Riverside Theatre bombing at Aintree as it came just after a really hard race in the Ryanair. My friend suggested the Ryanair might have bottomed him and the way he ran suggested that might be the case, for all he’d apparently been working so well at home. He has plenty to prove now.
The Christmas Hurdle was another unsatisfactory top 2m hurdle as they crawled round and then sprinted in the straight. That played into the hands of the speed horses and Darlan bounded clear. This showed he’s in good form but little else. He didn’t look to enjoy the course in the Supreme and whilst he has the talent to win the Champion, 4/1 looks short given those question marks. That said, the vibes around him are really strong.
It was a surprise that Denis O’Regan allowed it to develop into a sprint as Countrywide Flame is a real stayer at the trip. He’s out to 20/1, which looks an over-reaction. Cinders and Ashes disappointed again and Jason Maguire was downbeat afterwards. He’s also 20/1 but if he can get a confidence booster in the interim he could yet be a contender assuming the ground dries out. Raya Star ran a sound race to finish 2nd and 28/1 is a bit of an insult for all he doesn’t look to have the star quality to win. Dodging Bullets is a speedy type but whilst a sprint should have suited, he was keen and wouldn’t have liked the ground. He’ll revert to novice company now and is 14/1 for the Supreme which is fair for a horse who’s already shown good enough form to be in the shake up.
It was only a fair field for the Feltham novice chase (3m) but Dynaste really impressed again, outclassing his field. His form has stacked up nicely, though he’ll have to overcome the Feltham hoodoo, (all 18 winners that have run in the RSA have been beaten.) Part of the reason for that record is that this often presents a relative test of speed and the RSA can be a really attritional contest – the heavy ground here means there’ll probably be less of a disparity between the two races this season. There doesn’t look a lot of depth to the RSA field at the moment and 5/2 is fair.
The 2m novice hurdle which kicked off the King George card is often a good contest and River Maigue put up a taking display to easily see off last season’s Champion Bumper runner up New Year’s Eve. The winner is a pointer but Nicky Henderson believes 2m on good ground will suit and he’s 14/1 for the Supreme. That looks skinny based on this but he’s clearly a good prospect. He’s better judged after another run than on his previous 2nd to Dodging Bullets as they sauntered round in that race. New Year’s Eve ran a sound race on his hurdling debut and should improve, especially when getting better ground. Interestingly he’s 20/1 for the Supreme but not quoted for the Neptune.
The following day the star of the show was Simonsig who annihilated Hinterland (who received 11lb) on his first try over 2m. Whilst Hinterland was never put in the race, Simonsig was impressive again showing loads of pace. He’s a good jumper – judged on this a bit different from Sprinter Sacre in that he’ll fiddle cleverly when in close. The Arkle looks desperately weak in terms of depth if Captain Conan and Oscars Well get diverted to the Jewson. We don’t know which route Overturn will go down yet (stayed well beyond 2m on the flat) so it’s possible Arvika Ligeonniere could be his only plausible rival – in that context 11/10 looks about right.
Menorah had looked very rusty when thrashed by Cue Card in the Haldon but jumped much better in the second half of the race here and was a decisive winner of the Peterborough, (extended 2m4f.) His jumping remains a worry but he has the ability to be a Grade 1 performer and the Ryanair is the obvious target – 16/1 looks on the generous side. I’d be interested to see him tried over 3m as if he could get into a rhythm he wouldn’t be the worst Gold Cup long shot. For Non Stop was disappointing here but he’d had a hard race at Ascot a month before and, if freshened up, might bounce back in the Ryanair (20/1).
The Desert Orchid Chase (2m) is hard to assess. Sanctuaire had gone really quick in the Tingle Creek to try and put Sprinter Sacre under pressure and understandably got very tired. Ruby Walsh looked to try and get a breather into him here but when he was headed after 4 out he looked set to fold again. To his credit he toughed it out and with Wishfull Thinking stopping quickly, he sprinted clear. He’s talented and should be more of a force on better ground - 14/1 for the Champion Chase looks about right. Wishfull Thinking has had lots of breathing problems and it looked as if that might be the problem again here, but connections said he hated the ground. He’s inconsistent, but with intermediate trips on good ground suiting ideally, 33/1 for the Ryanair makes some appeal.
The ground was especially heavy at Newbury, which made the Grade 1 Challow novice hurdle, (2m5f) a real slog. I’d fancied Taquin De Seuil to relish the test more than some of the speedier types and he bolted up. He’s 10/1 for the Neptune but that requires a faster type and he’d be better off in the Albert Bartlett (8/1). He’s adaptable groundwise and looks a leading contender if they go the 3m route.
Nicky Henderson had a 1-2 in the introductory novice hurdle on the card, (extended 2m,) but not in the order expected with Chatterbox readily outpointing long odds-on My Tent Or Yours, (who gave 5lb) by 4½l. The 4 year old winner looks a good prospect but is apparently not going to the Festival this year – he’s one to keep in mind for the longer term. The runner-up was given a lot to do and it looked a case of his being looked after when not acting on the ground. He’s out to 20/1 for the Supreme but is best judged after another run on better ground.
Earlier on that Newbury card there was a competitive looking novice chase, (2m2f). It produced a decent winner in French import Module but will probably be remembered for Tony McCoy managing to get Colour Squadron within 6l despite his saddle slipping at half way. They are 20/1 and 16/1 respectively for the Jewson, which looks right at this stage.
Finally, an interesting prospect for a staying handicap chase at the Festival is Monkerty Tunkerty, who won a 3m1½f handicap at Wincanton off 122. He’d been prolific in points and hunters for his owner / trainer and, used to being amateur ridden, could be the right type for the Kim Muir. With Festival handicaps less oversubscribed than in the boom years, 126 has got a run in the Kim Muir for the last two seasons and after a rise for this he could be ideally weighted. He should improve for better ground and it’ll be worth watching his entries and jockey bookings.