Matt Tombs / Thursday 8th November 2012 / 12:15
It’s particularly important to follow the action in novice chases and hurdles in the early part of the autumn. It’ll surprise many that the majority of the horses who win or are placed in the 6 level weights graded all-age novice events at the Festival, (Arkle, Jewson, RSA, Supreme, Neptune & Albert Bartlett) run before the end of October. With the wet autumn that proportion is likely to be higher this year so it’s a huge advantage to be on top of the early season form.
The most exciting novice chaser I’ve seen so far is Champion Hurdle 6th Oscars Well who jumped the stiff Punchestown fences well to beat 135 rated hurdler Darwin’s Fox by 12l on the bridle, (2m, heavy.) He looks an obvious contender for the Grade 1 novice chases. There’s some debate about his best trip – he looks to have the toe to mix it in the Arkle (10/1) but you couldn’t be confident he wouldn’t end up in the Jewson (12/1) so both prices look about right. He steps up to 2m4f for the Drinmore next.
A possible opponent in the Arkle is 147 rated hurdler Sire De Grugy who made an encouraging chasing debut at Kempton (2m, good,) showing lots of pace and a liking for fences when thrashing a fair field. He’s always looked a chaser in the making and 2m looks his trip. He does look significantly better on soft ground though, so he’s one to keep an eye on in the run up to the Festival in case the ground is softer than usual, (20/1 for the Arkle).
The first 4 home in the beginners chase at Naas (2m, soft) were all rated over 130 over hurdles and it looked a good race. Jenari won a Grade 2 novice hurdle on good ground over 2m4f last season and he stayed on well to grind down Dylan Ross (who, not for the first time, didn’t look to go through with his effort) by 1¼l, with Mount Benbulben (should improve for the experience and a step up in trip) 4l away 3rd. Jenari is at his best on good ground and he could well be a candidate for the Jewson.
As usual, the picture for the RSA looks much more open. A mouthwatering clash between Challow Hurdle winner Fingal Bay and 152 rated Poungach at Chepstow failed to materialize when then latter failed to get the landing gear out at the first (extended 2m3f, good to soft.) After ballooning the first couple Fingal Bay measured his fences really well and looked as if he’d jump better off a stronger pace. He wasn’t at all impressive at the business end though, having to be driven out to beat Tiger O’Toole (who gave 8lb and has been well beaten off 131 since) by 1½l. He may have been idling as he did in the Challow but he may also be a bit short of pace. He might be the type to get beaten in steadily run novice chases, before performing better at the Festival. He’s still 10/1 for the RSA and he’s better judged after another run.
At Galway, (2m6f, heavy) the inform Dessie Hughes saddled Lyreen Legend to account for Ipsos Du Berlais and Carlingford Lough (rated 139 & 144 respectively over hurdles.) The winner was really tough and consistent as a novice hurdler last season and could be even better over fences. He may be the type to go well at a big price in the RSA, especially if the ground isn’t too quick.
In the 2m4f novice chase at Punchestown Sword of Destiny looked to have mastered Buckers Bridge after a prolonged duel, only to land awkwardly at the last, virtually come to a standstill and go down by 1½l, (heavy). They both look cracking prospects for the top novice chases at this distance and upwards, but my guess is Sword of Destiny will reverse the form if they re-oppose, especially at 3m+ (won a Grade 3 novice hurdle over 3m last season.) It’s worth noting they both finished tired here having taken each other on from a long way out. Hopefully they’ll get a break now but if they were turned out quickly they could be worth taking them on at a short price. Sword of Destiny is 33/1 for the RSA, Buckers Bridge is 40/1.
Back in Focus won a 2m6f beginners chase on bottomless ground at Listowel, beating 136 rated White Star Line by a distance. The runner up would have hated the ground and so the form doesn’t amount to much but he jumped well and visually looked impressive. He stays really well (won a heavy ground 3m Grade 2 novice hurdle at Haydock) and looks the ideal type for the 3m Grade 1 novice chase at Leopardstown at Christmas. He didn’t look happy on his only run on good ground when well beaten in the Sefton, so couldn’t be backed for the RSA at this stage, (20/1).
One novice who’d have course form if lining up in the RSA is Sire Collonges, who beat the race fit Sea of Thunder 2l at levels, (extended 3m, good to soft). The winner has apparently taken a fair time to acclimatise and was disappointing over hurdles. Paul Nicholls said he’s a hard horse to get fit and he should come on a lot. Sea of Thunder is a real fast ground horse so might not a good yardstick on dead ground but visually the way they powered clear of a fair field a long way out suggested Sire Collonges will hold his own in top novice company. They are 16/1 and 25/1 for the RSA respectively with the winner making much more appeal, given really quick ground is so unlikely.
3 hurdlers rated between 131 & 142 lined up for a 3m novice chase at Chepstow (good to soft) but they were comprehensively upstaged by the lightly raced Masters Hill. Colin Tizzard thought he’d need the run and whilst time may show this wasn’t as strong a field as it looked, he’s well worth keeping an eye on when upped in class next time to see if he’s an RSA contender.
The unluckiest loser I’ve seen so far is Keppols Hill who was clear when blundering at the last at Ffos Las (3m, soft), losing all momentum and just failing to get back up to beat 139 rated hurdler Makethe Mostofnow. The 6 year old Keppols Hill had been kept to points last season due to immaturity and he still looked green here in the straight. He showed plenty of ability though and stamina looks his strong suit. He’d have to get a lot more streetwise in the next 5 months to contest the grueling RSA (33/1), so he’s one to watch at this stage.
At this time of year every easy maiden hurdle winner can look a potential star. There’s only so much you can glean from such visuals and it’s a case of tracking them as they take on better opposition. Possibly the best performance in the novice hurdling division so far came from Mr Mole, who easily disposed of this year’s Punchestown Champion Bumper runner up Melodic Rendezvous at Exeter, (2m1f, good to soft). The runner up wants a good bit further but Mr Mole looks a good recruit with plenty of scope for improvement (a bit green here.) He looks to have plenty of pace and could make up into a Supreme contender, (25/1).
Champion Bumper 6th The New One took a Newton Abbot novice by 26l (2m3f, soft) and then overcame a series of untidy jumps to beat Village Vic (who received 5lb) in a novice hurdle at Cheltenham (2m5f, good to soft). He stays well and is only 4 so if he improves his jumping he might make up into an Albert Bartlett contender, (though that’s a tough race and only Moulin Riche in the inaugural running has won as a 5 year old.)
At Fairyhouse, Sizing Rio sauntered clear of the odds-on Cops and Robbers who won at Wexford later in the week, (4 year olds hurdle, 2m, soft). He’s well thought of and looks a contender for the Royal Bond, (25/1 for the Supreme). Sizing Rio won in a 10 seconds faster time than Waaheb who’d been second in last year’s Punchestown Champion Bumper, but had been off since. He was a bit novicey on occasions and Dermot Weld plans on bringing him on slowly, with better ground in the spring in mind, (12/1 for the Supreme).
Jezki (8th in the Champion Bumper) showed lots of toe to sweep past the odds-on Ally Cascade on the run in at Naas, (4 year olds maiden hurdle, 2m, soft). The way the pair quickened away 24l clear of 118 rated To The Sky off a modest pace suggests this was decent form. He looks a 2 miler and good ground should suit – he might be good enough for the Supreme, (40/1).
At Bangor, former Northumberland Plate winner Tominator made a successful debut over hurdles beating a poor field easily, (2m1f, good to soft.) He didn’t look a natural at his hurdles though, more than once landing on his back legs and being slow away. He was rated 100 on the flat and if his hurdling improves he might be a contender for the top staying novice hurdles but on this showing he might be one to take on at a short price against better horses next time. He’s 20/1 for the Neptune & 16/1 for the Albert Bartlett & Supreme.
A very different type is former point winner Clonbanan Lad who faded to finish 12th in the Champion Bumper. He opened his account over hurdles with the minimum of fuss when beating the well regarded Operating at Punchestown, (2m, heavy.) It’s easy to assume pointers are all about stamina, but plenty end up 2 milers and it might have been lack of stamina rather than class that did for him at Cheltenham. He’s one to watch when upped in class and could end up in the Supreme, (33/1).