Matt Tombs / Monday 18th March 2013 / 15:10
As if the week hadn’t been tricky enough, Gold Cup day dawned with drying ground but the prospect of material rain falling – so the ground was very much an unknown quantity for anyone wanting to bet in the morning.
It had been drizzling for an hour by the time the tapes went up for the Triumph and the ground was already getting soft, which made this a test of stamina for these 4 year olds. I use juvenile races as a source of information rather than a betting medium and it’s hard to recall a more impressive winner of the race than Our Conor. It might turn out it was an ordinary field, many of whom didn’t get home, but at this stage you have to give credit to the winner. 5 year olds have a desperate record in the Champion Hurdle (5/1) and are almost always worth opposing in that race, but I’m more open-minded about Our Conor.
The County Hurdle is usually a fiendish puzzle to solve but Ted Veale had jumped out at 25/1 ante-post, so it was great to see him powering along in the straight and he was always holding the progressive Tennis Cap. He looked as if he might win by further at one stage but it looked like his stamina was starting to ebb away up the hill. He was winning off 134 here and he’ll be a worthy contender for the 2m Grade 1 novice hurdle at Punchestown, especially if getting better ground.
Hurricane Fly apart, there’s a real shortage of open Grade 1 hurdlers at the minimum trip in Ireland and it’s possible that Ted Veale could make the step up next season as the likes of Harchibald and Thousand Stars have done after running well in this off similar marks. With another summer strengthening up he should stay the 2m better.
Runner up Tennis Cap has been a revelation since forcing tactics were employed and off 141 he emerges the best horse at the weights. He looks the right type for the Arkle next season and would be a great sight over fences if similarly bold tactics are used.
In the Albert Bartlett I’d been very much against At Fishers Cross in the lead up to Cheltenham as he looked to need really soft ground. The rain was a godsend to him and with my fancy Ballycasey a late scratch, this only looked an average field against him. He was much the best on the day, his stamina proving decisive as it had when beating The New One here over 3½f shorter on really heavy ground here in January. He has to prove he can handle good ground before he’s an ante-post proposition for the World Hurdle (8/1).
Runner up African Gold’s form had got a boost when Close Touch took the EBF Final the previous weekend and he ran a good race in defeat, without ever looking like winning. This 5 year old looks the obvious type for the RSA chase next season. Plenty of the principles in the Albert Bartlett have trained on well but this was much more of a slog, so care needs to be taken before backing either of these two on their next couple of runs.
Even with fresh ground the going was genuinely testing for the Gold Cup – the time was the slowest since Desert Orchid won in 1989 on heavy ground and 9 seconds slower than the slowest in the interim when Master Oats won in 1995. They looked to go a good enough gallop and they finished tired, so given how top class horses have taken a season to get over Gold Cup exertions in recent seasons, there has to be a question mark over the prospects of some of those involved in the finish here.
Stamina is Bobs Worth's forte and having looked in trouble coming down the hill he really powered home as his rivals toiled, and won going away. Whilst he didn’t seem to enjoy the soft ground, it definitely helped draw the sting from the others. I’d be astonished if he went to Punchestown after this. 7/2 to retain his crown makes no appeal as he’d be susceptible to a speedier type next season and has to prove this race hasn’t left its mark – he was the one still galloping at the finish so if there is a horse for next season out of the first four home, it’s probably him.
Sir Des Champs and Long Run looked to have it between them turning in, but both got pretty tired up the hill and were well seen off in the end. Like the winner, they’d benefit from a break until next season now but given the perceived weakness of this season’s staying novices, they might be horses to take on first time out at short prices next season, (8/1 and 16/1 respectively for the Gold Cup.)
I’d been a late convert to Silviniaco Conti and he looked to be going best when coming down 3 out. The late rain had really played against him though and I’m doubtful if he’d have had the stamina to beat Bobs Worth if he had stood up. He was apparently fine afterwards and is likely to run again this season. From a longer-term point of view this might have been a blessing in disguise, as a slog up the hill could have bottomed this comparatively speedy type. The 9/1 available about him for next year’s renewal makes most appeal of this season’s runners, but my hunch is there’ll be a new name on the trophy next season.
The Foxhunters featured my nap of the week, having had a decent bet on last year’s winner Salsify at 10/1 ante-post, (2/1 SP). Given how long it was since a young hunter last came back to defend the title, he looked to have been seriously underestimated. However, he much prefers good ground so the rain was a big negative.
As usual he was held up out the back, but he made smooth progress coming down the hill and turning in he looked likely to sweep past Oscar Delta, as he did last year, and win easily. However, he didn’t quicken this time on the soft ground and Oscar Delta went away again between the last two. Salsify was hard ridden and had only reduced the deficit to about 3 or 4 lengths when Oscar Delta jinked at the tape, and Jane Mangan fell off.
Salsify wasn’t going to quicken to catch him so unless Oscar Delta was just very tired, he’d very likely have won. It’s hard to know why he did what he did. His jockey suggested he thought he had to go round again but he did weaken badly on the run in last year and perhaps he was remembering that. In any event Salsify was a lucky winner, but after a fair bit of misfortune during the week I wasn’t complaining.
It would be easy to dismiss the conditional jockey’s handicap hurdle as a likely source of high class performers but it had thrown up Sir Des Champs and Midnight Chase in its relatively short history. This year’s unexposed winner Salubrious looks a horse with a future. He had chased home the Albert Bartlett 1-2 At Fishers Cross and African Gold in two runs in December before winning at Musselburgh. He hacked up here and looks a good prospect for novice chases next season.
I’m a big fan of having the Grand Annual as the last race of the meeting as the sight of twenty-odd 2m chasers flying round leaves a great final impression of the Festival. The key horse in this year’s race was last year’s favourite Kid Cassidy who was off a 2lb lower mark (143) this time. He’s a very headstrong sort and had not been streetwise enough last year, but after a couple of educational runs in the autumn he’d been put away for this. Paul Carberry had been booked to try and repeat his ultra cool late run on a similarly tricky type in Bellvano last season. He looked the one potential Grade 1 horse in the field so seemed the obvious bet at double figure odds.
Unfortunately Paul got injured earlier in the day and 3lb claimer Jerry McGrath went on coming down the hill and was collared by Tony McCoy on Alderwood as they bypassed what would normally be the last. It was a great training performance by Tom Mullins to get him to win back to back Festival handicaps as a novice in both disciplines at 8 and 9. He may improve again on better ground and goes to Punchestown as a realistic contender for the 2m Grade 1 novice chase in what looks a weak division. The runner-up will go up a bit for this, but with a more experienced jockey he might well be a contender for something like the Red Rum at Aintree.
Alderwood’s win was the 14th for Irish trained horses and meant that for the first time they won more races at the Festival than their British trained counterparts. That’s a great effort, especially considering the effect economic conditions have had on the sport in Ireland. Unlike last year when they relied mainly on Willie Mullins, other Irish trainers had 9 winners.
It was a ‘pull it out of the fire’ sort of week, but the portfolio ended 8 points up, (24% profit to settled bets,) which is a decent result. It’s not one to be overjoyed about but it felt coming into the Festival that it was a tougher than usual year and the key thing is try to have an approach that will make money virtually every year. That way the best week of the year is always that bit better and we’ll be playing with the bookmaker’s money at Fairyhouse, Aintree and Punchestown…