Matt Tombs / Monday 8th April 2013 / 14:15
The Grand National meeting kicked off on ground just on the easy side of good – a fair bit quicker than at Cheltenham. Watering meant it didn’t change much throughout the meeting – it was a little quicker on the Mildmay course than the hurdles course later in the week.
It was a mixed day for Cheltenham form and the Triumph and Fred Winter form took a battering in the opener, (extended 2m,) with the first 3 home bypassing the Festival. Alan King farms this race and L’Unique continued his fine record with a comfortable win. She didn’t run on the flat and has some filling out to do but is clearly progressing fast, (improved 15l with Irish Saint on Adonis form). She looks the British four year old to take out of the juvenile division and with plenty of scope for improvement she could make up into a realistic opponent for Quevega in the Mares race at the Festival if staying the extra 4f.
Runswick Royal came into this with a much lower profile but had beaten a subsequent winner in an all age novice the previous time and ran a blinder here. He was staying on really strongly and is the type to be underestimated in the spring when presented with more of a test of stamina.
The Bowl (3m1f) was all about how Silviniaco Conti was after his fall 3 out in the Gold Cup, when still going well. This has been a graveyard for horses who had a hard race in the Gold Cup and he never travelled that well having been held up this time. He stayed on for a fair 1¾l 3rd but this should have been easy pickings for him and he’ll hopefully bounce back in the autumn. He’s still a leading contender for the top staying chases next season and 10/1 for the Gold Cup looks about right.
First Lieutenant hadn’t looked to stay the trip in the Lexus over 3m on softer ground or in the Hennessy over and extended 3m2f. He loves the spring and good ground but with the 4 who ran in the Gold Cup underperforming, this was a weak race and it may be his class got him home from another suspect stayer. The jury’s still out about his trip and I still doubt he’ll get up the hill in the Gold Cup, so 16/1 doesn’t appeal.
Menorah doesn’t seem to run 2 races alike nowadays and put a couple of dire performances behind him to travel much more sweetly here. Like First Lieutenant I’m yet to be convinced he’ll stay 3m+ in the top races and he may be hard to place next season as he likes good ground, (he’s being roughed off for the season despite the ground only now coming in his favour.)
It was a good innovation to switch the Aintree Hurdle (2m4f) to the opening day and it was rewarded with a cracking race. Zarkandar had worn blinkers on the flat and they sharpened him up here and he made all and held on well from The New One and Thousand Stars under another masterclass from the front by Ruby Walsh. Paul Nicholls said he gave up too easily in the Champion Hurdle and he had looked quirky earlier in his career so I’d be a bit cautious how he’ll train on from here with the blinkers not guaranteed to work again. He has a lot to prove stamina-wise in the World Hurdle and 8/1 doesn’t appeal, (he’s 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle).
I had The New One down as the lay of the meeting and only just got away with it as he ran a blinder to be beaten only ½l, looking a likely winner in the straight. This showed a really high level of form for a novice but the fact remains he’s not run at around 2m over hurdles during his novice season, (unlike previous Neptune winners Istabraq, Hardy Eustace, Peddlers Cross etc who went on to the Champion Hurdle.) He also couldn’t beat Champion Hurdle also rans here so he’s still got plenty of improving to do. 8/1 is about right and given the yard he’s from he’ll probably run in the Bula and we’ll learn more about his credentials there. He remains a cracking prospect.
Thousand Stars had been a bit in and out this season but this was always his target and he was bang there for the 3rd year running, beaten only 1¾l. It’s hard to see him winning at the Festival as a 10 year old and his big target is presumably a 3rd French Champion Hurdle.
Of the others, Oscar Whisky looks as if he’s had enough for the season and should be an exciting prospect over fences in the autumn. It’s impossible to know how Nicky Henderson will shuffle his pack of novice chasers come next March so you can’t back him now, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up in the Jewson (12/1) rather than either of the Grade 1 novice chases.
Grandouet ran like a blatant non-stayer. He still could make up into a Champion Hurdle prospect and will hopefully go to Punchestown now. If that happens and it becomes obvious he’s not good enough, the 12/1 for the Arkle will disappear pretty rapidly. My each way fancy Raya Star crashed out at the 8th so we’re none the wiser and he could well be lining up in the Arkle (not quoted) come March.
The theory that the Fox Hunters’ (extended 2m5f) was a race where class came to the fore could hardly have been more wrong, with 13 year old 100/1 winner Tartan Snow being chased home by 33/1 and 40/1 shots aged 10 and 12. It was a great victory for a small yard and whilst it’ll have little relevance for the future, it couldn’t matter less. My fancy Warne was a bit unlucky as he got carried very wide at the Canal Turn and then badly bumped by a faller at Valentines. It looked as if Mikey Fogarty was holding onto plenty but his effort rather petered out and he was well enough held in a 5¾l 4th in the end.
They probably go as quick in the Red Rum handicap chase (2m) as in any handicap during the season and that suited Oiseau De Nuit who followed powered clear of a competitive field off 149. The former Grand Annual winner is 11 now so this may be his last big day in the sun but he’s been a wonderful servant to connections. With the form of the other races run in soft ground on Friday of the Festival, (Triumph, Gold Cup and Foxhunters) not working out, the Grand Annual 3rd showed no ill effects here.
The Manifesto novices’ chase (2m4f) is probably the best example of a race that needs getting rid of. The 3 graded novice chases attracted 20 runners between them and this was a really poor affair – giving it Grade 1 status is absurd. The 4 previous winners are 5/51 in open company since so it’s likely the principles will struggle next season.
Captain Conan was the only horse in the race who’d shown the sort of form to make him a contender for Grade 1 honours, (his opponents were 12/42 over fences and didn’t boast a single graded chase victory), but he looked a risky proposition having got very tired in the Jewson. He stamped his class on the race though and whilst it wasn’t clear if he was idling or tiring on the run in, he was always holding Tap Night and won by 3¼l. He may find life tough in open company next season, (12/1 for the Ryanair and 20/1 for the Champion Chase.)
I’d fancied Tap Night for the Jewson but oddly he ran in the Arkle instead. He didn’t have the pace to go with Captain Conan but he stayed on really well and might be worth a try at 3m on good ground. If the handicapper is sensible there may be a good handicap in him off around his current mark of 145 whilst the ground is riding on top.
The 21 runner, extended 3m handicap hurdle could hardly have looked more competitive beforehand (8/1 the field), or less competitive afterwards. Battle Group was on a losing run of 17 since winning this off 6lb higher 2 years ago and had switched from David Pipe to Kevin Bishop. The change of scenery did the trick as he absolutely hosed up, having been backed in from 16/1 to 8/1. He followed up in great style two days later.
Connections of Jetson must be ruing their luck having missed the cut in the Pertemps Final last year and seen the ground going against them when a fine 3rd this time round. Off a 3lb higher mark here, back on his favoured sound surface, he was a clear 2nd best, beaten 10l. The handicapper can hardly punish him unduly for this and he could easily win a good staying handicap this spring, but shouldn’t be underestimated if put away for another crack at the Pertemps.