Matt Tombs / Friday 8th November 2013 / 22:00
1pt Cotton Mill to win the Elite Hurdle @ 6/1
Wincanton is one of the best racecourses to visit and it hosts one of its two big days on Saturday, featuring two quality handicaps - the Badger Ales Chase and Elite Hurdle. The Badger Ales looks difficult with the likes of Aiteen Thirtythree and Masters Hill difficult to assess and the really progressive Standing Ovation having had a hard race a fortnight ago.
The Elite Hurdle market looks to have a better shape, as the good ground (only showers forecast) looks a big question mark for the two of last season’s better novices who head the market, Melodic Rendezvous and Far West. Melodic Rendezvous (5/2) didn’t quicken on good to soft ground when beaten by Mr Mole first time out last season, finishing only 2l ahead of now 124 rated The Italian Yob, (levels ignoring jockeys’ claims). He then won 3 in a row on heavy ground, including the Tolworth.
He’s rated 150 which is a typical rating given to Supreme winners. Last season’s 2m novice hurdlers looked as good a crop as I can remember but it’s far from clear that Melodic Rendezvous is near the top of that pecking order. His form looks smart but no more and I don’t see him being well handicapped on good ground off that sort of mark. He had a virus that forced him to miss the spring Festivals and it might be that he’ll come on a lot for the run. His Tolworth win was a first Grade 1 winner for his shrewd trainer Jeremy Scott, who I doubt will be taking any chances by over-training him at this stage of the season.
Far West (3/1) has only run so far on testing ground (it was softer than the official good to soft in Triumph) so its hard to be so sure that the good ground won’t suit him. However, looking at his breeding, his sibling and half siblings have run almost exclusively on bad ground (which isn’t that surprising as that’s the norm at Auteuil). His sire has also tended to produce runners who like lots of give.
Paul Nicholls says he thinks he’s well handicapped but he was beaten 15l by Our Conor and it could have been nearer 25l. That means Our Conor has to be Champion Hurdle standard for Far West to even be fairly handicapped off 146. 4 year olds have a dire record in this race with 14 having been beaten since the subsequently brilliant chaser Well Chief won off 138 a decade ago. That puts Far West’s task off 146 into context and I want to take him on.
Richard Newland is a master at improving cheap cast offs and laying out one for a handicap. Ahyaknowyerself (8/1) hosed up by 14l in Market Rasen’s listed handicap in September off 128. He’s got a whacking 19lb hike for that and is now taking winter rather than summer horses on. He’s clearly on the upgrade and will like the ground, but this looks a much tougher ask.
Karinga Dancer (7/2) has rattled up a 4 timer (jumpers bumper and 3 hurdles) since having a wind operation and bolted by 8l at Aintree last month (2m1f, good to soft) off 135. He’s up another 12lb here and Harry Fry had originally planned to switch him to fences for his next run. He’s one who will enjoy the sound surface and must have a fair chance despite the big rise in the weights.
The fascinating contender is Cotton Mill (6/1). He isn’t straightforward (ran out when upside Simonsig in the 2012 Neptune 2 out,) but has looked really talented when getting good ground. Given soft ground didn’t suit he ran a cracker to be 2nd to My Tent Or Yours in the Betfair off 150. He was disappointing on softish ground in the County Hurdle and then faded when tried back at 2½m at Aintree.
Cotton Mill couldn’t be described as a rock solid proposition given the occasional flashes of temperament he’s shown and that it’s far from clear what his trip is. We know he likes good ground, goes well fresh and I think 2m is probably his trip. Having put him up at 50/1 for the Champion Hurdle, I’ve got to like his chances here off 148.
There will be a number of races this autumn on decent ground, where horses that shone in the mud last season will be up against those who didn’t handle it. The ground is obviously only one of the factors that needs considering, but the Elite is shaping up as the sort of race where the form is turned round on much faster going. Cotton Mill was quick enough to win a quick ground 10f maiden at Newmarket on the flat and can take this for the in form John Ferguson.
For me the highlight of the weekend will be the chance to see Flemenstar back in action in the Fortria at Navan on Sunday. He was apparently very sick in the spring and its impossible to know whether he retains the brilliance we saw in the first half of last season. When with Peter Casey he always came on a ton for his first run and I doubt Tony Martin will have him fully wound up for this either. If he is back to his best, then one of the fascinations of the season will be establishing his trip. 2m looks on the short side to me so he’s not one to wade into at long odds-on against a couple of good opponents. Lets just hope he gets back on track on Sunday.
The better betting opportunity may come in the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle. Neptune 2nd Rule The World is likely to be all the rage after his successful comeback from injury a fortnight ago and he’s Davy Russell’s pick of the 3 Gigginstown runners. That was a much weaker race though and he looks the type to take on now he’s taking on better opposition.
Captain Cee Bee is rising 13 but showed all his old class when running away with a poor Grade 2 at Tipperary last month. He’s always been campaigned around the minimum trip and it’s late in the day to be trying 2½m. He’s only fairly treated by the race conditions and you have to think one of the younger horses will be improving enough to run the finish out of him.
The interesting one is Mala Beach who improved hugely in his final run last season at Fairyhouse, thrashing 3rd home Bright New Dawn, who’d beaten him twice previously. It looked a hot contest with Mala Beach just chinning Arkle fancy Defy Logic, (who probably didn’t stay 2m4f) with the likes of Operating, Sizing Gold and subsequent Grade 1 winner Morning Assembly well beaten off. Gordon Elliott has decided to keep the 5 year old over hurdles this season and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him make up into a World Hurdle contender as he looks as if he’ll stay 3m well. There aren’t any prices yet but he may well be 3rd in the betting and I’m hoping for around 5/1 - at which price the advice is to get stuck in.