Matt Tombs / Friday 22nd November 2013 / 14:00
For the past couple of seasons I’ve been trying to work out Cue Card’s trip. I thought he was a penalty kick for the Haldon but he’s clearly a stayer now and was a really impressive winner of a cracking Betfair Chase, (3m1f, soft). His dam ran in the National and now he’s settling better there’s no reason to think he won’t get the additional 1½f (on likely quicker ground) as he was drawing away at the finish, so 9/1 for the Gold Cup looks generous – its arguable he should be favourite. 3/1 for the King George looks about right.
Both Dynaste (beaten 4½l) and Silviniaco Conti (beaten 5¾l) ran good races against the winner, who had the advantage of a run. This was Dynaste’s first race in open company and he’s much less exposed than the other two, so it’s possible he could turn the form round with more experience. He’s 5/1 for the King George and was surprisingly pushed out to 16/1 for the Gold Cup, which is tempting. Silviniaco Conti was prepared for an autumn campaign last season but Paul Nicholls has his eye on March this time and he might have blowen up here, so he’s still very much in the Gold Cup mix, (10/1).
The others were well beaten. Perhaps hard slogs through the mud have taken their toll on Long Run and Bobs Worth with the latter desperately disappointing. That Gold Cup form has taken a hammering this season with 3 of the 4 who mixed it in the straight, Bobs Worth, Long Run and The Giant Bolster running poorly. Don’t be too keen to steam into Sir Des Champs at a short price in the John Durkan in a fortnight.
The valuable Fixed Brush Hurdle attracts a variety of good horses and fell to a fine front running performance by Gevrey Chambertin, (3m) off 143. He hasn’t looked straightforward in the past but showed a good attitude here. He goes over fences now and is 16/1 for the RSA. In an open year there’s no reason why he couldn’t make up into a leading contender.
There didn’t look to be a Champion Hurdle horse on show in the valuable 4 year olds hurdle at Haydock, (2m). Rolling Star proved his Triumph and Aintree form wrong with a gutsy win by 2¾l from Doyly Carte (who received 7lb). 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle doesn’t appeal and he might be hard to place now.
It was pretty desperate at Ascot for the 2 big races. The 2m3f conditions chase turned into a match and Al Ferof just had to prove his wellbeing to land odds of 1/5, (good to soft). It was great to see him again, a year after his impressive Paddy Power win (off 159), but we learnt little from this. He goes to the King George (8/1) something of an unknown quantity.
There were only 4 runners for the Coral Hurdle (extended 2m3f) and the presence of the unbeaten Annie Power and Aintree Hurdle winner Zarkandar made for a fascinating duel. The mare Annie Power was getting 11lb rather than usual 7lb but was novicey on occasions on her first race in open company. She was well on top by the finish, winning going away by 5l. The obvious conclusion is that she’s a stayer but I’m not so sure, it might have been that Ruby held onto her because her jumping hadn’t taken her there and it was a burst of speed that won it. She’s 12/1 for the Champion Hurdle and hopefully she’ll take on the big boys at Leopardstown at Christmas, which will tell us more. Zarkandar faced a tough task under his penalty and the blinkers were left off. This wasn’t obviously the performance of a stayer so 9/1 for the World Hurdle doesn’t appeal. He’s probably just below championship standard but there should still be good prizes to be won away from the Festival.
Black Thunder's winning debut over fences had been well advertised by Fox Appeal’s close 2nd in a Grade 2, and he won another good novice at Haydock, (2m7f, soft.) You get the impression he’s surprised Paul Nicholls and looks to be improving. I suspect the RSA (20/1) is more likely than the Jewson (14/1) although that may depend on how Wonderful Charm progresses. He needs to prove himself on a sound surface.
Trifolium had looked really progressive when 3rd in the Supreme 2 seasons ago but last season was a disaster as he bombed on both runs in the mud. He’d had a wind operation before making a successful debut in a beginners’ at Thurles, jumping soundly, (2m2f, yielding). 2m and good ground suits him well so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him line up in the Arkle. He’s not really an ante-post proposition given he’s been hard to train – 20/1 looks about right.
Ballycasey had been the subject of rave reviews from the Mullins camp prior to winning a good beginners’ chase at Navan, (2m1f, good to yielding). Willie often likes to run his RSA horses at short trips to teach them to jump at speed and this was run at a searching gallop. He got detached but Ruby didn’t panic and he was well on top after the last. He looks a real stayer and the RSA looks the right target, (16/1).
Festival Bumper winner Briar Hill looked a natural jumper when winning a maiden easily at 1/9 on Tuesday at Wexford, (2m2f, soft). He jumped a bit left on occasions but was really fluent and landed running. When asked to win his race he didn’t show a brilliant turn of foot but kept galloping and Willie Mullins suggested staying trips could be on the cards. Given how fast a horse you need to be to win the Neptune, the Albert Bartlett (12/1) might be more his race based on this first run.
It’s probably indicative of how uncompetitive many novice hurdles are that I’m including two 1/9 winners. The other was Regal Encore, (who was 2nd to Briar Hill at the Festival,) despite the fact he’d been beaten on his hurdling debut. He won a bad race hard held at Plumpton, (2m, good to soft.) Like Briar Hill he’s shaped more as a stayer so far, (25/1 for the Neptune and Albert Bartlett.)
Doctor Harper was a slightly bigger 1/5 when hacking up in a novice under a penalty at Exeter, (2m1f, good.) He wasn’t streetwise enough when 12th in the Festival Bumper last season but has taken nicely to hurdles in 2 weak races. He’s 25/1 for the Supreme and we’ll know more about him when he tackles better company.
By contrast, Regal Encore’s Aintree conqueror Garde La Victoire was allowed to go off a big 15/8 when trouncing the well regarded Gone Too Far by 11l at Warwick, (2m, good to soft). He looks a smart novice but he tends to be keen and his jumping wasn’t great so he could do with more match practice. He’s 16/1 for the Supreme and with more experience that looks a realistic target, but he’s seen more as a chasing type so it remains to be seen if Cheltenham is on the agenda this season.
The 2m maiden hurdle at Navan, (good to yielding) featured a re-match between the 1st two home in the valuable Land Rover Bumper at the Punchestown Festival. The result was the same but with obstacles in the way Moyle Park needed only a squeeze after the last to coast clear. He’s a free going type so might be campaigned over 2m. He’s 16/1 for the Supreme and is one to keep an eye on.
Dubai Prince was only 8/1 for the 2011 Champion Stakes and won a 9f York Group 3 on his last start in August last year, (handled good to soft on the flat.) He jumped pretty well and won a moderate novice at Leicester hard held, (2m, good to soft.) He’s 25/1 for the Supreme and is an unknown quantity. Now John Ferguson has so much novice hurdling artillery, getting to understand his modus operandi looks to be becoming crucial for betting on those Festival races.
The best novice hurdle of the week was the Grade 2 at Navan, (2m4f, good to yielding) which attracted a really good field. Apache Stronghold lived up to the hype from the Noel Meade yard by demolishing Azorian and Carriganog. It was a classic Carberry ride so you don’t know how much more Apache Stronghold had left. He has a bit to learn about jumping but looks an exciting prospect. He’s 20/1 for the Neptune, though he might be an Albert Bartlett type (14/1).
Finally, this was the week that racing started facing up to the Gigginstown non-runner problem. The world has changed since the financial crash and the mega-owners like Gigginstown are here to stay. For some time Gigginstown has had more good horses than there are good races for them to run in. Understandably they want to ensure they have a runner (or sometimes more than one) so they declare more horses than they want to run, so that if one suffers a late setback, or the ground goes against it, their ‘substitute’ can run. The rules don’t allow this, but the rules were designed for a world where owners were almost never in that position. Racing needs to adapt with the times – the reason for having final declarations is simply to allow everybody to know which horses are running. It would therefore be simple to allow the likes of Gigginstown to say that Horse A is their preferred runner but if (and only if) he gets injured and can’t run, or the ground goes against him - Horse B runs instead. That way we encourage the top owners to invest in our sport and ensure everybody knows what’s going on.