Matt Tombs / Wednesday 19th March 2014 / 10:55
The ground on the new course had been heavily watered after a string of fast times, including course records, on the first two days. After every Grade 1 run over jumps on the old course had been won in quicker than standard time, none were completed within two seconds of standard on the new course. The going was in reality good to soft.
Although the Champion Hurdle got most of the pre Festival hype, The World Hurdle was also a cracking renewal. It developed into a terrific duel between two unbeaten horses Annie Power and More Of That, with the latter on top close home to win by 1½l.
Alderbrook won the Champion Hurdle off 2 hurdles run and Royal Gait did it off 3, but both had run on the flat and I should think it must be some sort of record to win a Championship race on just your 5th start. Jonjo O’Neill has said that More Of That is only now starting to grow into his frame, so there could be lots more to come. The previous plan had been to go chasing next season but there must be a temptation to let him mop up the big staying hurdles and if that’s the decision, 7/2 to retain his title might look big.
Annie Power was too keen stepped up in trip and not surprisingly got outstayed after the last, perhaps backing up the view of those who thought she’d have been better off in the Champion Hurdle. She’ll presumably drop back in trip now. For all Vautour is exciting, the best two novice chase prospects for next season will be More Of That and Annie Power if that’s the route chosen.
As a horse that could become an all time great stayer took the crown, the greatest we’ve seen, Big Buck’s, bowed out. It was always likely that this would be too big an ask at 11 after his injury, but that doesn’t detract from a truly magnificent career. Hopefully he’ll have a long and happy retirement.
The JLT looked wide open and there wasn’t an obvious star prospect in the field. The winner, Taquin Du Seuil, definitely looks the one to take out of the race. He didn’t jump well early on, but warmed up as the race went on and stayed on well to deny the front running Uxizandre. I’ve long thought that Taquin Du Seuil is worth trying over 3m and quotes of 25/1 for the Gold Cup look on the generous side for this highly regarded type.
As AP McCoy said before the Festival, he doesn’t have too many left and given the magnanimous way he took the wrong choices he made in the Champion and World Hurdles, it was great to see him ride a winner. He’d had a crunching fall when Goodwood Mirage was brought down the previous day and as he came back past the stands on Taquin Du Seuil he was in such pain that he could do no more than wave politely to the cheering crowd. Even in a profession of tough people, it never fails to amaze me just what an iron man he is.
Uxizandre had the run of the race out front but still ran a blinder. He’s only 6 and there should be plenty more to come. He was campaigned over 3m over hurdles last spring so a step up in trip might be an option, but here he shaped like this sort of intermediate trip suited ideally, (20/1 for the Ryanair).
The watered ground was against Felix Yonger but he was keen stepped up in trip and didn’t look to get home. It might be that he’s just not trained on in the second half of the season, but I think it’s more likely that Willie Mullins got it wrong and that he’d have been better off in the Arkle on quick ground. He might be underestimated if lining up in the Grade 1 over 2m on good spring ground at Punchestown.
I’d put Mozoltov up at 25/1 in the morning and he was backed off the boards into 11/1, only to get knocked over by Oscar Whisky at the first. He’s clearly been difficult to train but if he’s none the worse for this, he might be underestimated if lining up at Punchestown.
With the two championship races over fences looking below average, (significantly so in the case of the Champion Chase,) there was very much a feeling that the Festival would be better off without the Ryanair. The Champion Chase would have benefitted from Benefficient’s presence and Al Ferof, Boston Bob and Dynaste would have added much to the Gold Cup.
As it was Dynaste bounced back from his King George flop to run out a cosy winner, staying on powerfully having looked in trouble turning in. With Benefficient going amiss and First Lieutenant not running this was an ordinary Grade 1 and he didn’t need to match his Betfair Chase second to win this. I believe he will be much better stepped up in trip and there’s definitely a feeling of what might have been regarding the Gold Cup. If the ground is quicker next year then I’d expect him to get done for toe if lining up again in this, (assuming there’s a better field), so 5/1 makes no appeal. By contrast 25/1 for the Gold Cup looks huge.
3 horses rated in the mid 150s chased Dynaste home and that looks a true reflection of the form. Rajdhani Express won the novices handicap last season and he’d been off since the Paddy Power in November. Only 7, he looks to be on the upgrade and with no Sprinter Sacre or Cue Card this time, he might be one for the Melling Chase at Aintree, (16/1 for the Ryanair).
The other one to take out of the race was Boston Bob, who was nursed round at the back over a trip that’s too short for him. He’s clearly had plenty of issues but has loads of ability and this should have done his confidence good. Willie Mullins is understandably looking at the 3m Grade 1 at Punchestown – though Boston Bob is in the National and if he were to win that I should be in the money in the Ten To Follow, so hopefully Willie will want to give it a go at Aintree!
There were plenty of good finishes during the week, but with 4 horses finishing within ¾l, the Pertemps Final was as good as any. Fingal Bay was a Grade 1 winner in a handicap (off 148) and despite smashing through the last just got up on the nod. Hopefully connections can keep him sound, and if so, there are plenty of good prizes to be won with him in graded company, with a switch back to fences another option.
Southfield Theatre was running off just 1lb lower and ran a blinder, for all he’d have probably been beaten comfortably if Fingal Bay had jumped the last fluently. This was great effort from the 6 year old and he looks a lovely staying novice chase prospect for next season.
Richard Newland is a master at improving horses acquired from other yards and having bought Pineau De Re out of Philip Fenton’s yard, the 11 year old ran a blinder here off 140, doing best of those held up. He’s in the National (off 143) and if he recovers from this in time, he’d be an interesting long shot for that.
If there was one handicap I wish I’d had a bet in this week it was the Byrne Group Plate. I’d put Ballynagour up for the Paddy Power in the autumn and with his bolt up, bomb out profile, an SP of 12/1 looked generous. He was on a going day here and spreadeagled the field off 140. He’s worth a try in a Grade 1 such as the Melling Chase at Aintree, although whether he’d take another race that quickly is open to question. He wouldn’t look out of place in a Ryanair field, though you never know what you’re going to get from him.
Colour Squadron ran a good race, finishing 6l clear of the remainder and was unlucky to run into a horse like Ballynagour here. He’s 0/8 over fences but he looks to be maturing and if the handicapper takes the view being beaten 8l doesn’t warrant much or any of a rise, he could easily be one for the Paddy Power in the autumn.
Jim Culloty hadn’t had a winner since Spring Heeled won in August, so there was a big question mark over the stable form coming into the Kim Muir, but the same horse delivered for him again. This was very much a case of jumping being the name of the game as he looked as if he’d get swallowed up by Cause Of Causes but Gordon Elliott’s horse belted the last and went down by a fast diminishing 1¾l.
The two pulled miles clear after there half a dozen in with a chance 2 out and it will be interesting to see how the handicapper reacts. The winner is 7 and the runner up 6 so you’d imagine there’s plenty of improvement in both of them, (each raced off 140 here). The winner might be one for the National further down the line.