Matt Tombs / Monday 17th February 2014 / 12:00
With the big yards and owners becoming ever more dominant, the romance of a small yard having a potentially top class horse is all the more alluring. Having had 8 winners in the previous 4 seasons, Sandy Thomson certainly qualifies as a David taking on the Goliaths of jump racing. A day after Valentine’s Day there was romance of a different kind as Seeyouatmidnight, who had won novices at 66/1 and 22/1, took the step up into open company in his stride to win the Grade 2 Rendlesham at Haydock, beating 144 rated mare Mickie, (who received 9lb,) 1¼l, (3m, heavy). He’d have a favourites chance in the Albert Bartlett and it’s a real shame he’s not been entered. He could be supplemented for the World Hurdle but is more likely to go to Aintree. He came from the pointing field and will hopefully be a top class novice chaser next season.
Captain Chris had been impressive when thrashing Champion Court at Kempton last month and was even more so when destroying a reasonable field by 19l in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase, (extended 2m5f, soft.) Its well known he’s better going right handed, but after 2 top class performances on ground probably more testing than ideal, he must have a chance in the Gold Cup. 40/1 NRNB looks far too big for a horse of his ability.
At Gowran, there was another demolition job in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle (2m, heavy,) by Un De Sceaux. His bold, front running style is a joy to watch and he should add a fascinating element to a vintage Champion Hurdle, by trying to emulate Make A Stand. Willie Mullins hasn’t committed him yet. We’ll never know the real reasons if he misses the race but it would be a disgrace if he were to bypass it to make it easier for Hurricane Fly. It was interesting to hear Ruby Walsh talk about him as a horse who mentally might not have that many races in him – which is all the more reason to try and win a Champion Hurdle now. Those laying 12/1 NRNB, (14/1 ante-post,) are taking a big chance.
In the Kingwell, Melodic Rendezvous showed battling qualities to edge out Zarkandar by ½l, (2m, heavy.) The winner is a classy performer when the mud is flying but even under his favoured conditions he couldn’t put Zarkandar away in anything like the style The New One did in the Bula. He’s unlucky to be around in such a strong era of 2m hurdlers – normally he’d be going to the Champion Hurdle (25/1) with decent each-way claims if there was cut in the ground. Zarkandar is 10/1 for the World Hurdle and it may be that 3m and good ground is what he wants now, but its possible he’s not quite the force he was.
The Grade 2 Reynoldstown novice chase at Ascot, (3m, soft), didn’t look to contain an obvious star, but Albert Bartlett 4th O’Faolains Boy bounced back from a poor effort at Haydock, (scoped dirty) to beat Many Clouds, (who gave 4lb,) by 2½l. They are both 20/1 for the RSA – they’ve earned their place in the field but are probably not quite good enough.
Favourite for the 4 miler Foxrock landed the odds in the Grade 2 Ten Up Novice chase at Navan, (3m, heavy,) though he had to battle to beat My Murphy, (who received 5lb,) ½l. With daughter Katie an obvious pilot I’d thought he was bound for the 4 miler but Ted Walsh didn’t seem that keen afterwards. He won his beginners on decent ground but has been racing on testing surfaces since and his breeding implies he may need them. He’s 7/1 for the 4 miler, which looks about right given all that.
Un Temps Pour Tout had the millstone of a £450,000 price tag when arriving at David Pipe’s yard, after running well in top 4 year olds hurdles in France. On his 2nd run in Britain he thrashed 132 rated Cole Harden by 16l on the bridle, (extended 2m3f, heavy.) He beat Greatwood winner Dell’ Arca on officially good to soft ground in France, suggesting a sound surface isn’t an issue and looks to have good claims in the Neptune, so 16/1 looks big. He’s not in the other Grade 1s but David Pipe says he might go the handicap route, despite having a mark of 147. He paid a big compliment here to Zamdy Man who beat him fair and square at Haydock.
Whilst it was inevitable that plenty of the ex-Godolphin horses that John Ferguson now trains wouldn’t be able to handle the good jumps-bred novice hurdlers, I thought one or two would, and so be players in the Grade 1 novice hurdles. Perhaps they’ve been getting stuck in the mud and will bounce back if the ground is decent at the Festival. If Ferguson has a live Grade 1 contender it might be Fennell Bay, who was well on top after the last in a novice hurdle at Musselburgh, (2m4f, good to soft.) He’d looked in trouble earlier in the straight and has plenty to find on hurdles form, but his flat race speed could be a potent weapon in a good ground Neptune, (40/1.)
Kelso must have been delighted to see Long Run and Knockara Beau turn up for a minor conditions chase, (3m2f, good to soft). This was a nice confidence booster for Long Run, who had looked on the downgrade this season. He’s 40/1 for the Gold Cup but is more likely to head for the National. Given the 40/1 is NRNB, and he’ll probably only run if it’s a bog, its arguable it’s each-way value.
At Gowran, the Grade 2 Red Mills Chase, (2m4f, heavy) featured what I was hoping would be a Lazarus style return from the well backed Bog Warrior. Whilst he was still well there when unseating 2 out, he looked beaten to me. This was miles off his best form and, unless he just needed the run badly, (has gone well fresh in the past), retirement may beckon. Winner Argocat ran an odd race, never looking to be going well but showing loads at the business end to edge out Turban (who received 5lb.) He would need supplementing for the Ryanair or Gold Cup – but having run poorly in the Jewson last year, apparently heads for Aintree instead.
There was a second advertisement in a week for Philip Fenton’s skills at bringing a horse back from serious injury to win a good race, when Dunguib easily won the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan, (2m5f, heavy). With Zaidpour spitting the dummy it’s the classic sort of race that’s impossible to assess. Quite what the handicapper will do is hard to predict, but he may get into the Coral Cup or County Hurdle off close to his current mark of 148. He’s 11 but so was Fiveforthree when he ran a blinder to finish a close 3rd off 149 in the Coral last season. The Coral Cup (16/1) over the same 2m5f trip looks the right race for Dunguib and whilst he’s obviously likely to be vulnerable to a younger improver, he’d be a fascinating contender.
Finally, whilst I’ve been a fan of the ‘jumpers bumpers’ initiative, I’m getting concerned about unintended consequences. They began as an initiative to replace races that had been lost to the weather – typically where frost/snow had wiped out racing for an extended period. The idea was that they provided a race when there were no jumps races for certain horses. The danger is that modern, ultra-cautious training methods will lead to them becoming the normal prep run, rather than Festival horses being ‘risked’ on testing ground. An example is My Tent Or Yours - who bypassed the Morebattle Hurdle, (run on good to soft, and won by a 139 rated horse,) for a canter round in a jumpers bumper. There were also trials at Haydock and Wincanton that beat the weather - he’d have been long odds-on for all 3. It wasn’t a case of him running in a jumpers bumper because the trials were off. It was a positive choice to run on the all weather. Top class racing in January and February is struggling badly in Britain because it’s unfashionable to run top horses in winter ground within a couple of months of the Festival. If jumpers bumpers become the norm for prep races, top class racing in January and February in Britain could become a thing of the past.