Matt Tombs / Monday 11th November 2013 / 11:30
For those whose interest in racing focuses around top class horses rather than simply competitive betting heats, the star attraction this weekend was Flemenstar. You had to feel sorry for the endearingly eccentric Peter Casey, but a move to Tony Martin’s yard is hardly a negative, and he made his debut for the stable in the Fortria Chase (2m, yielding) in which he demolished Big Zeb last year.
However, he wasn’t his usually brilliant self at his fences, spending a long time in the air. He put the race to bed early in the straight, which allowed him to lose momentum landing over the last, and still comfortably hold 153 rated Days Hotel, (who received 2lb.) I suspect he’s better over further but it wasn’t clear if this was a horse being given an easy time on his seasonal debut or a horse that just isn’t in the same brilliant form as a year ago. We’ll know more after his next run.
The Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle, (2m4f, yielding) often attracts top Irish hurdlers but it looked a substandard renewal this year. Dedigout had a big reputation as a novice chaser last season and although winning only twice, he ended up rated 147. Whether he goes back over fences or seeks to emulate the same connections Bog Warrior, by going down the World Hurdle route (not quoted) is hard to know. He got away with yielding ground here but thrives in the mud.
I love watching the top horses running in handicaps as it’s often the best way of finding out how good they are. Cue Card became the first horse for 2 seasons to run off a mark in the 170s in the Haldon at Exeter, (extended 2m1f, good to soft.) As a Ryanair winner he clearly stays much further than this and his natural front running style looked ideal to put pressure on lesser rivals. For some reason they went steadily and when asked to quicken Cue Card looked a bit one paced, finishing only 6l 3rd to Somersby (who received 17lb) who just held on from the fast finishing Module (who received 20lb.)
It’s hard not to be disappointed as Cue Card had really looked a top class horse, well capable of giving the weight away. Perhaps he needs further now, but his King George (9/1) and Festival aspirations took a knock here. Somersby had been dropped 11lb since his Victor Chandler win last year and was decently in off 155, for all he hardly looked to be improving. Life will be tougher for him now.
The novice chase over the Haldon trip often attracts good sorts and Claret Cloak looked to be in the process of enhancing his Arkle aspirations when cruising up alongside Manyriverstocross (who received 5lb) approaching the 2nd last. It looked a classic case of the race not being put to bed when it could have been - and when strong stayer Manyriverstocross landed running at the last, it turned into a desperate finish with Manyriverstocross getting up by a nose. The winner jumped really well but, rising 9, appeals more as a handicapper. The 2½m novices handicap at the Festival might well be his sort of race as he’s in the ideal place in the handicap. Claret Cloak should have won, but even allowing for better ground and a more positive ride, his lack of turn of foot close home might mark him down as short of Arkle (33/1) class.
Balder Succes bounced back from his tumble at Cheltenham (in control at the time) for an easy success at Warwick, (2m, good to soft.) He’s fundamentally a good jumper and there was a lot to like about the way he quickened clear coming round the home turn. He’s not straightforward but he’s progressing nicely and 25/1 is fair enough for the Arkle - he might be the type to be underrated during the winter.
Given the fantastic record of high class hurdlers in the Arkle, Grandouet looked to have found the perfect season to go chasing, as this 166 rated hurdler has a big proven class advantage over virtually all his rivals in the division. He started 4/11 at Sandown, (2m, soft), but his jumping was mixed and he looked beaten when baulked and unseating at the last. As a speed horse in 2m hurdles the slow pace shouldn’t have inconvenienced him, even though he was keen. Winner Hinterland was beaten 35l by Simonsig when getting the 4 year olds allowance last year, (Paul Nicholls said he wouldn’t even contemplate a handicap off 148,) so, whilst plenty of top class novice chase prospects bounce back from an inauspicious debut, this was disappointing from Grandouet, (out to 14/1 for the Arkle).
Road To Riches had looked an exciting type last autumn, including when winning a Grade 3 novice hurdle at Cork over 3m. He had a minor setback, missed Cheltenham and then disappointed at Aintree and Punchestown. Whilst you’d want to see him holding his form this time, he made a fine start to his chasing career at Naas, (2m3f yielding to soft), when accounting for some decent types. He’s entitled to improve for a step up in trip and might develop into an RSA contender (40/1).
The best novice chase of the week was the Grade 2 at Wincanton, (2m5f, good to soft.) Four talented horses lined up and it produced a good finish with Wonderful Charm taking advantage of the extended run in (last bypassed) to wear down Fox Appeal (who received 6lb) close home. Fox Appeal had stayed 3m well over hurdles so its unlikely he was running out of stamina, rather that Wonderful Charm was running on powerfully having not been fluent at the last 2. He will benefit from more experience to brush up his jumping but looks classy - 16/1 for the RSA Chase is tempting.
Wincanton also hosted a fascinating renewal of the Elite Hurdle, (2m). I’d thought the combination of a sound surface, needing the run (reported 70% fit) and an ungenerous handicap mark of 150 would make this tough for Melodic Rendezvous – but he was a taking winner by 1¾l from Triumph runner up Far West (who received 4lb). Melodic Rendezvous lost momentum 2 out and showed speed and a good attitude to cut down the runner up. He acts well on bad ground so will be a formidable opponent in races like the Fighting Fifth if it comes up testing. Whether he’s quick enough on good ground for what’s shaping into a vintage Champion Hurdle is questionable – 25/1 looks about right.
The Triumph form got more of a boost when Diakali won a 4 year old’s Grade 3 at Naas, (2m, yielding to soft). He jumped well and having won a Grade 1 at Auteuil in the spring over 2m3f, stays further. 25/1 makes no appeal for the Champion Hurdle but he’s unexposed at longer trips and, as none of Willie Mullins top hurdlers look to be 3 milers, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s tried over that trip, (not quoted for the World Hurdle.)
Volnay De Thaix hosed up in a 2m novices hurdle at Kempton, (good to soft). I haven’t seen the race, but he was described as a big baby by Barry Geraghty. It’s early in the season to draw firm conclusions, but that is generally Seven Barrows speak for a horse who won’t be hard trained this season – he might line up in one the Festival novice hurdles but he’ll be looked after with next season in mind. He’s 25/1 for the Supreme.
Later on the card, Captain Cutter, who had been 3rd in a red hot bumper at Ascot in February, brushed aside a poor field (2m5f, good to soft.) He’s bred to stay 3m and if his jumping improves with experience, he could develop into an Albert Bartlett contender.
That Ascot bumper got another boost when 4th home Shantou Magic was a bloodless winner of an ordinary novice hurdle at Market Rasen. He’d previously won a stronger looking novice in style at Fontwell and whilst the bare form didn’t amount to much here, it was the way he demolished the opposition in the middle of the race that impressed. He’s 33/1 for the Neptune, which would be tempting if there wasn’t a concern that he’d end up in the Albert Bartlett, (not quoted.)
Festival Bumper 5th Purple Bay made it 2 from 2 over hurdles with a facile win in a 2m novices’ hurdle at Musselburgh, (good). He had little to beat here under his penalty but he should benefit from this, as his jumping was novicey. Oddly he’s not quoted yet for the Festival, but in any case, you’d want to see him in a good race before considering backing him.
The Grade 3 ‘For Auction’ novices hurdle at Navan, (2m, yielding) often attracts classy sorts and Minella Foru and Very Wood both lined up with reputations after good wins in maidens. Very Wood spoiled his chance by lugging and jumping right and, in what turned into a sprint, was outpointed by Minella Foru. We didn’t learn much about the winner here – he remains promising and will better judged after another run (25/1 for the Supreme)
One of the most interesting performances of the week came from The Tullow Tank in a maiden hurdle at Naas, (2m, yielding to soft.) He’d looked really green last season, hanging badly right, but had still earned an RPR of 131 when 5th in a red hot Grade 2 won by Annie Power. It wasn’t surprising he was kept covered up on this left handed course, but when he finally got daylight he should a good turn of foot to mow down the odds on Turnandgo. He needs to mature to be a Festival horse but he looks to have plenty of ability, (16/1 for the Neptune).
Finally, Graduation Chases have been an excellent addition, allowing inexperienced horses that have lost their novice status a stepping stone before tackling open company. They inevitably attract small fields, (only 1 of the last 50 has attracted more than 7 runners) and they produce plenty of surprises, (the majority of odds-on shots in those races (12/22) have been beaten.) At Kempton, Bury Parade looked to beat Hadrian’s Approach (who gave 4lb) on merit, albeit only by a nose, (extended 2m4f, good to soft). The winner was apparently hard to control last season but Paul Nicholls reports him a different animal now. He’s stayed on 139 for the Paddy Power (25/1) and that makes him look potentially very well handicapped, although the exchanges suggest he won’t run. Hadrian’s Approach isn’t a natural jumper and the Hennessy looks a step too far at this stage. If he’s brought along quietly to improve his jumping technique, he’s the type Nicky Henderson will have perfectly primed for the 3m handicap chase on the opening day of the Festival.