Matt Tombs / Tuesday 22nd October 2013 / 10:00
October is the month of anticipation for jumps fans. The good horses are starting to come out again, but the races feel more like the parties in the run up to Christmas – with Christmas itself still to come. For those who’ve not been following the early season action, this is the first of three round ups – focussing on action in open company.
It’s a long time since I’ve looked forward to the Champion Hurdle division as much at the start of a season - with a vintage bunch of novices last season led by My Tent Or Yours, Jezki, Our Conor and The New One challenging the established order of Hurricane Fly and Rock On Ruby.
It was great to see two of them lock horns so early in the season when The New One thumped Rock On Ruby (levels) by 10l at Kempton, (2m, good to soft). I kept underestimating The New One last year, and whilst what was effectively a match in October isn’t likely to be the most reliable form – you couldn’t help but be impressed by The New One’s turn of foot on his first try over hurdles at 2m. With Our Conor only running satisfactorily on the flat, he deserves to be favourite for the Champion Hurdle (5/1) at this early stage. Harry Fry reported Rock On Ruby was becoming hard to get fit, so The New One might have been flattered, but, rising 9, it might be time to try the former champion over fences.
The big 2m hurdle at Tipperary at the start of October exemplified the lack of quality amongst the seasoned 2m hurdlers in Ireland, being a shadow of the race won by the likes of Istabraq, Solerina and Harchibald. It’s only a Grade 2 these days, but run on the first weekend in October it’s a perfect opportunity for horses that would benefit from getting out early, especially when the ground is decent, as this year. Captain Cee Bee has been a grand servant and to win this rising 13 speaks volumes for his attitude and longevity but also for the paucity of 2m hurdlers in Ireland to challenge Hurricane Fly, other than from last season’s novice ranks.
It’s not quite right to term 4 years olds races open company, but what most of us know as the Free Hurdle at Chepstow and the conditions event at Cheltenham the following week, are stepping stones for last season’s juveniles as they transition into open contests. Handazan had looked interesting when a wide margin winner of the Free Hurdle off 126, but he was in trouble a long way out at Cheltenham and ended up well beaten. There was still a good finish as Sametegal gave Our Conor’s Triumph form a boost when travelling powerfully before idling and only just holding on from Bayan (who received 4lb) by a neck, (extended 2m, good). He seems to need his first run and is worth keeping an eye on, despite 5 year olds have a shocking record in the Champion, (50/1).
The best chase run so far was the PwC Chase at Gowran, which was won for the 3rd year in a row by the wonderfully consistent Sizing Europe, by 1¼l and a neck from, Baily Green (who received 2lb) and Rubi Light, (2m4f, good). He has tended to come on a lot for his first run of the season so it was encouraging he could beat a stronger field than usual, albeit on his favoured sound surface. The form is nothing special, (138 rated Laganbank was beaten less than 6l getting only 7lb,) but he looks to have retained all his enthusiasm. Memories of how the seemingly unbeatable Moscow Flyer’s form crashed off a cliff at the same stage of his career are fresh in the mind, and you always want to see veterans perform at the start of a new season.
Sizing Europe’s 2 attempts at 3m have been on soft ground and connections are understandably keen to have another go on decent going. If the ground is suitable he’ll run in the 3m Grade 1 at Down Royal on 2nd November. The King George looks more open than usual this season, and 33/1 is a bit of an insult. His profile as an 11 year old ex-Champion Chaser, stepping up in trip and needing a sound surface - is reminiscent of Edredon Bleu who won the King George a decade ago. He shouldn’t be underestimated in a race where 2nd season chasers have tended to struggle, (only Kicking King and Long Run have won it as second season chasers this century.) If he were to run well in that, connections might be tempted by a good ground Gold Cup (not quoted), though the Ryanair (20/1) is probably a more realistic target. It’s rare to see a 12 year old competitive in a Grade 1 at the Festival but Sizing Europe is the type to buck that trend.
Arkle runner up Baily Green was hard to weigh up. The bare form against Simonsig in the Arkle gave him a fair chance, although Simonsig pulled far too hard and didn’t jump well, scoping dirty afterwards – so it was hard to evaluate what Baily Green achieved there, with nothing else really running its race. He subsequently bombed at Aintree and Punchestown but they were his 11th and 12th runs of the season. It’s doubtful he has the toe for the top 2m events, (40/1 for the Champion Chase doesn’t appeal) but he was staying on well enough here to suggest the Ryanair (20/1) is a realistic option. It’s not clear what he achieved here and his Festival claims are best judged after another run.
Rubi Light had looked a top class horse over this sort of trip on bad ground 2 seasons ago, (clear of Sizing Europe in this when falling at the last.) He never seemed right last season and if this can be taken at face value, he should be a contender for top events over the winter when the ground gets more testing. It’d be interesting to see him tried back over 2m on heavy ground. He’s not the same horse on good ground and so the Ryanair (33/1) and Champion Chase (40/1) aren’t ante-post propositions - but if he holds hid form over the winter, he’d be one to consider if the ground was soft again at the Festival.
First Lieutenant developed into a high class and consistent chaser last season, gaining a deserved Grade 1 success at Aintree. He has tended to really need his first run back though, so whilst at the weights he had 26lb in hand of Toner D’Oudairies and 12lb in hand of Roi Du Mee, it wasn’t a surprise to see him blow up and be beaten (2¾l) at Punchestown (2m7f, good.) He’ll be a different proposition with a run under his belt, though I still think he’ll be ideally suited by no further than 3m.
Winner Toner D’Oudairies was having his “Gold Cup for the season” according to trainer Gordon Elliott. He said that about Roi Du Mee when he won this race last season and he won 5 out of his subsequent 6 races. The winner was having his 13th race of the year though, so Elliott’s assessment is likely to prove more accurate this time. It’s worth noting that Elliott said he thought he was a handicap good thing for the Festival after he missed the cut, and as a 6 year old he can improve further come the spring. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s handicapped after this – he may still be one for the 3m handicap chase on the opening day of the Festival.
The valuable 2m4f handicap chase at Cheltenham ought to be a trial for the Paddy Power next month - but no horse has followed up since Shooting Light 12 years ago. The Paddy Power has become such a big race now, often being a springboard for future Grade 1 horses - that modern training methods mean those horses aren’t forward enough to run in October, (even if there’s enough cut in the ground.) John’s Spirit was a cosy winner off 129 by 3½l, (good). I’d be surprised if he were good enough for the Paddy Power but if his handicap mark is minded over the winter he looks just the sort Jonjo O’Neill would produce for the handicap around this trip at the Festival.
Balthazar King is an old fashioned quick ground chaser and having generously been dropped 7lb since his last run in this country, was on the same mark as for the race last year, (139), when completing a hat-trick in the staying handicap at Cheltenham, (extended 3m, good). He won the Festival cross-country 2 seasons ago on good to firm and given they don’t water that course due its size, if we get a dry run up to the Festival he’d have very strong claims again, (no prices yet). He’s one to consider as the Festival approaches, although Philip Hobbs has indicated his cross-country target will be in France in the spring rather than Cheltenham.