Matt Tombs / Friday 20th December 2013 / 15:35
1pt Salubrious to win the Long Walk Hurdle @ 9/1
1pt Totalize to win The Ladbroke @ 9/1
The Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle had attracted the 3 top established British stayers currently in training - At Fishers Cross, Celestial Halo and Reve De Sivola, who had already clashed in a Grade 2 at Newbury last month. (Big Buck’s is still recovering from injury and the likes of Zarkandar and More Of That haven’t run at 3m yet.) However, Celestial Halo has been scratched and I think there are good reasons for taking the other two on.
The market is a classic case of hopes for a promising young horse, unproven in open Grade 1 company, triumphing over form. At Fishers Cross looks really short at 8/15 and I’m itching to take him on for several reasons. There have been mixed messages from his Albert Bartlett and Sefton wins, and whilst there’s no questioning his position as the best staying novice hurdler of last season, the common constituent of his wins was testing ground. Crucially, whilst many have pointed to the fact that he won the Sefton on good to soft, the times suggested it was much slower than that.
I’ve never been into speed figures as, when I started punting, it seemed illogical to rely on an overall race time without breakdowns - there were no sectional timings. (The basic principle being that horses, like humans, run the quickest times when the pace is consistent throughout – going too quick or too slow during the race is an inefficient use of energy.) Additionally, going descriptions have been notoriously inaccurate at many courses for as long as I’ve been punting, which makes time comparisons more difficult. Finally, for the last decade or so, courses have run races at different distances to those officially published, to provide fresh ground. Courses are better at explaining approximate changes in race distances now, but it’s still too inexact for race times to be that useful.
Therefore, I treat race times with plenty of caution. However, allowing for that context, every hurdles race at the Aintree Grand National meeting last season was run in a slower time than on the same officially good to soft ground the previous year. At Fishers Cross’ winning time in the Sefton was 35.2s over standard, compared to 22.4s over standard the previous season. It was more than 10s slower than the next slowest Sefton winning time in the previous decade. By contrast, when At Fishers Cross was 4th to Celestial Halo at Newbury recently, on officially soft going, the time was only 1.4s over standard, (the slowest comparative time on the day being 8.7s over standard.) That suggests At Fishers Cross is as yet unproven on anything other than testing ground.
If the rain hadn’t come, he would have been one of the lays of the season. The officially soft ground keeps him in it, but the ground didn’t look too bad in the early races today. The clerk of the course expected it to ride on the better side of soft on Friday and the horses were finishing well enough in times that supported that prediction. With a strong breeze and only showers now forecast, it could be good to soft by post time in the Long Walk, which I think could be a real issue for At Fishers Cross.
Reve De Sivola (7/2) won a weak renewal of this last season having run moderately at Newbury as he did this time, (won the Challow there as a novice so the course is presumably not an issue.) Last season it was his first run of the season and he doesn’t have a great record fresh, but this time he came on the back of a Grade 1 win in France 28 days previously. All 3 of his wins since returning from a year off injured have been on heavy ground, and I doubt he’ll have the pace to take on these now unless there’s a lot more rain. Nick Williams was noticeably downbeat about his chances.
By contrast, Salubrious (9/1) has looked really progressive. He bolted up in the conditionals handicap at the Festival off 141 and was only chinned on his reappearance off 149, (proving his stamina over an extended 3m1f,) when apparently needing the race badly. He ran in the Relkeel over an extended 2m4f last week against 3 unexposed types and finished a good 2¼l 2nd to the unbeaten More Of That. We don’t yet know how good that form is, but it’s interesting he’s turned out again here. He was giving At Fishers Cross 7lb when beaten 6l in a handicap at Newbury last season and whilst they’ve both progressed since then, the disparity between their prices looks wrong.
If you have the luxury of waiting to see how the ground rides tomorrow, I’d do that. With the front two in the market real mudlarks, knowing the ground conditions is especially important for this race. If, as looks likely, it isn’t too bad, Salubrious has to be the value play at the prices.
The Ladbroke handicap hurdle is the sort of race where more often than not I don’t have a bet. Rather than analysing the runners in detail, I look through the entries or the declarations - and see if anything jumps out.
The power of the exchanges – ie the fact that prices close to the off reflect the knowledge of so many people, has led to some punters ‘momentum betting’. The principle is that because the market is so much better informed because the public can lay horses, it’s worth following the money. Therefore even if a horse was 10/1 and is now 5/1, it may well be worth backing as horses shorten for better reasons nowadays.
Whilst at the time of writing there’s still 24 hours before the off in the Ladbroke, plenty of momentum has built behind my fancy Totalize and he’s in to 9/1. It’s not hard to see why. He’d been kept to 3 small juvenile hurdles last winter before lining up in the Fred Winter off 131, (SP 14/1.) He finished a creditable 5th of 24, (only ran in 3 maidens and a 14 runner handicap on the flat, so it was his first experience of the hurly burly of that sort of race.) He apparently bled, in which case he might be much better than the bare form. He’s fit from 3 runs on the flat this autumn, including a heavy ground 10f win, off 82. On his final start he went off favourite for the valuable Movember handicap at Leopardstown.
There are few trainers better than Brian Ellison at laying a horse out for a 2m handicap hurdle. Of course it would have been nice to get the fancy prices but I think he’s still good value, as he should be favourite. Off the other 3 at the front of the market, Rolling Star (15/2) looks to have a stiff task off 150 and will need to be verging on Champion Hurdle class to win. Chatterbox (17/2) is interesting but Barry Geraghty has passed him over for Rolling Star. City Slicker (17/2) could be anything but has been hiked 19lb for winning a much weaker race and whilst the ground probably won’t be too bad, he might need it quicker.
There will be loads of dangers, but Totalize looks really well in and it’s eye-catching that Wayne Hutchinson has been booked. He’s flexible groundwise and is definitely worth a punt.