Matt Tombs / Monday 30th December 2013 / 10:10
This isn’t a column that deals in hyperbole, but the sad sight of the great Sprinter Sacre being pulled up with an irregular heartbeat at Kempton was a disaster. A disaster for connections and fans - but also for the sport. He’s the only horse capable of building a following beyond the confines of racing. The problem has been compared with Denman’s after his Gold Cup win – it was a year after the problem arose that Denman was back to his best, with a majestic Hennessy win off 174.
The news on Sunday sounded better as Sprinter Sacre’s heartbeat was back to normal and Nicky Henderson wasn’t ruling out him running again this season. He’s 11/10 for the Champion Chase and 4/7 NRNB. Fingers crossed the Seven Barrows team can nurse him back to health – I’ve never seen a chaser like him in terms of visual impression and I want to see more, much more.
After his exit, the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton, (2m, soft), was won comfortably by Sire De Grugy. Just as in the Tingle Creek, he wasn’t beating much but he looks a high class horse. If Sprinter Sacre doesn’t recover, he looks the best 2m chaser around. However, he doesn’t seem to like Cheltenham and is only 4/1 for the Champion Chase, (3/1 NRNB.) Given Sprinter Sacre might run, that’s not tempting.
The sight of Cue Card tanking along in the straight in the King George, (3m, soft,) and then hitting the wall with the race seemingly won, was reminiscent of One Man. Having won going away at Haydock, (officially 1f further but winning time only 1s longer), he should have got the trip here – perhaps he was ridden too aggressively. If Joe Tizzard can get the fractions right, he’ll still be a force in a good ground Gold Cup (10/1) as he shaped like the best horse here. Trying to win the Ryanair (100/30) again is obviously an option, so 6/1 for the Gold Cup NRNB looks about right.
Silviniaco Conti stayed on really well to reverse the Betfair form, (stronger gallop and the benefit of a run helping.) He goes to the Gold Cup with sound claims but 4/1 reflects that. Al Ferof was beaten 14½l and ran a slightly odd race here - perhaps he never got into a rhythm, (jumped left early on) - staying on but never able to challenge. He’s best judged after another run – he’s 10/1 for the Ryanair and 25/1 for the Gold Cup. Dynaste was backed into joint favouritism but bombed completely. He shouldn’t be written off and 25/1 for the Gold Cup, (20/1 NRNB) is tempting.
The Christmas Hurdle at Kempton was a match between Britain’s 2 contenders for what’s shaping into a vintage Champion Hurdle. This speed track was always likely to favour My Tent Or Yours and he won by ½l, (2m, soft). The race was run steadily as these top conditions events before Cheltenham tend to be, but unusually when they sprinted, My Tent Or Yours and The New One pulled 28l clear of 150 rated horses. My Tent Or Yours had made up a couple of lengths nicely coming to the last where The New One got it wrong looking to hand My Tent Or Yours a decisive advantage. The New One recovered quickly and was snapping at the winners heels on the run in, with My Tent Or Yours only extending again close home.
Visually it looked as if My Tent Or Yours settled better here but connections reported he still pulled hard and a fast run Champion Hurdle should help. You also imagine that Nicky Henderson will have left more to work on at this stage than Nigel Twiston-Davies. The flip side is that The New One will love a fast pace that brings his stamina into play and Cheltenham should suit him better. They’re both 7/2 and there shouldn’t be much between them in the Champion Hurdle. Going into the festive season, I’d thought the Irish 2m hurdlers were stronger – but I was impressed by this form, and having the two English horses at the front of the market is fair enough.
Given so few of the great horses have Grade 1 races named after them, it was a shame that the newly renamed Kauto Star novice chase, (formerly the Feltham,) attracted a desperate field, (3m, soft.) Annacotty had been beaten off 130 in his last two runs and whilst the blinkers looked to have brought about improvement here, it’s likely this was his day in the sun. He’s 33/1 for the RSA.
Possibly the hardest piece of form to evaluate from a Festival point of view was the Grade 2 Wayward Lad novices’ chase at Kempton, (2m, soft). It was effectively a match in which Dodging Bullets gave Grandouet 6lb and beat him an easy 10l. Dodging Bullets had looked a lucky winner on his chasing debut and the form of his Grade 2 win at Cheltenham has taken plenty of knocks – so he looked to have a lot on here. In theory this was the performance of a real Arkle contender but the suspicion is that 166 rated hurdler Grandouet isn’t going to cut it over fences. Grandouet is worth another chance back on his favoured good ground but he’s out to 20/1 for the Arkle. Dodging Bullets is 8/1 but I’m unsure about what he’s achieved over fences so far.
At Wetherby, Many Clouds was an impressive winner of a 3 runner novice chase, beating 135 rated Indian Castle by 16l, (extended 2m4f, soft.) He’s 16/1 for the Jewson and 25/1 for the RSA. The latter looks the more likely race but the real clue here was that he paid a compliment to Black Thunder, (16/1 for the RSA,) who beat Many Clouds comfortably at Haydock, and whose form is stacking up nicely.
The Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury, (2m5f, heavy) has a rich tradition of producing top class 3 milers – though winners have an appalling record in the Neptune. Captain Cutter had looked talented but an erratic jumper in winning a couple of small hurdles at long odds-on. As is often the case in this race, stamina won him the day here. He’s only 12/1 for the Albert Bartlett and that doesn’t appeal.
The 2m novice hurdle, (soft,) that kicks off the King George card is usually won by a smart sort, most notably Menorah who followed up by winning the 2010 Supreme. Amore Alato looks a really progressive type, having beaten Heath Hunter (winner twice since) and Sgt Reckless at Wincanton the time before. Soft ground was an unknown but he handled it well and won going away. Whilst he had the run of the race out front, he looked to get lonely as, when joined, he pulled out plenty more. He’s 33/1 for the Supreme and whilst he needs to improve to win that, he is progressive and is the type to be underestimated. He’d won his bumper on good to firm, and his breeding suggests he’ll be flexible groundwise.
Finally, regardless of the outcome of the race, it’s ludicrous that Sprinter Sacre could run without it being shown on terrestrial television. Given their schedule only had a 1998 Eddie Murphy film on Channel 4, you’d have thought that C4 would have shown some entrepreneurial nous and changed it to show the race. Whilst moving the race to Boxing Day would have caused all sorts of logistical problems for Kempton and all racegoers who’d bought tickets to see him on the 27th, if C4 were unable to get their act together, the race should have been moved. Sprinter Sacre is our one box office horse and it was negligent to let him run and not show the race on terrestrial television.
You’d have thought the under-fire producers of C4’s racing would take all the help they can get. Watching Saturday’s Morning Line, Nicky Henderson was continually interrupted when answering questions about Sprinter Sacre and the debate on the big races was swiftly curtailed - due to lack of time. There was however time for constantly repeating what was to come later in the show, buttons to be pressed to get the tapes of previous races going and for fluff items like Rishi Persad’s training regime. Let’s hope C4’s coverage has hit its nadir and it’ll be an upward curve from here.