Matt Tombs / Wednesday 13th November 2013 / 11:00
I think there are 2 bankers this year. One is obviously Sprinter Sacre and surely only injury can stop him dominating the 2m chase division. As it’s all 10 count there is, as always, a case for leaving him out as he’ll be in virtually every team, and if he does get injured then you’d have a huge advantage. He’ll therefore be in 90% of my perm. If Sprinter Sacre doesn’t line up, Sire De Grugy looks the most likely winner.
The other banker is The New One, not because I think he’s going to win the Champion Hurdle, but because he runs in the Bula (International) Hurdle and may have little to beat. He’s also likely to run in the Aintree Hurdle so should take in 3 bonus races, (my 90% allocation will be spread across the 3). Zarkandar might run in the Bula again and is worth a small allocation. Half the last 10 Bula winners have been handicappers stepping up from the Greatwood Hurdle at the Open meeting. Nicky Henderson is much more bullish about Cash And Go this time so he’s worth considering.
After the Champion Chase and Bula, the bonus races get much harder to call and for those entering perms, it’s worth spreading your selections quite widely. I’ve tried to identify the most likely winner for those just putting in one team, but none are intended to be bankers.
The Irish Champion Hurdle is often a predictable race and having won it for the last 3 years, Hurricane Fly remains the most likely winner, for all he’ll be 10 and facing an outstanding crop of last season’s novices. The ground isn’t usually too bad at Leopardstown and if it isn’t that testing Jezki is the next most likely winner. Our Conor was brilliant in the Triumph and although he misses the 25 point Morgiana Hurdle on the opening weekend of the competition, he’s another for perms. Willie Mullins has 2 potential top notch second season hurdlers in Annie Power and Un De Sceaux. It’s hard to predict how either will be campaigned over the winter but both are worth considering.
The Irish Hennessy is another race that often produces a straightforward selection but looks tougher this year. Last year’s winner Sir Des Champs is the most likely winner as Willie Mullins’ 3m chasers tend to come to the boil for the race. I’m concerned whether a couple of hard races last season may have taken their toll though. I still think Flemenstar will get the 3m trip if allowed to bowl along and use his jumping, though he wasn’t impressive in the Fortria so he won’t get a huge allocation. Of last season’s novices the one I can see stepping up is Boston Bob who was apparently never right last season, but would probably still have won the RSA if he’d not come down at the last. It sounds ludicrous to include an English trained teenager, but Tidal Bay looked good again at Wetherby the other day and, if the ground is heavy, he’ll take all the beating. Roi Du Mee was a convincing winner of the recent Grade 1 at Down Royal achieving an RPR of 166 - which compares with the 10 year average for an Irish Hennessy winner of between 167-8. He’s the type to be underestimated.
Given that 7 of the last 10 Paddy Power winners have come from the front 3 in the market, I’d strongly recommend delaying your selections as long as possible. If you’re doing a perm then definitely include those market leaders, (market should be fairly mature by Thursday night.) Favourite John’s Spirit is not in the competition so there’s clearly the possibility that you can’t win this bonus race. It’s therefore worth considering not having a Paddy Power horse. I’ll probably have one in 80% of my perm.
We’ll have a better feel once the final declarations come out on Thursday, but at this stage my guess is Dynaste won’t run. I like Katenko if the ground has give in it. He’s one of only two (with Walkon) also in the Hennessy. If he wins on Saturday he’d have a great chance at Newbury, (might even escape the 4lb penalty if he’s top weight anyway) – in which scenario you couldn’t win without him. Salut Flo must have a strong chance if retaining the ability that saw him hose up off 7lb lower in the equivalent handicap at the Festival last year. He’d go on good ground. It sounds odd to suggest a maiden but Colour Squadron looks potentially chucked in off 139, if connections have sorted his tendency to hang badly.
The King George looks open but as Silviniaco Conti is going to be targeted at the race this season, he rates the most likely winner. 2nd season chasers have a poor record but Dynaste was really impressive in the Feltham and must be in the perm. Al Ferof is a chancy selection given he hasn’t run for a year due to injury but he was really impressive in the Paddy Power and this race looks ideal. Captain Chris was a cracking 2nd on unsuitably heavy ground last season and, on better going, has a chance of going one better. Cue Card looked tapped for toe off a steady pace in the Haldon and 3m might be his trip now. I often have a King George horse in every line but I just get the feeling there could be an upset this year so it might be an 80%-90% allocation.
The Bula and Irish Champion Hurdle lines cover all the Champion Hurdle horses except My Tent Or Yours who might mop up 25 point races on flat tracks first. There is the risk that he might go chasing (especially if Jezki beats Hurricane Fly on Sunday), so that needs factoring into team construction. The other 2nd season hurdlers could easily peak in the spring, so when structuring your team it could be, for example, that Hurricane Fly will win the Irish Champion Hurdle, only to get beaten by one of the other Irish horses at Cheltenham. When adding those horses in, I’ll have a Champion Hurdle horse in 60%-70% of teams.
The World Hurdle looks very open and it could pay to oppose Big Buck’s who is unlikely to be risked if there are any doubts about his recovery. He’ll be 11 by the time he races again and, great champion though he is, only Moscow Flyer has won a championship race at the Festival aged 11 in modern times – and he had a perfect preparation. At Fishers Cross dominated the staying novice division and, whilst I’m not sure what he beat, has to be in the perm. Solwhit bounced back from injury last season but will be 10 himself so will only be in a small part of my perm. I’m not convinced Zarkandar will get 3 miles but he gets a small allocation. It wouldn’t surprise me if we got another winner from left field and a longer shot I like is Monksland, who was progressing nicely last season and looks to relish the trip. I’ll have a World Hurdle horse in 60%-70% of teams.
The Arkle is a predictable race as winners are invariably high class hurdlers (RPR over 160) or were promising novice hurdlers the previous season (rated 140+). At this early stage it looks a weak division so there may be few contenders. With less horses in training and 4 novice chases at the Festival, the last two years field sizes (6 & 7) may be the new norm. It might therefore be a bonus race to focus on, as by far the most popular choice will be Champagne Fever. However, a good ground Arkle is more a test of speed than a soft ground Supreme and I can see him stepping up in distance, so I won’t have him in too many teams. After continually having to run at the wrong trip at the Festival, I suspect connections will want to run Oscar Whisky in the Jewson, unless the Arkle cuts up totally, so I’m opposing him. By contrast, Defy Logic looks a pure 2 miler and won’t be in too many teams so might be a shrewd selection. Ted Veale has been unlucky over hurdles and on the flat in not getting the good ground he likes, and is another feasible winner. I’ll have an Arkle horse in about 60% of teams.
The Ryanair is usually tricky because it’s hard to know what will run. Cue Card is the most likely winner but if he recovers Simonsig will be a formidable opponent. The vibes aren’t great though and with connections understandably not wanting to take any chances with a horse they regard so highly, I won’t have him in many teams. Arvika Ligeonniere has been better going right handed so far, but as he matures he may well cope with going left handed and looked a top class prospect at Fairyhouse and Punchestown last season, (runs at Clonmel tomorrow). I’ll have a Ryanair horse in about 60% of teams.
The Aintree Hurdle 1-2 of last season Zarkandar and The New One look the most likely winners, though it wouldn’t be a surprise if Our Conor was better suited by 2m4f than 2m. As all 3 are included in other lines, team structuring will be crucial when looking at this race, (I’ll have an Aintree Hurdle horse in about 40% of teams.)
The Irish Hennessy and King George cover a fair amount of the Gold Cup territory. I can see Silviniaco Conti winning the Gold Cup even if he gets beaten at Kempton. Bobs Worth will be hugely popular but he won’t run much and stamina won him the day in a real slog of a Gold Cup last season. I can see him getting done for toe this time and I won’t have him in too many teams. I’ll have a Gold Cup horse in about 50% of teams.
The Hennessy often looks too difficult a puzzle for the purposes of this competition, but this year I like some of those at the front of the market, in particular Rocky Creek, who it seems was trained last spring with this in mind. Invictus was always an underrated horse and looks really well handicapped, for all his Reynoldstown win from Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti shouldn’t be taken at face value. Lord Windermere stayed on really well to win the RSA and looks to have the right blend of speed and stamina for this. I’ll have a Hennessy horse in about 30%-40% of teams.
For those wanting an RSA horse, its worth remembering its 14/1 the field so its probably in the too difficult box. You can hedge your bets slightly if you pick a horse that’s likely to win several valuable novices over the winter and if I include one its likely to be Grade 1 winning hurdler Morning Assembly who impressed in winning a strong race on his chasing debut.
I rarely include novice hurdlers but at this stage Willie Mullins is leaning towards staying trips for Briar Hill. With many of the best novices kept to shorter trips early in their career, he could mop up weak races in Ireland before starting very short for the Albert Bartlett.
The star horse needs to be the one who’ll pick up most tote points so the obvious places to look are your Paddy Power or Hennessy horses. Good luck!