Matt Tombs / Friday 27th December 2013 / 18:00
For those who can remember a string of Gold Cups where the main protagonists never repeated that form, last season’s renewal has an old fashioned feel about it. Bobs Worth, Long Run & The Giant Bolster have been very disappointing this season and Sir Des Champs crashed out early in the Durkan. With Bobs Worth (9/4) and Sir Des Champs (100/30) taking out so much of the Lexus market – if they won’t repeat last season’s form, there must be loads of value in the race.
In Sir Des Champs case it’s worth noting that, in Willie Mullins own words, his staying chasers usually improve 10lb between the Lexus and Irish Hennessy. Of his 11 runners in the last decade none has even achieved a place in the Lexus. In the same period, Mullins’ horses have won 5 of the 10 Irish Hennessys. Rubi Ball (12/1) is the unknown quantity but was disappointing when beaten by Foildubh (66/1) over hurdles despite getting 10lb. With the Mullins yard’s record in this, he can’t be backed. Unioniste (7/1) was beaten in a poor Charlie Hall, (might have needed the run,) and then won an ordinary listed race at Aintree. Whilst this probably isn’t as strong a race as it looks, he doesn’t appear Grade 1 material.
First Lieutenant (11/2) is another one who had plenty of hard races last season, and his profile is that of a horse who improves throughout the season. He was only just chinned in this last season though and it would be no surprise to see him improve greatly on 2 disappointing runs so far this season. However, Mouse Morris had only 2 winners in November and has had 1 so far in December so there’s a bit of a concern about yard form. He’s not the backable price I thought he might be.
Understanding trainers’ vibes is an important part of punting – some trainers are always bullish about their horses, others invariably down play their chances. Lord Windermere (12/1) is Jim Culloty’s first good horse so he’s not easy to interpret. Culloty was incredibly positive before the Hennessy and if he was going to win a Lexus, then Lord Windermere should have been in the mix at Newbury off 154. The fact he was well beaten, (being hampered by a faller only a partial excuse,) has meant that he’s been largely dismissed in the market here. However, he didn’t shine at the start of last season and it may have been that he needed the run at Newbury.
He beat Unioniste easily in the RSA and Unioniste hasn’t set the world alight this season, yet is little more than half Lord Windermere’s price. Lord Windermere is not the most solid proposition, but if you forgive him his Newbury run, he does look really good value. With so many doubts around those at the front of the market I’m going to give him another chance as I think that the staying chase division is going to be dominated by those who didn’t fight out the finish of last year’s Gold Cup.
1pt Lord Windermere to win the Lexus @ 12/1
I love big handicaps where top horses run. It’s often a better indication of how good they are then beating inferior horses at levels and it also keeps more unexposed horses out of the handicap proper, presenting a different punting challenge. In the Welsh National, last season’s Lexus winner Tidal Bay (20/1) competes off 163, having been dropped 8lb since not being competitive in the Betfair Chase. 3m5f on bad ground should suit him much better and though it’s only a few days before he becomes a teenager, he looked to retain plenty of ability when winning a Grade 2 hurdle at Wetherby - he has a chance.
With the handicap very compressed by his presence, (137 gets in on 10-0), that really favours those rated in the 140s or more, who might usually be giving lots of weight away to unexposed types rated in the 120s and 130s. Since Carvill’s Hill hacked up off 172 twenty years ago, only 3 horses have run off a mark of 160 or more. The last time, (5 years ago Halcon Genelardais ran off 164), the winner was Notre Pere, a Grade 1 winning novice running off 152. Tidal Bay’s presence really gives the higher rated horses a chance.
Merry King (10/1) and Highland Lodge (19/2) had tough races in the Hennessy, and this has traditionally been a graveyard for Hennessy runners. Goonyella (8/1) has just the right profile for this but Jim Dreaper seemed concerned about the impact of travelling and I’m not that keen on backing horses at shortish prices for this sort of event. Hawkes Point (10/1) is interesting as the presence of his stablemate gets him in dead on 10-0, but he does need to improve a lot to win.
The one I like is Hey Big Spender (25/1) who is a class act on heavy ground. A 4lb penalty for winning the Rehearsal Chase gets him in off 10-7 (144). It’s obviously not ideal that some of the Tizzard horses have had a virus, but plenty have been running well, including Hey Big Spender, whose win in the Rehearsal off 140, came over an inadequate trip (3m), on unsuitably good ground. He won the 3m5f Classic Chase at Warwick off 156 at the start of last year and with trip and ground ideal, he looks really well in here off 12lb lower, (officially 4lb well in). It’s not often that a 10 year old wins this, (Riverside Boy 20 years ago was the last,) but Tidal Bay is keeping a lot of young, unexposed types out of the handicap, which hugely improves Hey Big Spender’s chance.
1pt Hey Big Spender to win the Welsh National @ 25/1
The Grade 1 Challow novice hurdle at Newbury (2m5f, heavy) is almost always won by an embryonic 3 miler. The likes of Denman, Wichita Lineman, Reve De Sivola and Diamond Harry have won in recent years, whilst Grade 1 horses over shorter, Finian’s Rainbow and Al Ferof, were beaten. With the ground testing as it often is, we’re looking for a classy sort who might be a World Hurdle or Gold Cup type one day – not the sort of fast horse that wins the equivalent race, (the Neptune,) at the Festival.
The British novice Grade 1s in the winter are harder to predict than the Irish equivalents, as the maidens and ungraded novices are much less competitive. That makes it harder to get a handle on the form and the Challow isn’t the sort of race to be dogmatic about. I’d been impressed with Oscar Rock when annihilating a subsequent winner at Wetherby and it might be that he bumped into a top class horse in Ballyalton next time. However, he didn’t find much off the bridle and 5/2 is a bit short given all that.
Visually, Shantou Magic (6/1) has been one of the most impressive British novices, bolting up in a strong looking novice at Fontwell and then powering clear of an ordinary field mid-race at Market Rasen. He goes well on soft ground and looks like the sort of embryonic 3 miler that does so well in this. He’s worth a small bet.
1pt Shantou Magic to win the Challow Hurdle @ 6/1