Matt Tombs / Friday 10th January 2014 / 17:00
There are times when you have to trust your eyes rather than the formbook. Un De Sceaux is a perfect example, having won every race by miles on the bridle. At Navan on Sunday, Ruby Walsh was again trying to slow him down, by exerting an iron grip, between the last and the winning post, (2m, soft.)
Plenty will be saying he’s beaten nothing and he’s up against the best Champion Hurdle field for decades. That’s true but the style of his wins has been incredibly impressive. As Willie Mullins pointed out, 143 rated Foildubh, (RPR 151 on his last run over hurdles, albeit over 6½f further on better ground which he prefers,) tried to put it up to him down the back straight. Turning in he was out on his feet, and in the straight got passed by 104 rated Akatara, (to whom he was giving 16lb including claims). In some ways this reminded me of the 2008 Aon Chase when Ollie Magern tried to serve it up to Denman in the back straight and ended up exhausted and finishing miles behind horses he’d normally have beaten.
The Champion Hurdle is now firmly on the cards. He did jump a bit right early on but was good when he was going quickly, so has now proved he can go left handed. A sound surface is an unknown, (ran on good to soft in France but beat 2 horses who never won a race). However, both his sire and dam’s sire have great records with their progeny running on good to firm, and his attacking style looks tailormade for good ground, so I’m not that concerned. Whoever ends up riding him, it’ll be crucial to judge the fractions as he tries to emulate Make A Stand. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Paul Townend on Annie Power and someone like Jason Maguire booked for Un De Sceaux.
Having just re-watched the 3 Champion Hurdles Hurricane Fly has contested, the one he was beaten in was the one run at a breakneck, end-to-end gallop, (Overturn was running on his own account, not as pacemaker for Peddlers Cross.) However, he’d had an interrupted preparation that year and looked very buzzed up in the preliminaries, (Ruby had his feet out of the irons at the start), which may have been more of a factor.
That said, in last season’s renewal where they went a medium gallop early on, Hurricane Fly looked in trouble when they went very quick down the back straight. He’s never been at his magnificent best at Cheltenham and I think Un De Sceaux running wouldn’t suit him – he’d be least inconvenienced of all the main contenders by a steadily run race.
I’ve nailed my colours to Jezki and I still think he can beat Hurricane Fly on a sound surface at Cheltenham. It’s not the sort of race I’d want to put another horse up for, but at this stage 16/1 Un De Sceaux is the best value.
Black Thunder had looked a good prospect when rattling up a hat-trick in novice chases, but he was outpointed by Corrin Wood at Warwick, (extended 3m, heavy.) The winner looks really progressive, is an uncomplicated ride from the front, and stays very well. He did jump a bit right here but he’s quick through the air. Having beaten a 153 rated rival at levels he would be one of the form horses in the 4 miler, (12/1). Black Thunder had beaten Shotgun Paddy twice this season, so it was a boost for Corrin Wood when Shotgun Paddy won the Classic Chase at Warwick, (3m5f, soft) off 145. All 3 jump well and would be worthy contenders for the 4 miler, for which Shotgun Paddy is 10/1, but does apparently need plenty of cut.
For many, the most eagerly awaited novice hurdler of the week was Vautour, who was backed into 8/1 for the Supreme before the race, but had to work hard to beat Western Boy ¾l in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer at Punchestown, (2m, soft to heavy.) Rich Ricci had suggested beforehand that he might be ahead of Faugheen in his pecking order, but it didn’t look like it here. He was keen and would probably settle better in a faster run race, but Willie Mullins was considering a step up in trip afterwards and the Neptune (16/1) rather than Supreme (10/1) might be his race. On the basis Ricci won’t run them against each other, that would mean Faugheen going for the Albert Bartlett, (8/1).
Western Boy looks a good, progressive horse and time might show two of Ireland’s best novices clashed here. On a line through 3rd home Mr Fiftyone, this looks similar form to the Royal Bond. Western Boy is 20/1 for the Supreme, which looks fair as he’s proved he can go on decent ground.
It looked a fair renewal of the Grade 1 Tolworth novices hurdle at Kempton, but with gambled on favourite The Liquidator bombing, it was left to the Henderson pair Royal Boy and Josses Hill to fight out the finish. Royal Boy prevailed by ½l, (2m, soft). Having won over 2m6f last time there was a big question mark over the trip here, but he’s clearly not slow. He’s heading for the Neptune (20/1) and isn’t easy to assess. Don’t be put off by the fact he’s a 2nd season novice – the likes of Massini’s Maguire and Mikael D’Haguenet have won the Neptune as 2nd season novices in recent years.
Unlike some of Willie Mullins other raiders over the weekend, who looked here to test the strength of the British form, Rathvinden had looked a possible for his A team of novice hurdlers come the Festival. He crashed out of a decent renewal of the Grade 2 Leamington novices hurdle at Warwick though, leaving Deputy Dan to beat Masters Hill by 9l, 2m5f, (heavy.) The winner has been progressive and heads for the Albert Bartlett (16/1) unless the ground is soft, in which case he’ll run in the Neptune, (16/1). He did return with a nasty cut so for those thinking of backing him, it’s worth waiting to see if he gets the all clear during the week.
Red Sherlock won one of the hottest bumpers of last season when beating The Skyfarmer and Captain Cutter at Ascot. He’d won a weak hurdle at 4/9 at Southwell and made it 2/2 over timber when beating a poor field on the bridle at Wetherby, (2m4f, soft). He jumped nicely early on but ran down the last two and Timmy Murphy was keen not to ask him any questions. He was flashing his tail in that bumper win, and may not be straightforward. He’s 20/1 for the Neptune and looks to have an engine, but you’d want to see how he copes in a better race before backing him.
The mares conditions hurdle at Warwick brought together some of the British pretenders to Quevega’s throne. However, it was Quevega’s stable mate Glens Melody, who prevailed, just edging out Mischevious Milly by ¾l, (2m3f, heavy). Back on her favoured testing ground, Glens Melody put her disappointing run behind More Of That and Salubrious in the Relkeel behind her. She’s more likely to run in the Grade 1 mares races at Fairyhouse and Punchestown that at Cheltenham, but she was paying another compliment to Annie Power who slaughtered her at Fairyhouse in the spring.
The new listed conditions race at Kempton drew a strong field for the grade, but Captain Chris turned it into a procession winning by 23l, (extended 2m4f, soft.) He’s a high class horse when everything falls right and whilst he’s clearly better going right-handed, his class got him home in an Arkle, and 40/1 for the Gold Cup is a bit of an insult.
I don’t know if any owner has ever had 4 runners in one of the four championship events at the Festival, but Andy Stewart could have in the World Hurdle, which is the target for easy Lanzarote winner Saphir Du Rheu, (2m5f, soft). He won off 145 here, (140 if Harry Derham’s claim is ignored,) so has plenty to find on form. 5 year olds have a dire record in the World Hurdle, he hasn’t proved he stays 3m and Paul Nicholls says he needs soft ground – so 20/1 isn’t tempting.
Finally, we’ve all had horses we’ve followed over a cliff. I reckon discipline is one of my strengths as a punter, but it cuts both ways. Looking back at the sundry tips in the column this season, (ie not the main Festival portfolio) - of the 13 horses tipped who’ve run since, 3 have won next time out – Cue Card (9/1), Benefficient (9/1) and Ma Filluele (13/2.) If you’d backed them all next time out at SP, you’d be showing a level stakes profit of 14½ pts, (112%.) It’s worth remembering that, whilst the requirements of every race are different, finding winners is about finding the best horses, (at the weights). If I’ve found one, then even if it doesn’t win the first time I back it, I shouldn’t be too quick to abandon it. Nice view up here…