Matt Tombs / Monday 23rd December 2013 / 13:55
One of the most hyped phrases in racing is that a horse “could be anything” - inevitably most aren’t anything that’ll live long in the memory. However, Un De Sceaux really could be anything after impressively converting a 1/16 penalty kick in a minor conditions race at Thurles, (2m, soft.) Normally it’s the Supreme or Neptune markets where you’re looking at good horses winning maidens by a hurdle and evaluating how good they are. Here we’re looking at a live outsider for the Champion Hurdle, (20/1).
He’s obviously got loads to prove on form and genuinely good ground would be an unknown, but he jumps fast and lands running, and was still tanking along after the line here. It’s nothing more than a visual impression but he looked like the real deal. Willie Mullins says he wants Un De Sceaux to have another run before tackling Grade 1 horses. Hopefully that’ll happen quickly so he can contest the Irish Champion Hurdle on 26th January, as otherwise he might not be battle hardened enough for the Champion Hurdle this season. Sublimity did win it without contesting a good hurdle in open company but he was streetwise from the flat.
The Long Walk Hurdle is the only Grade 1 of the season in Britain for staying hurdlers prior to Cheltenham, (3m1f, soft). The talking horse was last season’s leading novice At Fishers Cross, who went off odds-on despite having a lot to prove on form. He didn’t jump well enough, and was well held when diving at the last and unseating Tony McCoy. With question marks over ability, jumping and his acting on the likely sound surface, it’s hard to see him being a factor in the World Hurdle at the moment, (out to 14/1).
Having put up Salubrious with an uncertain weather forecast, I was initially dismayed to see all the rain, but as they came down to the 2nd last it didn’t seem to matter. He was still tanking along and looked set to swallow up Reve De Sivola, when blundering and losing all chance 2 out. Daryl Jacob said he was confident he’d have won, and there should be other days for him – he’s effective on better ground and 25/1 for the World Hurdle looks far too big. The concern is that he’s part owned by Andy Stewart and I wonder if he’ll take Big Buck’s on.
Reve De Sivola loves the mud and took advantage of his opponents jumping frailties to win this for the 2nd year in succession. He’s a class act in deep ground, but I doubt he’s got the toe to be competitive in a good ground World Hurdle, (16/1).
It’s not often a champion hurdler goes chasing. Few have prospered, (its generally been a last resort when they’re on the downgrade,) although Collier Bay did finish a distant 4th in the RSA. I wouldn’t be getting too excited about Rock On Ruby’s Arkle or Jewson chances (16/1 for both) having outclassed a moderate type at Plumpton, (2m1f, soft). It may have been the mismatch didn’t suit him but he didn’t impress as a natural jumper on debut. It’s too early to draw conclusions about his chasing career and he’s better judged after a run in stronger company.
The difference between jumping fences in small field, steadily run conditions chases and fast run, big field handicaps, is a key element of evaluating form. A good example of that, (and the value of graduation chases,) was Hadrian’s Approach’s win at Newbury, (3m, good to soft.) He has plenty of ability but he really struggles to jump at a fast pace. With just 4 runners here, he was kept very wide to get a good look at his fences. He managed to get from one side to another and his class told as he headed Super Duty (who gave 3lb) close home. The winner looks the type who will excel in small fields, especially if they don’t go quick enough to put his jumping under pressure. He’d have to get much slicker at his obstacles to have a chance in a Festival handicap.
The Grade 2 novice chase at Ascot, (2m3f, soft), was dominated by Fox Appeal who thrashed Raya Star by 10l. He’d run into what may be Paul Nicholls’ top 2 novice chasers in Wonderful Charm and Black Thunder on his first two starts and only went down narrowly to both. It’s easy to look at a horse that was running over 3m as a hurdler and assume he’ll be a real stayer over fences. Sometimes trainers take a while to work out a horse’s best trip, and given he’s got plenty of toe and how keen he can be, a step back up in trip to the RSA (20/1) doesn’t look the right call.
Emma Lavelle suggested this trip (2m3f) was ideal but that jockey Aidan Coleman thought he’d be better dropping back 3f for the Arkle (25/1), rather than up 1f for the Jewson (20/1), which sounded a bit contradictory. This was the shortest trip he’s run over, over jumps - so before he could be considered for the Arkle he’d need to contest a good 2m novice chase like the Lightening or Kingmaker. He looks well worth his place in one of the Festival novice Grade 1s and the Jewson looks his race, but given the apparent preference for the Arkle he’s not a betting proposition at the moment.
The Grade 2 Kennel Gate novices hurdle at Ascot, (2m, soft) is usually won by a smart prospect and Irving looks likes continuing that trend. It was surprising to see Volnay De Thaix go off odds-on as he’d beaten nothing in his 2 hurdle races and he was readily brushed aside as Irving went onto win by 6l, having looked to take Prince Siegfried’s (who received 3lb) measure when he fell at the last. Irving was running over up to 1m6f on the flat but looks to have plenty of boot, and the Supreme is the aim, (14/1 joint favourite.) As the market suggests, no novice has stood out so far, but Irving looks a genuine contender. Interestingly he’s nicknamed Concorde at home, which suggests he’s held in some regard.
Prince Siegfried was a Group 3 winner over 10f on the flat but had been a bit disappointing on his first two runs over hurdles, despite winning 2nd time out. This was much more like it and he might be the type for the County Hurdle depending on what sort of handicap mark he gets now.
Valseur Lido had bolted up in a good maiden hurdle at Cork 5 weeks ago but none of the other principles had run since so it was hard to evaluate the form. We didn’t learn much more when he scored, as a 1/12 shot should, in a weak novice at Navan, (2m, yielding.) He jumps soundly but having only had 2 hacks round since joining Willie Mullins, I doubt connections have that much of an idea of how good he is. He’s 25/1 for the Supreme and needs a step up in class now to get experience before the Festival.
Royal Boy was 3rd in the Tolworth last season and had been seen as a top class chasing prospect by Nicky Henderson. His didn’t jump well on his chasing debut though and, switched back to hurdles, was an easy winner of a competitive maiden at Ascot, (2m6f, soft.) He’s to be kept over hurdles now as Nicky thinks there are ‘good races to be won with him’. He’s rated 133 and shouldn’t go up much for this. He looks the sort Nicky will lay out for a handicap at the Festival, with the Coral Cup and Pertemps Final likely to be under consideration.
Finally, there was much debate during the week about Ludlow’s card on Wednesday having around £80,000 prize money, whereas Newbury’s had less than £60,000. I’ve often wondered how racing would fare if there was a free market and racecourses generated their own sponsorship and put on whatever races they wanted. The money and type of race would need to be arranged before the start of the season so connections could plan. But it might breath some commerciality into what is still effectively a cartel of a few courses being allocated virtually all the top races. Courses like Folkestone and Hereford had no real chance of improving themselves and have closed. If a course was able to attract the top horses if it could produce the prize money, ground, quality of obstacles etc – it might attract some real entrepreneurs into racecourse ownership, with huge knock on benefits. There’s more chance of turkeys voting for us all having a big slap up meal on Wednesday.