Matt Tombs / Tuesday 28th October 2014 / 12:15
The novice chase at Chepstow’s Free Hurdle meeting, (extended 2m3f, good to soft,) has produced some quality horses in recent years – Fingal Bay, Balder Succes and Cue Card, (Silviniaco Conti behind,) have won the last 3 renewals. This year there was one potential star in the field, Southfield Theatre, who duly won by 7l from a useful prospect in Monkey Kingdom. Whilst he was novicey on occasions, he was exuberant off a long stride and looked to really enjoy jumping fences. He was just touched off in the Pertemps Final off 147 and ought to improve for the run, a step up in trip and better ground. A few years ago any Nicholls runner making a taking debut over fences was chalked up a short price for a Festival novice chase. Nicholls hasn’t actually trained a winner over fences at the Festival since 2009 and his last novice chase winner was Denman in the 2007 RSA. That’s surely just a freak occurrence and 20/1 looks to underestimate Southfield Theatre’s RSA chances.
Perhaps mindful of the hype caused when describing Fingal Bay as potentially the best he’d trained, Philip Hobbs was more circumspect with Sausalito Sunrise – but he clearly rates him very highly. He looked a natural over his fences at Chepstow when comfortably beating useful types Minella On Line and Mosspark in a novice chase, (3m, soft). Hobbs made it clear that he sees him as a Grade 1 novice and 25/1 for the RSA is tempting as, unlike so many novices, his Festival target looks fairly obvious.
In what was effectively a match at Fontwell, (2m4f, good to soft), Virak beat Deputy Dan by 4½l in a beginners chase. The winner jumped a bit to his right at Fontwell's figure of 8 track but fought off the runner up easily enough. He was a fair 24l 6th of 23 in the Martin Pipe off 146 and the 5 year old looks a useful prospect, although with both stable's runners seeming to need the run, the form isn't easy to weigh up. Virak’s well thought of by Paul Nicholls and is probably best judged after another run, (20/1 for the JLT). Albert Bartlett 3rd Deputy Dan briefly looked a threat on the run in when getting to within a length but Leighton Aspell was very easy on him in the last 100 yards. He looked a bit green at the Festival and it may still be immaturity - but his head carriage isn't great and I'm open minded about his attitude, (20/1 for the JLT and 33/1 for the RSA.)
Grumeti jumped fluently and won on the bridle at Bangor, (extended 2m1f, good). He looks a natural and, although off the flat, he has the size and scope for chasing. If he retains the ability he showed when beating Triumph winner and subsequent Champion Hurdle 3rd Countrywide Flame in a 4 year olds Grade 1 hurdle at Aintree in April 2012, then this 6 year old ought to be an exciting recruit to fences. He was outclassed in open Grade 1s over timber for much of last season and its often hard to assess how good those sorts of horses are - especially in slowly run conditions races, eg his 5½l 3rd to My Tent Or Yours in the Fighting Fifth. I'm open-minded at this stage but the two who chased him home at a respectful distance have both won twice since, (33/1 for the Arkle).
Court Minstrel isn’t a winter ground horse but he had a good record over hurdles on a sound surface, including a win off 147 in a 2m handicap for conditional jockeys at the National meeting this year. He began his fencing career at Newton Abbot (extended 2m, good,) when comfortably conceding 11lb to 4 year old Keltus, who’d finished 4th in the Fred Winter off 128. He jumped adequately before being allowed to run down the last, winning cheekily by 2¼l. He followed up at Cheltenham, (2m, good,) beating Chris Pea Green, (who received 5lb,) by 2¾l. They went steadily at Cheltenham and he was able to use his pace late on, but over hurdles a big field and a fast run race suited him ideally. He’s 25/1 for the Arkle, which is probably about right, but I’d like to see how his jumping holds up in a strongly run race before considering backing him.
Possibly the best jumping performance from a debutante so far came from Creepy – who hosed up by 20l in a novices limited handicap at Chepstow, (3m, good). These novices limited handicaps are ideal for horses who were always going to be better chasers than hurdlers as they often get in off lenient marks - 130 looked generous based on his defeats of Splash Of Ginge and then Timesremembered, (in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham,) last autumn. His 4 wins have all come in the autumn and he doesn’t like testing ground so the fact he needs time between his races makes him tricky to campaign. He’s 40/1 for the RSA but, given its proved impossible to win that race off a long break, I’d want to see him get match practice in nearer the race before backing him.
Carlisle has just about the softest fences around and so is popular with many trainers for beginners chases. A cracking event run over 2m, (soft) was won by 140 rated hurdler Duke Of Navan who just edged out Urban Hymn by a head. The winner was very keen but jumped really well and is highly thought of by Nicky Richards. I thought he’d win comfortably after jumping the last but didn’t quicken as well as I’d expected – perhaps a result of running too freely. He’s best judged after another run, (33/1 for the Arkle). Urban Hymn was rated 141 over hurdles having won a Grade 2 novice over 3m at Doncaster before doing too much too soon in the Albert Bartlett. He jumped reasonably for a debutant and rallied well on the run in. Brian Hughes may have been under instructions not to give the horse a hard race first time out but, for whatever reason, he didn’t go quickly enough to bring his stamina into play, which cost him victory. He probably emerges as the best prospect - 20/1 for the RSA looks about right.
Splash Of Ginge had won the Betfair Hurdle off 134 and was 1½l 2nd in the 2m4f Grade 1 Mersey at Aintree, earning a rating over timber of 146. He bombed on his chasing debut at Perth but reversed the form with Ainsi Fideles, (who received 2lb and was seeking a 6 timer,) at Cheltenham, (2m4f, good to soft). A lot of the Twiston-Davies horses disappointed at Perth and he was a different proposition at Cheltenham. He jumped solidly and showed a good turn of foot after the last to win by 9l. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s tried over further, but at this stage the JLT (20/1) looks the obvious Festival target.
Knock House had been a fair novice hurdler, (well beaten in the Neptune,) but it looks like he’ll be a much better chaser based on a demolition job of a decent field at Fakenham, (extended 2m5f, good). He jumped really well, looks versatile ground-wise and looks up to taking on the best novices. It’s hard to know his ideal trip at this stage but the JLT (not quoted) might be the right target.
You’d normally expect a roughly even split of races in Britain and Ireland in a novice chase round up at this stage. This autumn has been so dry in Ireland that we’ve seen fewer of the potential Grade 1 novices than normal. However, arguably the best race in the division either side of the Irish Sea so far in terms of depth, was the novice at Cork, (2m4f, yielding) won by Band Of Blood. He’d won at the course over hurdles in May off 126, (rated 136 over timber,) and this former point winner jumped pretty well on his fencing debut beating Lots Of Memories by a neck, with winners The Crafty Butcher and Rawnaq behind. Lots Of Memories was only beaten 2½l by Beat That in the 3m Grade 1 novice hurdle at the Punchestown Festival but didn’t jump as well as the winner here, (slight mistakes at the last 3 fences,) and was probably unsuited by a steady early gallop over a trip well short of his best. Both look good prospects for the top staying novice chases this season. Band Of Blood isn’t yet quoted for the RSA but the 33/1 about Lots Of Memories looks tempting, (it’s worth remembering that the last 3 Irish RSA winners – Lord Windermere, Bostons Angel and Weapon’s Amnesty – were all beaten on their chasing debut).
By contrast, the beginners chase that Albert Bartlett winner Very Wood took at Galway (2m6f, good,) was a weak affair. Very Wood wasn’t impressive, beating The Job Is Right, (who gave 2lb,) by 1½l. He jumped nicely but looked a bit short of tactical speed. Noel Meade’s horses are in good form and he won on his seasonal debut last year so it wasn’t obviously a case that he was short of fitness. He’d been beaten only 7l in the Grade 1 Royal Bond over 2m last season so, whilst he’d improved for a strongly run test at 3m in the Albert Bartlett, he hadn’t just looked a slogger. The cheekpieces were left off here and perhaps he’ll need headgear to show his best over fences. He’s 20/1 for the RSA. That doesn’t appeal based on this fencing debut, but 2 of the last 3 Albert Bartlett winners to have gone chasing the following season, (Bob’s Worth & Weapon’s Amnesty,) have won the RSA.