Matt Tombs / Friday 23rd January 2015 / 17:20
Cheltenham’s decision to style its late January card as ‘Trials Day’ brought derision from many, but the fixture has grown in stature and arguably this is the first year where it really lives up to its name. Given the paucity of good quality weekend action at this time of year, it defies logic that the same weekend features both this Cheltenham fixture and the Irish Champion Hurdle meeting at Leopardstown.
The upside is a fantastic couple of days racing and it’s a big weekend for the portfolio with Un De Sceaux, Dynaste, Un Temps Pour Tout and Arctic Fire all putting their credentials on the line. I won’t be backing Un De Sceaux or Dynaste this weekend, but that doesn’t mean I’m no longer sweet on their Festival chances.
On the basis that if Un De Sceaux runs in the Arkle, Vautour doesn’t, I think Un De Sceaux faces his main rival for Cheltenham glory on Sunday in Gilgamboa. He’s also up against Clarcam who will be getting 10lb whereas they will meet at levels at Cheltenham. Given his ultra aggressive style of racing always risks Un De Sceaux ending up on the floor, I think a shade of odds-on is about right (4/5).
Dynaste will hopefully prove wrong those who question his stamina in the Betbright Cup, (extended 3m1f on ground currently described as soft.) When the ground has been bad this has been won by some real sloggers in the past. However, it’s been fairly dry in the run up, albeit cold – and I’m hoping the going won’t be too testing. Given how hard it’s proved to win with the full 10lb penalty, I think 2/1 is about right in what looks a genuine Gold Cup trial. Hennessy winner Many Clouds (100/30) looks a real threat and Smad Place (100/30) gets 8lb - both have realistic chances against Dynaste.
I do want to back Un Temps Pour Tout (11/4) though in the Cleeve Hurdle. David Pipe has said he’ll come on a fair bit for his first run since the Punchestown Festival, but the Pipes are masters in having horses fit off a long break. He didn’t have any sort of hold up in the autumn - Pipe said he had a hard race at Punchestown and so the late start to this season was deliberate. Given that and the fact that he’s effectively on trial for the World Hurdle here, I expect him to be pretty straight. He’ll need to be, as some of the other main pretenders to More Of That’s crown are in opposition here – but at the weights I think 11/4 is a big price.
Saphir Du Rheu (2/1) has to give Un Temps Pour Tout 2lb and looks a vulnerable favourite. I don’t think he’s worth his mark of 165, which is largely based on giving Whisper 7lb and beating him a head at Ffos Las. Whisper wouldn’t have liked the heavy ground there and was being peaked for the Coral Cup. Other than when falling in the Kauto Star chase at Christmas, he’s never raced beyond 2m6f, so he also has his stamina to prove. I’m keen to take him on.
Cole Harden (4/1) was 4l behind Beat That at Aintree in April and was an impressive winner on good ground at Wetherby at the start of the season. He got stuck in the mud at Newbury next time and was then a solid 2¾l 3rd to Rock On Ruby over an extended 2m4f here. This ground might still be worse than he can handle and he has to concede Un Temps Pour Tout 6lb, which looks a tough task, (16l behind him at Ascot over an extended 2m3f, at levels, last season.)
Reve De Sivola (6/1) is a real mudlark, who reserves his best form for Ascot. He won this 2 years ago but also has to concede Un Temps Pour Tout 6lb and looks vulnerable unless the ground rides really deep.
Un Temps Pour Tout has to prove his stamina and there is a concern about how fit he’ll be on his deliberately late seasonal debut. However, I’m not expecting either to be a problem and, getting weight from all his main rivals, he can announce his World Hurdle credentials here.
1pt Un Temps Pour Tout to win the Cleeve Hurdle (Cheltenham 15:35) @ 11/4
In the Irish Champion Hurdle the great Hurricane Fly (4/5) seeks to make it 10/10 at Leopardstown. As well as the obvious plus of his course form, this is likely to be his main target for the rest of the season, whereas Jezki and Arctic Fire are likely to be being aimed at Cheltenham, (and Punchestown).
Despite all that, I think the ground is the key factor to his chances. Patrick Mullins said that, based on his head carriage, he didn’t think Hurricane Fly wasn’t letting himself down on the spring ground when beaten by Jezki at Cheltenham and Punchestown. The ground was quick at Cheltenham but was dead at Punchestown and I suspect he needs a real dig now – having had those experiences at the end of last season I think he could really struggle, (mentally as well as physically,) when the ground dries out. Since 2011, his only win on ground better than soft was when he made heavy weather of landing odds of 1/16 in the Morgiana last season.
That’s the key here – Leopardstown’s drainage means it dries out as quickly as anywhere now. The going on the hurdles course was described on Friday as yielding in the home straight with soft patches elsewhere. It could be yielding with good patches in the home straight by Sunday. If that’s the case, Jezki (13/8) and Arctic Fire (12/1) have a real chance.
Jezki has only half a length to make up on the soft ground rivalry at Christmas. He’s the logical play, but at the prices I can’t resist backing 2nd season hurdler Arctic Fire, who looks on a steep upward curve. Watching the Ryanair Hurdle again I was struck by how much Arctic Fire was given to do. I’m not suggesting that the Mullins camp didn’t want him beating Hurricane Fly, rather that I’m not sure they thought he could. If he settles like he did in the Ryanair and gets a more positive ride, he can create an upset on the drying ground.
1pt Arctic Fire to win the Irish Champion Hurdle @ 12/1
The Grade 2 novice hurdle at Cheltenham over an extended 2m4f has been a cracking guide to the Festival. It has proved a real test of stamina at the trip. In 2013 At Fishers Cross won it en route to winning the Albert Bartlett, with subsequent Neptune winner The New One in 2nd. In 2011 it was a similar story with Bobs Worth beating Rock On Ruby. In 2007 Wichita Lineman beat the Neptune 1-2 Massini’s Maguire and Tidal Bay. When looking at this race, especially when the ground is soft, you want a high class stayer, not a speed horse.
On breeding, the horse to side with is Value At Risk (7/4). His dam, Miss Orchestra, won the 4m2f Midlands National and his sire is dual Ascot Gold Cup winner Kayf Tara. He certainly looks to have plenty of speed though and after a good 2¼l 3rd to Shaneshill in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown, he was switched to Dan Skelton. He could hardly have been more impressive on his hurdling debut last month, thrashing subsequent winner Foryouinformation by 22l at Newbury. He could be anything and deserves to be a short price for this.
However, this is a tough race for a horse that’s only had a school round so far over hurdles and at the prices I’m going to take him on with Robinsfirth (8/1). Robinsfirth was a ½l 2nd to Thomas Brown, (who gave 4lb,) in a strong novice here over course and distance on New Year’s Day. That was only his 2nd start over hurdles and he’s entitled to improve a lot for it. He’s been fragile but has looked a classy stayer and I’m expecting him to make his presence felt here. (His New Year’s Day form is put to the test by Zeroshadesofgrey at Doncaster, in the River Don, twenty minutes before this race.)
1pt Robinsfirth to win the Classic Novices’ Hurdle (Cheltenham 15:00) @ 8/1