Matt Tombs / Friday 24th October 2014 / 10:30
This season in the round ups I’m going to be more strictly following the principle of the column being the Road To Cheltenham. It’s not designed to be a round up of all the action – where a big race throws up form that has no obvious relevance to the Festival, I won’t be commenting on it.
Just before I start getting disciplined though, I’ve got to mention the wonderful Sizing Europe who won the Grade 2 at Gowran, (2m4f, yielding.) He’s not going to win anything at the Festival as a teenager but it warmed the heart to see him defy the years again.
This had looked a great opportunity for runaway Galway Plate winner Road To Riches, (who was receiving 4lb.) He’s not the most consistent however, and just got edged out close home. Noel Meade said this was an afterthought and he ought to improve for the run - he’ll need to markedly to be competitive in the 3m Grade 1 at Down Royal, which is under consideration. That said, his 11l Galway Plate stroll off 149, (less Shane Shortall’s 7lb claim,) was comfortably the highest mark defied since the brilliant Life Of A Lord nearly 20 years ago. He won a Grade 3 novice hurdle over 3m and could easily improve when stepped back up in trip. He’s not quoted for the Gold Cup but wouldn’t be the worst long shot, (he’s 20/1 for the Ryanair).
The biggest star seen so far is unlucky Champion Hurdle 3rd The New One, who faced a simple task in the same minor conditions event at Kempton that he thrashed Rock On Ruby in last season – duly beating 134 rated Hint Of Mint, (who received 8lb,) by 2¼l, (2m, good to soft). It wasn’t a visually taking performance like in the race last season, (a mistake at the last not helping,) but he got the job done easily enough. The New One is a top class hurdler, but in a vintage era, (even without the sadly sidelined My Tent Or Yours), it’s debatable whether he will have the toe to beat very fast horses like Jezki and Faugheen if there’s a sound surface in March. 7/2 for the Champion looks a bit skinny.
Don Cossack had a huge reputation after his bumper career and was an impressive winner on his seasonal debuts as a novice hurdler and novice chaser. Clearly the type to go well fresh it wasn’t a surprise to see him win the Grade 3 at Punchestown, (2m7f, good to firm). I’d been surprised to see him campaigned over 3m+ in the spring and Gordon Elliott mooted the 2m5f 2nd season chasers race at Down Royal next, and that looks ideal. He’s 20/1 for the Ryanair which would look tempting if Gordon Elliott hadn’t described him in yesterday’s Racing post stable tour as “a good horse not a top class one”.
Simply Ned, 4l 2nd to Balder Succes in the 2m Grade 1 at Aintree, started his season with a comfortable 2½l victory at Kelso off 157, (2m1f, good to soft.) To put that performance in context, only Sire De Grugy (161) and Saphir Du Rheu (158) won a handicap off a higher mark last season. Simply Ned is 33/1 for the Champion Chase and puts his credentials on the line in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham’s Open meeting, (hasn’t run at Prestbury Park before.) He’s the type to be underestimated and the division really lacks depth, so 33/1 looks too big.
Simenon has been globetrotting in some of the biggest flat races and its easy to forget he was 7½l 3rd to Alderwood in a Grade 1 novice hurdle 2 years ago. He was having his first race over hurdles for nearly 2 years when winning the Grade 3 Grimes hurdle at Tipperary, (2m, good.) His jumping showed no sign of rustiness and he would be suited by further over hurdles. He’s not an ante-post proposition at this stage but if the ground looked like being good at the Festival he’d be interesting if lining up in the World Hurdle.
An intermediate chase, (for horses that are novices, or were novices last season) isn’t technically open company but the race at Newton Abbot had a better field than we’ll see in some open Grade 1s during the season. Wonderful Charm was a comfortable winner in the end and looks a candidate for top honours this season when the ground is decent, (extended 2m5f, soft). He looked a top novice prospect last autumn, (Paul Nicholls said he had a foot problem in the spring), and this was a welcome return to form. His 5 wins in Britain have all come by the end of November and he needs to prove he can maintain his form throughout the season.
Nicholls mooted the Paddy Power (16/1) if the handicapper didn’t put him up materially from 156. Given the way this race fell apart he wasn’t easy for the handicapper to assess – only stablemate Al Ferof (159) has won the Paddy Power off a mark in excess of 150 since 2002, and Wonderful Charm has been raised to that same mark of 159. Nicholls said he’s a bit of a character but he looks in the mix for the Ryanair, (16/1,) if he keeps progressing.
Colour Squadron was hugely favoured by the weights, getting 16lb from the winner. He looked to have slipped the field turning in but isn’t straightforward and curled up in the straight. He’s well suited by the hustle and bustle of handicaps but predicting when he’ll get his head in front is a tricky business. Taquin Du Seuil was a big disappointment, beaten a long way out despite jumping better than he often does. Any horse might need the run at this stage of the season, but he’s reported to be easy to get fit – he’ll have to improve significantly if he’s to be a Gold Cup (25/1) or Ryanair (10/1) contender.
There are plenty of decent 4 year old hurdles at this time of year. It’s well known how hard it is for leading juveniles to cut it in open company in their second season hurdling, so these races provide an ideal stepping stone. There was a good 4 year olds race at Limerick, (2m2f, good), won by Fred Winter hard luck story Clarcam, (fell when looking a likely winner.)
This was Bryan Cooper’s comeback race and rather than riding Gigginstown’s Clarcam, he was allowed to choose Aintree Grade 1 winner Guitar Pete. It was the fall from Clarcam that put Cooper out for 7 months so it might be that he didn’t think that was an appropriate first ride back. Equally it might have been that Gordon Elliott expected Clarcam to need the run, (took 3 runs to break his maiden over hurdles last autumn). He was getting 4lb from the race fit, 137 rated Plinth here - if he did really need the run it was probably a fair performance. He goes chasing now and whilst Gigginstown have stacks of top prospects for novice chases, he’s one of them. Gordon Elliott has suggested 2m might be his best trip.
The Triumph winner Tiger Roll had disappointed at Punchestown and Gordon Elliott had said he’d really need his first run in the 4 year olds hurdle at Cheltenham, (extended 2m, good to soft), so it was a taking effort to wear down Calipto, (who received 8lb, but apparently had a breathing problem,) late on. This should put Tiger Roll spot on for the 2nd season hurdlers race at Down Royal on 31st October. He’s been continually underestimated, in stark contrast to many Triumph winners – 25/1 is a bit of an insult for the Champion Hurdle, for all the likes of Jezki and Faugheen look formidable opponents.
The Free Hurdle (for 4 year olds) at Chepstow used to herald the start of the jumps season proper. It doesn’t attract many of the top 4 year olds these days but it did produce a clear-cut winner in 138 rated, top weight Bertimont, (extended 2m, good to soft.) With nobody wanting to make it, Harry Skelton stole the race from the front, beating Fred Winter favourite Dawalan, (who received 8lb,) by an eased down 16l – the other jockeys have rightly taken a lot of stick for gifting him the race. You obviously wouldn’t want to take this literally, but equally, Bertimont might have won with more in hand than the ground he stole and with everyone dismissing the form as a joke, he might be underrated. His revised handicap mark (146) could be nursed for the County Hurdle.