Matt Tombs / Friday 28th November 2014 / 17:15
The triple Grade 1 card at Fairyhouse on Sunday is arguably the best card before Christmas in terms of quality. The ground is often bottomless but on Friday it was yielding to soft with a dry forecast. Unfortunately the feature race, the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, cut up badly and with long odds-on favourite Annie Power a non-runner, it’s a bit of a non-event.
By contrast, it’s looking a strong season for novice chasers and the Drinmore (2m4f,) is a belter. The likely favourite is The Tullow Tank (2/1) who won 2 Grade 1 novice hurdles last season over 2m, before missing the spring Festivals due to the investigations into Philip Fenton’s yard. He began his chasing career by comfortably beating 148 rated staying hurdler Mala Beach here over 2m5f, (good to yielding,) at the start of the month. He’s an exciting prospect though I’m open-minded about whether this or 2m is his trip. It would be a wonderful tonic for the Hughes family if he could win, but the yard is a bit out of form.
The all-conquering Willie Mullins is represented by Valseur Lido (7/2). He was a fair 10th to Vautour in the Supreme and a distant 2nd to Faugheen at the Punchestown Festival. He was always a chaser in the making and he really impressed with the efficiency of his jumping when making a successful debut at Punchestown recently, (2m4f, yielding.) He does look particularly effective on testing ground but has sound claims nonetheless.
Apache Stronghold (4/1) has been the apple of Noel Meade’s eye for some time. He’s not easy to weigh up. He won what turned out to be an ordinary Grade 2 novice hurdle at Navan a year ago and was then kept off the track with niggles until April. After blowing away the cobwebs here, he was 3½l 2nd to Vautour at the Punchestown Festival. He really likes a sound surface and the unusually decent ground is in his favour.
I think the crucial piece of form features Real Steel (12/1) and Le Vent D’Antan. They clashed at Naas earlier this month with Real Steel coming out on top by 4½l, the pair a distance clear. Whilst Le Vent D’Antan was reported to need the run and didn’t get into a rhythm off the steady gallop, it was a cracking performance by Real Steel. I think that’s better form than The Tullow Tank, Valseur Lido or Apache Stronghold showed on their chase run. That doesn’t mean Real Steel is a better horse – you can only beat what’s put in front of you. However, it does suggest to me that the market is making the classic mistake of pricing a novice chase up on hurdling form.
Bryan Cooper has understandably preferred the higher profile Valseur Lido but it’s hard to know which horses will make better chasers so early in their career. It’s not uncommon for the Gigginstown No 1 jockey to pick the wrong one, (as Davy Russell did in this three years ago, when picking high profile hurdler First Lieutenant over runaway winner Bog Warrior, who had the better chasing form.)
Jessies Dream won this as a second season novice a few years back but he was much less exposed than Cause Of Causes (14/1) who’s had 9 chases already. He was 2nd in the Kim Muir off 140 and then down the field in the Irish National. He doesn’t look to have the class of the principles. Equally Alechi Inois (14/1) looks no better than a good summer horse and is priced up on the basis he’s from Willie Mullins yard.
It looks a cracking renewal and whilst those at the front of the market are good prospects, Real Steel looks to have been underrated and is a good value bet.
1pt Real Steel to win the Drinmore @ 12/1
The Royal Bond novice hurdle arguably has a better roll of honour than any of the Cheltenham Festival novice hurdles. Champion Hurdlers Istabraq, Hardy Eustace, Hurricane Fly and Jezki have all won it, as have Champion Chasers Moscow Flyer and Newmill.
Willie Mullins runs Allez Colombieres (10/11) and Nichols Canyon, who have very different backgrounds. Allez Colombieres won 3 bumpers in France and whilst none of the beaten horses have looked smart, the vibes are that he’s highly regarded by Willie Mullins. He’s never jumped a hurdle in public though and in the 20 year history of the race, no horse has ever won on his hurdling debut. He might be anything but he looks well worth taking on here at odds-on.
Nichols Canyon (9/4) was rated 111 on the flat and seemed to go on any ground, (best RPR when winning a listed race over nearly 2m on heavy a year ago.) He was a cheeky winner of his hurdling debut at Cork. He didn’t look a natural at his hurdles though and Ruby Walsh seemed at pains to hold him together. How he’ll cope with this much tougher task is open to question, but he clearly has raw talent.
Tandem (10/1) was a similar class horse to Nichols Canyon on the flat (rated 105) and after being given an over-confident ride on his hurdling debut, won a 2m maiden on the bridle at Navan. It only looked an ordinary maiden, though the next four home have all won since. He was an 8-10f horse on the flat and looks to have plenty of boot - he looks a big price in a renewal without much depth.
Any of the front 3 in the market could easily be a Cheltenham Festival winner in waiting – but it does look between the 3 of them. With Allez Colombieres never having jumped a hurdle in public and Nichols Canyon not looking straightforward over hurdles, the value has to be with the improving Tandem.
The pace of the race will be crucial. We’ve got used to Ruby Walsh dictating races from the front but I doubt he’ll want to go too quick on a hurdling debutant. Some of the others can front run, but none are regular pacesetters and if they go a steady gallop Tandem’s pace at the business end may prove decisive.
1pt Tandem to win the Royal Bond @ 10/1
The Fighting Fifth is a Grade 1 in name only, which is not surprising given there’ve been 3 other Champion Hurdle trials in the last fortnight.
The (soft) going is especially important here as both Arctic Fire (3/1) and Sea Lord (14/1) are very dependent on the ground being good or quicker. On good going I’d be having a decent bet on Arctic Fire, who I think was up there in the top half dozen novice hurdlers last season.
Willie Mullins got caught out thinking the ground would be quicker on the Friday of the Festival, (when he ran in the County,) than the Tuesday, (when the Supreme was run.) In fact Vautour broke the course record in the Supreme and the new course was heavily watered which probably cost Arctic Fire the race. He blew up badly when looking sure to win on his comeback at Down Royal and should be spot on now. I suspect Willie Mullins is working on the basis that if he’s a Champion Hurdle horse he will win this on soft ground, if he isn’t he’s on the road back to the County.
Irving (11/10) has always had a huge reputation at Ditcheat. He bombed in the Supreme but was apparently coughing afterwards. Watching the Elite again, I’m not sure he’d have beaten Purple Bay had he stood up. Certainly he didn’t look likely to be the sort of impressive winner you’d have hoped off 148, though many in the stable are improving a lot for a run. He also had a crunching fall and many feared the worst. Thankfully he got up but that could easily have left a mark. There are too many question marks to back him at even money.
Aurore D’Estruval (4/1) is something of an unknown quantity. Nothing she did as a juvenile suggested she was up to this class but she looked much improved when running away with a listed mares hurdle at Wetherby on her reappearance. She got a revised mark of 143 and with the 7lb mares allowance, she comes out joint top rated. It would normally be hard to see her winning a Grade 1 but this could be a bad race for the grade. She likes the ground and comes here in form, unlike her realistic rivals. It’s not a race I’d expected to have a bet in but the market looks lop-sided and I think 4/1 is too big about Aurore D’Estruval.
1pt Aurore D’Estruval to win the Fighting Fifth @ 4/1