Matt Tombs / Friday 2nd January 2015 / 13:13
The Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle, (2m, soft,) at Leopardstown was round 6 of Jezki vs Hurricane Fly. It’s fantastic that connections want to keep taking each other on regularly, (they only clashed for the first time in this race last year.) If more connections had the same attitude, the sport would be much richer and a lot more people would be attracted to it.
Hurricane Fly prevailed in a cracking finish by ½l, making the score 4-2 in his favour. Much is made of how he prefers Leopardstown to Cheltenham, but I think the ground is more the issue. His 4 defeats of Jezki have come on soft ground or worse. Jezki won on officially good to soft but in reality good, quick ground at Cheltenham and good to yielding at Punchestown. It was interesting to hear Patrick Mullins say the other day that he thought Hurricane Fly’s head carriage in the spring suggested he wasn’t happy on goodish ground.
Hurricane Fly is genuinely a great horse, who is exceptionally hard to beat on soft ground, (if it were to come up testing in March he’d have a chance.) But for Willie Mullins to suggest that he’s the greatest hurdler of all is wishful thinking. When you’re judging the all time greats it’s the performances in the championship races, (and off very high marks in handicaps), which count – not the number of conditions events won. The Champion Hurdle is the only race Hurricane Fly runs in that can really be called a championship race and his record is 2 narrow wins and 2 defeats. He’s a fair bit behind Istabraq amongst the modern 2m hurdlers, even before he’s compared to the likes of Night Nurse, Monksfield etc. It shows that even a genius like Willie Mullins can have a complete blind spot over his great horse. He reckons Hurricane Fly is his number one for the Champion Hurdle, which given he’s 14/1 and Faugheen is 5/4 puts the reality of his views on Hurricane Fly into context.
Jezki ran a good race on ground he doesn’t like – getting closer to Hurricane Fly than in the Morgiana, (the stronger gallop probably helped him bridge the gap). He’ll obviously improve for the likely faster run race on much better ground at Cheltenham. 6/1 is close to an each-way bet to nothing given how little depth there is to the race. I’ve long been a fan of Arctic Fire who excelled himself to be beaten only 1¾l, settling better than in the past. He would have hated the ground and should be ideally suited by the demands of the Champion Hurdle – 33/1 looks cracking each-way value.
The Lexus has been a decent trial for the Gold Cup with Best Mate, Denman and Synchronised all doing the double in recent years. A division of old hands was in need of a 2nd season chaser to stake its credentials, (9 of the 11 horses to have won a Gold Cup this century won as 2nd season chasers.) Road To Riches was the one to do so, despite looking in trouble at one stage. He stayed on really well to deny back to form Gold Cup runner up On His Own by 1½l, (3m, soft to heavy). The bare form is hard to assess but the ground would have been very much against Road To Riches here and he appeals as the right type to keep progressing. 10/1 looks a big price given that favourite Silviniaco Conti has a major question mark over how he handles the course.
The consensus was that it was a bad renewal of the Hatton’s Grace when Lieutenant Colonel beat Jetson, but the form got franked when they finished in the same order in the 3m Grade 1 hurdle, Lieutenant Colonel prevailing by ¾l, (soft.) With so many question marks over the beaten horses, it’d hard to evaluate the form, but 14/1 for the winner and 25/1 for the much more exposed runner up don’t make much appeal, for all it looks a very open race.
The ground was heavy at Leopardstown for the Grade 1 Dial-A-Bet Chase over 2m1f. That played into the hands of Twinlight who loves the mud and went off a huge 16/1, before winning comfortably by 4¾l. He’s an in and out performer, but he’s high class on his day and if there was a real cut in the ground he’d be a genuine contender for the Champion Chase (25/1). That’s unlikely so he’s a doubtful runner, but the 20/1 non runner, no bet with SkyBet is tempting. My Champion Chase fancy Simply Ned wouldn’t have liked the heavy ground and was a solid 7l 3rd. It obviously depends on what happens to the big guns in the interim, but I’m still optimistic he has an each-way shout if the ground is decent.
It’s a while since the glory days of Eddie O’Grady’s yard but he might have a Grade 1 horse in 4 year old Kitten Rock, who gave 6lb to Max Dynamite and beat him an easy 14l in a 4 year olds hurdle at Limerick, (2m, heavy). Max Dynamite is hard to assess – he was smart on the flat, (contested a Group 1 last year,) and had won easily on his hurdling debut, (3rd had bustled up subsequent Grade 1 winner Sizing John the time before). He doesn’t look straightforward though and it might be Kitten Rock didn’t achieve much here. Kitten Rock was a good juvenile last season, (4th in the Grade 1 at Punchestown,) and looks to have trained on. He’s seen as a chaser for next season, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he ended up in the Champion Hurdle this time. He’s not yet quoted for that but it looks an each-way race and he’d be of interest if that is the route taken.
There was a vintage renewal of the 3m Grade 1 novice chase at Leopardstown, (soft to heavy,) in which Don Poli outstayed Apache Stronghold to win by 3l. They both look top class novices, though ironically I suspect neither will run in the RSA, (for which this is supposed to be the main Irish trial.) Don Poli apparently heads for the 4 miler – he’s only 4/1 but will take all the beating there. Apache Stronghold has plenty of toe and 14/1 for the JLT is tempting.
I’d thought Le Vent D’Antan was a top chasing prospect and he routed a good looking field in the beginners chase at Leopardstown, beating Balbir Du Mathan by 8l, (2m3f, soft to heavy.) He’ll be much better suited by good, spring ground and if he stays sound, (hasn’t looked the easiest to train,) I think he’ll be a serious contender for the Grade 1s at the spring Festivals. He hasn’t run beyond 2m4f yet but shapes like a stayer - he’s 33/1 for the RSA and 25/1 for the JLT. He heads for the traditional Irish trial, the Moriarty, (2m5f) back at Leopardstown in February. Those prices would look too big if I could work out what race he’ll run in at the Festival.
Another novice chaser I’d been looking forward to this season was Gilgamboa and I was a little disappointed with him, despite the fact that he won on his chasing debut at Navan. It was a different story when stepped up to an extended 2m3f in a Grade 2 at Limerick as he looked superb, jumping and travelling all over some good rivals, (soft to heavy). He’d mastered Adriana Des Mottes, (who received 18lb,) when she sprawled on landing at the last. He looks a leading contender for the Grade 1s at the Festival. He may well have enough raw speed for the Arkle, (14/1) but he looked to stay the trip well here and so the JLT (8/1) might be the right race for him.
The Mullins team had a few reverses over the festive period but the biggest surprise was Vautour’s eclipse by Clarcam in the Grade 1 novice chase at Leopardstown, (2m1f, soft.) Vautour was down on his nose 5 out but it was alarming how little he found at the business end. He’s the apple of Willie’s eye and it wasn’t surprising that his view was that Vautour just wasn’t right on the day. That’s probably correct but it was such a poor performance that you’d want to seem him run again before backing him for the Festival. He’s 5/1 for the JLT, which I still think is his likely target, (unless Un De Sceaux misses the Festival,) and 8/1 for the Arkle.
Clarcam had been thrashed by Vautour at Navan when getting 12lb, and he was getting 11lb here, (won by 17l). With Vautour bombing and Real Steel not jumping well enough, it’s not clear what he achieved here. It’s axiomatic that you shouldn’t be scared of one horse and Gordon Elliott deserves credit for being willing to take Vautour on. He won’t get any weight for age allowance in the Arkle though and 12/1 makes no appeal.
The two 2m Grade 1 novice hurdles in Ireland during the winter, (Royal Bond at Fairyhouse and Future Champions at Leopardstown), are usually good guides to the pecking order of the top Irish novices. That doesn’t look to be the case this season though – in this year’s Future Champions, (2m, heavy,) Royal Bond winner Nichols Canyon tipped up early on, leaving Sizing John to win easily by 6½l. Sizing John had been thrashed by Douvan at Gowran the time before, and 25/1 for the Supreme isn’t tempting. Willie Mullins was bullish about Nichols Canyon beforehand and 20/1 looks fair enough.
The dogs were really barking for Willie Mullins’ latest French import Alvisio Ville before his debut for the stable in a good maiden hurdle at Leopardstown, (2m, yielding to soft,) and he delivered, sauntering home on the bridle by 5½l. He travelled like the good horse the Mullins team clearly think he is. He’s a big chasing type though and didn’t have the arc of a natural hurdler here. He ought to improve with experience but given their embarrassment of riches, he’s one I’d want to see committed to a race, (the Supreme, (14/1,) looks the obvious target,) before backing him ante-post, as he might be more next season’s horse.
Martello Tower has always been highly thought of by Mags Mullins and put in a classy performance to give Outlander 6lb and beat him a neck in a Grade 3 novice hurdle at Limerick, (3m, heavy.) He needs to brush up his jumping but he’s just the sort of tough performer that does well in the Albert Bartlett – 20/1 looks decent value.
Identity Thief had won a strong bumper at Fairyhouse last month, looking a really smart prospect. He made a successful debut over hurdles, beating the useful Snow Falcon by ½l in a maiden at Leopardstown, (2m4f, soft.) He was a bit keen early on but took to jumping well and looks a smart prospect. Henry De Bromhead suggested the Grade 1 Deloitte (2m2f) at the same venue would be next. He’s 33/1 for the Neptune, which looks on the generous side, though being owned by Gigginstown, his target will be impacted by their other novices, (which look a strong crop this season.)
Windsor Park had won his last 2 bumpers and was then twice successful on the flat over 1m6f, (thumping a 90 rated horse in the second of them). He made a smooth transition to hurdles winning a strong maiden at Leopardstown, beating Royal Caviar by 2½l, (2m4f, soft.) He apparently hadn’t schooled that well, (jumped decently for a debutant,) and was short of work so there should be plenty of improvement to come, especially on a sounder surface. He’s 16/1 for the Neptune, which looks about right.
My Hometown came with a big reputation from the pointing field but made hard work of landing the odds in a decent maiden hurdle at Limerick, (2m, heavy). He’s bred to want a sound surface and looks a good prospect. He’s a chaser in the making though and it’ll be interesting to see whether he goes to Cheltenham this season, (not quoted for the novice hurdles)
The vibes for Annie Power getting to the Festival aren’t great, which leaves the Mares Hurdle much more open and Carrigmoorna Rock looks a leading contender (10/1) after an easy win in a mares Grade 3 at Leopardstown, (2m4f, soft.) Better ground won’t be a problem and she looks an improving type.
The hunters chase at Down Royal is usually a strong event of its type and it featured the reappearance of Foxhunters 3rd and winner of the Punchestown version On The Fringe, who had a good record fresh. He finished well clear of some solid hunters but was effortlessly dismissed by Oscar Barton, who bolted up by 19l, (2m6f, soft). Oscar Barton has been a massive improver this season in points, winning 3 out of 4, and looks a leading contender for the Foxhunters, (not quoted,) on this evidence, as he handles a sound surface.