Matt Tombs / Monday 12th January 2015 / 16:38
The vibes have been that Willie Mullins thinks Tell Us More and Douvan are the best two novice hurdlers in his yard. Tell Us More got turned over last week but Douvan hacked up in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer at Punchestown, (2m, soft,) beating Alpha Des Obeaux by 3¾l. We’ve no real idea how good he is but on visual impression he’s a leading contender for both the Supreme (5/2) and Neptune (10/1). The obvious conclusion given the pace he’s shown is that the Supreme is his race, but Mullins looks to have plenty in line for that, and he likes to keep his A team apart – so the fact that the Neptune is under consideration isn’t a surprise.
Ruby Walsh said he’d be riding him whichever race he contested at the Festival, which indicates where he is in the pecking order, (though the owners of some of the yard’s leading novice hurdlers like Tell Us More, Alvisio Ville and McKinley have retained jockeys.) Douvan has only raced on testing ground so far and Willie Mullins said beforehand that a right-handed course suits well, though nothing he’s done suggests to my eye that going left handed ought to be a problem. If my theory about Paddy Power having insight into the running plans of the Mullins horses is right, it’s notable they are a huge 10/1 for the Neptune. How Alvisio Ville and Tell Us More get on in their next runs will be crucial in formulating running plans, but I’m expecting Douvan to run in the Supreme, where he has the look of banker material.
Balder Succes has had an up and down season. He was one of the favourites for the Champion Chase earlier on, but after 3 winless runs over 2m, (solid form – RPR of at least 163 each time,) he stepped up to 2m5f in a weak listed race at Kempton, (soft.) He was allowed to go off what in hindsight looked a very big price, (evens) and outclassed his two rivals, cruising home by 10l. I’m not sure what this proved, and although the Ryanair (16/1) is now his target, it has traditionally gone to a strong stayer at the trip and I’m not convinced he’ll get home.
Josses Hill had made a belated chasing debut last month in a Grade 2 at Sandown, where he was no match for leading British novice Ptit Zig. Back in ordinary novice company, but still in a good contest, he beat 145 rated Solar Impulse, (who gave 2lb,) by 2¼l, at Doncaster, (extended 2m, good.) The result doesn’t tell the story, as Josses Hill was novicey virtually throughout, often spending a lot of time in the air, (though by far his best jump was at the last when it really mattered.) It’s tempting to think Un De Sceaux will be at the next fence by the time Josses Hill has landed in the Arkle, but given the round of jumping he put in, to beat a horse of Solar Impulse’s quality shows what an engine he has. He has to get his jumping technique sorted out before the Festival, but Nicky Henderson won the Arkle with a similar type in Tiutchev, who jumped worse than Josses Hill in his two chases before winning, (12/1).
There was an interesting listed novices chase at Warwick, (extended 3m, soft.) Sego Success looks a really progressive type and he stayed on dourly here to beat Grand Vision by 2¾l with Deputy Dan another 7l away 3rd. Alan King has won two of the last seven renewals of the 4 miler and this horse looks a genuine contender for that (12/1). He’s won all his 3 chases on soft ground but won a novice hurdle on good and his full brother, (Benefitthewest, modest type,) was a fast ground specialist. He may well improve again on a sound surface.
Jarry D’Honneur apparently got travel sickness when joining Willie Mullins, having rattled up a hat-trick in four year olds hurdles in France in 2013. He’d been a decent 4th to Lots Of Memories on his chasing debut after 14 months off at Navan last month but, with the cobwebs blown away, looked a completely different animal when an easy winner of a beginners at Punchestown, (2m4f, soft.) It wasn’t easy to know what he beat as the 2nd, Bishops Road, was also having his 2nd run back after a long break, and the 3rd, Apache Jack, (3rd in the Albert Bartlett,) was making a belated seasonal debut. Willie Mullins clearly rates him though – he suggested he was ‘half right’ and that there would be huge improvement in him. Whether he’s a Festival horse for this year will depend on whether he thrives in the next few weeks. He’s not a betting proposition now, but is one to keep an eye on the vibes for nearer the time.
Tea For Two put up an extraordinary performance to spreadeagle the Lanzarote field at Kempton, winning by 16l off 134, (2m5f, soft.) It did have the look of a race that fell apart but you had to be impressed with the way he won. Had he been held onto longer he might still have been one for the handicaps at the Festival, but the Albert Bartlett might have to be the target now, (Lizzie Kelly won’t be able to claim her 7lb there and 25/1 doesn’t appeal).
Roi De Francs had looked a decent prospect for Tony Mullins, before being bought by Gigginstown and switched to brother Willie. He gave 8lb, (plus Johnny Burke’s 3lb claim,) to a useful rival in Venitien De Mai and beat him 5½l in a maiden hurdle at Thurles, (2m6f, soft to heavy.) He looks very much a stayer and, whilst Gigginstown look to have plenty of bullets to fire at the Albert Bartlett, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him line up, (25/1).
Vago Collonges had been thumped by Maximiser at Haydock but got off the mark over hurdles at Taunton with a smooth 2½l success from Remiluc, (extended 2m3f, soft.) He’s a free going sort, (pulled early even in a first time hood here,) and handicaps look his game. Rated 126 before this win, it could get him nicely in at the bottom of the weights in something like the Coral Cup.
What looked a fascinating novice hurdle at Catterick rather fell apart when Konig Dax, (who beat Douvan on his last start in May,) and 130 rated Zaidyn both bombed out. That looked to leave 106 rated flat horse Buckwheat with an obvious opportunity if taking to jumping and he duly bolted up by 10l, (2m, good to soft.) He jumped well until making a mess of the last and is 25/1 for the Supreme, which looks about right.
Maestro Royal is well thought of by Nicky Henderson and, despite some novicey jumping early on, ran out a decisive 9l winner of a decent maiden hurdle at Huntingdon, (extended 2m, soft.) He’s entitled to come on a lot for this and he could be one to keep an eye on the vibes for in the run up to the Festival.
Kingscourt Native fell at the last when well clear of a subsequent easy winner at Warwick, but made amends in facile style in a novice hurdle at Kempton, giving 125 rated Relentless Dreamer 4lb and beating him an easy 9l, (extended 3m, soft.) He’s 20/1 for the Albert Bartlett, which looks a realistic target.
Faustino Rustico had a good reputation at one time at Paul Nicholls yard. Still in the same ownership but switched to Dan Skelton, it was his 6th hurdle race when he finally broke his duck at Bangor with an easy 6l win, (2m2f, soft.) He’s 7 now and Skelton is understandably eying up a big handicap, (current rating 130.) He’s entered in the Betfair Hurdle but, depending on what mark he’s on by then, he appeals as a likely type for the County.
Finally, I watched Faugheen’s races again this week. As well as reinforcing just how brilliant he looks, it did focus my mind on another point that’s received much less commentary – that he’s never really been in a battle, (the nearest was the Neptune where he had to be ridden out to win by 4½l, but nothing really challenged him in the straight.) The likes of Istabraq and Rooster Booster won Champion Hurdles on the bridle and it might be Faugheen will do so too. But if it does turn into a battle, he has no experience of being eyeballed under pressure. It’s a long time since a horse came to the Champion Hurdle unbeaten in all forms of racing and never having been in a battle. That does need factoring in for anyone taking a short price, as he’ll have to be something truly special to beat Jezki and The New One on the bridle.