Matt Tombs / Monday 8th December 2014 / 11:45
With the big guns on the sidelines, it looked the weakest Tingle Creek, (2m, soft), for years. The division is crying out for a second season chaser to stake a claim with an authoritative performance. We didn’t really get that as God’s Own made mistakes and Balder Succes never looked happy from an early stage, (the consensus was that his poor run here last year was due to the yard being about to close down, but it may be the track doesn’t suit.)
That left Dodging Bullets to beat good yardstick Somersby by 2½l. Dodging Bullets jumped and travelled well but didn’t quicken away on the run in as I thought he might. He hasn’t held his form into the spring in the past and I suspect this is his day in the sun. Equally, it’s possible he hasn’t really been getting the 2m trip in good races so far, (too keen in the Arkle and might not have got up the hill on horrible ground in the Shloer.) If he continues to settle well, it might be that he’ll see it out better come the Champion Chase, (14/1). The occasion has looked to get to him at the Festival in the past though, and if you want to back him, waiting to see how he takes the preliminaries might be the best approach.
The other one to take out of the race is Hinterland. He’d also been much too keen in his two races since being taken out in the Champion Chase when still travelling well, (apparently bled in the Haldon). With a first time hood he settled better here and was given a ride that looked likely to help him recover his confidence with the future in mind. He’ll be better suited by a faster surface and 25/1 looks fair value for the Champion Chase.
The other open Grade 1 action was at Punchestown in the John Durkan, (2m4f, good to yielding.) Don Cossack has been really progressive this season and found plenty for pressure to beat Boston Bob 4½l with Lord Windermere staying on well to be another ½l away 3rd. Don Cossack looks well suited by intermediate trips, goes on any ground, jumps well and is tactically versatile - so there’s plenty to like. He’s 10/1 for the Ryanair and arguably should be favourite. Boston Bob was disappointing here, niggled at from a fair way out, though he probably wants further, (20/1 for the Gold Cup). By contrast Lord Windermere exceeded expectations and, given how he loves Cheltenham, 16/1 to defend his Gold Cup crown is a bit of an insult.
The Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase at Cork, (2m, soft to heavy,) featured a welcome return to form by my big Arkle fancy of last season Felix Yonger, who beat Mallowney, (who received 6lb,) by a nose. Felix Yonger would have hated the testing ground and I was quite impressed by the way he picked up on it, (though that visual impression might have been created by Mallowney stopping having got to the front much too soon.) Ruby Walsh apparently told Danny Mullins that Felix Yonger was coming back to his best. He’s 33/1 for the Champion Chase, which is probably decent value in such an open year, though there’s obviously the risk he might step up in trip again, (25/1 for the Ryanair.)
There was a strong renewal of the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, (extended 2m4f, good to soft,) which was won by one of my favourite horses, Wishfull Thinking. He jumped brilliantly up front and had enough in the tank to hold off Eduard, (who received 1lb,) by 1½l with Wonderful Charm a neck away 3rd. It’s hard to imagine a 12 year old winning a Ryanair (20/1) and it’s a shame he never contested the race in his pomp. Eduard ran a sound race but got in close to the last and lost valuable momentum. He remains 20/1 for the Ryanair. Wonderful Charm ran on strongly late on and might be worth another try over 3m.
Saphir Du Rheu was a 165 rated hurdler and looked every inch a chasing prospect, so it must have been frustrating for connections when he unseated early on, on his fencing debut last week. He quickly got his chasing career back on track with a facile win at Exeter, (extended 2m3f, good to soft.) He jumped well this time and, with main rival Deputy Dan never getting into a rhythm, he cruised home on the bridle. Paul Nicholls is looking at the Grade 1 Feltham over 3m at Kempton at Christmas. That could lead to the RSA (16/1), though he has loads of toe and it might be the JLT (12/1) is his race. He looks an exciting prospect.
The Henry VIII novice chase at Sandown, (2m, soft,) is a Grade 1 nowadays and in theory is the main British trial for the Arkle. It’s hard to see this season’s renewal having any impact on the Arkle though, with the quirky Vibrato Valtat consenting to put his best foot forward to beat 9 year old Dunraven Storm by 2l. The runner up was rated 145 and it’ll be interesting to see what mark the winner gets. If it’s in the mid-high 140s he might be the type for the Grand Annual as using his turn of foot off a strong pace, in a big field, might suit him ideally.
The 2m6f Beginners at Punchestown featured the return of 2013 Supreme 4th Un Atout, but he blundered badly early on and never got into it. That left Mala Beach with a fairly simple task and he won easily by 16l. He looks a real stayer and the 4 miler, (8/1,) might be the best option.
Clarcam had followed Vautour home at a respectful distance on his chasing debut, with lots of good horses behind. Facing nothing remotely of that class back at Navan in a Novice, (2m1f, yielding), he was a comfortable 5l winner from Sizing Codelco, (who gave 9lb). He takes Vautour on again in the 2m1f Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas and will be eligible for a mark after that. He could easily be one for the Grand Annual, (rated 140 over hurdles).
The Grade 2 Winter novices’ hurdle at Sandown, (2m4f, soft), usually produces a smart winner and it looked a good renewal. Vyta Du Roc isn’t a flashy performer but looks to find plenty for pressure and he just held on from the fast finishing Shantou Bob, (who received 3lb.) The runner-up would have won in a few more strides and looks to need further, (first off the bridle) – he’s 20/1 for the Albert Bartlett which looks about right. The winner is harder to assess – he’s 25/1 for the Neptune but I’d be concerned whether he’d have the toe to hold a position.
Despite late defections, it was a good Grade 3 novice hurdle at Cork, (3m, heavy.) Black Hercules had been a leading bumper horse, (4th at Cheltenham), and had impressed when taking a 2m maiden last month. He jumped really well again and looked set for a clear cut victory, but didn’t pull away from the talented Alpha Des Obeaux, (who received 5lb,) winning by 2½l. He hadn’t looked slow the time before so it might have been more a case of the trip stretching him at this stage, rather than him being one paced. He’s 10/1 for the Albert Bartlett and, whilst I think he can be effective at shorter over the winter - by that stage, on better ground, I suspect that’s his race at the Festival.
Finally, after another low sun fiasco on Saturday, it might be time to bring a radical rule in. If, when the race starts, more than one obstacle can’t be jumped, should the race be abandoned? Well informed punters know that Aintree has a low sun issue, but they’re not weather forecasters and it’s unfair to ask them to back horses on the basis they’ll jump, say, 4 fences in the last 5f, only for that 5f to become a flat race. Given the safety first approach, there’s negligible risk of courses allowing fences to be jumped when there’s a sun risk. Instead, they’d be forced into a ‘can do’ attitude to solve the problem. A few years ago when big meetings were lost to frost / snow, those of us who suggested covering the whole course were told it was impossible. After continual pressure racecourses found it wasn’t that hard after all, (it’s not a guarantee of racing, but it saves plenty of meetings and is financially a no-brainer.) How hard can it be to have a temporary building to block out a low sun?