Matt Tombs / Friday 14th November 2014 / 17:10
For many the weekend of the Open meeting is the start of the jumps season ‘proper’. The Paddy Power looks a typically difficult puzzle with a whole clutch of unexposed 2nd season chasers lurking low in the handicap. There are some easier races to solve over the weekend though, and easiest of all is the Morgiana Hurdle (2m) on Sunday.
I’m astonished that Hurricane Fly (11/8) has been dueling for favouritism with Jezki (4/5). That’s not because I think he’s a spent force – I think he can win more Grade 1s this season on winter ground, (the Hatton’s Grace looking an ideal target.) The reason is that he’s always been well below his best when fresh at the start of the season. He was 3rd in this to Solwhit and Muirhead in 2009 and just got home in the Hatton’s Grace from Solwhit and Voler La Vedette in 2010. He didn’t make his debut until January in 2011 but in 2012 he looked as if he might be beaten in this when Go Native crashed out at the last, and last season he was unimpressive when beating Marito by 1¼l at 1/16.
Given he’s no longer a realistic Champion Hurdle contender, it’s likely he’ll be fitter than usual at this time of year, but I still think this will be a prep run. He’s now rising 11 and has a much harder task taking on the new Champion, who beat him easily on his last 2 runs, and who goes well fresh. Jessica Harrington is flying and plenty of Willie Mullins’ horses are still needing the run. The fact that tearaway Little King Robin runs, so Jezki won’t have to do his own donkey work again, is another plus for Jessica Harrington’s horse.
The only thing that stops me getting the wheelbarrow out is the ground – before 35mm of rain fell Thursday/Friday I rated Jezki a near certainty. A great champion like Hurricane Fly goes on any going, but he’s always looked best on testing ground. It was interesting to hear Patrick Mullins wondering whether, (based on his head carriage,) he wasn’t letting himself down on the quicker ground in the spring. It’s possible that he’ll be a different proposition back on a soft surface – but he’ll need to be win.
Hurricane Fly has been a great champion, and isn’t finished yet, but unless the ground gets desperate, (which wouldn’t suit Jezki,) I expect this to be a mismatch. It’s currently soft and Saturday and Sunday are due to be mainly dry, so I’m expecting Jezki to get through it.
1pt Jezki to win the Morgiana Hurdle @ 4/5
Somewhat more difficult to work out is the Greatwood Hurdle, (extended 2m,) at Cheltenham on Sunday. The ground was described as soft, good to soft in places on the conventional tracks before racing on Friday and it looked to be riding genuinely soft. There are only showers forecast over the rest of the weekend so I doubt it’ll change much.
Vaniteux (7/2) is a worthy favourite despite top weight, as he’s only running off 147 here. Nicky Henderson was using all the phrases that he generally employs with a top class novice hurdle prospect he wasn’t hard training last season. Vaniteux was a late addition to the Seven Barrows Festival team, running a fine race to finish 3rd in the Supreme. I’d expect him to improve significantly here and he may even become a Champion Hurdle contender – he might be lobbed in off 147. The only thing wrong is his price.
At the other end of the handicap is Willie Mullins’ Clondaw Warrior (11/2) who, officially rated 115, is 6lb out of the handicap. His hurdling form is ordinary but he’s improved hugely on the flat this summer since joining Mullins. He started by winning off 52 and won the “November” Handicap last month at Leopardstown off 86. If he can translate a good chunk of that improvement back hurdling, he’ll be hard to beat with the hood on again. He’s also priced accordingly.
Earlier in the week I’d fancied Exitas (8/1). He switched from Oliver Sherwood to Phil Middleton over the summer and has apparently been treated for previous bleeding issues by his new trainer, with a product he’s associated with. Whatever the ins and outs of that, he’s been in cracking form, running up a hat-trick of facile wins, culminating in an easy 8l win off 126 last Saturday. He’s only got a 5lb penalty for that, (and Charlie Deutsche claims 5lb.) He was 12/1 a couple of days ago and is now only 8/1, which much better reflects his chance.
Blue Heron’s (14/1) form got a boost when Parlour Games, who chased him home at Kempton last time, bolted up in the Grade 2 over 2m5f at Cheltenham on Friday. That looked a bit of a crawl-sprint affair though which suited the ex-flat Parlour Games. The layers weren’t slow to react and I’m not sure whether the collateral form amounts to much.
The value now has to be with former Champion Bumper 2nd Regal Encore who’s a juicy 16/1. He was admittedly disappointing on his comeback run in a Grade 3 at Chepstow over 2m4f. He might well be the type that needs his first run though, (beaten at 8/15 on his seasonal debut last season,) and stepped up in trip he was much too keen, (not for the first time.)
Hopefully that will have taken some of the freshness out of him and the drop back to 2m ought to suit. He’s not put it together over hurdles so far, but he’s clearly got much more innate ability than a mark of 130. If the first time hood gets him to settle, I can see him running a huge race – he’s no 16/1 shot.
1pt Regal Encore to win the Greatwood Hurdle @ 16/1
The three novice chases at Cheltenham have drawn strong fields and 5 good prospects line up for the extended 3m event on Saturday. It has a great shape as Kings Palace (6/4) is a ridiculous price, which is based on reputation not achievement. He went off 5/2 second favourite for the Albert Bartlett despite his form not looking to give him that sort of chance - he was a tired horse when falling at the last. He gets 5lb as the others have all won. If he lives up to his reputation he has a good chance but he’s a big lay at the prices.
Creepy (6/1) jumped brilliantly on his chasing debut when winning off 130 at Chepstow (3m, good,) and the 3rd (beaten 27l) has won off 2lb lower since. He does seem ground dependent though and I’m opposing him on the soft going. Drop Out Joe (16/1) also jumped well on debut (at Carlisle) but that wasn’t as strong a race and he needs to improve again. Knock House (8/1) made an impressive debut at Fakenham when demolishing a decent field, (Broadway Buffalo, who was 22l behind Knock House there, ran a good 3rd at Cheltenham off 130 on Friday). He might have been underestimated in the market.
Preference though is for Sausalito Sunrise (3/1) who was another to impress with his jumping on his chasing debut at Chepstow, (3m, soft.) That looks the strongest piece of form on offer and he has a stellar reputation at Philip Hobbs’ yard, which is firing on all cylinders. I think he should be favourite and I’m getting stuck in.
1pt Sausalito Sunrise to win the Cheltenham Club Novices’ Chase @ 3/1
It’s a real shame that Sire De Grugy has got injured. It was great to see the Moore family with a top class horse and the vibes for the Champion Chase don’t sound great. That’s robbed the Shloer Chase (2m) race of its star quality but the division needs a new star to emerge and given I’ve put him up each-way for the Champion Chase, I have to hope that’ll be Simply Ned (9/4).
He has the advantage of a run under his belt, having won cosily off 157 last month, and should be perfectly primed for this. He hasn’t run at Cheltenham before but he’s officially best in at the weights and looks really progressive.
Module (9/2) was a good 6¼l 3rd in the Champion Chase but has bombed twice since. He has the full 10lb penalty to carry and needs to bounce back. Dodging Bullets (5/2) was a solid 5l 4th in the Arkle and then disappointed when stepped up to 2½m at Aintree. He isn’t yet fully exposed but has the profile of a horse a bit below the top level. Uxizandre (11/4) is a fascinating contender with the cheekpieces back on. All his 6 chase runs have been over around 2½m and he was being aimed at the Paddy Power. He’s rated 158 though and JP McManus decided he had other horses better handicapped for that. It’ll be interesting to see how he copes dropped back in trip.
If Simply Ned takes to the track I think he’ll win as he’s on an upward curve, unlike some of the others. A fast run race suits and with Uxizandre in the field he should get that. I think he should be a clearer favourite than he is.
1pt Simply Ned to win the Shloer Chase @ 9/4