Matt Tombs / Monday 10th November 2014 / 17:55
The Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter is one of my favourite races of the season. Top horses running over a trip near the minimum, in a limited handicap, makes for great viewing. God’s Own proved his Punchestown Grade 1 novice win no fluke by again beating Balder Succes, (who gave 7lb,) by 5l, (extended 2m1f, good to soft.) He’s absurdly still a novice in Britain as the Punchestown Festival took place just after the end of the British season. It’s not clear whether he’s better at 2m or intermediate trips - winning here off 155 is Arkle (12/1) / JLT (8/1) winning form. Tom George implied he’d mainly be kept to novice races but he’ll be entered in the Tingle Creek so you couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t end up in the Champion Chase (20/1) or even Ryanair (14/1). He’s not therefore an ante-post proposition at this stage.
Time may show that Balder Succes had a tough task conceding 7lb and he remains right in the Champion Chase (16/1) picture without having enhanced his claims particularly. He might be better back at 2 miles and with the cobwebs blown away he’ll put his credentials properly on the line in the Tingle Creek. This always looked like a prep run for Cue Card who’d been off since the King George. Understandably he got tired and was beaten 15l off 172. We’ll have a much better idea of whether he remains a top class horse after the Betfair Chase, (16/1 for the Gold Cup.)
The Elite Hurdle (limited handicap) at Wincanton, (2m, good to soft,) looked all about whether Irving could bounce back from his Supreme disappointment and show himself a Champion Hurdle contender, (off 148). He looked to be coming to win the race when stepping at the final flight and taking a crunching fall. It’s a holding brief for now, (33/1). I wouldn’t be dogmatic that he’d have won though as Purple Bay finished like a train to beat Bertimont by an easy 4l. He was winning off 154 here, (before Mikey Ennis’ 7lb claim,) which theoretically puts this improving 5 year old in the Champion Hurdle (50/1) picture, but I can’t see him having the class to hold his position in the Champion.
Dual Grade 1 winning novice hurdle The Tullow Tank began his chasing career with a fluent win in a good beginners at Fairyhouse, (2m5f, good to yielding,) beating 148 rated staying hurdler Mala Beach by 5½l. He was a bit cautious early on but jumped well once he warmed up, (although to my eyes not as brilliantly as reported by some commentators). His novice hurdle Grade 1 wins were over 2m and he didn’t shape as if he wanted any further than this 2m5f. The JLT (8/1) looks the obvious target but he’s looked better going right handed so far. He heads back to the track for the Drinmore next and it might be that his Cheltenham prospects will be best assessed if he contests something like the Moriarty, (at left-handed Leopardstown,) later in the season. He’s an exciting prospect.
The Grade 2 Rising Stars novice chase at Wincanton, (extended 2m4f, good to soft,) often goes to a leading novice. Southfield Theatre had impressed on his debut over a furlong shorter at Chepstow and followed up here, jumping well again and cruising clear in the straight. That only tells half the story though as he looked as if he might cock his jaw and run out going out on the final circuit. He’s more effective over further and looks the sort of good jumper, that just keeps galloping, which wins the RSA when there’s no star in the field. He hadn’t looked quirky before so deserves the benefit of the doubt at this stage. 16/1 looks about right for the RSA.
Irish Saint was a leading juvenile 2 seasons ago and won an extended 2m3f handicap off 140 at Ascot, (heavy,) last season, before finishing 3rd in the Betfair Hurdle, (rated 150 over timber.) In what soon became a match at Sandown, (2m, good to soft,) he jumped well and quickly mastered the useful Chris Pea Green, winning by 10l. His breeding suggests he wants a swamp but he won a Grade 2 juvenile on good ground. He’s 16/1 for the Arkle, though the JLT (16/1) might be a better target.
Whilst the challenges of jumping fences at a strong gallop are obvious, it’s also difficult to jump when not out of a canter. A good example was the beginners chase at Naas, (2m3f, soft.) They crawled round and favourite Le Vent D’Antan didn’t get into a rhythm, and was readily outpointed by 4½l by the slicker jumping Real Steel. Both were 142 rated novice hurdlers last season and look lovely prospects for the top novice chases, (pulled miles clear of the remainder here). Their ideal trips will become clearer as the season progresses – the winner is 25/1 for the RSA and the runner-up 33/1.
Neil Mullholland is enjoying a terrific season and has a fascinating novice chaser in 5 year old The Young Master, who’s bred to be a sprinter on the flat. A year ago he was a maiden after 12 runs on the flat and over hurdles, (then rated 94 over timber). He’s won 8 of his 10 races since and is now 3/3 over fences after taking a huge step up in class to rout the Badger Ales field at Wincanton off 130, (extended 3m1f.) Regardless of the technicalities of his run here he’s entitled to a crack at the top staying novice chasers now, (25/1 for the RSA.) He has an unlikely profile but given the way he’s improving he has to be respected. It’s worth noting he was amateur ridden when winning the previous time at Cheltenham and the 4 miler might come into calculations.
Gilgamboa won the big January handicap at Leopardstown off 128 and was running a big race in the Supreme before losing all chance with a blunder 2 out. He looks a chaser and jumped his fences with relish when winning a strong beginners at Navan by 1½l from Blood Cotil, (2m yielding to soft.) I got the impression he wasn’t hard trained for the Supreme so he might still have been green here, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by his finishing effort. He’s 16/1 for the Arkle, but I’d like to see him run again before assessing his chances. Mark Walsh was very positive afterwards saying he hoped “he could go all the way over fences.”
Jollyallan was a fair 6th in the Grade 1 bumper at the Punchestown Festival and was a taking winner on his debut over hurdles at Exeter, (2m1f, good to soft.) He travelled in the style of a good horse before looking really green and running all over the place on the run in. He still had enough in hand to beat useful prospects King’s Tempest and Hello George, (who gave 6lb,) cosily enough by 2l and 3¾l. Harry Fry is sensibly planning another novice under a penalty later in the month next. If he goes the right way he might develop into a Supreme contender, (25/1).
The well thought of Sheamus had looked a good prospect on his hurdling debut at Fairyhouse last month and duly followed up at the same venue, (2m4f, good to yielding.) This may not have been as strong a race as it looked beforehand but he won unchallenged. Ruby Walsh said he was really idling in front, would be better with a lead and rated a nice prospect. He won’t run on real winter ground and is worth remembering nearer the Festival, possibly for the Neptune, (not quoted.)
A mare winning a handicap off 147 ought to be right in the mix for the Mares Hurdle at the Festival. Polly Peachum achieved this in a handicap restricted to mares at Wincanton, (2m6f, good to soft,) beating Blue Buttons by 3l. She’s 9/1 for that but the market obviously revolves around whether Annie Power is aimed at the race.
Finally, one useful punting tactic at the start of the season is to get Betfair to put up some real outsiders you give a squeak. A while back I got Zamdy Man put up for the Champion Hurdle. He didn’t run after beating Un Temps Pour Tout in a 2m Grade 2 novice at Haydock in January and was described by Venetia Williams as still strengthening up last season, (bypassed the spring Festivals.) He could easily have gone chasing but as soon as I saw he was entered for the new conditions hurdle at Haydock I took the 349/1 for the Champion Hurdle. Of course he’s got to improve a lot but he was unbeaten in 3 runs last season, looks a fast maturing 5 year old and the form has been franked. He’s already rated 150 and you’d be disappointed if he didn’t improve a lot on that by March. By getting a horse put up on Betfair and left virtually unbacked whilst most are focused on the flat, you can often con a greedy layer into giving silly prices.