Matt Tombs / Tuesday 17th March 2015 / 17:01
The forecast rain didn’t materialise overnight and with no watering because of that forecast, there was good, quick ground on the New Course. Perhaps partly in consequence, it turned into a great day for front runners – all 3 Grade 1 winners making virtually all.
The World Hurdle looked wide-open beforehand but I was taken with Cole Harden’s winning performance. So often, they go steadily in this race and I’ve long thought it was crying out for a front-runner to run the finish out of the speed horses and that’s what looked to happen here.
Every time something came to him, Cole Harden pulled out more and he was a decisive winner by 3¼l in the end. The good, quick ground was very much in Cole Harden’s favour and he’d had a wind operation since getting stuck in the mud over the winter. He looks a formidable opponent, in what’s not a strong division, when getting his conditions.
This is a race where winners come out of left field during the season, (neither of the previous two winners More Of That or Solwhit could have been fancied at the start of the season they won.) However, it is also a division that lacks depth, (not least because the Irish trainers don’t treat it as a priority,) and multiple winners are common. There’s an obvious risk because he seems ground dependent but 12/1 looks a big price for him to follow up next season.
Saphir Du Rheu ran a good race to be 2nd on ground probably quicker than he likes. He looks well worth trying over fences again as he looks a galloper. Punters are quick to label horses as bad jumpers of fences, but he was really good at Exeter. He tipped up on his other two chases but I’d bank on Paul Nicholls sorting that out in time for next season. 40/1 for the Gold Cup is tempting.
Zarkandar looked to be travelling well when nearly coming down 2 out. Whether he’d have seen out the trip in this strongly run race or found enough for pressure to beat Cole Harden is open to question. He was beaten 6½l and deserves a chance to turn the tables at Aintree. The excuses are mounting up and he’s pretty exposed now – 16/1 for next year’s World Hurdle doesn’t appeal.
Of the others, Whisper came into this off a rushed preparation and could be a different proposition at Aintree in the Grade 1 he won last season. He remains a novice over fences and could still make into an RSA horse with a clear run next season. Similar comments apply to Seeyouatmidnight who looks a cracking novice chase prospect for his small yard.
There was another small field for a Grade 1 novice chase when only 8 lined up for the JLT, but it looked the best of the 3 in terms of depth with 4 high-class novices at the head of the market. It wasn’t a contest though with Vautour producing a brilliant performance to annihilate his opponents, winning by 15l. He’d been out of sorts over the winter but had reportedly come back to himself in the run-up to the Festival and was backed accordingly.
What made the Festival this year were some terrific displays by young horses in the novice races, which whets the appetite for next season – and Vautour’s was the best in my view. Unlike Un De Sceaux who had a ton in hand and was ridden to avoid accidents, Vautour was taking on horses with better chase form. Ruby Walsh was really positive and his jumping was a joy to behold. The only downside was that this race existed, so he didn’t get to take on Un De Sceaux. Whether Vautour would have had the basic speed for that is questionable but it would have been a fantastic match up.
Connections see him more as a stayer and he’ll go down the Gold Cup route next season. I think he’s the right favourite at 11/2. If he gets there and stays the trip it’s hard to see anything beating him. Different Gold Cups produce very different tests of stamina and it might be that making it a real test of stamina would be the best way to try and get him beaten. He’s hugely exciting.
If Vautour was flattered here it might be because he was beating stayers. Apache Stronghold gave Don Poli more of a race in the 3m Grade 1 at Leopardstown than anything did in the RSA and it might be that he’s a stayer in the making. He’s 20/1 for the Gold Cup, which looks about right.
Valseur Lido definitely looks a galloper and it was less of a surprise to see him not have the basic speed for this. He’s a really efficient jumper and, for all it’s great to see Vautour’s exuberance, saving energy at fences by popping them is usually a big asset in staying chases. He’s much the least heralded of Willie Mullins four young guns being targeted at the Gold Cup next year, but 33/1 probably underestimates him.
I’d backed Willie Mullins to have a clean sweep in the 3 Grade 1 novice hurdles but it was the 3 Grade 1 novice chases in which he had the clean sweep. With Ireland also winning the 4 miler and all 3 all-age Grade 1 novice hurdles, that could translate into Irish domination of the championship races next season.
The Ryanair Chase lacked an obvious star, but looked really competitive beforehand. However, nothing really got to challenge the front running Uxizandre who made all in fine style for a decisive 5l victory in course record time, to give AP McCoy the winner we all wanted him to have at his final Festival. He’s an in and out character – his Shloer Chase win (2m) beating Dodging Bullets looks good now, but he then bombed twice on testing ground over 2m1f, (perhaps doesn’t like being behind other horses).
He’d been tried in cheekpieces before and maybe the first time visor was the key here. When he gets into a rhythm out front, he’s a hard horse to catch. 14/1 for a Ryanair repeat looks on the generous side.
Ma Filleule has had a stop-start season but the vibes were strong beforehand and she ran a sound race in 2nd. It might be that this is as good as she is, but I think she’d have had a better chance in the Gold Cup and she’s due to step back up in trip to 3m1f at Aintree. She’s only 7 and might be an interesting Gold Cup outsider next season.
Don Cossack had been a big improver this season and was well backed here but looked to get done for toe. He was hampered at the 2nd last otherwise it might have been close for 2nd. This was slightly disappointing but he handles soft ground better than most and if it were to come up testing next year he might go 2 better, (14/1).
With the future in mind, the other one to take out of the race is Eduard. He had been off since early December and lacked experience for this so ran a fine race in the circumstances to be 11l 4th. He’s only 7 and should have learnt a lot from this. 20/1 for next year’s Ryanair looks fair.
I’d speculated before the Festival about the value of watching horses with penalties in the handicaps. The theory being that horses need to be so highly rated now to get a run, that some really well handicapped types would be well treated under a penalty against a lot of exposed horses relatively high in the handicap. 3 horses ran under a penalty during the Festival and Call The Cops ran out a decisive winner of the Pertemps Final by 1¾l, off 138, (including the 5lb penalty.) He looks a good novice chasing prospect.
Real shocks were thin on the ground and Darna was the longest priced winner of the week at 33/1 in the Plate, off 140. It was a fantastic training performance from Kim Bailey to get the horse back on track this season after 2 years off. I’d thought my 28/1 fancy Rawnaq was coming to win the race at the last but he hit it hard and just stayed on the same pace. This was a cracking effort off 141 from the novice and he’s one to keep onside when the ground is on top.
I didn’t have a bet in the Kim Muir which helped limit the flow of Thursday losers, as I’d never have picked 12 year old The Package, but he blew the field away in style to win by 12l, giving Jamie Codd a double at the Festival. He deserved a Festival win having been placed 3 times before, 1st time blinkers seeming to work the oracle.