Matt Tombs / Wednesday 4th February 2015 / 16:35
The National Hunt Chase has grown in stature over the last few years. It used to be a race for maidens over both hurdles and fences at the start of the season, with penalties for chase wins. Since 2010 it’s been an ordinary level weights novice chase. With so many of the best horses in so few hands now, and the pot hunting mentality of many trainers, horses that would have been leading contenders in the RSA have been running in, and winning, this.
You’re clearly not going to be getting any fancy prices on the leading form horses but I think punters are underestimating their chances – probably because they see a 4m race with amateur riders as a lottery, but I think the opposite is true. These days the top amateur jockeys are regularly booked for the leading contenders, which gives them a big edge. In the RSA they often go really quickly which knocks some of the class horses out of a rhythm and it turns into a war of attrition. By contrast, they tend to go a sensible gallop in the 4 miler nowadays, which favours the class acts.
On that basis, it ought to pay to stick to the obvious. Despite that its 10/1 bar the favourite, which suggests there’s some value about some of the form horses. In the last 4 years the horses that have been top rated on official ratings have had a great record. 2011 winner Chicago Grey (5/1) was rated 151, 2lb clear and 11lb clear of the 3rd highest rated horse. 2012 scorer Teaforthree (5/1) was rated 146, 4lb clear of the field. 2013 winner Back In Focus (9/4) had won a Grade 1 novice chase and, rated 150, was 1lb clear of the runner-up and 7lb clear of the rest. Last year Midnight Prayer was only the 4th highest rated – but neck 2nd Shotgun Paddy (7/2) was highest rated on 151, (5lb clear,) and would have won pretty easily but for a series of mistakes.
There will obviously be one or two horses who’ll earn a high rating with a prep run between now and the race, but at the moment there are 6 horses that either have a rating in excess of 145 or have no rating, but I think their form entitles them to a mark of over 145.
Firstly, I’m stripping out 3 very unlikely runners. Southfield Theatre (16/1) is rated 149 but is much more likely to run in the RSA. Valseur Lido (25/1) is rated 155 but contests the JLT or RSA. Vroum Vroum Mag (25/1) doesn’t look likely to run at the Festival at all.
That leaves 3 who’ve shown the sort of form that now generally seems to be needed and the obvious one is Don Poli (7/2,) who looks a class act, but is also favourite for the RSA. He stayed really well over hurdles, winning the Martin Pipe off 143 and then beaten just ¾l by Beat That in the 3m Grade 1 novice hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. The form of his beginners where he beat Wounded Warrior and Smashing over 2m4f at Gowran has worked out really well and he then won the 3m Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas. He doesn’t have a mark in Ireland yet but earned an RPR of 154 at Leopardstown and, if he runs, is likely to be top rated and really hard to beat.
Willie had him earmarked him for this after his Gowran win, but the exchanges suggest there’s been a rethink and he’ll contest the RSA. How the same connections Valseur Lido gets on in the 2m5f Grade 1 at Leopardstown on Sunday will be crucial to where Don Poli runs. If he were to be confirmed an intended runner and something like 7/2 was available – he’d be the selection, but I think its 50:50 so I can’t back him now.
Gigginstown have 8 entries including 2nd favourite Wounded Warrior (10/1), who was really impressive stepped up to 3m for the first time over fences when running away with a competitive Grade 2 at Naas last time, beating Rule The World by 9½l. He’s rated 148 and even if Don Poli runs, the vibes are that Wounded Warrior will join him. There’s only a few pounds between them, with Wounded Warrior being less exposed. The sort of good, quick ground that we got on the opening day of last year’s Festival might be a concern, but watered, dead ground would be fine. He looks have to strong claims with the step up to 4 miles looking likely to suit.
The Young Master (12/1) is rated 151 after winning a valuable handicap at Ascot off 144, (3m, good to soft.) He’s passed the post in front on all four chase starts and he shapes as if the step up to 4 miles won’t be a problem. Neil Mulholland wants to run him in this but the owner wants to go for the RSA, (amateur ridden when winning at Cheltenham in October.) From Mulholland’s comments in yesterday’s Racing Post it looks as if the owner is winning the argument - he’ll be of real interest once NRNB is available.
Of those without a chase rating, the most interesting is Mala Beach (14/1) who was a smart (148 rated) staying hurdler, beating Defy Logic over 2m4f as a novice and then winning the Grade 2 Galmoy over 3m at Gowran last season. He was understandably done for toe by The Tullow Tank over 2m5f on his chasing debut but then bolted up by 16l in what looked a weak event at Punchestown. He was a shade disappointing when only 19l 4th to Don Poli in the 3m Grade 1 at Christmas. Gordon Elliott had the 4 miler in mind for him, but I’d want to see him bounce back from that lacklustre run before backing him.
Of those with lower chase ratings the obvious one is Sego Success (10/1). Alan King has an excellent record in the race, winning it in 2008 with Old Benny and last season with Midnight Prayer, (Godsmejudge was placed in 2013,) and Sego Success is his sole entry. He was a solid 4th on his chasing debut at Chepstow to Sausalito Sunrise in October, and then beat subsequent Great Yorkshire winner If In Doubt at Wetherby, before beating Grand Vision and Deputy Dan in a listed event at Warwick. He earned a rating of 143 for that and that puts him in the mix here. He’s been running on soft so far but a sounder surface should hold no fears and he has to be respected.
The other key question is what will Patrick Mullins ride if Don Poli doesn’t run. It might be Perfect Gentleman (25/1) who is owned by the Mullins family. Willie might be even keener for Patrick to win this race on a family horse. He is 10, but looked good in a Grade 3 at Cork in early November (RPR of 151, officially now rated 142.) He might be one for a back-to-lay players as his price will crash if he, rather than Don Poli, is the Mullins horse for this, (especially if Mullins is running through Tuesday’s card by the time this is run.) I’m struggling to think he’ll be quite good enough to win though.
There are a few others with chances including the Gigginstown pair Thunder and Roses (25/1) and Very Wood (25/1) if they line up. Thunder And Roses won a real slog over 3m at Fairyhouse last time by 22l and is improving. Very Wood, (trained like Wounded Warrior by Noel Meade,) won the Albert Bartlett but after beating The Job Is Right at Galway on his chasing debut has pulled up twice, not looking enthusiastic. It might be that he needs a sound surface and he could easily bounce back. The Job Is Right (20/1) is an improving type, trained by the shrewd Michael Hourigan. He was running a terrific race in the Thyestes off 130 when he would have been 2nd to Djakadam, (who gave 15lb,) but for falling at the last. He looks as if 4 miles will suit but doesn’t look an amateur’s ride, as he takes plenty of driving and isn’t the most natural of jumpers. I’d want to see which jockey was booked before considering backing him.
Timing is crucial in ante-post betting. Of the 6 form horses, 3 almost certainly won’t run. Of the others, The Young Master now looks likely to run in the RSA instead and it’s a coin toss whether Don Poli runs in the RSA or this. Wounded Warrior could be the only one of those 6 who actually runs – in a race where ratings are a crucial indicator. Normally I like to know jockey bookings in the amateur rider races before betting, but Gigginstown will doubtless line up a quality pilot – possibly Irish Grand National winner Nina Carberry, who often represents Noel Meade. The more I look at Wounded Warrior’s Naas win, the better it looks and I want to take the 10/1 now.
1pt Wounded Warrior to win the National Hunt Chase @ 10/1