Matt Tombs / Tuesday 17th March 2015 / 12:54
There was no rain overnight but the times were slower on Wednesday than Tuesday. That might have been due to the unusually slow gallop in some of the races with small fields, (such as the Neptune). It might also have been the moisture in the surface that was allowing horses to let themselves down on the ground on Tuesday had dried up. The ground was probably still to be riding on the dead side of good.
The Champion Chase was much more open than usual and I’d guessed that one of the 3 proven top class horses, Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Champagne Fever would perform on the day and win, but that didn’t happen. Champagne Fever was a late withdrawal having been bitten by Un Atout in transit and the other two were well below form.
That left it looking a very weak renewal, but full marks to this season’s form horse Dodging Bullets for taking advantage, as he beat Somersby by 1¼l. He seems to have been around for ages but is only 7. He’s another example of Paul Nicholls brilliance at taking a horse that seemingly had problems, (never held his form into the spring before,) and turning him into a champion. He was buzzy before the start, (Sam Twison-Davies had his feet out of the irons in the parade,) but looks to be handling the occasion better now.
I’m struggling to think of another Champion Chase this performance would have won though and it’s likely this was his day in the sun. If Un De Sceaux stays sound it’s hard to imagine Dodging Bullets beating him, but there’s very little else in the division and so 7/1 for next season’s Champion Chase looks about right.
11 year old Somersby was placed at the Festival for a 4th time, repeating his second place finish from last year. He’s been a great servant just below the top level. Special Tiara had looked to find the trip stretching his stamina in the past but seems to see it out better now. He’s only 8 and at 33/1 for the 2016 Champion Chase he’s definitely the best value of those who contested this year’s race.
Sire De Grugy had had an interrupted preparation and whilst I think it was a good decision to run him just 18 days before this at Chepstow, there was always the chance it could take the edge off him. He ran a lifeless race on ground he handles, but that was quicker than ideal. He’ll be 10 next season and I’d be surprised if he regained his title, (16/1).
It was sad to see arguably the most brilliant horse of my lifetime, Sprinter Sacre, looking a shadow of his former self. As Nicky Henderson said, if there is something wrong that can be rectified then it makes sense for the 9 year old to stay in training. Equally, you wouldn’t want to see him racing where he couldn’t be competitive at the top level, and he’s in the right hands to ensure that doesn’t happen.
The opener on Wednesday, the Neptune, was probably the most unsatisfactory of all the Grade 1s during the week. I can only remember 2 small fields in this – 10 lined up this year, and 8 ran in 2013. Both times they crawled round and sprinted, so the form is suspect, (didn’t look a strong renewal beforehand). The winner Windsor Park looks a progressive sort though. He’d made mistakes when held up in his last two defeats, but was ridden much more prominently here and jumped better. A flat campaign apparently awaits and it’s not clear what, if any path, he’ll take over jumps next season so he’s not an ante-post proposition.
Parlour Games had won the Challow and ran another sound race in 2nd, beaten 3¾l. The 2m4f novice race at Aintree looks the right target for him now, but he doesn’t look an obvious horse for the championship races next season.
We were treated to a number of Ruby Walsh master-classes during the week, but this wasn’t one of them, as he decided to hold Nichols Canyon up this time and he was too keen off a slow gallop. He looked to be getting into contention when making a mistake 2 out and couldn’t quicken afterwards. He can bounce back when ridden more prominently in a faster run race. Prior to the Festival Willie Mullins had been talking about the Champion Hurdle (33/1) next season and Ruby Walsh and Graham Wylie seemed keener on the World Hurdle, (not quoted.) He’s not a betting proposition at the moment but shouldn’t be written off because of this defeat.
The next 3 home look like stayers and I’d expected them all to run in the Albert Bartlett. However, that had a big, competitive field and the Neptune cut up so you could see why horses were diverted to this. Vyta Du Roc was the hard luck story of the race, blundering away his chance at the last. He would have probably finished 2nd otherwise. He looks a cracking novice chase prospect for next season, (20/1 for the RSA.)
Snow Falcon had a lot to find on form and ran because he wouldn’t have got into the Albert Bartlett. He might be flattered by this, but the vibes from Noel Meade were strong and he’s one to keep an eye on upped in trip. Outlander was particularly inconvenienced by the lack of pace in the race and ran just a fair race. He’s another who will be going chasing sooner rather than later and he shouldn’t be judged on this.
I didn’t think the RSA looked a strong renewal, with most of the leading contenders running in the Gold Cup or JLT. It produced a really taking winner though in Don Poli, who looks a top class staying novice. He’s notoriously lazy and gives the impression there is plenty more to come. He was a real trends buster, having had only 2 chase runs and not run in the calendar year – providing yet another example that Willie Mullins does things his own way, and that stats based on general trends don’t seem to apply to his horses.
Don Poli stays really well and if there’s a strong pace in the Gold Cup and / or soft ground, (as happened this year when Coneygree made all,) then that should suit him ideally. If they go steadily on good ground, (as happened last year,) then I think he’d be vulnerable to horses like Vautour or Djakadam who have more basic speed. He looks a leading contender but 6/1 isn’t tempting.
Southfield Theatre ran a solid race in 2nd to be beaten 6l. He ripped skin off a leg, which subsequently became infected so he’ll miss the rest of the season. He has a more exposed overall profile than most of these and he might be too high in the handicap next season, without being quite good enough for the Grade 1s.
Wounded Warrior was described as an immature type by Noel Meade, and it was surprising that the 6 year old was pitched into this rather than the 4 miler. He ran a sound race, staying on again at the finish. Providing that this didn’t come too soon in his career, he might be the one other than the winner to take out of the race.
Kings Palace and The Young Master took each other on up front and both paid the price. I’m not convinced about Kings Palace’s appetite for a battle, but it’s not hard to see him winning small field graded races next season when he gets a soft lead. The Young Master looked to have a bit to find on form but he’s only 6 and might still be fairly enough handicapped for a race like the Hennessy, (rated 151 coming into this,) if he progresses again over the summer.
When there is a plunge in the last 24 hours of the Bumper it often pays to take note and so I was delighted to see Moon Racer backed into favouritism, having put him up at 12/1. He lost his pitch at the start and so it was a particularly impressive performance to win this. He looks to have more basic speed than many Bumper winners and might well be the type for the Supreme next season – 8/1 looks fair enough.
The Coral Cup looked as difficult as usual and provided a cracking finish with Paul Nicholls French import Aux Ptits Soins just prevailing from Zabena and Activial, justifying a big home reputation. He’d had just a bumper and two hurdles in France so it was a fantastic achievement to win this on his stable debut off 139. He made a couple of mistakes but is really a chaser in the making and he looks a great prospect for novice chases next season. He’s not quoted for the RSA yet but looks a leading contender for that or the JLT.
I wouldn’t be trying to over-analyse the Fred Winter at this stage. The strength of the form will be tested when the juveniles start running in all age-contests. Qualando was another French import for Paul Nicholls, who was apparently very bullish about his chances. He won by 1½l off 131 here and it would be no surprise if there’s another big handicap in him.
The Cross-country was notable for a debutant in the discipline winning, which is virtually unheard of. Rivage D’Or had been a summer handicap chaser for Dessie Hughes last year, winning off 120 at Kilbeggan, (won off 134 here for Tony Martin). He’s not straightforward and likes to pass horses late on, but given the advantage cross-country experience has been over this course, he could easily develop into another multiple winner of the race.