Cheltenham ’12: Champion Bumper

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On the second day of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival, you’ll find my favourite race of the week, the Champion Bumper.

This Grade 1 National Hunt flat race is open to horses aged between four and six and takes place on the Old Course over a distance slightly beyond two miles.

Quick Stats
Winning small field races pre-Cheltenham is no good, it pays to focus on horses that have proved themselves against at least a dozen opponents. Coming into this on the back of a win also merits a big tick, while Cue Card aside, four year olds do not have the best of records in recent seasons.

Moscow Mannon – Brian Hamilton
6yo bay gelding
Moscow Society (USA) – Unfaithful Thought (UK) (Mind Games (UK))
Ran with promise at Down Royal in June, before digging deep to repel a well-fancied Mullins contender at Galway, the following month. Then in December, took another step forward by defying a penalty at Fairyhouse in comfortable fashion. Three on the bounce followed, despite a double penalty, with victory at Gowran Park in January, beating Morning Royalty by seven lengths, and booking his ticket for this race in the process. His stronger form seems to tie in alongside cut in the ground, so conditions may go against him in three weeks’ time; not my idea of the winner, but a healthy respect applied all the same.

Champagne Fever – Willie Mullins
5yo grey gelding
Stowaway (UK) – Forever Bubbles (IRE) (Roselier (FR))
All the rage on debut at Leopardstown, but fell slightly short of expectations when soundly beaten into second by the now McManus owned, Thomas Edison. Went one better, a month later, when justifying short odds at Fairyhouse and has been touted by many as the ‘best of the Mullins bunch’. Due to this, unsurprisingly and oh so typically, his odds are overly prohibitive given he has achieved, well, not a lot and as such, he must be sharply passed over.

Pique Sous – Willie Mullins
5yo grey gelding
Martaline (UK) – Six Fois Sept (FR) (Epervier Bleu (UK))
Ran a race packed with promise at Fairyhouse, back in April, finishing third having threatened to win at one stage. Ten months on, he returned to the track and in the circumstances, it was a more than pleasing return when considering he settled the contest in a matter of strides and ultimately won quite decisively. Similar though, to his stable mate already covered, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about the current odds available, when compared with the level of his achievements to date and although of the two, he would take my interest more so, he’s just not enough of a betting proposition.

Royal Guardsman – Colin Tizzard
5yo bay gelding
King’s Theatre (IRE) – Lisa du Chenet (FR) (Garde Royale (UK))
Slammed a future winner by eleven lengths back in April and it was no secret that later that year, he was serving it up to Cue Card on the gallops. His defeat at Aintree therefore, came as a bit of a surprise, but breathing issues were highlighted in the aftermath, and a wind operation duly followed. Having been given plenty of time to recover, the son of King’s Theatre showed that Aintree performance to be all wrong, when getting back to winning ways at Ascot; drawing clear of, notably, two well-regarded newcomers from powerful stables. If Ireland are to be denied for a third successive year, this is the one to do it!!

Shutthefrontdoor – Jonjo O’Neill
5yo bay gelding
Accordion (UK) – Hurricane Girl (IRE) (Strong Gale (UK))
Wide margin winner of a Ffos Las bumper, back in November, before coming from an unpromising position at Ascot to beat the well-fancied Claret Cloak in a Listed contest. Needed all the McCoy magic to maintain undefeated record at Newbury in another Listed bumper, but for all that he clearly finds plenty for pressure, if he gets caught flat-footed at Cheltenham, as has been the case on his last two starts, he’ll find himself in all sorts of trouble. As a result, I could easily see him running into a place late on, but in terms of winning, I think he is going to have a few too many shadows to chase, approaching that Cheltenham hill.

The New One – Nigel Twiston-Davies
4yo bay gelding
King’s Theatre (IRE) – Thuringe (FR) (Turgeon (USA))
Justified market support when landing a Junior bumper first time up, back in November, and made it two from two with success in the High Sheriff; again well backed beforehand. The form of both his wins have taken a few knocks, most notably when the horse who chased him home at Cheltenham, Chancery, found himself trailing in behind a few of these at Newbury. Still, it’s worth noting that Chancery is a son of Street Cry, and appeared not to stay the additional distance that day, something that shouldn’t be a problem for The New One come March, so although he wouldn’t be one that interests me here, it would be folly to totally write him off.

Clonbanan Lad – Mikey O’Connor
6yo bay gelding
Rudimentary (USA) – Flute Orchestra (IRE) (Deep Run (UK))
Point-to-point winner who made all to score a resounding victory on Boxing Day, in a bumper at Limerick. Far more impressive when bursting the Molotov bubble at Naas under a penalty, travelling well and effortlessly drawing clear of his floundering opponents. His trainer, who is also his jockey, was quoted as ‘praying for soft ground at Cheltenham’ and watching the horse you can see why, but with watering already underway due to conditions nearing good to firm ground, it would appear his prayers are going unanswered. Should conditions deteriorate, I think the six year old would be right in the mix, but if not, dropping back to just over two miles on a sounder surface looks like it will take him too far outside his comfort zone.

Others of note:
The beautifully bred Sword Of Honour was visually scintillating in the way he destroyed the opposition at Killarney way back in August, and he would have been right at the top of my list for this race, but for the fact connections have decided to aim him at Punchestown instead. Just behind the son of Montjeu on said list, came Venture Capital, who was also really quite taking in the way he went about business at Fairyhouse, and for all that I may have viewed that race with rose-tinted spectacles at the time, due to his bloodlines with my beloved Somersby, the form since looks strong. However, having been acquired by JP McManus not too long ago, he too looks destined to sidestep Prestbury Park in favour of the Irish equivalent.

John Ferguson, bloodstock advisor to Sheikh Mohammed, has enjoyed a very bright start to his training career, especially in the bumper sphere. New Year’s Eve finds himself rather prominent in the betting, and no question he looks a horse chock full of potential, but that’s about all you can say on the back of his two small field jog and sprint successes. Age aside, his enthusiastic style of racing won’t do him any favours in a test such as this, and I couldn’t really entertain him at the odds, given he still has a fair amount to prove. Some say he is the ‘best’ in the yard, and for me he’ll need to be, if indeed that is even good enough, but on more than one occasion, Ferguson has left the impression that the apple of his eye is in fact Population. A half-brother to Marcel Boussac winner Loving Claim, the Darley cast-off recorded two stylish and impressive victories at Ascot towards the end of last year, putting his flat-speed to good use in the process. Aintree may take preference, according to the quotes released at the weekend, but if he were to line-up here, he would have a very live chance.

Point-to-point winner, Village Vic, came home a long way clear of his five opponents at Chepstow back in December, and returning at the weekend, was only narrowly collared by Shutthefrontdoor in a Listed bumper at Newbury. He travelled notably well throughout that contest, but given he didn’t deliver as much under pressure, as was expected, you’d worry about his ability to get up the hill against what will certainly be a stronger collection of opponents. Fourth in that race was Gevrey Chambertin, a full brother to Grands Crus, who cut out the donkey work, as had been the case on debut. Hampered late on, when still in with a fighting chance, I thought his performance deserved a lot of credit, given that for most of the extended two mile trip, he had Coneygree snapping away next to him, but winning a Champion Bumper the hard way does, nevertheless, appear beyond him.

Not many horses rattle off four bumper wins on the trot, so it would be remiss not to give mention to the Peter Bowen trained, Sir Johnson. His winning streak started way back in May, and it’s no surprise that after he dented some egos at Aintree in October, a well-deserved break came his way. He is clearly one tough cookie and as one of the less fashionable types, probably under-rated too, but for all that I wouldn’t be shocked if he made the money, I’d be quite surprised if Royal Guardsman failed to emphatically reverse form with the son of Deploy.

Fickle Fortune was backed as if defeat was out of the question, when making her bow at Down Royal, right at the start of February and boy did she not disappoint. It’s hard to gauge what she was up against, my suspicion being not a lot, but that certainly shouldn’t detract from the contempt in which she brushed away said opposition, despite the fact she was badly impeded entering the straight. This would signify quite the task for a four year old filly, so my sense is she won’t take it on, but it’s no great surprise to see her hold the position that she does in the market.

I’m sure there are others from the Mullins yard that could easily be included in this piece, but with two already reviewed, I’ll just throw in one more, that being The Paparrazi Kid. It was most likely a dismal bunch he dispatched at Navan back in December, evidenced by the fact a few of them probably still haven’t crossed the finishing line yet, but he won as he liked and at least deserves highlighting for the fact that he hasn’t been priced up uber-short, because of the yard he hails from, alien to the usual modus operandi employed for this race.

Finally, Defy Logic hit the racecourse at the weekend, accompanied by a lofty reputation and although unable to win on debut, his performance was most eye-catching, partly because he received next-to no assistance from the saddle, but largely because of the way he travelled into the lead, in such effortless style. You sense a test of this nature may be a little too much, too soon, for the narrow son of Flemensfirth, but given the way he pulled clear with a useful opponent, he clearly has enough talent to merit a second glance, should he venture over.

Verdict
Royal Guardsman belatedly confirmed the impression left on debut, with a really impressive win at Ascot over the weekend and for all that the market may disagree, for me he is the one they all have to beat here. He looks a real classy individual and the ease in which he travelled, before quickening clear on Saturday, suggests he has all the attributes needed to claim a Champion Bumper. Connections duly confirmed that he will receive an entry, which makes him a fairly solid proposition to get stuck into well in advance, and given he appears relatively versatile regards underfoot conditions, I’m struggling to find a box he doesn’t tick, especially with current odds appearing somewhat generous in comparison.

[notification_box]2pts win Royal Guardsman @ 16-1 with Coral. [/notification_box]

 

Racing and breeding enthusiast, racehorse owner, semi-professional gambler and an opiniated, verbose, pain in the arse, now trying to make his way in the murky world of law. To be honest, I'm far more interested in flat racing, particularly the Juddmonte Farms operation and the juvenile division; As such, the race that most interests me at the Cheltenham Festival would have to be the Champion Bumper. You 'could' follow me on twitter and facebook, but it really wouldn't be worth your while!!

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