Cheltenham ’13 – Champion Bumper

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With no hurdles or fences in the way, the Champion Bumper brings a taste of the flat scene to the Cotswolds. In 2002, top flat jock Jamie Spencer nipped over to Prestbury Park to guide the wayward Pizarro into the winner’s enclosure and really complete the Royal Ascot illusion. As all of the horses are starting out on what could be lengthy careers – only those aged between four and six can take part – the Bumper is all about potential and those who are able to spot ability early have been rewarded with some nice priced winners in recent years.

The race is one of the more recent additions to the Festival having been added to the line-up in 1992, and since then it’s basically become the Willie Mullins Benefit Race. The top Irish handler has farmed the race since Wither or Which scored in 1996 – his haul of seven winners is incredible considering no other trainer has won the race on more than a solitary occasion! Mullins’ dominance of the NHF scene is highlighted by one firm quoting him at a short 7/2 to walk away with an eighth winner’s trophy in 2013.

Mullins saddled Champagne Fever to win the 2012 renewal, the grey holding off the highly touted New Years Eve by a length-and-a-quarter having led for nearly the entire trip. The winner has gone on to win a Grade One over hurdles this season without quite giving the impression he is top class, and it is Bumper eighth Jezki who is most likely to provide a form boost for the 2012 renewal having won two of the best Grade Ones for novices in Ireland this term. Champagne Fever was the choice of Mullins’ son Patrick, who was also on board his father’s last winner of the race- Cousin Vinny. It would be wise to bear his mount in mind again this time round.

BUMPER TRENDS:
With Mullins’ tight grip on the race it’s no surprise the Irish have a good record – three quarters of the winners have travelled from over the Irish Sea.
18/20 (90%) of winner won on their previous start
Ryanair Chase favourite Cue Card was a rare four-year-old winner when he sprung a surprise at 40/1 in 2010- there had been no winners of his age since 1995.

A five or six-year-old trained by Willie Mullins with a “1” on its last appearance appears to be a good place to start!

I think the race this year has the potential to throw up an unexpected result. This is in the main due to the very different ground that we can expect at Cheltenham in March in comparison to the dismal surfaces horses have had to compete on over the winter. With heavy ground the norm it is likely that several horses will not have been able to show their true ability in their limited racecourse appearances, and for that reason any form coming into this race should be treated with plenty of caution this term.

Leading Contenders:
GOLANTILLA
RPR: 127
Golan (IRE) (10.8f) — Scintilla (Sir Harry Lewis (USA) (14.8f))
Notes: Favourite or joint-favourite with every firm at present, Sean O’Brien’s five-year-old has only been seen once under rules but made a pretty stunning impression with a 13-length rout of a Cork field back in January. He arrived with a huge reputation at Cork, with his owner having turned down a bid of nearly £200k for him before he had even raced. The Golan gelding did everything that could have been expected of him and better ground is highly unlikely to inconvenience him at the Festival – he is clearly one of the better prospects out there but after only one run it’s hard to say 7/1 is a great price. The third in the Cork race (a 50/1 shot) has come out and subsequently won a bumper by six lengths. Bred to get further in time and reputation is a factor in his price.

EMPIRACLE
RPR: 120
Kris Kin (USA) (11.5f) — Mogul Shine (IRE) (Good Thyne (USA) (14.1f))
Notes: Along with Melodic Rendezvous, this fella gives trainer Jeremy Scott a lot to look forward too at the Festival. Won his (good ground) debut as easily as you can imagine at Hereford in October having been very weak in the ring, and the fact he pulled very hard off a farcical gallop didn’t appear to do him much harm in the finish as he sauntered away from some okay rivals. Both the second and third have won a bumper since and this son of Kris Kin could have a future as big as his engine. I would have the same concerns with him as with Golantilla in that he is severely lacking in experience, especially with the pace they go in the Champion Bumper something entirely new to him. Betfair market suggesting he may be a doubt to make the race.

CLONDAW COURT
RPR: 127
Court Cave (IRE) — Secret Can´t Say (IRE) (Jurado (USA))
Notes: Another contender who has one appearance and one facile victory to his name. The now six-year-old is the shortest quoted of the Willie Mullins horses and as such requires plenty of attention. Like the two horses already mentioned he couldn’t have been much more impressive in his sole start, the issue being that it is very difficult to decide which of the three is more likely to show the most improvement at Prestbury Park. Interestingly the sire’s runners tend to do better on good ground or better, and having won on heavy ground on his only start this horse could have plenty more to give should there be a dry lead-up to Cheltenham. Clondaw Court is by Court Cave out of a Jurado mare – a combination which threw up Court In Session, a two miler with a preference for better ground. Very interesting contender.

UNION DUES
RPR: 117, 127
Malinas (GER) — Royale Dorothy (FR) (Smadoun (FR)
Notes: The only horse quoted in single figures to have run more than once, and the second to be trained by W.P Mullins. Won the Grade Two bumper at Navan in December, although the form of that race is very difficult to quantify with none of the runners having been seen since and the race itself being run in a farcical time on almost un-raceable ground. Did show a really willing attitude to go and win that race which is something the three ahead of him in the betting have not yet shown, albeit through no fault of their own. Union Dues had been very green on his debut in much better ground, and required a bit of a shake up before going and winning that race as well- the fact he hasn’t been winning races on the bridle suggests he may not quite have the same engine as a couple of those ahead of him in the betting, but his experience of knowing what is needed under pressure could be a massive help to him in March. As an undulating, left-handed track Navan is not dissimilar to Cheltenham and his experience there could also be priceless. A negative would be the poor record of French-bred runners in the race, with his pedigree suggesting he would have handled heavy ground well last time and may well want further in future.

LE VENT D’ANTAN
RPR: 124
Martaline (16.0f) — Leeloo (JPN) (Dr Devious (IRE) (10.6f))
Notes: Another which has run once and won on the bridle once. Backed as if he’d win, the Martaline gelding obliged by six lengths at Leopardstown and in doing so beat a Michael Hourigan-trained horse which had already run well in a bumper by 9 ¼ lengths. That race had been won by Jezki the previous season, and although now flying high over timber it’s worth remembering the Jessie Harrington-trained horse was only eighth in the Champion Bumper. The race won by Le Vent D’Antan was run at a crawl (a common theme) and yet he was able to put nearly ten lengths between himself and the third at the line which suggests he has a fine turn of foot, something his sire has also bestowed upon Pique Sous and Dynaste. As with Union Dues he is French bred which is not great if you’re a trends follower, but there is no denying he could be very good – his trainer stated that “he works as well as Cheltenian” who picked up the 2011 Champion Bumper.

OTHERS
SGT RECKLESS (RPR 112): One of the only entrants to record a half decent Topspeed figure (85). Well-liked by Mick Channon who should know a good flat horse when he sees one, he defied a penalty to win an okay AW bumper in the New Year. Third and fourth in that race haven’t done a lot since but the winner travelled like a smart one and shouldn’t be dismissed. Flat bred.

REGAL ENCORE (RPR 125): Bought by JP McManus a few months after winning at Southwell on his debut. Impressed carrying a penalty at Chepstow and the second and fourth haven’t done too badly since, although both were conceding experience to Regal Encore in Wales. King’s Theatre has injected stamina into the family on a couple of occasions and it may be this fella could be a yard off the pace when a couple of his rivals turn the screw.

BLACKMAIL (RPR 122): Trained by handicap king Tony Martin, this son of Black Sam Bellamy has more experience than any of his rivals having run three times and not been out of the places. He appeared to be improving last time when winning at Leopardstown with RP McNamara not having to give him much assistance from the saddle, and with the third Romantic Fashion a short head away from winning on her next start there is some substance to the form. Blackmail had previously been beaten by a couple of smart rivals when second at Navan and Leopardstown, and the money that came for him on debut suggests he was and probably still is highly regarded by his shrewd trainer. While others have masses of potential, this horse has the experience and should still be improving after three runs. The “FR” suffix is a bit off-putting, but otherwise at a big price he could be worth a punt.

As the race draws ever closer it is worth keeping an eye on the exchanges in regards to the likelihood of runners lining up. At present it is looking doubtful we will see the following runners:

Red Sherlock – 10/1 but 30+ on Betfair
Oscar Rock – between 10/1 and 14/1 with most firms but 36.0 Betfair
Moyle Park – 14/1 and 36.0

VERDICT:
This race looks a very difficult puzzle to solve with the principles having run so few races between them. Cue Card (40/1) and Cousin Vinny (12/1) have both won the race having only had one previous run, but both were double figure prices at the off unlike the trio who head the market this time round. Of the four totally unexposed horses I would lean towards CLONDAW COURT, with Golantilla a couple of points shorter but with an almost identical profile to Willie Mullins’ charge. Clondaw Court should also improve for the expected better ground on pedigree and with so few in the betting having had many races it may be that this is a season in which experience is not paramount. Union Dues is an interesting runner as unlike those shorter in the betting he has shown he is up for a battle, although he may not have as much scope to improve on good ground. The most appealing at an each-way price is Blackmail, whose form is pretty solid for bumpers and he appears to be going the right way. At 25/1 he may well be worth having onside as well. It is a shame Oscar Rock looks unlikely to run, with trainer Harry Fry all but ruling out the Festival unless the rain comes pouring down again.

1pt win Clondaw Court @ 10-1 with Boylesports, Hills and Coral.

Introduced to the world of horse racing as a teenager by his grandad, Charlie has gone from 25p lucky 15s to working a summer as a Sports Writer for BSkyB & being a regular part of the Student Racing team. His stakes meanwhile haven't increased. Charlie has a strong preference for the summer game but - anyone who turns their nose up at hurdlers and chasers - he can't resist those four days in the Cotswolds every March. He thinks Jezki will win the Champion Hurdle, but also backed Laughing Jack for the Derby which highlights the value of his opinion. Can be found at either @sutts109 spouting off about Chelsea FC and Andy Murray, or sleeping in a Sharm El Sheikh hotel room.

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