At Down Royal this weekend we have the 15th renewal of the JNWine.com Champion Chase. Inaugurated in 1999 over the years it has become a first port of call for many top-class staying chasers in both Ireland and Britain, with Paul Nicholls regularly sending over some of his top staying stars.
Dual Gold Cup and five time King George winning champion Kauto Star won this race twice for the Ditcheat handler in 2008 and 2010, and Nicholls has also been victorious in this contest with Taranis (2007) and Kauto Stone (2012).
This year Nicholls opts to send last years’ Grand National fifth Rocky Creek over to contest the prize, and on the basis of that effort and Nicholls’ record in the race he has to be highly respected.
The high-class Beef Or Salmon won this race two times for Michael Hourigan in 2004 & 2006, and also The Listener added his name to the victory roll in 2009.
At first glance it looks like we are in for a very good renewal of the race, with plenty of big national hunt stables represented so without any delay let’s get stuck into the runners.
Bob Back (USA) (12.4f) — Bavaway (Le Bavard (FR) (16.4f))
Notes: A high-quality novice chaser a couple of seasons ago, who would most likely have won the RSA Chase had he not fallen at the last. He then hit the deck again on his next outing at Punchestown which couldn’t have done any good for his confidence. A couple of spins over hurdles were next on the agenda, before returning to fences for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Held up towards the rear he made good late ground after getting outpaced when things started to quicken, eventually staying on for a never nearer sixth. He got back to winning ways in the Melling Chase at Aintree the following month, and once again after getting outpaced in rear, he latched onto the field three fences from home, gradually getting into contention before surging ahead half-way up the run-in to score a shade cosily. With his confidence resorted he returned to Punchestown for the Gold Cup at the end of April, and won going away over three miles which suggested he is ready to step-up to those sorts of distances over fences once again. Age isn’t on his side at the age of 9 as far as his Gold Cup aspirations are concerned, however he is very lightly raced for that age with just 15 races under rules to date, 7 over those being over fences. If he returns in the same sort of form he left us in last April, then he’s going to be tough to beat on Saturday.
Sholokhov (IRE) (12.2f) — Depeche Toi (GER) (Konigsstuhl (GER) (10.5f))
Notes: A big likeable sort who always carried a tall reputation right back to his bumper days, didn’t quite make the grade over hurdles and it was no surprise to see him improve last season when sent over the larger obstacles. A winner of the Grade 1 Drinmore Novices’ Chase at Fairyhouse last season, along with a couple of placed efforts at Grade 1 level, he returned with aplomb when outclassing his rivals at Punchestown a couple of weeks ago. His last three outings he was equipped with a tongue-tie after disappointing at Leopardstown, however this wasn’t seen one return in October so he could well have had a breathing operation during the summer which could help him realise his lofty reputation over fences. The better ground probably suits him, and he’s a fair sort indeed when going right handed (51212141). Although he still has something to find on these, he is still unexposed over fences with just the eight outings, has race fitness on his side and should have no problems coping with either the distance or ground.
Presenting (13.8f) — Fourstargale (IRE) (Fourstars Allstar (USA) (11.9f))
Notes: Was well backed in this race last year when expected to improve on his comeback effort at Punchestown a couple weeks previous, but didn’t look at home on the right-handed track last time he visited here and to my eye seems a much better horse when going left-handed on spring-time ground. His form prior to Christmas in open grade races reads (42334) as opposed to (22132342) after. He has turned into a frustrating animal who doesn’t win as often as he should do, and most probably lacks the touch of class needed to kill off races at this level. A winner of only 3 from 20 starts over fences, he has shown regular consistent form to around the 160 mark, but usually finds one or two too good for him. The application of the first time blinkers bought about slight improvement at Punchestown the last day, but the lack of a recent run and connections coming here instead of across to Wetherby to me suggests he isn’t quite ready for this assignment.
Saint Des Saints (FR) — Bint Bladi (FR) (Garde Royale (11.2f))
Notes: Often travels well throughout his races and ultimately promises more than he delivers. I don’t think his issue is his honesty in the heat of battle, I think it is more that he just isn’t quite at the level of some of these superb staying chasers we seem to have at the moment. Second in the RSA Chase in 2013, he ran with credit throughout the whole campaign last year running his race every time in defeat. Sixth in that strange Gold Cup and sixth at Punchestown on his latest effort, those are about his level, and the habit of throwing in the odd clunker in his races won’t help his chances either around a course where you need to jump well to keep competitive. Is sure to run his race once more but wouldn’t be my idea of the winner.
Turgeon (USA) (10.4f) — Kadaina (FR) (Kadalko (FR))
Notes: This mare featured on our Handicap Performances of 2013/14 when landing the Topham Chase at Aintree in April. She has done nothing but improve since being switched to Nicky Henderson after an early campaign in France. She is lightly raced over obstacles and her form since switching back to them in the UK reads (P121) with the only blot on her copybook bumping into the ludicrously well handicapped Holywell, who won the Grade 1 Novices’ at Aintree on his next start by 10 lengths. She made such an impression in both that and her final start at Aintree to suggest she’s earned her place at this sort of level, and has to be respected in this grade. Ground doesn’t seem to be an issue and the mares allowance gives her plenty of positives ahead of this assignment.
On His Own
Presenting (13.8f) — Shuil Na Mhuire (IRE) (Roselier (FR) (16.0f))
Notes: Not getting any younger at the age of 10, but that didn’t stop him finishing a short-head second in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. I do however think I’m not alone in thinking that was one of the strangest races I’ve ever seen, and the form of that can be taken somewhat with a pinch of salt when assessing future races. A comfortable winner of a handicap last January off 142, he progressed to easily dispose of Mount Benbulben in a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse before running the race of his life at Cheltenham three weeks later. He can be forgiven that below-par showing at Punchestown on his most recent start, the likeliness being he hadn’t fully recovered from the exertions shown the previous month. That said apart from that one piece of form in a race that I still struggle to explain, he isn’t quite up to the level of these based on all his other efforts and is likely to come up short again.
Road To Riches
Gamut (IRE) — Bellora (IRE) (Over The River (FR) (12.7f))
Notes: A rather superb winner of the Galway Plate in July, posting one of the handicap performances of the season from a mark of 149, he was expected to account for Sizing Europe at Gowran Park at the start of this month in receipt of 4lbs from the older and more experienced rival. Freewheeling along on the front end throughout the race, he was eventually worn down by the old champion, going down narrowly by a head despite looking visibly tired as they jumped the last. Noel Meade said in the interviews afterwards that the race had been more of an afterthought for him after his Galway Plate win, and came into the racing having had the whole of August off so had valid reasons for tiring. That run ought to have brought him on and he remains an exciting prospect, however this is a step up in class once again and his ability to stay the longer trip has to be questioned against what looks like plenty for forward-going sorts in the race.
Dr Massini (IRE) (12.3f) — Kissantell (IRE) (Broken Hearted (10.1f))
Notes: Last season running a superb fifth in the Grand National at Aintree in March, noises from Ditcheat are suggesting he has improved further over the summer months, and will be plying his trade in all the right races this season before another possible tilt at the Grand National in April. The fact he managed to run such a huge race off the back of only seven chase starts is a feat in itself, and you can add to fact he was up handy throughout and went out on his shield as they reached the elbow is admirable for a horse so inexperienced. He still has improvement in him and goes well on right-handed tracks (221). His win in the 2013 Reynoldstown Chase reads well on the figures, and has proven before he goes well fresh. He has to be respected given his exploits to date, and his jumping ability will hold him in good stead around Down Royal.
Realt Mor is unexposed over this trip being campaigned over two-miles on his last three outings. Prior to that he landed the Powers Gold Cup over two and a half at Fairyhouse when making all the running, and his pedigree suggests he can step up to this sort of trip – class is a probable doubt against this opposition.
Roi Du Mee won this race last year for Gordon Elliott when making all to easily beat Sizing Europe and First Lieutenant. Hasn’t been in anything like the same form this time round though, and you’d think he’s probably reached his peak.
Klepht hasn’t shown anything that suggests he is capable of getting involved in this, and should he run just looks to be making up the numbers.
Tammys Hill is a really good animal on the hunter chase circuit, and had a really good season last year culminating in an impressive win at the Cheltenham Festival in the Foxhunter Chase. All his form suggests he has plenty on here to get competitive with the more likely sorts in the race, and he wouldn’t be for me.
An exciting renewal to be happening on the same day as the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, and at first glance there appears to be plenty of horses who like to race either on, or close to the pace.
Realt Mor, Roi Du Mee, On His Own and Road To Riches all like to get on with things out in front, and to some extent so do both Rocky Creek and Ma Filleule although one imagines they’ll sit just off the early pace-setters with First Lieutenant who is another who likes to be near the pace.
Klepht is wildly out of his depth at this sort of level, and I can see Tammys Hill struggling along in midfield with Lyreen Legend who will once again run his race, somewhere you’d imagine to around his mark of 155.
Out the rear I can see both Boston Bob and Don Cossack sitting off the pace, and then it all comes down to how quick they go throughout the contest as to whether they get into it at the business end, as through the years the race has tended to favour those up with the pace – however it seems to have more forward going sorts this year than in previous years so that has to be taken into account, and the pace looks likely to be an honest one throughout.
The Nicholls string aren’t firing on all cylinders at present for one reason or another, and with a mark of 156 looking favourable in regards a possible Hennessy tilt at the end of the month, it could be that Rocky Creek will come on for this outing.
Ma Filleule is dangerous and has to be respected claiming the mares allowance, and any reproduction of her last couple of efforts in handicap company sends her close here but is priced about right at the head of the market.
Road To Riches is a horse I like but he has question marks over the trip and is unlikely to get it all his own way up the front, and looks short enough at the current 6-1 available.
With for me leaves it down to two at prices worth considering. The first of those Don Cossack is a horse that has always been held in high-regard by Gordon Elliott, and as alluded to earlier could have benefitted from a (possible) breathing tweak in the summer. He raced without the tongue-tie on his return for the first time in three outings, and won in the style of a horse getting his act together. This is a much tougher assignment than that however, and it is likely he’ll just come up short when it matters.
Which leaves me with my selection BOSTON BOB. As I’ve already said he would most likely have won the RSA Chase a couple of years ago were it not for a last fence fall when a length clear of his rivals. It has taken him a while to get over those couple of mishaps but has got his act together in his last couple of runs to suggest he still has a say in the top staying chases both over in Ireland and in the UK.
He won’t have it all his own way trying to give away 7lb to the Nicky Henderson mare, but let’s remember that Holywell gave her 7lb and a 1.75L beating at Cheltenham in March and there wouldn’t be too much between Holywell and Boston Bob I wouldn’t have thought on what we’ve seen so far.
This is a race I’m looking forward to seeing immensely this weekend, along with the cards at both Wetherby and Ascot – let’s hope they all live up to their expectations!