The seventh edition of Racing Review and in this edition Jamie Taylor takes a look back at the Betfair Chase meeting from Haydock Park, some quality racing from Ascot and several notable performances from novices both in the UK and Ireland in the last week.
CONTI BACK TO BRILLIANT BEST IN BETFAIR
Arguably the highlight of a brilliant action packed Saturday, was the Betfair Chase at Haydock which was won in brilliant style by Silviniaco Conti under regular pilot Noel Fehily.
A disappointment on his return in the Charlie Hall Chase, the son of Dom Alco was fitted with the first time cheek-pieces for this assignment and the eight-year-old put up a performance here to equal his brilliant King George win of 2013 with an authoritative staying display to get the better of Menorah, who is in the form of his life at present.
Second placed Menorah ran right up to his best here equalling the rating I awarded him for winning the Charlie Hall Chase three weeks ago. He looks over whatever appeared to be bothering him in the middle part of last season, and would be an interesting prospect for the King George at Kempton next month off the back of this superb effort.
Dynaste ran a race full of promise on his seasonal debut conceding race fitness to his rivals. He didn’t travel with his usual zest here and had to be niggled along by Tom Scudamore throughout the contest, which can probably be attributed to the ground being softer than ideal. That said he battled on bravely for third and has to be respected in the King George next month with this run under his belt, he is better than this run suggests.
Cue Card doesn’t appear to be at his best following the stress fracture to his pelvis, and it could be that a return to better ground and shorter might be needed. He’ll now head for the King George where whilst you wouldn’t write him off, it’s hard to see him reverse form with any of the top three here over that trip.
FAUGHEEN FIRES TO HEAD OF CHAMPION
At Ascot on Saturday afternoon we saw the return of the aeroplane Faugheen, who won the Coral Ascot Hurdle with a sensational degree of ease under regular pilot Ruby Walsh. A superb winner of the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle last season, he seems to have returned just as good if not better this season and although not jumping as fluently as you’d like he clearly has a sensational engine.
The manner in which he thumped these high 140-rated rivals suggests he’s going to be a major player in the Champion Hurdle next March, where back on probable decent ground over two-miles should bring out the absolute best in him, he sure is an exciting conveyance.
THE NEW ONE REMAINS IN GOOD FORM
The New One won the first renewal of the Betfair Price Rush Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday afternoon, and in doing so staked his claims for another tilt towards ultimately the Champion Hurdle next March.
In reality he didn’t have to be near his best to win this, and was merely pushed out by Sam Twiston-Davies to beat a fair sort in Zamdy Man, and according to Nigel Twiston-Davies afterwards he’ll now head for The International Hurdle at Cheltenham in the middle of next month, a race he won 12 months ago.
VAUTOUR OUTSTANDING ON CHASE BOW
He won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in scintillating fashion last March, and Vautour looks to have carried over his hurdling class to fences with a foot perfect display against very fair opposition.
The manner of this victory was simply faultless, and in doing so has awarded the highest rating I’ve awarded a novice so far this season of 156+, let alone on his chasing debut.
He looks more than capable of stepping back up in trip, and with the yard already having Un De Sceaux pinpointed as their potential Arkle candidate, it looks like Vautour could be heading towards the JLT Novices’ Chase at this stage. He is well worth of his price in the market, and I can’t wait to see him run next after this effort.
AL FEROF WINS BACK TO BACK AMLINS
Paul Nicholls’ likeable grey Al Ferof made a superb return to action at Ascot on Saturday, becoming the first horse since Master Minded to win back-to-back Amlin Chase’s. Reported to have only come back into training in September, and looking as though the run would benefit him, he put up a superb display in the hands of Ruby Walsh who was taking the mount for the first time since the pair landed the Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2012.
An easy winner of this contest in a match last year, he didn’t go on from this but was later found to be suffering from stomach ulcers. Now over that ailment he looks back to his very best, in fact I have this as his joint best rating with his Paddy Power Gold Cup success back in November 2012 at 174. He will now head to the King George with stable-mate Silviniaco Conti and if he can improve on this effort he’s going to be a major player. If he was mine however I’d drop him back to two-miles, where the current injury to Sire De Grugy and the doubts surrounding the participating of Sprinter Sacre leaves just Balder Succes and a couple of others in his way for the Tingle Creek.
The owner though seems intent on keeping him towards a Gold Cup/Ryanair type campaign which is frustrating but he pays the bills ultimately.
DEPUTY TAKES TOP HONOURS
Deputy Dan made it second time lucky over fences with a very decent effort to beat the smart Far West from the Paul Nicholls camp.
The Albert Bartlett second tended to jump right throughout the contest, which will need to be looked at with a view to the larger festivals down the road but this was a much improved effort on his debut run. Plumpton wouldn’t have been his ideal track either in my opinion, and something like the Feltham at Kempton on Boxing Day could now be a possibility.
Far West has improved on his debut effort at Exeter and had no troubles seeing out the longer trip here. It shouldn’t be long before he makes another trip to the winners’ enclosure, albeit for the first time over fences judged on this performance.
BALLYCASEY BACK TO BEST AT GOWRAN
Despite his pedigree suggesting stamina would be his forte Ballycasey seemed to struggle last season against the top-level novices over 3 miles, however his record over two and a half miles seems very good indeed. He didn’t have much to beat here in terms of opposition, and his main rival Moscow Mannon making sloppy mistakes throughout the contest made it a fairly easy win. Things will get tougher for him as the season goes on, and he’ll certainly need to improve on the mid-150’s form he’s been showing so far, but he is open to improvement over this trip and something like the Ryanair Chase at The Festival could be a possibility.
KINGDOM RULES AT LEICESTER
Three Kingdoms made a successful chasing debut for John Ferguson at Leicester on Monday last week. With the Bloomfield’s outfit in such great form at the moment it was little surprise to see this former smart hurdling recruit make a winning start over the larger obstacles.
Thomas Crapper once again ran a race with promise in second, again over a trip short of his best. Trainer Robin Dickin is gradually getting his charge nicely handicapped towards races he’ll have more of a chance in, namely the two and a half mile novices’ handicap at The Festival.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
At Wexford on Tuesday, there was a superb debut performance from Vroum Vroum Mag who put forward a taking display to win the Mares Beginners Chase. Having her first start for Willie Mullins she jumped superbly throughout the contest and drew away with a huge degree of ease. This performance would be around the low 140’s according to my ratings, and she remains of real interest next time out when stepping up in grade.
High-class hurdler Ptit Zig made it two from two over fences winning an egg and spoon race at Warwick on Wednesday. I’m not entirely sure what we’ve learnt about him so far over fences, but the manner in which he won this time round couldn’t be knocked. A combination of smart of clever over his fences won this standing on his head, and a step up in class now beckons – who could still be anything over fences.
Sent off favourite for the Champion Bumper at Punchestown in 2013, Outlander made his return at Fairyhouse on Wednesday. Over a trip short of his best and a rather long layoff to overcome, he took both in his stride and won rather emphatically. He looked a natural over his fences and had no problem with the deep ground on offer mid-week, and on my ratings has run to around the mid 140’s here with room to improve further. This was a very impressive first effort, and a race like the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival could be his calling with expected improvement.
Punchestown bumper winner, and Champion Bumper second Shaneshill also made his hurdles debut on Fairyhouse’s Wednesday card, and put in a routine display to land the odds at the first time of asking. Jumping well enough throughout the contest, if a little sketchy over a couple of his flights this was a pleasing enough display and he looks sure to take high rank amongst the novices this season.
At Wincanton on Thursday, It’s A Close Call made a taking debut over hurdles for Paul Nicholls and Sam Twiston-Davies, and despite showing signs of greenness throughout came readily clear on the run-in to win a decent time. Winning this contest for the sixth time since 2004, Paul Nicholls has taken this race with a pair of smart chasers in Denman and Rolling Aces and it’s going to be interesting to see where this gelded son of Scorpion goes next, as it’s clear from this outing he possesses quite an engine.
Over to Ascot on Friday where Puffin Billy made a return to the winners’ enclosure for the first time since December 2012, where after looking like a very exciting novice hurdle prospect the wheels seemed to fall off a little over the past 18 months or so. After making a satisfactory return when blowing up at the business end at Exeter behind Dunraven Storm and Far West on his chasing debut, he improved on that effort here to make all to beat a reasonable field. He could be worth dropping back in trip again and clearly goes well in soft ground but my hunch is he isn’t quite top class.
Jolly’s Cracked It confirmed course and distance form with the well-liked Clondaw Banker at Ascot on Friday, giving away 5lb of weight to boot and is now said to be heading for the Tolworth Hurdle according to reports in the press. He is a lovely big scopey individual who will really come into his own when allowed to jump a fence, but has shown he is no slouch over his hurdles and continues to impress those around him.
A winner on his return to fences a month ago, Virak followed up with another authoritative display here to readily account for his rivals. He seems a much better equipped horse this time round over fences and that additional hurdling experience last year appears to have done him the world of good. This was another smart effort in victory, clearly goes well in soft ground and is the sort to win a nice race this season and is a horse I’ve got a lot of time for.
Maximiser is another graduate from that excellent piece of bumper form put up by Faugheen, which has seen umpteen winners come from it, including the top-class Josses Hill. Maximiser made an eye-catching winning debut over hurdles at Carlisle and followed that up with another excellent effort here at Haydock, jumping those French hurdles with real relish throughout the contest. He’s going to be a really nice chasing prospect in time, but based on what I saw here the North really have a nice prospect to go to war with this season.
Big Hands Harry signalled he is a horse with plenty of improvement left in him over fences, with a late surge at Ascot on Saturday. After jumping continually left throughout the contest on what was his debut over fences, he managed to somehow get up despite losing many lengths due to his errant jumping. He’s going to be much better equipped on the left-handed track and with this experience under his belt, he looks a very well handicapped individual capable of winning one or two more before too long.
On Saturday at Gowran Park, the Willie Mullins trained Tell Us More made a winning hurdles debut over a trip short of his best in accordance to his pedigree. Bryan Cooper made plenty of use from the outset on the son of Scorpion, and he picked up well when asked to win like a very good horse. Whilst his jumping wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and at times a little sloppy it was hard not to be impressed by this and he remains an exciting prospect.
Douvan added another winner to the Willie Mullins tally, and it certainly won’t be the last time he’ll be entering the winners enclosure judged on this impressive performance. A sizeable import from France, he jumped well out of the slow conditions and travelled with menace on his debut for the yard. The way he quickened between the final two flights suggests he is well above average and could be absolutely anything. A step up in grade is now surely on the agenda?
Another to make an impressive return at Gowran Park on Saturday, was Don Poli who made a successful chasing debut over a trip short of his best. He won this heat convincingly under Bryan Cooper and looks like he’ll take high rank this season amongst the staying novices’. Willie Mullins hinted he’ll be campaigned towards the National Hunt Chase (4 miler) which I think could well be a mistake, as something like the RSA Chase would be more within line in my opinion.
Top-class bumper performer Milsean made a successful hurdling debut at Navan on Sunday, over a trip a great deal shorter than his best. Ridden from the front by Bryan Cooper, he wasn’t foot perfect over his flights but jumped them well enough. He’ll really come into his own when given a test of stamina, and something like the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival could really be within his compass.