The sixth edition of Racing Review and in this edition we look back at all of The Open meeting at Cheltenham, some quality stuff from Punchestown and a few notable performances from novices both over in Ireland and here in the past week.
Day one saw a very smart novices’ chase albeit run with four less fences than expected due to low sun. A high-class two-mile handicap chase, a graded novices’ hurdle and the return of the Cross Country King Balthazar King.
HENRY SHINES BOLD
Bold Henry hasn’t been seen much in recent years due to issues with his tendons, but he returned here looking potentially well treated on his previous chasing form. He overcame a mistake early on in the contest to travel through strongly into contention, and won going away with a fair degree of ease having switched out wide to challenge. Judging by this performance he should be up to defying a rise in the weights and is one to keep on the right side of.
Monetaire showed promise on his British debut and was well backed to make it a winning first outing for David Pipe. He was almost down at the first and made mistakes over a couple after that but made eye-catching progress into the race to lead two from home. He got a little tired/outpaced from the last but kept on well enough for third – there is certainly a race in him.
De Faoithesdream was one of my tips on the first day and he put in an improved effort over fences, racing with the choke out on the front end after being taken on by Next Sensation throughout. He wasn’t knocked about by Paul Moloney when passed, but was ridden to obtain fourth from the last fence to the line. Better ground will almost certainly suit him and providing he isn’t taken on for the lead he is capable of winning a nice handicap chase from this mark.
CHAMPAGNE DEBUT OVER FENCES
The Philip Hobbs trained Champagne West jumped with aplomb to make a winning chase debut under Richard Johnson on the Friday. With four fences omitted and a long run from the last fence jumped to the line, this was a smart performance from a likeable sort and he signalled he is ready to step up to the next level.
Colour Squadron promises you the world but steals your coppers when you’re not looking and posted a similar effort here. He is without doubt a high-class individual but he just doesn’t like getting his head in front, a proverbial bridesmaid it amazes me how they’ve not tried any form of headgear with him yet.
The lack of obstacles worked against Urban Hymn who didn’t look happy during the race. He was outpaced at various stages in the contest and a line can be drawn through this performance. Splash Of Ginge on the other hand was very disappointing even accounting for his penalty, and will need to step up markedly when next turning out.
THE REIGN CONTINUES IN CROSS COUNTRY
A smaller field than normal but the usual faces lined up for this cross-country affair. Balthazar King bidding to continue his dominance in this sphere put in another stellar performance to simply outclass his rivals with another accomplished effort from this pure class individual.
A couple of errors during the contest, more so because of his bravery and exuberance to get on with things almost stuck Richard Johnson over the top of him at one point. He got his act together though and on ground softer than ideal powered up the hill to see of his old adversary Uncle Junior for the second year in a row.
Philip Hobbs suggested he would keep him fresh for another bid at the Grand National in April, and thus is most likely to miss this contest in March which is a great shame but understandable given the prize money on offer at Aintree.
He is simply put superb, always tries his hardest and is so consistent and that’s why he is one of my favourite horses in training at the moment – a real superstar.
Charingworth confirmed the form shown when second to The Young Master as rock solid with a win in the first race. He was second in the race last year off 1lb lower and stuck to his task well to outstay the strong travelling Benbens who moved well for a long way – better ground will suit him better and I wouldn’t give up on him just yet.
Parlour Games took advantage of his flat speed when drawing clear of Blaklion in the Grade 2 novices hurdle. The second went without the hood he’d won at Chepstow the time previous and looks in need of a sterner test than he got here, having been keen out in front throughout. Parlour Games showed the step-up in trip was no problem, and on my reckoning ran to somewhere in the low-to-mid 140s to win this. He could well be campaigned towards something like the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
Morito Du Berlais confirmed promise shown when winning on return at Exeter with another powerful staying performance to win going away under Sam Twiston-Davies. Clearly benefitting from a breathing operation over the summer, he ran nicely above his mark here once again and one must suspect his winning isn’t over just yet. Knight Of Noir clearly bumped into one here giving over a stone away in weight – and this run was back to his Wincanton level of form and his winning turn isn’t far away judged by this performance.
Day two saw the highlight of the meeting the Paddy Power Gold Cup, in addition to a couple of competitive handicaps and a nice novice chase event.
KINGS PALACE TAKES HIGH RANK
A high quality novices’ chase won in excellent style by Kings Palace, who clearly will be turning up for all the big days this season. A field with four previous winners in the race, the time of this race was the most impressive I’ve recorded all season by a novice chaser, and to do that on his debut with immaculate jumping really is an exciting thing.
Sausalito Sunrise is a high-class operator who whilst he might not get the pulses racing, he turns up time and time again and always gives his best. He’s improved on his Chepstow debut here and it was no mean feat being beaten by this rival giving away 5lbs in bad ground. He looks like taking high rank in the staying division this year, but does need to brush up his jumping a little.
Kings Palace has had a breathing operation over the summer and was fitted with a tongue-tie on his return, this performance really was superb and something like either the JLT Novices’ Chase or the RSA Chase has to be on his agenda this campaign.
SAM MAKES IT A WINNER
A competitive handicap for the Murphy’s Group Handicap Chase, and Sam Twiston-Davies was seen to best effect driving home Sam Winner to score by a length and a half. Pushed pretty much from the flag fall, things didn’t seem to be going his way when sternly driven by Twiston-Davies 5 out, but his mount kept responding to his riders urging and was driven into a lead approaching 3 out.
That tactical manoeuvre by Sam Twiston-Davies caught Barry Geraghty on The Druids Nephew completely off guard as the usually tactically brilliant Irishman sat and bided his time. This proved costly as allowing a horse that stays longer than the mother in law get a four-length head start in stamina sapping ground, it was an insurmountable distance to try to chase down – credit to the horse he stuck to his guns bravely but just couldn’t reel in the winner.
Sam Winner was carrying top weight to success here and in doing so posted a career best effort on my watch. Stamina is definitely going to be his forte and something like that Grand National in April could now be a realistic aim for him.
Saint Are travelled with real zest on his first start for Tom George before weakening out of things, enough to suggest a race of this nature is well within his compass with this run under his belt. He has always gone well at Aintree so it’ll be interesting if a race pops up there for him in the near future as he is certainly on the right side of the handicapper these days.
SUPER SAM POUNCES LATE
Saturday proved to be an absolutely superb 40 minutes for Sam Twiston-Davies, as after his heroics aboard Sam Winner he followed up that effort with another incredible ride on the Paul Nicholls trained Caid Du Berlais to win the 2014 Paddy Power Gold Cup.
Caid Du Berlais wearing a tongue-tie for the first time was given a patient ride in a race where they didn’t appear to go as quick as was anticipated before the start. He came down the outside with majority of the field to put in a strong late surge to deny Johns Spirit on the run-in.
Johns Spirit ran a remarkable race in defeat off top weight, and on ground probably softer than he’d like. He’s improving with racing and loves it round here and wouldn’t be out-of-place in the Ryanair Chase later in the year if this effort is anything to go by.
Present View ran with plenty of credit on the front end, and was one of very few that raced up with the pace from the outset to stay there. He clearly has more races in him and this was a good effort on ground softer than ideal, and something like the Topham Chase could be at his mercy next time out.
Oscar Whisky ran another race full of promise on his first run back after a break, he had a breathing op over the summer which may well have helped here. He was finishing strongly late on to show he is still capable of running in the best races over fences, and a return in December could be on the cards next.
Buywise caught the eye staying on from an unpromising position, as did Indian Castle racing on the inside throughout the contest before blowing up – suggesting he needed the run. He would be interesting when next seen now in the care of Ian Williams who had previously hinted he’d have liked to get a run into him. Edgardo Sol is another to run with merit from those beaten and he too suggested his winning turn may not be far away, and is one to stick into the notebook.
Katkeau made a successful return from a 630-day layoff to see off the sustained challenge of Big Easy on the run-in as the pair dueled all the way up the home straight. Both horses posted a career best effort here and ought to remain competitive. Invicta Lake did good late work from a disadvantageous position and can be marked up on the bare performance.
Golden Doyen continued his brilliant early season form by giving away weight and a beating to the Henderson newcomer Hargam who looked all over the winner as they jumped the last. A combination of the Hobbs’ runner’s tenacity and lack of a recent run told for Hargam late on, but showed enough here to suggest he’s above average.
Chesterfield made it 3 from 4 over hurdles and got the job done here in game fashion. He moved strongly throughout on the soft ground under Noel Fehily and kept responding for pressure to see off all his challengers up the hill. The front three in this contest have run above their marks, and all should win another race in the near future – Song Light travelled supremely well for a long way and there looks like more to come from him.
Day three saw the Greatwood Hurdle, the Shloer Chase and a couple of competitive handicaps to add to a smart novices chase on the card.
UXIZANDRE BACK TO BEST IN SHLOER
With the cheek-pieces back on Uxizandre returned to his brilliant best to make all the running to land the listed Shloer Chase on Sunday afternoon. A disappointment in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree three weeks ago, the gelded son of Fragrant Mix jumped like a stag throughout the contest and kept on strongly for Barry Geraghty all the way to the line. Runner up in the JLT Novices’ Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, Uxizandre is said not to like being crowded and must go left-handed, so a trip to Leopardstown over Christmas could now be on the cards. Connections seem undecided at the moment where to go with him but the Champion Chase or the Ryanair Chase seem like the two likeliest long-term options, although his trainer Alan King already has a live threat in the former in the shape of Balder Succes.
Simply Ned having his first spin around Cheltenham ran a creditable race, and in doing so showed he belonged in this sort of grade. A winner of a Kelso handicap off 157 on his return, he kept on well here late in the day on a day where it proved difficult to come from behind and he can be upgraded given where he was positioned in the race. A return to better ground and a larger field/faster pace could bring out some improvement in this likeable sort and you’d have to thing if that’s the case he’ll go very close in the Champion Chase in March with conditions more in his favour.
Dodging Bullets a buzzy sort who has shown in the last couple of seasons to go well fresh. He travelled strongly throughout this race and looked at one point the most likely winner under Sam Twiston-Davies, but didn’t find as much as you’d expect a horse of his calibre would under pressure and relented on the run-in, being run out of second late in the day by the rallying Simply Ned.
Module once again was a severe disappointment and will have left Tom George scratching his head.
GARDE VICTORIOUS IN GREATWOOD
Garde La Victoire proved on Sunday that what looked a harsh 4lb rise based on his Aintree third last time out wasn’t that bad after all, under an astute Richard Johnson riding at the peak of his powers at present.
With nobody wanting to go on in the early stages, Richard Johnson seized the advantage by making the running aboard the reluctant leader as they went little more than a married man’s gallop for the first half mile. Johnson kept his mount wide throughout in search of the better ground, and despite concerns over the conditions for Garde Le Victoire the son of Kapgarde ran out a tenacious winner fighting off the well fancied Vaniteux in second, and handicap plot Clondaw Warrior in third.
Vaniteux was well backed for this based on his third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last season behind two very good horses, but the ground went against him. Poorly positioned on the worst of the ground throughout, Geraghty seemed convinced the ploughed field up the inside was the place to be despite all the action developing up the widest outside. In the circumstances Vaniteux has run off his face here, conceding both weight and race fitness to all whilst going up the worst ground possible on the inside. Based on this effort he is well worth a try in a Champion Hurdle trial next, where I expect him to perform better than most would expect.
Clondaw Warrior was one of very few to make up ground in a race that developed from the front, and his poor positioning also went against him. There is little doubt he is seriously well handicapped, and the ground also was probably a touch too soft for him on the day. There is a possibility he could be campaigned towards the County Hurdle back here in March, and I’d favour he’ll be a real threat for that race based on what I saw here.
Exitas can be marked up on his effort. Was travelling as well as anything in the race on the inside exploring the ploughed field with Vaniteux, but his poor positioning and path on the inside rail proved his downfall from three out, and he finished tired. The recent run at Sandown may also have taken the edge off him a little, but he is well worth another chance in similar conditions.
DUNRAVEN STORMS ARKLE TRIAL
A really impressive winner at Exeter on his chasing debut three weeks ago, Dunraven Storm improved nicely on that effort with an exuberant all-the-way success in the Arkle Trial Novices’ Chase. His form prior to this going left-handed read (024P08) so this can be regarded as a drastically improved effort on what we’ve seen so far. He is a very smart horse but has clearly had problems with just 17 races to his name as he almost hits ten years of age. He is now set for a winter break, and then will be targeted towards either the Arkle Chase of the JLT Novices’ Chase back here in March.
Little Jon showed he is worth his place in these sorts of contests showing up well for a long way under Jamie Moore. The race he won last time out wasn’t all that on form but he is clearly made to be a much better chaser than hurdler and he can continue to pay his way in this sphere.
The opening race on Sunday’s card saw another winner off a huge absence for David Pipe, this time in the shape of Unique De Cotte. Tipped on here the night before by myself at 8-1, he was well backed into 7-2f and got up late in the day to land the money. He would have appreciated a stronger gallop, and will certainly come on for this and he could well head for something a little better in the near future.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Punchestown on Sunday saw an impressive fencing debut from Valseur Lido who adds to the wealth of talent Gigginstown has in the novice chase ranks this season. Nothing flash in his jumping, he was economical and put in an error-free round under Bryan Cooper and clearly has a future in this sphere. There is a possibility he’ll head for the Drinmore next where an exciting clash with Apache Stronghold and The Tullow Tank amongst others could await.
Alpha Des Obeaux made amends this time round after getting beat at short odds on his rules debut. Sent over an extra half mile this time, the gelded son of Saddler Maker won with such authority here a step into graded races has to be on the agenda when next seen.
At Cork on Sunday saw Black Hercules get off the mark with a commanding display on his hurdles debut to score by two and a quarter lengths under Paul Townend. A high-class bumper performer last season, he won a point-to-point in his earlier days and will be an exciting type once sent over a fence. He can only improve when stepping up in distance as one would imagine he will in the near future, and remains an exciting horse for the Willie Mullins team.
Punchestown on Sunday saw some superb graded action which went on behind the scenes as the main focus was on Cheltenham, but itself produced some incredible scenes as the amazing Hurricane Fly returned with a simply outstanding display to win the Morgiana Hurdle, and put his Champion Hurdle conqueror Jezki back in his place. Winning his 20th Grade 1 of his career, Hurricane Fly showed that the fires still burn brightly in the engine room of the ten-year-old and will bid to confirm form when the pair meet again over the Christmas period. Champion Hurdle winner Jezki sat second behind the freewheeling Little King Robin, and seemed to be travelling much the best when closing up to challenge as they rounded for him. He didn’t pick up as well as Mark Walsh expected when making a slight mistake over the final flight, and was ultimately beaten on merit on the day. Jezki has shown his best form comes later in the season, so the reactions of some firms pushing him on in the Champion Hurdle market seem rather premature to me – he remains amongst the hurdling elite despite this loss.
No More Heroes got off the mark over hurdles with a fairly routine display. Jumping well on the front end and that improved as the pace of the race quickened but ultimately was too good for his opposition on the day and was able to coast home in the closing stages.
Chancol continued his education over fences with another impressive win for the exciting French bred youngster, although at the expense of Alelchi Inois who was pulled up when making a bad mistake at the half-way stage. A fairly unfashionable sort who runs with the choke out in his races, Chancol clearly possesses an engine and is likely to go off at better prices than you’d expect based on these points. He remains an exciting prospect and should be closely watched as his ceiling is somewhat unclear at this stage.
Whilst Very Wood was very disappointing when pulled-up at the weekend, Shanahan’s Turn continued to sparkle over fences and it looks like Henry De Bromhead has another serious prospect on his hands. A little keen in the first half of the contest, he jumped supremely well once again until a slight mistake over the last which he corrected himself well at. The manner in which he pulled away from a good horse in Indevan reads well to my eyes, and he is an exciting staying chaser to keep with this season – he will now head to Leopardstown for the three-mile Grade 1.
Killultagh Vic made a winning hurdles debut in the week at Clonmel, and looks a real strong staying type where something like the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in March could be a target. He will improve for tackling better opposition but this was a good first effort and will have blown the cobwebs away.
From a betting point of view we ended the meeting 8pts up thanks to victories from Balthazar King (4pts at 5/4) and Unique De Cotte (1pt at 8/1), not forgetting a placed effort from De Faiothesdream (0.5pt e/w at 20/1) on the first day.