Plenty learnt over the last seven days with regard to the end of season festivals. And even more questions raised than Paul Nicholls has King Georges. More on that later. Probably easier to split this into divisions rather than individual races as a way of knitting together the action from either side of the Irish Sea.
Two Mile Chasers
Division leader Altior did the biz again. And how. He really is on a path to developing all-time great status, as we are perhaps more akin to seeing in this division than any other. Odds of 1.58 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase are representative of his domination and it’s very difficult to see anything beating him come that Wednesday afternoon.
Next in the betting is Footpad at 10.0, who had given best to Simply Ned at Leopardstown about an hour before Altior had set foot in the Kempton paddock. There were plenty of positives to take from Footpad’s apparent step up from his Naas reappearance. He’d suffered an over reach that day and missed some work at home as a result. Perhaps he needed this and he certainly went with the zest we became accustomed to seeing last year.
I’m also convinced Footpad wants more cut than he’s had on two starts this year.
Then there’s his likely Cheltenham destination. He ran in a Grade 1 Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown in 2017 and I just wonder if he’ll be campaigned for the Ryanair from here on in. The 12.0 about him for that deserves a second look in an open division, particularly with Altior fit and well at the top of the Champion Chase tree. Mullins will have to juggle the likes of Min and Un De Sceaux for that too whilst Footpad’s owners will likely have Sceau Royal representing against Altior. Either way, we’re yet to witness the same Footpad as that who lit up the novice equivalent division last term.
Simply Ned was brilliant at the finish, winning the race for a second successive year and again defeating a Mullins hotpot in the process. Perhaps there’s something in that?
Willie does not want anything left behind at Christmas. Not when the spring holds all the festival targets.
Must just mention the Altior ‘up in trip’ question. I interviewed trainer and jockey immediately afterwards and left Nicky Henderson, “get through this season, sure we’ve talked about it long and hard, we’ll have to think about it”, with the impression Altior will be campaigned as a King George horse next year. Then Nico De Boinville said he felt like a “speed horse” and questioned whether he’d be “doing too much when going a few strides slower in a King George”. I suppose the point is he’ll have to try two and a half miles first!
Ultimately, I think it’ll be the owners who sway it in favour of a return to Kempton a day earlier in 2019.
Three Mile Chasers
Between the King George and the Savills Chase, the Gold Cup market had a bit of a shake-up. Not a making a cocktail size shake up – bang on the lid, grip with both hands and rattle with all one’s might. This was more a bag of popcorn shake. Certainly not enough to displace Presenting Percy, a horse not seen yet this season, as favourite for the race. Almost on account of the fact that he’s not yet done anything wrong.
Not your standard Gold Cup campaign but then Native River won the race last year off the back of just one run festival side of Christmas. And Pat Kelly isn’t afraid to go the unconventional route. He ran the horse over three and a half and two and a half miles en route to RSA success last year. I’d have a small concern that Cheltenham was his sixth stat of the season last year whereas he could be four short of that this time around.
It’s only a niggle though.
Quick Fire King George Fallout
Thistlecrack: better than twelve months ago but still short of his brilliant best.
Might Bite: Well short. Fallen out of love with it? Threw in the towel having travelled well.
Bristol De Mai: Who knows given too early an exit but he doesn’t convince away from Haydock.
Waiting Patiently: This game is cruel. We learnt nothing.
Native River: Sharp right-handed track on good ground? Yuck. But shaped perfectly for a Cheltenham return.
Politologue: An error at the twelfth didn’t help his chances but he’ll likely head down in trip.
And so to the winner.
The youngest horse in the race. Trained by the winning-most trainer of the race. This was no fluke. Clan Des Obeaux is a very good horse. And we knew that from his early days. Second in Grade 2 company on his second start (Cheltenham) his first two wins came at Newbury but it was last year the ‘better right handed’ quotes started to be filed into copy. Something his jockey again said after the race. He’s now two from four right handed. His Cheltenham form reads 2622. The 6 came in the 2016 Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle.
For all I can’t make myself take the 10.0 floating around next to his name for the Gold Cup, I can argue it’s too big.
He’s just won the King George, jumping and travelling every inch the best horse in the race. That’s right. He’s just won the King George yet sits fourth in the betting for the big one in March.
That is, in part, due to Kemboy’s win at Leopardstown. He was as impressive as the ride he got from David Mullins. That bold mid race move up the straight to take up the running. It was messy in behind, Road To Respect probably catching the eye most given he nearly came down on the flat turning for home. Kemboy has the right profile for a Gold Cup. Second season chaser, unbeaten this year, bolts up in key trial. He will need to jump better and I’d want to see how he gets on in a truly run race. The searching gallop of a GC will be an altogether different test, certainly different to that which he in part provided on Friday. And I can’t shake the memory of him finishing a somewhat labouring fifteen lengths behind Shattered Love in the JLT last year.
Save a mention for Elegant Escape. He joins an elite band of Master Oats, Synchronised, and Native River, the last three horses to carry 11 stone 6 or more to Welsh National victory. They all won Gold Cups. Throw in 11 stone carrying winner Notre Pere who won a Punchestown Gold Cup and Elegant Escape’s performance gets another boost. And he acted at the track last year when third in the RSA, albeit well held. I wonder if he wants softish ground too. He’s worth waiting to back. I’m not sure he’ll shorten too much from the current 35.0. But if it does come up testing, in a year that has that Synchronised, open feel to it, he has plenty going for him.
The shortest of the umpteen favourites to get turned over in the last week was Buveur D’Air. He flattened three out but I’m not sure it cost him momentum and he was beaten fair and square by a very good mare in stable companion Verdana Blue.
Will she, can she do the same in March? Not to my eye.
These were ideal conditions for her. She’s brilliant, there’s no doubting that, and a flat track on good ground allows her to show that brilliance. She might have won further too had Nico De Boinville (beat Buveur? The boss will be furious!) really let her go.
Verdana will only run at Cheltenham if it’s good ground but she’s not quite Champion Hurdle material to my eye and I fancy a flat campaign may take precedence.
Now, this was not part of the Buveur plan. He’s a better horse with more dig underfoot and the first day ground grace of the festival should ensure conditions are a little more to his liking. He’s a better horse around Cheltenham too. I’m loath to make excuses for a beaten 1/4 shot but I’m encouraged by his eased-out price for the Champion of 2.38 (not that that will change much after a likely win in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandwon, his usual path).
If The Cap Fits was an eye catching third.
I say eye catching with specific regard to going over further. Back over further, for he won over two mile three and a half furlongs before Kempton, again shaping as if further would suit. Like seven furlongs further. Like run him in the stayers’ hurdle for further’s sake.
It’s time to back him. Some may choose to wait for some non-runner no bet concessions in the new year but the price will be chopped accordingly.
Either way, I can see him running in an open stayers’ race and the 20.0 is worth having on side.
Harry Fry spoke of going up in trip after Ascot, indeed gave him a Long Walk entry, but it made sense to run at Kempton to fully assess his Champion Hurdle credentials. The question is where next? If wanting to try three miles then there’s the Cleeve on trials day, though that may not be ideal if it’s very testing. Or there’s the More Of That try on the day route, perhaps after another spin at around two and a half (National Spirit anyone?).
Getting way ahead of myself but still want him on side.
The Ryanair Hurdle was fascinating. Let’s start with the fast improving and race fit Sharjah. Tenth in a heavy ground Supreme last year, he seems to be a better horse on a sounder surface and has demonstrated that in latest two Grade 1 wins. His disappointing Down Royal third in November now a distant memory. Odds of 9.4 for the Champion are fully justified and he’s to my eye the biggest threat to a Buveur three timer in March, particularly if it’s decent ground.
Melon will likely improve for the run as plenty of Mullins’s have this term, Supasundae probably just struggles at the very top on good ground at this trip, two time Grade 1 winner at the minimum though he is (on soft).
And then Samcro. Yes, if only he’d been sent chasing. Yes, he looks to want further. No, he’s not Champion Hurdle material. But plenty of Ballymore winners have been. Moreover, it’s a sad fact that the second coming of 2018 heads into 2019 going nowhere. Perhaps put away from the season unless something comes to light. The way he folded late on, I’d be a little surprised if he did pass all his post-race exams. Ultimately, if he’s a stayer, he’d have at least shown some fight late on. He showed nothing.
I do think he wants easier ground, though this doesn’t go the whole way to explaining the effort. In fact, much of the soft to heavy ground novice hurdle form from last year has taken a battering and I’m increasingly wary of that when translating said form to this season. Current conditions are suiting some and finding others out.
Quicker on these, the pictures look far less defined. Santini ran the perfect race in the Kauto Star for a future RSA winner.
He filled the same position as Henderson’s subsequent RSA winner Bob’s Worth, having also reappeared at Newbury, and boy do I like his Cheltenham claims at 4.5 for the three mile novice.
He may go Reynoldstown at Ascot next. Like Bob did. And Bob got beat. Yet Bob still went off 9/2 for the RSA. The point being that even if Santini doesn’t win his next start, and I think he will, he’s the horse everyone will want to back at Cheltenham (barring a complete blowout). In the last ten years, only one favourite has gone off bigger than Santini’s current price. And four have won at 9/4, 13/8/, 7/2 and 5/2.
His price is worth taking now.
I was pleased Delta Work, impressive, won in Ireland too. The more he does, the more the price about Santini holds up.
The Arkle and JLT markets are very open, mainly because we are lacking a star. I’m reliably informed by my Cheltenham wizard chum (not actually a wizard) Matt Tombs (@thespieler) that the last Arkle winner beaten in a chase other than when falling was Captain Chris eight years ago.
You’d do well to find an unbeaten sort in this bunch.
If Amy Murphy were to commit to the JLT with Kalashnikov, the 15.0 would be banked. It’s of more appeal at this stage than the half that on offer for the Arkle. I think this is a horse who will show his best over further. I saw a few comments about the ground being quick enough at Kempton too but I’m not on board with that. At the minimum trip, perhaps, but this horse wants good ground. His sister, Kalane, wanted good ground. And two and a half miles. Kalashnikov won races on testing ground last year but that’s because he’s good, not, to my eye, because he wants soft ground. The Dipper at Cheltenham on Tuesday will be novice chase enlightening, depending on what shows up.
Final word goes to Champ who took the Challow and was installed as 6.0 favourite for the Ballymore. Physically he looked the adult against some lesser experienced rivals. Temperament wise that wasn’t necessarily the case. This son of a half-sister to Best Mate has the pedigree. He has the talent too. Whilst a modest gallop wouldn’t have helped him settle, he had the requisite speed to power away from the rest in the closing stages. Speed is no bad thing for a Ballymore. It’s that temperament, a slight hot-headedness which apparently he doesn’t show at home, that concerns me slightly. The big T that can find horses out in the cauldron of a festival. I’m inclined to think he’s one to take on if he shows up at Cheltenham but with what I don’t know. Tornado Flyer may well run this weekend at Naas, which will tell us more, and he’s interesting. And Nicky Henderson may have some juggling to do given the firepower he has in the novice hurdle department. AND the last seven-year-old Ballymore winner was French Holly in 1998 (no I don’t know how many have tried).
Jury out, for now.
- Back If The Cap Fits at 20.0 for the Stayers’ Hurdle – Matchbook Ante Post Market
- Back Santini at 4.5 for the RSA Chase – Matchbook Ante Post Market
Each week Tom is joined by guests such as Rory Delargy, Donn McClean, Sam Turner and Brendan Powell on Matchbook’s Horse Racing Podcast. Subscribe now to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, or on your preferred Podcast app by searching for ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast’.