Matchbook Ambassador Tom Stanley takes a look back at the weekend that just was casting his eyes ahead to Cheltenham particularly to the National Hunt Chase
Another informative weekend of racing with regard to Cheltenham but still one somewhat adversely affected by better ground than expected for the time of year. Much of the ‘don’t get too carried away with what’s run because there’s plenty still to come out’ chat was doing the rounds. Where are these fine animals? They’ll need to chance their hooves soon enough if they’re going to line up in March.
A couple of novice hurdles and a fascinating novice chase caught the ante post eye over the weekend. Interesting that the shortest price of the novice contests at Cheltenham is the 4.5 about Santini for the RSA. Still a very open year at this stage.
Four miler mover
Two horses in three races at Warwick shortened up for the National Hunt Chase on Saturday. Ok Corral was very impressive in his relative demolition of a small but select field and the booking of Derek O’Connor was telling in itself. A two-time winner of four mile novice, most recently on Minella Rocco for JP McManus, this is clearly a horse team green and gold consider a likely for the race.
He’s got gears though and he showed that on Saturday.
His jumping was better than on his Plumpton debut too and he’s got festival form in the book having been second in the Albert Bartlett last year. His age is also interesting. A nine-year-old, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for this race historically. However, winners have years on their side which boast chase experience. Rathvinden won this on his eleventh chase start last year, Tiger Roll eleventh, Minella Rocco fifth, Cause Of Causes eleventh, Midnight Prayer fifth. Ok Corral has had just two runs over fences to date and the 5.0 isn’t exactly getting my finger twitchy.
Rocky’s Treasure was disappointing for all he was carrying a penalty and he’s better than this. It was his sixth run in three months. White Moon again sowed his jumping frailties for all he’d warmed to his task throughout the race at Exeter last time. This company seemed to find him out.
One to invest in
Secret Investor really impressed me and I think he’s s serious talent. He was comfortably held in the end but would have been closer with a better leap at the last and he travelled as well as the winner for much of the way. He made a bad error at the eleventh but when pulled to the outside by Harry Cobden, he jumped with more accuracy and will improve beyond this. He’s not really a Cheltenham candidate in my eyes this year (21.0 knocking about for an RSA) but the sort of horse I’ll continue to follow. He definitely has a big race in him.
Classic Chase winner
Impulsive Star, second at Plumpton to Ok Corral, can be backed at 17.0 for the National Hunt Chase in March after winning over fences for the first time on Saturday.
The Classic Chaser wouldn’t have gone to many maidens in the past but he’s often hinted at being a good horse and took advantage of his current mark back in handicap company.
Now, he’s had six chase starts to date and one of those came in the four miler last year when twenty four lengths behind Rathvinden. He may be a more experienced horse this time around and he’s certainly a better one given he lined up rated just 132 twelve months ago. The reversion to a level weights contest doesn’t have me rushing in just yet though.
This novice hurdle sat between the above two chases and is often a good guide to Cheltenham. The New One and more recently Willoughby Court have gone from success in this to Ballymore glory, whilst others have been placed up in trip in an Albert Bartlett. This year’s winner, Beakstown, was over obstacles for the third time and successful for the second. He paid a compliment to Newcastle winner Ask Ben but, equally, I’d be wary that Beakstown may not have run to form last time.
Always highly regarded apparently, his trainer Dan Skelton blamed himself for running him back too quick last time (desperate to get another run into him before a tilt at the Challow) and that didn’t go to plan. This was much more like it.
Chaser in the Making Klaxon?
He’s a big raw beast though, one who his trainer was keen to describe as only likely to achieve his full potential over a fence. I fancy they’d be loath to run in an Albert Bartlett and whether he’ll be sharp enough for a Ballymore I’d doubt. He’s very good though.
It’s worth mentioning Rockpoint at this juncture, an interesting runner in the race given he was back in trip and shouldering a penalty. He went on and tired late but we know he stays further. I’m not sure he really enjoyed genuinely good ground either. I’ve mentioned his likeable Albert Bartlett profile before and his ease in price to 21.0 means I’m nearly putting him up. He’s run eleven times and that counts for plenty in the potato race. He’s not exactly a likely shortener off the back of this defeat though so it can wait.
The JLT is as open a market as they come and waiting for something to stamp its authority. We had a smidgeon of that at Punchestown with Winter Escape, formally with Alan King, giving weight and a beating to a decent field in the two and a half mile novice chase. He’s thrived for his new yard and was very impressive. He doesn’t lack speed but he jumps well at this trip and Mark Walsh clearly has bags of belief in him. He’s eight but still lightly raced and has festival having been fifth in a County Hurdle a few years ago. It was hard not to be taken with this performance and the general 17.0 has me looking twice given the open nature of the race at this stage.
Perhaps the most hotly anticipated novice race of the weekend was the Moscow Flyer. Unsurprising given its recent record of producing festival winners, the majority in the Supreme. Willie Mullins has an excellent record in the race but both of his runners were disappointing, in particular, the mare Buildmeupbuttercup who didn’t jump well and faded very tamely have travelled well enough between obstacles.
Harrie ran a funny race, losing his pitch midway before keeping on. He shaped for further on ground that would have been lively enough but you’d have liked to see more if thinking Cheltenham candidate.
Jetez ran well up in grade on his eleventh hurdle start and was the only one to give the winner something to think about. His profile wouldn’t exactly get the blood pumping with regard to a Graded festival race though.
So, what do we make of the winner Felix Desjy?
Beaten on his last three starts over hurdles, the latter two of those have been over two and a half miles and this trip clearly suits him better. He settled better going a yard quicker too and was fluent over his hurdles being allowed to stride on and make the running. He got an excellent (spare) ride form Sean Flanagan and has earned himself a crack at a Supreme, for all we’ll likely see him again beforehand.
Interesting that a comfortable winner of this race can be backed at 21.0.
That’s disrespecting history to some extent. Trouble is, he wasn’t the touted superstar coming into it and he was allowed to do his own thing. The time was good and he simply got the most efficient ride, never put under any pressure. Any threat was always ahead of him so it’s hard to get carried away with the run.
That Supreme market is strangely Irish light at the moment, something that might change in the coming weeks when others, eventually, come out to play. All in all, I was left a little novice nonplussed this weekend and nothing is screaming to be backed at this stage.
A last mention goes to Kildorrery. Ruby was riding for father Ted in the Dan Moore at Fairyhouse and he was the only horse to get involved from off the pace. I say involved…he at least run on for fourth but had a bit left under the bonnet. Rated 132, he can’t really go up for this but he’s one to note when stepping back up in trip. A hurdle winner over two and a half, he beat Saturday’s winner, Duca De Thaix, on his first start of the season and ran well up in trip two starts ago.
He wasn’t knocked about with his chance gone but was the obvious one to take out of the race. He’s actually in the market for the novice handicap at Cheltenham but would need to go up in the weights to get into that. Well worth putting in the tracker for a start back over further.