Un De Sceaux cruised to victory in the Clarence House on Saturday and remains at the head of the market for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
The Willie Mullins-trained chaser was completing a hat-trick of victories, though will rarely find it easier to win at the highest level. The opposition for such a prestigious event was mediocre at best. Decent handicapper Speredek chased him home, whilst Nicky Henderson’s novice, Brain Power, once again failed to spark over the larger obstacles, before coming down two-out. The victor is without doubt an outstanding chaser, but it’s a shame that the record-breaking achievement should come in such a poor renewal.
Speredek did his best to make a race of it. Ridden boldly from the front by Sean Bowen, he maintained a lead until turning for home. Un De Sceaux swept past approaching the second-last, with Brain Power driven to get involved. The latter had jumped erratically throughout, and hit the fence hard, crumpling on landing. The favourite gradually pulled clear for a seven-length success.
Paul Townend was aboard the winner, in the absence of injured Ruby Walsh, and said of the victory: “I rode my horse to suit him, and the further we went the more confident I was getting. It was hard work, but it was job done today. It's great to get the opportunity to ride these horses. I spoke to Ruby (Walsh) this morning. He's always helpful when he's on the sidelines and I'm grateful to Willie and all the owners. He has a massive heart.”
Mullins looked on from Navan and added: “It looks like he's racing a lot more relaxed nowadays which means we can ride him differently. I was very happy with his jumping. I'd be happy enough to go back for the Ryanair Chase after what he did last year. But let’s see what happens with all the other horses first.”
Nico de Boinville felt Brain Power was struggling with his breathing, and the horse will be tested before further plans are made. Connections were made to sweat, as the horse took some time to rise from the tired looking fall. Henderson has said that he thought the horse ‘jumped and travelled great’, but having watched the race again, I find it hard to concur.
Despite having the size and scope for fences, he’s no natural. At times he makes an ugly shape over the obstacle, and though he remains a novice, and should therefore be judged as such, he has a long way to go if he’s to become competitive at the highest level.
The winner will head to Cheltenham and attempt to defend his crown in the Ryanair, though he’ll have a hell of a lot more on his plate with the likes of Top Notch, Fox Norton and Waiting Patiently in the line-up.
As Un De Sceaux completed a famous trio of victories in the Clarence House, so The New One was landing a stunning four-in-a-row at Haydock, with yet another gutsy success in the Champion Hurdle Trial. The popular hurdler has made this race his own in recent times, and though victory looked unlikely as Ch’Tibello cruised alongside, the Twiston-Davies stable star refused to accept defeat. He’ll now head for the Stayers’ Hurdle in March, whilst I still give the runner-up an each-way chance in the Champion Hurdle. Skelton’s seven-year-old jumped and travelled beautifully throughout before being ‘out-slugged’ by the ultimate slugger. He’ll be no match for Buveur D’Air, but a place finish is up for grabs.
As ever, the winning trainer was full of praise for a horse he so clearly adores, saying: “We know he's not at his best here in heavy ground, but that is the fourth time he's won it now - surely they must name the race after him. He carried a 6lb penalty too, so if they were off level weights he'd have done it comfortably. He appears to be better than ever at the age of 10, which tells you all you need to know about him.
“He's just so tough, we love him and while he'll get an entry in the Champion Hurdle in case the wheels fall off the others, it will be straight to the Stayers' now. He's never been that impressive in this race, in a way that's probably his best win. I've certainly never won the same race four times, never mind a Grade Two. Quite simply he's the horse of a lifetime.”