Another very busy weekend with Cheltenham clues aplenty, even this close to the big March fiesta. We witnessed some superb training performances, superb riding performances, and a boycott that led to a walkover. Thankfully we did not witness any more fights. As always, feel free to get in touch via the comments, or you can 'hashtag' me at @KeejayOV2 on Twitter. To the stories...
- Angels’ Out Of Breath
He’s still heading to the Supreme despite being outpointed at 8/11 in Saturday’s Dovecote Hurdle by Paul Nicholls’ – remember him? – Southfield Stone.
Nicholls' 6/1 shot, who was overturned at 4/6 when last seen, was always prominent and, under the urging of Harry Cobden, kicked for home off the bend into the straight, which proved to be a race winning move. Southfield Stone ran down the last and drifted markedly to the right thereafter, but still had enough to hold off the late charge of the odds-on favourite. The winner was cut for the Imperial Cup, nominated as his next target by Paul Nicholls, whilst Angel’s Breath was pushed out to as big as 12/1 for the Supreme.
Cheltenham questions abounded in the aftermath of the defeat as many punters cast a doubt on his Supreme aspirations, which had been perceived as very strong beforehand, as seen here. Opinion was split on his chances afterwards.
The Case For:
Be Smart: Defeat was disappointing for many at the time, but this was Angel’s Breath’s second run over hurdles, first run with more than four flights jumped, and first run for 64 days, including a flu jab that has come later than trainer Nicky Henderson expected to thanks to the equine flu hiatus.
Horses For Courses: Kempton was also a complete change of course for Angel’s Breath, who had done much of his best work up the home straight at Ascot on soft ground, and Cheltenham really ought to show his strength and stamina to best effect.
Paul Nicholls, winning trainer, speaking to Kitty Trice of the Racing Post: "It'll be interesting because I know where Southfield Stone is and I know where Grand Sancy is after last week. I probably wouldn't entertain Southfield Stone in the Supreme, but he could be one for a handicap. He's in the Imperial Cup and might be one to leave for Cheltenham and go for a race at Aintree."
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Angel’s Breath, speaking to the Racing Post yesterday: “We’re pretty sure we’re staying at two miles for the Supreme, and a stiffer track will suit him much better, as would a little cut in the ground. He still ran very well in what was a very good time and we were all very happy with him."
- A Winning Raffle Ticket?
Henderson had better luck with Fusil Raffles on Saturday, as the French import sprinted clear for a nine-length win on his British debut in the Adonis Hurdle, impressing all-comers:
The Seven Barrows trainer had been relishing the chance to unleash another major festival contender, but in the process of his demolition, Fusil Raffles suffered a cut as he hit the second last. It is sufficiently severe to cast a doubt over his preparations for the Festival, as Richie Persad of ITV told viewers:
Henderson told Racing TV: “Unfortunately, he has got a very nasty gash right on his hind-bone shin which is being stitched. We’ve got less than three weeks to go (until the Festival) so it’s going to be tight. We will keep everybody posted. If we can get him there we will, as he deserves to, but if not he will have to wait until Aintree.”
- The Rath O’Vinden
Another huge target which is fast approaching is the Grand National, and Rathvinden staked his claim with impressive victory in the Bobbyjo Chase, a key prep which sets him on target for Aintree.
After the departure of Magic Of Light eight fences out, the race developed into a duel between Rathvinden and the long-time leader, Alpha Des Obeaux, with last year's National Hunt Chase winner prevailing by three and a half lengths under a resolute Paul Townend.
That was the second serious National trial in a week, after the amazing Tiger Roll bolted up in the Boyne Hurdle last Sunday, and Willie Mullins confirmed that Aintree was the plan afterwards.
"That was a nice first run of the season, and I'd imagine he'll go for the National. That would be the usual route from here. We're keen to go and the owner is keen to go."
- Persistence Pays Off For Walter
Racing is sometimes, only sometimes, a game of just reward. Phil Simmonds could not have been blamed for turning away from the sport after losing Burns Cross to a terrible accident from a foot injury.
But trainer Neil Mulholland kept him in the sport, and on Saturday he was rewarded for his persistence in the most wonderful fashion as Walt, given a power-packed ride by Sam Twiston-Davies took the valuable 888Sport Handicap Chase.
In what was a tremendous finish, he repelled the game top weight Double Shuffle, in receipt of 20lbs, to spring a minor surprise at 14/1. The winner might now head to Cheltenham for the Ultima Handicap Chase, whilst many eyes will be on the fast finishing third, Adrien Du Pont, who made up the most ground of any horse in the race by far.
Phil Simmonds, owner of Walt, speaking to At The Races: “From an owner’s point of view we need to support the Neil Mulhollands of this world. These guys are first class. It has shown today that if these guys have got the talent (to work with), they can do it.”
Bonus: Enjoy this superb shot of Walt jumping the last, taken by the brilliant Francesca Altoft.
- A Wissahickon For All Weathers
Meanwhile, at Leafy Lingfield, Wissahickon continued his run as one of most progressive horses in training with another dominant performance in the Winter Derby at Lingfield.
John Gosden’s four-year old tracked his stablemate Court House for most of the way, and after being given his orders by Frankie Dettori, he quickly sealed the deal to win by three and a half lengths, making it five wins on the bounce, four of them on the all-weather.
He won as odds of 1/4 suggested he ought to, and there are now much bigger targets on the agenda for him, including a potential trip to Dubai for World Cup night – although he looks set to have at least one more run here with owner George Strawbridge very keen to come and see him once again.
John Gosden: “There is some talk about World Cup Night out in Dubai, but I will have to speak to Frankie, who always has a very strong opinion! We might look at the Sheema Classic, if there was an invitation to run in the race. I think he is a mile-and-a-quarter to a mile-and-a-half horse – his mother stayed and he switches off in his races now, while quick, summer ground would be his game.”
- Money-Money-Money, Monneehhh
Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems, Puff Daddy lamented in the 90’s, that golden age of rap. How the trainers and owners who keep racing afloat would wish to have even a sliver of the wealth floating around in the hip-hop game.
But British racing has pretty much always had a prize money problem. A huge fixture list, one which has bizarrely grown in recent years, stretches a pot of prize money that is under pressure at the levels where it counts – below the weekend racing and big festivals, at the general weekday level which is sustained by a huge bulk of class 4, 5 and 6 racing.
The Government’s long overdue crackdown on FOBT machines has led to a decision in turn by ARC, which owns 16 UK racecourses including Lingfield, to reduce prize money and thus not avail of a top-up fund provided to courses which offer prize funds at or beyond a threshold. That was the backdrop against which a protest against the unacceptably low prize money was staged at Lingfield on Saturday.
Costs are already stretched wafer thin: See this explanation from Mike Spence, a long time supporter of the game who has horses of all abilities:
Trainers made their mark with a protest against two races on Saturday with no runners declared for the five-furlong novice stakes from an entry of nine, while only the Nick Littmoden-trained Greybychoice was declared from the 18 entries for the mile novice stakes.
And they had the desired effect too, with the story making the BBC news, the papers – including The Mail, which has the largest online circulation of any British title – and international titles like BloodHorse and Australia’s SBS.
Never one to mince his words, Mark Johnston got stuck in: “I had two horses in the race and sent one to Chelmsford and the other has been entered at Southwell where the prize-money was £8,000 rather than £4,500. It gets to a point where it’s just not viable to take a horse all the way to Lingfield for that sort of money. We’ve done it in the past, but we’re not going back to the bad old days.
“The prize-money is quite ridiculous and the whole situation of Arc cutting prize-money in anticipation of a potential cut in the number of betting shops and funding due to the FOBT reduction, which is hypothetical at the moment, is out of order. The race values vary from 46-60 handicaps to maidens and better class races across the courses, but we always note the prize-money when making entries."
Good Gesture: Nick Littmoden, the only trainer who entered a horse in the two races, donated his percentage to the Injured Jockeys’ Fund.
What can be done? The big players – the British Horseracing Authority, National Trainers Federation, Racehorse Owners Association and Racecourse Association – are in talks but this problem will always persist unless there is a significant cash injection or, even more unlikely, a marked reduction in the bloated fixture list that consumes British racing for the benefit of bookmakers and media rights recipients. It is worth noting that Ireland does not have anything like this problem, even if the situation is not quite the same.
- Super Vision
Wind surgery and a step back up in trip proved the answer for Vision Des Flos, who turned out to be the quickest in what was a competitive National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell, and after a year and nine races, he finally got back on the winning trail.
The Kingwell Hurdle third had also finished second behind Buveur D’Air on his first start of the season, but he appeared to appreciate this trip and was always travelling best coming off the all-weather crossover. A big leap took him past the front running Lil Rockerfeller, and once Tom Scudamore sent him to win his race, he always had a little too much in hand for the late charge of If The Cap Fits, who was outpaced almost until he jumped the last.
Harry Fry’s runner up will head to the Aintree Hurdle next, whilst Ballymoy was a disappointment, finishing near last. The ever so admirable Lil Rockerfeller held on for third.
Colin Tizzard, trainer of Vision Des Flos: "He is in the Champion Hurdle and the Coral Cup, and on that running I’d say he would go for the handicap. You never know, if there are not many in the Champion Hurdle we might go there yet.”
Harry Fry, trainer of If The Cap Fits: “He wasn’t good enough today and Noel did well to finish second the way he was travelling. We vaccinated him last week, which was not the plan in such close proximity to a race. Hopefully, the run was just down to that. If he had travelled well he would have won.”
Think Ahead: This was yet another boost for Elixir De Nutz, who had beaten Kingwell Hurdle winner Grand Sancy at Sandown. You can back both these proven horses, who had their form boosted twice over this weekend and who appear to be relatively versatile regarding ground for the Supreme at double figure prices.
Also at Fontwell: Hugos Other Horse, half-brother to the one and only Cue Card, ground out victory in the closing bumper.
- Check Mate
In Ireland yesterday, there was a very smart card at Naas, with the feature Onside App Novice Hurdle (my Paddy Power cheque is in the post!) ending with a thriller eventually claimed by Chosen Mate.
The Gordon Elliott-trained progressive six-year-old travelled best into what turned out to be a sprint after the early fall of Jetez, who was in front at the time. A slick jump at the last sealed the deal for him in the dash for the line, which came just in time as he held off the charging four-year-old Hannon, in receipt of a stone in weight for age.
The runner up was cut to 25/1 for the Triumph with Paddy Power from an original price of 40/1.
Gordon Elliott, winning trainer: “Davy had to change tactics when Puppy (Robbie Power, aboard Jetez) fell. He wanted to get up and take Paul (Townend) on and not give him a complete freebie. The plan is to keep him for Aintree.”
- On The Ferry
On the same card, Cadmium booked his ticket to the Grand Annual, knuckling down to get the better of the consistent Doctor Phoenix in the Grade 3 What Odds Paddy? Chase.
He was three lengths to the good at the line but had to work harder than that, although he heads to the penultimate race of the Festival with as good a chance as any, especially with a bigger field likely to suit.
Rachael Blackmore was in the winning groove again, driving home Poker Party to take the Grade B Novice Handicap Chase. That’s two wins from two for the pair now, with the previously out of form seven year old seemingly thriving. And see this feature about her, below.
- Star Of The Week
A tough one, but perhaps Nick Littlemoden for doing the right thing by his owner and the trainers' collective.
11. Bad news to start the week...
And we start this week with the sad news that Le Richebourg, favourite for the Arkle, will miss the race - and the rest of the season - due to an injury during work on Saturday.
- William Kedjanyi