Might Bite lived up to the hype, and today it’s the turn of Sizing John to consolidate his place at the head of the Cheltenham Gold Cup market.
Henderson’s classy chaser was sent off a short-priced favourite to land the King George on Boxing Day, and though pressed late-on, he had the race in safe keeping from some way out. Travelling powerfully towards the head of affairs, he comfortably brushed aside long-time leader Bristol De Mai as the contenders turned for home. He’d opened up a three-length gap at the last, and though Double Shuffle and Tea For Two both stayed on strongly, they never looked like getting to the winner.
Thistlecrack, ran gallantly in fourth, but never quite looked his old self. At no point was he taking Tom Scudamore into a challenging position. Indeed, Scu appeared to be half-niggling away to keep him in touch. He’d have a chance in Newbury’s Denman Chase in February, but it’s hard to believe he’d have a hope of winning the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Bristol De Mai needs Haydock and the mud. He ran well for a fair distance, but was unable to burn-off the field on this ground. His jumping is also an issue when the conditions are slightly livelier. He too may end up at Newbury, and in bottomless ground would have a chance. I can’t see him challenging the best in Cheltenham’s ‘Blue Riband’, and it’s possible Twiston-Davies may now have a rethink on targets for Blaklion. That horse has won three times at Prestbury Park, including the RSA of 2016.
Of his latest star chaser, Henderson said: “He’s so exuberant. He has sex appeal, loves the showmanship that goes with it. He likes to boss it and says, ‘look at me’. He’s got a lot of presence and has so much charisma” Of the ‘big one’ in March he added: “We’ve got to behave ourselves at Cheltenham. I’m the first to admit it’s a different ball game and he will probably jump the last and want to go right. We will have to think of something. I already have but I don’t want to give it away.”
De Boinville appeared positive, when saying: “He was fantastic. Bristol De Mai was making a few mistakes and he’s took me to the lead. I think he will absolutely fine on it (Cheltenham) and there will be better ground on that Friday as long as the rain holds off. If he is as straightforward as that he has to have a live chance. I have no stamina concerns. He was taking me there the whole way today and doing it very easily. That makes it a lot easier as a jockey. I just had to hold on.”
Earlier in the day, Buveur D’Air looked mightily impressive when winning the Christmas Hurdle. The New One set a searching pace and kicked for home off the bend. Just for a fleeting moment the favourite appeared flat-footed, but in a flash, was up alongside and then sweeping past the Twiston-Davies trained stalwart. Should Altior return in time for The Festival, Henderson has a realistic chance of capturing three of the four Championship races (Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup).
If Altior does make the March appointment, he’ll have Politologue to beat. Nicholls’ young chaser captured the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton yesterday, and is now as short as 3/1 for the Champion Chase. Whilst he put in another solid performance, the Willie Mullins-trained Min was somewhat fluffing his lines in Ireland.
Though crossing the line first at Leopardstown, he’d caused interference with the runner-up Simply Ned on the run from the last, and was demoted to second spot. He’d finished half-a-length ahead of Nicky Richards’ runner, and that performance surely leaves him well short of a fighting fit Altior. It probably leaves him with more to find if he is to match Politologue.
Today’s Leopardstown action centres on the Grade One Christmas Chase, formerly the Lexus. It’s a cracker, with Sizing John facing Yorkhill, Djakadam and Road To Respect. Don’t discount Minella Rocco at 33/1, as he’s more than capable of running into a place. Should Sizing John prevail, as anticipated, he’ll probably shorten ahead of Might Bite in the Gold Cup betting.
Yorkhill is a fascinating contender in this thrilling looking renewal. He defeated Top Notch, Disko and Politologue at Cheltenham in March, and that’s beginning to look extremely strong form. His breeding suggests the trip will be ideal, and he’s a far better horse going left-handed.