Solo and Harry Cobden win the Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton. 22/2/2020 Pic Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com

Do you believe the evidence of your eyes, or the less subjective, cold mathematics of the clock?  Solo, in the Weatherbys-sponsored Adonis Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday put in possibly the race’s most overwhelming winning performance in the past decade, galloping 13 lengths clear of the previously-unbeaten Fujimoto Flyer, writes Tony Stafford. The runner-up, bred in Japan, trained in Ireland and unraced since an easy victory at Auteuil at the beginning of September, possibly gives a line to the form, but how do we know?

Before the race, those of us with a vested interest were keen to ask the ever-colourful Claude Charlet, an agent with a long history originally as a trainer in his native France, then Newmarket and more adventurously in Macao, about his purchase for Mrs Johnny de la Hey.

He said: “Paul <Nicholls> thinks he’s going to be a chaser – whatever he does over hurdles, he’ll be much better, maybe even a Gold Cup horse over fences.” After the win, as a beaming Mr de la Hey looked on, quick to get the chance to talk of the “trauma I’ve experienced in the wake of Cyrname’s fall at Ascot last weekend”, Claude shifted course, a little, as emphatic winners can be expected to in this game.

Charlet was for a long time the Racing UK TV French expert-in-exile – but Racing TV has lost French racing in the fallout to the deal annexing Irish racing from At The Races, now Sky Racing. I never thought I’d say it but Sky and Laurent Barberin have been able to give better and more extensive coverage from France as a balance to their generally less precious piece of the UK cake.

Charlet is no stranger to buying winners on the pre-Cheltenham Kempton card. He was the man who sourced Sire De Grugy for the Gary Moore stable. After Sire De Grugy beat the Nicholls-trained Empire Levant by 11 lengths in the Dovecote Hurdle (unbelievably nine years ago!), Claude was quick to say he was a much cheaper buy than the runner-up. I seem to remember the figure €80k from the recesses of my memory. In the years between, we’ve come to characterise Claude, aka Clouseau, as the man who says every winter “I have a ‘orse for you – 300 Euro”, thousands, of course.

Claude must have had at least that amount to begin bargaining with trainer Guillaume Macaire on behalf of London fund manager de la Hey. He said: “It wasn’t easy. I was stuck in a French farmhouse for ten days with the owner <presumably Gildas Blain, also the breeder> and couldn’t get a deal. He asked if I was going home, I said, I’ll stay one more day, and I got the deal done. M. Macaire wasn’t happy!”

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Nicholls was and Solo has deservedly galloped to the top of the Triumph Hurdle market at around 7-2 and will have probably convinced a number of trainers of intended runners in the juvenile championship race to switch to the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

But here I offer a note of caution. I had a quick glance at the times of the other two two-mile hurdle races on the card, the Kingwell Hurdle, retrieved from the previous weekend’s abandoned Wincanton card and the Dovecote, and both were quicker.

In the case of the Dovecote, by only a second or so, but the Kingwell, won by Tom Symonds, who I met for the first time on the corresponding day 13 years previously as part of the Punjabi entourage, was just over four seconds quicker. Tom’s Song For Someone ran on in determined fashion to justify favouritism, and needed to haul in the de la Hey colours on Diego De Charmil, and the Skeltons’ Ch’tibello in a style that suggests there’s plenty more to come.

Four seconds may not seem insurmountable – Solo won with ease while the three Kingwell principals were at it hammer and tongs up the run-in – and as ever the eyes have it. I was sold on Solo and so was everyone else. That said, after watching Waterproof drop away from the turn for home after going along in the leading group until after three out, the Ray Tooth team had to reflect on what might have been. I’ll leave it to Jack Quinlan to tell the tale.

“As we went down the back, at every hurdle he was very fast, so that coming to three out, I was sensing them gradually dropping back while he was pinging them. I was just thinking, “Blimey, I could give them a race!” I was right behind the winner and then we stopped dead. I wasn’t sure what happened and on pulling up the lad said that he was bleeding from the nose. He stopped so quickly from going well, and we know he stays, that it had to be something like that.”

So now we are at a crossroads. Ray was sceptical that we should even be tackling a race of that nature and was probably right, but the rules on handicaps are such that you need a third run to compete in the type of races a 127 rating forces you into. So now there’s another conundrum. It’s good to know that there was a reason for the late dropping away, but when horses bleed it could easily be something that recurs.

He did eat up overnight, so that’s a positive and the vet will take a blood this morning. What is not in doubt is that Waterproof is an exceptionally fast jumper of hurdles, gaining ground with accurate leaps and fast getaways each time. It would be a shame if such promise were to be compromised by physical issues.

**

I’m looking forward to Wednesday evening in London when I’ll be the Master of Ceremonies of a Cheltenham Festival preview night at the Horse and Wig pub in Fulwood Place, Holborn, 100 yards along from Chancery Lane station on the Central Line. On the panel will be Angus Loughran (Statto), the man who once took a deck chair out at Lord’s to sit on during a Test Match because Chris Tavare was so boring; Sally Randell, first- and triple-winning female rider of the Grand Military Gold Cup and now partner and assistant to Fergal O’Brien; Cheltenham expert Scott Ellis; Matt Bisogno, Editor-in-Chief of Geegeez.co.uk; and young Mr Quinlan.

I also got a promise at Kempton from Andrew Gemmell that as long as he can get the connections right from Wincanton that afternoon, where he fancies his Dagueneau in the 3.50 race, he’ll be there. It will be great to get the latest update, fresh from Dagueneau’s trainer Emma Lavelle, on Paisley Park’s quest for a second Stayers’ Hurdle. I’m sure we can find a glass or two of Pinot Noir to help pass the evening for Racing’s Owner of the Year. At the mid-point there will be a break for chilli and rice.

Admission to the evening is free. It is the brainchild of multiple Group 1 winning owner Les Straszewski, and is staged under the auspices of the International Racing Club, of which Scott Ellis is the joint-founder. So if you’re available, feel welcome to come along!

- TS

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