They were at it again last week. Sir Anthony McCoy urged Harry Cobden not to doubt his mount Cyrname’s stamina first time over three miles in the King George, writes Tony Stafford. In the same Racing Post article, Lee Mottershead wondered whether the same three miles would be a sufficient stamina test to play to Lostintranslation’s strengths. As well as Paul Nicholls, the former’s trainer, Nicky Henderson, his fellow OBE recipient in the New Year’s Honours list, also reckons Kempton Park is a sharp track.
They almost got me at it too. After decades of arguing that it’s one thing to call it sharp when a few 0-120 journeymen trundle around Sunbury on good ground, which often pertains at Kempton, but in championship races in soft ground if you don’t stay you drop away.
What constitutes a sharp track: nippy mile or mile two around circuits with tight bends? Kempton is near enough a mile and five furlongs around; the fences take jumping and from the end of the back straight there’s a long easy bend into a three-furlong run-in with three final obstacles to negotiate. How can that be sharp when there’s nowhere to take a breather?
We knew Cyrname was good over two miles five, as at Ascot where he inflicted the only jumping defeat ever experienced by the previously-flawless Altior. At Kempton, sharing rather than dominating the pace as Sir AP encouraged, he stopped as if shot in the straight, in the end beaten 21 lengths into second by his stable-companion Clan Des Obeaux, an 11th King George winner for Nicholls.
Footpad was third for Ireland ahead of Aso, an outclassed nine-year-old and the only non-member of the gang of seven <years old> completed by the very disappointing Lostintranslation who was the first beaten simply because he jumped badly.
Top-class races, where all the participants are entitled to be there, put extra demands on horses. It was Cyrname’s 12th race over fences last Thursday, and his first over the distance less than five weeks after that battle royal with Altior. It had also taken Paul Nicholls plenty of time before allowing Clan Des Obeaux to try three miles which he did in his tenth steeplechase. He was third, around ten lengths behind Might Bite in the Betway Aintree Bowl, which ended his season. Nicholls then brought him back to finish fourth behind course-specialist Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November 2018, so when he turned up at Kempton last Boxing Day, he was a 12-1 shot for the King George.
He took advantage of mishaps to both those horses – Might Bite finished last and was found to have bled during the race, while Bristol De Mai was an early faller - and beat Thistlecrack by a length and a half. It was unfortunate that the veteran Thistlecrack, who had given Paisley Park such an examination over hurdles at Newbury last month, was unable to take part on Thursday after sustaining a minor injury.
Though only a seven-year-old, Clan Des Obeaux was having his 17th race over fences. After last year’s King George he picked up a nice pot at Ascot in February; was fifth to Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup and second to Kemboy at Punchestown in May at the end of a demanding season. He reappeared at Down Royal last month, going under only to the smart Road To Respect.
If you thought Christmas might clear up the Gold Cup situation, think again. Saturday’s Savills Chase at Leopardstown, which featured the much-heralded return for Kemboy after the problems surrounding his ownership had finally been cleared up, might have brought clarity. Instead coming to the bend into the short straight, all eight horses were in with a chance, and it was Delta Work, coming fast and late and hanging left in the Gigginstown first colours that got up to beat front-running Monalee near the line.
Road To Respect (Gigginstown and Gordon Elliott again), Kemboy and Presenting Percy were in a cluster just behind and three of the five – Kemboy (6-1), Delta Work (8-1) and Presenting Percy (10-1) – are among the leaders in the market for next March’s Gold Cup along with Clan Des Obeaux (7-1) and Lostintranslation, the deposed former favourite at 8’s.
The title-holder, Al Boum Photo, Willie Mullins’ first winner of the big race last March, has a potentially facile opportunity to get his season going at Tramore on New Year’s Day in a 2m5f conditions chase which appeals more than last week’s alternatives including the Savills Chase.
There were some Christmas re-alignments, too, in Champion Hurdle betting with seismic blows first at Kempton where the mare Epatante majestically outpointed the boys with a mixture of speed and accuracy. She is now the 3-1 favourite to give Nicky Henderson another championship, while the Mullins forces were also shaken up with yesterday’s demise of Klassical Dream in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Klassical Dream was reckoned to have needed the run when dropping away late on behind one stable-companion Saldier and excellent yardstick Petit Mouchoir in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown last month but there could be no fitness excuses for yesterday’s abject failure behind another team-mate Sharjah in the Matheson, with Petit Mouchoir again second but twice as far behind this Mullins winner.
Saldier is second favourite for Cheltenham at 6-1 ahead of a second Henderson runner, the rising five-year-old Pentland Hills, last season’s Triumph and Aintree winner. His underwhelming fifth on comeback this month to another Nicky hurdler, Call Me Lord, was explained by a refusal to settle. He’ll need to get that out of his system next time.
The one name that might emerge to give that particular market a shake-up is Honeysuckle. The Henry de Bromhead-trained mare has a record of six wins in as many hurdles starts, five of them at Fairyhouse. Her winning margins to date have been 12 lengths, 3¼, 6, 5½, 11 and 9, and only once was the word “easily” not used to characterise the victory. That happened on her penultimate start when she beat Saturday’s Leopardstown winner Easy Game by 11 lengths. The comment here was “eased clear…not extended”.
Honeysuckle is generally a 10-1 shot but, like so many mares, especially those trained by Willie Mullins, there is a ready alternative at the Festival to stay with her own sex. It could well be, though, that de Bromhead might be persuaded to go for the big one. On the issue of persuasion, if you could entice your friendly <are there any?> bookmaker to give you say 8-1 with the run-guarantee concession, that might well be one to keep in the locker.
I got a call the other day from a very shrewd friend who said, “While Hughie Morrison’s in this sort of form you’ve got to stay with him”, and on the same day Hughie’s juvenile, Kipps, duly confirmed debut promise with a nice win at Lingfield, auguring well for his future as a stayer next year.
Unbeknown to my friend, Supamouse, one of the trainer’s two Boxing Day winners that had prompted the call after his 14-length bumper defeat of the Nicholls favourite and previous course winner Confirmation Bias, had collapsed and died back at the stables.
As the trainer said, with horses you can be up one minute and down on the floor the next. It must have seemed momentarily for Hughie, Mary and everyone else at Summerdown that all the hard work and planning had been worthwhile with a brilliant future ready to map out for Supamouse, a son of his former star Stimulation, only for it to come crashing down. My sympathies go out to a wonderful trainer and a thoroughly good man.