Tag Archive for: Saint Calvados

Saint Calvados delivers impressive Oaksey success

Saint Calvados produced a dominant front-running display to claim top honours in the bet365 Oaksey Chase at Sandown.

A field of just four runners went to post for the Grade Two contest, with King George third Saint Calvados the even-money favourite to register his first victory since joining Paul Nicholls.

There was drama at the start, with last year’s runner-up Mister Fisher shying away when the tapes went up, which allowed Saint Calvados to establish an early buffer over his three rivals.

Having worked his way back into contention, Mister Fisher closed up to within a couple of lengths jumping the Pond Fence, but Harry Cobden had kept something up his sleeve aboard the market leader, who soon asserted once more.

The nine-year-old sealed his victory with a typically bold leap at the final obstacle and passed the post with 16 lengths in hand.

Cobden and Nicholls were completing a quick-fire double following the earlier success of Knappers Hill in the opener.

“That was a nice win. He deserved to win a race like that. Contrary to what it looks like – that he doesn’t stay – I actually do think he stays,” said Nicholls.

“We haven’t had him really right and we are learning about him all the time. I actually think we can get him fitter next year if we don’t have the problems we have had.

Saint Calvados in full flight
Saint Calvados in full flight (Nigel French/PA)

“I’m convinced he wants three (miles). He galloped all the way to the line there today. Harry got off him the last day at Aintree and said ‘next time I’m going to make the running’. He got too far behind and all his did was gallop, that’s why we bowled along in front today.

“He likes these small fields and better ground. He doesn’t want soft ground – that’s no good for him. When he ran at Ascot, that was a big waste of time. That was perfect today.

“He will definitely go back to the King George again as he ran so well in it this year, but hopefully, we can know him a bit more and get him a bit better and ride him differently.

“The Charlie Hall, something like that, if it was fast ground, would suit him very well.”

Of Mister Fisher, Henderson said: “It was very uncharacteristic – he would not jib at anything.

“We haven’t seen Saint Calvados making the running for a long time and the one day he’s making the running, we go and give him 15 lengths at the gate. It was very out of character.

“Peterborough Chases are his sort of level. He is a Grade Two horse. There are lots of races for him and the Peterborough and those sort of things are really up his street.

“He has had a busy end to the season and Nico (de Boinville) said he was a bit tired.”

Bravemansgame ‘probably will’ head to Cheltenham

Bravemansgame looks like heading for the Cheltenham Festival following discussions between Paul Nicholls and his owners.

Despite looking hugely impressive in winning his first three starts over fences, including an imperious display in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on Boxing Day, Nicholls seemed lukewarm on the idea of a trip to the Cotswolds in March.

As low as 11-4 in places for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, whether he runs again beforehand has still to be decided.

“The owners are keen to go to Cheltenham and I think we probably will. Whether we go straight there or give him one run beforehand, we’ll see,” said Nicholls.

“I think he’s nearly favourite for what was the (old) RSA and three miles round there would suit him well.”

Nicholls has also been considering what to do next with his three runners from the King George, Clan Des Obeaux (second), Saint Calvados (third) and Frodon (fourth).

“Frodon was very tired this morning, but that’s what you’d expect. Minella Indo took him on, he paid the price and ultimately we paid the price as well,” said Nicholls.

“Clan Des Obeaux had a lovely run round until Gavin (Sheehan, on Saint Calvados) took him on. If Gavin had ridden his with a bit more patience, he might have finished closer.”

He went on: “I don’t think you could conclusively say Saint Calvados didn’t get three miles. I think if you rode him with a bit of patience on good ground, he’d have every chance of staying three miles.

“Something like the Ascot Chase might suit him over two-miles-five and make a plan from there.

“Clan Des Obeaux will almost definitely go to Newbury again for the Denman Chase and with Frodon I’ve always fancied going to Leopardstown (for the Irish Gold Cup), so we might look at something like that.

“Clan will go Denman Chase, Aintree and Punchestown, like he did last season.

“With all three of them nothing is set in stone. We’ll see how they come out of the race and then make a plan.”

Monday Musings: A King George Head Scratcher

The Irish duly won the 2021 Ladbrokes King George VI Chase, but not with either of the pair which shared in the five-strong short list suggested a week ago, writes Tony Stafford. The winner was 28-1 shot Tornado Flyer, ridden by Willie Mullins’ nephew Danny, successful for the third time over fences but after a losing sequence of nine.

Unusually, all five of the pretty obvious principals turned up, in one form or another and we certainly didn’t see the real Minella Indo, already well beaten when pulled up by a frustrated Rachael Blackmore a long way from home. He and Frodon, ridden by Bryony Frost, evidently wanted to put on a show of strength, not necessarily from the saddle, but certainly under them as their mounts shared a fast pace through the first part of the race.

Frodon and Bryony have been habitual and very successful front runners in their ten-win time together, three around Kempton, but this time the two heroines of 2021 (and a good while before) simply cancelled each other’s mounts out, compromising any chance of a finishing effort.

Perhaps it all goes down to the centuries-old presumption that Kempton is a sharp track: not when top-class horses share a fast pace over three miles on anything other than fast ground. We saw the same a race earlier when the nominal stayer Not So Sleepy pulled away his chance in the Christmas Hurdle leaving the more economical Epatante to gain an emphatic success.

Trainer Henry De Bromhead’s position atop the staying chase standings rests now on A Plus Tard’s seeing off three Gordon Elliott and four Willie Mullins opponents in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown tomorrow. The Gold Cup winner is looking rather tarnished at this point and it needs a big statement from A Plus Tard

So, team tactics anyone? It is probably tempting enough, one would think, especially for Elliott who is no longer a trainer for Cheveley Park Stud, owners of A Plus Tard. Mullins, whose Allaho ties in with the form of his two Kempton King George representatives, will need to be more circumspect although his stable’s owners have to get used to coming out on the wrong side in the very frequent event he has multiple contenders.

I expected it to be Asterion Forlonge yesterday, the horse that probably would have won the John Durkan Memorial for Mullins at Punchestown last time but unseated Brian Cooper when about to take the lead three fences from home.

That left Allaho to struggle home and Mullins clearly didn’t want to give him another tough race so soon after he looked pretty spent up the run-in.

Further back that day in fifth after some ordinary jumping was Tornado Flyer, and he had also been behind Allaho when that horse won at the Cheltenham Festival, but Mullins runs more than one if he thinks there is the slightest chance that he could pick up money further down the line in these valuable races.

I’m not convinced that Asterion Forlonge would have finished behind Tornado Flyer, who led him by three lengths going into the final fence with Clan Des Obeaux already beaten off. He appeared to jump the final fence the more spectacularly but this time crumpled on landing and Cooper again bit the dust.

It was left to Paul Nicholls to collect positions two to four with Clan Des Obeaux, a full nine lengths back, the outsider Saint Calvados almost four lengths behind in third and a spent Frodon toiling home another six lengths adrift in fourth.

Whereas Mullins was winning only the second King George of his illustrious career, Nicholls can point to 12 and with three, or rather two and a half realistic chances, he would have gone home less than chuffed even though they collected 95 grand between them as against £143k for the winner.

I must say I feel sorry for trainer Harry Whittington who could hardly have been accused of doing badly with Saint Calvados, winning five of his 14 chases and only narrowly failing to beat Min in a race at the Cheltenham Festival a couple of seasons back.

When it’s your stable star that gets whisked away to a man with a yard full of top-class animals, to the extent that your former horse will be a 25/1 outsider on debut, you can understand if his feelings are a little bitter. It’s a hard enough game and as we know the rich get richer and the rest get what’s left! Saint Calvados did actually look a possible winner inside the last mile but either insufficient stamina or simply limited ability at the top level took over.

The biggest disappointment of the King George for the home team was Chantry House, the 3-1 favourite on the day, who ran a shocker. He tied in with all the best form having beaten Asterion Forlonge back into third in the Marsh Chase at Cheltenham last season. A winner after that at Aintree and with the benefit of a comeback stroll round in a two-horse Sandown freebie should have put him right to run a big race but he was never travelling like a possible winner.

His performance was in stark contrast to the rest of the Henderson team who provided a treble for the trainer on a track which he loves so much he was sent into a state of apoplexy when the course’s management advocated the closure of its wonderful jumping track in favour of residential development.

I am with him on that, Kempton having provided many of my happiest racing experiences. It’s where I met Ray Tooth but also where I had a horse which won a mile and a half three-year-old maiden from 13 quite expensive horses by 20 lengths at 20-1 in heavy ground. Not many stayed that day either!

Epatante was the high point in Nicky’s treble, providing the filling in a sandwich between odds-on first-race winner Broomfield Burg, who must hold Festival novice hurdle aspirations for J P McManus, and Middleham Park’s last-race eye-opener Marie’s Rock who looked a mare with a future when adding a first hurdles success to three in bumpers two winters ago.

Last week I was suggesting that Christmas this year was falling ideally for me to circumnavigate the various requirements of work and family. Well here I am at almost 2.30 a m. on Monday morning absolutely knackered and spent of anything worth talking or writing about. So if you don’t mind, I’m turning in. It’s that or watching the cricket. Happy New Year!

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Nicholls bringing King George squad to the boil

Paul Nicholls is stepping up preparations for his trio of Ladbrokes King George VI Chase horses ahead of the Kempton showpiece on Boxing Day.

Frodon, a shock 20-1 winner last year, will bid to defend his crown and give the champion trainer a 13th victory in the race, while Clan Des Obeaux, who won back-to-back renewals in 2018 and 2019 before finishing third last year, will be out to make it three victories in the three-mile Grade One event.

The duo will be joined by Saint Calvados, who was fourth 12 months ago when in the care of Harry Whittington.

Nicholls said: “All three of them are on target. They have had a nice prep.

“Clan is in good shape – he is very well. So is Frodon. We plan to give all three of them an away day somewhere in the middle of this month and then it will soon come round. We are very happy with them and can’t wait for that race.”

Nicholls is also eyeing Kempton’s Desert Orchid Chase for former Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Politologue, after he ruled him out of Saturday’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, a race he won last year.

Runner-up to Nube Negra in a Grade Two contest at Cheltenham on his seasonal bow, Nicholls explained that the ground was against a defence of his title this weekend.

He told Sky Sports Racing: “He has come out of Cheltenham well the other day and had the ground been testing this week, then we might have looked at it, but it is not suitable for him.

“Where do you go with him? There are obvious targets. You could look at the Desert Orchid at Kempton on December 27, but the ground would want to be very testing or soft, and I’m sort of favouring Ascot at the end of January. That would suit him quite nicely.”

Nicholls also revealed that exciting Grade One-winning hurdler Monmiral, who trailed in fifth of six in last Saturday’s Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, sustained an injury and will be sidelined until the New Year.

Nicholls said: “He is still at the vets. He did sustain a nasty cut, which is a very valid excuse. On Monday, we were not very happy with him, so we sent him to the veterinary hospital that we always use and he has been there ever since. I have had a text this morning, and he is 100 per cent and the cut is OK.

“We didn’t want him to go the wrong way and we will pick him up tomorrow or Monday and I suspect he will be ready to run in the middle of January.

“He obviously had a valid excuse. I think someone jumped into him at the first or the second and obviously he didn’t perform well after that.

“He will have a couple of quiet weeks and then we’ll get him back in January. I think he is going to want two and a half miles – I have always thought that.

“We are buying a bit of time until he goes chasing in the autumn and that’s when I think we will see him at his best.

“It is always a tough year for four-year-olds. We did think we’d go well on Saturday, and obviously I was disappointed at the time, but he has a very reasonable excuse and we will put a line through that run.

“We will start with him in January and see where we end up. It might well be that the target for him will be the two-and-a-half-mile race at the Aintree festival (Aintree Hurdle) – I see that being a nice race for him – and then look forward to him chasing in October.”

Cotswold outing set to determine Calvados Festival aim

Harry Whittington expects to have a clearer idea of which Cheltenham Festival race to target with Saint Calvados after he runs in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase.

The Sparsholt handler will use the extended three-mile-one-furlong contest to determine which route to take with the eight-year-old, who has been entered in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chase, which he finished second in last season.

After suffering a bout of blood poisoning ahead of a tilt at the Betfair Chase at Haydock, the Kate and Andrew Brooks-owned gelding finished an encouraging fourth on his return in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Whittington said: “Plan A at the moment is to go for the Cotswold Chase to see if he stays the trip. It was Andrew’s idea to give this a go and it makes plenty of sense.

“This will give us a good gauge as to whether he stays, as we are under no illusion that he has plenty of speed.

“If he runs a cracker and comes through this trial then we could go look at the Gold Cup, but if he doesn’t we can come back down for the Ryanair.”

Harry Whittington was surprised how well Saint Calvados performed on his return at Kempton (David Davies/PA)
Harry Whittington was surprised how well Saint Calvados performed on his return at Kempton (David Davies/PA)

Given how keen Saint Calvados was during the early part of the King George on his return, Whittington was surprised to see him finish out the race so well.

He said: “He travelled the best in the King George, but he hadn’t run since March and he was doing too much in the race compared to Waiting Patiently, who was also having his first run and ran his race towards the end.

“Turning in, I was surprised he was still going as well as he was.

“He just went a bit left at two out, but he was staying on at the death and nearly got back up for third on the line.”

With Saint Calvados returning to a left-handed track and having a run under his belt, Whittington believes he has plenty in his favour on his first try over the trip.

He added: “He was as fit as I could get him first time out, but you can’t beat having a race to get them spot on.

“He loves Cheltenham and got better and better in four starts there last year, ending up finishing second in the Ryanair.

“The Cotswold Chase will be tough as there are some good horses going there, but we will learn plenty and it will do him no harm. He is raring to go.”

Rouge Vif could find Celebration made to measure

Harry Whittington believes the Celebration Chase at Sandown is the ideal long-term target for Rouge Vif following his impressive performance in defeat over course and distance in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase.

The six-year-old filled the same spot on his previous two starts at the top level, in the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival in March and the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in 2018, when chasing home the Paul Nicholls-trained pair of Politologue and Greaneteen in the prestigious two-mile contest on Saturday.

While a return to the Festival for an outing in the Queen Mother Champion Chase remains an option, the Sparsholt handler feels Rouge Vif’s best opportunity to gain a first Grade One success could come back at the Esher track on the final day of the jumps season in April.

He said: “Rouge Vif ran a belter and he showed he can be competitive in the top tier when he gets quicker conditions. I’d like to think he would be winning a race of this kind in the future as he is a better horse on better ground.

“We will probably now wait with him until he gets his conditions. I’d imagine Andrew (Brooks, owner) would like to go for the Champion Chase if the ground was right, but if not we have Aintree or the Celebration Chase at Sandown.

“The Celebration Chase looks an obvious long-term target for him as he is going to be a better horse on that better ground while we know he handles the track and that he jumps the fences well around there. As ever Andrew will make the final decisions.”

Having decided against running Rouge Vif in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham, Whittington was happy enough with conditions at Sandown to let him take his chance in the Tingle Creek.

He added: “I walked the course and I felt the conditions were fine for him to run. In the Shloer Chase it was going to be very testing and as it turned out it was a war of attrition.

“I’m not going to use the ground as an excuse at Sandown. Had it have been softer than it was he probably wouldn’t have run, but we got away with it and he didn’t come back tired.”

Saint Calvados could make his return to action in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton (David Davies/PA)
Saint Calvados could make his return to action in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton (David Davies/PA)

Whittington will make a decision at the weekend regarding the participation of last season’s Ryanair runner-up Saint Calvados, who is also owned by Brooks, in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The seven-year-old, who is a general 33-1 chance for the Grade One prize, has recently returned to training after spending four days at the Donnington Grove Equine Vets following a bout of sepsis.

Whittington said: “Saint Calvados is good and is ticking over. He is in the King George and he will do a piece of work at the weekend and I will then take a view with Andrew whether to run him in the King George.

“He had four days in the equine hospital and has had an easy week to 10 days, but he is back cantering and seems in good form.”

Saint Calvados forced to miss weekend return

Saint Calvados faces a spell on the sidelines due to a bout of blood poisoning following an infection.

The Andrew and Kate Brooks-owned seven-year-old has been sent to the Donnington Grove Equine Vets, near Newbury,  after trainer Harry Whittington discovered the setback on Saturday.

Last season’s Ryanair Chase runner-up was being readied to make his return to action next Saturday in either the Betfair Chase at Haydock or the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot on the same day.

Whittington said: “Saint Calvados has a bit of septicaemia from an infection. We found he had the infection and a high temperature last night during evening stables.

“We are not sure where the infection came from. There is a small overreach but we are not sure it is that as it could be a pin prick somewhere.

“As a precaution we have sent him to the Donnington Grove Equine Vets. He will spend a few days there as it is the best place for him.

“They can get on top of the infection and if there is anything else untowards they have the resources to find it.

“It means he will not be running next weekend, which is frustrating as he did a lovely piece of work. ”

The Sparsholt handler has not ruled out running Saint Calvados over three miles for the first time in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

He added: “We want to make sure he is okay first before running. Hopefully he will be back in a few days but he will probably need a couple of easy weeks before we can get on with him.

“He is in the King George and whether that rules him out of that I’m not sure, but that will be Andrew’s decision. Hopefully all being well, we should have him for the second half of the season.”

An outing in the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton could be on the agenda for Rouge Vif after he was taken out of Sunday’s Shloer Chase at Cheltenham due to the soft ground.

Rouge Vif could be heading to Kempton over Christmas
Rouge Vif could be heading to Kempton over Christmas (David Davies/PA)

Whittington added: “It doesn’t really make sense running him on that ground at Cheltenham as it will be proper hard work in those conditions so we will wait for better ground.

“What we go for next I’m not sure, Andrew will have the final say. He is in the Tingle Creek but it is likely to be soft ground there.

“The Desert Orchid at Kempton is more likely as he always runs well at that meeting as he has been runner-up there two years in a row.”

Plans remain fluid for Simply The Betts, who suffered only his second defeat over fences when finishing sixth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

He added: “He made an error at the water and he just lost his confidence a little bit after that. Gavin (Sheehan) said he galloped home really strongly.

“He has come out of it fine but we will just let the dust settle before we decide what to do next. We will discuss things over the next few days as there is no rush to make a decision.”

Hard act to follow as Whittington plots routes for his stars

Matching last season’s achievements will be a hard act to follow for trainer Harry Whittington, but the chances of another campaign to savour look distinctly possible.

The coronavirus pandemic may have cut the last National Hunt term short, but it failed to stop the Sparsholt handler from enjoying his best season numerically, and financially, along with saddling his first ever Cheltenham Festival winner.

Having provided Whittington with his breakthrough Festival victory in March, Simply The Betts will now bid to cement his status as the rising star of the stable by continuing his progression over fences this term.

Simply The Betts will bid to maintain his progress over fences (Tim Goode/PA)
Simply The Betts will bid to maintain his progress over fences (Tim Goode/PA)

Whittington said: “We sent him to Laura Collett midway through last season and she worked wonders with him. The more he went there, the more confident he got with his jumping.

“After jumping two fences on Festival Trials day, I said to my wife ‘we are going to run a massive race here’. He went on to do the same thing in the Brown Advisory with a round of neat and tidy jumping before showing his class.

“It is going to be tougher now, but he has all the right credentials and is a confident horse from what he did last season, so hopefully he can go up another level.

“He has done very well at two and a half miles and we will keep him to that for now. Because of his mark he is quite limited to what he can run in so the obvious ones are the Old Roan (Aintree) and the Paddy Power Gold Cup, but as ever Andrew (Brooks, owner) will have the final call. He could be a Ryanair horse later on.”

Had Saint Calvados met the last on a better stride then Whittington could have celebrated a second Festival winner instead of having to make do with the runner-up spot in the Ryanair Chase. But it was a display that suggested the best is still to come from the seven-year-old.

He said: “What is so pleasing with Saint Calvados is that he can be ridden patiently now and it works.

“From a blistering front-runner in his early days, changing tactics has worked fantastic as there are many horses that would sulk and not want to be ridden that way.

“There was always a question mark about stamina, but I think he showed he is a horse that can stay and you could argue that is what was kicking in at the end of the Ryanair.

“Potentially we will go three miles and it will be Andrew’s decision, but we are talking about it a lot. I’d imagine we will see him out towards the end of November in perhaps the Christy 1965 Chase (Ascot) and/or maybe the Betfair Chase (Haydock).”

The switch to fences last season saw Rouge Vif take another step forward after claiming Grade Two glory in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick before finishing third in the Arkle, and Whittington feels his progress is not yet complete.

He said: “Rouge Vif is a lot more relaxed mentally as when he was younger he was half-mad and it was like trying to tame a lion.

“His performance in the Arkle was as good as the Kingmaker. The ground was against him, but his jumping was something to behold in the Arkle and that is what kept him in it.

“There is the race at the Showcase meeting at Cheltenham that Saint Calvados won last year, or there is the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter for him to start with.”

Having done well with his novice chase team last season Whittington appears to have in Stick With Bill and Young Bull two ideal candidates to give him further success in the same division this campaign.

He said: “Stick With Bill is still on the weak side as he is a big horse, but he has done well for a break. He will start off in a novice handicap chase, I’d imagine, over two and a half miles on soft, but I’d imagine we will go over three miles pretty quickly with him. He could be a future Welsh National type.

“Young Bull has a similar profile to Stick With Bill and he was three from five last season and he probably surprised us a little bit.

“He might start over two and a half miles this side of Christmas around a big, galloping track like Wetherby or Chepstow in a novice handicap chase. He will make up into a three-miler by the end of season.”

Like every yard, the father-of-one has welcomed in an influx of new talent, of which there are two he has high hopes of seeing appear in the winner’s enclosure over the winter months.

He said: “I got Docpickedme at the Cheltenham Festival Sale. I spoke to Derek O’Connor, who rode him in his point-to-point, during lockdown and he felt he had enough speed and class to go in a nice bumper somewhere.

“Qualismart is a very well-bred horse from France that has a lot of speed. He was going to run in France, but Andrew decided to give him a bit more time which was a wise move.

“He won’t run in a bumper as he has done a lot of work in France. He jumps well and will go straight over hurdles.”