Moore Success At Wetherby For Resurgent Curtis

The Rebecca Curtis trained Irish Cavalier caused something of an upset when landing the Charlie Hall Chase on Saturday, defeating top-rated chaser Cue Card in the process.

The outstanding staying chaser of last winter was sent off a short-priced favourite to win his second Charlie Hall, but faded late-on to finish third. Tizzard’s multiple Grade 1 winner jumped enthusiastically throughout, and was sent to the front at the end of the back straight. Turning for home all looked well, and we waited for the favourite to turn the screw. However, Jonathan Moore had other ideas, as he sent Irish Cavalier in hot pursuit, drawing alongside Cue Card three fences from home.

As the favourite started to empty, another veteran threw down a late challenge, but 2014 winner Menorah was unable to reel-in Moore and his willing partner.

“That was my second ride in a Grade Two,” said the thrilled pilot. “It's one of those races you dream about winning and it's great to get it under my belt. Early on he was a bit gassy and we went a real strong gallop. My lad was a bit on his head but second time around he started winging fences down the back. I was confident then and I just wanted to stay on Cue Card's heels.”

Rebecca Curtis had anticipated a strong performance, though the win came as a surprise. “I was hoping for a place,” said the Pembrokeshire handler. “There was the question of would he stay three miles? Jonathan rides like an old pro, he’s so cool.” When asked if a crack at the Hennessy Gold Cup was on the cards, she remained non-committal, saying: “We’ll enjoy today, get home and decide where to go next.”

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Colin Tizzard was far from disappointed with his star chaser when saying: “He just got tired, that's all. I thought he was going to win, but he tired after the second-last. We took him for a racecourse gallop because if we hadn't, I didn't want to wish that I had done. He's only been beaten two lengths, so we'll go to Haydock (Betfair Chase) and see where we are at. I'd sooner he had won, but I'm delighted with him.”

The RSA winner Blaklion, ran well for a long way, and looked to hold every chance four from home. But he failed to live with the front three, and looked a little one-paced at a crucial point of the race. He stayed on for fourth, and looks like a horse that needs a stiffer stamina test. The Hennessy remains a possibility, and softer ground may help.

At Ascot Saphir Du Rheu performed solidly in defeat, and is another likely to be seen next at Newbury for another tilt at Hennessy Gold Cup. He was given a ‘caring’ ride by Nick Scholfield, being allowed to pop-away over his fences without being hurried or forced at any stage. It had the looks of a confidence building exercise, and he remains attractively handicapped.

From the foot of the weights, it was Gary Moore’s Antony that sprinted clear late-on, to win the Sodexo Gold Cup with plenty in hand. This was by far the six-year-old’s best performance, and he’s clearly progressing at a rate of knots. He’s not particularly big, but is an effortless jumper. Future targets are uncertain, but he looks capable of taking more valuable handicaps during the campaign.

At Carlisle yesterday we witnessed an exciting performance from Seeyouatmidnight in the intermediate chase. He jumped superbly on his way to victory over sole rival Bristol De Mai. A crack at the Betfair Chase is not out of the question, with trainer Sandy Thomson saying: “Before today, we were thinking about either the Rehearsal or the Hennessy, but that might be shelved now. It (the Betfair) might come a bit soon, but we will see. He takes a lot of work and is a hard horse to get fit, but he is the horse of a lifetime for us.”

The Betfair Chase takes place at Haydock on November 19, with the Hennessy Gold Cup held at Newbury a week later.

Thistlecrack Set For World Domination

Thistlecrack Dominant at Ascot

Thistlecrack Dominant at Ascot

His seasonal debut at Newbury was impressive, but at Ascot on Saturday Thistlecrack positively purred his way to victory in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle. The magnificent seven-year-old now sits proudly at the head of the World Hurdle market, after yet another dominant display.

Ridden prominently by Tom Scudamore, he had three time Long Walk winner Reve De Sivola in his sights throughout. As they approached the second last flight he swept to the front, and with the minimum of fuss stretched clear to win eased down by eight lengths.

“He felt as impressive as he looked,” said Scudamore after the win. “To be in a Grade 1 like that and not have a moment's worry was a great thrill. It was a mighty performance.”

Speaking yesterday, trainer Colin Tizzard set out the route to the Cheltenham Festival, saying: “He is a big, strong, powerful horse and I was expecting that sort of performance and nothing less. The Cleeve Hurdle comes at about the right time. It is five to six weeks away and he will go there, then on to the Cheltenham Festival.” In typically frank fashion, Tizzard added: “He was a long way off peak fitness at Newbury. The last 10 days he's been really good on our gallop. Reve De Sivola ran a brilliant race, beat everything else a long way, and we clobbered him.”

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Proven on a sound surface having won the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April, he has only raced at Cheltenham once before, when disappointing back in January at two and a half miles in testing ground. He ran no sort of race that day, and may well have been feeling the effects of a win at Wincanton just nine days earlier. However, the Cleeve Hurdle looks the perfect opportunity to gain valuable course experience prior to The Festival.

Defending World Hurdle winner Cole Harden is set to run in the Relkeel at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Behind Thistlecrack at Newbury on his seasonal bow, his trainer Warren Greatrex appears pleased with his progress. Late last week the Lambourn trainer said: “The plan at the moment will be to run on New Year's Day and then go straight for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. We want the tank full for March.”

Saphir Du Rheu ran a stinker at Ascot and is set to have a wind operation. The switch back to hurdles surprised many, me included. And what started as a season full of promise is very quickly unravelling. However, these breathing ops are becoming the fast track to success, and there’s every chance that Nicholls’ charge will return with renewed vigour. He certainly can’t be discounted from a bold run at Cheltenham in March, and current odds of 20/1 for the World Hurdle may seem extremely generous come the day.

Plenty can change between now and March, and others are sure to enhance their claim as live contenders. The Charlie Longsdon trained Kilcooley is being primed for a clash with Cole Harden on New Year’s Day, before a return to Cheltenham to take on Thistlecrack in the Cleeve. He was mightily impressive at Wetherby in October when winning the West Yorkshire Hurdle. Still only six, he has a rapidly progressive profile.

Time will of course tell if Tizzard holds the Ace in the pack. For now, World domination looks a distinct possibility.

Hennessy Gold Cup Chase 2015: Preview, Trends, Tips

Hennessy Gold Cup Chase 2015: Preview, Trends, Tips

Newbury's Hennessy Gold Cup Chase is one of the biggest races of the National Hunt season, and probably the second biggest handicap of the jumps calendar after the Grand National.

It is a race where winners usually need all of stamina, speed and class to prevail, and where weight-carrying heroics are commonplace. As we'll see when we look at the Hennessy Gold Cup trends.

Hennessy Gold Cup Trends 2015

Good ol' now has eighteen years of data from which to infer. While that might be too much in some races, a heat like the Hennessy has changed little in the past two decades, so we'll use the full dataset available. Let's start, as I just alluded, with weight:

Hennessy Weight Trends: Classy horses win this race, with class often characterized by a sizeable weight allocation. Since 1997, the winner carried 11-04 or more on eight occasions; between 10-06 and 11-03 on five occasions; and 10-05 or less on five occasions. But the win strike rates for those groups were, respectively, 13.56%, 3.73%, and 4.06%. In other words, the higher weighted horses won more often from many less runners (59 vs 134 vs 123).

That somewhat arbitrary split between the three weight brackets was based on an approximate division of the weights range into thirds.

Looking at the place rates reveals a similar pattern: the lowest weighted horses placed 13.82% of the time; the middle weight band placed 21.64% of the time; and those classy beasts at the top of the handicap hit the frame 35.59% of the time.

Hennessy Age Trends: It is often said that the best type with which to side in the Newbury showpiece is a young upwardly mobile horse. This makes sense - after all, younger sorts are less likely to have hit their ability ceiling and are thus more likely to be able to step forward on what they've already shown.

The data back this up. Those aged seven or younger have won thirteen of the last eighteen Hennessy Gold Cups (72%) from 48% of the runners. Moreover, considering both win and placed horses, those young bucks bagged 69% of the each way positions too, from - obviously - the same 48% of runners.

Indeed, simply backing those Hennessy horses aged seven or younger and carrying 11-04 or more since 1997 would have returned a profit at SP of 36.5 points to level stakes.

Backing the 28 qualifiers each way would have bolstered the return to 65.62 points, albeit from twice the investment (win and place stakes).

The sole qualifier on that 'no brainer' angle this time around is top weight and 4/1 favourite, Saphir Du Rheu.

Hennessy Gold Cup Pace 2015 Angles

With seventeen runners slated to line up, it would be fair to assume there will be a deal of pace to proceedings. But actually there are few out-and-out pace pushers in the field.

It may fall to The Young Master to take them along, a role he's adopted in half of his eight career wins. In the other half he was a close up player at the outset, so expect Sam Waley-Cohen to be sighted in the early exchanges atop TYM.

Others who look like they'll show at the start if not necessarily sticking around for the duration include Fingal Bay and possibly Bobs Worth, Smad Place and First Lieutenant.

In the circumstances, it may not pay to sit too far off a pace that could be less attritional than is often the case.

Hennessy Gold Cup 2015 Form Preview

And so to the form. With the ground perceived to be just on the easy side of good, there should be few excuses. Let's begin with Paul Nicholls' young favourite, Saphir Du Rheu. Aged six and winner of all three of his completed chase starts, he also has a couple of letters in his form string.

However, since a tumble in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton last Christmas, he has been impressive in sauntering to victory in two Class 1 races. The first, a Grade 1 at the Aintree Festival, was impressive; the second, a debut canter at Carlisle from the re-opposing The Young Master attested to well-being.

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As the highest rated in the field, albeit 'only' 163, and with just five chase starts to his name, Saphir Du Rheu can be expected to step forward on what he's shown to date. If he does, he'll be mighty tough to beat granted a clear round.

For those unattracted by the price of the jolly, the next few all look solid if unspectacular propositions.

Bobs Worth, now ten rising eleven, has a two from two record at this track, including victory in the Hennessy of 2012. He'd be a popular winner, for sure, but Hendo will need all of his wizardry to conjure an encore off just a seven pound lower mark than when the old brute was in his pomp three years ago.

Since that victory, his rating soared to a career high 180 just five runs ago, but a subsequent 24 pound plummet is entirely justified on the basis of the first four of those interim efforts. However, most recently - and over hurdles - Bobs Worth hinted that the fire still burned when seeing off stable mate and fellow absentee, Simonsig, at Aintree earlier in the month.

I'm afraid that looked a false dawn to me so, while I'll be delighted on a sporting level if he can roll back the years, he wouldn't be any sort of proposition at 6/1 to my eye. The last ten-year-old winner was Diamond Edge in 1981

On the same price is last year's fifth, Smad Place. Still only eight, he'll be better suited by the expected slighter quicker turf, and ought to be close to the action throughout. My problem with him is that he doesn't seem quite good enough despite admirable consistency. Alan King's boy has never won in Class 1 company, and is only three from nine over fences. Again, it's not that he can't win, but rather that 6/1 is pretty unexciting.

Philip Hobbs is having a mega-season, and the always-hot Minehead maestro saddles If In Doubt here. Wins in a decent beginners' chase and the Great Yorkshire Chase, a Listed handicap, marked him down as a progressive type last season, and there was little shame in an eight length defeat to Don Poli in the RSA Chase.

He may have been over the top when pulling up in the Irish National, where he also endured a troubled trip so, making his seasonal bow, he can be expected to be fresh, well and progressive. Just seven, and with the considerable assistance of Barry Geraghty - Hennessy winner twice in the last three years - in the plate, If In Doubt looks better value than either of the 6/1 pokes at his general quote of 8/1.

The Young Master is expected to give his running, with the prospect of a soft lead and some solid runs in the book. Those runs include a four-timer, the last pair of which were in Listed handicap chases (one when infamously disqualified from the Badger Ales Chase). There is a fair chance he was cooked for the season when only seventh of eight in the RSA Chase - tried to make all, faded badly - and that run is easily overlooked.

His campaign started with a seven length second to Saphir Du Rheu and, while his vanquisher there was well in command at the finish, that was off level weights. Here, The Young Master gets a stone and two pounds, a weight concession that if not bringing them closer together by the lollipop should at least not see the margin of defeat extend particularly. 10/1 looks a pretty reasonable each way play.

The other half of the Hobbs h-entry is Fingal Bay, a loveable barrel-chested animal who seems to have had his issues. Winner of the 2014 Pertemps Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival - and off top weight too - he's clearly a classy chap on his day. But the belief he was a "chaser in the making" has still to be borne out, with half a dozen spins over fences yielding a solitary victory, as an odds on shot on chase debut. His quintet of defeats over the big'uns since includes when pulling up in this race last year, and there are just too many reasons to look elsewhere.

He's probably capable of winning a Hennessy, especially off such a light weight, but 14/1 is a swerve.

At bigger prices, the stable form of Colin Tizzard's yard makes Theatre Guide worth a second glance. Third on his first run since the spring, a Listed handicap chase, he filled the same position in the 2013 Hennessy when beaten just four lengths by Triolo d'Alene. Off a six pound lower mark this time, he may have been a victim of a pretty tough time for the yard last season when many stable stars were running as if under the weather.

At 20/1, he's worth a punt win and place that he's back to the Theatre Guide of 2013, for a trainer in fine fettle.

I find it hard to make cases for the likes of First Lieutenant - surely over the hill now - and Urano, who has never reached the top of the hill; while Ned Stark is a likeable plodder but ought not to have the class for this.

Houblon Des Obeaux must get a mention. Last year's second is just a pound higher this time around, and was a fair sixth the year before. Obviously, he's got little in hand of the 'capper, but looks a reliable sort likely to run another honest race. I don't want 14/1, but maybe you might.

Completing a strong two-pronged assault on the race for Neil Mulholland is The Druid's Nephew, a winner at the Cheltenham Festival in March. That effort propelled him a further ten pounds up the weights to his current perch of 156 but it would be reckless to suggest he's done improving despite taking his place for a 15th time in a chase race. His hurdles pipe opener the other week can be ignored and this will undoubtedly have been the plan all along. I'd rather take 14's about him than most.

Hennessy Gold Cup 2015 Tips

My shortlist for the race comprises Saphir du Rheu, If In Doubt, The Young Master, The Druid's Nephew and Theatre Guide.

Not known as a favourite backer, it is nevertheless very hard for me to overlook the credentials of Saphir du Rheu, and he must be at least saver material. In fact, I'm backing him to win a few quid.

Two of the other four on my shortlist - If In Doubt and The Young Master - retain plenty of upside over fences, though both are priced accordingly. Marginal preference is for The Young Master who could get the run of things in front and may consequently prove pretty tough to pass.

And both The Druid's Nephew and Theatre Guide may have more to offer than many with 14 and 15 runs respectively over fences, with neither discounted lightly. The form of the Tizzard stable, and an offer of 20/1, draws marginal preference.

Hennessy Gold Cup win selection:
Saphir du Rheu 4/1 Betfred / Totesport

Hennessy Gold Cup each way selections:
The Young Master 10/1 general, Theatre Guide 20/1 general

Coneygree – Return of the King

Coneygree takes Gold Cup

Coneygree takes Gold Cup

With Don Cossack, Cue Card and Saphir Du Rheu having already put down markers for the new season, and it’s now the turn of the champ to show that his Gold Cup success was no flash in the pan.

The rise of Coneygree was one of last winter’s most heart-warming stories. His performance when thumping more experienced opposition in the Denman Chase at Newbury proved merely a warning shot across the bows. He saved his best for the main event at the Cheltenham Festival when simply sensational in victory. Still only a novice chaser at the time, he took the race by the scruff of the neck, and remorselessly jumped and galloped the field into submission.

His return at Sandown on Sunday is eagerly anticipated. The listed Future Stars Chase is open to second season chasers and appears a perfect stepping stone towards a crack at the Hennessy Gold Cup later in the month.

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Coneygree's jockey Nico de Boinville said of the race: “There's a loophole there and we're making full use of it. There's no point giving him a harder prep-race than he needs, and it's the perfect start for him and hopefully he can have a nice race, not do too much, and set himself up nicely for whatever comes in the future.”

The Champion stayer is likely to face a stiff test in his first outing of the new campaign. Paul Nicholls has entered Southfield Theatre, himself no mug having finished runner-up in the RSA at Cheltenham back in March. Don Poli proved too strong on that occasion but the seven-year-old is more than capable of running a big race first time out, having won his last three seasonal openers.

Puffin Billy is another intriguing contender. He has plenty to find off a rating of 155, but having had problems when first turning to fences, appeared to be getting the hang of it towards the end of last season, racking up a confidence boosting hat-trick. Indeed he finished his novice chase campaign with four wins from six starts.

His trainer Oliver Sherwood commented: “Puffin Billy is rated higher than Many Clouds was this time last year, but - and it's a big but - there's no doubt in my mind Puffin Billy is a better horse going right-handed than left-handed. The Hennessy is very much on the agenda, but we've got to iron that out.”

Coneygree is yet to lose over fences and connections will be hopeful that the young Champion can maintain that impressive record. Whatever the outcome it looks sure to be a terrific race, though the objective for most is to blow off the cobwebs, with the Hennessy very much on the radar.

Royale Romp pleases Mulholland

Mulholland on the mark

Mulholland on the mark

The Young Master came off second best to Saphir Du Rheu at Carlisle on Sunday, but Neil Mulholland will be far from downbeat, especially after notching up an impressive winner at Wetherby 24 hours earlier.

Southfield Royale looks a novice chaser with a bright future, having romped to a comfortable victory in the three mile novice chase. Only his second effort over fences, he clearly appreciated the step up in trip. Often jumping slightly out to his left, he was nevertheless accurate at his obstacles and is clearly a horse capable of making a big impact this winter.

Mulholland will still be hopeful that The Young Master can win his fair share of races. His current handicap mark looks a workable one, and it would be no surprise to see him land a decent handicap in the coming months.

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The trainer has a number of useful chasers in his care, none more so than Grand National hopeful The Druids Nephew. The eight-year-old was slightly disappointing over hurdles at the weekend, but prior to that had fallen in the Aintree showpiece back in April, when holding every chance late into the race. He’s likely to head for the Hennessy later this month, having finished seventh in last year’s renewal.

The young trainer is building quite a team at his Conkwell Grange Stables, based just east of Bath. Very much a journeyman jockey, he rode for numerous trainers, gathering a wealth of experience along the way. Mulholland turned to training in 2008, and started putting all those years of experience in to practice. Last season yielded 63 winners, a cracking total for a yard progressing at a rate on knots.

With more than 80 horses in training, the yard continues to develop, and a few new additions have already made an impact. Fox Norton is one in particular who must be exciting his new trainer. Formerly with Nick Williams, the youngster was a promising juvenile hurdler, but always had the look of a chaser. Two from two over fences, his last run at Market Rasen gives hope to an exciting season ahead. He gave a stone and a beating to Phillip Hobbs’ Golden Doyen, who himself looks a novice chaser with a bright future.

Along with an army of chasers, Mulholland may well have a hurdler worth following. Shantou Village was a stunning winner of a novice hurdle at Carlisle during October. Back in March the five-year-old was an impressive winner of a bumper at Wetherby. He looks a talented recruit and has the potential to take high order this winter.

Currently one of the best young trainers around, I’d expect another exciting campaign from the man from Bath.

Right On Cue – Jumps Season Takes Flight

Cue Card back on top

Cue Card back on top

Across the Atlantic American Pharoah’s historic victory thrilled a nation, and proved a fitting conclusion to the Breeders’ Cup. Whilst back in Old Blighty Cue Card reminded us of the enthralling winter that lies ahead.

Action from Wetherby, Ascot and Down Royal provided a notable gear-shift in the latest National Hunt campaign. But it was Colin Tizzard’s stable star that created the headlines. Last season had proved a huge disappointment, when after poor runs at Haydock and Kempton he had to miss the Cheltenham Festival due to on-going wind issues. He was then thumped by Don Cossack at Aintree, before ending the campaign with a promising run at Punchestown. Saturday’s stunning win in the Charlie Hall Chase was a welcome return to form for the popular chaser.

Tizzard had spouted confidently of a big run and so it proved. After the win the trainer said: “Last year he was troubled by a trapped epiglottis, so it is wonderful to see him back to something like his best. We brought him in a month early this time and he's been brilliant all the way through. He's in the Hennessy and on Tuesday morning he'll also be entered in the Betfair Chase, so we've got options.”

The Betfair at Haydock had been the scene of his last success back in 2013, and surely that would now be the logical target, assuming he comes out of the Wetherby victory fit and well. It was the first time Paddy Brennan had partnered the horse in competition and the jockey was clearly thrilled with the win. He rode the horse prominently throughout, taking the lead turning into the straight. There was a moment between the last two fences when Cue Card looked to be tiring, however, he picked up again after the last and was going away at the line.

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David Pipe’s pair of Dynaste and Ballynagour ran with great credit in second and third, and at least one of those seem likely to reoppose later this month at Haydock.

Earlier at Wetherby the testing ground had proved a little too much for Rock On Ruby to handle, when he failed to land a blow on impressive winner Kilcooley in the Bet365 West Yorkshire Hurdle. The winner is a machine on soft or heavy ground and could prove dominant in staying hurdles throughout the winter if getting his preferred conditions. Charlie Longsdon’s six-year-old ran his rivals ragged in what appeared a lifetime best performance.

Both Rock On Ruby and the third home Aqalim will prove far more competitive on a sounder surface, and cannot be discounted from the major end of season staying events.

Over in Ireland, Don Cossack was cruising to victory in Down Royal’s Champion Chase. He’s a hugely talented chaser with a serious engine; however, his jumping is still sticky at times, and will probably need to improve if he is to beat the very best. He looks likely to head for Kempton and contest the King George, though I’m not certain either the track or style of race would necessarily suit this huge strong galloper.

Yesterday saw the return of another with Gold Cup aspirations when Saphir Du Rheu jumped impeccably at Carlisle. He had to beat The Young Master decisively and duly did so with a round of jumping that will have thrilled his trainer. With Silviniaco Conti likely to swerve Cheltenham next March, Nicholls will be hopeful that Saphir can step into the breach.

As American Pharoah and Golden Horn retire from racing and take up their new careers as stallions, so we welcome familiar heroes to the new National Hunt season. The early signs are certainly positive. Last winter was sensational, and we look set for more of the same.

More Of That Absence leaves World Hurdle Wide Open

More Of That

No More Of That this year

At the Cheltenham Festival just 12 months ago, he put Read more