Tag Archive for: Vaucelet

Monday Musings: Big Priced Winners Hiding in Plain Sight

Where to start about Cheltenham? Ever since the race following the Gold Cup on Friday afternoon, I resolved to write about a 66/1 winner that if we bothered (or had the time) to look closely at all the form, we could have been laughing all the way, if not to the bank, certainly to make a dent in our gas and electricity balances, writes Tony Stafford.

Earlier in the day a friend asked me to offer a shortie and a an each-way alternative for the last six races – Lossiemouth had already dotted in when he called. I won’t go into my unambitious, yet unsuccessful, calls, but I did have an opinion on the St James Place Festival Challenge Cup Hunter Chase.

I had a memory of the name Vaucelet, stablemate and chosen entry of three fancies for David Christie, whose Winged Leader was runner-up last year to the famed Irish standing dish Billaway, giving his Northern Ireland-based handler a change of luck. The old-timer Billaway was again in the field and was destined to fall before the action heated up.

Vaucelet had come over to the UK twice for races at the big May hunter chase showcase at Stratford. In 2021 he won the novice championship as a 6yo and a 4/1 shot, while a month after a Punchestown near-miss, behind Billaway, Vaucelet collected the Championship Hunter Chase, sponsored by Pertemps in the 63rd running for the Horse and Hound Cup.

He preceded the first UK win with hunter/point form figures that season of 21111 and since it, he’s gone 113112111. No wonder, you (as I did) might say, he was the 9/4 favourite in the 23 runner field.

Yet hiding in that line up, freely available at 66/1, was a horse that had started 11/4 off levels with Vaucelet in that Stratford novice championship.

This horse, namely Premier Magic, made the running that day and had just been headed before stumbling after jumping the last. He rallied on the flat but could do no better than a close third. He was pulled up in last year’s Cheltenham race but had the excuse of being badly crowded coming down the hill.

When he came back for that second shot against Billaway and Vaucelet, he had since been confined to point-to-points by his Welsh-based trainer and rider, Bradley Gibbs.

If Vaucelet had busily been picking up the pots on offer in the pointing field across the water, our unsung hero had been similarly campaigned. From March 2020 to Stratford in May 2021, his form figures were 21111. Since the defeat there, it was 11111 before Friday. His last win came by 14 lengths in the open at Garthorpe in February when an 8/11 favourite.

Yet he started 66/1 at Cheltenham last week! He was lucky to be clear of the late scrimmaging caused by loose horses, but he battled on genuinely, hardly a surprise with all those wins on his record. Meanwhile Vaucelet was struggling home in seventh.

Take a bow, Bradley Gibbs and Premier Magic. Some of those point-to-point experts will have been either rubbing their hands or cursing their lack of faith having backed or missed such a potential goldmine horse. I must give Jonathan Neesom a call to ask him if he had a few quid on.

Bradley Gibbs trains the horse for his partner’s father and was publicly grateful for the support given to him in developing their yard in Wales. None of the big names at the other end of the ownership rainbow would have been more deserving of satisfaction at their work of the past three years with this son of Court Cave.

As well as a Welsh winner, there was also a better-known Scottish-trained winner as Corach Rambler repeated last year’s victory in the Ultima Handicap Chase off a 6lb higher mark. This was only his 3rd run since and when Tom Scudamore came to the preview night in London he predicted this success, also that he would follow up in the Grand National.

Tom’s father, Peter Scudamore, is partner and assistant trainer to Lucinda Russell, so an element of insider information was involved there. On that preview event, at one point I was asked my bet of the week and repeated what I’d mentioned in my column here, Langer Dan on Thursday; but, by race day, I’d forgotten all about it.

So, what else from the week? I could go through the 18-10 Ireland domination over the home team, or talk about Constitution Hill, Honeysuckle and plenty more, but I imagine you’ve seen and read plenty about all of that. I’ll look for something different.

When the rain came, my thoughts were that on soft ground the potential for, if not catastrophe, then certainly mishaps, would be greatly increased. There were upwards of 400 runners over the four days and the quality of the preparation of these horses was such that only 12 were documented as having fallen. To those, you could add five unseated, with the odd horse brought down.

More predictable was the 80 pulled up, around 20 per cent of the total. Most unlikely was the Ultima which, as I’ve mentioned, was won by Corach Rambler. He headed home the Martin Brassil-trained Fastorslow, Jonjo O’Neill’s Monbeg Genius and another Irishman in The Goffer, the front four in the betting.

Notably unflattering outcomes for the home team were the opening Supreme Novice Hurdle on day one when the first eight home were trained in Ireland, unusually with Barry Connell the winning trainer (and owner) rather than Willie Mullins. The half-mile longer Ballymore on the second day provided a 1-2-3 for Mullins and he gained revenge on Connell, who predicted his Good Land would win. Eventually, with his horse fourth some way behind the Mullins trio, the status quo restored.

There was never a doubt that the Mullins fillies would dominate the Triumph Hurdle on Friday. Perhaps the most remarkable fact of this race was that all five of the expensively acquired arrivals from France in the spring last year stood their ground, never mind the soft ground.

Lossiemouth pulled almost from the off, but this time getting a clear wide course under Paul Townend, she had far too much class for stablemate Gala Marceau, who had beaten her when she got a nightmare run at the Dublin Racing Festival, and Zenta, a close third. Susanna Ricci, Honeysuckle’s owner Kenny Alexander, and J P McManus are the proud owners of the flying fillies. It was miles back to the first gelding, also Mullins-trained.

The trio of UK runners were 11th, 13th and pulled up.

But there was isolated and not so isolated fighting back where Paul Nicholls and former pupil dan Skelton were concerned. Nicholls won two of the Grade 1 races (Stage Star in the Turners’ and Stay Away Fay in the Albert Bartlett), backing up Champion Hurdle win number nine for Nicky Henderson with Constitution Hill. He was also an excellent second with Bravemansgame behind flying Gold Cup winner Galopin Des Champs from the Mullins team.

Once again Skelton pulled a couple of handicap rabbits out of the hat. It took Langer Dan three Festivals to win his race in the Coral Cup, but less expected was Bridget Andrews’ (Mrs Harry Skelton to her tradesmen) win on Faivoir, denying four Irish rivals pursuing her up the hill. She’s done it before – with Mohaayed, also in the County Hurdle, also at 33/1, and also trained by Dan Skelton – and is always a name to look out for in these highly competitive races with hosts of dangerous invaders to worry about.

In fact, the Skeltons do it so often, it’s almost as if it’s planned! Some operation that, and they know what’s needed to beat the Irish in any race at the Festival. We can’t wait for the next one.

- TS

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Vaucelet likely to spearhead David Christie’s Cheltenham hopes

Vaucelet appears to be David Christie’s Cheltenham Festival number one as the handler begins to piece together his plans for the spring festivals.

The Derrylin-based trainer has a strong band of hunter chasers at his disposal and many thought exciting six-year-old Ferns Lock could be the horse to go one better than Winged Leader’s second in the St. James’s Place Hunters’ Chase judged on his 20-length beating of Billaway at Thurles.

But Christie is in no rush to over face Ferns Lock at this stage of his career and will look to his Down Royal scorer to lead the Cheltenham charge, with Vaucelet the bookmakers  for the amateur riders’ contest.

“All along he has been the number one horse to be going (to Cheltenham) with,” said Christie.

Punchestown Festival – Day Four
Vaucelet (right) finishing second to Billaway in the Irish Daily Star Champion Hunters Chase at the Punchestown Festival in 2022 (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He’s a lot stronger this year – he was a bit on the weak side last year. You don’t generally get deep ground at Cheltenham and he’s a horse that likes spring ground.

“The extra few furlongs up the hill at Cheltenham takes a lot of getting and he’s a horse who really comes into his element once he passes three miles. He has a lovely relaxed way of racing and allows himself to stay really well.”

He went on: “I sort of promised myself I wouldn’t run him on heavy winter ground, but it turned out not too bad at Down Royal and I was delighted with him.

“Down Royal is a little bit like Thurles and it can turn into a wee bit of a sprint which doesn’t necessarily suit him and bring out the best aspects in him. But Barry (O’Neill) said he couldn’t get him pulled up and he went a long way after the line before he could pull him up.”

He could be joined on the Cheltenham team sheet by last-year’s runner-up Winged Leader, after his successful comeback in a Cragmore point-to-point.

However, there is also the possibility the nine-year-old skips a return to Prestbury Park in favour of the Aintree edition a month later.

“That was a very good effort (at Cragmore) because he had not run since Cheltenham and we had done very little schooling with him,” added Christie.

“He took a knock at Cheltenham and it took quite a long time to get that sorted out and get him in a position where he was fit enough to run in a race.

“I could have run him at Thurles, but the way the race was building up – there was the odd comment about it being a rematch with Billaway and I just thought I would take him out of the spotlight and run him in a point-to-point.

Winged Leader and Barry O’Neill in action at Down Royal
Winged Leader and Barry O’Neill in action at Down Royal (PA)

“He always needs a run and he was very ring rusty, but if you watch the replay Barry never puts a stick on him and I thought he stayed on really well. He will come on a tonne for that.

“He’ll get an entry and then we’ll see whether he goes back to Cheltenham or whether I hold on to him for a hunter chase here and then Aintree.”

Meanwhile one who definitely will not run at Cheltenham is Ferns Lock.

The six-year-old has won his two starts under rules by a combined 32 lengths, but Christie is keen to give him plenty of time to mature and will instead bid for big-race glory closer to home in the Tetratema Cup.

“He is a very exciting horse,” said Christie.

“Thurles would be a sharp three miles and the way he handled himself and jumped was pleasing. He has quite a lot of turn of foot and he’s able to do that two or three times in a race, he’s just a very exciting horse to look forward to that’s for sure.

“He’s a baby of a horse and he’s huge.

“He’ll be entered in the Tetratema, the big hunter chase at Gowran Park which is very prestigious in Ireland. That’s the week before Cheltenham and we’ll just take it from there one race at a time.”

Explaining the reasoning behind skipping the Cheltenham Festival, he added: “He has ability and there is no doubt he could go to Cheltenham.

“But it is a very rough race over there and it could ruin him going there so young and I don’t really see the benefit of that to be honest. There is no doubt he is a Cheltenham type horse, but unless he wins, he could come home and we don’t have a horse at all.

“He’s only six and he’s only run a few times, so we will let him find his feet and where his niche is and then we’ll find out what we do with him – whether we continue hunter chasing or he goes on to do something else.

“I think he’s better than a hunter chaser now never mind in time, but he lacks experience so I won’t be in any panic with him.”

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