Last night I took part in London Racing Club's National Hunt season preview. The panel was comprised of four estimable gentlemen of the fourth estate (Rory Delargy, Tony Calvin, Alex Steedman and Paul Jacobs, with Paul Kealy guest starring as well)... and me!
In truth, I was the weakest link, the others being far more polished - and more in tune with the NH form book at this stage of the season - but sadly I don't have their notes. 😉
What follows are the notes I made for the evening, covering this weekend's racing (especially the BetVictor Gold Cup), some of the major races up to the turn of the year, and some horses to follow this season. Hopefully there are a few bobbins of interest in their midst.
Steel Plate and Sections Novices' Chase – Recent winners: More Of That 3rd RSA, TdS 1st JLT, Dynaste 2nd JLT (then Jewson), Grands Crus 6/5 fav RSA, Time For Rupert 7/4 fav RSA.
THE WINNER IS WORTH NOTING
Hyde Nov Hurdle – Recent winners: Shantou Village 7/2 fav Alb B, Parlour Games 2nd Neptune (13/2), Coneygree missed Fest, won GC following year; Fingal Bay missed Fest, 2nd G1 Sefton Aintree; Champion Court 4th Alb B; Tell Massini 10/3 fav Alb B; Diamond Harry 3rd Neptune; Massini’s Maguire WON Neptune (20/1)
THE WINNER IS WORTH NOTING
BetVictor Gold Cup
Thanks to HorseRaceBase for this… Since 1997,
Horses with between 3 and 10 UK/Ire chase starts: 15/175 (8.6%SR) -12.75 SP
Horses with 11+ chase starts: 4/122 (3.3%SR) -78 SP
More Of That rock solid on form. 11113 at the track incl. course/distance. Ground agnostic, classy. But… trainer out of form 0/47 since 21st October (only 6 placed).
Obviously that can change, so keep an eye on his runners between now and then.
Frodon 4yo getting weight for age, unbeaten in three over fences, on a four timer but he’ll face more rivals here than in four UK wins combined. Won a G2 when last man standing last weekend. Hoping Harry Cobden, who writes a blog for geegeez, can do it. No such worries about trainer (or jockey) form with this lad.
Bouvreuil – Very lightly raced, 2nd in novices’ handicap chase at Festival (course and distance, Old). 7lb higher here, but no doubt still improving.
Stilletto – Johnny Farrelly 57/404 in handicaps 14% SR, +44pts. Cheltenham form not great (tailed off, fell) but loads of upside after just nine runs (six chases)
Sizing Granite – Stepping up from two miles, has stamina to prove. Good enough to win G1 at Aintree last year, first run for Colin Tizzard (going well at the moment), first time in a handicap. 25/1 tempting.
Double Shuffle – 4.5L behind Bovril in nov hcap chase at Fest, no real reason to expect reversal of form on same terms here.
Aso – Beat Ballyalton at Warwick last year, collateral form that gives him the beating of both Bovril and Double Shuffle at the weights. Fair enough run in the Arkle and won a reasonable chase since then. Not sure what sort of form the Venetia stable is in.
Sizing Platinum – still to prove he stays this far, and rain not in his favour (all best form on top of the ground)
Johnny Og – 5/10 in chases, incl. last 3 completed starts. Fell having been used inefficiently in the four miler at the Fest, will not be allowed his own way in front. (NON RUNNER)
Wide open, as you’d expect. Buywise and Annacotty will have to be better than ever to top the charts this time.
MORE OF THAT rock solid if Jonjo can show a bit of zest with his runners in the rest of the week. Hoping for a big run from FRODON and Harry. If he runs, Sizing Granite is attractively priced at 25/1 and Aso would be over-priced on soft ground.
The sponsors are paying six places.
Thoughts on THISTLECRACK
Gorgeous beast. Great athleticism at Chepstow, where he only met one on the wrong stride. Fiddled it with ease. Beat a 150-odd rated horse with plenty in hand. He probably should be GC favourite – Coneygree not seen for a year, is he the same horse? Don Cossack back in Jan/never; Valseur Lido a possible but can’t be fav for the race.
Do I want to back him at 7/2? Not even with your money! A lot can and will happen between now and middle March, and if most of it doesn’t happen to Thistlecracker then he’ll be 2/1 on the day. That’s more playable than 7/2 now if you’re into backing shorties in the Gold Cup.
The World Hurdle winner from the previous year is available at 33/1 for the GC currently, its stated seasonal target; and Thistle’s trainer has another interesting GC prospect himself (that isn’t rising eleven – more on that later!)
*Anthony Honeyball may run Ms Parfois in the Mares’ bumper. She’s very nice and worth following, but might want further. She’d be one of his best two mares for this season. Tacenda, who could run Monday at Plumpton, is the other.
Sternrubin good 3rd in County off 142. Trainer/owner won this with Rooster Booster and Detroit City. Philip Hobbs has also won with Garde La Victoire two years ago, and Menorah in 2010.
Paul Nicholls has had 6 of 16 placed (3 winners). Modus form tied in with Sternrubin – Ascot. He gets two pound pull for 3/4L. Probably depends which comes on most from seasonal debuts. At prices, Sternrubin’s 12/1 more appealing than Modus’ 8/1
Winter Escape is three from three and, if he can win this, he’ll become the British hope for Champion Hurdle honours in a very weak-looking domestic division. I can’t back him at 5/2 or 3/1 though.
Last two winners went on to win at the Festival (SS and Uxi). Henry de Bromhead remains in great form, in spite of losing the Potts’ horses, and his Special Tiara is the best of these on ratings. He is a bold front runner who will probably get his way at the head of affairs, so as long as the ground is no worse than good to soft, he’ll take some pegging back.
BIG RACES LATER ON...
Native River is a horse I want to be with this season. He stays very well, has class, and could make up into a GC contender. Looking like getting in here off 11-0 or so, he ought to go well. 7/1 is unexciting though probably about right, but 33/1 for the GC is more of a dart than 7/2 Thistlecrack, imo.
Un Temps Pour Tout is another with the right profile for the race (age, weight, rating) . He’s second favourite, though so I’m afraid this isn’t a race in which I have any meaningful insights.
Too far away to get buzzed up for just yet, but Coneygree’s Feltham run was almost as scintillating as his Gold Cup win. If he showed up, especially with a prep in the bank, he’d be the one to beat.
I hope I’m wrong but it might be that Cue Card – eleven on Jan 1st – will struggle to retain his crown.
HORSES FOR THE SEASON
2 Mile Hurdlers
WPM has a stranglehold here, in a division where Britain is searching for a new star. With the likes of Altior and Buveur d’Air going novice chasing, and Yanworth possibly stepping up in trip, there is very little to excite this side of the pond.
Whatever wins the Greatwood – assuming it’s not totally exposed – will probably get a Champion Hurdle quote in the absence of anything else. Hopefully it will be Winter Escape.
Sceau Royal is rated higher – 156 after his most recent run – but that still gives him a stone and a half to find on a peak form Faugheen.
Very unlikely Faugheen and Annie P take each other on in the Ch Hdle – in the same ownership let alone same trainer, with so many alternatives at the Fez.
2 Mile Chasers
Douvan just wins when he stands up. Impossible to crab the brilliant Sprinter Sacre. What he did last season was the stuff of scriptwriter’s wet dreams. But he’s going to be eleven in January, and even at the height of his power would have had a race on his hooves against Douvan. Douvan is more versatile pace wise than UDS and wouldn’t evaporate on the lead like that one did in the QMCC in March.
VVM exciting. ‘Only’ rated 155 by the Irish ‘capper at the end of a season where she won 5 from 5, taking her UK/Ire record to 10/10, she won from two miles to three miles, from good to soft to heavy, from ungraded to Grade 1, and in fields of four to 19. Oh, and over hurdles and fences, and against boys as well as girls. She is amazing, and will surely face tougher tests this season. She’s the ultimate utility player, which is to say she is untouchable as an ante post proposition except in Hills’ “to win any race” market (though 2/1 reflects her versatility).
Nichols Canyon should be going to the World Hurdle, and ought to shorten from his current 10/1 quote with Coral. Whether he win a World Hurdle is a moot point, but at least we know what rough plan with this chap.
As well as Thistlecrack, we must hope that Don Cossack and Coneygree make it back into the fold and show their old lustre.
Djakadam will only be eight next year, and he’s been second in two Gold Cups. If he can get his jumping together a bit more, 14/1 about his GC chance is perfectly fair if you’re into a/p wagering at this time of year.
Alpha Des Obeaux was much the most credible danger to Thistlecrack last season and, if the latter goes the open company route, AdO looks the major player in staying novice chasers. Kind of interesting that he’s already run three times in minor events in the past few weeks, though.
Battleford, second in both the Chelt and Aintree Festival Bumpers, is going staying hurdling and could form part of the Mullins battalion in the potato race. Should pick up a G1 before then.
Horses to Look Out For
Ar Mad and Traffic Fluide from the Gary Moore stable. Both looked exciting prospects last season, both got crocked. Both are on the way back, both may have racecourse gallops soon, before both are scheduled to run in the Tingle Creek (against another Moore inmate, Sire de Grugy).
Traffic Fluide could potentially go up in trip to the Ryanair distance but showed plenty of toe behind UDS at Aintree in January before injury intervened.
Ar Mad won the G1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown and the G2 Wayward Lad at Kempton, as well as an egg and spoon race at Plumpton ahead of his own early bath. Fingers crossed they can pick up where they left off and challenge the Irish.
Ms Parfois and Tacenda, as mentioned earlier, are worth following. Whether they stay in mares’ bumpers or go novice hurdling I’m not sure.
Ms Parfois is a powerful mare who probably wants three miles in time; Tacenda was going to win her maiden point when unseating (very soft) at the last. She’s filled out beautifully.
Act Now has a mark of 98 with which to go handicap hurdling this season. On very soft ground, she could be progressive.
And Pure Vision is a lot better than he’s shown over hurdles so far – I hope. Still awaiting an opening mark, he’ll win handicap hurdles this season before going on to be a very nice chasing prospect next term.
Finally, The Geegeez Geegee has had a wind op since he was last seen and, if it makes any positive difference, he has to be competitive now dropped to the basement grade. (Apologies for lowering the tone!!)