Captain Chris has had a long and illustrious career. The last few years have been blighted by injuries, yet whether he returns to the track or not he has given Philip Hobbs and owners Diana and Graham Whateley numerous thrilling days at the races.
No mug over hurdles, his career took off when sent over fences at the end of 2010. Beaten by Paul Nicholls’ Ghizao first time at Cheltenham, he came off second best once again to the same horse at Newbury when in receipt of 10lbs. A further second place finish when stepped up in trip for the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown, left trainer Hobbs with a tough decision as to the correct Cheltenham Festival target.
Many were surprised when Captain Chris was dropped back in trip to tackle the Arkle Chase, but the decision was emphatically vindicated when the horse stormed up the famous hill to defeat Finian’s Rainbow, despite jumping out to his right on numerous occasions.
Throughout his career, the habit of leaping out to the right has proved a barrier to further success at Cheltenham. Indeed since the Arkle success his four further career wins have all come on right hand tracks. It’s no surprise that Ascot and Kempton have become favourite destinations with his last victory coming in the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase when winning by a country mile.
That habit of moving out one way or the other when taking obstacles is far from ideal, though many horses have overcome the issue to win major events. Vautour so nearly did so in the King George just a few weeks ago.
And that brings us to the latest trainer with the same conundrum to ponder over. Gary Moore finds himself in the enviable position of having a top class novice chaser in the yard. Ar Mad was disappointing at Plumpton on seasonal debut, when taking on the larger obstacles for the first time. The habit of jumping out to the right was there for all to see, especially in the latter stages of the race.
However, his three victories since, at Kempton and Sandown, have all been impressive. He took the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase in stunning fashion, and then overcame Henderson’s Vaniteux to win the Wayward Lad at Christmas. In the latter of those two he jumped perfectly straight for the majority of the race.
So has Moore overreacted to that first outing at Plumpton? The tightness of the track would certainly have helped to exaggerate the tendency to go right over the obstacles and a return to a more galloping track would be in his favour. Ar Mad was also ridden very differently that day, and in doing so he took a mighty hold, fighting for his head for much of the contest. His three victories since have all come with the jockey allowing the horse to charge along in front, a tactic which has clearly suited the exuberant chaser.
Yesterday Gary Moore informed us that the horse is currently on a break, and should he take in the Arkle, he is likely to go straight there. “Ar Mad is grand, but he's on a break at the minute, simply because there are no races for him now until Cheltenham,” said the West Sussex handler. “I've spoken to a lot of people I respect about this and some say he'll be fine and others say to stick to what you know,” Moore added.
After the latest win at Kempton his jockey Josh Moore said: “It would be a shame to miss an Arkle when you have the horse.” And having been adamant that his charge would not go Cheltenham, Gary Moore added: “It’s something we might just have to try.”
Captain Chris showed that an Arkle can be won by a horse that prefers going the other way. Watching that crucial Plumpton run again and again leaves me of the opinion that a change in tactics, coupled with a larger more galloping track will ensure that Ar Mad takes his place at Cheltenham. And there’s every chance that he’ll run an absolute blinder, though a certain Willie Mullins runner may prove more of an obstacle than the left-handed track.