A fantastic day’s racing at Newbury and Newcastle, albeit a frustrating one for us in terms of selections, although we have now had two days with winners and only a single charge of ours ran a bad race, a welcome change from the beginning of the season.
To be nailed on the line with Whisper, which I tipped back in October for our Members, was an agonising end to such a carefully laid plot, although he was wonderfully prepared and ran a magnificent race off 161, with the 4lbs penalty he’d earnt for beating Clan Des Obeaux perhaps making the difference as he was nailed by Total Recall, although the improvement Willie Mullins coaxed out of the winner – he went up 18lbs for winning the Munster National by eight lengths on his stable debut – must be applauded. So too, must the winning ride by Paul Townend, as able a deputy as any trainer could hope for with the long absence of Ruby Walsh, right as the season reaches it’s absolute peak.
Total Recall is now being talked of as Cheltenham Gold Cup contender, which is understandable given the Hennessy’s history and the strength of the race today – he and Whisper were eight lengths clear – but the runner up is already confirmed as a Grade 1 performer and being a bona fide stayer, makes some amount of interest for the showpiece given that he has already shown an affinity with the New Course over hurdles and fences with the trip guaranteed to be an asset (and the ground not an issue either). Quotes of 20/1, with Coral as big as 25’s, appear very fair indeed and he would be of major interest if he went to the Lexus Chase over the holidays, as Leopardstown would suit far more than Kempton. Mullins said that he would “look at more handicaps, but we have to wonder if he’s better than that.”, although the Lexus was going to come too soon for him according to the Closutton handler.
In behind, Singlefarmpayment was still going well and had been moving through nicely when he took a crashing fall three out for which he is thankfully none the worse (nor Adrian Heskin either). Heskin was not sure if he would have reached the front two, but the form of his Ultima second, and other novice efforts, suggests that he is not done in high class handicaps by any means and he remains of serious interest. Perhaps the Ultima once again at the Festival could be an ideal aim.
At Newcastle, Buveur D’Air won what was a gift of a Fighting Fifth Hurdle and now goes to Kempton, where he *may* clash with Faugheen, although such a match before the Festival may ruin the surprise in March, given that they power over the 2-mile division on both sides of the Irish sea. Nicky Henderson’s day – with his yard in great form 0 was capped off by the fine success of Beware The Bear in the Rehearsal Chase, with Sean Bowen managing to galvanise him down the straight to catch our selection Bishops Road despite his saddle slipping almost to his girth up the home straight. Considering how well handicapped the runner up was, it was a fine effort on his seasonal debut and a resumption of the improvement he showed as a novice. A serious stayer, his jumping must improve, but he appeals as a future National type – although he will have to travel better if it is to be at Aintree.
We have more top class racing, this time coming at Fairyhouse for Hatton’s Grace Day.
The Supreme Novices Hurdle entries were released this week – read preview of Cheltenham’s Champion Day – but the market will really take shape after the Royal Bond (1.00) with Supreme favourite Mengli Khan leading the market in a fascinating renewal. Gordon Elliot’s son of Lope De Vega has benefitted greatly from his first season over hurdles, winning comfortably at Navan on his seasonal reappearance before he won just as easily in the For Auction, where he had a useful maiden winner beaten on the bridle and Morgan 10 lengths further behind.
He ought to go well, but this is a step into the deep end and it’s likely we’ll find what he’s made of when push comes to shove given the quality of rival he faces here. Makitorix, a useful if unspectacular horse in France on the flat, was an easy odds-on winner on hurdling debut when he beat a subsequent runner up by 18 lengths, and he ought to be very much involved.
Le Richebourg is the pick of Barry Geraghty, and that is not entirely surprisingly given the way he impressed during the summer, especially when winning a well contested Galway Novices Hurdle, the form of which was boosted when the second Twoobelucky ran out a good winner at Cheltenham. The worry for him is that he has enjoyed good ground in his wins, and this surface will be the most testing he’s encountered.
JP McManus has a strong hand with both him and Red Jack, and Noel Meade’s charge could be overpriced at 8/1. Unbeaten in three, he warmed to the task when making a successful hurdling debut at Naas, producing his best leap at the second last, but should be expected to improve a good deal from that. He arguably has the best piece of form in the race courtesy of his bumper win, when he beat the Champion Bumper second Debuchet and Le Richebourg, who was a further five lengths back, on soft to heavy ground (the same surface he won his maiden hurdle on at Naas). He may prefer to go further in the future, but he looks to have the raw talent to cope with this trip and the ground ought not to be a problem, so he is worth backing each/way here to shake up the top two.
Early Doors has already achieved a decent amount, taking the Fishery Lane Hurdle when he beat Meri Devie in decent style, although the runner up may not have enjoyed the ground that prevailed that day. This is tougher still but he deserves respect. Morgan was beaten by Mengli Khan last time out and Hardline could struggle here after a big upping in class, having taken a Clonmel conditions Hurdle last time out.
The market will have Apple’s Jade and Nichols Canyon as the two to beat in the Hatton’s Grace itself (1.30) and racing fans certainly have a lot to look forward to in that regard. Last year’s winner, Apple’s Jade made a serious statement upon her return when she gave a significant amount of weight and a beating to the very smart Jer’s Girl in the Lismullen Hurdle, a notable performance given that she thrives upon her racing.
Nichols Canyon has always run well fresh, however, and the prolific Grade 1 scorer and now World Hurdle winner is going to prove extremely tough to beat here with this trip and track sure to be ideal for him.
However, there is a horse progressive enough to take on the two. Supasundae started last season in handicaps off 142, but ended out making Yanworth pull all the stops in the Liverpool Hurdle towards the backend of last season, having taken the Coral Cup in good style in between. Jessica Harrington’s charge twice ran into the hugely talented Sutton’s Grace before doing so in both the Limestone Lad and Boyne Hurdles, and found only Yanworth too good by the end of the season.
He probably needs to improve on that to match the front two, and it’s a slight worry that his two best efforts have come on sounder surfaces, but he has a rapidly progressive feel about him and he is worth chancing each/way.
Cilaos Emery took advantage of his much shorter priced stablemate Melon going too early at Punchestown to take the Evening Herald, a career best when he looked as if he’d stay further. We will learn a lot about him and the level of the novice form after this. Augusta Kate did not produce her best effort when well behind Apple’s Jade at the Punchestown Festival, having taken the Grade 1 Mares’ Novice Championship beforehand.
Mick Jazz got the better of Cilaos Emery at Punchestown last season and shaped well enough in the WKD Hurdle but is taking a big step up in class and Swamp Fox was last in the Morgiana.
The Drinmore (2.35) is another fascinating contest, with Death Duty strongly fancied to come through his toughest test over fences. Gordon Elliott’s charge didn’t quite live up to the promise of his early season from last year, having dismissed Monalee in the Navan Novice Hurdle before then winning the Lawlor’s Hotel in January. However, he ran flat in the Albert Bartlett, although he did run with credit when third behind Finian’s Oscar and Bacardys at the Punchestown Festival.
His two chase wins have been just as smooth as his hurdling successes, and he looks to be the right favourite to make it 3/3 here, although he offers precious little value.
The much-improved former Neptune third Rathvinden, a winner of four of his last five over fences (one of them when Townshend well behind; he’s been absent since), has really taken to chasing with strolls at Tipperary and Listowel, the latter of them in the Like A Butterfly Chase. He travelled in heavy ground for both those successes and his one defeat came when tackling quicker ground. He ought to give the favourite a serious test, and so should Dinaria Des Obeaux, who received 15lbs in allowances today and comes here off the back of a 15 length win in the T.A Morris Memorial Irish EBF Mares Chase. She looks to have thrived for a summer at grass, and there ought to be more to come still. Shattered Love ran into a talented stablemate in the shape of Jury Duty last time but that might be as good as she is and Snow Falcon’s inexperience might well get the better of him.
There are some high-class horses, but no bets that make appeal in the Bar One Racing Handicap Hurdle (2.05) or the Porterstown (3.10) and the bumper looks a watching brief, for all it is high class racing.
The card begins with an intriguing match between Espoir D’allen a bumper debut winner in France who has won both hurdles starts this year since joining Gavin Cromwell. He has jumped more slickly than Mitchouka in his two wins so far, but in a race that looks a straight match, it’s best sitting back to enjoy.
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1:00 Fairyhouse – 1 pt each/way Red Jack (8/1 general)
1:30 Fairyhouse – 1 pt each/way Supasundae (10/1 general)