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There are 18 days and it’s just around the corner. Cheltenham 2017 is within touching distance and whilst the picture for so many races continues to changes, we are in final touches territory with today’s meeting at Kempton, the last proper trials for the mecca in many people’s minds, and a decent meeting at Fairyhouse too.
I would be remiss to start without talking about Thistlecrack, whose absence from the Cheltenham Gold Cup was another hard hit to a festival that has lost more star horses than can be counted on both hands. Whether with or against, the absence of his is arguably more of a blow to the meeting than any other given how much of the public’s imagination he had captured in a dizzying streak to the top of both hurdling and chasing.
The magnanimous response of his owners John and Heather Snook, and the Tizzards, after what must be a crushing piece of news is a credit to all, and their brave campaigning is to be applauded in a season when others have taken less easy routes too. A tear to the tendon for a nine year is old is obviously a serious blow, but that Tizzard feels he will have the horse back by December is encouraging and he’s a late bloomer so hopefully he can race once again. It’s to be hoped that luck is kinder to them for the rest of the season.
Onto matters at Kempton, where the last few Cheltenham runners (most likely) are put through their paces and the juvenile rankings will once again move about with the Adonis at 1.50.
There are a number of decent horses, a couple of notable interest, but anything but a smooth success for Charli Parcs would be more of a disappointment than a shock. Highly rated after a debut success at Engihen, he was well supported for his debut over course and distance but even the most optimistic observer could not have expected the stunning show that he put on in smashing Masterblueeyes by eight lengths.
It was eight lengths at the end that day but Noel Fehily had more if he wanted under the locker and he was giving weight to Alan King’s consistent benchmark, a wide margin winner at Ludlow who is now rated 133. Nicky Henderson, as skilled as any when handling such horses, recently told Stan James that:
“I think Charli is a very high-class horse and I would be pushed to say he is as good as Altior because HE is as good as it gets but I’d certainly say (at their novice stage) Charli definitely as good as Buveur D’air, yes. “
Buveur D’Air was third in the Supreme last year without the considerable benefit of 8lbs in weight on his side and is now favourite for the Champion Hurdle having won all of his starts since, so the place this four-year-old occupies in affections at Seven Barrows is high indeed. If he was to repeat his first effort, it goes without saying he would take a power of beating. In the long run he would have to be of serious interest for either the Supreme or the Triumph, and in the longer run one might even consider him a Champion Hurdle horse for next year if all goes well – it has happened to similar stablemates to whom he has been compared.
The margin between him and Evening Hush, who couldn’t lay a glove on Defi De Seuil at Chepstow in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle, is likely to be very illuminating for form readers here, especially given that the last time Evan Williams’ charge had managed to get her hands on good ground, she won an Aintree Listed Hurdle by no less than 21 lengths. A slick jumper with no shortage of an engine, she can be a big threat.
Alan King also runs Fidux, who was fourth when stepped up to Listed level at Musselburgh. He would need to improve on that form to get involved here and of more interest is Ibleo. Veneita Williams’ son of Dick Turpin had two runs in France, but the only one of those worth checking out properly would be his win over Don Bersy on the second of two starts at Compiegne.
After being outsped on his debut, he found plenty to get the better of Don Bersy in a good finish in a three runner race, and the form of that has been boosted no end with Don Bersy winning three races including the Victor Ludorum in the UK. It remains to be seen how ready he is on this UK debut but he would have realistic form claims.
East Indies and Flying Tiger would appear exposed on all known form and the same comments would apply to Templier too on the basis of his last run. Percy Street is surely better than he was able to show last time when beaten at 1/7 but he will need to be if he’s to threaten his stablemate. Bedrock is thrown in at the deep end for his hurdling debut.
Paul Nicholls is probably going to win the trainers; title because of placements like that of Frodon, who has a big chance of picking the best part of £20,000 (£18,224 to be exact) with victory in the Pendil (2.25). The winner of the December Gold Cup bounced back to form at Musselburgh last time and he wouldn’t need to be at his best here on the official ratings with only Charmix and Gold Present a threat in a four runner field.
In the Dovecote (3.00) form watchers are likely to have their notebooks open once again, especially with a mind to the Neptune too. That’s because the form of two top contenders here links closely to the first and second favourites for the Neptune, in the shape of Capitaine (Finian’s Oscar) and Elgin (Neon Wolf).
Capitaine was best of the rest when Finian’s Oscar turned on the afterburners were turned on by the current Neptune favourite in the Tolworth. He was a good and clear second that day, although the form (outside the top two) appears weak for the level. Keen early, he was never allowed to stride on fully that day and also appeared to lose out in the stamina stakes late on. Neither should be an issue here on good ground and a flat track which will suit; the only times he’s been beaten over hurdles the ground has been soft.
Captain Forez, a stamp of a five-year-old who screams ‘future chaser’, was behind Capitaine last time on the same terms and might want a stiffer test.
Neon Wolf fans will be very keen to see Elgin, himself a winner of the novice hurdle that kicks off the Christmas meeting here, when he knuckled down hard to get the better of smart flat horse Mohayed. He had more to spare over him when he was second, albeit slammed, by Neon Wolf, and Mohayed has since won easily at Taunton to underline the feeling that is very solid form. It’s also worth nothing he tried to give 3lbs to Neon Wolf at Haydock, a task that would be too much for many novice hurdlers.
River Wylde’s connections have had a fair few decent horses this season and this six year old looks to be one of them following his second very impressive win hurdling at Ludlow. He was expected to there, although he made carrying a double penalty look like nothing there that day and is probably better than his official mark of 135 by a good margin.
Peter The Mayo Man was well fancied to take the Scottish Trial for the Supreme when he tried to give 3lbs to Lough Derg Spirit, who himself was well beaten by Capitaine and Captain Forez the time before. He’s respected on the back of three wide margin wins before that but he might have reached the limit of his improvement.
Mister Universum made a decent enough debut hurdling behind a very smart winner although the form of that Newbury fourth has not held up well apart from for the impressive winner. Ronnie Baird is hard to give a chance to after finishing 43 lengths behind Finian’s Oscar at Exeter a fortnight ago, and Bazooka as well could be added into that list in 117.
The Betbright Chase (3.35) is a difficult puzzle to unlock. Double Shuffle ended a run of disappointments with an impressive win in a valuable contest at Christmas here and he ought to take the beating if he repeats that effort, although one cannot be certain about that being the case.
Irish Saint is well handicapped on his novice form including a wide margin Pendil win here but nothing he has done since suggests that he is certain to find enough here and weak finishes are a worry for him here.
Three Musketeers was back to something like his best when he won at Market Rasen in first time cheekpiece at Market Rasen. The form of that event is strong through forth Blakemount, beaten a mile, and he gave 7lbs to the runner up, so a repeat of that form over a trip and track which should end up being absolutely perfect for him makes him of serious interest and the handicapper has only given him a 2lbs rise for that.
A year ago Theatre Guide thrashed opening Batsman by 10 lengths off a mark of 139 in a stunning display and both of them return here. He’s now rated 153, borderline graded class, but two starts ago he got the better of Perfect Candidate by a nose at Cheltenham, form that was boosted when Perfect Candidate went and bolted up in a well contested Veterans Chase at Exeter and he now goes for the Grand National. Theatre Guide will find this far better than the Welsh National and can make a good defence of his title bid.
Viva Steve was really impressive at Ayr on his debut but didn’t run to the same form in the Classic Chase next time. It remains to be seen if the handicapper has his measure but perhaps for the for the
Aso’s good run came to an end on trials day at Cheltenham and maybe he wants softer ground than this (or maybe not! – JP), whilst Opening Batsman is very well handicapped on his form last year, enough that he’s a threat still. Ballykan may be exposed off 140 and Triolo D’Aelene doesn’t look the horse of old. Annacotty wants a different course and softer ground and the same could be said about Pilgrims Bay. Cocktails at Dawn is well weighted if he shows the form he did in October 2016 when he won well at Chepstow. Three miles around here on paper, should suit.
At Fairyhouse, the Irish juveniles battle it out once again in the Winning Fair Juvenile Hurdle. The market has this as being between Dinaria Des Obeaux, who made a shocking error two out in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown that exaggerated the margin of her defeat. She will enjoy this ground more than Landofhopeandglory, who gave Bapaume weight when splitting him and Mega Fortune, form that looks strong now, so might have the better of the two today.
She holds Ex Patriot and Mengli Khan on that form (along with Sword Fighter) and Prospectus needs to have improved a lot from his latest win here, although he was impressive here.
The Bobbyjo (3.30) is a race often watched closely for National clues and that should be no different with the Thyestes form also getting a good workout. Baie Des Isles was fourth in last year’s renewal before then finishing sixth in the Irish National, fantastic efforts for a five year old. Now six, he got a fine ride from Katie Walsh to the the National trial at Punchestown when many others weren’t on the ball (including Roi Des France) but he has gone up only 5lbs for that, which is generous, and he can take the beating once again.
Pleasant Company made a fine reappearance when he was fourth in the Thyestes, ahead of Wounded Warrior, and he should take the beating off the same mark today; Of the others Roi de Frances and Thunder and Roses would be the best each/way bets, both of whom being confirmed mudlarks.
Speaking of mudlarks, the Eider Chase (2.45) at Newcastle is probably not going to be watching for the faint-hearted. The GoingStick of 3.8 for Newcastle’s chase course, the lowest (softest) for 4 years, is ominous before the wind and rain tomorrow to beat. Heavy sloggers are the order of the day and Shotgun Paddy, second in the race last year to the absent Rocking Blues, has some of the best form here especially in the shape of his third in the Classic Chase. The winner looks a National contender and the second Goodtoknow since trashed Mountainous at Hereford, so his claims are obvious and this is his lowest mark for some time.
Mystree was fourth last year and then an impressive winner on his return at Haydock, so it is a mystery (get it?) as to how he was so disappointing last time at Plumpton in the Sussex National. If he’s at his best then he ought to be capable of running a big race.
Mountainous has worked back to form whilst dropping in the handicap and he needs respecting here – he’s 1lbs higher than when he last won the Welsh National, and with a 7lbs claim of Richard Patrick he can go well. One of few to have dealt with conditions like this, he may be involved through a process of elimination.
Also of interest is Knockanrawley, who was a fine fifth in the Classic Chase but he could bounce – that was his first run after more than a year off. Russe Blanc, a previous Classic Chase winner is also nicely weighted although whether he’s come to form quickly enough remains to be seen. This ground could do for Out Sam.
On Sunday Naas has a strong card where Any Second Now, the winner of the Moscow Flyer when he downed Crack Mome in very taking style, goes for a hat-trick in the Grade 2 Novice. The ground there might well suit him more than going for the Supreme and he could well beat Joey Sasa, Forge Meadow and Labaik if he consents to run. If he’s a backable price, he proabably represents a bet.
In the National Spirit at Fontwell (3.00), Lil Rockfeller makes appeal after a poor Cheltenham run in the Cleeve which can be excused, although in a fascinating race there are plenty to watch. L’Ami Serge has finished weakly the last twice but this ground might be better for him, and Le Rocher has made sterling steps since a long absence too. Different Gravey, back to hurdles, also catches the eye.
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1.45 Fairyhouse – 3 pts win Dinaria Des Obeaux (evs)
3.00 Kempton – 1 pt win Elgin (9/2 general)
3.35 Kempton – 1 pt each/way Three Musketeers (8/1 general)
2.45 Newcastle – 1 pt each/way Shotgun Paddy (7/1 general)
2.45 Newcastle – 1 pt each/way Mountainous (12/1 general)
3.35 Kempton – 1 pt each/way Theatre Guide (15/2 general)
3.50 Naas (Sunday) – 2 pts win Any Second Now (best price; evens or above)