The 1960s film Zulu was one of my favourites when I was much younger, famous for making Michael Caine well, famous, writes Martin Greenwood…
However, my favourite character was John Rouse Merriot Chard played by the legendary Stanley Baker. Michael Caine’s character was Gonville Bromhead, and I have only heard that surname twice since those halcyon days; the noughties Sheffield band Bromheads Jacket and racehorse trainer Henry de Bromhead. The latter enjoyed an extraordinary week at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, climaxing in a maiden Wellchild Cheltenham Gold Cup success with Minella Indo.
I was a big fan of this horse as a novice but was beginning to feel my confidence was misplaced after a very much stop-start second season for him. However, he got back on track in no uncertain manner and surpassed all known previous form (if not potential), in beating fellow Irish challengers A Plus Tard (and stable companion) and hat-trick seeking Al Boum Photo, the trio miles clear of the nearest GB runner Native River, with several major disappointments even further behind or failing to finish.
The drying ground was easily the fastest Minella Indo had raced on as a chaser, and A Plus Tard was unexposed at this sort of trip, while Al Boum Photo had taken his usual low-key build up. Visually at least, it was hard not to conclude that Al Boum Photo was beaten on merit and his new rating of 170 is a fair estimate of his form since he peaked at 175 at Punchestown back in 2019. 175 is now the new rating for Minella Indo who dug deep to see off A Plus Tard (also a personal best at 172), despite possibly dossing a little up the hill. Those two now head the staying division for 2020/21, and it’s safe to assume they will clash again this season, probably at Punchestown. This looks to be one of the better Gold Cups of recent times and fits in well with the mid-170s suggested by historical race standards, while the time comparison suggests a little lower at around 170.
A quick summary of some of the other staying chases at the Festival. Galvin outspeeded Next Destination in the Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup on day one – the pair had the best form going in and were only 1 lb apart pre-race. Next Destination set the fractions, but with the benefit of hindsight from this armchair jockey, maybe forcing the issue harder might have helped given how gamely he responded when joined by the better travelling Galvin and Escaria Ten at the busines end. Those two Irish challengers set personal bests on 154 and 151 respectively, with Next Destination remaining on 153, and the race looks up to standard.
It’s pointless dwelling on Monkfish’s victory at very long odds on in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase. He was miles clear on all known form going in and was only workmanlike after a few errors, including the at the last, but his previous victory (164) over a shorter trip at Leopardstown remains his zenith thus far. He still looks a major player for top honours in the staying chase division next season. Later on Wednesday the magnificent Tiger Roll landed his fifth Cheltenham Festival win and third in the Cross Country event, showing all his old enthusiasm and visually replicating his victory in this race in 2019. His conqueror in 2020, Easysland, never landed a blow under a hold up ride and was blown out of the water by Tiger Roll who was always in the van. The latter was rated 167 after that 2019 victory, enabling him to run 8 lb ‘well in’ in that year’s Grand National. I had put Tiger Roll on 166 for the 2021 Grand National before connections withdrew him, and he is now back to 167.
Allaho gallops Ryanair rivals into submission
A breathtaking front-running display from Allaho saw him run out a wide margin winner of what looked a very competitive renewal of the Ryanair Chase, writes Michael Harris…
It was a visually dominant performance from start to finish and the sectional times show that he set a relentless gallop which none of his rivals could cope with. Despite an understandably slower closing split, Allaho had cracked the rest of the field long before then. Historical race standards suggest a base figure in the low 170s as a minimum and I have settled on a rating of 175 for Allaho, which makes him the best winner of this race, surpassing the 173 recorded by Vautour in 2016. 175 makes him the joint-highest rated horse in training along with Gold Cup winner Minella Indo. Whilst Minella Indo had beaten Allaho by a length in last year’s RSA Novices’ Chase, it looks clear that the drop back in trip and positive tactics suited Allaho well in the Ryanair. As always, an agreed end-of-season rating will be decided for the Anglo-Irish Classifications, and currently our Irish counterparts have settled on a rating 1 lb lower for Allaho at 174.
The Marsh Novices’ Chase was centred around the previously unbeaten Envoi Allen but his early departure from the race left this wide open and it was the lightly-raced Chantry House who took advantage, getting the better of old rival (and stablemate) Fusil Raffles who had defeated him on softer ground earlier in the season. Chantry House finished third in the Supreme at last year’s festival, beating the reopposing Asterion Forlonge, and off a strong gallop he saw his race out well in the style of a horse that might be suited by longer trips in the future. Race standards suggest a figure around 160, which would have matched the average winner across the previous five years, but I have settled on a figure of 159 making it a slightly below average renewal. This credits Fusil Raffles with a small personal best (+3 to 155) and has Asterion Forlonge almost matching the best of his hurdle form on 153. Envoi Allen was rated 164 going into the race, so he remains the highest rated novice in the division.
Shishkin reigns supreme amongst the 2m chasers
In the 2m chase division it is appropriate to mention the Sporting Life Arkle before the Betway Queen Mother Champion chase, as that was the race where the leading performance was produced, writes Chris Nash…
The horse in question is Shishkin who maintained his unbeaten record over fences with a twelve-length romp in this Grade 1 for novices. His pre-race rating of 164 was already above the level usually needed to win this race (the winners over the previous ten years average out at 163) and he confirmed that status with a commanding performance. The race was run at a solid tempo with Captain Guinness and Allmankind somewhat taking each other on in front. Shishkin was happy to sit off them, jumped to the front three out and cruised home up the hill. I have him running a bare figure of 164+, with Eldorado Allen (second) at 152, Captain Guinness (third) at 151 and Allmankind (fourth) at 150. This rates a best effort over fences for Eldorado Allen and his 152 figure matches his peak hurdle rating, whilst both Captain Guinness and Allmankind are better than they were able to show here and will retain their pre-race ratings of 153 and 160 respectively.
So, what rating does the winner warrant? It may sound strange for a horse that has now had four runs over fences, but, as he keeps winning so easily, there is still no knowing how good he is. I decided to credit him with a revised rating of 169. In the context of the Arkle, that makes him the joint-highest rated winner of the race this century, level with the figure recorded by his stablemate Sprinter Sacre in 2012 and higher than the 165 given to Altior (another stablemate) for winning the 2017 renewal. He is obviously the star of the division and is currently the highest rated novice chaser across all distances. In the 2m novice chase rankings he is followed by Energumene (164), Allmankind (160) and Sky Pirate (160), the last-named given that rating for winning the Grand Annual handicap off a mark of 152. In the overall 2m rankings only Chacun Pour Soi on 172 sits above Shishkin, underlining what an exciting prospect he is.
The Queen Mother Champion chase was won by Put The Kettle On who continued her love affair with Cheltenham and recorded her fourth win at the track from as many visits. The race produced an exciting finish up the hill but, with less than four lengths separating the first five home, it cannot be described as vintage form. I settled on a figure of 160 for the winner (she received the mares’ allowance of 7 lbs) which has Nube Negra (second) running to 166, Chacun Pour Soi (third) below his best at 165 and Greaneteen (fourth) at 164. An argument can certainly be made that Sceau Royal (fifth) might have been an unlucky loser having completely run out of room and stumbled after jumping the third last fence – he appeared to lose as much ground in that incident as the three and three-quarter lengths he ended up being beaten. For the purposes of comparing with past winners it is best to add the 7 lb mares’ allowance to the 160 figure of Put The Kettle On; this has her as the joint-lowest rated winner of the race in the last ten years along with Special Tiara (2017) and Dodging Bullets (2015).
So, we have the unusual situation of the Arkle winner achieving a higher level of form than the Champion chase winner, though that isn’t unprecedented as it also happened in 2015 when Un De Sceaux‘s Arkle figure of 168 surpassed the 167 achieved by Dodging Bullets in the Champion Chase.
Honeysuckle blossoms in Champion Hurdle
Day one of the 2021 Festival very much gave a sign of things to come with resounding wins for the Irish-trained favourites in both the Supreme and Champion Hurdle, writes Andrew Mealor…
The pre-race ratings suggested the males had it to do in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, having to concede 7 lb to a pair of top-class mares in Honeysuckle – fresh from a ten-length success in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown – and 2020 Champion Epatante, and they headed the market at 11/10 and 4/1 respectively. The margin of success may not have been quite as far for Honeysuckle on this occasion, having six and a half lengths to spare over Sharjah (164) at the line having eased clear from the final turn, but the win no less emphatic. Honeysuckle has been published in Ireland at 165 following this success, marginally higher than my provisional figure of 164, and her final rating will be ratified in the end-of-season Anglo-Irish classification. Either rating puts her ahead of the 162 achieved by the other recent winning mares, Epatante and Annie Power (2016), and compares favourably to other recent winners of the race once the 7 lb allowance is added back on.
Epatante didn’t have things go quite her way this time around, finding herself boxed in as the race was taking shape, but she looked held by Sharjah at the line and her form overall this year doesn’t match up to her performance in the race last season. Her rating has been pulled down to 156 as a result. The major disappointment of the race was Goshen (161, down from 164) who hung badly right returning to a left-handed course.
Earlier on Tuesday Appreciate It was even more dominant in beating what was an admittedly thin field in the Skybet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Only eight went to post – a very low number historically for the race – and what didn’t look a strong GB challenge was diluted still further in event with the poor showing of second favourite Metier. However, Appreciate It could do no more than win as he did, around 7l clear of stablemate Blue Lord (148) and extending when that rival came down at the last, ultimately scoring by twenty-four lengths in a time that was only around 6 lb shy of what Honeysuckle clocked in the Champion Hurdle.
He’s been published at 160 in Ireland – a fraction shy of my provisional 161 rating – and that sort of figure puts him in the same ballpark as the likes of Altior (160 in 2016), Shishkin (159 in 2020) and Douvan (159 in 2015) amongst the top Supreme winners this century. A clash between Appreciate It and Honeysuckle in the 2022 Champion Hurdle would be a race to savour, though there’s a good chance Appreciate It will look to emulate Altior and Shishkin and win next year’s Arkle.
Blue Lord would have been a clear second but for falling, though the eventual second Ballyadam was better than the bare result, losing several lengths (and momentum) with a notable mistake 2 out. The form of Metier’s Tolworth success has taken several knocks, with runner-up Shakem Up’Arry making little impact back in handicaps since, and Metier has been pulled down 3 lb to 145 as a result.
The JCB Triumph Hurdle also saw disappointment for a fancied GB runner with Tritonic (down 2 lb to 145) failing to come up to expectations just three weeks after his impressive win in the Adonis. The winner Quilixios (now 150 in Ireland) is unbeaten in five runs and shouldn’t be knocked after running out a comfortable winner from Adagio (147), though the Triumph was a muddling race that tested speed more than stamina, and that seemed the undoing of favourite Zanahiyr who stayed on without quite being able to muster the pace to challenge at the business end. Quilixios moves to the top of the juvenile pecking order as things stand but with Aintree and Punchestown to come, there is still a chance for Zanahiyr and Tritonic to come again – and don’t forget Monmiral (147) who missed Cheltenham in favour of Aintree and could also be a major player.
Porter floors rivals
The Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle saw the crowning of a new champion. The up-and-coming Flooring Porter was given a dominant front-running ride and had plenty of his rivals in trouble from two out, galloping on strongly to take the stayers crown, writes Gordan Markham…
Flooring Porter has risen through the ranks this season from handicaps to Grade 1 success on his last two starts, and is clearly going places at the age of six. All things being equal he should be a major force on the staying scene for the next few years. In recent times winners of the Stayers’ Hurdle range from 174 (Thistlecrack in 2016) to 160 (Lisnagar Oscar last season), and a rating in the mid-160s would be around par for that period. Flooring Porter has earned a figure of 165, backed up by the performance of Sire Des Berlais, whose 161 matches his previous peak figure which was achieved last year over course and distance when landing the second of his two wins in the Pertemps Final.
Favourite Paisley Park came into the race on the back of his last gasp effort in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December. He could be seen ridden along heading down the back the final time, looking out of his comfort zone off a solid pace on the drying ground. To his credit he boxed on well to take third, performing to a figure of 159, 4 lb off the 163 that he achieved for his narrow defeat of Thyme Hill (162) at Ascot. Let’s hope the main protagonists will face off in a rematch at either Aintree or Punchestown, and all being well hopefully Thyme Hill can be added to the mix following his late withdrawal at Cheltenham due to a pulled muscle.
The smallest field this century assembled for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle but it did not appear to lack strength or quality with only 1 lb separating the top three in the market pre-race. It was run at an ordinary gallop with most of the seven-runner field racing keenly at times. Bob Olinger was well found in the market in the days building up to the race and such confidence was justified, arguably suited by how the race played out being a speedier type. Bob Olinger tracked the pace and was going notably well jumping two out, asserting off the home turn before pulling away up the hill for a dominant performance and earning a figure of 159. That rating puts him at the top end of what recent Ballymore winners have achieved (the ten-year average is 153) and is only 1 lb behind the 160 recorded by Envoi Allen twelve months ago.
Bob Olinger has tasted defeat only once in five starts, when runner-up to 2020 Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow on his hurdling debut back in November. That rival suffered a setback subsequently and hasn’t been seen since.
Gaillard Du Mesnil came into the Ballymore top rated at 151 following his Grade 1 win at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival and looks to have performed to a similar level in finishing second. Both he and Bravemansgame (third, 150) are more staying types and they lacked the gears to go with Bob Olinger from two out. Bear Ghylls may have lost his unbeaten record but performed with plenty of credit and earned a figure of 147 (+7) for his staying-on fourth.
The Albert Bartlett for staying novice hurdlers saw another commanding performance by an Irish novice. Vanillier was last seen when disappointing behind Gaillard Du Mesnil at Leopardstown but the trainer’s horses were out of form at the time and he was clearly a different proposition here. They went a modest gallop for this staying test and it appeared to suit those ridden on the pace. Vanillier sat to the fore throughout and galloped on resolutely to pull well clear from the last and win by eleven lengths.
Recent winners of the Albert Bartlett range from 149-153, with the average figure in the previous five years being 151. Given several of the more fancied horses underperformed to certain degrees, it was tricky to get a proper handle on the level of the form but I ultimately settled on a figure of 153 for Vanillier which rates alongside the previous best for an Albert Bartlett victor. Oscar Elite had failed to fire on either of his last two starts, but he appeared to appreciate the application of the tongue tie and the drying ground to post his best effort thus far of 142 (+7). Streets Of Doyen fared best of those ridden from off the pace and is up 3 lb to 141. He had been progressive prior to a defeat on his previous start when dropped back to 2m and looked much more at home returned to a staying trip. The Stattler came into the race top rated at 146 (now -1 to 145). He travelled well to two out but failed to pick up as expected having previously looked like this sort of test would bring out the best in him. He looks every inch a chaser in the making and possibly needed a stronger gallop to show his best.