Christmas Handicappers Blog
With all due respect to the admirable Clan des Obeaux, for the second year running his success in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase posed more questions than answers, writes Martin Greenwood…
In 2018 the likes of Native River and Might Bite were expected to be thereabouts. Fast forward 365 days and most people expected Cyrname and Lostintranslation to be the main protagonists. However, on both occasions none of that quartet of superstars saw which way Clan des Obeaux went.
The latest edition was even more troublesome to rate than the previous one given the winning margin was twenty-one lengths over the best chaser in the UK in Cyrname (too much use and/or failed to get home?) with the rest strung out all over Kempton Park. Lostintranslation failed to complete, pulled up after the second of two notable mistakes, but in truth he never looked that comfortable around the unique track. Connections later suggested a breathing problem. Whatever was amiss with Lostintranslation, he is surely worth another chance to prove himself one of the best staying prospects on a more galloping track.
Clan des Obeaux was rated 173 straight after his success in 2018, later downgraded to 170 at the end of the season, partly due to his failure to replicate that form at both Cheltenham (looked a non-stayer) and Aintree. While there is a chance that Clan des Obeaux is a better horse this year – and five-year standards suggest somewhere in the mid-170’s, while the time compared to Slate House from earlier in the afternoon was around 25 lbs quicker – I felt it prudent in the short term to match the 173 from twelve months ago, with the knowledge that there is scope to make that figure higher down the line. Maybe Clan des Obeaux is just very well suited by the right-handed, sharp stamina test? Only time will tell.
A quick line regarding the Savills Chase at Leopardstown which saw the return of Kemboy, who put himself firmly on the map when winning this race in 2018. For the second year running the race was a strange affair in that they pottered around and were well bunched turning in. Monalee, second last year, looked the winner after the last but was worn down by the strong-finishing Delta Work, who put a moderate reappearance behind him to establish himself once again as a horse of real potential. Kemboy was a fair way below his peak in fourth and we should learn more next time, while Presenting Percy, a place further back, suggested he retained all his ability despite being never nearer.
Henderson Champion Hurdle prospects brighten
The fluent success of Epatante in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day saw her shoot to the head of the market for the March showpiece, writes David Dickinson…
Epatante’s win sees her rating raised to 159 but her stable companion Verdana Blue is still rated a pound higher than her and ran a fine race on unsuitable ground. Fusil Raffles (pulled up) let the Nicky Henderson team down somewhat, but with Pentland Hills also in the wings, his yard still holds plenty of chances despite the injury to Buveur d’Air.
Silver Streak, Ballyandy and Ch’tibello give the Kempton form a very solid look and the first-named probably put in a career best effort, paying a compliment to his Fighting Fifth conqueror Cornerstone Lad in the process.
Whilst the situation on this side of the water is taking shape, Sharjah’s win in Sunday’s Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown posed as many questions as it answered. The runner up Petit Mouchoir, two years older than Sharjah, was nine lengths last to the winner in the equivalent race last year, so this success told us nothing about Sharjah that we didn’t already know. Brought down early in the Champion Hurdle last year, his prospects this time around revolve around how he might have fared last year without such misfortune. Klassical Dream lost all chance with a bad mid-race mistake.
The ground on day one of the Festival is likely to have a significant bearing on the outcome but pace in this season’s Champion looks guaranteed if Not So Sleepy, Petit Mouchoir and Cornerstone Lad all turn up.
At last the juvenile picture is beginning to take shape. Allmankind might have the odd quirk but tearing through the Chepstow mud he was mightily impressive in the Grade 1 Coral Finale Hurdle. A fine mixture of stamina and speed sees him top of the juvenile tree over here at present with his rating going up to 148.
However, on a line through A Wave of The Sea and Cerberus, the best juvenile performance of the Christmas period by some way occurred in Ireland. Leopardstown’s Grade 2 Knight Frank Hurdle saw Aspire Tower ground his rivals down in marvellous style for a wide-margin win. The only reservation would be that only six flights were jumped due to the low sun, the long run in putting extra emphasis on stamina, and it remains to be seen if 2m on spring ground plays to his strengths.
Grade 1 success for Thmye Hill
Philip Hobbs’ unbeaten hurdler Thyme Hill cemented his status as the leading home-trained staying novice by landing Newbury’s Grade 1 Betway Challow Novices’ Hurdle, writes Andrew Mealor…
Successful in Grade 2 company on both of his previous starts over timber, Thyme Hill faced only four rivals in a typically small field Challow, but that quartet included a fellow Grade 2 winner in Enrilo and The Cashel Man, who had produced a smart effort when running away with a competitive handicap at Newbury last month.
The race boiled down to a duel between Thyme Hill and The Cashel Man from two out. Thyme Hill was clearly going best coming to the last but he didn’t jump that obstacle very fluently and tended to hang left/idle under pressure, getting home by one and a half lengths all the same and seeming to score with a bit up his sleeve.
The field finished in the order their pre-race ratings suggested, though the front two finished much further clear (eighteen lengths in fact) of Enrilo than might have been expected. Assessing him as running to form would have the front two rated near 160, which seems highly improbable at this stage, and the likelihood is that he wasn’t at his best on the day.
I gave some consideration to leaving the front two more or less as they were (there was 4 lb between them pre-race and I called the margin between them 3 lb on the day) but historical standards pointed to a slightly higher level for the race, and the form of The Cashel Man’s handicap win has been given a couple of boosts since, also supporting a higher figure for him. As such, I opted to raise him 4 lb to 147, with Thyme Hill going up 3 lb to 150. That is a good rating for a Challow winner and a reproduction at Cheltenham will see him very much in the mix in either the Ballymore or Albert Bartlett. Wichita Lineman in 2006 was the last Challow winner to go on and score at Cheltenham, though plenty have been placed, including Champ (runner-up in the Ballymore) last year.
The expected showdown in the JLT Long Walk Hurdle between Paisley Park (169) and If The Cap Fits (166) failed to materialise – the latter wasn’t entered at the five-day stage and Paisley Park was withdrawn on the day due to concerns over the ground – and we were left with a pretty substandard renewal of the pre-Christmas highlight.
The Worlds End (156) made the most of Paisley Park’s absence to gain a first Grade 1 success, though backers of runner-up L’Ami Serge (155) will feel somewhat aggrieved given the gelding had travelled strongly and looked all over the winner before curling up in front late on.
Two mile pointers
The two-miler chasers took centre stage on the second day of Kempton’s Christmas fixture with a brace of Grade 2 events. Chris Nash examines the results…
There was a chance of Altior running in the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase but in his absence we were left with a competitive race which served up an exciting finish. Bun Doran took the prize, beating the Irish-trained Duc Des Genievres by one and a half lengths, with a further one and three-quarter lengths back to Sceau Royal in third. The form of this race looks to make plenty of sense with Duc Des Genievres arriving here rated 161 and Sceau Royal rated 164. They were both carrying penalties (3 lb and 6 lb respectively) and, after balancing the weights carried and the margins between them at the line, I settled on figures of 160, 161 and 162 for the first three home. Bun Doran arrived here rated 156 having been raised 6 lb for finishing second in a handicap on his seasonal return and this performance rates a career best. He has a gently progressive profile and will deserve to take his chance in a Grade 1 in the near future.
In the novice division the Ladbrokes Wayward Lad Chase was won by Global Citizen. In what was an exciting five-way finish he prevailed by one and a half lengths from Rouge Vif, with Grand Sancy a further one and a quarter lengths back in third (the first five home were covered by just less than five lengths).
A bunched finish to a race can often be interpreted to be a sign of weak form but I am fairly optimistic about this race being up to the usual standard. This view is not only based on the previous form of the principals but also on the way the race was run. The Wayward Lad was run in quicker splits than the Desert Orchid and resulted in a quicker overall time.
Whilst Global Citizen had run just once over fences previously, he was the highest rated of these over hurdles (156) and got home under a positive front-running ride. I have the first three running to figures of 152, 150 and 149 respectively, with Al Dancer in fourth carrying a penalty and running to his pre-race mark of 151. Fanion D’Estruval (150) also supports the form in fifth place. These are all lightly raced over fences so have room to progress yet and, if going the right way between now and March, any of them could become viable contenders for a novice race at the Cheltenham Festival.