Christmas Handicappers Blog

02 Jan 19


Clan des Obeaux and Harry Cobden after winning The 32Red King George VI Chase

The 2018 renewal of the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton looked a strong affair with several interesting runners, writes Martin Greenwood, but in event the race fell apart somewhat with mid-race carnage and disappointments rendering the result probably less informative than it could have been.

However, that shouldn’t take anything away from Clan des Obeaux who was unexposed over staying trips. The 2016 winner Thistlecrack was the only one to make a race of it in the closing stages but Clan des Obeaux always seemed to have his measure and went on to beat that rival by a length and a half, with seemingly something left in the tank.

Historical standards suggest the winner should be in the low 170s, and allied to the fact that Thistlecrack was rated 170 when successful two years ago, I am happy to rate Clan des Obeaux 173, with the promise of more to come.

That pair gave Bristol de Mai’s Haydock win a boost, though the runner-up that day, 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River, was obviously a disappointment of sorts, though it seems likely that this sharper test of stamina wasn’t in his favour and he did plug on having been off the bridle from an early stage.

Following collateral movements to the Haydock race, we currently have both Clan des Obeaux and Bristol de Mai heading the best staying chase performances of 18/19 on 173. Both Native River, and perhaps even the amiss Might Bite, still have time to show their credentials before the 2019 Gold Cup.

The Irish equivalent of the King George was the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, and similarly to Kempton there was an unsatisfactory feel to the race and some disappointments, chief among them Road to Respect (though he stumbled badly around 3 out). The whole field raced bunched more or less the whole way and only the unexposed winner, Kemboy, managed to put any meaningful distance between himself and the rest as he scooted away in impressive style. Like Clan des Obeaux, this is clearly a personal best for Kemboy who is now rated 167, and he also looks to have further progress in him.

We were also treated to two good novice staying chases at the same two courses. At Kempton Star mare La Bague Au Roi needed virtually all of her 7-lb sex allowance to prevail in a hot 32Red Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, jumping superbly and rallying gamely to deny Topofthegame in a race in which both Bags Groove and The Worlds End were major disappointments. Given La Bague Au Roi was top rated going in, she is left on 150, while Topofthegame and the staying-on Santini have both been edged up 1 lb to 155 and 153 respectively. The last-named left the strong impression that a more galloping test will see him in a better light.

Rated in the same ballpark is Delta Work (154), who is the best staying novice chaser in Ireland at the minute. He had the measure of Mortal when that horse ploughed through the last in the Neville Hotels Novices’ Chase at Leopardstown. All things considered the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival is already looking a very tasty affair.

Blue day for Buveur punters

Verdana Blue and Nico de Boinville (blue) winning The Unibet Christmas Hurdle

Just as the Fighting Fifth had seemed to establish the pecking order for the Unibet Champion Hurdle, the Christmas period has done a fair bit to muddy the waters, writes David Dickinson

Kempton’s Unibet Christmas Hurdle was a tremendous spectacle for all except those who had backed the favourite at prohibitive odds. It saw a masterful stalking ride by Nico de Boinville on Verdana Blue, picking stablemate’s Buveur d’Air’s pocket in the shadow of the post. Speed from the last was the key, with Verdana Blue getting from the last to the line about a third of a second faster than her highly able stable-companion Mister Fisher had managed in a more slowly-run race earlier in the card.

I don’t think the race played to Buveur d’Air’s strengths, but We Have a Dream’s recent Cheltenham run showed Verdana Blue’s win in the Elite hurdle in a better light (the level of that  race has now been raised), and she has been awarded a new mark of 157 (up 5 lbs). With her sex allowance she is clearly capable of being a factor come Cheltenham in March.

I suppose with Buveur d’Air being outspeeded at Kempton, that Samcro, who he readily outpaced at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth, was found out in what developed into a speed test at Leopardstown three days later should not have been such a shock, though to many it was.

Quite what to make of that Ryanair Hurdle form is open to debate. Surely Tombstone is somewhat flattered by the soft lead but the winner, Sharjah, is improving and clearly very decent. The way the race developed didn’t play to Supasundae’s strengths but he ran a blinder in second. Both should be on any list of Champion Hurdle contenders and I personally wouldn’t write off Samcro yet in a truly-run race or Melon, who made a bad mistake here on his comeback run.

The juvenile hurdle scene became a little clearer over the festive period, on this side of the water at least. Our best two juveniles (I say ‘ours’, though they both began their hurdling careers in France) had a fine battle in the Grade 1 Coral Finale Hurdle at Chepstow, where Quel Destin (148) just edged out Adjali (147).

Altior maintains stranglehold on two-mile division

The two-mile chasers took centre stage at Kempton last Thursday and the star of the division successfully strutted his stuff in the Grade 2 Unibet Desert Orchid Chase, writes Chris Nash

Altior with Nicky Henderson

Altior has never been beaten over hurdles or fences and maintained that record with a performance that oozed class.  On occasions he can hit a flat spot in his races and briefly look in a bit of trouble but there was none of that this day as he travelled and jumped beautifully throughout. Altior could be called the winner a long way from home and eventually coasted across the line 19 lengths clear of Diego Du Charmil, to whom he was conceding 3 lb.

The runner-up had won a Grade 1 novice chase at Aintree last April and arrived at Kempton rated 156 – the bare mathematics of his winning margin suggest that Altior was at least 22 lb superior to him. Altior arrived rated 175 and his performance was one that you could attach almost any figure to, but I decided to go with 175 for this effort and leave his official rating unchanged.  Not only does this confirm his total dominance of the two-mile division (Un De Sceaux is next best with a mark of 168), but it also rates the best chase performance of this season overall so far, 2 lb ahead of Bristol De Mai and Clan Des Obeaux.

Footpad won the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham last season and was viewed as a potential challenger to Altior this season.  He lined up in the Grade 1 “Sugar Paddy” Chase at Leopardstown on Thursday where he started as the even money favourite.  He looked good for much of the contest, led going to the last, winged that fence and went maybe three lengths clear on the run-in before collared close home by Simply Ned.

The latter had been awarded the 2017 renewal of this race in the Stewards’ room but needed no such help this time around and always seems to run well in this event.  For all he is a really admirable horse his victory doesn’t mark this down as vintage form.  I gave Simply Ned a figure of 160 for this which has Footpad running to 159. That is below his peak of last year (166 at Cheltenham) and leaves him with plenty of improvement to find if he is to topple Altior come March.

Dynamite Dollars with Harry Cobden

The two-mile novices had their chance to shine in the Wayward Lad Chase at Kempton. Kalashnikov was one of the leading novice hurdlers last season and had an end of season rating of 152 – he started favourite for this contest but it was Dynamite Dollars who came out on top. He’d won the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novice Chase last time out so had to carry a penalty in this Grade 2 contest but it proved no barrier to success as he gave Kalashnikov 5 lb and a one and a quarter length beating. I’ve rated this effort at 155 and it currently stands as the leading novice performance in the two-mile division. Obviously the novice form is still in its formative stages but having won two graded contests already there is little doubt that Dynamite Dollar is currently a leading candidate for the Arkle.

It’s all in the name

The aptly-named Champ made a quick breakthrough at Grade 1 level in the Betway Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday, writes Andrew Mealor…

The latest Challow Hurdle looked an up-to-scratch renewal beforehand with all of the seven runners to line up having looked promising in the embryonic stages of their hurdling career – and each of the septet came in on the back of a win. However, Champ very much stood out on paper having already shown himself a smart novice when running away with a competitive handicap over the same course and distance four weeks previously.

Nicky Henderson’s charge had achieved a rating of 150 that day, a figure that would have been good enough to have won all but one of the previous 16 renewals of the Challow this century, and he didn’t let his supporters down with a ready success, racing freely once again but soon asserting once his rider got a bit more serious after the last.

The Challow has proven a very stable race down the years in terms of the level of the principals, lending weight and confidence to historical comparisons, and standards point to a figure in the mid-140s for Champ’s performance here. That ties in fine with what third-placed Kateson (141) had achieved when landing a novice at the track in late-November. That pair were split by Getaway Trump (up 4 lb to 142) who travelled at least as well as the winner and likely has further improvement in him.

Champ and Barry Geraghty win the Betway Challow Novices’ Hurdle


Champ remains unchanged on 150, and that sort of figure will have him very much in the picture in the Baring Bingham, his likely Festival target.

Finally, just a quick mention for the Ascot’s pre-Christmas highlight, the Grade 1 Long Walk hurdle. Some of the lustre was taken away from the race with the early departure of 2017 winner Sam Spinner and the mid-race fall of Unowhatimeanharry, and a winning rating of 156 for Paisley Park is on the low side historically, with the proximity in sixth of Garo de Juilley (beaten off 138 in a handicap the time before) casting further doubts on the form. Take nothing away from the winner though, who is unbeaten this season and is clearly a very progressive young stayer