The Grand National Festival 2018 Handicappers Blog
Politilogue on a high
The Grade 1 JLT Melling Chase was a tremendous race to watch as Politologue and Min battled out a thrilling finish, writes Mark Olley.
Min has raced mainly over 2m with the exception of a three runner race at Gowran Park in November. The big question was would he stay 2m4f. He raced pretty keenly in the early stages but was still travelling ominously well when he went into the lead approaching the second last fence. You certainly could not say that he didn’t get home but he was just beaten by a stronger stayer in Politologue. Min’s rating stays unchanged while Politologue’s moves to 169 (+8).
Politologue raced around 2m4f early in his novice chase career, but has been kept at 2m for the past year. He certainly seems more at home at tracks like Aintree, Ascot and Kempton and for whatever reason he has not really performed at Cheltenham. This was a career best run and his 169 rating matches that achieved by Fox Norton when winning this race last year. It is still some way adrift of the 188 achieved by the mighty Sprinter Sacre in 2013.
Balko Des Flos who had looked so impressive when beating Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham dropped out tamely after making the running. This clearly wasn’t his form and it would be no surprise if that Ryanair effort had taken more out of him than anyone realised.
The Grade 1 Big Buck’s Celebration Manifesto Novices’ Chase was won by Finian’s Oscar.
Victory for Colin Tizzard’s gelding looked unlikely as they entered the home straight but Robbie Power began to coax a run from him and as they jumped the last momentum was clearly on his side and he powered up the run-in to win going away. Pre-race this did not look the strongest renewal and Finian’s Oscar’s new rating of 154 (+3) is the lowest winning rating for some years.
Rene’s Girl jumped superbly and looked like winning between the last two fences. She had previously been winning mares chases and this was a terrific effort stepped up into Grade 1 company. Her rating remains unchanged on 144 and is equivalent to a figure of 151 with her mares allowance added back on.
Special mention must also go to Ultragold who won the Randox Health Topham Handicap for the second successive year. In between those victories Colin Tizzard’s heroic 10yo has also finished runner-up in the Grand Sefton Handicap and he clearly relishes the test of Aintree’s unique National fences.
Santini the equal of Thistlecrack
The best hurdling performance across the three days, writes Michael Harris, came in the Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle on Saturday.
Identity Thief was last seen when a staying on fourth in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, persuading connections to try a belated step up in trip here and that move has brought about a career best from the 8yo. Always travelling strongly off an even gallop, his stamina was put to the test by Wholestone, who has been very consistent all season in graded hurdles, but he battled on well to win by five lengths with the pair pulling clear.
Wholestone was rated 161 pre-race, a figured he achieved over an intermediate trip at Cheltenham back in January. It is possible he is slightly better over that shorter trip and at Cheltenham, where his form figures read 12113123. I have him repeating the 158 he ran to in the Stayers Hurdle meaning that I have Identity Thief running to 163, 1lb behind Cheltenham winner Penhill (164). Hopefully we will see both of them at Punchestown in what would be an intriguing clash.
Sam Spinner (down 1 to 163) was not at his most fluent in the jumping department and faded, but the form of his Ascot success earlier in the season was franked in the feature race on Thursday with L’Ami Serge emerging victorious in the Betway Aintree Hurdle.
L’Ami Serge had been unsuited by a slow pace in the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham but, in stark contrast to that race, a strong pace was set by Diakali which was perfect for the winner who is a strong traveller. He was produced late under a confident ride and had too much for Supasundae on this occasion, reversing form from Cheltenham. The runner-up was dropping back in trip here which looked a good move having not quite seen out his race at Cheltenham; but Clyne (up 1 to 153) looks a better guide to the form and this looks a marginal career best for him.
With last year’s winner and dual Champion Hurdler Buveur d’Air missing the race, this looked a below average renewal and L’Ami Serge has been raised 1lb to 160, meaning he is the lowest-rated winner of the race since 2002. The most comparable performance in recent years would be with The New One who ran to 161 in the 2014 renewal.
In the novice division, Santini bettered his Cheltenham form under a more prominent ride to win the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle. It was a race in which most of the principles raced no worse than mid-division and so the run of Roksana (142) from off the pace can be given plenty of credit. She emerged from the chasing pack to throw down a challenge to Santini but he found plenty for pressure and won cosily. I have rated him 152 which makes him an above average winner for the race and equal to Thistlecrack when he won back in 2015. Santini has a very likeable attitude and looks set to be a leading novice chaser next season.
The Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle produced an exciting finish and a very game winner in Black Op (152). He had chased home Samcro at Cheltenham and overcame a series of mistakes in the home straight here to hold off Lostintranslation (149) who was stepping up in trip and relished it. I have Black Op running a little below his Cheltenham form and performing to 150, which is 1lb lower than Finian’s Oscar in this race 12 months ago. Back in January, Black Op had gone down narrowly to Santini at Cheltenham after a late mistake arguably cost him the race. After their respective spring campaigns they are both now rated 152 and look the best of the British novice staying hurdlers this season. On The Blind Side (down 1 to 152) was top rated going into the race and was just losing his position when a mistake at the second last ended his chance. Given the strength of his Sandown win back in December he is well worth another chance. Western Ryder (145) also made a bad mistake at a crucial part of the race and he continues to shape like we have yet to see the best of him.
A Dream winner
This season’s Juvenile Hurdlers might not have been over blessed us on the numbers front but there do look to be some exciting horses going forward, writes David Dickinson. We Have A Dream had to miss Cheltenham but his return to action in the Grade 1 Doom Bar Anniversary Hurdle saw him run out a ready winner completing a five-timer in the process.
Whilst stable companion Apple’s Shakira again ran like a horse who needs further than two miles, We Have A Dream showed a good turn of speed to win by seven lengths from the resurgent Gumball who had looked a star early in the season but rather lost his way over the winter months.
As a race, this is hard to put a figure on but two horses who were involved in the juvenile handicap at the Festival, Nube Negra and Padleyourowncanoe, both seemed to again run well, at least until the latter made a bad mistake when upsides the leader three out. Take their running at face value and this has to be high class form and I have rated the winner running to 158. The debate will now be about whether had would have scored at Cheltenham had he been able to take his chance. Farclas, for winning the JCB Triumph Hurdle, earned a rating of 157.
Lalor might have flopped in the Betfair Hurdle but he provided an emotional success for the Kayley Woollacott yard in the Grade 1 Betway Top Novice Hurdle.
Any enthusiasm for his chance pre-race would have been more based around his Bumper success at the meeting last year than his previous exploits over hurdles; but this was not as hard a race to put a figure on as it first appeared.
Mind’s Eye and Midnight Shadow both suggest that runner up, Vision des Flos, had reproduced his Cheltenham running. That would have Bedrock running to 145, only a pound more than when going close in the juvenile at the meeting last year. BHA handicappers are not allowed to take Bumper form into account for hurdle races (and as you can see I haven’t) but a check of last year’s Bumper does confirm that Lalor’s new rating of 149 is believable. The next five home in his Bumper that day are currently rated between 135 and 147 over the smaller obstacles.
Mouchoir blown away
The only 2m Grade 1 chase at the Aintree festival was the Doom Bar Maghull Novice Chase run on Saturday analysed by Chris Nash.
With the leading 2m novice of the season (Footpad rated 166) absent it looked a good opportunity for Petit Mouchoir who had already chased him home a couple of times including in the Arkle at Cheltenham last time out.
Petit Mouchoir arrived rated 157 and started as the odds-on favourite but was unable to cope with Diego Du Charmil who swept by him going to the last and won by two and a half lengths. A further six lengths away in third was Shantou Rock (arrived rated 148) and a neck behind him was Lady Buttons (arrived rated 140 but got the 7lbs mares allowance in this). The third and fourth look to provide a reasonable guide to the form. So this has Diego Du Charmil running to 157, Petit Mouchoir to 154, Shantou Rock to 148 and Lady Buttons to 141. The 157 figure for the winner fits in reasonably well with the race history and standards. The “average” winner over the last 5 years has been rated 160, but that includes Douvan who recorded a figure of 169 when winning in 2016 which obviously skews the average. Applying race standards to this renewal gives a figure for the winner between 157 and 159. It rates a career best for Diego Du Charmil and, being lightly raced, he is obviously open to further progression. It will be interesting to see what he can achieve in open company next season.