Handicappers Blog | Festive Period

02 Jan 18


Champion Hurdle winner Buveur d’Air’s expected and comfortable win in the Grade One Unibet Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day could hardly have prepared us for the upheaval just three days later in the ante-post market for Cheltenham, writes David Dickinson.

The small field event went pretty much as expected in that The New One proved his main rival. The form is hard to rave about, however, given the proximity of Mohaayed and Chesterfield at the line – neither with any pretentions of being genuine Grade One horses.

So, with Buveur d’Air although fit and well not advancing his 169 rating, it was to Leopardstown that all eyes turned for the run of 2015 champion Faugheen. Here is where the script went off-piste as he fluffed his lines, pulling up after dropping back to last going to the penultimate flight and leaving stable mate Cilaos Emery to be denied by the ever improving Mick Jazz.

In the immediate aftermath of this result the Champion Hurdle market took on the guise of a Whitehall farce. In the ensuing confusion, a horse who had finished last in a three mile chase the previous day briefly became second favourite for the Champion Hurdle. Something resembling sanity was resumed only once it was revealed that Faugheen’s career was not over as he happily appeared to be uninjured.

Given the way that the first two at Leopardstown left the accident-prone but highly able Campeador in their wake, I do wonder if the demise of Faugheen has distracted us from a couple of very decent performances.

Maria’s Benefit & Ciaran Gethings winner of The Play Casino At 188Bet Handicap Hurdle (Challenger Two Mile Hurdle Series Qualifier) at  Sandown Park 12/11/2017

If that race was tough to get a handle on then Saturday’s Tote-sponsored Mares Listed race at Taunton was impossible. This excellent innovation was being run for a sixth year and the field which featured four mares rated in the 130’s looked well up to scratch. However to see Maria’s Benefit win by 30 lengths despite being eased down was very much out of the ordinary.

If judged through any of the other three 130+ horses in the race, then this is top class form. That is very hard to believe given that this only has Listed status and historically the winner rates in the high 130’s. The overall time compared with the handicap on the card won by Attest, suggests a rating in the 140’s but the split times make for very interesting reading.

Maria’s Benefit was marginally slower to the second hurdle then Rio Bravo (who made the running in the handicap). By the time she jumped the same flight, then the third last, she was over six seconds faster than the handicap. This was a blistering burst, particularly in the back straight and she is clearly very good.

I have come up with a figure of 152 for her performance, a rise of sixteen pounds. Anyone who tries to tell you that their (probably different) figure is the right one might be deluding themselves – this race is just about as difficult as handicapping gets.

Her reported targets are the Mares race at Doncaster and then the Mares Novice at the Festival. My reservation about the latter would be based on Saturday’s run style. She went hard after the first three furlongs or so and was easing down the final half mile. Similar tactics in March would see her doing most of her hardest running uphill.


At first sight the result of the 32Red King George VI Chase was slightly confusing because of the proximity of Double Shuffle (who went into the race rated 151) and, to a lesser extent, Tea For Two who was on 164. Even allowing for Might Bite idling I could not get him higher than 169 calling the three lengths to Tea For Two as 5lbs.

Might Bite and Nico de Boinville winning 32Red King George VI Chase

This made him the lowest King George winner of the last five renewals a pound less than Thistlecrack last year and Long Run in 2012. I am comfortable with this given the apparently massive improvement achieved by Double Shuffle (now 166) and it will be interesting to see how he performs next time. My next thought was to compare Might Bite’s time with the time of the winner of the Kauto Star Chase. Black Corton I had on 155 before Boxing Day and for beating Elegant Escape (150), I kept him on the same rating.

Might Bite ran the same course in a time 2.8 seconds faster and carried 3lb more than Black Corton. The time lapse is the equivalent of 11 lengths = 11lbs. + 3lbs =14. 155+14=169.

Thus using Tea For Two as a guide, comparing Might Bite’s time with that of Black Corton and using the race standards, 169 appeared a sensible figure. I suspect he is capable of better and he will need to be as the Gold Cup is usually won by a 170+ performance.

Meanwhile I have dropped Bristol de Mai back from 173 to 167. Because of the nature of the ground at Haydock I always had some doubt about the validity of his 173 and I now cannot have him superior to Might Bite.

I did find it interesting that in the Racing Post earlier this week, they still have Bristol de Mai as their top jumping horse of 2017 on 185!


With the prominent players from the 2017 Stayers’ Hurdle falling by the wayside, northern challenger Sam Spinner put himself to the forefront for the 2018 version with a comprehensive success in the JLT Reve de Sivola Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, writes Martin Greenwood. 

Sam Spinner and Joe Colliver winner jumps with Unowhatimeanharry and Barry Geraghty in The Gr.1 JLT Reve De Sivola Long Walk Hurdle.

Sam Spinner has been upped in distance with each start this season and shows better form every time. Impressive when careering home in a competitive handicap at Haydock on his penultimate start, this was an even more taking performance in some ways though the winning margin was nowhere near as big.

Taking up his now customary position at the ahead of affairs, Sam Spinner looked to be going comfortably all the way round and had shaken off everything bar the equally strong travelling L’Ami Serge (still 159) turning in. Not for the first time (and presumably not for the last time either) the latter found absolutely nothing for pressure while the winner looked to have plenty left in the tank.

Five-year standards for this race place this performance anywhere between 153 and 162 with a median and average of those standards in the mid to high 150s. Given the pre-race ratings I have decided to match the 162 suggested as the peak but with an extra 2lb added for style. This makes his 164 the best staying hurdle performance of the season so far.

Further back in the field, both Unowhatimeanharry (now 163) and Lil Rockerfeller (157), second and third in last season’s Stayers, continue to underperform, while current champion Nichols Canyon sadly lost his life after falling at Punchestown.

The main beneficiary at Punchestown was Apple’s Jade who was stepped up to three miles for the first time and made it five wins on the spin. She just got the best of a titanic tussle with pacesetter Supasundae who finished much closer than when the pair met over twenty furlongs at Fairyhouse earlier in December. That had been Supassundae’s first run of the season and with the return to the longer distance clearly suiting, he at least matched the 160 he performed to when to when second to Yanworth at Aintree last April.

Obviously with Apple’s Jade receiving the 7lb mares’ allowance, Supasundae comes out as comfortably the best horse in the race even though a case can be made that the Fairyhouse win of Apple’s Jade was an even better effort.

Joe Colliver after winning The Gr.1 JLT Reve De Sivola Long Walk Hurdle with Sam Spinner

Given that the 7lb allowance will, of course, be also available at Cheltenham there is very little to choose between Apple’s Jade and Sam Spinner at the moment.  The former, though, will undoubtedly also have the Mares Hurdle in her sights.

Later in the week there was a small but select field for the Betfred Challow Hurdle at Newbury.  The front pair of Poetic Rhythm and the tail-flashing Mulcahys Hill look up to standard. The race didn’t particularly make for great viewing however, as several were treading water miles from home in what looked very holding conditions. Mulcahys Hill made a valiant attempt from the front but was slowly but surely overhauled by Poetic Rhythm who has risen by a single pound to 148.