IN WITH THE NEW
Cheltenham staged an informative two-day meeting at the weekend, and following on from something of a turn-up in the International Hurdle David Dickinson takes the opportunity to look at how the Champion Hurdle picture is shaping up. The best of the rest from the weekend follows on.
OLD GUARD, NEW DAWN
With last season’s juvenile crop already looking like a vintage one, all eyes were on 2015 JCB Triumph winner Peace And Co at Cheltenham last Saturday, writes David Dickinson.
To say the horse fluffed his lines in the stanjames.com International Hurdle would be something of an understatement as he trailed in last. The race still managed to produce a stirring finish with Greatwood winner Old Guard narrowly holding off Sempre Medici and the other Nicky Henderson-trained runner, Hargam.
I have left the winner’s rating unchanged on 157 and raised Hargam 1lb to 155, as on official marks going into the race he was the equal of fourth-placed Melodic Rendezvous at Saturday’s weights and I feel he now deserves to be ahead of that rival.
Peace And Co himself was just too free and had pulled his way to the front by the third flight. He raced with the choke out, and once he stopped pulling his running was done. Written off and pushed out in the Champion betting in the aftermath of the race, there are a few different ways to take the result.
I would still take the view that with normal improvement the form he showed last March would put Peace And Co right in the mix but that his intractability is a serious issue and one that caused his defeat at the weekend. However, if there is one man you would trust with the task of producing him at his peak for the first day of the Festival, it would be Nicky Henderson.
Another string to the yard’s bow is that they might end up with four contenders – Peace And Co, My Tent Or Yours, Top Notch and Hargam. Could Top Notch be asked to set a solid pace? After all it might make both Peace And Co and My Tent Or Yours easier to settle and he would hardly be there just to play the hare – he will surely stay beyond 2m and is a very legitimate contender in his own right.
Saturday’s happiest yard post-race might easily have been that of Willie Mullins. It houses better 2m hurdlers than Sempre Medici, so for him to go that close would hint at a Mullins bonanza. You would imagine Faugheen, Nichols Canyon and Wicklow Brave are held in higher regard. To add to that the likes of Douvan, Vautour and Annie Power have also looked pretty talented 2m hurdlers in their time, should their sights be altered for any reason.
Those would probably be the obvious lines to take but a third view would be that it has blown the Champion Hurdle picture open in a way that it hasn’t been for a few years, given the recent defeats of Faugheen and Peace And Co. Clearly Saturday’s winner Old Guard is a different proposition this season but do not be surprised if other prospects come out of the woodwork until the big two redeem their reputations.
Sceau Royal won a decent juvenile race on Saturday’s Cheltenham card but it was his stable companion Who Dares Wins who really set the pulse racing with a devastating win in Doncaster’s Grade 2 bet365 Summit Juvenile Hurdle. He galloped clear through the loose, wet Town Moor ground to beat the highly-regarded Robertstown by twenty lengths, in the race Peace And Co had won twelve months earlier.
My one reservation about the form would be that so many runners at the Doncaster meeting seemed to fail to handle the conditions and Who Dares Wins unquestionably thrived in them. The race wasn’t the easiest to rate as a consequence but I settled on a figure of 148 for Who Dares Wins, 6lb ahead of what Sceau Royal achieved at Cheltenham. The pair become the two highest rated British juvenile hurdlers of the season so far.
There were sections of the media that suggested Richard Johnson’s choice to diet down to 10 stone to ride Village Vic in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham was a strong pointer to that horse’s chances and those who took the hint will have got some thrill, writes Graeme Smith.
There are few better sights in jump racing than a front-runner attacking his fences at one of the big tracks and that’s exactly what Village Vic did, getting many of his rivals in trouble with a bold round of jumping and running away from his stablemate Champagne West to score by four and a half lengths.
Having started the season off a mark of 125 Village Vic has increased his rating a full 19lb through three straight successes, moving up eight pounds to 144 this time, although that represents a rise of only seven pounds from the rating he ran off as Johnson actually came back one pound heavy at 10-01, meaning Village Vic was deemed to have run off 137 rather than his published mark of 136.
Champagne West shrugged off an absence with a fine effort from a mark of 150 in second, and he now moves to 152. He’d been second to Ptit Zig in the Dipper last season, and if his proximity to that rival is to be taken at face value there could even be a bit more to come from him.
The Paddy Power form took something of a battering further down Saturday’s result, with Buywise, Sound Investment, Annacotty and Art Mauresque all beaten more than nine lengths as they filled fourth to seventh places. As a result I’ve been back into that race and revised our initial assessment down by one pound.
It’s still early days to be confident of our novice levels, with the best having had relatively few opportunities to take each other on, but I have More of That posting a figure as high as any so far when winning the Raymond Mould Memorial Novices’ Chase earlier in Cheltenham’s card. The usual cautionary notes apply with small-field races, but he jumped really well before striding away from the smart Sametegal and earned himself a figure of around 156. There could still be improvement to come too, bearing in mind his hurdles high of 169.