The Grade 3 Betvictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase, writes Mark Olley, is the first big early closing 2m4f chase of the season and it was the usual fiercely competitive contest.
The betting favoured the unexposed and inexperienced horses and of the first three in the market there were two novices and a thrice chase-raced second season chaser. All three under-performed although four year old Frodon was in the process of running a big race when making hash of four out which ended his chance. These big field and truly run chases are a world away from the small field novice races in which they gain experience; so it is no real surprise that with their jumping really under pressure for the first time mistakes creep in.
That was certainly true for favourite More Of That. Jonjo O’Neill has made no secret of what he expects his former World Hurdle winner to be capable of over fences. He is certainly on an attractive handicap rating if he can translate his hurdle form to fences. I am sure that there will be more big races in him but he needs valuable experience.
Village Vic set a decent pace, jumped boldly in the lead and came within a whisker of adding to his two handicap wins at Cheltenham last season. He remains progressive, his rating moves from 155 to 158, and that puts him on the verge of Championship class. 158 was the rating of the fifth horse in last season’s Ryanair Chase.
Taquin du Seuil, stablemate of favourite More Of That, has proven big race form. He won the Grade 1 JLT Novice Chase at the Festival back in 2014 and finished a creditable sixth in last season’s Ryanair. Jonjo O’Neill’s gelding overcame a couple of errors to come with an irrepressible surge and lead in the final few yards. His new rating of 161 put him towards the top of an open looking 2m4f chase division following the desperately sad news of Vautour’s demise.
Buywise, second last year, was a gallant third this time. He has finished placed in numerous valuable handicaps and is well overdue a “big one”. However, his jumping remains his Achilles heel despite it being better than it once was.
Aso fared best of the second season chasers, only beaten around five lengths into fourth. He held every chance at the second last and I thought he may win at that point; but he made a mistake and that proved costly. This was an excellent reappearance and he looks set for a good season.
Juvenile trials and troubles
Saturday‘s card at Cheltenham opened with the JCB Triumph Trial Prestbury Hurdle, usually a reliable guide to early season juvenile form, writes David Dickinson.
Autumn 2016, however, has been anything but usual. A dry October and early November has led to some relatively small field novice and juvenile events, which may sound like less work but actually make the task of finding a reliable level for the form all the harder. Usually by the time the three year olds are running in all age handicaps, their weight for age is lower (it reduces at around two pounds per month) and the deep ground puts the emphasis on strength and maturity. With a big weight for age pull and decent ground, seasoned former flat racers like Cliffs of Dover and Milrow have made been able to make hay while the sun shines.
As for Saturday’s race, it was run on testing ground and the form is mighty hard to evaluate accurately. Two of the runners second placed Diable de Sivola and the fourth Hazamar already had published hurdle marks of 122 and 112. The distance between them at the last was around 30 lengths by the line this margin had doubled despite no easing of horses as all bar the first two in the race were barely walking by the line after the sweaty Red Hot Chilly had set a solid pace in the conditions.
We are often criticized for being hard on beaten horses in conditions races but clearly I had to do something to the marks of the two horses already published, I raised Diable de Sivola eight to 130 (he had finished in front of 128 rated Milrow previously and dropped Hazamar by the same amount (his rating came from only one of his four races which I also dropped). As for those without ratings, I have declined to give any of them a mark for now. The history of this race suggests the first two usually turn out to be upper 130’s to lower 140’s horses and the evidence of the eye suggests that Defi du Seuil is very likely to drove up to that but the evidence is too scant at present.
Talking of wide margins, another less than fine hour for me was in a ladies handicap at Stratford recently when there was a gap of 23 lengths between second and third on perfectly decent ground. The Novice Handicap at Prestbury on Friday offered up most of the answer to that issue when the second that day, Wildmoor Boy won this competitive contest and went up ten pounds for his trouble.