Staying Chasers must look up to the Don
Don Cossack won six chases in 2014-2015 including in three Grade 1 contests and as you will have read elsewhere, he is also the champion chaser at two and a half miles. It is quite unusual for a chaser to be the champion in two distance categories and only three other horses have achieved this in the history of the Anglo-Irish Jumps Classifications, which goes back to the end of the last century.
They are Sprinter Sacre in 2012-2013, Moscow Flyer who did it twice in 2003-2004 and again in 2004-2005 and of course Kauto Star who outdid them all in becoming the champion in all three distance categories in 2006-2007.
As well as having ability, Don Cossack is also very tough. He ran seven times during the season. Kauto Star gets close having won on all six of his starts in 2006-2007 including in four Grade 1 contests, while Kicking King (rated 175 like Don Cossack) won five out of the six races he contested in 2004-2005 including victory in four Grade 1’s. However, Florida Pearl who in 2001-2002 ran in seven contests winning 4 of them and the amazing First Gold who astonishingly ran nine times in season 2000-2001 can match Don Cossack’s toughness and consistency.
Don Cossack’s performance figures through one season were, 157, 171, 164, 167, 161, 175 and 175. Historically he is also rated the same as Best Mate whose performances over two seasons were 170, 170, 175, 157, 175 and 170.
It is highly unlikely that Don Cossack will be champion 3 mile chaser next season if he is only capable of a 175 performance as the competition will be tough. Don Poli (163), Saphir du Rheu (163), Road To Riches (168), Djakadam (170) and Vautour (171) will be snapping at his heels and all look to be very progressive.
Hopefully he is also going to come up against Coneygree who is unbeaten as a chaser and ended the season on 172 after his pillar to post victory in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. Coneygree has only ever contested Pattern Races as a chaser winning first at Newbury where he recorded a 147 performance, thus replicating his hurdle rating. It was on to Kempton next where in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Feltham Stakes he never saw another horse and won by 40 lengths in a very creditable time considering his jockey spent the last half a furlong waving to the crowd.
It was difficult for me to believe the evidence of my own eyes and I gave him a cautious 153 performance, preferring to believe that all of the opposition had under-performed. However after his win at Newbury over the established handicappers, Houblon Des Obeaux and Unioniste, I was a convert and assessed him at 166. There were some eyebrows raised when I stated in my BHA blog in February that he was now rated higher than Denman had been as a novice but all doubts were erased as he put the established staying chasers to the sword with a thrilling front running performance at Cheltenham.
He is now the highest rated novice chaser ever in the Anglo-Irish jumps classifications although amazingly only by a pound from the hugely talented Vautour. His next task is again to out-do Denman who won his first Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup off a mark of 161. Subsequently he won his second off 174. Coneygree still has some improving to do before we can truly say he was the equal of Denman.
Overall it was a terrific season in the three mile chase category. Silviniaco Conti won three Grade 1 contests including a second King George VI Chase, a second Betfair Chase and a second Betfred Chase, yet could only finish joint second on 172. In fourth spot on 170 comes Djakadam who thrashed the field in the always competitive Thyestes Chase off top weight. How did he get beaten in the Hennessy off 142?
Of course the winner of last season’s Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup was Many Clouds who triumphed off a mark of 151. He then completed the un-heard of double by winning the Crabbie’s Grand National off 160 carrying 11st. 9lbs. A lot of rubbish has been written about how you should protect your handicap mark by not running in order to win the Grand National. Many Clouds continued the sequence which shows that all of the winners since I started to handicap the race in 1999 have run at least three times in the season and at least once in the calendar year. Who is to say that next year he might actually carry less weight if some of the classier horses are entered at Aintree.