02 Dec 14

In another high-profile double header we discuss top-class action from both Newbury’s Hennessy meeting and Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth card. The Hennessy itself is covered in Phil Smith’s Head of Handicapping blog and it’s the hurdles handicappers who pick up the baton for this piece, starting with Newcastle’s seasonal highlight.

Irving gets back on track

With Hurricane Fly, Jezki, The New One and Faugheen all having run in the last 13 days Newcastle’s StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle afforded an opportunity to other horses to put themselves in the Champion Hurdle picture, writes David Dickinson.

Half a dozen went to post and barring one slight blemish it was Irving’s slick jumping that saw him come out on top. Given those anxious minutes when he lay prone at Wincanton just three weeks ago, this was a very fine effort by the horse and all of those connected with him.

Clearly Irving was on top after the last and I rated the winner through the third Arctic Fire who has shown consistent form, including in the County Hurdle. We always try to use well run handicap form when it is available. That said, for a small field this Fighting Fifth was run at a good pace and is probably reliable in its own right.

I have called the winning margin 3lb and have raised Irving 8lb to 157, which doesn’t as yet put him at the forefront of the Champion picture. The progressive Aurore d’Estruval is up 4lb to 147. Arctic Fire looks consistent at around 150 but it is not hard to think of around half a dozen in his trainer’s care who are more likely to contest the Champion itself than he is.

I don’t feel Sea Lord is quite the force on winter ground that he is in the summer and have dropped him to his last winning mark of 146.

Surely it is always foolish to run against much better horses? Not in this case. Swaledale Lad’s handicap mark of 130 going in to Saturday was based on chase form. He still has not run better than 125 over hurdles and so I have dropped his mark accordingly. Volcanic Jack I have dropped back to the 83 rating he was on prior to his surprise victory at Cartmel in August. Swaledale Lad in particular, added plenty to the race with the true nature of the pace and both horses have been rewarded with four-figure paydays and drops in the handicap. Their respective trainers are entitled feel this was a worthwhile venture.

King for the day

The staying hurdle division pond is murky at present, writes Martin Greenwood.

Following on from At Fishers Cross’s last of three at Wetherby a month ago, long odds-on chance and reigning champion More of That was turned over in Newbury’s Bet365 Long Distance Hurdle.

To my eyes McCoy on More of That never seemed particularly happy and was going nowhere at the business end of the race, and maybe we should read into the fact that the horse was equipped with a tongue tie for the first time.

Allied to that is the fact that his stable is relatively quiet at the minute. It is far too early to write More of That off just yet obviously, and we will hopefully see him at Ascot prior to Christmas.

Cole Harden and Medinas, who occupied the first two places at Wetherby, did likewise here, albeit in opposite positions. This time Cole Harden had to concede 8lb to his rival and, after making the running, had no more to offer when Medinas swooped past him.

Past winners of this race averaged a figure in the mid-160s but I am pretty sure that sort of performance wasn’t on show here, though obviously there is plenty of scope to go much higher. Keeping Cole Harden on 158, I have gone 157 for Medinas which is just about a personal best, though not a million miles from his effort when scoring off 148 in the 2013 Coral Cup at Cheltenham.