The Returning Heroes
Last week’s racing wasn’t only about the Breeders’ Cup as there were significant clashes in the fledging NH season, with several of the big guns starting out on their trail to riches. The best of the action is all covered.
STILL THE DON
The 2015-16 national hunt season is starting in earnest and there was a graded 3m chase on either side of the Irish Sea on Saturday, writes Chris Nash.
Undoubtedly the most impressive performance came from Don Cossack who won the Grade 1 JNWine.com Chase at Down Royal. The winner led four fences from home and was totally unextended to cross the line eight lengths clear of the duelling Rocky Creek and Roi Du Mee, who were separated by a neck.
Roi Du Mee is probably just a shade below the best but he is a consistent sort in this type of race and is currently rated 154. He provides a reasonable guide to the form and that is largely backed up by Rocky Creek who, although currently rated 162, also finished second in this last year on his seasonal return when he ran to a figure of 154.
This view means Don Cossack ran to a bare figure of 162 but the manner of his victory was such that his official eight-length winning margin underestimates his superiority – I think you could at least double that margin so I would suggest that he has run to nearer 170. He arrived as the highest rated chaser in Britain and Ireland on a mark of 175 following Grade 1 victories at both Aintree and Punchestown last April and this performance suggests he’s returned just as good as ever. His connections later expressed their intention to target the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day followed by a tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
The feature race at Wetherby on Saturday was the Grade 2 Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase and it saw a return to form for Cue Card. Colin Tizzard’s nine-year-old reached of peak of 174 when winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock and second in the King George in 2013 but he’d rather lost his way last season. He’s evidently back on track.
He led at the top of the straight and saw it out gamely to beat Dynaste (rated 166) by three and three-quarter lengths with a further neck back to Ballynagour (rated 163). I took the view that Ballynagour was the best guide to this form, which meant Cue Card ran to a figure of 167 – a little below the peak of his powers but a significant step up on anything he achieved last season.
Cue Card’s next race may well be an attempt to win the Betfair Chase once again but he also holds an entry in the Hennessy Gold Cup. The weights for that early-closing handicap are published on 12 November which means that that this run will be taken into account and Cue Card would line up there off his revised mark of 167. Further down the field on Saturday was Many Clouds who was last seen winning the Grand National in April off a mark of 160. He was burdened with a 10lb penalty at Wetherby and made a respectable return in the circumstances, running to a figure of 154.
COOL TOO HOT
In unseasonable warmth, Kilcooley stamped his authority all over his rivals in the Bet365 West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby, writes Martin Greenwood.
Bearing in mind the weights carried, there was only 1lb between Rock On Ruby, Aqalim and Kilcooley based on BHA ratings, and they duly occupied the first three places, though there was certainly more than 1lb between them at the finish.
Obviously fitness and wellbeing counts plenty in these early season graded races, and over the years the West Yorkshire Hurdle hasn’t gone on to provide the best form guide for the season ahead. Given the recent rain however, this looked a stronger line up than in recent years, and in Kilcooley we have a horse who could well challenge for some of the top prizes in the staying hurdle division this season.
Basically Kilcooley has shown unrelenting progress since the beginning of the last season, with a couple of blow outs thrown in for good measure. A notion persists that Kilcooley resents being taken on for the lead sometimes, but boy when he’s on song he takes an awful lot of reeling in.
At Wetherby he ground the field into submission, Rock On Ruby not showing anywhere near the same levels of stamina (on his first attempt at 3m) as the winner having travelled well for a long way, while Aqalim didn’t travel sweetly and only plugged on late.
It is almost certainly the wrong call to take the form literally, but I surmise that this is the best winning performance in this race for a while (the average recent winner was in the mid-150s) and I have raised Kilcooley to a personal best of 164, the same rating as current World Hurdle Champion and 2014 West Yorkshire Hurdle winner Cole Harden. Only Jezki and Whisper are rated higher in this division. Kilcooley perhaps needs to find a tad more consistency but he is one to treat with respect.
INVESTMENT PAYS OFF
Aintree’s Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase tends to mark just the starting point of a campaign for the smart chases it attracts, and with that in mind I feel I’ve taken a relatively cautious view of the form for now, writes Graeme Smith.
Sound Investment is a young chaser who’s still on the up, and with a recent hurdles run under his belt he improved his rating 4lb to 159 in gaining his most valuable success to date. He has the option of putting that new mark to the test in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham three weeks on from Aintree and the weights for that were finalised on Monday and will be published this week.
Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old has the sort of profile that suggests a bigger rise might have been justifiable but it’s the proximity of Wishfull Thinking and Buywise in second and third that’s tempered my view.
Wishfull Thinking enjoyed something of a Indian Summer last autumn when winning both the Old Roan and the Peterborough Chase but he’s rising 13 now, and bearing in mind that those two wins took several knocks as the season progressed (both ended up valued at less than 165) I feel a 3lb rise to 165 is probably asking enough of him. Also, Buywise made his way into many a notebook around this time last year, but he’s had four chances now from marks in the mid- to high-140s and while he continues to jump as he has done I don’t feel a significant rise is necessary. Incidentally, he came to the Old Roan rated 147 but is judged as running off 148 after his rider came back 1lb heavy. Clearly competitive off 148, that’s what he’ll run from next time.
The most interesting race I dealt with last week was probably the Ascot Underwriting Novices’ Handicap on Saturday’s Ascot card. In fact, it’s one of the most competitive novice handicap chases I’ve dealt with all autumn. It may be that the connections of Padge, Voix d’Eau and Anatol feel I’ve taken a higher view than they perhaps expected but I think the form will stand up.
All three are lightly raced, whilst Padge improved fast through four starts over hurdles and Voix d’Eau had already been a wide-margin winner of a weaker race of this type at Ffos Las. Padge goes up 10lb to 143, which includes an extra 1lb on top of the bare three-quarter length margin over Voix d’Eau after he’d lost momentum when jinking badly left on the run-in (not the first time he’s run around in front). Voix d’Eau is up 8lb to 138, and I’ve also raised my initial assessment of his Ffos Las form.
Third-placed Anatol was having his first start for Paul Nicholls’ having been imported from France and was a sight to behold as he attacked from the front, putting in some spectacular leaps. He may or may not prove more tractable with a run under his belt, but either way his connections have the option of dropping down from this 2m3f trip. Next time he’ll be 4lb higher at 136.