Cheltenham Festival 2017 – Mad March Musings (3) January 8th  

Novice Hurdlers

I was going to write on Friday but I wanted to wait for the Tolworth at Sandown on Saturday and the stayers Graded race at Naas on Sunday. Not sure it’s any easier now!

Let’s be fair it’s a mess compared to recent seasons! Going into the New Year sort of used to having a Willie Mullins hotpot in the Supreme at about 5/2 and trying to sort how he would place his staying novices? Well up to Christmas it looked like Willie hadn’t much at all but never underestimate the man, he found a few! As for this side of the Irish Sea it’s beginning to take shape but the injury to Robin Roe was a blow.

Two sides to the picture, Ireland and the UK, and if we can identify the best novice hurdlers in each camp would be a start and probably the winners of the Graded (Group in Flat racing terms) would be the first port of call but there are two huge issues. The first is the leap from a maiden hurdle winner to Grade 1 winner is not as big this season, as demonstrated by Finians Oscar on Saturday. The second is multiple entries. Even finding the right horse may not be enough, you have got to get into the right race! Back to Finians Oscar again, when trainer Colin Tizzard was asked in the winner’s enclosure for a Cheltenham target he gave a reply in pure Mullins-speak, “We know he stays but he has the speed to win over two miles.” Thanks! Indeed in the Racing Post last week in a feature on Rich Ricci he said about the mare Let’s Dance “The mares hurdle over two and a half miles might be on her agenda , or the mares novice hurdle over two miles. She could even be an Alfred Bartlett type, who knows. She’ll be entered in the Neptune too.” Cheers!!

Supreme 2m Tuesday

In the UK you have to start with David Pipe’s Moon Racer who has done nothing wrong. Won the Grade 1 Cheltenham bumper in 2015, second in the Grade 1 Punchestown bumper in 2016 behind Blow by Blow and unbeaten in two novice hurdles this season, twice beating Ballyandy, the winner of the 2016 Cheltenham bumper. Just can’t have him. Firstly the only horse he’s beaten over hurdles who has won since is Movewiththetimes and I’m not sure if Moon Racer would beat Paul Nicholls charge if they met again. Secondly I just can’t have an 8yo winning the Supreme hurdle, it would have the stats boys pulling their hair out! From the incomparable Gaultstats “38 of last 42 races won by either a 5 or 6 year old including all the last eight. 60 horses aged 7 and above have tried in the past 21. 8yo mare Like-a-Butterfly ’02 and 7yo Captain Cee Bee ’08 both won when well fancied, Simple Arithmetic ’95 and Chauvinist ‘03 only others to get placed.  Sondrio ’89 only other winner from this age group in past 31 years.”

Finians Oscar came into the picture on Saturday but I would prefer him in the Neptune. After that it’s a bit thin with next in the market being the two JP McManus 4yo’s Defi de Seuil and Charlie Parcs. With the owners strength in depth with these and the ex-Coolmore juveniles I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran one 4yo in all four novice hurdles, including the mares novice, and half a dozen in the Triumph.

Next up is the disappointing Jenkins and his conqueror Elgin. No not for me. However Nicky Henderson has one I like with whom he’s adopting a softly, softly approach and that’s Rather Be. Malcolm Jefferson has two under the radar in Mount Mews and Dubai Angel who both won last time.

The picture is no clearer in Ireland. Willie Mullins Saturnas ridden by Paul Townend won the last 2m Grade 1 (Ruby Walsh chose Riven Light) but had previously been beaten seven lengths into second in another 2m G1 behind the Willie Mullins trained mare, Airlie Beach, ridden by Danny Mullins (Ruby chose Penhill!). When previewing the Lawlors Hurdle at Naas on Sunday for Paddy Power, Ruby Walsh opened with “Airlie Beach and Death Duty are the two best novice hurdlers in Ireland.” The form certainly backs that up.

However Willie Mullins may know otherwise. Of those from Closutton that have run and won the two that impressed me most were Bunk Off Early and Cilaos Emery, both will supposedly step up in grade on their next outing, the G1 2m2f Deloitte possibly, with Saturnas and a mare? Uncle Willie may have something special that hasn’t even run yet, remember the name Epicuris, fifth in Golden Horn’s Derby!

So my personal conclusion is that currently the best 2m novice hurdler on form is the mare, Airlie Beach. Will she run in the Supreme? Heaven knows.

Neptune 2m 5f Wednesday

Thought I had this race in the bag and then Robin Roe dives at the third last at Newbury in the Challow Hurdle, chips a bone in his knee and is out for the season. However the winner of that race, Alan King’s Messire des Obeaux, has to be a serious player in the Neptune as does the winner of last Saturdays Tolworth Hurdle, Finians Oscar. At the prices, 12/1 and 5/1, the former is the better value.

Otherwise the British challenge is a bit thin. Everyone has now beaten Festival bumper winner Ballyandy. Reigning Supreme and Topofthegame need to step up in grade.

As for Ireland if Death Duty ran here he would start a well-deserved short price favourite and be tough to beat but I think he’ll be an even shorter priced winner favourite of the Alfred Bartlett.

The rest of the Irish challenge is in two words, Willie Mullins. He has eleven of the next fifteen quoted in the market! You would have to forgive Invitation Only his last run but he had looked classy up to then. Last year’s leading bumper horses Battleford and Bacardys would need to show better hurdling form, Saturnas will surely stay at two miles and Mullins has three once raced winners in Montalbano, Bravissimo and Chateau Conti of which I think the first named holds the most promise. Then of course there are the mares of which Augusta Kate looked to have the best profile, then she took a final flight purler on Sunday.

As we stand as of now I would be Messier des Obeaux and Montalbano against the field.

Albert Bartlett 3m Friday

The market says Death Duty 9/4, 14/1 bar one and that’s just about where we are at the moment. However I think this race may be deeper than that and even at this stage I think Death Duty has at least three serious opponents.

Wholestone Already won twice this season over course and distance including a battling victory in a Grade 2. Seems to be progressing and this race will be his target!

Penhill Useful handicapper with Luca Cumani on the Flat, owned by Brighton Chairman Tony Bloom, paid very little respect to his hurdles in early races although clearly has an engine. Hacked up in a G3 at Limerick at his first attempt at the trip.

West Approach Still a novice and beaten by Wholestone earlier this season but from what we could see in the Ascot fog was running a cracker in the Long Walk hurdle when unseating at the last, would probably have been third/fourth and now has an Official Rating of 149 which puts him bang in the picture. Add to that he’s trained by Colin Tizzard and is Thistlecrack’s half-brother.

 

And breathe! Not an easy piece to put together.

I am now adding an article I wrote before Christmas when it looked like Willie Mullins was struggling in the novice hurdling division and how I followed it up.

 

Willie Mullins hurdlers 2016-7

Novice Hurdlers

Ruby Walsh in Racing UK column December 21st “Who is the best novice in Willie’s yard? We don’t know. Does that mean that you don’t have a star? It probably does. Turcaqua was quite good in Punchestown and Cilaos Emery was very good the other day. The latter jumped like a buck and quickened up really well. We’ve had plenty of horses who have won maidens but they all have to step up on that. Hopefully one will stick their hand up and say they are better than the rest because that would make life easier for me!”

What should have been the first team?

Senewalk                            6th to Moulin a Vent in 20F Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown.

Invitation Only  3rd to Death Duty 20F G3 at Navan.

Castello Sforza  Entered in maiden hurdle at Leopardstown Xmas.

Bacardys                              1/3F fell behind Sunni May at Cork. Entered in three maiden hurdles at Leopardstown/Limerick Xmas.

Battleford                           1/3F 4th to Brelade on hurdling debut. Entered in three maiden hurdles at Leopardstown/Limerick Xmas.

Timi Roli                               3rd to Peace News on hurdling debut. Entered in maiden hurdle at Leopardstown Xmas.

Kolumbus                            Fell in race won by Dr Mikey. G1 Future Champions entry at Leopardstown Xmas.

Only male Graded hurdle winner?

Penhill                                  G1 Future Champions entry at Leopardstown Xmas.

Maiden Hurdle winners?

Cilaos Emery

Kemboy                               G1 Future Champions entry at Leopardstown Xmas.

Crack Mome                      G1 Future Champions entry at Leopardstown Xmas.

Riven Light                          G1 Future Champions entry at Leopardstown Xmas.

Tarcagua                              Won 20F Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown, G2 entry at Limerick Xmas and G1 at Naas in January.

Aussie Reigns                    Entered at Limerick in 20F Winner-of-one and G2 at Leopardstown over Xmas and G1 at Naas in January.

Saturnas                              G1 Future Champions entry at Leopardstown Xmas.

Cadmium                             Won Limerick maiden. Xmas entries in Winner-of-one, Listed, G2 and G1 Leopardstown/Limerick over Xmas.

Livelovelaugh                    Won maiden hurdle then fourth to Death Duty in 20F G3 at Navan. Entered at Limerick in 20F Winner-of-one.

Bumper horses going hurdling?

Bon Papa                             Won bumper, entered in maiden hurdle at Leopardstown Xmas.

Some Neck                         Cost 100K euros. 22242 in bumpers, beaten favourite every time! Four entries in Xmas Maiden hurdles at Limerick.

Those that are all talk?

Bunk Off Early   44K purchase off the flat. Entries at Limerick and Leopardstown Xmas.

Coquin Mans                     French provincial bumper winner.  Entries at Limerick and Leopardstown Xmas.

Herminio                             Average flat performer. Entered in maiden hurdle at Leopardstown Xmas.

Chateau Conti                   Winning French bumper horse.

Epicuris                                 4yo. Classy Juddmonte Flat horse. 5th in Golden Horn’s Derby. £140K purchase.

Fulham Road                      6yo. Fell in only Irish PtP.

Sympa des Flos                 4yo. Only run 2nd in Auteiul 3yo Listed hurdle.

Clinton Hill                           5yo son of Flemensfirth, unraced and owned by the Wylies.

Bravissimo                          5yo. One run in French 3yo hurdle.

 

Review Dec. 26th, 27th & 28th. 2016

Novice hurdlers

Bunk Off Early got WM off to a flyer winner the opening 2m Maiden hurdle on Boxing Day. Jumped, travelled, quickened and for a 9F Flat horse showed the necessary stamina. Spring ground won’t be a problem and he could easily develop into a Supreme player.

Bravissimo comfortably won the 2m 3f Maiden Hurdle at Limerick after 737 days off the track! Has to go in the “could be anything” category and the distance of his next race should tell us more.

Bacardys beat stable mate Kolumbus in Tuesday’s maiden hurdle and to my eyes they both looked about stamina and could improve for further. Bacardys certainly handles Spring ground and big Festival fields but I’m not sure either of these are Grade 1 hurdlers.

Saturnas won the Leopardstown Grade 1 2m Future Champions Novice hurdle comfortably on the Tuesday backing up his second in the G1 Royal Bond and paying a big compliment to his conqueror there, Airlie Beach. Those two races are supposedly the strongest 2m Novice hurdle form in Ireland. Riven Light’s hurdling let him down and he was never competitive.

Some Neck won Tuesday’s 2m 6f Maiden hurdle at Limerick and looks all about stamina to me. May not be seen at his peak until 3m Chasing on Winter ground.

Montelbano isn’t very big and wore a hood but he won the 2m4f maiden at Leopardstown on the Wednesday. Given a most un-Walsh ride, buried in midfield with the handbrake on, challenged turning for home, led at the last and saw it out well. His next race will be even more informative but looked a serious player.

Coquin Mans scraped home over 2m at Limerick but after 648 days off the track has to go in the “could be anything” category. Would be interested in the third, Indian Monsoon, on the day Charles Byrnes has the money down!

 

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