In six weeks time the Cheltenham Festival will be starting and are we any closer to sorting out who wins what? Probably not but there have been plenty of worthy performances this month although the news always seems dominated by no shows, fallers and injuries mainly to Mullins/Ricci horses. So let’s have a look at how I see it currently.
QEII Champion Chase:- Douvan. No change, no opposition as it looks like Sizing John could step up to the Ryanair.
Stayers Hurdle:- Unowhatimeanharry keeps on winning all the right races but winning no friends. Shaneshill laid down a marker, winning well from the front. Classy Jezki won on his return from a lengthy layoff, in a race that didn’t look strong to me, and promptly everyone talks Champion Hurdle?!
Gold Cup:- You pays your money … etc. etc. With Thistlecrack being beaten at Cheltenham would seem to make the race more open. An injured Coneygree misses the race, Alary flopped at Haydock and Don Cossack has been retired and all of a sudden contenders are getting thin on the ground. If Thistlecrack didn’t stay last time you can guarantee they are not going to hang about come race time this year and an out and out stayer could win it such as Native River, Don Poli or Minella Rocco?
I’m sticking to my simple logic. Djakadam has been second in the last two years and neither of the horses that beat him will be lining up this year. He is still only an 8yo, could be Willie Mullins only runner, is bound to run (if healthy) and Ruby Walsh will ride.
Champion Hurdle:- What a mess. Annie Power is out. Faugheen is going straight there without a run in fifteen months. Vroum Vroum Mag, Yanworth and Jezki would all prefer another half mile. Altior, Min, Yorkhill and Buveur D’Air are all novice chasing although the jungle drums are getting louder that the last two named may revert to hurdling? Handicap winners such as Brain Power and Superb Story are lurking to pick up the pieces. You could win a Champion hurdle off OR166-ish this year or Faugheen could run 10lbs below his top mark and still oblige. Absolutely no play yet.
RyanAir Chase:- Now this is a race that seems to be warming up. I was massively impressed with Un de Sceaux at Cheltenham on Saturday especially his spring heeled jumping. Sizing John picked up Sub Lieutenant over this trip last time out and has to be considered. The 6yo Bristol de Mai is being talked about in Gold Cup terms but surely this is his race.
Novice Hurdlers:- We finally got to see this seasons hype horse, Melon, and he didn’t let his supporters down. Neat at his hurdles and visually impressive what he beat was questionable and the time wasn’t great. As Matt Tombs observed on Twitter “Last winner of the Supreme to come off just 1 hurdle run was Flown a quarter of a century ago. Another run for Melon??”
Wholestone looks like having a say in the staying division and if West Approach dropped to Novice company surely that would be man against boys but until a week on Sunday and we’ve had meetings at Sandown, Newbury etc. and the hugely influential Deloitte hurdle (2m2f) at Leopardstown will we be able to have a real assessment of the Supreme, the Neptune and the Alfred Bartlett.
I think that Nicky Henderson’s geldings, JP McManus’s 4yo’s and Willie Mullins’s mares could have a big say in shaping the markets and the results.
Novice Chasers:- The Min-less (“banged a knee”) Irish Arkle was won by Some Plan who finished alone and hardly had Altior quaking in his shoes! I have written before that this season there were three above average 2m novices north of Watford in Waiting Patiently, Cloudy Dream and Forest Bihan and my opinion has been strengthened over the past two Saturdays and I hope they take their chances at Cheltenham.
The JLT is more of a poser. Yorkhill is good but he can’t jump that far left and still beat the likes of Buveur D’Air and Politologue, can he? Buveur D’Air runs over 2m 4f in the Scilly Isles Novice chase at Sandown this Saturday and will hopefully do enough to persuade connections that the JLT is his race. The Irish have the 2m 5f Flo Gas at Leopardstown a week on Sunday.
As for the gruel-fest that is the RSA, Bellshill is going the right way but I will probably side with one of the five Gigginstown run!
Yet again the 4m NH chase seems to becoming the target of some decent horses. Haymount was beaten over 3m when outpaced late on and they talk about dropping in trip. Surely not Patrick?
Juvenile 4yo Hurdlers:- Defi du Seuil/Charlie Parcs v Bapaume/Landofhopeandglory? Anyone else wanting to throw their hat into the ring? Plenty of time for more children to come out to play, the Spring hurdle at Leopardstown is Feb. 12th and the Adonis at Kempton is Feb.25th.
Handicappers:- It was interesting that Gordon Elliott has been making entries in this country to test the water with Phil Smith, the chief UK handicapper, then running none of them! The likes of Tombstone, Diamond King and the murdered Mega Fortune seem to be shown the keep away sign. However there are at least two that I think Elliott may be able to exploit?
On the Missing List:- Faugheen, Limini, On the Fringe, Moon Racer, Invitation Only, Blow by Blow, Campeador.
An appearance by any of these could help clarify matters.