Wednesday March 9th 6pm.
Indeed could it pay to be two wise at Cheltenham? The two Y’s to consider are Yanworth and Yorkhill. So will the first two home in the 2016 Neptune Novice Hurdle return twelve months later and both oblige in their chosen races? Are they in the right race? How big an issue will those pesky obstacles that they need to negotiate be?
In Part 1 I will try to work out whether Yanworth in the Champion Hurdle is a play or a lay? Part 2 will consider whether Yorkhill should be 11/8 favourite for the JLT Novice Chase that kicks off Thursday’s programme?
An important part of any professional sportsman’s armoury is “visualisation”. Running through the upcoming contest in your head and the different scenarios that could occur so you’re prepared for whatever may happen in the event itself. Brian Cooper is probably going to try to make every yard on Petit Mouchoir and he, along with Sam Twiston-Davies on the New One, are going to set the fractions. Ruby Walsh will no doubt want to be close up on the inside on Vroum Vroum Mag (or a bit further back if he is on Wicklow Brave or Footpad), old timer My Tent or Yours won’t want to be too far back whilst Mark Walsh on Yanworth, Noel Fehily on Buveur D’Air and David Mullins on Brain Power will all be held up and looking for a racing seam as they turn for home with every intention of powering up the hill to victory!
So let’s start off by being the Official Handicapper and what does he visualise? He thinks that Petit Mouchoir may take it up going the last but Yanworth joins him on the run in with the New One a length behind with Brain Power and Vroum Vroum Mag both staying on to pass but not catching the two ahead. So it’s Yanworth and Petit Mouchoir dead-heating followed home by The New One, Brain Power and VVM with each separated by a length. Perfectly feasible.
What about the boffins at Racing Post Towers? They think that Brian Cooper will get his fractions spot on and hold on by a length from TNO, MTOY and Yanworth inseparable and VVM just behind with Wicklow Brave close up. I feel less likely but it does highlight an issue with Racing Post ratings that once you have an RPR the horse can remain on it for years! I would doubt that next Tuesday MTOY, TNO or Wicklow Brave could run to their RPR’s achieved two or three seasons ago.
How about the guys with the stopwatches looking at the sectionals and finishing speeds at Timeform? Well according to their numbers as of February 14th at the line Yanworth should have a couple of lengths on The New One with Buveur D’Air just behind, Petit Mouchoir in fourth and three lengths back to the rest headed by MTOY. Their letters after the number make the matter less clear cut as TNO has a small x suggesting he may not run to that time whilst Buveur D’Air has a small p meaning they expect improvement and it wouldn’t take much to find enough to head Yanworth.
So let’s have a closer look at the main contenders and what their connections have to say.
CH’TIBELLO (Dan Skelton) OR157 Well worth a shot as maybe only seven pounds to find? Not disgraced since stepping out of handicaps.
CYRIUS DARIUS (Malcolm Jefferson) OR146 Looked a serious horse in his novice days. Injured since. The trainer hasn’t lost any faith.
WICKLOW BRAVE (Willie Mullins) OR158 Would have to be another Willie Mullins miracle. Hacked up in the County Hurdle in 2015 but hasn’t jumped a hurdle since the Fighting Fifth back in November 2015, last seen in the Melbourne Cup back in November! Willie Mullins “I think he will run in the Champion Hurdle. He has won at the track and that will stand to him. The softer the ground, the better his chance.”
FOOTPAD (Willie Mullins) OR157 Couldn’t totally write him off as Willie Mullins has been bullish but if they go off too fast he could be a danger going up that hill. Probably wants further and softer ground. Willie Mullins ““He will run in the Champion Hurdle. We are hoping that Cheltenham will suit him better than Petit Mouchoir, so wherever he finishes, we are hopeful we’ll be ahead of him.“
SCEAU ROYAL (Alan King) OR155 As slick a hurdler as there is in this division and one that will definitely be happier with Good ground but probably not quite good enough.
THE NEW ONE (Nigel Twiston-Davies) OR163 Part of the furniture at the Cheltenham Festival and probably his best chance of gaining glory to add to his Neptune victory four years ago but we all know he is a G2 horse! Form in G1 612231524F2, outside of G1 11111121111111111!! Unbelievable Geoff! Think his best chance of being Champion Hurdler has gone. Nigel Twiston-Davies “We have decided now that he will be going for the Stan James Champion Hurdle, it’s not as hot as it has been. … If you look at the ratings – the handicapper, as he tells us, is always right – and he should be right there; he’s one of the top rated, himself and Yanworth are the two top rated ones, there’s a pound between them. Cheltenham brings the best out of him, he was only beaten eight lengths last year. Different tactics that we are employing now will hopefully turn that around and we’re very excited by him and are looking forward to it.”
VROUM VROUM MAG (Willie Mullins) OR161 (154+7 mares) Beaten just the once since moving to Ireland and that was by a short head when trying to give four pounds to a race fit Apples Jade. Multi-talented mare who will get 7lbs from the boys and often unfairly labelled “super sub” as she would probably have a fair chance in the Eurovision Song Contest! However does 2m on Spring ground at Cheltenham play to her strongest suits? Another half mile would definitely help, as would probably some Soft ground but I can’t believe Rich Ricci/Willie Mullins will put her in against Limini when they don’t have a runner here. She is supposedly blooming on the gallops currently and has to be respected because of her connections and even more so if Ruby Walsh rides.
MY TENT OR YOURS (Nicky Henderson) OR154 I couldn’t have him last year and he was an honourable second but in 2017 I am even more against him! MTOY has shown nothing on the racecourse this season to suggest he could be competitive even in this limited edition of the Champion Hurdle. Nicky Henderson “My Tent Or Yours is in good shape, really good shape. He was second in the Champion last year and has been something of a forgotten horse. He wasn’t quite sparkling earlier in the season. He’ll love the Champion. He wants a really fast-run race, which he hasn’t had it all year.”
BRAIN POWER (Nicky Henderson) OR162 Hugely impressive in two handicap wins before Christmas and trainer Nicky Henderson can’t stop promoting him. With his current handicap he thoroughly deserves his place in this line up but I am going to give you an horrendous statistic or two he has to overcome (courtesy of Ben Aitken – Narrowing the Field). “Since 1998 43 horses have tried AND failed to win the Champion Hurdle off the back of a Handicap run last time out…” add to that “37 of the last 38 NON-Handicap Grade 1 Hurdle winners at the Cheltenham Festival ran in a NON-Handicap race on their last start.” Not looking good but he is one horse who looks on an upward trajectory, his trainer couldn’t be more bullish and his jockey David Mullins in one of the very best. Nicky Henderson “We’ve seen horses come through handicaps and look very good but it’s always a big gap. However, rated 163 Brain Power has nowhere else to go. He has a very high cruising speed, you need that, you have to be able to travel through the race”
PETIT MOUCHOIR (Henry de Bromhead) OR164 This one moved from Willie Mullins to his current trainer as part of the Gigginstown divorce and everybody thought he would go novice chasing but no! Third on seasonal debut behind Rasheen, he fell when travelling OK in the Fighting Fifth but since changing tactics and being ridden from the front he has won both the G1 hurdles at Leopardstown, the RyanAir at Christmas and most recently the Irish Champion Hurdle to establish him as Ireland’s number one two mile hurdler. Both times he has beaten the same horses, Footpad, Ivanovich Gorbatov and a clearly out of sorts Nicholls Canyon. Bryan Cooper will need to get his fractions spot on to collect here and I can see absolutely no reason he should beat Buveur D’Air who has beaten him twice already, indeed I think Petit Mouchoir will just set the race up for a closer! Henry de Bromhead “I’m really happy with him and the plan is to run in the Champion Hurdle. He’s already had a fantastic season and hopefully it will continue over there. The original plan was to go chasing with him this season, but Michael suggested we stay over hurdles and it has proven to be a great idea!”
BUVEUR D’AIR (Nicky Henderson) OR157 Third in the nuclear Supreme last March before beating Petit Mouchoir and Limini at Aintree where probably the track was too short and the ground too quick. All set to go novice chasing and take on Yorkhill in the JLT novice chase over two and a half miles his trainer had a change of mind and set his sights on the Champion Hurdle. The reasoning and the timing of that decision I find very interesting. Although Annie Power was already out Faugheen was expected to be a player but Henderson felt that Buveur D’Air was “hurdling” his fences and many connected to Seven Barrows have hinted before that Buveur D’Air was their quickest inmate. I also take it as a major positive that Noel Fehily takes over from an unfortunate Barry Geraghty in the saddle. Buveur D’Air won the Contenders at Sandown just beating Rayvin Black which isn’t Championship form but the manner was. He hurdled nimbly, made his ground up well and won without Geraghty flexing a muscle.
Nicky Henderson “If you take it strictly on what he did at Sandown, Buveur D’Air wouldn’t deserve to be favourite for a Champion Hurdle. He beat Rayvin Black and Irving who didn’t’ really perform there or at Wincanton the next time where they were beaten even further. We’ve just got to do our own thing though. I’ve always thought he was a Champion Hurdle horse even though he was very good over fences. The switch back wasn’t entirely down to what was happening with the Champion Hurdle. Yes Annie Power missing out made you think but I said to Barry before racing at Cheltehham that day that this horse needs to come back into the Champion whatever happens to Faugheen tomorrow. Half an hour later Faugheen was out of the Sunday race but I was adamant before that my horse had to come back into a Champion Hurdle.”
YANWORTH (Alan King) OR164 Last but not least is our first ‘Y’, Yanworth. In the same ownership as Buveur D’Air, that of JP McManus, the Champion Hurdle wasn’t his intended target originally, novice chasing then the Stayers but the strength of Unowhatimeanharry in the longer race and the demise of Jezki have seen him rerouted. He won the Christmas hurdle at Kempton and the Kingwell at Wincanton after a hiccup in his preparation. In both races he had to be woken up and he outstayed the opposition. Racing Post analysis observed at Kempton he was “often not fluent” and at Wincanton “not fluent at second last” and indeed as a novice he was often “not fluent three out”, “mistake two out”. He definitely has an engine and for a horse who has only been beaten once over hurdles and that was to the other ‘Y’, Yorkhill, in last year’s Neptune the odd hurdling error may seem nit-picking but how many times can he be “not fluent” in a Champion hurdle when race position is crucial? He also has a couple of worrying statistics concerning his trainer, Alan King, to overcome, again courtesy of Ben Aitken – Narrowing the Field. “Since 2009 at the Cheltenham Festival Alan King is 0 from 42 in Grade 1 hurdles, indeed in all Festival hurdle races Alan King is just 1 from 85!” Yanworth represented Alan King in the Neptune last year and was an 11/10 beaten favourite. Alan King “He didn’t have a great preparation for the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton but I just felt we needed to get a bit more match practise into him and fortunately he has come out of that very well. I don’t think the cheekpieces did him any harm. It was just to make him a bit slicker through the air. He is a horse that is totally genuine but he does like to have a look around. He is a bit slow over a hurdle when he gets in tight and I did think at Wincanton he was much sharper. If anything he does jump a hurdle like a fence. I don’t know who is going to ride him and we need to speak at the weekend as we do need to find out. Obviously I would like them to come and have a sit on him. No one has ridden him over a hurdle bar Barry Geraghty so whoever rides him we want to come school him and possible ride a bit of work.”
This won’t come as a surprise but I have to make Yanworth a lay.
If he has a clear round and has a chance at the last stamina could get him home. However I think Mark Walsh, first time aboard in a race, may struggle to get this quirky character competitive. So how do I visualise the race? Petit Mouchoir off the front with The New One keeping him honest but off the final bend the big guns will be lining up and from the last Buveur D’Air cruises to the front but has to battle to hold off a rallying Petit Mouchoir with Brain Power running on to get third from a rapidly closing Yanworth whose clumsy jump at the third last had just put him too far back. Time to put the crystal ball away and move on to the second ‘Y’, the “monster” that is Yorkhill, and move onto Part 2.