Tuesday March 10th
I think they’ve picked the wrong race for Asterion Forlonge, who shaped as though he’d do better over around 2m4f when winning at Leopardstown, and others in this field might do him for pace – not necessarily the pick on form, Fiddlerontheroof*, who stayed on well to win the Tolworth from Jeremys Flame, It’s hard to pick one from Nicky Henderson’s second strings, Allart drawing well clear from the third last to win as he liked at Doncaster on February 19th and Chantry House* impressing with the style marks of his win from Manvers House at Newbury on February 8th, the latter perhaps coming from the stronger race.
They’re ‘second strings’ to the presumed top one of Henderson’s trio, Shishkin, but as with Asterion Forlonge, I reckon he’s in the wrong race – they went over 2m4f with him in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon and he won that decisively but in workmanlike style, suggesting that the longer trip was ideal. The best Irish candidate is probably Abacadabras*, who impressed when beating reopposing rival Heaven Help Us at Leopardstown over Christmas, leading on the bit at the last and pulling clear; the mare Heaven Help Us didn’t step up on it when only 3rd against fellow mares at Thurles next time. One that might not jump off the page is Soviet Pimpernel, but having been trounced behind Envoi Allen and Abacadabras in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse in December, he stepped up to win a Grade 3 at Limerick over Christmas when last seen, finding plenty under a hand ride to draw clear of Gardens Of Babylon in the last 150 yards. Others that might give you a run are Edwardstone, who beat the talented Harry Senior at Aintree two starts back and was unlucky to be collared by Stolen Silver at Haydock last time, and Elixir D’Ainay, who looked strong with three to jump at Leopardstown last month but faded, failing to stay the 2m6f in the Grade 1 novice won by Latest Exhibition – it looks a good call to drop him in trip.
Shortlist: Fiddlerontheroof, Chantry House, Abacadabras
Won on chasing debut at Cheltenham in October; last time out good 2nd in Lightning at Doncaster, travelled comfortably, in close to 4 out, produced to challenge on the bit going to 2 out, shaken up on landing, led but immediately headed by Mister Fisher going to last, at most half a length down when hit last, outpaced, ridden and stayed on last 150 yards and closing on Mister Fisher final strides. Good run, no disgrace to be beaten, and chances
Was 4th to City Island in last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, moved comfortably approaching 2 out, every chance, in close to it and pushed along, tracked leaders home turn but not going as well as 1st 2, hard ridden and outpaced approaching last. Unbeaten in two chases, first at Carlisle in October – held up last, given a bit to do, around 10 to 12 lengths to find 4 out, started to close approaching 3 out, niggled along after, good ground from 2 out, ridden joined leader last, hard driven, sustained effort, stayed on well, collared Good Boy Bobby post – and then at Taunton in November beating Southfield Stone. Not sure he needs to be dropped out quite as much as he was at Carlisle but chances
After winning first two chases, gacve best to Notebook at Leopardstown in February, went on, 1st 2 clear after 1st, clear after 3rd, mistake 5th, not so far ahead by 3 out, headed 2 out, niggled along approaching home turn, hard driven approaching last, found extra and stayed on to jump last only a neck down, sustained effort under pressure and held a chance, no extra final 100 yards, went down with honours. Could go well again
Esprit Du Large
Has won two out of three chases with much his best last time in Grade 1 Henry VIII at Sandown in December, chased leader 6th, briefly upsides 9th, nudged along approaching 3 out, led there, travelled best home turn, niggled along and stayed on going to 2 out, hard ridden between last 2, put under pressure after last, driven out, stayed on well last 175 yards, genuine performance in beating Nube Negra just short of 2 lengths. Chances here in a competitive-looking renewal
Won first two chases including Grade 1 Drinmore at Fairyhouse in December by 22 lengths from Ronald Pump. Ran into Notebook when last seen out in Racing Post Novice at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, tracked leaders, not asked for an effort bend before 2 out, ridden into it, went 2nd and chased Notebook going comfortably approaching home turn, shaken up straightening, outpaced as winner asserted, mistake last, hard driven, closed on winner under pressure, always held but closed on Notebook final strides. No reason why he couldn’t have a say
Cut no ice behind Brewin’upastorm at Carlisle on chasing debut, moved upsides leader briefly 4th, mistake 8th, niggled along, ridden with every chance 3 out, got tired from 2 out, no more under pressure, well held last, no more, but round a more suitable track (indeed best novice hurdle form there), was a different animal in Wayward Lad Novices’ at Kempton on December 27th, made all, pushed along from 3 out, a length and a bit up 2 out, wandered left, put under pressure, stayed on, found extra nearing last, driven out, stayed on, had little to spare but held on well. This one is all pace and nothing else, and he struggled in last year’s Champion Hurdle – pretty much all done at the top of the hill, even allowing for the enormity of his task in that – and I can’t see this one being in contention up the hill
Front-running novice chaser who’s unbeaten in four chases, although effective rather than impressive in beating Fakir D’Oudairies at Leopardstown over Christmas (pushed along home turn, stayed on well, some 3 lengths up last, driven out, stayed on well though didn’t go further clear run-in) and Cash Back at Leopardstown last month (chased leader, 1st 2 clear after 1st, travelled comfortably, moved upsides leader approaching 2 out, led jumping, niggled along approaching home turn, hard ridden approaching last, stayed on, was only a neck up last, driven out run-in, stayed on, held on well last 100 yards). Has a chance, but it’s not that of a stand-out favourite
A 134-rated hurdler; successful in only chase, at Taunton on January 7th, but fortunate as Zizaneur was going further clear when unseating at the third last; has around a stone to find to be competitive anyway
Has won two out of his four chases with best to date in Kingmaker at Warwick in February, moved upsides leader 4 out, ridden to lead 3 out, niggled along home turn, more firmly pushed along going to 2 out, put under pressure, stayed on in 4-length lead going to last, driven out, stayed on well to pull further clear, decisive from Nube Negra. Another with a chance
Won all four chases including unchallenged success with a big weight in novices’ handicap at Doncaster in December, went on, clear, jumped slightly right, niggled along home turn, stayed on going to 3 out, pushed along, stayed on and drew further clear going to 2 out, ridden between last 2 in 8-length lead, kept up to her work, stretched further clear, unchallenged from Baddesley Knight; not hard pressed to land odds of 1/4 in weak running of Listed Lady Protectress Chase at Huntingdon last time. Run style suggests she’ll be there to be shot at, but her jumping – a feature of the Doncaster win, even though she went very slightly right – might prove important
Put The Kettle On
Not out since what, at the time, looked a surprise win in Arkle Trial at Cheltenham in November, led, a bit slow 10th and momentarily joined up front, niggled along in slight lead passing omitted 3 out, pushed along home turn, extended lead to 2 lengths approaching 2 out where ended up getting the best jump of the field, ridden, stayed on, about the same distance in front when jumped right last, hard driven, went left under strong pressure, sustained strong effort to maintain clear lead last 150 yards, workmanlike and decisive from Al Dancer – the best round of jumping landing the spoils. This is more competitive and she might end up a sitting duck
Shortlist: Brewin’upastorm, Notebook, Maire Banrigh
I can’t remember a renewal of this race as tricky as this one. Vinndication is top weight with 159 after winning decisively of 151 at Ascot on his only start this season, but it’s hard to win this sort of race with that sort of mark. Cepage won well from the front beating Spiritofthegames here in January but hasn’t tried this trip, and doesn’t shape like he needs the step up (the Welsh National winner Notre Pere is a relative, to be fair), and what about MIster Malarky, who was a revelation when up with the pace throughout, jumping soundly, to win the Grade 3 handicap at Kempton last time – connections attributed that to racing on better ground, and maybe his chances here depend on how much rain falls overnight.
One of the beaten horses at Kempton, Kildisart*, made mistakes which held him back, but his best work was at the end, closing on the 4th at the post. I’m loathe to give him too many more chances, but he’s now tried in cheekpieces. The versatile Who Dares Wins has run well in a Coral Cup, a Pertemps Final and a Prix Du Cadran, won a Northumberland Plate, and last time won a Pendil Novices’ Chase, a bit on and off the bridle at Kempton but taking full advantage of Master Tommytucker’s fall and asserting from the last over Southfield Stone. He may be a novice chaser, but he’s no novice racehorse, and his jumping at Kempton was sound.
Until arguably not getting home in the Classic Chase at Warwick last time The Conditional* had been progressive, winning at Cheltenham in October and runner-up to De Rasher Counter at Newbury in the Ladbrokes Trophy, though in the latter he looked the winner and arguably didn’t find what it looked as though he would. Elwood survived an early blunder in the Ten Up Novice at Navan and led at the second last (normally three out – normal second last omitted), and moved better than Captain Cj, but couldn’t find more approaching the last. Soupy Soups‘s* staying-on 2nd to Give Me A Copper in the Badger Beers Chase at Wincanton is easily a career-best, much his best work in the straight – hopefully he’ll be better positioned here (sometimes is more prominent in his races). So many of the others are hard to fancy, but don’t be surprised if one of them turns up – it’s that much of a minefield.
Shortlist: Kildisart, The Conditional, Soupy Soups
Improved and consistent, great 2nd in International to Call Me Lord, best work at the end after held up more than usual; closer to the pace and sticking on once coming off the bit in Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, and staying on well at the end to take advantage of Pentland Hills’s curling up in the Haydock Champion Hurdle Trial. Genuine contender in a Champion Hurdle which is up for grabs
Call Me Lord*
Had form left-handed in France, so no surprise that he proved himself effective tried at Cheltenham in the International in December, always holding on as Ballyandy finished strongly. Didn’t turn up in Contenders Hurdle at Sandown, the race affected by strong winds and always playing second fiddle to Quel Destin in attritional conditions. You have to overlook that as he was around a stone shy of his best in the Contenders’, but chance at his best
On his only previous Cheltenham visit was 16 lengths 5th to Labaik in the 2017 Supreme Novices’. Returning from chasing, was supplemented for the Champion after winning Red Mills Trial at Gowran Park last month but not in the most impressive fashion considering that his price was 1/4, not fluent several times, brought wide into straight, 3 lengths clear 2 out, pushed along, stayed on, pulled further clear by last, ridden out, kept on to his work, decisive from reopposing Darasso. A bit better than that is needed, in terms of both form and jumping
At last year’s Festival was 2nd to Pentland Hills in the Triumph, arguably travelled best home turn, nudged along approaching last, finally shaken up 100 yards off it, narrow lead jumping, soon headed under pressure, hard driven and no more last 100 yards. Was given his chance in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas but found wanting behind Sharjah, chased leader from 4th till hit 5th, tracked leaders as field bunched up approaching 2 out, moved well enough starting home turn, niggled along and outpaced once in line, left behind, well held last, kept on. With over 10 lengths to find on that, looks outclassed
One of the success stories of the season, stepping up from winning a 0-140 handicap at Wetherby with something in hand when beating below-par Buveur D’Air (and Silver Streak, which got no publicity) in Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, staying on strongly under strong pressure and holeind on beyond grimly. In a stronger race given the circumstances acquitted himself with credit in Haydock Champion Trial in January, going from the front and as usual sticking to his task when headed to run close 3rd to Ballyandy and Pentland Hills, beaten less than a length. The heart wants to see him run close, but I can’t help feeling that late-comers will do him for pace from the last
At a push a 150-rated hurdler, but has had two chances to prove himself Champion Hurdle-calibre and come up short in both, firstly behind Ballyandy when 9 lengths 4th in the Haydock Trial, and then when the first of the principals off the bit – ridden at the third last – when unable to do much against Cilaos Emery in Red Mills Trial at Gowran Park in January. Outclassed
Progressing hurdler won five out of six starts from April to October, and acquitted himself well against Envoi Allen in Royal Bond Novice at Fairyhouse in December, disputing 3rd as pace increased when not clear run approaching 2 out and forced to switch, outpaced, put under pressure, hung right approaching last, took 3rd jumping, ridden, stayed on, no impression on 1st 2. Stepped up on all previous form when giving Honeysuckle a race in Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, niggled along away from 5th, closer order going a bit better bend before 2 out, shaken up after it, put under pressure approaching home turn, stayed on approaching last with 5 lengths to find, gradually reeled in 1st 2, strong effort under pressure last 200 yards, closed on Honeysuckle but just ran out of track. At the back of my mind is the notion that he needs 2m4f ideally, but he still ran to within 5 lbs of my top-rated in this Champion, and the way he finished at Leopardstown, the Cheltenham hill will be all for him
Although missing Cheltenham last year proved himself one of the leading juveniles when winning at Punchestown. On reappearance won Elite Hurdle at Wincanton in workmanlike style from Grand Sancy, coming under pressure but staying on well to land odds of 4/7. On the ‘strength’ of that went off 2/1 for the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton but checked out readily, began to lose place before blundered 3 out, niggled along home turn, dropped back through field, towards rear and losing further ground when pulled up before 2 out. Don’t think this will be happening
His staying-on neck 2nd to Harambe in Greatwood at Cheltenham in November was his best effort this season; his 6th to Call Me Lord in International at Cheltenham wasn’t bad but does suggest that he has his limitations in this grade, prominent 6th, tracked leaders going comfortably 2 out, niggled along home turn, shuffled back, hard ridden and outpaced as race took shape approaching last, some 4 lengths down in 6th jumping, put under pressure, stayed on early on run-in till no extra last 100 yards, faded. Made mistakes and didn’t get out of the midfield in Betfair Hurdle at Newbury behind Pic D’Orhy last time. We’re probably looking at a midfield-at-best finish here
Best run in last 12 months when winning Swinton at Haydock, challenging for 2nd 2 out where mistake, hard ridden, effort approaching last, found extra run-in and led 200 yards out. Not much since including over fences; had his limitations exposed in International at Cheltenham behind Call Me Lord, 8th of 8 beaten 14 lengths, and also did little in Grade 2 novices’ chase at Doncaster when last seen, tough ask on chasing debut but lagging his best hurdles, driven from 3 out and every chance though going worst of the field going to 2 out, dropped off the others under a ride and hung left going to last, soon well held behind Mister Fisher. Not hard to discard
Not So Sleepy
When getting home by 2 lengths from Lust For Glory in handicap hurdle at Ascot in November in workmanlike style he was off a rating of 122, yet when he won the Grade 3 handicap hurdle at Ascot next time off 127 everyone was shouting ‘Champion Hurdle’, conveniently ignoring his nearly running out at the 3rd, breezing up the run-in from the last to be fair. As has been widely publicised got no run in the standing start for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, made a little ground wide after 5th and rear of large main group, caught wide home turn, pushed along 3 out, kept on going to 2 out and closed on those ahead, some 10 lengths down jumping, hard driven, no further ground going to last. Never mind that – the second Ascot win is the thick end of two stone adrift of what will be required to win the Champion and I don’t think anything will be happening here
Last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner looked gutless in the finish of the International at Cheltenham in December, produced to challenge going well enough having taken a keen hold, but after jumping the last upsides he checked out readily, weakened in the last 100 yards and ended up 5th to Call Me Lord. He finished that way again – albeit to a lesser extent – in the Haydock Trial, going best at the last but curling up when ridden and Ballyandy collaring him on the post. In a match against Harchibald if he was still around, I’d go with Harchibald
Hasn’t won a race since October 2017 but that’s not his fault, and on his last three starts he couldn’t have run closer – going from the front as usual last time in Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on February 1st, joined up front when the better jump 2 out, hard ridden approaching home turn, stayed on, was headed by Honeysuckle approaching last, again a good jump and back upsides, hard driven, no extra last 150 yards, lost 2nd to Darver Star close home. He’s run at four Cheltenham Festivals and his best run was 3rd to Buveur D’Air in the 2017 Champion Hurdle, challenged home turn, soon headed, put under pressure, kept on, no impression on Buveur D’Air, lost 2nd to My Tent Or Yours last, faded and beaten 7 lengths. Likely to function only as a setter-upper
Despite his going off at 20/1 in last year’s Champion Hurdle subsequent events have suggested that his getting brought down when Buveur D’Air fell at the 3rd is a hard-luck story. The reason for thinking that is his win in the Grade 1 hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, smooth headway to chase leader 5th, moved comfortably a length down home turn, travelled best approaching last, 1st 2 clear, sent for home after last, ran on well with a good turn of foot to draw clear, readily beat Petit Mouchoir. Didn’t turn up in the Irish Champion at Leopardstown in February, seemed poised when in close to 2 out, hard driven away from it, no impression, looked held approaching last, weakened inside last 150 yards and lost 5th, beaten 11 lengths behind Honeysuckle. Having finished weakly in Summerville Boy’s Supreme Novices’ when he completed at Cheltenham in 2018, after how the Irish Champion went not sure what we’ll get now
In last year’s Champion it’s fair to suggest that he outran his 80/1 odds, early mistakes, prominent 3 out, niggled along in 3 lengths 4th, ridden along from 2 out, put under pressure home turn, outpaced as Espoir D’Allen went for home, kept on approaching last, all out and went right last, hard ridden, kept on, closed on Melon last 50 yards but just held for 2nd. With Buveur D’Air not at his best the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle was his chance to bag a Grade 1 but he blew it, mistakes again, at least 5 lengths 4th jumping last, driven, soon took 3rd, closed on Cornerstone Lad and Buveur D’Air under a hand ride last 150 yards, nearest finish. Better run when 2nd to Epatante in Christmas Hurdle at Kempton when last seen, closer order before 3 out where mistake, pushed along away from it, stayed on against inside rail, effort and tracked leaders home turn, got a split and every chance approaching 2 out, put under pressure, outpaced as Epatante went clear, disputed 2nd last, driven and stayed on to assert for 2nd, no chance with winner, stuck to task. There are stacks of good runs in his record but his jumping is his achilles’ heel
Was only 7th to Paisley Park in last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle, but it looks as though despite his off-the-bit-and-pushed-along run style, he doesn’t stay the 3m; the heavy-ground 2m4f of the Aintree Hurdle proved right up his street, although that didn’t look on till Melon fell hampering Buveur D’Air at the third last. No surprise that he was done for pace at the end of the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on February 1st, outpaced and firmly ridden along after 3 out, no impression on those ahead from 2 out, kept on before and after last, nearest finish behind Honeysuckle. That’s a good idea of how this attempt at the Champion is likely to end up
The only blip on this mare’s record is potentially a significant one because it was behind Eglantine Du Seuil in last season’s mares’ novices’ hurdle at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, going off 15/8 favourite but made a couple of mistakes, moved comfortably enough at the top of the hill, not much room when mistake 2 out, niggled along, more firmly ridden approaching last, stayed on till no extra nearing it, pushed out, no impression close home, eased late and nearly lost 9th post. Resumed the winning habit with success in Gerry Feilden at Newbury in November, disputed lead when mistake and went left 2 out, shaken up and not going as well as French Crusader approaching last, stayed on under a ride, led last, ran on and drew clear; for the first time suggested that she’s this class when winning Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, closer order after 3 out going well, tracked leaders home turn, travelled best off home turn, shaken up 2 out, found the necessary and led, stayed on well to draw clear, ridden further clear run-in, readily and decisive from Silver Streak and Ballyandy. How she’ll come up the hill is a query – apart from this time last year, there’s nothing not to like
Shortlist: Ballyandy, Call Me Lord, Darver Star
Little time needs to be spent on this, with the finish likely to be fought out by two mares who wouldn’t have been out of place in the Champion Hurdle, or even the Stayers’ in Benie Des Dieux‘s case, given she won the Grande Course de Haies at Auteuil in May. As most will remember she’d have beaten Roksana in this race last year but for falling at the last, led 2 out, not off the bit to open up a 2-length lead home turn, pushed along approaching last, stayed on, was 4 lengths up and needed to be pushed along when falling. With nothing not to like about her defeat of Penhill in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park in January, some 10 lengths last and still on the bit at the line, she’ll be up for this.
This season however, we’ve had the emergence of Honeysuckle, who’s unbeaten in seven hurdles and proved herself going left-handed with a defeat of Champion Hurdle-candidate Darver Star and Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Champion at Leopardstown, chased leader, not fluent 2 out and came away from it half a length down, ridden along, stayed on home turn, led off the bend, ridden and stayed on strongly to go clear, was joined on landing, put under pressure, found more, was closed on last 150 yards but held on well. If anything she ran like she’d be better suited by the longer trip here. By the time the tape goes up for this race Darver Star may well have won the Champion and, as is sometimes said, you don’t know how good they are until they get beat.
Roksana is the most likely candidate for the bronze medal, left in front at the last and holding on from Stormy Ireland last year; the latter for me isn’t as effective at 2m4f as she is at the minimum trip, but both are likely to come here in good order after decent last time out-performances – perhaps a few lbs below in Roksana’s case, with her runner-up finish to Summerville Boy in the Relkeel here on New Year’s Day. The admirable and popular Lady Buttons lost ground from the home turn and was a well-held 4th jumping the last in this race last year, holding the place to the line, and isn’t expected to better that, and nothing jumps out among the remainder.
Selection: HONEYSUCKLE – Alternative: Benie Des Dieux
Unsurprisingly Imperial Aura* jumps off the page after his fine effort when 2nd to Simply The Betts on the Festival Trials-card, but he’s short enough, compared to Whatmore*, who got in as first reserve and ran a belter in the Grade 3 over 3m at Kempton last time – back over his best trip, he’ll hopefully be better positioned through the race than he was at Kempton or at Warwick the time before. Galvin tends to be given an awful lot to do and is short enough for someone likely to be held up out the very back of the 20-runner field, and the progressing Espoir De Guye and Trainwreck*, who was unlucky to be caught on the post by Glamorgan Duke at Leopardstown last time, would be preferred. Others with chances include Beakstown, whose chasing debut-runner up finish behind Sam Spinner at Wetherby is solid, and Precious Cargo, whose jumping needs to improve – often slow at his fences – but shapes as though the step up in trip will suit.
Shortlist: Imperial Aura, Trainwreck, Whatmore
Plenty going on here in this first running of the race over the new shorter trip, and the first place to look at is Lord Du Mesnil, for whom his rising handicap mark isn’t a consideration this time; only Smooth Stepper prevented him from landing a hattrick of wins at Haydock in the National Trial, and, sure to go from the front, the trip and likely going are boxes ticked. If Carefully Selected can avoid the sort of blunder that nearly stopped him in his tracks at Naas last time when he beat the reopposing Forza Milan, then he’ll be a player, and both of those are preferred to fortunate Towton Novices’ winner Newtide, who looked slow and laboured over the last three fences at Wetherby, left clear at the last by Boldmere’s fall.
One of the most rapid improvers in the field is Springfield Fox*, who won off 117 when making a successful chasing debut, was off 127 when following up readily at Exeter – made all, moved comfortably and jumped soundly to beat reopposing Ocean Cove – and is now up to 142. He’s one to consider, along with The Hollow Ginge, who beat little at Leicester last time off an officlal 140-mark but showed a good attitude to beat only remaining rival Late Romantic. Smoking Gun‘s* modest effort in the Thyestes at Gowran Park, run in dense fog, can be forgiven and concentrate instead on his Punchestown-win on New Year’s Eve, closed on leaders wide approaching 4 out, pushed along after it, led 3 out, pushed clear, hard ridden home turn, driven approaching last in 5-length lead, carried head to one side and was closed on approaching last, driven out and stayed on well run-in to maintain advantage over Early Doors, while one not rated the same as them yet, but won last time in a manner which suggests that he could get there at some point, is Lamanver Pippin*, who was clear and going best with four to jump at Chepstow last time, winning readily as he cleared away from the last to beat Fortescue, who’s won twice since.
Shortlist: Lamanver Pippin, Smoking Gun, Springfield Fox