Thursday is always the least loved day of the Festival for me, it pads it out further than I think it needs, and I always find it hardest to find enough time to analyse it properly. Here goes...
TURNERS NOVICE CHASE
Appreciate It - 9yos don't have much of a record in this race, however this guy is very young in terms of his racing, just the twleve starts under his belt. He's two from three over fences, winning the first two with ease, then finishing 10L (started 11/8) behind double Arkle winner, El Fabiolo, off a cracking pace set by Dysart Dynamo, and was beaten a nose into third by Banbridge who opposes him here. Stepping up to two-and-a-half miles, he is unlikely to see the mad pace upfront this time. They say Supreme winners (2021, by 24L) are more likely to stay rather than take the speed options. This is the perfect opportunity to confirm that hypothesis.
Balco Coastal - ran second, beaten 1.75L, in the G1 Scilly Isles Chase behind Gerri Colombe, who missed winning the Brown Advisory yesterday by a nose. He won nicely at Kempton the time before on a soft track but last season he was pulled up in the Imperial Cup at Sandown with the jockey reporting the soft track was an issue. Hmmm. We do know however that Sandown can be very different as a racing surface so not all soft going is the same. Running well but place chance only.
Banbridge - a Festival winner already, having won the Martin Pipe here last year. Switching to the bigger fences this season, he won his first two races with ease before meeting Mighty Potter (similar SPs, but ran third beaten 18.5L) and El Fabiolo (second, beaten 10L) in a pair of Grade 1s. He has mixed his distances this season, last time was over the shorter trip in the Arkle and he kept on well, although the breakneck speed was more likely the instigator of that. He is classy but has a bit to do to overturn the 18L defeat to Mighty Potter in the Drinmore in December.
Christopher Wood - has finished in the first three in all of his three chase runs, but with RPRs significantly below his hurdling exploits. Not today.
James Du Berlais - was thrown into the Champion Hurdle two years ago at his first British/Irish start, then ran second at Punchestown in the Stayers Hurdle, then went chasing after a 19 month break. He wasn't tested in a facile victory at Fairyhouse before trailing Mighty Potter by over 30L in the G1 Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival. He was equal second-fav that day (with NH Challenge Cup winner Gaillard Du Mesnil) at 7/2 but hit a couple of fences and eased down on the run-in. Needs to have resolved those errors, the market has lost faith in him.
Mighty Potter - fabulous jumper who has won seven of nine career starts, including four Grade 1s. Three from three over fences, they can't beat him in Ireland and he's only getting better with experience. Wet or dry won't bother him. The only minute concern is he came here last year for the Supreme and got worked up in the preliminaries, crashing into a rail on the way out, got too keen in the race, made a bad mistake at the fifth hurdle and then pulled up. You'd hate to see that affect him again, he's an exceptional horse and a good thing on pure ability.
Notlongtillmay - three from three over fences but in Class 3 races rather than Grade 1s. That's like the League 2 vs the Premier League. No.
Stage Star - British runner with half a chance. As an Owners Group syndicate member (of another, not this one), I have an automatic allegiance to him, but I think he's only running for place money. Won nicely here in late January carrying topweight in a handicap, his other three chase runs were in tiny fields and probably not worth a lot. The Nicholls stable was flying coming into the Festival but haven't landed a blow so far. In the mix if the favourite doesn't turn up, but otherwise chasing place money.
Unexpected Party - it would be a very unexpected party if this thing won. No hope!
Mighty Potter just wins, I'd be just holding back to see him get to the start without any issues.
MIGHTY POTTER, Appreciate It, Stage Star
This race may have changed this season. Previously runners could qualify by finishing in the first six in the 'heat' races, this year that has been reduced to just the four. So trends around the jinx of winning a qualifier (one of 61 has gone on to win the final in 10 years) may no longer be as valid.
Maxxum was in great form until his last start blip at Leopardstown when finishing 12th of 17. That result was simply too bad to be true, there was a 42L turnaround between he and the winner from their previous clash, six weeks earlier on the same weight terms. A closer look at the tape shows he was crowded for room against the rail and stumbled on the home turn, which probably led to the graze on his cannonbone which came up in the post-race report. Beyond that, he had no room when his rivals were making their runs and the jockey elected to give him a quiet run to the post rather than wasting energy in a race he could no longer win. He has risen from 99 to a rating of 138 since switching from Eugene O'Sullivan to Gordon Elliott, detailing a rapid rise but he has been slugged with a 7lb 'Irish tax' by the BHA handicapper. That still might not be enough to stop him. Davy Russell has been waiting for his Festival winner on mini-comeback, this may be the it.
Coltor has always had a bit of class on the Flat and over hurdles, but is running a bit more often now that he has left Dermot Weld. In two runs this year, he has been placed on the Flat at Kempton and in a Pertemps qualifier at Musselburgh, providing him a fitness to step forward here. If he was still with Weld, I reckon he'd be half the price. Irish horse The Bosses Oscar finished just behind him at Musselburgh, meets him on similar terms and is half the price, thanks to his trainer - Gordon Elliott.
Brandy McQueen is interesting, he has a very light weight after claim having won a qualifier. LTO didn't like quick backup. And Millgreen is probably too old to win at 11, but ran third in this race last year and third at his only two starts since. He's off the same mark as last year, and should benefit from his first-up run a month ago.
Plenty of chances but Maxxum looks worth a bet in a race you can never be too confident in.
MAXXUM (Back ~6/1), Coltor, Brandy McQueen, Millgreen
Blue Lord - main danger to Shishkin, has won six of eight over fences including three Grade 1s, but flopped last time when the jockey reported he he felt flat. I doubt he could beat Shishkin at his best, but the fav has had his quirks in the past.
Chacun Pour Soi - an 11yo now, surely not. Beaten 14L by Blue Lord two starts ago (G1, started fav) then stepped out to 2m4f for the first time and was beaten 18L in a G2 at Thurles. Time catches up with all of us.
Envoi Allen - after running into Energumene at last year's Festival and Punchestown soon after, he stepped up from two to three miles this season with mixed success. He won the Champion Chase at Down Royal in November but then got beaten a long way (51L) in the King George at Kempton. Rachael Blackmore put that down to the tacky going (officially soft), but he's dropped back to 2m4.5f here which should be ideal for him.
French Dynamite - rated 19lbs below Shishkin, has never won anything stronger than a G3 and this isn't the race to chage that.
Fury Road - has only missed the first three once in nine chase starts. Five of his last seven runs have been over 3m+ so the only reason he's running here is that he's not good enough for the Gold Cup. Not good enough here either but a chance to be staying on for a place.
Ga Law - runs well in the top handicaps but not up to these rivals at level weights.
Hitman - has raced ten times in Class 1 (Grade 1/Grade 2) races and has yet to win one. Honest enough to contest the placings but for the win bet, pass.
Janidil - ran second in this last year, 14L behind Allaho, but then ended his season with a couple of error-strewn runs at the Irish festivals. He resumed a month ago winning the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park, fitness progression from that suggests he should be competitive here.
Shishkin - quite simply a champion who lost his way here last year pulling up in the Champion Chase, followed by a shock 15L third in the Tingle Creek. He returned with a tongue-tie fitted to win the Ascot Chase, stepping up in trip a month ago, powering away to win by 16L with an RPR just one pound off his best. A repeat of that sees him win comfortably, anything close to it still sees him winning.
The bookies are hoping to see a champion or some favourites beaten in the back half of the week, but it's hard to see this one being rolled. Could I back him at evens? I probably could but I won't be rushing to take it. Perhaps a double with Mighty Potter is in order...
SHISHKIN, Envoi Allen, Blue Lord
Ashdale Bob - has finished in the front four in his past eight starts for precisely zero wins. Place bet consideration only.
Blazing Khal - undefeated over hurdles in four starts, he's had fitness issues coming into the Festival which is an instant red light. He might be back in great order, the trainer is a shrewd operator, but on top of that, he will be ridden by a 5lb claimer without the advantage of those 5lbs. Enough to steer clear of him at the price.
Dashel Drasher - three seconds in a row in Grade 2 races, this is harder.
Flooring Porter - has won the last two editions of the race but curiously, nothing else in that two year period (six other runs). His runs this season seem to be a bit slower on ratings than leading into previous Festivals, he'll need to step up.
Gold Tweet - crossed the Channel in January for a hit & run grab on the Cleeve Hurdle. A repeat of that would take him fairly close again.
Henri La Farceur - French visitor who has only won four out of 20 starts. You'd hope a race like this would require a better winning strike rate to be victorious.
Home By The Lee - was 33/1 here last season finishing 7.5L sixth but has won both starts this time in, the G2 Lismullen at Navan followed by the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, ahead of Ashdale Bob, Flooring Porter and Bob Olinger. He's not for me but I can understand folks making a case for him.
Klassical Dream - won the Supreme four years ago but has only raced ten times since. Has won the big staying hurdles in Ireland but was a stubborn bugger pre-race here last year before fading late into fifth. Ran Teahupoo to a neck in the Hatton's Grace, goes very close at his best.
Paisley Park - a veteran who won this race back in 2019, he's only won one race per season for the past three, and that box has been ticked this season. Was favourite in the Cleeve Hurdle when beaten close to 10L by Gold Tweet, I can't see him reversing that, even on 6lb better terms.
Sire Du Berlais - now 11, he's been getting beaten by several of these rivals since winning the Liverpool Hurdle last spring. Outside hope for a place.
Teahupoo - needs it wet, very wet. His three defeats have been on tracks drier than soft. Won the Hatton's Grace pre-Xmas, ending Honeysuckle's unbeaten run and finishing half a length ahead of Klassical Dream. In the Galmoy in January, he was entitled to thrash the field as he did. Watch the weather.
I've been a Klassical Dream fan for a few years and will follow him off the cliff again. Teahupoo deserves to be top of the market if the course stays at least soft while several others could fight it out for third.
KLASSICAL DREAM (back 9/1), Teahupoo, Ashdale Bob
(will get to the other three later... hopefully)
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