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Thread: Lydia Hislop's Road To Cheltenham 2018

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    Super Moderator Diamond Geezer's Avatar
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    Lydia Hislop's Road To Cheltenham 2018

    Always a good read whether you agree with her or not, so will endeavour to keep them all in one thread this season. Starts off with Altiorgate and thoughts on the main championship races

    https://www.sportinglife.com/racing/...ltenham/126612

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    Great from Lydia. I like her even more now she has called out Choc Thornton as a ****.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Digger View Post
    Great from Lydia. I like her even more now she has called out Choc Thornton as a ****.
    He was trying to reignite it again yesterday on Twitter but she didn’t rise to it.

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    I can't take to her find her very irritating.

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    Think television does that to people, they seem to become very self-important.
    Ah! but a man's reach should exceed his grasp......

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Phillips View Post
    Think television does that to people, they seem to become very self-important.
    Oh so true, Colin.
    Two's company, three's allowed.

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    Hadn't realised this, hidden away in the article

    "the new British rules, designed to address ailing field sizes, that prevent increase to the rating of any horse beaten in a novice or beginners’ chase (at class 2 and below) provided that horse has raced four times or more over obstacles. Punters need to take notice of this because others clearly have."

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    Quote Originally Posted by tiggers1972 View Post
    I can't take to her find her very irritating.

    I don't know how Lydia handles her knockers.

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    I dont suppose there's any chance of a copy and paste for those of us blocked from the SL at work?
    Alba Gu Brath!

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    Lydia Hislop continues on the Road To Cheltenham with her thoughts on Thistlecrack, Buveur D'Air, two new ante-post bets and much, much more.

    Things really kicked off this week, both in terms of performances and the debate they provoked – on both sides of the Irish Sea. Eyes down: we’re going straight in.

    Timico Gold Cup

    The reaction to Thistlecrack’s comeback in the Long Distance Hurdle – a 13-length defeat – was overwhelmingly negative.

    As a result, bookmakers more than doubled his odds – from an unrealistic starting point, in my opinion, given this horse had been sidelined with a tendon injury – for both the King George and Gold Cup.

    Most observers I encountered also reacted with similar disdain – and you can see why. Beforehand, Colin Tizzard was widely quoted as being pleased with the fitness of his horse. “He’s done plenty of work,” he told the Racing Post. “He’s as fit as we need him for this. He’ll run his race.”

    Assistant trainer and son Joe went further, telling their Coral blog: “I remember going into this same race two years ago, hoping that we had something a bit special but we weren’t sure. In fact I remember we’d missed a bit of work with him, so I told Tom Scudamore that he would improve for the run and he still bolted up.

    “So I think we have him even fitter than we did two years ago. Every box has been ticked. We haven’t missed a piece of work since he’s back in; he’s done everything we’ve asked of him. Remember he hasn’t been off 18 months – he ran at the end of January… so it’s not like he’s been off for ages.

    “There are no real excuses for him really, although clearly it’s his first run of the season and it’s more about the King George and the Gold Cup rather than tomorrow.”

    So Thistlecrack palpably did not run as the Tizzards expected – or at least he didn’t from approaching the second last onwards.

    His past hurdling form – the stuff that saw him imperiously unbeaten in the 2015/16 season, culminating in victory in both the World (as it was then) and Liverpool Hurdles – should have enabled him to beat Unowhatimeanharry (especially in receipt of 6lbs) or, if not fully fit, at least put up a fight.

    As it happened, he travelled on the keen side of strongly towards the fore of the field – ridden by Tom Scudamore as though fitness was of no concern – but was niggled along on the home turn and quickly folded after the third last. His remaining jumps looked instinctive and he was inclined to hang as Scudamore nursed him home with taps down his neck to keep going.

    Confession time: in the immediate aftermath of the race, I asserted the Tizzards would be “pleased” with Thistlecrack’s reappearance. This was clearly wrong given they had left themselves little wriggle-room, but I remain of the view that the post-race negativity – in effect as to whether this horse will be a top-class player again this season – is overblown.

    Thistlecrack during his return to action at Newbury
    Thistlecrack during his return to action at Newbury
    Your take partly depends on what you were expecting from the horse beforehand. The towering pre-race positivity from Team Tizzard evidently contributed to his starting price of 11/10 favourite, as well as the fact he was receiving 6lbs from his supposed main rival and his hurdles form of two seasons ago was by far the best on offer in the race.

    This seemed enough to more than offset the fact he was returning from a serious setback, was ceding race-fitness to all bar one rival and had not jumped a hurdle in public for 19 months. If you’re in the habit of disregarding yak and deeming all such injuries as deal-breakers from an ante-post perspective (as asserted here, passim), it was perfectly conceivable that the horse might completely blow out. Instead he did something in between.

    In a relatively deep Grade Two hurdle not conducted at a total crawl, he travelled with familiar classy contentment albeit occasionally betraying at his obstacles that he’d been chasing last season. He then went from comfortable to beaten pretty quickly.

    Did this race therefore expose a new problem? Apparently not. Asked for his calmer reflections on the previous day, Tizzard senior said on Racing UK last Saturday: “He’s fine. I’ve thought about it and after he tore his tendon he had two months in his box, four out in the field, came back in and had two months walking and cantered for a month and galloped for a month.

    “It was excusable he blew up and right to two out he was as good as anything – you thought he’d win and his class would take him through. We were talking a good story and, on reflection, we were probably talking him up too much. But up to the second-last, it had sounded absolutely right.”

    Asked whether he had enough time to get Thistlecrack back to full fitness for the King George, Tizzard said: “Lots of horses improve massively for one run. It’s the best part of a month and he should be fine.”

    As Paul Jones observed in his ante-post column this week, this might not be the first time that the Tizzards’ instinctively front-foot nature has led them to miscalculate. A similar thing happened with Cue Card’s debut in the Charlie Hall last season prior to his 15-length victory in the Betfair Chase. Yet that horse (albeit with no injury to factor in) was only about 10lbs below his best; Thistlecrack was more than 25lbs shy.

    So for ante-post punters, this raises the alternative scenario that Thistlecrack’s 15 minutes are up – and that’s the interpretation that held sway last weekend.

    Perhaps his injury has shaved away that crucial edge of ability he previously possessed? Another theory knocking about is that Thistlecrack was ‘bottomed’ by the Cotswold Chase in January – that he glimpsed the dark side when dragged to the peak of exertion by Many Clouds, who sadly surpassed it. Such horses are never the same again, goes the hypothesis.

    Given my response to his return was more positive than this, do I fancy him for the King George? No, because I didn’t fancy him anyway – last year’s triumph was set to be inferior to Might Bite’s Kauto Star performance on the clock (until that horse fell at the last) and Thistlecrack beat little of substance as things played out on the day (as argued here last year).

    The 2017 edition is set to be a classier – so Thistlecrack would, in my opinion, not just need to be back to his best but actually be that bit better. I simply don’t expect that to happen.

    That said, if intensive work between now and Kempton doesn’t expose an underlying problem, his form could make a significant recovery, even if falling shy of actual success. In short, I’m disinclined to consider him a back number just yet even if he makes zero ante-post appeal to me and despite the fact he’s rising ten years of age. The clock is undoubtedly ticking, I accept.

    Interestingly, Tizzard junior revealed on Racing UK’s Luck On Sunday that their experience with Thistlecrack has caused them to re-think stablemate Native River’s return to action in the new year. Last season’s Gold Cup third was set to run once prior to his second attempt at the race. Discretion being the better part of valour, they’re now working on two prep runs…

    I hadn’t entirely bought the Native River “keeping him a fresher horse” line; to me, that had meant that the Grand National, rather than the Gold Cup, was the priority given it’s totally out of character for that yard to have a well horse stand in his box for longer than a few seconds.

    This news alters that nuance a tad. Perhaps, in ye olde manoeuvre to utterly baffle BHA Head Of Handicapping Phil Smith, Native River will now cunningly return over hurdles?

    Talking of the National, Willie Mullins believes the Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall is best aimed at the Aintree marathon rather than anything loftier.

    “He’d have to improve another 10lbs to be competitive in a Gold Cup field,” he said. “He looks a Grand National horse to me. That’s the route I would be going.

    “We’ll see what the English handicapper thinks of him and what the Irish handicapper thinks of him, but I’m thinking he’s going to be rated 158 to 160. That warrants an entry into the Gold Cup but he might finish fourth, or fifth or sixth maybe.”

    Immediate bookmaker reaction bizarrely concentrated on the winner rather than Whisper, who had just failed by a neck to concede a stone – and later prompted some excitable comparisons with Denman’s monstrous first Hennessy off the same mark but in an utterly different style.

    Granted, the strong-travelling winner – greatly improved since leaving Sandra Hughes – would have been a tad unfortunate had Paul Townend not got him up near the line, given the inconvenience the runner-up caused by jumping right across him at the second last. Equally, I don’t hold with the view that Davy Russell committed Whisper too soon.

    If anything, as Nicky Henderson confessed afterwards, it was the 4lb penalty for winning a Kempton graduation chase on his seasonal return that greatly contributed to Whisper’s defeat as things panned out. The trainer had won the Hennessy with both Trabolgan and Bobs Worth first time out and is usually not shy of ducking opportunities.

    Whatever, this was clearly a career-best performance from Whisper and one that warrants consideration of a Gold Cup target come March. Yet of course the main implication for this race was the scale of compliment it pays to stablemate Might Bite, who had jumped his rivals silly and was pondering a sly one in the Arkle Bar when permitting Whisper to run him so close in the RSA Chase.

    Nonetheless this was more grown-up from Whisper, for whom the pre-race concern had been his tendency to hit a flat spot would cause him to lose touch with the pace – the equivalent of competitive surrender at Newbury. There was no whiff of that, therefore 20/1 for the Gold Cup – at a meeting in which he thrives – looks long for each-way punters even though he’ll be ten come March. Next stop is apparently the Cotswold Chase.

    Sadly, Coneygree was again pulled up after looking vulnerable from a very early stage. This time, Nico de Boinville reported the horse made a noise. The Bradstocks will get him checked out but it appears a breathing operation beckons. One suspects this is another setback too far for the 2015 Gold Cup hero and his rousing Punchestown Gold Cup effort was his final bravo.

    Also pulled up was American, who failed to make the grade under less forceful tactics than those employed for his best performances at a lower level. Both Harry Fry and Noel Fehily cited his inexperience – a fragile horse, this was only his fourth start – and a preference for more testing ground. The Welsh National may yet figure.

    Apart from inside a neuron deep in Mullins’ unconscious mind, there have still been no definitive plans uttered at this stage for Yorkhill, although last month his trainer dropped out the possibility of switching to hurdles later this term. This makes three seasons in a row of utter bafflement. If Yorkhill didn’t exist, Mullins would need to invent him. Truly, this horse is the muse that inspires his full creative vent.

    Check out Sky Bet's latest Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup odds

    Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

    There has only been anticipation and yak in this division this week. “Douvan looks great and is in terrific order, so I’m already not looking forward to next Saturday,” the injured Ruby Walsh reported ruefully on Luck On Sunday.

    Do not underestimate the fact that the Tingle Creek is this horse’s toughest assignment yet – even harder than the Champion Chase in which he fractured his pelvis last March or his serial past encounters with Sizing John, who went on to record his peak form to date over three miles and further.

    Returning from that setback, Douvan faces a top-class rival in Fox Norton who’s race-fit, effective at this distance and better suited by underfoot conditions than when the pair last met. In this context, both the 5/6 offered for Saturday’s Sandown clash and the 3/1 for the Champion Chase about Douvan are highly unappealing.

    Whatever happens is bound to impact on Min’s standing in the betting for both the Champion Chase – for which this column took 8/1 last week – and Ryanair. If all proves straightforwardly well with Douvan, then Min will surely head for the longer Festival target. If there is any ambiguity – or, more extremely, if Douvan flops – then everything becomes up for grabs.

    “Whether [Min] goes down the two-mile route or the two-and-a-half-mile route, I don’t know,” Mullins characteristically observed. “We’ll just try to keep [Min and Douvan] apart as much as we can.”

    On Saturday Douvan also faces the improved Politologue at his optimum trip plus potentially the likes of Queen Mum titleholder Special Tiara or his stable companion Ordinary World, last term’s Arkle third, and recent Ascot winner Sir Valentino.

    San Benedeto – beneficiary of stable companion Politologue’s last-fence fall when winning the Grade One Maghull Novices’ Chase in April – heads instead to Sunday’s Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon according to trainer Paul Nicholls.

    Ryanair Chase

    It’s been an even quieter week in this landscape – unless you count the Mullins-trained, Rich Ricci-owned Benie De Dieux winning a mares’ procession – sorry, chase – by eight lengths at Carlisle. She jumped those relatively easy fences from the front with unbending authority.

    However, although she’s quoted as short as 12/1 for the Ryanair, I can’t see Mullins looking in the mouth the gift horse of the improved mares’ chasing programme for an outsider’s tilt at the Festival.

    A quartet of races this weekend – the Tingle Creek, Hilly Way, John Durkan and Peterborough Chases - should shake up this market good and proper.

    Should Un De Sceaux underperform or fail to show and Douvan returns unscathed at Sandown, then I’ll probably have jumped the wrong way with Min.

    If you’d like to take out some insurance against that scenario and don’t mind sacrificing one or two points for the sake of holding two likeable positions with the same horse, Bet365 still offer a very reasonable 10/1 about Min for the Ryanair.

    Unibet Champion Hurdle

    Anything other than unequivocal victory for reigning champion Buveur D’Air in Newcastle’s Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle would have been disappointing, as Henderson acknowledged in the aftermath. Good thing it was silky then, if not even requiring anything more than 10lbs-plus below his best form.

    Having tractably sat behind an inadequate pace set by inferior horses, he led at the third last and, despite getting in close to the penultimate flight as match-fit Flying Tiger attempted to land a glove on him, he was by far the quicker away from it and simply breezed clear. Dual past winner Irving then belatedly pounced on a vulnerable Flying Tiger to snatch second.



    ITV Racing

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    Buveur D’Air is highly effective on testing ground – to the extent you wonder how he’d fare over two miles on the fast-ish surface Cheltenham often used to produce on the first day of the Festival. Such thoughts are likely academic these days, however.

    It’s highly conceivable that Buveur D’Air will do better again this term, given he’ll be concentrating on hurdling rather than having to be switched from fences way past half-time. Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle is his next target where, if Mullins’ follow-up aside to my off-camera questioning of his Christmas plans is anything to go by, he won’t be meeting Faugheen.

    After the usual straight bat of “no plans yet”, Mullins offered that he’d probably rather stay closer to home with the much-sidelined 2015 Champion Hurdle winner than travel across the Irish Sea for an early showdown.

    That makes for a pretty dull division until they meet in March – if indeed they do, bearing in mind Faugheen has been a no-show for the past two years. Defi Du Seuil has fluffed his entrance, Apples Jade is largely sticking to the mares’ route and the Mullins-trained Punchestown Festival Grade One winner Cilaos Emery was brushed aside by her in the Hatton’s Grace last Sunday.

    Credible Sky Bet Supreme runner-up Melon remains on the scene, of course, and presumably Arctic Fire is still knocking about (albeit I can find no mention in dispatches), so perhaps Mullins might put one of them on the boat over Christmas. And there’s always Yorkhill…

    At Newbury, High Bridge clawed his way into Champion Hurdle periphery under a well-judged front-running ride from amateur jockey Alex Ferguson. This was a farce of a race in which horses that were held up stood little or no chance and they all finished in a heap.

    With that in mind, last season’s juvenile big-noise Charli Parcs ran far better than the literal form, making up just over three lengths from the third-last to the second-last hurdles before finding that the well-placed and race-fit winner, aided by his rider’s 7lb claim, had plenty left when challenged. It was a tired error that saw Charli Parcs step at the last and he did well to hold on for second from the unpunctual challenges of still-progressive Poppy Kay and, in particular, Master Of Irony. The last named responded markedly to the maximum pressure applied too late by Russell.

    There should be more to come from the runner-up, a four-year-old whom Henderson argued would prefer a sounder surface. That said, the ground was certainly no worse than good-to-soft at Newbury.

    The Betfair Hurdle, over last Saturday’s course and distance, is surely the winner’s target given a mere 3lb rise tempers the appetite for graded conditions events. Yet the same thinking probably applies to Charli Parcs, who was raised a mere 1lb and is surely the better treated of the pair.



    Racing UK

    @Racing_UK
    High Bridge makes all to win the @Ladbrokes Intermediate Hurdle and is now 3-3 @NewburyRacing. #LWC

    Results ▶️ http://bit.ly/2w8fYfO
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    Check out Sky Bet's latest Champion Hurdle odds

    Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle

    There was no fluke to the victory of Beer Goggles in last Saturday’s Long Distance Hurdle. Sure, Richard Johnson had him in pole position at the fore – especially when Thistlecrack suddenly folded and Unowhatimeanharry was been busy eyeing that rival – but he’d mostly earned that spot via a series of excellent leaps.

    Just over a length up on Unowhatimeanharry approaching two out and in receipt of 6lbs, the winner largely maintained that disparity until the runner-up had no extra near the line.

    Beer Goggles arrived at Newbury an improving stayer, having won a Newton Abbot handicap in October off 145 and bettered that with third at Aintree last time from a 7lb higher mark. Nonetheless, trainer Richard Woolacott wasn’t making any great claims for the horse he’s improved more than three stone since this time last year.

    “I’m flabbergasted,” he admitted to Rishi Persad on Racing UK in the winner’s enclosure. “We didn’t think he was the class of that.” The horse is set to miss Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle – seemingly a logical target – for a sally at the Cleeve Hurdle in January. If that indicates an aptitude for Cheltenham, the Stayers’ Hurdle becomes the plan.

    While you would reasonably expect Unowhatimeanharry to reverse this form were this pair to re-oppose on level terms, that isn’t a given because the winner is still on an upward trajectory whereas the runner-up appears to have plateaued. As I mentioned in the first Road of this series, his no-mistakes third in March’s Stayers’ Hurdle indicated Harry is “entirely beatable”.

    Back then, trainer Fry said he’d run “flat” – that imponderable excuse for any observer – but his disappointment last Saturday was palpable. With admirable frankness, he told Racing UK that he’d have been happy with second were his horse chasing home Thistlecrack; anything else was clearly not good enough.

    Unfortunately for Fry’s ambitions, this run was entirely in keeping with Harry’s form last season, give or take a pound or two, which makes 7/1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle even less appealing than 6/1 was a fortnight ago. In comparison, the 25/1 available for Beer Goggles (not to mention good old Lil Rockerfeller at 16/1) is way too big and exposes the market’s in-built bias against less high-profile trainers.

    Third-placed Taquin Du Seuil, making his seasonal debut and a decent fourth behind Yanworth in April’s Grade One Liverpool Hurdle, was nearly four lengths further adrift and never truly able to get involved.

    Fourth-placed Colin’s Sister ran better than it might appear: she was shouldering a 6lb penalty for her Wetherby success and at least mustered a half-challenge in the straight. She is entitled to another chance with full use of her mares’ allowance in the Long Distance Hurdle.

    Wholestone, a two-length second to the mare in the West Yorkshire Hurdle last time, was never a factor in last here.

    Were Apple’s Jade permitted to take on the boys at the Festival, either in the Champion Hurdle or more particularly in this contest, she would be a proper threat with, in her case, a hefty mares’ allowance. Her latest Hatton’s Grace success has been underestimated in some quarters, I think.

    Yet it seems even a nine-length thrashing meted out to titleholder Nichols Canyon cannot persuade trainer Gordon Elliott away from the David Nicholson.

    “We’ll keep her to mares’ races and the OLBG, which she won last season, will be her target. She’ll probably get an entry for the Stayers’ but it’s 100 per cent that she’ll go for the mares’ race,” he stated. “She’ll have a break now. She’s a stronger mare this season and a better one.”

    Of course, nothing is 100 per cent the trainer’s call when Gigginstown Stud is involved but the lure of a bird in the hand is usually primary.

    Nichols Canyon would have finished closer bar for stumbling and pecking on landing two out. He’s usually capable fresh but conceding 7lbs to a match-fit mare as good as Apple’s Jade was always going to be a tough ask.

    His best form came conclusively at three miles last season, too, so this trip was short of what now seems optimum and yet over which he is relatively unexposed.

    Supasundae’s reappearance back in third caused some bookmakers to push him out to 20/1. I can’t fathom why that should have been the case given he was short of room and ultimately squeezed out under four furlongs from home last Sunday and yet, having been relegated to last, stayed on encouragingly for third against better positioned rivals.


    Play Video
    Apple's Jade - Bar One Racing Hatton's Grace Hurdle (2017)
    We know he handles Cheltenham because he won last term’s Coral Cup, we know he’s being targeted at this race because trainer Jessica Harrington said so – and there ain’t another option for him – and we know he’s unexposed but promising at three miles, having made Yanworth (who may yet end up in this division) scrap for the Liverpool Hurdle on his first attempt at the trip.

    It was also soft ground at Fairyhouse and the balance of Supasundae’s form says he’s better on a sound surface. All in all, it would be rude not to take the 20/1.

    Check out Sky Bet's latest Stayers' Hurdle odds

    OLBG Mares’ Hurdle

    To my mind, Apple’s Jade is an improved model this season and – given her trainer is so definitively vocal about her Festival target – it was quite right that she hardened into 6/4 favourite to retain her crown after triumphing in the Hatton’s Grace.

    Neither Vroum Vroum Mag nor Limini – two mares who can be mentioned in the same breath as Apple’s Jade – have raced so far this term. The former was removed at the five-day stage from the John Durkan Chase this Sunday and also missed last month’s Morgiana Hurdle due to lameness.

    Stable companion Augusta Kate again shaped as not quite good enough for this company when beaten more than 34 lengths in sixth by Apple’s Jade last Sunday. Her jumping isn’t quick or accurate enough.

    Lightly raced Karalee, another Ricci-Mullins project and third to Apple’s Jade in a Punchestown Grade One in April, was distinctly disappointing on her seasonal return at Thurles last Thursday – even if she’d prefer a longer trip and perhaps a sounder surface. The winner Dawn Shadow, in receipt of 9lbs, is bound for the Festival’s mares’ novice event.

    Colin’s Sister is no forlorn hope in this race – particularly as she has probably not yet done improving – but whether this two-and-a-half mile trip suits her as much as three miles is not yet proven.

    Novice chasers

    Willoughby Court was clearly far more comfortable returned to a left-handed track and able to score a convincing, clever-jumping victory in the Grade Two Ladbrokes’ Chase over 2m4f at Newbury last Friday.

    He’d jumped repeatedly out to his left when winning on debut at right-handed Huntingdon despite looking in trouble between the final two fences. It wasn’t the first time he’d been undone by such track orientation, having been beaten on his hurdling debut at Market Rasen last term.

    His jumping was notably fluent here and he was perfectly comfortable pressing the pace before drawing clear from the fourth last in a display of total control.

    Jockey de Boinville informed trainer Ben Pauling afterwards that this horse “has more gears” than they’d thought and reflected that he’d run through them rather too quickly here, if given his time again.

    Both agree Willoughby Court will stay three miles in time but that the JLT is the correct Festival target this term. The 2017 Neptune winner is a perfectly credible 8/1 shot for that event.

    Pauling also spoke afterwards of how this horse had become “easier to train” because he lives less “on his nerves” these days. He identified the Grade Two Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day as the next step.



    Newbury Racecourse

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    Willoughby Court (15-8) is now 2-2 over fences as he wins the @Ladbrokes Novices' Chase and completes a double for Nico de Boinville. #LWC
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    At the evident risk of contributing to the irritation of Alan King, I don’t expect Yanworth to cut it as a chaser – or to be more exact, I don’t expect it to happen this season (if at all) and certainly not at the level to which his connections currently expect him to mix.

    At best he’s a slow learner; at worst, he doesn’t possess the requisite skills, frequently landing too statically. What he does have, however, is more game than for which he’s often been given credit. He made a sizeable mistake when meeting the fourth last all wrong and yet responded positively, rather than beating a retreat, to go down by only three lengths at the line.

    “Yanworth made a couple of mistakes and you can’t afford to do that against a horse of the winner’s class,” King conceded afterwards. “But we’ve got round and we’ve been very competitive – and hopefully he will have learned plenty again.

    “It was only his third run over fences and obviously Exeter [where he crumpled tamely on landing last time] wasn’t ideal, but he needed a couple of runs over hurdles to almost man up. These fences are bigger than anywhere in the country, so it’s a good test.”

    Back in third, Adrien Du Pont took a good step forward – despite being keen – on merely his second start over fences. Formerly a decent juvenile hurdler and the beneficiary of a wind operation in July, fences clearly suit him well. Expect him to continue to progress.

    Earlier on the same day, last year’s Imperial Cup sixth Bigmartre clocked the fastest overall time to register a four-and-a-half-length defeat of Cyrname in a two-mile novices’ handicap chase that represents strong form.

    His jumping was delightfully efficient and intelligent (if slightly right-handed at times). He also did well to elude headstrong clutz Hell’s Kitchen – who’d earlier breasted the fourth and unseated Barry Geraghty – running loose at the fourth last.

    Winning trainer Harry Whittington is considering Warwick’s Grade Two Kingmaker Chase next February, with the Grade One Manifesto Chase at Aintree that he won in 2016 with the late Arzal as his ultimate ambition.

    The following day, Elegant Escape announced himself a staying novice of some ability when delivering an unerringly rhythmic round of jumping to win the Grade Two John Francome Novices’ Chase over just shy of three miles.

    Just prior to the race, trainer Tizzard observed that he’d never seen the horse look so well and that he’d tilted at this Grade Two instead of a less vaunted Taunton contest. His boldness was duly rewarded and this five-year-old is clearly going to be a far better chaser than hurdler, as his frame hinted last year when he displayed unlocked ability in good company.

    The result might just have been different had Black Corton jumped the last more fluently, having narrowly headed the winner two out. But Harry Cobden asked Elegant Escape to attack the last and the pair got away from it more readily to score by three-quarters of a length.

    Tizzard was bringing up a straight hat-trick in this event, after triumphing with both Thistlecrack and Native River, and mentioned the RSA Chase as a long-term destination. In the meantime, the Kauto Star – that the yard won, luckily, with Royal Vacation last year – is the obvious next step for Elegant Escape.

    Kempton would likely mean a re-match with Black Corton, who was trying to concede 3lbs to the winner after five successes over fences already this season with conditional find, Bryony Frost, on board. Trainer Nicholls believes the horse is thriving on his busy campaign and didn’t discount a cheeky appearance in a Doncaster Grade Two on Saturday week, either.

    Beaten favourite Fountains Windfall was still in there pitching when falling at the third last. However, there was a sense of inevitability that his round would end in this manner because he wasn’t giving himself time to measure his obstacles and had already guessed at several before coming down. He had showed that he could be clever in putting himself right but when that failed he was tending to bravely fling himself over these fences. Schooling ahoy.

    Sir Ivan ran creditably enough in fourth but is not this grade. Wait For Me, who hit the deck on chase debut at Chepstow last time, is contractually obliged to make at least one error per outing. He was in generous mood here, making several or else spending too much time in the air.

    Over in Ireland, Death Duty is also proving to possess more speed than most people – perhaps primarily trainer Elliott – had imagined this time last year when he was carrying all before him over hurdles only to come up short in the Albert Bartlett.

    That defeat can be read quite a bit better than literally: he was still going well enough when hampered at the second last and, if stamina isn’t his asset, his lack of impact up the final hill is explicable. The one thing he is yet to prove is whether he needs testing ground to be fully effective.

    He jumped persistently left in the early stages of the Grade One 2m4f Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse last Sunday but had his rivals on the stretch from the third last and drew clear in the straight. This was a ready disposal of some decent horses and Elliott is all set on the JLT – provided Gigginstown don’t overrule him, natch.



    Sporting Life

    @SportingLife
    What a day for Gordon Elliott at @Fairyhouse ��

    Mengli Khan ��
    Apple's Jade ��
    Death Duty ��

    A clean sweep of Grade 1s for @gelliott_racing ��
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    Runner-up and experienced chaser Rathvinden tried to go with Death Duty from the second last; he may ultimately do better over further and certainly on a sounder surface. Third-placed Snow Falcon wasn’t as well positioned in a steadily run race and ran a decent race on his second chase start over an inadequate trip.

    Presenting Percy was a revelation in winning the Porterstown immediately afterwards. Perhaps he was beating a field of exposed types but he did so in the style of a horse in a totally different league. His jumping was excellent in a biggish field going at a decent pace.

    The mark of 145 was clearly lenient based on his hurdling form – notably that Pertemps success at last season’s Festival – but he travelled strongly, challenged on the bridle two out, was still on the bit when leading approaching the last – which he jumped well – and came home unextended.

    That level of form puts him on a mark of 157 – already 1lb higher than Don Poli’s rating when winning the 2015 RSA and 3lbs higher than Might Bite’s just plain incorrect rating when winning the same race last term; (he could have been rated in the 160s on his Kauto Star performance).

    I would therefore ideally like to recommend Presenting Percy for a Festival bet but the catch is whether he runs in the RSA or the NH Chase and he’s been backed for both in recent days. He certainly appeared greatly at home over 3m5f at Fairyhouse. The 7/1 with Sky Bet ‘To win any Festival race’ isn’t a shabby offer in the circumstances.

    Incidentally, stablemate Mall Dini also caught the eye, late to get involved and then mildly outpaced before staying on strongly for fourth. He’s a second-season chaser and has already been earmarked for the Grand National by one ante-post column. That’s a fair shout.

    In other Irish news, the JP McManus-owned Bon Papa won his chase debut in comfortable style in all but his familiar awkward head carriage. The race wasn’t entirely satisfactory, with Avenir D’Une Vie falling when going okay in the clear five out and owner companion Stand Up And Fight – backed into favourite – being pulled up. Mullins believes the winner needs further.

    The Storyteller also straightforwardly accounted for Sutton Manor and Live Love Laugh at Fairyhouse. He’s not top class but I admire his lack of complexity.

    Novice hurdlers

    In a similar vein to Presenting Percy, I think Mengli Khan’s Grade One Royal Bond success was initially taken for granted somewhat. Unlike the odds for that chaser, his have not further constricted in recent days.

    This was a deep novices’ event run at a good pace and the winner accounted for all rivals by upwards of five-and-a-half lengths in the fastest time of the day. His performance also withstood sectional deconstruction. In short, this was form smart enough to hit the frame in most Supremes.

    Mengli Khan isn’t your archetypal Gigginstown recruit, having been a 96-rated handicapper who stayed at least 11 furlongs on the Flat for Hugo Palmer in his three-year-old days last season. Yet despite this background, he has grown to have the scope even for chasing in future.

    Perhaps because stable companion Samcro has sucked out all available heat and noise from the novice-hurdling scene, Mengli Khan is still on offer at 15/2 with Betfair or 7/1 more widely for the Sky Bet Supreme. Let’s take that. I doubt many – if any – will be able to match the level of form he already boasts come March. He is clearly very effective on soft ground but sounder stuff wouldn’t phase him either.



    Sporting Life

    @SportingLife
    How impressed were you by Mengli Khan's latest win at Fairyhouse today? ����
    1:29 PM - Dec 3, 2017
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    Although the Royal Bond hasn’t had an impact on the Festival in the past two years, Nichols Canyon won the race in 2014 and prior to that the names of Jezki, Dunguib, Hurricane Fly, Newmill, Hardy Eustace, Like-A-Butterfly, Moscow Flyer and Istabraq have all adorned its roll of honour. In short, it tends to be a good source of class acts.

    This year’s renewal looked strong and runner-up Early Doors is also a talented animal. He would have been much closer bar for landing in a heap at the penultimate flight but he gave stolid chase to the winner and pulled 15 lengths clear of his nearest pursuer. He’s progressive and shouldn’t be overlooked just because the winner brushed him aside here.

    Le Richebourg struck me as better than a well-beaten sixth would suggest. On his first start for more than four months, he seemed to get tired from approaching the last and should do better.

    On the same card, novice David’s Charm won the two-mile handicap hurdle off a mark of 134 and now sits at the fore of the County Hurdle market. He was relatively well positioned here.

    At the same track the previous day, Discorama caused something of a shock – perhaps chiefly to his jockey – when managing to nut odds-on favourite Blow By Blow on the line. It was the 66/1 winner’s hurdles debut and trainer Paul Nolan was convinced he wasn’t ready but the horse decided for himself that he was.

    Another performance to note was Real Steel’s Irish debut for Mullins. The trainer noted his French recruit jumping a little big in the early stages but his style improved and he ended up winning the Thurles two-mile maiden by four-and-a-half lengths. Townend suggested a step up in trip would suit.

    At Newbury, Lostintranslation put his superior experience at a decent level to good use when winning Friday’s opening contest – albeit Admiral Barratry might have shaken things up had he not been intent on hanging left throughout the straight.

    Santini made an encouraging racecourse debut two races later, defeating his more practised stablemate Chef Des Obeaux, among others, in a good-looking field. The winner is deemed more of a nascent chaser by trainer Henderson.

    Dame Rose made all to win the opening mares’ novices’ event the following day, turning around her earlier course-and-distance form with Cap Soleil. The winner was less aggressively ridden last time but still managed to make all, unchallenged, and the Festival is on trainer Richard Hobson’s radar. The smart runner-up was below form and looked to be hanging in the straight; perhaps a reason will come to light.

    At Doncaster that same day, Kalashnikov won a slowly run race in taking fashion and thus maintained his unbeaten record. Displaying a low head carriage, he was always well positioned at the fore and jumped into the lead at the third last on the bridle. He negotiated the last two hurdles in good style and stayed on strongly. Trainer Amy Murphy has mentioned the Ballymore (formerly the Neptune).

    Runner-up Irish Prophecy was hitherto also unbeaten – including when gifted a race at the start at Sandown when none of his opponents seemed to want to get involved. Here, he laid down a sustained challenge to the winner until making the slower jump at the last and, finding his spirit quelled thereafter, drifting left on the run-in. Both horses emerge with some credit.

    Earlier in the week, the Henderson-trained Diese Des Bieffes followed up his previous Fontwell success at Taunton but didn’t need to improve to register that second hurdles victory.

    Juvenile hurdlers

    Espoir D’Allen continues to achieve whatever is asked of him over in Ireland, most recently winning a Fairyhouse Grade Three conducted at a total crawl. He settled well, jumped soundly and travelled strongly until asked to settled matters entering the straight.

    Geraghty gave a confident backwards glance approaching the second last to see Mitchouka – already a dual winner – seemingly travelling well enough. Yet despite clipping the top and becoming mildly unbalanced, the winner soon had that horse in trouble on landing. Espoir D’Allen then bounded away for a four-and-a-half-length success.

    In his At The Races blog, Geraghty commented on how well this juvenile jumped – indeed he was confident enough to ask him to attack his obstacles on occasion – and that should stand him in good stead for when he encounters a larger field and a pace other than funereal.

    Owner JP McManus also has Apple’s Shakira topping the current juvenile charts on this side of the Irish Sea but is not averse to running multiple juveniles in the Triumph. That said, the filly would also have the option of the Dawn Run with a four-year-old’s allowance. Both would also be eligible to run in the Supreme.

    At least two decent juveniles clashed at Newcastle last Saturday, recording a time superior to Buveur D’Air’s Fighting Fifth coronation. Ultimately, it was Act Of Valour – a 97-rated ex-Irish performer on the Flat making his debut for Nicholls – who triumphed over fellow newcomer Look My Way.

    Had Tom Scudamore known the runner-up better and were it not that horse’s debut over hurdles, he might have cracked on from a bit further out, for they were closing on the winner at the finish.

    Look My Way’s asset is his stamina – as demonstrated by a 22-length success at Ffos Las in September that caused him to be raised only a generous 11lbs by the official handicapper. He will surely thrive over further in time. Trainer John Quinn has got himself yet another useful dual-purpose prospect.

    Act Of Valour stayed 12 furlongs on the Flat and here jumped better than the second. Both are likely to have Chepstow’s Grade One Finale on their target sheet after dealing readily with such testing conditions.

    Third-placed French recruit Embole was still well in touch when lacking fluency at the third last and being on the back foot as a result. He then rallied to get back in touch at the next, only to fluff that also and lose touch. Given this was only his second-ever racecourse experience – whereas the 1-2 were hardened Flat performers – this rates as highly promising.

    Road To Cheltenham selections

    Already advised: Min at 8/1 Champion Chase with Paddy Power/Betfair
    Back Supasundae for the Stayers’ Hurdle at 20/1 with Bet365 and Betfair/Paddy Power (Log in now and back him at 25/1 with Sky Bet)
    Back Mengli Khan for the Supreme at 15/2 with Betfair Sportsbook (Log in now and back him at 8/1 with Sky Bet)

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