What a great card we witnessed last weekend at Cheltenham trials day. Until Saturday, we had been starved of top quality racing since Christmas, but it was well worth the wait for last weekend’s quality Card. The racing at Leopardstown was none to bad on the quality front as well.

The fact that the Cheltenham festival is so close made the trials day take on greater significance from a betting point of view. Trends over many year even decades show that horses either like this course or not. A proven Cheltenham performer is always high up on the list of potential winners come festival race day.

Cape Tribulation and Imperial Commander once again proved the trend as one to place high importance and value on. The favourite Grand Crus also proved the trend correct by failing to reach the frame over the three mile 1 furlong trip in heavy ground. How Grand Crus ended up favourite for this race is beyond me? He couldn’t stay three miles at Kempton even following a breathing operation!

Imperial Commander ran a huge race considering his long layoff with injury and lack of peak fitness. He had this race in the bag everywhere except the final 10 yards. Sam Twiston-Davies did everything right on him and led the field by two lengths over the final fence. My admiration of this effort from Imperial Commander did not sink in for a few minutes. I was too busy climbing down from the high of seeing a brilliant staying finish by Cape Tribulation.

Backing the winner in such a great finish is what makes the blood adrenaline levels surge. My and many others utterly useless encouragements at the television made all the difference…not! Denis O’Regan deserves huge plaudits for creeping around the course (twice!) and only asking for full effort after making a slight mistake at the second last fence.

The Argento Chase is a proper Gold Cup Trial especially when run in this ground. Cape Tribulation shall have no stamina issues when running over the furlong longer Gold Cup course in March like the already proven Imperial Commander. Both are previous course winners who once again showed their willing attitude and toughness for running up a ridiculously steep hill at the end of a marathon trip.

It was great to see Hunt Ball show some form once again and he looked a serious threat to all until his effort petered out after the second last. Good ground will help him enormously and the dream is still alive for his exuberant owner Anthony Knot. Trainer Kieran Burke thinks it was a non staying performance and would prefer to aim for the Aintree Bowl run over three miles on a flat course. However, Knot has backed Hunt Ball “to win a million in the Gold Cup” and I am sure the owner would like to give it a lash in the Gold Cup if the ground turns up good.

Some other races won by proven Cheltenham performers included the “black Aeroplane” Sprinter Sacre, At Fishers Cross & Reve De Sivola. You can add Katenko to that list too following his very impressive maiden Cheltenham victory. Cheltenham ante post betting lesson, always look for a proven Cheltenham performer, simple really except when several running in the same race!

 

Eye Catchers Report 26th / 27th January

Battle Group – Trainer David Pipe – Jockey Tom Scudamore

Battle Goup stayed on really well up the Cheltenham Hill to grab third place behind the run away winner Vino Griego. Tom Scudamore was not overly hard on him. Pipe is a master of winning handicaps at the Cheltenham festival and Battle Group could be the one this year. He has a current rating of 131 which may go up a couple of pounds. Either way he stayed on powerfully and will be very interesting running over a longer trip in a Cheltenham Festival Handicap. He was fourth behind Hunt Ball at the festival last year on good ground; in fact most of his wins are on the more likely good ground he will run on next time out at the festival. His chase rating is over ten pounds lower than his hurdle rating so there is scope for improvement so long as he jumps well.

Katenko – Trainer Venetia Williams – Jockey Aidan Coleman

Katenko ran the opposition ragged when bolting up last Saturday. It is easy to see why the Gold Cup will be his next port of call. He jumped great and finished off his race looking full of running. He will benefit from the longer Gold Cup trip and who is to say how much more improvement lies ahead. This was only his third Chase run in the UK. He is only a seven year old and is on a huge upward curve rating’s wise (158 now). Looking back he has won in France on good ground so that should not be a huge concern for March. Horses like him that are improving quickly are great to follow. A price of 33/1 certainly is tempting to win in this year’s Gold Cup. His new rating of 158 falls short of Cheltenham Gold Cup standard. However, last year The Giant Bolster finished second in the gold cup off the exact same rating following a win in this race!

Our Mick – Trainer Donald McCain – Jockey Jason Maguire

Our Mick was travelling easily when bumping into Katenko and unseating Jason Maguire upon landing after the third last fence. This was a very encouraging run considering he has not been seen on a racetrack since finishing third behind Alfie Sherrin at the festival last March. His rating of 145 is fair and if he has improved from last March he will put up a bold show in the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase once again this year. He is for the shortlist to win on the first day of the festival.

Cape Tribulation – Trainer Malcolm Jefferson – Jockey Denis O’Regan

We noted his run over Christmas at Wetherby, where he handled the heavy ground well. Once again he handled the heavy going and jumped super except for a slight mistake at the second last. I am certain that Cape tribulation will improve for better ground, and has absolutely no stamina issues having won the Pertemps final over three miles at Cheltenham last year as well as this race. Denis O’Regan gave him a fantastic ride sitting as still as a statue for most of the 3m1f trip. He stayed on dourly to pass the tiring Imperial Commander but was giving the runner up six pounds. This was a big performance and he has a very good each way chance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup especially as he is overpriced at 33/1 with two of the main bookies. The British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) handicapper has raised him to a rating of 165 and that is not far off the leading contenders. I can see him improving the necessary extra few pounds on better ground to win a Gold Cup!

Imperial Commander – Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies – Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies

What a run from Imperial Commander albeit in receipt of weight from all the opposition. He had this race in the bag everywhere but on the line. His trainer mentioned that he was not fully fit so that aligned with his long layoff from racing, surely cost him this race. He looks to have retained his ability here and will be a joy to watch when running in the Gold Cup. He is twelve years of age and that counts against him winning the Gold Cup. Seventeen of the last eighteen Gold Cup winners were aged less than ten years old. Statistics are there to be broken of course and the fact that he has low mileage on the clock for a twelve year old might see him run a place at the Festival. Personally, I cannot see him winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

At Fishers Cross – Trainer Rebecca Curtis – Jockey Tony McCoy

At Fishers Cross stayed on strongly to wear down The New One to win by a neck. He did very well to win as McCoy had to steer him around The New One, as Sam Twiston-Davies cleverly shut the door on him running up the rail. Rebecca Curtis strongly favours running him in the longer Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Festival. It is easy to see why as he was outpaced by the runner up between the final two hurdles. He is improving with each run and jumped well in the main here.  At Fishers Cross is one for the shortlist at the festival. He showed here that he has more speed than Coneygree who was badly outpaced here although maybe not running to his best.

The New One – Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies – Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies

The New One impressed me more that ever with his performance at Cheltenham. In a proper trial on unsuitable heavy ground he showed his natural speed to get away from the eventual winner before the last hurdle. Lack of stamina cost him victory as he tired close to the line. Following this run there is little doubt that he will get the Neptune Hurdle 2m5f trip no problem esp. on the more likely better ground in March. His current price of 5/1 is deserved following this fine effort. Can he show a clean pair of heels to Pont Alexandre?

Oscar Whiskey – Trainer Nicky Henderson – Jockey Barry Geraghty

Oscar Whiskey fought out a fine finish when second to Reve De Sivola. He looked sure to win coming to the last but could not pass Reve De Sivola. Barry Geraghty mentioned in his post race interview that Oscar Whiskey did not travel as well as in his previous run but did prove he stays three miles. The world hurdle will surely come next and who is to say that he will not win on better ground. Personally, I think the winner is better over the extended three miles World Hurdle trip on any ground.

Mr Watson – Trainer Jonjo O’Neill – Jockey Tony McCoy

Mr Watson was very disappointing on his first run at Cheltenham back in December. However, he has won twice since including this effort at Cheltenham. He runs quite free and maybe the penny has dropped with him and he has learned to settle. He is open to more improvement and his style of running will be better suited on good ground. He won this race comfortably and it will be interesting to see how much the handicapper raises his rating over the coming days.

Lord Windermere – Trainer Jim Culloty – Jockey – Tom Doyle

Lord Windermere was outpaced by Texas Jack when running into the final bend at Leopardstown. The winner Texas Jack was travelling well and looked sure to win easy. He won by a quickly diminishing half a length as Lord Windermere powered home up the stiff finish. There is little doubt that Lord Windermere needs even more of a stamina test than this 2m5f test. It was interesting to note Jim Culloty mention the RSA Chase at Cheltenham as his next target if Lord Windermere’s owner agrees. The only caveat with him is that he will not be run on fast ground according to his trainer. Fast ground will not be found at the festival (watering policy) but good ground most likely will and there is a possibility that he may not run on good ground. 33/1 looks too big a price for him in the RSA Chase, but I would only risk my money if availing of a non runner no bet guarantee from the bookies.

Ted Veale – Trainer Tony Martin – Jockey Davy Russell

Ted Veale ran a very good race in this highly competitive handicap on unsuitable soft ground. He travelled and jumped very well to be in a winning position over the final hurdle. His run petered out quickly up the final run in and he did well to hold on for third place. He is only gone six years old and is a horse that is improving fast. I can see him running a big race if getting good ground in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham. Tony Martin has mentioned in the past the he is a much better horse on good ground.

Mala Beach – Trainer Gordon Elliot – Jockey Davy Russell

Mala beach was a ready winner of this good maiden hurdle staying on stoutly to win. City Slicker set a good pace from half way in this race with Mala beach settled in behind. Mala Beach is an embryonic chaser but can win some good hurdles races over the rest of this season. I reckon this was a quality race with many future winners in the field. The first four horses in this race are of interest and have a big future over fences. Mala Beach looked very good winning and is a future star no doubt when sent chasing.

Foxrock – Ted Walsh – Jockey Mark Walsh

Foxrock ran on well but could never reach the winner Mala Beach. He ran a lovely race and will improve for this run no doubt. He will appreciate a stiffer stamina test and will win a future maiden hurdle no doubt. He is an ex point to pointer and chasing will be his game.

City Slicker – Willie Mullins – Jockey Paul Townend

City Slicker ran a little too free in this race. He pulled himself to the lead around halfway using up valuable energy in doing so. He tired badly following the final flight. His weak finish is totally understandable considering how he failed to settle and pulled quite hard to get to the front. Once he learns to settle he will win a maiden hurdle no problem.

Le Vent D’Antan – Trainer Liz Doyle – Jockey Mr Michael Fogarty

This well touted racecourse newcomer is now one of the favourites to win this years Cheltenham Bumper. He won his race last Saturday easily, settling and travelling well. Liz Doyle is a master at producing top quality young horses for export to the UK and I will be surprised is this horse does not change ownership before the festival. Liz has produced and sold Al Ferof and Cheltenian in the past to finish 2nd and 1st respectively in the Cheltenham Bumper. She rates Le Vent D’Antan closer to Cheltenian than Al Ferof on his homework so the 12/1 regarding his chances in the Cheltenham Bumper looks spot on.

Pont Alexandre – Trainer Willie Mullins – Jockey Ruby Walsh

Once again he trounced his opposition on heavy ground. He has a huge engine and looks to have speed and stamina in abundance. Willie Mullins mentioned how well he jumps which will be a major asset in the Neptune Novices Hurdle his likely target. Personally, I still have some concerns regarding him on good ground. He is such a big horse that he might not let himself down fully on good ground .Saying that Cheltenham has a policy of providing safe ground at the festival for the last couple of years and last year their good ground had a nice bit of ease in it. He deserves his position at the head of the market for the Neptune Novices but will he have the pace to match The New One for example?

Sizing Gold – Trainer Henry De Bromhead – Jockey Andrew Lynch

Sizing Gold is a fine big horse that stayed on well to finish second. He will benefit from a further step up in trip at grade 1 level. Chasing next season is his future we are told but maybe he can run a nice race in the Albert Bartlett hurdle over three miles along the way. His trainer is none to keen to go to the Cheltenham Festival with him this year so maybe Fairyhouse or Punchestown festivals are more likely targets .He is improving and is with a very good trainer.

My Murphy – Trainer Liam Burke – Jockey Andrew Lynch

On only his second racecourse chase start, My Murphy stayed on really well to finish third. He won a three mile hurdle race in heavy ground last season so this trip was short for him. I presumed given the short trip he would be ridden prominently but his jockey sat behind the leaders until being outpaced on the run to the finish line from the final turn. He jumped well enough and with normal improvement and a step up in trip is sure to win a Novice Chase soon.

 

Wow, last Saturday was an appetiser and more for the festival in March with some great close finishes enjoyed. The next big trials day will be the Hennessy Gold Cup day at Leopardstown on Feb. 9th with four Grade 1 races up for grabs. It is days like last Saturday with quality racing that makes this sport oh so interesting 🙂

All the best,

Nicky

 

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