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CHELTENHAM, 15th November 2015
Going: GOOD TO SOFT (Soft in places)
Over the Old Course
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The new-look Cheltenham, with the new grandstand in full use, was typically busy for the Sunday of the Open Meeting, with the going description left as what it had been changed to during Saturday's card.
Race one was the Grade 2 Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle and it saw Altior take his record this season to three out of three, but the race was weakened by Drumlee Sunset's getting rid of the rider just after the start and marred by the injury sustained by Maputo, who reportedly won't race again.
Altior, rough and patchy in his coat and not taking the eye as much as he did before the Newbury bumper last February, won his third novice hurdle from as many starts, looking as though he'd come off second best just after the last but taking advantage of Maputo faltering close home.
Maputo travelled well when produced to challenge on the home turn, and led once shaken up after the last only to falter and not see the race out as much as it looked as though he would. He reportedly picked up a tendon injury and is not likely to race again.
Simon Squirrel is about medium height, and probably has a future, but was put in his place against this opposition after taking a prominent sit to the second last, keeping on for a hand ride up the hill. The best long term prospect physically, though, was Viens Chercher, a well-made Milan gelding, who was left in the lead by Drumlee Sunset's very early exit and made most to the home turn.
Drumlee Sunset, medium height and angular in shape, dispensed with Richard Johnson's services after going barely ten yards, but he had a tough task anyway on his form when chasing home Mister Miyagi here in October and that's worth bearing in mind just in case he runs in another Graded novice next time.
The previous year's Greatwood winner Garde La Victoire is making his way onwards and upwards over the larger obstacles, and he had to get tough to hold off an improved performer in Fox Norton in the Grade 2 Arkle Trophy Trial Novices' Chase.
Garde La Victoire, the pick of the paddock, looking very well, toughed this out after making his way from the back of the small field. As was the case over hurdles his jumping isn't perfect - he blundered at the eighth and reached for the next - but, after not going as well as Fox Norton approaching the second last, he found much more up the hill having reached for the last. The Arkle or, as he's proven over 2m4f, the JLT are realistic options at the Cheltenham Festival.
Fox Norton isn't the most obvious chasing sort, medium height and light bodied, but he looked very well and gave Garde La Victoire a good race, making most - mistake fifth, had to be ridden into the sixth - and actually going best approaching two out, but headed 175 yards out and unable to find extra. This performance suggests the Grand Annual might be worth a try.
Calipto (tallish, leggy, light bodied) is worth trying over further after doing much his best work at the end here, held up and making a mistake at the third, ridden and outpaced from the third last but closing on the first two noticeably after the last - he may well have caught them with another furlong to travel. His stablemate Dormello Mo - physically the best type in the field, a rangy gelding - weakened from the third last and might now be feeling the effects of a busy spell over the Summer.
With Bobs Worth and Simonsig having proved that they've still got it - well, at least most of their old ability - at Aintree the previous week, that left just Sprinter Sacre of Nicky Henderson's older front-line trio from 2012/13 to try and show what he's capable of in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase over the minimum trip. All around jaws dropping, voices gasping and sustained cheering greeted Sprinter's taking the lead at the fourth last - racegoers sensing something a bit special was about to happen - and the applause just got louder at the third last, louder still at the second last and completely drowned out the commentary after the last.
Sprinter Sacre will never again be a horse that you can set your watch to on account of his well-documented problems, and we'd probably use phrases like 'high-class chaser on his day nowadays' - well if this was his day, a few folk are just going to want more days like it. Looking very well in his coat but carrying a little condition, and relaxed in the preliminaries, there was no pulling hard in the race - when he led four out it looked simply a case of jockey Nico de Boinville quickening the pace, rather than giving the horse his head. None of the others could live with him, and when he was the only one on the bridle with two to jump, it was like how it used to be for Sprinter all the time. Pushed out from the last, he won unchallenged by 14 lengths.
If he is strong enough to withstand training and take a full campaign of races, this performance gives him the winning of most 2m to 2m4f chases - probably starting with the Tingle Creek at Sandown next month. I rate Sprinter's performance 167, which gives him the beating of a peak-form Dodging Bullets.
Somersby looked well and though he's rising 12, appeared to give his running on this seasonal debut, outpaced from the third last and making his effort to go second at the last, which was the nearest he got; he'll be vulnerable to the younger generation, though. Savello (medium to tall, leggy), now with Dan Skelton, also did late work to go third, like the majority also outpaced when Sprinter Sacre took up the running.
Simply Ned (a bit on his toes) looked the part but the effort of trying to get to Sprinter Sacre told in the last half mile, no extra from the home turn, and Mr Mole (looked well) to an extent had the same issue, although he was trying to keep Sprinter behind rather than in close proximity with his now-usual front-running tactics employed, and he weakened from the second last. His Game Spirit win is still remembered, though, and it might be that Mr Mole will always be at his best at tracks other than Cheltenham.
Next a typically hot renewal of the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, with lots of in-form horses taking part: two four-year-olds - neither of whom made much impact in the best juvenile company last season - came clear of the strongly-fancied Waxies Dargle, and with three at single-figure prices in the frame, the form looks strong. You certainly wouldn't be surprised if any of the first half-dozen went on to win one of the good two-mile handicaps still to come this season, either side of the Irish sea.
Old Guard, medium to tallish in stature, looked well and momentarily spooked at yet another round of applause - he was first in to the paddock, arriving while the Sprinter Sacre-adulation was still going on. Overcoming that, the race went sweetly - always in a good position, shaken up two out, running on to lead at the last and staying on strongly. It's been announced that he'll be going for the Champion Hurdle, but he'll need some 20 lbs of improvement between now and March to be competitive.
Superb Story (two handlers), an angular gelding, was given a bit to do in relation to Old Guard, but it didn't prevent him from having his chance. After he had around eight or nine in front of him with three to jump, he made good ground and was poised just behind the leaders on the turn, running on to chase Old Guard up the hill but unable to match him in the last 150 yards. He'll go well again in something like the Ladbroke at Ascot, which his trainer Dan Skelton won with Willow's Saviour in 2013, but he lacks size and isn't one for the long term.
Waxies Dargle had a lot of things go wrong in the County Hurdle, but won a decent handicap at Killarney in May before his Summer break and continued his progress, challenging going well after the second last and disputing it when reaching for the last, keeping on but unable to match the first two. He'll go well again, which you can't say about the fourth Renneti with confidence after he needed the jockey to ride a finish just to get him to start, which isn't a first. For the rest of the race it was pretty much a carbon copy of his fourth-placing in the Cesarewitch, running on strongly past rivals in the closing stages to be nearest at the finish. His slow starts seriously compromise his winning chance over 2m and a step up in trip might be the answer.
Totalize (bandaged in front) didn't run that well on the Flat at Haydock in September but justified what I thought was a skinny 10/1 SP for him, pushed along after the fifth and holding his place, in front after reaching for the second last but unable to find extra - he'll more than likely turn up in the Ladbroke but he's more exposed than others and won't go down the weights for this, so others will probably be preferred.
A couple who did better than their finishing positions might suggest are Bouvreuil (tallish, light-bodied), who took a keen hold and raced with the leaders till ridden after the second last, not knocked about and allowed to drop back, and Bidourey - a rangy gelding, just about the best type physically in the field - who made an error at the fourth but led three out, headed after the second last and outpaced going to the last, dropping away in the straight.
No fewer than 24 runners contested the 2m5f26y 0-125 conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle, a qualifier for one of the new 'Grass Roots' races - the Challenger Staying Hurdle Series Final, to be run at Haydock on March 26th (the first eight home qualify). In terms of winning this race, however, 23 of them will have more of a chance in the Haydock contest than they did here against Unowhatimeanharry.
Unowhatimeanharry blipped on a lot of punters' radars more than once last season, but he didn't get the win that looked likely after he'd posted some decent efforts in up to Class 2 handicap hurdles. He's joined Harry Fry this season, and the handler added to his good record with horses on their first start for the yard since leaving another trainer, always in the first half-dozen and the only one on the bit after the second last, pushed out up the hill to make sure. He remains a novice over hurdles this season.
Shadarpour (leggy and sparely made) ran into one on the day - well they all did, as already implied above - and a win is just around the corner, on this occasion staying on from the midfield and going second at the last, one pace up the hill.
Scoop The Pot looks hard work and it could pay to take him on when he runs, hard ridden at the back of the main group after the seventh, looking held two out and jumping the last in seventh, driven and staying on to go third late and flattered by his position. The fourth home, Fingerontheswitch, looked straightforward and should be placed to advantage, held up, making gradual headway travelling comfortably and chasing the leaders two out, no extra approaching the last.
One who ran similarly to Fingerontheswitch, and is worth another chance, was the sixth home Seeyouallincoppers, a well-made gelding who looked burly in the paddock despite having last raced 21 days previously. Having been held up, he was making gradual headway on the bit when blundering at the second last, unable to find more from the home turn but keeping on a bit after the last. Also don't dismiss Jansboy next time, as having raced up with the pace, he was sent for home a long way out - leading going to the seventh then booted clear by the top of the hill, coming back to them and weakening after he was headed with two to jump.
A strong-looking renewal of the Listed bumper which closes the Open Meeting these days was won by a good prospect in Ballyandy, but chances are that all of the first half dozen home will have won over jumps by May 2017. Quite a few of them were keen but a couple of fancied contenders didn't show their form for reasons besides that.
Ballyandy (workmanlike, deep girthed, two handlers) moved well and was travelling best on the home turn, leading a furlong out and staying on strongly. He'll stay at least 2m4f and, if his action's anything to go by, should be effective on soft ground as he shows quite a bit of front knee lift.
Potters Legend, a workmanlike son of Midnight Legend, made good ground to track the leaders going well and was pushed along on the home turn, one-paced in the last 150 yards. A nicer type is Aurillac, a tallish gelding who made a lot of the running. He might be better going right-handed, having blown the turn out of the back straight to go down the hill, but credit where it's due as he rallied to go third in the last 150 yards having been headed on the home turn.
Waterlord is a much bigger sort than most in John Ferguson's stable, a rangy, well-made Cape Cross gelding. Niggled along going down the hill, he led on the home turn but could do nothing about Ballyandy, fading and losing second and third up the hill. One likely to win dropped in grade next time is Caius Marcius (workmanlike, fit enough) who faded approaching the home turn but kept on in the straight.
The well-supported Chap (well made chasing type), winner at Aintree in May on his only previous start and another to represent Midnight Legend, was disadvantaged by sticking to the by-now-well-poached ground on the inside when everyone else went middle-to-outer - his run might be best ignored. Also disappointing was Coole Charmer, a tallish, workmanlike sort who'll do better over fences himself; after he went well three furlongs out, he was bumped on both sides going down the hill and may well have gone amiss, eased right down and trailing in. Both those are worth another chance to show themselves better than this.
Horses to take out of the meeting