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HUNTINGDON, 6th December 2015
Going: GOOD TO SOFT (Soft in places)
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Not as big a crowd as expected for Peterborough Chase day at Huntingdon: in contrast to northern areas of the British Isles it had been a mainly dry weekend in Cambridgeshire and the going was almost certainly leaning towards good ground - a theory backed up by some of the race times, all the races over around 2m4f clocking under five minutes, regardless of whether it was hurdles or fences, a strong pace or steady early.
There's little to take out of the opening 2m4f145y 0-110 handicap hurdle (I'm using the official distances as published in the racecard), indeed the race was more noteworthy for George Gorman's ride on the second Guards Chapel than for any of the horses.
Periquest (medium height) is less exposed than any of his rivals in this and only needed to reproduce the form of his second to Pithivier at Southwell to land this modest race, off the bridle early enough as he needed a push before the third last, but responding and staying on well once hitting the front two out, although lucky the post came in time with the runner-up closing hand over fist in the last few strides.
Guards Chapel (close-coupled), who drifted from 11/2 to 13/2, is a candidate for least genuine horse in training and - for the second time in as many runs - only got into contention after a strong ride from 7 lb-claimer George Gorman; the horse needed no second invitation to drop the lot after blundering at the third, but with Gorman relentlessly pushing away, Guards Chapel started a move going to the third last and sustained it in the straight, actually looking like he might get up close home but the post just coming in time for the winner. The horse is not one to have on your side, but the rider definitely is.
Skint has left anyone who's followed him since his days with the Nicky Henderson stable exactly that; they tried something different with him in a vain attempt to get him to pass the post in front - making the running - but he couldn't go with the winner from the second last, and more likely to win at some point is the fourth Occasionally Yours, who'd won twice and placed twice at Huntingdon prior to this: he chased Skint closest on the final circuit, but couldn't go with the winner approaching two out, doing good late work to be only beaten a length.
David John (leggy) was fancied after his last time out-third at Warwick, 7/2 to 11/4, but he'd been comprehensively thrashed on his only previous try over this sort of trip and was tailed off here too, losing his place and well beaten approaching three out, tailed off in the straight. He needs to come back in distance.
The quality on this card was by no means confined to the Peterborough Chase and the first bit of that came in the 2m3f189y mares' novices' chase, Kalane producing a terrific round of jumping.
Kalane (tallish, workmanlike, bandaged in front, 5/4 to evens) already has black type from her novice hurdling season - when she stepped out of novice company to run third to Annie Power in the Grade 1 Mares' Champion Hurdle at Punchestown - and put behind her a reappearance fall in the mares' handicap hurdle at Wincanton on November 7th to make a successful chasing debut; it really was a joy to watch as she sailed over the fences, galloping enthusiastically, and never in danger from any of her rivals pretty much from the tape. She has some knee lift in her action and would appreciate soft ground. She'll go far as a chaser.
Kalane's market rival Bon Chic (6/5 to 11/8) isn't a chasing type, medium height, leggy and light bodied, and she was nowhere near as good at the fences, admittedly mainly minor errors except for a worse one four out, and done with by the home turn.
The other two runners Rhythm Star (tallish, workmanlike, straight backed) and Koolala (deep girthed, looked to need the outing) were out of contention early on the final circuit: the latter, who pulled up before the second last, is the more interesting of the pair for the future.
A couple of potentially useful hurdlers fought out the 1m7f121y Class 3 handicap hurdle from a well-treated rival and both of them are worth keeping an eye on in the short term. The early pace wasn't much.
Template, not the biggest, found little when beaten at Taunton the time before but not here, never out of the first two and going best when leading at the second last, surviving a mistake at the last.
Great Fighter (two handlers) didn't look straightforward on his previous two runs but travelled better this time, at least until pushed along on the bend, but staying on when ridden, albeit unable to take advantage of getting the better jump at the last. He'd shaped as though needing further at Stratford behind Baron Alco the outing before this, but had no problem with this steadily-run race over (less than) the minimum trip.
Kings Bayonet (dull in coat and less than fit) was a year and a half without a win Flat or jumps coming in to this and was well treated as a result. Proven over around 2m4f, he arguably would have done better in a more strongly run race, starting a move from the back before the third last and travelling better than some on the turn, ridden and chasing the leaders two out but no extra after the last.
There were a couple of disappointments. Red Devil Star, a leggy, lengthy Beneficial gelding, was the pick of the paddock but his performance didn't match his looks; as was the case at Sandown prior to falling he'd been in front early enough - after the third - and when sent for home after three out he was all too easily swallowed up at the second last. Cusheen Bridge, who'd finished a fine third to Leave At Dawn in the intermediate handicap hurdle at Cheltenham's Open meeting, lost his place and ended up in rear at the fifth, and though keeping on a bit before the third last, was done with at the second last - perhaps a longer trip is important to him (was over 2m5f at Cheltenham).
The 2015 renewal of the Peterborough Chase, over an official distance of 2m3f189y, was as up to scratch as it looked beforehand; with Wishfull Thinking overdoing the forcing tactics it was strongly run and Al Ferof, who had Ptit Zig held when the latter fell at the last, clocked a fast time. Camping Ground hadn't been asked for an effort before unseating on the final circuit, and it would have made things more interesting if he'd lasted longer.
Al Ferof looked the least fit of the whole field, and was keen enough to post on his debut for the Dan Skelton yard, but won first time out for the fifth time in the last five seasons, not going near the fierce early pace up ahead, readily taking it up from the third last and, though under a ride, safe with the race before Ptit Zig fell at the last. Offers in the region of 16/1 for the King George VI Chase at Kempton are not tempting, his record over 3m consisting of three defeats (beaten between nine and 25 lengths) from three runs at the trip, but the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival presents possibilities.
Smart mare Pepite Rose (about medium height, deep girthed), after her easy victory at Aintree in a Class 2 handicap on her reappearance, was put up to 157 for it and therefore quickly forced back into a race she's not good enough to win; she was gifted the £11k second prize by Wishfull Thinking's tiring and Ptit Zig's falling (also possibly by Camping Ground's unseating), ridden along from four out and left second at the last. Connections will need to get her into a mares' only event if she's to win again over the coming months.
Wishfull Thinking, who didn't look 12 in the paddock, made all the running when winning the race last year but was given no chance of following up thanks to an overly-forcing ride from Richard Johnson, sending him well clear and throwing him at the early fences: he was beaten when coming under a ride approaching the home turn and weakened readily. This may have been his last chance to win a race - very much a missed opportunity with Ptit Zig not completing.
Ptit Zig, the pick of the paddock, deserved to be favourite having won the Grade 2 at Down Royal on the JNWine Champion Chase undercard then got Vautour off the bridle in the 1965 Chase at Ascot, but he was unable to match Al Ferof from the second last and held when falling at the last; he'd have been beaten around four lengths had he stood up.
Camping Ground, the best type physically in the field, tallish and well made, was shorter than Wishfull Thinking in the betting on some boards before the off. On just his third start in Britain, he looked outclassed beforehand but at the time of his departure hadn't been asked for a serious effort, travelling comfortably when unseating his rider at the 12th, too far out to judge how he'd have fared. He looked like he belonged in this field before his exit, and is worth another chance. Around 2m4f is his trip, not shorter, and he has an entry in the King George.
A pretty warm novices' hurdle over 1m7f121y was next and it revolved around the useful Waterlord, fourth to Ballyandy in the Listed bumper at Cheltenham's Open meeting; he couldn't justify market strength, but Cyrius Moriviere who beat him is a fair prospect in his own right. Besides those there were several chasers in the making present, all of Better Days (tall and wiry, skin and bones at the minute and needs to fill out), Artiste Du Gouet, Lac Leman, Midnight Cowboy and Movie Legend (swishing tail in the paddock, not better than midfield and no impression on the home turn) likely to prove effective over fences in one or two seasons' time, Midnight Cowboy the most likely of them to win over hurdles first.
Cyrius Moriviere (workmanlike, not the biggest, SP 20/1) paid a compliment to O O Seven, who'd beaten him here in November and won again at Sandown on December 5th; chasing the leaders throughout, he was sent clear from three out, went a bit left at the next and stayed on well in the straight. He'll be worth his place in a good handicap before long.
Waterlord, in the same shape as at Cheltenham, couldn't justify support from 7/4 to 11/8 but shaped with plenty of promise and shouldn't be long in winning over hurdles, his jumping likely to improve with experience (mistake fifth); he was beaten off after the last, one pace under pressure, but time is likely to show that he ran into one here.
Midnight Cowboy (SP 14/1), tall, leggy and unfurnished, very much a future chasing sort, shaped well and should win over hurdles at some point; outpaced after the third last, he was keeping on when making mistakes at the last two and did good late work to get third close home. He beat Ebadani, who shaped well on his hurdling debut - always up there, outpaced from two out and fading from the last - and should be good to go in a novices' handicap in another two runs.
Lac Leman, representing Paul Nicholls and the Wylies, is tall, rangy and unfurnished: he was an odds-on flop at Taunton on hurdling debut, and rather faded between the last two here, but the best of him won't be seen until he goes over fences.
The 11 runners who contested the Listed mares' only bumper over 1m7f121y had won nine races between them (NH Flat and points) and included a pair sent over the Irish Sea by Willie Mullins, but this good field was demolished by La Bague Au Roi, who wasn't troubled in the slightest and completed her hattrick with ease. She, along with Colin's Sister and Beyond Measure (kept on in the midfield until fading in the last 50 yards), look chasers in the making.
La Bague Au Roi, tallish and workmanlike, was sent straight on, moved well throughout and ran on in the last furlong and a half to clear right away from what looked a good field. Report has it that she won't be seen out again until she runs in the similar contest at Aintree's Grand National meeting in April, and she has bags of potential beyond that - the future looks bright for her.
Mia's Storm (only workmanlike and two handlers), a point winner on her only start, was thrown in at the deep end for her debut under Rules and acquitted herself really well, prominent on the inner, going well on the bend and outpaced in the last quarter mile, keeping on nicely to pull clear of the rest. Her dam's dam produced staying chaser Comanche War Paint and Mia's Storm is sure to prove effective at longer trips later on, but doesn't need them yet.
Alizee Javilex (angular) was tapped for pace in the last five furlongs but did late work to take third - not surprising as she's a half-sister to Mon Mome - and she finished ahead of the first of the Mullins' pair, Screaming Rose (deep chested), who chased the leader closest and went well half a mile out, but couldn't last with La Bague Au Roi and wandered in the straight as she faded. Her stablemate, Snag List, was the least impressive of the pair on looks (smaller and angular) and performance, coming under a ride five furlongs out and making no impression in the straight.
Colin's Sister (tall, workmanlike, needed the run) is the third foal out of connections' former staying hurdler DD's Glenalla to race and it's no surprise that she did much her best work at the end, struggling in rear under pressure with half a mile to go but passing beaten ones in the last quarter mile to go fifth near the finish.
A mediocre finish to this good card with a 2m7f129y 0-105 novices' handicap chase, but at least the first three served up an exciting finish.
Cardinal Rose (medium height, angular) was always up with the pace and, with challengers all around, got the better jump at the last, staying on well to beat Mr Mafia (angular and not a chasing type), who made several minor errors before and after a more noteworthy mistake at the 15th, to his credit giving the winner a real race from the last.
Halo Moon (3 to 5/2), more of a chasing type than others in this field, tallish and close coupled, had his chance under a hold-up ride, produced going comfortably at the second last but making a mistake at the last and going down by a neck. He jumped slightly left a couple of times and would be suited by going the other way round.
Last time out Ludlow-winner Upbeat Cobbler (tall, workmanlike) provided the crowd with some entertainment when she jumped the first big and sideways and slipped a stride off the open ditch in front of the stands; that probably affected her confidence, and although she made a better job of that fence next time round, she was on the back foot after a mistake at the 13th and was beaten after the third last.
Horses to take out of the meeting
La Bague Au Roi
Jockey to make a note of
George Gorman - never gave up on Guards Chapel and nearly got a most unlikely win