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2m - 2m4f Hurdlers
2m - 2m4f Chasers
course walk video
KEMPTON, 24th February 2018
Going: GOOD (Good to Soft in places)
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A seriously raw Saturday afternoon for this important card of Cheltenham Festival-trials, with a stiff breeze resulting in probably the best ground that there'd been for a jumps meeting in Britain for a few weeks.
First up a 2m5f Class 3 handicap hurdle - by no means a poor race, but one not likely to be containing a Festival winner, with the top weight rated 135; on a feature-card like this, surely the handicaps should be Class 2 events.
Kings Walk, with a novice chasing career put on hold after one run (modest third to Born Survivor at Wetherby in November), looked worth another chance on his third to Wait For Me in the Class 2 handicap hurdle at Sandown on the last day of last season and was never out of the first three or four, going best when leading on the home turn and making the best of his way home from between the last two, the better jump at the last making the difference on the day. He's lengthy but straight-backed, so maybe not the ideal type for fences, but he's unexposed over hurdles.
The Mighty Don, looking well but carrying little condition, ran a second excellent race in as many starts but, not for the first time, his jumping cost him; pulling clear with Kings Walk, he was upsides when making a mistake at the last, came away from it over a length down, and couldn't pull it back, hanging right for most of the run-in as well; there's a race in him if only his hurdling would hold up.
Wolfcatcher is exposed but ran well, travelling comfortably until pushed along and losing ground after the third last before staying on past beaten ones, and Django Django (about medium height, close-coupled) is not without hope in the immediate future either, up with the pace throughout and holding his place when coming under a ride after the third last, until fading between the last two.
Maiden hurdler Criq Rock, a well-made type, was given a bit to do and shaped well to a point, at most niggled along approaching the home turn and staying on when more firmly ridden, holding a chance of third after the last but fading late; he has a hurdle race-win in him, and looks a likely type for novice chases next season.
Also with fences in mind, I'll be looking for Take To Heart in 2018/19. Owned and bred by The Queen, he's tall already but is all gangly legs at the moment and yet to fill his frame. On this occasion he was up with the pace when making an error at the fifth, ridden and losing his place after that, making up lost ground then weakening again to finish tailed off. When he improves physically, his form will get better at the same time.
You needed eyes in the side of your head to keep tabs on where everyone was in this year's Pendil Novices' Chase over 2m4f, Cyrname going off at a strong pace, The Unit not jumping well enough to keep up and the other two having nothing to do with it.
Cyrname (medium-to-tallish, leggy) paid a compliment to Terrefort, who'd narrowly defeated him in the Scilly Isles at Sandown, sailing off into a clear lead and never headed, the only hairy moment coming at the fourth last when the horse went long and jockey Sean Bowen was all over the place on landing, for which the rider blamed himself when interviewed on ITV afterwards. He's likely to take on the role of setter-upper in his chosen target at Cheltenham (he's in the Arkle and the JLT).
The Unit (tallish, leggy) was the only danger to Cyrname according to the betting, but a succession of mistakes put paid to his chance, an effort before the third last coming to nothing, and it goes without saying that his jumping must improve if he's to realise his potential.
There was nothing much from the other pair, For Good Measure (medium height, well made) not jumping well himself in the face of a stiff task, closing on The Unit a little before a mistake at the last, and Petrou, who's anything but a chasing type physically - smallish and leggy - failing to run to the best of his Summer form (chased home Rock The Kasbah in a Class 2 handicap chase at Chepstow back in October when last seen), soon tailed off and trailing in a fence behind in the straight.
One of the best juvenile hurdling performances of the season came next, trainer Alan King following up his 2017 success with Master Blueyes in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle over 2m, his Redicean looking a superb prospect in terms of style marks and my rating for the performance. He was helped in that regard by having a strong pace to come off, first Bid Adieu then Harmonise arguably overdoing the pace-setting.
Redicean, a workmanlike, well-shaped four-year-old, was hard to fault in every respect, laid back and switched off like a seasoned pro in the paddock, and electric out on the track, going best when produced to lead two out and running on well before and after the last to put this away readily.
He now tops Apple's Shakira on my juvenile hurdle ratings for the season - the only two I have ahead of him, We Have A Dream and Sussex Ranger, are where they are only through their performances on heavy ground at Chepstow in the Finale Hurdle back in January, so you have to think that on the likely going at Cheltenham for the Triumph, Redicean will dispense with that pair at least; bookmakers are keeping him on the right side though, generally 11/2 at the time of writing.
The filly Malaya (medium to tallish, on her toes) took her form to another level here, but could do nothing about the winner, readily outpaced from the second last, while the French challenger Beau Gosse, who was the pick of the paddock - taller than most four-year-olds and looking very well - was outpaced from the second last, having been held up and made ground with three to jump.
There wasn't much to note from the others, of which Harmonise may well prove to be the best; her earlier runs - in particular her hurdling debut-effort at Ascot when she was brought down - were much better than this one. Heading up the main group, she chased the free-going Bid Adieu to the third last, where she led, and she folded tamely when Redicean went on at the next, coming back tailed off. Made too much use of here, chances are she'll win again over hurdles before the season's out.
This year's renewal of the Dovecote Novices' Hurdle, over the same trip as the Adonis but for older horses, looked more competitive with ten facing the starter, but Global Citizen blew the field away; there were a couple of promising performances behind.
Global Citizen, a medium-height individual, made it two wins from two starts since joining new trainer Ben Pauling and it will be interesting to see where he ends up in a year's time; never out of the first two, racing keenly early, he was never headed after leading at the fourth and drew clear without being asked a serous question from approaching the second last. Now officially rated 149 by the BHA handicapper (143 with me), reportedly he'll head to Aintree for the Top Novices' Hurdle.
Scarlet Dragon was rated 108 on the level (best effort in 2017 when third in the Glorious Stakes at Goodwood, slowly away and best work at the end), and looks a Flat-racer in appearance, small and leggy. That said, he came out of this with tremendous potential as a hurdler, pulling hard and surviving a bad mistake at the third; he had a lot to do on the home turn and prised open a gap against the inside rail. Not hard ridden at this point, he made very good ground to challenge for second, and, ridden between the last two, stayed on well, not knocked about when Global Citizen was away. He has a good race over hurdles in him, his lack of size seeming no barrier on this run.
Michael's Mount is a potential chaser, tallish and leggy, and shaped with promise against speedier horses, making a good move after the fourth to take closer order and one-paced when coming under a ride on the home turn. Very much the pick of this paddock on looks, though, was Mont Des Avaloirs, a tall, well-made chasing type, and he went off 2/1 favourite, but his performance didn't match his looks, getting most hurdles wrong and fading under a ride from the second last, already done with when making his final error at the last. Resolution might be an issue with him, but he's one to look forward to in novice chases next season.
There was a smidgen of promise from the one four-year-old in the field, French import Ballywood, who's tall and sparely made; he closed up nicely approaching the third last and looked strong, but nothing much happened when he came under a ride, weakening on the home turn. He didn't look unfit, so perhaps something was amiss - he'd be better off going for a smaller race in the short term.
Another new sponsor for the old Racing Post Chase aka 'that other Kempton race that Desert Orchid won', this time the Betdaq Handicap Chase; it drew a competitive field though, and with several front runners disputing a strong early clip it dropped nicely for the first and second, both of whom were towards the rear for near enough the first two of the three miles.
Master Dee (well made, looked well), yet to finish out of the first three prior to this race, had hit the front too soon when beaten by On Tour at Aintree on his previous outing, but wasn't going to have that problem in this race; he was off the bit and flat out after the 11th, but the nine-year-old gradually worked his way forward going down the side to the fourth last, came wide going to three out, sustained his effort under a ride and hit the front at the last.
Ballykan (medium height, leggy) ran well in this race for the third time in as many years; he was in the last pair for most of the way and didn't start to work forward until after the 11th, continuing his gradual headway until leading at the second last, jockey Daryl Jacob looking to have timed it to perfection until Master Dee went by. He'll be nine this time next year, but that's no barrier to winning this race - since 2014 four of the last five runnings have now gone to that age group.
Theatre Territory (medium height, workmanlike) only has the one win to her name, in her debut novice hurdle in December 2016, but can't not win a chase (particularly a mares' one) on this excellent showing, up with the leaders on the final circuit and leading from the 13th to the third last, keeping on nicely after the last to go third on the run-in, seeing the trip out well.
Art Mauresque (lengthy, looked well) was off the back of arguably his best ever run, when chasing home Waiting Patiently in a Listed chase here over 2m4f in January and ran very well here given that things weren't likely to be in his favour, particularly the trip and the big field; he ran wide, up with the pace, and jumped soundly in the main again, fading when headed at the second last and losing third on the run-in. The race for him will be the Silver Trophy at Cheltenham in April (good second to Voix D'Eau in 2016).
Label Des Obeaux is struggling in this second season's chasing, one reason being that he's not a chasing type in appearance, lacking height, and he was on the back foot with a very slow jump at the second, with further noted errors coming at the 12th and second last. I'll oppose him over fences from this point forward.
Acting Lass (lengthy), a gelding despite the name, and unbeaten over fences coming in to this (three from three), was the one the bookmakers kept on the right side of all week, and came in from 9/2 to 7/2 favouritism on course. Connections blamed the good ground for his defeat, unable to get further forward than midfield when coming under a ride after the fourth last, weakening approaching two out. He looked high enough in the weights beforehand and might now be hard to win with in the short term.
Tintern Theatre (well made, deep girthed) was running an excellent race until conditions got the better of him at Haydock on heavy in the Peter Marsh in January, but could probably do with a bit more give in the ground than there was here (acts on soft going), and he could never get competitive after early mistakes, passing a couple in the final mile but the effort petering out in the straight.
Next a 2m4f110y Class 3 handicap chase, this one run at a steady early pace until No Ceiling was allowed his head and upped the ante from the eighth, until headed at the 12th and weakening quickly - he needs to go back over the minimum trip.
Favorito Buck's (tall, workmanlike) had been inconsistent on a massive scale since joining Paul Nicholls and was posting his first win for the yard (also his first since Autumn 2015), leading from the 12th to the fourth last, not going best with three to jump and coming under pressure before the second last, but finding plenty after the last. He seems to race a bit lazily and there's no knowing what he'll do next time.
Kayf Blanco (medium height) had a clear run from the last this time, which he didn't at Wetherby when an unlucky third on his previous outing, and was unlucky to catch Favorito Buck's on a good day, making his ground readily enough from the fourth last and seeming poised from the third last, soon ridden and staying on until unable to find extra from the last, staying on strongly in the last 75 yards (well enough to suggest he'd have won if there'd been an extra 150 yards).
Enjoy Responsibly was the pick of this paddock, a big, lengthy gelding, and ran well enough to suggest he can win at some point even though he's an exposed sort, going for home early enough having hit the front four out, and fading under a ride from the last. There wasn't a lot else going on behind the first three, Fourth Act - who often doesn't jump well over fences - losing his place from the eighth.
In some respects the closing National Hunt Flat Race was the most interesting race of the day, previous winner Pym taking on a well-regarded recruit from the Irish point-field in Danny Kirwan, and those two duly filled the first two placings. Chasing types present included the winner, the third and Potters Tale, while Special Acceptance (unfurnished) and From The Heart (tallish, light-bodied) need a bit of time to fill out, and Brigade Of Guards (workmanlike) was green in the preliminaries. The race was well run, which suited the runner-up.
Danny Kirwan, by Might Bite's sire Scorpion and a half-brother to a winning hurdler over 2m6f, is a tallish sort already, well developed and a chasing type in appearance. The future is very definitely bright for this one after this decisive winning debut for the Nicholls stable, going much the best when produced to challenge on the outer, finding plenty when going on entering the final furlong and running on well. Expect to hear a lot more about him over the next two or three seasons.
I'm no less enthusiastic about the runner-up Pym, who looked very well here, even though he's only medium height and less likely to crack it as a chaser down the line. What he will be is a cracking staying novice hurdler next season, as he'd done at Ayr when winning last April getting tapped for toe when things cranked up, before doing his best work in the last furlong.
Larkbarrow Lad is a well made chasing type who looked well and - eventually - stuck to his task after being made a lot of use of; sent for home on the home turn, he hung markedly left off the bend and wandered when ridden, before keeping on nicely in the last 150 yards. He won't be so green next time, and has a long-term future too. There was a bit of knee lift about his action, suggesting that softer ground might suit him.
Horses to take out of the meeting
Criq Rock (next season)
Take To Heart (next season)
Post-racing gallop - Buveur D'Air, Might Bite and Theinval
Some hardy folk stayed behind, even though it was getting colder, to watch three of Nicky Henderson's stable stars in a much-publicised public workout, which could well have been very much to Buveur D'Air's benefit, as he was edgy and fractious to say the least as the trio headed out onto the track for a two-mile spin.
Theinval led the way. They poodled round, with the Champion Hurdler giving the other two a two-length start, until they started to sprint from the 2m4f-start to the home turn. Buveur D'Air moved upsides the other two, and they finished the workout upsides, pulling up on the home turn and walking back up the home straight. Might Bite seemed to want to keep away from his stablemates at this point, but we know from watching his races that trying to work out what's in that horse's mind is futile.
It's hard to draw conclusions from a gallop - Might Bite is a three-miler, the other two are two-milers and Theinval is around 15 to 20 lbs inferior, so no way would they finish upsides if they actually raced each other - but I wonder if we should be worried about Buveur D'Air's behaviour in the preliminaries at Cheltenham after this.
Thanks to my wife for the photo of the finish of the bumper