JCB Triumph Hurdle
The Triumph Hurdle is shaping up into a very decent contest, albeit between four year olds. Goshen, Allmankind, Solo and Aspire Tower are at the top of the form. It seems that Goshen and Allmankind have a distinct similarity in that both are free going and both like to make the running. Of the pair, Allmankind is much the better hurdler but if they take each other on, as it seems they will, they will likely run themselves into a hole, such is the free running trait they both posses. Aspire Tower is similar in that he has made all to win a Grade One and he was in the process of repeating until crashing out at the final flight when looking the winner in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle. Aspire Tower’s jumping is a bit sketchy and of the trio of front runners, Allmankind is comfortably the most fluent. Under pressure, I wouldn’t have a lot of confidence in Aspire Tower’s jumping. I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of juvenile hurdlers but it has to be said that this year’s race looks well above average. To have three horses of this quality in the line up and to look past them, is testament to that. Solo bolted in, in the Adonis Hurdle recently and recorded a strong time in doing so. He stayed strongly to the line and beat some horses with solid form including a typically precocious fellow French bred, Fujimoto Flyer. Solo sat in behind the leader and took it up after four out. Four out at Kempton is about five furlongs from home. There are only two hurdles inside Cheltenham’s final five furlongs. If this horse jumps with the same fluency, he is likely to be right on top of the leaders, almost a mile from home. It would be a vicious battle at the head of affairs if that was the case. It looks set to be a very strongly run race and the chances of Solo pulling himself to the front at such an early stage is unknown. He will be suited by the strong gallop and he will stay well also. The Triumph always takes plenty of staying and this year will definitely need a horse who stays up the hill to prevail. A Wave of the Sea and Cerebus are Joseph O’Brien’s representatives and coming from such a strong stable, that does so well with it’s juvenile hurdlers, they would have to be respected. There is little between them on form. Cerebus beat his stablemate by 2 3/4 lengths at Fairyhouse in December, but he was three pounds the better off so in handicapping terms, nothing would split them. However, off of levels in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle in February, the form was reversed but only by a diminished length and a half. It is likely that Aspire Tower was about to get the better of them that day but he would have to have absolutely flown home to have repeated his 35 length beating of A Wave by the Sea, that day. Suffice to say, that A Wave by the Sea was nowhere near his best at Christmas and that is further evident by him turning around form with Wolf Prince, by 18 1/4 lengths at Leopardstown. He is by Born to Sea, who produces fine correct moving stock. Judging by the progeny of the Invincible Spirit colt which I have dealt with, they move very loose and naturally with over tracking. They travel with such ease and stay well but have a good turn of foot also – coming from the stallion’s trait. A Wave by the Sea would likely appreciate the strong pace of which is certain and travel well into the race as well as stay to the line. Along with Cerebus, he is in the Fred Winter also, a race either/or would surely go very close in. In terms of the tactics that are likely to unfold in the Triumph Hurdle, the race could fall into the favor of A Wave of the Sea but he will need some further improvement to beat this quality field. The same applies to his stablemate, who has already met Allmankind and found him far too good at Chepstow. He can travel with the choke out and so the strong pace will also suit him. However, he doesn’t seem to see out his races as well as his stablemate, and as already stated, this will require plenty of getting.
A Wave of the Sea (each way)
Albert Bartlett Spa Novices’ Hurdle
The River Don winner, Ramses de Teille, will ensure that this is a strongly run race. It always proves to be a race that not only needs staying but a horse who is tough as nails as it can be attritional. It usually favors a horse who has plenty of experience also. Redford Road not only is battle hardened, but he has had four runs this season, twice on the track and one of those was a course and distance win against the River Don runner up, Champagne Well – although there was a considerable distance more between him and Ramses. The David Pipe horse would have to be respected here, having had 24 runs so far and he holds a Grand National entry which advertises his experience. However, his participation isn’t assured, as he is high enough in the weights for the national and connections may not favor an tough race here. That said, he is three from three over hurdles this year and won over an extended 2 miles and 7 furlongs around Cheltenham in October, only five yards shy of this race trip. Champagne Well also found Thyme Hill too good, when they met at Cheltenham in November. The Phillip Hobbs representative is the long time market leader for this race but he has yet to race passed 2 miles and five furlongs and that wouldn’t fill you with confidence such are the credentials required in this contest, although he has probably shown the highest level of form, what with winning the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury. Likewise, Willie’s horse, Monkfish hasn’t raced to three miles but he couldn’t have put up a more encouraging stamina performance when winning the W.T. O’Grady Memorial Hurdle at Thurles. The runner up is a 135 rated novice and the twenty length victory was easily done by Monkfish, who must give Mullins a great chance of winning his first Albert Bartlett. The Nathaniel and Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novices’ Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival should be ignored at your pearl. Latest Exhibition won it from Cobbler’s Way, Longhouse Poet, Fury Road and Elixir D’Ainay and I wouldn’t discount any of them of winning this. Of all of the first five home, Elixir D’Aiany is the one that is an unlikely runner as his connections seem to favor the Ballymore at this stage. Personally, I’d like to have see the same horse in the Supreme as he travels very strongly for two miles but didn’t see out two and a half against Envoi Allen. Latest Exhibition has been a revelation this season with only Supreme fancy, Abacadabras beating him and that was over an inadequate trip for this horse. He looks sure to stay this trip and has to come into huge consideration as he continues to improve. Cobbler’s Way looks like he wants to make it and did so in the Leopardstown race. Similar tactics would make it hard to see him make all in this grueling race to turn the tables on Latest Exhibition. Longhouse Poet is crying out for this stamina sapping trip and this is evident on how he made up over seven lengths against Elixir D’Ainay between Naas and Leopardstown runnings. You can be sure that Martin Brassil hasn’t got to the bottom of him yet, this season and that his best run will come at Cheltenham. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he finished ahead of his two conquerors at Leopardstown. Finally from that race, is Fury Road and he is the one I backed on the day. I haven’t heard any excuses for him since the race but I was disappointed that he didn’t see out his race all the way to the line as I saw him as an out and out stayer having won at Limerick on heavy ground over two miles and seven furlongs at Christmas. The form of that race is also not as strong with this race in mind when you go through the third horse, Vis Ta Loi. He was a length and three parts, plus three pounds behind Fury Lad, but Monkfish put twenty three and a quarter lengths between them. It sounds as if Colin Tizzard will separate Harry Senior and The Big Breakaway at Cheltenham. Personally, I’d run The Big Breakaway here and Harry Senior in the Ballymore of which he won a course and distance trial race on Cheltenham Trials day. That is if they need separating. The Big Breakaway was eased down when winning over two miles and five furlongs at Newbury before Christmas, advertising his want for three miles. While I fancy this horses chances, I have one reservation against his experience for such a contest. The chestnut gelding does look a big staying chaser and he may be one to fancy for 2021’s RSA Chase. Diol Ker beat Monkfish in November, though I suspect, as many of Willie Mullins’ horses this season, that Monkfish needed that run and furthermore, Diol Ker hasn’t been seen since. Sempo is yet another horse who is improving as the race distance lengthens and he comes into this on winning form over two miles and seven furlongs on heavy ground. The better ground will suit him even more so, being by Oscar and he has to have at least an each way shout. While the same can be said with regards to the trip with Mossy Fen who stayed on well in the two miles and five furlongs of Warwick and won over two miles seven earlier in the season, but was failing to make an impact over three miles at Cheltenham against stablemate Redford Road and I conclude the Spa Hurdle preview as I began.
Sempo, Fury Road and Redford Road (ALL each way)
Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup
It looks to be a cracking renewal of national hunt racing’s blue ribband with last year’s winner, Al Boum Photo, a worthy favorite this season. That sentence would make it sound like a contradiction but the fact of the matter is that so many horses in this race are of top quality but they all seem to have flaws in them. Starting with the highest rated horse in this race, Kemboy. If the best horse wins the race, then he wins this race based on all form up to this point but it is far from that simple. Kemboy’s performance’s at Aintree and Punchestown – when beating Al Boum Photo – last spring give him his big rating of 175. His comeback run in the Savills Chase can be excused as Willie Mullins’ horses all seem to need their first run of the season and complications from the Supreme Racing Club controversy restricted him from running sooner. Even so, he ran with great credit and wasn’t beaten all that far in fourth. I was less impressed by him finishing second in the Irish Gold Cup in Leopardstown as I felt that he had few excuses, though I do believe he looked like he would still come on a bit more. He needs to tidy up his overall jumping for me, as he is prone to niggly mistakes and he does seem to have the finishing race speed of a flat track horse also. That said, he does also possess a high cruising speed and as he is clearly the best performing horse up to this point, discount him at your pearl. Delta Work beat him in the two Leopardstown contests this season and he has performed to a high level of ability. His form ties in with Santini from last year’s RSA chase, a race that has had it’s knockers but I am a firm believer that it was a strong renewal with the first there (winner Topofthegame is injured this season) all running above 170 on the clock. Furthermore proof of this is that the race has clearly left its grueling mark. Topofthegame ran below that form next time out at Aintree, behind Lostintranslation, before injury emerged, while Santini hasn’t performed anywhere near that level of form since then – albeit in only two runs. In fact, of the three, only Delta Work came out of the race unscathed but to play devil’s advocate, I think that despite the high level of form, he didn’t have as much as a tough time and theory is that, despite his class and course winning form, he isn’t the best finisher at Cheltenham. In the Pertemps Final in 2018, he beat a 137 rated hurdler, Glenloe, in a photo finish. He was produced that day to win his race at the last off of a rating of 139 – some 30+ pounds below his best, Regardless of where you judge the race from, it doesn’t read great against the level of form the horse has shown. Glenloe was turned over off of 141 in his next race, while Delta Work was only just denied Grade 1 glory at Punchestown with the Albert Bartlett winner behind him in third. I thought Delta Work was about to win the RSA last year as they approached the last but as they faced up the hill at the back of that fence, Topofthegame and Santini suddenly looked all over him. He then went to Punchestown and beat the National Hunt Chase runner up by twelve lengths on the bridle. Like Kemboy, I have no doubt that Delta Work is good enough to win but I have reservations as to whether his best form is produced at Prestbury Park and furthermore, I think his jumping is in need of speeding up as he loses ground at fences. It sounds ridiculous to pick holes in the credentials to win a Gold Cup of the reigning champion, who won it in a strong time. Al Boum Photo is hardly unworthy of favoritism on the back of an easy victory over subsequent Bobbyjo Chase winner, Acapella Bourgeois, at Tramore on New Year’s Day. He won the same race last year on his sole start prior to Cheltenham and Mullins has chosen the same approach to this year’s Gold Cup. Amazingly for a Gold Cup winner, Al Boum Photo has been turned over in every other race he’s contest beyond two miles and five furlongs and those defeats at three miles plus include a tired fall and a well held fifth in a novice hurdle. He did look to be arriving with a big challenge when controversially running out in the Growise Champion Novices’ Chase in 2018, although Robert Power claimed the race was at his mercy when Al Boum took him and Finian’s Oscar out with him at the last. One thing I can’t get my head around was the time of last season’s Gold Cup. It was a very good time and reflected well on the winner, however, barring Elegant Escape, the other eight horses still in the field all looked in with a decent chance coming to the second last before Al Boum asserted utilizing his pace advantage. The Gold Cup is not a handicap and to have all those horses traveling relatively well to the second last is a peculiar sight in a race of such esteem. Lostintranslation pulled up in the King George with a minor injury and so the run can be scratched off. Prior to that, he beat the hugely talented, Bristol de Mai, in his own backyard at Haydock. The racecourse specialist was tasting a rare defeat on the track that day and the winner had travelled powerfully and asserted to the line, perhaps even hitting the front too soon. Considering how good Bristol is at Haydock, the winner’s performance was one of the highest quality, backed up by the race time. He’s run to the same level of form in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at the Grand National meeting, when beating Topofthegame and Top Ville Ben. The latter won the Rowland Meyrick off of 154 by eight lengths which rightly raised him to 164 by the BHA. In beating a potential 164 runner by seven lengths – not to mention the impressive RSA winner – Lostintranslation was proving his subsequent Haydock win to be a 170+ run and the tougher challeng of the Haydock run asked him for more which resulted in a time rating of 175, and on a par with Delta Work and Santini. Lostintranslation won the 2019 DIpper Chase beating Champion Chase favorite, Defi du Seuil, need anymore about his credentials be said, but it proves his handling of the track. Santini doesn’t need to show his liking for Cheltenham either, though barring that fine RSA effort, I fail to find any form up to this level and his Cotswold Chase win was far from inspiring. Nicky Henderson asked the question of his doubters ‘what’s he doing wrong?’. The answer is of course, nothing. He is winning races and has shown a high level of form at the festivals. However, it is not what is he doing wrong, but rather asking, what is he doing right and the Cotswold Chase win along with his early season win at when only beating Now McGinty (144 rated) by a head says that he isn’t doing enough right to warrant favoritism and in betting terms, he has to be ignored on all known form at 7/2. Clan des Obeaux is apparently in the form of his life and despite his questionable course form, it would be very wrong to ignore a horse who has won a King George by 21 lengths. Or at least in normal years it would. This is looking a very strong Gold Cup and in the sake of time handicapping, Clan des Obeaux was a better King George winner in 2018 before finishing fifth in last year’s Gold Cup. Furthermore, Cyrname has since shown that his massive performance in beating Altior has clearly left a dent on him, while Willie Mullins has sold the third placed Footpad to race in America and the only other finisher, Aso, doesn’t stay three miles at this level. If I have a favorite horse in this field, it is certainly Presenting Percy. I’ve followed him since his bumper days. It was initially his pedigree I followed but having first found flaws in his handicap rating – working to his advantage – in the 2017 Pertemps Final, and then in his early chase career figures based on the time handicapping technique I was to realise just how good a horse he was and thusly have followed his career throughout. However, I have never found him to be higher than a 166 horse over fences or hurdles and furthermore, I have found him consistently on that rating from early on. I’d love to see him win the Gold Cup but realistically, while he is capable of a big run, he needs several of these to underperform – although they all have their own flaws and if it all goes Percy’s way on the day, he has a high enough ability to prevail, but it is a big ’if’. If they all show up and perform to their best, then I believe that Kemboy will win but in a race of high quality horses of whom come with frailties, the most solid selection is Lostintranslation. However, there is a fly in the ointment in the improving Chris’s Dream for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore. He bolted up in the Troytown Chase at Navan in November off of a mark of 146. He beat Fitzhenry by ten lengths that day and he improved to only just get collared in the Paddy Power off of a revised rating of 137. That, along with his Red Mills Chase win giving lumps of weight to Shattered Love over an inadequate trip, give Chris’s Dream a handicap trajectory of 160 – 164. In last season’s Ten Up Novices’ Chase, he beat Champagne Classic by half a length and his form at Christmas, in the Neville Hotels Novices’ Chase, when second to Battleoverdoyen (165 time handicapped), yet again put Chris’s Dream in the mid 160 range. Furthermore, Any Second Now was third in that Ten Up race and he went on to win the Kim Muir off of 143, potentially making him a 160 horse through the pound for pound handicapping of that race. This confirms Chris’s Dream on 164 and while that is a good way short of the principles in this race, he has one reason to mention him further and that is his stamina. At 33/1 this dour stayer who has plenty of ability, could be the value bet of the 2020 Gold Cup for place purposes, at least.
Lostintranslation to win, Chris’s Dream each way
The RANDOX HEALTH VINCENT O’BRIEN COUNTY HANDICAP HURDLE always attracts a quality field and my forecasted handicap was 156 – 135, three pounds above the average. Embittered, going through his Royal Bond form, is in with a huge chance with 11 pounds advantage. Darver Star was just ahead of him and has since finished third in the champion hurdle, with Envoi Allen bolting up on Wednesday and the second, Abacadabras only losing by a whisker in the supreme novices. The form is rock solid and Embittered ran well on handicap debut recently also. Tiger Tap Tap was down the field in the same race but on his early season form, he would be well in at the weights in this. The drying ground will suit him better than when beaten in testing conditions at Naas recently. His odds of 33/1 are not a fair assessment of his ability.
The Dan Skelton team were angered by the BHA’s decision to raise Marracudja eleven pounds to 154 after the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January but I fail to give them my sympathy as the Martaline gelding was only beaten under eight lengths by the Champion Chase favorite, Defi du Seuil, with the legend Un de Sceaux (and three time Clarence House winner) 4 3/4 lengths ahead of the Skelton runner, in second. Janika (165) and Capeland (153) were down the field and all horses were off of level weights. In my opinion, not only was Marracudja rightly judged to be penalized so significantly but he was even wanting of a five pound further hike, on that Grade One form. Therefore, the nine year old has a very good chance of winning the JOHNNY HENDERSON GRAND ANNUAL CHASE. Another angle to vindicate this level of form is through the same horse’s win at Wetherby in the Castleford Handicap Chase. Eamon An Cnoic is a consistent 137 handicapper and in beating him by nineteen lengths off of 134, Marracudja is running to a handicap rating of 151. Hawk High was second at Wetherby off of 133and showed that figure to be warranted back at the same venue a fortnight later. The eleven length victory plus one pound extra makes Marracudja a 155 horse, complimenting the handicapper. But in the rough and tumble of a handicap like the Grand Annual, he will have to pull out all the stops to win and his Clarence House Chase run shows his best level of form, without a shadow of a doubt. Even off the slow pace of the two mile event at Ascot, Marracudja has run to 159, admirably and deserves to take his chance in the penultimate race of the festival.
If I’ve handicapped Fred correctly, then Ecco for Paul Nicholls is sensationally well handicapped at the festival. Ecco only managing eleventh off of 138 but it was his first experience of a big field handicap and he was sure to learn plenty. He travelled well to three out before tiring but on the basis of the Fred form, he is far better than that run. The clock gave Fred a figure of 156 and he followed up at Mussleburgh by beating a 127 rated runner by 14 lengths with three pounds more on his back which adds up to 154 and compliments the handicapping at Kempton. On reflection of Ecco, through that, he would be twenty two pounds well in off of the BHA mark of 137, as his four and a half length defeat on Boxing Day is with eight pounds more to carry that his victor. The potentially huge advantage of Ecco is also translated well to the MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS HANDICAP HURDLE to conclude the festival. Ecco has been running over two miles, though his trainer entered him in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle also, so he is showing encouragement of the horses stamina. Paul Nicholls won this with Salubrious in 2013 and if he does give Ecco the go ahead, he may only have the stamina to prove to prevail.