In recent years, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle hasn’t had the quality of field you would like to see for a race of its history.
On paper, this year’s renewal looked like the race of the season so far, with Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air, and Cheltenham Festival novice hurdle winners Samcro & Summerville Boy all standing their ground.
A Champion Performance
The weather was dreadful in the North East on Saturday, with steady rain turning the going from good to soft, to too soft by the time of the feature race. Still the stage was set for a mighty race.
Samcro, who had been beaten on his seasonal return at Down Royal was backed-off the board prior to the race. He looked magnificent in the paddock. A tall leggy horse compared to the smaller and more compact Buveur D’Air. The latter looked fit enough to do himself justice before the race, although I suspect he would come on for the run. Summerville Boy should have been well suited by the rain that fell, but he was very weak in the betting, as if the run was needed.
As the race got underway Samcro’s jockey, Jack Kennedy, took-up the running, but the pace was fairly slow. I am not sure whether the jockey was riding to instructions or not, but it was a misjudged ride. Samcro had won over 2m 5f at Cheltenham. He was a proven stayer. So instead of making it a true to test of stamina, and test Buveur D’Air’s fitness, he went steady out in front and turned the race into a speed test.
There was really only going to be one winner in that pace scenario, and so it proved to be. Between the final two, the Champion Hurdle winner was travelling powerfully just behind Samcro, and when jockey Barry Geraghty asked him to win this race at the last, he quickened clear to win by eight lengths.
I doubt Jack Kennedy’s ride made much difference to the end result, but Samcro wasn’t ridden to best advantage and was never going to beat Buveur D’Air for speed.
Where now for the runner-up? After the race his trainer Gordon Elliott indicated that the Champion Hurdler was still on the target. It will be interesting to see if the owners agree. If he stays hurdling, then it must be the case that his schooling over fences has not been good. On looks, he is a staying chaser, and he jumped well today, indeed better than the winner. Surely the JLT or RSA have to be the horses target after this…
An even bigger disappointment was the running of Summerville Boy. His jockey was the first to start to niggle away. Granted, he would have preferred a stronger pace to chase, but two out he was left behind by the front two, and finished a well-beaten last of the four who completed the race. Connections will be thinking about starting the 6-year-old’s chasing career earlier than they might have been considering after this performance.
Let’s not take anything away from the winner. It was an electric performance. Now I have to confess that I thought Buveur D’Air wasn’t a great Champion Hurdle winner, despite his two wins in the race. However, the 7-year-old proved me totally wrong on Saturday. He’s a slick hurdler with a turn of foot, who will no doubt go onto win the Champion Hurdle for a third time in March.
This week’s horse for the tracker is the Evan Williams trained The Last Day.
The 6-year-old, who won two of his four starts over hurdles, ended last season with a win novice hurdle at Chepstow on heavy ground. This was the track he had won his maiden at earlier in the season.
The son of Oscar had been seen by his trainer as a future chaser, so his wins over the smaller obstacles were a bonus. Making his chasing debut, he jumped soundly and was the only one of the seven strong field to give the eventual winner Knocknanuss a race.
His exertion against a race fit rival eventually took its toll, and he took a tired fall at the last when set for second place. Hopefully the fall won’t damage his confidence as he starts his chase career on a very winnable mark off 128.
Saturday Big Race Trends
This weekend the big race action moves to Sandown and Aintree. Sandown hosts Tingle Creek Day on Saturday. While on Merseyside, the Grand National fences are in action for the Becher and Grand Sefton Handicap Chases. It’s the latter race that comes under the microscope for this week’s Look Ahead to the weekend’s big betting race.
Aintree – Saturday 8th December
1:30 – Randox Health Becher Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (Class 1) – 3m 2f
I have looked at the last 10 renewals of the race from a trend’s perspective. The results below contain 10 winners from 169 runners with 36 placed.
Here are a few of the most interesting ones:
1. Age: 9yo’s – 5 winners from 40 runners, PS Profit +23.5, with 11 placed
Experience looks the key here with 8 of the last 10 winners being aged 9+
2. Odds SP: 28/1 & bigger – 0 winners from 31 runners with 2 placed
Eight of the last ten winners have been sent-off at odds 14/1 & under, so it may look towards those runners well-found by the market.
For a competitive handicap chase favourites have done reasonably well providing 3 winners from 10 runners with SP Profit +10.25
3. Wins in Month: 1 or 2 – 8 winners from 88 runners, SP Profit +13.75 with 16 placed
A win in December is a definite positive.
4. Runs at The Track: 0 – 1 winner from 55 runners with 7 placed
and with 5 winners from 26 runners SP Profit +43 with 10 placed having run in the Grand National.
Experience of the National Fences is worth noting, in particular horses that have run in the Grand National.
5. Weight: 10-12 or less: 8 winners from 105 runners with 23 placed
In the past ten years, just two horse have carried above 10-13 to victory. Blaklion last year off 11-6, and Vic Venturi in 2009 off 11-12.
6. Top Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies has
3 winners from 12 runners
Strike Rate 25%
SP Profit +14.25
Verdict: The Becher Chase is race where experience of the Grand National fences has come to the fore in recent years.
At the time of writing the ante-post favourite is the Dr Richard Newland trained Abolitionist (8/1).
The 10-year-old, who was 3rd in the 2017 Irish Grand National when trained in Ireland, returned from a 441-day lay-off to win a handicap hurdle at the last meeting here. That was also his first run for Dr Newland and this race has been the horse’s target.
Nigel Twiston-Davies could saddle Ballyoptic (9/1) and last year’s winner Blaklion (10/1). The former was beaten just a nose in the Scottish Grand National. This would be his seasonal reappearance, but he looks the sort to be competitive in all big handicap chases this season. Both would have big weights to carry, in particular Blaklion, who would be carrying top-weight.
The Last Samuri will be having his first start for new trainer Harry Fry. The 10-year-old was runner-up in this race last year, and a close-up 3rd in the 2016 renewal. At 14/1 he looks solid each-way value.
Vieux Lion Rouge won the 2016 race off 4lb higher, but can run off the same mark as his last win. The 9-year-old was a well beaten 7th in last year’s race, but comes into this year’s race not having had a recent run like he had had last year.
I think he’s a better horse fresh with:
3 wins from 5 runs
Strike Rate +14.44
SP Profit 80%
Form figures 13114 when racing off a 150-day+ break.
Trainer David Pipe has given the horse a wind-op since his last run. The softer the ground the better for the gelding, and he’s another to appeal each-way at 20/1.
This Weeks Key Stats
Here are some trainer stats that are worth noting should they have runners at certain tracks this week:
Charlie Mann (All):
8 winners from 26 runners
Strike Rate 31%
SP Profit +12.02
Place Strike Rate 50% since the start of 2015.
Sandy Thomson (Handicap chases):
6 winners from 20 runners
Strike rate 30%
SP Profit +5
Place Strike Rate 60% since the start of 2015.
Peter Bowen (Chases):
7 winners from 14 runners
Strike Rate 50%
SP Profit +24
Place Strike Rate 64% since the start of 2015.
Nicky Henderson (Chases):
5 winners from 13 runners
Strike Rate 38%
SP Pro+2 8 placed 62% in the past three years.
Tom George (Handicaps):
8 winners from 23 runners
Strike Rate 35%
SP Profit +34
Place Strike Rate 48% in the past three years.
Evan Williams (Handicap hurdles):
9 winners from 20 runners
Strike Rate 45%
PS Profit +46
Place Strike Rate 55% in the past three years.
Friday & Saturday
Nigel Twiston-Davies (Handicap Hurdles):
6 winners from 14 runners
Strike Rate 43%
SP Profit +65
Place Strike rate 57% in the past three years.
Good luck with this week’s punting.
Until next week.
All the best,
for The Race Advisor