Besides the usual eyecatchers, this weeks article looks at some of the notable performances from last weekend’s Dublin Horse Racing Festival.I also have a look at Saturday’s big race the the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and also highlight the chances of two possible runners in the race.
Leopardstown Look Back
I think we can safely say that last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown delivered the goods in terms of performances and stories.
Edwulf the horse that nearly died when collapsing at last years Cheltenham Festival came back to win the Irish Gold Cup at odds of 33/1 on only his second start since March. That was the big story of the weekend but there were also some other fantastic performances.
On Saturday we saw Min bounce back to his best when winning the 2m Grade 2. He had disappointed at Christmas but he jumped better here and most importantly settled beautifully for jockey David Mullins. He now adds a bit of spice to the Champion Chase and on ratings he doesn’t have much to find with Altior with the prospect of a bit more improvement coming from the 7-year-old.
In the very next race another Willie Mullins trained runner Footpad continued his rise up the 2m Novice chase ranking when winning the Grade 1 Arkle Novice Chase. Making all he jumped so economically off a strong pace to see off Petit Mouchoir, who will have benefited for the run, fairly comfortably. This performance cemented his place at the head of the betting for the Arkle at Cheltenham next month and it’s hard to see him being beat if he jumps and gallops as well as he did here.
On Sunday Monalee bounced back from his bad fall here at the Christmas meeting with battling performance to take the 2m 5f Novice Chase. He was runner up in last years Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle so he has Cheltenham Festival form and he looks like the one they all have to beat in next months RSA Novices Chase.
Leaving aside the Edwulf victory the star performance of the weekend can only be Samcro’s win in the 2m Grade 1 Deloitte Hurdle. I have to confess I hadn’t bought into the horses hype before Sunday and I thought the drop back to 2m, from 2m 4f, in this company would asked some new questions of the six-year-old. Those questioned he answered in some style as he cruised into the lead after the second last and only had to be pushed out to win by a fairly comfortable 5 ½ lengths. He made some useful novices look like handicappers. He will now head to Cheltenham with either the Ballymore or Supreme Novices as his target and either race looks his for the taking after this run. He is now 6 from 6 under rules and he’s got the potential to be the best jumps horse of the last 25 years.
Insight on the Weekend
Newbury Saturday 10th February
3:35 Betfair Hurdle (Handicap) (Grade 3) (Class 1) – 2m ½ f
This Saturday the weekend’s big handicap is the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, weather permitting as there is some heavy snow forecast for the UK this week. Traditionally this race was one of the betting races of the jumps season with some notable gambles being landed. It’s not so easy to land a ‘touch’ in these sorts of race today although plenty will have had this race as their target. Sure to be a competitive contest with hopefully a 16+ strong field taking their chance.
In recent years novice have had a good recent record in the race, last years winner Ballyandy was a first year novice hurdler, and an improving and unexposed horse is what you need to be looking for as the likely winner of the race. You also need a horse that stays a bit further than the 2m ½ f race distance, as the race is usually run on rain softened ground. Indeed seven of the last ten renewals of the race have been run on a going description of either soft or heavy.
The younger unexposed hurdler angle is backed up by some of the key trends for the race: The last eight winners of the race were aged five or six and all eight had finished in the first three on their last start. Seven of the eight had yet to win a handicap hurdle and also the same number had run in a non-handicap on their last start.
Nicky Henderson has five declared at the five-day stage Jenkins, Kayf Grace, Verdana Blue, Charli Parks and Lough Derg Spirit. All five would seem to have a good chance. If the ground was to dry out I would have to be interested in Verdana Blue who was 3rd in a hot handicap at Ascot just before Christmas. The mare handles the good to soft well enough that day but I wouldn’t be so sure about soft.
No problem with soft ground for Kayf Grace, but she steps up in grade and I am not sure she has the class to win a race like. Charli Parcs ran well to finish 2nd over C&D two starts back but was well down the field in the Ascot race that verdant Blue placed in. Like the mare he is another who would prefer more of a speed test.
Jenkins has improved for the blinkers to win his last two starts at Kempton & Ascot. He has a 5lb penalty to carry for the latter win, taking him to top weight of 11-12. A win of this sort of mark would make him a Cheltenham Hurdle contender which shows how tough an ask it will for the 5-year-old who won a novice hurdle over C&D.
Of all the Henderson runners I like Lough Derg Spirit. The 6-year-old is one of the least exposed runners in the field having just had the five starts winning two of them. He made an encouraging return to action when 2nd to the ill fated London Prize in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton back in November. The 91 day lay off shouldn’t be an issue as he has gone well fresh and nor will soft ground hold any terrors for the gelding. He might prefer a bit further but a good stamina test should bring out the best in him.
Zalvados trained by Oliver Greenhall ticks plenty of the trends boxes. The 5-year-old won a soft ground maiden hurdle at Ludlow on his last start, His trainer said after that Ludlow race that this was the plan and he would be suited by a strongly race. He could outrun his price and get into the money.
Kalashnikov won two bumpers before making a winning debut over hurdles at Doncaster in December. He won very easily that day and wasn’t disgraced when stepped up to Grade 1 company when second in the Tolworth Hurdle on heavy ground at Sandown on his last start. Trainer thinks he will be a better horse on a sounder surface and connections think he can run well in one of the novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival. A mark of 141 looks more than workable for the 5-year-old in the circumstances and he has to be high on the shortlist.
Anything that Gary Moore saddles in the race has to be respected and one of his possible runners is recent Fontwell winner Knocknanuss, whose form figures since joining the yard are 1221. The 8-year-old hasn’t been the easiest to keep sound but he will like the soft ground and his new handicap mark of 135 doesn’t look to harsh. He is another who can go well but I am slightly put off by his age.
Verdict: At this early stage my two against the field are the unexposed pair of Kalashnikov (12/1 @ Coral) and Lough Derg Spirit (14/1 @ Coral).
This Weeks Eyecatchers
I have five tracker horses for you this week. Four of them come from last weekend’s big race action but the first one that caught my eye on the all-weather at Dundalk on Friday evening.
Friday 2nd February
Mo Henry – Adrian Keatley – The 6-year-old was finishing his race off well when almost grabbing 3rd in the 6f handicap. He won a turf 6f handicap last summer at Naas off 5lb lower and he ran well when finishing a neck 2nd over 7f here back in October, now 6lb lower. Back down to a winning mark and return to 7f around Dundalk should suit.
Saturday 3rd February
Wicked Willy – Nigel Twiston – Davies – A welcome return form for the trainer’s runners this weekend. The 7-year-old had finished off strongly to win right on the line on his previous start and off just 4lb higher was expected to go well in the 3m handicap chase. Did best of those horses held up when finishing 4th, beaten 6 ¾ lengths. He was making headway when making a mistake two out which finished off any winning chance he had. He still looks to have improvement in him over fences (2 wins from 5 runs) and should stay further than 3m.
Tully East – Alan Fleming – A strong traveller who won the Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase at last years Cheltenham Festival off a 6lb lower mark and was expected to be suited by the big field in this 2m 1f handicap chase. Despite the drop back in trip the 8-year-old ran a cracker of a race. Had looked to be travelling as well as anything when making a mistake three out, before staying on well to take 3rd. A step back in trip will suit and he is one to note for a big handicap chase before the season is out.
Miles To Memphis – Denise Foster – The 9-year-old is another to note for a handicap before the season is over, this time over hurdles. Twice a winner on the flat last year on a sound surface he had been running well over hurdles of late over 2m 4f and the drop back to 2m wasn’t really in his favour but he stayed on well to enough in finishing 6th in the competitive handicap hurdle. A tough dual purpose horse who can land a nice pot over further and probably on sounder surface than he faced here.
Sunday 4th February
Colms Dream – Karl Thornton – Ultimately he finished a well beaten 7th at the finish but I noted the 9-year-old staying steadily at the end of the race to be never nearer than at the finish in this hot 2m 5f handicap chase but this was atep back in the right direction. This was only the 9-year-old’s second run in nearly 14 months and only his third since finishing second in a valuable handicap chase at the Punchestown Festival back in April 2016. He is now 4 wins from 13 runs 8 placed in handicap chases, 2 wins from 6 runs 3 placed on soft ground and 2 wins from 6 runs 4 placed when racing 31 to 60 days since his last start. His overall record in handicap chases when racing within 60 days of his last start is 4 wins from 10 runs 8 placed. One to note for a handicap chase before the season ends when he gets his optimum conditions maybe over further than 2m 5f, he has won at 3m.
All that’s left now is to wish you a profitable week’s betting.