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Thursday, 4 December 2014

Hey Big Spender - a tribute

At Newcastle, there was a tremendous performance from the veteran 11yo chaser HEY BIG SPENDER to win the 3-mile Rehearsal Chase with 11st 12lb. I’ve followed the remarkable progress of this horse since he won his 2nd chase at Newbury in November’09 carrying 11st 12lb. He went on to win a very competitive handicap chase at Cheltenham over 2m5f in January ’10, and that race has proven to be very informative (Midnight Chase - beaten 16-lengths into 3rd while in-receipt of 11lb – went on to be rated OR163 and ran 5th in the Gold Cup won by Long Run). 

On his seasonal debut in November ’10 he showed the handicapper he was under-rated by beating Big Fella Thanks (subsequently achieved a rating of OR154) at level weights when considered 5lb inferior. He followed that up with a brave effort when trying to make all in the Hennessy won by Diamond Harry, and then showed he also had some speed and well as stamina in his armoury when carrying 11st 12lb to victory over 2m4½f at Warwick in Feb’11.  His early chase career was hurt by jumping errors, and it was a poor round of jumping that did for his chance in the Racing Post Chase in Feb’11 at Kempton. A trip to the Cheltenham Festival followed, but he was aimed at the Ryanair Chase over 2m5f and he was outclassed in that. He’d have done better if going for the Gold Cup as he’d surely have beaten his old rival Midnight Chase who was 5th and may even have pipped What A Friend for 4th place.  He was pulled-up NTO when badly hampered early-on in a handicap chase at Aintree.
He ran his seasonal debut in November ’11 off OR151, which looked lenient based on his form of the previous season.  He ran 4th at Cheltenham over 3m3½f with subsequent Hennessy Gold Cup winner Carruthers beating him in 3rd while in-receipt of 5lb. Trainer Colin Tizzard surely had Newcastle’s Rehearsal Chase earmarked as the primary target as he came here next and victory never looked in doubt for the 5/2 fav, even with 11st 12lb on his back. The heavy ground at Chepstow in the Welsh National did for his chance there, but he made up for that a few weeks later. Rated OR156, he beat a very decent field of good handicappers, again lumping 11st 12lb, in what was possibly the performance of his career at Warwick over 3m5f. Unfortunately, injury prevented him going for the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup (won by Synchronised), but you have to think he’d have run at least 4th in that race and may even have forced himself into the 1st-3.

After a long break, he returned to the track in December ’12 but clearly needed the race. He ran better NTO at Sandown in January’13 (he gave 21lb and a 5-length beating to subsequent Hennessy Gold Cup winner Triolo D’Alene), but was still on a recovery mission. Unfortunately, the next race was out of his reach – being the Grade 2 “Argento” Chase at Cheltenham – and he was outclassed, and not helped by the heavy ground. He then returned to Warwick to try and win the 2m4½f chase he’d won in Feb’11 but by this time he needed 3-mile to show his best. His next appearance showed he still had the ability to mix-it and, having slipped to OR145, while he was conceding 5lb to the winner it was more likely his blunder at the 2nd-last that cost him the race. He then went to the Cheltenham, but that race started a sequence that he followed a good run with an indifferent performance, possibly as age was starting to catch up with him.
Put away after that, he was next seen in October’13 at Aintree in a Veterans’ Handicap Chase over 3m1f. Running off OR147, he looked in need of the run to bring him to peak fitness. Sure enough, he was back at Newcastle for the Rehearsal Chase in November ’13 and, as the handicapper had dropped him 7lb, he wasn’t required to carry top-weight. With only 11st 4lb he was able to hold-off the challenge of the progressive 7yo Vintage Star (in-receipt of 3lb) to record his 2nd victory in the race. Another attempt at the Welsh National followed in December ’13, but the heavy ground did for his chance. As in season 2011-12, he went next to Warwick to try and repeat his win in the 3m5f handicap chase off OR146. Unfortunately, he never looked happy in what turned out to be a rout of a useful field by the novice chaser Shotgun Paddy.  Connections must have considered he’d lost the plot, as they then sent him to contest the Cross-Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, in which he was well beaten.  Thankfully, it didn’t take much out of him, and maybe it did rekindle his enthusiasm as he came out just 2-weeks later in March ’14 for a Class 2 Veterans’ Chase at Ascot running off OR143. Being a drop in grade, he was again carrying 11st 12lb, but weight has never been an issue for Hey Big Spender and he beat a useful field at the very rewarding odds of 22/1. Clearly thinking they could make use of his return to form, he was entered to run at Haydock in April ’14 at Haydock but, as he’d shown the previous year, he followed a good performance with a poor one.

He started the 2014-15 season as he’d started the previous one, running in the Veterans’ Chase at Aintree in October. This time he ran off OR146, and ran better than in 2013 holding every chance at the final fence but lacking the “zip” to win the race on the run-in.
Onto Saturday and a 3rd attempt at the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle.  He was set to carry 11st 12lb running off OR145 and although I thought he held a great chance of being placed, I couldn’t envisage him winning. Was I wrong! Hey Big Spender didn’t just win, he put in one of the races of his career and I have it only 2nd to his win at Warwick in January 2012 as a 9yo. That was his 9th chase win from 32 starts. At his peak the handicapper rated him at OR157, but I had him a bit higher than that at 160+. Where it not for injury he would have gone very close indeed to taking the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Dame Shirley Bassey herself could not have been more proud of the horse when he won on Saturday.

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