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Monday, 4 April 2016
2016 Cheltenham Festival Day 2 - review
The opening race of the 2nd day of the Cheltenham Festival was the "Neptune" Novices Hurdle over 2m5f, which is usually contested by a high-class field. I say "usually" as I fear this year the contestants were not up to the usual standard. The race betting was dominated by Yanworth who was unbeaten in 4 hurdles races, and had LTO won on "Trials Day" here at Cheltenham on 30th January. I was present at Cheltenham that day, and was very impressed by that performance. In this race though, racing on the quickest ground he'd encountered since running 4th in the Champion "bumper" at last years Festival, I felt Yanworth lacked tactical speed. There was a lot of criticism of jockey Barry Geraghty (including from me on the day) post-race but, in hindsight, Yanworth wasn't good enough. He now has an OR156 rating and that looks possibly 8lb over the top. The race winner was the Irish trained Yorkhill who also came into this race unbeaten. Yorkhill is bred to win a Gold Cup as his dam is a half-sister to The Listener (won the Lexus Chase in 2006) as well as Offshore Account and Fork Lightning; and he was ridden like a horse who could stay 3-mile here. There was talk of trying the Champion Hurdle route next season, but if he were mine he'd go chasing and I expect to see him win his novice chase here next March, whichever one he runs in.
The RSA Chase was one of the races of the Festival, a real cracker of a contest. It was run at a solid pace throughout (thanks to Seeyouatmidnight) and, rounding the home turn with 2 fences to jump, there were any one of five potential winners. Going into the race, the top-rated runner was No More Heroes on OR159 and he landed in front on jumping the final fence but faltered on the run-in due to sustaining a severed tendon (he was subsequently put-down). It is likely that had he not been injured then he'd have won this race. The eventual winner Blaklion, came into the race with 5 rivals holding higher ratings, but he'd improved with every run over fences this season. While 3 mile looked beyond him as a novice hurdler, at this trip over fences Blaklion looks to be in his element, as he stormed up the hill holding-off the talented Shaneshill - who has now run 2nd in three successive festivals having previously run 2nd in the Champion "Bumper", and then 2nd in the Supreme Novices Hurdle behind the brilliant Douvan last year. Blaklion loves Cheltenham, he's now won here 3 times, and has no ground concerns having win on good, soft, and heavy ground. He will have to find another 10lb of improvement (at least) to win a typical Gold Cup, but it is distinctly possible. As for Shaneshill, he completely eclipsed his stablemate Roi Des Francs. This was his first attempt at 3-mile as a chaser, his other 3 chase races being run at about 2-mile; so he is completely unexposed at this trip and his jockey Paul Townend brought him into this race from off the pace - let's hope he keeps the ride. Personally, I think Shaneshill is more of a Gold Cup winner than the Blaklion. With Shaneshill at 40/1 and some bookmakers quoting Blaklion at odds as low as 16/1, you may be thinking (like me) that there could be some value in an eachway wager here. The 3rd horse home was More Of That and he was disappointing considering he'd won a World Hurdle over 3-mile. It could be that his best trip as a chaser is 2m5f and he could be a "Paddy Power" Chase horse (Paddy Power are not sponsoring the race anymore, but we all know which one I mean).
The Coral Cup handicap hurdle went to the very confidently ridden (by Davy Russell) Diamond King. who's jockey probably thought he'd won this race the previous week! Diamond King was with Don McCain until last October, when he transferred to Gordon Elliot in Ireland. Elliot stepped the horse up in trip from 2-mile to 2m5f, and the horse has improved over 25lb in the process. Elliot is a master at improving horses. Long House Hall who came in 2nd had done the reverse, coming over from Ireland to Dan Skelton's yard in March last year and quickly winning his first three races for him. This season, he had a couple of novice chases, winning one and falling in the other, and hadn't raced since last October; so this was a superlative effort to come 2nd in such a competitive race. However, for me, the most eye-catching performance was from the 5yo Baoulet Delaroque who finished very strongly and probably would have been 3rd in another 25 yards or so. He looks an exciting prospect for the next 12 months whether staying with hurdles or going chasing.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase produced the most emotional race of not just this Festival but, perhaps, the most tear-jerking win since Desert Orchid won the Gold Cup. After 2 seasons in the doldrums, Sprinter Sacre returned to the winners enclosure at the Cheltenham Festival. There wasn't a dry eye in the house and even opponents were cheering home Sprinter Sacre after he took the lead before 2-out. Emotions aside, this was nothing like his performance when winning this in 2013 beating Sizing Europe nearly 20-lengths in the process. I rated this winning run 19lb below his effort that day, and have Sprinter Sacre on 164 (while the official handicapper has him on OR175, and Racing Post Ratings (RPR) have him on 176). Why so low? There are 2 bits of form that correlate my assessment: 1) the runner-up Un De Sceaux beat God's Own by the same margin as when they met in the "Arkle" last season, and God's Own has yet to prove (on my ratings) that he's better than 158. 2) Special Tiara in 3rd is super-consistent on my ratings at between 158-160. Put those points together with God's Own on 155, and Special Tiara on 160, then we have Un De Sceaux also on 160 and Sprinter Sacre on 164. Simple. Without a doubt, were it not for his heart problems, Sprinter Sacre should have been winning his 4th Champion Chase. While I think Un De Sceaux is better than this, he's possibly only 164 at best - and that's when he gets his own way! When he was eyeballed by Sprinter Sacre he chucked-in the towel, and does not like being taken on.
It was the Cross-Country Chase next on the Wednesday card, and I'm not wasting my time with this race.
The Fred Winter Juvenile handicap hurdle was run at a strong gallop, and we were denied a likely tremendous finish when both Campeador and Voix Du Reve fell at the final flight. In my opinion, Voix Du Reve would have won this as he sluiced through the leaders approaching the final flight. However, you cannot ignore Campeador chance as he was having only his 2nd run for trainer Gordon Elliot. So, where does this leave eventual winner Diego Du Charmil and runner-up Romain De Senam beaten just a head? Having his race debut for Paul Nicholls, Diego Du Charmil was a real dark-horse but, being well supported, he'd been showing plenty of ability at home. He should do well going forward, but I was more impressed with Romain De Senam who came from a long way off the pace and finished like a train. He didn't handle the heavy ground LTO, and needs the ground no worse than good-to-soft. He's one for the future.
The days racing ended with the Champion Bumper, and this race is difficult to work out other than providing a race full of talent. Some of these ran very green, and how they develop is in the hand of their respective trainers.
Days 3 and 4 to follow.