There was some great racing over the weekend, and a couple of the old giants of jump racing came out and showed the new-kids that there was life in the old dogs yet!
The plaudits are equally shared between Cue Card and Sire De Grugy as they both, on my ratings at least, showed they had not lost anything with age. I have to eat a slice of humble pie here, as I had written off the pair of them but (fair play) they showed the kind of form that - if they can repeat it at Cheltenham next March - puts them in with a realistic chance of winning a championship race.
Cue Card ran a tremendous race given that Coneygree, winner of the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup and unbeaten as a chaser going into this race, led for 2m4f of this race and galloped the remainder of the opposition into the mud. The only question in my mind is what happened to Cue Card at Wetherby? Saturdays performance was a exceptional given the state of the ground, as he ran the race only 7.30 secs slower than when winning it in 2015. By comparison, last year the Class 3 handicap chase over C&D that followed was run in a time 8.50sec slower, but on Saturday it was run in a time 14.30sec slower than the Betfair Chase. I was also very impressed with Coneygree considering it was his first race in 12 months (and that were barely a gallop). Providing he stays fit and well, he is bang there in with a chance of the Gold Cup in March as he will surely strip a lot fitter there.
Sire De Grugy had me spitting feathers, and not only because he upset my selection of the day Vaniteux. Always well placed, his jumping (and natural pace) took him well clear in the final half-mile and though he looked to be tiring late on, I thought he was just idling a little. He has never had any problem holding his form in the past and, providing he sticks to 2-miles, he should win several more races this winter. As for Vaniteux, it was his jumping that let him down as he does appear to have a decent engine in him, and it is not just me who thinks that as he was the subject of an almighty gamble from 11/4 down to 7/4. Given the form of his stable over the weekend (Henderson had 7 winners from 17 runners over Fri-Sun) it is unlikely fitness was an issue - so he must tidy up his jumping. He still has time on his side to be a 160+ 2-mile chaser.
Overall on Saturday, we saw some great performances, especially at Haydock. CLYNE won the opening 2-mile handicap hurdle in some style relishing the ground, and a step up in trip and going chasing seems to be an exciting prospect for this 6yo. I was then very impressed (and kicking myself) when MYSTEREE won the 3m4f handicap chase. The 8yo does not have many miles on the clock (this was only his 6th chase race) and the Welsh National looks the perfect race for him next. I'm kicking myself as he was a good 4th in the Eider Chase at Newcastle last February when he showed he was a potential 130+ marathon chaser, and I overlooked him on Saturday in this. Don't ignore the runner-up Chase The Spud as this was his seasonal debut and the way he ran suggests he can go one better next time. He does not appear to enjoy Chepstow, and pulled-up in the Welsh National last January, but he looks more than capable of picking up another marathon chase.
When you are reading the form, it pays not to focus on only the race winners as, at Ascot, we saw a particularly good novice chase race over 3-mile won by Nicky Henderson's BEWARE THE BEAR. The runner-up in that race Singlefarmpayment seemed to have the race in the bag when leading 4-out as he was jumping well and going strong. It may have been his chase debut but Beware The Bear picked-up the lead before the last and ran on well. Already proven at 3-mile over hurdles, his trainer rates him highly and he could be an RSA winner next March. Singlefarmpayment jumped very well throughout and was most unlucky to bump into such a good winner, he will find easier targets than this and looks a 145+ chaser in the making.
The feature race at Ascot, the 2m5f Stella Artois Chase, was a bit of a let-down as the 9/4 fav Dodging Bullets pulled-up after a mile (never travelling). That appeared to hand the race to God's Own but, although he ran to his form, a couple of others ran career-best performances to beat him. The winner was Royal Regatta who ran up to the form (on my own ratings) of his C&D win of last December, however on Saturday his race-time was 7.70secs faster. He is likely to go up to at least OR155 for this and that will make life tough for the 8yo. Kylemore Lough confirmed his promise when almost snatching the lead in the dying strides of the race. The 7yo has not stopped improving and looks a potential Ryanair Chase winner next March.
There is an interesting Class 3 handicap chase at Lingfield at 3:10pm today but only 5 horses go to post.
There appear to be stamina doubts about the market leaders Minella Online and Royal Vacation, enough for me to consider their odds a bit on the short side. A horse may be able to run 3-miles on soft ground, but how long will it take them to reach the finish and will they have anything left in the tank to win the race on the run-in?
Delgany Demon should have won a 3-mile handicap chase by now as his form suggests (on his best runs) that he is a 130-135 chaser. Perhaps he's one of those horses that likes to run along, but never wants to be in the lead? The 6yo Kap Jazz does not seem entirely in love with the game, often needing "reminders" and getting going too late to win. That leaves top-weight CLOUDY COPPER who pulled-up unseated his rider at Fontwell LTO but, before that, won his first-ever chase at Ffos Las in April over 3-mile on soft ground. He has not had much racing as he made his racecourse debut as a 5yo in November 2012, winning both of this novice hurdles that season before going chasing in 2014-15. Most of his racing has been on heavy going, ground which blunts his speed, so it was no surprise to see this horse win when racing on soft ground (he won on soft as a hurdler). Currently 8/1 (available generally) those odds look far too long to me, as I reckon he's a 5/2 chance - alongside the potential of Royal Vacation - should the ground stay soft.
The worry for me is (as I live in Brighton, about 25 miles from Lingfield) we have had an awful lot of rain here in the past 24 hours and the ground may well be heavy or, at least, a lot softer than reported.
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