We have had an incredibly busy few days of horseracing with some terrific, and some extremely odd, results. The oddest was the race contested at Wincanton where my only advised selection on Boxing Day which was declared void when none of the runners could finish after the majority had been brought down by a loose horse at the 6th fence.
At Kempton we saw the possible winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in Thistlecrack. He routed the small field for the King George which, to be fair, contained only one serious rival in Cue Card. When you have been following a horse like Cue Card for as long as I have (he was my wager when he ran 2nd in the Arkle to Sprinter Sacre - I was on him in the "without the fav" market at 3/1) you get to know him well. In my opinion, the horse stays 3-mile well but only when he is able to dominate the race - and that is what he wasn't able to do when faced with Thistlecrack. As such, with 3 fences still to jump, Cue Card was a beaten horse just plugging-on. This makes the form difficult to judge, and it was not helped by jockey Tom Scudamore dropping his hands and coasting in. Thistlecrack is somewhere between 165 and 180; my rating is 167 whereas the betting market for the Gold Cup in pricing him at 5/4 suggests he is closer to 180 than 165.
Staying chasers that are better than 170 are rare beasts - by the way, I measure on my own ratings which (I hope) have not suffered from ratings inflation. For instance, Silviniaco Conti won the 2013 King George recording an RPR176 rating (my rating was 174) when beating Cue Card into 2nd (RPR173). That race was run on soft ground and the speed rating given was 147 to Silviniaco Conti. Thistlecrack has been awarded an RPR178, for this years win, on the back of a speed rating of 133 as the ground was "good". Based on the speed ratings, Silviniaco Conti was 14lb better than Thistlecrack "in his pomp" - time never lies.
Before that we saw Yanworth race into contention for the Champion Hurdle and if that race were run at level weights then I would say he should be the 2/1 fav - but the mare Annie Power will receive a 7lb "mares" allowance and that just about makes her unbeatable should she return to racing in similar form.
The handicap performance of Boxing Day was Definitly Red winning the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby over 3-mile. He was the horse I thought would win the race (see my Boxing Day blog) but I never thought he was so far ahead of the handicapper. He was confidently ridden and I was sure he would win about a mile from home as he was going so well. It was also welcome to see a return to form for Wakanda who stayed on strong to be 2nd. What went wrong with him I've no idea, but it may be he didn't enjoy running up against Grade 1 chasers as he just wasn't up to that class.
We know he goes well right-handed and the old "BetBright" Chase run at Kempton in February looks perfect for him. Blaklion had to win this race to maintain Gold Cup ambitions, but I knew he wasn't good enough and he has hit his ability ceiling as a chaser.
For me, the performance of the week was Native River in the Welsh National as that race is incredibly tough to win with more than 11st, and to do it in the style he did with 11st 12lb (even if it was a "compressed" handicap) marks out Native River as a very special horse indeed. I suggested to those on my email list to take the 20/1 for the Gold Cup before he won the Welsh National, and even afterwards when cut to 10/1 I considered those odds were are still value. Why? Because his stablemate Cue Card is almost certain to go for the Ryanair Chase instead; Don Cossack has not been seen since winning the last Gold Cup and could well (if fit) go straight to Cheltenham; Coneygree clearly has fitness problems and may not run at Cheltenham, Djakadam isn't Gold Cup quality and likely also goes for the Ryanair; and nothing else in the betting has a cat-in-hell's chance. My own opinion is that the market should be similar to the Denman vs Kauto Star year when "Kauto" had an SP of 10/11, and Denman was at 9/4. For me, Native River should be 9/4 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. I can see fewer than 7 horses running in the Gold Cup, and it would not surprise me to see a horse like Minella Rocco @ 40/1 or Many Clouds @ 50/1 snatch 3rd place and reward a brave antepost punter.
Today we have lost the decent meeting at Haydock to the weather, but there is a decent Class 3 handicap chase over 3-mile at Taunton. The race-fav is Kerrow who will be having just his 2nd chase race but while his chase debut was promising it didn't suggest he would be up to winning this. Also in the race was Boa Island who came 3rd and has been raised 2lb by the handicapper which seems a bit harsh. As such, it makes Minellacelebration look interesting as he was going well on ground perhaps a bit too soft for him when falling LTO. We have not seen much of Silver Commander in recent years but he is certainly better than his OR125 rating and has the excellent Richard Johnson in the saddle - but will he be fit enough for this? Abracadabra Sivola isn't good enough, but By The Boardwalk is on his day, I just feel this trip may be a bit short for him as he possibly wants more than 3-mile as will the horse that beat him LTO Moss On The Mill. I must admit, I cannot understand why Tinker Time is at 12/1 for this race as he ran well over 3-mile at Ascot in November and was not suited by the 2m2f trip LTO here earlier this month. However, this "quick" ground is against him today. A trappy race all-in-all and possibly a race to swerve.