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Monday 30 January 2017

Yesterday's gone - RIP Many Clouds

A day tinged with sadness, that was Cheltenham on Saturday.

It was an incredibly brave run from the Grand National and Hennessy Gold Cup winner Many Clouds who ran the best race of his life to win the Cotswold Chase beating Thistlecrack in the process, but succumbed to a heart condition on crossing the line and finishing the race.  The horse gave his all, and it was a measure of his character that he fought back after losing the lead in the closing stages to lead again and win by a narrow margin.

We learned a lot from the race: we learned that Thistlecrack is a proper Grade 1 chaser at the 3-mile trip, but that he isn't a 170+ chaser that many of his fans want him to be. I'd rated his King George VI win at 167 (while Racing Post Ratings had him at 178) the reason being that the horses he beat that day finished too close. To award Thistlecrack 178 meant that Silviniaco Conti (who finished in 3rd beaten under 4-lengths) had to have run a 170+ performance too - and followers of jumps racing know full well that the old campaigner "Conti" is nowhere near his best these days. We also know that Many Clouds is not, and never has been, a 170+ chaser; although he has always been very game and consistent. I rated the performance of Many Clouds about 3lb better than his previous win in this race in 2015 (when Smad Place was in 2nd place) at 167, and that rating fits in well with my opinion of Thistlecrack.

What it means is that there is only a couple of pounds separating the most recent performances of Thistlecrack, Native River and Bristol De Mai.  It also means that Djakadam who has run 2nd in the last couple of Cheltenham Gold Cups and who is also capable of running in the region of 164-167 is firmly back in the Gold Cup picture as he is unlikely to meet a rival at Cheltenham of the quality of either Coneygree in 2015 or Don Cossack in 2016.  It also means that we should start considering the chances of "2nd-tier" chasers that may be capable of running a 160+ race and sneaking a place (or even winning the race as Lord Windermere did) should one or more of the main contenders not perform on the day. 

There is a body of thought that Thistlecrack may not enjoy the further furlong of the Gold Cup trip, and he will have had a hard season too - the ground on Saturday at Cheltenham was certainly testing. I'm also not entirely convinced Bristol De Mai will run to be best at Cheltenham over the Gold Cup trip. Native River has long been my idea of a Gold Cup winner, but there are others who have not been as highly tried this season yet maybe more than capable of winning on the day, and one I particularly like is Minella Rocco who easily beat Native River in the 4-mile National Hunt Chase last March and who has been given an easy time this season.   When I saw him at Cheltenham last October he was unfit and in need of plenty of work, yet finished 3rd after starting the 11/2 fav.  And then in December he probably would have chased Many Clouds close had he not fallen at the final fence. He looks a much better than 25/1 chance to me.

My other selections on Saturday ran well.  I think Singlefarmpayment would have gone close had he not been brought-down, but the winner Royal Vacation looked very good.   I felt cheated in the next race at Cheltenham which I felt I read particularly well, except that I had ignored the winner! Saphir Du Rheu possibly should have won this as he was coasting for much of the race and his jockey allowed the winner too much leeway up-front which he was unable to peg back - but the manner in which he reduced the deficit was eye-catching as the horse is seriously well handicapped  - he needs a better ride next time. I was also right about Tenor Nivernais who I wagered on place-only on the exchanges (I took 9/2 to be in the 1st-4), and who ran a cracker of a race.

At Doncaster, I read the form for the 2-mile handicap chase well, spotted the winner Upsilon Bleu but didn't tip advise him as a selection as the odds were not generous enough for me. I must admit, I did have a small wager on him, and then placed another in-running as he was going so well. He is a good 2-mile chaser for the grade, but the handicapper will have him now as he's likely to go up 7lb for winning this.

The Skybet Handicap Chase over 3-mile was ripped apart by last years winner Ziga Boy, who we knew was in-form and would love the race.  Unfortunately, I did not expect him to set such a strong pace and most of this field were struggling to keep up after they had barely run a mile. The pace was too hot for my selection Southfield Royale who was running in his seasonal debut today, and he may be one for next time as he looks very well treated for a horse who was one of last seasons top staying novice chasers.

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