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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Cheltenham Review 2018 - Day 2 (Blog 997)

We entered the 2nd day of the Festival with slightly better ground as the good weather on Tuesday had left it soft (heavy in places) from the "heavy" of day 1.

Ballymore Novices Hurdle run over 2m5f
The day opened with one of the most anticipated races of the meeting - to find out whether SAMCRO was the "real deal" or not. Starting the 8/11 fav, Samcro travelled strongly throughout, led after jumping 2-out and never looked in danger after that.  I've rated the race via the 3rd-placed Next Generation who I thought ran to his rating of OR150, he certainly didn't better his rating as he didn't seem to handle the course. As such, I've given 6yo Samcro a rating of 158 but he could be a lot better than that.  We won't be seeing him again before the autumn and connections are deciding over the summer whether to have a go at the Champion Hurdle or to go chasing in 2018-19.
I was very impressed with the runner-up Black Op as he looked a bit "green" despite this being his 4th hurdle race. He took a bit of time to respond to Samcro leading from 2-out but, when he got going, he motored - so much so, he demolished the final flight. Even with a cleaner jump at the last he would not have beaten Samcro, but we would have seen Samcro pushed more. The downside with Black Op is he's a 7yo and he must go chasing next season - he cannot afford to hand around.
The form of this race looks top quality and it's likely the 1st 3 will all go onto better things.

RSA Insurance Novices Chase run over 3-miles & 80 yards
On paper, this field of 10 looked one of the strongest of recent years for this race with 7 of the 10 rated OR150 or higher; and the 3 weakest runners either fell when beaten or pulled-up.  The Irish challengers dominated the race and it's likely they would have provided the 1st-3 had Al Boum Photo not fallen 2-out. The race was won by the 7yo PRESENTING PERCY who had won the 3-mile Pertemps Final handicap hurdle at last years festival off a rating of OR146. As such, this trip was not a problem for him, and he's already won over 3m5f in Ireland. The more I look at this race, the more I think it was one of the best RSA Chases we've seen since Denman won in 2007. My only doubt is over the race-time of 6m 32.40 which was very slow even for soft ground, and it could mean that the form of the race could be a bit dodgy - time will tell. We've not had a soft ground RSA since 2002 (in 2001 the Festival was cancelled due to the outbreak of Foot & Mouth disease) but, on good-to-soft ground Denman ran the race in 6m 06.80 and last year Might Bite won in 6m 08.80 - it leaves food for thought. On a plus-point for trends followers, Presenting Percy ticked every good trend for this race. However, Monalee was easily brushed aside by the winner when challenged, but he ran 3rd in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle last year and I expect he will be a better horse on good-to-soft ground or better.

Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle run over 2m5f
While the trends for this race (being a handicap hurdle) are not as strong as some races, the winner BLEU BERRY did not meet many - if any - of the main trends. He wasn't a LTO winner, he hadn't won a race earlier this season (this was only his 2nd race since running at the Punchestown Festival last April), and he had only won 3 novice hurdles before this - albeit one was a Grade 2.  As such, although carrying 11st 2lb off OR143 he was, if fit and in form, more than capable of winning. Possibly the reason for his 20/1 odds was that, due to the injury to Ruby Walsh, Paul Townend had opted to change from this horse onto the race-fav Max Dynamite who ran no sort of race at all and came in last of the 22 finishers - which goes to show that even those closest to the horse don't really know how it will perform in the race.  Bleu Berry is likely to go chasing next season.
To be beaten by a 20/1 chance was bad luck for Topofthegame (who was my blog selection @ 9/1) who led from after the 2nd-last and was only caught close home. Such was the domination of the Irish trainers this year, trainers like Paul Nicholls have to really go the final mile to have any chance of a winner, and this looks top form for the 6yo. Unlike the winner, Topofthegame did tick all the trend-boxes but, in doing so, was more exposed, and he was an unlucky loser having to concede 6lb to a dark-horse like the winner.
In 3rd was the 7yo mare Barra who clearly loves it here as she was 2nd in the Mares' Novices hurdle last year and appears to be very consistent, if one-paced. She will not do any better than this, and I expect she's headed for the breeding paddocks soon.

Queen Mother Champion Chase run over 2-miles
On paper the field for this race looked top-class, as it contained last years QMCC winner in Special Tiara, and two previous "Arkle" winners in Douvan and Altior, plus a "Tingle Creek" winner in Politologue - however, too many of this field of 9 were either too old, or long out of form to be serious contenders; and that showed in the final quarter-mile.
I thought the pace for this race was ordinary and that opinion is given substance by the manner in which Ordinary World - who was beaten 15-lengths into 3rd in last years Arkle - picked-up the leaders on the run to the 3rd-last when he was out with the washing half-a-mile earlier.
The character and complexity of the race changed at the 4th-last fence when long-time leader Douvan, took-off too early and hit the fence hard giving horse and rider no chance.  Had Ruby Walsh been in the saddle would he have leapt with such reckless abandon? This left Politologue in a reluctant lead but he really does not have the pace for these top-class 2-mile chase's and would be best stepped-up to 2m4f and he certainly would not have been beaten by Cloudy Dream had he contested the Ryanair Chase, and he may even have pushed the winner.
Both Ordinary World and Politologue quickly conceded ground on the run to the 2nd-last and the lead was taken up by 10yo God's Own who has seen better days but he's always been a consistent performer here over C&D. In the 2015 Arkle, I rated him at 158, and in the QMCC of 2016 it was 155, in 2017 it was 153, and this year I've rated him 157 for coming home 3rd beaten 18-lengths.
Before the turn into the straight, the fav ALTIOR looked to be in trouble, as he was hating the ground and - if you can recall - he didn't seem to enjoy winning the Arkle here last year. As such, the Willie Mullins trained Min looked like he may make it 5 wins from 6 chase races as they approached the 2nd last - but that feeling was quickly put to bed by the winner.  ALTIOR looked like he sprouted wings as he turned into the straight, and in just a couple of strides he moved from a "struggling" 4th and into a decisive lead at the final fence, then it was race-over. I've rated the performance at 175 such was his superiority over this field at the end. Douvan has come nowhere near that level of form, and those who think he can beat Altior need to have a sit down.
Connections of Min must feel hard-done by as in any "normal" year, Min would have been a good winner with a rating of 168 - in fact, on my ratings he would have won the last 4 QMCC's.  He can be followed with some confidence over 2-mile on the Irish circuit.

The Cross-Country Chase run over 3m6f
Not a race to linger over, is this one. But, with a bit of forethought you could have had the winner if you were a cynic. Gordon Elliot trained Cause Of Causes to win this last year after he cantered around over C&D earlier in January (a race won by Urgent De Gregaine).  This year, the horse chosen for the canter was TIGER ROLL, and the experience set him up well to win this race fairly comfortably.  You have to remember that he won the 4-mile NH Novices Chase at the 2017 Festival, before quickly throwing-in the towel in the Irish National  at Fairyhouse in April 2017. Personally, I think Tiger Roll is a horse best caught fresh off at least a break of 100-days and he would not be on my shortlist for anything this side of October.

Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap hurdle run over 2-mile & 87 yards
The profile I have of a potential winner of this race is a horse with no more than 5 hurdle runs of which no more than 2 have been winning runs.  The eventual winner VENEER OF CHARM (who ran off OR129) ticked those boxes, with this being his 4th hurdle race and though he'd won his debut hurdle in the manner of a horse that should be rated 130+ he'd looked a less than ordinary horse in two subsequent runs. His SP of 33/1 was no surprise in the circumstances, and you have to wonder why he even took part in this race.  If you found him, well done, but I think the winning jockey would have told his own dad to bet on something else in the race. By comparison to the winner, the runner-up Style De Garde also won his hurdle debut, but at Newbury and (unfortunately) syndicate manager Harry Herbert talked of the horse going to Cheltenham and being in the Triumph Hurdle after that win - and those comments have probably resulted in a rating of OR137 when (given his subsequent run) his rating should have been about 131-133, and that would have made a big difference in this race, about £25,000 of difference in prize-money.

Weatherbys Champion Bumper run over 2-mile
I knew very little about bumper form before this race, and I know very little about it now. Willie Mullins supplied the 1st-3 home and 5 of the 23 runners. His "worst" horse ran 7th. Unfortunately, the stable money was not on the winning mare RELEGATE, but I expect they will have plenty of opportunity to recoup the losses - and I expect to see the winner back here next year probably winning one of the Mares' only races.

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