FSF rating = Form and speed combined rating. They are based on the horse’s best performance over the last twelve months and provide a guide to future performance. Worth studying with a view to picking winners at Cheltenham Festival 2017 which takes place from 14-17 March at Prestbury Park. Compiled by Graham Richards.
NOVICE CHASERS NOVICE HURDLERS
|MESSIRE DES OBEAUX
|CLAN DES OBEAUX
|AS DE MEE
|THE WORLDS END
|BUNK OFF EARLY
|O O SEVEN
TOP HURDLERS TOP CHASERS
|THE NEW ONE
|UN DE SCEAUX
|SIRE DE GRUGY
|MY TENT OR YOURS
|BRISTOL DE MAI
|UN TEMPS POUR TOUT
|ROAD TO RICHES
|DEFI DU SEUIL
|COEUR DE LION
|CLIFFS OF DOVER
|DIABLE DE SIVOLA
|DOMPERIGNON DU LYS
|DINARIA DES OBEAUX
The Cheltenham Gold Cup suffered further disappointment with the news that Thistlecrack will miss the race. The loss of Vautour, Coneygree, and Don Cossack proved a hammer blow to punters and NH fans alike. Joining them is the highest official rated chaser in the UK, depriving National Hunt enthusiasts of what looked, back in October 2016, to be a vintage renewal. One hopes he will return, as his trainer suggested, by Christmas. However, tendon injuries normally need a long period of convalescence, while the tendon is often weaker and prone to subsequent injury.
The Ascot Chase saw a return to form from CUE CARD. Although a sub-standard field opposed him, he ran away from his rivals from the second last. Returning to the top of FSF staying chasers, his stamina for the climb to the Gold Cup glory line remains an unknown. In addition, the record of eleven-year-olds in the race does not inspire confidence. The last winner from that age group was Mandarin in 1962. Furthermore, the last ten-year-old was Cool Dawn in 1998.
The Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase often throws up a Cheltenham winner. BIGBADJOHN scrambled home from the ultra-game Flintham, and Fletchers Flyer. Arpege D’Alene disappointed. Whilst the ground was a factor, his shoddy jumping led to a deficit he was unable to reduce until running on in the closing stages. He is effective at Cheltenham where he should find better ground. His trainer reported, “Quirky is an understatement”. Fletchers Flyer ran well after a break and looks sure to find a race at some stage. Flintham’s attitude to the job in hand will see him competitive going forward. His jumping suggested he may prove best left-handed.
The time of the Reynoldstown was slower than TENOR NIVERNAIS in the Listed Handicap. TN jumped well out in front, producing a performance that had been on the cards when finding his ideal conditions. Held by his handicap mark prior to the race, he justified a cut in his Grand National odds. Given his style of racing and conditions at Aintree (Usually much less testing), one wonders if that is the right race for him.
Haydock Park’s Rendlesham Hurdle won by ZARKANDAR, saw him recording his first win for over two years. Interestingly, it was reported post-race he had another breathing operation following his last start. Despite the win, it is hard to see him improve his Stayers’ Hurdle record.
The Prestige Novices’ Hurdle produce a good performance from THE WORLDS END. His FSF and progressive profile make him one to consider for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle. The second home No Hassle Hoff is a reliable yardstick while the third home is a progressive individual.
Jezki’s short-priced defeat in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park may, in some part, be due to “Bouncing”. One imagines he will go for the Stayers’ Hurdle as he appears short of the necessary pace for the Champion Hurdle. However, as mentioned in earlier reports, I am not fully convinced he will see out a truly run three-miles at Cheltenham. The likeable TOMBSTONE turned the tables with Jezki on better terms. He reportedly heads for the Aintree Hurdle though Mr Elliott has not completely ruled out the Champion Hurdle.
YANWORTH, another of JP’s potential Champion Hurdle candidates, ran out a hard-ridden winner from Ch’Tibello in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. This was a similar performance to the Christmas Hurdle where his staying power saw him home. Indeed, taking the weights into consideration, the first and second ran almost identical races at Wincanton and Kempton Park. The form can be questioned further with the news that the runner-up is to have a breathing operation. On the plus side, Yanworth was returning from a slight setback while Mr Geraghty reportedly remains keen, despite his post-race comments, to renew the partnership at Cheltenham. The 2017 Champion Hurdle is unlikely to provide a vintage renewal. If that proves to be the case, his tenacity and attitude to the job in hand should see him competitive when it matters.
Notching up his fifth win on the trot in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan, SUTTON PLACE displayed he would prove competitive for the Champion or Stayers’ Hurdles. However, it is unlikely he will be supplemented for either with his trainer choosing to stay in Ireland for the Punchestown or Fairyhouse Festivals.
This year’s renewal of the Grade Two Ten Up Novices’ Chase was unsatisfactory, as the winner ACAPELLA BOURGEOIS built up a long lead which he never looked likely to relinquish. Although the winning margin flattered him, his FSF (Only let down by the speed element) suggests he is more than worth his place at Grade One level.
I was pleased to see my initial fancies for the Mares’ hurdle, from an earlier update, fight out the finish at Punchestown. LIMINI galloped into the picture for both the Mares’ and Champion Hurdle (Needs supplementing), outpointing Apples Jade on the run-in. Travelling well throughout, she jumped well and won without recourse to the whip. Limini will need to cope with a twenty-day break as opposed to a forty-five-day rest when successful in the Mares’ Novices last season. Her RPR of 156 leaves her 9lb shy of the top-rated contenders while her provisional FSF leaves her with 12lb to find. It is worth noting Apples Jade ran to an identical RPR recorded in the Grade One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle last December.
The Grand National Trial at Haydock Park took place on ground less testing than is normal. VIEUX LION ROUGE and runner-up Blaklion head to Aintree with solid claims. Mr Pipe’s horse jumps well and battles hard. Despite being a year older, he still has to prove he can see the trip out. Blaklion battled on gamely and looks an out and out stayer. His jumping has been assured over fences while he travels easily through his races.
GRAND NATIONAL WEIGHT ADJUSTED PROVISIONAL FSFs
|VIEUX LION ROUGE
|HOUBLON DES OBEAUX
|THE YOUNG MASTER
|MORE OF THAT
|ONE FOR ARTHUR
|THE LAST SAMURI
|CAUSE OF CAUSES