GC Festival File: Take on Captain
That was the week that was.....largely fairly quiet on the Festival front.
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Bad weather played its part but the first weekend in February is traditionally low key and most of the Cheltenham clues on offer only quickened the pulse only marginally.
That said, Sandown, Musselburgh and Punchestown all served up good sport and C4 and RUK analyst Graham Cunningham reflects on the best of it in part six of his 2013 Festival File.
Conan needs to up his game to be the Jewson captain
Some people bend over backwards to make excuses when a horse doesn't win as easily as expected - and so it was after Captain Conan struggled past the idling Third Intention in Sandown's Scilly Isles Chase on Saturday.
"He probably lacks a bit of race fitness," said Barry Geraghty, while Channel 4's Nick Luck also suggested that Nicky Henderson often leaves something to work on when his stars have their final run before the Fez.
But I'm not convinced.
I backed Captain Conan on Saturday and never felt he was moving like the same horse who was so impressive when thrashing Third Intention at Cheltenham and Sandown before Christmas.
Racing Post ratings suggest he ran to his previous best of 152 and it looks like he does get two and a half miles, but curbing his natural enthusiasm to help him do so certainly didn't help him improve.
In short, it was a performance which suggested bookmakers ought to have shown a little gumption and pushed him out for the Jewson.
They didn't - but on this laboured showing his prospects are certainly less bright now than they were this time last week.
"In short, it was a performance which suggested bookmakers ought to have shown a little gumption and pushed him out for the Jewson. They didn't - but on this laboured showing his prospects are certainly less bright now than they were this time last week."
GC on Captain Conan
But Module is a live outsider
Assessing the shape of the Jewson field at this stage is tough.
Dynaste seems more likely to head for the RSA (though stranger things have happened) while Fago and Arvika Ligeonniere seem to have Arkle preferences at this stage.
Aupcharlie and Unioniste appeal as a couple of likely Jewson lads - and we may well get to see both again before Cheltenham - but there are worse 20/1 shots in the Festival markets than Module at present.
Tom George stressed that no decisions have been made, but this lightly-raced gelding came up the Cheltenham hill strongly to land a useful handicap hurdle off a BHA mark of 130 last winter and is now rated 146 over fences after following an emphatic win by thrashing second raters at Leicester in midweek.
Sir Des Champs recorded a BHA mark of 162 to land last year's Jewson while Noble Prince ran to 156 in victory the year before.
It's clear Module needs to progress again then, but he's a good jumper with scope to go on again and his future looks bright.
Molzoltov fans raise a glass as Mullins and Walsh defeat the Don again
Things we learned from a strong Punchestown Sunday card:
1: Sizing Europe will return to Cheltenham in good nick after completing a simple task to land the fifteenth Graded race of his career. But whether it will be for the Champion Chase or the Ryanair remains to be seen. It seems fairly clear Henry de Bromhead wants to avoid Sprinter Sacre if possible. That's probably very wise but he's a wait and see horse from a punting perspective at present.
2: Arabella Boy is back on track for Cheltenham's day one cross country chase after a workmanlike win. He departed there when carrying my money there in December but is still young by cross country standards and this shouldn't affect his mark unduly.
3: Willie Mullins has yet another good novice hurdler judged on Mozoltov's gritty defeat of Don Cossack in the Moscow Flyer Hurdle. This looked a classic case of a slick hurdler mastering a prospective chaser as Mozoltov jumped low and quickly while Don Cossack spent too much time in the air when it mattered most. I'd still like to think Un Atout is the main Mullins hope for the Supreme Novices', but Mozoltov and Friday's Dundalk winner Pique Sous make a very handy backup team. Don Cossack has now been beaten at 8-15 and 6-5 on his last two starts. The notion that he's a potential champion is bruised for the moment - but once he gets over fences it might just revive.
"David Pipe's gelding showed further improvement in finishing third - catching the eye making a very impressive move round the wide outside early in the straight - and I suspect he will rate highly on the Pond House short list for Sandown's Imperial Cup before taking aim at one of the Festival handicaps."
GC on Tanerko Emery
Hutchinson is far more than a super sub - and don't discount Emery
The stats don't lie when it comes to Wayne Hutchinson, who saved every inch aboard Alan King's Medinas in Saturday's Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las.
Hutchinson was partnering the ultra-consistent Medinas for the first time and has now ridden 13 winners for King this season at an impressive strike rate of twenty five per cent with a level stake profit to a pound stake of 35 quid.
It comes as a major surprise to see that he has partnered a measly four winners for outside yards, but plenty of punters are well aware of Hutchinson's value even if some trainers seem less convinced.
Logic suggests Robert Thornton will be back aboard Medinas in the Coral Cup or the Pertemps Final and logic also suggests that a hike to a mark in the mid-140's might just leave him vulnerable.
However, Tanerko Emery remains one to have on your side for a big handicap hurdle this spring.
David Pipe's gelding showed further improvement in finishing third - catching the eye making a very impressive move round the wide outside early in the straight - and I suspect he will rate highly on the Pond House short list for Sandown's Imperial Cup before taking aim at one of the Festival handicaps.
Overturn says "over to you" Simonsig with another front running romp
The long drive to Musselburgh is seldom wasted and it was a treat to be on Racing UK duty there for a Sunday card which offered various Festival clues.
Overturn provided the broadest hint, simply blowing the useful Tetlami away with another admirable display of controlled aggression in the opener, and he's now as short as 3/1 to turn over Simonsig in the Arkle.
If I'm right in thinking that the real Tetlami didn't turn up here than Overturn had practically nothing to beat, but layers seldom need much excuse to shorten a horse at this time of year and with two horses taking up nearly 80 per cent of the market fully five weeks before the Festival some bookies are already betting tighter than Beyonce's Superbowl leather basque.
It's hard to think there is much mileage in stepping in yet, but McCain is clear that it is "out of the gates and go" for Overturn on March 12th and on good ground he is capable of whizzing round Cheltenham in a little over 3m50secs.
The odds-on favourite Simonsig has never faced anything like such a pure speed test in any of his races over hurdles or fences yet.
The signs suggest he's up to it - and he has the chance to return Overturn's latest volley with interest against far stronger opposition in Newbury's Game Spirit on Saturday - but the Arkle is gearing up to be a wonderful duel and nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see the north's most popular jumper add another great prize to his astonishing haul.
Another Brick in the Festival wall for bang-in-form Venetia
As many as six other Musselburgh winners could head to Cheltenham, but questions of one sort or another remain over most of them.
Has Brick Red shown his hand for the County Hurdle to the handicapper a little too early? It's possible even allowing that he completed his hat-trick for Venetia Williams with a telling turn of foot in the Scottish County Hurdle.
Is Scottish Triumph Hurdle winner Sametegal the best Paul Nicholls has to offer for the Triumph itself? Probably not given what Far West and Irish Saint have already achieved and what Lac Fontana might achieve.
Did Superior Quality show enough to suggest he can be a major player in the Neptune or Albert Bartlett? No he didn't.
Does Viva Colonia's narrow win in a novice chase run at a crawl earn him a tilt at the Grand Annual? Yes it does. And if he's given a lot less to do than when fifth on his sole previous Cheltenham start then so much the better.
Is Creevytenant destined for big things as a hunter chaser? Almost certainly yes - but the way he jumped alarmingly right in two previous visits to Cheltenham rings alarm bells for the Festival.