Weekend Review: The One and only?
Our panel unpick the action over the weekend and share any ante-post betting clues they have identified.
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Did you learn anything new about The New One on Saturday? Will he beat My Tent Or Yours at Kempton and to what extent will the result of the William Hill Christmas Hurdle influence your views on the Stan James Champion Hurdle?
Ian Ogg: Albeit the shorter trip was arguably in his favour, he comprehensively reversed Aintree form with Zarkandar to confirm the impression that he made at Kempton. I was encouraged by the way that he pulled away from Zarkandar on the run-in, something that he failed to do against At Fishers Cross last January, having hit the front too soon which suggests that he's maturing. Firstly, thank heavens for trainers like Nigel Twiston-Davies who are prepared to take on all-comers. MTOY has had that race as his objective for the first half of the season and I think both that and the track will be in his favour. As well as the different make-up of the course at Cheltenham, the pace of the Champion Hurdle is likely to be significantly stronger so I'm not expecting my views to be altered dramatically.
Michael Shinners: The New One is clearly a class act and showed this once again on Saturday. I thought it was interesting that Sam Twiston Davies said he was slightly annoyed with himself as he wanted to take up the lead after the last. This could make the race over Christmas with My Tent Or Yours a fascinating tactical affair. The only negative I can take from the performance on Saturday was that there was a couple of hurdles that he got into a little tight, although without ever making a serious mistake
Will Hayler: Before the race I was questioning the jockey's view that the horse needs to be held up as late as possible, but I could hardly question it afterwards given the way he put the brakes on after the last! The worry for his backers - as my colleague above suggests - will be whether if ridden for an even later turn of foot at Kempton, he only ends up playing into the hands of My Tent Or Yours.
Matt Brocklebank: I feel we did learn a bit more about Nigel Twiston-Davies' hope as he clearly hit the front sooner than would have been ideal and it was really encouraging to see him quicken again when Zarkandar looked like he may have been coming to lay down a serious challenge. Both TNO and MTOY have developed considerably since they were first and second respectively in the Aintree bumper in 2012 but the former looks more the finished article to me, whereas I believe Nicky Henderson's runner could be seen at his very best when sent chasing.
"Even Ruby got in the act afterwards when he hinted on At The Races that Briar Hill was more of a Boston Bob than a Pont Alexandre or Mikael D'Haguenet. If that's not a steer that the horse will be running in the Albert Bartlett rather than over shorter, I don't know what is."
Another Grade One with another disappointing turnout, but is the victory of Briar Hill in the Navan Novice Hurdle redundant as a form guide?
MS: It's very difficult to take a great deal from the performance in all honesty. What is interesting is that Willie Mullins commented that he settles well enough to suggest he could get three miles. Trying to work out the pecking order for the Mullins' horses is intriguing and at the moment he could be the Albert Bartlett horse.
IO: Mullins has won this race with the likes of Boston Bob, Pont Alexandre and Mikael d'Haguenet which is a fair pointer as to where Briar Hill stands in the pecking order and I was impressed by the performance. Davy Russell made a valiant attempt to do him for speed and gave the distinctly decent Azorian every chance but he was simply no match for the winner. BH's best performance came when held-up off a decent pace in the Champion Bumper and you can reasonably expect significant improvement when faced with a similar scenario over hurdles with the only concern being that he's unlikely to have had the opportunity to put his jumping to the test under such circumstances.
WH: Even Ruby got in the act afterwards when he hinted on At The Races that Briar Hill was more of a Boston Bob than a Pont Alexandre or Mikael D'Haguenet. If that's not a steer that the horse will be running in the Albert Bartlett rather than the two novice hurdles over shorter distances, I don't know what is. Presumably such an idea was already in the melting pot as I can't accept it has been made on the basis of such a meaningless contest on Sunday.
MB: Winning form can never be deemed completely redundant as we have to take as much out of each public appearance as we can. I'd like to think even a walkover would show us plenty in terms of a horse's wellbeing and jumping but this, as already mentioned by others, wasn't a stroll in the park for Briar Hill. His hurdling leaves some room for improvement but he did the job well in the end and, as an unbeaten Cheltenham Festival winner, he looks to be progressing as hoped and must be high on all the novice shortlists.
No shortage of promising novice chasers in action over the last three days, what performance or performances particularly took your eye?
MB: Oscar Whisky has gone out of fashion somewhat following his two runs over fences so far but he's still very high in my reckoning for the Jewson. Henderson has been desperate to aim him at a two-and-a-half mile Grade One for ages and this season he gets the chance with the race having been upgraded. He's done very little wrong, just being denied by Taquin De Seuil before going one better at the weekend, and he looks to be being brought along nicely with the Festival in mind.
WH: I'll go slightly off the wall and flag up Knock A Hand, the winner of a three-runner (where have all the novices gone?) novice handicap chase at Carlisle on Sunday. His trainer reckons the penalty he picked up there will see him slot nicely in at the foot of the weights in the Welsh National and testing conditions are no problem to him at all.
"You couldn't fail to be impressed with the performance of More Of That. He travelled and jumped well and showed he could be a contender come March. The World Hurdle looks an option and he could go even shorter in the betting than his current 12/1."
MS: I was really impressed by Wonderful Charm, despite him getting beat by Oscar Whisky on Friday. In conceding weight to the high-class Henderson horse and running him very close he showed he has the class to win a race at the festival. It was interesting that Paul Nicholls mentioned we wouldn't see him until March as he requires good ground. At the current prices I wouldn't put anyone off him for the Jewson.
IO: Oscar Whisky managed to win despite being forced to make all which is an encouraging sign for his prospects of further improvement when getting a lead but the win of Sizing Gold was the one that really caught my eye. Granted he was odds-on for this chasing debut and will face tougher tests but he travelled and jumped supremely well and looks an exciting prospect. He disappointed in two runs post-Christmas last term but will hopefully hold his form this season.
And the same question with the novice hurdlers.
MS: Kings Palace looked awesome in the Albert Bartlett trial and in my opinion produced the performance of the two days at Cheltenham. He showed a tremendous hurdling technique, as well as an ability to quicken off a true gallop, which was what he set his rivals. At this stage he looks the one to beat.
IO: I couldn't agree more with Michael, I loved the way that he hurdled and I can't remember being that impressed with a novice's technique for some time. I'm not convinced that the form of Saturday's race amounts to much more than a hill of beans but he beat them decisively and can go to the top.
WH: And on the basis of your trends piece going into the weekend Ian, I now know just what a fantastic record winners of that race have when going on to the Festival, so there's another weapon in Kings Palace's armoury. It's hard not to give a mention to Ballyalton too, after he won what was probably the hottest novice hurdle I have seen in Britain so far this season on Friday. I also think he had more in hand than the official neck margin might suggest.
MB: Broughton did catch the eye in second at Doncaster but the winner, Nick Williams' Fox Norton, was conceding 7lb and prevailed by a head. There was a big gap of 16 lengths back to the third, namely market leader Royal Irish Hussar, and given the yard's youngsters tend to improvement considerably as they go, he might be worth throwing a few quid at each-way around 25/1 for the Triumph.
"Shutthefrontdoor doesn't look an obvious one to take out of the weekend but that effort isn't a true reflection of his ability. Fourth in the Pertemps Final off a mark of 144, his chase rating should be in the same region and he'll be back to his best before the season's out."
Two parts to the final open-ended question so feel free to be creative. Firstly, what was 'best of the rest' and secondly 'one horse to take out of the weekend'?
MS: You couldn't fail to be impressed with the performance of More Of That in the final race of Saturday. He travelled and jumped well and, in beating a very good yardstick in Salubrious, showed he could be a contender come March. The World Hurdle looks an option and, should anything happen to At Fishers Cross on Saturday at Ascot, he could go even shorter in the betting than his current 12/1.
A horse to take out of the weekend was Broughton trained by John Ferguson who ran an excellent race at Doncaster on Saturday. He was a useful Flat performer who showed a really good attitude in just getting touched off by the more experienced Fox Norton. A race like the Fred Winter could be an ideal race for him.
IO: He did no more than was expected but Red Sherlock made a very pleasing start to his hurdling career at Southwell in a nice bit of placing by the Pipe team. The form of his Cheltenham bumper win was given a boost when Wadswick Court won what appeared to be a warm heat at Huntingdon in the week and Sunday's win did nothing to dispel the view that he can go to the top.
Elsewhere, I thought that The Clock Leary did enough on his hurdling debut at Lingfield to believe that he should be winning races this season although he may be one for handicaps further down the line.
WH: I was a little surprised that Monbeg Dude was still available at 33/1 for the Grand National after his win at Cheltenham. He travelled smoothly, jumped with precision and outbattled Theatre Guide who certainly didn't let the Hennessy down. It will be interesting to see where he slots in to the Aintree weights - I don't think we will be seeing him again before their publication though. Southwell winner Iconic Rose will score again when conditions are really testing - it rained all day at the track on Sunday and she was about the only one able to handle the ground when taking the last.
MB: I'd have to agree with Will regarding Monbeg Dude. He looks to have finally grown up and has clearly benefited from some intensive schooling. It's likely his official mark will be towards the high 140s after reassessment but that won't be an issue considering the calibre of horses that are aimed at Aintree these days. While we're on the National, Colbert Station unseated rider in a handicap hurdle at Navan on Sunday but don't let him sneak off the radar.
Shutthefrontdoor doesn't look an obvious one to take out of the weekend having failed to beat a rival home in the novice chase won by Sam Winner at Cheltenham, but that effort isn't a true reflection of his ability and it's worth remembering he was aimed at the Pertemps Final when still a novice over hurdles last season. Fourth in that off a mark of 144 in March, his chase rating should be in the same region and he'll be back to his best before the season's out.