Weekend Review: Champion Sire?
Our panel reflect upon the weekend's racing action and try to unearth some clues for the future.
Sire De Grugy destroyed his rivals in the Sodexo Clarence House Chase at Ascot. But can he be considered a possible bet for the Bet Victor Queen Mother Champion Chase when the participation of Sprinter Sacre still remains uncertain?
Will Hayler: When is this fantastic horse going to get some love? Okay, Sprinter Sacre and possibly Simonsig aside, we're clearly not living in a vintage era for two-mile chasers, but that's no reason to be cold on a horse who has systematically beaten up his rivals (one blip at Cheltenham aside) all season long. Of course I have doubts as to whether he's quite as effective at Cheltenham, or indeed on quicker ground, and if you haven't already backed him for the Champion Chase, 11/4 doesn't make as much appeal as the 5/1 on offer going into the race or the far, far bigger prices available before Sprinter Sacre's setback. But the fact is that he's got the best two-mile form in the book in Britain this season and he thoroughly, thoroughly deserves his place in the betting.
Ben Linfoot: The more and more I look at the Champion Chase market the more I think it might be worth chancing Sprinter Sacre. I don't like backing horses who have something to prove after a physical setback but all the right noises are coming out of Seven Barrows regarding his well being and as far as I can tell it wasn't such a serious problem, with no medication needed to correct his heartbeat. Sire De Grugy has stepped up to the plate well in his absence, but the rest of the two-mile division are a very average bunch and I'm of the opinion that Gary Moore's horse hasn't needed to be anything but a competent 160+ rated chaser to win his races this season. Even if Sprinter Sacre runs a stone below his best form I can see him having the beating of Sire De Grugy, especially at Cheltenham where Moore's chaser has been less fluent. You can get even money about Sprinter Sacre now, and it's tempting.
Michael Shinners: You couldn't help but be impressed by the performance. He seemed to jump better and the way he travels always gives him a chance in the top class races. It was very disappointing Somersby got no further than the fifth, but in saying this it would have taken some performance to beat Sire De Grugy. He is 11/4 with Sky Bet at the moment and that seems very fair. With major doubts over Sprinter Sacre he looks a real player in the Queen Mother.
"The Skyfarmer was too keen on ground that wouldn't have suited him at Ascot and he's going to be of interest on better ground in the spring. I wait with interest to see which route Philip Hobbs takes with him in the coming months."
Ian Ogg:: It was interesting to read in The Daily Telegraph this morning that Gary Moore has reassessed his view regarding Sire De Grugy's ability to act at Cheltenham. A brief summary being that Jamie Moore got his tactics wrong in November and that he had a problem with his shoes. He certainly looks to be the only viable challenger to Sprinter Sacre and he now seems certain to go for the race so has to be considered as a potential bet but the layers have also taken that view and trimmed his price accordingly. There was arguably some juice in the 4/1 but as things stand I'd rather be backing Sprinter with the non-runner-no bet safety net. His problem wasn't as severe as that suffered by Denman and he didn't fare too badly after his treatment! There's no guarantee that Sprinter will be as effective if and when he returns but that's the chance you take.
Melodic Rendezvous and Zamdy Man were the winners of the trials for the Stan James Champion Hurdle and Sky Bet Supreme Novices' up at Haydock - but can either make an impact in the big races at the Festival?
WH: Sadly, probably not. Well done to the trainers of the horses who finished behind Melodic Rendezvous for picking up some tasty offcuts of the £75,000 prize fund of the Champion Trial. Good prize money deserved more depth to the final field. Melodic Rendezvous is a very likeable horse, with very likeable connections, but it's not to feel that his best chance of Festival success might come in future seasons over fences. He did well to shrug off a poor jump to two out to nail a useful yardstick in Ptit Zig, but will find things much tougher in the big one. I thought the runner-up was the horse to take out of the Supreme Trial. I think he'll come on for that run and his French form all pointed to him wanting two and a half miles at the very least.
BL: It looks unlikely. Perhaps if the ground on the opening day was 'Soft', then Zamdy Man would have a shout in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' as he relishes such a surface, but he has rattled up his hat-trick when dominating which would be a tough task in the Supreme. I thought connections of the second would be happy with his British debut as he stuck to his task well and, as Will says, should prosper when sent over further. Melodic Rendezvous is a likeable horse and he beat a good yardstick in Ptit Zig. In most years he would be an interesting contender for the Champion Hurdle, but this isn't most years. If Hurricane Fly, Jezki, Our Conor, My Tent Or Yours, The New One and Annie Power all turn up it's hard to envisage him having a say.
"Zamdy Man looked magnificent in the parade ring and the comments from Aidan Coleman suggested that the horse has matured and grown into his frame and he could well run a big race in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle."
MS: Both are clearly talented horses, however both horses seem reliant on testing conditions which they got at Haydock on Saturday. I would prefer Zamdy Man over Melodic Rendezvous for a couple of reasons. The Venetia Williams trained runner looked magnificent in the parade ring and the comments from Aidan Coleman suggested that the horse has matured and grown into his frame. The second reason would be, with doubts over the participation of many at the front of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, he could well run a big race come the Tuesday of the festival.
IO: There's a danger of pigeon holing horses because they've done all of their racing on testing ground after a couple of wet winters without giving them the chance to prove their effectiveness under quicker conditions. Zamdy Man has been dominating small fields and, as Ben points out, that will be harder to achieve at Cheltenham but I wouldn't be in that much of a rush to dismiss Melodic Rendezvous. A leading fancy for the Supreme last season, it can be argued that he doesn't have a great deal to find with Jezki on a line through Puffin Billy and he's available at three times the price. Admittedly, Jezki has progressed since but it's presumptuous to believe that Melodic Rendezvous hasn't or can't make similar strides and he looked very, very good on Saturday..........that's not to say I have backed him or am prepared to back him though.
Any other reflections from Haydock, Ascot or Fairyhouse with an eye on Cheltenham?
WH: Champagne West is already qualified for the Pertemps Final and his defeat at Ascot of Knock House (rated 131) by four lengths should see his rating go up just enough to put him on the edge of making the cut for the Festival prize. This could prove to have been a canny bit of placing by Philip Hobbs.
BL: It was good to see Taquin Du Seuil jump better in the novices' chase at Haydock and he looks likely to be a player in the JLT Novices' Chase at the Festival. He looked good when beating Oscar Whisky in November despite the farcical pace that day and O'Neill's stable were struggling when Nicky Henderson's horse reversed that form on New Year's Day. The signs are O'Neill's yard are coming back to form now and they are sure to be firing come March, so Taquin Du Seuil will have to come into calculations for the newly-upgraded Grade One, especially after he proved himself on better ground at the Open Meeting.
"Champagne West is already qualified for the Pertemps Final and his defeat of Knock House (rated 131) should see his rating go up just enough to put him on the edge of making the cut for the Festival prize. This could prove to have been a canny bit of placing by Philip Hobbs."
MS: The ground was very testing at Haydock, so it's difficult to be too dogmatic. However, I was impressed by how Tom George's Wuff battled on under an inspired Paddy Brennan ride. He gave weight away to most of his rivals and looks a really exciting prospect.
IO: Foxrock has always had a big reputation and he's finally delivering on that after gaining some experience over hurdles. He was far from disgraced in the Topaz on just his third chase start and outstayed Sizing Gold (who jumped brilliantly, oozed class and is well worth following himself) on Saturday. He's hardly quoted for the RSA Chase (in which I think he could be a player) but heads the market for the National Hunt Chase and the 8/1 looks a perfectly reasonable price with the excellent Katie Walsh presumably booked for the ride.
What else took your eye with a view to the longer-term future over the weekend?
WH: It was nearly dark by the time that Wuff took the finale at Haydock, but he's going to make a nice three-mile chaser in the future. He lost ground at every hurdle as he fluffed his way over, but is built to jump bigger obstacles, and there was a lot to like about the way he dug in (again) for victory. Credit to Paddy Brennan too for a determined ride.
BL: The Skyfarmer was too keen on ground that wouldn't have suited him at Ascot and he's going to be of interest on better ground in the spring. Though his long-term future lies over fences, I don't think we've seen the last of him winning over timber just yet and I'll wait with interest to see which route Philip Hobbs takes with him in the coming months.
MS: Merry King ran a strange race in the Peter Marsh, in that he looked as though he was going to be well beaten and then stayed on again to finish a close third. He looks a Grand National type and although this year might be a bit soon, the 2015 Crabbies Grand National could be a very long-term target!
IO: I thought Le Vent D'Antan made an encouraging return at Fairyhouse on Sunday. He'd been suffering from ulcers so had missed the first half of the season and should come on for the outing. It looked as though he was just coming to the end of his tether when almost knocked over by Daneking but he moved through the race well and it will be fascinating to see if he can put himself in the frame for Cheltenham next time. At Towcester on Sunday, Tidal Dance got back all the money that had been lost on him at Warwick the previous weekend when falling in the Pertemps qualifier. Presumably the final at Cheltenham was the original plan and it will be interesting to see what route connections map out for him. He'll probably go up by at least 10lbs but looks capable of winning a couple more before the handicapper catches up with him and, thanks to a typical bit of placing by Venetia Williams, he can run at Warwick on Thursday before being reassessed.