Weekend Review: Oh Boy
Our racing team reflect on the weekend's action, including victories for My Tent Or Yours, Foxrock and O'Faolains Boy.
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Melodic Rendezvous and Un De Sceaux hardly made a huge impression on the Stan James Champion Hurdle market following respective wins at Wincanton and Gowran on Saturday, but they both could be on course for the opening-day feature at the Festival. Would either tempt you into having an each-way interest should they turn up?
Michael Shinners: Melodic Rendezvous is a really likeable horse who could be interesting on testing ground. My problem with him is that he is very ground dependent and I would only contemplate backing him if Heavy was in the going description. Un De Sceaux has been brilliantly placed by Willie Mullins and is clearly very good. The worry I have with him is that he has been running in races he should have won at a canter and in nothing like the Champion Hurdle and therefore lacks experience against the real top-notchers.
Matt Brocklebank: There was a lot to like about the performance of Melodic Rendezvous in the Kingwell but I can't help but feel he's been placed to good effect this season and the one time he came up against a genuine Champion Hurdle contender he simply wasn't up to the task. There may well have been some physical reason for the way he was brushed aside by My Tent Or Yours at Newcastle but I'd be surprised if he were good enough to hit the frame at Cheltenham, even on soft ground. The unbeaten Un De Sceaux is a very hard one to weigh up but has also been given a fairly easy time of things and has yet to bump into anything in the calibre of The New One or stable companion Hurricane Fly. It's the latter's presence at the top of the market that appears to be leading connections to suggest he may not travel to Prestbury Park, and it would be no surprise were he kept for races at the major spring meetings on home soil.
Ian Ogg: There seem to be suggestions that Un De Sceaux will bypass Cheltenham this year. He's a very hard horse to get a handle on and I'd be inclined to give him a miss until he's proven that he's more than a flat track bully while acknowledging that he has certainly looked exciting. Melodic Rendezvous has a fabulous record with a valid reason emerging for his defeat in the Fighting Fifth, the only occasion that he's finished outside the first two in his career. He's not for me but I do think that he's very fairly priced at 25/1 and is a perfectly reasonable each-way bet at the odds for those that are fans of the horse.
Jack Keene: Melodic Rendezvous has proven, time and again, that in heavy ground he is a high-class performer. He was put in his place by My Tent Or Yours earlier in the season on ground that was firmer than ideal, but if the wet weather carries on into Cheltenham Festival week he could be in there pitching for a place. However, good or good to soft ground would be a real concern as he doesn't have the instant acceleration of some of the market principals, and he'll be left behind before the turn for home on a course which puts real emphasis on speed. After three bloodless victories in Ireland this season against modest opposition, it is impossible to fathom how talented Un De Sceaux really is. In those three races he has beaten a combined total of 10 rivals and has been able to make all the running with an uncontested lead. It'd be unlikely that he would get an easy time of things in a Champion Hurdle, and the fact that the six-year-old has never been made to fight for a race in his career is something else that could factor against him in the two-mile hurdling championship. It has all been very easy for Un De Sceaux so far, but it remains to be seen how he'd handle the challenge offered by top-class hurdlers.
Sticking with the Champion Hurdle, what did we learn from My Tent Or Yours winning a "jumpers' bumper" at Kempton on Sunday, and could his rather unique preparation dent his chances in any way?
IO: It was important that connections got a run into him before Cheltenham and the unusual preparation is by no means a negative. We didn't learn anything new but he's fit and well and the race should have teed him up nicely for his main objective although, given how keen he was, people will still question his ability to get up the hill as well as his peers until he leads them across the line, if he's ever able to do so.
MB: I'd struggle to find anything knew we learnt but it was certainly nice for his backers to see such a smooth performance, despite the circumstances. He was as keen as ever in the early stages so probably needed the run to let off some steam as much as anything but my views on him haven't changed and I'm still opposing Nicky Henderson's charge on the grounds that an undulating track does not bring the best out in him.
JK: The victory of My Tent Or Yours told us nothing we didn't know already other than that the horse is clearly fit and well. He pulled hard in the early stages and travelled through the race with his usual ease, winning very comfortably against vastly inferior rivals. The day out at a racecourse may have done him some good, but his Champion Hurdle claims have neither been damaged nor enhanced. I wouldn't have any interest in the 4/1 that's widely available for him as his tendency to be keen early could be his undoing.
MS: I certainly wouldn't be put off by MTOY running at Kempton. He travelled well and won as he pleased, which is all Nicky Henderson would have hoped for. At present, of the big four in the Champion Hurdle he is the one I am least keen on to take the crown. It's a gut feeling, rather than being based on anything rock solid, however, I just feel he has most to prove, particularly at Cheltenham.
O'Faolains Boy dented a few lofty reputations with victory over Many Clouds in the RSA Trial Novices' Chase at Ascot on Saturday. How impressed were you with the winner and could either Rebecca Curtis' promising stayer, or the runner-up for that matter, have a say at Cheltenham?
MS: O'Faolains Boy bounced right back to form after running too bad to be true at Haydock previously when the yard were having a quiet spell. He jumped well enough and showed a touch of class in between the second last and the last to put the race to bed. I wouldn't be convinced he would be quite good enough for the RSA, although he could easily run into a place at a decent price. As for Many Clouds, he looks all stamina and could be a Crabbie's Grand National horse of the future.
MB: It was great to see O'Faolains put it all together over fences as I liked the look of him when fourth to At Fishers Cross at the Festival last March. He certainly bounced back to form having pulled up behind Taquin Du Seuil at Haydock last month and, while he'll undoubtedly face a much stiffer test in the RSA Chase, quotes as big as 20/1 look a shade generous and I wouldn't be ruling him out by any means at this stage. Many Clouds is a lovely stayer in the making and his jumping is a real asset, but Oliver Sherwood's charge may find himself a little outpaced in a race such as the RSA, unless the ground comes up very testing.
JK: The victory of O'Faolains Boy on Saturday confirmed that he has successfully carried across the promise from his short hurdling career to the larger obstacles. He jumped impressively at Ascot and quickened past Many Clouds with ease between the last two fences in this proven Festival trial. He's demonstrated his ability to handle Cheltenham's idiosyncrasies when running creditably behind stablemate At Fishers Cross in 2013 and won this race with enough authority to warrant serious respect. At first viewing I thought that Many Clouds had paid the price for getting involved in a dual from a long way out with Gevrey Chambertin, but he was staying on again in the closing stages. He is a thorough stayer and efficient over his fences, but he lacks a change of gear and could struggle to land a blow in the bona fide RSA.
IO: I thought the testing conditions and emphasis on stamina on Saturday played into the hands of O'Faolains Boy with trip concerns for Many Clouds and Gevrey Chambertin making his chase debut on the back of a relatively lengthy break. I didn't think he jumped as quickly or as impressively as the market leaders although that's not to say that he fenced badly. Although he was staying on I'd actually be more interested in Many Clouds for the JLT at 40/1 than the RSA at 20s as he's not short of speed and his accurate jumping would stand him in good stead. The NH Chase is the obvious race for the winner but I don't think either of them are good enough to be a factor in whichever race they turn up in.
The other staying novice chaser to make a real mark over the weekend was Ted Walsh's Foxrock, who built on his Grade Two Naas win with a gritty performance in the Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan on Sunday. Does he have all the right attributes you want when looking for the winner of the four-mile National Hunt Novice Chase at Cheltenham?
IO: You're asking the converted as I'd already backed Foxrock for the NH Chase and the horse he beat on his penultimate start, Sizing Gold, for the JLT before Sunday. The bare form may not be exciting but he was giving weight away and making his own running for the first time over fences and the pace wasn't anything out of the ordinary which wasn't likely to show him in his best light as stamina looked to be his forte when winning at Naas in January. It goes without saying that I think he's got the beating of the other horses at the top of the market but I'd be a little worried about Shutthefrontdoor with Jonjo O'Neill having such a good record in the contest and he's given the impression that he's capable of better than he's shown thus far.
MS: He was workmanlike more than anything and would need to step up on that performance. In saying that, stamina looks his main attribute and in a race that I haven't had a really close look at, he must have a decent chance.
JK: The progressive Foxrock displayed grit and tenacity to get back up after he'd been headed at Navan on Sunday, and clearly has the right attitude for a gruelling battle at Cheltenham. He jumped well on the whole and his trainer knows how to prepare a stayer for the big day having trained Papillon to Grand National glory. At 6/1 he looks a solid bet and will be shorter come the day of the race.
MB: He appeared beaten when headed after a sloppy jump at the last but dug deep for Danny Mullins on the run-in and looks tailor-made for a thorough test around Prestbury Park. The bare form, beating 135-rated My Murphy half a length, will need improving upon if he's to prevail next month but he's certainly going the right way and looked to be pricking his ears at the line so probably had a bit more to offer if required. He's around 6/1 for the four-miler and I don't see that lasting long at all.
Un Temps Pour Tout justified extremely strong support to readily win Ascot's Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle from the well-regarded Cole Harden, attracting prices around 14/1 for the Neptune at Cheltenham. David Pipe clearly has an extremely strong hand of novice hurdlers this season - which is his best chance of a winner next month?
MS: I really like Red Sherlock in the Neptune. His performance on trials day was very encouraging in showing both class and real guts, in what turned out to be a real slog. As for UTPT, it will be fascinating to see what mark he gets with a view to a possible handicap entry at the Festival.
MB: The Liquidator appeared to be Pipe's great hope for the year at the start of the season but one miserable run on bad ground, combined with the emergence of Un Temps Pour Tout and Kings Palace, as well as the steady progress of Red Sherlock, has changed the picture completely. The trainer looks to have realistic chances in all three of the major novice hurdle events but I'd be backing Red Sherlock if I had to pick one now. He looked smart in bumpers last term and has really blossomed since being sent over timber, looking close to the finished article when beating Rathvinden at Cheltenham on Trials Day. The Irish ace Faugheen will know he's been in a race when he's faced Red Sherlock, that's for sure.
IO: He was impressive which you'd hope for given connections shelled out £450k and it's difficult to know how good he is or how good he might be. He's done most of his racing on testing ground so a quicker surface is an unknown but Ruby Walsh, when discussing Vautour, said 'he's a Robin Des Champs so you'd be hoping that he would appreciate better ground as most of them do' which offers hope for this son of Robin Des Champs in that regard. I certainly wouldn't be in a rush to rule him out of the Neptune and the yard has an exciting group of novices with Kings Palace to the fore and their stayer looks their best hope but he may have to play second fiddle to Briar Hill!
JK: The Pond House trainer has an embarrassment of riches in the novice hurdling department for this year's Festival. The quirky Red Sherlock - a regular tail-flasher - is a personal favourite of mine, and his victory at Cheltenham in January showed that he also has a real determined nature too. He's a very talented horse and it'd be fascinating to see him line up against Un Temps Pour Tout who was mightily impressive when brushing aside Cole Harden at Ascot, but the Neptune looks a race with real depth on paper. Therefore Pipe's novice banker for next month has to be Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle bound Kings Palace. This slick jumper has routed useful opposition in his last two outings at the course and goes to Prestbury Park the one to beat among the staying novices.
Finally, the weights for the 2014 Crabbie's Grand National were unveiled last week. Who has initially caught your eye as being potentially well treated?
MB: I'm still convinced there's another big race to be won with Alfie Sherrin and I'll be keeping a close eye on him, despite currently sitting down as number 88 on the list. The other one that fascinates me is the Dessie Hughes-trained White Star Line, who won the Kerry National earlier this season and has been allotted 10-6.
MS: The cat's well and truly out of the bag now, but Teaforthree does look well handicapped and has definitely been given a chance. Two others that I thought were of interest at this stage are Cape Tribulation and The Package.
IO: Ah. I have to hold my hands up and admit that I haven't even looked at the National weights. I struggle to get that excited about the race until the day itself which is probably a combination of my woeful punting record in it and having missed the last four or five Aintrees having been abroad on holiday.
JK: He has been allotted a 4lb higher mark than last year's Grand National, but Balthazar King has to go into the race with a lively each-way chance. He raced up with the pace until the twentieth fence last year before his early exertions took their toll, but he is otherwise a stout stayer. Philip Hobbs' string are in much better form this season, and Balthazar King could well be worth a small wager racing off 10-13 as he is sure to be ridden more conservatively this time.