Jumps Notebook: Get in the Door
Will Hayler's bulging Notebook continues to expand with Cheltenham on the horizon - check out the latest additions.
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How's your Cheltenham Festival ante-post portfolio looking? Mine's not much to shout about - and smaller than usual to boot too.
Thankfully, there are at least a few golden nuggets among the hotch-potch of likely non-runners and horses now trading at twice the price that I took.
My bet on Sire De Grugy at double-figure odds for the Champion Chase looks reasonable, even if Sprinter Sacre turns up (or, indeed, if the same horse's absence prompts the likes of Benefficient and Al Ferof to switch from the Ryanair).
Le Bec's prospects in the RSA Chase have been no harm at all by having a nice midwinter break when the mud has been at its deepest and his trainer reports him on track for the Festival, as did Jonjo O'Neill when I button-holed him about another Notebook horse, Shutthefrontdoor, at the Grand National Weights shindig last week.
O'Neill, of course, offered a predictable caveat that Shutthefrontdoor would be given other possible alternative options and that it would be the owner's final say, rather than the trainer's as to which race he lines up in at the Festival.
But I still got the feeling that the RSA was the likeliest target for this very likeable horse, who has had a wind operation since his latest disappointing start. He's too highly rated for the Kim Muir off a mark of 146 and would hardly look thrown in off the same rating in the-race-that-old-duffers-like-me-still-call-the-Ritz-Club.
Of the lesser lights on my notebook list, a couple have been in action since my last bulletin three weeks ago.
Daveron was sensibly placed by Jeremy Scott to go for gold earlier this month in a novice hurdle without there ever being much prospect of him doing too much damage to his handicap mark given that his only 'proper' rival went into the race rated just 115.
For what it's worth, my hunch is that Minella Reception, the horse who ultimately narrowly outbattled him in that Ludlow contest, might just prove a bit better than that sort of official rating in the care of his new trainer and that Daveron's mark, even though raised marginally since to 112, remains fair enough.
For that reason, I hope he takes the handicap option rather than the maiden hurdle if he takes up his engagements in one or the other at Plumpton next Monday.
Milord, who I keep having to try and persuade myself remains in the Notebook list for logical form analysis reasons rather than some strange perverse desire to be ultimately proven right about a horse who increasingly looks like a money pit, found a new way to lose when pitched into a jumpers' bumper at Kempton, this time losing his action on the home turn before being pulled up in the straight.
He was reported to be fine the morning after and lives to fight another day - unlike his financially-wounded and dwindling army of supporters. Aintree maybe? Or the Swinton?
Waterunder sunk in the mud behind Lac Fontana at Cheltenham, but continues to give the impression that he will be capable of better on good to soft and over further than two miles.
I'd like to see him thrown into the mix for the Martin Pipe race at Cheltenham by Pipe junior. There will no doubt be plenty of horses in the race better-handicapped on paper (probably a couple from the same stable, if not more), but I'd certainly chuck a few pounds each-way on him at a big price because he's a better horse than we have seen on his last couple of starts.
Two new additions to the team arrive - one a hopeful shot in the dark, the other a little more obviously eyecatching.
Hailing from the highly-successful Juddmonte family that has already produced the likes of Brian Boru and Sea Moon,Leo Luna might never have expected to find himself ploughing through the mud over hurdles at Ascot on Saturday but breeding only gets you so far in this great game - and in any case he emerged from the race with considerable credit in third.
Leo Luna had already long since shown that stamina is his strong suit, his battling victory over three miles at Bangor last April confirming that he stays all day. However seven days later on the last day of the jumps season he confirmed his versatility, dropping back in trip by a mile to finish third to P'tit Zig at Sandown.
The reason for a very ordinary effort on the all-weather and a dismal showing at Cheltenham first time out this season were strongly hinted at when Gary Moore sent Leo Luna to undergo a breathing operation afterwards and the benefits of that procedure were demonstrated just as clearly as he stayed on steadily from out of the pack to finish third to Kaylif Aramis at Ascot on his first start since.
His jumping still lacks polish and he gives the impression that he's basically a big, lazy brute, but that won't stop him from winning races and his fencing could well tidy up on better ground.
Cheltenham has never been the be-all and end-all for Moore and he might well decide to wait for Aintree or another big prize with Leo Luna, particularly if the going remains on the soft side for another four weeks. Despite not having a huge amount of leeway with the handicapper off his present mark, I still think he's a horse to keep on the right side of.
As for my other selection, I clearly haven't learnt from my past mistakes.
In December 2010, a horse with virtually no form to speak of over jumps called Snow Patrol ran way, way better than he should have done in a jumpers' bumper. He ran 14 further times before retirement but never added to his career tally of one victory in a maiden hurdle back in 2007.
He was sent off near to the head of the betting for his next eight starts after that jumpers' bumper, but although teasing his supporters (ie me) with a couple of near-misses, simply never looked quite like confirming that one-off flash of promise.
But I'm prepared to give one more chance to the notion that a big run in a jumpers' bumper can signal an imminent return to form and nominate Lady From Geneva to break her maiden tag before too long when the going comes back in her favour.
This filly had shown fair form in bumpers earlier in her career before going close a couple of times in staying handicap hurdles, only to lose her way on her three most recent starts.
However, despite stumbling quite badly when getting caught up in some scrimmaging on the way into the final turn, she stayed on strikingly well down the outside of the field in the closing couple of furlongs, finishing on the heels of horses with considerably loftier handicap marks.
I think she's worth a chance or two to show whether or not this was a flash in the pan, perhaps back at Huntingdon, where she has produced a couple of her best previous efforts over hurdles.
After all, as my Grandad used to tell me when I was a kid, an 8/1 winner at Huntingdon pays the same as an 8/1 winner at the Cheltenham Festival. No, I never liked hearing it either.