Jumps Notebook: Keep Keltus on side
With better weather now firmly on the way and the prospect of really testing conditions likely to considerably reduce once this weekend's Crabbie's Grand National meeting draws to an end, it seems like an appropriate stage to bring this season's Jumps Notebook to an end and change the focus of the next Notebook to the Flat.
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Making the switch won't suit some punters and I entirely understand that. With the fixture list increasingly stretched to suit the needs of bookmakers who like their 'product' to come thick, as well as fast, it's increasingly impossible to remain on top of the formbook for both codes.
Maybe you prefer to focus upon the summer jumping season, just as some of the shrewdest punters I know switch off from the jumps in the depths of the winter to focus upon the all-weather Flat action. Specialism is rarely a bad idea for any punter.
But, for me, given that I can't ever remember making money at Aintree and that last weekend Stratford played host to the single most baffling stewards' decision on interference that I can recall for many years, it's the right time to pull up stumps - albeit with a couple of mentions for horses you might want to keep an eye upon in the closing weeks of the National Hunt campaign.
Sire De Grugy will only be seen at Sandown again this season, if at all, and he owes nobody anything at all, least of all followers of this column after his Champion Chase victory.
In contrast the likes of Red Sherlock and Shutthefrontdoor proved bitter disappointments at the Festival. The former is worth another chance next season, the latter jumped shoddily and my inexpert guess is that a recent wind operation hasn't worked.
Le Bec would have won but for falling four out in the RSA Chase - the sort of founded-in-faith-rather-than-fact comment you can make when a horse is carrying quite so much of your cash and even more of your hopes. Of course, it was still some way from home, but he was travelling away nicely and - like his trainer - I think he could turn out to be favourably-treated off a mark of 149. The winner was raised to 156 after his victory.
He is set to be aimed at next season's Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup. I wonder if he will go there with a spin in the Colin Parker Intermediate Chase at Carlisle under his belt, if the ground isn't too testing.
As hoped, Third Intention did seem to travel more willingly in a first-time pair of sheepskin cheekpieces - perhaps too willingly, as he was a spent force running to the last in the Byrne Group Plate and ultimately faded to finish a rather unhelpful (for those of us who waded in each-way) fifth behind Ballynagour.
Whether the cheekpieces would work as effectively next time (or whether connections might try blinkers or a visor) remains to be seen, but he's been dropped another 1lb in the ratings for that run having already looked well-treated and he might well yet pay out - a new jockey will also be on board for the first time in well over a year with Joe Tizzard having retired since Cheltenham.
Neither Waterunder nor Tanerko Emery turned up at Cheltenham and both are presumably on a break, enforced or otherwise, while Ballinvarrig has also missed a couple of possible engagements in recent weeks and may have encountered a repeat of some of the problems which have so far limited his racecourse appearances. That said, if he's back next season I won't be deserting him. He has ability.
Daveron was nibbled at in the betting at Exeter last week but couldn't quicken when it mattered, some interference on the bend possibly costing him a place. He's a horse I still think will be winning races, although I must accept it may now be over fences in a novice handicap chase next season.
The luckless Five Star Wilsham once again managed to throw another potential winning chance away in the Devon National when his rider was unseated having been hampered in interference. His form figures do not read well, but the engine remains intact and good ground doesn't worry him either. I have a feeling we might see him over hurdles again soon.
If I've learnt one lesson from the last few weeks (away from Cheltenham), it's that I really must stop paying too much attention to eyecatchers in jumpers' bumpers. Lady From Geneva ran a fine race on her next start after being added to the Notebook, leading two out and briefly looking as if she was going to go clear and win at a double-figure price before folding tamely after the last. That was enough to encourage me to give her another chance at Exeter a couple of weeks ago, but she showed little, admittedly in quite a competitive event for the grade. A lesson learned then, once and for all now after my previous excursions into following horses who appear to run above themselves in event best disregarded for form purposes (see Snow Patrol, First Of Never etc).
Lakefield Rebel has disappeared without trace just as his stable has found some form, while Milord continues to find novel new ways in which to throw away winning chances.
And that's it, apart from Leo Luna who was pulled out at the last minute when fancied at Ascot on Sunday, the going presumably felt to be on its way to being quick enough.
He ran a good race in mid-division at Cheltenham and is definitely ready to build upon the promise of his previous third at Ascot on his first start for six months.
He's not in at Aintree, but there's a two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle at Sandown on the last day of the season and I wouldn't bet against Gary Moore having that race at the back of his mind.
Three horses to take out of Cheltenham and add to the final Notebook assemblage for 2013/14 are Katgary, Buywise and Keltus.
Buywise showed improved form despite finishing only fifth in the novice handicap chase and would clearly have made the frame but for a bad blunder at the second-last fence. He lacks mileage and may well have learnt plenty from that experience.
It's fair to say that it was a performance which took me completely by surprise as he'd gone up more than two stone in the weights for winning three fairly ordinary events in heavy going - although it did look interesting that Evan Williams had been prepared to pitch him in against experienced rivals to win an open handicap chase on his previous start before Cheltenham.
But I don't think there was any evidence of fluke about his showing and seventh-home Manyriverstocross has already done his bit to frank the form when winning at Ascot last Sunday.
A step up in trip surely will beckon for Buywise, although given that he clearly handles very testing conditions connections may prefer to aim him for a nice prize in the winter rather than go again this season.
By the time the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle was run on the second day of the Festival the going was as quick as it was allowed to become all week long, and conditions contributed to a number of big performances from horses with what would generally be considered Flat pedigrees - winner Hawk High, Orgilgo Bay and Ravens Tower among others.
As such, I am awarding extra marks to runner-up Katgary and fourth-home Keltus, both of whom look potential chasing prospects in the making and joined Paul Nicholls from France with form only on softer going.
The runner-up, in particular on pedigree, looks the type to make a chaser as a close relative to the enormous Katenko, but I also liked the way Keltus kept battling having looked a bit soft when well beaten at Wetherby on his second start for Nicholls.
The pair have been kept apart for their entries at Aintree this week and their respective chances would be done no harm if a dramatic downpour arrives in the next couple of days as some forecasts suggest will be the case.