Flame fires Champion warning

  • By: Ian Brindle
  • Last Updated: December 4 2012, 13:54 GMT

Ian Brindle takes a closer look at some of the big hurdling performances during the last week - you can watch all of the replays here too.

Countrywide Flame: Impressive
Countrywide Flame: Impressive

As a jockey on the Northern National Hunt circuit, John Quinn enjoyed a relative obscurity as far as press attention was concerned.

Though his weighing room colleague, Richard Fahey has gone on to great things on the Flat, Quinn's progress has been more steady, but that could soon change as Triumph Hurdle winner, Countrywide Flame, graduated with honours in the Stan James.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle.

The race may have lost something of its lustre with the high profile absences of Darlan and Rock On Ruby at the 48 hour stage, and in what looked on paper to be a duel between himself and Cinders And Ashes, the jockeys played it out like a heads up poker match as they watched each other for clues on the run for home.

A runner up in the Cesarewitch off a mark of 88, the four-year-old is clearly on the improve and though the form book tells you that he needs to find further improvement, he cannot be discounted in a division where the pecking order of the major players is in flux.

Donald McCain reported that his horse was not suited by the ground at Newcastle so it wouldn't be the biggest shock to see him avoiding Binocular in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

Monopolies are largely thought of as being bad in business but Big Buck's has assumed box office status in spite of his often prohibitive odds.

As interest rates in Britain continue to sit at a lowly 0.5%, even the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have been forgiven for wading in about odds of 1/12 about victory in the Sportingbet Long Distance Hurdle.

The return of 8.3% upon investment never looking in doubt during any part of those six minutes and eighteen seconds.

With Tidal Bay's Hennessy display making him unlikely to take on his stablemate at Prestbury Park; Willie Mullins announced that Zaidpour could be the latest pretender to his crown following his success in the Bar One Racing Hatton's Grace Hurdle.

Mullins decision to pursue the idea of a World Hurdle campaign (he already has Hurricane Fly in the Champion) is logical although the below par effort of Voler La Vedette (later to be sent for a breathing operation) has to be something of a negative in working out the value of the form.

A half-brother to Zaynar, he appears to have significantly have fewer problems with the issue of applying himself to the task in hand.

There were no such problems of application during Our Conor's effort in the Juvenile Hurdle on the card.

Dessie Hughes' charge confirmed that favourable impression of his Navan victory and showed plenty of guile in fending off the cavalry as they emerged up the home run.

Placed on the Flat off a mark of 85 - it's not hard to see why the handler holds him in such high regard, and he has plenty to recommend him as a Triumph Hurdle candidate at this stage.

The Grade 1 Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle took place with plenty of anticipation and with five previous winners in opposition, it did not disappoint.

Cheltenham Champion bumper winner Champagne Fever attempted to make a bold bid from the front and though defeated, he was carried out on his shield in doing so.

A half brother to former Graham Wylie stalwart Presenting Forever, he should stay further than two miles on pedigree and there was no disgrace in losing when giving weight all around.

The victor on the day was to be Jezki, a horse that had largely slipped under the radar despite having won back to back races at Naas earlier in the seson.

Jessie Harrington's four-year-old is still a work in progress (as his mistake at the first clearly demonstrated) and one shouldn't underestimate the importance of Barry Geraghty in the partnership.

The best jockeys make the fewest mistakes and this was a pitch perfect display of why he's been at the top of the tree for over a decade.

Regrettably Minsk seemed to misfire - a shame given the way in which he took the eye during his maiden at Punchestown.

Dessie Hughes once trained a horse that hit flat spots in Hardy Eustace, and while a comparison with that legend of the turf is impertinent, he gives the impression that 2m5f will be a minimum.

Among the many races to wade through in Britain over the last week, the victory of the Oliver Sherwood-trained Puffin Billy in the Inkerman London 'National Hunt' Maiden Hurdle at Newbury was the one that reverberated most in the Cheltenham markets.

During the mid 1990's, Sherwood's stock rose through his association with horses such as Large Action, Berude Not To and Silver Wedge, and this son of Heron Island appears to have come around at the ideal time for a resurgent outfit.

So much of race assessment is with the eye as well as the stopwatch, and though the time figure for the race was way off standard, the manner of his victory marked him out as something special.

Keen to the point of distraction as they crawled through the early stages, he still had enough left in the tank to go away from his pursuers at the end of a two mile slog in testing ground.

Connections are considering a run in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown, and with Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson operating a cosy duopoly over the recent history of that race, a potential clash with Dodging Bullets is something to look forward to at the beginning of 2013.

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