Stars born on stellar weekend
Ben Linfoot assesses the ante-post National Hunt markets following the weekend's action at Sandown and Punchestown.
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There isn't a man on the planet better placed to judge the merits of a superstar two-mile chaser than Barry Geraghty. The 33 year old from County Meath was the man who guided the almighty Moscow Flyer to 25 victories in a staggering career, most of them over two miles and most of them over fences.
They included the 2004 Tingle Creek, a special horse race where Moscow Flyer was destined to fail to complete if you believed in sequences. He had gone 111F111UR111UR111UR111 prior to the Sandown spectacular and it was hardly a 'if he jumps he wins' scenario with Azertyuiop and Well Chief in opposition.
Azertyuiop was on a sequence of three wins himself, the middle victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase - the contest in which Moscow had gained his latest UR. The reigning champ was sent off the 4/5 favourite in Esher with Moscow 15/8 and young pretender Well Chief 6/1 on the back of his Arkle win the previous March.
Cenkos, a mere 162-rated chaser going into the race, finished 25 lengths behind the big three. Moscow, at his imperious best, took it up four out and jumped his rivals into submission. Azertyuiop cracked under the pressure but to his great credit rallied to nick second off Well Chief by a short head.
It really was a golden age for two-mile chasers and Moscow Flyer had proved himself the best of the best. He'll go down as an all-time great. So when Geraghty says: "Sprinter really is something special, maybe the best I've ridden, time will tell," you have to sit up and take notice. The Black Aeroplane could be a serious horse.
You can try and pick holes in the bare form of the Tingle Creek. The 143-rated Kumbeshwar was beaten only 15 lengths in second but the winning distance, though impressive, really doesn't do Sprinter Sacre's authority any justice at all. He won so easily you cannot predict just how far ahead of his contemporaries he really is.
The bookmakers are already waving the white flag ahead of the Champion Chase, with 4/7 the best price in the village fully three months before the off. It's hard to argue with such quotes. You'd have to think Nicky Henderson's six year old would've been right in the mix with Moscow and Azertyuiop had he been around eight years ago and there looks to be nothing of that ilk to take him on in March.
We can only hope that whatever Henry de Bromhead decides to do with Sizing Europe over the festive period he reverts to two miles at the Festival. I doubt he can live with Sprinter Sacre, but what a yardstick he could be. Voy Por Ustedes was responsible for Master Minded's astronomical rating of 186 four years ago and Sizing Europe could help us gauge just how good Sprinter Sacre really is.
If Sprinter Sacre is to be challenged over the next few years he may well already mix with one or two of his future rivals in the paddocks at Seven Barrows. Henderson trains the Arkle favourite, Simonsig, even though he hasn't jumped a fence and Captain Conan keeps on doing nothing wrong despite appearing to be his second-string at this stage.
On his fencing debut at Cheltenham he jumped like an experienced chaser and it was more of the same in the Markel Insurance Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown on Saturday. He looks very assured in the jumping department and I think it's fair to say he looks like a horse that will not only get further in time but will probably benefit for a step up in trip.
That's not to say he can't win the Arkle. Perhaps he has the perfect blend of speed and stamina to prevail in the race. However, though I like the horse I'm just not convinced by his credentials especially at prices as short as 5/1. He beat Third Intention by eight lengths at Cheltenham and by the same distance at Sandown, so we know he hasn't had to improve to land this Grade One and I just think he may be vulnerable to a real speedy type. An Overturn perhaps.
If I had to back him for the Festival at this stage I think I would rather take the 8/1 about him for the Jewson. If Simonsig takes to fences as expected he looks sure to go down the Arkle route and though Henderson could run both in the race, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Captain take an alternative passage.
His form over fences so far just doesn't entitle him to be so short for the Arkle and I'd expect several more viable contenders to emerge between now and March. He jumps well and gallops well, though, so I wouldn't be surprised if he steps up in trip and has a crack at the intermediate race for novices at Cheltenham.
Flemenstar. Oh Flemenstar how good you could be. This swashbuckling Irish chaser is gaining a real following among racing fans, thanks in part to his stylish way of running and thanks in part to his lustful handler. But forget the latter, this horse is the real deal and his journey this winter is one I'll be keeping a close eye on.
There will be much debate about his stamina for the Gold Cup trip between now and March, because he has never raced beyond two and a half miles. But you need tactical speed to win a Gold Cup and this horse has it. He doesn't have to blast off from the front, he doesn't need bottomless ground, he's straightforward, versatile and has all of the attributes needed in a Gold Cup winner.
I think he'll be better on better ground. I think he'll be better over a trip. And he'd have a chance in just about any race with fences in the way as he jumps as well as anything I can remember. He's quick, economical and safe as houses and I'd say Ladbrokes are nearer the mark with their 4/1 Gold Cup quote than Sportingbet are with their standout 13/2.
The Lexus Chase is his next port of call where he has the chance to prove his stamina for three miles and I for one will be hoping he silences the doubters.
As for Sir Des Champs, he was beaten by the first serious racehorse he's ever faced and his position in the Gold Cup market is hard to justify. He won't have been suited by the trip and would appreciate a faster pace but I'm far from convinced he's the real deal. I might well be wrong, but I put down his previously unbeaten run to careful scheduling rather than natural brilliance.