GC Festival File: Strange days
Strange days indeed. The first weekend of 2013 saw the big three jumps trainers eclipsed by a posse of less vaunted rivals. It's almost certainly a temporary lull, but Channel 4 and RUK analyst Graham Cunningham feels the injection of new blood was a welcome boost as he runs down the action in part two of his Festival File.
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Melodic calls the tune - and don't forget Pendra
Ring the alarm - Paul Nicholls, Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have just endured a major weekend of jumping without saddling a single Graded race winner between them.
Normal service will doubtless soon be resumed by jumping's juggernauts, but the first Saturday of the year proved a breakout party for a posse of relatively new faces at Sandown and Chepstow headed by Nick Scholfield and Michael Scudamore and ably backed up by Jeremy Scott and Aidan Coleman.
Melodic Rendezvous looks the best starting point. His Tolworth Hurdle win was impressive to the naked eye, as he travelled sweetly throughout in a well-run race before forging clear of the unbeaten Pendra to earn quotes of around 14/1 for the Superme Novices' Hurdle.
On balance, I'm not tempted yet. Graham Dench and Paul Kealy are two of the best judges on the Racing Post team but I simply don't get where they are coming from in suggesting that this looked a strong Tolworth. Melodic Rendevous will face far sterner opposition - probably headed by the likes of Jezki and Puffin Billy - on March 12th - and his earlier Exeter defeat behind Mr Mole hints that he's good but not a potential champion novice.
Before leaving the Tolworth it's well worth putting in a good word for Charlie Longsdon's game runner-up Pendra. He's no Festival winner on this evidence, but he's very well bred and really caught the eye with the way he attacked his hurdles here. All in all, a name to note for the short and longer term.
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The Dude abides - but Tea and Kat could still be the National toast
I saw it - but I'm still not sure I believe it.
Horses who jump like Monbeg Dude did in the Welsh National generally fall or pull up rather than win.
Correction, they either fall or pull up unless they are ridden by Paul Carberry, who produced one of the most daring rides in recent memory to triumph having been languishing in a Monmouth postcode swinging for home.
Michael Scudamore is wisely resisting the temptation to head to Aintree with his winner, but Chepstow runner-up Teaforthree and runaway Sandown winner Katenko showed clear National potential.
Teaforthree ran the race of his life, jumping as well as ever and battling on willingly, while Katenko lived up to the promise of his Ascot second and then some by powering clear of the highly progressive Johns Spirit.
There is plenty to like about Teaforthree as a National horse even allowing that he'll be nudged up to around 150 mark now and Katenko is one to keep firmly onside for another big handicap before Aintree on this evidence.
Sandown's stiff fences were made to look insignificant as Aidan Coleman allowed Katenko to roll for home from a mile out. I'm not convinced he's quite so strong a stayer as Teaforthree. But I am confident that he will still be highly competitive from his new mark in the mid 140's.
Old National memories were stirred when Big Fella Thanks thrived off a fast pace to win handsomely on Wincanton's Saturday card and it seems Aintree is on the agenda again this spring.
Tom George clearly has him back on song and some will be tempted at 33-1 given that he's shown up in three previous Nationals. However, the record reflects that he has been beaten a total of 91 lengths in those three attempts and to my mind his high cruising speed would be better employed in the Topham as opposed to the big 'un.
Swnymor and Gevrey look destined for better things
Swynmor did a great deal right in Chepstow's Finale Hurdle only to cost me plenty by slithering to the ground and handing the prize to Ruacana when Dickie Johnson asked him for a big jump at the last.
He would have won by several lengths with better fortune and, given that the Finale has a fair pedigree as a Triumph trial, this was very encouraging. A trip to Cheltenham on Trials Day would tell connections and the rest of us plenty but I'd have him shorter than the general Triumph price of 16/1.
Gevrey Chambertin looked to have been let in lightly for his handicap bow at Wincanton but he was dominant from off a mark of 130, breezing clear to look value for more like twelve lengths than the official seven.
The Pipes adore valuable handicaps but after this facile success they are fully entitled to start thinking in terms of Graded contests and possible tilts at either the Neptune or Albert Bartlett come March.
Now to Rule The World's Slaney Hurdle success at Naas on Sunday. And in this case, I'm afraid I'm on the fence as regards his Neptune Novices' Hurdle chance.
Mouse Morris won the Neptune with First Lieutenant in 2011 and also went very close when Rule The World's hulking half-brother Venalmar was pipped by Fiveforthree in 2008.
Rule The World won the Slaney a lot more easily than Venalmar did five years ago, but only a fool would ignore the fact that the 1/4 favourite Champagne Fever capitulated with a breathing problem and remote runner-up Minsk almost fell passing halfway.
The canny Morris describes Rule The World as "a big, raw bugger" and he's still very much an unknown quantity on good ground. With any luck we'll get another chance to assess him before the Festival. But at this stage I'm wary.
"Cynics have suggested that Ruby Walsh is pushing for Tidal Bay as a World Hurdle contender out of self interest. Perhaps they have a point, but I get the feeling that Reubens just doesn't fancy TB for the GC. And I suspect he's dead right"
TB for the GC? Not 4 Me
The fallout from last week's Leopardstown's Lexus Chase continues with any number of opinions expressed both on the air and off it.
Youtube coverage of Tidal Bay's pulsating win reveals some fascinating comments from various key players if you listen hard and there are plenty of fair judges who feel the winner is overpriced at 12/1 for the Gold Cup.
I don't buy it. The more I watch the Lexus the more I feel that Tidal Bay benefitted from the fact that First Lieutenant and Flemenstar went for home hard from the fourth last.
The eye suggests that he stormed home having been flat out at that point, but the clock shows that his final splits were barely faster than those recorded by the novice Back In Focus earlier on the card.
Cynics have suggested that Ruby Walsh is pushing for Tidal Bay as a World Hurdle contender out of self interest. Perhaps they have a point, but I get the feeling that Reubens just doesn't fancy TB for the GC. And I suspect he's dead right.
Empiracle is highly regarded - and that's based on sound evidence
One of the good things about Channel 4 having a little more time at the end of broadcasts this year is the chance to let the main players reflect as a way of closing the show.
It was great to have Nick Scholfield and Jeremy Scott in the studio to end Saturday's show and highly significant that in the wake of a breakthrough Grade 1 success both men were waxing lyrical about another horse in the yard.
Empiracle is the horse in question and if you watch the way this Kris Kin gelding swaggered clear of two subsequent winners on his Huntingdon debut back in October then you will understand their excitement.
Some reports suggest that Empiracle makes Melodic Rendevous look distinctly ordinary on the gallops at Scott's Somerset base.
The Festival Bumper is worlds apart from any morning workout and the Irish threw down an impressive market when Golantilla hosed up at Cork on Saturday, but Scott feels his latest up and comer is "all class" and Schofield's broad smile gets even wider when his name is mentioned.
Stan isn't the man if you are looking for cheap praise
A very good friend called last Thursday with his views on C4's new racing output.
Now this character - let's call him Stan for the sake of argument - isn't known for sitting on the fence.
And in this case there was no sign of creosote on his backside whatsoever..
"It isn't you," he said, before following up with "it's just Strictly Come Racing" and a few other choice nuggets.
I replied in slightly less than measured tones that it might be worth waiting until we actually covered some live sport from the main site before jumping to firm conclusions.
And, thanks to those engaging stories written by Scholfield, Carberry, Scudamore and co, the day went off pretty much according to plan barring the luckless defeat for Swynmor.
Despite our minor spat this Stan character is digging out his clubs for our regular monthly clash on the golf course this week.
And those testy 4 footers I normally concede with a cheery wave?