Five lessons from Trials Day
Ben Linfoot took five things from Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham that might (he vainly hopes) help him in his future punting.
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1. Oscar Whisky stays three miles, but he's not a three-miler
Beaten a neck in heavy ground by the mud-revelling Reve De Sivola, you cannot say Oscar Whisky doesn't stay three miles. He clearly does. But if you imagine his stamina is an elastic band, it's on the verge of snapping over a tough three and there will always be the chance that something will stay better than him over such distances. He could still win the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, though, in what promises to be one of the most competitive championship events at the Festival. It's a weak division without Big Buck's and Oscar Whisky, considering his class, could well reverse the Cleeve Hurdle form on better ground. I certainly feel Reve De Sivola needs bog-like conditions to perform at his best. But in all honesty, the Cleeve threw up more questions than answers and it wouldn't be so much of a surprise if the World Hurdle winner wasn't in action on Trials Day. As a final point on the subject I thought Barry Geraghty's reaction to Oscar Whisky's defeat was most telling. He said: "He never travelled with anywhere near the same zest as he has done his last few runs. At two and a half miles I wasn't going anywhere near as well as I should have been, or even at two miles." That says to me that Geraghty doesn't get the same feel from Oscar Whisky over three miles. It tells me he needs a shorter trip and a faster rhythm to perform to his optimum. It tells me not to back Oscar Whisky for the World Hurdle.
2. The Argento remains a poor Gold Cup trial
Master Oats (1995) and Looks Like Trouble (2000) are the only winners of the Cotswold Chase (Argento in its current guise) that have gone on to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory in the same season, and, as admirable as Cape Tribulation is, it's hard to see him adding his name to the short list of dual winners. It was a thrilling race with Imperial Commander and Denis O'Regan, the best jockey around that isn't McCoy or Walsh or Geraghty, excelled even by his own high standards with a cute ride that squeezed the very best out of his mount. But the Cape is probably a 160 horse at best and if Imperial Commander, getting 6lb from the winner, can't beat him when he's fresh he's got no chance in the Gold Cup. The pair put on a thrilling show that contributed to a truly enthralling trials day, but, in what is shaping up to be a pretty good Gold Cup, I would be astonished if either of the pair proved to be anything better than also-rans in the Blue Riband.
3. Shoegazer is one to watch in a Festival handicap
Katenko took all the plaudits for his bloodless victory in the Murphy Group Chase and rightly so, but his days in handicaps should be over now and the one to take out of the race for similar contests in the future is David Pipe's Shoegazer. He made a mistake four from home that cost him momentum but he soon recovered his rhythm and set off in pursuit of Venetia Williams' runaway winner. He looked likely to bag a remote second coming towards the last but he paid the price for chasing Katenko and tired up the hill, fading into fifth. I thought he was probably the moral runner-up here and if the handicapper drops him a couple of pounds he will be of interest in one of the Festival handicaps over a similar distance or further.
4. At Fishers Cross oozes Grade One class
With Pont Alexandre seemingly Neptune-bound, and Rebecca Curtis heavily leaning towards the three-miler for At Fishers Cross, JP McManus' rapid improver looks a very worthy 6/1 favourite for the Albert Bartlett at the Festival. In reeling in The New One at Cheltenham on Saturday, over what was probably an inadequate trip, At Fishers Cross proved he's a Grade One performer - and to think he went into most notebooks as a McManus handicap special for Cheltenham after his win off a mark of 122 at Newbury on Hennessy day! You have to think the The New One, fresh from his Warwick romp, ran up to form while Coneygree is no mug despite not having the pace of the front two. It was a very good race and At Fishers Cross showed great tenacity to get up in the dying strides. Market leader for both the Coral Cup and the Albert Bartlett, he deserves the chance to go for Grade One glory and it would be surprising were he not to line up in the potato race come March.
5. Rolling Star is the best juvenile we've seen this season
Before he'd jumped a hurdle in front of the British racing public, Nicky Henderson's Rolling Star was backed into 10/1 for the Triumph Hurdle. But when it came down to gambling their cold, hard cash ahead of the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial that kicked off Festival Trials Day, punters placed their faith in Paul Nicholls' Irish Saint. The champion trainer was bullish about his chances on The Morning Line and the very good impression he made at Kempton made him a far safer option than this unknown quantity from Seven Barrows. However the unknown quantity from Seven Barrows travelled just as well as The Saint and was merely shaken up to win his race cosily, the front two miles clear of the rest. Irish Saint was rated only slightly inferior to top-rated juvenile and stablemate Far West after his Kempton romp so it doesn't take advanced mathematics to conclude that Rolling Star is the best four-year-old we've seen so far this season. Triumph Hurdle winners have been kept under wraps until February in recent years and we may not have seen the winner of this season's renewal yet. But Rolling Star sets a very high standard and it's not surprising that the 8/1 Ladbrokes dangled for two days following his victory has finally disappeared.