Weights & Measures: Cheltenham
Ben Linfoot goes through the revised marks following Cheltenham's handicaps at The Open on Friday and Saturday.
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Having just about recovered both physically and mentally from three fine days at Cheltenham's Open Meeting, it's time to reflect on what we saw in the Cotswolds in a bid to learn something, anything, for the future.
Phil Smith and his team of handicappers at the BHA have reassessed the ratings for every horse that ran in the handicaps on the Friday and the Saturday (Sunday's fall into next week's group), and their conclusions make interesting reading.
Below is a summary of what the assessors have done to the top three finishers in each handicap, while I've tried to pick out one or two other interesting changes that could help us in the future.
Friday, November 15
1. Handy Andy>>>> Up 8lb to 131
2. Charingworth>>>>Up 3lb to 130
3. Hunters Lodge>>>> Up 1lb to 127
7. Standing Ovation>>>>Up 6lb to 133
Colin Tizzard's Handy Andy ran fourth in a similar race at the Showcase Meeting when looking a surefire winner after being left six lengths clear when Oscar Davy fell at the last. He idled dramatically up the hill to lose three positions close to the line, but righted those wrongs last Friday in decisive fashion. It's no surprise to see him go up 8lb watching the way he travelled and pulled away up the hill, and it was just his fourth chase start over three miles (previous form figures of 3-1-4). He could progress further over the trip despite his hike in the weights. Hunters Lodge couldn't uphold Showcase Meeting form with the winner on 1lb worse terms but this was another good run and he clearly thrives at the track (course form figures of 1-3-1-3). Charingworth almost took advantage of his second lowest mark since winning at Wetherby two years ago but could struggle again with the slight rise. Standing Ovation goes up 6lb as he pays for his winning run, but this could've been one race too many as he made several mistakes and is worth another chance granted a break.
1. Anay Turge>>>> Up 7lb to 134
2. Sew On Target>>>> Up 3lb to 130
3. Eastlake>>>> Remains on 140
8. Renard>>>> Down 2lb to 127
Anay Turge made it two from two in chases at Cheltenham, proving his liking for the track and the stiff finish with a convincing success. He has been outpaced in a couple of spins around Aintree and up half a stone in the weights looks likely to struggle when he doesn't get his optimum conditions. However, a decent pace and two miles around Cheltenham look perfect for him so he'll get more opportunities to progress. Sew On Target ran a fine race back down in trip and easily did the best of those who raced prominently. 3lb may not stop him if he tries forcing tactics over two miles. Eastlake couldn't confirm Aintree form with the winner on 5lb worse terms but this was another good effort. Renard was well backed but was outpaced at Cheltenham not for the first time. Maybe it's not his track (0 from 6 at Cheltenham), but he could take advantage of his lower mark (8lb below his last winning one now) in a lesser grade elsewhere.
1. Thomas Crapper>>>> Up 6lb to 134
2. Angles Hill>>>>Up 5lb to 125
3. Whisper>>>>Up 3lb to 140
9. Top Gamble>>>>Remains 133
Chasing plans might just be put on hold for Thomas Crapper who won his second consecutive competitive Cheltenham handicap under Charlie Poste. His jockey was impressed, saying, "Every time he felt horses coming to him, he found more. There might still be more to come over hurdles." With those comments in mind 6lb doesn't seem too harsh and there could indeed be more to come. Angles Hill finished second at Cheltenham for the second time in two starts, his first attempt in a handicap since his last effort at Prestbury Park. He's still progressing through the ranks, is worth his rise and could be of interest if underestimated once again. Whisper, though, could be the one to take out of a hot race. He was just getting into the race when hitting the second last, a mistake that cost him vital momentum. He stayed on again for third and, up just 3lb, Nicky Henderson should find a race for him. Dai Walters owns him and the ninth home, Top Gamble, who is worth forgiving this below-par run. He was trying the trip for the first time but did too much too early and could also benefit for a return to more testing ground.
1. Quick Jack>>>> Up ??lb to ???
2. Deep Trouble>>>> Up 7lb to 125
3. Three Kingdoms>>>> Up 5lb to 129
4. Maxi Chop>>>> Remains 125
5. Vibrato Valtat>>>>> Remains 121
David Dickinson rated the novice handicap hurdle that Quick Jack won on Friday in more ways than one. "He [Quick Jack] was not the only one travelling strongly jumping two out and this competitive event has a habit of throwing up future winners," wrote Dickinson in the Handicapper's Blog on the BHA website. "I would suggest that this year's renewal will prove no exception." The first five were all going well turning for home and the slight trouble in-running that Deep Trouble suffered looks to have been factored into his new rating. Irish handicapper Noel O'Brien has raised Quick Jack to 119, but we won't know how the horse's British mark has changed until he is next entered in a handicap over here again. It seems fair to imagine it's at least 122 given the way he scored off 113. Maxi Chop and Three Kingdoms made slight mistakes at the final flight as their efforts waned while Vibrato Valtat was also one-paced up the hill after travelling into the contest well. Considering this was his handicap debut, it was an encouraging run. But the one to take out of the race is the winner, as he always looked in control of things and found more when challenged by Deep Trouble. He's going to be of interest wherever he turns up off just a 6lb higher mark.
Saturday, November 16
1. Alvarado>>>> Up 7lb to 139
2. Knockara Beau>>>> Up 3lb to 148
3. Bradley>>>> Up 1lb to 133
5. Godsmejudge>>>> Remains on 148
8. Spring Heeled>>>> Down 3lb to 139
There were less than five lengths between the first five home in this three and a half mile chase with all of them looking like they had some sort of chance heading towards the last. Alvarado, who crept into it under Paul Moloney, gave up ground when running wide on the turn for home yet still won by a comfortable two lengths. This was his first go at a trip in excess of three miles and a furlong and his 7lb punishment is understandable. Knockara Beau was hampered yet stayed on well and he has edged back toward the 149 rating awarded to him at the end of his novice chase campaign. The two I thought were interesting for the future were Godsmejudge and Spring Heeled who both travelled into the race quite nicely. The former, especially, made smooth headway before his momentum was halted at the second last and he will be of interest off an identical mark in the good handicaps he's set to run in. Spring Heeled had to be nudged along a bit more, but he still made eye-catching headway before faltering late on. A slight drop in trip to mirror his slight slide in the weights could see him back in the winners' enclosure.
1. Johns Spirit>>>> Up 9lb to 148
2. Colour Squadron>>>> Up 7lb to 146
3. Hidden Cyclone>>>> Up 1lb to 153
4. Attaglance>>>> Remains on 137
F. Easter Meteor>>>> Up 3lb to 143
The weekend's feature didn't disappoint with Johns Spirit a hugely popular winner for Jonjo O'Neill. His victory evoked memories of Exotic Dancer, O'Neill's only previous Paddy Power winner. Kauto Star's old rival won the Paddy Power off 139 before following up in the December Gold Cup off a 10lb-higher mark, with Johns Spirit likely to be set a similar task. He won off 139 on Saturday and has gone up 9lb, though he has already defied a 10lb rise after winning off 129 at the Showcase Meeting (albeit extremely easily). It will be fascinating to see if he can go in again. Whether he will be a betting proposition depends on a) his price and b) how much you think he idled on the run-in. I think he did idle, but I'm not sure he had too much left in the tank and I would rather be with Colour Squadron next time on 2lb better terms considering the ground he lost when hampered by Easter Meteor at the second last. Nobody knows whether he would've got there without the interference, but as long as his price isn't silly I'll want to be with him if there is to be a rematch. Attaglance ran his best race over fences and benefited for racing fairly prominently and away from the blood and thunder of the contest out wide. Still, this was encouraging with the return to Cheltenham and better ground two reasons for his improvement. He raced from out of the handicap on Saturday but will race off his effective mark of 137 next time and a step up in trip could bring about further improvement.
1. Return Spring>>>> Up 5lb to 130
2. Salubrious>>>> Up 4lb to 153
3. Southfield Theatre>>>> Up 4lb to 144
4. Cross Kennon>>>> Up 1lb to 140.
Pulled up when 100/1 in At Fishers Cross' Albert Bartlett, this was a handicap debut for Return Spring and he just got there, flashing by the Paul Nicholls-trained duo right on the line. A 5lb rise looks harsh enough considering he had plenty to do before the final flight, but fairly lenient when you watch him thundering home. He was almost squeezed for room jumping the last, too, and he'll have to enter calculations in another stamina test. Salubrious and Southfield Theatre travelled into the contest like the best horses in the race and were unlucky to be mugged. Both have gone up 4lb and the pair are likely to be at least competitive off their new marks wherever they go next. The handicapper knows all about the nine-year-old Cross Kennon but he deserves credit for his battling fourth. He looked like a sitting duck for half of the field when headed two out but he plugged on very well and though he'll always be vulnerable to an improver, on this evidence Jennie Candlish could well find a race for him off his current mark.