Jumps Notebook 2013/14: Rebel with cause
This might take some time, so if you're intending to read through this in one go, it's probably best to go and get a cup of tea.
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Plenty of racing has taken place since the last update of the notebook and the majority of those already listed have seen some recent action, so it's time for a reshuffle in the ranks.
Bradley was selected a fortnight before the entries for the race had even been made as a likely type for the Murphy Chase and he ran a perfectly respectable race to finish third to stablemate Alvarado, beaten less than four lengths.
It was interesting to hear trainer Fergal O'Brien say afterwards that he'd been worried the horse might have become completely soured last season (due to combination of bad luck and some gruelling races on bottomless ground) and how pleased he was to have him back in something like his best form.
He's run most of his best races at Cheltenham but once again looked as if he would lose a lot less ground if racing on a right-handed track. I wonder whether something like the London National over 3m5f at Sandown in a couple of weeks' time might be the right race for him, although on the flip side he might prefer longer between his races.
I can see why the handicapper has had to push him back up 1lb for his latest run, but with my doubts about whether he is best caught at the start of the season, it's enough to see him taken off the list of horses to follow.
Sportinglife.com's Graham Cunningham (albeit on a timeshare with Channel 4, the Racing Post and Racing UK) came in for some criticism after he insisted that he wasn't too disappointed with Sire De Grugy's performance when beaten by Kid Cassidy.
I'm going to risk a similar reaction by saying that I too thought it was a perfectly decent run, despite the fact that his backers would quite obviously have preferred him to win. He was jumping so over-exuberantly that Jamie Moore probably felt he had to kick on when he did, whereas Tony McCoy waited for longer aboard the winner. As such, Sire De Grugy was a bit of sitting duck on the run-in.
Can he beat Sprinter Sacre? Probably not. Should he still be considered one of those likeliest to take advantage if Sprinter Sacre doesn't make it, for any reason, back to the Champion Chase? I'd say so.
This is a horse with a mean turn of foot on his day, and he travelled so powerfully behind the talented-but-freegoing Special Tiara three out that having closed the leader down all the way down the back straight, he suddenly found himself in front too soon.
Also in action at Cheltenham were Le Bec and Shutthefrontdoor, whose one-two in the 3m 1f novice chase proved a bit of a highlight for the Notebook - the pair having both been flagged up after smart performances first time out over fences.
African Gold got much too warm beforehand and his performance in the race will probably be left behind at some stage this season, but nevertheless I thought the efforts of the first two were both highly creditable.
This is a race which often has an influence on the outcome of the RSA Chase and frankly I was surprised at some of the generous ante-post prices on offer about the first two immediately after the race.
Yes, it's always possible that Jonjo O'Neill might perform a late switcheroo - it would neither be the first nor the last time that the stable's Cheltenham Festival plans are reshuffled. But I'd be surprised to see him pitched into something like the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase, when the RSA looks to provide by far his most obvious chance of collecting.
Upon dismounting, Tony McCoy was visibly downcast at getting beaten and told an interviewer he felt the horse had shown "green-ness" in going down to Le Bec.
I'm not so sure about that. Le Bec was being pumped along from a good way out by Noel Fehily and responded to every question asked with a determined effort matched by some very good jumps, particularly on the final circuit.
But in any case, I'd be surprised if either was available at anything like the prices they are now if they make the line-up on the day.
In the build-up to the RSA, the stamina demands of the race are often talked up to the exclusion of almost any other required quality and both possess that attribute in abundance.
Goodness only knows where we go with Chicklemix, who was well on her way to being kicked off the list when blundering around Towcester on her latest and third start over fences, only to produce another eyecatching late rally that saw her pass a couple of stragglers for fifth behind a stablemate who has franked the form since by winning again.
She's only come down 2lb in the weights for being beaten 27 lengths, which suggests that the handicapper also believes she remains capable of better. Perhaps a small field would help prevent her jumping from coming under the same level of pressure. I still think she can deliver.
Lakefield Rebel remains firmly on the list after an almost-identical run to the previous Wetherby effort flagged up last time.
Well adrift and looking a bit of a hopeless cause before halfway, he again kept going when others had cried enough and plodded round to finish a respectable eighth of 15.
I'm repeating myself but three miles (or more) and good ground is what he wants. He's been given a mark of 99 for when he moves into handicaps and that - without being an act of downright charity - looks more than fair enough.
Looking at the other names in the list, Five Star Wilsham has an entry in an amateur riders' race at Newbury on Thursday and is one to have a close look at if given the go-ahead to line up.
Meanwhile, there are two additions to make from action in recent days.
The winner of a Bangor bumper on his debut for Rebecca Curtis, Cloud Brook was thrown in at the deep end at Cheltenham's Showcase meeting just 15 days later for his hurdling debut.
He looked likely to finish well in rear until making some eyecatching late gains when the race was over there, and he built upon that promise when making all at Ffos Las for an effortless success in a run-of-the-mill novice in soft ground.
What was particularly taking about Cloud Brook's performance there was the fact that eventual third Man Of Steel harried him throughout the first two-thirds of the race, but the winner was unflappable under Tony McCoy.
Owned by Robin Geffen, it will be fascinating to see what the plan is next for Cloud Brook. He could almost certainly win a similarly ordinary event under a penalty, but if he was pitched into handicap company he surely couldn't get a mark of much more than 130 - particularly on the basis of that first run at Cheltenham - and yet I suspect he's capable of reaching a level better than that.
Finally, I'm also adding Milord after his third at Ascot on Friday under Sam Thomas.
The link Thomas has established with Kim Bailey in recent days could potentially help rescue a riding career that is well worthy of salvation and he gave this a pretty decent ride to snatch the each-way money here.
He was, at least, more alert than most of his colleagues that Richard Johnson and Dunraven Storm were going to try and steal it from the front and started rowing along trying to make some ground from well before the home turn.
Unfortunately, Milord took an age to reach top gear and looked an almost hopeless cause before his stamina started to kick in from the final flight, and at the line he was closing hand over fist.
I'm not convinced Milord wants to go up in trip, but I am convinced that off a mark 1lb lower than his fourth in the Fred Winter last season, he can definitely make his mark in a fast-run two-mile handicap hurdle where his late challenge can prove most telling.
He was positioned more poorly than many of his rivals on the home turn and yet finished in front of most of them, and plenty of those were fair performers.