Jumps Notebook: Stick with Sire
The year has ended well for the Notebook, with some big-priced successes. But it's time to shuffle the cards, says Will Hayler.
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Sprinter Sacre's plight took the attention and a little of the shine away from Sire De Grugy's victory in the Desert Orchid Chase, but once again this exciting horse has managed to dodge the limelight as a result.
Considering the remarkable hype that surrounds almost every contender for the major prizes at the Cheltenham Festival, it's very possible that Sire De Grugy will now line up as favourite for the Champion Chase still to fully convince most of the racing fans I know of his credentials.
That's not for one minute to say that I don't believe Gary Moore when he says there are races other than the Champion Chase which he'd like to target.
But even if Sprinter Sacre does make it to the final line-up, and even with their expressed doubts over Sire De Grugy's fondness for the Cheltenham track and his preference for cut in the ground, I believe the horse will line up and go very close to winning.
Despite jumping messily at times and again finding himself in front far too soon - just as when picked up by Kid Cassidy at Cheltenham - he still once again did everything that was needed to win.
What else is there going to be in the Champion Chase field? Cue Card surely won't drop right back in trip, Flemenstar evidently has major issues to answer at present and Captain Conan was no match for Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek.
I might be made to look an idiot if he doesn't line up, but having backed him for the Champion Chase before the Tingle Creek, I'm not about to start hedging now.
It's time for a bit of a cull in the Notebook list, but I'll be adding a few more names in their place later this week.
I said "one more chance" for Chicklemix in my last Notebook update and thank goodness I did because, back on her favoured soft ground and back at Towcester, the track where she'd scored previously and taken my eye first time out this season, she delivered at 14/1.
A 5lb rise in the weights is by no means over-harsh and she could well win again, but it'll be a while until she offers the same sort of value again and she has to leave the list.
Also successful was Ballinvarrig, who ground down Ray Diamond on the final climb to the winning post at Exeter.
Again he's gone up 5lb for the win but I'm keeping him in because I suspect he's capable of holding his own in better company. He travels particularly strongly in his races and jumps well.
With very few miles on the clock, I suspect he might miss a possible engagement at Wincanton this weekend and be given longer to get over that hard race, but I'll bow to the trainer's judgement on the matter.
It's time to say goodbye to Big Water. He's jumped well enough on his two starts over fences but is running too well to come down the weights and yet doesn't look well-treated enough to win a handicap.
Again it looked as if two and a half miles is more his trip than two last time out, but I suspect a winning streak is not about to begin, even if he does finally encounter some decent ground.
Kelso's card on December 8 proved financially disappointing, with Imperial Vic running only an ordinary race in the Borders National and Lakefield Rebel performing just as the betting market suggested he would on his handicap debut.
I've not given up on the former, with Green Flag performing up to market expectations in the Grade One at Kempton on Boxing Day and once again franking the form of their thrilling novice chase battle in October.
He's had a couple of toughish races now, but the handicapper has given him a chance by easing him to 132 and, if he's ridden from the front again, I'm sure he can pick up a decent prize in the north this season. I wonder if connections might consider the North Yorkshire National at Catterick next month, if it doesn't come too soon.
Lakefield Rebel was too keen for his own good, but never really placed to challenge as he moved up in trip to three miles. The night before the race, one firm cut him from 16/1 to 8/1 in their early betting, suggesting that it wasn't just me who fancied his chances. But he returned at 25/1 on the off and more than twice that price on Betfair.
Either I've got it completely wrong (which is, of course, extremely possible) or there will be another day for him, probably on good ground.
It seems like donkey's years since Le Bec finished second to Sam Winner at Cheltenham, but nothing I've seen there or since has lessened my belief that he'll run a big very big race in the RSA Chase.
Le Bec was conceding a total of 8lb to Sam Winner and did not jump quite as well as when beating that rival at Cheltenham in November. However, he did once again show that his jumping was sound under pressure and he is likely to get the quicker surface he prefers at the Festival, as well as a return to the Old Course on which he scored rather than the New Course on which he raced here.
Shutthefrontdoor was a major and uncharacteristic disappointment behind Sam Winner and Le Bec. He is also going to appreciate a better racing surface and is worth another chance to confirm the potential he showed on his first two starts over fences.
Milord was sporting first-time cheekpieces when going from the front at Kempton last week. It was an enterprising move by his rider and, although the pack were starting to close when he fell at the fifth flight, I'm far from convinced that he wouldn't have had a major say at the finish.
From a punter's point of view, he has undoubtedly become an expensive horse to follow and the application of the headgear does hint that his trainer thinks he might not be putting it all in at times.
Happily, the trainer has reported in his ever-excellent blog that Milord and jockey Ed Cookson are none the worse for the fall and the incident is hardly likely to see him sent off favourite next time. He may yet pop up at a price.
Waterunder was, to my eyes, not out of the reckoning when badly hampered three out in the Ladbroke at Ascot and effectively put out of the race.
Despite being beaten a long way, the handicapper has rather meanly eased him just 1lb for that run.
He looks a horse who has no secrets given the way he has rocketed up the weights in recent months, but there's something about his last couple of performances that still suggests to me that he isn't done winning yet. Let's hope it's a habit shared by all of the Notebook horses in the months ahead!