Weights & Measures: Kempton
Ben Linfoot looks at how the handicapper responded to the action at Kempton over the festive period.
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It seems a while ago since the festive racing bonanza, with the New Year celebrations and what not getting in the way of every day life since then.
So, as a little reminder, here's what happened at Kempton over Christmas in a nutshell:
Silviniaco Conti outstayed Cue Card to win the King George. Al Ferof didn't appreciate the slog back in third. My Tent Or Yours showed some grit in seeing off The New One in the Christmas Hurdle. The New One might've won had he jumped the last better. Sire De Grugy didn't have to be at his best to win the Desert Orchid. Poor Sprinter Sacre. Dodging Bullets didn't have to improve to win the Wayward Lad. Grandouet won't be winning the Arkle. Blinkers helped spark Annacotty to win the Kauto Star. Just A Par didn't give his true running.
Now, while considering the reaction of the handicapper, here's the in-depth version.
Thursday, December 26
1. Silviniaco Conti>>>> Up 4lb to 177
2. Cue Card>>>> Remains on 174
3. Al Ferof>>>> Remains on 168
A King George win usually thrusts the victor into the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup picture and that has certainly been the case with Silviniaco Conti. Travelling well when falling in last year's Gold Cup, he'd somewhat slipped off the radar slightly following his reappearance in the Betfair Chase when third behind Cue Card and Dynaste. Available at double-figure prices for the Gold Cup prior to the King George, he's now generally 7/2 after a performance that suggested he may improve again for another two and a bit furlongs and a stiffer finish. The BHA's Head of Handicapping, Phil Smith, had Silviniaco Conti performing to 177 at Kempton, and having gone through the last 12 renewals of the Gold Cup that's the average rating awarded to the winner of the Blue Riband post-Cheltenham. Clearly, he's firmly in the Gold Cup picture, as is Cue Card who looked the likely winner for a long way up the straight before being outstayed by Paul Nicholls' horse. This isn't to say that Cue Card doesn't stay. The figures he recorded at Haydock (174) and Kempton (173) suggest he is a high-class stayer, but in Silviniaco Conti, and Bobs Worth, he is up against formidable rivals. Now seems a good time to discuss Nicky Henderson's horse, who ran to a figure of 168 when winning the Lexus Chase in Ireland. Considering this, perhaps the price discrepancy in the Gold Cup market (Bobs Worth 2/1, Silviniaco 7/2) is too great. However, the slow pace in the Lexus wouldn't have suited Bobs Worth and he did what he had to do, pulling away at the finish with the promise of more to come, especially on better ground. He remains on a figure of 180 and with just 3lb between the two market principals a great race is in prospect. Let's hope they both get there as we were reminded just how difficult that is in itself this week following the news Sir Des Champs will miss the race.
The beaten horses in the King George and the Lexus; Cue Card, Al Ferof and First Lieutenant, are the horses immediately below the two market leaders in the Gold Cup betting, but all three are in the top four of the market for the Ryanair Chase too. You get the feeling the Tizzards are up for the Gold Cup challenge with Cue Card, while Nicholls clearly hasn't given up on Al Ferof as a contender yet with the Denman Chase at Newbury his nominated target pre-Festival. All three look likely to get dual entries this week, so let the guessing games commence.
Talking of the Gold Cup and guessing games and Sir Des Champs' absence, I wonder how Willie Mullins will be represented in the big race come Friday March 14? Perhaps Rubi Ball is the one. He put up a good figure of 164 in the Lexus on just his second start for the yard, though on that evidence he might be better off in the Ryanair (though his trainer believes he wants a trip in the mud). Or, maybe Boston Bob will be re-routed from the Ladbrokes World Hurdle to the Gold Cup now? That would possibly make the Annie Power decision slightly easier. Who knows. Anyway, enough of this aside, back to Kempton...
1. My Tent Or Yours>>>> Up 7lb to 167
2. The New One>>>> Remains on 167
3. Sametegal>>>> Remains on 150
A Christmas cracker that didn't disappoint, My Tent Or Yours and The New One served up a festive treat and only whetted the appetite further for what is shaping up to be an absolute crackerjack of a Champion Hurdle. Sametegal remains on a mark of 150 after being spanked by 28 lengths and the only conclusion you can come to is that the pair who fought out the finish are two genuine top-notchers. They are now both rated 167, with the average rating for Champion Hurdle winners in the last 12 years 168. They are both legitimate contenders for the title and, bearing in mind his mistake at the last and the lack of pace in the contest, I would just prefer The New One at this stage. He's proven his love for the Cheltenham hill and though My Tent Or Yours showed heart at Kempton, his record suggests he's a better horse on a flat track.
If the Christmas Hurdle didn't serve to make the Champion Hurdle picture any clearer, then perhaps the Ryanair Hurdle over in Ireland did. Or did it? Hurricane Fly (175) won the race for the third time, seeing off Jezki (166) and Our Conor (161) in the process, but both beaten horses had excuses. Jezki was denied a clear run at a crucial stage, while Our Conor was having his first run over hurdles this season and was tackling his elders for the first time. The bookies certainly feel that the race did sort out the Irish pecking order, though, with Hurricane Fly now jostling for favouritism at around 7/2 with MTOY and TNO, while Jezki and Our Conor are now 8/1 and 9/1 respectively. It would be an incredible sustained level of performance from Hurricane Fly if he could win a third Champion Hurdle. Now 10-years-old, no horse has won the race at that age or older since Sea Pigeon in 1981, and before him the last horse to do so was Hatton's Grace in 1951. With the younger legs of My Tent Or Yours and The New One snapping at his hind-hooves, Hurricane Fly is set for his toughest test yet. However, he still sets the standard and is the one they all have to beat. What a race we have in prospect.
1. Annacotty>>>> Up 14lb to 144
2. Green Flag>>> Down 2lb to 143
3. Third Intention>>>> Down 4lb to 143
4. Just A Par>>>> Remains on 148
We now know that Just A Par had a genuine excuse for what looked a too bad to be true effort in the Kauto Star. Paul Nicholls said in his Betfair column that a post-Kempton scope revealed a problem and he has subsequently had his palate cauterised. With a mid-February return pencilled in, he could yet make the RSA Chase and after his odds doubled to 33/1 following his Kempton fourth, he might not be the worst bet in the world as he looked a decent prospect when winning at Newbury. If that's too much of a leap of faith for you, what about the winner, Annacotty, who is available at the same 33/1 odds despite winning a Grade 1? Beaten in handicap chases off 130 in his immediate two races prior to Kempton, the handicapper reckoned he improved exactly a stone when winning on Boxing Day. Making all in first-time blinkers clearly helped him make some improvement, but how much exactly is very hard to fathom. With Just A Par running below par, it could be that the estimation of 14lb improvement is generous, though we won't know until he turns up in a handicap. I certainly wouldn't expect him to have been underestimated and he could now be a very hard horse to place, though nobody can take away this Grade 1 win. Third Intention, running in his 11th novice chase, was dropped another 4lb in the handicap. Having been rated 151 for most of 2013, it will be fascinating to see how he gets on in a handicap off a mark of 143.
Friday, December 27
1. Sire De Grugy>>>> Down 3lb to 166
With Sprinter Sacre pulled up, Sire De Grugy didn't have to be at his best to land this Grade 2 and he wasn't. The handicapper had him running to a mark of 162 here, 7lb below the level he ran to in the Tingle Creek and he was consequently lowered 3lb to 166. That's 22lb below Sprinter Sacre, though even if the reigning champion does turn up in the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase you just couldn't back him with any confidence. With valid concerns over Sire De Grugy's suitability to Cheltenham, you would think there would be some value in the ante-post market for the Champion Chase, but the rest of the two-mile chasers on both sides of the Irish Sea are a moderate bunch to say the least...
1. Dodging Bullets>>>> Introduced at 155
...Which is why Dodging Bullets will be given a Champion Chase entry this week. He's three from three over fences now and has a rating of 155, just 1lb shy of his best effort over timber, when third in Darlan's Christmas Hurdle as a novice. It does play on my mind that he's never really performed post-Christmas the last two seasons, but if I can convince myself that this isn't an issue, he's a huge player in the Arkle. Giving Grandouet 6lb and a 10-length beating is a decent bit of form and he's idled in front during all of his wins over fences, so there could be plenty more to come from him. From what we've seen of Champagne Fever in his novice chases so far, he doesn't look good enough over his fences to cope with the blood and thunder of an Arkle and with that in mind 8/1 about Dodging Bullets is fair. The average rating for Arkle winners post-Cheltenham is 159 for the last 12 years, giving us some idea of the improvement Dodging Bullets may have to find.
Kempton handicaps - ratings to note
This feature usually concentrates on the handicaps, but races of that type are fairly low-key over the festive period so I'll just pick out one or two changes that might be of interest.
Firstly, Junction Fourteen absolutely bolted up on his handicap debut in the William Hill - Bet On The Move Handicap Hurdle. A winning distance of 11 lengths doesn't tell the whole story as he outclassed his rivals and a 16lb rise in the weights to 137 is of no surprise. In the same race, one I did keep a close eye on having backed him was Billy Twyford and he ran on well for fifth having been outpaced. The handicapper has dropped him 2lb to 125 but on better ground he could still be of interest and isn't one to lose faith in just yet.
Finally, I waited with interest to see how the handicapper would react to Three Kingdoms' short-head victory over Vibrato Valtat in the William Hill - In The App Store Handicap Hurdle. The pair pulled 18 lengths clear of the third and both look on steep upward curves, with the assessor raising Three Kingdoms 9lb to 140 and Vibrato Valtat 8lb to 129. They both ran in that handicap hurdle that Quick Jack won at Cheltenham in November, when finishing third and fifth. Considering the subsequent winning exploits of runner-up Deep Trouble, the next appearance of Tony Martin's Quick Jack remains eagerly anticipated.
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