Weekend review: Be Brave
Ben Linfoot, Ian Brindle, Ian Ogg and Michael Shinners answer the key questions from the weekend's racing.
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Bottomless ground everywhere, but somehow jumps racing managed to beat the weather on Saturday as Sandown, Wetherby and Ffos Las all staged fixtures. What was your stand-out performance from those meetings?
BL: Saphir Du Rheu in the Welsh Champion Hurdle. To outgun Whisper, giving him plenty of weight, while being forced to make the running, was a fine effort. This was off a mark of 158 and he looks a 160s performer over timber already; good enough for him to have a major say in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. He remains open to improvement for the step up to three miles too. Ante-post backers will be concerned about Paul Nicholls' post-race comments that pondered him missing Cheltenham altogether, but if he does turn up he's a major player.
IB: Well let's take our collective hats off to the respective clerks of the courses as all those meetings were on when all were under inspections 24 hours before. I've always been a fan of No Planning around Wetherby since I backed him there over hurdles there a couple of years ago so it was a delight to watch him post another victory at the West Yorkshire track. Aachen hacked up in the Veterans' Chase at Sandown and while you wouldn't bank upon him being able to repeat that on a quicker surface, he clearly retains ability under these favoured conditions.
MS: I was at Wetherby on Saturday and was very impressed with Aurore D'Estruval of John Quinn's in the opening race. He didn't beat a great deal, especially after the second favourite fell. However, the way he jumped and quickened clear was really impressive. He will be stepped up in class next time out, but he looked to have plenty of scope in the paddock beforehand and could be a horse to look out for in the future.
IO: Aurore D'Estruval may not have had a great deal to beat but she looked very good when winning, while I also think the winner of the first at Ffos Las is an interesting horse for the future. Nick Williams has his team in great form and Horatio Hornblower defied a long absence to win his first race under Rules. Not beaten far behind Shutthefrontdoor in a Listed bumper on debut, he appears to have retained all of that ability and looks a nice long-term prospect if he stays sound with better ground unlikely to represent a problem. It may not be until next year that we see the best of him though.
"Arvika Ligeonnierre has twice run below par at the Festival and I couldn't have him on my mind. Wicklow Brave beat a good horse on Sunday. A stronger pace in the Sky Bet Supreme should suit and he's shortlist material."
Meanwhile, north of the border, Musselburgh were rewarded with some exciting contests, having put up some decent prize money for their biggest jumps meeting of the year. Did anything take your eye among the winners?
BL: Broughton looks a classy recruit to the hurdling ranks doesn't he? A nice tip of the hat to Nick Williams' Fox Norton too. I'd question whether Broughton has the requisite stamina reserves for the Triumph, but the Aintree equivalent could be right up his street.
IB: It's not difficult to get excited about Broughton! You couldn't be certain he'd take his chance at Cheltenham but he possesses the gritty constitution that many Mark Johnston (his former trainer) inmates have and he won in the style of a potentially very good horse.
MS: I was really taken with Broughton. He travelled really well and jumped beautifully throughout showing a real touch of class when he quickened clear between the second last and the last hurdle. He was classy enough on the Flat and, although I'm going to disagree with Ben here, looks a real challenger for the Triumph.
IO: It would be remiss not to mention Seeyouatmidnight whose two wins under Rules have been reported in light of the failure of others, in this instance Racing Pulse and at Hexham the defeat of Regal Encore. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle but he's clearly a decent prospect for Sandy Thomson and, given his unheralded connections, he may continue to be underestimated by both bookmakers and punters and there was a good deal to like about his victory without suggesting he can fly too high.
In Ireland, it was business as usual for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh at Punchestown. Would either Wicklow Brave or Arvika Ligeonniere be on your radar for the Cheltenham Festival after their victories?
BL: Ruby Walsh insists going left-handed won't be a problem for Arvika Ligeonnierre, but he's twice run below par at the Festival and I couldn't have him on my mind. Wicklow Brave gave Western Boy 10lb and a good beating earlier in the season and I think he beat another good horse in Lieutenant Colonel on Sunday. Given how hard he pulled you'd hope a stronger pace in the Sky Bet Supreme would suit and Willie Mullins thinks he'll be better on decent ground too. So yes, he looks shortlist material for the Supreme at least.
IB: I'd be sweeter on the former than the latter as far as Cheltenham were concerned. Punchestown isn't exactly a flat track and while he made a mess of the last; there was a lot to like about the way he travelled throughout. Arvika Ligeonniere did what the formbook said he would. He ran poorly in the Arkle at the Festival last year but the fact that Mullins is considering the idea of going back there again suggests that he must believe that the horse has improved in the interim.
MS: I was quite impressed with Wicklow Brave, although do feel that he would have to brush up on his jumping. Arvika is a very good horse, although I feel he is best in Ireland on soft ground.
IO: Nothing notable to add to the comments of the gentlemen above. Our Irish Eyes column was strong on Wicklow Brave and advised taking the 25s for the Sky Bet Supreme and I hope one or two people took the advice as he's now as short as 12s.
We'll have a better idea today of the likely line-up for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury this weekend? Is anything already carrying your ante-post cash for the race? Which horses might have slipped others' attention?
BL: Sadly yes. I backed The Skyfarmer for the race before he lost at Ascot but he won't be running. Onwards and upwards and I'm surprised to see Vendor is still available at 20/1. He won at Newbury just before Alan King's stable went under a cloud at the end of November. Saphir Du Rheu somehow got beat off a mark of 129 in that race (yes, I backed him) and the slight drop back in trip shouldn't inconvenience him. He's interesting off 138.
IB: With the weather as it is I've kept my wallet firmly shut but in the absence of Gilgamboa who was sadly withdrawn on Monday, I'll stick with Cheltenian as his owners deserve a medal for their patience. At longer odds, Totalize could be worth another look given he was so well backed for the Ladbroke at Ascot.
IO: I'm yet to play but I agree with my colleague above that Totalize is well worth considering. I think he bumped into a well-handicapped horse at Cheltenham and the money prior to his run at Ascot suggests connections feel he's ahead of his mark and he should get conditions to suit. Paul Nicholls dominates the top of the market but Far West is something of a forgotten horse having not run since disappointing at Haydock in November. There were valid excuses for that performance and there's little wrong with the form of his second to Melodic Rendezvous in the Elite on his reappearance.
MS: I haven't really looked at the race as yet and therefore haven't had a bet. At the moment I am interested in the novices' with a view to the Sky Bet Supreme and in particular Irving, so will keep a watching brief for the moment.