Weekend review: Irving impresses
Ben Linfoot, Will Hayler, Michael Shinners and Ian Ogg discuss the leading racing issues following the weekend.
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What did you make of Irving's win in the Sky Bet Dovecote and how do you assess his chances in the Supreme?
Ben Linfoot: It was very impressive and the way he put the race to bed between the final two obstacles suggests he has the class to have a big say in the Sky Bet Supreme. Amore Alato is a good yardstick and he brushed him aside readily, while an end-to-end gallop and better ground could see him in an even better light. Clearly, he has a very good chance in the Supreme, but at a general 3/1 I've missed the boat and I'm sure I'll be taking him on come the day. Which could be foolish.
Will Hayler: He was hugely impressive and shows so much speed, in spite of soft ground, rather than appreciating those kind of conditions in my opinion. However there's a niggling doubt at the back of my mind as to whether going left-handed at Cheltenham will suit him so well, and furthermore he'll need to iron out those occasional jumping lapses - he and Nick Scholfield had a complete disagreement at the final flight and they won't be able to afford anything like that in the Sky Bet Supreme.
Michael Shinners: You couldn't help being impressed by Irving. He travels so well through his races and looks a really exciting prospect. The way he beat his rivals in the Sky Bet Dovecote suggests he clearly has the best form of the British challengers and is now joint-favourite for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle alongside the Willie Mullins trained Vautour. Both horses are clearly class acts and I think the ground will be a factor as to who goes off favourite. If the ground is good to soft or better Irving should go off as favourite and if it's soft or worse I'd be fairly sure that Vautour will be the jolly.
Ian Ogg: It appeared as though he won with any amount in hand from a horse rated 135 suggesting that he's more than capable of producing the level of form required to win the Supreme. It just feels a little odd that only he and Vautour have put any sort of mark on the race and I keep expecting/hoping for something to come out of the woodwork. Like Ben I've missed the price on both of them and I spent much of Sunday watching videos of Gilgamboa trying to work out if he could be another JP McManus novice to progress from a valuable handicap into a runner with genuine claims in a Grade One. I clicked on the 33s but then didn't go through with it...I may yet though.
Noel Fehily told Harry Fry after the Adonis that Activial might not be a Triumph horse. Do you agree with him?
BL: Not really. He jumped well, travelled smoothly, showed a nice turn of foot and stayed on strongly to account for a fair field in a race that found the 2010 and 2011 Triumph winners. He looks every bit a Triumph horse to me, though this was also a significant nod in the direction of Calipto who beat the winner very easily at Newbury at the end of November and accounted for older rivals at the same track last time. I like him a lot.
MS: One of my weaknesses when I was in the saddle was not knowing which races horses should go for, so I'm not the person to ask. However, you have to respect an experienced jockey like Noel Fehily and take it on trust that he knows what he is doing.
WH: I had no idea, Michael. Really. No idea. I seem to remember connections of Soldatino weren't entirely sold on the Triumph immediately after his victory in the same race a couple of years ago and yet they ended up seeing the light a few days later - and winning the Triumph.
IO: Harry Fry suggested that Activial would miss Cheltenham earlier in the season but the manner of his victory must surely be tempting them to have a rethink and it's noticeable that they didn't remove temptation by scratching him from the race. He certainly looks the part, his form ties in with the market leader and he'd add some welcome depth and intrigue to the contest.
Wyck Hill (Eider Chase) and Bally Legend (BetBright Chase) won the two big handicaps on Saturday, did you take anything from either race for the future?
BL: A great win for Caroline Keevil and Bally Legend but he's going to be difficult to place off his new rating given his love of Kempton. Bury Parade ran an excellent race in second at his first attempt at three miles, but he might also need to stick to right-handed tracks. Tour Des Champs bounced back to form in third and might've held on but for a couple of mistakes. He can return to the winner's enclosure off his current mark and a step back up in trip could help.
WH: I couldn't disagree more with Ben about Tour Des Champs. That surely was his chance, with the headgear quickly sparking him back to life, and I'd be amazed if it works anywhere near as effectively next time. It looks like Wyck Hill will struggle to get into the Crabbie's Grand National, which is a shame, as I could see him relishing the challenge.
MS: I was at Kempton so didn't see the Wyck Hill victory. Bally Legend was very game in his victory, although I do feel that Bury Parade would have won, granted a clearer run approaching the last fence.
IO: The hood has clearly worked wonders for Bury Parade and he may be capable of further progress but I didn't think the race had an awful lot of depth beforehand and didn't see anything during it to change my mind. It was good to see Wyck Hill bounce back to form at Newcastle and he should still be competitive from his revised mark providing he has his ground. Further back in the field, Seven Woods again showed enough to think that he can pick up one of these staying handicaps either this season or next although possibly one that's slightly less competitive.
Did anything else catch the eye over the weekend with regards to Cheltenham?
BL: Killultagh Vic looks a major player in the Champion Bumper following his demolition job over last year's Cheltenham third Golantilla at Naas. He could be Willie Mullins' third string in the race, but that didn't matter last year. Full Shift impressed at Kempton, too, and I'm looking forward to seeing him in action in the EBF Final at Sandown on Imperial Cup day, a race his trainer Nicky Henderson has won two of the last three years.
WH: Not really, although Cup Final caught the eye when third behind Irving. On His Own beat a useful yardstick in Mount Belbulben and beat him well, but connections are reportedly considering waiting for Punchestown with him.
MS: Present View was impressive in winning easily at Kempton on Saturday. His jumping looks a major asset and he appears to be on the upgrade. He is now reported to be going for the Rewards4Racing Novices Handicap Chase and could well be underestimated.
IO: I thought Blue Hell made a really promising debut for Tony Mullins in the Grade Two juvenile hurdle at Fairyhouse on Saturday and I think he could be a really interesting player in the Fred Winter as he looked as though he'd improve plenty for the run.
Sprinter Sacre's absence from the Festival blows the Champion Chase and Ryanair markets wide open. What are the smart bets in those races now?
BL: Sire De Grugy's form stands head and shoulders above the rest in the Champion Chase but there's no way I could back him - even now he has drifted to 2/1. His suitability for Cheltenham is questionable and he looks one to take on. Apart from him, though, it's a really weak race and there could be a big shock. Perhaps Special Tiara could get into a good rhythm up front and do it, or maybe the lightly-raced Module could step up. Neither would have a prayer in a normal year. In the Ryanair, a fair few of the market leaders could now defect to the Champion Chase. With that in mind, Wishfull Thinking and Baily Green might be overpriced.
WH: It's obviously unfortunate for Nicky Henderson and connections of Sprinter Sacre, but at least his absence has injected some interest into the ante-post markets for the Champion Chase and the Ryanair. Sire De Grugy has already drifted out from 6/4 to 9/4 in places since the market for the former contest was reshuffled and I can see him drift further as there remains plenty of professional uncertainty around him - despite the fact that personally I think he's got a belting chance.
MS: Good question! It's hard enough who will run in which races, let alone know the winners. As it stands i'm going for two big prices in Sizing Europe who loves Cheltenham and Lyreen Legend who ran a blinder at the Festival last year and looks as though a drop in trip will suit perfectly.
IO: I'd already backed Riverside Theatre for the Ryanair in the belief that several at the top of the market wouldn't go but that doesn't look such a bonny idea after the race he ran at Ascot. I very much doubt whether it's a smart bet but I think Wishfull Thinking looks overpriced at 20s, it's long looked the ideal race for him and his handicap win last time looks very strong form. He's also in the Champion Chase but I'd like to see Al Ferof go there although his chance hasn't been missed and I don't think he's any great price; very little makes any appeal and I'll probably end up wasting a couple of quid on Somersby for old times sake!