Weights & Measures: The Festival
Ben Linfoot analyses the Cheltenham Festival using the handicapper's official ratings and finds Holywell was top staying novice chaser.
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You may be exhausted of Cheltenham by now, or you may already be tempted by something in the 2015 ante-post markets. Whichever way you lean, the dust has now settled on Cheltenham 2014 and the handicappers have crunched the numbers following the action, so, here's one last article reflecting on those fabulous four days in the Cotswolds.
Going through their conclusions makes fascinating reading.
• Who knew that Holywell would be the top-rated staying novice chaser from the four days, rated even higher than his Grade One-winning stablemate Taquin De Seuil?
• Who would've thought that Annie Power still wouldn't be officially the best mare in Willie Mullins' yard?
• And how come a horse that fell at the first hurdle on the final circuit of the Albert Bartlett ended up being raised 8lb and to a figure that entitles him to be regarded equal-best staying novice hurdler of the season so far?
All the major ratings changes are listed below, with the Irish marks kindly given to me by BHA handicapper Martin Greenwood. Those ratings are the marks given to Irish horses by the British handicapper (ie what they would run off in a British handicap now) following Cheltenham. Though they have been discussed with the Irish assessors there is plenty of time left in the season for those to change ahead of the final classifications.
With that final point in mind, though it has an end-of-term feel to it this isn't a season-ending piece - despite so many championship races covered. Hopefully there will be some clues unearthed for Aintree and the rest of the jumps season, with an eye inevitably cast on the next campaign too.
Cheltenham, Tuesday March 11
1. Vautour>>>> Up 1lb to 156
2. Josses Hill>>>> Remains on 148
3. Vaniteux>>>> Up 4lb to 147
9. Irving>>>>Down 1lb to 148
The meeting got off to a spectacular start in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, but not in the manner the market expected. The Sky Bet Dovecote winner, Irving, rated 149 following his Kempton romp, was sent off the 7/2 joint-favourite alongside Vautour, rated 155 after a highly impressive victory over dual Grade One-winner The Tullow Tank in the Deloitte Novices' Hurdle at Leopardstown. The pair were well clear in the betting, with Vautour's stablemate Wicklow Brave sent off 8/1 third best and the gambled on Gilgamboa the only other horse to go off in single figures. Irving failed to fire though, unable to live with the gallop set by Ruby Walsh and Vautour from an early stage. It looked to me like he was taken off his feet, but he finished his race well. This experience will have done him good and he remains a smart prospect. The winner hurdled brilliantly, powering away for a commanding six-length success and in doing so leaving nobody in doubt that he was indeed THE supreme novice. Raised 1lb to 156, that rating leaves him 1lb shy of Champagne Fever's rating following his win in the race last season, but that was an unusually hot renewal as the Champion Hurdle testifies. That Vautour got within 1lb speaks volumes and he's second only to Champagne Fever on official ratings in the list of Supreme winners from the last decade. Like his stablemate, he could go down the novice chasing path to the Arkle, but such was the impression he made over timber that he's as short as 5/1 joint-favourite with one firm for next year's Champion. Plans are up in the air, but he's a very exciting prospect whichever route he takes.
1. Western Warhorse>>>>Up 26lb to 161
2. Champagne Fever>>>> Up 16lb to 160
3. Trifolium>>>>Down 1lb to 156
And the award to most improved horse of the week goes to... Western Warhorse. A huge 26lb hike in the ratings was handed to David Pipe's charge after his last-gasp Arkle victory, coming on the back of just one previous start over fences. That was a win over 2m3f at Doncaster, after which jockey Tom Scudamore described him as a 'fruit loop'. His trainer David Pipe didn't even want him to run in the race, saying afterwards it was the owner's decision and he wanted to go for a 'nice handicap somewhere'. To be fair, they were both right as he would've been thrown in off a mark of 135! The first time hood helped him 'calm down' according to his handler, though whether he's an out-and-out two-miler remains to be seen. He led, was outpaced, rallied and mugged Champagne Fever on the line. BHA handicapper John de Moraville rated the race and said the form "stands up with third placed Trifolium (156), the fourth Dodging Bullets (155) and fifth Valdez (153) all running virtually to their pre-Festival marks." Indeed, it would be dangerous to underestimate the winner and it will be interesting to see how he develops given this was just his seventh career start and second run over fences. But - come on, you knew there would be a but - surely the horse to take out of the race was Champagne Fever. He jumped like a stag, travelled like a very good horse and looked like he'd stretch away for a comprehensive success two out. Perhaps the fact he didn't win from that position is a concern for the future, but he has so much untapped potential over staying trips that he remains extremely exciting. He improved 16lb to 160 himself and the signs are he'll reach greater heights over further - 10/1 quotes for the King George are a product of Ruby Walsh saying he'd love to ride him in the race, but you wouldn't want to lay him at much bigger. We've had some vintage Arkle winners in recent years, but Western Warhorse's rating blends in alongside them. Sprinter Sacre was rated 8lb higher, Simonsig was just 1lb higher, Captain Chris 1lb lower, Sizing Europe 1lb lower, Tidal Bay 5lb higher, Voy Por Ustedes 1lb higher and Well Chief, incredibly, was 15lb lower. He, of course, was trained by Martin Pipe, is the only other horse to have won the Arkle after just one previous start over fences, and beat a subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner into second...
1. Jezki>>>>Up 4lb to 169
2. My Tent Or Yours>>>>Up 1lb to 168
3. The New One>>>>Remains on 167
4. Hurricane Fly>>>>Down 7lb to 166
It looked a formidable younger brigade, even for dual champion and 19-time Grade One winner Hurricane Fly to take on and that's how it panned out in the end. Up stepped the second and third from the previous year's (above-average) Supreme, the clear-cut winner of the previous year's (and great Champion Hurdle pointer) Neptune, and the outstanding winner (by 15 lengths) of the previous year's Triumph Hurdle. That they all made the race was triumphant, that one of them didn't finish the race was tragedy. Our Conor's ill-fated fall at the third cast a dark shadow over what was billed as the race of the Festival and it won't be remembered as such. The New One was unlucky, the ground he lost when hampered by Our Conor effectively ending his chance and though one cannot definitively say he would've won, the way he finished suggests he would've certainly gone close. However, the facts are he has been beaten twice by My Tent Or Yours this season and as such he's rated 1lb inferior. My Tent Or Yours moved through the race with his usual style and grace, his keenness perhaps costing him though you cannot say he didn't get up the hill. He's a fantastic specimen and whether he goes chasing or remains over hurdles, he's going to be fighting for top honours over two miles wherever he turns up. You couldn't say the same about the winner, who would be vulnerable on a speed track or off a slow pace in a small field as we saw throughout the winter. However, he knuckled down brilliantly under Barry Geraghty to prevail here, taking advantage of the strong pace and the trouble in behind to record a Champion Hurdle success for Jessica Harrington. Another in a first-time hood, he's rated top of the two-mile tree on 169 but it's close between the main protagonists and on a different day you'd get a different result - he'd do very well to remain top of this pile post-Aintree and Punchestown.
1. Holywell>>>>Up 12lb to 157
2. Ma Filleule>>>>Up 7lb to 150
3. The Package>>>>Remains on 141
4. Green Flag>>>>Down 1lb to 142
6. Standing Ovation>>>>Down 2lb to 129.
Holywell racked up his second consecutive win at the Festival and such was the manner of his victory he was whacked up 12lb to 157 - the best rating for a staying novice chaser all week. Jonjo O'Neill's charge didn't even jump that well, but he was so well handicapped he sprinted up the hill like he'd just joined in for the final quarter of a mile (he was another one with fresh headgear on, the cheekpieces being replaced by blinkers). According to the ratings he's only 8lb off what was the required standard to win this year's Gold Cup, he's 1lb better than Grade One RSA winner O'Faolains Boy and 2lb better than stablemate and Grade One JLT winner Taquin De Seuil. If you agree with such ratings, the 50/1 available about him for the 2015 Gold Cup looks huge. And, remember, he did beat Smad Place over hurdles when second to Solwhit in last year's Liverpool Hurdle. Yet after three completed starts over fences, including one victory, BHA head of handicapping Phil Smith couldn't even bring himself to give him a mark. He told sportinglife.com: "After three runs I refused to rate him. But when he'd run a fourth time, having had four qualification runs and won two of them, I felt I'd got to give him a rating. At that point, you have to discard the hurdle rating, so the decision for me was to go either 145 or 146, the latter rating of which would have disqualified him from the Kim Muir. I let him in the Kim Muir and that was my call at that point. With hindsight, I suppose I wish I hadn't had him in that race. It would have been interesting to see how he would have got on in the other handicap. There was a Pipe horse who was second to him [Shotavodka at Catterick] and I went through him and that's why we got him to 145. The irony is that Jonjo was critical of the rating. He was one of only two people with horses in that race who contacted me beforehand to tell me he was too high. But I imagine he's pleased he was wrong now." Ma Filleule was in fine form after winning at Kempton but it's doubtful her mistake three out made any difference given the manner of Holywell's win, but seven lengths clear of the rest means she's raised 7lb. The Package ran an eye-catching trial for the Grand National, while stablemate Standing Ovation ran with credit despite being keen up front with fellow pacesetter Tour Des Champs. Dropped 2lb, he's one to keep an eye on in a less competitive contest.
1. Quevega>>>> Remains on 167
An unprecedented sixth consecutive win in the mares' for the unbelievable Quevega who remains, on official ratings at least, the best mare in Willie Mullins' yard. Her rating of 167 (2lb superior to Annie Power, see World Hurdle further down) is based on her win against the boys at Punchestown last year, with BHA handicapper Chris Nash explaining that she ran to a figure of 143+ last week. He said: "In beating the rock-solid Glens Melody (rated 142) by three quarters of a length at level weights she had only to run to a figure of 143+. She took a while to pick up, with 2½m on quickish ground now looking a bare minimum for her, but ended up winning a shade cosily despite the narrow margin. This performance fits in closely with her figures from the last two renewals, which were 144+ and 143+ respectively."
1. Present View>>>>Up 7lb to 144
2. Attaglance>>>>Up 6lb to 143
3. Pendra>>>>Up 3lb to 140
4. Ahyaknowyerself>>>>Up 3lb to 138
5. Buywise>>>>Remains on 134
A controversial finish that resulted in a stewards' inquiry, but the placings remained unaltered to give Jamie Snowden, Brendan Powell and Present View victory. He had looked very good when winning a Kempton handicap in facile fashion only two-and-a-half weeks previously and an 11lb hike in the weights failed to stop the progressive six-year-old who was crucially half-a-length ahead of Attaglance at the line. He's up another 6lb but remains on a steep upward curve. Outpaced a little at one stage, he rallied to great effect and look slikely to get three miles next season - though connections are already targeting the Paddy Power Gold Cup as a first port of call. Malcolm Jefferson's runner-up showed plenty of promise when finishing fourth in this season's Paddy Power, but then flopped at the December meeting when well fancied. However, a previous Festival winner, he came alive again on the spring ground and looks one to keep on the right side of in the closing months of the season. He won off 144 when following up his Festival win at Aintree over hurdles two years ago, and, raised 6lb to 143, he'll have to be respected if taking his chance in a handicap at Liverpool. The handicap chase that Battle Group ran away with over 3m1f last year is an option - he certainly looks worth another go at the trip - though connections might be tempted by the Grade One Manifesto over 2m4f depending on the opposition. Pendra ran a fine race until his chance went with a mistake at the last and it wouldn't be the biggest surprise in the world if he had a big handicap in him at some stage (up 3lb). Buywise was just getting into it when clobbering the second last and he remains a horse to keep on the right side of.
Cheltenham, Wednesday March 12
1. Faugheen>>>>Remains on 152
2. Ballyalton>>>>Up 4lb to 144
3. Rathvinden>>>>Down 6lb to 145
9. Red Sherlock>>>>Down 6lb to 145
So, Faugheen didn't have to improve on the form he had already shown to win the Neptune but the manner of his victory suggests there is plenty more to come from the unbeaten six-year-old. Mistakes at the fourth last and particularly the third last didn't make the slightest bit of difference as he powered through the race and away from his inferior rivals in impressive fashion. The distain he showed for his hurdles perhaps influenced Willie Mullins to say afterwards that he'd probably be going chasing and he could be some novice in that sphere next campaign. Mullins also suggested that Vautour was on 'a different level' to Faugheen, which was surprising given how visually impressive they both were. The Sky Bet Supreme did have more depth to it than the Neptune and Vautour is officially rated 4lb superior to Faugheen, but both are laden with potential and hopefully we'll enjoy seeing their careers go skyward over the coming seasons. Ballyalton did well to be best of the rest and he's gone up 4lb despite having no chance with the winner, but there were some notable disappointments in behind with Rathvinden and Red Sherlock both dropping 6lb from the 151 ratings they earned on Trials Day when conditions were very different.
1. O'Faolains Boy>>>>Up 12lb to 156
2. Smad Place>>>>Up 7lb to 155
3. Morning Assembly>>>>Up 3lb to 149
4. Ballycasey>>>>Down 1lb to 156
It looked a really strong RSA on paper with plenty of depth and the expected strong pace ensured this looks a very solid piece of form indeed. That O'Faolains Boy won it despite twisting a shoe is to his great credit and chief handicapper Smith pointed out in his blog that he was able to perform to his very best thanks to the man up top, Barry Geraghty. He said: "The overall time was a fast one and there were 15 sections. O'Faolains Boy was settled in rear and benefitting from a Geraghty master class produced the fastest sectionals in 13, 14 and 15. He will always be better in a big field top race where they go quickly and he can out stay the rest." Smad Place is rated just 1lb inferior following his neck defeat but he remains 6lb below his best mark over hurdles on 155. After just four starts over fences the chances are he'll prove to be a better chaser eventually and next year he's likely to be campaigned with the Gold Cup in mind. Morning Assembly proved the best of the Irish, although Ballycasey dropped just 1lb to 156 - his Grade One win in the Dr P.J Moriarty at Leopardstown ensuring he's the top-rated Irish staying novice chaser at this stage. The RSA Chase has also been a fine guide to the following season's Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in recent years - Trabolgan and Denman won both, 2010 Hennessy 1-2 Diamond Harry and Burton Port both ran in the RSA while 2012 RSA 1-2 Bobs Worth and First Lieutenant were first and third at Newbury. The placed horses from the RSA could well take in the Hennessy next campaign, but there could be some well-handicapped horses from further down the field, and, indeed, who failed to finish. Two interesting ones are Le Bec and Many Clouds. Le Bec was going perfectly well when falling four out and could be of major interest off 149, while Many Clouds was unlucky when brought down earlier in proceedings. His Reynoldstown form was franked in some style by the winner and off 145 he already looks a likely type for the Newbury showpiece.
1. Whisper>>>>Up 6lb to 159
2. Get Me Out Of Here>>>>Up 5lb to 153
3. Bayan>>>>Up 3lb to 141
4. Smashing>>>>Up 2lb to 145
Whisper was having his fifth run of the season in the Coral Cup and he progressed every time, improving from an opening mark of 137 to one now 22lb higher on 159. When he was beaten into third at the Paddy Power meeting off 137 he didn't jump well at all, but those issues have been ironed out now and he's thoroughly professional. Nicky Henderson was quick to point out the value of Nico de Boinville's 5lb claim - he also excelled on Ma Filleule in the Holywell race - but the horse deserves plenty of credit for battling to victory off a big weight in one of the most competitive handicap hurdles of the season. Second to Saphir Du Rheu in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las on his previous start, that race has thrown up the last two Coral Cup winners after Medinas landed both contests in 2013. Get Me Out Of Here was well-handicapped on his old form and he loved the spring ground and the hill as he always does. He's now been second four times at the Festival (Supreme, County, Coral x2) and now 10 he could've done without a 5lb rise for defeat. Bayan ran a fantastic race for Gordon Elliott on his first go at the trip and this opens up more options for him, while fellow five-year-old Smashing also enjoyed himself and might've finished a bit closer but for a mistake three out.
1. Sire De Grugy>>>>Up 2lb to 171
2. Somersby>>>>Remains on 164
3. Module>>>>Up 7lb to 164
In the absence of Sprinter Sacre the Champion Chase needed a stylish performance from a deserving winner and that's exactly what it got thanks to Sire De Grugy. He had looked the best two-miler chaser of the season thanks to wins in the Tingle Creek and the Clarence House Chase and he put to bed any fears of not acting around Cheltenham by outclassing his Queen Mother rivals. He improved his rating 2lb to 171 and though that was 17lb shy of Sprinter Sacre's mark following last year's race, it puts him just behind recent winners Finian's Rainbow (173), Sizing Europe (176), Big Zeb (174), ahead of Voy Por Ustedes (169) and on a par with Newmill (also 171). Master Minded was the other outstanding winner of recent times, registering 186 for his first win, while the great dual champion Moscow Flyer was awarded a number of 180 following his second win. Somersby is a good yardstick. He was four lengths off SDG in the Tingle Creek and a further two lengths behind at Cheltenham, while Module was a head behind Mick Channon's horse in the Haldon Gold Cup - the only time he'd been beaten at distances around two to two and a quarter miles when completing. This was a career-best for him and he was raised 7lb to 164. His record shows he goes well in softer conditions and, only seven, he could have a big say in the top races over the minimum trip next season when the ground is in his favour, though this effort was further evidence he's versatile on that score.
1. Hawk High>>>>Up 8lb to 138
2. Katgary>>>>Up 7lb to 137
3. Orgilgo Bay>>>>Up 4lb to 131
4. Keltus>>>>Up 3lb to 131
The ground came right for Tim Easterby's Hawk High, who bounced back from a heavy-ground defeat at Warwick to post another big-priced Festival success for owner Trevor Hemmings, who had struck with 50/1 shot Carrickboy the previous year. The fall of Clarcam two out caused all sorts of carnage, not least to poor old Bryan Cooper who broke his leg, and that incident changed the complexion of the race. The cards looked to have fallen right for Orgilgo Bay who was left in front with a sizeable advantage following the melee, but he was overhauled by Hawk High and the unlucky Katgary who was impeded the most of those with realistic chances two from home. Paul Nicholls' horse couldn't quite there but this was very promising on his debut for the Ditcheat yard and he could well have a realistic winning chance if he goes for the juvenile Grade One at Aintree next time.
Cheltenham, Thursday March 13
1. Taquin De Seuil>>>>Up 8lb to 155
2. Uxizandre>>>>Up 5lb to 153
3. Double Ross>>>>Remains on 152
The new in-between race for novice chasers at the Festival has had a good start to life and with success stories like Sir Des Champs graduating to be runner-up in a Gold Cup, this fourth renewal of the race was run as a Grade One for the first time. Time will tell if future Grade One winners will emerge from the contest but on paper it looked a strong race with Oscar Whisky and Wonderful Charm the leading British candidates on the form book with Felix Yonger heading the Irish challenge. Nicky Henderson had long expressed a wish for Oscar Whisky to run over two and a half miles at the Festival, so it was a great shame he crashed out at the first after finally getting that chance. Wonderful Charm failed to run up to his rating of 158, while Felix Yonger couldn't land a blow despite the ground coming right for him and a mistake four out didn't help his cause. So, it was Jonjo O'Neill's Taquin De Seuil that came out on top, AP McCoy driving him home to deny the game, front-running Uxizandre. I would say the handicapper rated the race through the ultra-consistent Double Ross who has run his race every time he's lined up at Cheltenham this campaign. He remains on 152 with Uxizandre and Taquin De Seuil adjusted accordingly. The runner-up ran a stormer under forcing tactics and could be one for the Manifesto at Aintree, while the winner has now proved versatile regarding ground conditions and looks likely to get at least a bit further as he gets older. Compared to the previous winners of this contest, he actually comes out third best of four on 155, with Noble Prince (156) and Sir Des Champs (162) higher, and last year's winner Benefficient (154) 1lb lower.
1. Fingal Bay>>>>Up 5lb to 153
2. Southfield Theatre>>>>Up 3lb to 150
3. Pineau De Re>>>>Up 3lb to 143
4. Trustan Times>>>>Up 3lb to 147
In a race that has more potential plots than Eastenders both Philip Hobbs and handicapper Martin Greenwood should be pleased with their work following the Pertemps Final. For the latter, the distances of nose, neck and neck separating the placed horses are as good as it gets, while the Minehead handler deserves plenty of recognition for his fine training of Fingal Bay. Off the track for 14 months, he returned by winning an Exeter qualifier in heavy ground just a month before the Festival and defied a 6lb rise and top weight in a race that usually goes to something that has been hiding their light under a bushel. There were no secrets with Fingal Bay, he's just a good horse whose career is back on track and this Grade One winner as a novice will now hopefully get a chance at the top level again. It was heartbreak for connections of Southfield Theatre, particularly jockey Daryl Jacob who was crestfallen after the nose defeat. The pair took it up just before the last but were just overhauled in the final strides of a thrilling contest. Trainer Paul Nicholls indicated afterwards he'd be going chasing next year. Dr Richard Newland had only a handful of runners throughout the week, but Ahyaknowyerself had run well on the Tuesday when fourth in the Rewards4Racing Novices' Chase and Pineau De Re went one better here, though it could cost him as a mark of 143 is a career-high at the age of 11. Talking of in-form handlers, Tim Easterby had a winner and a one-length fourth from just two runners all week. The fourth, Trustan Times, is a reliable sort and qualified with a third at Carlisle. He's inching back up to his career zenith of 150, but he's a victim of his own consistency and will be extremely hard to win with.
1. Dynaste>>>>Remains on 169
2. Hidden Cyclone>>>>Up 4lb to 160
3. Rajdhani Express>>>>Up 3lb to 158
Dynaste didn't have to be at his best to win the Ryanair Chase and posted a figure of 163 in doing so, 6lb below his master rating that remained the same. He achieved that when second to Cue Card over three miles in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, and, judging by how Tom Scudamore was niggling at him at relatively early stages, the return to three miles could see him improve on his Cheltenham performance. The way he finished his race suggests as much too, as he stayed on well to deny Hidden Cyclone and the running-on Rajdhani Express. Handicapper Mark Olley says he rated the race through fourth home Hunt Ball, a consistent 155 horse at Cheltenham and at this time of year. On the bare form Dynaste's 163 effort was below-par for the race and he's the lowest-rated winner since the race was upgraded to a Grade One six years ago - Our Vic (168), Imperial Commander (165), Albertas Run (168, 168), Riverside Theatre (170) and Cue Card (172) all achieving higher marks. Still, it was good to see Dynaste return to winning form after he showed so much potential as a novice chaser. His performance when down the field in the King George could've been a sign of regression but he had excuses having pulled muscles in his quarters that day and this is evidence that Pipe has him on the way back to his best. The Betfair Bowl over three miles at Aintree, where he won decisively last season, gives him the opportunity to put in a career-high performance.
1. More Of That>>>>Up 9lb to 169
2. Annie Power>>>>Remains on 165
3. At Fishers Cross>>>>Up 5lb to 162
It was hard not to be swept away by the hype surrounding Annie Power and the previously unbeaten mare was sent off an incredibly well-backed 11/8 favourite for the World Hurdle. It was commonly thought that no horse would be able to give 7lb and a beating to her, but she didn't help her cause by racing keenly. Though she stayed the trip, unless she settles better it is reasonable to think she will prove to be better over shorter distances. She remains an outstanding prospect and time may tell that she had an improbable task of her own against the lightly-raced and unbeaten More Of That. Jonjo O'Neill's six-year-old had won his four previous starts, his latest Relkeel win at the December meeting the most prominent and one that propelled him to a rating of 160. He had never run over three miles and AP McCoy opted to ride At Fishers Cross, but he was well backed on the day and went off third best in the market at 15/2. Barry Geraghty held him up, made his move three out and took over the lead just before the last, when he knuckled down really well to see off the attentions of Annie Power. More Of That was a length and a half clear at the line, Annie Power a further five lengths in front of At Fishers Cross and the front duo have the time and talent to be Festival stalwarts for years to come. After just five starts More Of That is unexposed enough to think that 169 might be on the conservative side and he is rated 5lb inferior to the rating Big Buck's achieved on four occasions. The four-time champion was rated 174 the first time he won it - a mark he stayed on throughout his reign. Only fifth home this time, the legendary stayer couldn't quite fend off some talented youngsters but he at least retired on the back of good effort, something plenty of multiple champions of the past couldn't manage to do.
1. Ballynagour>>>>Up 15lb to 155
2. Colour Squadron>>>>Up 6lb to 152
3. Tatenen>>>>Remains on 140
4. Johns Spirit>>>>Remains on 148
The right horses finished at the head of affairs in this race with the principals from the Paddy Power Gold Cup finishing second and fourth, but the winner simply blew them away. David Pipe's charge hosed up off a mark of 122 on his British debut at Warwick in February 2013, and was sent off the 7/2 favourite for this race that year despite a 19lb hike to a mark of 143. It didn't work out and he finished eighth, before being pulled up off the same mark in the Paddy Power Gold Cup won by Johns Spirit on his only previous run this campaign. Dropped to 140 on the back of that, he was freshened up, fitted with a first-time tongue tie and, sent off at 12/1, he cruised through the field and won going away by eight lengths. Simples. Bleeding issues and the very obvious fact that he goes well fresh means he'll continue to be lightly-raced, but a 15lb hike means handicaps look set to be a thing of the past for him. Perhaps he'll end up being a Ryanair horse next year. Colour Squadron has been a standing dish in the big two and a half mile handicap chases around Cheltenham this season, but he's gone from 139 to 152 without winning now. This was another good run from Tatenen who was rated 155 in his prime and he's probably got a veterans' chase in him at some stage, while the handicapper looks to have got Johns Spirit where he wants him now, though that wasn't the case when he won his two big pots at the start of the season.
Cheltenham, Friday March 14
1. Tiger Roll>>>>Up 15lb to 150
2. Kentucky Hyden>>>>Up 7lb to 146
3. Guitar Pete>>>>Up 2lb to 144
4. Calipto>>>>Down 1lb to 148
Since the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle was introduced at the Cheltenham Festival in 2005 the quality of the JCB Triumph Hurdle winner has been on a steady increase with a couple of notable peaks. In chronological order there have been 10 winners of the Triumph since the inception of the Fred Winter; Penzance (145), Detroit City (146), Katchit (159), Celestial Halo (150), Zaynar (154), Soldatino (148), Zarkandar (154), Countrywide Flame (152), Our Conor (161) and now Tiger Roll (150). As you can see from the list, Tiger Roll isn't an exceptional winner like Katchit and Our Conor were, but he slots in well with the rest and after just three career starts he has the potential to achieve big things when unleashed against his elders. He was a tad keen early on, but travelled into it smoothly and clearly enjoys a speed test, though the race did fall into his lap a bit due to a catalogue of drama. Firstly, Abbyssial took a crashing fall early on from which Ruby Walsh broke his humerus, while Calipto was desperately unlucky, Daryl Jacob having to ride the last quarter of a mile without his stirrups after a leather snapped. Kentucky Hyden, thought by his trainer to need softer ground to show his best, ran a good race in second - a performance that gives us an indication of where the absent Le Rocher might have finished, after Nick Williams' horse thrashed the Triumph runner-up back on Trials Day. The overall impression, though, is that this wasn't a vintage juvenile crop. The 33/1 available about Tiger Roll for next year's Champion Hurdle suggests the bookmakers take that view too.
1. Lac Fontana>>>>Up 9lb to 148
2. Arctic Fire>>>>Up 8lb to 149
3. Montbazon>>>>Up 7lb to 147
4. Diakali>>>>Up 4lb to 158
Daryl Jacob's latest Festival disaster quickly turned to joy (though the worst was to come when he was hospitalised before the Albert Bartlett) when he drove home Lac Fontana to deny Irish gamble Arctic Fire in the County. A facile winner of the Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle on Trials Day, he was raised 12lb for that win but putting a number on his potential was always going to be difficult and the handicapper didn't quite get him right. Up a further 9lb now, he'll be hoping such a hike is sufficient. He won his maiden at Cheltenham in October, finished last of four when running no sort of race behind The Liquidator in November, but was treated for stomach ulcers in between that run and his Trials Day romp. Arctic Fire brought Irish Grade One form to the table and he ran well, looking like he might hold on just after the last but ultimately having to give way to the powerful finish of the winner. This was just his fifth career start and he looks better than a handicapper, as does stablemate Diakali who travelled into contention stylishly under top weight. He was third to Champion Hurdle winner Jezki in the Grade One Hatton's Grace and off 158 he'll be running in those sort of contests regularly - depending on his place in the Willie Mullins pecking order, a problem Arctic Fire shares. Montbazon ran a stormer on his second start back from a lay-off. Fourth in Cinders And Ashes' Supreme in 2012, that was his last run before he lined up in the Betfair Hurdle last month where he was a remote 46-length 16th behind Splash Of Ginge. Better ground clearly suits and this was a massive step in the right direction for him.
1. Very Wood>>>>Up 13lb to 150
2. Deputy Dan>>>>Remains on 145
3. Apache Jack>>>>Up 9lb to 145
F. Briar Hill>>>>Up 8lb to 155
F. Kings Palace>>>>Down 6lb to 150
The Grade Two Slaney Novice Hurdle at Naas on January 5 proved to be the key race here, in terms of the result and assessing the pecking order post-race. In that contest over two and a half miles on soft ground, Briar Hill gave Very Wood 10lb and Apache Jack 7lb and came out on top by two and a quarter lengths. Here he faced that duo off level weights, so was understandably sent off 2/1 favourite against the 20/1 about Apache Jack and the 33/1 next to Very Wood, with the extra distance expected to bring about further improvement in the market leader. Briar Hill had drifted a little before the off, probably due to the injured Ruby Walsh being unable to take the ride with David Casey taking over in the saddle and the new pairing came to grief at the seventh flight when going perfectly well. With Briar Hill out of the race we were all set for an upset with Kings Palace suffering for setting a strong pace along with Urban Hymn. He jumped brilliantly, but paid for his exertions when taking a tired tumble at the last. Very Wood was held up by Paul Carberry and outstayed the lot of them, really picking up when switched to the inside of Deputy Dan after the last. Oliver Sherwood's horse had run well but didn't get home, while Apache Jack blew his chance with a slow jump at the last. Connections seemed to be pleasantly surprised by the winner, emphasising afterwards that he's a chaser for next year. At Fishers Cross (152), Brindisi Breeze (151), Bobs Worth (152), Wichita Lineman (154) and Black Jack Ketchum (150) were all better than or the equal of Very Wood following their victories in the race, while Weapon's Amnesty (139) was some way below after his win. That list shows what a good breeding ground the Albert Bartlett has been for future chasers, which bodes well for Very Wood's prospects over the bigger obstacles. But what of Briar Hill? On that Slaney Hurdle collateral form he comes out as a 155 horse, the joint-best staying novice hurdler of the season so far along with Seeyouatmidnight and better than all those previous winners of the Albert Bartlett listed above. If novice chasing is to be his thing next season, he could well be the one to follow in the footsteps of Weapon's Amnesty, Bobs Worth and of course O'Faolain's Boy, who all graduated from the race before winning the RSA.
1. Lord Windermere>>>>Up 13lb to 165
2. On His Own>>>>Up 4lb to 165
3. The Giant Bolster>>>>Up 4lb to 164
4. Silviniaco Conti>>>>Remains on 177
5. Bobs Worth>>>>Down 8lb to 172
Lord Windermere was well beaten off a mark of 154 in the Hennessy over an identical trip and had run to a similar level in the Lexus and Irish Hennessy subsequently, but the return to Cheltenham brought out the very best in last year's RSA winner. He didn't look like winning at any stage until the last 10 yards - and even then connections were made to sweat the outcome of the stewards'. It was a thrilling race and he wasn't the only one who found improvement to have a say in the finish with fellow Irish raider On His Own also relishing the unique assignment. Silviniaco Conti jumped well and travelled well - too well perhaps - and he didn't get home, but is left on 177 following his impressive King George romp. Bobs Worth was dropped 8lb to 172, his proud Cheltenham record finally coming to an end. His leg weary finish after the last suggested he's regressed, possibly after his battle to get on top in this race last year. It's tough to have the constitution to win back-to-back Gold Cups and despite a brave effort he couldn't quite get there. The Giant Bolster loves Cheltenham and his third place means he's been second, fourth and third in the last three Gold Cups. No wonder Phil Smith rated the race through him and he explained to us how he came to his conclusions through the Bolster and sectional times: "I've looked at the replays, the runner-up suffered some interference, the stewards couldn't be sure that he would have won and I would agree with that and so therefore I gave them the same rating. The Giant Bolster was placed in the race off 164 in 2012, fourth in the race in 2013 - 164. He'd actually gone back up to 160 after his win at Cheltenham. He ran his race in exactly the same way, he was off the bridle and then steamed up the hill third time round. The Giant Bolster running to 164 is supported on a line through Knockara Beau. He's a secondary marker, as opposed to the primary marker which is The Giant Bolster. The most interesting thing about the race this year in my view is that for the first time I got sectional times from Turftrax and in the Gold Cup there were 16 sectionals and Silviniaco Conti put up the fastest time in the second sectional, the sixth sectional, the 10th sectional and the 12th sectional. There was no way he was going to get home. He was clearly doing too much. Lord Windermere on the other hand did the fastest sectional in the penultimate split and the one before that. But the most fantastic performance came from On His Own, who was up there the whole way and yet produced the fastest sectional in the last split. How do you work that out? That's a stunning effort. He just seems with age this year to have got more consistency. He's not in the National any more, but I'd have him 10lb higher now than I had him in February. He's become a solid Grade One performer now, when he was 'just' a handicapper."
1. Don Poli>>>>Up 8lb to 151
2. Thomas Crapper>>>>Up 3lb to 137
3. Caid Du Berlais>>>>Up 2lb to 145
4. Urbain De Sivola>>>>Up 1lb to 136
Willie Mullins and Gigginstown have previous in this race having landed the 2011 renewal with Sir Des Champs off a mark of 134. He went up 9lb for that race to 143 and hasn't seen a hurdle since, though he hasn't made a bad chaser! Don Poli was more impressive than Sir Des Champs' smash and grab raid on this prize, the son of Poliglote asserting well late on to win by four and a half lengths. They went a fair lick from the start and he won by outstaying the rest, which bodes well fro when he's stepped back up in trip and when he inevitably sees a fence.
1. Savello>>>>Up 7lb to 154
2. Ned Buntline>>>>Up 4lb to 142
3. Claret Cloak>>>>Up 4lb to 146
4. Next Sensation>>>>Up 3lb to 145
Next Sensation is fast and jumps well, but he went off too quick here under Richard Johnson. It was to his great credit that he went three lengths clear again at the last, but he was swamped by the three closers up the hill. Savello's run was timed to perfection to end a dream day for Gigginstown and Davy Russell. He gets further, clearly enjoys this better ground and he relished the nature of this test. However, after struggling for much of the season in marks in the 140s, it's natural to think it's going to be difficult to win with him now he's been raised to 154. Ned Buntline (first-time hood) was having just his fourth start over fences and was also eased into it from off the pace by Paul Carberry. A 4lb rise might not be enough to deny him when he gets his optimum conditions. Claret Cloak ran a fine race and might've been even closer but for a mistake two from home.
Top Of The Charts:
Horse Of The Week
SIRE DE GRUGY - 171 (Champion Chase)
Chaser Of The Week
SIRE DE GRUGY - 171 (Champion Chase)
Hurdler Of The Week
JEZKI & MORE OF THAT - both 169 (Champion Hurdle, World Hurdle)
Two Mile Novice Hurdler
VAUTOUR - 156 (Supreme Novices')
Staying Novice Hurdler
BRIAR HILL - 155 (Albert Bartlett)
Two Mile Novice Chaser
WESTERN WARHORSE - 161 (Arkle)
Staying Novice Chaser
HOLYWELL - 157 (Bayliss & Harding Handicap Chase)
Previous Weights & Measures:
*Most of the quotes from the handicappers in the above copy are taken from the excellent 'Handicapper's Blog' on the BHA website - which can be found here.