Sky Sports Racing's Alex Hammond looks back on the weekend action including what she saw at Lingfield, while the Betfair Hurdle is on her radar looking ahead.
A cracking weekend at Leopardstown – what did you make of Apple’s Jade’s performance and how big a threat is she to Buveur D’Air in the Unibet Champion Hurdle?
She was phenomenal wasn’t she? She was reverting to two miles for the first time in ages and it was a stroll in the park. Annie Power proved in 2016 that a 7lb mares’ weight allowance can be too much for the boys to concede and you get the impression that Apple’s Jade would make them pay getting 7lb too. The relief is that the O’Leary’s seem to be coming round to the idea of running her in the Champion Hurdle despite digging their heels in up to this point, so we could yet see her run in the race that most race fans want to see her in. She’s 2/1 second favourite with Sky Bet and don’t forget, they are non-runner no bet, so if the owners do switch her to the Mares’ Hurdle you get your stake back.
Sir Erec and Le Richebourg were Grade One winners for Joseph O’Brien, how do you rate their Cheltenham chances?
Very highly! Joseph O’Brien is a real chip off the old block isn’t he? Sir Erec is a classy Flat stayer that has translated his ability to hurdling which isn’t always a given, but is a dangerous combination when it is. He’s 15/8 favourite with Sky Bet to win the Triumph Hurdle and could provide Joseph with a first official win in the race after Ivanovich Gorbatov won in his father’s name in 2016 before O’Brien Junior was granted a trainers licence.
We interviewed Barry Geraghty on Monday Night Racing this week and I asked him which horse out of anything and everything that was running at the festival, he would most like to ride if he had the opportunity. Now, it’s not certain he will ride Le Richbourg in the Arkle as Mark Walsh rides plenty of owner JP McManus’ Irish trained runners and could well be on board at Cheltenham, but Barry was unusually animated when he answered the question. I didn’t expect him to be quite so forthcoming, but he was effusive in his praise for this horse. It’s easy to get swept up in someone else’s enthusiasm for something, but when it’s someone of Geraghty’s stature you take notice and I have to admit I have taken some of the 3/1 on offer about Le Richbourg in the Arkle and have doubled him up with Sir Erec in the Triumph.
Bellshill won the Unibet Irish Gold Cup – but can he win the big one in March?
Astonishingly, Willie Mullins has never won the Gold Cup and I can’t see this horse being the one to provide him with his first, despite fancying him to win the Irish Gold Cup. I see him as the sort of horse that could run into a place, maybe like a Djakadam, but don’t see him winning it. He’s 12/1 with Sky Bet, so could be a bit of each-way value.
You were at Lingfield on Saturday for Sky Sports Racing – what did you make of the performances of Wissahickon and Kachy in the feature races?
I was seriously impressed with them both for different reasons. Kachy is a sprinting machine and looks to have a great chance of avenging his only all-weather defeat which came in the Sprint Final at Lingfield on Good Friday last year. He’s now even money favourite with Sky Bet to go one better in 2019 and trainer Tom Dascombe will be very unlucky to see his horse beaten for a second successive season. He had a little wind operation at the end of the turf season and since then has broken the track record at both Wolverhampton and Lingfield on Saturday.
Maybe we should be doubling him up with Wissahickon who is now on track for the Easter Classic on All Weather Finals Day after his demolition of the opposition in the Winter Derby Trial on Saturday. But first, he has the Winter Derby to win and he is a short price to win both. What was impressive about John Gosden’s Cambridgeshire winner was the way he overcame a troubled passage to pull clear of Big Country and Court House under a confident Frankie Dettori. Frankie was in great form at Lingfield having won the HRH Crown Prince Cup in Bahrain the day before and seemed impressed with Gosden’s little tiger of a racehorse.
Lots to get your teeth stuck into this weekend too – what are your best bets?
There’s plenty to look forward to this weekend with Kalashnikov a short price to enhance his Arkle reputation in Warwick’s Kingmaker Novices’ Chase after a defeat to Dynamite Dollars at Kempton over Christmas. Missy Tata is also interesting if she returns from a long absence in Warwick’s Listed Mares’ Hurdle for Gordon Elliott and Daryl Jacob.
I’m going to focus on Newbury though where we have the Denman Chase, Game Spirit and a tricky Betfair Hurdle to unravel. Back to Sky Sports Racing and we also spoke with Joe Tizzard on Monday night. He was particularly happy with Native River before he tries to win the Denman Chase for a third year in succession; he’ll take some stopping even with King George winner Clan Des Obeaux opposing again and his price of 4/5 favourite reflects that. The snow and rain that has fallen in the Berkshire area will be right up his alley with the ground now soft.
The Game Spirit was reopened and there are now 11 entries which include Fox Norton, Un Des Sceaux and interestingly Waiting Patiently; the latter could revert to two miles for the first time since December 2016 in a bid to get a run under his belt before the Cheltenham Festival. Kalashnikov is also entered, but seems more likely to go to Warwick. Fox Norton is even money favourite to win on Saturday, but more pertinently could be shorter than his current 10/1 price tag for the Ryanair with a smart performance this weekend. You would imagine that would be his Cheltenham target if connections decide to swerve a rematch with Altior in the Champion Chase for which Fox Norton is currently 16/1.
So to the Betfair Hurdle and as you’d expect it’s wide open with the likes of Al Dancer and Getaway Trump at the head of affairs. They are relatively short given the depth of this race, so I’m taking a chance on Lisp for trainer Alan King. He’s creeping up the weights thanks to good efforts in competitive handicap hurdles at Newbury and Ascot on his last two starts, but he’s still relatively unexposed over hurdles and there could be more to come. The ground won’t be an issue and he’s 12/1 with Sky Bet for this two-mile handicap hurdle.