Sky Sports News' Alex Hammond reflects on the recent action and looks ahead to Newbury's excellent card on Saturday in her latest blog.
Let's start with a recap of the Dublin Racing Festival with the sensational Samcro. What was your take on his performance and, would it by Sky Bet Supreme, Ballymore or even the Champion Hurdle next?
Samcro looks the real deal doesn’t he? Gordon Elliott must be in seventh heaven when he looks at this horse in the mornings, the sort of horse that makes you leap out of bed with enthusiasm. It was lovely to see a little video clip on social media the day after his effortless win, of Samcro enjoying being turned out in a paddock back at his stables. With a horse as exceptional as this it would be easy to wrap him in cotton wool, so it was good to see him being allowed to enjoy some down time. I expected the horse to run in the longer race at the Dublin Racing Festival, so it was interesting to see Elliott pitch him in the two-mile Deloitte Novice Hurdle. He certainly didn’t lack speed and made some very smart horses look ordinary when he pulled away from the field. He’s currently 6/4 favourite with the sponsors for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ (two miles) and 8/11 with the same firm for the Ballymore over 2m5f. I don’t see him running in the Champion Hurdle this year as I’m sure connections feel there is plenty of time for that if that’s the route they take and there’s no need to pitch him in that company at this stage of his career. I’d be most interested to see him in the opening race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival (Sky Bet Supreme) as it looks the bigger test of the two and as much as I’d love to see him cruise up the Prestbury Park hill, I’d also like to see how good he is in the more competitive of the two novice hurdles.
Faugheen was better but still not good enough to win the Irish Champion. What was your take on the first two and is Supasundae now the one to beat in the Stayers'?
You’d have to be concerned now about Faugheen’s bid to win another Champion Hurdle. One bad run you can forgive and whilst he put up a much better performance to finish second in the Irish Champion Hurdle, he was well short of his brilliant best. That’s not to say Willie Mullins can’t get him back, but at the age of 10 he won’t be improving, nor does he have anything to prove. Buveur D’Air looks unbeatable in the Champion Hurdle on current evidence, but his 2/5 price reflects that. Faugheen is now 6/1, which doesn’t really appeal in a race that any number of horses look capable of running into a place.
As for Supasundae, it was certainly an encouraging prep for the Stayers'! That is the only race he holds an engagement in at the Festival, so if there were any thoughts of running this versatile eight-year-old in the Champion, then they can quickly be put to bed as trainer Jessie Harrington said he will be going to the Stayers' for that very reason. He could be supplemented though. He’s 3/1 with Sky Bet for the Stayers' and whilst he looks as strong a candidate as any, I’m hopeful Sam Spinner can give my friends Jedd and Andrea O’Keeffe a Grade One Festival winner.
As a lover of horses first and foremost, you must've been misty-eyed when Edwulf won the Irish Gold Cup. Never mind Cheltenham, give us your take on a remarkable story.
Well, this is the sort of story that makes us ‘tough as boots’ horse lovers let down our guard and shed a tear or two. I hadn’t backed him, in fact I was huffing and puffing about a race-ending error from my selection Our Duke just as Edwulf was galvanising his beautiful self for one final effort. Young Joseph O’Brien is already making history as a trainer under both codes, but whatever happens throughout the rest of his career, I bet the phoenix from the ashes type recovery that this horse has made, will stay with him forever. This is no over-egged fairy story, the horse was as close to death as it actually gets. I’d wager the light at the end of the tunnel appeared to the horse, if there is such a thing. For any of you that don’t know the story, he collapsed after being pulled up in the closing stages of the National Hunt Chase last March and stayed on the floor for so long that you wouldn’t normally see a horse get back up from that. He suffered a seizure and a catastrophic shut down of his nervous system and the prognosis was dire. The veterinary team and everyone involved with the horse have nursed him back to health and to see him win a Grade One the following season is nothing short of a miracle.
Moving onwards and to the Betfair Hurdle. Do you have an ante-post position? Where's the value now?
There are so many horses in with a shout in this wide open handicap hurdle, that I’ve taken a punt on a horse that used to have a huge reputation, but has dented it a couple of times since his heady early days on a racecourse. David Pipe’s Moon Racer is currently a 25/1 shot for the two-mile contest, which on the face of it looks a fair reflection of his chance. He has been off the track since being well beaten in the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting last April and prior to that had been pulled up in the Champion Hurdle. He has had his problems and was off the track for over a year after winning the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015, but he has run well fresh in the past and may not be badly handicapped. Pipe is in pretty good form at the moment, so taking all that into account, I’m happy enough to have backed him each-way at that price and I hope you could do much worse.
And finally, Altior could return at Newbury. How important is it that he does see competitive action before a potential showdown with Min?
I think it’s crucial and the Game Spirit looks the ideal race to knock any potential rustiness off him. I wouldn’t be concerned about him needing a run for fitness purposes as Nicky Henderson doesn’t need any lessons in getting one championship race ready after a layoff, it’s more for his mindset (the horse, not Nicky’s!). If he goes straight to Cheltenham there is a danger he could be too fresh and well and as silly as it sounds that can be as harmful as being undercooked. Can you imagine an exuberant Altior flying down to the first fence in the Champion Chase? It’s enough to make you sweat just thinking about it. It’s a tried and tested route for the horse too as he won Saturday’s contest (beating Fox Norton, who could reoppose this weekend), before going on to win the Arkle last season. Judging on his much improved performance at the weekend, Min now rates a serious danger to Altior at Cheltenham. As it stands, Altior is even money favourite to win the Queen Mother, with Min 5/2 second favourite. I hope they both get there as it will be fascinating to see the duo go head to head again at the meeting after they finished first and second in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle two years ago.