Mark Howard joins us for the National Hunt season with an analytic look at the weekend's action with an eye on ante-post markets and more.
Lostintranslation lights up Carlisle
Not for the first time it was Gordon Elliott who stole the headlines at Down Royal on Friday and Saturday with seven winners from 17 runners over the two days.
Envoi Allen and Samcro produced exemplary displays on their hurdling and chasing debuts respectively, while stablemate Fury Road looked every inch an Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle prospect as he sauntered to an eighteen lengths victory under Keith Donoghue in the two miles six maiden hurdle.
Closer to home, it was Grade 1 winning novice chaser Lostintranslation who lit up the domestic scene with a faultless reappearance in the Listed Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle on Sunday.
The two and a half miles event has been contested by Many Clouds, Bristol De Mai, Waiting Patiently and Cyrname during the last five years and Colin Tizzard’s budding star added his name to its rich roll of honour with a dominant display, conceding weight all round in the process.
Making all under Robbie Power, the seven year old produced a spectacular round of jumping. Indeed, not too dissimilar to local favourite Monet’s Garden who captured the same prize thirteen years earlier.
Eased on the run-in, Power’s mount crossed the line two and a quarter lengths in front of the 146 rated Count Meribel, who was unbeaten in three previous visits to the Cumbrian track. It was a further nine lengths back to the 156 rated Kildisart.
Admittedly, the runner-up and third may have had their eye on the BetVictor Gold Cup and Ladbrokes Trophy respectively, but Lostintranslation looked every inch a Cheltenham Gold Cup horse as he toyed with three decent opponents.
Joe Tizzard, assistant and son of trainer Colin, immediately nominated the Betfair Chase at Haydock later this month as his next intended target before a tilt at the King George on Boxing Day.
The West Country trainer will be seeking his fourth win in the Merseyside showpiece, thanks to former stable star Cue Card, and the 3/1 which is currently available with Coral and Ladbrokes makes plenty of appeal.
Ante-post favourite Bristol De Mai bids to win the race for a third consecutive year and is unbeaten in four visits to the track but faces a race against time to line up having missed the Charlie Hall last weekend.
Paul Nicholls has indicated that Frodon, rather than Down Royal runner-up Clan Des Obeaux, will be his chief challenger, while Lostintranslation’s stablemate and former Gold Cup winner Native River was runner-up last year but didn’t look comfortable on the tight turns.
Might Bite is as short as 10/1 with some firms, but Nicky Henderson has suggested the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase at Aintree next month is more likely his next port of call.
Gold is good for Bailey
The undercard at Carlisle wasn’t too bad either with a competitive looking novices’ handicap chase over two and a half miles.
Two For Gold won twice over hurdles last winter and wasn’t disgraced in Graded company behind the likes of Elixir De Nutz and Itchy Feet at Cheltenham twelve months ago.
However, Kim Bailey has always viewed the Gold Well gelding as a chaser in the making and he stayed on strongly to win off a mark of 132 on his fencing bow.
A length and a half scorer, I spoke to David Bass afterwards and he is adamant the six year old will be even better over three miles. Interestingly, the former Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Grand National winning trainer introduced Vinndication to chasing at the same venue last term.
Nicky Richards, who struck with Glenduff in the opening novices’ hurdle, must have been delighted with the run of the third, Chapel Stile. The Scorpion gelding hadn’t seen a racecourse for 562 days having missed the whole of the 2018/2019 campaign.
Racing over an inadequate trip – he is unbeaten three miles – the half-brother to Rathvinden was behind early on but came with a strong run on the outside under Ryan Day before keeping on in the closing stages.
Beaten around three lengths, the seven year old will come into his own once tackling longer trips and ought to develop into a fair staying northern novice chaser.
Another chasing debutant Dominateur was still in contention when hitting the deck at the fifth last. It is impossible to predict whether Oliver Sherwood’s runner would have troubled Two For Gold and co, but Gavin Sheehan had yet to play his hand.
The concluding bumper was large on numbers but relatively low on quality. However, the winner Chuvelo looked above average on his first start for Donald McCain.
Purchased for £100,000 in April having finished runner-up in a sales bumper at Fairyhouse’s Easter Festival five days earlier, the Milan gelding was well supported beforehand and barely gave his backers an anxious moment.
Always to the fore, Brian Hughes eased his mount to the front at the three marker before being pushed out for a comfortable four lengths victory. His new connections feel he will be even better on a sounder surface.
Ground key to Charlie Hall result
Twenty four hours earlier, Nigel Twiston-Davies won the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby for a record sixth time.
Ballyoptic was a Grade 1 winning novice hurdler and was denied by a nose in the Scottish National last year. A nine lengths winner of a valuable prize at Chepstow on his reappearance last month, the Old Vic gelding stepped up on that performance to capture his second Grade 2 win over fences at the West Yorkshire track.
The testing conditions were more akin to the West National than the Charlie Hall but it didn’t prevent Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount from scoring by nearly four lengths.
A faller in last season’s Grand National, he may take on the aforementioned Lostintranslation in the Betfair Chase but it will be a surprise if he possesses the speed to shake up the Tizzard runner.
The underfoot conditions almost certainly played their part in the demise of dual Grade 1 winning novice chaser La Bague Au Roi, who was floundering soon after the fifth last, although she hadn’t jumped or raced with her customary enthusiasm early on, in any case.
Brian Ellison also felt the soft terrain proved the undoing of last year’s winner Definitly Red.
However, the ground was very much in the favour of the runner-up and Welsh National winner Elegant Escape.
The Tizzards expressed themselves very pleased with the Dubai Destination gelding afterwards. Sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last spring, the Grand National has been mentioned as his long-term target this campaign.
With that in mind, don’t be surprised if he is given an entry in the Becher Chase over the National fences next month. Rated 160, he will almost certainly shoulder top weight and is nine pounds higher than when winning at Chepstow last Christmas. Stamina and jumping are his biggest assets though and Elegant Escape looks tailormade for Aintree.
Big week for O'Keefe
Finally, it was a good week for Middleham handler Jedd O’Keeffe. Thanks to big spending owners Quantum, Micky Hammond’s former assistant was busy acquiring new talent for next year’s Flat team at the Newmarket Horses In Training Sale.
Their purchases included Kiefer (210,000gns) and Tavus (105,000gns) who look exciting additions to Highbeck Lodge Stables. On the track, Mr Scrumpy appreciated the step up in trip on his handicap debut at Wetherby on Saturday, while stable star Sam Spinner made it two out of two over fences twenty four hours earlier.
Rated 164 and a Grade 1 winning hurdler, the Black Sam Bellamy gelding had scored by three lengths on his chasing debut over an inadequate trip at the same track last month.
Returning to three miles and shouldering a penalty, he didn’t convince early on in the jumping department but warmed to his task as the contest developed.
Strongly pressed at the final fence by Chepstow winner Ardlethen, Sam Spinner responded well on the run-in to win going away by four lengths. In terms of ratings, twenty five pounds separated the pair over hurdles but it was a different ball game over fences last week.
Bigger tests lie ahead for the winner and it remains to be seen whether he can hack it against the very best staying novice chasers.
One suspects the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase over the same course and distance next February will prove his best chance of Graded success over fences this winter.
Ironically, Ballyoptic won the same event in 2018.
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