Graeme North rounds up the latest action with an eye on the clock, with A Plus Tard's Betfair Chase win at Haydock looked at from the perspective of the antepost Gold Cup market.
One of the first instructions drummed into me shortly after I joined Timeform back in 1983 was ‘always use your eyes and not your ears’.
That advice still holds as good today analysing horseracing as it ever has, but occasionally you’ll hear something you weren’t aware of and it was while having the televised Ladbrokes Winter Carnival gallops morning on in the background last week that I discovered multiple champion trainer Nicky Henderson doesn’t have a decent watering system at his Seven Barrows yard.
Henderson, who isn’t averse to the odd racecourse gallop or four, let it be known that he hadn’t even worked his horses at home on the grass yet, so was grateful for the opportunity Newbury allowed him.
Whether many of those horses that galloped on a generously-watered section well away from the usual racing line will make it to their intended targets this weekend remains to be seen – the extremely round-actioned Metier has already been ruled out of the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, for example – but the bigger question should be whether glamourising half-speed workouts by affording them in-depth television exposure complete with ‘analysis’ might encourage other racecourses or meetings to want to grab some of that exposure for themselves, potentially inviting a scenario where more and more horses have their preparations in racecourse gallops rather than races.
One Henderson inmate who didn’t even make it to Newbury, having been talked up only a week or so previously as an intended runner in the Betfair Chase, was the elusive Champ, who is apparently now set to head for next month’s Many Clouds Chase at Aintree.
Champ is currently one of only two British-trained horses quoted at less than 25/1 by Betfair for the Gold Cup – the other is his stable-companion Chantry House – and is arguably overpriced given that he beat last year’s Gold Cup winner Minella Indo (more of whom later) in the 2020 RSA.
Even so, he’d have had to be right at the top of his game to have beaten A PLUS TARD on Saturday in a race Nicky Henderson has had only one runner in (Might Bite, in the year of the giant fences) since 2013.
In winning by 22 lengths, in itself not unusual in a race where wide-margin wins have been fairly commonplace, A Plus Tard recorded the fastest time since the race distance was increased to half a furlong or short of three and a quarter miles.
His 160 Timeform timefigure was the fifth time in his last six races over fences that he has reached at least that level, and had he had anything to race with in the last quarter mile he’d probably have got within hailing distance of the 171 he posted in last year’s Gold Cup.
The ease with which he got to the front in a race that was run in similar fractions to those posted in the same section of the race by Jersey Bean and Bravemansgame earlier on in the card, before increasing markedly as the runners raced to the end of the back straight, makes me think, given Bravemansgame made up around three seconds on him by the time the runners jumped the first in the home straight for the final time, that those Betfair Chase runners still standing had shot their bolts by the home turn.
Visually impressive though it was, there wasn’t quite enough in the performance on the clock for me to justify his replacing Minella Indo at the head of the betting for the Gold Cup. A Plus Tard was beaten fair and square, if only by a length and a quarter, by his stronger-staying stable companion last year when the pair recorded timefigures of 172 and 171 respectively. Minella Indo’s Down Royal defeat by an astutely-ridden Frodon is easily explainable and he still looks to have the slightly stronger credentials. If A Plus Tard is trading at around the 7/2 mark, Minella Indo should about be that price too, not nearly twice as big.
Much was made of A Plus Tard being the first Irish-trained winner of the Betfair Chase, but he was only the 10th Irish raider since the race was inaugurated in 2005 and other than Kicking King, the reigning Gold Cup winner at the time who was sent off at odds on in that first running, none of the others have had such strong pre-race credentials as he had.
Interestingly, Henry de Bromhead has come over from Ireland for races here on two of the last three weekends and will be back again this Saturday, along with a good number of his compatriots, for the Ladbrokes Trophy. British-based trainers might have to get used to this scenario on a weekly basis over the coming months. With such strength in depth in Ireland and a large body of good horses chasing a small number of prizes, it would be no surprise if more and more Irish trainers started to target races here in pursuit of what are quite probably easier pickings.
The aforementioned BRAVEMANSGAME jumped well on his way to a win in receipt of weight from Itchy Feet, but a 140 timefigure on top of the sectional evidence presented above rather confirms the race wasn’t much about stamina which might yet persuade his connections that there is no need just yet to step him back up to three miles.
On the clock, it wasn’t quite up there with what his Ballymore conqueror BOB OLINGER achieved on his chase debut at Gowran but it wasn’t far off. Bob Olinger was awkward at two of the last three fences - and Gowran rates well down the list of courses whose closing fences are difficult to clear, as a forthcoming article I am writing will show - so will need to tidy that part of his game up, but a 146 timefigure and a ready defeat of the still smart Bacardys is no mean feat on a first visit to the racecourse since last March.
Fittingly, one other chaser worth a mention from last week is Lostintranslation, a former Betfair Chase winner who came right back to form with a ready win in the Grade 2 Chanelle Pharm 1965 Chase at Ascot. A close third in the 2020 Gold Cup in the same season he won the Betfair, Lostintranslation lost his way last year but a 160 timefigure on his first start since a wind operation suggests he needs treating with respect in the top chases again.
Whether he is able to repeat this effort given a much stiffer test of stamina remains to be seen, however, given his Gold Cup third came in a steadily-run race and his Betfair win was a relative speed test as well.
One area in which British-trained runners are appearing to hold their own against the Irish is in National Hunt Flat races and three horses last week looked good prospects on either overall time or sectionals.
Most impressive of the trio, though the Irish might well claim it as a victory of their own, given he had finished second of 22 in a bumper at the Punchestown Festival last April when trained by Mags Mullins, was the Market Rasen winner SPRINGWELL BAY who earned a Timeform rating of 111 after coasting home by 14 lengths.
He might have set a high standard, but even so the manner in which he quickened right away from the opposition once his rider let him down was highly taking. His closing Timeform sectional, taking from six furlongs out, was around 10 seconds faster than that returned by the Presuming Ed in the preceding handicap over the same distance, but his sectional much closer to home from where the hurdle two out was situated paints him in an even more impressive light still, good enough to think he’s potentially a minimum 140s horse over hurdles once his days in bumpers are finished.
Fergal O’Brien is having a great season and he introduced a smart filly at Ffos Las last week in the form of HIDDEN BEAUTY.
Pretty much last into the straight, Hidden Beauty ran the distance from where three out had been over three seconds faster than the 117-rated Dalamoi managed in the opener, passing very nearly all the field in the space of a furlong without being asked for anything like maximum effort. The market knew all about her beforehand, and I don’t doubt for one minute she’s Listed level at least in this sphere and a very promising two-and-a-half mile 135+ hurdler when the time comes.
The other horse that looked the part on the clock is OUR JESTER, who won an Ascot bumper that has been won by some decent sorts in the past (Springwell Bay’s stablemate Soaring Glory won it in 2019 when Bravemansgame was third).
A closing sectional of 68 seconds taken from where three out had been was over three seconds faster than any of the other hurdle races on the card, all of which, incidentally, were run over a fair bit further.
A 101 timefigure is the second best in bumpers this season, a level also achieved by the Irish winners Gringo D’Aubrelle and Quiet Escape.