Matt Brocklebank rounds up the ratings adjustments following the 2018 Cheltenham Festival and considers what the future holds for the winners, and a few of the beaten horses.
Winners’ ratings - Tuesday
Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle - Summerville Boy up 6lb to 156
Racing Post Arkle - Footpad up 4lb to 166*
Ultima Handicap Chase - Coo Star Sivola up 8lb to 150
Unibet Champion Hurdle - Buveur D’Air remains on 169
OLBG Mares' Hurdle - Benie Des Dieux up 2lb to 149*
National Hunt Chase - Rathvinden up 4lb to 154*
Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase - Mister Whitaker up 8lb to 145
* denotes Irish rating
Buveur D’Air became the first horse since Hardy Eustace to win back-to-back renewals of the Unibet Champion Hurdle and, as appeared to be a strong possibility beforehand, did so without improving on his previous form.
Nicky Henderson had expressed just a slight concern that winning the Fighting Fifth, Christmas Hurdle and Contenders Hurdle with ease earlier in the campaign might potentially leave him short of championship-race sharpness come the big day, and that may have been at play as he fended off a rejuvenated Melon by a neck.
Melon’s Irish mark has gone up 5lb to 164 and this was much more like it following a lifeless display in the Irish Champion Hurdle. He’s lightly raced enough to suggest he could improve further, while his record at Cheltenham now reads 232, both runner-up efforts coming at the Festival.
Buveur D’Air beat My Tent Or Yours further at Aintree last April than he had done in the Champion Hurdle and he’s going to be at fever pitch for the Aintree Hurdle again if tightening up physically for this battle.
Footpad proved himself the cream of the two-mile novice chasing crop with an ultimately dominant display in the Racing Post Arkle. His revised 166 mark is 2lb below that achieved by Altior in last year’s race, though Henderson’s charge had had the chance to prove himself against more established performers prior to Cheltenham in the Game Spirit.
Footpad was perfectly suited to the heavy ground and his overall record on good or good to yielding is nowhere near as strong. That said, he looks a much better chaser than he was over hurdles and it could be fanciful to think that Arkle third Petit Mouchoir – marginally his superior over timber – will ever be able to match his quality over fences. A step up in trip awaits the latter.
Summerville Boy confirmed Tolworth form with Kalashnikov in the Sky Bet Supreme and is up from 150 to 156 following a neck verdict. He looks value for more than the bare margin of victory after the bad mistake two-out halted his momentum before he was able to recover and power up the hill.
The assessors appear to have factored that in by easing Kalashnikov a couple of pounds to 152.
Coo Star Sivola and Mister Whitaker were the biggest climbers on day one, each being hit with an 8lb rise for winning the Ultima Handicap Chase and the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase respectively.
There are 10 handicap races at the Cheltenham Festival all told and half were won by British-trained runners, though it’s interesting the Irish weren’t represented at all in the Ultima. The Brits have bossed the race in recent years with Dun Doire the last Irish-trained winner in 2006.
Coo Star Sivola was defying a 7lb rise for his 14-length victory at Exeter and has gone up another 8lb, though as a six-year-old with so few miles on the clock it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to win handicaps in the future from a mark in the 150s.
National Hunt Chase winner Rathvinden has been put up 4lb by the Irish and British assessors, so he's officially well-in for the Randox Health Grand National should connections decide to go down that route this season.
Winners’ ratings - Wednesday
Neptune Novices' Hurdle - Samcro up 3lb to 158*
RSA Chase - Presenting Percy up 7lb to 164*
Coral Cup - Bleu Berry up 7lb to 148*
Betway Queen Mother Chamopion Chase - Altior up 5lb to 175
Cross County Chase - Tiger Roll up 2lb to 152
Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle - Veneer Of Charm up 9lb to 134*
Weatherbys Champion Bumper - Relegate NA
* denotes Irish rating
Altior stole the show on Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase day with his never-say-die performance in the day-two feature. He was eased 2lb after an unconvincing Arkle display 12 months ago but has never been higher than his revised 175 rating and to put that into historical context, it’s exactly the same rise (170 to 175) Sprinter Sacre received after beating Un De Sceaux to claim his second Champion Chase in 2016.
The question that remains is can Altior now go on and achieve the sort of figures his now-retired stable companion did in his pomp. Given Sprinter Sacre got to 188, that looks highly unlikely, but a step up in distance to two and a half miles may now be on the agenda which could open up more avenues for him next season.
It seems an awful long time ago that connections of Presenting Percy were kicking up a storm over his Pertemps Final mark of 146, but a lot can happen in a year and trainer Pat Kelly now has a potential Gold Cup horse on his hands following a seven-length RSA Chase victory. The seven-year-old is up to 164 which still leaves him 10lb shy of Native River’s new mark (see below), though he’s clearly in love with Prestbury Park and looks set for a light campaign before returning here next March.
Samcro lived up to all the hype in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle though he seemingly didn’t blow many people away quite as expected and a 3lb rise from the 155 figure he achieved in the Deloitte is a realistic assessment.
He beat the 150-rated duo Black Op and Next Destination two and three-quarter lengths and five lengths, so there’s no crabbing the form whatsoever and it’s hoped he maintains this level into Punchestown before going chasing next term.
Cross Country hero Tiger Roll joins Rathvinden – along with Anibale Fly (9lb), Bellshill (7lb) and Shantou Flyer (5lb) - as one of the horses officially well-in for the Grand National and the eight-year-old could hardly have been more impressive, despite drifting in the betting on account of the soft ground.
Most of his previous career wins had come on a decent surface and he could be lethal around Aintree if getting into a rhythm early on. He’s now 2lb ahead of Phil Smith’s previous mark, though Gordon Elliott has yet to fully commit him to the race and the trainer has other bullets to fire including last year’s second Cause Of Causes, who was hampered early in the Cross Country and eventually pulled-up.
Winners’ ratings - Thursday
JLT Novices' Chase - Shattered Love up 10lb to 153*
Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Final - Delta Work up 4lb to 145*
Ryanair Chase - Balko Des Flos up 5lb to 169*
Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle - Penhill up 14lb to 164*
Brown Advisory Plate - The Storyteller up 8lb to 155*
Trull House Mares' Novices' Hurdle - Laurina up 6lb to 150*
Kim Muir Handicap Chase - Missed Approach up 8lb to 146
* denotes Irish rating
Thursday produced some sensational performances and none more so that Penhill, who defied a layoff of more than 11 months to land the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdles for Willie Mullins, who was winning the race for the second year in succession.
Penhill proved quite easy to back and was sent off 12/1 in part due to the weight of money for favourite Sam Spinner, but the race surprisingly turned into a bit of a mad dash from the top of the hill on the second circuit and Penhill’s Flat speed came to the fore. He'd beaten Monalee in last year’s Albert Bartlett as a novice so the form was in the book and his trainer’s ability to ready horses after a break should never be questioned.
Penhill goes up a whopping stone in the ratings to 164 though that’s still 10lb lower than the mark achieved by Thistlecrack a couple of years ago.
Runner-up Supasundae is up 1lb to 164 as well and while some may argue the second still has a question to answer at the trip, better ground would offer him every chance of reversing the form should they meet again before the season’s out.
Laurina’s rise from 144 to 150 is a stab in the dark to some degree as she clearly wasn’t extended in beating her Mares' Novices’ Hurdle rivals by 18 lengths and more. She’s won three times by an aggregate distance of 44 lengths since joining Mullins from France and given she’d have received 7lb in the Sky Bet Supreme, she emerges marginally better than the opening race winner Summerville Boy on the figures.
On the subject of sex allowance, Shattered Love capitalised on hers in the JLT Novices’ Chase and in so doing took her chasing record to 5-6 including wins at Grade Three and Grade One level in Ireland during December. She’s particularly versatile but had won at three miles over Christmas and her stamina really kicked in after tackling runner-up Terrefort, who ran right up to form and was in fact edged up 2lb himself in defeat.
They are a pair of promising novices and Shattered Love could easily develop into a contender for next year’s Ryanair Chase, by which point Gigginstown will be bidding for successive victories in their race after Balko Des Flos delivered on Thursday.
This had a ‘changing of the guard’ feel to it with Cue Card pulling up after a series of mistakes and Un De Sceaux readily brushed aside in a similar manner as to when Sprinter Sacre won his second Queen Mother two years ago.
Balko Des Flos was a fine second to Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase (formerly the Lexus) at Leopardstown and looks worth more chances over staying trips though he’s yet to win from four career starts over three miles-plus, including at Cheltenham and Aintree in his novice hurdle campaign.
Missed Approach deserves significant credit for fending off Mall Dini and Squouateur in the Kim Muir and in spite of an 8lb rise remains 2lb lower in the weights than his novice season peak. He was eighth in the Scottish National last year and would return to Ayr a stronger horse, arguably in better form, and 2lb lower, if he's aimed north again.
Winners’ ratings - Friday
JCB Triumph Hurdle - Farclas up 10lb to 150*
Randox Health County Hurdle - Mohaayed up 7lb to 146
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle - Kilbricken Storm up 6lb to 149
Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup - Native River up 10lb to 176
Foxhunter Challenge Cup - Pacha Du Polder up 1lb to 139
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle - Blow By Blow up 13lb to 152*
Grand Annual Handicap Chase - Le Prezien up 7lb to 157
* denotes Irish rating
A Gold Cup for the ages, as a spectacle at least, but also a very solid renewal in terms of quality with the front two dominant throughout and earning 10lb and 3lb respective rating rises.
Native River’s new figure of 176 puts him ahead of some of the game’s greats, with Kicking King and Best Mate rated 1lb shy of that mark after Gold Cup victories, though Colin Tizzard’s star stayer isn’t quite up to the level of Long Run (182), Imperial Commander (185), Denman (182) or Kauto Star (179 & 186).
Might Bite was on the winner’s shoulder just about every step of the way, matching him in the jumping department, and according to Nico de Boinville did take a slight lead at the last.
But Native River – winner of the Hennessy and Coral Welsh National, among other races, last season – was better suited by the sticky incline to the line and was good value for his four and a half length victory as the runner-up started to paddle.
Might Bite emerges with great credit, more so than when beating Double Shuffle in the King George and it’s slightly surprising he’s now 4lb below his conqueror, having gone into Cheltenham 4lb the better chaser. A rematch on good ground is eagerly awaited.
Of the five Irish-trained handicap winners throughout the week, Blow By Blow went up the most in the weights after turning the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle into a procession.
Victory in this race has been coming for the hugely talented conditional rider Donagh Meyler, who was sixth on Urano for Willie Mullins in 2016, third last year on Runfordave, and right on the money with a front-running ride on Gordon Elliott’s Blow By Blow this time around.
He looks every inch a chaser and having beaten Moon Racer in a top-class bumper at Punchestown in April 2016 and contested the Grade One novice won by Next Destination at Naas earlier this year, had enough experience under his belt to make light of his British rating of 144.
He’s up to 152 domestically now and looks a smashing horse for next season if going over fences. In the meantime he looks well up to a return to the top table and shouldn’t be underestimated wherever he goes this spring.
Kilbricken Storm surprised Tizzard in winning the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and it’s possibly not form to trust explicitly. He’s up 6lb to 149 which is still lower than third home Santini and that’s no surprise as the Henderson favourite was seemingly ridden with the future in mind. Santini has still yet to race on good ground and he’s another one to take from Friday with the future in mind.
Triumph Hurdle winner Farclas moves up to 150 but the level of form set in this race doesn’t look insurmountable when it comes to the big juvenile races to come at Aintree and Punchestown. Perhaps something will emerge from Wednesday’s Fred Winter, with the first three home, Veneer Of Charm (134), Style De Garde (142) and Nube Negra (139) not a million miles off striking distance when it comes to bridging the gap from handicap to Graded race.
Down but not out...
Divin Bere down 3lb to 138
Divin Bere looked of interest at Newbury after being dropped 4lb for his comeback run, and again at Cheltenham having been dropped 3lb for his Newbury run, so he must be monitored very closely after another 3lb ease in the weights. He's now pulled-up on his last two starts and only beat three home at Ascot prior to that, but he's a much better horse on good ground and just hasn't had his conditions all season. He was beaten a neck by Flying Tiger in last year's Fred Winter and is now 1lb lower than that mark.
Vaniteux down 4lb to 147
If you've given up on Vaniteux many moons ago, then I feel your pain but the Pipes were presumably hoping they'd laid him out for a good ground Grand Annual and it just didn't happen for all concerned. He was 7/1 antepost favourite a week before the race and went off 16/1, which says it all, and having undergone a wind operation during the winter, he's worth another chance, especially having now dropped below 150 to 147. He's now 11lb lower than at the start of the season and may just be worth one more roll of the dice.
Burbank down 1lb to 142
William Henry caught the eye in fourth in the Coral Cup and would have gone close but for repeatedly hanging to his right, but he's not been missed and edged up in the weights, whereas his stablemate Burbank is eased 1lb. He was fourth to Willoughby Court in last year's Neptune and has gradually come back to the boil this term. He was bang there behind the leaders just before the turn for home and just got tired on the bad ground up the straight. A mark of 142 could be dangerous, with Ayr and Aintree - two courses he's been to before - looking likely spring options.