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Fairyhouse explodes into action this weekend with no less than 3 Grade One contests at the track on Sunday.
I will be covering all 3 races for my subscribers but to get you all warmed up for what is likely to be an action packed weekend of racing I have asked NTF guest blogger Cathryn Fry to provide some thoughts for us on the intriguing looking Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.
Over to you Cathryn -
This Sunday at Fairyhouse there are three Grade One contests; The Royal Bond Novices Hurdle, The Hatton’s Grace Hurdle & The Drinmore Novices Chase.
I’m taking an in depth look at the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle which is run over a distance of 2m4f and is open to horses of four years of age and upwards. It has held Grade One status since its introduction to the Irish racing calendar in 1994, when it was won by the popular Danoli.
Other past winners include the triple Champion Hurdler Istabraq (Hatton’s Grace winner in 97 & 98) 2006 Champion Hurdler Brave Inca (HG winner in 2006) and reigning Champion Hurdler Hurricane Fly took the race last year. Limestone Lad took the race three times (99, 01 & 02) as did Solerina (03, 04 & 05)
The UK has been responsible for one winner in the history of the race; Large Action in 1996.
At the five day stage, seven horses remain out of an original entry of 19.
Final Approach 143 (11-10) One of four horses in the field trained by Willie Mullins. Last seen finishing fifth to stablemate Thousand Stars in the French Champion Hurdle, which was one place ahead of David Pipe’s exciting novice chaser Grands Crus. He had previously won the MCR Hurdle at Leopardstown and The County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Smart and still open to any amount of improvement but is realistically up against it here on what we have seen so far and the form of his opposition. However, there are more big prizes to be taken with this horse.
Mikal D’haguenet 150 (11-10) Hailing from team Mullins, looked to have the world at his feet when winning the Ballymore Properties Hurdle (now the Neptune) at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival then the Champion Novice Hurdle at the 2009 Punchestown Festival. Missed a season through injury in 2009/10, then last season embarked on a chasing campaign that didn’t really go to plan. Ended last season with an 8th place finish behind stablemate Quevega in the World Series Hurdle. Signs of a return to form when 3rd to Voler La Vedette in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan last time out. One day soon this horse is going to bolt up in a good race, probably not Sunday but his ability remains for sure. He will be one to watch on Sunday with the rest of the season in mind.
Mourad 160 (11-10) Another from team Mullins. Has top class form at the highest level; 4th in the French Champion Hurdle to Thousand Stars, 2nd in the World Series Hurdle to Quevega, 3rd to Big Bucks in the World Hurdle. Prior to all that, he won the Grade Two Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park. The 2m4f may just find him wanting a little nowadays but he will be involved. He was a course & distance winner on heavy ground in 2010. Finished fourth in this race last year and one assumes he is on the same path to the World Hurdle again. If it were not for Big Bucks I am convinced this fellow would be a World Hurdler. Thoroughly consistent he has never finished out of the first four in all NH starts. Currently 2nd favourite for this race behind stablemate Thousand Stars.
The Real Article 154 (11-10) Caused controversy when tenderly handled in second place behind Captain Cee Bee at Tipperary in the summer, then finished fourth to Moon Dice in the Galway Hurdle. Has since won two Grade Two contests in good style. Fully deserves this chance in Grade One company. It would be no surprise to see him win this and I am quietly confident we will see him fill a place in the Champion Hurdle in March. Acts on any ground and has never been out of the first four places in all his NH starts.
Thousand Stars 164 (11-10) Without a doubt the first string of Willie Mullins. Favourite for this race and the most likely winner. Tough, versatile, acts on any ground and over a variety of distances. Winner of the French Champion Hurdle & took the Morgiana Hurdle in style last time out. Has also won a County Hurdle and finished fourth in last year’s Champion Hurdle. Top class and seemingly in the form of his life, I cannot readily oppose him here.
Voler La Vedette 151 (11-3) Course & distance winner in April. Won the Grade Two Lismullen Hurdle at Navan last time out in easy fashion, 4th to Quevega in the World Series Hurdle at Punchestown and won the Boyne Hurdle at Navan last season. Was 3rd to Hurricane Fly in this race last year and she will more than likely fill a place again. Gets a 7lb mare’s allowance, acts on any ground and is very tough.
Unaccompanied 142 (10-13) Stylish winner of the Grade One Spring Juvenile at Leopardstown in February, then finished 2nd to Zarkandar in the Triumph Hurdle in a very high class renewal of that race. Runs under both codes and beat St Nicholas Abbey on the level at the Curragh in April. Was over the top when 4th to Grandouet at Punchestown in May. Easily beat Sailors Warn in a listed race at Naas last time out. Being a four year old she is in receipt of the 4lb age allowance and receives an additional 7lb mare’s allowance.
Verdict: I feel Thousand Stars will take all the beating; he is at the peak of his career. However I am extremely interested to see how The Real Article and Unaccompanied perform here.
@cathrynfry on Twitter
Cathryn has been a regular contributor to the fabulous JP Festival blog for some time now and you can view a selection of her writing talents by visiting jpfestival.com
Happy Punting – Ben (NTF)
Despite the Hennessy Gold Cup hogging most of the headlines this weekend (with a splash of Big Bucks and Overturn thrown in for good measure!) there were other races taking place, with plenty of runners catching my beady eye.
Here are 3 that I consider worthy of following in the coming months -
SYDNEY PAGET (D McCain) – 1.55 Bangor – Saturday – 1st in the 2m4f Novice Hurdle
This 4yo followed up his easy Carlisle bumper win with a taking victory here on his hurdling debut. He looks an easy travelling sort but it was the way he knuckled down when the runner-up started to come back at him in the final furlong that mostly made an impression on me. Admittedly this could be a long term ‘to follow’ horse as I would expect him to make into a markedly better chaser than a hurdler (a sentiment echoed by Donald McCain), however, he looks the sort to come on for his first outing over timber and he could well pick up a couple more hurdle victories this season. He is by Flemensfirth so future hurdle success is not out of the question but again this would be another pointer towards a promising chasing career, probably next term after this educational season over the smaller obstacles.
CALL THE POLICE (W Mullins) – 2.30 Gowran – Saturday – 1st in the 2m4f Beginners Chase
A thoroughly pleasing and accomplished chasing debut from the Willie Mullins inmate and he quickly put the race to bed once jockey Paul Townend asked him to go on and win it. He is an 8yo so I would expect them to push on with this lightly raced Accordion gelding, with Mullins already signaling a Grade 2 at Limerick as his next port of call. He hardly put a foot wrong in this contest and the return to a softer surface could be the key to this one. He went to Cheltenham as a relatively hot favourite for the Coral Cup but ran no sort of race and then ended the season at Punchestown in another valuable handicap hurdle where this time he finished pulled-up. Both of those runs were on good ground and were by far the worst performances of his career. Assuming he gets his preferred soft/heavy ground over the winter (its a fair bet he will!!) then he can add a couple more Novice Chases to his CV before the ground begins to dry out in the spring.
AIKMAN (J Ewart) – 12.00 Newcastle – Saturday – 3rd in the 3m Limited Handicap Novices’ Chase
For all this was a disappointing run the conditions were never likely to suit him here. In fact his 3 chase starts to date have all been tricky assignments in one way or another. His Chase debut at Carlisle over 2 miles was patently on the sharp side for him, his next start at the same track in a graduation chase saw him meet the 149 rated SARANDO who already had a novice chase season under his belt (including a 1/4 length defeat in a Grade 2 novice chase) and then on Saturday he was forced to give weight away on a track that would hardly have suited him. James Ewart has pinpointed right-handed – flat tracks (Kempton, Huntingdon…) as being ideal so it was no surprise to see Aikman struggling here when push came to shove. I imagine plenty of people will be writing the 7yo off after his less than exhilarating chase runs but he still remains of plenty interest to me for when he gets his ideal conditions, for all he may not quite make into the potent weapon he was once considered.
Did any runners catch your eye over the weekend?
Drop me a comment below with your own eye-catchers.
As promised once I had picked my way through my copy of new racing publication ‘Talking Irish Horses‘ I would share my thoughts with NTF readers.
The first thing that struck me about this book was the amount of work that had gone into it. The authors had visited 15 of the top Irish National Hunt Trainers over the summer and eked out bundles of info about an array of jumping talent that resided within each and every stable.
The info provided inside the publication means it’s one of those books that you can dive in and out of at leisure, something I particularly enjoy, and you can refer back to it throughout the season either before or after a horse has run to dissect the trainers opinion on any given horse.
There is a particularly fascinating article with the Irish handicapper, Noel O’Brien, as well interviews with jockey Andrew McNamara and trainer John ‘Shark’ Hanlon, hopefully this is an area of the book they will explore further in future editions of the book as this adds good depth to the publication.
The authors also explore the world of syndicates and again this is an interesting section of the book and makes for good reading.
Although the main bulk of the book does concentrate on the stable visits there is plenty of other chapters and articles of interest and overall this makes for an informative read and one that will hopefully point towards at least a couple of nice priced winners over the Irish Sea.
A very solid attempt for the first edition of ‘Talking Irish Horses‘ and one they can built on for future editions of the book - an NTF rating of 8 out of 10.
Now that the dust has begun to settle on yesterday’s Hennessy Gold Cup what conclusions does the result bring to the fore?
A less than vintage renewal? The front 3 were all, to a certain extend, exposed individuals and it has to be deemed disappointing that none of last season’s novice chasers managed to make much of an impact. Taking nothing away, however, from the tough CARRUTHERS as I’m sure very few people begrudge him his time in the limelight.
Are last season’s novice chasers overrated? Quite possibly. It’s certainly unusual for most/all to run below expectation and surely they can’t have all run below form? Can they? I wouldn’t be writing any of them off (completely) but you would be hard pushed to make a strong case for any of the 2nd season chasers running in yesterdays race to go on and give Long Run and co. a serious scare in the Gold Cup/King George.
Here is my full review off all 18 runners in yesterdays prestigious Grade 3 handicap chase -
1st – CARRUTHERS (M Bradstock) – Fabulous to see him win the race but he will surely be put back up to a mark that will see him struggle in handicaps and he has proven in the past that he just isn’t quite up to the Grade in the top conditions races. This was his first win outside of a single figure field since his second ever racecourse appearance (novice hurdle at Chepstow) so on that angle I was slightly surprised to see him fend off numerous challengers and still run out a comfortable winner. Future success probably rests with connections finding a small field Graded Chase where he can boss his field although he is likely to run with credit in some top handicaps without getting his head in front.
2nd – PLANET OF SOUND (P Hobbs) – A big run at a track he loves and the breathing op he recently underwent obviously had the desired effect. It’s debatable if he really is a 160+ rated individual (ran off 158 yesterday) but he deserves to have another crack in Graded company. There is talk of a tilt at the Aintree Grand National although he doesn’t strike me as an obvious sort for that test.
3rd – FAIR ALONG (P Hobbs) – I had him down as potentially starting to become a tad quirky and he didn’t look over-keen before and during the early stages of yesterdays race. He finished with an absolute rattle and although he is a classy horse in his own right its his 3rd place finish that has me doubting the form of this race. He is a 9yo with 40 National Hunt starts to his name and although it can be argued he was well treated on his best form it must be deemed disappointing that he finished someway ahead of the 2nd season chasers. His run in itself was strange – front to back followed by numerous errors then back to the front again – and the fact he was able to run like that and still finish 3rd must be a worry for the others.
4th – GREAT ENDEAVOUR (D Pipe) – Did he stay or did he not? Well he certainly stayed better than 14 others in the race! I’m not a fan of a horse being held up out the back in order to ‘improve its chances of staying the longer trip’. If it is going to stay further it will have just as much chance by riding it in its normal style. I would have prefered to have seen Great Endeavour ‘in the van’ most of the way rather than bobbing along out the back ‘preserving his stamina’. I’m not convinced the tank was empty when Murphy went to challenge and getting beat 5 lengths by Carruthers (giving the winner 5lbs) does not scream ‘non-stayer’ to me. I thought this was a good performance and would personally like to see him in something like the Pillar Chase (whatever it is called this season!) ridden in his normal style, then we can maybe take a better assesment of his staying capablities. On pedigree I give him a decent chance of staying a trip and yesterday has done nothing to dampen that.
5th – BESHABAR (T Vaughan) – A decent performance on his seasonal return and kept plugging on well to the line. The National seems to be the long term plan and although he has the size and scope to jump the Aintree fences he did scew over a couple of his jumps yesterday and that is a slight concern for when tackling the demanding National obstacles. He isn’t a bad jumper by any stretch but a couple of ‘awkward’ jumps over something like Bechers or the Chair could spell disaster.
6th – WYMOTT (D McCain) – A decent run from the 7yo on ground he probably would not have enjoyed. He never really looked like getting involved at the business end but providing he doesn’t get moved up the handicap (no reason he should) then there could well be a valuable handicap in him somewhere throughout the winter. Whether he is any better than a decent handicapper remains to be seen.
7th – THE GIANT BOLSTER (D Bridgewater) – A fluent enough round from the 6yo, however, I can’t help but feel he isn’t quite good enough for races such as this.
8th – BLAZING BAILEY (A King) – Decent enough performance but probably stuck a bit in no-mans-land off his current mark. Hard to see where they go with him this season.
9th – TULLAMORE DEW (N Gifford) – The step up in trip should have suited but I still doubt if he is up to this level. Races in him somewhere but not in races like this.
10th – MICHEL LE BON (P Nicholls) – Ran well for a very long way and one can’t help but feel the 8yo will improve bundles for this experience. Essentially this was a ‘learning on the job’ run and it was pleasing to see him quickly recover from the couple of errors he made. Ultimately he faded when push came to shove but it would have been an astronomical training performance should Paul Nicholls have got this one into the winners enclosure. He remains of considerable interest for the rest of the season.
11th – AITEEN THIRTYTHREE (P Nicholls) – They way he seemingly emptied in the home-straight was disappointing and this goes down as a poor run in my book. He was exuberant yet smooth at plenty of his jumps and although he was fiddly at a couple of fences he was essentially jumping well. It could be that this trip was on the short side for him and races such as the Welsh National, Scottish National and perhaps even the Aintree National may be where his future sits although they way he wilted after 3 out was far from encouraging.
12th – BALTHAZAR KING (P Hobbs) – Outclassed and it showed.
13th – MUIRHEAD (N Meade) – Never really looked in contention and generally been a tricky customer at varying stages of his career. Wouldn’t be in a huge rush to back him off his current mark, even though he is a few lbs below his hurdle mark still.
14th – QHILIMAR (C Longsdon) – Outclassed and never a factor.
PU – NEPTUNE COLLONGES (P Nicholls) – Seems to sulk if he doesn’t get a lead these days and that looked to be the case here. He’s basically needs to be able to dominate his field (see last seasons victory at Cheltenham) and I wouldn’t read too much into this performance.
PU – BILLIE MAGERN (N Twiston-Davies) – Another that probably needs to dominate smaller fields.
PU – WAYWARD PRINCE (I Williams) – Never in the race and jumping looked scrappy. He should come on for this run although he may prove hard to place this term.
F – SARANDO (P Webber) – Was still in the thick of the action when coming down so hard to really assess his performance. Potentially more to come but would be surprised to see him make a serious impact outwith handicap company.
CARRUTHERS, PLANET OF SOUND and FAIR ALONG are along decent horse in their own right but the lack of a strong showing from the second season chasers is a concern.
Will this renewal provide a plethora of future winners? The jury is very much out for me.
What was your take on yesterdays proceedings?
Leave your thoughts in the comments box below.
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Those of you that signed up to the free NTF updates list will have been able to download the ‘NTF 2011/12 to follow list’ as part of the free guide package you will have received on sign-up. To date 10 of the 15 horses on the list have taken to the track and I thought it would be a good idea to take a closer look at how they have performed and what I think the rest of the season holds for them.
NOBLE ALAN (N Richards) – Form since list was published – UR
As I mentioned after his Paddy Power Gold Cup un-seat I’m still of the opinion he has a big race in him, especially off his mark of 142. Yes, he is starting to get as many letters as he is numbers in his form figures but the way he jumps and travels gives me plenty of hope that he will pick up a decent race at some stage.
CINDERS AND ASHES (D McCain) – 2
A very pleasing debut for the horse at Ascot and hopefully he can build on this. He remains very exciting for the remainder of the season.
MONTBAZON (A King) – 3
Plenty were quick to crab the horse after being beaten on his seasonal debut but I personally thought it was a solid run. King admitted afterwards that the horses wasn’t as fit as he would have liked and he did seem to ‘blow-up’ when he met the formidable Cheltenham hill. I would expect him to move on from that run and he still remains of interest for his hurdling career.
GRANDIOSO (P Nicholls) – 3
Another that made a pleasing seasonal debut, on ground that maybe was not quite soft enough for him. Long term I imagine him to be a chaser but with his seasonal debut under his belt I expect Paul Nicholls to find at least a couple of opportunities for him very soon.
DARNA (K Bailey) – 0-1
Bit of a swerve ball this one as I had him down as a hurdler on a good mark for this season. He started this season in a competitive handicap at Chepstow, travelled well then simply ran out of steam. Next up, however, he appears in a novice chase at Lingfield! He duly won this after hot favourite Kid Cassidy crashed out when 18 lengths up although its probably fair to say he would have been booked for a clear second had the Henderson horse stayed on his feet. Connections admitted after the race that he was only in the race for an ‘educational’ run (sure that’s not allowed but anyway…..) and I have to admit he jumped solidly on chasing debut. He still remains of interest now he is chasing although plans for him do seem a tad unclear and I’m not completely sure what route he may end up taking this term. Could be one for handicaps later in the season….
BARNEY COOL (D Pipe) – 5
Made his seasonal debut on soft ground at Chepstow and he really didn’t seem to enjoy the mud flying. An average return but I would deduce from that performance that he isn’t a horse to get stuck onto when there is significant cur in the ground.
GRANDS CRUS (D Pipe) – 1-1
2 from 2 over fences and basically has done very little wrong. Good to see that Pipe isn’t running and hiding with his stable star and he will have picked up plenty experience from his 2 chase starts to date. I do have a feeling that he may just be better over 2m4f/5f trips as he may settle better over the shorter distances and I see his change of gear and high cruising speed being more of a potent weapon than his stamina capabilities. Ryanair candidate rather than a Gold Cup candidate next year maybe?
SONOFVIC (P Nicholls) – 2
Set a tough task today on his chasing debut being pitched into a Grade 2 against the aforementioned Grands Crus, however, he didn’t shirk from the task in hand and pushed Grands Crus as much as could have been expected on his first fencing start. There was a lot to like about this run and I have a feeling that if the 2 meet in the RSA Chase SONOFVIC could well out-battle the Pipe horse up the Cheltenham hill; I expect SONOFVIC to come on leaps and bounds from this run.
SILVINIACO CONTI (P Nicholls) – 3-1
The jumping of this 5yo has been what has impressed me the most in his transition to fences. He was beaten on his chasing debut at Chepstow, however, that race turned into a bit of a sprint and that would not have suited this lad. Should be more races in this one.
TORNADO BOB (D McCain) - F
I thought he jumped the first few fences well enough on his chasing debut but then it slowly started to fall apart and ended with a heavy and rather odd looking fall. I would imagine it will be back to the schooling grounds for this one and I wouldn’t consider backing him until I’ve seen a better round of jumping under his belt.
There are 5 horses on the list that have not run since I released the ‘to follow’ guide and if you want to see who they are, along with a full explanation as to why they are on the list, then simply pop your name and email in the sign-up box on the right hand side of the site and you will gain acces to the 6 page report. You will also gain access to a clutch of other guides that you can download for free and utilise.
To follow lists can be tricky at the best of times and you have to be prepared for your selections to go in completly the opposite direction to what you expected. So far most on my list are roughly heading in the expected direction (except DARNA) and I would be hopeful a number of them will progress suitably from there first runs of the season.
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Well what a weekend of racing that was! Kauto Star jumping his younger rivals into the ground at Haydock eclipsed everything else and further cemented his legendary status in the National Hunt game. If the powers that be don’t take advantage of L’Extraterrestre’s heroics this weekend to promote our great sport to the wider world then they will be missing the greatest marketing gift they are likely to receive for a long long time.
Lest we forget, however, there was plenty of other action taking place over the weekend and here are just 3 horses that caught my eye -
WYSE HILL TEABAGS (J Goldie) – 2nd in the 2m4f handicap hurdle at Haydock – 12.50 Saturday
A battling performance on seasonal debut from Jim Goldie’s 6yo hurdler and the ding-dong battle down the Haydock home-straight with the high class ANY GIVEN DAY was pleasing to watch. A strong field lined up for this Class 2 event but a majority of them struggled to lay a finger on the front-running WYSE HILL TEABAGS. His hurdling record to date reads 3-1-3-1-3-2 and on this performance (he recorded his best RPR to date and his best Proform speed figure) its safe to say he is still on the up and there is still more improvement to come. There is stamina in his pedigree and it will be interesting to see if Goldie steps him up in trip next time out as I would certainly be more interested in him going over 3 miles than I would be if he were to step back to 2 miles.
DIOCLES (D McCain) – 3rd in the Class 4 Bumper at Haydock – 1.20 Saturday
There was plenty of interest in this fella beforehand due to his debut bumper victory last December (an 8 length romp on the All-Weather at Southwell) and although carrying a penalty here against some eye-catching debutants he still ran a very solid race. He didn’t do his cause any good in the early stages by pulling hard so the fact he was still in there pitching when push came to shove was greatly encouraging. I imagine the freshness will have been blown away after that run and he looks an exciting recruit to the hurdling game, assuming that is his next stop.
KILLYGLEN (S Crawford) – 3rd in the 3m handicap chase at Haydock – 3.40 Saturday
One assumes the National is his seasonal target so one must also assume that connections had left plenty to work on going into this race. Judging by his tame finishing effort I can’t believe he was 100% wound up for this as he certainly would not have lacked for stamina and its not as if he was on an unfavourable handicap mark (far from it in-fact). He travelled and jumped supremely well here and for a moment turning for home he looked to have slipped the field, however, his effort petered out fairly quickly and this again brings me to the assumption he was far from ‘cherry ripe’ for this task; why would you be when the ultimate aim is the Aintree Grand Nationasl in April? For a 9yo the Presenting gelding is relatively lightly raced (this was only his 13th chase start) but we shouldn’t forget he is a Grade 2 winning animal from his novice days (over the Aintree Mildmay fences), he was running a huge race in last years National before tipping up 4 out and he is on a very favourable handicap mark (5lbs lower than the mark he ran off in last years National). It will be interesting to see how he is campaigned from now until April…….
What was your take on the weekends action?
Did any horses catch your eye and go in the notebooks?
Drop a comment below and let me know.
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This is a member’s only post.
Ben Aitken 2011