What we learned from the weekend: 4th & 5th February…

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Top Notch. Needs to banish the Scilly Isles to Cheltenham hoodoo…

A quiet enough weekend on the jumping front, albeit there were certainly a few Cheltenham contenders flexing their equine muscles up and down the country, as well as a sprinkling having a bit of a tune up across the Irish Sea.

The ever reliable and domineering Douvan was the star attraction as he ticked off another victory on his way to the festival in March, where he will be gunning for his third Cheltenham victory on the bounce. In his current form he is simply unbeatable. There are no two ways about it. He already has eight G1’s on his CV in what has been an unbeaten 15 from 15 for Willie Mullins and only a bomb could stop him at the minute! I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to mark him up as a bit of a ‘Frankel of the jumps’…

Perhaps the most interesting runner of the weekend, however, was Buveur D’Air, who was aborting his chasing campaign to switch back to hurdling, with the Champion Hurdle firmly in his sights. He did the job in fine fashion at Sandown although it’s hard to accurately gauge the run as he clearly wasn’t pushed too hard by his jockey Barry Geraghty, who was keen to get to know him better rather than to gun him all out for victory. There’s no doubt he’s a talented beast, no doubt at all, but it’s very unusual for the Champion Hurdle winner to have previously run over fences, indeed none of the last 20 winners (at least) had been over fences prior to winning the big one…hmmm…

The Champion Hurdle is nothing if not a fascinating muddle of a puzzle this term…

But that’s all to come and firstly we need to wrap up a few more of the noteworthy points from the weekend just past, in the latest version of ‘What we learned from the weekend’…

What we learned from the weekend: 4th & 5th February…

 

1. TOP NOTCH needs to bury the Scilly Isles/Cheltenham hoodoo if he is to succeed at the festival…

First up I have to say how impressed I was with the ‘wee man’ at the weekend. He was beautifully neat and nimble at his fences and shrugged off the fact that he was dwarfed by his opposition to open his Grade 1 account in style, with a 5L victory in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase. He may be small for a chaser but he puts that to good use with his nimbleness and he undoubtedly holds a fair splash of class as well.

He’s getting better with each run over the larger obstacles and his name fully deserves to be in the mix when the spring novice grade 1’s are being discussed.

However…

If he is to succeed at Cheltenham in March he has to put a 20 year hoodoo to bed…

NONE of the last twenty winners of the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase have gone on to back up the win with victory at that year’s Cheltenham Festival.

Not all 20 have tried to be fair although 16 of the last 20 have tried to back up their Scilly Isles victory by landing a Cheltenham pot the following month and they’ve returned the following form line…

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0 from 16 and only two scrapping into the places…

That’s clearly not a great pointer for little Top Notch, not great at all.

In fact if you look closer at Top Notch’s form you see he is yet to win at Cheltenham from three previous starts (form figures of 255), although the 2nd was a very close 2nd in the 2015 Triumph Hurdle.

I’m not actually sure he has the ideal proportions to make an impact over the Cheltenham fences either although, at the minute, that’s clearly guess work as he’s yet to tackle them and plenty thought the same about him and the Sandown fences.

I like this horse, I really do, no horse impressed me more last weekend (Douvan not counted) and I would be shocked should he not land more top races over fences, but I have to say the signs of him repeating his Scilly Isles win at Cheltenham don’t look promising. He’ll need to bust that 20 year hoodoo against the best chaser’s he’s faced and at a track he’s yet to win at…

I’m not conclusively saying he can’t win at the Festival in March but there’s certainly a few things hinting that he won’t win and that he’s got a bit of a job on his hands…

It will be a tough task for little Top to get another Notch on his G1 bedpost at the Festival…

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2. When Victor Dartnall makes the 16 hour+ round-trip to Scotland we all need to sit up and take notice…

As a Scotsman that currently lives in England-shire and has to make an 8 hour+ journey to see the relatives, I can personally vouch that it’s a trip you only take if it’s going to be worthwhile!

When Victor Dartnall takes the long-haul trip north of the border, like he did on Saturday with Edinburgh National winner Dancing Shadow, our antenna simply have to start twitching.

Since 2007 Dartnall has crossed the border 35 times with a raiding party and on 12 of those occasions he’s returned with the fully booty.

Here are his Scottish raiding figures…

12/35 | 34% S/R | +£21.88 BFLSP – Win & Place 22/35 | 63% S/R

Clearly he’s not going just to stretch his legs!

Interestingly 34 of those 35 runners have come at Perth (another hour and a half up the road from Musselburgh). Prior to Saturday he had ignored the other tracks and only targeted the most northerly racecourse in the country when gunning it to Scotland.

Maybe this first win north of the border away from Perth will tempt him to try a few more raids at the other tracks? If it does I’ll certainly be giving his runners more than a brief glance. Indeed it has been mooted that Saturday’s Edinburgh National winner Dancing Shadow will now be aimed at the Scottish National at Ayr in April. Victor is looking ready and willing to widen his Scottish raiding party even further…

Keep a very close eye on those Dartnall Scottish raiders, he may just be tempted to make it a regular thing…

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3. Charlie Longsdon is another that enjoys his raids north of the border…

…well Musselburgh, anyway.

Five runners at the two day meeting at the weekend returned the following form line…

13411 (3/5)

They also pulled in a handy +£17.76 BFLSP.

And that wasn’t a one-off either.

Since 2012 Longsdon has the following figures at the Edinburgh track…

7/23 | 30% S/R | +£24.19 BFLSP – Win & Place 13/23 | 57% S/R

Strangely enough, however, his raiders at the others Scottish tracks have failed to hit the mark.

He is 0/7, 0 places at Ayr, 0/7, 1 place at Kelso and 0/5, 0 places at Perth. They have not, so far, been happy hunting grounds.

Of his five runners last weekend it was the royally owned FORTH BRIDGE that mostly caught my eye.

There was a lot to like about his effort when winning the Listed Juvenile event on Saturday and the way he battled and scrapped away when passed was deeply impressive. He’s done precious wrong since going over hurdles this term but his full potential will surely be unlocked once he goes over fences.

He already makes the shape of an embryonic chaser at his flights and is one to keep in the notebook for when he goes over the larger obstacles, which will almost certainly be next season.

He looks an exciting prospect…

Musselburgh, Forth Bridge, Charlie Longsdon, The Queen…what’s not to like!

 

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Stats sourced from the excellent Proform Database

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