Things We Learned » Novice ratings

Novice ratings

It is common knowledge by now that you need a classy ex-hurdler on your side if you are going to win the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham in March.

It is an uncanny phenomenon, how strong an impact hurdles ratings have on the result of the Arkle. Eleven of the last 12 renewals of the novice chasers’ championship race have been won by horses who were rated 142 or higher over hurdles. Last March, only four runners in the Arkle had achieved that rating over hurdles, and three of them finished in the first four. In 2010, the two highest-rated hurdlers finished first and third, in 2009 only three runners were rated 142 or higher and one of them won, while in 2008 just four of the 14 runners were rated 142 or more and three of them filled the first three places.

This year, on the basis of hurdles ratings, you would be forgiven for thinking that Peddlers Cross, rated 170 over hurdles, was by far the most likely winner of the Arkle at this stage, and that his only dangers were Menorah and Solwhit (hopefully he will recover from his setback on time), both rated 162 over the smaller obstacles.

All three are huge players, and we know that the first-named pair jump fences really well, but this is one of the classiest group of novice chasers that we have seen in years, and you shouldn’t go ruling out Al Ferof on ratings alone. True, he achieved a rating of just 154 over hurdles, 16lb lower than Peddlers Cross’s, but he only had one season and five goes jumping hurdles. He would almost certainly have gone significantly higher had he been left at it for another term.

To put his hurdles rating into context, at the end of their respective novice hurdling seasons, Peddlers Cross and Menorah were both rated 151, actually 3lb inferior to Al Ferof. And we know now that Al Ferof can jump fences as well.


Speaking of phenomena, if he wasn’t a racehorse, and if his name hadn’t already been assigned (to Ronaldo, incidentally, the original one, not the Christiano one), then he would probably be the next teenage Italian soccer sensation, but signs are that Il Fenomeno (the racehorse) could yet live up to his name (The Phenomenon, presumably).

Early market posturing before the Grade 3 For Auction Hurdle at Navan on Sunday suggested that Dylan Ross was the better-fancied of Noel Meade’s two representatives, but the weight of money for the Gigginstown House horse squeezed him past his stable companion to claim the favourite’s armband before the off, and they finished in market order, the pair of them clear of their four rivals.

Meade has been speaking in glowing terms about the Clogherhead-owned Dylan Ross for a little while now, and the fact that he didn’t drift a jot in the face of sustained support for his stablemate suggests that the Dreadnots boys still have an exciting horse on their hands. Also, the form of his easy maiden hurdle win at Fairyhouse last month is looking even stronger now since the runner-up, Savello, won his own maiden at Wexford two weeks later, and since the third horse, Reizovic, won his at Naas on Saturday.

Dylan Ross was second best on Saturday, however, although time may tell that there was no disgrace in that.

Tight track

It can’t be easy, managing Cheltenham’s terrain, with its New Course and its Old Course and its cross-country course, and its October meeting and its November meeting and its December meeting, and that’s before its January meeting. However, you have to think that they could have found a little more space for the hurdles track at the weekend.

The decision to limit the width of the track to six hurdles in the home straight was a strange one, especially on Sunday, given that there was a 24-runner handicap hurdle on the card. It was only six hurdles wide for the same meeting last year, but there were just 17 runners in the Greatwood Hurdle then – the field was 41% larger on Sunday.

The final flight was seven hurdles wide for last year’s Champion Hurdle, as it was for the 2009 Greatwood Hurdle meeting, and as it should have been for this year’s meeting. Another hurdle would probably have eased the traffic problems that Olofi and Moon Dice encountered on the run to the final flight, when it all got a bit congested. The saving of one hurdle-width of ground couldn’t have been that crucial, could it?

Lambro VI

Making his debut over fences and competing over a trip that was almost certainly well shy of his optimum, Lambro was most impressive in beating the useful Shinrock Paddy at Naas on Saturday, the pair of them finishing clear of another useful performer in Stonemaster. Still just six years old, Willie Mullins’s gelding looks set to rock.

King George watch

If you are thinking of having an ante post bet on the King George, best to place it before racing today. King George favourite Long Run is set to make his re-appearance in the Betfair Chase at Haydock this afternoon, where he will meet fifth favourite Kauto Star and seventh favourite Weird Al, while second, third and fourth in the King George betting, respectively Captain Chris, Master Minded and Somersby, are set to take each other on in the Amlin Chase at Ascot. We are probably going to be looking at a much-altered King George market this evening.

© The Irish Field, 19th November 2011