Horses To Follow » Whisper


All of the talk after the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las on Saturday concerned the quality of the performance that the winner Saphir Du Rheu put up off a mark of 158, 11lb higher than runner-up Whisper. It is true that it was a big performance by the winner, and that he could easily be a World Hurdle contender were it not for the fact that his owner also owns Big Bucks and Celestial Halo. However, it is possible that the quality of the performance that Whisper put up in running him to a head has gone at least a little under the radar.

Crucially, Whisper was keener than ideal through the early stages of the race. He has displayed that characteristic in the past, so the inevitable sedate early pace was never going to be in his favour. Even so, he picked up nicely from the second last flight and he actually headed long-time leader Saphir Du Rheu on the run to the final flight. He got that obstacle all wrong, however. He clattered through it, losing momentum and expending energy, and it was to his immense credit that he got going again as well as he did to get to within a head of the winner, with the pair of them finishing 19 lengths clear of Grand Vision in third.

Interestingly, Whisper was receiving just 6lb from Saphir Du Rheu, not the 11lb that the handicapper decreed, due to Harry Derham’s 5lb claim, and Harry Derham is really good value for that claim. The runner-up was meeting the winner on 16lb better terms compared to their meeting at Sandown in early December, but Saphir Du Rheu has obviously improved markedly since then, from a 130-rated hurdler with potential to the fringes of World Hurdle contention. But Whisper has also progressed, possibly by more than the 13lb by which the handicapper has raised him since then, including the 6lb that he gave him for Saturday’s run. Saphir Du Rheu is now rated 35lb higher than he was for that Sandown race, including the 7lb by which he was raised for Saturday’s run.

There is a chance that Whisper could fall between two stools now, not quite up to Grade 1 class but too high in the handicap to win a big pot, but there is also a chance that there is a big handicap in him off his current mark of 153. He could be a Coral Cup horse off that mark. He should be better on the better ground that he should get at Cheltenham, and off the stronger pace that he is certain to get. He is only six and he still has scope to progress over hurdles, and his record at Cheltenham reads 413. It is interesting that last year’s Welsh Champion Hurdle winner Medinas followed up in the Coral Cup last year off an 8lb higher mark. Longer term, Whisper could develop into a decent staying chaser.

1st February 2014