Horses To Follow » Madison Du Berlais

Madison Du Berlais

It is still difficult to be certain how to rate Madison Du Berlais’s demolition of Denman and company in the Levy Board Chase at Kempton last Saturday. You can make excuses for Denman. Paul Nicholls said that he would never run him in a King George, that Kempton simply was not his track, and it isn’t. For starters, it is right-handed. All of Denman’s nine wins over fences have been at left-handed tracks with the exception of his debut, when he was singularly unimpressive in beating Penzance at Exeter. Secondly, it is more a speedsters track than Newbury or Cheltenham, where Denman has been so impressive in galloping his would-be rivals into the ground.

You could argue that the 2008 Gold Cup hero will come on for the run, but listening to Nicholls afterwards, and trying to read Ruby Walsh’s body language, it appears that they didn’t think he would improve a great deal. The probability is that the post-fibrillating-heart Denman is not the Denman of old. It may be that when he broke Kauto Star’s heart in the 2008 Gold Cup, he expended so much energy that he has not been able to recover. It is not a coincidence that, bar the freak that was Best Mate, you have to go back to L’Escargot in 1971 to find the last horse to successfully defend his Gold Cup crown.

There is a danger that, with all the attention and column inches that Denman commanded, the quality of the performance of Madison Du Berlais has gone slightly under the radar. When we get an upset like this, victory for a horse rated 23lb inferior to the favourite, we tend to put it down as a fluke, and move on. But it is difficult to move away from this one.

This performance smacked of quality. Looking at the race again, the son of Indian River looked like the most likely winner from long before they left the back straight. He found lots over the final three fences, despite travelling more strongly than ideal in the early stages, and he beat Denman, eased down, by 23 lengths. Furthermore, he beat Albertas Run, the horse that Kauto Star beat by eight lengths in the King George over the same course and distance just six weeks previously, by 48 lengths. Okay, so the ground was softer than ideal for Albertas Run on Saturday, but he was well fancied and well backed, and was he inconvenienced by more than 40 lengths? It’s impossible to say.

The other imponderable is, how has Madison Du Berlais improved from a thoroughly exposed-looking handicap chaser, 29 runs under his girth, to the fringes of the best in the business? Could it be as simple as cheekpieces? The first time he wore them, he won the Hennessy last November, beating a couple of progressive second season chasers in Air Force One and Big Buck’s, the types that have dominated the Hennessy in recent years, and beating them on merit. In so doing, he posted a Racing Post Rating of 163, some 5lb higher than he had ever posted before. The second time he wore them was last Saturday, when he posted a RPR of a screeching 176. That’s Gold Cup standard. When Kauto Star won the Gold Cup, he posted an RPR of 175.

Madison Du Berlais has to be a Gold Cup contender now, and the 14/1 that the Tote offered and the 12/1 that William Hill offered for the Blue Riband directly after the race were quickly snapped up. However, the worry is that he has never been as his best at Cheltenham. In five visits there he has never reached the first two, and all of his best performances to date have been at Newbury, Kempton and Ascot, all relatively flat tracks.

If he wins the Gold Cup, and you have not backed him at the 8/1 that is still freely available, you will probably kick yourself, as that is still a big price for the horse that has produced at least the second best piece of form among all the contenders this year. However, in your guts, you have to think that he is more an Aintree horse than a Cheltenham horse, and the totesport Bowl could be the race for him.

© The Irish Field, 14th February, 2009