Horses To Follow » Chapoturgeon


Chapoturgeon ran out a hugely impressive winner of the Jewson Chase at Cheltenham last Thursday. Held up out the back in the early stages by Timmy Murphy, he made his ground through the field going down the back straight, moved in behind the leaders on the run down the hill, and tracked Crescent Island, pulling a train, around the home turn. When Murphy just squeezed him a little on the run to the second last, he picked up noticeably. He got in tight to the second last, but fiddled through it nicely, then picked up and sprinted clear. He flew the last and took off up the hill.

This was a seriously impressive performance from a hugely progressive individual. In its short history, the Jewson Chase has proved to be a useful pointer to the future. Last year, Finger Onthe Pulse won the race, beating Barbers Shop and Possol into second and third. The previous year, subsequent Paddy Power Gold Cup winner L’Antartique won it, while the highly talented Reveillez won it in 2006. This year’s renewal looked strong beforehand and looks even stronger in hindsight. Runner-up Isn’t That Lucky is a really progressive horse of Jonjo O’Neill’s who looked like he had been trained specifically for this race from a long way out, third-placed Crescent Island was rated 140 over hurdles and was coming from the rejuvenated Twiston-Davies yard, while fourth-placed Northern Alliance had got to within six lengths of Arkle fourth Made In Taipan, giving him 6lb, on his previous outing, and had probably been trained for the race as well. And Chapoturgeon routed them.

For his own part, Chapoturgeon came into this race looking like a smart prospect. A nice juvenile hurdler last season, he ran just okay in the Fred Winter Hurdle at the 2008 Cheltenham Festival, but he was lumbered with top weight, and Timmy Murphy understandably chose to ride Ashkazar instead. It looked like he had the race in the bag when long odds-on to beat I Hear A Symphony on his chasing debut at Exeter last October, but he fell at the third last.

It was disappointing at the time that he couldn’t beat Araldur on his next start a week later at Warwick. However, that rival came out and beat Arkle second favourite at the time, Free World, in the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown, and Chapoturgeon himself came out and won easily at Doncaster on his subsequent start. He earned a handicap rating of 135 for that performance, which Paul Nicholls undoubtedly considered lenient, as he put him away after that with the intention of training him for the Jewson. Apparently owner David Johnson had some reservations about stepping up in trip to two miles and five furlongs, but the trainer was fully vindicated in having none, and he nominated the horse as probably his best chance of the week in handicaps.

The handicapper has raised Chapoturgeon 18lb now to a mark of 153, which looks harsh enough on the face of it. Barbers Shop was second to Imperial Commander in the Paddy Power this season off just a 6lb higher mark than the mark off which he finished second to Finger Onthe Pulse in last year’s Jewson. However, although L’Antartique was raised just 9lb for his Jewson win, he did win the Paddy Power Gold Cup the following season off a 13lb higher mark after creeping up the handicap some more, and he was not as progressive at the time as Chapoturgeon is now.

Given his owner’s affinity with the Paddy Power Gold Cup, it is probable that that race is on Chapoturgeon’s medium term agenda now. A mark of 153 will push him towards the top of the handicap in that race, but Cyfor Malta won it off 154 in 2002 and Fondmort won it off 150 in 2003. Chapoturgeon is still just a baby, just five years old, he has only run four times over fences now and he could go right to the top. He is by Turgeon, winner of the Irish St Leger and the Prix Royal Oak, so there is every chance that he will get even further than this two miles and five furlongs.

The similarities between Chapoturgeon’s profile now and Cyfor Malta’s in 1998 are interesting, both five-year-olds, both French imports, both owned by David Johnson, both winners of similar races at the Cheltenham Festival. Of course, there was no Jewson Chase in 1998, but Cyfor Malta won the race that the Jewson effectively replaced, the Cathcart. It is interesting that Cyfor Malta went and won the John Hughes Chase at Aintree in 1998 as a five-year-old before going back to Cheltenham and winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup the following November off a mark of 150. Chapoturgeon would be interesting if targeted at the Topham Chase on 3rd April, although Paul Nicholls also has New Little Bric and possibly Herecomesthetruth for that contest. Looking further ahead, his new mark of 153 puts him on the coat-tails of the very best novice chasers. He is more progressive than most – remember that another of his sire’s progeny, Exotic Dancer, was only a decent handicapper when he won the Paddy Power, but he would have won the King George and the Gold Cup later that season were it not for the presence of Kauto Star – and he could be destined for the very top.

© The Irish Field, 21st March, 2009