» Early Starters

Early Starters

By Rory King

Hats off (literally, with no morning dress to be seen in October) to Ascot for their show on Saturday. It seemed like great fare all day and, while some have expressed desire for the day to rival Arc day or the Breeders’ Cup in terms of number of Group 1 events, British Flat racing is not geared towards a single end-of-season finale as the programme is for top races throughout the season, and I certainly don’t think the day lost anything by having just two Group 1s. Besides, the Sprint will surely be a Group 1 before too long.

With all the attention on Ascot and the BHA last week, the return of racing at Cheltenham escaped the focus of many, but there were several performances over the two days at Prestbury Park that are worth reflecting upon.

First up was Sizing Symphony who won the first race on Friday very tidily, providing Henry De Bromhead with his sixth winner at Cheltenham from his 24th runner over the last five seasons. Although de Bromhead had a horse beaten later on the card and another couple run disappointingly on Saturday, his runners certainly warrant close scrutiny when they cross the Irish Sea, and Sizing Symphony could be coming back himself after this. He jumped nimbly, if edging a little out to his right at several hurdles, and he quickly pulled away from the 138-rated Bold Addition from the bottom of the hill, with the other three well beaten off in behind. He looks a nice prospect, although this good ground is presumably quite important for him, and his fluent hurdling will always stand him in good stead. He can make his presence felt in graded company.

The three mile novices’ chase on Friday has been won by some good horses in recent times – Ballyfitz, Joe Lively, Iris’s Gift and Ollie Magern all feature on the role of honour, while Comply Or Die was second – and this year’s winner Traffic Article may bid to emulate his stable companion Chicago Grey (more on him in a minute) who won it last year before going on to win the National Hunt Chase at the Festival in March. Traffic Article has plenty of chasing experience having been on the go through the summer, and he jumped well, flying the open ditch at the top of the hill on both circuits. He responded well having been squeezed out on the run to the bottom of the hill, losing a couple of lengths, to get to the front soon after the last and running on well enough up the hill considering he reportedly doesn’t like being in front for too long. The form looks strong enough with the useful benchmarks Liberate and Chesapeake beaten a long way from home. Traffic Article is probably due for a break now and may well be brought back in the New Year with the National Hunt Chase the target. He seems pretty versatile having won on soft to heavy last time, and is likeable.

In the same race Creevytenant repeated his party trick of jumping out to the right, yet still moved well for a large part of the race despite hitting a couple of fences down the back straight on the second circuit. He had plenty of them in trouble at the top of the hill and the distance he was ultimately was accentuated as he was eased down by Paddy Brennan when his chance had gone over the second last. He was well touted beforehand and surely now he must be given a chance to show what he can do on a right-handed track. He’d have to improve a lot on what he’s done so far but, with his bold jumping and front-running style, you would love to see him in something like the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot.

Chicago Grey just loves it round Cheltenham and Gordon Elliott’s gelding was in the process of running another big race here on Saturday over three miles, moving right into contention when he came down at the second last. That’s now five times he’s run over fences at the track and all that’s beaten him is Time For Rupert and the repositioned second last fence. It had looked as though his mark of 150 was going to make things hard for him this season, but he acts so well here and always seems to get himself into contention. Three miles is right at the lower end of his stamina range and the three-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at the November meeting is surely where we will see him next. That race was won by Midnight Chase last year (having won Saturday’s race beforehand) and he went on to win another handicap at the December meeting before running creditably to finish fifth in the Gold Cup. It is not hard to envisage Chicago Grey running well in either or both of the races at the November and December meetings and I’m sure he would acquit himself well if he were to run in the Gold Cup come March, especially were it to come up on the soft side and turn into a real test. If he were to run well a couple of times before Christmas then he might well be too high for the handicaps come the Festival.

Looks like it could be another good year for the Irish then.

By Rory King