Things We Learned » Aup options

Aup options

It wasn’t entirely surprising that bookmakers pushed out Aupcharlie’s odds for the RSA Chase after his defeat to Tofino Bay in the Woodlands Park Novice Chase at Naas last Saturday, but it was mildly surprising that they pushed out his odds for the Jewson Chase as well.

On the face of it, it makes sense. Odds-on shot gets beaten, equals odds-on shot is disappointing – ergo odds-on shot’s chance of winning at Cheltenham is not as great as we thought. However, this one needs further investigation.

The one fear about the Willie Mullins-trained gelding going into Saturday’s race concerned his stamina for three miles on heavy ground at Naas. He had never won over three miles before, he had won his bumper over two miles, and his wins over hurdles and over fences were gained over two and a half miles. When he got beaten by his stable companion Back In Focus in the three-mile Topaz Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, it was the winner’s superior stamina that saw him home. Aupcharlie had travelled best of all through the race, and actually traded at 1.01 in-running when he jumped to the front over the final fence.

In one sense, you could argue that it wasn’t his stamina that failed that day. You could point to the fact that, if Back In Focus hadn’t been in the race, he would have run out a 17-length winner of a Grade 1 three-mile chase. However, the potential Achilles Heel was there to be exploited by Davy Russell and Tofino Bay on Saturday.

Also, three miles on heavy ground at Naas presents a completely different test to the test that three miles on soft ground at Leopardstown presents. To put it into context, the winning time for Saturday’s race was 7mins 34.7secs. The winning time for the Leopardstown race was 6mins 30.1secs. That’s over a minute faster, and that is massive.

It may pay to retain faith in Aupcharlie for now. Even though he had to give best to Tofino Bay’s superior stamina on the day, he still travelled like the likely winner between the last two fences, and it may be that the Jewson Chase is the ideal race for him at the Cheltenham Festival now. A fast-run extended two and a half miles at a stiff track on goodish ground could be his optimum.

While the son of Daliapour still obviously has the RSA Chase option, the fact that he has now been out-stayed on both of his attempts at three miles, and that his stable companions Boston Bob and Back In Focus both look like RSA Chase candidates at this stage, means that there has to be a big chance that the Jewson Chase will be his primary Cheltenham target. Third in the 2011 Cheltenham Bumper, you know that he handles the track, and you could argue that, following Saturday’s defeat, his odds for the Jewson Chase should have been shortened, not lengthened.

Russell on fire

Tofino Bay was the third leg of a four-timer for Davy Russell at Naas on Saturday. Four winners from four rides, and if Ryan Moore had been booked to ride the favourite in the handicap chase, he might have got off it and allowed Russell on.

There was nothing too complicated about Solwhit or Un Atout, they were both vastly superior to their rivals on the day, and most jockeys in the weigh room would have won on either of them. Morning Assembly needed a little more riding in the maiden hurdle, but he was still well on top at the finish, he probably won with more in hand than the official winning margin and, again, most jockeys would have won on him.

On Tofino Bay, however, it is probable that the rider made a difference. It looked to the naked eye (or to this one anyway) as though Russell may not have been going fast enough through the early stages of the race if he was to exploit the Gigginstown horse’s proven stamina to the full. However, as it turned out, the rider got the fractions spot on, bagged the stands rail early in the home straight and strong-armed his horse up the run-in to get home by a thrilling half a length.

These things are difficult to prove empirically, but it is probable that most competent riders would win on most winners. You never know for sure on which winners the rider makes the difference, but it is probable that Davy is making a difference these days. He is riding out of his skin this season, the champion’s crown resting easily on his head.

Ruby Saturday

You probably shouldn’t read too much into the fact that Ruby Walsh is going to Cheltenham today to ride Tidal Bay and Sanctuaire for Paul Nicholls and not going to Leopardstown to ride Arvika Ligeonniere and Marito for Willie Mullins.

Ruby rides on Saturdays in Britain and on Sundays in Ireland, that’s the way it seems to work. Paul Townend is a top class understudy, so don’t go losing faith in any of the Willie Mullins horses at Leopardstown today just because the stable’s number one rider isn’t on board.

Big shoes to fill

Big Buck’s has a lot to answer for. No sooner is the champion staying hurdler’s back turned, but the baying masses are clamouring for his crown.

Perhaps it isn’t that surprising that Tidal Bay is in the World Hurdle picture at present, despite the fact that he finished second in the Hennessy and won the Lexus on his last two runs, and that he is rated 11lb higher over fences than he is over hurdles. He did run out an impressive winner of the John Smith’s Hurdle at Wetherby on his last run before the Hennessy, and it is understandable that, with Silviniaco Conti a real Gold Cup contender, Paul Nicholls wanted a World Hurdle challenger in Big Buck’s’ absence.

However, it is surprising that the champion trainer has also put Kauto Stone into the World Hurdle picture, given that the seven-year-old has never run over hurdles in Britain. There are a couple of other dubious entries in the World Hurdle at present, including Champion Court (officially rated 16lb lower over hurdles than over fences), Prince De Beauchene (perhaps an unusual prep race for the Grand National), and Riverside Theatre (24lb lower over hurdles than over fences).

One of the more interesting entries from left-field, however, is Walkon. “Owner Max McNeill is wondering if he might be a World Hurdle horse,” said trainer Alan King during the week. 5lb higher over hurdles than he is over fences, and an unlucky runner-up in the 2009 Triumph Hurdle, there are many more outlandish 100/1 shots knocking around at present.

Boylesports trends

Interesting that 10 of the last 10 Boylesports Hurdle winners carried 10st 11lb or less and that six of them carried 10st 6lb or less. So, if you are looking for the winner of today’s race (aren’t we all?), probably best to start with Gentleman Duke and work up.

© The Irish Field, 26th January 2013