Things We Learned » Novices excite

Novices excite

It is around this time of year that you usually find it difficult to restrain your enthusiasm for the novice chasers. You have to try, mind you. You have to err on the side of nonchalance. They can’t all be Arkle or RSA Chase winners. That said, there were several hugely promising performances from the new class of 2013/14 this week.

Morning Assembly was one. Pat Fahy’s horse travelled and jumped superbly for Ruby Walsh in the two-and-a-half-mile beginners’ chase at Punchestown on Wednesday before coming away impressively from the talented pair Si C’Etait Vrai and Clonbanan Lad on the run-in. Winner of the Grade 1 three-mile novices’ hurdle at last season’s Punchestown Festival, he should be even better stepped up to three miles. He is a really exciting staying novice chaser.

So is the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack. The Gigginstown House horse may have ultimately come up a little shy of lofty expectations as a novice hurdler last season, but he jumped well on his chasing debut to land the two-mile-six-furlong beginners’ chase at Galway on Monday. The last four renewals of this race have been won by China Rock, Jessies Dream, Last Instalment and Lyreen Legend, and Don Cossack deserves his place in such exalted company.

Fifty minutes before Don Cossack won at Galway, Defy Logic won a two-mile beginners’ chase at Naas. He was a 2/5 shot, it would have been disappointing had he not won, but the Paul Nolan-trained gelding impressed with the accuracy and the speed of his jumping. Often free and keen last year over hurdles, he seemed to settle into his task nicely on his debut over fences. He should continue to improve with experience, he is all pace and he is a really exciting two-mile chaser.

Across the water, Shutthefrontdoor, owned, like Defy Logic, by JP McManus, only got home by a half a length in a two-and-a-half-mile novices’ chase at Aintree on Saturday, but he always travelled like the most likely winner, and he was the beneficiary of a perfectly-timed ride by AP McCoy. Winner of two of his three bumpers and a progressive staying novice hurdler last season – he finished fourth in the Pertemps Final in March as a novice off a mark of 144 on just his fifth run over hurdles – he jumped his fences well on Saturday, and he could take a high rank among the staying novice chasers this term.

AP rode another exciting novice in Taquin Du Seuil at Ffos Las on Tuesday. Jonjo O’Neill’s horse did not have to be at his peak to beat the 128-rated Bob Ford, the pair of them clear of their two rivals, but he did it nicely. Winner of the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle over two and a half miles last year, the six-year-old could also excel over two and a half miles as a novice chaser.

Lord waits

The Jim Culloty-trained Lord Windermere was entered in both the Powers Irish Whiskey Chase and the Champion Chase at Down Royal this afternoon. Connections seemed to oscillate between the two options in the early part of the week before finally deciding to skip both and go straight to the Hennessy Gold Cup.

It can’t have been easy for Jim Culloty and Dr Ronan Lambe to pass up the opportunity to run in a €50,000 for which their horse would have been favourite or near favourite, or in a €140,000 race for which he had already been installed as a general 7/1 chance. However, it is a sensible decision, best for the horse. “First time out I would like to see more juice in the ground,” said Culloty on Thursday. “So we’re going to skip it and go straight to Newbury.”

The good news is that, by skipping Down Royal altogether, the Oscar gelding’s chance of winning the Hennessy has probably been significantly enhanced. His official rating of 154 is 16lb lower than First Lieutenant’s and 15lb lower than Sizing Europe’s. If he had beaten those two horses in today’s Chase, or even run them close, the handicapper would have had no option but to have raised him significantly, and that would have diminished his chance of winning the Newbury race.

Better to go to Newbury a fresh horse with a handicap rating that he has the potential to surpass by some way this season. He goes well fresh and, last year’s RSA Chase winner, a second-season chaser with bags of potential and an engine for staying trips, he has to be high on your Hennessy shortlist now.

Hill still splits opinion

Kingston Hill may not have received due recognition for his victory in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last Saturday, and he remains a horse who is probably under-rated by some.

Roger Varian’s horse could not have done much more than he did last Saturday. He travelled well just behind the pace, he picked up nicely when Andrea Atzeni gave him a squeeze, and he stayed on really well all the way to the line, pulling four and a half lengths clear of his closest pursuer and clocking a decent time.

The Racing Post Trophy is by far the best pointer to the following year’s Derby, with four of the last 12 Racing Post Trophy winners going on to win at Epsom. Two of Aidan O’Brien’s top potential Derby contenders, Australia and Geoffrey Chaucer, were missing from Saturday’s race, and main market rivals Century and Pinzolo may have under-performed on the ground, but you can only ever beat what they put in front of you, and Kingston Hill was by far the best horse in the race in the conditions on the day.

That was just his third ever race, just five weeks after his racecourse debut, and he should progress again. He should stay a mile and a half, and it is interesting that a trainer who is as astute as Roger Varian thinks that he could have the pace to be a Guineas horse. He still has to prove himself on better ground, but his trainer and jockey are convinced that he will handle good ground well. He could even improve for it.

Bookmaker quotes of between 5/1 and 10/1 about Kingston Hill for next year’s Derby tells you how divided opinion is on the son of Mastercraftsman, but if you are into ante post betting on races that will be run in a winter and a spring’s time, the 10/1 looks big.

Master class

Kingston Hill was the highlight of a big afternoon for his sire Mastercraftsman. Some 75 minutes before the Racing Post Trophy, another of the Coolmore stallion’s offspring, Craftsman (the clue is in the name) landed the Group 3 Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown, while 35 minutes afterwards yet another of his sons, Roachdale House, won the nursery at Doncaster.

Winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas and the St James’s Palace Stakes, and second to Sea The Stars in the 2009 Juddmonte International, Mastercraftsman is also responsible for Amazing Maria, Ed Dunlop’s impressive winner of the Group 3 Prestige Stakes at Goodwood in August, and Pablosky, a four-length winner of a listed race in Italy. With 18 winners from 52 runners, he tops the freshman stallions’ table in Britain and Ireland, both in terms of winners and in terms of prize money won.

Sweating for Simenon

You would think that, when you are number 23 in a race in which the safety limit is 24, you can relax and know that you are in. Not so. They do things a little differently Down Under. (The water goes anti-clockwise, honestly.)

Yesterday morning, Willie Mullins and Team Simenon were still sweating on their place in the starting line-up for Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup. If both winners of the two win-and-you’re-in races, the Mackinnon Stakes and the Lexus Stakes, run before Irish breakfast on Saturday morning, had taken their places in Tuesday’s line-up, and if everything else had remained as was, Simenon would have been out on his ear and on the plane back to Closutton.

As it happened, however, everything else did not remain as was. Yesterday morning, Silent Achiever was withdrawn from Tuesday’s race, so Simenon’s place is assured now even if two more enter the fray.

Now, the only remaining sweating to be done will be by Simenon’s rider. 8st 6lb is as low as Richard Hughes goes, but he is a great booking, and all the sweating could well be worthwhile

© The Irish Field, 2nd November 2013