Things We Learned » Champion pace

Champion pace

We learned that there would probably be pace in the Champion Hurdle, which was a relief to everyone, or everyone except those who were hoping that it might be a messy race in order that they might be able to nick it.

In the weeks leading up to last Wednesday, much of the Champion talk was about pace. Nigel Twiston-Davies wasn’t going to field a pacemaker for The New One, Un De Sceaux wasn’t going to run, so there was no natural pace-setter. Lots of horses who like to race handily, but none who really want to make it.

The New One would be handy but wouldn’t make it. Jezki would be handy but wouldn’t make it. (We also learned during the week that Jezki would probably run in a hood.) Our Conor took up the running a long way out in the Triumph Hurdle but, when asked if he would make the running at a Cheltenham preview evening, Dessie Hughes and Barry Connell, both collectively and independently, shook their respective and collective heads. No, no he wouldn’t really be making it.

Then the five-day declarations came through on Wednesday (doesn’t that make them six-day declarations?) and we counted 12. More than expected. Annie Power was still in there, even though the World Hurdle was her objective, Un De Sceaux was still in there, and we thought, you never know. Then you spotted the unexpected, Captain Cee Bee, sitting on top of the list, organised alphabetically, you understand, not by likely-pace-angle.

He will be running on his merits, of course, but he will probably be running on his merits from the front. He made the running in the Ryanair Hurdle and he made the running in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Or does this tale have another twist to it yet?

Fly talk

Strange, all the talk about Hurricane Fly not being at his best at Cheltenham, despite the fact that he has won two Champion Hurdles. It is a bit like saying that this Dublin team are not at their best at Croke Park. (Championship winners in 2011, beaten in 2012, champions again in 2013 – sound familiar?)

The ratings do not back up the notion. The highest RPR that Hurricane Fly has achieved is 173, and he achieved it three times, once at Leopardstown, once at Punchestown and once at Cheltenham. He has achieved an RPR of 171 or more six times in his life, and two of those have been at Cheltenham, where he has raced just three times. He has run at Leopardstown eight times, yet he has achieved an RPR of 171 or more just twice there. Likewise at Punchestown, he has achieved an RPR of 171 or more there just twice there from nine attempts.

The best performance of Hurricane Fly’s life, according to Timeform ratings, was when he won the 2011 Champion Hurdle, when he recorded a Timeform rating of 171+ in the process. He has recorded a Timeform rating of 170 or more three times in his life, once at Punchestown (170+) and twice at Cheltenham (170 and 171+). So don’t be worrying about the track.

Handicap head-scratcher

The bounce of the handicap ball has just gone the wrong way for Dessie Hughes.

Seefood was raised 5lb by the Irish handicapper for his run to finish second in the Pertemps Qualifier at Leopardstown over Christmas. That would have left him on a mark of 139 for the Pertemps Final. However, the British handicapper has given him another 4lb, which means that he will have to race off a mark of 143 and, even if top weight Fingal Bay stands his ground, carry 11st 7lb, and that makes things tough. No winner of the race has been rated higher than 142 since 2000.

Thunder And Roses was given an extra 1lb by the British handicapper and Art Of Logistics was given another 3lb, yet Art Of Payroll (no relation), who could have been doing with a few extra pounds to get him into the County Hurdle, was given a mark that was just 3lb higher than his original Irish mark of 127 before he won at Leopardstown on Sunday.

His new provisional British mark of 135, including his 5lb penalty – which is 2lb lower now than his new Irish mark – might have been enough to sneak him into the County Hurdle (he is number 71 on the list before today’s six-day declaration stage), but it looks like he is going to by-pass Cheltenham now altogether and wait for Aintree.

Ryanair riddle

There is a chance that Ryanair Chase will cut up even more now. Benefficient could run in the Champion Chase, First Lieutenant could defect to the Gold Cup, Module is going for the Champion Chase, Arvika Ligeonniere is going for the Champion Chase, Last Instalment is running in the Gold Cup, Captain Conan is running in the Champion Chase. That’s six of the top 10 in the betting who are possibly or definitely running elsewhere.

So if you are thinking of backing Dynaste, Al Ferof, Menorah or Hidden Cyclone, best to do so now.

Preview evening quotes

“That’s like the difference between Cheryl Cole and Old King Cole.” Mark Winstanley

“If the ground is good, Harry Topper will be looking back as the others are coming around behind him on their second lap.” Niall Hannity

“And that’s the weather report from Café En Seine.” Barry Geraghty

“This is the worst Champion Hurdle field that we have seen in years.” Nobody

“Briar Hill is gone by.” Everybody

© The Irish Field, 8th March 2014