Things We Learned » Juvenile picture

Juvenile picture

The pecking order of this season’s juvenile hurdlers is starting to take shape now, and this year’s class look like an above-average bunch.

There are collateral form lines. Karezak beat Golden Doyen by a head at Chepstow in October, the pair of them miles clear of their rivals, then went down by a neck to Old Guard at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting, before running Hargam to a length at Cheltenham on Saturday, giving him 3lb, the pair of them clear.

Old Guard has not run again since, but Golden Doyen has. Twice. He won his maiden at Warwick in early November doing handsprings, then he went to Cheltenham’s November meeting and beat Hargam by three parts of a length, giving him 4lb.

That was Hargam’s British debut, his first run for Nicky Henderson and JP McManus, and he undoubtedly progressed from that run to last Saturday. The son of Sinndar but up a good performance to beat Karezak at Cheltenham, for all that he was in receipt of 3lb, and he clocked a decent time, just 0.6secs slower than the time that The New One clocked in winning the International Hurdle run over the same course and distance later on the day.

Hargam and Karezak are both Aga Khan-bred horses, which is a positive in the context of the often stamina-sapping Triumph Hurdle. Also, Hargam should do even better on better ground. Golden Doyen is by (yes, you’ve guessed) Doyen, and all his best form on the flat and over hurdles is on soft ground, but there may not be much between this triumvirate.

Then Hargam’s stable companion Peace And Co went and did what he did at Doncaster on Saturday, running with the choke out for most of the way and still coming clear of his rivals over the final two flights to jump to the top of the Triumph Hurdle market.

And then there is Willie Mullins’ French import Kalkir, who looked so good at Fairyhouse on Hatton’s Grace Hurdle day in winning the race that Our Conor won two years ago, and Chatez, the 96-rated horse on the flat who has been impressive in winning both his hurdle races now, and Timiyan, bought by Kieran McManus at the Goffs Champions’ Sale at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend, who hasn’t jumped a hurdle in public yet. It is an intriguing division now.

On the fence

Cheltenham removed the second last fence on the Old Course when it was deemed that it was causing a problem. Well, they didn’t as much remove it as re-site it, moved it around the corner to the home straight. Perhaps the ulterior motive was to try to re-create Galway at Prestbury Park. Perhaps not.

In any case, it may be that they need to have a look at the fourth last fence on the New Course now, the fence at the top of the hill. Of course, in-depth research is needed, but that fence seems to cause more trouble than it should.

Take last weekend’s races as a(n admittedly very small) sample. There were four fallers in the three steeplechase races run on the main chase track on Friday, and two of them four fell at the fourth last fence.

There were three fallers in the conditional riders’ handicap chase on the Friday. Son Of Susie and Midnight Lira fell independently at the fourth last, while Wiffy Chatsby fell at the last, a well-beaten and tired horse. Standing Ovation was the only faller in the three-and-a-quarter-mile handicap chase, he fell at the third last.

There were also three chases run at Cheltenham on Saturday. In the three-runner two-mile-five-furlong novices’ chase, Little Jon crashed out through the wing of the fourth last fence. In the two-mile handicap chase, Solar Impulse did not fall at the fourth last fence, but he all but fell, he made a race-ending mistake and he was immediately pulled up. Then, in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, there were three fallers, and two of them, No Buts and Splash Of Ginge, fell at the fourth last fence.

So, of the seven fallers in chases over the course of the two days, four of them were at the fourth last fence, and you can legitimately add Solar Impulse and Little Jon, even though they did not actually fall. That’s six out of nine. That is a high proportion when you consider that there were a total of 104 fences jumped over the course of the two days.

There may be nothing in this, but there may be. And it may be the horses’ view on the approach to the fence that is the issue more than the actual stiffness of the fence. Interestingly, at the Cheltenham Festival last March, there were six chases run on the New Course, in which there were 12 fallers, and four of those (Djakadam, Buddy Bolero, Gallox Bridge and Competitive Edge) fell at the fourth last fence. It might be worth investigating.

And while they are at it, they might have a look at how close the road on which the car carrying the camera goes to the same fence.

Fever trends

There has been plenty of talk of late about the fact that Champagne Fever does not fit the trends for the King George.

Here’s the thing. Four of the last 10 winners and seven of the placed horses in the last 10 years were seven-year-olds, and that from just 25 runners. So 16% of the seven-year-olds who have run in the race in the last 10 years have won. That is a higher percentage than any other age group, and only six-year-olds even come close.

Two second-season chasers have won the King George in the last 10 years, and one of them, Kicking King, had finished a close-up second in the Arkle the previous season. Stats-wise, it is a positive that Willie Mullins’ horse has won on his last run – surprisingly, only nine of the 29 horses still in the race have done so – as it is that he has had a run in the last 45 days. Also, remarkably, all of the last 10 winners of the King George were sent off at 9/2 or shorter. That stat leaves you with a shortlist of two.

The big stat on which Champagne Fever falls down is the distance stat: he has never won over three miles. However, neither had Kicking King ever won over three miles and, unlike Tom Taaffe’s horse, Champagne Fever has never tried three miles. He is bred for it and he is a point-to-point winner. He could improve for it. (Stats schmats.)

Owners and jockeys

Jason Maguire is the latest jockey to hook up with an owner as opposed to a trainer. Gone are the days when jockeys were linked exclusively to trainers. The owner thing has been a part of the flat for a while – was Prince Khalid Abdullah’s arrangement with Pat Eddery the first high-profile formal arrangement? – but, while it is a relatively recent addition to the National Hunt landscape, it is becoming more and more commonplace as time goes on.

A lot of the bigger National Hunt owners have their own riders now. Four of the top six National Hunt owners in Ireland now have their own riders. JP and AP, Gigginstown House and Bryan Cooper, Ann & Alan Potts and Jonathan Burke, Barry Connell and Adrian Heskin. Susannah Ricci does not have her own rider, nor do Andrea & Graham Wylie, but that’s okay when you have Ruby Walsh around you.

Moore synergies

Interesting to read a review of Bobby Moore’s biography recently. In it, the 1966 World Cup-winning captain was described as cool, calm, detached, aloof, sometimes even cold. He prized privacy and hated making a fuss. Michael Parkinson once said of him: “When you stopped to think, you realised you knew bugger all about him.”

Then you had to check the front cover again. (Bobby or Ryan? Must be a Moore thing.)

© The Irish Field, 20th December 2014