Things We Learned » Sceaux impressive

Sceaux impressive

Everything about Un De Sceaux’s performance in landing the Frank Ward Solicitors Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday was impressive.

Watching the race live, you knew that you were seeing something fairly special. You could tell with your naked eye that Willie Mullins’ horse went fast through the early stages of race, and you knew that, when Clarcam and Gilgamboa closed up on him at the second last fence, he picked up again when Ruby Walsh gave him a squeeze. And you knew that he appeared to finish full of running, while both his rivals finished tired.

Qualitatively, it was a top-notch performance. He was not as keen through the early stages of the race as he has been in the past, both over hurdles and over fences. You felt that he was going as fast as his rider wanted him to go, not as fast as he himself wanted to go. And his jumping over the stiff Leopardstown fences was very good in the main.

Also, the form of the race is rock solid. Clarcam and Gilgamboa are two of the best two-mile or two-and-a-half-mile novice chasers in Britain or Ireland, and he beat them pointless, conceding 10lb to the former. And the time was really good, the fastest comparative time on the day, the only time that dipped below Racing Post par, and 10 seconds faster than the handicappers went over the same course and distance a half an hour later.

The sectional times were also impressive. Notwithstanding the fact that hand-timings fall short of 100% accuracy, Un De Sceaux got from the landing side of the first fence to the landing side of the second fence in 39.5secs, and he got from the second fence to the third fence in 14.23secs. After that, his split times between fences were, respectively, 31.73secs, 22.31secs, 15.73secs, 12.81secs, 15.85secs, 20.4secs, 16.63secs and 30.6secs, and he got from the last fence to the winning line in 19.88secs. In total, he got from the landing side of the first fence to the winning line in 3mins 59.71secs.

Admittedly, the highest-rated horse in the handicap that followed, Champagne James, was rated just 126, so probably around 40lb lower than Un De Sceaux (who does not have an official mark yet), but the race is still relevant as a relative guide.

Like Un De Sceaux, the winner of the handicap chase, Paddy O Dee, led just about all the way. He got from the first fence to the second fence in 41.42secs, so almost two seconds slower than Un De Sceaux. He got from the second fence to the third fence in 14.53secs, so slightly slower than Un De Sceaux. After that, his split times between fences were, respectively, 33.11secs, 23.88secs, 16.66secs, 13.3secs, 15.65secs, 20.3secs, 16.98secs and 31.5secs, and he got from the last fence to the winning line in 20.65secs. Add them all up, and Philip Rothwell’s horse got from the first fence to the winning line in 4mins 8.02secs, over eight seconds after Un De Sceaux.

Points of note? Un De Sceaux was faster than the handicappers on almost every section of the track. He was significantly faster through the early part of the race, he was over six and a half seconds faster from the first fence to the seventh fence. Then his rider seemed to steady him a little over the fourth last and third last fences. He was actually marginally slower than the handicappers on that section of the track, the point of the race at which Clarcam and Gilgamboa closed up.

From the second last fence, however, Un De Sceaux picked up again, getting from that obstacle to the winning line in a time that was over two seconds faster than the time that Paddy O Dee took, and he ran all the way to the line.

That was new (that he was happy to steady his pace a little) and impressive (that he was able to pick up again). It was a performance of serious quality whatever criterion you use.

JLT could be a cracker

Un De Sceaux’s monstrous presence at the top of the betting for the Arkle Trophy means that a lot of his would-be rivals will be re-routed to the JLT Chase at Cheltenham, especially now that it is a Grade 1 contest. And that may mean that the two-and-a-half-mile race shapes up into a fascinating contest.

Un De Sceaux’s stable companion Vautor, last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, is already there on top of the JLT market, and it looks like the Paul Nicholls-trained Ptit Zig – a 157-rated hurdler who is unbeaten now in four runs over fences, numbering Josses Hill and Champagne West among his victims – is set to join him in the race.

After that pair, there is serious depth. Gilgamboa always had both the Arkle and the JLT as potential targets, the Enda Bolger-trained gelding won a Grade 2 contest over two and a half miles at Limerick over Christmas. After Sunday’s run, it is difficult to see how he can beat Un De Sceaux over two miles, so the longer race is the obvious target for him at Cheltenham.

The JLT also looks like the obvious race for the Noel Meade-trained Apache Stronghold, he just appeared to be out-stayed by Don Poli in the Grade 1 Topaz Chase over three miles at Leopardstown over Christmas, and his two wins over hurdles were both over two and a half miles. Also, there has to be a chance that the Gigginstown House horse Valseur Lido, the Drinmore Chase winner, will join his stable companion Vautour in the JLT instead of going for the RSA Chase.

Add to them other exciting potential participants like Splash Of Ginge and Irish Saint and Shanahan’s Turn and Three Kingdoms and Le Vent D’Antan and God’s Own (yes, he’s still a novice), and you could have one of most intriguing races of the Festival.

Cheltenham race worth watching

The two-mile-five-furlong novices’ handicap chase run at Cheltenham last Saturday, the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase, could be a race that is worth saving on your Sky Plus box. It could be a race that will have a bearing on some decent races between now and the end of the season.

There were several young chasers in the race who had and who have the potential to progress to be a fair bit better than their respective handicap marks, headed, as they were, by the Tom George-trained Stellar Notion, who was sent off the 4/1 favourite. The race was run at a good pace and the time was good, it was the fastest chase on the day, and there are several horses who could be worth noting from it.

The winner, Generous Ransom, is an obvious one. He travelled like a good horse through the race in his first-time cheekpieces, he hit the front at the second last fence and, despite making a significant error at the final fence, he kept on well enough to hold off Astigos’ late lunge by a neck. Nick Gifford’s horse looks like an improved horse for the addition of cheekpieces, he was probably idling in front as opposed to tiring, and he might have done even better if his challenge had been delayed a little longer.

The handicapper has raised him 8lb for his win, but that is fair, and it still leaves him on a mark of 138. That is a mark off which he should be able to win again, and it is significant that it keeps him below the threshold of 140 which was necessary if he was to qualify for the two-and-a-half-mile novices’ handicap chase at the Festival.

Runner-up Astigos stayed on well up the hill, leaving the impression that he would improve again for the step back up to three miles, the distance over which he finished a close-up third behind Big Hands Harry at Ascot in November. Venetia Williams’ horse has had plenty of racing over hurdles, but this was just his fourth chase, it was probably a career-best, and he has the potential to progress again. The handicapper raised him 4lb to a mark of 122 and, if that is high enough to get him into the three-mile handicap chase at the Festival, he could be a player in that race.

Third-placed Irish Cavalier is another who shaped as if he could improve for a step up in trip, he was being niggled along from a fair way out. Rebecca Curtis’ horse is only six and this was just his third chase and just his 10th run under all codes.

Also, Stellar Notion is worth another chance. He probably went too fast too early in order to secure the early lead, and it may be that the undulating track did not play to his strengths. He remains an exciting prospect, and he may be seen to better effect back on a flat track.

The horse who forced the early pace with Stellar Notion, Carole’s Destrier, should also be worth noting. Neil Mulholland’s horse took up the running from Stellar Notion at the third last fence, but his early exertions told from the second last when he was joined by the eventual winner. Even so, he still kept on well enough to finish fourth, and he can be marked up a fair bit on the bare form of this performance. The handicapper dropped him 1lb for this, which was a nice bonus. This was just his fourth chase, and he remains progressive.

Townend tops

Paul Townend is having a cracking season. Have a look down the list of winners that the Corkman has ridden this season, and it is easy to believe him when he says that riding as number two jockey for Willie Mullins is a far better job than riding as number one rider for most other trainers in Britain or Ireland.

So far this season, Townend has won three Grade 1 races: the Royal Bond Hurdle on Nichols Canyon, the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase on Twinlight and the new Grade 1 Lawlor’s Hotel Hurdle at Naas on McKinley. He has also won the Clonmel Oil Chase on Champagne Fever, and on Sunday, he gave Outlander a superbly smooth ride to land the Grade 2 two-and-a-half-mile novices’ hurdle at Leopardstown.

Champion jockey in 2010/11, Townend sits second in the championship at present with 57 winners, two more than he rode in the entire of last season, sandwiched, as he is, between the two Walshes in the table, seven behind leader Mark and eight ahead of third-placed Ruby (no relation).

Townend’s strike rate of 23% is 6% higher than his previous best ever of 17%. Also, his strike rate for his boss is 39%, 38 winners from 97 rides, and a level stakes profit of a remarkable €57. He could be in for a really interesting spring.

Willie Mullins novice chasers – discuss

So, say they all get there healthy and well, how do the big Willie Mullins novice chasers line up? As ever, the first one is done for you.

Un De Sceaux: Arkle

After that, there are permutations. Vautour in the Arkle along with Un De Sceaux, Valseur Lido in the JLT and Don Poli in the RSA Chase? Or Vautour in the JLT along with Valseur Lido, Don Poli still in the RSA? Or Un De Sceaux in the Arkle, Vautour in the JLT, Valseur Lido in the RSA and Don Poli in the National Hunt Chase? A home for everyone.

When you are submitting your entry, keep in mind the fact that Gigginstown House Stud, owners of Valseur Lido and Don Poli, also have Wounded Warrior and Very Wood and Thunder And Roses as potential RSA or National Hunt Chase contenders.

© The Irish Field, 31st January 2015