Things We Learned » Million not in mind

Million not in mind

There y’go so, you put up a million pounds in prize money and you get seven entries and five runners.

You can understand the Jockey Club Racecourses’ disappointment at the turnout for today’s Betfair Chase, the first leg of the Chasing Triple Crown that paves the road to the million, even if said disappointment has not been announced in a press release.  You could understand it if they were disappointed that the bonus has not managed to attract any Irish contender to the first leg.  Connections have obviously decided to stick to original plans, they have determined that even such a lucrative lure has not tempted them to deviate from what they consider to be the correct programmes for their horses, and they are to be commended for that.

The horses were there too.  Indeed, it is rare in recent times that there has been as exciting a bunch of young, progressive high-class staying chasers in training at the same time as there is now.  Don Cossack, Coneygree, Vautour, Don Poli, Saphir Du Rheu, Road To Riches, Djakadam.  Add Valseur Lido if you like.  Yet none of them are taking on Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card in today’s race, none of them are putting themselves in line for the £1 million bonus.

Don Poli or Djakadam may not have been ready on time, but Don Cossack could have been targeted at the race after his seasonal return at Punchestown instead of going to Down Royal to win the Champion Chase.  Road To Riches could have gone to Haydock instead of going to Clonmel nine days ago and landing the Clonmel Oil Chase.  Vautour could have gone to Haydock today instead of going to Ascot today.  But connections obviously felt that the races in which their horses ran, or are intending to run, are more suitable steps into the season than today’s Betfair Chase at Haydock, £1 million bonus or no £1 million bonus, and that is an admirable way to be going about things.

£2 million next year then?

Females to the fore

The difficulty with giving female riders an allowance is the perception that it creates.  Give the top female riders an allowance, and they are at an immediate advantage over other riders.  Same as if you give the top male riders an allowance then.  The difficulty is that, if you give an allowance, you foster the notion that the riders to whom you give the allowance are inferior to the ones to whom you do not.

Better to stage a series of races restricted to female riders, provide the opportunities if they are not happening naturally.  We have some highly talented riders among the female ranks, and such a series would provide them with the chance to prove as much.  That should be a springboard to more opportunities.

Wednesday’s Today FM Ladies Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse, instead of being a one-off, or even an annual event, could be the beginning of something bigger.

Race form strong

The three-mile novices’ handicap chase at Cheltenham’s October meeting was a race that had a significant impact on proceedings on both sides of the Irish Sea last weekend.

Shantou Flyer, who won the October race, landed the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown on Sunday, beating some fellow highly promising staying novice chasers in the process, while Vicente, third in the October race, landed the three-mile novices’ chase at Cheltenham’s November meeting on Friday.

Vicente’s task was made easier by the departure of Blaklion at the third last fence, and there was a sense that favourite Un Temps Pour Tout under-performed.  However, Paul Nicholls’ horse travelled well throughout and stayed on well up the hill, and Blaklion would have had to have put up a big performance to beat him if he had stood up.

As well as that, the Tom George-trained A Good Skin, fifth in the October race, ran a cracker two weeks ago to finish third in the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton off a mark of 137.

The October race is looking decidedly stronger than it looked at the time, and it might be worthwhile keeping an eye out for runner-up Weather Babe and fourth-placed Ballykhan, with the former set to run in a three-mile novices’ chase at Exeter tomorrow.

Pipe team fine

There were questions over the form of the David Pipe yard after the Nicholashayne team – a team that is synonymous with Cheltenham’s November meeting – went through last weekend’s meeting without a win.

However, perhaps the wrong questions were being asked.  Perhaps expectations of the Pipe team at this meeting are unrealistically high these days.  It is true that the Pipe name is synonymous with Cheltenham in November, but it is the Martin Pipe name more than the David Pipe name that is synonymous with the meeting.

You read before the meeting that the Pipe yard has won the Greatwood Hurdle five times and the Paddy Power Gold Cup nine times, but look a little more closely.  Martin won the Greatwood Hurdle four times, David won it once.  Martin won the Paddy Power eight times, David won it once.

Martin Pipe was a pioneer.  His domination of National Hunt racing was in a different era to this one, and it was founded on fitness.  His horses were fitter than lots of his contemporaries’ horses when they got to the racetrack, and this fitness edge was at its greatest in the early part of the season.  Hence, it makes sense that his advantage was at its greatest at the first major meeting of the season.

It is true that some of the fancied Pipe horses fell below expectations last weekend, but several of them ran well for a long way.  La Vaticane (who traded at 2.0 in-running), Champers On Ice (3.65), Un Temps Pour Tout (1.15) and Kings Palace (3.2) all hit the front and travelled well before fading on the holding ground, while Alternatif stayed on nicely to finish third in the amateur riders’ handicap chase on the Friday.  And just to hammer the point home, Katkeau stayed on resolutely to get the better of Southfield Vic to land the beginners’ chase at Fakenham on Tuesday.

If you fancy a David Pipe horse this weekend, don’t be put off by results last weekend.  Take the odds that may be enhanced by the perceived form of the yard and say thanks.

Top horses keep winning

The top horses keep winning.  Faugheen apart, the trend that started at the very start of the season, with the proven and potential National Hunt stars enhancing their credentials and respective reputations with each passing week, continues unabated.

Coneygree won, No More Heroes won, Cue Card won, Saphir Du Rheu won, Road To Riches won, Arctic Fire won, Vibrato Valtat won, Kitten Rock won, Vroum Vroum Mag won, Bellshill won, Garde La Victoire won, More Of That won, Don Cossack won twice, Sizing John won twice.

The returning heroes have also stepped forward.  Bobs Worth won, Simonsig ran a cracker to chase him home, Sir Des Champs won at Thurles on Thursday and, of course, there was Sprinter Sacre’s rafter-cracking victory on Sunday.  The only blip so far has been Faugheen, but it was probably only a blip, as an extension in his Champion Hurdle odds to no bigger than 15/8 suggests, and, on the positive side, Nichols Canyon was able to step forward as a result.

Next up are Vautour and Douvan.  This enthralling season crackles on.

© The Irish Field, 21st November 2015