Things We Learned » King George is surely the race for Place

King George is surely the race for Place

Smad Place was terrific in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday. Alan King obviously had him spot on for the day, and he was given a superbly aggressive ride by Wayne Hutchinson.  The time was good, just 0.55secs/furlongs slower than standard on genuinely soft ground, and he earned a Timeform rating of 165, the highest of his life by some way.

That said, quotes of as short as 10/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup look short.  That Timeform rating of 165 is still 15lb lower than Don Cossack’s and 14lb lower than Cure Card’s.  There are six horses rated higher than him among the Gold Cup probables and, an eight-year-old third-season chaser, he does not have the same scope for progression that, say, Vautour and Don Poli have.

Smad Place is obviously a highly talented horse and, a grey/near-white who races exuberantly (ring a bell?), he is great for cameras and column inches and public attention.  But this is a bumper year for staying chasers.  The Gold Cup is going to be a tough race this year.

There are other reasons to believe that the Gold Cup will be a difficult race for Smad Place.  While Coneygree led all the way last March, that is a difficult style of racing to pull off in the Gold Cup, which is a shame for Smad Place, given that he appeared to improve for the switch to aggressive tactics on Saturday.

Outside of Coneygree, there haven’t been many all-the-way or nearly-all-the-way leaders who have won the Gold Cup in recent times.  Denman and Cool Dawn in the last 20 years.  Desert Orchid and Dawn Run in the late 1980s, although neither made all, even though they were both front-runners.  Tied Cottage in 1980.  (Yes, we count Tied Cottage.)

Also, Smad Place has run six times at Cheltenham, and he has never won there.  His record at Cheltenham reads 033228.  By contrast, he has now won three of his four races at Newbury, and he is one for one at Kempton.  It may be that a flat track suits him best.  It may be that the King George is his ticket to superstardom, not the Gold Cup.

At present, the King George looks like a more winnable race than the Gold Cup.  There will probably be no Coneygree, no Don Poli and no Djakadam in the King George.  Also, it is interesting that Alan King has said that his horse may be entered in the Ryanair Chase as well as in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

He is correct to assert that his horse does not lack pace, so it was surprising that the King George did not appear to be on his agenda, that the trainer ruled the race out for his horse in the immediate aftermath of the Hennessy, and it was not surprising that, at Leicester on Thursday, the trainer was keen to say that the King George was still a possibility.

At the very least, it was interesting that, at this week’s forfeit stage for the King George, Smad Place was left in the race.  The door remains slightly ajar.  Surely it is the ideal race for him.  Kempton is a prominent racer’s track, unlike Cheltenham, and the King George is a prominent-racer’s race, unlike the Gold Cup.

World Hurdle picture gets cloudier

The World Hurdle picture was cloudy before last weekend, with 10/1 and more available about every conceivable contender, and the weekend’s events served only to cloud the picture further still.

Cole Harden and Whisper, both high in ante post lists, were both beaten by Thistlecrack in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday, which brings Colin Tizzard’s horse into the (cloudy) picture and leaves the two beaten horses with a little more to prove now than appeared to be the case before Saturday.

Saphir Du Rheu was beaten in the Hennessy later on the day, which didn’t really have had any material influence on the World Hurdle market.  That was until Tuesday, when Paul Nicholls said that he would be re-directing Andy Stewart’s horse back to the smaller obstacles, à la Big Buck’s, with the World Hurdle as his objective, not the Gold Cup.

Then, when Arctic Fire won the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday, people started to say, well he would only be stepping up by another four furlongs in trip, and doesn’t Willie Mullins have enough two-mile hurdlers?

Interestingly, not many seemed to notice to quality of the run that Alpha Des Obeaux put up in finishing second to Arctic Fire.  A five-year-old who has raced just seven times over hurdles and who will surely improve for a step back up in trip, it is surprising that Mouse Morris’ horse is quoted in the World Hurdle betting by just one of the major firms.  Clarity will be here soon, honest.

Tread warily with National heroes

A word of warning if you are thinking of backing Pineau De Re in the Becher Chase at Aintree today or Many Clouds in the Lotto Chase: no Grand National winner has won another race under Rules after his Aintree heroics since Bindaree won the Welsh National in 2003, a year and a half after he had won the Aintree National and back down to a handicap mark that was just 2lb higher than his Aintree mark.

It may be just a quirk of Fate, it may be just down to happenstance, but there may be something in it.  As with most stats of this nature, it is probably a combination of cause and happenstance.

It makes sense that a Grand National winner would find it difficult to win again, given the effort that needs to be expended to win the race, the corrective action that the handicapper is bound to take and – probably most importantly – the general age profile of recent winners.  Nine of the 13 winners since Bindaree were aged in double figures, and three of the remaining four were nine.

Hedgehunter was unlucky not to win again.  Willie Mullins’ horse, winner of the 2005 Grand National, finished second in the Irish Hennessy in 2006, then finished second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind War Of Attrition, and went back to Aintree and finished second in the National, off a mark that was 12lb higher than his 2005 mark.

Comply Or Die was also second in the 2008 National, a year after he won it, off a 15lb higher mark, and Silver Birch did win a point-to-point the season after his National win.  However, the fact remains that the last 13 National winners have run under Rules, collectively, 99 times to date subsequently, and none of them have won.  That is a fairly compelling statistic.

It may be significant that Pineau De Re is running today in a race in which older horses have done well in the recent past, with three of the last five winners aged 12 or older, and it may be significant that Many Clouds is the first horse aged younger than nine to win the National since Bindaree, the last one to post a subsequent victory.  Even so, the stat is worth bearing in mind.

Later start time

So now, with the later start time for the Grand National, you can take your returns from your football betting on Grand National day and back your horse in the National.  Although probably best not to wait until then in case they are betting to 165% again.

Rashaan and Kidd warm the winter months

Here’s a story to warm your heart.

Man goes to sales to buy horse.  Horse’s price soars, man says, too expensive.

Man sees other horse, three lots before said horse goes into sales ring.  Man likes horse a lot, checks horse’s pedigree, sees that he is a half-brother to an Irish 2000 Guineas runner-up and thinks, ah here, there’s no way I’ll be able to afford this fellow.

Man follows horse into ring anyway, sees horse go on market at €6,000, bids €8,500 and watches incredulously as gavel falls.

Man takes horse home, doesn’t even put a saddle on him for a while, allows him settle into his new surroundings.  Horse appears happy, starts cantering away, starts schooling, delights man.

Man brings horse to Roscommon for horse’s hurdling bow, man fancies horse a little, can’t believe they are saying things like 33/1, horse duly wins.  Horse improves again in his work.  Man takes horse to Listowel, horse wins again, no 33/1 this time though.

Man gives horse short break, fields phone calls from interested suitors, bats them way.  Man takes horse to Fairyhouse on Hatton’s Grace Hurdle day for Grade 3 juveniles’ race that Our Conor won three years previously.  Horse duly wins doing handsprings.  Horse is put in as favourite for Triumph Hurdle.  Man fields more phone calls.

Man says: “Victor said to me, I have been trying for a long time to get a good horse, and I have one now, so I’m going to hang onto him.”

Man dreams dreams.

The End.  (Probably not.)

© The Irish Field, 5th December 2015