Things We Learned » Sternrubin was very good

Sternrubin was very good

Sternrubin was rightly lauded for the performance that he put up in dead-heating for first place in the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday, but there could still be more to come.

It looked like Terry Warner’s horse was going too fast through the early stages of the race.  If you are leading Rayvin Black by four lengths passing the winning post first time, it is fair to assume that you are going too fast.   Sure enough, Rayvin Black faded to finish 16th of the 19 finishers.  Three Kingdoms, who raced in third place from early, with the front three clear, faded to finish 13th.

The horses who finished third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh all raced in rear from early, well away from the searing early pace, while Jolly’s Cracked It, who shared the spoils with Sternrubin, raced in midfield from early.  All the indicators are that the early pace was faster than efficient.

Not only that, but Sternrubin battled back gamely for Richard Johnson after he had been passed.  Jolly’s Cracked It went at least a neck up on the run-in, probably a half a length, but the Philip Hobbs-trained horse battled back, after trading at 129/1 in-running, showing that desire that all top class horses possess.

The winning time was fast, the fastest comparative time by a fair way on a high-class day’s racing, 0.22secs/furlong faster than Racing Post par.  And the performance may have been even better than the time suggests, given that it was the last race of the two-day meeting, the third race on the hurdles track on the day, when the ground was probably at its worst.

The handicapper has raised Sternrubin 8lb to a mark of 142, but even his new mark may under-rate him.  He has now won his last three hurdle races – having finished second in his previous four – and he continues to progress.

The obvious next target for him is the Betfair Hurdle, and that is a race in which front-runners can do well.  Last year, Violet Dancer led just about all the way, while the second and third, Cheltenian and Activial, raced prominently from early.  And it is often run on the easy ground that seems to suit Sternrubin so well.

It may be pushing it a little to suggest that Sternrubin could be a Champion Hurdle horse for this season, given that he is not quoted by any bookmaker at present.  He is only four rising five after all, and the ground on a typical Champion Hurdle day is usually good to soft, no worse.  It’s not impossible mind you.

Make A Stand, a similarly aggressive front-runner, was rated just 136 after he won the Kennel Gate Hurdle at last weekend’s Ascot meeting in 1996.  The Martin Pipe-trained horse won the Lanzarote Hurdle off that mark, then went on to win the Betfair Hurdle off a mark of 140 before landing the Champion.

Also, Rooster Booster trod the handicap route to the Champion.  It took him an extra year, he won the Champion Hurdle a year and a month after he finished second in the Betfair Hurdle (then the Tote Gold Trophy) off a mark of 138.  Like Sternrubin, Rooster Booster represented the Warner/Hobbs/Johnson team, so that could be the route for Sternrubin.  He could be a horse to stick in your back pocket for the 2017 Champion Hurdle.

Four-year-olds doing well

Speaking of four-rising-five-year-olds, it has been a good year for them thus far in open company.  With Sternrubin’s Ladbroke win and Old Guard’s Greatwood Hurdle win, the sophomores have won two of the big two-mile all-aged handicap hurdles this side of the Christmas festivals.  Also, the runner-up in the Greatwood Hurdle, Superb Story, is a four-year-old, as is the third horse home in the Greatwood, Hargam.  It’s a fair return.

The four-year-olds haven’t fared too badly in graded company either.  Old Guard followed up his Greatwood win by landing the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham’s December meeting, with Hargam back in third.  Also, the four-year-old Top Notch went down by just a neck to Identity Thief in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle.

Tea In Transvaal won the listed mares’ novices’ hurdle at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting and Winner Massagot was impressive in landing a good handicap at Ascot’s Coral Hurdle meeting.  And remember that Peace And Co was better than them all last season.

Killultagh looks good

Killultagh Vic was very good in landing the two-mile beginners’ chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday, and starting the roll of the Willie Mullins four-timer (which could easily have been five).

The Old Vic gelding travelled supremely well trough his race, he jumped super, and he won as easily as he liked in a good time.

This was a really good performance from a horse who should probably be better over further.  It was interesting that Willie Mullins said afterwards, however, that Killultagh Vic jumps so well, he would have no problem allowing him run over two miles again.  That said, if he is this good over two, a horse who won a Grade 1 race over three miles as a novice hurdler last April, think of his potential when he steps up in trip.

He beat Thistlecrack in that Grade 1 race at Punchestown in April, and that form obviously looks a little better now than it did then.  Remember that he battled on bravely to land the Martin Pipe Hurdle at Cheltenham last March, so that all augurs well for next March, regardless of the contest in which he appears or the distance over which he races.

Thistlecrack may be under-priced

Speaking of Thistlecrack, Colin Tizzard’s horse looked very good in winning the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday, he is obviously a live World Hurdle contender, but it might be a little premature to install him as the 5/2 favourite for the World Hurdle.

The World Hurdle picture is not even nearly compete yet.  Lots has to happen.  Martello Tower has to run this season, Windsor Park has to run, Alpha Des Obeaux has to build on his highly promising run in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Annie Power’s target has to be confirmed, Saphir Du Rheu has to return from Tuesday’s wind operation.  It is easy to see Thistlecrack going off at a bigger price on the day.

Late feature races a good thing

The idea of moving the best races, the feature races, towards the end of the card is an idea that has been gaining traction for a little while now, and, ground permitting, it is a good thing.

Last weekend, we had the Long Walk Hurdle, the Silver Cup and the Ladbroke as the last three races on Ascot’s card.  The Boxing Day card at Kempton will build to the Christmas Hurdle as the third last race and the King George as the penultimate race, before the handicap hurdle brings down the curtain.  The St Stephen’s Day card at Leopardstown will build towards the Racing Post Novices’ Chase as the penultimate race, before the bumper is run.

On Sunday at Leopardstown, the Paddy Power Chase is the second last race.  On Monday, the second last race is the Lexus Chase.  On Tuesday the second last race is the Ryanair Hurdle.  All building to a crescendo.  It makes sense, the feature race ahead of you all day, the enjoyment in the anticipation.

© The Irish Field, 26th December 2015