Things We Learned » Cue: stats are against him

Cue: stats are against him

You have to feel for Colin Tizzard and Tom Scudamore and the Thistlecrack team, just as you have to feel for Willie Mullins and the Faugheen/Annie Power team, and for Gordon Elliott and the Don Cossack team.  More than the others, however, the Thistlecrack news came from left field.  Most of us can only imagine what it feels like to have the Gold Cup favourite carpet whipped from under your feet.

At least Tizzard still has Native River and Cue Card, and Cue Card looked as good as ever when he won the Ascot Chase last Saturday.  They say that if he wasn’t an 11-year-old, Cue Card would be favourite for the Gold Cup.  That may well be the case, but he is an 11-year-old.

It is difficult to under-estimate the degree to which the Gold Cup is an ageist race.  You just don’t get in these days if you are wearing Converse or aged in double figures.

No horse aged 10 or older has won the Gold Cup since Cool Dawn won it in 1998.  Some 68 horses aged in double figures have run in the race since the turn of the millennium, and all 68 have been beaten.  And they weren’t no-hopers either, 12 of them were sent off at 8/1 or shorter, four of them were sent off as favourite, and Cue Card himself was almost favourite last year as a 10-year-old, a 5/2 shot, second favourite behind the 9/4 winner Don Cossack.

You can argue that Cue Card is in the form of his life, that the performance that he put up in winning the Ascot Chase last week is up there with the best of his career, and you would not be far off the mark if you did.  However, he is not alone among veteran Gold Cup aspirants in that sense.  Kauto Star, Denman, See More Business, Looks Like Trouble, Beef Or Salmon, Cue Card himself last year, they had all shown top form during the season in the lead up to the Gold Cup in which they were beaten. 

And Cue Card is not even a 10-year-old, he is a year older than that.  No horse aged older than 10 has won the Gold Cup since the 12-year-old What A Myth won it in 1969, and no 11-year-old has won it since Mandarin.  Mandarin was before Arkle.

Cue Card may well win the Gold Cup, he is an extraordinary 11-year-old after all, but the stats are stacked against him.

Figures say Acapella was best by far

There was lots of talk during the week about Sunday’s Ten Up Chase at Navan – did Acapella Bourgeois win on merit, or did the other riders allow Roger Loughran too much rope?

It is beyond dispute that, by the time Acapella Bourgeois got to the end of the back straight, he had set up an unassailable lead for himself.  The question is, did the other riders allow him that leeway, or was there just nothing they could do about it? 

The figures suggest the latter.

Loughran kicked his horse out of the gate and, by the time he jumped the third fence, he was almost a second and a half clear of his nearest rival.  By the time he jumped the fourth fence, he was almost two and a half seconds clear.  By the time he jumped the fifth he was three and a half seconds clear.

These are hand times, they are not 100% accurate, but they do give ballpark figures for the magnitude of Acapella Bourgeois’ lead at each fence:

3rd fence: 1.43 secs clear, 4th fence: 2.40 secs clear, 5th: 3.53 secs, 6th: 3.37 secs, 7th: 3.69 secs, 8th: 4.05 secs, 9th: 4.35 secs, 10th: 5.45 secs, 11th: 5.69 secs, 12th: 5.50 secs, 13th: 5.38 secs, 14th: 6.20 secs, 15th: 5.96 secs, 16th: 6.04 secs, 17th: 6.49 secs, Winning line: 7.20 secs.

The figures tell you that Sandra Hughes’ horse was sent on from flagfall, and just went further and further clear under a fine aggressive ride.  He was further clear at the second last fence than he was at the third last, he was further clear at the last fence than he was at the second last, and he was further clear at the winning line than he was at the last fence.  At no stage of the race was he further clear than he was at the winning line.

Haymount tried to chase him but couldn’t, Road To Respect tried to get out after him, but couldn’t get close.  Anibale Fly finished a tired horse.  It wasn’t as if the field closed on the leader late on.  Quite the contrary actually. 

Tale of two lions

Saturday’s Grand National Trial at Haydock was a tale of two lions of different colours: a black one, or a blak one, and an old red one.

Vieux Lion Rouge and Blaklion scrapped it out up the home straight, they had it between them from the third last fence and the pair of them came clear of their rivals and clocked a fast time.

Winners of the Haydock Grand National Trial have a poor record in the National, but beaten horses have not fared so badly.  The most recent representative from the race to go on and win the National is Neptune Collonges, beaten a neck by Giles Cross at Haydock in 2006 before going on to beat Sunnyhillboy by a nose at Aintree.  In so doing, he confounded the weight stat (first winner to carry 11st 6lb or more since Red Rum in 1977) and the French-bred stat.  Well, maybe not the French-bred stat.  Mon Mome had already seen to that three years earlier.

Both Lions are big players in the Grand National now.  They are both eight-year-olds, but that is not an issue any more, not since Many Clouds won the race as an eight-year-old in 2015 and since The Last Samuri and Gilgamboa filled two of the four places last year.  More importantly, they jump and they gallop and they stay, and both of them have a touch of class. 

As well as that, they will be well-handicapped now in the Grand National.  Vieux Lion Rouge was given a mark for Aintree that is 3lb higher than his official BHA mark, to allow for the ‘Aintree factor’ (seventh in last year’s National, winner of this season’s Becher Chase), but he was raised 9lb for Saturday’s win.  Because the Grand National Trial is run less than a week after the Grand National weights are published and set in tablets, David Pipe’s horse will get to race in the National off his previously allotted mark, no penalty, so he will be 6lb well-in.

Blaklion is similar.  His National rating is the same as his BHA rating at the time that the weights were framed, no ‘Aintree factor’, no compression.  But he was raised 4lb for Saturday’s run, so he will effectively be 4lb well-in.

Of the pair, Vieux Lion Rouge has the more obvious chance, he ran a cracker in the National last year as a mere seven-year-old, he should be better equipped for the race this year as a stronger eight-year-old, and he has obviously improved since last year, as evidenced by Saturday’s win and by his Becher Chase win in December.

But Blaklion is also a player now, an RSA Chase winner who will be able to race in the National off a handicap mark of 152.  Don’t rule out the Lion exacta. 

Tombstone may be under-rated

All the talk after the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park last Saturday was about Jezki’s defeat, which means that Tombstone’s win may have gone a little under the radar.

It was a fine performance by the Gigginstown House horse, he went to the front at the fourth last flight and he kept on strongly over the final two flights for Bryan Cooper to beat Jezki by four lengths.  The pair of them had it between them from the second last flight, they were clear of the talented Rashaan and the winner clocked a good time, 0.10secs/furlong faster than Racing Post par. 

Tombstone was a high-class novice hurdler last season.  He finished second in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas and in the Grade 1 Deloitte Hurdle in February, and he finished fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

The Gordon Elliott-trained gelding is a chaser in the making, but he is a talented hurdler in the meantime.  He obviously stepped up on his seasonal debut at Navan when he was beaten almost three lengths by the similarly returning Jezki.  He was conceding 6lb that day, and the pair of them were racing off level weights on Saturday, but he improved by more than 6lb.  There is surely more to come from him too over hurdles before he embarks on his chasing career, probably next season.

By extension, if Tombstone is under-rated, it may be a mistake to be disappointed with Jezki’s run.  The Jessica Harrington-trained gelding was racing on ground that was softer than ideal for him, his second run back after a long break, and he was racing over a distance than may be too sharp for him these days.  It probably means that the longer race is the race for JP McManus’ horse at Cheltenham rather than the shorter race, but you wouldn’t be giving up on the 2014 Champion Hurdler as a Stayers’ Hurdle contender yet. 

Marmite talk 

There is a lot of talk about Marmite these days.  Native River is apparently the latest thing that is like Marmite.  Strangely, there are people out there who think that Marmite is all right.  They don’t love it, they don’t hate it, they just think that it’s okay.

© The Irish Field, 25th February 2017