Things We Learned » Some race

Some race

That was some Hennessy.  Okay, so it wasn’t the Hennessy, it was the Ladbrokes Trophy, but if it had been the Hennessy, it would have been some Hennessy.

Whisper ran some race.  Nicky Henderson’s horse ran a race that would probably have been good enough to win most Hennessys.  But Total Recall ran a better race still.

The pair of them had it between them from the top of the home straight.  You could tell at the fourth last fence that Paul Townend and Davy Russell had more horse(s) underneath them than any of the other riders had.  And the pair of them pulled away from their rivals, they finished nine lengths clear of third-placed Regal Encore and they clocked a fast time, marginally faster than Racing Post standard, on good to soft ground, and 0.30secs/furlong faster than Racing Post par.

It looked like Whisper had it in the bag when he went on and jumped the final fence in front, with Total Recall on the far side of him.  At that point, Whisper traded at 1.12 in-running.  They rarely come from behind and get up on the far side at Newbury, around the water jump and all.

But Total Recall did.  Under an inspired Paul Townend, Willie Mullins’ horse showed his courage and he showed his class.  It was some finish, two willing horses and two top class Irish riders.  The fact that one of them was rewarded with a suspension for over-use of the whip was a nonsense.

For Total Recall’s trainer, it was a record-straight-setter of sorts.  Willie doesn’t really do handicaps in Britain, and it doesn’t seem like 15 years since he won the Hennessy with Be My Royal, only to have it whipped away on a technicality.  It meant that he was bridging a 37-year gap to the Michael O’Brien-trained Bright Highway, the previous Irish-trained winner. 

Incidentally, the Noel Meade-trained Harbour Pilot finished third behind Be My Royal in 2002, and he would almost certainly have beaten Gingembre to the runner-up spot had he not tried to take the final fence home with him as a Hennessy souvenir.  So it could have been an Irish winner then, even after Be My Royal’s disqualification.

For Whisper’s trainer Nicky Henderson, he had to have rued the 4lb penalty that his horse incurred for beating Clan Des Obeaux in a two-horse race for a graduation chase at Kempton two and a half weeks previously.  It meant that his horse raced on Saturday off a handicap rating of 161, which was 4lb higher than his mark when the weights were originally cast for Saturday’s race, and 2lb higher even than his revised rating after his Kempton win.

It is true that Smad Place did not pick up a similar penalty for winning the same Kempton graduation chase in 2015 before he went on to win the Hennessy.  The difference between 2015 and 2017 is that, in 2015, the Kempton race was on 2nd November, early enough for a penalty not to be incurred.  In 2017, the Kempton race was on 13th November, after 5th November, the date after which penalties were incurred. 

Henderson shouldn’t beat himself up too much though.  That Kempton run brought Whisper on and probably brought him to peak for Saturday.  Without that run, he may not have had the sharpness about him that enabled him put up a career-best performance on Saturday.

What’s next?

So what next for the two horses who dominated the Ladbrokes Trophy?  Total Recall may have to improve by more than 10lb in order to be a Gold Cup horse, but he could.  He is only eight and that was just his eighth chase, and just his second for Willie Mullins.

Racing off a mark that was 18lb higher than the mark off which he raced when he won the Munster National on his previous run, the handicapper has raised him by another 9lb to a mark of 156.  That puts him within hailing distance of the top staying chasers around, that puts him in Cheltenham Gold Cup territory, because it is probable that he is not finished improving yet.

But it also puts him in Grand National territory, and it is interesting that his trainer seemed to be more keen on Aintree than on Cheltenham after Saturday’s race.

The Mullins-trained Hedgehunter had to carry top weight of 11st 12lb when he raced off a mark of 156 in the Grand National in 2006, when he ran a cracking race to finish second.  But the Grand National has evolved since then, and a mark of 156 would have seen Total Recall carry just 11st 5lb in last season’s National, and that is more than manageable.

Interestingly, Hedgehunter finished second in the Gold Cup in 2006 before he ran in the National, and it is possible that Total Recall could follow a similar path.

It is not surprising that Whisper is a shorter price than Total Recall for the Gold Cup in most lists.  He carried a stone more and he was beaten a neck.  Revised handicap ratings still have Whisper rated 13lb higher than his conqueror.  That discrepancy may be bigger than it should be, but it is correct that Whisper is rated higher.  For now at least, based on achievement as opposed to potential.

Not that Whisper does not have the potential to go beyond his new mark of 169, because he does.  He may be rising 10 years old, but he is just a second season chaser.  He had raced just six times over fences before Saturday.

If Total Recall had not been in Saturday’s race (if my aunt was my uncle, and all that, of course) Whisper would have run out a nine-length winner of the Hennessy off a mark of 161 and carrying 11st 8lb.  When Denman won the Hennessy in 2007, he raced off a mark of 161 and carried 11st 12lb, and he went on to win the Lexus Chase and the Aon Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup that season.  When Bobs Worth won the Hennessy in 2012, he raced off a mark of 160 and he carried 11st 6lb, and he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on his next run.

Denman and Bobs Worth were both younger at the time than Whisper is now, they were both seven, but they had similar profiles, high-class staying novices from the previous season, second season chasers who had run, respectively, five times and four times over fences.

Whisper has won four times at Cheltenham, including once at the Cheltenham Festival so, even though 10-year-olds don’t win the Gold Cup these days, Whisper will be an unusually lightly-raced 10-year-old next March, and you have to at least include him in Gold Cup calculations.

Another landmark

Gordon Elliott is no stranger to landmark-reaching, and he arrived at another one on Sunday at Fairyhouse when he saddled all three Grade 1 winners on the day.

They were not unexpected, all three were favourites, the treble paid less than 6/1, and Mitchouka may have let down the Elliott/Gigginstown Lucky 15, but it was still a red-letter day for Elliott.

The best of the three?  Difficult to pick one.  Mengli Khan was superb, his jumping was accurate for a novice and he came away from Early Doors, who in turn was well clear of the rest.  He deserves to be high in the betting for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Apple’s Jade put up one of the best performances of her life in beating Nichols Canyon in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, and Death Duty continued his march towards Don Cossackdom in winning the Drinmore.

Bookmakers reacted by slashing Gordon Elliott’s odds for the National Hunt trainers’ championship, and here we go again.  There is a sense of déjà vu about this one.

Three out of four is a Charm

Davids Charm did plenty wrong in the Bar One Racing Handicap Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday, yet he still managed to win impressively.

He made a mistake at the fourth last flight just when he didn’t need to make a mistake, just as the pace was increasing.  The net result was that he was wider around the home turn than Rachael Blackmore would have wanted, and he hit the front on the run to the second last, which was probably earlier than ideal.

John Joe Walsh’s horse got in tight to the second last and he landed flat-footed over the last, he had an excuse right there to decide that he had done enough if he had wanted to, but he didn’t.  He picked up again and, under a strong drive from Blackmore, he went on to win by almost three lengths.

This was the Milan gelding’s third win from four runs since his trainer started employing headgear, and he was a little unlucky not to beat Lagostovegas at Listowel in September in the fourth of those four runs.  Winner of a handicap hurdle at (the same) Listowel in June off a handicap rating of 95 in first-time cheekpieces, he was winning on Sunday in a third-time hood off a mark of 134, 39lb higher.

The handicapper has given him another 9lb for Sunday’s win, but he is obviously highly progressive.  He is still only six, he has raced just nine times in his life and, given that things did not pan out ideally for him on Sunday, he may not have reached his ceiling yet.  John Joe Walsh has done a fantastic job with him, Rachael Blackmore’s record on him reads 21, and he will be of interest in another good handicap hurdle now, either over two miles or over two and a half. 

Quiz time

On his most recent run, today’s Becher Chase favourite, the then 155-rated Blaklion, finished second to the then 159-rated Bristol De Mai in the Charlie Hall Chase.  Blaklion was rated 4lb inferior to his stable companion at the time, he was receiving 6lb from him and he was beaten a half a length, with the pair of them finishing 23 lengths clear of the third-placed horse. 

In so doing, Blaklion recorded the highest Timeform rating of his life, a full 3lb higher than his previous best, and the joint-highest Racing Post Rating of his life.  Furthermore, Bristol De Mai is now rated 173, 14lb higher than he was then, after his Betfair Chase win two weeks ago.

Question: How has the handicapper altered Blaklion’s handicap rating?

(a) Raised it by 14lb to a mark of 169

(b) Raised it by 7lb to a mark of 162

(c) Raised it by 2lb to a mark of 157

(d) Left it unchanged at 155

(e) Dropped it by 2lb to a mark of 153

 Answer: (e) Dropped it by 2lb to a mark of 153

 © The Irish Field, 9th December 2017