Things We Learned » Lots learned

Lots learned

We learned lots from last Saturday’s Betfair Chase.  For starters, we learned that Bristol De Mai could put up a top class performance on good ground.

We didn’t really know that beforehand.  All his big runs before Saturday had been on soft or heavy ground: his Betfair Chase win last year, his Peter Marsh Chase win, his Charlie Hall Chase win.  He did finish second in a JLT Chase on good ground as a novice, and he finished second in a Betway Bowl on good to soft ground, but those two runs fell short of his best runs on soft ground or softer.

We did know before Saturday that Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horse loved Haydock.  A record of three and oh at the track told us that.  But those three runs were all on soft or heavy ground.  We didn’t know that he could be as good as he was on Saturday on good ground, even at Haydock.

We know now, obviously.  He was very good on Saturday.  Nigel Twiston-Davies told us after the race – and has been telling us for a while – that he is just a top class horse.  On any ground, at any track.  That it was just a case of having him right.  That he is good in the early part of the season but that, after that, his aches and pains come back.  Sure enough, the three best runs of his career have been in November.

It could be as simple as that, but there may be more of a pattern to Bristol De Mai’s performances.  We know that Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s horse is dynamite at Haydock, but he has also run big races at Wetherby and Aintree, both, like Haydock, flat, left-handed tracks. 

So, can he be as good on a flat, right-handed track?  That’s relevant, given that his next intended target is the King George at Kempton.  There is conflicting and scant evidence in that regard.  He did win the Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown as a novice, but that was just a four-horse race in which his main danger was Tea For Two, who was competing over a distance that was well short of his best.

Bristol De Mai was well beaten in last year’s King George, he was beaten in a match for the Colin Parker Chase at Carlisle, he was beaten in the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown.  There is not a rich body of evidence, but he has run right-handed six times.  He has been sent off at evens or odds-on four times, he has been favourite five times, and he has never been sent off at greater than 3/1 in any of those six runs, and he has won just twice.  He may win the King George, but odds of 8/1 look to be just about right.

Consider the vanquished

Consideration of the vanquished from the Betfair Chase is as relevant as consideration of the victor.  Might Bite was disappointing, on ground that should have been ideal and at a track that should have suited.  Various reasons have been put forward for his abject performance, not least the fact that the extra-stiff fences put him off. 

You can argue that it was the same for all of them, that they all had to deal with the same fences.   Even so, there may be something in it.  Different horses adapt to different variables in different ways, and maybe it was the case that Bristol De Mai adapted more readily to the slightly unusual jumping test that Haydock reportedly presented on Saturday.

There was something, because it wasn’t the Might Bite that we got to know over the course of the last 23 months.  Perhaps it was the fences, or perhaps it was the hard race that he had in the Gold Cup in March, or perhaps it was the track.  He had never run at Haydock before.  Or perhaps he just had an off day.  Whatever the reason, Nicky Henderson faces a tough test now to get him back at concert pitch for the King George.

Thistlecrack ran well, without ever really looking like he was going to win, and Clan Des Obeaux ran very well for a six-year-old making his seasonal debut and with over a stone to find on ratings. 

Native River ran well too to finish second, for a horse who is better on easier ground and on a more galloping track.  They are talking about the King George for him, but Kempton is surely not going to suit him any better than Haydock did.  Kempton is flat and sharp too, like Haydock is.  It’s a right-handed version.  And Native River could finish only third behind Tea For Two and Southfield Royale in the Kauto Star Chase in 2015 on his only run at the Sunbury track.

Surely the place for Native River at Christmas is Leopardstown, a galloping track with good jumping fences and a stiff finish.  The Foxrock track would surely play to Colin Tizzard’s horse’s strengths much more than Kempton would.

Permis on a roll

There was a lot to like about the performance that Tout Est Permis put up in winning the Ladbrokes Troytown Chase at Navan on Sunday.  Settled nicely in mid-division by Sean Flanagan, towards the outside, the only real moment of concern came at the bend out of the back straight final time, when Kylecrue moved to his right and Noel Meade’s horse got caught up a little in the backwash of the concertina effect. 

It was interesting to hear Sean Flanagan say afterwards that, while he uttered his displeasure at the time in the heat of the race, with the benefit of hindsight, the incident may have helped him.  That he may have been getting there too early.

As it turned out, he got there at just the right time.  He joined Mr Diablo after jumping the second last fence, kicked on on the run to the last, and stayed on strongly up the run-in.

The Gigginstown House horse has had plenty of racing, but he is still only five.  He was impressive in winning at Galway on his debut this season, his first run for Meade, in October, and he made light of a 10lb hike on Sunday.  Another 12lb for Sunday’s win will obviously make life more difficult in handicaps now, but it also puts him on the coat-tails of graded class.  He jumps, he travels, he stays, and he has youth on his side.  He remains an exciting prospect. 

Other horses to note from the Troytown?  Mr Diablo ran a massive race for David Mullins to finish second on his second run back after a long break.  Philip Dempsey’s horse did best by far of the horses who raced handily from early, and a 4lb hike takes him up to a mark of just 137, which is still 2lb lower than his Irish peak.  That gives him a chance.

Magic Of Light is also interesting.  Jessica Harrington’s mare was travelling well when she made a bad mistake at the second fence in the back straight final time, the fence at which Arkwrisht’s chance ended.  She did well to stay on as well as well as she did after that to take third place, and a 2lb hike is fair.  She is only seven and she has the potential to go beyond her new mark of 138.

Yesteryear’s heroes

Watching those yesteryear renewals of the Hennessy Gold Cup on television during the week brought the memories flooding back.  Not only the races and the winners, but the camera angles.  Most notably, the old BBC camera that used to run alongside the horses on the outside down the back straight at Newbury. 

You may have known that Bregawn won the Hennessy in 1982, three and a half months before he led home the Michael Dickinson 1-2-3-4-5 in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and you may have known that he beat his stable companion Captain John into second place at Newbury – just as he did at Cheltenham – getting back up on the run-in under Graham Bradley after making a bad mistake at the final fence.

But did you know that Corbiere, that season’s Aintree Grand National winner, and Night Nurse, hurdling legend, Champion Hurdler of 1976 and 1977, runner-up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1981, also ran in that 1982 Hennessy?  Me neither.

Thought for the week

Rachael Blackmore is like one of those gallant front-runners who keeps finding.  Went clear early, caught, passed, picked up again, found plenty.  Two more winners at Thurles on Thursday.  That’s 60.  Re-joined leader.

© The Irish Field, 1st December 2018