Things We Learned » Champions to be celebrated

Champions to be celebrated 

The Altior hype is understandable.  Champions are to be celebrated.  

Nicky Henderson’s horse looked mighty good again in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday.  He made a mistake at the second fence, the ditch in front of the stands.  He took off miles away from the fence.  But he managed to land on the landing side, not on the fence, and that was really the only scare.  Even when Nico de Boinville niggled him along a little at the Pond Fence, even when he came under pressure at the second last fence, you always expected that he would get the better of wizened warrior Un De Sceaux. 

That’s 15 for 15 now.  Altior has run in five hurdle races and 10 chases, and he has won them all.  There’s a nice symmetry to it.  He hasn’t been beaten since he finished sixth in the Punchestown Champion Bumper in 2015.  (Bellshill won that bumper, Disko was second, Modus was third, Charbel was fourth, Supasundae was ninth.  That was some bumper.)  A Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and an Arkle and a Champion Chase and now a Tingle Creek Chase among his victories.

There have been calls for his official rating to be elevated beyond the 175 that he has been allotted.  Sprinter Sacre was rated 188, they say.  Moscow Flyer was rated 180.  Master Minded 186.  But the 175 looks good, for now at least.

Un De Sceaux is a 10-rising-11-year-old who is rated 168.  That’s a robust 168.  Altior beat him by four lengths, off level weights, and he probably didn’t have much more in hand on the day than the winning margin.  175 is fair.

Also, it is a slight concern that Altior’s winning time was significantly slower than the time that the novice Dynamite Dollars clocked in winning the Henry VIII Chase over the same course and distance 70 minutes earlier.  Almost four seconds slower, according to Racing Post times.  It may be that the ground was slower for the Tingle Creek Chase, it rained in the interim and the ground had been raced on again, but it may not have been that much slower.  

Both races were strongly run: Ornua and Diakali pushing from the front in the former, Saint Calvados and Un De Sceaux in the latter.  Neither race appeared to be too strongly-run, but there was no hiding place in either.  No relenting.

The relative sectional times are interesting.  According to fairly rudimentary measurements, armed with a video recording and a stopwatch, the novices in the Henry VIII Chase were faster than the Tingle Creek horses in each of the five sections of the track that is determined by the first five fences, with the result that they were over four seconds ahead of them on landing over the fifth fence.

The Tingle Creek horses were marginally faster over the sixth, seventh and eighth fences, the first of the Railway Fences, but after that, the novices were faster again at every section of the track as determined by the fences, except for the section of the track that runs between the last fence in the back straight, the third of the Railway Fences, and the Pond Fence, across the hurdles track, usually the slowest part of Sandown’s chase track.

Significantly, the novices were also faster from the Pond Fence to the second last, from the second last to the last, and from the last to the winning line.  According to this basic timepiece, the novices were almost three seconds faster from the Pond Fence to the winning line than the Tingle Creek horses were, and that was after going faster overall from the starting line to the Pond Fence.

It may all be because the ground was significantly slower for the Tingle Creek Chase, but it is still worth keeping in mind.

Magic deserves another go

Call It Magic ran a massive race in the Becher Chase.  Ross O’Sullivan’s horse only finished fourth in the end, but that does not do justice to the performance that he put up. 

The Indian River gelding was quickly into a lovely racing rhythm for Mark Enright.  He had never raced at Aintree before, he had never raced over the Aintree fences before.  Actually, he had never raced in Britain before.  But he rose to the challenge that the fences presented, and horse and rider were superb over them.

He had it all to himself up front until they passed the winning post and started on another full circuit, at which point Missed Approach moved up on his inside and took him on, which probably wasn’t good news for either horse.

Missed Approach had missed the kick and had missed the first fence.  He was about eight lengths behind the second last horse as they landed over the first fence, but he made up the ground quite quickly, and he moved through to dispute the lead with Call It Magic as they crossed the Melling Road, with a full circuit of Aintree’s course to cover.

The pair of them got into a private duel for the lead, which took them clear of the main body of the field as they raced down the side of the track, over Becher’s Brook and over the Canal Turn.  It was a duel that Call It Magic ultimately won.  He surged to the front at the fourth last fence as Missed Approach wilted.  However, both horses’ chances of winning were probably negatively affected.

Call It Magic travelled well in front for Mark Enright as they joined the racecourse proper again and rounded the home turn, at which stage he traded at just over 1/2 in-running.  However, he tired from there, probably as a consequence of his duel for the lead and, in the end, he did well to keep on as well as he did to retain fourth place.

He raced off a British handicap rating of 135 on Saturday.  He will need to go up a few pounds again if he is going to get into the Grand National in April, but it was interesting that his trainer mentioned the Topham Chase as a possible target.  He ran well for a long way in the Irish Grand National last April before he tired, but two of the best runs of his career so far were at Ballinrobe and Galway last autumn, both races run over distances that were shot of three miles, both on soft or heavy ground.

Given how well he took to the fences on Saturday, you would love to see him have another go at them, and the two miles and five furlongs of the Topham Chase, over the big fences and ridden aggressively, ideally on soft ground, could be close to ideal for him.

Hardline impressive

Hardline was impressive in winning the Grade 3 Klairon Davis Novice Chase at Navan on Saturday.  Gordon Elliott’s horse travelled well for Davy Russell behind a decent pace set by JJ Slevin on Us And Them.  He moved up nicely to join the leader on the run to the second last fence, jumped to the front over that obstacle, pricked his ears on the run to the last, and came clear easily up the run-in.

It was a comprehensive performance by the Gigginstown House horse.  It was a nice step forward from his Craddockstown Chase run, when he finished second to Voix Du Reve, as well as being an enhancement of the form of the Craddockstown. 

That is a race that has been won by Sizing Europe and Sizing John in recent years, and it will be interesting to see how Voix Du Reve progresses now.  It looks like he is on track for a clash with Mengli Khan in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, and we should be a lot wiser after that. 

De Name denominant

There is a reason why horses’ ratings over hurdles are often different to their ratings over fences.  A horse’s ability over one set of obstacles may not always be consistent with his or her ability over the other.  Consequently, when it looks like a horse is well handicapped under one code based on a handicap rating that has been achieved under the other, it doesn’t always follow that he or she is.

That said, there was a fair chance that De Name Escapes Me was a well-handicapped horse going into the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Navan on Saturday.  JP McManus’ horse’s handicap rating over hurdles was significantly higher than his handicap rating over fences but, more importantly, he had improved by 12lb in official terms over hurdles since he had last run over fences.  There was a fair chance that he could carry at least some of that level of improvement from one code to the other, and he did. 

Niall Madden was very good on him.  He rode him patiently, got him into a nice jumping rhythm, made his ground steadily, and delivered him with a well-timed run, squeezing through on the stands side of Solomn Grundy close home to get up and win by half a length.  The Noel Meade-trained gelding is eight years old, but this was just his fourth chase.  He hadn’t run over fences in 12 months.  There was every chance that he would benefit from a quiet, confident ride, and that is what he got.

The handicapper raised the Vinnie Roe gelding’s chase rating by a stone, but that still leaves him on a chase mark of just 133, which is still 9lb lower than his hurdles ratings.  He is progressive over fences, and he still may have some leeway in that mark of 133.

Quiz time

Spot the odd one out among these Grade 1 and Grade 2 two-mile chases:

The Tingle Creek Chase, the Fortria Chase, the Desert Orchid Chase, the Game Spirit Chase, the Paddy’s Rewards Club ‘Sugar Paddy’ Chase. 

Not easy.

© The Irish Field, 15th December 2018