Things We Learned » Exciting times

Exciting times 

Gordon Elliott could have some fun this season, sorting out his top staying novice chasers. 

You have to do a double-take in order to be sure that Champagne Classic is still a novice, and that he will be so for the entire campaign, but he is and he will.  Winner of the Grade 1 three-mile novices’ hurdle at the 2017 Punchestown Festival, he had a truncated time of it last season.  He didn’t start off until January, he was only just beaten by Chris’s Dream in the Grade 2 Ten Up Chase on his second run of the season, and then a setback ruled him out for the rest of the term.

The Gigginstown House horse is making up for lost time though.  He is two for two this season so far, and he looked very good in beating Discorama in the Listed MW Hickey Memorial Chase at Wexford on Monday. 

Battleoverdoyen looked very good too in winning the two-mile-six-furlong beginners’ chase at Galway on Monday, a race from which many a top staying chaser has sprung in the recent past.  He was one of the top novice hurdlers around last season, and you can easily put a line through his run in the Ballymore Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.  He is built for chasing, and he is one of the most exciting novice chasers in the country now.

Dallas Des Pictons got the job done in a messy race at Gowran Park three weeks ago, and Flawless Escape probably would have finished second to Champagne Classic at Fairyhouse had he not come down at the final fence, and Galvin was still going well when he fell in Battleoverdoyen’s race at Galway, and then there is Swordsman and Dortmund Park.  And Samcro of course.

There is a good programme from now for the good staying novice chasers in Ireland, which includes the Florida Pearl Chase and the Drinmore Chase and the Neville Hotels Chase and the Matchbook Novice Chase and the Flogas Chase and the Ten Up Chase, before you have to decide between the National Hunt Chase and the RSA Chase and even the JLT Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.  All going well, each horse has plenty of potential routes through the season.  And it is interesting that Champagne Classic holds an entry in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, the old Hennessy.

Heavy ground at Cheltenham 

The ground was soft, heavy in places, at Cheltenham on Saturday and, on soft ground that is heavy in places – changing to heavy all over after the first race – the best of the ground on Cheltenham’s Old Course is usually wide on the track.  This phenomenon is usually more pronounced on the hurdles course than it is on the chase course, probably because the hurdles track on the Old Course goes outside the chase track, widest of all and under the trees on the run down the back straight.

In the four-year-olds’ hurdle, two of the seven runners raced towards the inside from flagfall, and they finished second last and last.  They were both big prices, admittedly, so their respective finishing positions may not have been down solely to track position.

Favourite Torpillo jumped a little to his left throughout, and he ended up on the inside of the track as they raced down the hill towards the home straight.  That may not have been an advantage.  Three horses raced towards the far side on the run down the hill, Quel Destin, Soviet Pimpernel and Havingagoodtime, and they finished, respectively, first, second and fourth.

There was a cracking finish to the race, with Peter Fahey’s horse Soviet Pimpernel running a massive race for Kevin Sexton to split the more experienced pair Quel Destin and Torpillo, and he should progress for the run, just his second over hurdles.  However, it may be that Torpillo’s run can be marked up.  It will be interesting to see how it pans out if these three meet again.  They may not finish in the same order.

In the Pertemps qualifier later on the day, four of the eight runners raced wide from flagfall, with the other four racing towards the inside.  Of the four who raced wide, Doubly Clever unseated his rider at the second flight down the back straight first time, but the other three, Tobefair, Sunset Showdown and Captain Tommy, finished, respectively, first, second and fourth.  

Tobefair battled on really well to get the better of Sunset Showdown up the run-in, it was another gallant performance by Debra Hamer’s horse.  Sykes probably did well to finish third though, given that he raced towards the inside for the entire journey.  He is 10 years old now, he is looking fairly exposed, but he can still be marked up on the bare form of this run.  Burrows Park also raced towards the inside, and he only finished sixth of the seven finishers in the end, but he travelled well to the home turn before tiring.

Fergal form

Fergal O’Brien has his horses in some form, operating from his new base.  A double at Southwell last Thursday was followed by a treble at Cheltenham on Friday, which was followed by two more winners from two runners on Sunday – Imperial Alcazar at Aintree and Templepark at Wincanton.  Trainer form is not always black and white, but it’s difficult to argue with this one, and there may still be an edge to following the Fergal O’Brien horses for a little while longer.

Championship anomaly

It is still strange that the flat jockeys’ and flat trainers’ championships in Britain do not finish on the same day.  Oisin Murphy was crowned champion jockey on British Champions Day at Ascot two weeks ago, yet the trainers’ championship rolls on.

It is close too at present.  Going into the Balmoral Handicap, the last race on Champions Day at Ascot, Aidan O’Brien had closed the gap on John Gosden to just over £65,482, thanks largely to Magical’s win in the Champion Stakes and Kew Gardens’ win in the Long Distance Cup. 

If Amedeo Modigliani had won the Balmoral Handicap, the Galileo colt would have netted £155,625 for Aidan O’Brien, and that would have taken him into the lead in the British trainers’ championship, even if the John Gosden-trained Lord North had bagged the £46,600 for finishing second, which he did.  But it wouldn’t have seen him crowned champion.

The Irish National Hunt championships finish on the last day of the Punchestown Festival now, which makes absolute sense.  The Flat championships finish on the last day of the turf flat season, at Naas tomorrow, which also makes sense.

The British National Hunt championships now finish on Bet365 Gold Cup day at Sandown.  Also sensible.  But the flat jockeys’ championship finishes on British Champions Day at Ascot, while the trainers’ championship runs on to the end of the year.  Try explaining that one to someone who has a peripheral interest in racing.

© The Irish Field, 2nd November 2019