THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
Cape Tribulation (nearside) on his way to his Cheltenham winPICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
Trials and Tribulation
If there was one meeting over the course of the last week that ‘had' to beat the weather it was Cheltenham, and Saturday's card provided both a thrilling spectacle, with several tight finishes, and numerous pointers for the Festival itself. Our NH team are out in force this week to give their take on events, led off by Phil Smith's views on another major success for the better-than-ever Cape Tribulation.
VIA THE CAPE
The Argento Cotswold Chase was a tricky race to rate as the ground inconvenienced the majority who took part, writes Phil Smith.
Cape Tribulation came into it in good form having won the Rowland Meyrick Handicap at Wetherby on Boxing Day by a comfortable 11 lengths. I had only put him up 9lb for that win as I had taken the view that it was a weak renewal as the second Mr Moonshine had run poorly in his previous race.
I had believed Cape Tribulation (brilliantly ridden by Dennis O'Regan) to be a better hurdler than chaser up to now but his thrilling victory over the returning Imperial Commander on Saturday had to make him at least a potential placed horse in the Gold Cup. I decided on 165 for his new rating so that he is now the highest rated runner from the Argento.
What to do with Imperial Commander? Remember he was beaten in receipt of 6lb on Saturday so had a performance figure of 158 - very encouraging after nearly two years off. Although Imperial Commander is almost certain to improve for the run I now have him on 162. If they were to meet in a handicap the Commander would be 3lb worse off with Cape Tribulation from Saturday so I have built in a little improvement.
Hunt Ball travelled really well for most of the race but to my eyes clearly failed to stay the trip. He stayed 3m at Aintree last April but around Cheltenham the extra distance on that ground found him out. I left him on 157 and am sure he would be competitive off that mark in a handicap.
Of the rest I left Weird Al on 164 from the Betfair Chase and left the faller Little Josh on 149. If he can reach the places in the Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday week he'll qualify for the Grand National. Midnight Chase, Hey Big Spender and Wayward Prince have all been dropped 3lb and I pulled Grands Crus back 2lb to 155. Let's hope that he can return to form as he looked really promising a year ago.
As if the fruits of herculean efforts by Cheltenham's ground-staff to stage Saturday's Trials Day card was not reward enough for action-starved jump fans, the addition of Ascot's postponed Victor Chandler Chase took the already star-studded programme to another level, writes John de Moraville.
Sprinter Sacre is simply in a league of his own and once again underlined the point with the ruthless destruction of this Grade 1 field, taking his unbeaten run over fences to seven in the process.
Already on a lofty 179 despite never having come off the bridle over fences, the imposing seven-year-old skimmed over the bog-like turf, justifying his 5-1-on price tag by 14 effortless lengths.
It goes without saying that the Queen Mother Champion Chase is his for the taking.
Of Saturday's hapless opposition, second-favourite Sanctuaire's hold-up tactics backfired, the habitual front-runner folding tamely up the hill. Only fourth, he ran some two stone below the level of his Desert Orchid victory over Kumbeshwar (fifth), whilst the latter had a rare off-day too, failing to make the frame for the first time in 12 completed starts.
Somersby, rated 165 on the strength of victory over Finian's Rainbow and Al Ferof (subsequent winners of the Champion Chase and the Paddy Power) in the corresponding event at Ascot last winter, ran with plenty of credit. Off with a splint problem since slammed by the free-wheeling Sanctuaire at Sandown last April, he unsurprisingly ran out of puff, losing second close home to the staying-on Mad Moose.
Unconsidered at 50-1, Mad Moose ran an extraordinary race. Gifted 20 lengths at the start, the blinkered nine-year-old looked sure to be swamped at the top of the hill but, having jumped three out in fifth place, the stamina that won him a 2m5f Cheltenham handicap in the mud last April (albeit off a mark of only 134) came into play. It would be dangerous to take his performance literally and, by raising h is rating 5lb to 143, I have not done so.
NAILED BY THE CROSS
There were two excellent races in my division from the Cheltenham meeting, writes Martin Greenwood. First up came the Neptune Investment Management Classic Novices' Hurdle which saw the end of The New One's unbeaten hurdles record. In my opinion, The New One lost very little in defeat and is surely still a very strong fancy for the 2m5f novice at the Festival.
Odds-on after sluicing up at Warwick a fortnight ago, The New One looked to have this race in the bag when quickening around three lengths clear only to be worn down near the line by the fast-improving At Fishers Cross.
Whereas The New One is blessed with plenty of speed for a staying novice, At Fishers Cross is at the other end of the scale and has stamina in bucket loads. On another day, maybe on less testing ground, or with The New One's jockey holding on to him a tad longer, the result could easily be different.
I don't want to take anything away from At Fishers Cross though, he is flying up the ratings and it is no surprise to see him one of the favourites for the 3m novice at the Festival - the longer trip can only suit him even more.
Both The New One and At Fishers Cross are rated 152, well above the usual standard for the Cheltenham race, while Coneygree, who was very disappointing and possibly had something amiss remains on 150. It is worth pointing out that Pont Alexandre's bloodless victory at Leopardstown could well supersede them all, and I will perhaps blog about that performance next week.
The very next race, the Rewards4Racing Cleeve Hurdle, almost left me in an identical position. Reve de Sivola further enhanced his phoenix from the ashes style renaissance by grittily edging out Oscar Whiskey who was bidding to convince us all about his stamina limitations. In giving 8lb and more and pulling six lengths and more away from middle of the road opposition, it's hard to argue Oscar Whisky didn't stay but at the same time I have him a few pounds below his best and the feeling that he is ideally suited by slightly shorter trips or less testing conditions at this one.
Maybe with a stronger pace the pair would have pulled even further clear, though again that would have put extra pressure on Oscar Whisky's stamina. My five-year race standard median is 163 which fits in snugly with the likes of Knockara Beau being beaten around ten lengths in receipt of weight. Reve de Sivola's pre-race rating was 166 (opposed to Oscar Whisky's 167 whom I haven't dropped), which came from the Long Walk at Ascot, when he strolled home and could be called anything. Bearing that in mind, I have edged up his rating 1lb so he now shares the same rating as Oscar Whisky.
GOLD CUP TRIAL IN DISGUISE?
The Grade 3 Murphy Group Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday was won in taking style by Katenko who has done nothing but improve since coming from France to join Venetia Williams, writes Mark Olley.
I based the race around the runner-up Fruity O'Rooney, who hails from the in-form Gary Moore yard and must be sick of seeing the backside of Katenko having also finished third to him at Sandown earlier in the month.
The form was given a solid look with Nadiya De Le Vega three lengths back in third and he clearly loves Cheltenham having won a valuable handicap there back in October and also finished third in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
I called the twelve-length winning margin 11lb so that moves Katenko from 147 to a new rating of 158.
This would not be the most obvious race in which to look for Gold Cup clues, but interestingly The Giant Bolster won it last year from a rating of 145, and was coincidently moved to 158, before going on to finish an excellent second to Synchronised in the Gold Cup.
Both Aidan Coleman and Venetia Williams mentioned the Gold Cup in post-race interviews, along with the Grand National, and he would not have to improve much further for his rating to suggest place claims in an open year, especially if the ground was deep.
The other horse of real interest in the race is Our Mick who was still upsides Katenko when the two horses came together three out and left Jason Maguire on the turf. Donald McCain's gelding was in the process of running an excellent reappearance and it would be no surprise to see him win races this season.