'Are you reading, Willie?' Why Yorkhill must go for gold
It is normal for Willie Mullins horses to confuse ante-post markets and Yorkhill has the potential to do that more than most this season.
Yorkhill could win the Champion Hurdle, the Stayers' Hurdle or the Ryanair, but surely the Gold Cup is the race he should be aimed at – in which case I’d be very keen on backing him.
Mullins seemed to be very downbeat after his loss at Fairyhouse – you can understand why in a way as his horse had just thrown away victory in a Grade 1 chase with a wayward performance that almost saw him refuse at the last – but it was ridiculous to then suggest he might return to hurdles.
Why? Just a look at his form figures shows that he took to fences very well and he won the JLT, which was his big target of the season.
I think there are two things to bear in mind about Yorkhill. The first is that he must now go left-handed. He was very professional at Cheltenham, showed no kinks and had plenty left in the tank when beating Top Notch.
The second thing, and something not picked up on by most pundits, is that Cheltenham perhaps takes a lot out of him as he is never as good afterwards.
Rewind to his hurdling season and, after thashing Yanworth in the Neptune, he looked barely rideable at Aintree when struggling home against Le Prezien and then came nowhere at Punchestown. This time he ran just once more but was still just as wayward at Fairyhouse.
I don’t think that mentally he can cope with many races, so just run him once or twice before March, go to Cheltenham and then stop. Are you reading, Willie?
If Yorkhill does go elsewhere, then another second-season chaser, Our Duke, would have a massive chance of giving Jessica Harrington her second successive Gold Cup win.
He was a good hurdler but was simply stunning as a novice chaser last season and his win in the Irish National had to be seen to be believed.
In what is always one of the toughest races in the calendar, he made a mockery of it. He travelled well, jumped really well and never looked like losing at any stage.
A 14-length winning margin didn’t flatter him at all and, although it was only the veteran Bless The Wings chasing him home, that shouldn’t be held against him in what was a thrilling display.
Things will be harder this season, but the Gold Cup is all about stamina, which Our Duke possesses plenty of, and he is also a Grade 1 winner over 3m so he ticks the class box as well.
Thistlecrack is the favourite, but I’m not sure about him.
He will be ten next year, which is older than ideal so his injury last season may well have robbed him of his best chance of winning this race. I was also disappointed he couldn’t beat the gallant Many Clouds in the Cotswold Chase in January.
Might Bite is another to consider. He has the label of being quirky, but is that really true?
He looked very resolute when winning at Aintree and a fall at the last when the Kauto Star Novces’ Chase at Kempton was won can happen to any horse.
The only time he looked tricky was at Cheltenham, but then he had set a strong pace and not seen another horse for a long time, so he was entitled to idle. Once he caught sight of Whisper, he ran on again, so don’t think that just because he is by Scorpion he is difficult.
He could easily get involved in this and at a much shorter price if he can land the King George in the meantime. Bearing in mind how effective he looked at Kempton last Christmas, that must be a distinct possibility.
With last year’s novices so strong, this could well be a stronger race than last year, so Sizing John faces a tall order to retain his crown. Djakadam has had enough chances, while Minella Rocco and Native River also just came up short.
The one to take from last year’s race could be Bristol De Mai at a huge price if only he could find some consistency.
He was brilliant in the Peter Marsh, showing his true colours, and was wrong at Newbury next time, but he was only average in the Gold Cup and disappointing again at Aintree on his final start.
Bearing in mind he is only young, it’s worth giving him the benefit of the doubt and maybe a few more small-field events at Haydock can come his way – I wouldn’t put anyone off him landing a Betfair Chase on deep ground.
But he may really need an attritional year to prosper at Cheltenham and that would also suit the likes of Minella Rocco and Our Duke. Maybe one day.
This preview is taken from the RFO Jumps Guide 2017-18 - out on October 13