ON THE RADAR
Willie Mullins has given Yorkhill an entry in the Grade Three two-mile-three-furlong novices' chase at Leopardstown this Sunday, 22 January, and I hope the seven-year-old son of Presenting is allowed to take his chance, as I rate him highly and want to see him run again before the Cheltenham Festival. Mullins's charge has been recommended to readers of Talking Horses on several previous occasions, including in mid-December last year, shortly before his victorious debut over fences. Yorkhill scored by 14 lengths on that first attempt in a chase, his win helping to increase my confidence in his ability.
Overland Flyer made a spectacular debut at Taunton on 11 January, taking a three-mile maiden hurdle by 22 lengths. This Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old led from the off and, after forging clear coming to the third-last flight, kept on powerfully to beat the more experienced Stay Out Of Court. Nicholls's charge, a son of Westerner, had already shown ability by landing two point-to-points, both with cut in the ground, and this impressive initial effort under rules suggested he can collect again with a penalty.
Nobody who saw Paloma Blue land the bumper that closed the Fairyhouse meeting on 15 January can have any doubt that Henry de Bromhead's five-year-old has abundant ability - even if it will also have been obvious to them that he still has a good deal to learn about racing. Behind early on, Paloma Blue improved at halfway and took the lead, travelling best, two furlongs out. Once asked to quicken away, though, he showed his inexperience, drifting left before straightening to win by a length and a quarter.
Missed Approach was disappointing on his first outing over fences - trailing home fourth having been sent off 2-1 favourite at Exeter in November - but his second try at chasing proved considerably more successful. Warren Greatrex's seven-year-old Golan gelding made a good deal of the running prior to landing a novices' contest at Lingfield on 10 January and his six-length defeat of market-leader Label Des Obeaux indicated he can match or better his official hurdles mark (145) over the larger obstacles.
I doubt that Captain Buck's will ever achieve the level of form promised by Missed Approach, but his second in a Taunton novices' hurdle over two miles three furlongs the following day was encouraging enough to suggest he will win a similar event in the near future. Paul Nicholls's gelding, successful in a bumper at the same Somerset track last season, had no answer to the finishing pace of Bags Groove, who scored by four and a half lengths, but battled on dourly up the run-in and will handle longer trips.
Whatmore seems likely to be stepped up in distance after his staying-on second in the novices' hurdle over a few yards shy of two miles that closed Leicester's card on 12 January. This Henry Daly-trained five-year-old could never get to grips with start-to-finish winner Top Ville Ben, going down by seven lengths, but kept on bravely from the final flight, despite being impeded by a rival. Whatmore, whose two previous runs had been in bumpers, jumped soundly on this hurdling debut and ought to improve.
Bookmakers who cut American to a single-digit price for the Cheltenham Festival's RSA Chase after his four-and-a-half-length success at Warwick on 14 January were almost certainly over-reacting, but the Harry Fry-trained seven-year-old posted a game effort, nonetheless, and seems sure to score again while the going is testing this winter. American was always prominent and, having established a clear lead at the 13th fence, kept on resolutely, despite one late jumping blemish, to beat Champers On Ice.
DIGGING THE DIRT
Connections cannot have expected Whosyourhousemate to score on his debut in a one-mile maiden at Lingfield on 14 January, as this three-year-old gelded son of Bahamian Bounty was allowed to start at 50-1. They must have been pleased with his performance in finishing third, though, because, while he failed to handle the first two - Blaze Of Glory and Fashion Business - he kept on encouragingly in the closing stages to go down by less than three lengths. There is more to come from Ed Walker's charge.
NOTED ON THE GALLOPS
Monsieur Co is quite well regarded by decent judges in Paul Nicholls's stable and this French import looks set to make his initial appearance for the champion trainer in the near future. A son of Turgeon, Monsieur Co has winning form over both hurdles and fences in his original country, but still qualifies for novices' races in each discipline as his victories were gained last May and November respectively.
Nicky Henderson will soon be giving a five-year-old named Brave Eagle his first outing over hurdles and, if reports I have received about the son of Yeats prove accurate, he should not take long to break his duck. Henderson's charge already has jumping experience, having twice placed in point-to-points, and, being out of a Sinndar mare who landed two Flat races, is bred to be pretty smart over long trips.
STATS THE WAY TO DO IT
Stan James Champion Hurdle Trial (Haydock, Saturday, 21 January )
Punters assessing Haydock's Stan James-sponsored Champion Hurdle Trial - this season's renewal of which is due to be staged on Saturday, 21 January - should consider the fact that runners prominent in the betting have established a fine recent record.
Four market-leaders have landed the Grade Two contest within the past ten seasons - Afsoun (11-8 in 2007), Celestial Halo (6-5 in 2012) and The New One (1-6 in 2015 and 8-13 in 2016) - representing a decent success percentage, given that the 2008, 2011 and 2013 editions had to be abandoned.
Meanwhile, two second-favourites have scored - Medermit (11-4 in 2010) and Melodic Rendezvous (7-4 in 2014) - further suggesting that concentrating on the top pair in the betting might be wise.
By contrast, no winner in the past decade has started at double-figure odds - the most recent to do so being 12-1 shot Master Beveled in 1999 - while every outright favourite has made the first three.
Even the 2009 winner - 7-1 chance Songe - came from the first four on bookmakers' lists.
Last-time-out victories seem of only limited significance, as just two winners in the past ten years - Celestial Halo and The New One (2015) - had won on their final run before Haydock.
Just one other winner from the decade under scrutiny had finished second on his most recent start - The New One last season - his victory being the last strike by a contestant fulfilling that criterion since Inglis Drever in 2005.
However, two - Songe and Medermit - had filled third spot on their latest outing before the Champion Hurdle Trial, while Afsoun had fallen in his previous race and Melodic Rendezvous had finished fifth immediately prior to his profitable Haydock visit.
No seasonal debutant has come home in front since Al Eile in 2006 and only Songe in the last ten years has collected after more than three runs during the relevant campaign.
All the successful candidates within my chosen timeframe had already collected over two miles, but The New One (twice) is the sole previous course winner to have taken this prize in the past decade.
Eight-year-olds - thanks to a trio of victories notched by Celestial Halo, Melodic Rendezvous and The New One (2016) - have the best strike-rate in the period being discussed here.
Five-year-olds have scored on two occasions, meanwhile - courtesy of Afsoun and Songe - with one six-year-old - Medermit - and one seven-year-old - The New One (2015) - completing the past decade's roll of honour.
No four-year-old has ever been successful - the Haydock Trial was first staged in 1981 - and the most recent winner older than eight was the ten-year-old Rooster Booster in 2004.
BIG RACE FOCUS
Un De Sceaux looks a worthy market-leader for Ascot's Berkshire Community Foundation Clarence House Chase, to be run over just short of two miles one furlong this Saturday, 21 January.
Willie Mullins's nine-year-old (rated 165 on my scale) has 3lb-plus in hand over his possible rivals this weekend (see the rankings list below), and, providing he lines up, is the likeliest winner.
Sire De Grugy (162), Ar Mad (160) and Special Tiara (160) are Un De Sceaux's most obvious form rivals, but, according to connections, the first-named of that trio will bypass this £125,000 event.
Clarence House Chase entries
(ranked in order of ratings accurate on 17 January 2017)
|Rank||Name (age) (gender)||Trainer (country)||Rating|
|1)||Un De Sceaux (9) (gelding)||W Mullins (Ireland)||165|
|2)||Sire De Grugy (11) (gelding)||G Moore (GB)||162|
|3=)||Ar Mad (7) (gelding)||G Moore (GB)||160|
|3=)||Special Tiara (10) (gelding)||H de Bromhead (Ireland)||160|
|5)||Top Gamble (9) (gelding)||K Lee (GB)||158|
|6)||Royal Regatta (9) (gelding)||P Hobbs (GB)||156|
|7)||Dodging Bullets (9) (gelding)||P Nicholls (GB)||155|
|8)||Eastlake (11) (gelding)||J O'Neill (GB)||151|