Declan Rix

The rearranged Peterborough Chase and the International Hurdle come under the microscope in Declan Rix's column this week.

  • Monday 14 December
  • Blog
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International meeting review

The 2019 International Meeting at Cheltenham produced three winners at that season’s Cheltenham Festival with Easysland, Indefatigable and Imperial Aura all going on to win at Prestbury Park in March. It’s hard to say this far out if the two-day fixture will have similar success come March 2021, but there were some good performances to look at.

Below, is what stood out for me.

Fisher flies back into Ryanair picture

The rearranged Grade 2 Peterborough Chase went the way of Mister Fisher (157+) on Friday, who put up a likable performance under a penalty to convincingly beat race-favourite Kalashnikov by 1¾ lengths.

It was a big step in the right direction on the back of a poor run in the Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase back in November, where he pulled-up on his first run of the season. Connections blamed the ground there, and while there is no doubt he does everything smoother on a quicker surface, the 6yo clearly handles soft.

That’s why there may still be a nice bit of upside to the son of Jeremy going forward, because as we saw at Doncaster in his Grade 2 Lightning Novices' Chase success in January, nice ground really does look to bring out the best in him, as does the New Course at Cheltenham.

The ground at the Festival when he finished just over 4 lengths behind Samcro (155p) in the Marsh Novices’ Chase was soft and while Mister Fisher would have preferred quicker, a bigger hindrance this day may well have been a lack of physical maturity against older rivals. It shouldn’t be forgotten he, a 6yo, finished behind Samcro, an 8yo, Melon (155?), an 8yo and Faugheen (154+),  a 12yo. So far, last season’s Marsh looks like it was a solid race, as it did on the day.

Mister Fisher has helped in solidifying that form here, in a performance where he travelled nicely early and jumped well in the main. While he looked in good order and went through his race well, Mister Fisher did appear to go asleep before 6out and needed waking up. He responded to be fair, but maybe cheek-pieces will help as he goes further up in class.

His jumping will need to get sharper, too. While he isn’t even close to a bad jumper, he can just spend a little time in the air over some obstacles. He was very much like that as a novice, but now heading for open Grade 1 company, he will need to hone this skill to be a big player in races like the Ryanair.

The engine is at least there and I was impressed with how Mister Fisher picked up off a sound gallop under Nico de Boinville, hitting the line well. De Boinville always looked in control heading to the last, knowing his mount had plenty left, allowing him to coast into it. Once over, Mister Fisher got his first smack and quickened impressively.

On the back of this, I am surprised he is still available at 20/1 in a place (16/1 general) for the Ryanair, especially when you consider his age, course and distance form, the man who trains him and the strong likelihood of an improved horse on better ground.

The form of this Peterborough would nearly match that of what Imperial Aura (158+) did last time at Ascot, for me, but yet, there is a huge gulf in their prices (20/1 vs 7/1).

Likable Someone on Song in International

While Saturday’s Grade 2 Unibet International Hurdle didn’t throw up any serious contenders to Epatante’s (156p) Champion Hurdle crown, we saw another hugely likable and tough performance from the Tom Symonds inmate Song For Someone(157+) as he just clung on from the fast-finishing and hugely unlucky Silver Streak (156+) to win by a nose.

There is little doubt Song For Someone was a slightly fortunate winner given how the race panned out for the runner-up, but I don’t think the 5yo was quite at his very best, on the back of a tough win at Ascot just three weeks earlier, where he was reportedly ready for his seasonal debut.

Song For Someone didn’t travel with his usual verve here, maybe suggesting the edge had been knocked off him after Ascot; or maybe, this type of trip, even on soft ground, is as short as he wants at this kind of level. Either way, he had to be tough and brave late to fend off Silver Streak under a penalty and has maybe earned a short break now.

He is maybe a little hard to place going forward having won his third Grade 2 since February, but the Aintree Hurdle looks an ideal spot for him to potential break down the Grade 1 door.

Because of the low sun, only five of the eight hurdles were jumped in the International and given the soft ground, I thought that may well suit Silver Streak. He can jump well, but Evan Williams’s stable star clearly does everything easier on a firmer surface – including jumping - so, it’s to his credit he has run so well here on ground he wouldn’t be at his best on.

I think it’s pretty clear why the grey still performed well; he has simply returned better than ever this season and has improved. His jumping, which can sometimes let him down, again stood up well here and the son of Dark Angel showed a lovely attitude to close down the winner late on.

He just couldn’t get there, but I was very impressed with how the first two were pulling away from the rest at the line. Back on a much faster surface, Silver Streak will be even better. He is clearly in a good place at the moment.

So too is Ballyandy (153) who finished third. He is another who is in rude health this season and again ran well on the back of gallant efforts in the Welsh Champion Hurdle and Greatwood Hurdle.

All in all however, nothing in this race will scare connections of Epatante, or indeed, those Champion Hurdle hopefuls in Ireland. Song For Someone looks good enough to run in a Champion Hurdle, but the test likely won’t bring out the best in him, especially back on the Old Course on possibly faster ground.

Silver Streak will be even better on spring going come March and is worthy of lining-up, but you’d expect the likes of Abacadabras (155p) and Saint Roi to improve passed him come the Festival, while he has quite a bit of ground to make up on the race’s forgotten horse, Sharjah (160+).

Whether Goshen (150p) will line-up in March remains to be seen on the back of a hugely disappointing run where he finished last of the 10-runner field, beaten 29 lengths. He clearly didn’t run anywhere near his best and post-race, was found to have a ‘fibrillating heart’. He deserves another chance, but now obviously has even more to prove.

Declan Rix
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