Declan Rix

After two days of top quality action from Cheltenham's November Meeting and Punchestown's Winter Festival, Declan Rix has a closer look at the performances of Saldier, Defi Du Seuil and Thyme Hill.

  • Sunday 17 November
  • Blog
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On Saturday I was really looking forward to the return of last season’s brilliant Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Klassical Dream, but Willie Mullins’s charge had to play second fiddle – and even third fiddle in the end - to his stablemate Saldier and runner-up Petit Mouchoir.

While obviously disappointed with Klassical Dream, it would be wrong to lead off on his performance (I kind of have. Whoops!) and not give the winner credit, as in the end Saldier had his Morgiana rivals well covered at the line. The victory looked pretty straight-forward from what I saw, the son of Soldier Hollow doing everything nicely before putting the race to bed soon after the last hurdle.

In the hands of Danny Mullins, Saldier travelled well down the inner and jumped soundly. He did appear to live on the edge a couple of times in the jumping department, but I suppose that’s just what those Champion Hurdle-type horses do.

The best aspect of the performance was how Rich Ricci’s galloper picked up and quickened off the bend, hitting the line in good style. To my eye, he looked a fitter horse than Klassical Dream on the day, but that’s not to say Saldier won’t come forward fitness-wise from this. Not at all.

However, there is a case to be made on visual evidence that last season’s Supreme winner will progress from the run more than his stablemate. His natural exuberance that we all saw on the first day of last season’s Cheltenham Festival was still there to be seen – which is a positive within the context of defeat – but he simply didn’t get away with it here on his first run of the season in open company.

Not only was the 2/5 favourite full of life pre-race, he galloped with zest during and jumped with far too much enthusiasm; his leap at the first hurdle especially catching the eye. All of the above whittled away at energy levels he desperately needed to save on his first run back.

I also noted he likely covered more ground than Saldier, who hugged the rail throughout, but it was hardly anything significant. That kind of analysis is really looking for the positives in the performance of Klassical Dream, but while he was disappointingly beaten at odds of 2/5, his next run will tell us more.

The son of Dream Well’s form got better and better as the campaign progressed last season, though; and while I can’t be sure if that’s because he encountered softer ground with stronger gallops at Cheltenham and Punchestown, or he was simply progressing (maybe it was both), his performance levels will need to improve on this evidence if he is to warrant serious Champion Hurdle consideration.

At the moment, Saldier (155+) is the stable’s number one Champion Hurdle hope, if only marginally. Leopardstown over Christmas will tell us more.


As we saw with Klassical Dream in the Morgiana Hurdle on Saturday, good novices stepping into open company – even when 2/5 favourite – don’t always have it easy and run as well as how we, or the market, expects. Of course, it’s still early days for the season’s previous novices who have had one run in open company, but you couldn’t be but seriously impressed with what Defi Du Seuil did at Cheltenham on Sunday in his maiden chase venture.

A two-time Grade 1-winning novice chaser last season – including victory in what looks a hot JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham – for JP McManus’s horse to beat the classy and experienced Politologue on seasonal debut in the manner he did sends a strong message to the two and two-and-a-half mile divisions.

In the process of beating Politologue by a going away 1¼ lengths, the son Voix Du Nord looked a more polished horse. At times last season, plenty of cover and a good lead seemed a big help, but here Barry Geraghty jumped him off in second, seeing plenty of daylight and he settled beautifully.

His jumping also looked more assured. The six-year-old had/has his own style; he could intelligently fling himself at an obstacle last campaign, spending a little time in the air, which sometimes didn’t inspire total confidence in me, truth be told, but in his Grade 2 Shloer Chase success he looked that little bit more accomplished.

What Philip Hobbs’s horse always possessed last season was gears, a turn of foot, and this asset could again be seen in the Shloer as he readily quickened past Politologue in some style. Politologue himself picked up and left Simply Ned (3rd) and Saint Calvados (4th) for dead after the last, but he couldn’t handle the winner.

Still, for the first two home to put so much distance in a short space of time from the last fence, to the third and race-fit fourth, visually, was superbly impressive.

Shloer Chase at Cheltenham
All four Shloer Chase rivals jump the second last fence

There would still be a number of little caveats to this form however, which we should bear in mind going forward. The early, middle and late parts of this race suggested Politologue didn’t go a strong gallop - certainly in comparison to the earlier Arkle Trial won by Put The Kettle On - and this scenario lends itself to horses being allowed to jump well.

With Defi Du Seuil correctly shortening across the boards for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, I would still like to see him tackle a strong-run two-mile contest to see him jump and how well he adapts. Coming into this season, I had the Shloer winner down as the perfect Ryanair horse, but on this performance the Champion Chase has come into my picture more.

We should also remember that Paul Nicholls’s grey Politologue was giving the winner 3lb, so technically, is still a better horse at the weights. I would also suggest that Harry Cobden didn’t give his mount the best chance of winning; the slower than ideal fractions clearly playing into the hands of Defi Du Seuil. With Politologue having so much form over further, the gallop Cobden set really needed to bring the stamina and good jumping of his mount more into play.

The former Tingle Creek winner now looks set to head back to Sandown to try and reclaim his 2017 crown where on 3lb better terms, with a stronger gallop to run at and a tougher jumping challenge, he may well get even closer to Defi Du Seuil.

The 5/1 currently on offer (compared to 2/1 Defi Du Seuil) about the Ditcheat-based horse looks more than fair on the back of Sunday’s evidence.


Saturday’s Grade 2 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Registered As The Hyde Novices' Hurdle) saw the return of the Persian War Novices' Hurdle winner Thyme Hill, and Philip Hobbs’s inmate didn’t disappoint, fending of the nine-runner field in good style under a Grade 2 penalty.

The son of Kayf Tara had to carry 5lb more than the majority of his rivals for his recent Chepstow success, but it wasn’t enough to anchor the professional five-year-old.

It was good to see Thyme Hill adapt to a different pace scenario on his second hurdles start. At Chepstow off a solid gallop he had raced a bit keenly – just freshness on his first start of the campaign – but here the slow early fractions saw him drop the bridle nicely under Richard Johnson, before the pace picked up passing the winning post for the first time.

At Chepstow he had jumped well, but he maybe jumped even better here. What really pleased and was quite impressive for a novice having just his second hurdles run, was his athleticism and nimbleness to get away from his obstacles quickly when not meeting them on a nice stride. When he comes to face those big embryonic chasers later in the season, this will be a big weapon.

This trait got Thyme Hill into contention quite easily, indeed, it looks like this field – which contained the solid novice Champagne Well (runner-up) and a nice horse for the future in the inexperienced Happygolucky (third) – couldn’t lead him long enough, before he scampered away to win by three lengths going away.

I’ve got him running to 141p here, which is a good level for a novice hurdler in the second month of November, and there is the distinct feeling he can climb the ranks – and ratings - even higher. Physically, he’s not over big and looks a real ‘here and now’ novice hurdle horse.

The Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle (2m4f) at Newbury next month is said to be next – and granted we don’t get heavy ground – whatever beats him will need to be a quality animal. Obviously!

Two-and-a-half miles looks perfect for him at the moment and while there is chat already suggesting he’ll make up into an Albert Bartlett (3m) horse, from my point of view, little evidence, to my eye at least, is available to support that.

Thyme Hill looks a lovely prospect and I’m a big fan. 

Declan Rix
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