We are now nine days after the Cheltenham Festival and no doubt many yearn to be back at Prestbury Park with friends and like-minded people, when life was much simpler and probably taken for granted. We are also edging four months into the world’s fight against Coronavirus, which has now been labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.
With thousands of people dying and many more affected by COVID-19 across the globe, horse racing seems so trivial in the grand scheme, for all this pandemic is also significantly affecting the lives of so many within our own industry. All industries.
All we can do as individuals is stay at home and follow the guidelines of government. I’ve been self-isolating since Monday, working from the kitchen table and as the days go on, it’s getting harder to stay in, but I have to remind myself, it’s short-term pain for long-term gain, personally, but more importantly, these actions will hopefully save the lives of those most vulnerable.
Work is actually keeping me sane, the routine is a plus, and I’ve enjoyed looking back at this year’s Cheltenham Festival replays in a bit more depth. Simon Rowlands has also covered the action while Jamie Lynch did the same, looking forward in his piece, too.
Hopefully people aren’t sick of Cheltenham 2021 talk already as I’ll take the same path here, but with a more forgotten horse approach. Plenty good ones didn’t run up to standard at the Festival and so, won’t be as well found in current ante-post markets.
We’ll kick off with one in the first race of the meeting, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in Fiddlerontheroof. Sent off 6/1 when he could only finish a well-beaten 11th behind Shishkin and Abacadabras, the son of Stowaway clearly didn’t run anywhere near his best; a story for many of Colin Tizzard’s horses during the week.
I think it’s safe to say it is an effort we can forgive, although I’m not sure on what grounds yet; stable form my best guess at the moment. On what we knew coming into the Supreme however, if he simply produced his winning Grade 1 Tolworth Novices' Hurdle run (149p) on January 4th, at minimum, I feel he would’ve finished third.
Given what Shishkin (157p) and Abacadabras (155p) achieved on the day, it’s maybe unlikely he would’ve won, but if he ran a good third, say beaten 4-5 lengths, I feel we would be talking about him as an exciting novice chase prospect for next season, like Chantry House (144p), who is going to be a nice horse back on much better ground.
He may well improve, too, Fiddlerontheroof, like he has in every start this season - Cheltenham aside - as he has strengthened up. Robbie Power has mentioned on more than one occasion the physical progress this six-year-old has made throughout the campaign and another summers grass may well do him no harm.
I could see him being a long-term player in the 2021 Marsh Novices’ Chase, of which 33/1 is currently available.
A horse with a similar profile going into Cheltenham as Fiddlerontheroof was Philip Hobbs’s Sporting John. Both novice hurdlers left The Festival in similar circumstances too; disappointing runs with other stable runners failing to fire.
Post-race, Sporting John finished distressed and was said to be wrong behind; excuses thankfully. I’m afraid I just can’t forget what this horse did at Ascot in his Cheltenham prep, though; conceding 8lb to a mid-130s, Nicky Henderson-trained horse in Pipesmoker, the son of Getaway readily dismantled his closest rival by a cool 6½ lengths, running to 148P.
Not only did he impress visually, but the form and time of the race look strong and with hindsight, there is maybe an element of him leaving his Cheltenham run behind in Berkshire. I won’t give up on him though, not with his form, mind-set and pedigree suggesting he has the potential to go to the top.
By exciting young sire Getaway, and from the family of Oscar Whisky, Sporting John is a horse that has always looked to save a bit for himself; a trait I like in equine athletes. A point-to-point winner whose hurdling technique suggests fences could suit, a summer of grass at Martinstown could crown next season’s (hopefully) Marsh winner.
The current 40/1 on offer is a bet I’ve already struck.
Kenneth Alexander’s six-year-old mare in her own right is now edging towards top-class, in terms of mares talent, and should she run over fences next season, with a valuable 7lb sex allowance, she’ll test most geldings she comes up against on current evidence.
Beaten seven lengths by Honeysuckle, it just goes to show you how good Alexander’s winner is, but Elfile recorded a career best here, running to 147. If the daughter of Saint Des Saints can replicate that level over fences, she’ll give the likes of much-vaunted stablemate The Big Getaway a race.
A strong-traveller and a good jumper, her forward-going style should give her every chance of making it as a chaser, and with Willie Mullins, she is obviously in good hands. Next season will see the introduction of a new Mares’ Chase over two-and-a-half miles, and while Elfile will be a novice, it would be no surprise to see her run there, should she go over fences.
One horse who we know will compete over the larger obstacles next season is Notebook, the beaten favourite in the Arkle. I can’t help but feel he is worth another chance, especially in the context of him currently being 40/1 for the 2021 Queen Mother Champion Chase.
I suspect the combination of proper soft ground and a tough race coming into Cheltenham saw him run well below his best on the Tuesday. It was still some comfort to see the son of Samum jump well in the main, but back on better going, he will be a more potent force.
It's hard to know what way the top two-mile division will go next season, with Altior turning 11, Chacun Pour Soi seemingly so unlucky with injuries/setbacks and Defi Du Seuil, while a lovely horse, no superstar. We shouldn't forget the hugely talented Sceau Royal, though!
I won’t be giving up on Cobblers Way when he embarks on a chasing career next season. He pulled-up in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (stumbled two out, lost a shoe and was looked after), clearly not giving his running, but the form of his Dublin Racing Festival second looks strong, based on what Latest Exhibition and Fury Road did subsequently, in the Albert Bartlett.
I think some horses will have struggled with the tacky ground during the week at Cheltenham, and Cobblers Way is one who maybe couldn’t cope. Just like Notebook, for a big horse he is a good mover and with him coming to Cheltenham with a highly progressive profile this season, I could see him making the currently available 50/1 for the 2021 RSA look big.
Henry de Bromhead’s ability with novice chasers is known to all now, the son of Oscar is in good hands to climb the ranks.