The weekend’s racing just gone was a bit of a strange one personally, from a betting perspective. While there was a host of quality action on, it really did feel like a sit and watch, a sit and learn few days with betting kept to a minimum.
We wrote about Gordon Elliott firing up his team a few weeks ago, and the week just gone saw Willie Mullins’ squad start to go through the gears. The week coming, the same will be true of Nicky Henderson in Britain.
In the UK, there was good racing from Ascot and Haydock on Friday and Saturday, where the fantastic grey Bristol De Mai won his third Betfair Chase, at the latter venue; Nigel Twiston-Davies’s inmate no doubt helped by the rain that fell throughout the day ahead of the UK’s first domestic Grade 1 of the season.
It really did feel like a weekend for novices however, and below, I have covered what stood out for me, among the races that I got to recap on properly. There was so much to learn, sadly I didn’t get to go through all the cards in fine detail, but of the meetings I did, below is what stood out.
Improved Chantry House makes superb start to novice chasing career
Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third, Chantry House (151p) made a fantastic start to life over larger obstacles with a 26 lengths success at Ascot on Friday. Despite that margin of victory flattering him hugely, given nearest market rival Pic D'Orhy fell 3out when still in contention and eventual runner-up Up The Straight heavily eased, this performance was a fair warning shot to any intermediate trip novice chasers in Britain.
The 6yo son of Yeats didn’t need to improve on his Supreme third (144p) to win – especially with Pic D’Orhy falling – but to my eye, he clearly looks a better horse this season. During the last campaign, I found it hard to get a proper level on him heading into the Cheltenham Festival; you obviously knew he was good, but his wins at Cheltenham and Newbury came in slow-run races when he still looked a raw horse.
Thankfully, the gears he showed as a novice hurdler are still intact, with him recording a smart closing sectional from 3out, despite the pace of the race not being slow.
Come the 2020 Supreme, while having a touch of class, Chantry House clearly wasn’t ready for a test like that, especially on unsuitable soft ground; and it’s a testament to his natural ability he ran so well; but that experience looks to have crowned him, and we now have a hugely exciting novice chaser on our hands.
Nicky Henderson’s inmate showed a good aptitude for jumping – not quite Envoi Allen good just yet - and these skills actually appeared to improve as the fractions got quicker; an encouraging sign. Another positive was, he appears to be a more professional horse now; the big, raw baby of last season wasn't as evident.
In what looked a soundly-run contest, this was an excellent test to start Chantry House’s season; both from a jumping point of view and fitness. Post-race, Nicky Henderson told Sky Sports Racing; “he is having a good blow”, suggesting JP McManus’s horse will improve on what he did at Ascot. Given how Henderson trains, with spring targets always in the back of his mind, this is obviously no surprise, but still good to hear.
Given the high level Chantry House has run to first-time out, with improvement certain to come, all being well, we are dealing with a horse that should excite fans hugely. OK, his jumping wasn’t knockout just yet, but my main takeaway was the engine on show, with the likelihood of more to come.
This guy could be very good, good enough to push Envoi Allen come March, especially on decent ground, while obviously knowing he must improve further. If being picky, I did notice a couple of jumps to his right, but it was his first day at chasing school and hopefully nothing to worry about.
The 12/1 on offer for the 2021 Marsh Novices’ Chase is probably worth taking now, especially with an option to trade down the line, if that is your thing. If Chantry House can avoid very soft ground and keep winning on the run-up to Cheltenham, that price is obviously only going to go one way.
I loved this chasing debut and I hope there is much more to come.
Lee has a new stable star in Demachine?
At Ascot on Saturday, another novice put up a lovely performance in a novices' handicap chase. Kerry Lee’s inmate Demachine impressed in a 3¾ lengths success off an official mark of 132 in a Class 3 event under stable jockey Richard Patrick.
On just his sixth career start, and second over fences, Demachine made pretty short work of Ascot’s demanding obstacles, jumping with an accuracy and professionalism rarely seen from such an inexperienced novice chaser on a second start over the larger obstacles.
The way the son of Flemensfirth travelled through his race was also eyecatching; his rider seemingly able to keep filling him up, his jumping giving him a helping hand, too. It was a pretty polished performance all round.
To the eye, Demachine looks like a slow, relentless galloping type, but his overall time looks sound and his sectional from 3out was just 0.15 seconds slower than what Imperial Aura recorded in his impressive Grade 2 Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase success.
I have him, Demachine, running to 142p and convinced he is capable of getting to at least 150 this season, if he remains in good form and good health. That kind of number means the RSA at the Cheltenham Festival is not a pipedream, if connections harbour such aspirations. I could easily see him being competitive in a Reynoldstown Novices' Chase over this course and distance in February, 2020.
His dam, Dancingonthemoon (by Milan), was an unraced mare, but she is a half-sister to Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere and the top-class chaser Sub Lieutenant. With Demachine being so lightly raced for a 6yo, having a physique that lends itself to progress and having that sort of pedigree, he looks to have a bright future.
Hopefully the Kerry Lee yard continues their bright start to the campaign.