Declan Rix

There were Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Triumph Hurdle clues at Kempton on Saturday, in the Dovecote Novices' Hurdle and Adonis Juvenile Hurdle, and here Declan Rix looks at a pair of horses who have strengthened their chance of Cheltenham Festival glory.

  • Sunday 24 February
  • Blog
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ANGELS STRENGTHENS SUPREME CHANCE DESPITE SURPRISE DEFEAT 

One of the big news stories from the weekend’s racing came at Kempton in the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices' Hurdle, where leading Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender Angels Breath was turned over at odds of 8/11 by Paul Nicholls’s Southfield Stone.

In black and white, it was disappointing to be beaten at such prohibitive odds but having gone back and watched the race there is a case to say the son of Shantou has improved on his excellent Grade 2 debut success in The Kennel Gate at Ascot and so, done his chances of winning the Supreme little harm at all.

In fact, I’d say the Dai Walters & Ronnie Bartlett-owned gelding has actually improved his chance of winning the Festival curtain-raiser, without it warranting his ante-post odds for a hugely competitive race shortening. A bit counterintuitive, I do agree.

With that said, it came as a surprise, admittedly going over the race with a fine-tooth comb hours after it had been run, that the likable grey could be backed at 16/1 in the immediate aftermath. Those fancy prices are now gone, along with the 14/1 that could have been taken, but the 12s still on offer simply look too big of an overreaction to what we witnessed on Saturday. Here’s why.

First and foremost, despite being beaten, we saw an improved Angels Breath from the one we witnessed winning on his British debut by 4½ lengths. OK, it was marginal improvement, but when you factor in his bad preparation (missed an intended engagement at Newbury and then had to be vaccinated during the Equine Flu outbreak) for the race, this must go down as a significant positive.

Secondly, plenty people, including me, were unsure about his jumping ability given he only hurdled four obstacles on debut due to high winds at Ascot. What we saw at Kempton was an incredibly quick and accurate hurdler who oozes class in this department. This area of his game is now of no concern, and actually one of his main assets.

The form of the race also looks solid; Angels Breath was beaten by a nice horse who thrives on good ground in a sound time trying to concede 5lb, while pulling a huge 18 lengths clear of the third. Given the winning margin was just three-quarters-of-a-length, Angels Breath obviously comes out as comfortably the better horse.

The return to a stiffer course at Cheltenham on likely softer ground, making it more of a stamina test, will be a big positive for the five-year-old who finished off his race in good fashion showing a likable attitude.

Angels Breath is a Supreme Novices' Hurdle contender
Despite losing at Kempton, Declan feels we learned more about Angels Breath in defeat

There can be no denying the runner-up looked tapped for toe as they turned into the home straight, but it wasn’t a case of him looking slow, but more of a horse who will be happier on a less favouring speed track. Let’s not forget, we are also dealing with a horse that was having his second ever racecourse start against a much more experienced rival. In little time at all, Angels Breath has come a long way.

This could well be the race needed to crown him too – this experience will not be lost on him - and he will likely to be a sharper horse come Cheltenham after his less than ideal preparation, oversaw by a man who knows how to peak one for the greatest festival of them all. 

This wasn’t the run of a horse that needs to go up in trip and contest the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Angels Breath travels too well and jumps too well for that test at this stage of his career. The 12/1 on offer for the Supreme looks far too big on the back of Saturday’s effort; 6/1 is a fairer ante-post reflection of his chance. There is 10/1 Non-Runner No Bet around too and the safer option but still at a value price.

While some will maybe disagree, I don’t think Angels Breath did his Supreme chance any harm and we actually learned more about him in defeat then we did in victory at Ascot.

FUSIL RAFFLES BURSTS INTO TRIUMPH HURDLE PICTURE

The Simon Munir-owned Soldatino went on to land the 2010 Triumph Hurdle having won the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton on his British debut, and the owner, along with joint-owner Isaac Souede have launched a late attack on the Joseph O’Brien Triumph battalion with the classy-looking Fusil Raffles.

The former Guillaume Macaire inmate could do no more than win like did, by 9 lengths, not being fully extended. The son of Saint Des Saints, from the family of high-class chaser Alpha Des Obeaux, cruised around the Kempton track, jumping well and showing a lot of class late in the race.

Trainer Nicky Henderson was quite complimentary about the four-year-old in his pre-race blog with Unibet, and while he did win a weak-looking renewal, you would have to be taken by the style of victory. The ease at which Fusil Raffles did everything really caught my eye; the four-year-old being totally at ease in his surroundings before scooting clear.

On this evidence, despite lacking the experience of some, Fusil Raffles would be Britain’s leading candidate in the Triumph. There is a caveat however, the horse picked up a nasty cut on his near hind jumping the last hurdle, meaning his Cheltenham participation is in some doubt.

Hopefully he makes the race and adds to a contest that would maybe lacking competition if he missed the engagement. 

Declan Rix
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