PATIENCE THE KEY TO BRISTOL BLOOMING AWAY FROM HAYDOCK?
It’s such a shame when horses that don’t win at the Cheltenham Festival fail get the praise they deserve. Maybe it’s a modern phenomenon, given the seemingly ever-increasing Everest that ‘The Festival’ has become?
Silviniaco Conti was a winning machine that never seemed to capture racing fans imaginations, no doubt down to the fact he never won at Cheltenham in March while having a couple of high-profile losses there. A similar scenario may well play out again with Saturday’s brilliant Grade 1 Betfair Chase victor Bristol De Mai, but let’s hope that’s not the case.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’s gallant grey scored back-to-back triumphs in Haydock’s feature event having won the 2017 renewal by an enormous 57 lengths from Cue Card. The winning distance this time was ‘only’ four, but in some ways, this was just as impressive as last year’s demolition.
For one, on paper, this was a much stronger running, with last season’s Gold Cup first and second – Native River and Might Bite – taking him on. We also had the 2016 King George VI Chase winner Thistlecrack and a young progressive horse in Clan Des Obeaux.
Secondly, significantly contrasting ground conditions greeted this season’s field, in what was a far cry from the 2017 swamp. Bristol De Mai handled all the above with aplomb.
This step up in class, if you will, accompanied with winning on much faster ground has shown Bristol De Mai in a somewhat different and brighter light. The success adds to a solid CV, a CV that now shows him as a four-time Grade 1 winner. As a young seven-year-old, he has now won at the top-level every year since his arrival from France in 2014, when he won the Grade 1 Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on his first start in Britain.
So now, what does Bristol De Mai need to do to get away from this “Flat-track bully” label, a label that’s misleading in the sense he has won Grade 1s at Chepstow and Sandown, far from smooth courses. The easy answer is win the Gold Cup. But if only things were as simple. Another Grade 1 win away from Haydock would surely help, but to do so he needs assistance from his connections.
Last year’s campaign suffered through Bristol De Mai’s own early season brilliance. Having started perfectly at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall Chase the son of the much-missed stallion Saddler Maker went on to put up one of the greatest staying chase performances I’ve ever seen in the Betfair Chase. In doing that, there simply had to be a price; what goes up must come down.
For those efforts he paid in the following month’s King George VI Chase at Kempton and again looked out of sorts in heavy ground at Cheltenham in the Cotswold Chase in January. Should we be surprised given what he did in the Betfair Chase on heavy ground? The answer is no, for few horses have the class and durability to maintain such levels after colossal efforts over staying trips.
For a horse that has been hard to keep right, according to his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, last season’s disappointing second-half of the campaign will hopefully have been a lesson to connections. To be fair to Bristol De Mai, he bounced back to some kind of form at Aintree behind Might Bite after a wind-op and a 75-day break.
So, what do we make of Bristol De Mai now? Is Haydock his perfect track? Is he best fresh? Is he best in the first-half of the season because he doesn’t stand up to full training for an entire campaign? Is it simply a case that when he is right, he is a match for any staying chaser around?
I suspect it’s a mixture of all of the above, but two potentially big factors Bristol De Mai and his connections have in their favour this season is he has started the campaign brilliantly with one less run than last year on ground that won’t have been as anywhere near taxing as the 2017 Betfair Chase.
In winning on Saturday, Simon Munir & Isaac Souede’s charge recorded a time of 6m 28.60s, compared to the 7m 1.00s he clocked in 2017. That ‘less running’ will no doubt help Bristol De Mai in carrying his form into future races, but to win from Native River he still had to run hard.
So now, it’s decision time for connections in trying to get the best out of their horse with the ultimate aim still likely to be the Gold Cup. And while some will scoff at that dream, I would encourage you to go back and watch the 2017 Blue Riband won by Sizing John. It’s a race, where if you stop the contest approaching three out, Bristol De Mai holds every chance and goes as well as any. In the end, he was nicely held, but as a likely unfurnished six-year-old, he shaped extremely well after only having four starts prior.
While in some ways it would be nice for connections to skip December’s King George at Kempton to keep him fresh, considering Bristol De Mai had another hard race, when you sit down and add it all up, with one less run this season on the back of what was a kinder Betfair success given the ground this year, the Kempton Christmas highlight makes total sense, and too big a race to pass up, especially with the first leg of three (Betfair Chase, King George, Gold Cup) in a potential million pound bonus completed.
His disappointing run there last season was more likely down to the fact that a hard Betfair victory on heavy going flattened him. It surely can’t be the fast, flat track, as that is exactly what Haydock is. Maybe it’s going right-handed but I can’t particularly have that angle either.
Whatever happens with Bristol De Mai in the King George, it should be straight to the Gold Cup after.
DON’T LOSE FAITH IN PALOMA
My long-term ante-post fancy for the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase at the Cheltenham Festival next March was beaten on Sunday, but it’s too early to give up on Paloma Blue, who was a 10/11 beaten favourite, finishing a disappointing and lacklustre fourth.
Last season, one of the most notable characteristics of Henry de Bromhead’s inmate was his strong-travelling abilities. Indeed, on plenty of occasions he over-raced; the often-slack tempo of Irish racing never showing him in his best light, especially on soft and heavy ground.
Sunday’s beginner chase at Navan – which has been won by Flemenstar, Vautour, Douvan and Min in recent years – looked a great starting point for Chris Jones’s horse, given we had some nice ground, but it simply looked a complete off day for Paloma Blue.
While his jumping looked sound, the son of Stowaway never raced with his usual enthusiasm, looking completely flat and finishing his race in tame circumstances. Visually, it didn’t look like he ran his race and hopefully something will come to light.