Handicappers' Blog (2 December)

  • Tuesday 02 December
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TAKING FLIGHT

In another high-profile double header we discuss top-class action from both Newbury's Hennessy meeting and Newcastle's Fighting Fifth card. The Hennessy itself is covered in Phil Smith's Head of Handicapping blog and it's the hurdles handicappers who pick up the baton for this piece, starting with Newcastle's seasonal highlight.

IRVING GETS BACK ON TRACK

With Hurricane Fly, Jezki, The New One and Faugheen all having run in the last 13 days Newcastle's StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle afforded an opportunity to other horses to put themselves in the Champion Hurdle picture, writes David Dickinson.

Half a dozen went to post and barring one slight blemish it was Irving's slick jumping that saw him come out on top. Given those anxious minutes when he lay prone at Wincanton just three weeks ago, this was a very fine effort by the horse and all of those connected with him.

Clearly Irving was on top after the last and I rated the winner through the third Arctic Fire who has shown consistent form, including in the County Hurdle. We always try to use well run handicap form when it is available. That said, for a small field this Fighting Fifth was run at a good pace and is probably reliable in its own right.

I have called the winning margin 3lb and have raised Irving 8lb to 157, which doesn't as yet put him at the forefront of the Champion picture. The progressive Aurore d'Estruval is up 4lb to 147. Arctic Fire looks consistent at around 150 but it is not hard to think of around half a dozen in his trainer's care who are more likely to contest the Champion itself than he is.

I don't feel Sea Lord is quite the force on winter ground that he is in the summer and have dropped him to his last winning mark of 146.

Surely it is always foolish to run against much better horses? Not in this case. Swaledale Lad's handicap mark of 130 going in to Saturday was based on chase form. He still has not run better than 125 over hurdles and so I have dropped his mark accordingly. Volcanic Jack I have dropped back to the 83 rating he was on prior to his surprise victory at Cartmel in August. Swaledale Lad in particular, added plenty to the race with the true nature of the pace and both horses have been rewarded with four-figure paydays and drops in the handicap. Their respective trainers are entitled feel this was a worthwhile venture.

KING FOR THE DAY

The staying hurdle division pond is murky at present, writes Martin Greenwood.

Following on from At Fishers Cross's last of three at Wetherby a month ago, long odds-on chance and reigning champion More of That was turned over in Newbury's Bet365 Long Distance Hurdle.

To my eyes McCoy on More of That never seemed particularly happy and was going nowhere at the business end of the race, and maybe we should read into the fact that the horse was equipped with a tongue tie for the first time.

Allied to that is the fact that his stable is relatively quiet at the minute. It is far too early to write More of That off just yet obviously, and we will hopefully see him at Ascot prior to Christmas.

Cole Harden and Medinas, who occupied the first two places at Wetherby, did likewise here, albeit in opposite positions. This time Cole Harden had to concede 8lb to his rival and, after making the running, had no more to offer when Medinas swooped past him.

Past winners of this race averaged a figure in the mid-160s but I am pretty sure that sort of performance wasn't on show here, though obviously there is plenty of scope to go much higher. Keeping Cole Harden on 158, I have gone 157 for Medinas which is just about a personal best, though not a million miles from his effort when scoring off 148 in the 2013 Coral Cup at Cheltenham.

THE ADVANTAGE OF RUNNING YOUR HORSES

I was fascinated by Oliver Sherwood's comment after the victory of Many Clouds in last Saturday's 58th Hennessy Gold Cup that he was worried that by giving his horse a prep race at Carlisle he had blown his chance of winning the big race. He had won more than £15,000 in that listed intermediate chase - for which his mark rose by 7lb - and I struggled to understand why you would not run for decent money.

Having a prep run has been crucial to a number of horses winning the important races over the last three weeks as the onset of very soft ground has perhaps been a little earlier than usual this year. I looked at all of the 0-140 or better handicaps over the last three weekends and the results were interesting in terms of prep races and what my team had done with the winners.

Charingworth had finished second and gone up 4 lb before his win at Cheltenham

Bold Henry had not run

Morito du Berlais had won and gone up 15lb before his win at Cheltenham

Sam Winner had not run

Caid du Berlais had not run

Katkeau had won and carried a 5lb penalty before winning his listed handicap

Garde la Victoire had finished third and gone up 4lb before winning the Greatwood

Aubusson had finished second and gone up 4lb before winning the Fixed Brush

According To Trev had finished second and gone up 2lb before his Haydock victory

Niceonefrankie had not run

Leviathan had finished fourth and was left unchanged

Croco Bay had finished sixth and been dropped 1lb before his runaway win at Ascot

L'Ami Serge had not run

Tullyesker Hill had won and gone up 9lb before his win at Newbury on Friday

No Buts had finished fourth and had his mark left on 129 before his Newbury win

Royal Regatta had finished third and had his mark left before Saturday's win

Silsol had not run

Many Clouds had won and gone up 7lb before his Hennessy win

Monetaire had finished third and gone up 3lb before winning the last race on Saturday

Hey Big Spender had finished third and dropped 1lb before winning the Rehearsal again

Clearly many more of the above average handicap winners had benefitted from running already this season when faced with the soft/heavy ground we have had this month. Add to this the wins of Medinas, Irving, The New One, Silviniaco Conti, Uxizandre, Golden Doyen and Parlour Games who were all having their second run of the season when winning top grade non handicaps and you can see the advantage of having a prep run this autumn.

It has certainly been no disadvantage for horses to have run in their prep races rather than sitting on the sidelines in fear of what my team might do if they run well. The message is clear, "Get running".

So what of Many Clouds? I have put him up 9lb for his win which might have been by further if his saddle hadn't slipped. It still brings him out 1lb behind Houblon des Obeaux (161), who produced the best performance on the day. Merry King moves up 3lb to 141, which should ensure he gets a run in the Crabbie's Grand National.

Meanwhile don't give up on Djakadam. I have left him on the 142 that was agreed in the 2013-14 Anglo-Irish Jumps Classification. He ran well for a long way and either blew up having his first run for nearly seven months or didn't stay the trip. He certainly jumped well for an inexperienced horse until he got tired.

Handicappers' Blog (2 December)
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