Handicappers' blog

British Horseracing Authority head handicappers review the Ladbrokes Trophy, Fighting Fifth Hurdle and Long Distance Hurdle.

  • Wednesday 02 December
  • Blog
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Cap peaks in the Ladbrokes Trophy!

Cloth Cap became the lowest rated winner ‘going in’ of The Ladbrokes Trophy since 1999, writes Martin Greenwood

Ever Blessed won the last edition of the race in the ‘90s, rated 136 and carrying ten stone. Just over 20 years later CLOTH CAP replicated those exact weights and became the first winner to carry bottom weight since Diamond Harry in 2010. However, Diamond Harry was running off a mark of 156 that day, and scored by one and a quarter lengths, while Ever Blessed put three and a half lengths between himself and the second back in 1999. Cloth Cap demolished those winning distances, coming home ten lengths clear - easing down - in impressive style and turned what looked an incredibly competitive race (and market) into a procession.

Sporting cheekpieces for the first time, Cloth Cap jumped his rivals silly and made all, pulling right away from the last while the rest cried enough. It seemed best to race prominently given the runner-up, Aye Right, chased him all the way, confirming his good run in the Charlie Hall was no fluke, while the third, The Conditional, was also never far off the pace.

There is now talk of Cloth Cap being aimed at the Grand National and his new mark of 147 would almost certainly get him in the race at the bottom of the weights. Given his favoured decent ground, a bold show could be expected, especially if he jumps as beautifully as he did at Newbury.  

Fighting Fifth cruise for Epatante

Some of the gloss was taken off the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle with a notable non-runner (2019 winner Cornerstone Lad, rated 159) and two early departures, but it was still a taking performance from reigning Champion Hurdler Epatante, writes Andrew Mealor

The early departures of Not So Sleepy (142) and Silver Streak (158, carried out by the riderless Not So Sleepy at the second) left odds-on EPATANTE (162) with just three rivals to beat, and in reality the in-form Sceau Royal looked her only realistic danger on paper. He came in with a rating of 158 after wins in the Welsh Champion Hurdle and Elite Hurdle, but even that form left with plenty to find with the Nicky Henderson-trained mare on these terms, rated 4 lb her inferior and having to concede the 7 lb sex allowance.

Small-field races can often be tricky to assess but the result of the Fighting Fifth was more or less as could have been expected given the pre-race ratings. In fact, so straightforward was the result that I didn’t need to adjust the handicap marks for any of the runners after the race.

The confidently-ridden Epatante was still cruising at the last around a length behind Sceau Royal and breezed past on the run-in to score by a very easy four and a quarter lengths, with a further seven lengths back to the two outsiders, Ribble Valley (147) and Voix du Reve (145).

In truth, the Fighting Fifth didn’t tell us anything new about Epatante, who has tasted defeat just once from seven outings over hurdles (when disappointing as favourite in the mares’ novice at Cheltenham in 2019), but events so far this season in the division have certainly cemented her standing as the best 2m hurdler around currently. Ireland’s principal early-season 2m hurdle race, the Morgiana, went to Supreme runner-up Abacadabras, but he only just held off Saint Roi (who was possibly unlucky) and Jason The Militant in a messy finish.

That trio will need to improve to challenge Epatante in the big one. She heads to Kempton for the Christmas Hurdle next, but before that the pretenders to her crown have a chance to stake their claims in the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham, which may feature the reappearance of last season’s top juvenile Goshen (156).  

Thyme Hill stakes his claim for staying honours

The Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle was billed as the race of the season thus far and it didn’t disappoint, writes Gordan Markham...

The ten-strong field (the biggest in the race this century) included the last two winners of the Stayers’ Hurdle, Paisley Park and Lisnagar Oscar, up against potential rising stars THYME HILL and Persian War winner McFabulous.

Following a prolonged wait at the start with apparently no willing front runner, the pace was steady for the first mile or so, and that may have suited some more than others. At the business end the three main protagonists in the market were virtually in a line jumping the last, producing a good finish.

Thyme Hill was slotted into an ideal position on his first step out of novice company. He always looked like holding his challengers at bay from the last, appearing to have more tactical speed than some of his rivals in a muddling contest. Thyme Hill is now rated 160 (+ 9lb) and is clearly an improving hurdler with the likelihood of more to come given this was only his fifth start over obstacles. The Stayers’ Hurdle is the obvious long-term target, and he now vies for favouritism for that race with Paisley Park.

The latter was on a retrieval mission following his below par effort in last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle (when suffering from an irregular heartbeat) and this performance was much more in keeping with his previous form. He had to concede 3 lb to Thyme Hill in this Grade 2 contest and comes out of the race with plenty of credit, performing to 161 on the day in a race which possibly didn’t suit him quite as well as the winner. A mark of 165 still leaves him as the one to beat in the division.

McFabulous lost nothing in defeat on his first start in open company, holding every chance jumping two out before his run levelled off from the last on his first start over 3m. His rating has risen to 154 (+ 1lb).  

Lisnagar Oscar (159, -1 lb) had the benefit of a run (fourth in the West Yorkshire Hurdle) but became readily outpaced from two out. He looks ideally suited by an out and out stamina test and will no doubt have his say come March given that race should be run more in his favour.

All roads will lead to Cheltenham for the majority of these but Ascot’s Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle (won in 2019 by Paisley Park) is only three weeks away, and that race could see a quick rematch between several, including the front two.

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