Handicappers' blog

The head handicappers at the BHA have analysed the pick of the action from Newbury's Ladbrokes Trophy meeting, as well as covering the Fighting Fifth won by Cornerstone Lad.

  • Wednesday 04 December
  • Blog
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A FIGHTING SEVENTEENTH FOR THE NORTH

In these days when the North is often regarded as the poor relation in jumping terms, it is worth remembering that the fifty-year history of Newcastle’s Grade 1 Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle has seen more than a third of its runnings won by Northern-trained horses, writes David Dickinson.

Saturday’s seventeenth success for the North had more than a touch of good fortune about it. Cornerstone Lad was allowed a six-length lead over the first and his jockey, Henry Brooke, was able to dictate matters.

He did it well, kicking ten lengths clear turning for home, which, as it turned out, was a race winning move. Buveur D’Air was closing fast when meeting the penultimate flight all wrong, a mistake which sadly seems to have curtailed his season and surely cost him the race.

Such a shock result is usually difficult to interpret but not necessarily on this occasion with the other three runners – Silver Streak, Lady Buttons and Nelson River – all going close to giving their running. Silver Streak, rated 154 from last season’s Champion Hurdle, finished a short head and three and a quarter lengths behind Cornerstone Lad and that would rate the winner either 157 or 158. Given the nature of the race, I have settled on the lower figure.

Does that flatter the winner? Possibly. The time was nothing special but I am reluctant to criticise Cornerstone Lad too much. He proved very game under a strong ride and has never finished out of the first two in eight starts over hurdles when only the words soft or heavy appear in the going description.

It will presumably stop raining at some point this winter but a heavy ground Cheltenham would make him of some interest in the big one.

Coincidentally, the last Northern-trained winner of this race, Countrywide Flame in 2012, went on to run the race of his life when finishing third to Hurricane Fly in that season’s Champion Hurdle (run on soft ground).

On the supporting card at Newbury, Epatante showed just why she carried so much confidence in the Mares Novice at the Cheltenham Festival before flopping in a hood. With that removed, she won the Ladbroke Intermediate Handicap (formerly known as the Gerry Feilden to those of us of a certain age) with an electric turn of foot.

Her new rating of 150 (up 13lb) should put her in the mix in graded races from now on.

NOTHING STREAKY ABOUT RASHER

A massive field lined up for the 2019 Ladbrokes Trophy Handicap Chase at Newbury, and it looked as competitive as the numbers suggested, writes Martin Greenwood.

The ‘4lb well in’ favourite West Approach fell early, and fellow strongly-fancied rivals Cabaret Queen and Ok Corral disappointed badly, but that shouldn’t detract from some high-class handicap form that was posted at the business end.

They seemed to go an honest clip but the field didn’t begin to get spaced until after turning in for the second time. By this time, the unexposed pair of De Rasher Counter and The Conditional (2lb well in) had put themselves to the fore and they fought out the finish until both Elegant Escape and Beware the Bear stayed on very strongly in the closing stages.

Don’t be fooled by the fact only just over two lengths covered the first four, though, as De Rasher Counter was more than a tad impressive and had gone around four lengths up before the jockey took it easy and punched the air in celebration close home.

With that quartet pulling six lengths and more clear of the remainder, I have decided that both Elegant Escape (+4 to 164, but able to defend his Welsh National crown off 160 due to that race having closed last week) and Beware the Bear (+4 to 162, though was 160 last season) have run personal bests.

As mentioned, The Conditional was already due to go from 137 to 139 anyway. He now has a further 3lb to go to 142 and probably has more improvement in him. That last remark definitely also applies to De Rasher Counter who leaps from 149 to 160, and it will be interesting if connections decide whether to take the step up in graded company or stick to handicaps in the short term.

SUCCESSFUL RETURN FOR STAYING SUPREMO

Newbury’s Grade 3 Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle may have attracted only five runners, but that quintet included the last four winners of the race, writes Andrew Mealor.

All eyes were on last season’s dominant stayer Paisley Park who was making his first outing since the World Hurdle and was sent off at odds on. His opponents included The Worlds End, fresh from a success in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby, and the veterans Unowhatimeanharry (winner of this race in 2016 and 2018) and 2015 winner Thistlecrack. The line-up was completed by Beer Goggles, the 2017 winner who was returning from a lengthy absence.

The Worlds End dictated matters and a time comparison with the steadily-run handicap over the same trip thirty-five minutes later suggests he set a fairly moderate tempo (the final times come out very similar once the weights carried are taken into account, despite a roughly 30lb difference in ability between the two winners).

That sort of affair didn’t seem likely to suit Paisley Park given his strong-staying performances last year but he found plenty as usual to get the better of the strong-travelling Thistlecrack as the pair drew clear from the last, ultimately winning by a length.

Six lengths further back in third was The Worlds End who came in rated 16lb off Paisley Park at 153, the figure he recorded when winning at Wetherby. His proximity restricts the bare level of this race. Although he has been rated slightly higher in the past (was 155 after finishing mid-field in a muddling 2018 World Hurdle), I opted to leave Tom George’s charge on 153 and level the race around him repeating his Wetherby form.

That sort of level also fits well with the recent historical standards for the Long-Distance Hurdle which suggest a rating of around 160 for the winner.

Following this more than satisfactory return, Paisley Park is unchanged on 169 and he now heads to Ascot to defend his Long Walk Hurdle crown. Thistlecrack came in with an official rating of 167, though that figure was largely based on his recent chasing exploits, notably his second in last year’s King George.

He remains on that figure over fences but I have dropped his hurdle rating to 162 and tied him in with Paisley Park’s figure – he was 1 length (1lb) behind that rival here and was receiving 6lb.

Handicappers' blog
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