HE’S GOT IT AL!
The betting suggested Newbury’s Grade 2 Betfair Exchange Game Spirit Chase was going to be a cakewalk for ALTIOR on his first foray outside novice company and so it proved, writes Graeme Smith.
Pre-race ratings said that even in receipt of 5lb from Fox Norton he might have to raise his game to prevail. Of course novice ratings are often about opportunity as well as ability and, faced with the opportunity of taking on high-class rivals, Altior proved his ability in no uncertain terms.
Fox Norton jumped stickily and Traffic Fluide was not at his best returning from a year off; but it was still easy to be impressed by Altior. The least experienced chaser of the quartet looked the most comfortable jumping at speed and, following some breath-taking leaps, he strode away for nothing stronger than niggling from the saddle.
There is nothing concrete on which to base a rating at present. A line through Fox Norton’s best leads to 175 and Dodging Bullets’ pre-race rating to 177. That would be a big call on a novice, particularly pre-Cheltenham, and with Fox Norton’s jumping and Dodging Bullets’ recent profile in mind I felt I had to go lower.
The figure I settled on for Altior is 170. That’s a ten pounds improvement from his pre-race mark although that 160 figure could have been higher on a line through Marracudja from Kempton last time.
170 is higher than Douvan’s end of season 169 from his novice campaign but, as I said, these things are often about opportunity. Douvan always looked capable of 170+ but was never pushed into producing it kept amongst novices.
170 is below Douvan’s current figure of 174 and it is also below the 171 with which Un de Sceaux signed off the 2015/16 season.
I thought about whether I would expect Altior to push Un de Sceaux close off level weights and feel he would. It might be that Altior would go off favourite but, considering what he has achieved to date compared to Un de Sceaux and the fact there are doubts about the opposition at Newbury, I settled on a figure 1lb behind that rival’s best. 170 is something of a holding figure for now and hopefully Altior will give a more definitive guide to ability at the spring Festivals. Either way, he is exciting.
IT DOES EXACTLY WHAT IT SAYS ON THE TIN
Essentially my aim as a BHA Handicapper is TOBEFAIR, writes Martin Greenwood.
One of the stories of the season, Tobefair has progressed rapidly and made it seven wins on the spin by beating a useful field in typically gallant fashion off a mark of 134. The winning sequence started way back in the summer of 2015 off 81.
A substantiated myth is that Handicappers do not like this sort sequence to happen because it can somehow make us look like fools. My old friend and RUK pundit David Cleary made an inference that I would be haunted by such an unstoppable run of victories. But, as happened with Kilfinichen Bay back in 2015 (he won eight out of nine starts raising nearly as much in the weights as Tobefair) it really is something that happens from time to time and more importantly should happen.
As a handicapper the fact that a horse has won six on the trot or finished a nose second six times on the trot really is not the issue. I am not assessing trainers, jockeys, owners or the will to win. I am only concerned with how much ability a horse has shown to date.
Other than in pure handicapping decisions, what happened last time in terms of winning or losing should not change our aim of giving every horse a chance in the upcoming race. Tobefair’s connections should be rightly proud of their star’s achievements. It is a feel-good story that exemplifies the NH sport in this country where a ‘small’ yard can take on the ‘bigger’ boys given the odd good horse.
Tobefair will bid to make it eight when he lines up in the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival off a new mark of 143. Will he win in the most competitive and classiest race he has contested thus far? Only time will tell. Should I give him a fair chance to make it eight? Absolutely.
THE BETFAIR BATTLE
The finish of Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle was fought out by two classy novices, writes David Dickinson.
In carrying all before him in Bumpers last winter BALLYANDY had looked a relentless galloper; but he had yet to win a hurdle race in three starts. The first two efforts came behind the 2015 Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner Moon Racer although neither could be termed as satisfactory races.
The first at Perth was effectively a match and the pair left some moderate rivals trailing in their wake once they quickened off a slow pace. Then at Cheltenham in November they met in a race run fifteen seconds slower than the Stan James Greatwood Hurdle run later in the day over the same course and distance.
Also in that unsatisfactory race at Cheltenham was the Betfair Hurdle second Movewiththetimes. He found trouble in running that day in what was, until Saturday, his only defeat. The fact these two were so dominant in the closing stages demonstrates the problems that slowly run races can cause the Handicappers.
Clyne was running five pounds “well in” but, harried for the lead by the winner’s stable companion, he did best of the rest and ran a fine race. So did the fourth home Song Light. He further franked the Greatwood Hurdle form. I subsequently raised the Greatwood Hurdle by two. This means that the two novices rise by twelve and ten pounds to 147 and 146 respectively.