While only the first two days of Cheltenham's Paddy Power Open Meeting fell into the last racing week there was still plenty to get the teeth into and the first major handicap chase of the season produced a thrilling finish. He's our take on it…
QUITE THE CAID
The Paddy Power Gold Cup is one of the most competitive handicap chases of the season and there was a good mixture of old favourites and "new blood" in the race this year, writes Mark Olley.
Despite being only a seven-year-old Johns Spirit falls firmly into the former category, certainly in my eyes. Jonjo O'Neill's gelding won this race from a rating of 139 last season but was back this time on the lofty figure of 156, which was due to his demolition of several reopposing rivals at Cheltenham last month.
He travelled beautifully into the race and when he burst to the front over the last fence I thought he would join the likes of Cyfor Malta and, one of my all-time favourites, Bradbury Star as a dual winner. However, it wasn't to be as Sam Twiston-Davies coaxed a devastating late run from Caid du Berlais to snatch victory virtually on the line.
With the value of hindsight, and being ultra-critical, Johns Spirit probably went for home a shade too soon, but there is no disgrace in just failing under 11-12 and being beaten by a fast-improving young chaser. That is especially the case when you consider that Caid du Berlais now has a Fred Winter second, a Martin Pipe third and a Paddy Power win from his three visits to Cheltenham.
My new figures are 148 for Caid du Berlais (up 5lb) and 160 for Johns Spirit (up 4lb) and it will be interesting to see which route they now take with Johns Spirit as he has surely earned a try in graded company. He has tackled 3m on several occasions without convincing but is stronger and better than ever at present and his current rating is only 5lb below that of last season's Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere.
The next three home - Present View, Oscar Whisky and Buywise - are all second-season chasers and they all excelled themselves. I particularly liked the effort of Present View (up 2lb to 146) as he made much of the running and was the only horse to race prominently to still be involved come the finish. He is the flag bearer for Jamie Snowden's yard and I will be amazed if there aren't some big races to be won with him.
Buywise also merits a mention as he was beaten little over three lengths into fifth in spite a poor round of jumping. He started 2014 winning a handicap at Ludlow from a rating of 102 and has done nothing but progress since. Hopefully he will have learned from this and could be another exciting prospect.
There seems a common perception that horses handicapped on their summer form become uncompetitive once the bigger yards come out in force at this time of year, writes David Dickinson.
Recent Saturday handicap hurdles can hardly have reinforced such a view, however, with successes for the John Ferguson-trained Purple Bay (who was put up 16lb for winning the Summer Hurdle at Market Rasen) in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton and Exitas, who only got his initial mark in July, easily winning a handicap at Sandown the same day.
This weekend it was the turn of another Ferguson-trained horse Chesterfield to follow that path. A winning debut at Worcester and a slightly unfortunate defeat at Market Rasen saw the horse given a mark of 123 at the start of September. He made good use of it on Saturday in the Mallard Pawnbrokers and Family Jewellers Novice Handicap at Cheltenham, winning well and being promoted to a new mark of 130.
The JCB Triumph Hurdle still seems a long way off but the juvenile form is beginning to bed down now and Saturday's renewal of the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial looked just about up to scratch. Both Hargam and Baraka de Thaix showed considerable promise for the future but both were out-battled by the game Golden Doyen, who made use of his hurdling experience and raised his rating to 138 in the process.
The current state of play with the juveniles does suggest that the French ones currently have the edge, starting hurdling so much earlier as they do. My figures have the four best juveniles in Britain and Ireland rated 138 or 139. I would currently have nine French Juveniles at 140+ were they to be entered here.