GINGE MAKES A SPLASH WITH BETVICTOR VICTORY
The Grade 3 BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase is the first big early-closing 2m4f chase of the season and it was the usual fiercely competitive contest, writes Mark Olley.
Heavy rain from a couple of hours before the start of racing turned the ground very soft and the fact they went a decent pace in the conditions made this a true stamina test at the distance.
SPLASH OF GINGE has been around the block a few times and, according to his trainer, had lost his confidence over fences last season. A switch back to hurdles seemed to do the trick and back on soft ground that he handles well, he battled on very bravely to gain a hard fought and well-deserved win.
His chase rating moves to 139 (+5) which was what his hurdle figure was going into this race. This is still some way below the 145 he was rated when last winning a chase, here at Cheltenham, back in 2015. He will reportedly be back for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap on December 16th.
STARCHITECT was a gallant second. He did not jump the final two fences quite as well as Splash Of Ginge and that probably made the difference in the end. David Pipe’s gelding tackled several competitive handicaps last season when still a novice and things did not really go his way.
His new rating of 148 (+4) matches his best figure achieved over hurdles and I would be surprised if there is not more to come from this second season chaser.
LE PREZIEN lost his place going down the back straight and that left him with a lot to do. He made good headway after the third last but those exertions told late on as his run petered out in the final twenty yards.
Like Starchitect, he is a relatively inexperienced second season chaser and his new rating of 152 (+2) moves him to the cusp of graded company (a rating of 152 in the Ryanair Chase would equate to 5th/6th in the past few seasons).
TULLY EAST caught the eye travelling very strongly but a mistake two out effectively ended his chance. He won the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Festival last season when the ground was considerably quicker that day. It would be no surprise to see him recapture that form back on quicker ground judged on the way he travelled here.
THOMAS CAMPBELL CONTINUES UPWARD CURVE
THOMAS CAMPBELL continues to climb the staying hurdle tree after another authoritative success at Cheltenham, writes Martin Greenwood.
Seemingly treading water at around two and half miles at the end of last season, Thomas Campbell has relished the step up to three miles and is now within hailing distance of the top stayers. The 10lb rise I gave him after the October meeting did not stop him from following up and he again travelled well most of the way on Saturday in the worsening conditions.
Previous winner of the race and course specialist ANTEROS briefly made a fight of it but Thomas Campbell was ultimately well on top. Another 10lb has now been added which puts him on 158, with the potential to be even higher.
He has an entry in the Betfair Stayers Handicap at Haydock this Saturday and being an early-closing affair means he can carry a 5lb penalty on top of his then entry mark of 148 and be 5lb well in.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Nicky Henderson was also in the winner’s enclosure after ON THE BLIND SIDE made it two from two in the 21f Hyde Novices’ Hurdle.
A scorer at Aintree the previous month, he stepped up markedly on that effort to see off some useful sorts in decent enough style, looking better the further he went. Calett Mad was a very disappointing favourite and surely something was amiss; but that does not detract from the likeable impression made by On The Blind Side who is rated 145, a figure well up to the standard of this race.
SHAKIRA LIGHTS UP TRIUMPH MARKET
Apple’s Jade’s sister APPLE’S SHAKIRA was strongly touted on the run up to Saturday’s Grade 2 Prestbury Hurdle, run in miserable conditions, writes David Dickinson.
Usurping the hitherto top juvenile Gumball for favouritism in the minutes before the off, her backers would have been on very good terms with themselves from the moment she hit the front after the second last. That she was visually most impressive isn’t up for debate, more so the level of ability shown by the filly.
Defi Du Seuil might have won this race in 2016 but looking back further this race has served up its fair share of red herrings in recent times. In this decade, Golden Doyen has given a penalty and a beating to subsequent Triumph third Hargam, Royal Irish Hussar has beaten the subsequent Grade 1 Aintree winner Guitar Pete and even when Sam Winner beat Grandouet, the placings were reversed when they both made the frame later in the season in the Triumph Hurdle. So, in short, it is a little early in winter to be setting total store by juvenile results.
GUMBALL came into this race rated 144. Using him to rate the race would make the winner something extremely special but there are reasons to think that he didn’t give his running. Firstly, he made a particularly nasty mistake at the fourth flight, partially doing the splits.
Secondly, Speedo Boy was 21 lengths behind him at Chepstow in receipt of seven pounds, but got within eight or so at level weights on Saturday. The 121-rated Eragon de Chanay, the French-trained Et Georges (who I had a rating of 120 on pre-race) and Speedo Boy also rated 120 finished close together. Using them, Apple’s Shakira has run a figure somewhere in the 140’s, quite some achievement for a filly so early in the season.
By the conclusion of the meeting on Sunday, more evidence was there to suggest that staying wide on the hurdles track was advantageous. Apple’s Shakira had followed a path rather wider than Gumball’s and this added further weight to the feeling that the latter had probably run some way below his best.
When walking the course before Sunday’s racing, the Chairman of the Stewards Panel spotted Wayne Hutchinson walking the track before his winning ride in the Greatwood. Oh to still be a journalist as it really begs the headline ‘Elgin’s pilot uses his marbles!!’