Ladbrokes Champion Chase
It’s hard to know where to start this week with all that has happened in the past seven days from the Down Royal to the Breeders’ Cup to the final day of the flat turf season to Flemington. One thing I won’t dwell on too much is events at Santa Anita lest I become utterly depressed by comparing where I was at 26 to what Joseph O’Brien has achieved at the same stage!
Instead, let’s key in on the Ladbrokes Champion Chase up north on Saturday as that race seems likely to have most impact on what readers will be betting on over the next few months.
My initial impression watching the race live was of a race run at a moderate gallop with all five runners still in contention at the third last but appearances can be deceiving and the times suggest it was well-run; Timeform gave the race a time-figure of 166 which would be broadly in line with the best Road To Respect has achieved previously while their finishing speed of 104.7% was only just ahead of the par figure of 103.5%.
One would expect the form to have some substance, all other things being equal, which they may well not be should the three big names from the race meet again this season.
Noel Meade deserves credit for getting Road To Respect back to his best it was possible his defeat on fast ground at the Dublin Racing Festival could have spoiled him. Both the trainer and the owner’s representative Eddie O’Leary alluded to an injury picked up there impacting him over the rest of the season and that was reflected in poor jumping performances at Cheltenham and Aintree subsequently.
He wasn’t foot perfect here either, but it was better than recent efforts while he impressed with how he travelled through the race. Road To Respect is a Cheltenham horse to some degree but probably not a Cheltenham Gold Cup horse having failed to stay in that race in 2018 and connections ducking it in favour of the Ryanair in 2019 so Leopardstown, either at Christmas or in February, seems his best chance of another Grade 1.
His trainer said afterwards that he would at least have an entry for the King George, but I don’t buy that for a moment with Gigginstown historically showing little interest in UK racing pre-Cheltenham.
This was an encouraging return from the second Clan Des Obeaux in a race that wasn’t run to suit. He spent much of the race interchanging the lead with his namesake Alpha and looked to hit the front too soon here, his best efforts last season coming when arriving late at Kempton and Ascot, his jockey at pains not to take up the running until the last. He would surely prefer a bigger field too.
There is also the possibility that he would have needed this run as while Paul Nicholls has a fine record in the Down Royal feature, Clan Des Obeaux has improved plenty for the outing in each of his three seasons over fences.
In many ways, Delta Work is the most interesting runner to reflect on and he remains the most likely Cheltenham Gold Cup winner per the betting markets despite only managing fourth place here, albeit that his odds have basically doubled.
I’m prepared to die on the hill that Delta Work is a better horse off a recent outing with his form second time after a break better – and in some cases much better – all four times he has been absent for a period while trained by Gordon Elliott. In the circumstances, this was not a bad effort given he was travelling powerfully at the third last before three consecutive mistakes.
There is also trainer intent to bear in mind. Elliott had been in excellent form at Down Royal meeting with seven winners across the two days, but it is one thing to have your maiden hurdlers/chasers and bumper horses ready, another to go for everything with a Grade 1 staying chaser whose main target is in March. One could argue it would have been borderline negligent training to have him ready for this, something the trainer referenced in his Betfair blog: ‘this would be a good starting point…I’ve no doubt he will come on for this run.’
Lack of fitness is one thing, his jumping is another and that is more difficult to explain away. Delta Work has now jumped poorly in three of last four starts, at Leopardstown last Christmas, in the RSA and here when he made errors down the back along with at the final three obstacles.
Elliott has commented before that he doesn’t have the most scope (he ‘is not a very big horse [and] wouldn’t be the most robust’) which is something to bear in mind though on any given day a good jumper can jump badly and a bad jumper can jump well, see Al Boum Photo in last year’s Gold Cup as an example of the latter in action on the biggest stage.
It’s hardly ideal for his Gold Cup backers and then there is the jockey situation to consider. Keith Donoghue was on board for the first time on Saturday and is getting plenty of opportunity aboard the Gigginstown-owned Elliott runners at the moment though one suspects that trainer might prefer previous rider Davy Russell on board for continuity if nothing else, allowing that Elliott has crabbed his ride in the RSA.
He is still putting Russell up on his other top horses like Envoi Allen and Coeur Sublime where he has the choice but that is not how it works with Gigginstown.
Russell (49 Grade 1 winners from 450 Grade 1 rides lifetime) clearly has a significant experience edge on Donoghue (1 Grade winner from 16 Grade 1 rides lifetime) when riding in the biggest races though obviously less-seasoned riders have to start somewhere but it is yet another variable for punters to consider and all this before Jack Kennedy returns.