BUZZ WORTH THE WEIGHT?
Top weight in itself needn’t be a barrier, as twice in the last four years the Betfair Exchange Hurdle has been won by Brain Power and Mohaayed, who defied marks of 149 and 145, but on both those occasions conditions weren’t so testing as they will be for Buzz, a long time Flat horse, and heavy ground exacerbates every pound.
The question is not just the weight in real terms, but also the calculation of his mark, up as much as 11lb for winning a race for which he was even-money favourite, impressive for sure in doing so by 7 lengths, but neither the opposition nor the ground was anything like so tough as it will be here.
Chief amongst the opposition for my money is a horse who’s fast becoming the “wise guy” pick as the Americans would say, because everyone is coming around to Arrivederci, a heavy-ground winner with strong form to his name as a cornerstone and a first-time tongue strap as a catalyst.
He’s getting 10lb off Buzz, who’ll have to be nearly Champion Hurdle class to win off 148.
FINDING HIS FEET?
A Grade 1-winning novice who went off only 7/2 for the Arkle, Itchy Feet ought to be a short price for a graduation chase such as the small-field one at 1.15, especially after his second to Imperial Aura would suggest he’s finding his feet for the season. However, it’s not near so simple as all that, because getting as close as 5 lengths last time was rather flattering on him, gaining only late on, after Imperial Aura had put the others through the mill.
What’s more, his rivals in the graduation chase are low on number but high on power, principally the embryonic Caribean Boy who dealt with Fiddlerontheroof at Newbury and has the skills and scope to become a premier league chaser.
Regards the other two, Commanche Red has the back-form – he slammed Simply The Betts around this time last year – and Dashel Drasher probably still hasn’t shown all he’s got, and the bottom line to it all is that Itchy Feet has got more on than the market suggests.
Every good match deserves a rematch, so they say, and there’s lot in the pot with the how’s and why’s of the length and a half that separated Thyme Hill and Paisley Park at Newbury, compared to round 2 at Ascot.
Was Thyme Hill the fitter horse? That’s a hypothetical question that only the insiders have the answer to. Is Thyme Hill the faster horse? That’s a more evidential question, meaningful in the rematch, because the Long Walk, on the forecast ground, will be around 25 seconds longer in the completion than the gentle gallop, good ground Newbury race, and every second will help Paisley Park.
For a horse who was third in the Champion Bumper and who won the Grade 1 Challow over 2½m, it’s a reasonable conclusion that he is indeed a slightly speedier horse than the strong-staying Paisley Park, and that the stiffer stamina test this Saturday may tip the balance of power more towards Paisley Park. That’s the theory, anyway.
But the beauty of this year’s Long Walk is that it’s not a duopoly, not when the meteoric riser Main Fact is in the race, and not when they have to give the 7lb mares allowance to Roksana, whose record at 3m reads two Grade 1 seconds and a Grade 2 win (last time at Wetherby when slamming Next Destination).
All in all, the Long Walk is a proper Christmas treat.
It has been a difficult season so far for David Bridgwater, with just two winners, but the fact The Conditional still ran so well in the Ladbrokes Trophy says plenty, and Bridgwater’s handling of The Conditional last season was exemplary, including two wins at Cheltenham, one at the Festival, and the other second time out: a good omen for his prospects in the Good Luck Hollie In SPOTY Silver Cup at 3.00.
The biggest blocker to him is Espoir De Guye, who’s two from two at Ascot, but he’s been raised 6lb for an all-out, ½-length defeat of a horse (Earlofthecotswolds) who has since been well beaten at Ludlow, and it seems slightly strange that he now has to give 4lb in the handicap to The Conditional, whose form is so strong, and who was even dropped 1lb after the Ladbrokes Trophy.
The Conditional is very proficient in the mud, and he’s got the tools and technique to really take to Ascot.