JOHNNY vs JP
The first two races are boxing bouts between, in the green and gold corner, J. P. McManus, and the blue and pink hoops of Johnny de la Hey, in the blue and pink. And at the same time it’s a superpower struggle between Henderson and Nicholls. These aren’t championship fights, not on this day, but they are skirmishes that might lead to something much bigger, especially in the case of Chantry House.
In the jumps classifications of last season, there were only five British-trained novice hurdlers rated higher than Chantry House, who lost his unbeaten record in the Supreme, nonetheless shaping well for third. But the reason he cost almost £300,000 after winning an Irish point wasn’t to be a hurdler, but a chaser, and here he is, starting out in a race (12.20) well known for Henderson firing one of his bigger guns, having won it four out of seven years, all with horses at evens or shorter.
Bred and built to fly over fences, anything is possible with Chantry House, which can’t quite be said of Pic D'Orhy, the Betfair Hurdle winner, after his two attempts at chasing so far, one in France in his younger days (fell) and the other when turned over on his reappearance at Market Rasen.
He needs some moulding, which Nicholls excels at, but that takes time, whereas now is the time for Chantry House to put on a show to suggest he can go all the way to the top as a chaser.
Rewind three years and Danny Kirwan would have been a hot favourite for the maiden hurdle at 12.55, on the back of such a positive platform in bumpers in the spring of 2018, and so it says plenty about his problems that he’s still seeking a first hurdling win, having again folded at the finish on his latest comeback at Aintree last month.
Time Flies By, on the other hand, is still a novice because his two tries over hurdles last season came in Grade 2 company, at this track and Cheltenham, in at the deep end, but hardly sinking, just lacking some maturity when it mattered.
After attempting to run before he can walk, Time Flies By is re-working his way back up the ladder from this lower point, hard to believe the disappointing Danny Kirwan will give him much to worry about, but The Edgar Wallace was one of my dozen novices to follow in an ATR article at the start of this season, thinking that he’ll shine as his stamina is drawn out, following his positive platform in bumpers.
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ABSENCE MAKES SUPPORT GROW STRONGER
You don’t need me to tell you that Buzz is the one to beat in the good-quality 2m handicap at 2.40, given his development over hurdles for Nicky Henderson, and how the form of his Ffos Las third has worked out, with Sceau Royal following up in the Elite and Ballyandy subsequently finishing second in the Greatwood.
However, there are a couple of horses in here returning from long absences, and support for either would be significant, considering their stables and what they were doing when we last saw them. Firstly there’s Kloud Gate, who went off 7/2 for the Lanzarote on the back of two easy wins, but that was some 22 months ago, and he probably needs further than this trip, this returning race likely to be a sharpener for him.
More interesting is San Seb, on his first start for two years, and first start for Fergal O’Brien. Just three go to post for Saturday’s Coral Hurdle, including Song For Someone, who signed off last season by winning the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle, and the reason for bringing it up is that San Seb beat Song For Someone (by 11 lengths) when winning a juvenile hurdle at Fakenham back in December 2018, trained by Stuart Edmonds back then.
Such form makes San Seb well worth a look off a mark of 128, less Connor Brace’s 3lb claim, and it’s interesting that Fergal O’Brien is swinging the bat at a race like this straight away, when he could have re-introduced the horse in a lesser-level handicap.
As it should be, the 0-145 handicap chase at 2.05 is high on quality and quantity, but it’s also high on front runners, a fast and furious gallop on the cards, and that’s part of the reason for thinking that Doitforthevillage might have more of a squeak than his huge odds would suggest.
First and foremost, he’s in his element with a strong pace, as he always bides his time out the back, and for a horse who was third in the 2019 Topham Chase off a mark of 140, the rating he’s dropped to (129) in the meantime clearly cuts him some slack.
A slipped mark reflects slipped standards, of course, but his return at Cheltenham would have been needed, based on previous campaigns, and his one completion at Ascot results in a second to none other than Cyrname, albeit never laying a glove on him.
It’s a leap of faith with him, but if he was to revive, the reasons were all there, as outlined above.