Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer Kevin Blake looks back on the classy victory of Defi Du Seuil in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot and has news of Leopardstown watering ahead of their Dublin Racing Festival in early February.

  • Monday 20 January
  • Blog
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The most anticipated race of last weekend was undoubtedly the Clarence House Chase at Ascot which featured the rematch between Defi Du Seuil and the ever-green Un De Sceaux.

As is always the case when Un De Sceaux is involved in a race, it was an exciting watch. Un De Sceaux managed to gain ground on Defi Du Seuil at a few fences, but just when it looked like the race might develop into the battle that the neutrals were hoping for, Defi Du Seuil put it to bed with a fine turn of pace from the second-last fence.

The seven-year-old stretched away from there and was eased down on the run-in by Barry Geraghty to secure a 2¾ lengths victory.

Based solely on visuals, it may have seemed a more complete and authoritative performance than Defi Du Seuil had put up when beating the same rival in the Tingle Creek Chase, but there was a key difference between those two contests. The pace in the Tingle Creek was solid throughout, resulting in a race finishing speed of 98%. The pace of the race on Saturday was significantly steadier, resulting in a significantly faster race finishing speed of 107.9%.

Mick Fitzgerald did a great job in illustrating this on Sky Sports Racing by using side-by-side footage of the Clarence House Chase and the handicap chase from earlier on the card which was run over four furlongs further to illustrate just how steadily Paul Townend had gone on Un De Sceaux in the early stages.

It was surprising for Townend to approach the race in this manner and Un De Sceaux’s connections rued it in the aftermath of the race. While they have many more options with how to ride Un De Sceaux these days than they used to, one can’t help but feel that dictating a steady pace isn’t how to maximise him.

At his very best, Un De Sceaux broke fields of rivals apart by pouring on pressure from the outset and dragging them into deep water much further out than is usually the case. He looked to have more left to give at the line at Ascot and one suspects his connections won’t make the same mistake again. It sounds like he will run in the Queen Mother Champion Chase rather than the Ryanair and an aggressive ride there will give him his best chance.

As regards Defi Du Seuil, one notable feature of his chasing career to date is that he has been shown to best effect when ridden for speed in races run at a below-average pace. While he showed that he can be effective in a well-run two miles at the highest level when winning the Tingle Creek, that sort of test didn’t seem to show him to quite as good effect as more speed-focused races have.

Looking to the future with him, that Defi Du Seuil’s connections keep mentioning the Ryanair Chase as a possible option for him is quite frankly depressing. His form this season clearly shows that he is one of and quite possibly the best two-mile chaser in training. If he was to run in the Ryanair simply in pursuit of a weaker option, that would be a damning indictment of all the negatives of an expanded Cheltenham Festival.


The notion of watering a National Hunt track in January has the feel of a punchline to a climate change joke about it. Though, that is what Leopardstown have commenced on their chase track this week with a view to ensuring safe ground for the upcoming Dublin Racing Festival.

Leopardstown have had more than their share of issues with their ground both on the Flat and over jumps in recent years. In short, the track drains too well. We all know how changeable the Irish weather is and the weather at Leopardstown is said to be particularly difficult to read due to its location in the shadow of the Wicklow Mountains.

The result has been that promised rain and a consequent reluctance to water has led to overly-firm ground when that rain has failed to materialise. There was another contributing issue prior to last year’s Dublin Racing Festival with frost making the course reluctant to water.

It is clear that a different approach is being taken this year with the watering starting just shy of two weeks before the meeting commences. Of course, it is always easier to be smart after the event, but this appeals as being the right decision. Even if it doesn’t work out as hoped and late rain leads to the watered ground being softer than might have been anticipated, in my opinion this is a better conclusion than the ground being overly firm.

Horse safety is the most important consideration here and the Dublin Racing Festivals position in the calendar will always mean that many connections will be unwilling to take an unnecessary risk with their horses with all the big spring meeting just around the corner.

Softer-than-ideal ground is a frustration, but firmer-than-ideal ground is a problem.

Kevin Blake
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