Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer Kevin Blake runs the rule over the staying chase division following the two Grade 1 showdowns on either side of the Irish Sea over Christmas.

  • Monday 30 December
  • Blog
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ASSESSING A CLOUDY STAYING CHASE DIVISION

Heading into last week, the staying chase division looked cloudy. We had established talent and emerging prospects with serious promise, but what we didn’t have was a stand-out leader of the division. The King George VI Chase at Kempton and the Savills Chase at Leopardstown promised to provide one, but we have arrived at the other side of them with the betting for the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival being 6/1 the field. That said, while neither event necessarily gave us the clarity we sought, there were questions answered and new ones posed by what we saw at Kempton and Leopardstown.

The King George VI Chase was an easy race to set up. Last year’s winner of the race Clan Des Obeaux represented the one that had been there and done it over the course and distance at the highest level, while both Lostintranslation and Cyrname arrived to Kempton on sharp upwards curves with all the potential to stamp themselves as division leaders if they adapted to the circumstances the King George VI Chase presented.

As it transpired, it was Clan Des Obeaux that very much stole the show in prevailing by no less than 21 lengths. In cases where big races are won by wide margins, the post-race debate often focuses on trying to establish just what the winner achieved. Had he shown significant improvement to produce a huge performance in victory or was it more a case of others running well below themselves? Sometimes the truth can lay in the middle of those two options. 

In this case, the sectional times paint a very convincing picture that Clan Des Obeaux most likely ran up to or at least close to his best and the rest ran a long way below form for various reasons. In a nutshell, Clan Des Obeaux finished off the race at a rate that was close to what would normally be expected, whereas the others absolutely crawled home. Simon Rowlands went into much more detail on this site last week and it is recommended reading.

In terms of where this result takes us going forward, it is open to debate if we found out anything more about Clan Des Obeaux that we already didn’t know. He did his job and did it in great style, travelling and jumping with much more efficiency than he had on his seasonal return at Down Royal where his own freshness led to him doing everything with too much exuberance. Clearly travelling best at the second-last fence, he surged way from his floundering rivals in a matter of strides.

Clan Des Obeaux is likely to face tougher tasks than this in the coming months, most notably in the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. It is hard to forget how he shaped when a well-beaten fifth in the race last season, with his stamina looking to run out up the run-in. Perhaps Paul Nicholls has coaxed some improvement out of him this season, but one suspects he’ll have to if he is to have a winning chance at Cheltenham.

Of the vanquished, with Cyrname it seemed to be a straightforward case of him not staying the three-mile trip. It was slightly surprising to see Harry Cobden being content to let Aso take the field along until the fifth fence. Cyrname has been seen to best effect when ridden aggressively over shorter trips and while his connections had been bullish about his stamina for three miles, the tactics suggested they were less sure than they let on. Despite Cobden’s best efforts to conserve his stamina, Cyrname shaped like a blatant non-stayer.

Based on this effort, Cyrname isn’t going to be top class over staying trips. So, what now with him? The Ascot Chase back over the course and distance that he rose to prominence over on February 15th would seem to be the obvious next target. Assuming all goes well there, his connections will have an interesting choice. While there is a theory that he is better going right-handed, he hasn’t had the chance to race left-handed since he started improving out of all recognition four starts ago and it is surely worth trying.

To me at least, the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the race to run him in at the Cheltenham Festival. His high cruising speed and aggressive jumping look tailor-made for the minimum trip and the division looks wide open at present. I suspect he has all the ability to be a serious player over the minimum trip.
Regarding Lostintranslation, it was an unsatisfactory race. After riding him cold had proven so effective on his previous start at Haydock, it was surprising to see Robbie Power jump off handy with no cover on the outside of the field.

As he often does, Lostintranslation took a good grip early prior to being anchored back to last after the sixth fence. After those mixed messages, Lostintranslation dropped the bridle from halfway and his jumping lacked its usual fluency from there too. Mistakes at the 13th and 15th fences as he was trying to get back into the race put him on the backfoot again and it was soon game over, with him being pulled up at the third-last fence. Power suspected a breathing issue might have been to blame and Colin Tizzard has confirmed they will look into this in the coming days to try and diagnose any issue. Whatever the cause, this wasn’t the real Lostintranslation. As disappointing as it was, he shouldn’t be judged too harshly on this.

Two days later, the Savills Chase at Leopardstown took centre stage and it produced an altogether different spectacle. Whilst at Kempton only one of the main protagonists seemed to give their running, multiple sets of connections will have come away from the Savills Chase very happy with their horses with the dream still very much alive.

It was the Gordon Elliott-trained Delta Work that emerged on top in a scrambling finish to get his Gold Cup dream back on track after they had met a speed bump on his seasonal reappearance at Down Royal. The key difference between his two runs this season is that he jumped significantly better at Leopardstown. One suspects that might well have been down to how he was ridden there, with him being kept widest and given a clear sight of his fences at all times at Leopardstown in contrast to being covered up at Down Royal.

With him reportedly being thought to be in need of the run after missing time following his comeback at Down Royal, this performance very much puts him back in the mix. Though, his jumping will need to be as good as it was at Leopardstown if he is to win a Gold Cup and going widest of all in search of a clear sight of the fences will come at a much greater cost around a track like Cheltenham than at Leopardstown.

The Henry De Bromhead-trained Monalee was another to get his season back on track at Leopardstown after a disappointing return to action in the Clonmel Oil Chase in November. Given a much more positive ride on this occasion, he arguably wasn’t helped by Jett being set alight to dispute the lead with a circuit to go which perhaps led to Rachael Blackmore going a shade quicker than she would have liked at various stages thereafter.

Having nicked a lead of a few lengths soon after the final fence, it very much looked on for Monalee. However, he seemed to start to idle and just as Delta Work was getting to him, Blackmore lost an iron and kicked out the other with 50 yards to race. It was a regrettable error and while the impact of it is impossible to quantify, it certainly didn’t help. Monalee seemed to rally close home and only went down by a head.

Henry De Bromhead has reported that Monalee will now go straight to the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. This is an aggressive move, but one that is more understandable given each of the last three years has seen Monalee and his connections engaged in a debate over whether to tackle the mid-range or staying trip option for him at the Cheltenham Festival. Having decided on the longer option both as a novice hurdler and novice chaser before opting for the Ryanair Chase over the Gold Cup last season, it seems they want to nip any debate in the bud and focus on the Gold Cup this season. While his stamina will be far from guaranteed for that test, it is a chance worth taking. After all, it is the Gold Cup rather than the Ryanair that tends to occupy people’s dreams.

The three shortest-priced runners in the field filled the next three places and there were varying degrees of positivity to take from all of them.

Road To Respect ran a rock-solid race without any great excuses. The Irish Gold Cup is the obvious next port of call for him and after that his connections will have a tricky choice to make between the Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chase.

It was great to see Kemboy back in action and his connections are likely to be pleased with his effort in fourth. He was conceding race sharpness to most of his rivals and it showed, with him essentially being too fresh for his own good. He took a strong grip early and his jumping was a bit erratic in places. Having travelled into the straight still going quite well, those early exertions probably told on him close home. We are likely to see a better version of him in the Irish Gold Cup.

The final one of interest is the Pat Kelly-trained Presenting Percy. His connections seem to be getting a much clearer run with him this season in terms of his soundness and this was the best effort he has produced since his memorable victory in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018. What was most notable about his performance is how considerate Davy Russell was with him. Having jumped well in the main, Russell rode him very quietly into the race and choose not to use his stick at any stage, with Presenting Percy making some good headway on the run-in prior to flattening out close home. Based on the way he was ridden, it seems that Presenting Percy is being brought along steadily this season in a style that Pat Kelly is well known for. In that context one couldn’t be anything but encouraged for his longer-term prospects, specifically in the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

To me, this certainly looked like another step in the right direction for Presenting Percy. While it is ill-advised to look too far back into the past for encouragement for the future, the memory of what he did in the RSA Chase is hard to shake off. With him looking to be very much on the road back to his best, it would be a brave individual that dismissed his Gold Cup prospects.

Kevin Blake
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