TWO FAVOURITES TO PLACE LAY AT THE CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL
CAREFULLY SELECTED (National Hunt Chase)
The task that CAREFULLY SELECTED faces in the National Hunt Chase (Three Mile Sixer) on Tuesday seems to be getting easier by the day. First, his main rival Champagne Classic was ruled out of the race after meeting with a setback. Most recently, another of his leading rivals Copperhead has been confirmed as instead targeting the RSA Chase. This has left Carefully Selected as the clear favourite in his bid to maintain his unbeaten record over fences. However, in my mind the main danger to him has never so much been his opposition, it the 23 big, black obstacles he’ll have to negotiate on his way around that I would be most worried about.
It might seem like a perverse thing to say about a horse that is unbeaten in three starts over fences, but Carefully Selected does not look like a natural jumper of a fence. Inconsistency has been the only constant in his jumping thus far. He has alternated between getting in too short, taking off too early, adjusting to his left and skewing through the air. All of these imperfections can potentially be forgiven in isolation and especially if the horse shows evidence of his technique being sharpened with experience, but if anything, his most recent start at Naas was his worst display of jumping so far.
For him to be struggling to sharpen his technique over shorter trips in uncompetitive environments is very concerning for his prospects in the Three Mile Sixer. As well as obviously attracting a far bigger and more competitive field of runners than he has previously encountered over fences, it also presents a different sort of jumping challenge.
At the slower pace that these marathon chases are generally run at, the emphasis in jumping is less so on bravery and athleticism, more so focusing on cleverness and efficiency. That Carefully Selected has shown notable disorganisation and inconsistency in his jumping so far represents a giant red warning flag for how he might cope with the very different test that the Three Mile Sixer presents.
Based on what we’ve seen from Carefully Selected so far, an erratic round of jumping can almost be expected rather than feared. With that in mind, he has to be a place lay for the Three Mile Sixer.
CHAMP (RSA Chase)
CHAMP came into this season as one of most exciting recruits to novice chasing. While he had looked to be a work in progress from the outset of his career, primarily due to his free-going ways, he seemed to prove his stamina and tractability for staying trips when completing his novice hurdle campaign by beating Emiton over an extended three miles in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last April. It was understandable to see him elevated to the top end of long-term ante-post markets for the RSA Chase and that is the position of expectation that his novice chasing campaign was launched from this season.
However, that novice chasing campaign has proven to be anything but straightforward. While not all that has gone wrong for him has been his own fault, his performances have split opinion on each of three occasions he has run over fences.
One of the main hopes leading into his chasing career was that the switch to fences would help settle him down. While they seem to have helped him a bit, he still can take a good grip both in the early stages as well as getting strong in the middle section of his races too.
Though, the main cause for concern with him is his jumping. It isn’t that he is a poor jumper or anything like it, the issue in my mind is that his style of jumping just isn’t suited to what his connections are trying to make him into, a staying chaser. He is quite a low jumper and has unquestionably been at his best when given direct instruction to go for a big stride. It’s worth watching back his latest start at Cheltenham as when Geraghty let him stride on and asked him for big ones at the eighth, 12th, 13th and third-last fences, he really delivered for him.
In contrast, both on that occasion and in his other two starts over fences, most of the times that Geraghty asked him to shorten into a fence, Champ didn’t do a good job of organising himself and made mistakes of varying degrees. On his latest start, it was one of those mistakes that led to him falling when looking in control at the second-last fence.
That is the conundrum that Champ presents. He is bred to and physically looks like a staying chaser, but I would be very concerned that a combination of his racing character and jumping technique make it unlikely that he will ever fully deliver on his promise over staying trips.
In order to stay the longer trip of the RSA Chase, Geraghty is going to want to get him relaxed and settled in the early stages. This will be a test in itself, given that it will be the longest trip Champ has tackled over fences and the atmosphere of the Cheltenham Festival can be expected to fire him up as it did last year.
This task will be made all the trickier by the fact that Champ’s jumping has tended to suffer when he is asked to shorten and be clever, which is exactly what Geraghty would like to do until well beyond halfway in order to keep him relaxed.
Personally, I was surprised that the RSA Chase was the only novice chase entry given to Champ at the Cheltenham Festival. The shorter trips of the Marsh Novices’ Chase or even the Arkle Trophy would appeal to me as being far more likely to play to his strengths than the RSA Chase.
With all of that in mind, I have to make him a place lay in the RSA Chase.