Inside today’s main piece I conclude my look back at the weekend’s big race action. Today the focus is on Sunday’s informative card at Fairyhouse. And there’s a reflection on Saturday’s Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree
The going was officially described as soft at Fairyhouse on Sunday. However, on times it was heavy which is something to bear in mind when evaluating Sunday’s performances.
It was a cracking card with several good performances and big surprise in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.
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Let’s begin with the three big performances.
Lossiemouth made an immediate impact on her debut for Willie Mullins in the Grade 3 Juvenile Hurdle. Her stablemate Zarak The Brave was sent off the 5/4 favourite and got a lovely run through on the inner. The winner covered more ground on the outer than the favourite. A better jump at the last than her stablemate and she dashed clear on the run in to win by 4 lengths. The filly is now 2-2 over hurdles and looks the best juvenile we have seen so far this season. A best priced 7/2 with Coral for next year’s Triumph Hurdle is short enough but she’s smart.
As you will have seen in my preview of the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, I was sweet on the chances of Marine Nationale. And the 5-year-old didn’t let me down. It was an enthralling race which produced an exciting finish. Coming to the last the favourite Champ Kiely was already beaten.
Coming to the last Irish Point was in front but the strong travelling Marine Nationale was poised to strike. Marine Nationale was sloppy at the last and the leader went a couple of lengths. I didn’t think Marine Nationale couldn’t recover but he picked up and he managed to get up close home to win by a head. So impressive when on hurdling debut, he handled the soft ground well enough and had to be tough to prevail.
Cheltenham and either Supreme or the Ballymore Novices Hurdle are now firmly on his agenda. Personally, I hope he goes for the latter as he likely won’t have to face Facile Vega.
Irish Point went down on his shield in second. He showed he was a Grade 1 winning hurdler here but was just beaten by a better horse. The first two home pulled nicely clear of the third so the form looks solid.
Marine Nationale drifted out in the pre-race betting to a very generous 11/2 due to support for Champ Kiely. I wasn’t going to be player at 3/1 but as soon as he drifted out to 5/1, he became a backable price.
This year’s Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase looked the strongest novice chase we have so far seen either side of the Irish Sea. The race produced a very impressive winner in the Gordon Elliott trained Mighty Potter.
Mighty Potter’s stablemate Three Stripe Life was sent off the 5/2 favourite, but his race was over when his jockey lost his irons at the 8th. The winner was always in a prominent position. Leading five out, his jumping was in the main good, and he wasn’t for catching.
The more experienced Gaillard Du Mesnil was travelling ominously well 2 out but didn’t have the pace to handle a speedier rival in the closing stages. Given 2m 4f would be a trip well short of his best this was a very encouraging performance to get within 4 ½ lengths of the winner especially as he was giving away race fitness. Back at 3m + he could take some stopping this season.
The winner is a smart chaser in the making. This was a big step up in class from the beginners chase he won at Down Royal, but he had no problem handling it. A big chasing type he’s got plenty of scope for improvement too.
The front two pulled well clear of the third Banbridge who himself had impressed when winning at Cheltenham on his latest start. There was rain at the track which turned the ground soft which probably wasn’t to his liking.
The form of the race looks strong, and I will be interested to see how Three Stripe Life fares next time given the market support he received.
Hatton’s Grace Shock
I had a hunch that Champion Hurdler Honeysuckle was vulnerable on her eagerly awaited return to the track. Seeking a fourth success in the race the mare was facing a strong field of rivals on this occasion.
Leading two out It looked like Honeysuckle would once again go on to win but her usual kick wasn’t there. Klassical Dream settled very well and was in a great position tracking Honeysuckle. He took it up before the last and I thought I was going to win but he couldn’t hold off the late challenge of Teahupoo.
The rain that fell was a big plus for Teahupoo who’s best two performances prior to Sunday had come on heavy ground. Testing ground really suits the 5-year-old who showed he stays 2m 4f well.
I was impressed with the way Klassical Dream settled and given he’s arguably better over further this was a good start to his season. The stayers division is a weak one and he looks the one to beat in the Stayer Hurdle.
As for Honeysuckle she lost her unbeaten record, but her performance wasn’t a bad one. Maybe she just needed the run, and any fitness flaws would be exploited in a much better renewal. Or it could be that that age has caught up with her.
Whilst it would be folly to totally write her off after this performance. Surely another Champion Hurdle is well out of reach now. For the connections of Constitution Hill all they must do is keep their horse sound and the Champion Hurdle is theirs for the taking.
It was pleasing to see 23 declared for the Becher Handicap Chase. Big field’s over the National fences normally provide compelling races and this one didn’t disappoint.
For the second week running the Dan Skelton trained the winner of the weekend’s big handicap chase. Last week it was Le Milos in the Coral Gold Cup. This time it was the turn of Ashtown Lad. I thought Harry Skelton gave the winner a perfect ride. He kept the 8-year-old out wide giving his mount a good sight of the fences. Jumping and travelling well he took it up at the last and had to be courageous to hold of Geeskille on the run in.
Gesskille didn’t have the best of starts which meant he was at the back of the field. However, he was smuggled into the race but try as he might the winner wasn’t for catching. He stayed the 3m 2f trip well and if he had started better might well have got even closer to the winner.
Percussion who had finished one place behind Gesskille in the Grand Sefton Chase over the National fences last time franked that form by staying on into third.
Grand National Clues
As well as he took to the National fences, I don’t fancy Ashtown Lad for the National itself. He didn’t seem to stay 4m in the Scottish Grand National. So, his stamina for serious marathon trip like the Grand National must be in question. I can see him doing a Walk In the Mill or Vieux Lion Rouge and come back and win another Becher.
Percussion looks the stronger stayer of the two who finished in front of him. However, given his mark will struggle to get in the big one in April. That said there are plenty of other valuable staying handicaps that the 7-year-old can go for later in the season. And I’m sure trainer Laura Morgan can place him to advantage. He’s the first of this week’s tracker horses.
Given the ground was closer to good than soft you can probably mark up the performances of the fourth Fortescue and seventh Hill Sixteen. The former was doing all his best work at the finish, and both would have preferred softer ground.
Besides Percussion others to catch the eye over the weekend include.
Wilde About Oscar who seemed to relish the step up to 3m when a short neck third to Dolphin Square at Sandown. The 7-year-old has become a well handicapped horse and can win again if building on this promise. Previous eyecatcher Revels Hill disappointed in the London National on Saturday when only fourth to easy winner Quick Wave. He’s not one to give up on just yet.
Manofthepeople needed to be tough to make it 2-2 over fences when winning the Limited Handicap Chase (2m 7 ½ f) at Chepstow on Saturday. He looks open to further improvement and should stay further. The going at Chepstow was better than the official going description of good to soft so it will be interesting to see how Manofthepeople handles the mud.
On the same card 2021 Welsh Grand National Winner Secret Reprieve was back to something like his best. Albeit no match for easy winner Farinet when an 8 length 2nd of 10 in the Welsh Grand National Trial. He looks on course for a tilt at the Welsh Grand National and will appreciate easier ground. He’s generally 14/1 for another success in that race.
Exeter last Friday provides the second of this week’s eyecatchers.
De Young Warrior – Jeremy Scott
De Young Warrior was keeping on and looked set to go close in the 3m 6 ½ f handicap chase won by Favori De Sivola but for a bad mistake two out. He stays these marathon trips well and given this was just his fifth start over fences remains capable of better. He could well come back here for the Devon National over C&D in February.
In the same race it may pay to watch out for Don Herbager. The 8-year-old plugged on for fifth, but his jumping was poor. He had had looked much improved for the step up to 3m 5f when winning at Bangor in February. The cheekpieces he wore at Bangor were left off here and you can expect them to return next time. Although the times suggest the going was soft on Friday his last two chase wins have come on heavy so even more testing ground seems preferable.
There’s jumps action at Uttoxeter, Fontwell and Tramore this afternoon and a teatime all-weather card at Southwell.
2:05 – Foxboro ran like the run was needed when 49 length 10th of 13 to Your Darling at Ascot 18-days ago. He’s weighted to go close once he’s back in form which may well come later in the season rather than today. A more solid contender looks to be Family Business who won here over 2m 3f last month. The 5-year-old stays 2m 4f and must have a decent chance of staying 2m 5 ½ f on this sort of ground. Up 6lb and in a better race today but won’t be far away. He’s a tentative selection on a tough day for finding solid betting opportunities.
2:05 – Family Business – 11/2 @ Bet365.
I’m having some minor surgery on Tuesday morning, so Wednesday’s column is likely to be shorter than normal
Good luck with your Tuesday bets.