Cheltenham, 1/1/19

Catch the 7.30am train to get to Cheltenham because the Bank Holiday services from Paddington do not synchronise with incoming options at all. Have a sign at Paddington that tells you your ticket is not valid for the service - turns out that the destination screens have failed to notice it is a Bank Holiday and are telling porkies. Get to Cheltenham station half an hour before the first race, see a bus ready to go for the racecourse, so no need for a taxi. Then another, much busier, train arrives and there is soon a big queue to get on the bus, departure further delayed by gormless millennials who think they can haggle the price with the driver or dimwits wearing oversize flat caps who think looking like an extra from Peaky Blinders gets you a freebie. On arrival at the track there is the worst nightmare of all – a bagpiper. Walk in to catch the field jumping the last hurdle in race one. It was also day one of the new television regime in daily racing coverage and thus the final day of egotistical media onanism over who presents what from where on what channel, when 99% of viewers only care about the races being transmitted. All of this is genuine persecution, and not in any way the result of someone who overindulged on New Year’s Eve being just a little tetchy the day after.
If a horse goes to the start by passing through temporary gaps in the rails, might the less brainy equine athlete get an inkling that the rails are there to be passed through rather than avoided? It could be something that could lead to the recent rash of horses running out on the bend away from the finishing chute.

Going: Good to Soft, Good places

Race 1: Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Listed [2m 4.5f]

1: Jarveys Plate     2: I Can’t Explain     3: Anemoi

Winner owned: The Yes No Wait Sorries, trained: Fergal O’Brien, ridden: Paddy Brennan

Just arrived in time to see Jarveys Plate sprint clear from the last hurdle to easily win a race against opponents that appeared to have achieved notably more on a racecourse than he had himself. Life was made easier by highly rated stablemate Coolanly being a non-runner, I Can’t Explain’s unproven stamina not carrying him to the finishing line and Darlac wilting to the rear after setting the pace. I Can’t Explain was at least able to last home marginally ahead of Anemoi and Supremely Lucky.

+  I Can’t Explain (2nd): Likeable type of horse, seeing him back at shorter or retrying this distance on a less testing track would be the logical next step.

Race 2: Join The Betbright Racing Club Handicap Chase [3m 2.f]

1: Beware The Bear     2: Shanroe Santos     3: Perfect Candidate

Winner owned: GB Barlow, trained: Nicky Henderson, ridden: Jeremiah McGrath

A highly productive front running display from Beware The Bear saw him last home despite a little bit of tying up on the run-in. He cannot be blamed for running out of puff a little and his prime victim Shanroe Santos is a hardy stayer who has been in good form, so shines a warm light on the effort of the winner, other than observing that he is usually well beaten on galloping courses. As has been noted here before, Perfect Candidate has a rather ungainly jumping style, as if he has decided a safe landing is one with all four feet splayed as far apart as possible. He does not make any more mistakes than the more conventional stylists but it cannot be actively helping his chances. Having set a fair pace throughout, Beware The Bear cranked it up further from the fourth last fence and plenty were unable to respond leaving the finish more scattered than expected.

+  Beware The Bear (1st): Jumped better than in the Ladbroke Trophy when fourth and he will be a steady threat in staying handicap chases on galloping tracks, although perhaps not handicapped to win bucketloads of them.

+  Rolling Dylan (4th): Got stuck at the back early and never looked like getting involved with those at the front in time. This had nine runners and his record when six or fewer run is much better – 21P12.
Beware The Bear made it so easy that Jeremiah McGrath dozed off?

Race 3: Betbright Dipper Novices’ Chase [2m 4.5f]

1: Lostintranslation     2: Defi Du Seuil     3: Black Op

Winner owned: Taylor & O’Dwyer, trained: Colin Tizzard, ridden: Robbie Power

An intriguing wee race (see, that is the malign psychological influence of the bagpipes) despite a non-runner leaving only four to take part. After his most recent chase yielded a first win since being the top juvenile hurdler of 2016/17, Defi Du Seuil attacked at the second last with an aim of doubling up. He got in front of Lostintranslation readily enough there but was outstayed/outsmarted on the run-in. As the margin between Defi Du Seuil and Black Op was a tiny bit further than their Exeter meeting, the conclusion is to credit Lostintranslation rather than damn Defi with faint praise - although this could be pitched as all part of his patchy post-juvenile hurdling profile. Black Op did not jump with fluency in the first half of the race and in the second part was mostly better but missed out two or three in worse style than his earlier issues. Experts and casual observers are in consensus that this is a bad strategy for winning chase races. After a long summer break and a wind op, On The Blind Side was an interesting newcomer to fences having contested his three hurdles at Aintree, Sandown and Cheltenham and won them all, covering a nice range of track formats. Unfortunately he seemed to have had jumping coaching for his owner’s Josses Hill, so fences massively moved the goalposts and he did not enjoy the new perspective, being beaten by halfway.

+ +  Lost In Translation [1st]: Could have a powerful combination of ample stamina and a turn of foot. His one run over further was a loss, but it was against La Bague Au Roi who has complimented the form since. This was only his second career win but the commitment asked for and shown suggests that he has begun to flourish. Also note that he lost by half a length to Black Op in Grade 1 hurdle last April and having had horses like Dynamite Dollars, Claimaintakinforgan, Summerville Boy, Kalashnikov and Mengli Khan ahead of him suggests that the choice of races has left something to be desired.

+  Black Op [2nd]: The fences foxed him completely but when there was a long run between them he tended to regain the lost ground with ease, until the energy used took a late toll. If connections were to go back to hurdles there does not seem to be anything fundamentally wrong to lead to a bad day at that job.

x  On The Blind Side [4th]: Hard to take any positives from this – as his bad wind was not stopping him as a hurdler, there was not really a loss of confidence that it may take time for him to recover.
Lostintranslation lost in out of focus photography

Race 4: Download The Betbright App Handicap Chase, Grade 3 [2m 4.5f]

1: Aso     2: Happy Diva     3: Ballyhill

Winner owned: The Bellamy Partnership, trained: Venetia Williams, ridden: Charlie Deutsch

This was straight forward stuff for Aso. Prominent, led three out, two lengths up at the next, still at the same margin passing the post. He was giving away the highest weight in the race but Happy Diva, who briefly threatened to put a spanner in the works at the last, hung off to her right on the run-in and left the prize in Aso’s hands. That was very nice of her but Aso probably would have held on anyway. The winner had last tasted success in late December 2016 but from April 2017 to the end of November last year he only managed one appearance so it was not a disastrous strike rate being assembled. Ballyhill came here on the back of a lively win at Aintree just over three weeks earlier but he had been raised ten pounds for it and the stable was in less inspiring form, so third was as good as was feasible. He was also eleven pounds higher than when winning this race in 2018 on heavy ground. He was not bad enough here to earn a little relief from the handicapper.

x  Happy Diva (2nd): This was an ominous eleventh time as runner-up in twenty-four races, which might not be bad temper but may just be effort that exceeds her dynamic talent – the supporting evidence being three chase wins when no more than four take part. For future investment consideration this a notable issue.

x  Dustin Des Mottes (6th): Ended his days in France on a high with a hurdles success and a chase win in the space of two weeks. The British debut did not impress a great deal but he did much better when beaten half a length at Ascot before Christmas. This was back to square one, and either the Ascot race was just not very good or eleven days between races was not enough time.

Race 5: Simplify Horse Racing Selections With Betfinder At Betbright Handicap Hurdle [3m]

1: Aux Ptits Soins     2: De Name Evades Me     3: The Eaglehaslanded

Winner owned: John Hales, trained: Dan Skelton, ridden: Harry Skelton

Being a fourteen runner race and by far the most confusing event on the card, the race title was rather ironic. What most people would have not foreseen is that Aux Ptits Soins would dash clear turning for home and win the race by a comfortable margin. Hindered by twenty months off, he had last won in a novice chase over two years ago, but in 2015 Aux Ptit Soins won the Coral Cup from a mark two pounds lower than today. Behind him the most significant event was Vive Le Roi pulling up with a burst blood vessel as that horse had beaten him and De Name Evades Me at Newbury, plus three others further down the field. So despite Vive Le Roi’s problem, that form appears solid.

+  Aux Ptits Soins (1st): Probably scuppered his hurdling handicap mark with this but there may be a chasing route to follow if he stays sound enough.

+  Forecast (4th): Once finished second in a three mile novice hurdle but only five ran. Since then two and a half miles has suited him best, and the fade from just before the final hurdle looked like lack of stamina at work.

The Eaglehaslanded (3rd): Won couple of three milers in 2016 but since then he has usually run like a non-stayer. So whilst this was far from a terrible performance it is hard to know what to do next and the fact that he debuted for Paul Nicholls on New Year’s Day 2015 and has not run in a chase suggests that option need not be expected.

x  Nautical Nitwit (5th): Won a Grade 2 by default of being the only competent three miler in the line up in his previous race. He won fair and square but is now rated 149 and it is very, very hard to see him winning handicaps from that mark when he his current highest winning mark is 129.

x x  Karezak (PU): In October 2014 he made a winning hurdles debut at Chepstow, but since then he has lost all dozen races, including three places at Cheltenham. However, he has been runner up in seven of the losses, plus on the flat he ran eight times, won none and was second in five. Avoid, even in less challenging company.
Aux Ptits Soins thinking “Don’t look at the chase fences, don’t look at the chase fences. In fact, don’t look at anyone or anything.”

Race 6: Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle, Grade 2 [2m 4.5f]

1: Midnight Shadow     2: Wholestone     3: Old Guard

Winner owned: Mrs Aafke Clarke, trained: Sue Smith, ridden: Danny Cook

With the form of his recent win on the first try at two and a half miles looking strong, Midnight Shadow was the dark horse for this, stepping into Grade 2 level, something to which his rivals were a) more accustomed and b) generally proven to. He adapted well, keeping tabs on Wholestone and Old Guard when they tried to surge clear, joining them at the final hurdle and having the pace to quicken a few lengths clear on landing. Having opened that daylight, Midnight Shadow did not extend the advantage but was always sustaining it. The next two home, Clyne and Thomas Campbell were not looking likely to get involved in the run to the last but ended up beaten less than ten lengths. The implication is that the front three were not playing out the fastest of Cheltenham finishes on the run-in.

+ +  Midnight Shadow (1st): A splendidly constructed horse, there was no fluke about his sucker punch on two better known performers. On what was seen here it would be hard to have total confidence for the Stayers’ Hurdle (unless he puts the doubt to bed before March) but up to 2m 6f he will be very hard to beat.

+  Wholestone (2nd): A dual course and distance winner who landed this race on heavy ground last year, he handles the going in longer races and the distance in the mud, so this renewal was not on his birthday wishlist. Given that his yard has just gone over twenty runners without a win, this was a very creditable effort in defeat.

+  Clyne (5th): This was race number nineteen and only the second away from soft or heavy ground. Under the circumstances he comes away with some credit and the only worry for the rest of the season is that we may have one of those years where horses with his ground preference struggle for opportunities.

x  Cyrus Darius (6th): Finished tailed off and the owners’ decision to move him away from Ruth Jefferson has so far back fired massively. He did not look like a horse about to turn the corner here (apart from when galloping around the turns).

Race 7: EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race [1m 6f]

1: Glory And Fortune     2: Cascova     3: Book Of Invasions

Winner owned: J Hinds, trained: Tom Lacey, ridden: Richard Johnson

On a day when a certain news story had tiptoed around the fact that injury rates at Cheltenham are logically a by-product of races being run at excess speed, and only the jockeys can control that, this one was run at a dawdle and mutated into a sprint once they had turned for home. That played into the hands of Glory And Fortune, a newcomer who was perfectly well behaved on the track after putting some people off by declining the use of a jockey when initially to be mounted in the paddock. In a volatile betting market the most visible support was for Fuseau and he was looking set for a place when he suddenly ran out of room with a couple of hundred metres to go. Space came with the alacrity that it appears on a Hawkwind record, but his failure to get past Cascova and Book Of Invasions for a place casts doubt on Fuseau’s likelihood of winning with a clear passage.

+  lGory And Fortune [1st]: A pacy win at the end of a slowly run race and he has room for mental progression as well. As a big horse, short bumpers do not look to be the limit of his ambitions or the best fit to his construction and success augurs well for his future career.

+  Fearless [5th]: Appeared to have the best form already in the book, having won at Wincanton on his racing debut. He was at the front of the early dawdle and just got swamped in the home straight. He is probably capable of bouncing back, maybe in two mile hurdles rather than another bumper.
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