Kempton, 21/10/18

The usual Sunday autumn bow for Kempton, with the same non-handicap hurdle emphasis. What was nice was that there were three chases on the card this year, and they drew the biggest three fields on the card. Less tasteful was the inexplicable decision to stage a commemoration of the end of World War I three weeks early. In the end the course made less of a big deal than was the case to start with. But bear in mind that we have a perfectly good recollection of the actual Armistice Day and things should be left for that day. Anything else devalues the commemoration.

Going: Good, Good to Firm Places

Race 1: Matchbook Betting Exchange Juvenile Hurdle [2m]

1: Quel Destin     2: Ghost Serge     3: Tazka

Winner owned: Martin Broughton & Friends, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Harry Cobden

Quel Destin was a very short priced jolly for this thanks to his last two races – an Auteuil win and second in the Free Handicap Hurdle at Chepstow last week. That race in a gale in South Wales is not a good form guide year after year and it is obviously too early to see what flavour it will be this year. Whereas Ghost Serge’s win at Perth had the shape of a decent race and perhaps the gap between the pair was not as large as the betting predicted. Unfortunately Ghost Serge pulled a bit hard, and in an unlikely to be unconnected event he ran wide on the bend by the paddock exit and made a few jumping mistakes. The end outcome was thus a very simple cruise for Quel Destin and Ghost Serge struggling after a final fence error to keep Tazka and Vlannon at bay for second. The latter stayed on strongly late in the race but he is possibly finding it too hard to dig up the pace needed to lay up in the body of the race.

+  Quel Destin (1st): The first one to come out of the Free Handicap Hurdle and he well and truly gave the form a boost.

+  Tazka (3rd): Finished third in two of her four flat races on French provincial tracks, but she ran here as if she can better those results when kept to a modest level hurdling.

Race 2: Matchbook Betting Podcast Novices’ Handicap Chase [2m 2f]

1: A Place Apart     2: Cap Du Nord     3: Balibour

Winner owned: Turlough Blessing, trained: Gavin Cromwell, ridden: James Bowen

It was good to see ten horses take part in this (soon trimmed to nine) but eight of them were debuting over fences, so for punters it was a guessing exercise. Or sit back, enjoy and dare one or two horses to impress you. Of the two with fencing experience Tikkinthebox had won three times over fences and Cap Du Nord had performed in laboured style in a couple of apparently lesser handicaps, despite doing nothing obviously wrong. The horse that impressed was A Place Apart, who put himself a place ahead with a decisive move going at the third last. He had a bunch closing on him all the way, but as long as he did nothing silly, there was not much risk of being headed. Cap Du Nord sat at the back for a long time again, but he did make up most of it. His effort was the best yet over fences, and it is a borderline case as to whether he was given too much to do, or was simply a bit too one paced to finish the job.

+ +  A Place Apart (1st): A bit slender and immature, which is not surprising for a four year old, he did a good bit of work here, and potentially can improve plenty.

+ +  Cap Du Nord (2nd): Made himself more competitive than on earlier chase failures, and he jumps soundly, so it really ought to be possible to find winnable races for him.

+  Battle Of Ideas (4th): Ended his hurdling days, for now, running over two and a half miles, even a little bit more, and it definitely looked as if this shorter race did not work for him at all. In the circumstances he did a reasonable job and expect longer events to be on the agenda soon.

Balibour (3rd): A solid place in his first attack on the fences, but the concern is that as a hurdler he failed to prove that solid placing is not is maximum.

x x  Utility (R): Did something daft at the start and did not take part – maybe dodged the wrong side of a rail. He has past madness on his CV and is a very, very risky investment.

Race 3: Matchbook Time To Move Over Novices’ Hurdle, Listed [2m]

1: Itchy Feet     2: Grand Sancy     3: Leapaway

Winner owned: Kate & Andrew Brooks, trained: Olly Murphy, ridden: Gavin Sheehan

Four lined up for this and none of them wanted to make the running, so when the starter unleashed them on a waiting world (well, maybe) there was a lot of ambling about at a walk before Itchy Feet took the bull by the horns and made the running. Higgs was first to crack. Leapaway went that way between the last two and just when it seemed that Grand Sancy was about to pounce on the leader, Itchy Feet found a little bit more and shooed him away. A lot of leaping and pouncing like activity described, but not much liveliness in the race. More interesting was the obsessive betting interest in Leapaway, because he had won five in row. The thing was, because he was able to start off with a handicap mark of 112, the first four had been races that the other trio could easily have won as well had they been in his boat. The final race merely confirmed him to be a worthy addition to the line up. In the end none of the four looked ready to step up into Grade2 level, but perhaps the tactical approach was unflattering.

Race 4: Move Over To Matchbook Handicap Chase [2m 2f]

1: Copain De Classe     2: Casablanca Mix     3: Valhalla

Winner owned: Kyle, Stewart, Vogt & Wylie, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Harry Cobden

Only two horses were involved in this from the third last fence. Copain De Classe nosed ahead of Casablanca Mix but the top weight was putting up a stern rally when she got the last fence wrong. It was enough to end her challenge, but life was not as easy for Copain De Classe, who has had a wind surgery since his last run, as the margin suggests. Behind these Valhalla has won two chases, one where they only jumped five fences (and even then he got the race from the stewards after the horse that thrashed him missed out one of the few that they bothered with) and the other saw only nine jumped. He laid down his mark for a place here because some of the other horses are even less convincing at the fences. It is weird how these types all seem to congregate into the same races. At this point Triple Chief gets a mention because he failed to deal with this higher class of race and cannot be blamed for losing. But if it is ignored, he is the only horse not to get a mention.

+ +  Casablanca Mix (2nd): There were several negatives. She had not run since a chase fall last December, and she has a surprisingly weak record first time out for a Nicky Henderson horse, so looking a million dollars in the paddock could have been a red herring – or a shiny ginger one. She was also stuck with top weight. What there is in her record are a couple of runs that make her 138 rating appear to be very generous. Despite the fact that it all failed in the end, she will have a good season if her jumping holds up.

+ +  Copain De Class (1st): In the past there was a worry that he was prone to weak finishing, and that was not ojut of the question when the runnner-up misjudged the last and handed first prize over. However, after this he can probably get stuck into the latter stages with more confidence. And more oxygen.

x  Valhalla (3rd) As noted above, the two chase wins on the record card are deceptive and supporting him over fences is littered with pitfalls.

x  Space Oddity (4th), Robinshill (7th): Both were capable hurdlers and both have not really adapted well to jumping fences. Robinshill was sloppier than Space Oddity here, but both should stay on the bad news list until they go back to hurdles or somehow develop an understanding of this job.

x  Oliver’s Hill (5th): Came into this with an excellent chase record of seven wins in twenty-three tries. He was helped by opening up on a rating of only 100, and now that he has climbed to 127 he has to be in races like this without being on a cheeky low weight, e.g. he won this off of 116 in 2017.
Copain De Classe just has the edge at the last, but the fight back of Casablanca Mix was stymied a split second after this picture was taken

Race 5: Matchbook VIP Hurdle, Listed [2m]

1: Verdana Blue     2: Old Guard     3: Smaoineamh Alainn

Winner owned: Crimbourne Stud, trained: Nicky Henderson, ridden: Nico de Boinville

Nicky Henderson had already reintroduced a very decent mare on this card, and Verdana Blue upstaged her colleague in eye catching fashion. The weights and mares’ allowance did favour her, but she comfortably beat Old Guard, who runs exceptionally well fresh, won this last year, and has proven himself to be a steady 150s rated horse. With the race set up for them by unreliable High Secret, the first two were obviously candidates to blaze on from him, but the less exposed Smaoineamh Alainn did a nice bit of work to stick on the heels of the runner-up.

Verdana Blue (1st): Ended her season in the spring by being anonymously lost in the pack in the Betfair Hurdle and the Scottish Champion Hurdle, but after this dynamic showing, who is to say that she cannot return to those events in a state more ready to excel.

+ Smaoineamh Alainn (3rd): The lowest rated horse in the race, but with the mares’ allowance onside, she was running well fresh when she joined this yard in 2017. She did win without a significant break as well. One to look out for as a less heralded challenger in mares only races.

x  High Secret (4th): Only ended up five lengths behind Old Guard, and having done all the donkey work he is likely to get a bit of credit for being a candidate to up his standard. The problem is that he often finds his attention wandering when it looks as if a 1 is about to be added to his scorebook.

Race 6: Matchbook Casino Handicap Chase [3m]

1: Elkstone     2: One Of Us     3: Baron Du Plessis

Winner owned: Tredwell, Proctor, Robinson & Nicholson, trained: Caroline Bailey, ridden: James Bowen

Informal pre-race chatter revolved around the fact that a line up of eight had attracted three criminally insane horses and one totally barmy jockey. They filled the first four places. The remaining line up began to scatter on the final bend (well backed Midnight Monty made a bad early mistake and after taking a few more without enthusiasm was pulled up – and he was supposed to be the safe, sensible option). Approaching the third fence from the finish, One Of Us had hit the front but Elkstone had spent a lap making glacial progress from the rear. In something rarely heard on a racecourse, commentator John Hunt noted that Elkstone was making a winning challenge, then laughed at the absurdity of what he had said. But it was true. Elkstone tried to slow down and lose it, but One Of Us had no more to offer. However, this is the third Elkstone success of the year and although it must be driving him nuts (or more nuts) this period of reduced ability to throw races away does raise the possibility that he moves up to take on a very long distance chase and gets a nice prize as others wilt around him. Let us hope that John Hunt is behind the microphone to see what could not be become mad reality. As for One Of Us, easier going would have been a big help. Strumble Head again gave up when headed – he is old and has done his bit over the years, so let him drift off in peace. Accord was not inspired by a new bit of headgear.

x  Elkstone (1st): Cannot be totally condemned given recent outcomes, but things could go back to the horribly normal at any time.

x x  Baron Du Plessis (3rd), Closest Friend (4th): Close enough if good enough when the winning post hove into view, neither were willing enough, and this is a trend that they have offered up before.

Race 7: Matchbook Best Value Exchange Novices’ Hurdle [2m 5f]

1: Hidden Glen    2: Admiral Barratry     3: Wallace Spirit

Winner owned: J Petit, C Skinner, R Sanders & J Tuttiett, trained: Ben Pauling, ridden: Nico de Boinville

In most years this race assembles an interesting bunch and then the value of the efforts decline as the season progresses. This year only four turned up, and none especially caught the eye – Admiral Barratry had got involved with some better horses than the others, which is scant recommendation. It was still exciting as three horses approached the final flight in a line. From that point Wallace Spirit remembered that she has adopted the persona of unsteerable dimwit and went from a lead to heading straight for the railed off area on the stands side – her rider had to take a pull, once avoiding an unseat, to prevent the horse doing herself and her pilot a mischief. Meanwhile, Admiral Barratry was trying to reel in Hidden Glen, but having run very wide on the final bend, he was also too ploddy to catch the winner, who had not really gone onwards since winning a weak bumper on debut.

x  Admiral Barratry (2nd): His steering issues on the final turn are not unique in his brief career, but he at least gives the impression that he is doing it from confusion rather than hatred of his jockey and people who have backed him. So treat with caution for now, but once he has put in a couple of rational races then a second chance is not out of the question.

x x  Wallace Spirit (3rd): Acquire a barge pole. Acquire a second barge pole. Tape the two together and do not touch her with the upgraded object avoidance device.
Having earlier been too soon to catch Casablanca Mix’s critical stumble, this time it is too soon for Wallace Spirit’s mental meltdown, which is shameful considering that it was expected. Hidden Glen, the winner, is hidden on the far side and interesting Admiral Barratry is blurry. An important but badly flawed image. Cue a sudden sympathy for Kanye West
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