Happy New Year!!
Yes, after spending the first week of 2015 in the ‘internet exclusion zones’ that are my extended families homes in the North East of Scotland (somehow even my own mobile wifi wasn’t playing ball, I smell sabotage!!) this is the first NTF Blog post of 2015!
So Happy New Year racing fans, I hope 2015 has been good to you so far?
Personally I’m always happy when the festivities are over (bah humbug!!). It’s good to get a bit of routine back in the old life, it helps focus the mind, and if there is one thing you need to help you master this racing game it’s focus!
The festive period isn’t all that bad though as we do get a feast of top class racing thrown at us and that’s something we should always relish.
For this weeks ‘what we learned from the weekend’ post I’m going to stretch the parameters a bit and look at the first 11 days of 2015 and provide you with an extended New Year’s post – ‘What we learned from the New Year period: 1st – 11th January’.
So lets get started…
What we learned from the New Year period: 1st – 11th January…
1. Josses Hill still doesn’t convince as a chaser…
Nicky Henderson’s exciting 7yo tackled fences for the second time at Doncaster and whilst going one better than his debut 2nd at Ascot the same frailties were still apparent. He looks scrappy, untidy, sluggish, cumbersome and awkward at his fences and it’s almost as if he doesn’t really know what his job is. In fact you could say it has taken him until the final fence on this second outing to actually jump a fence like a proper chaser!
Luckily for the horse he has a fair old engine under the bonnet and that pulled him through on the home-straight past the tough, but unlikely to be top class, Solar Impulse.
On the face of things his defeat to Ptit Zig on debut doesn’t look all that bad; the Nicholls horse landed the Grade 2 Dipper Chase at Cheltenham on new years day, firing in an RPR figure of 165 in the process. In fact the bare form of this second start also doesn’t read all that bad; Solar Impulse has some fine form in the bank, he’s an improving youngster who is also a fine jumper of a fence. However there is more than just the bare form to consider here, it’s Josses Hill’s jumping that needs looking at, he just doesn’t convince at his fences, not yet anyway.
But is that enough to stop him winning an Arkle at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival?
As it stands yes, probably. If he jumps like he has done on his two starts to date he surely can’t win. He NEEDS to improve, rapidly.
…but then again so do plenty of the Henderson chasers, don’t they?
I’m sure plenty of you will have noticed this stat being banded about over the past couple of weeks but it’s worth wheeling out again…
Nicky Henderson is only 3/47 (6% S/R) with his chasers since the start of November (72% below expectation)
That’s crazy. For a trainer of Henderson’s stature to have such a poor record is worrying and frankly a bit odd. It’s well out of line with what they should be and what his hurdlers are doing. They are ticking along in the same period at a comfortable 32/112 | 29% S/R – 25% above expectation. There is nothing wrong in that sphere.
Does he just have a poor batch of chasers on his hand this term? Has he suddenly forgotten how to train horses over fences? Was he just relying on Bobs Worth, Long Run, Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig in recent season’s and now they aren’t the force of old/injured the cupboard is bare?
The three winners he has had since the start of November have all come in novice events. He is 0/19 in Listed and Graded events. He is 0/29 in Class 2 and above races. Only 1 of his 21 Saturday chasers has won. His chasers aged 8+ are 0/19. His chasers that have started at 2/1 or more are 0/37.
What the hell is going on???
The mighty beast that is SPRINTER SACRE is ‘meant’ to be making a return this Saturday at Ascot. Can he change those figures? Will he be as good as he once was? It’s bloody tricky to climb back to the top of the tree after a sustained period out. The other trainers should be lining up to gun for the Grade 1 Ascot prize this Saturday. With doubts about Sprinter Sacre and the Henderson chasers in general they should be throwing any half-cocked two miler at the race… but they aint. There are five against him. One is his stable-mate French Opera. Jeezo people!!
It’s a worrying time for the Henderson chasers at the minute. Josses Hill is one of those chasers. He has plenty of size and scope to jump a fence but unless that was the penny dropping over the last at Doncaster he’s not really getting to grips with his new job.
Beware of those Henderson chasers, somethings not quite right….
On the other hand…
2. Ptit Zig goes from strength to strength…
The 6yo made it four from over fences with a convincing victory over the classy Champagne West in the Grade 2 Dipper Chase on new years day at Cheltenham. Paul Nicholls has always had this one pegged as a high class chaser in the making and god damn he was right!
Nicholls did the right thing with the horse and didn’t rush him over fences after his juvenile hurdle season. The temptation must have been there but he rightly waited for the horse to mature and fill into his frame and that patience is being rewarded in spades now.
The champion trainer has even suggested this horse could be a Gold Cup contender of the future. From a dosage perspective he would certainly be a prime fit…
PTIT ZIG – 1-1-5-4-1 | 12 | PATB | 0.60 | -0.25
There is stamina in that pedigree and I could certainly see him staying 3 miles +.
Sam Twiston-Davies has ridden him on all four starts over fences and for me they make the perfect pairing.
Nicholls number one jockey has suffered a fair bit of stick this season. The NTF Members and I have also discussed the Nicholls/STD combo in the NTF Members Area a fair bit this season as well; some times highly critical, sometimes dishing out praise.
I’m personally a fan of the jockey but I don’t think he is suited to every horse in the Nicholls yard. He is a jockey with a distinct style and although he could adapt his approach in time I think it’s fair to say he is better on a gun ’em and go type of horse rather than a sit quietly and tease them into a race beast. Ptit Zig is pretty much a gun ’em and go horse in the sense that STD can just sit in behind the pace and then fire the horse over the last few fences and the horse will answer in style. He’s not a steering job by any stretch but he responds to the jockey particularly well and it’s eye-catchingly impressive how he motors away when STD asks him to go and win his race. The horse responds to an aggressor in the saddle rather than a soft hands type of guy and STD is just the correct type of aggressor to get the best from this horse.
Ptit Zig and STD look a major force to be reckoned with in the novice ranks…
3. Rock On Ruby is relishing his return to hurdles but is he really a World Hurdle contender…
The former champion hurdler backed up his Relkeel Hurdle win with a commanding victory on new years day, disposing of the highly touted Vaniteux with the minimum of fuss. That gives him form figures of 311 this term and justified connections decision to abandon his chase career.
It was a fine effort at a track he loves (Cheltenham hurdle record of 12213211) although it was nothing more than should have been expected. His record at Listed level and below is now 11121111411 and this is always the area where he will be most dangerous. His record at G2 level + is 2232133238231 (2/13) and although he runs his race there he is always susceptible to at least one other.
So is he really a World Hurdle contender? It looks a bit of a ‘last throw of the dice shot at glory’ type of move to me. He has the stamina to last the trip but that lowly strike rate at the top level makes him vulnerable, as does his age. He is a 10yo. The last 15 World Hurdle winners have all been aged 6-9. The last double digit winner of the race was Crimson Embers in 1985. Age is against him for sure.
In truth you can’t blame connections for going for the race, he doesn’t really have any other options at the Festival and he does love the place, it wouldn’t make sense to keep him in his box when there is potential for some decent prize money to be added to the coffers.
Winning the World Hurdle though? I’m not convinced.
Age is against ROR as he bids for World Hurdle glory.
Talking of Rock On Ruby…
4. Harry Fry has made a blinding start to 2015…
8 runners – 6 winners – 75% S/R – +£16.07 profit
That’s not bad in anyone’s book!
Indeed in the period covered only three trainers had more winners than him and those were the power-trio of Mullins (11 winners), Nicholls (8 winners) and Hobbs (8 winners).
To enhance those already amazing stats it’s worth pointing out that one of his losers was Jolly’s Cracked It in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle, who finished second to the impressive L’Ami Serge.
It’s safe to say Harry Fry is a man very much on his way to the top. He is, however, still waiting on his first Grade 1 success. Not that he’s had that many pops at a Grade 1 to be fair, indeed in his fledgling career he has only saddled 10 runners in a Grade 1 event, 4 of those have been Rock On Ruby.
I’m sure it won’t be long before he breaks his G1 duck although whether that will be this season is up for debate. Is there a Grade 1 beast lurking in his yard? I’m not convinced but if he keeps producing winners at his current rate of knots it surely won’t be long before owners start sending him potential Grade 1 animals to train.
The Fry train is picking up steam with every passing month and it won’t be long before a Grade 1 beast hops on-board .
5. Willie Mullins had mixed fortunes with his Novice Hurdlers…
Team Mullins fired two big novice hurdling guns over the festive period; TELL US MORE and DOUVAN.
One hosed up whilst the other was sunk by his 33-1 stable-mate. One shortened in the betting for their Cheltenham Festival target whilst the other edged out a couple of points.
Douvan rightly gained the plaudits after his comfortable win and it was hard not to be impressed with this performance, he probably could have won by upwards of 10L if asked any sort of question. The only real query about him would be his ability to handle genuine good ground as all 4 starts to date have been on Soft or worse and his sire – Walk In The Park – was a bit of a soft ground performer. That’s possibly picking holes for the sake of it though and essentially he looks a top class hurdler in the making.
Tell Us More didn’t do all that much wrong in his outing and was beaten by a horse who had won 3 of his 7 previous hurdle starts, including a Grade 3. It may be that ultimately this mid-range trip isn’t ideal for him and I could actually make a case for him dropping back in trip OR stepping up in trip. He still rates as an exciting prospect, despite this minor blip.
And despite the defeat of Tell Us More there is nothing wrong with the Mullins string at present, far from it.
In the period analysed (1st – 11th January) team Mullins returned the following figures…
11/23 | 48% S/R | +£95.40 BFLSP – Win & Place 14/23 | 61% S/R
58% above expectation
If that isn’t domination I don’t know what is!!
Mullins will now have his sights firmly set on the 2015 Cheltenham Festival and you can be sure as sure can be that he will keep his string in prime condition for the coming months.
Mullins yet again has major weaponry at his disposal and he isn’t afraid to fire it!!
Happy Punting – Ben (NTF)
*Stats sourced from the excellent Proform Professional Database