After a small pre-Christmas break with Mrs NTF I’m back in the swing today with the next installment of ‘What we learned from the weekend’.
We had the International Meeting at Cheltenham this weekend past and I’m of the opinion that was a slightly odd, almost lacking in fizz kinda two days. There were a few cases of some yards easing back and having their eyes firmly targeted on the Christmas meetings that are just on the horizon.The fields were frustratingly small in places and that’s often a pain for us punters. I’m already hearing some trainers uttering those utterly stupid words “that’ll be it until the Cheltenham Festival now“. Yeah, fair enough, there aren’t any valuable pots between now and March. You may as well put all your eggs in one basket. That’s never a recipe for failure is it?!
Anyway, mini rant over. Time for this weeks installment of…
What we learned from the weekend: 13th & 14th December…
1. The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup cannot be considered a serious piece of form…
On all known form – and he was a horse we knew well as an 8yo who had 37 previous starts, 24 of them over fences – Niceonefrankie could not have been a serious betting proposition for this valuable pot. Yes he was coming off the back of an impressive victory at Ascot but it was a race he had won the previous season from the exact same mark (OR 129) and this year he, according to RPR figures, ran to a mark 1lb below the 2013 performance; i.e. he wasn’t even coming into this off a career best. Prior to this Cheltenham win he had never come even remotely close to matching the figures he recording when winning those two renewals of the Ascot race in any of his 35 other starts.
His record from OR 130+ before this contest was 55232PU33255665. There was plenty evidence available to suggest OR 129 was his ceiling. He ran here off OR 142 and ripped the field apart! He was also 0/8 at Class 2 level+ before this and didn’t really look like he was suited to this higher grade at all. Indeed his prior form figures at these levels were a rather disappointing PP02(beaten 19L)5556P. Add to that he was 0/9 in fields of 12+ before this romp and you could easily deduce he wasn’t all that comfortable with plenty opposition around him.
We may as well add in that V Williams had a very average figures of 1/22, 3 places at this meeting in recent seasons, with the Williams/Coleman tag-team returning a weak 0/16, 3 places in the same time-frame (last five seasons).
So what the buggery happened?!
The obvious answer is there was a lot of under-performers in behind him. Plenty patently failing to run their race and a fair dollop of the major players not even getting round.
It’s also worth noting that this was an extremely difficult meeting to get into things from out the back. Only three of the 14 winners managed to win from a hold-up position – from 46 horses to attempt to win from the hold-up position over the two days. There were a number of held-up runners in this contest as well; Edgardo Sol, Carrigmorna King, Darna, Attaglance, Ericht, Caid Du Berlais, Workbench – more than half the field.
Things very much played into the hands of Niceonefrankie and Aidan Coleman on that angle. That’s not to take anything away from the jockey though, it was a fine ride from Coleman, he grasped the bull by the horns and had plenty of them out of their ground from some way out, he does deserve credit for the ride.
Overall though it’s a bit of a pen-through-the-race-for-future-form-purposes kinda job.
Well apart from one runner…
SPLASH OF GINGE. The Ginge. Young Splashy. Sir Ginge of Splashingdon.
To my eyes he is the only horse worth taking out of this contest. It took him a couple of fences to get into his rhythm and he was a touch ‘springy’over the first couple of fences, but that’s cool, it was only his 4th start over the larger obstacles, he was learning on the job. And learn he did. His jumping improved as the race progressed. Unfortunately it was his jumping that let him down in the end as he crumpled on landing four out when looking to make a serious move to gun down the runaway leader. I’m sure he was still travelling within himself at that point. He had hit a minor flat spot when Coleman increased the tempo but he was back on an even keel when approaching the race ending fence. It wasn’t a bad jump either and he just seemed to crumple a touch on landing. Whether he would have managed to reel in the winner is another question but he was far from done with and looked the only horse with anything left in the tank to lay down a serious challenge the winner. He remains of interest and the excellent Ryan Hatch’s 5lb claim in the saddle will continue to be of benefit if they stay the handicapping route. Which they should. I wouldn’t be convinced he is up to Graded level over fences.
Keep an eye on El Gingerino, there’s more to come…
2. Nicky Henderson has two serious juvenile prospects on his hands…
HARGAM and PEACE AND CO. Both winners on Saturday and both near the head of the market for Triumph Hurdle glory in March.
Both look like serious players at this stage but it has to be said that Peace And Co was visually the most impressive of the pair. Indeed he recorded an RPR figure of 142 when winning at Doncaster whilst his stable-mate ‘only’ fired in a figure of 135 at Cheltenham.
At this stage Peace And Co does also look the more straightforward of the pair whereas Hargam probably takes a little bit more cajoling along and keeping up to his work. It’s early days though and they are both still learning and improving.
On the Dosage front they look like…
Hargam – 4-3-6-5-0 | 18 | 1.25 | 0.33
Peace And Co – 4-3-7-2-0 | 16 | 1.91 | 0.56
That would sway things in the favour of Hargam and he also does have experience of the testing Cheltenham track (x2).
But Dosage is only one part of the puzzle as is course form, there are other significant factors to take into the equation and more pointers on the track to come before March. What we’ve seen so far, however, from the Hendo pair is extremely pleasing and they set the standard on this side of the Irish Sea.
The Nicky Henderson pair have laid down some serious early season markers for the Triumph and look, at this stage, as the two UK based front-runners for Triumph glory.
3. MELODIC RENDEZVOUS can jump fences but he doesn’t make a great shape over them…
Jermey Scott’s stable star won on chasing debut at Bangor but he really should have won with a bit more conviction if he is to get anywhere in the chasing game. He should also have jumped with plenty more conviction. But he didn’t. And that can often be a worry when they go chasing relatively late (he’s an 8yo and he spent two full season’s over hurdles).
Personally I’ve never been a fan of a horse going chasing for the simple reason that they’ve run out of option over the smaller obstacles (which looks the case with this lad). It happens all the time and it rarely pays off. The chasing game is littered with top class hurdlers that seemingly ran out of options over timber and never really attained the same level of success over fences. Rock On Ruby, Overturn, Oscar Whisky (R.I.P fella), Peddlers Cross, Celestial Halo to name but a few recent examples.
It isn’t always the case, obviously, but more often than not these types fail to make the transition. After a couple of years (or more) perfecting their hurdling game they are then asked to make a different shape at their obstacles, clear the fences rather than flicking their hurdles, and they more often than not struggle.
If you are going to be a top class chaser you need to get there sooner rather than later. It can’t be an afterthought. It has to be the main plan. The ultimate goal. Not a compensation option. If it is the main plan then don’t piss about too long over hurdles. Get a novice season over timber and then gun it over fences.
I have a feeling Melodic Rendezvous will fall into that group of horses that never quite achieved the same over fences as they did over hurdles.
I hope I’m wrong, I fear I’m right…
The (very) early signs are that Melodic Rendezvous may not quite be cut out for fences.
As always I would love to hear your opinions on the weekends racing.
Cheers and Happy Punting – Ben (NTF)
Stats sourced from the excellent Proform Database