Another weekend of high class action in the form book as we edge ever closer to the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, with plenty of big yards sending some of their key movers and shakers to the track as they look to get their ducks all in a row for those big four days in March.
The Dublin Racing Festival (DRF) took centre stage over in Ireland and the mighty mare that is HONEYSUCKLE once again stole the show, landing her third Irish Champion Hurdle on the bounce and taking her career tally to an impressive 14 from 14 (15 from 15 if you include her point-to-point romp). It’s hard to see anything beating her next month as she goes for her second Champion Hurdle, I’ve tried to make a case for others but ultimately keep coming back to the defending champ. It’s a bit of a weak division at the minute, although that in no way should detract from what Honeysuckle has achieved, but I’ll keep picking through her opponents and see if there is a Sublimity or a Hardy Eustace lurking in the entries… 🤔
CHACUN POUR SOI blitzed his rivals when landing his second Dublin Chase although realistically he was simply winning as he should on a track that clearly suits him well. Is he a realistic challenger to Shishkin in the QMCC or will his ‘travel sickness’ get the better of him again? 🤢 At the time his run in the QMCC last season was a big disappointment but with hindsight it maybe wasn’t all that bad, at the end of the day he was only beaten 1.5L in third by a high-class mare that he was giving 7lbs to (with NUBE NEGRA splitting the difference between them). Better was expected of him that day, of course, but as a piece of form it’s not all that bad, all bar the winner and last placed Rouge Vif have all won at least once since, all at Listed level+. Chacun Pour Soi does, at the very least, add a huge amount of spice to the QMCC…
VAUBAN, BLUE LORD, FACILE VEGA, GALOPIN DES CHAMPS and SIR GERHARD were other notable winners at the two day meeting and were a telling reminder, if we ever needed one, that Willie Mullins holds a huge amount of aces for not only this years Cheltenham Festival but for any number of grade 1’s at any track over the coming seasons. An embarrassment of riches simple does not describe his team right now…👀👀👀
There were some notable races/performances on this side of the irish Sea as well, the most impressive to my eyes being the demolition job that the Venetia Williams trained L’HOMME PRESSE undertook when winning the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown. He’s now 4 from 4 over fences and he just keeps on banging out improved efforts each time he takes to the race track. Visually he is highly impressive but the performances are backed up in no uncertain terms by the figures (Proform Speed figures used as my standard, as always) and I think he could turn out to be a serious player at the top levels. I’d go as far to say that L’HOMME PRESSE has the potential to be the best horse Venetia Williams has EVER trained. Clearly there is a bit of recency bias from myself there, and I imagine Teeton MIll & Lady Rebecca might have something to say about my comment, but I genuinely believe that L’HOMME PRESSE is an extremely talented young chaser and all being well Saturday’s win won’t have been his last Grade 1 victory…
‘The North’ also threw their hat into the ring with the timely reminder (not that we really needed it) that there is a certain AHOY SENOR going about his business in the staying novice chase division, with the 7yo landing the Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby by a comfortable 5.5L. There is no doubting this boy has a powerful engine but he does need to neaten up his jumping if he’s to really make an impact at the top level over fences. His jumping technique isn’t quite there for me yet and it doesn’t actually seem to be improving with each run and I would be concerned that it could hold him back against the really good novices. Naturally I hope I’m wrong…but it is a concern for me…
Any thoughts from yourself from the weekend then please feel free to drop a comment below 👍
Now for the latest instalment of ‘Three to follow from the weekend‘…
Three to follow from the weekend: 4th, 5th & 6th of February…
MISTER COFFEY (N Henderson)
2nd in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices Chase – 2.20 Sandown (Saturday 5th)
A bit of a strange effort from the 7yo but he finished far enough behind the impressive L’Homme Presse that his handicap was kept intact and untouched by the handicapper. I do think his current mark of OR 137 is very workable at present (for a move back into handicap company) and he’ll probably prove better suited to a Newbury or a Cheltenham and possibly even 3m+ trips. Like his effort at Kempton last time out he was doing all his best work when they straightened up for the run to home at Sandown on Saturday, again just suggesting that he quite probably wants a longer trip. Based on his last two starts (both on RH tracks) you’d want to be seeing him go left-handed from now on as he did have a tendency to jump to his left on both starts, quite markedly at times, and a big galloping left-handed track could be ideal for him. I’d be disappointed should he not prove up to being a good way better than his current OR 137 mark, he could well have some decent pots in him at the back end of this season and the start of the next.
UNDERSUPERVISION (N Twiston-Davies)
4th in the Class 2 Masters Handicap Chase – 3.30 Sandown (Saturday 5th)
The 6yo travelled through most of the race like a well-handicapped type (which I’d be sure he is off OR 132 – dropped 2lbs for this effort) but again was found out by a testing finish (his chase starts have all come at Cheltenham or Sandown, both of which have very testing finishes). I think he’s a handicap winner in waiting when they get him to a track with an easier finish.
His one win to date came at Hereford which has a slight downhill finish and a switch to a more suitable track will surely see this Doyen gelding opening his chase account.
IMPULSIVE ONE (N Henderson)
Won the Scottish Triumph Hurdle – 1.32 Musselburgh (Sunday 6th)
Travelled and jumped like the best horse in the race by some margin and he probably could have won by at least double what he did win by if he’d been asked to. His jumping was very fast and slick and I think this was a hugely impressive performance by the 4yo and he could well have a decent prize in him come the spring.
Given the high-class action that was going on elsewhere this could be a run that is underestimated and I’d be interested in him if they step him up in grade going forward from this.
He looks a speedy type and may be more suited to the likes of Aintree rather than Cheltenham, something his trainer Nicky Henderson also hinted at in the aftermath of Sunday’s victory.
He posted a solid figure in victory and hopefully there is plenty more to still to come from the youngster.
Cheers – Ben (NTF)