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What we learned from the weekend: 28th & 29th January…

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Condolences to all connected with the star that was Many Clouds…

Well that was quite a weekend…

This sport is an emotional roller-coaster at the best of times but my word did that weekend sucker-punch us or what?

Not only did we have to comprehend the fact that Thistlecrack lost his unbeaten chasing record but we then had to, very quickly, come to terms with the crushing blow that his conqueror, Many Clouds, sadly passed away after the race.

The passing of the National/Hennessy winner simply floored the racing world. From ecstasy to despair in the blink of an eye.

We had just witnessed him post a career best by out-gunning/out-battling/out-smarting/out-jumping the horse of the moment Thistlecrack. And you know what, I don’t even imagine Many Clouds cared. He could have been beating any horse. All he did was tough it out, grind the others into submission, ping his fences with pinpoint accuracy and give everything he possibly could until he was past the winning line and his job for the day was done. Not in a Denman type of fashion, I always imagined Denman made a hell of a racket when demolishing his opponents, shouting and swearing his way to victory, nostrils flared, grunting like the proverbial tank and striking fear into his opposition. I never imagined Many Clouds to be like that. I always imagined he never uttered a word during his races. He just went out there and did it. He made sure nothing was left in the tank by the time he crossed the finish line, indeed his tank was probably empty half way up the run-in most days, but it didn’t stop him, he always found something else. He always gave absolutely everything he had… and some…

He will be missed…

We must, however, battle on. If we could all just be a bit more like Many Clouds and make sure we give our all, every day, I’m sure, nay convinced, this world will just be that much better for it…

As always the weekend National Hunt action was jam-packed with talking points and here is my own sideways glance at the racing that’s just entered the form book, in the latest edition of ‘What we learned from the weekend’

 

What we learned from the weekend: 28th & 29th of January…

 

1. The stats tell us that MELON has an uphill task in the Supreme…

It was unusual that by Cheltenham trials weekend Willie Mullins didn’t have a red-hot favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. In the shape of Melon, however, he now does.

The 5yo Medician gelding strolled away with a Leopardstown maiden on Sunday by a commanding 10L and suddenly found himself at the head of the Supreme market, with prices ranging from 3/1 – 5/1.

There’s no doubt he was impressive on his hurdling debut and he’s clearly a very talented animal in the making but can he take the Supreme Novices’ off just the one hurdle outing?

The stats say it’s unlikely, highly unlikely.

The last 19 Supreme’s have seen 34 horses try and win the race off the back of only ONE previous hurdle start. They have returned the following figures…

0/34 | 0% S/R | -£34.00 BFLSP – Win & Place 1/34 | 3% S/R

Only ONE even PLACED!

Melon has to buck that trend if he is to land the opener at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival as Mullins has hinted they are going to try and get him ready for the G1 at home, without taking in another race.

The stats say that’s not a wise move…

Willie, you’re twisting my Melon man…

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2. Thistlecrack isn’t unbeatable…

Let’s be clear here, Thistlecrack’s defeat on Saturday in the Cotswold Chase wasn’t a poor run, far from it, but it does, naturally, raise some questions.

I’m sure we’ve all been pondering the result over the past few days, trying to put it into context, trying to figure out exactly what it means…

And here’s where I’m currently sitting with it…

Many Clouds was probably the best ‘in form’ horse Thistlecrack has faced over fences to date and he was beaten by him. Furthermore Many Clouds, as admirable a horse as he was, wasn’t a Grade 1 animal. The stats tell you that (he was 0/4, 0p at G1 level). Many Clouds was a fantastic racehorse (as already discussed in this post) but he wasn’t a G1 animal and he beat Thistlecrack off levels on Saturday.

Now I know Thistlecrack faced off against Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti in the King George but I think it’s fair to say that two are not the force they used to be. Yes Cue Card won the Betfair Chase in November but he was essentially ‘only’ beating a returning Coneygree (first run for a long time) and although he beat him comfortably it was far from the deepest G1 contest. Added to that is the proximity of Silviniaco Conti, Tea For Two and Josses Hill to Cue Card in the King George, further highlighting the fact that he isn’t quite the force of old.

Smad Place was beaten comfortably in the Cotswold Chase on Saturday but he was never going to win there, he was carrying 11-10 and his record when carrying 11-10+ now reads 0/10, 3p and he’s another that’s proven numerous times that he isn’t a G1 animal (0/12 at G1 level) and there are just signs that he’s now on the downward curve of his form graph.

The other thing that struck me was that Thistlecrack didn’t exactly jump like a G1 animal on Saturday. He traveled like one sure enough but he didn’t convince with his jumping all that much. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to raise that point but it is, I feel, a valid one. Now sure any horse can look bad jumping next to Many Clouds but it was more than that for me. And I can have the ‘he’s still a novice learning his trade’ argument anymore, that was his 5th chase start, he should be getting to grips with jumping now, if he was going to impress with his jumping he would have shown that at some stage on one of his last two starts , it would have clicked with him. He’s possibly only just above average in the jumping stakes. Sure he can ping one when he wants to but you need more than that at the top levels.

None of this means he can’t or won’t win a Gold Cup, he’s still, just about, the most likely winner of the race, but it certainly opens things up plenty and hopefully it means less will be inclined to run and hide from him on Gold Cup day. Many Clouds exposed some chinks in the Thistlecrack armory and now it’s time for the others to see if they can fully expose him…

Is Thistle there for the cracking in the Gold Cup…

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3. Saphir Du Rheu gave clear signs that he’s about ready to get back to winning ways…

Let’s face it the once promising French bred has been largely hit or miss since his novice chase season (mostly miss!) but Paul Nicholls seems to have settled on the Handicap route with him now and that, to me, looks a solid plan.

In fact it’s probably safe to say he’s always been a very good handicapper in disguise, as opposed to a G1 animal in the making. I’m now of the opinion that he was simply overrated for his first season over fences, a season that ended with a 15L G1 win at Aintree (a race that, incidentally, has failed to produce a G1 winner since).

He got going a bit too late on Saturday in the 2m5f Handicap Chase but hopefully these sorts of trips are where Nicholls perseveres with him. He definitely stays 3m but he has solid form over 2m3.5f – 2m6f trips (114U1121 (5/8) – U112 (2/4) over fences) and I’d like to see them gun for some decent pots over this mid-range trip for the foreseeable.

He’s unexposed in handicaps (only four starts to date) and I see no reason why he can’t land a decent pot at some stage…

Keep Saphir on the radar, he looks ready to strike…

 

Ben (NTF)

 

Stats sourced from the excellent Proform Database

Proform Racing | The professional Formbook

 

 

5 responses to “What we learned from the weekend: 28th & 29th January…”

  1. Great stuff Ben.
    I came to the same conclusion as you about Thistlecrack, and have him at 167 which is good, but not the top-drawer, which is what his supporters wanted to believe after he won on Boxing Day. Racing Post rated him at 178 for that win – bonkers if you ask me and (yet again) evidence of blatant ratings inflation.
    There are several horses now that have Thistlecrack in their sights: 3 of which just about everyone knows about, and one that people probably have overlooked
    That horse is named on my blog.
    I was gutted Saphir Du Rheu didn’t win. His jockey probably let the winner get away too much, but the way he quickly reduced the deficit – he must have been 12-lengths down with 4 to jump – showed he’s on a decent mark, and this trip is the one he has been craving!
    No more 3-mile servings for Saphir Mr Nicholls.

    • Thanks Ian

      Yeah he’s certainly come back to the pack now (Thistlecrack) and I really hope that was enough to allow a decent field to take him on, none of this avoidance tactics. He may still win, and win well, but Saturday showed he can be beaten and if I had a horse that was a potentil Gold Cup contender I certainly wouldn’t be running scared.

      Minella Rocco been discussed a couple of times on here and I can certainly see the case for him but you’d want to see him run again before Gold Cup time, last time out fallers have a poor record at the Festival. Denman Chase at Newbury would be a good spot for him.

      Fully agree with you on Saphir DR, 100%, keep him at the same distance as Saturday, ride him closer to the pace and keep tabs on the front of the pack and he wins.

      Ben (NTF)

  2. Good views as always Ben but i said that i thought Thistlecrack was at least 3rd in line in the stable for the Gold Cup that was at the beginning of November the King George would suggest that was incorrect but i believe Cue Card wasn’t at his best in the King George but i don’t think he has been at his best since the fall in last years Gold Cup and may never be the same horse very few horses improve their position from previous GC to win the race i think The fellow was the last he also fails on the age stats so i would happily look elsewhere Thistlecrack is a Novice and although Coneygree was technically a Novice he was 8y old with lots of course experience and had run faster than the King George on the same card by almost 3 seconds Thistlecrack had Might Bite stayed up would have been 3 seconds slower so there isn’t the same ticks in his box so again i would be happy to oppose him Native River on the other hand has strong claims he stays all day and has a good galloping speed and he jumps like a pro if Tizzard has the winner in his yard i am convinced it is this one he is in the correct age range has solid course form and has been quietly being backed while his more popular rivals have been the talk of the betting public at large so just who has been supporting him my thoughts are those close to the yard If and i will put this out there they had a late change of mind and Aimed Cue Card at the Ryanair and Thistlecrack at the RSA what would the betting look like for the Gold Cup its not that far fetched either they could come out and say his defeat to Many Clouds told us he needs another year before the Gold Cup attempt and with Cue Card they could just say this is his festival swan song and we wanted to give him the best chance of winning we could so we are returning to his finest hour when winning the Ryanair and no one could argue with either decision im not saying this will happen just that its possible

    • Hi Bob

      Yeah I would agree it will be very hard for Cue Card to capture the Gold Cup now, age and a previous ‘failed’ attempt two of a few pointers against him.

      Not sure they will switch Thistlecrack to the RSA, they’ve been keen on the Gold Cup for some time now and Tizzard seems to think (rightly or wrongly) that the Cotswold Chase form is some of the best 3m+ chase form on offer this season.

      We will soon find out…

      Ben (NTF)

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