horse racing

What we learned from the weekend: 30th & 31st January…

Did Smad Place stick himself in the Gold Cup picture on Saturday?

Cheltenham Trials weekend generally provides us with plenty to ponder over for the main event itself (you know, that big bash in March us jumping lovers look forward to for 365 days of the year!) and despite the hock-deep ground there were once again some serious markers laid down, as well as a few bubbles either popping or at least on the verge of popping.

With the likes of Yanworth, Barters Hill and Thistlecrack all doing the business I don’t suppose too many ante-post vouchers went down the swanny, and it did seem more like a weekend of consolidating one’s place at the head of your respective market, rather than a weekend for announcing yourself on the Cheltenham stage as a ‘live’ festival player. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty for us to learn, digest and ruminate over as our racing brains continue to focus deeper and deeper upon those four days in March.

So with my own weekend learning, digesting and ruminating now over here’s this weeks ‘What we learned from the weekend‘ post…


What we learned from the weekend: 30th & 31st January…


1. SMAD PLACE put himself bang in the Gold Cup picture…

Or did he?

There is no denying the galloping grey was hugely impressive in his BetBright Chase romp, slamming his field by upwards of 12L, and the bookies reacted by cutting him to as low as 10-1 in places for Gold Cup glory.

There is absolutely no doubt the key to him is to allow him to front-run and dominate his field from the front and although that’s generally a difficult tactic to pull off in the Gold Cup Coneygree did prove last year that it can be done.

The front-running tactics are not, however, my main concern over his chances for the big one.

I’m more concerned about the current lack of a Grade One chase victory on his CV.

Consider this stat…

The last 15 Gold Cup winners had previously won a race at Grade One level

Smad Place is currently 0/4 in G1 chases. Overall he is 0/11 at G1 level.

There is plenty evidence that he is just a shade below the top level.

It probably is just a shade as well, he did almost win an RSA Chase, however, in what looks an tantalising hot Gold Cup a shade below the top level is likely to be enough to see him not winning.

Vautour, Cue Card, Don Cossack, Don Poli and Djakadam (more on him shortly) are solid Grade One winners. History tells us Smad Place ISN’T. It’s unlikely he’ll manage to change that this year when he runs against probably the hottest G1 competition he’s ever faced.

It has to also be said that the BetBright Chase hasn’t been all that great a trial for the Gold Cup in recent seasons.

Of the last 18 winners of the BetBright Chase only Looks Like Trouble has managed to do the double in the same season.

For whatever reason the trial race is anything but a solid trial for the main event.

Then there’s that old chestnut about horses running in the Gold Cup after being previously beaten in the race (as in previously beaten horses struggle to land a blow in future renewals).

Only Kauto Star (one of the greatest steeplechaser of all time) and See More Business (who was carried out by another horse the previous season) have bucked that ‘trend’ in recent seasons. Smaddy was tonked 27 lengths in 8th in last seasons renewal of the Gold Cup. He would need to show significant improvement on that to get his head in front this year round, despite him indeed being a much better version of himself this season.

It’s a funny old ‘trend’ that one (beaten in race previous season…) and I don’t live or die by it at all but there is something about a defeat in the race previously that does put you off. These days it’s not really a race that you get a few shots at to get right, it much more likely a vastly improving second season chaser or a horse still climbing his way up the 3m G1 ladder that takes the prize.

Smad Place is neither of those things.

You can’t knock what Smaddy has done this term, and I would even begin to try, I’m a big fan of his, but there are plenty of signs that the Gold Cup is likely to be out with his grey grasp.

At least he should give a good shape to the race on a pace front…

Smad Place is vastly improved this term but the Gold Cup is most likely out with his abilities.

…and sticking with the Gold Cup…


2. DJAKADAM did himself no Gold Cup favours by ending up on the deck…

He was sent off as 5/6f for the BetBright Chase but never made it further than the 10th fence, blundering his way through it and landing in a heap on the landing side of the obstacle.

To be honest I had already commented (to Mrs NTF, who I dare say wasn’t listening!) that I thought he had been jumping a bit low at his fences in the early part of the race and although he didn’t make any significant errors before his fall I always felt he was on the edge of an error.

It’s not something I had noted before, his low jumping action, although a quick watch back of his races does show a similar jumping style; low and quick.

It’s a powerful weapon when it comes off as you spend little time in the air and are up, over and away in the double quick time, however, when you get it wrong the chances are you’ll be making a race finishing error, especially at the top levels, which is exactly what happened on Saturday.

Now it’s happened once will that dent his confidence?

It also brings into play the following stat…

Of the 103 horses that have come into the Cheltenham Festival off the back of a last time out fall (since 2006) only ONE has managed to be victorious.

1/103 | 1% S/R | -£86.00 LSP – Win & Place 8/103 | 8% S/R

If they now go straight to the festival with Djakadam he will have that imposing stat to overcome.


Good luck with that!

The simple facts are that you DO NOT want to be coming in off the back of a fall for your Cheltenham Festival assignment.

It’s up there with the worst of festival preparations.

A last time out fall is a serious no no.

So what do they do?

Do they get another run back into him?

Do they have time? He was slightly injured in his fall on Saturday and although he is (thankfully) OK now he will surely have to have a little bit of down time to recuperate. I’m sure he will be more than fully recovered by Gold Cup day but where does that leave him with regards to a prep race/confidence builder before the Gold Cup?

Probably in no-mans-land.

They may well just have to go straight to the festival off the back of that fall…which based on the figures above is clearly not ideal!

It’s also worth pointing out the following splits…

Djakadam’s form in Ireland – 11121

Djakadam’s form in Britain – F82F

Clearly likes his home comforts! Granted the 2 in his Britain form string was in the Gold Cup but comparing the two form lines does start to suggest he’s a much safer conveyance on home soil.

Djakadam’s Gold Cup chances could be FUBAR after Saturday’s performance…


3. THISTLECRACK proved the undulations of Cheltenham were of no worry to him…

He is clearly the outstanding staying hurdler of the season and on Saturday he answered the one quibble I had about him; would he handle the challenge of the Cheltenham hill in the same imperious fashion that he had displayed on his two previous outings so far this term.

The answer was a resounding YES.

Indeed on the figures he was even more impressive with this victory, slamming his field by upwards of 12 lengths and firing in yet another career best effort (his 6th in a row).

He had bombed out at the track the only other time he had run there and I had mentioned previously that you would just want to see him climb the hill successfully prior to his World Hurdle bid, just to put those question marks to bed. And put those question marks do bed he damn well did!

The form line of his last five starts reads 12111, with three of those races coming at G1 level and the only defeat being a 1/2l second behind Killultagh Vic at Punchestown when he was squeezed for room at a vital stage of the race.

At the minute he rightly sits at the head of the World Hurdle betting as a general 5/4-6/4 shot and the questions now are who the hell can challenge him?

Vroum Vroum Mag sits next in the betting but she is far from a certain runner.

Next in the market is the Mouse Morris trained Alpha Des Obeaux. He’s not all that easy to assess as he’s only won two of his nine starts and seems to prefer finishing second rather than first. He’s also yet to score at G1 level. On the positive side for him he was still potentially ready to fight out the finish with Thistlecrack at Aintree last spring when he tipped up at the last.

Next up it’s super-mare Annie Power. But we’ve not seen her yet and she could well take in an alternative target come the Festival.

Then it’s last years winner Cole Harden. He’s just not quite looked the same beast this year and it’s worth pointing out he recorded diminishing RPR figures on each of his last three starts since winning last years World Hurdle.

After that we’re at Nichols Canyon (far from a guaranteed runner), More Of That (can’t see why they would revert back to hurdles) Aux Ptits Soins (potential but yet to be seen this term) and Saphir Du Rheu (he isn’t Big Bucks!).

So where are the challengers for Thistlecrack?

I like to see if I can get favourites beaten but I must admit I’m struggling with this lad, he’s done nothing wrong and the others haven’t done all that much right!

Does Thistlecrack just need to turn up on the day?!

Ben – NTF

Stats sourced from the excellent Proform Database

Proform Racing | The professional Formbook

11 responses to “What we learned from the weekend: 30th & 31st January…”

  1. regarding smad place,i think its worth noting that its possible he hasnt been able to win a grade 1 yet due to his breathing problems,something that has been sorted out this season and only the king george was a blip on otherwise a so far great season for him and if i remember correctly ,didnt alan king want to come straight to the betbright chase after the hennessy win?seems the king george was a bit of a after thought or simply keeping him him race fit as there wasnt a lot else to do,imperial commander hated kempton also but bounced back on his favourite track!!

    • Hi Rob

      Breathing Op has definitely helped him but like Cue Card (who has had a similar op) I doubt it was something that had been hindering him all his career. Cue Card was winning G1’s prior to his breathing op, Smad Place wasn’t. I personally don’t think his breathing was what was stopping him winning G1 races.

      I don’t buy that Smad Place doesn’t act at Kempton as he smashed Fingal Bay on seasonal debut at the track and he didn’t appear to not be handling the track that day. For me he wasn’t handling hot G1 company in the King George and that’s his main ‘issue’.

      For me he’s just skimming below G1 level. A damn good horse but just not quite in the G1 bracket.

      Ben (NTF)

      • a near grade 1 horse is going to beat 140 types even if circumstances dont suit him.if we say for example smad place isnt as good at kempton,and i for one aint sure yet,he was entitled to win on ratings alone in that graduation race.

        he was massively favoured by the race conditions set by the bha of that graduation chase.he may or may not of hated kempton that day,but he still had a enough class to win as he was the superior horse.

        my concern is not really the track ,more the fact he wasnt trained for the king george and it may simple of been more of a stepping stone to bring him to peak for the festival.

        alan king gave a hint on ch4 on saturday when interviewed,saying the owner phoned him in the morning and didnt want to run due to ground conditions,king wasnt best pleased and stated he had already left ,then joked he hadnt to ch4 as he was still at the yard at the time of the phone call.

        now after the hennessy, king gave the betbright as the next target but a week after the king george was now considered.have we got a battle of wits going on here between owner and trainer?

        was kings initial thoughts of waiting for the betbright overruled by the owner?i dont know but its something that could of happened.king may of known deep down the king george was a bad idea(imo probably coming too soon after his hennessy romp more than track configuration) and the betbright was a more ideal target (longer rest,more suitable track ?)

        now after his betbright win,king was going on about the ryainair as well as the gold cup,just like he did earlier in the season,but the very next day the gold cup was now the sole target albeit still left in the ryanair.

        i think smad place as got a grade 1 win in him,but im just getting the impression the owner is getting his way more,and i cant blame him if he is, as if i was the owner, i would love to win the gold cup more than the ryanair(a race i personally wish was left alone as the old cathcart chase grade 2 version,but thats another debate) but you got to do whats best for the horse really and i get the impression king thinks the ryanair is most winnable compared to the gold cup.

        nice debate and only time will tell i suppose.

        • Hi Rob

          I’m with you on there does seem to be some potential owner/trainer conflicts/tug of war with Smaddy.

          Even though I’m not convinced he is a Gold Cup winner in waiting (and at the end of the day I’ll let my figures lead me on the day, so I’m not totally closing the door on his chances) I was quite shocked that the Ryanair was mentioned after his BetBright win. Winning the Hennessy and BetBright chases by wide margins firmly point to only one logical target; the Gold Cup. If the owner is getting his way then fair enough even if the horse was mine I’d still want to go that way, despite knowing the negative stats against him.

          On the other hand I guess King wouldn’t be doing his job if he wasn’t keeping his options fully open.

          Hopefully (if trainer & owner are indeed not quite on the same page) it doesn’t effect the horse too much.

          Good debate as you say though and yes, time will tell. I’ve been wrong plenty of times in the past and if Smaddy does win the Gold Cup I’ll certainly be applauding him, he’s a damn likeable horse.

          Ben (NTF)

  2. I’m beginning to think that ROAD TO RICHES looks the e.w.

    value in the Gold Cup. Noel Meade seems very bullish about his chances.

    He is a safe jumper and a resolute galloper and has reportedly

    improved a lot. We’ll see!

    • Hi Chris

      You would suspect he would be bang there again after his solid run last term and you know he handles the track well.

      Depends if he can reverse form with Don Cossack (from Punchestown last season) and if he has indeed improved this year (which you suspect he will need to to beat the likes of Vautour, Don Poli & Cue Card).

      Cheers – Ben (NTF)

  3. Hi Ben,

    Re: Djakadam – it maybe worse than thought, cause Willie mentioned it was a deep cut and he was worried that exercising him properly could re-open the wound and become infected. I think he can only go straight to Chelters, because he’ll need 3-4 weeks to heal won’t he? Which puts us at the end of Feb, so there’d only be just over two weeks post race recovery time till the GC – and that’s awful prep. Willie is stuck between a rock and hard place here but knowing his patience it’s hard to see Djak back out before March. I liked him but after that and considering your lto fallers trend he can’t be a serious bet.

    Also regarding the dosage angle I’m a bit disappointed with all of the main players as none of them fit what we’re looking for. The 1-2-3 last year all had CD’s in the minus but this year they’re just not quite there. I do think if No More Heroes was re-routed to the GC he’d be of major interest to me as he is actaully older than Don Poli who’s GC bound. It’s a bit like last year when Coney proved that an inexperienced novice (albeit Grade 1 winner) could find the improvement on the day and particularly when holding the ideal dosage profile. NMH has 2 previous GC winners in his immediate family and he was probably a bit unlucky in the Albert Bartlett last year when Cooper went for the gap and got shut out and baulked. He didn’t shirk the issue and his loss of momentum probably cost him the race. Hard to say definitively if he would have won but either way he’s the one who’s done everything asked of him and not disappointed. You could say the same about Don P but I just can’t have him for a GC after a gut buster to get on top of Foxrock and First L.

    If I was being really harsh I’d ask are any of the current GC main contenders that good? Cue Card we know is a fine beast but Don C would probably have beaten both of them in the KG and he didn’t look like winning at any point until about 2 out. But is he frail? his falls have all come at the last or later stages of races. You’d have to be very worried about a sizeable bet on him. They won’t be able to use Vautour’s natural exuberance in the way they’ve done over 20f and we all saw him fall apart close home in the KG (in fact both he and CC had slowed noticeably in the last part of the race). And I’m (was) of the same opinion as yourself about Smad P and he was also receiving weight at the weekend, but….he has found considerable improvement. Is this the same horse? Look at that turnaround with Many Clouds compared to their 2015 running and prior to that, his Hennessy romp looked a head scratcher didn’t’ it ? Maybe something is happening to him? That ground was soft heavy and going stick was 4.2 and it was a faster time than Many C won in the previous year where it was soft – g/s on the chase course with going stick at 6.0? And it was quicker than Denman’s romp on similar ground in 2007 – though big D carried 8lb more. It was 8 seconds slower than Bobs Worth who’s race was run on g/s. The Hennessy comparisons are apt I think, since Denman was a wide margin winner who went straight to the GC and Bobs Worth who we could probably call a good winner who went straight to the GC, from 160 to 171. And now Smad P who was a wide margin winner who went from 155 to 168 for the Hennessy. So SP has gone from 10 (April 2015) > 155 > 168 > 169. His new rating puts him only just short of the likes of Vautour and the others but based on this, he is officially improving.

    But Denman and Bobs Worth were proven at Chelters so they were allowed to go straight there. Not so Smad P who’d had 6 goes at Chelters previously without winning.

    The lads over the BHA noted the following after his Hennessy win:

    “Meanwhile what of Smad Place? He is clearly now a Gold Cup contender and his new rating says as much. I have put him up 13lb for his stunning jumping master class. He is now on 168, the same figure that we agreed for Road To Riches’ performance when third in the Gold Cup last March. The trick now for his trainer is to improve him further to be able to perform in the mid to high 170s on the undulations of Cheltenham, as that is the figure that will probably be needed to win the 2016 renewal.”

    And he’s done exactly what they asked of him. Proven himself over C&D and smashed Many C who gave Don Poli a fine race only 3 weeks earlier, giving him weight.

    He is 15lb’s better than he was in last years GC and given a re-run of that race on on these revised ratings that should be enough to have got him into the top 4 last year. And the time last year was very quick indeed.

    And we can also look at his RP race comments and in 3 of his last 4 races he’s been given; “forged clear before last”, “stayed on strongly, impressive” (Hennessy), and “stayed on strongly, very game”. I’m always interested in how the RP’s race readers interpret a run and always watchful for the “impressive” comment, particularly when going into the festival.

    So maybe we have a dilemma here, because he really ought to have one a Grade 1 as you say (and I’m of same opinion), but his new rating and form is of a Grade 1 animal, he’s officially improving and he has what looks to be the most ideal dosage profile of the main players. I’d almost written him off – in fact I did yesterday, but he’s staring at us now and I don’t want to write him off because of one trend. Maybe because of that trend we are getting a decent price now about a horse who is officially good enough and who appears to be improving while winning races by wide margins?

    And when you look again at the top 5 or 6 in the betting – they can’t all be Gold Cup horses can they? It’s likely the hype has kicked in because each and every year we end up with 1, 2 or maybe 3 horses are good enough – or to rephrase that, they are more suited to the test.

    Thoughts appreciated.

    All the best


    • Hi BL

      Yeah definitely looks unlikely that Djakadam will get another run in him before Cheltenham, can’t see them risking pushing him too much.

      The Dosage for this years Gold Cup contenders is a bit strange and the facts are that it’s most likely to be won by a horse that doesn’t have a bang on ideal profile. It’s the first year for a long time I don’t see at least 3 or 4 strong contenders with the prime Dosage Profiles. You get odd years here and there and this may just be one of them, on that front anyway.

      Looking at Hennessy >> Gold Cup doublers Smad Place won his Hen off OR 155, Denman won his off OR 161 & 174, Bobs Worth on his off OR 160. Not sure what that really says but Smaddy had a slightly easier job than the other two.

      Don Poli is a very hard one to give collateral form lines through as he looks the type that won’t win by much whenever he races, he just gets the job done. I also doubt Many Clouds would have been fully tuned for the BetBright Chase as his main target is clearly a repeat for the National and he checked out of things on Saturday like a horse that was probably only 90-95% fit. A win there wouldn’t have benefited him and would simply have shunted him up a few lbs and made his Grand National task all the tougher.

      On the flip side I can see your argument and Smad Place is putting in figures that suggest he ‘should’ be winning G1’s, however, the 0/11 record in G1’s tells us he doesn’t win G1’s. Is the breathing op enough to change that?

      I’d never write a horse off because of one trend, far from it, and it may come to the crunch when I do my figures that he is one of the more likely winners, at the minute, however, there are just a few niggles for me…

      Excellent thoughts though, great comment and certainly gets the brain thinking.

      Ben (NTF)

  4. Hi Ben,

    I forgot to mention re Djakadam that once the Vet had given him his injection it was this that ruled him out of running anywhere before the GC as it wouldn’t clear his system in time. So I suppose we are left guessing as to the extent of the injury but apparently he’s only walking for now. I have ruled him out anyway.

    I would agree that maybe this year we’ll have an odd dosage result, but all of the main contenders have other issues to go with their lack of dosage points in certain areas.

    Djakadam – jumping frailties
    Don C – as above – and headgear going on is not a good sign
    Vautour – will need to be carried up the hill 🙂
    Cue Card – will be holding hands with Vautour
    Don Poli – not good enough?

    After the KG, Don C and Vautour were 12/1 in places for the GC – CC was 7’s. All of them have shortened for no good reason?



    • Love the ‘Cue Card will be holding hands with Vautour’! Brilliant!

      Bit early to say Don Poli isn’t good enough. Has done all that’s asked of him and no more and is basically an improving second season chaser with a nailed on profile for the Gold Cup. Sure he hasn’t quite fired in an exceptional RPR figure yet but he may never do that until he meets the top guns as he only does what he needs to do and no more.

      Race could be run to suit him as well as if all turn up that we expect it could well be run at a thumping gallop and he’ll be staying on stronger than the others up the hill.

      Fascinating race whatever way we shake it up to be honest and whilst there are some blinding horses in the race you are bang right with the fact that negatives of some sort can be levelled at most if not all the main players.

      Can’t wait!

      Ben (NTF)

  5. Hi Ben,

    I’ve come round to a second bet alongside SP and I’m siding with Don C – will post thoughts later.

    Re Don P, he’s a hard one to judge since he’s only doing just enough but the form isn’t in the book yet. His RSA hasn’t produced a winner, apart from If In Doubt who had to drop to a mark of 140 over hurdles. That was a really very poor RSA. Don C’s RSA has produced plenty of winners and Grade 1 winners – but we have have to be fair here cause they’ve had another year to do it, but even so. I wouldn’t have much faith in any of those hosres beaten by Don P being able to win graded chases. And Wounded Warrior was disposed of with gretaer ease by Don C.

    Weight adjusted, Many C would have beaten Don P at AIntree and that Lexus doesn’t look good at all with 147 rated First Lieu just half a length behind him and Foxrock another half length away. And then 11 year old On his Own just behing by a couple lengths. And OHO is now 12 after the New Year ticked over. Maybe they know something we don’t at Gigginstown (and you would expect they ought to) but he’s not beaten anything of note yet. I take the point that there’s more to come but his wins have all been hard fought affairs. In most of his races he’s being ridden flat out at some point and he took 13 cracks of the whip from two out in the Lexus. It’s got to be a leap to think he has all of this hidden ability that will suddenly surface?



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