Good morning from the Major who writes from a bitter Worcestershire. A clear night and biting wind were enough to provide a proper frost and I, for one, am impressed that Newbury got their card on.
As I type, we have already lost Kelso, Southwell and Doncaster. Southwell being all-weather can surely only be due to a snow covering or perhaps unsafe spectator conditions. Makes a bit of a mockery of the ‘all weather’ moniker mind.
After a pretty poor Saturday, selecting four horses that seemed allergic to getting near the front, yesterday saw a sparky revival. Five selections. Three seconds and two winners at 9/2 and 7/1. That saw some liquidity return to the Majors account.
I thought it interesting that Bobs Worth did not quite fire on his return, he will be mothballed up for the Gold Cup now but it goes to show, the point I was making yesterday I feel is very valid. Horses returning from injury can face an enormous challenge. I have time for those given time. For example, I am often tempted by a horse Paul Nicholls might run after a promising novice campaign but then a year off injured, when returning in a well targeted race. However, when the target is set in cement, March, trainers are up against it to get their stable stars ready. Race readiness is one of the hallowed selection criteria for the Major, alongside ground, jockey booking and trainer form.
I spent the night entirely restless, partly my aching back, partly overindulgence and partly a general anxiety, anchored in little I could deal with. Still, I awaken to a fresh cold morning and thrilling action at Newbury and Leopardstown. There are spoils to be won for the bravest of us and so saddle up my friends.
Leopardstown Tips – Monday 29th December
Call me crazy but I like a bit of a hype horse and the dogs have been barking about Windsor Park. A flat convert, he was a pretty good competitor winning pretty readily and he is surely a very exciting prospect if he can translate it well to national hunt. Last time out on the flat, he beat Marchese Marconi a 90 rated O’Brien inmate and did it in consummate ease. That is a reliable yardstick and I will be a small buyer of the 11/8 available.
That was a cheap selection and we move from it into a bit of a conundrum, the Ryanair sees Jezki renew a rivalry with Hurricane Fly. I have a personal issue in the selection process here. Both horses have been significantly underestimated by myself at some stage or other.
I know it is hard to fathom why a record-breaking Grade 1 winner and dual Champion Hurdler Hurricane Fly should be underestimated by anyone but I managed it. Each time he won an Irish G1, I harboured a nagging concert that the opposition were not up to much and I even managed to ignore the obvious when he won his first championship in March. I am not one of these that always devalues Irish racing, believing the top races are in the UK, no no no.
Yesterday, Road to Riches was a winner for the blog and a horse that I think is a serious Gold Cup contender. The nay sayers that decry the horse has not achieved as much credit as the King George win of Silviniaco Conti I found a little shallow. I think it was an excellent piece of form.
I am conscious that I now sound like a man who has just said that he is not a racist due to diverse friends. Anyway, my Irish readers of which there are many, will hopefully not take offence.
Anyway, the winner of the Ryanair. The step up in trip arguably suits Jezki who looked seriously outpaced over the minimum Morgana trip. Jerk mastered Hurricane Fly twice at the end of last season, first in the Champion Hurdle and secondly in the Punchestown equivalent, being outpaced by the Fly on seasonal debut might not be a signal that the old boy has the measure of him yet.
However, Hurricane Fly, I would think, is much more flexible in terms of race riding tactics. He is able to be held up. If they crawl, he has the turn of foot, if they go fast, he has the class to come off a good pace to pick up the pieces. Here is the nub of it, I am not sure that there is going to be any pace in the race. It is not in Ruby’s interests to set a gallop on Hurricane Fly and this might be a significant problem for Jezki.
Hurricane Fly is the winner of 22 of 27 starts and has never been beaten at Leopardstown. Yet, with pace in the race, I would back Jezki. The two horses are on different curves now and Jezki showed that when fit, with a proper test, he can master the Fly.
The pace, I think comes down to the role of Alderwood and Plinth, two outsiders owned by JP. Are they there to set fractions, give JPs Champion Hurdle hopeful something to aim at?
I honestly do not know what to do. Back against the Fly and he wins and I am forced again to examine why I thought a horse with his stellar record would get beaten. Change a habit and get stuck into the Fly to find out that Jezki has his measure again, that might feel worse.
To hell with it. Jezki, 6/4.
Analifet looked a star in the making when winning a Grade 3 juvenile hurdle at Fairyhouse just over a year ago. That run set up a red-hot Boxing Day clash here in the Grade 2 juvenile hurdle, a small field but very select, including Clarcam and Guitar Pete. Disaster struck early on as Analifet lost her action and was pulled up after just a handful of hurdles with a pelvic injury that ruled her out until a recent return at Naas.
It was hardly the returning run of a champion, she weakened very badly and went down 16l to Kitten Rock. Visually, it did not fill you with confidence. Yet, Mullins does not risk them, he knows what to do and given a small break, perhaps she is set to put it together again. At 4/1 (Coral) I am happy to pay to find out if I am right.
Then the Topaz, a nice staying Novice Chase and a race I am looking forward to the most from a pure racing perspective. I can pretty much make a compelling case for most of the runners.
At the start of the campaign, many a head was turned by the debut over fences of The Tallow Tank, he subsequently disappointed over fences, a race that many judges are willing to give him some ‘benefit of the doubt’ over. I am not sure. A strict interpretation of his Vautour form over hurdles makes hm look a potential chasing star but that was a field of 6. Yes, his chasing debut looked very nice, he looked naturally adept to the larger obstacles but I wonder if he won’t be found out at the top-level. I am not sure heavier ground is ideal either.
Very Wood also needs an excuse for his last run and the Albert Bartlett form is looking highly questionable. He has not done too much wrong for the outsider of seven and if there were another runner, I would consider an each way punt.
However, winners, that is our concern. At the risk of offending those anti-favourite-backers, I am going to get stuck into Don Poli, the Mullins runner. He beat a good horse in Wounded Warrior at Gowran last time out and could not have done it in more imperious fashion. He looked like a seasoned chaser, presenting well at each fence and a nice clean round. Come the close, he looked the only likely winner and moved away readily. The way he saw that out, three miles looks right up his street and I have a feeling we might be quite excited about this horse at c3.12pm this afternoon. As such, load the big cannons. 5/2 is about.
Finally, in the bumper, Bellshill carries my money for the Champion Bumper and so he needs to put a workmanlike win on bumper debut aside and deal with a fine rival in Vigil. The money is already pouring in for mine though and I think we will have flip flopping favourites here. Bellshill, 7/4 today still available… Maybe though, the 20/1 for the Championship race in March should also be bought before the tapes go up.
Newbury – Challow Hurdle Tip
I am only seeking to play one race at Newbury, the feature. The Challow is a pretty low-key G1 race but this renewal looks interesting enough. I was starting to think Blacklion was found out after Parlour Games outpaced him on the run up the Cheltenham hill. Yet a return to that venue for the International meeting saw him win quite dominantly under this rider.
Three very tasty opponents line up. Vita du Roc rates the favourite in the markets after a brace of G2 wins. He looks to me like a thorough stayer at Cheltenham and when upped another half mile, he accordingly won again but hardly any more impressively. Nothing wrong with two G2 wins but he might be vulnerable and Henderson, although going OK, is not the force of a couple of seasons ago when set to sweep all comers from before him.
Parlour Games was highly impressive in that win over Blacklion at Cheltenham and while his defeated foe bounced back and may present a greater challenge now, he has Noel Fehily to steer.
Finally, the Ditcheat runner, a horse all about potential, another french import for Nicholls, Arpege D’Alene. He surprised a few when winning at Ascot, having been allowed to go off at 12/1, he had a string of maidens concertina’d out across Berkshire, it looked very good. Nicholls knows what to do with his promising youngsters and has promoted the horse into the top company immediately.
Newbury is a funny course. Although it looks flat, it requires a fine stayer, rather than a pace horse. Something about that relenting straight gets horses at it early and you want a good stayer. In that sense, it reminds me a bit of Ascot, an awful lot can happen on the run in.
I am going to go for Arpege D’Alene who I think will be well suited to the challenge. He is likely a better horse for cut in the ground being out of Dom Alco and at 11/2, I fancy a few slices!
Courage, roll the dice.