Spotlight on 23rd February
One horse who really disappointed me over Christmas was Harry Fry’s BAGS GROOVE but his run in the Kauto Star behind La Bague Au Roi came at a time when the yard was just going through a quiet spell. Given a couple of months to get over that, I expect him to be too nippy for his rivals in this, despite carrying a penalty. His jumping was deadly at Wincanton and his backers (me) knew their fate from an early stage at Christmas. If he can get in to a good rhythm I think he’ll be hard to peg back but don’t be looking for him in any Cheltenham markets as he hasn’t been entered as he’s waiting for Aintree.
Robert Cowell was insistent that ENCORE D’OR was nowhere near fit when he won on his reappearance at Newcastle at the end of last month but his class shone through. With Kachy not turning up for this gig, and in truth he looks head and shoulders the best sprinter on the all-weather, the door looks open for Encore D’Or to land another decent prize. He may have turned seven but Cowell proves year after year that these sprinters only really mature as they get older and he could just be coming to his prime.
Cornithia Knight does not seem in great form at present so stablemate Gorgeous Noora looks the biggest danger. No match for Kachy last time, she was still second and it probably represented a career-best.
This is pretty much a guessing game with a big field of juveniles, some who have never run over hurdles before. Paul Nicholls did send Zarkandar to this for his debut and he then won the Triumph but the dogs have not particular been barking about any of his three runners in this. Harry Cobden has picked Ecco, last seen finishing down the field in the German Derby. It won’t win prizes for originality but the safest proposition is likely to be Nicky Henderson’s FUSIL RAFFLES, a winner over hurdles in France already. These connections love a good juvenile and they could easily have another one here given Henderson’s record with this age group.
I’ve been hugely impressed by the progress ANGE DES MALBERAUX has made this season and off a low weight he looks sure to go well in the Eider. The race has changed complexion hugely this season as it is normally run in a bog meaning the usual types you need for this race are absent. The good ground should mean the classier types find it easier over four miles and Vicente certainly falls into that category and ran much better than he has for a while last time out.
He’s back down to a mark off which he won the Scottish National a couple of years ago, the second time he’d won it, but he’s 10 now and should be vulnerable. The selection is only a year younger but Dan Skelton has worked wonders with him, winning five out of seven, admittedly off low weights but his last display was his most impressive which says to me there is even more to come so while he’s 10lb higher the extra trip could help him eek out even more. The likes of last year’s winner Baywing and Daklondike would all prefer softer ground.
Now is the time for ANGELS BREATH to do the talking. He lost his position at the head of the betting for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last week when Al Dancer, in the same Dai Walters ownership, bolted up in the Betfair Hurdle. It was very unlike Nicky Henderson to let him make his debut in the Grade Two at Ascot but he bolted up.
Yes, he only jumped four hurdles because of low sun but as a point-to-point winner jumping is hardly likely to be a weak spot. He is giving 5lb away to his rivals today but if he fails to do it the Cheltenham dream will be up in smoke. If they were mine I’d be splitting them up at Cheltenham but it seems they are to take each other on.
There’s not much to say about the Winter Derby other than WISSAHICKON will win, baring accidents or trouble in running. In fact even the latter might not be enough to stop him as Frankie Dettori found himself in a pocket in the trial but still won. He will have to run a stone below his best to lose.
This race has had more names than Neil Warnock has managed football clubs and it has to be said this year’s field of 10 looks a little weaker than normal. Having taken an early position this week on RATHER BE, though, I’m not too disappointed about that. I’m convinced this horse is better than he has shown this season.
To be fair his first defeat in November wasn’t his fault, still cruising he was brought down four out and he was favourite next time only to run a lifeless race. That was too bad to be true but given a break and stepped up in trip on his favourite good ground, he is a strong fancy. He will surely have too much pace for Glen Rocco, a long term Grand National prospect while Talkischeap is one I had earmarked for the four-miler before Alan King said he was unlikely to go to Cheltenham.
With Cheltenham just two weeks away on Tuesday I wanted to put forward one horse that looks hugely overpriced to me. Rebecca Curtis’ LISNAGAR OSCAR can still be backed around 8/1 for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle but having won a trial for that race by 10 lengths on Saturday in the deepest race of its type run this season I think he’s a knocking price.
There’s no denying Curtis has been going through a quiet spell but she has emerged through the other side with grace and in this former point-to-pointer she has a potentially top-class animal in her care once more. What is massively in his favour over the current favourite, Commander Of Fleet, is that he looks pretty nimble, he’s not very big and possesses a smart turn of foot while Gordon Elliott’s charge is an out-and-out three-mile chaser of the future. With no rain forecast as yet, the good ground looks sure to favour him more than the Irish runner.