THE FINAL FLIGHT NOTEBOOK dec 7th to 13th 2015

by The Final Flight Team

3/8/2016 12:27:24 PM

Monday 7th December to Sunday 13th December 2015


A winner of his sole point for his former connections, Born Survivor made his hurdling debut for Dan Skelton on Thursday at Warwick, where he justified significant market support to make a winning start to his career under rules. This 4-year-old son of King’s Theatre caught my eye at the sales in April when he entered the ring with a certain ‘swagger’ that is often present in the ‘real good’ horses. His debut over timber displayed the level of ability that this horse possesses and as predicted, he is another bright prospect for Skelton to look forward to. He started his rules career over 2m5f and he clearly has enough speed to compete at a higher level over this trip. He is likely to take in the Leamington Spa Novices’ Hurdle next, a race that his connections won with Three Musketeers last season. It is key to note that Skelton has already made the comments he will consider taking a tougher route with this horse compared to Three Musketeers and I expect that he will be considered for the festival in March if he comes through his trial race with flying colours.     


This Jonjo O’Neill-trained gelding was slightly disappointing on his recent chase debut at Haydock, not only in finishing last of the three runners but also in the jumping department where he was rather slow and ponderous at a number of his fences. I expected him to run a big race upped in trip at Cheltenham on Friday but his jumping once again let him down, where a terrible blunder at the 4th fence gave Barry Geraghty no option but to pull his mount up. Although he is beginning to become a frustrating horse to follow in the novice chase division, I still hold this 5-year-old in high-regard and he is definitely not one to give up on. Assuming that he is none the worse for his excursions on Friday, it will be interesting to see whether his connections switch him back to hurdles for a confidence booster. 


A runner-up behind Barters Hill on his hurdling debut, this ex-pointer was dropped back in trip for his first start at Prestbury Park on Friday and he ran out an impressive 4 ½ length winner in the end. The race was just beginning to take shape when the Paul Nicholls-trained Politilogue unseated Sam Twiston-Davies which makes it more difficult to assess how strong this form is but North Hill Harvey created the impression that he has plenty of ability and he is another exciting recruit to Dan Skelton’s string. I expect that he will be stepped back up in trip sooner rather than later, with the Neptune trial on Trials Day likely to be the next port of call. The outcome of that race will no doubt form his spring targets but at this stage he can be classed as a lively contender for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle in March.   


After the unfortunate events of his last outing at Cheltenham in November, Drumlee Sunset was extremely strong in the market to make amends in the concluding novices’ hurdle on Friday. However, similarly to his debut defeat by Mister Miyagi, he was outpaced by another Dan Skelton-trained rival, this time in the form of North Hill Harvey. Philip Hobbs’ charge eventually finished third and given that I expect him to appreciate a step up in trip, he emerges with plenty of credit once more. I hope that his connections opt to run this 5-year-old gelding over a longer trip next time and given his optimum conditions, he remains a sure fire winner of a novices’ hurdle. However, judged on his efforts over timber to date, I think his future lies in handicaps and the Coral Cup at the 2016 festival could be the long-term aim. 


An ultra-consistent performer over hurdles, I have always had Volnay De Thaix down as a chaser of the future and he made his debut in that sphere at Doncaster on Friday. Given that he was the clear pick on official hurdle ratings, he was made to work on his first start over the larger obstacles, eventually winning by 2 lengths to Pine Creek. However, the tenacity that he showed in the home straight to see of his two rivals was encouraging, especially as the sharp track and tiring ground are far from his ideal racing conditions. His jumping on the whole was satisfactory but as you would expect with such an inexperienced chaser, there is still room for improvement in that department. Taking everything into consideration, this was a decent enough chasing debut and he can take high-order in the novice chase division.  


In my opinion, the 150 rated Champagne West is arguably one of the best handicapped horses in training and for that reason I was certainly not surprised to see him run an extremely promising race at Cheltenham on Saturday after a long layoff. But for his injury last season, I expect that he would have proved himself to be one of the leading novice chasers in the UK and I am confident that he has a big prize in him this season. He only found his race-fit stablemate Village Vic too strong in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at the weekend and given that he was giving his progressive rival 14lb on his seasonal reappearance, he emerges as the moral victor. He has often been known to make jumping errors but other than one terrible error at the final fence with a circuit still to run, he jumped superbly. I expect that connections will target a handicap chase on New Year’s Day or at the end of January at trials day next but given that the ability that I believe he has, the Ryanair cannot be ruled out as an end of season objective. 


Unbeaten in his three starts in the UK which culminated in an impressive win in the JCB Triumph Hurdle last season, Peace And Co emerged as the biggest threat to Faugheen’s crown and for that reason, he was made the odds-on favourite for his seasonal reappearance in the Stan James International Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday. He was ridiculously keen in the early stages of the race, giving Daryl Jacob no choice but to let his mount stride into a lead at the first hurdle down the back. His early freshness meant that he had nothing more to give on the long run between the final two flights and he finished a tame last of six runners. Given that this race appeared to lack strength in depth, this was a particularly disappointing effort from Nicky Henderson’s charge and he now has plenty to prove on his next start. However, Henderson is adamant that this 4-year-old gelding remains a lively Champion Hurdle contender and I certainly hope that he will put this run behind him and regain the winning thread.


At the age of 10, some would consider Victor Hewgo as an unusual horse to be included the handicap section of this year’s publication. However, his run at Aintree in April 2014 was his first start in a handicap and given the strong level of form that he has in novice chases, he definitely deserves his place. He returned form a long absence at Doncaster on Saturday in the 2m3f handicap chase and although he was beaten 25 lengths, I can take some encouragement from this effort. Firstly, he was sat out the back for the entire race which is not ideal and although he closed up at one point, he never threated to get to the leaders. It is also worth noting that the 2m3f trip that he was encountering is too sharp and I expect significant improvement when he tackles a longer trip. He has shown his best form at Doncaster and for that reason, I imagine that his connections will opt to find a race over three miles at that venue. It is also worth considering that he is eligible for veterans chases and given that he is such a lightly races 10-year-old, he would certainly be of interest in those races.   


This John Ferguson-trained 5-year-old was included in this year’s publication as a handicap hurdler and therefore I was rather surprised that his connections decided to switch him to fences at the start of this campaign. Following two defeats in that sphere, Ferguson decided to switch his son of Street Cry back to timber and it very nearly paid off as he finished a close second at Doncaster on Saturday. 

After finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and third in the Grade 2 Top Novices Hurdle at Aintree in the spring, he was given an official rating of 141 and in my opinion, he should prove to be well treated off this mark. Given that Qewy was conceding lumps of weight to his conqueror Minstrels Gallery and that he was facing far from ideal ground conditions (heavy), this was a satisfactory return to hurdling. I hope that a return to better ground and a bigger field will be the making of this fellow and taking that into account, he could easily be a contender for some of the big handicap hurdles in the spring.     


It appears that this Tony Martin-trained gelding slipped under the expert’s radar over the summer, with very few publications giving him any sort of mention. However, this 5-year-old son of Assessor certainly caught my eye when winning his two bumpers last term, clocking some exceptional times in the process. I was excited to see him make his hurdling debut at Navan on Sunday, even though I thought that the two mile trip may prove to be too sharp for him. It is fair to say that his class got him through on this occasion and his winning performance once again proved to me that he is going to improve significantly when tackling longer trips. He showed a tremendous attitude, putting all of his best work in at the finish, eventually scoring by ½ a length from 100/1 shot Broken Soul. He has always been held in high-regard by his excellent handler and as detailed in this year’s publication, I think that Anibale Fly is well worth following in the novice hurdle division this term.    


A top-class bumper horse last term, Bellshill made an impressive hurdling debut at Cork last month and was 4/9 to take a step up in class in his stride when contesting the Grade 2 Navan Novices’ Hurdle on Sunday. Baring the third last, he jumped supremely well throughout the race, still appearing full of running with two to jump and he sauntered clear up the run-in to score by a comfortable 12 lengths. In my opinion, this was the best performance by a novice hurdler this season, therefore, the 8/1 that is available for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the festival is good value. It is important to note that Ruby Walsh had no hesitation in saying that this horse is superior to Yorkhill, who is also owned by the Wylies. The Grade 1 Lawlors Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas in early January is likely to be his next target and he will be very hard to beat in that.  


The Gordon Elliott-trained Tycoon Prince made a winning start to his hurdling career at Punchestown before finishing a disappointing third behind Three Stars on his next start. He had his work cut out when taking on Bellshill on Sunday and he ultimately could not cope with that rivals speed in the closing stages. He loomed up on the shoulder of the impressive winner with two to jump, looking a serious threat, but he just bumped into a very good horse on this occasion and he lost absolutely nothing in defeat. I have always regarded this horse as a staying chaser of the future and I feel that his performances over hurdles to date have justified my opinion. I genuinely believe that this horse will be a super novice chaser next term and I am already excited for him to make his debut over the larger obstacles. Having said that, he has plenty of ability and with a bit of luck he can regain the winning thread next time out.   


Hawkhurst bumped into the useful Ballydine, a next time out winner, on his rules debut at Stratford and was therefore sent off the odds-on favourite for his second start over timber at Southwell on Sunday. He travelled up powerfully on the shoulder of the leader Weststreet with two to jump and bounded clear into a comfortable lead at the final flight, looking like he would make amends for his defeat on debut in impressive fashion. However, as Sam Twiston-Davies gave him a squeeze on the run-in, Hawkhurst bucked to his right and unseated Twiston-Davies. I could not help but feel disappointed about the result but at the same time, I was absolutely gutted for Twiston-Davies as he comes in for rather a lot of unfair criticism. I have a lot of respect for him as a young man and as a jockey and I expect him to bounce back from this mishap immediately.         

The week in brief

There was plenty to take out of last 7 days racing with some impressive performances during the early part of the week continuing into Cheltenham’s two day International Hurdle meeting and beyond. 

149-rated hurdler AUBUSSON made his chasing debut at Uttoxeter on Tuesday and he duly obliged at what were generous odds of 4/5 in my opinion. He has proven form when there is plenty of give underfoot and therefore, it was no surprise to put in another solid display in the heavy ground conditions that he encountered on this occasion. It is interesting that connections commented post-race that he “absolutely hated the surface” and taking that into account, there ought to be more to come from this 6-year-old when he encounters better ground. Given his exploits over timber, I expect that he will take high rank in the staying chase division this term and is another horse for excellent jockey Liz Kelly to look forward to riding.

£160,000 purchase UTILITY made a superb racecourse debut on the same card at Uttoxeter when running out an impressive 11 length winner of the concluding bumper. He was well supported prior to the off and he gave his supporters nothing to worry about, sauntering up the run-in under a very confident Richard Johnson. He appears to have bags of scope, so I expect that he could be a very useful jumper in time. However, a run under a penalty in a similar contest will reveal more about his long-term ability. At this early stage, he looks one to follow.

The closing race at Taunton on Thursday was a “Newcomers” Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race and this is a race that I expect to work out particularly well in the coming months. Some of the leading stables were represented here, with the principals coming clear at the finish and the Harry Fry-trained Drumcliff won by a comfortable 5 lengths in the end. The winner is a half-brother to the smart hurdler/chaser Simonsig and in my opinion, there is no doubt that this gelding has a bright future. However, I expect that there was a few next time out winners in this field, particularly the runner-up CAPITAINE (Paul Nicholls) and third placed OZZIE THE OSCAR (Philip Hobbs). It is fair to say that Ozzie The Oscar is likely to appreciate a step up in trip over hurdles but based on this evidence, he ought to have enough ability to win one of these races before being switched to that sphere.

MIN made his eagerly anticipated Irish debut at Punchestown on Thursday and he certainly justified his big reputation with a flawless 14 length victory. He jumped brilliantly throughout the contest, cruising into an easy lead in the home straight and despite being keen in the early stages of the race, he powered clear of his 20 rivals and won in the manner of a very, very good horse. There was no surprise that bookmakers took the opportunity to cut him for Supreme Novice Hurdle success (as big as 12-1 into as short as 3-1), a race that his connections have won the last three renewals and based on this evidence, he is a key player at next year’s festival. I expect him to follow the same path as Vautour and Douvan by contesting the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novices’ Hurdle next and that race will give us a better guide to how much ability this 4-year-old son of Walk In The Park possesses.

Rebecca Curtis’ string are somewhat out of sorts at present, therefore, the run of APACHE OUTLAW in the bumper at Bangor on Friday was extremely encouraging. A faller when still in contention in his sole point, this 6-year-old son of Westerner pulled himself to the front in the early stages of the contest and was just out-gunned in the closing stages by the well-backed Matchaway. I expect that this gelding will improve for this racecourse experience and his connections should have no problem in identifying a suitable race to get his head in front. Assuming that he learns to settle, he will make-up into a nice staying hurdler when he is switched to timber. His long-term future ultimately lies over the larger obstacles and the he will be a useful staying chaser when the time comes.   

The 2m1f Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday is a race that I will be following closely over the coming months as I expect that the form will work out to be particularly strong. A previously mentioned above, North Hill Harvey was an impressive winner and Drumlee Sunset ran a credible race to finish third in what was a fiercely competitive event with a number of the leading trainers being represented. POLITOLOGUE, trained Paul Nicholls, caught the eye as he travelled up powerfully before unshipping Sam Twiston-Davies prior to jumping the final obstacle. His rider was yet to ask him a serious question and it would have been interesting to see the outcome had the unfortunate sequence of events not occurred. Already a winner over hurdles at Auteuil in June, he clearly has plenty of ability and should have no problem in opening his account in the UK at the next time of asking. There is no doubt that he is a chaser of the future but having said that, I expect him to take high-rank in the novice hurdle division this term and ought to be competing at Graded level before too long.      

The opening race on the card at Cheltenham on Saturday was the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial and I was very taken by the performance of the Alan King-trained SCEAU ROYAL who once again, got the better of Adrien Du Pont in another pulsating finish. The pair had previously clashed on their UK hurdling debuts at Chepstow, where the former was handed the race in the steward’s room after some interference on the run-in. However, Sceau Royal put his experience to good use (had ran twice since Chepstow) when running out a comfortable 1 ¾ length winner on this occasion. After the fall of Leoncavallo at the final flight, the winner appeared to have too much speed for the runner-up and this performance puts him firmly in the Triumph Hurdle picture. He has an excellent attitude, a trait that will stand him in good stead come March and quotes of 20/1 offer a bit of value, especially now that he boasts the all-important course form.   

Half-brother to useful staying hurdler Thistlecrack, WEST APPROACH was well-beaten on his hurdling debut at Newbury but given that he was stepped up significantly in distance, I expected a much improved run in what I considered a below-par Grade 2 Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. He travelled well and looked a danger to hot favourite Unowwhatimeanharry turning in, however, his stamina appeared to run out on the run-in, eventually finishing a 10 ½ length third. Although I doubt that this form is worth much when it comes to assessing Graded races in the future, I believe that this Colin Tizzard-trained 5-year-old is a sure fire winner of a novice hurdle over an intermediate trip and for that reason, he deserves his place in this week’s notebook.     

After finishing third in last season’s Triumph Hurdle, HARGAM disappointed at Aintree in April but after a satisfactory comeback in October, his run in the Stan James International Hurdle on Saturday was definitely another step forward, especially with the ground conditions being far from ideal. He was only beaten into a 1 ¼ length third by the progressive Old Guard and based on this evidence, I think that he is certain to regain the winning thread when he encounters drying ground in the spring. Given the quality of form that he already shown in his 7 starts in the UK, a rating of 154 is far from harsh and I wouldn’t be surprised if connections are eyeing up a crack at the County Hurdle at the 2016 festival.

Our Duke had created a deep impression on his racecourse debut when smashing subsequent winner De Plotting Shed by 21 lengths, earning a Racing Post rating of 136 in the process. Taking this into account, the performance by the Gordon Elliott-trained DEATH DUTY in the concluding bumper at Navan on Sunday was extremely impressive. Given that last season’s Champion Bumper hero Moon Racer only earned a Racing Post rating of 140 for his Cheltenham success, Death Duty’s ½ a length defeat of the Our Duke has plenty of substance and purely based on the numbers, he would be a live contender for the championship bumpers in the spring. However, given that this 4-year-old is owned by Gigginstown House Stud, I expect Elliott to look after him this season with a look to a prosperous novice hurdling campaign next term and be is most certainly one to follow. I expect that he will have a huge say in the staying hurdling division during the 2016/2017 campaign and he is one that will be seriously considered for the ‘Top 40 Prospects’ section in next year’s publication.