THE FINAL FLIGHT NOTEBOOK jan 25th to 31st 2016

by The Final Flight Team

3/8/2016 1:08:41 PM

Monday 25th January - Sunday 31th January 2016


After finishing second behind Oldgrangewood on his sole start between the flags, Sutton Manor made his debut under rules for Ireland’s all-conquering Champion trainer Willie Mullins in the concluding bumper at Thurles on Wednesday, finishing a remote second to the very impressive winner, Any Drama. The winner had already displayed a useful level of form including when finishing behind Lucky Pass on his last outing at Fairyhouse and taking into account that he is a progressive animal, Sutton Manor far from disgraced himself on this occasion. After watching his point-to-point over the summer, I expected him to be speedy enough to win a bumper but after his debut performance, I now consider him as a long-term prospect and one that is likely to excel when tackling a longer trip over obstacles. Having said that, I expect that he may slip under the radar after this debut effort and he definitely has the ability to win an ordinary bumper before the season is out.          


This year’s publication was responsible for the 1-2-3 in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday; Yanworth, Shantou Village and Champers On Ice.

All three horses had different questions to answer pre-race but YANWORTH left none unanswered as he romped to a commanding seven length success at his first try beyond two miles, denting the hefty reputation of the Neil Mullholland-trained Shantou Village in the process. The son of Norse Dancer has always been held in extremely high-regard by his handler Alan King and on Saturday he announced himself as a potential superstar with a performance that was nothing short of sublime.  After travelling powerfully throughout, he was still cruising approaching the final flight before quickening up the hill in devastating fashion in a performance that simply oozed class. King has always been adamant that he would improve for a step-up in trip and this performance went a long way to justifying his opinion. He now heads the market for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the festival in six weeks’ time and it will take a high-class novice to lower his colours.

SHANTOU VILLAGE came into the race with an unbeaten record and after finishing second to a very good horse, he emerged with plenty of credit. This was by far his toughest assignment to date and although he has showed a solid level of form over this intermediate trip, I expect that he will improve again when tackling three miles. It must also be noted that the testing underfoot conditions did not play to this geldings strengths and granted a sounder surface at the festival, he can make his presence felt in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. I certainly have no question marks with regards to him staying the longer trip and on that basis the 9/1 that is currently available seems decent value.

After finishing behind Shantou Village on his hurdling debut, CHAMPERS ON ICE went on to record two successive victories at Newbury at Cheltneham before returning for this Grade 2 contest on Saturday. Since his bumper win at the Punchestown Festival last season, I have regarded this David Pipe-trained gelding as a staying hurdling type and for that reason, I am quite surprised that he hasn’t contested a race over three miles thus far. However, it is clear that his owners enjoy a trip to Cheltneham and the course experience that he has gained on his three starts over hurdles this season will stand him in good stead when it comes to the festival. After his third-place finish on his latest start, I hope that his connections will opt for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and although he needs to take a good step forward to reverse the form with Shantou Village, such improvement is certainly not impossible. Looking to the future, Champers On Ice has plenty of scope to make-up into a top-class staying chaser and he will be an exciting recruit to that sphere in the autumn.     


Gutsy. Hard as Nails. Workmanlike. These have all been used to describe Barters Hill during his now seven race career but on Saturday at Doncaster he took another step to proving to his doubters that he has the class to match his determination. Stepping-up to three miles for the first time, Ben Pauling’s gelding faced his toughest task to date with the Willie Mullins-trained Up For Review travelling across the Irish Sea to challenge Britain’s leading staying novice hurdler in the Grade 2 River Don Novices’ Hurdle. Although Barters Hill was not allowed an easy lead on this occasion, he raced prominently as usual in the early stages and upon entering the home straight he raised the tempo, instantly putting a number of his rivals in trouble. Having said that, he looked vulnerable at one stage as Ballydine ranged up on the far side but he once again showed a never-say-die attitude to repel his challengers inside the final furlong and recorded a ¾ length victory. On the back of this success he was clipped into 7-2 for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and he is definitely the one to beat. However, I do have my concerns over him making the running in a race that has a reputation of being a severe test of stamina for a young horse and I would much prefer him to get a toe into the race before pressing on with three or four to jump. I have said it before and I will no doubt say it again but he will be one of the most exciting recruits to the chasing ranks when the time comes and I wait in eager anticipation for that day to arrive.          


King’s Odyssey got off the mark over fences at Wincanton in December and he backed-up that performance with a brave victory off a 9lb higher mark in the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday. He jumped in the manner of a horse many years his senior and his gallant effort to deny the challenge of Waldorf Salad in the closing stages was admirable. It is possible that he will find life tougher from a revised mark after this success but he is a progressive type and is certainly another horse for the Ruckers to look forward to. Given that he clearly handles a taxing surface, I expect Evan Williams to swerve a spring campaign and target him at the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham’s November meeting. There may be further progress in this 7-year-old son of Kings Theatre when he tackles three miles and for that reason the Hennessy Gold Cup might be on his agenda, especially now that he is certain to boast an official rating in the mid 140’s.     


I have always held this horse in high-regard and I was delighted with his comeback effort at Cheltenham in December, where he only found his progressive stablemate Village Vic too strong. On the back of that performance, he started as the 7/4 favourite in the Grade 3 Trophy Chase but a shuddering error at the eighth fence all but ended his chances and he was pulled up a couple of fences later by Richard Johnson. His jumping has often been a thorn in his side but he clearly has plenty of talent and for that reason, he is worth another chance in a handicap chase off what I deem a lenient mark. Before the race on Saturday I regarded this Philip Hobbs-trained gelding as a lively outsider for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival but he would need to post a much better effort prior to contesting that race before one should consider backing him.   


After his win at Newbury on his reappearance and his maiden Grade 1 victory at Ascot in the Long Walk Hurdle, Thistlecrack only had one question to answer and that was whether he was as effective at Cheltenham as he is elsewhere. Colin Tizzard’s 8-year-old made no mistake in completing the hat-trick as he routed his rivals in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday, justifying his place at the head of the market for the staying hurdlers crown jewels. His twelve length success in this recognised World Hurdle trial makes him extremely hard to beat in March and at this stage, there is every chance that this son of Kayf Tara can emerge as a superstar in the staying hurdling division over the next few seasons.     

The week in brief

WAIT FOR ME was long odds-on to follow-up his Newbury success at Kempton on Monday and although he gave his supporters a fright with a bad mistake at the second last, Richard Johnson picked him up and he rallied well in the closing stages to record a two length victory. A smart bumper performer last term, this Philip Hobbs-trained gelding still has a lot to learn in this sphere but there is no doubt that he has talent and I expect him to showcase his talents better when a race is run at a stronger gallop. Although I wouldn’t be surprised to see him contest one of the novices’ hurdle races at the Cheltenham Festival, his current handicap mark of 139 may tempt his connections to have a crack at a handicap hurdle and the County Hurdle looks the most likely option if that avenue is explored. Regardless of what he achieves at the spring festivals over timber, Wait For Me is a lovely long-term prospect and he should take high-rank when switching to the larger obstacles.    

Later that afternoon, a smart quartet of runners went to post for the Novices’ Chase and although Padge departed early and Closing Ceremony failed to show his true running for one reason or another, Local Show and ONENIGHTINVIENNA fought out an excellent finish it what should prove to be a race well worth following in the coming months. Ben Pauling’s winner, local Show, took a huge step forward to deny Onenightinvienna in a thrilling battle up the home-straight but it was the runner-up that I was most impressed with, especially taking into account that the track at Kempton was always unlikely to play to his strengths. He is a horse with a huge frame and he uses his strapping physique to negotiate his obstacles in a particularly stylish manner. Immediately after the race I thought that Philip Hobbs’ gelding is the ideal type for the National Hunt Chase over four miles at the Cheltenham Festival but Hobbs later all but ruled this out with his connections favouring a crack at the Grand National. There is no doubt that his jumping will be a huge asset if he does take his chance in the Aintree showpiece and with stamina to burn, the extreme trip should pose no threat either. The negatives are that he is an inexperienced chaser, with only three runs under his belt and due to him keeping decent company in all of his starts over the larger obstacles, he already boasts a rating of 151. However, it is quite possible that his current rating of 151 will prove to be lenient when he encounters a marathon trip and for that reason, the 33/1 that is available is a fair representation of his chance. 

Brian Ellison’s POINT THE WAY showed some useful form in bumpers and has quickly progressed into a very smart recruit to the hurdling ranks. He continued on an upward curve over timber with a bold front-running display at Catterick on Wednesday scoring by a comfortable five lengths. It was reported that the wind was horrendous throughout the race, making it very difficult in the home straight but Point The Way showed an excellent attitude to knuckle down and see off the attentions of his closest pursuer, the previously unbeaten Warren Greatrex-trained Vinciaettis. By recording a five length victory when giving away a 7lb penalty to the runner-up, Point The Way created a deep impression on this occasion. Taking into account his form figures over timber and his physique, he ought to make-up into a smart recruit to the novice chase division and I advise that he is definitely one to follow when he switches to that code. I hope that Ellison minds him this season with a view to the future, as I am certain that he has a bright future over the larger obstacles.        

MENDIP EXPRESS changed hands for a significant sum during the close season and he made his debut for his new connections in the Sandra Lloyd Memorial Willoughby De Broke Open Hunters’ Chase at Warwick on Thursday. Sent off the 1-2 favourite, this 10-year-old son of King’s Theatre comfortably landed the spoils by 3 ¾ lengths and assuming that he will come on for the run, he should play a part in the Champion Foxhunter races in the spring. Rated 146, he already boasts a rating that is often good enough to win at the spring festivals and although last season’s hat-trick hero On The Fringe will be hard to beat, Mendip Express has the credentials to go to the very top in this sphere.  

CYRIUS MORIVIERE found the 32Red Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle too hot on his last outing but he made amends for that disappointing effort with a facile success at Doncaster on Friday in the Skybet Novices’ Hurdle over two miles. Ridden handily by Maurice Linehan, Ben Pauling’s gelding took up the run-in with four to jump and after jumping the second last he bounded six lengths clear of the field before pulling further clear after the final obstacle to record a very impressive 19 length victory. Although his performance here was easy on the eye, I didn’t think that the race had a lot of depth to it and for that reason, I hope that the handicapper isn’t too harsh when re-assessing him. There is no doubt that his future lies in handicaps over timber but he has plenty of potential to progress further and the fact that he is a strong traveller will help him when he runs in fiercely competitive handicap hurdles that are often run at a good gallop. 

BUVEUR D’AIR made the perfect start to his hurdling career when scoring on debut at Newbury in a race that has worked out particularly well (runner-up and third-placed horses have won since) and he confirmed that promise with another win at Huntingdon on Friday, albeit at odds of 2/11. At this stage he looks one of the leading contenders for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March and the strong end-to-end gallop will definitely suit this strong travelling 5-year-old. After being a too free in his races last term, a summer at grass has worked wonders and I expect him to continue to progress under the watchful eye of leading trainer, Nicky Henderson. There is no doubt that he is one of the leading hopes for the home team in the novice hurdling division and I hope that he can live up to expectations in the festival curtain raiser. 

Thankfully Cheltenham’s valuable Festival Trials’ Day passed the 10am inspection and as always there were plenty of pointers for the festival itself on the seven race card, none more so than the aforementioned Yanworth. In the opening race of the day, PROTEK DES FLOS made a winning British debut in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial and in doing so, he threw his hat into the ring for the JCB Triumph Hurdle itself in 6 weeks’ time. After Noel Fehily settled this 4-year-old at the rear of the field in the early stages, the pace gradually increased and although he was still in touch racing down the hill, he appeared to be slightly tapped for toe. However, the turbo kicked in at the bottom of the hill and coming to the last, he was on the heels of the leader, Clan Des Obeaux, before getting on top in the final 100 yards to record a going-away 1 ¼ length success. Even though I expect that he will take his chance in the juvenile showpiece, I will not be disheartened if he finishes down the field as he is all about stamina and probably relished the testing conditions that he encountered on this occasion. I was particularly impressed with how he dropped the anchor in the early stages of the race and that bodes well for him tackling a longer trip over timber next season. Taking everything into consideration, I cannot advise Protek Des Flos as a betting proposition in the JCB Triumph Hurdle but I do suggest that he is one for the notebook as long-term prospect and he could progress into a high-class staying hurdler next season.

The Grade 2 BetBright Trial Chase appeared to be all about Djakadam pre-race but after his departure at the tenth obstacle, the race was suddenly thrown wide open and it was the Alan King-trained SMAD PLACE who took advantage and further enhanced his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials with a twelve length success. I was shocked that this Alan King-trained gelding didn’t make the running in the King George after winning the Hennessy Gold Cup from the front and I think that his victory on Saturday proved that he is very hard to pass when front-running tactics are employed. Richard Johnson, who was standing in for the injured Wayne Hutchinson, didn’t make the same mistake as he sent the dashing grey into an early lead, barely seeing another rival on the way around and after jumping the second last (final fence was omitted), he scooted clear on the long run-in putting last year’s Grand National hero, Many Clouds, firmly in his place. It is almost certain that Smad Place will take his chance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the back of this performance and assuming that he is allowed to bowl along, he could take some pegging back. Although many describe this year’s race as a ‘vintage’ renewal, a number of the second season chasers have plenty still to prove, in my opinion and it would be no surprise to me if Alan King’s gelding runs a huge race.     

The one other notable performance at Cheltenham on Saturday was by Paul Nicholls’ FRODON who was making his British debut in the concluding race, a competitive handicap hurdle. Although he was in receipt of plenty of weight due to his age, I was impressed by the manner in which this 4-year-old travelled and other than him getting tired in the closing stages, this was a very pleasing effort for his first start on these shores. He was given an official rating of 137 prior to Saturday’s race which was probably due to him being highly tried when trained by Guillaume Macaire and it is certainly not as lenient a handicap mark that some French recruits are given. However, with improvement likely after this stiff introduction, he is one to follow in handicap hurdles this spring, where better ground shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience.  

Although there was also high-class racing at Doncaster on Saturday it was the Willie Mullins-trained LIMINI who earned a mention in this week’s notebook with a devastating display in the Grade 3 Mares Novices’ Hurdle at Fairyhouse. Already extremely short in the betting for the Dawn Run Mares Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, this daughter of Peintre Celebre took a step-up in class in her stride as she travelled smoothly throughout and quickened away from a couple of decent rivals to record an eleven length success. There is no doubt that she is a talented young mare with a bright future and there is every chance that she will be a cut above her rivals in March. However, the odds of 1/1 that are being offered is certainly not my idea of an ante-post bet as there is very little form to go on. 

It was a quiet Sunday in terms of notebook-worthy performances but the concluding bumper at Punchestown was won by the Graham Wylie-owned BATTLEFORD and his debut effort has more than likely earned him a trip to Cheltenham for the Champion Bumper. He was running a nice race in his only start in the point-to-point sphere before falling in a race won by dual bumper winner, Lucky Pass, and after he joined leading connections, it was no surprise that he justified favouritism to win by a comfortable 2 ¼ lengths. This son of Midnight Legend made all under top amateur rider Patrick Mullins, showing a good attitude to knuckle down in the closing stages to win going away, on ground that was probably on the soft side for him. Personally, I like bumper horses to be kept up to their work in the closing stages rather than coast home which is often the case when a horse outclasses his rivals in the early stages of their careers and Mullins did exactly that on this occasion. Based on the visual impression that he created and his trainer’s excellent record in the Champion Bumper, he is one to keep an eye on as he may sneak under the radar with Willie Mullins likely to be responsible for a number of runners in the race. The general 20/1 that is currently available is pretty fair, especially taking into account that the bumper division lacks a star performer at this stage.