3/8/2016 12:30:32 PM
SOUTHFIELD THEATRE – HANDICAPPER
Runner-up in the RSA behind Don Poli last season, I was expecting Southfield Theatre to put his seasonal reappearance at Sandown behind him when taking his chance in the 3m1f Listed chase at Aintree on Saturday. However, this Paul Nicholls-trained gelding once again put in a lacklustre display and now has it to prove. He was wearing a tongue-tie for the first time on Saturday, hinting that his trainer may think that there is an issue with his breathing and it will be interesting if anything comes to light over the next few weeks. He was included in this year’s publication as a handicap chaser and assuming that he is able to recapture last season’s form, he remains capable of winning a decent prize.
YORKHILL – TOP PROSPECT
Twice a winner in bumpers last season, Yorkhill earned his place in this year’s top prospects with an impressive win at the Punchestown festival in April. As expected, he was sent off the short-priced favourite for his hurdling debut at Punchestown on Sunday and he made a winning start over obstacles. Given that he was keen throughout the duration of the contest, it was particularly pleasing that he was still full of running turning into the straight. He showed signs of inexperience when jinking at the final flight of hurdles and Ruby Walsh pushed him out on the run-in, which will stand him in good stead when he steps up in class. Based on this performance, he is going to take high-rank in the novice hurdle division and I expect the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle is the most likely end of season target.
The week in brief
A very quiet week in terms of the runners out of ‘The Final Flight Jumps Guide’ but there was still plenty to take note of, with a number of horses catching my eye over the last seven days.
VIOLET DANCER was a smart hurdler and he is proving just as good now switched to the larger obstacles and remains a young horse with a bright future in this sphere. We learned very little when he won at prohibitive odds on Monday at Plumpton, but he once again showed aptitude in the jumping department, winning by an easy 22 lengths to the 132-rated Exitas. Currently rated 140, I expect that this Gary Moore-trained 5-year-old will fall short at Graded level but the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival is a realistic end of season target.
Southwell played host to a National Hunt card on Tuesday and it was the winner of the concluding bumper that created a lasting impression. A half-brother to Ok Corral who features as one of our top prospects in this year’s publication, LITHIC was making his racecourse debut and scored with considerable ease under Richard Johnson. He moved well throughout the contest and when Johnson asked him to quicken, he responded well and was 5 lengths clear at the line. He bounded away from the Dan Skelton-trained Tommy Rapper inside the final furlong, who was himself 12 lengths clear of the remainder and this 4-year-old son of Westerner looks a bright prospect for Jonjo O’Neill. He appeared to handle the soft ground well enough which bodes well for a winter campaign and with his dam being a sister to high-class 2m-3m5f hurdle/chase winner Tidal Bay, I expect this horse to show further improvement when tackling intermediate trips over obstacles.
It took VIEUX LILLE four attempts to get off the mark in bumpers but he made a winning start to his hurdling career at Exeter on Friday, running out a convincing 14 length winner of the 2m1f novices’ hurdle. The form of his bumper win looks solid with Big Chief Benny subsequently running well in a hot novices’ hurdle at Newbury last month and he remains one to follow. Although this 5-year-old has begun his life as a hurdler over the minimum distance, I expect further improvement from this Philip Hobbs-trained gelding when he is stepped up in distance.
Rated 140 over timber, TEA FOR TWO is a horse that has always looked the type to make a better chaser and for that reason, I was particularly excited to see him switched to fences at Exeter on Friday. He made a winning start to his new career, beating Oscar Sunset and Calipto by an easy 10 lengths. He put in a magnificent round of jumping, bounding clear of his useful rivals and is a horse to follow over the larger obstacles. His best trip remains uncertain but I expect his connections to give him a chance over three miles at some stage and it is likely that the extra yardage will bring out even more improvement.
POLARISATION was a smart performer when trained by Mark Johnston on the level and for that reason, he was sent off the odds-on favourite for his hurdling debut at Sandown on Friday. He was untidy at a number of his obstacles on the way around and awkward jumps at the last two hurdles ended any chance of him making a winning start over timber. Assuming that John Ferguson can iron out his issues in the jumping department, this 3-year-old is a sure fire winner and I expect that he will be suited by quicker ground conditions.
Label Des Obeaux was an impressive winner of the Grade 2 Winter Novices’ Hurdle on the same card but it was runner-up CAPTAIN CHAOS who earned his place in this week’s notebook with a fine run to finish second. The Alan King-trained winner came into the race with plenty of experience and given that he appears to appreciate soft underfoot conditions, it was no surprise that he proved too good for Captain Chaos. This Dan Skelton-trained 4-year-old son of Golan looks to have plenty of scope to jump a fence in time but given that he showed signs of inexperience on this occasion, I expect him to continue to progress under the watchful eye of Skelton and can regain a winning thread in the near future.
Last season’s RSA hero DON POLI made his seasonal reappearance at Aintree on Saturday and this Willie Mullins-trained gelding stayed on well to get the better of Grand National winner Many Clouds in the closing stages. His running style often means that he isn’t impressive on the eye but he is all class and in my opinion, he is a leading contender for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. Being a dual Cheltenham Festival winner, he boasts the all-important course form. In recent years Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere landed the RSA before going on to win the Gold Cup and I expect a bold showing from Don Poli this time around.
Neil Mullholland has made an excellent start to the 2015/2016 campaign with 36 winners to date, the last of those being Carole's Destrier who landed the 3m5f London National at Sandown on Saturday. This was the longest trip that he had encountered in his 19 race career and as expected, he relished the extreme test of stamina, staying on dourly to hold Summery Justice by ¾ of a length. A winner of three races in his first season over fences last term, I expected Carole’s Destrier to improve for his seasonal reappearance at Wincanton and after his win here, he looks a staying chaser to keep on side. The ultimate target could well be the Grand National in the spring but if the race doesn’t come too soon, he is one to consider for the Welsh National.
SEEYOUATMIDNIGHT was beaten on his chase debut by the Paul Nicholls-trained Silsol but was in receipt of 10lb when the pair met at Kelso on Sunday and he was fancied to reverse the form on those terms. A smart hurdler, Brian Hughes sent Seeyouatmidnight into an early lead, jumping fluently throughout and he ran out a convincing 13 lengths winner in the end. I expect Sandy Thomson to step this 7-year-old gelding up in grade in the near future, with the RSA at the Cheltenham Festival a realistic possibility in the spring. His trainer told the Racing Post the following “there is still plenty to work on and he is not ground dependent, although he wouldn´t want it too quick. Where we run next is tricky as there are not many suitable races in the north. It might be that he will go to Cheltenham in the New Year and then Wetherby in February”
La Bague Au Roi entered the notebook following her easy win at Aintree in October and she once again created a deep impression when running out a very easy winner of the Listed bumper at Huntingdon on Sunday. Her trainer Warren Greatrex holds this filly in extremely high-regard and it is easy to understand why following another devastating display. Her end of season target is the mares’ bumper at Aintree’s Grand National meeting and it will definitely take a good one to beat her.
Djakadam deservedly won his first Grade 1 in the John Durkan at Punchestown on Sunday. Ruby Walsh once again proved what a good judge of pace he is with a fine front-running ride and this 6-year-old rates as another lively contender in what looks an extremely competitive Cheltenham Gold Cup at this stage. However, it was GILGAMBOA who caught my eye with a staying-on third on his seasonal reappearance. Based on his novice chase form, he was probably flying a bit high here but given the manner in which he stayed on in the closing stages, I expect him to appreciate a step up in trip. He won the Grade 1 novices’ chase at Fairyhouse in April, so he clearly has plenty of ability and I think he will be competitive in Graded chases when tackling a longer trip this term.
SIZING GOLD was returning from a 583 day absence and based on that fact, he ran an excellent race to finish third in the penultimate race at Punchestown on Sunday. Henry De Bromhead does particularly well with his chasers and this 8-year-old looks the type that will progress well in the handicap chase ranks. This was only his second start in a handicap after disappointing at the 2014 Punchestown Festival and based on this promising return to action, he looks on a lenient handicap mark of 133. The Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over the festive period looks an ideal race for him and the ante-post price of 33/1 makes plenty of appeal.