So, after the heady excitement of the Festival, and still several weeks away from the Grand National, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we were in the midst of a National Hunt caesura, an effect to which the relatively modest field sizes at Ludlow this week would attest.
That is not so, and Newbury’s card, even if it may be lacking in star names, has certainly thrown up some interesting looking races.
More on them shortly, because in the first instance, it is worth casting an eye back to the Festival, and reflecting how we did. I didn’t blog on the festival, simply because I’d written a wider preview book – ‘Do you like Apple’s – a series of essays on the non-handicaps at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival’ – and it wouldn’t have been fair to those who bought it if I had released the same content for free shortly thereafter.
That, to me, seems reasonable, and I hope you agree.
I am however happy to report that the book was a profitable read for those who partook (level stakes profit of £18.30 to a £1 stake) and, with a strike rate of 27%, it certainly gave the impression that we are on the right track here.
If there is sufficient interest, I will reprise the book for next year too.
Taking those successes forward, and, with a nod to the fact that it would be nice to have some success on my birthday weekend, let’s have a little look at Newbury.
So, without further ado, here goes.
BE WISER INSURANCE HANDICAP CHASE
I found this to be something of a muddle, but one where it was almost possible to deductively reason out the answer, albeit perhaps with a slight leap of faith at the end.
The conclusion that I did reach, ultimately, was that it was worth siding with Killala Quay, whom reappears off a mark only a pound higher than when screeching back to form on his last start at Doncaster. He to me, seemed like the best play, even if it requires that apparent resurgence in form to be upheld, simply because he’s clearly a classy enough sort – he was once sixth, not beaten all that far, in the Neptune – and there were probably cogent reasons for his form slide in that he’d lost his action quite badly at Chepstow and maybe came back too quickly at Ascot three weeks later.
A mark of 131 should hold no fears for him, given that he was rated 139 after his win in the Pendil last year, and defeating Saint Are over three miles at Doncaster, given how well his rival stays, must give a significant nod to the suggestion that he has the requisite stamina to win here in a race that is otherwise filled with question marks.
Vieux Lille, for example, should be of interest in first time cheekpieces – he seems an ideal sort of candidate to be sharpened up by headgear, as he is not without ability but appears to travel and jump slugglishly on occasion, as seen when the selection of this very column on his latest start. His Exeter form with American (beaten around ten lengths) and Label Des Obeaux (beaten eight lengths) looks good in light of their subsequent successes, but I just have this nagging doubt that he’s significantly better going right handed, as evidenced not only by that Exeter third, but also that the same venue has hosted two of his three victories under rules, with the other coming at the similarly oriented Wincanton.
Personally I sometimes find it difficult to quantify the improvement in horses whom rack up multiple wins spanning differing grades, because it isn’t always immediately clear at what point the progress will cease. To that end, I was, at one stage wrong about Tobefair, and then latterly vindicated when I realised that error before his run at Newbury. It is a similar scenario with Coolking, who is thirty pounds higher than he was when he began his winning run (97-127) and has gone up a stone in the ratings from his last run alone. Intuitively, that just seems prohibitive. There’s probably an element of substance to that argument, because the form of that Plumpton run (on heavy ground) isn’t overly strong – both the other two finishers, Saroque and Big Georgie, have subsequently been eased in the handicap – and, on that basis, I’d be happy to side elsewhere. The latest set of parentheses might seem to suggest that there is a soft ground bias to his form, and it’s worth pointing out that that isn’t necessarily the case, because he has won on a sound surface, and indeed on a good to firm surface, so while I’d overlook him, it is worth clarifying the grounds on which that assessment was made.
There is a case to be made for Bodega, who is five pounds higher than his last winning chase mark, but four pounds lower than his lifetime best achieved in that run, but those chances are predicated on him recapturing his prior form, and it’s difficult to advance a solid argument that that is likely at this stage. He is, comparative to his rivals, lightly raced as a chaser, but his campaign structure suggests that he might have lost confidence after being brought down at Uttoxeter at this time last year, by virtue of the lacklustre way he ran next time out at Haydock and the fact that he has been kept to hurdles ever since. If he does recapture his form, he’s not likely to be inconvenienced by either the ground or the trip, but it is, as was earlier stated, a question mark about whether he’s capable of so doing.
There must be question marks too about Dawson City, whom is four pounds higher than when winning at Wincanton, in a race where he was left clear by the unseat of Themanfromminella, and who appears, by virtue of the way he has been campaigned and the evidence of his three victories, to be soft ground dependant, and may find the surface a little on the quick side.
Finally, I formed the view that although Call Me Vic is clearly in decent enough form, having won on his last two starts, the form he put up in winning at Aintree was probably more derivative of it being a relatively weak race than it was of him being progressive. That argument is weakened, to an extent, by the subsequent performances of the beaten Somchine (who has won off the same and higher marks) but I suspect that his performance at Aintree was caused by a lack of stamina and/or peak race fitness, and on that basis, I am happier to rely on the subsequently poorer efforts of Baileys Concerto (beaten twice), Ballycoe (down seven pounds) and Cusheen Bridge (down three pounds) as to the true guide of the strength of that form. On the basis that that rationale is correct, it is not a particularly enticing concept that in order to win here, he will have to defy a career high mark.
Overall, having considered all the alternatives – albeit perhaps a little tentatively – the selection here is Killala Quay.
INSURE WITH BE WISER HANDICAP CHASE
Occasionally in life, loyalty is rewarded.
I’m hoping that that will be the case with Walk In The Mill here.
It’s perhaps best to draw a line through the idea that a mark of 138 is beyond him, derived from his latest performance, because his Wincanton win prior to that self-evidently hints at progression. Besides, if you look in greater depth at the form of that Cheltenham run, then it seems that he was running in a) a fairly hot race and b) that that race had a unusual shape.
To explore that, let’s take the initial premises of that last clause first – i.e. the idea that it was a good race.
Well, Tenor Nivernais and Thomas Crapper have both come out and won decisively since (and are now rated eight and six pounds higher than they were then), Saphir Du Rheu ran extremely well in a Gold Cup, Aso was third in the Ryanair (beaten under eight lengths) and Shantou Flyer was (albeit a remote) second in the Ascot Chase.
On that basis, I’m happy to say, objectively speaking, that that race has worked out pretty well.
It’s also fairly true to say that the race shape precluded a great deal of wider involvement because of how hard Foxtail Hill and Tenor Nivernais went in the early stages. That perhaps that played more in to the hands of those with greater proven stamina (such as Saphir Du Rheu) than it would have done Walk In The Mill, who perhaps suffered by being stuck between truly tracking that pace or laying back from it, and than exacerbated that problem by making a mistake three out.
It is unlikely that this race will unfold in the exact same way and, a slightly different pace angle, albeit acknowledging that Gurkha Brave, Casino Markets and Warriors Tale might, to differing extents, want to be prominent, may assist Walk In The Mill in tracking the pace a little better than he did that day. It may be too that Newbury suits him a little better, as perhaps shown by his good run behind Ut Majeur Aulmes this time last year, a performance after which he improved dramatically, and which also proves his suitability on the likely surface.
It is worth noting that he is, theoretically, six pounds worse off with that rival than he was that day, but their comparative form latterly suggests that he this shouldn’t be too much of an issue – Walk In The Mill has been placed 119 as opposed to Ut Majeur Aulmes 1425 – especially in light of the fact that Ut Majeur Aulmes stamina is, at best, unproven at this trip, but appeared stretched in his efforts over two and a quarter miles at Taunton previously.
The biggest danger to him, I suspect, is O Maonlai, who appeared to be in the process of running a big race, over a shorter trip than has been customary for him, at Sandown when last seen. I wondered whether or not that the slightly sounder surface here might prevent him making the same smooth progress over this shortened trip – at under two and a half miles – and might leave him vulnerable to a rival with more tactical speed, as perhaps befitting of a horse who has been campaigned at trips in excess of two and a half miles for the better part of two years now. Clearly he likes Newbury – both of his chase wins have been here – but I wonder whether or not this is truly the right race for him, or one that was derived at as a best fit solution to try and get him to a track that he clearly enjoys.
The early market appears to be more or less of the opinion that Gala Ball and Warriors Tale are more evenly matched this time around, perhaps evidenced by the fact that Gala Ball is nine pounds better off at the weights, and it may well be that there was, on their prior meeting a) an exaggerating effect on the winning distance as a result of his mistake two out b) an excuse for that due to his lost shoe and c) that he may well improve for first time blinkers in any event.
That race itself was something of an unsatisfactory affair – the favourite Cepage jumped and travelled so poorly that it was almost a match race from a relatively early stage – and it perhaps doesn’t pay to take the form of it too literally. For what it’s worth, I would expect Gala Ball to reverse that form, as hinted above, but, given his possible preference for softer ground, whether or not doing so would be good enough to win is less clear.
Finally, I formed the view that Aqua Dude had rather blotted his copy book in failing to win when looking well treated at Haydock on his last start, behind Captain Redbeard, whom has well beaten at the Festival subsequently, an effort for which he (Aqua Dude) has now been raised six pounds.
There were some suggestions at the time that he would have won had he not been bumped close home but he seems to be a horse who attracts misfortune – perhaps as evidenced by his fall here when looming large behind the leaders in December – and I think, given his efforts in the finish at Haydock, when he really should have won, and looked likely to do so for a long way, there are enough question marks about his resolution to make him an unappealing prospect in a relatively strong race.
Walk In The Mill
EBF & TBA MARES´ “NATIONAL HUNT” NOVICES´ HURDLE FINALE
As a standalone point, offered without any real analysis, I feel sure that this is the weekend on which Copper Kay fulfils her vast promise. She was incredibly unlucky to be beaten at Warwick when distracted by an errant photographer close home and her previous form with La Bague Au Roi and Dusky Legend is enough to give her a serious chance here. A horse that has always been held in high regard at home could well prove her worth this weekend.
With best wishes,