Morning #startrackers, here’s something to get your teeth into and keep you busy. It is the first of three parts chasing horses to pop up at decent prices at the Spring Festivals if not before, the second is the Irish edition and the third is Odds and Sods! All coming to an in-box near you in the next 24 hours.
Make the most of Huntingdon today as Newcastle has gone Thursday, Wetherby hopes “slim” for Friday and doubts for Chepstow (again) on Saturday. Ffos Las on Sunday must be long odds on!!
#startracking Spring Festivals (1)
We are at that time of the year when all trainers with any Cheltenham aspirations must have a good look round the yard and plan their Festival runners. The likes of Mullins, Nicholls and Henderson have no issues with winning handicaps, Philip Hobbs and Alan King have had solid seasons with fit, healthy horses, David Pipe and Jonjo O’Neill could do with a couple of Festival winners and Pipe has some real dark ones and Messrs Fry, Skelton, Greatrex and Pauling could well have the ammunition to land a Festival handicap. The Irish hordes will be hoping Gordon Elliott and possibly Henry de Bromhead and the currently under achieving Noel Meade could hit the target.
So I’ve had a trawl through the formbook to find some horses to put in our trackers that could come up trumps in a big handicap at a big price between now and the end of the Punchestown Festival. Some will need a “quiet” run, some will need to win to get in and all will hopefully improve when meeting big fields, a strong run race and ground that has the word “Good” in it somewhere!
FOU ET SAGE (Dan Skelton) OR143h Right up with the best of the French novices but hasn’t beaten a horse home in two races in Britain! Down four pounds and off to Haydock for the Champion Hurdle trial on 23rd January. Does he need heavy ground, is he just taking time to acclimatise, is it a wind issue? If young Mr Skelton can find the answers he could have a very well handicapped come Festival time.
FOX NORTON (Neil Mulholland) OR148ch Quality good ground 6yo 2m chaser.
JOHNS SPIRIT (Jonjo O’Neill) OR151ch It was only a matter of time before he had to be included! Down 6lbs already since the start of the season, another 3/4lbs could be on the way? Rose rapidly up the ladder with three wins at Cheltenham over the 2m4f trip off OR marks of 129, 139 and 147. Couldn’t cut it at Championship level but was less than a dozen lengths behind Uxizandre in last year’s Ryanair. Anywhere around 148 on genuine Spring ground and he has to be a player in the Plate.
Johns Spirit, 6th, 1.55 Cheltenham 01/01/2016 The fact that Johns Spirit ended up finishing behind stablemate Lost Legend tells the story about how quickly Johns Spirit bottomed out from the home turn. But the fact that, in conditions that he clearly simply can’t handle, Johns Spirit was able to turn for home on the heels of good horses, most of whom he was giving weight to, tells you that this horse can get involved in the Brown Advisory & Merribelle Stable Plate on the third day of the Festival. Lest we forget, he was fifth in the Ryanair over the same course and distance last season, yet has now tumbled nearly a stone in the handicap since that run. The fire clearly still burns brightly within. (WH) Latest eyecatchers Ben Linfoot and Will Hayler January 4 2016
MINELLA PRESENT (Neil Mulholland) OR134ch Quality good/good to soft ground 7yo 2m chaser. Astute trainer says aimed at Grand Annual at Cheltenham. May need a win to get in?
MODUS (Paul Nicholls) OR139h I am not alone in having this horse very much on the radar for the Betfair hurdle. He has quality bumper form, 2nd at Cheltenham and 3rd at Punchestown, won his hurdle debut at C3 level and then Charmix made him pull out all the stops over Newbury’s two miles. His last run was in a mud-bath carrying a double penalty but he had a run and stays on OR139. He wants decent ground, a strong pace to run at and a big field to run through. He is guaranteed to get two at Newbury on the first Saturday in February and weather permitting all three! Outside of the Betfair he could be competitive in the Imperial Cup and/or the County Hurdle plus if things went well in Berkshire he could even shake up Min in the Supreme!
Modus, 3rd, 1.45 Taunton 30/12/2016 Modus lost his unbeaten record over hurdles at Taunton, but don’t give up hope on him setting the record straight in the spring. Testing conditions, combined with the 19-furlong trip, stretched his stamina to breaking point and he had no answer from the final flight to two stouter rivals, who unsighted him by racing down the stands’ side of the track. I thought he jumped pretty well in the main and this contest is simply a world away from the two-mile big-field handicap hurdles I think he can contest off a fair mark. His form with Charmix from Newbury certainly hasn’t been done any harm subsequently by that rival and despite this setback – at a time when the stable isn’t firing, whatever the trainer might say – he has both the cruising speed and the strength over two miles to go really well in the Betfair Hurdle if connections opt to go down that route. (WH) Latest eyecatchers Ben Linfoot and Will Hayler January 4 2016
MONSIEUR GIBRALTAR (Paul Nicholls) OR138h Great mark for the Cheltenham and the Spring Festival handicaps. Certainly unexposed.
“The closing handicap hurdle won by Zulu Oscar featured a Paul Nicholls horse returning after an absence in Monsieur Gibraltar who had pulled up at Chepstow after choking mid-race. His first appearance since having a wind operation was encouraging for the future having travelled nicely before being looked after in the closing stages by Sam Twiston-Davies. There is a decent handicap hurdle prize to be won this season and is one to keep a very close eye on wherever he goes next.” 2015/16 Christmas & New Year Racing Review January 3, 2016 Adam Webb
His trainer said at his Open Day on 9th October 2015 “Monsieur Gibraltar-Won twice over hurdles in France before joining us in February and scoring on his only run so far for us at Newton Abbot in April. We liked him at home before that win. I’m thinking now of the Tote Silver Trophy at Chepstow in October. He might be ready for that. He’s got plenty of ability.”
“The Stewards considered the running of MONSIEUR GIBRALTAR (FR), ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, and trained by Paul Nicholls, which was pulled up. They noted the trainer could offer no explanation for the gelding’s performance. The Veterinary Officer reported that a post-race examination of the gelding, during routine testing, failed to reveal any abnormalities.” BHA Stewards Report 10th Oct. 2015
NORTH HILL HARVEY (Dan Skelton) He’s really in the “could be anything” category. 44K euros as a 3yo, with Tom Lacey (interesting man, profile in pipeline) for a year and moved on for £100K. Now owned by Mrs G. Widdowson and Mrs R Kelvin-Hughes (long standing Henderson owner) who have only had three horses together, Three Musketeers, Born Survivor and this one and all three are with Dan Skelton and all three are in #startracking!! North Hill Harvey was the only horse to give the much touted Barters Hill a run on racecourse and hurdling debut. He won second time up beating Baden and Drumlee Sunset in what looked a solid C3 Cheltenham novice hurdle. Currently top priced 33/1 for the Supreme, 25/1 for the Neptune however one more run would get him a handicap mark! Let’s hope Dan has a plan! Three Musketeers bypassed Cheltenham last year so don’t be surprised if we may be looking at Aintree.
OUR KAEMPFER (Charlie Longsdon) OR140h Qualified for Pertemps final and his third to Thistlecrack in the G1 Doom Bar Sefton Novice Hurdle over 3m at the Aintree festival last April looks a really strong piece of form. 4th in the Tote Trophy at Chepstow a race that has thrown up a bucket load of winners, a well-supported second to Broxbourne back over three miles at Aintree and then brought down in the ill-fated Baradari’s Fixed Brush at Haydock, another strong race. Remains on the same mark and probably just needs a nod from Lady Luck.
RED SHERLOCK (David Pipe) OR145h Another ridiculously handicapped horse but on the comeback from injury. In the spring of 2014 he was just 7/2 second favourite to beat Faugheen in the Neptune! We haven’t seen him since March 2014 but …“I am pleased to report that Red Sherlock is getting nearer to a run. Our seven year old son of Shirocco who won his first five starts but had been absent since disappointing behind Faugheen in the Neptune at the Cheltenham Festival in 2014 is now getting near to a run. He is pictured below swimming this morning in our equine pool and he could be making his reappearance as early as the end of January, beginning of February.” Monday, 04 January 2016 16:34 Written by David Pipe
That mark of 145 is mouth-watering for the Cheltenham Festival. Coral Cup or top weight in the Martin Pipe?
SHELFORD (Dan Skelton) OR139h Fifth in the Martin Pipe last March off this mark it seems that the Skelton’s are aiming him a little higher this Spring with the Welsh Champion Hurdle (Ffos Las 6th Feb.) and the Coral Cup. I love it when Dan is the man with a plan! Shelford is a son of Galileo, has a worthwhile CV and races with his heart on his sleeve in the van throughout. Win or lose we’ll get a run for our money!
SIR MANGAN (Dan Skelton) OR139h Here is another with a great profile for the Pertemps Final. A sneaky 5th at Sandown over a trip too short to qualify. Moved from Donald McCain to the Skeltons over the summer Mr McAleavy must be a happy bunny. Struggled to win a C3 novice chase with McCain he has been reinvented as a front running 3m hurdler. First up he beat the talented mare Cannon Fodder at Fontwell, then was just pipped at Cheltenham by Ron’s Dream on Paddy Power day, before the Pertemps qualification.
THE LIQUIDATOR (David Pipe) OR135h Another ridiculously handicapped horse but on the comeback from injury. In the spring of 2014 he was just 12/1 to beat Vautour in the Supreme and Faugheen in the Irish equivalent! The County could be a target but he had his comeback run over 2m 3.5f so if they think he might get two and a half miles is he being laid out for the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham? Mind you if they have got him ready the Imperial Cup/County bonus with a 7lb penalty would work nicely?
His trainer said, “Over at Chepstow they held their new two day jumps fixture with some excellent prize money up for grabs and it was here that The Liquidator made his much awaited seasonal reappearance in the ultra-competitive Silver Trophy handicap hurdle. He jumped and travelled well for much of the journey before tiring in the straight – he is certainly entitled to come on for this first start in eighteen months and there will be other days for him.” Monday, 12 October 2015 15:25 Written by David Pipe
TOMMY SILVER (Paul Nicholls) Watching this horse first up I thought he was big and scopey and had a future. During the race he settled, jumped and was only beaten by the greater experience of Fixe Le Kap. Delving deeper we find he was acquired for Portensis via Andrew Bromley and everyone connected to the horse seems to expect a bright future. Looked a class act, running well when the yard wasn’t exactly banging in the winners!
UNIQUE DE COTTE (David Pipe) OR140h Qualified for this years Pertemps final (6th at Newbury is so Pipe-ish!) having been second in the final last year off 135. (20/1 general) A midfield run at the end of January, down a couple of pounds and he’ll be ready to go for JP McManus!
URUBU D’IRLANDE (Paul Nicholls) OR135 Here is a ridiculously well handicapped if fragile horse. Beat Oscar Rock on bumper debut, off course for eighteen months then ran Yanworth to a length in another bumper giving him 8lb. On hurdles debut in November 2014 picked up Gaitway but now not seen for another eighteen months. His trainer said at his Open Day on 9th October 2015, “He’s been somewhat frustrating; every time he runs, he seems to get injured. He’s a seven-year-old who has only seen a racecourse four times in his life and he needed three months in his box after winning at Wincanton in November, the last time he raced. He’s got a handicap mark of 135, so we’ll see how we go but I dare say we’ll have to go novice chasing at some point. He’s got loads of ability but he’s very fragile.” Nicholls loves throwing a class animal at the Coral Cup! Win an egg and spoon contest get a 7lb penalty and that should get him in?
Walsh shoulders blame for Vautour defeat By Stuart Riley 6:36PM 5 JAN 2016
“RUBY WALSH on Tuesday revealed that if given the opportunity to ride the race again he would do things differently on Vautour after the pair’s narrow defeat in the King George at Kempton. The ever self-critical Walsh, who took things up with eight to jump, said he rode Vautour “with the feeling he gave me”, but felt waiting longer with the seven-year-old may have made all the difference as the pair were caught in the last stride by Cue Card and went down by a head. “Vautour ran a blinder when second in the King George,” said Walsh, before explaining what he would change. He added: “If I was to ride it again I would sit longer on the bend to the third-last fence to the second-last fence, but I rode him with the feeling he gave me and Cue Card found plenty for pressure and chinned me at the line, which was disappointing.”
Walsh, quoted in his Racing UK blog, added: “It was a huge improvement on his Ascot run and it’s onwards and upwards. He just jumped a fraction to his left, but he didn’t jump out across his fences and throw it away or anything. You’d imagine going left-handed would be an advantage. A few strides after the line he was back on top again so it is hard to say he didn’t stay. Whether he gets three and a quarter miles; I don’t think that is a question you can answer until you try it. When Kauto Star won the King George I thought he would stay the Gold Cup trip and he did. When Florida Pearl won the Royal & SunAlliance you thought he would get the Gold Cup trip, which he didn’t quite get.
I don’t think there is as stout a stayer as Don Poli in training and after the Gold Cup last season it is fair to say that Djakadam stays, too. You only really find out until somewhere between the last two fences.” Vautour, who is 10-1 for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, also has the option of the Ryanair, for which he is 13-8 favourite.”
Willie Mullins reports ‘no setbacks’ for Christmas stars
Tuesday 5 January 2016 Willie Mullins is happy with the condition of his Christmas aces after they all returned to their Closutton stables in rude health.
“Mullins enjoyed numerous Grade One victories over the hectic festive schedule, though Un De Sceaux’s fall at Leopardstown on December 27 was a sizeable blot on the landscape. “They have all come out of Christmas well – no setbacks,” said the trainer. “Un De Sceaux is as fresh as paint after his fall and I am keen to run him soon. There are two races towards the end of this month that he is entered in, one in Ireland (Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown) and one in the UK (Clarence House Chase at Ascot). Long Dog has had a busy season so we might just go be easy on him now. He is unlikely to race again until Cheltenham. Another run before Cheltenham would be ideal for Vautour, but I’m not sure where yet. Faugheen, Nichols Canyon and Arctic Fire are all likely to run next in the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle.” Annie Power was not sighted over Christmas as she continues to progress from an injury, but Mullins has not yet ruled out giving her a prep run for the Cheltenham Festival. He said: “Annie Power is coming on slowly but nicely, and I’m happy with where she is at the moment. We won’t know until she steps up to the next stage of training whether she will have a run before Cheltenham, but the aim is Cheltenham.”