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 March runners. Philip Hobbs and Alan King have had solid seasons with fit, healthy horses, and they provide the final eleven. 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 Punchestown. 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!
RED HOT HOBBS
DRUMLEE SUNSET So far he hasn’t fulfilled his promise. Irish PtP winner and guess who paid £130K for him? Top of the class, that nice Mr Brookhouse! DRUMLEE SUNSET won his bumper at Exeter last February beating none other than OOSeven who recently bustled up Yorkhill in the Tolworth. All four of his hurdle starts to date have been at Cheltenham. On hurdling debut he was outstayed by Mister Miyagi, his second race was a non-event unshipping Richard Johnson at the start, then riderless leading the field a merry dance for the whole two miles, next time he led after the second last but was outstayed by North Hill Harvey (#startracking) and Baden and most recently he was fourth to Champers on Ice when stepped up to 2m 3f. Mark Howard (One Jump Ahead) in his Christmas update suggests Drumlee Sunset could be a Coral Cup candidate but Drumlee Sunset will do well to get a run in any Cheltenham handicap off his current mark of OR133. Win an egg and spoon novice, get 5-7lbs, back on better ground and he could be a player. Brookhouse will run him at Cheltenham even if its 200/1 in the Neptune. Why? Because Western Warhorse didn’t have a chance did he!
IF IN DOUBT What is JP up to? We all know that If In Doubt has a fabulous engine but a total disregard for fences but that didn’t stop him winning the SkyBet Chase off OR139 and finshing 5th in the RSA to Don Poli! Pulled up in the Irish National and the Henessey what’s he doing hacking up in a Pertemps Hurdle qualifier at Wincanton on Boxing Day over 2m6f off OR140 when he looked stuffed three out and is currently quoted at just 12/1 for the final! In 2014 he was a painful 9th at 13/2 in the Pertemps Final behind stablemate Fingal Bay when carrying the Moore millions! In many ways If In Doubt reminds me of another Hobbs favourite, What’s Up Boys. Not the best jumper but at his best 2nd in the National and 5th in the Gold Cup but he did win a Coral Cup. Now there’s a thought! Second in the Lanzarote 2m 5f to Saphir du Rheu, won over a sharp three miles at Doncaster maybe a crazy 2m 5f over hurdles could be the answer?
ROCK THE KASBAH Massively impressive when hacking up by 8L in a C2 handicap hurdle off OR136 on Soft ground in November. Put up a fair 8lb for that effort to OR144 which means they can have a pop at a valuable C2 next run but which one? Coral Cup or more likely the Martin Pipe for which he is generally quoted at 25/1.This strapping son of Shirocco will make a fine chaser.
ROYAL PLAYER Lost the plot? In the grip of the handicapper? Flying too high? He has pulled up in his last three runs albeit in the Grade 3 Sodexo Gold Cup, the Scottish National and the Listed SkyBet Chase but won his two races prior to that in the style of a classy animal. He’s a hold up 3m good ground (good to soft is OK) chaser who went up 19lb to OR147 for those two wins and now dropped 3lb to OR144. In his Racing post Stable tour Philip Hobbs said “We found he had been suffering badly from warts, which have since been cut out. Now that’s been sorted out he could go the right way in staying handicap chases when the ground isn’t riding too soft.” That mark will get him into any Festival 3m+ handicap, I just see him more of an Aintree horse under a creepy-creepy ride from Richard Johnson than a Cheltenham type.
TAPACULO Runs on Saturday January 9th at Kempton rated OR130 in a 0-130 C3 three mile+ novice handicap hurdle with Richard Johnson on board. Tapaculo has won both his runs this season over 2m3f+ at Chepstow in novice hurdles, the second time defying a penalty. If he won/ran well in this and went up 4-7lbs I could see him stepping back in trip for the Martin Pipe or going up in grade at Aintree in the graded Doom Bar Sefton 3m novice hurdle.
WAR SOUND Class animal who won the Swinton Hurdle off OR140 on only his fifth run. His trainer said he had a minor bone injury but should be out in January with the Betfair as a possible target and he will stay over hurdles this season. Now has an OR148 which won’t be easy but Cairan Gethings has ridden him in four of his five runs and could again take off a useful 5lbs. Seems to be settling better and as long as he wings the third last (?) he can quicken off a fast pace. No Cheltenham quotes but the County hurdle would seem the right fit.
ONEFITZALL Won his bumper and a C4 novice hurdle, both at Uttoxeter, in the style of a useful horse. Then third under a penalty in what could turn out to be an above average C4 2m4f novice hurdle behind Knockgraffon at Leicester. Trainer suggests he wants the going to be soft or worse but he has an OR130 and a win in a C3 0-130 over 2m 4f+ could bring him into Festival territory.
ALAN KINGS 4yo team
Last season it was Nicky Henderson who had the top British juveniles, this season it seems they are at Barbury Castle in the hands of Alan King. The canny Scot should be able to place them accordingly.
SCEAU ROYAL I have seen no horse, juvenile or otherwise, get from one side of a flight to the other as quickly as Sceau Royal. That skill alone will make him competitive especially in the juvenile division. Owned by juvenile kings Messrs Munir and Souede he won a hurdle in France before his four runs in Britain. First past the post on debut at Chepstow but lost it in the stewards room, beaten a nose by Leocavallo in a Listed event at Wetherby before comfortably beating Winterfell at Warwick in a time nine seconds quicker than Yanworth took later that afternoon! He was even more impressive on his final run winning a C2 race at Cheltenham. Others in the Triumph hurdle will have sexier Flat form but this chap is a useful hurdler and at 20/1 with BetFred is cracking each way value.
WHO DARES WINS OR85 on the flat for Richard Hannon was bought by Anthony Bromley for Henry Ponsonby and this son of Jeremy (think Our Conor) has won both his hurdle starts, the most recent being Listed event at Doncaster by 20L albeit on heavy ground. Had his limitations on the Flat but done nothing wrong jumping and is a general 16/1 chance in the Triumph.
GIBRALFARO Probably the surprise package. Won four out of his last five of ten moderate French provincial flat races. A good size, scopey individual impressed on British debut when coming from a way back to nail Duke of Medina in a C3 juvenile event at Kempton. 20/1 with Coral is top price for the triumph but his second run will be more informative. Could see him being suited by Cheltenham.
OCEANE This French bred had three runs on the Flat last summer achieving a rating of OR 88. He won his first two juvenile hurdles at Fontwell and Kempton before a disappointing 4th behind Wolf of Windlesham in the G2 Triumph trial on Paddy Power day. I was there that day and he is a fine specimen but just didn’t act on the rain softened ground. Mark Howard (One Jump Ahead) feels Oceane is an ideal candidate for the Fred Winter, currently quoted at top price 25/1 with PP.