It was a tremendous weekend of racing both sides of the Irish Sea with lots of the stars of the winter game making their seasonal reappearance and there was therefore plenty to take note of moving forward.
The highlight of the weekend for me was seeing the up and coming jockey, Bryony Frost, win the Bagder Ales Trophy at Wincanton aboard Present Man. The young rider is progressing at a rapid rate and along with her riding ability, she continues to impress me with her post race analysis too. It is a tip in itself that Paul Nicholls is giving her plenty of opportunities and her 5lb claim will continue to prove vital in handicaps this season. A close second in terms of the weekend highlight had to be the superb training performance by Ian Williams in which he was able to land the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton with London Prize and the November Handicap at Doncaster with Saunter. Williams’s ability as a dual purpose trainer is unquestionable and he remains an underrated handler under both codes.
In terms of equine performances over the weekend, there were three seasonal reappearances that really stood out to me. The Harry Fry-trained Unowhatimeanharry started his campaign at Aintree over 2m4f – a trip that was thought too sharp for him – and he won pretty easily in the end ahead of his two rivals, Value At Risk and Top Notch. While on the subject of small fields, it can only be a disappointment that this race, the Rising Stars at Wincanton and two races at Kempton on Monday were so poorly supported. It’s certainly time for a change with regards to the novice chase program in my opinion, but the answer is far from easy. We discussed this issue on the Monday Night Review Podcast (listen by clicking here) and Adam Webb made a very good point that one option would be to make all novice chasers have three runs in beginners or novice chases before they are allowed to run in handicaps. That’s one simple way of addressing the problem, but I’d love to hear your views too!
Anyway, swiftly back to the other two horses that I was most impressed with. On Sunday Might Bite (Sandown) and Footpad (Navan) both created deep visual impressions where they came home in splendid isolation. The former was clearly expected to win – he did nothing to put me off backing him for both the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup – but what I was most pleased with was the manner in which he went about his jumping. He was very professional from start to finish – showing the aptitude to go long or short when required to do so – and although he didn’t have to come off the bridle up the run-in, I remain in the camp that he is a very genuine individual, just with a tendency to lose concentration from time to time. Footpad on the other hand wasn’t near the top of my novice chase list this season, but after a fine round of jumping at Navan, he finds himself near the top of the Arkle betting. Although I was impressed with his performance and he deserves plenty of respect when stepping up in class, I believe that he will prove most effective when there is soft in the going description. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be rushing to back him for the Arkle just yet.
The Jumps Guide Annual 2017-2018 continues to provide winners to our loyal supporters with Hear No Evil and Red Jack both successful over the weekend. Dan Skelton’s youngster was a good winner of what looked a decent novice event at Aintree on Saturday and the future looks particularly bright for him on the back of that performance. With regards to Red Jack, I hope that this is just another stepping stone of the road to Grade 1 novices’ hurdles this season as I rate the Noel Meade-trained gelding as one of the most exciting young prospects both sides of the water. He’s almost certain to appreciate better ground but he showed plenty of class when shedding his maiden tag at the first time of asking and is expected to continue to progress.
With every success often comes a disappointment and I wasn’t very impressed with the chasing debut of Bacardys, where he failed to show a real enthusiasm for jumping the larger obstacles. A top-class novice hurdler last season, the winning pointer was fully expected to make a winning start over fences. It’ll be back to the drawing board with him now and although I fully understand the calls for him to revert back to hurdles for a crack at the Stayers Hurdle, I’d like to see him given another chance over fences before any decision is made. In addition, it was a real shame to see Mont Des Avaloirs come down at the last when looking likely to make it two from two this season (he had already won a bumper). He jumped well throughout his hurdling debut before over jumping at the last and coming to grief. The strong travelling 4-year-old remains a good prospect for the novice hurdling division this season.
That’s it for now guys, but I’ll be back shortly with the next update blog.
PS: Remember that you can still order the Jumps Guide Annual, Extra Horses To Follow and Spring Horses To Follow by clicking here.