It is fair to say the selections in the November Update were as desperate as the ground at Cheltenham over the weekend. The progressive Jatiluwih (advised @ 11/2) won the intermediate handicap hurdle on Saturday, while Israel Champ (16/1) provided the Top 40 Prospects with a very welcome winner in the finale on Sunday.
Without making excuses, the underfoot conditions spoilt what is usually a tremendous early season meeting. Horses such as Ecco, Getaway Trump, L'Air Du Vent and Midnight Callisto couldn't seem to handle the ground, while Mick Pastor reportedly choked having raced far too keenly on his UK debut. Monsieur Lecoq almost certainly would have won the Greatwood Hurdle had he settled early on, while Big River jumped as though he had never seen a fence before. As regards the BetVictor Chase on Saturday, Us And Them wasn't helped by the fact the weights rose seven pounds twenty four hours before the race, even though he had been declared to carry 11st 5lb at the forty eight hours stage - that is a ridiculous rule which apparently only applies for certain races during the year.
The Update aside, it is worth reflecting on some of the performances over the weekend in both the UK and Ireland. Thyme Hill made it two out of two over hurdles by winning the rescheduled Grade 2 novice on Saturday. Forced to carry a penalty having won the Grade 2 Persian War Novices' Hurdle at Chepstow last month, the Kayf Tara gelding arguably produced an even better performance here to beat Champagne Well by three lengths. Philip Hobbs nominated the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury at the end of December as his next intended target. The Minehead yard have already won that prize with Bonanza Boy and Fingal Bay. There is no doubt he is a high-class novice hurdle but he strikes me as a strong stayer and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him lining up in the Albert Bartlett NH next March. The further he goes, the better he looks.
It was pleasing to see Good Boy Bobby go one better at Wetherby on Saturday having run very well on his chasing bow at Carlisle last month. Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge had been headed close home by Brewin'upastorm (won again since) at the Cumbrian venue but made amends here. Making all, he wasn't hard pressed to win by a couple of lengths. It will be interesting to see if he heads to Sandown in early December for a rematch with Olly Murphy's horse in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase. A sound jumper, he races enthusiastically and will be some sight over the Railway fences at the Esher venue, if his connections elect to head down that route.
Of those in behind, Ravenhill Road ran well on his first start for Sue Smith. The eight year old, who is still a maiden over fences after five attempts, has been plagued with problems during the last couple of years. The former Irish pointer has bled and suffered with wind issues and, while it was an encouraging reappearance on Saturday, it remains to be seen whether he can back it up and may prove best fresh. I thought there was a lot to like about the run of the third Albert's Back. Mick Easterby's gelding was rated 137 over hurdles having won two of his three starts. He, too, has had his issues but hopefully they are behind him now and the son of Champs Elysees possesses the ability to make a decent northern novice chaser. Not subjected to a hard ride late on, that kindness ought to be rewarded this term.
Rich Ricci was very positive regarding the prospects of Saldier (7/1) in his interview in One Jump Ahead (page 51) and the five year old returned from a lengthy absence to win the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown. A Grade 1 winning juvenile hurdler a couple of seasons ago, he looked set to beat subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D'Allen when falling at the last at Naas in November last year. Found to have broken his nose afterwards - another horse kicked him as he lay on the floor - he has been nursed back to full fitness and there appeared to be no fluke about his win at the weekend. Despite coming under pressure rounding the home turn, Danny Mullins' charge stayed on too strongly for stablemates Klassical Dream and Sharjah. On this evidence, Willie Mullins has another major contender for the Champion Hurdle.
Talking of Champion Hurdle winners, Faugheen made a winning start to his chasing career at the age of eleven. The nine times Grade 1 winning hurdler overcame two mistakes - both at ditches - to win going away by seven and a half lengths. Paul Townend did well to maintain the partnership at halfway following his first serious error and the Germany gelding nodded on landing at the third last. However, he soon recovered and quickened up smartly between the final two fences. It will be interesting to see where Faugheen heads next. It will take a momumental effort to win a Grade 1 novice chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March at the age of twelve. The RSA Chase, rather than the JLT, looks his most realistic target. While Walk Away proved no match for the winner, he shaped well in second. Henry De Bromhead's ex-pointer jumped well and held every chance before being outspeeded by the classy winner. He will come into his own over further and is one to watch out for in a staying novice chase in Ireland when the mud is flying. Long-term, he could develop into a contender for the National Hunt Chase at the Festival. His trainer has a fine team of novice chasers, including the unbeaten Notebook, who landed the Grade 2 Craddockstown Novice Chase at the same track on Saturday.
The Gary Moore trained Goshen was highlighted as a juvenile hurdler to follow in the November Update and he justified strong market support to win on his jumping debut at Fontwell on Sunday. The gelded son of Authorized had shown progressive form on the Flat earlier this year winning three out of three with his official rating rising from 64 to 88. Despite a tendency to jump to his right, especially late on, he annihilated his rivals at the Sussex venue. A trip to Sandown early next month appears likely before a possible tilt at the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow (27th December). Soft and heavy ground bring out the best in him and, granted such conditions, it will take a fair juvenile to turn him over this season. Still raw, he possesses a huge engine and is very much one to follow.
Finally, it was been a very disappointing start for the Top 40 Prospects in One Jump Ahead but hopefully following Israel Champ's win at Cheltenham on Sunday, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. David Pipe's Irish import had proved disappointing on his Rules debut when only sixth in a bumper at Worcester during October. Fitted with a hood and tongue tie, the four year old proved a different proposition in the Listed bumper at Prestbury Park. Allowed to dicate from the outset, Tom Scudamore's mount quickened off the final turn and never looked like being reeled in thereafter. Given his age, one would envisage him remaining down the bumper route this season before going hurdling next Autumn. The Pond House team have some nice bumper prospects this time around.
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