Sunday, 17 March 2019

Cheltenham eye-catchers - Day 1

The rain arrived in the morning to turn the top of the ground wet and loose, however having to pad half a mile or so across the car parks for the first two days the ground felt very solid underneath the moisture and these curious conditions made for some lop-sided racing, some simply not acting on it while one or two clearly reveled. While the jockeys returned mud spattered from the opening race, the times throughout the day suggested it was only good to soft, although that clearly doesn't tell the full story.

Supreme

Al Dancer; Surprisingly to the fore in the market considering the poor record of horses coming from a handicap into this Grade 1 contest, he was on his toes in the paddock with ear-plugs replacing the usual hood. Made absolutely zero appeal on the day, but a nice handicapper going forward.

Angels Breath; I was expecting much better in the paddock and pretty much kissed goodbye to the ante-post selection before the off. A likeable sort but currently lacking the size of others in the race, and still on the weak side. Will probably want 2m4f+ in future.

Felix Desjy; I remember him getting quite stirred up in a hood prior to last season's bumper and his keenness saw him fade late on in that race while still running well. He was much more relaxed this time and looks a fantastic prospect, being the pick of the paddock. Loads of size and scope, he can easily find the stone or so improvement needed over fences to win next year's Arkle.

The Big Bite; A lovely, laid back scopey chasing type, he was well below his previous form in fading from halfway, but he's bred to stay 3m and will hopefully head over fences next season when he'll be totally unexposed over trips beyond the minimum.

Thomas Darby; Hasn't looked the finished article all season and he still looked on the leggy side beforehand, as such it was very much to his credit that he improved on his previous form to grab second place. Another that looks certain to make his mark over fences next term, and bred to stay further.

Vision D'Honneur; A 350,000 euro purchase last spring, unlikely to ever live up to that, but a good moving horse with lots of size and strength and you can see why connections were so keen to secure him. Three times behind Klassical Dream now, but sure to keep improving and this ground may just have caught him out.

Arkle

Not a great deal to glean from this race beforehand, the majority looked big and well and raring to go.

Lalor; Plenty of size, lengthy. Looked fine, but may simply need proper good ground as he was never going a yard.

Ornua; One of the smallest in the field, he was particularly active in the paddock and got very warm...likely to be taken on for the lead he was one to oppose. Despite getting a quite easy lead in the end, the fences proved to be his undoing.

Us And Them; Leggy and unfurnished, he missed the start and ballooned the first two fences, and was sensibly ridden to pick up the pieces thereafter. Clearly talented, he can do better when he fills his big frame.

Ultima

O O Seven; Blinkered for the first time, but his well-being wasn't right at Doncaster last time and he looked much better here. Largely a disappointing sort, he ran better but didn't seem to get home.

Mister Whitaker; Looked fine, I've said before he still has some strengthening up to do, but he never lifted a leg and was thoroughly disappointing. Something may come to light, as on the bare facts he now has a little to prove.

Give Me A Copper; Has always given the impression he's incredibly slow, he's a big unit and very fragile. All the rage in the weeks leading up to the race, I couldn't have him on my mind.

Up For Review; A heavy topped animal, strong in the shoulder and I'm of the opinion such types struggle to handle the undulations of Cheltenham. Well-backed, he came down the hill fine but didn't come back up it.

Catamaran Du Seuil; Lacks the size and scope for these big occasions and his lofty rated owes much to a remarkable display on his reappearance when showing blazing speed to win by a wide margin. A Class 2 horse at best, and probably wants much softer.

Big River; Unexposed over fences and a dour stayer that loves deep ground, he's quite athletic without being over-big, and after a near three-month absence his jumping was very rusty. However, he flew home in the straight and looks an ideal type for the Scottish National providing there's cut in the ground.

Champion

Apple's Jade; She looked a bit smaller than I remember - it's all relative and against a bunch of mares she stands out...here I wasn't that impressed. Yes, she was clearly below par but I'm of the opinion her win over 2m at Leopardstown was a flash in the pan.

Melon; Often sweats up and gets on edge but he looked in great heart, very relaxed and a big strong horse capable of jumping a fence and/or staying further. His return to form came as little surprise and on his day is still clearly useful.

Close Brothers

A Plus Tard; A very likeable individual, well made and one with a touch of class. He was short enough in the betting but left the BHA handicapper blushing with a thoroughly classy display. The state of the ground by this stage may have accentuated the performance but that's not to denigrate it in any way.

Tower Bridge; Loads of size and a strong individual, he had won a Grade 1 hurdle over three miles and was always going to struggle against a speedier type. Not one to give up on granted a stiffer test.

The Russian Doyen; Plenty of size but still quite leggy, and has taken time to get organised in the jumping department. However, he went well for a long way here and is quite likely to rate a good deal higher in 12 months time.

NH Chase

Didn't get to see these in the paddock but caught them on the walkway. OK Corral looked on the lean side but the main reason I wanted to see them was because I had backed Le Breuil to win the Ultima and wanted to see how he looked. Often on his toes, he was surprisingly relaxed as he walked out and that was good enough for me. This beautifully athletic horse showed incredible guts to go with his undoubted ability and hopefully he'll have a good long break now, before building up to next year's Grand National.

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