Cheltenham Countdown: Pottsie pointer to Felix Desjy's Arkle claims

Chatham Street Lad
Chatham Street Lad - a Grade 1 chaser in the making?

David Cleary is back with his weekly column, highlighting a couple of sparkling handicap wins, at Fairyhouse and Cheltenham, in a week where low sun again caused problems...

"Elsewhere, arguably the most impressive performance of the week came from Boothill, who made a winning hurdling debut at Taunton on Thursday with any amount in hand...The manner in which Boothill quickened after just a couple of gentle nudges early in the straight suggested speed over stamina, so the Supreme looks the obvious target if all goes well."

Sizing up a Festival challenge

Twice within the space of 25 minutes on Saturday afternoon, seemingly highly competitive handicap chases were blown apart by young, relatively lightly-raced runners. Chatham Street Lad garnered most of the headlines, following his romp in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham, but the victory of Sizing Pottsie in a valuable two-mile contest at Fairyhouse may have even more significance so far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned.

What was most impressive about Sizing Pottsie's performance was the manner in which he suddenly turned a tightly-packed field going to three out into one runner out on his own entering the straight, with the rest flailing away behind. That the margin wasn't further extended and Sizing Pottsie needed keeping up to his work was largely due to minor mistakes at the last two fences - his jumping can be a little low at times.

This was a performance that suggests he'll be a player in pattern events, and it was interesting that Jessica Harrington, Sizing Pottsie's trainer hinted at a run next in Britain. The Desert Orchid, and a possible run against Altior, or the Clarence House, where Politologue is an intended runner, would seem the main options, and in his current form he'd certainly provide a good sparring partner to either, at least.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Sizing Pottsie's effort, however, is what it says about Felix Desjy's defeat of him at Punchestown the time before. That was Sizing Pottsie's final outing as a novice and it looked set to be a winning one after he stole a lead approaching the straight in very similar fashion to Fairyhouse. Some smart prospects were left scrabbling to reel him in and only Felix Desjy managed it, the pair finishing well clear.

The obvious conclusion to draw is that Felix Desjy did even better than looked the case at the time. Given his level of form as a novice hurdler in 2018/19, when he ran really well at all three big spring Festivals, his unbeaten start over fences and that he is likely to be well served by a switch to a left-handed track (he jumped that way at Punchestown).

The Arkle has the look at this stage of one of the most intriguing puzzles of the Festival, in part because Shishkin hasn't yet shown enough as a chaser to justify being so skinny a price. Allmankind and Hitman are clearly serious contenders, while hopefully Gumball will be out to show his well-being before long. However, Felix Desjy deserves moving to the top of the pecking order in the light of what Sizing Pottsie did.

Lad romps home to land Caviar Gold

Chatham street Lad could conceivably be an Arkle contender himself, though the step back up in trip looked to serve him well in the Caspian Caviar. He simply tanked through a strongly-run race and despite belting the last ditch, four out, came there on the bridle in the straight and was soon in complete command. The ground at Cheltenham, particularly on Saturday, was particularly holding and the winning margin may exaggerate Chatham Street Lad's superiority, but the style was something to behold.

Given a win on the track, there was obvious talk of the Festival afterwards. As he's a novice, the Marsh might seem the best target, though, just as he was taking on established chasers here, he might just be better off in the Ryanair against known, albeit high-class, quantities, rather than trying his luck against Envoi Allen.

Fisher emerges from Peterborough a Ryanair contender

There was a rather more conventional test of the claims of some Ryanair candidates in the Peterborough Chase the previous afternoon. This had been added to the Cheltenham programme after Huntingdon had been lost the previous Sunday. It's now standard procedure to rearrange important races, if possible and desirable, and this was a particularly good example, with a strong field for a Grade 2 lining up.

Mister Fisher won fair and square, a lot to like about his effort, and he may still have more to offer, given this was just his second effort out of novice company. On the first he hadn't run his race at all when among the market leaders for the Paddy Power Gold Cup; connections were, in opposition to established facts, inclined to blame the (soft) ground for the poor effort, but Mister Fisher had no problem at all with the (soft) ground in the Peterborough.

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I would recommend again the employment of a cattle prod on the part of TV interviewers, though obviously it would need to be on a two-metre pole these days. Any time a trainer ponders saying something clearly bogus about their horses and the ground, a mild electric shock would help concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Boothill makes Supreme waves after impressive Taunton debut

Elsewhere, arguably the most impressive performance of the week came from Boothill, who made a winning hurdling debut at Taunton on Thursday with any amount in hand. That might seem like no big deal, Taunton novice hurdles being something of a by-word for uncompetitive events, but there is substance to go with the style so far as Boothill is concerned.

Firstly, the form of his bumper win at Kempton last season has been boosted since, three of the four immediately behind him already winners showing at least a fair level of form over hurdles this time round. Secondly, this was a well-run affair, with previous winners made to look ordinary, the time standing out among four races mover the course-and-distance on the card. The manner in which Boothill quickened after just a couple of gentle nudges early in the straight suggested speed over stamina, so the Supreme looks the obvious target if all goes well.

Some of the other races at Cheltenham were a bit underwhelming, in truth, and neither Adagio in the juvenile hurdle nor Fusil Raffles in the two-and-a-half mile novice chase did enough to think they are more than minor actors when it comes to March. Adagio is a likeable sort and was a bargain buy, but supporters of Zahariyr won't be losing any sleep so far as the Triumph is concerned. Monmiral, who won the Summit at Doncaster, is a more plausible threat. Monmiral would have won even more decisively than he did had he not landed back end down two out.

So far as Fusil Raffles is concerned, he deserved to be knocked out for the Marsh, not shortened. Disappointing last time, he was third best going to the last, before his stable-companion Chantry House ran out of stamina and then the leader Lieutenant Rocco, who had jumped his rivals silly, tied up badly, slowing almost to a walk on the run-in and allowing Fusil Raffles to plod past. Lieutenant Rocco is the more interesting of the pair

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Goshen no show as low sun strikes International

So finally, to what ought to have been the highlight of the week, but turned out anything but, the International Hurdle and the return of Goshen. Goshen, after missing engagements at Wincanton and Ascot, was looking to establish his claim as the brightest of the young hurdling prospects, but he failed to run a race, too free under restraint and folding tamely in the straight. Goshen was reported to have a fibrillating heart, which at least explains the performance and hopefully he'll be back on track next time.

A more attacking ride would likely help, though the International was yet another race rendered unsatisfactory by low sun and the omission of both the hurdles in the straight. That left a long run to the back straight before anything was jumped and a run-in of over four furlongs, so it was understandable that none of the riders wanted to commit in what was more a Flat race than a hurdle. The remaining runners were in a heap with barely a furlong to go and the form is probably less reliable than it looks.

Low sun is a seasonal problem and layout means some tracks are affected more than others. Missing out the Pond fence at Sandown isn't ideal, but doesn't detract too much from a race. Missing out all hurdles and fences in the straight at Cheltenham and Aintree is of far more consequence and invariably leads to an unsatisfactory race. The obvious answer is to start cards earlier, though clearly that has implications for the crowd size (in normal times) and TV scheduling, implications that courses may not be willing to compromise on.

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