David Cleary reflects on Samcro's Down Royal reverse and other events over the weekend, while our Market Ops teams update the big antepost betting news...
"...there was a lot to like about the style of Mister Whitaker's victory. He's done nothing but progress over fences and has an assured style of jumping, along with a very willing attitude."
What to make of Samcro? He went to Down Royal on Friday for the WKD Hurdle, an intermediate event over two miles, a race that looked a relatively straightforward opening to his campaign. He had been promoted to favourite for the Champion Hurdle after Gordon Elliott revealed here on Betting.Betfair that that race would be his main target. However, he was beaten fair and square by the smart but exposed Bedrock, who was receiving just 5lb.
Samcro didn't obviously want for fitness, off the bridle a good deal earlier than might have been expected, his jumping not so polished as it might have been either. This was the sharpest test of speed that Samcro has faced and it may just be that he was wanting for pace. It may be that he'll be a totally different proposition back on soft going, even at two miles.
That part of the question should be answered soon enough, with Samcro likely to have his next outing in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown later in the month, potentially meeting Melon. Another flop there and a plan B might need to come into operation.
The main action in Britain ought to have been at Wetherby, but quick ground rendered the Saturday card, featuring the Charlie Hall, something of a write-off, though connections of the winners will obviously think otherwise.
There was more of interest at Ascot, where Traffic Fluide duly built on the promise of his Chepstow run last month to land the Sodexo Gold Cup. He turned in an almost faultless round of jumping until the last and showed plenty of guts to recover from a fluffed jump there. Traffic Fluide won by just half a length and will remain on a good mark historically, even once reassessed.
Although the Ladbroke Trophy makes some appeal, a break until the National weights are out and then a prep run for Aintree makes plenty of sense - Traffic Fluide is certainly the type that could take to Aintree's unique challenge and is worth considering in the Grand National market, even at this early stage.
Citizen for Newbury?
Fidux was a surprisingly easy winner of the feature handicap hurdle, given how many chances he's had in handicaps, and won't find it easy following up, the runner-up Global Citizen a much more interesting prospect.
Global Citizen was just too fresh on the day, having his first run since April, and ran out of steam after still cruising early in the straight. With this under his belt, he ought to be hard to beat off this sort of mark next time, the Gerry Feilden at Newbury a race that should play to his strengths.
Whitaker continues progress
With easy ground in short supply at present, it was no surprise that Sunday's Carlisle card was well subscribed, with the feature Colin Parker Memorial attracting one of its most competitive line-ups. None of the five had run this autumn, so fitness may have been an issue, but there was a lot to like about the style of Mister Whitaker's victory.
He's done nothing but progress over fences and has an assured style of jumping, along with a very willing attitude.
Mister Whitaker might take his chance in the BetVictor Gold Cup, though that comes up pretty quickly. He is also in the Ladbroke and there are grounds on pedigree for thinking he could even improve more when tried at three miles. Mister Whitaker looks set for another good winter.
Another track where easier ground led to plenty of runners was Bangor on Tuesday, where the novice hurdle won by Anytime Will Do looks sure to throw up winners. The bumper winner Grey Diamond certainly wants noting for a similar event; understandably, he was given a very patient ride in an attempt to get him settled, but it meant that he was a lot further back than ideal when he was asked for his effort.
Cervaro Mix, a bumper runner-up, was ridden rather more prominent and showed plenty before fading late on. He's sure to learn from the experience and can also win a maiden at least. The newcomer Flight Deck, meanwhile, is one for the longer term. He showed a surprisingly large amount of potential, particularly given a trip which will surely proved well short of what he needs.
Finally, to Uttoxeter, where Claimintakinforgan made a winning start over fences. He was sent off at 3/1-on and faced just one serious rival, Chesterfield, but that one made sure it was a pretty demanding test and Claimintakinforgan passed it in convincing fashion, his jumping looking very confident and accurate. He is set to make a better chaser than hurdler and a novice chase at the Cheltenham Festival seems sure to be the aim.
Copain de Classe was a bit of a let-down under a penalty at Wetherby on Friday; it's possible he needs longer between his races. Among those with entries ahead are Bags Groove, who is in the Rising Stars at Wincanton, and Prime Venture, who could return to Ffos Las on Sunday.
Ready And Able has several entries, including in the Pertemps qualifiers at Newbury on Thursday and Aintree on Saturday. Casablanca Mix may also be out at the weekend.
All the latest Cheltenham Exchange market movers...
On the back of a disappointing display by Samcro on his seasonal appearance at Down Royal the Champion Hurdle favourites have flipped again. Samcro now trades 5.49/2 after being matched as low as 3.3512/5 and Buveur D'Air is a solid favourite again at 3.814/5, in from 4.57/2 earlier this week.
Last season's Gold Cup fourth Road To Respect added the JNwine.com Champion Chase to his list of Grade 1 wins in easy style on Saturday with backers clearly impressed, and as a result he's moved in from 30.029/1 to 16.5 for a second attempt at Cheltenham's blue riband event.
Finally, news broke over the weekend that Douvan would miss the rest of the season due to injury. Before his removal from the markets he was trading at around 15.014/1 for the Champion Chase.