Handicappers may struggle to snare Silver Streak
All racing eyes this week may have been on the Flat finale, Champions day at Ascot on Saturday, but a bit further west a Champion Hurdle was being run, namely the Welsh version at Ffos Las.
This is a limited handicap and the winner Silver Streak was getting weight from all his rivals but it was hard not to be impressed by the smooth manner in which he moved into contention and then quickened away when asked from the last. Silver Streak is the sort of highly progressive young hurdler, ridden patiently, that the BHA handicappers find hard to get under their thumb, so he's sure to remain of interest.
The Greatwood might be the obvious next race, though Silver Streak hasn't run at Cheltenham previously, which always poses a slight question. The valuable two-mile handicap at Ascot in December, in which he was third last season, would offer an alternative.
The following afternoon at Kempton, some more useful two-mile hurdlers were in the spotlight in a listed conditions race. Verdana Blue, fit from a recent win on the Flat, had too many gears for the opposition, winning in taking fashion. Nicky Henderson's mare, who jumped very efficiently, seems very much speed over stamina and the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton, which is back as a conditions event this season, ought to be right up her street.
While Verdana Blue has to be viewed positively, the form has more style than substance to it, particularly as the runner-up Old Guard, who had won the race in 2017, hadn't had a prep this time round and looked to need the run.
The same is probably also true of the third Smaoineamh Alainn and she is one for the notebook. She was travelling comfortably alongside the winner for much of the way and had still to be asked for her effort into the straight before losing ground when steadied into two out and fluffing the jump; she wasn't given a hard time once beaten and was keeping on at the finish. Smaoineamh Alainn could well have more to offer back in handicaps and she ought to get in at the bottom of the weights if aimed at the Greatwood. Unlike Silver Streak, she has shown her form at Cheltenham.
The other race of particular interest on the Kempton card is the handicap chase in which Copain de Classe beat Casablanca Mix, the pair looking well ahead of their marks. Copain de Classe, who had had a breathing operation since last season, won by ten lengths, though the margin would have been a fair bit closer had the front-running runner-up not pecked on landing when joined at the last. Copain de Classe faces a hike in the weights, though he's clearly got a fair bit more to offer, a tilt at the BetVictor Gold Cup a realistic option.
The enthusiastic Casablanca Mix will have no trouble winning a handicap off her current mark, though connections also have alternative options within the enhanced programme for mares. If she had a chance of getting in the weights, a tilt at the Haldon Gold Cup wouldn't be the daftest idea. Make a note, too, of Space Oddity. He looked a horse on a good handicap mark for much of last season and did so again on this comeback, the only other in contention with the first two turning for home. Space Oddity got tired after slowing into three out and making a mistake, but he should be all the sharper for the run and it was encouraging that his jumping largely held up.
Back at Ffos Las, easier ground meant a useful field assembled for the novice chase, the majority making their chasing debut. The favourite Vision des Flos may have lost his rider early on, but there is still plenty to take from a race which seems sure to throw up winners. Bags Groove, one of those with a previous run over fences, landed the spoils; his jumping was sound, which wasn't true of all of his rivals, and he responded well when required after the last. He seems sure to build on this and has the makings of a smart novice.
Two of the chasing newcomers are worth noting, the pair ridden in contrasting fashion. The front-running Coole Cody shaped as if he needed the run and probably needs to go right handed, jumping that way, though accurately, through much of the race. Prime Venture was dropped right out, looking to fence fluently and travel comfortably, but he was too far back to make an impact when the tempo picked up, spared a hard race. Prime Venture ought to learn loads from this and will win races over fences this winter.
Finally, Theclockisticking was mentioned last week as a likely sort for the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival, and it looks as if connections may hold a similar view, as he has been entered in the qualifier at Saturday's Cheltenham fixture.