Saturday was arguably one of the best days of National Hunt racing outside of a major festival for many a year but get ready to take a deep breath because it's been one hell of an informative week!
At Punchestown last Sunday, Delta Work got the job done over the bank fences to narrowly score by a short head over the 88-rated 12-year-old Singing Banjo (once rated 135). He is now a 15/8 chance for the X-Country Chase. This was his lowest RPR rating (142) in this sphere, although his highest when returning from similar absences, so it's hard to know what to make of the performance. I won't be rushing to back him, though.
State Man took a good step forward when winning the Grade 1 Morgiana at Punchestown, but he had little to beat other than an ageing Sharjah who seemed to run his race. He is a class act, and it's a shame he didn't go Novice Chasing this term.
He is now 7/1 for the Champion Hurdle. Still, a monster lurks at the top of this market, and he may have to settle for second. He is 2/1 W/O Constitution Hill which looks more than fair.
Minella Crooner was a warm order to make a successful chasing debut at Punchestown last week, but he found the mare Darrens Hope too strong at the finish. There could be a good handicap in him, but he will likely fall short at the top table on this evidence. He didn't look natural and lost ground at plenty of his fences.
Shewearsitwell quickened up smartly to land the Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown on her first attempt in a handicap and at 3m. The handicapper has given her a rating of 143, but with British tax due to be added, we could be looking at around 148. That could prove to be a lofty rating for a horse that won this 3m contest with a turn of foot rather than stamina, having come from off a plodding pace. She is interesting and may not run again until the festival, so tread cautiously.
Champion Bumper fourth Seabank Bistro showed promise on his hurdling debut at Punchestown but was ultimately beaten by two better horses when only managing third.
He gave his obstacles plenty of air and visually looked slow at times. He may come on for the run having finished tired, but he doesn't look like one of the yards' leading lights at this time. He is a 33/1 chance for the Albert Bartlett.
Loved how Dino danced but don't like the price
I was highly impressed at Cork last Sunday with Dino Blue's chasing debut victory over the more experienced Roseys Hollow. She went a good gallop out in front and quickened up smartly from two out to the finish, but her jumping was excellent to watch. She gains ground over her rivals with her flat, fast jumping, and the Mares Chase could prove right up her street.
The runner-up didn't jump as well as the winner, and soft ground could be key to Dino Blue, given her rounded action. She looks smart and is an 8/1 chance with Betfair for the Mares Chase - if she was a double-figure price as she is elsewhere, she would be on our list.
At Kempton, Lac De Constance could not have been more impressive when scoring by 20 lengths, eased down over two rivals in Hudson De Grugy and Samarrive. He was outlandishly good. His jumping was pinpoint and showed a very high cruising speed.
There was little to compare it to other than the handicap won on the card by the 122-rated Dorking Boy, who scored by 16 lengths and had run over two furlongs further. Lac De Constance was 20 lengths ahead at the third last and 30 at the finish suggesting he could easily be in Arkle territory on the back of this 150-rated performance.
He is a 20/1 chance for the Arkle, which looks massive given the likely small field come March and the fact that he could easily prove hard to beat in the Wayward Lad at Kempton at Christmas - a race won by Edwardstone and Shishkin, who followed up in the Arkle in the last two years.
Still, his preference for soft ground makes me believe that he will be better over a longer distance, and I worry if he will have the tactical speed to get out of trouble if he misses a fence in a race like the Arkle.
Lots to like about the smart Jet Powered
Nicky Henderson continued to farm the opening Maiden Hurdle at Newbury on Friday with the highly regarded Jet Powered, who scored effortlessly by 11 lengths under hand and heels. Henderson's runners in this race over the years, by and large, have been significant, so this likely is one of his leading Novice Hurdlers.
Jet Powered's RPR recorded was just 123, but that was changed to 129 on Sunday morning. Even so, there are better guides to his performance than this, given the RPR'S have been strict in this race over the years. My Drogo was given 116, Wilde Blue Yonder, subsequently fifth in the Supreme, was given 127, and Bright Forecast 129, who went on to be third in the Ballymore. Jonbon was given 137, and Buveur D'Air the highest of 152.
He was a little keen in the early part of the race and jumped slightly right at his first hurdle, but he travelled strongly and jumped well before slightly right at the second last and then right at the final hurdle. He came home unchallenged and had plenty left in the locker, and his price cut into 6/1 for the Supreme Novice Hurdle looks more than fair, given his connections and the manner of his victory.
The form looks good. The right two chased Jet Powered home and the race went exactly how the betting suggested it would--the second favourite and impressive point-to-point scorer Ittack Blue clear of the remainder in the second spot.
The time of the race wasn't anything to go overboard about. The leader Tapley looked to be going very quickly in the early part of the race, but he would have been bang on at the first in the back straight with 2m4f winner Stay Away Fay, who raced in midfield in the comparative contest.
Here are the sectionals from three relevant hurdle races from the landing side of the last hurdle in the home straight and a full circuit.
Stay Away Fay 2m4f Novice
1-2 = 1.00.86
2-3 = 1.14.66
3-4 = 1.38.35
4-5 = 1.51.20
*5-6 = 2.51.15
6-7 = 3.11.50
7-8 = 3.25.88
8-F = 3.50.03
Jet Powered 2m Novice and comparative lengths to Stay Away Fay (+ means lengths behind Stay Away Fay and - means ahead)
1-2 = 1.01.93 +4.28 lengths
2-3 = 1.15.84 + 4.72 lengths
3-4 = 1.39.62 +5.08 lengths
4-5 = 1.52.37 +4.68 lengths
*5-6 = 2.52.37 +4.88 lengths
6-7 = 3.11.99 +1.96 lengths
7-8 = 3.25.80 -0.32 lengths
8-F = 3.48.99 -4.16 lengths
Champ 3m Grade 2 and comparison to Jet Powered
1-2 = 59.60 -9.32 lengths
2-3 = 1.13.10 -10.96 lengths
3-4 = 1.36.29 -13.32 lengths
4-5 = 1.49.01 -13.44 lengths
*5-6 = 2.49.61 -11.04 lengths
6-7 = 3.09.14 - 11.40 lengths
7-8 = 3.23.76 -8.60 lengths
8-F= 3.46.88 - 8.44 lengths
Jet Powered was no match on the clock for the Grade 1 horse Champ, who had run just short of a mile further and was 13.44 lengths ahead at the peak of the Grade 2 contest. There are some very positive signs to take from this, though. Jet Powered came home in a canter and was quicker from three out to the finish than Champ (2.6 lengths) and significantly quicker (nine lengths) than Stay Away Fay.
I like the way he strides, and he was never under any pressure during the race, which suggests he could easily go with a more vigorous tempo and his finishing effort means there is plenty of stamina there.
I would have liked him to jump straighter rather than slightly right, but that may be down to inexperience and will be closely monitored next time. I would have also liked to have seen a change of legs in the final furlong to show another gear, but that is just nitpicking, and he has passed this test with flying colours.
Will he be any shorter than 6/1 on the day of the race should he go to the Supreme? Quite possibly, depending on numbers, last year's Supreme Novice was short on quantity, which may not be the case this time. I also need to see that jumping again, but he has shown me all the right signs here.
Champ and Paisley Park both put in a good shift at Newbury on Friday to give race fans a thriller, and the latter comes away with definite credit after allowing the former to set good fractions. That was an almost career-best from Paisley Park on a seasonal return, and his 20/1 for the Stayers Hurdle looks massive, albeit he may prove vulnerable or win purposes.
Unfortunately, our Brown Advisory selection Thyme Hill disappointed at Newbury on Saturday when readily beaten by McFabulous. I'm hard pushed to say that he will go and be a player in the aforementioned, so we may be back to the drawing board. Nothing wrong with the winner, and the pair are both 14/1.
Luccia deserves to be top of Mares Novice tree
Luccia is now a 4/1 favourite for the Mares Novices' Hurdle after putting in a good time performance at Newbury on Saturday. She looks very useful indeed, and you would love the way she travelled, jumped and quickened with a change of legs after the last. She had tonnes in hand. I really like her, and she is easily worthy of a rating in the high 130s to low 140s after that run, and that puts her bang there.
L'Homme Presse put up a good weight-carrying performance at Newcastle to kick-start his career. He is a lovely mover, jumps well and is a relentless galloper. There is too much made of weight-carrying performances though! He is now 7/1 for the Gold Cup - I still fancy Stattler!
Constitution Hill is a monster and will never be beaten. His 8/11 for the Champion Hurdle could look more like 1/3 on the day.
At Gowran Park on Saturday, Albert Bartlett second Minella Cocooner was beaten on chase debut by stablemate Classic Getaway to blow the division wide open. We will get stuck into this sooner rather than later! They are 8/1 and 12/1, respectively, for the Brown Advisory.
He could be very special indeed
For me, the week's performance came from Grangeclare West, who cruised clear of a very useful field in a Maiden Hurdle on Sunday at Navan and I loved everything about the performance.
On his first start over hurdles and on his first start since beating the now 145-rated Salvatore Ziggy in a bumper in May 2021 by nine lengths, he oozed class as he breezed past his rivals.
The circuit time was very eye-catching, quicker than the following race winner Dawn Rising (who scalped American Mike, who went far too hard early), but almost 20 lengths faster from three out to the finish.
He cost £430,000 at the Cheltenham December Sales in 2020 after winning a point-to-point and has now followed that up with a bumper and Maiden Hurdle victory.
The form of this outing looks as though it could work out extremely well, and all the right horses in the market finished in the right order (14 priced at 150/1 or bigger, well beaten). He hit the line hard under no more than a hand and heels ride, and there are stacks of improvement to come.
We have already backed Facile Vega for this race but covering here in case he goes to the Supreme looks like a savvy move. He is 8/1 for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle and 5/1 for the Albert Bartlett, but I can't see him going to the latter. He is exciting.
El Fabiolo is due to run this week, so get him in the book
Willie Mullins' pair El Fabiolo and Dysart Dynamo are entered this week at Thurles, and I want to get the former into the book at his current 6/1 for the Arkle.
I am taking a bit of a chance not seeing him jump a fence before backing him, but I am confident he has plenty more to come, and fences will see the best of him. He was thrown in the deep end at Aintree when beaten a neck by Jonbon in a first-time hood, but it was to his credit he did as well as he did. He was hampered at the second last which stopped all momentum, and showed a good attitude to pick up again when the winner had a clear round.
That was also a big ask, jumping from a Maiden on heavy ground at Tramore to Grade 1 company on good ground, which would have been the first time he had been tested on a quicker surface.
What I liked the most was the ease with which he travelled through the race, lobbing along, looking like he wanted them to go a stride quicker. A strongly run two-mile Arkle with a stiff uphill finish will see him to good effect.
He is open to plenty of improvement and has little to nothing to find with Jonbon. He is with the right trainer, and this certainly looks to be the target for an owner outfit that has had success in this race in the past. Jonbon could potentially fluff his lines this week at Sandown, so now looks like the time to strike.
We will pick up any further action on Sunday next week.