It's week seven for Daryl Carter's Cheltenham Festival Focus column, and he rounds up the week's action, including his strong take on why Jonbon should be left alone...
"Yes, we had seen a good horse, but what has he achieved in this slow, pointless and fascicle race to make him worthy of the hysteria and Supreme Novice favouritism?"
We start on Wednesday at Newbury, where I Am Maximus won in good style on his second start over hurdles. He quickened away from his rivals in a decisive fashion to score by six lengths but needed every yard of that two-mile trip and looks sure to go up in distance shortly.
The time figure was nothing to get excited about and the level of opposition much the same, but he could do no more than win in the manner he did, but his breaststroke like action is not something that draws me in for a bet in March. The bookmakers were impressed, though, and he was cut into 14/1 for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle, for which he will probably come up short of the quality required.
Silver Forever improved on her seasonal return win at the same venue to score in excellent style over Chilli Filli when winning the Mares Listed Chase on the same Newbury card. She jumped well on the whole and has a very upwardly mobile profile, and there is no reason why she can't make her presence felt in the Mares Chase at Cheltenham, for which she was cut from 20/1 into 10/1 on the Betfair Sportsbook.
Onto Thursday at Naas, and I was quite happy with the performance of our ante-post Festival Novices' Chase bet Gaillard Du Mesnil despite him being beat by stablemate Capodanno.
Gaillard Du Mesnil's jumping was very sticky early on, but he warmed to the task throughout and shaped as though he needed much further than that 2m3f. Everything about the run suggested he would improve for it but take nothing away from the impressive winner, Capodanno, for which not even a shuddering error at the second last could stop him from getting on top close home.
He looks like a promising recruit to fences, and it will be interesting to see which way connection go with him, he is a 14/1 chance for the Festival Novices' Chase.
Of the remainder, Indiana Jones would have played a part in the finish if not for coming down at the second last as would Zoffanien, who is one to keep on side when going up in distance - perhaps for a handicap at the festival.
There were plenty of eye-catchers for handicaps down the line outside of the two mentioned above. Delvino was given a very easy time of things in fourth on chase debut, and his current rating of 119 won't hang around for long, and it may be a race we revisit in January!
Lots to Love about Brandy
The 312 days off the track proved no barrier for Brandy Love to make a winning start to life over obstacles as she cruised clear of her rivals to score by ten widening lengths at Naas on Thursday. Little else, in all honesty, was expected of her given her odds-on 4/5f price tag, and although the form is unlikely to amount to much, it was the perfect introduction for her.
There was little to grumble about with the performance as she got in tight and dived at a couple early on, but she warmed to the task and jumped fluently at pace. She looks the type that will improve for a trip, so caution must be advised regarding the 8/1 for the Mares Novice Hurdle, which is run over 2m1f. We may not see her best this season over 2m, but she is a thoroughly likeable mare who is going the right way.
Jonbon - Frustrating slow-pace races teach us nothing!
The Grade 2 Kennel Gate was set to be a scorcher at Ascot on Friday, but not one of the five jockey's wanted to make the pace which saw the field crawl at a dawdle for the first half of the race.
Jonbon took up the running, crossing the winning line for the first time and led from that point to the finish line, where he ran out a visually impressive winner by two and three-quarter lengths over Colonel Mustard which in turn, saw him cut into 9/4 on the Betfair Sportsbook for the Supreme Novice Hurdle.
The sheer excitement from the social media channels in the immediate aftermath was baffling. Yes, we had seen a good horse, but what has he achieved in this slow, pointless and fascicle race to make him worthy of the hysteria and Supreme Novice favouritism?
Let's break it down.
The form, the ratings
Before the race, the Grade 2 Kennel Gate at Ascot looked like a good contest on paper. Colonel Mustard had an English rating of 144, I Like To Move It has a rating of 138, Elle Este Belle 132 and Knappers Hill 130.
Let's start with the runner-up Colonel Mustard who was beaten two and three-quarter lengths and had a rating of 144.
The English handicapper had raised his Irish handicap mark eight pounds from 136 to 144 (they did say they would treat them more harshly this term), but on the level of his Irish form, it's hard to agree that's fair. He was readily brushed aside by the 143 rated Echoes In Rain on two occasions last season (acknowledging the seven pounds weight allowance), and it's highly unlikely Blue Lord gave his running when behind the pair at Punchestown after a tired fall a month earlier at Cheltenham. He was also fourth in a Maiden hurdle behind horses rated 127 and 125 at Punchestown in January.
If we go back further, he was easily brushed aside by Ballyadam going down by 12 lengths, but his prep run for Ascot is of more relevance where he recorded an RPR of just 120 when scoring in a Maiden hurdle over a 40/1 chance rated 102.
He looks as though he will improve for a step up in trip with all of his best work having come in the latter stages over two miles in nearly all of his runs to date. That also suggests that today's slow pace would have hindered him considerably given his hold up position at the rear of the field. It's clear he is not up to running to a mark near 144 over this trip, and the first reason this performance from Jonbon should be taken with caution.
The fourth, Elle Este Belle's form, has not worked out over hurdles, and I don't have her running above 130 as of yet, with her best at Newbury on her second outing.
The fifth, I Like To Move It, was beaten 13 lengths but is interesting given he is a four-year-old who saddled a penalty of five pounds here.
If the Supreme Supreme Novice Hurdle was run tomorrow, he would be in receipt of eight pounds weight for age allowance and have no five-pound penalty, equating to a 13 pounds swing at the weights. Now I am no mathematician, but at one pound per length, that puts him within three-quarters of a length of Jonbon on this performance.
You may have noticed we missed out the third and the second favourite Knappers Hill, and that's because he is the horse who looks the most solid to rate the form around.
Knappers Hill is rated 130, which looks more than fair on his speed figures and the bare form, but not overly generous. He scrapped home on debut at Chepstow and was then impressive at Wincanton for all he wouldn't be one you would consider for a Supreme Novice Hurdle.
If we rate the form around him, he has been beaten five lengths fairly comfortably, so let's double that to ten lengths for argument's sake.
That leaves Jonbon with a rating of around 140, and that would concur with the mathematics of I Like To Move It's performance. That still leaves Jonbon around 12-15 pounds off of the average rating of a Supreme Novice Hurdle winner from the last ten years.
Tell it to the clock
When looking at the time figure performance, it's no surprise to see that Jonbon ran a slow time after the early crawl all five runners when through the first half of the race. However, we can compare the final circuit time to races run over 2m5f on the same card, given that Jonbon started injecting a minuscule pace crossing the winning line the first time.
The circuit time from the last hurdle in the straight to the finish line for Jonbon recorded a time of 3.24.37, and the comparative race in this circumstance is Maiden Hurdle winner Party Business who had run over 2m5f and recorded a circuit time from the same point of 3.24.97. Strikingly similar.
From four out to the finish, Jonbon recorded a time of 1.19.32 and Party Business 1.22.84. Jonbon was 14 lengths faster. However, from two out to the finish, Jonbon recorded a time of 28.78 and Party Business 29.00, which saw Jonbon just 0.88 lengths faster.
Jonbon was eased off in the final 50 yards, but the time comparisons give us a good idea of how the race was run. Essentially it turned into a sprint from four out, for which Jonbon was well positioned on the front end. He killed the race between four out and two out.
That could well be a testimony to his ability, but it also asks the question of whether he would be able to sustain that four out to finish burst from six out, for example. Visual impression form the performance would suggest his best work came from the back of the second last flight, but the clock would tell a different story.
Jonbon positives and questions
Jonbon has a lovely stride, he looks very straightforward, and he has a class edge. He is now a winner of a point to point, a bumper and two hurdle races, and he is open to any amount of significant potential.
However, his point to point form is questionable. The runner up that he beat by 15 lengths was 80 lengths behind stablemate Constitution Hill at Sandown. His bumper form looks very weak, and he was 5.68 lengths slower than the hurdle winner on the card Lord Baddersley rated 130 - which would also concur with the roundabout 140 mark I mentioned above.
To put his price into perspective for Cheltenham we can look at his stablemates and previous winners of the race. Altior was rated 155 and won at 4/1, Shishkin was rated 153 and won at 6/1 - both horses had strong form going into the race, and both horses had recorded good time figures.
I will let you decide, I am just the information man.
Onto Saturday at Ascot, L'Homme Presse showed an abundance of ability when running out a ready winner of the Graduation Chase by 13 lengths. He is firmly on the upgrade for Venetia Williams and looks to be a graded performer in time.
His main market rival Pencilfulloflead did depart before playing his hand, so what the form is worth is up for debate, but it was hard not to be impressed by how he kicked for home. He has not been added to any ante-post markets for Cheltenham yet, and the plans are unknown, but he remains one to keep on the right side of when going back left-handed (jumped left).
The stayers division has been crying out for a Champ!
The love of my life, Champ, brought me sheer joy on Saturday afternoon when running out a convincing winner of the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle. I have long been a fan of this horse, and it's been a roller coaster ride, but he finally proved his worth when cruising through the three-mile contest, showing an excellent attitude to fend off Thyme Hill to put him top of the pack in Britain of staying hurdlers.
The Betfair Sportsbook cut him from 20/1 into 9/2 for the Stayers Hurdle in March, and even that looks a good bit of value given his record at Cheltenham.
Both Paisley Park and Thistlecrack managed to do the Long Walk Hurdle and Stayers Hurdle (World Hurdle) double in the last ten years, but the most impressive part of Champ's performance on Saturday was how well he travelled through the race.
The nine-year-old settled much better on this, his first start over the smaller obstacles for more than two years, and although it was evident in his jumping technique that he had been schooling over fences before this race, you couldn't have asked for a more polished performance.
There were very few excuses for any in behind and plenty of reasons to think that Champ will improve on this outing.
This was his first start for more than 250 days, and he had only raced twice since his RSA victory in March 2020. He has now failed to finish outside of the first two in eight starts over hurdles, and despite his age (will be ten at the festival), he is very lightly raced. No horse since 1986 has won the Stayers Hurdle aged older than nine, with this race favouring those with younger legs, but it's very hard to see what will come out of the pack and put him to the sword.
There is no doubt he will end up on this column at some stage, but with the yards plans up in the air, I just want to wait it out.
Abacadabras the value option for Stayers Hurdle
The one horse I fear for Champ is this week's ante-post selection, and that is the unexposed nature of Abacadabras, who holds a three-mile entry at Leopardstown in the Christmas Hurdle, and could be a fly in the ointment.
He was a very good winner at Aintree over 2m4f taking the scalp of Buzz, who was all the rage in the betting before his injury ruled him out of Ascot on Saturday, and he caught the eye staying on well behind Honeysuckle in the Hattons Grace over 2m4f.
The Hattons Grace run was strange, and it felt as though connections had the step up in trip to three miles on the agenda at that point, given the way he was ridden from the rear of the field. It was a performance that suggested they wanted to see him stay on strongly to confirm going up in trip would suit, and he did.
He is another that has a good record at Cheltenham, and the way he travels through a race suggests that this staying hurdle trip would suit him.
He is currently 20/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook for the Stayers Hurdle, and should he go well at Christmas, that could look a huge price. His career is surely finished over 2m with the dominance of Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle, and he is too high in the handicap to consider for any of those races at the festival, so there is surely only going to be one target for him.
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DARYL CARTER'S ANTE-POST PORTFOLIO
Back Mr Incredible for the National Hunt Chase @ 17.016/1 1pt win NOW 26.025/1
Back My Mate Mozzie for the Supreme Novice Hurdle @ 15.014/1 1pt win NOW 15.014/1
Back Eric Bloodaxe for the Albert Bartlett @ 17.016/1 1pt win NOW 34.033/1
Back Gaillard Du Mesnil for the Festival Novices' Chase @ 26.025/1 1pt win NOW 34.033/1
Back Constitution Hill for the Supreme Novice Hurdle @ 7.06/1 1pt win NOW 4.03/1
Back Mighty Potter for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle @ 15.014/1 1pt win NOW 15.014/1
Back Ferny Hollow for the Arkle @ 4.57/2 2pt win NOW 4.57/2
Back Abacadabras for the Stayers Hurdle @ 21.020/1 1pt e/w NOW