It's week two of the ante-post Cheltenham Focus series, and on review of the week's notable races, Daryl Carter takes aim at the Supreme Novice Hurdle...
"Of those four, the race has produced a winner, a runner-up and a third-placed horse, with the other placed sixth but a future Grade 1 winner."
Yes, it's week two and don't worry if you missed week one; all ante-post selections will be attached to each column each week to keep track of our portfolio to date.
My Drogo very nearly made the list this week, but again the focus is on the Irish, with another dominant display at the Cheltenham Festival looking all the more likely in 2022.
The weekly round up
Chantry House made a winning return to action at Sandown last Sunday for Nicky Henderson by defeating The Big Breakaway by 37 lengths in comfortable style. He did no more than the Veterans race winner Wanderin Star on the clock, but it was a two runner race, and it's never wise to compare those small field races. He did enough to warrant his new 12/1 price tag for the Gold Cup in March, but he doesn't make me want to rush to back him.
Fakir D'oudaries impressed in the Clonmel Oil Chase at Clonmel on Thursday. He gave weight and a 15 length beating to his rivals, rated 161, 161 and 159 with a career-best performance and was 31.20 lengths faster than Mount Ida (152), who won the mares chase 30 minutes before.
He is still on an upward curve, and the improving six-year-old remains one to be very positive about. Connections are seemingly keen to give him another try over three miles, which is a concern from an ante-post perspective, but his optimum trip on all known evidence is the middle distance for which his price for the Ryanair is an attractive 10/1.
I Am NOT Maximus
One of the big talking horses for the season, I Am Maximus, who had beaten Grade 1 winner My Drogo in his only start in a bumper, was a warm order on hurdle debut at Exeter on Thursday. Still, he was more than disappointing, only managing a well-held third.
The disappointment doesn't just come via the result but the fact that he recorded a very slow time figure despite being able to dictate the race on the front end.
At three-out, he was 38.64 lengths behind Mack The Man (127), who jumped the third last in the fourth position, and the overall time figure of Mack The Man's comparative race was 30.80 lengths faster. Mack The Man was also carrying 14lbs more on his back.
If that wasn't enough of a concern for I Am Maximus, the Persian War form through Luttrell Lad looks very suspicious with that race one of the poorest renewals of recent years.
We haven't even spoken on his breast stroke like action yet, which must be a concern. He will improve for going left-handed, but he is not one to be focused on for the festival, that's for sure, and his 25/1 for the Supreme Novice Hurdle looks pretty short to me.
Cheltenham on Friday...
My Drogo fall could give punters a price edge
For much of his chase debut on Friday, My Drogo looked to be all we had hoped he would be until a strange fall at the second last.
He jumped the fence well and even landed just fine, but he couldn't get his feet out from underneath him when looking for his next stride.
That fall seemingly took the fizz of his popularity with bookmakers as he was pushed to 9/1 for the Marsh and 14/1 for the Festival Novices' Chase (RSA to you and me).
He jumps low and fast, which would be out of the ordinary for an RSA type, but he has a sizeable engine, and it would be no surprise should they attempt to avoid Bob Olinger in the Marsh and opt for the three-mile route.
Comparing the times between his race and the Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday would be little use to any of us, given they were run on different days. Again, as mentioned above, two runner-races are usually falsely run or unreliable.
He remains one of Britain's top prospects, and he was easily on top of the 143 rated Gin On Lime before coming down, and he was giving away race-fitness and chase experience - if he wins, he is easily cut into half of his current odds.
This performance shouldn't go underestimated, and he is one of the few English runners to be firmly on the radar for March. However, he will have multiple options, including missing the festival for Aintree, which he did last term, and the unknowns put me off ever so slightly.
Cold water poured on Juveniles and middle distance Novices
Overall, the November meeting on Friday and Saturday (written before Sunday's racing) left little to get excited about for the British Novices, when Blazing Khal easily brushed aside Gelino Bello in the Grade 2 Ballymore Novices Hurdle trial.
Gelino Bello had created a deep impression with his victory at Aintree prior to that and represented the useful bumper form of Good Risk At All from Newbury last season.
Blazing Khal, in turn, was an average bumper horse at best but was much stronger than the above mentioned over this trip and earned quotes of 20/1 for the Albert Bartlett in March.
The biggest concern is that the winner was 11.68 lengths slower overall than handicap winner Art Approval rated 120 - let's look elsewhere.
The Juvenile Triumph Hurdle trial on Saturday left me with mixed feelings. Knight Salute ran out a healthy winner of the contest and recorded a faster time than the bumper run on the card, and he had a bit in hand at the finish.
Less than four lengths were covering the top six, though, and although Milton Harris' three-year-old was pleasing on the eye, he doesn't look like a Triumph Hurdle horse for which he is 20/1, and he could find himself too high in the weights for the Fred Winter.
Let's be realistic - Third Time Lucki needs to be kept fresh by the Skelton's
Third Time Lucki made it two for two over fences in good style on Saturday, and he looks a natural over fences, and it was good to see the jumping right ironed out on this occasion.
He has a high cruising speed, which probably makes him look a tad over-enthusiastic against inferior rivals, but in a strongly run race in better company, he is likely to be seen to best effect.
As a hurdler, his form tailed off towards the end of the season after a good start. He needs to be treated like the top class horse he is to get the best out of him, and that may mean a light campaign to be effective in March. He sets the standard in Britain thus far as his 10/1 Arkle quote suggests, but he will need a very productive season to hold sway with the Irish we are yet to see.
One to watch - Short term
Unexpected Party was a big eye-catcher at Cheltenham on Saturday as he screamed up the Cheltenham hill but was given too much to do to catch the well-placed Gowel Road. It will be interesting to see what the handicapper does, given this runner-up effort came off the back of an 11-pound rise for his Wetherby win. He looks one to keep on side for the near future.
Get to it is what I can hear you saying, ok, ok...
Mozzie Supremely attractive at 14/1 despite jumping to the right
We re-wind back to last Sunday at Navan, where My Mate Mozzie scored in the Grade 3 For Auction Novice Hurdle in impressive style to excite me for future endeavours.
The immediate thought was, it's a shame he jumps out to the right, perhaps Punchestown in April. Still, on closer inspection, it wasn't drastic, and it certainly improved once the pace quickened.
So while many will put you off because of this factor, it also means he will be left over-priced in this Supreme Novice Hurdle market for which he is a 14/1 chance, and the amount of times I have seen hurdles straighten up throughout the season means it's not worth missing out on the price.
Slick jumping a formidable asset
His jumping is electric for a Novice Hurdler, and he quickened away from his rivals in excellent fashion in the closing stages to record back to back wins over hurdles.
His career now includes a point to point win, a bumper win, and two hurdle wins, and you rarely see such a fluent and fast jumper of a hurdle in this division.
The roll of honour of the Navan race won last Sunday saw six of the last nine go on to run at the Cheltenham Festival, four of which have run in the Supreme Novice Hurdle.
Of those four, the race has produced a winner, a runner-up and a third-placed horse, with the other placed sixth but a future Grade 1 winner.
With this Supreme Novice Hurdle division dominated by Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit at the top of the market - who will both be the dreaded age of seven at the turn of the year - the lack of depth in behind, especially from the British, will only become more apparent in the coming months.
I am waiting to see a couple appear, Hubrisko, for example, so there will be more than one in this division. However, easily the most impressive thus far has been My Mate Mozzie and a win in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse later this month - which seems to be his next target - will only shorten his price.
The jumping right will likely crop up from time to time from pundits, but I'd rather be on at 14/1 worrying about it than 6/1, and he is open to further improvement.
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Daryl's ante-post portfolio
Back Mr Incredible for the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham @ 17.016/1 1pt win - NOW 17.016/1
Back My Mate Mozzie for the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham @ 15.014/1 1pt win -