Facile Vega will only get shorter
Brilliant Burdett Road
We start at Sandown on Sunday 12 November, where Nicky Henderson's Southoftheborder won his Maiden Hurdle to remain unbeaten in three career starts.
He has moved into 25/126.00 for the Supreme Novice Hurdle. He won this well, and his RPR rating of 122 has considerably underestimated this performance. The form has a solid look, and the time was good. I have given this performance a rating closer to 130 with the promise of him developing into a 140-plus horse, given natural improvement. He was hard on the bridle and hit the line strongly.
He looks useful, at least, and while he may not end up at the top of the pecking order for the Supreme, he is going the right way to make his presence felt in such a race. He reminds me more of Chantry House than a Shishkin.
At Auteuil on Sunday 12 November, the French Champion Juvenile, Jigme, won for a fifth time but has now gone to stud. Be aware that he is not in the betting on the Betfair Sportsbook, but he is on other bookmakers' sites. He will not run again.
At Naas on Sunday 12 November, Dinoblue won her Grade 3 contest on seasonal return over Fil Dor, but it is hard to be confident it would have been the same result had Sir Gerhard stood up after falling at two out. Still, it was a positive start to the season, albeit I didn't think she ran close to her rating of 155, which slightly flatters her.
She is now a joint-favourite at 7/24.50 for the Mares Chase at Cheltenham with Allegorie De Vassy, who is rated four pounds inferior. She has yet to convince me she stays 2 1/2 miles but is a steadily progressive youngster who can't be written off. However, her price doesn't appeal at this stage, with her stamina concerns lurking.
Grangeclare West won his 2m4f Beginners Chase at Naas on Sunday 12 November, taking the scalp of Heart Wood and Corbetts Cross.
Frustratingly, four fences were omitted, meaning it was difficult to get any clear-cut comparison on the clock. Still, Grangeclare West was given a very soft lead and dictated the race from the off at what looked like a plodding pace, forcing market leader Corbetts Cross to run freely on the first circuit. The pace picked up on the second circuit, and the winner looked all the better for attacking his fences.
However, with an RPR of 137 and a sedate pace, it's hard to get excited over this performance for now, but you would like to see him back this up - all wins have come on the back of a break - as he held some serious promise at the start of last season. Grangeclare West is now as short as 12/113.00 for the Brown Advisory and Corbetts Cross 20/121.00.
Regarding the shorter 2m4f Turners Novices Chase trip, Letsbeclearaboutit is a mile ahead of these on my figures (149), which we looked at in week two, and Corbetts Cross would need to improve a ton on this evidence.
Dysart looks useful, but 7/18.00 is no price
On Tuesday 14 November, Dysart Enos won at 1/71.14 at Huntingdon and seemingly excited some.
However, the time of the race and the bare form are both woeful. The second had previously been well beaten in two starts, including by a horse that, in turn, was beaten 14 lengths by Queens Gamble in a bumper, and the third has yet to record an RPR above 96.
The circuit time saw Dysart Enos cross the line 23 lengths slower than the handicap winner, Moveit Like Minnie (rated 118).
It was a slow run affair, highlighted by far inferior horses to Dysart Enos jumping the last alongside. The selling handicap hurdle won by Goose Man (130 and carrying 14 lbs more) got to the second last 18 lengths quicker and crossed the line ten lengths faster.
While Dysart Enos has the potential to improve and shouldn't be held to this performance as her ceiling (RPR of 114), her 7/18.00 for the Mares Novice Hurdle looks ghastly.
While potential is always at play with novices', you must bet on what they have achieved, not what they potentially could, and she is no value whatsoever at 7/18.00 on this performance, which is rated around the 122 mark.
Running to 140 will put you in the frame for the Mares Novice Hurdle. While both Dysart Enos 7/18.00 and Queens Gamble 14/115.00 - who won at Kempton on Monday - may prove the best representatives from Britain, they need much more to be backing them at their respective prices with a certain Willie Mullins lurking in the background.
It's For Me and Ile Atlantique rated in the low 130's for now
Willie Mullins' Champion Bumper fifth, It's For Me, made a winning Maiden Hurdle debut at Punchestown fitted with the first time hood under Paul Townend on Thursday 16 November.
It can be misconstrued that the winner, runner-up (Caldwell Potter) and third dominated the race, but in reality, nothing outside of these three was here to race; highlighted by the distance, much of the field sat behind a very steady gallop.
It's For Me, who let himself down last season by being too free, was much more settled here. For all, he was still a little enthusiastic but left the impression he would be well suited for a stronger run race. He will be a better horse over obstacles, jumping well in the main here. Still, there was little to get excited about on the clock front compared to the following Handicap won by the 109-rated six-year-old mare Miss Pronunciation, who clocked a quicker overall and circuit time.
Still, the Mullins runner was effortlessly quicker from two out to the finish, showing a bit of class and won with any amount in hand.
This was a good start for It's For Me, who is now 16/117.00 for the Supreme Novice Hurdle and 25/126.00 for the Ballymore, and it's not difficult to see him making into a solid contender for one of the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle races with natural improvement. The Champion Bumper is proving only fair form, with seven horses having made a winning hurdle debut in admittedly weak enough races.
Gordon Elliott's No Time To Wait - Champion Bumper eighth - did not make a winning start over hurdles and was beaten 40 lengths on November 11 at Gowran Park by Willie Mullins' Ile Atlantique, who went off a strong 4/91.44 chance.
He had already taken the scalp of the above-mentioned Elliott runner at Leopardstown in December 2022 (155-rated Feronily in second) in a bumper while he fell shy at the death to Stellar Story at Naas in February with Caldwell Potter - a recent runner-up to It's For Me - well held in third.
Ile Atlantique was a different class to his rivals in what was a true run race - dawfing that of the earlier division one winner Beckett Rock on the figures - but he was tiring at the finish with a slow jump at last, seeing him want to edge out to his right.
He looks like a useful horse and chaser in the making. However, I am not sure he would have the speed for a Supreme 25/126.00 or the stamina for a Ballymore 14/115.00 on this evidence, so more is needed, but he looks like a nice prospect.
I now have It's For Me and Ile Atlantique hitting ratings in the low 130s, but expect them to reach 140 plus.
Cheltenham November meeting
The Arkle Trial at Cheltenham on Friday 17 November had a very disappointing turnout, and we are in a famine regarding decent horses to occupy these graded contests, with Irish runner Mighty Tom (143) rated highest.
The race was at the mercy of the front-running JPR One, who used his debut winning experience at Newton Abbot to put the sword to his rivals only to unseat his rider at the final flight. Strong in the betting, his jumping was exemplary throughout the race, and it was an unfortunate stumble on the landing side of the fence.
JPR One has bigger days ahead of him, but none of the quartet will feature prominently in the Grade 1 Novice Chases at the festival, with this form (and time) rated in the mid-130s for now, and 160 plus is where you need to be running to win an Arkle.
Captain Teague's bubble burst
At Cheltenham on Friday, Captain Teague went off a warm favourite for the Grade 2 Novices' Hurdle but failed to justify the market strength when beaten by Evan Williams' Minella Missile.
Paul Nicholls' Captain Teague saddled a five-pound penalty for his debut Persian War win at Chepstow but was firmly expected to run out victorious in a field that lacked depth with four of the eight runners exposed.
However, despite jumping more fluently than at Chepstow, he lacked the pace between obstacles to match either The Big Doyen, who travelled all over him down to the last and Minella Missile, who came with a strong late burst.
The form looks no more than average here. The Big Doyen's rating of 137 looks inflated - he was well beaten in a handicap off 125 in Ireland and has picked up soft Novice and Maiden Hurdles as a second-season hurdler this summer. He and fellow Irish raider Kinbara were trounced by High-Class Hero - who would be well down the list of Willie Mullin's Novice Hurdlers.
The time was good in its own right and compared to the other races on the card. The Grade 2 field matched the opening handicap won by American Sniper until going out on the final circuit and picking up the pace at the fifth. They then pulled rapidly clear, suggesting they got racing someway out here.
2m Circuit time
American Sniper (2m5f)- 3.23.06
Minella Missile (2m5f)- 3.16.69
Impose Toi (2m) - 3.28.34
Given the racing position of the Minella Missile at the rear of the field, it's likely that he benefitted from being held up. He also cut the inside route and saved ground between the third, second and last flights, where he jumped all three on terms with Captain Teague, who, under Harry Cobden, took the widest route of all.
Travelling wide is a strange phenomenon at Cheltenham, and while it works when the ground is bottomless and churned up on the inside, it seems utterly mad to do it under good to soft conditions.
American Sniper - 1.00.59
Minella Missile - 58.63
Impose Toie - 59.34
In conclusion, Minella Missile will likely be worthy of a rating in the mid-high 130s. It could be the Challow at Newbury next, but this is still 20 lbs off being a Ballymore contender for which his price suggests at 33/134.00, but I don't doubt he will be among the best of the British Novices, which could spell worrying signs for the home team come March.
As for Captain Teague, we mentioned in week one that he looked more like an Albert Bartlett type. That was proven here with a rallying finish. However, fences and deep ground are likely to see the best of him, so it would be a surprise if he were a festival winner on this evidence. Captain Teague is now 25/126.00 for both Albert Bartlett and Ballymore.
Brilliant Burdett on the right Triumph road
Burdett Road was cut into 7/18.00 favourite for the Triumph Hurdle, having been visually impressive, winning at Cheltenham on Saturday 18 November, by six lengths. He was held up at the rear of the field as Harry Cobden rode confidently but in an apparent attempt to try and get him to settle better than he did at Huntingdon.
It looked as though Harry Cobden had given him a mammoth task coming down the hill, particularly given they went a start-stop gallop. Still, ice-cool Cobden was always confident and made a stylish move after three out to close on the leaders in the home straight before winning and going away after the last, quickening up for a second time.
The form looks nothing special at this stage and is worth treating with caution.
The runner-up was formerly with Joseph O'Brien while there was little substance to his victory in Bellewstown, while the third Milan Tino had been behind Jigme in France. Still, as expressed before this race, that form only looks okay on a time-figure basis and is rated around 125.
The ground had turned soft with overnight rain, so time comparisons with the previous day are obsolete. Still, the circuit time was okay, and his finishing effort three to line was terrific, clocking 11 lengths faster than Buddy One and 19 lengths faster than Springwell Bay, who ran over the 3m and 2m5f trips. He looks like a genuine British contender for the Triumph Hurdle if he brushes up his jumping and learns to race more conventionally.
While we have yet to see any real Triumph Hurdle contenders out from the powerhouse stables, this one certainly sets a fair standard for now.
Broadway boosts Flooring Porter 10/111.00 Brown Advisory claims
Flooring Porter's October form - discussed here in week one - was given a good boost by Broadway Boy bolting up on Saturday, at Cheltenham and Weveallbeencaught finishing a 20-length second.
It was highlighted that the Flooring Porter race clocked an excellent time figure in October, and now the form has been boosted, he holds fair claims for the Brown Advisory at 10/111.00.
Broadway Boy is a thorough stayer, clocked a brilliant final circuit time and only 12 lengths slower than Stage Star - who is now a 7/24.50 chance for the Ryanair - and is now 40/141.00 for the Brown Advisory. On the evidence of his two runs this season, Broadway Boy is easily a 145-horse, and Flooring Porter brushed him aside effortlessly last month.
Despite the form stacking up and the time figure good, I hesitate to get involved with Flooring Porter with some silly niggling doubts in my mind. He is due to run this week at Punchestown, and the eight-turning nine-year-old will need to be impressive in scoring against what will surely be stiff opposition.
One To Watch
Chantry House went with plenty of zest on Saturday, 18th November, and could be one for a handicap at the festival - something like the Coral Cup would appeal if kept to hurdles of what is clearly an appeal rating in the 140's.
Stage Star is a big player in Ryanair but priced correctly at 7/24.50
I was blown away by the performance from Stage Star in the Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday from Cheltenham. This was in contrast to his previous performances at this course when he could dictate matters in the Turners' Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and the Timeform Novices' Chase at the January meeting last year.
He was pestered for the lead and was resolute at the finish. Despite making a hash of the last, he still managed to pick up from a near standstill and run within 0.13 seconds of the runner-up from the back of the last to the line, suggesting he would have won by much further had he not made a mistake.
Stage Star has easily run into the 160s for the first time here, and the RPR fellas are even more impressed, giving him a 171 - which looks a shade over the top.
Still, Stage Star is potentially Britian's best hope of downing the classy Allaho in the Ryanair.
Jonbon just brilliant in Shloer
Jonbon devoured three rivals in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham on Sunday 19 November, putting his ageing rivals to the sword pretty effortlessly, and won, going away by 9 1/2 lengths.
Jonbon has been a horse with whom I have had a strange relationship. I was in stern opposition to him for the Supreme Novice Hurdle and the Arkle in the past two years but now converted into a lover of his. You have to like how he attacks his fences, and on Sunday, he had no issue taking this race by the scruff of the neck and stamping his authority on it.
A clash with old adversary El Fabiolo awaits in the Champion Chase in March, for which he is now a more respectable 5/23.50 from 5/16.00, and I don't see any reason connections will move up in the distance for the Ryanair 10/111.00.
Will he beat El Fabiolo? It's doubtful, but his last two performances have been better than his Cheltenham Festival run behind the Mullins horse.
It is premature to suggest Bob is back
Bob Olinger bounced back to win the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle at Navan on Saturday. While his ability to travel into a race was never questioned, it was more of what he would find once asked under pressure.
The answer is plenty. For the first time in what seems an age, Bob Olinger stuck his head down and fought off Zanahiyr, who had the run of the race. Previously, he had carried his head high and looked reluctant, and while his attitude wasn't A1 here, it was better.
To suggest he is back to his brilliant best is premature. The race was very slowly run, which was won by a turn of foot rather than staying prowess. Still, It remains a race-by-race project one suspects with him. Bob Olinger is a 33/134.00 chance for the Stayers Hurdle, but don't rush.
On Saturday 18 November, Stellar Story won over the same course and distance as Bob Olinger on the Navan Card and was around four lengths slower. Still, both races were considerably slower than the 2m4f handicap on the card won by the 109-rated Harvard Guy. Stellar Story is now 16/117.00 for the Albert Bartlett, but that doesn't appeal to me.
Dysart Dynamo disappointedly returned to the track with defeat at Navan on Saturday, to the reliable Captain Guinness. He settled noticeably better here than he had at any point last season, jumped with fluency, but ultimately had no answer to the Henry De Bromhead runner, which is even more disappointing given little excuse. It's hard to consider either of these horses winning festival races, although Captain Guinness lulls me in each year.
American Mike bounced back with a gritty victory over Fact To File at Navan on Sunday 19 November at Navan. The former classy bumper horse jumped and travelled well, but the hope is he now builds on this because he has won on every seasonal reappearance and not followed up. He must build back the trust back with punters. American Mike is now 40/141.00 for the Brown Advisory and Fact To File 25/126.00 and the former 10/111.00 for the Turners.
Perhaps both will improve for the experience?
Love that Vega jumped poorly and still won
Everyone wants Novice chasers to jump on foot perfectly on debut. However, I have always been firmly convinced that jumping can be improved, but the engine cannot.
Take El Fabiolo, for example. I fancied the pants off him last season despite him blundering his way around Fairyhouse and Leopardstown. However, many wanted to throw stones at his jumping, ignoring the sizeable engine required to make mistakes and bulldoze his opposition.
In turn, the same people (and the market) favoured the fleet-footed Jonbon despite winning in smaller margins in weaker races, but when push came to shove, it was a shock to Jonbon's system when having to react to a mistake while El Fabiolo had learned plenty.
The point of this is to emphasize that mistakes from Novice chasers need to happen before March and not on the day. As a punter, you want to know what's under the bonnet, and if they get into the bottom of one, do they have the engine to react and keep going?
Facile Vega won his Beginners Chase effortlessly on Saturday at Navan. He made terrible jumping errors at the first three fences, and the market pushed him to even money in running. However, he continued to gallop on and improved fence by fence throughout and most importantly, he was excellent under pressure at the final two flights.
The second last was most impressive when Paul Townend asked him at speed, and he met the fence on a lovely stride - learning as he raced.
This was as deep a 2m Novice Chase as we will likely see this season, featuring the Supreme Novice Hurdle runner-up and fourth along with Saint Felicien - a solid mid-140s hurdler. Its strong form and the right horses filled out the first three positions, with the latter gaining a significant early advantage.
The comparative time to the Grade Fortria Chase won by Captain Guinness saw Facile Vega's 2m circuit time 28 lengths slower, but that's more of a positive for the Grade 2 winner than a negative for these Novices. It's no stick to beat Facile Vega with having won on the bridle for all, I want to see him clock a good figure in this sphere.
Willie Mullins' star had already recorded time figures over hurdles to suggest he is more than up to an Arkle task for which he is 11/43.75 on the Betfair Sportsbook.
He settled far better here than at any point over hurdles, and he looks a bigger and stronger model from last year. At the same time, lots of Walk In The Park progeny improve for fences, including many from this yard.
Inthepocket ran a respectable race in second under an educational ride from Betfair ambassador Rachael Blackmore and would have appreciated a stronger gallop, no doubt, along with the winner. However, on reflection of his jumping, he probably would have been beaten even further.
I disagree with Inthepocket talk
I disagree with this nonsense that he was "never put into the race" by his jockey.
On review, he was very free-going under Blackmore tracking Facile Vega, stretched at the second, losing ground before switching inside, stuttered at the third, losing further ground, was very hesitant at the ditch, again at seven out and then warmed into his race from five out. He hit four out when getting in too tight, was asked for an effort between the final two fences, and jumped the last well-ridden out to the finish.
This performance screamed potential improver, but his hesitancy at his fences might suggest schooling hadn't gone as well as hoped. In no realm do I think he has the quality or the pace to match Facile Vega, but he is a useful horse and may take on the winner again before March.
The case to back Facile Vega at 11/43.75 for the Arkle is strong. He has now set the bar for his Supreme Novice Hurdle conqueror, Marine Nationale (whose camp I was firmly in for the Supreme Novice Hurdle last term), who had been due to run in this race but was pulled on account of the heavy ground.
We spoke in week one that this division looks like a two-horse race with the lack of depth outside of the big two, and the ball is now in Marine Nationale's court to prove that he can be as effective over the larger obstacles.
Marine Nationale fans would have to be concerned about his trainer's comments after his Supreme Novice Hurdle victory when Connell said," He's probably a Group 1 horse on the Flat, and we might get around to that at some stage" before following up with, "I think we'll come back here for the Arkle next year."
The other concern is that Marine Nationale was a store-bought flat bred and is by French Navy, and he has far excelled any other French Navy progeny over hurdles while he will be the first (correct me if I am mistaken) to go over fences. There is hope from the Dam side, but Marine Nationale now has it all to do, while soft ground could be another genuine worry. I don't think they should be the same price as one mishap from the yet-to-run Marine Nationale will see Facile Vega into 6/42.50 for this race, and he could easily be odds-on come March.
There is plenty of 4.03/1 on the Betfair Exchange.
It's wise to remember that Facile Vega had a terrible prep for Cheltenham last year and left a leg in the final flight when second to Marine Nationale. At the same time, he has never gone off at odds bigger than 9/43.25. At the same time, Willie Mullins has six of the eight behind him in the betting.
If I had to guess the final field of this race, it would be as follows.
He is one of those horses that you either back him now or bite the bullet and play on the day. I don't expect you to lay out cash at 3/14.00 four months in advance, and it will hardly make or break this column at that price, so I won't advise on this column, but I will just let you know that I am.
In terms of trip, he should be 100/1101.00 for the Turners. It's unlike Willie Mullins, and this is undoubtedly his Arkle horse.
The Ryanair market got a good shake-up this week with the smart, improving Stage Star winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup, and he rightfully is in the thick of the betting for this along with 2021 and 2022 Ryanair winner Allaho.
That pair are joined at the top of the market by Jonbon, who is surely heading to the Champion Chase along with El Fabiolo. Banbridge, who is ground dependant, L'Homme Presse, who will be heading to the Gold Cup along with Shishkin, Bravemansgame and Galopin Des Champs, but last year's winner Envoi Allen - 14/115.00 on the Betfair Sportsbook - seems to have been forgotten about.
It makes no sense that Jonbon or Banbridge are shorter than him in the market when Henry De Bromhead confirmed in his stable tour on Monday, 20th November, that this is again Envoi Allen's target. He was a brilliant winner over the excellent Shishkin in this race last term, clocking a better circuit time than the Turners Novice winner Stage Star - although that doesn't mean I don't wholeheartedly respect Paul Nicholls' improving youngster.
However, the price discrepancy between Stage Star 7/24.50 and Envoi Allen 14/115.00 looks too big. Envoi Allen has now won the Ryanair, been third in the Champion Chase, fell when heavy odds-on in the Marsh (now the Turners), won the Ballymore, and won the Champion Bumper. According to his trainer, the Savills Chase over 3m at Leopardstown at Xmas is up next before heading straight to the Ryanair, so there's little chance Envoi Allen will be bigger than this 14/115.00.
He has returned to action in good form, with his latest narrow defeat to Gerri Colombe confirming that, and he must be the market mover in this betting heat.
While he has eight lengths to find with Allaho from their meeting back in 2021, Allaho must prove he is operating at the same level, and there's no better time to take him on - and Envoi Allen did go off 7/42.75 favourite then.
While Envoi Allen and Allaho both run in the same ownership, if they were to split them, then it's more than likely that Allaho of the two would attack the Gold Cup with the selection already having confirmed he lacks stamina for a stiff 3m let alone 3m2f.
Envoi Allen will be ten, which is a negative, although it has yet to stop three previous race winners in its 19-year running.
With this race likely to fall thin on the ground in terms of numbers and quality, Envoi Allen looks like the correct play at 14/115.00 for now, and we can look at Stage Star closer to the time with his price unlikely to be far off his current odds on the day.
Read last week's Cheltenham Festival Focus here.