Alex Hammond: Don’t doubt Thomas
Alex Hammond fancies Thomas Brown to win Saturday's feature race at Cheltenham, while the Sky Sports expert reflects on the Tingle Creek.
Noel Fehily is back on board Thomas Brown at Cheltenham on Saturday
1) What did we learn about the pecking order among the top two-mile chasers from last weekend's Betfair Tingle Creek Chase? Could Ar Mad really emerge as a contender for the King George after his staying-on-again fourth?
What a race! If there has been a better contest this season I haven't seen it. The rising crescendo from an enthusiastic Sandown Park crowd was a real spine-tingler and the sort of reception that jump racing is made for.
As for Ar Mad, he ran a race of two halves and I'd be prepared to give him another chance over two miles if Gary Moore decides to stick to that trip. He jumped so quickly and accurately early on.
My initial impression when watching it live was that his diving mistake at one of the railway fences knocked the stuffing out of him and I wondered if he had tweaked something. However, he soon got back into a rhythm and stayed on to be just 3 1/2 lengths behind winner Un De Sceaux. So, you can see why a step up to three miles could suit, but at the moment I'm going to blame his bad mistake for the way he ran.
It was only his sixth start over fences and I'm looking forward to seeing him next time wherever they decide to go with this exciting young chaser. With each run comes a learning curve and Moore was berating himself for taking Ar Mad out of the King George and it's no wonder as it will cost his owner £10,000 to put him back in the Boxing Day showpiece. I'd prefer to see him stick to the shorter trip for now though.
As for the pecking order, I'm not sure it helped us sort that out, despite the fact it was an exceptional contest. Last season's Arkle winner Douvan could stamp his authority on the two mile division in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork on Sunday on his first start as a fully fledged senior chaser. He's the full package.
2) Now we're firmly into awards season, what has been your personal racing highlight (so far) of 2016?
I know I'm not alone in being a huge fan of Thistlecrack, but I've really enjoyed seeing his switch to the larger obstacles and how this exceptional young chaser is progressing in his new discipline. It's exciting times all round for the Tizzard team and it's also nice to see another big yard dining at the top table.
Also, wasn't it fabulous to see Many Clouds win on his seasonal reappearance at Aintree last weekend? Another breathing operation seems to have helped him enormously and he'll be a great spin in this season's National once again. It would be unbelievable if he could go and win over the big fences again for Oliver and Tanya Sherwood who have handled him so well for owner Trevor Hemmings (who must be one of the luckiest owners in his beloved Grand National).
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As for awards, I was pleased to see Found honoured at the Cartiers. Her consistency was wonderful to see and the way she stuck her neck out when winning the Arc was a joy. I can't wait to see her babies on the track in the years to come.
3) You tipped the winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last year in Village Vic – will he be carrying your cash again on Saturday?
Well it's hard to discount Village Vic at this track as Philip Hobbs' nine-year-old ran a cracker last time out in the BetVictor Gold Cup behind Taquin Du Seuil when he tried to make all. However, he is 22lbs higher in the weights 12 months on and faces some potentially better handicapped rivals. He's not for me this year, but he should run his usual game race round Prestbury Park and I wouldn't rule him out despite carrying top weight.
Sadly one of the antepost fancies, Aloomomo, isn't a certain runner as trainer Warren Greatrex isn't keen to run him on the unseasonably fast(er than usual) ground. He improved in handicap chases at this time last year, winning three and had a prep over hurdles at Ascot last month which should have helped put him right for this.
One that could run well is Aso for Venetia Williams. However, he's another that may not get the ground soft enough.
I like Noel Fehily's mount Thomas Brown. He won at Aintree on his reappearance and this track is expected to suit him better as it should provide a decent stamina test. Paul Nicholls' Bouvreuil is still only a five-year-old but ran very well in the BetVictor. There should be more to come as that was only his sixth start over fences.
Evan Williams has put the visor on Buywise for the first time and he ran his usual solid race here last month when finishing third.
Kylemore Loch ran a cracker at Ascot last time out in Grade Two company and isn't out of it back in a handicap. He gave Kerry Lee her first win in a Grade One at the first attempt in the Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse last March. I don't think he thrives on good ground either though.
It's a typically open renewal and if Sky Bet are feeling generous and offer any extra places, I'll be backing Thomas Brown each-way.
4) Also at Cheltenham, My Tent Or Yours has been well backed with Sky Bet for the International Hurdle. Do you still have any faith in the dual Champion Hurdle runner-up after his laboured performance at Haydock?
The race he ran in at Haydock (Pricerush Hurdle) was run in very testing conditions and you can forgive any horse one bad run on that sort of ground, particularly as it was his first outing since the end of April. I wouldn't be writing him off just yet and it'll be interesting to see who lines up against him on Saturday. He escapes any penalty and is weighted to his advantage if he can put that reappearance run behind him on more favourable ground. I don't think I'd be rushing to back him at a short price though and on the good ground it might be worth backing Dan Skelton's runner Mister Miyagi. He has won two of his three starts at this track and a drop back to two miles won't inconvenience him.
5) All eyes will be on Douvan, when he is set to return to action on Sunday in Ireland. Can he be beaten this season?
Well as you read above I think he is the one they all have to catch this season in the two mile division. Whilst taking on the 'big boys' can be a daunting thought for connections of second-season chasers, I don't think Willie Mullins will be losing much sleep and I don't expect to see him break sweat in Sunday's Grade Two.
It was interesting to hear Mullins say last season (on more than one occasion) that he is a Gold Cup horse in the making.
However, with the retirement of Sprinter Sacre, the two mile crown is his for the taking and there is still plenty of time to step up in trip if they choose to take that route.
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