Mike Cattermole: Champion potential
Mike Cattermole visits Paul Nicholls' yard, is taken with Bristol De Mai and enjoys ITV Racing's coverage of Haydock.
Bristol De Mai: Impressive in the Peter Marsh
Nicholls maximising team potential
Given the number of big race wins enjoyed by Colin Tizzard this season, it is worth pointing out that it is still Paul Nicholls who leads the trainers' championship – and that without any top stable stars.
Here's a question – can you name the highest-rated horse trained by P Nicholls right now? Tricky one. It turns out to that it is still good old Silviniaco Conti on 161, followed by Irving on 160. Both of these are still high class even if rather exposed these days.
There is no doubt that the master of Ditcheat is in a rebuilding phase right now after an era of equine galacticos but, after a visit to his yard on a frosty Wednesday morning, it is clear that of the 130 or so horses housed at Manor Farm Stables, the talent he has at his disposal is massive in depth.
The champion trainer is never one to let the grass grow under his feet; quite the contrary, in fact, as it is the sand under his feet on the new round gallop that he feels has helped his season get off to such a flying start.
The gallop, which is flat and only measures around a quarter of a mile, has helped him pass 100 winners for the season already and at an exceptional strike rate of 27 per cent. They can gallop both ways and even school there, too. I noticed it seems to make the horses use themselves well.
There has been only one Grade One success this domestic season so far – Irving in the Fighting Fifth – as well as several Grade Two's and also picking off good handicaps such as the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with Frodon and the Lanzarote Hurdle with Modus.
Modus holds an entry to the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday fortnight, as indeed do Zubayr and Movewiththetimes who both looked in great nick as they were put through their paces on the said sand gallop.
Nicholls has only won the Betfair Hurdle once before – with Zarkandar in 2012 – but underestimating his chances of doing so again would be foolish on this evidence.
Of those rising stars who threaten to break through, Nicholls retains faith in Politologue who went down fighting to Waiting Patiently, who was getting 3lb, at Haydock.
Warning – don't even think about talking about Politologue as a weak finisher after that performance. The trainer won't have that and I couldn't see it either as, to these eyes, he fought back gamely and kept on well. Judge for yourselves by clicking here….
Bristol De Mai is Gold Cup class
So, Paul Nicholls remains a competitive as ever and he will have to be with the likes of Harry Fry, his former assistant, producing horses such as Neon Wolf to win brilliantly at Haydock on Saturday. His time was 1.6 seconds faster than The New One and this could be the horse Fry has waited for.
Neon Wolf shared the spoils with Bristol De Mai who was simply in a class of his own in the Peter Marsh Chase and completed a very good day indeed for Nigel Twiston-Davies with The New One doing his thing – again.
Now that Annie Power is out for the season – and maybe for good? – will Nige win the battle with son Sam and go for the Champion Hurdle again? Please don't – stick to the Stayers'.
However, do be tempted by going for gold with Bristol. This was an exceptional performance, acknowledged by the handicapper raising him to 166, that's the equal of Many Clouds and just 4lb behind Cue Card and only 5lb inferior to Thistlecrack.
You will hear more from his rider Daryl Jacob in his own column here but a comparison to The Listener was praise indeed. And Bristol has run well before at Cheltenham.
Meanwhile, L'Ami Serge, who like Bristol, carries the Munir/Souede colours, was subject to plenty of abuse for another lacklustre finish behind The New One. I seem to be in the minority here and don't think that this is a mental thing.
I reckon that L'Ami Serge either has a problem with breaking blood vessels or with his breathing – although one can lead to the other. He carries his head high as he struggles to get the oxygen in and I will give him the benefit of the doubt for now.
The Pegasus – It's all about the money
There will certainly be plenty of cash floating about at Gulfstream Park, when the inaugural Pegasus World Cup is staged there on Saturday, that's for sure.
This latest incarnation of the world's richest race is the brainchild of octogenarian Canadian businessman Frank Stronach, an owner/breeder, whose net worth is said to be around $3billion. Not bad for selling a few car spare parts over the years.
Buying a starting berth for the Pegasus at $1m a time would be loose change for Stronach and no way would he miss out, as he also owns the track of course.
I suppose it's a bit like the early days of racing when the rich landowners and aristocrats would take eachother on by putting up sizeable stakes, run their horses, see who's the quickest and then the winner would take the lion's share – which in this case is a colossal US$7m.
The participation of Arrogate and California Chrome is essential for this first Pegasus to be taken seriously. Which racing fan wouldn't want to see these two thoroughbred giants go head-to-head again? Arrogate's connections didn't buy into the race originally but bought their ticket from Coolmore, presumably at a nice mark-up. Now, that would have been an interesting discussion.
I will expect Arrogate to beat "Chromie" again and at least spare us another victory speech from Perry Martin, Chromie's part-owner and breeder, who last week delivered one of the worst acceptance speeches you will ever hear when picking up the horse of the year gong at the Eclipse Awards.
Self important, boring, chippy and arrogant, totally unfunny and completely graceless, Martin was clearly loving the sound of his own voice and went on and on and on. It was cringing. And he wasn't remotely aware, which makes it a bit sad.
Victory for one or the other superstar, of course, would be a huge spike in the stats for their respective sires, Unbridled's Song or Lucky Pulpit, or indeed whichever stallion is responsible for the winner. Bit of a distortion, though, don't you think?
By the way, you will also need a few quid just to get in there and watch the race in the flesh, as the cheapest ticket available is $100 – about four times the price of attending the Breeders' Cup. And that doesn't even get you into the grandstand.
If you want to really splash out, you can pay up to $765 for a seat in the best restaurant.
The crowd is being limited to 12,000 but I just wonder whether the racing fans in the Sunshine State will bother turning up with those prices or save a few bucks and watch it on TV.
Here, you can definitely keep your hands in your pocket as the race is being shown on exclusively on At The Races with the off time scheduled at 10.42pm.
The Opening Show and ITV show promise
With Taunton being called off on Saturday morning, I was able to watch ITV Racing for the first time on ITV4.
I quite enjoyed The Opening Show, which was presented cheerfully by Oli Bell who looked totally at ease in his new role. He is young, fresh and enthusiastic and co-presenter Luke Harvey would never be anything else but fun company.
Luke has never taken himself too seriously and yet, credit to him, he has still managed to develop some gravitas since earning his living from the media. He knows what he is talking about but never comes across as a know-all and offers a lot of experience to the team.
The IMG version of The Morning Line never featured a paper review, which was a mistake as it was always a highlight in the John McCririck days, so I like the fact that the papers do get a mention, although it seemed more of a weekly overview from The Mirror's Dave Yates than who was tipping what on the day.
The features were fine but I wanted more on the valets who are remarkable men and fascinate me about how they deal with their sometimes tricky clients and prodigious workload.
Somebody told me the graphics were poor but they must have sorted that as I thought they were excellent – colourful, crisp and clear.
The opening titles are very well produced but I am not sure about the use of Joey the War Horse. Is it a roundabout way of saying that racing is theatre and is entertaining? Ok, I can get that but it's a touch contrived. The images are embellished by the tones of the late and legendary Peter O'Sullevan, which seems odd as he was a BBC man through and through.
I didn't see all of the afternoon's output but I did enjoy Brough Scott's comeback appearance, confirming that this Peter Pan character's enthusiasm for the game has not dimmed a bit. He was full of good ideas about the Kempton/King George story – go with it and create a winter festival at Ascot, was his suggestion – a debate that Matt Chapman warmed to after first appearing to be in a bit of a sulk in the corner!
Ed Chamberlin is playing himself in but he always has been an assured performer and, as I said before, the whole team is just warming up.
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