Weights & Measures: Go West?

The Gold Cup, Grand National and a horse 10lb well-in for the Betfair Hurdle come under discussion in 'Weights & Measures'.

Champagne West: Enters the Gold Cup picture off a rating of 166

Champagne fizzing after Thyestes win

Thistlecrack >>>> Remains on 171
Champagne West >>>> Up 12lb to 166

The handicapper has unsurprisingly left Thistlecrack on 171 following his shock Cotswold Chase reverse at Cheltenham on Saturday.

His head defeat to the 166-rated Many Clouds ended a nine-race winning sequence, but there remains room for improvement in his jumping and he still sets the standard for the others in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup running to aspire to, although stablemate Cue Card might have something to say about that if he can rediscover the level of his Betfair Chase form.

However, Thistlecrack might not scare off quite as many would-be challengers now and Champagne West emerged as another wild card for the big race following his Goffs Thyestes Chase win at Gowran on Thursday.

The former Philip Hobbs-trained horse is now two from three for his new trainer Henry de Bromhead, who has addressed the jumping issues that blighted the end of his time with his previous handler.

He didn't put a foot wrong when winning a small-field Listed race at Tramore on New Year's Day, but to do it in a big-field and competitive handicap like the Thyestes was mightily impressive.

He won easily too, earning a 12lb hike in the weights to a mark of 166.

That's just 5lb behind Thistlecrack and 2lb behind Native River, the two at the head of the betting for the Gold Cup. Champagne West is a best of 25s, so there is a case to be made for him at the prices on ratings alone, with de Bromhead hinting at the weekend he's favouring a crack at the Gold Cup rather than the Ryanair.

It's also worth noting the Thyestes has recent previous when it comes to producing a Gold Cup contender thanks to the exploits of Djakadam: he won the Gowran handicap off a mark of 145 and was raised 17lb to 162 before finishing second to Coneygree in the 2015 Gold Cup.

'Harry has staying power

Unowhatimeanharry >>>> Remains on 167
Shaneshill >>>> Remains on 156
Vroum Vroum Mag >>>> Remains on 154

There have been two Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle trials in the last week and they only served to firm up the dominance of Unowhatimeanharry in the division.

Shaneshill remains on 156 following his win in the John Mulern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran on Thursday, but two days later at Cheltenham the 167-rated Unowhatimeanharry proved yet again that he deserves that number and maybe more after an emphatic victory in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle.

The winning distance over Cole Harden was only a length-and-three-quarters, but he gave that horse 8lb and he idled a little in front, thanks in part to the omission of the last hurdle.

He travelled through the race like he was in a different league, though, and it looks like he is. The evidence is stacking up following his wins in the Long Distance Hurdle and Long Walk Hurdle and the 2/1 quotes for the Stayers' available on Saturday night have long gone.

The 13/8 is likely to disappear soon and it's easy to see why. He's 11lb clear of Shaneshill and 13lb clear of narrow Doncaster winner, Vroum Vroum Mag, and they are both prominent in the betting; indeed, they are third and fourth favourites with some firms.

The only conceivable danger looks to be second-favourite Jezki, also rated 167 and also owned by JP McManus. Whether he will take on Unowhatimeanharry in the Stayers' looks less certain than it did a week ago given the Champion Hurdle is beginning to look more winnable.

We'll perhaps learn more following Jezki's next outing in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran, but as things stand it's impossible to oppose Unowhatimeanharry following his remarkable progression under Harry Fry.

Sutton thrown in for Betfair test

Sutton Place >>>> Up 18lb to 158
William H Bonney >>>> Up 4lb to 136

Sutton Place defied a 306-day absence and a Grade Two penalty when easily winning the Grade Three Limestone Lad Hurdle by seven-and-a-half lengths at Naas on Saturday.

Gordon Elliott was delighted afterwards, highlighting the improvement and strength he's gained since we last saw him, and, while he's seen as a long-term chasing prospect, there could well be some nice prizes for him to win over hurdles in the short term.

Indeed, the JP McManus-owned horse is disputing favouritism at around 8/1 with Ballyandy for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on February 11 now, and he'd have a fine chance at the weights if he turns up in Berkshire.

The Irish assessor has raised him 18lb from an Irish mark of 140 to 158 and the BHA handicapper put him in the Betfair off 143. He'll carry a 5lb penalty for this success, but even under that he would be 10lb well in.

"There's no chance he'll run in the Newbury race," said Elliott on Saturday, but it remains to be seen whether that is the case considering how well treated he is.

McManus does, though, have six of the first 11 in the betting for the Betfair, an incredible hand, even by his standards. Consul De Thaix, Movewiththetimes, Modus, Drumcliff and Winter Escape are the other five, but he'll have done well if any of that quintet prove to be better treated than Sutton Place.

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While that horse would be well in under a penalty, Alan King's William H Bonney would be 1lb wrong should he go for the Betfair.

He went up 4lb for winning the Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday, but he would also carry a 5lb penalty should he go to Newbury.

Vacation destroys Timeform rivals

Royal Vacation >>>> Up 9lb to 152
Champers On Ice >>>> Remains on 143

He might have been lucky to win the Grade One Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton over Christmas, but Colin Tizzard's Royal Vacation proved he is a class act with a dominant display in the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.

Raised 12lb to 143 after he was the beneficiary of Might Bite's last-fence fall on Boxing Day, Royal Vacation made a mockery of that mark with a bloodless eight-length win over Potters Legend and he's up a further 9lb now to a rating of 152.

This puts him firmly in the RSA picture and his general price of 20/1 may well underestimate him on this evidence.

He jumps well, stays and now has course form to his name as well. The bookies cut him from 33s to 20s for the RSA but were just as keen to cut Might Bite who is now a best of 7s having been 12/1 last week.

Cutting his odds on the back of this form boost was understandable, but he'll need his confidence boosting, never mind his form, following that crashing fall last time. Royal Vacation, meanwhile, seems to be going under the radar.

As for those that finished in behind the Tizzard horse, Champers On Ice was the big eyecatcher. He was last and scrubbed along relatively early in proceedings, but he finished his race full of running to take sixth position, 21 lengths behind the winner.

The handicapper was unmoved, leaving him on 143, but that could still be a competitive mark once he's stepped back up in trip.

He'll have several options at the Cheltenham Festival, but the Ultima, won last year by stablemate Un Temps Pour Tout (who was fourth in the Timeform race) for the same connections, looks the obvious target.

Albert Bartlett hopes on trial

West Approach >>>> Up 8lb to 157
Wholestone >>>> Up 6lb to 145

Who ran the best Albert Bartlett trial on Saturday, Neptune trial winner Wholestone or Cleeve Hurdle third West Approach?

It's a tough one and the bookies thought so too, cutting both horses to 8/1 for the three-mile novice hurdle at the Festival.

The handicapper has taken a firm view, though, with a massive 12lb separating the duo on official ratings following Saturday's contests.

West Approach, Thistlecrack's half-brother, is considered a 157 horse now after his excellent third in the Cleeve. He had a host of seasoned campaigners in behind and he beat them well, even if he was receiving at least a bit of weight from most of them.

He was also the beneficiary of a super Ruby Walsh ride, but, even so, this was a terrific effort from a novice. He looked like he might even have a winning chance at the bottom of the hill.

Meanwhile, in the Neptune trial, Daryl Jacob utilised Wholestone's proven stamina with a confident ride off the front end that enabled him to see off a posse of promising horses.

Raised 6lb to 145, it's highly likely he'll step back up in trip for the Albert Bartlett at the Festival and, while he's considered 12lb inferior to West Approach after that horse's progression, he has already beaten him twice in novice hurdles at Cheltenham this season.

All in all, the discrepancy between the two looks too big. But that's what can happen when you run novices in open company. Hopefully we'll see the pair fight it out in the Albert Bartlett where we'll get a much more accurate reflection of their relative abilities.

Ziga enters National picture

Ziga Boy >>>> Up 10lb to 147
Caid Du Berlais >>>> Down 3lb to 143
Southfield Royale >>>> Down 6lb to 141
Holywell >>>> Down 4lb to 148

Ziga Boy put in the best performance of his career by a long way to land a second Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster at the weekend.

The eight-year-old has had 22 starts over fences but never has he looked as good as when winning off a mark of 137 on Saturday, a bold display of jumping off the front end ensuring he retained his Town Moor title.

The cheekpieces could be one catalyst for the improvement and they will surely be staying on now, while his 10lb rise should ensure he gets in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree.

He was unlucky when hampered at the first in the Becher, so we have no idea if he'll take to the fences, but if he jumps like he did on Saturday he'll have a good chance of at least getting into a nice rhythm in the big one.

Left alone in front at Doncaster, that situation suited him well and it would be a concern if he was among a pack of horses vying for the lead at Liverpool.

But he's a likeable horse that should stay further, the flat Aintree track should suit (judging by how well he goes at Doncaster) and he'll be towards the bottom of the weights.

He's a best-price 40/1 for the National.

Finally, three that finished in behind him are worth a quick mention.

Caid Du Berlais travelled into contention nicely and looked like he would play a huge part in the finish at the top of the straight. He weakened out of contention into fifth in the end, but if he tried this trip on better ground it may help.

He's dropped 3lb to 143 – the same mark he won the Paddy Power off in 2014.

Southfield Royale ran no sort of race and was the last of the finishers. However, this was his first start for 277 days and on his National Hunt Chase form it was no surprise he was backed in the days leading up to the race.

If you thought he was well handicapped off 147, he's dropped 6lb to 141 now and could be worth another chance.

And then there's Holywell. A horse that only seems to come to life at the Cheltenham Festival. I'm sure there will come a moment in the next five weeks when we ask ourselves if he really is as regressive as his results suggest.

He might be, but you wouldn't be surprised if he bounced back to life in the spring, would you?

Last year he was pulled up in the Sky Bet Chase and was dropped 6lb from 159 to 153 before running second in the Ultima.

This year he was 11th in the Sky Bet Chase and he's dropped 4lb to 148, his lowest handicap mark since he won the 2014 version of the Ultima (then sponsored by Bayliss & Harding) where he raced off a rating of 145.

He's 20/1 for this year's renewal and it will be fun to see if he bounces back to his Festival best for Jonjo O'Neill in five weeks' time!

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