Weights & Measures: Solomn promise
Solomn Grundy earns the lenient hike of the week award as Ben Linfoot rounds up the ratings changes following the weekend.
Solomn Grundy: Up just 2lb for easy success
River flows, Destrier shows, Holy blows
Native River >>>> Up 8lb to 163
Carole's Destrier >>>> Up 6lb to 154
Double Ross >>>> Remains on 149
Vyta Du Roc >>>> Down 2lb to 141
Smad Place >>>> Down 3lb to 163
Henri Parry Morgan >>>> Down 2lb to 148
Holywell >>>> Down 2lb to 154
A cracking Hennessy as usual and one that leaves us asking many questions, like these: Will Native River develop into a Gold Cup horse? Is Carole's Destrier an ideal type for Aintree? Is Vyta Du Roc a proper stayer after all? Can Henri Parry Morgan deliver on the promise of his novice chase season? Just how well handicapped will Holywell be by the Cheltenham Festival?
Let's start at the top. Native River. This victory was encouraging regarding his Gold Cup prospects. Of course, he still has some way to go until he can be bracketed with 170+ performers Cue Card, Coneygree, Don Cossack and Djakadam, but he's up 8lb to 163 on the back of his Hennessy win with the potential for more to come.
He's considered 13lb inferior to stablemate Cue Card as things stand, but this was just his eighth start over fences and he's only six. He jumps well, he keeps on galloping and he stays – his stamina is his number one asset for me and it's such a vital one with the Cheltenham Gold Cup in mind. He's ticking a lot of boxes and is an interesting contender at 20/1.
The Welsh National was mentioned in the post-race debrief as a possible next target and, with the weights already out for the Chepstow marathon, he'll be 4lb well-in under a 4lb penalty should he turn up. Tizzard did, though, add that he wouldn't run if it was a bog.
With that in mind, perhaps something like the Cotswolds Chase at Cheltenham on trials day would be a good alternative to test his Gold Cup prospects. Smad Place, a good seventh in the Hennessy off a mark of 166, could well turn up in that race again following his win in it last season. Alan King's grey is also rated 163 now, like Native River, so if they did bang heads in the Cotswolds it should sort a few things out.
Carole's Destrier ran a cracker in second, flying home after the last to make a race of it. He's up 6lb to 154 which is fair enough, but he didn't perform well last spring and would have to prove himself at that time of year on what will probably be better ground if he does go to Aintree.
His trainer Neil Mulholland mentioned on Monday that his owners might not be keen on the Grand National, but he looks to have all the right attributes. He jumps well and stays well and his new rating absolutely ensures he'll get in the race if connections do decide to go down that route. First up, it looks like he'll definitely head to the Welsh National next where he'll be 6lb well in. Any remaining 16/1 about him for Chepstow makes plenty of appeal.
Double Ross ran a blinder off 149 in third, a mark he remains on. This was up there with the best runs of his career and he'll be competitive off this rating in weaker races. There will be plenty of opportunities for him. Whether the Becher Chase, on Saturday, is a sensible one just a week after his Newbury exertions is questionable.
Vyta Du Roc stayed on nicely enough for sixth to suggest he's worth another go over further. He struggled to go with the leaders when the tempo lifted but wasn't disgraced by any means beaten nine lengths. He'd be one to consider in a slightly weaker race now he's been dropped 2lb.
Henri Parry Morgan was disappointing on the bare result, but it's worth remembering the promise of his novice chasing campaign when he was second to Native River at Aintree. A mistake five from home knocked the stuffing out of him on Saturday, but if he can put in an error-free round he'll be dangerous wherever he goes dropped 2lb to 148.
Holywell was the last of the finishers, beaten 69 lengths in 13th. Dropped 2lb to 154, he's now just 1lb higher than he was when finishing second in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. It will be no surprise if that's his target again, and it will be fun to see how well-handicapped he is come the Festival, the only time of year he seems to come alive.
Where are all the two-mile hurdlers?
Irving >>>> Up 4lb to 160
This isn't a dig at Irving, in fact the opposite, but how on earth has he won another Grade One over hurdles? Kudos to his trainer, Paul Nicholls, for getting a horse that's had plenty of problems to win another Fighting Fifth. His attitude is unquestionable.
You would think, though, that after a Grade One hurdle bookmakers would be falling over themselves with Champion Hurdle quotes. It's unlikely Irving will even get an entry. There were certainly not even any fancy odds about him for Cheltenham being offered on Saturday.
Back up 4lb to 160, he goes best fresh and early in the season on past evidence, so this might be as good as it gets for him this term. Nicholls mentioned he might go up in trip to two-and-a-half miles now, which is a completely unexplored avenue with him.
It begs the question, though, where are all the two-mile hurdlers?
Perhaps Willie Mullins is to blame. His awesome squad in the sphere, headed by Faugheen and Annie Power, seem to be scaring everything away from even having a go in the division.
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Just look at the first five home in the Sky Bet Supreme last season. Altior has gone novice chasing. Min has gone novice chasing. Buveur d'Air is meant to be going novice chasing. I've not heard what is happening to Tombstone. Charbel has gone novice chasing.
Looking at the Fighting Fifth and what potentially might line up in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, there's a massive opportunity for a good, British-trained two-mile hurdler to gather up plenty of prizemoney this season. Dan Skelton has recognised it and his Ch'tibello and North Hill Harvey could well add to their gains on this evidence.
But something like Buveur d'Air could make a splash in the two-mile hurdling scene if his novice chasing career was put off for another season. Perhaps Yanworth will drop back in trip now Unowhatimeanharry (more below) looks like being JP McManus' main World Hurdle horse.
It would be a shame if the Mullins monsters scared everyone off.
Lenient hike of the week
Solomn Grundy >>>> Up 2lb to 130
And the award goes to…. Neil Mulholland's Solomn Grundy.
The six-year-old son of Westerner fairly bolted up in the Pertemps qualifier at Newbury on Friday, settling much better than he did at Cheltenham under the strong handling of Noel Fehily.
Even accounting for the below-par effort of 13lb well-in favourite Behind Time, a mere 2lb rise is a surprise. This was Solomn Grundy's first go at three miles and he travelled really well before picking up nicely to win as he liked.
I urge you to watch the video and then ask yourself if you would back him in a three-mile handicap hurdle next time, considering he's just 2lb higher.
I'd imagine he'd have to be ridiculously short for me to resist temptation, regardless of conditions, track, opposition, anything.
Is the World at Harry's hooves?
Unowhatimeanharry >>>> Up 16lb to 165
Ballyoptic >>>> Remains on 159
The bet365 Long Distance Hurdle has had a habit of producing the World Hurdle winner in recent years thanks to the exploits of Inglis Drever, Big Buck's and Thistlecrack and Harry Fry's Unowhatimeanharry has to be taken seriously for the Cheltenham Festival contest now after Friday's romp.
Unusually he was dropped 3lb after winning the Grade One Albert Bartlett at last season's Festival, but there is no doubting he's a force in the division now and the handicapper belatedly agrees with a 16lb rise putting him to a mark of 165.
Quotes of 6/1 for the World Hurdle are understandable but I'm not sure Friday's second, Ballyoptic, deserves to be four times the price of his conqueror.
Yes, he was outclassed at Newbury, but the slow pace didn't play to his strengths and he finished his race off well enough to suggest he'll be a force off a stronger gallop at a stiffer track. He remains on 159 but has the potential to improve on that figure and he could develop into a World Hurdle horse yet.
Best of the rest
Clan Des Obeaux >>>> Up 13lb to 152
Knockgraffan >>>> Up 12lb to 144
Little Jon >>>> Down 4lb to 132
Fox Appeal >>>> Down 2lb to 133
Meister Eckhart >>>> Down 5lb to 137
Ritual Of Stars >>>> Down 3lb to 127
Otago Trail >>>> Up 5lb to 151
The Fuller's London Pride Novices' Chase at Newbury on Friday looked to produce another top-class horse whose name might well sit comfortably with previous winners Bobs Worth, Dynaste and Coneygree in years to come.
Clan Des Obeaux oozed class, and though he had a hefty weight allowance by virtue of his age this was an exciting performance. He's up 13lb to 152 and looks a contender for top novice honours on this evidence.
Half an hour earlier Dan Skelton's Knockgraffon won by the same 10-length margin in the novices' limited handicap chase despite mistakes three from home and at the last. Considering those errors he was value for more and a 12lb hike was inevitable.
On the undercard at Newbury on Saturday there was some good action and several reassessments catch the eye.
In the Sir Peter O'Sullevan Handicap Chase won by O Maonlai (up 9lb to 143), I thought the fifth and seventh home, Fox Appeal (down 2lb to 133) and Little Jon (down 4lb to 132), might be of interest off their new marks.
Fox Appeal is on a long losing run and often flatters to deceive, but this was a better effort in a first-time tongue-tie and he's now 19lb below his career-high mark of 152. He made several mistakes at his fences and if he did manage to put in a clear round he's handicapped to win.
Little Jon jumped much better than he usually does, which is encouraging. He weakened late on but a light drop in trip might help on that score and a further 4lb drop will too. He's now 5lb below his last winning mark.
In the bet365 Handicap Hurdle won by Onefitzall (up 4lb to 137) Meister Eckhart shaped well enough to suggest some of the ability that saw him finish second in a Coral Cup off 143 remains. This was his first start for 968 days and at 100/1 it's clear little was expected of him, but his new handler John O'Shea could well find a race for him off his new mark (dropped 5lb to 137).
In the Gerry Feilden won by Who Dares Wins (up 9lb to 149), Ritual Of Senses caught the eye in fourth. He travelled well on handicap debut, but the leader got away under a canny ride and Ritual Of Senses was one of those that couldn't reel him in.
The Warren Greatrex yard aren't in great form, but this was an encouraging run and down 3lb to 127 he could improve on this granted different circumstances.
Finally, up at Newcastle, Otago Trail bounced right back to top form in the At The Races Rehearsal Chase.
He jumped and travelled really well, proving once and for all he stays three miles in the process. The right horses, Bristol De Mai and Definitly Red, filled the places and a 5lb rise will keep him competitive in similar contests.
Proven on deep winter ground, he could well add to this success in the coming months.
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