Weights & Measures: Start the Char
Could the Tolworth provide the Betfair Hurdle winner again? Ben Linfoot discusses this and more in the latest 'Weights & Measures'.
Baron Alco: Could he land a £60,000 bonus at Cheltenham?
Is Finian's Oscar out of this world?
Finian's Oscar >>>> New entry at 149
Colin Tizzard's Finian's Oscar has made a rapid rise from an Irish point to point at Portrush to Cheltenham Festival favouritism, thanks to a swift quarter of a million pound transaction, a bloodless victory at Hereford and now his first Grade One in the Tolworth.
Last 10 Neptune winners (and pre-race rating)
2016 – Yorkhill (IRE) 156
2015 – Windsor Park (IRE) 146
2014 – Faugheen (IRE) 152
2013 – The New One 152
2012 – Simonsig 148
2011 – First Lieutenant (IRE) 142
2010 – Peddlers Cross 148
2009 – Mikael d'Haguenet (IRE) 155
2008 – Five For Three (IRE) 131
2007 – Massini's Maguire 138
In beating the 145-rated Capitaine by five lengths at Sandown on Saturday, the handicapper has awarded him a mark of 149, a rating that is better than six of the last 10 Neptune winners pre-Cheltenham, his most likely Festival target according to the ante-post betting.
Capitaine did make a vital error at the second last, an incident that saw Finian's Oscar go from jostling for the lead to five-lengths clear in a split second.
Even so, Finian's Oscar was going much the better at the time and there's little doubt that he's the form pick of the British contenders that are nestled among a sea of Irish potential in the Neptune betting.
A best-price 5/1 for the Neptune now things have settled down following the weekend, the Irish challenge is probably the biggest obstacle between himself and Festival glory given their excellent recent record in the contest (see table).
Yorkhill did the Tolworth-Neptune double last season, although he looked very much in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle reckoning in the weeks leading up to the Festival before a late switch.
Finian's Oscar is second-favourite with some bookmakers for the Supreme, behind Moon Racer, a horse considered 8lb his inferior according to the assessor, but a step back up in trip for the Neptune looks the most likely course of action when considering the post-race quotes of connections, his breeding and visual impression.
More new entries from the novice ranks
Chalonnial >>>> New entry at 140
Keeper Hill >>>> New entry at 138
Charlemar >>>> New entry at 135
Jameson >>>> New entry at 126
Last year's Tolworth Hurdle threw up the Betfair Hurdle winner as well. Agrapart was beaten just over 10 lengths by Yorkhill in third, was allotted a mark of 137 and duly hacked up at Newbury just over a month later under a jubilant Lizzie Kelly.
Agrapart's half-brother Afsoun had won a handicap at Newbury, the Gerry Feilden, off a higher mark, so he was upholding the family history and this year's Tolworth third, Chalonnial, has a similar profile.
He was beaten just over eight lengths by Finian's Oscar, keeping on encouragingly once headed, and his half-brother, Activial, was placed in a Betfair Hurdle when third off a mark of 143 behind Violet Dancer a couple of years ago.
If you think I'm getting excited about Chalonnial's Betfair Hurdle chances off a mark of 140, I was, but he needs to have run three times over hurdles to qualify – and he's only had the two runs over timber.
He's still one to watch in handicaps, but there might be a Betfair Hurdle horse to come out of the Tolworth anyway in the shape of Harry Whittington's Charlemar.
Now he was a little disappointing in the Tolworth, so you have to look past that, but this did look like a good renewal and maybe it was on much softer ground than he'd care for and on a right-handed track when he'd previously impressed going the other way around.
His most impressive performance was at Aintree, when he won well in the same contest Agrapart had hosed up in a year before. Whittington also trained last year's Betfair Hurdle fourth, Affaire D'Honneur, and off a mark of 135 Charlemar is worth noting for the race given he's had the requisite three qualifying runs over hurdles.
Another novice hurdler that is worth keeping in mind for handicaps, maybe even the Betfair Hurdle, is Warren Greatrex's Keeper Hill.
He travelled well under a penalty at Hereford, beating a well-touted Nicky Henderson-trained horse, Jameson (handed a mark of 126), in third in the process, and he could well have the gears to cope with a drop in trip to two miles.
He could make his handicap debut off a rating of 138 should he go down that route.
Handicapper forces Moore rethink
Baron Alco >>>> Up 3lb to 143
Starchitect >>>> New entry at 143
Baron Alco coped well enough with the drop in trip to two miles to register his second novice chasing win at Plumpton on January 2.
Ridden aggressively by Jamie Moore to compensate for the lack of a stamina test, Baron Alco jumped well and showed enough in defying a 5lb penalty against a couple of smart rivals to suggest he'll be of major interest when he runs in a handicap off his new mark of 143.
His task was made easier by the fall of the ill-fated Laissez Dire, but Solatentif and Starchitect give the form a solid enough look and the winner will be much more at home over half a mile further.
This race was part of the £60,000 SIS Cheltenham Bonus series that Plumpton run, so if Baron Alco does go on to win a chase at the Cheltenham Festival connections will bag an extra £60,000 on top of their winning prize money (the last horse to land the bounty was Voy Por Ustedes, who won at Plumpton before winning the Arkle in 2006).
Gary Moore suggested the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase would be his Festival target in the aftermath of his Plumpton win, but that is a 0-140 so it's unlikely he'll qualify for that race now.
Perhaps Baron Alco will go for the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate on the Thursday instead, an open handicap that's worth an extra £35,000. It's a race his stable won in a former guise, when it was the Mildmay Of Flete, with Tikram back in 2004.
David Pipe's Starchitect gets an identical mark of 143 following his second chase start, despite being beaten five lengths while receiving 5lb.
On that basis it looks a little harsh, but we'll likely see a much improved version of Starchitect when he's switched to handicap company. His old, forceful, tactics could come into play for starters and he is at least rated 7lb lower than he is over hurdles.
All things considered, there's little for Pipe to complain about.
Drop it like it's hot
Cole Harden >>>> Down 7lb to 152
Aubusson >>>> Down 5lb to 140
Thomas Crapper >>>> Down 2lb to 131
Three quickfire horses now that could be interesting after they've been dropped down the weights.
First up, Cole Harden.
He's dropped down a stone from his career-high mark of 166, attained following his World Hurdle win, relatively quickly and, still only eight, it's too early to be writing him off.
I thought he ran perfectly well in the Relkeel on ground that wouldn't suit and, off a mark of 152, I wonder if Warren Greatrex might be tempted by the handicapping route?
The Coral Cup would be an interesting option (the Pertemps even more so if he could get qualified) and his Festival entries will be worth keeping an eye on.
Even though he won at Cheltenham as a novice hurdler he's just not performed at the course in three goes since and I think he's much more at home on a flatter track, so his latest effort can be excused.
Dropped 5lb to 140, the handicapper has lobbed 9lb off him for two runs and being a lightly-raced Nick Williams-trained eight-year-old that could be a bit hasty.
His chase mark is now 1lb below the rating he won the Fixed Brush Hurdle off at Haydock, so we know he's capable off his new mark, and 0-140s are an option for him now.
An easier grade could enable him to reproduce the forcing tactics that served him well in his younger days and he would be of interest in such a race at somewhere like Haydock or Newbury.
Thirdly, Thomas Crapper.
The Crapper ran a cracking race behind Shantou Flyer at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, travelling into things like he would play a part in the finish rounding the home turn before he got tired on ground much too soft for him.
He's going to be interesting on spring ground off a mark of 131, a number which unfortunately looks too small to get him in something like the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate.
He's 3lb below his last winning mark now, the wind operation seems to have done the trick and if Robin Dickin gets him entered up before Cheltenham, in a bid to go up a few pounds or get a penalty, he's going to be of interest.
Best of the rest from Saturday
Garde La Victoire >>>> Up 4lb to 158
Walk In The Mill >>>> Up 12lb to 138
Wild West Wind >>>> Up 12lb to 135
KK Lexion >>>> Up 14lb to 135
Mercian Prince >>>> Up 7lb to 135
Pete The Feat >>>> Up 8lb to 132
Theatrical Star >>>> Up 5lb to 132
Maestro Royal >>>> Up 7lb to 132
The handicapper has taken no chances with Wincanton's wide-margin handicap winners on Saturday, the fog that descended on the track not helping in that regard.
Walk In The Mill has gone up 12lb to 138, Wild West Wind has gone up 12lb to 135 and KK Lexion is up a full stone to 135. You couldn't say with any confidence that any of that trio are worthy of such hefty hikes.
Things were clearer at Sandown and Garde La Victoire finally put it altogether over fences again to win for the first time in a steepchase since a novice success at Ludlow 12 months previously.
He's up 4lb to 158 and could be difficult to place, like he was over hurdles once he reached a mark in the 150s.
Mercian Prince recorded another success for fledgling Newmarket handler Amy Murphy and she's nominated the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on trials day for his next start.
Up 7lb to 135, he'll be one of the highest-rated horses in the contest and goes there in great form.
Pete The Feat led home Theatrical Star in a thrilling renewal of the 32Red Veterans' Handicap Chase Final and the pair go up 8lb and 5lb respectively following the tussle, which could well handicap the winner out of things until he's at least 14, while Nicky Henderson's Maestro Royal is up 7lb to 132 following his last-ditch win in the closing 32Red.com Handicap Hurdle.