Exeter – Tuesday 7th November
Some big guns were on show last week and it was the Paul Nicholls trained Politologue who kicked things off with a sound win in the Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, from stablemate San Benedeto back in second. The pair pulled clear of some useful sorts including last years runner-up Garde La Victoire (4th), as well as Ard Mad and Sir Valentino who both finished pulled up. Politologue is now on track for the Tingle Creek at Sandown on the 9th December, but although he is expected to improve for this run he needs to brush up on some of his jumping, especially as Sandown will be a less forgiving track and he will be taking on much classier opposition. At this point in time I wouldn’t personally have him down as an out-and-out two-mile chaser and something like the 1965 Chase at Ascot in a few weeks time and the Ryanair at the Festival look more appropriate. On the same card, I was much more impressed by Ballyoptic. Trained by Nigel Twiston Davies and ridden by son Sam, he drew away from his rivals and stayed on strongly to win the three-mile novice chase convincingly. His jumping looked sound throughout and it was a really nice performance on his chase debut. A 162 rated hurdler at the peak of his powers, this former point-to-point winner could develop into one of the seasons leading novices – He was made 20/1 for both the RSA and National Hunt Novices Chases after this. I would have a slight preference at this time aiming him towards the latter as he looks to have bundles of stamina.
Aintree – Saturday 11th November
All eyes at Aintree were on the Harry Fry trained Unowhatimeanharry and he didn’t disappoint. Over a trip that would be his bare minimum and giving 8lb to Top Notch, who was rated 158 over hurdles and chased home Yorkhill over fences at the Festival, it was a very impressive performance. The plan had originally been to have a racecourse gallop before a tilt at the Long Walk at Newbury next month but this race served a similar purpose with just three lining up. They didn’t go much of a pace early on and all three were in line jumping the last, before a sprint to the line ended with the JP McManus colours in front by one and a half lengths from Value At Risk back in second. Newbury is still very much the plan after this with preps at Ascot (Long Distance) and Cheltenham (Cleeve) also on the cards before he has another shot at the Stayers Hurdle, for which he is a best priced 7/1.
Wincanton – Saturday 11th November
Over at Wincanton Paul Nicholls landed two of the big pots with Modus and Present Man. Whilst London Prize captured the Elite Hurdle for Ian Williams moments before he also won the November Handicap at Doncaster with Saunter. The Rising Stars Novice Chase won by Modus was an uncompetitive affair with just three going to post. Conditions didn’t look to suit either the winner or the runner-up but despite Kalondra getting first run, Modus just had too much class. This race didn’t really tell us much but it did allow us to see Modus jump three fences at speed, which he did well enough. He’s had two quick runs now so might not be seen out again too soon. The Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices Chase on Tingle Creek day (9th December) could be a possibility. Present Man on the other hand, proved that he was well handicapped and also that he stays on ground softer than good. Bryony Frost went to the front three out holding off the challenge of Final Nudge and Leighton Aspell by a head at the line. He holds an entry for the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly the Hennessy) in three weeks time (33/1). That looks a realistic entry as long as the ground doesn’t come up too testing at Newbury and a 4lb penalty and rating of 146 should ensure he makes the cut. However, if the Grand National is a long target (currently 33/1) he could wait a week later for the Becher Handicap Chase to gain some valuable Aintree experience. The form of the Elite Hurdle doesn’t look particularly strong despite London Prize pulling away from his rivals nicely after the last. The winner, who was fit from the flat, and third (Flying Tiger) hold entries for this weekends Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham but others are likely to be more progressive and better handicapped. Neither look likely types for the Champion Hurdle come March but they could find smaller races en route.
Naas – Saturday 11th November
Across the pond in Ireland Ball D’Arc put up a good performance to beat Ordinary World and American Tom in a two-mile chase. All three had a chance jumping the last but the eventual winner, who had run the week before, had race fitness on his side and pulled away to win by five lengths. Ordinary World is perhaps the one to take from the race. Described by his trainer as a big sort, he travelled well into the race before looking to “blow up” and will improve for the run. His novice form behind Great Field, Altior and Min last year suggests he wouldn’t be a match for the likes of Douvan but he could pick up some lower grade chases on a sounder surface.
Navan – Sunday 12th November
The most impressive performance at Navan on Sunday came from Footpad who was absolute electric over his fences. Willie Mullins stated after the race that his schooling at home had been as good as any novice he’s had and he could now head to the Drinmore over two and a half miles on the 3rd December, although he’d like to try and keep him at two miles in the long term. Rated 157 over hurdles he could surpass that in this sphere and is already as low as 6/1 for the Arkle at Cheltenham in March. Apple’s Jade also made her seasonal reappearance and despite jumping out slightly to the right at her hurdles she gave solid yardstick Jer’s Girl 7lb and a two-length beating. That was a good performance considering she had to make her own running and would have prefered a lead. Her next target has been given as the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, again on the 3rd December, a race she won last year from Vroum Vroum Mag.
Sandown – Sunday 12th November
Although only four lined up for the Intermediate Chase at Sandown, they included last years Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner, Frodon and Grand Sefton winner As De Me. The horse that started odds-on though was last seasons top staying novice and RSA winner Might Bite who looked good here on his reappearance. He beat 150 rated rivals here unextended and is likely to come on for the run as he was described as being quite gassy after pulling his way to the front mid-race. His winter target is the King George VI Chase at Kempton over Christmas, a race run over the same course and distance as his impressive run in the Kauto Star Novices Chase before he fell at the last. Before that, he is likely to have a racecourse gallop.
Performance of the Week: Footpad – Was highly rated over hurdles and has the potential to be better over fences, with what looks to be a high-class jumping technique.