All big races are fascinating in their own way, and in Saturday’s Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly The Hennessy Gold Cup) the intrigue, for me at least, will be which jockeys will change tactics?
Every runner bar Beware The Bear has a recent history of racing prominently; Flying Angel has done so twice in his last four runs and West Approach once in his last four. The remainder of the field are regular front runners/prominent racers.
Something will have to give.
I suspect Briony will be faced with the biggest dilemma. The only time in his last 10 runs that Black Corton has been held up, (Aintree, behind Terrefort), he ran about 25lbs below his best. Having said that, he’d had a tough season and the tactics might have had nothing to do with the result. She decided mid race last time to drop in behind Definitly Red, who was winning the head to head jumping battle, and that was a solid decision, even though she did not win. I wonder if she’ll risk holding him up again here?
Elegant Escape is another who likes to be up there. He makes mistakes and Harry Cobden must decide whether those errors might be worse if back in the pack.
In his 3 chase wins American has been in the van. They tried holding him up in two runs but he returned to racing prominently in the Gold Cup. He’s a horse I can’t work out. He was backed for this a year ago (SP 5/1) but was pulled up. He’s talented but a risky proposition on consistency.
Wayne Hutchinson on Dingo Dollar will not only have a decision to make on challenging early for the lead, but there’s been growing expectation that he has a fine chance of winning this. He’s had a good prep, has improved with almost every run since going fencing (officially 18lbs) and I fear him, although he’s too short to be value for me.
Thomas Patrick is a bonny horse and probably the front-running key here. Leading is what he does best and it’s what his jockey Richard Johnson does best (a masterful pacemaking jockey). The horse’s fine jumping and his galloping style allows him to get into a rhythm very quickly and rhythm is a vital factor in staying chases.
Thomas Patrick is one-paced, but it’s a solid and reliable and seemingly endless pace. He just grinds it out – that’s his thing – and Newbury is a great track for a horse like that. Whether this race is the one for him is a different matter. The other riders will know that if they let Dicky dictate from the front, he’s highly likely to get the fractions dead right. I believe someone will take him on and I just wonder how the horse will handle it. There’s a risk too of front-rank competition blowing the chances of those involved.
Even if he leads them, that long straight is the ideal runway for something to wind up a challenge and pass him late. The final factor for me is that I thought he had quite a hard race last time when 2nd at Sandown. I love watching him, but at around 9/2, he’s too short by some way.
Go Conquer’s been disappointing since his Ascot victory in last year’s Sodexo Chase. He ran well in it again this year and perhaps he’s one for right handed tracks. Another front-runner who normally jumps well but can make the occasional blunder. Could be a source of trouble for others if taking on the leaders and making a bad mistake.
Ms Parfois, another who likes to be up there, is a fine, strong mare. Her trainer believes this could really be her year in big handicaps like this. She jumps well and stays but I believe she is not a battler. If she gets in a tussle on the run in, I think she’ll come off worst. She too is very short in the betting.
Flying Angel was a promising horse early last year. He was very badly hampered in the JLT but won a Grade 1 at Aintree next time out. He has dropped more than a stone in the handicap since then and ran a promising race in first time visor last time out. But has never tried this far. He’s raced just twice beyond 21f (24f, and 25f) and neither time did he look like what he wanted was farther.
West Approach is another who will, I think, find this too far for him. I certainly hope he does as I fancied him strongly last time out and he ran no kind of race after making a mistake at the first. I think there’s a decent race in him over shorter although he’s beginning to look very much like a horse who needs everything to fall right for him. His fencing is mostly good, but occasionally he takes one as though he’s a crazed cowboy bashing through the batwing doors of a saloon looking for a fight.
The Young Master is yet another who likes to lead and he’s been in great heart lately, much to my chagrin as I’ve tipped and backed him more times than I can count. His revival seems linked to the recent decent ground and his free falling handicap mark. That mark is on its way back up and the ground will be quite a bit softer than he cares for so I’ll regrettably desert him.
That leaves us with the sole guaranteed hold up horse and two others. The hold up horse is Beware The Bear – well named as he’s prone to mistakes and ill luck, although he defied a slipping saddle in unusual fashion when coming from a long way back to win at Newcastle last season. He is not what you’d call fast, but when he turns his mind to it, he keeps on and keeps on, much in the way a glacier does. If you fancy him and have the resources to wait for an in-running bet, he could trade at a massive price if they all go mad up front and leave him to drift solemnly past them late on.
Now to my two selections. Sizing Tennessee, at 10, is the oldest in the race. His jumping hasn’t always been good but he’s getting better with practise and is learning how to find a leg when things go wrong (touch wood). He has run some fine races from the front and has been racing with great enthusiasm – something I value in a horse.
His rider Tom Scudamore is another jock who is confident when making the pace. While not quite as refined as Richard Johnson in this skill, he’s good enough, I think, to take Thomas Patrick on here from the start. Sizing Tennesse’s zest for racing and jumping will take quite a bit out of him, whereas the favourite’s dour, head-down, precise jumping style is most efficient. But Sizing Tennessee had a much easier prep race than Thomas Patrick, and seemed in tremendous heart. I tipped him earlier today on twitter at 25/1 as I believed he would shorten Then Kemboy came out and everything shortened. He’s now 16/1 and still well worth betting.
Finally, the true dark horse and one I think can run a very big race at around 25/1. Allyson Monterg has run in just 4 chases and in only 10 races in all under rules. He’s 8-years-old and has bad tendons. Not looking good so far, eh? But before he went badly wrong he kept some decent company, his debut in a NH flat race saw him finish 6l behind Blaklion.
He was 16/1 on his hurdling debut where he finished 2nd of 13 and was turned out a month later in a good race at Cheltenham where he was beaten a neck at 33/1 by Champers On Ice. He then won a six-runner race in heavy ground before finishing 6th of 19 to Unowhatimeanharry in the 2016 Albert Bartlett. He was 40/1 that day.
He returned to Cheltenham for his next run where he started favourite in a listed race, but he damaged the suspect tendon (it had initially been an injury from before he started racing), finishing 7th.
The tendon problem kept him off the track for 456 days until he lined up in a Class 3 novices chase at Exeter, which he won. He then went back into top company in the RSA, pulled up behind Presenting Percy. A drop in trip next time saw him 3rd of 4 at Uttoxeter; his trainer said it was probably a mistake to go back to 20f there. Next time, back up to 3 miles in soft ground at Perth where he won takingly, conceding the 2nd 16lbs.
That Perth win showed him to be another who looks to really enjoy racing and jumping, though he was bandaged in front, so that worry about his tendons will always be there. He’s a lovely big type who has impressed his trainer Richard Hobson enough to keep the faith through all his troubles. And the horse kept good company too.
His big price for this race will, as ever, be founded on him being with a little-known trainer. Richard Hobson appears to own most of the fairly slow horses he trains in Gloucester. But I understand that training is a sideline for Mister Hobson whose main business is bloodstock. He seems to know a good horse when he sees one. He bought Hurricane Fly for Willie Mullins.
Recommended bets: Sizing Tennessee at 16/1: Alysson Monterg at 25/1