Last week’s ground for concern
All through the week we’ve seen more and more talk about Nicky Henderson’s decision not to run Constitution Hill at Ascot last Saturday.
Personally, I think it’s a pity that so much was made of it and that he’s had to argue his case to such an extent. I, for one, think he made the right decision.
‘Good, good to soft in places’ ground in November is very different from ‘good, good to soft in places’ in March because the latter comes after a whole winter’s worth of rain, and this year the racecourses are coming off a very hot, dry summer.
Good, good to soft in places in November can be like concrete four inches below compared to March, and that’s what does the damage.
Constitution Hill is a big, robust jumping horse – not the sort you would run on a quick surface because he's a totally different animal to smaller, lighter summer racehorses who are bred for quicker ground over shorter trips. Nicky’s judgement was sensible, especially for the horse’s first run of the season.
Protektorat is proving to be something special based on his performance in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last weekend.
A Plus Tard was bitterly disappointing, and that’s obviously not his true running, but, even so, the winner ran a good race. He’s a horse on the up and, if he gets his ground come the Gold Cup, he should be in with a big shout. Definitely one for the short list.
Let’s not forget State Man from last weekend either. He put in a good performance, despite people saying his jumping was a bit big.
He’ll be an exciting one to go over fences with, but I still think he’s a player in the Champion Hurdle division at the minute, particularly with it all going quiet around Vauban’s reappearance.
Newbury’s Grade 2 novices’ chase (1:55pm) looks to be competitive, but it’s hard to get away from BEAUPORT and Stage Star.
Beauport really impressed in his first run over fences last month in what was a really solid race and there’s no reason why he won’t do the same again.
Stage Star is the favourite after putting up a good performance in Warwick a few weeks ago, jumping well to beat West Cork, but both horses still have lots of potential over fences and I’ll side with Beauport at the prices.
Then we’ve got the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle (3:05pm), which has a quality field. For me, though, it’s CHAMP who has the upper hand.
This is his seasonal debut, and previous form suggests first time up is when you want to catch him. Last year he beat Thyme Hill and Paisley Park at Ascot, and in 2019 he finished second to Sceaux Royal on his reappearance at Newbury.
Proschema, though a good horse, will have to take a big step up to beat Champ here. They all will, yet I think that DASHEL DRASHER is an interesting one and could be a bit of value. He’s got good chase form and is a recent winner over hurdles.
I’m looking forward to the Fighting Fifth Hurdle (2:10pm) at Newcastle this weekend when CONSTITUTION HILL goes up against stablemate Epatante, and I’d have to be with the young pretender.
It goes without saying that Epatante was brilliant last season, but I wouldn’t be alone in saying that what Constitution Hill did in the Supreme was better than anything we have seen in a very long time. Newcastle is a straightforward track and the ground should suit him.
The rest of the field would have to improve significantly to get anywhere close, so he’ll be hard to beat.
On Saturday, the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury (3:05pm) has plenty of quality runners.
I like the chances of both Corach Rambler and Gericault Rock, but FIDDLERONTHEROOF just about gets my vote. He’s a high-class horse, is still only eight and he’s ultra-consistent.
There’s a good buzz around the Joseph O’Brien yard for Busselton too, and if he can win this, he’s a horse with a serious future.
Something to note in the Grade 2 novices’ chase (12:45pm) early on the card is that Harry Cobden is riding Gelino Bello rather than McFabulous, so I’d say that Paul Nicholls expects him to be his best chance in this race.
Gelino Bello, in my opinion, has more potential for improvement than THYME HILL, in addition to carrying three pounds less. T
hyme Hill isn’t the biggest horse in the world, and I’m not convinced he’s going to thrive over fences, whereas Gelino Bello might. My prediction here is that Thyme Hill might just beat Gelino Bello, but Gelino Bello could progress further in time.
Other runners I’ll be looking out for on Saturday are Seven Barrows representatives LUCCIA (12:15pm) and WALKING ON AIR (1:55pm).
Luccia was so impressive at Sandown last season, winning by 17 lengths, that she should be very hard to beat with the expected natural progression, and I’m expecting similar things from Walking On Air.
It might only be his third start over hurdles, but that won’t be an issue coming from Henderson’s yard. I’d be very sweet on him.
AMERICAN MIKE is one I’ll be watching closely in the Grade 3 Monksfield Novice Hurdle (1:20pm). His winning performance last time out at Down Royal was very impressive, yet he should still improve from that and he looks very hard to oppose.
In the Troytown Chase (2:20pm), The Big Dog must have a good chance. His last outing was a winning run at Limerick in the Munster National where he just beat AIN’T THAT A SHAME by a head.
Ain’t That A Shame made a mistake at the last that day and was only beaten a length, so there’s every chance he can reverse the form. Another contender here is School Boy Hours, who has winning chase form and ought to be well tuned up.
Visually, I can see where the BHA are going with this, but the practicality of implementing and abiding by the new rules won’t be easy. The whip is used by jockeys for safety reasons as much as it is encouragement.
They use it to correct the horse and, therefore, prevent some dangers. In addition, it’s very difficult to pull your whip through to the other side from the backhand position. I can see the logic in the decision, but it won’t be that simple in practice.