Not under the radar, but certainly underrated: Vision d’Honneur ended the season with a relatively low profile, considering his hefty pricetag and big reputation this time last year. That’s because Gordon Elliott’s young horse – and don’t forget how young he is compared to his rivals, with a March 2014 birthday – fell at the last at Punchestown after only finishing 9th in the Supreme at Cheltenham. But as the Arctic Monkeys famously sang, “anticipation has a habit to set you up…for disappointment”, and those writing off this horse as a result of his poor runs in the Spring festivals are overreacting.
He arrived at Cheltenham having traded blows with Aramon and Klassical Dream in the Grade One at the Dublin Racing Festival before ultimately being outpaced and finishing six lengths back; before that he’d won a decent Punchestown novice hurdle fairly comfortably. That’s pretty decent form, especially for a young horse who clearly had a lot of filling out left to do over the summer.
But a closer look at his apparently ‘dreadful’ run in the Supreme is where things get even more interesting. He was blatantly outpaced down the hill after travelling fine, and then was given the easiest ride imaginable after that. It’s fairly obvious that Elliott, and Gigginstown connections, feel that this horse has far more to offer as a novice chaser over further, and given his scope it’s hard to disagree. Elliott commented in his stable tour for Betfair that “last season…the ground was too quick and he was too weak…we tried him in some bog races before he was ready for that level of competition. Don’t be surprised if he makes up into a high-class novice chaser.”
I won’t be surprised, Gordon. In fact, I think he’s a ludicrous price for the JLT in March, and I’m already willing to have a small punt.
Ben Pauling’s pride and joy was picked out by Nico de Boinville as the horse he was particularly looking forward to riding again this season – and that’s quite some statement from the man who rides most of Nicky Henderson’s string!
Pauling gave Bright Forecast a deliberately light novice hurdling campaign last term, feeling that the horse needed to develop further over the summer before being seen at his best over fences as an older and stronger horse. In that context, his form last term is even more impressive. His second place behind Mister Fisher doesn’t look amazing on the face of it, but given it was over a sharp 15.5 furlongs at Haydock, and given he nearly ran out on one bend, it was a good effort. Best of all was his eye-catching third in the Supreme, when he ran on powerfully up the hill after being outpaced.
That run marked him out as a horse with more stamina than outright speed; indeed, Pauling has suggested the RSA could be a target, which seems remarkable given that he was sent over such sharp trips over hurdles. I would be keener for him to run over intermediate trips with an eye on the JLT in March, but either way, he first needs to prove he can jump a fence. If he can – and his schooling has apparently been “electric” – he should go right to the top of the novice chasing division.
In my opinion, no two-mile novice hurdler made a bigger initial impression last season then Eldorado Allen at Sandown. He was magnificent that day: he settled well, jumped efficiently, and sped away from the field with an extraordinary burst of speed. And he didn’t beat nothing; the collateral form of many of the horses behind him that day has been strong. Sadly he was the victim of cruel fortune in his next start at Aintree and hasn’t race since, but Colin Tizzard has been making encouraging noises about his recovery, and has confirmed that he will stay hurdling this season.
If he has progressed over the summer – and of course, for a horse who has missed almost a whole year, that’s a big if – then in my view he can make up for lost time and take leading rank among two-mile hurdlers this season. Last season’s champion Espoir d’Allen is regrettably out for the year, leaving Klassical Dream as the only proven outstanding horse in the division, unless Buveur d’Air retains all his ability and speed as he ages. It could be an open division.
Of course, this is highly speculative – this is all based on one run against novices, which might have been a flash in the pan – but Colin Tizzard still thinks the world of this horse, and given the prices available, it might be worth a tiny investment to find out if the wily trainer is right.
HIGHWAY ONE O ONE
Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Chris Gordon’s chaser, and backed him for the Close Brothers at the festival, when he disappointed. So there’s a danger that he’s simply a cliff horse for me, but let me try to persuade you otherwise.
Apart from that festival flop, his form is impeccable for a horse rated just 144 by the handicapper in his best conditions (decent ground, 2.5+ miles): he trailed Kildisart, winner at Aintree, by just two lengths carrying two pounds more than him at Cheltenham in January; he was then narrowly beaten back at Cheltenham in an open Grade 2 handicap by the high-class Mister Whitaker. With another year under his belt, he can land a big prize this year off this mark, which to my eyes underestimates his jumping and travelling ability – when things fall in his favour.
Colin Tizzard’s mare finished last season with form figures reading PFP, so on the face of it she’s not one to follow, but those letters don’t tell the true story. She’d been on the go since April 2018, and had 11 starts between then and her fairly short 74-day lay-off leading into her three ill-fated runs in Spring 2019. In short, she needed a rest, and Tizzard himself would probably admit he shouldn’t have run her in March and April.
At her best, she was an impressive sight over fences, particularly when allowed to dictate proceedings from the front of the field, and she would probably have got herself some black type but for an unlucky late fall at Market Rasen. Her victory under a penalty at Chepstow was particularly striking, and marked her out as a classy mare.
Following the dreadful finish to last season, she’s back down to an official rating of 137 with a top RPR in her favoured conditions of 148. That makes her one to note in handicaps, although she has shown a tendency to get het up in the preliminaries in open company, most notably before the RSA at Cheltenham. In the right race, she can get back on track, but she does need conditions to be spot on to shine.
Cruelly injured after just one chase start last season, the Rooney’s strapping 7-year-old should have a lot to offer this season if his long lay-off hasn’t done him any permanent damage. Although he only finished second, that chasing debut run was full of promise, as he ran the high-class Vinndication close over 20 furlongs at Carlisle. Watching that run back, there’s nothing not to like: he had to make the running, jumped almost perfectly, stayed on very well and wasn’t given a particularly hard time in the process. He’s only rated 135 by the handicapper, and if he’s fit and firing, he should go close in a big handicap over 2.5 to 3 miles this year.
GOOD BOY BOBBY
Another Rooney-owned horse who went under the radar after an underwhelming 2018-19 season, Good Boy Bobby can make amends this year. His novice hurdling campaign drowned in the mud at Ffos Las in November, where he failed to defy Somme-like conditions and was shattered by the experience. To be honest, Nigel Twiston-Davies shouldn’t have entered him, but Twister doesn’t really believe in horses not running. The then 5-year-old wasn’t seen again until the kinder conditions of March and April, where he got back on track with two facile wins, the first by the small matter of 44 lengths at Southwell, and then by a good margin back at Ffos Las (for some extraordinary reason).
None of that bare form screams “proper horse”, but the visual impression given in the three of his four starts on normal ground made this observer believe that Good Boy Bobby has a lot more to offer. He may be the wrong price in his races this side of Christmas, and I intend to take advantage of that.
VISION D’HONNEUR – 0.5pts win – JLT Novices’ Chase @ 40/1 (Hills)
ELDORADO ALLEN – 0.25pts win – Champion Hurdle @ 66/1 (Various)