Cracksman: thoughts on his defeat

I’ve tipped and backed Cracksman for the King George next month and would like to have seen him win today. But I’m not quite so dismayed as some by his performance.

He’s turning into a fascinating horse. Whatever the excuses last time, at the end of the Coronation Cup the furthest thing from your mind would be to run him over 10f on fast ground. When the form is reviewed at the end of the season it might show he ran as well as can be expected for this trip/ground.

Poet’s Word is an improver and until he’s beaten we just won’t know the level of that improvement. I understand Stoute is renowned for developing this type of horse.

When hotpots are turned over there’s a tendency to seek excuses, and there’s no knowing the validity of what connections come up with and pundits speculate upon. Cracksman was a touch reluctant to go into the stalls today and, when they opened, simply did not pick up his bit, dwelling slightly and having to be visibly rousted out. Was his last experience at Epsom, when he reportedly gave his head a right bang exiting the stalls in his mind? He came onto the bridle within a furlong today but the experience seemed to panic Frankie more than the horse and it could be that the jockey made too much use of him (even Frankie could be excused that given how long the horse took to pick up last time).

I think Cracksman just needs a proper trip now. He doesn’t have the tactical speed of others and finds it tough when they quicken mid race. I suspect he’d do much better sitting out the back – much like he did at the Curragh – and being brought with one sustained run rather than being regularly hustled to keep close tabs on the leaders.

Some bookies pushed him out to 7/2 for the KG and, given that nobody knows the strength of Poet’s Word over 10f on fast ground, I think that’s a risky move for bookmakers. No question whatsoever that Cracksman will be better suited by 12f and the ground will be no faster than it was today. They’ll go steadier and Frankie will hopefully ride him with a bit more confidence and give the horse a chance to relax.

If anything does need fixing between now and the KG, no better man to do it than Gosden. It will be interesting to see if he resorts to headgear, although if that Epsom stalls experience has remained with the horse perhaps blinkers should be eschewed in favour of a crash helmet.

Racing Review, Saturday January 20th

Clarence House Chase

Un De Sceaux‘s class showed in the end, although some might crab the style given how far ahead of the runner-up, Speredek, he was in lengths in comparison to official ratings.  He’s likely to be bang in top form come the festival and his attempt to defend his Ryanair crown.

Brain Power didn’t jump a single fence with confidence or acceptable technique. He looked to be hating the ground and that might have had some effect on his fencing but my guess is that he has quickly fallen out of love with chasing.

They might give him another crack at it after his wind op, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nicky do a Buveur D’Air with him. He wouldn’t be good enough to win a Champion Hurdle but something like the Imperial Cup would be ideal for him. I’d then save him for Punchestown where he might win something like the Punchestown Champion Hurdle if the Cheltenham principals are a bit battle weary or if Nicky leaves Buveur D’Air at home.

To get to where he did today before falling, given the poor round of jumping, proves he has an engine.

This race was a handicap until 2008 and perhaps it’s time to consider reverting to that structure.  Had it been a handicap today, Un De Sceaux would have been conceding 23lbs to Speredek and the result might well have been different. Eight of the last 11 runnings have been won by the favourite; five of those were odds on.


Bet365 Handicap Chase

Having watched Acting Lass (a gelding, by the way) last twice, I was unsure what to make of him and unwilling to take a chance on him here. He has shown several signs of not being straightforward and I couldn’t decide whether it was greenness or temperament or even a physical problem (he comes on and off the bridle, jumps left and wanders quite markedly).

Early in today’s race I though him more likely to be pulled up than win. He jumped badly left and did not look at all confident at his fences. But if there’s one man you want on top of a horse like that it’s the superb Noel Fehily. Once he got Acting Lass settled and jumping better he moved to the front a long way from home and the horse seemed a different animal.  Approaching two out he began to idle and wander and after jumping that he dropped the bit completely and was idling so badly I thought he was going to pull himself up. His leap at the last showed he had a fair bit left and he picked up again.

No question he has a decent engine, but I would still be a wee bit wary that temperament could cost him a race.

Ascot Spring Garden Show Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle

Jenkins has been gambled on more than once in decent handicaps and Henderson has never made a secret of the fact that he thought the horse very capable.  Last time out he stuck blinkers on him and had his jock send him to the front early; he won easily despite running around a bit after the last. The question today was how he’d react in blinkers for the second time.

Despite never really settling (he must have burned a fair amount of energy), causing him to travel almost too well,  he had enough in reserve to put the race firmly to bed. He can surely go on from here and The Betfair Hurdle, often run at the kind of pace that would help him settle just off the leaders, could be ideal.

Rossington Main Novices Hurdle

This looked a decent field, but First Flow saw them off convincingly, winning ten lengths. Tizzard will regret reversing his decision and running Lostintranslation in deep ground. He finished stone last and I’m increasingly losing faith in this trainer’s judgement.

McCain’s Waterlord was disappointing in third. Chasing will be his game.

Back to the winner: connections are determined to keep him to soft ground and trainer Kim Bailey suggested this might be him finished for the season. A wet Cheltenham could change their minds and if it was deep there, First Flow would have a fine chance in the Albert Bartlett.


Peter Marsh Chase

Tizzard got one back in reverting to fences with The Dutchman who had run well here over hurdles last time behind Sam Spinner. One of three lightly-weighted horses in this (10.6), it must have helped not to be humping much more than that given the relentless pace in such bad ground (more than half the field pulled up).  It was too hot for Hainan but I wouldn’t write him off as he ran on again having been prominent for a fair part of the race.

Yala Enki  ran well but he’s a horse I cannot take to for some reason. He’ll pop up at some point and has had some stiff tasks, but all in all, I think connections will be disappointed after his early promise.

Forest Des Aigles’ improvement came to an end although he travelled well for a long way and will be worth another chance back over shorter.


Champion Hurdle Trial

The New One won for the 4th time in succession. This is one of the most remarkable horses I’ve ever seen.  He is essentially a stayer who has been campaigned over the wrong trip most of his career because of his trainer’s resentment at the horse being hampered by Our Conor in the 2014 Champion Hurdle. The New One never runs a poor race and has won over a million pounds. His Champion Hurdle ‘disappointments’ have been down to him being naturally outpaced (as almost all stayers will be) when they quicken coming down the hill.

When he finally gets his big prize in the Stayers Hurdle in March, I hope Nigel Twiston-Davies puts his hands up and admits his errors with this wonderful racehorse who might well have won a couple of World Hurdles already.



Race review: Whisper seasonal debut

RSA runner-up Whisper started his new season with a win in the Weatherbys General Stud Book Online Graduation Chase at Kempton today.  Jumping’s the name of the game and is the factor I always pay close attention to. I hadn’t noticed before and will check back, but Whisper’s jumping style today was rather flat-planed. He never really looks iffy but doesn’t flex as fully as you’d like and he showed a tendency to get in close. His rider Davy Russell is a fine jock and is not the type to be fussing and organising a horse at his fences. He seemed happy that his mount would do most of the stride-seeing on his own and pretty much left him to it. Horses who jump in that flattish manner can sometimes land almost on all fours and Whisper did that a couple of times.

He raced upsides his only rival Clan Des Obeaux almost throughout and despite that horse never really settling, he made Whisper look flat footed in the conventional way when he began coming away from him three out. Russell got busy then but had the advantage of knowing the deep stamina resources  available beneath him and never reached the panicky stage. When Whisper had clanked through his gears to find top, he made up the deficit and went past without histrionics to earn a 16/1 quote from one bookie for the King George. Had he jumped cleanly, maybe 20/1 would have made some each way appeal but 16s is a touch short. Contrary to the perception of quite a few, the King George can be a serious stamina test; brutal would be an exaggeration but it can take an awful lot of getting in the usual softish ground off a strong pace. It was good going last year for the first time since 2008 (and ironically, the pace wasn’t that hot).

Like his stablemate Might Bite yesterday, Whisper will strip fitter next time. He’s probably a few pounds below what would be needed to win one of the big Grade Ones but if they could improve his jumping style he’d have a fine chance in a Grand National. He reportedly goes next to the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury (the Hennessy Gold Cup as was) where his 4lbs penalty for today (which seemed to surprise trainer Henderson who obviously hadn’t done his homework on the race conditions) takes his weight to 11st 8lb. He’d need to jump much better there and Russell, post race today, said he expects his fencing to improve for a better pace which he will almost certainly get at Newbury.  At 12/1 I could be tempted.




Might Bite review

I can’t recall seeing so many scopey jumps from one horse in a race as Might Bite threw on his seasonal debut today in the 188Bet Future Stars Intermediate Chase at Sandown.

Those jumps must have been costly energy-wise and he looked to be just tiring a shade approaching the Pond. Kept on well enough but didn’t do more than you’d expect given the opposition. Henderson said he’d had a good blow afterwards but had been working ‘very, very well’.

The trainer must have done a proper job on him over the summer to wring out that tendency to dash along madly but I wonder if it’s affected the natural spark the horse has. When he took the lead he jumped with more economy and they’ll need to be careful and keep him to pacey races, I think. Raising that backend the way he does when going too slow increases the chance of overbalancing on landing, especially in such a big horse.

Although they’ve done a number on his early keenness, he looked for a moment to be ready to down tools again today after the last.  Trouble is, if they overdo the waiting tactics and try to keep him under restraint until the run-in, he might sulk.

Might Bite is a fascinating animal and no doubting his talent but I’m not quite sure what to make of his prospects after that. Most of the bookies seemed to feel the same; he is generally 3-1 (from 7-2) for the King George, while he’s widely available at 8-1 for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, although Hills were impressed, halving his price for that to 5/1.

You can watch the race here