My immediate reaction, after Willie Mullins’ Vautour had failed to cope with Cue Card in the King George at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day, was to dismiss him as a possible Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.
I have had plenty of time this week to give the matter further thought and there still seems no good reason to alter that view.
You cannot conclude Vautour didn’t stay three miles around Kempton, having been mugged in literally the final stride, but the performance clearly raised massive doubts regarding his ability to get three and a quarter at Cheltenham.
Mind you, I think it is now more than fair to say Vautour is a far better horse travelling left-handed.
To my eye, he looked a hard ride for Ruby Walsh in the King George.
I just felt he was always showing tendency to edge away to his left and that cannot have made the job of his pilot very easy.
Ideally, you’d imagine Walsh might have liked to hold onto him for a bit longer, but that was surely easier said than done.
Silviniaco Conti didn’t carry the field for anything like long enough and, so exuberantly does Vautour go through a race, that it is just a case of him hitting the front sooner rather than later.
On this occasion it was probably far too early, but what do you do?
I’d say Walsh is reasonably clear in his head now as to whether Vautour will stay at Cheltenham or not, but I doubt he will share his views with us mere mortals anytime soon.
Lots has been made of the fact Vautour didn’t jump the final fence cleanly at Kempton and that may have cost him the race.
But he was actually away from the obstacle far quicker than Cue Card and the fact he still failed to hold his rival was disappointing.
The bottom line is that in two runs this season he has failed to show anything approaching the same explosion of pace and power displayed when winning the JLT Novice Chase at Cheltenham in March.
You suspect, although clearly far from set in stone, that we won’t be treated to such a spectacle again until Vautour returns to Cheltenham for the Ryanair Chase, over two miles and five, come March.
At Leopardstown on Monday, Vautour’s stable companion, Don Poli, did little to enhance his Gold Cup prospects.
This was a laboured performance and narrowly beating First Lieutenant and Foxrock, in the Lexus Chase, isn’t anywhere near good enough.
The most enjoyable race, over a splendid four days at Leopardstown, purely talking through the pocket, was the success of Aidan O’Brien’s Ivanovich Gorbatov, in a three-year-old maiden hurdle.
He only ran three times on the Flat and shaped as a possible jumper of enormous potential when taking a competitive handicap at Leopardstown on his final start.
On Sunday, however, his ability to jump and handle the very testing conditions had to be taken on trust.
But there was every chance, given the professionalism of the O’Brien outfit, that his jumping would be solid and, as a son of Montjeu, every reason to think the surface might not present a huge problem.
Willie Mullins had a French-import in the contest, the filly Let’s Dance, who was the medium of more than favourable reports, and left the gate a 4-7 shot.
It wasn’t overly comfortable taking her on, but we were getting over 7-2 to our money and the chance was worth taking.
Ivanovich Gorbatov beat Let’s Dance with a nice bit to spare and he jumped and travelled quite beautifully.
It was no great surprise he was immediately promoted to favouritism for the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
The biggest kick in the teeth at Leopardstown, again purely talking through the pocket, was the defeat of Alpha Des Obeaux in Monday’s three-mile Grade One over flights.
I have long been a fan of this horse, despite the fact he has only ever won one race, but I’m beginning to run out of excuses for him.
To watch Alpha Des Obeaux kick both of his main rivals, Martello Tower and Arctic Fire, out of the way and then fail to cope with Prince Of Scars was a bitter pill to swallow.
I know Snow Falcon fell early and Alpha Des Obeaux was left in front, which may not have suited.
But I learned a long time ago that there are two sure ways to the poor house, repeatedly finding reasons for a horse getting beaten and blaming top jockeys.
Unless Alpha Des Obeaux shows marked improvement when meeting better ground, or maybe fences, then we are going to have to accept defeat on this one!
It was most disconcerting to see Un De Sceaux falling two out at Leopardstown with the race, I’d say, in safe keeping.
The two-mile Champion Chase at Cheltenham is there for the taking, assuming Vautour isn’t aimed in that direction, but Un De Sceaux is going to have to put this blip well behind before he can again be completely trusted.
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