I’ve ridden in a lot of King Georges but I don’t remember riding in one with such a small field.
Only five have been declared but, that said, it is quality – there’s no doubt about that.
Whatever way you look at it, it’s Tizzard versus Tizzard, and form would suggest Cue Card is the one to side with. His chase form is stones ahead of what his stable-companion, Thistlecrack, has achieved, but Thistlecrack is only a novice and hasn’t been asked that big a question yet.
Had this been your normal King George, with 10 or 12 runners, it would be a much different race, and that, I feel, is crucial.
Having five runners completely changes the dynamic of the race.
No matter what Tom Scudamore does over the first, aboard Thistlecrack, even if he jumps off last and keeps him wide to give the horse room, the worst he’s going to be is in fifth place going to the second fence.
In a similar scenario in a bigger field, he could be back in tenth or twelfth place and needing a lot of luck to get involved in the race. No matter how much space he wants to give himself today, he’s not going to sacrifice much ground.
However fast Cue Card goes, Thistlecrack is not going to find himself in a pocket, between horses at a fence, or needing a good jump at a fence to get himself out of trouble. It’s the ideal make-up of a race for an inexperienced horse taking such a significant step up in class. I’d go so far as to say it’s tailor-made for him.
If Tom Scudamore decides to buck out and go, he’s only going to have one, or two at most, taking him on. If he decides to drop in, he’ll only have four in front.
There are a million ways he could ride the race. It couldn’t be any better for him and, for that reason, I’d be siding with him.
I think he’s a hell of a good horse, and so is Cue Card, but all the advantage Cue Card might have in terms of experience and guile are negated in such a small field.In last year’s running of the race, Cue Card got up to nab Vautour on the line, and that was a cracking run.
You had the two of them and subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Don Cossack all but going to the second-last together, so the form could hardly look better.
It was a bloody good race, and Cue Card is, by 10 or 15lbs, the most superior horse Thistlecrack has taken on, but Thistlecrack looks like a horse capable of stepping up that much.
There may be only five runners, but you only need two horses to make a race – we saw that in the Tingle Creek, with Sire De Grugy and Un De Sceaux. There are only five in the Christmas Hurdle, as well, with Yanworth dropping back in trip to take on The New One and My Tent Or Yours.
You’d have to think Kempton will suit My Tent Or Yours better than Cheltenham but, that said, I still can’t see him reversing recent form with The New One. And if Yanworth is to be considered a Champion Hurdle horse, he will have to beat the two of them.
He may be dropping back after his win in the Coral Hurdle, at Ascot, but he’s unbeaten over two miles over hurdles, so it shouldn’t be an issue. His pedigree suggests he should be alright back over the trip, but his jumping must be a bit slicker than he has been in the past.
You’d imagine Alan King has an awful lot of that schooling done with him, and he should be up to winning this race.
Earlier on the card, there’s a very interesting renewal of the Kauto Star Novice Chase. With Tony Martin sending over Anibale Fly to take on some very smart sorts, including Paul Nicholls’ Frodon, we should get some idea where the Irish novice chasers stand in relation to the British at Grade 1 level.
Frodon, though only a four-year-old, has plenty of experience over fences, whereas Anibale Fly has had just the two runs. That said, he finished runner-up to Coney Island in a Grade 1 on his most recent outing, and can build on that.
Big step up for Min but he looks a star chaser in the making
Willie has decided not to run any horses in Kempton this afternoon, and so I’m in Leopardstown for the start of the four-day festival, and I have a good book of rides to get the meeting underway. The feature on day one, the Grade 1 novice chase, looks a cracker, with Min, Identity Thief and Tully East amongst the seven declared runners.
Tully East was impressive on his chasing debut in the fog at Thurles, and I saw more than most as I was on Bachasson, who was close up when falling at the last. He’s an improving horse but, on hurdles ratings, this looks a match between Min and Identity Thief.
They’re two very good horses, and both have jumped well in their starts over fences to date. I schooled Min on Friday, rode him in work earlier in the week, and was very happy with him. It’s a big step up from his win at Navan, but I thought he was very good on the day, and I’m looking forward to riding him. He’s a horse I really like, and I think he will be a better chaser than he was a hurdler.
Identity Thief was a Grade 1 winner over hurdles, and officially 5lbs higher than Min over the smaller obstacles. He was second to Nichols Canyon in the Ryanair Hurdle at this meeting last year, and is obviously going to be a tough horse to beat.
Earlier in the card, I hope to get my afternoon off to a good start on Bunk Off Early, in the maiden hurdle which gets proceedings underway. He’s an unusual colour in that he’s not grey, not a chestnut, but somewhere in the middle.
Strawberry roan is the colour I’d probably call him, but that doesn’t matter so long as he can run. And he proved he can, by winning on the flat for Andy Oliver.
We have him a while, and he goes well for us. He’s a nice type of four-year-old, he jumps well, and seems straight-forward. It’s a competitive-looking contest, but I like this fella and think whatever beats him will win.
I’ll be watching the second maiden hurdle from the side-line, but Willie has very strong claims with the JP McManus-owned Castello Sforza.
He steps up a couple of furlongs after being beaten on his hurdling debut, at Fairyhouse, and that should really suit him, as will the stiffer track. He’s working really well, is a relatively lightly raced horse which should have improved for his recent jumping experience, and will take plenty of beating.
I’ll be on Bapaume in the Grade 2 juvenile hurdle, and he ran a great race behind Landofhopeandglory on his first run for us. Barry (Geraghty) was fairly happy when we pulled up that day, because he felt he won with a bit more up his sleeve than it may have looked.
But Bapaume missed the last hurdle, it was his first run for us, and he’s entitled to improve for the experience. He was beaten just a length the last day and I’d certainly be hoping to get closer, and push Landofhopeandglory all the way. He’s not a big horse, but he seems to have improved at home, is in good order, and I expect a big run.
Mega Fortune was just another length and a quarter behind us at Fairyhouse, but he missed the second-last, whereas myself and Barry jumped it well. I bunny-hopped the last, but Barry jumped it really well, so there’s probably not a whole lot between these horses.
That said, you often think that when horses finish close together in a race they’re may not be an outstanding one amongst them, but I’d say these are three pretty smart horses.
I expect there won’t be a whole lot between them again this afternoon, it’s just a matter of which of them can find most improvement.
They’re only three-year-olds, they’re entitled to be getting better, and should do so all the way into the spring. It’s a hard race to call, but I think we go there with every chance, and, regardless of what the others have achieved on the flat or over hurdles, I wouldn’t swap mine.
Dawerann, which I ride in the handicap hurdle, won last time, and has gone up the handicap quite significantly for his recent efforts, so it’s hard to imagine he has too much up his sleeve from a handicap point of view. But, Gordon’s horses continue in great form, this fellow is fit and well, and I hope he can go well.
The focus will be on Leopardstown, but Willie has some high-profile runners in Limerick, where the Grade 2 Novice Chase is the feature. He’s launching a two-pronged attack on this with Bellshill and Haymount, both of which were very impressive on their respective chasing debuts.
Willie has always preferred the distance of this race – two miles, three furlongs – to the three miles of the Grade 1 at Leopardstown for his novices at this time of year. And it’s not the first time he has sent decent horses down there: Outlander beat Avant Tout last year.
Personally, I think Bellshill is a better horse. He achieved more as a hurdler. Haymount won a very competitive novice chase when he beat Coney Island and Mall Dini, and it looks like he has improved dramatically as a chaser.
I should know better than anybody that you should always go with form – and the form of that race is rock-solid - but my head tells me Bellshill is the one. He was a Grade 1 winner as a novice hurdler, he jumps fences really well, and I think is a horse with a huge future.
Allblak Des Places returns after almost 11 months off to run in the two-and-a-half-mile hurdle. He hasn’t been seen since finishing runner-up to another of our horses, Footpad, in the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in February. He picked up an injury that day, but has been pleasing us at home. We’re just hoping he’s fit enough to do himself justice.
Bravissimo, who runs in the two-mile-three maiden hurdle, had a run over hurdles in France in 2014, and runs here because he gets an allowance for not having won any race. It’ll take a good one to give him 8lb.
Thurles need to nail down a meeting on December 23
I think Thurles should nail down December 23 for a Christmas meeting. Clashing with Navan last Sunday didn’t do either venue any good, and it has been a long week with no racing.
Everybody in racing still works, anyway, and we work Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St Stephens’ Day, so going racing on the 23rd doesn’t make any difference to us.
People who are off work need to be entertained, and racing is in the entertainment business.
The last time I was in Thurles for a meeting on December 23, the place was jam-packed, and I think HRI should move to make that date synonymous with Thurles.
On December 26, you know it’s Leopardstown, Limerick and Down Royal, Easter Monday is Fairyhouse and Cork, and I think it should be the case for December 23 and Thurles.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved