Saturday’s big race, the Betfair Chase, promised to be a thriller. With the Gold Cup winner – plus the third and fourth placed horses from that race – as well as last year’s Betfair Chase champ, the Ryanair winner, the Jewson runner-up, and the Lexus Chase winner, all lining up, it couldn’t fail to disappoint.
So why then did I get a sense of anti-climax after the race? True, the two horses I felt had no chance finished first and second (!). But that left me with a distinct feel that several players had under-performed, most notably Bobs Worth, the Gold Cup champ and a horse that had not previously finished out of the first three in his thirteen race career.
Then there was stable mate Long Run, Gold Cup and dual King George winner, who jumped better than I’ve ever seen him jump and yet still only finished a 21 length fourth.
Take nothing away from the winner, Cue Card, who demonstrated a reserve of stamina hitherto unseen; and to Dynaste, who has seemingly bridged the gap from novice to senior ranks in one almighty bound.
I say ‘seemingly’ because I have a niggling suspicion that taking this result at face value could prove expensive folly. Whilst, as Nicky Henderson said before the race, “This isn’t a prep race for anything. It’s for real and it’s for a lot of prize money”, his horses ran nothing like they were ‘off’ for this big pot.
So either Bobs Worth was seriously undercooked, or he was ‘wrong’. Looking back at his form, including a first time out win in the Hennessy last term, allied to the strong weight of money for him, it’s hard to believe he wasn’t fit to run his race.
And what of Long Run? He was scuppered in part by a horlicks at one of the fences last time at Wetherby, but no such excuse could be wheeled out here. Has he gone at the game, aged eight? While that’s far from impossible for a horse that was precocious enough to win a Grade 1 hurdle at three, and a Grade 1 chase at four, it is at best an unsatisfactory explanation.
The alternative is that something is amiss with the Hendo camp just now. After all, for a stable that hit percentages of 32%, 39%, 24%, 35% and 25% in the last five Novembers, the current 21% strike rate is borderline disastrous.
Has ‘The Chemist’ lost the keys to the Seven Barrows medicine cabinet? Or am I inferring too much from a lacklustre start to the term? After all, despite bullish statements about the Betfair Chase being an end in itself, we all know that every trainer wants to win at the Cheltenham Festival, and that jamboree is still three and a half months away.
That 32% strike rate in November 2008 converted to a 3-32 (9%) record at Cheltenham 2009. The staggering 39% win rate in November 2009 disintegrated to a 3-38 (8%) record at Cheltenham 2010. November 2010’s paltry 24% return aligned with March 2011’s paltry Festival return of 2-43 (5%).
After that horror year, Hendo bounced back in style. November 2011 was good for a 35% strike rate, and that was maintained to Cheltenham 2012 when he recorded a phenomenal seven wins from 37 runners (19%). At the Cheltenham Festival, that is ultimate dominance.
Last year, 25% of his horses won in November, and 10% (4-39) prevailed up Cleeve Hill in March just past.
So what does that all mean? Well, there’s not a strong correlation, that’s for sure. But it is fair to say that, when the November percentage has been poor, the Cheltenham return has too.
It is also worth keeping in mind that between 2003 and 2008, Henderson had four fruitless forays to the Festival, amidst an overall six year record of 6-125 (5%).
In his defence, it should be said that, at Grade 1 level at the Festival, Henderson’s record is excellent, with two or more Grade 1 scores every year since 2009. And he’s yet to unleash the beast that is Sprinter Sacre this season.
That one makes his 2013/14 bow at Sandown in the Tingle Creek on December 7th, and anything other than a facile victory would hardly stifle the alarm bells that are beginning to chime in one part of Upper Lambourn…
Elsewhere on Haydock’s Saturday card, David Pipe bagged his third Fixed Brush handicap hurdle in four years, with Gevrey Chambertin joining Grands Crus and Dynaste on the roster of Nicholashayne winners.
That was great news for Mark Allison, aka Turbo, who nominated him in our Seanie Mac competition, and was also closest to the correct cumulative winning distances margin. His 22 length guess was within three lengths of the actual 19 lengths verdict, and earned him £200 in free bets courtesy of the guys at Seanie Mac.
Typically, perhaps, Mark didn’t wager Gevrey Chambertin, but he had placed his qualifying bet elsewhere to secure his bumper punting fund.
Thanks a lot if you entered on Saturday. We’ll have another competition in the not too distant future.
In the meantime, if you fancy winning one of three cash prizes this month, it’s not too late to enter the geegeez Tipping League.
Tipking currently has a handy profit of £866.55 in the monthly race, and is in line for £100. But with third place at £538.20, that looks a catchable score, especially if a few losers ensue for those near the top between now and the end of the month.
There’s £60 for second place, and £40 for third, so get involved in that today!
If you’re a registered user on the site, you’re all set up. Just Click here to enter the tipping league.
Finally, a heads up on the plan for switching over to registered users only for various content on the site. Thanks to the 1,774 of you who have already signed up. When the switchover happens – most likely, Thursday this week – you need only login using the box top right throughout the site.
If you can’t remember your password, click the ‘Forget?’ link and follow the prompts. Need to register? Click the ‘Register’ link and choose the highlighted option.
Hopefully that’s all the info you need to get signed up.
I’m looking forward to the next phase with geegeez, which will remain the pick of the independent racing sites, especially with your ongoing support (thanks!)
And finally finally, news of old friends and new. Dear old friend, Khajaaly, returns to his spiritual home at Wolverhampton this afternoon, and he’s dropped down to a Class 6 handicap on the all weather for the first time in ages. This is his grade and, whilst seven furlongs would have been a bit better for him, and he’d have preferred a bit more pace to aim at, he must be thereabouts.
As for new friends, I’m heading to Newmarket tomorrow to meet a man about a horse. Her name is Slipper Satin and I’m hoping she’ll be part-owned by geegeez.co.uk in the very near future. She ran a promising third on her debut over hurdles last week, and she was a winner on the flat in Ireland. She’ll be a fun horse through the winter, and should win for us, with luck.
That’s all for today.