Graaston Bids to Banish Cheltenham Blues
By George Gorman, Saturday, 17th March, 2018
The post festival blues might be setting in this morning but the show must go on as here at Cisswood we’re sending out seven runners across Fontwell and Kempton this St Patrick’s Day. Graaston looks to follow up his Plumpton win in the Class Two Silver Plate Handicap Hurdle at Kempton. The form of that win might leave a lot to be desired but the style however did not as he went well clear from two out to win without breaking sweat. This will require a good bit more but he was formerly very useful in Germany on the flat and the fact that he is quite so lightly raced over hurdles does leave him open to some potential improvement. Meanwhile, over at Fontwell, Le Capricieux will attempt to bounce back to the form of his December win at Plumpton, this time under Jamie Moore. After staying on well to win under Will Clarke at Plumpton he looked outpaced when finishing third at Kempton, having fallen in between. It may be that today’s step up to two miles and three furlongs will turn out to be just what he needs to find enough improvement to win today, although he is up six pounds since his last win and the change from a ten pound claimer to a full professional obviously has it’s benefits but nonetheless results in a further ten pounds extra on his back since that win.
Cheltenham Festival Day Four
By George Gorman, Friday, 16th March, 2018
Sadly, the last day of jumps racing’s greatest event is upon us and it won’t be long before we have to wait an entire year to hear the famous roar echo around Pretsbury Park as the best horses in England and Ireland vie for immortality. Thus far our charges have all done us proud, particularly Benatar with his valiant third in the Grade One JLT Novices Chase yesterday, what a prospect he will be for next year! But on to Gold Cup day, where we have two final rolls of the dice.
Sussex Ranger: JCB Triumph Hurdle 1:30
The Tongdean Partnership’s Sussex Ranger has proved a valuable recruit to hurdles this year since he switched from the flat to make a facile winning debut over obstacles at Fontwell. Despite the nature of this victory I doubt anyone would have been able to predict he would go on to demolish a good juvenile field at Sandown before pushing a top class rival all the way to the line in a Grade One Juvenile at Chepstow. The magnitude of his achievement is best measured by the 66-pound discrepancy between his flat and hurdles mark, having been awarded a rating of 142 after his last hurdle start. That was back in January but match practice needn’t be a concern as he had a run round the all-weather at Kempton last month where, to his credit, he was only beaten a length and three quarters into fourth. As for the task at hand, there is no doubt he has to find a fair bit on ratings with these rivals but the rain will definitely help his chances. This horse, as evidenced in his gutsy display at Chepstow, is all heart and if he is able to make the running as usual he will always have a fighting chance. Going hard from the front in testing ground certainly levels the playing field in terms of class and this horses attitude makes him a force to be reckoned with if this turns into a war of attrition.
Krugermac: County Handicap Hurdle 2:10
Whilst Krugermac’s maiden hurdle win at Ascot in 2015, ahead of He’s A Charmer and What A Scoop, will live long in the memory, he’s had his problems since, making only his fourth start since at Fontwell last week. Carrying ten stone in this testing ground will be advantageous to him but realistically he may need the run again as he’d been off the track for 382 days prior to last week’s run. While he may yet return to his previous form one day it’s hard to see him doing it from quite so far out of the weights. Though you never know, a reality TV star is President of the United States of America, stranger things have happened!
Cheltenham Festival Day Three
By George Gorman, Thursday, 15th March, 2018
Benatar: JLT Novices Chase 1:30
As we reach the halfway point in the festival many of our horses have run with great credit, which bodes well for what I dare say is the race we’ve all been most looking forward to. Benatar has been a revelation over fences this season, kicking off the campaign with a stylish win in a hot novice handicap at Ascot, making a mockery of his mark of 142. Next he downed subsequent winner Keeper Hill by nine lengths, despite having to make his own running after his stable mate unseated at the first and in doing so gained eligibility for the Plumpton-Cheltenham bonus. Finally nothing better encapsulated Benatar’s improvement than defeating Finian’s Oscar last time out having finished 8 ¼ lengths fourth behind him in a Grade One hurdle at Aintree last term. That rival re-opposes today at a larger price in the betting and despite the presence of him and three others rated higher than Benatar, he certainly doesn’t look out of place. If you consider that this strapping staying prospect has never had the strongly run race he needs over fences, the extra three or four pounds improvement he needs to find on ratings seems much less significant. Added to the fact that he’s always been a very measured and intelligent jumper, it’s becomes hard to make a case against him; in fact his price of 11/2 looks incredibly generous. With Sire De Grugy retiring, many look to the younger ranks to see who will lead the way for Cisswood in the coming seasons, Benatar is but one step from taking up that mantle.
Traffic Fluide: Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase 4:10
Having signed off last season with a valiant second to Menorah in the Grade 2 Oaksey House Chase at Sandown, Traffic Fluide has struggled for form thus far this season bar a decent debut when looking to need the run in the Old Roan Chase behind Smad Place. What followed were three attempts at Grade 1 company in the Betfair Chase, The King GeorgeVI and the Ascot Chase. However, the upside of this is he has dropped eleven pounds this season and seventeen from his career best. Obviously it’s a tough ask when he’s been so well beaten on all his recent starts but this drop into handicap company could well bring about a revival. He’s been thirteen, nine and seven pounds wrong at the weights with the winners of his last three starts Grade Ones and maybe this race today will see the playing field leveled.
Cheltenham Festival Day Two
By George Gorman, Wednesday, 14th March, 2018
Wednesday at Cheltenham is the day of the festival we all hold dearest here at Cisswood, nearly four years to the day the legendary Sire De Grugy relentlessly galloped up the Cheltenham hill and forever earned a place in the hearts of both us at Cisswood and the wider public. He opened a lot of doors for us that day in that he brought in many new owners and gave many old owners a greater sense that we could compete on the greatest stage of all. Nothing serves as a greater example of this than us having three runners with realistic chances on Champion Chase day, including one in the showpiece event of the day.
Ar Mad Queen Mother Champion Chase 3:30
Whilst Sire De Grugy was catapulting us into the history books, Ar Mad had yet to see a racecourse over in France. In the time that has passed he has won a total of five races, four over fences in his novice season including a Grade One and a Grade Two, in which he took the notable scalps of Bristol De Mai, Vaniteux, As De Mee and Arzal. Running up to the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, he was the highest rated novice chaser in Britain and was framed as the great British hope of defeating the, at the time, undefeated, invincible looking Douvan. Unfortunately an injury sustained in a prep run at Plumpton meant he would never make it to that festival, in fact he wasn’t to be seen again until the following season’s Tingle Creek where he ran a three and a half-length fourth behind Un De Sceaux and our own Sire De Grugy. After this one would expect him to return to his previous level of form but a recurrence of his injury meant he was side-lined for nearly another twelve months before a lacklustre return in the Haldon Gold Cup in November. However returning to the scene of two of his previous triumphs in December’s Tingle Creek, he showed a dramatic bounce back to form where despite running characteristically keenly, he led to two out before a lack of match practice meant he faded into a five and a half-length third behind two good horses in Politologue and Fox Norton. Now the Champion Chase will demand a large step up from him and he hasn’t run since December and his price reflects that but the faster pace of the festival is something that will very much suit him and it’s evident there is a horse of this quality in there somewhere. His preparation might not have been ideal but this exuberant chaser finally has his shot at the mighty Douvan and at the Festival anything is possible.
Eragon De Chanay: Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 4:50
From a lightly raced old champion to a juvenile who ran on Saturday, Eragon De Chanay proved his wellbeing at Sandown when he came well away from rivals rated in the 120s to win by eleven lengths. This could prove to be the confidence boost he needed after running valiantly but being beaten nonetheless in graded company twice after his juvenile win at Ffos Las earlier in the season. He will carry a five pound penalty for that success but it is that penalty that snuck him in at the bottom of the weights anyway. Money overnight means that in some places he is now vying for favouritism with several others. His chance really is dependent on Saturday’s effort not leaving a physical mark whilst also bringing about an improvement psychologically, as his previous efforts in Graded company haven’t been up to the standard needed to win this. However as previously mentioned, he is down the bottom of the weights, which is a large advantage in slow ground, particularly where juveniles are concerned and additionally the nature of the race means that with a clear run, any horse can win this race. By definition when you put twenty two juveniles on a racecourse and put £45,000 in winning prize money at the end of the two miles, things will get messy. So really all we can do is pray for a clear run, he has doubtless earned his right to run in the race and he owes us nothing.
The Flying Sofa: Weatherby’s Champion Bumper 5:30
The Galloping On The South Downs colours are no strangers to success in big bumpers, having been carried to success in the Aintree equivalent on Megastar in 2010 having been beaten by Cue Card at Cheltenham. Today The Flying Sofa will look to complete the set for Gerry Hinds’ racing syndicate with only a win in a five runner Fontwell bumper to his name thus far. He would certainly not be many punter’s idea of the winner of this race but perhaps his chance lies in a race he didn’t win. When he made his debut at Ascot in December, many didn’t expect much from him as he was sent off 50/1. However that day he showed a huge amount of promise when he burst up the inside rail to challenge a couple of very promising rivals before hanging left out of inexperience to finish three lengths behind two rivals who had had one previous start each. The winner that day re-opposes this afternoon and is currently 12/1 in the betting despite the trainer’s warning’s about the unsuitability of the ground and JP McManus’ first jockey jumping ship. This makes our charge’s price look huge, with only three lengths to make up we might have fancied our chances taking on Didtheyleaveuoutto anywhere now that The Flying Sofa has another two runs, including a confidence boosting win, under his belt. The fact that it is at Cheltenham obviously means we have more than just him to beat but, if handling the ground, his three runs could serve as valuable experience to build on that Ascot promise and, even if he can’t win, he can certainly make a mockery of his 66/1 price.