Champ (8-1) heads the ante-post market for the “novices’ Gold Cup” after a remarkably solid novice hurdling campaign saw him strike twice at Grade 1 level, namely in the Challow and the Sefton, either side of finishing second to City Island in the Ballymore at the Festival.
It’s easy to see why Champ heads the betting for this as well; arguably his first attempt at three miles when winning the Sefton saw him put up a career best performance, absolutely tanking his way through the race before extending further and further away once Barry Geraghty pushed the button on him.
On looks, he’s every inch a staying chaser and matured into straightforward and professional last season after his inexperience had shown earlier in his career.
There’s a lot to like about him, and I’m excited to see Champ back out.
Both other Grade 1 three mile novice hurdles last season were taken by Minella Indo (10-1).
Henry De Bromhead’s gelding had clearly shown something to work on when third in Limerick maiden just after Christmas and then progressed again to finish second to Allaho in a Clonmel Grade 3 the start after, but the fact remained that he was going into arguably the most competitive Grade 1 novice hurdle of the Festival as a maiden when lining up in the Albert Bartlett, his huge odds of 50-1 an accurate reflection of what he had achieved up to that point.
Nevertheless, Minella Indo took another huge stride forward to gain his first rules success under an inspired Rachael Blackmore ride on the biggest stage of them all, before confirming that has Cheltenham victory was no fluke with another Grade 1 success at Punchestown.
Again, it’s fair to say Minella Indo looks like he’s built for chasing, and given the giant strides he made in the last few months of the season, it would be no shock if he were to continue his rapid upward curve into 2019/20.
He was a particularly accurate jumper of a hurdle, which an asset he should be able to put to good use over the bigger obstacles, and clearly responded well to pressure when he had to asked for more by Blackmore- there’s a lot to be positive about him going into the new season.
City Island (12-1), the winner of the Ballymore at the Festival, is a similar price for this as he is for the Arkle and it will be interesting to see which route Martin Brassil takes with him, especially given that JLT, over the closest trip to his prior Festival victory, would also be considered as an option.
That’s not to say he was stopping at the line in the Ballymore, but he did look to be a pacier animal than Champ and I wonder whether he’s as much of an out-and-out stayer as others who may have this as a more concrete target.
Similar sentiments are echoed about Reserve Tank (16-1), another dual Grade 1 winning novice hurdler, who currently heads the betting for JLT, though I’d be of the opinion that Reserve Tank shapes like more a staying type than City Island does- perhaps a similar route to the Tizzard yard’s leading novice chaser from last season, Lostintranslation, will be on the agenda for him.
Laurina (16-1) features in the betting for this, as she does for practically every other Festival race, though I’d say a three mile chase would be one of her unlikelier potential targets, given that she has primarily been campaigned as two mile hurdler up to this point in her career.
Bright Forecast (20-1) ran on strongest of all to fill the placings behind City Island and Champ in the Ballymore.
He hadn’t looked slow in his prior attempts over two miles, though his inexperience was certainly evident when finishing runner up to Mister Fisher in the Rossington Main and he was still certainly greener than the horses who finished ahead of him at Cheltenham.
The step up to 2m5f brought out a career best performance from Bright Forecast, so it’s easy to see why the Pauling team are looking at going up again with him this year, and given the misfortune they have faced in recent years with Barters Hill and Willoughby Court, no one would begrudge the yard another top level winner.
Allaho (20-1) only won once last season- in the Clonmel Grade 3 where he beat Minella Indo, and was placed behind that rival in Grade 1 company on his following two starts.
Nevertheless, his overall profile is very promising, especially for one who has still only had five career starts to date.
He shapes to me like a proper out-and-out stayer and may not quite have the gears at this stage possessed by Champ or Minella Indo, but he’s already proven it takes a top notched to beat him and we may not have seen him in an attritional stamina test yet, which will surely be the sort of race that plays most to his strengths.
Interesting horses at bigger prices who look also to be aiming at the blue riband for staying novices’ include Dickie Diver (25-1), Lisnagar Oscar (33-1) and Sam Spinner (40-1). Dickie Diver in particular looked far from the finished article as a novice hurdler but was still good enough to finish as best of the home team when fourth in the Albert Bartlett.
He shapes like the further he goes, the better he’ll be, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to also take high rank amongst novice chasers this season.