A Few Observations

December 31st, 2015 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

For me the highlight of the last few weeks has not been the performance of a horse or even the thoroughly well-deserved knighthood for AP McCoy. The person to have impressed me more than anyone is Nico de Boinville, who excelled in his handling of Coneygree – notably in last season’s Gold Cup – and has since moved up to another level as a rider.

His last four winners have showcased his wide range of talents. It was a case of persistence on Altior at Kempton on Boxing Day, guile and a thorough understanding of the horse on Sprinter Sacre and then confidence on Bigmartre at Haydock. In amongst those winners he managed to get Ma Filleule home at Doncaster, again displaying great determination in the saddle.

However it is not just as a rider that Nico impresses me. From the little I have heard of him he conducts himself with great decorum. When a microphone is thrust his way after riding a televised winner he treats the questions with respect without, one feels, revealing more than is absolutely necessary.

Nico, who was a gifted actor in school productions, plays a significant role in Nicky Henderson’s yard. The regular partner of Sprinter Sacre, and earlier Long Run, he already talks more like a trainer than a jockey. I confidently expect him to go far, especially when he decides to hang up his boots. He is my tip for the top.

As for the Christmas racing, I was surprised that Cue Card was able to win the King George VI Chase. Beforehand I belonged to the school of thought that believed it would be hard for a horse that had failed in the race on three previous occasions to beat such a strong field, but then I had probably underestimated the importance of Paddy Brennan. Cue Card seldom settled for his former rider Joe Tizzard – in fact that applied to many of the horses he rode – and a pre-season procedure on the horse’s trapped epiglottis has also helped.

Although Cue Card is now rated on a career-high mark of 176, I still don’t expect him to stay well enough to win the Gold Cup. Nor do I expect the narrow runner-up Vautour to see out the trip. It was a shame that Don Cossack bit the dust because he would have been doing good late work. By default the Gold Cup market is now headed by last year’s runner-up Djakadam, who we must not forget was only six last March.

I was delighted to see Barters Hill beat two fair performers in the Challow Hurdle. The son of Kalanisi, unbeaten in six starts, is just about my favourite young horse in training but I would not be sure about his target at Cheltenham. Trainer Ben Pauling and jockey David Bass are leaning towards the Albert Bartlett, but if the ground rides on the softer side they may stay over the shorter trip of the Neptune.

I liked the tenacity shown by Fixe Le Kap on his UK hurdling debut at Newbury. The market support beforehand for the horse was compelling and I expect his admirable character to stand him in good stead if he lines up for the Triumph Hurdle. I gather trainer Nicky Henderson has a soft spot for the horse.

Cole Harden looks excellent each-way value at around 8’1 for the World Hurdle. I am a huge fan of World Hurdle favourite Thistlecrack, but Cole Harden is being brought to his peak for March by Warren Greatrex and good ground will see him close down the deficit from their meeting at Newbury.

Faugheen is rightly odds-on for the Champion Hurdle following his Kempton romp. It is becoming increasingly hard to see where his main danger is coming from, although I am happy enough with my pre-season recommendation for Nichols Canyon each-way. This is an exceptionally tough horse and if it came to a head-to-head approaching the last in March, you would not be sure of calling the winner.

I have spotted a couple of horses at a lesser level for the notebook. I thought Heathfield plugged on steadily from arrears in the closing stages of the Paddy Power Chase. This extended three miles is not far enough for him these days, so watch for him when he is stepped up in trip.

Blair Perrone, like Heathfield trained by Tony Martin, also ran well in a beginners’ chase at Leopardstown. He has yet to win over fences but could be interesting in a spring handicap.

On the all-weather surface it can’t be long before Loyalty returns to winning ways. His mark has dropped 8lb in his last four runs and I liked the way he went last time out.

Bye for now