January 31st, 2016 | Marten's Current Racing Diary
There are occasions in this game when everything, for a short while, seems to go right and that is what happened yesterday with Alan King, who landed a big-race hat-trick at Cheltenham and also took the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster, having sent out the winner of the first race on the card there as well.
It was a shame that we lost Djakadam when he fell at the tenth fence of the BetBright Trial Chase, as the race developed into a cracker with Many Clouds and Smad Place eyeing each other up from the third last until the latter went away on the run to the line.
Smad Place had every right to win the race anyway – his mark is just 2lb below Djakadam’s and he was receiving 4lb. With the 166-rated Many Clouds beaten 12 lengths, conceding 4lb, the winner ran to a BHA mark of about 174 which puts him just 1lb behind the 175-rated Don Cossack and on the same mark as Vautour.
Smad Place confirmed here that he really enjoys an uncontested lead, something he is not certain to get in the Gold Cup. Also, although we saw rather more horses make the running at last year’s Festival than the norm – Coneygree and Vautour were the leading examples – it is still not easy for a horse to successfully make all at that level.
Smad Place finished a long way behind in last season’s Gold Cup but an operation in the summer for an epiglottis entrapment seems to have worked wonders and he is a different horse now. With good form on better going as well as this excellent performance in the mud, Smad Place is fair value for the Gold Cup at 16/1. William Hill were clearly most impressed, offering half those odds at 8/1.
Willie Mullins says that Djakadam returned with a cut in his chest area which required stitches. He should be all right for Cheltenham provided the wound heals and does not become infected.
The most impressive of Alan King’s winners was Yanworth, who beat the 146-rated Shantou Village by seven lengths on the bridle in the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle. The runner-up would have preferred better ground, while 143-rated Champers On Ice 10 lengths away in third was suited to the going.
Yanworth is now no bigger than 11/4 for the Neptune itself, with 4/1 available in a place for Bellshill and Shantou Village at 16s. If the ground is on the good side in March I would probably be tempted at those odds to take a look at Shantou Village.
Barters Hill retained his unbeaten record with a dour defeat of Ballydine, rated 18lb inferior, at Doncaster. Although he is a very hard horse to pass – I wrote in the Dark Horses that he was one of the gamest bumper performers I had ever seen – he could be vulnerable in the hustle and bustle of a big field. I expect connections would like to see him ridden prominently, but that could expose his occasional sloppy hurdling technique. Nothing has yet got to the bottom of Barters Hill, but he had a very hard race yesterday and I wonder if that could possibly take the edge off him.
One horse to note for a possible revival in form this spring is Johns Spirit. Jonjo O’Neill’s nine-year-old has been out of sorts in recent times, slipping from a mark of 160 last March to 148. He will drop a couple more pounds after finishing 33 lengths behind Annacotty on Saturday, but he ran a little better than his finishing positions suggests. Spring ground suits him better than yesterday’s mud, so let’s keep him on the shortlist for a valuable handicap chase at the Festival. I reckon that may be the plan.