Highland Reel Retires

December 10th, 2017 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

I have just in the last hour completed writing the text for the Winter Guide – a mighty 28,000 words packed with news, views and previews of the season past, present and future.

I make no apology for there being few ante-post suggestions for Cheltenham. I used to be a very enthusiastic player in the ante-post markets, but trainers now have a greater variety of races to target and it’s understandable why they are reluctant to commit their top horses to specific races until the last possible moment.

Furthermore the bookmakers offer more benefits and offers than ever before, with enhanced odds, extra places and, most notably, the ‘non-runner, no bet’ concession. In one case last season this particular concession was introduced many weeks before the meeting, unlike most firms who announce it about a fortnight before.

Anyway, I hope subscribers enjoy the book. I am particularly pleased with the Eyecatchers and Holiday Preview sections, while Jodie has devoted significant time to updating her popular point-to-point section.

The Winter Guide is out on Friday, with the Online Supplement available to subscribers the Friday before Christmas.

Looking back to the weekend, it was wonderful to see the mighty Highland Reel go out in a blaze of glory in the Hong Kong Vase, taking his lifetime earnings to an incredible £7.5 million pounds – a record haul for a European racehorse.

Meanwhile the winter game is chugging along nicely and Sizing John surprised me with the ease with which he beat Djakadam in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown today.

Djakadam was trying to win the race for the third time, and with his excellent record fresh and the testing ground in his favour I thought he would have the edge. Yet despite making a rare mistake at the second, Sizing John always seemed to have the edge and the race was over bar a fall when the winner kicked on from the third last.

The trip of 2m 4f in heavy ground was probably ideal for Sizing John, who on this evidence remains the one to beat provided he gets good ground again at Cheltenham in March. I would, though, still have doubts about his staying the Gold Cup trip if conditions were to become testing.

As for Saturday’s action, we need to keep Blaklion in mind as a possible sleeper in the Gold Cup. He obviously needs to improve again having won the Becher from a mark of 153, but there have been plenty of examples over the years of progressive handicappers featuring in the great race and Blaklion could be a lively outsider if connections opt for that route.

I was delighted to see Highland Lodge run another sound race for my local trainer Jimmy Moffatt. He jumped the fences just as well as ever, while The Last Samuri put up an excellent effort at the weights, especially given the ground was too soft for him. It’s a long way off, but the 33/1 offered by Betfair for The Last Samuri at Aintree is surely too big. He is as short as 16/1 elsewhere and could become one of the market leaders on the day provided the ground is not too soft.

Cloudy Dream has also been unlucky with the going, having found conditions too testing for him behind Fox Norton at Cheltenham in November and then again far too soft yesterday at Aintree. I have spoken to Brian Hughes about the horse and confidently expect to see him land a big one, perhaps over three miles, on better going in the spring.

The Arkle betting was a little unsettled following the smooth success of Sceau Royal in the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown. The winner has always had a touch of class – we saw that when he finished a creditable sixth in the Champion Hurdle – while it looked as if Finian’s Oscar may need a longer trip.

On that subject I’ve known Colin Tizzard’s horses be in better form. Yes, he’s getting winners, but watching them they just seem a little under the weather. News about Native River is also mixed, while I am not convinced that Thistlecrack’s run at Newbury can be attributed solely to lack of peak fitness.

Please refer to the online shop if you would like to learn more about my services and publications for Christmas and beyond.

Bye for now