Outlander Saves The Day

December 28th, 2016 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

I had a feeling last week when writing my Online Preview that it was not going to be easy to find value over the Christmas period, in the main due to the number of races with small fields and short-priced favourites.

Willie Mullins has had no fewer than 17 winners on the first three days of the week, while the normally competitive Coral Welsh Grand National was won by the 11/4 favourite.

Thankfully Outlander saved the week in this afternoon’s Lexus Chase. Having written in the Online Preview that he was value ante-post at 5/1, I was very surprised to see him allowed to start here at more than twice that price at 11/1. On his previous outing he had run Djakadam to just over a length, so he had to be value given that the winner was made 5/4 favourite here.

Outlander has been let down by his jumping in the past – he was three lengths clear when falling at the last in a Grade 2 contest at Clonmel in November – but he had finished in the first two in each of his seven completed outings over fences and, as Gordon Elliott said beforehand, the good ground was going to suit him.

It could be unwise to underestimate the value of this form. Runner-up Don Poli and close third Djakadam filled the places behind Don Cossack in last season’s Gold Cup while Valseur Lido had previously won the Grade 1 race at Down Royal.

This is top-class form and if Outlander were nominated for the Gold Cup then he would represent fair value at around 20/1.

The market is naturally headed by Thistlecrack, who seemed to impress everyone in the King George on Monday.

Without wishing to detract from the performance, we need to shed a little more light on the form. Paddy Brennan, who rode Cue Card, was insistent afterwards that the ground was plenty fast enough for his mount. His courage got him home in second, but with a horse rated 13lb inferior a short-head behind and Tea For Two, rated 23lb behind, just a head back in fourth Cue Card ran below his best.

On ratings he should have been at least 12 lengths clear of those horses, and that would have probably made him the winner.

Thistlecrack does, though, have the greater scope of the two over fences and he is bred to relish the Gold Cup trip.

However my other observation is that Tom Scudamore does not appear to have total control of the horse. Mind you that may not be a bad thing – Ruby Walsh always allowed Kauto Star to do things his way, and when Tony McCoy tried to boss him around it didn’t work at all.

Yet in the case of Thistlecrack he occasionally jumps out of Tom’s hands, taking off a stride too soon. He may not get away with this in the Gold Cup. Also, Tom seems a little  indecisive tactically. I expect him to play things by ear on the day, but there was just the hint of ‘stop start’ about his ride on Monday, with uncertainty about whether to make the running or not.

Native River will become a popular each-way choice following his impessive weight-carrying effort at Chepstow.

He is progressive, a confirmed stayer and a great jumper. At a top price of 12/1 he makes each-way appeal for Cheltenham.

We still need to see former winners Coneygree and Don Cossack back in action, while Don Poli requires hock-deep ground to be seen at his best, but I liked Native River before Chepstow and I think there is still some value now.

Bye for now

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