AFTER a week of wondering whether both Constitution Hill and A Plus Tard would headline their respective cards at Ascot and Haydock today, it appears we have the best of both worlds, or do we?
There was enough rain around Ascot for Nicky Henderson to declare his impressive Supreme Novice Hurdle winner without hesitation on Thursday but yesterday it was mild and windy in Berkshire, and leaving the course, Henderson was less than convinced, stating, “no chances will be taken.”
A Plus Tard was 2/5 to win his second Betfair Chase (3.00) at the beginning of the week but having flirted in and around even money as the rain fell on Wednesday, he was back into 8/13 last night. Yet as of yesterday evening, Haydock remains soft, rather than the heavy many presumed.
Maybe it’ll still be up in the air whether A Plus Tard takes his chance. A soft or heavy Haydock is as tough a test as it gets on seasonal debut and while it is likely the eight-year-old is well up to it, the question may be what sort of mark will it leave on him with regard to the season ahead.
You’d like to see him run of course. There is more to the National Hunt season than Cheltenham though to use the same observation inversely, this is likely to be Bristol De Mai’s Gold Cup. It’s his sixth run in the race and it’s mad to think that it was all the way back in 2017 when he ran out an outrageous 57-length winner here.
His jockey Daryl Jacob was talking to the media this week and labelled the 11-year-old grey’s run in the race last year, when he was pulled up, as a “write-off” due to the quicker ground. It seems likely today’s going will be more to his liking and Jacob’s words rang true when he observed: “It will be difficult to beat A Plus Tard but every horse can have an off day and if he does have an off day, I can guarantee we will be there to capitalise on it.”
Maybe that is a little dismissive of Protektorat, who is indeed sandwiched between A Plus Tard and Bristol De Mai in the market. One of his best performances last season came on heavy ground at Aintree so he has previous for today’s conditions. He has more scope to improve than the aforementioned pair as well.
It will be interesting if Constitution Hill does indeed run in the Coral Hurdle (2.40), often a pointer towards the Stayers’ Hurdle rather than the Champion, but he should have no problems dealing with three and a half extra furlongs. He prospered by sitting off the electric pace in the Supreme, and proved himself a rock solid stayer at the trip there. With Goshen and For Pleasure in here, a similar race scenario could develop, and it could lead to another exciting performance.
L’Homme Presse, the Brown Advisory winner, starts his road to Gold in the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase (2.05), but does so with his stable under a cloud, Venetia Williams having drawn a blank from 26 runners in November. In fairness, she has had eight seconds and four thirds, so her horses are thereabouts, and L’Homme Presse has plenty in his favour today, having won most impressively at this course last season.
SOMETIMES, you just have to laugh. A few eyebrows were raised when Punchestown issued a press release with quotes from Willie Mullins, who said he was intending to run all six of his entries in tomorrow’s Unibet Morgiana Hurdle (2.05), which the sponsors have thoughtfully paid tribute to Michael Rafferty, aka @Anaglogsdaughter, in the race title.
Given the chance to renege on that intention at Clonmel on Thursday, the champion trainer maintained his status, but there was sneaky smile on his face that we know all too well and then he said: “Everything is running until they’re not running.”
It’s funny because did anyone really think Willie was going to stick to a running plan he made three days ago and run basically everyone of his Champion Hurdle aspirants against each other? It would be unprecedented at this stage of the season.
Now, what could have happened between the end of the Clonmel card until declaration time at 10am yesterday morning? Well, Willie had a bit more thinking time it seems, and that is all it needs.
Still, we’ll see State Man tomorrow, the impressive County Hurdle and Punchestown Festival winner. He was the subject of positivity from Willie in the various stable tour pieces at Closutton and it is he who gets first stab to earn the right to go down the two-mile hurdle route.
That means no disrespect to multiple Grade 1 winners Sharjah and Saldier, who could easily win tomorrow but would likely remain longshots for the Champion Hurdle.
Elsewhere on a quality two-day meet at Punchestown, there are notable novice chasers set to take each other on. Journey With Me and Kilcruit are declared for the beginners chase on the card today (12.30) while Thedevilscoachman will bid continue his progression on his second stint over fences in the Grade 2 Liam and Valerie Brennan Florida Pearl Novice Chase (1.30) tomorrow. He takes on stablemate Idas Boy and an intriguing rival in Minella Crooner, allowed to make his chase debut in at the deep end here for Gordon Elliott.