Blog: Alex Hammond
Last Updated: 13/12/17 4:31pm
Sky Sports News' Alex Hammond reflects on the recent key action and looks ahead to Cheltenham on Saturday where she has two against the field in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
With so many good horses in action over the weekend, Alex, plenty of very good performers were beaten. Of those beaten horses, which one do you think could bounce back to winning form at a big spring festival?
Struggling with one, so bear with me! I'll kick off domestically and the Henry VIII Novices' Chase looks a good place to start. It should be an informative race going forward with North Hill Harvey and Finian's Oscar the two beaten finishers behind Sceau Royal at Sandown.
It goes without saying that they should both be capable of winning decent prizes before the season is out and it's the former I'll be keeping tabs on when he returns to his beloved Cheltenham. The classier of the pair though could be Finian's Oscar who has already gained quite a reputation in his fledgling career. The drop to two miles just didn't suit Colin Tizzard's horse and we'll see a much better performance when he goes back over further. He's 10/1 with Sky Bet for the RSA Chase and 7s for the JLT.
Sticking with the Tizzard horses and Fox Norton is another that will benefit from a step up in distance. He wasn't disgraced behind Politologue in the Tingle Creek but looked to be crying out for further. I don't think you'd want to be meeting the winner again over two miles that's for sure and they are unlikely to do so with the King George and Ryanair Chase both mentioned as possible future targets.
With so many talking points from Punchestown on Sunday it would be easy to overlook some of the so-called also rans. However, Saturnas looks one to keep on the right side of after a promising seasonal reappearance in the two mile beginners chase.
The Willie Mullins-trained six year-old finished second to Avenir D'Un Vie on his first outing since disappointing in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown back in February, so is entitled to have needed the outing. Prior to that he hadn't done much wrong, winning two of his three starts over hurdles, including a Grade One novice hurdle over Christmas. This was his first start over fences and he should be sharper for the experience. It's interesting he has been sent chasing this season and there should be scope for improvement to come, particularly when he is stepped up in trip.
Politologue won the Tingle Creek on Saturday but is he good enough to beat the likes of Altior and Douvan if they line up against him later in the season?
That's a very good question and it may be that he doesn't get the opportunity until Cheltenham. Nicky Henderson's Arkle winner Altior has had a wind operation and may not run until the Champion Chase in March; although could have a prep-race in the Game Spirit at Newbury in February if he's ready to go by then. By all accounts he is only walking at the moment, so there's a long way to go. He's Sky Bet's 2/1 favourite for the Champion Chase.
Douvan is another we are yet to see this season as he also missed the Tingle Creek with a small problem. Like Altior, he is also an Arkle winner, but disappointed in the Champion Chase in March as a result of suffering a hairline fracture of his pelvis.
Trainer Willie Mullins wasn't happy with him on the day declarations were made for Sandown and decided not to risk sending him on the journey over from Ireland. Instead he is likely to run at Leopardstown over Christmas. I'm really keen to see him back and feel that Politilogue has a bit to find to prove he's as good as him just yet. Douvan is 11/4 for the Champion Chase.
Is Blaklion good enough to carry a big weight to victory in the Grand National considering his Becher Chase exploits?
I suppose the main concern at this stage is the weight that the handicapper is going to give him for the National. He certainly has no secrets from him, but that aside, he's exactly the type of horse you'd want to have on board for the Aintree spectacular. There are so many positives, not least the fact he's trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies.
We know the fences hold no fears as he proved in the National earlier this year and again on Saturday and the trip doesn't look like it will be a problem if he is ridden slightly less prominently in the big racel this time around. Sometimes when a horse has run over the National fences, they aren't as keen the second time, but that wasn't the case and he seems a natural over the big birch obstacles.
The negative is his current price of 10/1, which is short enough with four months still to go. How much shorter is he likely to be on the day? Not a great deal I'd hazard a guess.
Did Sizing John's reappearance in Ireland make you think he could be the first horse to successfully defend his Gold Cup crown since Best Mate?
Oh, most definitely. He's a superstar and proved that in beating a good yardstick in Djakadam in the John Durkan. The two-and-a-half mile trip is short of his best, it was his first run since April and the ground went against him. Despite those factors (and a significant mistake at the second fence) he won convincingly.
We've seen how hard it is to win back-to-back Gold Cups and some very good horses have tried and failed, but he has as good a chance as any on the evidence so far. He's currently 4/1 favourite with Sky Bet to win the Blue Riband in March and at this stage it's a worthy price for Jessie Harrington's stable star.
What do you fancy for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham and what other horses should we be looking out for this weekend?
I don't know for sure, but with snow lying on the track at Cheltenham in the early part of the week and heavy rain around midweek, the ground is likely to be quite testing on Saturday. If that's the case then it will be right up Splash Of Ginge's street, although whether it will be quite deep enough remains to be seen.
He held off an unlucky Starchitect in the BetVictor Gold Cup last month and both the first and second must come into this with live chances despite five and four pond rises in the handicap respectively.
Ballyalton was fourth that day and is another I'll have on my shortlist for this contest. His trainer Ian Williams suffered desperate bad luck at the last Cheltenham meeting when he lost London Prize and I hope he has a change of fortune here.
His representative runs off the same handicap rating as he did last time out and for me that just edges it. That and the current prices which see Splash Of Ginge at 10/1, Starchitect at 6s and Ballyalton a 9/1 shot.
I'll be backing David Pipe's Starchitect regardless too having been on him when he was touched off at Cheltenham last month after making a teeth rattling mistake at the second last and losing vital momentum. Compensation is likely to await soon enough and I don't want to miss that day.
Apple's Shakira is entered for a Grade Two Juvenile Hurdle at Doncaster and the Triumph Trial at Cheltenham on Saturday and I'll be keeping a close eye on her wherever she turns up. It likely to be at Prestbury Park and trainer Nicky Henderson says she looks to have improved physically for her British debut. Like her sister Apple's Jade, she doesn't sparkle at home, but thankfully she produces it on the track and is the most exciting juvenile I've seen so far this season.
We won't get rich backing Melon to win Saturday's International Hurdle with Willie Mullins' Sky Bet Supreme runner-up already 2/1 to strike. He landed the odds in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal last month on his reappearance and it appears there is plenty of confidence behind him for his first serious test of the new campaign.