Quality over quantity was the motto of the day at Newbury on Saturday. While the fields in the bigger races lacked some numbers and competitiveness, you can’t complain when the likes of Altior and Native River are strutting their stuff five weeks out from Cheltenham. In horrible conditions Newbury put on a show and were rewarded with their biggest crowd for nearly five years. ITV welcomed back a very cold looking Brough Scott and the show ran smoothly with Oli Bell involved on a much more regular basis.
There’s only one place to start, Altior. He is a star, simple. It says a lot for the horse – and for Cheltenham – that fans are already salivating over a Champion Chase clash between Nicky Henderson’s new star and the mighty Douvan, still over 18 months away. I don’t want to jinx anything and to state the obvious, but wow what a prospect… Altior brushed aside a 167 rated (albeit below par) Fox Norton, by over 13L, while never breaking sweat. He was showing off out in front and Henderson was slightly aggrieved he didn’t even get much of a race. But then the Arkle isn’t set to be much of a race and more of a procession for the new kid on the block, the trophy already has the letters ALT engraved on it. His jumping was spectacular and the Sprinter Sacre comparisons are now becoming feasible, not hopeful or even laughable. Racing needs a new star and touch wood, we have it.
Native River in the Denman Chase was much less a thrilling affair and we learnt nothing at all. We know his style of racing and approach to each fence, he wasn’t required out of second gear at Newbury. Bristol De Mai was flat as a pancake and the 151 rated Le Mercurey – only receiving 1lb – looked threatening for only a brief period. He’s still undoubtedly the major threat to Thistlecrack and the value still lies with him. It was good to see him win of course, but anything else would have been a disaster. As for Bristol De Mai, why he was held up like that in a three runner race is anyones guess. He needs to be out front running free and this years Gold Cup is coming too soon for him. He’s only a 6YO and it could lead to disastrous consequences if going for the big one. Yes, it’s an open looking race for some major money, but what’s going to change next season? There’s little in the way of GC horses coming through to be a major player in 2018. Save him and let him continue his steady progress, on his day he could be a major player but he has to be one hundred percent at his best. He’s young and could still win you some top races in the meantime.
Ballyandy got the better of the other ridiculously well handicapped horse, Movewiththetimes in the Betfair Hurdle. Both had a tonne in hand running into the final furlongs, but Ballyandy’s turn of foot saw him home in the end. Again I’m not sure we learnt a heap regarding last year’s Cheltenham bumper star, but connections will be relieved to get him off the mark over hurdles and it wasn’t the worst race to do it in. The Moon Racer fan club will be delighted, but I’ll leave that for now… He’s a versatile horse and many options remain open for March; The Coral Cup, Neptune and Supreme all very realistic options. Sam Twiston-Davies believes the extra trip in the Neptune may suit best and I agree, but this race is looking more competitive than the other two options. Not an obvious decision to make, but a nice problem nonetheless.
Elsewhere the remarkable Tobefair continues his staggering run to seven victories on the bounce and fingers crossed he goes well once more at Cheltenham. It was sad to see yesterday, that despite this feat and rise in weights the horse has only pocketed 40k in the process. It goes into one of the underlying issues in the sport and while the sequence obviously included many smaller races, the 7YO has won three televised Saturday races which is shocking. Final Nudge was an HA winner at 7/1 as the easy pickings at Newbury concluded, while the well weighted French mare Daphne Du Close looks a promising type for Seven Barrows.
Newbury: Run Of The Day
1 15 HIGH BRIDGE (B Pauling) EVS, Class 3 Novice Hurdle, 2M0.5F, Soft
I was really impressed with this win and it went under the radar as ITV didn’t pick it up and the established Altior, Native River and Ballyandy obviously stole the limelight. He didn’t always look like the horse to beat and three out needed a wake up call. Once it mattered there was only one winner though and he was much more value for the win than it looks on paper. He’s always going to be one of those horses that just does enough with each win. The gelding remains unbeaten over hurdles and although only a Class 3 this race will prove much better than that and he’s all but booked his place in the Supreme. A truly run 2M would be perfect for this 6YO and you’re more or less guaranteed that at Cheltenham. Barring any setbacks he will go off at an EW price and will certainly get his share of support come the day.