If you were to look through the sales figures from Tattersalls, Goffs and Arqana recently, you might be forgiven for thinking that the impending recession and cost of living crisis was just a myth. Eye-watering sums of money are being spent on horses at the top-level, but that does not mean that there isn't value to be had on the much lower rungs of the ladder.
Claiming races have a certain stigma in the UK, partly deserved because of the limited number of them these days and also because of the relatively poor quality of horse that runs in those races. However, in France the situation is slightly rosier and it is possible to pickup a bargain or two if you find the right race. Such a race takes place at Dieppe on Thursday (1:07 UK time) with a Claiming hurdle for 3-year-olds over 3,400-metres. Whilst there isn't a Triumph hurdle winner in this field, or at least I'm 99% certain there isn't, there are a few nice prospects and with claiming prices between €8-10k, there is a potential bargain to be had. Here is a short preview of each of the 9-runners going to post.
Attendu x Tierra Luna (Giant’s Causeway)
A gelding by group winning miler Attendu, his dam was a winner on the Flat and reached a peak rating of 38k before being retired to broodmare duties. She has already produced 2 other winning progeny, including the winner of the Group 3 Prix Thomas Bryon, Mate Story. The Grand-Dam was 1996 Prix Saint-Alary winner Luna Wells, so it is probably fair to say that Vasolrey wasn’t bred to be a hurdler, but here he is. 12th on debut at Compiegne in March, he showed significant improvement to win on his 2nd start at La Taste in April, coming from mid-division to win with a sustained effort in the closing stages. That race has worked out reasonably well in the interim, but it is important to note that it was run in a slow time and the muddling pace and sprint for home would certainly have suited Vaslorey more than some of his more stoutly bred rivals.
He was pulled up on his final start at Auteuil in May, but that was in the Grade 3 Prix Aguado and he is certainly in much calmer waters for his return. A flat track like Dieppe should play to his strengths, though I don’t think connections will want either a strong pace or a lot of rainfall to soften the ground. He is a nice prospect on paper and the €10k starting claim is a fair price for a horse with this breeding, but he doesn’t leap off the page as a National Hunt prospect. Bred as a miler, he may have been more forward than some of his rivals in the Spring and it is debatable how much improvement he will find over hurdles. His mark of 62-kilos is purely based on the form of the horses he beat at La Teste and I would be concerned that this might be the ceiling of his ability. This isn’t a great race and if he repeats the Spring form, it might be enough, especially if there is no early pace, but I would still be cautious with him as hurdler.
Time Is Money
Holy Roman Emperor x Tatienne (Nayef)
Another horse with a Flat pedigree, Time is Money managed to get his head in front in a claimer over a mile at Compiegne in March, the one success of his 9 race career on the level. His Sire, Holy Roman Emperor, has had a smattering of winners over hurdles, though the highest RPR recorded by one of his progeny over timber is 136, so he has yet to have a top class jumping prospect. Time is Money has had 2 runs over hurdles, finishing 4th behind Jazz Roque at Saint-Malo in August, before a 9th placed finish over this course and distance 3-weeks later.
The form of the Dieppe race has worked out quite well, most notably with the 3rd placed Jipekaa Machin winning at Sedgefield 2-weeks ago on his first start for Donald McCain, but Time is Money was beaten by 54-lengths in that contest so it is hard to read too much into his form in that context. He hasn’t shown much in truth, but his page does offer some hope. He is a half-brother to Timeless Soul (David O’Meara, OR 96, peak RPR 103) and his dam is a half-sister to German Group 3 winner Tai Chi, but much like Vaslorey, the fact he is running in a claiming hurdle, with that pedigree, raises a few questions.
Balko x Wiccalina (Martaline)
This 3-year-old does have a National Hunt pedigree. A son of Balko out of a Martaline mare who won twice over hurdles as a Juvenile and placed in Listed company. Wiccalko made his debut at Fontainebleau on 27th October, where he finished 7th, beaten 17-lengths, but we can upgrade this run for several reasons. The horse who finished ahead of him had more experience in the main and the time of the race, as well as the closing sectionals from the 3rd last to the line, were quicker than the average for the course. Having tracked the leaders, he was still in with a chance at the 2nd last before the pace quickened and although he tired, he did keep his head down to run through the line.
Although I haven’t seen him in the flesh, he looks to be a relatively small, compact type and although he looked well built in the parade ring, it is always hard to be certain when watching online. He probably has some maturing to do and the fact that he made his 3-year-old debut at the end of October attests to that, but there is something to work on here and he probably has more scope than some of his more exposed rivals.
Le Monde Est A Toi
Montmartre x Alix Pretty (Le Fou)
The yard have had a quiet year, from 14 horses, they are yet to record a winner from 40-runners. Le Monde Est A Toi will need to improve significantly if he is to break that duck in this company. His debut at Saint-Brieuc in early October was a nice start. He finished 4th, beaten 13-lengths by Balkeria and although that race hasn’t worked out to be anything extraordinary, he did show some ability. However, his 2nd start at Angers was a disappointment. He didn’t travel at all, repeatedly jumped out to his left, was outpaced in the back straight and eased down before the 3rd from home. Whilst that was a deeper race than this, he didn’t show too much promise or scope for improvement and it would be hard to be enthusiastic about him on that evidence. He has only made 2 starts and has time on his side, both his Dam and Grand-Dam were winners over obstacles, but for now I wouldn’t want to take a chance on him.
Zanzibari x Dame Noblesse (Muhtathir)
Pulled up on his debut at Argentan 2-weeks ago, it is hard to think that Baron Zanzi is going to be involved in the finish of this contest on that evidence. Intermittently off the bridle, he didn’t jump with any fluency and was well behind when his rider finally called it a day after the 4th from home. Now it would be crazy to suggest claiming a horse with form like that, but we should note that the ground was very testing at Argentan, only 7 of the 15 strong field completed that day and those that did were strung out at long intervals, so we shouldn’t be too harsh.
If Baron Zanzi had not run in that race and was coming into this contest as a debutante, he might be one of the more promising types in the field. That is because his Grand-Dam, the aptly named La Grande Dame, was a 71.5k rated hurdler, who won multiple times over timber, including in Grade 3 company and finished her career with a 2nd placed finish in the Grade 1 Prix Renaud du Vivier in 2008. Her progeny haven’t hit the same heights that she did, but there are a few winners on the page and so whilst he will need to show a lot more than he did at Argentan, Baron Zanzi cannot be entirely dismissed just yet.
The Grey Gatsby x Aqua Alta (Ange Gabriel)
A promising 4th behind one of his stablemates on debut in a Craon bumper in September, it is fair to say that he hasn’t matched that form in either start since. In fact, he has failed to complete on both his starts over hurdles, although he was pitched into a Class 2 contest at Auteuil 3-weeks ago which looked optimistic at best. The Grey Gatsby has had just 4-runners over hurdles (0 winners from 13 starts) so it is too soon to assess whether he will be a decent Jumps sire and we must look to the dam for inspiration. She won a Flat maiden over 12-furlongs for the Gauvin team and is a half-sister to Prix de L’Opera winner Terre A Terre, so the stamina shouldn’t be a concern. Great Scott has a lot of improvement to find, finishing his race would be a start, so despite a decent page, I couldn’t consider him worthwhile at this stage.
Doctor Dino x Lace Ribbons (Montmartre)
Giada Menato may have only had 1 winner this year, but she has had plenty hit the frame and several nice prospects, including a couple who have found their way to Willie Mullins in Ireland (Hip Hop Davis and Ice Atlantique). Lady Wrung may not be one of the stables leading lights, but her 9th placed finish in a bumper at Nort-Sur-Erdre wasn’t bad as that form figure may suggest. Over what looks to be an inadequate trip on good ground, she travelled nicely in mid-division before being understandably outpaced when the sprint for home began off the home turn. Her pedigree would suggest that softer ground and a greater test of stamina will be much more to her liking. It is a big ask to think she will make a winning debut over hurdles against the Geldings, but she is in good hands and there should be races to be won with her in the future, especially against her own sex.
Arcalis Du Ninian
Le Houssais x Floral (Green Tune)
Her dam won 4 times on the Flat, albeit at a limited level, and she was a half-sister to a couple of multiple winners, so the family do at least know how to get their heads in front. Although she is 0-4 so far in her career, she has run to a reasonable if limited standard, with the highlight being her 3rd place at Vitre in early October behind Java. A rating of 55k looks fair, but she does look somewhat limited and it is hard to see how she finds the necessary improvement to trouble the principles in this contest. The yard have had 9 horses run this year and 3 have got their heads in front at some stage, but I don’t think Arcalis du Ninian is likely to be the 4th. She looks capable of winning some small races in the Provinces at some point, but there doesn’t look to be a huge amount of scope for improvement.
Jaipur du Bourg
Reliable Man x New Frosty (Silver Frost)
It has been a very good year for the Seror yard with 45-winners so far which has already surpassed the 39 they achieved in 2021. Jaipur du Bourg isn’t one of their leading lights, a daughter of Reliable Man, she has yet to hit the frame in 4 runs over hurdles, all in Claiming company. Her dam won 3 times on the Flat and is a half-sister to 3 winners, so there is some winning form in her pedigree, but she has yet to translate that on to the track. Her 6th placed finish behind Naeva at Fontainebleau 2-weeks ago was probably a career best, but it also exposed her flaws. The race was run in a relatively slow time, but despite making most of the running, she was readily outpaced when the sprint for the line began before keeping on at the one pace. At some point, she is going to find a race, probably on heavy ground where the race falls to those with stamina instead of speed, but because she lacks a turn-of-foot, she is always going to be vulnerable, especially in France.
So what would I try to claim? Well, before I answer that I should probably say that my better half and teenage daughters have other things on their Christmas lists besides a Juvenile hurdles prospect, but there might be something to tempt me. Both Vaslorey and Time is Money have got their heads in front and it wouldn't be a great surprise if either of them did so again, especially on a Flat track like Dieppe. However, before claiming either I would want to have a plan as to where to go next. Neither horse looks to have a huge amount of scope for improvement and their Flat bred pedigrees could limit them as hurdling prospects. It is possible that their future connections could go back to the Flat, but I suspect that both of them are running over hurdles because they lacked the necessary speed to be competitive on the level.
For that reason, I think I could be persuaded to take a chance on Wiccalko. There was a lot of promise in his debut at Fontainebleau and he looks to have some scope to improve in the future, especially once he has fully matured. If he were to improve on his debut effort, and with these connections there is every reason to believe that he will, he could develop into a decent hurdler. It won't all be about this race and if he doesn't win it won't be a disaster, as a more galloping track is likely to suit him more than Dieppe, but I expect him to be competitive in this company. He has a Claiming price of €10,000 and if he could be picked up for under €25,000 or so that could look to be a shrewd piece of business in time.