ISAAC DES OBEAUX - (Paul Nicholls)
This really is a bit of guesswork. An unraced 4-year-old by Kapgarde, he was sold to Highflyer Bloodstock for €100,000 at the Arqana sale in the autumn of 2020. Registered in training with Paul Nicholls, he will run for the same connections as his illustrious relative Clan des Obeaux. His dam is a half-sister to Paul Nicholls 2 time King George winner and given his profile and connections, it is not surprising to see that he is already being quoted in an ante-post market for the Champion Bumper itself. His dam, Varda des Obeaux, made a winning debut for Nicolas Devilder in a bumper at Limoges in 2013 and Clan des Obeaux also won an AQPS bumper at La Roche-Sur-Yon in 2015 on his only start for the Devilder yard before he joined Paul Nicholls. Kapgarde does have a reasonable 16% strike rate in National Hunt Flat races, but there is no doubt that this is little more than a speculative punt and it would be impossible to say whether he will even head down the Champion Bumper route at this stage. The yard won this race in 2018 with Silver Forever and although there do look to be some nice types in this race on paper, he is one of the more likely types.
HIGH GAME ROYAL (Philip Hobbs)
An unexposed AQPS horse by Martaline, he made his racecourse debut at Senonnes in October 2021, finished 2nd to Hashting. The winner won both his starts in France before being sold, whilst the 3rd, 4th and 5th have all won races since to give the form a solid look. Having settled towards the rear, he made good headway under pressure around the top bend and although he was no match for the easy winner, he stayed on well to beat the rest. He has joined Philip Hobbs and makes his debut over 2-miles at Chepstow this Wednesday. On the limited evidence that we have from that debut 12-months ago, I’d be happy enough to let him run as I think he is likely to need a greater test of stamina and he will most likely be doing his best work at the finish. He was a non-runner for his intended debut at Stratford last week on account of the ground and so the recent rains are clearly thought to be to his advantage.
He is a full-brother to the Grade 2 winning Chaser Echiquier Royal and has 6 other winning half-siblings (he is his dams 15th foal), with most of the family showing a liking for soft ground. On paper, he looks a longer term prospect, but he showed a good attitude on debut and will not be a surprise if he picks up a Novice hurdle over a longer trip before he eventually goes chasing.
ICE COAST (Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerreiro)
A promising 4-year-old by Coastal path, he made the frame on both his starts in France for Donatien Sourdeau de Beauregard. He finished 3rd on debut in a newcomers hurdle at Bordeaux in September 2021 and went 1 place better when 2nd at Fontainebleau a month later. The Bordeaux race was won by Icone D’Aubrelle (now with Neil Mulholland, rated 118), whilst the winner of the Fontainebleau contest, Friday Thirteen, has been sent chasing and has reached a French mark of 62k (124). We can upgrade the Fontainebleau form slightly, as the winner had a soft lead and was able to control the pace from the front in a race run with the slowest final circuit time on the day. The 3rd and 4th both won shortly afterwards and the 6th and 10th placed horses have also won races since. As French recruits go, he looks a nice type and there is some substance to his form. He did appear to have a high head carriage at times in the Fontainebleau race and he wandered under pressure on both starts, which he will need to improve on. The year off should have given him time to grow into his frame and although there are some horses with better form in this maiden hurdle, he isn’t without a chance.
A €100,000 purchase at the Arqana sale last November, he is related to several winners over hurdles and if you dig far enough into the family history you find Grade 1 horses like Ebonite, Quart Monde and 1994 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner The Fellow. He does need to improve on the form he showed in France if he is to make a winning debut and the suspicion would be that he may need this outing and he is more likely to be a horse for handicaps down the line. The yard have been amongst the winners and if there was significant market support then he could be of interest, but for now I would prefer to watch and see what mark the handicapper gives him after this run. On the balance of his French form, I would mark him around 118 so far, but after just 2 starts it is important to remember that he remains open to any amount of improvement.
SOLEIL DE CANNES (Iain Jardine)
It is probably fair to say that he didn’t achieve a great deal on his first 2 starts but the drop to claiming company at Compiegne in March saw a marked improvement as he finished 2nd to Jereviendrai. I actually wrote a preview of that Claimer in which I described Soleil de Cannes as “in need of more experience and needing significant improvement to feature”. The winner has proved to be a nice type, who won a Listed hurdle at Auteuil last month and if we take this form literally then Soleil de Cannes should probably be favourite for his UK debut on Wednesday.
He is a son of Quick Martin, a son of Martaline who raced as an entire over hurdles. His dam was an 8-race maiden, but she has produced 2 other winning progeny, including Carlain who won 3 times over obstacles.
The time of the Compiegne race was relatively slow, but the soft conditions probably contributed heavily to that and the form is franked by those in behind. The 3rd placed Harquency is now a 10-race maiden, but the 4th placed Jeu Tenant has won 3 times since, the 5th placed See My Eagle has won twice and is now rated the equivalent of 119 and even the 6th placed Casey, who was beaten 25-lengths at Compiegne, went on to place on his next 2 starts. Having raced towards the rear of the 7-runner field, he looked beaten at the 2nd last but kept on to his credit and outstayed his rivals to finish a clear 2nd.
Is he likely to make a winning debut at Musselburgh? Probably not. The small field and speed test of the Scottish track are unlikely to play to his strengths and with a couple of smart Flat recruits in the field, my suspicion is that he will struggle to go with them when the pace lifts. Softer ground and a stiffer test of stamina look more likely to be his bag, but this race should give us a good idea of how he is and how his form translates.