12:58 Auteuil - Prix Go Ahead (Listed)
The Jumps season may be coming to its conclusion in the UK and Ireland this Saturday, but in France it is just heating up. The Spring season is always the time to be on the lookout for the next big thing, particularly in the Juvenile hurdle ranks and although the chances are fairly slim, there is always the possibility that we could see a Triumph hurdle contender at Auteuil this weekend. If we do, then it will probably appear in the opening race, which is a Listed contest for 3-year-old over 3,000 metres.
Not Ready Yet
We have 6 runners heading to post at 12:58, but there are a couple who are probably going to need more time and distance before they are ready to put their best feet forwards. I’ll start with Surinfil, a 3-year-old Gelding by Great Pretender. His dam won 4 times over obstacles, although she never ventured beyond a rating of 54k in her 67-race career and he is a half-brother to Matnight, who has won a Claiming Chase for this yard after being highly tried in better company. It’s very hard to get a handle on his form. The formbook will say that he pulled up on his debut in the Prix Wild Monarch 11-days ago, but he ran well to a point. Although a little keen, he tracked the leaders and was only 3-lengths down then they jumped the final hurdle in the back straight but having come off the bridle as they turned in, he quickly emptied and was pulled up between the final 2 flights. He has been turned out again quickly so presumably there was no injury involved, but it is hard to have any confident opinion about his chances and he will need to show a lot more resolution to match the principles here.
Ventura Highway is a more interesting proposition. He is a son of Kapgarde, a half-brother to 3 winners and comes from the family of Terrefort (Nicky Henderson) and Vino Griego (Gary Moore). His Dam, Las Ventas, actually won the Prix Geographie in 2010 so there is a good pointer there to him having the pedigree for Juvenile hurdles. His debut was solid enough, he finished fifth behind the very talented Square Saint Roch 3-weeks ago (Boom Boom Ciao was 3rd) and his connections will no doubt have been fairly pleased with that start. He was a little awkward at his hurdles and seemed to run in snatches, coming off and on the bridle and once the pace lifted in the home straight, he was readily outpaced. This was a strongly run race, the final circuit time was quicker than the handicaps for the older horses on the same card, but he never looked comfortable at that pace, and it may be that he needs a step up in trip to be more effective. Given the speed already shown by some of his rivals, I think the percentage call is to assume that he will be outpaced once again.
The Steady Improver
I don’t think Boom Boom Ciao will win, but he improved on his debut effort when 3rd here last time behind Square Saint Roch. He travelled nicely and although he was no match for the winner, he kept on after the last and I don’t see any reason why Ventura Highway will reverse the form. He is a son of Polarix and whilst his Dam was limited, she is a half-sister to 5 winners and has already produced 2 winning progeny, most notably Uchronique, who won 11-times on the Flat, mainly over staying trips. There is nothing in his form so far or his pedigree to suggest that he is capable of winning a race like this, but once he gets into lesser company away from Paris or possibly drops into a Claimer, races which the yard do very well in, he should find a winning opportunity.
Both Jigme and Worth a Team have already won races over hurdles and as a result they carry a 1-kilo penalty here. Worth a Team has actually won 6 times, four times on the Flat and then twice over hurdles at Fontainebleau and Compiegne. He reached a peak rating 39.5k on the level (the equivalent of 87 in the UK) and he has been able to use that Flat speed to win over hurdles. He won narrowly at Fontainebleau, beating Karaktere D’enfer who has since joined Tom Symonds yard in the UK, and he probably matched that form when winning with a penalty at Compiegne last time. I can pick holes in that form, he was able to dictate in front of a small field and his Flat speed got him out of trouble after the last (the time was just 0.10s quicker than the 3YO Claimer over the same C&D), but a horse who has won 6 of his 15 starts is not easily swept aside. There is a scenario where this race becomes tactical and a sprint from the 2nd last, in which case he would be the favourite if he is on terms as they turn in. We know more about him than any other runner in this race, but that same argument can be used to suggest that he may be vulnerable against a pair of rivals who may prove a class above him.
Jigme is certainly one of those rivals. He is a son of Motivator and a half-brother to Flat pattern winners Sinawaan and Silwana. He made a winning start to his career in the Prix Rush over this course and distance in March, travelling prominently and then kicking clear after the final flight. The overall time was nothing out of the ordinary, but he ran from the final flight to the winning line in 17.75s, the fastest closing split of any horse on the card. The form has yet to be fully tested, but the third and fifth placed horses have hit the frame on their next starts to give some substance to it. He has a Flat pedigree, so it was surprise to see that he possessed a turn-of-foot when he won the Prix Rush. After that victory there were some much better judges than me who suggested that he could be a Triumph hurdle prospect, lofty praise indeed. I wouldn’t be so confident about him at this stage, but he did very little wrong on debut and there is no doubt that he is the most likely winner of this race.
The Winner in Waiting
The final runner in the field is Winstonpresident for Noel George and Amanda Zetterholm. The yard has had 5 winners from their last 20 runners and their son of It’s Gino was very unlucky on his debut when he finished 2nd in the Prix Grandak. The winner of that race, Majborough, has since been sold to race in the UK or Ireland (I’m not sure where yet), as has the fifth placed Kaid D’Authie, but the sixth placed Batman Girac bolted up at Compiegne this week and with an overall time that was 6s quicker than the Fillies race over the same course and distance, I think we can trust that form. Winstonpresident travelled nicely behind the leaders and was the last horse still on the bridle when he made a mistake at the 2nd last. He recovered his poise and was alongside the eventual winner when he was side swiped by Angel Caro who jumped violently to his left and Felix de Giles did very well to stay onboard. To his enormous credit he rallied to retake second place on the run-in, but the winner was already away and gone. This race produced a better time figure than the races won by Jigme and Worth a Team and the fact that he was able to travel so strongly into the contest, would suggest that he plenty of ability and should easily win a race in the near future. With Champion jockey James Reveley booked, he makes plenty of appeal.
This piece was written on Friday morning before the markets had formed (Gillingham’s final home game of the season against Newport County will occupy me on Saturday) and before looking at the prices, I had the race along these lines; Jigme 6/4, Winstonpresident 11/4, Worth a Team 5/1, 10s Bar. I am aware that would be priced to over 100%, but it is very hard to assess the true chance of Surinfil and there isn’t an obvious front runner to build the race around. Worth a Team will probably lead, but if James Reveley and Ludovic Philipperon have watched his race at Compiegne, they surely won’t allow him to have a freebie on the front end. As you can see from the attached screenshot of the early Bet365 market, we weren’t too far away, although at those odds I would be happy to take on Worth a Team with a pair of horses who could easily have more improvement. At 7/2 Winstonpresident is tempting, but that’s a smaller edge than I was hoping for (22.22% chance against my odds of 11/4; 26.67%) so I will play a small reverse forecast with Jigme instead. I can’t be certain that the odds will hold, but at the current odds it should pay between £5-8 depending on how they finish. In basic terms, that gives me between 6/4 and 3/1 that the pair of them improve past Worth a Team and I think that’s fair. I considered laying Worth a Team on a place instead, but as I stated in my earlier comments, there is no obvious pace angle and there are circumstances where he could either get a soft lead or be able to use his Flat speed to win a sprint if they dawdle round and laying him at around 4/5 not to place did not appeal because of that probability. At this stage I wouldn’t be thinking about Cheltenham, they are all still in France after all, but we should learn a lot more from this race tomorrow and you can never rule anything out.