R1 – Prix Nid Vert
An early start for the opening meeting of the 2023 season at Dieppe but despite the good quality card at Chantilly later on, it is the opening race of this National Hunt card that appeals most. At 11:15 (UK Time) we have the Prix Nid Vert, a Class 3 conditions hurdle for 5-year-olds and older horses over 3,800 metres. The conditions are that this race is for horses who have not won €13,000 in prize money over obstacles this year, with penalties carried for earnings accumulated over hurdles over €4,000 this year and €6,000 last year. The base weights are that 5-year-olds will carry 66kg, 6-year-olds and overs will carry 68kg. It’s not a handicap, but there is no doubt that the best horse in the race is Placenet and he is carrying the most weight, the question is whether any of his 6-rivals are treated well enough to take advantage.
Horses for another day
They can’t all be competitive and despite receiving weight from some of their rivals, there are a few horses in this field that I am happy enough to take on. I’ll start with Imenhotep, who is an 8-race maiden trained by Jehan Bertran de Balanda. He has run his best races at Dieppe, finishing second on 2 occasions in Juvenile hurdles behind Fast Vision and West Coast and that form is probably good enough to suggest that he will break his maiden tag one day, but the problem is that those good races were in the summer of 2021, and he hasn’t been seen since. He has clearly had issues to keep him off the track, but with the yard at 1 winner from 33 runners so far this calendar year, the percentage call is to assume that this will be a gentle return to racing, and he will be entitled to improve for his first start since September 2021. Hamandio has won 2 of his 19 starts on the track, winning over hurdles at Bordeaux as a Juvenile and then over fences at Pau, but his last win was in December 2020, and he has been beaten a total of 46-lengths in his 2 starts in 2023. A rating of 50.5 is very fair on that evidence and that leaves him with at least 25lbs to find to be competitive.
Form over Fences
Several of these runners, including Placenet, have far more significant form over fences than they do over hurdles. That is not unusual, the very nature of the qualifying criteria for these races means that trainers will often use them as an opportunity for a decent chaser to pick up some prize money without the need to carry a big weight. Happy Du Reve won twice over Fences in 2022 and if he can match the form that he showed when winning a Handicap Chase at Craon in September, he is a player in this race. This looks a good spot for him, but the same could have been said about his comeback run at Nantes and he could only manage a sixth placed finish, beaten 16-lengths. That was his first start since November and he ran like a horse who needed the outing, but it also takes his tally over hurdles to 0-11 and given that he has form at galloping tracks like Craon and Lion D’Angers, he could be vulnerable in a race like this at Dieppe, which is more of a speed test.
Mishka des Mottes has won twice over fences at Auteuil and Cagnes-Sur-Mer and although he is a 5-race maiden over hurdles, he has run some creditable races in decent company. As recently as November he finished 5th in a Listed Chase at Compiegne and after a pipe opener on the Flat at Loudeac in April, he ran a respectable race when 6th at Auteuil a fortnight ago. He tracked the leaders on that occasion and was still in with a chance as they jumped the final flight in the back straight, but he was quickly beaten when the pace lifted and simply plugged on after the last, eventually beaten 21-lengths. The winner of the race, Bandero, raced in a similar position and found plenty in the closing stages to get the better of Honest Vic and Saint Sonnet, a pair formerly trained in the UK by Henry Daly and Paul Nicholls. That level of form probably isn’t good enough to win this and the fact that he was beaten so quickly would be enough to put me off against some rivals who may well be a class above him.
If this race was over fences, then Mandurose would be the horse to side with. She is the only mare in the field and receives a lot of weight from her main rivals, coming out the best part of 3-kilos well in based on the official ratings. She finished 2nd in the Listed Chase at Compiegne in November when Mishka des Mottes was 5th and has regularly run to her mark of 62.5. She has won over hurdles, landing a Juvenile hurdle at Lyon Parilly in October 2021 and there should be a lot to like. However, her return at Compiegne when she finished 8th over fences 3-weeks ago was very uninspiring and left several doubts over her current wellbeing. This was a handicap, so she will be on better terms here, but she ran in snatches and was quickly beaten having jumped the fence that the bottom of the hill still in contention. She made a mess of the second last and was eased afterwards. The return to hurdles may boost her confidence, but there is going to need to be a very significant step forwards for her to be involved here.
Last Year’s Winner
Placenet won this contest 12-months ago with ease. He was always racing prominently and kicked clear in the home straight, recording a final circuit time of 2:15.05, a time that was only bettered on the day by the subsequent Grade 1 winning Juvenile St Donats. We can question the strength of that form, the placed horses are rated 53.5 and 55, but he did it well and his subsequent efforts have shown that he is probably a class above this grade. He won his next 2 starts over fences at Auteuil, landing the Listed Prix Rigoletto in June and taking his career tally to 6 wins from 11 starts at that time. Things didn’t go to plan for him on his final start, when he was never really travelling in the Listed Prix Richard and Robert Hennessey at Auteuil in September and was eased off and beaten 44-lengths. Something was clearly amiss, and we haven’t seen him since. He has undoubtedly achieved more than any of his rivals and any horse who has won 6 of his 12 starts is worthy of consideration at this level, but there is no doubt in my mind that this is a more difficult assignment than the one he faced 12-months ago. He has weight to give away to all of his rivals and he came into last year’s race with the benefit of a run, having run at Auteuil and Lyon Parilly before coming to Dieppe. His class is likely to get him through, but he was beaten on his first start in 2021 and 2022 and given the lackluster way he was beaten at Auteuil on his last start, there are some nagging doubts that might put me off taking what is likely to be a short price.
The Swedish Angle?
I don’t often get the chance to write about a horse bred in Sweden, but Harry fits that bracket. He was a 5-time winner on the Flat in his native Sweden and has run a pair of very solid races at Auteuil since he switched to Noel George and Amanda Zetterholm. The yard have had 9 winners and 39 placings from their 57 runners in 2023 and Harry looks like a horse who is likely to add to that tally. He was beaten just 3-lengths by the very talented Indian de Gascogne on his hurdles debut in March and at least matched that form when 10-lengths behind Amy Murphy’s now retired Kalashnikov in a Class 1 contest at Auteuil 3-weeks later. That race was full of pattern class horses, the likes of Galleo Conti, Sampark, Mourinho Has and Docteur de Ballon and Harry did not look out of place in that company. He raced prominently and was still in with a chance as they turned in. Although he was ultimately outstayed by some classy rivals, he kept trying and the final circuit time was only bettered by the top class Theleme on the rest of the card. This was a remarkable effort on just his 2nd start over hurdles and if he can match it here, he must give Placenet a race in receipt of 3.5-kilos.
This piece was written on Wednesday afternoon and at the time of publication we only have one market to look at courtesy of Bet 365. Placenet is the most likely winner, if he matches the level of form that he showed when he completed a four-timer last year then he should win this despite the weight on his back. He has opened an Even money chance and that is probably just about right, but I think there are some risks attached, most notably his lackluster effort last time and the fact that he hasn’t been seen since. If he isn’t fully tuned up for his return, he won’t win this, and I don’t think he has enough in hand over his rivals to come into this race only 80% fit. For that reason, I will take him on with HARRY. He is race fit and a repeat of either of his runs at Auteuil would probably be enough to beat the remainder of this field. I can understand why Mandurose has been made a similar price, as she has probably achieved more on the track and she receives a lot of weight, but her last run was very flat and although she may improve for that first outing of the year, she is going to need to. If one of the other 4 win this race then it might look foolish to say that it should be 12/1 bar the front 3, but on all known form that is how I would see it and I am happy to overlook them at this level. If Placenet was a Non-Runner, I’d make Harry Evens to win this race, so I think the 7/2 is a very fair price with doubts over the fitness of the Favourite.