Shortly after Champ crossed the line two lengths behind Sceau Royal in Sunday’s Betfair Game Spirit Chase, ITV pundit Luke Harvey flippantly joked that the runner-up would be almost favourite for the Gold Cup on the back of that performance.
Plenty of Twitter ‘judges’ immediately sprang into action to deride what they assumed was an overreaction but within a couple of minutes bookmakers across the land had slashed Champ in ante-post Gold Cup lists, going some way to backing up Harvey’s assertion.
Champ crashed into a general 6/1 second favourite across the board and, while I can often be critical of bookmaker reaction, on this occasion it feels entirely justified.
Look down the list of Gold Cup runners and ask yourself how many of them could run so big over two mile after almost a year off. Champ is a seriously talented horse.
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I had feared that Champ’s often suspect jumping might have been his undoing under the stronger tempo of a two-mile contest but his fencing was exemplary throughout, barring a slight blip at the last.
Only time will tell whether he is still has the propensity to clatter a fence but it would be churlish to crab Sunday’s round of jumping, under more pressure than he will be under pace-wise in the Gold Cup. It's a run that should sharpen him up a good deal.
Champ beat two top-notchers in last year’s RSA Chase and, right now, has the chasing world at his feet. To my mind he is by some way the best chance of a home victory in the next month’s WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.
It hasn’t been mentioned anywhere yet but I am assuming Nico de Boinville will ride Champ instead of stablemate and last year’s runner-up Santini who has hardly looked a Gold Cup winner in waiting this season.
Al Boum Photo is bidding to emulate the great Best Mate by winning three successive Gold Cups so he’s clearly a big obstacle for Champ but let’s not forget that Al Boum Photo beat Santini by just a neck 12 months ago, so if you think (like I do) that Champ is a much better horse than Santini, you have to high hopes that he will turn out to be the most appropriately-named named of horses.
Start Proved Key For Mishriff’s Big Payday
The $20 million Saudi Cup gave us a perfect illustration of just how crucial the first furlong of a dirt race can be.
Draw out in stall 12, there was a lot that could have gone wrong for Mishriff and David Egan but the young rider had clearly learned plenty from his mount's only previous dirt outing where a slow start arguably cost him victory in the 2020 Saudi Derby.
There is no doubt that Mishriff was helped by the duelling leaders going at it from an early stage but the Make Believe colt gave himself the best possible chance of being able to take advantage of such a scenario by showing the early gears to grab that much sought-after position in behind the speed.
In a race where absolutely nothing could get in any sort of blow from off the pace, that first furlong proved decisive for Mishriff who was perfectly placed throughout to cash in on the speed duel between two of the best dirt horses in America.
My immediate thoughts afterwards were that this would ensure 2021 is Mishriff’s last year on the racetrack because he must be worth a small fortune at Prince Faisal's Nawara Stud now.
Very few horses have gone off to the paddocks as top-level winners on turf and dirt but being a member of that most exclusive of club’s doesn't guarantee stardom as a sire.
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The two most obvious examples in recent years are Thunder Snow and Raven’s Pass who, like Mishriff, was trained by John Gosden. And that’s not the only link between Mishriff and Raven’s Pass. Mishriff’s dam, Contradict, is a home-bred daughter of Raven’s Pass.
Raven’s Pass was packed off to the paddocks after winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the autumn of 2008 but has only sired three top-flight winners in his stallion career. Furthermore, he didn’t open his Group 1 account on dirt until Matterhorn made all the running in the Al Maktoum Challenge R3 at Meydan in March 2020.
A 2021 stud fee of just €7,500 reflects that lack of top-flight success on both turf and dirt although Mishriff’s success is just a gentle reminder that Raven’s Pass still holds at least some influence on the dirt game.
Thunder Snow is, so far at least, the only horse to win the back-to-back Dubai World Cups but it’s too early to tell how his stallion career is likely to turn out because his first runners have yet to hit the track.
A 2020 stallion fee of 2.5m JPY (just shy of 17k sterling) appears fairly modest in relation to the fees of some of the big names in that jurisdiction although that may have something to do with the fact that Thunder Snow is by Australian sire Helmet, whose stallion career hasn’t gone anything like as expected in the Southern Hemisphere.
Mishriff’s already brilliant racing career is far from over and there appears to be no reason why he can’t emulate Thunder Snow and Raven’s Pass by winning the Dubai World Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic, after all it looks like he’ll stay the extra furlong. But there are no guarantees a glittering career at stud will automatically follow.
Tritonic Can Emerge As Key Triumph Hurdle Player
Irish raiders dominate ante-post Triumph Hurdle lists but the opening contest on day three of the Cheltenham Festival might just have a different feel to it after Saturday’s Close Brothers Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton.
It is ten years since the last Adonis winner, Zarkandar, followed up at Prestbury Park, but the vibes from Barbury Castle are sufficiently positive to think that things might be about to change.
A high Flat rating is no guarantee of success when switching to obstacles but 99-rated Flat performer Tritonic proved an instant hit in his new vocation when winning a competitive juvenile event at Ascot in January.
That hard-fought one-length success over an inferior Flat rival wouldn’t make him an obvious Triumph Hurdle contender but I was particularly taken by the way he saw his race out on a stiff track having been quite free through much of the first half of the contest. He was still able to reel in a horse that got loose on the lead, with the pair a long way clear, suggesting he’s got quite an engine.
Tritonic looks for all the world like he’ll be seen to better effect in a stronger run contest and some better ground would help, too.
Redicean won the Adonis for Alan King in 2018 before disappointing at Cheltenham but Tritonic is a much better Flat horse than him and he’s got strong form on undulating tracks, which bodes well for his prospects of being fully effective at Cheltenham.