It’s a case of deja vu for Paul Nicholls as Saphir Du Rheu looks to be taking a similar path in switching to hurdles for the chance of Cheltenham glory next March.
I rode Big Buck’s to the first of his four victories in the 2009 World Hurdle after his chasing career was curtailed in the Hennessy Gold Cup and Saphir Du Rheu has big boots to fill if he’s going to emulate that.
Big Buck’s problem was that he could never get high enough at this fences to rise to the very top as a chaser.
Saphir Du Rheu is a good jumper but the fear is that he could jump too big, too early on his return to hurdles in Saturday’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot and doing that over three miles on testing ground could soon sap his stamina.
While I’m sure he’ll have been well schooled at Ditcheat over the smaller obstacles again – and he was an unlucky runner-up in last year’s World Hurdle – the first run can always be a concern when chasers switch back to hurdles.
We were all scratching our heads about The World Hurdle a month ago but it’s sparked into life now. There’s even talk of Bobs Worth switching back to hurdles after beating Simonsig at Haydock before running in the Hennessy last month.
There’s some very good younger horses and a couple of battle-hardened veterans among the entries in Saturday’s contest.
Colin Tizzard’s Thistlecrack was very impressive when beating Deputy Dan at Newbury and could improve again as that was his first run of the season. I rode him to win a novice hurdle here at Ascot last February and that course form will stand to him.
Deputy Dan looked all over the winner at Newbury until Thistlecrack went by him and he could improve again.
Reve De Sivola may be a veteran but he’s a course specialist and has won this Grade One contest three times – including the last twice – and loves the mud.
He has unbelievable stamina and that’s what you need at Ascot because they get racing early from Swinley Bottom and the uphill finish takes some getting.
One thing’s for sure though is that Saphir Du Rheu is not going to get to saunter round in his own time at Ascot and collect.
I could be at Ascot on Saturday as Willie Mullins has Renneti and Noble Inn entered in the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle.
Renetti is an enigma – but talented. Despite missing the break he was fourth to Old Guard in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham and he franked the form in the International Hurdle last weekend. If Renetti turns up in good humor he should run a good race on what will be just his second handicap start.
Gordon Elliot has a great record in this race winning it two of the last three seasons and with Diamond King, Hostile Fire and Vercingetorix among the entries you’d have to watch which one he sends.
The tough & consistent Lil Rockerfeller beat a couple of these at Sandown last time including Devilment, Vincenzo Mio and Some Plan and who came to a standstill when cantering two out.
It was his first run of the season but I can’t imagine he wasn’t fit enough coming from the Paul Nicholls’ yard and it will be interesting to see if there was any other explanation as to why he fell in a hole.
We talked Bellshill up before Sunday as a possible Cheltenham contender and he didn’t disappoint. He showed a change of gear that we hadn’t seen last year and quickened really well from two out to the last and from the back of the last to the line.
He always worked like a good horse but he was more of a galloper. A year’s maturity has helped him produce that extra turn of foot. It’s what you want to see. Good horses have gears and it’s another weapon in the armoury.
Winning maiden races impressively is fine but you have to win the graded races to be considered Cheltenham material because you’re going to meet the cream of the crop there next March.
Black Hercules was very good at Navan on Monday. He showed on the track what he’s been showing at home. While he disappointed in the Albert Bartlett last season you can always forgive one bad run.
What we have to decide now is whether he’ll be better suited for the three-mile RSA Chase, step him up to four miler amatuer race or drop back down to 2m 4f for the Jewson. The way he jumped and travelled on Monday he’s left all those options open. It will be mid-January at least before he’s seen again as Christmas will come too soon.