Andy Gibson’s Big Race Preview
Andy Gibson, professional punter and man behind the successful www.patternsandprofiles.co.uk, previews the 2009 WBX.COM Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
It is easy to see why Binocular currently heads the market for the first race in the WBX Hurdling Triple Crown as he has yet to taste defeat at any course bar Cheltenham.
Binocular has twice defeated the 170 rated Celestial Halo at both Aintree and Ascot. In the champion hurdle of 2009, the slightly slower ground and the specific demands of the Cheltenham course placed more emphasis on stamina; consequently, the fast early to middle fractions resulted in both Punjabi and Celestial Halo finishing in front of Binocular.
Therefore, we have to ask the question; is there a horse that is capable of setting up a similar pace scenario and will it make a difference on a course like Newcastle? - Because if it doesn’t, Binocular will be hard to beat - providing the ground does not get too soft.
As Harchibald proved on two occasions, it is more than possible for a speed horse to win here if the ground does not ride too soft or, more importantly, the pace on softened ground is not too taxing from the beginning. It appears highly unlikely that we will see a very fast run race this year as there seems to be no obvious pacemaker.
Al Eile does like to race prominently but you wouldn’t mark him down as likely to make all at a decent tempo going on past performances.
Looking at the possible participants, the obvious starting point is Solwhit who showed his well being when winning nicely at Punchestown without the rider having to resort to the whip as instructed. Whether he has the pace to beat Binocular is open to debate and the softer the ground the better his chances.
That is not to say that better ground is a detriment to him showing his true ability. He has handled better ground in the past, as demonstrated at Aintree over a longer trip but at the very top level over the minimum trip, if there was a sudden injection of pace on reasonable jumping ground where the early tempo is not over bearing then Binocular would look the more likely of the two.
The longer straight at Newcastle is a benefit to Solwhit but whether that is going to make much difference remains to be seen. There is no doubt he is a top class horse and it would certainly take an impressive performance for him to win this race against this type of opposition only 13 days after his win in Punchestown.
The other contenders certainly have much more to prove than the two main candidates on anything the have shown in the past to date.
We cannot be sure to what extent the palate operation has helped Sublimity, the one run since that procedure showed encouraging signs but whether that is going to be good enough first time out against the front two principles in the market is questionable.
His last two runs in graded company first time out in the jumping season resulted in defeats, first of all when finishing fourth to Osana in the Boylesports International Hurdle 2007 and last year where he ran a much better race when beaten a head by Punjabi in this corresponding race. However, Punjabi is a horse that can be difficult to get fit first time out and if there was a time to beat him, then this race last year was the ideal opportunity. This year’s renewal looks much more competitive on paper; furthermore it is a race where nine year olds historically do not do well overall.
Al Eile finished second in this race in 2007 and his campaign looks geared for another crack at the Aintree hurdle in April. He is now nine years old and the last time he won a race over this trip was in 2007 which was his first win at around two miles in grade one company in ten attempts. The balance of his form strongly suggests he will struggle in a field of this calibre.
Noel Meade relies on Go Native but on the balance of his form he has a lot to find and the fact that Noel Meade had four entries for this race last week suggests there may not be a lot of difference in ability between them.
Won In The Dark has yet to win a race in five attempts when running after a break of more then fifty days. The fact that he hales from an unfashionable stable means he is likely to go off a big price every time he runs in a Grade One race.
This horse is only five years old and is yet to finish unplaced when racing on good ground or faster. He was touched-off by Sublimity in the Grade One December Festival Hurdle on yielding ground last year (although by my reckoning the times suggested it was no more then on the slow side of good ground), with the likes of Muirhead and Sizing Europe much further behind. His current price is attractive in relation to Sublimity if the ground continues to dry out, although his 114 day absence from the track is a little off putting.
Blue Bajan has a lot to find on official figures and has yet to win in at Grade Two level so taking on this company is probably asking too much. He will do very well to match his efforts of last year in this race, where he finished third.
If we ignore the over round then mathematically both Binocular and Solwhit take out around 90% of the book. This usually means that other horses are likely to be trading at bigger prices then they ought to be however there is one angle that does intrigue me somewhat.
Currently, the price for winning the first two legs of the WBX Hurdling Triple Crown is 2.84, one that didn’t exactly get me doing cartwheels. The price of 2.84 means that, hypothetically, if Binocular was to win the WBX.COM Fighting Fifth Hurdle at an SP of around 1.8 then in affect you are backing him at around 1.57 for the second leg at Kempton.
This is probably a correct assessment on his likely price on the day for the Christmas hurdle, if not shorter. His main rivals are unlikely to contest the race at Kempton, Solwhit and
Sublimity are likely to remain in Ireland should they not win the first leg.
I doubt Paul Nicholls would like to see Celestial Halo whizzing around a relatively sharp track like Kempton after competing in the Boylesport around two weeks earlier. Zaynar is going for the Relkeel hurdle and Punjabi, who is also being aimed at the Boylesport, may well be kept apart from Binocular for the time being. Were Solwhit to win then it is slightly more problematic in that Binocular could take him on again.
However, if Solwhit is capable of becoming the first horse to beat Binocular away from Cheltenham on good to soft ground in a race where the pace is likely to be less then generous, then I would be happy to have him on my side wherever he goes. I would be surprised if the Christmas hurdle, which historically contains a small field, has a stronger line up then the one we see on Saturday.
The suggestion is to back any horse to win the WBX Hurdling Triple Crown at 12.50 with WBX. On the basis that we should have the first two legs covered we can then be in a position to trade out of the market by laying the winner of the first two races in the ante post market for the Champion Hurdle.
If Binocular or Solwhit were to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown series then they would certainly be trading below 4.0 in the ante post market for the Champion Hurdle. Binocular is already trading at around 4.5 and he is yet to run this season.
Looking at the in-running market, should Go Native compete, he will be trading much shorter during the race, especially if Paul Carberry is on board. He is a horse that doesn’t come off the bridle too early in his races and may well be travelling within himself until at least two furlongs out.
In his last run at Down Royal he found little up the hill and likewise in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he was closed down as he met the rising ground. This suggests that Newcastle will be more suitable to his needs because, although there is an incline, it is not as steep as
Down Royal; therefore, on better ground, where the pace is not likely to be hot, he could well be trading at a much shorter price in-running, therefore enabling us to secure a profitable position regardless of the result.
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