The good feeling when winning on Valsuer Lido last Saturday at Down Royal was soon tempered by Sunday’s news that we’d lost Avant Tout at Naas races and that Vautour had been killed in an accident at home.
Sunday was the kind of day you wouldn’t want too often. Willie rang me as I made my way back from Cork races and it came as a big shock.
Vautour was a fantastic horse who we probably hadn’t seen the best of. He gave me, Willie and Rich Ricci three brilliant days at Cheltenham. His best performance for me was when he won the JLT Chase in 2014 sandwiched between his Supreme Novice Hurdle (2013) and Ryanair Chase (2016) wins.
Was this the year he could have added a Cheltenham Gold Cup to the collection? To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking that far ahead. He had just started back into his work and we weren’t even sure where he was going to start off his season before hopefully trying to take care of some unfinished business in the King George VI Chase over Christmas.
To me he was a genuine Grade One horse who had the potential to go to the very top and those horses are very hard to find. And even harder to replace.
We’d high hopes for Avant Tout as a Hennessy Gold Cup contender too and deliberately tried to get a run into him before the Newbury contest in three weeks. We learned a lesson from sending Djakadam there in 2014 without a prep. Even though he seemed to be well handicapped, he couldn’t land a blow against more experienced and race-fit rivals.
Avant Tout had improved all last season and is a huge loss to the Supreme Racing Club.
Going for Gold
I won’t be at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting this weekend but More of That looks the class horse to me in Saturday’s feature, the BetVictor Gold Cup.
He’s the only horse to have beaten Annie Power when she didn’t fall and that’s good form.
He was very impressive when winning here last season, where he showed he had the pace to win over 2m 5f. Things didn’t work out for him in the RSA Chase behind Blaklion and he was found to be bleeding post-race. That’s a concern but the yard seem to be making all the right noises about him now. He could potentially be a blot on the handicap.
Of the other entries, Paul Nicholls’ yard looks to house the biggest danger in Frodon, As De Mee and Bouvreuil. All are second-season novice chasers like More of That and fit the profile of previous winners.
Alan King’s unbeaten Winter Escape is lightly-raced and signed off early last season by winning the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton in February.
He hasn’t been seen since and there’s no telling how good he could be off an official rating of 142.
Two others that are a bit longer in the market are Tommy Silver and Wolf of Windlesham.
Tommy Silver finished seventh in the Triumph Hurdle last season (just ahead of Frodon) and while a little disappointing at Ffos Las last month behind Garde La Victiore (who won this in 2014), he can come on for the run.
Stuart Edmunds’ Wolf of Windlesham beat Tommy Silver in a good race at Sandown last term, won at this meeting last year and should appreciate the good ground.
Both are four-years-olds who are open to improvement like last year’s winner Old Guard.