I know how difficult Robbie ‘Puppy’ Power’s task was to choose between Sizing John and Our Duke because I had to do the same with Kauto Star and Denman in the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He’s nailed his colours to reigning champ Sizing John and that’s how I picked Kauto Star back then. He was a tried and tested Gold Cup winner. The only difference is that I had to pick between the first and second favourite!
Neither Kauto Star nor Denman were coming off the back of a bad run; one had won a Lexus Chase, the AON Chase and Hennessey Gold Cup (Denman), while the other had won the King George VI Chase, the Ascot Chase and the Betfair Chase (Kauto).
By comparison, Our Duke was on a recovery mission last weekend and Sizing John was disappointing the last time we saw him at Leopardstown over Christmas.
I had to call it before their round of prep races as well. Sam Thomas rode Denman in the AON Chase, I rode Kauto Star in the Ascot Chase. Who knows what might have happened if I didn’t have to do it before then?
You hate being wrong. No sports person or jockey in the world likes to get it wrong. I’d still change it, if I could. I got it right with Faugheen over Hurricane Fly in the 2015 Champion Hurdle though at least. I just felt that Faugheen was the improver of the two.
I got Kauto and Denman wrong. I got Faugheen and Hurricane Fly right. I suppose that’s the balance of probabilities isn’t it?
The Kauto Star and Denman decision had the biggest consequences, because it was for the biggest prize in National Hunt racing.
Most jockeys are lucky if they have one Gold Cup horse to ride, let alone two. So, I know exactly how big a decision it was for Puppy for that exact reason. Only time will tell if he’s called it right.
The Betfair Ascot Chase was a race of two halves from very early on. A couple of horses went off very quick and the big three in the market (Coney Island, Top Notch and Waiting Patiently) all sat well off what looked to be a very strong pace.
However, in the end Brian Hughes got himself in the right place on Waiting Patiently and won well.
He idled in front and if you listen to Brian Hughes he felt the horse ran that way. However, from the second last it was a matter of how far he’d win by. He’d be a big draw for the Ryanair Chase, even though he’s not a horse I’d know a whole pile about. If you look back through his form, he went relatively unnoticed in my life until he won at Kempton last month.
He’s an improving horse with a huge future though and I’m sure Ruth Jefferson, along with Brian Hughes and the owners will do the right thing with him.
Of the others, Coney Island never really jumped, he got into absolutely no rhythm at all. Top Notch looked like he was going to run a big race for a long time, but ultimately faded out of it.
It was a great run from Cue Card though to fill the runner-up spot. He showed some real spark and zest, he jumped with great enthusiasm.
I’d say Cue Card is more likely to go in the Gold Cup. With every passing week, we’re talking about a different horse to win that race. First it was Might Bite, than Native River, Our Duke has promoted himself now again and Robbie Power has gone for Sizing John, so it’s wide open.
The Tizzards are entitled to have a crack at it again if they want. Everyone reckons it’s an open race, so I’d imagine that’s where he’ll go.
It’d be a brave call to go to Cheltenham with Coney Island now after his run last weekend, he was very disappointing. At least if he finished third, that’s maybe as good as you are, but when you run as bad as he did, you’re left thinking that it can’t be his true running.
I thought Black Corton was head and shoulders above the competition – he absolutely bolted in. He didn’t go overly quick, but he sprinted away from them down the straight at Ascot. The form suggested that he could do it and he did.
He’s a live contender for the RSA Chase and he just keeps improving.
When horses start doing what Black Corton is doing, you never know where they’ll end up.
The fact that his trainer Paul Nicholls has talked him down rather than up, you’d be kind of thinking his success would surprise you. However, if you look at his form, he’s doing exactly what that form suggests he should be doing.
I’d be a little worried about the way Blacklion jumped at Haydock. He didn’t have the fluency or enthusiasm he’s capable of. That could have been down to the real heavy ground and maybe he was just stuck in it, having to climb out.
When you look at the race, none of them could keep going, bar the winner Yala Enki. Only three finished. Blacklion didn’t jump like he did when winning the Becher Chase.
He was very deliberate and slow. That would be the big concern for me as a Grand National candidate, rather than the way he ran.
I thought Presenting Percy would be speedier than Our Duke in the Red Mills Steeplechase at Gowran Park. When Our Duke missed the fourth last and Presenting Percy ranged-up down the hill I was certain that Presenting Percy was going to win.
Even when it got to the last fence I was still sure he’d get there. I thoughted he’d plenty left in the tank, but Our Duke rallied back and beat him well at the death. It was a great race for anyone that ventured to Gowran on Saturday, which a lot of people did. They really got value for money and a lot of entertainment.
Our Duke needs to improve from that again if he’s to win a Gold Cup though.
Funny enough, despite his loss, I wouldn’t reckon Presenting Percy would have to improve much more to win an RSA.