Pentland is still a player in weak division
Call Me Lord showed a good attitude to win Saturday’s International Hurdle at Cheltenham, but it’s hard to see him being any more than a minor player if attempting to follow up in the Champion Hurdle (currently 8/1 with Paddy Power), a double last achieved by Rooster Booster in 2002/03.
Stablemate Pentland Hills was one of those in the line-up with pretensions of developing into a bona fide Champion Hurdle contender. Despite weakening in the closing stages to finish out of the frame, he still appeals as the most likely to bridge the gap this season, having impressed with how he went through the race before his lack of a recent outing/early exuberance began to tell.
Making his first appearance since completing a Grade 1 double in the spring, he jumped with notable fluency for one with such little experience. He looks sure to improve with that outing under his belt and remains one to keep on side in a division that has yet to catch fire this season.
Better jumping for Spinner to be a winner
Sam Spinner extended his unbeaten record over fences to three with a 38-length success in Saturday’s December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster, but, with one rival failing to complete and the other patently not showing his form, it’s hard to know quite what he achieved.
His jumping also left a bit to be desired at times, with one incident doing the rounds on social media over the weekend.
An unbelievable save by Joe Colliver at Doncaster this afternoon ??
He manages to somehow stay on Sam Spinner – and the two of them went on to win the race!pic.twitter.com/zG5RMPMtCq
— Ascot Racecourse (@Ascot) December 14, 2019
Holding a narrow lead on the approach to the 13th fence, Sam Spinner put down on jockey Joe Colliver and fired him high into the South Yorkshire sky, with the only saving grace being that he was still there when Colliver came back down again.
Jedd O’Keeffe’s charge will surely need to be better in the jumping department as he gets into more competitive races – he has tackled only small fields over fences so far – and the test that Cheltenham presents doesn’t look one that he is tailormade for at this stage. Ante-post quotes of around 14/1 for the RSA make little appeal.
Exciting times in the life of Brian
The British jump jockeys’ championship has been a one-way contest for the best part of 25 years, with Richard Johnson comfortably taking the title in each of the four seasons since the all-conquering A.P. McCoy retired from the saddle.
However, the defending champion looks to have a big challenger on his hands this season in the shape of Brian Hughes, who joined Johnson on 95 winners with a four-timer at Carlisle on Sunday. In truth, Hughes hasn’t done much differently – he had already ridden 100 winners at this stage of the 2018/19 campaign – and the main reason he finds himself in this position is a drop off in numbers for Johnson, who had amassed 148 winners at this stage 12 months ago.
The one area that Hughes has improved is his strike rate, which is higher than in any other year of his professional riding career at 21%. That is hardly surprising given that he effectively has his pick of the rides in the north these days, with powerful trainers such as Donald McCain (the source of 34 winners this season), Keith Dalgleish (16) and Nicky Richards (14) all in his corner.
There is clearly a long way to go, but the momentum behind Hughes suggests that, for once, we could be in for a title battle that goes beyond the turn of the year.
*Prices correct at time of publishing