Sporting John – Thames Materials Novices’ Hurdle, 13:15 Ascot
Successful on his sole outing in points, when having three next-time-out winners behind him, Sporting John has created an excellent impression in winning both his starts over hurdles to date.
The five-year-old was held up on his debut at Exeter in November and still had plenty to do three out, but the way he picked up after the last was most taking, ultimately winning comfortably by a length and three quarters from Harry Senior. It was certainly an eye-catching start to his career under Rules and the form could hardly have worked out better – those who filled the next four places have all won since, with Harry Senior doing most for the form when landing a Grade 2 at Cheltenham.
Sporting John’s latest success over the same C&D was more about style than substance, but it was still hard not to be impressed by the way he went through the race, coming clear on the bridle in the closing stages to defy a penalty with the minimum of fuss.
A most exciting prospect, we simply don’t know how good he could be, but we should be a lot wiser about his Cheltenham credentials after Saturday, when he is set to line up in what looks potentially a red-hot novice event to kick off proceedings at Ascot.
Copperhead – Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase, 13:50 Ascot
‘With longer trips still to explore (yet to race beyond 2½m), it wouldn’t be remiss to speculate that he could be a Timeform 140+ horse by the end of the season.’
A member of our Horses To Follow in 2019/20, Copperhead has already lived up to the high aspirations held for him at the start of the season, quickly progressing to a Timeform rating of 143p in three starts over fences, with the promise of even better to come.
Bar his reappearance in a maiden chase, Colin Tizzard’s charge has now won his last four starts – improving considerably each time – and there was plenty to like about his latest success in handicap company at Newbury. Indeed, he coped with the demanding test like an old hand that day, jumping superbly for an inexperienced chaser and ultimately well on top at the finish, defying a BHA mark of 134 to beat Moving In Style by three and a quarter lengths (value for extra).
Admittedly, this is sure to be tougher now stepping into graded company for the first time, but it's hard to say quite where his limit may lie in this sphere, such is his current rate of progress, and another win here would pit him firmly in the mix for the RSA Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
Goshen – Unibet Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle, 14:40 Haydock
Goshen currently features amongst the market leaders for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and it is easy to see why, with his six wins in a row since June – three in Flat handicaps and three in juvenile hurdles – coming by a combined winning distance of 96 lengths.
Gary Moore’s charge clearly possesses a massive engine and the Timeform rating (145p) he achieved when taking the field apart at Sandown in December sets the standard in this division, just ahead of Allmankind (144p) and Aspire Tower (143). He looked something out of the ordinary as he made all the running to land the spoils by 34 lengths on that occasion, forging clear in testing conditions without seeming to come out of second gear.
One cause for concern to come out of his hurdling starts to date is his tendency to jump markedly to his right. Admittedly, the son of Authorized did jump straighter when there was a horse on his inside at Ascot last time, but he soon reverted to type in the straight, albeit with the race already in safe keeping (won by 11 lengths).
We may not learn anything new about Goshen’s ability when he lines up at Haydock on Saturday – he is 19 lb clear of his nearest rival on weight-adjusted ratings – but, with Cheltenham in mind, it will at least be good to see his jumping put to the test at another left-handed track.
Riders Onthe Storm – Betfair Ascot Chase, 15:35 Ascot
A useful novice when trained by Tom Taaffe last season, Riders Onthe Storm has taken his form over fences to another level in two starts for Nigel Twiston-Davies this term, easily defying a BHA mark of 140 in handicap company at Aintree in November, before improving again to land a graduation chase over this C&D last time.
That race possibly didn’t take as much winning as it looked like it would on paper, but that still shouldn’t detract from the performance of Riders Onthe Storm, who gave weight and a seven-length beating to On The Blind Side in the style of a high-class chaser.
Easy! Riders Onthe Storm bolts up in the @BetfairExchange Graduation Chase at @Ascot, giving @samtwiston and @NigelTwistonDav compensation following their Caspian Caviar agony… pic.twitter.com/n4hMJ5SHEA— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) December 21, 2019
Admittedly, even that form would give him plenty to find here with an on-song Cyrname, who won this race by 17 lengths last season and cemented his position as Timeform’s joint-highest-rated chaser in training when beating Altior in the 1965 Chase over C&D in November. Given plenty of time to recover from his below-par display in the King George last time, he very much sets the standard if back to his best.
So far as Festival clues are concerned, though, it’s worth noting that Paul Nicholls has all but ruled Cyrname out of Cheltenham, which identifies Riders Onthe Storm as the potential market mover to emerge from Saturday’s race. He is currently around 8/1 for the Ryanair but could be much shorter if succeeding where many others have failed in giving Cyrname a race at Ascot.