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Sectional Debrief: Scottish Trials Weekend

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Simon Rowlands provides a sectional debrief of the main action on Scottish Trials Weekend at Musselburgh, as well as Grade 1 action at Sandown.

We are at the time of year when any even half-decent race can be viewed as a “trial” for events at the Cheltenham Festival in just over five weeks’ time, whether or not it has the word “Trial” specifically in its title or is a race that could quite easily stand on its own. Such is the gravitational pull of British jump racing’s annual highlight.

There was nothing in the weekend just passed to rival the action, or the drama, of Trials Day at Cheltenham the week before. But there was a smattering of “trials”, many of them small-field events in which time analysis can aid interpretation. When there are few rivals, especially if there are also wide margins, then performance “against the clock” becomes all the more relevant.

The win of Buveur d’Air in the listed Contenders Hurdle at Sandown was sufficiently impressive to cause a further shortening in the gelding’s odds for the Champion Hurdle, but a defeat of Rayvin Black (beaten twice off a BHA mark of 144 this term) by one and a half lengths when in receipt of 4 lb is a country mile from what is likely to be needed at Cheltenham.

Buveur d’Air’s time was 6.7s quicker than Coeur de Lion’s in winning the opening novices’ hurdle, but that is because the latter race was slowly-run (finishing speed 106.5% of average race speed), especially to halfway, whereas the Contenders Hurdle was not (100.8% finishing speed). As a result, Coeur de Lion was over 10 lengths quicker from three out than Buveur d’Air.

The latter could be very good – he has beaten Petit Mouchoir already, and that one is a genuine Champion Hurdle contender – but this win, in a four-runner race in which his main rival on form flopped, proved little more than that he is fit and healthy.

The win of Top Notch in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase later on at Sandown proved quite a bit more. The overall time looks good, those Top Notch beat had solid time performances to their names already, and the finishing speed %s tell of a well-run contest in which the winner still managed to find a burst of speed at the business end.

“Par” finishing speed over fences at Sandown is around 97.5%, due to the uphill finish from three out (the Pond Fence). It was not that the useful Baron Alco and Le Prezien were stopping, but that Top Notch finished strongly. He is at the top of the list of contenders on time for the JLT Novices’ Chase, a race with a median winner’s Timeform rating of 154.5.

The exact worth of Baywing’s wide-margin victory in the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby is more difficult to establish, but it was not quite the sensational performance on the clock it first appeared, due to administrative bungling which returned the distance added due to rail movement at 276 yards instead of 156 yards (we have been here before…).

Nonetheless, Baywing ran the three miles and a bit a remarkable 13.2s quicker than 133-rated Galway Jack (carrying 10 lb more) later on the card, with the majority of the difference coming in the second half of the race, including being around 10 lengths quicker up the 188-yard run-in. He was ridden by a jockey unable to claim his usual 5 lb allowance for good measure.

It is likely that Baywing is a smart novice, and one good enough to win a National Hunt Chase (median winner’s Timeform rating of 147), but he has raced only on soft or heavy going, and conditions were pretty testing here.

That question of the suitability of the going hangs over all Cheltenham deliberations. It is not that soft ground at the Festival is out of the question, just that it has been notably rare in recent years, as the following graph of Timeform-returned goings for each day of the last dozen Festivals shows.

With that in mind, it is at least possible that the most significant “trials” in Britain at the weekend took place not at rain-softened Sandown Park or Wetherby but at good-ground Musselburgh, which put on several valuable events over the two days.

The headline figures for Saturday and Sunday at Musselburgh make for interesting reading, with the Clerk of The Course reporting that the course was set up the same on both days.

“Par” finishing speeds at Musselburgh are around 100% for chases and 102% for hurdles, so it can be seen that plenty of the races were either well-run or strongly-run for the conditions.

It can also be seen that the fastest of four hurdle races over approximately two miles on Saturday was Diego du Charmil’s Scottish County Hurdle, a smart winning performance which got upgraded on account of a fast-early/slower-late pace profile.

Faster still overall, and a course record by my reckoning (not that these things matter much), was Lough Derg Spirit’s win in the Supreme Scottish Trial on Sunday, though the inference from overall times is that the surface was slightly quicker over hurdles than on the day before.

Lough Derg Spirit ran efficiently and beat a proven useful performer in Peter The Mayo Man seemingly on merit. Just how fast the first half of that Scottish County Hurdle had been is underlined by the fact that the leader in that race (Optimus Prime) got to halfway about 4.0s quicker than did Lough Derg Spirit.

Forth Bridge put up a useful time effort in the Scottish Triumph Hurdle also, with that finishing speed % confirming a good pace. A fair bit more is likely to be needed against the best of his generation, however.

While Lough Derg Spirit provided the time performance of Sunday, Monbeg Charmer’s win in the Albert Bartlett Scottish Trial was more meritorious than it might have seemed.

That 51.7s time from three out was also his individual time and was easily slowest by a winner over the two days: this ended as a thorough test of stamina and Monbeg Charmer passed the examination with flying colours.

Diego du Charmil, Top Notch, Lough Derg Spirit and Monbeg Charmer are all winners across the two days whose times and sectionals suggest they merit plenty of respect next time. But make a note also of Dominada, runner-up to Diego du Charmil at Musselburgh despite having even more use made of him against that unforgiving pace.

Dominada led going to three out and saw off rivals who came from some way further back to challenge him soon after, but did not have enough in the locker to hold a past Cheltenham Festival winner back at the top of his game. He looks to be thriving at present.

Read our latest Ratings Update covering last weekend's big races

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Free Daily Race Pass (Result)

CURRAGH 15:45

Sunday 26 May
7. FALLEN ANGEL 1st
Daniel Tudhope silk Daniel Tudhope
K. R. Burke
1. A LILAC ROLLA (IRE) 2nd
C. T. Keane silk C. T. Keane
P. Twomey, Ireland
9. OPERA SINGER (USA) 3rd
Ryan Moore silk Ryan Moore
Aidan O'Brien, Ireland
Go to full race

LATEST HORSE RACING RESULTS

17:45 KELSO

1st Henry Brooke silk 1. GALE MAHLER (IRE) 5/42.25f
2nd Conor O'Farrell silk 2. BEAU DELLA (IRE) 85/403.12
3rd Mr John Dawson silk 6. LEWESDON DANCER 25/126
J: Henry Brooke  
All 11 ran.
FULL RESULT

17:35 FONTWELL PARK

1st Jonjo O'Neill Jr. silk 3. CAWTHORNE BANKER (IRE) 7/42.75f
2nd Freddie Gordon silk 1 1. HAPPY BOY (FR) 85/403.12
3rd Rex Dingle silk 12 6. SARSEN (USA) 6/17
All 8 ran.
FULL RESULT

17:25 CURRAGH

1st G. F. Carroll silk 11. FAIRYTALE PRINCESS (IRE) 20/121
2nd C. D. Hayes silk 14. GRAPPA NONINO (IRE) 10/111
3rd N. M. Crosse silk 19. RAIN (GER) 14/115
4th Shane Foley silk 6. BAY OF SANIBEL (GER) 4/15jf
17 ran. NRs: 2  5 
FULL RESULT

17:20 UTTOXETER

1st Harry Skelton silk 1. MR HOPE STREET (IRE) 5/42.25f
2nd K. Brogan silk 1 8. GETAWAY WITH YOU 7/24.5
T: Dan Skelton  
7 ran. NRs: 7 
FULL RESULT

17:10 KELSO

1st Mr Milo Herbert silk 5. YIPPEE KI YAY (IRE) 1/12f
2nd Mr John Dawson silk 4. SUPER CITIZEN 10/111
3rd Miss Ellie Callwood silk ½ 6. BOTHWELL BRIDGE (IRE) 11/43.75
J: Mr Milo Herbert (7)  
9 ran. NRs: 2  7 
FULL RESULT

17:00 FONTWELL PARK

1st Adam Wedge silk 6. DANZINI (IRE) 4/15
2nd Ben Godfrey silk 3. DEAR RALPHY (IRE) 5/16
J: Adam Wedge  
T: Keiran Burke  
All 7 ran.
FULL RESULT

16:50 CURRAGH

1st Ben Martin Coen silk 3. HANALIA (IRE) 11/26.5
2nd Ryan Moore silk 4. LILY HART (IRE) 2/13f
3rd C. D. Hayes silk 8. SIDIZA (IRE) 8/19
8 ran. NRs: 5 
FULL RESULT

16:45 UTTOXETER

1st Chris Ward silk 7. CHEF DE TROUPE (FR) 18/119
2nd Sean Bowen silk 1. HOMME D'UN SOIR (FR) 5/23.5
J: Chris Ward (3)  
T: Tony Forbes  
6 ran. NRs: 3 
FULL RESULT

16:35 KELSO

1st Danny McMenamin silk 5. BARON BRIGGS (IRE) 9/43.25f
2nd Henry Brooke silk 7. DERWENT DEALER (IRE) 15/28.5
7 ran. NRs: 3 
FULL RESULT
Go to Horse Racing Results