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Ratings Update: Outlander lays down JLT marker

Ben Fearnley takes you through the latest developments in the Timeform Ratings after a busy weekend of graded action.

There were three graded novice chases on Saturday, the Grade 1 Flogas at Leopardstown, the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown, and the Grade 2 Towton at Wetherby, and there were naturally plenty of Festival clues on offer, particularly for both the JLT and the RSA.

After having a few short-priced favourites turned over last weekend, it was very much back to business as usual at Leopardstown for Willie Mullins, and he saddled both the first and third in the Flogas on Saturday, with Outlander recording his first Grade 1 success, and strengthening his trainer’s grip on the ante-post JLT market in the process. Outlander – now Timeform-rated 150p – is seemingly more likely to take the JLT route, based on the fact owners Gigginstown Stud have the exciting No More Heroes (155p) heading the market in the RSA.

Despite the remarkable way JLT favourite Killultagh Vic (148p) won at Leopardstown last time, Outlander achieved more on Saturday in the Flogas, and may well offer some value for that race at the Festival, considering he is currently available at around four times the price of his stable companion.

The leading British hope for the JLT is now certainly Bristol De Mai, after he threw down his marker in the Scilly Isles at Sandown just minutes before Outlander won at Leopardstown. That was Bristol de Mai’s sixth chase start this season, and he is clearly thriving on his racing. He is right in the mix for the JLT, being Timeform-rated 147p, but will of course face tougher tasks than he did on Saturday, considering his main form rival going into the race, Tea For Two, was not seen to best effect dropped in trip.

The potential depth of the Towton at Wetherby took a bit of a knock when Dipper winner Seeyouatmidnight (150p) defected due to an unsatisfactory scope. However, Blaklion, who he beat three-and-a-quarter lengths in that race on New Year’s Day, did his form no harm by winning well on Saturday. For all Blaklion, who remains Timeform-rated 148, is a likable type, the combination of bottomless ground and below-par runs from both Bitofapuzzle and Native River means that the form may be worth treating with caution at this point.

Last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup third Road to Riches was in action in the Irish Gold Cup on Saturday at Leopardstown, but he was very easy to back after 12 weeks off, and was ultimately some way below his best. Rated 165, he may have an each-way chance in the Gold Cup, but has plenty to find on paper now with the likes of Don Cossack (183), Cue Card (181), and Vautour (180p).

With Gigginstown so well represented in the Gold Cup at present, Road to Riches could potentially find himself re-opposing Valseur Lido in the Ryanair at Cheltenham. Valseur Lido (162+) was travelling best of all on Saturday when unseating Ruby Walsh at the last fence, and although he was not guaranteed to win – winner Carlingford Lough (now 161) found plenty for pressure after the last – he would have at least been booked for second ahead of Road to Riches. In terms of the Ryanair, assuming Vautour heads for the Gold Cup, both Gigginstown runners would have something to find with Al Ferof (170) if he was at his top class best.

Over to hurdling, and the Gain Spring Juvenile Hurdle, which has proven a useful Triumph Hurdle pointer in recent seasons, with the likes of Our Conor and Tiger Roll having used it as successful preparation for juvenile Festival success. The big story of the race was that hot favourite Ivanovich Gorbatov – as short as 9/4 for the Triumph beforehand – failed to find much improvement from his impressive debut victory at Christmas. Less testing conditions could see him to better effect, and although his Triumph claims were dealt a blow here, he remains with potential, now Timeform-rated 142p. The winner Footpad (144p) showed improved form under a change of tactics, and led home a 1-2-3 for Willie Mullins, with Allblak Des Places (141p) in second, and Let’s Dance (134p) – who was interestingly the choice of Ruby Walsh – back in third.

Overall however, the British may just hold the edge in the Triumph at this stage, with Fixe le Kap (146p) and Gibralfaro (144p) heading a strong home challenge which also may consist of Tommy Silver (137p) who got off the mark in a weak-looking renewal of Musselburgh’s Triumph Hurdle Trial on Sunday.

There was plenty of movement in the Neptune market over the weekend when Bellshill – who had been a general 3/1 chance – was well beaten at odds-on in the Deloitte at Leopardstown on Saturday. Bellshill lost his unbeaten record over hurdles in tame fashion, but the way he backed out of things late on (eventually beaten 18 lengths) suggests that he was probably not 100% on the day. This is hardly ideal Festival preparation, however, and Yanworth – who had his Ascot form boosted on Sunday when Charbel (149p) bolted up in Musselburgh’s Supreme Trial – is now rightfully odds-on in places for the Neptune.

Despite the favourite’s disappointing effort, Mullins would not be denied a fourth-successive win in this race, and the outsider of his three runners, Bleu et Rouge (142p) produced a smart effort to get back to winning ways. Bleu et Rouge found plenty on the run to the line and the extra three furlongs in the Neptune looks right up his street, though considering Yanworth is also owned by JP McManus, he may not be a certain to take his chance there.

Free Race Pass of the Day
Wednesday 10th February


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