Talking Horses: Wembley can tower over rivals in Vertem Futurity

Chris Cook and Greg Wood
·8-min read

It looks like being a record-equalling 10th success in the Vertem Futurity for Aidan O’Brien, whose Wembley (2.55) is a convincing favourite in the contest formerly known as the Racing Post Trophy. Though he has managed just one win from six starts so far, he was arguably the one to take out of the Dewhurst, in which he was strong at the finish in second after a less than ideal run through.

King Vega comes from the stable that won this last year and One Ruler will surely have a say but Wembley should come out on top. That would help O’Brien match Sir Henry Cecil’s tally of victories in the race, completed by King’s Theatre some 27 years ago.

1.45 Doncaster Zamaani is easy to like after his game second in the Redcar Two-Year-Old Trophy but the class of Lipizzaner may be on show here. He was a keeping-on second in a soft-ground Group Three last time and can kick off a productive afternoon for Ballydoyle.

2.05 Cheltenham He didn’t see which way Goshen was going in the Triumph Hurdle but third place that day makes Allmankind the form pick here. These youngsters have plenty more to offer but Dan Skelton’s string seems in fine form now and he should go close. The Pink’n put up a promising reappearance run and would be interesting in a handicap.

2.20 Doncaster End-of-term mud always seems to bring out the best in Wrenthorpe, who can follow up his recent Nottingham victory.

2.40 Cheltenham Paul Nicholls left this track empty handed on Friday but Southfield Stone can make amends for the trainer, who had previously been in flying form. Progressive over fences last season, the grey should be able to dominate this novice contest.

3.15 Cheltenham The Skeltons could also be on the mark in this Pertemps qualifier with I’d Better Go Now, who looked a strong stayer when scoring at this distance at Perth last month and still has a bit in hand on his revised mark. Flinck was an encouraging third at Chepstow a fortnight ago but his high-profile stable has yet to hit its stride.

3.35 Newbury A mere Group Three may no longer raise the pulse of David Menuisier, who has bagged top-class prizes at Ascot and Longchamp this month, but his Autumn Twilight can outrun his odds in this Horris Hill. He got tired close home on his debut but was still able to win after rolling through the Salisbury mud and can take a big step forward on that.

Rocheston 1.25 Hart Of Steel 1.59 Begoodtoyourself 2.33 Rocky’s Treasure (nap) 3.08 Benny In Milan 3.43 Oak Vintage 4.18 Clouncerna 4.53 Handy Hollow 

Fishable 1.45 Lipizzaner 2.20 Wrenthorpe 2.55 Wembley 3.30 Conservatoire 4.05 Get Knotted (nb) 4.40 Crantock Bay 5.10 Maysong

Enjoy 2.25 Mahaamel 3.00 Love Is You 3.35 Autumn Twilight 4.10 Away He Goes 4.45 Breath Caught 5.20 Azor Ahai 

Allmankind 2.40 Southfield Stone 3.15 I’d Better Go Now 3.50 West Approach 4.25 Minella Encore 5.00 Osca Loca 5.35 Shantou’s Melody 

Epidemic 4.42 Sweet Talked 5.15 Atyaaf 5.45 Win Win Power 6.15 Rock Sound 6.45 Red For All 7.15 Real World 7.45 Taima 8.15 Thunder Flash

3.50 Cheltenham Thistlecrack’s younger brother, West Approach started last term with a couple of excellent efforts here and should have it in him to go well again, with cheekpieces fitted for the first time over fences. Manofthemountain has been on a fine run but he’s taking on the big boys now.

4.10 Newbury Raymond Tusk is the established class act but he comes here off a long absence, with his stable short of recent winners and no real form on the ground. It may be wiser to side with Away He Goes, whose recent Doncaster handicap success shows him on a strong upward curve at the moment. CC

Cheltenham seeks sponsors as season of uncertainty begins

The new season at Cheltenham opened in near-silence here on Friday, seven months after the packed stands on Gold Cup day in mid-March supplied one of the abiding images of the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. There was no roar as the winners galloped up the hill and no acclaim as they entered the most storied winner’s enclosure in jumping, a foretaste of what seems sure to be a Festival without paying spectators next spring.

It will be a Festival without some familiar names, too, as this week RSA and the Racing Post both dropped their long-standing sponsorships of Grade One novice chases at the meeting. While Ian Renton, Cheltenham’s managing director, is confident that replacements sponsors will be signed up shortly, it did nothing to settle the nerves going into a season that promises to have as much uncertainty off the track as there is on it.

Related: Talking Horses: racecourse bookies fear financial ruin if stands stay empty

“You can always be optimistic that things might change again,” Renton said, “but also you have to be realistic and think, yes, we could have 28 fantastic races out there in March with a very limited audience.

“We have 24 individual sponsors at the Festival and naturally when those contracts come up for renewal there will always be one or two companies that decide to change direction. We’ve renewed three [contracts] in the last week [with Ballymore Properties, St James’s Place and Glenfarclas] and we’re in advanced talks to sponsor two of the most prestigious novice chases in the calendar.”

Like any major racecourse, Cheltenham makes at least 70% of its annual revenue from spectators, but it also has a unique place in the hearts and dreams of jumping fans which even Aintree cannot match. “The power of Cheltenham” was how Kim Bailey described it, after his five-year-old Does He Know took the opening race for the Yes He Does syndicate, several of whom were in the winner’s enclosure to greet their gelding.

“People don’t realise the power of Cheltenham,” Bailey said. “It’s what everybody wants to do if they have a horse in training, this is where they want to be, crowd or no crowd. When we’re here in March, it’s going to be pretty tough, but if they have a winner, I promise you they’ll forget about it.

“As long as owners can go and see their horses run, they’ll forgive us an awful lot. There’s races at Bangor next week where they can’t go and I’ve already got owners asking me not to run their horses. They want to be there when it happens, even if they can’t pat the horse, because they don’t get the opportunity very often.”

Rouge Vif, left, on his way to an impressive victory at Cheltenham.
Rouge Vif, left, on his way to an impressive victory at Cheltenham. Photograph: Nigel French/PA

Out on the track, Fusil Raffles put down an early marker for the Arkle Trophy with a comprehensive defeat of three rivals in the two-mile novice chase, while Rouge Vif, who was last seen finishing third behind Put The Kettle On in last season’s Arkle, produced the most eye-catching success of the afternoon as he ran away with the card’s two-mile handicap chase, despite giving at least 11lb to all but one of his opponents.

Harry Whittington’s six-year-old motored away from his field on the turn for home and was cut to around 20-1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase on the second day of next year’s Festival.

“I hoped he had improved for a summer break as I ride him myself most days and he feels a more powerful animal,” the trainer said. “He has obviously strengthened up a lot, but to win a handicap off a mark of 156 like that is impressive, he has slightly surprised me.”

Rouge Vif could return to Cheltenham for the Shloer Chase at the November meeting in three weeks’ time, when the atmosphere at a meeting that normally attracts more than 70,000 spectators will be even more noticeable for its absence.

As Bailey put it, though: “There’s still a day’s racing here, if you’re looking that way [towards the course].

The disappointing thing is when you walk in here [the winner’s enclosure].

“But when crowds come back, we’ll forget this. It’s like having the builders in your house, you hate every single minute of it, but they day they’ve gone, you’ve forgotten they were there. We’ll forget about it.” GW