The Savills Chase at Leopardstown on Monday looked like the best race this side of Cheltenham beforehand and it delivered on its promise in almost every respect as A Plus Tard, whose jockey Darragh O’Keeffe was making his Grade One debut, finished strongly from off the pace to collar Kemboy in the final strides.
It was a suitably dramatic conclusion to a race in which the top two in the betting, Minella Indo (5-2) and Delta Work (6-1) were fallers at consecutive fences mid-race. Both Melon (25-1) and Kemboy (9-1) looked likely winners in the final half-mile and Kemboy hit the basement price of 1.01 in running on Betfair after jumping the last before A Plus Tard’s charge from four lengths down on the run-in secured the spoils.
A Plus Tard was racing over three miles for only the second time in his career and was cut to a top price of 12-1 (from 66-1) for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. Minella Indo, a stable companion of the winner at Henry de Bromhead’s yard, is 10-1 (from 8-1) for the same race while Al Boum Photo, the Gold Cup winner for the last two years, is now the only contender at single-figure odds, at a top price of 9-2.
“It was some finish, he was brilliant,” de Bromhead said. “He stayed really well and it was a super ride from Darragh. It was unfortunate with Minella Indo but he seems OK, which is the most important thing, and Rachael [Blackmore, his rider] seems OK.
“He won a Grade One here over two [miles] one [furlong] last year and now he’s won over three miles [and] he’s still only six. He stayed at it really well and needed every inch of it. I wouldn’t like to make any plans yet, we’ll enjoy today as this is a pretty savage race to win. We’ll see whether it’s the Ryanair or the Gold Cup, it’s up to everyone involved.”
A possible explanation for Altior’s below-par performance in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton emerged on Monday when Nicky Henderson, his trainer, said that the former two-mile champion chaser scoped poorly on Sunday evening.
“We had him scoped [after the race],” Henderson told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast. “We can’t scope him again today because it’s a Bank Holiday and the laboratory is shut, but we have reason to continue investigating that.
“There was evidence [of a poor scope]. I spoke to Simon Knapp [the stable’s vet] last night, he confirmed there was, and we need to do a tracheal wash, which then goes to the laboratory. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find there is something amiss.”
Henderson added that “one or two horses” in his stable “aren’t quite right” at the moment and that the yard might “have a quiet time” over the next few days. The possibility that Epatante, the Champion Hurdler, was in season when she was beaten at 1-5 in Saturday’s Christmas Hurdle is also being investigated.
“I don’t think it’s the same [issue as with Altior],” Henderson said. “I think something else will come up there, and I’ve got ideas. That wasn’t her, and we know it wasn’t her.
“I’d be surprised if Epatante ran again before Cheltenham – she didn’t last year, and I see no reason to run her again. I’m perfectly happy with both these horses that I’ve got good grounds for thinking there are reasons behind this – and with a bit of luck and a following wind, we can get them back into action.”
Cold and wet weather is threatening to disrupt racing over the final days of 2020 and the first big meeting of 2021 could also be under threat after Simon Claisse, Cheltenham’s clerk of the course, said on Monday that the current forecast ahead of the track’s card on New Year’s Day is “concerning”.
A total of 110mm of rain has fallen at Cheltenham since its last meeting on 12 December, and more rain and sleet is forecast for the next few days.
“We wouldn’t take much more rain and sleet or snow,” Claisse said. “We’re not in a position to cover, as our track is waterlogged at the moment. There’s snow in the forecast. It’s fingers crossed really that we dodge the worst of the cold and any further rain.”