First Lieutenant to show old soldier Europe who's boss
DONCASTER'S November Handicap will bring the curtain down on the Flat season next week but corduroy trousers, tweed jackets and maybe even the odd trilby hat will be the attire of choice for racegoers this weekend as the winter jumping game begins in earnest.
In England, seven horses will face the starter for the Grade Two Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase while in Ireland, Down Royal hosts the first Grade One of the season – the JNwine.com Champion Chase (2.30) over three miles.
Multiple Grade One winner Sizing Europe (9/4) is bound to prove popular with punters in that race following yet another laudable performance when jumping well to take the PWC Champion Chase at Gowran last time out.
But at 11 years of age nearing 12, you'd have to wonder how many top races he has left in him.
A great servant to connections down through the years, the 2011 Queen Mother Champion Chase winner looked fit and well after a six-month break when registering an amazing 20th victory at Gowran, which is a great credit to his trainer Henry de Bromhead – but he's getting on in years and De Bromhead told me on Thursday that he may be getting a bit slow for his once-loved shorter trips.
Still, there are other options and distances for talented older horses and the likes of Tidal Bay, Kauto Star and Monet's Garden all won Grade One races in the latter stages of their career.
On the flip side, such older equine gems are few and far between and it's worth pointing out that no horse over the age of 10 has won Down Royal's Champion Chase since its inception in 1999 – from a total of eight attempters.
Records are there to be broken and I genuinely hope that Sizing Europe has another great season ahead but, as for today, there are a number of younger horses such as Mount Benbulben, Kauto Stone and First Lieutenant (aged eight, seven and eight respectively) which will have him in their sights and this will prove a far sterner test than last month's outing at Gowran.
Of those named, Mouse Morris' First Lieutenant is tipped to come out on top today at 5/2. I wouldn't describe him as one of the greats but he's consistently very good and that consistency was rewarded with a first Group One success in April's Betfred Bowl at Aintree, which built on the promise he'd shown when runner-up in the Lexus at Leopardstown and the Ryanair at Cheltenham.
On paper, he was somewhat disappointing on his return to racing when third to Toner D'Oudairies in a Grade Three at Punchestown last time priced 4/5 but Morris had warned punters beforehand that he was a little bit behind in his work and he would most likely need the run.
He still has the potential to be one of the top horses around and he'll almost certainly give Morris reason to celebrate this season.
In England, Long Run makes a comeback a little earlier than usual this year and would appear to have solid claims in the Charlie Hall Chase (3.35 Wetherby) at 11/10.
Nicky Henderson's charge has been frustrating to follow at times and was unlucky to come up against some really good horses in his time, but he has a wealth of experience compared to most eight-year-olds, including a victory in the 2011 Gold Cup.
Talk regarding a tilt at the Aintree Grand National next year would suggest his best days are in the past but it might be premature to write him off just yet and he could possibly go for another Gold Cup. That all depends on how well he goes in the King George this December, a year on from his thrilling victory in that race at the expense of Captain Chris.
PETER Chapple-Hyam's Buckstay has now gone six races without a win but he put in a career best in second in a decent handicap at Yarmouth in September and appears to be treated well in the weights for this afternoon's Finjaan Standing At Gazeley Stud Handicap (2.20 Newmarket). Take him each-way at 10/1.
12.40 Newmarket: Miss Lillie
2.20 Newmarket: Buckstay (e/w)
2.30 Down Royal: First Lieutenant
3.00 Wetherby: Tidal Bay
3.35 Wetherby: Long Run