Monday 18 December 2017

Julian Muscat: Vision d'etat can prove a rewarding eye-catcher

Sweeping changes are now upon us. The names of Fallon and Dettori will soon be usurped by Walsh and McCoy as jumps racing moves up a gear in England. But before that, Newmarket braces itself for the last running of the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes (3.0) before its move to Ascot next year.

It's a symbolic transfer, akin to Wayne Rooney leaving historic Manchester United for their monied upstarts across the city. Except that Newmarket's trilby-hatted brigade are unlikely to raise much of a protest.

In a curious alliance, Newmarket folk were almost saved by the French, whose objections almost scuppered the transfer. But France can have the last laugh by winning the Group One contest with Vision D'Etat. The consistent five-year-old, which has been laid out for this race, fits the profile of several recent winners.

He also boasts the best form: he had Twice Over back in fourth when winning at Royal Ascot last season and the injury he sustained in Dubai in March means that he remains a fresh horse. He should be right on his mettle after a winning comeback at Deauville in August and the pair that chased him home had the finish of a Group Two race to themselves on Arc weekend.

Another worthy French challenger is Fuisse, which showed fine acceleration to win over a slowly run mile last time. But Criquette Head-Maarek's charge played up beforehand, twice dislodging his jockey on the way to post. He may not appreciate Newmarket's wide-open spaces and the step up to 10 furlongs raises further doubt.

The same applies to Poet's Voice, which just lasted home to beat Rip Van Winkle over a mile most recently. Twice Over, active since March, looked jaded in the Irish Champion Stakes last time. And with Aidan O'Brien's lightly raced Await The Dawn asking a big question, Glass Harmonium and, in particular, Gitano Hernando rate as bigger dangers. However, neither should cope with Vision D'Etat, which rates a decent bet.

Olivier Peslier, who rides Vision D'Etat, picks up an attractive spare ride aboard the staying hurdler Sentry Duty in the Cesarewitch (3.40). So many jumpers turn out here that the race could just as easily be run at Cheltenham.

Dermot Weld's raiders Majestic Concorde and Universal Truth both limbered up for this over obstacles at Galway in July. Preference is for the latter, with his first-time visor and a 7lb claimer aboard.

But Universal Truth's cramped odds, and his tendency to take a tug, mean that better value lies with Aaim To Prosper. Too much use was made of him in this race a year ago. With greater restraint from the saddle assured, he appeals at the 33/1 available with Stan James.

Elsewhere on the card, Delegator should take plenty of beating in the Challenge Stakes (1.50), which is run over his favoured distance of seven furlongs. And Crystal Capella, narrowly beaten last year in the Pride Stakes (4.50), can go one better under Ryan Moore.

You're The Top looks one jump ahead for

Henderson

Cheltenham's opening jumps fixture of the season always makes the heart beat stronger -- all the more so when Channel 4's cameras beam images of the famous Cleeve Hill backdrop. Two decent prizes are up for grabs today, and the £50,000 Zeturf.com Handicap Chase (2.40) has attracted a tightly knit field of 18.

Those doing the rounds in summer now clash with better-established names but on this lively ground the inevitable strong gallop will put a premium on fitness.

The obvious approach is to choose between Classic Swain, representing the Paul Nicholls/Ruby Walsh alliance, and Passato, which narrowly mastered Classic Swain last time but is now 2lbs worse off. However, I prefer the claims of You're The Top.

Although the six-year-old's form tapered off in spring, he defied a six-month absence to win at Ascot this time last year and plainly goes well fresh. He is not one of Nicky Henderson leading lights, so the Lambourn handler is likely to have him well primed for this valuable prize.

The Sportingbet.com Hurdle (3.15) includes the reappearance of the Nicholls-trained Royal Mix, which left a big impression when winning on his English debut 11 months ago. Although he has not run since, he has plenty of experience on the Flat in France.

Nicholls pitches Royal Mix into a hot contest. That alone is a tip in itself, yet his claims are bolstered further by the presence of two confirmed front-runners in Ultimate and Barizan. A headlong gallop seems assured. Barizan, runner-up in the Triumph Hurdle before winning at Punchestown, is the clear form choice but Royal Mix can pick him off in the closing stages.

Irish Independent

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