THESE are grey days for horse racing – in the best meaning of the phrase – after Simonsig showed that he is a steeplechasing superstar in the making.
His emphatic victory at Kempton yesterday came just 24 hours after the dashing Dynaste showed that he is the real deal after turning the Grade One Feltham Novices’ Chase into a one-horse race.
The rising stars are likely to be kept apart – Nicky Henderson’s Simonsig, already a Cheltenham Festival winner, is an even warmer favourite for the Arkle Trophy while the David Pipe-trained Dynaste is set to be aimed at the three-mile RSA Chase.
Simonsig’s victory came just six days after a facile success at Ascot and his winning margin – 35 lengths – comfortably eclipsed the 16-length winning margin of stablemate Sprinter Sacre in the same race a year ago. His subsequent exploits in the Arkle and Tingle Creek have seen him likened to ‘Frankel over fences’.
It was the fifth victory at Kempton’s two-day Christmas meeting for Henderson whose run of successes included the King George VI Chase with Long Run.
“You have to be pleased, it was a brave shout to run so quickly – very un-Henderson like, but I wanted to get the practice in,” said Henderson.
“He’s had a nice school. Hinterland is not a mug, he was giving him 11lb and it wasn’t a contest. He will probably have one more run at the end of January before Cheltenham.”
On a top class day of racing, Menorah provided the connections of narrow King George runner-up Captain Chris with some compensation courtesy of a clear-cut success in the rearranged Peterborough Chase.
A positive move from Richard Johnson down the back straight put the race to bed, though the ever popular Hunt Ball ran on into second after disappointing in Cheltenham’s Paddy Power Cup.
Menorah is likely to target the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and the victory offered Johnson some consolation after he picked up a nine-day ban for over-use of the whip on Captain Chris.
“He has done it well, I’m just pleased to see him back to his best,” said the jockey.
Hunt Ball’s owner Anthony Knott said: “I’d like to go for the Ascot Chase next and then Gold Cup is the main target.”
Meanwhile Sanctuaire returned to winning ways with a spectacular round of jumping in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton. Put well in his place by Sprinter Sacre in the Tingle Creek, the Paul Nicholls-trained runner was ridden with a bit more restraint in front by Ruby Walsh.
These tactics are likely to be replicated when Sanctuaire has a rematch with Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. “He is quirky and silly, but you can ride him accordingly. If we can ride him with more restraint he could be interesting,”said Nicholls.