Friday, February 21, 2020

Eider Chase 2020

Nike Vaporfly running shoes have thrown up some difficult questions for the world athletics ruling body in recent weeks. In some cases, athletes have reported a 4% improvement on the time taken to run a marathon; they have been described as 'magic' shoes and 'likened to doping'.

Yesterday, a sufficiently well-refreshed reader, swaying gently in the wind, beckoned me over and proceeded to suggest that, using similar patented technology, Nike should consider branching out into the manufacture of thoroughbred racing plates. Perhaps brand them 'Horsefly' (not 'Horseplay' - a singular point on which we could both agree). He continued along the lines that these hi-tech racing plates should then be fitted to all the blog's selections in the future - that way down-at-heel readers might at least retain a modicum of hope of receiving some small return on the wagers suggested.

Quite cutting remarks, I think you'd agree.

'A sort of shoe-in, do you mean?' I enquired. 'Have a sole!'

Too late. Showing plenty of toe, he'd already hoofed it - straight into The Trotting Mare across the road.

Tomorrow's meeting at Newcastle is subject to an eight o'clock inspection; the going is currently described as heavy, soft in places. Twelve have been declared for the Eider Chase (2.45) which this year will be run over the slightly longer distance of four miles one furlong and 56 yards.

In 2018 Baywing won carrying 11-00 off a mark of 140 while last year Crosspark won off a mark of 135 carrying 10-13. Tomorrow Prime Venture heads the handicap off a mark of 136 which suggests this year's renewal may not be among the best but that's unlikely to make finding the winner any easier.

A number in the field wouldn't be guaranteed to see out this trip in this ground but Prime Venture isn't one of them and trainer's daughter Isabel Williams can claim seven. His fourth in the Welsh National behind Potters Corner reads well and, although he has yet to score over the larger obstacles, his handler hopes 'his time won't be long in coming'.

Favourite Petite Power comes into this in very good form. Fergal O'Brien's charge finished third behind Kimberlite Candy in Warwick's Classic Chase and before that was pipped a neck by Belle Empress - Belle Empress finished a creditable third in the Devon National at Exeter earlier today. Mr Liam Harrison claims seven pounds.

Owned by The Black Horse Hotel Bridgnorth, Calipso Collonges was a well-beaten second behind Lord Du Mesnil in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock last time. That still rates a good effort and his handler has said 'I can see him winning a nice handicap somewhere this season'. This is his first try at a trip beyond three miles two furlongs.

On the other hand Hugo 'N' Taz won the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen over three miles three and half furlongs on his first run in this country. Quoting David Pipe in this week's Weekender:

"I would be disappointed if he didn't build on that next time. He is in the Eider on Saturday and and could be a possible for the National Hunt Chase next month."

Three and a half weeks ago Fortified Bay beat Hill Sixteen two lengths here with Glittering Love third and Ascot De Bruyere fourth. Fortified Bay has been raised seven for that effort and on a strict interpretation of the form still has the beating of the third and fourth. That was over a trip just shy of three miles and clearly the market expects more from the Paul and Clare Rooney owned Glittering Love who sports first-time cheekpieces. Quoting handler Nicky Richards from the Weekender 04-08.12.19:

"He's a grand horse who has been very successful so far. He won four of his five point-to-points and began his chasing career on a very good mark last season... I think he could have another good winter given the rub of the green. He wants proper soft ground and stays well." 

Alminar won last time out and Financial Outcome has undergone wind surgery since finishing third behind Fortescue at Uttoxeter. Both are aged seven - only one seven-year-old has come home in front since Domaine De Pron won in 1998 - Portrait King in 2012.

Shanroe Santos is inconsistent but would have his chance on a going day while Very First Time didn't appear to stay when fourth behind Hugo 'N' Taz in the Lincolnshre National.

A most open affair; I'm considering two at a price. On his first run after wind surgery Donna's Delight won well from the front over three miles three at Ayr last time out. On a tenuous line through Lord Du Mesnil, Calipso Collonges has the beating of Sandy Thomson's charge.

At a much bigger price Ascot De Bruyere has a very good record at this track and on his only try beyond three miles finished a creditable sixth - beaten under 12 lengths - behind Harry The Viking in the 2018 Scottish Borders National at Kelso.

I still haven't forgiven myself for failing to look more closely at Smooth Stepper at Haydock last weekend (put off by those veterans' chase runs) so this week I'm going to take an each-way chance on Ascot de Bruyere and hope that, although a lot of his racing has been over two and half to three miles, he can see out the marathon trip in the manner he did at Kelso; Danny McMenamin does his bit for the cause by claiming three.

At the time of writing William Hill offer 28/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places. Ascot De Bruyere is the each-way suggestion.

Now, if only he could race in those 'magic' plates...

Friday, February 14, 2020

Haydock's Grand National Trial

There hasn't been an awful lot of racing this week and my bank balance looks all the better for it.

Tomorrow's cards hang in the balance with Storm Dennis threatening to bring heavy rain and strong winds; early morning inspections are scheduled at Ascot, Haydock, Wincanton and Lingfield.

The going at Haydock is currently heavy, soft in places on the hurdle course.

Eleven have been declared for the Unibet Grand National Trial Handicap chase at 3.15; Ballyoptic's preferred engagement is in the 2.25 at Ascot.

Course and distance winner Yala Enki finished third in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow over Christmas with The Two Amigos fifth, Elegant Escape sixth and Pobbles Bay eighth; this evening Paul Nicholls' charge heads the market but has been raised 15 pounds for winning at Taunton last month.

The Two Amigos raced enthusiastically from the front in the Welsh National and only faded coming to the last; the slightly shorter trip here may help.

There's a school of thought that Elegant Escape hit one up the home straight and that scuppered his chance. He faces a stiff task off top weight and his jumping is often littered with niggling errors; he underwent wind surgery last month.

Quoting Evan Williams in Straight from the Stable - Weekender 12-16.02.20:

"[Pobbles Bay] is a nice stayer but I think it is fair to say the handicapper has him where he wants at the moment. I thought he ran a lovely race in the Welsh National last time out when eighth, but in truth he wasn't good enough. We will look at the Haydock Grand National Trial next as the track and trip will suit him."

Both Pobbles Bay and Smooth Stepper race from out of the handicap.

Vintage Clouds won the Peter Marsh here four weeks ago (Geronimo third). He jumped with some zest that day, the best I've seen from Sue Smith's charge for some considerable time, but he has gone up 11 pounds while Geronimo is now one pound lower and weighted to reverse the form. All that said, Ryan Mania was hard at work some way from home on Geronimo...

Lord Du Mesnil won over course and distance last time out and the time before beat Vintage Clouds into third in the Tommy Whittle. On his seasonal debut at Stratford in October he started off a mark of 115; tomorrow he starts off 147 with Paul O'Brien able to claim three. No seven-year-old has won this in the past ten years.

One For Arthur won the National off this mark (148) three years ago and clearly retains ability; he underwent a wind operation in December and now sports cheekpieces for the first time. It looks as though connections are using this as a stepping stone to the Aintree showpiece in April so it's difficult to gauge how fit the horse is; last time out he finished just under seventeen lengths behind Walk In The Mill in the Becher Chase.

I'm not convinced Steely Addition will stay this trip in these conditions.

A rushed post. One For Arthur(10/1) is of interest each-way but, given the weather warnings, I'll wait until tomorrow before making any decision.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Newbury's Betfair Hurdle 2020

On Thursday 7th October 2004 Reg Hollinshead, a trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, sent out filly Norma Hill to win the Ludlow Racing Partnership Juvenile Maiden Hurdle at odds of 25/1. I was at the Shropshire track that bucolic afternoon and clearly remember the filly set off in front; she never saw another runner.

On Wednesday 5th February 2020 Gay Kelleway, another trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, sent Bolt N Brown to Ludlow to make all and win the Two C's Antiques Fillies' Juvenile Hurdle at odds of 25/1 (backed in from 40s); the appropriately named Eddie Edge claimed seven along with his first winner in public.

Insufficiently prescient, I only made the link between the events outlined above at around 7.20pm on Wednesday evening. Gentle sigh. Another 40/1 winner passes me by...

Hughie Morrison, yet another trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, will be hoping Not So Sleepy can make all to win tomorrow's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and land connections a bit more money than Reg or Gay managed up at Ludlow - and pocket a cool £100,000 bonus in the process.

Just to be clear, the layers won't be offering any fancy 40/1 prices; in addition, I suspect it's something of an understatement to say Not So Sleepy can be a bit of a handful. Jonathan Burke will be doing the steering - and not a lot else other than holding on for dear life - as Sleepy struts his stuff; the last day the pair nearly ended up going through the wing of a hurdle.

Sleepy comes into this following two runaway victories at Ascot. The first time he was afforded a soft lead and the handicapper raised him five to 127. The gelding repeated the trick four weeks later in a race once known as the Ladbroke Hurdle, beating Monsiuer Lecoq (an astonishing) nine lengths.

In the immediate aftermath of that race some commentators were a little sniffy about Sleepy's hurdling but others advised Mr Morrison to give the beast an entry in next months's Champion Hurdle and that's exactly what Mr Morrison did.  At the time of writing Not So Sleepy is a best-priced 25/1 for the feature race on the first day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.

Subsequently, the handicapper took a much closer look at the horse's rating after that second Ascot victory and raised him to a mark of 144 - a chunky 17 pound hike; the handler thinks this 'isn't huge'...

The horse I took out of the Ladbroke was Sir Valentine who suffered significant interference on the first bend and as a result quickly lost his position. Racing from the rear, he did well to make up ground from two out to finish a respectable third, beaten some 13 lengths (Whoshotthesheriff fifth, Tamaroc Du Matahan tailed off in tenth with Zanza falling at the fourth and bringing down Quoi De Neuf in the process).

Nigel Twiston-Davies has a decent recent record in this with Splash Of Ginge (2014), Ballyandy (2017) and Al Dancer (last year) all coming home in front but jockey bookings would appear to suggest that Sir Valentine's stablemate in the same ownership - Stolen Silver - is better fancied. He appeared to have a hard enough race on heavy ground in the Rossington Main at Haydock three weeks ago and now faces Thebannerkingrebel, third that day, nine pounds worse off.

It feels like a long time since we've seen genuine good ground and that will definitely suit the Emma Lavelle trained Highly Prized but he has been off the track a while and connections have nominated the Grand National meeting at Aintree in the spring as the ultimate target [Weekender Stable Tour 27.11.19 - 01.12.19].

Greatwood Hurdle form is always worth a second look. Harambe beat Gumball a neck with Quoi De Neuf fourth (beaten under two lengths) and Zanza sixth; Harambe has been raised seven pounds for that run, Quoi De Neuf four.   

Ecco has been on my radar and he has the right profile. The run at Cheltenham in November was a disappointment but he was better the next time behind Fred; his price has drifted steadily through the day. 

This is a fiercely competitive renewal; with 24 going to post, it's possible to make a case for several in the field. No horse older than six has won since Geos in 2004; over the past ten years Violet Dancer (2015) was the lowest rated winner (132) and Zarkander (2012) the highest (151).

Sky Bet, William Hill, Paddy Power and Betfair all offer one fifth the odds six places.

The market indicates Mack The Man is the much better fancied of Evan Williams' two runners but Quoi De Neuf has the right profile and was unlucky to be brought down in the Ladbroke the last day.

With the booking of Brian Hughes catching the eye, Quoi De Neuf is the each-way suggestion, currently 20/1 with Sky Bet.

To finish, I received a mail earlier today from Epsom racecourse asking whether a trip to the Derby was on my bucket list. Give me a break - I haven't decided which Cheltenham preview night I'm going to yet...

Friday, January 31, 2020

Edinburgh National 2020

On the day Britain officially leaves the EU I thought I'd inform you that hard work stopped in 1940. I happen to know this because in 1973 a bloke on a bowling green told me so. One of those things I've never forgotten; I was 16 at the time.

Whatever, this season has certainly seemed like hard work and it would appear there's more chance of Lord Lucan being found alive than the current state of affairs stopping anytime soon.

The Dublin Racing Festival has established itself as one of the most important meetings between Christmas and the Cheltenham Festival in the National Hunt calendar but to date attendances haven't done justice to the quality of racing on offer; that's unlikely to change tomorrow with Ireland set to face Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in the opening match of the Six Nations championship. Leopardstown's cards on Saturday and Sunday look set to prove most informative with Cheltenham only five and a half weeks away.

The best value on offer today can be found in the Racing Post's 'Go North' Weekend initiative and, just to show I'm not averse to taking a bit of my own advice, I'm off up to Musselburgh for a wager in the bet365 Edinburgh National Handicap Chase at 3.15; ten have been declared with the going currently described as good to soft, soft in places.

Favourite Little Bruce beat Sumkindofking three lengths in the North Yorkshire Grand National at Catterick 23 days ago with Brian Boranha two lengths adrift when coming to grief at the final flight.

The winner has been raised six pounds for that effort while both Sumkindofking and Brian Boranha remain on their respective marks; at the revised ratings Sumkindofking looks to have the beating of the favourite but the form of Tom George's yard is a cause for concern.

Chic Name enters calculations on the back of his defeat of Scottish National winner Joe Farrell at Newbury last March and his subsequent eighth behind Takingrisks in the most recent renewal of that very race in April; he comes to this in fine fettle after two decent efforts in cross-country chases at Cheltenham.

Wonderful Charm has been competing in hunter chases since June 2017 and is the only course winner in the field. Now aged twelve he may be vulnerable and I prefer to look elsewhere.

Bob Mahler tries this marathon trip for the first time but he beat Little Bruce seven lengths conceding three pounds in a novices' handicap chase at Cheltenham last spring off a mark of 132; in the past trainer Warren Greatrex has said soft ground is important for this one - he should have no worries on that score. 

Age is catching up with Carole's Destrier (12) and Harry The Viking (15), while Blow By Blow looks bang out of form so Arthur's Gift is the one I'm interested in after his recent Welsh National run - and also because I once knew a man called Arthur who kindly gave me a present.

The price has contracted noticeably in the time it has taken me to write this post.

Seventh behind Potters Corner on heavy ground in the Welsh National, Arthur's Gift has been dropped two pounds and Jordan Nailor can claim another five in this less competitive event. The horse held a five-day entry in the race won by Worthy Farm at Wincanton yesterday but clearly connections have decided this is the option they want to take up.

A few layers offer 9/1 at the time of writing which doesn't seem particularly generous (but more generous than the 13/2 offered by Paddy Power); nonetheless Arthur's Gift is the each-way suggestion.

By the way, that bloke on the bowling green - took him corner to corner and beat him 21-5. Told me afterwards he found it hard work.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Two longshots on the Cheltenham Trials Day card 2020

Cor blimey, guv'nor!

Enrietta Knight might ave ad a few quid in er purse but Enry Iggins ran a orror in the Pertemps Network  Andicap Urdle at Untingdon (2.00) earlier today. Eaded after the first, e ad a couple of misaps at the urdles and was soon ard at work; e appened to beat just the one ome, finishing 36 and a alf lengths behind ard eld otpot Sermando. Orrendous.

Ere's a couple of tips that are unlikely to get you singing and dancing in the streets or elp your umour - and I must try and drop stopping my aitches.

Trials day at Cheltenam, sorry Cheltenham, tomorrow; along with everyone else I'll be looking for those Festival clues. Just six and a half weeks to go...

For betting purposes though I'm interested in the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase (1.15) and the concluding Steel Plate and Sections Handicap Hurdle (4.10).

Twelve go to post for the 1.15 with Imperial Aura currently priced up favourite.

On his seasonal debut Imperial Aura finished third behind Flash The Steel and Champagne Court in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow (Ballyandy eighth, subsequent Ascot winner Greaneteen thirteenth). Kim Bailey describes his charge as having ' the makings of an interesting novice chaser'.

Champagne Court has to concede seven pounds to his rival and wears a tongue-tie for the first time.

At Kempton on Boxing Day Simply The Betts finished second and On The Slopes third (behind Commanche Red); that form reads well and the pair look closely matched again - On The Slopes lost second spot on the run-in.

Racing Post top-rated Sully D'Oc AA has caught my attention at a price.

I'm just a little bit wary about putting up horses owned by J P McManus - if fancied, the price disappears pretty quickly; the alternative would leave you to believe the horse isn't necessarily fancied at all. All that said, here's Anthony Honeyball's comments in the Straight from the Stable feature in the Weekender [18-22.12.19]:

"...he's a lovely big specimen of a horse. He loves his work at home and is always doing his best to please.

"...his second to the well-handicapped Fanion D'Estruval [subsequently fifth in the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase at Kempton] at Newbury last month was much more like it. I was very happy he didn't get put up for that run and he now heads to Ascot or Exeter next week. He's in grand order and I feel it would be good to get a third run into him while we can, which would mean he then qualifies for any handicap we choose."

Sully finished fifth behind Greaneteen at Ascot and tomorrow's race is the handicap connections have chosen. The gelding holds an each-way chance on that Newbury form and I'm prepared to forgive the latest run at Ascot.

At the time of writing Paddy Power offer 20/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places; Sully D'Oc AA is the each-way suggestion.

John Constable (1776-1837) is famous for his landscapes of the Suffolk countryside; his namesake runs in the finale at 4.10.

As I pointed out just three weeks ago before his latest run at Sandown, it seems barely believable that Evan Williams' charge finished four and a half lengths adrift of My Tent Or Yours in the International Hurdle off a mark of 156 just over two years ago.

I've been waiting for some small, barely perceptible, sign of improvement and thought I'd spotted something on his penultimate run here in December where he finished just under ten lengths behind Repetitio.

The handicapper dropped him three pounds to a mark of 127 for that effort and has since dropped him a further four pounds (123) after he failed to get involved in that Sandown race dominated by Totterdown and eventually won by Mill Green.

I'm prepared to forgive that one and with trainer's daughter Isabel able to claim a further seven pounds, he is effectively running off a mark of 116.

He wouldn't be the most consistent  but connections have been particularly patient and the yard is in good form at present (5 wins from 23 runs in past fortnight). Betway offer 16/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places.

John Constable is the second, more tentative, each-way suggestion.

Heach-way double, hanyone?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Heavy going at Haydock

Heavy rain, heavy going and small fields. Any good news? Well, this year's Christmas cake (soft, heavy in places) has finally been finished off.

Flying Angel and Red Indian both hold entries in the bet365 Handicap Chase (Ascot 3.00) but the preferred engagement for both is the featured Peter Marsh Handicap Chase (Haydock 2.40) for which ten have been declared.

Race trends indicate more often than not this tends to go to an experienced sort; six in the field have less ten chase starts to their name - Acting Lass, Geronimo, Midnight Tune, Champers On Ice, Claud And Goldie and Red Indian - while Flying Angel has done most of his racing around the two mile five furlong mark.

With course form always at a premium here, the stats suggest the two to concentrate on are Definitly Red and Vintage Clouds.

Definitly Red is a class act on his day. Well beaten in the Charlie Hall on his seasonal debut, he made up a lot of ground at the business end of the race on his next run, finishing fourth behind Walk In The Mill in the Becher at Aintree. Carrying top weight in heavy ground is never easy but his chance is respected.

Vintage Clouds was pulled up in the Becher and then finished 20 lengths third behind Lord Du Mesnil in the Tommy Whittle; the handicapper has dropped him two pounds for that effort.

Owned by Trevor Hemmings, the horse boasts a good record here but he tends to finish in the places more often than winning. To my mind, in general terms, he hasn't jumped as well after he came a cropper at the first in the 2019 Grand National.

Trainer Sue Smith bids for her fifth win in the race -The Last Fling, 2000; Artic Jack, 2004; Cloudy Too, 2016; and Wakanda, 2019 - and it's fair to say Vintage Clouds looks a percentage each-way call but at 8/1 it's not really a wager that lights the fires so instead I'm going to take a punt on the back of a comment Nick Alexander has made in the Weekender.

Clan Legend won at Kelso last time out and goes in the Cheltenham Preview Here In March Handicap Chase at 3.45; the trainer says:

"He didn't get his ground last winter but I was very pleased with his win the other day. 

"He's gone up 4lb which was very fair, and I'd like to think he should improve for that run. I hope he can run a very big race wherever he goes next. He loves very soft ground..."

He has to carry top weight but is one of only two in the field with winning form at the track (Ubaltique the other).

A few in the field like to race prominently while others don't have an awful lot of chase experience - favourite Zizaneur has failed to complete on his last three starts, unseating Mr David Maxwell three out on his chase debut at Taunton 11 days ago.

I'm guessing Mr Alexander is leaving off the cheekpieces applied for the first time last time as Lucy will give Clan Legend a hold-up ride.

10/1 with several layers at the time of writing Clan Legend (3.45 Haydock) is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Warwick's Classic Chase 2020

If Unibet ambassador Nicky Henderson thinks he's had a week of it with Altior, he should spare a thought for Harry and Meghan. After a right royal bust-up, they've been told fast track discussions about their future are likely to involve, amongst others, Home Secretary Priti Patel - enough to make anyone want to give up on a Dry January.

I suspect Henderson and Her Majesty could both do with a bit of a restorative and they'll be keen on Keen On providing the necessary cheer in the Leamington Novices' Hurdle (Warwick 2.25).

And what's this? Chancellor Sajid Javid has booked Wednesday 11th March - Champion Chase day - for his first budget speech. Whatever next? Announcing the winner of the Labour Party leadership contest on the same as the Grand National?

The Sussexes may have taken the brave decision to move towards financial independence but this season's blog tips are taking me in completely the opposite direction.

Fair play to Hughie Morrison whose jumpers are doing their best to stem the tide - Maridadi goes in the 3.55 at Wetherby tomorrow - but if this were a boxing match, the ref. would have stopped proceedings some time ago.

The feature on tomorrow's Warwick card is the Classic Chase (3.00) for which thirteen remain at the tine of writing (NRs Rocky's Treasure and previous winner Milansbar); the going is currently described as soft.

Trained by Lucinda Russell, One For Arthur won the 2017 renewal before going on to win the Grand National at Aintree; Big River (from the same stable) held a five-day entry but connections have opted to pass on the long journey south and instead go to Kelso on Sunday.

It's no surprise to see The Conditional head the market. On just his second run for David Bridgwater the gelding beat West Approach at Cheltenham (Crosspark and Captain Chaos pulled up) before finishing a fine second in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury behind De Rasher Counter. The handicapper has raised him five pounds for that effort; this will be his first try beyond three and a quarter miles.

I've never previously held any particular reservation about opposing Kimberlite Candy; however his latest effort, a fine second in first-time cheekpieces in the Becher Chase behind Walk In The Mill, certainly caught the eye. The cheekpieces remain in place - J P McManus will expect a bold bid.

Luca Morgan takes seven pounds off top weight Le Breuil who finished seventh in the Becher, some 17 lengths behind Kimbertlite Candy. Ben Pauling's yard wasn't firing on all cylinders at the time and I know his charge won the 2018 National Hunt Chase on soft ground over four miles at Cheltenham but I just feel Le Breuil is a better horse on better ground.

Both Petite Power and Bobo Mac arrive here in rude health; the latter's best chase form appears to be on a right-handed track.

Darlac's lack of chase experience is off-putting but I note that Impulsive Star won last year's renewal on just his sixth start over the larger obstacles (Crosspark third). Neil Mulholland's charge has been pulled up on every start since so connections swap cheekpieces for blinkers in the hope of sparking a revival.

Captain Chaos' second behind Takingrisks in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle in November reads well but other recent efforts look below par; trainer Dan Skelton has described his charge as 'an unlucky horse last year' but overall his profile is inconsistent.

Heads To The Stars has a nice racing weight and Hugh Nugent claims five but the jumping has caused problems in the past while Joueur Bresilien doesn't look guaranteed to stay.

Veteran Mysteree would be no forlorn hope if in the mood - this one was beaten a neck by Crosspark in the Eider last February and won at Kelso in October.

Writing in the Weekender Paul Kealy picks Kimberlite Candy indicating he had trouble finding one at a price. I know exactly what he means but I'm going to chance last year's third Crosspark who did me a big favour in the Eider and ran well in the Scottish National.

Caroline Bailey's charge has finished well beaten on both starts this term.

He was pulled up behind The Conditional at Cheltenham and then finished 74 lengths behind Lord Du Mesnil at Haydock just before Christmas. Perhaps the spectacles need some heavy-duty adjustment but he looked handy enough four out the last day before tiring; a mistake three from home ended any hope and he was eased when his chance had gone. The handicapper has dropped him two pounds for that effort and Jamie Moore is back in the plate.

Both Sky Bet and  Paddy Power offer 12/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places. Crosspark is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Sandown segue

What were the chances of this then?

First post of the new decade and I'm talking about, er, Cheltenham.

In the very first race on New Year's Day the stewards controversially disqualified first past the post Protektorat and declared the second, Imperial Alcazar, the winner; one imagines Sir Alex Ferguson, part owner of Protektorat, would not have been amused. Dan and Harry Skelton certainly weren't - the trainer told the Racing Post the decision had ruined his trip to Disneyland and an appeal can be expected. 

A little over an hour later Champ took a crashing fall two from home in the Dipper; connections have been forced back to the drawing board. The Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot next month is a possibility but Nicky Henderson's charge remains the clear 7/2 favourite in ante-post markets for the RSA come March.

That's twice Champ has raced at Cheltenham and twice he has come back beaten - he finished second to City Island in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle last March.

I'd be the first to admit the eyesight isn't what it used to be but when Nicky Henderson told reporters that up to that fateful encounter with the penultimate flight it was the best he'd seen the horse jump, well, I nearly fell in a heap of my own. To my mind some jumps were good but others less so and Richard Hoiles said as much in commentary. Watch this space as they say.

The Tolworth Hurdle (2.25) is the highlight on the card at Sandown tomorrow while the Veterans' Handicap Chase (3.00) is being run in memory of Houblon Des Obeaux who suffered a heart attack here in the London National last month.

I've spent my preparation time looking at the Read Nico De Boinville's Unibet Blog Handicap Hurdle at 3.35; the going on the hurdle track is described as soft, heavy in places.

Nico De Boinville is booked to ride market leader Gunnery so, taking the advice proffered by the race title, I've taken a quick peek at Nico's blog. Rated 90 on the Flat, Gunnery may well appear well handicapped allocated a hurdle rating of 121; he won a Class 4 handicap hurdle at Doncaster six days ago but, that said, tomorrow's race looks far more competitive.

Often displaying a tendency to pull hard, Gunnery raced from the front at Doncaster; he's likely to face competition for the lead tomorrow with Totterdown another who likes to front run. Sent off an even money shot on his debut for the Fergal O'Brien yard in November, Totterdown ran his rivals ragged over course and distance.

A listed race here last month ties in a couple of tomorrow's runners. Mack The Man beat Protektorat (see above) with Smarty Wild fourth, Ruacana fifth and Distingo sixth. The handicapper has since tinkered with the weights but with less than five lengths covering the trio you might expect the layers' prices to be far closer - this evening Smarty Wild is quoted 13/2, Distingo 16/1 and Ruacana 20/1.

Distingo is of most interest - from Gary Moore's Straight from the Stable tour in the Weekender 16-20.01.19:

"We thought a lot of this horse last season and he hasn't quite delivered yet." 

The gelding's third behind Jolly's Cracked It (November 2018) reads well and if he can build on his most recent effort, 16/1 looks value.

I'm prepared to oppose the four runners who have been off the track for some considerable time - Colin Tizzard's two course and distance winners Eldorado Allen (392 days) and Ainchea (700 days); Mill Green (262 days but supported in the market this evening); and Remiluc (643 days).

It seems barely believable that John Constable won the Market Rasen Summer Hurdle off a mark of 150 in 2017, and the following December, off a mark of 156, finished four and a half lengths adrift of My Tent Or Yours in the International Hurdle.

You don't need me to tell you it has been downhill since.

Without holding my breath, I've been waiting for any small sign of revival from Evan Williams' charge who starts tomorrow's race off 127 - and trainer's daughter Isabel can claim a further seven. His latest effort at Cheltenham last month was the first sign of an improvement in form.

On his seasonal debut Blu Cavalier was soundly beaten in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot but three weeks later he came out and won well at Doncaster. The handicapper has raised him four pounds for that effort but my reading of the form is the pilot that day, Jonjo O'Neill Jr, was unable to claim whereas tomorrow Ben Jones (also known as 'Jones the Jockey' in our house) can claim five so, in effect, he's one pound better off.

Last February Ali Stronge's ten-year-old finished third in the Betfair Hurdle at Ascot behind Al Dancer and Magic Dancer; that form reads well but a ten-year-old hasn't won this in the past ten years.

On balance I prefer Blu Cavalier's profile to that of Distingo. Sky Bet offer 11/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places; Blu Cavalier is the each-way selection.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The final fling for 2019

I've given far too much of my money to the bookmakers over the past decade but it looks like it'll be business as usual tomorrow when I make the short journey to Warwick for their New Year's Eve card.

Moderate fare on offer at the track and the same turn of phrase can readily be used about the abridged notes below.

Emmas Joy carries a penalty in the mares' novice hurdle (12.55). Dan Skelton has said of his charge:

"...she's definitely got a future in the game. I've got some big ambitions for her..."

On Racing Post ratings the Paul Nicholls trained Cill Anna has six pounds to find but the first time tongue-tie might help bring about improvement. Rose Of Aghaboe beat Wynn House and Meep Meep Mag here over two miles on her penultimate run; that form reads well but she was well beaten at Lingfield the last day and steps up in trip. Misaps is a big mare who ran well here two and a half weeks ago; she makes some appeal as an each-way play but Emma Lavelle has said Thoor Castle 'needs three miles and plenty of give underfoot'.

In the two mile handicap chase (1.30) top weight Comber Mill is better over hurdles than fences. Last year's winner Lightentertainment is getting on a bit now; he ran poorly last time out and is tried in blinkers. Favourite Seeanythingyoulike is still a maiden and looks a tad one-paced; I'll play Battleofthesomme whose profile looks more consistent than that of Agentleman.

In my book the favourite for the veterans' handicap chase (2.00) Troubled Soul doesn't stay the trip; on Racing Post ratings Uhlan Bute wins. Water Wagtail would prefer better ground; High Counsel gets the vote.

At Taunton last month Redmond finished three and a quarter lengths behind Adherence with Write It Down third, Seeanythingyoulike fourth (runs at 1.30) and Arquebusier fifth; that piece of form is worth looking at in relation to the two and half mile handicap chase at 3.10. Arquebusier  likes to front-run and landed last year's renewal but made a number of niggling errors at Taunton. Top Decision ran well last time out and rates an each-way play at around 9/1.

The concluding bumper looks a lot more intriguing than much of the preceding entertainment.Wilde About Oscar's chance has been highlighted by Ask A Honey Bee at Haydock earlier today. Scarpia, Hurrricane Mitch and Wireless Operator make their racecourse debuts for respected stables. Mint Condition is of interest on the back of his third here in October; the winner of that race, Soaring Glory, has gone in again since and finished second in an Ascot listed race behind Israel Champ. Israel Champ is currently priced up favourite for the Cheltenham bumper in March. The trouble is those bookmaker chaps aren't taking too many chances here, pricing up Jennie Candish's charge an 11/1 chance... 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Welsh Grand National 2019

Earlier today I was approached  by a punter who suggested PG stood for Port Guzzler - the sheer temerity of it. The same punter then proceeded to ask me for an each-way suggestion for tomorrow's Welsh National (2.50 Chepstow).

My minimalist response is reproduced below - one for you to take or for you to leave.

Sky Bet pays six places and offers 9/1 about Prime Venture in first time cheekpieces; enthusiasm is tempered by the fact the horse has never won a race over fences.

The vote goes to The Two Amigos, placed in five of his six chase starts to date; Nicky Martin's charge is currently quoted an 18/1 chance with  Paddy Power / Betfair who pay one fifth the odds five places.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas wishes for 2019

The blow-up beds have been deflated and salient family members shoved out the front door and up the road to church.

Fair play to the parish priest too - he's ever eager to play the part of pantomime villain by further elongating an already elongated religious celebration.

The Christmas Day post is never an easy post to write - looking to offer some small crumb of hope and comfort to those forced to spend the day with relatives they wished were a lot further away than they actually are. And then Auntie Betty drops her false teeth into the trifle.

Six cards (Huntingdon abandoned) to analyse before salient family members return - an impossible task, even with the initial spadework carried out last night.

The trouble is this year I think I might have chanced on something that might have half a chance.

The King George and Christmas Hurdle at Kempton promise some fascinating clashes but I won't be having a bet in either; Commanche Red can be given an each-way shout in the 1.20 on the back of  his third behind Nube Negra and his third behind Reserve Tank.

Wetherby's Rowland Meyrick Chase (2.10) will prove informative and Zerachiel - with seven pound claimer Charlie Todd in the plate - can be given every chance in the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen (2.15) on the back of his second place in this race last year.

I'm off to Wincanton though where Paul Nicholls is usually the trainer to follow.

But what's this? Fresh from pulling off a stunning victory with Not So Sleepy at Ascot on Saturday, renowned Flat trainer Hughie Morrison sends *three* runners to the track - Urban Artist (12.55); Third Wind (1.25) and Supamouse (3.45).

The stable's updated figures with their jump runners after Not So Sleepy's win now read:

Season to date: 4 wins from 9 runs (44%); +23.50 points profit
Last five years: 23 wins from 116 runs (20%); +34.29 points profit

A 1 point each-way patent (outlay 14 points) returns 430 points (using prices quoted today as a guide) in the admittedly unlikely event Mr Morrison's three runners win.

Now, we all know it's been a bumpy year but at least there's something to distract you from Uncle Albert's political ramblings over the Christmas turkey...

With best wishes to all readers this Christmas time.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Christmas comes but once a year...

This time last year I was the rather fortunate recipient of three bottles of wine in a rather fetching presentation box that one of my sisters-in-law mistakenly sent to me instead of my mother and father-in-law.

A gift horse at Christmas told the propitious tale in its entirety and proved one of the most popular posts of the season yet, tellingly, contained next no racing content whatsoever.

Unfortunately my sister-in-law hasn't repeated the trick this year so, like everyone else, I'm obliged to offer a sentence or two on the approach of the end of the decade.

Ten years ago Richard Johnson had just ridden 2,000 winners and Ruby Walsh was about to ride Kauto Star to a fourth consecutive King George; the comments-in running described Kauto's victory as 'magnificent'.

That said, the plot lines for the Christmas Day episode of East Enders appear to have hardly changed at all over the past decade.

This year's King George looks more competitive than the 2009 renewal but my cunning plan to bet Bristol De Mai each-way at around 25/1 has been foiled as there are now only seven runners left in the field - and Bristol De Mai isn't one of them.

Jockey bookings have caught my eye for tomorrow's Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot (3.35); the going is currently heavy, soft in places and an inspection is scheduled for eight o'clock.

Tom Scudamore, successful at the track earlier to-day on his sole mount Israel Champ, has one ride booked tomorrow - Umbrigado; Tom prefers to ride here rather than Daklondike in the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock.

Meanwhile Harry Skelton has one ride booked at Haydock - Crosspark in the Tommy Whittle - while Bridget Andrews picks up the ride on Mohaayed.

Mohaayed won this race last year but trainer Dan Skelton has since said:

"...but his last place in the Welsh Champion Hurdle [19 October 2019]...confirmed what I've believed for a while, that the handicapper needs to give him a break."

Fair play to the handicapper too - for once he appears to have listened by dropping the horse back to a mark of 145, the very mark from which the gelding won the race last year. It's just that Harry Skelton prefers to ride Crosspark at Haydock.

Richard Johnson prefers Crooks Peak to Zanza which brings in Greatwood Hurdle form. Five weeks ago the Alan King trained Harambe pipped Gumball at Cheltenham with Monsieur Le Coq third, Quoi De Neuf fourth, Zanza sixth, Countister seventh and Mohaayed ninth. The fifth horse, Dame De Compagnie, looked impressive winning the Park Mares' Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham last week.

The Greatwood wouldn't necessarily be the best form yardstick to use; winner Harambe was priced up favourite earlier in the week but has since been the subject of an injury scare. I couldn't be certain but I think there was a doubt about Harambe before the Greatwood.

Paul Nicholls saddles two four-year-olds with Harry Cobden aboard Tamaroc Du Mathan. After a long layoff this one ran well behind Master Deboniar at this track last month; Master Debonair gave hotpot Ribble Valley three pounds and an eight length beating earlier today. All that said, Nicholls' stable form is just 2-26 (8%) over the past fortnight.

The ground would be a worry for the Nicky Henderson trained French Crusader but Not So Sleepy, 94 on the Flat, fourth in the Cesarewitch and on Racing Post ratings joint top with Mohaayed here, is respected. Hughie Morrison's charge was gifted an early lead last time but I like this handler's jumps runners who are always worth a second look; in the past five years he boasts a 19% win strike-rate with his jumpers showing a profit of 29.79 points while this season he has recorded three wins from eight runs and returned a profit of 19 points.

A hugely competitive event and Tom Scudamore's decision to ride Umbrigado (David Pipe: 'he'll cope with the ground as well as anything I think') does not go unnoticed but I'm going to take an each-way chance with Whoshothesheriff.

Phil Kirkby's runner has a consistent profile - to date he has been placed in the hurdle races he has completed and last April won at a right-handed track  - Carlisle. He looked a tad unlucky the last day when run down on the long run-in after the last at Haydock; the step back in trip here should suit.

Generally a 12/1 chance, Sky Bet are paying one fifth the the odds six places; Whoshotthesheriff is the each-way suggestion.

Finally, for those worried by impending Christmas doom, here's a little something to ease the pain - the Boxing Day declarations.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Caspian Caviar Gold Cup 2019

The going down my local polling station yesterday was officially recorded by the returning officer as good to soft, soft in places, changing to soft, good to soft in places after 11.15. Queues were reported at several stations around the country, most of them selling petrol; as I went to cast my vote, I encountered fellow citizens strung out like a field at the end of three and a half mile handicap chase.

Potential polling day picks included Good News (2.25 Warwick); Defuture Is Bright (2.35 Taunton); Speak Of The Devil (1.10 Newcastle); I'm To Blame (2.10 Newcastle); and Jeremy Sunshine (non runner - found lame). In the end We'llcwhathappens (3.40 Taunton) got the nod and he was beaten a short-head by 13/8 favourite Layerthorpe.

If Jeremy Corbyn is feeling brassed off with Brexit this evening he should spare a thought for Nigel Twiston-Davies' secretary who mistakenly withdrew ante-post favourite Riders Onthe Storm from tomorrow's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham (1.55). Nigel phoned telling the lady in question to withdraw Rocco from a three mile chase at Bangor but she misheard and withdrew Riders Onthe Storm instead; the race is worth £73,151 to the winner.

Let's forget about the politics.

Here's an 'oven-ready' preview of tomorrow's Cheltenham race where fourteen are set to face the starter and the going is soft, good to soft in places.

Four weeks ago Brelan D'As was held a neck here by Happy Diva in the BetVictor Gold Cup (Warthog third, Spiritofthegames pulled up). That race was run on the Old Course over two miles four furlongs whereas tomorrow's is run over two miles four and a half furlongs on the New Course which is generally considered to be slightly stiffer.

Paul Nicholls holds a strong hand this year with Brelan D'As' stablemate Secret Investor currently priced up favourite. This one competes in a handicap for the first time but was well beaten at Down Royal the last day; the balance of his form suggest he may prefer better ground.

Five weeks ago Cepage had no answer to Riders Ofthe Storm at Aintree. Venetia Williams' charge was second behind Frodon in this race last year off a mark of 143; he is now rated 155.

On a line through Belami Des Pictons (creditable fourth in the BetVictor Gold Cup after being hampered by the fall of Eamon An Cnoic - runs in preceding race at 1.20) Williams should have a decent idea of where she lies with Cepage.

Not That Fuisse doesn't have that much experience over the larger obstacles while Good Man Pat has had jumping issues in the past but ran well the last day at Ascot. The step back in trip here should help his cause, he's one of three sharing the Racing Post top-rated spot and he's tipped up in a couple of places.

Clondaw Castle tries this trip for the first time - he wouldn't be guaranteed to last home and the same comment applies to Knocknanuss.

Gary Moore's other runner Benatar is of more interest and has some reasonable form to his name (beat Keeper Hill nine lengths in a Plumpton novice two years ago). He hasn't seen a racecourse since finishing well beaten behind Cyrname in January and is tried in a hood for the first time.

In The Weekender 16-20.01.19 Moore said:

"Don't ask me why but he just seems to need his first run or two now..." 

Spiritofthegames disappointed badly in the BetVictor Gold Cup where he jumped left at times and then was never travelling at Newbury - he has something to prove and I'm just beginning to wonder whether he is better suited to hurdling.

Willie Mullins sends over Robin Des Foret, James Bowen up. This one has a current rating of 145 in Ireland, has won off mark of 140 and races off 148 here. Make of that what you will, as I'll freely admit I'm struggling.

Generous Day looks to have something to find on the book but Warthog is of interest on the back of his third in the BetVictor Gold Cup. David Pipe's grey jumped well that day and he's generally rated a 12/1 shot. 

The market clearly thinks Imperial Presence is there to make up the numbers.

Philip Hobbs' charge likes to front run and perhaps went off too quickly over a shorter trip at Ascot three weeks ago; the handicapper has dropped him two pounds for that effort.

I always think Richard Johnson rides a good race from the front, particularly around Cheltenham, and, on top of all that, I just happen to like a front runner. And how often can you get 50/1 about a horse with the champion jockey on top?

With both Sky Bet and Paddy Power offering 50/1 and paying one fifth the odds five places, Imperial Presence is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, December 06, 2019

A Becher bet (2019 renewal)

After 30 years as the BBC's racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght announced yesterday he would be leaving the job next April; Rick Broadbent's piece in The Times today looks back over his career with a certain fondness.

That said, Lysaght's frustration with those in control of the sport seeps through; he affirms 'Racing does not have the same place in society as it did.'

On a more pragmatic level, he advises readers to look out for the Nick Alexander trained Craiganboy next time out; the gelding currently holds a five-day entry in the Parklands Mini Golf Handicap Chase (Northern Lights Staying Chase Series Qualifier) at Newcastle on Thursday.

That reminds me - as if I needed it - this whole week has been blighted with Rehearsal regrets.

How was Scottish Grand National winner Takingrisks allowed to go off at 20/1 in Newcastle's finale last Saturday? Why didn't I spend more time on the wretched race? The beast had blown away the cobwebs at Ayr four weeks earlier over the smaller obstacles. Three miles on heavy ground - his stamina was bound to come in to play, wasn't it? Why didn't I place a (small) speculative wager?

Unashamedly, I purloin (and adapt accordingly) a festive turn of phrase used by John Sopel in a recent TV report from America... It's beginning to feel to a lot like - I won't tip a winner this side of - Christmas.

At present, opportunities appear to abound for long distance chasers.

Belle Empress won over three miles six and a half at Exeter earlier this afternoon; there's the Becher Chase at Aintree, the London National at Sandown and the Welsh Grand National Trial at Chepstow tomorrow; on Sunday Kelso hosts the Scottish Borders National over an extended four miles.

It's the Becher for me - eighteen declared, with the going on the National course currently described as soft, good to soft in places.

Of the five priced in single figures at the top of the market, last year's winner Walk In The Mill (Vieux Lion Rouge second, Ballyoptic a faller) looks the stand-out candidate. He tries this year on a mark just four pounds higher, having finished fourth over these fences in the National in April.

Mulcahys Hill shot to prominence when only just failing to pinch the 2017 Challow from the front. His defeat of Wholestone last time reads well but prior to that he fell in the four miler at Cheltenham and this is his first try over these obstacles; on a couple of occasions he has shown signs of temperament at the start.

I've no qualms in opposing Kimberlite Candy (first time cheekpeices may help), previous National winner One For Arthur can become detached and may need further while Vintage Clouds, my tip for the Aintree showpiece in April, fell at the first before finishing sixth behind Takingrisks in the Scottish National seven days later. Shoddy jumping didn't help Sue Smith's charge at Ayr and that remains the key worry.

View Lion Rouge has a decent record over these fences but looks held by Walk In The Mill.

Joint top weights Alpha Des Obeaux and Ballyoptic come here in good nick. The latter's victory in the Charlie Hall catches the eye (Definitly Red beaten over 25 lengths conceding six pounds) but he has fallen on both attempts over these fences.

Connections of Definitly Red have stated next year's Grand National is the target but I'm not certain he'll take to these obstacles; Le Breuil has the same aim but would probably appreciate better ground.

At bigger prices both As De Mee and Wandrin Star are of interest.

The former returned from a lengthy absence with a respectable display over hurdles three weeks ago and won the 2016 running of the Grand Sefton over these fences.

Kim Bailey has been quite bullish about Wandrin Star (Lee Marvin up?) in the build-up.

This one looked booked for second the last day at Wincanton but White Moon stumbled after the final flight and Wandrin Star collected the spoils. One Of Us (fifth) subsequently beat Captain Cattistock (seventh) a neck in the Southern National at Fontwell, a piece of form that suggests Minellacelebration might just be worth a second look here.

Quoting from Kim Bailey's Straight from the Stable tour in the Weekender 20-24.11.19:

"I expect him to come on for that [Wincanton run] and he could take up his entry in the Becher Chase next month over the Grand National course. He's a fine big horse and a good jumper of a fence, so hopefully it will suit him."

Stuart Redding also makes the case for Bailey's charge in this week's Weekender.

Walk In The Mill is my idea of the winner but with several layers offering 16/1 and paying one fifth the odds five places, Wandrin Star is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Only Connect, sequences and the Ladbrokes Trophy 2019

In a desperate attempt to escape the periphrastic persiflage of the nation's politicians, on Monday evening I rang for my butler - Beeves, who has a nasty habit of slipping up on the discount parquet flooring, tends to come into his own in the winter - and I asked him to turn on the black and white TV set in the corner of the room so I could watch a bit of Only Connect.

For those who have never seen this programme, the BBC describes it as 'a quiz show in which connections must be made between apparently unconnected things'. Generally speaking, my general overall performance in this quiz could be rated no better than marginally better than that of the tips put up on this blog, but let's not waste too much time debating that moot point.

As with all quiz shows, there are rounds - what's a quiz show without rounds?

The second round entitled 'Sequences' allows a team up to three clues to establish a particular sequence; team members are required to correctly identify the fourth element in the sequence to score.

Monday night's transmission contained the following teaser:

Clue 1: Heavy

Clue 2: Soft

At this particular juncture, two clues in, while the TV team entered into a protracted session of whispering, conferring and scratching of heads, mindful of previous lamentable performances and hoping to bag a juicy-looking three points, I started to get a bit excited, shouting "The answer is 'Good!' 'Good!' It's 'Good!'"

The logic being, of course, the third clue, when revealed, would be good to soft and the fourth good, the sequence being the descriptions clerks-of the-course use to describe the going at racecourses.

The TV team weren't convinced and after further deliberation asked presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell for the next clue; Ms Coren Mitchell duly obliged:

Clue 3: Good

What?! The third clue is good? Surely there has been some kind of mistake?

Except, of course, there hadn't. Crestfallen, I turned to (a smirking) Mrs Tips and told her the fourth element would now be 'Firm'. but it was all too late. Desperate.

I'm considering contacting Ms Coren Mitchell, never slow to come forward and let viewers know about her poker-playing prowess, to point out the above sequence isn't actually a sequence at all. What about soft, good-to-soft in places or good-to-soft, soft in places or good-to-soft, good in places or good, good-to-soft in places etc etc?

Or how about Leicester's going report where the hurdles course can be good, good-to-soft in places, soft in places on the home straight while the chase track at the same meeting is good-to-firm, good-to -soft on the Flat course crossings?

Furthermore, I'm informed the show's question editor, British quizzer Mr Jack Waley-Cohen, is the cousin of Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey (and owner of a gazillion dental practices) Mr Sam Waley-Cohen. Jack - what are you playing at?

Of course, it matters not a jot. The editor's decision is final.

"Beeves, pour me two fingers' worth of our very best Hennessy cognac!" was a cry I used to utter repeatedly as I studied form on the eve of the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup. Ladbrokes took over sponsorship in 2017 and ever since I've remained sober as a judge studying for Newbury's winter showpiece.

The trouble is the tips I selected when I was half cut fared a damned sight better than the those picked when I exercised restraint.

In 2017 Label Des Obeaux was the first one beaten after jumping the first while in 2018 American missed the break ten lengths, raced a full circuit ten lengths behind the penultimate horse before eventually going twenty lengths behind the penultimate horse and then being pulled up.

It's beginning to look suspiciously like one of Ms Coren Mitchell's sequences. Twenty four face the starter tomorrow (3.00) - ample opportunity to build on the disappointments of the past two years. The going is described as good to soft, soft in places.

Last year's race saw Sizing Tennessee beat Elegant Escape ten lengths with Dingo Dollar third, Beware The Bear foruth and West Approach fifth but only twelve went to post. This year's renewal looks fiercely competitive.

Tom Segal has neatly summed up the conundrum in the Weekender - do we side with a younger horse who could be Gold Cup class or an exposed handicapper? The better value appears to be with the handicappers.

At the time of writing they bet 8/1 the field. Aidan Coleman lands a plum ride on Ok Corral with Barry Geraghty due to ride Buveur D'Air in the Fighting Fifth; plans may change if Newcastle doesn't pass its 8.00 am track inspection.

Ok Corral looks desperately short on experience (just three runs over fences) - last time out Nicky Henderson's charge was pulled up in the four miler at Cheltenham although it would be unfair to judge him solely on that effort.

The Willie Mullins trained Total Recall pipped Whisper on the line in 2017 (Paul Townend up) after winning the Munster National. Cabaret Queen comes here with a very similar profile but has been raised from a mark of 126 (in Ireland) to 146.

Colin Tizzard has a strong hand with four runners.

West Approach is likely to benefit from a Robbie Power hold-up ride and to my mind looks the yard's best chance. I like Elegant Escape who carries top weight but he is routinely shoddy at the obstacles; connections have decided to try the blinkers

Mister Malarky was a highly creditable fourth in the RSA at Cheltenham in March but his no-show at Ascot four weeks ago (beaten 83 lengths by Vinndication) is off-putting - I see connections have chosen to fit cheekpieces for the first time. Ten-year-old Robinsfirth appears talented but fragile with just eight chases starts to his name.

I'm not a fan of On The Blind Side but I have seen some bits and pieces for the Nicky Henderson trained Brave Eagle; he'd be worth a second look at 40/1.

Yala Enki's third behind Elegant Escape in last year's Welsh National reads well and he finished just three lengths behind the same horse in the Gold Cup. After wind surgery in the summer, he has moved to Paul Nicholls' yard - once again the Welsh National is the main target.

I'm sure Mick Fitzgerald described Daklondike as a 'brute' before the start of the Eider last February; that day Daklondike decided he wasn't going to play and refused to race.

A talented individual on his day, he's certainly not one to trust implicitly but he ran a decent enough race over hurdles here at the beginning of the month (no visor) at odds of 40/1. A previous course and distance winner, his best form appears to come around this time of year.

I'm just hoping connections have managed to keep Daklondike sweet; sponsors Ladbrokes offer 28/1 and pay one fifth the odds six places.

Daklondike is the risky each-way suggestion to break the sequence...

Friday, November 22, 2019

An opportunity spurned

Really, it can only be described as an opportunity spurned.

Earlier this week Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn went head-to-head live on national television, yet neither party leader possessed sufficient foresight to draw any parallel with the televised clash of the titans taking place at Ascot tomorrow.

Of course, comparing Altior v Cyrname with Johnson v Corbyn is the equivalent of contrasting the sublime with the ridiculous.

It's hardly surprising to hear that punters appear to have more appetite for the chasers (alcoholic and equine) than the politicians - Ascot has reported advance ticket sales up some 30% and, in any case, we all know the chasers are bound to deliver a far better spectacle, especially given that Johnson put up some three and a half stone overweight (best guess) while Corbyn struggled to see through his goggles.

I seem to recall years and years ago Margaret Thatcher telling anyone at the Newbury races who'd care to listen that everyone loves a winner. Well, that's all well and good, but what the good lady forgot to add was that when you lose, you lose alone. I should know - I've spent a fair amount of time in recent weeks talking to myself.

Altior bids for his twentieth consecutive victory tomorrow. Nicky Henderson's charge didn't look at the very top of his game last season and goes beyond two miles one for the first time. The way he jumped markedly left at this track in January must be a concern for supporters, as is his trainer's comment this week that the speed the horse has shown on the gallops at home makes him question whether his charge will stay this trip.

In case you hadn't guessed, I'm in the Cyrname camp, but you wouldn't consider a wager in this any more than you'd take 25/1 about a Labour majority.

Paul Nicholls' dual course and distance winner is officially rated one pound superior to his opponent but the stable win strike rate is currently just 10% which ranks a worry; 6/4 favourite Ecco folded tamely in the Supreme Trial at Cheltenham on Sunday (was it the shoes?) while Saint De Reve's stroll at Wincanton yesterday was the yard's first winner from 23 attempts.

'Always back the outsider of three!' is a pithy racing maxim that I first heard many years ago around the gaff tracks of the West Country during the height of the summer months.

Followers of this maxim will note that the Dan Skelton trained Solomon Grey is 100/1 with Skybet this evening; speaking from personal experience, that maxim may well be pithy indeed but it has yet to deliver the untold riches I so desperately crave.

Just three in the big race at Ascot (2.05) and only one more in the big race at Haydock (3.00),

Last year's winner Bristol De Mai seems to have been around forever but is still only eight years of age. On Racing Post ratings Frodon has just one pound to find with the favourite while Lostintranslation appears to have been well supported this evening. Another race to savour rather than bet on.

Thebannerkingrebel has enough in hand over his rivals in the opener at the Lancashire track. Ballinsker is on the radar; the gelding cost £90,000 and was three lengths to the good when odds-on shot Humble Hero came a cropper two from home at Ludlow the last day. This looks more challenging and there's no guarantee Evan Williams' charge will handle underfoot conditions.

In search of a bet I've stayed at Haydock and looked into the Betfair Best Odds on ITV Races Stayers' Handicap Hurdle at 2.25; the going is currently described as good to soft with further rain forecast. A few in the field wouldn't be guaranteed to stay.

Lisnagar Oscar beat Ask Ben, Stoney Mountain and Highland Hunter over course and distance in February before going on to finish fifth in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham (Ask Ben tenth, Stoney Mountain pulled up) and then finishing third behind Champ at Aintree.

Rebecca Curtis' charge certainly has the look of a chaser in the making but has suffered defeat twice over the larger obstacles and reverts to hurdling here; Ask Ben is weighted to finish much closer while there remains a slight question mark about the trip for Stoney Mountain.

Highland Hunter makes his seasonal debut having moved to Paul Nicholls' yard a couple of weeks ago.

Willie Mullins has brought previous distance winner Eight And Bob over from Ireland and that has the look of a recommendation in itself.

Breaking Waves finished fourth, Tedham sixth behind Duke Street over two miles five at Cheltenham four weeks ago; both sets of connections will hope the step up to three miles suits; Diomed Des Mottes and Echiquier finished fourth and fifth respectively behind Thyme Hill in the Persian War Novices' Hurdle and that form reads well.

Sirobbbie has won four at Uttoxeter over the summer and has gone from a mark of 95 to 129; his last win at the track shows he'll handle underfoot conditions.

All in all, it's a hugely competitive affair; I've picked out Acey Milan on the back of these comments from Anthony Honeyball in a pre-season stable tour:

"We weren't sure with a lot of horses who had the virus but he was definitely hit by it [last year]. He was a very good bumper horse [fourth behind Relegate in the 2018 Champion bumper at Cheltenham], and sometimes those horses do go missing, but they tend to come back and he could be very well handicapped off 126. We'll want to work our way back to that [bumper] level and, if we can, he could be a 140 or 150 horse. He'll get three miles and handles heavy ground."

With Rex Dingle claiming three and cheekpieces fitted for the first time (to the horse, not the jockey), Acey Milan is the each-way suggestion; several layers offer 14/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places.

Finally, I can't sign off without a quick word for Potters Corner, rated a 66/1 rag by the layers. This one fell two out when in with every chance in the Eider last February and then claimed the Midlands Grand National next time at odds of 20/1. The trip won't pose any problems tomorrow but the hurdles just might; part-owned by Welsh rugby international Jonathan Davies, the gelding also happens to hold an entry in the Welsh Grand National...

Friday, November 15, 2019

BetVictor Gold Cup 2019

The first day of Cheltenham's Open meeting may have been lost to the wet weather but earlier this afternoon the track passed its inspection for Saturday's card. Racing goes ahead but, due to concerns about the ground in the area, the third last fence and the third last hurdle will be omitted.

The first race is scheduled for 12.05 with the feature BetVictor Gold Cup due off at 2.25.

Saint Calvados and Royal Vacation have been declared non-runners which leaves a field of eighteen; as a result of the withdrawal of Saint Calvados, the weights have gone up seven pounds with the Joseph O'Brien trained Us And Them now at the head of the handicap.

Twelve of the eighteen runners are set to carry more than 11-0 on ground currently described as soft, heavy in places.

At the time of writing Slate House heads the market with support evident for Siruh Du Lac.

The former won on heavy ground over course and distance last month after undergoing wind surgery in June while the latter has won six of his eight chase starts culminating in victory in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase at the Festival in March (Spiritofthegames third, Eamon An Cnoic fourth, Splash Of Ginge seventeenth).

Regular pilot Lizzie Kelly claims a useful-looking three pounds on Siruh du Lac; she returns to race-riding having broken her right arm and injured her left shoulder in a heavy fall from Rococo River at Exeter five weeks ago.

Spiritofthegames is another who underwent wind surgery over the summer and boasts a fine record first time out while Count Meribel won the Steel Plate and Sections Novices' Chase over course and distance last year and came home two and a quarter lengths behind Lostintranslation on his seasonal reappearance a fortnight ago.

Guitar Pete, third in this race last year off a mark of 137, beat Happy Diva and Demi Sang (Splash Of Ginge sixth) at Wetherby last time out; he goes off a mark of 141 tomorrow.

Happy Diva is a consistent mare who will handle the ground and pilot Richard Patrick can claim three; she has been raised one pound for her effort behind Guitar Pete while Demi Sang has been dropped one pound and at 50/1 looks a big price on the back of that piece of form. I'm assuming the price would contract sharply if owner J P McManus thought there was some value on offer... The last mare to win this race was Lady Cricket in 2000.

On the back of his second to Waiting Patiently at Carlisle in 2017, Belami Des Pictons is a talented individual but he has clearly had his problems and looks high enough in the weights at the moment.

Since the first running of this race in 1960 (as the Mackeson Gold Cup) only two five-year-olds have come hone in front - Cyfor Malta in 1998 and Caid Du Berlais in 2014. The latter was trained by Paul Nicholls and the same trainer saddles five-year-old Magic Saint tomorrow. On balance I'm not convinced the gelding would be guaranteed to see out the trip on this sort of ground and that same reservation is held about the chance of Highway One O One.

Several commentators talk of this as a 'strong trends' race with just two winners priced over 12/1 in the past ten years; in the same timeframe the winner has come from the first three in the market on four occasions. The last favourite to oblige was Tranquil Sea in 2009.

Two are of interest at an each-way price: Springtown Lake and Eamon An Cnoic.

Fifith in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at the Festival, Springtown Lake likes to race up with the pace and will appreciate underfoot conditions; the cobwebs were blown away behind Vinndication at Ascot a fortnight ago. At around 11/1 I can't help but feel a lot of the value has already been snaffled up.

Fifth in this last year, Eamon Na Cnoic hails from a yard that can boast a strong record in this race. He enters calculations on the back of his three and a half length fourth behind Siruh Du Lac at the Festival in March. On revised terms David Pipe's charge looks well in at the weights with both Siruh Du Lac and Spiritofthegames; he should certainly be competitive and will appreciate the slower ground.

Both BetVictor and Coral offer 16/1 one fifth the odds five places. Eamon Na Cnoic is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Caught in two minds...

I'm going to start this evening's post by saying that at 16/1 (18/1 in a couple of places) I think Bigmartre looks a big price for tomorrow's 2.05 at Aintree.

I'm prepared to forgive his effort in the Old Roan a fortnight ago on the back of these comments by trainer Harry Whittington in this week's Weekender:

"...his jumping is his strength and he had no chance when they took out all those fences [on account of the low sun].  Basically it turned into a speed test and I knew it wouldn't suit him. He jumped great and was always in a good position at his fences, but Page [Fuller] never got a chance to fill him up as they were going too fast. She did a great job, though, as she looked after him... I'd expect him to run well."

Ten are declared and the top four in the betting all make their seasonal reappearance; Cepage's second behind Frodon in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last December - War Sound a distant tenth - obviously catches the eye.

The favourite has failed to oblige in each of the past ten renewals while in the same timeframe the winner has been aged between seven and nine.

A number in the field don't have an awful lot of experience over the larger obstacles; for me Riders Onthe Storm and The West's Awake in particular have questions to answer in the jumping department.

In 2018 Duke Street won a Worcester novices' chase off a mark of 130 but tomorrow goes off a mark of 141 following two victories over the smaller obstacles. War Sound won last year's renewal but tries this time weeks short of his eleventh birthday.

Bigmartre is just one pound inferior to top-rated War Sound on RP ratings but... he has proved hard to catch right in the past.

Over at Wincanton fourteen have been declared for the feature race of the day, the Badger Beers Silver Trophy Handicap Chase. A number of fancied sorts failed to make the overnight declaration stage, presumably on account of the good ground, with the result the prices about potential selections have contracted sharply.

Present Man has won the past two renewals and tomorrow attempts to win the race for a record-breaking third time.

Sumkindofking chased home the winner twelve months ago and finished fourth behind Wandrin Star here thirteen days ago. The Colin Tizzard trained White Moon appeared to have the spoils in the bag that day when he stumbled and fell after the last. Beau Du Brizais ran a very respectable trial in second; on revised terms he looks weighted to confirm form with Sumkindofking (whose regular pilot Jonathan Burke rides up at Aintree).

Just A Sting from the Harry Fry yard was one of those of interest earlier in the week but the price has long since disappeared.

The Philip Hobbs trained pair Rock The Kasbah and Beau Du Brisais remain of interest. The former has a decent enough record when fresh and will appreciate underfoot conditions if the rain keeps away but he can be hard to catch right - William Hill and Bet Victor offer 11/1 at the time of writing.

Stablemate Beau Du Brisais is priced 18/1 with both Paddy Power and Bet Victor who pay one fifth the odds four places.

Aintree or Wincanton? Bigmartre or Beau Du Brisais?

In the hope this hasn't come up a tad too quickly, Beau Du Brisais is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 01, 2019

An each-way chance in the 2019 Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot

Earlier today Gordon Elliott bagged a five-timer at Down Royal, with the 2018 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle winner Samcro making a big impression on his first run over the larger obstacles.

The 2018 Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Summerville Boy also made a successful chase debut - at Uttoxeter - but Tom George's charge wasn't quite as slick over the fences.   

It's Charlie Hall Chase day at Wetherby tomorrow and England are playing South Africa in a World Cup final but it's Ascot for me where the going is currently described as good to soft, good in places but with gusty winds and heavy rain forecast.

Seventeen have been declared for the Sodexo Gold Cup (3.20); top weight Black Corton is set to concede at least seven pounds to all his opponents.

The Kim Bailey trained Vinndication heads the market. I've plenty of time for this youngster who tries three miles for the first time having undergone wind surgery in April. The layers price him up a full three points shorter than joint second favourites Mister Malarky and On The Blind Side.

Mister Malarky won the Reynoldstown Chase over course and distance in February (Top Ville Ben, a well-beaten fifth that day, goes in the Charlie Hall at 3.40) and then went on to finish an excellent fourth behind Topofthegame in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham the following month.

Now I know they tell you to forgive and forget, and I can see why some of those rugby fans might be tempted to support On The Blind Side, but I'll be honest - I have found it extremely difficult to forget On The Blind Side's run in that RSA Chase last March; he was the first one beaten - and he happened to be carrying my money as well.

Gary Moore won this with Traffic Fluide last year and with Antony in 2016; Gary's Larry, presumably not named after the Downing Street cat, looks another likely contender this year. Last November, conceding two pounds, Larry was one length adrift of Mister Malarky when coming to grief two out in a Plumpton novices' handicap.

Soft ground should suit Springtown Lake, fifth in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, but he jumped left when winning at Sandown and also when finishing fourth behind Adrien Du Pont at Kempton last Christmas.

At around 16/1 the Paul Nicholls inmate makes some appeal but at a recent stable open day the handler indicated this one can be difficult as he has to be held up and can encounter traffic problems in running. In addition, the jumping isn't always foot perfect, all of which tempers enthusiasm somewhat.

Potterman is a young horse who has made hay this summer. Quoting Alan King in the Weekender:

"He's a proper good-ground horse and could have one more run before having a winter holiday with a view to coming back for a decent handicap in the spring."  

It's slightly more difficult to make a case for some of the older runners but 2017 winner Go Conquer loves Ascot and goes well fresh while an old favourite of mine, Relentless Dreamer, would be entitled to come on for his third behind Ballyoptic at Chepstow last month (Ballyoptic another declared for the Charlie Hall at 3.40). There appears to have been some support for Rebecca Curtis' charge this evening.

And I see Double Shuffle, second to Might Bite in the 2017 King George, is 25/1 in places but, to my mind, he prefers a flat right-handed track (called Kempton).

Since its inaugural running in 2006 as the United House Gold Cup just two horses older than nine have come home in front - See You Sometime (2006) and Roberto Goldback in (2012). I've concentrated my efforts on the younger participants with potential.

At the time of writing bet365 offer 10/1 Larry and pay a quarter the odds four places; Larry is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, October 25, 2019

An each-way chance for the second day of the 2019 Cheltenham Showcase

The omens for yesterday's annual trip to the Ludlow races weren't particularly favourable beforehand and when we missed the winner of the first (Ballinsker 4/1) - stuck the wrong side of one of the road crossings, unable to gain access to the course until the runners had passed - I sort of knew it was going to be one of those days.

And that's exactly what transpired - a number of second places without ever really threatening to bring home the bacon.

Six went to post for the feature novices' chase at 3.40 in which every runner held a plausible chance. I certainly didn't expect to see the Harry Whittington trained Sparkleandshine start the 2/1 favourite although the yard had sent out Arzal to win this race in 2015; unfortunately Sparkleandshine failed to sparkle or shine, coming to grief at the first.

Court Royale did me a favour in the novices' hurdle at this meet last year and carried my money again yesterday. Held up, the gelding came with his challenge in the home straight and may have led for a stride or two as they approached the final flight but he had no answer to the turn of foot shown by What's Occurring who looks a fair prospect. Quoting Oliver Sherwood in the Weekender stable tour 19-23.12.18:

"...he'll be a cracking chaser next season. He's a super jumper and has the most wonderful attitude."

This year's wet autumn certainly made this meeting more competitive than many I've attended in the past.

Onwards and upwards as they say...

Twenty have been declared for tomorrow's first race on the second day of the Cheltenham Showcase meeting. The going is currently described as good to soft, soft in places, with any amount of rain forecast overnight.

Cogry won the 2017 renewal and was just pipped by Relentless Dreamer last year (West Approach third, Shantou Village sixth and Captain Chaos fourteenth). He holds an obvious chance but I note that every winner in the past decade has been aged between seven and nine.

For that same reason I'm also going to pass over previous course and distance winner The Young Master who had his prep race on the all-weather at Kempton three and a half weeks ago.

West Approach ran a fine race form the front when third last year but he still takes the odd liberty at one or two of his fences and to my mind is better over the smaller obstacles. Underfoot conditions may help the cause.

Rocky's Treasure can boast a fine record over fences but after a quick look through his profile I wasn't entirely convinced he would see out every yard of this trip on soft ground; he was beaten 13 lengths by Cobra De Mai here in April.

With Harry doing the steering, Cobra De Mai looks the pick of Dan Skelton's trio but this looks a tough task carrying top weight on soft ground.

Previous course winner Royal Vacation won't appreciate further rain while Rolling Dylan will stay but wouldn't be guaranteed to come out on top in a tight finish.

At the prices three have caught my eye - Crosspark, Shantou Village and Red Infantry.

I'll admit I'm a fully paid-up member of the Crosspark fan club after he won the Eider in February carrying my money and then went on to finish a gallant second behind Takingrisks in the Scottish National.

During the course of last season he was raised from a mark of 136 to 148; the handicapper has relented slightly after that effort in the Scottish National but he still has to shoulder 11-5 tomorrow which is a concern. That said, last year Caroline Bailey's charge won first time out after the summer break.

Shantou Village was in with a fighting chance before a blunder at the last in the Kerry National 45 days ago. Sixth in this last year, he tries again, this time off a mark two pounds lower; his completion rate doesn't look entirely convincing. Using the Kerry National form as a yardstick, the chance of Na Trachtalai Abu would also have to be respected.

Red Infantry came home seventh in the Scottish National and won't mind further rain. He ran in a Pertemps Hurdle qualifier at this meeting last year before beating Bishops Road at Haydock next time out; fitness will have to be taken on trust but that comment applies to plenty in the field. I'd assume the wet autumn means that several trainers will be reasonably well forward with their horses.

Layers offer 20/1 Crosspark and pay one fifth the odds five places so Crosspark is my each-way suggestion.

A quick footnote to the two mile handicap chase at 3.10...

I shall monitor Mcgroarty on the back of these comments made by Dr Richard Newland after Mcgroarty's latest win at Kelso three weeks ago:

"Mcgroarty still seems to be on an upward curve and he's landed a good pot. He loves his jumping and that's been getting better and better. He was unproven on that ground [soft] and that opens doors to us now to campaign him a bit differently as he looks like he handles winter ground. We might look at the handicap at the October Cheltenham meeting that we won with Boondooma in 2015."