Friday, February 15, 2019

Racing returns

The show is back on the road.

The stables of Donald McCain and Simon Crisford remain subject to BHA restrictions but otherwise lockdown has been lifted.

Emergency regulations introduced on Monday evening now require any runner to have received appropriate vaccination within the preceding six month period; any horse receiving a new vaccination cannot race for seven days.

Many trainers' plans have been disrupted by the introduction of these measures; the first day of the Cheltenham Festival is just three and a half weeks away...

Still, we're racing again and, with weights announced on Tuesday, the Grand National has helped to dispel some of the anguish of the past ten days or so.

Like every tipster this side of kingdom come, I've taken a cursory glance at the Aintree entries and at this early stage found one or two that look of interest at the weights...

Traffic Fluide (10-10) - Gary Moore seemed quite bullish in his 'Straight from the Stable' tour in the Weekender 16-20.01.19;

Walk In The Mill (10-0) - looked impressive winning the Becher Chase in December;

Allysson Monterg (9-12) - spent Christmas dinner worrying how I'd managed to miss the price about this one for the Rowland Meyrick; in the event, he put in a bit of a stinker but subsequently outran his odds in the Cotswold Chase last month. The National is the target.

It's hardly surprising to see that nine of the sixteen runners declared for tomorrow's William Hill Grand National Trial (3.35 Haydock) hold Grand National entries; the last three winners - Bishops Road (2016), Vieux Lion Rouge (2017) and Yala Enki (2018) - all try to repeat the trick.

January's Peter Marsh Chase provides a key piece of form with Wakanda beating Robinsfirth one and threequarter lengths with Ballyarthur fourth and Red Infantry fifth. As you'd expect, the handicapper has had his say and there wouldn't be a lot between them on revised terms but of the four I feel the additional three furlongs will definitely play to Red Infantry's strengths and could also help Robinsfirth.

Of course, this looks a very competitive renewal.

Course form is always a plus at Haydock so the three previous winners have to enter calculations while both Impulsive Star and Royal Vacation won last time out and boast solid credentials. The chance of current favourite Ramses De Teillee is respected but to date all his chase wins have come at Chepstow.

The drying ground is going to suit some more than others so, with this in mind, I'll take a chance on course and distance winner Red Infantry who has won on good ground previously and has been placed in six of his nine chase starts. Connections replace the visor used last time with first-time blinkers which I hope can eke out a little more improvement.

Trainer Ian Williams has indicated the Aintree showpiece is the plan (his charge allocated 9-12) so you'd like to think the horse will put in a decent show here but the main worry is the stable's run-to-form figure which currently reads at just 9%.

Red Infantry is the each-way selection; Sky Bet is offering 14/1 and pays one fifth the odds five places.

Cards at Ascot and Wincanton will provide useful Festival pointers - I'm particularly looking forward to the Ascot Chase at 3.55 - but Presenting Percy misses the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.

Presenting Percy is as low as 5/2 with Bet Victor for the Cheltenham Gold Cup but we haven't seen Patrick Kelly's charge jump a fence in public since he won the RSA Chase at last year's Festival.

And in just four weeks' time we'll know the winner of the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup...

Finally, I simply have to share Adrian Brodkin's letter which was published in Monday's edition of The Times and appeared under the heading 'Winner's Post':

'Sir, While I have no wish for the livelihood of jockeys and trainers to be adversely affected by the continuing cancellation of all horse racing fixtures, the longer each day's races are called off, the healthier my bank balance is beginning to look.'


Friday, February 08, 2019

Racing suspended

A Stephen Fry quotation on the book jacket of The Rugby Pocket Bible by Ben Coles reads:

"Rugby is the most exciting sport man has ever created."

Now, I wouldn't necessarily want to agree with Mr Fry on that one but following an outbreak of equine flu that has resulted in the cancellation of all British racing until Wednesday 13th February at the very earliest, I guess we may have to make do... That said, racing goes ahead in Ireland and ITV4 has committed to televising five live races from Naas tomorrow. 

On Wednesday evening Donald McCain was informed that three horses had tested positive for equine influenza at his stables in Cholmondeley, Cheshire; it has been reported this afternoon a further three horses from the yard have tested positive, including Raise A Spark who ran at Ayr on Wednesday.

The worry is that even though all racehorses are routinely vaccinated against this highly contagious virus, an outbreak has still occurred.

McCain's runners at Wolverhampton on Monday and Ayr and Ludlow on Wednesday could have potentially infected other runners at those meetings. The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has acted swiftly and placed those yards in 'lockdown'; nasal swabs are being carried out on horses at affected yards and being sent away for analysis.

In addition, earlier this afternoon it was confirmed a suspicious case had been identified at a separate yard which had runners at Newcastle on February 5th and Wolverhampton on February 6th; as a result an additional 54 yards have also been placed in lockdown.

Below is the latest alphabetical listing of trainers I think are affected by lockdown, with a cross reference to the meeting(s) where they had runners.

(A) = trainer with runner(s) at Ayr 06.02.19
(L) = trainer with runner(s) at Ludlow 06.02.19
(N) = trainer with runner(s) at Newcastle 05.02.19
(W1) = trainer with runner(s) at Wolverhampton 04.02.19
(W2) = trainer with runner(s) at Wolverhampton 06.02.19

Alexander N (A)
Appleby C (W1)
Appleby M (W1)
Appleby M (W2)
Bailey A (W1)
Barclay S (N)
Baugh B (W1)
Bell M (N)
Berry J (L)
Bethell J (N)
Bishop F (W2)
Botti M (W1)
Bowen M (L)
Bowen P (L)
Boyle J (W2)
Bradley M (W2)
Brisland R (W1)
Brisland R (W2)
Brittain A (N)
Brooke J (A)
Burke K (N)
Burke K (W2)
Camacho J (N)
Carr J (A)
Carr R (N)
Carroll T (W1)
Carroll T (W2)
Channon M (W2)
Charlton R (W2)
Christie D (L)
Clarke K (W1)
Collins V (L)
Coltherd W (A)
Crawford S (A)
Crisford S (N)
Crook A (A)
D’Arcy P (W2)
Dalgleish K (N)
Dalgleish K (W1)
Dalgleish K (W2)
Daly H (L)
Dascombe T (W1)
Dascombe T (W2)
Davies S (L)
Dennis D (L)
Dobbin R (A)
Duffield A (W2)
Duncan I (A)
Easterby M (N)
Eddery R (W1)
Edmunds S (A)
Egerton L (A)
Egerton L (N)
Elliott G (A)
Ellison B (N)
England S (A)
Eustace J (W2)
Evans D (W1)
Evans D (W2)
Evans H (L)
Fahey R (N)
Fahey R (W2)
Fanshawe J (N)
Feilden J (W2)
Fell R (W2)
Fife M (W1)
Flint J (L)
Forster S (A)
Fox J (W1)
Frost K (W2)
Frost T (L)
Fry H (L)
Furtado I (N)
George T (L)
Gillard M (L)
Given J (N)
Goldie J (N)
Greenall O (A)
Griffiths D C (N)
Griffiths D C (W2)
Groucott J (L)
Guest Rae (W2)
Guest Richard (N)
Hales A (L)
Hamilton A (A)
Hannon R (W1)
Hannon R (W2)
Harris R (W1)
Harris R (W2)
Harris S (W1)
Haslam B (N)
Henderson N (L)
Herrington M (N)
Herrington M (W1)
Hobbs P (L)
Hobson C (L)
Hollinshead Sarah (W1)
Hollinshead Steph (L)
Hughes J (W1)
Jardine I (A)
Jardine I (N)
Johnston M (W1)
Keightley S (W1)
Kellett C (W2)
Keniry S (N)
Lacey T (L)
Lee K (L)
Lloyd-Beavis N (W1)
Longsdon C (L)
Loughnane Daniel (W2)
Loughnane David (W1)
Loughnane David (W2)
McBride P (W1)
McCain D (A)
McCain D (L)
McCain D (W1)
McCaldin C (A)
McEntee P (N)
McLintock K (N)
McNally R (A)
Menzies R (N)
Menzies R (W2)
Midgley P (N)
Moore J S (W2)
Morgan K (A)
Morrison H (W1)
Mulholland N (W1)
Murphy A (W2)
Murphy O (L)
Murphy O (W1)
Nicholls P (L)
Nolan S (A)
Normile L (A)
Norton J (W1)
O'Brien F (L)
O’Keefe J (N)
O’Meara D (W1)
O’Meara D (W2)
O'Neill J (L)
O’Neill J (W2)
O'Shea J (L)
O’Shea J (W1)
O’Shea J (W2)
Oliver H (L)
Osborne J (W1)
Pauling B (L)
Pears O (N)
Phillips R (L)
Prescott M (N)
Price K (L)
Ralph A (L)
Ralph A (W1)
Reed T (A)
Richards N (A)
Riches J (N)
Russell L (A)
Ryan K (N)
Sayer D (A)
Scott G (N)
Scott J (L)
Scott K (A)
Shaw D (W1)
Shaw D (W2)
Skelton D (L)
Smith R M (N)
Spencer R (L)
Spiller H (W2)
Stephens R (W1)
Symonds T (L)
Tate J (W1)
Thompson D (W1)
Tizzard C (L)
Todhunter M (A)
Turner W (L)
Twiston-Davies N (L)
Tylicki M (N)
Varnham R (L)
Waggott T (N)
Wainwright J (N)
Walford M (N)
Wallis C (W1)
Wallis C (W2)
Watson A (W1)
Watson A (W2)
Welch H (L)
Whillans D (A)
Wigham M (N)
Williams E (L)
Williams I (L)
Williams I (W1)
Williams S (W1)
Williams V (L)
Williamson L (W2)
Wilson N (N)
Wingrove K (W1)

In what appears a rapidly developing situation, hopes of a return to action next Wednesday are starting to look increasingly slim.

Friday, February 01, 2019

A Sandown longshot

The recent freezing weather has played havoc with the fixture list as well as my form study and this evening has left me in the throes of a particularly acute dilemma - do I to watch the opening Six Nations rugby match between France and Wales or Posh Hotels with Sally (Lindsay) and Nigel (Havers)?

Sterling work by staff at Sandown means tomorrow's card is set to go ahead. At the time of writing there are no planned inspections; the going on the chase course is described as good to soft, soft in places while the going on the hurdle course is soft, heavy in places.

Top marks too to ITV Racing who will show three live races from the first day of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

Earlier in the week, with the prospects for Sandown looking rather bleak, I spent some time on the Irish Gold Cup (3.35 Leopardstown on Sunday).

That means the usual hard graft hasn't gone into tomorrow's pick so minimum stakes would be the order of the day...

The two to have caught my eye in the Heroes Handicap Hurdle (3.00 Sandown) are Dans Le Vent sporting first time blinkers near the foot of the handicap and Full Glass about whom trainer Alan King has been quite bullish in the Weekender in recent months.

With Page Fuller claiming three, the former has a featherweight in these conditions but the trip may stretch the stamina while the latter hasn't taken well to chasing in this country but appears to be held in some regard.

Dans Le Vent is a tentative each-way suggestion; Unibet offer 22/1 and pay one fifth the odds six places.

The Savills Chase last December is a key piece of form when looking at the Irish Gold Cup.

Ten lengths covered the first six home that day but Kemboy was seven and a half lengths clear which meant there were just two and a half lengths between Monalee (second), Road To Respect (third), Bellshill (fourth), Outlander (fifth) and The Storyteller (sixth).

Road To Respect appeared unlucky stumbling twice in the race while significant improvement will be expected from Kemboy's stablemate Bellshill.

Five weeks ago the ground rode good at Leopardstown and it will again on Sunday; by my reckoning at least half the field would prefer more cut underfoot.

Bellshill is my idea of the winner; Anibale Fly (third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, fourth in the Grand National) would be of some interest each-way at around 10/1 but that price has disappeared and Tony Martin's charge is one of those who would prefer softer ground.

And Sally and Nigel are at The Berkeley tonight - looking forward to it.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Cheltenham Trials Day 2019 - The Cleeve Hurdle

Earlier this afternoon I thought Federici looked an interesting each-way play in the Sky Bet Chase (3.15 Doncaster) at odds of 14/1.

Last year Donald McCain's charge finished fifth in this race behind Wakanda (Warriors Tale second), beaten under three lengths, and tomorrow he tries off a mark one pound lower.

The horse appears to have been trained with this in mind; admittedly, stable form has been dubious of late, but Constancio (5/2) won easily enough at the track today while Ballasalla (13/2) was only beaten a neck and would surely have come home in front had he not made mistakes at three of the final four flights.

The problem is others with a similar idea have gone and backed the beast so now he's generally a 10/1 shot...

I tend to think the Sky Bet often goes the way of a horse with fewer miles on the clock so instead I've decided to take a chance in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.

With twelve declared, this year's competitive renewal contains an intriguing mix of younger horses hoping to enhance their reputations and more experienced animals who, for a variety of reasons, are now back over the smaller obstacles having had a try at the larger ones.

A couple have caught my eye at a price.

You couldn't back Sam Spinner with any sort of confidence after two consecutive unseatings but he is joint top-rated on Racing Post ratings and is quoted at 14/1 in places this evening.

Ladbrokes offer 22/1 (one fifth the odds four places) about last year's winner Agrapart. Joint top-rated, this one has a clear chance on the book but that victory came on heavy ground.

West Approach was third behind Unowhatimeanharry in the 2017 renewal and is rated a 14/1 shot this time. He has been struggling over fences but ran well when reverting to hurdles to claim second behind Paisley Park in the Long Walk last time; he receives weight from eight of his 11 rivals.

Of the market principals Black Op races beyond two miles five for the first time on a British racecourse (although he won a point over three miles at Loughanmore in 2016), Midnight Shadow goes beyond two miles four and a half for the first time - some commentators felt Clyne and Wholestone took each other on a long way from home the last day allowing Midnight Shadow to pick up the pieces - while Paisley Park looked very impressive in the Long Walk.

On a strict interpretation of that Long Walk form, in receipt of six pounds West Approach is weighted to reverse placings with Paisley Park.

West Approach is the each-way selection (one fifth the odds four places with Ladbrokes).

Friday, January 18, 2019

In-play betting, Robbie Box and an each-way longshot at Ascot

Earlier this week both the Daily Mail and The Guardian ran stories about punters using real-time pictures from drones to gain an edge in in-play racing markets; the time delay on conventional 'live' TV feeds can be anything up to ten seconds - it's generally accepted a horse can cover five lengths a second (except when they're tipped by this blog).

All of which took me back to 'Big Deal', a TV series broadcast by the BBC in the mid-eighties, which focussed on the plights and predicaments of small-time gambler Robbie Box (Ray Brooks).

The one particular episode I can (barely) remember - it was transmitted well over thirty years ago now - involved Robbie gaining access to a room above a bookmaker's shop and then, with the help of an accomplice, introducing a delay into the bookmaker's feed, thereby giving Robbie and his acquaintances the time to pop downstairs into the shop to write out winning bets...

Betting shops, they were different beasts in those days - as this YouTube clip from the series clearly illustrates.

Valtor is one of three runners Nicky Henderson has withdrawn from Haydock's card tomorrow on account of health concerns. That leaves eleven in the Peter Marsh (3.15); clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright has called an inspection at 7.30am just in case the forecast rain falls as snow.

Four weeks ago Daklondike won the Tommy Whittle and so it's hardly surprising he's prominent in the betting; Tom Scudamore rides again although one assumes he wouldn't have endeared himself to everyone at Haydock for his contribution in 'The Scudamores: Three of a Kind' when he described the course as 'a dog track'.

With as many as eight of the eleven runners priced between 11/2 and 8/1, I've gone to Ascot in search of some value.

Thirteen are set to face the starter for the bet365 Handicap Chase at 3.00; course and distance winner Benatar, second behind Valtor last time out, is the current favourite. Writing in the Racing Post Weekender handler Gary Moore acknowledges his charge hasn't reproduced last season's form (finished third in the JLT at Cheltenham) but states:

"...I expect him to run well. He's in great form and should be competitive." 

Paul Kealy makes the case for Belami Des Pictons in the same paper but this one is passed over as he hasn't seen a track for 440 days and is plenty short enough in the market now.

Mister Whitaker beat Happy Diva and Cyrname at Carlisle before finishing a creditable fourth behind Baron Alco in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham. Happy Diva is a consistent sort but stable form is the worry with no winners in the past 51 days.

Jerrysback's preferred engagement is Haydock's 1.30 but course and distance winner Mr Medic is given every respect.

Paul Nicholls' two runners have caught my eye.

Cyrname was sent off 11/4 favourite for the Hurst Park Handicap Chase over two miles one here eight weeks ago; he likes to race from the front but couldn't live with Speredek that day and eventually finished seventh. In the same race stablemate San Benedeto came from off the pace to stay on into fourth behind Caid Du Lin who collared the long-time leader in the shadow of the post.

San Benedeto has since finished a well-beaten sixth behind Charbel in the Peterborough Chase but he races off 150 now, a mark he has won from previously, and it is worth noting he was rated as high as 158 last May; pilot Lorcan Williams also claims five.

Cyrname is the one to beat on Racing Post ratings while San Benedeto should be competitive; the former is a 10/1 shot while the latter is almost double that price.

I'm not entirely convinced this is his optimum trip but San Benedeto is the each-way suggestion at 18/1 - Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and Betfair pay one fifth the odds four places.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Warwick's Classic Chase 2019

There will be lots of betting opportunities to lose your hard-earned between now and the Cheltenham Festival in March but that simple fact isn't going to stop large sections of the media from writing about Cheltenham, talking about Cheltenham, discussing Cheltenham entries, Cheltenham bankers, reporting from Cheltenham preview nights and generally trying to look up to eight weeks or so into the future.

Those in need of a timely fix may want to refer to Lydia Hislop's recently updated Road to Cheltenham series - the hurdlers and its counterpart the chasers.

For my part I've set myself the admittedly difficult but rather more modest task of trying to come up with one who'll at least give me a run for my money in tomorrow's Classic Chase at Warwick (3.00), my local track.

This doesn't have the look of a typical renewal with thirteen declared and the going described as good, good to soft in places; showers are forecast.

At the time of writing Callet Mad, Step Back and Duel At Dawn are all vying for favouritism.

Callet Mad seems to have been around for ages but he's the youngest in this field; since 2000 only two seven-year-olds have come home in front - Baron Windrush (2005) and Shotgun Paddy (2014).

Step Back has only five chase starts to his name and Duel At Dawn, well backed during the week, six but to my mind this race often rides quite rough and generally I tend to prefer a more experienced sort.

Rocky's Treasure and Ibis Du Rheu held five day entries for this and the Hampton Novices' Chase (1.50). Connections of the former have taken the easier option while Ibis Du Rheu's jumping appeared to suffer over the final three fences when well beaten behind The Worlds End at Cheltenham last month.

Jumping is always at a premium at Warwick, particularly down the back straight where the five flights come pretty quickly one after another.

Impulsive Star was fourth in the four miler at Cheltenham last March but he looked ring-rusty on his seasonal debut at Plumpton behind Ok Corral (goes in the Hampton at 1.50); he'll certainly need to be more fluent over the obstacles here. Robert Waley-Cohen has indicated son Sam may not be able to make full use of his three pound claim.

Fourth looked the best Carole's Destrier could hope for jumping the last at Newbury when last seen but Neil Mulholland's charge came with a late rattle to pinch the spoils. A three pound penalty looks manageable and the ground will suit; jockey Robbie Dunne won the 2013 renewal aboard Rigadin De Beauchene.

I've concentrated efforts on the two who can boast previous course winning form - last year's winner Milansbar and Cogry who finished 11 lengths adrift in second that day. 12 months on winning jock Bryony Frost goes to Kempton to ride for Paul Nicholls; Jack Andrews can't do the weight so this year the ride on Milansbar goes to Jack's sister Gina who claims three.

Milansbar looks weighted to confirm last year's placings with Cogry; the latter has gone up three pounds after defeating Singlefarmpayment a head at Cheltenham. That said, Milansbar is now twelve years old and would probably prefer more cut underfoot.

Of the remainder Un Temps Pour Tout has his second run after wind surgery; since 1974 Hey Big Spender (2012) is the only horse to have carried top weight to victory. Of Colin Tizzard's pair Sizing Codelco faces a stiff task after 252 days off the track while Ultragold appeared to stay on his first try beyond three miles one the last day and just may be overpriced at 22/1 - Richard Johnson rides.

Crosspark was fourth in last year's race beaten some 28 lengths (Gina Andrews up) while Chase The Spud has been out of sorts of late.

On the book Milansbar is weighted to finish ahead of Cogry but I'm hoping quicker ground will help the Twiston-Davies inmate. Cogry (7/1 Ladbrokes one fifth the odds four places) is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, January 04, 2019

The Veterans' Chase Final at Sandown

Small fields for the most part at Sandown tomorrow.

Ed Chamberlin won't be the only one desperate to see the Irish-trained mare Laurina, currently as low as 7/2 with several layers for the Champion Hurdle, make her seasonal debut at 1.50. She faces just three opponents.

Thirty five minutes later six face the starter for the Tolworth. Seven days ago at Newbury the Challow turned into something of a tactical affair; here both Elixir De Nutz and Southfield Stone have made all previously so, hopefully, we'll see a truly run race.

By contrast seventeen runners have been declared for the Veterans' Handicap Chase at 3.00. 

Those looking for an unexposed type in this sort of race might usually expect to have their work cut out but market leader Rock Gone has relatively low mileage on the clock with just six chase starts to his name; he has never won over this trip.

Sam Twiston-Davies rides for Dr Richard Newland and I'm assuming Sam has chosen Rock Gone, having also ridden the favourite's stablemate Band Of Blood when fourth behind Cultram Abbey at Kelso last month. 

Cultram Abbey was raised five pounds for that effort but he looked good. He has done a lot of his racing around Perth and Carlisle.

Charlie Longsdon saddles Pete The Feat and Loose Chips who finished first and third respectively in the 2017 renewal; both clearly love it around here and hold each-way chances.

Aged 15, the former is the oldest runner in the race while the latter beat Rock Gone over this course and distance in November (Rathlin Rose fourth, Pete The Feat seventh, Tenor Nivernais ninth and Theatre Guide tenth) and now meets the second eight pounds worse off.

Rathlin Rose would be expected to come on for that fourth behind Loose Chips on his seasonal debut and has also been dropped two pounds to a mark of 130. Last March Rathlin Rose won at Ascot off 128 with Houblon Des Obeaux third, Loose Chips fourth and Band Of Blood fifth.

Buywise came home in front last year (Pete The Feat second, Loose Chips fifth and Houblon Des Obeaux sixth) but he has always been a horse that takes at least one liberty at the obstacles in his races.

With the covers down and the going on the chase track currently described as good to soft, soft in places, good in places on the back straight, underfoot conditions may not be quite as testing as in some previous years. 

Course and distance winner Le Reve is likely to appreciate better ground and that comment may also apply to top weight Exitas and Houblon Des Obeaux who appeared to get stuck in the mud behind Daklondike at Haydock last time. Although apparently unfancied in the market, Venetia Williams' charge is there with every chance on Racing Post ratings and the stable is in very good form.

Henlan Harri likes it here, will appreciate the better ground and has gone well after a layoff in the past but the stable hasn't had a winner for 24 days.

A wide open event and, of course, it's possible to make a case for several in the field. 

I'm tempted by Band Of Blood who should certainly finish closer to Cultram Abbey but Sam Twiston-Davies is clearly keen on Rock Gone so I'm going to take an each-way interest in Houblon Des Obeaux, sixth in this race last year off 143, beaten under 12 lengths. Paddy Power offer 20/1 and pay one fifth the odds six places.

A quick footnote on Plumpton's card on Sunday. The novice chase at 1.10 should prove highly informative while my New Year's Day each-way selection Big Meadow tries again in the Sussex National after unseating at the first at Exeter. Richard Johnson rides but the drying ground is still the negative.

Monday, December 31, 2018

An each-way play for New Year's Day

I've been working through the Exeter card for some friends and family and thought I'd very quickly share thoughts on the 2.25.

Eleven declared but in my opinion a number may struggle to see out three miles in soft ground at a stiff track like Exeter - includes Duke Des Champs, The Bay Birch, Le Boizelo and Major Hindrance (beat Le Boizelo in 3.35 race last year run over 2m 3f) while Run To Milan still has to prove he will stay this trip in these conditions.

Of the remainder, Mustmeetalady and previous course and distance winner Wizards Bridge have been inconsistent of late while Blameitalonmyroots is in 'the last chance saloon' according to trainer Oliver Sherwood.

In his last two runs Court Frontier has become detached before staying on towards the finish.

It's not surprising therefore to see Achille given a favourite's chance with the stable in such fine form and Hugh Nugent claiming seven.

I'm going to take an each-way interest in Big Meadow (12/1 bet365) who won off this mark this time last year; I'm just  hoping the ground hasn't dried out too much.

Let me take this opportunity to wish all readers a very happy and prosperous new year.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Champ for the Challow?

As there are just seven declared, I've spent most of this afternoon trying to come up with one to turn over Champ in the Challow (Newbury 3.00) and, to be honest with you, I'm beginning to think my time would have been more productively spent sat in a five mile tailback on the M1.

On Racing Post ratings market leader Champ has a minimum of ten pounds in hand over his rivals. In the past decade the favourite has come home in front on five occasions.

Champ's course and distance win in a handicap hurdle on soft ground here four weeks ago sets a high standard and his opponents will need to show improvement to be competitive. Still, he didn't look the easiest of rides last time, pulling his way to the front after five flights and staying on dourly at the head of affairs. Conditions are likely to be a little less testing tomorrow.

Connections clearly hold Brewin'Upastorm in high regard. Beaten four lengths in a Listed bumper here last February the gelding won nicely at Huntingdon last time and steps up in class and trip. In the Weekender Straight from the Stable tour (14-18.11.18) handler Olly Murphy said:

'He isn't a big, scopey horse but has the makings of a smart hurdler... He'll definitely want 2m 4f in time, but he'll stick to 2m for that first run and will be fit enough to do himself justice [Huntingdon win], although he'll improve for the run.'

There looked more to come from Getaway Trump when he won a novice hurdle by five lengths at Exeter three weeks ago. He showed a smart turn of foot on heavy ground that day and stable form is red hot. He was beaten 28 lengths by Senior Citizen at Chepstow on his seasonal debut but that form should be treated with caution as he stumbled three out and could not recover.

Kateson won over course and distance with something in hand last time. In the Weekender Straight from the Stable tour (07-11.11.18) Tom Lacey said:

'His owners have mentioned that they'd love to run him at Cheltenham in March, with the Albert Bartlett the preferred target, but he must take us there as I won't drop him in above his grade. I hope he'll progress to that level by the spring.'   

There's a hint he would ideally prefer softer ground.

On a line through Vinndication, Coolanly has some four and a half lengths to find with Champ which isn't necessarily reflected in the market prices on offer. Fergal O'Brien's charge fell on his seasonal debut and then raced noticeably wide when winning at Cheltenham six weeks ago. The stable won last year's renewal with Poetic Rhythm (15/8f) although Adrian Heskin very nearly pinched it on Mulcahys Hill.

Alsa Mix surprised connections when beating the boys at Sandown three weeks ago. She benefits from her mare's allowance here but trainer Alan King admits this is 'a tough ask'. I didn't come across any fillies or mares amongst the recent winners - I couldn't say for certain whether a mare or filly has ever won this contest.

Nestor Park was beaten over 14 lengths by Coolanly on his penultimate run but settled better to win at Warwick last month. On the Listed bumper form of last February. Ben Pauling's charge has just one length to find with second favourite Brewin'Upastorm.

You pay your money and takes your chance. Brewin'Upastorm (11/2) would be my win play against the short-priced favourite but I note that SkyBet are the only layers to pay three places one fifth the odds.

Coolanly (6/1 each-way with Sky Bet) is the suggestion.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The trouble with Christmas...

The trouble with Christmas - there are simply too many distractions and as a consequence one's form study suffers.

A couple of each-way Boxing Day longshots I'm going to mull over during Christmas dinner...

Double Shuffle (40/1) in a vintage renewal of of the King George (3.05 Kempton) on the back of his one length second to Might Bite in last year's race.

Allyson Monterg (11/1) in the Rowland Meyrick (2.10 Wetherby). Just eight declared and they'd all need to start for the bookies to pay three places but 14/1 has long since disappeared. Was pulled up behind Presenting Percy in the RSA and came home seventh beaten a long way by Sizing Tennessee in the Ladbroke Trophy. I note that in the past decade all winners have been aged either seven or eight apart form According To Pete in 2011 and that in the same timeframe only two winners have carried more than 11-0 to victory - Cape Tribulation (2012) and Dolatulo (2014); Captain Chaos and Crosspark fit the required profile.

Food for thought.

Very best wishes to all readers this Christmas time.

Friday, December 21, 2018

A gift horse at Christmas

Why, only the other day I turned to Beeves, my butler, and cried in complete exasperation, 'Examples of outstanding customer service are just so extremely rare these days!'

And then this happened.

It was a miserable night and a howling gale was blowing outside. I'd sent Beeves on an extraneous errand to source some cat worming tablets - we don't have a cat - when there came a loud knock at the front door. 'What's this,' I wondered to myself, 'the start of another Christmas ghost story?' It was a man from DHL. Spooky indeed.

He handed over a rather weighty package - I guessed it contained at least one bottle - and asked me to confirm the address was correct. The parcel was addressed to my wife so I quickly confirmed we were indeed the intended recipients.

After five unsuccessful attempts at spelling the surname, the man from DHL passed me his portable device, I signed it 'B. Blenkinsop', and with this unexpected package safely secure in my possession I dashed into the kitchen to inspect its contents.

The sturdy packaging, emblazoned with M&S logos on all sides, was duly opened by my wife to reveal a bottle of red, a bottle of white ('whatever mood you're in tonight') and a bottle of rosé too - all in a stunning presentation box!

Now, the sort of people I know aren't generally given to such largesse, even in the season of goodwill, but working on the assumption you should never look a gift horse in the mouth, I was all for cracking open the red there and then and setting down to a cosy night in in front of a roaring fire while the gale raged outside.

My wife though has a particular eye for the detail (especially when I happen to be engaged in a minor deception of some description) and from past experience I could just sense there was a problem brewing. The fears were confirmed when she curtly announced, 'There's a problem.'

My teensy-weensy, tentative suggestion that we at least consumed the contents of one of the bottles before asking too many questions received short shrift.

It transpired that although the package appeared correctly addressed, the accompanying Christmas message indicated its bacchanalian contents were not actually intended for my wife or me at all, but for my mother and father-in-law. My wife's sister, in a moment of festive forgetfulness, had selected the wrong shipping address for her order.

Oh dear. An easy enough mistake to make, yes, but it led to much angst and several conversations ensued.

Eventually a phone call to the Marks & Spencer Customer Service department brought about the following resolution.

M&S would send a replacement package to mother and father-in-law, completely free of charge, while we retained the presentation box containing the bottles of red, white and rosé that I'd inexplicably become rather attached to.

Of course I fully recognise Christmas is a time for families everywhere but this rather propitious outcome means I shall be drinking my in-laws' wine free of charge while they're situated some 250 miles away at the other end of the country. It's starting to feel like a really special Christmas already and, to be honest, I'd be hard pushed to see it getting that much better.

Thank you Marks and Spencer for your outstanding customer service this Christmas.

Occasional readers hoping for similar levels of largesse from this week's blog post should note that last week's selection obliged at odds of 7/1 and, as I haven't tipped two consecutive winners since the last time someone mistakenly sent my wife three bottles of wine, it's reasonably safe to assume you've missed the festive boat, so to speak.

Usually at this time of year I like a bet in the JLT Hurdle (2.25 Ascot) but this renewal looks decidedly trappy and with much of the value gone, I'll watch from the sidelines.

Nicky Henderson saddles three, all making their seasonal debuts; Call Me Lord tries three miles for the first time while Top Notch is the biggest price of the trio but this evening the Racing Post reports the gelding was 'knocked sideways' by a flu vaccination six or eight weeks ago. Last year's winner Sam Spinner would be my idea of the winner and he has been well tipped up but he was beaten fair and square by Unowhatimeanharry (in receipt of six pounds) last time and connections have now decided to try cheekpieces.

Twelve have been declared for the Tommy Whittle (Haydock 2.40) where the going is described as soft, heavy in places. Three of the field wouldn't be guaranteed to stay - Clan Legend, Whoshotwho and Ballyarthur.

The last horse older than eight to come home in front was Chives in 2004.

Kimberlite Candy won over three miles at Ayr seven weeks ago and heads the market. In his stable tour (Weekender 07-11.11.18) handler Tom Lacey described his charge as 'inconsistent' and said, '...I'd admit he could be a hard horse to catch right.'

There has been market support for Rocklander while Duel At Dawn looks to face a stiff task on his seasonal debut. Daklondike is of some interest in a first time visor; I'm just left with the impression he isn't the easiest ride.

Sharp Response ran well to finish fourth behind Lake View Lad in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle three weeks ago (third Otago Trail declared in the Garrard Silver Cup at Ascot) with the Trevor Hemmings owned Testify finishing a tailed-off sixth. Donald McCain's charge is entitled to come on for that first run after wind surgery but he will certainly need to carrying top weight here.

Top weight on heavy ground often spells trouble but I note that both Cannington Brook (2012) and Seventh Sky (2015) won carrying that same weight on heavy ground.

At the time of writing BetVictor offer 9/1 Testify and pay one fifth the odds four places. 

Previous course winner Testify is the festive each-way suggestion.

Now, what did I do with that corkscrew...

Friday, December 14, 2018

Whips and tips

Following the untimely passing of The Times' racing correspondent Alan Lee in 2015, readers noticed a marked decrease in the number of column inches the paper was prepared to devote to horse racing matters.

Perhaps in an attempt to redress the balance in some way, on Wednesday columnist Matthew Syed, currently reading the Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, wrote an article entitled 'Whipping horses is ruining racing. It must be banned' in which he affirmed:

'Horses are being thrashed with whips at meetings up and down the country...'

Now, clearly there is a debate to be had about the whip and its use in racing but this particular article really did not help the cause and its publication whipped up something of a storm in racing circles. Onwards and upwards as they say...

The highlight on tomorrow's card at Cheltenham is the Caspar Caviar Gold Cup run over the New Course at 1.55; fifteen have been declared with the going described as good but rain has been forecast from seven o'clock tomorrow morning.

Four weeks ago Baron Alco beat my each-way selection Frodon over the Old Course here in the BetVictor Gold Cup (Guitar Pete third, Rather Be brought down, Romain De Senam unseated rider and Splash Of Ginge pulled up).

I'd be wary about taking a literal reading of that form as those that raced from the front missed the traffic problems behind - just six of the eighteen starters completed.

Top weight Frodon was obliged to concede at least nine pounds to all his opponents that day; tomorrow he has to concede at least 12 pounds to the rest of the field. Paul Nicholls' charge won the 2016 renewal of this race off a mark of 149 carrying 10-10; tomorrow he races off 164.

In the past decade Poquelin is the only horse to win with an official handicap rating above 150; he won off 151 in 2009 and 163 in 2010. In the same timeframe no horse older than eight has come home in front.

At the prices previous course and distance winner Foxtail Hill (16/1) makes some appeal. The Twiston-Davies inmate gave a hint of a return to form last time but the forecast rain is a worry so in search of a wager I've looked at the Unibet International Hurdle at 3.05.

Laurina hasn't come over from Ireland on account of the ground and Nicky Henderson has indicated Call Me Lord prefers to race right-handed so is likely to go to Ascot next week where he holds entries in the Long Walk and the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle.

That leaves just the eight runners and a fairly open-looking affair.

The Supreme winner at the Festival Summerville Boy is priced up favourite but his run in the Fighting Fifth a fortnight ago behind Buvuer D'Air (Vision Des Flos third) was most disappointing.

There are two previous winners in the field - The New One and Old Guard.

The former was beaten 25 lengths by Silver Streak last time; he wears a first-time visor tomorrow and would have every chance if returning to form but connections have indicated their charge will be retired if he doesn't show some sparkle. The latter would probably prefer a little further.

Nietzsche beat Silver Streak a head in the Greatwood here four weeks ago with Old Guard third and Western Ryder fifth. Silver Streak is certainly on the upgrade while Western Ryder's chance in first-time cheekpieces is also respected.

However on ratings the stand-out runner is Brain Power who receives weight from six of his seven rivals.

He hasn't really taken to chasing so I'm hoping a return to the smaller obstacles gets his career back on track. This is his second run since wind surgery in the summer; he finished eighth behind Buveur D'Air in the 2017 Champion Hurdle and was given an official handicap mark of 162.

Nicky Henderson's other runner We Have A Dream looks to face a difficult task with his stable companion on these terms.

Obviously I'm assuming a return to the smaller obstacles brings about a return to form - Brain Power (7/1 with Paddy Power and Betfair) is the win selection.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Becher Chase 2018

In search of a (seasonal) Saturday wager I've been browsing through runners in the London National (Sandown 3.35), the Welsh National Trial (Chepstow 2.35) and the Becher Chase (Aintree 1.30).

Ramses De Teillee, fifth behind Present Man in the Badger Ales last time on ground that wouldn't necessarily have suited, looks to have conditions in his favour at Chepstow on this his second start after a wind operation - he's the one to beat and is priced accordingly.

In a race where five of the ten runners boast course and distance winning form, I thought I had a potential angle with Another Venture; quoting from Kim Bailey's Straight from the Stable tour (Weekender 24-28.10.18):

"...he'll be all about those long-distance staying handicaps this season. I'm sure there's a good one in him somewhere, although he'd want the ground riding very soft." 

Unfortunately the layers aren't showing too much Christmas spirit - 7/1 generally, 9/1 Paddy Power - so I'm off to Aintree instead for the Becher Chase which is run over the National fences.

Eighteen are set to face the starter including former winners Highland Lodge, Vieux Lion Rouge and Blaklion. The bottom four race from out of the handicap; the going is currently described as soft.

In the past ten years only two horses have carried more than 11-0 to victory - Vic Venturi (11-12 in 2009) and Blaklion (11-6 last year).

In the same timeframe just two winners have been returned bigger than 14/1 - Oscar Time (25/1 in 2014) and Highland Lodge (20/1 in 2015).

Nigel Twiston-Davies' pair, Blaklion and Ballyoptic, find themselves at the head of the market while both Gordon Elliott runners have been off the track a long time. James Moffat sends down Just A Par along with Highland Lodge from his Cartmel base.

I've seen Crosshue Boy tipped up in a couple of places but on Racing Post ratings this one has something to find with a few of these while Present Man has done the majority of his racing on right-handed tracks.

For this race I tend to prefer one with form over the fences and the one I like with less than 11-0 is 2016 winner Vieux Lion Rouge.

Part-owned by Professor Caroline Tisdall (who 'supports the IJF' according to the naming of the first at Chepstow), the gelding was beaten some 65 lengths into seventh by Blaklion last year but at least starts tomorrow off a mark six pounds lower.

'Not likely to make too much of a difference!' I can hear you cry but, hey, he has undergone wind surgery since last at the track, sports a first-time tongue tie and, to date, has at least managed to complete every time he has tackled these fences.

Of the others Ultragold has stand-out form over these obstacles but races beyond three miles for the first time. On his two attempts at three miles to date he finished ninth behind Go Conquer at Ascot (November 2017) and fourth of six behind Dinons in a novices' hurdle at Cheltenham at the end of October.

Those who want a bigger price may think Regal Flow worthy of a second look.

Bob Buckler's charge won the Midlands Grand National on heavy at Uttoxeter in March before coming home tenth in the Scottish National. His two runs since should have put him spot on - my reservation is he has no form over these fences.

Oddschecker tells me William Hill is paying one fifth the odds seven places; at 9/1 Vieux Lion Rouge is the each-way selection.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Ladbrokes Trophy Chase 2018

Whisper it quietly but this year's Ladbrokes Trophy (Newbury 3.00) looks a little, dare I say it,  lacklustre with only 13 set to face the starter; connections of Kemboy were forced to stay at home after Thursday's scheduled sailing across the Irish Sea was cancelled.

At the head of the market the layers look to have their pricing roughly right about Thomas Patrick, Elegant Escape and Ms Parfois.

Elegant Escape beat Thomas Patrick at Sandown three weeks ago and collects a four pounds penalty for his trouble; both sets of connections will expect improvement - on the revised terms the latter can certainly reverse the form but I note Elegant Escape, third in the RSA last March, had a wind operation during the summer.

Ms Parfois, placed in six of her seven chase starts to date, has her first run since wind surgery in August. Handler Anthony Honeyball sent out Regal Encore to finish third in this race last year at the rewarding odds of 66/1; he comments in this week's Straight from the Stable tour in the Weekender:

"...I'm happy we've done plenty of work with her, including a racecourse gallop at Newbury last week with Regal Encore, and she's ready to run a big race. The only issue is the ground as she wants it soft or heavy, so we're keen to see plenty of rain this week. Given the right conditions it will be a real slog and she'll be jumping well and keeping going when others have stopped."

Traditionally this has proved a strong trends race. No winner has been rated lower than 146 in the past decade which eliminates The Young Master, Flying Angel, Allyson Monterg and West Approach.

The last horse older than nine to come home in front was Diamond Edge in 1981 so on those grounds I'm going to discount Sizing Tennessee as well which leaves eight runners from which to find some value.

The Alan King trained Dingo Dollar, tipped up by Paul Kealy, seems popular but, reading between the lines, I'm not convinced King really believes his charge has the class to come home in front.

Black Corton appears to have a stiff task off top weight while I always think Go Conquer is a better horse at Ascot.

The two I'm looking at are American and Beware The Bear.

American is a talented but fragile individual with low mileage on the clock. He was sent off 5/1 second favourite for this last year but was pulled up after jumping poorly throughout; afterwards the vet reported the gelding had lost his left fore shoe and suffered an overreach on his left fore.

56 days later Harry Fry's charge split Definitly Red and Bristol De Mai in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham - that form that reads very well.

He clearly comes with risks attached - his nine wins to date have all come in fields with less than ten runners, there's the suspicion the ground won't be soft enough and last year's effort remains a big worry but he tries off a mark three pounds lower this year and his amateur rider can claim another five. Speaking to the Racing Post Fry says:

"He's been easier to train this time around and we deliberately didn't let him down completely over the summer."

Beware The Bear won the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle on this day last year and at 16/1 in places he looks a big price for a Nicky Henderson trained runner. His overall profile doesn't totally convince and a quick look through the form suggests his jumping can cause problems on occasions.

He's another who underwent wind surgery during the summer and connections have decided to come here as they report their charge in rude health. Jerry McGrath's mount will also sport cheekpieces for the first time.

The current going on the chase course is reported good to soft, soft in places and the BBC forecast an 80% chance of further rain during the morning.

At the time of writing Unibet stand out offering 14/1 American and are paying one fifth the odds four places.

American is the each-way selection.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Black Friday, tomorrow's Saturday...

Bookmakers just can't resist it, can they? Getting in on the act, that is. Seen here and there in places today:

"Black Friday - the only sale where the prices go up!"

Quick, I need one of me tablets.

The weekend highlight is the Betfair Chase at Haydock (3.00). The field of five includes Gold Cup adversaries Native River and Might Bite but earlier today Nigel Twiston-Davies, fearing drying ground, indicated he would walk the course tomorrow morning before making a decision on Bristol De Mai's participation. A race to watch and savour.

Some observers think First Assignment is a bit of a good thing in the Betfair Exchange Stayers' Hurdle (2.25) at the same track. Ian Williams' charge won as he liked at Cheltenham last Saturday; he has been raised five pounds but is due to go up another eight so is, theoretically, eight pounds well in.

I'd advise caution before rushing upstairs to raid the kids' piggy banks. Last week Mr Williams made it crystal clear this horse doesn't take a lot of racing:

"He's not a really robust horse you'd be rubbing your hands with and saying we'll have a real go next week."

I certainly wouldn't be tempted by 6/4 and was considering an each-way wager on the Tom Symonds trained Bobo Mac - that was until I read this note from his handler:

"I'll have a look at the ground when I get to Haydock as he wouldn't want quick ground because I don't think he performs at his best on it."

With that cunning plan thwarted, I'm off to Ascot instead where the going is described as good, good to soft in places.

Thirteen have been declared for the Gerard Bertrand Hurst Park Handicap Chase (3.15). At the time of writing Cyrname and Modus are vying for favouritism; the former likes to race from the front and wouldn't be guaranteed to have it all his own way in this field while the latter beat Duke Of Navan a head at Cheltenham last time but wouldn't be one to trust implicitly.

Four in the field make their seasonal debuts - Speredek, Theinval, Gardefort and Valdez - and may just be vulnerable to race-fit rivals.

In the Weekender Alan King indicates Valdez 'needs rain' and is 'ground dependent' while this looks a tough enough ask for novices Caid Du Lin (four chase starts to date) and One For Billy (six chase starts).

In the Haldon Gold Cup 18 days ago Ozzie The Oscar was beaten half a length by Gods Own with San Benedeto a further seven lengths adrift in third. On revised terms San Benedeto should finish a little closer but there can be no denying that was a bit disappointing from Paul Nicholls' charge.

Prior to that the gelding had rolled in last of six behind Verdana Blue in a Kempton hurdle; in formbook notes Sandra Noble wrote:

"San Benedeto will need to improve markedly on this run if he is to get competitive in his next reported target of the Haldon Gold Cup..."

So I'm starting to think perhaps, just perhaps, there's a bit more to come...

At Exeter he was bang there before making an error at the third last and I'm hoping that run has put him spot on.

A previous course and distance winner, he went off 2/1 favourite for this race last year and was beaten two lengths into fourth off a mark of 157; tomorrow he starts off 152 and is the one to beat on Racing Post ratings.

Ozzie The Oscar is respected but with both Paddy Power and Betfair offering 11/1 and paying one fifth the odds four places San Benedeto is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 16, 2018

BetVictor Gold Cup 2018

I'd never go so far as to class myself a royalist but I've always felt an area where Her Majesty The Queen acts as a shining example to all of her subjects is the manner in which she uses horse racing as a form of escape from the trials and tribulations encountered doing the day job.

That said, somehow I don't think we're going to see Theresa May turning up at Prestbury Park over the weekend.

The highlight on tomorrow's card is the BetVictor Gold Cup run on the old course over a trip of two and a half miles; twenty have been declared with the race due off at 2.25 - the going is described as good, good to soft in places.

Splash Of Ginge won last year's renewal off a mark of 134. Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge starts seven pounds higher this time and is now ten.

The last horse older than nine to come home in front was Clear Cut in 1975 and since the race's inception as the Mackeson Gold Cup in 1960 only two other horses in that age bracket have won - Fortria in 1962 and Charlie Worcester in 1967.

Market leaders Rather Be and Mister Whitaker fought out a ding-dong battle in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at The Festival in March, the latter prevailing by a head. Nine pounds better off Rather Be might be expected to reverse the form but Mr Whitaker has a recent run under his belt while Rather Be makes his seasonal debut; they look closely matched.

Paul Kealy tips up Kalondra in the Weekender, arguing Neil Mulholland's inmate was in the process of running a huge race when coming to grief two out behind Sub Lieutenant at Galway in August. A previous winner at this track Kalondra could be up to ten pounds well in off his current mark and has been given time to recover from that fall.

Joint top-rated on Racing Post ratings, Baron Alco is a consistent front-runner who was beaten a head on his comeback at Chepstow last month. I've seen him put up here and there but prior to that Chepstow effort he had been on the sidelines for some 19 months and I'd just be worried he could 'bounce' here. At the time of writing stablemate Benatar is the shorter priced.

King's Socks boasts smart French form and has been on several lists of horses to follow for a while now. He hasn't quite lived up to the high expectations but has undergone a wind operation since last seen and races in a tongue-tie for the first time. Between 2000 and 2006 Martin Pipe, David's father, won six of the seven renewals of this race.

West Approach raced pretty keenly here last time out, eventually finishing third behind Relentless Dreamer over three miles. I suspect he'll benefit with that freshness out of the way and I like Dickie Johnson on a front-runner but I'm not convinced the step back in trip will suit.

With any potential selection for this race I like to see winning form at this track and only six match the required criteria: Kalondra, Mister Whitaker, Ballyandy, Frodon, Guitar Pete, Shantou Village and last year's winner Splash Of Ginge.

Guitar Pete was ninth in this last year and then won the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in December although Starchitect appeared to have the spoils in the bag that day before breaking down when seven lengths clear. Brian Hughes rides tomorrow; he could run well at odds of 33/1.

However the one I'm going to make a case for is top weight Frodon. Firstly, let me get the bad news out of the way. Paul Nicholls' runner has to give a minimum of nine pounds to his opponents and I admit it does look a pretty big ask.

In 2012 Al Ferof won for Nicholls off a rating of 159 carrying 11-8; in 2016 Taquin Du Seuil won off a rating of 156 carrying 11-11. The last horse to carry more than 11-11 to victory was Very Promising in 1986 (David Nicholson trained, Richard Dunwoody up).

That said, Frodon took the Old Roan Chase at Aintree (Javert second) last month. He starts three pounds higher tomorrow on 161 (six pounds higher if Bryony Frost's claim is taken into consideration) but afterwards connections indicated their charge wasn't 'hard fit' - I saw one estimate he was 80% ready.

So I'm hopeful there's some more to come on this his second run after a wind operation and he's joint top on Racing Post ratings. He doesn't boast the most consistent of profiles but the 17 length defeat of Shantou Village here in January reads well; the two appear closely matched on these revised terms.

I can't help but feel a little like Bingo Little in a P.G.Wodehouse scrape (PG's Tips does PG Wodehouse) and that invariably ends in disaster but, just look, the sponsors are paying one fifth the odds six places and Paddy Power one fifth the odds seven places!

Frodon is the each-way selection at 18/1 with Paddy Power.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Badger Ales Trophy 2018

Earlier in the week the Charlie Appleby trained Cross Counter gave Britain its first win in the Melbourne Cup. A piece in The Times on Monday highlighted the chance of Magic Circle but in the event Ian Williams' charge came home sixteenth after breaking a blood vessel. Nonetheless this particular snippet caught my eye:

"Ian Williams has the distinction of being the only trainer to have had a winner at every course in Britain." 

Former England footballer John Barnes was the guest of honour at Warwick's Sporting Icon Raceday today.

It's well known that the back straight at Warwick provides a stiff test for a novice chaser but 1/4 favourite Kalashnikov rifled over the fences and through his opposition to win very easily; he is now quoted as low as 9/2 for the Arkle at Cheltenham in March.

Rather more difficult to predict was the victory of L'Es Fremantle at Market Rasen yesterday. Rachael McDonald produced the 80/1 chance to pip Miss Lilly Pinchin on Follow The Swallow near the line to record the horse's first win at the 56th time of asking and give trainer Michael Chapman his first win for two years. Marvellous stuff.

There's plenty of rain and small fields about this evening; one exception is the Badger Ales Trophy Handicap Chase, the highlight at Wincanton, where sixteen have been declared to face the starter. At the time of writing the going at the Somerset track is good to firm, good in places, but that may well change before the off at 3.35.

Two of Paul Nicholls' runners vie for favouritism - Present Man and El Bandit. The former won this last year with Bryony Frost up and the pairing try to repeat the feat twelve months on off a mark just two pounds higher. The latter returns to the track after a spell of 543 days on the sidelines and has just one chase start to his name - the price being offered by the bookmakers looks distinctly short.

Thirteen days ago Bigbadjohn won here over a longer trip (Sumkindofking third) and, just two pounds higher tomorrow, he has obvious claims.

Nicholls' third runner Captain Buck's was beaten by Aunty Ann over course and distance last time out but could reverse the placings three pounds better off. I note that Harry Cobden rides El Bandit.

Ramses De Teillee has shown his best form on soft / heavy ground (which may yet come to pass) while the blinkers worked their magic on Allelu Alleluia last time but this is his first try beyond two miles seven furlongs.

Both Belmount (at Exeter) and Kings Lad (at Ascot) look to have had hard enough races in the past week.

In search of an each-way wager I've considered the two Charlie Longsdon runners - Aunty Ann and Bestwork - along with Sam Red and Sumkindofking.

On bits and pieces of form the 40/1 Paddy Power offers about Bestwork looks big but on balance his profile is a shade too inconsistent and he was pulled up on his first try beyond three miles last time out.

Aunty Ann will stay (as aunties often do) and the mare's course and distance win last time reads well but she races off a career high of 128 and her three chase victories to date have all come in fields with less than ten runners.

I like the profile of Sumkindofking (fifth in the Summer Plate at Market Rasen), a consistent sort, but it's difficult to see him reversing form with Bigbadjohn - that effort was his first try beyond two miles five and a half.

Sam Red was certainly very fortunate to win at Cheltenham the other day (Oighear Dubh well in command after the last before running out through the tapes) but this time last year Sam was racing off a mark of 137 whereas tomorrow he goes off 122 and amateur rider Mr William Marshall claims another seven; good ground looks important to him.

Sky Bet and Paddy Power both offer 16/1 about Sam Red and pay one fifth the odds five places.

Sam Red is the each-way selection.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Walter Sickert, Laurence Robertson and an each-way chance at the Ascot races...

Samcro suffered a shock defeat over in Ireland earlier today and, unfortunately, there just hasn't been enough rain around Wetherby with the result that both Thistlecrack and Bristol De Mai never made the final declaration stage for tomorrow's Charlie Hall Chase (2.40); Regal Encore has since been declared a non-runner.

At the time of writing there are four left standing - Black Corton, Double Shuffle, Definitly Red and Virgilio. The going at the Yorkshire track was changed from good to good, good to firm in places after the second race on today's card.

Over at Ascot I've concentrated on the listed 'Bet With Ascot Handicap Hurdle' (3.00) for which nine have been declared.

Market leader Global Citizen makes his seasonal debut here and was impressive winning the Dovecote at Kempton in February, eased-down to finish nine lengths ahead of Scarlet Dragon (beaten four and a half lengths into third in the Group 3 St Simon Stakes at Newbury last Saturday).

Magic Dancer was sent off  9/2 favourite for what looked a competitive handicap hurdle at Cheltenham last Friday. In the event Kerry Lee's charge was beaten by very easy winner Storm Rising who went in again this afternoon running off the same mark at odds of 2/5f (Wetherby 3.40).

Simply The Betts first came to my attention in the Supreme Scottish Trial Novices' Hurdle at Musselburgh, beaten a neck by Beyond The Clouds with Claimantakinforgan adrift in third (although Nicky Henderson's charge didn't run his race that day).  Simply went on to finish tenth in the Supreme at Cheltenham and has blown away any cobwebs with victory at Hexham three weeks ago; his chance is respected.

Sent off favourite for the 2017 Fred Winter, Divin Bere was beaten a neck into second by Flying Tiger. He subsequently finished second to Defi Du Seuil at Aintree but last season was something of a write-off - he finished well down the field at this track in the Grade 3 Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle (formerly the Ladbroke) and was then pulled up in both the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.

After a wind operation Paul Nicholls' charge returned to the track to win a handicap on the Flat at Bath two and a half weeks ago, finishing one and a half lengths ahead of Walter Sickert (the artist forever associated with 'The Camden Town Murder'). This one is bang there if back to his very best and is joint top-rated with Magic Dancer on Racing Post ratings.

In the current edition of the Weekender Alan King appears a tad lukewarm about Fidux and is contemplating chasing (although the handler admits 'he's not the biggest'):

"He'd been dropped a bit in the weights [before his Southwell win], but he's back up to 135 so he won't find it easy."

This looks a tough ask for four-year-old Sussex Ranger but Nicky Richards' Caius Marcius is of interest. His latest defeat of Theclockisticking by 11 lengths in a listed event at Market Rasen reads well; in the Weekender Stable Tour 17-21.10.18 the handler said:

"He's gone up 13lb for that, which I think is a bit harsh, so he'll have to progress again, but I think there's more to come and the handicapper doesn't often get it wrong."  

The stats show that no horse older than six has won this race in the past ten years so as a seven-year-old Caius Marcius doesn't have the perfect profile but at 12/1 with both Paddy Power and Betfair at the time of writing Caius Marcius is the each-way selection.

On the same card I'll watch Amour De Nuit in the 1.50 and Fubar and Emitom in the concluding bumper.

I saw Amour De Nuit win a match at Ludlow last week with the absolute minimum of fuss and the race here should be run to suit while Fubar looked unlucky the last day when slipping up but still managing to finish second.

The layers appear to have factored that in to their price but Kim Bailey's charge is unlikely to have things all his own way going by Warren Greatrex's opinion of Emitom on the Sporting Life website:

"He's won his only outing in a Warwick bumper back in April. It didn't come as a huge shock to us as he'd been showing all the right signs at home and he travelled really well.

The form isn't much to write home about but he won pretty well and if we've got a novice hurdler that could go to the top then it might just be him.

Put it this way, he's in Cole Harden's box so he's obviously got a lot to live up to!"

Finally, I don't know about you but I've never really been tempted to take a gamble on a career in politics, what with Brexit and all that sort of stuff. That was until I heard that Tewkesbury MP Laurence Robertson had received £7,433 worth of free tickets, all for horse racing events.


Friday, October 26, 2018

From Ludlow to Cheltenham

Court Royale (4/1), Whin Park (6/4f) and New Agenda (6/1) ensured a successful day at Ludlow's Autumn Race Day meeting yesterday.

A colleague, clearly excited after Richard Johnson's front-running ride on New Agenda, mistakenly tore up his winning Tote ticket and was on the verge of throwing the pieces in the bin; he realised, just in time, that he was now holding a worthless piece of paper with the name Shazzamataz printed on it (fourth of the four runners in the preceding mares' novices' hurdle). Fortunately the helpful lady at the Tote window allowed him to put all the pieces of paper back together again so he could collect...

I have to make a quick observation about Pembroke House's price in the six runner 'The "A Plush Flush" Handicap Steeple Chase' at 2.45.

Going through the form the night before, Whin Park was priced up around the 7/4 mark with Pembroke House generally on offer at 5/2. I have absolutely no idea what happened during the the morning but on course Pembroke House opened at 14/1 and was steadily backed, eventually going off at 15/2. The Racing Post records 'op 8/1, tchd 7/1'.

In the event Sarah-Jayne Davies' charge was the only one to throw down a challenge to favourite Whin Park but the grey was unable to quicken coming to the last and was beaten two and a quarter lengths.

Drama at Cheltenham's first meeting of the autumn this afternoon with two separate instances of horses running out after jumping the last with a winning chance - One For Billy in the 2.35 and Oighear Dubh in the 4.55. It will be interesting to see what changes are introduced for tomorrow's card.

Here's a tentative suggestion for the first race on that card, the "Matchbook Betting Exchange" Handicap Chase at 2.00; seventeen are declared and there are several returning from a long break.

Nigel Twiston-Davies is known to target this meet while the David Pipe trained Dell' Arca has run well here in the past and may have a fitness edge after a noteworthy effort finishing fourth in the Kerry National last month.

I can't help but feel there should be more to come from West Approach and Doing Fine is one I have time for but I'm going to take a small each-way interest in Relentless Dreamer who finished fourth in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in April and then third in the listed Marston's Pedigree Summer Cup at Uttoxeter in July. Sky Bet and William Hill are both paying one fifth the odds six places and at the time of writing William Hill offers 14/1.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Early season temptations

Good Lord, it all seems decidedly early in the season to be talking Grand Nationals!

Gordon Elliott has sent Jury Duty and Clarcam over to contest the American Grand National at Far Hills in New Jersey. Other British runners in the field include Jaleo trained by Ben Pauling, Tornado Watch from the Emmet Mullins yard and Hammersly Lake trained by Charlie Longsdon.

The last-named has a race a little nearer to home named to wish him all the very best; eleven have been declared for tomorrow's 4.55 at Ffos Las: 'Hammersly Lake Good Luck in America Tonight Handicap Chase'.

Kempton's Sunday card is the best jumps action on this side of the Atlantic this weekend.

Only four have been declared for the listed 'Matchbook Time To Move Over Novices' Hurdle' at 3.05 but I'll be interested to see how Itchy Feet shapes up.

After his win at Southwell the last day trainer Olly Murphy said 'I wouldn't be afraid of going up in class with him'. Connections have certainly taken that jump up in class and on Racing Post Ratings Itchy Feet has some 20 lengths to find with likely favourite Leapaway who is going for the six-timer. At present the market is suggesting it's going to be competitive.

Two of the field in the handicap chase at 3.40 have had a recent run and the tissue this evening prices both around the 7/1 mark. Oliver's Hill won this race last year off a mark of 116 and will try to repeat the trick off a mark of 127 having got up to beat Peppay Le Pugh at Fontwell 15 days ago.

Valhalla has a mixed profile. His third behind Ontopoftheworld and I'dliketheoption at Newton Abbot at the beginning of the month was a decent pipe-opener although the winner that day has since been well beaten by Mercian King at Worcester. Colin Tizzard's string seems well forward - Mick Thonic (12/1) ran a creditable race from the front earlier today at Wincanton, beaten half a length by Equus Amadeus.

Last year Ballybolley beat Master Dee into third in the Prelude Handicap Chase (Market Rasen 4.00). The pair meet again this year with Connor Brace claiming ten pounds on Fergal O'Brien's charge. Only eight in the field but a very competitive affair nonetheless; Master Dee would have to be of interest at around 9/2.

To my mind the most interesting race of the day is the Smerdon Tree Novices' Chase (Ffos Las 3.55). I like the Tizzard-trained Vision Des Flos but he's a very short-priced favourite and this looks hot. A race to watch closely with the future in mind...

The temptations are there but I'm going to keep my powder dry for the long season ahead. And anyway, I'm off to Ludlow on Thursday!