Friday, December 03, 2021

Aintree December 2021 - an outsider for the finale

Some top class racing on offer tomorrow and I usually like a bet in the Becher Chase at Aintree but instead I'm going to take a chance on one in the finale at 3.15: the Unibet - 2021 Horserace Betting Operator Of The Year Handicap Hurdle.

Fifteen have been declared; the going is described as soft, good to soft in places.

A few in the field, having tried their luck over the bigger obstacles, now revert to hurdles. 

Both Midnight River and Carys' Commodity came to grief on their chase debut while Kateson beat Eternally Yours in this race last year off a mark of 134 but was well beaten in a novices' handicap chase here last time out.

Favourite Tamar Bridge made all to win a Wetherby novice hurdle in some style last time. 

His eight and a half length defeat of Bass Rock in a match at Ayr in March reads well as Bass Rock comfortably won a Class 2 handicap hurdle at Carlisle in October (Albert's Back 41 lengths adrift in sixth) and then ran creditably to finish third behind Dans Le Vent at Haydock a fortnight ago. Has Olly Murphy's charge been let in lightly on his first run in a handicap? 

Pounding Poet was second behind Mackelduff over course and distance last time out with Winningseverything fourth; the pair look closely matched once again. 

Winningseverything and Martinhal were withdrawn from the Haydock race won by Dans Le Vent on account of quick ground. Both should find underfoot conditions more to their liking here; Harry Fry's charge is fitted with a first-time tongue-tie.

Martinhal looks unexposed; his three wins to date have come at right-handed tracks (Exeter twice and Huntingdon). Back in January he beat Karl Philippe with the third that day, Gladiateur Allen, edging out Elixir De Nutz by a nose in a hot-looking novice chase on Haldon Hill this afternoon.

Elvis Mail has five pounds in hand of his chase rating but most of his runs have been around the two mile mark - a comment that also applies to Highway One O Two - while Storm Nelson makes a delayed seasonal debut following a dirty scope and doesn't look particularly well-handicapped.

Ballyandy isn't getting any younger but he could easily be competitive off a mark of 140 - and Finn Lambert claims ten pounds.

A difficult race in which it's possible to make the case for one or two at bigger prices; I'm going to chance Straw Fan Jack.

As well as training horses in Brecon, Sheila Lewis also owns and runs a beauty salon and she has made no secret of the fact that Straw Fan Jack is the apple of her eye. 

Conceding 11 pounds the grey was beaten a head by Fifty Ball in a novice handicap hurdle at Ascot (October 2020; Fifty Ball subsequently second in the 2021 Betfair Hurdle behind Soaring Glory) before winning a novice hurdle at this track by 30 lengths. 

Conceding 21 pounds he was beaten a head by Samba Dancer at Cheltenham on seasonal debut before finishing midfield in the Greatwood Hurdle three weeks ago. I think the track and trip here will suit better, as will the cut underfoot; the booking of Aidan Coleman catches the eye.

With Sky Bet paying five places and offering 14/1 at the time of writing, Straw Fan Jack is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 26, 2021

The 2021 Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury

As I'm off to the track tomorrow, I took the trouble to tune in to Racing TV's 'Newbury Gallops Morning' broadcast a week or so ago. 

Below, abbreviated comments on those declared for tomorrow's feature, the Ladbrokes Trophy (3.00); make of these notes whatever you will.

Copperhead: Likely to need the run.

Full Back: Has not always jumped well in the past (pulled up behind Remastered in the Reynoldstown).

Demachine: Good jumper, best fresh, trip a worry; outstayed by Remastered in the Reynoldstown.

Enrilo: Cobden tells trainer the horse doesn't want to pull up!

Kitty's Light: Prefers nice ground - found ground holding in the Charlie Hall. Bids to become the first five-year-old to win; not the biggest, will be 'conservatively' ridden towards the rear in the early stages. 

Brave Eagle: First run has put him right.

Alan King tells readers of the Weekender that Potterman is a genuine good ground horse and this race has been the target all season. Canelo has 'come on plenty' for his pipe-opener at Bangor 'though he'll probably progress again for another outing'.

21 are set to face the starter; the official going is currently described as good to soft, good in places (watered). 

The Irish challenge is spearheaded by Eklat De Rire and Munster National winner Ontheropes; at the time of writing Eklat De Rire has come in for significant support and is the clear market leader. 

Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore won last weekend's feature, the Betfair Chase at Haydock, with A Plus Tard and, no doubt, are hoping to repeat the trick this weekend. Relatively unexposed, the gelding could be anything with just four chase starts to his name;  most of his racing has been on soft or heavy ground.

Trained by Willie Mullins Ontheropes has undergone a similar preparation to Total Recall who stayed on strongly after the last to collar Whisper on the run-in to collect the spoils for connections in 2017.

Enrilo heads the challengers based this side of the Irish Sea. 

Back in April he passed the post first in the bet365 Chase at Sandown but was subsequently disqualified and placed third after hanging left and hampering Kitty's Light on the run to the line. The race was awarded to Potterman in the stewards' room but, with just threequarters of a length separating the trio on the line, Kitty's Light appeared unfortunate. They look closely matched once again; Enrilo worked well in last week's gallop at the track.

Team Tizzard endured a torrid time of it last year but the operation is in rude health this term.

Fiddlerontheroof finished second behind Monkfish in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at Cheltenham in March and looked impressive at Carlisle last month. To date Fiddler has finished in the first three on all eight chase starts.  

Last year Cloth Cap made all off a mark of 136 to win 10 lengths (The Hollow Ginge fourth, with Mister Malarky and Potterman unseating; Danny Whizzbang and Copperhead pulled up). He was subsequently sent off 11/2 favourite for the Grand National at Aintree and was bang there four from home before stopping quickly. The horse had reportedly 'choked' and four days later underwent wind surgery. Dropped two pounds after a pipe-opener at Cheltenham last month, he goes off 154 this year and his chance is respected.

Writing in the Weekender Alistair Jones highlights the importance of a good start and a prominent pitch in this race. That piece of advice strikes a particular personal chord - in recent years a number of my selections have been beaten by the time they've reached the first fence: Label Des Obeaux (2017); American (2018); and Daklondike (2019). Aye Right fared better last year in second.

Remastered would be of interest with more cut underfoot while it's possible to make a case for The Hollow Ginge and Mister Malarky. Both are inconsistent but The Hollow Ginge returned from his summer break in fine form at Cheltenham five weeks ago.

Of those at bigger prices, Brave Eagle (eighth behind De Rasher Counter in 2019 off 158) starts off a mark of 149 tomorrow and on ground that suits can run well at odds of 50/1. I'm also intrigued by Fortescue - trainer Henry Daly isn't known for running horses out of their grade.

Cloth Cap bids to join the likes of Mandarin, Arkle and Denman who have won this famous old race twice. Jonjo O'Neill's charge jumped well and won last year's renewal in a fast time; he'll encounter similar conditions tomorrow. 

Ideally I prefer a younger horse for this but at the time of writing the 14/1 on offer from Paddy Power is too much of a temptation.

Cloth Cap (14/1) is the each-way suggestion with Paddy Power paying six places.

A quick footnote to finish... 

I think two are certainly worthy of a second look in the handicap hurdle at 2.25: 

Annsam was beaten two and a quarter lengths by Calva D'Auge at Kempton last time. Isabel Williams (rode Dans Le Vent to victory in the Stayers' Hurdle at Haydock last weekend) is booked and can claim five. At the time of writing Calva D'Auge is generally 8/1 while Annsam is 16/1 with Paddy Power.

Course and distance winner Dorking Boy won last time out, enjoys a fast pace and is considered best on a flat, galloping track. Early in the week Stan Sheppard was jocked up for the ride but I see he has opted instead for Dorking Boy's stablemate Glory And Fortune (beat Dans Le Vent four lengths in the Welsh Champion Hurdle and then finished a respectable sixth in the Greatwood). With conditions to suit, Dorking Boy might be overpriced at 18/1.

Friday, November 19, 2021

The 2021 Betfair Exchange Stayers' Handicap Hurdle at Haydock

From the business section of my paper today: PG Tips sold for 4.5 billion euros. Funny that, no one has been in touch - and Christmas is just around the corner too.

Earlier this week I was asked what I'd like for Christmas this year. Reflex reply: a 20/1 winner; after some further consideration: a 33/1 winner.

Or perhaps a copy of Victor Chandler's biography Victor Chandler - Put Your Life On It: Staying At The Top In The Cut-Throat World Of Gambling by Jamie Reid.

Tomorrow's Betfair Chase at Haydock looks a particularly strong renewal but I've spent / wasted my time looking at the Betfair Exchange Stayers' Handicap Hurdle due off at 2.25. Sixteen have been declared with the going on the hurdle course described as good to soft, good in places.

Last season Emmet Mullins made a number of successful raids this side of the Irish Sea (think The Shunter and Cape Gentleman) so perhaps it's no surprise to the well-named Rightplacerightime at the head of the market. Rated 108 over hurdles in Ireland, the gelding races off mark of 125 tomorrow after winning a three mile beginners' chase at Fairyhouse 'easily' by seven and a half lengths.

The Charles Byrnes trained Doctor Duffy looks more feasibly treated. With Irish ratings of 147 (chase) and 137 (hurdles), he starts off 139 tomorrow; the majority of his recent runs have been at right-handed tracks. 

Orbys Legend (13/2) is well fancied after winning the Silver Trophy at Chepstow six weeks ago (beat Didtheyleaveuoutto a length) - that race has been a good pointer for this in the past - but, as Maddy Playle points out in the Weekender, Martinhal had Orbys Legend over 13 lengths in arrears at Exeter in February yet David Pipe's horse is currently quoted at 33/1 in places for tomorrow's race.

Prior to that run Martinhal gave Gladiateur Allen five pounds in a maiden hurdle at the Devon track and won three lengths; Mrs Jane Williams' charge is 16/1. 

I'm not sure I quite understand what's going on - little new there - but I'm assuming layers think underfoot conditions won't suit Martinhal.

And look at this... 

Winningseverything finished a neck ahead of Riggs at Aintree last time yet Riggs is 13/2 while the Harry Fry inmate is 40/1 in places. Admittedly, Harry Skelton may have overdone waiting tactics at Aintree over the shorter trip yet Winningseverything lost two places near the finishing line. Wind surgery carried out in the summer seems to have helped the Fry horse; connections fit a tongue-tie for the first-time tomorrow.

Bass Rock won well on seasonal debut at Carlisle three weeks ago for a yard whose runners generally improve for their first run. The handicapper has raised him seven pounds; this will be his first try at this distance.  

Isabel Williams certainly overdid the waiting tactics when finishing second on Dans Le Vent (trained by her father) in a strong-looking renewal of the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las last month. This one was quoted at 18/1 yesterday but is much shorter now.

Stoney Mountain collared my selection Acey Milan to win this race two years ago and I still haven't quite got over it. 

Now with Jamie Snowden, Stoney showed his current well-being by winning a Pertemps qualifier at Newbury 16 days ago, beating Didtheyleaveuoutto three quarters of a length. 

Clearly Nick Gifford's charge is in excellent form this term; after two creditable second places the handicapper has raised him seven pounds.

The Pipe stable has a decent record in this race having collected the spoils on four occasions since the first running in 2005: Grands Crus (2010); Dynaste (2011); Gevrey Chambertin (2013); and Main Fact (2020). I prefer Brinkley to Martinhal; he looks less exposed than a few in the field although all his winning form has come on soft or heavy ground. 

There has only been one winner older than seven - the Philip Hobbs trained Kruzhlinin aged nine in 2016.

Ask Dillon finished sixth behind Mrs Milner in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham in March (reversing Exeter form with Brinkley in twelfth and Chepstow form with Storm Arising in fourteenth). 

His fourth behind Main Fact in this race last year reads well (led two out, headed approaching last) but this season novice chasing plans appear to have gone awry and he was subsequently beaten a fair way out in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby three weeks ago. With jockey allowances taken into account he effectively starts off a mark one pound lower than in last year's renewal. 

In a competitive renewal a couple seem overpriced by my reckoning but the two on the short shortlist are Didtheyleaveuoutto and Brinkley. 

The former brings strong recent form to the table, stays, and will handle underfoot conditions. He's priced around the 12/1 mark. 

Tom Scudamore is on record saying ideally connections would want more cut underfoot for Brinkley but at the time of writing this one is quoted 20/1 with Sky Bet who pay six places.

Brinkley is the each-way suggestion. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Cheltenham November meeting 2021 - Paddy Power Gold Cup

Last year, despite slipping badly after the fourth, Coole Cody went on to win an extraordinary renewal of the Paddy Power Gold Cup (run over the Old Course) with a display of jumping I described at the time as 'hairy'; that day Spiritofthegames finished second, Al Dancer third, Simply The Betts sixth with Aso the last of the 16 runners to complete in seventh.

Four weeks later Evan Williams' charge jumped right on occasions when finishing sixth behind Chatham Street Lad in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (run over the New Course) with Midnight Shadow second and Al Dancer ninth. He subsequently finished fourth behind The Shunter in the Paddy Power Plate at the Festival and fourth behind Manofthemountain over the New Course in April. 

Quite clearly dear old Coole Cody loves the place - as his prep last month he raced over the hurdle track and was headed by Guard Your Dreams on the run up the hill - and tomorrow he tries to repeat last year's victory off a mark four pounds higher. The layers rate him a 16/1 shot but even at the age of ten it would be foolish to discount his chance.

Twenty go to post; the going is described as good, good to soft in places. 

This evening there appears to be a three-way fight for favouritism between Lalor, Protektorat and Al Dancer.

Lalor last won a race in 2018, underwent wind surgery in July and has only recently moved from Kayley Woollacott to Paul Nicholls.

Protektorat won the SSS Super Alloys Novices' Chase over course and distance twelve months ago and last time out beat The Shunter at Aintree. Only three six-year-olds have come home in front in the past 20 years: Celestial Gold (2004); Exotic Dancer (2006); and Johns Spirit (2013). 

Sent off 5/1 favourite last year, Al Dancer finished four and a half lengths third behind Coole Cody off a mark of 154; he races off 149 tomorrow and has recently moved to Sam Thomas' yard.

Top weight Simply The Betts is another to have undergone wind surgery in the summer and then move to Paul Nicholls' yard. I think I'm correct in saying that the last top weight to oblige was Bradbury Star in 1994.

Galahad Quest had a pipe-opener at Wetherby a fortnight ago and bids to become the third five-year-old winner after Cyfor Malta (1998) and Caid Du Berlais (2014).

After a promising start Caribean Boy didn't really live up to expectations last season but Spiritofthegames has decent form at the track - second in the race last year and a head second behind Warthog in the 2019 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup - while Manofthemountain jumped well to win the Ballymore Silver Trophy in April (Coole Cody fourth). 

Five weeks ago Paint The Dream beat Manofthemountain nine and a half lengths in the John Ayres Memorial Handicap Chase at Chepstow; on revised terms the former looks weighted to confirm that form but still looks to have his fair share of weight.

Here's the heads up - I've had Midnight Shadow pencilled in for this since that second behind Chatham Street Lad last December; his third behind Allmankind in the Old Roan last month looks an excellent preparatory run.

Going back to New Year's Day 2020, Sue Smith's charge somewhat fortuitously beat Paint The Dream one and a quarter lengths in the Dipper after Champ came a cropper two from home; the Alan King trained Deyrann De Carjac was a further threequarters of a length behind in third.

After reading Alan King's bullish note about Deyrann De Carjac in the Weekender, I looked through the form. Not to beat about the bush, he's had his problems in recent times but two years ago he won a Huntingdon novice chase with the likes of Pym, Whatmore and El Presente in arrears. 

The handler tells us his charge is 'not badly treated off 137 judged on his best form' and states:

"His preparation has been great and he seems to have put behind him the niggles that hindered him last season. He schooled on Monday and seems in good order. He is a good-ground horse..." 

At the time of writing Midnight Shadow is generally a 10/1 shot while Deyrann De Carjac is 33/1 - and Sky Bet are paying seven places.

Temptation, it's a terrible thing... Deyrann De Carjac is the each-way selection, 33/1 with Sky Bet.

To finish, a quick footnote for the fastidious...

The 'Straight from the Stable' feature in this week's RP Weekender features Donald McCain's Bankhouse stables in Cholmondeley, Cheshire. 

I don't know what the editors were up to but, untypically, the copy is littered with typographical errors and in places reads as though it was dictated over a mobile phone with poor reception:

Of See The Sea (7 b m Born To Sea - Shahmina):

"It could be a case that she could shoulder a race (sic) in a higher class race."

Of Bannixtown Glory (7 b m Fame And Glory - Me Auold Segosha):

"I understand Dan Skelton has Molly Ollys Wishes targeted at the same race, but it's grand a chance to add more black type to her broodmare page."

Of Chti Balko (9 br g Balko - Ina Scoop):

"A grand old horse who simply wants Haydock on very deep ground and when he comes ready and the conditions are right we will."

For the record, my own editor, a lugubrious individual who drones on incessantly about the old days, is usually to be found in a battered shed at the bottom of our garden, surrounded by empty bottles of craft ale.

Friday, November 05, 2021

The 2021 Grand Sefton Handicap Chase

Owen Paterson may have been in the supermarket yesterday when he learnt of Boris Johnson's latest handbrake turn -  at this stage it's unclear whether Mr Paterson was in the middle of a big shop down the Asda or picking up a few bits and pieces in the local Nisa - but how about this for an unexpected item in the bagging area: they've brought the Grand Sefton forward four weeks. Whatever next?

Fourteen have been declared for tomorrow's renewal which is usually run when we're all supposed to be doing our Christmas shopping; the going on the National course is currently described as soft, good to soft in places.

I've checked it out - just four of the fourteen have jumped the National fences before and a couple on the list look decidedly short on chase experience, including the well-touted manager's special, Midlands Grand National winner Time To Get Up; the concern is the trip may be on the sharp side for the J.P.McManus owned runner.

Cat Tiger showed a liking for these fences when finishing third behind Cousin Pascal in the Foxhunters' Chase run over course and distance in the spring while Senior Citizen finished seventh in last year's race and then a highly creditable third behind easy winner Livelovelaugh in the Topham (Sir Jack Yeats fifth).

Alan King's inmate swept down the home straight in the manner of a well-oiled trolley to win at Market Rasen last month (Francky Du Berlais 31 lengths adrift in sixth) and this race is his autumn target. In the RP Weekender the trainer states:

"He just doesn't want really soft ground as he doesn't quite get home." 

Jamie Snowden's two runners are certain to attract the attention of punters. 

Hogan's Height won the 2019 renewal 16 lengths and had a pipe-opener over hurdles at Newton Abbot last month.

Thomas Macdonagh has only contested five steeplechases to date but, in his 'Straight from the Stable' tour (RP Weekender 29.09.21 - 03.10.21), Snowden says:

"His final run of last season was a very good one when second to Informateur at Haydock off a mark of 131. He is a decent hurdler (rated 136) but has the potential to do even better over fences (130). He will be at his best on deep ground and the plan is to go for the Grand Sefton Chase at Aintree. I think a good gallop over 2m 4f will be ideal for him and he could be a very interesting contender."

Francky Du Berlais was impressive when winning the Market Rasen Summer Plate in July. 

The handicapper didn't give Peter Bowen any change after that, raising his charge ten pounds; he subsequently relented, dropping the gelding two after he came home well beaten behind Senior Citizen last month. Every little helps. On that form Francky will struggle to reverse placings.

Peter Bowen's other runner, Mac Tottie, has decent form on display and, despite the price, wouldn't be immediately discounted.

Spyglass Hill is worth another look on the back of his fifth behind Ontheropes in the Munster National last month - Ontheropes is quoted a 7/1 chance for the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in three weeks' time. 

After that race trainer Henry de Bromhead said connections thought 'that maybe the drop back in trip might suit him.'

After a quick scan I see that Five Star Getaway finished a long way behind Paint The Dream at Chepstow and doesn't have that much experience over fences, in marked contrast to The West's Awake and Via Dolorosa. The latter moved to David Pipe's yard last month so this looks an intriguing first run for new connections, although Tom Scudamore is aboard Time To Get Up.

Dr Richard Newland won last year's renewal with Beau Bay; he saddles Al Roc this time who has his third run in this country and second following wind surgery in January. The run over hurdles at Warwick last time should ensure he won't be left on the shelf. 

I always prefer one that has jumped the unique National fences previously for this and Sir Jack Yeats fits the bill. 

He finished second last year from three pounds out of the handicap, leading to the elbow before being passed by Beau Bay. 

Sir Jack races off the same mark tomorrow (126) with a weight of 10-6. 

Earlier in the week I'm sure seven pound claimer Angus Cheleda was jocked up but I'm pleased to see handler Richard Spencer has used his loyalty card and put James Best up; James was aboard last year and in the Topham as well. 

Last season the gelding came into the race with a couple of warm-up runs under the belt so I'm taking fitness on trust; I'd expect to see him racing up with the pace.

At the time of writing Paddy Power offer 14/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places; Sir Jack Yeats is the each-way suggestion. 

I should point out that, in the event of a disappointing performance, in line with stated policy no refunds or exchanges can be given.

Friday, October 29, 2021

A right Ascot Malarky...

Fourteen have been declared for tomorrow's Bateaux London Gold Cup (3.20 Ascot). The going at the Berkshire track is currently described as good to soft; rain showers are forecast throughout the morning.

Two previous winners re-oppose: Vinndication and Regal Encore. 

The former beat the latter five lengths on the same terms in the 2019 renewal (Larry tenth, Mister Malarky twelfth). Regal Encore showed his particular liking for Ascot when taking last year's race (Mister Malarky sixth).

Vinndication's price looks short enough given Kim Bailey's charge didn't look too fluent at a couple of the obstacles in the Charlie Hall last year; he subsequently unseated David Bass in the Ladbrokes Trophy won by Cloth Cap. 

Connections opted to revert to the smaller obstacles thereafter but again the jumping looked a cause for concern with Vinndication finishing sixth behind Flooring Porter in the Stayers' Hurdle and twelfth behind Thyme Hill at Aintree.

Regal Encore comes alive at Ascot - the veteran's enthusiasm is something to behold - but just a few weeks shy of his fourteenth birthday, I'm not tempted.

I've seen Johnbb tipped up here and there. His chance is respected on the back of his second behind Happygolucky at Aintree in April; the handicapper raised Tom Lacey's charge three pounds for that effort.

Jerrysback has finished behind Vinndication and Regal Encore at this track and has yet to win going right-handed, a comment that also applies to One More Fleurie.

Regal Encore's stablemate Sojourn enters calculations after winning Carlisle's Cumberland Handicap Chase in a hack canter and then finishing four lengths behind Sam's Adventure in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock - Sam's Adventure went on to win the Eider at Newcastle. 

Subsequently Sojourn was pulled up behind Lord Du Mesnil in Haydock's Grand National Trial and has undergone wind surgery over the summer.

Bennys King doesn't look guaranteed to stay, course and distance winner Captain Chaos usually needs a run or two to be seen at this best, and I've always held reservations about Larry. 

That said, Gary Moore's charge was in the process of running his best race for some time when hampered by a loose horse at Fakenham 15 days ago. 

Larry, Real Steel and Mister Malarky are the only runners in the field to have had a recent outing; Larry races from one pound out of the handicap.

Glen Forsa has his first run for new connections while Checkitout has shown his best chase form in smaller fields. 

Didero Vallis would be no forlorn hope on the back of his neck second to Kitty's Light at Kelso in March. Trainer Venetia Williams' runners are always worth a second look here; on the balance of form, Didero usually needs that first run.

At the prices I'm going to take a chance with Mister Malarky. 

He's a precarious proposition at the best of times, more miss than hit, and not one for the faint-hearted.

In the past couple of years he hasn't shown the best of form on seasonal debut - he finished 83 lengths behind Vinndication in the 2019 renewal of this race and 25 lengths behind Regal Encore last year. 

He finished 82 lengths adrift of Chirico Vallis in the Native River Handicap Chase at Chepstow three weeks ago.

All that said, he beat The Conditional and Regal Encore over course and distance last December and is bang there on Racing Post ratings; pilot Harry Kimber claims a handy seven pounds. 

After everything that happened last year, and with Joe set to take over the reins from Colin, I'm banking on the Tizzards having their string a little more forward this year - and Mister Malarky feeling in the mood.

Sky Bet offer 16/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places; Mister Malarky is the each-way suggestion.

What a malarkey!

Friday, October 22, 2021

A tentative suggestion on Cheltenham's Saturday Showcase card (2021)

A curtailed post this week - I've only just returned from a trip to the Ludlow races on Thursday. A number of us took advantage of the pre-booking offer: entrance, racecard and a free pint of beer in the Ludlow Brewery marquee for the princely sum of just £16.00.

Kudos to Kevin Morley who tipped up Key To The Moon in the Weekender, the 8/1 winner of the first. Unfortunately, due to travel issues, I was still in the car park as the course commentator described in some considerable detail the closing stages; Nigel Twiston Davies' charge successfully held the challenge of 8/13 favourite Full Of Light.

Golden Taipan and Just The Man ensured we left the course with a bit more moolah than we came in with; Gouet Des Bruyeres and Dynali both ran well in defeat. Sustained vespertine sustenance was subsequently sampled at The French Pantry followed by further postprandial refreshment in a number of the town's hostelries.

The result is I haven't done the spadework for tomorrow's card at Cheltenham. 

That said, Straw Fan Jack has been on the radar since winning a novice hurdle at Aintree last December. In March he was beaten one and a half lengths by Pasvolsky at Kempton. 

He faces no easy task burdened with top weight in the opener (1.45) but underfoot conditions will suit, he's in with every chance on Racing Post ratings and his running style should help at this track. 

Of course, fitness has to be taken on trust but with Sky Bet offering 12/1 and paying six places I'm going to take a small each-way interest in Straw Fan Jack.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Welsh Champion Hurdle 2021

Champions Day at Ascot tomorrow but I prefer the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las instead.

Last year's winner Sceau Royal goes to Kempton on Sunday while the  runner-up Ballyandy tries his luck once again off a mark three pounds lower. 

That looked a particularly strong renewal with last week's Cesarewitch winner Buzz third and subsequent Scottish Champion Hurdle winner Milkwood fourth.

Tomorrow's renewal doesn't appear to be quite up to that standard but it's ultra competitive nonetheless. 

12 have been declared to face the starter at 4.35; the going is described as good with showers forecast.

At the time of writing the four five-year-olds in the field occupy the top four positions in the betting. 

Favourite Calico was last seen finishing fourth behind Milkwood in the Scottish Champion and has since had wind surgery (Diego Du Charmil eighth in that race).

Cormier came home second behind Copperless in Haydock's Swinton Hurdle in May and has been running on the Flat over the summer.

Amarillo Sky and Dobryn reappear after a summer break and both look unexposed; the former is joint top-rated with Ballyandy on Racing Post ratings.

The Tom Lacey trained Glory And Fortune is another unexposed type, coming into this after comfortably winning a Plumpton handicap last month. 

The Pipe team holds a strong hand with Umbrigado and Leoncavallo. 

On seasonal debut last year Umbrigado finished second behind War Lord in a Haydock handicap hurdle over a slightly longer trip. His five subsequent starts were all in chases - he won three, including the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury in March. I suspect this could be a pipe-opener for another campaign over the larger obstacles.

In the past Leoncavallo has run well after a break.

Ballyandy seems to have been around forever - he beat Battleford a nose in the 2016 Cheltenham bumper - and is as tough as old boots. Like the rest of us, he isn't getting any younger but the 10/1 bet365 are offering makes some each-way appeal.

The one that interests me is the Emma Lavelle trained Hang In There. 

This one brings decent recent form to the table. He was beaten a head by Stonific in the Summer Hurdle at Market Rasen in July, with Valentino Dancer a neck behind in third and Camprond fourth. 

Valentino Dancer was entitled to reverse that form when the pair re-opposed last month, again at Market Rasen, and he did just that, beating Hang In There two and a half lengths. Hang In There made a bad mistake at the final flight that day but the error probably didn't cost him the race.

Last weekend Valentino Dancer was beaten a head in a competitive handicap hurdle at Chepstow while Camprond won the Persian War Novices' Hurdle.

The handicapper has raised Hang In There two pounds for that latest run; regular pilot Joe Anderson claims ten.

Admittedly there are a few unexposed types in this field but with several layers quoting 16/1 and paying one fifth the odds four places, I've made a decision to hang in there.  

Hang In There is the each-way selection.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Chepstow chat - and an each-way chance

Chepstow's two day meeting is generally seen as the start of the 'core' jumps season and, for me, is usually the time form study begins again in earnest. 

That said, I followed the summer racing circuit more closely this year; I wouldn't be confident the bank account is going to see any particular benefit.

Earlier this afternoon the more experienced Camprond came home ahead of well-backed stablemate Luttrell Lad in the Persian War Novices' Hurdle. 

First Street (Nicky Henderson) and Paso Doble (Paul Nicholls) were easy enough to back beforehand and the market was proven correct with both runners disappointing, beaten 21 and 36 lengths respectively.

Knappers Hill obliged for the champion trainer in the opener but there were disappointments with Threeunderthrufive (10//11f), Hell Red (5/2f) and Mondora (15/2).

A ten-year-old had won four of the last five renewals of the Veterans' Handicap Chase (2.10) and two ten-year-olds, Some Chaos and Vivas, finished first and second this year. 

I was at Warwick when Vivas unseated his pilot a couple of weeks ago; known to go well fresh, he was quite well fancied that day in a race in which he had finished second behind Young Wolf the year before.

The form of that race has piqued interest in tomorrow's Native River Handicap Chase (2.25); 14 have been declared.

Although beaten twice by Francky Du Berlais, Exelerator Express has been impressive this summer; the handicapper has raised Neil Mulholland's charge nine pounds following his latest win at Worcester just over seven weeks ago. He may well have a crucial fitness edge over a number of tomorrow's rivals. 

Writing in the Weekender Maddy Playle has a word for Full Back but this looks a big ask for Garry Moore's novice - no six-year-old has won this in the past ten years.  

Of course, you could argue that stat would be a worry where Kitty's Light is concerned but the five-year-old was a revelation last year. 

The gelding finished third behind El Presente in the Badger Beers at Wincanton in the autumn before winning the Borders Handicap Chase at Kelso and then being 'promoted' to second behind Potterman in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown after being hampered by Enrilo on his run to the line. Several commentators felt that without the interference he would have won that race.

At a price, two from the Warwick race won by Haul Away are of interest.

Irish Prophecy was beaten under six lengths at Warwick and previously was still in with a shout in Exelerator Express' race at Worcester when making a bad mistake five from home, with jock Tom Bellamy losing an iron.

After Warwick the handicapper dropped Emma Lavelle's charge two pounds.

On 17 May 2019 Cobra De Mai won the Weatherite Handicap Chase at Cheltenham off a mark of 142.

In the 2020 renewal of the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival the gelding finished less than nine lengths behind winner The Conditional off the same mark.

Last season Cobra lost his form; in February he was moved out of Dan Skelton's yard to join Caroline Bailey.

On his first run for new connections, he raced with enthusiasm for the first time since the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, weakening to cede third place to Irish Prophecy on the run-in, eventually beaten under nine lengths.

The handicapper has dropped him a further four pounds for that effort; tomorrow he races off 128 and will appreciate the good ground.

At the time of writing Irish Prophecy is generally at 16/1 chance while Cobra De Mai is 18/1 with Paddy Power who pay four places one fifth the odds.

I tipped up Cobra De Mai for last season's Badger Beers (under the heading: 'What's this? A Cobra in the Badger Beers'). Off 138 that day he ran like a drain - and he may well do the same tomorrow - but I'm hoping he's going to build on the promise shown at Warwick 18 days ago and at least give me a run for my money...

Cobra De Mai is the each-way suggestion. 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Market Rasen Summer Plate 2021

I can't deny feeling a little ring-rusty looking at tomorrow's Summer Plate at Market Rasen (2.40), a race which traditionally marks the mid-point of the summer jumps programme. Sixteen have been declared; the going is described as good.

Last year's renewal was run on Friday 10th July, with jump racing having only just emerged out of lockdown at the beginning of the month. The Amy Murphy trained mare Really Super came home in front at odds of 25/1 that day with Solomon Grey third, Royal Village sixth and Pink Eyed Pedro eleventh. 

Last time out Really Super finished well beaten in the Clarke Chase at Uttoxeter at the end of May; this year the handler relies on Mercian Prince who has shown respectable form on two runs over hurdles following wind surgery in April. The last ten year old to oblige was I Have Dreamed in 2012.

Captain Tom Cat is one I like and it's easy enough to see why layers have Dr Richard Newland's charge at the head of the market. The gelding has impressed this summer, winning all three chase starts to date. He won off a mark of 125 at Aintree in May and starts off 147 tomorrow; this race certainly represents his most difficult task to date.

The form of the Clarke Chase at Uttoxeter is worth close inspection.

Francky Du Berlais just got up to deny Pistol Whipped a nose with Pink Eyed Pedro fourth, Topofthecotswolds fifth and Exelerator Express sixth - six lengths covered the first six home. 

Subsequently Francky Du Berlais was beaten six lengths by Solar Impulse at Cartmel while Topofthecotswolds finished well adrift in sixth in the Uttoxeter Summer Cup which is run over an extended trip of three miles two furlongs (Talkischeap pulled up and Solomon Grey unlucky to unseat four out when in contention). 

Using the Clarke Chase as a benchmark, Topofthecotswolds looks marginally favoured at the revised weights, although there wouldn't be much in it; Paul Kealy makes the case for the Twiston-Davies horse in his Weekender column. 

Neil Mulholland has his horses in fine form (7 wins from 24 runs over both codes in the past fortnight) but I'm not entirely convinced Exelerator Express is going to see out this trip.

Four weeks ago Lord Bryan won the Summer Plate Trial over course and distance. 

Peter Bowen regularly targets this event and in the past has claimed the spoils with Stately Home (1997), Ballycassidy (2003), Yes Sir (2006), Iron Man (2007), Snoopy Loopy (2008), and More Buck's (2018). 

Lord Bryan goes from two pounds out of the handicap tomorrow; of the stable's two entries, Francky Du Berlais is preferred.

Paul Nicholls, who claimed the spoils with Alcala in 2017, saddles Darling Maltaix. This one won as he liked at Newton Abbot three and a half weeks ago on his first run after wind surgery; the majority of his chase form has been gained in fields with ten runners or less.

On his penultimate start Fire Away won comfortably at Cartmel (Templepark ten and a half lengths adrift in third and Royal Village tailed off - later found to be lame). Stablemate Licklighter didn't make the final declaration stage but perhaps that's no surprise as he seems better suited by three miles. Laura Morgan's operation based in Leicestershire has been on the radar for some time now.

Fire Away subsequently won over the brush hurdles at Worcester while Templepark has undergone wind surgery. Fergal O'Brien's charge has been placed in 14 of his 15 chase starts to date and sports first-time cheekpieces tomorrow. On a strict interpretation of the formbook he's entitled to finish a lot closer to Fire Away yet that fact isn't reflected in the market with Fire Away generally quoted a 9/1 chance while Templepark is 20/1 with most layers. 

That's A Given looked good at Newton Abbot the last day after wind surgery but he was well beaten by Licklighter at Southwell a couple of runs before. He's one pound 'wrong' at the weights.

Royal Village, second in 2019 off 137 and sixth last year off 141, looks to have been given a chance for new connections with a rating of 130; Emma Smith-Chaston claims an additional seven pounds. He was somewhat fortunate to win over course and distance 13 days ago when Solar Impulse came to the last four lengths ahead and fell.

Top weight Talkischeap is tried in a first-time visor but this trip is likely to be on the sharp side for Alan King's charge.

A very competitive renewal. Uttoxeter's Clarke Chase appears a significant piece of form; recent winners have tended to be aged between seven and nine.

Laura Morgan's Fire Away looks unexposed compared to some in this field but at the prices Templepark offers value and the Fergal O'Brien yard is operating at a 32% win strike-rate over the past fortnight.

Templepark is the each-way suggestion, currently 20/1 with Sky Bet who pay one fifth the odds six places.

Friday, April 30, 2021

A brief review of the 2020/21 jumps season

Champion jockey: Harry Skelton

Champion trainer: Paul Nicholls

Winning owner: J P McManus

Champion conditional jockey: Danny McMenamin

In a season like no other, jump racing eventually came under starter's orders at Southwell on Wednesday July 1st; racing behind closed doors, the Paul Nicholls trained Nineohtwooneoh won the Sign Solutions Nottingham Novices' Handicap Chase ten lengths. 

Following two pilot events at Warwick and Doncaster, spectators returned briefly to the track in December but lockdown restrictions were quickly re-introduced as coronavirus cases increased. Owners made a limited return to the track on March 29th.  

On Saturday April 10th Rachael Blackmore rode the Henry De Bromhead trained Minella Times to victory in the Grand National, ensuring her name went into the history books as the first woman to win the race.

You'd be hard pressed to say you couldn't have seen it coming. 

Three weeks earlier Rachael had become the first female leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, riding six winners - one more than Team GB managed to record.

Particularly impressive were Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle) and Bob Olinger (Ballymore), both from De Bromhead's yard. The handler had the first two home in the Gold Cup as well but Rachael was aboard A Plus Tard, beaten one and a quarter lengths by stablemate Minella Indo with Jack Kennedy in the plate. 

Irish trained horses won 23 of the 28 races at this year's Festival, a fact that has generated plenty of discussion since - on both sides of the Irish Sea. Put The Kettle On and Flooring Porter claimed the feature events on Wednesday's and Thursday's cards respectively. 

On Boxing Day Bryony Frost became the first woman to ride the winner of the King George at Kempton. Frodon jumped out to his left on occasions but the pair proved unstoppable and made all to win.

Back in the autumn Nuts Well provided trainer Ann Hamilton and jockey Danny McMenamin with their biggest win to date when staying on to win the Old Roan at Aintree.

In the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham's Open meeting Coole Cody was set alight by loose horse Siruh Du Lac and quickly built up a handy lead. He nearly lost his hind legs at the fourth and while the jumping was pretty hairy at times, crucially he never lost momentum. Spiritofthegames looked all over the winner at the last but Evan Williams' charge wasn't for passing, coming home three and a quarter lengths clear.

Williams also claimed two notable scalps with canny front-running tactics. Silver Streak beat Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton while Navajo Pass beat Buveur D'Air in Haydock's Champion Hurdle Trial. 

The trainer also achieved a lifetime ambition when sending out Secret Reprieve to win the re-arranged Welsh Grand National in January - the horse was backed as though defeat was out of the question and so it proved. Unfortunately Secret Reprieve just missed the cut for the Aintree National. 

Emmet Mullins saddled The Shunter to win the Greatwood Hurdle 'comfortably'. 

At the beginning of March the horse returned to Britain to win Kelso's Morebattle Hurdle and then just 12 days later landed connections a bumper £100,000 bonus when winning the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase on the Cheltenham Festival Thursday card. 

Emmet Mullins' runners certainly proved worthy of a second look when sent over to Britain - his Cape Gentleman won the Dovecote in fine style. 

Bristol De Mai won another Betfair Chase at Haydock and a week later Cloth Cap ran away with the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase on good ground. Connections quickly indicated the Grand National was the target. 

The manner of his victory in the Premier Chase at Kelso in March ensured Jonjo O'Neill's charge was sent off 11/2 favourite for the Aintree spectacular. The gelding was bang in the mix but stumbled four from home and was quickly pulled up; jockey Tom Scudamore reported his mount had made a respiratory noise. 

Conor O'Farrell rode Vieux Lion Rouge to beat Kimberlite Candy an astonishing 24 lengths in the Becher Chase in December. In the National Vieux Lion Rouge blemished his record over the big fences with a fall at the 20th fence while Kimberlite Candy was pulled up.

Chatham Street Lad went into everyone's notebook when winning the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup 15 lengths. Michael Winters' charge subsequently finished fourth in the Marsh Novices' Chase at the Festival, eight lengths behind Chantry House after 4/9 hotpot Envoi Allen had departed at the fourth.

Sam's Adventure won the Tommy Whittle at Haydock and then unseated Ryan Mania in the Peter Marsh won by Royal Pagaille. Brian Ellison's charge then proceeded to add the Eider Chase to his haul before unseating Henry Brooke in the Scottish National.

Royal Pagaille went on to run in the Gold Cup as owner Mrs S Ricci was represented by Monkfish in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase. On the day neither horse jumped to the best of their ability; Monkfish still came home in front while Royal Pagaille finished sixth. 

Aidan Coleman and Paisley Park won a thrilling renewal of the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, collaring Thyme Hill in the shadow of the post, much to the exasperation of Richard Johnson. 

Thyme Hill missed Cheltenham with a slight setback but next time out in the Aintree Stayers' Hurdle Tom O'Brien took the ride after four time champion Richard Johnson had announced his retirement from the saddle the week before. Thyme Hill and Tom O'Brien wore down Roksana to collect the spoils with Paisley Park pulled up. 

Cheltenham's New Year's Day and Trials meetings were both abandoned, washed away due to waterlogging.

Before this year's Classic Chase Alan King had described Warwick as 'probably my favourite course' in his Racing Post Weekender column. 

If only I'd taken the hint - his Notachance (7/2jf) took up the running three from home and passed the post half a length ahead of the Venetia Williams trained grey Achille.

Two veterans chasers merit a mention - Sandy Thomson brought Seeyouatmidnight down from Berwickshire to win the Veterans' Final at Sandown while 40/1 shot Takingrisks stayed on to beat Aye Right in Doncaster's Sky Bet Chase. Handler Nicky Richards was visibly moved in the post-race interview, telling viewers the horse was his hack. 

A mighty season for Mighty Thunder - the Lucinda Russell trained gelding won the Edinburgh National, finished second to Time To Get Up in a strong renewal of the Midlands Grand National and then outstayed Dingo Dollar to claim the Scottish Grand National at Ayr. 

The same yard unleashed an exciting prospect in the shape of Ahoy Senor who won the Doom Bar Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree at odds of 66/1.

At the season's Sandown finale Champion Chase fourth Greaneteen surprised a few by coming home ahead of Altior and Sceau Royal in the Celebration Chase while a thrilling finish to the bet365 Gold Cup saw first past the post Enrilo demoted to third after causing interference with the fast-finishing Kitty's Light. 

Potterman was awarded the race in the stewards' room; Kitty's Light was promoted to second while El Presente faded into fourth in the shadow of the post. The first, second and fourth had finished second, third and first respectively in Wincanton's Badger Beers Silver Trophy in November.

Harry Skelton was duly crowned champion jockey following a protracted duel with Brian Hughes.

After a shaky start, a reasonable season for the blog, the highlight being this year's performance at the Cheltenham Festival; Flooring Porter is nominated blog horse of the year on the back of that all-the-way win in the Stayers' Hurdle. 

The ability of my wife to walk into our front room and, more often than not, pick the winner of the next without even the slightest nod in the direction of the formbook remains a source of some considerable irritation. 

Finally, lest we forget the dangers associated with this sport... 

On Sunday April 18th amateur rider Lorna Brooke died from the injuries she suffered when falling heavily from her mother's horse Orchestrated at Taunton on April 8th.

Chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority Julie Harrington paid tribute:

"Lorna was a much-loved member of our sport, in which she and her family are steeped. Lorna demonstrated many of the qualities that make British racing so special. She was a proud competitor and somebody who was driven by an abundance of love not only for the sport but for the horses she competed with. My thoughts, along with everybody else who loves racing, are with Lorna's family, friends and colleagues at this dreadful time."

Friday, April 23, 2021

bet365 Gold Cup 2021

The bet365 Gold Cup (3.40 Sandown) is the feature tomorrow on the card which traditionally brings down the curtain on the jumps season. 16 have been declared with the official going described as good, good to firm in places.

Plan Of Attack heads the market. 

Last time out Henry De Bromhead's charge was travelling well enough in first time blinkers when coming to grief three out in the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival (Bob Mahler brought down when staying on). Connections have decided to stick with the blinkers but 9/2 looks short enough for one that has failed to complete in three of his four runs this season. 

Favourites have a poor record in this with Beau (6/1jf) in 2000 the last one to come home in front.

Enrilo was pulled up behind Shan Blue in the Kauto Star at Kempton over Christmas (Golan Fortune fourth, beaten eight lengths) but found handicap company much more to his liking at Newbury next time out.

Paul Nicholls' gelding is relatively inexperienced with just four chase starts to his name but has nevertheless been widely tipped up; the yard has won this previously with Ad Hoc (2001 and 2003), Tidal Bay (2012) and Just A Par (2015).

Golan Fortune is similarly inexperienced over fences and was disappointing behind Time To Get Up in a strong renewal of the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter five weeks ago - the second that day, Mighty Thunder, won the Scottish Grand National last weekend. 

Handler Phil Kirkby is on record saying he had expected much better and I'd imagine Tom Scudamore will look to give the gelding a more prominent ride than he had at Uttoxeter. 

The Badger Beers Silver Trophy Handicap Chase run at Wincanton in November provides a key piece of form. 

That day El Presente finished fast to pip Potterman a short head at level weights with the four-year-old Kitty's Light impressive, finishing third, beaten three and a quarter lengths after suffering interference three from home.

Connections of all three appear to have targeted this race. 

Kim Bailey sent El Presente to Ludlow for a spin last month where he was beaten eight and a half lengths into third by Checkitout. That looked a decent effort by Nigel Twiston-Davies' inmate but connections then decided to go to Haydock nine days later where Checkitout checked out four out, eventually finishing eighth. 

After that race the trainer's representative said the race had come too soon after Ludlow; with the benefit of hindsight it doesn't look the ideal preparation for this race and the layers seem to agree pricing Checkitout at 28/1.

Potterman hasn't been seen since unseating Tom Cannon in the Hennessy at Newbury. He missed his intended prep at Taunton on account of the ground.

Kitty's Light took in a couple of jumpers' bumpers and a handicap hurdle before staying on stoutly last time to deny Didero Vallis a neck over a trip of three and a quarter miles at Kelso. If successful, Christian Williams' charge will be the first five-year-old to collect the spoils.

Prior to that Wincanton run El Presente beat Irish Prophecy a length over three miles at Exeter, the pair clear. 

Cheekpieces have clearly helped Emma Lavelle's charge; writing in the RP Weekender [02-06.12.20] the handler states:

"He's up to a mark of 142 and I'd be looking seriously at the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown or the Scottish National as both are run on courses where galloping and jumping are at a premium."  

The worry would be whether he'll stay the extended trip. His run over three and a quarter miles behind Soldier Of Love at Newton Abbot in September suggests he was running on empty approaching the last.

Two with no stamina queries are Supreme Escape and Bob Mahler. 

The former won over three miles six and a half furlongs at Chepstow last time and has been well backed today while the latter won the 2020 Edinburgh National and ran well for a long way in the West Wales National at Ffos Las at the beginning of the month before weakening to finish fourth. Warren Greatrex has trained just 18 winners this season. 

Top weight Crosspark has been admirably consistent in long distance races this term without managing to get his head in front. Tidal Bay carried 11-12 to victory in 2015 off a mark of 154.

I'm not convinced this trip is going to bring out the best in Cap Du Nord.

Three old-timers are set to take their chance - The Young Master, Smooth Stepper and Doing Fine. 

The Young Master has an excellent record in this race; he won the 2016 renewal and finished second behind Talkischeap in 2019. I note the gelding underwent wind surgery last summer.

Smooth Stepper is an out and out stayer who prefers plenty of cut underfoot; he may struggle to keep tabs on the leaders on quicker ground. 

Trainer Alex Hales states:

"He's been aimed at this race all season but I was hoping for softer ground. I'll have to walk the course in the morning before making a final decision on his participation." 

Doing Fine won the London National over course and distance in December, holding Crosspark threequarters of a length; he finished behind Golan Fortune in the Midlands Grand National last time.

It may not be the race it once was but, as ever, it's a very competitive affair. 

Irish Prophecy is of interest but that doubt about his ability to see out the trip persists while Golan Fortune should be in the mix if running his race. 

I'm going to stick with the Badger Beers form and have an each-way wager on El Presente who shaped as though he'd stay at Wincanton; Kim Bailey's yard boasts a 20% win strike over the past fortnight.

El Presente is the each-way selection, currently 9/1 with Paddy Power and Bet Victor who are both paying five places.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Scottish Grand National 2021

Sponsors Coral regularly reference the Scottish Grand National as generating their fourth highest turnover of any race in the calendar. 

The most recent renewal took place on 13th April 2019 when Nicky Richards' Takingrisks foiled Crosspark's attempt to become the first horse since Willsford in1995 to win both the Eider and the Scottish National in the same season. 

This year's Eider winner Sam's Adventure has been raised eight pounds for his trouble (in a race which saw Big River pulled up and The Dutchman unseat rider). 

Nicky Richards saddles two - Chapel Stile has done most of his racing on soft / heavy ground while Chidswell beat Dingo Dollar in the 2019 Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster and bids to become the first twelve-year-old to come home in front since Willsford.

23 runners went to post two years ago, with five withdrawn on the day on account of the drying ground - including Dingo Dollar. At the time of writing Vintage Clouds has been declared a non-runner leaving 22 set to face the starter at 3.35 tomorrow - the smallest field to go to post for a number of years.

Aye Right is an admirable sort; Harriet Graham's charge likes to race prominently and heads the market but looks in the grip of the handicapper.

Notachance certainly has a chance in a race Alan King likes to target - he trained Godsmejudge to win in 2013. 

This one won the Classic Chase at Warwick with something in hand and then suffered a nasty injury next time when pulled up behind Lord Du Mesnil at at Haydock. The handler reports the gelding in fine form now but the prep has been a little rushed; connections considered waiting for the bet365 Chase at Sandown next week but have decided to take their chance here.

Former Alan King inmate Dingo Dollar looks the pick of Sandy Thomson's two runners with Brian Hughes up. The Ferry Man is respected but much of his form to date has been in small fields.

Soldier Of Love is Paul Nicholls' representative with Truckers Lodge and Highland Hunter not making the final declaration stage. This one will certainly appreciate good ground; the handler won the 2016 and 2017 renewals with Vicente.

Tom Scudamore picks up a plum ride aboard Mighty Thunder after regular pilot Blair Campbell failed to recover from a recent hand injury. Lucinda Russell's charge won the Edinburgh National in February and then finished a highly creditable second to Time To Get Up in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter last month. The gelding clearly stays and should handle the ground; the handicapper has raised the horse 14 pounds for his last two efforts.

Mister Fogpatches is the sole Irish raider with Danny Mullins taking the ride. The gelding handles good ground but remains a maiden over fences. 

Big River finished fifth behind Takingrisks in 2019 but is one whose jumping has never really convinced.

Among those at bigger prices Some Chaos, Coup De Pinceau and Chef D'Oeuvre are of interest.

Some Chaos finished third behind Secret Investor and Potterman at Chepstow in October and then beat Claud and Goldie over three and a quarter miles at Kelso. On his next start he finished fifth behind El Presente in the Badgers Beers Silver Trophy at Wincanton, beaten under six lengths after encountering some trouble in running three out. 

He has since had a break and a couple of warm-up runs over hurdles; connections appear to have decided on a first try at this marathon trip after Wincanton - the gelding has shown his best form on decent ground.

Coup De Pinceau moved out to Nick Mitchell's yard in Dorset last December. On his second run for new connections Coup De Pinceau won over an extended three and a half mile trip at Taunton where he appeared to appreciate the hold-up tactics employed. Angus Cheleda claims a useful seven pounds. 

Chef D'Ouevre moved from Warren Greatrex to Sam England in 2018 and has clearly had his problems. He has undergone two wind operations in the past 18 months and had a spell of 606 days off the track. That said, when he made it to Haydock he appeared to like the place, winning there over three miles three and, on his latest start, over three miles four and a half furlongs; in the past he has run well on good ground. 

Sky Bet stood out offering 50/1 about this one in their first show yesterday; at the moment he's best-priced with Paddy Power who offer 30/1.

A quick mention in passing for Cool Mix who isn't totally disregarded but wouldn't be guaranteed to stay and for Dino Boy too who is eight pounds 'wrong' at the weights but has won over this distance previously and is owned by Mr & Mrs Raymond Anderson Green, winners of the prize in 2010 and 2012 with Merigo.

From the bigger priced runners the two considered are Some Chaos and Chef D'Oeuvre. 

Off a mark of 142 the former is a better fit with the profiles of previous winners and looks to have been trained specifically for the race; this is his first try beyond three and a quarter miles.    

Off a mark of 129 Chef D'Oeuvre races from two pounds out of the handicap but looks to have a respectable chance of seeing the trip out.

Some Chaos is the each-way suggestion, at the time of writing 20/1 with Betfred who pay 6 places.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Aintree Grand National 2021

When the weights for this year's Grand National were announced on Tuesday 16th February, current favourite Cloth Cap was allocated 10-5. 

Two and a half weeks later Jonjo O'Neill's charge went all the way up to Kelso and made all to win the bet365 Premier Chase 'comfortably'; the handicapper duly readjusted his mark upwards - by 14 pounds - to 162.

A stone well in, Cloth Cap jumps, likes to race prominently and pilot Tom Scudamore, whose grandfather Michael won the race aboard Oxo in 1959, has said he considers Cloth Cap a value wager at 4/1. 

This evening layers are going 11/2 in places; Matt Chapman stated earlier this afternoon he expects to see 6/1 early tomorrow morning. 

The gelding's preference for decent ground is well documented; following extensive watering, the going on the National course is currently described as good to soft.

Top Wood, ridden by Tabitha Worsley, won the 2019 renewal of the Foxhunters' Chase over the National fences in a time of 5m 45.70s on going described as soft; Cousin Pascal won yesterday's renewal in 5m 39.57s. Livelovelaugh won this afternoon's renewal of the Topham in 5m 30.66s.

Irish based trainers once again hold a strong hand with 18 entries confirmed at the time of writing. In 2019 Irish trained horses filled the first three places, in 2018 the first four places. 

Burrows Saint, Any Second Now and Minella Times are all prominent in the market. 

If you prefer one that has previous form over these unique fences the Jessica Harrington trained mare Magic Of Light finished second to Tiger Roll in 2019; the last mare to come home in front was Nickel Coin in 1951.

Evan Williams will be cursing his luck with 2020 Welsh National winner Secret Reprieve missing the cut.

2019 Welsh National winner Potters Corner also claimed the 2020 'Virtual Grand National'; he goes for the 'Virtual Grand National' double at 8.00pm this evening (ITV) before taking his chance in the real thing tomorrow - Christian Williams' charge is part-owned by Welsh rugby international Jonathan Davies and would probably appreciate more cut underfoot.

The last seven-year old to come home in front was Bogskar in 1940 which doesn't augur too well for Farclas and The Long Mile. The last horse older than eleven to win was Amberleigh House in 2004.

Vieux Lion Rouge is one with an exemplary record over these fences - he beat Kimberlite Candy an astonishing 24 lengths in the Becher Chase last December - but he just doesn't quite see out this extended trip.

Those who like to make their own selections may find the BBC's Pinstickers' Guide useful; for everyone else, here's my first four...

1. Any Second Now

Connections know what's required. Won the race in 2000 with Papillon (Ruby Walsh up) and in 2012 finished third with Seabass (Katie Walsh up) behind Neptune Collonges. Victory in the 2019 Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival spawned this plan. Currently rated 154 in Ireland, the gelding races off 152 tomorrow. 

2. Magic Of Light

This mare finished second in 2019 behind Tiger Roll, beaten just under three lengths. She's rated five pounds higher this time and can make the odd mistake which doesn't help the cause- hoping she keeps those to the absolute minimum. This race has been the target all season. 

3. Cloth Cap

Every chance, as discussed above. Was there just the slightest hint he was starting to run on empty over the four mile trip in that 2019 Scottish National?  

4. Takingrisks

Twelve year old who has shown improved form after undergoing wind surgery in November. Stayed on to beat Aye Right in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster in February. Won the 2019 Scottish Grand National from Crosspark with Cloth Cap, in receipt of one pound, third, beaten four lengths. Trainer does well with his veteran runners and describes this horse as 'a gentleman'. Stays forever but needs to ensure he doesn't get too far behind on this better ground in the first half of the race.

All that remains now is for me to wish you all the very best of luck!

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Aintree 2021 - very brief notes on Friday's card

Pressed for time this evening unfortunately...

Two I thought worth a second look in the Topham (4.05 - run over the National fences): Senior Citizen and Sir Jack Yeats.

In the Weekender Alan King appears more bullish about the chance of Senior Citizen than his two National entries, namely Canelo and Talkischeap. It's well known the Grand National is not one of Mr King's favourite races:

"Friday's Randox Topham Handicap Chase has been the plan for Senior Citizen all season, and he could run a big race.

"He ran really well over the fences in the Grand Sefton on ground too soft for him in December. His jumping was super and he travelled strongly for most of the way before failing to get home having been in second place at the last fence. 

"He shaped encouragingly at Newbury on his return from a winter break and has been in good form at home since.

The forecast looks favourable and I just hope they don't over-water the track as he's a proper good-ground horse."

Current stable form is a concern with just one winner from 35 runners in the past fortnight.

Sir Jack Yeats is of interest on the back of his five length second to Beau Bay in the Grand Sefton; he raced from three pounds out of the handicap that day and is four pounds 'wrong' tomorrow. 

He took over the lead from Crievehill at the sixth in the Sefton and jumped the last two lengths ahead of his field but he was thwarted by Beau Bay creeping up the inside on the run to the elbow, eventually beaten five lengths.

Richard Spencer's charge followed up with a respectable third behind Doitforthevillage at Sandown at the turn of the year and was then given a break before taking in a couple of runs at Fakenham, most recently over hurdles. He was beaten 23 lengths that day and I'd like to think that helped bring the gelding back to peak fitness...

In tomorrow's Sefton Novices' Hurdle (4.40) Bravemansgame steps up in distance but is a Lingstown point winner over three miles; he is some way clear of his rivals on official ratings. 

That said, Joe Tizzard reported Oscar Elite 'bucking and squealing' after finishing second behind Vanillier at Cheltenham three weeks ago - those in behind re-opposing tomorrow include Streets Of Doyen (third), Alaphilippe (fifth), Champagnesuperover (seventh) and Pats Fancy (thirteenth).

Finally, a list of Irish trained entries in handicaps for those readers following a thread from previous posts...

1.45 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle:

Tronador.

4.05 Topham Handicap Chase:

Livelovelaugh; Visioman; Snugsborough Hall; Dunvegan; Robin Des Foret.

5.15 Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle:

Bold Enough.

By way of a postscript I haven't completely given up on Rowland Ward who runs in the finale. He went into the notebook over a year ago when badly hampered in a Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham. 

Unfortunately he has had a tough time of it this year and underwent wind surgery in February. 

Last time out he finished fourth behind Xcitations, losing three places after jumping the penultimate flight; Xcitations ran well behind Vision Du Puy at Haydock last weekend. I'd hope the better ground and fitting of a tongue-tie will help Stuart Edmunds' charge to finish off his race.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Aintree 2021 - Thursday

Earlier this week,  following on from the domination of Irish runners at Cheltenham, Paddy Power offered a £100,000 bonus to any British runner who travels to Punchestown and wins the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle. 

A spokesperson for the  bookmaker said:

"We gave the Brits a beating at Cheltenham and now we're laying down a challenge to the tune of £100k - come and have a go if you think you're good enough."

Irish-trained entries at this Aintree meeting are bound to attract plenty of attention - and money. 

In the 2019 Grand National Irish trained horses filled four of the first five places (from 18 entries); in the 2018 renewal Irish trained horses filled six of the first eight places (from 16 entries).

In tomorrow's Aintree Hurdle (3.25) the Paul Nicholls trained McFabulous has been deposed at the head of the market by Abacadabras, with strong support also noted for Henry De Bromhead's charge Jason The Militant. 

Back in November Abacadabras beat Saint Roi a neck with Jason The Militant a short-head away in third in a messy-looking renewal of the Morgiana Hurdle over two miles at Punchestown; neither Abacadabras or Jason The Militant has raced further than two miles half a furlong previously.

In a competitive race I like the chance of Brewin'upastorm; he's closely matched with McFabulous on Fontwell National Spirit Hurdle form five and a half weeks ago.   

Henry De Bromhead saddles two in the Red Rum Handicap Chase (4.40), the only handicap race on tomorrow's card - 2019 winner Moon Over Germany and Jan Maat, the mount of Rachael Blackmore. The former has been well supported during the day.

I was impressed with Clondaw Castle's victory in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton. That day Mellow Ben took no prisoners racing hard from the front but Tom George's charge travelled sweetly in midfield to take up the running two out on his first try over three miles. 

He steps up in class in the Betway Bowl (2.50) but looks relatively unexposed. The layers aren't taking too many chances with the 7/1 on offer. 

Following a well-documented spat with the British handicapper, connections of Tiger Roll have opted to run in this rather than Saturday's Grand National. The horse looked ready for retirement on his penultimate run at Naas when he came in 65 lengths last of six behind Beacon Edge. 

A little over three weeks later 'The Tiger' came home in splendid isolation in the cross country race at the Festival. His price has been on the drift this afternoon but on official ratings he only has a couple of pounds to find with the principals.

Returning to the Aintree Hurdle I'm tempted to take a small each-way interest in Not So Sleepy. Hughie Morrison's front-runner didn't run from the front in the Champion Hurdle and came home fifth - at odds of 125/1. William Hill paid five places that day but I didn't take the chance. 

Not So Sleepy is a bit of a character and certainly wouldn't be guaranteed to reproduce his latest effort. 

This represents his first try over two and a half miles; he has twice finished fourth in the Cesarewitch - a trip of two miles two furlongs - behind the Willie Mullins trained Stratum in 2019 and the Willie Mullins trained Great White Shark in 2020. 

He needs a decent start but if in the mood he could run well at a track that will suit his style of racing and Jonathan Burke gets on well with him.

I'll take a small each-way interest in Not So Sleepy, a 20/1 chance with Sky Bet and Paddy Power at the time of writing, both of whom pay four places.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Those Easter heebie-jeebies

I just don't quite know what it is but those post-Cheltenham pre-Aintree fixtures always give me with the heebie-jeebies... 

Earlier today Gigginstown House Stud racing manager Eddie O'Leary indicated Tiger Roll will miss the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Monday and travel over to contest the Betway Bowl at Aintree next Thursday.

As a result the Irish National weights have risen 11 pounds; Latest Exhibition is now set to carry 11-10.

I haven't looked at the race in any great detail but I thought the form of last month's Grand National Trial at Punchestown worth a bit of work.

The Big Dog advertised his chance winning the trial; rider Jamie Codd was all prepared to do his lowest weight for the best part of 17 years if Tiger Roll were to turn up and take his chance but that won't be necessary now.  

The mare Moyhenna met plenty of trouble in running yet finished third that day, just seven lengths behind The Big Dog. Previously she was beaten half a length by Augusta Gold at level weights over a shorter trip at Fairyhouse. 

Taking into account her rider's five pound allowance, she looks weighted to reverse placings with both The Big Dog and Augusta Gold yet at the time of writing she's chalked up a 25/1 chance. 

The reason for the layers' largesse?  Probably her latest run at the Cheltenham Festival - just 17 days ago - in the Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase; she didn't jump particularly well when fifth behind the likes of Colreevy, Elimay and Shattered Love.   

Roaring Bull was ninth in the Punchestown trial while Discordantly isn't immediately discounted, falling five from home when still in touch with the leaders. This one ran well to finish sixth in the Ultima at Cheltenham but again the worry is the same as with Moyhenna - have they had sufficient time to recover from those Festival exertions?

Another mare I thought worth a second look was the Thomas Mullins trained course and distance winner Court Maid. She has her fair share of weight but turns up fresh and this looks to have been her target.

This side of the Irish Sea, with just seven declared in the Two Mile Hurdle Series Final (2.05 Haydock) Chti Balko is of interest at around the 7/1 mark; Paul Kealy has highlighted his chance in the Weekender. 

Donald McCain's charge has a particular liking for Haydock, as the handler explained in a Straight from the Stable feature [RP Weekender 30.12.20 - 03.01.21]:

"It was great to see him win so easily recently when coming home by 26 lengths at Haydock over 2m on heavy ground. It was his third win at the track, a venue he loves and I would run him there all the time if there were enough races. I genuinely believe he is a 10lb better horse around there."   

After that race, jockey Theo Gillard said:

"Most of Chti Balko's best runs have been around here on bottomless ground. He goes round those bends like a motorbike." 

It would be unwise to put too much store by that win as most of his opponents failed to fire on the day; it will certainly be far more competitive tomorrow. 

Similarly, the gelding won't have his favoured heavy ground, the going currently being described as good to soft on the hurdle course.

And the formbook tells us he can't hope to reverse placings with Shantou Express on last month's Wetherby running (Da Vinci Hand fifth). 

All that said, he's top rated on Racing Post ratings and finished second in the 2018 renewal of this race, beaten just over three lengths trying to concede 25 pounds to stablemate William Of Orange. His record over this trip at the track reads three wins and one second from four runs.

Favourite Vision Du Puy bounced back to form at Stratford last time; the mare has been raised five pounds for that effort and was placed in a Wetherby mares' listed hurdle in 2019. Her price has drifted through the day.

Shantou Express has gone up six pounds for that Wetherby run last time and is feared most.

Sporting first-time cheekpieces Dino Velvet likes to come from off the pace, a style of running that is probably not best suited to this track.

Xcitations has been raised 10 pounds for his recent Fakenham win while Nordic Combined would have a shout on his very best form but has looked inconsistent this term. 

It looks the sort of wager to give even the most sanguine a dose of the heebie-jeebies... 

Chti Balko is the win selection, 7/1 with both Paddy Power and William Hill at the time of writing.  

Friday, March 26, 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021: one week on

A week is a long time in horse racing.

There has been plenty of soul-searching this side of the Irish Sea after Irish-trained horses won 23 of the 28 races at the Cheltenham Festival.

Irish domination was the theme last week and, as Kevin Blake rightly highlights, those 23 winners came from 10 individual trainers. 

Willie Mullins has attributed that domination to the long-term vision of Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh whose latest five year stint in the role comes to an end this September;  unsurprisingly, both Mullins and Jim Bolger are keen to ensure the main man stays in post.

Over here Alan King speaks in the Weekender of 'taking Ferraris on with Fords' while Maddy Playle states:

"British jump racing lacks depth, because there are too many Graded events which give connections too many opportunities to dodge other talented horses."

Once again Irish runners performed extremely well in the Festival handicaps. Here are updated figures for Irish trained horses that recorded a first three finish in Festival handicaps: 

Cheltenham 2019 (10 handicap races): Ireland 5 wins; Great Britain 5 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 13 from 68 entries (19.12%)

Cheltenham 2020 (10 handicap races): Ireland 5 wins; Great Britain 5 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 17 from 73 entries (23.29%)

Cheltenham 2021 (9 handicap races): Ireland 7 wins; Great Britain 2 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 13 from 65 entries      (20%)

Two years ago Simon Holt highlighted a similar emerging trend in the handicap races at Aintree [RP Weekender 10-14.04.19]:

Aintree 2019 (7 handicap races): Ireland 5 wins; Great Britain 2 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 9 from 32 entries   (28.12%)

[Irish horses fill four of the first five places in the Grand National from 18 entries.]

Unfortunately last year's Aintree meeting was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic but here are figures for 2018 and 2017:

Aintree 2018 (7 handicap races): Ireland 1 win; Great Britain 6 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 5 from 31 entries   (16.13%)

[Irish horses fill six of the first eight places in the Grand National from 16 entries. In the concluding Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle, Scheu Time, trained by J A Nash and ridden by Ms K Walsh, fell at the last when in the lead.]

Aintree 2017 (7 handicap races): Ireland 0 win; Great Britain 7 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 4 from 25 entries        (16%)

With Covid and Brexit in the background it remains to be seen just how many Irish horses will travel over for Aintree this year - Willie Mullins has already indicated he only intends to send a small team. Whatever happens, I think it will certainly be worth taking a second look at any Irish runner declared in the seven Aintree handicaps:

Thursday 8th April: Red Rum Handicap Chase

Friday 9th April: Alder Hey / Merseyrail Handicap Hurdle; Topham Handicap Chase 

Saturday 10th April: Gaskells Handicap Hurdle; Betway Handicap Chase; Randox Grand National Handicap Chase; Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle

After all that I need a bet.

I'd like to think I K Brunel can put up an improved showing in tomorrow's William Hill Handicap Hurdle (2.05  Kelso) following wind surgery last month. Olly Murphy's charge was well backed the last day at Ascot but clearly something was amiss; he makes the long trip north with the better ground likely to suit. At the moment the yard is operating at a win strike rate of 22%; Adrian Heskin travels up for this one ride.

16/1 earlier this afternoon, I K Brunel is now quoted a 10/1 chance with the sponsors who are paying four places. 

I K Brunel is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 - the betting debrief

Shown below a record of the blog's highlighted selections at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival to a nominal one point level stakes wager (1 point win, 0.5 points each way) with bets settled at advised prices and each way returns calculated at one fifth the odds. 

Free bet offers utilised during the four days have not been included in the figures.

For the fifth time in the past six years the blog has returned a profit at the Cheltenham Festival. This year's performance beats the previous best on record (2019), falling into the 'scarcely believable' category, and the fifteenth anniversary of that very first post is just a couple of weeks away. With apologies to Bob Dylan: Ah, I was so much younger then, I'm older than that now.

Tuesday

1.20 Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Selection: Soaring Glory

Bet: Win

Advised price: 6/1

Starting price: 10/1

Result: Fourth

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00


3.05 Champion Hurdle

Selection: Sharjah

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 12/1

Starting price: 11/1

Result: Second

Return: 1.70

Profit/Loss: +0.70


Profit/Loss Tuesday: -0.30


Wednesday

1.20 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

Selection: Bravemansgame

Bet: Win

Advised price: 7/2

Starting price: 4/1

Result: Third

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00


2.30 Coral Cup

Selection: Tea Clipper

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 40/1

Starting price: 33/1

Result: Third

Return: 4.50

Profit/Loss: +3.50


3.05 Queen Mother Champion Chase

Selection: Rouge Vif

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 28/1

Starting price: 20/1

Result: Ninth

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

 

Profit/Loss Wednesday: +1.50


Thursday

1.55 Pertemps Network Final

Selection: Mrs Milner

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 12/1

Starting price:  12/1

Result: Win

Return: 8.20

Profit/Loss: +7.20


3.05 Stayers' Hurdle

Selection: Flooring Porter

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 12/1

Starting price: 12/1

Result: Win

Return: 8.20

Profit/Loss +7.20


Profit/Loss Thursday: +14.40


Friday

1.55 County Hurdle

Selection: Milkwood

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 25/1

Starting price: 28/1

Result: Third

Return: 3.00

Profit/Loss: +2.00


3.05 Gold Cup

Selection: Al Boum Photo

Bet: Win

Advised price: Not recorded

Starting price: 9/4f

Result: Third

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00


Profit/Loss Friday: +1.00

-----

Outlay over four days: 9 points

Profit/Loss over four days: +16.60 points

Profit as percentage of outlay: 184.44%

-------

Normal service will be resumed next week.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 - Friday

A starter before the main course...

The County Hurdle (1.55)

I don't usually have a bet in the notoriously difficult County Hurdle but with the ground drying out I think Milkwood is big enough at 25/1 with Sky Bet who are paying eight places. 

Beaten five and a half lengths by Sceau Royal into fourth in the Welsh Champion Hurdle last October (Ballyandy second, Buzz third), he was badly hampered in a listed intermediate hurdle at Newbury four weeks later and in the circumstances did well to finish third, two lengths behind Floressa.

He didn't really make much of an impression in the Betfair Hurdle last month and the handicapper has dropped him a pound for that effort. 

This would appear to be his first run at an undulating track; he was withdrawn from the Greatwood Hurdle on the morning of the race on account of the ground deteriorating overnight from good to soft, soft in places to soft, heavy in places.. 

Current stable form looks good with five winners from 31 runs in the past fortnight; quoting trainer Neil Mulholland:

"The combinagtion of the softer ground and having to come from a long way back might not have helped him last time at Newbury. He might have used his run getting into the race, but that was my fault and we might do things differently this time. You take that run out and he'd be much shorter for this. The drier the ground the better for him."

Milkwood is the each-way selection, at the time of writing 25/1 with Sky Bet who pay eight places.

Footnote: Dan Skelton tends to target this race - he saddles Third Time Lucki who finished fourth in last year's bumper. I think the original plan was to run Proschema but the gelding failed to make the cut when only able to finish fifth at Newbury a fortnight ago.

And now the main course...

The 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.05)

Al  Boum Photo bids to become the first horse since Best Mate (2002 - 2004) to win three consecutive renewals of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Although it's possible to make the case for a few of his opponents, on balance Willie Mullins' inmate is the percentage call. 

We've seen him just the once this season (Al Boum, that is, not Willie) winning the Savills New Year's Day Chase at Tramore.

At the time of writing A Plus Tard is priced up favourite in a couple of lists. Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore have had a spectacular week so far and you can only start to imagine the media coverage if Rachael were to become the first woman to ride a Gold Cup winner. 

Before Christmas A Plus Tard's best form had been over shorter trips but he stayed on well on his first try over three miles in Leopardstown's Savills Chase to beat Kemboy half a length. 

Rachael Blackmore, aboard stablemate Minella Indo in that race, came to grief at the eighth; Kemboy has since beaten Minella Indo in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Festival.

Still, A Plus Tard has to stay another two and a half furlongs (and come up the hill) tomorrow and I just wonder whether he will last home. On official ratings he has six pounds to find with Al Boum Photo.

Champ is talented and possesses a big engine but remains something of an enigma. He has never been a particularly fluent jumper, of either hurdles or fences; in the RSA last year he was eight and a half lengths adrift coming to the last yet came up the hill with a late rattle to win going away from Minella Indo.

Connections have been working on those jumping issues and he looked better on his first outing after wind surgery over a trip of two miles in the Game Spirit at Newbury last month. It's certainly an unorthodox preparation for a Gold Cup. For me the key question is still whether his jumping will be good enough to keep him in contention.

Stablemate Santini was beaten a fast-diminishing neck last year but has just not looked quick enough this term. Connections will hope the fitting of a visor can bring about a much-needed return to form.

Frodon and Bryony Frost will want to get to the front early on and establish a rhythm. After winning the 2019 Cotswold Chase connections opted for the Ryanair rather than the Gold Cup which they duly won (Aso second). He still has to prove he stays this extended trip.

Royal Pagaille could be anything but you feel the drying ground is against him, a comment that also applies to previous winner Native River.

Lostintranslation was my selection for the race last year and he finished a creditable one and a half lengths third behind Al Boum Photo and Santini but, like Santini, he has been a shadow of his former self this term. 

Neither Aso or Black Op has won over a trip of three miles. 

There appears to be plenty of money for A Plus Tard this evening but Al Boum Photo has to be the selection.

Al Boum Photo is the win selection.

----

And finally...

For those with moolah left over - and an appetite for the practically impossible - the concluding Martin Pipe is a handicap Irish-trained runners have fared well in in recent years. Due to pressures of time I haven't done the homework on the nine Irish-trained declarations so I'm not going to offer an opinion.

Last year the Gordon Elliott trained Column Of Fire held every chance when coming to grief at the last.

The Dan Skelton trained Langer Dan won the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday; connections will pick up a £50,000 bonus if the gelding comes home in front tomorrow.

David Pipe is particularly keen to win this race named after his father; he saddles three tomorrow: Leoncavallo, Martinhall and First Lord De Cuet.

On his last run Leoncavallo finished nine and a quarter lengths behind Great White Shark in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket. Both Leoncavallo and Martinhall were due to run at Sandown on Saturday but were unable to do so after an accident on the M5 caused major traffic problems close to the yard.