Friday, July 15, 2022

Market Rasen Summer Plate 2022

Having recently awoken from my rostered summer slumbers, I have been confronted with the news that summer jumping is in something of a 'dire state'. Apparently you're likely to find as many declarations for a Tory party leadership contest as for a race over the sticks around this time of year. 

Traditionally Saturday's card at Market Rasen is a highlight, marking the mid-point of the summer programme; fourteen are set to face the starter for the Summer Plate (3.14) with the official going described as good. 

Tomorrow's renewal certainly appears to lack the quality seen in recent years. 

Light N Strike, Peregrine Run and Francky Du Berlais share top weight on a handicap rating of 139; compare that rating with those of horses allocated to carry top weight in this race over the past decade:

2021: Talkischeap (150)

2020: San Benedeto (150)

2019: Pacific De Baune (149)

2018: Alcala (148)

2017: Henryville (152)

2016: Ballynagar (157)

2015: Conquisto (143)

2014: Pantxoa (142)

2013: Woolcombe Folly (153)

2012: Auroras Encore (149)

Last year Francky Du Berlais claimed the honours beating Exelerator Express seven and a half lengths off a mark of 137; he tries to repeat the trick tomorrow off a mark just two pounds higher.

Unusually, three in the field have raced in the past week.

Both Texard (won at Uttoxeter on Wednesday) and Rostello (won a Class 5 Handicap Chase at Stratford on Sunday with comparative ease) have been raised five pounds for their efforts while Al Roc finished 25 lengths second behind Chapmanshype at Newton Abbot on Monday. 

Mortlach heads the market at the time of writing on the back of three novice chase wins. 

Fergal O'Brien's charge has dominated small fields by racing from the front but this is likely to prove a different test altogether and certainly his stiffest to date. 

The Clarke Chase run at Uttoxeter at the end of May can often prove informative - Francky Du Berlais won last year's renewal. 

This year Demachine beat Manofthemountain three and a quarter lengths (Al Roc eighth); both had undergone wind surgery following their last run. 

To be honest, I expected to see Kerry Lee's charge entered here but he's nowhere to be seen. 

The handicapper has decided to leave Manofthemountain on a mark of 138. In April 2021 Emma Lavelle's inmate won a handicap chase at Cheltenham off 137; my slight concern is this tight track may not play to his strengths.

In the Summer Plate Trial Handicap Chase run over course and distance last month Mahler's Promise beat Statuario two lengths with third Costly Diamond 15 lengths adrift. On revised terms the pair look closely matched, although Peter Bowen's charge has yet to win in 13 attempts over fences. 

Two mares have come home in front in recent years - Casablanca Mix (2019) and Really Super (2020) - and J.P. McManus will be hoping La Domaniale can add to that total. La Domaniale has just three chase starts to her name.

The other mare in the field, Rapid Response, makes the trip over from Ireland. 

The stable has been operating at a win strike-rate of 23% on the Flat over the past fortnight; Rapid Response appears to have had this race as a target but she would probably prefer some cut underfoot.

Light N Strike has finished in the first three on all seven chase starts. 

His win at Stratford last time reads well and Jack Wildman claims seven but there's a slight question mark over this extended trip - a comment that also applies to Tardree. 

Since 1995 four six-year-olds have collected the spoils: Stately Home (1997); Chicuelo (2002); Iron Man (2007); and Really Super (2020). 

Stately Home remains the only winner to carry more than 11-07 to victory while just two older than ten have obliged: Saskia's Hero (1998) and Glinger (2004). 

I could certainly see Licklighter outrunning his current odds of 33/1 if allowed to bowl along in front while Peregrine Run should appreciate decent ground but, to date, no twelve-year-old has collected the spoils.

Not the highest quality renewal but a very competitive race nonetheless. 

The chance of  Francky Du Berlais in particular is respected - Peter Bowen has trained seven previous winners - but I'm going to take an each-way interest in Mahler's Promise; Seamus Mullins' charge has finished in the first three on nine of his ten chase starts.

Mahler's Promise is the each-way suggestion, at the time of writing 10/1 with bet365 who pay one fifth the odds four places.

Friday, April 29, 2022

A brief review of the 2021/22 jumps season

Champion jockey: Brian Hughes

Champion trainer: Paul Nicholls

Winning owner: J P McManus

Champion conditional jockey: Kevin Brogan

With 204 winners, 99 ahead of nearest challenger Sam Twiston-Davies, champion jockey Brian Hughes joined a select band of riders who have ridden more than 200 jump winners in a season - Peter Scudamore, Sir Anthony McCoy and Richard Johnson. 

In the week leading up to the Grand National Mr Sam Waley-Cohen announced his retirement from the saddle, indicating Noble Yeats in the National would be his last ride. He then went out and rode the 50/1 chance to victory, coming home two and a quarter lengths ahead of Any Second Now. Trainer Emmet Mullins won the Grand National with his first runner in the race. 

Robbie Power wanted to retire by winning the 2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard 2021 winner Minella Indo. Unfortunately for Robbie Rachael Blackmore had unfinished business from last year; A Plus Tard came home 15 lengths ahead of his stablemate. Robbie's final ride was aboard Teahupoo in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.    

And after a career spanning 36 years, Dave Roberts, jockey agent to the stars, was another to announce his retirement.

Rachael Blackmore won a second Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle, Flooring Porter a second Stayers' Hurdle.  

L'Homme Presse looked impressive in the Brown Advisory but Ahoy Senor turned the tables at Aintree. 

This year's Champion Chase was billed a rematch between between Shiskin and Energumene. 

Nico De Boinville thought the former was 'cooked' in the Clarence House at Ascot but somehow his mount managed to dig deep and beat the latter a length in a race that, for once, lived up to all the pre-race hyperbole.

Heavy rain preceded the re-match. Shishkin never went a yard in the soft ground and was pulled up before the ninth; Energumene won at odds of 5/2. 

Constitution Hill's annihilation of his opponents in the Supreme will live long in the memory; Nicky Henderson's charge is currently quoted 2/1 favourite for the 2023 Champion Hurdle.

Prices of a different sort perturbed punters at this year's Festival: Guinness £7.00 a pint; pasty £7.50;  gin and tonic £14.00; Moet & Chandon (20cl) £29.00; bottle of sauvignon blanc £80.00. 

Many took to social media to voice their displeasure, vowing not to return next year. 

You can't help but wonder whether those in charge are in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg; plans for a five-day Festival appear to be at an advanced stage.   

During an unseasonably dry autumn Midnight Shadow won the Paddy Power Gold Cup, West Cork the Greatwood, Nube Negra the Shloer, A Plus Tard the Betfair Chase and Cloudy Glen the Ladbrokes Trophy.

The Robbie Dunne / Bryony Frost case allowed punters a peek into the inner sanctum of the weighing room and it didn't prove particularly edifying. Dunne was suspended for 18 months for bullying Frost; on appeal his ban was reduced to 10 months.

Snow Leopardess beat Hill Sixteen a nose in the Becher and was well backed for the National but the grey mare failed to handle the Aintree preliminaries. Aidan Coleman looked after her, pulling up after one circuit; he received plenty of earache for his troubles.

Champ won the Long Walk in December and was sent off 8/15 favourite for the Cleeve; he was comprehensively beaten by Paisley Park who lost 20 lengths at the start yet still came home over three lengths to the good. 

Frodon (Bryony Frost) and Minella Indo (Rachael Blackmore) took each other on from the start in the King George at Kempton allowing Danny Mullins and Tornado Flyer to come from behind and pick up the pieces.

Iwilldoit did it in fine style and won an attritional Welsh National.  

Conceding 16 pounds Royal Pagaille pipped Sam Brown half a length in the Peter Marsh at Haydock while Glory And Fortune became the first horse older than six to win the Betfair Hurdle since Geos in 2004. 

Saturday February 26th 2022 will be a day Christian Williams won't forget in a hurry. Win My Wings beat Eclair Surf in the Eider at Newcastle and half an hour later Cap Du Nord beat stablemate Kitty's Light in the Coral Trophy at Kempton. 

Five weeks later Williams saddled Win My Wings and Kitty's Light to finish first and second in the Scottish Grand National. 

Fellow Welsh trainer Evan Williams certainly has a character on his hands with Coole Cody. The 2020 Paddy Power Gold Cup winner was still in the lead when coming to grief two out in this year's renewal. Four weeks later  he won Racing Post Gold Cup over the course and distance - and the Craft Irish Whiskey Co Plate at the Festival at odds of 22/1. 

On the final day at Sandown Greaneteen won the Celebration Chase and Irish raider Hewick the bet365 Chase with something to spare.

For a second year Flooring Porter is nominated blog horse of the year for that victory in the Stayers' Hurdle.

I'm getting on a bit now, I know, but the sport just doesn't seem quite the same. In a recent post on his ATR blog Kevin Blake told readers National Hunt racing needs to wake up before it's too late

Some food for thought there.

Friday, April 22, 2022

bet365 Gold Cup 2022

There as a dramatic finish to last year's bet365 Gold Cup with Enrilo passing the post threequarters of a length ahead of Potterman with Kitty's Light a short-head behind in third. 

Following the inevitable stewards' inquiry, Potterman was awarded the race with Kitty's Light promoted to second and Enrilo demoted to third having hung badly left and hampered Kitty's Light racing up the hill; most commentators felt Kitty's Light would have have won given a clear run. 

The three do battle once again tomorrow along with Cap Du Nord who was only beaten five lengths in fifth. Enrilo is just one pound higher, Potterman two, Kitty's Light effectively five as Jack Tudor no longer claims three while Cap Du Nord goes off a mark five pounds lower.

15 face the starter at 3.32 tomorrow; the going is described as good, good to firm in places.

For some time this race has been the specific target of both Enrilo and Potterman.

Enrilo hasn't had the best of seasons - falling in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and then pulling up behind Commodore at Cheltenham in December when sent off the 11/4 favourite. He ran better next time when fourth behind Cap Du Nord and Kitty's Light in the Coral Trophy at Kempton in February; to my mind he doesn't look the easiest of rides but Paul Nicholls tells readers of his Betfair blog the horse is 'ready to run for his life'.

Favourites do not have a good record in the race; Alistair Jones' preview in the Weekender indicates the last outright market leader to oblige was Mr Frisk in 1990.  

Christian Williams has certainly made a name for himself in recent weeks with the likes of Kitty's Light, Cap Du Nord and nine-year-old mare Win My Wings who became the first horse since Willsford in 1995 to win the Eider Chase at Newcastle and the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in the same season. 

She beat stablemate Kitty's Light seven lengths in the Scottish National (Fidux fourth, Prime Venture sixth with Via Dolorosa and El Paso Wood both pulled up) but has subsequently been clobbered 14 pounds by the handicapper; this looks a tough task. 

Kitty's Light isn't the biggest of individuals though; to date connections have preferred to avoid early scrimmaging and ride their race from the rear. The gelding was pulled up after suffering interference in the Ladbrokes Trophy - he has finished second four times this term. Cheekpieces are tried for the first time and I wonder whether Jack Tudor will give his mount a more prominent ride tomorrow.

Of his three runners Williams is on record saying he'd place his fiver on Kitty's Light.

Underfoot conditions will suit Irish raiders Hewick and Streets Of Doyen; the former doesn't look particularly well handicapped even allowing for Jordan Gainford's three pound claim while I'm not convinced the trip will play to the latter's strengths. 

The only Irish trained winner in the past 20 years was Church Island in 2010. 

In the same timeframe only four have carried more than 11-00 to victory: Puntal 11-04 (2004); Lacdoudal 11-05 (2006); Tidal Bay 11-12 (2012); and Potterman 11-09 (2021). 

Flegmatik is another with concerns about the trip but off a featherweight Musical Slave's chance is respected. 

Cheekpieces seemed to help this one beat Enqarde with something to spare at Haydock last Saturday and he goes off the same mark tomorrow. Back in January in receipt of one pound he finished just two lengths behind Win My Wings at Exeter.

Domaine De L'Isle finished fourth in the Becher behind Snow Leopardess, tenth in the Eider behind Win My Wings and unseated Harry Bannister at the Chair at Aintree a fortnight ago. 

Step Back likes it at Sandown and won the 2018 renewal; no horse older than 11 has ever come home in front.

At the time of writing the top of the market is centred around Enrilo, Kitty's Light and Win My Wings.

The bookmakers aren't taking any chances with Musical Slave; several pay five places and 12/1 about Potterman looks fair value. Last year's 'winner' underwent wind surgery in January and won the Borders Handicap Chase at Kelso last month.

I thought Fidux ran well at odds of 66/1 on his first try at a marathon trip in the Scottish National three weeks ago. 

That was his first outing for 112 days; Daryl Jacob takes the ride once again. 

The gelding certainly isn't weighted to reverse form with Kitty's Light or Win My Wings but he has won off this mark previously - the shorter trip and better ground here should help his cause.

Paddy Power, Betfair and William Hill are paying five places and offer 22/1 at the time of writing. 

Fidux is the each-way suggestion. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

The Challenger Staying Chase Series Final at Haydock

A short post this evening - apparently Easter holiday obligations have to take priority. I still can't quite put my finger on the precise moment when, many years ago, it all started to go wrong. 

Anyway, the result is I haven't done the detailed homework required for the Challenger Series Finals card at Haydock tomorrow but, what the hell, I'm going to have a wager in the Staying Chase Final at 3.52.

Favourite Bavington Bob has won his last four on the bounce; Ann Hamilton's charge has risen from a mark of 116 to 139.

Kap Auteuil beat Coral Trophy fifth Galahad Quest at Stratford last time and is now on a career high mark of 140.

Musical Slave's two length third behind Win My Wings at Exeter in January reads well, given that Win My Wings subsequently went on to win the Eider at Newcastle and the Scottish Grand National at Ayr. 

I've never been totally convinced this one is totally committed to the game - at Sandown last time the form book indicates Tom O'Brien 'cajoled' his mount mid-race before the pair came home ahead of Notachance. Connections will hope first-time cheekpieces aid the cause.

Breizh Alko is talented but has legs like glass while Quartz Du Rheu will certainly appreciate better ground.

Enqarde and Snuff Box complete the line-up and both are course and distance winners; the former is of interest.

Dr. Richard Newland's charge beat Remastered ten lengths in the Tommy Whittle here last December before being pulled up behind The Galloping Bear in the Grand National Trial in February. The going at Haydock that day was extremely testing - only three of the 11 runners completed - and a fortnight later Enqarde underwent wind surgery. 

This is his first run since and he wears a tongue-tie for the first time. Drying ground should help and I'd like to think he can be competitive.

7/1 at the time of writing, I'm going to have a bet on Enqarde to win.

Off to sort some Easter presents now...

Friday, April 08, 2022

Aintree Grand National 2022

The success of Irish trained horses in recent years has been well documented; the going for tomorrow's renewal, due off at 5.15, is currently described as good to soft. 

21 of the 40 runners are trained in Ireland; Gordon Elliott saddles seven - Davy Russell is aboard Run Wild Fred - and Willie Mullins four. 

The form of Gordon Elliott's string has been a cause of some concern recently while earlier in the week Willie Mullins was uncharacteristically downbeat about the chances of his charges.

Three of the four reserves - Commodore, School Boy Hours and Romain De Senam - will take their chance following the withdrawals of Phoenix Way (temperature), Easysland (bad scope) and Lord Du Mesnil (ground).  

Rachael Blackmore renews her partnership with last year's winner Minella Times. 

Henry De Bromhead's inmate heads the weights this year; the last horse to carry top weight to victory was Red Rum in 1974. Since then only three have collected first prize with a burden greater than 11-05: Red Rum 11-08 (1977); Neptune Collonges 11-06 (2012); and Many Clouds 11-09 (2015).

Minella Times hasn't been in such good form this term but nonetheless, at the time of writing, shares favouritism with Any Second Now (unlucky in third last year), Delta Work (denied Tiger Roll to win the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham 24 days ago) and grey mare Snow Leopardess (won the Becher Chase in December).

The last seven-year-old to come home in front was Bogskar in 1940 which doesn't augur too well for Coko Beach and Noble Yeats; the latter will be the last ride for amateur Sam Waley-Cohen who announced his retirement from race-riding earlier in the week.    

It's 99 years since 13-year-old won Sergeant Murphy won; 13-year-old Blaklion tries to repeat the feat tomorrow. 

Dan Skeleton's charge finished fourth behind One For Arthur in 2017, sixth last year and won the 2017 Becher Chase over these obstacles. Quoted at 100/1 with Paddy Power at the time of writing, to my mind he looks the best value longshot. 

Those who like to make their own selections may find the Racing Post's pinstickers' guide of some use; for everyone else, there's this:

1. Fiddlerontheroof

Placed in all 10 chase starts to date. Finished second in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November, making up a lot of ground up the long home straight. Two pounds well in at the weights.

2. Enjoy D'allen

Third behind Freewheelin Dylan in last year's Irish National and looks to have been laid out for this. Another placed in all 10 chase starts to date. 

3. Any Second Now

Unlucky last year finishing eight lengths third after being badly hampered by a faller at the 12th fence. Set to carry 13 pounds more than last year. 

4. Fortescue

Four pounds well in at the weights but regular rider Hugh Nugent can't use his five pounds claim. Finished well beaten in seventh in the Ladbrokes Trophy but beat Fiddlerontheroof in the Swinley Chase at Ascot seven weeks ago. Looks the type to appreciate a marathon test.

As always, check each-way place terms with your bookmaker - most High St. firms are paying six places; Sky Bet are paying seven.

It just remains for me to wish you all the very best of luck!

Friday, April 01, 2022

Scottish Grand National 2022

For the first time in as long as I can remember the Scottish Grand National is to be run before the Grand National.

24 made the final declaration stage for this year's Ayr showpiece (3.35) which, in terms of quality, wouldn't be the best of renewals. Last year top weight Lake View Lad raced off a mark of 155; Hill Sixteen starts off 147 tomorrow. Streets of Doyen has been declared a non-runner.

The going is currently described as good to soft, good in places.

Five weeks ago trainer Christian Williams had one Saturday afternoon he's unlikely to forget in a hurry. Win My Wings won the Eider Chase at Newcastle; half an hour later Cap Du Nord beat stablemate Kitty's Light in the Coral Trophy Handicap Chase at Kempton.

Kitty's Light heads the market for tomorrow's race - and all seven favourites obliged at Ayr today. 

A six-year-old, Kitty's Light already has the form of a seasoned handicapper in the book and appeared unlucky not to win the bet365 Chase at Sandown last April off 139; the run at Kempton last time served notice of a return to form. 

Not the biggest of individuals, the bay tends to be ridden conservatively in rear to avoid early scrimmaging before making ground in the latter stages of a race and that, coupled with a weight of 11-08, gives me cause for concern. 

Win My Wings, with Ryan Mania up, beat Innisfree Lad (third), Court Master (fourth) and History Of Fashion (unseated rider) in the Eider. The handicapper has raised the mare eight pounds for that effort but amateur Mr. Rob James claims seven so effectively starts on a mark just one pound higher. 

Ryan Mania on The Ferry Master will certainly know what he has to beat. 

Sandy Thomson's charge finished a creditable fourth off 133 behind Mighty Thunder last year and is five pounds lower this time - stablemate Dingo Dollar finished second and is quoted a 50/1 chance for next week's Aintree showpiece.

When I looked back at the race, it appeared The Ferry Master held every chance four out but lost ground up the home straight - and lost two places before the final fence. A wind operation at the end of January may help the cause but there's a lingering doubt whether he really sees out the trip.

Court Master also appeared to fade from two out in the Eider. 

Cool Mix has never won beyond two miles four and a half furlongs but he finished fifth last year, threequarters of a length behind The Ferry Master. He looks well handicapped off a mark six pounds lower and Alan Doyle claims seven. Iain Jardine's charge finished ahead of The Ferry Master in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle in November and sports a first-time tongue tie.

Stormy Judge's defeat of Enjoy D'allen and School Boy Hours in a Navan novice chase 12 months ago reads very well - and Danny Mullins takes the ride tomorrow. This one's chance is respected but his best form to date has come on soft / heavy ground and similar comments apply to stablemate History Of Fashion. Peter Fahy saddled Mister Fogpatches to finish third last year.

Novice chasers have a good record in this race. 

Ashtown Lad, a seven length third behind Ahoy Senor in the Towton at Wetherby, could be ahead of his mark as he races beyond three miles for the first time. Major Dundee has a similar profile while Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has won this three times with Captain Dibble (1992), Earth Summit (1994) and Hello Bud (2009), saddles Fantastikas. Fantastikas finished seventh behind Corach Rambler in the Ultima 18 days ago (One More Fleurie seventeenth and Vintage Clouds pulled up); the relatively quick turn out here isn't ideal. Ask A Honey Bee has shown a tendency to jump right on occasions.

Olly Murphy is on record saying The Wolf is 'a vey hard ride'. The gelding's tendency to miss one out here and there doesn't help the cause but he finished second behind Captain Cattistock in the Edinburgh National last time out.

Hill Sixteen's second behind Nut's Well in Kelso's Premier Chase four weeks ago reads well but has resulted in a harsh-looking nine pound rise; Jack Andrews can claim five. Since 2000 only two horses have carried more than 11-03 to victory: Grey Abbey (11-12 in 2004) and Vicente (11-10 in 2017).

Chirico Vallis and Via Dolorosa are two 10-year-olds in form. 

The former pipped Kitty's Light in the Native River Handicap Chase at Chepstow in October (Fidux sixth) but appeared to weaken over three miles five when second behind Eclair Surf in the Classic Chase at Warwick.  

The latter was raised 10 pounds when beating Potters Legend at Fakenham last time where he showed a tendency to jump right.

El Paso Wood has been kept busy since joining David Pipe in the autumn - this will be his ninth start. Last time he finished fourth at odds of 80/1 in the Midlands Grand National. 

He's now six pounds better off but I wonder whether the gelding has fully recovered from that slog in the Uttoxeter mud a fortnight ago.

Innisfree Lad wouldn't be the most consistent of individuals but of those at bigger prices Jersey Bean is certainly worth a second look. 

Oliver Sherwood's charge beat Furius De Ciergues in Haydock's Stayers' Handicap Chase over an extended three and a half miles in November and looks to have been trained specifically for this.

The ground is likely to be too quick for Prime Venture while Strong Economy races from four pounds out of the handicap.

As ever, a really competitive renewal - the two on the shortlist are Major Dundee and Jersey Bean. 

Alan King won this with novice Godsmejudge in 2013 and has a win strike rate of 18% over the past fortnight while Oliver Sherwood's last winner was some 78 days ago - the nod has to go to Major Dundee.

Major Dundee is the each-way selection, at the time of writing 12/1 with William Hill who are paying six places.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Cheltenham Festival 2022 - one week on

One week on and the results of those Festival handicaps have generated some discussion.

British based trainers recorded five wins, Irish trainers four; the BHA head of handicapping Dominic Gardiner-Hill expressed satisfaction with that outcome following 'tweaks' made by his team after last year's 'drubbing'. 

This year 10 Irish trained runners from 100 entries (10%) recorded a top three finish in one of the nine Festival handicaps. 

Corresponding figures for the preceding three years: 

2021 (9 races): 13 from 65 entries (20%); 

2020 (10 races): 17 from 73 entries (23.29%);  

2019 (10 races): 13 from 68 entries (19.12%).

Unusually, Irish runners dominated three handicaps in particular last week: the Boodles (14 of 21 entries); the County (18 of 26 entries); and the Martin Pipe (18 of 23 entries). Those three races account for half the total Irish runners in handicaps this year.

Having won the previous six renewals, the Irish boast a good record in the Pertemps Final but this year British trained horses filled five of the first six places. Hughie Morrison, trainer of winner Third Wind, said: "We'll take a huge amount of heart from British trainers winning five handicaps."

Ben Pauling, trainer of Grand Annual winner Global Citizen, said: "The results show they were right to look at the handicaps."

Unsurprisingly, things looks a lot different from the other side of the Irish Sea. 

In a blog post pundit Kevin Blake describes the tweaks made as 'a substantial and calculated intervention by the British handicapping team to try and tilt the tables in favour of the home team.' 

Still, the domination of the Irish continues. Earlier this week both the Racing Post and Independent.ie reported that Willie Mullins, the Festival's leading trainer with 10 wins, is mulling over a bid for the British trainers' title. Vincent O'Brien was the last Irish trainer to win the British jumps championship in 1952/53 and 1953/54.  

Of course, punters talking prices forms a big part of any Cheltenham Festival week. Take a quick dekko at some of these, reported directly from the track by Rick Broadbent in The Times on Wednesday - they put bookmakers to shame...

Pint of Guinness: £7.00; a pasty: £7.50; gin & tonic: £14.00; Moet & Chandon (20cl): £29.00; bottle of sauvignon blanc: £80.00.

The Racing Post quotes owner Carl Hinchy: "Many, many people are simply saying they won't be coming back to be extorted. These prices are not acceptable."

Finally, on the morning of the Stayers' Hurdle I inadvertently found myself in a branch of Waitrose queuing up to pay for some bottles of craft beer. In front of me two ladies - daughter and mother - of a particular age, paying separately for sundry items and well practised in the art of taking all the time they needed. 

The well-spoken - and well-coiffured - mother removed her gloves and proceeded to engage the cashier in conversation about Wednesday's downpour at Prestbury Park. She continued: "Cheltenham, you know, these days, it's full of tarts in mini-skirts. It never used to be like that - Cheltenham - but I'm afraid that's how it has gone."  

Only in a branch of Waitrose.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Cheltenham Festival 2022 - the betting debrief

Shown below a record of the blog's highlighted selections at the 2022 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 to one fifth the odds.

I am pleased to report that, for the sixth time in the past seven years, the blog has returned a profit at the Festival. although this year's performance falls some way short of the outlier recorded last year.


1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Selection: Constitution Hill

Bet: Win

Advised price: 5/2

Starting price: 9/4jf

Result: Win

Return: 3.50

Profit/Loss: +2.50

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase

Selection: Kiltealy Briggs

Bet: Each way 

Advised price: 20/1

Starting price: 40/1

Result: Pulled up

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss -1.00


Profit/Loss Tuesday: +1.50



2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Selection: Beacon Edge

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 12/1

Starting price: 8/1

Result: Seventh

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

2.50 Coral Cup

Selection: Gowel Road

Bet: Each way (6 places)

Advised price: 11/1

Starting price: 13/2

Result: Seventh

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss -1.00

3.30 Champion Chase

Selection: Nube Negra

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 16/1

Starting price: n/a

Result: Non-runner

Profit/Loss: 0.00


Profit/Loss Wednesday: -2.00



2.10 Pertemps Network Final

Selection: If The Cap Fits

Bet: Each way (8 places)

Advised price: 40/1

Starting price: 33/1

Result: Sixth

Return: 4.5

Profit/Loss: +3.5

3.30 Stayers Hurdle

Selection: Flooring Porter

Bet: Win

Advised price: 4/1

Starting price: 4/1

Result: Win

Return: 5.00

Profit/Loss +4.0


Profit/Loss Thursday: +7.5



3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup

Selection: Galvin

Advised price: 7/2

Starting price: 100/30

Result: Fourth

Return 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

5.30 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle

Selection: Quinta Do Mar

Bet: Each way (6 places)

Advised price: 40/1

Starting price: 40/1

Result: Twelfth

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00


Profit/Loss Friday: -2.00


Outlay over four days: 8 points

Profit/Loss over four days: +5.0 points

Profit/Loss as percentage of outlay: +62.5% 

-------------

Normal service will be resumed next week.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Cheltenham 2022 - Friday

Henry Daly thinks Hillcrest is probably the best he has trained and I'd love to see the horse win the Albert Bartlett (2.50) tomorrow but down the years the Albert Bartlett has served up more shocks than a sack of soggy spuds. 

Only one favourite has obliged in the past decade (At Fishers Cross in 2013); the only other winner returned at a single figure price was Monkfish in 2020. 

3.30 Gold Cup

In last year's Gold Cup Minella Indo beat stablemate A Plus Tard one and a quarter lengths with Al Boum Photo third, Royal Pagaille sixth and Santini pulled up. 

The champion returns to defend his crown after an up and down season. 

Rachael Blackmore took on Bryony Frost and Frodon from the lead in the King George; Danny Mullins and Tornado Flyer rode a waiting race and then came from behind to pick up the spoils. 

Minella Indo's second behind Conflated in the Irish Gold Cup last time was a far better performance and an encouraging trial.

A Plus Tard was most impressive in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November. 

Although the going was officially described as good to soft that day, it was quite quick for the time of year. The race fell apart a little with Bristol De Mai unable to handle underfoot conditions, Imperial Aura falling and Waiting Patiently being pulled up but, that said, A Plus Tard sauntered to a 22 length victory over Royal Pagaille.

Next time A Plus Tard was pipped a short head by Galvin in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown. 

It's worth noting that De Bromhead's yard was going through a quiet spell at the time; on official ratings A Plus Tard has four pounds in hand over Galvin.

Galvin won the National Hunt Challenge Cup over three miles six at the 2021 Festival and, obviously, is a stout stayer.

Al Boum Photo was sent off favourite for last year's Gold Cup; although finishing third, connections were a little disappointed with the run. He sports cheekpieces for the first time tomorrow - the last 10-year-old to come home in front was Cool Dawn in 1998.

The British challenge is headed by Protektorat who beat Native River 25 lengths in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on only his second try at a trip beyond two miles five furlongs. 

His very best form has been on soft ground so Wednesday's downpour will certainly have helped the cause but at the end of  ITV's coverage today Luke Harvey reported the ground drying out quickly.

Royal Pagaille is another who wouldn't be suited by drying ground.

Three weeks after winning the Marsh Novices' Chase at last year's Festival Chantry House went to Aintree and slammed Shan Blue 32 lengths in the Mildmay. 

Nicky Henderson's charge didn't look overly keen in the King George. Wearing cheekpieces next time he beat Santini and Aye Right in the Cotswold Chase but it looked jolly hard work on tiring ground and he finished very tired.

Has Polly Grundy managed to rekindle the fire in Santini? 

Based near Ottery St Mary in Devon, the handler says her charge is 'as good as I can have him'; he is over 15 kilos lighter than when he ran in the Cotswold Chase. 

Powering up the hill, Santini was beaten a neck by Al Boum Photo in the 2020 renewal - another couple of strides and he would have won. He was rated 171 that day; his current rating is 153.

Asterion Forlonge is a talented individual but he has yet to win beyond two miles five and his jumping is a cause for concern. 

Aye Right is an old favourite who jumps well and likes to race with the pace but this is a big ask.

Galvin is my idea of the winner.

Selection: Galvin win (7/2 in places). 

5.30 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle

Finally, I just can't resist a longshot in the finale. 

Langer Dan was second behind Galopin Des Champs in this race last year and races off a mark just two pounds higher tomorrow. 

This has been the target all season; the stable certainly know the time of day having won the County Hurdle with Superb Story (2016), Mohaayed (2018) and Ch'tibello (2019).

I like the Lanzarote form. 

Cobblers Dream won five and a half lengths that day on only his second start in a handicap and he has been raised eight pounds. 

I saw Ben Case's charge, a £85,000 purchase, on his debut in this country at Warwick and he certainly caught the eye.

Quinta Do Mar was in the process of running a big race in the Lanzarote and, four lengths down, looked booked for third when coming to grief at the final flight. 

In a Weekender stable tour [01-05.12.21] handler Ben Pauling said:

"There has been marked improvement this season and his two wins from as many runs, which were both impressive performances, have seen him shoot up 16lb to 137. He is still on a fair mark and will be saved for the Lanzarote Hurdle over the new year. I'd expect him to take some beating in that."

The handicapper dropped Quinta Do Mar two pounds after the run in the Lanzarote. 

The yard has been been through a quiet spell of late but Global Citizen won the Grand Annual yesterday and stablemate Anightinlambourn won at Huntingdon. 

Selection: Quinta Do Mar each way (40/1 generally with several layers paying six places).

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Cheltenham 2022 - Thursday

The rain forecast for Wednesday morning duly arrived - by the bucketful. The going on the Old Course was duly changed to soft for the Ballymore and then to heavy after the Champion Chase. It looked touch and go whether the concluding bumper would be run.

The action on Thursday and Friday takes place on the New Course where the going is currently described as soft.

Perhaps I'm getting old but, with just four declared for the Turners (1.30) and Allaho odds on in the Ryanair (2.50), the usual interest in the Thursday card just isn't quite there.

2.10 Pertemps Network Final 

Irish runners have won the last six renewals of this race: 2016 Pat Kelly (Mall Dini); 2017 Pat Kelly (Presenting Percy); 2018 Gordon Elliott (Delta Work); 2019 Gordon Elliott (Sire Du Berlais); 2020 Gordon Elliott (Sire Du Berlais); 2021 Paul Nolan (Mrs Milner).

In 2019 Irish trained horses filled five of the first seven places; in 2020 four of the first five places; in 2021 three of the first four places.

Following a review conducted by the British Horseracing Authority after last year's Festival, changes have been made to the way British runners are handicapped

In very broad terms Irish hurdlers in open handicaps do not appear to have been as leniently treated as British hurdlers. 

Sporting John won a qualifier for this at Warwick in January with The Jam Man second, Third Wind third, Sire Du Berlais - second to Flooring Porter in last year's Stayers' Hurdle - fourth and Alaphilippe - fifth in last year's Albert Bartlett behind Vanillier - fifth. 

The Jam Man, Sire Du Berlais and Alaphilippe all run off a mark two pounds lower, Third Wind a mark three pounds lower.  

Alaphilippe, rated 143 when fifth behind Vanillier in last year's Albert Bartlett (correction to a statement made in linked post above), goes off 138 tomorrow.

After all that it's no surprise to see Sire Du Berlais and Alaphilippe at the head of the market. 

British trained runners who could have something in hand of their current mark include Honest Vic, Dame De Compagnie, Third Wind and If The Cap Fits.

Third Wind has fallen from 149 to 141 this season; Hughie Morrison's charge finished fourth behind Sire Du Berlais in this race two years ago. 

That said, he looked to have a hard enough time of it when a well-beaten third on heavy ground behind Wholestone in the Rendlesham at Haydock just three and a half weeks ago. 

Back in December Harry Fry said that If The Cap Fits was on a mark he should be competitive off - 145 at the time. He goes off 137 tomorrow and - perhaps - hinted at a return to form when making late headway to finish fifth at Sandown last time. 

Mr. Ben Bromley claims seven but no horse older than eight has won this in the past decade.

As always, a difficult race and the value at the head of the market has long since disappeared. 

I'll take a small each-way interest in If The Cap Fits.

Selection: If The Cap Fits each way (40/1 with bet365 paying eight places).

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

Both Klassical Dream and Flooring Porter will need to handle the preliminaries. 

The former beat the latter at Leopardstown over Christmas but there was controversy at the start with a hint Paul Townend had jumped the tapes on Willie Mullins' charge. 

Klassical Dream subsequently disappointed when beaten at odds of 1/3f by Royal Kahala at Gowran Park at the end of January - the trainer has blamed himself for that effort.

On official ratings Klassical Dream is the best horse in the race and has two pounds in hand over Flooring Porter.

Champ beat Thyme Hill in the Long Walk at Ascot in December but was then beaten fair and square by Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle. Emma Lavelle's charge lost ground by whipping round at the start yet still came home three and a quarter lengths ahead of Champ with Lisnagar Oscar third. The last horse older than nine to collect the spoils was Crimson Embers in 1986.

Lisnagar Oscar wouldn't have been suited by making the running in the Cleeve; after the race trainer Rebecca Curtis reported she had her charge back to his best for the first time in two years.

The layers seem to have their prices about right.  

Flooring Porter did me a favour winning this from the front last year and I'm going to stay loyal. Despite that effort at Gowran Park,  Klassical Dream is feared most.

Selection: Flooring Porter win (4/1 generally).

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Cheltenham 2022 - Wednesday

The going on the hurdle and chase courses is currently described as good, good to soft in places; heavy rain is forecast from mid morning onwards.

2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Ahoy Senor has a big engine and the jumping is getting better. Lucinda Russell's charge burst onto the scene last April when beating Bravemansgame seven lengths in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle at odds of 66/1.

Bravemansgame is quick and slick at his fences; he beat Ahoy Senor seven and a half lengths at Kempton in the Kauto Star on Boxing Day. 

The question is - will he come up the hill? I remain to be convinced. 

Quoting from the Racing Post's published comments-in-running after his third behind Bob Olinger in last year's Ballymore: '...pushed along two out,  soon rallied and every chance, lost ground approaching last, ridden and lost second run-in, weakened inside final 110yds.'

Connections have decided to run L'Homme Presse here rather than in the Turners (1.30 Thursday) when Galopin Des Champs and Bob Olinger are set to locks horns. 

A sound jumper, he won The Dipper here over two miles four and a half furlongs on New Year's Day and shapes as though he'll handle the step up in trip.

Of the market principals L'Homme Presse gets the nod. 

With a number of layers paying four places both Beacon Edge and Fury Road are worth a second look. 

The former, fourth in last year's Stayers' Hurdle, beat the latter over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse in November. 

Fury Road was pulled up in the Stayers' Hurdle but looked good when winning at Leopardstown over Christmas before disappointing behind Galopin Des Champs at the Dublin Racing Festival. 

In receipt of seven pounds Farouk D'alene beat Beacon Edge threequarters of a length at Naas last month - the winner's jumping looked a cause for concern that day.

Selection: Beacon Edge each-way (12/1 with bet365, Coral and Bet Victor paying four places).

2.50 Coral Cup

Of the market principals, Camprond's fourth behind West Cork in the Greatwood reads well while Gowel Road beat Unexpected Party over course and distance in November conceding a stone.

At bigger prices McFabulous has been dropped five pounds since the turn of the year and sports first-time cheekpieces. 

Call Me Lord is now six pounds lower than on seasonal debut at Uttoxeter in December; perhaps his third behind Cobblers Dream in the Lanzarote hinted at a return to form.

26 runners and, as always, devilishly difficult.

Selection: Gowel Road each way (11/1 with William Hill paying six places).

3.30 Champion Chase

Energumene's quick jumping had Shiskin in trouble at Ascot but Nicky Henderson's charge stayed on stoutly to lead on the run-in. 

When going left-handed, Energumene has, on occasions, jumped out to his right. 

Chacun Pour Soi wasn't at his best when third in this last year behind Put The Kettle On and Nube Negra or when well beaten behind Greaneteen in the Tingle Creek. 

Willie Mullins has indicated he thinks the trip over on the ferry affects his charge and has made minor adjustments to the training regime to compensate. 

Chacun is in with every chance if running to his very best; two 10-year-olds have obliged in the past decade - Sprinter Sacre (2016) and Special Tiara (2017).

Henry De Bromhead has said the mare Put The Kettle On 'comes alive' at Cheltenham. 

Although she beat Nube Negra half a length last year, the second stumbled at the final flight and was making ground on the leader as they raced up the hill. 

Dan Skelton's charge reversed the form in the Shloer Chase and, after a below par effort in the Tingle Creek, has been kept fresh for this. 

In a recent stable tour Dan Skelton said:

"The better the ground the better result and we have a very fast horse who we know is best when fresh and it is a hot, hot race but we have him where we want, and I can't do anything about the others." 

On the proviso eight make it to post - and too much rain doesn't fall from the skies - Nube Negra makes most appeal as an each-way play against the main protagonists.

Selection: Nube Negra each-way (14/1 generally).   

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Cheltenham Festival 2022 - Tuesday

As I've said on numerous occasions in the past the Cheltenham Festival is a four day marathon; previously I've exercised a conservative approach on the opening day and, on balance, that approach has served me well enough.

Writing in Cheltenham The Ultimate Guide pro punter Andy Gibson tells readers: "If you can't see a shorty getting beat, just sit it out." That's what I intend to do in the Champion Hurdle (3.30). 

Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle 1.30

This year's renewal has been eagerly awaited. 

Willie Mullins saddles three of the nine runners, opting to run Sir Gerhard in the Ballymore (Wednesday 1.30) rather than here. Dysart Dynamo and Kilcruit head the Irish challenge while Constitution Hill and Jonbon from the Nicky Henderson stable are the main British protagonists.

Last year Appreciate It won this for Willie Mullins and created a lasting impression in the process, beating Ballyadam 24 lengths. Appreciate It hasn't been seen since but takes on Honeysuckle et al. in the Champion Hurdle at 3.30.

Dysart Dynamo has won both hurdle races from the front this season. Tom Segal, who has been in excellent form of late, thinks Dysart Dynamo 'has it all to prove'.

Constitution Hill is a relaxed, chilled individual whereas Jonbon lives on his nerves and has, on occasions, looked quite anxious - his victory at Haydock last time was workmanlike. 

Ordinarily I wouldn't play in this race but the sponsors are offering to return losing bets (win singles and the win part of each-way singles) to a maximum of £10.00.

Selection: Constitution Hill win (5/2 Sky Bet)

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase

24 declared and the Ultima is ultra competitive. 

Course and distance winner Frodon stands his ground and has to give seven pounds and upwards to the rest of the field. 

Un Temps Pour Tout carried top weight to victory in 2017; the bottom five run from out of the handicap. 

Death Duty goes off 144 - one pound lower than his Irish rating; the last Irish trained winner was Dun Doire in 2006.

Does He Know looked to have a hard enough race winning the Reynoldstown on desperate ground at Ascot three and a half weeks ago.

11-year-old Vintage Clouds won last year's renewal, goes off the same mark again, and bids to become the first 12-year-old to win since the war.

Ben Dundee finished second behind School Boy Hours at Leopardstown over Christmas with Death Duty fifth, Foxy Jacks eighth and Noble Yeats some way back in ninth.

On his penultimate start Kiltealy Briggs finished 17 lengths adrift of Bravemansgame in the Kauto Star at Kempton. Jamie Snowden's charge has since won over two and a half miles at Musselburgh and tries this trip for the first time. The handler issued an upbeat update recently, pointing out the step up in distance should suit as the gelding is out of a sister to 2011 Grand National winner Ballabriggs.

William Hill are paying seven places and also offer a best odds guarantee.

Selection: Kiltealy Briggs each way (20/1 William Hill)    

Friday, March 11, 2022

Cheltenham Festival 2022 - handicap hints and headaches...

Irish trained runners dominated last year's Festival winning 23 of the 28 races.

In the immediate aftermath  Willie Mullins attributed that domination to the long term vision of Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive at the time Brian Kavanagh while, amidst much soul-searching this side of the Irish Sea, Alan King talked of 'taking Ferraris on with Fords'.

In the recent past Irish horses have performed particularly well in Festival handicaps:

2019: 13 of the 68 runners achieved a top three finish (19.12%)

2020: 17 of the 73 runners achieved a top three finish (23.29%)

2021: 13 of the 65 runners achieved a top three finish (20%)

A review established by the British Horseracing Authority announced in September that changes to the way British horses are handicapped would be made 'to correct a perceived imbalance in ratings'.

In a recent piece of analysis published on his ATR blog, Kevin Blake looks at the implications of these changes and concludes:

"...while last year's equivalent of this piece of analysis was unusually upbeat about how the Irish-trained horses were treated as a group by the weights, there is much less to be happy about this year. The treatment of the handicap hurdlers seems notably tough given all that has changed with how leniently British hurdlers have been treated this season."

The post highlights the handicapper's treatment of Langer Dan, currently favourite for the Martin Pipe (Friday 5.30), to illustrate the point. 

In similar vein, on seasonal debut Alaphilippe lost two places after the final flight when finishing fifth behind Sporting John at Warwick in January. 

Fergal O'Brien's charge has been been dropped two pounds for that effort and is set to contest this year's renewal of the Pertemps Final (Thursday 2.10) off a mark of 138 - five pounds lower than when fifth in last year's race behind Vanillier.

Sire Du Berlais, fourth in that Warwick race off 158, won the 2020 renewal of the Pertemps Final off 152 in a faster time than Lisnagar Oscar won the Stayers' Hurdle, and is set to go off a mark of 156.   

The Gordon Elliott trained Death Duty - 7/1 joint favourite for the Ultima Handicap Chase (Tuesday 2.50) - is the only horse assigned a lower rating than his Irish mark. Ironically this is a race in which Irish runners haven't fared particularly well in recent times, Dun Doire the last one to oblige in 2006.

School Boy Hours, with entries in the Ultima (Tuesday 2.50),  the Kim Muir (Thursday 5.30), as well as the Grand National at Aintree, runs off the same mark as his Irish rating - 142. 

Noel Meade's charge was raised nine pounds after winning the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas with Ben Dundee second, Death Duty fifth, Foxy Jacks seventh and Noble Yeats ninth.  

Apparently the handicapper has also changed the way in which he rates French horses this season. 

As Paul Kealy has pointed out, under the old system Gaelic Warrior would have been rated 139 rather than 129 in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.50 Tuesday). 

In the same race it's possible to make a case for The Tide Turns being ahead of his mark (137) following his run behind Teahupoo in the Red Mills Trial. 

The only British trained runner with a rating above 130 is Petit Tonnerre (138) who also holds an entry in the Triumph Hurdle (Friday 1.30).

Taking into consideration the analysis above, British trained hurdlers with an entry in a Festival handicap and a mark that has fallen since the turn of the year include: 

McFabulous (155-150); Honest Vic (146-141); If The Cap Fits (142-137); Ask Dillon (141-137); Solara One (134-130); Boothill (135-132); Third Wind (146-144); Call Me Lord (144-142); Brinkley (142-140); Stoney Mountain (141-139); Pileon (137-135); and Balko Saint (133-131). 

After all that, currently just seven British trained horses are priced up either favourite or joint favourite for the Festival's 28 races:

Constitution Hill (Supreme)

Edwardstone (Arkle)

Good Risk At All (Coral Cup)

Shishkin (Champion Chase)

Celebre D'Allen (Paddy Power Plate)

Hillcrest (Albert Bartlett)

Langer Dan (Martin Pipe)

A quick glance at the Coral Cup and I'm surprised Gowel Road is 12/1 and Unexpected Party 9/1 when the former beat the latter over course and distance in November conceding a stone. Gowel Road also holds an entry in the Martin Pipe.

I think Kiltealy Briggs is worth a second look in the Ultima (Tuesday 2.50) as is Commodore in the Kim Muir (Thursday 5.30) on the back of an impressive win at the track back in December; the Venetia Williams trained grey also holds an entry in the Grand National.  

Threeunderthrufive looked interesting in the National Hunt Challenge Cup (Tuesday 5.30). Paul Nicholls happens to agree but the McNeill family are keen to run in the Brown Advisory (Wednesday 2.10).

Dan Skelton probably goes into next week with his strongest ever team - away from the handicaps, Nube Negra (Champion Chase) and Protektorat (Gold Cup) represent reasonable each-way plays although drying ground may not play to Protektorat's strengths.

And with no more than 10 runners in the Champion Hurdle I wonder if William Hill will pay five places as they did last year - Not So Sleepy finished fifth at odds of 125/1.

Sky Bet offer to return losing bets (win singles and win part of each way singles) to a maximum of £10.00 in the first race of the meeting, the Supreme (Tuesday 1.30). 

The crowds are set to make a welcome return this year; as always I'll aim to post selections for each of the four days.

Not long to wait now...

Friday, March 04, 2022

A Giant step - in the right direction?

With Cheltenham on the horizon I haven't spent a lot of time on tomorrow's cards but the opener at Newbury has piqued interest.

Eight have been declared for the 'Play Pick Six and win £1000 Veterans' Handicap Chase' due off at 1.15. Three and a quarter miles is the trip with the going currently described as soft.

At the time of writing Aso heads the market but looks eminently opposable. Venetia Williams' charge carries top weight, has never won beyond two miles five and didn't appear to quite stay the stiff three miles at Exeter last time out. 

Indy Five doesn't have any issues on that score and comes into this in good form having won off a mark of 115 at Doncaster in December and subsequently finishing second behind Manwell at Catterick; he meets better quality opposition here. 

Kauto Riko's fourth behind Chantry House in the Cotswold Chase catches the eye - Chantry House is quoted a 16/1 chance for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup in a fortnight's time - and his staying on second behind Two For Gold at Doncaster in December also reads well. 

Kim Bailey's charge franked that form on his next two starts - winning the Fleur de Lys Chase at Lingfield and finishing second behind Fakir D'Oudairies at Ascot two weeks ago.

Kauto's form looks the best on offer here.

Prime Venture won the final of the 2021 veterans' series at Sandown at the beginning of January (both Aso and Indy Five pulled up) but that was run on desperate, heavy ground - only five of the 13 starters completed after Valadom spread-eagled the field with a punishing front-running performance before fading between the final two flights.

Evan Williams' charge was raised seven pounds for that effort. Last week he became detached in a three mile hurdle race at Chepstow before staying on dourly to finish 17 lengths behind Ballyandy.

Christmas In April is one of a number in this field who like to race prominently. 

Colin Tizzard's charge won the Devon National at Exeter two years ago (Indy Five fifth); after posting a decent effort conceding six pounds to Hold That Taught at Carlisle in October, he appears to have gone off the boil and, sporting first-time blinkers, was well beaten at Wincanton last month.

Saint Xavier didn't jump well behind Big River at Kelso last time and I'm not convinced this is his best trip - in November 2021 he won over two miles one and half furlongs at Auteuil.

Minellacelebration faded out of contention in a veterans' chase at Warwick three and a half months ago but I've convinced myself Encounter A Giant is worth a second look provided eight make it to the start.

This one hasn't been easy to train; as a result, with just three starts to his name, he looks one of those most uncommon sorts - an unexposed ten-year-old.

In a recent stable tour [RP Weekender 16-20.02.22] handler Alastair Ralph had this to say of his charge:

"He had been off the radar since winning easily at Hereford in December 2019 but finally came back at Exeter last week when he was pulled up. He'd been away a couple of times and was as sharp as we could get him. I love him as he's a big, galloping sort but he has been plagued by problems, hence the low mileage." 

Although those comments are no ringing endorsement Encounter A Giant was highlighted as the 'dark horse' selection for the stable. He was dropped three pounds for that effort at Exeter and Alex Edwards claims three.

Kauto Riko is my idea of the winner but I'm hoping Encounter A Giant can build on that recent comeback and outrun current odds of 28/1.

Provided eight make the start, I'll take an each-way interest in Encounter A Giant

Friday, February 25, 2022

Eider Chase 2022

Following changes made in 2020, the Eider Chase, now run over a distance of four miles one furlong and 56 yards, is, by my reckoning, the third longest race in the calendar behind the Aintree Grand National and the Midlands Grand National run at Uttoxeter. 

Unfortunately the race fell foul of the weather in 2020; last year Sam's Adventure became the first winner over the extended distance, beating Crossley Tender threequarters of a length with Salty Boy a further 10 lengths adrift in third.

The going is currently described as good to soft; they're due off at 3.15.

Of 17 declared for tomorrow's renewal, I've arbitrarily concentrated on seven in the field that have shown some kind of form over a distance beyond three and a half miles, although I have to admit the drying ground might negate the validity of that premise to a certain degree; Checkitout only just fails to meet this threshold.

The seven referenced are: Eclair Surf; Lake View Lad; Potters Corner; Achille; Innisfree Lad; Gwencily Berbas; and Cash To Ash.

Three of those seven - Lake View Lad, Potters Corner and Achille - are aged 12; the last 12 year old to oblige was the Jenny Pitman trained Willsford in 1995.

Eclair Surf proved something of a revelation in the Classic Chase at Warwick last time out, making all to win by 13 lengths (Achille seventh). 

The horse hadn't been too fluent at the fences up to that point but he jumped really well at Warwick and has been raised 10 pounds for his trouble. Earlier today he was replaced at the head of the market by Irish raider History Of Fashion who looks to have been given every chance by the British handicapper.

Lake View Lad's seventh behind Mighty Thunder in the Scottish Grand National last April off a mark of 155 reads well; Nick Alexander's charge hasn't been in quite the same form this term and races off 142.

I'm prepared to forgive Potters Corner his most recent effort when he was pulled up in the Welsh National at Chepstow - only five finished that day (Achille fourth); Captain Drake, pulled up in the same race, won the Devon National at Exeter earlier this afternoon. 

On his penultimate start Potters Corner was beaten a nose by Diesel D'Allier in the Glenfarclas Crystal Cup Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham; a reproduction of that form would give Christian Williams' charge a chance and jockey Ellis Collier can claim seven. 

The yard is currently operating at a 27% win strike rate; the market suggests stablemate Win My Wings has a better chance on her first try beyond three and a quarter miles..

It's difficult to see the Venetia Williams trained grey Achille reversing Warwick form with Eclair Surf.

On his penultimate run Gwencily Berbas looked impressive winning at Exeter but David Pipe's charge appeared to be taken out of his comfort zone by Valadom and deep ground next time at Sandown and his jumping suffered as a result. 

Back in December Cash To Ash and Innisfree Lad finished second and third respectively behind Big River in the Scottish Borders National at Kelso; the pair look closely matched again. That day Cash To Ash may have finished slightly closer to the winner but for a mistake at the last.

Cash To Ash has since finished second behind Sidi Ismael in the Lincolnshire National and then second again behind Big River at Kelso while Innisfree Lad has won at Plumpton but was well beaten at Newbury and on a return visit to Plumpton. 

I marginally prefer Cash To Ash but stable form is a concern and his profile doesn't match that of recent winners:

2009 winner: Merigo (125); top-rated: Harmony Brig (136)

2010 No race

2011 winner: Companero (132); top-rated: Comply Or Die (144)

2012 winner: Portrait King (131); top-rated: Mister Marker (135)

2013 No race

2014 winner: Wyck Hill (133); top-rated: Junior (145)

2015 winner: Milborough (134); top-rated: Shotgun Paddy (147)

2016 winner: Rocking Blues (126); top-rated: Shotgun Paddy (144)

2017 winner: Mysteree (127); top-rated: Straidnahanna (139)

2018 winner: Baywing (140); top-rated: Chase The Spud (149)

2019 winner: Crosspark (135); top-rated: Daklondike (148)

2020 No race

2021 winner: Sam's Adventure (139); top-rated Crosspark (150)

(Seven of the ten winners listed carried a weight between 10-13 and 11-01.)

Cash To Ash may prove well-named but he stays and has been in consistent form this term. 

With William Hill, Paddy Power and Sky Bet paying six places Cash To Ash is the each-way suggestion, a 16/1 chance at the time of writing.

Postscript: Strong Economy has been declared a non-runner this evening leaving a field of 16.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Haydock's Grand National Trial 2022

Tomorrow's card at Haydock is subject to an early morning inspection with the going currently described as heavy; rain is forecast.

Following the release of the weights for the 2022 Randox Grand National earlier in the week, 11 have been declared for the William Hill Grand National Trial which is due off at 2.40.

Secret Reprieve won the 2020 Welsh Grand National and on his next run finished fifth behind Iwilldoit in the 2021 renewal. That was a decent effort after such a long layoff; he has a nice racing weight here (10-05) and is the clear market leader. 

Evan Williams' charge missed the cut for last year's Aintree showpiece and there's every chance the same will happen again this year too. 

As an aside, unfortunately it looks as though a similar fate awaits my early Aintree fancy. 

Hill Sixteen was beaten a nose by Snow Leopardess in the Becher from four pounds out of the handicap 10 weeks ago yet is 66/1 with several layers while the likeable grey mare is priced up 16/1 joint favourite. 

I digress.

Pulled up in last year's Grand National, Bristol De Mai loves Haydock and has underfoot conditions to suit but has to concede nine pounds and upwards to his rivals; since 2000 three horses have carried 11-12 to victory: Shotgun Willy (2003); Miko De Beauchene (2008); and Silver By Nature (2011).

Four weeks ago Sam Brown was beaten half a length by Royale Pagaille in the Peter Marsh here (Kalooki fifth, Lord Du Mesnil sixth). 

The winner took all the plaudits that day but with a couple of cleaner jumps at the final two flights Sam Brown could easily have come home in front. 

The handicapper raised Anthony Honeyball's charge just two pounds for that effort which looks on the lenient side - the extended trip here is an unknown but his chance is very much respected.

At 13 years of age what a wonderful horse Blaklion is!

In 2017 he went off 7/2 favourite for this race to come home second behind Vieux Lion Rouge before finishing fourth behind One For Arthur at Aintree. 

At odds of 50/1 he finished sixth in last year's National and has demonstrated this term he still retains all his enthusiasm for the game with two victories at this track. The oldest horse to come in front was 12-year-old Giles Farnaby in 1958.

Enqarde beat Remastered 10 lengths here in the Tommy Whittle just before Christmas. 

That form reads well although Remastered didn't appear to stay the same trip when fading into fourth behind Royale Pagaille and Sam Brown last month. 

Dr Richard Newland's charge was sent off the 4/1 favourite for this race last year but appeared to weaken after the last finishing fourth behind Lord Du Mesnil. 

On his first run for over 12 months The Galloping Bear made all to carry top weight to victory on heavy ground in the Surrey National at Lingfield four weeks ago. 

Ben Clarke's charge is unbeaten over fences and, after reassessment, is rated five pounds higher. That looked a hard race the last day - and this looks a better race.

Sidi Ismael is another to try a step up in grade. 

David Pipe's charge won the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen on Boxing Day; his fall next time out in the North Yorkshire National at Catterick is a cause for concern. 

Time To Get Up beat Mighty Thunder in last year's Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter; he returns after suffering a setback following his run in the Grand Sefton in November. 

I'm not sure this trip is going suit Mint Condition.

Going back to the Peter Marsh last month both Kalooki and Lord Du Mesnil were soundly beaten behind Royale Pagaille. 

To my mind Kalooki's jumping isn't always foot perfect but I was disappointed by Lord Du Mesnil - I'd tipped him for the race - who was beaten as soon as they turned for home. 

Although the official going that day was reported soft, the night before the race handler Richard Hobson indicated he was concerned the ground may not be deep enough after a drying week.

Provided the course passes its inspection tomorrow, there should be no concerns on that front this time. Lord Du Mesnil races off a mark just one pound higher than when he won last year's renewal (four pounds higher if  Paul O'Brien's three pound claim is taken into account).

I'm hoping the extended trip and deep ground will show Lord Du Mesnil in a better light. 

Betfred, Coral and William Hill are amongst layers paying four places; 11/1 at the time of writing, Lord Du Mesnil is the each-way suggestion.   

Friday, February 11, 2022

The 2022 Betfair Hurdle

It looks like a sign of the times with a field of just 14 declared for tomorrow's renewal of the UK's richest handicap hurdle (3.35 Newbury).

A couple of stats for starters:

The last horse older than six to come home in front was Geos in 2004.

Since the inaugural running of the race in 1963 (then known as the Schweppes Gold Trophy) only five horses have carried more than 11-05 to victory: Persian War (11-13) in 1968; Make A Stand (11-07) in 1997; Copeland (11-07) in 2002; Essex (11-06) in 2005; and Al Dancer (11-08) in 2019.

It comes as no surprise to see novices Broomfield Burg and Jpr One at the head of the market; both horses hold entries for the Supreme and the Ballymore at Cheltenham next month.

The former looked good at Kempton on Boxing Day while the latter was beaten a head by Datsalrightgino on his penultimate start; the fourth that day - Socialist Agenda - was in receipt of six pounds and last weekend turned out to win the Scottish County Handicap Hurdle at Musselburgh off  118 and is now rated 124.

Top weight Soaring Glory beat 22 opponents to win this last year off a mark of 133 (Fifty Ball second, Glory And Fortune thirteenth) with horses in behind including Edwardstone, Buzz, Guard Your Dreams and Milkwood.

Soaring Glory and Glory And Fortune look to face a stiff task at the weights this time but Fifty Ball goes off 131 - exactly the same mark as twelve months ago. 

I've seen a couple of tips for Gary Moore's inmate who comes into this on the back of three unsuccessful starts over the larger obstacles. Interest is tempered by this comment in the Weekender last week:

"The key to his chance is soft ground and if he gets those underfoot conditions then he has a big each-way shout again."

Of stablemate Royaume Uni Moore says:

"...but life is proving difficult off his mark of 123. I think he is as high as he is going to get and if we are going to get any improvement then it will be on ground that is riding quicker than he has encountered lately."

Boothill, third behind Soaring Glory in the listed Bateaux London Handicap Hurdle at Ascot in November, disappointed over fences at Exeter next time but remains relatively unexposed while Jetoile goes well from the front but may be rated on his second behind Constitution Hill in the Tolworth.

Tritonic and Glory And Fortune appear closely matched on their running in the Greatwood. Alan King's charge beat Onemorefortheroad in the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot just before Christmas and was subsequently raised five pounds.

On his first run after wind surgery First Street won comfortably at Kempton last month (Royaume Uni third, 3/1 favourite Lord Baddesley pulled up); a rise of nine pounds looks a trifle harsh but trainer Nicky Henderson says you'd struggle to split First Street and stablemate Broomfield Burg at home. 

Howdyalikmenow has done well since joining Evan Williams' yard in the autumn but has no collateral form with others in this field and is priced up at 66/1 this evening.

Knappers Hill encountered defeat for the first time in the Kennel Gate at Ascot behind Jonbon - currently 11/2 for the Supreme - and Colonel Mustard with I Like To Move It fifth. 

The recent form of the Nicholls yard has been well documented - one winner from 37 runs in the past fortnight and no runners at the track since Sunday; it's difficult to know what to expect tomorrow but if Bravemansgame, Clan Des Obeaux and Hitman run to form, the 10/1 currently on offer will look big.

I Like To Move It also holds entries for the Supreme and the Ballymore. 

Just before Christmas he had to concede weight to all his opponents in that tactical renewal of the Kennel Gate won by Knappers Hill. Prior to that his defeat of Tritonic at Cheltenham reads well (re-opposes here on the same terms) as does his defeat of Washington conceding three pounds. 

On a line through Washington he has a few pounds to find with Jpr One but Twiston-Davies boasts a decent record with novices in this race, having won with Splash Of Ginge (2014); Ballyandy (2017); and Al Dancer (2019).

At the time of writing William Hill offer 11/1 and pay five places; I Like To Move It is the each-way selection.

Friday, February 04, 2022

A dry January

'How was the dry January, PG?'

'Usual struggle - no winners, a couple placed.'

'Similar to the parched November and dried out December then?'

'Dry as a bone.'

The Racing Post reports officials 'relatively pleased' with field sizes for tomorrow's card at Sandown 'despite the driest January in 25 years'. The official going is described as good to soft, good in places on the chase course.

Look, I'll be honest with you - I've struggled to find a wager this weekend. Over the past seven days I've seen more comings and goings than Boris Johnson. 

Still, I've manged to pick out one from the 18 declared for Virgin Bet Heroes Handicap Hurdle which is due off at 2.55. 

At the time of writing Green Book, Ree Okka and Beauport head the market.

Green Book was sent off the 9/2 favourite for the Lanzarote at Kempton three weeks ago but, unfortunately, got no further than the second flight, badly impeded by the fall of Ch'tibello and unseating Ned Fox. Cobblers Dream ran out an impressive winner that day with Call Me Lord third and Dans Le Vent fifth.

Ree Okka won a Kempton novice hurdle easily last time out. Connections feel this one is a chaser in the making; the gelding has been allocated a mark of 130 in this first handicap.

Beauport won the EBF Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final at this track last March. The handicapper raised Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge nine pounds and has subsequently raised him a total of five pounds more for finishing second twice this season - last time behind Dashel Drasher at Newbury.

In a recent stable tour (Weekender 08-12.12.21) Peter Fahey indicated the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham is the target for Bold Patriot:

"I was delighted with his run in the Pertemps qualifier at Cheltenham in October and the plan is to go back for the final. 

"He will have one more run over hurdles and that will leave him right for the festival but this season will be geared around that."

Orbys Legend boasts smart form this term, winning the Silver Trophy at Chepstow in October and then a Pertemps qualifier at Wincanton on Boxing Day (Flemcara third and If The Cap Fits over 20 lengths back in fourth).

Call Me Lord's record at Sandown - 1121323 - speaks for itself while at Haydock on good ground in November we saw this trip holds no fears for Dans Le Vent (Orbys Legend back in seventh, If The Cap Fits ninth, Ask Dillon eleventh).

There was a hint The Brimming Water didn't see out that same Haydock trip on soft ground last time, beaten into third by Small Present and Tokyo Getaway which leads me on to Jesuitique.

Just before Christmas, in receipt of seven pounds, Jesuitique beat Tokyo Getaway 'easily' five and a half lengths (Padleyourowncanoe third) at Haydock. 

The race summary in the RP Weekender states: 'A one-sided handicap, the winner looking a long way ahead of his mark...' and then goes on: 'The handicapper can get stuck into him but he's totally unexposed around 3m and further improvement is on the cards.'

The handicapper raised the gelding 10 pounds for that effort. 

Prior to that in November, in receipt of 16 pounds, Dr Richard Newland's charge beat Beauport one and a half lengths over two and a half miles at this track. Taking jockey allowances into consideration, Jesuitique meets Beauport on eight pounds worse terms tomorrow; Cillin Leonard has taken the ride on all four runs in this country to date.

I'm hoping with improvement to come Jesuitique can be competitive in what is an extremely competitive handicap. 

At the time of writing Paddy Power / Betfair offer 12/1 and pay six places. Jesuitique is the each-way suggestion.

Off to the nearest watering hole now - spitting feathers I am!

Friday, January 28, 2022

Doncaster's Sky Bet Chase 2022

Connections of Aye Right (rated 159) and Simply The Betts (rated 157) have chosen to contest tomorrow's Cotswold Chase (2.30 Cheltenham) rather than take up alternative options, namely the Sky Bet Handicap Chase (3.20 Doncaster) and the Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase (1.55 Cheltenham) respectively. 

The Trials Day card has a number of small fields - just five declared for both the Cotswold Chase and the Cleeve Hurdle (3.05) and six for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (3.40); officials have put this down in part to the prevailing going, now described as good.

I've decided to head north. 

The going at Doncaster is described as good, good to soft in places; 17 are set to face the starter for the Sky Bet Handicap Chase due off at 3.20.

A number in the field have questions to answer over this trip.

Favourite Fusil Raffles won the Charlie Hall at Wetherby on his first try at three miles but that day Shan Blue was 20 lengths to the good when taking a crashing fall three out.

Demachine appeared to be outstayed by Remastered in the Reynoldstown at Ascot last February and Cap Du Nord likewise when third behind Takingrisks in this race last year. 

Midnight Shadow and Nuts Well try the trip for the first time while both Janika and Grand Sancy look suspect stayers.

Kapcourse is another to try three miles for the first time. 

I'm guessing this one has been difficult to train but the gelding didn't appear to be stopping when taking the Sir Peter O'Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase at Newbury over two miles six and a half furlongs (Grand Sancy fourth). The handicapper has raised Paul Nicholls' charge eight pounds for that effort but his chance is respected. 

Debece joined the Skelton yard last spring and on his first run for new connections was passed by Fortescue after the last at Sandown. Now aged 11, he underwent wind surgery in September - the market would appear to indicate a bold run is anticipated. 

Canelo's defeat of Snow Leopardess (Windsor Avenue third) in the 2020 Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby reads well. 

Trainer Alan King won the 2016 and 2017 renewals of this race with Ziga Boy. Canelo came home fourth behind Takingrisks last year but the gelding has been out of form this term and the yard hasn't recorded a win over the sticks in 47 starts over the past month.

Windsor Avenue ran with credit to finish second behind Snow Leopardess at Bangor on seasonal debut but next time was never travelling in the Rowland Meyrick and was pulled up; connections try first-time blinkers. 

Cloudy Glen isn't the most consistent of individuals - another pulled up behind Good Boy Bobby in last month's Rowland Meyrick - but Charlie Deutsch prefers to ride the Ladbrokes Trophy winner here rather than Farinet at Cheltenham.

Demachine's stablemate Storm Control bounced back to form at Newbury - the worry would be that race was just 10 days ago. 

Rocco looked a horse to keep an eye when racing up with the pace and then going on to win the Badger Beer Handicap Chase at odds of 40/1 (Hurricane Harvey third, Cap Du Nord fourth and Some Chaos pulled up). However he didn't jump well next time behind Commodore at Cheltenham.

The form of Snow Leopardess acts as a useful benchmark for a few of these and I'm going to make a case for Hill Sixteen.

Hill Sixteen wasn't the most consistent last term and moved up to Sandy Thomson's yard in Berwickshire in the autumn. 

After finishing sixth behind Hold That Taught on seasonal debut at Carlisle he ran a stormer in the Becher Chase from four pounds out of the handicap, beaten a nose by Snow Leopardess. 

I expected a reasonable showing in the Welsh Grand National next time but he was nowhere to be seen and was eventually pulled up. This year's Welsh National was a messy affair run on desperate ground - the start was an absolute shambles - and, with only five of the 20 completing, I'm prepared to forgive that effort.

Hill Sixteen has previously been trained by Sue Smith and Nigel Twiston-Davies. Sandy Thomson's yard has a respectable record with this type of animal; if the gelding can rediscover that Becher form, 20/1 looks value. 

Hill Sixteen is the each-way suggestion, generally a 20/1 chance, with sponsors Sky Bet paying six places.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Haydock's Peter Marsh Chase 2022

During the week concern was expressed that the 'Lingfield Million' initiative might have an adverse effect on the number of runners in the Peter Marsh at Haydock. Eight set off in last year's renewal; ten are set to face the starter at 2.35 tomorrow. 

The going is described as soft, heavy in places on the chase course.

12 months ago Royal Pagaille won in something of a common canter, Tom Scudamore doing the steering after regular pilot Charlie Deutsch opted to go to Ascot instead. At the time I wrote:

An analysis I've read of Royale Pagaille's victory at Kempton over Christmas talks of  'a performance of some note' indicating the horse 'won't look out of place in Graded company'.

It's no surprise therefore to see Venetia Williams' charge priced up favourite but the gelding has been raised 16 pounds for that effort and now sits on a mark of 156. There's Gold Cup talk in the background as well, with layers quoting odds of 50/1 for the Cheltenham showpiece in March. 

So I still haven't quite worked out why regular pilot Charlie Deutsch has decided to go to Ascot to ride Espoir De Guye (3.00) and Fanion D'Estruval (3.35). Did Charlie, like the rest of us, expect Haydock to be abandoned? Or does he prefer his chances at Ascot?  

Scudamore clearly enjoyed his armchair ride that day but it must have made for painful viewing for Charlie with Fanion D'Estruval finishing fourth behind First Flow in the Clarence House and Espoir De Guye also fourth behind  Dashel Drasher in the bet365 Handicap Chase.

Fanion D'Estruval has been declared for tomorrow's renewal of the bet365 Handicap Chase - this year, though, Charlie rides at Haydock. I note the gelding also holds an entry in the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield on Sunday but connections' preference is for the Ascot engagement.

Conceding 12 pounds and upwards to the rest of the field represents no easy task for Royal Pagaille who goes off 163. Historically just four horses with a rating of 160 or higher have competed in this event;  Jodami is the only one to come home in front, in 1997, off a rating of 169.

Last time out in the Betfair Chase Royal Pagaille finished 22 lengths second behind A Plus Tard, the current 7/2 favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. 

The ground at Haydock that day was described as good to soft but rode nearer to good; Venetia Williams' charge came back in with an injury to the right hind pastern and in the circumstances ran a very good race.  

Tom Scudamore rides Remastered who was running a big race when taking a crashing fall four from home in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury; thankfully he came out unscathed. Next time he ran a fine second here but had no answer to Enqarde in the Tommy Whittle (Sam's Adventure pulled up).

The Rowland Meyrick run at Wetherby on Boxing Day looks a significant piece of form. 

Good Boy Bobby was tenacious up front to see off the attentions of Lord Du Mesnil by one and threequarters lengths with Lake View Lad some 16 lengths adrift in fourth.

That only tells half the story though as Empire Steel looked to be travelling ominously well when coming to grief four from home. His chance is respected here but under the conditions of the race he is obliged to go off three pounds higher than his allotted handicap mark.

Exasperated with the family's Boxing Day festivities, I sought some simple temporary solace in backing Lake View Lad each-way at Wetherby on the back of Nick Alexander's comments that the grey had been trained  specifically for the race. 

Unfortunately the gelding provided no Boxing Day solace whatsoever, struggling to keep tabs on the principals over the second circuit. 

The handicapper has dropped his mark three pounds to 146 and the grey has a good record at this track but it's difficult to see him finishing ahead of Empire Steel (provided he completes) or Lord Du Mesnil (provided he's in the mood).

With just six chase starts to his name, Sam Brown has looked difficult to train but as a consequence still remains relatively unexposed for a ten-year-old. Last time out at Aintree he finished a distant third behind Protektorat - currently a 9/1 chance for the Gold Cup; two years ago he won a two and a half mile novice chase on this card. 

Kalooki's jumping has proved problematic in the past - connections will hope first-time cheekpieces can help - while Alnadam has done a lot of his racing over two and half miles.

Beaten over 40 lengths, Fortescue wasn't disgraced finishing seventh in the Ladbrokes Trophy at odds of 50/1 and at Kempton over Christmas he was beaten a length by Five Star Getaway. He is three pounds 'wrong' at the weights but the additional burden is offset by Hugh Nugent's five pounds claim.  

Last season Sam's Adventure won the Tommy Whittle over course and distance off 133 and the Eider Chase at Newcastle off 139. This season Brian Ellison's charge has been bang out of form; he went off at 40/1 for the Rehearsal Chase in November (finished 49 lengths behind winner Aye Right) and, four pounds 'wrong' at the weights tomorrow, is quoted at a similar price.

The market suggests the race rests between Royal Pagaille, Remastered and Empire Steel; two each-way chances of interest are Lord Du Mesnil and Sam Brown.

The former isn't entirely predictable and wouldn't be guaranteed to build on his second in the Rowland Meyrick (for which he was raised two pounds) but he has a lot more experience over the larger obstacles than most in the field and his record at the track reads 1121.

The latter has something to find on ratings but handler Anthony Honeyball is quoted in the Racing Post as saying: 'I'll be very disappointed off his current mark if he isn't thereabouts at the finish.' Sam Brown has been the subject of support in the market this evening.

Lord Du Mesnil is the each-way suggestion, at the time of writing 10/1 with bet365 and BetVictor, both paying three places.