Friday, July 19, 2024

Market Rasen Summer Plate 2024

A field of sixteen is set to contest tomorrow's Summer Plate (3.15 Market Rasen) with the going currently described as good.

When Born Famous won last year's renewal off 115 (Fix At All eighth, La Domaniale ninth, Francky Du Berlais eleventh), Iain Jardine's mare became the first winner with a rating below 137 in over ten years. 

Top weight Al Zaraqaan races off 138 tomorrow.

Francky Du Berlais, trained by Peter Bowen, collected the spoils off 139 in 2022, having won off 137 in 2021. 

The handler has an eye-catching record in the race, having won on six other occasions (Stately Home 1997; Ballycassidy 2003; Yes Sir 2006; Iron Man 2007; Snoopy Loopy 2008; and More Buck's 2018); he relies on Francky Du Berlais and Statuario in a bid to win for the first time with eldest son Michael officially registered joint trainer.

In June Francky du Berlais finished third behind Parisencore over two and a half miles in the Perth Silver Cup (Fix At All eighth) while stablemate Statuario beat Hang In There a neck in course record time in the Perth Gold Cup over three miles.

Since then Francky finished third behind Charlie Uberalles at Cartmel while Statuario was raised nine pounds for that neck defeat of Hang In There who subsequently came out to win the Uttoxeter Summer Cup on his first try beyond three miles. 

Connections are reportedly considering entering Group company with Hang In There, the Charlie Hall at Wetherby in November mentioned as a possible target.

Earlier today Mole Court was displaced at the head of the market by Boombawn who finished third behind Al Zaraqaan on his penultimate start and second behind Matterhorn last time over a shorter trip. 

The step-up in distance here should suit; he has just three chase starts to his name but Harry Skelton prefers this one to stablemate Riskintheground.

Mole Court likes to race up with the pace; Ben Pauling's charge has won five of his eight chase starts and finished fourth behind Hang In There in the Uttoxeter Summer Cup.

Soul Icon jumped slightly right when beaten a length by Raffle Ticket at Aintree in May; Market Rasen should suit better but Keiran Burke's charge has yet to win in six starts over fences - and the handicapper raised him three pounds to boot. 

Sure Touch has finished in the first three on all five starts over fences; he came home over 25 lengths clear of Statuario when winning on soft ground at Perth in April. The booking of Harry Cobden catches the eye.

Yccs Portocervo won the trial race over course and distance four weeks ago, holding Vintage Fizz a neck on the line. The pair look closely matched on revised terms but, to date, Vintage Fizz has shown a tendency to jump left at the obstacles.

At 11 years of age Dinons doesn't have a lot of miles on the clock. He has just his second start for Brian Ellison after being withdrawn from the three mile race won by Cap Du Nord at Perth on Sunday on account of the ground. 

The other 11-year-old in the field, The Big Lense, finished third behind the Peter Bowen trained Jerrash over course and distance 13 days ago.

Previously with Michael Scudamore, Fix At All, my selection for last year's renewal, came up short off this mark (125) and was well beaten by Parisencore last time.

Three mares have come home in front in recent years: Casablanca Mix (2019); Really Super (2020); and Born Famous (2023).   

The only mare in this year's race, La Domaniale, was beaten a neck by Francky Du Berlais in 2022 off a mark of 125 but was well behind Born Famous last year running off 133.

Stablemate Prince Escalus has shown his best form over a shorter trip.

Statuario's defeat of Hang In There looks strong form - Peter Bowen's charge also holds the Perth track record over two and a half miles - but the handicapper has had his say and this race often goes to a younger animal.

With just four chase starts Parisencore is perhaps less exposed than a few in this field and won the Perth Silver Cup going away on his first try beyond two miles one furlong; raised three pounds, Nicky Richards' inmate gets the nod.

Parisencore is the each-way suggestion, generally 11/1 with most layers paying five places.

In the Summer Handicap Hurdle (2.40) I thought top weight Fringill Dike and Kihavah both worthy of a second look. 

Fringill Dike races off 132 but is rated 142 over fences while Kihavah goes off 127 but boasts a Flat rating of 95.

Saturday, May 04, 2024

A brief review of the 2023/24 jumps season

Champion jockey: Harry Cobden

Champion trainer: Willie Mullins

Winning owner: J P McManus

Champion conditional jockey: Patrick Wadge

A week before this year's Cheltenham Festival, Willie Mullins had plenty of ground to make up to become the first Irish trainer to win the British championship since Vincent O'Brien in 1953/54. 

After nine Festival winners - Gaelic Warrior (Arkle); State Man (Champion Hurdle); Lossiemouth (Mares' Hurdle); Ballyburn (Gallagher Novices' Hurdle); Fact To File (Brown Advisory); Jasmin De Vaux (Champion Bumper); Majborough (Triumph Hurdle); Absurde (County Hurdle) and Galopin Des Champs (Gold Cup) - W P Mullins set his sights on the Grand National. 

7/1 joint favourite I Am Maximus won the Aintree showpiece and a week later Macdermott pipped Surrey Quest a nose in the Scottish National. 

There was almost an air of inevitability about it all at Sandown on the final day when Minella Cocooner went past Annual Invictus after the last to land the bet365 Gold Cup; a total prize money haul of £3,326,135 was £344,716 ahead of nearest challenger Dan Skelton.

Jack Kennedy secured Ireland's jump jockey championship with 123 winners, beating Paul Townend on 121. 

When Ballyburn landed the spoils in the Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle on May 3rd, Willie Mullins became the most successful Irish trainer, having sent out 4,378 winners.

Willie Mullins' annus mirabilis contrasted rather sharply with what Nicky Henderson might reasonably describe as his festum horribilis with several of the yard's runners withdrawn from Cheltenham showpiece races on account of ill health.

Back in the autumn Jetoile sprung a 25/1 surprise in the Old Roan while Blackjack Magic claimed the 62nd running of the Badger Beer Handicap Chase at Wincanton on drying ground.

A week later the going for Cheltenham's November Meeting was soft; we didn't know it at the time but one of the wettest winters in recent memory was to follow. 

Racing from the front Stage Star won the Paddy Power Gold Cup in much the same way he'd won the Turners Novices' Chase in March. 

On the same card plenty thought they'd seen the Triumph Hurdle winner when Burdett Road went clear to win the trial by six and a half lengths. 

The Nicky Henderson trained Sir Gino beat James Owen's charge ten lengths at the end of January, unfortunately missed his intended Festival target but gained compensation at Aintree by winning the Boodles Juvenile Hurdle.

Soft / heavy ground held no fears for Iberico Lord who won the Greatwood and Newbury's Betfair Hurdle; one of the few Henderson runners allowed to take his chance at the Festival, he was pulled up behind State Man in the Champion Hurdle.

Beaten by Gentlemansgame after a mistake at the last in the Charlie Hall, Bravemansgame couldn't live with Royal Pagaille in the Betfair Chase at Haydock; on the same day Shishkin, sporting first-time cheekpieces, refused to start at Ascot in a race won by Pic D'Orhy.

Shishkin and Bravemansgame took on one another in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day. 

The former appeared to have the measure of the latter jumping the penultimate flight but Shishkin stumbled a stride or two after the fence and unseated Nico De Boinville. 

Reigning champion Bravemansgame looked to have enough in hand coming to the last but Hewick appeared from a different parish to win going away.

On the same card Il Est Francais looked impregnable in the Kauto Star; next time out he finished 55 lengths last of five at Auteuil. 

In a sad footnote Shishkin was found cast in his box with a fractured hind leg just before he was due to travel over to Ireland to run in the Punchestown Gold Cup.

Datsalrightgino won Newbury's Coral Gold Cup, Jonbon the Tingle Creek and Nassalam the Welsh National. 

At twelve years of age Paisley Park is a credit to all concerned but those connections must still be wondering what they'd done to deserve such a season of near-misses.

Andrew Gemmell's pride and joy was beaten a head by Dashel Drasher in Newbury's Long Distance Hurdle; a short head by Crambo in the Long Walk Hurdle; and a head by Noble Yeats in the Cleeve. Connections announced his retirement after he came home tenth in the Stayers' Hurdle, some 15 lengths behind winner Teahupoo.

My Silver Lining won the Classic Chase at Warwick, Anglers Crag the Eider and Beauport the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter despite jumping right on occasions and charting a wide course on the final circuit. 

It proved a rather chastening season for the blog's selections; the small respite gained during Cheltenham Festival week was desperately required.

Clearly the sport has a number of issues including affordability checks and the prevalence of small fields; the Jockey Club's decision to reduce its contribution to prize money funds following the decline in attendances at this year's Cheltenham Festival must surely have set alarm bells ringing.

Personally, I'm just hoping next season doesn't prove quite as wet as this one.  

Friday, April 26, 2024

bet365 Gold Cup 2024

At the end of a long wet winter, this week they've been watering at Sandown - can you believe it? - as Willie Mullins closes in on his first British trainers' title.

The going at the Esher track is currently described as good; 20 have been declared for the feature bet365 Gold Cup (3.35) which is run over an extended three and a half mile trip.

Clear favourite Kitty's Light brings strong form to the table, having finished third (placed second) off 139 in the 2021 renewal of this race; third behind Hewick off 145 in 2022; and then beating Moroder two and a half lengths off 140 last year (Annual Invictus sixth, Certainly Red seventh, with Enrilo falling at the second fence). 

A week earlier Kitty's Light had won the 2023 Scottish Grand National, run on good ground, off the same mark, with Threeunderthrufive fourth, beaten just over six lengths, and Flash Collonges coming to grief at the nineteenth fence when in contention.

Still only eight years of age, Christian Williams' charge is a one-off and races off 145 this year, having finished fifth behind the Willie Mullins trained I Am Maximus in the Aintree Grand National just a fortnight ago.

Prize money of just over £95,000 goes to the winner and W.P. Mullins attempts to land the pot by saddling three: Nick Rocket; Minella Cocooner; and Aime Desjy.

Minella Cocooner finished a four length third and Nick Rocket a thirty length seventh behind Intense Raffles in the Irish Grand National on heavy ground 26 days ago. 

A non-runner in the Brown Advisory at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival, Amirite completes the challenge from the other side of the Irish Sea. 

Rachael Blackmore appeared to leave Henry De Bromhead's charge with plenty to do when fifth behind Meetingofthewaters at Leopardstown over Christmas.  

Le Milos won the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury in 2022; at around 8/1 Dan Skelton's charge is certainly priced up on that effort. 

Campaigned solely over hurdles this season, he has generally been out of sorts. 

A couple of months ago I read that connections had decided to write this year off and were intending to start afresh next term. 

He could bounce back to form on better ground but on balance his entry here probably represents a final throw of the dice for the trainer as he tries to catch Willie Mullins. 

Last time out Threeunderthrufive beat a revitalised Rapper with something to spare in the Swinley Handicap Chase at Ascot but faces a stiff task off top weight here; next time out Rapper fell when up with the leaders in the Kim Muir at the Festival.

Threeunderthrufive's stablemate Enrilo passed the post first in the 2021 renewal of this race but was subsequently disqualified, placed third, and really hasn't hit the same heights since. 

Certainly Red certainly likes Sandown but he has not been jumping well this term. 

He threw away his chance when second behind Java Point at this track in February and the jumping was again a problem when third behind Sam Brown in a Veterans' Chase at Ascot five weeks ago. Connections will hope the application of first-time cheekpieces has the desired effect.

Slipway would probably prefer more cut underfoot, as would Sam Brown and Weveallbeencaught who is unexposed but has yet to win in four chase starts.

Does He Know has his share of weight and wouldn't be the easiest to predict but he appeared to enjoy himself at the head of affairs in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster eight weeks ago. 

Having his second start since wind surgery, Bangers And Cash is likely to race up with the pace and is feasibly handicapped on 132 having won over this distance off this mark at Taunton 13 months ago.

My shortish shortlist comprises three that are known to need better ground.

Kinondo Kwetu caught the eye when fourth at 25/1 behind Cruz Control (Sam Brown second) in the Freebooter at Aintree a fortnight ago. 

On his first start for 168 days, Sam England's inmate lost two places from two out and is entitled improve for the run. His third behind Twig in the Summer Cup at Uttoxeter last June reads well. 

Annual Invictus beat Forward Plan a nose on good ground in the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster on his penultimate start. Seventh in the Kim Muir last time, he was hampered by the fall of Rapper at the seventeenth and lost his position. He meets Kitty's Light on similar terms to last year when sixth behind that rival.

Perhaps Courtland looks a little high in the handicap after four wins last summer but Peter Bowen's charge was 80/1 earlier in the week and is now generally a 33/1 shot. 

The last of those summer victories, back in August, was the Class 2 Peter Dawson Forget-Me-Not Handicap Chase at Worcester where he came home 12 lengths clear. 

Last time he was an unlikely winner over an inadequate trip at Hereford as Mackenberg was some 15 lengths to the good when that rival jumped out left at the last and unseated the unfortunate Theo Gillard who later reported his saddle had slipped.

It has been a long, gruelling season and perhaps I've a touch of that end-of-term feeling, thanks for asking. With the value appearing to have disappeared from Kinondo Kwetu's price (11/1 generally), it's Annual Invictus who gets the nod. 

Annual Invictus is the each-way suggestion, currently 16/1 with most layers who are paying five places.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Scottish Grand National 2024

If you say Willie Mullins often enough, sooner or later you're going to fall into the trap and say Mullie Willins - I'm sure I heard Ted Chamberpin do exactly that at some point during ITV's coverage in midweek.    

Anyway, the great man - Willie that is, not Ed - is attempting to repeat a feat achieved by Vincent O'Brien in the 1952-53 and 1953-54 seasons - win the British jump trainers' title from a base in Ireland.

W.P. Mullins saddles six of the 26 declared for this year's Scottish National (3.35 Ayr): Mr Incredible; Ontheropes; Spanish Harlem; Macdermott; Klarc Kent and We'llhavewon. 

Fellow title contenders Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton saddle three between them - the former Stay Away Fay and Broken Halo while Dan relies on Ballygrifincottage. 

Earlier today Skelton nosed back ahead of Mullins in the title race after sending out Catch Him Derry (5/6f), Punta Del Este (25/1) and Presenting Nelly (5/1) to win at Ayr. 

Nicholls sent out Outlaw Peter (7/2jf) to win at Ayr and Kick Up A Storm (11/1) at Exeter; the Ditcheat handler has won the Scottish Grand National three times previously with Belmont King in 1997 and Vicente twice in 2016 and 2017. 

The going is currently described as soft.

Two six-year-old novices, Macdermott and Spanish Harlem, spearhead the Mullins challenge, along with Mr Incredible. The last six-year-old to come home in front was Earth Summit in 1994.

On his fifth start over fences Macdermott beat Better Times Ahead a comfortable 12 lengths at Fairyhouse earlier this month and was raised 12 pounds by the Irish handicapper to a mark of 133. He goes off 137 here and races beyond three miles for the first time. 

Spanish Harlem, the mount of Paul Townend,  has just three chase runs in the book, all over two and a half miles; his jumping hasn't always been foot perfect, with connections suggesting that, to date, this one has shown more at home than he has on the track.

Mr Incredible looked reluctant to go off with the field at the start of the Grand National last week but appeared a tad unfortunate to unseat in rear when hampered by Mahler Mission at The Chair.

Top weight Stay Away Fay faces a stiff task.

Since Grey Abbey won carrying 11-12 in 2004 only four have carried more than 11-00 to victory: Godsmejudge (11-03, 2013); Vincente (11-03; 2016); Vicente (11-10, 2017); and Mighty Thunder (11-01; 2021).

Clear favourite at the time of writing, Git Maker went clear two out with Inothewayurthinkin in the Kim Muir at the Festival but had to settle for second (Whacker Clan third, Whistleinthedark tenth). 

Four weeks later that Festival winner beat Iroko four lengths in the Grade One Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree and is now rated 158; Jamie Snowden's charge looks handily treated here on 133. Soft ground is important to him - the deeper, the better. 

Two key pieces of form are the Eider Chase at Newcastle in February and the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter five weeks ago.

On his first try beyond three and a quarter miles Anglers Crag did well to beat Prince Des Fichaux a neck on heavy ground in the Eider after making a serious mistake two from home. 

Brian Ellison's charge is unbeaten in four chase starts this term and has seen his mark rise from 106 to 134.

Eider third Tommie Beau has been kept busy throughout the winter but was less than seven lengths behind the winner while fifth Cruz Control franked the form by winning the Freebooter Handicap Chase at Aintree last Saturday.

Eider fourth Gold Clermont finished sixth behind Beauport in the Midlands Grand National.

Despite jumping right on occasions - and racing wide around the bend when setting off on the final circuit - Beauport still had enough in reserve to hold Mr Incredible one and threequarter lengths at Uttoxeter, with grey mare My Silver Lining third, Autonomous Cloud fourth and 9/2 favourite Iron Bridge pulled up.  

Beauport has been raised eight pounds; on revised terms the first four look closely matched once again. 

Handler Nigel Twiston-Davies has won this in the past with Captain Dibble (1992); Earth Summit (1994); and Hello Bud (2009).

Iron Bridge didn't jump particularly well on the day and weakened out of contention up the home straight; he was quickly pulled up before the final flight and was subsequently declared to be suffering from post-race heat stress.

Back in 2023 Autonomous Cloud, in receipt of 12 pounds, just held Iron Bridge a head in a three mile novice chase at the Midlands Grand National meeting.

Wearing a first-time visor Inis Oirr made all to win the Edinburgh National 21 lengths at Musselburgh in February and has been raised 14 pounds; Lucinda Russell's charge was a non-runner in the Midlands National and comes here fresher than most.

Mr Vango is another who likes to front run. 

He made all to win the Devon National at Exeter on heavy ground but had no answer to Corbetts Cross when third in the National Hunt Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

In November 2022 Ballygrifincottage beat Beauport 11 lengths in a Haydock novice chase. 

On his next start, the Towton at Wetherby (February 2023), he bled from the nose and hadn't shown any worthwhile form since until chasing home Rose Of Arcadia at Sandown six weeks ago. Dan Skelton's charge looks feasibly handicapped off 138 but the trip remains an unknown.

Surrey Quest has won two of his three starts since moving to Toby Lawes, including the Mandarin Chase at Newbury; good ground in the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster last time wouldn't have played to his strengths. 

Truckers Lodge beat Beauport in the London National in December. Broken Halo was four lengths down disputing third when coming to grief two out. 

Paul Nicholls' charge won over and extended three and a half miles at Taunton last time but has done most of racing on right-handed tracks in the past two years.

Elvis Mail won at Kelso 13 days ago and has been raised four pounds; Nick Alexander's grey has been known to miss out the odd fence now and again.

Gold Cup Bailly has been off the course for just over a year. He won at Ayr back in January 2023 when connections indicated he got a three mile trip without relishing it. 

Ontheropes won the Munster National in 2021 and was an 8/1 chance for the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury the following month where he finished fourth behind Cloudy Glen. 

He looks to have had his troubles since but hinted at a return to some sort of form when seventh behind Hartur D'arc in the Leinster National at Naas six weeks ago.

Bumper winner Klarc Kent has yet to win a race over hurdles or fences in six attempts.

Whacker Clan, Egbert, Punitive, 2021 Welsh Grand National winner Secret Reprieve, and We'llhavewan all race from out of the handicap.

It's possible to make a case for several in the field - a couple at fancy prices too; trained in Scotland, Inis Oirr has been well backed during the day but I keep returning to the Midlands National form. 

Given a hold-up ride by (the now retired) Paddy Brennan, Autonomous Cloud didn't quite see out the four and a quarter mile trip on heavy ground at Uttoxeter when beaten seven and a quarter lengths. 

I'm hoping the shorter trip here on soft ground will help his cause; the handicapper has helped by reduced his mark one pound. Fergal O'Brien's charge often races up with the pace and I'd like to see those tactics adopted tomorrow in a race where the winner often comes from those that have travelled prominently.

Autonomous Cloud is the each-way suggestion, currently 20/1 with bet365 and Betfred who both pay six places.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Aintree Grand National 2024

The nature of the National has changed in recent years; this year, for the first time, the field size has been reduced to 34 runners and the first fence has been re-sited 60 yards nearer the start.

The going on the National course is currently described as soft, heavy in places, with Turftrax identifying the deep areas as Becher's Brook through the Canal Turn, Valentines and beyond; the ground between the first three fences racing away from the stands and between the Chair and the Water Jump is now described as soft and has dried out since yesterday.

Since 2015 the race has been run on ground classified as soft or heavy twice (2016 and 2018); a horse aged eight or nine has won seven of the eight renewals in the same time frame:

2015: Many Clouds 8-11-09; OR 160; 19/39 runners finish; official going: good to soft

2016: Rule The World 9-10-07; OR 148; 16/39; soft

2017: One For Arthur 8-10-11; OR 148; 19/40; good to soft

2018: Tiger Roll 8-10-13; OR 150; 12/38; heavy

2019: Tiger Roll 9-11-05; OR 159; 19/40; good to soft

2020: No race - cancelled due to Covid

2021: Minella Times 8-10-03; OR 143; 15/40; good to soft

2022: Noble Yeats 7-10-10; OR 147; 15/40; good to soft

2023: Corach Rambler 9-10-05; OR 146; 17/39; good to soft

Last year Corach Rambler beat Vanillier (10-06) two and a quarter lengths with Noble Yeats (11-11) a further six and a quarter lengths adrift in fourth (Roi Mage seventh; Delta Work unseating at 21st fence; Mr Incredible unseating after slipped saddle at Canal Turn on second circuit; Coko Beach pulled up after weakening three out; Capodanno pulled up before last after weakening two out).

Mark Walsh had the pick of the five J P McManus owned runners and opted to ride the mare Limerick Lace; the last mare to win the National was Nickel Coin in 1951.

I Am Maximus and Meetingofthewaters, both trained by Willie Mullins, have been well supported in the market. 

The former gave 12 pounds and a 14 length beating to Vanillier in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse seven weeks ago; he was subsequently raised to a mark of 164 in Ireland but races off 159 in this.  

Meetingofthewaters finished third behind Chianti Classico in the Ultima at Cheltenham four and a half weeks ago.

Willie Mullins saddles a total of eight runners in all - Mr Incredible was a creditable second in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter last month - and has indicated he'll consider an all-out assault on the British trainers' title should one of the eight come home in front here.

Gordon Elliott also saddles eight and has nominated Delta Work his best chance; the last 11-year-old to collect the spoils was Pineau De Re in 2014.

If the ground remains testing, Noble Yeats, Chemical Energy, Galvin and Kitty's Light are unlikely to be seen at their best.

Nassalam won't mind underfoot conditions. 

Gary Moore's charge beat Iron Bridge 34 lengths on heavy ground in the Welsh National at Chepstow but was raised 16 pounds for that effort - the handler has publicly made his displeasure known with such a large hike.

Panda Boy finished fifth behind I Am Maximus in the 2023 Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse and four and a half lengths behind Meetingofthewaters at Leopardstown over Christmas; trainer Martin Brassil won this race in 2006 with Numbersixvalverde.

The mare Galia Des Liteaux ran well when second behind My Silver Lining on her first try over an extended trip in Warwick's Classic Chase but looked to struggle on heavy ground at Exeter next time out.

Mahler Mission is one I like although he has his share of weight. 

John McConnell's inmate was four lengths clear in the 2023 National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham when coming to grief two out; the winner that day, Gaillard Du Mesnil, was rated 155 (Chemical Energy second). 

Last time he had no answer to Datsalrightgino on good to soft ground in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury, a race in which he lost both his front shoes. The gelding went off 151 that day with Ben Harvey able to claim three, so a mark of 158 here looks stiff enough.

Quoting the handler [RP Weekender 27-31.12.23]:

"... but the Grand National is his main aim and you'd imagine he should take to that. He's a very good jumper and you'd think he was made for it. It's such a big prize and it's too good an opportunity to waste with a horse like him who's on the improve. The trip probably won't be a problem but I don't think he's slow and he has a bit of class about him."     

The BBC Pinstickers' Guide is likely to prove more useful than this rambling post but, for those interested, Mahler Mission is the each-way suggestion, currently 12/1 generally with most layers paying six places.

As always, check each-way terms before placing bets. Firms with an online presence as well as a High St outlet tend to pay more places for bets placed electronically.

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

Friday, April 05, 2024

Aintree antipasti

Today's cards at Fontwell and Wetherby have been abandoned due to waterlogging, along with tomorrow's at Kelso and Stratford; Uttoxeter has reported standing water in places with a precautionary inspection due to take place at 7.30 on the morning.

So, very early thoughts on Aintree next week...

Three horses with the Topham (4.05 Friday) as their stated target are: Your Darling; Arizona Cardinal; and Lounge Lizard. 

Your Darling: owned by Lord Vestey, he hasn't been seen since beating Flegmatik nine lengths at Ascot in November. He was raised nine pounds for that win, after which trainer Ben Pauling said:

"Your Darling is probably the most frustrating horse I'll ever train - if only he turned up every time. He's probably one of the most talented horses I've trained in a long time and when he wants to do it he's electric. When he got deep into one there, he still landed 15 yards out the other side of it but he doesn't want to want to do it, he flops through it. It's quite clear the rating doesn't overly matter to him. It's whether he wants to do it or not." 

His profile suggests he probably prefers better ground - if he's in the mood, that is.

Arizona Cardinal: beat One True King 14 lengths to win the Forba Gold Cup at Ludlow in February; subsequently raised nine pounds, he handles soft ground. 

Lounge Lizard: last to finish (fifth) in the war of attrition that was this year's Becher Chase, 137 lengths behind winner Chambard. He then finished just under two lengths behind Ga Law at Cheltenham in January before rallying to beat Dibble Decker a neck at Huntingdon at the beginning of March. After that win, handler Henry Daly said:

"We'll aim Lounge Lizard at the Topham. He ran a corker at Cheltenham in January and I don't think Huntingdon suits him all that well. Aintree will suit him better and he loved jumping around there before."

Last year's Topham winner Bill Baxter goes off the same mark this year. 

Handler Warren Greatrex was confident his charge would stay further this season and wasn't displeased with eighth in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury in December. The acid test came at Haydock in the Tommy Whittle where the grey weakened from two out to finish fourth behind Famous Bridge. He was subsequently eighth behind Ga Law and Lounge Lizard at Cheltenham and, to my mind, hasn't been in the same form this term. 

Two Dan Skelton horses missed Cheltenham and hold possible Aintree targets: Boombawn (desperate for better ground) and Etalon (Maghull Novices' Chase on Saturday).

Returning from an absence of 458 days, Highstakesplayer won well at Kempton in February but disappointed at Newbury three weeks later. He could run in the three mile one handicap chase on Saturday. 

I've done nothing at all on the Grand National (4.00 Saturday) with this year's field reduced to 34 runners for the first time. However I note that last year Corach Rambler (10-05) beat Vanillier (10-06) in second and Noble Yeats (11-11) in fourth; this year Corach Rambler carries 11-05, Vanillier 10-11 and Noble Yeats 11-11. Many Clouds won the 2015 renewal with a burden of 11-09.

Finally, I'll be interested to see if Ruth Jefferson declares her River Don winner Kerryhill here.

Friday, March 29, 2024

The 2024 Challenger Stayers Hurdle Series Final at Haydock

The widely reported fall in betting turnover on racing is certainly not good news for the sport's finances but that pales into insignificance besides proposals put forward by the Liberal Democrats in the world of football. 

Martin Samuel wrote in The Times on Wednesday: 

"[The Lib Dems'] manifesto for sport would put the Premier League on free-to-air television by law, meaning the finances of arguably the most successful industry in British business would collapse overnight."  

Enough. Have a look at this instead. 

It's soft on the hurdle track at Haydock, with a dry day forecast tomorrow; thirteen go in the Challenger Stayers Hurdle Series Final due off at 2.40. 

In an open event, Astronomic View heads the market with Doughmore Bay, Picanha, and Judicial Law supported during the day. 

Shoeshine Boy, joint favourite with one or two layers earlier, is 10/1 with Paddy Power at the time of writing.  

Three weeks ago, over a trip of three and a quarter miles at Warwick, Astronomic View recorded his first win in eight hurdle races, coming home 21 lengths ahead of My Bobby Dazzler in second, with Martha Brae (third) and Balkardy (fifth) even further behind. 

Sue Gardner's chestnut, owned by husband Des, was raised eight pounds for that effort; daughter Lucy rides. 

My Bobby Dazzler's second to the Olly Murphy trained Butch at Cheltenham on New Year's Day reads well. 

Mel Rowley's inmate finished fourth in this race last year off a mark of 122; taking Tabitha Worsley's three pound claim into consideration, he is effectively two pounds better off this year.

Top weight Judicial Law travelled well for a long way behind Emitom at Newbury last time - noticeable error made four out - but he didn't quite get home on the heavy ground, finishing fifth; the handicapper has dropped him one pound for that run.

The yard has won this twice in the past five years with Django Django (2019) and An Tailliur (2022).

Picanha finished fourth in the same Newbury race on his first start for 660 days. 

He clearly hasn't been easy to train - just seven starts under rules at the age of ten - but that was a decent effort; he beat Trincomalee off this mark at Warwick in April 2022.

Doughmore Bay did well to finish second behind Ilovethenightlife on his first run for 73 days at Plumpton; outpaced rounding the home turn, he looked booked to finish with the also-rans before rallying stoutly up the hill.

Prior to that Emma Lavelle's charge had finished seventh behind American Sniper and White Rhino (Paricolor third) at Cheltenham in November.

Paricolor hasn't won for over two years but has nonetheless posted some decent efforts in defeat. 

He was pulled up 11 days ago behind Feivel at Exeter, having missed a race at Doncaster in January on account of the ground and one at Wincanton at the beginning of the month; the handicapper has dropped him three pounds. 

Connections try a first-time visor; the stable is operating at a 29% win strike rate over the past fortnight.

In four starts this season Goshhowposh has won twice and failed to complete twice. 

The gelding beat Shallow River at Wincanton on Boxing Day but was pulled up behind that rival on heavy ground at Exeter seven weeks ago. The trainer said his charge stopped very quickly that day; connections fit blinkers for the first time.

Bottom weight Shoeshine Boy comes into this in fine form having won at Ayr and Kelso in the past six weeks; on 107 he's only six pounds higher for those two victories.

Secret Trix, kept busy over the summer months, qualified for this when second behind Equinus at Aintree at the end of October; he hasn't been seen since and wears cheekpieces for the first time.

Tanganiyka, on the other hand, has been kept busy over the winter months. 

Venetia Williams' charge made all to win at Newbury on his penultimate start and is now rated seven pounds higher. 

He beat Astronomic View (dead-heated with Chris Cool in second) at Bangor in December and has a couple of lengths to find on revised terms; he isn't always particularly fluent at the obstacles but the yard boasts six wins from 30 runs (20%) in the past 14 days.

Storm Nelson has caused havoc with wind, rain, hail and snow in parts of the country over the past 24 hours; expect similar levels of pandemonium if Storm Nelson wins here.

The gelding qualified when a modest third behind Johnson's Blue at Doncaster last month. His defeat of Wakool at Ayr 14 months ago reads well but the eleven-year-old hasn't shown that level of form since moving to Olly Williams in November.

A difficult race. 

My small each-way wager won't make any inroads into that widely reported fall in betting turnover ('a drop in the ocean', one might say) but I'm going to forgive My Bobby Dazzler his last run over an extended trip at Warwick. 

He likes to race up with the pace which suits Haydock; My Bobby Dazzler is the each-way suggestion, 14/1 with Sky Bet who pay one fifth the odds five places.     

Friday, March 22, 2024

The day after the Lord Mayor's show

The post Cheltenham clean-up operation started at PGHQ on Monday. 

The Racing Desk was hidden from plain sight by all kinds of detritus: old copies of the Weekender; shredded copies of the Racing Post; battered form books; a pizza box; pencils and pencil shavings; a scarf; half a cup of cold tea; numerous screwed up betting slips - including one for The Real Whacker; a pack of cheap biros; a reel of sellotape with a button at the end; a Ludlow racecard; a coupon for 30 bonus Nectar points when you buy Sainsbury's Bake At Home Baguettes; a packet of Wotsits; two six inch rulers; one flat cap; four receipts from Londis; a stale crisp; one glove; a copy of BBC Sports Report by Pat Murphy; two Deep Heat pain relief patches; and endless scraps of paper full of handicap ratings and adjusted ratings, official figures, speed figures and recondite calculations, together with a shopping list for spuds, onions, carrots, body lotion, bin bags and bananas. Where did that come from?  

Anyway, the consensus opinion appeared to be this year's Festival was rather flat Tuesday and Wednesday; better Thursday and Friday, with the Gold Cup one to remember.

The BHA promptly issued a statement on Irish dominance; Dr Richard Newland had his say on the matter.

Total attendance over the four days was 229,999, 11,000 down on last year (240,603).

Wednesday's figure of 46,771 was noticeably lower. 

Comments from the chief executive of the Jockey Club Nevin Truesdale: 'This is our sport's week. We should be uniting around it', appeared defensive. 

Only five of the 27 races retuned a winner at double figure odds: (Unexpected Party 12/1); Monmiral (25/1); Golden Ace (10/1); Absurde (12/1) and Stellar Story (33/1).

In days gone by my annual pilgrimage to Prestbury Park for the Wednesday meet was considered 'de rigueur' but in the past ten years I've only been on three occasions: 

2017 (Might Bite tries to throw away the RSA Chase and Special Tiara gives me a day out to remember); 

2018 (Douvan travelling sweetly in the Champion Chase when coming to grief four out); 

2020 (One pair of respectable black shoes ruined by the mud, after watching the cross country race next to the Cheese Wedges). 

To be perfectly honest, in recent years I just haven't felt the need to return. 

Anyway, a few days after the Lord Mayor's show I'm off to the Newbury races where the going is described as good to soft, soft in places. 

Mares' novices' hurdles are no particular speciality of mine; nineteen have been declared for the Grade Two at 3.15. 

Favourite Party Vibes won going away from Ooh Betty over an extended two mile trip at Market Rasen four and a half weeks ago. 

El Elefante beat Kay Tara Tara two and a quarter lengths at Ayr a fortnight ago but now has to concede 11 pounds to that rival. In the RP Weekender Alan King says of his charge: 

"She was much happier on the better ground up there [at Ayr] so the more it dries up here the better her chance."

Paul Nicholls thinks '113 is a very competitive mark to go in this race' for Larchmont Lass. Last time  Larchmont Lass had Baby Shally and Imperial Jade in arrears at Wincanton.

Smiling Getaway was well beaten by Springtime Promise and Cherie D'Am in the Jane Seymour at Sandown last month; Springtime Promise held an entry in the mares' novices' hurdle at the Festival.

Smiling Getaway had All The Glory over 17 lengths behind in fifth at Ludlow in December and Marmalade Time 47 lengths behind in eleventh - three weeks ago Marmalade Time beat Lindy Reilly 

Next time out Smiling Getaway beat Break My Soul at Warwick; Nicky Henderson's mare, a £290,000 purchase, runs in the novice handicap hurdle at 2.10.

Three runners make some appeal as a potential each-way play.

Paul Kealy makes a case for All The Glory in the RP Weekender, pointing out she's likely to appreciate drying ground; her form behind Shanagh Bob at Plumpton in November reads well, given that Shanagh Bob would have been towards the top of the market for the Albert Bartlett if Henderson's horses been in good health.

Condesa finished a long way behind El Elefante at Perth in September but her subsequent second behind Springtime Promise at Sedgefield at the end of January puts her right in the mix. She looks overpriced at 20/1.

Alfie's Princess finished ahead of Endless Supply twice in the autumn. 

Next time Sam Thomas' charge was fifth behind Pawapuri at Haydock, El Elefante three lengths ahead in fourth. Afterwards the trainer commented [RP Weekender 03-07.01.24]:

"She's got plenty of ability and won her first two starts this season at Chepstow and Exeter. I was slightly disappointed with her last run at Haydock, where she finished fifth. They went really quickly and I think we rode her a little bit wrong [led, then headed]. She probably wants a little bit further and we'll ride her more patiently next time."

At Sandown next time she was outpaced by two geldings, Jingko Blue (ran in the Gallagher Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham last week) and Titan Discovery (beaten half a length by Boombawn at Kempton on Saturday). 

The handicapper only dropped her one pound for that effort but she had Zain Nights half a length behind and that one pipped Take No Chances and Hermino AA in a three-way photo at Newbury this afternoon. 

A wide open event; I'm going to take a small each-way interest in Alfie's Princess.

Alfie's Princess is the each-way suggestion, 14/1 generally with most layers paying five places.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - the betting debrief

Shown below a record of the blog's highlighted selections at the 2024 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, except in the case of the Champion Chase (3.30 Wednesday) where, to avoid Rule 4 arithmetic, I've settled at starting price / one quarter the odds following the late withdrawals of both Jonbon and Boothill to leave a field of six.  


5.30 NH Challenge Cup Novices' Chase

Selection: Mr Vango

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 22/1

Starting price: 14/1

Result: Third

Return: 2.70

Profit/Loss: +1.70

Profit/Loss Tuesday: +1.70


2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Selection: Stay Away Fay

Bet: Win

Advised price: 7/2

Starting price: 6/1

Result: Pulled up

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

2.50 Coral Cup

Selection: Guard Your Dreams

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 18/1

Starting price: 25/1

Result: Eighteenth

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

3.30 Champion Chase

Selection: Captain Guinness

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 11/1 (before two withdrawals)

Starting price: 17/2

Result: Win

Return: 6.31

Profit/Loss: +5.31

Profit/Loss Wednesday: +3.31


1.30 Turners Novices' Chase

Selection: Grey Dawning

Bet: Win

Advised price: 9/4

Starting price: 5/2

Result: Win

Return: 3.25

Profit/Loss: +2.25

2.10 Pertemps Final

Selection: Springwell Bay

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 14/1

Result: Non runner

Profit/Loss: 0.00

2.50 Ryanair Chase

Selection: Protektorat

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 9/1

Starting price: 17/2

Result: Win

Return: 6.40

Profit/Loss: +5.40

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

Selection: Sire Du Berlais

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 14/1

Starting price: 14/1

Result: Fifth

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Thursday: +6.65


3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup

Selection: L'Homme Presse

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 10/1

Starting price: 16/1

Result: Fourth

Return: 1.50

Profit/Loss +0.50

Profit/Loss Friday: +0.50

Outlay over four days: 8 points

Profit/Loss over four days: +12.16 points

Profit/Loss expressed as percentage of outlay: 152%

A quick word of caution to the wise.

In no way are these figures indicative of the season's performance prior to this meet; in addition, the profit realised in the Champion Chase owed much to the misfortune of 2/9 favourite El Fabiolo at the fifth fence. Normal service will be resumed in due course.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Friday

The going on the New Course is currently described as soft, with intermittent rain forecast through the evening and tomorrow morning.

3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup

On March 12th 1924 Red Splash, trained by Fred Withington and ridden by Dick Rees, won the first running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup as a steeplechase.

100 years on they bet 10/1 bar two for the 2024 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Last year Galopin Des Champs beat Bravemansgame seven lengths; this year's race looks a stronger renewal.

Galopin Des Champs has won eight of his 11 starts over fences. 

He fell at the last when 12 lengths clear in the 2022 Turners Novices' Chase and has been beaten twice by Fastorslow at Punchestown; Willie Mullins' charge gained his revenge over that rival six weeks ago in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

On official handicap ratings Galopin has a minimum of nine pounds in hand over all his rivals.

On two trips to Cheltenham to date, Fastorslow has been beaten a short head by Commander Of Fleet in the 2022 Coral Cup and, conceding four pounds, a neck by Corach Rambler in last year's Ultima.

Martin Brassil's charge underwent wind surgery immediately after that latest defeat at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Beaten a short head by The Real Whacker in last year's Brown Advisory, Gerri Colombe won the Mildmay at Aintree and just pipped Envoi Allen in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal before holding Capodanno a head for second place in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, the pair some 23 lengths behind Galopin Des Champs.

It's difficult to see Bravemansgame reversing the form of last year's race.

This term a mistake at the last handed the initiative to Gentlemansgame in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and Paul Nicholls' inmate was beaten by Haydock specialist Royale Pagaille in the Betfair Chase. 

He finished second behind Hewick in the King George but both would probably have finished behind Shishkin if Nicky Henderson's charge hadn't stumbled and unseated Nico De Boinville just after the penultimate flight.

Earlier this afternoon trainer John 'Shark' Hanlon withdrew Hewick, a 33/1 chance for next month's Grand National, on account of soft ground.

Last year's National winner Corach Rambler is currently quoted 12/1 joint favourite for the Aintree showpiece. 

Following a subdued introduction at Kelso in October, Lucinda Russell's charge finished third behind Royal Pagaille and Bravemansgame in the Betfair Chase at Haydock; you suspect it was at that point connections started to ruminate over a plan to come here. 

The last ten-year-old to win a Gold Cup was Cool Dawn in 1998.

L'Homme Presse won the 2022 Brown Advisory and the following November carried top weight to victory in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle. Next time he fell in the King George won by Bravemansgame and was subsequently off the track for 13 months. 

On reappearance this January he beat Protektorat (won the Ryanair Chase earlier today) in the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield and finished a creditable third behind Pic D'Orhy at Ascot four weeks ago - after the race beaten connections were particularly upbeat about that effort with this race as the target.

In 2020 Monkfish won the Albert Bartlett and the following year he won the Brown Advisory. 

He has obviously had his problems since. Seven weeks ago he beat 2018 Supreme winner Summerville Boy in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park; many pundits thought he was going to turn up in the Stayers' Hurdle but no, here he is, in a Gold Cup. 

It's a bold move by connections which would indicate they feel their charge is in rude health.

The Real Whacker won his three chase starts at the track last year - including the Brown Advisory - but  hasn't won in three starts this term. 

I bet Patrick Neville's charge in the Cotswold Chase seven weeks ago - and had to go to inordinate lengths to eventually claim the £5 free bet which the advertisement in the bookmaker's shop window indicated I was entitled to.

I have to say I'd expected more from The Real Whacker that day. 

Leading, he jumped right on occasions and lost his pitch two out before rallying to claim second spot ahead of Stay Away Fay (pulled up in the Brown Advisory yesterday). He wears a visor for the first time.

Nassalam has appeared a different horse for the fitting of blinkers. 

He finished 34 lengths behind Corach Rambler in the Ultima last year but has since won twice at Chepstow after the aids were applied; last time he won the Welsh National by an astonishing 34 lengths and is quoted 33/1 for the Grand National. 

The percentage call is he needs heavy ground to be seen at his best.

With just five starts under rules to his name Jungle Boogie has clearly had his problems.

Galopin Des Champs is the one to beat; to date Fastorslow is the only horse to have done so over fences.

L'Homme Presse is suited by soft ground but tries this extended three and a quarter mile trip for the first time; if he sees the trip out, he holds an each-way chance.

Selection: L'Homme Presse each-way, at the time of writing 10/1 with Paddy Power paying four places.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Thursday

Earlier this afternoon Willie Mullins became the first trainer to send out 100 winners at the Cheltenham Festival when his son Patrick rode 9/2 chance Jasmin De Vaux to victory in the concluding bumper.

The going is currently described as soft, heavy in places, with further rain forecast from 1.00 tomorrow afternoon.

1.30 Turners Novices' Chase

Facile Vega didn't jump particularly well when third behind Il Etait Temps and Found A Fifty at the Dublin Racing Festival; he tries this trip for the first time.

There wouldn't be much between Grey Dawning and Ginny's Destiny. 

Back in December, in receipt of three pounds, Ginny's Destiny beat Grey Dawning threequarters of a length. That doesn't necessarily tell the whole tale as Grey Dawning made a howler two out and did well to finish as close as he did in the circumstances.  

Stepped up to three miles next time, Grey Dawning won the Hampton Novices' Chase at Warwick in something approaching a common canter. Connections have taken this option rather than the Brown Advisory on account of the soft ground. 

Iroko won the Martin Pipe last year and is a fine prospect; however he has just one chase start to his name. 

Six-year-olds have won two of the last ten renewals (Vautour in 2015 and Defi Du Seuill in 2019); no horse older than eight has come home in front in the same timeframe.

The price doesn't make too much appeal but Grey Dawning is my idea of the winner.

Selection: Grey Dawning win, 9/4 at the time of writing.

2.10 Pertemps Final

I'm a fan of Cuthbert Dibble (and the Trumpton fire brigade for that matter) but he looked to have a hard enough race when 'all out' to beat Lord Snootie (of 'The Beano' fame) at Haydock three and a half weeks ago. 

The handicapper raised him six pounds for that win and, with Sam Twiston-Davies replacing five pound claimer Finn Lambert in the plate, he's effectively 11 pounds higher here. 

At the prices stablemate Gowel Road is perhaps of more interest; his fourth behind the ill-fated Slate Lane with Fine Margin second and Crambo (5/1 second favourite for the Stayers' Hurdle at 3.30) third reads well. Looking through his profile there's a suggestion he can find himself outpaced at the business end of a race - even on heavy ground - before staying on again.

Course and distance winner White Rhino - stablemate of Iroko in the first - has been well touted on the preview circuit.   

With a chase rating of 150, the 2022 Coral Gold Cup winner Le Milos could be thrown in on 142;  the horse has had a number of issues this season but handler Dan Skelton issued an upbeat bulletin earlier. 

The yard has hit form in no uncertain terms today. 

Langer Dan won the Coral Cup with something to spare and a couple of hours later Unexpected Party won the Grand Annual; at the time of writing Le Milos is 6/1 favourite.

Rated 155 over fences, Chantry House is another chaser well in off 143 but he wouldn't be one to trust implicitly.

Gordon Elliott boasts a good record in this race - Jack Kennedy rides Cleatus Poolaw - and Ted Walsh's sole runner, Gaoth Chuil, catches the eye.    

Springwell Bay is one I like. 

He won with a bit in hand on seasonal debut, a fact that didn't escape the attention of the handicapper.

Last time over three miles at Musselburgh he was was pipped a neck by Curley Finger (Hector Javilex third, Noble Birth ninth) and the handicapper reacted by giving him another two pounds for his trouble. He has his share of weight, granted, but he has won at the track previously and rates an each-way wager.

Selection: Springwell Bay each-way, 14/1 with Sky who pay eight places.

2.50 Ryanair Chase

Envoi Allen beat Shishkin in this race last year and goes for a double previously completed by Allaho (2021/22) and Albertas Run (2010/11); Albertas Run is the last ten-year-old to win this race. 

Stage Star won the Turners last year and the Paddy Power Gold Cup on seasonal debut in the autumn but was pulled up in a handicap chase over course and distance on New Year's Day - Paul Nicholls reported the gelding stiff after that race.

Banbridge would have been the pick on better ground. 

Under a classic Paul Townend hold up ride, Capodanno breezed through the field to win the Cotswold Chase from The Real Whacker, with Stay Away Fay third and Ahoy Senor fourth. Apart from winning a Clonmel maiden over two miles in 2021, all Capodanno's winning form is at three miles plus.

Gold Cup defector Ahoy Senor looked a tad unlucky in that race as Lucinda Russell's charge appeared to be travelling well when Stephen Mulqueen's right stirrup leather broke four out. He has since finished third behind Pic D'Orhy and L'Homme Presse in the Betfair Ascot Chase.

Connections have chosen to run here rather than in the Gold Cup, as assistant trainer Peter Scudamore explains:

"It was a difficult decision...but the belief is he's got another year in him when he could go for the Gold Cup. I felt his run last year impacted how he ran at Aintree after, when he'd had a hard season.

"He's got a good chance in the Ryanair and Derek [Fox] would like it if he ran in it. His owners very sportingly gave our blessing to do so."   

I'm going to chance another Gold Cup defector, Protektorat. 

Having finished third behind A Plus Tard in the 2022 Gold Cup and fifth behind Galopin Des Champs in last year's renewal, it's clear connections think their charge doesn't quite get up the hill. He tends to race quite keenly; last time he led from the front in the Denman Chase at Newbury where he finished third behind Shishkin and Hitman. 

I'm hoping this step back in trip will help his cause.

Selection: Protektorat each-way, 9/1 with bet365 paying four places.

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

Some old friends make an appearance here.

I tipped Teahupoo for last year's renewal but he was held by Dashel Drasher on the run to the line when Sire Du Berlais went past them both to win at odds of 33/1, with Flooring Porter fourth.

Flooring Porter has done the blog a favour twice in recent times, winning this event at 12/1 in 2021 and at 4/1 in 2022. He tends to race from the front, although he's maybe not quite as headstrong as he once was in his younger days. (Ditto.) 

Gavin Cromwell's charge has contested three novice chases this term (beat Broadway Boy at this track in the autumn) but it looks as though this has been the target since Christmas.

Crambo heads the British challenge. 

He beat Paisley Park a short head on good ground in the Long Walk at Ascot in December (Dashel Drasher third). This will probably represent his first try at this trip on ground this deep.

Paisley Park beat Sam Spinner in this race in 2019. 

This term the twelve-year-old has been beaten a short-head by Dashel Drasher; a short-head by Crambo; and a head by Noble Yeats. Connections will feel they're due a change of luck.

We've learned to expect the unexpected from Emmet Mullins. 

This year Grand National winner Noble Yeats has been campaigned over hurdles; he's currently quoted at 16/1 for the Aintree showpiece in April. 

Last time in the Cleeve he appeared outpaced on the home turn before fighting back to just hold Paisley Park on the line. Connections have opted to fit cheekpieces.

This has been the target all season for Teahupoo who comes into the race a fresh horse; he looks the one to beat. Sir Gerhard has never won at this trip and Tom Segal likes Home By The Lee but at the prices I'll take an each-way interest in one of the old brigade.

Selection: Sire Du Berlais each-way, currently 14/1 with Coral who pay four places. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Wednesday

The going is currently described as heavy, soft in places, with a dry day forecast tomorrow.

Ballyburn beat Slade Steel, winner of the Supreme earlier today, seven lengths at the Dublin Racing Festival and is long odds on to win the opening Gallagher Novices' Hurdle (1.30). 

2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase 

Odds on favourite Fact Or File has yet to race beyond two miles five and a half furlongs under rules although he won a point over three miles on soft ground at Belharbour two years ago, beating Asian Master (excellent 16/1 fourth in the Supreme earlier today) six lengths. He has shown a tendency to jump right on occasions.

Stay Away Fay won last year's Albert Bartlett (Monty's Star pulled up) and has won two of his three starts over fences this term, conceding three pounds and beating Giovinco one and a half lengths on his penultimate start at Sandown.

Facing more experienced rivals in the Cotswold Chase six weeks ago, he lost second spot on the run up the hill which remains a slight concern; however the Cotswold Chase is run over a furlong further on the new course, generally considered to be a stiffer test of stamina. 

Monty's Star, a sound jumper who will appreciate underfoot conditions, is given every respect but on ratings Henry De Bromhead's charge has 12 pounds to find with the market leaders, as does American Mike who appeared to improve on his first try over three miles at Navan last time.

Paul Nicholls has described Stay Away Fay as one of his best chances of the week.

Selection: Stay Away Fay win, 7/2 with a number of layers this evening.

2.50 Coral Cup

The usual minefield. 

Favourite Sa Majeste has his first run in a handicap off 140; he won over two and a half miles on heavy ground at Limerick last time.

Nicky Henderson saddles three - Doddiethegreat, Lucky Place and First Street - but the stable is clearly under a cloud with five of the yard's six runners pulled up today - Luccia the only one to run her race when finishing third behind Lossiemouth in the Mares' Hurdle.

Doddiethegreat has won over this trip previously and was well touted on the preview circuit after finishing fourth behind stablemate Iberico Lord in the Betfair Hurdle just over four weeks ago.

First Street was eleventh behind Faivoir in the County last year off a mark of 152, beaten nine lengths. He goes off 143 here and has form behind Rubaud, Constitution Hill and Lossiemouth this term. He underwent wind surgery at the end of January but would ideally prefer better ground.

Might I was fourth behind Iroko in the Martin Pipe last year off a mark three pounds higher. He hasn't really taken to chasing this term; it looks as though this has been the target since Christmas and he'll handle underfoot conditions.

Guard Your Dreams, seventh in this race three years ago off 135, has clearly had problems. 

Returning after 660 days off the track he finished behind Lossiemouth and First Street in the International Hurdle and Nemean Lion in the Kingwell at Wincanton.

Rated 147 at his peak, Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge looks feasibly handicapped on 137 and should act on the ground.

Selection: Guard Your Dreams 18/1 each-way, with Sky paying eight places. 

3.30 Champion Chase

Unbeaten over fences in six starts El Fabiolo beat Jonbon five and a half lengths in the Arkle last year; his jumping isn't always foot perfect. This rematch has been anticipated throughout the season.

Jonbon has five pounds to find on ratings and, as highlighted above, the form of the yard is a concern. 

Jonbon didn't jump well at all last time when beaten a neck by Elixir De Nutz; at ten years of age Joe Tizzard's grey is in the form of his life.

Edwardstone won the 2022 renewal of the Arkle but was a major disappointment in this race last year and has finished behind Jonbon twice this term. Connections tried a step up to two and a half miles at Kempton in January but that experiment was classed a failure. 

Last time out he made all to win the Game Spirit at Newbury; in a recent preview programme, Nico De Boinville appeared to suggest, rather mischievously, that similar tactics would help his cause...

Captain Guinness, second behind Energumene in this race last year, finished behind Jonbon in the Celebration Chase at Sandown last April and behind El Fabiolo at the Dublin Racing Festival five weeks ago; he holds place prospects once again.  

Selection: Captain Guinness each-way, 11/1 with Paddy Power at the time of writing.

Finally, it's a long time since I've been brave enough to have a bet in the bumper and I'm not about to change my mind now but two things caught my eye.

Firstly, Jane Chapple-Hyam, more accustomed to having runners on the Flat, saddles four-year-old grey Stavvy here.

Secondly, a shout out for Union Avenue who could outrun odds of 100/1. 

Trained by James Moffatt at Cartmel in Cumbria, this one finished three and a quarter lengths fourth behind Royal Infantry in a listed bumper at Newbury four and a half weeks ago. 

Described by his trainer as 'a serious horse', he's a work in progress and should make up into a smart novice hurdler next season.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Tuesday

Generally, over the years, I haven't struck too many wagers on the first day of a Festival meeting but, for the first time in a long time, I've really struggled to winkle out a wager that makes much appeal.

The Champion Hurdle (3.30) is of little interest for betting purposes, Irish novices look some way ahead of their British counterparts in the Supreme (1.30) - rain hasn't helped the chance of Ben Pauling's charge Tellherthename - while anything can win the Arkle (2.50), and if there's value left in the Ultima (2.50), I haven't been able to spot it..

They say one of the the biggest weapons in a punter's armoury is deciding when to play - for my only bet of the opening day I've gone for a bit of a punt in the finale.

5.30 Maureen Mullins National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys' Novices' Chase.

Seven declared, with the going described as soft after 11mm of rain fell over the weekend.

Greg Wood of the Guardian predicts 'another almighty beating' for British jumping at this year's Festival - 'It is only the scale of the embarrassment that has yet to be decided' - and the three Irish trained horses in this field dominate the market; Embassy Gardens is the one to beat on Racing Post ratings.

About this time last year Corbetts Cross was in the process of giving Stay Away Fay a run for his money in the Albert Bartlett before jinking right and running out at the last (Embassy Gardens pulled up before the last after running too freely). 

In four chase starts this term Emmet Mullins' charge has looked novicey at his obstacles on occasions but he'll benefit from the assistance of top amateur Mr Derek O'Connor. 

At Fairyhouse five weeks ago Corbetts Cross jumped out to his left left, Run Wild Fred to his right and a mid-air collision ensued, with both coming to grief three from home.

Both Corbetts Cross and Embassy Gardens wear a first-time hood; Willie Mullins' charge has looked the more assured jumper of the pair on his two starts over fences.

Salvador Ziggy, second in the Pertemps Final last year and second in the Kerry National on his penultimate start, hasn't been seen since finishing seventh of eight runners at Far Hills, New Jersey in the autumn; he would probably prefer better ground.

Between them, Mullins and Elliott have won six of the past ten renewals of this race, three victories apiece.  

The mare Apple Away comes into this on the back of two tough races in the Hampton Novices' Chase at Warwick (won by Grey Dawning) and the Reynoldstown at Ascot in which Henry's Friend held Kilbeg King a head.

Kilbeg King, still to win a chase, was beaten just under 15 lengths by the impressive Il Etait Francais in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day; Anthony Honeyball's charge clearly has an engine but he made a number of niggly errors at Ascot and was ultimately undone by one at the last.

On just his second chase start front-runner Mr Vango made all and ran his rivals ragged on heavy ground in the Devon National at Exeter 18 days ago, beating Foxboro 60 lengths; he's the only one in this field to have won at this distance. 

He jumped neatly in the main but took a mighty chunk out of the third last and certainly won't be able to take similar liberties here; in addition 18 days' recovery time is far from ideal for a staying chaser. 

That said, he beat Inis Oirr a neck in a Haydock maiden in 2022 - that one won the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh last month and is currently priced up 7/1 favourite for the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter on Saturday.

He needs to find more in this; connections have opted to fit cheekpieces for the first time.

With Betfred, Coral, Sky and bet365 paying three places, the outsider in the field Mr Vango represents an each-way play at around 20/1.

Mr Vango is the each-way suggestion, currently priced 22/1 with Coral.


Trainer Sara Bradstock has taken over the licence following the death of husband Mark earlier this month after a long illness; there won't be a dry eye in the house should Mr Vango come home in front.  

Friday, March 08, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - the calm before the storm...

An uninterrupted preparation is preferable for any Cheltenham Festival engagement; unfortunately I've suffered the exact opposite this year - an interrupted preparation. Inchoate thoughts outlined below.


1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Ballyburn, considered by many to be the best novice seen this season, heads to the Gallagher Novices' Hurdle (1.30 Wednesday).

At the time of writing only three British trained entries remain in the field: Jeriko Du Reponet (136); Tellherthename (135); and Favour And Fortune (138).

Both Tellherthename and Favour And Fortune would appreciate better ground; if the forecast rain arrives on Sunday, that would have to be considered a negative. Favour And Fortune holds an entry in County Hurdle (2.10 Friday).   

Ben Pauling happens to have a number of talented novices in his yard this year including Handstands (136); The Jukebox Man (135); Personal Ambition (131); Fiercely Proud (130); Champagne Twist (124) - will be better with a summer on his back; and Pic Roc (123).

After Tellherthename's win at Huntingdon in January, the handler said:

"The ground there [at Huntingdon] was was soft enough and it is not the good to soft they advertised, but Tellherthename has handled it very well. He is an unbelievably class horse. That now gives him his fourth run so he has got the option of the Betfair Hurdle but the ground would have to be spot on for that otherwise we go straight to the Supreme with him. I think he is a class horse with gears galore and I sometimes think they are best fresh. They go such a gallop in that race (Supreme) and if you are anything but absolutely ready for the day then you might get flat footed."  

The undeniable dominance of Irish trained novices in recent years is daunting; their numerical advantage here tempers enthusiasm but Tellherthename is still of interest at around the 16/1 mark.

2.10 Arkle Novices' Chase

Marine Nationale misses the race after a setback.

I've spent a little time looking at the jumping of the Irish horses at the head of the market. 

Both Gaelic Warrior and Found A Fifty have shown a tendency to go right. The former was well beaten behind Fact Or File when unseating Paul Townend last time. 

Hunters Yarn has two runs over fences to his name, both at Fairyhouse, a right-handed track; the gelding fell at the last on his first start and made a bad mistake two out next time.

Wearing a first-time tongue-tie, the grey Il Etait Temps showed plenty of resolve and determination to get up to beat Found A Fifty a neck with Facile Vega third in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

Quilixios jumped right on his first run over fences at Limerick but jumped well at Naas in January. 

The two Irish entries of interest are Il Etait Temps and the 2021 Triumph Hurdle winner Quilixios.

JPR One has been considered, given he generally jumps and travels well in a race. 

The consensus opinion was he was unfortunate to unseat Brendan Powell in the Arkle Trial over course and distance in November. 

I've seen one pundit claim that is the only mistake the gelding has made in his races to date but I disagree - he made a bad error at the penultimate flight when finishing third behind Le Patron in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in December, an error that cost him his winning chance. 

All of which led me to just question his jumping in the white heat of battle. 

With previous Arkle winners achieving a hurdle rating of 150 and upwards - and JPR One recording just 130 - I've decided to leave the race well alone.

3.30 Champion Hurdle

With Constitution Hill unable to defend his title, Iberico Lord has been supplemented at a cost £18,000. 

The form of the Henderson stable remains a concern. Crazierthandaisy has been declared for the listed British Stallions Studs EBF Mares' Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at Sandown tomorrow, the yard's first runner for seven days.

The absence of Constitution Hill has certainly opened the race up but Lossiemouth is still likely to take her chance in the Mares' Hurdle (4.10). 

Course and distance winner Pied Piper (16/1) is considered; he was beaten a head by the fast-finishing Faivoir in the County Hurdle last year. Bred by Queen Elizabeth II, the gelding changed hands for 570,000 euros at the dispersal sale of Andrew and Gemma Brown's horses last month.


2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Favourite Fact Or File has yet to win over this distance under rules although he won a three mile point at Belharbour two years ago. On his first run over fences he was beaten by American Mike over two and a half miles.

Broadway Boy, behind Grey Dawning at Warwick last time, has a good record around Cheltenham. Assistant trainer Willy Twiston-Davies recently said:

"Broadway Boy worked exceptionally well last week. He had a quiet week after he ran at Warwick in January, when he wasn't right, but he hasn't missed a beat since. He did his last piece of work this morning and it was as good as I've felt from him all season. He's fresh and has a glint in his eye and his coat looks fantastic. All the signs lead to a big run.

"Fact To File looks a fantastic horse, but he beat Gaelic Warrior last time who was going left-handed and unseated, which is not exactly a formline you'd want to trust."

Stay Away Fay won the Albert Bartlett last year and started this term beating The Changing Man and Grey Dawning over three miles at Exeter.  

Last time his finishing effort appeared to flatten out against more experienced rivals in the Cotswold Chase and he lost second spot to The Real Whacker on the run up the hill; he may have lacked a little fine-tuning with this race the ultimate target. 

Grey Dawning appeared to have improved at Warwick last time beating Apple Away 14 lengths, Broadway Boy 32 lengths and The Changing Man 50 lengths.

I'm leaning towards Grey Dawning who did well to finish second behind Ginny's Destiny at the track in December after a bad mistake two out. Dan Skelton has indicated the grey will run in the Turners Novices' Chase (1.30 Thursday) if the ground remains soft.


2.50 Ryanair Chase 

The Ryanair is shaping up. Bambridge, last year's winner Envoi Allen ("in mighty form"), Turners winner Stage Star, Protektorat, and Ahoy Senor are all declared. Ga Law has been supplemented at a cost of £18,000.

Of the decision to run Ahoy Senor in this, assistant trainer Peter Scudamore said:

"It was a difficult decision...but the belief is he's got another year in him when he could go for the Gold Cup. I felt his run last year impacted how he ran at Aintree after, when he'd had a hard season.

"He's got a good chance in the Ryanair and Derek [Fox] would like it if he ran in it. His owners very sportingly gave our blessing to do so."   

Protektorat is of interest at around 12/1, particularly if the going remains on the soft side.

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

There are strong(ish) vibes for Monkfish. 

Does Willie Mullins have him back to his best?  If the gelding runs in the Stayers' Hurdle (3.30) he'll certainly be worth a second look at 14/1. The ten-year-old also holds an entry in the Gold Cup. 


3.30 Gold Cup

A strong renewal, the highlight of the week. 

On Racing Post ratings last year's winner Galopin Des Champs has six pounds in hand of nearest rival Shishkin.

Current interest centres around L'Homme Presse (14/1) on soft ground; Hewick (20/1) on better ground; and Corach Rambler (22/1).

Festival handicaps

Kevin Blake's blog post provides an analysis of Irish trained entries in this year's handicap races, together with a potted history of the trials and tribulations endured by both British and Irish handicappers in recent times.

Irish entries slated to run off their current Irish mark include Batman Girac 133 (Boodles); King Of Kingsfield 140 (County); Magic Tricks 145 (Coral Cup / County / Martin Pipe); and Anna Bunina 140 (Coral Cup / Pertemps Final).

Irish runners allocated just one pound above their Irish mark include Risk Belle 136+1 (County) and Bialystok 138+1 (County).  

Other entries of note:

Absurde - won the Ebor handicap at York last August off a rating of 104; he is now rated 110 on the Flat. If he goes to post in the County on Friday he will have his first run in a handicap hurdle off 138.

Absurde's stablemate Sa Majeste has been given a mark of 140 for his first run in a handicap; he holds entries in the Coral Cup and Martin Pipe.

So Scottish - 130 over hurdles in Ireland; rated 133 for the County but has an Irish chase rating of 137.

Milan Tino - rated 136 in France but allocated just 126 in the Boodles.

Kevin Blake concludes:

"It is too early to suggest that peace in our times might well be a possibility in the contentious world of cross-border handicapping, but we seem to be moving towards a more harmonious future."  

As always, I'll aim to post selections for each of the four days. 

The tension is starting to build...

Friday, March 01, 2024

The 2024 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso

We've had some rain this winter and it looks like there's still more to come but that hasn't stopped the manager of our local Asda piling up disposable barbecues in the entrance to his store. Just looked a tad previous to me.

Anyway, Turftrax describes the going up in the Scottish Borders at Kelso as good to soft with frost sheets to be deployed on all take offs, landings and crossovers. 

Eighteen are set to face the starter in the Morebattle Hurdle (2.50); the winner can claim a £100,000 bonus by collecting the spoils in any race at the Cheltenham Festival - The Shunter completed the double by winning the Paddy Power Plate in 2021.

The well-being of Constitution Hill has been a topic of some discussion this week; stablemate Under Control heads the market here. 

The mare beat stablemate Iberico Lord in the Novices' Championship Final at Sandown in April; that form looks good with Iberico Lord going on to win the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November and the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month. (Her Cheltenham entries are: the Champion Hurdle; the Mares' Hurdle; and the County Hurdle. Iberico Lord is entered in the County Hurdle).

Under Control appeared anything but when beaten out of sight on seasonal debut in the Gerry Feilden; following wind surgery she split the Willie Mullins trained pair Ashore Diamond and Gala Marceau in the Yorkshire Rose Mares' Hurdle at Doncaster at the end of January. 

She's not the biggest of individuals; the handler has indicated better ground will help her cause.

The current form of the Henderson stable has to be a concern. In the past fortnight six of the yard's 11 runners have pulled up with Kado De Joie the most recent winner on 20th February at Market Rasen.

Black Hawk Eagle was rated 81 on the Flat in Ireland before notching two wins from three runs at right-handed tracks in this country.

Both Skycutter and Salsada appear well handicapped in relation to former Flat ratings.

Skycutter goes off 121 having been rated 98 on the Flat - and Tristan Durrell claims three - while Salsada goes off 126 having been rated 91 on the Flat. 

When last seen the mare Salsada finished fifth in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, just under 10 lengths behind Rubaud, with the likes of Milkwood, Soaring Glory and First Street in arrears. She catches the eye on debut in handicap company.

Bingoo's number went in a few notebooks when winning over two and a half miles at Aintree on Boxing Day; handler Jimmy Moffatt has indicated his charge is best fresh with cut in the ground but also said in a recent 'Straight from the Stable' article [RP Weekender 14-18.02.24]:

"He's versatile tripwise, he's so genuine and he's improving. We're likely to enter him at the Cheltenham Festival [entries in the County and Martin Pipe].

"I'd like to see him carrying a low weight as he's not the biggest. We'll keep his options open but soft ground is a must and we'll be influenced by that."

Top weight Benson won this race last year off 134, making good late headway to snatch the lead from Colonel Mustard after the last; he holds place prospects this year while stablemate Bass Rock, better known as a chaser, races off a mark five pounds below his chase rating and Lewis Dobb claims seven.

Course and distance winner Ballygeary was in with every chance coming to the last in the Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh four weeks ago; he eventually finished fifth, beaten under five lengths (Benson one and a half lengths ahead in fourth, Caithness behind in tenth). He sports first-time cheekpieces here and has been supported in the market.

If he had kept to a straight line Anyharminasking would have beaten Nemean Lion in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las in October. Jonjo O'Neill's charge subsequently finished well behind that rival in the Greatwood and steps back in trip here after two runs over two and a half miles.

Cracking Rhaposdy held the tune, just beating the Donald McCain trained Jungle Jack over course and distance 15 days ago, with Ginger Mail, another course and distance winner, two and a quarter lengths adrift in third. Jungle Jack held an entry at the five day stage but connections have declared Ballygeary and Geromino so you'd imagine they know where they stand in relation to Ewan Whillans' charge.

Geromino's lower hurdle mark has been exploited on his last two runs, both at Doncaster; First Edition, Rare Edition, Soaring Glory, Tommy's Oscar and Langer Dan were all behind on his penultimate start but he's now rated 136.

Irish raider Little Mixup doesn't appear too mixed up after his move to Denis Hogan's yard. Winning at Thurles on the second start for new connections, the gelding was raised nine pounds to a career-high mark of 127 - and then the British handicapper added a further five, just for good measure; Mark McDonagh helps the cause by claiming three.

Rewired was rated 78 on the Flat and has been placed in 12 of his 14 hurdle starts to date; this represents a step up in class.

Course and distance winner Caithness finished third behind Impose Toi in a novice handicap at Cheltenham in November- that winner is now rated 134. 

Next time he didn't hurdle too fluently at Kempton and then faded out of contention before the last in the Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh, eventually beaten less than 10 lengths. 

This track is likely to suit better; he was six lengths or so adrift of Benson in fourth at Musselburgh but, taking into account jockey allowances, he's entitled to finish much closer to that opponent, a fact that isn't reflected in market prices.

The Churchill Lad looked too keen for his own good when finishing behind Ginger Mail and Cracking Rhapsody over course and distance in January; on balance he has something to find with a few of these while this represents Ganapathi's first run over hurdles in five starts this term.

N'golo makes his first appearance since finishing down the field in the 2022 Greatwood Hurdle won by I Like To Move It.

A hugely competitive affair and three have been under consideration: Ballygeary and Salsada, with Caithness looking overpriced at 33/1.

I've missed the bigger prices about Ballygeary so I'm going to take an interest in Salsada. She could be well treated off 126 in her first handicap; Daryl Jacob provides assistance in the saddle.

Salsada is the each-way suggestion, 12/1 generally with bet365 and William Hill paying six places.

Friday, February 23, 2024

The 2024 Coral Trophy at Kempton

After the recent 'Last man standing wins' debate in the Racing Post it will be interesting to see how many complete the course in tomorrow's Eider Chase (2.08 Newcastle) which will be run over four miles one and a half furlongs on heavy ground - thoughts go back to Companero beating Giles Cross 30 lengths in the 2011 renewal with Morgan Be the only other finisher of the 12 who set off.

Major Dundee would be of interest in the Eider - provided he brought his A game to the table (third in the 2022 Scottish Grand National; won the 2023 Midlands Grand National). 

Alan King's charge certainly didn't do that in the Classic Chase at Warwick six weeks ago. The gelding ran a full-blown stinker in a first-time visor and was one of the first beaten; he also happened to be my selection for the race.

Writing in the RP Weekender the following week Mr King seemed to imply that maybe The Major wasn't quite as keen as he had once been but the handler appears a tad more upbeat in this week's edition of the same paper:

"He seems in good order at home and he'll retain the visor he wore last time out." 

At the time of writing he's 10/1 with bet365, Coral and Betfred who are all paying four places but I had my fingers burnt last tine so I'm off to Kempton instead where, I have no doubt, my selection in the Coral Trophy will take a leaf out of Major Dundee's book and substantially raise the temperature applied to my digits.

The going at Kempton is described as soft, with the lake bend heavy.

The Dan Skelton trained course and distance winner Flegmatik, favourite through the week, has just been replaced by Blackjack Magic at the head of the market. 

Ideally Flegmatik would want better ground. 

Blackjack Magic, one of three runners for Anthony Honeyball, won the Badger Beer at Wincanton in the autumn, with stablemates Forward Plan sixth and Sam Brown pulled up. The three do battle once again tomorrow; Blackjack Magic sports first-time blinkers as on his two subsequent runs he made significant jumping errors at the business end of the race.

Forward Plan has shown his very best form on good ground while 12-year-old Sam Brown carries top weight and appears to have been revitalised by the application of a visor. On his penultimate start he won the Veterans' Final at Warwick and then finished less than 10 length behind Shishkin in the Denman Chase at Newbury.

Bowtogreatness shaped as though this return to three miles would suit when fifth behind Ginny's Destiny over an extended two and a half miles at Cheltenham four weeks ago. 

Il Ridoto races beyond two miles four and a half furlongs for the first time; Lord Baddesley tries further than two miles six and a half furlongs for the first time. 

The booking of Rex Dingle for Lord Baddesley suggests this one is the main hope for the Chris Gordon yard which is in sparkling form - 5 wins from 12 runs in past fortnight - in marked comparison to earlier in the season.  

Having won twice at Kempton the mare Tweed Skirt clearly likes the place but is another who has, to date, shown her best form on better ground.

Veteran Al Dancer has never won beyond two miles five.

Another veteran, Cap Du Nord, won the 2022 renewal of this race off a mark of 127 and popped up at Ascot this time last year off the same mark. 

He hasn't won since and is now officially rated 118 over fences. He's eight pounds wrong at the weights but Tristan Durrell claims three; it wouldn't be wise to completely write off a revival.

Killer Kane was fifth in this race last year (Flegmatik second, Cap Du Nord ninth); he raced from out of the handicap that day yet carries 10-7 tomorrow. Following wind surgery in December, he was beaten by the well-regarded Highstakesplayer and Iconic Muddle over course and distance 15 days ago. 

Unanswered Prayers underwent wind surgery last month having finished behind Tweed Skirt over course and distance the day after Boxing Day. 

Lord Baddesley's stablemate came to grief at the final flight at Ascot in November in a race won by Victtorino and was then hampered by a faller just after the last over the same course and distance three weeks later. 

He has been backed down from 25/1 earlier and is now as low as 17/2 in a place. 

Freddie Gingell was initially booked to ride Unanswered Prayers but the five pound claimer has been re-routed to Chepstow where he rides Monmiral. 

Paul Nicholls' charge reverts to hurdles in a Pertemps qualifier (3.08) after struggling in the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham and a novice chase at Musselburgh. The first four home qualify for the Pertemps Final at the Festival and I'm guessing the plan is to get qualified.

 I digress.

This isn't a good race for favourites; I'm going to side with one who has form over the trip on soft ground and course and distance winner Killer Kane fits the bill. 

His main target is the Topham at Aintree in the spring - he finished third in the race last year - but I'm hoping he can show up well here on his second run after wind surgery.

Killer Kane is the each-way suggestion, 12/1 generally at the time of writing with most layers paying four places. 

Friday, February 16, 2024

An Ascot anodyne

When favourite Ocastle Des Mottes spread a plate just before the start of the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last week, I couldn't help but wonder what the racecourse farrier carried in that tool bag of his - it had clearly seen several years of dedicated service. 

Daryl Jacob managed to get a good snoop - was there a kitchen sink in there? - but while Ed Chamberlin bemoaned the effect of the protracted delay on the other runners (official off-time some 13 minutes late), it was refreshing to hear Ruby Walsh tell Ed - and anyone else listening - that it wasn't the first time a horse had spread a plate before the start of a race and it certainly wouldn't be the last, so just suck it up!

Such flagrant disregard for circumlocutionary practice can only be applauded.

Further examples of circumlocutionary practice follow.

Sixteen have been declared for the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards Handicap Hurdle (2.25 Ascot); Turftax report the going as good to soft.

When I first looked at this race earlier in the week two Twiston-Davies entries caught the eye - Cuthbert Dibble and Guard Your Dreams. 

The former runs in the Pertemps qualifier at Haydock (3.50), the latter in the Kingwell Hurdle (2.05 Wincanton). 

Cuthbert Dibble - named after two members of the Trumpton fire brigade - won at Chepstow last time out; after that race jockey Sam Twiston-Davies said in an interview with Sky Sports Racing:

"I gave Cuthbert Dibble a terrible ride in the EBF Final. I watch the race back every now and again just to kick myself and remind me why we ride the horse the way we do. I tried to tuck him in but ended up too far back in testing ground. If you'd have asked me this morning I'd have said I'd be incredibly disappointed if he was beaten, because we'd rate him far better than a mark of 125 in the yard. He'll have tougher assignment in future. He'll jump fences one day."

Fire fighting, the handicapper raised Cuthbert Dibble eight pounds after Chepstow but Finn Lambert claims five tomorrow.

The Nicky Henderson trained Hyland has the Pertemps Final at the Festival as his stated target; Hyland takes his chance here following a break of 78 days.

Now, I know you might reasonably expect a rare edition to be of some interest to someone with a background in libraries but I'm afraid this particular Rare Edition is of limited interest because the layers have priced him up favourite. 

On Boxing Day 2022 Charlie Longsdon's charge beat Rubaud seven lengths in a Kempton novice hurdle. 

Rubaud is now rated 149 and counts Guard Your Dreams as one of his opponents in the Kingwell while Rare Edition comes into this on 139. 

On his only start beyond an extended two miles Rare Edition was beaten just under three lengths in the Sidney Banks Memorial Novices' Hurdle at Huntingdon 12 months ago.

This term Bad has been reasonably good over two miles and won over an extended two and a quarter miles at Bordeaux Le Bouscat in November 2022. He underwent wind surgery last month and wears cheekpieces for the first time.

Formerly with Philip Hobbs and Johnson White Monviel finished fifth in the Imperial Cup at Sandown last year. In the RP Weekender [18-22.10.23] new handler Harry Dereham said:

"He's going to go chasing and I'm quite excited about him." 

After two chase starts, connections have decided to revert to hurdling.

Irish Hill won this race last year off a mark of 128. 

Subsequently tenth in the Martin Pipe at the Festival, the grey looks feasibly handicapped off 125 and Freddie Gingell can claim a further five. 

On his penultimate start he led narrowly two out but was well beaten by Rambo T at Newbury. 

Last month he raced prominently and led clearly on the home turn in the Lanzarote but eventually finished behind winner Jay Jay Reilly (effectively ten pounds higher here), Teddy Blue (sixth), and Mothill (eighth).

Teddy Blue (dam: Tickle Me Blue) finished third behind Aucunrisque and Filey in the 2023 Betfair Hurdle and posted his best effort this term in the Lanzarote. Racing in rear, he looked to be fighting for his head in the early stages - no laughing matter - before making ground and then weakening into sixth after the final flight. 

He was dropped one pound for that effort; with Tom Cannon replacing Caoilin Quinn on board he effectively carries two pounds more tomorrow.

Mothill boasts a consistent profile and can be expected to improve in first-time cheekpieces; drying ground will suit and Joe Anderson claims five.

Issam jumped well and travelled like the best horse on desperate ground at Sandown last time; he appeared to have the spoils in the bag after the final flight but slowed dramatically to a walk up the hill and was collared by Havaila. Drying ground and a slightly shorter trip should help. 

Santos Blue (sire: Blue Bresil) has raced primarily on left-handed tracks to date while Soaring Glory must be a source of some frustration to connections.

Coral Gold Cup winner Le Milos was last seen in a Pertemps qualifier at Market Rasen in November. He's quoted 50/1 for this year's Grand National which is the main target - he finished tenth behind Corach Rambler at Aintree last year.

Arqoob's two and threequarters length second behind Rare Edition at Kempton last time isn't reflected in his market price but he showed a marked tendency to jump out to his left that day which won't help the cause and he races from two pounds out of the handicap.

This looks a competitive race for Ostend on debut in this country but the stable boasts a 38% win strike rate in the past fortnight while In The Air has his first run for new connections having pulled up twice over fences when trained by Gary Moore - his two and threequarters length second behind JPR One at Taunton last March reads well. 

Teddy Blue, Mothill and Issam are the ones on the shortlist; with Teddy Blue backed during the afternoon I'll take a small each-way interest in Issam.

Issam is the each-way suggestion, at the time of writing 14/1 generally with several layers paying five places. 

Friday, February 09, 2024

The 2024 Betfair Hurdle

Twenty four are set to line up for tomorrow's Betfair Hurdle (3.15 Newbury) with the going currently described as heavy, soft in places; the Racing Post reports the track has taken 44.2mm of rain since Tuesday.

The quality of this year's renewal appears below par; the lowest official handicap rating of the past ten winners is 132 (Violet Dancer, 2015) who carried 10-09.

Runners with form on heavy ground include Ocastle Des Mottes, Iberico Lord, Spirit D'Aunou, Aurigny Mill, L'Eau Du Sud, Norman Fletcher, Knickerbockerglory, Faivoir, and Jilaijone.

Of those towards the top of the handicap Spirit D'Aunou hails from the yard that won this with Heathcote (2007), Wingman (2008) and Violet Dancer (2015); Caoilin Quinn can claim three.

Lookaway likes to race from the front and has been consistent all season - he finished second to Captain Teague over two and a half miles in the Challow last time while Under Control ran well following wind surgery to finish second behind Ashroe Diamond in the Yorkshire Rose Mares' Hurdle at Doncaster a fortnight ago.  

However they all appear to face a stiff task given underfoot conditions; in the past ten years 11-08 is the biggest burden carried to victory - by Al Dancer in 2019 and Glory And Fortune in 2022.

The Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November and the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot in December provide two key pieces of form.

Iberico Lord beat Lookaway in the Greatwood with Luccia third, Go Dante sixth, Knickerbockerglory seventh while L'Eau Du Sud pulled up and Onlyamatteroftime ran out four from home.

Five weeks later Luccia won at Ascot, reversing form with stablemate Iberico Lord (seventh), with Altobelli third, Moveit Like Minnie fourth,  Onlyamatteroftime sixth and Faivoir eighth. Unusually, the going at Ascot that day was good; Iberico Lord looked outpaced around the home turn and was eventually beaten just under eight lengths. 

After the race Nico De Boinville reported the gelding had stopped quickly but Nico is back in the plate tomorrow while riding arrangements for the other Henderson runners are as follows: James Bowen aboard Doddiethegreat; David Bass on Luccia; and Jonjo O'Neill Jr on Under Control.

Both Iberico Lord and Altobelli should appreciate the ground, a fact that has not escaped the bookmakers. The manner in which Iberico Lord stopped last time remains a concern.

Ocastle Des Mottes heads the market at the time of writing and is one of three Willie Mullins has sent across the Irish Sea. 

Having his first run for new connections the gelding should have no problem with heavy ground having won a four-year-old listed handicap hurdle at Compeigne last April and a four-year-old hurdle at Auteuil in June. With Warwick abandoned due to a waterlogged track, Daryl Jacob comes to Newbury to ride for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. 

The French form may not be easy to evaluate but he goes off 133, six pounds lower than his Irish mark - much to the annoyance of Nicky Henderson. His current price represents no value.

Arbitrarily, I've put some effort into those set to carry between 11-00 and 11-08.

Connections fit cheekpieces for the first time on Brentford Hope. 

This course and distance winner, rated 100 on the Flat, finished a two length third to Hansard in the Gerry Feilden (Our Champ fifth, Under Control last to complete). He'd have a better chance with better ground.

Go Dante beat Doddiethegreat at Cheltenham last time (Donnacha dead-heat third) but looks held on Greatwood form; the last horse older than seven to come home in front was Geos in 2004.

Harry Skelton rides L'Eau Du Sud for brother Dan. 

This one was pulled up in the Greatwood when last seen but was subsequently found to be suffering from ulcers. He's now three pounds lower than on British debut in 2022 and probably overpriced at 20/1.

Kamsinas beat Lookaway in a novice hurdle at Cheltenham in October; Fergal O'Brien's charge is weighted to reverse the form but the suspicion is the gelding prefers decent ground.

Altobelli brings strong handicap form to the table and appears feasibly handicapped.

Novices have a good record in the race and I've heard a few whispers for Norman Fletcher at a price as he clearly handles heavy ground; trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies won this race with Splash Of Ginge (2014), Ballyandy (2017) and Al Dancer (2019). 

I've watched a few replays - his hurdling has improved but, to my mind, it's still a work in progress and that puts me off. Last time out he was beaten by Bertie's Ballet at Haydock and that one finished eight and a half lengths second to Panjari at Musselburgh in the Scottish Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Musselburgh on Sunday.

I was impressed with the turn of foot Aurigny Mill showed when winning at Kempton last time - and so was the handicapper who raised him nine pounds. The worry is that, to date, Victor Dartnall's charge has raced exclusively on right-handed tracks.

To summarise...

The chances of Altobelli and Iberico Lord are respected in a race where Ocastle Des Mottes is a potential blot on the handicap.

L'Eau Du Sud is an outsider of some interest but I'm going to take a chance with Aurigny Mill. I'm hoping he can keep tabs on the leaders and then show a turn of foot racing on a left-handed track for the first time.

Aurigny Mill is the each-way suggestion, 14/1 generally at the time of writing, with both Sky and William Hill paying seven places.