Friday, July 19, 2019

Market Rasen Summer Plate 2019

Frankie Dettori had barely weighed in after securing a second consecutive Ascot Gold Cup aboard Stradivarius when 'ping!' an email arrived in the intray from Cheltenham racecourse advertising next year's Festival.

Since the blog entered 'snooze' mode at the beginning of May Harry Fry has given notice of his intention to move from his yard at Seaborough in Dorset while owners Darren and Annaley Yates have removed their runners from Phil Kirby's yard in North Yorkshire.

And a detailed study indicates that female jockeys are underbet in jump races.

The passing of John McCririck generated plenty of newsprint.

Lee Mottershead's tribute in the Racing Post has been widely acclaimed while The Guardian published an obituary by Julian Wilson who predeceased his subject by more than five years.

Wilson's own obituary in the same paper written by Sean Magee highlights the clash between two very different approaches to the sport.

Personally, I enjoyed Vernon Grant's tribute.

Big Mac often referred to Market Rasen as Market Raspberry and tomorrow's Summer Plate at the Lincolnshire track marks the mid-point in the summer jumping programme.

I've concentrated on three or four pieces of recent form: the Perth Gold Cup run over three miles; the Uttoxeter Summer Cup; the Summer Plate Trial run over course and distance four weeks ago and Casablanca Mix's victory at Aintree in May which, in my opinion, would be right up there with the best form on offer.

Indian Temple beat Van Gogh Du Granit a short-head in the Perth Gold Cup (Get Out The Gate a well-beaten fourth) and weakened after the last to finish fourth in the Uttoxeter Summer Cup. 20/1 looks a big price for David Pipe's charge but the suspicion is this trip may just be on the short side.

Gone Platinum beat Darcy Ward in last month's trial but Nick Schofield may have gone for home too soon on the runner-up that day and is unlikely to make the same mistake again. Sean Bowen rode the winner - tomorrow's pilot Lorcan Williams can claim five.

At Aintree Casablanca Mix beat Indian Temple (won twice since), Value At Risk and Lofgren (has since won Class 2 handicap chase at Cartmel). Nicky Henderson's mare has been raised five pounds for that effort; as far as I could ascertain a mare has not won a previous running of this race.

Six trainers are represented with two runners; Dan Skelton, Dr Richard Newland and Peter Bowen are known to regularly target this event.

Last year's winner More Buck's tries to repeat the trick for Peter Bowen; he was beaten over hurdles last time and looks to have been laid out for the race.

Favourite Gortroe Joe has yet to prove he can handle the cut and thrust of a big field.

Trigger McNichol has a bit to find on form, Solar Impulse has done most of his racing over two miles, Henryville has gone up ten for his win at Newton Abbot while, according to the Racing Post, El Terremoto was sold by Simon Munir and Issac Souede to Fergus Wilson on Monday.

I tend to prefer a young horse in this; the two on the shortlist are Casablanca Mix and Royal Village.

The latter is a course and distance winner who may not have quite seen out three miles at Perth the last day and is forgiven that effort; any further rain would not inconvenience the cause.

Casablanca Mix is generally available at 11/1 but at the time of writing Sky Bet offer 14/1 Royal Village and pay one fifth the odds four places - Royal Village is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, May 03, 2019

A brief review of the 2018/19 jumps season

Champion jockey: Richard Johnson
Champion trainer: Paul Nicholls
Winning owner: J P McManus
Champion conditional jockey: Bryony Frost

Any review of this season has to start with last season's Grand National winner Tiger Roll.

Small and nothing particular to look at, Tiger Roll won the Cross Country race at this year's Festival as though he'd joined in at the last.Three and a half weeks later, sent off 4/1 favourite to become the first horse since Red Rum to win back-to-back Nationals, Tiger Roll won the 2019 Grand National as though he'd joined in at the last.

Cue pandemonium.

Letters were written to The Times comparing the feats of Red Rum and those of Tiger Roll with readers making the case for their own particular favourite. The BHA handicapper certainly knew what he thought of it all.

Takingrisks took a few in the Scottish Grand National but they paid off handsomely for Nicky Richards' inmate while a slog in the Chepstow mud suited Elegant Escape down to the ground in the Welsh Grand National; the following month Colin Tizzard's charge was beaten threequarters of a length by Frodon in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.

Bryony Frost and Frodon struck up the partnership of the season. Prior to that win in the Cotswold Chase the pair had won the Old Roan at Aintree, finished second behind Baron Alco in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham and won the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at the same track.

Connections were sorely tempted to take their chance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but in the end the pragmatic decision to run in the Ryanair was rewarded with a thrilling victory, Frodon dismissing the early attentions of Sub Lieutenant and regaining the lead from Aso after the last.

Against a backdrop of Brexit brouhaha and innumerable indicative votes, other Festival winners included Espoir D'Allen, the surprise package in the Champion Hurdle; Altior, 'workmanlike' in the Champion Chase; and Paisley Park, maintaining his unbeaten run for the season, in the Stayers' Hurdle.

Before the start of this season Willie Mullins had never trained a Cheltenham Gold Cup or Irish National winner.

The maestro held four chances in this year's Cheltenham showpiece but poor Willie must have thought the racing gods were conspiring against him with Kemboy unseating at the first, Bellshill pulled up before the ninth and Invitation Only falling fatally at the tenth.

Al Boum Photo's jumping could be described as scratchy in the early stages but he warmed to his task through the race; Paul Townend sent his charge on as they turned for home and the pair were not for catching, finishing clear of Anibale Fly, Bristol De Mai, Native River (poor start proved costly) and Clan Des Obeaux (did not come up the hill).

Five weeks later Mr. Mullins added the Irish National to the curriculum vitae courtesy of Burrows Saint.

Previously Bristol De Mai had repeated his party piece in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and Clan Des Obeaux had established himself as a chaser to reckon with by winning the King George at Kempton but Kemboy didn't always enjoy the best of luck during the season.

Apart from unseating David Mullins at the first in the Gold Cup, the gelding was unable to run in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury following the cancellation of his intended ferry service from Ireland - Sizing Tennessee was the principal beneficiary.

Kemboy's connections claimed ample compensation with wins in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, the Betway Bowl at Aintree (Clan Des Obeaux nine lengths adrift) and, with Ruby Walsh up, the Punchestown Gold Cup where he beat stablemate and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo two lengths.

Victorious jockey Ruby Walsh dismounted and promptly announced his retirement - with immediate effect:

"When you're going out at Punchestown, you go out on a winner. You'll never again see me on a horse - I'm finished. That's it - it's all over."

While McCoy will forever be associated with the number of winners he rode, Walsh will forever be associated with the big winners he rode, primarily for Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls. A supreme stylist, he remains, for many observers, the greatest rider of his generation.

The BHA didn't have the best of years. Their decision in early February to suspend all UK racing after three of Donald McCain's horses tested positive for equine influenza didn't meet with universal approval. With the Cheltenham Festival on the horizon, emergency regulations were passed requiring all runners to have received appropriate vaccination within the preceding six month period while any horse receiving a new vaccination could not run for seven days.

The arbitrary, immediate introduction of those regulations definitely favoured trainers who habitually vaccinate around Christmas and January time. Racing resumed after a six-day shutdown.

When Cyrname won Ascot's bet365 Chase by 21 lengths in January, many struggled to believe what they had just seen - and I was one of them. Four weeks later the same horse put in a similar performance at the same track to collect the Ascot Chase, beating Waiting Patiently 17 lengths - in so doing, he became the highest rated chaser in training.

Paul Nicholls recorded his 3,000th jumps winner in Britain courtesy of Kupatana while on Easter Sunday Dan Skelton became only the second trainer to have sent out 200 British jumps winners in a season. Martin Pipe predicted his all-time record of 243 winners was under threat from Dan; Richard Johnson's jockeys' title looks under threat from Dan's brother, Harry.

The eagerly anticipated clash between Altior and Cyrname in Sandown's Celebration Chase on the final day of the season failed to materialise on account of the ground.

At odds of 1/6 Altior collected the spoils and in the process became the first horse to win 19 consecutive jumps races. Trainer Nicky Henderson has indicated a tilt at the King George in December is now on the cards. Half an hour or so after Altior's record-breaking victory, Talkischeap looked like something to keep in mind for future discussion when winning the bet365 Chase in taking fashion.

This blog has been called plenty of names in the past but this year PG can say the teas are on me.

Sainsbury's singing chief executive Mike Coupe warned me that publicly celebrating a financial success can backfire badly when things subsequently go wrong - far better to just keep schtum. The trouble is I wasn't listening.

This season the blog's highlighted selections show a profit of 45 points to advised prices and over 30 points to starting prices (detail here).

When New Agenda (6/1) covered the expenses at Ludlow's second October meet, little did I realise what was in store. Two days later Relentless Dreamer obliged in a 16 runner Cheltenham handicap and we were up and running.

Put simply, I have never known the like - and it's highly unlikely I ever will again.

Blog horse of the year goes to Crosspark for his thrilling win in the Eider Chase and then a battling second behind Takingrisks in the Scottish Grand National.

And, bless my old boots, in February that New Agenda went and won again - on the snow in St Moritz!

Friday, April 26, 2019

bet365 Gold Cup 2019

Several of the usual suspects line up in a field of twenty declared for tomorrow's final day feature at Sandown - the bet365 Gold Cup is due off at 3.35.

Tidal Bay lumped 11-12 to victory in 2012 and is the only winner to carry more than 11-0 in the past ten years. Favourites don't have the best of records with Mr Frisk the last outright market leader to oblige in 1990.

Step Back bids to become the first back-to-back winner since Topsham Bay (1992/93) - last year Rock The Kasbah was 13 lengths adrift in second place with Present Man third, The Young Master eighth and Rathlin Rose pulled up.

Racing from the front, Step Back was highly impressive that day but he starts from a mark ten pounds higher tomorrow. Midweek there was a glut of money for Mark Bradstock's charge which prompted the handler to remark his charge is fragile and can be a tricky customer - connections fit cheekpieces for the first time.

Step Back, along with Rock the Kasbah and Joe Farrell, contested the Grand National three weeks ago.

Step Back didn't help the cause by jumping markedly right in the National before pulling up after the Canal Turn on the second circuit. Rock The Kasbah didn't appear to relish the Aintree challenge at all and was brought down at the 18th flight. Joe Farrell weakened from four out and was pulled up before the penultimate flight.

Of the three Joe Farrell is of most interest. The ground, currently good, good to firm in places, should suit but regular readers will know I feel his programme this term has looked a little rushed - following last year's Scottish National win, his seasonal debut took place at the beginning of March and this will be his fourth run. I'm not certain what riding priorities apply but I note regular pilot Adam Wedge is aboard the Evan Williams trained Prime Venture who would appreciate any rain that falls.

Talkischeap is short enough in the market, presumably on the back of two runs behind La Bague Au Roi and a second place behind On The Blind Side; that one did the form no favours in the RSA Chase.

Beware The Bear was set to carry top weight in the Scottish National a fortnight ago but was withdrawn on the morning of the race on account of fast ground. Connections will want the rain to arrive and he looks to face a stiff task off 160, conceding a minimum of five pounds to all his rivals. That said, Nicky Henderson's charge has looked a different horse since blinkers have been applied - his victory in the Ultima Chase at the Cheltenham Festival reads well (Flying Angel fifth, Give Me A Copper fell).

You could - if you wanted - make a case for Flying Angel on the back of that run but current stable form figures read just one win from 24 runs in the past fortnight.

To my mind there isn't an awful lot of value near the head of the market so in search of an each-way chance in reasonable form I've come up with Philip Hobbs' second string Rolling Dylan.

In December this one was beaten a head and a neck into third by Cogry and Singlefarmpayment in a Cheltenham handicap run on good ground. Post race I seem to recall Luke Harvey telling viewers that if Cogry had wanted a scrap with a couple of weak finishers, these two were among the best in the business.

A little unfair? Or maybe not? Since then the gelding couldn't get anywhere near Beware The Bear at Cheltenham on New Year's Day (costly mistake at fifth) but looked in with a shout at Sandown the next time before failing to quicken in soft ground.

His second the last day at Taunton reads well - he was raised three pounds for that effort - but perhaps is one he should have won (comment in running: 'led after two out, idling last'). He was pipped a head that day by Samuel Jackson ridden by James Best. James Best takes the ride tomorrow so I'm hoping he'll have a good idea of what's required should he, perchance, find himself in with a chance...

Philip Hobbs' inmate should handle underfoot conditions even if rain arrives and clearly handles a right-handed track.

Rolling Dylan is the each-way suggestion, at the time of writing 22/1 with Paddy Power who pay one fifth the odds six places.

Friday, April 19, 2019

A longshot for the Challenger Series Finals meeting at Haydock

Not so long ago Easter Saturday jumps cards left a lot to be desired; tomorrow's Challenger Series Finals meeting at Haydock addresses those concerns but, somehow, there just seems an end-of-term feel in the air; it all looks decidedly competitive on a difficult-looking card.

Layers appear to have taken differing views on the Challenger Middle Distance Chase Series Final Handicap Chase (4.20).

Both Tom George runners, Copper West and Air Navigator, are available at 7/1 in places at the time of writing yet the former is quoted 7/2 favourite with bet365 - the track will suit his style of racing and the ground holds no fears - while the latter has previously won here but his preference for a hold-up ride may prove a hindrance.

I'm going to have a bet in the Betway Challenger Two Mile Hurdle Series Final Handicap Hurdle (2.05) for which sixteen have been declared.

For those not madly keen on losing money, I should point out I have spent most of this afternoon in a postprandial torpor in the back garden and, as a result, haven't spent an awful lot of time on the race...

Of those at the head of the market, there has been money for Cause Toujours (needs good ground), Hirjan's form is there for all to see - three of the four hurdle wins to date have come on right-handed tracks - while Casa Tall steps back down in trip having failed to stay two and a half miles in the Martin Pipe at the Festival five weeks ago.

Of Evan Williams' two runners, The Gipper needs soft / heavy ground but at a price Peterborough is of interest, possibly to Barry Fry as well.

In the RP Weekender 09-13.01.19 the trainer stated:

'He's a very light-framed horse and struggled physically at first, but he's strengthening up all the time now and starting to show some improvement. He got off the mark on his last run in a handicap hurdle at Exeter [Burrows Park sixth that day] and the form is working out well... We won't overrace him this season, though, as he'll benefit from a relatively light campaign. He has more to offer and will jump a fence in time.' 

It may well prove another one of my multitudinous mistakes but I'm going to forgive him his last effort behind The Twisler at Wincanton (Casa Tall fifth).

And I'm not going to encourage you to read his seven lengths second to Itchy Feet at Southwell literally (Itchy Feet subsequently third in the Supreme at the Festival) - but it reads well enough.

The track here should suit his style of racing and Conor Ring claims three. Earlier today Evan Williams said the horse 'definitely has ability' but 'can blow hot and cold'.

I hope he blows hot tomorrow.

Peterborough is the each-way suggestion - Paddy Power go 22/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Scottish Grand National 2019

To quote Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz:

'Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!'

Lion Hearted won the Bet totetrifecta At Handicap (Chelmsford 4.10) yesterday.

Tiger Roll won last week's Grand National while Rock On Tiger goes in tomorrow's 5.05 at Bangor and Tigerskin in the 3.50 at Newbury.

Follow The Bear finished third in today's finale at Ayr while stablemate Beware The Bear shoulders top weight in tomorrow's Scottish Grand National due off at 3.35 for which 28 have been declared.

The fitting of blinkers has certainly had an impact on Beware The Bear.

Nicky Henderson's charge followed up his win at Cheltenham on New Year's Day with victory in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Festival last month - that day Vintage Clouds came home second, Big River fourth and Magic Of Light, second at Aintree last week, eighth.

As a result Beware The Bear has gone up a total of 14 pounds to a mark of 160. He gives away a minimum of eight pounds to all rivals here; the bottom nine race from out of the handicap.

It all looks a tall order and the stable strike-rate - 3 from 37 in the past fortnight - is a cause for some concern. The price appears on the drift this evening although some layers have him 9/1 joint favourite.

The last top-weight to collect the spoils was Grey Abbey in 2004.

Vintage Clouds was my fancy for last week's National but the grey came down at the first. Third in this last year, Sue Smith's charge has every chance but there are several in the field who make more appeal at bigger odds.

Similar comments apply to Big River. I like Lucinda Russell's charge but I'm not totally convinced by his jumping. Earlier in the week Peter Scudamore commented that the gelding would need to sharpen up his act in that department and hinted ideally the horse would prefer more cut underfoot.

Dingo Dollar was nine lengths behind Chidswell in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster six weeks ago (Durham National winner Brian Boranha third, Beau Du Brizais fourth). Prior to that Dingo Dollar had finished a length behind Crosshue Boy in the novices' handicap chase at this meeting last year with Acdc a creditable third.

While Alan King talks up Dingo Dollar's chance in the Weekender - this has been the target all season - there has been plenty of money for Crosshue Boy who was 33/1 in places at the beginning of the week.

Back in January Impulsive Star ran out an impressive-looking winner of the Classic Chase at Warwick; that day I was particularly taken with the manner in which he quickened away from nearest rival Calett Mad on the short run-in after the last. Crosspark finished third, stablemate Carole's Destrier fourth, Cogry tenth and Sizing Codelco eleventh.

Since then Impulsive Star was disappointing at Cheltenham but Crosspark went to Newcastle and won the Eider by a neck from Mysteree with London National winner Morney Wing six lengths adrift in third. Like Beware The Bear, first-time blinkers brought out a marked improvement in Mysteree last time - he only just failed to claim his second Eider. Since Crosspark has learned to settle better, he has shown much improved form.

Taking into account Sam Waley-Cohen's allowance, Impulsive Star would appear to have the edge over Crosspark on Classic Chase form but this evening Neil Mulholland appears more bullish about Carole's Destrier - this race has been the target. The trainer's third runner, Doing Fine, underwent wind surgery in January and looks to have had a similar preparation to last year when he came home fourth.

Cloth Cap, in the same ownership as Vintage Clouds, only has three chase runs to his name but his chance is respected - recent seven-year-olds to win include Godsmejudge (2013) and Vicente (2016).

Chidswell looked good in the Grimthorpe but I'm unnerved by the fact most of his form, and stablemate's Takingrisks, is in small fields; that same comment also applies to Blue Flight - the last six-year-old to win was Earth Summit in 1994, trained by handler Nigel Twiston-Davies. I note that son Sam is on Cogry...

Geronimo is one of those racing from out of the handicap but his victory here the last day suggests he'll stay the trip; should he come home in front, Rachael McDonald will become the first female rider to win this prestigious race.

A fiercely competitive renewal - it's possible to construct a case for several of the bigger priced horses.

I'm going to stay loyal to Crosspark (ahead of Impulsive Star) who did me a favour in the Eider back in February.

Further down the field Cogry looks big enough at 25/1 (sent off 9/2 favourite for Warwick's Classic Chase in January) as does Acdc at 33/1 on the back of his three length third to Crosshue Boy here last year.

Crosspark is the each-way suggestion at 14/1, with most layers paying one fifth the odds six places.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Aintree Grand National 2019

Any review of this year's Grand National (5.15) has to start with last year's winner Tiger Roll.

Small in stature and nothing particular to look at, the horse is already considered something of a legend with a Triumph Hurdle to his name (2014),  a National Hunt Challenge Cup (2017), two Cheltenham Festival cross country chases (2018/19) as well as last year's Grand National in which he beat Pleasant Company a head.

He bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back Nationals since Red Rum pulled off the feat in 1973/74. Since then, 24 have tried to defend their crown and all have come up short.

That said, Tiger Roll looked in better shape than ever at Cheltenham three and a half weeks ago but the weight here (11-5) looks the primary cause for concern. Since Grittar obliged in 1982 (carrying the very same burden) only three horses have won carrying that weight or more: Don't Push It (2010, 11-5); Neptune Collonges (2012; 11-6); Many Clouds (2015; 11-9).

The last outright favourite to come home in front was Hedgehunter in 2005; Comply or Die (2008) and Don't Push It (2010) obliged when sent off as joint favourites.

I've never taken bookmakers' bleating about potential losses particularly seriously but, should the little horse pull it off tomorrow, I suspect the place will erupt and the layers incur significant losses.

With both Outlander and Don Poli now sold out of Gordon Elliott's yard, Tiger Roll faces nine stablemates in the final field of forty.

Those who like to make their own selections may find the BBC's Pinstickers' Guide a useful tool and I've also reproduced regular reader TW's top-rated 30 runners at the foot of this post.

For everyone else, here's my four each-way chances against the field...

1. Vintage Clouds (14/1) Trained by Sue Smith with, no doubt, input from husband Harvey. Third behind Joe Farrell in last season's Scottish National and ran a fine trial to finish second in the Ultima at Cheltenham. Trevor Hemmings' grey is five pounds 'well in' after that run and goes with a nice racing weight of 10-4.

2. Regal Encore (66/1) Inconsistent and not one to trust implicitly but to my mind he represents one of the better longshots if on a going day. Appeared to take to these fences when finishing eighth in 2017. Missed last year's race with injury but made an encouraging return to action in February following a break and subsequently trainer Anthony Honeyball was quietly upbeat about his chance.

3. Joe Farrell (20/1 in places). Closely matched with Vintage Clouds on Scottish National form. Money seen for this one during the week and plenty to like about his chance off just 10-2. Two slight negatives - can hit the odd fence and I can't help but feel the prep has been a little rushed after he finished well beaten behind Carole's Destrier at Newbury at the beginning of March.

4. Walk In The Mill (28/1 in places) Won the Becher Chase over these fences in December with something to spare although the form of that race hasn't worked out particularly well. Found to be lame on the day of the race last year; trained specifically for this event.

TW's Grand National Ratings: Final Field

RTG Horse

Jury Duty [20/1], Captain Redbeard [66/1], Singlefarmpayment [66/1] and General Principle [40/1] highlighted as potential value selections by the system and are on the short list!

Anibale Fly, Tiger Roll and Lake View Lad are the three horses that look to tick the most boxes but priced up accordingly.


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

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Aintree 2019 - Friday

A very quick post this evening - running rather late - but still time for this short snippet...

In a moment of monumental bad luck, earlier this afternoon I drew Singlefarmpayment in the workplace Grand National sweepstake; colleagues in the same office drew Joe Farrell and Vintage Clouds.

Bemoaning such ill fortune and uttering imprecations under my breath, I stormed up the stairs into the admin office where, calling upon previously untapped reserves of punctilious behaviour, by way of polite conversation I enquired of a nearby colleague in a most light, carefree manner what horse she had drawn.

'Oh, Paddy Power,' came the confident reply.

'Well done!' I said. 'That one always wins.'

Politologue won last year's renewal of the JLT Chase (3.25) holding Min a neck and the duo meet again tomorrow. The grey comes into this off the back off a fine second behind Altior in the Champion Chase three weeks ago whereas Min was somewhat disappointing in fifth (Hell's Kitchen fourth, God's Own pulled up).

Nicky Henderson has decided to by-pass this meeting with Altior as he feels his charge hasn't fully recovered from Cheltenham.

Min is top-rated here on Racing Post ratings yet Waiting Patiently heads the market this evening.

Fans of Waiting Patiently have spent much of the season waiting patiently to see Ruth Jefferson's charge in action. He appeared unlucky to unseat on his seasonal debut in the King George at Kempton and then next time was blown away by Cyrname at Ascot. Cheekpieces are fitted for the first time.

Hell's Kitchen is a tricky ride and wouldn't be one to trust implicitly but he ran well in the Champion Chase (beaten nine and a half lengths) and this track, the step-up in trip and recent rain should all help the cause.

With just seven facing the starter, I'm going to take a bit of a punt and back Hell's Kitchen to win at odds of 12/1.

Nicky Henderson can boast a decent record in the Topham Handicap Chase (4.05) run over the National fences. Janika has an obvious chance at the head of the market while O O Seven finished fourth in this in 2017 but would prefer better ground.

I'm going to make a quick case for Kilcrea Vale.

Racing from four pounds out of the handicap isn't ideal and he appears to have had a somewhat indifferent season but his last three runs have all been over a trip of three miles. To my mind he doesn't look to stay that trip; two miles five on soft ground look like conditions to suit.

He finished fourth behind Ultragold in this race last year and third in the Sefton in December.

Kilcrea Vale is the each-way selection, currently 18/1 with Paddy Power who pay one fifth the odds six places.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Aintree 2019 - Thursday

Brief notes on the thirteenth anniversary of the inaugural blog post...

Three weeks since Cheltenham - in many ways it seems a lot longer - but to my mind this meeting remains the trickiest in the National Hunt calendar; Dave Orton highlighted some of the potential pitfalls in a piece he penned last year and the Racing Post has published an updated 'handy guide' for this year. Both Altior and Santini stay at home as handler Nicky Henderson feels they may not have fully recovered from their exertions at the Festival.

Six face the starter for the Betway Bowl (2.50). Might Bite won this last year after coming off second best in his epic duel with Native River in the Gold Cup; Might Bite has not shown comparable form this season. Generally horses that ran in the preceding month's Gold Cup have a poor record in this event but four of today's six contenders met last month while the other two, Road To Respect and Balko Des Flos, finished behind Frodon in the Ryanair Chase.

Kemboy unseated his rider at the first at Cheltenham so probably comes into this a fresher horse as a result. He looked good prior to that in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown but I'm not inclined to take that form too literally and the price makes little appeal. This track is likely to suit Clan Des Obeaux and Bristol De Mai but not Elegant Escape. Balko Des Flos is the only runner in the field not to have won over a distance of three miles.

La Bague Au Roi has been a revelation this year and is priced up favourite for the opener (1.45) having swerved Cheltenham after winning the Flogas Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival in February.

That said, the race has definitely lost something with the withdrawal of JLT winner Defi Du Seuil (Mengli Khan third) while both Glen Forsa and Kalashnikov unseated in the Arkle - the latter appeared particularly unfortunate and should appreciate this step up in trip.

Previous course winner Bags Grove is of interest at around 9/1. This one bounced back to form at Kempton last time after trailing in a well-beaten fifth behind La Bague Au Roi at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Handler Harry Fry has since indicated 'trainer error' was in part responsible for that disappointing effort - he hadn't given his charge enough time to recover from a run earlier in the month - and I think he's better than we saw on that particular day.

Racing Post ratings tell us Bags Groove has five pounds to find with the favourite and I'm just put off by the slight suspicion a couple in the field may possess a little more toe...

Buveur D'Air is still an odds-on shot for the Aintree Hurdle (3.25) over two and a half miles despite taking a crashing fall in the Champion Hurdle. The step back in trip will benefit Faugheen and Supasundae who finished third and seventh respectively behind Paisley Park in the Stayers' Hurdle. 

The mares didn't really do themselves justice in the Champion but this track will suit Verdana Blue better and she makes some appeal at an each-way price provided the rain stays away.

For the opening day Verdana Blue is the each-way suggestion (14/1 generally) in the Aintree Hurdle.

Friday, March 29, 2019

A Uttoxeter longshot

The lull before the storm...

Media attention switches to the Flat cards at Doncaster and Kempton tomorrow ahead of next week's Aintree Grand National meeting.

With two low-key jumps meetings on offer, at Stratford and Uttoxeter, I'm going rogue this week; those of a nervous disposition easily offended by spurious argument should read no further.

Ordinarily I wouldn't look too closely at a run-of-the-mill Class 4 handicap hurdle with 20 runners but 'needs must when the devil vomits into your kettle', to quote Edmund Blackadder II; I'm going to make a case for the Robin Dickin trained Three Bullet Gate in the 3.55 at Uttoxeter.

Stable stalwart Thomas Crapper was retired on Wednesday - 'Crappy' wasn't particularly well-named, having won over £136,000 in prize money for connections. All that said, the yard isn't currently in the best of form - Lara Trot was the last winner, holding stablemate Tara Well half a length at Leicester on 22nd January.

Last time out Three Bullet Gate was beaten over 17 lengths by Rhythm Is A Dancer in a Class 3 novices' handicap hurdle over two miles five furlongs at Ludlow, weakening after the final flight. The slight step back in trip here should help the cause.

Prior to that he was beaten under nine lengths by Dyliev in a Warwick novices' handicap hurdle over an inadequate trip of two miles - that one has some respectable efforts to his name including a nose second to the Charlie Mann trained Capone.

The gelding was clearly out of his depth in the Albert Bartlett trial at Cheltenham in December but 11 days before had finished ten lengths second to Skandiburg at Fakenham. Skandiburg has since finished eighth in the novices' handicap hurdle final at Sandown on Imperial Cup day.

In a Chepstow maiden in November he finished behind The Big Bite (twelfth in the Supreme at the Festival) and prior to that finished third in a Southwell bumper behind Adjourned and Megan's Choice - the former cost 50,000 euros (as a yearling), the latter 45,000 euros.

On Racing Post ratings Three Bullet Gate should be competitive but, obviously, in a wide open event dangers abound.

Owned by Mrs Diana Whateley, favourite Renwick has his first run after wind surgery and sports first-time cheekpeices while Shanty Alley might be expected to show improvement for the step up to two and a half miles. 

Tom Lacey said of He's A Goer in the Weekender 07-11.11.18:

'He's been a bit of a monkey but is getting the hang of things now.'

Connections fit blinkers for the first-time tomorrow.

Cougar Kid, Starjac and Land League (despite protracted absence and occasional tendency to jump right) warrant a second look but a number in the field appear to have questions to answer.

With Tiger Roll as low as 7/2 for next week's National, it would seem the layers think it's more difficult to pick the winner of tomorrow's 3.55 at Uttoxeter - and they may well be proven correct.

Drying ground is likely to suit and both Sky Bet and Bet Victor are paying one fifth the odds five places; at 25/1 Three Bullet Gate is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Aye, right

I can't help but feel whatever luck the racing gods decided to throw my way at the beginning of this season, a rather large portion of it was used up at Cheltenham last week...

Noel Fehily retires at Newbury tomorrow after more than 20 years in the saddle. His final three mounts: Prabeni (2.40); Outofthisworld (3.15); and Get In The Queue (5.00).

I shall always remember his ride aboard Special Tiara in the 2017 Champion Chase; thanks for the memories, Noel, and we wish you a long and happy retirement.

The ITV cameras visit Kelso and I was hoping to strike an each-way wager in the Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase at 3.00 but a final field of eight has restricted opportunities; four of the eight - Rons Dream, Some Chaos, Le Reve and Calipso Collonges - held entries for races at Newbury but prefer to go north instead.

The last-named, owned by The Black Horse Hotel Bridgnorth, has something to find with a few on Racing Post ratings but rates an interesting prospect while Some Chaos is another unexposed type who has been raised 11 pounds for his win at Wincanton last time.

In complete contrast eleven-year-old Le Reve comes into the race in fine form and in February 2016 won off a mark of 144.

Favourite Blue Flight beat Black Corton half a length here three weeks ago and as a result has gone up 14 pounds for his trouble. I'm not certain I want to treat that result too literally as Black Corton had looked to have a hard enough race at Ascot two weeks earlier when beaten two and a quarter lengths by Calipto.

Mare Rons Dream fell last time out but before that had finished fourth behind Elegant Escape in the Welsh National.

I'm toying with the idea of putting up Capard King as the each-way wager but I'm swithering.

He appeared to show a return to some kind of form on his stable debut for Sandy Thomson two weeks ago and back in 2016 won off a mark of 136 for Jonjo O'Neill.

All told though this looks a tough ask so instead I'm going to take an interest in the handicap hurdle at 3.35.

Favourite Worthy Farm is tipped up in the Weekender and is clear top-rated on Racing Post ratings.

Captain Drake is considered a chasing prospect; Harry Fry's charge was duelling with Tomkevi at Southwell the last day when the latter unseated Mr Aaron Anderson at the last. Conor O''Farrell rides for Rebecca Menzies tomorrow but at the weights the form looks likely to be confirmed although Tomkevi will appreciate underfoot conditions here and the stable are in fine form.

Burrows Park finished a creditable ninth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham just eight days ago while the market suggests Seemorelights (fell when leading last time) holds the better chance of Sandy Thomson's two runners.

I'm going to take an each-way interest in Aye Right, a turn of phrase often used by my father-in-law when he suspects I might be engaged in a minor deception of some sort.

This one likes to race from the front (the horse that is, not my father-in-law) and has been placed in seven of his eight hurdle starts to date. I always think Kelso is a track that suits a front-runner; he could find some improvement on this first try beyond two miles six and a half furlongs but he'll need to in a very competitive affair.

Sky Bet pay one fifth the odds four places; at 8/1 Aye Right is the each-way suggestion.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Cheltenham Festival 2019 - the betting debrief

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

For once, it all makes for half-decent reading and ranks as the blog's best performance on record with the thirteenth anniversary of that fateful first post just a couple of weeks away.

Readers are strongly advised to make use of the contextual footnotes provided.


1.30 Supreme Novice's Hurdle
Selection: Elixir De Nutz
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 8/1
Starting price: N/A
Result: Non-runner / no bet

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase
Selection: Lake View Lad
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 20/1
Starting price: 25/1
Result: Third
Return: 2.50
Profit/Loss +1.50

Profit/Loss Tuesday +1.50


1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Selection: Brewin'upastorm
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 9/1
Starting price: 11/1
Result: Fourth
Return 0.00
Profit/Loss -1.00

2.10 RSA Novices' Chase
Selection: On The Blind Side
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 10/1
Starting price: 14/1
Result: Pulled up
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss -1.00

3.30 Champion Chase
Selection: Sceau Royal
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 14/1
Starting price: 16/1
Result: Third
Return: 1.90
Profit/Loss: +0.90

5.30 Champion bumper
Selection: Master Debonair
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 11/1
Starting price 12/1
Result: Twelfth
Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Wednesday -2.10


2.50 Ryanair Chase
Selection: Frodon
Bet: Win
Advised price: 15/2
Starting price: 9/2
Result: First
Return: 8.50
Profit/Loss +7.50

Selection: Aso
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 33/1
Starting price: 33/1
Result: Second
Return: 3.80
Profit/Loss: +2.80

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle
Selection: Sam Spinner
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 40/1
Starting price: 33/1
Result: Second
Return: 4.50
Profit/Loss: +3.50

Profit/Loss Thursday +13.80


3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Selection: Anibale Fly
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 25/1
Starting price: 22/1
Result: Second
Return: 3.00
Profit/Loss +2.00

Profit/Loss Friday +2.00

Outlay over four days: 9 points
Profit/Loss over four days: +15.2 points
Profit as percentage of outlay: 168.88%

Footnote 1:
Do not be deceived - this performance is demonstrably atypical and unlikely to be repeated in the next ten years. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Footnote 2:
Mrs Tips states: 'I picked my own winners on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. I started off full of enthusiasm but by Thursday I was picking names I didn't even like or care about. On Friday I picked Pentland Hills for the first race because I thought they were in the Cotswolds. I still picked more winners than PG's Tips.'

Friday, March 15, 2019

Midlands Grand National 2019

A somewhat curtailed post following a hectic week at Cheltenham...

Twenty runnners have been declared for tomorrow's Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter due off at 3.35; the going is currently described as soft with strong winds and heavy rain forecast - an inspection has been called for eight o'clock tomorrow morning.

Only two winners have carried more than 11-0 to victory in the past ten years - Synchronised in 2010 and Firebird Flyer in 2016; Ms Parfois and American at the top of the market are set to carry 11-4 and 11-12 respectively.

Last year's winner Regal Flow became the first horse older than nine to come home in front since Lucky Lane obliged in 1995.

A key piece of form is The Last Fling Handicap Chase run at Haydock on December 30th last year. Chef D'Oeuvre beat Back To The Thatch two and threequarter lengths that day with Dell'Arca a further twelve lengths adrift in third.

Chef D'Oeuvre was raised eleven pounds for that victory and went up another four when finishing third (from three pounds out of the handicap) behind Robinsfirth and Ramses De Teillee in Haydock's Grand National Trial.The form reads well and the horse has clearly benefited from a change of stable but inevitably the handicapper has had his say.

Both Back To The Thatch and Dell'Arca haven't run since - the former is up six pounds, the latter down one pound. Back To The Thatch re-opposes Chef D'Oeuvre nine pounds better off for two and threequarter lengths. 

On his seasonal debut for new connections Chef D'Oeuvre was beaten over 21 lengths at this track by Crosspark.

Crosspark won the Eider three weeks ago with Kilkishen six and a half lengths adrift in fourth, Raz De Maree seventh  and Potters Corner falling two from home when appearing to hold every chance.

Potters Corner has been raised three pounds for that effort; he is clearly a talented individual but the fences seem to be getting in the way - Christian Williams' charge has failed to complete in three of his last four chase starts.

Arthur's Gift is relatively unexposed while Ballydine boasts good form behind Lake View Lad, Carole's Destrier and particularly behind Wakanda in the Peter Marsh at Haydock - beaten under five lengths that day, he may have finished much closer but for a bad blunder three from home.

Dawson City, seventh behind Elegant Escape in the Welsh National, collected the Devon National at Exeter three weeks ago and should certainly having little trouble staying the trip but now looks high enough in the handicap.  

Of those at bigger prices Smooth Stepper did me a favour roughly 12 months ago when winning at Kelso; the balance of his form suggests he struggles to stay beyond three and a half miles. Prime Venture has not won over fences in five starts but has been pitched in against the likes of Bags Groove, Kilbricken Storm and Ramses De Teillee.

It's possible to make a case for several in the field. Comments from connections have led me to Back To The Thatch who has the right profile and comes to this a fresher horse than those who ran in the Eider.

At the time of writing William Hill offer 11/1 and pay one fifth the odds seven places.

Back To The Thatch is the each-way selection with William Hill.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Cheltenham Festival 2019 - Friday

A good day for the blog this Thursday but tomorrow, it's another day altogether. Beware the Ides of March.

We look set for a vintage renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30); sixteen have been declared with the going currently described as good to soft, soft in places.

Colin Tizzard saddles three. Native River bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back renewals since Best Mate completed his hat-trick in 2004. Stablemate Thistlecrack may be eleven years old but he retains some engine; if his jumping were more proficient, he would rate a top contender. Welsh National winner Elegant Escape isn't readily dismissed either but the suspicion is, as the ground dries out, a few in the field will finish ahead of him.

Presenting Percy won last year's RSA Chase in some style (Elegant Escape third, Al Boum Photo fell) and has been at or near the top of the Gold Cup market ever since. Patrick Kelly's inmate has had just one run this season - over hurdles - but has schooled over the larger obstacles at Galway as part of his preparation. The last horse to win the Gold Cup without a prior race over fences that season was Easter Hero in 1929.

Clan Des Obeaux's victory in the King George on Boxing Day (Thistlecrack second, Native River third, Double Shuffle fifth, Might Bite seventh with Bristol De Mail falling) represents top-drawer form and marks Paul Nicholls' charge out as a serious contender. His fourth behind Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November (Native River second, Thistlecrack third, Might Bite fifth) for me just leaves a query as to how well he'll cope with the final climb up the hill of this extended three miles two and a half furlongs.  

Conversely, Bristol De Mai appears to reserve his very best form for Haydock.

Willie Mullins saddles four and Ruby Walsh rides Bellshill. Kemboy's win in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas is noteworthy (Bellshill fourth, Shattered Love tenth) but Bellshill wasn't fully wound up that day and progressed next time out to win the Irish Gold Cup by a short-head from Road To Respect (third in the Ryanair earlier today).

Might Bite's mighty duel with Native River in last year's renewal (Anibale Fly third, Definitly Red sixth) lives long in the memory. Nicky Henderson's charge hasn't been in the same form this term; connections have tried wind surgery and, if I remember correctly, the horse has undergone treatment for ulcers. 14/1 would be a very big price if Might Bite was back to his best but he has always had quirks - he nearly handed the 2017 RSA Chase to stablemate Whisper - and I suspect ideally he'd prefer slightly better ground.

The mare Shattered Love underwent wind surgery in January and the balance of her form to date suggests she isn't certain to stay this trip but Yala Enki certainly will. Venetia Williams' charge often races prominently but is likely to find a few in the field staying on a bit more quickly.

Anibale Fly finished a very creditable third in last year's renewal, making up ground at the business end of the race without ever threatening the leaders, and four weeks later he came home fourth behind Tiger Roll in the Grand National.

Last time out the JP McManus owned gelding ran a pleasing trial in the Red Mills Chase over an inadequate trip of two and a half miles, beaten two lengths by Monalee (fourth in the Ryanair earlier today).

Of the protagonists Native River would be the one for me but on the back of that effort last year Anibale Fly - with something to find on the book - makes most appeal as an each-way outsider, although drying ground isn't ideal.

At the time of writing both William Hill and Ladbrokes go 25/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places.

With Barry Geraghty up, Anibale Fly is the each-way selection.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Cheltenham Festival 2019 - Thursday

There has to be a certain irony in the way Cheltenham racecourse officials talked to customers about how 'notoriously difficult' it is to predict wind gust speeds ahead of Wednesday's card threatened by advancing Storm Gareth, yet those same officials made no mention whatsoever to customers of the difficulty factor involved in picking the winners of the seven races on the day's card. 

For starters, I've had a look at the JLT Novices' Chase (1.30) and the Ryanair Chase (2.50). To my mind the better value lies in the Ryanair but the staff at the Racing Post Weekender appear to have pinched all my best ideas - honest - and, at the same time, have also decided to increase the price they're going to charge me for them.

Course and distance winner Frodon is clear of his rivals on Racing Post ratings yet at the time of writing Paul Nicholls' charge is fifth in the betting behind four Irish-trained runners:

180 Frodon (15/2 in places)
178 Balko Des Flos (16/1) 
178 Un De Sceau (9/2)
176 Footpad (4/1)
174 Road To Respect (5/1)
171 Monalee (9/2)
170 Aso (40/1)

Footpad has yet to prove he stays this trip and the going on the new course is currently soft; Monalee finished second in the RSA last year; Un De Sceaux is 11 years old now; and Road To Respect is better known as a three miler. Last year's winner Balko Des Flos (beat Un De Sceaux four and a half lengths) hasn't been in the same form since but is still given every respect with ground conditions to suit.

Of course, a number in the field like to race prominently and that could set the race up for those in behind...     

Aso finished third in this two years ago and is forgiven his last run behind Cyrname at Ascot; having previously won over course and distance, he appeals as an each-way outsider who should appreciate underfoot conditions.

Two selections for the Ryanair:
Frodon win 15/2 (Paddy Power)
Aso each-way 33/1 Bet Victor 4 places, one fifth odds.

Regular readers will know I'm a Paisley Park fan but I'd venture the Stayers' Hurdle (3.30) is more open than the market would have us believe and there are some each-way opportunities.

Last year Penhill beat Supasundae two lengths with Sam Spinner fifth and Barcardys falling. 2017 Coral Cup winner Supasundae is admirably consistent but has never won beyond the distance of the Coral Cup - handler Jessica Harrington indicates in the Weekender his ideal trip is 2m 4f.

Faugheen, a veteran now, is the joker in the pack; Willie Mullins' inmate beat Penhill 13 lengths at Punchestown last April. Only one eleven-year-old has come home in front since 1972 - the Fulke Walwyn trained Crimson Embers in 1986.  

The Cleeve is a key piece of form - Paisley Park beat West Approach 12 lengths with Black Op third, Sam Spinner fourth and Wholestone ninth. Simon Rowlands' sectional anaylsis of the race makes interesting reading and highlights Black Op's chance, currently 12/1 with Bet Victor.

Connections have indicated they may try different tactics with West Approach (25/1).

Last year Sam Spinner was sent off 9/4 favourite for this race yet 12 months on he's rated a 50/1 chance. The gelding hasn't had the best of seasons but he showed a revival of sorts in the Cleeve and has ground conditions to suit. Pilot Joe Colliver has re-arranged a mandatory visit to the magistrates' court on a drink-drive related matter so I'd like to think both horse and jockey can put their troubles to one side and turn in a good performance.     
At the time of writing  Bet Victor, Betfred, Betway and Totesport pay one fifth the odds four places. For those of a conservative disposition, Black Op (12/1 Bet Victor) represents the more solid proposition but, hell, it's the Festival - I'm going to keep the faith and will take an each-way interest in Sam Spinner (40/1 Betway).

I saw the black cat again this morning. Damned creature just clean stared me out. Reminded me of a friend's cat when we were kids - they called him Carpenter as he kept on doing odd jobs around the house.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Cheltenham Festival 2019 - Wednesday

Superstitious? Not me. Except that yesterday morning I encountered a money spider in the bathroom, two magpies out the back kitchen window during breakfast, then a black cat crossed the road but didn't cross my path, preferring instead to hide under a rusting Vauxhall Corsa, as I was walking in to work, while on the return journey my right shoulder took a direct hit from a rather impertinent pigeon...

The thing is I can't decide whether all this means Hell's Kitchen is going to win the Champion Chase at odds of 40/1 or not.

In the opening Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (1.30) Champ bids to become only the second seven-year-old to come home in front; French Holly won in 1998. Champ won a muddling Challow at Newbury in December but he looks a highly-strung individual and I'd be slightly worried about how he'll handle the preliminaries.

Brewin'Upastorm was beaten four lengths by Champ in the Challow and I'm not keen on backing horses that fell last time out but Olly Murphy's charge appeared to be in the ascendancy when coming to grief at the last in the trial for this event - I'll chance Brewin'Upastorm each-way at 9/1.

The RSA (2.10) looks difficult this year.

Delta Work would appear to have a favourite's chance and, quite frankly, I'm not sure what to make of Santini with his participation the subject of some conjecture over the past week.

Topofthegame is bang there with every chance but at a bigger price I'll take an each-way interest in On The Blind Side (10/1) who bounced back to form at Kempton following wind surgery, has won here previously, sports first-time cheekpieces and has the assistance of Noel Fehily in the saddle.

A quick mention too for Mortal who didn't run well last time out but on his penultimate start was giving Delta Work a run for his money when a mistake at the last cost him. I just wonder whether he'll see out this trip on soft ground.

After much deliberation my each-way wager in the Champion Chase (3.30) is going to be Sceau Royal (14/1).

On official ratings Politologue is the third best horse in the field but he was slightly disappointing when fourth (God's Own third) in this race last year and I just feel he's better going right-handed. God's Own is eleven years old now so course and distance winner Sceau Royal gets the nod. If in the mood, Hell's Kitchen could easily outrun his odds but he's a risky conveyance, as I'm sure Barry Geraghty is aware...

There's a smaller field than usual for the bumper (5.30). I always think it's a big ask for a four-year-old but the market tells us Willie Mullins' sole entry Blue Sari is held in high regard. Cue Card was the last four-year-old to come home in front in 2010 - the only other winners in that age bracket were Rhythm Section (1993) and Dato Star (1995) - remember him?

Envoi Allen is prominent in the betting while Abacadabras was giving his stablemate a run for his money last time when running out. On official ratings Envoi Allen is seven pounds clear of Abacadabras so I'll take an each-way interest in previous course and distance winner Master Debonair currently priced around the 11/1 mark.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Cheltenham Festival 2019 - Tuesday

With persistent rain forecast before racing on Tuesday, clerk of the course Simon Claisse believes this year's Festival will start with soft ground.

Eighteen have been declared for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle due off at 1.30. There have been noticeable market moves in the past few days for Angels Breath - Nick De Boinville rides - and Klassical Dream, the mount of Ruby Walsh. At the time of writing both Ladbrokes and Black Type price up Angels Breath as the clear favourite.

My view on the race remains much as outlined in the preceding post:

Handler Nigel Twiston-Davies is on record saying favourite Al Dancer is his best chance of the week; the gelding's victory in the re-arranged Betfair Hurdle at Ascot certainly looked impressive. The two most recent Betfair winners to contest this - Ballyandy in 2017 and Kalashnikov in 2018 - finished fourth and second respectively. A couple of concerns - in the past decade just two favourites have obliged while Getaway Trump, fourth behind Al Dancer at Ascot, ran no sort of race at Kelso last Saturday and I'm just wondering whether that Ascot race has left its mark.

Nicky Henderson has two entries - Angels Breath was odds-on when turned over at Kempton last time but connections feel this track will play more to his strengths while Mister Fisher is given every respect but in the past has shown he can boil over in the preliminaries. Stable jockey Nick De Boinville rides Angels Breath.

It's no secret Joseph O'Brien is a trainer going places and just last month owner JP McManus purchased Fakir D'Oudairies. As a four-year-old the gelding receives his weight-for-age allowance but only three others in that age bracket have contested this event in the past decade and none have been placed. The last four-year-old to come home in front was Hors La Loi III in 1999; Fakir D'Oudairies also holds an entry in Friday's Triumph Hurdle.

There's a feeling in some parts that the Tolworth form - Elixir de Nutz beat Grand Sancy half a length - may have been underestimated. Elixir De Nutz has won over both the old and new courses here racing from the front. Those tactics may make him vulnerable at the business end but Colin Tizzard's charge could prove hard to pass; at around 8/1 I'm considering an each-way wager.

William Hill stands out by paying one fifth the odds seven places; Elixir De Nutz is the each-way selection at 8/1 with William Hill.

Just ten go to post for the highlight of the first day, the Champion Hurdle at 3.30. 

Buveur D'Air won this race in 2017 and beat Melon a neck in last year's renewal. Nicky Henderson's charge is particularly quick over the obstacles (although he has been known to miss one out in a race) but he faces no easy task conceding weight to the two mares in the field, Apple's Jade and Laurina; Annie Power was the last mare to come home in front in 2016.

The market suggests the race is between the three principals and I'm not inclined to disagree. I considered Brain Power as an each-way proposition but on official ratings the eight-year-old has enough to find and was beaten 30 lengths into eighth behind Buveur D'Air in the 2017 running. In the last ten years there have been just two winners over seven years of age - Hurricane Fly (2013)  and Annie Power (2016). 

Apple's Jade is my idea of the winner but I'm not going to play.

Sky Bet pay one fifth the odds six places in the Ultima Chase at 2.50; I've succumbed to temptation and will take an each-way interest in Lake View Lad at 20/1. 

His profile doesn't match that of recent winners and top weight isn't ideal either although Un Temps Pour Tout won carrying a similar burden in 2017. All that said, I thought he was impressive in the Rowland Meyrick last time, he will relish soft ground and the stable has sent out five winners in the past fortnight. Owned by Trevor Hemmings, the gelding holds an entry in the Grand National so I'd be hopeful of decent showing here on the way to Aintree.

Lake View Lad is the speculative each-way suggestion at 20/1 with Sky Bet, one fifth the odds six places.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Festival fever 2019

It's that time of year again.

You get up in the morning thinking about the Cheltenham Festival, you go to work thinking about the Cheltenham Festival, you can't concentrate at work because you're thinking about the Cheltenham Festival - all the time, you go back home thinking about the Cheltenham Festival and when you finally get to go to bed of an evening you end up dreaming about the Cheltenham Festival.

In a recent telephone consultation my doctor reassured me this behaviour is completely normal - he used the shorthand 'Festival fever' to refer to the condition which he sees with increasing regularity during the first two weeks of every March - and is nothing at all to worry about.

With just a few days to go and Festival fever on the verge of fever pitch, my present thinking and tips on selected races are outlined below.

Of course, readers perturbed by the blog's egregious performance last week - who wouldn't be? - can get the latest Cheltenham Festival betting tips here instead.

Still, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the blog has shown a profit at the Festival for the past four years, with the all-time best performance occurring in 2016.

And, only the other day, my accountant, a fastidious, lugubrious individual with the eye of a pike and a marked tendency to carp, told me the blog's highlighted selections were showing a level stakes profit of over 30 points to advised prices this season.

Naturally, I had to go for one of my long lie-downs after hearing such a shocking piece of evidence and have since taken the precaution of arranging a face-to-face appointment with the doc - PG meets GP. The earliest slot available was on the Thursday morning of the Craven meeting at Newmarket...

Traditionally I've followed a cautious betting strategy at the Festival - it's a marathon not a sprint - and I've no particular desire to give this season's hard-earned profit back to those bookmaker chappies.

To quote the standard disclaimer seen on most investment products - please remember past performance does not guarantee future results.


1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle

The first race of the whole jamboree and never an easy call.

Handler Nigel Twiston-Davies is on record saying favourite Al Dancer is his best chance of the week; the gelding's victory in the re-arranged Betfair Hurdle at Ascot certainly looked impressive. The two most recent Betfair winners to contest this - Ballyandy in 2017 and Kalashnikov in 2018 - finished fourth and second respectively. A couple of concerns - in the past decade just two favourites have obliged while Getaway Trump, fourth behind Al Dancer at Ascot, ran no sort of race at Kelso last Saturday and I'm just wondering whether that Ascot race has left its mark.

Nicky Henderson has two entries - Angels Breath was odds-on when turned over at Kempton last time but connections feel this track will play more to his strengths while Mister Fisher is given every respect but in the past has shown he can boil over in the preliminaries. Stable jockey Nick De Boinville rides Angels Breath.

It's no secret Joseph O'Brien is a trainer going places and just last month owner JP McManus purchased Fakir D'Oudairies. As a four-year-old the gelding receives his weight-for-age allowance but only three others in that age bracket have contested this event in the past decade and none have been placed. The last four-year-old to come home in front was Hors La Loi III in 1999; Fakir D'Oudairies also holds an entry in Friday's Triumph Hurdle.

There's a feeling in some parts that the Tolworth form - Elixir de Nutz beat Grand Sancy half a length - may have been underestimated. Elixir De Nutz has won over both the old and new courses here racing from the front. Those tactics may make him vulnerable at the business end but Colin Tizzard's charge could prove hard to pass; at around 8/1 I'm considering an each-way wager.

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase

Festival handicaps are an absolute minefield, come with a health / wealth warning and really need to be avoided at all costs. Here are a few general pointers, just in case you happen to hear siren voices calling...

Make sure your selection's last run was this side of Christmas; Irish trained runners have a better win record in the handicap hurdles, British runners in the handicap chases.

The last Irish trained winner of the Ultima was Dun Doire in 2006 (when it was sponsored by William Hill).

Lake View Lad has plenty of weight and doesn't fit the profile of recent winners - just four aged over eight since 2000 (Youlneverwalkalone 2003, Joes Edge 2007, Chief Dan George 2010 and Alfie Sherin 2012) - but if he runs I'll consider a small each-way wager on the back of his win in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day, his trainer's current form and the fact I once knew a lad whose house overlooked a lake.

I think I've read somewhere that Rhinestone (Coral Cup) and Ben Dundee (Close Brothers or Brown Advisory Plate) could be considered well treated if taking up their chance in those named races but, hell, I can't be certain I didn't just hear it all in a dream.

It's the Festival fever. If you find a layer paying one quarter the odds fifteen places, please let me know.

3.30 Champion Hurdle

Buveur D'Air has won the past two renewals but faces no easy task this year conceding seven pounds to two mares, Apple's Jade and Laurina. Apple's Jade has had a phenomenal season and would be my idea of the winner but, at the prices, the race doesn't make much appeal as a betting medium.

Writing in the Racing Post Weekender Simon Holt makes the case for Silver Streak to run a race at a big price. To my mind Evan Williams' charge doesn't jump the hurdles well enough; I prefer Buveur D'Air's stablemate Brain Power (20/1) as an each-way longshot and will firm up that decision over the weekend.

4.10 Mares' Hurdle

It's certainly not a bet for me but, for those interested, Ruby Walsh rates Benie Des Dieux his best ride of the week; the favourite has obliged in this race on seven occasions in the past ten years.


1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

Challow winner Champ, reputedly named after Sir Anthony Peter McCoy, is the conundrum. Despite pulling hard he remains unbeaten this season and possesses a potent turn of foot. Clearly very talented, he looks a tricky enough ride; the last seven-year-old to come home in front was French Holly in 1998.

Brewin'Upastorm appeared to have the measure of Birchdale when coming to grief at the last in the trial run over the new course here in January. Connections may re-route Birchdale to the Albert Bartlett on Friday.

Battleoverdoyen, a chaser in the making, is unbeaten and likely to appreciate the recent rain.

3.30 Champion Chase

Altior does it all so terribly easily but he didn't create the best impression when jumping out to his left at Ascot the last day. Clear second best Min looked an each-way bet to nothing at 8/1 but that price disappeared some time ago; the gelding still holds an entry in the Ryanair for which he is priced up clear favourite with both Labrokes and Paddy Power. I'm on the lookout for an each-way outsider and God's Own and Hell's Kitchen are in the frame.

4.10 Cross Country Chase

Don't bother with a bet, just enjoy the phenomenon that is Tiger Roll.

5.30 Champion bumper 

I do like a bet in the bumper. This year's race doesn't look a typical renewal so I'll need to do some more work over the next couple of days. Two currently of interest are Abracadabras who was giving stablemate Envoi Allen a run for his money when running out last time and course and distance winner Master Debonair who is trained by Colin Tizzard, responsible for Cue Card's victory in 2010 at odds of 40/1.


3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

Paisley Park is a worthy favourite and was impressive when winning the Cleeve over the new course here by 12 lengths from West Approach with Black Op back in third and Sam Spinner fourth. That said, he looked in a fair bit of trouble half a mile from home and a number in the field offer each-way possibilities.

Simon Rowlands' sectional analysis of the Cleeve highlights the chance of Black Op who is currently on offer at 14/1. Connections were particularly pleased with his return to hurdling after things hadn't quite gone to plan over the larger obstacles and after the race Noel Fehily hinted there could be improvement to come.

West Approach is another to have benefited from the return to hurdling - connections have indicated they may try different tactics and come from behind this time - and he holds each-way claims at 25/1 while I haven't totally given up on Sam Spinner who finished fifth in this last race year, beaten under six and a half lengths, yet is rated a 40/1 chance.

Jedd O'Keefe's charge unseated first time out this season and then repeated the trick next time when apparently spooked by Ascot's new-style hurdles. Obviously he comes with risks attached - as does regular pilot Joe Colliver who at the time of writing is due in court on race day on a drink-driving charge - but Sam Spinner seemed to be getting back on track in the Cleeve and will be well worth a second look if the rain continues to fall.

Faugheen, eleven years old now, is the subject of favourable reports and is the joker in the pack.

I'll make my mind up nearer the time.


3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup

I saw Presenting Percy win the RSA last year in imperious fashion. The question this year is: can he win a Gold Cup after just one run over hurdles?

Apparently the last horse to win the Gold Cup without a start over fences in that season was Easter Hero in 1929. At the price on offer I'm not tempted.

The recent rain has seen money for last year's winner Native River (Colin Tizzard exhorts us not to forget stablemate Elegant Escape) while the Paul Nicholls trained Clan Des Obeaux has been a revelation this season and reminds me a lot of 1999 winner See More Business.

Kemboy's win in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown reads well; I'd expect Bellshill to finish closer this time and it will be interesting to see which one of four Ruby Walsh decides to ride.

At this stage my each-way value wager would be Anibale Fly, quoted a 25/1 chance, who finished third in last year's renewal before going on to come home fourth behind Tiger Roll in the Grand National at Aintree. The more rain that falls, the better his chance, but that maxim applies to several in the field.

In accordance with tradition, I'll aim to publish a post for each day of the Festival. This year, however, different arrangements apply.

Regular readers will know in the past I've usually made it to the track for Wednesday's action but not this year, I'm afraid. My employer has complicated plans somewhat by inviting me to a Long Service Awards ceremony - to be honest, I don't know why, I've never really settled in - which has been scheduled for this coming Monday evening.

I kid you not, I have needed to call upon previously untapped reserves of self-restraint to prevent myself from audibly expressing the intense sense of exasperation I'm currently having to contend with and, let me assure you, throughout the entire evening's proceedings you already know what I'll be thinking about - it's the Cheltenham Festival.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Down after the Eider

In the immediate aftermath of Crosspark's win in the Eider Chase at Newcastle last week, I was referred to the local stewards to face a charge of striking the sofa with the Saturday supplement above the permitted number of times after the final fence.

Following a thorough examination of available evidence and a sentient, slightly slurred submission from susurrous Lady Sipsmith, the stipe from the suburbs, chief steward Mrs Tips dispensed a regulatory 10 day suspension for the appropriated misuse - five days for marking the sofa with a minor weal, two for excessive force and three for failing to allow the sofa enough time to respond - commencing Wednesday 6th March.

Under the stringent Rules of Racing in Our House no betting or televised racing is permitted during the suspension period. As this period coincides with the Cheltenham Festival, I have indicated to the chief steward I am appealing; her tart reply - 'That may have been the case some thirty five years ago but no longer applies!' - came just a trifle too swiftly for comfort.

Negotiations are at a 'delicate' juncture. With sackcloth and ashes manifestly insufficient, so far I've agreed chocolates, flowers and, as a gesture of goodwill, a half bottle of supermarket gin for the whispering Lady Sipsmith. If necessary, I'll consider tempting the chief steward with a long weekend in a static caravan outside Lawrenny, Pembrokeshire (reputedly the birthplace of Dick Francis and handily situated for a visit to Peter Bowen's yard) but I don't want to play that card unless I have to.

The equine flu outbreak and now this... All I need is for the people at PG Tips to take a (tea) leaf out of Manchester United's book and claim infringement of intellectual property rights - as the football club did against Panini Cheapskates earlier this week - and I'll have a complete set.

My Festival preparations are in total tatters and the country's politicians are doing very little to help the cause with the threat that several key Brexit votes could still take place in Cheltenham week. Is nothing sacrosanct anymore?

I was disappointed to see Lake View Lad didn't make the final declarations for the Belhaven Brewery Premier Chase at Kelso tomorrow as this one has been on my radar since he won the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day. He currently holds an entry in the Ultima Chase on the first day of the Festival for which he is quoted a 25/1 chance (more study required, but the beast fails to warrant a mention in the race preview in the Racing Post Cheltenham - The Ultimate Guide publication) as well as an entry in the Grand National for which he is priced up at 33/1.

With that cunning plan thwarted and rain not forecast to hit Berkshire until Sunday, Newbury's 'Supporting Greatwood' meeting has been the focus of attention; the going is described as good to soft.

The previously tipped San Benedeto goes in the Gold Cup at 2.40 and is available at 16/1 with Paddy Power but I still haven't recovered from the shock of his last run at Ascot six weeks ago so, instead, I've had a look at the William Hill Supporting Greatwood Veterans' Handicap Chase at 2.05, primarily because the last time I had a wager in a veterans' chase the outcome was far more propitious when Houblon Des Obeaux landed the spoils at Sandown and I had sufficient prescience to strike the bet at odds of 20/1.

After that race connections made it abundantly clear that was a 'going' day for their charge. The next time at the same track he was beaten over 35 lengths into tenth by Classic Ben - third in that race Kimberlite Candy finished fifth in the Eider, fourth Give Me A Copper has been installed 13/2 favourite for the Ultima while seventh Shanroe Santos appears to hold Venetia Williams' charge on these terms - it is noted that Shanroe Santos did not jump well last time.

Meanwhile Theatre Guide finished fifteen lengths second behind Houblon Des Obeaux and on the book is not weighted to reverse the form. Of course, there's no guarantee Houblon Des Obeaux will turn up in the required frame of mind tomorrow and I feel that's reflected in the price on offer.

Carole's Destrier finished fourth in the Classic Chase at Warwick on his penultimate start - form that reads well - and prior to that won the Mandarin Chase over course and distance; his chance is respected as is that of favourite Abolitionist who was third in the 2017 Irish National and won an Aintree hurdle on his debut for new connections after a break of 441 days.

The Last Samuri has his third run following wind surgery; the second at Taunton last time out gives him every chance but Alan King has indicated Ziga Boy will come on for the run.

Two with lower mileage on the clock than most are Perform and Joe Farrell. Mr Ben Jones can claim seven on the former and has ridden at 9-7 in the past twelve months while the latter won here last year before going on to bag the Scottish National off a mark of 135.

A word too for Venetia Williams' other runner Marilhac whose second to Relentless Dreamer at Ludlow in December 2017 reads well but the balance of his form suggests he prefers racing right-handed.

Writing this post, I've come to realise just how competitive this race is.

I'm going to chance the Rebecca Curtis trained Joe Farrell. He hasn't been seen on a racecourse since beating Ballyoptic a nose in the Scottish National last April but he has been placed in four of his six chase starts to date and has won after a break in the past.

Joe Farrell is the each-way selection, at the time of writing 9/1 with William Hill who pay one fifth the odds five places.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Eider Chase 2019

There's a top-class card at Kempton tomorrow with Angels Breath set to go in the Dovecote (3.00) but with just ten declared for a trappy-looking 888Sport Handicap Chase (3.35) - the favourite has failed to oblige in the past decade - I'm off to Newcastle in search of some each-way value in the Eider Chase (2.40). A field of sixteen face the starter; the going is described as good to soft, soft in places.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) the eider is the UK's heaviest duck and its fastest flying - and that looks suspiciously like a tip for top-weight Daklondike to me.

Comply Or Die won this race for trainer David Pipe in 2008 and six weeks later added the Grand National to the haul. Daklondike is clearly talented but he has never looked the easiest of rides although, to be fair to the horse, he appeared unlucky when unseating Tom Scudamore at Haydock last time.

It's no surprise to see Vicente at the head of the market. Paul Nicholls' charge won the Scottish Grand National in 2016 and 2017 off a mark of 146 and he races off exactly the same mark tomorrow. His third at Taunton last month should have put him spot on for this.

Vicente won't mind drying ground but a number in the field would prefer more cut and Baywing certainly falls into that category; last year's winner beat West Of The Edge four lengths on heavy ground. Trainer Nicky Richards seems decidedly more bullish about Baywing's stablemate Progress Drive on his first start after wind surgery - Brian Hughes rides.

Just Your Type is very short in the market for one with just three chase starts to his name. He appeared to have the spoils in the bag when coming to grief two out at Exeter last time; since 1989 only two seven-year-olds have come home in front - Domaine De Pron in 1998 and Portrait King in 2012.

The ground shouldn't inconvenience Ange Des Mirabeaux but following two wins he's now 17lbs higher in the handicap. The trip is an unknown but, that said, this has been the plan all season and I prefer Dan Skelton's charge to Kimberlite Candy whom handler Tom Lacey described as 'inconsistent' in his 'Straight from the Stable' tour (Weekender 07-11.11.18), going on to say '...I'd admit he could be a hard horse to catch right.'

Potters Corner is part-owned by Wales centre Jonathan Davies who will presumably be preparing for the match against England when this race is run. Potters Corner was still in with a shout when coming to grief two from home at Wincanton last time; the nine-year-old has just seven chase starts to his name.

A fourteen-year-old has never won but two contest tomorrow's renewal - Raz De Maree and Harry The Viking. The former would want more cut but the latter deserves a mention for his Scottish Borders National win at Kelso in December (Progress Drive third, West Of The Edge eighth).

On a line through Callet Mad, Crosspark, third in a competitive renewal of the Classic Chase at Warwick six weeks ago, should finish ahead of Harry The Viking and should also handle underfoot conditions. Here he races off the same mark of 135 as at Warwick.

The Charlie Mann trained Morney Wing is another outsider in with a sniff. He looked to have a hard enough race the last day when holding Red Infantry a length in the London National at Sandown but connections have given their charge plenty of time to recover.

Rock On Fruity goes beyond three miles one for the first time; owned by JP McManus, he'll be worth monitoring in the market.

I feel Irish raider Kilkishen may struggle beyond three and a half miles on the balance of his form to date while Mysteree won this in 2017 but has not been competitive of late.

Racing Post ratings indicate Vicente is the one to beat but at the prices I'm going to take an each-way interest in Crosspark, one of two Jamie Moore rides at the track for Caroline Bailey (the other is Don't Tell The Wife in the 1.35). At the time of writing several layers offer 16/1 one fifth the odds five places while William Hill offer 14/1 one fifth the odds seven places.

To my eye Crosspark looked as though he would stay further the last day - Crosspark is the each-way selection, generally available at 16/1 one fifth the odds five places.

I'd like to conclude this post with a slight digression...

Last month the Queen's mare No Trumps (sire: Black Sam Bellamy; dam: Magic Score) was sent off a 33/1 chance in a low-key novice hurdle at Warwick and, after running in snatches, finished a well-beaten fourth.

Speaking personally, if the horse's name brought anything in particular to mind, it was the sort of hand my father complained he was habitually dealt at whist drives in the local church hall - do those things still take place? - but the following day a wry snippet appeared in The Times Diary (aka TMS in recognition of its current location at Thomas More Square, Wapping, E1) highlighting the pre-eminence of the owner and linking the mare's name to Donald Trump and members of his family.

Somewhat taken with this general persiflage, I decided to mail a couple of other equine suggestions to the Diary, including Getaway Trump (fourth in last Saturday's re-arranged Betfair Hurdle at Ascot) and, for beleaguered British bettors besieged by the Brexit brouhaha, Article Fifty.

And, bless my old boots, editor Patrick Kidd replied saying he was potentially interested in the Article Fifty horse.

Now, the beast in question was declared to run at Wetherby on Tuesday so before racing I provided Mr Kidd with some points of interest, the regular stuff, you know - owners: Swanee River Partnership; Mr Richard, not Boris, Johnson doing the steering; required major (wind) surgery last November; competing against the likes of Thelongwayaround, All Hail Caesar - feel free to make up your own comments and insert them here.

In the event, second favourite Article Fifty ran something of a full-blown stinker, finishing eleventh of the thirteen starters, beaten over 90 lengths. It was clear hold-up tactics hadn't worked and questionable whether the administered surgery had, while comments-in-running included terms such as 'headway', swiftly followed by 'soon lost place' and 'behind'. Simply all too bad to be true.

Mr Kidd though was unimpressed - a sort of thanks, PG, but no thanks, didn't really work, the sort of knockback I've become accustomed to receiving after every job interview I've bothered to turn up for over the past 25 years and, with this particular rejection, was there just the slightest suggestion the copy hadn't quite met the exigent editorial standards in place at such an august publication as The Times?

Gutted, I took the hint and instead had a quick word with the editor of this blog, a scruffy, indolent individual, often to be found in the shed at the bottom of the garden reeking of ale and old socks - to quote my dear old mother, 'a man who could use a damned good wash'.

He had no editorial qualms whatsoever.