Friday, December 01, 2023

Coral Gold Cup 2023

Today's card at Newbury went ahead and the course covers put back in place after racing. 

Overnight temperatures in West Berkshire could drop to minus five - it looks a close call whether tomorrow's card will survive. The Fighting Fifth meeting at Newcastle has already been called off.

Should the card get the green light, twenty are set to face the starter in the Coral Gold Cup (2.50) run over a distance of three miles two furlongs.

In my book the following aren't guaranteed to stay the trip: Complete Unknown; Stolen Silver; Our Power; Bill Baxter; Datsalrightgino; Zanza; Eldorado Allen; Ga Law; and Shakem Up'Arry.

Cloudy Glen, Bill Baxter, Max Flamingo and Shakem Up'Arry run from out of the handicap.

Dusart comes into the race without a recent preparatory run.

Since 2000 only two horses older than eight have come home in front: Denman (2009) aged nine and Sizing Tennessee (2018) aged ten.

A quick word for the two ten-year-olds in the field.

33/1 shot Cloudy Glen won the 2021 renewal but many thought Remastered posed a significant threat to the winner before taking a crashing fall four from home. 

It's well known that Cloudy Glen is best caught fresh; he posted a decent effort when second behind Malina Girl at Cheltenham 13 days ago.

Remastered was only half a length adrift of Le Milos in last year's renewal. Following wind surgery in the summer, he weakened out of contention in a Pertemps qualifier at Aintree three weeks ago, eventually beaten 24 lengths.

Complete Unknown was market leader for most of the week yet with just five chase starts to his name is the least experienced in the field over the larger obstacles; this will be his first start in a chase with more than ten runners.

Late this afternoon Monbeg Genius moved to the head of the market. 

His third behind Corach Rambler in the Ultima at Cheltenham reads very well. I've just watched his comeback race at Ascot last month - his jumping looked a tad ring rusty on occasions but he was significantly hampered five from home and pulled up when his chance had gone (Eldorado Allen third). 

Mahler Mission - clear when falling two out in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham - came home second behind Thunder Rock over a shorter trip than ideal at Carlisle last time. Stable form is the main concern here with the yard's last winner coming 51 days ago. 

The chance of  fellow Irish raider Stumptown has to be respected given the record of Gavin Cromwell's runners in Britain; Stumptown was beaten a neck by Angels Breath in the Kim Muir in March.

Max Flamingo was pulled up in the Irish Grand National last April and has been running over hurdles since. 

The only Irish trained winner of this race in the past 40 years is Total Recall - ridden by Paul Townend and trained by Willie Mullins - in 2017.

Midnight River won at Aintree in April on his first try beyond an extended two and a half miles (Shakem Up'Arry fourth, Eldorado Allen fifth). 

He stayed on well that day and it looks as though this has been the target since. Dan Skelton won last year's renewal with Le Milos and said of Midnight River:

"Make no mistakes. He is a good horse that is improving.

"The Coral Gold Cup is the big one for him. He was good at Aintree and he improved for that step up in trip which he was entitled to do."

Top weight Ahoy Senor continues to find the odd fence getting in the way; he has to concede a minimum of 12 pounds to all his rivals. 

Denman was the last winner to carry top weight to victory, memorably pulling off the feat in 2009 for a second time with Ruby Walsh up, having won the 2007 renewal with Sam Thomas doing the steering.

Twig beat Ruthless Article and Kinondo Kwetu over this distance in the Summer Cup Handicap Chase at Uttoxeter on his penultimate start and ran well behind Whacker Clan at Cheltenham five weeks ago. There has been money for Ben Pauling's charge through the day.

Kitty's Light won the Eider Chase at Newcastle, the Scottish Grand National at Ayr and the bet365 Chase at Sandown last season yet is quoted 25/1 in the odd place. He's likely to have targets further down the line.

A wide open renewal.

At the time of writing Midnight River is 10/1 with Paddy Power who are paying six places; Midnight River is the each-way selection.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Walking a tightrope at Ascot

Tom Scudamore rode Royal Pagaille to victory by an eased-down 16 lengths in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in January 2021, primarily because regular pilot Charlie Deutsch went to Ascot to ride Espoir De Guye and Fanion D'Estruval - both finished fourth in their respective races, the former behind Dashel Drasher and the latter behind First Flow.

Wiser for the experience, Charlie was aboard Royal Pagaille when beating Sam Brown half a length in the same race the following year.

Tomorrow Charlie rides Royal Pagaille in the Betfair Chase at Haydock (3.00) but I'm sure he'll empathise with weighing room colleague Harry Cobden, regular pilot of Bravemansgame, whose boss Mr Paul Nicholls informed him he goes to Ascot to ride Pic D'Orhy (1.30); Blueking D'Oroux (2.05); Farnoge (12.55); and Regent's Stroll (3.50).

Harry didn't seem best pleased with arrangements earlier in the week. There were also rumours Mr Nicholls wasn't best pleased with the ride Harry gave Captain Teague in the novice hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday.

Anyway, back down at Ascot I have to say I think previous course and distance winner Funambule Sivola - the Racing Post's top-rated - is overpriced at 16/1 in the Hurst Park (3.15).

Three weeks ago Boothill won the Byrne Group Handicap Chase over course and distance off a mark of 149 with Saint Segal third, Frere D'Armes fifth and Funambule Sivola sixth - beaten 20 lengths on his first run in a handicap chase since January 2022 when he beat The Big Bite off a mark of 152. 

I've watched the replay of that Ascot race a couple of times. 

On the day Saint Segal went hard enough up front; Venetia Williams' inmate was a beaten horse off the home bend and allowed to come home in his own time (as they often say). 

The handicapper has raised Boothill six pounds, dropped Saint Segal one pound, Frere D'Armes two and Funambule Sivola three. 

Even with Ned Fox's five pound claim, the gelding still has enough on his plate to get near the winner.

The last day though the ground was soft and the going at Ascot is currently described as good. 

To my mind, Boothill has tended to show his best form on soft ground whereas Funambule Sivola has shown his on good.

After his victory in the Game Spirit at Newbury in February (good, good to firm in places), Venetia said:

"Funambule Sivola is the fastest thing I've ever had, he's very quick. It was all speed. The owners asked me what the tactics were and I said you don't have tactics in a race like this on this type of ground, just go as fast as you can."

35 minutes later Aucunrisque made all to win the Betfair Hurdle in a course record time.

Nevertheless connections decided to send Funambule for wind surgery over the summer; this represents his second start since the operation was carried out.

On the minus side, the gelding can jump low at his obstacles and has been known to miss the odd one out - he lost ground at the seventh flight down the back last time.

Corrigeen Rock has a good record on right-handed tracks but was some way behind Black Gerry and Frere D'Armes over course and distance in April while Triple Trade looked to have a hard enough race when winning at Cheltenham eight days ago and has been raised six pounds for his trouble. 

Handler Joe Tizzard said after that victory:

"...I'm tempted to take him to Newbury in a couple of weeks' time if it's nice and soft."

With just the dead eight declared, I realise I'm walking a bit of a tightrope but Coral still go 16/1 at the time of writing; generally Funambule is quoted a 14/1 chance.

Funambule Sivola is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The 2023 Paddy Power Gold Cup

Having worked alongside several academic members of staff at numerous learning institutions over the years, I developed what one might call a healthy scepticism for professors and what they had to say. 

Unfortunately, I was never fortunate enough to meet Professor Nick Crafts, a scourge of the Oxford bookmaking fraternity, who died on October 6th following a lengthy illness.

I quote from Professor Crafts' obituary published in The Times on Wednesday:

"Crafts took a market-based approach to the racetrack that appealed to his mathematical bent. He avoided steeplechasing in favour of flat races, and backed horses where the odds had dropped most in the week before the race, as an indicator that the cognoscenti were placing their money. He reckoned he could make 7 or 8 per cent a year on that basis, but he rarely if ever visited a course." 

Now, the horse whose odds appear to have dropped the most for tomorrow's Paddy Power Gold Cup is the well-named, Venetia Williams trained, Easy As That; 20/1 earlier in the week, the gelding is as low as 7/1 with some layers this evening.  The yard has sent out 10 winners from 23 runs in the past fortnight - a win strike rate of over 43%.

Of course, the salient point here is that the Paddy Power Gold Cup - once known as The Mackeson Gold Cup - is a steeplechase, run on the Old Course at Cheltenham over two and half miles.

Fourteen have been declared; the going is currently described as good to soft, soft in places, with further significant rain forecast.

Trends point to a chaser between six and nine years of age with previous course form carrying 11-00 or less; in the past decade only one winner has obliged on seasonal debut.

Since 2000 only three winners have carried more than 11-07: Cyfor Malta (11-09, 2002); Al Ferof (11-08, 2012); and Taquin Du Seuil (11-11, 2016). 

No favourite has obliged in the past ten years but seven winners have been returned at odds of 10/1 or less.

Irish runners don't have a strong record in the race. The last Irish trained winner, Tranquil Sea (2009), became the first Irish winner for 29 years.

Stage Star heads the market for tomorrow's renewal. 

Paul Nicholls' charge won the Turners Novices' Chase at the Festival in March with Notlongtillmay three and a quarter lengths adrift in second and Unexpected Party eight and a half lengths behind in fifth.

Quoting from the form summary for the Turners:

"Something of an unsatisfactory result in this Grade 1 novice, with the first two [Stage Star and Notlongtillmay] given an easy time up front and the big two in the market [Mighty Potter and Appreciate It] hanging separate ways all over Prestbury Park in the straight. It's hard to be positive over the form."

On the revised terms of this handicap, Stage Star, Notlongtillmay and Unexposed Party look closely matched.

Top weight The Real Whacker, unbeaten in three chase starts, won the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase over three miles plus at the Festival last time out. Connections are likely to have other targets in mind as the season progresses.

Fugitif has run well in competitive handicaps at the track in the past and finished second to Seddon in the Magners Plate at the Festival (Il Ridoto sixth). Gavin Sheehan will ride him prominently and connections have fitted cheekpieces for the first time, hoping to eke out further improvement.

At six years of age Il Ridoto is the youngest runner in the race. 

I saw this one win against battle-hardened handicappers over two miles at Newbury two years ago - a precocious effort. He finished fourth in this race last year, losing two places after the last flight. 

Questions were subsequently asked about his stamina at the trip but he appeared to answer the doubters when winning over the distance on the New Course at the end of January. Freddie Gingell claims five; will the partnership come up the hill tomorrow?

Angels Breath has only raced three times since 2019. Clearly talented, he has been difficult to train but was beaten less than five lengths in a hurdle race at the track three weeks ago. At around 8/1 the layers aren't taking too many chances with the Sam Thomas trained grey. 

Torn And Frayed won over this trip on the New Course in January 2022 but hasn't seen a racecourse since while Harper's Brook threw away a race he looked to have in the bag at Sandown in April, idling in front and then pulling himself up on the run-in. Both run from out of the handicap.

The Willie Mullins trained Authorized Art was second in the Galway Plate and then fourth in the Kerry National over three miles. 

Perhaps Final Orders is the more interesting of the two Irish runners. 

Gavin Cromwell's charge made eye-catching progress when sent chasing in Ireland and at one point was thought good enough to take his chance in the Arkle. In the end he finished fifth behind Maskada in the Grand Annual off a mark of 150; he goes off 148 tomorrow with Danny Gilligan claiming five. 

His fourth behind Al Dancer at Chepstow last month looks like a reasonable preparation - the third, Walk In Clover, finished third behind Triple Trade earlier today while the fifth, Elixir De Nutz, won the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter eight days ago.  

Handler Gavin Cromwell has a good record with his runners at Cheltenham and last February said of his charge: "He's ultra-consistent and a particularly sound jumper." 

I'd like to think the step-up in trip will suit.

Whistleinthedark is unbeaten over fences but faces the hurly-burly of a race like this for the first time.

Of Black Gerry's five chase wins to date, the defeat of Frere D'Armes at Ascot in April reads well (Dolos fifth, Xcitations pulled up). Yard form is the concern, currently operating at 6%.

As always, a very competitive renewal. 

Unexpected Party is my idea of the winner. The Skelton yard hasn't been in quite the same flying form as 12 months ago but the grey has the right profile and his defeat of Knappers Hill (winner since) on seasonal debut looks good. 

With Unexpected Party currently vying for favouritism, in search of some value, I'm going to take a bit of an each-way punt on Final Orders instead, in the hope he can continue to progress in the manner he did last season.

Only for those with a particularly strong constitution, Final Orders is the each-way suggestion, 25/1 with William Hill who are paying five places.

Professor Nick Crafts would never have approved.

Friday, November 10, 2023

The 62nd running of the Badger Beer Handicap Chase at Wincanton

Eleven have been declared for tomorrow's Badger Beer Handicap Chase (2.25 Wincanton); the going is currently described as soft, good to soft in places.

At the time of writing Threeunderthrufive heads the market with stablemate Frodon in close attendance.

Threeunderthrufive's best performance since his sixth behind L'Homme Presse in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival was his final run of last season - he finished fourth behind Kitty's Light in the Scottish Grand National on good ground at Ayr. 

Connections will hope that the wind surgery carried out over the summer will help eke out further improvement.

Frodon won last year's renewal of this race off a mark of 158 and tries to repeat the trick off the same mark this year; the going last time was good to firm. The likelihood is Frodon will have had this race as his target for some time. 

Connections of both The Big Breakaway and Ashtown Lad have said the Becher at Aintree next month is their main target.

I fancied The Big Breakaway for the Ultima at Cheltenham in March on the back of his second behind The Two Amigos in the Welsh National at Chepstow. 

Unfortunately he struggled to keep tabs on the pace setters that day and was one of the first beaten. He hasn't raced at Wincanton before but with the front-running Frodon bowling along at the head of affairs I'd be concerned something similar might happen again.

Like Frodon, Sam Brown is a few weeks short of his twelfth birthday. 

In April 2022 he won the Betway Handicap Chase at Aintree in something of a common canter. He underwent wind surgery in April before coming to grief at the Chair in the National and then falling at the penultimate flight when two lengths clear in a handicap at the Punchestown Festival.

On his day Sam Brown is very capable. 

Handler Anthony Honeyball also saddles Forward Plan, Gustavian and Blackjack Magic. 

Forward Plan looks up against it racing from seven pounds out of the handicap while in a Straight from the Stable piece [RP Weekender 23-27.11.22] the trainer said of Gustavian:

"His trouble is that he tends to jump nine of his ten fences like an old pro and then really balls one up." 

Blackjack Magic has just the four chase starts to his name.

When the final declarations came through and the race priced up, I thought 14/1 about Certainly Red of interest. 

Out of four visits to Wincanton, Lydia Richards' charge has won three times over the distance and finished second over a trip of two and a half miles. 

I watched a replay of the gelding's last victory at the track in the Dick Hunt "Wigmore" Handicap Chase in February; he didn't look the easiest of rides that day, jumping out left on occasions and not always clean at the obstacles, all of which tempered initial enthusiasm.

Dan Skelton saddles Ballygrifincottage and Ashtown Lad.

The former looked something special when beating Beauport in the St Helens Novices' Chase at Haydock this time last year but his jumping went to pieces in the Towton at Wetherby where he broke a blood vessel and the jumping problems were still apparent on seasonal reappearance at Newton Abbot three weeks ago.

Ashtown Lad mixed hurdling and chasing last year. 

He beat Gesskille in the Becher and that race is clearly the target this term. This is his first run on a right-handed track but he has run well on seasonal debut in the past. 

Courtland has been busy through the summer and would probably prefer better ground.

With Sam Brown now as low as 6/1 in places, at double the price I'm going to take a chance on Ashtown Lad being fit enough to do himself justice; Tristan Durrell claims five and got the job done on Knickerbocker Glory at Ascot last Saturday.

Ashtown Lad is the each-way suggestion, 12/1 in several places, with most layers paying four places.

Friday, November 03, 2023

The 2023 Seat Unique Handicap Hurdle at Ascot

With Wetherby apparently in a race against time to save the Charlie Hall card, I've opted to take a look at the Seat Unique Handicap Hurdle (3.15 Ascot) run over a trip just shy of two miles; twelve have been declared.

The going on the hurdle track is currently described as soft, good to soft in places, with more rain forecast; Turftrax predicts a further 7-12 mm before the opener.

Should Wetherby fail its morning inspection, I'd imagine we might see one or two revised jockey bookings in Berkshire. 

Market leader Our Champ won the first race on the card at Cheltenham's two-day Showcase meeting last Friday, beating Black Poppy an eased-down seven and a half lengths; it looks as though connections have decided to roll the dice again.  

After that race handler Chris Gordon said:

"I came here pretty confident. I'm usually a pessimistic bugger but I rode Our Champ myself in a bit of work the other day with Aucunrisque [2023 Betfair Hurdle winner] and he went extremely well. We don't usually have them off the bridle but Aucunrisque was struggling and I weighed two stone more than the lad on him."  

The handicapper has raised Our Champ 11 pounds for that effort to 128; his mark has gone up 19 pounds since moving to the Gordon yard over the summer.

With connections talking about the Dovecote as a possible target, the gelding holds an obvious chance and the stable won this last year with Highway One O Two.

Two concerns: the soft ground at Ascot; and the fact that Cheltenham conditional jockeys' handicap took place just eight days ago. 

In the same Cheltenham race Teddy Blue got no further than the second flight, making a bad mistake and unseating Caoilin Quinn. Back in May Teddy finished second to Black Poppy in the Swinton at Haydock.

The Paul Nicholls trained Rare Middleton cost 215,000 guineas and went into the notebook last January after winning the first division of a Taunton maiden hurdle in a time 7.2 seconds faster than stablemate Afadil won the second division.

He was hampered by the fall of Sarsons Risk when finishing third in the Adonis at Kempton but subsequently didn't jump well on handicap debut when fourth behind Parramount at Fakenham and underwent wind surgery in July. 

All the winners in the past decade have been aged either five, six or seven. 

In the same timeframe the favourite has obliged on four occasions and the winner has come from the first three in the market on eight occasions. 

Two have their first start in a handicap - the filly Greyval (121) and Altobelli (131).

The former ran with credit in the 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree in the spring, fading in the closing stages to finish eighth. 

The latter will certainly get the cut in the ground he needs; writing in the Weekender James Stevens thinks the gelding could prove much better than his opening mark. He's an unexposed sort but his hurdling to date hasn't been fault free and I see connections have opted to fit a tongue-tie for the first time.

Just how good is Bad?

Following three runs in France Bad moved to Ben Pauling's yard at the beginning of this year and was sent off 5/1 second favourite for the Boodles at the Cheltenham Festival on this first run in this country.

With Rachael Blackmore in the plate, the grey was bang there with every chance too before being headed on the run to the last and fading to finish down the field in thirteenth. The vet reported the gelding had lost his right hind shoe.

On his only other start for Pauling he finished sixth behind Blueking D'Oroux (won the Masterson Holdings Hurdle at Cheltenham last Saturday) in a juvenile handicap hurdle over course and distance in April, beaten just under ten lengths. 

Bad ran off 126 in the Boodles; he goes off 122 tomorrow.

Dan Skelton saddles two. 

Knickerbockerglory is a front runner whose hurdle mark (130) is three pounds lower than his chase mark. He likes soft ground and in the past has gone well fresh. His second to Iceo in the Imperial Cup at Sandown last March reads very well.

Faivoir is a hold-up ride whose hurdle mark (139) is six pounds lower than his chase mark. 

This one won the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in March on soft ground and had a pipe-opener in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las three weeks ago. Underfoot conditions appear key - he ran no race at all on quick ground behind Aucunrisque in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

Back in 2019 bottom weight Chance A Tune finished second behind Tea Clipper in a novice hurdle at Warwick and then third behind Edwardstone in a novice hurdle at Aintree; at the beginning of 2020 he held a rating of 129. 

Subsequently off the track for 476 days, the beast has clearly been difficult to train; handler Nigel Twiston-Davies is currently the sole owner.

Following a further break of 759 days off the track, Chance A Tune reappeared in September to finish third behind Liverpool Knight at Market Rasen. Two weeks later he won a Chepstow handicap hurdle eight lengths on heavy ground off 108. He runs off 116 tomorrow - James Turner can claim a further seven - and could be rather well handicapped. 

There is no doubt Thereisnodoubt will be suited by underfoot conditions. In a Weekender stable tour [RP Weekender 25-29.01.23] handler Lucinda Russell told readers her charge 'tanks up the gallops' and 'loves soft ground'. At ten years of age he has a few miles on the clock but will run his race.   

Top weight Camprond needs further these days to my mind - he finished third in the Coral Cup - but he didn't jump well the next time at Aintree while Carbon King has just his second run for Evan Williams since coming over from Declan Queally's yard in Ireland.

Two make the short list for an each-way play.

Chance A Tune appears ahead of his mark but the layers aren't taking too many chances at 10/1 whereas previous course winner Faivoir is double that price with William Hill.

A few in the field like to race up with the pace so I'm hoping Faivoir can take advantage at the business end, weave his way through - much as he did in the County Hurdle - and at least make a place.

Faivoir is the each-way suggestion, with William Hill offering 20/1 at the time of writing and paying four places. 

Friday, October 27, 2023

Brief notes from Ludlow's second October meet 2023

Having just returned from the annual pilgrimage to Ludlow, I'm not tempted to get involved at Cheltenham tomorrow.

Chase experience was at a premium at the Shropshire track yesterday with Neon Moon and La Renommee helping to ensure a tidy profit for participating pilgrims.

There was plenty of incident in the Vera Davies Mares' Novices' Hurdle (4.05). 

Alan King trained favourite Baby Sage made a bad mistake and unseated Tom Cannon at the first before conditional rider Daire Davis caused mayhem on the home turn by appearing to take the chase course on Faha Belle before attempting to correct the error and clipping heels with Van Hallers. 

In the ensuing melee Daire Davis, David Bass (Van Hallers) and Tom Bellamy (Kit's Coty) all unseated. Davis, found guilty of improper riding, has been banned for 21 days; the spoils went to 28/1 shot Victoria Milano trained by Alastair Ralph.

Henry Daly's runners are always worth a second look here. 

Four-year-old filly Wyenot ran out a comfortable winner of the first division of the Tom Calvert Memorial Novices' Hurdle. Recoup's winning time for the second division was over three and a half seconds quicker. 

Part-owned by Harry Redknapp, Recoup showed real determination to deny Choccabloc a head on the line. The Henry Daly trained Jour D'Evasion, noted giving his saddling box a damned good kicking beforehand, claimed third after Adjuvant sprawled on landing at the final flight.15/8 favourite Ittack Blue, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, jumped his hurdles far too big from the off and was soon beaten after appearing to suffer some interference on the home bend.

In the opening amateur jockeys' handicap chase Dan's Chosen held on gamely to deny Striking Out who didn't help his cause by jumping out to the left on numerous occasions. Family Pot along with Dindin did not impress in the paddock.

I'm monitoring the Philip Hobbs & Johnson White stable at the moment. In the past Hobbs would have had a few runners at Chepstow's October meeting but this year there wasn't a single one - possibly on account of the soft ground. 

Friday, October 13, 2023

Frankie, Lucinda, Caroline, Michael - and the longest impending retirement I've ever known

Many years ago, at a time when I had to work for a living, one of my workplace managers - I occupied a humble, lowly position within a vast organisational hierarchy - announced, with some degree of relish, his impending retirement, having recently celebrated his 50th birthday.

You may have encountered a similar type.

At subsequent fortnightly catch-up meetings he'd invariably reference at some point his previous 'announcement' with the result that, within the matter of a few short weeks, we'd all grown fed up to the back teeth hearing about 'the retirement'.

The individual concerned eventually took the plunge at the age of 59 and, to this day, it remains the longest impending retirement I've ever had the misfortune to bear witness to.

However it would appear Lanfranco Dettori seems intent on giving my colleague a bit of a run for his money.

Having spent this, his 'final' season, telling anyone and everyone that he's about to hang up his riding boots after Qipco Champions Day at Ascot, Frankie has suddenly changed his mind and is now off to ride full-time in the States.

"I could be there three months or three years, I don't know," he said.

Well, bless my old boots.

Over the summer months Michael Scudamore has moved his operation north of the border to join forces with Lucinda Russell (and partner Peter Scudamore) while his brother Tom has taken over the reins at the Herefordshire base he vacated which will be used as a pre-training / satellite yard. 

The Russell-trained Lebowski ran without the declared tongue-tie in the Professor Caroline Tisdall Supports Heroic Jumpers Seniors' Handicap Hurdle at Chepstow earlier this afternoon. Sent off the 2/1 favourite, the bay raced from the front but was headed three out and weakened to eventually finish fifth.

Professor Tisdall is on record saying she wants to win two races above all others - the Grand National and the Cesarewitch.

Wordsworth carries her colours in the latter race tomorrow but wasn't quite poetry in motion when winning the first division of a Bangor maiden hurdle on his first run for David Pipe 10 days ago - Act Of Authority won the second division in a faster time.

Pied Piper, rated 157 over hurdles yet 96 on the Flat, heads the betting for the Ces but I'm going to take a small each-way interest in an old friend / adversary, Zoffee

This one finished fourth off the same mark in last year's renewal and looks to have had a similar prep - at the time of writing he's 20/1 with Sky who are paying eight places.

To finish, I note that Lucinda popped up on Desert Island Discs last month and included Wandrin' Star (Lee Marvin) in her list of eight tracks. 

Hmmm... Put me in mind of the time when I thought Walk In The Park would win the 2019 Becher Chase but I backed Wandrin Star (David Bass) instead. 

I don't need to tell you what happened.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Market Rasen Summer Plate 2023

Sixteen have been declared for tomorrow's Summer Plate (3.15 Market Rasen) with Francky Du Berlais bidding to win the race for the third consecutive year. 

Peter Bowen's charge won the 2021 renewal off a mark of 137, carried top weight to victory last year off 139 and carries top weight tomorrow off a mark of 140. 

My preview of last year's race highlighted the fact that in each of the previous ten renewals the top horse on official figures was rated higher than 139. 

It's no surprise to see that Sean Bowen prefers to ride the market leader rather than in-form stablemate Courtland; the yard has won the race on eight previous occasions with Stately Home (1997); Ballycassidy (2003); Yes Sir (2006); Iron Man (2007); Snoopy Loopy (2008); More Buck's (2018); and Francky Du Berlais (2021, 2022). 

Conceding a stone, Francky Du Berlais held La Domaniale a neck on the line last year (Tardree falling at the ninth when leading); this year the Jonjo O'Neill trained mare receives just three pounds after an impressive win at Aintree two months ago (Presentandcounting fourth, beaten 29 lengths). Two mares have collected the spoils in recent times: Casablanca Mix (2019); and Really Super (2020).

Veteran And The New appeared in rude health when beating Fix It All and Francky Du Berlais in last month's trial race over course and distance (Northern Bound fifth and Tardree sixth); the winner was raised 10 pounds for that effort.

At the end of May Gloire D'Athon won the Clarke Chase at Uttoxeter with the fast-finishing Killer Clown third - beaten two lengths - and Northern Bound sixth - beaten six lengths. That looks decent form. 

Yesterday Gloire D'Athon was priced up around 8/1 while Killer Clown was a 14/1 chance; this evening both are around the 9/1 mark. Northern Bound is 33/1 in places - and I can't immediately see why.

Three out Killer Clown was squeezed for room at Uttoxeter; on his second run after wind surgery it's easy enough to see why he's popular. In the past he hasn't been one to trust implicitly but he's shouldn't be inconvenienced if the forecast rain arrives.

Hang In There - stablemate of Killer Clown - wants good ground; most of his chase form has come in small fields. He made a bad mistake in the Future Champion Novices' Chase at Ayr in April and has contested two hurdles race since.

The booking of Harry Cobden for Born Famous catches the eye. 

The six-year-old mare is unbeaten since joining Iain Jardine's yard, as is Chief Black Robe since joining Fergal O'Brien. 

Chief Black Robe won a Class 5 novice handicap chase off a mark of 88 at this track in May and is now rated 121.

Gavin Cromwell saddles two - Railway Hurricane and Broken Ice. The former's second behind Unaswered Prayers in a Cheltenham novice last November reads well.

Saint Arvans beat Presentandcounting over three miles at Perth last time but all his chase wins have come in small fields.  

The official going is currently described as good but heavy rain is forecast throughout the day; several in the field are likely to be inconvenienced if the forecast rain arrives.

Formerly with Michael Scudamore, Fix It All ran well behind And The New on stable debut (Francky Du Berlais third) and will appreciate any rain that falls.

Fix It All is the each-way suggestion, 12/1 generally, with Sky Bet paying six places.

Friday, May 05, 2023

A brief review of the 2022/23 jumps season

Champion jockey: Brian Hughes

Champion trainer: Paul Nicholls

Winning owner: J P McManus

Champion conditional jockey: Luca Morgan

In the space of just under an hour on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival Constitution Hill won the Champion Hurdle by nine lengths and then Honeysuckle brought the curtain down on a wonderful racing career by winning the Mares' Hurdle, her seventeenth straight win from nineteen starts.

Galopin Des Champs beat Bravemansgame in the Gold Cup, Energumene won the Champion Chase and Sire Du Berlais surprised a few when coming home first in the Stayers' Hurdle but this year's highlight was that hour on the very first day.

The Ultima form looks strong with winner Corach Rambler going on to beat Vanillier in the Grand National while second Fastorslow provided a 20/1 upset in the Punchestown Gold Cup beating Galopin Des Champs and Bravemansgame. 

Corach Rambler was beaten nine lengths by Le Milos in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury in November but Dan Skelton's charge didn't see out the trip in the National and eventually finished tenth.

The long dry summer took its toll on early season fixtures with Wincanton, Exeter and Ludlow among the tracks forced to abandon on account of unsuitable ground. 

February proved unseasonably dry as well. Winter watering restrictions meant Newbury's Betfair Hurdle meeting was run on going officially described as good, good to firm in places; Annual Invictus, Zanza and Betfair Hurdle winner Aucunrisque all posted new course records.

Ga Law won the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham's Open meeting and I Like To Move It the Greatwood under top weight. 

The 2022 Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard was sent off 1/2 favourite for the Betfair Chase at Haydock but Henry De Bromhead's charge ran no sort of race at all and was pulled up behind Protektorat. 

Protektorat subsequently finished fifth behind Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup, having taken up the running two out, while A Plus Tard was pulled up in the race before finishing a well beaten third behind Shishkin in the Aintree Bowl.

L'Homme Presse impressed carrying top weight to a comfortable victory in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle but unseated Charlie Deutsch at the last in the King George when looking held by Bravemansgame.

The world appeared Edwardstone's oyster after victory in the Tingle Creek but Alan King's charge unseated in the Desert Orchid Chase over Christmas, was pipped by Editeur Du Gite in the rescheduled Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham and then looked strangely lethargic behind Energumene in the Champion Chase.

A cold snap meant there was no turf racing in Britain from Monday 12th December until Tuesday 20th.

The Paul Nicholls trained Tahmuras won the Tolworth in the new year and was sent off an 11/1 chance for the Supreme on the opening day of the Festival. He trailed in tenth behind Marine Nationale, with Irish trained novices filling the first eight places. 

The dominance of Irish novices was seen again the following day in the Ballymore won by Impaire Et Passe but, come Friday, Nicholls had something to cheer when Stay Away Fay stayed on to take the Albert Bartlett. 

Iwilldoit proved well named when winning the Classic Chase at Warwick while the French trained Gold Tweet caused a bit of an upset when coming from last to first to beat Dashel Drasher and Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle.

Cooper's Cross won the Sky Bet Chase, Moroder the Grimthorpe - both run at Doncaster -and Magna Sam the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh but all three subsequently finished behind Kitty's Light. 

Christian Williams' charge appeared slow to come to hand but encouraging signs were spotted behind Annsam at Kempton in January. The diminutive seven-year-old won the Eider over four miles at Newcastle in February and eight weeks later beat Cooper's Cross in the Scottish Grand National (Magna Sam fifth). 

Connections contemplated an audacious attempt for the bet365 Gold Cup, run just one week later at Sandown's jump finale meeting. Kitty's Light jumped the last upsides Moroder and scooted up the hill to win two and a half lengths and provide a fitting end to the season.

And finally, a quick football note to finish off...

Plenty has been said about my home town club, Wrexham, following the arrival of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. Fifteen years ago I wrote a post entitled Wrexham wrelegated. It's good to be back in the Football League. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

bet365 Gold Cup 2023

Racing off a mark of 149 and with Jordan Gainford claiming thee, Hewick won last year's bet365 Gold Cup by eight lengths from Musical Slave with Kitty's Light third and Enrilo pulled up.

Since then Hewick has won a Galway Plate and was in the process of running a big race at odds of 40/1 when coming to grief two from home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup six weeks ago.

Hewick is now rated 168; it's no surprise to see connections opt for the Oaksey Chase at 2.50. 

After by-passing the Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday on account of yielding ground, they won't have been too pleased to see 12mm of rain fall at Sandown yesterday evening; today's Flat card at the Esher track was abandoned on account of false patches of ground.

The going on the chase course is currently described as good to soft, soft in places; and soft, good to soft in places, on the hurdle course. Sunny intervals and light winds are forecast.

Market leader Kitty's Light won the Scottish Grand National at Ayr just seven days ago and bids to become the first horse since Hot Weld in 2007 to pull off this double; favourites do not have a good record in the race.

Christian Williams' charge, third off 145 last year, is well handicapped racing off 140, and is as tough as my old boots. 

Connections fitted cheekpieces for last week's Scottish National and they seemed to help as the gelding travelled well through the race and jumped more fluently than has been the case in the past. The aids remain in place for tomorrow's race. 

Eighteen are set to face the starter with five set to race from out of the handicap: Musical Slave (10-01); Mucho Mas (9-11); Court Master (9-09); D'Jango (8-06); Red Happy (8-06).

Second favourite Revels Hill was beaten a length by Coolvalla in the Devon Stayers Handicap Chase at Exeter five weeks ago. There wouldn't be a lot between the pair on revised terms but at the time of writing the latter named is twice the price. 

Back in November, on his first run in a handicap chase, Coolvalla won off a mark of 90; Chris Gordon's charge has won five of his six chase starts to date and now starts off 135 - there could yet be more to come.

Stablemate Annual Invictus has been on the radar since finishing second to Faivoir in a novice chase at Uttoxeter in 2021. He has raced mainly over hurdles this season, although he finished eighth in the Kim Muir last time; the handicapper dropped his chase rating four pounds for that effort. 

Handler Harry Fry said of Revels Hill in a Straight from the Stable article [RP Weekender 14-18.12.22]:

"He...was sent off favourite for the London National at Sandown this month. Unfortunately, the race was a disaster as he was very badly hampered at the eighth, which cost him a lot of ground. All Kevin [Brogan] could do was get him back into the race gently, but the damage was done by then. Clearly his record suggests he's best in the spring and the plan is to give him his next run in February and then hopefully target a nice staying race in March or April - something like the Midlands National if it's not too testing." 

Paul Nicholls saddles three. 

Enrilo passed the post first in the 2021 renewal but was subsequently disqualified and placed third after causing interference; he has only completed twice in seven subsequent runs. The handler is quite bullish on his blog:

"I don't think I've had Enrilo as well since he won the race two years ago before losing it in the steward's room (sic) for causing interference just short of the line. I've always felt there was a big race in him off his current mark and have employed a different approach training him this time." 

Frodon goes beyond three miles two and a half furlongs for the first time. He faces a stiff task off top weight conceding a minimum of nine pounds to all his rivals; the Gold Cup trip appeared to stretch his stamina in 2021. He's not getting any younger either; no horse older than nine has won in the past ten years.

Broken Halo has won his last two over three miles at the course but those victories came in races restricted to military riders and this is obviously a much sterner test. 

The form of this year's Ultima is working out rather well. 

Winner Corach Rambler won the Aintree Grand National next time out; second Fastorslow beat the Cheltenham Gold Cup first and second, Gaillard Du Mesnil and Bravemansgame, in the Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday; and eighth Threeunderthrufive finished fourth behind Kitty's Light at Ayr last Saturday.  

However fourth, The Goffer, was pulled up in the Irish Grand National 19 days ago while sixth, Tea Clipper, wouldn't be guaranteed to see out this extended trip. 

Annsam is no mug and in my book is always better going right-handed. There's no denying Evan Williams' charge has his own way of clearing the obstacles and this track takes some jumping - I note he was pulled up behind Farinet on his only previous run here in a listed novices' handicap chase two years ago. 

Certainly Red was never competitive in a hurdle race at Ascot last month. 

His form over the larger obstacles warrants closer inspection and includes a six length defeat of Gemirande here over two and a half miles in January. That form reads well; he goes beyond three miles one for the first time but wasn't stopping when winning the Dick Hunt Trophy at Wincanton (Moroder eleventh). Although much of his form is on right-handed tracks, on occasions he has shown a tendency to jump to his left.

A year ago Moroder won over this sort of trip at Exeter and bounced back to form in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster eight weeks ago, beating Undersupervision a neck; he has been raised five for that effort. The official going that day was described as good and it looks as though he's flexible with regard to underfoot conditions. 

Mucho Mas comes into this in decent form having beat Feivel here seven weeks ago. Enthusiasm is tempered by the fact he's forced to carry seven pounds more than his long handicap weight.  

Musical Slave wouldn't be the easiest of individuals to predict. Second off 130 last year he looks feasibly treated; in February he beat Mister Malarky (another one difficult to predict) in a veterans' handicap chase at Exeter but was pulled up in the Kim Muir last time.

It's possible to make the case for a few of these. Both Revels Hill and Coolvalla held an entry in last week's Scottish National but have opted to come here. 

Only three of the past ten winners have been returned at single figure odds. 

Moroder gets the nod - he stays, underfoot conditions won't affect his chance and his profile suggests he comes to himself at this time of year.  

Moroder is the each-way suggestion, 12/1 generally, with Sky, Paddy Power and William Hill among the layers paying six places. 

Friday, April 21, 2023

Scottish Grand National 2023

23 have been declared for tomorrow's renewal with the going described as good to soft, good in places. Showers are forecast throughout the day.

With Dusart taking his chance, seven are set to race from out of the handicap: Your Own Story; Waitnsee; Magna Sam; Mighty Thunder; Flower Of Scotland; Half Shot; and Small Present.

The top weight has to concede upwards of seven pounds to all his rivals; since 2000 only two winners have carried more than 11-09: Grey Abbey (11-12 in 2004) and Vicente (11-10 in 2017).

The lowest rated winner in the past ten years was Joe Farrell in 2018 who won off a mark of 135.

The market has been dominated by Kitty's Light, Monbeg Genius and Your Own Story. 

Kitty's Light finished second behind stablemate Win My Wings off 143 in this race last year and goes off 140 tomorrow. On that evidence he looks a well-handicapped horse and the bookies have priced him accordingly.

Christian Williams' charge has been slow to come to hand this season. 

His third behind Annsam at Kempton in January hinted at a revival and the gelding went on to win the Eider at Newcastle next time; he looked cooked a mile from home but stayed on dourly to pass The Galloping Bear after the last.

Not the biggest of individuals, he's usually given a hold up ride, thereby avoiding the early scrimmaging up front. Of course, that tactic brings its own risks; as a general rule of thumb, racing prominently has paid dividends in the past. Cheekpieces haven't been fitted since he finished third in last year's bet365 Chase but they're back on tomorrow.

There has been plenty of money for Monbeg Genius throughout the week; his third behind Corach Rambler in the Ultima at Cheltenham looked strong form after the winner went on to take last Saturday's Grand National at Aintree. Jonjo O'Neill's charge is currently priced up favourite.

Lucinda Russell saddles two in a bid to win two Nationals in the space of a week: Your Own Story and Mighty Thunder. The former looks the yard's main hope - Lucinda is on record saying 'I think he has a right chance' - and he'll certainly stay but an official rating of 127 looks low compared to that of previous winners.

Mighty Thunder won off 144 in 2021 but hasn't won since and is now rated 125. There have been recent signs of a revival (fifth behind Elvis Mail at Kelso last time) but he probably holds place prospects at best.

Elvis Mail wasn't stopping in that Kelso race over three and a quarter miles; Nick Alexander's grey jumped well on that occasion but has been known to make a costly blunder or two at his fences.

Three weeks ago Malina Girl won the Ulster National at Downpatrick over three and a half miles. This probably comes quick enough for Gavin Cromwell's mare after that slog in soft ground; the last six year old to come in front was Earth Summit in 1994. The RP Weekender informs me the last Irish-trained winner of this event was Huntsman - in 1869!

Undersupervision likes Doncaster - he won the 2022 Grimthorpe and was pipped by Moroder in this year's renewal - and looks as though he'll stay but he isn't always fluent at the fences.

Rebecca Curtis trained Joe Farrell to win in 2018. She saddles Ruthless Article here but hasn't had a winner in 176 days.

On his blog Paul Nicholls points out that Flash Collonges, from the family of Grand National winner Neptune Collonges, races off a chase mark of 134 but has a hurdle rating of 145. Connections seem confident he'll stay the trip.

Nicholls' other runner, Threeunderthrufive, didn't appear to stay three miles five in the Classic Chase at Warwick in January.

Cap Du Nord is Christian Williams' second string, Cooper's Cross came to grief in the Topham at Aintree eight days ago while Manofthepeople appeared to be outstayed by Bridge North the last day.

Of those at bigger prices two are of interest.

It was some performance by Magna Sam to come out after nine months off and, on his first run for Alastair Ralph, win the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh. He beat Captain Cattistock and that one won a competitive handicap chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday. 

Magna Sam raced prominently and, once sent on, wasn't for catching. He was subsequently raised five pounds although regular pilot Alex Edwards doesn't claim three here; this has been the target since. The slight concern is that most of his form has come on right-handed tracks.

Nicky Richards doesn't strike me as someone who would oversell a horse but, reading between the lines, I think he likes Famous Bridge who runs in the famous Trevor Hemmings colours. In a stable tour piece in the Weekender [19-23.10.22] he concludes: 'It could be very interesting where we end up.'

Richards won this with Takingrisks in 2019; the handler is quoted in the Racing Post:

"We're taking a bit of a punt but he has put it together on his last two runs. I don't think he'll be off 10st 2lb next year and nothing ventured, nothing gained. He looks a million dollars and I don't think he'll be far away."

I've missed the bigger prices about Magna Sam - now generally a 16/1 shot - but, at the time of writing, Betfred offer 22/1 about Famous Bridge and pay six places. 

Famous Bridge is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Aintree Grand National 2023

Lottery won the first official running of the Grand National in 1839.

According to Tom Segal writing in the Weekender, trying to find the winner of the Grand National has become a lot more of a lottery since 2006. 

Last year 21 of the 40 runners (52.5%) were trained in Ireland; this year the figure is 27 (67.5%). Sam Brown is the only British trained runner set to carry more than 11-00.

No horse older than nine has come home in front since Pineau De in 2014; last year Noble Yeats was the first seven year old to win since Bogskar in 1940.

The hurdle, Mildmay and National courses were all watered after racing on Thursday evening. Following significant rain today, the going on all courses was changed to soft after the Poundland Top Novices' Hurdle at 2.55.

At the time of writing Rachael Blackmore's mount Ain't That A Shame is clear favourite at 8/1 with Delta Work 9/1 and Corach Rambler drifting out to 10/1 in places.

The last horse to carry more than 11-09 to victory was Red Rum in 1974. 

The top three in the handicap for tomorrow's renewal - Any Second Now (second behind Noble Yeats last year and third behind Minella Times in 2021), last year's winner Noble Yeats and Galvin all look to face a stiff task at the weights.

In behind Noble Yeats and Any Second Now last year were Delta Work (third), Longhouse Poet (sixth), Coko Beach (eighth), Escaria Ten (ninth) with Fortescue unseating four from home.  

Included among those with an enhanced chance now the rain has arrived are Sam Brown, Carefully Selected, Coko Beach, The Big Dog, The Big Breakaway, Roi Mage (just over a length behind Longhouse Poet last time out), Dunboyne, Fortescue and Hill Sixteen.

For those who like to make their own selections, the BBC's pinstickers' guide may be of some use.

For everyone else, here's my idea of the first four past the post together with the best value longshot.

1. Le Milos

Beat Corach Rambler in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury on ground considered quicker than ideal. The Skelton yard nominated this race as the next target and indicated their charge wasn't fully wound up when collared on the run-in by Empire Steel at Kelso last month.

2. Corach Rambler

Won the Ultima at Cheltenham 32 days ago and is now ten pounds 'well in' off a mark of 146. Tends to race in rear and make his ground towards the business end of a race which comes with risks. Regular jock Derek Fox has been passed fit and rode One For Arthur from well off the pace to come home in front in 2017.

3. Noble Yeats

Races off a mark 19 pounds higher than last year but made impressive late headway to pip Protektorat for fourth place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month.

4. Coko Beach

The Gordon Elliot trained grey ran well for a long way in last year's race and comes here in better form this time around. Jumps well generally and likes to race up with the pace; the booking of Harry Cobden looks a bonus.


The best value longshot to my mind is Hill Sixteen, at the time of writing 100/1 with William Hill and bet365 who both pay six places. Sandy Thomson's charge was beaten a nose by Snow Leopardess over these fences in the 2021 Becher Chase. 

He came home seventh behind Ashtown Lad in the 2022 Becher and subsequently underwent wind surgery. Although he was the first one beaten at Kelso three weeks ago, he goes off a featherweight 10-02 tomorrow. This has been the plan; the rain will help his cause and I'd like to think first-time cheekpieces will do likewise.


As always, remember to check each-way terms when placing your bets. 

Sky Bet and Betway are paying seven places. I noted William Hill and Betfred paying six places online but only five places in High St. shops.

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

Friday, April 07, 2023

The 2023 Challenger Staying Chase Series Final at Haydock

A couple of weeks ago I walked into the Warwick branch of W. H. Smith and bumped into David Watts and Johnny Winall promoting their book 'Mug Bookies'. 

With over 30 years' experience as independent bookmakers, the authors quickly identified me as a likely mark and highlighted a piece in their blurb that said the book is 'a must read for anyone who likes a bet'. 

Naturally, I had to buy a copy. 

And ask them to sign the title page - just in case, you understand. 

It's an eclectic mix of tales and characters from the betting ring and the betting shop floor, interspersed with details of numerous business ventures, many of which didn't result in particularly propitious outcomes.

The authors were (mustard) keen to point out they are now the owners of five-year-old bay mare Mug Bookies who is currently in training with Johnny Winall's nephew Joe Ponting; unfortunately, when we spoke, she was out of action with an injury.

I digress.

For this week's wager I'm off to Haydock and the Challenger Staying Chase Series Final Handicap Chase (2.40); fifteen have been declared with the going currently described as good to soft.

At the time of writing Jeffery's Cross and Mucho Mas share favouritism. 

The former has yet to win over fences and was beaten 19 lengths by Coolvalla last time; I'm not convinced Dan Skelton's charge sees out this trip. 

Mucho Mas on the other hand looks a nice staying prospect and beat Feivel at Sandown last month (Morning Spirit third). 

Ben Pauling's charge shares top weight with Frenchy Du Large but off a mark of 129 could easily be up to the task.  Feivel has only completed three of six chase starts this season; connections try cheekpieces tomorrow.

It's no surprise to see money for Enqarde who beat Remastered ten lengths over course and distance in the 2021 renewal of the Tommy Whittle. He starts off a mark three pounds lower tomorrow; the value in the price has long since disappeared.

Planned Paradise was a good second behind Quick Wave in the London National in December. His profile suggests he may prefer to race right-handed and stable form is a concern.

Quick Wave won the Grand National Trial here in February with Small Present sixth and Tim Pat pulled up. Both ran from out of the handicap that day but both were backed, sent off 7/1 chances. 

Small Present has yet to win over fences but Tim Pat has two chase wins to his name, including the Tim Moloney Handicap Chase here back in March last year.

Neon Moon should appreciate drying ground and ruined his chance with a mistake two out at Newbury last month. His profile suggests this trip may stretch his stamina, a comment that also applies to One True King.

To date Sam Barton has been a disappointment over fences (rated:125c / 132h) while Tide Times looked to have a hard enough race behind Latitude at Ludlow last time. 

The veteran in the field, I See You Well, has been in respectable form but may find it all happening a tad too quick.

Mucho Mas looks consistent compared to a number in the field that come with question marks attached. 

I'm going to take a chance with the Donald McCain trained Tim Pat on the back of these comments made in a Straight from the Stable article [RP Weekender 08-12.02.23]:

"He almost made it third time lucky this season when beaten in a head-bobber at Doncaster last time. In another stride he would have been ahead, but it was very encouraging after a couple of poor runs. He is the sort of horse who could turn up in a nice handicap this spring and raise a few eyebrows now that he is clearly coming to form."

His subsequent effort in the Grand National Trial in first-time cheekpieces - pulled up before four out - was disappointing; in general terms, his profile is inconsistent. The vet reported he'd lost his right fore shoe prior to that last run; the cheekpieces remain in place tomorrow. 

Tim Pat is the each way suggestion, 14/1 with bet365 and William Hill who are paying five places.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Kelso capers

A slight digression before the main agenda item but I noted the following during the week after Cheltenham...

It was reported a team of researchers led by Dr Helen Keyes at Anglia Ruskin University found that "live sporting event attendance was associated with increased life satisfaction, a greater sense of life being worthwhile and reduced loneliness". 

Nobody from Dr Keyes' team has ever spoken to me - or, as far as I'm aware, to any of the people that I used to go racing with. 

Paddy Power, Betfair and Skybet between them handled £250 million in bets over the four days of the Festival, according to The Sun.

In his business market summary on Tuesday, Dominic Walsh of The Times reported: '...but when the hot favourite Galopin Des Champs romped home first in the Gold Cup, the jockey Willie Mullins and the trainer Paul Townend became the toast of Cheltenham.' 

A top trainer Paul Townend, but I still haven't been able to establish how much overweight Willie Mullins put up on the winner.

Ten are set to face the starter tomorrow for the Make Your Best Bet At BetVictor Handicap Chase (3.35  Kelso); the going at the Scottish track is described as good to soft.

I fully expected to see Flower of Scotland, winner of the Scottish Borders National here in December, in this field but connections have opted to take advantage of a five pound lower hurdle rating and instead run in the Schloss Roxburghe Hotel Handicap Hurdle at 2.25.    

Current market leader Forward Plan, second in a Class 4 handicap chase at Fontwell on debut over fences, has won two more Class 4 handicap chases - both at Southwell - and takes a significant rise in class here. 

Anthony Honeyball's charge, a progressive, strong travelling type, has been raised ten pounds to a mark of 125 for that last win; in a Straight from the Stable article [RP Weekender 23-27.11.23] the handler said:

"He is not a big scopey type, but his schooling has been good and I expect him to do well as a chaser."

His opponents boast far more experience over the larger obstacles.

At the time of writing the market appears to divide the field into two with the winner likely to come from the top five in the betting: Forward Plan; Hill Sixteen; Doyen Breed; Half Shot; and Irish raider Clonguile Way.

Of the two Sandy Thomson trained runners Doyen Breed, with Ryan Mania up, appears to have been trained specifically with this race in mind.  

Hill Sixteen hasn't been seen since finishing seventh in the Becher at the beginning of December and then underwent wind surgery in January. 

He currently holds an entry in next month's Grand National for which he is quoted a 66/1 chance. This is the prep run but he wouldn't be certain to make the cut for the Aintree showpiece.

Most of Half Shot's form is at trips under three miles while Conguile Way, second behind Flower Of Scotland in the Borders National off 114, doesn't look particularly well handicapped off 125; occasionally he has jumped out to his right.

Elvis Mail is another who has done most of his racing at around two to two and a half miles. 

Back in January the grey stayed on to claim a respectable third behind Cooper's Cross and Cap Du Nord in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster run over three miles; he comes here having unseated Bruce Lynn at the first in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham ten days ago.

Bavington Bob ran well at this track behind Just Don't Know a couple of months ago but the remainder of his form this term hasn't been up to scratch. On his last two runs at Newcastle blinkers were deployed; cheekpieces are tried for the first time tomorrow.

Cilaos Emery is having his second run for new connections having moved from Willie Mullins' yard last month.

Lucinda Russell saddles two of the outsiders.

Like many, I thought Mighty Thunder ran well for a long way behind Kitty's Light in the Eider - the best form he has shown for quite some time. His last victory came in the Scottish National at Ayr in April 2021 off a mark of 144. 

He goes off 127 tomorrow and Patrick Wadge can claim a further five so, if back to form, the gelding is certainly well handicapped. He was to be my each-way suggestion - until I read Lucinda Russell's quote in the Racing Post:

"I wouldn't want any more rain for Mighty Thunder, who showed a return to form in the Eider. This wouldn't be his ideal track but I hope he'll run well enough to go back to Ayr for the Scottish National. Big River is having a resurgence and is in great form at home so I hope he'll run a good race." 

Big River may be thirteen years of age but the old boy loves it at Kelso - by my calculation he has won at the track eight times. Horses for courses, as they say, and Derek Fox rides.

Big River is the each-way suggestion, 20/1 at the time of writing with Sky paying four places.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - the betting debrief

This year the blog's eight highlighted selections over the four days of the Festival recorded a small loss to level stakes (1 point win, 0.5 points each way, with each way returns calculated to one fifth the odds).

Outlay over four days: 8 points

Return over four days: 7.8 points

Profit / Loss: -0.2 points

Profit / Loss as percentage of outlay: -2.5%

Each way wager Stage Star won the Turners (15/2 SP used to calculate return after both Banbridge and Christopher Wood withdrawn on account of unsuitable ground) while Protektorat landed place money in the Gold Cup at odds of 18/1.

Those wagers that went awry: Il Etait Temps (Supreme) and The Big Breakaway (Ultima) on Tuesday; Galia Des Liteaux (Brown Advisory) and Elixir De Nutz (Grand Annual) on Wednesday; and Moka De Vassy (Pertemps Final) and Teahupoo (Stayers' Hurdle) on Thursday.

The way in which Constitution Hill demolished the Champion Hurdle field followed by Honeysuckle winning her final race 45 minutes later lit up the opening day and will live long in the memory.

It wasn't plain sailing for Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup but, in the end, he won with the sort of authority his price suggested he would; full credit too to Bravemansgame who came up the hill far better than I had anticipated. We look forward to future clashes with relish. 

Irish domination of the meeting continues but there were still shocks aplenty: 22/1 chance Maskada six and a half lengths ahead of her nearest rival in the Grand Annual; Sire Du Beralis at 33/1 in the Stayers' Hurdle; Faivoir at 33/1 in the County Hurdle; and Premier Magic at 66/1 in the Hunters' Chase. 

The biggest shock of all though was the meekness and timidity - did I detect a certain deference? - shown by the stentorian Matt Chapman when interviewing Zara Tindall in the paddock before the Gold Cup on Friday. We have never seen the like.

I'm sure we'll be back to do it all again next year. 

And, you know, Mrs Tips picked four winners on the first day. If only I had listened... 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - Friday

A couple of random thoughts before a look at the Gold Cup.

The start to the Stayers' Hurdle looked pretty dubious earlier this afternoon.

Aucunrisque and Filey Bay were well clear of their rivals in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury; they meet again in the County.

Dan Skelton has won three County Hurdles in the past eight years - with the five-year-old Superb Story (138) in 2016; Mohaayed (139) in 2018; and Ch'tibello (146) in 2019. 

Pembroke (136) is the stable's main chance this year - an 8/1 shot; his conqueror over an extended trip at Cheltenham last time, Rock My Way, is an unconsidered 33/1 chance in an Albert Bartlett market dominated by Irish trained novices.

Only three of the 15 novices in tomorrow's Triumph are trained in Britain; Willie Mullins saddles seven.

In the concluding Martin Pipe, the J.P. McManus owned Iroko looked good beating Rafferty's Return 14 lengths at Wetherby last time.

3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup

This looks a good renewal.

The 2/1 available about Galopin Des Champs earlier today is the biggest price I've seen for some time; at the moment he's generally a 6/4 shot. 

The gelding has won five of his six chase starts to date, his only defeat coming when falling at the final fence in last year's Turners when 12 lengths clear of Bob Olinger. 

Six weeks ago, on his first try over three miles, he beat Stattler eight lengths in the Irish Gold Cup; that day he ran on strongly at the finish, giving connections plenty of confidence he'll stay the three miles two and a half furlongs required here.

Henry De Bromhead's runners have started to find their form just at the right time. Honeysuckle won the Mares' Hurdle on Tuesday, Maskada the Grand Annual on Wednesday and Envoi Allen the Ryanair earlier today. 

A Plus Tard won last year's Gold Cup by an astonishing 15 lengths from stablemate Minella Indo. On his only run this season the gelding was pulled up behind Protektorat in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. It has been a long way from the ideal preparation; he was 7/1 earlier today but, with the newly improved form of the yard, he's now generally a 4/1 chance.

Prior to the King George, connections of Bravemansgame considered their horse tailor-made for the Kempton showpiece and had dismissed talk of a Gold Cup. That all changed when Bravemansgame won at Kempton by 14 lengths from Royal Pagaille (L'Homme Presse unseating at the last when looking held). Personally I think he'll struggle to come up the hill but better judges than me - Ruby Walsh for one - think this year's Gold Cup concerns the top three in the betting.

Following his Grand National win last April at odds of 50/1, Noble Yeats wasn't realistically considered a Gold Cup contender but that all changed when he showed an impressive turn of foot to win the Many Clouds at Aintree in December (Dashel Drasher second, Ahoy Senor third and Sounds Russian fourth). He still has something to find on ratings but the recent rain helps. Connections intend to go on to Aintree and the National; the only horse to win the Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same year (1934) is Golden Miller. 

Stattler won the National Hunt Novices' Chase at the Festival last year run over three miles six. Held by Galopin Des Champs on Irish Gold Cup form, he has just five chase starts to his name and is the most inexperienced runner in the field over the larger obstacles.

Conflated won the 2022 Irish Gold Cup and beat Kemboy in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown on soft ground over Christmas. This will be his first try beyond three miles and half a furlong.

Minella Indo beat A Plus Tard in the 2021 Gold Cup and finished second to his stablemate last year. At ten years of age, he's the oldest runner in the field but the only one outside the top three whose price isn't on the drift this evening. 

Ahoy Senor beat Sounds Russian, Noble Yeats and Protektorat in the Cotswold Chase at the end of January. The market takes a dim view of that form. 

Ahoy Senor is a wildcard, possessing an engine but the jumping isn't always assured. Admittedly Sounds Russian was receiving weight but he may well have won the Cotswold Chase but for a mistake four from home while Betfair Chase winner Protektorat, sent off 5/4 favourite, was very disappointing. After the race handler Dan Skelton blamed himself for having left his charge 'undercooked'. 

Third in last year's Gold Cup, Protektorat is rated higher than all bar the top three in the betting and is suited by soft ground. His handler thinks he will be competitive.

Royal Pagaille will appreciate the cut underfoot but picked up an injury in the King George - it has been a rush to get him ready.

Hewick would be of interest on decent ground while Eldorado Allen has been beaten by Bravemansgame (twice) and Protektorat this season.

The favourite looks the one to beat but I think Protektorat decent each way value at 18/1 with Sky paying five places.

Selection: Protektorat each way at 18/1, with Sky paying five places.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - Thursday

I wouldn't be in a rush to take a short price about Shishkin over the extended two and a half mile trip of the Ryanair (2.50) on soft ground.

A couple of suggestions for Thursday's card.

1.30 Turners Novices' Chase

Mighty Potter is the form choice and priced accordingly; he can make the odd jumping error.

Appreciate It has made all in two of his three chase starts to date; beaten ten lengths by Tuesday's Arkle winner El Fabiolo last time out. 

Step up in trip should suit the 2021 Supreme winner; he won a flat race at Leopardstown over two and a half miles in December 2019.

Balco Coastal finished second to Gerri Colombe in the Scilly Isles at Sandown last time

The ground appears to have gone against Balco Coastal [error - should read Banbridge] so I'll take an each-way interest in Stage Star who beat Datsalrightgino over course and distance at the end of January.

Selection: Stage Star each way, 11/1 generally at the time of writing.

2.10 Pertemps Network Final

Two significant non runners - ante post favourite Shoot First, scratched after suffering a setback, and Steal A March, owned by the King and Queen Consort; trainer Nicky Henderson indicated the gelding wasn't turning up merely to make up the numbers.

Thanksforthehelp, owned by J.P. McManus, has replaced Shoot First at the head of the market,  having strolled home in a qualifier at Chepstow 19 days ago. An 11 pound rise in the handicap could yet prove lenient.

Gordon Elliott saddles four. 

Salvador Ziggy runs of off 145. He finished fourth off this mark in a qualifier run over the Old Course at Cheltenham in October. Shoot First beat Botox Has that day with An Taillur third; he lost two places in the shadow of the post and has shown his best form on good ground.

Maxxum has to race off a mark seven pounds higher than his Irish rating, The Bosses Oscar three pounds higher. 

The latter was rated 151 when sent off favourite for the 2021 Final, with Jordan Gaillford claiming seven; he finished second to Mrs Milner in that race with several runners failing to land a blow. 

Taking into account jockey allowances, The Bosses Oscar contests tomorrow's renewal four pounds better off.

Off a mark of 128 and racing from two pounds out of the handicap Level Neverending finished third behind Glimpse Of Gala in a Warwick qualifier in January. 

An Taillur has not been seen since his third behind Shoot First last October and this appears to have been the target.

Hector Javilex is a course and distance winner.  Itchy Feet and The Changing Man finished ahead of him when fourth in a Huntingdon qualifier seven weeks ago.

Itchy Feet looked to have a hard enough race next time when collared by Wakool in the Rendlesham at Haydock. The Changing Man finished second to Johnson's Blue in a qualifier on the same Haydock card.

Walking On Air has been well touted. 

He won an Exeter qualifier in February - most of his form is on good ground - and has gone up five pounds. Third that day, Moka De Vassy, remains on his mark tomorrow. 

In this week's RP Weekender [15-19.02.23] handler Jane Williams writes:

"He's had three runs this season, each one better than the last. On his most recent outing at Exeter, he did just what we required when finishing third as it qualified him for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham. It took a while for him to get the hang of things but the penny is definitely dropping now...

"Two runs ago we took him to Cheltenham and, although he was only fifth, the manner in which he finished really pleased me as he roared up the hill.

"We'll be hopeful of a big run this week and I'll be very disappointed if he's not in the first four."

Selection: Moka De Vassy each way, 25/1 with Paddy Power, Betfair and bet365 paying six places.

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

A very competitive renewal. 

Both Blazing Khal and Flooring Porter have suffered interrupted preparations so it's no surprise to see Teahupoo marked up favourite this evening.

Last year Flooring Porter made all to win for the second consecutive year. That day Paisley Park finished third, Klassical Dream fifth - lost three places in the final 110 yards - and Home By The Lee sixth.

In the past Klassical Dream has shown the odd quirk or two and wouldn't be the most straightforward of rides.

Over Christmas Home By The Lee beat Ashdale Bob at Leopardstown, Flooring Porter fourth, Sire Du Berlais pulled up. He has shown improved form this season.

French raider Gold Tweet recorded a shock victory in the Cleeve over course and distance seven weeks ago, Dashel Drasher second and Paisley Park third. 

Dashel Drasher habitually goes from the front - I wonder how that will affect Flooring Porter.

To date the second French trained runner, Henri Le Farceur, hasn't shown he stays this trip.

Two elven year olds make up the field - Paisley Park and Sire Du Berlais.

The former won this race in 2019 and finished third in 2021 and 2022. He has been in good form this season and has place claims. 

Sire Du Berlais won the Pertemps Final over course and distance in 2019 and 2020 and finished a three length second behind Flooring Porter in this race in 2021. He has finished behind Home By The Lee (twice), Teahupoo and Blazing Khal this term.

Flooring Porter has done me a favour in this race over the past couple of years but with rain around Teahupoo is my idea of the winner.

Selection: Teahupoo win, 11/4 generally at the time of writing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - Wednesday

This afternoon Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle delivered performances that will live long in the memory.

Marine Nationale, trained by Barry Connell and ridden by Michael O'Sullivan, won the Supreme with something to spare - the first British trained runner to cross the line was Strong Leader in ninth. 

O'Sullivan went on to win the Boodles by a neck on the Gordon Elliott trained Jazzy Matty. 

He pairs up with Connell again tomorrow to ride Good Land in the Ballymore at 1.30, currently second favourite behind Impaire Et Passe. Challow winner Hermes Allen is the only British trained runner priced under 80/1.

In today's Times Rob Wright highlights the fact that, over the past 30 years, field sizes in handicaps at this meeting have remained 'broadly stable' whereas field sizes in grade one races are nearly 40% down. 

Outside handicaps, as the number of races has increased, field sizes have decreased, accompanied by an increase in the number of winning favourites and odds on runners; over the previous two years 15 favourites have won grade one races.

All of which often makes it feel more difficult to put up a selection that makes much appeal in the top grade races... 

Anyway, here's a couple of suggestions for tomorrow's card.

2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Unbeaten in seven starts, Gerri Colombe is the short-priced favourite. 

I'd have to say he didn't look the quickest at his fences and took a bit of organising when winning the Scilly Isles at Sandown last time.

In marked contrast The Real Whacker jumped well when making all to win the Dipper over course and distance on New Year's Day. I'd imagine connections will adopt similar tactics tomorrow.

Sir Gerhard won the Ballymore last year but this is just his second chase start.

Galia Des Liteaux jumped well on her chase debut at Bangor but the wheels came off big time in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day. 

She made a bad mistake at the second, possibly caused by the low sun, and lost confidence thereafter - Thyme Hill, wearing first time cheekpieces, came home 15 lengths ahead of McFabulous.

Normal service was resumed next time in the Hampton Novices' Chase at Warwick when Galia jumped well, if slightly right on occasions, to beat Complete Unknown 13 lengths with The Goffer - a good fourth in the Ultima earlier today - 31 lengths behind in third.

Trainer Dan Skelton had a good word for his charge at the Sandown races on Saturday, pointing out the mares' allowance will help the cause; she's best on soft / heavy. 

The last nine-year-old to come home in front was Miinnehoma (owned by Freddie Starr as I recall) so Galia Des Liteaux is preferred over Thyme Hill as the each-way play.

Selection: Galia Des Liteaux each way, 8/1 with Sky Bet paying four places.

4.50 Grand Annual Challenge Cup

I'd imagine connections of Saint Segal, Red Rookie and Rouge Vif amongst others will all be desperately disappointed to have missed the cut; the last-named had been specifically aimed at this and backed in from 40s to 12/1.

The market is headed by a number of Irish trained runners. 

J.P. McManus owns Dinoblue, a mare with just three chase starts to her name, and top weight Andy Dufresne who was second in this last year off this same mark, beaten three lengths by Global Citizen (now three pounds higher). 

Final Orders is only the second Irish handicap runner I've stumbled across - so far - able to run off his Irish rating (Punitive is the other, declared for the Kim Muir 5.30 Thursday).

Third Time Lucki is very talented and back to form but on occasions he has the look of a horse that needs a bit of kidding; most of his recent runs have been on right-handed tracks.

Elixir De Nutz finished second behind Funambule Sivola in the Game Spirit last time - that form reads well with the winner as well as the third, Greaneteen, both going in the Champion Chase tomorrow. The Game Spirit was run on good ground but in his younger days Elixir won the Tolworth on soft.

I'm a Malystic fan. 

He finished fourth in the Game Spirit after winning a Class 2 Handicap Chase at Doncaster in course record time - Peter Niven's charge has had a good season. Pulled up on his only run at this track, he scoped dirty after the race; he meets some better handicapped rivals here.

Course and distance winner Before Midnight was fourth behind Malystic at Doncaster, losing two places on the run-in and eventually beaten six lengths. Sam Thomas' charge is now four pounds lower than his rating in the autumn. Cheekpieces are tried; stable form is a concern.

Finally a quick word for Sizing Potsie who competed off 155 in the Topham last year. 

He goes off 140 tomorrow, his lowest mark since arriving at the Pipe yard, and sports first-time cheekpieces. I can't help wondering if this is a plot... He has been backed this evening and is currently priced at 18/1.

Selection: Elixir De Nutz each way, 12/1 with bet365, Sky and Paddy Power paying six places.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - Tuesday

Last year Constitution Hill won the Supreme in a time of 3m 44.35s - breaking the track record, I think - and Honeysuckle the Champion Hurdle in 3m 50.13s on going that was described as good to soft. 

On Tuesday Constitution Hill faces just six rivals and will be no betting proposition in this year's Champion Hurdle (3.30) while Honeysuckle, currently sharing favouritism with Marie's Rock, will have her final race in the Mares' Hurdle (4.10).

At the time of writing the going at Prestbury Park is described as soft, good to soft in places, with rain and strong winds forecast on Monday and showers on Tuesday.

A couple of suggestions for the first day...

1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Favourite Facile Vega was unbeaten in six before trailing in fifth behind stablemate Il Etait Temps in the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival just over five weeks ago (Inthepocket second, Dark Raven third, High Definition unseated rider). 

He went off too fast that day, as Willie Mullins acknowledges in the most recent edition of the RP Weekender [08-12.03.23], which, incidentally, now costs £5.20 a copy...

"It was an odd race as they went off fast and I remember thinking he wouldn't keep up that pace unless he was an aeroplane, and sure enough he paid for it turning for home."

The trainer goes on to say:

"It was disappointing, but Paul gets things 99% right and these things happen. He'll adjust things for the Supreme. When you go to big races like that you learn a lot about your horse and he'll have it all sorted out. He had a very hard race last time but had a few easy days after that and I'm happy with him now."

Previously Facile Vega had beaten Il Etait Temps four lengths at Leopardstown over Christmas and connections clearly feel he's their best chance but it's difficult to be confident after the last day; at the price on offer he makes no appeal.

Marine Nationale is unbeaten in four, beating Irish Point a head at Fairyhouse at the beginning of December; on a line through Irish Point, Il Etait Temps has his measure.

High Definition's hurdling looks a work in progress and a similar comment also applies to Il Etait Temps as Mullins explains (Ibid):

"He made a mistake at the first...but Danny (Mullins) said that when he turned down the back he flew his hurdles and got it all together.

"He's very keen but when he settles I think his jumping will come together. I know we have Facile Vega in the Supreme but this fellow will be a live one as well."

Tahmuras heads the British challenge having won what looked a below average renewal of the Tolworth in January but the third that day, Nemean Lion, beat the fourth, Colonel Harry, in the Premier Novices' Hurdle at Kelso just over a week ago. Soft ground will help his cause.

Olly Murphy had a word for Chasing Fire at the Sandown races yesterday - he's considered one of the best novices in the yard and rates an each way play but stablemate Strong Leader wouldn't want the ground too soft.

Rare Edition beat Rubaud (won Dovecote Hurdle since) seven lengths on soft ground at Kempton on Boxing Day. He was subsequently beaten by Marble Sands over two miles three and a half furlongs in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon but merits respect. Trainer Charlie Longsdon describes his current mark of 138 as 'very fair'.

The Irish hold a strong hand. 

Labaik (2017) is the only winner to be returned at double figure odds in the past decade.

With some layers paying four places Il Etait Temps looks an each way bet to nothing at odds of 6/1.

Selection: Il Etait Temps each way, 6/1 with bet365, Coral and Betfred paying four places.

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase 

Current market leader Corach Rambler won last year's renewal with Oscar Elite third, Tea Clipper fourth and Fantastikas seventh. 

This year Corach Rambler carries six pounds more, Tea Clipper two pounds, Oscar Elite one pound while Fantastikas is an eye-catching twelve pounds better off. 

To my mind Tea Clipper doesn't quite see out this trip while the Tizzard stable jockey Brendan Powell prefers The Big Breakaway to Oscar Elite.

Fantastikas looks to have had this as a target after being pulled up in the Welsh National. His jumping isn't always the most assured and I see connections have opted for first-time cheekpieces. He has been backed at 33s - I just wondered whether he saw the trip out last year.

Into Overdrive has been in sterling form this term finishing second behind L'Homme Presse in the Rehearsal at Newcastle and then beating Sounds Russian (holds Gold Cup entry) in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby last time out. He's now on a mark 15 pounds higher than at the end of October.

Course and distance winner Threeunderthrufive finished sixth behind L'Homme Presse in the Brown Advisory at the Festival last year. He didn't quite stay the extended trip in the Classic Chase at Warwick two months ago.

Stable form is the concern with Happygolucky while Monbeg Genius is on the radar and remains unexposed but enthusiasm is tempered somewhat by the fact this represents his first chase start with more than seven runners.

Nassalam's third behind Midnight River on New Year's Day over the extended two miles four of the New Course suggests he'll appreciate this set up in trip.

The Goffer looks feasibly treated two pounds above his Irish mark while the Martin Brassil trained Fastorslow was beaten a short head in the Coral Cup last year off 141. He also holds an entry for the Magners Plate (Thursday); this will be first try beyond two miles five furlongs.

The last Irish trained horse to come home in front was Dun Doire (Ruby Walsh up) in 2006.

Over the past ten years one favourite has obliged (Coo Star Sivola in 2018) and one top weight (Un Temps Pour Tout in 2017). Golden Chieftain won off a mark of 132 in 2013 and Un Temps Pour Tout off 155 but in the remaining eight years the winner's mark has fallen in the range between 139 and 151.

Ultimately an ultra-competitive Ulltima. 

Selection: The Big Breakaway each way, 14/1 with Sky Bet who pay eight places. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - some handicap hypotheses...

Following the infamous drubbing of 2021 when Irish trained horses won 23 of the 28 races at the Festival - after the event Alan King talked of 'taking Ferraris on with Fords' - the BHA undertook a review and applied certain 'tweaks' to the way in which British horses were handicapped.

With those BHA adjustments in situ, last year British trained horses won five of the nine handicap races at the Festival, Irish horses four.

In the preceding three years the number of Irish trained runners to record a top three finish in a Festival handicap were: 2019: 13 from 68 entries (19.12%); 2020: 17 from 73 entries (23.29%); 2021: 13 from 65 entries (20%).

10 Irish trained horses from 100 runners (10%) recorded a top three finish in one of the handicaps last year.

Dominic Gardiner-Hill, head of handicapping at the BHA, expressed satisfaction with the outcome. 

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

Irish pundit Kevin Blake pulled no punches, describing the changes as 'a substantial and calculated intervention by the British handicapping team to try and tilt the tables in favour of the home team.'

Twelve months on you can read Kevin Blake's reaction to this year's weights here

In summary:

Irish chasers appear to have been treated leniently;

Irish trained juvenile hurdlers that have already competed in a handicap have been treated quite harshly;

Irish non juvenile handicap hurdlers have been treated more leniently than expected.

Layers have priced Irish trained runners odds on to turn the tables and win more handicaps than British runners this year.

One of the main adjustments made by the BHA as a result of the review was to drop a horse's mark more quickly during the season. 

As an example, the winner of the 2022 Pertemps Final, Third Wind, won off a mark of 141, having started the season in the Long Walk Hurdle on 149. 

Second Alaphilippe, beaten a neck, raced off 138 having finished fifth behind Vanillier in the 2021 Albert Bartlett when rated 143. 

British runners filled five of the first six places - the Emmet Mullins trained Winter Fog claimed fourth spot off 138.

The current benchmark differential between Irish and British handicap ratings is generally accepted as five pounds over hurdles, three pounds in chases. 

Potentially well handicapped Irish runners at this year's Festival include:

Punitive 137c (Ultima / Kim Muir) - goes off current Irish mark; Grand Roi 144h (Coral Cup, County, Martin Pipe) +1; Pied Piper 154h (Champion Hurdle, County) +1; Adamantly Chosen 153c (Ultima, Brown Advisory, Turners, Magners Plate) +1; Escaria Ten 151c (Magners Plate) +1; Haut En Couleurs 157c (Magners Plate) +1; The Goffer 149c (Ultima) +2; Tax For Max 137h (Coral Cup, County, Martin Pipe) +2; Scaramanga 147h (Coral Cup, County) +2 - yet to race over hurdles for W. Mullins; and Winter Fog 152h (Coral Cup, County) +3.

By way of contrast, Kevin Blake highlights the fate of those juvenile hurdlers that finished to the fore of the Naas Racecourse Business Club Handicap Hurdle a couple of weeks back: Thetys +9; Port Audemer +10; By Your Side +10; Libby +6.  

Last year Irish runners comprised roughly two thirds of the field in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and, looking at the six day declarations, a similar ratio looks quite possible this year.

In 2017 the Boodles was known as the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle; at the time I wrote:

"Often a lottery, in the past decade no winner has had an official rating higher than 133."

That year Flying Tiger, a 33/1 chance, won off 134 - and three of the five subsequent winners have been rated above the benchmark I quoted: 2019: Band Of Outlaws (139); 2020 Aramax (138); and 2022 Brazil (137).  

Perseus Way, a good second to Nusret in the Adonis at Kempton, is the only British trained runner rated above 130 for this year's renewal.

Prior to 2017 Paul Nicholls sent out two winners, Qualando (rated 131) in 2015 and Diego Du Charmil (rated 133) in 2016, as well placed horses Caid Du Berlais and Pit Zig (second and third in 2013); Katgary and Keltus (second and fourth in 2014); and Bouvreuil (second in 2015). 

Last year his Bell Ex One was third and I thought his entry this year, Afadil, worth a second look. 

I can't quite remember the last time somebody asked me to mark their card but, having received such an ill-judged request - the fixture in question was the Grand National Trial meeting at Haydock last month - I quickly pounced on the opportunity and suggested Afadil for the opening Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle to the unsuspecting racegoer, adding a degree of value with the informative snippet that Victor Ludorum translates as 'Winner of the Games'. 

Naturally, money came in spades for the Gary Moore trained Bo Zenith and that beast duly obliged; Afadil, sent off 3/1 second favourite, trailed in sixth, beaten 49 lengths. 

Surprisingly the novice racegoer didn't show an awful lot of interest but I noted the following comment in the post-race analysis: 'The trainer's rep could offer no explanation for the poor form shown other than race may have come too soon for gelding.' 

I certainly think Afadil, a 255,000 euros purchase, ahead of his mark (123); I think I'm correct when I say no horse rated lower than 125 has come home in front.           

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to bring to your attention a couple of apparently well handicapped British runners:

Fantastikas 132c (Ultima) - rated 142c in November; War Lord 144c (Magners Plate) - rated 149c in November; De Rasher Counter 140c (Kim Muir) - rated 149c in October; Milkwood 141h (County, Martin Pipe) - rated 148h in October; and Rouge Vif 137c (Grand Annual) - rated 153c when fourth behind Greaneteen in the Celebration Chase at Sandown last April. 

Curiously, Nicola McGeady has named Rouge Vif as Ladbrokes' biggest single liability over the four days, referencing an update from trainer Harry Whittington

I confess I'm a Rouge Vif fan and his sixth at Doncaster last time hinted at a return to some sort of form; Malystic, Saint Segal, Before Midnight and Mackenberg were all less than seven lengths to the good and the handicapper has dropped him three pounds for that run. 

Unfortunately I missed the fancy prices and he's now generally a 12/1 chance. All that said, he needs decent ground to be seen at his best and Turftrax now reports the current going on the Old Course as soft.

Soft ground mudlarks, so disdainfully discarded earlier in the week, now merit much closer inspection following recent precipitation, including Protektorat, Sounds Russian (Gold Cup); Teahupoo (Stayers); Love Envoi (Mares); and Tahmuras (Supreme).

Not long to go now; with new whip rules in place, what price a disqualified 'winner'?