Friday, January 22, 2021

The 2021 running of the Peter Marsh Chase

Earlier this week 93mm of rain fell on Haydock Park; most of us expected the worst yet when clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright walked the track on Thursday morning he indicated 'we are fit to race', something he went on to describe as 'a minor miracle'.

Frost now appears the main threat; a precautionary inspection has been called at 8.00 am.

10 have been declared for the Peter Marsh Chase (2.40); unsurprisingly the going is described as heavy.

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

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

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

Granted, carrying top weight on heavy ground is never an easy task - the last horse to carry 11-10 to victory in this race was Cloudy Lane in 2009 - and at times the jumping at Kempton looked sticky and a cause for some concern. 

Bristol De Mai won the 2017 renewal at the age of six (off a mark of 154) but the last seven-year-old to come home in front was Scotton Banks in 1996.

I tend to go for one with a bit of experience over the fences in this and I note a number in this field look decidedly short on that particular kind of experience - Acey Milan has just three chase starts to his name, Sam Brown four (and also races beyond three miles for the first time), Lamanver Pippin five, and Sam's Adventure eight.

Sam's Adventure has creditable claims on the back of his win over course and distance in the Tommy Whittle five weeks ago. Brian Ellison's charge jumped well that day and at is now rated six pounds higher at 139.

It's also worth noting that in this limited handicap the bottom five runners all carry more than their long handicap weight; course and distance winner Potters Legend isn't lightly dismissed while Claud And Goldie finished fourth in last year's renewal and looks to have been trained specifically for this.

Crievehill won over this course and distance in November 2019 but hasn't been in the same form since; he didn't jump well in Royale Pagaille's race at Kempton last time and was beaten 36 lengths.

In a Straight from the Stable article in the Weekender [25-29.11.20] handler Charlie Longsdon says of Just Your Type:

"He is a big and slow chaser, but despite his physique he does not appreciate the ground too soft."

This one went well enough on soft ground in the Scottish Borders National at Kelso the following week but started to struggle around the three and a half mile mark and was eventually pulled up; connections fit blinkers for the first time.

I'm going to take an each-way interest in the Smooth Stepper, not so much as a hat tip to my own idiosyncratic prowess displayed on various dancefloors of the north west's discotheque circuit during the early1980s, but more in recognition of the favour the beast did me at Kelso the best part of three years ago.

I missed him (at odds of 33/1) when he stayed on to beat Lord Du Mensil in the Grand National Trial here last year and he was well beaten behind Vieux Lion Rouge in the Becher at Aintree last month.

The handicapper has relented and dropped him two pounds for that latest effort; he goes off 140 tomorrow, having won the Grand National Trial off 136, and Alex Hales has his string in good form.

All that said, the Stepper is no spring chicken - Our Vic won the 2010 renewal aged 12 - and the worry is he'll struggle to keep tabs on younger, better-fancied runners and get behind. 

I'm hoping the heavy, heavy ground will slow down the speedier sorts, allowing his stamina to come into play... 

Smooth Stepper is the each-way selection. Earlier today I saw 16/1 on offer but that price has disappeared; at the time of writing both William Hill and Sky Bet quote 11/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places.  

Friday, January 15, 2021

Warwick's Classic Chase 2021

In an upbeat column in this week's RP Weekender Alan King highlights the chance of Notachance in the Classic Chase (3.00); the trainer describes Warwick as 'probably my favourite course' and adds 'I've been very lucky there too'.

Warwick is my local track but I'm afraid I'm obliged to report none of Mr King's luck has rubbed off on me personally; perhaps I should take the hint.

This has been the target for Notachance following victory in the Anne Duchess of Westminster Memorial Handicap Chase at Bangor in November (The Two Amigos, second in the Welsh National at Chepstow last weekend, seven lengths adrift in third with Captain Chaos pulled up). 

At the time of writing Notacahnce is favourite and next up is, er, Captain Chaos. 

Dan Skelton's charge ran a blinder from the front in last year's renewal, eventually succumbing to the challenge of Kimberlite Candy approaching the last, with Petite Power third and Le Breuil fifth. Seven weeks later he gained deserved compensation when beating Worthy Farm 54 lengths in the Grimthorpe Handicap Chase at Doncaster.

The Captain hasn't been in quite the same form this term (PP0) and, to be honest, I've always thought he was difficult to predict but I note connections have reapplied the blinkers for tomorrow's race. Captain Chaos first wore blinkers on 11th November 2017; his form figures when sporting blinkers read: 1141522621.

Walk In The Mill sports blinkers for the first-time - at the age of 11. This one is a bit of a character who tends to reserve his very best for the Grand National fences at Aintree; he blotted his copybook in the Becher last month, coming to grief at The Chair. The suspicion is the Aintree showpiece is the target once again (as it is for the 2019 Welsh National winner Potters Corner who goes in the Pertemps qualifier at 3.35). 

Thirteen have been declared for tomorrow's renewal with the ground currently described as soft, heavy in places - and further rain is forecast.

Top weight Ballyoptic stands his ground; Jordan Naylor lightens the burden with his five pound claim. Achille, Red Infantry, Django Django, Didero Vallis and Petite Power all race from out of the handicap (the last-named 12lbs 'wrong' at the weights). 

Le Breuil, Late Romantic and Red Infantry are all re-routed here after the cancellation of Thursday's meeting at Catterick where they were due to contest the North Yorkshire Grand National Handicap Chase.

The chance of Le Breuil, fifth last year, on his first run after wind surgery is respected, as is that of Storm Control, but the prices don't tempt. 

Storm Control, Captain Chaos and Achille all race prominently - no bad thing around here.

Last January Django Django beat Notachance just under five lengths off level weights on heavy ground at Newbury. The horse doesn't appear to have been in the same form this term; connections have chosen to try cheekpieces for the first time and Richard Johnson in the plate rather than Jonjo O'Neill Jr certainly catches the eye.   

Venetia Williams won this in 2013 with Rigadin De Beauchene, three pound claimer Robert Dunne doing the steering. Robbie rides Red Infantry for Ian Williams tomorrow, minus the three pound claim, of course. 

Red Infantry is a fragile sort who hasn't seen a track in over 400 days but he still has decent form in the book. Achille is another who hasn't been seen at the track for over 400 days; Charlie Deutsch prefers to ride this one for Venetia rather than Didero Vallis. 

Despite the big weight, Ballyoptic looks big at 20/1; he won the Charlie Hall in 2019, beating the likes of Elegant Escape, Aso and Definitly Red. To my mind he isn't always the slickest at his fences and those five flights down the Warwick back straight place a premium on good jumping. Stablemate The Hollow Ginge has failed to complete in two of his three starts this term but finished a respectable fourth in the Ladbrokes Chase at Newbury in November.

As I'm sure you can tell - if you've managed to make it this far - I'm struggling to come up with a value each-way selection. 

Ballyoptic was beaten 53 lengths behind Cloth Cap in the Ladbrokes Trophy last time but that was run on good ground and underfoot conditions tomorrow will be more to his liking. 

I'm going to take a small each-way interest in Ballyoptic; at the time of writing William Hill offer 20/1 and pay five places. 

Friday, January 08, 2021

The rescheduled 2020 Welsh Grand National

Precautionary 8.00am inspections have been called for all three of tomorrow's meetings - at Chepstow, Kempton and Wincanton.

The rescheduled Welsh Grand National (3.10) is the highlight at Chepstow with 18 set to face the starter. 

It's easy to see why the layers have Secret Reprieve clear favourite, although 7/2 about this comparatively inexperienced sort in a race of this nature looks extremely short. 

Writing in the Weekender [06-10.01.21] Evan Williams says:

"I've long thought of him as the ideal sort for a Welsh National and my aim this season was to get him in the race at as near to ten stone as possible. He won the Welsh National trial by an impressive 12 lengths at Chepstow last month...

"I was unsure when it was rescheduled to this weekend if the conditions would remain the same [keeping their old handicap marks] but thankfully they do as he does look to be particularly well in at the weights [runs off 134 but new mark is 142]. I think he has a huge chance of winning the big one..."

In my original preview I decided to take an each-way interest in Secret Reprieve's stablemate Prime Venture and I'm going to stick with that selection. A bit of a quirky individual, he finished fourth last year (Truckers Lodge second, Yala Enki third, The Three Amigos fifth) and turns up this time in better form having broken his duck over fences at Sedgefield in November; the trainer reports that victory has really helped boost the gelding's confidence.

The form of those behind in the trial run over two miles seven and a half furlongs on December 5th is of interest; The Two Amigos chased home Secret Reprieve with Bobo Mac third and Captain Drake fifth.

The Two Amigos likes to race prominently and in last year's renewal was still chasing winner Potters Corner two out before eventually finishing fifth; I just wonder whether connections might try to tweak the tactics a tad this time.

As I indicated in the original preview I'd expect Bobo Mac to improve and the additional 13 days since the trial will help his cause.

Captain Drake wouldn't be the most consistent of individuals but makes some appeal (to me, anyway) of those at bigger prices. Quoting Harry Fry in his Straight from the Stable feature (Weekender 23-27.12.20):

"He was in and out over fences last season, winning at Exeter before finishing runner-up [behind Truckers Lodge] in the Midlands National, but he had a couple of unseats in between.

"I was delighted when he won first time out this season when I ran him back over over hurdles at Uttoxeter. He did not travel or jump well at Cheltenham next time but he ran better at Chepstow...

"Hopefully that will have done his confidence some good as there were definitely signs of improvement. I am still keen to go for the Welsh National as the trip and ground will be fine." 

Vieux Lion Rouge is also eight pounds well in after winning the Becher Chase last time but regular pilot Tom Scudamore prefers Ramses De Teillee who finished second to Elegant Escape in the 2018 renewal. 

Prime Venture is the each-way suggestion, quoted at 12/1 with William Hill this evening who pay five places.

The closest I'm likely to get to Lanzarote in the next 18 months is the Lanzarote Hurdle (3.30 Kempton); if Chepstow were to fail its early morning inspection, I was considering taking a chance on the weather in Surrey. 

I thought The White Mouse had a small squeak in the race and I nearly fell into a trap. Some basic spadework confirmed a gnawing suspicion - I couldn't find a mare that had come home in front in over 30 years. Well cheesed off!

Friday, January 01, 2021

Sandown's Veterans' Chase Final 2020

Amongst the presents beneath the Christmas tree this year I found a copy of Barry Geraghty's autobiography True Colours; something to look forward to after the recent tightening of lockdown restrictions.

For the first wager of the new year, I'm off to Sandown for tomorrow's final of the 2020 Veterans' Chase Series (3.00) where 16 are set to face the starter; the going on the chase course is currently described as soft, good to soft in places.

Crosspark heads the market at the time of writing and I confess to being a fan. 

Back in 2019 Caroline Bailey's charge won the Eider at Newcastle off a mark of 135 and followed that with a fine second behind Takingrisks (declared for the 3.15 at Ayr) in the Scottish National off 142. 

Last season was a complete write-off but the gelding has returned to form this year. 

He was beaten threequarters of a length by Doing Fine (Regal Flow third) over an extended trip in the London National at this track four weeks ago and the handicapper subsequently raised him three pounds. 

Prior to that he was beaten threequarters of a length by Step Back in leg 9 of this veterans' series (Sametegal third, Regal Flow sixth, with Jepeck pulled up and Gold Present refusing to race). 

He races off a career-high mark tomorrow; the balance of his form suggests he is best on good / good to soft ground.

Sir Ivan has been running well recently. Connections had a handicap chase over two miles three and a half furlongs at Chepstow's Welsh National meeting as their original target; this one is short enough in the market as he doesn't look guaranteed to stay this trip on this ground.

Late Romantic was pipped at the post in heart-breaking fashion by The Dutchman in leg 12 of the series at Haydock 31 days ago (Fingerontheswitch fourth with Seeyouatmidnight and Burtons Well pulled up). Five pounds higher, the gelding also holds an entry in the 3.15 at Ayr but this race is the first preference.

On his first run after wind surgery Potters Legend won leg 10 of the series at Warwick (Theatre Guide second, Strong Pursuit third, Gold Present fourth, Valtor sixth). His subsequent second behind Storm Control at Cheltenham off a five pounds higher mark reads well. 

The first four from that Warwick leg appear closely matched - Strong Pursuit, with just ten starts to his name at the age of 11, looks comparatively unexposed but has yet to win over this trip while it's interesting to note that of the two Henderson runners Valtor, owned by Simon Munir and Issac Suede and with some decent form in the book, has been well backed during the day and is now much shorter in the market than Gold Present.

In last year's renewal Jepeck (132), sent off the 3/1 favourite, beat Regal Flow (127) a short head with Theatre Guide (137) a neck away in third (Burtons Well pulled up). Anthony Honeyball's charge has been pulled up twice this term and connections have decided to fit first-time cheekpieces; Burtons Well wears blinkers for the first time.

Theatre Guide and Regal Flow are aged 14 and both turn up in decent form; four of the past five winners have been no older than 12. 

Ben Poste parted company with Minellacelebration on the flat after the seventh in the Becher Chase. Prior to that Katy Price's charge won leg 8 of the series at Aintree with Sametegal third, Theatre Guide sixth and Ballydine ninth; Sametegal is the other runner in the field who has not won over this distance. 

In a competitive event two each-way chances are of interest: Fingerontheswitch and Seeyouatmidnight.

The former finished some 24 lengths behind Late Romantic in leg 12 while the latter pulled up in the same race, form I'm not reading too literally as both horses were making their seasonal debut. Late Romantic has gone up five while Fingerontheswitch has gone down two, Seeyouatmidnight one. 

I tipped Seeyouatmidnight to win the 2018 Grand National; in the event Sandy Thomson's charge ran out of petrol from three out. In his younger days he beat the likes of Bristol De Mai and Blacklion and finished third behind Vicente in the 2016 Scottish National. 

In more recent times he won leg 4 of this series at Carlisle in March (Jepeck fourth, Takingrisks fifth). A fragile sort with not too many miles on the clock, I'd expect to see significant improvement for that spin; his past record shows he has produced a good performance after a similar preparatory run.

Millie Wonnacott gets on well with Fingerontheswtich, her seven pound claim an added bonus. Form behind Copperhead in the Silver Buck Chase at Wincanton and Ok Corral in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster reads well. 

Millie fractured vertebrae in her back in a fall at Newton Abbot in August but returned to ride Doing Fine to victory for this stable in the London National here four weeks ago. The Mulholland yard has been operating at a 24% win strike rate in the past fortnight; Fingerontheswtich is the younger of the two under consideration.

It's possible to make a case for several in the field. Fingerontheswtich is the each-way selection; at the time of writing Paddy Power offer 12/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Welsh Grand National 2020

With Storm Bella forecast to bring strong winds and heavy showers to much of the country overnight, Chepstow's Welsh National card will do well to survive; the going is currently described as heavy and an inspection is scheduled to take place at 07.45 tomorrow morning.

The Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase is due off at 2.50 and this year is being run in memory of Kim Gingell, daughter of Colin Tizzard, who died in May after a short battle with cancer, aged 43.

The yard has clearly aimed Christmas In April at the race; should the meet go ahead and the horse come home in front, there won't be a dry eye in the house. 

Three weeks ago Secret Reprieve beat The Two Amigos 12 lengths in the Welsh National Trial (Bobo Mac third, Captain Drake fifth) run here over a trip of two miles seven and a half furlongs; the handicapper has since raised Evan Williams' charge four pounds. 

The layers seem to think that's a tad on the lenient side with the gelding generally priced up a 7/2 chance. Only four six-year-olds have won since the war: L'Aventure (2005); Halcon Genelardais (2006); Native River (2016); and Elegant Escape (2018).

For this I like something carrying less than 11-00 that has shown decent form at the track. Last year's selection The Two Amigos ran a fine race from the front but just seemed to run out of petrol after the last, eventually finishing fifth, six lengths behind Prime Venture in fourth.

Prime Venture looks to be Evan Williams' second string but the yard's horses are running well (36% strike rate over the past fortnight). Sent off the outsider of three on seasonal debut at Sedgefield, Prime Venture broke his duck, winning his first chase by 16 lengths; the handicapper has raised him five pounds.

I'd expect Bobo Mac to improve although I'm put off by a comment Tom Symonds made in the Weekender [16-20.12.20]: ' could be something like the Eider would fit in better', the implication being the horse needed time between races. The handler also said: 'He's talented but he needs to be ridden like a ghost in the race.'

Springfield Fox has been well supported but doesn't look entirely straightforward while Dominateur didn't jump with any fluency behind Pym on his seasonal debut at Sandown. 

Vieux Lion Rouge blew away his opponents in the Becher Chase three weeks ago with stablemate Ramses De Teillee disappointing in seventh, beaten over 90 lengths. Ramses didn't jump well that day but his second in this race behind Elegant Escape in 2018 merits every respect.

Prime Venture is the each-way suggestion. Most layers paying five places quote 12/1 this evening; William Hill quote 11/1 and pay seven places. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Boxing Day dilemmas

Tis the afternoon of the night before Christmas and the form books lie still...

No traditional Christmas Day post this year; here's an insight into the cogitations likely to be to the forefront of my mind while pulling the Christmas crackers.

An intriguing renewal of the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, a race that doesn't make an awful lot of appeal from a punting perspective. 

After inflicting defeat on Altior for the first time, Cyrname turned up a short priced favourite for last year's running but flopped badly, stablemate Clan Des Obeaux taking full advantage; Cyrname has been campaigned differently this term and on official ratings is the one to beat. 

The Henderson camp has stumped up the £5,000 fee required to supplement Santini; connections have done their sums and calculated that a profit will be realised if their charge finishes in the first five. 

Lostintranslation didn't shine in the race last year and underwent wind surgery immediately afterwards. A fine third in the Gold Cup in March, he disappointed in the Betfair Chase at Haydock; Robbie Power thinks his ride is better on better ground.

The Rowland Meyrick (Wetherby 2.05) has piqued interest, primarily because only three of the nine declared have shown noteworthy form over three miles or further: Snow Leopardess (the grey mare raised nine pounds after catching Commodore on the line at Haydock five weeks ago); Wandrin Star (raised four pounds after finishing a neck behind Quarenta at Ascot); and The Dutchman (raised five pounds after being caught on the line at Haydock last time). 

To date Canelo has been well beaten on two previous attempts at the trip but trainer Alan King thinks this step back up will suit. 

Windsor Avenue appears to have prompted a difference of opinion with Paddy Power offering 7/1 while William Hill go 10/1; the gelding is not lightly dismissed. Brian Ellison's charge underwent wind surgery in January and has been given plenty of time to recover. His chance in the Caspian Caviar at Cheltenham last time disappeared at the start and that effort is forgiven. Quoting Ellison in a 'Straight from the Stable' feature in the Weekender 30.09.20 - 04.10.20:

'If you could see his work at home it screams out class and the work last week was very impressive. He should get three miles...'

Stablemate Definitly Red won the 2016 running off 141.

This time last year, following Not So Sleepy's nine length victory in the Betfair Exchange Trophy, I highlighted the chance of Hughie Morrison's three runners at Wincanton. Two of the three obliged, with Supamouse winning the concluding bumper 14 lengths. Talk immediately afterwards was of the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham but tragedy struck the following day when it was discovered the gelding had suffered a perforated intestine and couldn't be saved. 

Twelve months on and Not So Sleepy has won the 2020 renewal of the Betfair Exchange Trophy at odds of 20/1 - for the record, carrying none of my money. 

Updated figures for the stable's jumps runners read:

Season to date: 1 win from 11 runs (9%); +10 points profit

Last five years: 23 wins from 114 runs (20%); +47.25 points profit

The yard has declared the unraced Scanning in this year's Wincanton bumper (3.50). The following rhetorical question is asked in stentorian, overemphasised, John McCririck-like tones:

Has renowned Flat trainer Hughie Morrison been hatching a plot? 

With very best wishes to all readers this Christmas time.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Tommy Whittle and the Christmas whatchamacallits

Christmas is going to be different this year. Small. No trifle. No postprandial port either. The whochamacallits won't be calling round with their Christmas whatchamacallits; every cloud, I suppose...

Here's a quick look at the Tommy Whistle Chase to whet your whittle. Have I said that right? Anyway, ten declared for the 2.40 at Haydock tomorrow where the going is described as heavy (with heavier bits in places, no doubt). 

Last year the distance of this race was extended from two miles seven furlongs to three miles one and a half furlongs; Lord Du Mensil collected the spoils carrying 10-5.

Of those near the head of the market, Sojourn looks the one guaranteed to stay the trip on this sort of ground, having won at Carlisle on seasonal debut (Roll Again beaten over 95 lengths in fifth, Sam's Adventure pulled up). The handicapper has raised Anthony Honeyball's charge 11 pounds for that effort; in two of his three chase starts minor jumping issues have been referenced in the formbook- stumbled after the last when second at Chepstow 12 months ago and then at Carlisle pecked on landing at the sixth and clear when blundered two out.

Hill Sixteen just caught Lil Rockerfeller in a three mile handicap hurdle on good ground at Newbury three weeks ago; that looked a hard enough race. Winner of a three mile point-to-point, this is the first time the horse races over this extended distance.

Top weight Roll Again has won at Ludlow since defeat behind Sojourn at Carlisle and meets that opponent 10 pounds better off tomorrow. It's noticeable that when trained by Willie Mullins in Ireland and since moving to Venetia Williams' yard in Herefordshire, his racing for the most part has been on right-handed tracks. 

Enqarde has plenty of French chase form around two and a half miles to his name and appears to have settled into new surroundings very quickly, having finished second in a novices' handicap hurdle at Ascot before winning a novice hurdle at Newcastle nine days ago. He could be anything; with Cillin Leonard's seven pounds claim, the partnership has a racing weight of just 10-2.

I'm not convinced Crixus's Escape or Salty Boy will last home (Salty Boy's form behind Sevarano looks respectable with Mahlervous winning at Kelso next time) but Pop Rockstar, twelfth behind Potters Corner in last year's Welsh National, should have no worries on that score. He's the only one in the field who can boast course winning form yet, on balance, his profile appears inconsistent; beaten a short head behind Court Dreaming on seasonal debut, he was subsequently pulled up in Snow Leopardess' race over this course and distance four weeks ago. I just wonder whether he might prefer better ground.

With Sam's Adventure out of form so far this season, I've concentrated on Highest Sun and Lord Napier - and watched the prices of both contract after final declarations were made yesterday.  

Last season the former finished third behind Champ and second behind Pym before winning a two runner chase over this sort of trip on heavy ground at Plumpton off a mark of 142; he subsequently went on to finish seventh behind Imperial Aura at the Festival in March. That form reads well; he looks dangerous off 134 although there have been issues at the obstacles in the past.

Lord Napier finished fifth behind If The Cap Fits in the 2019 Aintree Stayers' Hurdle off 144. There was a hint of a revival last time at Chepstow on his third start over fences where a mistake at the fourth last didn't help the cause; he was probably a little flattered to finish second but off a mark of 132 he's another that looks well-treated.

At the time of writing Highest Sun is 9/1 with both bet365 and William Hill. I've just received some quite unfortunate Christmas news (see below) - Highest Sun has to be a win selection.


What's this? An email invite from the whochamacallits to a Zoom meet scheduled for 14:30 on Boxing Day? Good Lord! I thought I'd got away with it. What about the King George? 

And in a further manifestation of the sort of misguided decision-making a bout of false febrile festive festivity can lead to, I've just learnt that the bosses at Zoom have removed the 40 minute call limit on their free accounts so that 'those connecting with friends and family won't get cut short'. 

It never rains but it pours - enough to bring on an unsolicited attack of the Christmas whatchamacallits.

Season's greetings.

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup 2020

A somewhat curtailed post this evening...

Seventeen have been declared for tomorrow's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham (1.50) where the going is described as soft, good to soft in places. In a race with a number of specific trends, I'm hoping recent renewals will help narrow the field and point in the right direction... 

Coole Cody ran out a well-backed winner of last month's Paddy Power Gold Cup (Al Dancer third, Saint Sonnet a tired fall at the last after lying up with the pace) run over two miles four furlongs on the Old Course. Tomorrow's renewal takes place on the New Course, generally considered to be a stiffer test, over a half furlong further.

I must say I found Coole Cody's performance the last day quite remarkable. Set alight early by a loose horse, Evan Williams' charge raced from the front, producing a number of unorthodox leaps along the way, all of which appeared to have a negligible impact on his momentum. One length in arrears coming to the last, Spiritofthegames looked an ominous threat but Coole Cody dug deep up the hill to win by three and a quarter lengths. The handicapper has had his say and raised the winner six pounds; Exotic Dancer was the last horse to pull off this particular 'double' in 2006.

The stats highlight the chances of younger horses, 1993 winner Fragant Dawn the last older than eight to come home in front. However, since 1963, just three under the age of six have collected the spoils: The Laird (5), 1966; Unioniste (4) 2012; and Frodon (4) 2016.

Both Unioniste and Frodon were trained by Paul Nicholls who saddles three tomorrow including five-year-old Saint Sonnet; connections fit a first-time tongue tie but soft ground and a further half furlong wouldn't appear to help the cause.

Stablemate Master Tommytucker carries topweight and beat Good Boy Bobby 15 lengths at Haydock three weeks ago; on seasonal debut, in receipt of six pounds, the gelding was beaten just under three lengths by Al Dancer. Jumping has proved something of an issue for this one but in a TV interview earlier this afternoon the handler indicated they'd worked hard to resolve the issues. This is the first time Master T has raced in a field of more than 10 runners. 

The yard's other runner Southfield Stone won at this track on his penultimate start beating Coole Cody one and a half lengths at level weights; he was subsequently beaten 17 lengths by Protektorat, currently third favourite for the Marsh Novices' Chase in March.

I'd imagine connections were slightly disappointed with the way Al Dancer finished off his race in third in the Paddy Power; he goes off the same mark tomorrow and at the time of writing is clear favourite.

Course and distance winner Cepage makes his seasonal debut and has run well fresh before; his chance is respected.

Since 1997 only two horses have won off an official handicap mark higher than 150: Poquelin (151), 2009; Poquelin (163), 2010; and Frodon (164), 2018.

Combining the age and handicap benchmarks discussed narrows the field to the following: Windsor Avenue, Chatham Street Lad (137 in Ireland, 141 here), Midnight Shadow, Good Boy Bobby, Ronan De Senam, Benatar, Southfield Stone, Champagne Mystery and Annie Mc.

The market has proved a reasonable enough guide over the past ten years with seven winners starting at less than 10/1, although it's interesting to note the favourite has never obliged in that timeframe.

Course and distance winner Midnight Shadow is the one I've opted for. He was lucky to win the Dipper when Champ fell at the penultimate flight in January and subsequently finished sixth in the Marsh behind Samcro (Saint Sonnet seventh, Annie Mc over 40 lengths further behind in ninth). 

Sue Smith's charge posted a below par effort on seasonal debut in the Old Roan. Stable form remains something of a worry, and in an ideal world I'd want more than the 9/1 currently on offer, but he should certainly handle underfoot conditions and hopefully prove competitive.

William Hill and Paddy Power both pay six places; Midnight Shadow is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Aintree 2020: the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase

The last time the Grand National fences saw any particular use was this time last year when Walk In The Mill beat Kimberlite Candy in the Becher and Hogan's Height scooted away from rivals after clearing the last in the Grand Sefton.

I like a bet in the Becher and Walk In The Mill and Kimberlite Candy head the market for tomorrow's renewal. I also like to bet one that has jumped the unique National obstacles previously and the fact that a few near the head of the market for the Grand Sefton - Huntsman Son, Modus and Lord Du Mesnil - undertake this particular test for the very first time has piqued interest.

Hogan's Height was the first horse since Rebel Rebellion in 2013 to win this on his first attempt over the fences. Seven of the last 10 Grand Sefton winners had previously encountered the fences, with five of those seven winners having raced in the Topham nine months earlier.

Of course, as a result of coronavirus, there was no Topham in April but two in tomorrow's field competed in the 2019 renewal - Flying Angel finished sixth behind Cadmium, Beau Bay ninth.

Huntsman Son comes to this in good form having beaten Two For Gold at Wetherby last time but the handicapper has raised Alex Hales' charge nine pounds for that effort. The trainer has expressed a worry the ground could be too soft...

Modus beat Springtown Lake eight lengths over the Mildmay fences here four weeks ago. The handicapper has raised Paul Nicholls' charge nine pounds for that effort while Springtown Lake's rating remains unchanged; on revised terms they look closely matched. For me, Modus is a horse with a big engine who can find the fences cause him trouble. 

Paul Nicholls has won three renewals in the past decade: Rebel Rebellion (2013); As De Mee (2016); and Warriors Tale (2019). He also saddles Sametegal - of the pair I prefer the chance of Samtegal. 

Lord Du Mesnil was in the midst of a purple patch this time last year, winning the Tommy Whittle at Haydock; Paul O'Brien claims three pounds off the top weight but ideally I think Richard Hobson's inmate would prefer more of a test of stamina. The trainer reports his charge has schooled well over the Lambourn National fences.

In last year's renewal Beau Bay (40/1) finished third, Flying Angel (11/4f) fourth, Didero Vallis fifth (7/1), Touch Kick (6/1) sixth with Federici (14/1) pulled up.

Of those, Beau Bay, Flying Angel and Didero Vallis make the shortlist but Touch Kick was moved from Paul Nicholls to Simon West three and a half weeks ago and looks to face a tough challenge on his seasonal debut while a couple of better fancied sorts didn't put their best foot forward in the race Federici won at Carlisle recently.

There's a suspicion Beau Bay may have been slightly flattered by third spot last year, reflected in his current price of 25/1. This year's renewal looks a deeper affair but, taking into account Charlie Hammond's claim, he races off a mark four pounds lower. Stablemate Caid Du Lin has shown his best form over two miles on right-handed tracks.

Flying Angel wouldn't be the easiest to predict and he put up a bit of a Halloween horror show at Ascot the last day. His trainer says 'he's in really good form now', but Sam Twiston-Davies prefers stablemate Crievehill. This one ran up with the pace in the Old Roan Chase before fading to finish 16 lengths behind Nuts Well in eighth. That form reads well enough; the handicapper has relented and dropped the horse three pounds - but he's still four pounds higher than his last winning mark.

Coming to two out Didero Vallis looked to have every chance last year but he weakened thereafter, eventually beaten a total of 24 lengths. A year older - and stronger - and racing off a two pounds lower mark, it's easy to see why Venetia Williams' charge has been backed into 6/1 favouritism this evening.

Alan King hopes Dingo Dollar takes to these fences while stablemate Senior Citizen is open to improvement but relatively inexperienced with just five chase starts chalked up. A senior citizen lacking experience - what the hell is that about? For the record, since 2003 only two horses younger than eight have come home in front - Dark Room (2003) and As De Mee (2016).

I've seen a tip here and there for 2017 RSA winner Might Bite - on the back of his recent run at Ascot - and for Pink Eyed Pedro too - most of his best form has been on good ground. 

25/1 Beau Bay is tempting but the two Twiston-Davies runners have dominated thoughts. Of the pair Crievehill looks the more reliable so I'm going to stick with Sam. 

Sixth in the 2018 running when aged six (beaten just over 10 lengths) Crievehill is the each-way suggestion; Betfair, Paddy Power and Bet Victor offer 16/1 and pay five places.


The Becher has been the target for Smooth Stepper for some time. On his seasonal debut he finished fifth behind Step Back at Ascot (Samtegal third), beaten less than 10 lengths. 

He hasn't jumped these National fences before, and he'll certainly need to, but if he does, he'll stay. 

Back in 2018 this horse did me one big favour in a race at Kelso and, as a general rule of thumb,  I don't tend to forget favours like that. Occasionally, even now,  I re-live the dream

On the other hand, I still haven't quite forgiven myself for missing him at odds of 33/1 when he beat Lord Du Mesnil in the Grand National Trial at Haydock last February... 

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Ladbrokes Trophy Chase 2020

The good news: racegoers will be allowed back at certain tracks from Wednesday next week.  

The bad news: there will be tiers before Christmas (as my dear old Ma always used to tell us around this time of year). 

The Ladbrokes Trophy Chase - the Hennessy Gold Cup - is the highlight on the second day of Newbury's Winter Carnival meeting. Eighteen have been declared with the going currently described as good, good to soft in places.

At the time of writing Vinndication and Kildisart share favouritism,

Vinndication finished second behind Cyrname in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby four weeks ago (Aye Right third); Kim Bailey's charge did well to finish just two lengths adrift of the winner as his jumping was pretty sketchy - and it looked positively hairy during a schooling session at the racecourse earlier this week. Some feel the gelding is better going right-handed but he has previously run and jumped well at Cheltenham (fourth behind The Conditional and Kildisart in the Ultima at Cheltenham in March, Mister Malarky pulled up); connections fit cheekpieces for the first time in the hope they'll help the cause.

Kildisart was beaten a neck by The Conditional in the Ultima and meets that rival three pounds better off; with a nice pipe-opener over hurdles under his belt (Copperhead pulled up), Ben Pauling's charge has been well supported in the market while The Conditional appears to be drifting on this seasonal debut. The horse finished a fine second behind De Rasher Counter in this race last year (Beware The Bear fourth, Mister Malarky sixth, Regal Encore pulled up) but now races off a ten pounds higher mark. 

After that effort The Conditional didn't appear to stay the extended trip of the Classic Chase at Warwick in January but I've seen a comment suggesting there were possible excuses that day and I'm just wondering whether connections are considering a repeat attempt this year. 

To my mind Black Op has never really convinced over the larger obstacles but Secret Investor was impressive beating Potterman seven lengths on good ground at Chepstow last time; his tendency to jump markedly right that day remains the worry.

Course and distance winner Copperhead looks the pick of the two Tizzard runners with connections clearly expecting a big run. He went to the Cheltenham Festival in top form but, carrying my money, he went out like a light in the RSA and his most recent effort at Wetherby didn't offer much encouragement either. His chance is respected but I can't support him on this occasion.

Stablemate Mister Malarky, sixth last year, starts from a mark one pound lower tomorrow; the fitting of first-time blinkers and the good ground could help the cause. He beat Black Corton two lengths in the Betway Chase at Kempton in February with Kildisart six lengths adrift in fifth. That form reads well but this one is a moody character who wouldn't be guaranteed to put his best foot forward.

Kim Bailey's second string Two For Gold was beaten some 17 lengths by Copperhead in the Reynoldstown Novices' Chase at Ascot and on the balance of his form looks short enough in the market.

Ultra consistent Potterman has made hay over the summer and was pipped a short head by El Presente in the Badger Beers at Wincanton three weeks ago; Alan King's charge has been placed in nine of his 11 starts to date. He goes off the same mark tomorrow but is due to go up five pounds.

The two on the short list are Cloth Cap and Aye Right. 

The former carries the minimum ten stones but is guaranteed to stay having finished third behind Takingrisks in the 2019 Scottish National. 

The latter meets Vinndication seven pounds better off for five lengths but I'm concerned about how well he'll see out this extended three mile two furlong trip. Unfortunately handler Harriet Graham misses the race after being run over by her own lorry... 

In the hope the beast gets on better with the lorry on the long journey down, Aye Right is the each-way selection. At the time of writing the horse is 10/1 with Betfair who pay six places.


'Nicky Henderson has a particular way with fillies and mares and I'd think long and hard before you decide to lay one,' was a piece of unsolicited advice proffered to me by a tweed-clad gent in a racecourse bar a few years ago. 

Now, that's an opening gambit, and just for a minute I wondered whether I'd accidentally walked onto the set of a Carry On film, or, even worse, into a scene from a Jilly Cooper bonkbuster. 

I played it straight and told the gent concerned Polly Peachum was my favourite mare in training, named as she was after a character from The Beggar's Opera. That answer seemed to have the desired effect and the old boy sloped off to annoy someone else...

Mr Henderson saddles two high profile mares tomorrow - Epatante in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle (2.05) and Marie's Rock in the Gerry Feilden at Newbury (2.25). 

Apparently Epatante translates as 'Amazing' and while it's no surprise to see the champion hurdler priced up an odds-on chance, race-fit rivals Sceau Royal and Silver Streak look sure to provide stiff opposition. With Not So Sleepy and Cornerstone Lad in the field, a decent pace seems assured.

Epatante won last year's renewal of the Gerry Feilden off a mark of 137 so it's easy to see why layers have priced up Marie's Rock favourite with her current rating of 141. That said, her last run was 334 days ago and a number in the field are rated in the 140s including Botox Has (146); Sebastopol (142); Milkwood (141); Thyme White (141); and stablemate Floressa (141). 

Milkwood was my each-way play in the Greatwood before the rain arrived. The ground will suit here but the thing is, no matter how hard I try, I just can't forget the words of that gent in the tweed suit...


Finally, I intend to take an each-way interest in Mick Maestro in the 1.43 at Doncaster. 

Ashington looked unlucky when badly hampered by a faller in Tegerek's race at Cheltenham and Kevin Brogan claims seven. 

I saw Mick Maestro finish second behind New Agenda at Ludlow just over two years ago; the horse was with Alan King at the time and effectively Richard Johnson gained first run on the winner. 

Off the track for 644 days, Mick ran a stormer at odds of 66/1 on his first run for Nick Kent, finishing just under seven lengths behind Kaizer (fifth in a competitive handicap hurdle at Haydock last weekend). A lot of his racing has been on right-handed tracks and the 'bounce' factor is a concern but the better ground here is a big positive; at the time of writing bet365 offer 14/1.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Wrexham riddles and a Haydock longshot

My hometown football club has been in the news this week.

As a counter to a number of meretricious articles that have appeared in the media, I bring to your attention a more prosaic, widely ignored piece entitled 'Wrexham wrelegated' - written in 2008 following relegation from the Football League - in which brief details of my own personal association with Wrexham Association Football Club are recorded. 

A former colleague thinks he may have detected early signs of 'Disneyfication' at the club, a concept I'm now coming to terms with, although I've had to call upon previously untapped reserves of tact and discretion to prevent myself from pointing out to him we've been playing a Mickey Mouse brand of football (in a cartoon strip) for years.

On the back of all that I considered making the case for a Disneyesque runner from those competing tomorrow - Heart Of A Lion (Huntingdon 11.45), Sumkindofking (Haydock 3.35), The Turtle Said (Huntingdon 3.43) and Printing Dollars (Ascot 1.30) were all in the mix but, in the end, I decided to look for an outsider in the Betfair Racing Only Bettor Handicap Hurdle at Haydock, due off at 1.50.

Seventeen have been declared with the going described as soft, good to soft in places on the hurdles course; this race is scheduled to be run over brush hurdles.

It's no surprise to see Kid Commando at the head of the market following a facile victory at Ascot three weeks ago (Dear Sire 23 lengths adrift in fourth). I've seen the name of Anthony Honeyball's charge in a number of 'Horses to Follow' lists, with tipsters keen to point to the gelding's third in the Dovecote at Kempton in February. The handicapper raised his mark seven pounds to 143 after Ascot; he shares top weight with Forest Bihan but the step up in trip is thought likely to suit. In the past seven renewals the winner has come from the first four in the betting; over the past decade comparing winning weight figures against entries, the victor is over two times more likely to shoulder 11-00 or more. 

Shake Em Up'Arry made all to win unchallenged at Ffos Las last time while Arrivederci waved goodbye to all his opponents when coming home two and three quarter lengths ahead of War Lord at Wetherby. On The Wild Side is another in the field who likes to race from the front and enters the fray here with two victories in Hexham novice hurdles to his name.

The Harry Skelton trained Flash The Steel is given every respect having won the 2019 running of the Silver Trophy at Chepstow, subsequently finishing second in this year's renewal behind the well-regarded Tea Clipper; he was beaten a long way over an extended trip in last year's renewal of tomorrow's 2.25 race.

I'm not quite sure what to make of Umbrigado on his seasonal debut but I note that Tom Scudamore is booked to ride at Huntingdon - Seymour Promise and Sizing Cuisimano for Colin Tizzard; Kentucky Hardboot for Mohamed Moubarak. 

Owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, Fix Sun can be expected to improve for soft ground on this his second run following wind surgery after he trailed in next to last of 19 runners behind Captain Tom Cat (Our Power sixth) at Cheltenham last month. 

Our Power is talented but not entirely straightforward while course winner Ebony Jewel makes his seasonal and also likes to race prominently.

In a race with so many front-runners Kaizer, regularly taken down to the start early, won't mind a hold-up ride; Billy Garrity claims three and the partnership have just 10-1 to shoulder. 

Racing on good ground at Chepstow in early October Dear Sire beat Le Ligerien nine lengths into third (fourth Stimulating Song a winner at Cheltenham last weekend) - seven pound claimer Theo Gillard was in the plate that day. Champion jockey Brian Hughes takes over tomorrow and Philip Hobbs' charge looks weighted to reverse the form. 

'Obbs' 'orses weren't running all that well at the time but they're operating at a better win strike rate now; course winner Le Ligerien has previously won over this distance and should also appreciate the ease in underfoot conditions. 

It's likely to be brutal up front from the off but Richard Johnson's mount looks competitive on Racing Post ratings and on the clock; I'm hopeful he can outrun odds of 20/1 currently available with William Hill who pay six places on this race.

Le Ligerien is the each-way selection.

What chance a happy ending to this particular Disney tale?

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Cheltenham November meeting 2020 - an outsider in the Greatwood

I haven't spent a lot of time on the form but I like an outsider in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle (Cheltenham 3.00). 

There are seventeen left in at he moment (Sebastopol a non-runner) but with the going officially described as soft there may be further withdrawals in due course.

Of those at the top of the market Tegerek won over course and distance 23 days ago and Kevin Brogan can claim seven while Thyme White looked good winning at Chepstow but the handicapper has had his say and raised Paul Nicholls' charge 11 pounds.

Thyme White's stablemate Sir Psycho was well beaten behind Tea Clipper in the Silver Trophy at that same Chepstow meeting; he didn't appear to stay the extended trip there so this step back should suit as should the ground. His fifth in the Triumph behind Burning Victory is noteworthy but Goshen's fall at the last when well clear casts some doubt about the value of the form - personally I'm ambivalent but Alistair Jones has carped it in no uncertain terms in the Weekender. I was particularly impressed with Sir Psycho's slick hurdling at Haydock last February but jockey bookings would suggest Thyme White is the stable's first string.

Last year's winner Harambe is now rated six pounds higher while the David Pipe trained Thinking could be anything - a first-time tongue tie following a wind operation is off-putting on soft ground.

The outsiders on the shortlist are Pisgah Pike, Milkwood/Ballinsker, and Cormier.

Pisgah Pike looks overpriced at 33/1. In a recent stable tour handler Jamie Snowden hinted that his charge would have won a listed hurdle at Market Rasen in September if regular rider Gavin Sheehan had been in the plate and went on to say:

"I am sure there is a decent handicap in him and if he progresses as we hope then something like the Scottish Champion Hurdle next spring could be a target."

The worry is the ground has gone against him.

The form of Milkwood and Ballinsker is closely linked. Milkwood beat Ballinsker an easy four lengths on good to soft at Ffos Las at the beginning of October and returned there 17 days later racing off a mark nine pounds higher to finish fourth behind Sceau Royal in the Welsh Champion Hurdle. The booking of Brian Hughes for Ballinsker catches the eye and Evan Williams' charge re-opposes 10 pounds better off but of the pair I marginally prefer Milkwood.

Cormier should have no trouble with the going. Rated 69 on the Flat he goes off 136 tomorrow after a couple of facile victories at Uttoxeter and Fakenham (third that day Doukarov has since won a Taunton novices' handicap chase). Brian Ellison sent out Nietzsche to win the 2018 running; Danny McMenamin claims three but this is a deep race and recent yard form is a concern.

33/1 Pisgah Pike is tempting but I'm going to take a small each-way interest in Milkwood in the hope he'll act on the ground and the track.

Paddy Power are paying six places, Sky Bet seven. Milkwood is the each-way selection, 25/1 with Paddy Power at the time of writing.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Cheltenham November meeting 2020 - Paddy Power Gold Cup

Seventeen have been declared for tomorrow's Paddy Power Gold Cup - still referred to as 'The Mackeson' in our house - which is due off at 2.15. 

At the time of writing three share favouritism - Mister Fisher, Saint Sonnet and Simply The Betts - and all three make their seasonal debuts.

Back in March Samcro beat Melon a nose in an epic finish to the Marsh Novices' Chase with Mister Fisher a highly creditable fourth (beaten four and a quarter lengths) and Saint Sonnet seventh. 

Lady Cricket won the 2000 running at six years of age and since only three more six-year-olds have come home in front - Celestial Gold (2004); Exotic Dancer (2006); and Johns Spirit (2013). Since the inaugural running in 1960 only two five-year-olds have collected the spoils: Cyfor Malta (1998) and Caid Du Berlais (2014), trained by Paul Nicholls...  

I like Simply The Betts who has won four of his five chase starts to date, most recently beating Happy Diva, last year's winner of this race, one and a quarter lengths (Spiritofthegames sixth, Kauto Riko fourteenth and Siruh Du Lac falling two out) in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate at the Festival. The handicapper has raised Harry Whittington's charge eight pounds for that effort.

Things fell right for the mare Happy Diva last year; she held Brelan D'As a neck on the line (Spiritofthegames and Siruh Du Lac both pulled up); 4/1 favourite Slate House looked sure to be in the mix but knuckled on landing at the penultimate flight. Happy Diva is now rated eight pounds higher, Slate House four pounds.

Al Dancer was well beaten in the Arkle but had a pleasing pipe-opener beating Master Tommytucker at Newton Abbot five weeks ago. The Twiston-Davies operation usually fires in the winners during the summer months; that hasn't been the case this year but the stable has been in better form recently.

Siruh Du Lac won the 2019 running of the Brown Advisory when trained by Nick Williams but, unfortunately, last year proved something of a write-off. The horse underwent wind surgery in July and was sent to the Pipe yard at the end of last month. The stable has a rich history in this event - Martin trained eight winners: Beau Ranger (1987); Challenger Du Luc (1996); Cyfor Malta (1998); Lady Cricket (2000); Shooting Light (2001); Cyfor Malta (2002); Celestial Gold (2004); and Our Vic (2005); David won the 2011 renewal with Great Endeavour. Could connections win with a horse having its first run for the yard? Siruh won't be inconvenienced by the forecast rain.

Spiritofthegames may have been pulled up in last year's race but four weeks later Dan Skelton's charge was beaten a head by Warthog in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at odds of 40/1. 

Of those at bigger prices, The Russian Doyen has only had two runs since finishing fourth in the 2019 running of the Close Brothers Novices' Chase; the Weekender reports that handler Colin Tizzard thinks this horse is well handicapped. 

The Tizzard horses have taken their time to come to hand this autumn but Sizing At Midnight looked to be in with every chance when coming to grief three out in the Badger Beers last weekend.

A change of scenery seems to have helped Coole Cody; regular contributor TW provides his ratings and makes the case for Evan Williams' charge below.

An ultra-competitive renewal with most layers paying five places and race sponsors Paddy Power, Sky Bet and William Hill all paying six. 

Working through the fifteen left on my shortlist, Siruh Du Lac and Slate House were the two that made it to the short shortlist. I note there has been money for Siruh Du Lac this evening and that one gets the nod.

Siruh Du Lac (9/1 with Paddy Power paying 6 places) is the each-way selection.

TW provides his ratings and selection:

177,SIRUH DU LAC(FR),8.5
178,AL DANCER(FR),7.5
179,SKY PIRATE(GB),5.2
172,BRELAN D'AS(FR),4.1

Mister Fisher has highest system win chance [15.3%] but odds of 11/2 provide zero edge so he’s not a bet for me.

Next up on the system is Coole Cody [CC] who has the top system form rating of 184. I’m not sure why owner Wayne Clifford decided to move him to Evan Williams but the change in scenery and the switch back to chasing appears to have chirped him up a bit!

CC has had 3 races this term; he won an ordinary novice chase easily in August before keeping a couple of Paul Nicholl horses honest in two subsequent efforts. In the middle race of the three he pulled well clear of Irish Prophecy who went on to be 2nd to El Presente [winner of last week’s Badger Beer] and then followed that good effort by comfortably winning a handicap at Taunton by 14 lengths on Thursday off a mark of 135 which I’m hoping suggest CC’ mark of 137 in this is a bit lenient.

Whilst CC may not have the right profile for a race like this [it is his first handicap chase] conditions should suit, he should cope if further rain gets into the ground, he has race fitness on his side and I’d like to think he can make the frame at odds of 20/1+.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Cheltenham November meeting 2020 - a Friday fancy

A quick post for the first day of the 2020 Open meeting at Cheltenham, pragmatically re-branded 'the November meeting', presumably because all the action takes place behind closed doors.

A key piece of form for the Mucking Brilliant Paddy Power Handicap Chase (1.50) is Rouge Vif's victory in the Bentley Flying Spear Handicap Chase over course and distance three weeks ago. That day eyes were drawn to the performance of the winner - Harry Whittington's charge is scheduled to reappear in Sunday's Schloer Chase, one of the most eagerly awaited contests of the entire three days...

Rouge Vif finished seven and a half lengths clear of nearest pursuer Western Miller that day with Beat The Judge third, On The Slopes fifth and Ballywood sixth. 

Provided the rain stays away, Ballywood is of interest tomorrow. 

Alan King's charge briefly went second approaching the final flight last time before tiring up the hill. In this week's Weekender [11-15.11.20] the handler says:

"He's run well this season but had a good blow each time and may just have needed both outings so should be spot on this time. He could have a shout in a competitive race."

The handicapper has left Beat The Judge on a mark of 142, dropped On The Slopes one pound to 142 and dropped Ballywood two pounds to 142. In receipt of 10 pounds Beat The Judge beat Ballywood nine lengths at Fontwell in September; they race off level weights tomorrow. There wouldn't appear to be an awful lot between the trio but market prices don't reflect that.

Of the others, I'm not entirely convinced this is Magic Saint's optimum trip but Bryan Carver's five pound claim looks decidedly useful while Fanion D'Estruval created an impression when beating Sully D'Oc AA at Newbury this time last year but has just four chase starts to his name and is short enough in the market. Eamon An Cnoic enters calculations on his best form but wouldn't be guaranteed to put his best foot forward.

Priced up at 17/2 with both Betfair and BetVictor at the time of writing, Ballywood is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 06, 2020

What's this? A Cobra in the Badger Beers...

What with one thing and another there have been a few fireworks this week... Now, I appreciate you wouldn't normally expect a brief preview of Wincanton's Badger Beers Silver Trophy (3.35) to start with a discussion about recent results at Hexham - but what the hell has been happening at Hexham?

Prompted by Evita Du Mesnil's victory in the first at Hexham today, I've had a quick look at Hexham results since the resumption of racing on July 1st - when starting prices started to be determined by the industry.

According to my fag-packet calculations there have been six meetings (44 races) at Hexham since the beginning of July; check the starting prices of these winners: 

02.09.20 18:00 race: Costly Dream 40/1

15.09.20 15:40 race: Daimiens Dilemma 28/1

02.10.20 13:15 race: Golden Robin 66/1

10.10.20 13:25 race: McGinty's Dream 20/1

25.10.20 12:55 race: Kilcaragh Boy 66/1

06.11.20 13:10 race: Evita Du Mesnil 80/1

There have been some fancy prices about placed horses too including Molly Whuppie (15.09.20 14:10 race 66/1 second); Pass Rusher (02.10.20 13:45 race 33/1 second); Farlam King (25.10.20 15:50 race 200/1 second); and Farran Dancer (06.11.20 15:30 race 40/1 second).

Any theories? Please feel free to send me some money-making ideas...

Finding a juicy priced winner on tomorrow's card at Paul Nicholls' local track looks decidedly difficult. 

To date Nicholls has won the Badger Beer ten times and holds three chances of making it eleven - Danny Whizzbang, Present Man and My Way. Danny looks short on chase experience, My Way has yet to win over fences while previous winner Present Man likes it around here but came up short last year and is, like me, getting no younger. The last horse older than nine to come home in front was Flaked Oats in the year 2000 - trained by Paul Nicholls.

This race hasn't been particularly kind to me over the years and wouldn't be one of my favourites - there may be a causal link there. With layers not looking keen to take too many chances, I'm going to make the case for Cobra De Mai. 

In a recent Racing TV Stable Tour piece (dated 22.10.20) trainer Dan Skelton said:

"He has struggled against the handicapper since he won at Cheltenham last April but I do believe we are somewhere near back to an optimistic mark. He ran the other day at Fontwell but he wants a bit of nice ground, three miles and a chance off the handicapper." 

Cobra should have conditions to suit tomorrow. 

He finished ninth behind Give Me A Copper in last year's renewal off a mark of 150 - and goes off 138 tomorrow. The handicapper dropped the gelding two pounds following his last run where he didn't jump well in Frodon's race at Cheltenham; I'm prepared to forgive that effort. He went off 11/2 third favourite that day, yet he's generally priced up at 14/1 for this lower grade race. 

You can't blame regular pilot Harry Skelton for choosing to go to Aintree for a nice-looking book of rides that includes Wilde About Oscar, Bennys King and Ch'tibello; Bridget Andrews will certainly be up to the task if the horse is. 

Cobra's sixth behind The Conditional at the Festival in March reads well and I think he was probably undone by the soft ground at Fontwell on the seasonal reappearance. I'm hoping the application of first-time blinkers helps to trigger a return to form as he races now from a mark that is four pounds lower than when he last won.

William Hill are paying five places; Cobra De Mai, currently 14/1, is the each-way selection.

To finish, a couple of quick snippets...

Local trainer Robin Dickin sent out his first winner in over 500 days at Huntingdon on Sunday. Owned by The Cocoa Nuts & The Tricksters, Mr Palmtree comfortably disposed of his rivals at odds of 12/1. The signs were there but, unfortunately, I completely missed them. Off a revised rating of 93, Mr Palmtree should remain competitive at his level.

Current coronavirus restrictions can only be considered a hindrance so Willie Mullins' decision to send Eight And Bob over to contest tomorrow's Pertemps Qualifier at Aintree (1.35) catches the eye. A quick trawl through the form left me slightly bewildered but the beast should be fit enough after a summer campaign on the Flat.

Friday, October 30, 2020

An each-way chance in the 2020 Sodexo Gold Cup

For starters, I thought I'd bring to your attention a recent analysis of starting prices compiled by the Horseracing Bettors Forum (HBF) which concludes that, since racing returned after lockdown on 1st June 2020, 'there has been a reduction in the price of horses at the head of the market and an increase in the price of outsiders'. Interesting.

The pre-race chatter surrounding tomorrow's Charlie Hall Chase (Wetherby 3.20) is whether Cyrname can win on his first attempt going left-handed over a trip of three miles. Connections seem confident - and why not? On official ratings Cyrname is 13 pounds clear of his nearest rival, last year's winner Ballyoptic. Paul Nicholls has indicated the forecast rain won't be a problem but points out that the only thing different from his seasonal debut last year - when he memorably beat Altior over two miles five at Ascot - is that the gelding hasn't had a racecourse gallop. 

All that said, Kim Bailey's charge Vinndication, a 5/1 chance on Thursday, is 9/4 clear favourite with several layers this evening. The yard is in fine form and the trainer is hoping he has a Gold Cup horse on his hands...

Sam Spinner is unbeaten over fences but anyone who saw his third and most recent win - in a three-runner novice chase at Doncaster in December - will know Jedd O'Keefe's charge threw jockey Joe Colliver up into the air six from home and the partnership was extremely lucky to survive. A fracture to the gelding's pelvis was subsequently discovered; Sam returns to the track tomorrow and it's no surprise to see his price on the drift.

This year's renewal has more depth than recent runnings. 

Ballyoptic and Definitly Red both bid to become the first horse since Ollie Magern to win the race twice (2005, 2007); the last horse older than nine to come home in front was Grey Abbey in 2004.

Of the bigger priced runners Aye Right is one I like and his second behind Nuts Well over an inadequate trip at Kelso 27 days ago reads well, given the winner picked up the Old Roan Chase at Aintree last Sunday. He's a 20/1 chance with bet365 but I'm struggling to see Harriet Graham's stable star making a place in this company.

With Cyrname and Vinndication taking their chance at Wetherby, the make-up of the Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Ascot 3.40) has changed markedly. 

Black Corton, third in this race last year behind Vinndication, tries again from a mark two pounds lower having undergone wind surgery over the summer. Mister Malarky beat Black Corton (Whatmore fourth, Adrien Du Pont sixth) in the Betway Handicap Chase at Kempton in February but in the past fortnight Team Tizzard has recorded just one win from 32 runs.

Connections of Walk In The Mill are probably using this as a prep for the Becher Chase while nobody can be really sure what Might Bite might get up to.

Of the two current market leaders Henry Daly (Whatmore) has his horses in fine fettle with a 30% win strike over the past 14 days but Chris Gordon (Commanche Red) is 1 win from 16 runs.

Near the foot of the weights I'm going to take a chance on Andrew Martin's Militarian who won this on his seasonal debut last year at odds of 50/1; he tries again from a mark one pound higher. This looks a more competitive renewal and, unfortunately, those bookmaker chappies aren't offering such fancy prices either but Shane Quinlan helps the cause by claiming five pounds. 

Sky Bet, Paddy Power and William Hill are paying five places in this race and, at the time of writing, Paddy Power offer 16/1. 

Militarian is the each-way suggestion.

To finish, two quick, eclectic pieces of form...

In the listed mares' hurdle at Wetherby (2.10) Verdana Blue is priced a 1/2 chance yet her performance at Kempton 13 days ago was disappointing. That day Silver Streak recorded a time of 3m 39.04s when beating the Nicky Henderson trained mare six and a half lengths over a trip of two miles. An hour earlier Mrs Hyde had won the Racing TV Novices' Hurdle over the same trip in a time of 3m 39.17s; Brian Ellison's charge is now as low as 11/1, having been 20/1 earlier in the week. I feel both mares are likely to be inconvenienced by the forecast rain.

In the Scottish Champion Hurdle Trial (Ayr 3.27) Faire Part Sivola, wearing first-time cheekpieces for new connections, looks overpriced at 11/1, beaten a head by Calva D'Auge at Wincanton in January when under the tutelage of Nick Williams. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Cheltenham Showcase 2020 - a view from the cheap seats

Earlier this afternoon I watched ITV4's coverage of the first day of the Showcase meeting from the cheap seats in our front room. 

'Cheap seats' is no misnomer: they're sited at an awkward angle to the black & white TV set - viewing is difficult at the best of times and the castors broke many years ago; a pungent aroma of stale sweat and old socks emanates from the threadbare upholstery; the carpet in the vicinity is stained, torn and frayed around the edges; the paintwork can best be described as 'grubby'.

The other day I put my hand down the sides of one of the chairs and retrieved a HB lead pencil, some fluff, a 2p coin and six old betting slips. I half thought I might have chanced upon a 'sleeper'; it was nothing more than a forlorn hope.

I wasn't completely certain but I thought I'd seen something when Ocean Wind, sixth in the Festival bumper last March, carried ten stone to victory on soft in the Handicap at Doncaster.  

Then Alice Plunkett, who had a better view of the runners in the paddock than the view anyone in the cheap seats had, proceeded to tell viewers before the Bentley Flying Spur Handicap Chase that it looked as if Rouge Vif needed the run. 

In the event, running off a mark of 156, Harry Whittington's charge, a 5/1 chance, blew away his rivals with an exhilarating display.

Tomorrow's Cheltenham card looks difficult. 

I toyed with making the case for the Paul Webber trained Boughtbeforelunch in the amateur jockeys' chase at 5.00 (form with Ballymalin and behind Manofthemountain on his seasonal reappearance) but the 10/1 on offer looks positively parsimonious so, instead, I've opted for the minefield that is the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at 3.15. 

Let's get the good news out of the way first of all - with 18 declared most layers are paying five places, Sky Bet and William Hill six places.

Last year's winner Tobefair heads the handicap but, with Jack Tudor's five pounds claim, effectively races off a mark two pounds lower tomorrow; Honest Vic's fifth in the Coral Cup also catches the eye. Those are the only two runners booked to carry more than 11-00 giving the race a rather lop-sided feel; the bottom four all race from out of the handicap.

Flinck's third in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow a fortnight ago reads well enough, as does Kansas City Chief's sixth in the Pertemps Final here last March.

I've spent a bit of time on this piece of form. 

Ballon Onabudget beat Story Of Friends two and a quarter lengths over an extended trip at Newton Abbot last month (third horse Storm Home since well beaten by Neville's Cross - up 12 pounds tomorrow). 

As a result the handicapper raised both Ballon Onabudget and Story of Friends five pounds. David Pipe's runner came to the last some four lengths to the good that day but made a complete hash of it - a better jump and he would surely have secured the spoils.

The pair look closely matched yet Fergus Gillard's seven pound claim effectively means Story Of Friends races off a mark two pounds lower than at Newton Abbot. The Pipe yard has been quiet of late but I see Main Fact went in at Newbury earlier today. 

BetVictor and Paddy Power both offer 16/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places. Story Of Friends is the tentative each-way suggestion in a difficult race.

Off to source some 1001 carpet and upholstery cleaner - right now! 

Friday, October 16, 2020

From Ascot to Market Rasen

British Champions Day at Ascot tomorrow. 

On 28th September 1996 Frankie Dettori won all seven races on the Ascot card at cumulative odds of 25,051/1. The feat became known as Frankie's 'Magnificent Seven' and passed into racing folklore. One punter pocketed a cool £500,000; layer Gary Wiltshire lost £1.4 million.

In January 2018 Lincolnshire punter Andy Green played the Betfred Frankie Dettori Magic Seven Blackjack through the small hours and, when he decided to call it a day, the sum of £1,722,923.54 was credited to his online account. However when he tried to pocket his winnings, the Betfred Frankie Dettori Magic Seven Blackjack refused to pay out - and that's when the problems started. Betfred cited a 'software error'; Andy has taken his case to the High Court. We wish him well but if things don't pan out, he wouldn't be the first punter unDone by the terms and conditions that apply. 

'Be careful what you wish for,' as they say. 

Speaking personally, and I'm sure it'll come as no surprise, I've never won big. To be honest, if you offered me just a small win once in a blue moon, I'd snap your hand off.  

Ascot may be the focus of the media's attention tomorrow but I prefer more modest Market Rasen; the similarities are few and far between although both race right-handed and tend to favour those that race prominently.

Ten have been declared for the MansionBet Best Odds Guaranteed  Prelude Handicap Chase due off at precisely 4.31. 

The two horses with the least chasing experience head the market - Red Risk and Court Master both have just four chase starts to their name. 

Top weight Red Risk hails from the Nicholls yard and is priced up favourite on the back of his 11 length win at Ludlow on soft in February. The handicapper has raised him nine pounds for that effort; this will be the first time he has raced on good ground.

Second favourite Court Master carries bottom weight and likes to race from the front. He has been raised four pounds for his victory at Warwick 16 days ago; his eighth behind Simply The Betts (beaten 28 lengths) at the Cheltenham Trials meeting in January reads well.

Last year Mellow Ben finished fourth, Luckofthedraw seventh behind Copper West; that day San Benedeto headed the handicap off a mark of 153 - this year's renewal doesn't meet that standard. 

Mellow Ben goes off a mark ten pounds lower tomorrow and, with two recent runs under his belt, appears to have been trained with this as a target. 

Course and distance winner Luckofthedraw was sent off favourite a year ago off a four pounds higher mark. He wore earplugs on that occasion and appeared anxious in the preliminaries; after the race the vet reported the gelding had received treatment for heat stress.

Fidux's second to Really Super in the Summer Plate in July reads well. He races off the same mark here (138) and has previously won off 142; he strikes me as a horse that deserves a change of luck.

Peter Bowen's form has picked up of late and I always think his runners are worth a second look here but Beggar's Wishes has been off the track a long, long time. 

Louis' Vac Pouch - seventh behind Simply The Betts in a Festival handicap in March (beaten just over ten lengths) on only his second run for current connections - catches the eye. In a recent stable tour Phil Kirby indicated they still weren't certain what the optimum trip was for this one and I was left with the impression this race is seen as a starting point with the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham a possible target.

Ravenhill Road is something of a dark horse whose chance is respected but Ashoka had a torrid time of it all last year.

I'm drawn to the horses with a recent run to their name. Mellow Ben is ten pounds lower than when finishing fourth last year and handler Chris Gordon has had  a couple of winners in the past fortnight. 

At the time of writing 10/1 has just disappeared; Mellow Ben is the each-way suggestion. 

There are interesting cards at Kempton and Ffos Las on Sunday while Sedgefield hosts the Durham National (4.33). 

At Ffos Las I'll keep a close eye on two - Thebannerkingrebel in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at 3.10 and Rose Of Arcadia in the mares' maiden hurdle at 1.30 on the back of these comments from Colin Tizzard in a stable tour feature:

"She is a very talented mare and she would have gone to Aintree where I think she would have nearly won the mares' bumper there. She has schooled well and all being well she will end up in the mares' novices' hurdle at Cheltenham as she is a very smart filly. We think she is as good a mare as we've had in training and we are excited about her."

Friday, October 09, 2020

Searching for a silver lining in Chepstow's Silver Trophy (2020 renewal)

 'Anywhere nice on holiday this year, PG?'

'Just the usual - a fortnight down the bottom of our back garden.'


It's been that sort of year.

A recent article in The Railway Magazine pointed out the chances of contracting coronavirus on a one-hour train journey were 11,000/1. If you took the precaution of wearing a facemask for the duration of the journey, the chances were calculated at 22,000/1. With odds like that and a senior railcard to hand, I decided a treat was in order - a day trip to London to catch up with daughter and boyfriend.

A pleasant stroll around Battersea Park, spot of lunch in The Lighthouse and then further restoratives taken at The Sydney Arms, Chelsea, which, last time I checked, was run by former Flat champion jock Richard Hughes.

I'm using the term 'run' rather loosely as Mr Hughes was nowhere to be seen on the day in question but I'm assuming he doesn't have an awful lot of spare time for pulling pints of Timmy Taylor's given he's currently training out of Weathercock House in Lambourn - a yard forever associated with the redoubtable Mrs Jenny Pitman and 1983 Grand National winner Corbiere.

Anyway, with Racing TV broadcasting run-of-the-mill midweek fare from Goodwood, Galway and Catterick Bridge, we decided to sit outside in the late summer sun; more close-run encounters were spotted at the Sydney St - Britten St junction than at the Catterick races. 

Earwigged at the bar: 'Let me check - yes, yes, my William Hill account is up as well.' All seems so deceptively easy, doesn't it? Unfortunately, I still haven't worked out what I'm doing wrong.

Usually around this time of year I ask my butler to dig out the tweeds and take them for their annual visit to the local dry cleaners in preparation for the season ahead. That won't be necessary this year. I recall now with a certain degree of embarrassment the time I took the tweeds on an end-of-summer jolly to the Stratford races. On that occasion, as the result of an oversight on Beeves' part, I arrived fully togged up but with a furtive mothball concealed in one of those troublesome inside pockets. I wasn't unduly pestered by low-flying insects during racing but afterwards during post-race drinks the sweet-smelling, sweet-talking Lady Fotherington-Smythe, knocking back pints of house lager faster than my odd job builder - 'Listerine' I think she called it - was memorably dismissive. Most disconcerting.

Since the resumption of racing following lockdown there appears to have been a surfeit of big-priced winners. One school of thought contends that, with no on-course market, off-course bookmakers are more willing to lay realistic odds about outsiders. At this point I should point out that the longshots I've bet since resumption have all finished exactly where the starting price indicated they should have.

British racing looks set to continue behind closed doors for the foreseeable future. Without spectators, the sport is expected to lose between £250 - £300 million this year. Trevor Hemmings is just one owner who has cut his cloth accordingly.

If you've made it this far, your perseverance is about to be rewarded with another one of my disappointing selections...

Seventeen are set to go to post for the Silver Trophy (3.57 Chepstow) with Lightly Squeeze a non-runner.

Paul Nicholls chalked up a four-timer at the track this afternoon with McFabulous impressive in the Persian War. The Ditcheat handler saddles two in this tomorrow - Saint Sonnet and Sir Psycho. 

Saint Sonnet carries top weight and I think I'm correct in saying that only one horse has carried top weight to victory since the inaugural running in 1988 - Court Minstrel obliged at odds of 40/1 in 2015 (and subsequently went on to win on the 2017 renewal as well).

Sir Psycho was extremely slick at his obstacles in the Victor Ludorum at Haydock and was not disgraced behind Burning Victory in the Triumph Hurdle, although we shouldn't forget Goshen (declared 4.25 Goodwood, Sunday) was some 10 lengths clear of his field when coming to grief in that most dramatic of races. Bryan Carver can claim five but the four-year-old still looks quite high in the handicap and would probably prefer more cut, a comment that applies to a few of the runners. Only two four-year-olds have come home in front: Carlovent (1999); and Mr Thriller (2009). 

The Dan Skelton / Harry Skelton combination took the spoils with Shelford in 2014 and Flash The Steel last year. The brothers try for the hat-trick tomorrow with Flash The Steel now rated eight pounds higher than 12 months ago. 

I've seen the J.P. McManus owned Notre Pari tipped up in a few places. This one looked booked for a place in the Lanzarote before coming to grief at the final flight; winner Burrows Edge finished down the field in the Coral Cup off a mark of 138.

As a general rule of thumb I prefer one that has shown form over the course here. Caswell Bay boasts course and distance winning form and finished second behind Torpillo in last year's renewal of the Paul Ferguson's Jumpers To Follow 4-Y-O Hurdle but his profile is too inconsistent and, again, I think he'd prefer easier conditions.

The two that I've considered at a price are Hometown Boy and Push The Tempo.

Hometown Boy likes to race prominently and has respectable efforts behind McFabulous and Hurricane Harvey in the book although I note the majority of his racing has been on right-handed tracks. 

Push The Tempo doesn't have too many miles on the clock and will not be inconvenienced by drying ground. His third behind Chapmanshype at Kelso three weeks ago reads well; Robert Stephens' charge finished fifth behind Secret Investor in the 2018 running of the Persian War. On Racing Post ratings Push The Tempo is the one to beat, with jockey Rex Dingle able to claim three; I've noted the price being nibbled at this evening. He could 'bounce' after the long layoff before that Kelso run but, conversely, that run may give a fitness edge against those making their seasonal debuts.

At the time of writing most layers offer 20/1 and several are paying one fifth the odds five places; in a competitive affair Push The Tempo is the each-way selection.   

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Summer blues

Some summer. I've lost count of the money I've lost on holiday deposits and I've had to shell out a small fortune on facemasks and hand sanitiser.

Today's low grade handicap hurdle at Newton Abbot wouldn't normally generate much interest but desperate times call for desperate measures; if I were forced to list the negatives, this post would be longer than Delia Bushell's resignation letter and I'd struggle to publish before the off at 7.30.

A number in the field of 17 (non-runner Petrucci) aren't in the best of form and several commentators have highlighted the chance of Dan Skelton's mare Ever So Cool on the back of her fourth behind Mercian Prince (rated 122) in a novice event at Bangor in July. This is her first run in a handicap and, unsurprisingly, she's priced up favourite.

Skelton's near neighbour Robin Dickin saddles Secret Court, a mare with a similar profile who was run out of third spot in a novice event at Uttoxeter 10 days ago; winner Bit On The Side was given a rating of 121. 

Going off 100 here, Secret Court appears to have a couple of pounds in hand (according to my calculations) and looks closely matched with the favourite. The step back in trip and the good ground should both suit. 

The Dickin yard hasn't sent out a winner for 452 days so it's quite difficult to muster much confidence but those summer losses weigh heavy... 

With several layers offering 16/1 and paying one fifth the odds five places, I'm going to take an each-way interest in Secret Court