Friday, March 01, 2024

The 2024 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 23, 2024

The 2024 Coral Trophy at Kempton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideally Flegmatik would want better ground. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veteran Al Dancer has never won beyond two miles five.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 I digress.

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

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

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

Friday, February 16, 2024

An Ascot anodyne

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

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

Such flagrant disregard for circumlocutionary practice can only be applauded.

Further examples of circumlocutionary practice follow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 09, 2024

The 2024 Betfair Hurdle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connections fit cheekpieces for the first time on Brentford Hope. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To summarise...

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

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

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

Friday, February 02, 2024

A suggestion for Sandown

The action this side of the Irish Sea this weekend is somewhat dwarfed by the Dublin Racing Festival (DRF) at Leopardstown where total prize money of two million euros is on offer.

Over here Musselburgh's highlights include the Edinburgh National (tomorrow 2.15), the Scottish Triumph Hurdle (Sunday 1.20), the Scottish Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Sunday 2.25) and the Scottish Champion Chase run over an extended two and a half miles (Sunday 3.35).

The Scilly Isles (2.35) is the showpiece at Sandown but while everyone else is looking elswhere, I'm going to chance one in the Virgin Bet Masters Handicap Chase (3.45). 

Ten have been declared for what looks a below par renewal on paper; the going on the chase track is now described as good, good to soft in places.

Off a mark of 132 favourite Blackjack Magic won the Badger Beer at Wincanton at the beginning of November with an immaculate round of jumping (Certainly Red fourth). 

The top weight wasn't foot-perfect at the fences next time when fourth behind Victtorino at Ascot - Rex Dingle did well to keep the partnership intact at the last - and, with just six chase starts to his name, Anthony Honeyball's charge is the least experienced in the field over the larger obstacles.

Dom Of Mary looked impressive beating Tommie Beau ten lengths in the Sussex National at Plumpton for which the handicapper has raised him nine pounds. I'm not sure the step back in trip and better ground here play to his strengths.

Mare Kestrel Valley won a mares' handicap chase at Hereford off 104 in October and goes off 127 tomorrow. She appears prone to make at least one bad error in a race.

Wearing first-time cheekpieces Bangers And Cash ran his best race for some time in the Mandarin Chase at Newbury in December; his chance is respected, as is that of Certainly Red, fifth in the same race. Two lengths separated the pair that day and they re-oppose on the same terms.

Lydia Richards' charge, a course winner and a distance winner, has a ten pound pull at the weights with Blackjack Magic from their encounter in the Badger Beer; his liking for this particular track is a major plus. 

Grozni has his third start for James Owen; a lot of his Irish form was over shorter trips but the booking of Harry Cobden certainly catches the eye and he has been well supported in the market throughout the day.

I'm a fan of course and distance winner Fortescue but he has become notoriously lazy in his races of late; the worry is he'll become detached, especially on this better ground, before staying on stoutly at the end. 

Java Point is potentially well handicapped on 126 having won off 130 at Newbury in April 2022. He appears to like the Berkshire venue and faded out of contention there behind Inch House on his first run for new connections.

Full Back's profile suggests he hasn't been the easiest to train; he fell behind L'Homme Presse at Lingfield a fortnight ago after a break of 434 days. 

Moroder has been bang out of form this term, having pulled up twice before finishing last behind Flegmatik at Kempton  - the trainer subsequently reported the gelding had made a respiratory noise.

Last March Seamus Mullins' charge pipped Undersupervision a neck in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster off 131 and then ran an excellent second at this track behind Kitty's Light in the bet365 Chase off 136.

Four on the shortlist: Certainly Red, Grozni, Bangers And Cash and Moroder. 

I'm hoping the fitting of a first-time tongue-tie and the drying ground will show Moroder in a better light than we've seen so far this season. I took 28/1 each-way four places earlier this afternoon and he appears to have come in for support this evening.

Moroder is the each-way suggestion, currently 18/1 with Betfred who are paying four places.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

An old man walks into a betting shop...

It's quite some time since I struck an 'over the counter' bet but, having run an errand for pork and leek sausages along with other sundry items last Saturday morning, I saw this promotion in the window of a local William Hill shop: 

Bet £10+ on racing, get free £5 bet on racing.

Unusually, I happened to have this spare tenner burning a hole in my pocket so, for old times' sake, I went in, wrote out the slip in my neatest hand-writing with one of those small biros: £10 win 1.50 Cheltenham The Real Whacker - how the memories came flooding back! - and promptly presented it to the dishevelled youth stood behind the counter. 

The receipt records the bet was struck at 08:39:45; when I politely enquired about my qualifying free bet, callow youth promptly informed me he wasn't authorised to give me one and if I wanted to claim it I'd have to return after 11.00 when a manager would be 'on site'.

Of course, I never managed to keep this rather hastily arranged appointment with a betting shop manager but I took the trouble to pop in the shop on Monday morning, just to clarify some T&Cs. 

Callow youth had been replaced by a more helpful young lady who, after some research, informed me my wager didn't qualify for the offer as I had placed it over the counter and not on SSBT.

'SSBT?' I asked.

She waved at a brightly lit terminal strategically situated over in a rather gloomy corner.

I thanked her for her help but, as I left the shop, noticed the original promotion still displayed in the window. 

The first of seven significant conditions listed in the small print read: 

"Stake £10 on selected UK Horse Racing meeting on SSBT or over the counter [my italics] and receive a free £5 bet."  

The last listed significant condition read: 

"Further terms apply."

Emboldened, I went back into the shop and, after further discussion, was advised to mail William Hill's customer helpline. My case is currently pending; I have been allocated a case reference number.

As we're repeatedly reminded during ITV's Saturday afternoon racing coverage: 

"It's who you play with."

Friday, January 26, 2024

The 2024 Great Yorkshire Handicap Chase


Another email from The Times' business editor hits the inbox. 

This one informs me that two bookmakers are among the top five taxpayers in the UK - Denise, John and Peter Coates of bet365 (£375.9m) and Fred and Peter Done of Betfred (£204.6m).

This season my tips have played their part in boosting the layers' profits - and their tax bills too - and there's no substantive reason to suggest anything is likely to change for the better tomorrow with a trip to Doncaster for the Great Yorkshire Handicap Chase which is due off at 3.15.

It seems churlish to complain, especially after the recent winds and rain, but the last time I had a bet in a three mile chase at Doncaster - the bet365 Handicap Chase on December 16th 2023 - only ten of the 18 fences were jumped on account of the low sun. 

With sunny intervals and a moderate breeze forecast for Donny tomorrow there must be a fair chance we'll see something similar once again.

Forward Plan beat Mister Coffey (second), Twoshotsoftequila (third), Whistleinthedark (fourth) and Sail Away (sixth) six weeks ago; after the race winning jockey Ben Godfrey said:

"He's only a little horse [Forward Plan] but he's been holding his own in nice races and shaped well in the Badger Beer. The fences were out and I knew he has a nice turn of foot."   

Naturally, with eight fences omitted, that form needs to be treated with a certain amount of caution.

18 are set to face the starter tomorrow with the going described as good, good to soft in places. 

Famous Bridge heads the market, having won the Tommy Whittle at Haydock last time out on heavy ground. Nicky Richards' charge won on good ground over a trip of just under two miles six furlongs at Wetherby last March so clearly is no slouch.

Christian Williams hasn't had a winner for 66 days but his Cap Du Nord bounced back to form in this race last year - when it was known as the Sky Bet Handicap Chase - beaten a length by Cooper's Cross off a mark of 125 and then going on to win the Swinley Handicap Chase at Ascot. 

He races from one pound out of the handicap tomorrow on 122; his prominence in the betting suggests connections expect a big run although this looks more competitive than last year.

Cooper's Cross went on to finish second to Kitty's Light, a stablemate of Cap Du Nord, in the Scottish Grand National last April but he has been out of sorts this term; connections try to rekindle the flame by fitting first-time blinkers.

Irish raider Sweet Will won a three mile handicap hurdle on good ground here last March off 126 and races off 122 while Erne River clearly likes Doncaster but drying ground is unlikely to play to Surrey Quest's strengths.

Kandoo Kid tries this trip for the first time while Strictlyadancer, another stablemate of Cap Du Nord, hinted at a return to form when second behind Tweed Skirt at Kempton.

Somehow I'm drawn back to the dubious form of that race won by Forward Plan here six weeks ago. 

It's hard to recommend Mister Coffey (no wins in 11 chase starts) but of those behind I think Twoshotsoftequila and Sail Away were both at a disadvantage as a result of the omitted fences.

Twoshotsoftequila was well backed that day and made plenty of ground up the home straight while Sail Away did well to finish less than nine lengths behind the winner in sixth.

With the Skelton yard hitting top form last weekend and Sail Away dropped two pounds for that latest effort, the grey gets the nod. He beat Forward Plan 11 lengths on similar terms at Ayr last April.

Sail Away is the each-way suggestion, at the time of writing 14/1 with bet365 who pay six places.

Hoping they jump all the fences this time...

Friday, January 12, 2024

The 2024 Classic Chase at Warwick

Unusually five of the fourteen declared for tomorrow's Classic Chase (3.00 Warwick) are mares: Malina Girl; Galia Des Liteaux; Fontaine Collonges; Credo; and My Silver Lining.

Favourite Malina Girl won the three mile three and a half furlong Jewson Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in November (Guetepan Collonges third, City Chief fourth) and was promptly raised from a mark of 135 to 146 for her trouble. 

Next time out Gavin Cromwell's mare looked the most likely challenger to eventual winner Broadway Boy when coming to grief three from home in another Cheltenham handicap last month; Broadway Boy, now rated 150, runs in the Hampton Novices' Chase at 2.24.

She has been allocated 12-00 here but Conor Stone-Walsh's five pound claim means Galia Des Liteaux shoulders top weight with 11-10. 

2012 winner Hey Big Spender remains the only winner to have carried top weight to victory.

Galia Des Liteaux won last year's renewal of the Hampton before finishing fifth in the Brown Advisory at the Festival, just over 16 lengths behind The Real Whacker. 

She subsequently finished fourth, 15 lengths behind Gerri Colombe in the Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree in April, losing two places before the final flight. 

At odds of 2/5f it was a surprise to see her beaten by Pink Legend at Newbury last month - connections fit cheekpieces for her first run in handicap company. 

On seasonal debut Fontaine Collonges unshipped Ned Fox at the first and, running loose, caused plenty of problems for the other runners in the London National at Sandown. 

Next time out she won the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day. 

Into Overdrive set a brisk pace up front that day but off the home bend the race developed into a match between the eventual winner and Empire Steel. Empire Steel appeared to have the initiative coming to three out but a mistake put paid to his chance and Venetia Williams' charge stayed on strongly to win 14 lengths.

That looked quite a hard race; she has been raised seven pounds for the win and, just 18 days later, I'm worried this might come a little too quickly.

Back in April, in receipt of 15 pounds, My Silver Lining beat Credo 31 lengths in the Mares' Handicap Chase Final at Cheltenham. 

My Silver Lining won at Wincanton in October and finished second behind Animal at Sandown last time - Emma Lavelle's charge stayed on well that day. The grey's profile suggests she may prefer racing right-handed.

Credo, I believe, also won at Wincanton in October and has twice finished behind Famous Bridge at Haydock; she's racing off a mark ten pounds higher and I'm not convinced this step up in trip will suit.

Guetepan Collonges was sent off 5/1 favourite for this race last year, finishing fourth behind Iwilldoit (Volcano fifth). This year he tries again off a mark ten pounds higher. 

This one stays well but was outpaced at the business end in Malina Girl's race last time - that seems to have happened here last year as well and also when fourth behind Major Dundee in the Midlands Grand National.

Connections of Major Dundee have a tilt at the Grand National in their sights after that victory at Uttoxeter and the gelding's previous third behind Win My Wings in the 2022 Scottish Grand National. 

Alan King's charge prefers racing left-handed and this has been the target for quite some time. 

He got stuck in the heavy ground behind Nassalam at Chepstow last time and will need to keep close tabs on the pacemakers at this track; connections fit a visor for the first time which apparently worked well in a recent schooling session.

Beauport's jumping is often plagued by niggling errors but his two efforts this term merit respect - fifth behind Victtorino at Ascot and then beaten one and a quarter lengths by Truckers Lodge in the London National (Broken Halo a faller).

In a handicap hurdle at Uttoxeter back in March 2022 Beauport beat Boothill conceding seven pounds; he might be well handicapped here as his chase rating (141) is seven pounds lower than his hurdle rating.

Broken Halo was close enough and hadn't been asked a question when coming to grief at the penultimate flight in the London National. His best form is on right-handed tracks and handler Paul Nicholls has indicated it took his charge a while to recover from that fall.

Percussion has run well over the Aintree National fences previously but stable form is a concern.

Of those at bigger prices, course and distance winner Volcano's running style is suited to this track;  the grey has been nibbled at in the market. He finished fifth last year and this year is only two pounds out of the handicap.

Rapper's fourth behind Broadway Boy at Cheltenham is worth a second look - he was beaten under nine lengths, one and a half lengths ahead of City Chief. 

He has yet to race over this marathon distance but didn't look like stopping when winning over an extended three and a quarter miles at Cheltenham on New Year's Day 2023.

Duc De Beauchene won the Norfolk National at Fakenham in May but has been out of form since.

As always, a very competitive renewal.

I'm going to side with Major Dundee; off 135 he'll need to go close here for any realistic hope of going on to Aintree for the big one in April.

Major Dundee is the each-way suggestion, 9/1 with Coral, Ladbrokes and bet365 paying four places.

Friday, January 05, 2024

A Wincanton whim

The first Premier fixture at Sandown scheduled for tomorrow was abandoned earlier today on account of recent heavy rain.

I didn't hold out too much hope for tomorrow's card at Wincanton either, given that Paul Nicholls had to evacuate horses from his yard at Ditcheat on Thursday due to flooding. 

However clerk of the course at Wincanton, Daniel Cooper, is optimistic; an inspection is planned for 8.00 am. 

All that preparation for the Veterans' Series Final has been gently shoved into the pending tray.

Seven are set to go to post in a trappy-looking Virgin Bet Best Odds Daily Handicap Chase at 2.40; the going is heavy.

Favourite Georges Saint looked held in third at Fakenham last time but stayed on well to win going away. 

The handicapper has raised Venetia Williams' charge seven pounds and, with Charlie Deutsch replacing Lucy Turner in the plate, the grey effectively starts off a mark 12 pounds higher.

Huelgoat won over course and distance on his penultimate start (Go Steady seventh, Dibble Decker ninth) but has tended to show better form on better ground.

Jacamar finished second in a Class 4 handicap chase at the track 11 days ago; the yard is going through a quiet spell.

Iconic Muddle and Go Steady are the two veterans in this field. 

The former makes his seasonal debut for a yard in flying form - 7 wins from 25 runs in the past fortnight.

At twelve years of age the latter, seventh here behind Huelgoat on seasonal debut, is entitled to finish a lot closer to that opponent tomorrow; his fourth behind Cepage in a veterans' chase at Cheltenham last time reads well.

I think Dibble Decker is another who prefers better ground which leaves Honneur D'Ajonc. 

This one has been on the radar for some time and will certainly handle the ground; he won at Hereford off a mark of 127 in January. 

He hasn't really shown any noteworthy form since to be honest, failing to complete on three occasions and finishing a remote third behind Stormy Flight at Exeter last time. Jane Williams' charge wore cheekpieces for the first-time on that occasion yet weakened out of contention up the home straight.

He's not the biggest of individuals but in a Straight from the Stable article [RP Weekender 15-19.03.23] his handler described him as a 'fabulous jumper' who 'always tries his best'. 

He's feasibly handicapped and, with the yard going well (2 wins from 5 runs in the past fortnight), I'm going to take a chance that Honneur D'Ajonc can return to some sort of form.

Honneur D'Ajonc is the each-way suggestion, currently priced at 11/1, with bet365 and Coral both paying three places.   

Friday, December 29, 2023

The 2023 Coral Mandarin Handicap Chase at Newbury

As it could well prove a case of Last Man Standing in the Last Fling Handicap Chase (1.25 Haydock) with six set to race over an extended three and a half mile trip on heavy ground, I've decided to take a look at the Coral Mandarin Handicap Chase (2.25 Newbury) instead.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Fantastikas is declared for both races, with a stated preference for the longer event at Haydock where seven pound claimer James Turner is booked to ride.

Assuming Fantastikas travels north, a field of 11 will contest the Mandarin; the going at Newbury is currently good to soft, soft in places.

Five-year-old Atlanta Brave heads the market. 

Kerry Lee's charge has just two chase runs to his name and tries a trip beyond three miles for the first time. He made one bad jumping error at Exeter last time but his chase mark (121) is three pounds lower than his current hurdle mark.

Off 128 Surrey Quest is rated six pounds above his hurdle mark. 

At Huntingdon in October this one was three lengths adrift in third coming to the last but won going away from Storminhome and has his first run since wind surgery in November.

No doubt trainer Ben Pauling will use Storminhome as a benchmark for the chances of the two he saddles, Bowtogreatness and Bangers And Cash, both rated 135 and set to carry 12-00. 

The former still has to win a race over fences after six starts but he was highly tried last season, mostly over a shorter trip - he finished fifth in the Scilly Isles at Sandown behind Gerri Colombe and down the field in the Magners Plate at the Festival.  

On his first run beyond three miles over fences Bowtogreatness finished an excellent second to Midnight River in the Freebooter at Aintree (stablemate Shakem Up'Arry fourth and Wednesday's Welsh National winner Nassalam seventh); Ben Jones was aboard that day and keeps the ride.

That form has a strong look about it; the gelding makes his seasonal debut here.

Stablemate Bangers And Cash won the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen 12 months ago and a Taunton handicap over an extended three and a half miles in March. 

He hasn't been in the best of form on two runs this season - one over hurdles, one over fences - but there was a hint he was on the way back at Cheltenham six weeks ago. Cheekpieces are fitted for the first time.

Grumpy Charley won this race last year with Shanty Alley second and Laskalin third; both placed horses start off a mark five pounds lower than last year.

Shanty Alley had a satisfactory prep behind Some Scope at Catterick last month but, racing from the front, Laskalin finished tailed off behind Hidden Heroics at Ludlow. His second behind Le Milos on New Year's Day two years ago reads well; a return to form would give him a chance.

Certainly Red carries top weight (12-02); on occasions his jumping wasn't particularly fluent in the London National at Sandown. 

Yes Indeed spoiled his chance with a bad mistake at Bangor 15 days ago while Docpickedme fiddled a few Haydock obstacles last time.

Alan King told RP Weekender readers that this race rather than the Welsh National was the better option for Notachance. 

Last year Notachance was third in the Classic Chase at Warwick and third behind stablemate Major Dundee in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter. Dropped three pounds after his seasonal reappearance, he seems feasibly handicapped on a mark of 127.  

Two years ago Striking A Pose was on the radar after winning an Exeter novice chase with Coconut Splash third and Any News fourth; unfortunately he hasn't won since. 

He underwent wind surgery in October but will need to improve from his last run at Wincanton to be competitive here; the majority of his racing has been on right-handed tracks. 

Working through the form I'd have to say Bowtogreatness - trainer Ben Pauling's 'pick' in a Straight from the Stable tour last year [RP Weekender 26-30.10.22] - stands out. To my mind the winner is likely to come from the younger brigade in this field. 

However, at the prices I think Notachance has at least some sort of small chance and he looks overpriced at 20/1 in places. Admittedly there will be a deduction if, as expected, Fantastikas - variously priced between 6/1 and 10/1 this evening - goes to Haydock. 

Notachance is the each-way suggestion, currently 20/1 with bet365, Betfair and Betfred paying four places.

Wishing all readers a very happy new year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The 2023 Welsh Grand National

Festive greetings.

I found a copy of  'This Sporting Life - Gerry Cranham, Photographer' beneath our Christmas tree yesterday and was immediately transported back to those halcyon days of childhood; the result is I haven't spent much time on tomorrow's Welsh National form (2.50 Chepstow).

Twenty are set to face the starter with the bottom eight running from out of the handicap; the going is currently described as good to soft but strong winds and heavy rain are predicted throughout the day.

Fresh from victory in a dramatic renewal of the King George earlier this afternoon, Gavin Sheehan is aboard market leader Super Survivor. 

Jamie Snowden's charge carries a nice racing weight but has just four chase starts to his name. He was no match for stable companion Git Maker at Lingfield last time and prior to that finished behind Autonomous Cloud and Iron Bridge in a novice chase at Uttoxeter in March. 

Nassalam beat Wayfinder over an extended two miles seven furlongs in the trial race at the track 18 days ago. 

Top weight Iwilldoit did it in 2021 and bids to repeat the trick off a mark 13 pounds higher; Dylan Johnston claims seven. 

Since 1997 only four horses have carried more than 11-00 to victory: Halcon Genelardais (11-03 in 2006); Synchronised (11-06 in 2010); Native River (11-12 in 2016); and Elegant Escape (11-08 in 2018).

The Big Breakaway was second in this race last year (Truckers Lodge fourth, The Galloping Bear a faller and Wayfinder pulled up) but Joe Tizzard's charge has failed to complete in three of his four subsequent starts; last time he was pulled up behind Chambard in the Becher.

Only The Bold will relish testing ground but it's difficult to glean much hope from his two runs over hurdles last month.

Truckers Lodge, winner of the London National at Sandown 18 days ago, has placed in three of the past four renewals of this race. 

Course winner Amateur finished third behind Truckers Lodge in the West Wales National at Ffos Las in April, beaten just over four lengths in receipt of three pounds on soft ground.

Tomorrow he receives a stone from that rival, although Freddie Gingell reduces that differential by five pounds.

The profile of John Flint's chaser has an inconsistent look to it and, ideally, he may prefer better ground but at 66/1 with Paddy Power I'm going to take the chance and have a small each-way interest.

Amateur is the each-way selection, 66/1 with Paddy Power paying six places.

Friday, December 22, 2023

The 2023 renewal of the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase

With Christmas arrangements suddenly subjected to substantial revision, I haven't spent as much time as I'd like on tomorrow's Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase (1.30 Haydock). 

Famous Bridge beat the mares Credo (second) and Eleanor Bob (fourth) in the Betfair "Free Racing Multiples Today" Handicap Chase over course and distance four weeks ago. 

That day Eleanor Bob jumped well in the main at the head of affairs while Famous Bridge raced in midfield with Credo held up at the back. 

Famous Bridge crept towards the pace on the second circuit, led at the final flight and looked to have more than enough in the tank to repel fast-finishing Credo whereas Eleanor Bob just weakened on the long run-in, only beaten four and a quarter lengths in the end. 

Famous Bridge heads the market; the trio look closely matched again. 

Lucy Turner, who won the Becher on Chambard two weeks ago, replaces Charlie Deutsch aboard Eleanor Bob and her five pound claim could prove a significant advantage on heavy ground.

I wonder whether Sam Twiston-Davies will ride Credo nearer the pace tomorrow - she was certainly flying at the finish last time.

Following wind surgery in the summer Enqarde beat Docpickedme at Warwick six and a half weeks ago. That was some effort, his first win since beating Remastered ten lengths in the 2021 renewal of this race; he started off a mark of 128 that day and goes off 127 tomorrow.

On ground that was probably quicker than ideal last season's Topham winner Bill Baxter finished eighth behind Datsalrightgino in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury three weeks ago. 

In a subsequent Straight from the Stable article [RP Weekender 13-17.12.23] handler Warren Greatrex said:

"It was an amazing day when he won the Topham for us at the Grand National meeting in April and we have the big one in mind.

"He ran a very good race at Newbury in the Coral Gold Cup but needs softer ground.

"I loved how he stayed on and passed a few horses on his first try at that extended trip. He's definitely improved this season and has come out of the race well, so we could look at the Tommy Whittle at Haydock next week...

"He needs to go up to get in the National, probably 7lb, so he's got to win a race and I was chuffed with how he never missed a beat in a big field at Newbury. That has taken a trip question mark out of it and, in soft or heavy ground, he'll be hard to beat in the right race next time."

He has been dropped three pounds for that Newbury run and goes off 140 tomorrow.

On his first run over three miles Cooper's Cross won the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster in January and subsequently finished a three-length second to Kitty's Light in the Scottish Grand National.

On balance this one has shown his best form on better ground but he was noted 'going easily' when hampered and coming to grief four out in the Topham won by Bill Baxter.

The mare Burrows Diamond has been nibbled at in the market and hails from the in-form Sue Smith yard which boasts a 20% win strike rate over the past fortnight. 

Dr Kananga likes to race from the front and returns to the track after wind surgery over the summer while Conkwell Legend has just three chase starts to his name and finished tailed off behind Stay Away Fay in the Esher Novices' Chase at Sandown last time.

Just nine declared but no easy puzzle to solve; I'm going to take Warren Greatrex at his word. 

Bill Baxter is the win selection, 11/2 with Sky who will refund losing stakes if the grey places second or third, or alternatively, 13/2 with bet365 at the time of writing.

Season's greetings.  


Friday, December 15, 2023

A Doncaster distraction at Christmas

This year I've asked Santa for a copy of 'From Bicycle to Bentley, A Bookmaker's Story: by Stephen Little', written by Rupert Mackeson, in the forlorn hope of stumbling across the odd helpful hint or two.

Speaking personally, I'm still at the bicycle stage myself, although I haven't been seen out on it for quite some time - I picked up a flat six months ago and can't afford the repair.

Anyway, Santa's little helper has indicated she's having a spot of bother laying her Christmas mittens - rather prettily adorned with yuletide kittens - on a copy of the desired tome; I'm tempted to resubmit the request, ask Santa for a Bentley, and be done with the matter.

In the meantime, apropos of nothing in particular, the book I'm currently working on, 'From Cyclist to Pedestrian', is scheduled for publication late next year.

Attempting to boost my flagging festive finances, I've fudged the Cheltenham Christmas meeting card - whatever happened to the International? - and taken a diversion to Doncaster instead where the going is described as good to soft, good in places on the hurdles course. 

Rare Edition's seven length defeat of Rubaud at Kempton on Boxing Day last year is a piece of form that catches the eye in the handicap hurdle at 2.40 but it's the bet365 Handicap Chase at 3.15 that has piqued interest with a couple available at double figure prices. 

At the time of writing three are bidding for favouritism - Forward Plan, Mister Coffey and Sail Away.

Conceding a stone Sail Away beat Forward Plan 11 lengths in the Novices' Champion Handicap Chase at Ayr in April; the grey likes to race prominently and, generally speaking, jumps well. 

In the autumn Dan Skelton indicated they were considering a stab at the Charlie Hall or the Sefton with this horse but he made his seasonal debut at Newbury just two weeks ago where he finished fifth behind Kandoo Kid.

Forward Plan, not a big scopey type, was held up in rear before weakening out of contention in the Badger Beer won by stablemate Blackjack Magic last month.

Mister Coffey has yet to win in ten starts over fences.  

Whistleinthedark made the odd error in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last time and nearly came to grief four out; he eventually finished eighth behind Stage Star. Placed twice in three mile points, this represents his first try at this trip under rules. 

There are two previous course and distance winners in the field. 

Twoshotsoftequila was second to Some Scope at Catterick last time, looks unexposed, and is just one pound higher here. 

Manofthepeople tends to race prominently but his jumping isn't always foot-perfect. 

At Ascot three weeks ago he looked a little unlucky, unseating Connor Brace at the fourth after Emir Sacree appeared to jump left-handed into his path. Fergal O'Brien's charge has been the subject of market support this afternoon.

Castle Robin hasn't had a run since coming to grief behind Midnight River in the Freebooter at Aintree in April. He has gone well fresh in the past; the defeat of Laskalin at Sandown in February is respected.

Ciel De Neige, formerly trained by Willie Mullins, has some interesting bits and pieces of form including third in the 2019 Boodles, sixth in the 2021 County Hurdle and sixth behind Ash Tree Meadow in the Galway Plate in August. This is his first run for Ben Haslam.

Ben Pauling saddles two.

Nestor Park was third in a veterans' race at Aintree last time while Slipway finished ninth behind Malina Girl at Cheltenham.

I've watched a replay of the Cheltenham race - Slipway ran well for a long way and seemed to enjoy himself up front before fading out of contention from three out over an extended trip of three mile three furlongs. 

To my mind that run, his first following wind surgery in the spring, was the best we've seen from him since he won the Southern National at Fontwell just over twelve months ago. 

Luca Morgan was in the plate that day; his brother Beau takes the ride tomorrow and claims five while Kielan Woods, who was aboard at Cheltenham, rides Nestor Park. 

Last week's selection, Minella Trump, missed the Becher at Aintree on account of the heavy ground and turns up here instead. 

Donald McCain's charge boasts a decent record over the larger obstacles - placed in 11 of his 13 chase starts to date - and has won off this mark previously. 

He was beaten a long way (77 lengths) on seasonal debut in a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham four weeks ago but the yard boasts a win strike rate of 21% over the past fortnight and sent out Wholeofthemoon to win the novices' handicap hurdle at Doncaster earlier today at odds of 80/1.

Betfred, Sky and bet365 are paying four places this race; at the time of writing both Minella Trump and Slipway are 20/1 with Betfred and sponsors bet365.

Sail Away makes most appeal of those at the head of the market; in a race where there will be plenty of pace Slipway is the each-way suggestion, priced 20/1 with Betfred and bet365. 

Friday, December 08, 2023

The 2023 Becher Chase - a leap of faith required

It's some 45 years since I was first introduced to the thoughts of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) and his (in)famous wager.

I haven't bothered to unearth the few simplistic notes I scribbled down at that time (with trusted Bic biro) but, from memory - and Wikipedia... 

Pascal argued that in the game of Life there can be no conclusive proof of the existence of God so the individual, obliged to place a wager, might as well bet on God's existence because, if the bet comes in, the rewards in the afterlife will be beyond compare.

Logical reasoning can never prove or disprove the existence of God so it follows the individual has to make 'the leap of faith' in any quest for those otherworldly rewards.

Now, they may have been racing on the Roodee in Pascal's time but I'm pretty certain Paddy Power weren't paying extra places; in a quest for rewards of a more temporal nature, you'll need to make your own leap of faith should you decide to read on.

Fourteen are set to face the starter in the Becher Chase (2.05 Aintree) with the going on the National course currently described as soft, heavy in places, with persistent rain forecast on Saturday morning.

Top weight Coko Beach has jumped these fences twice, finishing eighth in the 2022 Grand National and being pulled up in the same race earlier this year. He may not stay the National trip but three and a quarter miles looks well within his compass.

Gordon Elliott's grey won the Troytown at Navan three weeks ago yet looks to face a stiff task conceding a minimum of 15 pounds to all his rivals; Danny Gilligan's five pound claim reduces the concession to a minimum of 10 pounds.

The last horse to carry more than 11-06 to victory - and the last Irish-trained winner - was Vic Venturi who shouldered 11-12 in 2009. 

Current favourite Ashtown Lad beat Gesskille in last year's renewal and is only two pounds higher this time. 

I tipped Dan Skelton's charge on his comeback run in the Badger Beer at Wincanton four weeks ago and what a major disappointment he was, losing touch and being pulled up in the home straight. 

This has been the long-term target but he'll need to show significant improvement on that run last month.

Percussion, beaten five and a half lengths into third last year, has a decent record over these fences, having finished third and second in the past two renewals of the Grand Sefton; he goes off 130, the same mark as last year.

With just one win from thirteen chase starts The Big Breakaway has never quite lived up to expectations. I fancied this one for the Ultima in March but he was unable to keep tabs on the leaders and eventually pulled up. 

On seasonal debut Joe Tizzard's charge finished fifth behind Blackjack Magic in the Badger Beer at Wincanton. 

To my mind The Big Breakaway's best performance to date was runner-up to The Two Amigos in last year's Welsh National at Chepstow. That was a bit of slog in the mud so tomorrow's underfoot conditions shouldn't be a problem; however on his first try over these unique fences he got no further than the second in the Grand National in April.

Back in December 2021 Highland Hunter, trained by Paul Nicholls at that time, won the London National at Sandown and some three weeks later finished second behind Iwilldoit in the Welsh National.

Following a long break and sporting a first-time tongue-tie, Highland Hunter ran very well on his first run for Fergal O'Brien, staying on to claim second behind Elvis Mail in the Edinburgh Gin Handicap Chase at Kelso. He went steady at the head of affairs that day; you'd expect more pace up front tomorrow.

Celebre D'Allen, eighth in the Topham behind Bill Baxter, showed his current well-being by winning 16 lengths on his first try beyond three miles in a veterans' chase over the Mildmay fences six weeks ago. 

The handicapper raised him ten pounds for that effort; with Micheal Nolan replacing ten pound claimer Elizabeth Gale in the plate, he effectively starts off a mark 20 pounds higher.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has some record, having won this race six times with Indian Tonic (1993); Young Hustler (1995); Earth Summit (1998); Hello Bud (2010); Hello Bud (2012); and Blaklion (2017). 

This year he tries with Undersupervision who finished third behind Hascouer Clermont in an amateur riders' handicap chase at Cheltenham three weeks ago. This one won the 2022 Grimthorpe Chase and was pipped a neck by Moroder in that same Doncaster race last March.

Chambard finished two and a quarter lengths ahead of Undersupervision in that Cheltenham amateur riders' race. Venetia Williams' grey may be 11 years old but on revised terms is weighted to confirm those Cheltenham placings.

Now Where Or When deserves plenty of respect having finished third behind Kemboy and Vanillier in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse last February while this evening I've noted bits and pieces for J.J. Slevin's mount Dorking Cock (twelfth in the Foxhunters in the spring) who races from some way out of the handicap. At the time of writing Paddy Power are noticeably shorter than their rivals about this one.

Lounge Lizard is another to run from out of the handicap and a six-year-old has yet to come home in front but Henry Daly wouldn't send his charge there on a wing and a prayer; the booking of Charlie Deutsch catches the eye.  

Sidi Ismael will have plenty of local support - syndicate member Wayne Fitzgerald owns Fitzgerald and Lanigans bars in Liverpool - but the two that are of interest at a bigger price are Moroder and Minella Trump.

I'm a Moroder fan; he has close form with Undersupervision and his second behind Kitty's Light in the bet365 Chase at Sandown reads well; he bled from the nose in the Desert Orchid Silver Cup at Wincanton last time. 

There has been the odd nibble in the market but I'm concerned as the stable haven't had a winner in 19 days - or a runner since November 30th.

Minella Trump raced prominently for a long way in this year's National before weakening four from home. In a stable tour article [RP Weekender 08-12.02.23] written before that run handler Donald McCain said:

"They don't come any more genuine and consistent than this lovely horse who has won nine of his last ten races, which is quite some record.

"During that period his rating has risen from 123 to 149, but judging by his last run he has not stopped improving yet."

Placed in 11 of his 13 chase starts to date, he had a pipe-opener over hurdles at Cheltenham three weeks ago where, if I'm being honest, I would have liked to have seen a little bit more but I think this has been the target after that run in the National eight months ago.

He has won off this mark (145) previously and, on balance, appears to represent the more solid option.

Granted, a leap of faith is required, but Paddy Power stands out offering 28/1.

Minella Trump is the each-way suggestion, 28/1 with Paddy Power who pay five places. 

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.