Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two selections for New Year's Day

Firstly, let me take this opportunity to wish all readers a very happy and prosperous new year. I'm pushed for time, so just two selections for tomorrow. At Cheltenham only five go in the Dipper Novices' Chase; Punchestowns won't be much of a price but I'm not inclined to oppose even though there are some talented rivals in the field.

In the 3.35 at Exeter I go for Tocca Ferro. As part of a Racing Post Stable Tour item a couple of months ago trainer Emma Lavelle said the following about her charge: 'We like him... There are certain horses you get that give you that extra special feeling and he would be one of those... I'm dreaming about collecting a big trophy with him.'

Monday, December 28, 2009

The rescheduled Long Walk Hurdle

There's a very good card at Newbury tomorrow with the highlight being the rescheduled Long Walk Hurdle at 2.40. The press has built this up into a match between Big Buck's and Diamond Harry but we can expect improvement from Karabak (who, according to John Francome, nearly blew the stands down after finishing six lengths behind Zaynar in the Coral Ascot Hurdle some six weeks ago) while Fair Along has been known to sulk on occasions in the past but is good on his day. On official ratings Fair Along is the third best horse in this eight runner race, needing to find just three pounds with Diamond Harry, yet Paddy Power offer 25/1 this evening - that has to be worth an each-way dabble with the stable in such good form, provided of course the eight make it to the start. The same layers go 12/1 Karabak which also looks tempting each-way value if you fancy that one. I expect all those taking on the current holder of the World Hurdle title here would have preferred to have done so at Ascot as Big Buck's has never raced right-handed - the snow stopped that taking place.

The Graduation Chase (1.00) looks trappy enough and should prove useful for future reference. At the weights Roll Along should beat these but he disappointed on his first run for Twiston-Davies when an even money favourite at Carlisle. I harbour a suspicion he may just prefer better ground than he's likely to encounter tomorrow.

In the Challow Finian's Rainbow went into many notebooks when winning here by fifteen lengths last month. He has another five furlongs to travel tomorrow but the last time he didn't give the impression that would cause a problem. Others worth a mention include Reve De Sivola, Manyriverstocross and Duke Of Lucca while Kennel Hill ran a stormer at odds of 100/1 when second to Tell Massini in the Albert Bartlett Bristol Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham just over a fortnight ago.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Welsh National thoughts

A very quick post on tomorrow's Welsh National at Chepstow where twenty are set to face the starter at 2.10 provided the course passes the 8.00 am inspection. Grand National winner Mon Mome heads the weights - the going is reported as soft, heavy in places. A colleague asked me for an opinion a week or so ago - my two against the field are Lucinda Russell's Silver By Nature ('We go there with a serious chance', Weekender 16-20.12.09), priced up at 11/1 with Coral this evening and Philip Hobbs' Kornati Kid ('Great big horse, who could be very good this season if he gets lucky', Racing Post, 19.10.09), priced up at 16/1 by William Hill.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Boxing Day selections

The weather is likely to have its say with many of the scheduled cards, so I've concentrated on the King George meeting at Kempton and added a couple of observations for Wincanton which doesn't have an inspection planned at the time of writing.

My local Ladbrokes has a big sign in the window, encouraging punters to come in and have a bet on 'Kauto Star Day'. I'm a Kauto Star fan and hope to see the great horse win the King George for the fourth time but I won't be backing him at 4/7. I'm going to bet an each-way chance at bigger odds and the three that make most appeal are Barbers Shop, Deep Purple and Nacarat. Nicky Henderson's Barbers Shop finished fourth in the Hennessy and has plenty to find on official ratings but this three mile trip should suit better; 18/1 in places is tempting. Deep Purple proved he stays three miles when winning the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and has since won a competitive-looking Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon. This is a step up but the handicapper rates him the fourth best horse in the race (behind Kauto, Imperial Commander and Madison Du Berlais). The stable is in form - 14/1 is generally available. I've a mention for front-runner Nacarat as Tom George's stable jockey Sam Thoams has chosen this one rather than Tartak. Nacarat won the Racing Post Chase over course and distance in impressive fashion last February. He clearly likes Kempton but his two runs this season have been dismal; having said that, Tom George's yard is firing again now. I've already taken out a small interest in Barbers Shop; looking at the above, the percentage each-way call appears to be Deep Purple.

The Christmas Hurdle (2.30) is intriguing. Binocular is the best horse in the race but he disappointed badly in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle the last time, a race won by Go Native who reopposes here. That race was something of a tactical affair; once again it's not immediately obvious where the pace will come from. A mention for Starluck, a speedy course and distance winner; he's a horse I like but as a four-year-old looks up against it. The word is Binocular is back to his best but I'm tempted to go with Go Native - Noel Meade has won this race in the past with Harchibald (twice) and Jazz Messenger.

Many will think the Feltham (1.55) is there for Nicky Henderson's French purchase Long Run, receiving weight from all his rivals; the owner's son takes the ride. Having had my fingers burnt in this particular race on a couple of occasions in the past, I'll watch from the sidelines; the Kempton fences are plenty stiff enough for novices learning their trade.

Bellvano, currently second favourite behind Dunguib for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, is likely to be a short price in the opener. Inventor beat King Olav one and a quarter lengths at Ascot seven weeks ago (Manyriverstocross third); on the bare form King Olav might be expected to reverse placings eight pounds better off but the winner won well enough. Philip Hobbs' Menorah is well regarded and didn't appear to appreciate the set up in trip the last time while course and distance winner Cootehill is likely to race from the front. The winner has come from the first three in the betting eight times in last nine years; Bellvano is the one to beat but I'm going to play King Olav each-way if the price is big enough.

At Wincanton Nick Gifford's Royal Wedding is noted in the 2.20 although the yard hasn't had a winner for well over a month. Some interesting runners in the 3.25 - Ashkazar was sixth in the Boylesports International at Cheltenham a fortnight ago. Venetia Williams, another who hasn't been in the best of form, fields four, stable jockey Aidan Coleman opting for Chief Yeoman. Aachen is well regarded but in contrast to most of his opponents this is his first run since the spring. In the concluding bumper I'd be tempted to take a chance with Megastar if not priced up favourite - the last time he had Nicky Henderson's Master Of The Hall back in fourth and that one has won since; the jock's seven pound claim offsets the penalty incurred for the win.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Rescue required

There is something awful about Christmas.

A typical conversation around this time of year starts with the opening gambit 'What are you doing for Christmas?' In very general terms people tend to reply in one of two ways. The first reply is along the lines of they're going to relatives which means they won't have to worry about the cooking. What this *really* means is they would prefer not to go to the aforementioned relatives but from the gastronomic perspective at least there is some small consolation to be gained and appreciated. The second reply is along the lines of they're having people around. What this *really* means is they would prefer not to have the relatives around and they won't even have the consolation of not having to do the cooking.

As if all that wasn't enough to ruin your Christmas, you know that for months the BBC has charged its EastEnders scriptwriters to build up to yet another disaster / murder that will befall some poor unfortunate on the very evening of Christmas Day itself. I have never worked out why the really big horrors in EastEnders happen on a Christmas Day.

Fortunately the racing is there to keep us half sane. The reason you tend to have to queue to get on your local track on a Boxing Day is self-evident - both the people who went to their relatives for Christmas and those who had their relatives around for Christmas want to get away from their relatives. This year however there is a potential problem on the horizon in the shape of the weather. The 'cold snap' looks set to continue which is likely to spell trouble for the majority of turf fixtures scheduled to race on Boxing Day and heap further misery on those trying to avoid their relatives. Kempton Park has taken the precaution of covering the track but simply isn't anywhere near big enough to cater for all of us desperate to get away from our relatives.

I'll have to watch on telly and hope an each-way wager on 16/1 shot Barbers Shop in the King George can bring some light relief this Christmas time...

Friday, December 18, 2009

The north wind doth blow...

...and we shall have snow. Saturday's cards at Ascot and Newcastle have already fallen to the weather while the meeting at Haydock is subject to an inspection at 8.00 tomorrow morning. The clerk of the course describes himself as 'quietly confident' but, given the predicted temperatures, I'm more cautious. Had Ascot gone ahead, the main attraction would have been the clash between Big Buck's and Diamond Harry in the Long Walk Hurdle. It would have been the first time the two market leaders had raced right-handed, and I'd come up with this cunning plan to bet Philip Hobbs' Fair Along at a big-looking 16/1. Never mind... The Long Walk Hurdle has now been rescheduled for Tuesday 29th December at Newbury.

Should Haydock get the green light, plenty will be looking to solve the feature, the Tommy Whittle Chase, in which fifteen go to post for the three mile event. Keith Reveley's Jass is a horse I like but I suspect this trip may be his absolute minimum - he stayed on well when fourth in the Rehearsal at Newcastle three weeks ago after losing his place three quarters of a mile out. I don't think this track will play to his strengths. One that would be of some interest at a price is Mark The Book. Still a novice, he has had his training problems and didn't race in 2008 due to a tendon injury; prior to that Philip Hobbs thought the horse could go to the top. He gets in here with a racing weight but does look a little short on experience with some battle-hardened opponents in the field. I'll probably watch from the sidelines.

The opener is worth noting, with Howard Johnson's Quwetwo trying fences for the first time. My Moment jumped well to win at Warwick the last time - the fences come thick and fast down the back straight at Warwick. If I play I'll chance Ferdy Murphy's Bedlam Boy. In a recent RP Stable Tour article, his handler said the horse had some wear and tear in the joints but 'a real engine'; he's a natural front-runner, a style that suits this track.

That mention of Warwick reminds me of an offer I saw on a flyer in our local paper. Two adult tickets for £20 to any of the following meets - New Year's Eve, Classic Chase day (Saturday 16th January) and Kingmaker Day (Saturday 13th February). If you want to take up this offer, ring the course (0844 579 3013) and quote the reference 'winterflyer'.

Earlier in the week Richard Johnson rode his 2,000th winner on Fighting Chance at Newbury. There have been several tributes - I liked this piece in Tuesday's Times, written the day before Johnson became only the second jockey to reach this landmark.

With the reduced racing on offer tomorrow, there's the distinct possibility I could get roped into Christmas shopping; I've come up with a cunning wheeze if Mrs T. suggests the unthinkable. Throughout the week I've been sending a daily tweet to My Winning Chance in an attempt to win free entry into a draw to win a racehorse. My name didn't come out of the hat, but I just started dreaming, as you do. Before I knew it, I was on the Allertons website, designing my own racing silks. Think I'm going to have to do a bit more work on that, rather than traipse round the overcrowded city centre shops...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas considerations

From Cheltenham yesterday - the Twiston-Davies outfit seems to have found the key to Khyber Kim who is now 12/1 for the Champion Hurdle in March while Poquelin's clear victory in a competitive-looking Gold Cup was impressive. The Ryanair Chase at the Festival is his target now for which he's quoted at 5/1. Three pound claimer Danny Cook won't have fond memories of yesterday's race - he took the wrong course on Our Vic and, according to Alistair Down, will now be referred to BHA HQ as this is his second such transgression in the past twelve months.

Over at Doncaster the underrated Graham Lee was seen at his very best, taking the two concluding chases on Watch My Back and Calgary Bay.

For those of us still living in the world of analogue televsion, the news that the Teletext News and Information Service is closing down on December 14th / 15th is little short of a disaster. A reduced racing service continues on Channel 4; I've hung on in there for as long as possible but I think D-day (Digital day) draws ever closer in the Tips' household...

A couple of football related items... Firstly, a mention for the manic Stuart Hall whose football reports are pure joy; he's set to celebrate his eightieth birthday this Christmas Day. Recently asked if he'd ever thought he'd still be working at this ripe old age, Mr. Hall's reply was along the lines of 'I've never considered this work'. Marvellous stuff. Secondly, a colleague in his late twenties recently went into a William Hill shop in a different part of town intent on placing a £2 football accumulator wager. He walked up to the bloke behind the counter, clutching two one pound coins in his sweaty palm, and was promptly asked for ID! When he questioned the cashier (along the lines of 'Eh?'), bloke replied 'Well, I haven't seen you in here before.' Bookmakers knocking back opportunities to make money - it must be the recession.

...and two TV items to conclude with. The BBC's 'Live Sports Personailty of the Year' starts at 7.00 this evening. I shall be watching because, no matter what you think, it takes a special sort of skill to condense a racing year into two minutes forty odd seconds. Clare Balding's Inside Sport interview (entitled 'Kieren Fallon - The Road To Redemption') is likely to be far more interesting and is scheduled for transmission at 11.25pm on Monday evening.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cheltenham's Boylesports Saturday

The ground rides soft for tomorrow's Boylesports meeting at Cheltenham, with the first race due off at 12.10. Seven go to post in The International which looks at the mercy of top-rated Celestial Halo who is priced up at 8/13 this evening. The current champion hurdler Punjabi makes his seasonal debut here having missed the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle; trainer Nicky Henderson has said recently the horse 'has done plenty of work but is a notoriously stuffy individual', a comment that could equally apply to my mother-in-law. I won't get involved as I'm not inclined to oppose the favourite; his connections have decided not to run Oslot as a pacemaker, an idea which was mooted earlier in the week.

Similarly Zaynar will be long odds on in the finale, the Relkeel. He can't be opposed but again I won't play.

The feature on the card, the Gold Cup Handicap Chase, is a far more open event with seventeen set to face the starter; the favourite hasn't won this race in the last twelve years. I've been on the lookout for an each-way chance set to carry less than eleven stones. Keith Goldsworthy thinks conditions will suit the ultra-tough Hold Em who gets in here with bottom weight and is 14/1 with Coral; Razor Royale would be worth a second look but I think I'll take a chance with Skippers Brig. Nicky Richards' charge should revel in the testing conditions - William Hill offer 12/1 this evening.

Tom George's horses are only just starting to run better - Je Ne Sais Plus was the yard's first winner for a while when being awarded today's finale at Doncaster in the stewards' room. On ratings his Tell Massini looks the one in the Albert Bartlett Bristol Novices' Hurdle. Both The Minack and Lord Generous are interesting in receipt of three pounds, with preference for the former - I'll indulge if he's priced around the 3/1 mark.

Finally, there are some interesting individuals in the opener. The word appears to be for Ultimate while Olofi's third over course and distance behind Pistolet Noir last month reads well. Hector's House won a seller at Sedgefield on Tuesday but Sergeant Pink may be of more interest following his win on soft ground at Market Rasen nine days ago. I've heard a whisper for George Nympton on the couple of occasions he's run, although he'll have to step up on what he's shown so far to be competitive here. Nick Williams' yard is in good form - I'll consider a small each-way interest.

Postscript - specialist miler Cesare will be interesting to watch as he makes his hurdling debut over two miles in the 1.00 at Doncaster. He may well stay the trip but I wouldn't bet on it...

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A couple of small notes...

An article in Friday's Guardian highlighted Channel 4's desire to save money without cutting its racing coverage. Bosses aiming to save £10,000 per programme are examining the manner in which presenters are used - Nick Luck looks set to become anchorman on The Morning Line.

Unfortunately the Racing Post's campaign to try and ensure Tony McCoy was one of the finalists for the 2009 Sports Personality of the Year has failed. McCoy rode his 3,000th winner, Restless D'Artaix, at Plumpton in February, but it would appear that the wider public aren't really all that interested.

A letter from Charlie Flindt of Alresford, Hampshire was published in The Times earlier this week. Apparently Google released its list of 'most searched words and terms' on December 1st, yet included figures for the whole of December. Mr Flindt enquires 'Is there any chance of it publishing all the racing results for the next month?' If only...

Finally, it has taken a long time but I'm starting to realise what many of you know already - that the tips on this blog are not the road to untold riches. Obviously I'm disappointed but you'll be pleased to hear I'm still keeping an eye out for new opportunities... At Liverpool earlier in the week I was fortunate enough to be in a position to give an impromptu concert at the world famous Cavern Club (picture below); halfway through my routine, for some unfathomable reason, the audience started to boo the previous act all over again. I think I could be on the verge of something big...

Friday, December 04, 2009

Tingle Creek day at Sandown

Precautionary inspections have been called for tomorrow's cards at both Sandown and Wetherby; the feature of the day is the Tingle Creek Chase run over two miles at Sandown. Last year's winner Master Minded, beaten by Well Chief at Cheltenham three weeks ago, misses this renewal as, following that surprise defeat, it was discovered he was suffering from a stress fracture to a rib. Five are set to face the starter, including Well Chief, but the race has a very trappy look to it; picking the winner won't be easy. Big Zeb has been marked up favourite but I'm inclined to oppose on two counts. Firstly, his trainer said earlier today he was worried about the soft ground for his charge. Secondly, of the eleven chases this horse has started since December 2007, he has won on four occasions but has notably fallen on four occasions. Failing to complete 36% of the time looks high in anybody's book and Sandown is a course that takes more jumping than most. On official ratings Paul Nicholls' Twist Magic is the one to beat but this horse is not one to trust implicitly. On his day he is very talented but he has run some stinkers in the past and on the odd occasion has shown a reluctance to start. Having said that, Sandown is a course he appears to like as he won this event in 2007 and was in the process of giving stablemate Master Minded a fright when coming to grief two out last year. Well Chief is ten years old, will be eleven in a month's time, but doesn't have a lot of miles on the clock. The trouble connections have had with this horse's legs has been well documented. His defeat of Master Minded the last time reads well, although he was in receipt of ten pounds and the current champion was subsequently found to have a problem. Barry Geraghty appears to have deserted Forpadydeplasterer for Big Zeb; McCoy comes in for a fine-looking spare ride. On official ratings Arkle winner Forpady has enough to make up with three of the field to get competitive. In the last few days I've read a comment that connections were going to use this race to determine whether to go up in distance with their charge - he finished fourth in the 2008 Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival which is run over two miles four plus. Mahogany Blaze appears a little outclassed but tactics will play a part in this small field as it doesn't look immediately obvious where the pace is going to come from. A trappy event - provided there are no obvious signs of temperament in the preliminaries, I'll take a chance with top-rated Twist Magic.

Only four in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase in which Emma Lavelle's Crack Away Jack will be expected to prevail against some useful opposition. A race to watch rather than bet on.

Some well known names in the opener - it will be interesting to see how Silverburn fares on his first run for Evan Williams. In a recent stable tour item his handler said, 'We're taking things one day at a time.' He could offer some each-way value for those brave enough to take the chance. Nick Gifford's Alderluck will be popular but former Lanzarote winner Nycteos catches my eye with just ten stones four on his back. He threw Ruby off at the second flight last Friday, having been off the track for nearly eighteen months. Perhaps he's still a little fresh but I prefer him to Ballyfitz who tries hurdles after jumping problems in two big chases in recent weeks and Fred Winter winner Silk Affair.

In the novices' hurdle Sonowyouno has to give eight pounds to the rest of the field on ground that is described as soft, heavy in places. I wouldn't be in a rush to take a short price and will consider opposing with Nicky Henderson's Master Of The Hall who has been described as having 'a high cruising speed'.

Kilbeggan Blade has won the last two renewals of the finale and has conditions to suit but Tom George's yard hasn't had a winner for a while. I would be prepared to forgive Never So Blue's last run at Cheltenham and will consider a small each-way interest if the price is right. Russian Trigger won the Midlands Grand National in March and should come on for his first run since the summer break three weeks ago. However he is one who needs to learn to respect the obstacles; connections hope he'll prove good enough for the Aintree National in the spring.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Points of view

Denman put in an exceptional performance yesterday, carrying 11 stones 12 pounds to victory on soft ground in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury; the horse is clearly back to his very best. Over the past two Saturdays we have seen Kauto Star win by a nose at Haydock and Denman demolish a high-class field at Newbury. Anticipation for their clash in the Cheltenham Gold Cup next March has started to build already; this evening Blue Square bet 9/4 Kauto Star, 5/2 Denman, 8/1 Cooldine, 10/1 Imperial Commander.

Just for a second or so, as Denman and What A Friend raced to the final flight, it looked as though Sam Thomas' mount took the lead judging from the reverse camera angle used by the Channel 4 team in their replay. Thomas' mount seeemd to wander around slightly at the last but Denman powered away on the run-in to take the spoils. Thomas will have had mixed emotions talking on television afterwards, having ridden Denman to victory in the same race two years ago; he spoke eloquently and deserves plenty of credit.

As Alan Lee pointed out in Thursday's Times, Richard Dunwoody hasn't been afraid to put the cat amongst the pigeons in his latest book 'Method In My Madness'. Amongst other things, Mr. Dunwoody has suggested that Richard Johnson might have had a better chance of being champion jockey with a different agent and that jockeys' titles should be settled on prize money rather than winners. Writing in the same paper the next day, Tom Scudamore picked up on the latter point... 'To me, the mark of a champion jockey is consistency throughout a season, not just brilliance on the biggest days.'

A story that ran through the summer months (seems such a long time ago now) was the search to find a buyer for Ayr racecourse. This business snippet was spotted in last week's Sunday Times, suggesting the Reuben brothers, who took over Northern Racing two and a half years ago, are on the verge of doing a deal.

Finally, I was annoyed to have missed the Pantomime Horse Grand National which took place in Birmingham City Centre last Sunday. Spank the Donkey won the fillies event while Hoof Hearted took the colts race. Must make a note of the date for next year...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hennessy Saturday and the Fighting Fifth

During the day two non-runners have been declared for tomorrow's Hennessy - Casey Jones and New Alco - leaving a field of nineteen to face the starter at 2.40. My view is basically unchanged from the opinions epxressed in yesterday's post; of the principals I like The Queen's Barbers Shop. Those looking for something at a bigger price may want to consider Nenuphar Collonges (now as low as 14/1 with several books) while Niche Market strikes me as a value play at 40/1.

Big Buck's will be expected to take the Long Distance Hurdle at 1.35 but he'll be no price and the remainder of the Newbury's card looks decidedly tricky...

Up at Newcastle there are just seven runners in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle which is due off at 1.50. According to the market this is a race between Binocular, third in the Champion Hurdle last March, and Irish raider Solwhit who showed an impressive turn of foot to beat Muirhead and Hurricane Fly at Punchestown thirteen days ago. Charles Byrnes, Solwhit's trainer, doesn't sound particularly confident beforehand. In stark contrast Robbie Hennessy, trainer of another Irish raider Sublimity, was pretty bullish about the chances of his charge when writing on his blog earlier today. The favourite has won eight of the last ten renewals of this race; Binocular has to be the selection.

Sublimity travelled over with stablemate Donegal who goes in the 12.40. This one, an expensive purchase at 200,000 guineas, has been well touted but he steps up in distance to two and three quarter miles here which makes me inclined to oppose. I'll take a chance with Ferdy Murphy's Going Wrong; in a recent article his handler said, 'For me he is one of those horses you get up early on a cold morning for.'

Cheltenham's Albert Bartlett winner Weapon's Amnesty continues his chasing education in the 1.15 - there's plenty of room for improvement. He showed a tendency to jump left the last time and then fell at the eighth. In contrast Abbeybraney's second to Barbers Shop at Sandown last December reads well - Abbeybraney gets the vote with Mumbles Head an interesting contender from west Wales.

The finale, the listed Rehearsal Chase, looks competitive. In the past decade the market has proved a decent enough guide with the winner coming from the first three in the betting on seven occasions. Keith Reveley's Jass is one that I like; he should benefit for his reappearance four weeks ago - I'll consider an each-way interest at 12/1 or bigger.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday thoughts on the Hennessy Gold Cup

The Hennessy is one of my favourite races in the calendar and it certainly looks a high class renewal this year with Denman set to carry top weight and any number of talented rivals keen to take him on with what racing folk would describe as a 'racing weight'. Denman's problems last year have been well documented, so his performance in finishing thirteen lengths second to stablemate Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup was excellent; three weeks later he fell two out in the Totesport Bowl at Aintree - the suspicion was he would have struggled to contain Madison Du Berlais on that occasion. The question everyone is asking now is 'Has he fully recovered?' Saturday's running should give a good indication. Trainer Paul Nicholls is on record as saying he expects the horse to come in fourth or fifth; at around 7/2 he offers no value from a betting perspective.

Nicholls saddles two others, What A Friend and My Will. The former, part owned by Manchester United manager Sir Alec Ferguson, carries plenty of stable confidence but I'm not convinced. He ran below par in the RSA Chase last March and has tended to do most of his winning in small fields.

Nicky Henderson's operation is in very good form at the moment (two winners today); his entry, Barbers Shop, ran seventh in the Gold Cup last March and should have strengthened up over the summer break. With just ten stones eight to carry, he looks to hold every chance - should he win, the press is likely to have a field day as the horse is owned by Her Majesty The Queen. The trainer feels the horse's best trip is an easy three miles, although he will stay. After discussions with various jockeys, connections have decided to try him in cheekpieces for the first time, just to help the concentration. For me, this is the one that makes most appeal of the market leaders.

Evan Williams runs two, the 2006 winner State Of Play and 2009 Cheltenham Foxhunter winner Cappa Bleu. Stable jockey Paul Moloney rides the former but the long-term aim is the Grand National next April, whereas Cappa Bleu is unexposed and has had this race as his target for some time.

Two that have run respectable trials are Nenuphar Collonges (sixth in the Badger Ales at Wincanton) and Killyglen (seven lengths second conceding sixteen pounds to Knockara Beau over an inadequate two and a half miles at Carlisle).

Mon Mome was 100/1 when he won the National in April, so Ladbrokes current price of 50/1 may not be the best indication of his chance here; on his day he's a jolly good horse who will not be inconvenienced by further rain. Trainer Venetia Williams' charges have started to run into some form over the past week or so.

The 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner War Of Attrition gets in here with just ten stone six and is quoted at 33/1 with most books. Having said that, this race often goes to a young, up-and-coming chaser - there's a suspicion that at the age of ten he may be past his prime; another Irish raider Casey Jones makes more appeal.

At the moment, of those at the head of the market, I prefer Barbers Shop. Two that make some appeal at bigger prices are Alan King's Nenuphar Collonges (25/1 Coral) and Bob Buckler's Niche Market (40/1 Bet365) - this one won the Irish National last April and finished eighth in the Badger Ales on his reappearance, six and three quarter lengths behind NC and some twenty seven lengths behind winner Ellerslie George.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The weekend debrief

I've watched the finish to yesterday's Betfair Chase several times - every time I think Imperial Commander wins!

Other notable performances this weekend included Diamond Harry carrying top weight to victory in the three mile one furlong fixed brush hurdle at Haydock and Zaynar displaying a rare turn of foot to take the Coral Ascot Hurdle. Earlier today Vic Venturi was another to carry top weight to victory on soft ground, winning the Becher Handicap Chase despite an alarming drift to 7/1 in the market. Dessie Hughes' charge asserted after the last to win by five lengths and is now a 20/1 chance with Paddy Power for the Grand National next spring.

Franchoek's chasing debut at Huntingdon was far more low key; he found very little at the business end of the race and came home thirteen lengths behind the other 11/10 joint favourite Bergo.

I thought Santa's Son ran a decent enough race behind Fix The Rib in Saturday's Carey Group Handicap Chase at Ascot. Howard Johnson's inmate was prominent for much of the way before fading into sixth, occasionally jumping to his left; that leads me to think he's better going the other way around, and probably with more cut in the ground. He won the Castleford Chase at Wetherby last year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see connections target the same race this Christmas.

What's Peter Scudamore up to these days? Well, he's assistant to Lucinda Russell 'whom he first met three years ago. They became a couple not long afterwards...' reports Martin Hannan of the Scotland On Sunday newspaper. Hannan's interesting profile points out that Russell is currently Scotland's top NH trainer. The article highlights the chances of two horses in particular, Silver By Nature and Etxalar who 'may be good enough for the Cheltenham Festival'.

How are Wrexham playing these days? Well, not particularly well actually, but the club is making headlines as it prepares to share its Racecourse Ground with Newport-based rugby league team Crusaders who are experiencing financial difficulties.

On Saturday viewers of The Morning Line were encouraged to email in names for 'the best jockey never to be champion'. There were plenty of worthy suggestions but not one mention of the first name that came into my mind - Richard Johnson.

Finally, with Christmas just around the corner, I thought I'd nonchalantly ask Mrs Tips what she wanted during one of the many commercial breaks that litter Channel 4's coverage on a Saturday afternoon. Naturally I was expecting a modest request along the lines of chocolates or perfume following an appropriate delay while Mrs T. collected her thoughts, but her reply was out practically before I'd finished speaking. 'Sky TV, please!' Nonplussed, I stuttered something incomprehensible before she added, 'For the tennis!' Sorry I asked - I'm still trying to come to terms with the fact that they're going to switch off analogue Teletext in the near future...

Friday, November 20, 2009

The return of a Star

Reigning Gold Cup champion Kauto Star returns to the track in tomorrow's Betfair Chase at Haydock, provided, of course, the weather relents. There has been plenty of build-up during the week, with several commentators voicing doubts over Kauto's ability to act on the track and the likely heavy going. Underfoot conditions will suit Irish raider Notre Pere who fell before the race had started in earnest in the Champion Chase at Down Royal a fortnight ago; normally he's a safe conveyance. Last year Madison Du Berlais was something of a revelation, taking the Hennessy at Newbury in November, the Levy Board Chase at Kempton in February and the Totesport Bowl at Aintree in the spring; Tom Scudamore prefers to ride here rather than go to Ascot for another of his favourites, Lough Derg. On the subject of the track, I'm sure I read somewhere over the summer that Paul Nicholls had been less than complimentary about certain aspects of its layout; later the champion trainer was said to be pleased with the adjustments made. On official ratings Kauto Star has 19 pounds in hand over Notre Pere and 17 pounds over Madison Du Berlais; the value about Notre Pere went early in the week - at the prices on offer Kauto Star has to be the selection.

Only four go to post in the Tune Into Timeform Radio Hurdle at 1.15; on official ratings Mr Thriller, an easy winner of the Silver Trophy at Chepstow four weeks ago, has the beating of Starluck. He steps back to two miles here and this sharp track will suit Starluck but Mr Thriller gets the vote.

The opener looks between Pepe Simo and Any Given Day. The latter looks 'well in' on official ratings but, although he has won on soft, most of his form is on better ground. He's been kept busy enough over the summer months while there might be more to come from Paul Nicholls' charge. I'll be tempted to take a chance on Pepe Simo provided he's not chalked up favourite.

We have to move down south for better ground where the feature Coral Ascot Hurdle, due off at 2.35, looks trappy enough. On ratings former champion hurdler Katchit would be the one but he was a disappointment last year, failing to win any of his five races. There's a suspicion he may just have become a little lazy - he has never won over the distance and Alan King's string have only recently started to find their form, many needing the first run. From the same stable Karabak will be riden by AP for owner JP - this one could make up into a World Hurdle horse come next spring. Triumph hurdle winner Zaynar puts his unbeaten record on the line here and tries this trip for the first time; he hails from the in-form Nicky Henderson operation and looks the one they all have to beat. The winner has come from the first three in the betting in the last ten renewals, with the favourite obliging on six occasions. Having said all that, I know connections hold Time For Rupert in high regard; he's an unexposed sort who has plenty to find with the principals but if the eight make it to post I'll pass by Zaynar and take a small each-way interest.

In the 3.10 I was considering taking on Voy Por Ustedes with Planet of Sound but Philip Hobbs' yard has been a little hit and miss of late - I'll adopt a watching stance.

Finally in the concluding bumper I'll keep a close eye on the progress of Any The Wiser who won with plenty in hand at Uttoxeter the other day. This is far more competitive, especially with a penalty, but I'd expect a reasonable show on the back of that victory three weeks ago.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sunday best?

There's some interesting Sunday fare on offer tomorrow, something that can't be said all that often...

Master Minded makes his seasonal reappearance in Cheltenham's Connaught Chase at 1.45; the race probably represents Well Chief's best chance of overturning the current two mile champion chaser in receipt of ten pounds. Owner David Johnson issued a bullish statement a couple of weeks back saying he thought his horse might surprise a few observers this year. Tataniano, currently a 10/1 chance with most layers for the Arkle in March, will be a warm order to take the opener while the feature race on the card, the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, looks typically difficult with 19 set to face the starter. If you're brave enough to be considering a wager, it's worth noting that only one four-year-old has won in the last ten years, a big weight isn't necessarily a negative and the market is a reasonable guide more often than not - in the last decade the winner has come from the top two in the betting on seven occasions. As two near the top of the market (James De Vassy and Ronaldo Des Mottes) are both four-year-olds, it follows that Harry Tricker would be worth a look. Nick Williams has his team in fine form and Reve De Sivola brings the best form to the table in the Cleanevent Novices' Hurdle at 3.30. In the last ten years the winner has come from the top four in the market but it's worth noting that favourites have won only three renewals while second favourites have won four. Of Lidar, who runs in the concluding bumper, Alan King said in a recent Racing Post Stable Tour article, 'You could say he's been the apple of my eye ever since the first day he walked into the yard... He's done remarkably well over the summer...and his work has always been of the highest class.'

At Punchestown Sizing Europe (7/1 joint favourite with most firms for the Arkle) goes in the Craddockstown Novice Chase at 1.05 while Hurricane Fly, Solwhit and Muirhead lock horns in the 2.40.

Back this side of the Irish Sea, the going at Fontwell is described as heavy, waterlogged in places. If racing goes ahead the runners in the three and a half mile Southern National Handicap Chase (3.10) will need stamina in abundance. On the same card it's interesting connections have decided to go the novice chase route with Helium (12.50). L'eau Du Nil is unlikely to take his chance in the claimer (1.25) having finished third at Wetherby earlier today while former Philip Hobbs inmate Bureaucrat is well known as a top of the ground performer.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cheltenham Open meeting - Paddy Power Gold Cup

The rains have started and, according to the weather forecasters, they're set to continue through Saturday, accompanied by high winds for good measure. The result is it's all change at the head of the Gold Cup market where the sponsor's offer to refund losing single stakes if a Nicholls-trained horse wins really catches the eye. Over the past couple of days there has been a strong word for Nigel Twiston-Davies' Ballyfitz who heads the market this evening - William Hill offer 13/2 while Ladbrokes go 5/1. This one stays three miles, something of an advantage in the circumstances, but his jumping let him down once or twice last season; he may be best fresh but, on balance, I'm not convinced. Tranquil Sea comes over from Ireland, will handle underfoot conditions and has come in for plenty of support during the week - he attempts to take this prize back over the Irish Sea for the first time in 29 years. Andy Stewart, owner of Tatenen, has said he thinks his horse will be suited by the ground with the result the Nicholls-trained gelding is now as low as 13/2 with some layers. I note that he hasn't raced over this trip previously and that a five-year-old hasn't won this in the last ten years, the latter fact also tempering enthusiasm for Chapoturgeon. Writing in the Weekender Alan King says of Tarotino '... he would prefer decent ground and any rain wouldn't necessarily be to his advantage.' My Petra would have been the selection had it stayed dry but Nicky Henderson's note in a recent Racing Post Stable Tour article marks our card: 'Fast ground is essential for this mare.' Poquelin is another who wants top of the ground so I'm going out on a limb and will have an each-way dabble on Tartak at 18/1. His jumping when returning to action at Aintree three short weeks ago was desperate. His handler says he's schooled well since; on the balance of his form I'm prepared to forgive that effort. If he puts his best foot forward, that price will look big.

Barizan goes in the opener and is one of the best juvenile hurdlers seen out so far this season. In my opinion he was more impressive when winning at Market Rasen on his penultimate start. The last time, when he raced over this course and distance, his hurdling was nowhere near as fluent. Trumpstoo ran a bit green at Wetherby the other day - the tissue prices him at 10/1 which would be worth a second look while Olofi could be anything. I'll probably sit this one out.

Powerstation, third in the World Hurdle last March, has found the fences getting in the way in the interim. He reverts to the smaller obstacles in the 3.10 and may have a fitness edge over a number of his rivals. Philip Hobbs' decent claimer Giles Hawkins takes a valuable seven pounds off; I'll consider an each-way wager.

A disappointing turnout of just three for the novice chase at 1.20 but I wouldn't be for taking a short price about Pettifour on his first try over fences.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cheltenham Open meeting 2009 - Friday

Some of this year's Open meeting looks like taking place on soft, perhaps heavy going, if the predicted rains arrive. That has tempered my enthusiasm a little for the first day - I feel cautious rather than confident.

Some Present, second behind Dunguib in the Festival bumper last March, is the suggestion for the Sharp Novices' Hurdle at 1.50. On his comeback run he was surprisingly beaten by Sweeps Hill at Punchestown but that was a small field and a tactical affair; he'll certainly handle the expected easier going. Paul Nicholls saddles the four-year-old Tito Bustilo who wears a tongue-tie for the first time; I'm always a little wary of horses wearing toungue-ties racing on testing ground. I like Twiston-Davies' Cootehill but the balance of his form appears to be on better ground.

Nicky Henderson is in good form at the moment and his French Opera will have plenty of supporters in the 2.25. Course and distance winner Tramantano beat Beggars Cap the last time at Aintree but we can expect Ferdy Murphy's horse to be a different proposition on this course - at the age of ten have we seen the best of the Twiston-Davies inmate? In an open-looking race I'll consider an each-way wager on the top-weight Song Of Songs. This one doesn't have too many miles on the clock and should be competitive - there may a slight question surrounding his jumping.

I won't get involved in the Cross Country Chase - Garde Champetre has become something of a standing dish and is likely to be priced accordingly. On offical ratings the favourite will have plenty to do giving Silver Birch twelve pounds; having said that, he has had the benefit of a warm-up spin over hurdles three weeks ago.

In the finale I'm going to stick with Knockara Beau despite the top weight. His defeat of the well-regarded Killyglen at Carlisle the last time reads well - I hope this doesn't come too soon. Ashkazar appears to have two ways of running but is very good on his day; he beat nothing on his first try over fences. Aigle D'Or is described by his handler as 'an enigma' and doesn't appeal to me on his chasing debut. Whatever happens, this is an interesting race which should give us some pointers for the future.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sunday evening drivel...

Following his impressive win in yesterday's Elite Hurdle at Wincanton, this evening Celestial Halo is as low as 6/1 with Betfred for the Champion Hurdle next March - William Hill go 9/1. Earlier today Big Zeb won with any amount in hand at Navan; Totesport now offer a miserly 4/1 about the horse for the Champion Chase, Ladbrokes 8/1.

This time of year I tend to wander into a bookmaker's shop during my lunch hour, not because I think I might be able to back a winner you understand, but because the chances are I can watch the odd jumps race. A couple of things I noticed last week - Ladbrokes are now displaying Timeform ratings in their shops while at William Hill's city centre outlet in Coventry the Press Association's Daily Form Guide was available on touchscreens sited around the office.

The small ads in Private Eye have always been a favourite on mine (those labelled Eye Bet used to be of particular interest). In a previous life I also regularly scoured the Eye Need column in the vain hope that it might provide a small spark of inspiration as to how to make an awful lot of money without expending too much energy... Of course, in those days I happened to be a lot younger. And whatever happened to Major Bonkers?

Finally, I know on occasions the tips may leave something to be desired, so I thought I'd try to do you a favour by pointing out that First Quench Retailing has gone into administration. This company owns the Threshers and Wine Rack off-licences. Quoting from Saturday's Times: 'The fuse was lit last night on the biggest high street firesale since since the collapse of Woolworths...' If you keep your eyes peeled, you may pick up the odd booze bargain with Christmas just around the corner...

Friday, November 06, 2009

Saturday's selections

Short on time today, so I'm going to crack on. The feature race on a decent card at Wincanton is the Badger Ales Trophy Handicap Chase. Eighteen go to post over a trip just short of three and a quarter miles. Of those at the head of the market, Paul Nicholls' The Tother One is hugely talented but quirky and far from an easy ride. The Package is another with plenty of ability, nicely weighted here but he failed to go through with his effort last time at Ludlow in a race he should have won. Alan King runs two - Nenuphar Collonges and West End Rocker; stable jockey Choc Thornton has chosen to ride the former. In a recent RP article, the handler hinted the Hennessy may be the target for NC while he describes the latter as 'a good, solid fun horse'. The Hennessy is also the target for Exmoor Ranger but he lost his confidence after a fall in the Jewson at Cheltenham last March - trainer Victor Dartnall, writing in this week's Weekender, says the Hennessy entry will depend on how he races beforehand (i.e. tomorrow!) Beat The Boys comes here after making all at Chepstow which is well known for being a front-runners' track. Two horses I like are Carruthers and Niche Market; Carruthers is likely to struggle racing from the front with top weight while I'm not convinced Niche Market will be ready on his seasonal debut. In a difficult race, I'll have a small each-way interest in Nenuphar Collonges who jumped better as last season progressed.

The Elite Hurdle at 2.15 is interesting. Champion Hurdle second Celestial Halo is the likely favourite but has to give weight to some classy rivals including Blue Bajan who is fit from the Flat and the mare Whiteoak. Katies Tuitor isn't always easy to catch right but bounced back to form at Kempton last time; the claimer takes off five pounds here. If I have a wager in this, I'll look to oppose Celestial Halo with Katies Tuitor.

No bet for me in the novice chase which is no foregone conclusion even though there are only four runners. On balance I prefer Emma Lavelle's Kangaroo Court as Paul Nicholls tempered press enthusiasm for Gullible Gordon after his Chepstow victory, saying the horse needed plenty of time between races.

Alan King saddles Over Sixty in the mares' handicap hurdle at 1.45. The intention is to send her to the paddocks in the new year, with connections hoping to pick up a decent prize before then. In this evening's tissue she's priced up at 8/1 - if those odds are available tomorrow I'll take an each-way interest.

The Nicholls runner Valentine Vic looks the one in the bumper but he'll be priced accordingly.

Over at Sandown only three runners in the novice chase at 1.05 but one of them is Emma Lavelle's Crack Away Jack. He'll be no betting proposition but many will be watching how he fares jumping fences for the first time; Sandown is a tricky track for novices. His trainer has recently been quoted as saying he has always jumped fences well when schooled at home.

At Kelso it will be interesting to see if Santa's Son can give weight to all in the Mayfield Restaurant Limited Handicap Chase at 2.25 while over at Down Royal the Champion Chase and the Chase catch the eye. Notre Pere is likely to start a short-priced favourite in the former but his trainer Jim Dreaper has been upfront in letting punters know the horse will come on for the run. Two to consider if you want to oppose are The Listener and Joe Lively. Arkle winner Forpadydeplasterer returns in the three o'clock; I won't get involved but I wouldn't be inclined to oppose the favourite.

Finally, for those thinking about the Breeders' Cup I suggest purchasing a copy of the Weekender for Nick Mordin's guide - runners and riders can be found on the Sporting Life website.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Racing snippets

Plenty of drama at Wetherby yesterday - a thrilling finish in the Charlie Hall while Barry Geraghty would be the first to concede it was not his finest hour when taking the wrong course in the mares' listed hurdle. He received plenty of cat calls from disgruntled punters for that blunder but, fair play to the man, he was on national television a few minutes later holding up his hands and accepting responsibility. The stewards hit him with a twelve day ban which starts on November 14th, Paddy Power Gold Cup day.

As if all that wasn't bad enough for Geraghty, over at Ascot the Henderson stable bagged a couple of winners with French Opera and You're The Top - both ridden by one AP McCoy.

I always associate the specialist miler Cesare with Ascot. Connections have decided that the eight-year-old has been a little disappointing this season so James Fanshawe has indicated he intends to send his charge hurdling - I'll watch with interest.

Racing folk will always tell you there's more money in the Flat game; a couple of notes, just to prove the point... Teletext report Eddie Stobart CEO Andrew Tinkler has recently spent over £400,000 guineas on a gelding named Royal Diamond while the stud fees for Sea The Stars make interesting reading. In his debut season he will cover in the region of 120 mares at a cost of 85,000 euros (£77,000) a go. Over three years the horse, set to stand at the Aga Khan's Gilltown Stud in Ireland, will generate income in excess of £50 million.

Having said that, at the other end of the scale, all weather racing celebrated a signifcant milestone at Lingfield on Thursday - its twentieth anniversary.

Finally, a pointer from today's NH card at Carlisle... Knockara Beau (a horse about whom I missed some fancy prices for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle last March) took the Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase, beating the well-touted Killyglen and landing a couple of lumpy wagers in the process. He looks worth keeping an eye on this winter.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Trick or treat?

Two jumps cards tomorrow with the feature race of the day, the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, attracting just five runners. I'm assuming heavy rain does not fall before they go to post. On official ratings Tamarinbleu, trained by David Pipe, is the one to beat and is generally available at 9/4. He tends to run well fresh and was unfortunate to be pipped by Snoopy Loopy at Haydock on his debut run last season, with Kauto Star memorably unshipping Sam Thomas at the last. Tamarinbleu's form tailed off after that; on balance, for me, he's a difficult horse to catch right, so I'm going to look elsewhere. Snoopy Loopy has to give weight to the others but Ollie Magern and Deep Purple are of interest. Ollie Magern loves it round here, has won this before and went down fighting last year to Evan Williams' State Of Play, giving that winner ten pounds. Evan Williams saddles Deep Purple this time but this is the horse's first attempt over the three mile one furlong trip; the yard intend to use this race as a pointer for future plans. A couple of layers go 3/1 the eleven year old Ollie Magern which is jolly tempting for me - he's the selection; if you think Deep Purple will stay, at the age of eight he's the one with potential.

In the 3.25 Philip Hobbs' Fair Along is suited by race conditions but was nowhere to be seen in the Cesarewitch a fortnight ago. That run may give him a fitness edge over market rival Pettifour who won this last year but didn't quite go on from that. Lough Derg is as tough as old boots but, according to his trainer, usually needs a couple of runs to reach his peak, while No Refuge is a horse I like, although he doesn't always look the quickest or the best over the hurdles. I've had burnt fingers with Fair Along before but on the back of a positive note from his trainer in a recent RP Stable Tour article, I give Fair Along the vote.

Over the past four years Nicky Henderson has a 31% strike rate at Ascot yet jockey Barry Geraghty has chosen to go to Wetherby instead for just one ride for the yard - My Petra in the 2.20. The layers make the mare a 7/2 chance this evening but she has it to do in my book giving four pounds and upwards to all her rivals. In this very competitive listed event, I'll consider an each-way wager on Alan King's Santia - a recent note described her as a 'very useful mare and a quality individual', hinting the plan was to come here to try and get some black type before sending her to the paddocks.

Before we go any further a word of thanks is due to Betfinder for bringing to our attention the free Betfair / Timeform racecard which covers all tomorrow's terrestrial TV races; if you're thinking of having a wager on any of the Scoop 6 races, the card is certainly worth a look.

At Ascot the feature is the United House Gold Cup run over three miles in which seventeen are set to face the starter. Here are selective comments on selected runners but if you fancy a wager in this, you'd be well advised to consult the aforementioned Timeform card. Teletext reports today that Jeremy Scott has top weight Gone For Lunch 'straighter than this time last year' and 'his work is certainly very good at the moment' - his performance in this will determine whether connections target the Hennessy at Newbury in a month's time; to me Just Amazing looks somewhat exposed here against some battle-hardened handicappers; Seven Is My Number tries the trip for the first time, having won three chases on the bounce but he did everything in his power at Bangor the last time to throw his chance away - he's not an easy ride; Always Waining isn't one to trust implicitly - I've decided to leave well alone - but he has looked well-handicapped for some time and seemed set to win at Cheltenham two weeks ago but, two lengths up, he slithered on landing at the second last, leaving Nelson's Spice to collect; Boychuk, who finished third in that race, is described as 'inconsistent' by his handler; Hold Em isn't the biggest but is as tough as they come and would represent a reasonable each-way chance if handling the stiff fences while Evan Williams said recently they were going to target long distance novice hurdles with Mr Robert! You pay your money and you take your choice.

Others of potential interest include Hibiki in the 3.00 with Giles Hawkins claiming the ten pounds; Cockney Trucker in the 1.20 - looks 'made for fences' says Philip Hobbs, and Pterodactyl (2.25) who should strip fitter following his return in the Persian War Novices' Hurdle at Chepstow last Saturday.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Noted this weekend

The two star performances over the weekend were St Nicholas Abbey winning the Racing Post Trophy and over in Ireland Dunguib taking the maiden hurdle at Galway. This evening St Nicholas Abbey is generally 3/1 and 7/2 for next year's 2000 Guineas and 3/1 for the Derby, but Stan James go as short as 2/1. Dunguib is generally a 5/2 shot for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham next March.

Paul Nicholls may have come away from Chepstow without a winner yesterday but it was no surprise to see his Pepe Simo (5/2) take the Paul Nicholls Racing 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle at Wincanton today, beating the 13/8 favourite Henry King a length and a quarter.

During the BBC's coverage from Aintree on Saturday Clare Balding mentioned the John Smith's marketing campaign which is set to offer drinkers a share in the people's racehorse, a three-year-old called Smithy. Viewers were encouraged to check the John Smith's website for details. I've just had a quick peek - there are 'bogof' offers to several interesting meets but finding details of Smithy wasn't easy. An article from Marketing informed us we can register our interest from January 2010, and it was that article that pointed me in the direction of the link to Smithy's Yard, Home of the People's Racehorse.

With Christmas creeping ever closer, two more books of interest - Marcus Armytage offers some frivolous racing tales in 'Turn Me On Guv: 'Tails' from the Racecourse', while those looking for something a little more serious may want to consider fellow blogger Ben Aitken's 'Narrowing The Field - Using the Dosage Method to Win at National Hunt Racing', available from the High Stakes bookshop.

Several acquaintances have been quick to tell me about Wrexham's indifferent start in the Blue Square Premiership this season. Mrs Tips, ever the helpful one, suggested the club sent a scout to run his eye over some dolphins who were filmed off the north Wales coast, playing football with jellyfish... Staying with the football theme, I had to smile at the commentator's introduction to the Chelsea versus Blackburn Rovers match on Match Of The Day last night. "If football was played on paper," he boomed, "we would win the pools every week!" Doesn't sound a bad idea to me.

Finally, spare a thought for amateur rider Victoria Cartmel who made history yesterday by becoming the first jockey to be banned for misuse of the whip and dropping her hands in the same race, the finale at Newbury yesterday. Sometimes, you just can't do right for doing wrong...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Aintree and Chepstow

Only eight are set to go to post for tomorrow's Aintree feature, the Old Roan Chase, which is run over two and a half miles. Howard Johnson's Tidal Bay proved somewhat disappointing last term - it was no disgrace to be beaten by Master Minded in the Tingle Creek, but when tried over two and a half and three miles his jumping never really convinced. Earlier in the week stable jockey Denis O'Regan said he was 'wary' about this race and that the horse was only 'OK' after sitting on him. On balance, I'm happy to look elsewhere. At eleven years of age, Monet's Garden and Knowhere are probably past their prime. For a nine-year-old Don't Push It has plenty of hurdle experience while both Kicks For Free and Tartak come to this after contesting novice chases last year. Having won four of his eight races, one over course and distance, and with the stable in decent form, Tartak gets the vote - he won't be inconvenienced should the predicted rain arrive.

The Veterans' Chase at 1.40 looks trappy while Noble Alan is expected to take the 3.25 although his price is likely to be short.

At Chepstow the going is good to soft with further wind and rain predicted. Six face the starter for the Persian War Novices' Hurdle at 1.20 - a fascinating contest over two miles four furlongs. Reve De Sivola, sixth in last year's Triumph, sets the standard here with an official rating of 143; the yard is in good form at present. Paul Nicholls' entry Aiteen Thirtythree catches the eye, being owned by Mr Paul Barber and Mrs M. Findlay, mother of one Harry Findlay. Speaking of his charge in The Times recently the handler said "If ever there was another Denman, this is it." Pterodactyl is no mug but has to give weight to the field and Frascati Park is interesting on his hurdles debut. This evening's tissue has Reve De Sivola 10/11 and Aiteen Thirtythree 4/1; at those prices I will go for value and take a chance with Aiteen Thirtythree.

The Silver Trophy at 1.55 looks something of a puzzle with seventeen declared. Top weight Elusive Dream is set to carry eleven stones twelve pounds (minus claimer Harry Skleton's three pounds allowance). The next horse in the handicap, El Dancer, carries just ten thirteen, while the bottom seven are all set to carry more than their long handicap weight. Many will suspect the top weight has been left in to benefit the other Nicholls runner and likely favourite Alfie Sherrin who is, nonetheless, two pounds out of the handicap. If you're brave enough to have a bet in this, here are recent notes from the Racing Post on some runners which may be of interest: Philip Hobbs on Prince Taime - '...race should tell us where we go with him this season: if he wins or runs well off his mark of 145 we can start thinking about conditions races; failing that we can switch to fences.'; Philip Hobbs on Ring The Boss - 'So disappointing last season.'; Alan King on Bakbenscher - 'I might still give him one run over hurdles just to take the freshness out of him, then we'll go chasing...'; and Evan Williams on Dantari - '...could be a decent horse in the spring in a big handicap off a light weight.' I shall watch from the sidelines.

The 2.25 Beginners' Chase is intriguing with Meanus Dandy, another owned by Mrs M. Findlay and Mr P. K. Barber, likely to be sent off a short-priced favourite. Course and distance winner Brenin Cwmtudu likes Chepstow and will get the cut in the ground he requires. His handler told the Weekender recently 'I feel he could make significant progress this season' and he would be disappointed if he wasn't better over fences than his current hurdles rating (117). If the eight go to post I'll check out the each-way betting opportunties.

The finale is a three mile maiden hurdle, although three of the field are recorded as having won over the distance. Paul Nicholls ex-French grey Royal Collonges will feature near the head of the market as will the Sir Robert Ogden owned Chamirey. This one is rated 130 but has been off the track for 552 days; trainer Alan King comments - "If he recaptures his French form, he could be interesting." I'll check prices beforehand but am tempted to take a chance with Chamirey.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Taking stock

The jumps season starts to take centre stage in the next couple of weeks but a couple of events this week haven't necessarily shown the game in the best light. There were four fatalities at Wetherby on Wednesday; the course will have to pass an inspection before the meeting scheduled for Friday and Saturday October 30th / 31st will be allowed to go ahead - the Charlie Hall Chase is the feature of the Saturday. Meanwhile, yesterday at Cheltenham of all places, the four runners in the five o'clock race were forced to take the wrong course after staff failed to remove a temporary running rail. A stewards' inquiry ensued and all jockeys were exonerated - how often do we see that happen? The incident has been referred to the BHA - rumours that the groundstaff concerned have been served with a one-day ban for misuse of the rails are wide of the mark.

Two impressive winners this weekend... The proverbial handicap snip Darley Sun ran out an easy winner of the Cesarewitch and the Kempton Christmas Hurdle is now on the agenda for Starluck after the gelding won on his seasonal debut whilst remaining in second gear.

Earlier this week in The Times Paul Nicholls put up three dark horses from the yard to watch out for - Aiteen Thirtythree, Royal Charm and Valentine Vic. Don't say I didn't tell you.

Finally, as Sea The Stars prepares to take up a new career at stud, Julian Muscat composed a fascinating double-page spread for Thursday's The Times that gave a glimpse into the esoteric world of the horse breeder. Hills offer 12/1 that any of Sea The Stars' first crop of three-year-olds will win a classic.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kempton chit-chat

Sunday's listed novices' hurdle at Kempton (3.25) should prove useful for future reference. In this evening's tissue Press The Button is marked up favourite but on official ratings he has enough to find with both the top-rated Australia Day and Twiston-Davies' Cootehill; interest in the latter is tempered by the fact that he gives weight all round here and has a disappointing run at Market Rasen the last time to put behind him. Both Press The Button and Australia Day have had recent outings on the Flat. Kempton is a sharp track where the emphasis is on speed; I envisage both Aather and Australia Day trying to lead from the start. Australia Day has the top speed rating and would make some appeal as betting material if priced around the 3/1 mark.

In the 4.35 Philip Hobbs' Noble Request returns, having been off course for the best part of three years, while those looking for something to oppose odds-on shot Balthazar King with in the 5.10 may be interested in the fact that last time out The Big Orse finished fourth behind Kangaroo Court - that one obliged earlier today at Cheltenham.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cheltenham on Saturday

Zeturf sponsor the feature handicap chase at Cheltenham tomorrow run over two and a half miles with another hundred yards thrown in at the end just for good measure. War Of The World, formerly with Mouse Morris over in Ireland, has been in good form over the summer and is bound to be popular, as is Poquelin, although the furthest this one has tried to date is two miles one furlong - I wouldn't take it for granted he'll stay. This looks trappy - if I get involved I'll have a small each-way interest in David Pipe's Star Of Germany who will appreciate the going and won the listed Lord Mildmay Memorial at Newton Abbot in August. I'm ignoring his latest effort in the Kerry National where the three mile trip and yielding ground probably didn't play to his strengths; he has his share of weight here.

According to the market, the novice chase at 3.50 is between the Alan King trained King Troy and Paul Nicholls' Just Amazing. The former has already beaten the latter at levels but only by a neck, while the official handicapper rates King Troy just two pounds higher than his rival. It looks close on paper. King Troy didn't jump well at Market Rasen the last time but in a recent RP stable tour the handler implied that his charge had got to the front too soon. He's trying three miles here for the first time - the trainer thinks he'll get the trip. For the record Just Amazing has won over two miles seven furlongs at Stratford. In my book King Troy's fourth in the Summer Plate at Market Rasen is the best form on offer and as his price is likely to be slightly bigger, I'll opt for King Troy - the winner has come from the front two in the market on eight occasions in the last ten years. Twiston-Davies' Diablo would have been of some interest for each-way betting purposes had eight runners faced the starter.

The opener looks interesting with the return of the Triumph Hurdle fourth Starluck. He was carrying my money that day last March and was travelling on the bit two from home but the infamous Cheltenham hill found him out. Bearing that in mind, I'm not in a rush to take short odds on his seasonal debut. Silk Hall starts here and then is likely to step up to two and a half miles while stablemate Saticon was something of an enigma last year. Classic Swain is the not most fluent of jumpers and was beaten four lengths by James De Vassy at Chepstow seven days ago while Evan Williams' Simarian faces a tough task giving these opponents eight pounds. Fascinating stuff - the King stable has won the last two renewals with Katchit and Squadron, so I'll chance Silk Hall this time.

Emma Lavelle's Kangaroo Court will be expected to take the 5 o'clock but he'll be no price while in the concluding bumper I'll watch Fiveways closely. From a yard that has been in excellent form during the summer months (over 26% winners so far this season), he did me a favour at Bangor last time. This looks much tougher though as, together with Start Me Up, he carries top weight; Mr J Tudor helps the cause by taking off five pounds. Of Miss Overdrive in this race Alan King says: 'Having clearly done very well over the summer, I have to say her work has improved quite dramatically.' Say no more.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The first Cheltenham meeting of the autumn

Following the summer recess, just a quick note as jump racing resumes at Prestbury Park tomorrow (Friday). Two interesting runners are Snap Tie in the 2.55 and Barizan in the juvenile hurdle at 4.40; both are likely to start odds-on and make little appeal as betting material. Philip Hobbs' smart hurdler Snap Tie isn't overly big but tries fences for the first time in the Novices' Chase - nonetheless he's still just a 20/1 shot with most layers for the Arkle next March. Should the fences get in his way, Pigeon Island and Rippling Ring are the most likely to benefit - to me, in his races, Rippling Ring hasn't looked the easiest of rides.

Barizan, rated 140 by the handicapper, has the form in the book in the 4.40. The last time at Market Rasen he ran away with his race, jumping fluently and beating Forty Thirty some fifteen lengths. On that occasion I thought his official rating may have flattered him somewhat but now he looks one to keep a very close eye on; his one defeat over hurdles came when he lost a shoe during the race.

Finally, at Ludlow this afternoon, The Package, with a second to New Little Bric in a Grade 3 handicap chase at Newbury to his name, was expected to take the Beginners' Chase at 4.50. The 4/7 favourite was beaten a neck, battled out of it by Matuhi (11/4). From the Racing Post's comments in running: '...still close up to the winner run-in, would not go on...'; he looks one to be wary of in the future.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some weekend jumping notes

The Sporting Life reports plenty of drama at Ffos Las today - sadly 11/2 chance Manorson broke down after winning the Sir David Mansel Lewis Memorial Beginners' Chase.

David Pipe's charge Seven Is My Number, owned by David Johnson, took the opener at Bangor yesterday - the 9/2 chance beat Khachaturian (7/4) a short head in a relatively fast time. That's his third win on the bounce this autumn, although, according to the Racing Post's comments in running, the horse did everything he could to throw away the chance: '..ridden when wandered right and joined last, had plenty left but made it very hard for rider, cajoled home in front..." The rider who worked the oracle was Timmy Murphy. The horse looks far from straightforward but, despite those comments, clearly possesses ability as he was giving the runner-up ten pounds.

Evan Williams is in the spotlight in the Weekender's 'Straight from the Stable' feature this week and I was intrigued to see Silverburn is now an inmate of the yard. Although this horse, formerly with Paul Nicholls, has a Tolworth Hurdle to his name, I always felt he never quite lived up to expectations, even though Nicholls was quick to talk up his charge's chance when any opportunity arose. After finishing fourth in the Ballymore at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival, Silverburn was, for me, one to take on - his third in the 2007 Feltham behind Joe Lively was a typically frustrating effort. Mr Williams has a reputation for working wonders with animals that have maybe fallen out of love with the game - it will be interesting to see how Silverburn progresses.

Noted from that same Weekender article - State Of Play won't be ready for the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and is being aimed at the Grand National; Brenin Cwmtudu has schooled well over fences and 'could make signifcant progress this season' (has five-day entries in two chases at Ludlow on Thursday); Foxhunter winner Cappa Bleu is waiting for the rain to arrive and Fight Club is one to look out for when starting his novice hurdle campaign.

Howard Johnson caught the eye with three winners from just four runners at Carlisle on Friday but the form didn't carry over to Hexham the next day where both Wave Power (evens) and Montoya's Son (6/4) both disappointed. It's early days yet...

A couple of weeks ago Tom Segal, writing in the Weekender, indicated he preferred Flat racing to Jumps as a betting medium. Amongst the reasons he advanced - in chases in particular it was critical for a horse to get into a jumping rhythm and you could never tell beforehand if that was going to happen. I just couldn't resist putting forward a couple of counterpoints, reasons why I'm not so keen on the Flat game as a bettng medium - effect of the draw, traffic problems, less form to go on... ;)

Finally, for those who like their information straight from the horse's mouth, NH trainer Chris Bealby has an interesting blog at

Friday, October 09, 2009

The proper start to the jumps season

Many consider tomorrow's meeting at Chepstow the real start to the jumps season; in days gone by the feature race was the Mercedes Benz Chase, with the BBC televising at least three races from the card. How times have changed! The Paul Nicholls stable moves into gear now, and Ruby Walsh will start his regular winter flights across the Irish Sea. In the past, searching for value, I've experimented with an approach of opposing Nicholls' runners at this meeting, the theory being that after their summer break the horses may not be as far forward as many will assume. The results have been decidedly mixed - last year was best forgotten with Nicholls-trained beasts winning four (Tchico Polos 5/2, Herecomesthetruth 10/11f, R De Rien Sivola 8/1 and Taniano even money favourite). As today's Daily Telegraph reports Nicholls feels his charges are as far forward as they were this time last year, I'd advise caution in following the strategy this year.

One I would be prepared to take on is Classic Swain in the four-year-old hurdle at 4.10. Classic Swain has never struck me as straightforward and in the past has shown signs of temperament together with a tendency to miss the odd hurdle out here and there. Any Given Day is a horse I like while Trenchant, with Choc Thornton up, looks the pick of the Alan King runners. Josh Gifford's Helium, a staying-on eighth in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham, is held in high regard but, as with many on their first run of the season, fitness has to be taken on trust; having said that, the tissue prices the horse at 20/1 which looks big. In an open event, Any Given Day is put forward as the tentative selection - his run at Market Rasen in mid-August may give him an edge over some of his rivals here.

Tot Of The Knar has had her fair share of trainers and moved to the Nicholls yard in August. A game mare on her day, she gets into the 3.35 with a light weight but she has been novice chasing in smallish fields - taking on seasoned handicappers here she makes little appeal at cramped odds.

The favourite has won eight of the last ten runnings of the juvenile hurdle which is due off at 4.45. At the time of writing Fongoli is the most experienced animal and the market leader. The King stable won this in 2006 with Katchit and then finished second twice in succession with Pouvoir (2007) and Tuanku (2008). Tombov needs to improve on what we've seen so far to get competitive but the yard wouldn't enter him here on a mere whim. Fongoli is the selection.

Only six go to post for the novice chase at 3.00 which tends to act as a stepping stone for a young chaser destined for better things. As two thirds of the field are seven years old and more, I have concentrated on Nicholls' Gullible Gordon and Jonjo O'Neill's Theatrical Moment - Gullible Gordon gets the vote.

Noted - McCoy chooses to ride at Bangor. Khachaturian is of interest in the opener after his recent second to King Troy over a trip perhaps a little beyond his best. The drop back here should suit, although King Troy, previously fourth in the Summer Plate at Market Rasen, didn't jump well that day. King's Forest is respected. The McManus horses City Theatre and Shadow Dancer will be short odds to take the two novice hurdle events but I'll be tempted to have an each-way dabble on Norma Hill if she's priced around the 12/1 mark in the 3.30. This course and distance winning mare returned to action after a two year layoff with a reasonable effort in August. I've won money on her before - on her day she was a very speedy individual; if she retains her ability, she can be competitive here.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

A day at Ascot races

The most common complaint I receive about this blog is that the tips are useless. The second most common complaint I receive is that the blog contains far too much drivel and not enough photographs. I don't really think I'll ever be able to address the first problem; instead I decided to try and do something about the second.

Recently a colleague and his wife went to Ascot's QEII meeting; in return for my marking their card, they agreed to take a few pictures. Out came the best clothes and off to Ascot they went! Obtaining half price tickets through CAMRA (The Campaign For Real Ale), they'd bagged themselves a real bargain before they had even set foot on the the course - £15 for a Grandstand ticket. At the accompanying beer festival on the day, a pint of real ale from the wide selection available cost £2.50, which also struck me as jolly reasonable.

My colleague summed up the day as similar to attending a giant wedding reception but without having to go through the inconvenience of attending the ceremony. Put like that, it certainly made plenty of appeal to me.

The new grandstand was described as 'seriously impressive' (although it looks as though it will be a while before building costs are recouped - the course made a pre-tax loss of just under £11 million last year).

Needles to say, the tips provided by my good self failed abysmally. My colleague's wife however, having attended no more than a handful of meetings, placed £3 of her own money on Joshua Tree 'because I'm a U2 fan'. Not only that, she had the foresight to strike the bet with a bookmaker offering odds of 16/1. Joshua Tree won, SP 12/1.

All in all, a most enjoyable day out at the Ascot races...

On reflection

Earlier this afternoon Sea The Stars won the Qatar Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe in breathtaking fashion. At the home turn the horse looked boxed in near the tail of the field; when the gaps appeared, the horse took them, ably assisted by Mick Kinane in the plate, to beat Youmzain and Cavalryman two lengths and a head, thereby securing 'equine immortality' in the process.

In his post race interview, Mick Kinane, 50, described the horse as 'phenomenal'. The jockey's entry in Sean Magee's compilation The Race Of My Life (1996), is Belmez's neck victory over Old Vic in the 1990 King George at Ascot; I suspect if he were asked the question today, the victory of Sea The Stars in the 2009 Arc would be his selection.

In the immediate aftermath of the race, trainer John Oxx refused to confirm the horse would be aimed at the Breeders' Cup next month. This evening Coral offer the best price about the horse for the Classic - 4/5.

Roughly an hour and a half after the showpiece, Yeats finished third on his final run in the Qatar Prix du Cadran and was given a standing ovation by racegoers. May he enjoy a long, happy retirement!

And, just in case you were wondering, The Stag, from Huntingdon Rugby Club, won the 2009 Mascot Grand National...

Friday, October 02, 2009

Something for the weekend...

At Newmarket tomorrow thirty four go to post for the Cambridgeshire; bookmakers bet 10/1 the field with Skybet paying each way six places. Picking the winner is well beyond my limited capabilties. In the last decade two favourites have obliged (Pipedreamer in 2007 and Blue Monday in 2005) but in 2004 Spanish Don was returned at 100/1. I won't have a bet but, if a gun were held to my head, I'd start by looking at horses carrying less than nine stones.

Course and distance winner Ghanaati returns to racing against her own sex in the Sun Chariot Stakes at three o'clock, having finished a well-beaten third behind Rip Van Winkle in the Sussex at Goodwood. She's been given time to get over that effort, has a favourite's chance and is the selection.

All eyes will be on Longchamp on Sunday when Sea The Stars attempts to win the Qatar Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe at 3.15 BST. Last year Rishi Persad told BBC viewers he would walk home if Zarkava won the race - Zarkava won but Rishi never kept his promise; I wonder if he'll be similarly rash this year. Eighteen go to post; at the time of writing Sea The Stars is 8/11 in places but generally a 4/6 shot. The Arc is often a rough race and the draw can be crucial - the favourite has been given stall six which I would imagine will please John Oxx. The handler went on record a couple of days ago saying he didn't want a low draw (Zarkava won from stall one last year, the first horse to do so since 1964). Similarly you don't want a really wide draw - Andre Fabre said previously he was running for second place with Cavalryman but the horse has been done no favours whatsoever with berth 19. Before the draw, Cavalryman, with Dettori riding, was decent enough value at 10/1 - he's now generally a 12/1 shot. Vision D'Etat is worth a second look and probably overpriced at 14/1 with Coral but as a four-year-old he's set to carry nine stone five; three-year-olds have won 12 of the last 15 runnings. Stacelita remains unbeaten even though she was beaten fair and square by Dar Re Mi the last time, being awarded the Prix Vermeille in the stewards' room on a technicality, much to the disgust of Dar Re Mi's owner Lord Lloyd Webber and his wife who was most indignant in the aftermath. I'm going to stick with an each-way interest in Cavalryman - the poor draw is a major concern - but, along with many I suspect, I hope to see Sea The Stars win the day.

For those who prefer a bit of fun on a Sunday, the tenth running of the annual Mascot Grand National takes place at Huntingdon racecourse over a distance of one furlong two hundred and twenty yards. Mascots caught wearing spikes are likely to be disqualified...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Matters arising...

A couple of performances impressed over the weekend - Rip Van Winkle's determination when challenged by Zacinto in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and Barizan's victory in the juvenile novice hurdle at Market Rasen. Barizan raced off a mark of 140 which some (myself included) thought may have flattered a little but he hurdled fluently and won as he liked. I'd heard a quiet whisper for the second, Classic Contours, who finished a respectable thirteen lengths second - that was a decent enough effort on his first try over hurdles and he looks one to keep in mind for the future in this sphere.

I have a confession to make - after watching Richard Dunwoody dance the 'Cha Cha Cha' in Saturday night's Strictly Come Dancing, I picked up the phone, tears still rolling down my cheeks, and voted for the man. What a star! Unfortunately, it was all to no avail and 'Richard Dun-goody' was promptly dumped out of the competition in no uncertain terms, like a novice chaser falling at the second. Of course, the BBC has missed yet another opportunity to increase its diminished racing coverage.

Around this time of year books start to appear on the shelves of shops, just in time for Christmas. In Waterstone's (Coventry) the other day I came across a copy of Fallon: The Biography by Andrew Longmore and Paul Nicholls' autobiography Lucky Break while Saturday's Times printed extracts from Michael Henderson's 50 People Who Fouled Up Football. I quote the author: 'There is no joy in English football today, and little dignity. The game is richer to the tune of many billions, yet it is poorer in spirit... Football has been shamed by people who do not hold its best interests at heart.' Amongst the fifty named and shamed are Piers Morgan, Alan Hansen, Nigel Kennedy, Victoria Beckham, Alan Green ('a man who speaks almost exclusively in capital letters'), Don Revie, Billy Bragg and even the fans themselves. I think I'm going to have to order a copy...

Football may have its billions but during the BBC's coverage of the European Eventing Championships this afternoon I watched Clare Balding interview one Piggy French who had just won herself a silver medal. 'Piggy French? Do people like that still exist?' I hear you cry; well, quite clearly, they do. You'll be pleased to learn that Piggy isn't her real name - Simon Barnes informs us her name is Georgina - the family nickname came about as her older sister thought she looked like Piglet from Winnie The Pooh. Different world altogether, isn't it?

Finally, I bring to your attention something I've spent a long time waiting for - left-handed underpants. According to aptly-named underwear seller Horn, 'They'll save left-handed men vital seconds.' It's all just pants really.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Market Rasen ruminations

Only five declared for the big race at Ascot tomorrow, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and Mastercraftsman is likely to be withdrawn if Rip Van Winkle makes it to the start. Rip, the clear form choice, is my idea of the winner but he'll be no price so I've decided to look at Market Rasen's National Hunt card instead.

In the opener I'm considering Philip Hobbs' Bruslini but he's been off the track a while, may be a little ring-rusty and fitness has to be taken on trust.

The 2.05 handicap hurdle looks very competitive. Likely favourite Cootehill from the Twiston-Davies yard is a favourite of mine and did this blog a favour when taking the Summer Hurdle in July at 13/2. A few in that race reoppose here including the two that dead-heated for second, Danehill Willy and Ameeq, together with Ellerslie Tom and Katies Tuitor. I have to express some reservations about Twiston-Davies' stable form. Normally at this time of year the yard hits the ground running, having had the two day Perth meeting earlier in the week as an early target. This year things don't appear to have gone entirely to plan; just one winner (Billie Magern) from thirteen entries at Perth doesn't read well - seven of those runners were sent off favourite. The yard's three runners at Worcester today have all finished unplaced. At the weights Danehill Willy should finish in front of Ameeq, the latter being kept busy on the Flat over the summer. I note that McCoy has ridden Danehill Willy in his last three runs but here he's jumped ship and is booked to ride Alison Thorpe's consistent gelding Nortonthorpe Lad. McCoy gave up his rides after the first at Worcester today, having taken a heavy fall at Fontwell on Thursday. If the champ is back riding tomorrow, I'll have an each-way wager on Nortonthorpe Lad who is priced up at 12/1 in this evening's tissue.

Barizan brings the best form into the juvenile novices' hurdle at 2.40 but I expect Forty Thirty to run a big race. In the recent past Alan King has used this race to introduce both Katchit and Franchoek; the stable's entry last year however - Black Jacari - proved a disappointment, winning just one Class 4 hurdle in his subsequent ten starts. Tombov is one to keep an eye out for in the market but I'm going to stick by Forty Thirty who won for this blog last time out. It's worth noting the favourite has failed to win the last five renewals.

I'll maintain a watching brief in the listed handicap chase at 3.15. Always Waining would make plenty of appeal if he was certain to carry his effort through but I've had burnt fingers with this one many times before. Two I'll keep a close eye on for future reference - Paul Webber's De Soto and Oumeyade having his first run for Donald McCain.

By declaring King Troy for the novice rather than the handicap chase, Alan King has taken the easier option with the seven-year-old gelding; King Troy is the selection in the 3.55.

The finale is trappy - I won't have a bet. Brendan Duke's Mister Benedictine is a horse I like and he'll like the ground but he hasn't won over this trip and I can see a couple further down the handicap going past McCoy's mount in the closing stages.