Friday, April 30, 2010

2000 Guineas 2010

Before we get down to business, a word to the wise. As anyone who has lost money on my National Hunt selections will tell you, the Flat picks are worse...

Nineteen go to post at Newmarket tomorrow for the 202nd running of the 2000 Guineas. Aidan O'Brien's unbeaten star St Nicholas Abbey is a hot favourite on the back of his effortless win in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last October. That day he beat Elusive Pimpernel and Al Zir three and three quarter lengths and two and a half lengths on ground described as good to soft. Several commentators think he's the proverbial good thing and that view will have hardened on the back of positive stable reports about the horse's well-being and his ability to handle quick ground. He has been backed today and is now a best-priced 5/4 shot (Paddy Power), with several layers including Ladbrokes, Coral and totesport going even money. This reminds me somewhat of the confidence behind Nashwan just before he won this race in 1989, with everyone seemingly 'in the know' apart from my good self.

Having said all that, reasons for looking elsewhere include - there's no value in the favourite's price; being by Montjeu, the preliminaries may prove a distraction; George Washington (2006) is the only favourite to oblige since 1993; Kieren Fallon is on record saying he thinks the horse will struggle on quick ground and finally the yard was slow into its stride earlier this year (although stable form has improved recently).

John Dunlop's Elusive Pimpernel won the Craven over course and distance a little over a fortnight ago but can hit a flat spot in his races while Dick Turpin caused something of an upset when beating stablemate Canford Cliffs in the Greenham. Since then the latter-named has been the subject of a glowing report from jockey Richard Hughes who has stated he intends to ride the colt with more restraint here. Ladbrokes offer 10/1 this evening which looks big as on official ratings Canford is the one they have to beat - will he stay though?

It's interesting to see owner Harry Findlay trying his luck at the Flat game with Inler while Ladbrokes' 40/1 about Hearts Of Fire is tempting especially as the colt has won over the distance and has been tipped up by Dick Hunter in the Weekender; in addition Pat Eddery's runners have a decent stirke rate so far this season.

I prefer a low draw in the Guineas and that's where the pace appears to be this year. I take Canford Cliffs to win and will have a small each-way interest in Hearts Of Fire. Note that race sponsor Stan James and Skybet go one quarter the odds four places and in addition I'm sure I've read Stan James is to pay out winning bets in guineas.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

End of term report 2009/10

In my opinion this has been a very good National Hunt season taking into account the inclement weather during the winter, but in yesterday's Independent Chris McGrath could see only the same familiar problems.

A number of snapshots will stay with me for some time to come - Denman's phenomenal weight-carrying performance in the Hennessy, Kauto Star's victory in the King George, that same horse falling in the Gold Cup, Barizan's brave attempt to win the Triumph from the front, King John's Castle refusing to budge an inch at the start of the Grand National and Tony McCoy's first victory in that race at the fifteenth time of asking.

McCoy will think fifteen is his lucky number as he took the champion jockey award for the fifteenth consecutive year; Paul Nicholls was champion trainer for the fifth consecutive year. As anyone who has read Nicholls' autobiography Lucky Break will know, there was a time when he thought he'd never overturn Martin Pipe; at Sandown on Saturday the handler hinted next season's title could be a close run affair as Nicky Henderson builds up a strong string at Seven Barrows.

Rhys Flint was champion conditional while it was a season of stark contrasts for two Sams - Sam Twiston-Davies and Sam Thomas. The former, at the tender age of seventeen, made all on Baby Run to take the Christie's Foxhunter at Cheltenham, just half an hour after his father had sent out Imperial Commander to win the Gold Cup. Three weeks later Hello Bud gave the youngster the thrill of a lifetime in the National, racing with the leaders for much of the way before fading to finish fifth; in the final week of the season Mr Sam Twiston-Davies turned professional. On the other hand Sam Thomas, in his first season as Tom George's stable jockey, suffered a hairline fracture of his back in a schooling accident on Paul Nicholls' gallops; back riding now, he'll be looking forward to a fresh start. Lest we forget, this horse-riding stuff is a dangerous business - Melanie Reid's poignant article in Saturday's Times highlighted the point in no uncertain terms.

One trainer and one jockey both passed the 100 winner mark in the final week of the season, David Pipe reaching the landmark on the final Saturday while jockey Jason Maguire achieved his goal at Perth in midweek. Many of Jason's winners were provided by Donald McCain, a trainer who has made significant progress this year. His stable star Peddlers Cross is nominated 'Blog Horse of the Year' - tipped twice, the bay gelding won on both occasions (including the Neptune at Cheltenham) at odds of 11/8 and 7/1. Cue Card (40/1 Festival bumper winner) was considered but as that one was only mentioned in dispatches and wasn't one of the blog's highlighted selections, Peddlers Cross is declared the winner by a short head. Albertas Run won the BHA's (rather more prestigious) Order Of Merit.

Tony McCoy rode the first winner of the new season, Marodima taking the Ludlow Golf Club Claiming Hurdle at odds of 1/7. Some things never change... On the other hand, some things do - the following courses are offering free entry to racing this week as part of the Racing For Change initiative:

Monday 26 April: Towcester and Wolverhampton
Tuesday 27 April: Sedgefield and Nottingham
Wednesday 28 April: Kempton and Ascot
Thursday 29 April: Huntingdon
Friday 30 April: Doncaster
Saturday 1st May: Goodwood (apparently sold out!)

As always, check details with individual courses beforehand.

And if this season just past hasn't been one of the best for you personally, always remember, as my dear old Mum used to say, there's likely to be someone worse off than yourself. Spare a thought for the Royal Mail van driver Cemal Celikkanat who discovered last week he had thrown away a winning £100,000 lottery ticket...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sandown's end of term meeting

Tomorrow's mixed card at Sandown marks the end of the National Hunt season, the highlight being the bet365 Gold Cup (still referred to as 'The Whitbread' in our house). Twenty are set to face the starter for this trip just shy of three and three quarter miles; half the field comes from three big stables - Paul Nicholls has entered four while both David Pipe and Philip Hobbs have three runners each. Favourites don't have a good record and only two winners have carried more than eleven stones in the past decade. I've gone for something with a low weight that will act on the ground at an each-way price - Jonjo O'Neill's Nostringsattached, 14/1 with William Hill this evening, is the suggestion.

All eyes will be on Twist Magic in the Celebration Chase at 2.30. In the past he has performed particularly well at Sandown and, if he consents to put his best foot forward, he's the clear form choice. Having said that, he refused to race in the Champion Chase at Punchestown on Tuesday. The travelling over to Ireland is likely to have taken its toll but this evening Paddy Power offer 11/8 which many would consider big should he decide to take an interest. If you're tempted to take an interest, monitor his behaviour in the paddock before placing a bet - at Punchestown it was clear beforehand he was in one of his reluctant moods. Of the others I prefer Oh Crick to Fix The Rib - the latter's jumping at Newbury on his penultimate run wasn't great. Last year Twist Magic won this with Mahogany Blaze just run out of second by Kalahari King. On that occasion Mahogany Blaze was an 11/2 shot yet this evening he's 11/1 with totesport - provided the bare eight go to post Mahogany Blaze each-way looks decent value in my book.

Petit Robin is the form choice in the 1.30 but with the prices on offer I'll sit on the sidelines while the opening Flat v. Jump Jockeys handicap is always worth watching and will, no doubt, be keenly contested.

For those who have followed the selections through the week at Punchestown, tomorrow is the final day of the 2010 Festival. Much to my surprise (and, no doubt, yours as well) I haven't been doing too badly with three winners and two seconds from seven selections. In the only Grade One race on Saturday's card, the Airshow 100 Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, I'll side with Barizan - his run in the Triumph at Cheltenham last month was one of the highlights of the season. On form he's closely matched with both Carlito Brigante (missed Aintree and so comes here relatively fresh) and his Aintree conqueror Orsippus, while it would be unwise to dismiss Sweet My Lord, given the form of anything Willie Mullins has run over the past few days. I just hope Barizan is well enough to do himself justice after two tough races in the last five weeks.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Punchestown 2010 - Friday's Champion Hurdle

Friday's highlight at the Punchestown Festival is the Rabobank Champion Hurdle due off at 5.30. Let me state from the outset that, following his sensational win in last year's Cheltenham bumper, I'm a big Dunguib fan. Having said that, he's taking on some battle-hardened opponents here - on official ratings he has seventeen pounds to find with Solwhit - and the 3/1 on offer doesn't look the best value. At Cheltenham last month I quietly fancied Punjabi but he was soon beaten. Hurricane Fly hasn't been seen out since last November - Willie Mullins has had a good Festival so far - but this looks a big ask. Of the bigger priced runners, David Pipe's Ronaldo Des Mottes is relatively unexposed and makes some appeal each-way - five-year-olds have won three of the last eight renewals. On the back of his official rating last year's winner Solwhit gets the vote.

In the 6.05 Luska Lad will be popular while Philip Hobbs' Duke Of Lucca is respected but I'm going with Nick Williams' Reve De Sivola.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Punchestown 2010 - thoughts on Thursday's card

Fifteen go to post in the feature, the World Series Hurdle at 5.30. Willie Mullins has done well so far at the Festival and has a strong hand here with Quevega, Mourad and Cousin Vinny. Likely favourite Quevega tries the three mile trip for the first time but the mare was showing no sign of stopping when taking the David Nicholson Hurdle at Cheltenham - that was her first run since finishing third in the Champion Hurdle at this meeting last year. Similarly Mourad hasn't raced over this trip previously but looks likely to be in the mix. I fancied Alan King's Karabak for a place at Cheltenham but his effort was disappointing - he appeared to run in snatches, coming in fourth behind Big Buck's. The yard has had a very in-and-out season and the 5/1 on offer about Karabak makes little appeal; stablemate Bensalem tries hurdles after finding the fences getting in the way once too often and may be of some interest to each-way backers. That comment also applies to Powerstation, third at Cheltenham, but at the age of ten the chances are he won't come home first. At 4/1, I'll support Willie Mullins' Quevega, hoping that with the mares' allowance she'll last home.

The novices are likely to go lickety-split in the Ryaniar Chase over two miles, so jumping at speed will be at a premium. Captain Cee Bee burst a blood vessel when finishing down the field in the Arkle, a race in which Osana finished third, Kings Theatre a somewhat disappointing fifth and Sports Line eleventh; we can expect to see improvement from both Kings Theatre and Sports Line. While Psycho is an excellent jumper, I'm prepared to forgive Captain Cee Bee his last run; beforehand McCoy rated him his best chance of a winner at Cheltenham so, if he's back to his best, he has to be thereabouts - Captain Cee Bee gets the nod.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Punchestown 2010 - Wednesday

The Guinness Gold Cup is tomorrow's highlight and it's difficult to get away from Denman - on official ratings he has some 18 pounds in hand over his two closest rivals, Joncol and J'y Vole. Those looking for reasons to oppose will be aware the drying ground won't suit and he had a hard enough race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month when finishing seven lengths behind Imperial Commander (with Cooldine who re-opposes tomorrow another 24 lengths adrift in fifth). Given the odds on offer, I'm not tempted to play.

In the Paddy Power Champion I.n.h. Flat Race Cheltenham bumper form is represented by Tavern Times (fourth), Bubbly Bruce (tenth), Up Ou That (thirteenth) and Shot From The Hip (twentieth). There were some lumpy bets for the last-named that day; he was sent off 3/1 favourite but ruined his chance early on by pulling far too hard. Megastar, fifth at Cheltenham, took the Aintree bumper a couple of weeks later, confirming Cheltenham form with Dare Me - the third there, Whispering Hills, takes his chance tomorrow. All of which, of course, pays a huge compliment to Colin Tizzard's Cue Card.

In the three mile novice hurdle (4.55) Magnanimity looks set to go off favourite; he carries a penalty for his win at Fairyhouse a fortnight ago. On official ratings Arabella Boy has two pounds in hand but he tries this distance for the first time. That being the case, I'll take a small interest in Ad Idem; the good ground should suit this son of Kayf Tara.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tuesday at Punchestown

A couple of quick suggestions for the opening day of the Punchestown Festival. The Champion Chase looks intriguing. Paul Nicholls won this last year with Master Minded - his entry this year, Twist Magic, has upwards of seven pounds in hand over all his rivals on official ratings. Having said that, he can be tricky (McCoy rides) and in my book isn't one to trust implicitly - I expected connections to wait for Saturday's Celebration Chase at Sandown. Nobody would begrudge Forpadydeplasterer a win after finishing second on five occasions this season - he came with a strong run over two and a half miles at Aintree the last time but couldn't get past Albertas Run. That was just eleven days ago - has this come a bit quick after a long season? I fancied Kalahari King for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham but he finished a well beaten third, connections saying two and a half miles may suit more these days; at Aintree the next time he fell at the second fence. The Arkle winner Sizing Europe steps up to race against the big boys. You pay your money and take your choice; I'm going with Forpadydeplasterer.

In the last eight years six favourites have won the Champion Novice Hurdle; Nicky Henderson's General Miller is the top-rated animal and gets the vote.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Looking forward, looking back...

Looking forward - next week's highlight is the Punchestown Irish National Hunt Festival. Here's a taste of what's in store...

Tuesday April 20th features The Champion Steeplechase (6.05 pm) over two miles;

Wednesday April 21st - The Guinness Gold Cup over three miles one furlong;

Thursday April 22nd - The World Series Hurdle over three miles;

Friday April 23rd - The Rabobank Champion Hurdle over two miles;

Saturday April 24th is Family Day - the feature is The Airshow Champion Four Year Old Hurdle over two miles.

Further details are available from the Punchestown website.

Some snippets which may be of interest...

Dunguib is to be aimed at the Rabobank Champion Hurdle on Friday;
Denman is set to run in the Guinness Gold Cup on Wednesday;
Paul Nicholls is also sending over Twist Magic for Tuesday's Champion Chase - in the ante-post market there isn't a lot to choose between Kalahari King, Sizing Europe, Forpadydeplasterer and Twist Magic;
Barry Geraghty missed his booked rides at Ascot earlier today 'so he can be 100% for the Punchestown Festival that starts on Tuesday';
With European air travel still affected by the volcanic eruptions in Iceland, connections of British runners have made alternative travel arrangements for their charges;
Quevega has been installed favourite for the World Series Hurdle;
Wednesday's Guinness Gold Cup will be War Of Attrition's last run;
Nick Williams is to send over Reve De Sivola for Friday's Cathal Ryan Memrial Novices' Hurdle and Cornas for Tuesday's Champion Chase.

And a few moments to look back - earlier today it was announced Denis O'Regan is to split with Howard Johnson at the end of the season while Greville Starkey's obituary brought back some fond memories.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ayr plans disrupted

Air travel has been disrupted today by a volcano in Iceland while tomorrow's Ayr National has been disrupted by the appearance of a four foot hole on the hurdles course. As a result, the thirty runners set to contest the Coral Scottish Grand National at 3.20 will have twenty four obstacles to negotiate rather than twenty seven. Howard Johnson's Killyglen heads the weights while nine of the contenders race from out of the handicap. I had no luck in last week's Grand National and I suspect it will be a similar story tomorrow. I've been on the lookout for a horse that comes to this relatively fresh and will handle the ground - one I considered was Andrew Parker's Merigo. That one won the Eider last year - Timmy Murphy rides again for the father-in-law so I expect he'll be trying his best - but the horse prefers cut underfoot. That being the case, I'll take a small each-way interest in the Sir Robert Ogden owned That's Rhythm who has won on decent ground and is expected to appreciate the trip. The horse fell in this race last year - I'm hoping the fitting of first time cheekpieces will help his concentration; Coral offer the value this evening at 20/1.

Emma Lavelle's Kangaroo Court is of interest in a trappy-looking Future Novices' Champion Chase. He has won over the distance but has something to find with both French Opera and Tchico Polos on official ratings. The concern is he was withdrawn at Cheltenham on Wednesday (rather than declared a non-runner) and I don't know why. He'll appreciate the ground here - at the prices on offer Kangaroo Court gets the vote (9/2 Tchico Polos looks big too) in a race where only two favourites have obliged in the last ten years - in contrast the second favourite has won on five occasions.

If the hole in the hurdles track affects the chase course, how it affects the Scottish Champion Hurdle (2.45) is anybody's guess. Following a long layoff Michael Scudamore's Gloucester ran a fine race the last time at odds of 50/1 to take sixth in the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. He won't be that price tomorrow but may be worth an each-way intertest at around 10/1 - he's sure to appreciate the good ground.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Guest blogger - National hero upstaged by Peppa Pig at Southwell

Since his retirement I've had more favours from my ex-boss in four months than during the fifteen years I worked for him.

After joining a party of rookie punters going to the Welsh National at Chepstow in December, Mr N. kindly wrote up a report for this blog. Undaunted by that particular experience, Mr N. then valiantly offered to take assorted relatives to Southwell last Sunday to celebrate the joint 160th birthday of his mother-in-law and her husband, a couple who have lived the majority of their lives in a sports-free zone.

This low-key meet was selected some months in advance as the track is close-by, and it offered the perfect opportunity to partake of a slap-up meal in the relaxed environment of the racecourse restaurant before getting down to the serious business of finding a winner or two.

Now, we're often told a jump jockey's life is full of ups and downs. After winning the National on Saturday at the fifteenth attempt, AP McCoy was brought back to earth with a bump when Merseyside police hit him with a £30 fine and three points on his licence after he was caught using the mobile whilst driving. To add insult to injury, after the paperwork had been completed, officers requested he posed for photos with them! The champ may have expected the punters who turned up at Southwell in unprecedented numbers the next day to request more photographs but in the event it was Peppa Pig (pictured below) who proved just as popular! Here's Mr N's edited report...

The meeting was marketed as one of Southwell’s Family Fun Days showing there is still life in live horse racing if you know how to present it. Our meal in the Queen Elizabeth Restaurant (which came as part of a race day package which we bought as the birthday present) was excellent and far better than you might expect from a small racecourse. The food was proper restaurant quality and declared good value by all the party.

In marked contrast the racing didn't promise very much at all. A quick look at the card indicated that anything of any quality had already appeared at Cheltenham or Aintree and this was confirmed by a couple of quotes from Timeform in the racecard - the first race was described as a “lowly handicap” and a comment about the next: “ it is difficult to warm to most of these…”

We could only work with what we had before us and, to my complete amazement, the mother-in-law’s husband came up with a place in the very first race, covering his costs and making a small profit (and his day too I suspect). We were already ahead compared to Chepstow. In the next I went with Darina’s Boy (preferred after the original choice was one of many non runners on the day); it was looking good to come home first but just ran out of steam against Tanner’s Court. The brother-in-law backed the third but was unimpressed by his modest returns.The third race brought disappointment for Mrs N who backed the third each-way in a four runner field. Never mind.

Finally skill and experience triumphed in the fourth race where there was no value in the odds on favourite and my preference was already a non-runner; as I watched the favourite Horseshoe Reef drift in the betting I slipped a few bob on Nulato which obliged at 11/4 - I got it at 4/1!

Sadly that proved the summit of my achievement although the brother-in-law found a 9/1 third and Mrs N, showing all her experience, wisely spotted nothing was likely to beat McCoy on Aberdale. The returns weren’t great but she enjoyed the runaway win all the same.

Mawsem was weighed down by my expectations and came in third in the last race - I broke even overall so things are looking up.

A very good day though and the first time I have enjoyed the race experience from the comfort of the restaurant; everyone got to claim some winnings no matter how modest and really entered into the spirit of the event. I am not sure if any of them will do it again but the brother-in-law did invite me to a Superbikes race meeting later in the year. That should be good when they come to the open ditch.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

An Aintree 2010 analysis

The 163rd running of the Grand National will surely become known as 'McCoy's National', the champion jockey winning the great race at the 15th time of asking on the J P McManus owned Don't Push It. Given everything the man has achieved in the sport, I never really subscribed to the view that a win in this race was a necessity, an omission on the curriculum vitae, but clearly others did. Tony McCoy deserves every success. There are likely to be quotes aplenty in the coming days - I prefer to refer to a selection made on a wet Monday afternoon at Plumpton in February 2009 when he rode his 3,000th winner. The man's dedication was highlighted again earlier today when he rode Aberdale to victory in a humble Class 5 maiden hurdle at Southwell. Tony McCoy - we salute you.

Three weeks in the life of 17 year old jockey Mr Sam Twiston-Davies:
Friday 19th March 15:27 - father trains Imperial Commander to win Cheltenham Gold Cup;
Friday 19th March 16:08 - make all aboard Baby Run to win Christie's Foxhunter Chase;
Sat 20th March - Friday 9th April - take some more rides while studying for 'A' levels;
Sat 10th April - race prominently on Hello Bud in first National before fading two out to finish fifth.

Of course, a jockey's life is about lows as well as highs... Best wishes to Ruby Walsh who suffered a broken arm when falling from Celestial Halo in the Aintree Hurdle. Ruby missed his ride in the National on 10/1 joint favourite Big Fella Thanks; Barry Geraghty proved a more than able substitute, bringing the Findlay / Barber owned gelding home to take fourth spot.

Spare a thought too for Paul Carberry who struggled valiantly to get 28/1 shot King John's Castle to take part. The horse was having none of it - the tapes went up and the beast refused point blank to take one step forward. As they raced away and the TV camera cut back to the distinctive white horse standing in splendid isolation surveying all before him, there was something strangely magnificent about it all... Having said that, I doubt the punters who invested their hard-earned on the animal would see it in quite the same light.

Several will argue that racing had to play second fiddle to the ladies' outfits on Friday, Ladies' Day. Judge for yourselves with the Daily Telegraph's interesting selection of photographs published, no doubt, for your delectation. Coleen Rooney announced that the style contest winner was... Sophie Fairclough from Formby.

At this juncture, I thought I'd share with you the tale of a small time punter on Grand National day. As a family we arrived home from a few days' holiday Saturday dinner time; I was quickly dispatched to the local High Street to place selected shrapnel bets. Having diligently secured 20/1 with Betfred about Don't Push It for Mrs Tips, I walked into a William Hill shop where the TV screen displayed Big Fella Thanks - my daughter's selection - going out from 10/1 to 11/1. I decided to take the price. Walking away from the counter, I noted that the price on the ticket was recorded as 10/1, so I queried this with a William Hill assistant who was there supposedly to help punters such as myself. The conversation went something like this...

PG: I've just bet Big Fella Thanks. It's showing 11/1 on screen but I've just been given 10s.
William Hill Assistant (WHa): Ah, but when did you place the bet?
PG: Now, I've just done it.
WHa: Price must have changed as you placed the bet.
PG: It hasn't. TV was showing 11s when I made the bet.
WHa: Yes, but it's changed.
PG: So why isn't the screen showing 10s now?
WHa: It was, you've placed the bet and now it's 11s.
PG: No, it was 11s when I placed it.
WHa: Impossible - can't happen, mate.
PG: It was, I assure you.
WHa: Can't happen.
PG: It did, I assure you.
[repeat several times]
WHa:(eventually) Hang on, I'll check...

Five minutes later, WHa confirms I'm correct. I now have to wait to talk to the William Hill manager man (WHmm). Another five minutes passes and I'm then invited to tell this sorry tale to WHmm. I give him a polite resume of the above but make the silly mistake of saying ''s marked up at 11s and you've given me 10s.' WHmm opts for the confrontational approach and replies, in a decidedly antagonistic manner, 'Hold on a minute, mate, I haven't given you anything! The machine has given you 10s, not me! If there's any query, the company is going to start talking about problems with the software and...' I wait another three or four minutes and WHmm eventually agrees 11/1 my £1 each-way wager. Such is the standard of customer care in a High Street bookmaking establishment on a Saturday afternoon.

And finally... This time last year I thought I'd hit my all-time punting low when the mother-in-law phoned to tell me she'd bet the 100/1 Grand National winner Mon Mome - that took some coming to terms with, but I was getting there, slowly. However all that was before Mrs Tips went and picked this year's winner. I'm seriously thinking of giving it all up...

Friday, April 09, 2010

Aintree 2010 - Grand National

For those who like to make their own selections, my Twitter Guide to the National may be of some interest. For everyone else, here's how I see this year's race...

1. Snowy Morning: Third in 2008 and ninth last year; had a good preparation

2. Comply Or Die: Won in 2008 and second last year; Timmy Murphy's chosen ride

3. Mon Mome: Last year's winner is on a seven pound higher mark; trained specifically for the race

4. Big Fella Thanks: Every chance after finishing sixth last year; Ruby Walsh's chosen ride but no value in the market

5. Maljimar: Interesting outsider trained for the race

6. Cloudy Lane: Overpriced at around 50/1; ran out of petrol two from home in 2008 and there's just a suspicion he won't quite last home.

Two of the reserves will be of interest at a big price should they get a run - Cerium finished fifth last year while Howard Johnson was keen earlier in the week on Royal Rosa.

Good luck everyone!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Aintree 2010 - Friday is Ladies' Day

Ladies' Day at Aintree is a practical sellout but that doesn't make the card any easier. I offer these tentative suggestions...

Paul Nicholls' Escort'men, coming to this fresh after an easy win the last time at Kempton, looks a play against the favourite in the opener.

Deep Purple, having been beaten by Albertas Run at the Festival, reopposes here; I'll chance Deep Purple each-way with every respect given to Monet's Garden who, at the age of twelve, has had a tremendous season.

Two catch the eye in the 4.20. The marvellously-named The Giant Bolster is a favourite of mine who ran well to finish sixth in the Neptune at Cheltenham but I'm not certain he stays this trip. Cannington Brook will be a big price but is well regarded and is worth a small each-way interest while Kennel Hill has bags of ability and can be in the mix provided the yard has managed to get their charge's mind sorted. McCoy did the business the last time at Ludlow - Davy Russell takes over here.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Aintree 2010 - Thursday

Some tentative suggestions for tomorrow's Aintree card, a meeting which over the years has proved something of a personal graveyard...

Only five go to post in the totesport Bowl, including Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander. Trainer Nigel Twiston -Davies has previously maintained that, overall, a bold approach pays dividends; although the race has cut up, this looks tricky enough. I'm tempted to oppose and marignally prefer What A Friend who comes here fresh to Nacarat.

In the Mainfesto Novices' Chase I'll take a chance with The Nightingale who jumped well the last time at Kempton; both Somersby and Mad Max had tough races in the Arkle just over three weeks ago.

I'm not inclined to oppose Big Buck's in the opener but he'll be no price while I'll consider an each-way interest in Me Voici as a play against likely favourite Sanctuaire in the 2.35.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Carlisle considerations

Lydia Hislop wrote a piece for Tuesday's Guardian in which she highlighted the fact that punters' distrust of going reports from racecourses had reached an all-time high. The forecast going for both Haydock and Carlisle tomorrow is heavy and, to be honest, I'm going to take those reports at face value because Newton Abbot's card has already been called off (waterlogging) and it has done little else here other than rain all day.

Heavy ground at Haydock is something else and, having looked at the card, I'm not keen to get involved. Carlisle host an all-chase card - the concluding hunter chase to be run over three miles and half a furlong at the end of the day will take some getting. Venetia Williams' two runners catch the eye - Ma Yahab (2.50) and Ginolad (4.00), Aidan Coleman riding both. Ma Yahab ran a fine race in the Kim Muir at the Festival; after appearing to hit a flat spot after the tenth, the chestnut gelding stayed on strongly to finish fourth behind Ballabriggs, beaten little more than four lengths. This looks very competitive though - there must be a fair chance Ma Yahab will not have recovered fully from his Cheltenham exertions and he has eleven stones eleven to carry in testing conditions. Other yards from the South have their eye on the £25,000 added prize money including Kim Bailey (Buffalo Bob), Paul Webber (Appleaday) and Jonjo O'Neill (Supreme Keano) while last year's winner Antonius Cesar merits respect with the jockey claiming a useful-looking five pounds.

I won't be tempted in that race but I am tempted by Ginolad in the two and a half mile novice chase. This gelding was one of Australia's top chasers - he has a Grand National at Flemington to his name (run over two and three quarter miles) and finished sixth in the Nakayama Grand Jump in Japan last April. Following a successful debut at Fontwell in December he has struggled a little but looked to be coming into form the last time at Newton Abbot where he went to win his race three from home but failed to see out the longer trip, finishing last of the four runners. The step back here to two and a half miles should suit, as should the small field, the going and the stiff finish. Having said all that, on official ratings there isn't much between the runners. Oliver Sherwood sends just one up from his Lambourn base, Trevor Hemmings' Finney, while Youngstown was never really travelling in the National Hunt Chase at the Festival. Mr Woods is a course and distance winner who has made the odd mistake in the past and likes to race from the front. Heez A Steel appears to have a stiff task on his chasing debut - Ginolad gets the vote.

A Twitter Guide to the 2010 Grand National entries

Need help making your Grand National selections? My Twitter Guide to the top 50 entries in this year's National, compiled using Twitter's 140 character limit for each entry, may prove of some limited use. For those who simply can't be bothered with such nonsense, Nick Mordin narrows the field to four in the Weekender - Arbor Supreme, Character Building, Chelsea Harbour (non-runner now) and Mr Pointment.

Note that at the time of writing final declarations are not known and most bookmakers have yet to offer the 'non-runner, money back' concession. According to Oddschecker today the following layers offer each way terms a quarter the odds five places: bet365, Boylesports, Victor Chandler and Paddy Power.

MADISON DU BERLAIS totesport Bowl winner out of sorts this term; connections tempted by low weight in Scottish National if Denman runs
NOTRE PERE Disappointing this season - recently trainer reports problem found & rectified
MON MOME No fancy prices about last year's 100/1 winner following an ideal prep; carries 7lbs more this time
BLACK APALACHI Becher Chase winner unfortunate to unseat at Becher's last year when travelling well
JOE LIVELY Taken time to come to himself this term; likes to race prominently
VIC VENTURI Won the Becher in November; prefers cut and looks likely to get it
COMPLY OR DIE Won this in 2008 and second last year - will Timmy Murphy ride?
DON'T PUSH IT Owned by J P McManus - looks likely McCoy will prefer another
MADE IN TAIPAN Irish challenger needs cut but not certain to stay
NICHE MARKET Irish National winner, third behind Denman in the Hennessy, every chance

TRICKY TRICKSTER Won 4 miler at last year's Cheltenham Festival but distant ninth in Gold Cup left Ruby Walsh disappointed
CLOUDY LANE Best chance in 2008 when sixth; unseated last year under top weight. 50/1 looks big
DREAM ALLIANCE Followed Welsh National win with poor display of jumping at Haydock. Talented but inconsistent since return from injury
NOZIC Out of sorts lately; owned by Coral Racing Ltd
MY WILL Third last year but Walsh prefers Big Fella Thanks
PABLO DU CHARMIL Done most of his racing around two / two and a half miles
BACKSTAGE Trained in Ireland by stable that sent out Silver Birch to win in 2007; wants decent ground
BALLYHOLLAND Galway Plate winner had this as target all season; never won beyond two and three quarter miles
BEAT THE BOYS Two ways of running - pulled up behind Chief Dan George at Festival
PREISTS LEAP In with every chance two out last year; recent run in Cross Country Chase not encouraging
CAN'T BUY TIME Fell at 18th last year. McCoy's choice
SNOWY MORNING Third in 2008, ninth in 2009 and racing weight this year
AIR FORCE ONE Probably goes to Ayr
BIG FELLA THANKS Owned by Findlay & Barber, sixth last year, Ruby's mount, current favourite but no value
DEUTSCHLAND Warmed-up in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham; never won beyond 17 furlongs
CHARACTER BUILDING Second in the 2007 NH Chase at Cheltenham and Kim Muir winner in 2009; this has been the target
CHELSEA HARBOUR Met with setback and misses race
DOONEYS GATE Likes plenty of cut
STATE OF PLAY Fourth last year, best fresh, has a Hennessy and Charlie Hall on his CV - prefers the better ground
ELLERSLIE GEORGE Won the Badger Ales at Wincanton in November beating The Pacakge. Often races with the pace - may not stay
BALLYFITZ Talented individual who would have every chance if he could improve jumping - unlikely
CONNA CASTLE Jimmy Mangan trains (sent out Monty's Pass in 2003). Not won for two years and unseated rider last time
EQUUS MAXIMUS Out of sorts this season
ERIC'S CHARM Sandown specialist comes here in good heart but age catching up with him now
KING JOHNS CASTLE Second in 2008 but hasn't shown much since
OLLIE MAGERN Grand old servant whose best days are probably behind him; needs good quick ground
ARBOR SUPREME Needs decent ground, not certain to get it; apparently rejected by McCoy
LENNON Done most of his racing over two miles - will he stay?
MALJIMAR Best fresh. Third in Cross Country at Cheltenham in December, aimed at this, interesting outsider
IRISH RAPTOR Topham Chase winner with a racing weight
MR POINTMENT Tailed off in the Gold Cup three weeks ago
PIRAYA Weakened behind Razor Royale in the Racing Post chase; lacks expereince, unproven over three miles
RAZOR ROYALE Out on his feet to repel Nacarat in the Racing Post Chase (3 miles); tailed off at the Festival
THE PACKAGE Looked unlucky behind Chief Dan George at Cheltenham. One for the shortlist but has quirks; will Murphy ride?
HELLO BUD Scottish National winner in very good nick for his age; prefers good ground. Trainer's son rides.
PALYPSO DE CREEK Beaten ten lengths or so by Vic Venturi in the Becher; ran second in the Peter Marsh at Haydock; there are worse 50/1 shots
ABBEYBRANEY Owned by Andrea & Graham Wylie; pulled up after mistake in Poker De Sivola's race at the Festival
CERIUM Incredible fifth at 100/1 last year; worth another look at a big price
FLINTOFF Part-owned by Freddie; third in a Scottish National, second in a Midlands National, holds entry in Irish National Easter Monday
ROYAL ROSA In same ownership as Abbeybraney; more miles on the clock and not won since 2006