Sunday, November 28, 2010

One day after the Hennessy

Diamond Harry's victory in yesterday's Hennessy appears to have generated a difference of opinion amongst the odds compilers; Nick Williams' gelding is quoted 16/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Coral while Labrokes and totesport offer a miserly-looking 8/1.

Although coming home some 15 lengths third behind Diamond Harry, Denman still put in a fantastic performance at the weights. Owner Paul Barber reported his pride and joy was in 'mint condition' following the race; that's very good news indeed - just for a fraction of a second as they walked back to the unsaddling enclosure I wondered whether, understandably, the great horse looked a little unsteady on his feet. I've just finished reading Jonathan Powell's Kauto Star and Denman -it's easy to forget that this horse was very ill suffering from atrial fibrillation of the heart (irregular heartbeat) after his Gold Cup victory in 2008.

There's more positive news this evening concerning Noel Fehily - it was feared the jock had broken his wrist in a fall at Newbury on Friday. Agent Chris Broad reports the wrist may not be broken; Noel goes back to hospital early in the week for an X-ray after the swelling has gone down a little.

The cold spell looks set to play havoc with this week's turf fixtures. Monday's card at Ffos Las together with Tuesday's meetings at Hereford and Southwell have been abandoned while Saturday's Tingle Creek fixture at Sandown has already been deemed at risk.

It's envisaged that Tony McCoy will be named as one of the ten personalities who will contest the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year 2010. The continuing rumblings about the ride McCoy gave Get Me Out Of Here at Ascot on 30th October have generated some unwanted publicity for the champ at a time when he could really do without it. At The Races presenter Sean Boyce gives a detailed exposition of events on his blog while The Guardian's Greg Wood accuses McCoy of petulance.

Finally, on Saturday evening, after the excitement of the Hennessy, Mrs Tips and I settled down for the next installment of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. Half way through the live show a pre-recorded piece was shown in which the remaining contestants, dressed in cowboy-style uniforms, assessed their chances using suitably extravagant Wild West language. The backdrop for Pamela Stephenson's monologue included what looked to be a rather large plastic horse; quick as a flash Mrs Tips pipes up, 'That plastic horse - it's showing a damn sight more interest than your each-way selection in the Hennessy.' Cutting.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hennessy day 2010

Every now and again you hear people talk about the glorious uncertainty of racing; Noel Fehily will hardly be describing that uncertainty as glorious this evening. Having built up a decent relationship with Paul Nicholls in recent weeks, and with the plum ride on Kauto Star to look forward to over Christmas, the jock suffered a suspected broken wrist when Rivaliste fell in a handicap chase at Newbury earlier this afternoon. He is destined for a spell on the sidelines.

Whatever, the show goes on (provided, of course, the frost covers are in place and the snow stays away). The highlight of tomorrow's excellent card at Newbury is the Hennessy Gold Cup, with strong support provided by the re-scheduled Fighting Fifth in which champion hurdler Binocular makes his seasonal debut, the Gerry Feidlen and the Long Distance hurdle.

Denman tops the weights in the showpiece and attempts to make history by becoming the first horse to win the Hennessy three times. The vibes coming from the Nicholls stable have been particularly positive; the layers make the ten-year-old chestnut their 4/1 favourite. This looks a fiendishly competitive race though, probably the best Hennessy we've seen for a number of years, yet only seven of the eighteen are set to carrry their long handicap weight. Of the fancied runners Weird Al is the one I like - he was my idea of the RSA winner at Cheltenham last March but he picked up an injury a week or so before the race and missed the date. He dead-heated with Little Josh over an inadequate two and a half miles at Carlisle at the end of October; two weeks later Little Josh came out to make all and win the Paddy Power Gold Cup. The Hennessy often goes to an emerging type - eight of the last ten winners have been aged either six or seven - so he certainly has the right profile while trainer Ian Williams boasts a 20% strike rate in the past fortnight. Of the bigger priced runners, I considered Silver By Nature but suspect he'd want deeper ground while Neptune Collonges would be a live threat if back to his best following a long lay-off - this one was just seven lengths behind Denman in the 2008 Gold Cup and has a big pull at the weights. Niche Market ran a cracker for the blog in this race last year finishing third at 33/1 while Colin Tizzard certainly rates Hey Big Spender who beat Big Fella Thanks at Carlisle the last time. The name Harry Findlay will be forever associated with Denman but he's likely to have divided loyalties here with his Big Fella Thanks in with a fighting chance. For a longhsot I'm going to stick my neck out and chance a little each-way on Razor Royale, mainly on the back of a Twiston-Davies comment earlier this autumn that he considered this horse the one from his yard who would give Imperial Commander most to do in a Gold Cup. The horse travelled well for a long way on his seasonal debut at Cheltenham a fortnight ago but then disappeared in a similar manner to that used by several girls I once knew. That was a bit disconcerting, as is the fact stable jock Paddy Brennan prefers Weird Al and - ideally - the gelding would want more cut yet the books are offering 66/1 about a horse that won the Racing Post Chase. On the grounds that a layer is never going to give you those sort of odds about a cert, I'll have a little each-way on Razor Royale.

Just five in the Fighting Fifth with champion hurdler Binocular pleasing connections and unsurprisingly marked up an odds-on chance. I'm wary as the race could become tactical; three of the five - Binocular, Starluck and Nearby, look as though they want holding up. It's a guess but I envisage Bygones of Brid making the pace with Peddlers Cross in attendance while the others bide their time. On ratings Starluck is the one who would benefit should something go amiss with the favourite - I'll consider betting Peddlers Cross (3/1 at Ladbrokes) and Starluck (5/1 generally and should be suited by this flat track) as those odds combined offer better value than the odds-on about Binocular.

In a competitive-looking Gerry Feilden Tocca Ferro is one I particularly like who has done me a favour in the past. Although he only won a head at Ascot the last time his trainer told the Weekender [17-21.11.10] that he was 'a very easy winner' who 'hit the front and just idled. He has gone up 8lb for that head win but that doesn't worry me as there is more to come.' Olofi's form reads well (fifth in the Greatwood) as does Kauto Relko's third behind Nearby at Aintree on his penultimate start.

Just six in the Long Distance hurdle with Big Buck's long odds-on. He's not entirely straight-forward; I always think Ruby Walsh knows and rides this one very well. Using official ratings as a guide Duc De Regniere has 12lb to find at the weights. Nonetheless Nicky Henderson's charge has the advantage of a run under his belt this season - 7/1 is on offer for those brave enough to consider opposing. I won't be one of them.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Racing bytes

Imperial Commander took the Betfair Chase in impressive fashion at Haydock yesterday. Coral has taken a stance betting 11/8 Kauto Star 13/2 Imperial Commander for the King George on Boxing Day; Long Run is generally available at 7/1. Earlier today Sam Twiston-Davies' burgeoning career took another giant step forward when Hello Bud collected the Becher Handicap Chase but, speaking personally, this weekend's stand-out performance was Silviniaco Conti's facile victory in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot; layers quote Paul Nicholls' four-year-old at 14s for the Champion Hurdle and 10s for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham next March.

Two older members of the training fraternity have been in the news over the past few days. On Thursday Reg Brown, 89, saddled Tiptronic to take Hereford's opening juvenile hurdle at odds of 100/1 (112.3/1 on the Tote) while Michael Banks, a mere youngster by comparison at the age of 70, was inclined to blame the ground for the defeat of the well-fancied Clerk's Choice in yesterday's four-year-old hurdle at Haydock.

Matt Crawley put in a superb round of riding at Musselburgh on Friday aboard Lastroseofsummer. In the course of the race the rider lost both irons and then the saddle slipped but the seven pound claimer kept the partnership intact to win the Scottish Mares' Maiden Hurdle at odds of 11/2. Pulling up proved slightly more difficult - the mare unceremoniously dumped the jock on the turf after they'd passed the winning post. Something of a lady's prerogative, I suppose...

Adapted from a piece in last Monday's Times which looked at family ties in racing... Niall "Boots" Madden could finish no better than fifth in the Grand National but son Niall "Slippers" Madden won the 2006 running of the great race aboard Numbersixvalverde. 12-year-old brother Tom "Socks" Madden is now cutting his teeth in pony races... [Socks and Teeth? What's all that about?]

Finally, I see Irish point winner Kilcrea Kim takes on seasoned handicappers in the Gwynne Price Handicap Hurdle at Ffos Las tomorrow. The novice beat Drill Sergeant eight lengths on his seasonal debut which looks decent enough form but the chestneut gelding is priced up 7/4 favourite in the tissue this evening which doesn't make much appeal at all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Haydock or Ascot?

Tomorrow's feature at Haydock is the Betfair Chase (3.25) in which Gold Cup holder Imperial Commander returns following the summer break. Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies feels his charge is further forward than this time last year when the gelding was beaten a nose by Kauto Star in this very race. I've watched that finish several times and still find it difficult to believe Kauto held on; Kauto goes straight to Kempton this year in an attempt to win a record-breaking fifth King George. On official ratings Imperial Commander has 22 pounds in hand over his nearest rival Planet Of Sound - the race doesn't make that much appeal as a betting medium. What A Friend, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, has an awkward head carriage but is in no way ungenuine and may yet develop into a serious Gold Cup contender; it looks as though Sam Thomas prefers this one over Charlie Hall winner Nacarat who I always feel tends to show his very best form on good ground. Philip Hobbs' Planet Of Sound surprised a few (myself included) when taking the Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown in April although there is a slight query about that form with old-timer War Of Attrition in second and Denman failing to run to his mark. There was also a question mark over Planet Of Sound's jumping in his younger days and I'm still not totally convinced. A race to savour and enjoy rather than bet on; Imperial Commander is taken to oblige.

Smallish fields are the order of the day in several of the other Haydock races. On ratings Dunraven Storm is the pick in the opener but Toubab has very smart form to his name while Clerk's Choice can't be opposed in the 1.50 but will be no price whatsoever. I'm tempted to risk Toubab at around 3/1 on the back of his fourth at this track in the Swinton and his second behind subsequent Triumph winner Soldatino in the Adonis at Kempton. In addition Dunraven Storm ran second to Cue Card just eight days ago at Cheltenham and may not have had time to fully recover.

The Coral Hurdle at Ascot is intriguing. This evening the books have Zaynar 6/4 favourite with both Karabak and Silviniaco Conti 4/1. On ratings the former, a course and distance winner, has every chance and looks a value play at the price while the latter has looked very quick at the obstacles in two novice hurdles. The other value play for me is Restless Harry who is hugely talented but pretty highly strung. Jockey Henry Oliver can consider himself lucky to have kept the ride after missing the start at Chepstow the last time and then, according to the handler, giving the horse no sort of chance at all. The gelding is known to have an aversion to travelling but if he gets to the start in one piece, 14/1 with Stan James a quarter the odds a place looks decent each-way value provided, of course, the eight declared all run. Selections: Karabak win, Restless Harry each-way.

Those thinking Master Minded is a source of easy money in the Amlin 1965 Chase (2.05) should note the horse has never won at the trip. Albertas Run would have been the play had the ground been quicker but I'll watch from the sidelines.

Finally a quick pointer to Aidan Coleman's blog post at where the jock has a good word for Venetia Williams' Quartz de Thaix who runs in the 1.30 at Aintree on Sunday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A quick round-up

Three taking performances from the three days of Cheltenham's Open meeting...

Friday: Cue Card looks the real deal, rated 156 by Timeform. Ladbrokes quote 3/1 about Colin Tizzard's charge for the Supreme and 16/1 for the Champion.

Saturday: Sam Winner proved aptly-named, taking the juvenile hurdle in emphatic fashion, with some well-fancied types well-beaten behind. Now 7/1 favourite for the Triumph.

Sunday: Ghizao, the outsider in a field of five, jumped impeccably to take the novice chase; now 12/1 favourite for the Arkle.

A couple of incidents from last Wednesday had the commentators' tongues wagging. Conditional jockey Christopher Timmons seemed to have a handicap hurdle at Bangor in the bag on Jeanery (4/1) but he eased his mount down and mistook where the winning post was positioned with the result he was done on the line by 5/1 shot Monsieur. Over at Huntingdon Medermit was sent off 1/5 favourite for a novice chase but he refused at the sixth; jockey Wayne Hutchinson said the horse had been spooked by a fence attendant.

These days it's only on very rare occasions that I take my ageing burnt fingers into a betting shop but last Friday morning I'd had a bit of stinker with work so at dinner time I popped into the local Ladbrokes just as a beginners' chase from Newcastle was on screen. It was run-of-the-mill fare but the odds-on favourite crashed out at the fifth which left the race at the mercy of second favourite Lord Larsson; that one drew clear from the home turn to win as he liked. Richie McGrath had been hard at work on Mr Syntax trying to close down the leader but the gelding made a very bad mistake four out and the jock did well to keep the partnership intact. That's how I saw it but this elderly punter, who had just invaded my personal space, started to slate the rider, bemoaning the fact that he wasn't even trying on the second and denouncing the performance as 'an absolute disgrace'. On occasions such as this I find distraction a useful tool - 'What price was that winner?' I enquired. 'Dunno' came the reply. At which point I made a quick exit.

Now, there's race-riding and there's writing - I know nothing about the former and wouldn't claim to know very much about the latter. David Pipe's stable jockey Tom Scudamore knows an awful lot about race-riding but his column, which started up again in last Thursday's Times, isn't always the easiest of reads. Still, Tom concluded this week's effort with a telling piece of advice he once received: 'Some of the horses will disappoint, some break even and some exceed all expectations. As long as you meet somewhere in the middle you're doing OK.'

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cheltenham Open meeting 2010 - Sunday

A few notes on Sunday's card... The official going for Saturday's races was good to soft, good in places but it was noticeable that several finished very tired; the two handicap chases were both won by horses that made all from the front.

Sunday's feature is the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at 2.20 in which 18 are set to face the starter. Khyber Kim came of age to win this under a big weight last year and then went on to finish a fine second to Binocular in the Champion Hurdle last March. Philip Hobbs will be hoping his Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Menorah can prove to be just as good. Nicky Henderson's charge General Miller beat Menorah a head at level weights at Aintree in April, having the misfortune to fall at the first in the Supreme. On a strict interpretation of the form the Henderson horse should come out on top in receipt of five pounds but that Aintree performance from Menorah still looks very good - there isn't much between them. Olofi catches the eye towards the bottom of the handicap following a decent show at Chepstow but four-year-olds have a poor record in the race with just one win in the past decade while by contrast five-year-olds have won on six occasions.

The opener is interesting and should prove useful for future reference. Kilmurry won here last month (Ghizao 11 lengths second) while Captain Chris tries fences for the first time after finishing second to Silviniaco Conti in the Persian War at Chepstow. A feature of SC's performance that day was the speed at which he jumped his hurdles - Paul Nicholls had intended to send his charge novice chasing but that all changed with the benefit of hindsight and it's now the Hobbs team who have opted for the chasing route. Philip Hobbs has said of CC, 'I sincerely hope and believe he could turn out to be very, very good.' The gelding was reported to have made a noise after winning at Kempton in March and I see he wears a tongue tie for the first time tomorrow. On official ratings Radium is weighted to have the beating of Kilmurry but the one with the most experience over the larger obstacles is Loosen My Load trained in Ireland by Henry De Bromhead. By coincidence Kilmurry was formerly trained by De Bromhead - the Weekender reports that when both horses were in the same yard Loosen My Load was considered the better animal. A fascinating contest awaits.

I was prepared to consider Tataniano as a play against Forpadydeplasterer in the 1.45 provided, of course, the price was big enough - on official ratings Paul Nicholls' gelding has plenty to find at the weights. Unfortunately the layers have the two protagonists pretty evenly matched and as a result there's little value to be had. A note in the Weekender indicates Tataniano wouldn't want it too testing, so that's another plan scuppered; apparently owners The Stewart Family have the Tingle Creek at Sandown in their sights...

In the concluding bumper I shall keep a close eye on Milton Harris' gelding Rose Of The Moon. This one was described in a recent stable tour article as 'an exceptional prospect' and he showed plenty of fighting spirit to hold Emma Lavelle's well-regarded Koup De Kanon a neck at Uttoxeter last time; the stewards had a look afterwards but allowed the grey to keep the race.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Paddy Power Gold Cup day 2010

Twenty are set to go post in a competitive-looking renewal of tomorrow's Paddy Power Gold Cup (Rory Boy declared doubtful this evening), a race that throws up some strong statistical trends. Five favourites have won in the past ten years while the winner has come from the top three in the market on seven occasions; it's worth noting that eight of the last ten winners had won at Cheltenham previously and eight out of ten had also won over the distance of two and a half miles. In addition in the past decade five winners were aged seven and three aged six. Market leader Long Run is a precocious talent and according to David Pipe, trainer of second favourite Great Endeavour, a certainty. Long Run has plenty of weight to carry for one so young although the owner's son claims a handy five pounds - on balance 3/1 doesn't represent value and if things get tight at the business end, I'd be concerned a proper jock would gain the uppper hand, so I'm looking elsewhere. Great Endeavour is progressive and has a racing weight together with every chance although Tom Scudamore's column in Thursday's Times failed to mention this one by name; whatever happens here, the trainer tells us David Johnson's grey will have an entry for the Hennessy at the end of the month. Mad Max is a big horse with power to burn who travels up with the pace; several commentators fancy this one - 9/1 at William Hill may appeal to some betting each-way. In an open race, I'll side with Great Endeavour who looks to have the right profile.

In the opener I think Architrave is the best juvenile seen out so far this autumn but the layers tell us Nicky Henderson's French-bred gelding Titan De Sarti is the one to fear. The market has proved a reliable guide in the past decade with the winner coming from the first two in the betting on seven occasions. Two Kisses is a game filly who is likely to find one or two too good but on Racing Post adjusted ratings Zakeeta, another filly, is in with a shout and makes some appeal each-way at around 16/1. Architrave has to give weight to most of this field but I'm going to stick with him until he's beaten - Architrave gets the nod.

The 1.20 is trappy enough. Wayward Prince beat Colin Tizzard's Cannington Brook 11 lengths in a three mile novice hurdle at Aintree last April. The former has since collected a Class 3 novice chase at Huntingdon and is priced up favourite here while the latter is well regarded but didn't jump well in two tries over fences last autumn. Chicago Grey won here in October - Hell's Bay a remote fifth - and is respected but Tizzard will have a rough line through Hell's Bay (finished second behind the impressive Time For Rupert earlier today). I'll chance Cannington Brook's jumping (each-way) provided the layers offer 16/1 or more.

Finally, I've spent no time whatsoever on the 1.55 but I'd be interested in Razor Royale on the back of Twiston-Davies saying the gelding was the biggest threat in his yard to current Gold Cup holder Imperial Commander. This one won at this meeting last year although he had had a warm-up six weeks earlier; 12/1 is the price this evening.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cheltenham Open meeting 2010 - Friday

Very quick thoughts on tomorrow's card...

Eleven are declared for the feature, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase run over three miles seven furlongs. This evening the going on this course is reported as good to firm, good in places. J P McManus owns and Enda Bolger trains three of the runners - Garde Champetre, Heads Onthe Ground and Freneys Well. Those who believe in horses for courses are likely to be well-acquainted with Garde Champetre who has a great record round here and unsurprisingly has been chalked up a short-priced favourite; the Garde Royale gelding collected the spoils last year ahead of stablemate Heads Onthe Ground and Sizing Australia and is once again reunited with excellent female jockey Nina Carberry. At the weights the Venetia Williams trained Flintoff (owned by Paul Beck and Freddie Flintoff) is bang there with every chance but he's an enigmatic character who in the past has tended to show his best when there is plenty of cut in the ground. Connections expect a decent show from Joe Lively who tries these fences for the first time while Charlie Mann's Mr Big completed the Velka Pardubicka in the Czech Repulbic on his last start and could be overpriced at 33/1 (William Hill, Paddy Power) on ground that is likely to suit.

Whatever Joe Lively's fate in the Cross Country Chase, the Tizzards will be hoping exciting prospect Cue Card can do the business in the 1.50. I still have a soft spot for this horse even though I tipped him at 40/1 for the Cheltenham bumper but then forgot to have a wager myself! Unfortunately Cue Card won't be that price tomorrow and I expect Philip Hobbs' Dunraven Storm to be a lot closer to the winner than he was last March. Irish runner Ballyadam Brook is of interest as is Paul Nicholls' King Of The Knight - Noel Fehily deputises for the injured Ruby Walsh.

The concluding novice chase looks a cracker and should provide some pointers for the season ahead - Weird Al (Ian Williams) dead-heated with Little Josh (Nigel Twiston-Davies) in last year's running. Time For Rupert, second in the World Hurdle to Big Buck's, tries fencing for the first time, as does David Pipe's Mr Thriller and Nick Williams' Reve De Sivola. I'm considering an each-way investment in a couple of outsiders - the marvellously-named The Giant Bolster (16/1 with bet365 this evening) won the Fred Rimell Memorial Novices' Chase at Worcester just over three weeks ago but jumped right-handed at the final two flights and Hell's Bay, another from Colin Tizzard's yard. I put this one up at a price for the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Novices' Chase last month - he was bang there with two to jump but faded badly to finish fifth. Initially I thought that's another of my hopeless longshots down the pan but a few days later I saw a report in the Racing Post saying the gelding had lost a shoe. Formerly with Paul Nicholls, this one comes with plenty of caveats but he has ability and Colin Tizzard recently reported his charge was now 'as sweet as a nut'; apparently the handler has received several expression of interest from potential owners since the horse has come into the yard. Stan James offers 66/1 this evening - that has to be worth a small each-way interest.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Ups and downs

It's all in a day's work for a jockey... While Paul Hannigan was collecting his first Flat jockeys' title at Doncaster on Saturday following a titanic struggle with Richard Hughes (final score: Hannigan 191 - Hughes 189), Ruby Walsh was riding Kauto Star and The Nightingale to victory in the two big races at Down Royal. Then disaster struck - Walsh suffered a double leg fracture when his mount Corrick Bridge fell in the Rainbow Telecom Handicap Chase. Walsh faces a protracted period on the sidelines and that enforced absence leaves champion trainer Paul Nicholls with something of a headache. A poll on the Racing Post website indicates 39% of their readers think Sam Thomas should get the leg up on Nicholls' best horses. The big Cheltenham Open meeting starts on Friday - watch this space as they say.

The failure of racing and the bookmakers to come to an agreement on the levy is likely to have serious implications for the future funding of the sport. The government's Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is now charged with making the decision. Journalist Greg Wood wrote a bitingly critical piece in Tuesday's Guardian in which he argued that Paul Roy's position as chairman of the British Horseracing Authority was no longer tenable - watch this space as they say.

Viewers of BBC1's business reality show The Apprentice will know that Lord Sugar's prize for this week's winning team was a day out at 'Royal Windsor' races; I did note Lord Sugar failed to point out to winning contestants that it was a Monday afternoon meeting in mid October... Anyway, Synergy members enjoyed a slap-up meal and a glass of champagne before the serious business of finding winners began. Overseas property developer Jamie Lester, who incidentally had set up his own company by the age of 24, was shown striking a £2 wager (in what one could only describe as a rather extravagant manner) with well-known layer Barry Dennis. 'Two pounds on the nose Green Earth!' cried Mr Lester about his selection in the first. Now, given that the winner of The Apprentice is likely to pull a job that will pay in the region of £100,000, Mr Dennis might have expected to have taken a slightly larger wager from Mr Lester but the layer was politeness itself, merely commenting on the fact that this particualry punter 'liked it on the nose'. I harboured further concerns regarding Mr Lester's business nous. At the pre-race meal he stated it was a 5/1 chance any of the five at the table would make the final and 10/1 any of them would win the competition outright. 'Nice' said Stella but consider this - at the time of filming, it would have been known that there were ten contestants left in the competition. Assuming for the sake of argument each of those contestants had an equal chance, it looked to me as though Mr Lester was selling 9/1 chances at 10/1. And we all know that's the road to rack and ruin...

For those who simply have to know - Green Earth finished ninth of fourteen in the Windsor, Ascot & Eton Express Nursery Handicap (div 1) run at Windsor on Monday 12 October 2009; the race went to the rather appropriately named Agony And Ecstasy.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Friday fireworks?

Plenty of weekend fireworks to look forward to on this soggy bonfire night including the Breeders Cup at Churchill Downs, the final day of the Flat season at Doncaster (with the jockeys' title still undecided) and the return of Kauto Star in the Champion Chase at Down Royal.

Having said that, Wincanton stages a top class card tomorrow, the feature being the Badger Ales Trophy due off at 3.20. The question is to what extent will the predicted rain affect the going, currently described as good. Last year's winner Ellerslie George sports blinkers for the first time after two below par efforts at Market Rasen and Chepstow. Paul Nicholls fields two, Meanus Dandy and Niche Market; the latter has his first run for the champion trainer, having previously been in the care of Bob Buckler. On his seasonal reappearance in this race 12 months ago Niche Market finished well down the field but three short weeks later the gelding ran the race of his life to finish third behind Denman in the Hennessey at odds of 33/1. Perhaps connections intend to follow a similar route again although Nicholls is likely to have done a bit more work with his charge than Buckler had done at this stage last year. Meanus Dandy on the other hand was well beaten at Cheltenham in October (Ouzbeck six lengths ahead in third) - the application of first-time blinkers doesn't look encouraging. The Pipe yard has three entries with Tim Murphy's mount The Package the favourite this evening. This one has talent in abundance but he's not the most straight forward and can easily get excited - I recall him throwing away a Class 4 novice chase at Ludlow just over twelve months ago. In a recent stable tour Philip Hobbs said of Triggerman, 'Although he won two noivce hurdles at Wincanton, he's suited by a galloping track', while I'moncloudnine was only just run out of it on his seasonal reappearance at Bangor. I've never found the Badger Ales particularly easy (Swansea Bay was my last winner in this in 2003); I'moncloudnine looks young enough, open to improvement and he won't be inconvenienced by further rain so I'll have a small each-way wager - Stan James and Victor Chandler go 12/1 this evening.

The Elite Hurdle should prove informative. Australia Day, Barizan and Black Jack Blues like to race from the front and there is a danger they'll set this up for something coming from behind. Australia Day broke the course record at Kempton the last time but rain will be a hindrance while Barizan was slightly disappointing on his return - comments from connections after that run appeared to indicate they'd maybe look at novice chasing so I'm not tempted to chance him here. Nearby has surprised connections with two wins but Rebecca Curtis' Black Jack Blues looks progressive and gets the nod with claimer Aodhagan Conlon taking off a handy-looking seven pounds.

A mares' handicap hurdle at Cheltenham last April suggests there won't be much between Alasi and Banjaxed Girl in the 1.40. If Nicky Henderson's Kerada is marked up as a short price favourite, I'll chance top weight Banjaxed Girl provided the ground isn't too soft.

The market suggests the novice chase at 2.45 is between Robinson Collonges and Wishfull Thinking. The former, a striking grey, looked most impressive at Bangor the last time while the latter fell at the first in an Aintree novice. Philip Hobbs, not one known for recklessly talking up his charges, said recently of Wishfull Thinking, 'He's in grand order and I hope he has a big future over fences.' You pays your money and takes your choice - the Hobbs horse has raced mostly with plenty of cut in the ground - I'll stick with Robinson Collonges.

A couple of quick notes for Sandown. Two of Charlie Longsdon's caught the eye - Songe (runs in the 2.20) won as he liked the last time. The handicapper has done his worst and raised the Hernando gelding thirteen pounds for his trouble but there could be more to come. The concern would be his fencing at a track where jumping is at a premium - he's inexperienced compared to several of tomorrow's opponents. Meanwhile Bun Oir has his first run for the Longsdon yard in the juvenile hurdle, having come over from Jessica Harrington's in Ireland. Only four go in the novice chase - Pepe Simo didn't jump well at Fontwell the last time and although connections report they have done plenty of schooling I wouldn't be tempted at a short price.

Finally Kauto Star returns to action after his horrendous fall in the Gold Cup. At the time jockey Ruby Walsh was on record as saying he was just grateful the bay had walked away unscathed from the incident. The Star will reach the age of eleven in less than two months' time - is he as good as ever or will we see a sign that his powers are on the wane?