Sunday, February 27, 2011

Any Other Business

Yesterday at Kempton there was double delight for Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson with Captain Chris (2/5f) and Racing Post Chase winner Quinz (8/1) while at Newcastle the David Pipe and Tom Scudamore combination pulled off a similar stunt with Battle Group (5/1) and The Tracey Shuffle (6/5f). Better news from the Twiston-Davies team too with both Imperial Commander and Khyber Kim pleasing in their racecourse gallop; last year's Gold Cup winner had failed to impress in a previous piece of work at Warwick but it transpired he had raced with Oscar Magic who took the Kempton finale in some style and is now quoted at 20/1 (Coral) for the Festival bumper. If you agree with Nigel's view that Khyber Kim, second behind Binocular in last year's Champion Hurdle, is the forgotten horse this time around, then you'd be interested in the 25s available with several layers including Coral, Paddy Power, Victor Chandler and totesport.

All roads lead to Cheltenham at this time of year - or do they? Starluck put in a couple of sketchy leaps on his way to a facile win at Huntingdon on Thursday. Several bookmakers offer a miserly-looking 8/1 about this one for the Arkle; Stan James and Victor Chandler go 12s but I'm not tempted and in any case connections have yet to commit to the race. Two jocks sweating - Jason Maguire appeals on Thursday against a seven-day ban which, if upheld, will see him miss the ride on Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle; Tom Scudamore was relieved to get just three days for careless riding aboard Dan Breen at Sandown on Friday.

Something different at this year's Festival - Ladies' Day has been moved to Wednesday to accommodate St Patrick's Day falling on the Thursday. Booking my Tatts tickets for the Wednesday, I was set something of a poser by those clever marketing chappies - pay the discounted price for a ticket (£37) or, alternatively, pay the full price (£45) with the promise of a full refund if a lady trainer has a winner on the day. Jessica Harrington trains the current favourite for the Neptune, Oscars Well, while Venetia Williams has several entries in the Coral Cup along with Tenor Nivernais and Pepite Rose in the Fred Winter. Being something of a cheapskate, I had no qualms whatsoever in taking the discounted price.

Question: When will the Raceform Update Guide to Cheltenham be available in my local newsagents?
Answer: From Friday 4th March.

More sample stats for Cheltenham, this time from the guys at Racing Trends who have compiled 10 year trends for all the major Festival races. For example, favourites have a dismal record in the William Hill Trophy on the opening day with just one win in the last 14 years and only three since 1969; having said that, six of the last ten to collect the spoils were positioned either second, third or fourth in the market. Nine of the last ten winners finished in the first three on their last run while all ten had a handicap rating between 129 and 143. From 59 qualifiers in the past decade, no horse carried 11 stones or more to victory. If you fancy more of the same, you'll need to get in touch with the team on the link above.

Warwickshire Life is the sort of publication you tend to find in a doctor's waiting-room and isn't one you'd consider buying unless, of course, you happened to frequent a particular social sphere... Yesterday though I purchased a copy of the March edition as it contains an enlightening four page article on the Waley-Cohen operation and Sam's attempt to become the first amateur jockey to win the Gold Cup since Mr Jim Wilson rode Little Owl to victory in 1981. In the history of the great race only two other amateurs have performed a similar feat - Mr Hugh Grosvenor aboard Thrown In in 1927 and Mr Richard Black on Fortina in 1947 - so Sam has set himself something of a challenge in bidding to win this year's renewal aboard his father's horse Long Run. Robert Waley-Cohen owns Upton Estate near Edgehill, Warwickshire while the National Trust maintains Upton House, described by Wikipedia as '..agreeable but of modest architectural significance'. Hmmm... For a day job Sam runs his own dentistry business, Portman Healthcare, so you can't but admire the commitment and determination as he fits in fitness training around a full day at the office. Yogi Breisner has been working with the team to iron out Long Run's jumping problems which had been evident in previous races but the King George performance at Kempton indicated a marked improvement and marked Long Run as a horse to be taken very seriously. Trainer Nicky Henderson rates him his best chance of a Gold Cup to date so, rest assured, no stone will be left unturned in an attempt to realise the dream. I wish Sam Waley-Cohen the very best of luck on Friday 18th March.

A piece of good news to finish on - Ruby Walsh was back in the saddle earlier today, partnering Mikael D'haguenet in a spin after racing at Leopardstown. Ruby intends to return to race-riding later this week, possibly at Taunton on Thursday.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Racing Post Chase or The Eider Chase?

Going through the form for tomorrow's Racing Post Chase at Kempton, I'm struck by the number of big stables that are currently struggling - in the past fortnight Nigel Twiston-Davies has recorded three wins from 37 runs; Philip Hobbs two from 27 runs; Jonjo O'Neill one from 21 runs; David Pipe one win from 22 runs while Tom George's last winner was over 50 days ago. Of the 17 declared for the Kempton feature, only six are set to carry 11 stones or more, yet in the past decade seven winners have carried 11 stones or more to victory, three having won with top weight (Gungadu 2008, Farmer Jack 2005 and Marlborough 2004). Last year Nacarat (11-8) tried to make all under Tony McCoy but was denied a neck by Razor Royale (10-5) ridden by Paddy Brennan; tomorrow Brennan is aboard Nacarat while McCoy rides likely favourite Fistral Beach who unseated Ruby Walsh at the second last year. At present both Nacarat and Razor Royale look a little out of form but I'd still consider the latter at a price as in the autumn Twiston-Davies put this one up as his best chance in a Gold Cup after Imperial Commander. 20/1 about Nicky Henderson's Polyfast looks quite big but the gelding doesn't look certain to stay so I'll have an each-way wager on Colin Tizzard's Hey Big Spender (14/1 totesport); all the major layers offer a quarter the odds the first four places.

Four declared for the Pendil and that is likely to be reduced to three as Kerada is considered doubtful this evening. Plenty will see this as a golden opportunity for Captain Chris to record his first win over the larger obstacles following his second behind Arkle hope Medermit at Sandown three weeks ago. Captian Chris wasn't foot perfect that day and given the stable form (see above - and two favourites turned over at Huntingdon on Thursday) I was tempted to oppose with Paul Nicholls' highly-regarded American Trilogy until I read the grey had jumped out left when winning over course and distance the last time.

The Adonis looks trappy. Paul Nicholls' French import Tonic Mellyse has his first run in this country and is priced up favourite. Nicky Henderson has won this previously with the likes of
Soldatino, Binocular and Punjabi -the Weekender suggested Celtus was likely to be that handler's entry but Celtus goes for the Dovecote while Molotoff runs in this. On official ratings Molotoff has something to find with a couple of these so I'm going out on a limb to back Maoi Chinn Tire each way at 25/1 or bigger. Granted, he carries top weight and we don't know how he'll cope with this right-handed track but trainer Jennie Candlish is in good form at the moment; she states in the Weekender her charge wasn't suited by Cheltenham the last time - I'm prepared to forgive that effort. Aintree is the plan so connections clearly hold the gelding in high regard; Jennie's partner Alan O'Keefe takes the ride.

In the Dovecote Celtus holds a Triumph Hurdle entry and is another having his first run in this country; over in France the gelding won three of his four starts, finishing second on his penultimate run. At the weights there's little to choose between this one and Paul Nicholls' Toubab. Toubab didn't appear to find a lot in the Tolworth the last time and the winner of that race, Minella Class, hardly franked the form at Huntingdon on Thursday, even if the starter did gift eventual winner Aikman a soft lead. The flat track here may suit Toubab better than Sandown but I'm still wondering whether he's something of a bridle horse - we should find out tomorrow. This evening they bet 5/2 Toubab 7/2 Celtus so Celtus gets the vote - in the last five years a four-year-old has collected the spoils on two occasions (Trenchant 2009, Escort'men 2010).

The Eider meeting at Newcastle, where the going is heavy, is subject to an early morning inspection. I note that Tom Scudamore, not one to turn down a long journey in the quest for a winner, rides here rather than at Kempton. If the meeting gets the green light I'll take a small each-way interest in Flintoff, part-owned by Freddie Flintoff. Somewhat like his owner, the chestnut gelding comes with something of a health warning but the stable is in good form and this slog in the mud should suit; there's the added advantage that conditioins will also slow the others down - William Hill offer 16/1 this evening.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cheltenham's coming...

Thought I'd start this round-up with an update on the possible Festival longshots put up last week...

Mille Chief Took the Kingwell by a nose from Celestial Halo. The latter-named made a right hash of the last; Mille Chief looked booked for the runner's up berth before that error. Trainer Alan King tells us he'll be better on better ground and I'm sure he will but it was still disappointing in a race in which both Silviniaco Conti and Overturn didn't appear to run to their marks. 14/1 available in a number of places - if you're not holding an ante-post voucher at this point, I wouldn't be rushing out to get one.

Cue Card Trainer Colin Tizzard indicated the Supreme Novices' Hurdle rather than the Champion Hurdle is Cue Card's intended race at the Festival.

Tarablaze Jumped abysmally in the four runner novice chase won by Aiteen Thirtythree at Newbury on Friday. William Hill still go 25/1 for the RSA, Sky Bet offer 66/1. No longer of interest.

What A Friend Another I was ready to ditch after Newbury on Friday but, having seen the recording, I'm going to hold fire. The horse struggled on the ground, appearing to run in snatches. He's not the easiest of rides at the best of times; with Noland getting very tired after the last, there was a suspicion he could still have collected the spoils had Harry Skelton not switched his run. Of course, on official ratings he should have won with something to spare - handler Paul Nicholls indicated this performance wasn't anywhere near good enough to get placed in a Gold Cup and he'll consider applying the blinkers in the big race. The horse will improve for the better ground, something he hasn't had in his two races this season. Stan James and William Hill stand out with quotes of 50/1 - Boylesports go 20/1. Tempted?

China Rock Interesting to see Alistair Whitehouse-Jones make a similar case for this one in the Weekender. Trainer Mouse Morris confirmed his charge has come out of the Irish Hennessy well and goes for the Gold Cup. The $64,000 question is - will this son of Presenting stay? Whitehouse-Jones describes it as a grey area, with the dam from the same family as Zongalero and Garrison Savanagh. 66/1 still available with William Hill - a bigger price than What A Friend - I think I'm going to have an each-way dabble.

Other Cheltenham snippets - Imperial Commander had a racecourse gallop at Warwick on Monday. Afterwards handler Twiston-Davies said he was 'pleased' with his charge and was quoted as saying 'He went really well...' Later in the week the quality of that workout appeared to have deteriorated - in Friday's TV coverage it was described as 'satisfactory' while by Saturday the workout had become 'indifferent'. In the past fortnight the stable have had just two winners from thirty runs - the team at Grange Hill Farm have a month to get last year's winner to peak fitness.

Updated Festival prices following yesterday's action - Riverside Theatre 7/1 Ryanair Chase; Master Of The Hall 20/1 RSA Chase; Back In Focus 10/1, Court In Motion 10/1 Albert Bartlett.

If you make just one pre-Festival purchase make sure it's Paul Jones' Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide 2011 due to be published February 25th. On his Twitter account (@sportspunter01) Paul has put out some taster stats to whet your appetite... For example, all Gold Cup winners in the past 20 years had had at least one run after Christmas Day that season; over half the winners of the William Hill Trophy had been placed at the Festival previously; of the last twelve Arkle winners to contest the Champion Chase the following year, five won, five finished second and two were placed third. I'm off to place my order now!

Those who have in the past used the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway to arrive at Cheltenham Racecourse station for the Festival should be aware they will be unable to do so this year as the railway has had something of an annus horribilis with two separate landslips, one at Gotherington and the other at Chicken Curve, Winchcombe, causing damage that will cost over £2 million to repair. An emergency appeal has been launched which has the backing of that well-known railway fanatic, Pete Waterman.

A piece in the business section of Saturday's Times told us something betting shop regulars will have suspected for quite some time. Ladbrokes reported a 7.3% fall in their 'over-the-counter' bets last year but gaming machines were up 7.2%...

Finally, if Ant and Dec are to your taste, there's a chance you'll bump into them on a racecourse this summer. They've bought Primaeval, a four year old chestnut colt trained by James Fanshawe. Apparently Dec bought the horse for his father as a Christmas present - I've been dropping subtle hints to Mrs Tips along similar lines but, to date, I've nothing concrete to report. Rest assured, you'll be the first to know should the unlikely ever come to pass.

Friday, February 18, 2011

From Ascot to Wincanton via Haydock

If identifying a vulnerable favourite is half the battle, there are three forecast at Ascot I won't be taking on... In the feature Betfair Ascot Chase, Riverside Theatre has, on official ratings, nine pounds and upwards in hand over his six rivals and looks the one to beat. Pride Of Dulcote will have his supporters but the gelding had a wasted trip to Leopardstown a fortnight ago when that meeting was abandoned and the form of his head defeat of Punchestowns at Newbury wasn't franked by that one the next time at Kempton, even though Punchestowns ended up winning the race by eleven lengths. I've always thought Tartak something of an enigma but Paddy Brennan's record on the horse speaks for itself - five wins from eight rides.

Sprinter Sacre, described recently as the apple of Nicky Henderson's eye, is as low as 10/1 for the Supreme Novices' at Cheltenham. He's expected to oblige in the 4.05 but will be no price.

Persian Snow went into many notebooks when winning over course and distance last October. That was run on good ground - perhaps connections are slightly wary of underfoot conditions here as they've opted to fit a tongue-tie this time.

Of the four in the Reynoldstown I prefer Master Of The Hall to The Minack. Having said that, there's nothing between them on ratings and The Minack beat Nicky Henderson's charge fifteen lengths in a novice hurdle at Huntingdon a year ago...

There's a decent card at Haydock where the feature is the Grand National Trial at 3.20. Fourteen face the starter for what looks likely to be one long slog in the mud; the going on the chase track is reported to be heavy, soft in places and further rain is expected. Aidan Coleman has been sweet on Mobaasher for a while now and the chestnut gelding gets another mention on his blog this evening. I'll take a small each-way interest in Le Beau Bai who will relish conditions; the stable is in fine form (three wins from 11 runners in past fortnight) and conditional rider Jake Greenall takes off a handy-looking seven pounds.

One of Aidan's I will bet provided the gelding isn't priced up favourite is Houbon Des Obeaux (1.40) who looked impressive behind Marsh Warbler on his first run in this country.

Court In Motion, currently 6/1 favourite for the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, goes in the 2.10 and on ratings is entitled to win with something to spare. He'll be a short price but I wouldn't be tempted as the yard has been a bit in and out of late.

Over at Wincanton five go in what looks a fascinating renewal of the Kingwell. In the Weekender Alan King is bullish enough about Mille Chief, although he does caution the horse is better on better ground. Overturn is likely to run his race from the front and won't be easy to pass but at this evening's prices 4/1 Silviniaco Conti (bet365, SkyBet) looks value. Admittedly he has to give weight to all his opponents but his third behind Menorah (9/2 in places for the Champion Hurdle) conceding four pounds in the International at Cheltenham comes right out of the top drawer. For me, the stand-out feature of Paul Nicholls' charge is the speed with which he takes his hurdles.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A sad weekend for racing

There were traumatic scenes at Newbury yesterday as two horses, Fenix Two and Marching Song, collapsed and died in the parade ring before the opening race. The horses appear to have been electrocuted - the suspicion is an underground cable may have been disturbed during recent maintenance work; this evening The Sporting Life reports a section of cable has been removed from the racecourse paddock area. Two other horses, Kid Cassidy and The Merry Giant, were also affected; Kid Cassidy was withdrawn at the start while The Merry Giant was allowed to take his chance in the opener but was reported 'badly traumatised' after the race. Once the seriousness of the incident became apparent, the remainder of the card was rightly abandoned, with the racecourse offering racegoers a full money refund. The BHA intend to make a further statement tomorrow.

In what has turned out to be a disastrous weekend for horse-racing, both Money Trix and Glencove Marina suffered fatal injuries in the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown while at Warwick Colin Tizzard's Kilmurry had to be put down following an injury sustained at the penultimate flight in the Kingmaker.

Newbury also managed to make the headlines in The Times' business section on Saturday - Guiness Peat Group, which owns a 29.9% stake in the racecourse, is looking to sell off its investment portfolio. Ever fancied a share in a racecourse?

With the Cheltenham Festival little over a month away, I need to do some homework on a few potential longshots. Here's an initial list that needs plenty of work but might prove a useful starting point...

Mille Chief - 14/1 Champion Hurdle (totesport). Likely to run in the Kingwell at Wincanton.

Cue Card - 33/1 Champion Hurdle (Stan James). Colin Tizzard writing in the Weekender says a decision will be taken on Cue Card's Festival target by the weekend.

Knockara Beau - 16/1 Pertemps Final. Looks to have benifitted from return to hurdling. Fifth in Ballymore / Neptune Novices' Hurdle 2009 behind Mikael D'haguenet.

The Giant Bolster - 25/1 RSA Chase. Not the quickest but will be staying on when others have cried enough - a blog favourite.

Tarablaze - 25/1 RSA Chase. Well backed in the past few days.

Captain Cee Bee - 12/1 Champion Chase (totesport). McCoy rated this one his best chance of a winner at last year's Festival but the horse broke a blood vessel in the Arkle. Went on to win Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown.

What A Friend - 40/1 Gold Cup (Coral). Looks overpriced on Aintree Bowl victory last April.

China Rock - 66/1 Gold Cup. Not certain to line up and several question marks over his stamina - will he come up hill? Probably not, but the price is big and he's likely to appreciate good ground.

Finally, finishing on a much-needed lighter note, the Daily Mail recently reported Welsh Cob Basil the stallion likes to pop down to his local, The Meynell Ingram Arms in Burton, Staffordshire, for a pint of Marston's Pedigree. If you're asking, Basil, mine's a Guinness...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Quick thoughts on Newbury, Warwick & Leopardstown

Punchestowns took the Graduation Chase at Kempton earlier today and in the process helped Nicky Henderson reach 2,000 career wins but for much of the trip the 4/6 favourite looked in trouble behind the front-running Pasco. However the grey slowed markedly up the home straight thereby allowing Barry Geraghty to galvanise his mount to an improbable eleven length victory. Pasco finished distressed in second; after the race trainer Paul Nicholls sent out a tweet indicating the grey had choked and would be sent for a breathing operation in due course.

Newbury hosts a top class card tomorrow, the totesport Trophy Hurdle at 3.35 the big betting race of the day. With twenty three set to face the starter, several layers bet each-way a quarter the odds five places including sponsors totesport, Sky Bet and Paddy Power. Since 1980 seven winners have carried more than 11 stones - Grey Salute (1989); Deep Sensation (1990); Make A Stand (1997); Sharpical (1998); Geos (2000); Copeland (2002) and Essex (2005). In that period no horse has won carrying more than 11-7, an ominous-looking stat for a number of fancied chances near the top of the handicap. David Pipe's pair, Ronaldo Des Mottes and Notus De La Tour, caught my eye. The former was second in this last year but has an additional twelve pounds on his back this time while Notus De LaTour has had this as his main target for the season. This evening Notus is 16/1 with Coral while Ronaldo is 22/1 with bet365 who bet five places. In an impossible race, I'm going to have an each-way dabble on Evan Williams' Tarkari who had a warm-up at Ffos Las last week. Formerly with Willie Mullins, Tarkari is generally available at 25/1, although I note stable jockey Paul Moloney has opted to ride Tiger O'Toole...

Six in the Game Spirit but it looks trappy now pre-race favourite Woolcombe Folly has been withdrawn following a bad scope. I'll side with French Opera provided the rain stays away.

The Aon looks between Riverside Theatre, part-owned by actor James Nesbitt and What A Friend, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson. The Manchester United manager may be known for winning but his horse faces a stiff task here conceding four pounds to an opponent officially rated nine pounds higher. Riverside Theatre hasn't won at this trip but his performance behind Long Run in the King George appears to have dispelled any lingering fears...

Keeping up the footballing connection, Harry Redknapp owns Bygones In Brid who takes his chance in the bumper. Trainer Alan King put this one up as one to monitor a few weeks ago but since then the gelding missed an intended engagement at Wincanton as connections weren't totally happy. He runs here but is probably best watched on this occasion (a comment that could apply to Harry's team, Tottenham Hotspur, perhaps?)

Only three in the 4.05 but I'd be tempted to take a chance on Philip Hobbs' Tarablaze following reports the gelding was backed earlier today for the RSA Chase at the Festival next month. In a RP stable tour article published last October the handler said '... he's certainly one we are very much looking forward to.' Coral are currently best-priced 33/1 about Tarablaze for the Cheltenham showpiece.

At Warwick four go in the Kingmaker where current Arkle favourite Finian's Rainbow will be expected to collect the spoils. Writing in the Weekender handler Colin Tizzard is bullish enough about Kilmurry. This one gave Ghizao eight pounds and an eleven length beating at Cheltenham in October but the form was dramatically reversed four weeks later. Tizzard tells us to ignore that defeat as the horse returned with a problem. He's been off since and is likely to need this, especially with the stable struggling to emerge from a quiet spell, but he's currently 33/1 for the Arkle (William Hill) which makes some appeal each-way.

At Leopardstown Quel Espirt is a play against enigmatic favourite Mikael D'haguenet in the Dr. P. J. Moriarty Novice Chase while in the Hennessy totesport's 9/1 about joint top-rated China Rock looks worth an each-way interest.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Odds 'n' sods

The Irish Hennessy Gold Cup meeting at Leopardstown was abandoned earlier today on account of a waterlogged track; the fixture has been rescheduled for Saturday 12th February. Paul Nicholls' Pride Of Dulcote, ante-post favourite for the big race, will now be aimed at Ascot's Betfair Chase on Saturday 19th February but stablemate Indian Daudaie stays over in Ireland for the re-arranged fixture.

Nicky Henderson's champion hurdle entries Binocular and Oscar Whisky won their respective races yesterday at long odds-on. Binocular didn't look that impressive when beating 116-rated stablemate Ruthenoise one and three quarter lengths at Sandown but Oscar Whisky scooted through the Ffos Las mud to beat Black Jack Blues eight lengths. The suspicion is Oscar Whisky would need soft ground come March to show his best in the Champion Hurdle; the layers make Oscar Whisky a 14/1 chance while Binocular still heads the market at 100/30.

A feature of Medermit's victory in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase was his jumping; Alan King's grey held the fast-finishing Captain Chris half a length at the post. In the circumstances Captain Chris did well to be thereabouts given he threw in a couple of novicey leaps on the way round. Medermit is generally 6/1 for the Arkle but totesport have taken a stance against Captain Chris offering 14/1.

There was a delay to the Grade 3 totescoop6 Heroes Handicap Hurdle at Sandown after Nicky Henderson's Lush Life spread a plate at the start. The gelding behaved impeccably as the TV cameras transmitted close-up pictures of the farrier doing his work. If the farrier was the hero, the villain was the starter who let the tape go before the 8/1 chance could rejoin the rest of the field - Lush Life lost any chance at the start, finishing eleventh of the twenty runners. The Sporting Life reports Lush Life 'detached from remainder when starter let tape go' and recorded one bet of £9000-£1000; that unfortunate punter, together with many others, was denied a fair run for his money.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Some Saturday selections

Quick post this evening as I want to catch the Wales v. England rugby international. Dai Walters, the founder and owner of Ffos Las racecourse, will be hoping Wales can win tonight's match and that his horse Oscar Whisky makes it a double in the Welsh Champion Hurdle tomorrow. The layers think Whisky Oscar is something of a shoo-in (1/5) but they price England 4/7 favourites for tonight's encounter - Wales are 15/8 in spite of the home advantage.

In the three and a half mile chase at the Welsh track I'll chance I'moncloudnine who ran well to finish third in the Welsh National at Chepstow four weeks ago on ground that wouldn't necessarily suit. He sports first-time cheekpieces here which may bring out some improvement; Barry Geraghty, who looks to have a decent book of rides, is in the plate. The slight concern is the yard hasn't had a winner since January 13th.

At Sandown champion hurdler Binocular will face just three opponents at 1.55 - the next best horse is rated some 36 pounds inferior; as a result Binocular is priced 1/12 in tonight's tissue. The Scilly Isles Novices' Chase is far more competitive. After a comment in last Sunday's post about Robinson Collonges, I was looking forward to seeing that one taking his chance here but Paul Nicholls has entered front-runner Rebel Du Maquis instead. This one was beaten seven and a quarter lengths into third by Reve De Sivola and Wishfull Thinking the last time; on that occasion he was conceding eight pounds to the winner while the second franked the form with an impressive victory at the Cheltenham Trials Day meeting last week. Jonjo O'Neill saddles Rock Noir who hasn't raced over the distance in this country; in addition the stable has had a quiet time of it lately (3 wins from 33 runners in past fortnight). Big things were expected of Captain Chris this season - he's finished second three times but has bumped into a couple of smart performers in Silviniaco Conti and Ghizao; tomorrow should tell us more but on official ratings he has a bit to find with a few of these. Medermit is the top-rated animal and priced up the 7/2 market leader this evening; the favourite has won six of the last ten runnings. Second last time out in the Dipper, pilot Choc Thornton was disappointed to be beaten by Hell's Bay over two miles five - I've seen a comment from him this week saying that, with hindsight, he'd have ridden a different race. An open event - I'll side with Alan King's grey Medermit.

In the three mile totesport Masters Handicap Chase Philip Hobbs' Leading Contender appears nicely weighted - he doesn't have a lot of miles on the clock and is the tentative suggestion. Looking through a stable tour article from last October, the handler informs us the key is likely to be the jumping - the gelding isn't a natural but ran well enough for a long way behind Nicto De Beauchenne over course and distance the last time.

Only five go in the Towton at Wetherby but Ferdy Murphy had a good word for Hollo Ladies the other day. Ian Williams' Wayward Prince is bound to be popular but at the weights Murphy's charge has three pounds in hand and rates a play against the favourite at around 3/1.