Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weekend snippets

Jumps racing is a tough old game and I'm guessing the hope of discovering that one special horse is what keeps trainers such as Robin Dickin getting up every morning. I expect there are a few false dawns along the way but when the real deal turns up, you'll be able to spot it quickly enough. Robin Dickin's emotional interview after Restless Harry had beaten Fair Along 20 lengths in Wetherby's John Smith's Hurdle yesterday told us his search is over. Of prime importance now is to do right by the  horse; I'm sure Mr Dickin will not be found wanting in that sphere. A novice chase campaign looks on the cards but you can't help wondering whether connections might be tempted by a stab at the World Hurdle next March; this evening Ladbrokes quote Harry 33/1 for the RSA Chase, bet365 the same price for the World Hurdle.

In the past the aptly-named Restless Harry hasn't travelled long distances very well but he was as good as gold on Saturday; connections took a Shetland pony along to accompany the stable star and that appears to have done the trick...

It was good to see Time For Rupert back on form in the Charlie Hall. Although Paul Webber's charge was beaten three and a half lengths by Weird Al, connections were delighted with the performance and have indicated they will consider Haydock's Betfair Chase as his next target.

On the other hand connections of Charlie Hall winner Weird Al are reluctant to commit to the Hennessy. Weird Al has had his problems, a comment that also applies to Diamond Harry who was market leader for the race on Saturday morning before being withdrawn after he was found lame.

Ordinarily you might struggle to find common ground between the British Horseracing Authority and the Church of England but in recent weeks both organisations have managed to preside over something of a public relations disaster - the whip debate and the anti-capitalist demonstration outside St Paul's Cathedral.

On Saturday's Morning Line conditional jockey Stephen Clements (attached to Colin Tizzard's stable) named a couple to look out for - thing was he spoke so quickly, I had trouble understanding what he said! Oiseau De Nuit and Drybrook Bedouin were mentioned but Nick Luck appeared to indicate the latter had been reluctant to go to post in the past.

Finally, a result noted in the mares' maiden hurdle at Uttoxeter on Friday. 66/1 chance Justazippy beat 66/1 chance Prickles a head, 14 ran. The Straight Forecast paid 2068.29 while the Exacta paid 2413.50.
If only...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wetherby and Ascot

There are eight declarations for what looks a competitive renewal of Wetherby's Charlie Hall Chase. Nacarat did this blog a favour when collecting the spoils last year and connections will be hopeful of a repeat performance - in my opinion good ground is the key to this horse and he's likely to get that tomorrow. Diamond Harry heads the market but he hasn't been seen since winning last year's Hennessy at Newbury - he has a good record fresh and stable jock James Reveley was bullish enough about the gelding's chance last week. Writing in the Weekender Paul Kealy points out that Poquelin has won 9 from 15 between October and December but has never won from January through to April; having said that Paul Nicholls' black gelding has never raced beyond two miles five. Time For Rupert disappointed last time in Cheltenham's RSA Chase but he had a valid excuse that day (broke blood vessel) and will be a threat to all if back to his best. Chicago Grey appeared unlucky when useating his pilot two out with the race apparently at his mercy a fortnight ago at Cheltenham; he could have a fitness edge over his main rivals here. At the weights Poquelin is the one to beat but there are questions about the trip while Diamond Harry is short enough in the market; I'll side with Time For Rupert.

Fair Along bids for a third successive win in the John Smith's Hurdle (2.45). The gelding can be a tricky customer but he has gone well fresh in the past and is likely to try and make all. What A Friend, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, finished fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and was then pulled up in the Grand National; he is rated 159 over fences and has been priced up favourite this evening but is another who can't be considered the easiest of rides - I'm not convinced this return to smaller obstacles will suit. I do like Restless Harry but it's well known he's a poor traveller so the journey north may have taken its toll. Ashkazar is somewhat inconsistent but when he's good, he's very good; Timmy Murphy should be able to ride his preferred waiting race with Fair Along in the field. Carlito Brigante is respected, having won the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival as he liked. He hasn't won over three miles and there may just be a stamina question over this trip of three miles one furlong; having said that the gelding had the benefit of a pipe-opener on the Flat three weeks ago. At the time of writing both 6/1 Fair Along (William Hill) and 5/1 Carlito Brigante (bet365) strike me as reasonable value; I'll stick with Fair Along.

On official ratings Alasi is the one in the mares' hurdle (2.15) but she's priced accordingly and I've burned my fingers on this event in the past so I'll adopt a watching brief. Similarly no bet in the novices' hurdle (4.00) but the 2008 William Hill Lincoln winner Smokey Oakey, part-owned by Dame Judi Dench, is an interesting runner, having won a maiden hurdle at Aintree in June.

The Ascot card looks difficult so brief comments only on a couple of the runners. Katies Tuitor (listed handicap hurdle at 3.00) likes a quick surface and a right-handed track and should have a fitness edge over some of these having been kept busy during the summer on the all-weather (trained by J S Moore). Over the years this gelding has obliged at a big price on more than one occasion but I just can't see that happening tomorrow - in addition I think he's better on a flat track so Ascot's stiff finish is unlikely to help the cause. Two worth monitoring are Nicky Henderson's filly A Media Luz (Weekender reports her trainer saying she is potentailly top-class provided she learns to settle) and Colin Tizzard's Third Intention (seventh behind Zarkander in the Triumph Hurdle last March).

The Cushman & Wakefield Novices' Hurdle (4.15) should prove useful for future reference while I'm surprised to see Tiger O'Toole declared for the novice chase after falling on his first try over fences at Ludlow; the obstacles here are much less forgiving.

Finally in a recent Stable Tour article Colin Tizzard described Xaarcet as 'probably our best unraced horse for the season.' The gelding goes in the concluding bumper.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A day at the Ludlow races

It's probably the best part of ten years since I've been to Ludlow but I was there again last Thursday for their second meeting of the autumn with the feature race celebrating clerk of the course Bob Davies' Racing Welfare - Lifetime in Racing award. Bob Davies, champion jockey in 1965, 1966 and 1972, won the Grand National on Lucius in 1978 and has been clerk of the course at Ludlow for an astonishing 27 years. River Rhapsody (9/4f) collected the big race spoils, catching my selection Jim Tango (5/2) after the final flight to win three and a half lengths. After the race Bob talked with both Stan Mellor and Bob Champion over the public address system.

Personally I find Ludlow on a fine autumnal day one of the best experiences in racing. Granted, the fare on offer is low key but the setting and relaxed atmosphere combine to give a certain timeless charm. There was plenty of tweed on show, one punter spotted in a deerstalker; I overheard a comment along the lines of '..but this is so genteel!'

Mrs Tips got the day off to a flying start with 17/2 winner A Little Bit Dusty in the opening juvenile seller - the chestnut gelding came from off the pace to seal the contest with a very quick leap at the last.

Much of the talk before the novice chase centred around Evan Williams' 13/8 joint favourite Tiger O'Toole - in a dramatic race the grey got no further than the first, stumbling on landing. With that, Felix De Giles let the filly Tatispout have her head and she jumped well in the main to win as she liked; in the paddock beforehand she had shown plenty of attitude and had at one point suggested she may not go onto the course. The real drama happened on the bottom bend as the chasing pack tried to reduce the filly's lead; both Dica and That'll Do Nicely slipped up, bringing down Definite All Star and causing Matt Griffiths to be unseated from Freddy's Star. That left the only other runner, 100/1 chance Grasscutter, to come home second  (beaten 99 lengths); the exacta paid £78.30. After an enquiry, the stewards declared the chase track safe for racing.

Anonther turn-up in the next with Jane Mathias' sole horse in training Sohappyharry beating Evan Williams' 4/11 favourite Lava Lamp four and a half lengths; the writing was on the wall a fair way out.

I took 9/1 about Gunship in the three mile amateur riders' race for The Court of Hill Challenge Cup. Robbie Henderson gave the gelding a fine ride from the front; the combination jumped the last three lengths up but were done on the run-in by 33/1 chance Foreign King. Nicky Richards' 5/2 favourite Itzacliche was a big disappointment in this, dropping to last at the thirteenth and being pulled up at the fifteeenth. The one to take out of the race would be Nick Williams' unexposed Sarika who looked a big threat to leader Gunship when coming to grief four out.

Man In Black took the two mile handicap hurdle while there was a dead-heat in the finale between Esporao (even money favourite) and Sublime Talent (11/4). I'd backed the latter who appeared to have edged ahead as they raced past us but it looked desperately close on the line - it was no surprise to hear a dead-heat called. One grumble here - no names mentioned as I've seen this happen previously but in the ring beforehand one layer was continually flicking Sublime Talent's price on his digital board between 11/4 and 3/1. As he went 3/1 I struck my wager, only to find 11/4 the price quoted on my slip. Now, I must be getting old as I decided I wasn't going to argue the toss on a small stakes wager but this practice really does leave a bad taste.

Otherwise a most enjoyable day with excellent viewing from the roof of the Tatts stand. After racing a few pints followed in The Church Inn where ales from the local Ludlow Brewing Company were sampled and enjoyed.

Blessed with glorious weather, we had a marvellous day in the Shropshire countryside - I'd recommend it to anyone.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Brief thoughts on Saturday's jump cards

Having only just returned from a(nother) losing day at Ludlow races (report to follow), I'm fortunate enough to have insufficient time to work on the form for tomorrow's meetings - as a result I have saved myself from identifying additional ways in which to lose even more child benefit allowance.

Whatever, much of the this evening's talk is around the BHA's 'tinkering' with the new whip rules. It would be fair to say that the changes have hardly been met with open arms, either by the jockeys or their professional association, the PJA. One rider who will be pleased with the BHA's decision is Christophe Soumillon as this evening he's likely to be around £52,000 better off.

Master Minded returns to action tomorrrow in the Monet's Garden Old Roan Chase at Aintree where the going is reported as good to soft, good in places. A fiield of just three is most disappointing; on paper the race looks a match between Paul Nicholls' charge and Albertas Run who receives ten pounds - on these terms there's little between the pair.

In the concluding maiden hurdle I'll keep an eye on Cinders And Ashes who ran well for a long way behind Cheltenian in the Festival bumper.

At Chepstow the Persian War Novices' Hurdle should prove useful for future reference. The one I'll monitor is Evan Williams' Charm School (rated 98 on the Flat). This gelding was bought out of John Gosden's yard after winning the November Handicap at Doncaster in 2009. In a recent Stable Tour article in the Weeknder, the handler indicated the key was teaching the horse to switch off in his races; he concludes, 'If we get it right, he could be a very smart recruit to hurdling.'

A few interesting runners in the Silver Trophy (4.15)  including two chasers, The Giant Bolster and Robinson Collonges, who will be looking for a confidence-boosting run over hurdles. The former, who has done work with Yogi Breisner over the summer, sports first-time cheekpieces and  has the Paddy Power Gold Cup as his target. Tim Vaughan's Architrave is a young horse with potential; he appeared to lose his way last season but later stomach ulcers were diagnosed and he comes here having had a pipe-opener at this course a fortnight ago over a trip short of his best.

The Nicholls pair Tataniano and Woolcombe Folly will be popular in the 4.50 but Gilbarry is the interesting one, having won the Future Champions Novices' Chase at Ayr in April. This is his first run for Jonjo O'Neill, having moved down from Malcolm Jefferson's yard over the summer.

At Stratford I wouldn't take a short price about Karasenir in the opener. Philip Hobbs' course and distance winner has won on his last two outings but they haven't been the most competitive of affairs and this looks a tougher test.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Broken rules and the Cheltenham Showcase

There will be those who will say it could only happen here. On the eve of the richest day's racing ever staged in Britain, the headlines are of Richard Hughes' decision to hand in his licence after a second ban under the new whip rules and the possibility of a jockeys' strike which is set to take place on Monday.

Frankel is expected to do his bit to redress the balance in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (3.35 Ascot), a race in which course and distance winner Dick Turpin makes some each-way appeal at around 25/1 provided the eight start; Christophe Soumillon takes over from Richard Hughes who was originally booked to ride.

I'll concentrate on the second day of the Cheltenham Showcase meeting, looking for pointers for the future. Only nine declared for the feature Trophy at 3.50 but it looks a trappy affair. Connections appear to be hoping for a good show from Benny Be Good who carries top weight but may well have a fitness advantage over market rivals Galaxy Rock, Chicago Grey and Balthazar King. Tim Vaughan's stable is in fine form (8 wins from 29 runs in past fortnight); of the two entries here Definite Dawn appears to have the best chance with a light weight but two wins at Cartmel and Fontwell indicate this is a big step up in class. Balthazar King is the one I like but his fitness is unknown so I won't get involved.

The winner of the opener is likely to come from amongst the Irish runners while I've seen Benbane Head touted more times than I care to recall in the past 12 months; he may take the 2.40 (trainer Martin Keighley won the Lemington Maiden Hurdle with Court In Session earlier today) but the price doesn't appeal. Evan Williams comments in the Weekender that this is likely to be Buck Mulligan's last race before being put away for the winter. This evening layers appear divided about the chances of front runner Billie Magern - Ladbrokes offer 12/1 while Coral go 11/2. This is the time of year for the Twiston-Davies yard but perhaps they've been quieter than in previous seasons. Billie Magern is likely to try and make all but doesn't jump as well as Ollie (Magern) used to; nevertheless I'll take an each-way interest at 12/1.

The 4.55 often throws up an interesting novice chaser and the presence of Zaynar (third behind Binocular in the 2010 Champion Hurdle) means this year's renewal will be no exception. Now with Nick Williams after some indifferent performances last year, the grey is unlikely to have things all his own way with another grey, Paul Nicholls' Toubab, in the field while Evan Williams' Lancetto was described in his schooling over fences as 'a bit hit and miss - in fact some were downright x-rated...' [Weekender] after arriving from Ireland. That said, the gelding jumped well for much of the trip when winning last time out at Newton Abbot, although the tendency to occasionally veer right at the obstacles won't serve his cause well here.

In the bumper filly Amber Cloud would represent a play against likely favourite Alexandr Nevsky.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Some Saturday suggestions

Those who have followed the blog over the summer months will know I've concentrated on horses with jumps form racing over distances beyond one and a half miles on the Flat; several familiar names are entered up for tomorrow's Cesarewich which is run over two and a quarter miles at Newmarket and is due off at 3.50. Of the 34 declarations, 16 have some type of NH form to their name; they are listed below with brief comments:

Sentry Duty Not the easiest to catch right and IMO better with some cut. Sixth last year;
Veiled Tipped on the blog, took the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. Every chance;
Keys In my mind not certain to see out this extended trip;
Dayia 80/1 (Coral) is a big price about Lady Green's brown mare but her best form has been with cut;
My Arch Eighth last year;
La Estrella Done most of his winning in races with no more than 12 runners;
Phoenix Flight Out of sorts after excellent third behind Veiled at Royal Ascot - Coral's 80/1 looks big;
Rainforest Magic Dermot Weld's runner is a potential blot on the handicap - respected;
Braveheart Move Yet to win beyond 13f;
Gifted Leader Laid out for this? 50/1 available;
Palomar Not without talent but for me is one that needs things to fall just right;
Right Stuff Finished last behind Gifted Leader last time out;
Beyond Trainer David Pipe's best chance in the race;
Abergavenny Billy Wallace (The Prophet) makes a case for this one in the Weekender;
Bow To No One Mare finished fourth in the Goodwood Stakes behind Hollins;
Tasheba Beaten over 25 lengths in a Fontwell handicap seven days ago.

General opinion is higher drawn horses are at something of a disadvantage as they will have to race wide around the bend. That being the case Beyond (stall 3) makes most appeal of the market leaders (14/1 with Ladbrokes at the time of writing). For those who must, two outsiders at an each-way price - Gifted Leader (50/1) and Phoenix Flight (80/1).

These days Chepstow's card doesn't get the coverage it once did but the clash between Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti should prove informative. I don't make a habit of betting novices on their first try over the larger obstacles but I prefer Silviniaco Conti, given he's won at the track previously. In the Weekender West Country correspondent Andrew King reports Nicholls' charge '...has been pleasing in his work at Manor Farm...' Others I fancied on this card have been marked up at rather short prices so I'll keep my powder dry. The going is reported as good to soft, good in places at the Welsh track.

Up at Hexham Chris Bealby's L'Eldorado looks a play against likely favourite Quite The Man in a competitive opener; Chris has a good word for the gelding in a post on his blog this evening.