Friday, November 25, 2011

The Hennessy and the Fighting Fifth

After Kauto's heroics in last week's Betfair Chase, this week's Hennessy just hasn't captured the imagination. Old-timers such as myself often witter on about the Hennessy going to a young up-and-coming sort but as Tom Segal points out in the Weekender, last season's top novices looked distinctly average in the Betfair. I bet Aiteen Thirtythree in the RSA last March but he's not the most proficient of jumpers; Wymott's stable jock Jason Maguire prefers Peddlers Cross at Bangor and a quick trip to Newcastle to partner Overturn; Great Endeavour looked good in the Paddy Power but hasn't won over further than two miles six while The Giant Bolster has failed to complete on four of his six chase starts. So, of the younger brigade, Wayward Prince, third in the RSA and fourth behind the well-regarded Quito De La Roque at Aintree three weeks later (Sarando beaten just a neck into second) makes some appeal; trainer Ian Williams sounds hopeful enough and in the past fortnight has sent out seven winners from 36 runners. Of the more established entrants, top weight Neptune Collonges has Harry Dereham take seven pounds off but didn't really hit the heights last season following a long break after injury - since 1957 only three horses older than nine have won: Mandarin (1961), Rondetto (1967) and Diamond Edge (1981). Blazing Bailey is an outside chance while there's a hint Beshabar has the National as his target. Running one pound out of the handicap, Carruthers finished sixth in this last year off a mark of 155 - he returns this time off 146 and ran well on his seasonal debut behind Galaxy Rock at Cheltenham a fortnight ago. Connections try a tongue-tie for the first-time - 20/1 with totesport looks reasonable each-way value. This evening two layers offer a quarter the odds five places on this race - bet365 and Paddy Power.

The sole tip to oblige last week was Overturn and many will tell me that was only because Oscar Whisky fell when challenging at the last. That said, I'm not inclined to desert him against former champion hurdler Binocular in the Fighting Fifth. Nicky Henderson's charge has been sent off an odds-on chance in this race on each of the past two runnings and has been beaten on both occasions. The word from the Henderson yard is their charge is fit and ready this year. Celestial Halo is worthy of every respect but at this evening's prices the 7/2 Ladbrokes offer about Overturn looks particularly tempting.

Big Buck's returns in Newbury's Long Distance Hurdle (2.35); pilot Ruby Walsh was stood down after a fall from Sollim earlier today but he is expected to be fit to ride tomorrow.

All eyes will be on Peddlers Cross who continues his education over the larger obstacles in the opener at Bangor (12.10). At the same track Scholastica goes in the concluding mares' bumper (3.35) and is worth noting for future reference whatever happens here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Haydock and Ascot

At 3.05 tomorrow all eyes will be on Haydock's Betfair Chase as Long Run makes his first appearance on a racecourse after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March. He faces five opponents and on official ratings has upwards of twelve pounds in hand over his rivals; owner Robert Waley-Cohen believes the only thing that can stop his pride and joy here is a lack of race fitness. I'm cautious and with Long Run priced odds-on I prefer to look elsewhere for some value. During the week Paul Nicholls indicated he has done plenty of work with previous Gold Cup winner Kauto Star who is some six weeks away from his 12th birthday. In the past Nicholls has used this race as a stepping stone to the King George and the Gold Cup but the implication is Kauto will not lack for fitness - this time it's the younger horse who has those races as targets. The predicted ground may help Kauto's cause a bit but these days I tend to see Haydock as more of a speed track - the likelihood is a younger animal will go by the former champion up the long home straight. Having said that, should Kauto win, there won't be a dry eye in the house.

That's the Gold Cup winners dealt with! Weird Al raised a few eyebrows on his first run for the McCain stable when beating Time For Rupert three and a half lengths in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby; that was Rupert's first run since disappointing in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival where he broke a blood vessel. Paul Webber's charge wasn't foot perfect at his fences last time and would be entitled to come on for that run - I'm not convinced placings will be confirmed. Earlier today a tweet from well-repsected observer NarrowTheField highlighted Weird Al's form in chases with less than ten runners 111-1-1 so he looks to have every chance and Timmy Murphy is riding exceptionally well at the moment. Hennessy winner Diamond Harry is very talented but notoriously fragile; he was favourite for the Charlie Hall three weeks ago but was found lame on the morning of the race. He goes well fresh and has been allocated the best speed rating in the Weekender; if he makes it to the course in one piece, he represents a value play at 5/1 or bigger - Diamond Harry gets the vote.

Plenty of old friends (and foes) in the three mile fixed brush handicap hurdle at 2.30. We've seen several of these over fences and one or two will be looking to exploit a more lenient hurdle rating, including Robinson Collonges (chase rating 148, hurdle rating 136); Synchronised (chase rating 155, hurdle rating 147) and Sa Suffit (chase rating 144, hurdle rating 135). No bet for me in this ultra competitive event but I hope old favourite Knockara Beau, who never really took to chasing, is fit enough to do himself justice on this seasonal debut.

Nicky Henderson is in fine form with five winners bagged earlier today; his Grandouet goes in the opener, having taken a crashing fall at Wincanton a fortnight ago. Although an odds-on chance here, he'll need to be at the top of his game to give Domtaline eight pounds. I like Marsh Warbler who has had a pipe-opener on the all-weather at Southwell but the penalty he carries makes things difficult. Tim Vaughan's First Fandago won over two and a half miles at Leicester on Monday and on official ratings isn't completely out of it while stablemate Rigidity was formerly with Sir Henry Cecil before showing promise at Edward O'Grady's over in Ireland.. For those brave enough, Paul Nicholls' Domtaline rates a play against the favourite (7/2 with William Hill this evening).

In the Coral Hurdle at Ascot the winner has come from the top two in the betting on nine occasions in the past decade; Silviniaco Conti was third best in the market when taking last year's renewal. Paul Nicholls fields another relatively unexposed sort in King Of The Night but I prefer Overturn to likely favourite Oscar Whisky - Henderson has indicated he is concerned about his charge giving eight pounds to the selection. Ladbrokes offer 3/1 about Overturn this evening.

Despite a field of just six the Amlin 1965 Chase looks very trappy. Master Minded wasn't convincing first time up in Aintree's Old Roan Chase; as he's grown older he appears to need a bit of cut underfoot and he won't be certain to get it here. Connections have said Boxing Day is their target but if you want to oppose, what to choose?  Alan King predicts a big run from Haldon Gold Cup winner Medermit but is under no illusion to the size of the task while improvement is expected from Kalahari King who sports a first-time tongue-tie. 8/1 Kalahari King looks value but that is nothing more than the most tentative of tentative suggestions...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cheltenham Open meeting 2011 - Sunday

Very quick thoughts for Sunday...

The opener should prove informative. Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Al Ferof makes his chasing debut with Ruby Walsh in the plate. Trainer Paul Nicholls should have a decent idea about this one's chance as the stable's Toubab was beaten threequarters of a length by Lancetto who looks to face a tough task giving weight to this field.

The Greatwood Hurdle (2.20) is the feature and has been won by some decent sorts in the past including Menorah, Khyber Kim, Sizing Europe, Detroit City and Rooster Booster. The winner has come from the top two in the market seven times in the past decade but in the same timeframe only one four-year-old has collected the spoils (Detroit City, 2006). I like Colin Tizzard's Third Intention but this stat is a negative for that well as his Ascot conqueror of two weeks ago Brampour. A number reoppose from the Ascot race including Via Galilei (second), the much-touted filly A Media Luz (third) who needs to give herself a chance by settling better, Nearby (seventh), Kumbeshwar (eighth) and Topolski (last). Pateese is the market leader on the back of an impressive victory at Sandown the last time, although you could argue jock Matt Griffiths nicked it from the front with a bold break for home two out. Back in March Pateese was beaten just over two lengths by Via Galilei at Newbury; Josh Moore's five pounds claim means the pair look closely matched again. Via Galilei was my idea of a wager but the ground appears to have gone against Gary Moore's charge so I'll maintain a watching brief.

On official ratings Woolcombe Folly has plenty in hand over his rivals in the Shloer Chase  (1.45) but will be priced accordingly and I'll keep a close eye on African Broadway in the 3.30 for future reference.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Paddy Power Gold Cup 2011

The highlight on the second day of the Open meeting is the Paddy Power Gold Cup - 20 face the starter at 2.35. With the Paul Nicholls trained top weight Poquelin standing his ground, eight of the field will be running from out of the handicap - I've concentrated my limited efforts on the animals set to carry their correct weight.

Although a 20/1 shot won this last year, in general terms the market has proved a reasonable guide - four favourites have obliged in the past decade. Poquelin's stablemate Mon Parrain heads the betting; formerly with Guillaume Macaire this five-year-old was impressive on his British debut winning a Sandown handicap chase but there were a few questions when he was run out of it over the National fences in the Topham next time. This evening Mon Parrain is 7/2 with most layers but both Ladbrokes and William Hill take a stand offering 5/1. Cyfor Malta (1998) is the only five-year-old to win this since 1960 and as Nicholls has never trained the winner of this race I'm going to oppose...

Cyfor Malta was trained by Martin Pipe and memories of the good old days came flooding back earlier this afternoon when son David recorded a 186.5/1 treble with Swing Bill (9/1), Decoy (13/2) and Grand Crus (6/4f). The yard regularly targets this meeting and Great Endeavour warrants respect in tomorrow's renewal.I fancied the grey for this last year but he came home a slightly disappointing sixth, failing to land a serious blow.

Course and distance winner The Giant Bolster, named after a Cornish legend, is a horse who has done this blog a favour or two in recent years. His jumping went off the boil last term (unseated in RSA Chase and fell at Aintree) but David Bridgwater has had jumping guru Yogi Breisner out to his charge during the summer. The trainer is on record as saying he thinks this could be a Gold Cup horse.

Another course and distance winner Wishfull Thinking will not want for lack of support but in the run-up the Hobbs yard haven't been sure in which race to run their charge and have recorded just 3 wins from 35 runs in the past fortnight.

Of the other runners, I'm guessing Grand Annual winner Oiseau De Nuit (with Brendan Powell claiming ten pounds) is priced at 40/1 because the layers don't think he'll stay while 33/1 about Calgary Bay looks big given that he was beaten three and a half lengths by Wishfull Thinking here in January and is now 13 pounds better off.

In an ultra competitive event, I'll chance Wishfull Thinking (7/1 Betfred) with an each-way saver on The Giant Bolster (14/1 Coral). Best priced outsider - Calgary Bay (33/1).

I won't get involved in the finale but I hope to see Restless Harry win on his chase debut following a stunning performance in the John Smith's Hurdle at Wetherby last time; Viking Blond could be the one to benefit if the wheels were to come off.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cheltenham Open meeting 2011 - Friday

The finale apart, tomorrow's opening card of the Open meeting is strangely uninspiring. Cue Card for me in the gloriously-named Steel Plate and Sections Novices' Chase which was won by Time For Rupert last year; David Pipe has said he would have ideally preferred the ground softer for Grand Crus who has come to hand quicker than expected but is reported likely to come on for the run.

Garde Champetre, with Nina Carberry in the plate, will be a warm order for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, having won over the course and distance on five previous occasions. J P McManus' gelding was beaten a neck in this last year and won the 2009 renewal from Heads Onthe Ground; the going on the cross country track is firm, good to firm in places.

There's a strong word for Jessica Harrington's Steps To Freedom in the novices' hurdle (2.55) but at the prices on offer I'm going to keep my powder dry.

Madcap each-way suggestion in the 3.30: Architrave (25/1 Paddy Power). I've read somewhere in the past couple of days this one has started to show some form at home of late - he sports a first time visor here. He went off the boil as last season progressed but later stomach ulcers were diagnosed. His sixth of 18 in Chepstow's Silver Trophy (beaten just over ten lengths) three weeks ago reads well enough and the ground should suit.

Somewhat later in the day than might have been expected, the BHA announced the much-touted amendments to the new whip rules. They come into operation with immediate effect and have been welcomed by the Professional Jockeys Association as well as by Open meeting sponsors Paddy Power.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Football shorts

Cheer up Harry Redknapp... The Daily Mail reports that doctors have told the Spurs manager he has to stay away from work for another four or five weeks following minor heart surgery. Not too much of a problem for the likes of you and me, but Harry declares: 'This isn't going to stop me doing the job I love.' Under the circumstances then, you wouldn't have begrudged the Tottenham man a bit of good news in the first at Ffos Las today where his Bygones In Brid was sent off the 6/5 favourite. Unfortunately for Harry the wretched beast just hadn't read the script - the bay gelding was tailed off, finishing eighth of the ten runners. Later in the day Tottenham's 3-1 victory at Fulham was more what the doctor ordered but the radio commentary certainly wouldn't have made for easy listening...

Continuing on the subject of work, the fact Alan Hansen is paid £40,000 for every appearance on Match Of The Day has generated plenty of comment this week. Nice work if you can get it, as they say...

Finally, a word for Darren Deadman who refereed the recent Doncaster Rovers v Middlesborough match. Referee Deadman refused to book Doncaster's Billy Sharp after the striker scored a 'goal from heaven' and then revealed a message dedicating it to his son, Louis, who died aged two days old. Well done, Darren.

Friday, November 04, 2011

From Wincanton to Down Royal

You tend to think of Wincanton as something of a speed track but the three miles one and a half furlongs of tomorrow's Badger Ales Trophy will take some getting on ground that is currently described as good to soft, soft in places. There has been plenty of rain around this evening too - a young lady walking home in front of me was carrying a very fetching Paddy Power umbrella which sported the wording '5/1 it blows over' - I wasn't remotely inclined to take the odds.

This year's Badger Ales wouldn't be the best renewal in recent years but it still looks pretty open with 14 set to face the starter. In the past ten years four favourites have obliged (Montifault 11/4 2001; Swansea Bay 2/1 2003; Royal Auclair 7/2jf 2004; Abrigante 15/8 2007) while five winners have been priced in double figures (Swansea Bay 14/1 2002; Iris Bleu 10/1 2005; Parsons Legacy 16/1 2006; Cornish Sett 12/1 2008; Ellerslie George 14/1 2009). In the same time frame no horse has been older than nine when winning so on grounds of age I'm going to discount Madison Du Berlais (the pick of Pipe's two on jockey bookings), Hello Bud and Gone To Lunch. Paul Nicholls won this last year with Meanus Dandy but this year stablemate The Minack is more likely to start favourite according to the layers. I've never been 100% convinced about The Minack after he nearly threw away a Kempton novice hurdle (January 2010) when hitting the front two from home. In a post three weeks ago I said I'd seen Benbane Head touted more times than I'd want to recall over the past year; he made a mistake early doors at Cheltenham in that race and was never really competitive thereafter. I'm tempted to go for a bigger-priced animal in this. At Ascot last weekend Dover's Hill got no further than the second when unseating Aidan Coleman and breaking the jock's collar bone in the process; he could go well provided the fences don't get in the way and a similar comment could apply to Vic Dartnall's course and distance winner Richard's Sundance. This horse went off the boil in the second part of last season so I'm taking plenty on trust here but the yard is flying at the moment (four wins from nine runs since October 21st) - Richard's Sundance each-way at 16/1 is the suggestion.

On paper the Elite looks between Grandouet and Celestial Halo but makes little appeal as a betting medium while I'm undecided about Silviniaco Conti in the novice chase. This is a horse I like but I burnt my fingers a couple of times last year and I'm just wary after he finished third behind Cue Card on his chasing debut. He's bound to come on for that and will be more suited by this trip but he's priced up at short odds in a race that is no foregone conclusion. Mad Moose has more chasing experience than the rest while Jetnova is an Irish pointer and Kilcrea Kim an exciting prospect. This evening Paddy Power offers 5/1 Kilcrea Kim which in my book represents a play against the favourite - Kilcrea Kim is the selection.

At Down Royal in Ireland Noel Fehily rides The Nightingale and Kauto Stone for Paul Nicholls as yesterday Ruby Walsh's lodged appeal against a five-day whip ban was unsuccessful. In today's Times Alan Lee reports that jockeys' leaders have admitted privately that 'their impasse with the BHA is at crisis point after this judgement.'

Seven go in a trappy-looking Champion Chase at 2.20. The two top-rated horses, Sizing Europe and The Nightingale, have yet to win at this distance while Quito De La Roque and Bostons Angel look out and out stayers - judging fitness for this first run won't be easy. Midnight Chase could surprise a few - he ran an excellent fifth in the Gold Cup last March - but he wouldn't want too much rain. Connections decided to bypass last week's Charlie Hall to come here (although I'm not totally convinced this is an easier option.) Midnight Chase is 6/1 with William Hill this evening - I'll take an interest provided the rain stays away.