Friday, January 27, 2012

Harry's trial and the Festival Trials

You know, it's a week for trials...

On Thursday Harry Redknapp was reported to have said  'I have never written a letter in my life' yet I'm sure I can recall the Tottenham manager having written the occasional column for the Racing Post in the past. Harry also claimed his English wasn't up to scratch and he couldn't spell for toffee but he certainly appears a bit better at Maths as he allegedly asked for a 10% cut of the £3 million profit cleared when England striker Peter Crouch moved from Portsmouth. Hmmm, I'm sure the judge will get to the bottom of it all.

From one trial with its tribulations to several...

The decision of connections to withdraw Grand Crus from the Argento Chase, the feature at Cheltenham's Festival Trials Day, has changed the look of the race completely. I fancied Midnight Chase, fifth in last year's Gold Cup, to offer some each-way value at around 9/1 but this evening he's just 6s, with Ladbrokes going noticeably shorter at 9/2. On ratings the three to concentrate on are Captain Chris, Diamond Harry and Tidal Bay. Captain Chris has done most of his racing over shorter distances but looked to stay the trip when third behind Kauto Star in the King George; I've tipped Diamond Harry a couple of times to date but this talented, notoriously fragile individual has twice been withdrawn on the morning of a big race; and Tidal Bay is something of an enigma. Discussing this race with a colleague, he felt Midnight Chase had seen his best days - I'm not convinced and I feel he shows his best form on good ground but Diamond Harry is the suggestion.

The Triumph Hurdle Trial should prove informative and to my mind looks more comepttive than the market would have us believe. Hinterland (runs in the handicap hurdle at 4.15) looks a useful benchmark - Paul Nicholls' charge beat Hollow Tree three lengths giving that runner-up four pounds but was subsequently beaten seven lengths (conceding seven pounds) by Baby Mix. As a play against likely favourite Grumeti I slightly prefer Tom George's course and distance winner Baby Mix to Nicholls runner Pearl Swan.

I considered Hell's Bay each-way (16/1) in the 2.05 but recent stable form is off-putting.

In the Cleeve Hurdle (3.40) Big Buck's bids for his fifteenth consecutive win but it would be worth remembering he won't be fully wound up for this - the World Hurdle in March being the main target. Connections opted to run here last weekend; the general view is Big Buck's will be some 10 pounds off his best which may give connections of Mourad cause for hope although Willie Mullins' charge also has the World Hurdle as his aim....

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Ascot and Haydock features

Ascot's Victor Chandler Chase (3.10) looks a trappy affair. Layers have priced up Nicky Henderson's Finian's Rainbow the favourite; of the eight runners in the field seven have an official rating and in the eyes of the handicapper Finian's Rainbow is the sixth best horse in the race, looking to find some nine pounds with top-rated animal Somersby. Henrietta Knight's charge hasn't won over two miles since December 2009 and last time finished fourth behind Kauto Star in the King George, a trip of three miles - here connections try cheek pieces for the first time but his chance is respected. Al Ferof is a novice of considerable potential - his neck defeat of For Non Stop at Sandown last time wasn't done any favours when the runner-up was beaten four lengths in receipt of seven pounds from Cue Card at Newbury. I've had my fingers burned a couple of times with Wishfull Thinking this season; Philip Hobbs' horse weakened three out in the Paddy Power Chase at Cheltenham's Open meeting before ruining his chance by racing far too freely in the Tingle Creek. The last time Richard Johnson held his mount up and that tactic appeared to work better with Wishfull Thinking going down threequarters of a length to Finian's Rainbow (receiving one pound) in Kempton's Desert Orchid Chase (Oiseau De Nuit in third). In that race Finian's Rainbow blundered badly four from home but recovered well to take the spoils on the run-in while once again Wishfull Thinking, whose breathing problems have been well documented, didn't look the easiest of rides and appeared to hang slightly left at the obstacles up the home straight. Trappy indeed, but at the prices on offer I'm going to give Wishfull Thinking (13/2) one more chance while I wouldn't put anyone off having an each-way dabble on Oiseau De Nuit (40/1 with the sponsors) provided the eight make it to post.

The feature at Haydock, where there is a precautionary inspection at 8.00 am, is the Peter Marsh Chase; the going is reported as heavy. At twelve years old Grand National winner Mon Mome isn't getting any younger but he put in an eye-catching round behind Mostly Bob at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Venetia Williams' charge was fourth in this race last year carrying 11-10 off a mark of 156; this year he's on a mark of 145 and carries 11-8 so I'm thinking he could be in the mix - he's worth  an each-way interest at around the 8/1 mark.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Saturday's Warwick card

Warwick is a few short miles down the road from here but I haven't attended a meeting there for well over ten years; I find the hill in the middle of the course particularly disconcerting. However, I've had my leave form signed off so tomorrow I'll put the concerns to one side for the Classic Chase meeting, the course's best jumps card of the year. The going is described as good to soft with soft places on the hurdles course - most people think it will ride 'dead' as there has been very little rain during the week. This is my thinking at the moment...

12.50 Novices' Handicap Hurdle. No selection.

1.25 3 mile Novices' Chase. Four of the seven have an official rating and of those Frascati Park, priced up favourite this evening, is best served by race conditions. I'm tempted to chance Emma Lavelle's unexposed gelding Court Victory. In a recent Stable Tour article the trainer described her charge as a giant, measuring 17.3hh. This sharpish track may not be ideal and he may need a bit more cut but the trip should suit and the accurate jumping he displayed last time at Uttoxeter should serve him well down the back straight where the fences come thick and fast. In the past Golden Chieftain has been seen to have problems in the jumping department. Only one favourite has obliged in the past six renewals, with either the second or third favourite taking the spoils on the other five occasions.

2.00 2 mile Handicap Chase. Previous course and distance winner Marodima made all to win over two and a half miles at Fontwell on Thursday and is priced up favourite on the back of that. A talented individual who was something of a tearaway in his younger days, he's more settled now but may struggle to build up a lead against these. Educated Evans makes more appeal than Roi De Rose who has tended to race over further and has blinkers fitted for the first time. I'd forgive Tara Royal his last effort - 10/1 could look big after the event.

2.30 3 mile one furlong handicap hurdle. Looks incredibly competitive. Two each-way chances against the field - Barwell Bridge (9/1) ran well on his seasonal debut at Wincanton 19 days ago while Venetia Williams' runners are currently in exceptional form and Aachen (20/1) catches my eye. Tenth in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, he's never really delivered to his potential but connections try cheek pieces for the first time; he travelled well for a long way at Bangor the last time before fading badly.

3.05 Leamington Novices' Hurdle (2m 5f). The favourite has taken five of the last six renewals and Emma Lavelle appears particularly bullish about the chances of her well-regarded gelding Highand Lodge (owned by the marvellously-named syndicate 'The Unusual Suspects'). There are some interesting sorts in this, including Cotton Mill and Ambion Wood; on balance I'm not inclined to oppose the favourite.

3.40 Classic Chase (3m 5f). Six of the 14 runners are set to carry more than their long handicap weight. In the past those who have run in the Welsh National have struggled here - this year Bench Warrent finished fifth, Hey Big Spender fell and Blazing Bailey was pulled up. I quietly fancied Neptune Equester at Wetherby last time but he lost touch mid-race before staying on again in the Rowland Meyrick. The trainer put that down to a slow pace so I'm going to stay with Neptune Equester who looks nicely weighted and has Aidan Coleman in the saddle.

4.00 Bumper. No selection.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Time for the Tolworth

Only five declared for the Tolworth at Sandown tomorrow; a big run can be expected from both Propsect Wells and Colour Squadron while Nicky Henderson's Captain Conan has some smart French form to his name and could be anything. January is usually a quiet month for the Nicholls yard and connections have admitted their decision to let Propsect Wells take his chance here was 'an afterthought'. Colour Squadron makes more appeal, with underfoot conditions likely to suit Philip Hobbs' charge. Colour Squadron (2/1 generally) is the selection.

Other very quick notes...

The Strawberry One (4/1 this evening) has just one pound to find with top-rated Kaffie (7/4) on official ratings in the opener. She is considered, although it's worth noting her wins to date have come on good ground or quicker.

Course and distance winner Dave's Dream looks overpriced at 9/1 in the 2.05 and should be thereabouts granted a decent round of jumping. He merits each-way support, with David Bass claiming a valuable three pounds.