Friday, October 26, 2012

Brief thoughts on Saturday's NH cards

Three National Hunt cards tomorrow with the Old Roan Chase the highlight at Aintree, yet top jockeys Ruby Walsh, Aidan Coleman and 'Choc' Thornton choose to ride at Chepstow while champion AP McCoy settles for Stratford.

Eleven go in the Old Roan, where only one favourite has obliged in the previous eight runnings while a horse aged nine or older has won on six occasions in the same timeframe (Monet's Garden three times). Paul Nicholls' five-year-old Pacha Du Polder has a few novice chases under his belt (three wins, one unplaced and one unseated rider) and may struggle against more experienced opponents; the only runner not making his seasonal debut is Mahogany Blaze who could therefore be a little sharper than some of his rivals. I've a soft spot for Nacarat who has done this blog one or two favours over the years and tends to show his best on good ground but this renewal looks particularly tricky so I'm not going to play - much will depend on fitness. In spite of the stats, I'd expect the winner to come from the younger brigade.

Previously with Guillaume Macaire, the four-year-old Unioniste carries John Hales' colours (remember Azertyuiop?) and, having already won a chase at Auteuil, will be a popular choice for the 4.35, a race the Nicholls stable has won on three occasions since 2004. Having said that, he's unlikely to have things all his own way - Carlito Brigante won at Cheltenham last Saturday. This one wouldn't be guaranteed to reproduce that effort one week on but this sharp track should suit his style of running.

2011 Northumberland Plate winner Tominator held a five-day entry in the Aintree finale but connections have decided the grey will make his hurdling debut elsewhere.

The Persian War (3.40 Chepstow) sees Nicholls' Wonderful Charm make his debut in this country. The gelding has been well-touted for some time - in Mark Howard's One Jump Ahead bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley is quoted as saying '[Wonderful Charm is] one of the best young prospects I have managed to get out of France in recent years.' Aidan Coleman rode a fine race from the front to steal a listed novice hurdle at Kempton on Hawkhill six days ago but he prefers Anthony Honeyball's Ballybough Pat here. This one has surprised connections and won 15 days ago at Carlisle - I'll take the chance against the favourite provided he's priced 9/2 or bigger.

As always, the Silver Trophy (4.15) is most competitive. The one that catches my eye at a price is Robinson Collonges. Rated 134, he races off the same mark as when third behind Arthurian Legend in this last year. After that, he went off the rails over the larger obstacles but I'm banking on new handler Harry Fry working some magic. The stable has had a couple of winners in the past week and connections try a toungie-tie on their charge for the first time - at 10/1 (Ladbrokes) Robinson Collonges is worth an each-way interest. I also looked at Rebecca Curtis' Meganisi but in this week's Weekender the trainer tells readers she thinks two and a half miles may be 'a little too far for him as he has bags of speed'.

Following a break, Roc De Guye ran well for a long way at Huntingdon last time before fading to finish seventh. He was dropped another four pounds for that effort and goes in the 3.55 at Stratford where the shorter trip and Timmy Murphy in the saddle should help. He rates an each-way chance if priced in double figures.

Punters sat up and took note of new trainer John Ferguson last season. Printmaker goes in Stratford's 4.30 but was sent off 11/8 favourite last time and disappointed. The stable hasn't had a winner since October 10th, recording thirteen consecutive losses.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cheltenham Showcase meeting 2012 - Saturday

Both Frankel and Willie Carson bow out tomorrow. Everyone will be sad to see Frankel disappear but the same comment wouldn't necessarily apply to Carson; nonetheless Matthew Norman's piece in today's Daily Telegraph strikes a rather querulous tone which in my opinion does not reflect particularly well on the author. Of course, at the time of writing, I haven't seen Carson's farewell interview...

Cheltenham racecourse managing director Edward Gillespie is another to enter into retirement after tomorrow's action; he's been at the job for 32 years and the opener marks the occasion in appropriate fashion, being named the 'Edward Gillespie Hands Over The Reins Novices' Hurdle'.

The card looks anything but easy with two 20 runner chases on offer as well as a handicap hurdle in which 24 are set to face the starter; just 17 contest the concluding bumper. Nigel Twiston-Davies and Paul Nicholls both recorded doubles at the track earlier today, the former with The New One (even money favourite) and Hunters Lodge (7/2f) and the latter with Sire Collonges (4/1) and Dark Lover (9/2f).

Rated 137, Talkonthestreet sets a decent standard in the opener. Rendl Beach has two bumpers and a maiden hurdle to his name and could have a fitness edge having won at Fontwell 15 days ago but a couple of his leaps at the Sussex track were less than fluent. Talkonthestreet came home third behind Ambion Wood at Perth in April where the three mile trip seemed to bring out some improvement; the Philip Hobbs team is in decent form at the moment so at 3/1 Talkonthestreet rates a play against the favourite Rendl Beach and gets the vote.

Only five go to post in the 3.05 - it looks to concern Dodging Bullets, Baby Mix and High Note. Captain Sharpe was withdrawn from the Free Handicap at Chepstow last Saturday on account of the ground. The conditions of the race favour Dodging Bullets who finished fourth in the Triumph in April and he is currently priced up at even money. I like Tom George's course and distance winner Baby Mix (ninth in the Triumph) but he looks to face a stiff task giving weight to all his rivals. The filly High Note receives her weight allowance and may be sharper than the other two market principals having won as she liked at Stratford 22 days ago. Dodging Bullets is the form choice and the selection.

The novice chase at 4.55 is trappy; Third Intention is likely to be near the head of the market but this rates a stiff introduction to chasing. Normally I wouldn't entertain backing a four-year-old in a contest such as this but His Excellency has more experience over the larger obstacles than several in the field - he ran 15th in the Galway Plate when trained by Gordon Elliott. He has two runs for the Pipe yard under his belt now and, although he has shown some attitude in the past, a comment from Tom Scudamore in a post on Exeter Racecourse's blog makes me think connections may be making some progress. Rated 142, His Excellency is the tentative suggestion at 6/1 or bigger.

I'll give both handicap chases a miss. For those who can't resist, Tim Vaughan has been quite bullish about Tartak in the build-up to the 2.30; the handler says he thinks the horse goes there 'with a winning chance' in this week's Weekender. The horse was never the easiest to catch when with Tom George but I believe he shows his best form on good ground so tomorrow should not be a problem. Three of the past five winners have carried 11-10 or more to victory so at 16/1 (BetVictor) some may think he's an each-way play...

In the 3.40 Philip Hobbs' course and distance winner Balthazar King usually goes well fresh and likes top of the ground.

Finally, with all the Frankel stories likely to take top-billling, it would be all too easy to overlook Kempton's jumps card this Sunday. In particular the 3.20 should prove useful for future reference - I'll be interested to see how Spirit Of Shankly fares. In the finale I still haven't quite given up the ghost on Colin Tizzard's Xaarcet - around this time last year the handler described his charge as 'our best unraced horse for the season'.   

Friday, October 12, 2012

Chepstow choices

Tomorrow sees Ruby Walsh take his first rides this side of the Irish Sea since the spring, a sure indication the jumping season is moving into gear. I've driven past Chepstow racecourse on numerous occasions but I've never actually been to a meet - a colleague regularly attends but never quite manages to sell it to me...

The Nicholls / Walsh combination is always popular here. This post on the eve of the 2010 meeting details how the pairing fared between 2006 and 2009; there will be plenty who fancy Far West, third on his only start in the Grandak Junenille Hurdle at Auteuil last April, to do the business in the opener but Alan King appeared particularly sweet on Handazan in last week's Weekender stable tour - Handazan rates a play against Far West if the latter is chalked up favourite.

De La Bech brings interesting form to the table in the 2.25, having finished third behind Simonsig in the 2011 Champion Bumper at Fairyhouse. Now with Philip Hobbs, he missed last season due to a leg injury.

Betting novices on their first try over the larger obstacles is a risky business at the best of times (Attaglance won handicap hurdles at both the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals in the spring yet was pulled up behind Rival D'Estruval on his chase debut at Carlisle earlier today) but it will be disappointing if Fingal Bay can't start off with a win in the 3.00 race; Tiger O'Toole is a useful benchmark but Poungach is the obvious danger.

Hinterland goes in what used to be known as the Free Handicap (3.40) and is likely to be a short-priced favourite. Tipped as a future Arkle horse, he has to concede at least thirteen pounds on soft ground to all his rivals; on official ratings both Ubaltique and Captain Sharpe are weighted to come out on top - the former is a small individual and could be a week's work short according to his handler in the Weekender while the latter has certainly been kept busy of late and has an additional five pounds taken off his back by claimer Robert Williams. In the past Captain Sharpe hasn't tended to show his best at this track but he represents an each-way play for the very brave at 10/1 or bigger.

The 4.45 is particularly competitive - the interesting ones for this observer are course and distance winner Ace High and Golden Chieftain; Rangitoto is reportedly being aimed at the Badger Ales at Wincanton next month while Victors Serenade is best on heavy ground. Denis O'Regan names eight-year-old Ace High as one of his ten to follow in Mark Howard's One Jump Ahead and an eight-year-old has taken the last five renewals of this event but top weight Ace High has a stiff task on his plate - none of the past five winners has carried more than 10-10 to victory. Colin Tizzard has seen a couple oblige recently so the unexposed Golden Chieftain is a tentative each-way suggestion at around 8/1.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Jumpers for the weekend?

A very quick post in a week that has seen some high-profile withdrawals from the Arc (Danedream and Nathaniel) and three footballers, including Ipswich Town's Michael Chopra, charged with 'serious breaches of the rules of racing'.

Most punters will concentrate on the Flat fare on offer at Ascot and Newmarket tomorrow. In contrarian fashion, I've looked at Fontwell's NH card where the forecast overnight rain could yet prove troublesome.

Rowan Tiger and Cabimas have been in action recently and may have a fitness edge over their rivals in the feature at 3.25. Top weight Paintball won the Sandown Imperial Cup off a mark of 128 in March - he's ten pounds higher now but Kielan Woods claims five; Paintball looks the class act in a race where a couple take on better opposition for the first time. Rowan Tiger was nine lengths behind in fourth in the Imperial Cup - after taking jockey claims into account the two meet on similar terms tomorrow. Much will depend on the ground and fitness - if the tissue price of 13/2 is available I'll consider Paintball provided the going isn't too soft.

Lawney Hill's Cap Elorn is an interesting entry in the three mile chase at Uttoxeter on Sunday (4.25). This one, formerly with Paul Nicholls, went well for a long way on his first try over the larger obstacles in a conditional & amateur riders' race at Worcester last time out. He looks to have more on his plate here but the handler commented recently the gelding 'jumps beautifully'. I'll consider an each-way interest if the 14/1 tissue price becomes available.