Friday, November 30, 2012

The Hennessy Gold Cup and The Fighting Fifth 2012

Like many, I tend to prefer a young up-and-coming chaser for the Hennessy; the race was switched from Cheltenham to Newbury in 1960 - the number of times the variously aged horses have won is shown below:

6 year old:    7
7 year old:  21
8 year old:  11
9 year old:  10
10 year old:  2
11 year old:  1

Horses aged seven to nine have won 42 of the 52 runnings, while seven-year-olds boast a 40.38% strike rate in that period.

This year's renewal looks as competitive as ever with Nicky Henderson's RSA winner Bobs Worth priced up favourite at around the 7/2 mark. Alan King, who had a notable winner with Bless The Wings earlier today, tells us in the Weekender Hold On Julio ' unquestionably the best chance I have had of landing the famous race', while The Package comes here in fine heart having taken Wincanton's Badger Ales Trophy three weeks ago but regular pilot Timmy Murphy may miss the ride after falling from Leeroar in Newbury's finale this afternoon.

I tipped Carruthers to win the Hennessy last year;  this year the trainer has been pretty bullish about his charge (despite a couple of below par efforts) although the horse would not want the ground to dry out too much and become sticky. Carruthers is certainly a big price and will stay the trip but I'm going to desert him for the 2011 Neptune Novices' Hurdle winner First Lieutenant. Irish trained runners have an abysmal record in the race but this one was beaten just two and a half lengths by Bobs Worth in the RSA last March; he's in receipt of one pound from that rival now and already has two runs under his belt, last time finishing a length behind Kauto Stone in the Champion Chase at Down Royal. At 10/1 he represents reasonable each-way value, although I'm not convinced the final two and a half furlongs are exactly what he needs.

Those looking for a lightweight at a price could do worse than consider the form of Alfie Spinner (18/1 Sky Bet) when finishing two and three quarter lengths behind Bobs Worth, both beaten by Invictus at Ascot in February; Invictus was to be my selection for the RSA in March but he picked up an injury and never made the race...

In a nutshell, two each-way chances against the field - First Lieutenant (10/1) and Alfie Spinner (18/1).

There's an eight o'clock inspection up at Newcastle tomorrow morning; if the meeting gets the go-ahead there will be just four runners in the Fighting Fifth. Donald McCain's Cinders And Ashes races off 151 and is priced up odds on this evening while Triumph Hurdle winner Countrywide Flame, rated 152, is on offer at 4/1 with several layers. No four-year-old has won this in the past decade but John Quinn's charge comes here fit from the Flat (he was second in Cesarewitch) and may handle the ground better than the favourite. The McCain operation has had a couple of winners of late but certainly hasn't been firing on all cylinders and the handler hints his charge will come on for the run. Obviously a tactical affair is the danger with such a small field - I just wonder whether Denis O'Regan may try to race from the front on Countrywide Flame. At 4/1 Countrywide Flame represents a value play against Cinders And Ashes.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Two for Haydock and two for Ascot this Sautrday

Tomorrow's weather forecast does not look promising; the likelihood is more rain will fall at both Ascot and Haydock. Two handlers dominated the entries at those two courses today - Nicky Henderson recorded a treble at Ascot (Minella Class 7/4f, Close Touch 4/7f and Petit Robin 15/8f) while Donald McCain had to be content with just the one winner at Haydock (Clondaw Kaempfer 6/5f).

Haydock's highlight tomorrow is the Betfair Chase at 3.05; six are set to face the starter. The 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run makes his seasonal reappearance and has at least ten pounds in hand over his rivals. Long Run never quite hit the same heights last season, there has always been a question surrounding his jumping and connections have indicated the going is a worry so I'm going to oppose the favourite. In the most recent renewal of the Gold Cup The Giant Bolster finished ahead of Long Run while Weird Al, who would have a chance on his very best form, was pulled up having broken a blood vessel. David Bridgwater says he'll be pleased if The Giant Bolster can finish within ten lengths of Long Run tomorrow which would suggest the gelding is likely to improve for the outing although a quote from the handler in today's Times is interesting: 'It's a 200 grand race on Saturday and he's not going there half-fit.' At 9/4, I'll take a chance with Charlie Hall winner Silviniaco Conti. Connections have also expressed reservations about the ground for this one but he blew away the cobwebs and the opposition with victory at Wetherby and may have a fitness advantage over those making their seasonal debuts; in addition Ruby Walsh is a major plus compared to Mr Sam Waley-Cohen who has ridden in just four races so far this season. In the last seven renewals, the market leader has obliged on four occasions.

Saphir River interests me in the fixed brush hurdle at 2.30; this one came over from France into Michael Scudamore's yard earlier in the year at a cost of 280,000 euros. He was sent off a 50/1 chance for the Coral Cup at Cheltenham but unshipped Sam Thomas at the second. He then ran fourth at odds of 33/1 in a listed handicap hurdle at Aintree four weeks later. Over the summer break he moved north to join Lucinda Russell (whose partner happens to be Peter Scudamore, Michael's father) and started this season in fine style taking a beginners' chase at Uttoxeter at the beginning of the month. He should be competitive reverting to (brush) hurdles - I'll have an each-way wager if I can obtain around the 8/1 mark.

Over at Ascot sponsors Coral will be desperately disappointed with a turnout of just four for the feature Coral Hurdle; Oscar Whisky fell at the last last year and bids to make amends this time around but he'll be no price. If Haydock is on, there will only be four left in the Amlin Chase (2.10) in which Queen Mother Champion chase winner Finian's Rainbow makes his seasonal reapperance. He looked a little lucky to collect the spoils last March but went on from there to take the Melling Chase at Aintree. Under race conditions Captain Chris is the next best in the field and had Finian's two and threequarter lengths behind in the 2011 Arkle (Ghizao fifth). Philip Hobbs' charge had a miserable time of it last year; if he's back to his best, he can make a race of this receiving weight from his rivals (six pounds from the favourite). He's better right-handed but doesn't appreciate the ground too soft which is a negative. Captain Chris (4/1 Ladbrokes this evening) is a speculative sugggestion against Finian's Rainbow.

Aidan Coleman has already won on Quartz De Thaix this season (priced up favourite for the 2.00 at Haydock) but Aidan prefers to ride at Ascot instead where I guess he thinks the mare Pepite Rose is his best chance of a winner. Fences looked to be the making of this five-year-old last year and she started this seaon with a noteworthy third in the listed Byrne Group handicap chase three weeks ago. For those interested, it's Coral who offer the value this evening at 4/1.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cheltenham Open meeting 2012 - Sunday

The going at Cheltenham today, originally described as soft, good to soft in places, was changed to soft, heavy in places after the Paddy Power Gold Cup in which only six of the 18 starters completed. Two big name horses from the Henderson yard, Sprinter Sacre and Darlan, have already been taken out of their intended engagements on Sunday on account of the ground while Ruby Walsh goes to Punchestown to ride Hurricane Fly in the Morgiana Hurdle.

The feature is the Racing Post Hurdle (2.50), formerly known as the Greatwood. Underfoot conditions will make this something of a lottery - I don't intend to play but for those who do last year's second, Olofi, would be worth a second look (12/1 Sky Bet) and Bothy, second in 2010, would have been if the yard were in better form. In the past decade five-year-olds have won five runnings but it takes a very good four-year-old to pull off the trick - Detroit City (2005) and Brampour (2011) are the two to have managed it since 2002.

At the time of writing connections intend to let Captain Conan take his chance in the opener and the market suggests he's the one to beat; the favourite has obliged on six occasions in the past ten years. The horse has the look of a chaser in the making but I wouldn't be tempted on this his first try over the larger obstacles - all his opponents have previous chase experience. In fact the four-year-old His Excellency finished down the field in the Galway Plate in August; this one beat Third Intention over course and distance last time but has shown temperament on occasions - some may take the view that quirk is factored into the price of 11/1 on offer with BetVictor.

The novice hurdle (3.25) should prove useful for future reference, as should the concluding bumper. I leave the last word on the last race to Mick Channon; I quote from The Times (Friday 16 November):

'Sgt Reckless would have won the bumper at Cheltenham on Sunday but he pulled a muscle in the week. I do think he's very good.'

Friday, November 16, 2012

Paddy Power Gold Cup 2012

Tomorrow's highlight on the second day of the Open meeting is the Paddy Power Gold Cup (2.35) in which 19 are set to face the starter with Tanks For That declared a non-runner. Paul Nicholls saddles three; Walsh rides Al Ferof while Poquelin stands his ground which means four at the foot of the handicap have to carry more than their long handicap weight - the booking of the in-form Aidan Coleman for Questions Answered catches the eye.

The Pipe yard has a phenomenal record in this race. Martin has won eight runnings while son David chalked up his first success last year with Great Endeavour - it's no surprise to see Grands Crus, the yard's entry this year, at the head the market. In the past decade six of the winners have come from the top three in the market and three of those were sent off favourite.

Hunt Ball is a remarkable beast. Last November the gelding won a Class 5 handicap chase at Folkestone off a mark of 68; four months later he landed the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival off a rating of 142. Owner Mr Anthony Knott has been bullish in the build-up to this and has already backed his charge to win next March's Cheltenham Gold Cup to take £1 million out of the ring.

Nicky Henderson fields an interesting trio. McCoy rides the J P McManus owned mare Nadiya De La Vega in preference to Quantitativeasing while Geraghty is aboard the five-year-old Triolo D'Alene; since the race's inception in 1960 only one five-year-old has come home in front - Cyfor Malta in 1998. At Haydock's festival preview evening last March the handler put Triolo up as his best chance for the meeting - in the event the chestnut gelding finished well beaten by Hunt Ball but I'm guessing connections still hold this one in high regard and the layers don't appear to be taking too many chances by going as low as 10/1 in places.

I've always found Alan King's Walkon difficult to catch right but the grey has a racing weight, goes well fresh and writing in the Weekender the trainer rates his charge '...the best chance I have ever had of adding this great autumn contest to our cv.'

To this observer this renewal looks more competitive than the market might initially sugggest.

One hesitates to admit to having read Clare Balding's My Animals and Other Family but as a result I happen to know that Clare's English tutor at Newnham College, Cambridge would not be pleased to see me use the phrase 'the thing is' but, although Grands Crus may be the percentage call, the thing is the horse doesn't represent value and I still have a picture in my mind of the grey appearing to be bullied out of it three from home in the RSA last March. I'll chance Hunt Ball to collect the spoils (15/2 Stan James) and take out an each-way saver on Nadiya De La Vega (16/1 Coral, William Hill).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cheltenham Open meeting 2012 - Friday

Brief notes as I probably won't get involved tomorrow.

The two I'm looking forward to are Fingal Bay in the opener and Dodging Bullets in the novices' hurdle (2.25) -  it will be interesting to see how the 2011 Northumberland Plate winner Tominator fares in the latter race.

I'm not particularly keen on the Cross Country race but Balthazar King won over the course and distance at the Festival in March and acts well on good ground - in the past the going has tended to be quicker on the cross country track than on the racecourse proper. Of course, that's all obvious to the layers and they are likely to price up Philip Hobbs' charge accordingly...  

Friday, November 09, 2012

Wincanton whims

Paul Nicholls has won the Badger Ales Trophy (Wincanton 3.25) four times in the past ten years but likely favourite Michel Le Bon isn't one I'm particularly keen on. The nine-year-old doesn't have a lot of miles on the clock but has the look of a horse that has proved difficult to train. Last season he was a disappointment in the Hennessy and was then pulled up in Kempton's Racing Post Chase before obliging over the smaller obstacles at Cheltenham in April. If Michel Le Bon is fragile, Diamond Harry is notoriously so; on his best form it would be foolish to discount the top weight but he hasn't won since taking the Hennessy in 2010. I fancied West End Rocker for the National; he didn't take to the race and could be competitive here if fit enough but no horse older than nine has won in the past decade. Of the younger horses Colin Tizzard's course and distance winner Golden Chieftain had a nice prep taking a two and a half mile Worcester chase just over a fortnight ago while Zarrakaft has been well tipped-up. I'll take an each-way chance on David Pipe's The Package; fifth behind Meanus Dandy in the 2010 renewal off a mark of 147, he races off 139 this time and has the assistance of Timmy Murphy in the saddle.

In some ways the preceding Elite Hurdle (2.50) is more interesting and should give some pointers for the weeks ahead. Just seven in the field, three from the Nicholls' yard, with Zarkander's fifth in the Champion Hurdle catching the eye but that one has to give weight to all his rivals. Ruby Walsh chooses to ride Propsect Wells while in the Weekender Alan King describes Balder Success 'the most exciting horse of the weekend for me...' I'm beginning to have reservations about Baby Mix - he doesn't look the easiest of rides - so I'm going right out on a limb and chancing Local Hero who has looked good over hurdles this summer but may require better ground to be seen at his very best. Having said that, his rider claims seven. The winner has come from the first three in the market on nine occasions in the past ten years but only two favourites have obliged in that timeframe.

Houblon Des Obeaux, rated 142, sets a reasonable standard for the Rising Stars Novices' Chase (2.15) and is the selection while Tante Sissi should give a decent account in the mares' handicap hurdle at 1.40. Last year's winner Violin Davis, now trained by Harry Fry, is likely to prove popular. All Annalena had three warm-up races on the Flat last month and is likely to race from the front.

Over at Sandown Overturn makes his chasing debut. He was withdrawn from Wetherby last week on account of the ground - I expressed my reservations then as the fences at Wetherby are stiff enough for any novice. If Wetherby sets a stiff task, Sandown's railway fences set a much stiffer one. Overturn isn't the biggest of individuals - I'm guessing connections will watch the 1.20 with a certain amount of trepidation.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Wetherby selections

The highlight on tomorrow's Wetherby card is the Charlie Hall Chase (3.25) with the world and his wife apparently tipping Paul Nicholls' Silviniaco Conti. The handler indicates it's not easy to judge how far forward his charge is but the market has something of a lop-sided look with the Nicholls horse quoted at 5/4 in most places. This hasn't been the best race for favourites in the past decade with just two obliging (Ollie Magern in 2005 and State Of Play in 2008) and on top of that I've always thought this gelding better at around two and a half miles. His record in chases at three miles or more is one win from three attempts (at Aintree); he weakened markedly up Ascot's stiff finish behind Invictus in the Reynoldstown last February although the yard wasn't firing at the time. I'm going to oppose on grounds of value. Of the others Time For Rupert ran second in last year's renewal but doesn't have the beating of Midnight Chase on official ratings. Philip Hobbs' Planet Of Sound is best in at the weights but I've had my fingers burned with this one before. The yard has been in reasonable form of late - Hobbs trained the first three home in Chepstow's Silver Trophy last weekend so at 11/2 in places Planet Of Sound is put up as a value alternative to Silviniaco Conti. The more cautious could back both Time For Rupert (9/2) and Planet Of Sound (11/2) and avail themselves of a better price than is currently available about the favourite.

Restless Harry took last year's renewal of the John Smith's Hurdle (2.50) but looks to face a stiff task giving weight to all his rivals. In the past he hasn't always been the best of travellers so, if you're considering a wager, it would be worth checking how he has taken the preliminaries. Fair Along is another previous winner in the field while on ratings the 11 year-old Tidal Bay should come home in front. An intriguing race for sure with Smad Place being given every respect, but Cape Tribulation's second in a York handicap three weeks ago may mean he has a fitness edge over his opponents - Cape Tribulation (7/2 Betfred) is the selection.

The mares' listed hurdle (2.15) looks a close call between Une Artiste, Alasi and Baby Shine; the last named receives eight pounds from the other two and get the nod.

Overturn, second in the Champion Hurdle in March and as tough as old boots, makes his chase debut in the opener. He'll be long odds on but he isn't the biggest and the fences here are jolly stiff - not the ideal introduction to novice chasing...

Finally over at Ascot some interesting sorts go in the novices' hurdle (2.00) including a couple with form on the Flat - Andrew Balding's Chilberta King and Petara Bay, once owned by Bernie Ecclestone. Preference is for My Tent Or Yours whose second behind The New One at Aintree in April reads well.