Friday, January 25, 2013

Cheltenham Festival Trials Day 2013

Cheltenham communications director Andy Clifton is 'very very confident' Festival Trials Day will go ahead tomorrow; a cracking card it is too with eight races which should give some clues for the battles ahead in March.

The Victor Chandler Chase (1.50), carried over from Ascot last Saturday, appeals as a spectacle rather than a betting medium and looks at the mercy of Sprinter Sacre.

The Argento Chase (2.25) on the other hand appears particularly trappy. Gold Cup favourite Bobs Worth isn't in the line-up after an unsatisfactory scope; Tidal Bay suffered a slight setback earlier in the week but looks set to start favourite instead. Grands Crus is interesting after a breathing operation and an improved display in the King George but has let supporters down at this venue before while previous Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander looks short enough in the market on his first run for 680 days. Hunt Ball disappointed in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and, although better the next time behind Menorah, would probably prefer a slightly shorter trip. On ratings Quartz De Thaix has a bit to find with a couple in the field but Venetia Williams' charge has been in decent form this term and rates an each-way wager (18/1 Stan James) in an open event.

I was at Warwick a fortnight ago to see The New One win as he liked. Visually it was a most impressive performance although the main opponent that day, Dursey Sound, ran no race after a bad error at the seventh. I'll oppose with Coneygree in the Neptune (3.00).

The question in the Cleeve (3.35) is whether Oscar Whisky stays three miles. On his one attempt at the trip to date he finished a well-beaten fifth behind Big Buck's in last year's World Hurdle; connections are convinced that is not his true form. If you're unconvinced then you can't fail to be anything other than impressed by Reve De Sivola who put a high class field to the sword in Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle over three miles plus last month. The top two in the market have to give weight to the rest - of the pair I prefer Reve De Sivola at the prices - but I'm going out on a limb and having an each-way dabble on Crack Away Jack (16/1) who looks to have benefitted from the move to Tom George's yard. You couldn't be certain that he'd consent to put his best foot forward but his second behind Tidal Bay at Wetherby reads particularly well.

I don't intend to play in the two handicap chases but those looking for suggestions may want to consider Gullinbursti and Theatrical Star (12.40) who were both beaten by smart rivals at Exeter on New Year's Day while old favourite Fruity O'Rooney runs at 1.15.

The opener should prove useful for future reference (Kim Bailey wouldn't enter Milord just for the sake of it) while the finale has some interesting sorts including Lord Of House, His Excellency (rated eight pounds higher over fences), Solix (fifth in the 2011 running of the Coral Cup), Dildar and down at the bottom Thunder Sheik. Thunder Sheik looked one to watch out for after finishing second at Warwick last time; connections appeared particularly animated after that effort although the fact he runs from ten pounds out of the handicap here suggests they may just be tilting at windmills. 33/1 is on offer for those prepared to take the chance...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Snow patrol

Saturday's scheduled turf fixtures at Ascot, Haydock and Taunton have all been abandoned, as has Sunday's card at Towcester. The weather has certainly played its part this NH season - soft / heavy ground practically everywhere through autumn and now the snow has arrived.

You know, with the abandonment of Cheltenham on New Year's Day, Channel 4 Racing seems to have unwittingly kicked off the Festival Preview merry-go-round some six weeks early.

In last Saturday's Racing Post Carl Hicks, the man now at the helm of Channel 4's racing coverage, said: 'I'd give us seven out of ten so far.' I'm inclined to mark a little more harshly - as was often noted on my 'old school' school reports, IMG Sports Media 'needs to try harder'. In the Weekender the previous week Tom Segal said he thought Highflyer's offering was better; I agree - at the moment I'm struggling to give Carl and his team a six.

Still, with the weather the way it is and the Festival seven and a half weeks distant, it would seem churlish not to make at least one suggestion. Over the years the ante-post market for the Festival Bumper (last race on the Wednesday) has proved particularly volatile but Mick Channon's Sgt Reckless is of interest, although I admit I've missed the boat with his price now 16/1, having been 33s earlier in the week.

The handler nominated this one for the bumper at the Open meeting in November but the gelding missed that appointment on account of a pulled muscle. Since then he has given weight and a beating to a field on the all-weather at Lingfield in a time over five seconds faster than the corresponding division of the race run 30 minutes earlier.

Of course, it wouldn't be particularly diligent to read too much into times recorded in bumper races and I'm not particularly keen on ante-post wagers but if some of that previously-mentioned market volatility were to surface in the next week or two, I could be tempted into taking an interest.

In the meantime, with no prospect of turf racing for the foreseeable future, Snow Patrol suggest:

'Let's waste time
Chasing cars
Around our heads.'

[Snow Patrol, Chasing Cars]   

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Brief notes from the course after Warwick's Classic Chase meet

Brief notes from Warwick's Classic Chase day meeting yesterday...

I've attended this particular meet several times over the years; whilst I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of crowds in the betting ring, around the paddock and in the bars, I'm guessing the track's management will view the attendance figures with some disappointment.

In the opener Timmy Murphy looked slightly unlucky not to win on his first ride back from injury when top weight Thunder Sheik (12/1) couldn't match Flaming Charmer (14/1) for toe after the last. I stood opposite the trainer and owners as the runner-up was unsaddled - Murphy was pretty animated and took what appeared an unusually long time to debrief connections. The first-time tongue-tie worn here appears to have helped and the hint was this bay is likely to appreciate further.

I didn't see Eastlake in the paddock beforehand but colleagues reported the gelding appeared sore behind. In the event he ran well but Rody quickly put the race to bed between the final two flights.

No sooner was Grand National winner Neptune Collonges brought into the paddock to parade before the third than he was spooked. The grey was clearly on good terms with himself - two handlers walked him around for a while after as he calmed down; several racegoers took the opportunity to take a picture. In the race itself 14/1 chance Tour Des Champs, running in the colours of Mr H R Mould (made famous by 2002 Grand National winner Bindaree), looked ready to mount a strong challenge to the principals when coming to grief two from home. Many will have been disappointed with Highland Lodge (third) but punters are forgiving beings - in the unsaddling enclosure I saw somebody pass two packets of polos to the lad as he walked the favourite around.

I wasn't inclined to play in the 2.25 with 18 runners and The Package priced up at around 3/1. The night before I had picked out Ely Brown (honest) but the Guinness called and I went and bought a round of drinks instead. We watched the action from a verandah outside the bar, standing just behind Countryfile presenter John Craven. Much to my dismay Ely Brown (12/1) won well but it appeared Mr Craven had been somewhat less reticent than my good self in striking a wager as the smiles and raised eyebrows came thick and fast after Ely passed the post in front. Displaying signs of excellent breeding, as one would expect, Mr Craven seemed in no particular rush to collect his winnings.

In the paddock The New One looked very strong behind but didn't catch the eye; he certainly caught the eye on the track.

Three pound claimer Robbie Dunne did his career prospects no harm whatsoever winning the feature on Rigadin De Beuachene. Something clearly upset the winner after the race - on a couple of occasions he looked ready to kick out - and the stable girl wisely took him away, missing the opportunity to collect her silver salver. Venetia Williams, a trainer in fine form as well as a lady who knows how to wear a hat, proved an able substitute.

The final word has to go to a bookmaker - the following sign was noted at Ka Be Ge's pitch:

"Remember, a bad day at the races is always better than a good day at work."

Friday, January 11, 2013

Warwick's Classic Chase day 2013

Last year Warwick racecourse lost a third of its fixtures due to heavy rain while the local district council rejected a plan to build a 100 bedroom hotel on site.

The question now being asked in some quarters is 'Can Warwick keep its racecourse?'

Tomorrow's meeting is the track's biggest jumps card of the year. I intend to pop along for old times' sake - you never know, future meetings could just become vulnerable...

The highlight is the Classic Chase run over three miles five furlongs - 13 face the starter at 3.35. Charlie Longsdon's Pete The Feat has won five on the bounce this season and bids to make it six off a mark of 134, nine pounds higher than when he made all to win the Mandarin Chase at Newbury over Christmas; this evening layers offer 4/1. The locally-trained Restless Harry is bound to be popular and likely to race from the front but in my opinion he's better over the smaller obstacles (one win from four chase starts); the fences come thick and fast down the back straight and he may struggle with the jumping, a comment that could also apply to Bradley although his neck second to Monbeg Dude on his penultimate run reads well after that one won the Welsh National last weekend.

My tip for last week's Welsh National, Universal Soldier, ran like a drain - he reappears here seven days later but is hard to fancy while Rigadin De Beauchene is short enough in the market for a horse that didn't appear to stay three and a quarter miles at Fontwell in March.

Hey Big Spender won last year's renewal with 11 stones 12 off a mark of 156 - tomorrow's top weight Auroras Encore is rated 142 with all the runners set to carry their long handicap weight.

Two interest me - last year's fourth Major Malarkey and the bottom one Flying Award. Twiston-Davies won this in 2005 with Baron Windrush and his charge made a pleasing seasonal debut a neck behind Lively Baron in the London National at Sandown so I'll take an each-way interest in 10/1 chance Major Malarkey.

In the Leamington Novices' Hurdle (3.00) all eyes with be The New One. On course I'll try to get him beaten with Dursey Sound who has one pound to find on official ratings but I wouldn't be confident. In the last six renewals the favourite has obliged on four occasions.

Highland Lodge disappointed in the Leamington Hurdle at the track last year so Rocky Creek is marginally prefered in the novice chase. Having said that, I'm often wary of betting Paul Nicholls' runners in January as in the past the yard has tended to give the majority of their horses a flu jab at the beginning of the month.

I had to look twice to make sure the Pertemps Hurdle (2.25) wasn't some kind of Grand National trial with West End Rocker, Sunnyhillboy and The Package declared. The two mile handicap chase for the Edward Courage Cup (1.15) looks trappy but I'm going to chance George Nympton who won over course and distance last time out.

Friday, January 04, 2013

The Welsh Grand National, Clare Balding, Mr Little's Noisy Car and the Tolworth...

Originally Clare Balding was rostered to cover the Welsh National at Chepstow for the BBC so there's a certain irony in the fact that, due to mitigating circumstances, nine days on she fronts this year's renewal for her new employers at Channel 4.

Channel 4's brand new racing coverage didn't get off to the most auspicious of starts on new year's day. Cheltenham was called off so Balding gave us a whirlwind tour of Nicky Henderson's stable instead; a couple of races from Musselburgh were thrown in for the sheer hell of it while Nick Luck, Jim McGrath, Graham Cunningham and Tanya Stevenson spent a sizeable chunk of the airtime available impersonating a job interview panel.

Their appearance brought to mind a previous occasion when one such panel enquired of me 'What was the last work of fiction you read and what do you remember most about it?' I replied 'Mr. Little's Noisy Car. The thing I remember most was Mr. Little finding a tiger in the boot of the car.' The kids were quite small at the time; I didn't get the job.

It's early days for Channel 4's new team and I don't want to appear too judgmental. Mrs Tips, never one to keep quiet for no reason whatsoever, tells me the jury is out...

18 have been declared for the Chepstow feature tomorrow but the picture is complicated somewhat by the fact that both Across The Bay and Alfie Spinner have also been declared for the 3.40 at Sandown. The perceived wisdom is Across The Bay runs at Chepstow while my Welsh National fancy, Alfie Spinner, is heading to Sandown. Gutted.

Teaforthree has an obvious chance with underfoot conditions sure to suit; this has been the target all season. He's tipped up everywhere - the layers appear to be taking the name literally as several offer no more than a rather miserly-looking 3/1. I share John Francome's view on Michel Le Bon - the horse just doesn't jump anywhere near well enough.

The last winner older than nine was Riverside Boy back in 1993, a stat that knocks out half the field. I've looked for something with course form that's aged under ten and with less than 11 stone to carry - Charlie Longsdon's Universal Soldier fits the bill. This one finished just over 13 lengths behind Teaforthree in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in March and is now six pounds better off; the first-time blinkers are a cause for slight concern. I'll take a small each-way interest in Universal Soldier at 10/1.

The Tolworth at Sandown (2.25) looks most intriguing with layers offering 7/2 each of three this evening. Geraghty rides Royal Boy rather than course and distance winner Golden Hoof; the latter-named boasts the same official rating as Melodic Rendezvous (135) who had Royal Boy threequarters of a length behind at Cheltenham three weeks ago. That was Royal Boy's first run for nearly two years and connections will fancy their chance of turning the form around. Clive Cox's Poet, a winner of Group Three races on the Flat, jumped like an old-hand on his first try over hurdles at Newbury 17 days ago; an article in yesterday's Times indicated John Francome has done much of the work with this one with the Champion Hurdle the target if things go to plan here. Of the principals, I have to oppose both Poet (on account of age - eight) and Melodic Rendezvous (his handler was decidely downbeat about his charge's chance on heavy ground before the Cheltenham race.) Court Minstrel is not lightly dismissed and appeared a little unlucky in running when bumped and hampered after the last behind Dodging Bullets at Cheltenham - Henderson has a benchmark in  River Maigue, second that day and a winner since. Royal Boy gets the nod; whatever happens, the race will prove useful for future reference.

I won't play in the finale at Sandown. I suspect Team Tizzard are giving Hey Big Spender a runout before another crack at Warwick's Classic Chase (next weekend) while at the time of writing my former Welsh National fancy Alfie Spinner is priced up favourite. Triolo D'Alene has had a breathing operation and could come on for his seasonal debut but to date hasn't proved he stays this trip. Fruity O'Rooney definitely does stay the trip and could well make a bold bid (seventh in Hennessy) but in the past has tended to jump out left when racing on right-handed tracks.