Friday, February 22, 2013

Each-way chances in the Racing Plus Chase and the Eider

Good ground for tomorrow's top class card at Kempton where the feature Racing Plus Chase (3.50) has thirteen entered. Wyck Hill, now in the ownership of J P McManus, has made the headlines this week and looks set to go off favourite, with a trip over Aintree's National fences beckoning if all goes well here. A decent display from Wyck Hill will do Venetia Williams' Katenko (entered in the Gold Cup and the National) no harm at all, although punters reading Wednesday's Hereford Times would be confused as to exactly which race Williams was reported to be 'excited about'...

Last year's winner Nacarat needs good ground to be seen at his best, a comment that also applies to top weight What A Friend, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson. The former has been tipped up each-way in several places while the latter is quirky but has run well fresh in the past, although I was surprised to see this is his first attempt racing right-handed. It should be noted that a big weight has proved no barrier to success. Eight of the past ten winners have carried 11-0 or more to victory; three of those eight were burdened with 11-12.

I haven't spent a long time on this race. Nacarat (10/1 Stan James) is the each-way suggestion for the more cautious while I'm going to chance What A Friend each-way (25/1 Stan James) - Harry Dereham claims a useful-looking five pounds.

There are small fields on the remainder of the card - the outcomes will prove informative but beforehand they look decidedly trappy - so instead I've decided to take an each-way interest in Tim Vaughan's Our Island in the Eider Chase at Newcastle (2.55). This one ran well for a long way in the Welsh National at Chepstow; having said that, I said something similar about Triggerman this time last week but he was pulled up behind Well Refreshed in the Peter Marsh at Haydock. The Welsh National form didn't stand up to the closest scrutiny at Haydock (Viking Blond fifth, Teaforthree most disappointing in tenth, Master Overseer pulled up) but at least winner Monbeg Dude made a place in third.

Master Overseer has top weight tomorrow but appears to have two ways of running - he won a Veterans' Chase at Wincanton three weeks ago and pilot Tom Bellamy can claim seven. Only seven of the 14 race off their correct handicap mark with Our Island set to carry 10-4; he raced from two pounds out of the handicap at Chepstow and since then was withdrawn on the day from an intended engagement in the West Wales National at Ffos Las.

Cool Operator is respected and his defeat of Rigadin De Beauchene (has gone on to win the Classic Chase at Warwick and finish second in the Peter Marsh) reads well but that was over two and a half miles. Likely favourite Chac Du Cadran won easily from the front last time but has been raised 11 pounds for his trouble

On his penultimate start the selection finished third in the Axminster Carpets Devon Marathon Handicap Chase over four miles. Our Island is Tim Vaughan's sole runner at Newcastle tomorrow - I'm guessing the handler isn't sending his charge all the way to Newcastle from his south Wales base if he doesn't think the gelding is in with a squeak.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Haydock's National Trial and the Ascot Chase

Alistair Whitehouse-Jones informs us in this week's Weekender that 'the silly season' is nearly upon us, refering to the surfeit of Cheltenham preview nights which are set to take place up and down the country. On balance I share that view - the previews just lead to confusion; in the past I have tended to give these events a wide berth as you end up with more tips than you can shake a stick at, although I did go to last year's event at Haydock racecourse organised by Coral.

Still, this week there has been no shortage of Grand National talk.

Tuesday saw the weights for the 2013 race unveiled over a lunch at the Savoy... No sooner had punters learned that Tidal Bay was tasked to carry top weight than the horse was declared a non-runner after a stress fracture was diagnosed. Following fatalities in the previous two runnings of the Aintree showpiece, racing looks towards this year's renewal with particular trepidation. Yet while the horsemeat scandal may be growing by the day Daily Telegraph cartoonist Matt can see the lighter side with a wry angle on racehorse ownership (cartoon February 15).

Tomorrow's Grand National Trial (2.55) is the highlight on the Haydock card; 14 are declared for the three and a half mile trip which will be run on ground described as heavy. Silver By Nature won the penultimate running of this trial with top weight and tries to repeat the trick but hasn't been seen on course since finishing a distant 12th behind Ballabriggs in the 2011 National. Monbeg Dude, part-owned by former England rugby captain Mike Tindall, denied Teaforthree in the Welsh National last month and generated plenty of headlines in the process; the winner didn't jump well that day and has apparently been booked for schooling sessions with Zara Phillips, Tindall's wife. Teaforthree is three pounds better off for half a length here and is fancied to reverse placings. Cannington Brook has had a couple of hard races of late but last year's winner Giles Cross, the only favourite to oblige in the past decade, is forgiven his effort in the Welsh National (leading four out but quickly pulled up) as the stable was under a cloud at the time. That one deserves respect, as does Well Refreshed who beat Rigadin De Beauchene three and a half lengths in receipt of a stone at Lingfield before Christmas. Since then the former has won the Sussex National at Plumpton while the latter-named has taken the Classic Chase at Warwick - I was at the track that day and Rigadin's jumping wasn't foot-perfect. On Lingfield form, Rigadin has the beating of Gary Moore's charge.

It's a most competitive renewal but I'm going to take an each-way chance on Triggerman (12/1) who ran well for an awful long way in the Welsh National and now has a ten pounds pull with Teaforthree for 11 lengths, while claimer James Best can take off another three. Quoting Richard Johnson after the Welsh National:

"I was getting excited turning in as I knew we were getting plenty of weight from Teaforthree. I'm sure this horse can pick up a decent long-distance chase in the spring."

At Ascot the feature is the surprisingly-named Ascot Chase due off at 3.50; only six go to post but, as the betting suggests, this is trappy. On ratings Finian's Rainbow is the one to beat but he disappointed behind Captain Chris at this course last time out; he's had a minor breathing operation since but has only once raced beyond two and a half miles, finishing third in Newbury's Challow Hurdle to Reve De Sivola. Somersby isn't lightly dismissed after a decent seasonal debut behind Sprinter Sacre in the Victor Chandler but on balance I see the race between Cue Card and Captain Chris. Writing in the Weekender Nick Mordin says of the former  '...I rate him the fastest chaser in training by far over more than two miles and less than three.' Captain Chris was the best part of 20 lengths ahead of Cue Card in the King George but Colin Tizzard's charge clearly didn't stay the three mile trip. Will the seven-year-old stay two miles five furlongs 110 yards up the Ascot hill on heavy ground? I'm leaning towards no and, as Captain Chris has four pounds in hand on official ratings, Captain Chris, who has done the blog a favour already this term, is given the vote.

Favourites have won five of the past ten renewals of the Reynoldston (2.05); Rocky Creek looks the one but he'll be no price.

The booking of Ruby Walsh on Queens Grove catches the eye in the handicap hurdle (3.15) but this represents a step up in class for Kevin Bishop's grey mare while course and distance winner Captain Cutter has to give weight to his field but is preferred in the bumper (5.00).

Friday, February 08, 2013

Newbury's 'Super Saturday' card 2013

Five weeks today we'll know the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner so perhaps it's not surprising that Newbury's 'Super Saturday' isn't quite as super as we might have hoped for - Long Run misses the Denman Chase (2.25) to go straight to the Festival while stablemate Simonsig is the notable absentee from the Game Spirit (3.00).

Silviniaco Conti is the form pick for the Denman and is priced accordingly. The Giant Bolster, a fine second in last year's Gold Cup, ran an absolute stinker in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day; connections have let a couple of possible engagments slip by since then and will be keen to see an improved effort here - regular partner Tom Scudamore is back in the plate. Weird Al sports cheekpieces for the first time but looks a risky proposition these days while Menorah has never raced beyond two and a half miles. Tom George's Mail de Bievre races off a mark of 160 on his debut in this country and is interesting receiving weight from the field. The fact he hasn't run for 509 days is something of a negative and he's not guaranteed to stay; at just 8/1 the layers don't appear to be taking too many chances so I'm not really inclined to strike an each-way wager.

You have to go back to 2001 and Function Dream to find a horse older than eight to win the Game Spirit. If you're tempted to take that stat at face value, then Edgardo Sol has to be your selection as seven-year-old Majala has the Kingmaker at Warwick as his first preference. On ratings Shooters Wood has plenty to find with most in this field but the fact Walsh prefers this one to Edgardo should be noted.

The Betfair Hurdle (the 'Schweppes' to give the race its proper title) has 23 declared and is ultra competitive. Between them Henderson, Nicholls and Pipe account for more than half the field; the bottom six race from out of the handicap. Cotton Mill has his first run for 302 days and holds an entry in the Champion Hurdle while Ronaldo Des Mottes was second in the 2010 renewal of this race behind Get Me Out Of Here. Course and distance winner Claret Cloak (also holds a Champion Hurdle entry) would have been of interest if the stable had been in better form so David Pipe's unbeaten mare Swing Bowler (beautifully bred by Galileo out of Lady Cricket) is put up as the each-way selection - Ladbrokes offer 12/1.

Nicholls has a good record in the opener and connections have already talked of Lac Fontana as a Triumph Hurdle prospect which is why the gelding is priced up favourite ahead of Nicky Henderson's Chatterbox who beat My Tent Or Yours (market leader for the Betfair Hurdle at 3.35) readily over course and distance the last day but as a result has a penalty to carry.

Unioniste is the form horse for the novice chase (4.10) but both Hadrian's Approach (second in the Feltham behind Dynaste) and Our Father are useful. The last-named didn't appear to see the trip out on heavy ground at Cheltenham and it's interesting to note connections try a tongue-tie for the first time tomorrow.

The concluding bumper looks competitive. I saw Pure Science, owned by Mr Raymond Mould, win impressively at Warwick four weeks ago - the Festival bumper is clearly the target. Of course, the same can be said about a number of these including the top one Caledonia who will be ridden by ex jumps jock Graham Lee.

Quoted in today's Times, Lee says:

"All I've been told is that this is a good horse and they would like to run him in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham. I've agreed to ride him if he goes there, and Saturday will tell us if he's good enough."

I was taken with the way Pure Science put that race to bed at Warwick - Pure Science is the selection.        

Friday, February 01, 2013

Ffos Las fancies

Tomorrow's Sandown card is an all-chase affair, the hurdles track having failed to cope with recent rain and snow. At this stage several Champion Hurdle contenders who were amongst the original declarations for the opener at the Esher course have now been re-routed to Doncaster for Monday's 32Red hurdle including Darlan, Rock On Ruby and Grandouet.

All eyes will be on Captain Conan at Sandown in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at 2.25. Barry Geraghty appears confident his mount will stay; I certainly wouldn't be tempted at odds of 2/5. His three opponents have all won over the trip while the favourite was beaten on both starts over two miles two last season.

After his horse Oscar Whisky had finished a neck second to Reve De Sivola at Cheltenham last week, Ffos Las owner Dai Walters took the opportunity to plug tomorrow's card at the West Wales track, pointing out that the £15 entrance fee was considerably cheaper than a ticket to the Wales v. Ireland rugby international - the match is scheduled to be transmitted on the large screen at the course.

As an aside, I fancy Ireland at the Millennium Stadium (13/10 Coral) but, getting back to the racing, the highlight is the Welsh Champion Hurdle (2.05), a limited handicap run over two and a half miles. Two years ago Mr Walters won this race with the aforementioned Oscar Whisky; this time he relies on Tanerko Emery but he doesn't appear particularly confident... Nicky Henderson's Oscara Dara is bound to be popular after victory in the Lanzarote at Kempton three weeks ago; his ungainly stumble at the last that day was far from pretty on the eye but the manner in which he recovered to win suggested there was a bit left in the tank. The handicapper has noticed though - he races off a mark 14 pounds higher here. It's interesting to see connections revert to the smaller obstacles with Tiger O'Toole; a talented individual on his day, in my book he has never really taken to chasing. His hurdles mark is nine pounds lower than his chase rating and although some of that advantage is negated by the race conditions, the 33/1 available generally looks too tempting; Tiger O'Toole is the each-way selection.

Twelve declared for the West Wales National at 2.40 (although Summery Justice has the 3.35 at Sandown as first preference) in which the bottom seven race from out of the handicap. Alfie Spinner is marked up favourite this evening - this one got no further than the third in the Hennessey and was then firmly put in his place by Katenko (winner since) at Sandown. At the last minute connections opted for that Sandown engagement rather than the Welsh National at Chepstow (presumably as it looked the easier task) so the fact the gelding was beaten some 27 lengths doesn't inspire confidence. Cannington Brook had a particularly hard race in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock six weeks ago, holding Jonjo O'Neill's Merry King a nose on the line. Junior holds claims but is quirky so at the prices I'll take an each-way interest in Our Island (16/1 Ladbrokes) from Tim Vaughan's stable. This one ran well for a long way in the Welsh National having previously finished third in the Devon Marathon Handicap Chase at Exeter; he has place claims even though seven pounds 'wrong' at the weights.

Four go in the novice chase (3.10); Sir Mattie has his first run for 237 days but the other three look closely matched. I was at Warwick three weeks ago when Tour Des Champs came to grief two out in the race won by Rocky Creek. My impression was Tour Des Champs may have finished second that day but it was a crashing fall and his completion rate over the larger obstacles leaves a little to be desired. Benheir made a mistake at the first in the Classic Chase at that meeting and struggled thereafter but may show improvement with AP McCoy replacing seven pound claimer Patrick Corbett in the saddle. To be fair to the claimer, the pairing has won previously over the course and on their penutlimate outing finished 15 lengths behind Carruthers (goes in the 2.40). One In A Milan could be anything after an easy course and distance win last time out. Rebecca Curtis said in a Weekender stable tour (24-28 October 2012) that Benheir would be aimed at the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham - the stable won that race last year with Teaforthree - and, as McCoy has an excellent record riding for the yard, I'm going to give the vote to Benheir ahead of Tour Des Champs.

The same trainer / jockey combination will be worth a second look with Internationalapeal, described as 'a very big horse for his age' in the concluding bumper.