Friday, April 26, 2013

Bet365 Gold Cup 2013

This week in racing...

The Jockey Club launches a retail bond with an eye to raising £15 million for redevelopment at Cheltenham racecourse;

Mahmood Al Zarooni is banned for eight years in what has very quickly become the biggest doping scandal ever to hit the sport in this country.

Unfortunate timing some might say.

Tomorrow's mixed card at Sandown, where the bet365 Gold Cup is the highlight, brings the curtain down on one of the most persistently wet National Hunt seasons in recent memory.

In the past decade three trainers have won this feature twice (Paul Nicholls, Ferdy Murphy and Philip Hobbs) while just three horses have managed to carry 11 stones or more to victory - Puntal (11-4, 2004), Lacdoudal (11-5, 2006) and Tidal Bay (11-12, 2012); tomorrow just five of the twenty strong field carry less than the 11 stones. In the same timeframe none of the favourites has obliged.

This year's renewal can't really be considered vintage but it looks jolly competitive and by inference difficult to solve.

Doncaster's Grimthorpe Chase was run on ground good / good to firm in places. Quentin Collonges hasn't always been the most fluent of jumpers but that day he jumped for fun and ran his field ragged from the front; he has an additional four furlongs to complete here but found extra when challenged by Mr Moss who doesn't look the easiest ride and races right-handed for the first time.

On his penultimate run in the Kim Muir Becauseicouldntsee was beaten some 19 lengths by Same Difference while conceding ten pounds. Here the handicapper appears to have given the gelding a chance as he races in receipt of seven pounds from the Twiston-Davies inmate - at the time of writing Same Difference is near the head of the market yet Becauseicouldntsee is priced as big as 33/1 with William Hill.

At those odds Becauseicouldntsee is put up as a speculative each-way selection for this season's final showpiece.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Scottish Grand National 2013

At 3.50 tomorrow this year's shock Grand National winner Auroras Encore and jockey Ryan Mania bid to complete a double last achieved in 1974 by Red Rum and Brian Fletcher by winning the Scottish Grand National in the same season.

The handicapper has ensured the horse faces no simple task and has incurred the wrath of trainer's husband Harvey Smith in the process by raising the gelding a further 11 lbs following his exploits at Aintree.

In the past decade only two horses have carried more than 10-5 to victory in this race (Grey Abbey 11-12 in 2004 and Hello Bud 10-9 in 2009) so I've decided to sift through some of the lighter weights towards the bottom end of the handicap...

David Pipe's Big Occasion is appropriately named and has been well tipped-up following his victory in the Midlands National six weeks ago but, as a result, is priced short enough; at six years old he may just lack some vital experience.

Venetia Williams is having a good stab at the prize fund with three entries - Rigadin De Beauchene, Relax and Pentiffic.

The first-named didn't fire when jumping poorly at Sandown last time out but if that run is forgiven appears to offer some value at around the 20/1 mark. Stable jockey Aidan Coleman opts for Relax but I wouldn't totally discount Pentiffic (40/1) who failed to make the cut for the Aintree race and sports cheek pieces for the first time.

Lively Baron is an enigmatic character who could be competitive if in the mood but I'm going to chance Tom George's Monsieur Cadou each-way at around 14/1.

His victory in Haydock's Tim Molony Handicap Chase three weeks ago reads well and the manner in which he stayed on at the end that day suggests he should get this trip. The handicapper has raised the gelding 12 lbs for that effort but with just 10-4 to carry he looks worth an interest.

Friday, April 12, 2013

National coverage

It barely seems a week since I was writing a post with selections for the 2013 National...

Racing breathed a collective sigh of relief as the participants returned safe and sound; it didn't seem to matter that the winner was an unconsidered 66/1 longshot, Auroras Encore.

Perhaps I should qualify that statement - it mattered to the layers, as William Hill CEO Ralph Topping made clear in his post-race blog: 'But I'm a bookmaker first and foremost and it's our William Hill shareholders who top the podium today.'


Generally Channel 4 appeared well satisfied with viewing figures which peaked at 8.9 million but certain aspects of their coverage left me decidedly dissatisfied.

After two false starts in the Topham the previous day, the start to this year's National was always going to come under close scrutiny. The C4 team very nearly missed the boat completely with commentator Simon Holt still talking to camera while in the background eagle-eyed viewers could spot the 40 runners merrily setting off on their way.

The post-race re-run was slow to be compiled and, when it arrived, verged on the shambolic. The editorial decision to show the field jumping selected fences from different angles quickly led to confusion amongst the commentators, never mind the viewers.

Nick Luck's valiant efforts to keep commentating colleagues in check as well as the show on the road were admirable but in vain; he was fighting something of a losing battle when his instructions to 'stop' the re-run in order to discuss a particular point were then completely ignored by the station's technical team.

I'm still not sure whether I saw a replay of the three unseated riders at the Canal Turn on the first circuit...

Naively, I thought I could hop off to the Channel 4 On Demand site (4oD) to catch a replay of the great race. Not so. I was offered a replay of Alan Carr's Grand National Specstacular and Friday evening's excellent How To Win the Grand National but no replay of the race itself.


Tomorrow's jumping cards have a low-key feel; I haven't done much homework. That said, I couldn't help but notice Claret Cloak heading the weights for the 4.15 handicap hurdle at Stratford. Now, Emma Lavelle has had a season from hell but this one was third behind Raya Star in a listed race at Ascot before Christmas and has form behind My Tent Or Yours in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and held an entry in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham before connections opted for the County Hurdle where the gelding finished mid-division.

Lavelle may have had only one winner since December 15th (Killyglass in the Aintree bumper last Saturday at odds of 20/1) but better ground is likely to suit her charge here and the tissue price of 10/1 looks decent each-way value for a horse with this profile running in a Stratford Class 3 handicap.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Aintree Grand National 2013

In the long chequered history of the Grand National, first run in 1839 and won by a horse called Lottery, there can be little doubt we've reached something of a crossroads. High profile equine fatalities in the previous two runnings have resulted in a number of changes to the course; the BHA defends the overall safety record of the race.

John Smith's sponsors the event for one final time, Channel 4 covers it for the very first time. The broadcaster, no doubt driven by viewing figures and potential comparisons with the BBC, has engaged in a high-risk, hard-sell advertising campaign which many in the sport suspect could backfire.

All will echo Tom Scudamore's view, expressed in Thursday's Times: 'I hope for a great spectacle and a safe race.'

For those who like to get involved, my Twitter guide to the National field may prove of limited use in making your own selection(s) [non-runners at the time of writing: Bob Lingo, Tofino Bay, Lion Na Bearnai, Bostons Angel, Quinz, Pearlysteps, Poker De Sivola, Backstage, Romanseco, Cloudy Lane and Gullible Gordon, while the two reserves are Pentiffic and Mortimers Cross]. Otherwise there's this...

I tend to prefer horses that have shown they can handle these unique fences, so here we go...

1. Cappa Bleu Fourth last year, beaten 12 lengths. Meets the second Sunnyhillboy 12 lbs better off and the third Seabass on 7lbs better terms. The course has been shortened half a furlong as part of the safety improvements and that could help the cause.

2. Seabass Excellent third last year; Katie Walsh rides for father Ted, no doubt hoping to become the first female to ride the winner of the race.

3. On His Own At around 7/1 there's little value to be had about the current market leader but he was going well when coming to grief at Bechers (second time) last year. Ruby Walsh rides for Willie Mullins.

4. Join Together Ruby Walsh rejected this one but a sterling performance in the Becher last December suggests Paul Nicholls' charge could be overpriced at around 18/1. Perhaps a little short on experience (no eight-year-old has won in the past decade), last year's winning jockey Daryl Jacob is in the plate.

5. Big Fella Thanks A little older these days but comes with an excellent completion record over these fences; now trained by Tom George, 40/1 seems big.

At the time of writing BetVictor offer a quarter the odds six places while the following layers pay five places: Bet365, Skybet, Boylesports, Paddy Power, Stan James and 888Sport.

The inside story on the 2013 Grand National runners

Days of Lost Glory, of Oscar Time, came flooding back to Imperial Commander Tarquinius following his defeat of Harry The Viking and Viking Blond.

Making his way back to Auroras Encore On His Own he ordered Seabass Tatenen with a Treacle side Forpadydeplasterer.

'How does he like it?' enquired Roberto Goldback.
'Rare, Bob,' came the laconic reply.

On a nearby table Major Malarkey from Colbert Station ordered Teaforthree and invited Joncol from Soll and the Balthazar King over.

'Let's Join Together!' he cried.

'Ballabriggs, Big Fella! Thanks! What A Friend! Quel Esprit!'

He wondered why he had bothered.

'It's Always Waining Across The Bay,' chipped in Sunnyhillboy, so named as he generally tended to put a dampener on things.

Becauseicouldntsee if Any Currency still remained, Mr Moonshine, wearing his Cappa Bleu, Mumbles, 'Head over to the Quiscover Fontaine, will you, where The Rainbow Hunter, Chicago Grey and Swing Bill are in the Ninetieth Minute of a discussion about Weird Al and his money.'


'Mortimers Cross,' he continues, 'but apparently the man is some kind of Saint. Are you?'

[With apologies to connections.]

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Aintree 2013 - Friday is Ladies' Day

Sprinter Sacre, famously described three weeks ago as 'a steeplechaser from the gods' by Simon Holt following victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, steps up to two and a half miles in the John Smith's Melling Chase at 3.05.

A newspaper story earlier in the week reported trainer Nicky Henderson phoning his jockey Barry Geraghty at a late hour, having suffered three sleepless nights wondering whether the great horse would stay the trip.

Geraghty instantly told his boss to man up, stop worrying and then went on to reprimand the handler for not having phoned earlier... I shall watch from the sidelines but both Cue Card and Flemenstar can make this competitive - those so inclined can back both those horses and still obtain much better odds than layers quote about the favourite.

Four of the six runners in the Mildmay Novices' Chase (2.30) had hard enough races at Cheltenham 22 days ago so I'll side with Rocky Creek and opt to sidestep the Topham (3.40) after 100/1 chance Tartan Snow won the Fox Hunters' Chase over the National fences earlier today. For those who can't resist temptation Gullible Gordon (20/1) carrying a racing weight is the each-way suggestion on the back of his sixth in the Becher here last December - the stable has won the past three runnings of the race with Always Waining (declared for Saturday's National).

At Fishers Cross looks the one to beat in the Sefton (4.15). I'd expect a much better showing from Gevrey Chambetrin after his running at the Festival but I'm not certain the step up in trip will suit.

The opener looks strangely uncompetitive but there are some nice sorts in the concluding mares' bumper. Kim Bailey's Molly's A Diva puts her unbeaten record on the line - she finished ahead of five of these opponents last time out in a listed event run at Sandown on heavy ground.

The change in underfoot conditions here could easily see a reverse of the form. Carole's Spirit ran a good race in second that day but had previously been beaten on good ground when with a different trainer while Free Thinking lost her position two from home before staying on again for third. Centasia made some late headway and may come on but I'll consider taking a small each-way interest in Alan King's Our Pollyanna (14/1).

In the Weekender the trainer reports this one definitely hated the ground at Sandown so we can expect some improvement to come while the booking of Barry Geraghty catches the eye.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Aintree 2013 - Thursday

A quick post and some quick picks for those of a carefree disposition...

I'm inclined to give Irish Saint another chance against Rolling Star in the opener; he missed Cheltenham and comes here fresher than most. Kim Bailey's Hefner could be anything but the handler will not have entered the gelding on a whim.

Silviniaco Conti is the form choice in the Betfred Bowl (2.30) but he'll be no price. Only one favourite has obliged in the past ten years so I'll chance course and distance winner Quito De La Roque each-way.

The Aintree Hurdle looks very trappy. Barry Geraghty deserts previous winner Oscar Whisky to ride Grandouet who fell in the Champion and isn't always the most fluent of hurdlers. On official ratings The New One has enough to find with several of these more experienced rivals but the impressive manner in which he quickened to take the Neptune stays in the mind - The New One gets the vote.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

A Twitter Guide to the 2013 Grand National entries

Here's my Twitter guide to the remaining 49 Grand National entries.

As in previous years the guide has been compiled using Twitter's 140 character limit for each individual entry.

Likely to prove of little use when selecting your horse for this year's National...

Imperial Commander 2010 Gold Cup winner picked up an injury in the 2011 race. Excellent return to the track in the Argento - a player if taking to fences.

What A Friend Pulled up behind Ballabriggs in 2011; prefers good ground, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson.

Weird Al Talented but enigmatic. Fell four from home in last year's race - previously has broken blood vessels.

Quel Esprit Grey who won Irish Hennessy last year and was then pulled out of the Cheltenham Gold Cup; Willie Mullins trains.

Big Fella Thanks 11-year-old with excellent completion record over the fences - now trained by Tom George.

Roberto Goldback Bought as a National horse for owner Simon Munir; bids to give Nicky Henderson his first win in the race.

Seabass Excellent third last year - Katie Walsh bids to win this for her father and become the first female jockey to win the race.

Ballabriggs 2011 winner runs in the colours of Mr Trevor Hemmings; sixth last year and now aged 12.

Sunnyhillboy Desperately unlucky to be beaten a nose by Neptune Collonges last year; connections try again...

Teaforthree Second in the Welsh National at Chepstow, he disappointed last time in Haydock's National Trial. Prefer plenty of cut.

Across The Bay  Seventh in the Welsh National; mixes chasing with hurdling.

Join Together Paul Nicholls' best chance but Ruby Walsh prefers to ride On His Own for Willie Mullins.

Bob Lingo Plenty of miles on the clock, never won beyond 22 furlongs; owned by J P McManus.

Colbert Station Comes to this in fine form, Ted Walsh trains; will McCoy ride?

Tofino Bay Fine second in NH Chase at Cheltenham 24 days ago, a race likely to have left its mark.

Forpadydeplasterer 2009 Arkle winner may atruggle to stay this trip.

On His Own Market leader, fell at Becher's on second circuit last year when going well in third. Ruby Walsh rides, Willie Mullins trains.

Joncol 2010 Irish Hennessy winner; others make more appeal.

Lion Na Bearnai Won 2012 Irish National at odds of 33/1; one track appearance since, pulled up behind Bobs Worth in Hennessy at Newbury.

Balthazar King Winner 2012 cross country race at Cheltenham Festival; better ground will help his chance.

Bostons Angel Form in cross country races at Cheltenham.

Cappa Bleu Stayed on for fourth in last year's renewal; place claims.

Oscar Time Second behind Ballabriggs in 2011. No comparable form since; part-owned by Robert Waley-Cohen.

Always Waining Won last three runnings of the Topham (over National fences); unlikely to stay the trip.

Quinz Pulled up before the Chair in the 2011; recent fourth in Kempton's Racing Plus Chase encouraging after long layoff - prefers good ground.

Tatenen Unseated rider at the Canal Turn last year; never won beyond 21 furlongs.

Treacle Likes sticky conditions underfoot.

Lost Glory J P McManus runner who likes to race prominently. In good form but McCoy likely to look elsewhere.

Saint Are Well beaten in the Kim Muir at the Festival last time.

Swing Bill Another well beaten in the Kim Muir.

Chicago Grey Won the NH Chase at Cheltenham in 2011. Unlucky to be brought down at the fifth last year; has the look of one trained for the race.

Quiscover Fontaine Fell at 17th fence last year.

Becauseicouldntsee Unseated rider at Canal turn last year; fifth in Kim Muir last time looks a decent preparation.

Harry The Viking Ninth in the Hennessy, tenth in the Kim Muir; trained by Paul Nicholls and part owned by Sir Alex Ferguson.

Rare Bob Brought down at fifth last year; supported in the market and quietly fancied.

The Rainbow Hunter Unexposed, interesting outsider; part owned by Racing UK presenter Oli Bell.

Mr Moonshine Second behind Cape Tribulation in Rowland Meryck reads well.

Mumbles Head 12-year-old who fell at the first in the Becher.

Pearlysteps Likely to stay but jumping has proved problematic in the past.

Auroras Encore Second in the 2012 Scottish National beaten a head; out of sorts of late.

Ninetieth Minute Most of his form on soft / heavy ground; never won beyond 22 furlongs.

Tarquinius Failed to build on decent effort when beaten 68 lengths in Leinster National at Naas last time out.

Any Currency Unseated Aidan Coleman in the Becher; fourth in the N. Yorks National to his name.

Major Malarkey Talented but quirky customer not always guaranteed to put his best foot forward.

Poker De Sivola Won the bet365 Gold Cup Chase at Sandown and seventh in the Becher. Likely to appreciate better ground.

Backstage Going well when hampered in 2010 and came home tenth when fancied in 2011.

Soll Well beaten in Hennessy and Welsh National but win at Sandown last time out.

Romaesco Decent third in the Kim Muir but fell in Monday's Irish National.

Viking Blond Twiston-Davies front-runner who wears blinkers and fell at first last year.

Cloudy Lane Stalwart now at the veteran stage; finished eighth in 2010.

Pentiffic Stable won the race with 100/1 shot Mon Mome in 2009; this one priced 150/1.

Guilible Gordon Moved to Peter Bowen's in mid-November; sixth in the Becher for new connections.

Mortimers Cross 200/1 outsider beaten a length in the Southern National at Fontwell.