Friday, December 30, 2016

Brief notes at New Year

Following today's abandonment at Haydock, Nicky Henderson adds some spice to a run-of-the-mill card at Warwick on New Year's Eve by declaring Buveur D'Air in the adroitly-named Local Parking Security Novices' Chase (1.00).

On the same card trainer Robin Dickin has a couple of interesting runners at his local track.

Routine Procedure looks the pick of his trio in the opener; this one is on the comeback trail after missing eighteen months or so through injury.

Beaten over 17 lengths by Mrs Burbidge in a similar event at Uttoxeter last time, he was in with a shout before fading after the last eventually finishing fifth. The winner has since been beaten into third by Sober Sailor at Fontwell but both Miss Mash (third) and Dalkadam (fourth) have recorded subsequent victories so the form reads well enough (the second, Flobury, goes in tomorrow's 12.05 at Uttoxeter). Connections have opted to fit a visor for the first time so I'd be hopeful of some improvement and at around 10/1 he rates an each-way chance.

Dontminddboys, a big striking grey, runs in the handicap chase at 1.35 and is another on the comeback trail after injury.

The last day he looked outpaced half a mile from home in a Towcester novices' handicap chase before staying on stoutly to claim second without ever threatening the winner. The step up to three miles should suit but this race looks more competitive so I'll maintain a watching brief - in that same Towcester chase stablemate Oneida Tribe raced prominently and was unlucky to be brought down by Paddocks Lounge at the twelfth on his first run for the yard.

On New Year's Day all eyes will be on ITV's inaugural broadcast from Cheltenham. Rather bizarrely, the 2017 ITV Sport Racing Diary that Santa brought me last week doesn't record all the meetings ITV will actually cover during the year.

Dickin has declared Thomas Crapper in the BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (Cheltenham 2.00).

Wearing a tongue-tie for the first time, Thomas Crapper put up a personal best performance on ground softer than ideal to finish sixth behind Taquin Du Seuil in the BetVictor Gold Cup seven weeks ago.

He will meet second Village Vic four pounds better off for fourteen lengths. With Charlie Poste booked to ride at ten stone, I'll look to strike an each-way wager at around 16/1 or bigger.

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all readers a very happy and prosperous new year.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Boxing Day blues

A little like Victor Meldrew I feel I must be getting old and miserable because the Boxing Day cards have just failed to inspire.

In years gone by, driven to distraction by the family Christmas, I've attended Newton Abbot and Towcester races on St Stephen's Day but unfortunately those fixtures no longer form part of the racing calendar.

The withdrawal of Coneygree has paved the way for Thistlecrack to take on stablemate Cue Card in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. A fascinating race in prospect, agreed, but with just five runners it's one to savour rather than bet on. The meagre turnout for this showpiece event is likely to be seen as something of an embarrassment in certain quarters.

A similarly small field is assured for Kempton's Christmas Hurdle where Sam Twiston-Davies will want to try and make all aboard The New One. Richard Harper has declared Gray Wolf River, rated some 104 pounds lower than The New One, in the hope of collecting place prize money; some layers have quoted odds of 5,000/1.

Hennessy form should come in handy in the next few days with Blaklion and Henri Parry Morgan declared for Monday's Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby while Native River, Carole's Destrier, Vyta Du Roc and Theatre Guide all hold entries for the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on Tuesday.

On form Blaklion looks the one to beat at Wetherby but after his fifth in the Hennessy pilot Ryan Hatch reported his charge had 'cut out' up the long home straight and connections were likely to consider a breathing operation...

Previous Welsh National winners Mountainous and Emperor's Choice will probably try to repeat the trick on Tuesday but, provided the going doesn't dry out too much, I'll take an each-way interest in Firebird Flyer.

Second in last year's race, Evan Williams' charge went on to win the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter in March and had a reasonable prep on his seasonal debut at Haydock last month. He starts from a mark eight pounds higher this time.

Looking slightly further ahead, ITV commences its racing coverage at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Richard Hoiles is the new lead commentator; I know I'm going to miss Simon Holt.

Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Ascot assignations

The decision of connections to send Thistlecrack chasing has opened up the three mile hurdle division this year.

The market may suggest Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle (2.25) is a one horse race but to me this looks more competitive than a number of recent renewals.

Lil Rockerfeller wouldn't be the most obvious one to start a preview with but back in September trainer Neil King named this race as the target for his five-year-old and ever since I've had the chestnut pencilled in for this race.

Lil,  having missed a couple of early season targets including the Silver Trophy at Chepstow, on account of quick ground, made his seasonal debut in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby where he came home third, three and a half lengths behind Silsol and subsequent Hennessy winner Native River, conceding the pair eight pounds.

Decent form and three weeks later he made Yanworth work hard enough to collect the Coral Hurdle over a trip that probably didn't play to his strengths; pilot Trevor Whelan looked to be chasing his mount for much of the final mile but the gelding kept fighting and finding more.

With Whelan currently suspended, Richard Johnson accepted the ride earlier in the week but then opted for Ballyoptic instead. That's disconcerting, as is the fact there has been no significant rainfall recently.

A more orthodox preview might begin with the chance of market leader Uknowhatimeanharry.

Unbeaten since moving to Harry Fry's yard during the summer of 2015, 'Harry' has won six on the bounce (including the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival) and has seen his official rating rise from 123 to 165; he is top-rated but is priced accordingly and looks worth opposing on grounds of value.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who has sent out six winners from six runners in the past two days, is represented by Ptit Zig and Zarkander.

The former provides a yardstick for Alex De Larredya having finished nine lengths behind the French runner in the Grand Prix D'Automne Hurdle at Auteuil last month.

Previously Ptit Zig had beaten Alex in the French Champion Hurdle at the same track - Sam Twiston-Davies will need to show better form than he did for the jump jockeys team in the Markel Champions Challenge at the London Horse Show at Olympia earlier this evening...

Reve De Sivola has won three of the last four renewals and last year finished second to Thistlecrack. That said, Nick Williams' charge celebrates his twelfth birthday in two weeks' time and is another who would have preferred more rain - the favourite would appear to hold him (and Ballyoptic) on Long Distance Hurdle form at Newbury last month.

My heart tells me Lil Rockerfeller but since Baracouda's victory in 2000 only two other five-year-olds have come home in front (My Way De Solzen in 2005 and Punchestowns in 2008) while my brain tells me Alex De Larredya is the percentage call against the favourite. Daryl Jacob's mount is generally a 6/1 chance this evening.

I couldn't believe Wolf Of Windlesham was priced up 40/1 the day before the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. I've followed Wolfie since watching him win a lowly Ludlow juvenile hurdle on his first run over the sticks in October 2015.

Rated a modest 60 on the Flat, he runs off 137 tomorrow, a mark from which he won a Sandown juvenile handicap hurdle in April and the same mark from which he started in the Greatwood where he came to grief two from home while still in with 'every chance'. By off time that day his price had contracted to 20/1 and plenty more took note of what happened.

He goes in the Ladbroke at 3.35 - now named the Wessex Youth Handicap Hurdle. I shall place a highly speculative each-way wager at odds of 16/1.

Another well-known acquaintance, Johnny Og, goes in the 1.50. In January this year Martin Keighley's inmate won over this course and distance off a mark of 116 with amateur rider Mr H Hunt claiming seven; tomorrow he starts off 138.

Johnny Og is at his best when left alone in front over two miles plus on soft ground. In a field of 15 that contains the likes of Ultragold, Captain Conan and course and distance winner Dark Flame, he's unlikely to get his own way so I'm not going to partake of the 25/1 currently on offer...

Friday, December 09, 2016

A Doncaster Boy

Looking at the runners for tomorrow's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (Cheltenham 1.50) I'm imbued with a sense of the deja vu.

Taquin Du Seuil, winner of the BetVictor Gold Cup over course and distance four weeks ago, isn't amongst the declarations but Village Vic (second), Buywise (third), Aso (fourth), Bouvreuil (fifth) and Frodon (tenth) all try again - a matter of six and a half lengths covered the first five home.

Of course, in the interim the handicapper has felt obliged to have his say...

Village Vic is now three pounds higher, Buywise one pound while both Aso and Bouvreuil start from the same mark. Frodon, beaten some 35 lengths, is effectively six pounds worse off having been raised to a mark of 149 while jockey Sam Twiston-Davies can't claim three as Harry Cobden did last month.

Art Mauresque was my selection that day; the gelding ran well enough to finish seventh on ground considered softer than ideal. Although rain is forecast for tomorrow - the official going is currently good - I did wonder whether Paul Nicholls' charge would be sent on a retrieval mission. Connections have decided not; Bouvreuil and Frodon are the two Nicholls' representatives amongst the sixteen declared.

Many considered Aso the one horse to take out of that race and any rain between now and the off would certainly help the cause but it all looks terribly cramped so instead I've decided to pop up to Doncaster for a handicap that looks only slightly less compacted.

Eleven are declared for the Handicap Chase at 12.55 where I'm going to quickly discard a couple, although that doesn't make finding the winner much easier.

Samingarry has his first run in 531 days and Micky Hammond, trainer of Silver Tassie, has a 4.46% win strike rate this season.

Charlie Longsdon saddles Long Lunch; the trainer's last winner was on November 26 since when his figures read 0-26 while Lord Wishes has been kept busy enough in recent weeks.

Of those that remain, Valadom was eventually pulled up in As De Mee's race at Aintree last week having made a serious error at The Chair. Previously he had beaten Sego Success (third) and Ziga Boy (fifth) at Bangor.

Ziga Boy won over course and distance twice last year and appeared a little unlucky to lose pilot Thomas Bellamy at the first in the Becher Chase last week while stablemate Sego Success has always had this as the target having won last year's renewal off 139.

The betting suggests Blakemount is the pick of Sue Smith's two runners while back in November 2015 Knock House had No Duffer some 39 lengths adrift in a Cheltenham amateur riders' handicap.

The short list consists of Sego Success, Knock House, Blakemount and Ziga Boy. Knock House is the enigma on his first run for Donald McCain's yard; fourth in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham in March, he is short enough in the market to warrant plenty of respect but is passed over on his seasonal debut.

I expect to see improvement from Ziga Boy following his Bangor debut; I don't think there's that much between the pair yet Sego Success is currently priced at 7/2 and Ziga Boy 6/1. Blakemount has yet to win over further than two miles six.

Plenty in the field like to race with up with the pace -  at 6/1 with Coral and William Hill Ziga Boy is the win selection.

Finally, the mention of As De Mee above has put me in mind of a story I heard a couple of days ago. A friend of a colleague went to the Becher Chase meeting at Aintree last week. He arrived at the course in a taxi and unusually the driver, rather than taking a tip, gave his passenger one instead...

'As De Mee is the banker in the last!'

Duly noted, the individual concerned went about his business with the on-course bookmakers on a top-class card, in the process totally forgetting the words of that prescient taxi driver from the gods. As Paul Nicholls' charge took it up two from home in the finale, the individual in question could be seen holding his head in his hands - unofficial reports have suggested he was crying.

Don't be too harsh now; I've done something very similar on more than one occasion in the past.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The Betfred Becher Chase 2016

Usually I tend to prefer a horse with form over the National fences for the Betfred Becher Chase; there are plenty on offer amongst those declared for tomorrow's renewal (Aintree 1.35).

The Last Samuri finished second to Rule The World in this year's National with Ucello Conti sixth, Vieux Lion Rouge seventh and Double Ross, Aachen and Saint Are all pulled up.

Previously Double Ross had finished fifth in the 2015 Grand Sefton while Saint Are had finished second to Many Clouds in the 2015 National and then seventh behind Highland Lodge and Dare To Endeavour in this event last year (with Portrait King falling two out when appearing to have place claims).

Alvarado and Paul Moloney were fourth behind Pineau De Re in the 2014 National, making up plenty of ground in the latter stages of the race. I tipped the same pairing the following year, hoping Moloney could race a little closer to the pace but rather frustratingly the chestnut gelding ran a similar sort of race to finish fourth once again...

Of those named, Ucello Conti looks weighted to come home in front of The Last Samuri while Dare To Endeavour starts off a mark only one pound higher than last year.

A couple of those without experience over the National fences have had this as their target for some time including Ziga Boy (went to Bangor after missing Wincanton's Badger Ales Trophy on account of quick ground) and Silvergrove who had previously finished third in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham.

In the Weekender dated 09-13.11.16 handler Ben Pauling said of the latter:

'He's the best jumper I've ever had to deal with... The aim this season is the Grand National and I think he's the type of horse who would really take to it. We'll have to get his mark up to get in that race but hopefully he'll manage that.'

He currently races off a mark of 138; plan A is clearly to raise that rating with a bold showing in tomorrow's race.

In similar vein Lucinda Russell said of One For Arthur in last week's Weekender:

'He excites me as much as anything in the yard... I'm sure he'd go well over the National fences as his jumping has never been better - I consider myself very lucky to have a horse who jumps so well.'

With a strike rate of 19.27% Neil Mulholland has his team in fine form - bet365 Gold Cup winner The Young Master is respected but is another who missed the Badger Ales on account of quick ground and doesn't have the benefit of a recent run to his name.

From the all-conquering Tizzard yard Viconte Du Noyer posted notice of his well-being with victory at Cheltenham three weeks ago (Alvarado sixth, both Cogry and Midnight Prayer brought down by a loose horse running across the twelfth fence in a nasty-looking incident) while Sizing Coal is an interesting runner over from Ireland who may just prefer more cut underfoot.

In recent years the race has tended to go the way of an older horse with the corresponding experience - Hello Bud won in 2010 and 2012 aged 12 and then 14 while Oscar Time took the 2014 renewal at the age of 13.

The race still has the look of a bookmakers' benefit event - you pays your money and takes your choice.

I buy into the Silvergrove story so suggest a small each-way wager on Silvergrove at 14/1 or bigger; bet365, Bet Victor and Paddy Power are amongst the layers offering a quarter the odds five places.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Newbury's Hennessy Gold Cup 2016

Some old friends and foes amongst the twenty declared for the 60th running of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury tomorrow (3.10).

The roll call of previous winners includes several illustrious names: Mandarin (1957, 1961); Mill House (1963); Arkle (1964, 1965); Stalbridge Colonist (1966); Spanish Steps (1969); Bregawn (1982); Brown Chamberlin (1983); Burrough Hill Lad (1984); Playschool (1987); One Man (1994); Suny Bay (1997) and Denman (2007, 2009).

Since 2000 Denman is the only horse older than eight to have come home in front.

Last year's winner Smad Place tries again but faces a stiff task off a mark 11 pounds higher (166); by contrast Saphir Du Rheu, fifth last year, appears to have been given every chance off a rating 10 pounds lower (153). I may well be proven wrong but regular readers will know I don't think Saphir jumps well enough in a big field to win a race like this.

The leading horses in the betting have form lines with each other.

Favourite Native River was beaten fair and square by Blaklion in the Towton Novices' Chase at Wetherby last February. After that result Colin Tizzard opted for the easier route at the Cheltenham Festival, fitting his charge with first-time cheekpieces for the four miler while Blaklion won the RSA Chase for Twiston-Davies at that meeting (Vyta Du Roc fifth, beaten ten and a half lengths).

Three and a half weeks later Native River reversed the Wetherby form in Aintree's Mildmay Novices' Chase beating Blaklion into third (Henri Parry Morgan second, Un Temps Pour Tout fourth).

Henri Parry Morgan hasn't been seen since unseating Sean Bowen in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in April (Hadrian's Approach sixth, Theatre Guide eighth and Carole's Destrier eleventh) but Un Temps Pour Tout posted notice of his well-being three weeks ago by making all in a four runner hurdle to beat Vyta Du Roc eighteen lengths into third.

Taking the Cheltenham form as a benchmark, Vyta Du Roc looks closely matched with Blaklion in receipt of eleven pounds while on Aintree form Henri Parry Morgan has five pounds in hand over Native River for a three length defeat.

Vicente comes into the reckoning on the back of his win in the Scottish National (Vyta Du Roc fifth). Previously Paul Nicholls' inmate finished just under fourteen lengths behind Native River in the Festival four miler where he was hampered by a loose horse three from home. His fitness and well-being have to be taken on trust but at 20/1 he makes some appeal as an each-way wager.     

Second last year, Theatre Guide has each-way claims - off 149 he's ten pounds higher this time around - and Carole's Destrier would have been of more interest with a run under his belt. This one was fifth on his seasonal debut in Wincanton's Badger Ales last year before winning the London National at Sandown - four of his five wins to date have come on right-handed tracks.

Houblon Des Obeaux has been tipped up here and  there but I feel his best chance may have already passed - regular pilot Aidan Coleman rides Upswing for J. P. McManus.

A very open, competitive renewal for which I have two each-way suggestions:

Blaklion - Paddy Power have taken a position offering 11/1 at the time of writing and pay a quarter the odds five places - and Vicente available at 20/1 generally.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Ascot's Coral Hurdle 2016

Menorah's withdrawal leaves just six set to go to post for tomorrow's feature, the Betfair Chase at Haydock; the going is currently described as soft, heavy in places.

I'll watch with interest but I'm not going to play.

On ratings Cue Card is six pounds well in with nearest rival Coneygree who has his first run in over a year. Richard Johnson claims the plum ride aboard the 2015 Gold Cup winner, leaving Aidan Coleman, originally booked, on the sidelines. 

Plenty think Cue Card will show improvement from his seasonal debut in the Charlie Hall Chase where he finished third behind Irish Cavalier and Menorah. He may well do but in six short weeks he's going to celebrate his 11th birthday (as will old rival Silviniaco Conti); his price is short enough, even though it has drifted in recent days.

Course and distance winner Seeyouatmidnight will have conditions to suit but the odds on offer don't make much appeal; on ratings he has 22 pounds to find with Cue Card.

In contrast the betting for Ascot's Coral Hurdle at 2.40 suggests Yanworth is the one yet on ratings there is little to choose between the five contestants.

Using top weight Lil Rockerfeller as the benchmark on 160, adjusted ratings read as follows: Court Minstrel 157; Yanworth 158; Garde La Victoire 159; Zarkandar 161.

In addition, Yanworth is the only runner making his seasonal debut.

No doubt the bullish noises coming out of the King yard in the build-up will have contributed to the current price about the favourite. The trainer has said that after this he'll know which route to take - the Champion Hurdle or the World Hurdle. The question for those looking to oppose is: with what?

Zarkander is best at the weights yet I still recall how he folded after the last in 2014 Long Walk Hurdle; he has six furlongs less to travel here but at the age of nine he may just be vulnerable to a younger opponent. He last won in April 2013.

Lil Rockerfeller is as tough as old boots. Connections have had a last-minute change of mind, deciding to come here rather than go to Newbury next week; they are convinced the step back in trip will not be a problem. The plan is the Long Walk at Ascot next month.

Garde La Victoire is another tough customer who won the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las on his seasonal debut before being beaten a short head in the Haldon Gold Cup. He reverts to the smaller obstacles; regular pilot Richard Johnson is otherwise engaged at Haydock.

Court Minstrel is priced up the outsider of the field with most of his winning form coming on good ground.

I'm torn between Garde La Victoire and Lil Rockerfeller; both are best-priced 8/1 at the time of writing. Since 1990 only three five-year-olds have collected the spoils - Muse (1992), No Refuge (2005) and Annie Power (2013). Garde La Victoire is the play against Yanworth.

Back at Haydock I was tempted to take a small each-way interest in Western Cape in the 'Fixed Brush' handicap hurdle at 2.25.

I've followed this one for a while. He was put in his place by Duke Des Champs at Ascot last season but ran creditably on his seasonal reappearance and will love the ground. Kevin Jones claims five but the fancy prices disappeared when he was tipped up elsewhere earlier in the week and the stable looks out of form.

Friday, November 11, 2016

BetVictor Gold Cup 2016

Nineteen have been declared for tomorrow's BetVictor Gold Cup (2.25 Cheltenham) where the sponsors are paying a quarter the odds six places.

I've had a couple of close calls in this event in recent years with John's Spirit beaten a head by Caid Du Berlais in 2014 and last year Buywise finishing a fast-diminishing half length behind Annacotty after a number of trademark errors on the way round. Of course, as advertisements for financial products are always at pains to point out, past performance is no guide whatsoever to performance in the future.

Annacotty, Buywise and Art Mauresque (sixth) try again this year with both Annacotty and Art Mauresuque racing off a 12 pounds higher mark (159) while Buywise starts five pounds higher off 153; Annacotty bids to join a select band of just two horses that have won this event in consecutive seasons: Half Free in 1984 and 1985 and Bradbury Star in 1993 and 1994.

Of the trio Art Mauresque is possibly the most interesting - it was a fine effort for a five-year-old last year, beaten just seven lengths. Now aged six, we can reasonably expect some improvement from Paul Nicholls' charge but the handicapper has raised him nine pounds for a win at Chepstow five weeks ago where he just held Double Shuffle a head. That day he idled badly after going on three from home and I'd imagine Nick Scholfield will bide his time a little longer if the horse is in with a shout tomorrow. Quoting the handler:

"He is difficult to gauge as last season there was a point when you thought he had reached his peak, but he has won his last two starts. He is in really good nick and looks like he has improved again."

Art Mauresque is one of four from Ditcheat; Nicholls has won this twice in the past four years.

Frodon is short enough in the market for a race that has never been won by a four-year-old but he claims the age allowance and pilot Harry Cobden takes another three pounds off his back. Connections have stated that, mentally, the horse is tough and certainly doesn't ride like a four-year-old.

As De Mee's second behind More Of That at this meeting last year would suggest the former is particularly well in in receipt of fifteen pounds from that rival but I harbour doubts and a slight suspicion As De Mee prefers to race right-handed - his four wins to date have come at Sandown (twice), Leicester and Fontwell. Bouvreuil completes the quartet of Nicholls runners.

Jonjo O'Neill boasts a good record in the race having won it twice in the past decade with Exotic Dancer (2006) and Johns Spirit (2013); this year he saddles two high class course and distance winners in More Of That and Taquin Du Seuil. Of the former the handler says:

"AP (Tony McCoy) rode him last Monday morning and said he would come back for this fellow. That's the sort of feeling he gives you at home."

Colin Tizzard saddles two for his new owners Ann and Alan Potts; Tom O'Brien has chosen Sizing Granite.

Cyfor Malta gave a stand-out performance in the 2002 renewal, carrying 11-09 to victory at the ripe old age of nine. Since then Little Josh is the only horse older than seven to have won and just three have carried over 11-0 to victory - Our Vic (11-07 in 2005), Exotic Dancer (11-02 in 2006) and Al Ferof (11-08 in 2012). For those who prefer a trends-based approach, those stats quickly knock out more than half the field.

This year's renewal is a particularly open affair. Only one favourite has obliged since 2006 but More Of That would be my idea of the winner; on the back of his fine effort in sixth last year, Art Mauresque (14/1 in places) is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 04, 2016

A selection for the Badger Ales Trophy

Really pushed for time...

The Young Master returns to Wincanton for the first time following his 'victory' in this race two years ago - a race he wasn't actually qualified to run in; trainer Neil Mulholland also saddles Carole's Destrier and Fingerontheswitch at the bottom of the handicap.

Paul Nicholls has declared two - Present Man and Southfield Theatre.

In the bet365Gold Cup at Sandown in April The Young Master beat Southfield Theatre (fourth) and stablemate Carole's Destrier (eleventh).

In the past ten years the market has proved a reasonable guide. I'm looking for a reasonable each-way chance and Alan King's course and distance winner Ziga Boy fits the bill. The grey will handle the ground and was the subject of  a decent write-up in King's Stable Tour in the Weekender.

At 16/1 in places Ziga Boy is the each-way selection.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Ascot's Sodexo Gold Cup 2016

A feature of this week has been the mixed messages coming from connections of Saphir Du Rheu, with owner Andy Stewart appearing to indicate the gelding was set to make his seasonal debut in Wetherby's West Yorkshire Hurdle while trainer Paul Nicholls favoured the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot; the horse also held an entry for the Charlie Hall Chase.

Saphir goes to Ascot tomorrow (3.35) where the going is officially good, good to firm in places.

In the Weekender Andrew King writes:

'...and [Saphir Du Rheu] has looked a different horse in his work at Manor Farm so far this autumn.'

I've never really been convinced by Saphir's jumping over fences - last year's Hennessy effort sticks in the mind - and all his chase wins to date have come in fields with less than ten runners.

Feltham winner Tea For Two looks short enough in the market even with Lizzie Kelly's five pound claim while Voix D'Eau ran well on his seasonal reappearance at Chepstow but isn't guaranteed to stay the trip.

In the past ten years only three horses have carried more than 11-0 to victory: Roll Along (2008), Massini's Maguire (2010) and Houblon Des Obeaux (2013); in the same timeframe no horse has won carrying more than 11-03.

Two trainers in fine form at the moment are Colin Tizzard and Tom George with win strike rates for the season of 16.05% and 19.78% respectively.

Three weeks ago Buckhorn Timothy looked to have made progress when second at Chepstow behind Potters Cross, holding A Good Skin one and threequarter lengths (Killala Quay pulled up). Rivalry is renewed tomorrow with A Good Skin, second in the Kim Muir at the Festival in March, three pounds better off. The form was given a further boost yesterday when fifth Buachaill Alainn turned out to take the Durham National at Sedgefield.

The pair look closely matched. A Good Skin, best-priced 15/2 with Stan James at the time of writing, has the better form in the book but I am tempted by the 12/1 on offer about Colin Tizzard's inmate.

A Good Skin is the selection.

Over at Wetherby Cue Card is the one to beat in the Charlie Hall but the race makes little appeal as a betting medium while the preceding West Yorkshire Hurdle should prove informative but looks particularly trappy beforehand.

After a visit to Robin Dickin's yard last week I note the stable has two entries over the weekend - Thomas Crapper in the opener at Ascot and Dontminddboys in the 2.10 at Carlisle on Sunday.

Thomas was well behind over the smaller obstacles in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow three weeks ago where Crimson Ark finished second to Ballyoptic; I think this is probably the last chance Thomas has to race as a novice. On ratings the top five are closely matched; with Crimson Ark making his chase debut, Remind Me Later having his third chase start and San Benedeto his fourth, at around 12/1 Robin Dickin's inmate is probably overpriced.

Dontminddboys is a tall, striking grey who certainly caught my eye - a chaser in the making. He returns to action in a novices' handicap hurdle following a long lay-off through injury.

And finally, just in case you missed it, my old friend Johnny Og (PG's Tips, passim) scored at odds of 11/2 on his seasonal debut at Stratford yesterday...

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sixty not out

Sixty tomorrow.

To celebrate, Mrs Tips booked me a breakfast / stable tour at Robin Dickin's yard this morning. A brilliant insight - but I've only just finished writing up my notes.

All of which means I haven't studied form for Cheltenham tomorrow.

A birthday tip? I'm a big fan of the Wolf Of Windlesham but, in receipt of eight pounds and with a race under his belt a fortnight ago, Gibralfaro is the play against favourite Adrien Du Pont in the 3.00 race...

Friday, October 14, 2016

A teatime tip

Tesco's online customers may have struggled to get their PG Tips recently; I'm happy to report there have been no such problems here...

The continuing dry weather has meant that a number of high profile horses are set to miss intended engagements this weekend but at the time of writing the Nicky Henderson trained pair - My Tent Or Yours and Hargam - are both declared for the Listed Hurdle at Kempton on Sunday.

I put up Lil Rockerfeller for last week's Silver Trophy at Chepstow but in the event Neil King;s inmate wasn't allowed to take his chance and connections have opted not to run in this Saturday's Welsh Champion Hurdle (Ffos Las 4.10).

Welsh Shadow, trained by the in-form Dan Skelton and owned by Dai Walters, heads the market and has been talked up over the summer but this is no walk in the park; Garde La Victoire may have struggled over the larger obstacles towards the end of last season but he sets a very high standard.

Regular readers will know that last season Johnny Og, after foiling a cunning plan of mine, went on to right that particular wrong by obliging at a nice price in a Newbury novices' chase.

Martin Keighley's charge held a five-day entry for tomorrow's totequadpot Four Places In Four Races Handicap Chase (Stratford 3.15), worth over £15,000 to the winner. Johnny boasts previous winning form at the course but he hasn't been declared, presumably on account of the ground.

All of which led me to take a closer look at this race.

Gordon Elliott sends over Mountain King from Ireland; this one heads the market but I've noted that four of his five wins have come at right-handed tracks (Perth twice, Ludlow and Ascot one apiece) while his Warwick win in 2013 was in a bumper.

Both No Likey and Roman Flight have been busy over the summer - Roman Flight has had no less than ten runs since early May. At the age of eleven What A Laugh is probably past his best and No Buts has done most of his racing on soft ground which leaves Mont Royale and Top Cat Henry as potential plays against the favourite.

The former, owned by Phil Tufnell Racing Limited, won a Class 3 event at Worcester the last day and as a result has a seven pound penalty to carry.

Last year Top Cat Henry won a handicap chase at Fontwell before finishing threequarters of a length second to Carrigmorna King in this race; connections have opted to follow the same route again this year.

Henry looked unlucky when being badly hampered and brought down by eventual winner Antony at Fontwell a fortnight ago; the silver lining is he starts off a mark four pounds higher than last year.

With Dr Richard Newland's current win strike rate over 24%, Top Cat Henry, generally a 7/2 shot, is the suggested play against the favourite.

In the event he obliges, the teas are on me. Every little helps.

Friday, October 07, 2016

A chance in Chepstow's Silver Trophy

After a long summer at grass I've only recently come back in; I'm a little backward at present and will be slow to come to hand this term...

After an absence of nearly four years racing returned to Hereford yesterday and was widely covered in the media. Newton Abbot's card this afternoon featured a couple of decent races (the well-touted Old Guard, sent off 1/5 favourite, sprawled on landing at the first and was immediately pulled up.)

The National Hunt season steps up another gear with Chepstow's two-day Jumps Festival on Saturday and Sunday. Until fairly recently there was an outside chance Colin Tizzard would let World Hurdle winner Thistlecrack take his chance in Saturday's totequadpot Novices' Chase - the stable star isn't quite ready yet and would probably prefer a little more cut underfoot.

Other highlights on Saturday include the Silver Trophy and the toteexacta Handicap Chase; on Sunday the Persian War Novices' Hurdle features while the opening juvenile hurdle should prove informative.

Lil Rockerfeller, beaten some 20 lengths by Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle last March, stands his ground for the totepool Silver Trophy (Saturday 4.25) with the result that six of the fifteen declared race from out of the handicap. Neil King is quite bullish about the horse in the Weekender, naming Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle and then the World Hurdle as targets.

Sefton Novices' Hurdle winner Ballyoptic is another with the World Hurdle in his sights. 

Of those carrying the correct weight, Tea In Transvaal, Forever Field and Who Dares Wins each have a recent run to their name so may possess a fitness edge. Who Dares Wins was desperately disappointing in the Triumph Hurdle - he has to be better than that - while Tea In Transvaal boasts previous winning form at this course.

All that said, Court Minstrel carried 11-12 to victory in this race last year and I'm taken by Neil King's pen-picture...

'He's had a summer at grass which has done him the power of good as don't forget he's still only a relative youngster. He was so enthusiastic doing a day's hunting last week and he filled me with optimism for the season.'    

At around 12/1 Lil Rockerfeller is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Market Rasen Summer Plate 2016

I tend to think of tomorrow's Market Rasen meeting as the half-way point through the summer jumps programme; the highlight is the Summer Plate with sixteen set to face the starter at 2.45.

Top weight Ballynagour, beaten two lengths in the Summer National at Uttoxeter three weeks ago (Tony Star pulled up), stands his ground and as a result the bottom four all race from out of the handicap. Paul Nicholls saddles three with Charlie Longsdon and Tom George responsible for two apiece; the trainer in form is Dr Richard Newland with a 31.58% strike rate for the season so far. 

Geraghty rides Cernunnos for J P McManus; in the same ownership It's A Gimme didn't make the final declarations, having only seen a racecourse twice since finishing sixth in last year's renewal, and Easy Street failed to make the cut.

A number in the field finished behind Minella Present in Uttoxeter's Sir Stanley and Lady Clarke Chase at the end of May: Germany Calling (third), Long House Hall (fourth), Henryville (eighth), and Dormello Mo (ninth).

Previous course winner Long House Hall, marked up 6/1 favourite at the time of writing, is two pounds better off with Germany Calling for one and a half lengths - it looks a close enough call. The latter isn't guaranteed to see out this two miles five furlong trip but he was staying on the last day...

Henryville is a horse I like and the ground will certainly suit but, to date, he hasn't totally convinced over the larger obstacles.    

With Paddy Power offering 12/1 and paying a quarter the odds four places (provided sixteen make the start), Germany Calling is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A brief review of the 2015/16 jumps season

Champion jockey: Richard Johnson
Champion trainer: Paul Nicholls
Winning owner: Gigginstown House Stud
Champion conditional jockey: Craig Nichol

Following years spent in the shadow of A P McCoy, Richard Johnson deservedly collected his first champion jockeys' title with 235 winners; nearest rival Aidan Coleman chalked up 130. Perhaps the name of the winner was no surprise but the margin of victory was - in real terms Johnson had the championship in safe-keeping before Cheltenham's Open meeting.

In stark contrast the battle for the trainers' title between Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins went to the final day at Sandown; with Just A Par and Southfield Theatre finishing second and fourth respectively behind The Young Master in the bet365 Gold Cup, Nicholls claimed his tenth championship. Vicente's victory in the Scottish Grand National the previous week, the third leg of a four-timer for the Ditcheat handler, proved crucial and changed momentum. 

For many the season was defined by two horses - Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card.

Sprinter remained unbeaten and and amidst emotional scenes rolled back the years to reclaim the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Festival. Back in 2013 commentator Simon Holt had described Henderson's charge as 'a steeplechaser from the gods'; who are we to argue?

Cue Card won the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, Haydock's Betfair Chase, the King George VI Chase at Kempton and looked to have every chance of claiming the £1 million bonus offered for winning the Gold Cup when taking a crashing fall three from home. In the post-race aftermath Colin Tizzard opined 'there's not a bother on him' and his charge proved as much three weeks later by winning the Betfair Bowl at Aintree. His subsequent fourth in the Punchestown Gold Cup was a race too far.  

Don Cossack was the principal beneficiary of Cue Card's Gold Cup mishap providing young jockey Bryan Copper with redemption following the ride he'd given the same horse in the Ryanair Chase twelve months earlier.

Owners Gigginstown House Stud went on to claim a famous treble with Rogue Angel giving Mouse Morris an emotional win in the Irish Grand National and then Rule The World winning for the first time over fences in the Grand National for the same handler. Jockey D J Mullins, victorious on his first ride in the National, returned to the same winners' enclosure an hour later aboard Ivan Grozny, recording a 578/1 double in the process.

Festival memories that still linger include Ruby Walsh's ride aboard Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle and Thistlecrack's annihilation of his field in the World Hurdle. Several bookmakers reported big losses after the meeting with Ladbrokes suffering its 'worst in living memory'; the blog's Festival selections were the most profitable on record. 

Earlier in the season Alan King bagged two big prizes with Annacotty holding the fast-finishing Buywise in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and Smad Place running his rivals ragged in the Hennessy.

Hats off too to Lizzie Kelly who became the first female jockey to win a Grade One jumps race in Britain aboard Tea For Two in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton. Six weeks later she was aboard Agrapart, winning Newbury's Betfair Hurdle by an astonishing eleven lengths.

At a slightly less lofty level, I had some modest success, particularly in the autumn, with runners from the yards of Harry Whittington, Anthony Honeyball  and Stuart Edmonds.
I saw both Wolf Of Windlesham (Stuart Edmonds) and Arzal (Harry Whittington) win at Ludlow's second October meet; Wolf Of Windlesham beat a couple of highly-regarded sorts at Sandown last Saturday but Harry Whittington's yard will still be reeling following the sad news about Arzal earlier this week.

Surprisingly the post 'Ten years of PG's Tips' generated a number of queries, most coming from readers who were keen to ascertain what my mother-in-law was backing in this year's Grand National... I don't think I've got another ten years in me. 

The award of blog horse of this year has to go to Johnny Og trained by Martin Keighley.

I'd hatched a plot to back this one at a fancy price at a Newbury midweek meeting I was set to attend in January. Frost put paid to that cunning plan but just three days later I missed the wretched beast at Ascot where he trotted up at odds of 14/1. Six weeks on, up he popped at Newbury once again. I took 14/1, he went off at 8/1 and duly obliged, coming home one and threequarter lengths ahead of nearest rival Exmoor Mist. I'm still not quite certain what I would have done if he hadn't won...

And finally... At Cheltenham on Wednesday Sam Cavallaro, trained by Miss H Brookshaw and ridden by Mr R Jarrett, won the first race of the 2016/2017 season.  

Friday, April 22, 2016

bet365 Gold Cup 2016

The curtain falls on the 2015/6 NH season at Sandown tomorrow.

After years spent in the shadow of A P McCoy, Richard Johnson will deservedly collect his first jockeys' title.

In marked contrast, the trainers' title is still undecided; at the time of writing Paul Nicholls leads Willie Mullins by some £44,000. The Ditcheat handler saddles four at Chepstow's evening meeting  - Rainy City finished third in the 4.30 and Simon Squirrel was unplaced in the 5.00; Ruben Cotter goes in the 6.05, Whispering Storm at 8.05.

Tomorrow's finale promises an enthralling conclusion; Nicholls remains odds-on to win the title.

The highlight on the Sandown card is the bet365 Gold Cup at 4.10.

I thought last week's Scottish Grand National handicap rather 'compressed' but incredibly this end-of-season finale sees the bottom weight allotted 10-11 - just five of the twenty runners will carry less than 11-0!

Paul Kealy makes a strong case for The Young Master in the Weekender but on the back of the trainer's comments I'm going to side with stablemate Carole's Destrier. I tipped this one for the Ultima Handicap on the opening day of the Festival but he ran no sort of race whatsoever and was pulled up.

Neil Mulholland points out this has been the target for the selection since winning the London National over this course in December. The horse has also undergone a breathing operation since.

In an ultra-competitive looking event, Carole's Destrier (12/1) is the each-way suggestion; he comes to this fresher than some of his rivals. Most layers offer a quarter the odds four places; bet365 and Sky Bet pay five places.   

Friday, April 15, 2016

Scottish Grand National 2016

This year's Scottish National picks up where last week's Grand National left off with a number in the field, having failed to make the cut for the Aintree showpiece, turning out here instead; among them are Cause Of Causes, Midnight Prayer, Royale Knight, Pineau De Re, Highland Lodge and Alvarado.

My overall record in this race doesn't stand up to the closest scrutiny (Milborough's fall early on last year a fair benchmark) but Hello Bud was one of two selections put up for the 2009 renewal.

Mouse Morris and Gigginstown House Stud try for a hat-trick of Grand Nationals with Folsom Blue while in the contest for the trainers' title Willie Mullins sends over Measureofmydreams and Paul Nicholls saddles Vicente.

Nicholls could be worried by the stats which show just two seven-year-old winners since 2000 (Gingembre in 2001 and Godsmejudge in 2013); Godsmejudge was the first horse to carry more than 11-0 to victory since Grey Abbey in 2004.

On the back of his sixth in last year's Grand National, as well as Dr Richard Newland's subsequent remarks, I quietly fancied Royale Knight to run a big race at Aintree and at a fancy price too.

I'm going to stay loyal here; the horse will appreciate testing ground but I have this feeling the opportunity may have passed and quotes of 14/1 for this week's race are nowhere near as tempting as the 50/1 on offer for last week's. It will be important Brendan Powell secures a prominent pitch early on.

Rather ironically, in the Weekender Peter Naughton quotes Dr Newland about the selection's stablemate:

'Pineau De Re did his best piece of work in around two years last week and the race will suit him perfectly.'
Highland Lodge is worthy of a mention on the back of his win in the Becher Chase in December. That day, on his first run for Jimmy Moffatt, he had Vics Canvas, third at Aintree, three and a half lengths adrift in fifth. In the past he hasn't been one to trust implicitly but perhaps the change of scenery has helped work the oracle.

And you just wonder if first-time cheekpieces will help Shotgun Paddy who has some decent efforts in the book (including Warwick's Classic Chase in 2014) but whose jumping frequently causes a problem.

Royale Knight (14/1) is the each-way selection; a number of layers are offering a quarter the odds five places.

On a slightly different tack, the story that has generated most comment from the blog's tenth anniversary post a couple of weeks back is the telephone interview conducted with my mother-in-law after she had backed Mon Mome at 100/1 in the 2009 Grand National.

Here's the abbreviated detail of a further family fiasco following this year's race...

Two minutes after Rule The World had passed the winning post in front our landline rang; caller display indicated it was my brother.

'That's unusual - for a Saturday - to get a call from your brother,' quipped Mrs Tips emerging from the scullery. In an instant my worst fears were confirmed; he'd backed the winner at 50/1.

PG: 'What made you chose that one?'

Bro: 'I met this guy in the bookies and he had bet Boston Bob as his name was Bob so I started to think I need a horse with a Welsh connection.'

PG: 'The old Welsh connection, huh?'

Bro: 'Ydw. Browsing through the runners, when I saw Rule The World I immediately thought of Harry Secombe singing "If I ruled the world".'

Bro continues, singing limpidly in Secombesque fashion into the handset:

'If I ruled the world
Every day would be the first day of spring
Every heart would have a new song to sing
And we'd sing of the joy every morning would bring.'

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry and still don't - where's Thora Hird when you need her? I'm considering burning the form books - offers invited.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Aintree Grand National 2016

The changing nature of the National is reflected in the fact that most of the horses I fancied this time last week have failed to make the cut...

Last year's winner Many Clouds bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back Nationals since Red Rum (1973 and 1974); Leighton Aspell aims to become the first jockey to record three consecutive wins in the race, having ridden Pineau De Re to victory in 2014.   

In his 'today's tip' selection, Coral's David Metcalf makes a cogent, persuasive case for Many Clouds; from a handicapping perspective, the favourite looks favourably treated. His chance is certainly respected but the gelding has to carry top weight over four and a half miles on ground far more testing than encountered last year.

The last horse to carry top weight to victory was Red Rum. Suny Bay, second to Earth Summit in 1998, is the only other top-weight to make a place since - in a race of forty runners, I'm happy to look elsewhere for some value.

There have been some big-priced winners in recent years including Silver Birch at 33/1 in 2007; Mon Mome at 100/1 in 2009; Neptune Collonges at 33/1 in 2012 and Auroras Encore at 66/1 in 2013. The last two winners, Pineau De Re and Many Clouds, were both sent off at odds of 25/1.

Those who like to pick their own horses will find the BBC's Grand National Pinstickers' guide a valuable tool; for everyone else there's this...   

The stats suggest the winner will be aged between nine and twelve and will have had at least one run since the turn of the year. With further rain forecast overnight, the ground is likely to remain on the soft side so I've concentrated on horses carrying no more than 11-0.

Selections are shown below with prices correct at the time of publication; note the majority of High Street bookmakers are paying a quarter the odds five places - check yours is one of them.

1. Morning Assembly
Looks to have been trained with this in mind and ran a decent trial in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham three weeks ago (25/1).
2. The Druids Nephew
In with a major chance last year when coming to grief with an indifferent leap five from home; four pounds worse off with Many Clouds at the weights (16/1).
3. Saint Are
Put up as the best long-priced outsider last year finishing one and three quarter lengths behind Many Clouds; soft ground isn't ideal (16/1).

4. Kruzhlinin
Better expected when behind Morning Assembly in the Ultima at Cheltenham. Completed in tenth in the 2014 renewal and seventh over the same fences in the Becher Chase the following December (25/1).

5. Ucello Conti 
Not guaranteed to stay, a comment that applies to several in the field. Switched to Gordon Elliott to be trained for this; soft ground no problem (25/1).

Good luck!

Finally, spare a thought for the lady who organised our annual work sweepstake.

Keen to get the job done and dusted early on, she wandered into the office Tuesday lunchtime with just a handful of horses left to sell. I paid my £2 and drew Bob Ford; my colleague drew Godsmejudge. A quick glance at her list and I saw Lord Windermere at the head of the handicap.

'Out of interest, where did you get this list?' I enquired. 'Google' came the reply.

Harsh, I know, but it had to be done - I pointed out she was using a list of last year's runners. Required action: return stakes to the individuals concerned and start afresh.

The 'revised' sweepstake arrived in the office late yesterday afternoon; I paid my £2 and drew Devon Loch.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Aintree 2016 - Friday

Friday is Ladies' Day.

In recent weeks Aintree racecourse has attempted to walk a particularly tricky line by suggesting racegoers may wish to adopt a more understated sartorial approach this year; I'd suggest it's odds against racegoers heeding the advice proffered.       

For those interested in the racing, Vautour will be no betting proposition in the JLT Melling Chase at 3.25 but in full flight Willie Mullins' charge is a sight to behold.

Blaklion is as tough as old boots and did me a favour at Cheltenham but I won't be playing up winnings in the Mildmay Novices' Chase at 2.50. Un Temps Pour Tout won the Ultima Handicap Chase with something in hand at the Festival and is now rated five pounds better than the RSA winner. Back in February I gave Native River one final chance in the Towton at Wetherby but he just didn't cut it; he finished a close second to Minella Rocco in the four miler at Cheltenham and may just get outpaced on this track.

In this week's 'Straight from the Stable' feature in the Weekender Lucinda Russell has a strong word for Sky Khan who was third in the Martin Pipe last time and goes in the opener:

"He ran on really well and Derek [Fox], who rode him, keeps saying he would have won if he had gone sooner, but that is always how he will run as he has to have a strong pace and run through horses late on."   

Ballyandy had a hard race in the bumper at Cheltenham and is saddled with a four pound penalty for his trouble in the Aintree equivalent at 5.15.

I thought Limini potentially vulnerable in the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham but we now know she's clearly very good. That said, she faces a tougher-lookng assignment against the likes of Buveur D'Air and Agrapart in the 2.15. With the ground riding on the soft side, Buveur is my idea of the winner but at the prices I'm considering an each-way interest in Agrapart who won Newbury's Betfair Hurdle by an astonishing eleven lengths and on official ratings has three pounds to find with the two market leaders.

9/1 in several places, Agrapart is the each-way selection in the Imagine Cruising First In The Frame Top Novices' Hurdle.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Aintree 2016 - Thursday

After my most successful Cheltenham in recent memory, unusually I come to Aintree with some money in my pocket; I'm in no particular rush to give it back to the bookmakers.

To my mind Aintree's April fixture remains one of the most trappy in the calendar. Those Cheltenham Festival winners - can they come out on top three weeks later over a course that presents a very different type of examination?

Added to the habitual dilemmas, this year Willie Mullins brings his stable stars over from Ireland in an attempt to secure his first British trainers' title.

I certainly won't be knocking anyone out of the way to take an odds-on price about Annie Power in the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle at 3.25; champion hurdlers have a poor record in this, run over a distance of two and a half miles. Annie had four of her five opponents behind last month but course and distance winner Nichols Canyon is a threat here while Coral's 25/1 about Camping Ground looks too big; Robert Walford's charge impressed in the Relkeel and will be better suited by this trip with give underfoot.

Cue Card is the form selection for the Betfred Bowl (2.50) and is on a retrieval mission after a nasty-looking fall three from home in the Gold Cup. He hadn't jumped with particular fluency up to that point but, that said, there appeared plenty left in the tank when he came to grief. Quotes around the even money mark make little appeal.

They're likely to go hard up front in the opener with both Sizing John and Arzal in the line-up - Rock The World has also made the running previously.

I intend to have a small each-way wager on Azzuri in the Betfred Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle (2.15).

The Triumph at Cheltenham was dominated by Irish runners and the first three home head the market here; I tipped Alan King's Sceau Royal for that race but he was a desperate disappointment in twelfth. Zubayr was one further place behind in thirteenth, having previously beaten Azzuri in the Adonis at Kempton.

Azzuri went off like a scalded cat that day but he maintained his gallop to the line, beaten just under four lengths (Nicky Henderson's Khezerabad a further three quarters of a length behind third). That looked a marked step-up on his second run for the Dan Skeleton yard; I'm hoping the first-time tongue-tie can elicit some further improvement on a track that should suit his style of racing.

At 33/1 (BetFred) Azzuri is an each-way selection for those of an adventurous disposition... 

Friday, April 01, 2016

Ten years of PG's Tips

This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the very first blog post inspired by a guy called Mike whom I met at a wedding reception in York.

The inaugural tip a few days later was a match bet in the 2006 Grand National. Paul and Nina Carberry were the first brother and sister to ride in the same National and I was sure I'd seen Nina quoted at 2/1 to get further round than Paul.  In the event she finished ninth on Forest Gunner while Paul fell from Sir OJ at Becher's on the second circuit.

The very next selection, Mam Ratagan in the concluding bumper at the same meeting, proved far more representative of the performance of the blog's selections over the ensuing ten years - the gelding finished twentieth of the twenty two runners.

I was a different person in those early days - keen, much too keen for my own good, with a tendency towards verbosity taken from the Leonard Sachs school of music hall and at a completely different juncture on my personal betting journey.

Ten years and over a thousand posts later, I retain no plans to give up the day job - a salient demonstration of my ability to find winners - and I've failed miserably to address the prolixity issue. In all that time Ludlow has been a 'lucky' track - the other 38 jumps courses have proved far less propitious.

Still, this exercise in self-indulgence has generated the odd wry laugh here and there, helping to ease the pain of egregious performance...

The saga of John Parrott and the infernal pub quiz machine remains one of the most widely read posts, primarily because back then people had started to search Google for answers to the questions posed by those wretched machines; I still haven't received an apology from Mr Parrott for the part he played in that particular downfall.

As any follower of National Hunt racing will tell you, the twin threats of abandoned fixtures and a family Christmas make for a particularly difficult time over the festive period; on at least one occasion The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game has provided some much-needed light relief...

And perhaps you were unaware the 2012 Grand National runners had starred in a piece of 'fiction noir' of their own making?
Bay mare Big Knickers proved a source of some ribaldry back in 2010 when finishing a staying-on third in a Plumpton maiden; the comments-in-running included 'held up towards rear'. Helpfully, further additional suggestions for potential use in future racecourse commentaries were offered up:

Big Knickers pulled up / brought down; Big Knickers out the back struggling with a big weight; Big Knickers just held on; Big Knickers stayed on (up the hill); Big Knickers looking comfortable; Big Knickers squeezed for room; Big Knickers out with the washing etc. etc.

Mrs Tips continues in robust health and still retains that most piquant of qualities, the ability to walk into a room where televised racing is being broadcast and pick the winner of the next whereas all of my own carefully researched selections carrying my own hard-earned money have already fallen by the wayside...

The most galling interview I have been obliged to conduct came after the 2009 Grand National when my mother-in-law backed Mon Mome each-way at odds of 100/1; the telephone transcript, reproduced below, makes no record of my own silent sobbing:

PG: 'What made you choose that horse?'
Mother-in-law: 'Well, the name Mon Mome is quite close to Mum and as I'm Mum to five girls I thought I'd go with that.'
PG: 'What did you think during the race?'
Mother-in-law: 'I didn't realise it was going to win until right at the end. Grandpa said the horse had gone - I thought he meant it had fallen.'
PG: 'How did you feel?'
Mother-in-law: 'Very excited - we were shouting at the telly. We didn't even realise what price the horse was until the caption came up on screen! When we went to the bookies the lady said "Here comes the woman with the big win."' 

It took me some five years to recover.

Horse-racing, you know, it's a game of regrets. Allowed just the one, I'd cite watching the ill-fated Synchronised pass The Giant Bolster to win the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup with a 66/1 slip about David Bridgwater's charge stuffed in my pocket; Sir Anthony Peter McCoy OBE has never apologised for that particular disservice.

And a tip to mark the tenth anniversary? 

Well, the predominant themes discussed include fancy prices, the Grand National and loosing wagers so in that spirit Royale Knight is a cautious suggestion for next Saturday's showpiece. 

Before rushing in (where angels fear to tread), note that at this stage he needs twenty to drop out in order to make the cut and soft ground would appear to suit; I've seen one 10 day forecast that predicts rain in the Liverpool area on Thursday, Friday and Saturday next week. Beaten 15 lengths in sixth off a mark of 139 last year, Dr Newland's gelding runs off 142 this time and is currently priced at 50/1 in places; Paddy Power offer 40/1 with a non-runner no-bet proviso and are paying a quarter the odds five places.

Quixotic? Of course!

Onwards and upwards as they say...

Friday, March 25, 2016

Cheltenham aftermath

Cheltenham's 2016 Festival has certainly left its mark on the layers.

David Williams of Ladbrokes is on record saying 'It's been the most expensive week here we can remember' while in Thursday's edition of The Times William Hill chief executive James Henderson bemoaned the fact that '55% of races had been won by favourites or second-favourites' going on to add: 'I've never known four losing days at Cheltenham in my 30-year career in bookmaking.'

In this week's Weekender Alistair Whitehouse-Jones has penned a paean to D N Russell, diplomat and jockey. Davy's TV interview minutes after being unseated from Zabana at the start of the JLT Novices' Chase stands as testimony to his diplomatic skills whilst his ride on Diamond King to collect the Coral Cup speaks for itself.

That article reminded me of a comment from Radio 5 Live's coverage during the week; to paraphrase - if you want to make money at the Festival, back Davy Russell. This year from a total of 13 rides D N Russell won on Diamond King (12/1) and Mall Dini (14/1), showing a profit of 15 points. I'll try to keep that in mind for next year.

Undecided on the highlight of the week? Watching the replays may help...

Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle
Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase
Don Cossack in the Gold Cup

The official handicapper seems suitably impressed with Thistlecrack's performance in winning the World Hurdle; allocated a rating of 174, Colin Tizzard's stable star is on an equal footing with the legendary Big Buck's.

Killer Crow, widely touted on the Festival preview circuit, failed to make the cut for his race. Last time out he finished second in a Grade A Handicap Chase at Leopardstown, two and a quarter lengths behind Empire Of Dirt who won the snappily-named Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate on Thursday. At the time of writing Gordon Elliott's charge holds an entry in Monday's Irish Grand National for which he is quoted at 16/1 by both Coral and bet365.  

Footballers behaving badly was a story reported in several media outlets on the Wednesday morning; obviously no one condones such behaviour. That said, even I, with a mere smattering of knowledge, know the history of the turf to be littered with examples of profligacy and dissipation.

Nicholas Clee in his book Eclipse tells the tale of a meat salesman who owns the horse and 'an adventurer who made his money through roguery and gambling. He is also the companion of the madam of one of London's most notorious brothels' while Nicholas Foulkes' Gentlemen And Blackguards depicts early Victorian society at a time of 'frenzied speculation, high stakes and low morals'.

In a letter to The Times published Wednesday 22.03.16 reader Richard Warnock picks up the theme, quoting the rector of Cheltenham from 1827:

"If you wish your child to plunge into the world's vain pleasures, to acquire a taste for dissipation, send him to Cheltenham races. Every species of profligacy - adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, envying, drunkenness, revellings and such like are promoted by a race week."

Good Lord! I don't recall the racecourse mentioning any of this in the promotional literature sent out back in October...

From Cheltenham to Newton Abbot - tomorrow's two mile Class 2 Handicap Chase at 3.15 has caught my attention; in last year's renewal Another Flutter comfortably beat Starkie and Ulck Du Lin.

From three five-day entries, Paul Nicholls lets Ulck Du Lin take his chance once again, this time off a mark eight pounds higher - the gelding has done most of his racing (and winning) on right-handed tracks.

Ut Majeur Aulmes beat Starkie a neck and four lengths last time out; taking into account David Pritchard's claim, they look closely matched here.

The two course and distance winners, Miss Tenacious and Easily Pleased, return following lengthy lay-offs which leads me to Keel Haul. Back in November this one beat Minella Present at Cheltenham but appears to have lost his way a little since. He was an intended runner in the 4.15 at Ludlow yesterday but was withdrawn and I don't know why. The declaration here suggests it wasn't too serious - Minella Present held five day entries for this and the Ludlow race but connections have taken up neither option.

On the back of that Cheltenham run in November and now sporting a visor for the first time, I'll chance Keel Haul at around 13/2.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - the betting debrief

Just a fortnight or so away from the tenth anniversary of the first blog post and I'm happy to report this year's Festival has proved the most profitable on record.

Shown below a record of the highlighted selections to the registered starting price, each-way wagers calculated to one fifth the odds.

Altior win 4/1, win - returns 5 points;

Carole's Destrier each-way 14/1, pulled up;

Polly Peachum win 6/1, tenth.

Blaklion each-way 8/1, win - returns 5.8 points;

Special Tiara each-way 16/1, third - returns 2.1 points;

Ballyandy win 5/1, win - returns 6 points.

Garde La Victoire win 4/1, fell;

Whisper each-way 9/1, eighth;

Smart Talk win 6/1, thirteenth.

Don Cossack win 9/4f, win - returns 3.25 points;

Sceau Royal win 8/1, twelfth.

Total outlay: 11 points
Total return: 22.15 points
Profit: 11.15 points
Win strike rate: 36.36%
Profit as % of turnover: 101.36%

A good day Wednesday, a dry day Thursday, book-ended with a winner on the first day and the last day. Two of the four winners were available at bigger prices on the morning of the race - Blaklion (12/1) and Ballyandy (6/1).

For many the highlight of the week was Sprinter Sacre's victory in the Queen Mother Chase but, for me, Annie Power's all-the-way win in the Champion Hurdle just pinches it.

I'm sure we'll come back and do it all over again next year... 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - Friday

The Gold Cup (3.30) is the highlight of the meeting.
The picture has changed markedly during the week with the Mullins camp deciding to re-route Vautour to the Ryanair (which he wins today, even money favourite) and Bryan Cooper opting to ride Don Cossack rather than Don Poli for owners Gigginstown House Stud.

The principals all come with reservations...
There won't be a dry eye in the house should Cue Card win; connections will collect a £1 million bonus following his victories in Haydock's Betfair Chase and the King George at Kempton. A breathing operation has revitalised Colin Tizzard's charge but there's still a question in my mind whether he'll come up the hill and stay this extended three and a quarter mile trip.

At the age of ten, he's not getting any younger either - the last ten-year-old to win the Gold Cup was Cool Dawn in 1998.

Don Cossack's Cheltenham record doesn't inspire confidence. He fell in the 2014 running of the RSA Chase and then finished a disappointing third in last year's Ryanair when sent off the 5/2 favourite. In a full and frank post-race debrief connections admitted that ride wasn't Bryan Cooper's finest hour; this race offers a chance of redemption. He also fell in Cue Card's King George, coming to grief two from home when about to make his challenge - the suspicion is his jumping suffers when the chips are really down.  

That said, Don Cossack's seven length defeat of Djakadam in the 2015 Punchestown Gold Cup looks a key piece of form. 

Djakadam finished second, one and a half lengths behind Coneygree in last year's Gold Cup, but he comes to this on the back of a fall in the BetBright Trial here seven weeks ago. That day he sustained an injury that required a number of stitches and, although connections maintain he hasn't missed any work, it's hardly an ideal preparation.

Don Poli is a big old-fashioned chasing type who looks hard work, lazy almost, but who can get the job done; he'll certainly stay the trip! He won the RSA Chase last year but on official ratings has 12 pounds to find with Cue Card so looks short enough in the market. Although Bryan Cooper prefers Don Cossack, his chance is respected but would increase with ease underfoot.

Smad Place has to come into reckonings on the back of his front running display here in the BetBright Trial. Alan King's grey likes Cheltenham and jumped for fun that day; I'd imagine connections would be keen to use similar tactics again. He won the Hennessy that way in November but finished some 16 lengths behind Cue Card in the King George.

Don Cossack is the selection.

In my initial preview last Friday I indicated I'd given up betting in Festival handicaps and generally my wallet had felt the benefit. I strayed from the straight and narrow on Tuesday, supporting Carole's Destrier in the Ultima Handicap Chase; that one pulled up.

With fingers burned, I'm not tempted to follow up the two County Hurdle (2.10) 'whispers' mentioned -  Superb Story (second in the Greatwood last time) and Wait For Me (third in last year's bumper); both have crept in at the bottom of the handicap.

Apparently the former was touted on The Morning Line soon after that post so counts more as a 'shouting-from-the-rooftops' rather than a 'whisper' (and is now as low as 7/1 in places). For those interested Sky Bet stand out offering 14/1 about the latter who is talented but isn't the best at the hurdles.

The form for the Triumph (1.30) has been all over the place this season; Nicholls saddles five, Mullins and King three apiece.

Zubayr shot to the head of the market after collaring runaway leader Azzuri in the Adonis with previously unbeaten Gibralfaro fourth; beforehand Gibralfaro had beaten Connetable yet the former is now 25/1, the latter 10/1. Both runners sport first time cheekpieces.

Ivanovich Gorbatov was beaten ten lengths by Footpad at Leopardstown last month; Ivanovich is currently 9/2, Footpad 10/1.

I was prepared to forgive Gibralfaro his run in the Adonis and the 25/1 quoted looks big but reading Alan King's column in the Weekender, the gelding is hardly given a mention whereas of course and distance winner Sceau Royal the handler says:

"Sceau Royal schooled under Daryl Jacob last week and we were thrilled with him, he's right at the top of his game."

 Sceau Royal (7/1) gets the nod.

That's it, I'm afraid; time has caught up with me. Good luck for Gold Cup day!