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.