Friday, February 24, 2017

Rhythm and blues and Betbright views

"It's important to get into a good rhythm early on" is the sort of phraseology one might ordinarily associate with one of the Carry On films of the late sixties and early seventies but, for reasons unbeknown to me, in more recent times its usage seems to have become more fashionable amongst racing commentators and pundits who insist on repeating the mantra at least three times before the 'off' of every handicap chase televised.

Such sententious usage has only succeeded in inducing dyspeptic symptoms in this particular viewer during a Saturday afternoon's racing coverage.

Don't get me wrong, I fully understand the validity of the point being made but, hey, I've struck bets on beasts that have quite patently failed to get into any sort of a rhythm in any part of a race, never mind early on, they've just fiddled away and, once or twice, even managed to come good at the end. Similarly I can think of several selections that have established a good rhythm early on only to fade into oblivion at the business end of the race.

Rant over. Remind me to purchase another bottle of Gaviscon before the Festival starts...

At the beginning of the week Tea For Two was priced up favourite for Kempton's Betbright Chase (3.35) but the gelding was missing from Thursday's declarations. It transpires connections have had a re-think and now intend to run in the Gold Cup with Lizzie Kelly set to become the first female professional jockey to ride in the race.

In Tea For Two's absence, Double Shuffle heads the market and there's plenty to like about his chance.

Tom George's inmate raced prominently to win over this course and distance just after Christmas with Opening Batsman finishing some 20 lengths adrift in fifth. The handicapper has raised the winner six pounds for that effort but he's still weighted to confirm placings with Opening Batsman, will appreciate better ground and retains the hood introduced the last time.

Last year's renewal saw Theatre Guide beat Opening Batsman ten lengths (Ballykan fourth, Viva Steve sixth) but 12 months on he's 14 pounds higher which looks challenging.

                                         2016          2017         Lengths beaten
Theatre Guide                    139            153
Opening Batsman              136             133          10
Ballykan                             136             140          12.5 *Ryan Hatch (3)
Viva Steve                          133             139          13.5

Ballykan from the Twiston-Davies stable seems progressive, has been tipped up here and there and is Dave Edwards' Topspeed selection in the Weekender.

There was a lot of money for Viva Steve at Warwick the last day but ultimately he was disappointing in tenth; it was very heavy and he may bounce back but the suspicion is he'd prefer a bit more cut than he's likely to get.

'If you can't get three miles at Kempton, you can't get it anywhere.' I've lost count of the number of times I've heard that particular adage. I put no store by it so have to discount the three in the field that try the trip for the first time - Aso, Three Musketeers and Pilgrims Bay; in my book Irish Saint is another runner that doesn't look guaranteed to stay.

Fingerontheswtich wearing a tongue-tie for the first time won over three miles at Wetherby the last day so merits consideration but you need a more lateral approach to bring Nicky Henderson's duo, Cocktails At Dawn and Triolo D'Alene, into the reckoning.

Whilst Cocktails At Dawn sound far more civilised than Pistols At Dawn - mine's an Old Fashioned - I wouldn't have given this one a second glance until I read earlier in the week that the master trainer had been keeping him back for the Grand National; allocated 10-3 he looks to have every chance of making the cut. On 10 October 2015 Cocktails had As De Mee, Native River, Blaklion and Regal Encore in arrears in a Chepstow novice chase; you don't need me to tell you things haven't quite gone to plan in the interim...

Back in March 2012 at a Festival preview evening Nicky Henderson touted Triolo D'Alene as his best bet 'down in the handicaps'. The beast has frustrated me ever since. In 2013 he won the Hennessy at odds of 20/1 carrying none of my money. I've long since given up trying to predict how he'll run but I would say he has won at Kempton; in his younger days he appeared to be suited by better ground but nowadays I think he prefers some cut.

As always, an open affair - Double Shuffle has obvious claims.

At the time of writing Ballykan is 14/1 with Paddy Power who pay a fifth the odds four places while Cocktails At Dawn is 18/1 with Coral who pay a quarter the odds three places.

Of the two Ballykan appears more likely to run a race so Ballykan is the each-way suggestion. I just hope he gets into a good rhythm early on...

Friday, February 17, 2017

Haydock's Grand National Trial 2017

A sexagenarian acquaintance of mine has dedicated an adult lifetime to ensuring he never buys more than four alcoholic drinks in one go.

Earlier this week the Jockey Club announced they were to take a leaf straight out of his book by imposing a similar restriction on everyone frequenting public bars at this year's Cheltenham Festival. Interesting - should certainly keep punters on their toes in between races (when they're not collecting winnings).

Four weeks today we'll know the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup; seven weeks tomorrow we'll know the winner of the Grand National.

Tomorrow's Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase (3.15 Haydock) run over three and a half miles wouldn't be the most appropriately named event in the racing calendar given that in the past decade only three previous winners have gone on to compete in the Aintree showpiece the same season: Rambling Minster pulled up in 2009; Silver By Nature finished twelfth in 2011; and Giles Cross pulled up in 2012.

Blaklion heads the market for tomorrow's renewal. The Twiston-Davies yard has been in fine form in recent weeks and I've a soft spot for this RSA winner but the gelding hasn't looked quite the same this season - there's still a question in my mind as to whether that race has left its mark.

Ryan Hatch reported his mount 'made a noise' after coming home fifth in the Hennessy and he was comprehensively beaten behind Definitely Red and Wakanda in the Rowland Meryck at Wetherby on Boxing Day. Connections obviously feel the extra half mile will suit but on Wetherby form Blaklion struggles to reverse placings with Wakanda.

I tipped Kruzhlinin as an outsider with a squeak for last year's National (having finished tenth in 2014 and seventh in the Becher the following December) but he didn't trouble the commentator. A previous course winner, his second behind Our Kaempfer reads well but he's priced accordingly as is Goodtoknow who ran a fine race behind One For Arthur at Warwick but jumped persistently right on that occasion which causes concern.

Vieux Lion Rouge won the Becher in December (The Last Samuri, Ucello Conti and One For Arthur amongst those beaten) and has been allocated 10-7 for this year's National for which he's quoted at 25/1. There was a hint he landed the spoils a shade cleverly the last day and off a mark just four pounds higher this previous course winner looks to hold every chance.

On the lookout for an each-way chance, I've concentrated on three who come into this having shown some recent form.

Tour Des Champs was something of a revelation on his first run for new connections when winning at Cheltenham on New Year's Day at odds of 50/1. He won't be that price tomorrow and has been raised eight pounds for that effort.

Houblon Des Obeaux seems to have been around for ever and is fully exposed. On his penultimate run he was third behind Native River in the Welsh National and then finished fourth behind One For Arthur at Warwick; on revised terms he's set to finish a lot closer to Goodtoknow. All his wins have come with Aidan Coleman in the plate but Aidan rides at Ascot tomorrow; Charlie Deutsch is an able deputy, claims three and won a big prize on Otago Trail at Sandown two weeks ago.

Wakanda appeals as a young horse with a progressive profile coming slowly back to form. This is only his second attempt over a distance further than three miles; all his chase wins to date have come over distances between two miles three furlongs and three miles.

Vieux Lion Rouge is my idea of the winner but at the prices I'm going to take an each-way interest in Houblon Des Obeaux, 14/1 with Sky Bet who offer one fifth the odds four places.

Finally, congratulations to Captain Guy Disney who made history at Sandown earlier today by becoming the first amputee jockey to win at a professional racecourse in Britain, guiding Rathlin Rose (13/8f) to victory in the Royal Artillery Gold Cup.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Newbury's 'Super Saturday' meeting 2017

After a bomb scare at the track on Friday morning, Newbury officials will be hoping everything goes off smoothly for tomorrow's 'Super Saturday' meet.

Sixteen have been declared for the  Betfair Hurdle at Newbury (3.35) with three horses vying for favouritism - Clyne, Ballyandy and Movewiththetimes. I've seen different commentators claim in their turn that each one of the three comes into the race very well handicapped...

A Kempton handicap hurdle won by Bigmartre on December 27th ties in the form of Beltor, Eddiemaurice, Wait For Me and William H Bonney while at Cheltenham four weeks later William H Bonney came home in front of Wait For Me in fifth (and Bigmartre in eighth).

In last season's County Hurdle at the Festival Superb Story ran away from his field; Wait For Me finished fourth that day with Kayf Blanco a creditable seventh at odds of 50/1.

Wait for Me has been sent off favourite on each of his subsequent three starts but Philip Hobbs' charge hasn't quite managed to deliver the goods - the last day at Cheltenham he led approaching the final flight before fading to finish fifth. On occasions his hurdling continues to cause concern.

After what appears one abortive attempt over the larger obstacles, Kayf Blanco finished a four and three quarter lengths third behind Brain Power and Consul De Thaix at Sandown in early December (Zubayr fifth). That reads well given the former is priced up 7/1 for this year's Champion Hurdle and the latter 25/1 for the Neptune; on County Hurdle form Kayf has three lengths to find with Wait For Me.

On his only other run this season Kayf was hampered by a faller three out when racing over an extended trip at Exeter on New Year's Day.

Only two recent winners have carried more than 10-9 to victory (Zarkander with 11-1 in 2012 and My Tent Or Yours with 11-2 in 2013) but of the sixteen just Veinard and Eddiemaurice pass that particular test.

Of course this is an ultra-competitive event and the stats don't appear to favour eight-year-old Kayf Blanco. It's more than ten years since a horse older than six has collected the spoils; in 2004 at the age of nine Geos pulled off the trick for Nicky Henderson. That said, this just doesn't look a typical renewal to me - discounting riders' allowances, threequarters of the field is set to carry more than 11-0.

Kayf Blanco is the each-way suggestion, priced up at 33/1 in places. Most layers are paying a quarter the odds four places provided, of course, the sixteen make it to the start.

Only three go in the Denman (2.25) with the clash between Gold Cup second favourite Native River and Bristol De Mai eagerly awaited.

My marginal preference was for the former before reading a comment from Colin Tizzard to the effect that this two mile seven furlong and 87 yard trip would be the absolute minimum his charge would want.

Of course, with a small field there's the chance of a tactical affair; should Bristol win, he won't be 14/1 for next month's showpiece.

There's another small field for the Game Spirit (3.00) with just five declared and Gino Trail set to run in the Kingmaker at Warwick if that meeting gets the go-ahead.

Altior has been impressive so far this term but on official ratings still has two pounds to find with Fox Norton and seven with Traffic Fluide. Gary Moore's charge returns to the track for the first time in over a year; his performance here will determine plans going forward.

You know, I find it quite incredible that the 2015 Champion Chase winner Dodging Bullets is realistically quoted a 33/1 shot.

The handicapper judged that Festival performance worth 171; barely two years on, the horse is given a rating of just 154.

Friday, February 03, 2017

A Sandown slog

There has been precious little good news on these pages in recent weeks but here's some - as vegetable rationing hits UK supermarkets, lettuce, spinach and broccoli are likely to be in short supply...

A couple of races on tomorrow's Sandown card have cut up quite badly - just four contenders contest the Contenders' Hurdle at 1.50 (Yanworth a notable absentee) and five are set to face the starter for the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at 2.25.

At the time of writing there are fourteen left in the Betfred Mobile Heroes Handicap Hurdle due off at 3.00; the going is currently described as soft, heavy in places on the hurdle course, and further rain is forecast.

Browsing through the declarations a number in the field don't look guaranteed to stay this two mile seven furlong trip on heavy ground and there's a stiff climb to the winning line thrown in at the business end of the race.

With this in mind, I've decided to concentrate on those that look best equipped to survive the likely war of attrition. The six listed in racecard order are: Billy No Name; Valhalla; Rolling Dylan; Behind Time; Ballyculla and Desert Sensation.

A key piece of form is the Class 2 handicap hurdle run over a similar distance on soft ground at Chepstow on 27th December. Shantou Bob held Rolling Dylan a neck that day with Desert Sensation five lengths adrift in third and Billy No Name a further 14 lengths behind in fifth.

The handicapper has since raised Rolling Dylan eight pounds (to 132), Desert Sensation three (to 123) and left Billy No Name alone on 136 but, significantly, pilot Angus Cheleda can claim an eye-catching 10 pounds.

Valhalla, from the same stable as Billy No Name, reverts to hurdling having made his debut in a novice chase at Newbury five weeks ago.

Behind Time, owned by J P McManus and trained by Harry Fry, went off an odds-on favourite at Newbury the last day but was slow at some of the obstacles and was beaten four lengths by Solomon Grundy. There's a suspicion that wasn't his true running but on a line through the second Shantou Bob, Behind Time will struggle to come home ahead of Rolling Dylan.

Desert Sensation meets Rolling Dylan nine pounds better off than at Chepstow; the pair look very closely matched. His featherweight is an obvious plus in the conditions; he has a few miles on the clock for a young horse.

Ballyculla, fifth in the Rowland Meyrick on his penultimate start, has his first run over the smaller obstacles since April 2014. Having won off a mark of 136 over fences, he goes off 128 here and his amateur rider can claim a further seven. He's priced up the outsider of the field but heavy ground will help slow the others down; he's no forlorn hope.

A quick comment or two on runners that don't look quite so certain to stay...

Four weeks ago Daryl Jacob made the dash from Sandown to ride Fortunate George at Wincanton. The jock had a good word for Emma Lavelle's charge beforehand; in the event George ran a sound race from the front but had no answer to Kk Lexion. The handicapper has raised the winner 14 pounds - on a strict interpretation Kk Lexion will struggle to confirm placings. Having said all that, Jacob rides El Terremotto tomorrow which suggests he thinks the Twiston-Davies inmate has the better chance.

The Chepstow form seems apposite. I'm looking for a horse at an each-way price that should stay the trip and the eponymous Billy No Name fits the bill.

Quoted at 20/1 with several layers, Billy No Name is the each-way suggestion.