Monday, December 31, 2018

An each-way play for New Year's Day

I've been working through the Exeter card for some friends and family and thought I'd very quickly share thoughts on the 2.25.

Eleven declared but in my opinion a number may struggle to see out three miles in soft ground at a stiff track like Exeter - includes Duke Des Champs, The Bay Birch, Le Boizelo and Major Hindrance (beat Le Boizelo in 3.35 race last year run over 2m 3f) while Run To Milan still has to prove he will stay this trip in these conditions.

Of the remainder, Mustmeetalady and previous course and distance winner Wizards Bridge have been inconsistent of late while Blameitalonmyroots is in 'the last chance saloon' according to trainer Oliver Sherwood.

In his last two runs Court Frontier has become detached before staying on towards the finish.

It's not surprising therefore to see Achille given a favourite's chance with the stable in such fine form and Hugh Nugent claiming seven.

I'm going to take an each-way interest in Big Meadow (12/1 bet365) who won off this mark this time last year; I'm just  hoping the ground hasn't dried out too much.

Let me take this opportunity to wish all readers a very happy and prosperous new year.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Champ for the Challow?

As there are just seven declared, I've spent most of this afternoon trying to come up with one to turn over Champ in the Challow (Newbury 3.00) and, to be honest with you, I'm beginning to think my time would have been more productively spent sat in a five mile tailback on the M1.

On Racing Post ratings market leader Champ has a minimum of ten pounds in hand over his rivals. In the past decade the favourite has come home in front on five occasions.

Champ's course and distance win in a handicap hurdle on soft ground here four weeks ago sets a high standard and his opponents will need to show improvement to be competitive. Still, he didn't look the easiest of rides last time, pulling his way to the front after five flights and staying on dourly at the head of affairs. Conditions are likely to be a little less testing tomorrow.

Connections clearly hold Brewin'Upastorm in high regard. Beaten four lengths in a Listed bumper here last February the gelding won nicely at Huntingdon last time and steps up in class and trip. In the Weekender Straight from the Stable tour (14-18.11.18) handler Olly Murphy said:

'He isn't a big, scopey horse but has the makings of a smart hurdler... He'll definitely want 2m 4f in time, but he'll stick to 2m for that first run and will be fit enough to do himself justice [Huntingdon win], although he'll improve for the run.'

There looked more to come from Getaway Trump when he won a novice hurdle by five lengths at Exeter three weeks ago. He showed a smart turn of foot on heavy ground that day and stable form is red hot. He was beaten 28 lengths by Senior Citizen at Chepstow on his seasonal debut but that form should be treated with caution as he stumbled three out and could not recover.

Kateson won over course and distance with something in hand last time. In the Weekender Straight from the Stable tour (07-11.11.18) Tom Lacey said:

'His owners have mentioned that they'd love to run him at Cheltenham in March, with the Albert Bartlett the preferred target, but he must take us there as I won't drop him in above his grade. I hope he'll progress to that level by the spring.'   

There's a hint he would ideally prefer softer ground.

On a line through Vinndication, Coolanly has some four and a half lengths to find with Champ which isn't necessarily reflected in the market prices on offer. Fergal O'Brien's charge fell on his seasonal debut and then raced noticeably wide when winning at Cheltenham six weeks ago. The stable won last year's renewal with Poetic Rhythm (15/8f) although Adrian Heskin very nearly pinched it on Mulcahys Hill.

Alsa Mix surprised connections when beating the boys at Sandown three weeks ago. She benefits from her mare's allowance here but trainer Alan King admits this is 'a tough ask'. I didn't come across any fillies or mares amongst the recent winners - I couldn't say for certain whether a mare or filly has ever won this contest.

Nestor Park was beaten over 14 lengths by Coolanly on his penultimate run but settled better to win at Warwick last month. On the Listed bumper form of last February. Ben Pauling's charge has just one length to find with second favourite Brewin'Upastorm.

You pay your money and takes your chance. Brewin'Upastorm (11/2) would be my win play against the short-priced favourite but I note that SkyBet are the only layers to pay three places one fifth the odds.

Coolanly (6/1 each-way with Sky Bet) is the suggestion.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The trouble with Christmas...

The trouble with Christmas - there are simply too many distractions and as a consequence one's form study suffers.

A couple of each-way Boxing Day longshots I'm going to mull over during Christmas dinner...

Double Shuffle (40/1) in a vintage renewal of of the King George (3.05 Kempton) on the back of his one length second to Might Bite in last year's race.

Allyson Monterg (11/1) in the Rowland Meyrick (2.10 Wetherby). Just eight declared and they'd all need to start for the bookies to pay three places but 14/1 has long since disappeared. Was pulled up behind Presenting Percy in the RSA and came home seventh beaten a long way by Sizing Tennessee in the Ladbroke Trophy. I note that in the past decade all winners have been aged either seven or eight apart form According To Pete in 2011 and that in the same timeframe only two winners have carried more than 11-0 to victory - Cape Tribulation (2012) and Dolatulo (2014); Captain Chaos and Crosspark fit the required profile.

Food for thought.

Very best wishes to all readers this Christmas time.

Friday, December 21, 2018

A gift horse at Christmas

Why, only the other day I turned to Beeves, my butler, and cried in complete exasperation, 'Examples of outstanding customer service are just so extremely rare these days!'

And then this happened.

It was a miserable night and a howling gale was blowing outside. I'd sent Beeves on an extraneous errand to source some cat worming tablets - we don't have a cat - when there came a loud knock at the front door. 'What's this,' I wondered to myself, 'the start of another Christmas ghost story?' It was a man from DHL. Spooky indeed.

He handed over a rather weighty package - I guessed it contained at least one bottle - and asked me to confirm the address was correct. The parcel was addressed to my wife so I quickly confirmed we were indeed the intended recipients.

After five unsuccessful attempts at spelling the surname, the man from DHL passed me his portable device, I signed it 'B. Blenkinsop', and with this unexpected package safely secure in my possession I dashed into the kitchen to inspect its contents.

The sturdy packaging, emblazoned with M&S logos on all sides, was duly opened by my wife to reveal a bottle of red, a bottle of white ('whatever mood you're in tonight') and a bottle of rosé too - all in a stunning presentation box!

Now, the sort of people I know aren't generally given to such largesse, even in the season of goodwill, but working on the assumption you should never look a gift horse in the mouth, I was all for cracking open the red there and then and setting down to a cosy night in in front of a roaring fire while the gale raged outside.

My wife though has a particular eye for the detail (especially when I happen to be engaged in a minor deception of some description) and from past experience I could just sense there was a problem brewing. The fears were confirmed when she curtly announced, 'There's a problem.'

My teensy-weensy, tentative suggestion that we at least consumed the contents of one of the bottles before asking too many questions received short shrift.

It transpired that although the package appeared correctly addressed, the accompanying Christmas message indicated its bacchanalian contents were not actually intended for my wife or me at all, but for my mother and father-in-law. My wife's sister, in a moment of festive forgetfulness, had selected the wrong shipping address for her order.

Oh dear. An easy enough mistake to make, yes, but it led to much angst and several conversations ensued.

Eventually a phone call to the Marks & Spencer Customer Service department brought about the following resolution.

M&S would send a replacement package to mother and father-in-law, completely free of charge, while we retained the presentation box containing the bottles of red, white and rosé that I'd inexplicably become rather attached to.

Of course I fully recognise Christmas is a time for families everywhere but this rather propitious outcome means I shall be drinking my in-laws' wine free of charge while they're situated some 250 miles away at the other end of the country. It's starting to feel like a really special Christmas already and, to be honest, I'd be hard pushed to see it getting that much better.

Thank you Marks and Spencer for your outstanding customer service this Christmas.

Occasional readers hoping for similar levels of largesse from this week's blog post should note that last week's selection obliged at odds of 7/1 and, as I haven't tipped two consecutive winners since the last time someone mistakenly sent my wife three bottles of wine, it's reasonably safe to assume you've missed the festive boat, so to speak.

Usually at this time of year I like a bet in the JLT Hurdle (2.25 Ascot) but this renewal looks decidedly trappy and with much of the value gone, I'll watch from the sidelines.

Nicky Henderson saddles three, all making their seasonal debuts; Call Me Lord tries three miles for the first time while Top Notch is the biggest price of the trio but this evening the Racing Post reports the gelding was 'knocked sideways' by a flu vaccination six or eight weeks ago. Last year's winner Sam Spinner would be my idea of the winner and he has been well tipped up but he was beaten fair and square by Unowhatimeanharry (in receipt of six pounds) last time and connections have now decided to try cheekpieces.

Twelve have been declared for the Tommy Whittle (Haydock 2.40) where the going is described as soft, heavy in places. Three of the field wouldn't be guaranteed to stay - Clan Legend, Whoshotwho and Ballyarthur.

The last horse older than eight to come home in front was Chives in 2004.

Kimberlite Candy won over three miles at Ayr seven weeks ago and heads the market. In his stable tour (Weekender 07-11.11.18) handler Tom Lacey described his charge as 'inconsistent' and said, '...I'd admit he could be a hard horse to catch right.'

There has been market support for Rocklander while Duel At Dawn looks to face a stiff task on his seasonal debut. Daklondike is of some interest in a first time visor; I'm just left with the impression he isn't the easiest ride.

Sharp Response ran well to finish fourth behind Lake View Lad in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle three weeks ago (third Otago Trail declared in the Garrard Silver Cup at Ascot) with the Trevor Hemmings owned Testify finishing a tailed-off sixth. Donald McCain's charge is entitled to come on for that first run after wind surgery but he will certainly need to carrying top weight here.

Top weight on heavy ground often spells trouble but I note that both Cannington Brook (2012) and Seventh Sky (2015) won carrying that same weight on heavy ground.

At the time of writing BetVictor offer 9/1 Testify and pay one fifth the odds four places. 

Previous course winner Testify is the festive each-way suggestion.

Now, what did I do with that corkscrew...

Friday, December 14, 2018

Whips and tips

Following the untimely passing of The Times' racing correspondent Alan Lee in 2015, readers noticed a marked decrease in the number of column inches the paper was prepared to devote to horse racing matters.

Perhaps in an attempt to redress the balance in some way, on Wednesday columnist Matthew Syed, currently reading the Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, wrote an article entitled 'Whipping horses is ruining racing. It must be banned' in which he affirmed:

'Horses are being thrashed with whips at meetings up and down the country...'

Now, clearly there is a debate to be had about the whip and its use in racing but this particular article really did not help the cause and its publication whipped up something of a storm in racing circles. Onwards and upwards as they say...

The highlight on tomorrow's card at Cheltenham is the Caspar Caviar Gold Cup run over the New Course at 1.55; fifteen have been declared with the going described as good but rain has been forecast from seven o'clock tomorrow morning.

Four weeks ago Baron Alco beat my each-way selection Frodon over the Old Course here in the BetVictor Gold Cup (Guitar Pete third, Rather Be brought down, Romain De Senam unseated rider and Splash Of Ginge pulled up).

I'd be wary about taking a literal reading of that form as those that raced from the front missed the traffic problems behind - just six of the eighteen starters completed.

Top weight Frodon was obliged to concede at least nine pounds to all his opponents that day; tomorrow he has to concede at least 12 pounds to the rest of the field. Paul Nicholls' charge won the 2016 renewal of this race off a mark of 149 carrying 10-10; tomorrow he races off 164.

In the past decade Poquelin is the only horse to win with an official handicap rating above 150; he won off 151 in 2009 and 163 in 2010. In the same timeframe no horse older than eight has come home in front.

At the prices previous course and distance winner Foxtail Hill (16/1) makes some appeal. The Twiston-Davies inmate gave a hint of a return to form last time but the forecast rain is a worry so in search of a wager I've looked at the Unibet International Hurdle at 3.05.

Laurina hasn't come over from Ireland on account of the ground and Nicky Henderson has indicated Call Me Lord prefers to race right-handed so is likely to go to Ascot next week where he holds entries in the Long Walk and the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle.

That leaves just the eight runners and a fairly open-looking affair.

The Supreme winner at the Festival Summerville Boy is priced up favourite but his run in the Fighting Fifth a fortnight ago behind Buvuer D'Air (Vision Des Flos third) was most disappointing.

There are two previous winners in the field - The New One and Old Guard.

The former was beaten 25 lengths by Silver Streak last time; he wears a first-time visor tomorrow and would have every chance if returning to form but connections have indicated their charge will be retired if he doesn't show some sparkle. The latter would probably prefer a little further.

Nietzsche beat Silver Streak a head in the Greatwood here four weeks ago with Old Guard third and Western Ryder fifth. Silver Streak is certainly on the upgrade while Western Ryder's chance in first-time cheekpieces is also respected.

However on ratings the stand-out runner is Brain Power who receives weight from six of his seven rivals.

He hasn't really taken to chasing so I'm hoping a return to the smaller obstacles gets his career back on track. This is his second run since wind surgery in the summer; he finished eighth behind Buveur D'Air in the 2017 Champion Hurdle and was given an official handicap mark of 162.

Nicky Henderson's other runner We Have A Dream looks to face a difficult task with his stable companion on these terms.

Obviously I'm assuming a return to the smaller obstacles brings about a return to form - Brain Power (7/1 with Paddy Power and Betfair) is the win selection.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Becher Chase 2018

In search of a (seasonal) Saturday wager I've been browsing through runners in the London National (Sandown 3.35), the Welsh National Trial (Chepstow 2.35) and the Becher Chase (Aintree 1.30).

Ramses De Teillee, fifth behind Present Man in the Badger Ales last time on ground that wouldn't necessarily have suited, looks to have conditions in his favour at Chepstow on this his second start after a wind operation - he's the one to beat and is priced accordingly.

In a race where five of the ten runners boast course and distance winning form, I thought I had a potential angle with Another Venture; quoting from Kim Bailey's Straight from the Stable tour (Weekender 24-28.10.18):

"...he'll be all about those long-distance staying handicaps this season. I'm sure there's a good one in him somewhere, although he'd want the ground riding very soft." 

Unfortunately the layers aren't showing too much Christmas spirit - 7/1 generally, 9/1 Paddy Power - so I'm off to Aintree instead for the Becher Chase which is run over the National fences.

Eighteen are set to face the starter including former winners Highland Lodge, Vieux Lion Rouge and Blaklion. The bottom four race from out of the handicap; the going is currently described as soft.

In the past ten years only two horses have carried more than 11-0 to victory - Vic Venturi (11-12 in 2009) and Blaklion (11-6 last year).

In the same timeframe just two winners have been returned bigger than 14/1 - Oscar Time (25/1 in 2014) and Highland Lodge (20/1 in 2015).

Nigel Twiston-Davies' pair, Blaklion and Ballyoptic, find themselves at the head of the market while both Gordon Elliott runners have been off the track a long time. James Moffat sends down Just A Par along with Highland Lodge from his Cartmel base.

I've seen Crosshue Boy tipped up in a couple of places but on Racing Post ratings this one has something to find with a few of these while Present Man has done the majority of his racing on right-handed tracks.

For this race I tend to prefer one with form over the fences and the one I like with less than 11-0 is 2016 winner Vieux Lion Rouge.

Part-owned by Professor Caroline Tisdall (who 'supports the IJF' according to the naming of the first at Chepstow), the gelding was beaten some 65 lengths into seventh by Blaklion last year but at least starts tomorrow off a mark six pounds lower.

'Not likely to make too much of a difference!' I can hear you cry but, hey, he has undergone wind surgery since last at the track, sports a first-time tongue tie and, to date, has at least managed to complete every time he has tackled these fences.

Of the others Ultragold has stand-out form over these obstacles but races beyond three miles for the first time. On his two attempts at three miles to date he finished ninth behind Go Conquer at Ascot (November 2017) and fourth of six behind Dinons in a novices' hurdle at Cheltenham at the end of October.

Those who want a bigger price may think Regal Flow worthy of a second look.

Bob Buckler's charge won the Midlands Grand National on heavy at Uttoxeter in March before coming home tenth in the Scottish National. His two runs since should have put him spot on - my reservation is he has no form over these fences.

Oddschecker tells me William Hill is paying one fifth the odds seven places; at 9/1 Vieux Lion Rouge is the each-way selection.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Ladbrokes Trophy Chase 2018

Whisper it quietly but this year's Ladbrokes Trophy (Newbury 3.00) looks a little, dare I say it,  lacklustre with only 13 set to face the starter; connections of Kemboy were forced to stay at home after Thursday's scheduled sailing across the Irish Sea was cancelled.

At the head of the market the layers look to have their pricing roughly right about Thomas Patrick, Elegant Escape and Ms Parfois.

Elegant Escape beat Thomas Patrick at Sandown three weeks ago and collects a four pounds penalty for his trouble; both sets of connections will expect improvement - on the revised terms the latter can certainly reverse the form but I note Elegant Escape, third in the RSA last March, had a wind operation during the summer.

Ms Parfois, placed in six of her seven chase starts to date, has her first run since wind surgery in August. Handler Anthony Honeyball sent out Regal Encore to finish third in this race last year at the rewarding odds of 66/1; he comments in this week's Straight from the Stable tour in the Weekender:

"...I'm happy we've done plenty of work with her, including a racecourse gallop at Newbury last week with Regal Encore, and she's ready to run a big race. The only issue is the ground as she wants it soft or heavy, so we're keen to see plenty of rain this week. Given the right conditions it will be a real slog and she'll be jumping well and keeping going when others have stopped."

Traditionally this has proved a strong trends race. No winner has been rated lower than 146 in the past decade which eliminates The Young Master, Flying Angel, Allyson Monterg and West Approach.

The last horse older than nine to come home in front was Diamond Edge in 1981 so on those grounds I'm going to discount Sizing Tennessee as well which leaves eight runners from which to find some value.

The Alan King trained Dingo Dollar, tipped up by Paul Kealy, seems popular but, reading between the lines, I'm not convinced King really believes his charge has the class to come home in front.

Black Corton appears to have a stiff task off top weight while I always think Go Conquer is a better horse at Ascot.

The two I'm looking at are American and Beware The Bear.

American is a talented but fragile individual with low mileage on the clock. He was sent off 5/1 second favourite for this last year but was pulled up after jumping poorly throughout; afterwards the vet reported the gelding had lost his left fore shoe and suffered an overreach on his left fore.

56 days later Harry Fry's charge split Definitly Red and Bristol De Mai in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham - that form that reads very well.

He clearly comes with risks attached - his nine wins to date have all come in fields with less than ten runners, there's the suspicion the ground won't be soft enough and last year's effort remains a big worry but he tries off a mark three pounds lower this year and his amateur rider can claim another five. Speaking to the Racing Post Fry says:

"He's been easier to train this time around and we deliberately didn't let him down completely over the summer."

Beware The Bear won the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle on this day last year and at 16/1 in places he looks a big price for a Nicky Henderson trained runner. His overall profile doesn't totally convince and a quick look through the form suggests his jumping can cause problems on occasions.

He's another who underwent wind surgery during the summer and connections have decided to come here as they report their charge in rude health. Jerry McGrath's mount will also sport cheekpieces for the first time.

The current going on the chase course is reported good to soft, soft in places and the BBC forecast an 80% chance of further rain during the morning.

At the time of writing Unibet stand out offering 14/1 American and are paying one fifth the odds four places.

American is the each-way selection.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Black Friday, tomorrow's Saturday...

Bookmakers just can't resist it, can they? Getting in on the act, that is. Seen here and there in places today:

"Black Friday - the only sale where the prices go up!"

Quick, I need one of me tablets.

The weekend highlight is the Betfair Chase at Haydock (3.00). The field of five includes Gold Cup adversaries Native River and Might Bite but earlier today Nigel Twiston-Davies, fearing drying ground, indicated he would walk the course tomorrow morning before making a decision on Bristol De Mai's participation. A race to watch and savour.

Some observers think First Assignment is a bit of a good thing in the Betfair Exchange Stayers' Hurdle (2.25) at the same track. Ian Williams' charge won as he liked at Cheltenham last Saturday; he has been raised five pounds but is due to go up another eight so is, theoretically, eight pounds well in.

I'd advise caution before rushing upstairs to raid the kids' piggy banks. Last week Mr Williams made it crystal clear this horse doesn't take a lot of racing:

"He's not a really robust horse you'd be rubbing your hands with and saying we'll have a real go next week."

I certainly wouldn't be tempted by 6/4 and was considering an each-way wager on the Tom Symonds trained Bobo Mac - that was until I read this note from his handler:

"I'll have a look at the ground when I get to Haydock as he wouldn't want quick ground because I don't think he performs at his best on it."

With that cunning plan thwarted, I'm off to Ascot instead where the going is described as good, good to soft in places.

Thirteen have been declared for the Gerard Bertrand Hurst Park Handicap Chase (3.15). At the time of writing Cyrname and Modus are vying for favouritism; the former likes to race from the front and wouldn't be guaranteed to have it all his own way in this field while the latter beat Duke Of Navan a head at Cheltenham last time but wouldn't be one to trust implicitly.

Four in the field make their seasonal debuts - Speredek, Theinval, Gardefort and Valdez - and may just be vulnerable to race-fit rivals.

In the Weekender Alan King indicates Valdez 'needs rain' and is 'ground dependent' while this looks a tough enough ask for novices Caid Du Lin (four chase starts to date) and One For Billy (six chase starts).

In the Haldon Gold Cup 18 days ago Ozzie The Oscar was beaten half a length by Gods Own with San Benedeto a further seven lengths adrift in third. On revised terms San Benedeto should finish a little closer but there can be no denying that was a bit disappointing from Paul Nicholls' charge.

Prior to that the gelding had rolled in last of six behind Verdana Blue in a Kempton hurdle; in formbook notes Sandra Noble wrote:

"San Benedeto will need to improve markedly on this run if he is to get competitive in his next reported target of the Haldon Gold Cup..."

So I'm starting to think perhaps, just perhaps, there's a bit more to come...

At Exeter he was bang there before making an error at the third last and I'm hoping that run has put him spot on.

A previous course and distance winner, he went off 2/1 favourite for this race last year and was beaten two lengths into fourth off a mark of 157; tomorrow he starts off 152 and is the one to beat on Racing Post ratings.

Ozzie The Oscar is respected but with both Paddy Power and Betfair offering 11/1 and paying one fifth the odds four places San Benedeto is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 16, 2018

BetVictor Gold Cup 2018

I'd never go so far as to class myself a royalist but I've always felt an area where Her Majesty The Queen acts as a shining example to all of her subjects is the manner in which she uses horse racing as a form of escape from the trials and tribulations encountered doing the day job.

That said, somehow I don't think we're going to see Theresa May turning up at Prestbury Park over the weekend.

The highlight on tomorrow's card is the BetVictor Gold Cup run on the old course over a trip of two and a half miles; twenty have been declared with the race due off at 2.25 - the going is described as good, good to soft in places.

Splash Of Ginge won last year's renewal off a mark of 134. Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge starts seven pounds higher this time and is now ten.

The last horse older than nine to come home in front was Clear Cut in 1975 and since the race's inception as the Mackeson Gold Cup in 1960 only two other horses in that age bracket have won - Fortria in 1962 and Charlie Worcester in 1967.

Market leaders Rather Be and Mister Whitaker fought out a ding-dong battle in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at The Festival in March, the latter prevailing by a head. Nine pounds better off Rather Be might be expected to reverse the form but Mr Whitaker has a recent run under his belt while Rather Be makes his seasonal debut; they look closely matched.

Paul Kealy tips up Kalondra in the Weekender, arguing Neil Mulholland's inmate was in the process of running a huge race when coming to grief two out behind Sub Lieutenant at Galway in August. A previous winner at this track Kalondra could be up to ten pounds well in off his current mark and has been given time to recover from that fall.

Joint top-rated on Racing Post ratings, Baron Alco is a consistent front-runner who was beaten a head on his comeback at Chepstow last month. I've seen him put up here and there but prior to that Chepstow effort he had been on the sidelines for some 19 months and I'd just be worried he could 'bounce' here. At the time of writing stablemate Benatar is the shorter priced.

King's Socks boasts smart French form and has been on several lists of horses to follow for a while now. He hasn't quite lived up to the high expectations but has undergone a wind operation since last seen and races in a tongue-tie for the first time. Between 2000 and 2006 Martin Pipe, David's father, won six of the seven renewals of this race.

West Approach raced pretty keenly here last time out, eventually finishing third behind Relentless Dreamer over three miles. I suspect he'll benefit with that freshness out of the way and I like Dickie Johnson on a front-runner but I'm not convinced the step back in trip will suit.

With any potential selection for this race I like to see winning form at this track and only six match the required criteria: Kalondra, Mister Whitaker, Ballyandy, Frodon, Guitar Pete, Shantou Village and last year's winner Splash Of Ginge.

Guitar Pete was ninth in this last year and then won the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in December although Starchitect appeared to have the spoils in the bag that day before breaking down when seven lengths clear. Brian Hughes rides tomorrow; he could run well at odds of 33/1.

However the one I'm going to make a case for is top weight Frodon. Firstly, let me get the bad news out of the way. Paul Nicholls' runner has to give a minimum of nine pounds to his opponents and I admit it does look a pretty big ask.

In 2012 Al Ferof won for Nicholls off a rating of 159 carrying 11-8; in 2016 Taquin Du Seuil won off a rating of 156 carrying 11-11. The last horse to carry more than 11-11 to victory was Very Promising in 1986 (David Nicholson trained, Richard Dunwoody up).

That said, Frodon took the Old Roan Chase at Aintree (Javert second) last month. He starts three pounds higher tomorrow on 161 (six pounds higher if Bryony Frost's claim is taken into consideration) but afterwards connections indicated their charge wasn't 'hard fit' - I saw one estimate he was 80% ready.

So I'm hopeful there's some more to come on this his second run after a wind operation and he's joint top on Racing Post ratings. He doesn't boast the most consistent of profiles but the 17 length defeat of Shantou Village here in January reads well; the two appear closely matched on these revised terms.

I can't help but feel a little like Bingo Little in a P.G.Wodehouse scrape (PG's Tips does PG Wodehouse) and that invariably ends in disaster but, just look, the sponsors are paying one fifth the odds six places and Paddy Power one fifth the odds seven places!

Frodon is the each-way selection at 18/1 with Paddy Power.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Badger Ales Trophy 2018

Earlier in the week the Charlie Appleby trained Cross Counter gave Britain its first win in the Melbourne Cup. A piece in The Times on Monday highlighted the chance of Magic Circle but in the event Ian Williams' charge came home sixteenth after breaking a blood vessel. Nonetheless this particular snippet caught my eye:

"Ian Williams has the distinction of being the only trainer to have had a winner at every course in Britain." 

Former England footballer John Barnes was the guest of honour at Warwick's Sporting Icon Raceday today.

It's well known that the back straight at Warwick provides a stiff test for a novice chaser but 1/4 favourite Kalashnikov rifled over the fences and through his opposition to win very easily; he is now quoted as low as 9/2 for the Arkle at Cheltenham in March.

Rather more difficult to predict was the victory of L'Es Fremantle at Market Rasen yesterday. Rachael McDonald produced the 80/1 chance to pip Miss Lilly Pinchin on Follow The Swallow near the line to record the horse's first win at the 56th time of asking and give trainer Michael Chapman his first win for two years. Marvellous stuff.

There's plenty of rain and small fields about this evening; one exception is the Badger Ales Trophy Handicap Chase, the highlight at Wincanton, where sixteen have been declared to face the starter. At the time of writing the going at the Somerset track is good to firm, good in places, but that may well change before the off at 3.35.

Two of Paul Nicholls' runners vie for favouritism - Present Man and El Bandit. The former won this last year with Bryony Frost up and the pairing try to repeat the feat twelve months on off a mark just two pounds higher. The latter returns to the track after a spell of 543 days on the sidelines and has just one chase start to his name - the price being offered by the bookmakers looks distinctly short.

Thirteen days ago Bigbadjohn won here over a longer trip (Sumkindofking third) and, just two pounds higher tomorrow, he has obvious claims.

Nicholls' third runner Captain Buck's was beaten by Aunty Ann over course and distance last time out but could reverse the placings three pounds better off. I note that Harry Cobden rides El Bandit.

Ramses De Teillee has shown his best form on soft / heavy ground (which may yet come to pass) while the blinkers worked their magic on Allelu Alleluia last time but this is his first try beyond two miles seven furlongs.

Both Belmount (at Exeter) and Kings Lad (at Ascot) look to have had hard enough races in the past week.

In search of an each-way wager I've considered the two Charlie Longsdon runners - Aunty Ann and Bestwork - along with Sam Red and Sumkindofking.

On bits and pieces of form the 40/1 Paddy Power offers about Bestwork looks big but on balance his profile is a shade too inconsistent and he was pulled up on his first try beyond three miles last time out.

Aunty Ann will stay (as aunties often do) and the mare's course and distance win last time reads well but she races off a career high of 128 and her three chase victories to date have all come in fields with less than ten runners.

I like the profile of Sumkindofking (fifth in the Summer Plate at Market Rasen), a consistent sort, but it's difficult to see him reversing form with Bigbadjohn - that effort was his first try beyond two miles five and a half.

Sam Red was certainly very fortunate to win at Cheltenham the other day (Oighear Dubh well in command after the last before running out through the tapes) but this time last year Sam was racing off a mark of 137 whereas tomorrow he goes off 122 and amateur rider Mr William Marshall claims another seven; good ground looks important to him.

Sky Bet and Paddy Power both offer 16/1 about Sam Red and pay one fifth the odds five places.

Sam Red is the each-way selection.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Walter Sickert, Laurence Robertson and an each-way chance at the Ascot races...

Samcro suffered a shock defeat over in Ireland earlier today and, unfortunately, there just hasn't been enough rain around Wetherby with the result that both Thistlecrack and Bristol De Mai never made the final declaration stage for tomorrow's Charlie Hall Chase (2.40); Regal Encore has since been declared a non-runner.

At the time of writing there are four left standing - Black Corton, Double Shuffle, Definitly Red and Virgilio. The going at the Yorkshire track was changed from good to good, good to firm in places after the second race on today's card.

Over at Ascot I've concentrated on the listed 'Bet With Ascot Handicap Hurdle' (3.00) for which nine have been declared.

Market leader Global Citizen makes his seasonal debut here and was impressive winning the Dovecote at Kempton in February, eased-down to finish nine lengths ahead of Scarlet Dragon (beaten four and a half lengths into third in the Group 3 St Simon Stakes at Newbury last Saturday).

Magic Dancer was sent off  9/2 favourite for what looked a competitive handicap hurdle at Cheltenham last Friday. In the event Kerry Lee's charge was beaten by very easy winner Storm Rising who went in again this afternoon running off the same mark at odds of 2/5f (Wetherby 3.40).

Simply The Betts first came to my attention in the Supreme Scottish Trial Novices' Hurdle at Musselburgh, beaten a neck by Beyond The Clouds with Claimantakinforgan adrift in third (although Nicky Henderson's charge didn't run his race that day).  Simply went on to finish tenth in the Supreme at Cheltenham and has blown away any cobwebs with victory at Hexham three weeks ago; his chance is respected.

Sent off favourite for the 2017 Fred Winter, Divin Bere was beaten a neck into second by Flying Tiger. He subsequently finished second to Defi Du Seuil at Aintree but last season was something of a write-off - he finished well down the field at this track in the Grade 3 Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle (formerly the Ladbroke) and was then pulled up in both the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.

After a wind operation Paul Nicholls' charge returned to the track to win a handicap on the Flat at Bath two and a half weeks ago, finishing one and a half lengths ahead of Walter Sickert (the artist forever associated with 'The Camden Town Murder'). This one is bang there if back to his very best and is joint top-rated with Magic Dancer on Racing Post ratings.

In the current edition of the Weekender Alan King appears a tad lukewarm about Fidux and is contemplating chasing (although the handler admits 'he's not the biggest'):

"He'd been dropped a bit in the weights [before his Southwell win], but he's back up to 135 so he won't find it easy."

This looks a tough ask for four-year-old Sussex Ranger but Nicky Richards' Caius Marcius is of interest. His latest defeat of Theclockisticking by 11 lengths in a listed event at Market Rasen reads well; in the Weekender Stable Tour 17-21.10.18 the handler said:

"He's gone up 13lb for that, which I think is a bit harsh, so he'll have to progress again, but I think there's more to come and the handicapper doesn't often get it wrong."  

The stats show that no horse older than six has won this race in the past ten years so as a seven-year-old Caius Marcius doesn't have the perfect profile but at 12/1 with both Paddy Power and Betfair at the time of writing Caius Marcius is the each-way selection.

On the same card I'll watch Amour De Nuit in the 1.50 and Fubar and Emitom in the concluding bumper.

I saw Amour De Nuit win a match at Ludlow last week with the absolute minimum of fuss and the race here should be run to suit while Fubar looked unlucky the last day when slipping up but still managing to finish second.

The layers appear to have factored that in to their price but Kim Bailey's charge is unlikely to have things all his own way going by Warren Greatrex's opinion of Emitom on the Sporting Life website:

"He's won his only outing in a Warwick bumper back in April. It didn't come as a huge shock to us as he'd been showing all the right signs at home and he travelled really well.

The form isn't much to write home about but he won pretty well and if we've got a novice hurdler that could go to the top then it might just be him.

Put it this way, he's in Cole Harden's box so he's obviously got a lot to live up to!"

Finally, I don't know about you but I've never really been tempted to take a gamble on a career in politics, what with Brexit and all that sort of stuff. That was until I heard that Tewkesbury MP Laurence Robertson had received £7,433 worth of free tickets, all for horse racing events.


Friday, October 26, 2018

From Ludlow to Cheltenham

Court Royale (4/1), Whin Park (6/4f) and New Agenda (6/1) ensured a successful day at Ludlow's Autumn Race Day meeting yesterday.

A colleague, clearly excited after Richard Johnson's front-running ride on New Agenda, mistakenly tore up his winning Tote ticket and was on the verge of throwing the pieces in the bin; he realised, just in time, that he was now holding a worthless piece of paper with the name Shazzamataz printed on it (fourth of the four runners in the preceding mares' novices' hurdle). Fortunately the helpful lady at the Tote window allowed him to put all the pieces of paper back together again so he could collect...

I have to make a quick observation about Pembroke House's price in the six runner 'The "A Plush Flush" Handicap Steeple Chase' at 2.45.

Going through the form the night before, Whin Park was priced up around the 7/4 mark with Pembroke House generally on offer at 5/2. I have absolutely no idea what happened during the the morning but on course Pembroke House opened at 14/1 and was steadily backed, eventually going off at 15/2. The Racing Post records 'op 8/1, tchd 7/1'.

In the event Sarah-Jayne Davies' charge was the only one to throw down a challenge to favourite Whin Park but the grey was unable to quicken coming to the last and was beaten two and a quarter lengths.

Drama at Cheltenham's first meeting of the autumn this afternoon with two separate instances of horses running out after jumping the last with a winning chance - One For Billy in the 2.35 and Oighear Dubh in the 4.55. It will be interesting to see what changes are introduced for tomorrow's card.

Here's a tentative suggestion for the first race on that card, the "Matchbook Betting Exchange" Handicap Chase at 2.00; seventeen are declared and there are several returning from a long break.

Nigel Twiston-Davies is known to target this meet while the David Pipe trained Dell' Arca has run well here in the past and may have a fitness edge after a noteworthy effort finishing fourth in the Kerry National last month.

I can't help but feel there should be more to come from West Approach and Doing Fine is one I have time for but I'm going to take a small each-way interest in Relentless Dreamer who finished fourth in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in April and then third in the listed Marston's Pedigree Summer Cup at Uttoxeter in July. Sky Bet and William Hill are both paying one fifth the odds six places and at the time of writing William Hill offers 14/1.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Early season temptations

Good Lord, it all seems decidedly early in the season to be talking Grand Nationals!

Gordon Elliott has sent Jury Duty and Clarcam over to contest the American Grand National at Far Hills in New Jersey. Other British runners in the field include Jaleo trained by Ben Pauling, Tornado Watch from the Emmet Mullins yard and Hammersly Lake trained by Charlie Longsdon.

The last-named has a race a little nearer to home named to wish him all the very best; eleven have been declared for tomorrow's 4.55 at Ffos Las: 'Hammersly Lake Good Luck in America Tonight Handicap Chase'.

Kempton's Sunday card is the best jumps action on this side of the Atlantic this weekend.

Only four have been declared for the listed 'Matchbook Time To Move Over Novices' Hurdle' at 3.05 but I'll be interested to see how Itchy Feet shapes up.

After his win at Southwell the last day trainer Olly Murphy said 'I wouldn't be afraid of going up in class with him'. Connections have certainly taken that jump up in class and on Racing Post Ratings Itchy Feet has some 20 lengths to find with likely favourite Leapaway who is going for the six-timer. At present the market is suggesting it's going to be competitive.

Two of the field in the handicap chase at 3.40 have had a recent run and the tissue this evening prices both around the 7/1 mark. Oliver's Hill won this race last year off a mark of 116 and will try to repeat the trick off a mark of 127 having got up to beat Peppay Le Pugh at Fontwell 15 days ago.

Valhalla has a mixed profile. His third behind Ontopoftheworld and I'dliketheoption at Newton Abbot at the beginning of the month was a decent pipe-opener although the winner that day has since been well beaten by Mercian King at Worcester. Colin Tizzard's string seems well forward - Mick Thonic (12/1) ran a creditable race from the front earlier today at Wincanton, beaten half a length by Equus Amadeus.

Last year Ballybolley beat Master Dee into third in the Prelude Handicap Chase (Market Rasen 4.00). The pair meet again this year with Connor Brace claiming ten pounds on Fergal O'Brien's charge. Only eight in the field but a very competitive affair nonetheless; Master Dee would have to be of interest at around 9/2.

To my mind the most interesting race of the day is the Smerdon Tree Novices' Chase (Ffos Las 3.55). I like the Tizzard-trained Vision Des Flos but he's a very short-priced favourite and this looks hot. A race to watch closely with the future in mind...

The temptations are there but I'm going to keep my powder dry for the long season ahead. And anyway, I'm off to Ludlow on Thursday!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Chepstow chinwag

Back in the middle of the long hot summer we've just enjoyed Harry Skelton was some twenty winners ahead of Richard Johnson in the race to become the 2018/19 champion jockey; the tally this evening reads: Johnson 98, Skelton 87.

Exeter's meeting yesterday may have been abandoned due to hard ground but it's raining and blowing a gale outside at the moment.

Tomorrow Chepstow stages its opening meeting of the core NH season.This two-day jamboree is one to watch with the future in mind; the falling rain further tempers enthusiasm for a wager.

Earlier this afternoon Maria's Benefit (fourth in the mares' hurdle at the Festival in March) ran out a comfortable winner on her chase debut on heavy ground at Newton Abbot with 2017 Fred Winter winner Flying Tiger failing to impress in the jumping department.

Several think Colin Tizzard holds a strong hand in the novice chase division this year.

Both Vision Des Flos (my each-way selection for the Ballymore where he finished sixth behind Samcro) and Lostintranslation (seventh behind Summerville Boy in the Supreme and then four weeks later beaten half a length by Black Op at Aintree) held five-day entries for the Smerdon Tree Novices' Chase (Chepstow 3.35) but neither has made the final cut.

Trained by Paul Nicholls, Master Tommytucker came to my attention a couple of months back but he's priced up favourite this evening and Monbeg Legend, officially rated 147, will be no pushover and could easily have a fitness edge.

With Chepstow such an idiosyncratic track it's easy to see why previous course and distance winner Rock The Kasbah is favourite for the handicap chase at 5.20. Cobra De Mai is of some interest; he was beaten by a smart sort in Javert at Uttoxeter over two and a half miles the last day - after this race connections will find out whether he needs further a little further these days.

Since my last post in July two racing-related publications from former times have come into my possession. Racing Review (May - June 1949) describes itself as 'the foremost illustrated monthly journal for Sportsmen of the Turf' and is priced at two shillings & sixpence; and the official racecard for the Ladbroke Chester Handicap meeting on 4th May 1976. Ladbroke's sponsorship of the Chester Handicap on that day was the princely sum of £2,100.

Finally a work colleague helpfully mailed me a link to this story

The BHA is set to give racecourse obstacles a yellow makeover in trials after researchers discovered horses tend to see the currently-used orange as a shade of green.

How my colleague thinks this research will help improve my betting selections is quite frankly beyond me. I pointed this out to him in a rather snappy reply.

"Making the obstacles easier to see is unlikely to be of any discernible benefit to the beasts I tend to waste my hard-earned on. As a general rule of thumb, the issue for the horses I tend to bet isn't so much they can't see the obstacles, rather it's they struggle to run fast enough to keep up with the other horses in the race."

Looking forward to losing more of my hard-earned with you over the coming months...

Friday, July 20, 2018

Market Rasen midsummer madness 2018

When Alcala held Wadswick Court with a hint of more to come in last year's Summer Plate (Days Of Heaven seventh), the winner's name went straight into the notebook - in capital letters.

Twelve months later Wadswick Court is on a mark ten pounds higher for tomorrow's Market Rasen feature (3.15) while Paul Nicholls' charge, set to carry top weight, is rated just one pound higher which tells a story all of its own - mostly about the sort of stuff you're likely to encounter in my racing notebook.

Five weeks ago stablemate Bagad Bihoue beat Alcala three and a half lengths at Newton Abbot with Viconte Du Noyer a nose adrift in third and Days Of Heaven pulled up following a howler at the ninth. On the revised terms there wouldn't be an awful lot between the first three home while I've suffered burned fingers with the rather misleadingly-named Days Of Heaven in the past.

Shantou Village can boast some decent form but has been out of sorts of late - Paul Kealy advertises his chance in the Weekender - while Cut The Corner's second to Starchitect last November reads well but this race has gone the way of a younger horse in the preceding five years.

Callet Mad, owned by Simon Munir and Issac Suede, has mixed hurdling and chasing to good effect to date and his chance is respected, as is that of More Buck's, now trained by Peter Bowen who is known to regularly target this event.

Of the two at the bottom of the handicap Too Many Diamonds looks to have improved following wind surgery with three wins recorded at Southwell but this race asks a different question altogether; Not A Role Model could be anything and makes more appeal for those seeking an each-way wager.

Yes, there's more than a hint of midsummer madness in the air - I blame the present heatwave - but I'm going to take an each-way interest in Viconte Du Noyer (12/1 Paddy Power, a fifth the odds four places).

I'm hoping that, on revised terms, Colin Tizzard's charge can challenge the Nicholls' pair at the head of the market and that the fitting of first-time cheekpieces can eke out a little further improvement.

Friday, May 04, 2018

A brief review of the 2017/18 jumps season

Champion jockey: Richard Johnson
Champion trainer: Nicky Henderson
Winning owner: J P McManus
Champion conditional jockey: James Bowen

This proved the wettest season in recent memory; trainers with good ground horses were still waiting for the ground to dry out at Sandown's final meeting.

Underfoot conditions certainly played to Native River's strengths as Colin Tizzard's charge stayed on up the hill to beat Might Bite in an epic duel for the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup; champion jockey Richard Johnson could barely stop smiling in post-race interviews.

Those who doubted Might Bite's powers of recovery after such a tough race were made to look a tad foolish four weeks later when the gelding collected the Betway Bowl at Aintree with the minimum of fuss.

Irish domination was a feature of this year's Cheltenham Festival and that domination was further emphasized at Aintree with Irish-trained horses filling the first four places in the Grand National.

After coming home first in the cross country race at the Festival, a month later the 2014 Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll just held Pleasant Company a head to claim this year's National; Racing Post readers voted Gordon Elliott's charge their Jumps Horse of the Year on the back of those exploits.

Footpad, Samcro and Presenting Percy looked particularly impressive at Cheltenham; Buveur D'Air claimed the Champion Hurdle and Altior the Champion Chase for Nicky Henderson.

Way back in mid-November Splash Of Ginge sparked wild celebrations among connections when claiming the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham. There weren't too many others joining in - Nigel Twiston-Davies' inmate was sent off at odds of 25/1 and had just enough in reserve to hold Starchitect a neck on the line.

Four weeks later the ill-fated Starchitect appeared to have gained compensation in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup when bursting clear three out but the gelding broke down, allowing the Nicky Richards trained Guitar Pete to claim the spoils.

Bristol De Mai demolished his opponents in Haydock's Betfair Chase, beating Cue Card an eye-watering 57 lengths, but he couldn't reproduce that form at other tracks.

Irish raider Total Recall was sent off favourite for the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase (formerly the Hennessy) at Newbury and the money proved well-placed with Willie Mullins' charge holding Whisper a neck; the form of the race didn't really work out thereafter.

Might Bite took the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day but the proximity of Double Shuffle and Tea For Two led several to question the validity of the form. 2016 winner Thistlecrack also caught the eye back in fourth but he subsequently picked up an injury and unfortunately missed the remainder of the season.

The rescheduled Welsh Grand National was a memorable affair with sixteen year old conditional James Bowen guiding thirteen year old Raz De Maree to victory six lengths ahead of Alfie Spinner; the two oldest horses in the race finished first and second.

Bryony Frost proved a breath of fresh air throughout the long winter months; her association with Black Corton has been well documented while her efforts aboard Milansbar in Warwick's Classic Chase were certainly appreciated by handler Neil King. The pair were reunited in the Grand National and finished a creditable fifth.

Over the other side of the Irish Sea Samcro's fall in the Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival effectively ended Gordon Elliott's challenge to become champion Irish trainer; Willie Mullins secured his eleventh consecutive title.

At the same meeting Paul Townend suffered a dramatic 'brain freeze' when steering Al Boum Photo around the final flight with the Growise Novice Chase seemingly at his mercy. The jock returned the next day to ride a treble aboard Pravalaguna, Next Destination and Patricks Park.

On Friday 27 April Ms Katie Walsh won aboard Antey at Punchestown and promptly announced her retirement from the saddle; the following day Ms Nina Carberry won aboard Josies Orders at Punchestown and promptly announced her retirement from the saddle.

Blog selections fared considerably better than last year but, hey, that's really not saying very much at all.

I've noted that the form of the selections picked up markedly from February onwards, kick-started by Full Jack and a rather fortuitous victory in the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh. Worryingly, I can't fathom how that improvement came about.

Blog horse of the year has to go to Smooth Stepper who won the Liz Adam Memorial Chase at Kelso in a manner I could only dream of.

And the new season starts with the news that Sam Twiston-Davies has gone freelance and Harry Cobden is now the new number one at Ditcheat...

Philip Hobbs is on record saying that after such a wet winter he's going to keep a number of his good ground horses on the go over the summer. I wonder how many other trainers will follow suit.

And is there, perhaps, just the hint of an opportunity there?

Friday, April 27, 2018

bet365 Gold Cup 2018

Unfortunately a curtailed post for the last selection of the season due to intermittent technical issues...

Twenty are declared for the final day feature at Sandown (3.35) and on past trends those carrying less than 11-0 (including those racing from out of the handicap) are the ones to concentrate on.

Several in the field ran in this race last year and contested the Hennessy in December; a number of runners appear out of sorts.

Course and distance winner Carole's Destrier is of interest having fallen to an attractive handicap mark; if the rain stays away, better ground will help and connections fit cheekpieces for the first time.

However at a bigger price I'm going to chance Relentless Dreamer. This one stayed on into a well-beaten third behind Full Jack in the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh and then finished sixth behind Master Dee in the Betdaq Handicap Chase at Kempton.

After a poor season Rebecca Curtis sent out Joe Farrell to win the Scottish National at odds of 33/1 last weekend. I'm not suggesting for one moment she can repeat that sort of trick seven days later with Relentless Dreamer but I'm hoping the better ground will bring out a respectable run from her charge.

33/1 is quoted in places; Sky Bet pay one fifth the odds six places.

Relentless Dreamer is the each-way selection with Sky Bet.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Scottish Grand National 2018

The week after Aintree invariably throws up a selection of Grand National 'scrapes' generally encountered by the once-a-year punters - with runners, non-runners and reserves adding to the complications this time round.

It is with a certain degree of chagrin that I have to report my mother-in-law has been at it again - winning, that is. She backed Mon Mome at 100/1 in 2009 and she happened to be on Tiger Roll last Saturday at odds of 10/1.

Since the inception of this blog in 2006 my mother-in-law is showing an overall profit of 57.25 points; I'm seriously thinking of packing it all in and simply following her annual foray into the National market.

Percipient readers will have noticed I stated above that 'she happened to be on Tiger Roll' and therein lies a story.

Sent to the bookmakers to strike a number of bets for the extended family, my mother-in-law's runner, my father-in-law, was informed by the helpful assistant in the shop that her original selection, Thunder And Roses, was a non-runner; he should back Tiger Roll for her instead.

In terms of customer service it really doesn't get much better than that, does it?

The Times' theatre critic Ann Treneman wasn't quite so chuffed with the service afforded her when she walked into a William Hill betting shop in Bakewell, Derbyshire. Shown how to strike a £10 each-way wager on Milansbar, she was somewhat dismayed to discover later that William Hill only paid fifth place on wagers placed online.

Spare a thought though for this mother and her two daughters.

Mother backs Tiger Roll each-way single (wins); younger daughter backs Pleasant Company each-way single (second); elder daughter backs Bless The Wings each-way single (third). The tricast paid £9,439.25; the trifecta £68,670.00.

I did send a polite email earlier in the week enquiring why they hadn't informed me beforehand they were about to pull a stunt like that but, as of yet, I haven't received a reply.

If that's the sort of story that whets your appetite, tomorrow's Scottish Grand National (4.05 Ayr) is marginally easier with just 30 runners set to face the starter; the going is good, good to soft in places.

Last week a racing hack suggested layers would be targeting Flat fans after the Aintree Festival but in terms of turnover Coral rate the Scottish National their fourth best race after the Aintree National, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Derby.

Vicente has won the past two renewals and tries for the hat-trick off a mark four pounds higher than last year and with similar underfoot conditions.

Cogry was beaten a neck into second last year with Benbens a further two lengths adrift in third, Vintage Clouds seventh (beaten thirteen and threequarter lengths), Henri Parry Morgan ninth (beaten nineteen and a quarter lengths) and Straidnahanna pulled up. At the revised weights Cogry has it all to do to reverse placings with the winner (Jamie Balgary no longer claims three) but Benbens looks in the mix.

Vintage Clouds, second behind Ballyoptic in the Towton at Wetherby and then third in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, is respected off a mark seven pounds higher than last year; Sue Smith's gelding was the fourth reserve for the Aintree National last week but didn't get a run.

Two that caught my eye earlier were Looking Well and Doing Fine - or was it Looking Fine and Doing Well?

Anyway, there has been steady money for Neil Mulholland's charge Doing Fine - he's challenging for favouritism in some lists. He finished five and a quarter lengths behind Benbens in the London National last December; there's the suspicion Barry Geraghty left his mount with too much ground to make up that day. On a strict interpretation of the book the pairing look closely matched.

Looking Well's second to Ziga Boy in the 2017 Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster reads well; I backed him to follow up in the Grimthorpe at the same track five weeks later but he ran no race at all - an issue was subsequently discovered.

This term on his last run he came from off the pace and appeared to have the Edinburgh National in the bag approaching the last but he may well have been running on empty as he jinked, dumped Ryan Day on the ground and gifted a fortunate-looking victory to my selection Full Jack. The handicapper wasn't fooled - Nicky Richards' charge went up five pounds.

At the prices Looking Well makes more appeal but I'm concerned as both are hold-up horses and as a general rule of thumb those that race prominently have fared better in this event over the years.

A quick mention too for Irish runner Glencairn View who looks unexposed and could be anything; at the time of writing he's trading between 14/1 and 18/1.

Benbens is thirteen years old, pulled up last time out and is the least fancied of the three Twiston-Davies runners but on last year's running he looks in the mix and appears overpriced at 40/1 with Sky Bet (six places one fifth the odds).

However, on the better ground I'm going to chance that Looking Well can see out the trip and avoid any potential trouble in running.

Looking Well (20/1 Coral, one fifth the odds seven places) is the each-way selection.

Nicky Henderson holds a strong hand in the competitive-looking Ayrshire Hospice Land O'Burns Starlight Walk Handicap Hurdle (4.40) but one I expect to improve for the better ground is Burbank. He finished seventh in the Coral Cup, beaten seven lengths, and the handicapper has dropped him one pound for that effort. I'm not tempted by the 7/1 - 8/1 on offer this evening so I'll watch with interest.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Aintree Grand National 2018

With the going on the National course now heavy, soft in places, Minella Rocco, Vicente and Beeves have been withdrawn; three of the four reserves, Thunder And Roses, Delusionofgrandeur and Walk In The Mill, are set to take their chance.

The weights rise one pound; Blaklion heads the handicap.

When Red Marauder won the 2001 running of this famous race just four completed - and two of those were re-mounted. The picture of winning jockey Richard Guest splattered in mud remains one of the most evocative in sport.

It's anyone's guess what the going stick would have shown that day; readings became obligatory in 2009.

Ballabriggs won in 2011 over a trip of four miles four furlongs, came sixth the following year and was then pulled up in 2013, the first running in modern times over the revised trip of four miles two and a half furlongs.

Geraldine Rees was the first female rider to complete the course, finishing eighth on Cheers in 1982.

Katie Walsh currently holds the best placing by a female rider (third on Seabass in 2012); along with Bryony Frost on Milansbar and Rachael Blackmore on Alpha des Obeaux, Katie will be aiming to go into the history books as the first female jockey to win the race - she rides the seven year old grey mare Baie Des Iles.

Those who like to make their own selections may find The Sporting Life's horse-by-horse comments useful.

For everyone else, here's a view. Note that Paddy Power and BetFred are amongst the layers paying one fifth the odds six places.

1. Seeyouatmidnight (14/1 BetFred) - Talented but fragile individual. Has beaten Bristol De Mai in a match at Carlisle and finished third behind Vicente in the 2016 Scottish National off this mark. Sold to present owners for an undisclosed sum after qualifying for this race at Newbury three weeks ago. Slight concern over form of the yard (58 days since win).

2. Raz De Maree ( 22/1 Paddy Power) - Thirteen years of age and the last thirteen year old to win was Sergeant Murphy - in 1923! Won the Welsh National off a mark of 140 with James Bowen claiming five so effectively starts here off a mark eleven pounds higher. Relishes a slog in the mud and he's likely to get it here; finished eighth in 2014 and was unlucky to unseat at Becher's last year. Thirteen year old Vics Canvas (100/1) finished third behind Rule the World in 2016.

3. Baie Des Iles (14/1) - Jumps, stays and acts on the ground; at seven years of age the youngest horse in the race. Tipped up by Jim McGrath on Sunday at odds of 50/1. Last seven year old to come home in front was Bogskar in 1940.

4. Regal Encore  (25/1 BetFred) - A bit of a law unto himself and certainly not one to trust implicitly but he appeared to enjoy himself over these unique fences last year, staying on from out the back to claim eighth; races off the same mark tomorrow. Third in the Hennessy last November reads well enough - on a going day he has the ability to make a place.

Couple of quid to spare? Quixotic reverse forecast - Raz De Maree (together with Maggio the oldest horse in the race) and Baie Des Iles (youngest horse in the race).

Good luck to one and all!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Aintree 2018 - Friday

Pressed for time, I'm afraid, so just one tentative suggestion for Ladies' Day.

The Albert Bartlett at last month's Festival is the key piece of form for the Doom Bar Sefton Novices' Hurdle at 4.40.

Ok Corral finished second behind 33/1 winner Kilbricken Storm at Cheltenham with more fancied stablemate Santini third that day, Tower Bridge fifth, Poetic Rhythm tenth and Chef Des Obeaux pulled up. There's a general feeling a number in the field didn't run to their best on the day.

Poetic Rhythm is of interest at an each-way price.

Paddy Brennan didn't give his mount a hard time after the chance had gone at Cheltenham; prior to that the gelding, owned by The Yes No Wait Sorries, fought back to pip Mulcahys Hill on heavy ground over two miles four and a half furlongs in the Challow at Newbury.

That form reads well and the stable now appears to be emerging from a quiet spell (RTF figure for past fortnight: 56%); on Racing Post ratings Fergal O'Brien's charge is there with every chance.

Sky Bet offer 14/1 and are paying one fifth the odds four places.

Poetic Rhythm is the each-way selection.

Global Citizen looked very impressive winning the Dovecote at Kempton seven weeks ago; it's no surprise to see him marked up favourite for the Betway Top Novices' Hurdle at 2.20.

Two of my Cheltenham selections reappear here; Vision Des Flos steps back in trip having finished sixth behind Samcro in the Ballymore while Slate House took a crunching fall at the last in the Supreme.

Scarlet Dragon is short enough in the market for one lacking experience; rated 108 on the Flat, he finished nine lengths behind Global Citizen on his hurdling debut.

I've seen Style De Garde tipped up here and there and it's easy enough to see Irish Roe in the mix if you forgive the mare her last run in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury where a mistake at the second flight appeared to cost her her chance; an interesting renewal which should prove useful for future reference.   

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Aintree 2018 - Thursday

Four weeks since Cheltenham - in my book the Aintree Grand National meeting remains the trickiest fixture in the jumping calendar.

I certainly won't be shoving anyone out of the road to take an odds-on price about Might Bite in the Betway Bowl at 2.50. Nicky Henderson's charge lost out in the war of attrition with Native River (Definitly Red - ridden hard from some way out - sixth, Tea For Two seventh); after that memorable Gold Cup Harry Fry, trainer of American, said:

"In the conditions at Cheltenham it didn't matter whether you won, were placed, unplaced or didn't finish, you had a hard race."

David Orton points out that in the past decade, of the 13 horses that have run in the Bowl after completing in the Gold Cup, only Silviniaco Conti obliged in 2014. Last year Tea For Two fell at the second in the Gold Cup before beating Cue Card a neck in the Bowl.

Bristol De Mai has undergone wind surgery and comes here fresh but his jumping hasn't convinced as this season has progressed.

Double Shuffle finished a length second to Might Bite in the King George (Tea For Two third) and missed the Gold Cup; that said, he wouldn't want it too soft underfoot and stable form is a concern - just one win recorded since February - while Clan Des Obeaux tries this trip for the first time.

Double Shuffle and Tea For Two appeal as potential each-way plays. At the time of writing Tea For Two is still available at 16/1 in places while Double Shuffle is generally a 12/1 shot.

Tea For Two is the each-way selection, made with Harry Fry's words ringing in my ears...

Two Henderson horses, Apple's Shaira and We Have A Dream, dominate the market for the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle (2.20). Dan Skelton is on record as saying an Aintree speed test is likely to suit Nube Negra who finished a creditable third (Padleyourowncanoe fourth) when sent off favourite for the Fred Winter.

I'll monitor the performance of Beau Gosse (in the same ownership as We Have A Dream). This one finished 17 lengths third behind Redicean and Malaya in the Adonis at Kempton in February; easier underfoot conditions could bring about some improvement.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Sweet dreams

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

         Annie Lennox / Dave Stewart

It's that time of year, a week before the Grand National, and everybody's dreaming.

Trainers peddling dreams, bookmakers selling them and punters buying; there's that old acquaintance of an old friend of yours who claims he can still dream winners when he wants (and, when pressed, gives the simple riposte 'When I want, not when you want!') while Bryony Frost has her first ride in the big race on Milansbar and is one of the forty riders dreaming of coming home in front:

"In my dreams I can see him doing it, and even when I'm not dreaming I still think he has a real live chance."

Here's a dream I had last night.

I'm taking part in a team-based quiz event at an unidentified English stately home.

The main entrance is situated on the first floor and is approached from the front lawns by two semi-circular stone staircases; the black paint on the railings is flaking. I notice the floor above the entrance is completely dominated by an imposing bay window covered by net curtain.

The quizmaster is housed in an enclosed office just inside the entrance which acts as the main reception point. Players communicate with the quizmaster through a small window, similar in size to booking-office ticket windows that are still commonplace at heritage railway stations.

A single bonus point is the reward for the correct answer to the following question.

On April 18 [no year provided] Falco Dawn beat [unidentified opponent] in a handicap hurdle at Fakenham. During the post-race interview, what other name did connections use to refer to their winner?

We retreat to the lawns to confer at some length. Nobody on the team knows, we're guessing but we eventually agree a reply and I climb the stone staircase to deliver the answer to the quizmaster. As I approach the window I see he is busy writing at his desk. He stops, looks up at me but doesn't utter a word.

Conscious he will only accept my first answer, I speak clearly, deliberately.

"Our answer is 'All Fall Down'."

With the authoritative air of a quizmaster who happens to know all the answers, this quizmaster stands, walks away from his desk, pauses momentarily before turning back towards me and saying:

"It's 'Heustophon'."

Don't bother. I've checked. There are no horses currently in training with a name that remotely resembles anything uttered in that dream. That's dreaming for you.

Here's a tip for those of you who still dream on.

Ten are declared for tomorrow's Liz Adam Memorial Chase at Kelso (3.00) where the official going is heavy.

Yala Enki beat Seldom Inn seven lengths in last year's renewal with Baywing three and threequarter lengths further behind in fourth. This year Yala Enki starts off a mark six pounds higher (152), Baywing four pounds higher (taking into account Ryan Day's reduced claim allowance) while Seldom Inn is six pounds lower (139).

Seldom Inn has certainly fallen to an attractive-looking mark but his jumping has been indifferent this season and the blinkers fitted for the first time on his penultimate start, to date, don't really appear to have had the desired effect.

Baywing was impressive in the Eider at Newcastle seven weeks ago, coming home some 55 lengths ahead of Smooth Stepper in sixth. Previously however Smooth Stepper had beaten Baywing at the same track by seven and a quarter lengths over a trip of two miles seven and a half.

On the balance of form to date Smooth Stepper wouldn't be guaranteed to see out this trip on heavy ground; if he does, at the weights he finishes ahead of Nicky Richards' charge.

Wild West Wind and Lake View Lad are two more runners with question marks about their ability to stay the trip. Sent on to win his race three out at Haydock the last time, Wild West Wind stopped very quickly indeed; Tom George has only had the one winner since February - Summerville Boy in the Supreme on the first day at the Festival.

Lake View Lad has won over further but has been racing over distances of two and a half miles recently.

Chic Name is the one to beat on Racing post ratings. He comes to this relatively fresh and his sixth behind Tiger Roll in the cross country race at Cheltenham reads well. 10-4 looks a snip weight and James Bowen claims a further three; of those near the head of the market he makes most appeal.

The two at the bottom of the handicap are of interest. Harry The Viking may be thirteen but he isn't readily dismissed; Rachel McDonald takes off seven and certainly knows how to win having ridden Full Jack to victory in the Edinburgh National Handicap Chase at Musselburgh in February.

Smooth Stepper's stablemate Blakemount was kept busy last season before finishing sixth in the Scottish National at Ayr. Connections clearly decided to give their charge a well-earned rest as he made his seasonal debut just nine days ago at Wetherby.

Blakemount ran well for a long way that day and could be expected to come on for the run but, of course, it was nine days ago and he could 'bounce'. On initial inspection jockey bookings suggest Smooth Stepper has the better chance but I note Danny Cook hasn't ridden at lower than 10-5 in the past twelve months.

bet365 bet 10/1 Smooth Stepper, 12/1 Blakemount and pay a quarter the odds three places.

Smooth Stepper is the each-way selection.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention. I have this dream - of Beeves winning next week's National at odds of 100/1...

Friday, March 30, 2018

Haydock's Tim Moloney Handicap Chase 2018

The Challenger Series finals on the Haydock card tomorrow look challenging enough so I've spent some time on the concluding Tim Moloney Handicap Chase which is run over an extended trip of three miles four and a half furlongs.

Ten have been declared; the going is currently described as good to soft, soft in places, with more rain forecast - I expect a dour test of stamina on churned up ground.

Going through the form I've noted that a number in the field like to race prominently.

Three weeks ago Talk Of The South beat Muckle Roe a length over three miles five furlongs at Warwick on soft ground (Zerachiel a further four and threequarter lengths adrift in fourth).

Muckle Roe meets the winner five pounds better off here so, on the face of it, looks to have every chance of reversing the form but Paul Henderson's charge went clear two out that day and then idled when in front.

I'm assuming that's the reason behind layers pricing up Talk of The South favourite this evening but I'd be wary about taking a short price as this will be his ninth start since October.

On a strict interpretation of the Warwick form Zerachiel is also weighted to finish ahead of Talk Of The South and has under three lengths to find with Muckle Roe.

Bassarabad is unexposed and could be anything - certainly the layers don't appear to be taking too many chances. Last time out the gelding won in convincing fashion at Wetherby on his first run since wind surgery; this will be his first try beyond three miles one.

There are no stamina doubts where Kilcullen Flem is concerned. Formerly with Rebecca Curtis, this one made all to win over four miles in heavy ground at Hexham just sixteen days ago. He steps up in class here; the handicapper has raised him three pounds.

Cloudy Too has noteworthy form to his name but most of it is some way in the past. Now twelve years old, he was beaten a long way last time out at Ayr (Milborough pulled up) and in my book ranks a dubious stayer over this extended trip.

The same comment applies to both Blameitalonmyroots and Streets Of Promise who has shown a tendency to jump right on occasions. That said, the latter produced some improvement last time at Chepstow; he last won in April 2016 off a mark of 130 - tomorrow he starts off 114.

Ckalko Des Loges is clear of his rivals on Racing Post ratings but doesn't appear the most resolute. At Kempton last time he finished third behind Abracadabra Sivola (runs in Staying Chase Final at 3.15) with the formbook reporting: 'cajoled along two out, found little'.

Outsider Milborough, the other twelve year old in the field, has been pulled up on his last two starts and is tried in blinkers for the first time.

The form of the Warwick race looks key and Zerachiel doesn't have too many miles on the clock.

I can't deny I was hoping for a better price but at 8/1 generally Zerachiel is the each-way selection.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wine and horses, Cheltenham and Aintree

For reasons entirely beyond my control I have a commitment I'm obliged to keep on Friday evening this week and so, unfortunately, will be unable to post as usual.

Actually I've landed myself in a spot of rather hot water by making the sort of rudimentary mistake somebody like The Wine Tipster could only describe as 'a schoolboy error'.

Sent on a simple errand to purchase a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé (Chardonnay grape, Burgundy), I've come back home with a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé (Sauvignon blanc grape, Loire Valley), seduced by the slighly cheaper price...

It's a case of Cheltenham withdrawal symptoms.

This year there are four weeks betwen Cheltenham and Aintree, with much of the focus now on the Grand National which is scheduled for 5:15 on Saturday 14th April.

Danny Cook had barely dismounted from Definitly Red after finishing sixth in the Gold Cup before connections indicated their charge would not be running in this year's National; the Aintree Bowl is the likely target. Anibale Fly's third in the same race looked a decent enough trial - he holds entries in both the English and Irish Nationals - while American (ninth) is entered up in just the Irish showpiece at Fairyhouse, due off at 5:00 on Monday 2nd April. 

Total Recall was set to finish nearer first than last when coming to grief four from home in the Gold Cup; in some lists he is now favourite for the Aintree spectacular. 

Whatever, we should all note Harry Fry's quote after this year's Gold Cup:

"In the conditions at Cheltenham it didn't matter whether you won, were placed, unplaced or didn't finish, you had a hard race."

On Wednesday Tiger Roll ran a good trial in the cross country race at Cheltenham, beating The Last Samuri (third) and Beeves (seventh) with Cause Of Causes and Saint Are amongst those pulled up; Cause Of Causes, second in last year's National, was reported stiff and sore after the race. Beeves was noted to have run well for a long way at odds of 50/1 and Rathvinden's victory in Tuesday's four miler also mertis a mention.

In other National news Sandy Thomson is struggling to get his stable star Seeyouatmidnight qualified for the race.
Back in January the trainer gave Full Jack a low-key preparation before sending the gelding out to win the  Edinburgh National Handicap at Musselburgh. I spot a similar low-key approach with Seeyouatmidnight (has previously beaten Bristol De Mai and finished third in the 2016 Scottish National) but unfortunately the weather has had its say in the matter. 

Seeyouatmidnight still needs to run in a chase to qualify for Aintree. 

Mr Thomson might have expected to find a suitable opportunity at Carlisle's re-arranged meeting on Sunday but there isn't one on the card so the horse travels to Newbury on Saturday instead for the Doom Bar Handicap Chase (3.50). The gelding has been off the track for a year less one day and has had a wind operation in the interim but nonetheless has still been tipped up for Aintree in the Weekender at odds of 33/1...

The trainer states:

"He must have a fighting chance in the National and could be thrown in off 149."

Of course, the final word after any Festival has to go to the handicapper - Matt Brocklebank has provided a neat summary of ratings adjustments together with notes on selected runners.

In the meantime, in preparation for Friday night, I'm off to do some initial spadework on these handy wine cheat sheets...

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - a brief debrief

Two of the twelve highlighted selections on the blog obliged this year (Presenting Percy win in the RSA Chase on Wednesday and Delta Work each-way in the Pertemps Final on Thursday) recording a modest profit of +1.25 points at advised prices over the week.

Regular contributor TW picked out Mohaayed in the County Hurdle and Le Prezien in the Grand Annual on Friday to record a very healthy Festival profit of +34.9 points.

Amongst the also-rans tipped, Burbank caught the eye, finishing seventh in the Coral Cup behind Bleu Berry, beaten just seven lengths on ground he didn't like. Prior to the race trainer Nicky Henderson indicated he would have really fancied the horse's chance if underfoot conditions had been more suitable.

Ireland had the Betbright Cup in the bag by Thursday evening; a late flurry from the home side on Friday brought a hint of respectability to the 17-11 scoreline but there should be no doubt questions remain for those based on the British side of the Irish Sea.

The first Festival in a generation to be run on soft / heavy ground saw a number of front runners beaten in the closing stages; Top Wood, Gino Trail and Fabulous Saga are three that come to mind from the final day. Of course, Native River proved the exception to that rule in his epic duel with Might Bite in an unforgettable Gold Cup.

The going on the members' lawn on Ladies' Day could be described as heavy, impassable in places.

This year we purchased Club enclosure tickets (full price £90) rather than Tattersalls tickets (full price circa £50); naturally conversation centred around value for money. Viewing is certainly better in Club, with the balcony over the paddock a particular boon, but for those who crave the cut and thrust of the betting ring the atmosphere was distinctly sanitised.

There were several opportunities to wander into random champagne bars and pay upwards of £154 a bottle but such temptations were easily resisted. In time-honoured fashion, after racing we retired to our regular haunt in Tatts (Guinness £5.50 per pint) where we swapped our perennial hard-luck stories and threw away unwanted betting slips.

The wind almost reached gale force on Wednesday too - at times I felt I was on platform 7 of Birmingham New St station waiting for the delayed Cross Country service from Edinburgh; several ladies had their hats returned by chivalrous gents.

A walk into the infield for the cross country race proved a mistake. As we stood next to the Cheese Wedges fence and waited patiently for the runners to pass, we sank, almost imperceptibly, further and further into the mud. All I could do was ignore the old adage 'Don't wear brown in town' as my black footwear changed colour before my very eyes; at one point there was a worry one member of the party would require 4x4 assistance to cross the track and return back to the main enclosures...

Highlights of the week for me - Native River's Gold Cup victory and Presenting Percy's commanding performance in the RSA. Will they take each other on in next year's Gold Cup? And a word too for Summerville Boy who overcame plenty of trouble in running before beating Kalashnikov a neck in the Supreme, the very first race of the meeting. It seems like half a lifetime ago now.

I'm sure we'll do the same again next year - but probably in Tatts.