Friday, February 23, 2018

Kempton's Betdaq Handicap Chase

Fifteen have been declared for tomorrow's Betdaq Handicap Chase (3.35 Kempton); on a cursory glance my eye is drawn to those nearer the top of the weights.

Acting Lass from Harry Fry's stable heads the market and is unbeaten over fences but his price looks short enough against some of these battle-hardened opponents; this is his first try beyond two miles five and a half furlongs.

Master Dee is the epitome of consistency having finished in the first three on each of his eleven chase starts to date. He has been away from the track for a while but that's not considered a negative and Fergal O'Brien's horses have shown better form in recent weeks.

Paul Nicholls saddles three - Tintern Theatre, Art Mauresque and As De Mee. On jockey bookings, previous course and distance winner Tintern Theatre would appear to hold the best chance but he comes with niggling doubts in the jumping department.

I've had a closer look at Art Mauresque who will appreciate slightly better ground than we've had during the winter months. His second behind Waiting Patiently here last month reads well but the three mile trip is an unknown.

No such doubts surround Go Conquer who was particularly impressive winning the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot in November. Next time at the same track he made a bad error and nearly fell and then, with his chance gone, unseated Aidan Coleman three out. The worry is one mistake and the jumping could fall to pieces...

Loose Chips and Theatre Guide may be two old-timers but both can boast decent form at this track - Theatre Guide won the 2016 renewal of this race, finished third last year and tries this time off a one pound lower mark. Nacarat (aged 11 in 2012) is the only horse older than nine to have come home in front in the past decade.

I tipped Label Des Obeaux for the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury but his chance went with the standing start. He was better next time, under nine lengths behind Wakanda in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster. Alan King indicates in the Weekender this race is a warm-up for his spring target, the Scottish Grand National.

Relentless Dreamer was noted making headway in the Edinburgh National three weeks ago; he finished third that day - both the shorter trip and better ground here are likely to help the cause.

Owned by Robert Waley-Cohen and ridden by son Sam, the mare Theatre Territory has been running well for Warren Greatrex without winning - connections fit cheekpieces for the first time.

Art Mauresque is intriguing but Betfair's place terms are one fifth the odds four places so I'll take a small each-way interest in Go Conquer at 10/1, hoping the jumping issues seen last time were merely a temporary blip...

And, briefly, a couple of other runners noted on the same card.

In the Adonis (2.25): Guillaume Macaire brings over Beau Gosse from France; Malaya is clear of rivals on RPR ratings; Kasperenko, rated 94 on the Flat, makes his hurdling debut.

In the Dovecote (3.00): Carntop, rated 100 on the Flat, is another to make his hurdling debut. He was owned by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall until 1st February 2018; the gelding is now owned by the Duchess of Cornwall & Chips Keswick. Make of that whatever you will...

Correction added 23.02.18 @ 23:20
Tintern Theatre is trained by Nigel-Twiston-Davies and not Paul Nicholls as stated above. Sam Twiston-Davies rides for his father tomorrow, not Paul Nicholls. Apologies. PG.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Feeling snookered

For a while now I've been looking at Mrs Tips and thinking to myself she could use a rest so, as a Valentine's day treat, I took the plunge and booked a table.

First shot she went in off a red - and then the table lights went out. Give me a break.

If that isn't a cue for a tip that's going to fill the pockets and provide a much-needed financial cushion, then I'm not sure what is - Black Ivory should make the frame in Haydock's 3.50.

Look, I'd be the first to admit that so far this year the horses have left me feeling all snookered. That said, in snooker as in racing, I like to try a long shot but I'd baulk at the idea of saying there's a lot in common between the two...

Snooker and racing - they're chalk and cheese really. Here's a piece of Lancashire.

Blaklion currently heads the market for the Grand National in two months' time and he heads the market for tomorrow's Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Haydock.

In receipt of six pounds Vieux Lion Rouge beat the Nigel Twiston-Davies inmate last year; this year Vieux Lion Rouge contests the Keltbray Brinley Chase (2.25 Ascot) while Daklondike, in the same ownership, was set to start in the Haydock race but was declared a non-runner earlier this afternoon.

Blaklion has been asked to concede a minimum of thirteen pounds to all his opponents on heavy ground over a trip of three miles four and a half furlongs.

The handicapper currently rates Blaklion 161. A slight digression but for comparison purposes here are the ratings of the market leaders for next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup:

Might Bite 162; Native River 166; Sizing John 170; Killultagh Vic 153; Road To Respect 163; Coney Island 158; Definitly Red 159; Our Duke 167; Total Recall 147; Edwulf 152; Minella Rocco 161; Djakadam 165; Outlander 163.

Over the years Twiston-Davies has tended to pursue an aggressive approach when making entries for his horses, so, in a very open year, I don't quite see why he hasn't opted for the Gold Cup route with Blaklion. Nigel states:

"The Gold Cup is very tempting but we'll probably go straight to the National after Haydock on Saturday."

In contrast Willie Mullins has taken the totally opposite view with Total Recall. And four weeks today we'll know the name of the Gold Cup winner...

Digression over.

Of the eight in the field only two haven't won at Haydock previously - Wild West Wind and Sir Mangan.

The Dutchman from Colin Tizzard's yard looked good winning the Peter Marsh Chase here four weeks ago (Yala Enki fourth); stable form is improving, albeit at a slower rate than the handler might prefer.

Six weeks ago Silsol finished fifth behind Raz De Maree in the Welsh National with Wild West Wind falling at the twelfth when racing prominently and Mysteree pulling up soon after.

Previously Wild West Wind beat Alfie Spinner and Milansbar in the Welsh Grand National Trial at Chepstow. The form reads well with Alfie Spinner second behind Raz De Maree and Milansbar running away with Warwick's Classic Chase last month. That said, he took a nasty fall last time and there's little value in the price at around 4/1.

I've seen Three Faces West tipped up in a couple of places. He fell here in the Tommy Whittle just before Christmas; the form of Philip Hobbs' yard remains a cause for concern and regular pilot Richard Johnson rides at Wincanton.

Paul Kealy makes a cogent case for Silsol in the Weekender; I see where he's coming from and I'm dithering but Mysteree is also of interest.

Michael Scudamore's inmate failed to fire on his seasonal debut in the Welsh National but this time last year he won the Eider at Newcastle and then finished second behind Chase The Spud in the Midlands Grand National. The yard sent out Twenty Eight Guns to win at Fakenham earlier today.

That leaves Yala Enki and Sir Mangan.

Yala Enki is talented but temperamental and he needs to get to the start unruffled; provided there are no problems, he'll race from the front and on these terms is certainly entitled to finish a lot closer to The Dutchman than when they met here last month.

The balance of Sir Mangan's form is better since his move to Dan Skelton in September 2015. I'm not convinced he'll stay this trip on this ground.

I've had my fingers burned with Silsol in the past so, on balance, I'll play safety and take an each-way interest in Mysteree, a 10/1 shot with William Hill and bet365 at the time of writing.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Newbury's Betfair Hurdle 2018

Native River, third in last year's Gold Cup, makes his seasonal debut in the Denman Chase at 2.25 and the current two mile champion Altior makes his seasonal debut in the Game Spirit Chase at 3.00 but both headline horses face just two opponents in their respective races.

In marked contrast 24 have been declared for the Betfair Hurdle at 3.35; Nicholas Godfrey penned a short history of Britain's richest handicap hurdle in last Sunday's Racing Post.

The going at Newbury is currently described as soft and the frost covers are in place.

In the last twenty years Nicky Henderson has won this five times (Sharpical 1998; Geos 2000; Landing Light 2001; Geos 2004 and My Tent Or Yours 2013) and Gary Moore three times (Heathcote 2007; Wingman 2008 and Violet Dancer 2015).

Tomorrow Henderson's five entries include two mares, Kayf Grace and Verdana Blue, while in the Weekender Gary Moore says of his runner Knocknanuss:

'He now goes for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and he definitely has the right profile for the race. This isn't a race for horses with big weights unless they're a future Champion Hurdle winner or something like that and, although he's gone up 11lb, he's still at the right end of the handicap and is going the right way.'

Trends over the past decade point to a five or six-year-old carrying no more than 11-2.

Earlier in the week I quite liked the chance of Magic Dancer at a price but Kerry Lee's charge failed to make the cut.

In compiling this brief preview I've concentrated primarily on the form of three races - the listed William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Ascot (04.11.17); the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham (19.11.17) and the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Ascot (23.12.17). A snippet in the Weekender points out the last-named race, better known as the Ladbroke, has never provided the winner.

The Alan King trained Elgin gives a key form line between the three races. He won the William Hill at Ascot off a mark of 140 (High Bridge third, Verdana Blue fifth) and the Greatwood off 145 (Misterton second, William H Bonney fifth, Nietzsche sixth, Jenkins seventh and Project Bluebook eighth) before finishing sixth behind Hunters Call in the Ladbroke (Silver Streak second, Verdana Blue third, Bleu Et Rouge fourth, Nietzsche tenth, Charli Parcs eleventh and Divin Bere fourteenth).

Elgin is now being aimed at Wincanton's Kingwell Hurdle next week but the handler still rates the chance of William H Bonney who looked the Greatwood winner two out but didn't get home. The horse ran a similar sort of race in the Imperial Cup at Sandown last March; Alan King states:

'...I hope we've done things right this time and I still think he can win a big one.'

For those interested, 28/1 is the current price.

Two have caught my eye.

The Harry Fry trained Misterton carries his fair share of weight - he was raised five for that run in the Greatwood - but he likes to race prominently which I think could be an advantage and he has finished either first or second in eight of his ten races to date.

At around double the price Nietzsche, third in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham last March (Divin Bere second, Project Bluebook fourth), has the right profile and looks entitled to finish closer to Misterton than he did in the Greatwood.

That day, much like William H Bonney, he was bang there two out but fell away as they raced up the hill. He has been placed in seven of his nine starts over hurdles and I think he holds place prospects here.

From a philosophical perspective 40/1 Nietzsche looks better value than 20/1 Misterton.

In a wide open event Nietzsche is the each-way suggestion with Betfair amongst those layers offering one fifth the odds six places.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Trials and tribulations

At the moment we seem to be getting more trials than the Old Bailey.

Cheltenham last week, the inaugural two-day Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown tomorrow, and, this side of the Irish Sea, the two-day trials meeting at Musselburgh.

A number of trainers have sent their charges north, tempted by the prospect of better ground, but this evening's forecast predicts sleet and light rain for much of tomorrow; the going is currently described as good to soft, good in places.

Twelve have been declared for the bet365 Edinburgh National Handicap Chase at 3.15 run over a distance of four miles one furlong.

Top weight Delusionsofgrandeur heads the market while second favourite Missed Approach finished sixth in the Hennessy and then a respectable third behind Milansbar at Warwick three weeks ago.

Some commentators thought Warren Greatrex's inmate was a handicap snip that day off 139 but it didn't quite work out that way and the race itself turned into one almighty slog in the mud.

Missed Approach races off 138 tomorrow but if there's a snip in this particular field it might well be Southfield Theatre who finished fourth off a mark of 150 behind Present Man in the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton in the autumn yet starts off 139 tomorrow and has the assistance of Bryony Frost in the saddle who claims a further five.

Southfield Theatre wouldn't be one to trust implicitly and he hasn't come home in front for three years but he's top-rated on Racing Post ratings.

This marathon trip looks as though it could suit Bells 'N' Banjos on the back of his eighth in the Festival four-miler last March; the yard has had a quiet time of it lately but fired in a winner at Leicester on Wednesday.

Last year's renewal throws up some interesting contenders at double-digit prices - Dancing Shadow beat Gonalston Cloud, Azure Fly and Full Jack in a race where only three of the thirteen carried 11-0 or more; at the finish there was less than eight lengths between the four named horses.

This year Dancing Shadow tries off a mark four pounds higher while Gonalston Cloud is five pounds lower but has been well beaten twice this season after finishing behind Chase The Spud in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter in March.

In a Weekender stable tour just before Christmas Charlie Longsdon described Azure Fly as a 'great, fun horse' who 'needs extreme distances'. He was due to run in the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen on Boxing Day but missed that particular engagement for whatever reason and is currently rated four pounds lower than last year.

Full Jack is an eleven-year-old but interesting nonetheless. Fourth last year from four pounds out of the handicap, he's just two pounds 'wrong' this time and Rachael McDonald can claim seven. He went on to finish fourth behind Beer Goggles at Ayr in April and then tailed off in a Veterans' Chase at Cartmel in May.

In December the gelding was moved from Pauline Robson to Sandy Thomson and on his first appearance for new connections ran a respectable trial over hurdles at this track, beaten three and a half lengths.

In 2010 owners Mr and Mrs Raymond Anderson Green won the Scottish Grand National with Merigo and, all of a sudden, I've just caught the slightest whiff of a plot. Regular readers will be well aware my capacity for self-delusion knows no limits but there's just something different about this one...

Of the others, I tipped Looking Well for the Grimthorpe last year on the back of his previous second to Ziga Boy in the Sky Bet at Doncaster; he didn't appear particularly well-named on the day, beaten some 45 lengths behind Definitly Red.

It's much too soon to give up on him completely though, although I suspect he may need the run tomorrow - handler Nicky Richards in the Weekender stable tour 18-22.10.17:

'He...had a little issue, but he's back in training now and will hopefully be out in the new year. We'll look for those good staying handicap chases...'

Rebecca Curtis brings Relentless Dreamer up from Pembrokeshire and the booking of Brian Hughes catches the eye but it has been a tough season for Rebecca this year with just six wins from 74 runs.

I'm afraid I just can't help myself.

It may be pure self-delusion but Full Jack is the each-way selection - at the time of writing Ladbrokes offer 10/1 and are the only layer paying one fifth the odds four places.

Footnote: Beeves, a head fifth behind Full Jack in last year's race, is declared in the 3.10 at Musselburgh on Sunday; he also holds an entry in the Randox Grand National at Aintree.