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.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Midlands Grand National 2018

Surrounded by random dog-eared notes, mostly written in HB lead pencil, losing betting slips and dishevelled racing papers, I have just watched a replay of this year's mesmeric Gold Cup and surreptitiously shed a tear.

On radio Tom Scudamore described the race as championship steeplechasing at its very best and, of course, he is correct.

Fifteen started but it effectively became a match after the first fence; a race between Native River and Might Bite to be replayed in the mind for years and years to come.

Tomorrow's card at Uttoxeter is under threat from overnight snow and rain; the going is currently heavy and an inspection is scheduled for 8.00am.

Eighteen have been declared for the Midlands Grand National (3.35) run over a trip of four miles two furlongs.

Kerry Lee saddles three while Henry Daly, Dr Richard Newland and Nigel Twiston-Davies all have two runners each.

Newcastle's Eider Chase provides a key piece of form; West Of The Edge finished second behind Baywing with Hainan fourth, Milansbar fifth, Back To The Thatch falling when appearing to hold every chance and Themanfrom Minella pulled up. That particular marathon was run just three weeks ago so there has to be a question mark over how well the participants have recovered.

This evening Dr Newland is pretty upbeat about West Of The Edge's chance and his charge heads the market; just one favourite has obliged in the past ten years.

In the same timeframe no horse older than nine has come home in front and just two have carried more than 10-12; Synchronised in 2010 and Firebird Flyer in 2016 both carried 11-5 to victory.

Those trends highlight the chances of the two Henry Daly runners; Artful Cobbler is preferred to Back To The Thatch who looked to take a pretty hefty tumble at Newcastle.

Hainan is of interest as there's a hint Danny Cook went for home a little too early in the Eider and he's 16/1 with Paddy Power who pay five places but on balance the grey has his fair share of weight.

Using the trends as a guideline I'm going to take a chance on outsider Billy Bronco who looks less exposed than a number in the field and was second behind I Just Know (declared Uttoxeter 4.10) in the North Yorkshire Grand National at Catterick in January.

Billy Bronco is 25/1 with Sky Bet paying one fifth the odds five places.

And in the event the meeting is abandoned?

I'll start my Cheltenham debrief post - and run that replay of Native River's victory in the Gold Cup.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Friday

The highlight of the whole week is the Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30) with eighteen set to face the starter; the ground on the New Course is currently described as soft, heavy in places.

On official ratings and by general consensus Might Bite is the best horse in the race but speaking earlier trainer Nicky Henderson expressed his reservations:

I'm worried about the ground and the extra two and a half furlongs as well. But he's been more straightforward and good this season.” 

Those that are likely to relish underfoot conditions include Native River, Our Duke, Killultagh Vic, Definitly Red, Edwulf, and American. 

Native River finished third behind Sizing John in last year's renewal (Minella Rocco second, Djakadam fourth, Saphir Du Rheu fifth, Outlander tenth and Tea For Two unseating Lizzie Kelly at the second flight); the official going on the day was good.

That was a decent effort from Native River who had won the Welsh National at Chepstow in December 2016 carrying top weight on soft ground. This season connections have trained the horse specifically for this race.

Our Duke hails from the same yard as last year's winner and is currently vying for favouritism. Clearly he is held in high regard but his price is short enough for one who tends to miss out the occasional fence.

Willie Mullins is responsible for four in the field. The market suggests Killultagh Vic holds the best chance but he only has three chase starts to his name and fell last time out in the Irish Gold Cup behind Edwulf. Total Recall won the Hennessy at Newbury in December but the form of the race hasn't worked out well while I feel Djakadam's best chances in this race have already passed by. Bachasson is relatively unexposed and could be anything; this is his first try beyond two miles six furlongs.  

Definitly Red looked good winning the Cotswold Chase here in January (American second, Tea For Two pulled up). He is rated just two pounds inferior to Might Bite and at around 12/1 is interesting.

Edwulf comes into calculations on the back of his neck defeat of Outlander in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown nearly six week ago (Djakadam third, Our Duke fourth, with Anibale Fly, Killultagh Vic and Minella Rocco falling). He holds each-way claims at around 14/1. 

Gordon Elliott is on record as saying Outlander is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character. The trainer can't tell which one will turn up on the day - what hope do we have? He's entitled to be in the mix on a going day.

American has been supplemented and will appreciate underfoot conditions but he has some ten pounds to find with Might Bite and there were no obvious excuses behind Definitly Red the last day.

Minella Rocco hasn't been in the same form this season as last; this is his first run following wind surgery.

A week or so ago I put up Double Shuffle and Saphir Du Rheu as potential outsiders in this; that was before the weather took its toll.

I see Double Shuffle is 66/1 in places this evening which seems a big price about a horse that finished one length behind Might Bite at Kempton on Boxing Day. Trainer Tom George has pointed out his charge has Cheltenham form in the book but the extra two and half furlongs on soft ground is the worry - in my mind's eye I can't see him staying on up the hill.

Saphir Du Rheu, fifth last year, is 100/1 this year and a little further information has come to light. He injured himself when falling in the National and wasn't seen until finishing well beaten behind Native River in the Denman last month. He is bound to improve for that but connections have indicated they would have preferred to get another run into him but have run out of time...

Native River is my idea of the Gold Cup winner but for betting purposes I have to take up Paddy Power's offer on Definitly Red.

Definitly Red (one fifth odds four places @ 12/1) is the selection.

I'm not sure I've seen a Triumph Hurdle (1.30) quite like this year's renewal before - just nine entrants with Willie Mullins saddling four. The two fillies with their allowance head the market; Apple's Shakira is a course and distance winner but short enough.

The vibes seem good for the Alan King trained Redicean who looked a different beast altogether in the Adonis at Kempton the last day. His three hurdle wins to date have all come at Kempton and this promises to be a very different test.

A distinctly trappy-looking affair but at around 5/1 Redicean is the win selection.

The County Hurdle (2.10) looks monstrous. They bet 10/1 the field, a field which contains the names of some old friends and some old foes. A number of those I had pencilled in haven't shown up (including Hunters Call) so I'm not going to play but I can see why last year's Fred Winter winner Flying Tiger, fourth behind Elgin in the Kingwell Hurdle last month, is popular.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Thursday

Brief notes for Thursday's card compiled hastily on Tuesday evening before Wednesday's trip to the track...

Just ten declared for the JLT Novices' Chase (1.30) and it looks the sort of race I should be able to strike a wager in but I'm struggling... Since its inception in 2011 this race has been won by either a six or seven year old.

Bigmartre is a horse I like and have followed for a while now; earlier I fancied him as an each-way wager in this race but as the day has crept closer I've been put off by the trip of two and a half miles on soft ground.

Finian's Oscar has found the fences getting in the way a little this season but connections are adamant the horse retains a huge engine. He has his first run since a wind operation, sports first-time cheekpieces and will be a danger to all if negotiating the obstacles fluently.

Invitation Only hails from the Mullins yard that has won the last three renewals with Vautour (2015), Black Hercules (2016) and Yorkhill (2017). The likely favourite was third last time out at Leopardstown behind Monalee and Al Boum Photo (with Dounikos fourth).

The result of Wednesday's RSA Chase should provide a useful pointer but I'll sit this one out.

The Pertemps Final (2.10) looks typically competitive. A week or so ago I followed a discussion on the Racing Post website that argued British handicappers had treated a number of Irish horses quite leniently in the Festival handicaps - the example highlighted in the discussion was Gordon Elliott's Delta Work.

Delta Work (14/1 in places) is the each-way selection.

I'm going to skip the Ryanair (2.50) to concentrate on the Stayers' Hurdle (3.30).

You couldn't fail to be taken by Sam Spinner this season - he has won the Betfair Stayers' Hurdle at Haydock and the Long Walk at Ascot (L'Ami Serge second, Unowhatimeanharry third, The Worlds End fourth and Lil Rockerfeller sixth). He has only ever raced on ground described as good to soft or easier; his record reads five wins and two seconds from seven hurdle runs and one win and one second from two bumper runs. Trained by Jedd O'Keeffe at Middleham in North Yorkshire, he may have been held up by the snow there a fortnight ago but his front-running style catches the eye and he's greatly respected. He's likely to start favourite; five market leaders have obliged in the last ten years.

Sam Spinner will face plenty of stiff competition.

The decision to send Yanworth back over hurdles hasn't really come as a big surprise as his jumping of the larger obstacles was far from convincing. Yanworth has beaten The New One in a Christmas Hurdle over two miles at Kempton and Supasundae over three miles plus on good ground at Aintree last spring.

The New One is as tough as old boots but tries this trip for the first time. Connections think he'll stay but with the ground having come up soft they would surely have preferred to run their star in Tuesday's Champion Hurdle. Stablemate Wholestone is a course and distance winner and wouldn't be lightly dismissed.

Supasundae won the Irish Champion Hurdle six weeks ago; he has run well but never won at this trip and would probably prefer better ground.

Last season I wasted enough money opposing Unowhatimeanharry who won eight on the bounce before finishing third in this race behind Nichols Canyon. His third behind Sam Spinner in the Long Walk last time out gave just the slightest hint that age may be catching up with him.

Before the rain arrived I fancied The Worlds End to show improvement for better ground; Tom George's charge was going well when coming to grief in last year's Albert Bartlett. Penhill collected the spoils that day and hasn't been seen since finishing second at the Punchestown Festival last April.

L'Ami Serge is a talented individual but looks as though he has to do it all on the bridle; he wouldn't be one to trust implicitly if push came to shove.

I like Sam Spinner who has been the surprise package this season.

Sam Spinner is the win selection.

Finally in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle (4.50) Maria's Benefit looks to have been kept very busy in comparison to odds-on favourite Laurina but she's the top one on official ratings and at 6/1 looks an each-way bet to nothing.

Maria's Benefit (6/1) is the each-way selection.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Wednesday

I've upgraded to Club enclosure for this year's visit to the Cheltenham Festival; I must check my tweed trousers don't need pressing...

Here's current thinking about Wednesday's card. Needless to say, after numerous pints of Guinness at the track, I'll probably end up changing my mind.

On Monday evening the going is described as heavy.

1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Samcro has been considered banker material by many for some considerable time now. The best of the British form is represented by On The Blind Side but he misses the race following a setback. To date the favourite has barely come off the bridle; this probably represents his first race proper. On official ratings he is five pounds clear of his nearest rivals.

I've considered Black Op and Vision Des Flos. The former might have beaten Santini here in the trial at the end of January but for a mistake at the final flight while the latter appeared to improve markedly for a wind operation when beating Mercenaire (runs in the Fred Winter at 4.50) by over 30 lengths. Black Op is generally 9/1 while Vision Des Flos is 16/1 in places.

Vision Des Flos is the each-way selection.

2.10 RSA Chase
Presenting Percy is the best horse in the race and has the considerable assistance of Davy Russell in the saddle but he's priced accordingly; four favourites have obliged in the past ten years.

Black Corton goes well for Bryony Frost, Elegant Escape looks solid and Twiston-Davies has said Ballyoptic is in the mould of 2016 winner Blaklion but on balance the Irish form has the stronger feel.

At the beginning of February Monalee beat Al Boum Photo, Invitation Only and Dounikos over two miles five at Leopardstown. Dounikos has been the subject of some bullish comment and was near the head of the market for the four mile amateurs' chase so connections clearly feel he's going to stay but he hasn't won at this trip and neither has Ruby's mount Al Boum Photo.

Presenting Percy was beaten a length by Our Duke (holds an entry in Friday's Gold Cup) over a trip of two and half miles just three and a half weeks ago. He hasn't had that much time to recover but on balance he looks the percentage call in an open race and is the win selection.

2.05 Coral Cup
Through a friend of a friend of a work colleague I have received a tip for what looks a typically impossible Coral Cup. The individual concerned tipped Supreme Story to win the 2016 County Hurdle so you'll understand if I say I feel duty bound to follow his advice...

Burbank (fourth behind Willoughby Court in last year's Neptune) is the each-way selection at around 20/1.

3.30 Champion Chase
Here's a maverick view of the Champion Chase.

At the time of writing favourite Altior is doubtful having been found lame in his near fore this morning; he has had just one run this season.

Douvan hasn't been seen on a racetrack since injuring himself in this race last year.

At Leopardstown last time Min looked set for some battle with Ordinary World coming to the final flight but the latter made a shuddering mistake, came to a standstill and eventually finished fourth.

Min is 3/1, Ordinary World 80/1; on official ratings Ordinary World has ten pounds to find with Min.

I should explain I have a bit of a history backing each-way longshots in this race. I still haven't quite forgotten how Mr O J Carter declared Venn Ottery without a tongue-tie in 2004 and in recent years Special Tiara has been particularly obliging although the ground has now gone against him.

For those of a quixotic disposition, Ordinary World (80/1) may outrun those odds and is the each-way selection.

4.50 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Last year I wrote:

"Often a lottery, in the past decade no winner has had an official rating higher than 133."

Flying Tiger won off a mark of 134.

You're probably better off purchasing a lottery ticket but I'm going to chance Oxford Blu on the back of a couple of comments trainer Olly Murphy made last week.

Oxford Blu (20/1) is the each-way selection.

5.30 Champion Bumper
Acey Milan is my idea of the winner but by this stage it's a distinct probability I'll have no money left; at around 8/1, the beast doesn't really offer any value anyway so I'll just sit this one out (in a corner of the bar, weeping silently into an empty plastic glass).

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Tuesday

The ground at Cheltenham is currently described as soft, heavy in places. Nicky Henderson has said he is 'very pleasantly surprised' by conditions but forecasters predict a further 10mm of rain before the Supreme on the opening day.

Looking for some value in the run-up to the Festival, for years I've tried to identify horses that might improve for better ground. This year it's going to be different and I've just shredded my list of decent ground performers.

As I always tell myself in the days leading up to Cheltenham, the Festival is a marathon not a sprint. Traditionally I've adopted a cautious approach on the opening day - so I can fritter away my hard-earned at the track on Wednesday's card.

This year's renewal of the Supreme (1.30) wouldn't be the strongest held in recent times but it has generated plenty of interest; layers are offering money back as a free bet if your selection loses or the favourite wins.

It's no surprise to see Getabird, unbeaten in four starts and trained by Willie Mullins, at the top of the market but  favourites don't have a particularly good record in the race - Vautour (7/2jf in 2014) and Douvan (2/1f in 2015) are the only two to oblige in the past decade.

Kalashnikov heads the British challenge. His victory in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month was impressive but if he's generally considered a 4/1 chance, I don't quite see why Summerville Boy is priced up at 10/1; Summerville Boy beat Kalashnikov four lengths on heavy in the Tolworth at Sandown (Western Ryder fourth).

At a bigger price Slate House is of interest. This one beat Summerville Boy over course and distance on soft in November. I'm prepared to forgive his next effort as the yard was out of form at the time and his fifth behind Santini the last day was over a longer trip. Connections have chosen to fit a tongue-tie for the first time.

Recently I spent some time trying to work out what plans Kim Bailey had for his novices and I'm afraid to report I've failed - miserably.

First Flow hacked up in the Rossington Main at Haydock in January; immediately after that race the trainer told TV viewers the horse was going to be put away for next season. On the back of those comments I thought Vinndication was the one for Wednesday's Ballymore but he only holds an entry in Friday's Albert Bartlett now (along with stablemate Red River).

Underfoot conditions will suit First Flow and his chance is respected but my recollection from that TV interview was connections felt the horse still had plenty to learn.

A quick word for two who finished behind Beyond The Clouds in the Scottish Trial at Musselburgh last month. I wouldn't dismiss the chance of Claimantakinforgan (14/1) on the back of that run while word is Simply The Betts (40/1) has a pretty big engine but the jumping is still a work in progress.

Slate House is the each-way selection (25/1 with bet365 paying one quarter the odds on three places).

Only five go in the Arkle (2.10) and I'm not tempted to get involved.

On ratings Saint Calvados is the play against favourite Footpad; the last five-year-old to win was Voy Por Ustedes in 2006. Brain Power took a crashing fall last time and has since had a wind operation.

The field for the Champion Hurdle (3.30) doesn't appear to have a lot of strength in depth and looks at the mercy of Buveur D'Air. If the first-time cheekpieces have the desired effect, 2015 winner Faugheen will be competitive. Between them, Messrs Henderson and Mullins are responsible for eight of the thirteen runners.

Elgin won the Kingwell at Wincanton with something in hand the last day and has been supplemented at a cost of £20,000.

Elgin is the each-way selection (20/1 with both Paddy Power and Sky Bet at the time of writing).

Finally I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all readers the very best of luck at this year's Cheltenham Festival.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Sandown's Imperial Cup 2018

In a classic 'Father Ted' moment earlier today I inadvertently found myself stranded and bewildered in the lingerie department of Debenhams - I have absolutely no idea how I arrived there - wondering whether Summerville Boy could possibly confirm Tolworth running with Kalashnikov in the Supreme on Tuesday.

Fortunately, I know how to read the signs - I need a break from all that Cheltenham form study.

So, here's a view on the Imperial Cup, not run anywhere near Cheltenham at all but at Sandown, tomorrow, at 2.25, where the going is currently described as soft.

Seventeen have been declared. Nicky Henderson's course and distance winner Call Me Lord takes his chance, carries top weight and concedes a minimum of twelve pounds to all his opponents; stablemate Whatwrongwithyou heads the market at around 4/1.

Magic Combination won the 2000 renewal at the age of seven; since then there have been only three winners older than six: Scorned (9) in 2004; Alarazi (7) in 2011 and First Avenue (8) in 2013. Seven in this year's field are aged seven or older while Shanroe Saint races from three pounds out of the handicap.

Two have caught my eye.

At the time of writing both Ladbrokes and Coral go 16/1 about Alan King's Fidux and pay a quarter the odds four places; that looks fair value.

In November Fidux was unlucky to be brought down by a swinging hurdle at the last flight when one length behind Maria's Benefit, a 6/1 chance for the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham on Thursday.

He was subsequently beaten under five lengths over this course and distance by A Hare Breadth (holds an entry the County Hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday).

The handler doesn't appear particularly bullish in the Weekender:

"I hope the ground doesn't get too bad and he seems in good order, fresh and well and not held up at all by the weather [unlike stablemate Scarlet Dragon who holds an entry in the Supreme].

"He's possibly at little high in the handicap this season but I'd love to see him back on better ground - although I don't think that will be this weekend!"

Clearly conditions aren't ideal but some may feel that is factored into the price.

Earlier in the afternoon my preference was for Master Of Irony; unfortunately it looks as though a number of others have had a similar idea. 14/1 has disappeared completely; at the time of writing Paddy Power and Betfred are amongst the layers offering 11/1 one fifth the odds five places.

Fourth behind High Bridge in the Gerry Feilden reads well; this evening the Racing Post quotes trainer John Quinn:

"He hasn't been out since that good run at Newbury in December but he'd have run at the big festival at Leopardstown but for travelling badly. He'll be fine here, as that was ferry problems, and I think he has a chance. If he were to win and come out the other end okay he's one who could run again next week, as he's had a light season."

The horse holds entries in the County Hurdle and Martin Pipe Hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday.

Master Of Irony is the Imperial Cup each-way selection (11/1 with Paddy Power / Betfred, one fifth the odds five places.)

And somehow it all comes back to Cheltenham. It really is very difficult to stop thinking about Cheltenham at this time of the year...

For the first time we will benefit from 48-hour declarations. In accordance with tradition, I'll be at the track on Wednesday and will post a blog for each day of the Festival.

Less than four days to go now...

Friday, March 02, 2018

Festival longshots in freezing temperatures

Eleven days to the start of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival and the country is in the grip of snow, ice, blizzards and freezing temperatures; at the time of writing Monday is the earliest racing on turf could resume.

Today I purchased a copy of the Racing Post Cheltenham The Ultimate Guide which I'll work my way through in more detail in the coming days.

Meanwhile, here are some initial thoughts and ideas - for you to do with as you wish.


The Arkle
I tipped Footpad each-way for last season's Champion Hurdle; he finished fourth, beaten ten and a half lengths behind Buveur D'Air, My Tent Or Yours and Petit Mouchoir. He's proved particularly fleet of foot over the larger obstacles this year but at around 6/4 offers no value.

Potential winners amongst the entries include Petit Mouchoir, Saint Calvados (last five-year-old to come home in front was Voy Por Ustedes in 2006), Sceau Royal and Brain Power. I'm not particularly fond of this race but will look closely at Sceau Royal's chance nearer the time.

Champion Hurdle
This doesn't look the best of renewals. At around 20/1 Elgin will be of interest if connections decide to supplement.


Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Samcro is the Irish hotpot while On The Blind Side probably represents the best of the British form.

A word for a couple of the less fancied runners... Two entries from Tom George's yard look interesting; Summerville Boy also holds an entry in the Supreme on Tuesday while Black Op also holds an entry in the Albert Bartlett on Friday. I feel the latter is likely to appreciate the better ground.

I was pleased to see Tom Collins give a mention to Vision Des Flos. Being turned over at odds of 1/4f on his penultimate start at Hereford doesn't look very encouraging but a wind operation followed and he then beat Mercenaire (holds a Fred Winter entry) over 30 lengths.   

The one I've really been waiting for from that Hereford race is Smuggler's Blues who looked certain to be in the mix two out before fading away tamely to finish fourth. He may have had an issue but I haven't seen anything reported.

Champion Chase
Provided we get decent ground, an each-way interest in Special Tiara will be de rigueur. Henry De Bromhead's charge is eleven years old now but I simply love his style of racing; he's currently a 16/1 shot.


JLT Novices' Chase
Bigmartre has been doing all his chasing around two miles. Last year it looked as though he failed to stay two and a half in a handicap hurdle at Aintree. He's a year older now - and 25/1 looks tempting.   

Stayers' Hurdle
Another I'm hoping to see improvement from on better ground is The Worlds End; this one looked unlucky to fall two out in the Albert Bartlett last year. He was beaten 11 lengths by Sam Spinner in the Long Walk and then 16 lengths by Agrapart in the Cleeve on unsuitably heavy ground. He's currently priced at 25/1.


County Hurdle
Not a race for the faint-hearted and I include myself amongst their number. Flying Tiger won the Fred Winter last year; his fourth behind Elgin in the Kingwell last month reads well and 25/1 makes some appeal.

Global Citizen was impressive in the Dovecote at Kempton last weekend but I suspect connections may choose to go to Aintree.

Hunters Call's win in the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle (formerly The Ladbroke) at Ascot in December catches the eye; Elgin finished sixth that day.

Gold Cup
This year's renewal looks particularly open; on official ratings favourite Might Bite is there to be shot at so here's two longshots while I work through the rest of the form.

Tom George has talked up Double Shuffle's chance on the back of his one length second behind Might Bite in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day. The trainer points out his charge has Cheltenham form in the book but my worry is he wouldn't be guaranteed to come up the hill in a Gold Cup. Double Shuffle is still available at 40/1.

Saphir Du Rheu is available at double those odds yet was only beaten six and a quarter lengths behind Sizing John when finishing fifth in last year's renewal. The horse has had his jumping problems in the past and last season I was amongst the many who thought he could never win a decent chase. However, over the course of the season, we saw steady improvement in the jumping department which culminated in that fine effort behind Sizing John. He fell in the National and then finished well behind Native River in the Denman at Newbury but he'll improve for that seasonal debut and there's just the hint he has been trained specifically with this race in mind. 80/1 is big.