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.