Monday, December 30, 2019

The final fling for 2019

I've given far too much of my money to the bookmakers over the past decade but it looks like it'll be business as usual tomorrow when I make the short journey to Warwick for their New Year's Eve card.

Moderate fare on offer at the track and the same turn of phrase can readily be used about the abridged notes below.

Emmas Joy carries a penalty in the mares' novice hurdle (12.55). Dan Skelton has said of his charge:

"...she's definitely got a future in the game. I've got some big ambitions for her..."

On Racing Post ratings the Paul Nicholls trained Cill Anna has six pounds to find but the first time tongue-tie might help bring about improvement. Rose Of Aghaboe beat Wynn House and Meep Meep Mag here over two miles on her penultimate run; that form reads well but she was well beaten at Lingfield the last day and steps up in trip. Misaps is a big mare who ran well here two and a half weeks ago; she makes some appeal as an each-way play but Emma Lavelle has said Thoor Castle 'needs three miles and plenty of give underfoot'.

In the two mile handicap chase (1.30) top weight Comber Mill is better over hurdles than fences. Last year's winner Lightentertainment is getting on a bit now; he ran poorly last time out and is tried in blinkers. Favourite Seeanythingyoulike is still a maiden and looks a tad one-paced; I'll play Battleofthesomme whose profile looks more consistent than that of Agentleman.

In my book the favourite for the veterans' handicap chase (2.00) Troubled Soul doesn't stay the trip; on Racing Post ratings Uhlan Bute wins. Water Wagtail would prefer better ground; High Counsel gets the vote.

At Taunton last month Redmond finished three and a quarter lengths behind Adherence with Write It Down third, Seeanythingyoulike fourth (runs at 1.30) and Arquebusier fifth; that piece of form is worth looking at in relation to the two and half mile handicap chase at 3.10. Arquebusier  likes to front-run and landed last year's renewal but made a number of niggling errors at Taunton. Top Decision ran well last time out and rates an each-way play at around 9/1.

The concluding bumper looks a lot more intriguing than much of the preceding entertainment.Wilde About Oscar's chance has been highlighted by Ask A Honey Bee at Haydock earlier today. Scarpia, Hurrricane Mitch and Wireless Operator make their racecourse debuts for respected stables. Mint Condition is of interest on the back of his third here in October; the winner of that race, Soaring Glory, has gone in again since and finished second in an Ascot listed race behind Israel Champ. Israel Champ is currently priced up favourite for the Cheltenham bumper in March. The trouble is those bookmaker chaps aren't taking too many chances here, pricing up Jennie Candish's charge an 11/1 chance... 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Welsh Grand National 2019

Earlier today I was approached  by a punter who suggested PG stood for Port Guzzler - the sheer temerity of it. The same punter then proceeded to ask me for an each-way suggestion for tomorrow's Welsh National (2.50 Chepstow).

My minimalist response is reproduced below - one for you to take or for you to leave.

Sky Bet pays six places and offers 9/1 about Prime Venture in first time cheekpieces; enthusiasm is tempered by the fact the horse has never won a race over fences.

The vote goes to The Two Amigos, placed in five of his six chase starts to date; Nicky Martin's charge is currently quoted an 18/1 chance with  Paddy Power / Betfair who pay one fifth the odds five places.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas wishes for 2019

The blow-up beds have been deflated and salient family members shoved out the front door and up the road to church.

Fair play to the parish priest too - he's ever eager to play the part of pantomime villain by further elongating an already elongated religious celebration.

The Christmas Day post is never an easy post to write - looking to offer some small crumb of hope and comfort to those forced to spend the day with relatives they wished were a lot further away than they actually are. And then Auntie Betty drops her false teeth into the trifle.

Six cards (Huntingdon abandoned) to analyse before salient family members return - an impossible task, even with the initial spadework carried out last night.

The trouble is this year I think I might have chanced on something that might have half a chance.

The King George and Christmas Hurdle at Kempton promise some fascinating clashes but I won't be having a bet in either; Commanche Red can be given an each-way shout in the 1.20 on the back of  his third behind Nube Negra and his third behind Reserve Tank.

Wetherby's Rowland Meyrick Chase (2.10) will prove informative and Zerachiel - with seven pound claimer Charlie Todd in the plate - can be given every chance in the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen (2.15) on the back of his second place in this race last year.

I'm off to Wincanton though where Paul Nicholls is usually the trainer to follow.

But what's this? Fresh from pulling off a stunning victory with Not So Sleepy at Ascot on Saturday, renowned Flat trainer Hughie Morrison sends *three* runners to the track - Urban Artist (12.55); Third Wind (1.25) and Supamouse (3.45).

The stable's updated figures with their jump runners after Not So Sleepy's win now read:

Season to date: 4 wins from 9 runs (44%); +23.50 points profit
Last five years: 23 wins from 116 runs (20%); +34.29 points profit

A 1 point each-way patent (outlay 14 points) returns 430 points (using prices quoted today as a guide) in the admittedly unlikely event Mr Morrison's three runners win.

Now, we all know it's been a bumpy year but at least there's something to distract you from Uncle Albert's political ramblings over the Christmas turkey...

With best wishes to all readers this Christmas time.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Christmas comes but once a year...

This time last year I was the rather fortunate recipient of three bottles of wine in a rather fetching presentation box that one of my sisters-in-law mistakenly sent to me instead of my mother and father-in-law.

A gift horse at Christmas told the propitious tale in its entirety and proved one of the most popular posts of the season yet, tellingly, contained next no racing content whatsoever.

Unfortunately my sister-in-law hasn't repeated the trick this year so, like everyone else, I'm obliged to offer a sentence or two on the approach of the end of the decade.

Ten years ago Richard Johnson had just ridden 2,000 winners and Ruby Walsh was about to ride Kauto Star to a fourth consecutive King George; the comments-in running described Kauto's victory as 'magnificent'.

That said, the plot lines for the Christmas Day episode of East Enders appear to have hardly changed at all over the past decade.

This year's King George looks more competitive than the 2009 renewal but my cunning plan to bet Bristol De Mai each-way at around 25/1 has been foiled as there are now only seven runners left in the field - and Bristol De Mai isn't one of them.

Jockey bookings have caught my eye for tomorrow's Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot (3.35); the going is currently heavy, soft in places and an inspection is scheduled for eight o'clock.

Tom Scudamore, successful at the track earlier to-day on his sole mount Israel Champ, has one ride booked tomorrow - Umbrigado; Tom prefers to ride here rather than Daklondike in the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock.

Meanwhile Harry Skelton has one ride booked at Haydock - Crosspark in the Tommy Whittle - while Bridget Andrews picks up the ride on Mohaayed.

Mohaayed won this race last year but trainer Dan Skelton has since said:

"...but his last place in the Welsh Champion Hurdle [19 October 2019]...confirmed what I've believed for a while, that the handicapper needs to give him a break."

Fair play to the handicapper too - for once he appears to have listened by dropping the horse back to a mark of 145, the very mark from which the gelding won the race last year. It's just that Harry Skelton prefers to ride Crosspark at Haydock.

Richard Johnson prefers Crooks Peak to Zanza which brings in Greatwood Hurdle form. Five weeks ago the Alan King trained Harambe pipped Gumball at Cheltenham with Monsieur Le Coq third, Quoi De Neuf fourth, Zanza sixth, Countister seventh and Mohaayed ninth. The fifth horse, Dame De Compagnie, looked impressive winning the Park Mares' Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham last week.

The Greatwood wouldn't necessarily be the best form yardstick to use; winner Harambe was priced up favourite earlier in the week but has since been the subject of an injury scare. I couldn't be certain but I think there was a doubt about Harambe before the Greatwood.

Paul Nicholls saddles two four-year-olds with Harry Cobden aboard Tamaroc Du Mathan. After a long layoff this one ran well behind Master Deboniar at this track last month; Master Debonair gave hotpot Ribble Valley three pounds and an eight length beating earlier today. All that said, Nicholls' stable form is just 2-26 (8%) over the past fortnight.

The ground would be a worry for the Nicky Henderson trained French Crusader but Not So Sleepy, 94 on the Flat, fourth in the Cesarewitch and on Racing Post ratings joint top with Mohaayed here, is respected. Hughie Morrison's charge was gifted an early lead last time but I like this handler's jumps runners who are always worth a second look; in the past five years he boasts a 19% win strike-rate with his jumpers showing a profit of 29.79 points while this season he has recorded three wins from eight runs and returned a profit of 19 points.

A hugely competitive event and Tom Scudamore's decision to ride Umbrigado (David Pipe: 'he'll cope with the ground as well as anything I think') does not go unnoticed but I'm going to take an each-way chance with Whoshothesheriff.

Phil Kirkby's runner has a consistent profile - to date he has been placed in the hurdle races he has completed and last April won at a right-handed track  - Carlisle. He looked a tad unlucky the last day when run down on the long run-in after the last at Haydock; the step back in trip here should suit.

Generally a 12/1 chance, Sky Bet are paying one fifth the the odds six places; Whoshotthesheriff is the each-way suggestion.

Finally, for those worried by impending Christmas doom, here's a little something to ease the pain - the Boxing Day declarations.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Caspian Caviar Gold Cup 2019

The going down my local polling station yesterday was officially recorded by the returning officer as good to soft, soft in places, changing to soft, good to soft in places after 11.15. Queues were reported at several stations around the country, most of them selling petrol; as I went to cast my vote, I encountered fellow citizens strung out like a field at the end of three and a half mile handicap chase.

Potential polling day picks included Good News (2.25 Warwick); Defuture Is Bright (2.35 Taunton); Speak Of The Devil (1.10 Newcastle); I'm To Blame (2.10 Newcastle); and Jeremy Sunshine (non runner - found lame). In the end We'llcwhathappens (3.40 Taunton) got the nod and he was beaten a short-head by 13/8 favourite Layerthorpe.

If Jeremy Corbyn is feeling brassed off with Brexit this evening he should spare a thought for Nigel Twiston-Davies' secretary who mistakenly withdrew ante-post favourite Riders Onthe Storm from tomorrow's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham (1.55). Nigel phoned telling the lady in question to withdraw Rocco from a three mile chase at Bangor but she misheard and withdrew Riders Onthe Storm instead; the race is worth £73,151 to the winner.

Let's forget about the politics.

Here's an 'oven-ready' preview of tomorrow's Cheltenham race where fourteen are set to face the starter and the going is soft, good to soft in places.

Four weeks ago Brelan D'As was held a neck here by Happy Diva in the BetVictor Gold Cup (Warthog third, Spiritofthegames pulled up). That race was run on the Old Course over two miles four furlongs whereas tomorrow's is run over two miles four and a half furlongs on the New Course which is generally considered to be slightly stiffer.

Paul Nicholls holds a strong hand this year with Brelan D'As' stablemate Secret Investor currently priced up favourite. This one competes in a handicap for the first time but was well beaten at Down Royal the last day; the balance of his form suggest he may prefer better ground.

Five weeks ago Cepage had no answer to Riders Ofthe Storm at Aintree. Venetia Williams' charge was second behind Frodon in this race last year off a mark of 143; he is now rated 155.

On a line through Belami Des Pictons (creditable fourth in the BetVictor Gold Cup after being hampered by the fall of Eamon An Cnoic - runs in preceding race at 1.20) Williams should have a decent idea of where she lies with Cepage.

Not That Fuisse doesn't have that much experience over the larger obstacles while Good Man Pat has had jumping issues in the past but ran well the last day at Ascot. The step back in trip here should help his cause, he's one of three sharing the Racing Post top-rated spot and he's tipped up in a couple of places.

Clondaw Castle tries this trip for the first time - he wouldn't be guaranteed to last home and the same comment applies to Knocknanuss.

Gary Moore's other runner Benatar is of more interest and has some reasonable form to his name (beat Keeper Hill nine lengths in a Plumpton novice two years ago). He hasn't seen a racecourse since finishing well beaten behind Cyrname in January and is tried in a hood for the first time.

In The Weekender 16-20.01.19 Moore said:

"Don't ask me why but he just seems to need his first run or two now..." 

Spiritofthegames disappointed badly in the BetVictor Gold Cup where he jumped left at times and then was never travelling at Newbury - he has something to prove and I'm just beginning to wonder whether he is better suited to hurdling.

Willie Mullins sends over Robin Des Foret, James Bowen up. This one has a current rating of 145 in Ireland, has won off mark of 140 and races off 148 here. Make of that what you will, as I'll freely admit I'm struggling.

Generous Day looks to have something to find on the book but Warthog is of interest on the back of his third in the BetVictor Gold Cup. David Pipe's grey jumped well that day and he's generally rated a 12/1 shot. 

The market clearly thinks Imperial Presence is there to make up the numbers.

Philip Hobbs' charge likes to front run and perhaps went off too quickly over a shorter trip at Ascot three weeks ago; the handicapper has dropped him two pounds for that effort.

I always think Richard Johnson rides a good race from the front, particularly around Cheltenham, and, on top of all that, I just happen to like a front runner. And how often can you get 50/1 about a horse with the champion jockey on top?

With both Sky Bet and Paddy Power offering 50/1 and paying one fifth the odds five places, Imperial Presence is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, December 06, 2019

A Becher bet (2019 renewal)

After 30 years as the BBC's racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght announced yesterday he would be leaving the job next April; Rick Broadbent's piece in The Times today looks back over his career with a certain fondness.

That said, Lysaght's frustration with those in control of the sport seeps through; he affirms 'Racing does not have the same place in society as it did.'

On a more pragmatic level, he advises readers to look out for the Nick Alexander trained Craiganboy next time out; the gelding currently holds a five-day entry in the Parklands Mini Golf Handicap Chase (Northern Lights Staying Chase Series Qualifier) at Newcastle on Thursday.

That reminds me - as if I needed it - this whole week has been blighted with Rehearsal regrets.

How was Scottish Grand National winner Takingrisks allowed to go off at 20/1 in Newcastle's finale last Saturday? Why didn't I spend more time on the wretched race? The beast had blown away the cobwebs at Ayr four weeks earlier over the smaller obstacles. Three miles on heavy ground - his stamina was bound to come in to play, wasn't it? Why didn't I place a (small) speculative wager?

Unashamedly, I purloin (and adapt accordingly) a festive turn of phrase used by John Sopel in a recent TV report from America... It's beginning to feel to a lot like - I won't tip a winner this side of - Christmas.

At present, opportunities appear to abound for long distance chasers.

Belle Empress won over three miles six and a half at Exeter earlier this afternoon; there's the Becher Chase at Aintree, the London National at Sandown and the Welsh Grand National Trial at Chepstow tomorrow; on Sunday Kelso hosts the Scottish Borders National over an extended four miles.

It's the Becher for me - eighteen declared, with the going on the National course currently described as soft, good to soft in places.

Of the five priced in single figures at the top of the market, last year's winner Walk In The Mill (Vieux Lion Rouge second, Ballyoptic a faller) looks the stand-out candidate. He tries this year on a mark just four pounds higher, having finished fourth over these fences in the National in April.

Mulcahys Hill shot to prominence when only just failing to pinch the 2017 Challow from the front. His defeat of Wholestone last time reads well but prior to that he fell in the four miler at Cheltenham and this is his first try over these obstacles; on a couple of occasions he has shown signs of temperament at the start.

I've no qualms in opposing Kimberlite Candy (first time cheekpeices may help), previous National winner One For Arthur can become detached and may need further while Vintage Clouds, my tip for the Aintree showpiece in April, fell at the first before finishing sixth behind Takingrisks in the Scottish National seven days later. Shoddy jumping didn't help Sue Smith's charge at Ayr and that remains the key worry.

View Lion Rouge has a decent record over these fences but looks held by Walk In The Mill.

Joint top weights Alpha Des Obeaux and Ballyoptic come here in good nick. The latter's victory in the Charlie Hall catches the eye (Definitly Red beaten over 25 lengths conceding six pounds) but he has fallen on both attempts over these fences.

Connections of Definitly Red have stated next year's Grand National is the target but I'm not certain he'll take to these obstacles; Le Breuil has the same aim but would probably appreciate better ground.

At bigger prices both As De Mee and Wandrin Star are of interest.

The former returned from a lengthy absence with a respectable display over hurdles three weeks ago and won the 2016 running of the Grand Sefton over these fences.

Kim Bailey has been quite bullish about Wandrin Star (Lee Marvin up?) in the build-up.

This one looked booked for second the last day at Wincanton but White Moon stumbled after the final flight and Wandrin Star collected the spoils. One Of Us (fifth) subsequently beat Captain Cattistock (seventh) a neck in the Southern National at Fontwell, a piece of form that suggests Minellacelebration might just be worth a second look here.

Quoting from Kim Bailey's Straight from the Stable tour in the Weekender 20-24.11.19:

"I expect him to come on for that [Wincanton run] and he could take up his entry in the Becher Chase next month over the Grand National course. He's a fine big horse and a good jumper of a fence, so hopefully it will suit him."

Stuart Redding also makes the case for Bailey's charge in this week's Weekender.

Walk In The Mill is my idea of the winner but with several layers offering 16/1 and paying one fifth the odds five places, Wandrin Star is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Only Connect, sequences and the Ladbrokes Trophy 2019

In a desperate attempt to escape the periphrastic persiflage of the nation's politicians, on Monday evening I rang for my butler - Beeves, who has a nasty habit of slipping up on the discount parquet flooring, tends to come into his own in the winter - and I asked him to turn on the black and white TV set in the corner of the room so I could watch a bit of Only Connect.

For those who have never seen this programme, the BBC describes it as 'a quiz show in which connections must be made between apparently unconnected things'. Generally speaking, my general overall performance in this quiz could be rated no better than marginally better than that of the tips put up on this blog, but let's not waste too much time debating that moot point.

As with all quiz shows, there are rounds - what's a quiz show without rounds?

The second round entitled 'Sequences' allows a team up to three clues to establish a particular sequence; team members are required to correctly identify the fourth element in the sequence to score.

Monday night's transmission contained the following teaser:

Clue 1: Heavy

Clue 2: Soft

At this particular juncture, two clues in, while the TV team entered into a protracted session of whispering, conferring and scratching of heads, mindful of previous lamentable performances and hoping to bag a juicy-looking three points, I started to get a bit excited, shouting "The answer is 'Good!' 'Good!' It's 'Good!'"

The logic being, of course, the third clue, when revealed, would be good to soft and the fourth good, the sequence being the descriptions clerks-of the-course use to describe the going at racecourses.

The TV team weren't convinced and after further deliberation asked presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell for the next clue; Ms Coren Mitchell duly obliged:

Clue 3: Good

What?! The third clue is good? Surely there has been some kind of mistake?

Except, of course, there hadn't. Crestfallen, I turned to (a smirking) Mrs Tips and told her the fourth element would now be 'Firm'. but it was all too late. Desperate.

I'm considering contacting Ms Coren Mitchell, never slow to come forward and let viewers know about her poker-playing prowess, to point out the above sequence isn't actually a sequence at all. What about soft, good-to-soft in places or good-to-soft, soft in places or good-to-soft, good in places or good, good-to-soft in places etc etc?

Or how about Leicester's going report where the hurdles course can be good, good-to-soft in places, soft in places on the home straight while the chase track at the same meeting is good-to-firm, good-to -soft on the Flat course crossings?

Furthermore, I'm informed the show's question editor, British quizzer Mr Jack Waley-Cohen, is the cousin of Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey (and owner of a gazillion dental practices) Mr Sam Waley-Cohen. Jack - what are you playing at?

Of course, it matters not a jot. The editor's decision is final.

"Beeves, pour me two fingers' worth of our very best Hennessy cognac!" was a cry I used to utter repeatedly as I studied form on the eve of the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup. Ladbrokes took over sponsorship in 2017 and ever since I've remained sober as a judge studying for Newbury's winter showpiece.

The trouble is the tips I selected when I was half cut fared a damned sight better than the those picked when I exercised restraint.

In 2017 Label Des Obeaux was the first one beaten after jumping the first while in 2018 American missed the break ten lengths, raced a full circuit ten lengths behind the penultimate horse before eventually going twenty lengths behind the penultimate horse and then being pulled up.

It's beginning to look suspiciously like one of Ms Coren Mitchell's sequences. Twenty four face the starter tomorrow (3.00) - ample opportunity to build on the disappointments of the past two years. The going is described as good to soft, soft in places.

Last year's race saw Sizing Tennessee beat Elegant Escape ten lengths with Dingo Dollar third, Beware The Bear foruth and West Approach fifth but only twelve went to post. This year's renewal looks fiercely competitive.

Tom Segal has neatly summed up the conundrum in the Weekender - do we side with a younger horse who could be Gold Cup class or an exposed handicapper? The better value appears to be with the handicappers.

At the time of writing they bet 8/1 the field. Aidan Coleman lands a plum ride on Ok Corral with Barry Geraghty due to ride Buveur D'Air in the Fighting Fifth; plans may change if Newcastle doesn't pass its 8.00 am track inspection.

Ok Corral looks desperately short on experience (just three runs over fences) - last time out Nicky Henderson's charge was pulled up in the four miler at Cheltenham although it would be unfair to judge him solely on that effort.

The Willie Mullins trained Total Recall pipped Whisper on the line in 2017 (Paul Townend up) after winning the Munster National. Cabaret Queen comes here with a very similar profile but has been raised from a mark of 126 (in Ireland) to 146.

Colin Tizzard has a strong hand with four runners.

West Approach is likely to benefit from a Robbie Power hold-up ride and to my mind looks the yard's best chance. I like Elegant Escape who carries top weight but he is routinely shoddy at the obstacles; connections have decided to try the blinkers

Mister Malarky was a highly creditable fourth in the RSA at Cheltenham in March but his no-show at Ascot four weeks ago (beaten 83 lengths by Vinndication) is off-putting - I see connections have chosen to fit cheekpieces for the first time. Ten-year-old Robinsfirth appears talented but fragile with just eight chases starts to his name.

I'm not a fan of On The Blind Side but I have seen some bits and pieces for the Nicky Henderson trained Brave Eagle; he'd be worth a second look at 40/1.

Yala Enki's third behind Elegant Escape in last year's Welsh National reads well and he finished just three lengths behind the same horse in the Gold Cup. After wind surgery in the summer, he has moved to Paul Nicholls' yard - once again the Welsh National is the main target.

I'm sure Mick Fitzgerald described Daklondike as a 'brute' before the start of the Eider last February; that day Daklondike decided he wasn't going to play and refused to race.

A talented individual on his day, he's certainly not one to trust implicitly but he ran a decent enough race over hurdles here at the beginning of the month (no visor) at odds of 40/1. A previous course and distance winner, his best form appears to come around this time of year.

I'm just hoping connections have managed to keep Daklondike sweet; sponsors Ladbrokes offer 28/1 and pay one fifth the odds six places.

Daklondike is the risky each-way suggestion to break the sequence...

Friday, November 22, 2019

An opportunity spurned

Really, it can only be described as an opportunity spurned.

Earlier this week Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn went head-to-head live on national television, yet neither party leader possessed sufficient foresight to draw any parallel with the televised clash of the titans taking place at Ascot tomorrow.

Of course, comparing Altior v Cyrname with Johnson v Corbyn is the equivalent of contrasting the sublime with the ridiculous.

It's hardly surprising to hear that punters appear to have more appetite for the chasers (alcoholic and equine) than the politicians - Ascot has reported advance ticket sales up some 30% and, in any case, we all know the chasers are bound to deliver a far better spectacle, especially given that Johnson put up some three and a half stone overweight (best guess) while Corbyn struggled to see through his goggles.

I seem to recall years and years ago Margaret Thatcher telling anyone at the Newbury races who'd care to listen that everyone loves a winner. Well, that's all well and good, but what the good lady forgot to add was that when you lose, you lose alone. I should know - I've spent a fair amount of time in recent weeks talking to myself.

Altior bids for his twentieth consecutive victory tomorrow. Nicky Henderson's charge didn't look at the very top of his game last season and goes beyond two miles one for the first time. The way he jumped markedly left at this track in January must be a concern for supporters, as is his trainer's comment this week that the speed the horse has shown on the gallops at home makes him question whether his charge will stay this trip.

In case you hadn't guessed, I'm in the Cyrname camp, but you wouldn't consider a wager in this any more than you'd take 25/1 about a Labour majority.

Paul Nicholls' dual course and distance winner is officially rated one pound superior to his opponent but the stable win strike rate is currently just 10% which ranks a worry; 6/4 favourite Ecco folded tamely in the Supreme Trial at Cheltenham on Sunday (was it the shoes?) while Saint De Reve's stroll at Wincanton yesterday was the yard's first winner from 23 attempts.

'Always back the outsider of three!' is a pithy racing maxim that I first heard many years ago around the gaff tracks of the West Country during the height of the summer months.

Followers of this maxim will note that the Dan Skelton trained Solomon Grey is 100/1 with Skybet this evening; speaking from personal experience, that maxim may well be pithy indeed but it has yet to deliver the untold riches I so desperately crave.

Just three in the big race at Ascot (2.05) and only one more in the big race at Haydock (3.00),

Last year's winner Bristol De Mai seems to have been around forever but is still only eight years of age. On Racing Post ratings Frodon has just one pound to find with the favourite while Lostintranslation appears to have been well supported this evening. Another race to savour rather than bet on.

Thebannerkingrebel has enough in hand over his rivals in the opener at the Lancashire track. Ballinsker is on the radar; the gelding cost £90,000 and was three lengths to the good when odds-on shot Humble Hero came a cropper two from home at Ludlow the last day. This looks more challenging and there's no guarantee Evan Williams' charge will handle underfoot conditions.

In search of a bet I've stayed at Haydock and looked into the Betfair Best Odds on ITV Races Stayers' Handicap Hurdle at 2.25; the going is currently described as good to soft with further rain forecast. A few in the field wouldn't be guaranteed to stay.

Lisnagar Oscar beat Ask Ben, Stoney Mountain and Highland Hunter over course and distance in February before going on to finish fifth in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham (Ask Ben tenth, Stoney Mountain pulled up) and then finishing third behind Champ at Aintree.

Rebecca Curtis' charge certainly has the look of a chaser in the making but has suffered defeat twice over the larger obstacles and reverts to hurdling here; Ask Ben is weighted to finish much closer while there remains a slight question mark about the trip for Stoney Mountain.

Highland Hunter makes his seasonal debut having moved to Paul Nicholls' yard a couple of weeks ago.

Willie Mullins has brought previous distance winner Eight And Bob over from Ireland and that has the look of a recommendation in itself.

Breaking Waves finished fourth, Tedham sixth behind Duke Street over two miles five at Cheltenham four weeks ago; both sets of connections will hope the step up to three miles suits; Diomed Des Mottes and Echiquier finished fourth and fifth respectively behind Thyme Hill in the Persian War Novices' Hurdle and that form reads well.

Sirobbbie has won four at Uttoxeter over the summer and has gone from a mark of 95 to 129; his last win at the track shows he'll handle underfoot conditions.

All in all, it's a hugely competitive affair; I've picked out Acey Milan on the back of these comments from Anthony Honeyball in a pre-season stable tour:

"We weren't sure with a lot of horses who had the virus but he was definitely hit by it [last year]. He was a very good bumper horse [fourth behind Relegate in the 2018 Champion bumper at Cheltenham], and sometimes those horses do go missing, but they tend to come back and he could be very well handicapped off 126. We'll want to work our way back to that [bumper] level and, if we can, he could be a 140 or 150 horse. He'll get three miles and handles heavy ground."

With Rex Dingle claiming three and cheekpieces fitted for the first time (to the horse, not the jockey), Acey Milan is the each-way suggestion; several layers offer 14/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places.

Finally, I can't sign off without a quick word for Potters Corner, rated a 66/1 rag by the layers. This one fell two out when in with every chance in the Eider last February and then claimed the Midlands Grand National next time at odds of 20/1. The trip won't pose any problems tomorrow but the hurdles just might; part-owned by Welsh rugby international Jonathan Davies, the gelding also happens to hold an entry in the Welsh Grand National...

Friday, November 15, 2019

BetVictor Gold Cup 2019

The first day of Cheltenham's Open meeting may have been lost to the wet weather but earlier this afternoon the track passed its inspection for Saturday's card. Racing goes ahead but, due to concerns about the ground in the area, the third last fence and the third last hurdle will be omitted.

The first race is scheduled for 12.05 with the feature BetVictor Gold Cup due off at 2.25.

Saint Calvados and Royal Vacation have been declared non-runners which leaves a field of eighteen; as a result of the withdrawal of Saint Calvados, the weights have gone up seven pounds with the Joseph O'Brien trained Us And Them now at the head of the handicap.

Twelve of the eighteen runners are set to carry more than 11-0 on ground currently described as soft, heavy in places.

At the time of writing Slate House heads the market with support evident for Siruh Du Lac.

The former won on heavy ground over course and distance last month after undergoing wind surgery in June while the latter has won six of his eight chase starts culminating in victory in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase at the Festival in March (Spiritofthegames third, Eamon An Cnoic fourth, Splash Of Ginge seventeenth).

Regular pilot Lizzie Kelly claims a useful-looking three pounds on Siruh du Lac; she returns to race-riding having broken her right arm and injured her left shoulder in a heavy fall from Rococo River at Exeter five weeks ago.

Spiritofthegames is another who underwent wind surgery over the summer and boasts a fine record first time out while Count Meribel won the Steel Plate and Sections Novices' Chase over course and distance last year and came home two and a quarter lengths behind Lostintranslation on his seasonal reappearance a fortnight ago.

Guitar Pete, third in this race last year off a mark of 137, beat Happy Diva and Demi Sang (Splash Of Ginge sixth) at Wetherby last time out; he goes off a mark of 141 tomorrow.

Happy Diva is a consistent mare who will handle the ground and pilot Richard Patrick can claim three; she has been raised one pound for her effort behind Guitar Pete while Demi Sang has been dropped one pound and at 50/1 looks a big price on the back of that piece of form. I'm assuming the price would contract sharply if owner J P McManus thought there was some value on offer... The last mare to win this race was Lady Cricket in 2000.

On the back of his second to Waiting Patiently at Carlisle in 2017, Belami Des Pictons is a talented individual but he has clearly had his problems and looks high enough in the weights at the moment.

Since the first running of this race in 1960 (as the Mackeson Gold Cup) only two five-year-olds have come hone in front - Cyfor Malta in 1998 and Caid Du Berlais in 2014. The latter was trained by Paul Nicholls and the same trainer saddles five-year-old Magic Saint tomorrow. On balance I'm not convinced the gelding would be guaranteed to see out the trip on this sort of ground and that same reservation is held about the chance of Highway One O One.

Several commentators talk of this as a 'strong trends' race with just two winners priced over 12/1 in the past ten years; in the same timeframe the winner has come from the first three in the market on four occasions. The last favourite to oblige was Tranquil Sea in 2009.

Two are of interest at an each-way price: Springtown Lake and Eamon An Cnoic.

Fifith in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at the Festival, Springtown Lake likes to race up with the pace and will appreciate underfoot conditions; the cobwebs were blown away behind Vinndication at Ascot a fortnight ago. At around 11/1 I can't help but feel a lot of the value has already been snaffled up.

Fifth in this last year, Eamon Na Cnoic hails from a yard that can boast a strong record in this race. He enters calculations on the back of his three and a half length fourth behind Siruh Du Lac at the Festival in March. On revised terms David Pipe's charge looks well in at the weights with both Siruh Du Lac and Spiritofthegames; he should certainly be competitive and will appreciate the slower ground.

Both BetVictor and Coral offer 16/1 one fifth the odds five places. Eamon Na Cnoic is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Caught in two minds...

I'm going to start this evening's post by saying that at 16/1 (18/1 in a couple of places) I think Bigmartre looks a big price for tomorrow's 2.05 at Aintree.

I'm prepared to forgive his effort in the Old Roan a fortnight ago on the back of these comments by trainer Harry Whittington in this week's Weekender:

"...his jumping is his strength and he had no chance when they took out all those fences [on account of the low sun].  Basically it turned into a speed test and I knew it wouldn't suit him. He jumped great and was always in a good position at his fences, but Page [Fuller] never got a chance to fill him up as they were going too fast. She did a great job, though, as she looked after him... I'd expect him to run well."

Ten are declared and the top four in the betting all make their seasonal reappearance; Cepage's second behind Frodon in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last December - War Sound a distant tenth - obviously catches the eye.

The favourite has failed to oblige in each of the past ten renewals while in the same timeframe the winner has been aged between seven and nine.

A number in the field don't have an awful lot of experience over the larger obstacles; for me Riders Onthe Storm and The West's Awake in particular have questions to answer in the jumping department.

In 2018 Duke Street won a Worcester novices' chase off a mark of 130 but tomorrow goes off a mark of 141 following two victories over the smaller obstacles. War Sound won last year's renewal but tries this time weeks short of his eleventh birthday.

Bigmartre is just one pound inferior to top-rated War Sound on RP ratings but... he has proved hard to catch right in the past.

Over at Wincanton fourteen have been declared for the feature race of the day, the Badger Beers Silver Trophy Handicap Chase. A number of fancied sorts failed to make the overnight declaration stage, presumably on account of the good ground, with the result the prices about potential selections have contracted sharply.

Present Man has won the past two renewals and tomorrow attempts to win the race for a record-breaking third time.

Sumkindofking chased home the winner twelve months ago and finished fourth behind Wandrin Star here thirteen days ago. The Colin Tizzard trained White Moon appeared to have the spoils in the bag that day when he stumbled and fell after the last. Beau Du Brizais ran a very respectable trial in second; on revised terms he looks weighted to confirm form with Sumkindofking (whose regular pilot Jonathan Burke rides up at Aintree).

Just A Sting from the Harry Fry yard was one of those of interest earlier in the week but the price has long since disappeared.

The Philip Hobbs trained pair Rock The Kasbah and Beau Du Brisais remain of interest. The former has a decent enough record when fresh and will appreciate underfoot conditions if the rain keeps away but he can be hard to catch right - William Hill and Bet Victor offer 11/1 at the time of writing.

Stablemate Beau Du Brisais is priced 18/1 with both Paddy Power and Bet Victor who pay one fifth the odds four places.

Aintree or Wincanton? Bigmartre or Beau Du Brisais?

In the hope this hasn't come up a tad too quickly, Beau Du Brisais is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 01, 2019

An each-way chance in the 2019 Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot

Earlier today Gordon Elliott bagged a five-timer at Down Royal, with the 2018 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle winner Samcro making a big impression on his first run over the larger obstacles.

The 2018 Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Summerville Boy also made a successful chase debut - at Uttoxeter - but Tom George's charge wasn't quite as slick over the fences.   

It's Charlie Hall Chase day at Wetherby tomorrow and England are playing South Africa in a World Cup final but it's Ascot for me where the going is currently described as good to soft, good in places but with gusty winds and heavy rain forecast.

Seventeen have been declared for the Sodexo Gold Cup (3.20); top weight Black Corton is set to concede at least seven pounds to all his opponents.

The Kim Bailey trained Vinndication heads the market. I've plenty of time for this youngster who tries three miles for the first time having undergone wind surgery in April. The layers price him up a full three points shorter than joint second favourites Mister Malarky and On The Blind Side.

Mister Malarky won the Reynoldstown Chase over course and distance in February (Top Ville Ben, a well-beaten fifth that day, goes in the Charlie Hall at 3.40) and then went on to finish an excellent fourth behind Topofthegame in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham the following month.

Now I know they tell you to forgive and forget, and I can see why some of those rugby fans might be tempted to support On The Blind Side, but I'll be honest - I have found it extremely difficult to forget On The Blind Side's run in that RSA Chase last March; he was the first one beaten - and he happened to be carrying my money as well.

Gary Moore won this with Traffic Fluide last year and with Antony in 2016; Gary's Larry, presumably not named after the Downing Street cat, looks another likely contender this year. Last November, conceding two pounds, Larry was one length adrift of Mister Malarky when coming to grief two out in a Plumpton novices' handicap.

Soft ground should suit Springtown Lake, fifth in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, but he jumped left when winning at Sandown and also when finishing fourth behind Adrien Du Pont at Kempton last Christmas.

At around 16/1 the Paul Nicholls inmate makes some appeal but at a recent stable open day the handler indicated this one can be difficult as he has to be held up and can encounter traffic problems in running. In addition, the jumping isn't always foot perfect, all of which tempers enthusiasm somewhat.

Potterman is a young horse who has made hay this summer. Quoting Alan King in the Weekender:

"He's a proper good-ground horse and could have one more run before having a winter holiday with a view to coming back for a decent handicap in the spring."  

It's slightly more difficult to make a case for some of the older runners but 2017 winner Go Conquer loves Ascot and goes well fresh while an old favourite of mine, Relentless Dreamer, would be entitled to come on for his third behind Ballyoptic at Chepstow last month (Ballyoptic another declared for the Charlie Hall at 3.40). There appears to have been some support for Rebecca Curtis' charge this evening.

And I see Double Shuffle, second to Might Bite in the 2017 King George, is 25/1 in places but, to my mind, he prefers a flat right-handed track (called Kempton).

Since its inaugural running in 2006 as the United House Gold Cup just two horses older than nine have come home in front - See You Sometime (2006) and Roberto Goldback in (2012). I've concentrated my efforts on the younger participants with potential.

At the time of writing bet365 offer 10/1 Larry and pay a quarter the odds four places; Larry is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, October 25, 2019

An each-way chance for the second day of the 2019 Cheltenham Showcase

The omens for yesterday's annual trip to the Ludlow races weren't particularly favourable beforehand and when we missed the winner of the first (Ballinsker 4/1) - stuck the wrong side of one of the road crossings, unable to gain access to the course until the runners had passed - I sort of knew it was going to be one of those days.

And that's exactly what transpired - a number of second places without ever really threatening to bring home the bacon.

Six went to post for the feature novices' chase at 3.40 in which every runner held a plausible chance. I certainly didn't expect to see the Harry Whittington trained Sparkleandshine start the 2/1 favourite although the yard had sent out Arzal to win this race in 2015; unfortunately Sparkleandshine failed to sparkle or shine, coming to grief at the first.

Court Royale did me a favour in the novices' hurdle at this meet last year and carried my money again yesterday. Held up, the gelding came with his challenge in the home straight and may have led for a stride or two as they approached the final flight but he had no answer to the turn of foot shown by What's Occurring who looks a fair prospect. Quoting Oliver Sherwood in the Weekender stable tour 19-23.12.18:

"...he'll be a cracking chaser next season. He's a super jumper and has the most wonderful attitude."

This year's wet autumn certainly made this meeting more competitive than many I've attended in the past.

Onwards and upwards as they say...

Twenty have been declared for tomorrow's first race on the second day of the Cheltenham Showcase meeting. The going is currently described as good to soft, soft in places, with any amount of rain forecast overnight.

Cogry won the 2017 renewal and was just pipped by Relentless Dreamer last year (West Approach third, Shantou Village sixth and Captain Chaos fourteenth). He holds an obvious chance but I note that every winner in the past decade has been aged between seven and nine.

For that same reason I'm also going to pass over previous course and distance winner The Young Master who had his prep race on the all-weather at Kempton three and a half weeks ago.

West Approach ran a fine race form the front when third last year but he still takes the odd liberty at one or two of his fences and to my mind is better over the smaller obstacles. Underfoot conditions may help the cause.

Rocky's Treasure can boast a fine record over fences but after a quick look through his profile I wasn't entirely convinced he would see out every yard of this trip on soft ground; he was beaten 13 lengths by Cobra De Mai here in April.

With Harry doing the steering, Cobra De Mai looks the pick of Dan Skelton's trio but this looks a tough task carrying top weight on soft ground.

Previous course winner Royal Vacation won't appreciate further rain while Rolling Dylan will stay but wouldn't be guaranteed to come out on top in a tight finish.

At the prices three have caught my eye - Crosspark, Shantou Village and Red Infantry.

I'll admit I'm a fully paid-up member of the Crosspark fan club after he won the Eider in February carrying my money and then went on to finish a gallant second behind Takingrisks in the Scottish National.

During the course of last season he was raised from a mark of 136 to 148; the handicapper has relented slightly after that effort in the Scottish National but he still has to shoulder 11-5 tomorrow which is a concern. That said, last year Caroline Bailey's charge won first time out after the summer break.

Shantou Village was in with a fighting chance before a blunder at the last in the Kerry National 45 days ago. Sixth in this last year, he tries again, this time off a mark two pounds lower; his completion rate doesn't look entirely convincing. Using the Kerry National form as a yardstick, the chance of Na Trachtalai Abu would also have to be respected.

Red Infantry came home seventh in the Scottish National and won't mind further rain. He ran in a Pertemps Hurdle qualifier at this meeting last year before beating Bishops Road at Haydock next time out; fitness will have to be taken on trust but that comment applies to plenty in the field. I'd assume the wet autumn means that several trainers will be reasonably well forward with their horses.

Layers offer 20/1 Crosspark and pay one fifth the odds five places so Crosspark is my each-way suggestion.

A quick footnote to the two mile handicap chase at 3.10...

I shall monitor Mcgroarty on the back of these comments made by Dr Richard Newland after Mcgroarty's latest win at Kelso three weeks ago:

"Mcgroarty still seems to be on an upward curve and he's landed a good pot. He loves his jumping and that's been getting better and better. He was unproven on that ground [soft] and that opens doors to us now to campaign him a bit differently as he looks like he handles winter ground. We might look at the handicap at the October Cheltenham meeting that we won with Boondooma in 2015."

Friday, October 11, 2019

A quick check-up at Chepstow

Chepstow's two day meeting is seen by many as the start of the core National Hunt season.

Earlier this afternoon Thyme Hill ran out a determined winner of the Persian War Novices' Hurdle (2.10) outpacing Fiddlerontheroof after the final flight on ground described as good to soft.

That going description changed to soft before the 'Professor Caroline Tisdall Supports Heroic Jumpers Veterans' Handicap Chase (Leg 7 of Vets' Series)' at 3.55 in which the aforementioned professor Caroline Tisdall held a share in two of the runners, Dell'Arca and Vieux Lion Rouge.

The former was tipped up on Radio 4 this morning, the logic being, presumably, that if an owner decides to sponsor a race, they are likely to be reasonably well motivated to try and win some of their own money; unfortunately for the Radio 4 tipster, the latter obliged at odds of 9/2.

Looking at tomorrow's card, Relentless Dreamer (3.20) did me a big favour at odds of 16/1 at Cheltenham around this time last year but he hasn't been seen out since; on balance I think Rebecca Curtis' charge would prefer slightly better conditions underfoot. To my mind Lil Rockerfeller's jumping of the larger obstacles is not consistent enough.

Only three contest the novice chase at 3.55 but all eyes will be on the widely touted Reserve Tank.

Connections have decided to allow Ballyandy to take his chance in the Silver Trophy (4.30) and Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge has to concede a minimum of 14 pounds to all 17 rivals; that looks particularly difficult on soft ground.

Paul Kealy tips up Coolanly in the Weekender.

I thought this one had a chance in the Challow last December but on the day he drifted like a barge in the betting and was one of the first beaten; once or twice afterwards I thought he just looked bossed out of it when the chips were down.

The Evan Williams trained Bold Plan is likely to be popular while Remastered looks unexposed on his first run in a handicap.

The trouble with a wager at this time of year is you often have to take fitness on trust. Of the 18 declared just three have run within the last three months - Didtheyleavuoutto, Man Of Plenty and last year's winner Garo De Juilley.

The last-named is rated three pounds higher this time but looks to have had this as his target following a pipe-opener over fences. He finished well beaten behind Champagne Court and Coolanly in the Martin Pipe but prior to that was thirteen lengths adrift of Paisley Park in Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle (run on soft ground) and just over ten lengths behind Capitaine in the Greene King Handicap Hurdle at Taunton.

That form reads well and Sophie Leech's charge appears to handle underfoot conditions; last year's winning rider Paddy Brennan is aboard Coolanly but the booking of Adrian Heskin catches the eye.

Ordinarily I would be distinctly reticent this early in the season but, hell, several layers (including Betfair, Paddy Power, Sky Bet and Bet Victor) are offering 33/1 and paying one fifth the odds five places.

To use the vernacular, I'm not convinced I have my eye in but at the prices Garo De Juilley is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Market Rasen Summer Plate 2019

Frankie Dettori had barely weighed in after securing a second consecutive Ascot Gold Cup aboard Stradivarius when 'ping!' two emails arrived in the inbox - one outlining an online gambling casino, the other from Cheltenham racecourse advertising next year's Festival.

Since the blog entered 'snooze' mode at the beginning of May I may have wiled away the odd few moments on pokies online real money but Harry Fry has given notice of his intention to move from his yard at Seaborough in Dorset and owners Darren and Annaley Yates have decided to remove their runners from Phil Kirby's yard in North Yorkshire.

And a detailed study indicates that female jockeys are underbet in jump races.

The passing of John McCririck generated plenty of newsprint.

Lee Mottershead's tribute in the Racing Post has been widely acclaimed while The Guardian published an obituary by Julian Wilson who predeceased his subject by more than five years.

Wilson's own obituary in the same paper written by Sean Magee highlights the clash between two very different approaches to the sport.

Personally, I enjoyed Vernon Grant's tribute.

Big Mac often referred to Market Rasen as Market Raspberry and tomorrow's Summer Plate at the Lincolnshire track marks the mid-point in the summer jumping programme.

I've concentrated on three or four pieces of recent form: the Perth Gold Cup run over three miles; the Uttoxeter Summer Cup; the Summer Plate Trial run over course and distance four weeks ago and Casablanca Mix's victory at Aintree in May which, in my opinion, would be right up there with the best form on offer.

Indian Temple beat Van Gogh Du Granit a short-head in the Perth Gold Cup (Get Out The Gate a well-beaten fourth) and weakened after the last to finish fourth in the Uttoxeter Summer Cup. 20/1 looks a big price for David Pipe's charge but the suspicion is this trip may just be on the short side.

Gone Platinum beat Darcy Ward in last month's trial but Nick Schofield may have gone for home too soon on the runner-up that day and is unlikely to make the same mistake again. Sean Bowen rode the winner - tomorrow's pilot Lorcan Williams can claim five.

At Aintree Casablanca Mix beat Indian Temple (won twice since), Value At Risk and Lofgren (has since won Class 2 handicap chase at Cartmel). Nicky Henderson's mare has been raised five pounds for that effort; as far as I could ascertain a mare has not won a previous running of this race.

Six trainers are represented with two runners; Dan Skelton, Dr Richard Newland and Peter Bowen are known to regularly target this event.

Last year's winner More Buck's tries to repeat the trick for Peter Bowen; he was beaten over hurdles last time and looks to have been laid out for the race.

Favourite Gortroe Joe has yet to prove he can handle the cut and thrust of a big field.

Trigger McNichol has a bit to find on form, Solar Impulse has done most of his racing over two miles, Henryville has gone up ten for his win at Newton Abbot while, according to the Racing Post, El Terremoto was sold by Simon Munir and Issac Souede to Fergus Wilson on Monday.

I tend to prefer a young horse in this; the two on the shortlist are Casablanca Mix and Royal Village.

The latter is a course and distance winner who may not have quite seen out three miles at Perth the last day and is forgiven that effort; any further rain would not inconvenience the cause.

Casablanca Mix is generally available at 11/1 but at the time of writing Sky Bet offer 14/1 Royal Village and pay one fifth the odds four places - Royal Village is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, May 03, 2019

A brief review of the 2018/19 jumps season

Champion jockey: Richard Johnson
Champion trainer: Paul Nicholls
Winning owner: J P McManus
Champion conditional jockey: Bryony Frost

Any review of this season has to start with last season's Grand National winner Tiger Roll.

Small and nothing particular to look at, Tiger Roll won the Cross Country race at this year's Festival as though he'd joined in at the last.Three and a half weeks later, sent off 4/1 favourite to become the first horse since Red Rum to win back-to-back Nationals, Tiger Roll won the 2019 Grand National as though he'd joined in at the last.

Cue pandemonium.

Letters were written to The Times comparing the feats of Red Rum and those of Tiger Roll with readers making the case for their own particular favourite. The BHA handicapper certainly knew what he thought of it all.

Takingrisks took a few in the Scottish Grand National but they paid off handsomely for Nicky Richards' inmate while a slog in the Chepstow mud suited Elegant Escape down to the ground in the Welsh Grand National; the following month Colin Tizzard's charge was beaten threequarters of a length by Frodon in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.

Bryony Frost and Frodon struck up the partnership of the season. Prior to that win in the Cotswold Chase the pair had won the Old Roan at Aintree, finished second behind Baron Alco in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham and won the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at the same track.

Connections were sorely tempted to take their chance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but in the end the pragmatic decision to run in the Ryanair was rewarded with a thrilling victory, Frodon dismissing the early attentions of Sub Lieutenant and regaining the lead from Aso after the last.

Against a backdrop of Brexit brouhaha and innumerable indicative votes, other Festival winners included Espoir D'Allen, the surprise package in the Champion Hurdle; Altior, 'workmanlike' in the Champion Chase; and Paisley Park, maintaining his unbeaten run for the season, in the Stayers' Hurdle.

Before the start of this season Willie Mullins had never trained a Cheltenham Gold Cup or Irish National winner.

The maestro held four chances in this year's Cheltenham showpiece but poor Willie must have thought the racing gods were conspiring against him with Kemboy unseating at the first, Bellshill pulled up before the ninth and Invitation Only falling fatally at the tenth.

Al Boum Photo's jumping could be described as scratchy in the early stages but he warmed to his task through the race; Paul Townend sent his charge on as they turned for home and the pair were not for catching, finishing clear of Anibale Fly, Bristol De Mai, Native River (poor start proved costly) and Clan Des Obeaux (did not come up the hill).

Five weeks later Mr. Mullins added the Irish National to the curriculum vitae courtesy of Burrows Saint.

Previously Bristol De Mai had repeated his party piece in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and Clan Des Obeaux had established himself as a chaser to reckon with by winning the King George at Kempton but Kemboy didn't always enjoy the best of luck during the season.

Apart from unseating David Mullins at the first in the Gold Cup, the gelding was unable to run in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury following the cancellation of his intended ferry service from Ireland - Sizing Tennessee was the principal beneficiary.

Kemboy's connections claimed ample compensation with wins in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, the Betway Bowl at Aintree (Clan Des Obeaux nine lengths adrift) and, with Ruby Walsh up, the Punchestown Gold Cup where he beat stablemate and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo two lengths.

Victorious jockey Ruby Walsh dismounted and promptly announced his retirement - with immediate effect:

"When you're going out at Punchestown, you go out on a winner. You'll never again see me on a horse - I'm finished. That's it - it's all over."

While McCoy will forever be associated with the number of winners he rode, Walsh will forever be associated with the big winners he rode, primarily for Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls. A supreme stylist, he remains, for many observers, the greatest rider of his generation.

The BHA didn't have the best of years. Their decision in early February to suspend all UK racing after three of Donald McCain's horses tested positive for equine influenza didn't meet with universal approval. With the Cheltenham Festival on the horizon, emergency regulations were passed requiring all runners to have received appropriate vaccination within the preceding six month period while any horse receiving a new vaccination could not run for seven days.

The arbitrary, immediate introduction of those regulations definitely favoured trainers who habitually vaccinate around Christmas and January time. Racing resumed after a six-day shutdown.

When Cyrname won Ascot's bet365 Chase by 21 lengths in January, many struggled to believe what they had just seen - and I was one of them. Four weeks later the same horse put in a similar performance at the same track to collect the Ascot Chase, beating Waiting Patiently 17 lengths - in so doing, he became the highest rated chaser in training.

Paul Nicholls recorded his 3,000th jumps winner in Britain courtesy of Kupatana while on Easter Sunday Dan Skelton became only the second trainer to have sent out 200 British jumps winners in a season. Martin Pipe predicted his all-time record of 243 winners was under threat from Dan; Richard Johnson's jockeys' title looks under threat from Dan's brother, Harry.

The eagerly anticipated clash between Altior and Cyrname in Sandown's Celebration Chase on the final day of the season failed to materialise on account of the ground.

At odds of 1/6 Altior collected the spoils and in the process became the first horse to win 19 consecutive jumps races. Trainer Nicky Henderson has indicated a tilt at the King George in December is now on the cards. Half an hour or so after Altior's record-breaking victory, Talkischeap looked like something to keep in mind for future discussion when winning the bet365 Chase in taking fashion.

This blog has been called plenty of names in the past but this year PG can say the teas are on me.

Sainsbury's singing chief executive Mike Coupe warned me that publicly celebrating a financial success can backfire badly when things subsequently go wrong - far better to just keep schtum. The trouble is I wasn't listening.

This season the blog's highlighted selections show a profit of 45 points to advised prices and over 30 points to starting prices (detail here).

When New Agenda (6/1) covered the expenses at Ludlow's second October meet, little did I realise what was in store. Two days later Relentless Dreamer obliged in a 16 runner Cheltenham handicap and we were up and running.

Put simply, I have never known the like - and it's highly unlikely I ever will again.

Blog horse of the year goes to Crosspark for his thrilling win in the Eider Chase and then a battling second behind Takingrisks in the Scottish Grand National.

And, bless my old boots, in February that New Agenda went and won again - on the snow in St Moritz!

Friday, April 26, 2019

bet365 Gold Cup 2019

Several of the usual suspects line up in a field of twenty declared for tomorrow's final day feature at Sandown - the bet365 Gold Cup is due off at 3.35.

Tidal Bay lumped 11-12 to victory in 2012 and is the only winner to carry more than 11-0 in the past ten years. Favourites don't have the best of records with Mr Frisk the last outright market leader to oblige in 1990.

Step Back bids to become the first back-to-back winner since Topsham Bay (1992/93) - last year Rock The Kasbah was 13 lengths adrift in second place with Present Man third, The Young Master eighth and Rathlin Rose pulled up.

Racing from the front, Step Back was highly impressive that day but he starts from a mark ten pounds higher tomorrow. Midweek there was a glut of money for Mark Bradstock's charge which prompted the handler to remark his charge is fragile and can be a tricky customer - connections fit cheekpieces for the first time.

Step Back, along with Rock the Kasbah and Joe Farrell, contested the Grand National three weeks ago.

Step Back didn't help the cause by jumping markedly right in the National before pulling up after the Canal Turn on the second circuit. Rock The Kasbah didn't appear to relish the Aintree challenge at all and was brought down at the 18th flight. Joe Farrell weakened from four out and was pulled up before the penultimate flight.

Of the three Joe Farrell is of most interest. The ground, currently good, good to firm in places, should suit but regular readers will know I feel his programme this term has looked a little rushed - following last year's Scottish National win, his seasonal debut took place at the beginning of March and this will be his fourth run. I'm not certain what riding priorities apply but I note regular pilot Adam Wedge is aboard the Evan Williams trained Prime Venture who would appreciate any rain that falls.

Talkischeap is short enough in the market, presumably on the back of two runs behind La Bague Au Roi and a second place behind On The Blind Side; that one did the form no favours in the RSA Chase.

Beware The Bear was set to carry top weight in the Scottish National a fortnight ago but was withdrawn on the morning of the race on account of fast ground. Connections will want the rain to arrive and he looks to face a stiff task off 160, conceding a minimum of five pounds to all his rivals. That said, Nicky Henderson's charge has looked a different horse since blinkers have been applied - his victory in the Ultima Chase at the Cheltenham Festival reads well (Flying Angel fifth, Give Me A Copper fell).

You could - if you wanted - make a case for Flying Angel on the back of that run but current stable form figures read just one win from 24 runs in the past fortnight.

To my mind there isn't an awful lot of value near the head of the market so in search of an each-way chance in reasonable form I've come up with Philip Hobbs' second string Rolling Dylan.

In December this one was beaten a head and a neck into third by Cogry and Singlefarmpayment in a Cheltenham handicap run on good ground. Post race I seem to recall Luke Harvey telling viewers that if Cogry had wanted a scrap with a couple of weak finishers, these two were among the best in the business.

A little unfair? Or maybe not? Since then the gelding couldn't get anywhere near Beware The Bear at Cheltenham on New Year's Day (costly mistake at fifth) but looked in with a shout at Sandown the next time before failing to quicken in soft ground.

His second the last day at Taunton reads well - he was raised three pounds for that effort - but perhaps is one he should have won (comment in running: 'led after two out, idling last'). He was pipped a head that day by Samuel Jackson ridden by James Best. James Best takes the ride tomorrow so I'm hoping he'll have a good idea of what's required should he, perchance, find himself in with a chance...

Philip Hobbs' inmate should handle underfoot conditions even if rain arrives and clearly handles a right-handed track.

Rolling Dylan is the each-way suggestion, at the time of writing 22/1 with Paddy Power who pay one fifth the odds six places.

Friday, April 19, 2019

A longshot for the Challenger Series Finals meeting at Haydock

Not so long ago Easter Saturday jumps cards left a lot to be desired; tomorrow's Challenger Series Finals meeting at Haydock addresses those concerns but, somehow, there just seems an end-of-term feel in the air; it all looks decidedly competitive on a difficult-looking card.

Layers appear to have taken differing views on the Challenger Middle Distance Chase Series Final Handicap Chase (4.20).

Both Tom George runners, Copper West and Air Navigator, are available at 7/1 in places at the time of writing yet the former is quoted 7/2 favourite with bet365 - the track will suit his style of racing and the ground holds no fears - while the latter has previously won here but his preference for a hold-up ride may prove a hindrance.

I'm going to have a bet in the Betway Challenger Two Mile Hurdle Series Final Handicap Hurdle (2.05) for which sixteen have been declared.

For those not madly keen on losing money, I should point out I have spent most of this afternoon in a postprandial torpor in the back garden and, as a result, haven't spent an awful lot of time on the race...

Of those at the head of the market, there has been money for Cause Toujours (needs good ground), Hirjan's form is there for all to see - three of the four hurdle wins to date have come on right-handed tracks - while Casa Tall steps back down in trip having failed to stay two and a half miles in the Martin Pipe at the Festival five weeks ago.

Of Evan Williams' two runners, The Gipper needs soft / heavy ground but at a price Peterborough is of interest, possibly to Barry Fry as well.

In the RP Weekender 09-13.01.19 the trainer stated:

'He's a very light-framed horse and struggled physically at first, but he's strengthening up all the time now and starting to show some improvement. He got off the mark on his last run in a handicap hurdle at Exeter [Burrows Park sixth that day] and the form is working out well... We won't overrace him this season, though, as he'll benefit from a relatively light campaign. He has more to offer and will jump a fence in time.' 

It may well prove another one of my multitudinous mistakes but I'm going to forgive him his last effort behind The Twisler at Wincanton (Casa Tall fifth).

And I'm not going to encourage you to read his seven lengths second to Itchy Feet at Southwell literally (Itchy Feet subsequently third in the Supreme at the Festival) - but it reads well enough.

The track here should suit his style of racing and Conor Ring claims three. Earlier today Evan Williams said the horse 'definitely has ability' but 'can blow hot and cold'.

I hope he blows hot tomorrow.

Peterborough is the each-way suggestion - Paddy Power go 22/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Scottish Grand National 2019

To quote Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz:

'Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!'

Lion Hearted won the Bet totetrifecta At Handicap (Chelmsford 4.10) yesterday.

Tiger Roll won last week's Grand National while Rock On Tiger goes in tomorrow's 5.05 at Bangor and Tigerskin in the 3.50 at Newbury.

Follow The Bear finished third in today's finale at Ayr while stablemate Beware The Bear shoulders top weight in tomorrow's Scottish Grand National due off at 3.35 for which 28 have been declared.

The fitting of blinkers has certainly had an impact on Beware The Bear.

Nicky Henderson's charge followed up his win at Cheltenham on New Year's Day with victory in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Festival last month - that day Vintage Clouds came home second, Big River fourth and Magic Of Light, second at Aintree last week, eighth.

As a result Beware The Bear has gone up a total of 14 pounds to a mark of 160. He gives away a minimum of eight pounds to all rivals here; the bottom nine race from out of the handicap.

It all looks a tall order and the stable strike-rate - 3 from 37 in the past fortnight - is a cause for some concern. The price appears on the drift this evening although some layers have him 9/1 joint favourite.

The last top-weight to collect the spoils was Grey Abbey in 2004.

Vintage Clouds was my fancy for last week's National but the grey came down at the first. Third in this last year, Sue Smith's charge has every chance but there are several in the field who make more appeal at bigger odds.

Similar comments apply to Big River. I like Lucinda Russell's charge but I'm not totally convinced by his jumping. Earlier in the week Peter Scudamore commented that the gelding would need to sharpen up his act in that department and hinted ideally the horse would prefer more cut underfoot.

Dingo Dollar was nine lengths behind Chidswell in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster six weeks ago (Durham National winner Brian Boranha third, Beau Du Brizais fourth). Prior to that Dingo Dollar had finished a length behind Crosshue Boy in the novices' handicap chase at this meeting last year with Acdc a creditable third.

While Alan King talks up Dingo Dollar's chance in the Weekender - this has been the target all season - there has been plenty of money for Crosshue Boy who was 33/1 in places at the beginning of the week.

Back in January Impulsive Star ran out an impressive-looking winner of the Classic Chase at Warwick; that day I was particularly taken with the manner in which he quickened away from nearest rival Calett Mad on the short run-in after the last. Crosspark finished third, stablemate Carole's Destrier fourth, Cogry tenth and Sizing Codelco eleventh.

Since then Impulsive Star was disappointing at Cheltenham but Crosspark went to Newcastle and won the Eider by a neck from Mysteree with London National winner Morney Wing six lengths adrift in third. Like Beware The Bear, first-time blinkers brought out a marked improvement in Mysteree last time - he only just failed to claim his second Eider. Since Crosspark has learned to settle better, he has shown much improved form.

Taking into account Sam Waley-Cohen's allowance, Impulsive Star would appear to have the edge over Crosspark on Classic Chase form but this evening Neil Mulholland appears more bullish about Carole's Destrier - this race has been the target. The trainer's third runner, Doing Fine, underwent wind surgery in January and looks to have had a similar preparation to last year when he came home fourth.

Cloth Cap, in the same ownership as Vintage Clouds, only has three chase runs to his name but his chance is respected - recent seven-year-olds to win include Godsmejudge (2013) and Vicente (2016).

Chidswell looked good in the Grimthorpe but I'm unnerved by the fact most of his form, and stablemate's Takingrisks, is in small fields; that same comment also applies to Blue Flight - the last six-year-old to win was Earth Summit in 1994, trained by handler Nigel Twiston-Davies. I note that son Sam is on Cogry...

Geronimo is one of those racing from out of the handicap but his victory here the last day suggests he'll stay the trip; should he come home in front, Rachael McDonald will become the first female rider to win this prestigious race.

A fiercely competitive renewal - it's possible to construct a case for several of the bigger priced horses.

I'm going to stay loyal to Crosspark (ahead of Impulsive Star) who did me a favour in the Eider back in February.

Further down the field Cogry looks big enough at 25/1 (sent off 9/2 favourite for Warwick's Classic Chase in January) as does Acdc at 33/1 on the back of his three length third to Crosshue Boy here last year.

Crosspark is the each-way suggestion at 14/1, with most layers paying one fifth the odds six places.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Aintree Grand National 2019

Any review of this year's Grand National (5.15) has to start with last year's winner Tiger Roll.

Small in stature and nothing particular to look at, the horse is already considered something of a legend with a Triumph Hurdle to his name (2014),  a National Hunt Challenge Cup (2017), two Cheltenham Festival cross country chases (2018/19) as well as last year's Grand National in which he beat Pleasant Company a head.

He bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back Nationals since Red Rum pulled off the feat in 1973/74. Since then, 24 have tried to defend their crown and all have come up short.

That said, Tiger Roll looked in better shape than ever at Cheltenham three and a half weeks ago but the weight here (11-5) looks the primary cause for concern. Since Grittar obliged in 1982 (carrying the very same burden) only three horses have won carrying that weight or more: Don't Push It (2010, 11-5); Neptune Collonges (2012; 11-6); Many Clouds (2015; 11-9).

The last outright favourite to come home in front was Hedgehunter in 2005; Comply or Die (2008) and Don't Push It (2010) obliged when sent off as joint favourites.

I've never taken bookmakers' bleating about potential losses particularly seriously but, should the little horse pull it off tomorrow, I suspect the place will erupt and the layers incur significant losses.

With both Outlander and Don Poli now sold out of Gordon Elliott's yard, Tiger Roll faces nine stablemates in the final field of forty.

Those who like to make their own selections may find the BBC's Pinstickers' Guide a useful tool and I've also reproduced regular reader TW's top-rated 30 runners at the foot of this post.

For everyone else, here's my four each-way chances against the field...

1. Vintage Clouds (14/1) Trained by Sue Smith with, no doubt, input from husband Harvey. Third behind Joe Farrell in last season's Scottish National and ran a fine trial to finish second in the Ultima at Cheltenham. Trevor Hemmings' grey is five pounds 'well in' after that run and goes with a nice racing weight of 10-4.

2. Regal Encore (66/1) Inconsistent and not one to trust implicitly but to my mind he represents one of the better longshots if on a going day. Appeared to take to these fences when finishing eighth in 2017. Missed last year's race with injury but made an encouraging return to action in February following a break and subsequently trainer Anthony Honeyball was quietly upbeat about his chance.

3. Joe Farrell (20/1 in places). Closely matched with Vintage Clouds on Scottish National form. Money seen for this one during the week and plenty to like about his chance off just 10-2. Two slight negatives - can hit the odd fence and I can't help but feel the prep has been a little rushed after he finished well beaten behind Carole's Destrier at Newbury at the beginning of March.

4. Walk In The Mill (28/1 in places) Won the Becher Chase over these fences in December with something to spare although the form of that race hasn't worked out particularly well. Found to be lame on the day of the race last year; trained specifically for this event.

TW's Grand National Ratings: Final Field

RTG Horse

Jury Duty [20/1], Captain Redbeard [66/1], Singlefarmpayment [66/1] and General Principle [40/1] highlighted as potential value selections by the system and are on the short list!

Anibale Fly, Tiger Roll and Lake View Lad are the three horses that look to tick the most boxes but priced up accordingly.


All that remains now is for me to wish you all the very best of luck!

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Aintree 2019 - Friday

A very quick post this evening - running rather late - but still time for this short snippet...

In a moment of monumental bad luck, earlier this afternoon I drew Singlefarmpayment in the workplace Grand National sweepstake; colleagues in the same office drew Joe Farrell and Vintage Clouds.

Bemoaning such ill fortune and uttering imprecations under my breath, I stormed up the stairs into the admin office where, calling upon previously untapped reserves of punctilious behaviour, by way of polite conversation I enquired of a nearby colleague in a most light, carefree manner what horse she had drawn.

'Oh, Paddy Power,' came the confident reply.

'Well done!' I said. 'That one always wins.'

Politologue won last year's renewal of the JLT Chase (3.25) holding Min a neck and the duo meet again tomorrow. The grey comes into this off the back off a fine second behind Altior in the Champion Chase three weeks ago whereas Min was somewhat disappointing in fifth (Hell's Kitchen fourth, God's Own pulled up).

Nicky Henderson has decided to by-pass this meeting with Altior as he feels his charge hasn't fully recovered from Cheltenham.

Min is top-rated here on Racing Post ratings yet Waiting Patiently heads the market this evening.

Fans of Waiting Patiently have spent much of the season waiting patiently to see Ruth Jefferson's charge in action. He appeared unlucky to unseat on his seasonal debut in the King George at Kempton and then next time was blown away by Cyrname at Ascot. Cheekpieces are fitted for the first time.

Hell's Kitchen is a tricky ride and wouldn't be one to trust implicitly but he ran well in the Champion Chase (beaten nine and a half lengths) and this track, the step-up in trip and recent rain should all help the cause.

With just seven facing the starter, I'm going to take a bit of a punt and back Hell's Kitchen to win at odds of 12/1.

Nicky Henderson can boast a decent record in the Topham Handicap Chase (4.05) run over the National fences. Janika has an obvious chance at the head of the market while O O Seven finished fourth in this in 2017 but would prefer better ground.

I'm going to make a quick case for Kilcrea Vale.

Racing from four pounds out of the handicap isn't ideal and he appears to have had a somewhat indifferent season but his last three runs have all been over a trip of three miles. To my mind he doesn't look to stay that trip; two miles five on soft ground look like conditions to suit.

He finished fourth behind Ultragold in this race last year and third in the Sefton in December.

Kilcrea Vale is the each-way selection, currently 18/1 with Paddy Power who pay one fifth the odds six places.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Aintree 2019 - Thursday

Brief notes on the thirteenth anniversary of the inaugural blog post...

Three weeks since Cheltenham - in many ways it seems a lot longer - but to my mind this meeting remains the trickiest in the National Hunt calendar; Dave Orton highlighted some of the potential pitfalls in a piece he penned last year and the Racing Post has published an updated 'handy guide' for this year. Both Altior and Santini stay at home as handler Nicky Henderson feels they may not have fully recovered from their exertions at the Festival.

Six face the starter for the Betway Bowl (2.50). Might Bite won this last year after coming off second best in his epic duel with Native River in the Gold Cup; Might Bite has not shown comparable form this season. Generally horses that ran in the preceding month's Gold Cup have a poor record in this event but four of today's six contenders met last month while the other two, Road To Respect and Balko Des Flos, finished behind Frodon in the Ryanair Chase.

Kemboy unseated his rider at the first at Cheltenham so probably comes into this a fresher horse as a result. He looked good prior to that in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown but I'm not inclined to take that form too literally and the price makes little appeal. This track is likely to suit Clan Des Obeaux and Bristol De Mai but not Elegant Escape. Balko Des Flos is the only runner in the field not to have won over a distance of three miles.

La Bague Au Roi has been a revelation this year and is priced up favourite for the opener (1.45) having swerved Cheltenham after winning the Flogas Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival in February.

That said, the race has definitely lost something with the withdrawal of JLT winner Defi Du Seuil (Mengli Khan third) while both Glen Forsa and Kalashnikov unseated in the Arkle - the latter appeared particularly unfortunate and should appreciate this step up in trip.

Previous course winner Bags Grove is of interest at around 9/1. This one bounced back to form at Kempton last time after trailing in a well-beaten fifth behind La Bague Au Roi at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Handler Harry Fry has since indicated 'trainer error' was in part responsible for that disappointing effort - he hadn't given his charge enough time to recover from a run earlier in the month - and I think he's better than we saw on that particular day.

Racing Post ratings tell us Bags Groove has five pounds to find with the favourite and I'm just put off by the slight suspicion a couple in the field may possess a little more toe...

Buveur D'Air is still an odds-on shot for the Aintree Hurdle (3.25) over two and a half miles despite taking a crashing fall in the Champion Hurdle. The step back in trip will benefit Faugheen and Supasundae who finished third and seventh respectively behind Paisley Park in the Stayers' Hurdle. 

The mares didn't really do themselves justice in the Champion but this track will suit Verdana Blue better and she makes some appeal at an each-way price provided the rain stays away.

For the opening day Verdana Blue is the each-way suggestion (14/1 generally) in the Aintree Hurdle.

Friday, March 29, 2019

A Uttoxeter longshot

The lull before the storm...

Media attention switches to the Flat cards at Doncaster and Kempton tomorrow ahead of next week's Aintree Grand National meeting.

With two low-key jumps meetings on offer, at Stratford and Uttoxeter, I'm going rogue this week; those of a nervous disposition easily offended by spurious argument should read no further.

Ordinarily I wouldn't look too closely at a run-of-the-mill Class 4 handicap hurdle with 20 runners but 'needs must when the devil vomits into your kettle', to quote Edmund Blackadder II; I'm going to make a case for the Robin Dickin trained Three Bullet Gate in the 3.55 at Uttoxeter.

Stable stalwart Thomas Crapper was retired on Wednesday - 'Crappy' wasn't particularly well-named, having won over £136,000 in prize money for connections. All that said, the yard isn't currently in the best of form - Lara Trot was the last winner, holding stablemate Tara Well half a length at Leicester on 22nd January.

Last time out Three Bullet Gate was beaten over 17 lengths by Rhythm Is A Dancer in a Class 3 novices' handicap hurdle over two miles five furlongs at Ludlow, weakening after the final flight. The slight step back in trip here should help the cause.

Prior to that he was beaten under nine lengths by Dyliev in a Warwick novices' handicap hurdle over an inadequate trip of two miles - that one has some respectable efforts to his name including a nose second to the Charlie Mann trained Capone.

The gelding was clearly out of his depth in the Albert Bartlett trial at Cheltenham in December but 11 days before had finished ten lengths second to Skandiburg at Fakenham. Skandiburg has since finished eighth in the novices' handicap hurdle final at Sandown on Imperial Cup day.

In a Chepstow maiden in November he finished behind The Big Bite (twelfth in the Supreme at the Festival) and prior to that finished third in a Southwell bumper behind Adjourned and Megan's Choice - the former cost 50,000 euros (as a yearling), the latter 45,000 euros.

On Racing Post ratings Three Bullet Gate should be competitive but, obviously, in a wide open event dangers abound.

Owned by Mrs Diana Whateley, favourite Renwick has his first run after wind surgery and sports first-time cheekpeices while Shanty Alley might be expected to show improvement for the step up to two and a half miles. 

Tom Lacey said of He's A Goer in the Weekender 07-11.11.18:

'He's been a bit of a monkey but is getting the hang of things now.'

Connections fit blinkers for the first-time tomorrow.

Cougar Kid, Starjac and Land League (despite protracted absence and occasional tendency to jump right) warrant a second look but a number in the field appear to have questions to answer.

With Tiger Roll as low as 7/2 for next week's National, it would seem the layers think it's more difficult to pick the winner of tomorrow's 3.55 at Uttoxeter - and they may well be proven correct.

Drying ground is likely to suit and both Sky Bet and Bet Victor are paying one fifth the odds five places; at 25/1 Three Bullet Gate is the each-way suggestion.