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 totesport.com 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.

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TW's Grand National Ratings: Final Field

RTG Horse
188 JURY DUTY(IRE)
184 ANIBALE FLY(FR)
183 TEA FOR TWO(GB)
181 RAMSES DE TEILLEE(FR)
181 VINTAGE CLOUDS(IRE)
179 CAPTAIN REDBEARD(IRE)
179 SINGLEFARMPAYMENT(GB)
179 STEP BACK(IRE)
179 LAKE VIEW LAD(IRE)
179 RATHVINDEN(IRE)
179 TIGER ROLL(IRE)
178 DON POLI(IRE)
178 GO CONQUER(IRE)
178 VIEUX LION ROUGE(FR)
178 JOE FARRELL(IRE)
177 BLESS THE WINGS(IRE)
177 REGAL ENCORE(IRE)
177 ULTRAGOLD(FR)
177 DOUNIKOS(FR)
177 GENERAL PRINCIPLE(IRE)
176 OUTLANDER(IRE)
176 A TOI PHIL(FR)
176 UP FOR REVIEW(IRE)
176 ROCK THE KASBAH(IRE)
175 MINELLA ROCCO(IRE)
174 MAGIC OF LIGHT(IRE)
174 MONBEG NOTORIOUS(IRE)
174 LIVELOVELAUGH(IRE)
174 VALTOR(FR)
174 WALK IN THE MILL(FR)

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.

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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.