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.