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.