Friday, January 31, 2020

Edinburgh National 2020

On the day Britain officially leaves the EU I thought I'd inform you that hard work stopped in 1940. I happen to know this because in 1973 a bloke on a bowling green told me so. One of those things I've never forgotten; I was 16 at the time.

Whatever, this season has certainly seemed like hard work and it would appear there's more chance of Lord Lucan being found alive than the current state of affairs stopping anytime soon.

The Dublin Racing Festival has established itself as one of the most important meetings between Christmas and the Cheltenham Festival in the National Hunt calendar but to date attendances haven't done justice to the quality of racing on offer; that's unlikely to change tomorrow with Ireland set to face Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in the opening match of the Six Nations championship. Leopardstown's cards on Saturday and Sunday look set to prove most informative with Cheltenham only five and a half weeks away.

The best value on offer today can be found in the Racing Post's 'Go North' Weekend initiative and, just to show I'm not averse to taking a bit of my own advice, I'm off up to Musselburgh for a wager in the bet365 Edinburgh National Handicap Chase at 3.15; ten have been declared with the going currently described as good to soft, soft in places.

Favourite Little Bruce beat Sumkindofking three lengths in the North Yorkshire Grand National at Catterick 23 days ago with Brian Boranha two lengths adrift when coming to grief at the final flight.

The winner has been raised six pounds for that effort while both Sumkindofking and Brian Boranha remain on their respective marks; at the revised ratings Sumkindofking looks to have the beating of the favourite but the form of Tom George's yard is a cause for concern.

Chic Name enters calculations on the back of his defeat of Scottish National winner Joe Farrell at Newbury last March and his subsequent eighth behind Takingrisks in the most recent renewal of that very race in April; he comes to this in fine fettle after two decent efforts in cross-country chases at Cheltenham.

Wonderful Charm has been competing in hunter chases since June 2017 and is the only course winner in the field. Now aged twelve he may be vulnerable and I prefer to look elsewhere.

Bob Mahler tries this marathon trip for the first time but he beat Little Bruce seven lengths conceding three pounds in a novices' handicap chase at Cheltenham last spring off a mark of 132; in the past trainer Warren Greatrex has said soft ground is important for this one - he should have no worries on that score. 

Age is catching up with Carole's Destrier (12) and Harry The Viking (15), while Blow By Blow looks bang out of form so Arthur's Gift is the one I'm interested in after his recent Welsh National run - and also because I once knew a man called Arthur who kindly gave me a present.

The price has contracted noticeably in the time it has taken me to write this post.

Seventh behind Potters Corner on heavy ground in the Welsh National, Arthur's Gift has been dropped two pounds and Jordan Nailor can claim another five in this less competitive event. The horse held a five-day entry in the race won by Worthy Farm at Wincanton yesterday but clearly connections have decided this is the option they want to take up.

A few layers offer 9/1 at the time of writing which doesn't seem particularly generous (but more generous than the 13/2 offered by Paddy Power); nonetheless Arthur's Gift is the each-way suggestion.

By the way, that bloke on the bowling green - took him corner to corner and beat him 21-5. Told me afterwards he found it hard work.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Two longshots on the Cheltenham Trials Day card 2020

Cor blimey, guv'nor!

Enrietta Knight might ave ad a few quid in er purse but Enry Iggins ran a orror in the Pertemps Network  Andicap Urdle at Untingdon (2.00) earlier today. Eaded after the first, e ad a couple of misaps at the urdles and was soon ard at work; e appened to beat just the one ome, finishing 36 and a alf lengths behind ard eld otpot Sermando. Orrendous.

Ere's a couple of tips that are unlikely to get you singing and dancing in the streets or elp your umour - and I must try and drop stopping my aitches.

Trials day at Cheltenam, sorry Cheltenham, tomorrow; along with everyone else I'll be looking for those Festival clues. Just six and a half weeks to go...

For betting purposes though I'm interested in the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase (1.15) and the concluding Steel Plate and Sections Handicap Hurdle (4.10).

Twelve go to post for the 1.15 with Imperial Aura currently priced up favourite.

On his seasonal debut Imperial Aura finished third behind Flash The Steel and Champagne Court in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow (Ballyandy eighth, subsequent Ascot winner Greaneteen thirteenth). Kim Bailey describes his charge as having ' the makings of an interesting novice chaser'.

Champagne Court has to concede seven pounds to his rival and wears a tongue-tie for the first time.

At Kempton on Boxing Day Simply The Betts finished second and On The Slopes third (behind Commanche Red); that form reads well and the pair look closely matched again - On The Slopes lost second spot on the run-in.

Racing Post top-rated Sully D'Oc AA has caught my attention at a price.

I'm just a little bit wary about putting up horses owned by J P McManus - if fancied, the price disappears pretty quickly; the alternative would leave you to believe the horse isn't necessarily fancied at all. All that said, here's Anthony Honeyball's comments in the Straight from the Stable feature in the Weekender [18-22.12.19]:

"...he's a lovely big specimen of a horse. He loves his work at home and is always doing his best to please.

"...his second to the well-handicapped Fanion D'Estruval [subsequently fifth in the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase at Kempton] at Newbury last month was much more like it. I was very happy he didn't get put up for that run and he now heads to Ascot or Exeter next week. He's in grand order and I feel it would be good to get a third run into him while we can, which would mean he then qualifies for any handicap we choose."

Sully finished fifth behind Greaneteen at Ascot and tomorrow's race is the handicap connections have chosen. The gelding holds an each-way chance on that Newbury form and I'm prepared to forgive the latest run at Ascot.

At the time of writing Paddy Power offer 20/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places; Sully D'Oc AA is the each-way suggestion.

John Constable (1776-1837) is famous for his landscapes of the Suffolk countryside; his namesake runs in the finale at 4.10.

As I pointed out just three weeks ago before his latest run at Sandown, it seems barely believable that Evan Williams' charge finished four and a half lengths adrift of My Tent Or Yours in the International Hurdle off a mark of 156 just over two years ago.

I've been waiting for some small, barely perceptible, sign of improvement and thought I'd spotted something on his penultimate run here in December where he finished just under ten lengths behind Repetitio.

The handicapper dropped him three pounds to a mark of 127 for that effort and has since dropped him a further four pounds (123) after he failed to get involved in that Sandown race dominated by Totterdown and eventually won by Mill Green.

I'm prepared to forgive that one and with trainer's daughter Isabel able to claim a further seven pounds, he is effectively running off a mark of 116.

He wouldn't be the most consistent  but connections have been particularly patient and the yard is in good form at present (5 wins from 23 runs in past fortnight). Betway offer 16/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places.

John Constable is the second, more tentative, each-way suggestion.

Heach-way double, hanyone?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Heavy going at Haydock

Heavy rain, heavy going and small fields. Any good news? Well, this year's Christmas cake (soft, heavy in places) has finally been finished off.

Flying Angel and Red Indian both hold entries in the bet365 Handicap Chase (Ascot 3.00) but the preferred engagement for both is the featured Peter Marsh Handicap Chase (Haydock 2.40) for which ten have been declared.

Race trends indicate more often than not this tends to go to an experienced sort; six in the field have less ten chase starts to their name - Acting Lass, Geronimo, Midnight Tune, Champers On Ice, Claud And Goldie and Red Indian - while Flying Angel has done most of his racing around the two mile five furlong mark.

With course form always at a premium here, the stats suggest the two to concentrate on are Definitly Red and Vintage Clouds.

Definitly Red is a class act on his day. Well beaten in the Charlie Hall on his seasonal debut, he made up a lot of ground at the business end of the race on his next run, finishing fourth behind Walk In The Mill in the Becher at Aintree. Carrying top weight in heavy ground is never easy but his chance is respected.

Vintage Clouds was pulled up in the Becher and then finished 20 lengths third behind Lord Du Mesnil in the Tommy Whittle; the handicapper has dropped him two pounds for that effort.

Owned by Trevor Hemmings, the horse boasts a good record here but he tends to finish in the places more often than winning. To my mind, in general terms, he hasn't jumped as well after he came a cropper at the first in the 2019 Grand National.

Trainer Sue Smith bids for her fifth win in the race -The Last Fling, 2000; Artic Jack, 2004; Cloudy Too, 2016; and Wakanda, 2019 - and it's fair to say Vintage Clouds looks a percentage each-way call but at 8/1 it's not really a wager that lights the fires so instead I'm going to take a punt on the back of a comment Nick Alexander has made in the Weekender.

Clan Legend won at Kelso last time out and goes in the Cheltenham Preview Here In March Handicap Chase at 3.45; the trainer says:

"He didn't get his ground last winter but I was very pleased with his win the other day. 

"He's gone up 4lb which was very fair, and I'd like to think he should improve for that run. I hope he can run a very big race wherever he goes next. He loves very soft ground..."

He has to carry top weight but is one of only two in the field with winning form at the track (Ubaltique the other).

A few in the field like to race prominently while others don't have an awful lot of chase experience - favourite Zizaneur has failed to complete on his last three starts, unseating Mr David Maxwell three out on his chase debut at Taunton 11 days ago.

I'm guessing Mr Alexander is leaving off the cheekpieces applied for the first time last time as Lucy will give Clan Legend a hold-up ride.

10/1 with several layers at the time of writing Clan Legend (3.45 Haydock) is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Warwick's Classic Chase 2020

If Unibet ambassador Nicky Henderson thinks he's had a week of it with Altior, he should spare a thought for Harry and Meghan. After a right royal bust-up, they've been told fast track discussions about their future are likely to involve, amongst others, Home Secretary Priti Patel - enough to make anyone want to give up on a Dry January.

I suspect Henderson and Her Majesty could both do with a bit of a restorative and they'll be keen on Keen On providing the necessary cheer in the Leamington Novices' Hurdle (Warwick 2.25).

And what's this? Chancellor Sajid Javid has booked Wednesday 11th March - Champion Chase day - for his first budget speech. Whatever next? Announcing the winner of the Labour Party leadership contest on the same as the Grand National?

The Sussexes may have taken the brave decision to move towards financial independence but this season's blog tips are taking me in completely the opposite direction.

Fair play to Hughie Morrison whose jumpers are doing their best to stem the tide - Maridadi goes in the 3.55 at Wetherby tomorrow - but if this were a boxing match, the ref. would have stopped proceedings some time ago.

The feature on tomorrow's Warwick card is the Classic Chase (3.00) for which thirteen remain at the tine of writing (NRs Rocky's Treasure and previous winner Milansbar); the going is currently described as soft.

Trained by Lucinda Russell, One For Arthur won the 2017 renewal before going on to win the Grand National at Aintree; Big River (from the same stable) held a five-day entry but connections have opted to pass on the long journey south and instead go to Kelso on Sunday.

It's no surprise to see The Conditional head the market. On just his second run for David Bridgwater the gelding beat West Approach at Cheltenham (Crosspark and Captain Chaos pulled up) before finishing a fine second in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury behind De Rasher Counter. The handicapper has raised him five pounds for that effort; this will be his first try beyond three and a quarter miles.

I've never previously held any particular reservation about opposing Kimberlite Candy; however his latest effort, a fine second in first-time cheekpieces in the Becher Chase behind Walk In The Mill, certainly caught the eye. The cheekpieces remain in place - J P McManus will expect a bold bid.

Luca Morgan takes seven pounds off top weight Le Breuil who finished seventh in the Becher, some 17 lengths behind Kimbertlite Candy. Ben Pauling's yard wasn't firing on all cylinders at the time and I know his charge won the 2018 National Hunt Chase on soft ground over four miles at Cheltenham but I just feel Le Breuil is a better horse on better ground.

Both Petite Power and Bobo Mac arrive here in rude health; the latter's best chase form appears to be on a right-handed track.

Darlac's lack of chase experience is off-putting but I note that Impulsive Star won last year's renewal on just his sixth start over the larger obstacles (Crosspark third). Neil Mulholland's charge has been pulled up on every start since so connections swap cheekpieces for blinkers in the hope of sparking a revival.

Captain Chaos' second behind Takingrisks in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle in November reads well but other recent efforts look below par; trainer Dan Skelton has described his charge as 'an unlucky horse last year' but overall his profile is inconsistent.

Heads To The Stars has a nice racing weight and Hugh Nugent claims five but the jumping has caused problems in the past while Joueur Bresilien doesn't look guaranteed to stay.

Veteran Mysteree would be no forlorn hope if in the mood - this one was beaten a neck by Crosspark in the Eider last February and won at Kelso in October.

Writing in the Weekender Paul Kealy picks Kimberlite Candy indicating he had trouble finding one at a price. I know exactly what he means but I'm going to chance last year's third Crosspark who did me a big favour in the Eider and ran well in the Scottish National.

Caroline Bailey's charge has finished well beaten on both starts this term.

He was pulled up behind The Conditional at Cheltenham and then finished 74 lengths behind Lord Du Mesnil at Haydock just before Christmas. Perhaps the spectacles need some heavy-duty adjustment but he looked handy enough four out the last day before tiring; a mistake three from home ended any hope and he was eased when his chance had gone. The handicapper has dropped him two pounds for that effort and Jamie Moore is back in the plate.

Both Sky Bet and  Paddy Power offer 12/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places. Crosspark is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Sandown segue

What were the chances of this then?

First post of the new decade and I'm talking about, er, Cheltenham.

In the very first race on New Year's Day the stewards controversially disqualified first past the post Protektorat and declared the second, Imperial Alcazar, the winner; one imagines Sir Alex Ferguson, part owner of Protektorat, would not have been amused. Dan and Harry Skelton certainly weren't - the trainer told the Racing Post the decision had ruined his trip to Disneyland and an appeal can be expected. 

A little over an hour later Champ took a crashing fall two from home in the Dipper; connections have been forced back to the drawing board. The Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot next month is a possibility but Nicky Henderson's charge remains the clear 7/2 favourite in ante-post markets for the RSA come March.

That's twice Champ has raced at Cheltenham and twice he has come back beaten - he finished second to City Island in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle last March.

I'd be the first to admit the eyesight isn't what it used to be but when Nicky Henderson told reporters that up to that fateful encounter with the penultimate flight it was the best he'd seen the horse jump, well, I nearly fell in a heap of my own. To my mind some jumps were good but others less so and Richard Hoiles said as much in commentary. Watch this space as they say.

The Tolworth Hurdle (2.25) is the highlight on the card at Sandown tomorrow while the Veterans' Handicap Chase (3.00) is being run in memory of Houblon Des Obeaux who suffered a heart attack here in the London National last month.

I've spent my preparation time looking at the Read Nico De Boinville's Unibet Blog Handicap Hurdle at 3.35; the going on the hurdle track is described as soft, heavy in places.

Nico De Boinville is booked to ride market leader Gunnery so, taking the advice proffered by the race title, I've taken a quick peek at Nico's blog. Rated 90 on the Flat, Gunnery may well appear well handicapped allocated a hurdle rating of 121; he won a Class 4 handicap hurdle at Doncaster six days ago but, that said, tomorrow's race looks far more competitive.

Often displaying a tendency to pull hard, Gunnery raced from the front at Doncaster; he's likely to face competition for the lead tomorrow with Totterdown another who likes to front run. Sent off an even money shot on his debut for the Fergal O'Brien yard in November, Totterdown ran his rivals ragged over course and distance.

A listed race here last month ties in a couple of tomorrow's runners. Mack The Man beat Protektorat (see above) with Smarty Wild fourth, Ruacana fifth and Distingo sixth. The handicapper has since tinkered with the weights but with less than five lengths covering the trio you might expect the layers' prices to be far closer - this evening Smarty Wild is quoted 13/2, Distingo 16/1 and Ruacana 20/1.

Distingo is of most interest - from Gary Moore's Straight from the Stable tour in the Weekender 16-20.01.19:

"We thought a lot of this horse last season and he hasn't quite delivered yet." 

The gelding's third behind Jolly's Cracked It (November 2018) reads well and if he can build on his most recent effort, 16/1 looks value.

I'm prepared to oppose the four runners who have been off the track for some considerable time - Colin Tizzard's two course and distance winners Eldorado Allen (392 days) and Ainchea (700 days); Mill Green (262 days but supported in the market this evening); and Remiluc (643 days).

It seems barely believable that John Constable won the Market Rasen Summer Hurdle off a mark of 150 in 2017, and the following December, off a mark of 156, finished four and a half lengths adrift of My Tent Or Yours in the International Hurdle.

You don't need me to tell you it has been downhill since.

Without holding my breath, I've been waiting for any small sign of revival from Evan Williams' charge who starts tomorrow's race off 127 - and trainer's daughter Isabel can claim a further seven. His latest effort at Cheltenham last month was the first sign of an improvement in form.

On his seasonal debut Blu Cavalier was soundly beaten in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot but three weeks later he came out and won well at Doncaster. The handicapper has raised him four pounds for that effort but my reading of the form is the pilot that day, Jonjo O'Neill Jr, was unable to claim whereas tomorrow Ben Jones (also known as 'Jones the Jockey' in our house) can claim five so, in effect, he's one pound better off.

Last February Ali Stronge's ten-year-old finished third in the Betfair Hurdle at Ascot behind Al Dancer and Magic Dancer; that form reads well but a ten-year-old hasn't won this in the past ten years.

On balance I prefer Blu Cavalier's profile to that of Distingo. Sky Bet offer 11/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places; Blu Cavalier is the each-way selection.