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.