Friday, February 21, 2020

Eider Chase 2020

Nike Vaporfly running shoes have thrown up some difficult questions for the world athletics ruling body in recent weeks. In some cases, athletes have reported a 4% improvement on the time taken to run a marathon; they have been described as 'magic' shoes and 'likened to doping'.

Yesterday, a sufficiently well-refreshed reader, swaying gently in the wind, beckoned me over and proceeded to suggest that, using similar patented technology, Nike should consider branching out into the manufacture of thoroughbred racing plates. Perhaps brand them 'Horsefly' (not 'Horseplay' - a singular point on which we could both agree). He continued along the lines that these hi-tech racing plates should then be fitted to all the blog's selections in the future - that way down-at-heel readers might at least retain a modicum of hope of receiving some small return on the wagers suggested.

Quite cutting remarks, I think you'd agree.

'A sort of shoe-in, do you mean?' I enquired. 'Have a sole!'

Too late. Showing plenty of toe, he'd already hoofed it - straight into The Trotting Mare across the road.

Tomorrow's meeting at Newcastle is subject to an eight o'clock inspection; the going is currently described as heavy, soft in places. Twelve have been declared for the Eider Chase (2.45) which this year will be run over the slightly longer distance of four miles one furlong and 56 yards.

In 2018 Baywing won carrying 11-00 off a mark of 140 while last year Crosspark won off a mark of 135 carrying 10-13. Tomorrow Prime Venture heads the handicap off a mark of 136 which suggests this year's renewal may not be among the best but that's unlikely to make finding the winner any easier.

A number in the field wouldn't be guaranteed to see out this trip in this ground but Prime Venture isn't one of them and trainer's daughter Isabel Williams can claim seven. His fourth in the Welsh National behind Potters Corner reads well and, although he has yet to score over the larger obstacles, his handler hopes 'his time won't be long in coming'.

Favourite Petite Power comes into this in very good form. Fergal O'Brien's charge finished third behind Kimberlite Candy in Warwick's Classic Chase and before that was pipped a neck by Belle Empress - Belle Empress finished a creditable third in the Devon National at Exeter earlier today. Mr Liam Harrison claims seven pounds.

Owned by The Black Horse Hotel Bridgnorth, Calipso Collonges was a well-beaten second behind Lord Du Mesnil in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock last time. That still rates a good effort and his handler has said 'I can see him winning a nice handicap somewhere this season'. This is his first try at a trip beyond three miles two furlongs.

On the other hand Hugo 'N' Taz won the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen over three miles three and half furlongs on his first run in this country. Quoting David Pipe in this week's Weekender:

"I would be disappointed if he didn't build on that next time. He is in the Eider on Saturday and and could be a possible for the National Hunt Chase next month."

Three and a half weeks ago Fortified Bay beat Hill Sixteen two lengths here with Glittering Love third and Ascot De Bruyere fourth. Fortified Bay has been raised seven for that effort and on a strict interpretation of the form still has the beating of the third and fourth. That was over a trip just shy of three miles and clearly the market expects more from the Paul and Clare Rooney owned Glittering Love who sports first-time cheekpieces. Quoting handler Nicky Richards from the Weekender 04-08.12.19:

"He's a grand horse who has been very successful so far. He won four of his five point-to-points and began his chasing career on a very good mark last season... I think he could have another good winter given the rub of the green. He wants proper soft ground and stays well." 

Alminar won last time out and Financial Outcome has undergone wind surgery since finishing third behind Fortescue at Uttoxeter. Both are aged seven - only one seven-year-old has come home in front since Domaine De Pron won in 1998 - Portrait King in 2012.

Shanroe Santos is inconsistent but would have his chance on a going day while Very First Time didn't appear to stay when fourth behind Hugo 'N' Taz in the Lincolnshre National.

A most open affair; I'm considering two at a price. On his first run after wind surgery Donna's Delight won well from the front over three miles three at Ayr last time out. On a tenuous line through Lord Du Mesnil, Calipso Collonges has the beating of Sandy Thomson's charge.

At a much bigger price Ascot De Bruyere has a very good record at this track and on his only try beyond three miles finished a creditable sixth - beaten under 12 lengths - behind Harry The Viking in the 2018 Scottish Borders National at Kelso.

I still haven't forgiven myself for failing to look more closely at Smooth Stepper at Haydock last weekend (put off by those veterans' chase runs) so this week I'm going to take an each-way chance on Ascot de Bruyere and hope that, although a lot of his racing has been over two and half to three miles, he can see out the marathon trip in the manner he did at Kelso; Danny McMenamin does his bit for the cause by claiming three.

At the time of writing William Hill offer 28/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places. Ascot De Bruyere is the each-way suggestion.

Now, if only he could race in those 'magic' plates...

Friday, February 14, 2020

Haydock's Grand National Trial

There hasn't been an awful lot of racing this week and my bank balance looks all the better for it.

Tomorrow's cards hang in the balance with Storm Dennis threatening to bring heavy rain and strong winds; early morning inspections are scheduled at Ascot, Haydock, Wincanton and Lingfield.

The going at Haydock is currently heavy, soft in places on the hurdle course.

Eleven have been declared for the Unibet Grand National Trial Handicap chase at 3.15; Ballyoptic's preferred engagement is in the 2.25 at Ascot.

Course and distance winner Yala Enki finished third in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow over Christmas with The Two Amigos fifth, Elegant Escape sixth and Pobbles Bay eighth; this evening Paul Nicholls' charge heads the market but has been raised 15 pounds for winning at Taunton last month.

The Two Amigos raced enthusiastically from the front in the Welsh National and only faded coming to the last; the slightly shorter trip here may help.

There's a school of thought that Elegant Escape hit one up the home straight and that scuppered his chance. He faces a stiff task off top weight and his jumping is often littered with niggling errors; he underwent wind surgery last month.

Quoting Evan Williams in Straight from the Stable - Weekender 12-16.02.20:

"[Pobbles Bay] is a nice stayer but I think it is fair to say the handicapper has him where he wants at the moment. I thought he ran a lovely race in the Welsh National last time out when eighth, but in truth he wasn't good enough. We will look at the Haydock Grand National Trial next as the track and trip will suit him."

Both Pobbles Bay and Smooth Stepper race from out of the handicap.

Vintage Clouds won the Peter Marsh here four weeks ago (Geronimo third). He jumped with some zest that day, the best I've seen from Sue Smith's charge for some considerable time, but he has gone up 11 pounds while Geronimo is now one pound lower and weighted to reverse the form. All that said, Ryan Mania was hard at work some way from home on Geronimo...

Lord Du Mesnil won over course and distance last time out and the time before beat Vintage Clouds into third in the Tommy Whittle. On his seasonal debut at Stratford in October he started off a mark of 115; tomorrow he starts off 147 with Paul O'Brien able to claim three. No seven-year-old has won this in the past ten years.

One For Arthur won the National off this mark (148) three years ago and clearly retains ability; he underwent a wind operation in December and now sports cheekpieces for the first time. It looks as though connections are using this as a stepping stone to the Aintree showpiece in April so it's difficult to gauge how fit the horse is; last time out he finished just under seventeen lengths behind Walk In The Mill in the Becher Chase.

I'm not convinced Steely Addition will stay this trip in these conditions.

A rushed post. One For Arthur(10/1) is of interest each-way but, given the weather warnings, I'll wait until tomorrow before making any decision.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Newbury's Betfair Hurdle 2020

On Thursday 7th October 2004 Reg Hollinshead, a trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, sent out filly Norma Hill to win the Ludlow Racing Partnership Juvenile Maiden Hurdle at odds of 25/1. I was at the Shropshire track that bucolic afternoon and clearly remember the filly set off in front; she never saw another runner.

On Wednesday 5th February 2020 Gay Kelleway, another trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, sent Bolt N Brown to Ludlow to make all and win the Two C's Antiques Fillies' Juvenile Hurdle at odds of 25/1 (backed in from 40s); the appropriately named Eddie Edge claimed seven along with his first winner in public.

Insufficiently prescient, I only made the link between the events outlined above at around 7.20pm on Wednesday evening. Gentle sigh. Another 40/1 winner passes me by...

Hughie Morrison, yet another trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, will be hoping Not So Sleepy can make all to win tomorrow's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and land connections a bit more money than Reg or Gay managed up at Ludlow - and pocket a cool £100,000 bonus in the process.

Just to be clear, the layers won't be offering any fancy 40/1 prices; in addition, I suspect it's something of an understatement to say Not So Sleepy can be a bit of a handful. Jonathan Burke will be doing the steering - and not a lot else other than holding on for dear life - as Sleepy struts his stuff; the last day the pair nearly ended up going through the wing of a hurdle.

Sleepy comes into this following two runaway victories at Ascot. The first time he was afforded a soft lead and the handicapper raised him five to 127. The gelding repeated the trick four weeks later in a race once known as the Ladbroke Hurdle, beating Monsiuer Lecoq (an astonishing) nine lengths.

In the immediate aftermath of that race some commentators were a little sniffy about Sleepy's hurdling but others advised Mr Morrison to give the beast an entry in next months's Champion Hurdle and that's exactly what Mr Morrison did.  At the time of writing Not So Sleepy is a best-priced 25/1 for the feature race on the first day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.

Subsequently, the handicapper took a much closer look at the horse's rating after that second Ascot victory and raised him to a mark of 144 - a chunky 17 pound hike; the handler thinks this 'isn't huge'...

The horse I took out of the Ladbroke was Sir Valentine who suffered significant interference on the first bend and as a result quickly lost his position. Racing from the rear, he did well to make up ground from two out to finish a respectable third, beaten some 13 lengths (Whoshotthesheriff fifth, Tamaroc Du Matahan tailed off in tenth with Zanza falling at the fourth and bringing down Quoi De Neuf in the process).

Nigel Twiston-Davies has a decent recent record in this with Splash Of Ginge (2014), Ballyandy (2017) and Al Dancer (last year) all coming home in front but jockey bookings would appear to suggest that Sir Valentine's stablemate in the same ownership - Stolen Silver - is better fancied. He appeared to have a hard enough race on heavy ground in the Rossington Main at Haydock three weeks ago and now faces Thebannerkingrebel, third that day, nine pounds worse off.

It feels like a long time since we've seen genuine good ground and that will definitely suit the Emma Lavelle trained Highly Prized but he has been off the track a while and connections have nominated the Grand National meeting at Aintree in the spring as the ultimate target [Weekender Stable Tour 27.11.19 - 01.12.19].

Greatwood Hurdle form is always worth a second look. Harambe beat Gumball a neck with Quoi De Neuf fourth (beaten under two lengths) and Zanza sixth; Harambe has been raised seven pounds for that run, Quoi De Neuf four.   

Ecco has been on my radar and he has the right profile. The run at Cheltenham in November was a disappointment but he was better the next time behind Fred; his price has drifted steadily through the day. 

This is a fiercely competitive renewal; with 24 going to post, it's possible to make a case for several in the field. No horse older than six has won since Geos in 2004; over the past ten years Violet Dancer (2015) was the lowest rated winner (132) and Zarkander (2012) the highest (151).

Sky Bet, William Hill, Paddy Power and Betfair all offer one fifth the odds six places.

The market indicates Mack The Man is the much better fancied of Evan Williams' two runners but Quoi De Neuf has the right profile and was unlucky to be brought down in the Ladbroke the last day.

With the booking of Brian Hughes catching the eye, Quoi De Neuf is the each-way suggestion, currently 20/1 with Sky Bet.

To finish, I received a mail earlier today from Epsom racecourse asking whether a trip to the Derby was on my bucket list. Give me a break - I haven't decided which Cheltenham preview night I'm going to yet...