Friday, October 30, 2020

An each-way chance in the 2020 Sodexo Gold Cup

For starters, I thought I'd bring to your attention a recent analysis of starting prices compiled by the Horseracing Bettors Forum (HBF) which concludes that, since racing returned after lockdown on 1st June 2020, 'there has been a reduction in the price of horses at the head of the market and an increase in the price of outsiders'. Interesting.

The pre-race chatter surrounding tomorrow's Charlie Hall Chase (Wetherby 3.20) is whether Cyrname can win on his first attempt going left-handed over a trip of three miles. Connections seem confident - and why not? On official ratings Cyrname is 13 pounds clear of his nearest rival, last year's winner Ballyoptic. Paul Nicholls has indicated the forecast rain won't be a problem but points out that the only thing different from his seasonal debut last year - when he memorably beat Altior over two miles five at Ascot - is that the gelding hasn't had a racecourse gallop. 

All that said, Kim Bailey's charge Vinndication, a 5/1 chance on Thursday, is 9/4 clear favourite with several layers this evening. The yard is in fine form and the trainer is hoping he has a Gold Cup horse on his hands...

Sam Spinner is unbeaten over fences but anyone who saw his third and most recent win - in a three-runner novice chase at Doncaster in December - will know Jedd O'Keefe's charge threw jockey Joe Colliver up into the air six from home and the partnership was extremely lucky to survive. A fracture to the gelding's pelvis was subsequently discovered; Sam returns to the track tomorrow and it's no surprise to see his price on the drift.

This year's renewal has more depth than recent runnings. 

Ballyoptic and Definitly Red both bid to become the first horse since Ollie Magern to win the race twice (2005, 2007); the last horse older than nine to come home in front was Grey Abbey in 2004.

Of the bigger priced runners Aye Right is one I like and his second behind Nuts Well over an inadequate trip at Kelso 27 days ago reads well, given the winner picked up the Old Roan Chase at Aintree last Sunday. He's a 20/1 chance with bet365 but I'm struggling to see Harriet Graham's stable star making a place in this company.

With Cyrname and Vinndication taking their chance at Wetherby, the make-up of the Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Ascot 3.40) has changed markedly. 

Black Corton, third in this race last year behind Vinndication, tries again from a mark two pounds lower having undergone wind surgery over the summer. Mister Malarky beat Black Corton (Whatmore fourth, Adrien Du Pont sixth) in the Betway Handicap Chase at Kempton in February but in the past fortnight Team Tizzard has recorded just one win from 32 runs.

Connections of Walk In The Mill are probably using this as a prep for the Becher Chase while nobody can be really sure what Might Bite might get up to.

Of the two current market leaders Henry Daly (Whatmore) has his horses in fine fettle with a 30% win strike over the past 14 days but Chris Gordon (Commanche Red) is 1 win from 16 runs.

Near the foot of the weights I'm going to take a chance on Andrew Martin's Militarian who won this on his seasonal debut last year at odds of 50/1; he tries again from a mark one pound higher. This looks a more competitive renewal and, unfortunately, those bookmaker chappies aren't offering such fancy prices either but Shane Quinlan helps the cause by claiming five pounds. 

Sky Bet, Paddy Power and William Hill are paying five places in this race and, at the time of writing, Paddy Power offer 16/1. 

Militarian is the each-way suggestion.

To finish, two quick, eclectic pieces of form...

In the listed mares' hurdle at Wetherby (2.10) Verdana Blue is priced a 1/2 chance yet her performance at Kempton 13 days ago was disappointing. That day Silver Streak recorded a time of 3m 39.04s when beating the Nicky Henderson trained mare six and a half lengths over a trip of two miles. An hour earlier Mrs Hyde had won the Racing TV Novices' Hurdle over the same trip in a time of 3m 39.17s; Brian Ellison's charge is now as low as 11/1, having been 20/1 earlier in the week. I feel both mares are likely to be inconvenienced by the forecast rain.

In the Scottish Champion Hurdle Trial (Ayr 3.27) Faire Part Sivola, wearing first-time cheekpieces for new connections, looks overpriced at 11/1, beaten a head by Calva D'Auge at Wincanton in January when under the tutelage of Nick Williams. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Cheltenham Showcase 2020 - a view from the cheap seats

Earlier this afternoon I watched ITV4's coverage of the first day of the Showcase meeting from the cheap seats in our front room. 

'Cheap seats' is no misnomer: they're sited at an awkward angle to the black & white TV set - viewing is difficult at the best of times and the castors broke many years ago; a pungent aroma of stale sweat and old socks emanates from the threadbare upholstery; the carpet in the vicinity is stained, torn and frayed around the edges; the paintwork can best be described as 'grubby'.

The other day I put my hand down the sides of one of the chairs and retrieved a HB lead pencil, some fluff, a 2p coin and six old betting slips. I half thought I might have chanced upon a 'sleeper'; it was nothing more than a forlorn hope.

I wasn't completely certain but I thought I'd seen something when Ocean Wind, sixth in the Festival bumper last March, carried ten stone to victory on soft in the Handicap at Doncaster.  

Then Alice Plunkett, who had a better view of the runners in the paddock than the view anyone in the cheap seats had, proceeded to tell viewers before the Bentley Flying Spur Handicap Chase that it looked as if Rouge Vif needed the run. 

In the event, running off a mark of 156, Harry Whittington's charge, a 5/1 chance, blew away his rivals with an exhilarating display.

Tomorrow's Cheltenham card looks difficult. 

I toyed with making the case for the Paul Webber trained Boughtbeforelunch in the amateur jockeys' chase at 5.00 (form with Ballymalin and behind Manofthemountain on his seasonal reappearance) but the 10/1 on offer looks positively parsimonious so, instead, I've opted for the minefield that is the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at 3.15. 

Let's get the good news out of the way first of all - with 18 declared most layers are paying five places, Sky Bet and William Hill six places.

Last year's winner Tobefair heads the handicap but, with Jack Tudor's five pounds claim, effectively races off a mark two pounds lower tomorrow; Honest Vic's fifth in the Coral Cup also catches the eye. Those are the only two runners booked to carry more than 11-00 giving the race a rather lop-sided feel; the bottom four all race from out of the handicap.

Flinck's third in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow a fortnight ago reads well enough, as does Kansas City Chief's sixth in the Pertemps Final here last March.

I've spent a bit of time on this piece of form. 

Ballon Onabudget beat Story Of Friends two and a quarter lengths over an extended trip at Newton Abbot last month (third horse Storm Home since well beaten by Neville's Cross - up 12 pounds tomorrow). 

As a result the handicapper raised both Ballon Onabudget and Story of Friends five pounds. David Pipe's runner came to the last some four lengths to the good that day but made a complete hash of it - a better jump and he would surely have secured the spoils.

The pair look closely matched yet Fergus Gillard's seven pound claim effectively means Story Of Friends races off a mark two pounds lower than at Newton Abbot. The Pipe yard has been quiet of late but I see Main Fact went in at Newbury earlier today. 

BetVictor and Paddy Power both offer 16/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places. Story Of Friends is the tentative each-way suggestion in a difficult race.

Off to source some 1001 carpet and upholstery cleaner - right now! 

Friday, October 16, 2020

From Ascot to Market Rasen

British Champions Day at Ascot tomorrow. 

On 28th September 1996 Frankie Dettori won all seven races on the Ascot card at cumulative odds of 25,051/1. The feat became known as Frankie's 'Magnificent Seven' and passed into racing folklore. One punter pocketed a cool £500,000; layer Gary Wiltshire lost £1.4 million.

In January 2018 Lincolnshire punter Andy Green played the Betfred Frankie Dettori Magic Seven Blackjack through the small hours and, when he decided to call it a day, the sum of £1,722,923.54 was credited to his online account. However when he tried to pocket his winnings, the Betfred Frankie Dettori Magic Seven Blackjack refused to pay out - and that's when the problems started. Betfred cited a 'software error'; Andy has taken his case to the High Court. We wish him well but if things don't pan out, he wouldn't be the first punter unDone by the terms and conditions that apply. 

'Be careful what you wish for,' as they say. 

Speaking personally, and I'm sure it'll come as no surprise, I've never won big. To be honest, if you offered me just a small win once in a blue moon, I'd snap your hand off.  

Ascot may be the focus of the media's attention tomorrow but I prefer more modest Market Rasen; the similarities are few and far between although both race right-handed and tend to favour those that race prominently.

Ten have been declared for the MansionBet Best Odds Guaranteed  Prelude Handicap Chase due off at precisely 4.31. 

The two horses with the least chasing experience head the market - Red Risk and Court Master both have just four chase starts to their name. 

Top weight Red Risk hails from the Nicholls yard and is priced up favourite on the back of his 11 length win at Ludlow on soft in February. The handicapper has raised him nine pounds for that effort; this will be the first time he has raced on good ground.

Second favourite Court Master carries bottom weight and likes to race from the front. He has been raised four pounds for his victory at Warwick 16 days ago; his eighth behind Simply The Betts (beaten 28 lengths) at the Cheltenham Trials meeting in January reads well.

Last year Mellow Ben finished fourth, Luckofthedraw seventh behind Copper West; that day San Benedeto headed the handicap off a mark of 153 - this year's renewal doesn't meet that standard. 

Mellow Ben goes off a mark ten pounds lower tomorrow and, with two recent runs under his belt, appears to have been trained with this as a target. 

Course and distance winner Luckofthedraw was sent off favourite a year ago off a four pounds higher mark. He wore earplugs on that occasion and appeared anxious in the preliminaries; after the race the vet reported the gelding had received treatment for heat stress.

Fidux's second to Really Super in the Summer Plate in July reads well. He races off the same mark here (138) and has previously won off 142; he strikes me as a horse that deserves a change of luck.

Peter Bowen's form has picked up of late and I always think his runners are worth a second look here but Beggar's Wishes has been off the track a long, long time. 

Louis' Vac Pouch - seventh behind Simply The Betts in a Festival handicap in March (beaten just over ten lengths) on only his second run for current connections - catches the eye. In a recent stable tour Phil Kirby indicated they still weren't certain what the optimum trip was for this one and I was left with the impression this race is seen as a starting point with the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham a possible target.

Ravenhill Road is something of a dark horse whose chance is respected but Ashoka had a torrid time of it all last year.

I'm drawn to the horses with a recent run to their name. Mellow Ben is ten pounds lower than when finishing fourth last year and handler Chris Gordon has had  a couple of winners in the past fortnight. 

At the time of writing 10/1 has just disappeared; Mellow Ben is the each-way suggestion. 

There are interesting cards at Kempton and Ffos Las on Sunday while Sedgefield hosts the Durham National (4.33). 

At Ffos Las I'll keep a close eye on two - Thebannerkingrebel in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at 3.10 and Rose Of Arcadia in the mares' maiden hurdle at 1.30 on the back of these comments from Colin Tizzard in a stable tour feature:

"She is a very talented mare and she would have gone to Aintree where I think she would have nearly won the mares' bumper there. She has schooled well and all being well she will end up in the mares' novices' hurdle at Cheltenham as she is a very smart filly. We think she is as good a mare as we've had in training and we are excited about her."

Friday, October 09, 2020

Searching for a silver lining in Chepstow's Silver Trophy (2020 renewal)

 'Anywhere nice on holiday this year, PG?'

'Just the usual - a fortnight down the bottom of our back garden.'


It's been that sort of year.

A recent article in The Railway Magazine pointed out the chances of contracting coronavirus on a one-hour train journey were 11,000/1. If you took the precaution of wearing a facemask for the duration of the journey, the chances were calculated at 22,000/1. With odds like that and a senior railcard to hand, I decided a treat was in order - a day trip to London to catch up with daughter and boyfriend.

A pleasant stroll around Battersea Park, spot of lunch in The Lighthouse and then further restoratives taken at The Sydney Arms, Chelsea, which, last time I checked, was run by former Flat champion jock Richard Hughes.

I'm using the term 'run' rather loosely as Mr Hughes was nowhere to be seen on the day in question but I'm assuming he doesn't have an awful lot of spare time for pulling pints of Timmy Taylor's given he's currently training out of Weathercock House in Lambourn - a yard forever associated with the redoubtable Mrs Jenny Pitman and 1983 Grand National winner Corbiere.

Anyway, with Racing TV broadcasting run-of-the-mill midweek fare from Goodwood, Galway and Catterick Bridge, we decided to sit outside in the late summer sun; more close-run encounters were spotted at the Sydney St - Britten St junction than at the Catterick races. 

Earwigged at the bar: 'Let me check - yes, yes, my William Hill account is up as well.' All seems so deceptively easy, doesn't it? Unfortunately, I still haven't worked out what I'm doing wrong.

Usually around this time of year I ask my butler to dig out the tweeds and take them for their annual visit to the local dry cleaners in preparation for the season ahead. That won't be necessary this year. I recall now with a certain degree of embarrassment the time I took the tweeds on an end-of-summer jolly to the Stratford races. On that occasion, as the result of an oversight on Beeves' part, I arrived fully togged up but with a furtive mothball concealed in one of those troublesome inside pockets. I wasn't unduly pestered by low-flying insects during racing but afterwards during post-race drinks the sweet-smelling, sweet-talking Lady Fotherington-Smythe, knocking back pints of house lager faster than my odd job builder - 'Listerine' I think she called it - was memorably dismissive. Most disconcerting.

Since the resumption of racing following lockdown there appears to have been a surfeit of big-priced winners. One school of thought contends that, with no on-course market, off-course bookmakers are more willing to lay realistic odds about outsiders. At this point I should point out that the longshots I've bet since resumption have all finished exactly where the starting price indicated they should have.

British racing looks set to continue behind closed doors for the foreseeable future. Without spectators, the sport is expected to lose between £250 - £300 million this year. Trevor Hemmings is just one owner who has cut his cloth accordingly.

If you've made it this far, your perseverance is about to be rewarded with another one of my disappointing selections...

Seventeen are set to go to post for the Silver Trophy (3.57 Chepstow) with Lightly Squeeze a non-runner.

Paul Nicholls chalked up a four-timer at the track this afternoon with McFabulous impressive in the Persian War. The Ditcheat handler saddles two in this tomorrow - Saint Sonnet and Sir Psycho. 

Saint Sonnet carries top weight and I think I'm correct in saying that only one horse has carried top weight to victory since the inaugural running in 1988 - Court Minstrel obliged at odds of 40/1 in 2015 (and subsequently went on to win on the 2017 renewal as well).

Sir Psycho was extremely slick at his obstacles in the Victor Ludorum at Haydock and was not disgraced behind Burning Victory in the Triumph Hurdle, although we shouldn't forget Goshen (declared 4.25 Goodwood, Sunday) was some 10 lengths clear of his field when coming to grief in that most dramatic of races. Bryan Carver can claim five but the four-year-old still looks quite high in the handicap and would probably prefer more cut, a comment that applies to a few of the runners. Only two four-year-olds have come home in front: Carlovent (1999); and Mr Thriller (2009). 

The Dan Skelton / Harry Skelton combination took the spoils with Shelford in 2014 and Flash The Steel last year. The brothers try for the hat-trick tomorrow with Flash The Steel now rated eight pounds higher than 12 months ago. 

I've seen the J.P. McManus owned Notre Pari tipped up in a few places. This one looked booked for a place in the Lanzarote before coming to grief at the final flight; winner Burrows Edge finished down the field in the Coral Cup off a mark of 138.

As a general rule of thumb I prefer one that has shown form over the course here. Caswell Bay boasts course and distance winning form and finished second behind Torpillo in last year's renewal of the Paul Ferguson's Jumpers To Follow 4-Y-O Hurdle but his profile is too inconsistent and, again, I think he'd prefer easier conditions.

The two that I've considered at a price are Hometown Boy and Push The Tempo.

Hometown Boy likes to race prominently and has respectable efforts behind McFabulous and Hurricane Harvey in the book although I note the majority of his racing has been on right-handed tracks. 

Push The Tempo doesn't have too many miles on the clock and will not be inconvenienced by drying ground. His third behind Chapmanshype at Kelso three weeks ago reads well; Robert Stephens' charge finished fifth behind Secret Investor in the 2018 running of the Persian War. On Racing Post ratings Push The Tempo is the one to beat, with jockey Rex Dingle able to claim three; I've noted the price being nibbled at this evening. He could 'bounce' after the long layoff before that Kelso run but, conversely, that run may give a fitness edge against those making their seasonal debuts.

At the time of writing most layers offer 20/1 and several are paying one fifth the odds five places; in a competitive affair Push The Tempo is the each-way selection.