Saturday, December 26, 2020

Welsh Grand National 2020

With Storm Bella forecast to bring strong winds and heavy showers to much of the country overnight, Chepstow's Welsh National card will do well to survive; the going is currently described as heavy and an inspection is scheduled to take place at 07.45 tomorrow morning.

The Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase is due off at 2.50 and this year is being run in memory of Kim Gingell, daughter of Colin Tizzard, who died in May after a short battle with cancer, aged 43.

The yard has clearly aimed Christmas In April at the race; should the meet go ahead and the horse come home in front, there won't be a dry eye in the house. 

Three weeks ago Secret Reprieve beat The Two Amigos 12 lengths in the Welsh National Trial (Bobo Mac third, Captain Drake fifth) run here over a trip of two miles seven and a half furlongs; the handicapper has since raised Evan Williams' charge four pounds. 

The layers seem to think that's a tad on the lenient side with the gelding generally priced up a 7/2 chance. Only four six-year-olds have won since the war: L'Aventure (2005); Halcon Genelardais (2006); Native River (2016); and Elegant Escape (2018).

For this I like something carrying less than 11-00 that has shown decent form at the track. Last year's selection The Two Amigos ran a fine race from the front but just seemed to run out of petrol after the last, eventually finishing fifth, six lengths behind Prime Venture in fourth.

Prime Venture looks to be Evan Williams' second string but the yard's horses are running well (36% strike rate over the past fortnight). Sent off the outsider of three on seasonal debut at Sedgefield, Prime Venture broke his duck, winning his first chase by 16 lengths; the handicapper has raised him five pounds.

I'd expect Bobo Mac to improve although I'm put off by a comment Tom Symonds made in the Weekender [16-20.12.20]: ' could be something like the Eider would fit in better', the implication being the horse needed time between races. The handler also said: 'He's talented but he needs to be ridden like a ghost in the race.'

Springfield Fox has been well supported but doesn't look entirely straightforward while Dominateur didn't jump with any fluency behind Pym on his seasonal debut at Sandown. 

Vieux Lion Rouge blew away his opponents in the Becher Chase three weeks ago with stablemate Ramses De Teillee disappointing in seventh, beaten over 90 lengths. Ramses didn't jump well that day but his second in this race behind Elegant Escape in 2018 merits every respect.

Prime Venture is the each-way suggestion. Most layers paying five places quote 12/1 this evening; William Hill quote 11/1 and pay seven places. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Boxing Day dilemmas

Tis the afternoon of the night before Christmas and the form books lie still...

No traditional Christmas Day post this year; here's an insight into the cogitations likely to be to the forefront of my mind while pulling the Christmas crackers.

An intriguing renewal of the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, a race that doesn't make an awful lot of appeal from a punting perspective. 

After inflicting defeat on Altior for the first time, Cyrname turned up a short priced favourite for last year's running but flopped badly, stablemate Clan Des Obeaux taking full advantage; Cyrname has been campaigned differently this term and on official ratings is the one to beat. 

The Henderson camp has stumped up the £5,000 fee required to supplement Santini; connections have done their sums and calculated that a profit will be realised if their charge finishes in the first five. 

Lostintranslation didn't shine in the race last year and underwent wind surgery immediately afterwards. A fine third in the Gold Cup in March, he disappointed in the Betfair Chase at Haydock; Robbie Power thinks his ride is better on better ground.

The Rowland Meyrick (Wetherby 2.05) has piqued interest, primarily because only three of the nine declared have shown noteworthy form over three miles or further: Snow Leopardess (the grey mare raised nine pounds after catching Commodore on the line at Haydock five weeks ago); Wandrin Star (raised four pounds after finishing a neck behind Quarenta at Ascot); and The Dutchman (raised five pounds after being caught on the line at Haydock last time). 

To date Canelo has been well beaten on two previous attempts at the trip but trainer Alan King thinks this step back up will suit. 

Windsor Avenue appears to have prompted a difference of opinion with Paddy Power offering 7/1 while William Hill go 10/1; the gelding is not lightly dismissed. Brian Ellison's charge underwent wind surgery in January and has been given plenty of time to recover. His chance in the Caspian Caviar at Cheltenham last time disappeared at the start and that effort is forgiven. Quoting Ellison in a 'Straight from the Stable' feature in the Weekender 30.09.20 - 04.10.20:

'If you could see his work at home it screams out class and the work last week was very impressive. He should get three miles...'

Stablemate Definitly Red won the 2016 running off 141.

This time last year, following Not So Sleepy's nine length victory in the Betfair Exchange Trophy, I highlighted the chance of Hughie Morrison's three runners at Wincanton. Two of the three obliged, with Supamouse winning the concluding bumper 14 lengths. Talk immediately afterwards was of the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham but tragedy struck the following day when it was discovered the gelding had suffered a perforated intestine and couldn't be saved. 

Twelve months on and Not So Sleepy has won the 2020 renewal of the Betfair Exchange Trophy at odds of 20/1 - for the record, carrying none of my money. 

Updated figures for the stable's jumps runners read:

Season to date: 1 win from 11 runs (9%); +10 points profit

Last five years: 23 wins from 114 runs (20%); +47.25 points profit

The yard has declared the unraced Scanning in this year's Wincanton bumper (3.50). The following rhetorical question is asked in stentorian, overemphasised, John McCririck-like tones:

Has renowned Flat trainer Hughie Morrison been hatching a plot? 

With very best wishes to all readers this Christmas time.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Tommy Whittle and the Christmas whatchamacallits

Christmas is going to be different this year. Small. No trifle. No postprandial port either. The whochamacallits won't be calling round with their Christmas whatchamacallits; every cloud, I suppose...

Here's a quick look at the Tommy Whistle Chase to whet your whittle. Have I said that right? Anyway, ten declared for the 2.40 at Haydock tomorrow where the going is described as heavy (with heavier bits in places, no doubt). 

Last year the distance of this race was extended from two miles seven furlongs to three miles one and a half furlongs; Lord Du Mensil collected the spoils carrying 10-5.

Of those near the head of the market, Sojourn looks the one guaranteed to stay the trip on this sort of ground, having won at Carlisle on seasonal debut (Roll Again beaten over 95 lengths in fifth, Sam's Adventure pulled up). The handicapper has raised Anthony Honeyball's charge 11 pounds for that effort; in two of his three chase starts minor jumping issues have been referenced in the formbook- stumbled after the last when second at Chepstow 12 months ago and then at Carlisle pecked on landing at the sixth and clear when blundered two out.

Hill Sixteen just caught Lil Rockerfeller in a three mile handicap hurdle on good ground at Newbury three weeks ago; that looked a hard enough race. Winner of a three mile point-to-point, this is the first time the horse races over this extended distance.

Top weight Roll Again has won at Ludlow since defeat behind Sojourn at Carlisle and meets that opponent 10 pounds better off tomorrow. It's noticeable that when trained by Willie Mullins in Ireland and since moving to Venetia Williams' yard in Herefordshire, his racing for the most part has been on right-handed tracks. 

Enqarde has plenty of French chase form around two and a half miles to his name and appears to have settled into new surroundings very quickly, having finished second in a novices' handicap hurdle at Ascot before winning a novice hurdle at Newcastle nine days ago. He could be anything; with Cillin Leonard's seven pounds claim, the partnership has a racing weight of just 10-2.

I'm not convinced Crixus's Escape or Salty Boy will last home (Salty Boy's form behind Sevarano looks respectable with Mahlervous winning at Kelso next time) but Pop Rockstar, twelfth behind Potters Corner in last year's Welsh National, should have no worries on that score. He's the only one in the field who can boast course winning form yet, on balance, his profile appears inconsistent; beaten a short head behind Court Dreaming on seasonal debut, he was subsequently pulled up in Snow Leopardess' race over this course and distance four weeks ago. I just wonder whether he might prefer better ground.

With Sam's Adventure out of form so far this season, I've concentrated on Highest Sun and Lord Napier - and watched the prices of both contract after final declarations were made yesterday.  

Last season the former finished third behind Champ and second behind Pym before winning a two runner chase over this sort of trip on heavy ground at Plumpton off a mark of 142; he subsequently went on to finish seventh behind Imperial Aura at the Festival in March. That form reads well; he looks dangerous off 134 although there have been issues at the obstacles in the past.

Lord Napier finished fifth behind If The Cap Fits in the 2019 Aintree Stayers' Hurdle off 144. There was a hint of a revival last time at Chepstow on his third start over fences where a mistake at the fourth last didn't help the cause; he was probably a little flattered to finish second but off a mark of 132 he's another that looks well-treated.

At the time of writing Highest Sun is 9/1 with both bet365 and William Hill. I've just received some quite unfortunate Christmas news (see below) - Highest Sun has to be a win selection.


What's this? An email invite from the whochamacallits to a Zoom meet scheduled for 14:30 on Boxing Day? Good Lord! I thought I'd got away with it. What about the King George? 

And in a further manifestation of the sort of misguided decision-making a bout of false febrile festive festivity can lead to, I've just learnt that the bosses at Zoom have removed the 40 minute call limit on their free accounts so that 'those connecting with friends and family won't get cut short'. 

It never rains but it pours - enough to bring on an unsolicited attack of the Christmas whatchamacallits.

Season's greetings.

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup 2020

A somewhat curtailed post this evening...

Seventeen have been declared for tomorrow's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham (1.50) where the going is described as soft, good to soft in places. In a race with a number of specific trends, I'm hoping recent renewals will help narrow the field and point in the right direction... 

Coole Cody ran out a well-backed winner of last month's Paddy Power Gold Cup (Al Dancer third, Saint Sonnet a tired fall at the last after lying up with the pace) run over two miles four furlongs on the Old Course. Tomorrow's renewal takes place on the New Course, generally considered to be a stiffer test, over a half furlong further.

I must say I found Coole Cody's performance the last day quite remarkable. Set alight early by a loose horse, Evan Williams' charge raced from the front, producing a number of unorthodox leaps along the way, all of which appeared to have a negligible impact on his momentum. One length in arrears coming to the last, Spiritofthegames looked an ominous threat but Coole Cody dug deep up the hill to win by three and a quarter lengths. The handicapper has had his say and raised the winner six pounds; Exotic Dancer was the last horse to pull off this particular 'double' in 2006.

The stats highlight the chances of younger horses, 1993 winner Fragant Dawn the last older than eight to come home in front. However, since 1963, just three under the age of six have collected the spoils: The Laird (5), 1966; Unioniste (4) 2012; and Frodon (4) 2016.

Both Unioniste and Frodon were trained by Paul Nicholls who saddles three tomorrow including five-year-old Saint Sonnet; connections fit a first-time tongue tie but soft ground and a further half furlong wouldn't appear to help the cause.

Stablemate Master Tommytucker carries topweight and beat Good Boy Bobby 15 lengths at Haydock three weeks ago; on seasonal debut, in receipt of six pounds, the gelding was beaten just under three lengths by Al Dancer. Jumping has proved something of an issue for this one but in a TV interview earlier this afternoon the handler indicated they'd worked hard to resolve the issues. This is the first time Master T has raced in a field of more than 10 runners. 

The yard's other runner Southfield Stone won at this track on his penultimate start beating Coole Cody one and a half lengths at level weights; he was subsequently beaten 17 lengths by Protektorat, currently third favourite for the Marsh Novices' Chase in March.

I'd imagine connections were slightly disappointed with the way Al Dancer finished off his race in third in the Paddy Power; he goes off the same mark tomorrow and at the time of writing is clear favourite.

Course and distance winner Cepage makes his seasonal debut and has run well fresh before; his chance is respected.

Since 1997 only two horses have won off an official handicap mark higher than 150: Poquelin (151), 2009; Poquelin (163), 2010; and Frodon (164), 2018.

Combining the age and handicap benchmarks discussed narrows the field to the following: Windsor Avenue, Chatham Street Lad (137 in Ireland, 141 here), Midnight Shadow, Good Boy Bobby, Ronan De Senam, Benatar, Southfield Stone, Champagne Mystery and Annie Mc.

The market has proved a reasonable enough guide over the past ten years with seven winners starting at less than 10/1, although it's interesting to note the favourite has never obliged in that timeframe.

Course and distance winner Midnight Shadow is the one I've opted for. He was lucky to win the Dipper when Champ fell at the penultimate flight in January and subsequently finished sixth in the Marsh behind Samcro (Saint Sonnet seventh, Annie Mc over 40 lengths further behind in ninth). 

Sue Smith's charge posted a below par effort on seasonal debut in the Old Roan. Stable form remains something of a worry, and in an ideal world I'd want more than the 9/1 currently on offer, but he should certainly handle underfoot conditions and hopefully prove competitive.

William Hill and Paddy Power both pay six places; Midnight Shadow is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Aintree 2020: the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase

The last time the Grand National fences saw any particular use was this time last year when Walk In The Mill beat Kimberlite Candy in the Becher and Hogan's Height scooted away from rivals after clearing the last in the Grand Sefton.

I like a bet in the Becher and Walk In The Mill and Kimberlite Candy head the market for tomorrow's renewal. I also like to bet one that has jumped the unique National obstacles previously and the fact that a few near the head of the market for the Grand Sefton - Huntsman Son, Modus and Lord Du Mesnil - undertake this particular test for the very first time has piqued interest.

Hogan's Height was the first horse since Rebel Rebellion in 2013 to win this on his first attempt over the fences. Seven of the last 10 Grand Sefton winners had previously encountered the fences, with five of those seven winners having raced in the Topham nine months earlier.

Of course, as a result of coronavirus, there was no Topham in April but two in tomorrow's field competed in the 2019 renewal - Flying Angel finished sixth behind Cadmium, Beau Bay ninth.

Huntsman Son comes to this in good form having beaten Two For Gold at Wetherby last time but the handicapper has raised Alex Hales' charge nine pounds for that effort. The trainer has expressed a worry the ground could be too soft...

Modus beat Springtown Lake eight lengths over the Mildmay fences here four weeks ago. The handicapper has raised Paul Nicholls' charge nine pounds for that effort while Springtown Lake's rating remains unchanged; on revised terms they look closely matched. For me, Modus is a horse with a big engine who can find the fences cause him trouble. 

Paul Nicholls has won three renewals in the past decade: Rebel Rebellion (2013); As De Mee (2016); and Warriors Tale (2019). He also saddles Sametegal - of the pair I prefer the chance of Samtegal. 

Lord Du Mesnil was in the midst of a purple patch this time last year, winning the Tommy Whittle at Haydock; Paul O'Brien claims three pounds off the top weight but ideally I think Richard Hobson's inmate would prefer more of a test of stamina. The trainer reports his charge has schooled well over the Lambourn National fences.

In last year's renewal Beau Bay (40/1) finished third, Flying Angel (11/4f) fourth, Didero Vallis fifth (7/1), Touch Kick (6/1) sixth with Federici (14/1) pulled up.

Of those, Beau Bay, Flying Angel and Didero Vallis make the shortlist but Touch Kick was moved from Paul Nicholls to Simon West three and a half weeks ago and looks to face a tough challenge on his seasonal debut while a couple of better fancied sorts didn't put their best foot forward in the race Federici won at Carlisle recently.

There's a suspicion Beau Bay may have been slightly flattered by third spot last year, reflected in his current price of 25/1. This year's renewal looks a deeper affair but, taking into account Charlie Hammond's claim, he races off a mark four pounds lower. Stablemate Caid Du Lin has shown his best form over two miles on right-handed tracks.

Flying Angel wouldn't be the easiest to predict and he put up a bit of a Halloween horror show at Ascot the last day. His trainer says 'he's in really good form now', but Sam Twiston-Davies prefers stablemate Crievehill. This one ran up with the pace in the Old Roan Chase before fading to finish 16 lengths behind Nuts Well in eighth. That form reads well enough; the handicapper has relented and dropped the horse three pounds - but he's still four pounds higher than his last winning mark.

Coming to two out Didero Vallis looked to have every chance last year but he weakened thereafter, eventually beaten a total of 24 lengths. A year older - and stronger - and racing off a two pounds lower mark, it's easy to see why Venetia Williams' charge has been backed into 6/1 favouritism this evening.

Alan King hopes Dingo Dollar takes to these fences while stablemate Senior Citizen is open to improvement but relatively inexperienced with just five chase starts chalked up. A senior citizen lacking experience - what the hell is that about? For the record, since 2003 only two horses younger than eight have come home in front - Dark Room (2003) and As De Mee (2016).

I've seen a tip here and there for 2017 RSA winner Might Bite - on the back of his recent run at Ascot - and for Pink Eyed Pedro too - most of his best form has been on good ground. 

25/1 Beau Bay is tempting but the two Twiston-Davies runners have dominated thoughts. Of the pair Crievehill looks the more reliable so I'm going to stick with Sam. 

Sixth in the 2018 running when aged six (beaten just over 10 lengths) Crievehill is the each-way suggestion; Betfair, Paddy Power and Bet Victor offer 16/1 and pay five places.


The Becher has been the target for Smooth Stepper for some time. On his seasonal debut he finished fifth behind Step Back at Ascot (Samtegal third), beaten less than 10 lengths. 

He hasn't jumped these National fences before, and he'll certainly need to, but if he does, he'll stay. 

Back in 2018 this horse did me one big favour in a race at Kelso and, as a general rule of thumb,  I don't tend to forget favours like that. Occasionally, even now,  I re-live the dream

On the other hand, I still haven't quite forgiven myself for missing him at odds of 33/1 when he beat Lord Du Mesnil in the Grand National Trial at Haydock last February...