Friday, January 29, 2021

Case notes: Doncaster's Sky Bet Handicap Chase 2021

With the Cheltenham Trials adjourned sine die (on the grounds the course is waterlogged, m'lud), the evidence for tomorrow's listed Sky Bet Handicap Chase (3.15 Doncaster) is presented for due consideration.

Stop wittering, PG, and get on with it!

Sorry, m'lud.

A baker's dozen declared, with the going currently described as soft. At the time of writing there appears a significant divide between the top five in the market (priced between 11/4 and 8/1) and the remainder, priced at 16/1 or bigger. 

Royale Pagaille beat Cap Du Nord three and a quarter lengths at Kempton the day after Boxing Day. Last week Royale Pagaille blew away his field in the Peter Marsh at Haydock and trainer Christian Williams will be hoping his charge can put up a similar kind of performance tomorrow. 

In future Cap Du Nord will race from a mark three pounds higher while Jack Tudor can claim three but to my mind the favourite looks short enough for one that has never won beyond two miles six and a half; stable form is a cause for some concern as well.

I have seen One For The Team well touted during the week but with just three chase starts to his name Nick Williams' charge is short on experience. 

J P McManus' two runners, Canelo and Musical Slave, merit consideration. 

Conceding 19 pounds, the former was beaten beaten four and a quarter lengths by Cap Du Nord at Newbury in November (Rocky's Treasure ninth); on these revised terms Alan King's charge is weighted to reverse the form. There's no doubt the fitting of cheekpieces has been the making of Canelo; he won the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day off a mark of 142 and this represents his toughest assignment to date.

Musical Slave is relatively unexposed - witness his form behind Caribean Boy and Sam's Adventure last season - and he has been well backed through the day. His jumping on seasonal debut at Newbury in November looked a little rusty; back in the autumn Tom Segal put up Philip Hobbs' charge as one to follow this season [Weekender 21-25.10.20]:

"Steadily progressive over fences last season and plenty more to come from him at staying trips. A slow jump three out might have cost him victory in a competitive race at Uttoxeter on his last start [behind Sam's Adventure]..."

Aye Right, a creditable fifth behind Champ in the RSA Chase last season, has shown smart form this term behind Cyrname and Vinndication in the Charlie Hall and behind Cloth Cap in the Labrokes Handicap Chase at Newbury. Harriet Graham has given her stable star a break before a prep run over an inadequate trip in a 'jumpers' bumper' on the all-weather at Newcastle 10 days ago.

Rocky's Treasure bounced back to form over course and distance last time, holding Give Me A Copper half a length on the line with Boldmere, outpaced from three out, fourth. 

For me, Rocky's Treasure is a tad inconsistent while Boldmere was a big disappointment, finding little off the bridle. On Racing Post ratings, Caroline Bailey's charge, a previous course and distance winner, is there with every chance and looks overpriced at 16/1 but it's difficult to feel confident he could trouble the judge; Sean Bowen replaces Paddy Brennan in the plate. 

I note Give Me A Copper is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and, as chance would have it, tomorrow evening, 5.30pm kick-off, Manchester United visit Arsenal, supported by Sir Anthony McCoy and several other well-known racing owners and personalities. I wonder if Ed Chamberlin will reference this fact during ITV's racing coverage...  

The jury's out on top weight Mister Malarky who won at Ascot just before Christmas but wouldn't be guaranteed, beyond reasonable doubt anyway, to reproduce a similar effort tomorrow; Colin Tizzard indicated to reporters earlier in the week the current poor form of his runners was due to a bug in the yard.

On his second run for Sandy Thomson, and wearing a tongue-tie for the first time, Yorkhill won Newcastle's listed Rehearsal Chase at odds of 66/1 (Takingrisks, beaten just six and a half lengths, fourth; The Butcher Said, beaten just under 15 lengths, sixth). 

The handicapper raised the winner five, dropped the fourth one and left The Butcher Said alone. Underfoot conditions will certainly help Takingrisks while in a recent Stable Tour Olly Murphy indicated The Butcher Said had done well to finish so close to Yorkhill, having 'made a Horlicks of the fifth from home'. The handler thinks a mark of 139 'fair'  but I just wonder whether The Butcher Said needs better ground.

And I'm sure Ryan Day will be hoping to get a tune out of Takingrisks' stablemate Guitar Pete but this one has never won beyond two miles five.

The evidence to hand indicates the last horse older than 10 to come home in front was Major Bell in 1999. 

In summation a highly competitive renewal. Takingrisks may be the veteran in the field but 40/1 with Paddy Power (five places) is a big price. 

I'm taken with the form of Aye Right though; Harriet Graham's charge has his share of weight but likes to race prominently which should serve him well here. 

Aye Right is the each-way suggestion, currently an 8/1 shot with Sky Bet and William Hill, both of whom are paying five places.  

Friday, January 22, 2021

The 2021 running of the Peter Marsh Chase

Earlier this week 93mm of rain fell on Haydock Park; most of us expected the worst yet when clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright walked the track on Thursday morning he indicated 'we are fit to race', something he went on to describe as 'a minor miracle'.

Frost now appears the main threat; a precautionary inspection has been called at 8.00 am.

10 have been declared for the Peter Marsh Chase (2.40); unsurprisingly the going is described as heavy.

An analysis I've read of Royale Pagaille's victory at Kempton over Christmas talks of  'a performance of some note' indicating the horse 'won't look out of place in Graded company'.

It's no surprise therefore to see Venetia Williams' charge priced up favourite but the gelding has been raised 16 pounds for that effort and now sits on a mark of 156. There's Gold Cup talk in the background as well, with layers quoting odds of 50/1 for the Cheltenham showpiece in March.

So I still haven't quite worked out why regular pilot Charlie Deutsch has decided to go to Ascot to ride Espoir De Guye (3.00) and Fanion D'Estruval (3.35). Did Charlie, like the rest of us, expect Haydock to be abandoned? Or does he prefer his chances at Ascot?

Granted, carrying top weight on heavy ground is never an easy task - the last horse to carry 11-10 to victory in this race was Cloudy Lane in 2009 - and at times the jumping at Kempton looked sticky and a cause for some concern. 

Bristol De Mai won the 2017 renewal at the age of six (off a mark of 154) but the last seven-year-old to come home in front was Scotton Banks in 1996.

I tend to go for one with a bit of experience over the fences in this and I note a number in this field look decidedly short on that particular kind of experience - Acey Milan has just three chase starts to his name, Sam Brown four (and also races beyond three miles for the first time), Lamanver Pippin five, and Sam's Adventure eight.

Sam's Adventure has creditable claims on the back of his win over course and distance in the Tommy Whittle five weeks ago. Brian Ellison's charge jumped well that day and at is now rated six pounds higher at 139.

It's also worth noting that in this limited handicap the bottom five runners all carry more than their long handicap weight; course and distance winner Potters Legend isn't lightly dismissed while Claud And Goldie finished fourth in last year's renewal and looks to have been trained specifically for this.

Crievehill won over this course and distance in November 2019 but hasn't been in the same form since; he didn't jump well in Royale Pagaille's race at Kempton last time and was beaten 36 lengths.

In a Straight from the Stable article in the Weekender [25-29.11.20] handler Charlie Longsdon says of Just Your Type:

"He is a big and slow chaser, but despite his physique he does not appreciate the ground too soft."

This one went well enough on soft ground in the Scottish Borders National at Kelso the following week but started to struggle around the three and a half mile mark and was eventually pulled up; connections fit blinkers for the first time.

I'm going to take an each-way interest in the Smooth Stepper, not so much as a hat tip to my own idiosyncratic prowess displayed on various dancefloors of the north west's discotheque circuit during the early1980s, but more in recognition of the favour the beast did me at Kelso the best part of three years ago.

I missed him (at odds of 33/1) when he stayed on to beat Lord Du Mensil in the Grand National Trial here last year and he was well beaten behind Vieux Lion Rouge in the Becher at Aintree last month.

The handicapper has relented and dropped him two pounds for that latest effort; he goes off 140 tomorrow, having won the Grand National Trial off 136, and Alex Hales has his string in good form.

All that said, the Stepper is no spring chicken - Our Vic won the 2010 renewal aged 12 - and the worry is he'll struggle to keep tabs on younger, better-fancied runners and get behind. 

I'm hoping the heavy, heavy ground will slow down the speedier sorts, allowing his stamina to come into play... 

Smooth Stepper is the each-way selection. Earlier today I saw 16/1 on offer but that price has disappeared; at the time of writing both William Hill and Sky Bet quote 11/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places.  

Friday, January 15, 2021

Warwick's Classic Chase 2021

In an upbeat column in this week's RP Weekender Alan King highlights the chance of Notachance in the Classic Chase (3.00); the trainer describes Warwick as 'probably my favourite course' and adds 'I've been very lucky there too'.

Warwick is my local track but I'm afraid I'm obliged to report none of Mr King's luck has rubbed off on me personally; perhaps I should take the hint.

This has been the target for Notachance following victory in the Anne Duchess of Westminster Memorial Handicap Chase at Bangor in November (The Two Amigos, second in the Welsh National at Chepstow last weekend, seven lengths adrift in third with Captain Chaos pulled up). 

At the time of writing Notacahnce is favourite and next up is, er, Captain Chaos. 

Dan Skelton's charge ran a blinder from the front in last year's renewal, eventually succumbing to the challenge of Kimberlite Candy approaching the last, with Petite Power third and Le Breuil fifth. Seven weeks later he gained deserved compensation when beating Worthy Farm 54 lengths in the Grimthorpe Handicap Chase at Doncaster.

The Captain hasn't been in quite the same form this term (PP0) and, to be honest, I've always thought he was difficult to predict but I note connections have reapplied the blinkers for tomorrow's race. Captain Chaos first wore blinkers on 11th November 2017; his form figures when sporting blinkers read: 1141522621.

Walk In The Mill sports blinkers for the first-time - at the age of 11. This one is a bit of a character who tends to reserve his very best for the Grand National fences at Aintree; he blotted his copybook in the Becher last month, coming to grief at The Chair. The suspicion is the Aintree showpiece is the target once again (as it is for the 2019 Welsh National winner Potters Corner who goes in the Pertemps qualifier at 3.35). 

Thirteen have been declared for tomorrow's renewal with the ground currently described as soft, heavy in places - and further rain is forecast.

Top weight Ballyoptic stands his ground; Jordan Naylor lightens the burden with his five pound claim. Achille, Red Infantry, Django Django, Didero Vallis and Petite Power all race from out of the handicap (the last-named 12lbs 'wrong' at the weights). 

Le Breuil, Late Romantic and Red Infantry are all re-routed here after the cancellation of Thursday's meeting at Catterick where they were due to contest the North Yorkshire Grand National Handicap Chase.

The chance of Le Breuil, fifth last year, on his first run after wind surgery is respected, as is that of Storm Control, but the prices don't tempt. 

Storm Control, Captain Chaos and Achille all race prominently - no bad thing around here.

Last January Django Django beat Notachance just under five lengths off level weights on heavy ground at Newbury. The horse doesn't appear to have been in the same form this term; connections have chosen to try cheekpieces for the first time and Richard Johnson in the plate rather than Jonjo O'Neill Jr certainly catches the eye.   

Venetia Williams won this in 2013 with Rigadin De Beauchene, three pound claimer Robert Dunne doing the steering. Robbie rides Red Infantry for Ian Williams tomorrow, minus the three pound claim, of course. 

Red Infantry is a fragile sort who hasn't seen a track in over 400 days but he still has decent form in the book. Achille is another who hasn't been seen at the track for over 400 days; Charlie Deutsch prefers to ride this one for Venetia rather than Didero Vallis. 

Despite the big weight, Ballyoptic looks big at 20/1; he won the Charlie Hall in 2019, beating the likes of Elegant Escape, Aso and Definitly Red. To my mind he isn't always the slickest at his fences and those five flights down the Warwick back straight place a premium on good jumping. Stablemate The Hollow Ginge has failed to complete in two of his three starts this term but finished a respectable fourth in the Ladbrokes Chase at Newbury in November.

As I'm sure you can tell - if you've managed to make it this far - I'm struggling to come up with a value each-way selection. 

Ballyoptic was beaten 53 lengths behind Cloth Cap in the Ladbrokes Trophy last time but that was run on good ground and underfoot conditions tomorrow will be more to his liking. 

I'm going to take a small each-way interest in Ballyoptic; at the time of writing William Hill offer 20/1 and pay five places. 

Friday, January 08, 2021

The rescheduled 2020 Welsh Grand National

Precautionary 8.00am inspections have been called for all three of tomorrow's meetings - at Chepstow, Kempton and Wincanton.

The rescheduled Welsh Grand National (3.10) is the highlight at Chepstow with 18 set to face the starter. 

It's easy to see why the layers have Secret Reprieve clear favourite, although 7/2 about this comparatively inexperienced sort in a race of this nature looks extremely short. 

Writing in the Weekender [06-10.01.21] Evan Williams says:

"I've long thought of him as the ideal sort for a Welsh National and my aim this season was to get him in the race at as near to ten stone as possible. He won the Welsh National trial by an impressive 12 lengths at Chepstow last month...

"I was unsure when it was rescheduled to this weekend if the conditions would remain the same [keeping their old handicap marks] but thankfully they do as he does look to be particularly well in at the weights [runs off 134 but new mark is 142]. I think he has a huge chance of winning the big one..."

In my original preview I decided to take an each-way interest in Secret Reprieve's stablemate Prime Venture and I'm going to stick with that selection. A bit of a quirky individual, he finished fourth last year (Truckers Lodge second, Yala Enki third, The Three Amigos fifth) and turns up this time in better form having broken his duck over fences at Sedgefield in November; the trainer reports that victory has really helped boost the gelding's confidence.

The form of those behind in the trial run over two miles seven and a half furlongs on December 5th is of interest; The Two Amigos chased home Secret Reprieve with Bobo Mac third and Captain Drake fifth.

The Two Amigos likes to race prominently and in last year's renewal was still chasing winner Potters Corner two out before eventually finishing fifth; I just wonder whether connections might try to tweak the tactics a tad this time.

As I indicated in the original preview I'd expect Bobo Mac to improve and the additional 13 days since the trial will help his cause.

Captain Drake wouldn't be the most consistent of individuals but makes some appeal (to me, anyway) of those at bigger prices. Quoting Harry Fry in his Straight from the Stable feature (Weekender 23-27.12.20):

"He was in and out over fences last season, winning at Exeter before finishing runner-up [behind Truckers Lodge] in the Midlands National, but he had a couple of unseats in between.

"I was delighted when he won first time out this season when I ran him back over over hurdles at Uttoxeter. He did not travel or jump well at Cheltenham next time but he ran better at Chepstow...

"Hopefully that will have done his confidence some good as there were definitely signs of improvement. I am still keen to go for the Welsh National as the trip and ground will be fine." 

Vieux Lion Rouge is also eight pounds well in after winning the Becher Chase last time but regular pilot Tom Scudamore prefers Ramses De Teillee who finished second to Elegant Escape in the 2018 renewal. 

Prime Venture is the each-way suggestion, quoted at 12/1 with William Hill this evening who pay five places.

The closest I'm likely to get to Lanzarote in the next 18 months is the Lanzarote Hurdle (3.30 Kempton); if Chepstow were to fail its early morning inspection, I was considering taking a chance on the weather in Surrey. 

I thought The White Mouse had a small squeak in the race and I nearly fell into a trap. Some basic spadework confirmed a gnawing suspicion - I couldn't find a mare that had come home in front in over 30 years. Well cheesed off!

Friday, January 01, 2021

Sandown's Veterans' Chase Final 2020

Amongst the presents beneath the Christmas tree this year I found a copy of Barry Geraghty's autobiography True Colours; something to look forward to after the recent tightening of lockdown restrictions.

For the first wager of the new year, I'm off to Sandown for tomorrow's final of the 2020 Veterans' Chase Series (3.00) where 16 are set to face the starter; the going on the chase course is currently described as soft, good to soft in places.

Crosspark heads the market at the time of writing and I confess to being a fan. 

Back in 2019 Caroline Bailey's charge won the Eider at Newcastle off a mark of 135 and followed that with a fine second behind Takingrisks (declared for the 3.15 at Ayr) in the Scottish National off 142. 

Last season was a complete write-off but the gelding has returned to form this year. 

He was beaten threequarters of a length by Doing Fine (Regal Flow third) over an extended trip in the London National at this track four weeks ago and the handicapper subsequently raised him three pounds. 

Prior to that he was beaten threequarters of a length by Step Back in leg 9 of this veterans' series (Sametegal third, Regal Flow sixth, with Jepeck pulled up and Gold Present refusing to race). 

He races off a career-high mark tomorrow; the balance of his form suggests he is best on good / good to soft ground.

Sir Ivan has been running well recently. Connections had a handicap chase over two miles three and a half furlongs at Chepstow's Welsh National meeting as their original target; this one is short enough in the market as he doesn't look guaranteed to stay this trip on this ground.

Late Romantic was pipped at the post in heart-breaking fashion by The Dutchman in leg 12 of the series at Haydock 31 days ago (Fingerontheswitch fourth with Seeyouatmidnight and Burtons Well pulled up). Five pounds higher, the gelding also holds an entry in the 3.15 at Ayr but this race is the first preference.

On his first run after wind surgery Potters Legend won leg 10 of the series at Warwick (Theatre Guide second, Strong Pursuit third, Gold Present fourth, Valtor sixth). His subsequent second behind Storm Control at Cheltenham off a five pounds higher mark reads well. 

The first four from that Warwick leg appear closely matched - Strong Pursuit, with just ten starts to his name at the age of 11, looks comparatively unexposed but has yet to win over this trip while it's interesting to note that of the two Henderson runners Valtor, owned by Simon Munir and Issac Suede and with some decent form in the book, has been well backed during the day and is now much shorter in the market than Gold Present.

In last year's renewal Jepeck (132), sent off the 3/1 favourite, beat Regal Flow (127) a short head with Theatre Guide (137) a neck away in third (Burtons Well pulled up). Anthony Honeyball's charge has been pulled up twice this term and connections have decided to fit first-time cheekpieces; Burtons Well wears blinkers for the first time.

Theatre Guide and Regal Flow are aged 14 and both turn up in decent form; four of the past five winners have been no older than 12. 

Ben Poste parted company with Minellacelebration on the flat after the seventh in the Becher Chase. Prior to that Katy Price's charge won leg 8 of the series at Aintree with Sametegal third, Theatre Guide sixth and Ballydine ninth; Sametegal is the other runner in the field who has not won over this distance. 

In a competitive event two each-way chances are of interest: Fingerontheswitch and Seeyouatmidnight.

The former finished some 24 lengths behind Late Romantic in leg 12 while the latter pulled up in the same race, form I'm not reading too literally as both horses were making their seasonal debut. Late Romantic has gone up five while Fingerontheswitch has gone down two, Seeyouatmidnight one. 

I tipped Seeyouatmidnight to win the 2018 Grand National; in the event Sandy Thomson's charge ran out of petrol from three out. In his younger days he beat the likes of Bristol De Mai and Blacklion and finished third behind Vicente in the 2016 Scottish National. 

In more recent times he won leg 4 of this series at Carlisle in March (Jepeck fourth, Takingrisks fifth). A fragile sort with not too many miles on the clock, I'd expect to see significant improvement for that spin; his past record shows he has produced a good performance after a similar preparatory run.

Millie Wonnacott gets on well with Fingerontheswtich, her seven pound claim an added bonus. Form behind Copperhead in the Silver Buck Chase at Wincanton and Ok Corral in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster reads well. 

Millie fractured vertebrae in her back in a fall at Newton Abbot in August but returned to ride Doing Fine to victory for this stable in the London National here four weeks ago. The Mulholland yard has been operating at a 24% win strike rate in the past fortnight; Fingerontheswtich is the younger of the two under consideration.

It's possible to make a case for several in the field. Fingerontheswtich is the each-way selection; at the time of writing Paddy Power offer 12/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places.