Friday, April 30, 2021

A brief review of the 2020/21 jumps season

Champion jockey: Harry Skelton

Champion trainer: Paul Nicholls

Winning owner: J P McManus

Champion conditional jockey: Danny McMenamin

In a season like no other, jump racing eventually came under starter's orders at Southwell on Wednesday July 1st; racing behind closed doors, the Paul Nicholls trained Nineohtwooneoh won the Sign Solutions Nottingham Novices' Handicap Chase ten lengths. 

Following two pilot events at Warwick and Doncaster, spectators returned briefly to the track in December but lockdown restrictions were quickly re-introduced as coronavirus cases increased. Owners made a limited return to the track on March 29th.  

On Saturday April 10th Rachael Blackmore rode the Henry De Bromhead trained Minella Times to victory in the Grand National, ensuring her name went into the history books as the first woman to win the race.

You'd be hard pressed to say you couldn't have seen it coming. 

Three weeks earlier Rachael had become the first female leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, riding six winners - one more than Team GB managed to record.

Particularly impressive were Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle) and Bob Olinger (Ballymore), both from De Bromhead's yard. The handler had the first two home in the Gold Cup as well but Rachael was aboard A Plus Tard, beaten one and a quarter lengths by stablemate Minella Indo with Jack Kennedy in the plate. 

Irish trained horses won 23 of the 28 races at this year's Festival, a fact that has generated plenty of discussion since - on both sides of the Irish Sea. Put The Kettle On and Flooring Porter claimed the feature events on Wednesday's and Thursday's cards respectively. 

On Boxing Day Bryony Frost became the first woman to ride the winner of the King George at Kempton. Frodon jumped out to his left on occasions but the pair proved unstoppable and made all to win.

Back in the autumn Nuts Well provided trainer Ann Hamilton and jockey Danny McMenamin with their biggest win to date when staying on to win the Old Roan at Aintree.

In the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham's Open meeting Coole Cody was set alight by loose horse Siruh Du Lac and quickly built up a handy lead. He nearly lost his hind legs at the fourth and while the jumping was pretty hairy at times, crucially he never lost momentum. Spiritofthegames looked all over the winner at the last but Evan Williams' charge wasn't for passing, coming home three and a quarter lengths clear.

Williams also claimed two notable scalps with canny front-running tactics. Silver Streak beat Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton while Navajo Pass beat Buveur D'Air in Haydock's Champion Hurdle Trial. 

The trainer also achieved a lifetime ambition when sending out Secret Reprieve to win the re-arranged Welsh Grand National in January - the horse was backed as though defeat was out of the question and so it proved. Unfortunately Secret Reprieve just missed the cut for the Aintree National. 

Emmet Mullins saddled The Shunter to win the Greatwood Hurdle 'comfortably'. 

At the beginning of March the horse returned to Britain to win Kelso's Morebattle Hurdle and then just 12 days later landed connections a bumper £100,000 bonus when winning the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase on the Cheltenham Festival Thursday card. 

Emmet Mullins' runners certainly proved worthy of a second look when sent over to Britain - his Cape Gentleman won the Dovecote in fine style. 

Bristol De Mai won another Betfair Chase at Haydock and a week later Cloth Cap ran away with the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase on good ground. Connections quickly indicated the Grand National was the target. 

The manner of his victory in the Premier Chase at Kelso in March ensured Jonjo O'Neill's charge was sent off 11/2 favourite for the Aintree spectacular. The gelding was bang in the mix but stumbled four from home and was quickly pulled up; jockey Tom Scudamore reported his mount had made a respiratory noise. 

Conor O'Farrell rode Vieux Lion Rouge to beat Kimberlite Candy an astonishing 24 lengths in the Becher Chase in December. In the National Vieux Lion Rouge blemished his record over the big fences with a fall at the 20th fence while Kimberlite Candy was pulled up.

Chatham Street Lad went into everyone's notebook when winning the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup 15 lengths. Michael Winters' charge subsequently finished fourth in the Marsh Novices' Chase at the Festival, eight lengths behind Chantry House after 4/9 hotpot Envoi Allen had departed at the fourth.

Sam's Adventure won the Tommy Whittle at Haydock and then unseated Ryan Mania in the Peter Marsh won by Royal Pagaille. Brian Ellison's charge then proceeded to add the Eider Chase to his haul before unseating Henry Brooke in the Scottish National.

Royal Pagaille went on to run in the Gold Cup as owner Mrs S Ricci was represented by Monkfish in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase. On the day neither horse jumped to the best of their ability; Monkfish still came home in front while Royal Pagaille finished sixth. 

Aidan Coleman and Paisley Park won a thrilling renewal of the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, collaring Thyme Hill in the shadow of the post, much to the exasperation of Richard Johnson. 

Thyme Hill missed Cheltenham with a slight setback but next time out in the Aintree Stayers' Hurdle Tom O'Brien took the ride after four time champion Richard Johnson had announced his retirement from the saddle the week before. Thyme Hill and Tom O'Brien wore down Roksana to collect the spoils with Paisley Park pulled up. 

Cheltenham's New Year's Day and Trials meetings were both abandoned, washed away due to waterlogging.

Before this year's Classic Chase Alan King had described Warwick as 'probably my favourite course' in his Racing Post Weekender column. 

If only I'd taken the hint - his Notachance (7/2jf) took up the running three from home and passed the post half a length ahead of the Venetia Williams trained grey Achille.

Two veterans chasers merit a mention - Sandy Thomson brought Seeyouatmidnight down from Berwickshire to win the Veterans' Final at Sandown while 40/1 shot Takingrisks stayed on to beat Aye Right in Doncaster's Sky Bet Chase. Handler Nicky Richards was visibly moved in the post-race interview, telling viewers the horse was his hack. 

A mighty season for Mighty Thunder - the Lucinda Russell trained gelding won the Edinburgh National, finished second to Time To Get Up in a strong renewal of the Midlands Grand National and then outstayed Dingo Dollar to claim the Scottish Grand National at Ayr. 

The same yard unleashed an exciting prospect in the shape of Ahoy Senor who won the Doom Bar Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree at odds of 66/1.

At the season's Sandown finale Champion Chase fourth Greaneteen surprised a few by coming home ahead of Altior and Sceau Royal in the Celebration Chase while a thrilling finish to the bet365 Gold Cup saw first past the post Enrilo demoted to third after causing interference with the fast-finishing Kitty's Light. 

Potterman was awarded the race in the stewards' room; Kitty's Light was promoted to second while El Presente faded into fourth in the shadow of the post. The first, second and fourth had finished second, third and first respectively in Wincanton's Badger Beers Silver Trophy in November.

Harry Skelton was duly crowned champion jockey following a protracted duel with Brian Hughes.

After a shaky start, a reasonable season for the blog, the highlight being this year's performance at the Cheltenham Festival; Flooring Porter is nominated blog horse of the year on the back of that all-the-way win in the Stayers' Hurdle. 

The ability of my wife to walk into our front room and, more often than not, pick the winner of the next without even the slightest nod in the direction of the formbook remains a source of some considerable irritation. 

Finally, lest we forget the dangers associated with this sport... 

On Sunday April 18th amateur rider Lorna Brooke died from the injuries she suffered when falling heavily from her mother's horse Orchestrated at Taunton on April 8th.

Chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority Julie Harrington paid tribute:

"Lorna was a much-loved member of our sport, in which she and her family are steeped. Lorna demonstrated many of the qualities that make British racing so special. She was a proud competitor and somebody who was driven by an abundance of love not only for the sport but for the horses she competed with. My thoughts, along with everybody else who loves racing, are with Lorna's family, friends and colleagues at this dreadful time."

Friday, April 23, 2021

bet365 Gold Cup 2021

The bet365 Gold Cup (3.40 Sandown) is the feature tomorrow on the card which traditionally brings down the curtain on the jumps season. 16 have been declared with the official going described as good, good to firm in places.

Plan Of Attack heads the market. 

Last time out Henry De Bromhead's charge was travelling well enough in first time blinkers when coming to grief three out in the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival (Bob Mahler brought down when staying on). Connections have decided to stick with the blinkers but 9/2 looks short enough for one that has failed to complete in three of his four runs this season. 

Favourites have a poor record in this with Beau (6/1jf) in 2000 the last one to come home in front.

Enrilo was pulled up behind Shan Blue in the Kauto Star at Kempton over Christmas (Golan Fortune fourth, beaten eight lengths) but found handicap company much more to his liking at Newbury next time out.

Paul Nicholls' gelding is relatively inexperienced with just four chase starts to his name but has nevertheless been widely tipped up; the yard has won this previously with Ad Hoc (2001 and 2003), Tidal Bay (2012) and Just A Par (2015).

Golan Fortune is similarly inexperienced over fences and was disappointing behind Time To Get Up in a strong renewal of the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter five weeks ago - the second that day, Mighty Thunder, won the Scottish Grand National last weekend. 

Handler Phil Kirkby is on record saying he had expected much better and I'd imagine Tom Scudamore will look to give the gelding a more prominent ride than he had at Uttoxeter. 

The Badger Beers Silver Trophy Handicap Chase run at Wincanton in November provides a key piece of form. 

That day El Presente finished fast to pip Potterman a short head at level weights with the four-year-old Kitty's Light impressive, finishing third, beaten three and a quarter lengths after suffering interference three from home.

Connections of all three appear to have targeted this race. 

Kim Bailey sent El Presente to Ludlow for a spin last month where he was beaten eight and a half lengths into third by Checkitout. That looked a decent effort by Nigel Twiston-Davies' inmate but connections then decided to go to Haydock nine days later where Checkitout checked out four out, eventually finishing eighth. 

After that race the trainer's representative said the race had come too soon after Ludlow; with the benefit of hindsight it doesn't look the ideal preparation for this race and the layers seem to agree pricing Checkitout at 28/1.

Potterman hasn't been seen since unseating Tom Cannon in the Hennessy at Newbury. He missed his intended prep at Taunton on account of the ground.

Kitty's Light took in a couple of jumpers' bumpers and a handicap hurdle before staying on stoutly last time to deny Didero Vallis a neck over a trip of three and a quarter miles at Kelso. If successful, Christian Williams' charge will be the first five-year-old to collect the spoils.

Prior to that Wincanton run El Presente beat Irish Prophecy a length over three miles at Exeter, the pair clear. 

Cheekpieces have clearly helped Emma Lavelle's charge; writing in the RP Weekender [02-06.12.20] the handler states:

"He's up to a mark of 142 and I'd be looking seriously at the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown or the Scottish National as both are run on courses where galloping and jumping are at a premium."  

The worry would be whether he'll stay the extended trip. His run over three and a quarter miles behind Soldier Of Love at Newton Abbot in September suggests he was running on empty approaching the last.

Two with no stamina queries are Supreme Escape and Bob Mahler. 

The former won over three miles six and a half furlongs at Chepstow last time and has been well backed today while the latter won the 2020 Edinburgh National and ran well for a long way in the West Wales National at Ffos Las at the beginning of the month before weakening to finish fourth. Warren Greatrex has trained just 18 winners this season. 

Top weight Crosspark has been admirably consistent in long distance races this term without managing to get his head in front. Tidal Bay carried 11-12 to victory in 2015 off a mark of 154.

I'm not convinced this trip is going to bring out the best in Cap Du Nord.

Three old-timers are set to take their chance - The Young Master, Smooth Stepper and Doing Fine. 

The Young Master has an excellent record in this race; he won the 2016 renewal and finished second behind Talkischeap in 2019. I note the gelding underwent wind surgery last summer.

Smooth Stepper is an out and out stayer who prefers plenty of cut underfoot; he may struggle to keep tabs on the leaders on quicker ground. 

Trainer Alex Hales states:

"He's been aimed at this race all season but I was hoping for softer ground. I'll have to walk the course in the morning before making a final decision on his participation." 

Doing Fine won the London National over course and distance in December, holding Crosspark threequarters of a length; he finished behind Golan Fortune in the Midlands Grand National last time.

It may not be the race it once was but, as ever, it's a very competitive affair. 

Irish Prophecy is of interest but that doubt about his ability to see out the trip persists while Golan Fortune should be in the mix if running his race. 

I'm going to stick with the Badger Beers form and have an each-way wager on El Presente who shaped as though he'd stay at Wincanton; Kim Bailey's yard boasts a 20% win strike over the past fortnight.

El Presente is the each-way selection, currently 9/1 with Paddy Power and Bet Victor who are both paying five places.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Scottish Grand National 2021

Sponsors Coral regularly reference the Scottish Grand National as generating their fourth highest turnover of any race in the calendar. 

The most recent renewal took place on 13th April 2019 when Nicky Richards' Takingrisks foiled Crosspark's attempt to become the first horse since Willsford in1995 to win both the Eider and the Scottish National in the same season. 

This year's Eider winner Sam's Adventure has been raised eight pounds for his trouble (in a race which saw Big River pulled up and The Dutchman unseat rider). 

Nicky Richards saddles two - Chapel Stile has done most of his racing on soft / heavy ground while Chidswell beat Dingo Dollar in the 2019 Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster and bids to become the first twelve-year-old to come home in front since Willsford.

23 runners went to post two years ago, with five withdrawn on the day on account of the drying ground - including Dingo Dollar. At the time of writing Vintage Clouds has been declared a non-runner leaving 22 set to face the starter at 3.35 tomorrow - the smallest field to go to post for a number of years.

Aye Right is an admirable sort; Harriet Graham's charge likes to race prominently and heads the market but looks in the grip of the handicapper.

Notachance certainly has a chance in a race Alan King likes to target - he trained Godsmejudge to win in 2013. 

This one won the Classic Chase at Warwick with something in hand and then suffered a nasty injury next time when pulled up behind Lord Du Mesnil at at Haydock. The handler reports the gelding in fine form now but the prep has been a little rushed; connections considered waiting for the bet365 Chase at Sandown next week but have decided to take their chance here.

Former Alan King inmate Dingo Dollar looks the pick of Sandy Thomson's two runners with Brian Hughes up. The Ferry Man is respected but much of his form to date has been in small fields.

Soldier Of Love is Paul Nicholls' representative with Truckers Lodge and Highland Hunter not making the final declaration stage. This one will certainly appreciate good ground; the handler won the 2016 and 2017 renewals with Vicente.

Tom Scudamore picks up a plum ride aboard Mighty Thunder after regular pilot Blair Campbell failed to recover from a recent hand injury. Lucinda Russell's charge won the Edinburgh National in February and then finished a highly creditable second to Time To Get Up in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter last month. The gelding clearly stays and should handle the ground; the handicapper has raised the horse 14 pounds for his last two efforts.

Mister Fogpatches is the sole Irish raider with Danny Mullins taking the ride. The gelding handles good ground but remains a maiden over fences. 

Big River finished fifth behind Takingrisks in 2019 but is one whose jumping has never really convinced.

Among those at bigger prices Some Chaos, Coup De Pinceau and Chef D'Oeuvre are of interest.

Some Chaos finished third behind Secret Investor and Potterman at Chepstow in October and then beat Claud and Goldie over three and a quarter miles at Kelso. On his next start he finished fifth behind El Presente in the Badgers Beers Silver Trophy at Wincanton, beaten under six lengths after encountering some trouble in running three out. 

He has since had a break and a couple of warm-up runs over hurdles; connections appear to have decided on a first try at this marathon trip after Wincanton - the gelding has shown his best form on decent ground.

Coup De Pinceau moved out to Nick Mitchell's yard in Dorset last December. On his second run for new connections Coup De Pinceau won over an extended three and a half mile trip at Taunton where he appeared to appreciate the hold-up tactics employed. Angus Cheleda claims a useful seven pounds. 

Chef D'Ouevre moved from Warren Greatrex to Sam England in 2018 and has clearly had his problems. He has undergone two wind operations in the past 18 months and had a spell of 606 days off the track. That said, when he made it to Haydock he appeared to like the place, winning there over three miles three and, on his latest start, over three miles four and a half furlongs; in the past he has run well on good ground. 

Sky Bet stood out offering 50/1 about this one in their first show yesterday; at the moment he's best-priced with Paddy Power who offer 30/1.

A quick mention in passing for Cool Mix who isn't totally disregarded but wouldn't be guaranteed to stay and for Dino Boy too who is eight pounds 'wrong' at the weights but has won over this distance previously and is owned by Mr & Mrs Raymond Anderson Green, winners of the prize in 2010 and 2012 with Merigo.

From the bigger priced runners the two considered are Some Chaos and Chef D'Oeuvre. 

Off a mark of 142 the former is a better fit with the profiles of previous winners and looks to have been trained specifically for the race; this is his first try beyond three and a quarter miles.    

Off a mark of 129 Chef D'Oeuvre races from two pounds out of the handicap but looks to have a respectable chance of seeing the trip out.

Some Chaos is the each-way suggestion, at the time of writing 20/1 with Betfred who pay 6 places.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Aintree Grand National 2021

When the weights for this year's Grand National were announced on Tuesday 16th February, current favourite Cloth Cap was allocated 10-5. 

Two and a half weeks later Jonjo O'Neill's charge went all the way up to Kelso and made all to win the bet365 Premier Chase 'comfortably'; the handicapper duly readjusted his mark upwards - by 14 pounds - to 162.

A stone well in, Cloth Cap jumps, likes to race prominently and pilot Tom Scudamore, whose grandfather Michael won the race aboard Oxo in 1959, has said he considers Cloth Cap a value wager at 4/1. 

This evening layers are going 11/2 in places; Matt Chapman stated earlier this afternoon he expects to see 6/1 early tomorrow morning. 

The gelding's preference for decent ground is well documented; following extensive watering, the going on the National course is currently described as good to soft.

Top Wood, ridden by Tabitha Worsley, won the 2019 renewal of the Foxhunters' Chase over the National fences in a time of 5m 45.70s on going described as soft; Cousin Pascal won yesterday's renewal in 5m 39.57s. Livelovelaugh won this afternoon's renewal of the Topham in 5m 30.66s.

Irish based trainers once again hold a strong hand with 18 entries confirmed at the time of writing. In 2019 Irish trained horses filled the first three places, in 2018 the first four places. 

Burrows Saint, Any Second Now and Minella Times are all prominent in the market. 

If you prefer one that has previous form over these unique fences the Jessica Harrington trained mare Magic Of Light finished second to Tiger Roll in 2019; the last mare to come home in front was Nickel Coin in 1951.

Evan Williams will be cursing his luck with 2020 Welsh National winner Secret Reprieve missing the cut.

2019 Welsh National winner Potters Corner also claimed the 2020 'Virtual Grand National'; he goes for the 'Virtual Grand National' double at 8.00pm this evening (ITV) before taking his chance in the real thing tomorrow - Christian Williams' charge is part-owned by Welsh rugby international Jonathan Davies and would probably appreciate more cut underfoot.

The last seven-year old to come home in front was Bogskar in 1940 which doesn't augur too well for Farclas and The Long Mile. The last horse older than eleven to win was Amberleigh House in 2004.

Vieux Lion Rouge is one with an exemplary record over these fences - he beat Kimberlite Candy an astonishing 24 lengths in the Becher Chase last December - but he just doesn't quite see out this extended trip.

Those who like to make their own selections may find the BBC's Pinstickers' Guide useful; for everyone else, here's my first four...

1. Any Second Now

Connections know what's required. Won the race in 2000 with Papillon (Ruby Walsh up) and in 2012 finished third with Seabass (Katie Walsh up) behind Neptune Collonges. Victory in the 2019 Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival spawned this plan. Currently rated 154 in Ireland, the gelding races off 152 tomorrow. 

2. Magic Of Light

This mare finished second in 2019 behind Tiger Roll, beaten just under three lengths. She's rated five pounds higher this time and can make the odd mistake which doesn't help the cause- hoping she keeps those to the absolute minimum. This race has been the target all season. 

3. Cloth Cap

Every chance, as discussed above. Was there just the slightest hint he was starting to run on empty over the four mile trip in that 2019 Scottish National?  

4. Takingrisks

Twelve year old who has shown improved form after undergoing wind surgery in November. Stayed on to beat Aye Right in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster in February. Won the 2019 Scottish Grand National from Crosspark with Cloth Cap, in receipt of one pound, third, beaten four lengths. Trainer does well with his veteran runners and describes this horse as 'a gentleman'. Stays forever but needs to ensure he doesn't get too far behind on this better ground in the first half of the race.

All that remains now is for me to wish you all the very best of luck!

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Aintree 2021 - very brief notes on Friday's card

Pressed for time this evening unfortunately...

Two I thought worth a second look in the Topham (4.05 - run over the National fences): Senior Citizen and Sir Jack Yeats.

In the Weekender Alan King appears more bullish about the chance of Senior Citizen than his two National entries, namely Canelo and Talkischeap. It's well known the Grand National is not one of Mr King's favourite races:

"Friday's Randox Topham Handicap Chase has been the plan for Senior Citizen all season, and he could run a big race.

"He ran really well over the fences in the Grand Sefton on ground too soft for him in December. His jumping was super and he travelled strongly for most of the way before failing to get home having been in second place at the last fence. 

"He shaped encouragingly at Newbury on his return from a winter break and has been in good form at home since.

The forecast looks favourable and I just hope they don't over-water the track as he's a proper good-ground horse."

Current stable form is a concern with just one winner from 35 runners in the past fortnight.

Sir Jack Yeats is of interest on the back of his five length second to Beau Bay in the Grand Sefton; he raced from three pounds out of the handicap that day and is four pounds 'wrong' tomorrow. 

He took over the lead from Crievehill at the sixth in the Sefton and jumped the last two lengths ahead of his field but he was thwarted by Beau Bay creeping up the inside on the run to the elbow, eventually beaten five lengths.

Richard Spencer's charge followed up with a respectable third behind Doitforthevillage at Sandown at the turn of the year and was then given a break before taking in a couple of runs at Fakenham, most recently over hurdles. He was beaten 23 lengths that day and I'd like to think that helped bring the gelding back to peak fitness...

In tomorrow's Sefton Novices' Hurdle (4.40) Bravemansgame steps up in distance but is a Lingstown point winner over three miles; he is some way clear of his rivals on official ratings. 

That said, Joe Tizzard reported Oscar Elite 'bucking and squealing' after finishing second behind Vanillier at Cheltenham three weeks ago - those in behind re-opposing tomorrow include Streets Of Doyen (third), Alaphilippe (fifth), Champagnesuperover (seventh) and Pats Fancy (thirteenth).

Finally, a list of Irish trained entries in handicaps for those readers following a thread from previous posts...

1.45 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle:


4.05 Topham Handicap Chase:

Livelovelaugh; Visioman; Snugsborough Hall; Dunvegan; Robin Des Foret.

5.15 Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle:

Bold Enough.

By way of a postscript I haven't completely given up on Rowland Ward who runs in the finale. He went into the notebook over a year ago when badly hampered in a Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham. 

Unfortunately he has had a tough time of it this year and underwent wind surgery in February. 

Last time out he finished fourth behind Xcitations, losing three places after jumping the penultimate flight; Xcitations ran well behind Vision Du Puy at Haydock last weekend. I'd hope the better ground and fitting of a tongue-tie will help Stuart Edmunds' charge to finish off his race.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Aintree 2021 - Thursday

Earlier this week,  following on from the domination of Irish runners at Cheltenham, Paddy Power offered a £100,000 bonus to any British runner who travels to Punchestown and wins the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle. 

A spokesperson for the  bookmaker said:

"We gave the Brits a beating at Cheltenham and now we're laying down a challenge to the tune of £100k - come and have a go if you think you're good enough."

Irish-trained entries at this Aintree meeting are bound to attract plenty of attention - and money. 

In the 2019 Grand National Irish trained horses filled four of the first five places (from 18 entries); in the 2018 renewal Irish trained horses filled six of the first eight places (from 16 entries).

In tomorrow's Aintree Hurdle (3.25) the Paul Nicholls trained McFabulous has been deposed at the head of the market by Abacadabras, with strong support also noted for Henry De Bromhead's charge Jason The Militant. 

Back in November Abacadabras beat Saint Roi a neck with Jason The Militant a short-head away in third in a messy-looking renewal of the Morgiana Hurdle over two miles at Punchestown; neither Abacadabras or Jason The Militant has raced further than two miles half a furlong previously.

In a competitive race I like the chance of Brewin'upastorm; he's closely matched with McFabulous on Fontwell National Spirit Hurdle form five and a half weeks ago.   

Henry De Bromhead saddles two in the Red Rum Handicap Chase (4.40), the only handicap race on tomorrow's card - 2019 winner Moon Over Germany and Jan Maat, the mount of Rachael Blackmore. The former has been well supported during the day.

I was impressed with Clondaw Castle's victory in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton. That day Mellow Ben took no prisoners racing hard from the front but Tom George's charge travelled sweetly in midfield to take up the running two out on his first try over three miles. 

He steps up in class in the Betway Bowl (2.50) but looks relatively unexposed. The layers aren't taking too many chances with the 7/1 on offer. 

Following a well-documented spat with the British handicapper, connections of Tiger Roll have opted to run in this rather than Saturday's Grand National. The horse looked ready for retirement on his penultimate run at Naas when he came in 65 lengths last of six behind Beacon Edge. 

A little over three weeks later 'The Tiger' came home in splendid isolation in the cross country race at the Festival. His price has been on the drift this afternoon but on official ratings he only has a couple of pounds to find with the principals.

Returning to the Aintree Hurdle I'm tempted to take a small each-way interest in Not So Sleepy. Hughie Morrison's front-runner didn't run from the front in the Champion Hurdle and came home fifth - at odds of 125/1. William Hill paid five places that day but I didn't take the chance. 

Not So Sleepy is a bit of a character and certainly wouldn't be guaranteed to reproduce his latest effort. 

This represents his first try over two and a half miles; he has twice finished fourth in the Cesarewitch - a trip of two miles two furlongs - behind the Willie Mullins trained Stratum in 2019 and the Willie Mullins trained Great White Shark in 2020. 

He needs a decent start but if in the mood he could run well at a track that will suit his style of racing and Jonathan Burke gets on well with him.

I'll take a small each-way interest in Not So Sleepy, a 20/1 chance with Sky Bet and Paddy Power at the time of writing, both of whom pay four places.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Those Easter heebie-jeebies

I just don't quite know what it is but those post-Cheltenham pre-Aintree fixtures always give me with the heebie-jeebies... 

Earlier today Gigginstown House Stud racing manager Eddie O'Leary indicated Tiger Roll will miss the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Monday and travel over to contest the Betway Bowl at Aintree next Thursday.

As a result the Irish National weights have risen 11 pounds; Latest Exhibition is now set to carry 11-10.

I haven't looked at the race in any great detail but I thought the form of last month's Grand National Trial at Punchestown worth a bit of work.

The Big Dog advertised his chance winning the trial; rider Jamie Codd was all prepared to do his lowest weight for the best part of 17 years if Tiger Roll were to turn up and take his chance but that won't be necessary now.  

The mare Moyhenna met plenty of trouble in running yet finished third that day, just seven lengths behind The Big Dog. Previously she was beaten half a length by Augusta Gold at level weights over a shorter trip at Fairyhouse. 

Taking into account her rider's five pound allowance, she looks weighted to reverse placings with both The Big Dog and Augusta Gold yet at the time of writing she's chalked up a 25/1 chance. 

The reason for the layers' largesse?  Probably her latest run at the Cheltenham Festival - just 17 days ago - in the Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase; she didn't jump particularly well when fifth behind the likes of Colreevy, Elimay and Shattered Love.   

Roaring Bull was ninth in the Punchestown trial while Discordantly isn't immediately discounted, falling five from home when still in touch with the leaders. This one ran well to finish sixth in the Ultima at Cheltenham but again the worry is the same as with Moyhenna - have they had sufficient time to recover from those Festival exertions?

Another mare I thought worth a second look was the Thomas Mullins trained course and distance winner Court Maid. She has her fair share of weight but turns up fresh and this looks to have been her target.

This side of the Irish Sea, with just seven declared in the Two Mile Hurdle Series Final (2.05 Haydock) Chti Balko is of interest at around the 7/1 mark; Paul Kealy has highlighted his chance in the Weekender. 

Donald McCain's charge has a particular liking for Haydock, as the handler explained in a Straight from the Stable feature [RP Weekender 30.12.20 - 03.01.21]:

"It was great to see him win so easily recently when coming home by 26 lengths at Haydock over 2m on heavy ground. It was his third win at the track, a venue he loves and I would run him there all the time if there were enough races. I genuinely believe he is a 10lb better horse around there."   

After that race, jockey Theo Gillard said:

"Most of Chti Balko's best runs have been around here on bottomless ground. He goes round those bends like a motorbike." 

It would be unwise to put too much store by that win as most of his opponents failed to fire on the day; it will certainly be far more competitive tomorrow. 

Similarly, the gelding won't have his favoured heavy ground, the going currently being described as good to soft on the hurdle course.

And the formbook tells us he can't hope to reverse placings with Shantou Express on last month's Wetherby running (Da Vinci Hand fifth). 

All that said, he's top rated on Racing Post ratings and finished second in the 2018 renewal of this race, beaten just over three lengths trying to concede 25 pounds to stablemate William Of Orange. His record over this trip at the track reads three wins and one second from four runs.

Favourite Vision Du Puy bounced back to form at Stratford last time; the mare has been raised five pounds for that effort and was placed in a Wetherby mares' listed hurdle in 2019. Her price has drifted through the day.

Shantou Express has gone up six pounds for that Wetherby run last time and is feared most.

Sporting first-time cheekpieces Dino Velvet likes to come from off the pace, a style of running that is probably not best suited to this track.

Xcitations has been raised 10 pounds for his recent Fakenham win while Nordic Combined would have a shout on his very best form but has looked inconsistent this term. 

It looks the sort of wager to give even the most sanguine a dose of the heebie-jeebies... 

Chti Balko is the win selection, 7/1 with both Paddy Power and William Hill at the time of writing.