Friday, December 31, 2021

Paddy Power New Year's Day Handicap Chase 2022

I can't quite believe it. 

For the first time in as long as I can remember people are leaving Scotland to go and celebrate new year in England. Whatever next? PG tips a winner? Steady on now.

Plenty of trainers from down south are making the journey in the opposite direction hoping to plunder the spoils at Musselburgh in races like the Betway Hair Of The Dog Handicap Hurdle (1.40), the Betway Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle at 2.10 (Christopher Wood, wouldn't he?) and the Betway 'Auld Reekie' Handicap Chase at 2.50.

In the words of U2 'Nothing changes on New Year's Day' - and so it would seem, with Coole Cody, Zanza, Simply The Betts, Galahad Quest, Kauto Rico and Deyrann De Carjac set to do battle once again in the Paddy Power New Year's Day Handicap Chase at Cheltenham (2.00), having recently met some of their aforementioned rivals in either the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November or the Racing Post Gold Cup in December.

The going tomorrow is described as soft and Alnadam currently heads the market.

Just over a year ago Alnadam beat Funambule Sivola 22 lengths into fifth at Sandown while conceding weight to that rival; on revised ratings connections will certainly fancy their chances of confirming the form, particularly with underfoot conditions to suit.

Training horses (as well as tipping them for that matter) can be a bit like walking a tightrope and, for whatever reason, Funambule Sivola didn't run his race that day; in eight chase starts to date that Sandown effort remains the only occasion Venetia Williams' charge has finished outside the first two. The majority of that form though is over two miles and there was just a hint in the Peterborough Chase the last day that the longer trip stretched his stamina.

Coole Cody is some character. 

Having won the 2020 renewal of the Paddy Power Gold Cup off a mark of 137 (Kauto Rico fourth, Simply The Betts sixth), 12 months later in the same race Coole Cody came to grief at the penultimate flight when in the lead. Four weeks on he returned to win the Racing Post Gold Cup off a mark of 143 ( Zanza a fast-finishing second and Deyrann De Carjac fifth).

Zanza finished equal sixth with Simply The Betts behind Midnight Shadow in the Paddy Power Gold Cup here seven weeks ago (Galahad Quest a commendable fifth and Deyrann De Carjac ninth) before finishing second behind Coole Cody. 

On both occasions Philip Hobbs' charge made eye-catching late headway up the hill, although last time he looked particularly slow at the start. Perhaps I'm being a tad unfair but he reminds me a little of the Evan Williams trained Buywise who would often finish his races strongly at this venue but still manage to encounter trouble in running. Connections try cheekpieces for the first time tomorrow.

Back in November 2019, on his first run in this country, Riders Onthe Storm won what looked a competitive Aintree handicap chase with something to spare. The following March he took a tumble in the Ryanair Chase and things didn't really work out thereafter. He showed his first piece of noteworthy form since four weeks ago at Aintree when second behind Clan Legend (Galahad Quest a faller).

Kauto Riko ran a blinder when second behind Two For Gold at Doncaster three weeks ago; the handicapper has raised Tom Gretton's charge two pounds for that effort.

Vienna Court looked good in a mares' handicap chase last time but this is a stiffer task while Alan King tells readers of the Weekender that he fears 'the ground is going to be too soft' for Deyrann De Carjac.

At the 2020 Cheltenham Festival Simply The Betts won the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase on soft ground over this course and distance off a mark of 149. 

According to some rather rough calculations comparing previous encounters (which I carried out on the back of an unwanted Christmas present box after four bottles of beer) Simply The Betts looks weighted to come home ahead of Coole Cody, Zanza and Kauto Riko, although handler Paul Nicholls still thinks his charge 'is a few pounds too high'. 

I've drawn a line through the latest effort at Aintree (pulled up behind Protektorat).

There was an unconfirmed rumour Tina Turner had been booked but, anyway, Harry Cobden now takes the ride; at the time of writing William Hill offer 10/1 and pay six places. 

Simply The Betts is the each-way selection.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all readers a happy and prosperous new year.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The 2021 Coral Welsh Grand National

Merry Christmas.

This past week I've spent more time with the lateral flow test kit than the form book; still, I like to take an interest in the Welsh Grand National (2.50 Chepstow).

Twenty are set to face the starter; the going is currently described as soft.

Native River carried top weight to victory in 2016 and bids to repeat the trick tomorrow. Colin Tizzard's charge has to give 10 pounds to stablemate and 2018 winner Elegant Escape and a minimum of 16 pounds to everything else; several in the field will run from out of the handicap. .

Secret Reprieve was backed as though defeat was out of the question for last year's renewal; carrying 10-01 Evan Williams' charge never gave supporters a moment's worry, coming home three lengths ahead of The Two Amigos with Captain Drake fourth, Truckers Lodge seventh and Ramses De Teillee twelfth.

Secret Reprieve hasn't seen a racecourse since. The trainer admits that isn't an ideal set of circumstances but this evening the horse is clear market leader.

In 2019 Potters Corner came home in front, beating Truckers Lodge one and threequarters lengths (Elegant Escape sixth); Christian Williams' charge ran a fine trial earlier this month, beaten a nose in the Glenfarclas Crystal Cup Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.

Truckers Lodge finished a distant fifth behind Iwilldoit in the Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at this track at the beginning of the month - the prep race Secret Reprieve won in 2020. Second horse home, Colorado Doc, was beaten 24 lengths. Sam Thomas' charge warrants every respect. 

Connections fit first-time blinkers on Truckers Lodge; on jockey bookings the stable's main chance appears to be Highland Hunter. 

Highland Hunter beat Deise Aba a nose in the London National at Sandown and here is weighted to confirm that form.

Midnight Thunder won last year's Edinburgh National at Musselburgh and followed up with victory in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr; on seasonal reappearance he was a well beaten fourth in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby.

Peter Fahey trains The Big Dog over in Ireland; this race has been a long-term target. Rated 132 over hurdles, the handicapper over here has allocated him a mark of 147.

This race also looks to have been the plan for Discordantly who sports a first-time tongue tie and fell in last February's Punchestown Grand National Trial won by The Big Dog.

On only his second start for current connections Hill Sixteen ran some race in the Becher three weeks ago, beaten a nose by Snow Leopardess with Achille fifth, Kimberlite Candy seventh and Mac Tottie falling. Previously Mac Tottie won the Grand Sefton at Aintree but he wouldn't be guaranteed to stay this trip.

Hold That Taught looks the pick of Venetia Williams' two runners and Maddy Playle has made the case for Eva's Oskar in the Weekender but in a very competitive race I think Hill Sixteen looks unexposed while Captain Drake is overpriced at 40/1. 

Stablemate Ask Me Early was ante-post favourite for this race before taking a heavy fall on the schooling grounds. In a recent stable tour, Harry Fry said of Captain Drake:

"It always takes him a run or two to get into the swing of things and the plan is to go for the Welsh National again, having finished fourth last season. The problem we face is he's 8lb lower than 12 months ago, so it'll be touch and go as to if he gets in at the weights. He's a proper mudlark and I feel he could run a big race if he gets in. I know he's not the easiest horse to catch right, but there's a big handicap in him."

He's eight pounds 'wrong' tomorrow but Lorcan Murtagh can claim three and connections have opted to try blinkers for the first time.

At the time of writing Paddy Power stand out offering 40/1 and pay six places.

Captain Drake is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Christmas conundrums at the 2021 Ascot races

The Long Walk Hurdle (2.25 Ascot) poses a bit of a Christmas conundrum this year with pre-race favourite Buzz now a non-runner after suffering a fractured pelvis in his final piece of work this morning.

Thyme Hill struggled in the ground at Auteuil six weeks ago, Paisley Park was beaten fair and square last time but conqueror Thomas Darby hasn't been the most consistent in the past. Champ goes well fresh but was beaten after the first in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March while Ronald Pump is certainly consistent but Matthew Smith's charge has yet to register a victory at Grade 1 level.

All rather trappy stuff, so instead I've decided to concentrate on the Betfair Exchange Trophy (3.35) for which fourteen have been declared; the going at the time of writing is described as good to soft, soft in places.

Two pieces of recent form tie in a few of these - last month's Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham and the listed December Handicap Hurdle run at Sandown a fortnight ago. 

Historically horses that have run in the Greatwood don't have a good record in this race. 

West Cork won this year's renewal of the Greatwood with No Ordinary Joe third and Tritonic fifth. The trio look closely matched on revised ratings: West Cork 141 (+7); No Ordinary Joe 136 (+3); Tritonic 141 (-1). 

Speaking about Tritonic in the Weekender Alan King states:

"...he'll have sharpened up mentally by that first run in a large field over hurdles [in the Greatwood]. 

"I hope and think he'll run well."

No Ordinary Joe looked no ordinary ride at Cheltenham, allowed to go to the front after the first but unable to go with West Cork and Adagio when challenged at the last.

At Sandown two weeks ago Samarrive arrived at the winning post eight and a half lengths ahead of everything else with Benson fourth and 100/30 favourite Metier pulled up. The handicapper has hit the winner with an 11 pound rise while both Benson and Metier carry two pounds less. 

Metier ran with the choke out that day before being pulled up from home; jockey Sam Twiston-Davies reported 'the gelding hung badly left-handed throughout and as a result was unsteerable'. In the Weekender trainer Harry Fry states:

"I think in retrospect we might have let him bowl along and not try to restrain him. One poor run does not turn a very good horse into a bad one and I'm sure he'll bounce back."  

I've seen money for Goshen during the week following an upbeat update from handler Gary Moore. A course and distance winner, Goshen was beaten 11 lengths by Buzz over an extended trip in the Coral Hurdle here last month and has been dropped four pounds for that effort.

Luttrell Lad was sent off favourite for the Persian War Novices' Hurdle at Chepstow in October but had no chance with stablemate Camprond (subsequently fourth in the Greatwood off 140) and then may have 'bumped into one' when beaten by Jpr One at even money in an Exeter novices' hurdle the following month. This is his first run in a handicap. 

The course commentator told punters at Newbury three weeks ago Onemorefortheroad was never a good idea and, with Neil King's charge priced up the outsider of four, perhaps that was sound advice - sound advice a few of us at the track decided to ignore. 

Probably for the first time since the Great Frost of 1709 such outright brazen chutzpah was rewarded; in a tactical affair Onemorefortheroad (8/1) set off in front and stayed there, coming home ahead of Captain Morgs, Gowel Road and 2021 Betfair Hurdle winner Soaring Glory. I was particularly impressed with the winner's hurdling that day; the handicapper has adjusted his rating upwards by just three pounds.

Running over this course and distance last month, Garry Clermont looked the winner racing to the last but a messy leap allowed Captain Morgs to claim the spoils. I imagine connections will be a little miffed to have been hit with a five pound penalty for that effort.

Llandinabo Lad looked to have benefitted from the wind surgery carried out in the autumn when second at Bangor five weeks ago but the suspicion is he'd prefer more give underfoot.while Drop The Anchor's seventh behind Belfast Banter in the County Hurdle (beaten under four lengths) reads well.

Two years ago Mack The Man beat Protektorat at Sandown and was thereabouts when brought down at the final flight in the 2020 Betfair Hurdle won by Pic D'Orhy. Third in the Imperial Cup in March, his chance off a low weight is respected but the stats appear against Global Citizen - no horse older than seven has won this in the past twenty years.

We have seen some smaller fields in recent times (13 runners in 2018 and 2019) but with 14 declared tomorrow this still looks highly competitive - more Christmas conundrums than you can shake a stick at. 

The two on the shortlist are Onemorefortheroad and Benson - with preference for the latter at the odds available.

Last year Benson won Sandown's December Handicap Hurdle and then, racing off a mark of 137, was sent off 5/1 joint favourite for this, eventually finishing fourth after struggling in rear for much of the trip; he goes off 133 tomorrow. 

Beaten just under 14 lengths by Samarrive at Sandown two weeks ago, Dr Richard Newland's charge re-opposes 13 pounds better off; the vet reported the gelding lost his right fore shoe at Sandown. I'm hoping the application of a first-time visor can help to bring about the further improvement required.

Benson is the each-way suggestion, with Paddy Power and Betfair offering 14/1 at the time of writing and paying five places.

Friday, December 10, 2021

The 2021 Racing Post Gold Cup

Whatever the ramifications of the Robbie Dunne / Bryony Frost case, the sport hasn't been seen in the best light in the past fortnight.

Fourteen go to post for tomorrow's Racing Post Gold Cup Handicap Chase (1.50 Cheltenham) with the going on the New Course at Prestbury Park currently described as good to soft, good in places.

The Paddy Power Gold Cup, run over two miles four furlongs on the Old Course, often acts as a useful guide; in last month's renewal Midnight Shadow came home in front with Lalor third, Dostal Phil fourth, Zanza equal sixth, Deyrann De Carjac eleventh and Coole Cody falling at the penultimate flight when still in the lead; less than six lengths covered the first six home. Tomorrow's race, run over a half furlong further, is generally considered a stiffer test.

Lalor's third in the Paddy Power off 149 on his first run for the Nicholls yard has impressed the layers who have Paul Nicholls' charge clear favourite. 

The gelding races off 151 tomorrow; since 2000 only two horses have won off an official rating higher than 150 - Poquelin twice (151 in 2010; 163 in 2011) and Frodon (164 in 2018).

In the immediate aftermath of last month's success connections of Midnight Shadow talked of the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day; they've decided to take their chance in this off 154 (raised seven pounds). Sue Smith's charge likes it around here and should give a good account. The last horse to win the Paddy Power and this race in the same season was Exotic Dancer in 2006.

In my book Coole Cody isn't the most reliable at his obstacles but he had jumped well at the head of affairs last time before coming to grief two from home; he certainly looked booked for a place in a race where a number in the field struggled to land a blow. Of those racing midfield, the two Philip Hobbs trained runners, Dostal Phil and Zanza, made up most ground, the former finishing fourth (beaten three and a quarter lengths) and the latter equal sixth (beaten five and threequarters lengths). 

On his first run in a handicap, course and distance winner Fusil Raffles brings strong form to the table. He was a fortunate winner of the Charlie Hall last time out but prior to that finished second behind Chantry House in the Marsh Novices' Chase at the Festival in March. One slight concern - all his chasing experience has been gained in small fields.

Silver Hallmark boasts two pieces of eye-catching form with Fiddlerontheroof (second in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury a fortnight ago). The layers certainly aren't taking any chances; I'm not tempted by one making his debut at this track with just three chase starts to his name.

Beakstown has yet to win a chase but has run well here previously and is seven pounds well in on his hurdle rating. 

The booking of Rachael Blackmore for Farinet stands out but the suspicion is this one would prefer a little more cut under foot while stablemate Cepage is a course and distance winner but was pulled up in this race last year. The top weight faces a stiff task - since 2000 only Frodon has managed to carry that burden to victory.  

Topofthecostwolds unseated Sam Twiston-Davies at Newbury a fortnight ago - this looks tough - while Francky Du Berlais won the Summer Plate at Market Rasen but hasn't been in quite the same form since returning from a break. That said, last time out he ran well for a long way over the National fences in the Grand Sefton won by stablemate Mac Tottie.  

Two at bigger prices that may at least be worth a second look are Siruh Du Lac and Deyrann De Carjac. 

I tipped the former for the 2020 Paddy Power Gold Cup (overjumped the first and unseated Tom Scudamore) on the back of two pieces of form: his victory in the 2019 renewal of the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase at the Festival; in the same race the following year - won by Simply The Betts - he was one length to the good when coming to grief two from home. He looks to have had his problems since but made a satisfactory return in a three mile novice hurdle seven weeks ago.

I tipped the latter for the 2021 Paddy Power Gold Cup on the back of his two-length third behind Midnight Shadow in 2020 Dipper Novices' Chase and some bullish comments from Alan King in the Weekender. He finished eleventh, beaten under 10 lengths, but he raced detached at the rear of the field most of the way and at one stage looked likely to be pulled up on his first run since June. He has been nibbled at in the market (50/1 in places earlier today) and I note Brendan Powell replaces Tom Cannon in the plate. 

Plenty with chances - Zanza made impressive late headway in the Paddy Power last month and he gets the vote; this stiffer test should suit. 

Zanza is the each-way suggestion, generally quoted a 12/1 chance; William Hill, Betfred, Paddy Power and Sky Bet are paying one fifth the odds five places. 

Friday, December 03, 2021

Aintree December 2021 - an outsider for the finale

Some top class racing on offer tomorrow and I usually like a bet in the Becher Chase at Aintree but instead I'm going to take a chance on one in the finale at 3.15: the Unibet - 2021 Horserace Betting Operator Of The Year Handicap Hurdle.

Fifteen have been declared; the going is described as soft, good to soft in places.

A few in the field, having tried their luck over the bigger obstacles, now revert to hurdles. 

Both Midnight River and Carys' Commodity came to grief on their chase debut while Kateson beat Eternally Yours in this race last year off a mark of 134 but was well beaten in a novices' handicap chase here last time out.

Favourite Tamar Bridge made all to win a Wetherby novice hurdle in some style last time. 

His eight and a half length defeat of Bass Rock in a match at Ayr in March reads well as Bass Rock comfortably won a Class 2 handicap hurdle at Carlisle in October (Albert's Back 41 lengths adrift in sixth) and then ran creditably to finish third behind Dans Le Vent at Haydock a fortnight ago. Has Olly Murphy's charge been let in lightly on his first run in a handicap? 

Pounding Poet was second behind Mackelduff over course and distance last time out with Winningseverything fourth; the pair look closely matched once again. 

Winningseverything and Martinhal were withdrawn from the Haydock race won by Dans Le Vent on account of quick ground. Both should find underfoot conditions more to their liking here; Harry Fry's charge is fitted with a first-time tongue-tie.

Martinhal looks unexposed; his three wins to date have come at right-handed tracks (Exeter twice and Huntingdon). Back in January he beat Karl Philippe with the third that day, Gladiateur Allen, edging out Elixir De Nutz by a nose in a hot-looking novice chase on Haldon Hill this afternoon.

Elvis Mail has five pounds in hand of his chase rating but most of his runs have been around the two mile mark - a comment that also applies to Highway One O Two - while Storm Nelson makes a delayed seasonal debut following a dirty scope and doesn't look particularly well-handicapped.

Ballyandy isn't getting any younger but he could easily be competitive off a mark of 140 - and Finn Lambert claims ten pounds.

A difficult race in which it's possible to make the case for one or two at bigger prices; I'm going to chance Straw Fan Jack.

As well as training horses in Brecon, Sheila Lewis also owns and runs a beauty salon and she has made no secret of the fact that Straw Fan Jack is the apple of her eye. 

Conceding 11 pounds the grey was beaten a head by Fifty Ball in a novice handicap hurdle at Ascot (October 2020; Fifty Ball subsequently second in the 2021 Betfair Hurdle behind Soaring Glory) before winning a novice hurdle at this track by 30 lengths. 

Conceding 21 pounds he was beaten a head by Samba Dancer at Cheltenham on seasonal debut before finishing midfield in the Greatwood Hurdle three weeks ago. I think the track and trip here will suit better, as will the cut underfoot; the booking of Aidan Coleman catches the eye.

With Sky Bet paying five places and offering 14/1 at the time of writing, Straw Fan Jack is the each-way suggestion.