Friday, March 25, 2022

Cheltenham Festival 2022 - one week on

One week on and the results of those Festival handicaps have generated some discussion.

British based trainers recorded five wins, Irish trainers four; the BHA head of handicapping Dominic Gardiner-Hill expressed satisfaction with that outcome following 'tweaks' made by his team after last year's 'drubbing'. 

This year 10 Irish trained runners from 100 entries (10%) recorded a top three finish in one of the nine Festival handicaps. 

Corresponding figures for the preceding three years: 

2021 (9 races): 13 from 65 entries (20%); 

2020 (10 races): 17 from 73 entries (23.29%);  

2019 (10 races): 13 from 68 entries (19.12%).

Unusually, Irish runners dominated three handicaps in particular last week: the Boodles (14 of 21 entries); the County (18 of 26 entries); and the Martin Pipe (18 of 23 entries). Those three races account for half the total Irish runners in handicaps this year.

Having won the previous six renewals, the Irish boast a good record in the Pertemps Final but this year British trained horses filled five of the first six places. Hughie Morrison, trainer of winner Third Wind, said: "We'll take a huge amount of heart from British trainers winning five handicaps."

Ben Pauling, trainer of Grand Annual winner Global Citizen, said: "The results show they were right to look at the handicaps."

Unsurprisingly, things looks a lot different from the other side of the Irish Sea. 

In a blog post pundit Kevin Blake describes the tweaks made as 'a substantial and calculated intervention by the British handicapping team to try and tilt the tables in favour of the home team.' 

Still, the domination of the Irish continues. Earlier this week both the Racing Post and reported that Willie Mullins, the Festival's leading trainer with 10 wins, is mulling over a bid for the British trainers' title. Vincent O'Brien was the last Irish trainer to win the British jumps championship in 1952/53 and 1953/54.  

Of course, punters talking prices forms a big part of any Cheltenham Festival week. Take a quick dekko at some of these, reported directly from the track by Rick Broadbent in The Times on Wednesday - they put bookmakers to shame...

Pint of Guinness: £7.00; a pasty: £7.50; gin & tonic: £14.00; Moet & Chandon (20cl): £29.00; bottle of sauvignon blanc: £80.00.

The Racing Post quotes owner Carl Hinchy: "Many, many people are simply saying they won't be coming back to be extorted. These prices are not acceptable."

Finally, on the morning of the Stayers' Hurdle I inadvertently found myself in a branch of Waitrose queuing up to pay for some bottles of craft beer. In front of me two ladies - daughter and mother - of a particular age, paying separately for sundry items and well practised in the art of taking all the time they needed. 

The well-spoken - and well-coiffured - mother removed her gloves and proceeded to engage the cashier in conversation about Wednesday's downpour at Prestbury Park. She continued: "Cheltenham, you know, these days, it's full of tarts in mini-skirts. It never used to be like that - Cheltenham - but I'm afraid that's how it has gone."  

Only in a branch of Waitrose.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Cheltenham Festival 2022 - the betting debrief

Shown below a record of the blog's highlighted selections at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival to a nominal one point level stakes wager (1 point win, 0.5 points each way) with bets settled at advised prices and each way returns calculated to one fifth the odds.

I am pleased to report that, for the sixth time in the past seven years, the blog has returned a profit at the Festival. although this year's performance falls some way short of the outlier recorded last year.

1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Selection: Constitution Hill

Bet: Win

Advised price: 5/2

Starting price: 9/4jf

Result: Win

Return: 3.50

Profit/Loss: +2.50

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase

Selection: Kiltealy Briggs

Bet: Each way 

Advised price: 20/1

Starting price: 40/1

Result: Pulled up

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss -1.00

Profit/Loss Tuesday: +1.50

2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Selection: Beacon Edge

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 12/1

Starting price: 8/1

Result: Seventh

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

2.50 Coral Cup

Selection: Gowel Road

Bet: Each way (6 places)

Advised price: 11/1

Starting price: 13/2

Result: Seventh

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss -1.00

3.30 Champion Chase

Selection: Nube Negra

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 16/1

Starting price: n/a

Result: Non-runner

Profit/Loss: 0.00

Profit/Loss Wednesday: -2.00

2.10 Pertemps Network Final

Selection: If The Cap Fits

Bet: Each way (8 places)

Advised price: 40/1

Starting price: 33/1

Result: Sixth

Return: 4.5

Profit/Loss: +3.5

3.30 Stayers Hurdle

Selection: Flooring Porter

Bet: Win

Advised price: 4/1

Starting price: 4/1

Result: Win

Return: 5.00

Profit/Loss +4.0

Profit/Loss Thursday: +7.5

3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup

Selection: Galvin

Advised price: 7/2

Starting price: 100/30

Result: Fourth

Return 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

5.30 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle

Selection: Quinta Do Mar

Bet: Each way (6 places)

Advised price: 40/1

Starting price: 40/1

Result: Twelfth

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Friday: -2.00

Outlay over four days: 8 points

Profit/Loss over four days: +5.0 points

Profit/Loss as percentage of outlay: +62.5% 


Normal service will be resumed next week.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Cheltenham 2022 - Friday

Henry Daly thinks Hillcrest is probably the best he has trained and I'd love to see the horse win the Albert Bartlett (2.50) tomorrow but down the years the Albert Bartlett has served up more shocks than a sack of soggy spuds. 

Only one favourite has obliged in the past decade (At Fishers Cross in 2013); the only other winner returned at a single figure price was Monkfish in 2020. 

3.30 Gold Cup

In last year's Gold Cup Minella Indo beat stablemate A Plus Tard one and a quarter lengths with Al Boum Photo third, Royal Pagaille sixth and Santini pulled up. 

The champion returns to defend his crown after an up and down season. 

Rachael Blackmore took on Bryony Frost and Frodon from the lead in the King George; Danny Mullins and Tornado Flyer rode a waiting race and then came from behind to pick up the spoils. 

Minella Indo's second behind Conflated in the Irish Gold Cup last time was a far better performance and an encouraging trial.

A Plus Tard was most impressive in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November. 

Although the going was officially described as good to soft that day, it was quite quick for the time of year. The race fell apart a little with Bristol De Mai unable to handle underfoot conditions, Imperial Aura falling and Waiting Patiently being pulled up but, that said, A Plus Tard sauntered to a 22 length victory over Royal Pagaille.

Next time A Plus Tard was pipped a short head by Galvin in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown. 

It's worth noting that De Bromhead's yard was going through a quiet spell at the time; on official ratings A Plus Tard has four pounds in hand over Galvin.

Galvin won the National Hunt Challenge Cup over three miles six at the 2021 Festival and, obviously, is a stout stayer.

Al Boum Photo was sent off favourite for last year's Gold Cup; although finishing third, connections were a little disappointed with the run. He sports cheekpieces for the first time tomorrow - the last 10-year-old to come home in front was Cool Dawn in 1998.

The British challenge is headed by Protektorat who beat Native River 25 lengths in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on only his second try at a trip beyond two miles five furlongs. 

His very best form has been on soft ground so Wednesday's downpour will certainly have helped the cause but at the end of  ITV's coverage today Luke Harvey reported the ground drying out quickly.

Royal Pagaille is another who wouldn't be suited by drying ground.

Three weeks after winning the Marsh Novices' Chase at last year's Festival Chantry House went to Aintree and slammed Shan Blue 32 lengths in the Mildmay. 

Nicky Henderson's charge didn't look overly keen in the King George. Wearing cheekpieces next time he beat Santini and Aye Right in the Cotswold Chase but it looked jolly hard work on tiring ground and he finished very tired.

Has Polly Grundy managed to rekindle the fire in Santini? 

Based near Ottery St Mary in Devon, the handler says her charge is 'as good as I can have him'; he is over 15 kilos lighter than when he ran in the Cotswold Chase. 

Powering up the hill, Santini was beaten a neck by Al Boum Photo in the 2020 renewal - another couple of strides and he would have won. He was rated 171 that day; his current rating is 153.

Asterion Forlonge is a talented individual but he has yet to win beyond two miles five and his jumping is a cause for concern. 

Aye Right is an old favourite who jumps well and likes to race with the pace but this is a big ask.

Galvin is my idea of the winner.

Selection: Galvin win (7/2 in places). 

5.30 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle

Finally, I just can't resist a longshot in the finale. 

Langer Dan was second behind Galopin Des Champs in this race last year and races off a mark just two pounds higher tomorrow. 

This has been the target all season; the stable certainly know the time of day having won the County Hurdle with Superb Story (2016), Mohaayed (2018) and Ch'tibello (2019).

I like the Lanzarote form. 

Cobblers Dream won five and a half lengths that day on only his second start in a handicap and he has been raised eight pounds. 

I saw Ben Case's charge, a £85,000 purchase, on his debut in this country at Warwick and he certainly caught the eye.

Quinta Do Mar was in the process of running a big race in the Lanzarote and, four lengths down, looked booked for third when coming to grief at the final flight. 

In a Weekender stable tour [01-05.12.21] handler Ben Pauling said:

"There has been marked improvement this season and his two wins from as many runs, which were both impressive performances, have seen him shoot up 16lb to 137. He is still on a fair mark and will be saved for the Lanzarote Hurdle over the new year. I'd expect him to take some beating in that."

The handicapper dropped Quinta Do Mar two pounds after the run in the Lanzarote. 

The yard has been been through a quiet spell of late but Global Citizen won the Grand Annual yesterday and stablemate Anightinlambourn won at Huntingdon. 

Selection: Quinta Do Mar each way (40/1 generally with several layers paying six places).

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Cheltenham 2022 - Thursday

The rain forecast for Wednesday morning duly arrived - by the bucketful. The going on the Old Course was duly changed to soft for the Ballymore and then to heavy after the Champion Chase. It looked touch and go whether the concluding bumper would be run.

The action on Thursday and Friday takes place on the New Course where the going is currently described as soft.

Perhaps I'm getting old but, with just four declared for the Turners (1.30) and Allaho odds on in the Ryanair (2.50), the usual interest in the Thursday card just isn't quite there.

2.10 Pertemps Network Final 

Irish runners have won the last six renewals of this race: 2016 Pat Kelly (Mall Dini); 2017 Pat Kelly (Presenting Percy); 2018 Gordon Elliott (Delta Work); 2019 Gordon Elliott (Sire Du Berlais); 2020 Gordon Elliott (Sire Du Berlais); 2021 Paul Nolan (Mrs Milner).

In 2019 Irish trained horses filled five of the first seven places; in 2020 four of the first five places; in 2021 three of the first four places.

Following a review conducted by the British Horseracing Authority after last year's Festival, changes have been made to the way British runners are handicapped

In very broad terms Irish hurdlers in open handicaps do not appear to have been as leniently treated as British hurdlers. 

Sporting John won a qualifier for this at Warwick in January with The Jam Man second, Third Wind third, Sire Du Berlais - second to Flooring Porter in last year's Stayers' Hurdle - fourth and Alaphilippe - fifth in last year's Albert Bartlett behind Vanillier - fifth. 

The Jam Man, Sire Du Berlais and Alaphilippe all run off a mark two pounds lower, Third Wind a mark three pounds lower.  

Alaphilippe, rated 143 when fifth behind Vanillier in last year's Albert Bartlett (correction to a statement made in linked post above), goes off 138 tomorrow.

After all that it's no surprise to see Sire Du Berlais and Alaphilippe at the head of the market. 

British trained runners who could have something in hand of their current mark include Honest Vic, Dame De Compagnie, Third Wind and If The Cap Fits.

Third Wind has fallen from 149 to 141 this season; Hughie Morrison's charge finished fourth behind Sire Du Berlais in this race two years ago. 

That said, he looked to have a hard enough time of it when a well-beaten third on heavy ground behind Wholestone in the Rendlesham at Haydock just three and a half weeks ago. 

Back in December Harry Fry said that If The Cap Fits was on a mark he should be competitive off - 145 at the time. He goes off 137 tomorrow and - perhaps - hinted at a return to form when making late headway to finish fifth at Sandown last time. 

Mr. Ben Bromley claims seven but no horse older than eight has won this in the past decade.

As always, a difficult race and the value at the head of the market has long since disappeared. 

I'll take a small each-way interest in If The Cap Fits.

Selection: If The Cap Fits each way (40/1 with bet365 paying eight places).

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

Both Klassical Dream and Flooring Porter will need to handle the preliminaries. 

The former beat the latter at Leopardstown over Christmas but there was controversy at the start with a hint Paul Townend had jumped the tapes on Willie Mullins' charge. 

Klassical Dream subsequently disappointed when beaten at odds of 1/3f by Royal Kahala at Gowran Park at the end of January - the trainer has blamed himself for that effort.

On official ratings Klassical Dream is the best horse in the race and has two pounds in hand over Flooring Porter.

Champ beat Thyme Hill in the Long Walk at Ascot in December but was then beaten fair and square by Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle. Emma Lavelle's charge lost ground by whipping round at the start yet still came home three and a quarter lengths ahead of Champ with Lisnagar Oscar third. The last horse older than nine to collect the spoils was Crimson Embers in 1986.

Lisnagar Oscar wouldn't have been suited by making the running in the Cleeve; after the race trainer Rebecca Curtis reported she had her charge back to his best for the first time in two years.

The layers seem to have their prices about right.  

Flooring Porter did me a favour winning this from the front last year and I'm going to stay loyal. Despite that effort at Gowran Park,  Klassical Dream is feared most.

Selection: Flooring Porter win (4/1 generally).

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Cheltenham 2022 - Wednesday

The going on the hurdle and chase courses is currently described as good, good to soft in places; heavy rain is forecast from mid morning onwards.

2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Ahoy Senor has a big engine and the jumping is getting better. Lucinda Russell's charge burst onto the scene last April when beating Bravemansgame seven lengths in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle at odds of 66/1.

Bravemansgame is quick and slick at his fences; he beat Ahoy Senor seven and a half lengths at Kempton in the Kauto Star on Boxing Day. 

The question is - will he come up the hill? I remain to be convinced. 

Quoting from the Racing Post's published comments-in-running after his third behind Bob Olinger in last year's Ballymore: '...pushed along two out,  soon rallied and every chance, lost ground approaching last, ridden and lost second run-in, weakened inside final 110yds.'

Connections have decided to run L'Homme Presse here rather than in the Turners (1.30 Thursday) when Galopin Des Champs and Bob Olinger are set to locks horns. 

A sound jumper, he won The Dipper here over two miles four and a half furlongs on New Year's Day and shapes as though he'll handle the step up in trip.

Of the market principals L'Homme Presse gets the nod. 

With a number of layers paying four places both Beacon Edge and Fury Road are worth a second look. 

The former, fourth in last year's Stayers' Hurdle, beat the latter over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse in November. 

Fury Road was pulled up in the Stayers' Hurdle but looked good when winning at Leopardstown over Christmas before disappointing behind Galopin Des Champs at the Dublin Racing Festival. 

In receipt of seven pounds Farouk D'alene beat Beacon Edge threequarters of a length at Naas last month - the winner's jumping looked a cause for concern that day.

Selection: Beacon Edge each-way (12/1 with bet365, Coral and Bet Victor paying four places).

2.50 Coral Cup

Of the market principals, Camprond's fourth behind West Cork in the Greatwood reads well while Gowel Road beat Unexpected Party over course and distance in November conceding a stone.

At bigger prices McFabulous has been dropped five pounds since the turn of the year and sports first-time cheekpieces. 

Call Me Lord is now six pounds lower than on seasonal debut at Uttoxeter in December; perhaps his third behind Cobblers Dream in the Lanzarote hinted at a return to form.

26 runners and, as always, devilishly difficult.

Selection: Gowel Road each way (11/1 with William Hill paying six places).

3.30 Champion Chase

Energumene's quick jumping had Shiskin in trouble at Ascot but Nicky Henderson's charge stayed on stoutly to lead on the run-in. 

When going left-handed, Energumene has, on occasions, jumped out to his right. 

Chacun Pour Soi wasn't at his best when third in this last year behind Put The Kettle On and Nube Negra or when well beaten behind Greaneteen in the Tingle Creek. 

Willie Mullins has indicated he thinks the trip over on the ferry affects his charge and has made minor adjustments to the training regime to compensate. 

Chacun is in with every chance if running to his very best; two 10-year-olds have obliged in the past decade - Sprinter Sacre (2016) and Special Tiara (2017).

Henry De Bromhead has said the mare Put The Kettle On 'comes alive' at Cheltenham. 

Although she beat Nube Negra half a length last year, the second stumbled at the final flight and was making ground on the leader as they raced up the hill. 

Dan Skelton's charge reversed the form in the Shloer Chase and, after a below par effort in the Tingle Creek, has been kept fresh for this. 

In a recent stable tour Dan Skelton said:

"The better the ground the better result and we have a very fast horse who we know is best when fresh and it is a hot, hot race but we have him where we want, and I can't do anything about the others." 

On the proviso eight make it to post - and too much rain doesn't fall from the skies - Nube Negra makes most appeal as an each-way play against the main protagonists.

Selection: Nube Negra each-way (14/1 generally).   

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Cheltenham Festival 2022 - Tuesday

As I've said on numerous occasions in the past the Cheltenham Festival is a four day marathon; previously I've exercised a conservative approach on the opening day and, on balance, that approach has served me well enough.

Writing in Cheltenham The Ultimate Guide pro punter Andy Gibson tells readers: "If you can't see a shorty getting beat, just sit it out." That's what I intend to do in the Champion Hurdle (3.30). 

Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle 1.30

This year's renewal has been eagerly awaited. 

Willie Mullins saddles three of the nine runners, opting to run Sir Gerhard in the Ballymore (Wednesday 1.30) rather than here. Dysart Dynamo and Kilcruit head the Irish challenge while Constitution Hill and Jonbon from the Nicky Henderson stable are the main British protagonists.

Last year Appreciate It won this for Willie Mullins and created a lasting impression in the process, beating Ballyadam 24 lengths. Appreciate It hasn't been seen since but takes on Honeysuckle et al. in the Champion Hurdle at 3.30.

Dysart Dynamo has won both hurdle races from the front this season. Tom Segal, who has been in excellent form of late, thinks Dysart Dynamo 'has it all to prove'.

Constitution Hill is a relaxed, chilled individual whereas Jonbon lives on his nerves and has, on occasions, looked quite anxious - his victory at Haydock last time was workmanlike. 

Ordinarily I wouldn't play in this race but the sponsors are offering to return losing bets (win singles and the win part of each-way singles) to a maximum of £10.00.

Selection: Constitution Hill win (5/2 Sky Bet)

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase

24 declared and the Ultima is ultra competitive. 

Course and distance winner Frodon stands his ground and has to give seven pounds and upwards to the rest of the field. 

Un Temps Pour Tout carried top weight to victory in 2017; the bottom five run from out of the handicap. 

Death Duty goes off 144 - one pound lower than his Irish rating; the last Irish trained winner was Dun Doire in 2006.

Does He Know looked to have a hard enough race winning the Reynoldstown on desperate ground at Ascot three and a half weeks ago.

11-year-old Vintage Clouds won last year's renewal, goes off the same mark again, and bids to become the first 12-year-old to win since the war.

Ben Dundee finished second behind School Boy Hours at Leopardstown over Christmas with Death Duty fifth, Foxy Jacks eighth and Noble Yeats some way back in ninth.

On his penultimate start Kiltealy Briggs finished 17 lengths adrift of Bravemansgame in the Kauto Star at Kempton. Jamie Snowden's charge has since won over two and a half miles at Musselburgh and tries this trip for the first time. The handler issued an upbeat update recently, pointing out the step up in distance should suit as the gelding is out of a sister to 2011 Grand National winner Ballabriggs.

William Hill are paying seven places and also offer a best odds guarantee.

Selection: Kiltealy Briggs each way (20/1 William Hill)    

Friday, March 11, 2022

Cheltenham Festival 2022 - handicap hints and headaches...

Irish trained runners dominated last year's Festival winning 23 of the 28 races.

In the immediate aftermath  Willie Mullins attributed that domination to the long term vision of Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive at the time Brian Kavanagh while, amidst much soul-searching this side of the Irish Sea, Alan King talked of 'taking Ferraris on with Fords'.

In the recent past Irish horses have performed particularly well in Festival handicaps:

2019: 13 of the 68 runners achieved a top three finish (19.12%)

2020: 17 of the 73 runners achieved a top three finish (23.29%)

2021: 13 of the 65 runners achieved a top three finish (20%)

A review established by the British Horseracing Authority announced in September that changes to the way British horses are handicapped would be made 'to correct a perceived imbalance in ratings'.

In a recent piece of analysis published on his ATR blog, Kevin Blake looks at the implications of these changes and concludes:

"...while last year's equivalent of this piece of analysis was unusually upbeat about how the Irish-trained horses were treated as a group by the weights, there is much less to be happy about this year. The treatment of the handicap hurdlers seems notably tough given all that has changed with how leniently British hurdlers have been treated this season."

The post highlights the handicapper's treatment of Langer Dan, currently favourite for the Martin Pipe (Friday 5.30), to illustrate the point. 

In similar vein, on seasonal debut Alaphilippe lost two places after the final flight when finishing fifth behind Sporting John at Warwick in January. 

Fergal O'Brien's charge has been been dropped two pounds for that effort and is set to contest this year's renewal of the Pertemps Final (Thursday 2.10) off a mark of 138 - five pounds lower than when fifth in last year's race behind Vanillier.

Sire Du Berlais, fourth in that Warwick race off 158, won the 2020 renewal of the Pertemps Final off 152 in a faster time than Lisnagar Oscar won the Stayers' Hurdle, and is set to go off a mark of 156.   

The Gordon Elliott trained Death Duty - 7/1 joint favourite for the Ultima Handicap Chase (Tuesday 2.50) - is the only horse assigned a lower rating than his Irish mark. Ironically this is a race in which Irish runners haven't fared particularly well in recent times, Dun Doire the last one to oblige in 2006.

School Boy Hours, with entries in the Ultima (Tuesday 2.50),  the Kim Muir (Thursday 5.30), as well as the Grand National at Aintree, runs off the same mark as his Irish rating - 142. 

Noel Meade's charge was raised nine pounds after winning the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas with Ben Dundee second, Death Duty fifth, Foxy Jacks seventh and Noble Yeats ninth.  

Apparently the handicapper has also changed the way in which he rates French horses this season. 

As Paul Kealy has pointed out, under the old system Gaelic Warrior would have been rated 139 rather than 129 in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.50 Tuesday). 

In the same race it's possible to make a case for The Tide Turns being ahead of his mark (137) following his run behind Teahupoo in the Red Mills Trial. 

The only British trained runner with a rating above 130 is Petit Tonnerre (138) who also holds an entry in the Triumph Hurdle (Friday 1.30).

Taking into consideration the analysis above, British trained hurdlers with an entry in a Festival handicap and a mark that has fallen since the turn of the year include: 

McFabulous (155-150); Honest Vic (146-141); If The Cap Fits (142-137); Ask Dillon (141-137); Solara One (134-130); Boothill (135-132); Third Wind (146-144); Call Me Lord (144-142); Brinkley (142-140); Stoney Mountain (141-139); Pileon (137-135); and Balko Saint (133-131). 

After all that, currently just seven British trained horses are priced up either favourite or joint favourite for the Festival's 28 races:

Constitution Hill (Supreme)

Edwardstone (Arkle)

Good Risk At All (Coral Cup)

Shishkin (Champion Chase)

Celebre D'Allen (Paddy Power Plate)

Hillcrest (Albert Bartlett)

Langer Dan (Martin Pipe)

A quick glance at the Coral Cup and I'm surprised Gowel Road is 12/1 and Unexpected Party 9/1 when the former beat the latter over course and distance in November conceding a stone. Gowel Road also holds an entry in the Martin Pipe.

I think Kiltealy Briggs is worth a second look in the Ultima (Tuesday 2.50) as is Commodore in the Kim Muir (Thursday 5.30) on the back of an impressive win at the track back in December; the Venetia Williams trained grey also holds an entry in the Grand National.  

Threeunderthrufive looked interesting in the National Hunt Challenge Cup (Tuesday 5.30). Paul Nicholls happens to agree but the McNeill family are keen to run in the Brown Advisory (Wednesday 2.10).

Dan Skelton probably goes into next week with his strongest ever team - away from the handicaps, Nube Negra (Champion Chase) and Protektorat (Gold Cup) represent reasonable each-way plays although drying ground may not play to Protektorat's strengths.

And with no more than 10 runners in the Champion Hurdle I wonder if William Hill will pay five places as they did last year - Not So Sleepy finished fifth at odds of 125/1.

Sky Bet offer to return losing bets (win singles and win part of each way singles) to a maximum of £10.00 in the first race of the meeting, the Supreme (Tuesday 1.30). 

The crowds are set to make a welcome return this year; as always I'll aim to post selections for each of the four days.

Not long to wait now...

Friday, March 04, 2022

A Giant step - in the right direction?

With Cheltenham on the horizon I haven't spent a lot of time on tomorrow's cards but the opener at Newbury has piqued interest.

Eight have been declared for the 'Play Pick Six and win £1000 Veterans' Handicap Chase' due off at 1.15. Three and a quarter miles is the trip with the going currently described as soft.

At the time of writing Aso heads the market but looks eminently opposable. Venetia Williams' charge carries top weight, has never won beyond two miles five and didn't appear to quite stay the stiff three miles at Exeter last time out. 

Indy Five doesn't have any issues on that score and comes into this in good form having won off a mark of 115 at Doncaster in December and subsequently finishing second behind Manwell at Catterick; he meets better quality opposition here. 

Kauto Riko's fourth behind Chantry House in the Cotswold Chase catches the eye - Chantry House is quoted a 16/1 chance for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup in a fortnight's time - and his staying on second behind Two For Gold at Doncaster in December also reads well. 

Kim Bailey's charge franked that form on his next two starts - winning the Fleur de Lys Chase at Lingfield and finishing second behind Fakir D'Oudairies at Ascot two weeks ago.

Kauto's form looks the best on offer here.

Prime Venture won the final of the 2021 veterans' series at Sandown at the beginning of January (both Aso and Indy Five pulled up) but that was run on desperate, heavy ground - only five of the 13 starters completed after Valadom spread-eagled the field with a punishing front-running performance before fading between the final two flights.

Evan Williams' charge was raised seven pounds for that effort. Last week he became detached in a three mile hurdle race at Chepstow before staying on dourly to finish 17 lengths behind Ballyandy.

Christmas In April is one of a number in this field who like to race prominently. 

Colin Tizzard's charge won the Devon National at Exeter two years ago (Indy Five fifth); after posting a decent effort conceding six pounds to Hold That Taught at Carlisle in October, he appears to have gone off the boil and, sporting first-time blinkers, was well beaten at Wincanton last month.

Saint Xavier didn't jump well behind Big River at Kelso last time and I'm not convinced this is his best trip - in November 2021 he won over two miles one and half furlongs at Auteuil.

Minellacelebration faded out of contention in a veterans' chase at Warwick three and a half months ago but I've convinced myself Encounter A Giant is worth a second look provided eight make it to the start.

This one hasn't been easy to train; as a result, with just three starts to his name, he looks one of those most uncommon sorts - an unexposed ten-year-old.

In a recent stable tour [RP Weekender 16-20.02.22] handler Alastair Ralph had this to say of his charge:

"He had been off the radar since winning easily at Hereford in December 2019 but finally came back at Exeter last week when he was pulled up. He'd been away a couple of times and was as sharp as we could get him. I love him as he's a big, galloping sort but he has been plagued by problems, hence the low mileage." 

Although those comments are no ringing endorsement Encounter A Giant was highlighted as the 'dark horse' selection for the stable. He was dropped three pounds for that effort at Exeter and Alex Edwards claims three.

Kauto Riko is my idea of the winner but I'm hoping Encounter A Giant can build on that recent comeback and outrun current odds of 28/1.

Provided eight make the start, I'll take an each-way interest in Encounter A Giant