Friday, April 29, 2022

A brief review of the 2021/22 jumps season

Champion jockey: Brian Hughes

Champion trainer: Paul Nicholls

Winning owner: J P McManus

Champion conditional jockey: Kevin Brogan

With 204 winners, 99 ahead of nearest challenger Sam Twiston-Davies, champion jockey Brian Hughes joined a select band of riders who have ridden more than 200 jump winners in a season - Peter Scudamore, Sir Anthony McCoy and Richard Johnson. 

In the week leading up to the Grand National Mr Sam Waley-Cohen announced his retirement from the saddle, indicating Noble Yeats in the National would be his last ride. He then went out and rode the 50/1 chance to victory, coming home two and a quarter lengths ahead of Any Second Now. Trainer Emmet Mullins won the Grand National with his first runner in the race. 

Robbie Power wanted to retire by winning the 2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard 2021 winner Minella Indo. Unfortunately for Robbie Rachael Blackmore had unfinished business from last year; A Plus Tard came home 15 lengths ahead of his stablemate. Robbie's final ride was aboard Teahupoo in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.    

And after a career spanning 36 years, Dave Roberts, jockey agent to the stars, was another to announce his retirement.

Rachael Blackmore won a second Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle, Flooring Porter a second Stayers' Hurdle.  

L'Homme Presse looked impressive in the Brown Advisory but Ahoy Senor turned the tables at Aintree. 

This year's Champion Chase was billed a rematch between between Shiskin and Energumene. 

Nico De Boinville thought the former was 'cooked' in the Clarence House at Ascot but somehow his mount managed to dig deep and beat the latter a length in a race that, for once, lived up to all the pre-race hyperbole.

Heavy rain preceded the re-match. Shishkin never went a yard in the soft ground and was pulled up before the ninth; Energumene won at odds of 5/2. 

Constitution Hill's annihilation of his opponents in the Supreme will live long in the memory; Nicky Henderson's charge is currently quoted 2/1 favourite for the 2023 Champion Hurdle.

Prices of a different sort perturbed punters at this year's Festival: Guinness £7.00 a pint; pasty £7.50;  gin and tonic £14.00; Moet & Chandon (20cl) £29.00; bottle of sauvignon blanc £80.00. 

Many took to social media to voice their displeasure, vowing not to return next year. 

You can't help but wonder whether those in charge are in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg; plans for a five-day Festival appear to be at an advanced stage.   

During an unseasonably dry autumn Midnight Shadow won the Paddy Power Gold Cup, West Cork the Greatwood, Nube Negra the Shloer, A Plus Tard the Betfair Chase and Cloudy Glen the Ladbrokes Trophy.

The Robbie Dunne / Bryony Frost case allowed punters a peek into the inner sanctum of the weighing room and it didn't prove particularly edifying. Dunne was suspended for 18 months for bullying Frost; on appeal his ban was reduced to 10 months.

Snow Leopardess beat Hill Sixteen a nose in the Becher and was well backed for the National but the grey mare failed to handle the Aintree preliminaries. Aidan Coleman looked after her, pulling up after one circuit; he received plenty of earache for his troubles.

Champ won the Long Walk in December and was sent off 8/15 favourite for the Cleeve; he was comprehensively beaten by Paisley Park who lost 20 lengths at the start yet still came home over three lengths to the good. 

Frodon (Bryony Frost) and Minella Indo (Rachael Blackmore) took each other on from the start in the King George at Kempton allowing Danny Mullins and Tornado Flyer to come from behind and pick up the pieces.

Iwilldoit did it in fine style and won an attritional Welsh National.  

Conceding 16 pounds Royal Pagaille pipped Sam Brown half a length in the Peter Marsh at Haydock while Glory And Fortune became the first horse older than six to win the Betfair Hurdle since Geos in 2004. 

Saturday February 26th 2022 will be a day Christian Williams won't forget in a hurry. Win My Wings beat Eclair Surf in the Eider at Newcastle and half an hour later Cap Du Nord beat stablemate Kitty's Light in the Coral Trophy at Kempton. 

Five weeks later Williams saddled Win My Wings and Kitty's Light to finish first and second in the Scottish Grand National. 

Fellow Welsh trainer Evan Williams certainly has a character on his hands with Coole Cody. The 2020 Paddy Power Gold Cup winner was still in the lead when coming to grief two out in this year's renewal. Four weeks later  he won Racing Post Gold Cup over the course and distance - and the Craft Irish Whiskey Co Plate at the Festival at odds of 22/1. 

On the final day at Sandown Greaneteen won the Celebration Chase and Irish raider Hewick the bet365 Chase with something to spare.

For a second year Flooring Porter is nominated blog horse of the year for that victory in the Stayers' Hurdle.

I'm getting on a bit now, I know, but the sport just doesn't seem quite the same. In a recent post on his ATR blog Kevin Blake told readers National Hunt racing needs to wake up before it's too late

Some food for thought there.

Friday, April 22, 2022

bet365 Gold Cup 2022

There as a dramatic finish to last year's bet365 Gold Cup with Enrilo passing the post threequarters of a length ahead of Potterman with Kitty's Light a short-head behind in third. 

Following the inevitable stewards' inquiry, Potterman was awarded the race with Kitty's Light promoted to second and Enrilo demoted to third having hung badly left and hampered Kitty's Light racing up the hill; most commentators felt Kitty's Light would have have won given a clear run. 

The three do battle once again tomorrow along with Cap Du Nord who was only beaten five lengths in fifth. Enrilo is just one pound higher, Potterman two, Kitty's Light effectively five as Jack Tudor no longer claims three while Cap Du Nord goes off a mark five pounds lower.

15 face the starter at 3.32 tomorrow; the going is described as good, good to firm in places.

For some time this race has been the specific target of both Enrilo and Potterman.

Enrilo hasn't had the best of seasons - falling in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and then pulling up behind Commodore at Cheltenham in December when sent off the 11/4 favourite. He ran better next time when fourth behind Cap Du Nord and Kitty's Light in the Coral Trophy at Kempton in February; to my mind he doesn't look the easiest of rides but Paul Nicholls tells readers of his Betfair blog the horse is 'ready to run for his life'.

Favourites do not have a good record in the race; Alistair Jones' preview in the Weekender indicates the last outright market leader to oblige was Mr Frisk in 1990.  

Christian Williams has certainly made a name for himself in recent weeks with the likes of Kitty's Light, Cap Du Nord and nine-year-old mare Win My Wings who became the first horse since Willsford in 1995 to win the Eider Chase at Newcastle and the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in the same season. 

She beat stablemate Kitty's Light seven lengths in the Scottish National (Fidux fourth, Prime Venture sixth with Via Dolorosa and El Paso Wood both pulled up) but has subsequently been clobbered 14 pounds by the handicapper; this looks a tough task. 

Kitty's Light isn't the biggest of individuals though; to date connections have preferred to avoid early scrimmaging and ride their race from the rear. The gelding was pulled up after suffering interference in the Ladbrokes Trophy - he has finished second four times this term. Cheekpieces are tried for the first time and I wonder whether Jack Tudor will give his mount a more prominent ride tomorrow.

Of his three runners Williams is on record saying he'd place his fiver on Kitty's Light.

Underfoot conditions will suit Irish raiders Hewick and Streets Of Doyen; the former doesn't look particularly well handicapped even allowing for Jordan Gainford's three pound claim while I'm not convinced the trip will play to the latter's strengths. 

The only Irish trained winner in the past 20 years was Church Island in 2010. 

In the same timeframe only four have carried more than 11-00 to victory: Puntal 11-04 (2004); Lacdoudal 11-05 (2006); Tidal Bay 11-12 (2012); and Potterman 11-09 (2021). 

Flegmatik is another with concerns about the trip but off a featherweight Musical Slave's chance is respected. 

Cheekpieces seemed to help this one beat Enqarde with something to spare at Haydock last Saturday and he goes off the same mark tomorrow. Back in January in receipt of one pound he finished just two lengths behind Win My Wings at Exeter.

Domaine De L'Isle finished fourth in the Becher behind Snow Leopardess, tenth in the Eider behind Win My Wings and unseated Harry Bannister at the Chair at Aintree a fortnight ago. 

Step Back likes it at Sandown and won the 2018 renewal; no horse older than 11 has ever come home in front.

At the time of writing the top of the market is centred around Enrilo, Kitty's Light and Win My Wings.

The bookmakers aren't taking any chances with Musical Slave; several pay five places and 12/1 about Potterman looks fair value. Last year's 'winner' underwent wind surgery in January and won the Borders Handicap Chase at Kelso last month.

I thought Fidux ran well at odds of 66/1 on his first try at a marathon trip in the Scottish National three weeks ago. 

That was his first outing for 112 days; Daryl Jacob takes the ride once again. 

The gelding certainly isn't weighted to reverse form with Kitty's Light or Win My Wings but he has won off this mark previously - the shorter trip and better ground here should help his cause.

Paddy Power, Betfair and William Hill are paying five places and offer 22/1 at the time of writing. 

Fidux is the each-way suggestion. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

The Challenger Staying Chase Series Final at Haydock

A short post this evening - apparently Easter holiday obligations have to take priority. I still can't quite put my finger on the precise moment when, many years ago, it all started to go wrong. 

Anyway, the result is I haven't done the detailed homework required for the Challenger Series Finals card at Haydock tomorrow but, what the hell, I'm going to have a wager in the Staying Chase Final at 3.52.

Favourite Bavington Bob has won his last four on the bounce; Ann Hamilton's charge has risen from a mark of 116 to 139.

Kap Auteuil beat Coral Trophy fifth Galahad Quest at Stratford last time and is now on a career high mark of 140.

Musical Slave's two length third behind Win My Wings at Exeter in January reads well, given that Win My Wings subsequently went on to win the Eider at Newcastle and the Scottish Grand National at Ayr. 

I've never been totally convinced this one is totally committed to the game - at Sandown last time the form book indicates Tom O'Brien 'cajoled' his mount mid-race before the pair came home ahead of Notachance. Connections will hope first-time cheekpieces aid the cause.

Breizh Alko is talented but has legs like glass while Quartz Du Rheu will certainly appreciate better ground.

Enqarde and Snuff Box complete the line-up and both are course and distance winners; the former is of interest.

Dr. Richard Newland's charge beat Remastered ten lengths in the Tommy Whittle here last December before being pulled up behind The Galloping Bear in the Grand National Trial in February. The going at Haydock that day was extremely testing - only three of the 11 runners completed - and a fortnight later Enqarde underwent wind surgery. 

This is his first run since and he wears a tongue-tie for the first time. Drying ground should help and I'd like to think he can be competitive.

7/1 at the time of writing, I'm going to have a bet on Enqarde to win.

Off to sort some Easter presents now...

Friday, April 08, 2022

Aintree Grand National 2022

The success of Irish trained horses in recent years has been well documented; the going for tomorrow's renewal, due off at 5.15, is currently described as good to soft. 

21 of the 40 runners are trained in Ireland; Gordon Elliott saddles seven - Davy Russell is aboard Run Wild Fred - and Willie Mullins four. 

The form of Gordon Elliott's string has been a cause of some concern recently while earlier in the week Willie Mullins was uncharacteristically downbeat about the chances of his charges.

Three of the four reserves - Commodore, School Boy Hours and Romain De Senam - will take their chance following the withdrawals of Phoenix Way (temperature), Easysland (bad scope) and Lord Du Mesnil (ground).  

Rachael Blackmore renews her partnership with last year's winner Minella Times. 

Henry De Bromhead's inmate heads the weights this year; the last horse to carry top weight to victory was Red Rum in 1974. Since then only three have collected first prize with a burden greater than 11-05: Red Rum 11-08 (1977); Neptune Collonges 11-06 (2012); and Many Clouds 11-09 (2015).

Minella Times hasn't been in such good form this term but nonetheless, at the time of writing, shares favouritism with Any Second Now (unlucky in third last year), Delta Work (denied Tiger Roll to win the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham 24 days ago) and grey mare Snow Leopardess (won the Becher Chase in December).

The last seven-year-old to come home in front was Bogskar in 1940 which doesn't augur too well for Coko Beach and Noble Yeats; the latter will be the last ride for amateur Sam Waley-Cohen who announced his retirement from race-riding earlier in the week.    

It's 99 years since 13-year-old won Sergeant Murphy won; 13-year-old Blaklion tries to repeat the feat tomorrow. 

Dan Skeleton's charge finished fourth behind One For Arthur in 2017, sixth last year and won the 2017 Becher Chase over these obstacles. Quoted at 100/1 with Paddy Power at the time of writing, to my mind he looks the best value longshot. 

Those who like to make their own selections may find the Racing Post's pinstickers' guide of some use; for everyone else, there's this:

1. Fiddlerontheroof

Placed in all 10 chase starts to date. Finished second in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November, making up a lot of ground up the long home straight. Two pounds well in at the weights.

2. Enjoy D'allen

Third behind Freewheelin Dylan in last year's Irish National and looks to have been laid out for this. Another placed in all 10 chase starts to date. 

3. Any Second Now

Unlucky last year finishing eight lengths third after being badly hampered by a faller at the 12th fence. Set to carry 13 pounds more than last year. 

4. Fortescue

Four pounds well in at the weights but regular rider Hugh Nugent can't use his five pounds claim. Finished well beaten in seventh in the Ladbrokes Trophy but beat Fiddlerontheroof in the Swinley Chase at Ascot seven weeks ago. Looks the type to appreciate a marathon test.

As always, check each-way place terms with your bookmaker - most High St. firms are paying six places; Sky Bet are paying seven.

It just remains for me to wish you all the very best of luck!

Friday, April 01, 2022

Scottish Grand National 2022

For the first time in as long as I can remember the Scottish Grand National is to be run before the Grand National.

24 made the final declaration stage for this year's Ayr showpiece (3.35) which, in terms of quality, wouldn't be the best of renewals. Last year top weight Lake View Lad raced off a mark of 155; Hill Sixteen starts off 147 tomorrow. Streets of Doyen has been declared a non-runner.

The going is currently described as good to soft, good in places.

Five weeks ago trainer Christian Williams had one Saturday afternoon he's unlikely to forget in a hurry. Win My Wings won the Eider Chase at Newcastle; half an hour later Cap Du Nord beat stablemate Kitty's Light in the Coral Trophy Handicap Chase at Kempton.

Kitty's Light heads the market for tomorrow's race - and all seven favourites obliged at Ayr today. 

A six-year-old, Kitty's Light already has the form of a seasoned handicapper in the book and appeared unlucky not to win the bet365 Chase at Sandown last April off 139; the run at Kempton last time served notice of a return to form. 

Not the biggest of individuals, the bay tends to be ridden conservatively in rear to avoid early scrimmaging before making ground in the latter stages of a race and that, coupled with a weight of 11-08, gives me cause for concern. 

Win My Wings, with Ryan Mania up, beat Innisfree Lad (third), Court Master (fourth) and History Of Fashion (unseated rider) in the Eider. The handicapper has raised the mare eight pounds for that effort but amateur Mr. Rob James claims seven so effectively starts on a mark just one pound higher. 

Ryan Mania on The Ferry Master will certainly know what he has to beat. 

Sandy Thomson's charge finished a creditable fourth off 133 behind Mighty Thunder last year and is five pounds lower this time - stablemate Dingo Dollar finished second and is quoted a 50/1 chance for next week's Aintree showpiece.

When I looked back at the race, it appeared The Ferry Master held every chance four out but lost ground up the home straight - and lost two places before the final fence. A wind operation at the end of January may help the cause but there's a lingering doubt whether he really sees out the trip.

Court Master also appeared to fade from two out in the Eider. 

Cool Mix has never won beyond two miles four and a half furlongs but he finished fifth last year, threequarters of a length behind The Ferry Master. He looks well handicapped off a mark six pounds lower and Alan Doyle claims seven. Iain Jardine's charge finished ahead of The Ferry Master in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle in November and sports a first-time tongue tie.

Stormy Judge's defeat of Enjoy D'allen and School Boy Hours in a Navan novice chase 12 months ago reads very well - and Danny Mullins takes the ride tomorrow. This one's chance is respected but his best form to date has come on soft / heavy ground and similar comments apply to stablemate History Of Fashion. Peter Fahy saddled Mister Fogpatches to finish third last year.

Novice chasers have a good record in this race. 

Ashtown Lad, a seven length third behind Ahoy Senor in the Towton at Wetherby, could be ahead of his mark as he races beyond three miles for the first time. Major Dundee has a similar profile while Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has won this three times with Captain Dibble (1992), Earth Summit (1994) and Hello Bud (2009), saddles Fantastikas. Fantastikas finished seventh behind Corach Rambler in the Ultima 18 days ago (One More Fleurie seventeenth and Vintage Clouds pulled up); the relatively quick turn out here isn't ideal. Ask A Honey Bee has shown a tendency to jump right on occasions.

Olly Murphy is on record saying The Wolf is 'a vey hard ride'. The gelding's tendency to miss one out here and there doesn't help the cause but he finished second behind Captain Cattistock in the Edinburgh National last time out.

Hill Sixteen's second behind Nut's Well in Kelso's Premier Chase four weeks ago reads well but has resulted in a harsh-looking nine pound rise; Jack Andrews can claim five. Since 2000 only two horses have carried more than 11-03 to victory: Grey Abbey (11-12 in 2004) and Vicente (11-10 in 2017).

Chirico Vallis and Via Dolorosa are two 10-year-olds in form. 

The former pipped Kitty's Light in the Native River Handicap Chase at Chepstow in October (Fidux sixth) but appeared to weaken over three miles five when second behind Eclair Surf in the Classic Chase at Warwick.  

The latter was raised 10 pounds when beating Potters Legend at Fakenham last time where he showed a tendency to jump right.

El Paso Wood has been kept busy since joining David Pipe in the autumn - this will be his ninth start. Last time he finished fourth at odds of 80/1 in the Midlands Grand National. 

He's now six pounds better off but I wonder whether the gelding has fully recovered from that slog in the Uttoxeter mud a fortnight ago.

Innisfree Lad wouldn't be the most consistent of individuals but of those at bigger prices Jersey Bean is certainly worth a second look. 

Oliver Sherwood's charge beat Furius De Ciergues in Haydock's Stayers' Handicap Chase over an extended three and a half miles in November and looks to have been trained specifically for this.

The ground is likely to be too quick for Prime Venture while Strong Economy races from four pounds out of the handicap.

As ever, a really competitive renewal - the two on the shortlist are Major Dundee and Jersey Bean. 

Alan King won this with novice Godsmejudge in 2013 and has a win strike rate of 18% over the past fortnight while Oliver Sherwood's last winner was some 78 days ago - the nod has to go to Major Dundee.

Major Dundee is the each-way selection, at the time of writing 12/1 with William Hill who are paying six places.