Friday, March 24, 2023

Kelso capers

A slight digression before the main agenda item but I noted the following during the week after Cheltenham...

It was reported a team of researchers led by Dr Helen Keyes at Anglia Ruskin University found that "live sporting event attendance was associated with increased life satisfaction, a greater sense of life being worthwhile and reduced loneliness". 

Nobody from Dr Keyes' team has ever spoken to me - or, as far as I'm aware, to any of the people that I used to go racing with. 

Paddy Power, Betfair and Skybet between them handled £250 million in bets over the four days of the Festival, according to The Sun.

In his business market summary on Tuesday, Dominic Walsh of The Times reported: '...but when the hot favourite Galopin Des Champs romped home first in the Gold Cup, the jockey Willie Mullins and the trainer Paul Townend became the toast of Cheltenham.' 

A top trainer Paul Townend, but I still haven't been able to establish how much overweight Willie Mullins put up on the winner.

Ten are set to face the starter tomorrow for the Make Your Best Bet At BetVictor Handicap Chase (3.35  Kelso); the going at the Scottish track is described as good to soft.

I fully expected to see Flower of Scotland, winner of the Scottish Borders National here in December, in this field but connections have opted to take advantage of a five pound lower hurdle rating and instead run in the Schloss Roxburghe Hotel Handicap Hurdle at 2.25.    

Current market leader Forward Plan, second in a Class 4 handicap chase at Fontwell on debut over fences, has won two more Class 4 handicap chases - both at Southwell - and takes a significant rise in class here. 

Anthony Honeyball's charge, a progressive, strong travelling type, has been raised ten pounds to a mark of 125 for that last win; in a Straight from the Stable article [RP Weekender 23-27.11.23] the handler said:

"He is not a big scopey type, but his schooling has been good and I expect him to do well as a chaser."

His opponents boast far more experience over the larger obstacles.

At the time of writing the market appears to divide the field into two with the winner likely to come from the top five in the betting: Forward Plan; Hill Sixteen; Doyen Breed; Half Shot; and Irish raider Clonguile Way.

Of the two Sandy Thomson trained runners Doyen Breed, with Ryan Mania up, appears to have been trained specifically with this race in mind.  

Hill Sixteen hasn't been seen since finishing seventh in the Becher at the beginning of December and then underwent wind surgery in January. 

He currently holds an entry in next month's Grand National for which he is quoted a 66/1 chance. This is the prep run but he wouldn't be certain to make the cut for the Aintree showpiece.

Most of Half Shot's form is at trips under three miles while Conguile Way, second behind Flower Of Scotland in the Borders National off 114, doesn't look particularly well handicapped off 125; occasionally he has jumped out to his right.

Elvis Mail is another who has done most of his racing at around two to two and a half miles. 

Back in January the grey stayed on to claim a respectable third behind Cooper's Cross and Cap Du Nord in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster run over three miles; he comes here having unseated Bruce Lynn at the first in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham ten days ago.

Bavington Bob ran well at this track behind Just Don't Know a couple of months ago but the remainder of his form this term hasn't been up to scratch. On his last two runs at Newcastle blinkers were deployed; cheekpieces are tried for the first time tomorrow.

Cilaos Emery is having his second run for new connections having moved from Willie Mullins' yard last month.

Lucinda Russell saddles two of the outsiders.

Like many, I thought Mighty Thunder ran well for a long way behind Kitty's Light in the Eider - the best form he has shown for quite some time. His last victory came in the Scottish National at Ayr in April 2021 off a mark of 144. 

He goes off 127 tomorrow and Patrick Wadge can claim a further five so, if back to form, the gelding is certainly well handicapped. He was to be my each-way suggestion - until I read Lucinda Russell's quote in the Racing Post:

"I wouldn't want any more rain for Mighty Thunder, who showed a return to form in the Eider. This wouldn't be his ideal track but I hope he'll run well enough to go back to Ayr for the Scottish National. Big River is having a resurgence and is in great form at home so I hope he'll run a good race." 

Big River may be thirteen years of age but the old boy loves it at Kelso - by my calculation he has won at the track eight times. Horses for courses, as they say, and Derek Fox rides.

Big River is the each-way suggestion, 20/1 at the time of writing with Sky paying four places.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - the betting debrief

This year the blog's eight highlighted selections over the four days of the Festival recorded a small loss to level stakes (1 point win, 0.5 points each way, with each way returns calculated to one fifth the odds).

Outlay over four days: 8 points

Return over four days: 7.8 points

Profit / Loss: -0.2 points

Profit / Loss as percentage of outlay: -2.5%

Each way wager Stage Star won the Turners (15/2 SP used to calculate return after both Banbridge and Christopher Wood withdrawn on account of unsuitable ground) while Protektorat landed place money in the Gold Cup at odds of 18/1.

Those wagers that went awry: Il Etait Temps (Supreme) and The Big Breakaway (Ultima) on Tuesday; Galia Des Liteaux (Brown Advisory) and Elixir De Nutz (Grand Annual) on Wednesday; and Moka De Vassy (Pertemps Final) and Teahupoo (Stayers' Hurdle) on Thursday.

The way in which Constitution Hill demolished the Champion Hurdle field followed by Honeysuckle winning her final race 45 minutes later lit up the opening day and will live long in the memory.

It wasn't plain sailing for Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup but, in the end, he won with the sort of authority his price suggested he would; full credit too to Bravemansgame who came up the hill far better than I had anticipated. We look forward to future clashes with relish. 

Irish domination of the meeting continues but there were still shocks aplenty: 22/1 chance Maskada six and a half lengths ahead of her nearest rival in the Grand Annual; Sire Du Beralis at 33/1 in the Stayers' Hurdle; Faivoir at 33/1 in the County Hurdle; and Premier Magic at 66/1 in the Hunters' Chase. 

The biggest shock of all though was the meekness and timidity - did I detect a certain deference? - shown by the stentorian Matt Chapman when interviewing Zara Tindall in the paddock before the Gold Cup on Friday. We have never seen the like.

I'm sure we'll be back to do it all again next year. 

And, you know, Mrs Tips picked four winners on the first day. If only I had listened... 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - Friday

A couple of random thoughts before a look at the Gold Cup.

The start to the Stayers' Hurdle looked pretty dubious earlier this afternoon.

Aucunrisque and Filey Bay were well clear of their rivals in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury; they meet again in the County.

Dan Skelton has won three County Hurdles in the past eight years - with the five-year-old Superb Story (138) in 2016; Mohaayed (139) in 2018; and Ch'tibello (146) in 2019. 

Pembroke (136) is the stable's main chance this year - an 8/1 shot; his conqueror over an extended trip at Cheltenham last time, Rock My Way, is an unconsidered 33/1 chance in an Albert Bartlett market dominated by Irish trained novices.

Only three of the 15 novices in tomorrow's Triumph are trained in Britain; Willie Mullins saddles seven.

In the concluding Martin Pipe, the J.P. McManus owned Iroko looked good beating Rafferty's Return 14 lengths at Wetherby last time.

3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup

This looks a good renewal.

The 2/1 available about Galopin Des Champs earlier today is the biggest price I've seen for some time; at the moment he's generally a 6/4 shot. 

The gelding has won five of his six chase starts to date, his only defeat coming when falling at the final fence in last year's Turners when 12 lengths clear of Bob Olinger. 

Six weeks ago, on his first try over three miles, he beat Stattler eight lengths in the Irish Gold Cup; that day he ran on strongly at the finish, giving connections plenty of confidence he'll stay the three miles two and a half furlongs required here.

Henry De Bromhead's runners have started to find their form just at the right time. Honeysuckle won the Mares' Hurdle on Tuesday, Maskada the Grand Annual on Wednesday and Envoi Allen the Ryanair earlier today. 

A Plus Tard won last year's Gold Cup by an astonishing 15 lengths from stablemate Minella Indo. On his only run this season the gelding was pulled up behind Protektorat in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. It has been a long way from the ideal preparation; he was 7/1 earlier today but, with the newly improved form of the yard, he's now generally a 4/1 chance.

Prior to the King George, connections of Bravemansgame considered their horse tailor-made for the Kempton showpiece and had dismissed talk of a Gold Cup. That all changed when Bravemansgame won at Kempton by 14 lengths from Royal Pagaille (L'Homme Presse unseating at the last when looking held). Personally I think he'll struggle to come up the hill but better judges than me - Ruby Walsh for one - think this year's Gold Cup concerns the top three in the betting.

Following his Grand National win last April at odds of 50/1, Noble Yeats wasn't realistically considered a Gold Cup contender but that all changed when he showed an impressive turn of foot to win the Many Clouds at Aintree in December (Dashel Drasher second, Ahoy Senor third and Sounds Russian fourth). He still has something to find on ratings but the recent rain helps. Connections intend to go on to Aintree and the National; the only horse to win the Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same year (1934) is Golden Miller. 

Stattler won the National Hunt Novices' Chase at the Festival last year run over three miles six. Held by Galopin Des Champs on Irish Gold Cup form, he has just five chase starts to his name and is the most inexperienced runner in the field over the larger obstacles.

Conflated won the 2022 Irish Gold Cup and beat Kemboy in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown on soft ground over Christmas. This will be his first try beyond three miles and half a furlong.

Minella Indo beat A Plus Tard in the 2021 Gold Cup and finished second to his stablemate last year. At ten years of age, he's the oldest runner in the field but the only one outside the top three whose price isn't on the drift this evening. 

Ahoy Senor beat Sounds Russian, Noble Yeats and Protektorat in the Cotswold Chase at the end of January. The market takes a dim view of that form. 

Ahoy Senor is a wildcard, possessing an engine but the jumping isn't always assured. Admittedly Sounds Russian was receiving weight but he may well have won the Cotswold Chase but for a mistake four from home while Betfair Chase winner Protektorat, sent off 5/4 favourite, was very disappointing. After the race handler Dan Skelton blamed himself for having left his charge 'undercooked'. 

Third in last year's Gold Cup, Protektorat is rated higher than all bar the top three in the betting and is suited by soft ground. His handler thinks he will be competitive.

Royal Pagaille will appreciate the cut underfoot but picked up an injury in the King George - it has been a rush to get him ready.

Hewick would be of interest on decent ground while Eldorado Allen has been beaten by Bravemansgame (twice) and Protektorat this season.

The favourite looks the one to beat but I think Protektorat decent each way value at 18/1 with Sky paying five places.

Selection: Protektorat each way at 18/1, with Sky paying five places.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - Thursday

I wouldn't be in a rush to take a short price about Shishkin over the extended two and a half mile trip of the Ryanair (2.50) on soft ground.

A couple of suggestions for Thursday's card.

1.30 Turners Novices' Chase

Mighty Potter is the form choice and priced accordingly; he can make the odd jumping error.

Appreciate It has made all in two of his three chase starts to date; beaten ten lengths by Tuesday's Arkle winner El Fabiolo last time out. 

Step up in trip should suit the 2021 Supreme winner; he won a flat race at Leopardstown over two and a half miles in December 2019.

Balco Coastal finished second to Gerri Colombe in the Scilly Isles at Sandown last time

The ground appears to have gone against Balco Coastal [error - should read Banbridge] so I'll take an each-way interest in Stage Star who beat Datsalrightgino over course and distance at the end of January.

Selection: Stage Star each way, 11/1 generally at the time of writing.

2.10 Pertemps Network Final

Two significant non runners - ante post favourite Shoot First, scratched after suffering a setback, and Steal A March, owned by the King and Queen Consort; trainer Nicky Henderson indicated the gelding wasn't turning up merely to make up the numbers.

Thanksforthehelp, owned by J.P. McManus, has replaced Shoot First at the head of the market,  having strolled home in a qualifier at Chepstow 19 days ago. An 11 pound rise in the handicap could yet prove lenient.

Gordon Elliott saddles four. 

Salvador Ziggy runs of off 145. He finished fourth off this mark in a qualifier run over the Old Course at Cheltenham in October. Shoot First beat Botox Has that day with An Taillur third; he lost two places in the shadow of the post and has shown his best form on good ground.

Maxxum has to race off a mark seven pounds higher than his Irish rating, The Bosses Oscar three pounds higher. 

The latter was rated 151 when sent off favourite for the 2021 Final, with Jordan Gaillford claiming seven; he finished second to Mrs Milner in that race with several runners failing to land a blow. 

Taking into account jockey allowances, The Bosses Oscar contests tomorrow's renewal four pounds better off.

Off a mark of 128 and racing from two pounds out of the handicap Level Neverending finished third behind Glimpse Of Gala in a Warwick qualifier in January. 

An Taillur has not been seen since his third behind Shoot First last October and this appears to have been the target.

Hector Javilex is a course and distance winner.  Itchy Feet and The Changing Man finished ahead of him when fourth in a Huntingdon qualifier seven weeks ago.

Itchy Feet looked to have a hard enough race next time when collared by Wakool in the Rendlesham at Haydock. The Changing Man finished second to Johnson's Blue in a qualifier on the same Haydock card.

Walking On Air has been well touted. 

He won an Exeter qualifier in February - most of his form is on good ground - and has gone up five pounds. Third that day, Moka De Vassy, remains on his mark tomorrow. 

In this week's RP Weekender [15-19.02.23] handler Jane Williams writes:

"He's had three runs this season, each one better than the last. On his most recent outing at Exeter, he did just what we required when finishing third as it qualified him for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham. It took a while for him to get the hang of things but the penny is definitely dropping now...

"Two runs ago we took him to Cheltenham and, although he was only fifth, the manner in which he finished really pleased me as he roared up the hill.

"We'll be hopeful of a big run this week and I'll be very disappointed if he's not in the first four."

Selection: Moka De Vassy each way, 25/1 with Paddy Power, Betfair and bet365 paying six places.

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

A very competitive renewal. 

Both Blazing Khal and Flooring Porter have suffered interrupted preparations so it's no surprise to see Teahupoo marked up favourite this evening.

Last year Flooring Porter made all to win for the second consecutive year. That day Paisley Park finished third, Klassical Dream fifth - lost three places in the final 110 yards - and Home By The Lee sixth.

In the past Klassical Dream has shown the odd quirk or two and wouldn't be the most straightforward of rides.

Over Christmas Home By The Lee beat Ashdale Bob at Leopardstown, Flooring Porter fourth, Sire Du Berlais pulled up. He has shown improved form this season.

French raider Gold Tweet recorded a shock victory in the Cleeve over course and distance seven weeks ago, Dashel Drasher second and Paisley Park third. 

Dashel Drasher habitually goes from the front - I wonder how that will affect Flooring Porter.

To date the second French trained runner, Henri Le Farceur, hasn't shown he stays this trip.

Two elven year olds make up the field - Paisley Park and Sire Du Berlais.

The former won this race in 2019 and finished third in 2021 and 2022. He has been in good form this season and has place claims. 

Sire Du Berlais won the Pertemps Final over course and distance in 2019 and 2020 and finished a three length second behind Flooring Porter in this race in 2021. He has finished behind Home By The Lee (twice), Teahupoo and Blazing Khal this term.

Flooring Porter has done me a favour in this race over the past couple of years but with rain around Teahupoo is my idea of the winner.

Selection: Teahupoo win, 11/4 generally at the time of writing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - Wednesday

This afternoon Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle delivered performances that will live long in the memory.

Marine Nationale, trained by Barry Connell and ridden by Michael O'Sullivan, won the Supreme with something to spare - the first British trained runner to cross the line was Strong Leader in ninth. 

O'Sullivan went on to win the Boodles by a neck on the Gordon Elliott trained Jazzy Matty. 

He pairs up with Connell again tomorrow to ride Good Land in the Ballymore at 1.30, currently second favourite behind Impaire Et Passe. Challow winner Hermes Allen is the only British trained runner priced under 80/1.

In today's Times Rob Wright highlights the fact that, over the past 30 years, field sizes in handicaps at this meeting have remained 'broadly stable' whereas field sizes in grade one races are nearly 40% down. 

Outside handicaps, as the number of races has increased, field sizes have decreased, accompanied by an increase in the number of winning favourites and odds on runners; over the previous two years 15 favourites have won grade one races.

All of which often makes it feel more difficult to put up a selection that makes much appeal in the top grade races... 

Anyway, here's a couple of suggestions for tomorrow's card.

2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Unbeaten in seven starts, Gerri Colombe is the short-priced favourite. 

I'd have to say he didn't look the quickest at his fences and took a bit of organising when winning the Scilly Isles at Sandown last time.

In marked contrast The Real Whacker jumped well when making all to win the Dipper over course and distance on New Year's Day. I'd imagine connections will adopt similar tactics tomorrow.

Sir Gerhard won the Ballymore last year but this is just his second chase start.

Galia Des Liteaux jumped well on her chase debut at Bangor but the wheels came off big time in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day. 

She made a bad mistake at the second, possibly caused by the low sun, and lost confidence thereafter - Thyme Hill, wearing first time cheekpieces, came home 15 lengths ahead of McFabulous.

Normal service was resumed next time in the Hampton Novices' Chase at Warwick when Galia jumped well, if slightly right on occasions, to beat Complete Unknown 13 lengths with The Goffer - a good fourth in the Ultima earlier today - 31 lengths behind in third.

Trainer Dan Skelton had a good word for his charge at the Sandown races on Saturday, pointing out the mares' allowance will help the cause; she's best on soft / heavy. 

The last nine-year-old to come home in front was Miinnehoma (owned by Freddie Starr as I recall) so Galia Des Liteaux is preferred over Thyme Hill as the each-way play.

Selection: Galia Des Liteaux each way, 8/1 with Sky Bet paying four places.

4.50 Grand Annual Challenge Cup

I'd imagine connections of Saint Segal, Red Rookie and Rouge Vif amongst others will all be desperately disappointed to have missed the cut; the last-named had been specifically aimed at this and backed in from 40s to 12/1.

The market is headed by a number of Irish trained runners. 

J.P. McManus owns Dinoblue, a mare with just three chase starts to her name, and top weight Andy Dufresne who was second in this last year off this same mark, beaten three lengths by Global Citizen (now three pounds higher). 

Final Orders is only the second Irish handicap runner I've stumbled across - so far - able to run off his Irish rating (Punitive is the other, declared for the Kim Muir 5.30 Thursday).

Third Time Lucki is very talented and back to form but on occasions he has the look of a horse that needs a bit of kidding; most of his recent runs have been on right-handed tracks.

Elixir De Nutz finished second behind Funambule Sivola in the Game Spirit last time - that form reads well with the winner as well as the third, Greaneteen, both going in the Champion Chase tomorrow. The Game Spirit was run on good ground but in his younger days Elixir won the Tolworth on soft.

I'm a Malystic fan. 

He finished fourth in the Game Spirit after winning a Class 2 Handicap Chase at Doncaster in course record time - Peter Niven's charge has had a good season. Pulled up on his only run at this track, he scoped dirty after the race; he meets some better handicapped rivals here.

Course and distance winner Before Midnight was fourth behind Malystic at Doncaster, losing two places on the run-in and eventually beaten six lengths. Sam Thomas' charge is now four pounds lower than his rating in the autumn. Cheekpieces are tried; stable form is a concern.

Finally a quick word for Sizing Potsie who competed off 155 in the Topham last year. 

He goes off 140 tomorrow, his lowest mark since arriving at the Pipe yard, and sports first-time cheekpieces. I can't help wondering if this is a plot... He has been backed this evening and is currently priced at 18/1.

Selection: Elixir De Nutz each way, 12/1 with bet365, Sky and Paddy Power paying six places.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - Tuesday

Last year Constitution Hill won the Supreme in a time of 3m 44.35s - breaking the track record, I think - and Honeysuckle the Champion Hurdle in 3m 50.13s on going that was described as good to soft. 

On Tuesday Constitution Hill faces just six rivals and will be no betting proposition in this year's Champion Hurdle (3.30) while Honeysuckle, currently sharing favouritism with Marie's Rock, will have her final race in the Mares' Hurdle (4.10).

At the time of writing the going at Prestbury Park is described as soft, good to soft in places, with rain and strong winds forecast on Monday and showers on Tuesday.

A couple of suggestions for the first day...

1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Favourite Facile Vega was unbeaten in six before trailing in fifth behind stablemate Il Etait Temps in the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival just over five weeks ago (Inthepocket second, Dark Raven third, High Definition unseated rider). 

He went off too fast that day, as Willie Mullins acknowledges in the most recent edition of the RP Weekender [08-12.03.23], which, incidentally, now costs £5.20 a copy...

"It was an odd race as they went off fast and I remember thinking he wouldn't keep up that pace unless he was an aeroplane, and sure enough he paid for it turning for home."

The trainer goes on to say:

"It was disappointing, but Paul gets things 99% right and these things happen. He'll adjust things for the Supreme. When you go to big races like that you learn a lot about your horse and he'll have it all sorted out. He had a very hard race last time but had a few easy days after that and I'm happy with him now."

Previously Facile Vega had beaten Il Etait Temps four lengths at Leopardstown over Christmas and connections clearly feel he's their best chance but it's difficult to be confident after the last day; at the price on offer he makes no appeal.

Marine Nationale is unbeaten in four, beating Irish Point a head at Fairyhouse at the beginning of December; on a line through Irish Point, Il Etait Temps has his measure.

High Definition's hurdling looks a work in progress and a similar comment also applies to Il Etait Temps as Mullins explains (Ibid):

"He made a mistake at the first...but Danny (Mullins) said that when he turned down the back he flew his hurdles and got it all together.

"He's very keen but when he settles I think his jumping will come together. I know we have Facile Vega in the Supreme but this fellow will be a live one as well."

Tahmuras heads the British challenge having won what looked a below average renewal of the Tolworth in January but the third that day, Nemean Lion, beat the fourth, Colonel Harry, in the Premier Novices' Hurdle at Kelso just over a week ago. Soft ground will help his cause.

Olly Murphy had a word for Chasing Fire at the Sandown races yesterday - he's considered one of the best novices in the yard and rates an each way play but stablemate Strong Leader wouldn't want the ground too soft.

Rare Edition beat Rubaud (won Dovecote Hurdle since) seven lengths on soft ground at Kempton on Boxing Day. He was subsequently beaten by Marble Sands over two miles three and a half furlongs in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon but merits respect. Trainer Charlie Longsdon describes his current mark of 138 as 'very fair'.

The Irish hold a strong hand. 

Labaik (2017) is the only winner to be returned at double figure odds in the past decade.

With some layers paying four places Il Etait Temps looks an each way bet to nothing at odds of 6/1.

Selection: Il Etait Temps each way, 6/1 with bet365, Coral and Betfred paying four places.

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase 

Current market leader Corach Rambler won last year's renewal with Oscar Elite third, Tea Clipper fourth and Fantastikas seventh. 

This year Corach Rambler carries six pounds more, Tea Clipper two pounds, Oscar Elite one pound while Fantastikas is an eye-catching twelve pounds better off. 

To my mind Tea Clipper doesn't quite see out this trip while the Tizzard stable jockey Brendan Powell prefers The Big Breakaway to Oscar Elite.

Fantastikas looks to have had this as a target after being pulled up in the Welsh National. His jumping isn't always the most assured and I see connections have opted for first-time cheekpieces. He has been backed at 33s - I just wondered whether he saw the trip out last year.

Into Overdrive has been in sterling form this term finishing second behind L'Homme Presse in the Rehearsal at Newcastle and then beating Sounds Russian (holds Gold Cup entry) in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby last time out. He's now on a mark 15 pounds higher than at the end of October.

Course and distance winner Threeunderthrufive finished sixth behind L'Homme Presse in the Brown Advisory at the Festival last year. He didn't quite stay the extended trip in the Classic Chase at Warwick two months ago.

Stable form is the concern with Happygolucky while Monbeg Genius is on the radar and remains unexposed but enthusiasm is tempered somewhat by the fact this represents his first chase start with more than seven runners.

Nassalam's third behind Midnight River on New Year's Day over the extended two miles four of the New Course suggests he'll appreciate this set up in trip.

The Goffer looks feasibly treated two pounds above his Irish mark while the Martin Brassil trained Fastorslow was beaten a short head in the Coral Cup last year off 141. He also holds an entry for the Magners Plate (Thursday); this will be first try beyond two miles five furlongs.

The last Irish trained horse to come home in front was Dun Doire (Ruby Walsh up) in 2006.

Over the past ten years one favourite has obliged (Coo Star Sivola in 2018) and one top weight (Un Temps Pour Tout in 2017). Golden Chieftain won off a mark of 132 in 2013 and Un Temps Pour Tout off 155 but in the remaining eight years the winner's mark has fallen in the range between 139 and 151.

Ultimately an ultra-competitive Ulltima. 

Selection: The Big Breakaway each way, 14/1 with Sky Bet who pay eight places. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - some handicap hypotheses...

Following the infamous drubbing of 2021 when Irish trained horses won 23 of the 28 races at the Festival - after the event Alan King talked of 'taking Ferraris on with Fords' - the BHA undertook a review and applied certain 'tweaks' to the way in which British horses were handicapped.

With those BHA adjustments in situ, last year British trained horses won five of the nine handicap races at the Festival, Irish horses four.

In the preceding three years the number of Irish trained runners to record a top three finish in a Festival handicap were: 2019: 13 from 68 entries (19.12%); 2020: 17 from 73 entries (23.29%); 2021: 13 from 65 entries (20%).

10 Irish trained horses from 100 runners (10%) recorded a top three finish in one of the handicaps last year.

Dominic Gardiner-Hill, head of handicapping at the BHA, expressed satisfaction with the outcome. 

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

Irish pundit Kevin Blake pulled no punches, describing the changes as 'a substantial and calculated intervention by the British handicapping team to try and tilt the tables in favour of the home team.'

Twelve months on you can read Kevin Blake's reaction to this year's weights here

In summary:

Irish chasers appear to have been treated leniently;

Irish trained juvenile hurdlers that have already competed in a handicap have been treated quite harshly;

Irish non juvenile handicap hurdlers have been treated more leniently than expected.

Layers have priced Irish trained runners odds on to turn the tables and win more handicaps than British runners this year.

One of the main adjustments made by the BHA as a result of the review was to drop a horse's mark more quickly during the season. 

As an example, the winner of the 2022 Pertemps Final, Third Wind, won off a mark of 141, having started the season in the Long Walk Hurdle on 149. 

Second Alaphilippe, beaten a neck, raced off 138 having finished fifth behind Vanillier in the 2021 Albert Bartlett when rated 143. 

British runners filled five of the first six places - the Emmet Mullins trained Winter Fog claimed fourth spot off 138.

The current benchmark differential between Irish and British handicap ratings is generally accepted as five pounds over hurdles, three pounds in chases. 

Potentially well handicapped Irish runners at this year's Festival include:

Punitive 137c (Ultima / Kim Muir) - goes off current Irish mark; Grand Roi 144h (Coral Cup, County, Martin Pipe) +1; Pied Piper 154h (Champion Hurdle, County) +1; Adamantly Chosen 153c (Ultima, Brown Advisory, Turners, Magners Plate) +1; Escaria Ten 151c (Magners Plate) +1; Haut En Couleurs 157c (Magners Plate) +1; The Goffer 149c (Ultima) +2; Tax For Max 137h (Coral Cup, County, Martin Pipe) +2; Scaramanga 147h (Coral Cup, County) +2 - yet to race over hurdles for W. Mullins; and Winter Fog 152h (Coral Cup, County) +3.

By way of contrast, Kevin Blake highlights the fate of those juvenile hurdlers that finished to the fore of the Naas Racecourse Business Club Handicap Hurdle a couple of weeks back: Thetys +9; Port Audemer +10; By Your Side +10; Libby +6.  

Last year Irish runners comprised roughly two thirds of the field in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and, looking at the six day declarations, a similar ratio looks quite possible this year.

In 2017 the Boodles was known as the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle; at the time I wrote:

"Often a lottery, in the past decade no winner has had an official rating higher than 133."

That year Flying Tiger, a 33/1 chance, won off 134 - and three of the five subsequent winners have been rated above the benchmark I quoted: 2019: Band Of Outlaws (139); 2020 Aramax (138); and 2022 Brazil (137).  

Perseus Way, a good second to Nusret in the Adonis at Kempton, is the only British trained runner rated above 130 for this year's renewal.

Prior to 2017 Paul Nicholls sent out two winners, Qualando (rated 131) in 2015 and Diego Du Charmil (rated 133) in 2016, as well placed horses Caid Du Berlais and Pit Zig (second and third in 2013); Katgary and Keltus (second and fourth in 2014); and Bouvreuil (second in 2015). 

Last year his Bell Ex One was third and I thought his entry this year, Afadil, worth a second look. 

I can't quite remember the last time somebody asked me to mark their card but, having received such an ill-judged request - the fixture in question was the Grand National Trial meeting at Haydock last month - I quickly pounced on the opportunity and suggested Afadil for the opening Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle to the unsuspecting racegoer, adding a degree of value with the informative snippet that Victor Ludorum translates as 'Winner of the Games'. 

Naturally, money came in spades for the Gary Moore trained Bo Zenith and that beast duly obliged; Afadil, sent off 3/1 second favourite, trailed in sixth, beaten 49 lengths. 

Surprisingly the novice racegoer didn't show an awful lot of interest but I noted the following comment in the post-race analysis: 'The trainer's rep could offer no explanation for the poor form shown other than race may have come too soon for gelding.' 

I certainly think Afadil, a 255,000 euros purchase, ahead of his mark (123); I think I'm correct when I say no horse rated lower than 125 has come home in front.           

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to bring to your attention a couple of apparently well handicapped British runners:

Fantastikas 132c (Ultima) - rated 142c in November; War Lord 144c (Magners Plate) - rated 149c in November; De Rasher Counter 140c (Kim Muir) - rated 149c in October; Milkwood 141h (County, Martin Pipe) - rated 148h in October; and Rouge Vif 137c (Grand Annual) - rated 153c when fourth behind Greaneteen in the Celebration Chase at Sandown last April. 

Curiously, Nicola McGeady has named Rouge Vif as Ladbrokes' biggest single liability over the four days, referencing an update from trainer Harry Whittington

I confess I'm a Rouge Vif fan and his sixth at Doncaster last time hinted at a return to some sort of form; Malystic, Saint Segal, Before Midnight and Mackenberg were all less than seven lengths to the good and the handicapper has dropped him three pounds for that run. 

Unfortunately I missed the fancy prices and he's now generally a 12/1 chance. All that said, he needs decent ground to be seen at his best and Turftrax now reports the current going on the Old Course as soft.

Soft ground mudlarks, so disdainfully discarded earlier in the week, now merit much closer inspection following recent precipitation, including Protektorat, Sounds Russian (Gold Cup); Teahupoo (Stayers); Love Envoi (Mares); and Tahmuras (Supreme).

Not long to go now; with new whip rules in place, what price a disqualified 'winner'?

Friday, March 03, 2023

The 2023 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso

Sixteen have been declared for tomorrow's Morebattle Hurdle (1.50 Kelso); the going is described as good to soft, soft in places. 

The race, named after a village some seven miles south of Kelso, was originally run as a conditions event over two miles two furlongs but was contested as a Class 2 handicap over two miles for the first time in 2021 when The Shunter, trained by Emmet Mullins and sent off 5/2 favourite, came home in front; 12 days later The Shunter went on to win the Paddy Power Plate at the Cheltenham Festival, connections collecting a cool £100,000 bonus in the process.

Once again the £100,000 bonus is on offer to a horse that wins the Morebattle and any race at the Festival and, once again, Emmet Mullins appears to have taken aim with Mctigue, the clear favourite for tomorrow's renewal - Mctigue holds entries in the Boodles, the Coral Cup, the Triumph and the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham.

Emmet Mullins boasts a win strike-rate of 31% with his runners this side of the Irish Sea; seven of the 12 sent off as favourite have obliged. 

Mctigue's stand-out performance this term came winning the Prix Georges de Talhouet-Roy at Auteuil in the autumn - and Mullins' charge can claim the four-year-old allowance in this handicap - but the layers aren't taking any chances and 100/30 about a horse that was subsequently beaten 29 lengths by St Donats (second at Auteuil) and then finished ninth behind Lossiemouth at Leopardstown on Boxing Day (Nusret third) doesn't make much appeal. 

Fellow Irish raider and top weight Colonel Mustard claimed third behind State Man in the County at Cheltenham last year - and holds an entry for this year's renewal.

L'eau Du Sud won the listed Prix Virelan at Auteuil in April before moving to Dan Skelton's yard; his best form to date has been on soft or heavy ground.

Teddy Blue and Tritonic finished third and eighth respectively in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury three weeks ago. 

Although Gary Moore's charge was some 12 lengths behind winner Aucunrisque, that was a commendable effort in a race where the winner broke the track record. The handicapper has dropped Teddy three pounds but that looked a hard race and this may just come a little too soon.

My selection for the Betfair, Deere Mark (pacey - likes to be played late), was withdrawn on the day on account of the ground. Trainer Sam Thomas said this of his charge in a Straight from the Stable article [RP Weekender 09-13.11.22]:

"He is an exciting horses (sic) who is not overly big but what he lacks in size he makes up for in speed.

"A strong gallop over 2m will suit him perfectly. He is among the best work horses I have, although that does not always mean he will be the best on the track, but the way he travels and quickens marks him out as a nice prospect."

Cormier won this last year off a mark of 134 before going to Cheltenham to finish seventh in the County Hurdle. 

He looked booked for fourth in the Greatwood in November but lost a couple of places in the final half furlong or so. He reverts to hurdles here after a couple of tries over the larger obstacles; off a mark just two pounds higher than last year his chance is respected.

Before his move to Sandy Thomson's yard, Benson could, correctly, be described as 'a bit of a character'. 

Sporting a first-time visor in Ascot's Betfair Hurdle (18.12.21), he never went a yard - jock Lee Edwards was pushing for the majority of the two mile trip; the pair came home eighth.

The move north has certainly brought out the best in Benson; he has finished second on three occasions and last time out won the Hair Of The Dog Handicap Hurdle at Musselburgh on New Year's Day. 

In a recent Stable Tour article [RP Weekender 01-05.02.23] the trainer explained that current owners Jimmy Fyffe and Scott Townshend had such a good time after the Morebattle dinner that they bought Benson with a view to having a runner in this year's race. 

Following the latest win at Musselburgh the trainer said:

"He has gone up 6lb for that run to 134, but I would be disappointed if there was not more to come."

Benson holds entries in the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe.

Collingham won the Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh four weeks ago with stablemate Nayati 12 lengths adrift in fifth and Lebowski ninth. 

Previously in the Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle at Musselburgh on New Year's Day Nayati beat stablemate Collingham two lengths with Thereisnodoubt third. 

Donald McCain hinted in the Weekender recently that Nayati was inconvenienced by the drying ground that day while Lucinda Russell has said Thereisnodoubt needs two miles and heavy ground.

Lebowski looked good winning at Wetherby in December and was sent off 11/2 joint second favourite for the Scottish County Hurdle in which he led before folding tamely two out; Luca Morgan reported the gelding had run too freely. Connections fit a first-time tongue-tie tomorrow and he goes off 127; he could be well-handicapped and looks overpriced at 40/1.

Lutrell Lad finished down the field in the Swinton at Haydock last April and spent the summer racing on the Flat. He was last seen at Kempton in September and has his first run for Tom Lacey.

Clear White Light has been contesting Class 4 handicaps this season but El Muchacho's second behind First Impression at Catterick three weeks ago is a respectable effort, as is Wajaaha's second behind Little Mixup at Naas on Sunday at odds of 50/1. 

To business then. On the shortlist: Deere Mark, Cormier and Lebowski.

A number in the field like to race prominently - which should suit Deere Mark and Cormier. At the prices, last year's winner Cormier gets the nod.

Cormier is the each-way suggestion, at the time of writing 12/1 with bet365 and William Hill paying five places.

Friday, February 24, 2023

The 2023 Eider Chase at Newcastle

Sooner or later it was bound to happen. 

The doc took one look at my bloods and, in no uncertain terms, duly announced it was time for the statins.

I picked up the prescribed medication and, before starting to pop the pills, thought it judicious to read the accompanying documentation which referenced in some detail a number of possible side effects: nausea; wind; indigestion; constipation; diarrhoea; sexual difficulties; headaches; vomiting; belching; backache; insomnia; fatigue.

Now, I was just about to pick up the phone to point out to the doc that the listed side effects constituted a fairly accurate summation of the past 40 odd years when, all of a sudden, I was distracted by a report that Lucinda Russell was 'absolutely delighted' with the weight of 10-05 allocated to Corach Rambler in this year's National... 

I'd imagine Christian Williams would have been nearly as pleased as Lucinda when Cap Du Nord was raised five after winning the LK Bennett Swinley Handicap Chase by a comfortable seven lengths at Ascot last Saturday. 

Tomorrow his charge tries to repeat last year's victory in the Coral Trophy Handicap Chase at Kempton, with Cian Quirke - claiming five - in the plate.

It was twelve months ago this very weekend Christian Williams sent out Win My Wings to win the Eider Chase at Newcastle and barely twenty minutes later Cap Du Nord and Kitty's Light to finish first and second respectively in the Kempton feature.

And five weeks on Win My Wings beat Kitty's Light seven lengths in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr.

The Williams yard may have had a quiet time of things so far this term but up at Newcastle Kitty's Light - Jack Tudor up - tries to emulate Win My Wings in this year's Eider (3.25) and the bookmakers seem to think there's one horse in the race. 

It's easy enough to see why - after finishing third behind Hewitt in the bet365 Chase at Sandown last April off a mark of 145, Kitty's Light goes off 132 tomorrow. 

A modest third behind Ansaam at Kempton last month hinted at a revival; this seven-year-old has a few miles on the clock for one so young and at the prices makes little appeal for betting purposes - the last seven-year-old to come home in front was Portrait King in 2012.

The favourite faces fourteen rivals (thirteen now Young Bull is a non-runner) with the going at Newcastle currently described as good to soft. Just nine days ago a brouhaha broke out at the track after the going was abruptly changed to good, good to firm in places.

Sam's Adventure won the 2021 renewal off 139 and races off 125 tomorrow.

Brian Ellison's charge comes into this on the back of a win in a Catterick Veterans' Handicap Chase last month but finished behind No Cruise Yet at Haydock in November and behind Bushypark in the North Yorkshire Grand National.

Bushypark was back to his best on heavy ground at Catterick that day. In December 2021 he beat Doyen Breed off a mark of 132; drying ground is a concern.

With just five chase starts to his name, The Galloping Bear hasn't had much racing. 

This time last year he beat Bristol De Mai in the Grand National Trial at Haydock but was subsequently disqualified when a banned substance was detected in the sample provided. His chance is respected.

Bavington Bob has the assistance of Brian Hughes in the plate but Ann Hamilton's charge has jumped out to his right on occasions and doesn't looked guaranteed to stay; connections fit blinkers for the first time.

To my mind top weight Eva's Oskar looked to have a hard enough race at Sandown three weeks ago, fading out of contention from two out. The last horse to carry top weight to victory was Comply Or Die in 2008.

All three of Houston Texas' wins to date have come at Carlisle. He was outpaced three out here last time but rallied well before finishing fourth behind French Paradoxe.  

No Cruise Yet also likes Carlisle but his tendency to jump right on a left-handed track isn't ideal. 

That said, Sam England's inmate won over an extended three and a half miles ay Haydock in November and finished second in the North Wales National Handicap Chase at Bangor 15 days ago. He races from two pounds out of the handicap.

In Rem was well backed for the London National at Sandown in December but he hit the third and came to grief at the eighth; the jumping remains a work in progress.

Shanty Alley is better judged on his second at Newbury behind Grumpy Charley. Last time he never really recovered from a blunder at the first in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster won by Cooper's Cross.

Amateur has won the past two renewals of the West Wales National at Ffos Las and that may well be the target again. His most recent effort - sixth in a Hereford handicap chase behind Only The Bold at odds of 125/1 - merits respect. Paul Kealy highlights his chance in the Weekender along with that of Rath An Iuir. 

Rose Dobbin's charge finished sixth behind Win My Wings in last year's race but didn't appear to quite stay the trip, weakening from three out. Cheekpieces are fitted for the first time.

Both One More Fleurie and Mighty Thunder have shown little since the spring of 2021. 

The former was pulled up in last year's Scottish National while the latter won the 2021 Scottish National off 144 but has failed to complete in five of his eight starts since. He races off 132 tomorrow, Patrick Wadge claims seven and the yard is in good form but a leap of faith is required.

Young Bull has just been declared a non-runner.

Here's a list of recent winners:

2009 winner: Merigo (125); top-rated: Harmony Brig (136)

2010 No race

2011 winner: Companero (132); top-rated: Comply Or Die (144)

2012 winner: Portrait King (131); top-rated: Mister Marker (135)

2013 No race

2014 winner: Wyck Hill (133); top-rated: Junior (145)

2015 winner: Milborough (134); top-rated: Shotgun Paddy (147)

2016 winner: Rocking Blues (126); top-rated: Shotgun Paddy (144)

2017 winner: Mysteree (127); top-rated: Straidnahanna (139)

2018 winner: Baywing (140); top-rated: Chase The Spud (149)

2019 winner: Crosspark (135); top-rated: Daklondike (148)

2020 No race

2021 winner: Sam's Adventure (139); top-rated Crosspark (150)

2022 winner: Win My Wings (132); top-rated Domaine De L'Isle (144)

A strong pace looks likely with Shanty Alley, Bushypark, One More Fleurie and No Cruise Yet among those who like to race prominently.  

A very competitive renewal. With showers forecast before the off, a chance is taken with Bushypark in the hope the ground doesn't dry out completely.

Bushypark is the each-way suggestion, at the time of writing 11/1 with both Paddy Power and William Hill who are paying five places. 

Now, what the hell have I done with those tablets?

Friday, February 17, 2023

The 2023 Haydock Grand National Trial

Sturgeon's gone - and now Scudamore as well. Whatever next?

Fifteen have been declared for tomorrow's Grand National Trial (2.40 Haydock) where the going is described as good to soft.

In the past this race has been run after the weights for the National have been revealed but this year it's a different story with the announcement being made at St George's Hall, Liverpool, next Tuesday.

Cloudy Glen, Fortescue, Grumpy Charley and Quick Wave all hold entries for this year's Aintree showpiece.

Venetia Williams saddles three with stable jockey Charlie Deutsch aboard favourite Fontaine Collonges. 

The mare just held The Big Breakaway at this track on seasonal debut (Tom Scudamore up) and then finished fourth, beaten nine lengths, behind Remastered at Kempton over Christmas (Tom Scudamore up). All of her racing prior to this season has been over trips between two and two and a half miles.

Top weight Bristol De Mai needs no introduction, having won three Betfair Chases at the track; he was awarded this race last year following the disqualification of The Galloping Bear. 

The grey is five pounds lower now but probably not as good as he once was and connections have indicated the drying ground isn't ideal. Should he come home in front, there won't be a dry eye in the house.

This looks a big weekend for Alex Hales' Northamptonshire yard with Millers Bank going to Ascot to mix it with Fakir D'oudairies, Shiskin et al. while Omar Maretti takes his chance here. 

The gelding only has five chase starts to his name but he's certainly built for the job. Like several in the field, he'd prefer more cut and stable form would be a concern but he has been well supported today and at the time of writing is vying for favouritism.

Course and distance winner Tim Pat is another to have been well backed during the day, now as low as 7/1 with some layers. 

Donald McCain's charge was only beaten a neck on good ground at Doncaster the last day and he sports cheekpieces for the first time tomorrow. All that said, he has just five chase starts under his belt and he races from out of the handicap - the last seven-year-old to come home in front was Heltornic (Michael Scudamore trained, Tom Scudamore up) in 2007.

Sue Smith's Small Present has yet to win over the larger obstacles and has been on the drift but his third behind Bangers And Cash in the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen on Boxing Day reads well.

Fortescue was my tip for this year's Welsh National but he never went a yard and was beaten after the first. 

Henry Daly's charge hasn't shown such good form this term - I'm waiting for some signs of revival before giving him further consideration.

Grey mare Snow Leopardess is another who has been out of sorts this season. Connections will hope cheekpieces can bring about a revival.

At least Notachance gave me a run for my money in this year's Classic Chase at Warwick, eventually finishing third behind Iwilldoit and Mr Incredible. 

He won the 2021 running of the Classic Chase before suffering an injury in this race five weeks later behind Lord Du Mesnil. It has taken connections a long time to rebuild confidence but, given that he won the 2021 Classic Chase off  a mark of 139, he  must have some sort of chance off 132 tomorrow.

Nobody could begrudge The Two Amigos his Welsh National victory last December, given he finished second to Secret Reprieve the year before. 

Nicky Martin's charge may not be the biggest but he's terrier-like and likes to race from the front. He'd prefer more dig in the ground but earlier in the week his handler indicated he was 'bouncing out of his skin'.

First Lord Du Cuet has finished second in all five chase starts to date while Grumpy Charley struggled in the recent Classic Chase at Warwick.

Venetia's other mare Quick Wave is forgiven her effort behind The Two Amigos at Chepstow - she lost her right-fore shoe. Prior to that she had won the London National at Sandown in something of a common canter - but Charlie Deutsch has opted for the other mare. 

Seven or so weeks ago Time To Get Up ran well enough in the Welsh National before pulling up and finished third in this race last year - subsequently promoted to second - following the disqualification of The Galloping Bear. 

He was 26 lengths adrift of Bristol De Mai that day but meets that opponent on six pounds better terms on good to soft ground tomorrow. 

This one won the 2021 Midlands National at Uttoxeter off 138 and finished third in that race off 142 last year. 

The Midlands National may well be the target once again but he goes off 133 tomorrow so is obviously worth a second look; earlier today bet365 stood out going 33/1 about this J.P.McManus owned runner - he's now generally a 14/1 shot.

A very competitive renewal. 

The three on my each-way shortlist are Notachance, The Two Amigos and Time To Get Up. 

In a race that often goes the way of a more experienced sort, Time To Get Up is the each-way suggestion, currently 14/1 with William Hill, Paddy Power and Sky Bet all paying five places.

Friday, February 10, 2023

The 2023 Betfair Hurdle

Eighteen were declared for tomorrow's Betfair Hurdle (3.35 Newbury) but Hacker Des Places is now a non-runner; the going is described as good, good to firm in places.

When Glory And Fortune won last year's renewal off a mark of 143 he became the first horse older than six to come home in front since Geos in 2004. Racing off 148 tomorrow, Tom Lacey's charge carries top weight and is unlikely to appreciate quick ground.

Novices boast an excellent record in the race - unfortunately a fact bookmakers have taken the trouble to factor into their prices. 

Given the trends, I've focused attention on trying to identify a young horse whose handicap mark might have some juice in it. 

Icare Allen looks to have his share of weight with the ground an unknown. 

Rubaud, trained by Paul Nicholls, will handle the ground but was beaten seven lengths by Rare Edition in a Kempton novice hurdle on Boxing Day; Rare Edition was beaten by Marble Sands in the listed Sidney Banks Memorial Novices' Hurdle at Huntingdon earlier this week.

Between them trainers Gary Moore and Nigel Twiston-Davies are responsible for six winners since 2007 - and Nigel went close with I Like To Move It last year. 

His Master Chewy was beaten by Gary's Hansard at Plumpton last month which suggests Gary will know where he stands with his two runners, Teddy Blue and Yorksea. 

Teddy Blue won a Lingfield maiden hurdle eleven days ago - demolishing the final flight and taking half of it with him - for which he was raised five pounds.

Yorksea finished behind his stablemate in the Gerry Feilden but beat some fair sorts next time in a Class 3 handicap hurdle at Fontwell - second Pyramid Place won at Wetherby last weekend.

Monviel was impressive at Ascot the last day; his chance is respected even with a ten pounds hike but to date he has not raced on a left-handed track.

Alan King saddles two - Restitution and Tritonic. In the Weekender the handler is more bullish about Restitution:

"This is quite a big step up for him but he's maturing and I think he's quite a progressive horse. He's one who wouldn't mind the quicker ground and I could see him running well." 

Tritonic, beaten over 16 lengths in this last year, sports cheekpieces for the first time as 'he can be a bit lazy in the early part of a race'.

Of the older horses I thought Aucunrisque, who likes to race up with the pace, worth a second look returning to the smaller obstacles. 

His second behind Frere D'Armes over fences at this track in November reads well, as does his second behind Boothill in the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase at Kempton at Christmas. Rated 145 over fences, he goes off 138 tomorrow.  

However, given the strong record of younger horses, I'm going to take a chance with the Sam Thomas trained Deere Mark. 

In a Straight from the Stable article [Weekender 09-13.11.22] the handler said about his charge:

"He is an exciting horses (sic) who is not overly big, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in speed...

"The plan will be to try and get him a handicap mark high enough to get in the Betfair Hurdle in which novices have a very good record in. A strong gallop over 2m will suit him perfectly. He is among the best work horses I have, although that does not always mean he will be the best on the track, but the way he travels and quickens marks him out as a nice prospect."

Since the publication of the above resume Deere Mark disappointed behind Fennor's Cross in a Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham before winning a Hereford maiden and then a Class 3 Handicap Hurdle at Kempton.

Violet Dancer (132) is the lowest rated winner over the past ten years.  

Deere Mark's rating of 125 looks too low by comparison but I'm hoping in a fast run affair on quick ground the gelding will be able to show the speed his trainer has seen on the gallops.

As always, an ultra competitive affair.  

Deere Mark is the each-way suggestion, 16/1 generally at the time of writing with Sky Bet, Paddy Power and William Hill all paying one fifth the odds six places. 

Friday, February 03, 2023

The 2023 Virgin Bet Heroes Handicap Hurdle at Sandown

The top drawer action over the weekend takes place at the Dublin Racing Festival. 

On this side of the Irish Sea racegoers pondering a trip to Sandown Park on Saturday will no longer need to study the course's sometimes troublesome sartorial standards after the Jockey Club announced yesterday it was dropping all dress code requirements with immediate effect at all of its 15 racecourses. 

With respect, allow me to suggest the time saved on such sartorial scrutiny might be better utilised searching for an each-way selection in the Pertemps qualifier, the Virgin Bet Heroes Handicap Hurdle (2.55), and to offer the following speculative suggestions.

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

At the time of writing the Coral Gold Cup runner-up Remastered has been chalked up favourite. 

David Pipe's charge went on to win a three mile chase at Kempton the day after Boxing Day and as a result is now rated 152 over fences; his hurdle rating is just 142.

Over at Chepstow Flight Deck won the Coral Racing Club Handicap Hurdle the day after Boxing Day, beating Bells Of Peterboro four and a quarter lengths with Green Book sixth, over 40 lengths in arrears.

On revised terms the runner up looks entitled to finish considerably closer yet Flight Deck is priced up at 15/2 and Bells Of Peterboro 16/1 in a place.

Green Book, who won this last year off 130, has been well backed to repeat the feat off a mark four pounds higher and is now an 8/1 chance.

In a Pertemps qualifier over course and distance back in December Dolphin Square beat Call Me Lord a nose with Wilde About Oscar a short-head away in third. 

That result only tells half the tale as Call Me Lord's jockey Ben Bromley dropped his hands after passing the first Sandown winning post but, unfortunately, it was the second one that counted, allowing Mr David Maxwell to pinch the spoils.

Since then Dolphin Square and Call Me Lord finished fourth and fifth respectively behind Hector Javilex at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, with Wilde About Oscar stopping quickly at the business end of the race - he was pulled up before the last. 

Dan Skelton's charge has hinted at a return to form and connections fit a tongue-tie for the first time tomorrow; off a mark of 136 he looks a well-handicapped horse.

Jet Of Magic likes to race prominently and finished runner-up behind Hector Javilex at Cheltenham; the Nicholls inmate has gone up 13 pounds since moving to the yard in November.

Stellar Magic was sent off the 2/1 favourite at Lingfield on seasonal debut but was pulled up; his next run saw noteworthy improvement at Wincanton on Boxing Day, beaten threequarters of a length by Steal A March in another Pertemps qualifier. 

Philip Hobbs' charge was raised four pounds and has yet to win over this trip. 

Coquelicot has been in better form this term in mares' races but current stable form would be a concern while the last time we saw Party Business was at Haydock in May.

Storm Nelson may be ten years of age but he's never been better. Writing in this week's Weekender Sandy Thomson says:

"He is in very good order and off a career-high mark of 134 I expect him to be competitive in a valuable 3m handicap hurdle at Sandown on Saturday. He is a relentless galloper, and with plenty of give in the ground I would hope he has a serious chance."  

Schalke won last time out at Kelso and was raised 8 pounds for his trouble but Aaron Anderson can claim back five. 

It's not often you see Nico De Boinville on a 28/1 shot but Bothwell Bridge has failed to complete on his last four chase starts and Indefatigable hasn't hit form this term either - the yard last had a winner 351 days ago.

Some weeks, you know, it can be a bit of a struggle to identify one at a price but it's possible to make the case for a couple in this field.

Storm Nelson (14/1), Bells Of Peterboro (14/1) and Wilde About Oscar (20/1) are considered. 

On the second of three chase starts since the summer Bells Of Peterboro was beaten one and a quarter lengths by Tea For Free. 

On his first hurdle start this term Tim Vaughan's charge was the only one to get anywhere near Flight Deck at Chepstow and tomorrow he's four pounds better off for four and a quarter lengths.

Bells Of Peterboro is the speculative each-way suggestion, generally a 14/1 chance, with Sky Bet and William Hill paying five places.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The 2023 Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster

Cheltenham passed an inspection at midday today but undergoes a further check at 7.30 tomorrow morning. 

With frost covers in place and an overnight temperature forecast of -2C, hopes are high the Trials Day card will go ahead; the mooted contingency plan to race on Sunday is no longer considered necessary.

There are no such weather worries at Doncaster where the going is described as good.

Twelve have been declared for the Sky Bet Handicap Chase which is due off at 3.15. The last two winners, Takingrisks and Windsor Avenue, were both returned at odds of 40/1 - and were both ridden by Sean Quinlan.

Ga Law heads the market and the weights for this year's renewal after beating French Dynamite and Midnight River in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham 11 weeks ago. The runner-up that day finished second behind Fakir D'Oudairies at Thurles on Sunday while the third won Cheltenham's New Year's Day Handicap Chase from Stolen Silver.

Jamie Snowden's charge met plenty of trouble in running at Cheltenham yet powered up the hill to suggest this first attempt at three miles should be within his compass; since 2000 only two winners have carried more than 11-10 to victory: Calgary Bay (11-11) in 2012 and Ok Coral (11-12) in 2020.

Tea For Free has won all four chase starts to date and is likely to race prominently with Lilly Pinchin up but this represents a notable step up in class for Charlie Longsdon's charge; the last five winners have all been aged nine or older.

Last February Cap Du Nord beat stablemate Kitty's Light in the Coral Trophy Handicap Chase at Kempton off a mark of 127. 

The handicapper is doing his bit to help the cause as Cap Du Nord goes off 125 tomorrow but Christian Williams' charge has been out of form this term - he finished last of 11 behind Rapper four weeks ago (Java Point second) and before that fifth behind Zanza at Newbury (Demachine second, Java Point third). 

Mister Coffey has run well but has yet to win over the larger obstacles and and his general profile suggests he may prefer more cut underfoot.

Perhaps Cloth Cap isn't the force of old but he ran well for a long way at the head of affairs in the Becher Chase last time out; his chance is not dismissed. 

Undersupervision was pulled up behind Grumpy Charley at Newbury last month (Shanty Alley second) but finished fourth behind Le Milos at Sandown last February and then won the Grimthorpe over three and a quarter miles at this track in March, going by Mister Malarky after jumping the last. The ground rode soft that day and the suspicion is he just might be better suited by a stiffer test of stamina.

I was a tad disappointed with Cooper's Cross at Musselburgh on New Year's Day - in receipt of 17 pounds he could never threaten Minella Drama. He's a point winner over this trip and connections fit cheekpieces for the first time. 

Both Shanty Alley and Elvis Mail have shown their best form with more cut underfoot.

Last year Windsor Avenue won this off 144 (Cap Du Nord third, Demachine tenth). 

Over the years Brian Ellison's charge hasn't always been the most consistent but on his penultimate start he was beaten six and a quarter lengths into fourth behind L'Homme Presse, Into Overdrive and Happygolucky in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle. 

That form reads very well and, if in the same mood tomorrow, he would have every chance off 142; I'd imagine Sean Quinlan will try to race prominently as he did last year.

Demachine was sent off 5/1 for last year's renewal yet trailed in some 87 lengths behind the winner. He was third coming to four out before weakening, with connections subsequently reporting their charge had made a respiratory noise. 

After undergoing wind surgery he won the Sir Stanley and Lady Clarke Challenge Trophy at Uttoxeter, run over two and a half miles in May. 

On his next start in November Kerry Lee's charge had no answer to Newbury specialist Zanza - beaten 12 lengths into second with Java Point one and a quarter lengths further adrift in third. 

On New Year's Day at Cheltenham Java Point finished second behind Rapper over a trip of three miles two and a half furlongs while Demachine was perhaps a little disappointing when seventh behind Midnight River over two miles four and a half furlongs.

Demachine has been dropped two pounds for that effort and, on a strict interpretation of the run behind Zanza at Newbury, is weighted to confirm placings with Java Point; in addition Caoilin Quinn, who excelled on Botox Has at Haydock in November, can claim five.

I wasn't convinced Demachine stayed three miles until his second behind Remastered in the 2021 Reynoldstown at Ascot. A fine effort, yet I still harbour a suspicion his optimum distance is probably two and threequarter miles.

Several in this field prefer to race prominently; there is likely to be plenty of pace up front. 

With the benefit of wind surgery, Caoilin Quinn's five pound claim and decent ground to boot, Demachine is the each-way suggestion, 12/1 generally with most layers paying one fifth the odds four places.

Friday, January 13, 2023

The 2023 Classic Chase at Warwick

Princess Camilla won the inaugural running of what is now known as the Classic Chase in 1973. 

The going for tomorrow's 50th anniversary of that inaugural running is currently described as heavy, soft in places. Fourteen have been declared, and further rain has been forecast before the scheduled off-time of 3.00 pm.

There have been 12 abandonments over the years, and only 12 winners have carried more than 11-00 to victory - four of them in the past decade: Shotgun Paddy 11-07, 2014; Milansbar 11-02, 2018; Kimberlite Candy 11-04, 2020; and Eclair Surf 11-03, 2022.

Hey Big Spender (2012) remains the only horse to have carried top weight to victory.

At the time of writing the Willie Mullins trained Mr Incredible heads the market. 

I saw this one beaten over 30 lengths by Ahoy Senor at Newbury in November 2021 when trained by Henry De Bromhead. 

He didn't jump well that day, refused to race in first-time cheekpieces next time out and has failed to complete on both subsequent starts.

Threeunderthrufive got no further than the first in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury seven weeks ago. 

He looks to have a difficult task carrying top weight on heavy ground but last year he made all and jumped well to win the Hampton Novices' Chase at this meeting.

Lord Du Mesnil can be a moody character but when he's in the mood he's very good. 

His second behind Le Milos in the Sir Charles Lowther Plate at Bangor in November reads very well (Notachance fourth, Grumpy Charley pulled up) as the winner that day went on to win the Coral Gold Cup. 

I'm wary as I've burned my fingers with 'the Lord' before and I just wonder whether he will stay this trip on heavy ground. In the 2020 Grand National Trial run over an extended three and a half mile trip at Haydock he was outstayed by Smooth Stepper. 

Grumpy Charley made connections very happy next time out, winning the Mandarin Chase at Newbury on New Year's Eve; he has been raised six pounds for that effort.

Iwilldoit appeared particularly well-named when winning the 2021 Welsh Grand National but we haven't seen him since. 

Sam Thomas' charge wasn't ready to run in this year's Chepstow showpiece and makes his seasonal debut here. His price appears to be on the drift this evening. 

Slipway was of interest at the five day declaration stage but handler Ben Pauling declared Nestor Park instead. 

Although the gelding has won only one of his 12 chase starts to date, he finished third behind No Cruise Yet (4/1 favourite Wouldubewell sixth) at Haydock last time.

Guetepan Collonges looks short enough in the market for a horse that hasn't always been fluent at his fences and has contested Class 4 and Class 5 chases to date. Handler Charlie Longsdon has described the gelding as 'a horse on the up'.

I tipped Fortescue for this year's Welsh National but he couldn't hold his pitch and looked beaten after the first fence. 

If they go a bit slower in this ground it will certainly help his cause but I don't think underfoot conditions are going to help Commodore.

Dingo Dollar has looked revitalised since a move to Sandy Thomson's yard which is operating at a 50% win strike-rate over the past fortnight. Miss Alice Stevens claims seven and the fact connections have decided to make the long trip south suggests they think he will be competitive.

Wouldubewell hails from the yard that won this last year with Eclair Surf and the mare, a remote sixth in the Welsh National last time out, could well be overpriced at 33/1.  Current stable form is a concern.

Course and distance winner Volcano runs from out of the handicap while Grand Mogul isn't guaranteed to see out the trip.

I'm going to take a chance with Notachance who won this two years ago off 139 and goes off 130 tomorrow. 

Writing in the Weekender handler Alan King tells readers the gelding lost his confidence after suffering an injury behind Lord Du Mesnil at Haydock next time out (20.02.21) and it has taken a long time to restore it.

Wearing a first-time visor he finished eighth in this race last year, 83 lengths behind Eclair Surf.  

His third behind Captain Cattistock at Cheltenham in April (13.04.22) marked an improvement and his fourth behind Le Milos at Bangor on seasonal debut confirmed progress. 

The handicapper dropped him a further two pounds for the Bangor run so he races tomorrow with 10-07. The trainer says he goes well fresh so has been deliberately kept back for this. 

Stable jockey Tom Cannon rides here (rather than Harbour Lake in the Lanzarote at Kempton) and Mr King is on record saying Warwick is his favourite track.

I'm hoping Notachance's confidence doesn't receive a setback tomorrow because if he's back to somewhere near his best, he must have some sort of chance. 

Notachance is the each-way suggestion, generally a 9/1 chance with Sky Bet and Paddy Power paying five places. 

Friday, January 06, 2023

The 2022 Veterans' Chase Series Final at Sandown

Eighteen have been declared for this year's final (3.00 Sandown); the going is currently described as soft, good to soft in places - particularly along the back straight - with rain forecast in the morning.

Plenty of old friends - and a couple of old foes - in the field but I must admit I was surprised to see Prime Venture replace Ramses De Teillee at the head of the market earlier today.

Evan Williams' charge won last year's renewal (Sir Ivan third, Indy Five pulled up, 13 ran) and races off the same mark but up front Lilly Pinchin and Valadom took no prisoners that day on ground officially described as heavy; several in the field had cried enough before Prime Venture stayed on best of all, as the the RP Weekender's form analysis highlighted:

"No hanging around courtesy of Valadom and it set up for the distant closers, with conditions taking a toll.

"PRIME VENTURE stays forever and loves testing ground. He took an age to get going but it was clear from two out he had things covered and he surged clear late for a first win in 14 months." 

I'm not sure tomorrow's renewal will 'set up for the distant closers'.

Ramses De Teillee showed benefit for a wind operation in the summer when winning Leg 10 of the series at Warwick in November (Snow Leopardess pulled up); David Pipe's charge has been raised five pounds and carries top weight. 

Current yard form is a concern, as is the fact the grey has never won going right-handed.

As mentioned above, Snow Leopardess was quickly pulled up in Leg 10 after slipping on the approach to the first fence. 

The mare showed no ill effects next time, running well for a long way in the Becher Chase at Aintree to eventually finish eighth. 

The handicapper has played his part and dropped her four pounds to a mark of 142 - she won off 145 at Exeter last February. 

The grey didn't appear to handle the occasion when pulled up in the Grand National in April but has an obvious chance here.

Back in March Saint Xavier was second behind Indy Five in Leg 3 (Prime Venture third, Kauto Riko outpaced and pulled up) and showed his current wellbeing by beating Up Helly Aa King at Haydock in November with subsequent Welsh National winner The Two Amigos third, Coo Star Sivola fifth - and entitled to improve for his seasonal reappearance - and Chambard pulled up, reportedly never travelling with stable form quiet at the time.

On his previous outing Chambard won the Kim Muir at Cheltenham at odds of 40/1 so his chance is certainly respected. 

Sir Ivan has finished third in the past two renewals of this final - last year off a mark off 140 - so 129 could prove lenient. 

Along with Elegant Escape he was pulled up behind Run To Milan in Leg 1 at Exeter in February and finished third behind Dingo Dollar and Wishing And Hoping in Leg 8 at Aintree in October.  

Run To Milan won Leg 1 off a mark of 132 so 128 is certainly workable; with just 20 starts to his name, Victor Dartnall's gelding has fewer miles on the clock than any in this field.  

I've been a Crosspark fan for quite some time but he has his fair share of weight these days. Now with Nick Kent, he finished a creditable second in the 2020 final behind Seeyouatmidnight. 

Up Helly Aa King won Leg 2 at Doncaster in February (Chirico Vallis third) but stable form has to be a concern. 

Chirico Vallis likes to race prominently and won the Native River Handicap Chase off this mark at Chepstow in October 2021, beating Kitty's Light a head before subsequently finishing third behind Eclair Surf in the Classic Chase at Warwick,  form that reads well. 

I've always thought Ballyandy a better hurdler than chaser while Elegant Escape has never been the most fluent of jumpers and the majority of Broken Quest's form is on good ground.

Bermeo races from out of the handicap.

A very competitive renewal with eight runners set to carry 11-9 or more and a number in the field who like to race up with the pace. 

I'll take a small each-way interest in Run To Milan, at the time of writing 12/1 with Coral who are paying five places.