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.