Friday, November 24, 2023

Walking a tightrope at Ascot

Tom Scudamore rode Royal Pagaille to victory by an eased-down 16 lengths in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in January 2021, primarily because regular pilot Charlie Deutsch went to Ascot to ride Espoir De Guye and Fanion D'Estruval - both finished fourth in their respective races, the former behind Dashel Drasher and the latter behind First Flow.

Wiser for the experience, Charlie was aboard Royal Pagaille when beating Sam Brown half a length in the same race the following year.

Tomorrow Charlie rides Royal Pagaille in the Betfair Chase at Haydock (3.00) but I'm sure he'll empathise with weighing room colleague Harry Cobden, regular pilot of Bravemansgame, whose boss Mr Paul Nicholls informed him he goes to Ascot to ride Pic D'Orhy (1.30); Blueking D'Oroux (2.05); Farnoge (12.55); and Regent's Stroll (3.50).

Harry didn't seem best pleased with arrangements earlier in the week. There were also rumours Mr Nicholls wasn't best pleased with the ride Harry gave Captain Teague in the novice hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday.

Anyway, back down at Ascot I have to say I think previous course and distance winner Funambule Sivola - the Racing Post's top-rated - is overpriced at 16/1 in the Hurst Park (3.15).

Three weeks ago Boothill won the Byrne Group Handicap Chase over course and distance off a mark of 149 with Saint Segal third, Frere D'Armes fifth and Funambule Sivola sixth - beaten 20 lengths on his first run in a handicap chase since January 2022 when he beat The Big Bite off a mark of 152. 

I've watched the replay of that Ascot race a couple of times. 

On the day Saint Segal went hard enough up front; Venetia Williams' inmate was a beaten horse off the home bend and allowed to come home in his own time (as they often say). 

The handicapper has raised Boothill six pounds, dropped Saint Segal one pound, Frere D'Armes two and Funambule Sivola three. 

Even with Ned Fox's five pound claim, the gelding still has enough on his plate to get near the winner.

The last day though the ground was soft and the going at Ascot is currently described as good. 

To my mind, Boothill has tended to show his best form on soft ground whereas Funambule Sivola has shown his on good.

After his victory in the Game Spirit at Newbury in February (good, good to firm in places), Venetia said:

"Funambule Sivola is the fastest thing I've ever had, he's very quick. It was all speed. The owners asked me what the tactics were and I said you don't have tactics in a race like this on this type of ground, just go as fast as you can."

35 minutes later Aucunrisque made all to win the Betfair Hurdle in a course record time.

Nevertheless connections decided to send Funambule for wind surgery over the summer; this represents his second start since the operation was carried out.

On the minus side, the gelding can jump low at his obstacles and has been known to miss the odd one out - he lost ground at the seventh flight down the back last time.

Corrigeen Rock has a good record on right-handed tracks but was some way behind Black Gerry and Frere D'Armes over course and distance in April while Triple Trade looked to have a hard enough race when winning at Cheltenham eight days ago and has been raised six pounds for his trouble. 

Handler Joe Tizzard said after that victory:

"...I'm tempted to take him to Newbury in a couple of weeks' time if it's nice and soft."

With just the dead eight declared, I realise I'm walking a bit of a tightrope but Coral still go 16/1 at the time of writing; generally Funambule is quoted a 14/1 chance.

Funambule Sivola is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The 2023 Paddy Power Gold Cup

Having worked alongside several academic members of staff at numerous learning institutions over the years, I developed what one might call a healthy scepticism for professors and what they had to say. 

Unfortunately, I was never fortunate enough to meet Professor Nick Crafts, a scourge of the Oxford bookmaking fraternity, who died on October 6th following a lengthy illness.

I quote from Professor Crafts' obituary published in The Times on Wednesday:

"Crafts took a market-based approach to the racetrack that appealed to his mathematical bent. He avoided steeplechasing in favour of flat races, and backed horses where the odds had dropped most in the week before the race, as an indicator that the cognoscenti were placing their money. He reckoned he could make 7 or 8 per cent a year on that basis, but he rarely if ever visited a course." 

Now, the horse whose odds appear to have dropped the most for tomorrow's Paddy Power Gold Cup is the well-named, Venetia Williams trained, Easy As That; 20/1 earlier in the week, the gelding is as low as 7/1 with some layers this evening.  The yard has sent out 10 winners from 23 runs in the past fortnight - a win strike rate of over 43%.

Of course, the salient point here is that the Paddy Power Gold Cup - once known as The Mackeson Gold Cup - is a steeplechase, run on the Old Course at Cheltenham over two and half miles.

Fourteen have been declared; the going is currently described as good to soft, soft in places, with further significant rain forecast.

Trends point to a chaser between six and nine years of age with previous course form carrying 11-00 or less; in the past decade only one winner has obliged on seasonal debut.

Since 2000 only three winners have carried more than 11-07: Cyfor Malta (11-09, 2002); Al Ferof (11-08, 2012); and Taquin Du Seuil (11-11, 2016). 

No favourite has obliged in the past ten years but seven winners have been returned at odds of 10/1 or less.

Irish runners don't have a strong record in the race. The last Irish trained winner, Tranquil Sea (2009), became the first Irish winner for 29 years.

Stage Star heads the market for tomorrow's renewal. 

Paul Nicholls' charge won the Turners Novices' Chase at the Festival in March with Notlongtillmay three and a quarter lengths adrift in second and Unexpected Party eight and a half lengths behind in fifth.

Quoting from the form summary for the Turners:

"Something of an unsatisfactory result in this Grade 1 novice, with the first two [Stage Star and Notlongtillmay] given an easy time up front and the big two in the market [Mighty Potter and Appreciate It] hanging separate ways all over Prestbury Park in the straight. It's hard to be positive over the form."

On the revised terms of this handicap, Stage Star, Notlongtillmay and Unexposed Party look closely matched.

Top weight The Real Whacker, unbeaten in three chase starts, won the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase over three miles plus at the Festival last time out. Connections are likely to have other targets in mind as the season progresses.

Fugitif has run well in competitive handicaps at the track in the past and finished second to Seddon in the Magners Plate at the Festival (Il Ridoto sixth). Gavin Sheehan will ride him prominently and connections have fitted cheekpieces for the first time, hoping to eke out further improvement.

At six years of age Il Ridoto is the youngest runner in the race. 

I saw this one win against battle-hardened handicappers over two miles at Newbury two years ago - a precocious effort. He finished fourth in this race last year, losing two places after the last flight. 

Questions were subsequently asked about his stamina at the trip but he appeared to answer the doubters when winning over the distance on the New Course at the end of January. Freddie Gingell claims five; will the partnership come up the hill tomorrow?

Angels Breath has only raced three times since 2019. Clearly talented, he has been difficult to train but was beaten less than five lengths in a hurdle race at the track three weeks ago. At around 8/1 the layers aren't taking too many chances with the Sam Thomas trained grey. 

Torn And Frayed won over this trip on the New Course in January 2022 but hasn't seen a racecourse since while Harper's Brook threw away a race he looked to have in the bag at Sandown in April, idling in front and then pulling himself up on the run-in. Both run from out of the handicap.

The Willie Mullins trained Authorized Art was second in the Galway Plate and then fourth in the Kerry National over three miles. 

Perhaps Final Orders is the more interesting of the two Irish runners. 

Gavin Cromwell's charge made eye-catching progress when sent chasing in Ireland and at one point was thought good enough to take his chance in the Arkle. In the end he finished fifth behind Maskada in the Grand Annual off a mark of 150; he goes off 148 tomorrow with Danny Gilligan claiming five. 

His fourth behind Al Dancer at Chepstow last month looks like a reasonable preparation - the third, Walk In Clover, finished third behind Triple Trade earlier today while the fifth, Elixir De Nutz, won the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter eight days ago.  

Handler Gavin Cromwell has a good record with his runners at Cheltenham and last February said of his charge: "He's ultra-consistent and a particularly sound jumper." 

I'd like to think the step-up in trip will suit.

Whistleinthedark is unbeaten over fences but faces the hurly-burly of a race like this for the first time.

Of Black Gerry's five chase wins to date, the defeat of Frere D'Armes at Ascot in April reads well (Dolos fifth, Xcitations pulled up). Yard form is the concern, currently operating at 6%.

As always, a very competitive renewal. 

Unexpected Party is my idea of the winner. The Skelton yard hasn't been in quite the same flying form as 12 months ago but the grey has the right profile and his defeat of Knappers Hill (winner since) on seasonal debut looks good. 

With Unexpected Party currently vying for favouritism, in search of some value, I'm going to take a bit of an each-way punt on Final Orders instead, in the hope he can continue to progress in the manner he did last season.

Only for those with a particularly strong constitution, Final Orders is the each-way suggestion, 25/1 with William Hill who are paying five places.

Professor Nick Crafts would never have approved.

Friday, November 10, 2023

The 62nd running of the Badger Beer Handicap Chase at Wincanton

Eleven have been declared for tomorrow's Badger Beer Handicap Chase (2.25 Wincanton); the going is currently described as soft, good to soft in places.

At the time of writing Threeunderthrufive heads the market with stablemate Frodon in close attendance.

Threeunderthrufive's best performance since his sixth behind L'Homme Presse in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival was his final run of last season - he finished fourth behind Kitty's Light in the Scottish Grand National on good ground at Ayr. 

Connections will hope that the wind surgery carried out over the summer will help eke out further improvement.

Frodon won last year's renewal of this race off a mark of 158 and tries to repeat the trick off the same mark this year; the going last time was good to firm. The likelihood is Frodon will have had this race as his target for some time. 

Connections of both The Big Breakaway and Ashtown Lad have said the Becher at Aintree next month is their main target.

I fancied The Big Breakaway for the Ultima at Cheltenham in March on the back of his second behind The Two Amigos in the Welsh National at Chepstow. 

Unfortunately he struggled to keep tabs on the pace setters that day and was one of the first beaten. He hasn't raced at Wincanton before but with the front-running Frodon bowling along at the head of affairs I'd be concerned something similar might happen again.

Like Frodon, Sam Brown is a few weeks short of his twelfth birthday. 

In April 2022 he won the Betway Handicap Chase at Aintree in something of a common canter. He underwent wind surgery in April before coming to grief at the Chair in the National and then falling at the penultimate flight when two lengths clear in a handicap at the Punchestown Festival.

On his day Sam Brown is very capable. 

Handler Anthony Honeyball also saddles Forward Plan, Gustavian and Blackjack Magic. 

Forward Plan looks up against it racing from seven pounds out of the handicap while in a Straight from the Stable piece [RP Weekender 23-27.11.22] the trainer said of Gustavian:

"His trouble is that he tends to jump nine of his ten fences like an old pro and then really balls one up." 

Blackjack Magic has just the four chase starts to his name.

When the final declarations came through and the race priced up, I thought 14/1 about Certainly Red of interest. 

Out of four visits to Wincanton, Lydia Richards' charge has won three times over the distance and finished second over a trip of two and a half miles. 

I watched a replay of the gelding's last victory at the track in the Dick Hunt "Wigmore" Handicap Chase in February; he didn't look the easiest of rides that day, jumping out left on occasions and not always clean at the obstacles, all of which tempered initial enthusiasm.

Dan Skelton saddles Ballygrifincottage and Ashtown Lad.

The former looked something special when beating Beauport in the St Helens Novices' Chase at Haydock this time last year but his jumping went to pieces in the Towton at Wetherby where he broke a blood vessel and the jumping problems were still apparent on seasonal reappearance at Newton Abbot three weeks ago.

Ashtown Lad mixed hurdling and chasing last year. 

He beat Gesskille in the Becher and that race is clearly the target this term. This is his first run on a right-handed track but he has run well on seasonal debut in the past. 

Courtland has been busy through the summer and would probably prefer better ground.

With Sam Brown now as low as 6/1 in places, at double the price I'm going to take a chance on Ashtown Lad being fit enough to do himself justice; Tristan Durrell claims five and got the job done on Knickerbocker Glory at Ascot last Saturday.

Ashtown Lad is the each-way suggestion, 12/1 in several places, with most layers paying four places.

Friday, November 03, 2023

The 2023 Seat Unique Handicap Hurdle at Ascot

With Wetherby apparently in a race against time to save the Charlie Hall card, I've opted to take a look at the Seat Unique Handicap Hurdle (3.15 Ascot) run over a trip just shy of two miles; twelve have been declared.

The going on the hurdle track is currently described as soft, good to soft in places, with more rain forecast; Turftrax predicts a further 7-12 mm before the opener.

Should Wetherby fail its morning inspection, I'd imagine we might see one or two revised jockey bookings in Berkshire. 

Market leader Our Champ won the first race on the card at Cheltenham's two-day Showcase meeting last Friday, beating Black Poppy an eased-down seven and a half lengths; it looks as though connections have decided to roll the dice again.  

After that race handler Chris Gordon said:

"I came here pretty confident. I'm usually a pessimistic bugger but I rode Our Champ myself in a bit of work the other day with Aucunrisque [2023 Betfair Hurdle winner] and he went extremely well. We don't usually have them off the bridle but Aucunrisque was struggling and I weighed two stone more than the lad on him."  

The handicapper has raised Our Champ 11 pounds for that effort to 128; his mark has gone up 19 pounds since moving to the Gordon yard over the summer.

With connections talking about the Dovecote as a possible target, the gelding holds an obvious chance and the stable won this last year with Highway One O Two.

Two concerns: the soft ground at Ascot; and the fact that Cheltenham conditional jockeys' handicap took place just eight days ago. 

In the same Cheltenham race Teddy Blue got no further than the second flight, making a bad mistake and unseating Caoilin Quinn. Back in May Teddy finished second to Black Poppy in the Swinton at Haydock.

The Paul Nicholls trained Rare Middleton cost 215,000 guineas and went into the notebook last January after winning the first division of a Taunton maiden hurdle in a time 7.2 seconds faster than stablemate Afadil won the second division.

He was hampered by the fall of Sarsons Risk when finishing third in the Adonis at Kempton but subsequently didn't jump well on handicap debut when fourth behind Parramount at Fakenham and underwent wind surgery in July. 

All the winners in the past decade have been aged either five, six or seven. 

In the same timeframe the favourite has obliged on four occasions and the winner has come from the first three in the market on eight occasions. 

Two have their first start in a handicap - the filly Greyval (121) and Altobelli (131).

The former ran with credit in the 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree in the spring, fading in the closing stages to finish eighth. 

The latter will certainly get the cut in the ground he needs; writing in the Weekender James Stevens thinks the gelding could prove much better than his opening mark. He's an unexposed sort but his hurdling to date hasn't been fault free and I see connections have opted to fit a tongue-tie for the first time.

Just how good is Bad?

Following three runs in France Bad moved to Ben Pauling's yard at the beginning of this year and was sent off 5/1 second favourite for the Boodles at the Cheltenham Festival on this first run in this country.

With Rachael Blackmore in the plate, the grey was bang there with every chance too before being headed on the run to the last and fading to finish down the field in thirteenth. The vet reported the gelding had lost his right hind shoe.

On his only other start for Pauling he finished sixth behind Blueking D'Oroux (won the Masterson Holdings Hurdle at Cheltenham last Saturday) in a juvenile handicap hurdle over course and distance in April, beaten just under ten lengths. 

Bad ran off 126 in the Boodles; he goes off 122 tomorrow.

Dan Skelton saddles two. 

Knickerbockerglory is a front runner whose hurdle mark (130) is three pounds lower than his chase mark. He likes soft ground and in the past has gone well fresh. His second to Iceo in the Imperial Cup at Sandown last March reads very well.

Faivoir is a hold-up ride whose hurdle mark (139) is six pounds lower than his chase mark. 

This one won the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in March on soft ground and had a pipe-opener in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las three weeks ago. Underfoot conditions appear key - he ran no race at all on quick ground behind Aucunrisque in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

Back in 2019 bottom weight Chance A Tune finished second behind Tea Clipper in a novice hurdle at Warwick and then third behind Edwardstone in a novice hurdle at Aintree; at the beginning of 2020 he held a rating of 129. 

Subsequently off the track for 476 days, the beast has clearly been difficult to train; handler Nigel Twiston-Davies is currently the sole owner.

Following a further break of 759 days off the track, Chance A Tune reappeared in September to finish third behind Liverpool Knight at Market Rasen. Two weeks later he won a Chepstow handicap hurdle eight lengths on heavy ground off 108. He runs off 116 tomorrow - James Turner can claim a further seven - and could be rather well handicapped. 

There is no doubt Thereisnodoubt will be suited by underfoot conditions. In a Weekender stable tour [RP Weekender 25-29.01.23] handler Lucinda Russell told readers her charge 'tanks up the gallops' and 'loves soft ground'. At ten years of age he has a few miles on the clock but will run his race.   

Top weight Camprond needs further these days to my mind - he finished third in the Coral Cup - but he didn't jump well the next time at Aintree while Carbon King has just his second run for Evan Williams since coming over from Declan Queally's yard in Ireland.

Two make the short list for an each-way play.

Chance A Tune appears ahead of his mark but the layers aren't taking too many chances at 10/1 whereas previous course winner Faivoir is double that price with William Hill.

A few in the field like to race up with the pace so I'm hoping Faivoir can take advantage at the business end, weave his way through - much as he did in the County Hurdle - and at least make a place.

Faivoir is the each-way suggestion, with William Hill offering 20/1 at the time of writing and paying four places.