Friday, December 29, 2023

The 2023 Coral Mandarin Handicap Chase at Newbury

As it could well prove a case of Last Man Standing in the Last Fling Handicap Chase (1.25 Haydock) with six set to race over an extended three and a half mile trip on heavy ground, I've decided to take a look at the Coral Mandarin Handicap Chase (2.25 Newbury) instead.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Fantastikas is declared for both races, with a stated preference for the longer event at Haydock where seven pound claimer James Turner is booked to ride.

Assuming Fantastikas travels north, a field of 11 will contest the Mandarin; the going at Newbury is currently good to soft, soft in places.

Five-year-old Atlanta Brave heads the market. 

Kerry Lee's charge has just two chase runs to his name and tries a trip beyond three miles for the first time. He made one bad jumping error at Exeter last time but his chase mark (121) is three pounds lower than his current hurdle mark.

Off 128 Surrey Quest is rated six pounds above his hurdle mark. 

At Huntingdon in October this one was three lengths adrift in third coming to the last but won going away from Storminhome and has his first run since wind surgery in November.

No doubt trainer Ben Pauling will use Storminhome as a benchmark for the chances of the two he saddles, Bowtogreatness and Bangers And Cash, both rated 135 and set to carry 12-00. 

The former still has to win a race over fences after six starts but he was highly tried last season, mostly over a shorter trip - he finished fifth in the Scilly Isles at Sandown behind Gerri Colombe and down the field in the Magners Plate at the Festival.  

On his first run beyond three miles over fences Bowtogreatness finished an excellent second to Midnight River in the Freebooter at Aintree (stablemate Shakem Up'Arry fourth and Wednesday's Welsh National winner Nassalam seventh); Ben Jones was aboard that day and keeps the ride.

That form has a strong look about it; the gelding makes his seasonal debut here.

Stablemate Bangers And Cash won the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen 12 months ago and a Taunton handicap over an extended three and a half miles in March. 

He hasn't been in the best of form on two runs this season - one over hurdles, one over fences - but there was a hint he was on the way back at Cheltenham six weeks ago. Cheekpieces are fitted for the first time.

Grumpy Charley won this race last year with Shanty Alley second and Laskalin third; both placed horses start off a mark five pounds lower than last year.

Shanty Alley had a satisfactory prep behind Some Scope at Catterick last month but, racing from the front, Laskalin finished tailed off behind Hidden Heroics at Ludlow. His second behind Le Milos on New Year's Day two years ago reads well; a return to form would give him a chance.

Certainly Red carries top weight (12-02); on occasions his jumping wasn't particularly fluent in the London National at Sandown. 

Yes Indeed spoiled his chance with a bad mistake at Bangor 15 days ago while Docpickedme fiddled a few Haydock obstacles last time.

Alan King told RP Weekender readers that this race rather than the Welsh National was the better option for Notachance. 

Last year Notachance was third in the Classic Chase at Warwick and third behind stablemate Major Dundee in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter. Dropped three pounds after his seasonal reappearance, he seems feasibly handicapped on a mark of 127.  

Two years ago Striking A Pose was on the radar after winning an Exeter novice chase with Coconut Splash third and Any News fourth; unfortunately he hasn't won since. 

He underwent wind surgery in October but will need to improve from his last run at Wincanton to be competitive here; the majority of his racing has been on right-handed tracks. 

Working through the form I'd have to say Bowtogreatness - trainer Ben Pauling's 'pick' in a Straight from the Stable tour last year [RP Weekender 26-30.10.22] - stands out. To my mind the winner is likely to come from the younger brigade in this field. 

However, at the prices I think Notachance has at least some sort of small chance and he looks overpriced at 20/1 in places. Admittedly there will be a deduction if, as expected, Fantastikas - variously priced between 6/1 and 10/1 this evening - goes to Haydock. 

Notachance is the each-way suggestion, currently 20/1 with bet365, Betfair and Betfred paying four places.

Wishing all readers a very happy new year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The 2023 Welsh Grand National

Festive greetings.

I found a copy of  'This Sporting Life - Gerry Cranham, Photographer' beneath our Christmas tree yesterday and was immediately transported back to those halcyon days of childhood; the result is I haven't spent much time on tomorrow's Welsh National form (2.50 Chepstow).

Twenty are set to face the starter with the bottom eight running from out of the handicap; the going is currently described as good to soft but strong winds and heavy rain are predicted throughout the day.

Fresh from victory in a dramatic renewal of the King George earlier this afternoon, Gavin Sheehan is aboard market leader Super Survivor. 

Jamie Snowden's charge carries a nice racing weight but has just four chase starts to his name. He was no match for stable companion Git Maker at Lingfield last time and prior to that finished behind Autonomous Cloud and Iron Bridge in a novice chase at Uttoxeter in March. 

Nassalam beat Wayfinder over an extended two miles seven furlongs in the trial race at the track 18 days ago. 

Top weight Iwilldoit did it in 2021 and bids to repeat the trick off a mark 13 pounds higher; Dylan Johnston claims seven. 

Since 1997 only four horses have carried more than 11-00 to victory: Halcon Genelardais (11-03 in 2006); Synchronised (11-06 in 2010); Native River (11-12 in 2016); and Elegant Escape (11-08 in 2018).

The Big Breakaway was second in this race last year (Truckers Lodge fourth, The Galloping Bear a faller and Wayfinder pulled up) but Joe Tizzard's charge has failed to complete in three of his four subsequent starts; last time he was pulled up behind Chambard in the Becher.

Only The Bold will relish testing ground but it's difficult to glean much hope from his two runs over hurdles last month.

Truckers Lodge, winner of the London National at Sandown 18 days ago, has placed in three of the past four renewals of this race. 

Course winner Amateur finished third behind Truckers Lodge in the West Wales National at Ffos Las in April, beaten just over four lengths in receipt of three pounds on soft ground.

Tomorrow he receives a stone from that rival, although Freddie Gingell reduces that differential by five pounds.

The profile of John Flint's chaser has an inconsistent look to it and, ideally, he may prefer better ground but at 66/1 with Paddy Power I'm going to take the chance and have a small each-way interest.

Amateur is the each-way selection, 66/1 with Paddy Power paying six places.

Friday, December 22, 2023

The 2023 renewal of the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase

With Christmas arrangements suddenly subjected to substantial revision, I haven't spent as much time as I'd like on tomorrow's Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase (1.30 Haydock). 

Famous Bridge beat the mares Credo (second) and Eleanor Bob (fourth) in the Betfair "Free Racing Multiples Today" Handicap Chase over course and distance four weeks ago. 

That day Eleanor Bob jumped well in the main at the head of affairs while Famous Bridge raced in midfield with Credo held up at the back. 

Famous Bridge crept towards the pace on the second circuit, led at the final flight and looked to have more than enough in the tank to repel fast-finishing Credo whereas Eleanor Bob just weakened on the long run-in, only beaten four and a quarter lengths in the end. 

Famous Bridge heads the market; the trio look closely matched again. 

Lucy Turner, who won the Becher on Chambard two weeks ago, replaces Charlie Deutsch aboard Eleanor Bob and her five pound claim could prove a significant advantage on heavy ground.

I wonder whether Sam Twiston-Davies will ride Credo nearer the pace tomorrow - she was certainly flying at the finish last time.

Following wind surgery in the summer Enqarde beat Docpickedme at Warwick six and a half weeks ago. That was some effort, his first win since beating Remastered ten lengths in the 2021 renewal of this race; he started off a mark of 128 that day and goes off 127 tomorrow.

On ground that was probably quicker than ideal last season's Topham winner Bill Baxter finished eighth behind Datsalrightgino in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury three weeks ago. 

In a subsequent Straight from the Stable article [RP Weekender 13-17.12.23] handler Warren Greatrex said:

"It was an amazing day when he won the Topham for us at the Grand National meeting in April and we have the big one in mind.

"He ran a very good race at Newbury in the Coral Gold Cup but needs softer ground.

"I loved how he stayed on and passed a few horses on his first try at that extended trip. He's definitely improved this season and has come out of the race well, so we could look at the Tommy Whittle at Haydock next week...

"He needs to go up to get in the National, probably 7lb, so he's got to win a race and I was chuffed with how he never missed a beat in a big field at Newbury. That has taken a trip question mark out of it and, in soft or heavy ground, he'll be hard to beat in the right race next time."

He has been dropped three pounds for that Newbury run and goes off 140 tomorrow.

On his first run over three miles Cooper's Cross won the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster in January and subsequently finished a three-length second to Kitty's Light in the Scottish Grand National.

On balance this one has shown his best form on better ground but he was noted 'going easily' when hampered and coming to grief four out in the Topham won by Bill Baxter.

The mare Burrows Diamond has been nibbled at in the market and hails from the in-form Sue Smith yard which boasts a 20% win strike rate over the past fortnight. 

Dr Kananga likes to race from the front and returns to the track after wind surgery over the summer while Conkwell Legend has just three chase starts to his name and finished tailed off behind Stay Away Fay in the Esher Novices' Chase at Sandown last time.

Just nine declared but no easy puzzle to solve; I'm going to take Warren Greatrex at his word. 

Bill Baxter is the win selection, 11/2 with Sky who will refund losing stakes if the grey places second or third, or alternatively, 13/2 with bet365 at the time of writing.

Season's greetings.  


Friday, December 15, 2023

A Doncaster distraction at Christmas

This year I've asked Santa for a copy of 'From Bicycle to Bentley, A Bookmaker's Story: by Stephen Little', written by Rupert Mackeson, in the forlorn hope of stumbling across the odd helpful hint or two.

Speaking personally, I'm still at the bicycle stage myself, although I haven't been seen out on it for quite some time - I picked up a flat six months ago and can't afford the repair.

Anyway, Santa's little helper has indicated she's having a spot of bother laying her Christmas mittens - rather prettily adorned with yuletide kittens - on a copy of the desired tome; I'm tempted to resubmit the request, ask Santa for a Bentley, and be done with the matter.

In the meantime, apropos of nothing in particular, the book I'm currently working on, 'From Cyclist to Pedestrian', is scheduled for publication late next year.

Attempting to boost my flagging festive finances, I've fudged the Cheltenham Christmas meeting card - whatever happened to the International? - and taken a diversion to Doncaster instead where the going is described as good to soft, good in places on the hurdles course. 

Rare Edition's seven length defeat of Rubaud at Kempton on Boxing Day last year is a piece of form that catches the eye in the handicap hurdle at 2.40 but it's the bet365 Handicap Chase at 3.15 that has piqued interest with a couple available at double figure prices. 

At the time of writing three are bidding for favouritism - Forward Plan, Mister Coffey and Sail Away.

Conceding a stone Sail Away beat Forward Plan 11 lengths in the Novices' Champion Handicap Chase at Ayr in April; the grey likes to race prominently and, generally speaking, jumps well. 

In the autumn Dan Skelton indicated they were considering a stab at the Charlie Hall or the Sefton with this horse but he made his seasonal debut at Newbury just two weeks ago where he finished fifth behind Kandoo Kid.

Forward Plan, not a big scopey type, was held up in rear before weakening out of contention in the Badger Beer won by stablemate Blackjack Magic last month.

Mister Coffey has yet to win in ten starts over fences.  

Whistleinthedark made the odd error in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last time and nearly came to grief four out; he eventually finished eighth behind Stage Star. Placed twice in three mile points, this represents his first try at this trip under rules. 

There are two previous course and distance winners in the field. 

Twoshotsoftequila was second to Some Scope at Catterick last time, looks unexposed, and is just one pound higher here. 

Manofthepeople tends to race prominently but his jumping isn't always foot-perfect. 

At Ascot three weeks ago he looked a little unlucky, unseating Connor Brace at the fourth after Emir Sacree appeared to jump left-handed into his path. Fergal O'Brien's charge has been the subject of market support this afternoon.

Castle Robin hasn't had a run since coming to grief behind Midnight River in the Freebooter at Aintree in April. He has gone well fresh in the past; the defeat of Laskalin at Sandown in February is respected.

Ciel De Neige, formerly trained by Willie Mullins, has some interesting bits and pieces of form including third in the 2019 Boodles, sixth in the 2021 County Hurdle and sixth behind Ash Tree Meadow in the Galway Plate in August. This is his first run for Ben Haslam.

Ben Pauling saddles two.

Nestor Park was third in a veterans' race at Aintree last time while Slipway finished ninth behind Malina Girl at Cheltenham.

I've watched a replay of the Cheltenham race - Slipway ran well for a long way and seemed to enjoy himself up front before fading out of contention from three out over an extended trip of three mile three furlongs. 

To my mind that run, his first following wind surgery in the spring, was the best we've seen from him since he won the Southern National at Fontwell just over twelve months ago. 

Luca Morgan was in the plate that day; his brother Beau takes the ride tomorrow and claims five while Kielan Woods, who was aboard at Cheltenham, rides Nestor Park. 

Last week's selection, Minella Trump, missed the Becher at Aintree on account of the heavy ground and turns up here instead. 

Donald McCain's charge boasts a decent record over the larger obstacles - placed in 11 of his 13 chase starts to date - and has won off this mark previously. 

He was beaten a long way (77 lengths) on seasonal debut in a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham four weeks ago but the yard boasts a win strike rate of 21% over the past fortnight and sent out Wholeofthemoon to win the novices' handicap hurdle at Doncaster earlier today at odds of 80/1.

Betfred, Sky and bet365 are paying four places this race; at the time of writing both Minella Trump and Slipway are 20/1 with Betfred and sponsors bet365.

Sail Away makes most appeal of those at the head of the market; in a race where there will be plenty of pace Slipway is the each-way suggestion, priced 20/1 with Betfred and bet365. 

Friday, December 08, 2023

The 2023 Becher Chase - a leap of faith required

It's some 45 years since I was first introduced to the thoughts of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) and his (in)famous wager.

I haven't bothered to unearth the few simplistic notes I scribbled down at that time (with trusted Bic biro) but, from memory - and Wikipedia... 

Pascal argued that in the game of Life there can be no conclusive proof of the existence of God so the individual, obliged to place a wager, might as well bet on God's existence because, if the bet comes in, the rewards in the afterlife will be beyond compare.

Logical reasoning can never prove or disprove the existence of God so it follows the individual has to make 'the leap of faith' in any quest for those otherworldly rewards.

Now, they may have been racing on the Roodee in Pascal's time but I'm pretty certain Paddy Power weren't paying extra places; in a quest for rewards of a more temporal nature, you'll need to make your own leap of faith should you decide to read on.

Fourteen are set to face the starter in the Becher Chase (2.05 Aintree) with the going on the National course currently described as soft, heavy in places, with persistent rain forecast on Saturday morning.

Top weight Coko Beach has jumped these fences twice, finishing eighth in the 2022 Grand National and being pulled up in the same race earlier this year. He may not stay the National trip but three and a quarter miles looks well within his compass.

Gordon Elliott's grey won the Troytown at Navan three weeks ago yet looks to face a stiff task conceding a minimum of 15 pounds to all his rivals; Danny Gilligan's five pound claim reduces the concession to a minimum of 10 pounds.

The last horse to carry more than 11-06 to victory - and the last Irish-trained winner - was Vic Venturi who shouldered 11-12 in 2009. 

Current favourite Ashtown Lad beat Gesskille in last year's renewal and is only two pounds higher this time. 

I tipped Dan Skelton's charge on his comeback run in the Badger Beer at Wincanton four weeks ago and what a major disappointment he was, losing touch and being pulled up in the home straight. 

This has been the long-term target but he'll need to show significant improvement on that run last month.

Percussion, beaten five and a half lengths into third last year, has a decent record over these fences, having finished third and second in the past two renewals of the Grand Sefton; he goes off 130, the same mark as last year.

With just one win from thirteen chase starts The Big Breakaway has never quite lived up to expectations. I fancied this one for the Ultima in March but he was unable to keep tabs on the leaders and eventually pulled up. 

On seasonal debut Joe Tizzard's charge finished fifth behind Blackjack Magic in the Badger Beer at Wincanton. 

To my mind The Big Breakaway's best performance to date was runner-up to The Two Amigos in last year's Welsh National at Chepstow. That was a bit of slog in the mud so tomorrow's underfoot conditions shouldn't be a problem; however on his first try over these unique fences he got no further than the second in the Grand National in April.

Back in December 2021 Highland Hunter, trained by Paul Nicholls at that time, won the London National at Sandown and some three weeks later finished second behind Iwilldoit in the Welsh National.

Following a long break and sporting a first-time tongue-tie, Highland Hunter ran very well on his first run for Fergal O'Brien, staying on to claim second behind Elvis Mail in the Edinburgh Gin Handicap Chase at Kelso. He went steady at the head of affairs that day; you'd expect more pace up front tomorrow.

Celebre D'Allen, eighth in the Topham behind Bill Baxter, showed his current well-being by winning 16 lengths on his first try beyond three miles in a veterans' chase over the Mildmay fences six weeks ago. 

The handicapper raised him ten pounds for that effort; with Micheal Nolan replacing ten pound claimer Elizabeth Gale in the plate, he effectively starts off a mark 20 pounds higher.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has some record, having won this race six times with Indian Tonic (1993); Young Hustler (1995); Earth Summit (1998); Hello Bud (2010); Hello Bud (2012); and Blaklion (2017). 

This year he tries with Undersupervision who finished third behind Hascouer Clermont in an amateur riders' handicap chase at Cheltenham three weeks ago. This one won the 2022 Grimthorpe Chase and was pipped a neck by Moroder in that same Doncaster race last March.

Chambard finished two and a quarter lengths ahead of Undersupervision in that Cheltenham amateur riders' race. Venetia Williams' grey may be 11 years old but on revised terms is weighted to confirm those Cheltenham placings.

Now Where Or When deserves plenty of respect having finished third behind Kemboy and Vanillier in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse last February while this evening I've noted bits and pieces for J.J. Slevin's mount Dorking Cock (twelfth in the Foxhunters in the spring) who races from some way out of the handicap. At the time of writing Paddy Power are noticeably shorter than their rivals about this one.

Lounge Lizard is another to run from out of the handicap and a six-year-old has yet to come home in front but Henry Daly wouldn't send his charge there on a wing and a prayer; the booking of Charlie Deutsch catches the eye.  

Sidi Ismael will have plenty of local support - syndicate member Wayne Fitzgerald owns Fitzgerald and Lanigans bars in Liverpool - but the two that are of interest at a bigger price are Moroder and Minella Trump.

I'm a Moroder fan; he has close form with Undersupervision and his second behind Kitty's Light in the bet365 Chase at Sandown reads well; he bled from the nose in the Desert Orchid Silver Cup at Wincanton last time. 

There has been the odd nibble in the market but I'm concerned as the stable haven't had a winner in 19 days - or a runner since November 30th.

Minella Trump raced prominently for a long way in this year's National before weakening four from home. In a stable tour article [RP Weekender 08-12.02.23] written before that run handler Donald McCain said:

"They don't come any more genuine and consistent than this lovely horse who has won nine of his last ten races, which is quite some record.

"During that period his rating has risen from 123 to 149, but judging by his last run he has not stopped improving yet."

Placed in 11 of his 13 chase starts to date, he had a pipe-opener over hurdles at Cheltenham three weeks ago where, if I'm being honest, I would have liked to have seen a little bit more but I think this has been the target after that run in the National eight months ago.

He has won off this mark (145) previously and, on balance, appears to represent the more solid option.

Granted, a leap of faith is required, but Paddy Power stands out offering 28/1.

Minella Trump is the each-way suggestion, 28/1 with Paddy Power who pay five places. 

Friday, December 01, 2023

Coral Gold Cup 2023

Today's card at Newbury went ahead and the course covers put back in place after racing. 

Overnight temperatures in West Berkshire could drop to minus five - it looks a close call whether tomorrow's card will survive. The Fighting Fifth meeting at Newcastle has already been called off.

Should the card get the green light, twenty are set to face the starter in the Coral Gold Cup (2.50) run over a distance of three miles two furlongs.

In my book the following aren't guaranteed to stay the trip: Complete Unknown; Stolen Silver; Our Power; Bill Baxter; Datsalrightgino; Zanza; Eldorado Allen; Ga Law; and Shakem Up'Arry.

Cloudy Glen, Bill Baxter, Max Flamingo and Shakem Up'Arry run from out of the handicap.

Dusart comes into the race without a recent preparatory run.

Since 2000 only two horses older than eight have come home in front: Denman (2009) aged nine and Sizing Tennessee (2018) aged ten.

A quick word for the two ten-year-olds in the field.

33/1 shot Cloudy Glen won the 2021 renewal but many thought Remastered posed a significant threat to the winner before taking a crashing fall four from home. 

It's well known that Cloudy Glen is best caught fresh; he posted a decent effort when second behind Malina Girl at Cheltenham 13 days ago.

Remastered was only half a length adrift of Le Milos in last year's renewal. Following wind surgery in the summer, he weakened out of contention in a Pertemps qualifier at Aintree three weeks ago, eventually beaten 24 lengths.

Complete Unknown was market leader for most of the week yet with just five chase starts to his name is the least experienced in the field over the larger obstacles; this will be his first start in a chase with more than ten runners.

Late this afternoon Monbeg Genius moved to the head of the market. 

His third behind Corach Rambler in the Ultima at Cheltenham reads very well. I've just watched his comeback race at Ascot last month - his jumping looked a tad ring rusty on occasions but he was significantly hampered five from home and pulled up when his chance had gone (Eldorado Allen third). 

Mahler Mission - clear when falling two out in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham - came home second behind Thunder Rock over a shorter trip than ideal at Carlisle last time. Stable form is the main concern here with the yard's last winner coming 51 days ago. 

The chance of  fellow Irish raider Stumptown has to be respected given the record of Gavin Cromwell's runners in Britain; Stumptown was beaten a neck by Angels Breath in the Kim Muir in March.

Max Flamingo was pulled up in the Irish Grand National last April and has been running over hurdles since. 

The only Irish trained winner of this race in the past 40 years is Total Recall - ridden by Paul Townend and trained by Willie Mullins - in 2017.

Midnight River won at Aintree in April on his first try beyond an extended two and a half miles (Shakem Up'Arry fourth, Eldorado Allen fifth). 

He stayed on well that day and it looks as though this has been the target since. Dan Skelton won last year's renewal with Le Milos and said of Midnight River:

"Make no mistakes. He is a good horse that is improving.

"The Coral Gold Cup is the big one for him. He was good at Aintree and he improved for that step up in trip which he was entitled to do."

Top weight Ahoy Senor continues to find the odd fence getting in the way; he has to concede a minimum of 12 pounds to all his rivals. 

Denman was the last winner to carry top weight to victory, memorably pulling off the feat in 2009 for a second time with Ruby Walsh up, having won the 2007 renewal with Sam Thomas doing the steering.

Twig beat Ruthless Article and Kinondo Kwetu over this distance in the Summer Cup Handicap Chase at Uttoxeter on his penultimate start and ran well behind Whacker Clan at Cheltenham five weeks ago. There has been money for Ben Pauling's charge through the day.

Kitty's Light won the Eider Chase at Newcastle, the Scottish Grand National at Ayr and the bet365 Chase at Sandown last season yet is quoted 25/1 in the odd place. He's likely to have targets further down the line.

A wide open renewal.

At the time of writing Midnight River is 10/1 with Paddy Power who are paying six places; Midnight River is the each-way selection.