Friday, February 23, 2024

The 2024 Coral Trophy at Kempton

After the recent 'Last man standing wins' debate in the Racing Post it will be interesting to see how many complete the course in tomorrow's Eider Chase (2.08 Newcastle) which will be run over four miles one and a half furlongs on heavy ground - thoughts go back to Companero beating Giles Cross 30 lengths in the 2011 renewal with Morgan Be the only other finisher of the 12 who set off.

Major Dundee would be of interest in the Eider - provided he brought his A game to the table (third in the 2022 Scottish Grand National; won the 2023 Midlands Grand National). 

Alan King's charge certainly didn't do that in the Classic Chase at Warwick six weeks ago. The gelding ran a full-blown stinker in a first-time visor and was one of the first beaten; he also happened to be my selection for the race.

Writing in the RP Weekender the following week Mr King seemed to imply that maybe The Major wasn't quite as keen as he had once been but the handler appears a tad more upbeat in this week's edition of the same paper:

"He seems in good order at home and he'll retain the visor he wore last time out." 

At the time of writing he's 10/1 with bet365, Coral and Betfred who are all paying four places but I had my fingers burnt last tine so I'm off to Kempton instead where, I have no doubt, my selection in the Coral Trophy will take a leaf out of Major Dundee's book and substantially raise the temperature applied to my digits.

The going at Kempton is described as soft, with the lake bend heavy.

The Dan Skelton trained course and distance winner Flegmatik, favourite through the week, has just been replaced by Blackjack Magic at the head of the market. 

Ideally Flegmatik would want better ground. 

Blackjack Magic, one of three runners for Anthony Honeyball, won the Badger Beer at Wincanton in the autumn, with stablemates Forward Plan sixth and Sam Brown pulled up. The three do battle once again tomorrow; Blackjack Magic sports first-time blinkers as on his two subsequent runs he made significant jumping errors at the business end of the race.

Forward Plan has shown his very best form on good ground while 12-year-old Sam Brown carries top weight and appears to have been revitalised by the application of a visor. On his penultimate start he won the Veterans' Final at Warwick and then finished less than 10 length behind Shishkin in the Denman Chase at Newbury.

Bowtogreatness shaped as though this return to three miles would suit when fifth behind Ginny's Destiny over an extended two and a half miles at Cheltenham four weeks ago. 

Il Ridoto races beyond two miles four and a half furlongs for the first time; Lord Baddesley tries further than two miles six and a half furlongs for the first time. 

The booking of Rex Dingle for Lord Baddesley suggests this one is the main hope for the Chris Gordon yard which is in sparkling form - 5 wins from 12 runs in past fortnight - in marked comparison to earlier in the season.  

Having won twice at Kempton the mare Tweed Skirt clearly likes the place but is another who has, to date, shown her best form on better ground.

Veteran Al Dancer has never won beyond two miles five.

Another veteran, Cap Du Nord, won the 2022 renewal of this race off a mark of 127 and popped up at Ascot this time last year off the same mark. 

He hasn't won since and is now officially rated 118 over fences. He's eight pounds wrong at the weights but Tristan Durrell claims three; it wouldn't be wise to completely write off a revival.

Killer Kane was fifth in this race last year (Flegmatik second, Cap Du Nord ninth); he raced from out of the handicap that day yet carries 10-7 tomorrow. Following wind surgery in December, he was beaten by the well-regarded Highstakesplayer and Iconic Muddle over course and distance 15 days ago. 

Unanswered Prayers underwent wind surgery last month having finished behind Tweed Skirt over course and distance the day after Boxing Day. 

Lord Baddesley's stablemate came to grief at the final flight at Ascot in November in a race won by Victtorino and was then hampered by a faller just after the last over the same course and distance three weeks later. 

He has been backed down from 25/1 earlier and is now as low as 17/2 in a place. 

Freddie Gingell was initially booked to ride Unanswered Prayers but the five pound claimer has been re-routed to Chepstow where he rides Monmiral. 

Paul Nicholls' charge reverts to hurdles in a Pertemps qualifier (3.08) after struggling in the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham and a novice chase at Musselburgh. The first four home qualify for the Pertemps Final at the Festival and I'm guessing the plan is to get qualified.

 I digress.

This isn't a good race for favourites; I'm going to side with one who has form over the trip on soft ground and course and distance winner Killer Kane fits the bill. 

His main target is the Topham at Aintree in the spring - he finished third in the race last year - but I'm hoping he can show up well here on his second run after wind surgery.

Killer Kane is the each-way suggestion, 12/1 generally at the time of writing with most layers paying four places. 

Friday, February 16, 2024

An Ascot anodyne

When favourite Ocastle Des Mottes spread a plate just before the start of the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last week, I couldn't help but wonder what the racecourse farrier carried in that tool bag of his - it had clearly seen several years of dedicated service. 

Daryl Jacob managed to get a good snoop - was there a kitchen sink in there? - but while Ed Chamberlin bemoaned the effect of the protracted delay on the other runners (official off-time some 13 minutes late), it was refreshing to hear Ruby Walsh tell Ed - and anyone else listening - that it wasn't the first time a horse had spread a plate before the start of a race and it certainly wouldn't be the last, so just suck it up!

Such flagrant disregard for circumlocutionary practice can only be applauded.

Further examples of circumlocutionary practice follow.

Sixteen have been declared for the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards Handicap Hurdle (2.25 Ascot); Turftax report the going as good to soft.

When I first looked at this race earlier in the week two Twiston-Davies entries caught the eye - Cuthbert Dibble and Guard Your Dreams. 

The former runs in the Pertemps qualifier at Haydock (3.50), the latter in the Kingwell Hurdle (2.05 Wincanton). 

Cuthbert Dibble - named after two members of the Trumpton fire brigade - won at Chepstow last time out; after that race jockey Sam Twiston-Davies said in an interview with Sky Sports Racing:

"I gave Cuthbert Dibble a terrible ride in the EBF Final. I watch the race back every now and again just to kick myself and remind me why we ride the horse the way we do. I tried to tuck him in but ended up too far back in testing ground. If you'd have asked me this morning I'd have said I'd be incredibly disappointed if he was beaten, because we'd rate him far better than a mark of 125 in the yard. He'll have tougher assignment in future. He'll jump fences one day."

Fire fighting, the handicapper raised Cuthbert Dibble eight pounds after Chepstow but Finn Lambert claims five tomorrow.

The Nicky Henderson trained Hyland has the Pertemps Final at the Festival as his stated target; Hyland takes his chance here following a break of 78 days.

Now, I know you might reasonably expect a rare edition to be of some interest to someone with a background in libraries but I'm afraid this particular Rare Edition is of limited interest because the layers have priced him up favourite. 

On Boxing Day 2022 Charlie Longsdon's charge beat Rubaud seven lengths in a Kempton novice hurdle. 

Rubaud is now rated 149 and counts Guard Your Dreams as one of his opponents in the Kingwell while Rare Edition comes into this on 139. 

On his only start beyond an extended two miles Rare Edition was beaten just under three lengths in the Sidney Banks Memorial Novices' Hurdle at Huntingdon 12 months ago.

This term Bad has been reasonably good over two miles and won over an extended two and a quarter miles at Bordeaux Le Bouscat in November 2022. He underwent wind surgery last month and wears cheekpieces for the first time.

Formerly with Philip Hobbs and Johnson White Monviel finished fifth in the Imperial Cup at Sandown last year. In the RP Weekender [18-22.10.23] new handler Harry Dereham said:

"He's going to go chasing and I'm quite excited about him." 

After two chase starts, connections have decided to revert to hurdling.

Irish Hill won this race last year off a mark of 128. 

Subsequently tenth in the Martin Pipe at the Festival, the grey looks feasibly handicapped off 125 and Freddie Gingell can claim a further five. 

On his penultimate start he led narrowly two out but was well beaten by Rambo T at Newbury. 

Last month he raced prominently and led clearly on the home turn in the Lanzarote but eventually finished behind winner Jay Jay Reilly (effectively ten pounds higher here), Teddy Blue (sixth), and Mothill (eighth).

Teddy Blue (dam: Tickle Me Blue) finished third behind Aucunrisque and Filey in the 2023 Betfair Hurdle and posted his best effort this term in the Lanzarote. Racing in rear, he looked to be fighting for his head in the early stages - no laughing matter - before making ground and then weakening into sixth after the final flight. 

He was dropped one pound for that effort; with Tom Cannon replacing Caoilin Quinn on board he effectively carries two pounds more tomorrow.

Mothill boasts a consistent profile and can be expected to improve in first-time cheekpieces; drying ground will suit and Joe Anderson claims five.

Issam jumped well and travelled like the best horse on desperate ground at Sandown last time; he appeared to have the spoils in the bag after the final flight but slowed dramatically to a walk up the hill and was collared by Havaila. Drying ground and a slightly shorter trip should help. 

Santos Blue (sire: Blue Bresil) has raced primarily on left-handed tracks to date while Soaring Glory must be a source of some frustration to connections.

Coral Gold Cup winner Le Milos was last seen in a Pertemps qualifier at Market Rasen in November. He's quoted 50/1 for this year's Grand National which is the main target - he finished tenth behind Corach Rambler at Aintree last year.

Arqoob's two and threequarters length second behind Rare Edition at Kempton last time isn't reflected in his market price but he showed a marked tendency to jump out to his left that day which won't help the cause and he races from two pounds out of the handicap.

This looks a competitive race for Ostend on debut in this country but the stable boasts a 38% win strike rate in the past fortnight while In The Air has his first run for new connections having pulled up twice over fences when trained by Gary Moore - his two and threequarters length second behind JPR One at Taunton last March reads well. 

Teddy Blue, Mothill and Issam are the ones on the shortlist; with Teddy Blue backed during the afternoon I'll take a small each-way interest in Issam.

Issam is the each-way suggestion, at the time of writing 14/1 generally with several layers paying five places. 

Friday, February 09, 2024

The 2024 Betfair Hurdle

Twenty four are set to line up for tomorrow's Betfair Hurdle (3.15 Newbury) with the going currently described as heavy, soft in places; the Racing Post reports the track has taken 44.2mm of rain since Tuesday.

The quality of this year's renewal appears below par; the lowest official handicap rating of the past ten winners is 132 (Violet Dancer, 2015) who carried 10-09.

Runners with form on heavy ground include Ocastle Des Mottes, Iberico Lord, Spirit D'Aunou, Aurigny Mill, L'Eau Du Sud, Norman Fletcher, Knickerbockerglory, Faivoir, and Jilaijone.

Of those towards the top of the handicap Spirit D'Aunou hails from the yard that won this with Heathcote (2007), Wingman (2008) and Violet Dancer (2015); Caoilin Quinn can claim three.

Lookaway likes to race from the front and has been consistent all season - he finished second to Captain Teague over two and a half miles in the Challow last time while Under Control ran well following wind surgery to finish second behind Ashroe Diamond in the Yorkshire Rose Mares' Hurdle at Doncaster a fortnight ago.  

However they all appear to face a stiff task given underfoot conditions; in the past ten years 11-08 is the biggest burden carried to victory - by Al Dancer in 2019 and Glory And Fortune in 2022.

The Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November and the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot in December provide two key pieces of form.

Iberico Lord beat Lookaway in the Greatwood with Luccia third, Go Dante sixth, Knickerbockerglory seventh while L'Eau Du Sud pulled up and Onlyamatteroftime ran out four from home.

Five weeks later Luccia won at Ascot, reversing form with stablemate Iberico Lord (seventh), with Altobelli third, Moveit Like Minnie fourth,  Onlyamatteroftime sixth and Faivoir eighth. Unusually, the going at Ascot that day was good; Iberico Lord looked outpaced around the home turn and was eventually beaten just under eight lengths. 

After the race Nico De Boinville reported the gelding had stopped quickly but Nico is back in the plate tomorrow while riding arrangements for the other Henderson runners are as follows: James Bowen aboard Doddiethegreat; David Bass on Luccia; and Jonjo O'Neill Jr on Under Control.

Both Iberico Lord and Altobelli should appreciate the ground, a fact that has not escaped the bookmakers. The manner in which Iberico Lord stopped last time remains a concern.

Ocastle Des Mottes heads the market at the time of writing and is one of three Willie Mullins has sent across the Irish Sea. 

Having his first run for new connections the gelding should have no problem with heavy ground having won a four-year-old listed handicap hurdle at Compeigne last April and a four-year-old hurdle at Auteuil in June. With Warwick abandoned due to a waterlogged track, Daryl Jacob comes to Newbury to ride for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. 

The French form may not be easy to evaluate but he goes off 133, six pounds lower than his Irish mark - much to the annoyance of Nicky Henderson. His current price represents no value.

Arbitrarily, I've put some effort into those set to carry between 11-00 and 11-08.

Connections fit cheekpieces for the first time on Brentford Hope. 

This course and distance winner, rated 100 on the Flat, finished a two length third to Hansard in the Gerry Feilden (Our Champ fifth, Under Control last to complete). He'd have a better chance with better ground.

Go Dante beat Doddiethegreat at Cheltenham last time (Donnacha dead-heat third) but looks held on Greatwood form; the last horse older than seven to come home in front was Geos in 2004.

Harry Skelton rides L'Eau Du Sud for brother Dan. 

This one was pulled up in the Greatwood when last seen but was subsequently found to be suffering from ulcers. He's now three pounds lower than on British debut in 2022 and probably overpriced at 20/1.

Kamsinas beat Lookaway in a novice hurdle at Cheltenham in October; Fergal O'Brien's charge is weighted to reverse the form but the suspicion is the gelding prefers decent ground.

Altobelli brings strong handicap form to the table and appears feasibly handicapped.

Novices have a good record in the race and I've heard a few whispers for Norman Fletcher at a price as he clearly handles heavy ground; trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies won this race with Splash Of Ginge (2014), Ballyandy (2017) and Al Dancer (2019). 

I've watched a few replays - his hurdling has improved but, to my mind, it's still a work in progress and that puts me off. Last time out he was beaten by Bertie's Ballet at Haydock and that one finished eight and a half lengths second to Panjari at Musselburgh in the Scottish Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Musselburgh on Sunday.

I was impressed with the turn of foot Aurigny Mill showed when winning at Kempton last time - and so was the handicapper who raised him nine pounds. The worry is that, to date, Victor Dartnall's charge has raced exclusively on right-handed tracks.

To summarise...

The chances of Altobelli and Iberico Lord are respected in a race where Ocastle Des Mottes is a potential blot on the handicap.

L'Eau Du Sud is an outsider of some interest but I'm going to take a chance with Aurigny Mill. I'm hoping he can keep tabs on the leaders and then show a turn of foot racing on a left-handed track for the first time.

Aurigny Mill is the each-way suggestion, 14/1 generally at the time of writing, with both Sky and William Hill paying seven places. 

Friday, February 02, 2024

A suggestion for Sandown

The action this side of the Irish Sea this weekend is somewhat dwarfed by the Dublin Racing Festival (DRF) at Leopardstown where total prize money of two million euros is on offer.

Over here Musselburgh's highlights include the Edinburgh National (tomorrow 2.15), the Scottish Triumph Hurdle (Sunday 1.20), the Scottish Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Sunday 2.25) and the Scottish Champion Chase run over an extended two and a half miles (Sunday 3.35).

The Scilly Isles (2.35) is the showpiece at Sandown but while everyone else is looking elswhere, I'm going to chance one in the Virgin Bet Masters Handicap Chase (3.45). 

Ten have been declared for what looks a below par renewal on paper; the going on the chase track is now described as good, good to soft in places.

Off a mark of 132 favourite Blackjack Magic won the Badger Beer at Wincanton at the beginning of November with an immaculate round of jumping (Certainly Red fourth). 

The top weight wasn't foot-perfect at the fences next time when fourth behind Victtorino at Ascot - Rex Dingle did well to keep the partnership intact at the last - and, with just six chase starts to his name, Anthony Honeyball's charge is the least experienced in the field over the larger obstacles.

Dom Of Mary looked impressive beating Tommie Beau ten lengths in the Sussex National at Plumpton for which the handicapper has raised him nine pounds. I'm not sure the step back in trip and better ground here play to his strengths.

Mare Kestrel Valley won a mares' handicap chase at Hereford off 104 in October and goes off 127 tomorrow. She appears prone to make at least one bad error in a race.

Wearing first-time cheekpieces Bangers And Cash ran his best race for some time in the Mandarin Chase at Newbury in December; his chance is respected, as is that of Certainly Red, fifth in the same race. Two lengths separated the pair that day and they re-oppose on the same terms.

Lydia Richards' charge, a course winner and a distance winner, has a ten pound pull at the weights with Blackjack Magic from their encounter in the Badger Beer; his liking for this particular track is a major plus. 

Grozni has his third start for James Owen; a lot of his Irish form was over shorter trips but the booking of Harry Cobden certainly catches the eye and he has been well supported in the market throughout the day.

I'm a fan of course and distance winner Fortescue but he has become notoriously lazy in his races of late; the worry is he'll become detached, especially on this better ground, before staying on stoutly at the end. 

Java Point is potentially well handicapped on 126 having won off 130 at Newbury in April 2022. He appears to like the Berkshire venue and faded out of contention there behind Inch House on his first run for new connections.

Full Back's profile suggests he hasn't been the easiest to train; he fell behind L'Homme Presse at Lingfield a fortnight ago after a break of 434 days. 

Moroder has been bang out of form this term, having pulled up twice before finishing last behind Flegmatik at Kempton  - the trainer subsequently reported the gelding had made a respiratory noise.

Last March Seamus Mullins' charge pipped Undersupervision a neck in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster off 131 and then ran an excellent second at this track behind Kitty's Light in the bet365 Chase off 136.

Four on the shortlist: Certainly Red, Grozni, Bangers And Cash and Moroder. 

I'm hoping the fitting of a first-time tongue-tie and the drying ground will show Moroder in a better light than we've seen so far this season. I took 28/1 each-way four places earlier this afternoon and he appears to have come in for support this evening.

Moroder is the each-way suggestion, currently 18/1 with Betfred who are paying four places.