Friday, March 29, 2024

The 2024 Challenger Stayers Hurdle Series Final at Haydock

The widely reported fall in betting turnover on racing is certainly not good news for the sport's finances but that pales into insignificance besides proposals put forward by the Liberal Democrats in the world of football. 

Martin Samuel wrote in The Times on Wednesday: 

"[The Lib Dems'] manifesto for sport would put the Premier League on free-to-air television by law, meaning the finances of arguably the most successful industry in British business would collapse overnight."  

Enough. Have a look at this instead. 

It's soft on the hurdle track at Haydock, with a dry day forecast tomorrow; thirteen go in the Challenger Stayers Hurdle Series Final due off at 2.40. 

In an open event, Astronomic View heads the market with Doughmore Bay, Picanha, and Judicial Law supported during the day. 

Shoeshine Boy, joint favourite with one or two layers earlier, is 10/1 with Paddy Power at the time of writing.  

Three weeks ago, over a trip of three and a quarter miles at Warwick, Astronomic View recorded his first win in eight hurdle races, coming home 21 lengths ahead of My Bobby Dazzler in second, with Martha Brae (third) and Balkardy (fifth) even further behind. 

Sue Gardner's chestnut, owned by husband Des, was raised eight pounds for that effort; daughter Lucy rides. 

My Bobby Dazzler's second to the Olly Murphy trained Butch at Cheltenham on New Year's Day reads well. 

Mel Rowley's inmate finished fourth in this race last year off a mark of 122; taking Tabitha Worsley's three pound claim into consideration, he is effectively two pounds better off this year.

Top weight Judicial Law travelled well for a long way behind Emitom at Newbury last time - noticeable error made four out - but he didn't quite get home on the heavy ground, finishing fifth; the handicapper has dropped him one pound for that run.

The yard has won this twice in the past five years with Django Django (2019) and An Tailliur (2022).

Picanha finished fourth in the same Newbury race on his first start for 660 days. 

He clearly hasn't been easy to train - just seven starts under rules at the age of ten - but that was a decent effort; he beat Trincomalee off this mark at Warwick in April 2022.

Doughmore Bay did well to finish second behind Ilovethenightlife on his first run for 73 days at Plumpton; outpaced rounding the home turn, he looked booked to finish with the also-rans before rallying stoutly up the hill.

Prior to that Emma Lavelle's charge had finished seventh behind American Sniper and White Rhino (Paricolor third) at Cheltenham in November.

Paricolor hasn't won for over two years but has nonetheless posted some decent efforts in defeat. 

He was pulled up 11 days ago behind Feivel at Exeter, having missed a race at Doncaster in January on account of the ground and one at Wincanton at the beginning of the month; the handicapper has dropped him three pounds. 

Connections try a first-time visor; the stable is operating at a 29% win strike rate over the past fortnight.

In four starts this season Goshhowposh has won twice and failed to complete twice. 

The gelding beat Shallow River at Wincanton on Boxing Day but was pulled up behind that rival on heavy ground at Exeter seven weeks ago. The trainer said his charge stopped very quickly that day; connections fit blinkers for the first time.

Bottom weight Shoeshine Boy comes into this in fine form having won at Ayr and Kelso in the past six weeks; on 107 he's only six pounds higher for those two victories.

Secret Trix, kept busy over the summer months, qualified for this when second behind Equinus at Aintree at the end of October; he hasn't been seen since and wears cheekpieces for the first time.

Tanganiyka, on the other hand, has been kept busy over the winter months. 

Venetia Williams' charge made all to win at Newbury on his penultimate start and is now rated seven pounds higher. 

He beat Astronomic View (dead-heated with Chris Cool in second) at Bangor in December and has a couple of lengths to find on revised terms; he isn't always particularly fluent at the obstacles but the yard boasts six wins from 30 runs (20%) in the past 14 days.

Storm Nelson has caused havoc with wind, rain, hail and snow in parts of the country over the past 24 hours; expect similar levels of pandemonium if Storm Nelson wins here.

The gelding qualified when a modest third behind Johnson's Blue at Doncaster last month. His defeat of Wakool at Ayr 14 months ago reads well but the eleven-year-old hasn't shown that level of form since moving to Olly Williams in November.

A difficult race. 

My small each-way wager won't make any inroads into that widely reported fall in betting turnover ('a drop in the ocean', one might say) but I'm going to forgive My Bobby Dazzler his last run over an extended trip at Warwick. 

He likes to race up with the pace which suits Haydock; My Bobby Dazzler is the each-way suggestion, 14/1 with Sky Bet who pay one fifth the odds five places.     

Friday, March 22, 2024

The day after the Lord Mayor's show

The post Cheltenham clean-up operation started at PGHQ on Monday. 

The Racing Desk was hidden from plain sight by all kinds of detritus: old copies of the Weekender; shredded copies of the Racing Post; battered form books; a pizza box; pencils and pencil shavings; a scarf; half a cup of cold tea; numerous screwed up betting slips - including one for The Real Whacker; a pack of cheap biros; a reel of sellotape with a button at the end; a Ludlow racecard; a coupon for 30 bonus Nectar points when you buy Sainsbury's Bake At Home Baguettes; a packet of Wotsits; two six inch rulers; one flat cap; four receipts from Londis; a stale crisp; one glove; a copy of BBC Sports Report by Pat Murphy; two Deep Heat pain relief patches; and endless scraps of paper full of handicap ratings and adjusted ratings, official figures, speed figures and recondite calculations, together with a shopping list for spuds, onions, carrots, body lotion, bin bags and bananas. Where did that come from?  

Anyway, the consensus opinion appeared to be this year's Festival was rather flat Tuesday and Wednesday; better Thursday and Friday, with the Gold Cup one to remember.

The BHA promptly issued a statement on Irish dominance; Dr Richard Newland had his say on the matter.

Total attendance over the four days was 229,999, 11,000 down on last year (240,603).

Wednesday's figure of 46,771 was noticeably lower. 

Comments from the chief executive of the Jockey Club Nevin Truesdale: 'This is our sport's week. We should be uniting around it', appeared defensive. 

Only five of the 27 races retuned a winner at double figure odds: (Unexpected Party 12/1); Monmiral (25/1); Golden Ace (10/1); Absurde (12/1) and Stellar Story (33/1).

In days gone by my annual pilgrimage to Prestbury Park for the Wednesday meet was considered 'de rigueur' but in the past ten years I've only been on three occasions: 

2017 (Might Bite tries to throw away the RSA Chase and Special Tiara gives me a day out to remember); 

2018 (Douvan travelling sweetly in the Champion Chase when coming to grief four out); 

2020 (One pair of respectable black shoes ruined by the mud, after watching the cross country race next to the Cheese Wedges). 

To be perfectly honest, in recent years I just haven't felt the need to return. 

Anyway, a few days after the Lord Mayor's show I'm off to the Newbury races where the going is described as good to soft, soft in places. 

Mares' novices' hurdles are no particular speciality of mine; nineteen have been declared for the Grade Two at 3.15. 

Favourite Party Vibes won going away from Ooh Betty over an extended two mile trip at Market Rasen four and a half weeks ago. 

El Elefante beat Kay Tara Tara two and a quarter lengths at Ayr a fortnight ago but now has to concede 11 pounds to that rival. In the RP Weekender Alan King says of his charge: 

"She was much happier on the better ground up there [at Ayr] so the more it dries up here the better her chance."

Paul Nicholls thinks '113 is a very competitive mark to go in this race' for Larchmont Lass. Last time  Larchmont Lass had Baby Shally and Imperial Jade in arrears at Wincanton.

Smiling Getaway was well beaten by Springtime Promise and Cherie D'Am in the Jane Seymour at Sandown last month; Springtime Promise held an entry in the mares' novices' hurdle at the Festival.

Smiling Getaway had All The Glory over 17 lengths behind in fifth at Ludlow in December and Marmalade Time 47 lengths behind in eleventh - three weeks ago Marmalade Time beat Lindy Reilly 

Next time out Smiling Getaway beat Break My Soul at Warwick; Nicky Henderson's mare, a £290,000 purchase, runs in the novice handicap hurdle at 2.10.

Three runners make some appeal as a potential each-way play.

Paul Kealy makes a case for All The Glory in the RP Weekender, pointing out she's likely to appreciate drying ground; her form behind Shanagh Bob at Plumpton in November reads well, given that Shanagh Bob would have been towards the top of the market for the Albert Bartlett if Henderson's horses been in good health.

Condesa finished a long way behind El Elefante at Perth in September but her subsequent second behind Springtime Promise at Sedgefield at the end of January puts her right in the mix. She looks overpriced at 20/1.

Alfie's Princess finished ahead of Endless Supply twice in the autumn. 

Next time Sam Thomas' charge was fifth behind Pawapuri at Haydock, El Elefante three lengths ahead in fourth. Afterwards the trainer commented [RP Weekender 03-07.01.24]:

"She's got plenty of ability and won her first two starts this season at Chepstow and Exeter. I was slightly disappointed with her last run at Haydock, where she finished fifth. They went really quickly and I think we rode her a little bit wrong [led, then headed]. She probably wants a little bit further and we'll ride her more patiently next time."

At Sandown next time she was outpaced by two geldings, Jingko Blue (ran in the Gallagher Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham last week) and Titan Discovery (beaten half a length by Boombawn at Kempton on Saturday). 

The handicapper only dropped her one pound for that effort but she had Zain Nights half a length behind and that one pipped Take No Chances and Hermino AA in a three-way photo at Newbury this afternoon. 

A wide open event; I'm going to take a small each-way interest in Alfie's Princess.

Alfie's Princess is the each-way suggestion, 14/1 generally with most layers paying five places.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - the betting debrief

Shown below a record of the blog's highlighted selections at the 2024 Cheltenham Festival to a nominal one point level stakes wager (1 point win, 0.5 points each way) with bets settled at advised prices and each way returns calculated at one fifth the odds, except in the case of the Champion Chase (3.30 Wednesday) where, to avoid Rule 4 arithmetic, I've settled at starting price / one quarter the odds following the late withdrawals of both Jonbon and Boothill to leave a field of six.  


5.30 NH Challenge Cup Novices' Chase

Selection: Mr Vango

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 22/1

Starting price: 14/1

Result: Third

Return: 2.70

Profit/Loss: +1.70

Profit/Loss Tuesday: +1.70


2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Selection: Stay Away Fay

Bet: Win

Advised price: 7/2

Starting price: 6/1

Result: Pulled up

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

2.50 Coral Cup

Selection: Guard Your Dreams

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 18/1

Starting price: 25/1

Result: Eighteenth

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

3.30 Champion Chase

Selection: Captain Guinness

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 11/1 (before two withdrawals)

Starting price: 17/2

Result: Win

Return: 6.31

Profit/Loss: +5.31

Profit/Loss Wednesday: +3.31


1.30 Turners Novices' Chase

Selection: Grey Dawning

Bet: Win

Advised price: 9/4

Starting price: 5/2

Result: Win

Return: 3.25

Profit/Loss: +2.25

2.10 Pertemps Final

Selection: Springwell Bay

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 14/1

Result: Non runner

Profit/Loss: 0.00

2.50 Ryanair Chase

Selection: Protektorat

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 9/1

Starting price: 17/2

Result: Win

Return: 6.40

Profit/Loss: +5.40

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

Selection: Sire Du Berlais

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 14/1

Starting price: 14/1

Result: Fifth

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Thursday: +6.65


3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup

Selection: L'Homme Presse

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 10/1

Starting price: 16/1

Result: Fourth

Return: 1.50

Profit/Loss +0.50

Profit/Loss Friday: +0.50

Outlay over four days: 8 points

Profit/Loss over four days: +12.16 points

Profit/Loss expressed as percentage of outlay: 152%

A quick word of caution to the wise.

In no way are these figures indicative of the season's performance prior to this meet; in addition, the profit realised in the Champion Chase owed much to the misfortune of 2/9 favourite El Fabiolo at the fifth fence. Normal service will be resumed in due course.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Friday

The going on the New Course is currently described as soft, with intermittent rain forecast through the evening and tomorrow morning.

3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup

On March 12th 1924 Red Splash, trained by Fred Withington and ridden by Dick Rees, won the first running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup as a steeplechase.

100 years on they bet 10/1 bar two for the 2024 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Last year Galopin Des Champs beat Bravemansgame seven lengths; this year's race looks a stronger renewal.

Galopin Des Champs has won eight of his 11 starts over fences. 

He fell at the last when 12 lengths clear in the 2022 Turners Novices' Chase and has been beaten twice by Fastorslow at Punchestown; Willie Mullins' charge gained his revenge over that rival six weeks ago in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

On official handicap ratings Galopin has a minimum of nine pounds in hand over all his rivals.

On two trips to Cheltenham to date, Fastorslow has been beaten a short head by Commander Of Fleet in the 2022 Coral Cup and, conceding four pounds, a neck by Corach Rambler in last year's Ultima.

Martin Brassil's charge underwent wind surgery immediately after that latest defeat at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Beaten a short head by The Real Whacker in last year's Brown Advisory, Gerri Colombe won the Mildmay at Aintree and just pipped Envoi Allen in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal before holding Capodanno a head for second place in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, the pair some 23 lengths behind Galopin Des Champs.

It's difficult to see Bravemansgame reversing the form of last year's race.

This term a mistake at the last handed the initiative to Gentlemansgame in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and Paul Nicholls' inmate was beaten by Haydock specialist Royale Pagaille in the Betfair Chase. 

He finished second behind Hewick in the King George but both would probably have finished behind Shishkin if Nicky Henderson's charge hadn't stumbled and unseated Nico De Boinville just after the penultimate flight.

Earlier this afternoon trainer John 'Shark' Hanlon withdrew Hewick, a 33/1 chance for next month's Grand National, on account of soft ground.

Last year's National winner Corach Rambler is currently quoted 12/1 joint favourite for the Aintree showpiece. 

Following a subdued introduction at Kelso in October, Lucinda Russell's charge finished third behind Royal Pagaille and Bravemansgame in the Betfair Chase at Haydock; you suspect it was at that point connections started to ruminate over a plan to come here. 

The last ten-year-old to win a Gold Cup was Cool Dawn in 1998.

L'Homme Presse won the 2022 Brown Advisory and the following November carried top weight to victory in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle. Next time he fell in the King George won by Bravemansgame and was subsequently off the track for 13 months. 

On reappearance this January he beat Protektorat (won the Ryanair Chase earlier today) in the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield and finished a creditable third behind Pic D'Orhy at Ascot four weeks ago - after the race beaten connections were particularly upbeat about that effort with this race as the target.

In 2020 Monkfish won the Albert Bartlett and the following year he won the Brown Advisory. 

He has obviously had his problems since. Seven weeks ago he beat 2018 Supreme winner Summerville Boy in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park; many pundits thought he was going to turn up in the Stayers' Hurdle but no, here he is, in a Gold Cup. 

It's a bold move by connections which would indicate they feel their charge is in rude health.

The Real Whacker won his three chase starts at the track last year - including the Brown Advisory - but  hasn't won in three starts this term. 

I bet Patrick Neville's charge in the Cotswold Chase seven weeks ago - and had to go to inordinate lengths to eventually claim the £5 free bet which the advertisement in the bookmaker's shop window indicated I was entitled to.

I have to say I'd expected more from The Real Whacker that day. 

Leading, he jumped right on occasions and lost his pitch two out before rallying to claim second spot ahead of Stay Away Fay (pulled up in the Brown Advisory yesterday). He wears a visor for the first time.

Nassalam has appeared a different horse for the fitting of blinkers. 

He finished 34 lengths behind Corach Rambler in the Ultima last year but has since won twice at Chepstow after the aids were applied; last time he won the Welsh National by an astonishing 34 lengths and is quoted 33/1 for the Grand National. 

The percentage call is he needs heavy ground to be seen at his best.

With just five starts under rules to his name Jungle Boogie has clearly had his problems.

Galopin Des Champs is the one to beat; to date Fastorslow is the only horse to have done so over fences.

L'Homme Presse is suited by soft ground but tries this extended three and a quarter mile trip for the first time; if he sees the trip out, he holds an each-way chance.

Selection: L'Homme Presse each-way, at the time of writing 10/1 with Paddy Power paying four places.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Thursday

Earlier this afternoon Willie Mullins became the first trainer to send out 100 winners at the Cheltenham Festival when his son Patrick rode 9/2 chance Jasmin De Vaux to victory in the concluding bumper.

The going is currently described as soft, heavy in places, with further rain forecast from 1.00 tomorrow afternoon.

1.30 Turners Novices' Chase

Facile Vega didn't jump particularly well when third behind Il Etait Temps and Found A Fifty at the Dublin Racing Festival; he tries this trip for the first time.

There wouldn't be much between Grey Dawning and Ginny's Destiny. 

Back in December, in receipt of three pounds, Ginny's Destiny beat Grey Dawning threequarters of a length. That doesn't necessarily tell the whole tale as Grey Dawning made a howler two out and did well to finish as close as he did in the circumstances.  

Stepped up to three miles next time, Grey Dawning won the Hampton Novices' Chase at Warwick in something approaching a common canter. Connections have taken this option rather than the Brown Advisory on account of the soft ground. 

Iroko won the Martin Pipe last year and is a fine prospect; however he has just one chase start to his name. 

Six-year-olds have won two of the last ten renewals (Vautour in 2015 and Defi Du Seuill in 2019); no horse older than eight has come home in front in the same timeframe.

The price doesn't make too much appeal but Grey Dawning is my idea of the winner.

Selection: Grey Dawning win, 9/4 at the time of writing.

2.10 Pertemps Final

I'm a fan of Cuthbert Dibble (and the Trumpton fire brigade for that matter) but he looked to have a hard enough race when 'all out' to beat Lord Snootie (of 'The Beano' fame) at Haydock three and a half weeks ago. 

The handicapper raised him six pounds for that win and, with Sam Twiston-Davies replacing five pound claimer Finn Lambert in the plate, he's effectively 11 pounds higher here. 

At the prices stablemate Gowel Road is perhaps of more interest; his fourth behind the ill-fated Slate Lane with Fine Margin second and Crambo (5/1 second favourite for the Stayers' Hurdle at 3.30) third reads well. Looking through his profile there's a suggestion he can find himself outpaced at the business end of a race - even on heavy ground - before staying on again.

Course and distance winner White Rhino - stablemate of Iroko in the first - has been well touted on the preview circuit.   

With a chase rating of 150, the 2022 Coral Gold Cup winner Le Milos could be thrown in on 142;  the horse has had a number of issues this season but handler Dan Skelton issued an upbeat bulletin earlier. 

The yard has hit form in no uncertain terms today. 

Langer Dan won the Coral Cup with something to spare and a couple of hours later Unexpected Party won the Grand Annual; at the time of writing Le Milos is 6/1 favourite.

Rated 155 over fences, Chantry House is another chaser well in off 143 but he wouldn't be one to trust implicitly.

Gordon Elliott boasts a good record in this race - Jack Kennedy rides Cleatus Poolaw - and Ted Walsh's sole runner, Gaoth Chuil, catches the eye.    

Springwell Bay is one I like. 

He won with a bit in hand on seasonal debut, a fact that didn't escape the attention of the handicapper.

Last time over three miles at Musselburgh he was was pipped a neck by Curley Finger (Hector Javilex third, Noble Birth ninth) and the handicapper reacted by giving him another two pounds for his trouble. He has his share of weight, granted, but he has won at the track previously and rates an each-way wager.

Selection: Springwell Bay each-way, 14/1 with Sky who pay eight places.

2.50 Ryanair Chase

Envoi Allen beat Shishkin in this race last year and goes for a double previously completed by Allaho (2021/22) and Albertas Run (2010/11); Albertas Run is the last ten-year-old to win this race. 

Stage Star won the Turners last year and the Paddy Power Gold Cup on seasonal debut in the autumn but was pulled up in a handicap chase over course and distance on New Year's Day - Paul Nicholls reported the gelding stiff after that race.

Banbridge would have been the pick on better ground. 

Under a classic Paul Townend hold up ride, Capodanno breezed through the field to win the Cotswold Chase from The Real Whacker, with Stay Away Fay third and Ahoy Senor fourth. Apart from winning a Clonmel maiden over two miles in 2021, all Capodanno's winning form is at three miles plus.

Gold Cup defector Ahoy Senor looked a tad unlucky in that race as Lucinda Russell's charge appeared to be travelling well when Stephen Mulqueen's right stirrup leather broke four out. He has since finished third behind Pic D'Orhy and L'Homme Presse in the Betfair Ascot Chase.

Connections have chosen to run here rather than in the Gold Cup, as assistant trainer Peter Scudamore explains:

"It was a difficult decision...but the belief is he's got another year in him when he could go for the Gold Cup. I felt his run last year impacted how he ran at Aintree after, when he'd had a hard season.

"He's got a good chance in the Ryanair and Derek [Fox] would like it if he ran in it. His owners very sportingly gave our blessing to do so."   

I'm going to chance another Gold Cup defector, Protektorat. 

Having finished third behind A Plus Tard in the 2022 Gold Cup and fifth behind Galopin Des Champs in last year's renewal, it's clear connections think their charge doesn't quite get up the hill. He tends to race quite keenly; last time he led from the front in the Denman Chase at Newbury where he finished third behind Shishkin and Hitman. 

I'm hoping this step back in trip will help his cause.

Selection: Protektorat each-way, 9/1 with bet365 paying four places.

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

Some old friends make an appearance here.

I tipped Teahupoo for last year's renewal but he was held by Dashel Drasher on the run to the line when Sire Du Berlais went past them both to win at odds of 33/1, with Flooring Porter fourth.

Flooring Porter has done the blog a favour twice in recent times, winning this event at 12/1 in 2021 and at 4/1 in 2022. He tends to race from the front, although he's maybe not quite as headstrong as he once was in his younger days. (Ditto.) 

Gavin Cromwell's charge has contested three novice chases this term (beat Broadway Boy at this track in the autumn) but it looks as though this has been the target since Christmas.

Crambo heads the British challenge. 

He beat Paisley Park a short head on good ground in the Long Walk at Ascot in December (Dashel Drasher third). This will probably represent his first try at this trip on ground this deep.

Paisley Park beat Sam Spinner in this race in 2019. 

This term the twelve-year-old has been beaten a short-head by Dashel Drasher; a short-head by Crambo; and a head by Noble Yeats. Connections will feel they're due a change of luck.

We've learned to expect the unexpected from Emmet Mullins. 

This year Grand National winner Noble Yeats has been campaigned over hurdles; he's currently quoted at 16/1 for the Aintree showpiece in April. 

Last time in the Cleeve he appeared outpaced on the home turn before fighting back to just hold Paisley Park on the line. Connections have opted to fit cheekpieces.

This has been the target all season for Teahupoo who comes into the race a fresh horse; he looks the one to beat. Sir Gerhard has never won at this trip and Tom Segal likes Home By The Lee but at the prices I'll take an each-way interest in one of the old brigade.

Selection: Sire Du Berlais each-way, currently 14/1 with Coral who pay four places. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Wednesday

The going is currently described as heavy, soft in places, with a dry day forecast tomorrow.

Ballyburn beat Slade Steel, winner of the Supreme earlier today, seven lengths at the Dublin Racing Festival and is long odds on to win the opening Gallagher Novices' Hurdle (1.30). 

2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase 

Odds on favourite Fact Or File has yet to race beyond two miles five and a half furlongs under rules although he won a point over three miles on soft ground at Belharbour two years ago, beating Asian Master (excellent 16/1 fourth in the Supreme earlier today) six lengths. He has shown a tendency to jump right on occasions.

Stay Away Fay won last year's Albert Bartlett (Monty's Star pulled up) and has won two of his three starts over fences this term, conceding three pounds and beating Giovinco one and a half lengths on his penultimate start at Sandown.

Facing more experienced rivals in the Cotswold Chase six weeks ago, he lost second spot on the run up the hill which remains a slight concern; however the Cotswold Chase is run over a furlong further on the new course, generally considered to be a stiffer test of stamina. 

Monty's Star, a sound jumper who will appreciate underfoot conditions, is given every respect but on ratings Henry De Bromhead's charge has 12 pounds to find with the market leaders, as does American Mike who appeared to improve on his first try over three miles at Navan last time.

Paul Nicholls has described Stay Away Fay as one of his best chances of the week.

Selection: Stay Away Fay win, 7/2 with a number of layers this evening.

2.50 Coral Cup

The usual minefield. 

Favourite Sa Majeste has his first run in a handicap off 140; he won over two and a half miles on heavy ground at Limerick last time.

Nicky Henderson saddles three - Doddiethegreat, Lucky Place and First Street - but the stable is clearly under a cloud with five of the yard's six runners pulled up today - Luccia the only one to run her race when finishing third behind Lossiemouth in the Mares' Hurdle.

Doddiethegreat has won over this trip previously and was well touted on the preview circuit after finishing fourth behind stablemate Iberico Lord in the Betfair Hurdle just over four weeks ago.

First Street was eleventh behind Faivoir in the County last year off a mark of 152, beaten nine lengths. He goes off 143 here and has form behind Rubaud, Constitution Hill and Lossiemouth this term. He underwent wind surgery at the end of January but would ideally prefer better ground.

Might I was fourth behind Iroko in the Martin Pipe last year off a mark three pounds higher. He hasn't really taken to chasing this term; it looks as though this has been the target since Christmas and he'll handle underfoot conditions.

Guard Your Dreams, seventh in this race three years ago off 135, has clearly had problems. 

Returning after 660 days off the track he finished behind Lossiemouth and First Street in the International Hurdle and Nemean Lion in the Kingwell at Wincanton.

Rated 147 at his peak, Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge looks feasibly handicapped on 137 and should act on the ground.

Selection: Guard Your Dreams 18/1 each-way, with Sky paying eight places. 

3.30 Champion Chase

Unbeaten over fences in six starts El Fabiolo beat Jonbon five and a half lengths in the Arkle last year; his jumping isn't always foot perfect. This rematch has been anticipated throughout the season.

Jonbon has five pounds to find on ratings and, as highlighted above, the form of the yard is a concern. 

Jonbon didn't jump well at all last time when beaten a neck by Elixir De Nutz; at ten years of age Joe Tizzard's grey is in the form of his life.

Edwardstone won the 2022 renewal of the Arkle but was a major disappointment in this race last year and has finished behind Jonbon twice this term. Connections tried a step up to two and a half miles at Kempton in January but that experiment was classed a failure. 

Last time out he made all to win the Game Spirit at Newbury; in a recent preview programme, Nico De Boinville appeared to suggest, rather mischievously, that similar tactics would help his cause...

Captain Guinness, second behind Energumene in this race last year, finished behind Jonbon in the Celebration Chase at Sandown last April and behind El Fabiolo at the Dublin Racing Festival five weeks ago; he holds place prospects once again.  

Selection: Captain Guinness each-way, 11/1 with Paddy Power at the time of writing.

Finally, it's a long time since I've been brave enough to have a bet in the bumper and I'm not about to change my mind now but two things caught my eye.

Firstly, Jane Chapple-Hyam, more accustomed to having runners on the Flat, saddles four-year-old grey Stavvy here.

Secondly, a shout out for Union Avenue who could outrun odds of 100/1. 

Trained by James Moffatt at Cartmel in Cumbria, this one finished three and a quarter lengths fourth behind Royal Infantry in a listed bumper at Newbury four and a half weeks ago. 

Described by his trainer as 'a serious horse', he's a work in progress and should make up into a smart novice hurdler next season.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Tuesday

Generally, over the years, I haven't struck too many wagers on the first day of a Festival meeting but, for the first time in a long time, I've really struggled to winkle out a wager that makes much appeal.

The Champion Hurdle (3.30) is of little interest for betting purposes, Irish novices look some way ahead of their British counterparts in the Supreme (1.30) - rain hasn't helped the chance of Ben Pauling's charge Tellherthename - while anything can win the Arkle (2.50), and if there's value left in the Ultima (2.50), I haven't been able to spot it..

They say one of the the biggest weapons in a punter's armoury is deciding when to play - for my only bet of the opening day I've gone for a bit of a punt in the finale.

5.30 Maureen Mullins National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys' Novices' Chase.

Seven declared, with the going described as soft after 11mm of rain fell over the weekend.

Greg Wood of the Guardian predicts 'another almighty beating' for British jumping at this year's Festival - 'It is only the scale of the embarrassment that has yet to be decided' - and the three Irish trained horses in this field dominate the market; Embassy Gardens is the one to beat on Racing Post ratings.

About this time last year Corbetts Cross was in the process of giving Stay Away Fay a run for his money in the Albert Bartlett before jinking right and running out at the last (Embassy Gardens pulled up before the last after running too freely). 

In four chase starts this term Emmet Mullins' charge has looked novicey at his obstacles on occasions but he'll benefit from the assistance of top amateur Mr Derek O'Connor. 

At Fairyhouse five weeks ago Corbetts Cross jumped out to his left left, Run Wild Fred to his right and a mid-air collision ensued, with both coming to grief three from home.

Both Corbetts Cross and Embassy Gardens wear a first-time hood; Willie Mullins' charge has looked the more assured jumper of the pair on his two starts over fences.

Salvador Ziggy, second in the Pertemps Final last year and second in the Kerry National on his penultimate start, hasn't been seen since finishing seventh of eight runners at Far Hills, New Jersey in the autumn; he would probably prefer better ground.

Between them, Mullins and Elliott have won six of the past ten renewals of this race, three victories apiece.  

The mare Apple Away comes into this on the back of two tough races in the Hampton Novices' Chase at Warwick (won by Grey Dawning) and the Reynoldstown at Ascot in which Henry's Friend held Kilbeg King a head.

Kilbeg King, still to win a chase, was beaten just under 15 lengths by the impressive Il Etait Francais in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day; Anthony Honeyball's charge clearly has an engine but he made a number of niggly errors at Ascot and was ultimately undone by one at the last.

On just his second chase start front-runner Mr Vango made all and ran his rivals ragged on heavy ground in the Devon National at Exeter 18 days ago, beating Foxboro 60 lengths; he's the only one in this field to have won at this distance. 

He jumped neatly in the main but took a mighty chunk out of the third last and certainly won't be able to take similar liberties here; in addition 18 days' recovery time is far from ideal for a staying chaser. 

That said, he beat Inis Oirr a neck in a Haydock maiden in 2022 - that one won the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh last month and is currently priced up 7/1 favourite for the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter on Saturday.

He needs to find more in this; connections have opted to fit cheekpieces for the first time.

With Betfred, Coral, Sky and bet365 paying three places, the outsider in the field Mr Vango represents an each-way play at around 20/1.

Mr Vango is the each-way suggestion, currently priced 22/1 with Coral.


Trainer Sara Bradstock has taken over the licence following the death of husband Mark earlier this month after a long illness; there won't be a dry eye in the house should Mr Vango come home in front.  

Friday, March 08, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - the calm before the storm...

An uninterrupted preparation is preferable for any Cheltenham Festival engagement; unfortunately I've suffered the exact opposite this year - an interrupted preparation. Inchoate thoughts outlined below.


1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Ballyburn, considered by many to be the best novice seen this season, heads to the Gallagher Novices' Hurdle (1.30 Wednesday).

At the time of writing only three British trained entries remain in the field: Jeriko Du Reponet (136); Tellherthename (135); and Favour And Fortune (138).

Both Tellherthename and Favour And Fortune would appreciate better ground; if the forecast rain arrives on Sunday, that would have to be considered a negative. Favour And Fortune holds an entry in County Hurdle (2.10 Friday).   

Ben Pauling happens to have a number of talented novices in his yard this year including Handstands (136); The Jukebox Man (135); Personal Ambition (131); Fiercely Proud (130); Champagne Twist (124) - will be better with a summer on his back; and Pic Roc (123).

After Tellherthename's win at Huntingdon in January, the handler said:

"The ground there [at Huntingdon] was was soft enough and it is not the good to soft they advertised, but Tellherthename has handled it very well. He is an unbelievably class horse. That now gives him his fourth run so he has got the option of the Betfair Hurdle but the ground would have to be spot on for that otherwise we go straight to the Supreme with him. I think he is a class horse with gears galore and I sometimes think they are best fresh. They go such a gallop in that race (Supreme) and if you are anything but absolutely ready for the day then you might get flat footed."  

The undeniable dominance of Irish trained novices in recent years is daunting; their numerical advantage here tempers enthusiasm but Tellherthename is still of interest at around the 16/1 mark.

2.10 Arkle Novices' Chase

Marine Nationale misses the race after a setback.

I've spent a little time looking at the jumping of the Irish horses at the head of the market. 

Both Gaelic Warrior and Found A Fifty have shown a tendency to go right. The former was well beaten behind Fact Or File when unseating Paul Townend last time. 

Hunters Yarn has two runs over fences to his name, both at Fairyhouse, a right-handed track; the gelding fell at the last on his first start and made a bad mistake two out next time.

Wearing a first-time tongue-tie, the grey Il Etait Temps showed plenty of resolve and determination to get up to beat Found A Fifty a neck with Facile Vega third in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

Quilixios jumped right on his first run over fences at Limerick but jumped well at Naas in January. 

The two Irish entries of interest are Il Etait Temps and the 2021 Triumph Hurdle winner Quilixios.

JPR One has been considered, given he generally jumps and travels well in a race. 

The consensus opinion was he was unfortunate to unseat Brendan Powell in the Arkle Trial over course and distance in November. 

I've seen one pundit claim that is the only mistake the gelding has made in his races to date but I disagree - he made a bad error at the penultimate flight when finishing third behind Le Patron in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in December, an error that cost him his winning chance. 

All of which led me to just question his jumping in the white heat of battle. 

With previous Arkle winners achieving a hurdle rating of 150 and upwards - and JPR One recording just 130 - I've decided to leave the race well alone.

3.30 Champion Hurdle

With Constitution Hill unable to defend his title, Iberico Lord has been supplemented at a cost £18,000. 

The form of the Henderson stable remains a concern. Crazierthandaisy has been declared for the listed British Stallions Studs EBF Mares' Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at Sandown tomorrow, the yard's first runner for seven days.

The absence of Constitution Hill has certainly opened the race up but Lossiemouth is still likely to take her chance in the Mares' Hurdle (4.10). 

Course and distance winner Pied Piper (16/1) is considered; he was beaten a head by the fast-finishing Faivoir in the County Hurdle last year. Bred by Queen Elizabeth II, the gelding changed hands for 570,000 euros at the dispersal sale of Andrew and Gemma Brown's horses last month.


2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Favourite Fact Or File has yet to win over this distance under rules although he won a three mile point at Belharbour two years ago. On his first run over fences he was beaten by American Mike over two and a half miles.

Broadway Boy, behind Grey Dawning at Warwick last time, has a good record around Cheltenham. Assistant trainer Willy Twiston-Davies recently said:

"Broadway Boy worked exceptionally well last week. He had a quiet week after he ran at Warwick in January, when he wasn't right, but he hasn't missed a beat since. He did his last piece of work this morning and it was as good as I've felt from him all season. He's fresh and has a glint in his eye and his coat looks fantastic. All the signs lead to a big run.

"Fact To File looks a fantastic horse, but he beat Gaelic Warrior last time who was going left-handed and unseated, which is not exactly a formline you'd want to trust."

Stay Away Fay won the Albert Bartlett last year and started this term beating The Changing Man and Grey Dawning over three miles at Exeter.  

Last time his finishing effort appeared to flatten out against more experienced rivals in the Cotswold Chase and he lost second spot to The Real Whacker on the run up the hill; he may have lacked a little fine-tuning with this race the ultimate target. 

Grey Dawning appeared to have improved at Warwick last time beating Apple Away 14 lengths, Broadway Boy 32 lengths and The Changing Man 50 lengths.

I'm leaning towards Grey Dawning who did well to finish second behind Ginny's Destiny at the track in December after a bad mistake two out. Dan Skelton has indicated the grey will run in the Turners Novices' Chase (1.30 Thursday) if the ground remains soft.


2.50 Ryanair Chase 

The Ryanair is shaping up. Bambridge, last year's winner Envoi Allen ("in mighty form"), Turners winner Stage Star, Protektorat, and Ahoy Senor are all declared. Ga Law has been supplemented at a cost of £18,000.

Of the decision to run Ahoy Senor in this, assistant trainer Peter Scudamore said:

"It was a difficult decision...but the belief is he's got another year in him when he could go for the Gold Cup. I felt his run last year impacted how he ran at Aintree after, when he'd had a hard season.

"He's got a good chance in the Ryanair and Derek [Fox] would like it if he ran in it. His owners very sportingly gave our blessing to do so."   

Protektorat is of interest at around 12/1, particularly if the going remains on the soft side.

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

There are strong(ish) vibes for Monkfish. 

Does Willie Mullins have him back to his best?  If the gelding runs in the Stayers' Hurdle (3.30) he'll certainly be worth a second look at 14/1. The ten-year-old also holds an entry in the Gold Cup. 


3.30 Gold Cup

A strong renewal, the highlight of the week. 

On Racing Post ratings last year's winner Galopin Des Champs has six pounds in hand of nearest rival Shishkin.

Current interest centres around L'Homme Presse (14/1) on soft ground; Hewick (20/1) on better ground; and Corach Rambler (22/1).

Festival handicaps

Kevin Blake's blog post provides an analysis of Irish trained entries in this year's handicap races, together with a potted history of the trials and tribulations endured by both British and Irish handicappers in recent times.

Irish entries slated to run off their current Irish mark include Batman Girac 133 (Boodles); King Of Kingsfield 140 (County); Magic Tricks 145 (Coral Cup / County / Martin Pipe); and Anna Bunina 140 (Coral Cup / Pertemps Final).

Irish runners allocated just one pound above their Irish mark include Risk Belle 136+1 (County) and Bialystok 138+1 (County).  

Other entries of note:

Absurde - won the Ebor handicap at York last August off a rating of 104; he is now rated 110 on the Flat. If he goes to post in the County on Friday he will have his first run in a handicap hurdle off 138.

Absurde's stablemate Sa Majeste has been given a mark of 140 for his first run in a handicap; he holds entries in the Coral Cup and Martin Pipe.

So Scottish - 130 over hurdles in Ireland; rated 133 for the County but has an Irish chase rating of 137.

Milan Tino - rated 136 in France but allocated just 126 in the Boodles.

Kevin Blake concludes:

"It is too early to suggest that peace in our times might well be a possibility in the contentious world of cross-border handicapping, but we seem to be moving towards a more harmonious future."  

As always, I'll aim to post selections for each of the four days. 

The tension is starting to build...

Friday, March 01, 2024

The 2024 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso

We've had some rain this winter and it looks like there's still more to come but that hasn't stopped the manager of our local Asda piling up disposable barbecues in the entrance to his store. Just looked a tad previous to me.

Anyway, Turftrax describes the going up in the Scottish Borders at Kelso as good to soft with frost sheets to be deployed on all take offs, landings and crossovers. 

Eighteen are set to face the starter in the Morebattle Hurdle (2.50); the winner can claim a £100,000 bonus by collecting the spoils in any race at the Cheltenham Festival - The Shunter completed the double by winning the Paddy Power Plate in 2021.

The well-being of Constitution Hill has been a topic of some discussion this week; stablemate Under Control heads the market here. 

The mare beat stablemate Iberico Lord in the Novices' Championship Final at Sandown in April; that form looks good with Iberico Lord going on to win the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November and the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month. (Her Cheltenham entries are: the Champion Hurdle; the Mares' Hurdle; and the County Hurdle. Iberico Lord is entered in the County Hurdle).

Under Control appeared anything but when beaten out of sight on seasonal debut in the Gerry Feilden; following wind surgery she split the Willie Mullins trained pair Ashore Diamond and Gala Marceau in the Yorkshire Rose Mares' Hurdle at Doncaster at the end of January. 

She's not the biggest of individuals; the handler has indicated better ground will help her cause.

The current form of the Henderson stable has to be a concern. In the past fortnight six of the yard's 11 runners have pulled up with Kado De Joie the most recent winner on 20th February at Market Rasen.

Black Hawk Eagle was rated 81 on the Flat in Ireland before notching two wins from three runs at right-handed tracks in this country.

Both Skycutter and Salsada appear well handicapped in relation to former Flat ratings.

Skycutter goes off 121 having been rated 98 on the Flat - and Tristan Durrell claims three - while Salsada goes off 126 having been rated 91 on the Flat. 

When last seen the mare Salsada finished fifth in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, just under 10 lengths behind Rubaud, with the likes of Milkwood, Soaring Glory and First Street in arrears. She catches the eye on debut in handicap company.

Bingoo's number went in a few notebooks when winning over two and a half miles at Aintree on Boxing Day; handler Jimmy Moffatt has indicated his charge is best fresh with cut in the ground but also said in a recent 'Straight from the Stable' article [RP Weekender 14-18.02.24]:

"He's versatile tripwise, he's so genuine and he's improving. We're likely to enter him at the Cheltenham Festival [entries in the County and Martin Pipe].

"I'd like to see him carrying a low weight as he's not the biggest. We'll keep his options open but soft ground is a must and we'll be influenced by that."

Top weight Benson won this race last year off 134, making good late headway to snatch the lead from Colonel Mustard after the last; he holds place prospects this year while stablemate Bass Rock, better known as a chaser, races off a mark five pounds below his chase rating and Lewis Dobb claims seven.

Course and distance winner Ballygeary was in with every chance coming to the last in the Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh four weeks ago; he eventually finished fifth, beaten under five lengths (Benson one and a half lengths ahead in fourth, Caithness behind in tenth). He sports first-time cheekpieces here and has been supported in the market.

If he had kept to a straight line Anyharminasking would have beaten Nemean Lion in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las in October. Jonjo O'Neill's charge subsequently finished well behind that rival in the Greatwood and steps back in trip here after two runs over two and a half miles.

Cracking Rhaposdy held the tune, just beating the Donald McCain trained Jungle Jack over course and distance 15 days ago, with Ginger Mail, another course and distance winner, two and a quarter lengths adrift in third. Jungle Jack held an entry at the five day stage but connections have declared Ballygeary and Geromino so you'd imagine they know where they stand in relation to Ewan Whillans' charge.

Geromino's lower hurdle mark has been exploited on his last two runs, both at Doncaster; First Edition, Rare Edition, Soaring Glory, Tommy's Oscar and Langer Dan were all behind on his penultimate start but he's now rated 136.

Irish raider Little Mixup doesn't appear too mixed up after his move to Denis Hogan's yard. Winning at Thurles on the second start for new connections, the gelding was raised nine pounds to a career-high mark of 127 - and then the British handicapper added a further five, just for good measure; Mark McDonagh helps the cause by claiming three.

Rewired was rated 78 on the Flat and has been placed in 12 of his 14 hurdle starts to date; this represents a step up in class.

Course and distance winner Caithness finished third behind Impose Toi in a novice handicap at Cheltenham in November- that winner is now rated 134. 

Next time he didn't hurdle too fluently at Kempton and then faded out of contention before the last in the Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh, eventually beaten less than 10 lengths. 

This track is likely to suit better; he was six lengths or so adrift of Benson in fourth at Musselburgh but, taking into account jockey allowances, he's entitled to finish much closer to that opponent, a fact that isn't reflected in market prices.

The Churchill Lad looked too keen for his own good when finishing behind Ginger Mail and Cracking Rhapsody over course and distance in January; on balance he has something to find with a few of these while this represents Ganapathi's first run over hurdles in five starts this term.

N'golo makes his first appearance since finishing down the field in the 2022 Greatwood Hurdle won by I Like To Move It.

A hugely competitive affair and three have been under consideration: Ballygeary and Salsada, with Caithness looking overpriced at 33/1.

I've missed the bigger prices about Ballygeary so I'm going to take an interest in Salsada. She could be well treated off 126 in her first handicap; Daryl Jacob provides assistance in the saddle.

Salsada is the each-way suggestion, 12/1 generally with bet365 and William Hill paying six places.