Friday, April 26, 2024

bet365 Gold Cup 2024

At the end of a long wet winter, this week they've been watering at Sandown - can you believe it? - as Willie Mullins closes in on his first British trainers' title.

The going at the Esher track is currently described as good; 20 have been declared for the feature bet365 Gold Cup (3.35) which is run over an extended three and a half mile trip.

Clear favourite Kitty's Light brings strong form to the table, having finished third (placed second) off 139 in the 2021 renewal of this race; third behind Hewick off 145 in 2022; and then beating Moroder two and a half lengths off 140 last year (Annual Invictus sixth, Certainly Red seventh, with Enrilo falling at the second fence). 

A week earlier Kitty's Light had won the 2023 Scottish Grand National, run on good ground, off the same mark, with Threeunderthrufive fourth, beaten just over six lengths, and Flash Collonges coming to grief at the nineteenth fence when in contention.

Still only eight years of age, Christian Williams' charge is a one-off and races off 145 this year, having finished fifth behind the Willie Mullins trained I Am Maximus in the Aintree Grand National just a fortnight ago.

Prize money of just over £95,000 goes to the winner and W.P. Mullins attempts to land the pot by saddling three: Nick Rocket; Minella Cocooner; and Aime Desjy.

Minella Cocooner finished a four length third and Nick Rocket a thirty length seventh behind Intense Raffles in the Irish Grand National on heavy ground 26 days ago. 

A non-runner in the Brown Advisory at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival, Amirite completes the challenge from the other side of the Irish Sea. 

Rachael Blackmore appeared to leave Henry De Bromhead's charge with plenty to do when fifth behind Meetingofthewaters at Leopardstown over Christmas.  

Le Milos won the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury in 2022; at around 8/1 Dan Skelton's charge is certainly priced up on that effort. 

Campaigned solely over hurdles this season, he has generally been out of sorts. 

A couple of months ago I read that connections had decided to write this year off and were intending to start afresh next term. 

He could bounce back to form on better ground but on balance his entry here probably represents a final throw of the dice for the trainer as he tries to catch Willie Mullins. 

Last time out Threeunderthrufive beat a revitalised Rapper with something to spare in the Swinley Handicap Chase at Ascot but faces a stiff task off top weight here; next time out Rapper fell when up with the leaders in the Kim Muir at the Festival.

Threeunderthrufive's stablemate Enrilo passed the post first in the 2021 renewal of this race but was subsequently disqualified, placed third, and really hasn't hit the same heights since. 

Certainly Red certainly likes Sandown but he has not been jumping well this term. 

He threw away his chance when second behind Java Point at this track in February and the jumping was again a problem when third behind Sam Brown in a Veterans' Chase at Ascot five weeks ago. Connections will hope the application of first-time cheekpieces has the desired effect.

Slipway would probably prefer more cut underfoot, as would Sam Brown and Weveallbeencaught who is unexposed but has yet to win in four chase starts.

Does He Know has his share of weight and wouldn't be the easiest to predict but he appeared to enjoy himself at the head of affairs in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster eight weeks ago. 

Having his second start since wind surgery, Bangers And Cash is likely to race up with the pace and is feasibly handicapped on 132 having won over this distance off this mark at Taunton 13 months ago.

My shortish shortlist comprises three that are known to need better ground.

Kinondo Kwetu caught the eye when fourth at 25/1 behind Cruz Control (Sam Brown second) in the Freebooter at Aintree a fortnight ago. 

On his first start for 168 days, Sam England's inmate lost two places from two out and is entitled improve for the run. His third behind Twig in the Summer Cup at Uttoxeter last June reads well. 

Annual Invictus beat Forward Plan a nose on good ground in the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster on his penultimate start. Seventh in the Kim Muir last time, he was hampered by the fall of Rapper at the seventeenth and lost his position. He meets Kitty's Light on similar terms to last year when sixth behind that rival.

Perhaps Courtland looks a little high in the handicap after four wins last summer but Peter Bowen's charge was 80/1 earlier in the week and is now generally a 33/1 shot. 

The last of those summer victories, back in August, was the Class 2 Peter Dawson Forget-Me-Not Handicap Chase at Worcester where he came home 12 lengths clear. 

Last time he was an unlikely winner over an inadequate trip at Hereford as Mackenberg was some 15 lengths to the good when that rival jumped out left at the last and unseated the unfortunate Theo Gillard who later reported his saddle had slipped.

It has been a long, gruelling season and perhaps I've a touch of that end-of-term feeling, thanks for asking. With the value appearing to have disappeared from Kinondo Kwetu's price (11/1 generally), it's Annual Invictus who gets the nod. 

Annual Invictus is the each-way suggestion, currently 16/1 with most layers who are paying five places.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Scottish Grand National 2024

If you say Willie Mullins often enough, sooner or later you're going to fall into the trap and say Mullie Willins - I'm sure I heard Ted Chamberpin do exactly that at some point during ITV's coverage in midweek.    

Anyway, the great man - Willie that is, not Ed - is attempting to repeat a feat achieved by Vincent O'Brien in the 1952-53 and 1953-54 seasons - win the British jump trainers' title from a base in Ireland.

W.P. Mullins saddles six of the 26 declared for this year's Scottish National (3.35 Ayr): Mr Incredible; Ontheropes; Spanish Harlem; Macdermott; Klarc Kent and We'llhavewon. 

Fellow title contenders Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton saddle three between them - the former Stay Away Fay and Broken Halo while Dan relies on Ballygrifincottage. 

Earlier today Skelton nosed back ahead of Mullins in the title race after sending out Catch Him Derry (5/6f), Punta Del Este (25/1) and Presenting Nelly (5/1) to win at Ayr. 

Nicholls sent out Outlaw Peter (7/2jf) to win at Ayr and Kick Up A Storm (11/1) at Exeter; the Ditcheat handler has won the Scottish Grand National three times previously with Belmont King in 1997 and Vicente twice in 2016 and 2017. 

The going is currently described as soft.

Two six-year-old novices, Macdermott and Spanish Harlem, spearhead the Mullins challenge, along with Mr Incredible. The last six-year-old to come home in front was Earth Summit in 1994.

On his fifth start over fences Macdermott beat Better Times Ahead a comfortable 12 lengths at Fairyhouse earlier this month and was raised 12 pounds by the Irish handicapper to a mark of 133. He goes off 137 here and races beyond three miles for the first time. 

Spanish Harlem, the mount of Paul Townend,  has just three chase runs in the book, all over two and a half miles; his jumping hasn't always been foot perfect, with connections suggesting that, to date, this one has shown more at home than he has on the track.

Mr Incredible looked reluctant to go off with the field at the start of the Grand National last week but appeared a tad unfortunate to unseat in rear when hampered by Mahler Mission at The Chair.

Top weight Stay Away Fay faces a stiff task.

Since Grey Abbey won carrying 11-12 in 2004 only four have carried more than 11-00 to victory: Godsmejudge (11-03, 2013); Vincente (11-03; 2016); Vicente (11-10, 2017); and Mighty Thunder (11-01; 2021).

Clear favourite at the time of writing, Git Maker went clear two out with Inothewayurthinkin in the Kim Muir at the Festival but had to settle for second (Whacker Clan third, Whistleinthedark tenth). 

Four weeks later that Festival winner beat Iroko four lengths in the Grade One Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree and is now rated 158; Jamie Snowden's charge looks handily treated here on 133. Soft ground is important to him - the deeper, the better. 

Two key pieces of form are the Eider Chase at Newcastle in February and the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter five weeks ago.

On his first try beyond three and a quarter miles Anglers Crag did well to beat Prince Des Fichaux a neck on heavy ground in the Eider after making a serious mistake two from home. 

Brian Ellison's charge is unbeaten in four chase starts this term and has seen his mark rise from 106 to 134.

Eider third Tommie Beau has been kept busy throughout the winter but was less than seven lengths behind the winner while fifth Cruz Control franked the form by winning the Freebooter Handicap Chase at Aintree last Saturday.

Eider fourth Gold Clermont finished sixth behind Beauport in the Midlands Grand National.

Despite jumping right on occasions - and racing wide around the bend when setting off on the final circuit - Beauport still had enough in reserve to hold Mr Incredible one and threequarter lengths at Uttoxeter, with grey mare My Silver Lining third, Autonomous Cloud fourth and 9/2 favourite Iron Bridge pulled up.  

Beauport has been raised eight pounds; on revised terms the first four look closely matched once again. 

Handler Nigel Twiston-Davies has won this in the past with Captain Dibble (1992); Earth Summit (1994); and Hello Bud (2009).

Iron Bridge didn't jump particularly well on the day and weakened out of contention up the home straight; he was quickly pulled up before the final flight and was subsequently declared to be suffering from post-race heat stress.

Back in 2023 Autonomous Cloud, in receipt of 12 pounds, just held Iron Bridge a head in a three mile novice chase at the Midlands Grand National meeting.

Wearing a first-time visor Inis Oirr made all to win the Edinburgh National 21 lengths at Musselburgh in February and has been raised 14 pounds; Lucinda Russell's charge was a non-runner in the Midlands National and comes here fresher than most.

Mr Vango is another who likes to front run. 

He made all to win the Devon National at Exeter on heavy ground but had no answer to Corbetts Cross when third in the National Hunt Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

In November 2022 Ballygrifincottage beat Beauport 11 lengths in a Haydock novice chase. 

On his next start, the Towton at Wetherby (February 2023), he bled from the nose and hadn't shown any worthwhile form since until chasing home Rose Of Arcadia at Sandown six weeks ago. Dan Skelton's charge looks feasibly handicapped off 138 but the trip remains an unknown.

Surrey Quest has won two of his three starts since moving to Toby Lawes, including the Mandarin Chase at Newbury; good ground in the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster last time wouldn't have played to his strengths. 

Truckers Lodge beat Beauport in the London National in December. Broken Halo was four lengths down disputing third when coming to grief two out. 

Paul Nicholls' charge won over and extended three and a half miles at Taunton last time but has done most of racing on right-handed tracks in the past two years.

Elvis Mail won at Kelso 13 days ago and has been raised four pounds; Nick Alexander's grey has been known to miss out the odd fence now and again.

Gold Cup Bailly has been off the course for just over a year. He won at Ayr back in January 2023 when connections indicated he got a three mile trip without relishing it. 

Ontheropes won the Munster National in 2021 and was an 8/1 chance for the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury the following month where he finished fourth behind Cloudy Glen. 

He looks to have had his troubles since but hinted at a return to some sort of form when seventh behind Hartur D'arc in the Leinster National at Naas six weeks ago.

Bumper winner Klarc Kent has yet to win a race over hurdles or fences in six attempts.

Whacker Clan, Egbert, Punitive, 2021 Welsh Grand National winner Secret Reprieve, and We'llhavewan all race from out of the handicap.

It's possible to make a case for several in the field - a couple at fancy prices too; trained in Scotland, Inis Oirr has been well backed during the day but I keep returning to the Midlands National form. 

Given a hold-up ride by (the now retired) Paddy Brennan, Autonomous Cloud didn't quite see out the four and a quarter mile trip on heavy ground at Uttoxeter when beaten seven and a quarter lengths. 

I'm hoping the shorter trip here on soft ground will help his cause; the handicapper has helped by reduced his mark one pound. Fergal O'Brien's charge often races up with the pace and I'd like to see those tactics adopted tomorrow in a race where the winner often comes from those that have travelled prominently.

Autonomous Cloud is the each-way suggestion, currently 20/1 with bet365 and Betfred who both pay six places.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Aintree Grand National 2024

The nature of the National has changed in recent years; this year, for the first time, the field size has been reduced to 34 runners and the first fence has been re-sited 60 yards nearer the start.

The going on the National course is currently described as soft, heavy in places, with Turftrax identifying the deep areas as Becher's Brook through the Canal Turn, Valentines and beyond; the ground between the first three fences racing away from the stands and between the Chair and the Water Jump is now described as soft and has dried out since yesterday.

Since 2015 the race has been run on ground classified as soft or heavy twice (2016 and 2018); a horse aged eight or nine has won seven of the eight renewals in the same time frame:

2015: Many Clouds 8-11-09; OR 160; 19/39 runners finish; official going: good to soft

2016: Rule The World 9-10-07; OR 148; 16/39; soft

2017: One For Arthur 8-10-11; OR 148; 19/40; good to soft

2018: Tiger Roll 8-10-13; OR 150; 12/38; heavy

2019: Tiger Roll 9-11-05; OR 159; 19/40; good to soft

2020: No race - cancelled due to Covid

2021: Minella Times 8-10-03; OR 143; 15/40; good to soft

2022: Noble Yeats 7-10-10; OR 147; 15/40; good to soft

2023: Corach Rambler 9-10-05; OR 146; 17/39; good to soft

Last year Corach Rambler beat Vanillier (10-06) two and a quarter lengths with Noble Yeats (11-11) a further six and a quarter lengths adrift in fourth (Roi Mage seventh; Delta Work unseating at 21st fence; Mr Incredible unseating after slipped saddle at Canal Turn on second circuit; Coko Beach pulled up after weakening three out; Capodanno pulled up before last after weakening two out).

Mark Walsh had the pick of the five J P McManus owned runners and opted to ride the mare Limerick Lace; the last mare to win the National was Nickel Coin in 1951.

I Am Maximus and Meetingofthewaters, both trained by Willie Mullins, have been well supported in the market. 

The former gave 12 pounds and a 14 length beating to Vanillier in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse seven weeks ago; he was subsequently raised to a mark of 164 in Ireland but races off 159 in this.  

Meetingofthewaters finished third behind Chianti Classico in the Ultima at Cheltenham four and a half weeks ago.

Willie Mullins saddles a total of eight runners in all - Mr Incredible was a creditable second in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter last month - and has indicated he'll consider an all-out assault on the British trainers' title should one of the eight come home in front here.

Gordon Elliott also saddles eight and has nominated Delta Work his best chance; the last 11-year-old to collect the spoils was Pineau De Re in 2014.

If the ground remains testing, Noble Yeats, Chemical Energy, Galvin and Kitty's Light are unlikely to be seen at their best.

Nassalam won't mind underfoot conditions. 

Gary Moore's charge beat Iron Bridge 34 lengths on heavy ground in the Welsh National at Chepstow but was raised 16 pounds for that effort - the handler has publicly made his displeasure known with such a large hike.

Panda Boy finished fifth behind I Am Maximus in the 2023 Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse and four and a half lengths behind Meetingofthewaters at Leopardstown over Christmas; trainer Martin Brassil won this race in 2006 with Numbersixvalverde.

The mare Galia Des Liteaux ran well when second behind My Silver Lining on her first try over an extended trip in Warwick's Classic Chase but looked to struggle on heavy ground at Exeter next time out.

Mahler Mission is one I like although he has his share of weight. 

John McConnell's inmate was four lengths clear in the 2023 National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham when coming to grief two out; the winner that day, Gaillard Du Mesnil, was rated 155 (Chemical Energy second). 

Last time he had no answer to Datsalrightgino on good to soft ground in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury, a race in which he lost both his front shoes. The gelding went off 151 that day with Ben Harvey able to claim three, so a mark of 158 here looks stiff enough.

Quoting the handler [RP Weekender 27-31.12.23]:

"... but the Grand National is his main aim and you'd imagine he should take to that. He's a very good jumper and you'd think he was made for it. It's such a big prize and it's too good an opportunity to waste with a horse like him who's on the improve. The trip probably won't be a problem but I don't think he's slow and he has a bit of class about him."     

The BBC Pinstickers' Guide is likely to prove more useful than this rambling post but, for those interested, Mahler Mission is the each-way suggestion, currently 12/1 generally with most layers paying six places.

As always, check each-way terms before placing bets. Firms with an online presence as well as a High St outlet tend to pay more places for bets placed electronically.

It just remains for me to wish you all the very best of luck! 

Friday, April 05, 2024

Aintree antipasti

Today's cards at Fontwell and Wetherby have been abandoned due to waterlogging, along with tomorrow's at Kelso and Stratford; Uttoxeter has reported standing water in places with a precautionary inspection due to take place at 7.30 on the morning.

So, very early thoughts on Aintree next week...

Three horses with the Topham (4.05 Friday) as their stated target are: Your Darling; Arizona Cardinal; and Lounge Lizard. 

Your Darling: owned by Lord Vestey, he hasn't been seen since beating Flegmatik nine lengths at Ascot in November. He was raised nine pounds for that win, after which trainer Ben Pauling said:

"Your Darling is probably the most frustrating horse I'll ever train - if only he turned up every time. He's probably one of the most talented horses I've trained in a long time and when he wants to do it he's electric. When he got deep into one there, he still landed 15 yards out the other side of it but he doesn't want to want to do it, he flops through it. It's quite clear the rating doesn't overly matter to him. It's whether he wants to do it or not." 

His profile suggests he probably prefers better ground - if he's in the mood, that is.

Arizona Cardinal: beat One True King 14 lengths to win the Forba Gold Cup at Ludlow in February; subsequently raised nine pounds, he handles soft ground. 

Lounge Lizard: last to finish (fifth) in the war of attrition that was this year's Becher Chase, 137 lengths behind winner Chambard. He then finished just under two lengths behind Ga Law at Cheltenham in January before rallying to beat Dibble Decker a neck at Huntingdon at the beginning of March. After that win, handler Henry Daly said:

"We'll aim Lounge Lizard at the Topham. He ran a corker at Cheltenham in January and I don't think Huntingdon suits him all that well. Aintree will suit him better and he loved jumping around there before."

Last year's Topham winner Bill Baxter goes off the same mark this year. 

Handler Warren Greatrex was confident his charge would stay further this season and wasn't displeased with eighth in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury in December. The acid test came at Haydock in the Tommy Whittle where the grey weakened from two out to finish fourth behind Famous Bridge. He was subsequently eighth behind Ga Law and Lounge Lizard at Cheltenham and, to my mind, hasn't been in the same form this term. 

Two Dan Skelton horses missed Cheltenham and hold possible Aintree targets: Boombawn (desperate for better ground) and Etalon (Maghull Novices' Chase on Saturday).

Returning from an absence of 458 days, Highstakesplayer won well at Kempton in February but disappointed at Newbury three weeks later. He could run in the three mile one handicap chase on Saturday. 

I've done nothing at all on the Grand National (4.00 Saturday) with this year's field reduced to 34 runners for the first time. However I note that last year Corach Rambler (10-05) beat Vanillier (10-06) in second and Noble Yeats (11-11) in fourth; this year Corach Rambler carries 11-05, Vanillier 10-11 and Noble Yeats 11-11. Many Clouds won the 2015 renewal with a burden of 11-09.

Finally, I'll be interested to see if Ruth Jefferson declares her River Don winner Kerryhill here.