Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter presents?

Earlier today Viewpoint went into the history books as the first horse to win a race in this country on Good Friday; jockey Cam Hardie steered Richard Hannon's inmate to victory in the opener at Lingfield, in the process recording his first win for the handler.

There are fixtures aplenty on Easter Saturday but finding a wager that makes some appeal hasn't proved particularly easy.

This weekend I was hoping Nigel Twiston-Davies would let King's Tempest, withdrawn at Exeter earlier in the week, take his chance in Sunday's bumper at Towcester but the horse hasn't make the final declaration stage.

I saw this one, still an entire, win at Warwick last month after which the handler said:

'He's as big as any horse we've got and hopefully he's as good. We've been excited since day one with him and he's a lovely horse for the future. I'd love to say we'd go to Aintree with him but it's all about the future and we might look for a similar race as today before putting him away.'

The same yard saddles Blaklion in the concluding bumper at Haydock tomorrow. This point winner trounced his field at Ffos Las three weeks ago and rates a decent hurdles prospect. He won't have things all his own way with Donald McCain's Degooch an interesting opponent - I'm not tempted.

Earlier on the same Haydock card Twiston-Davies runs Red Rocco in the Tim Moloney Handicap Chase (3.50) over three and a half miles. On the face of it Red Rocco hasn't had the best of seasons but on his penultimate start he looked booked for second behind Rigadin De Beauchene in the Grand National Trial at this track before coming to grief at the final flight. Bennys Well is likely to make a bold bid from the front and Red Rocco is another who likes to race from the front; with just six in the field the front-runners could well set the race up for one from behind but Haydock suits those that sit handy. Tactics will be all-important but at the prices (9/2) I'll chance Red Rocco shows us some more of his improved form...

The going is good, good to firm in places at Newton Abbot where they're likely to go lickety-split in the two mile handicap chase at 3.55. Novice Sonofagun is the bookies' favourite on the back of two recent wins but he's taking on some smart rivals... Oiseau De Nuit, Changing The Guard and Shooters Wood were all unplaced in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham last month. The first-named finished four lengths second to the champion two-mile chaser Sire De Grugy in December while course and distance winner Changing The Guard is weighted to reverse placings with the favourite on their recent Ludlow meeting.

Identifying a vulnerable favourite is only half the battle and this looks a particularly trappy event but I'm swayed by winning course form at this tight track - Changing The Guard (7/2) gets the nod.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Scottish Grand National day 2014

If Scotland were to vote for independence in September, I wonder what effect, if any, that might have on this particular fixture...

Seven days after the English Grand National at Aintree, thirty runners set off over the slightly shorter trip of four miles and 110 yards in the Scottish version at Ayr.

Tidal Bay looked unfortunate when unseating Sam Twiston-Davies at the Canal Turn last week but then went on to wreak havoc by carrying out Across The Bay on the stable turn when that one was some six lengths to the good over his field.

Tidal Bay stands his ground for tomorrow's showpiece with the result that just ten of his opponents are set to carry their allotted handicap weight, including stablemate Sam Winner, fifth in the RSA Chase last month - make of that what you will.

Peter Bowen has four runners while Alan King is one of several trainers saddling two - last year's winner Godsmejudge is on a comeback mission but the handler appears quietly confident about the chance of Midnight Appeal in the Weekender saying '... this has been the plan for some time.'

There are tips aplenty for Trustan Times but I'll take an each-way interest in Rigadin De Beauchene provided the ground doesn't dry out too much. He was pulled up last year but this time turns up fresher than most having won the Haydock National Trial on his seasonal debut; he's generally available at 20/1.

In the Scottish Champion Hurdle (2.40) seven pound claimer Mikey Ennis negates much of the overweight Swing Bowler was set to carry as a result of the race conditions. The mare led two from home but didn't quite see out the climb up the Sandown hill in the Imperial Cup; against the likes of My Tent Or Yours and Montbazon she rates a sporting each-way play at 33/1.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Aintree Grand National 2014

This race has thrown up some big-priced winners in recent years including Silver Birch at 33/1 (2007), Mon Mome, much to my embarrassment backed by the mother-in-law at 100/1 (2009), Neptune Collonges at 33/1 (2012) and Auroras Encore at 66/1 last year.

The stats suggest the winner will be aged between nine and twelve years old. I tend to prefer horses that have shown form over these unique fences in the past and have less than 11 stones to carry over the marathon trip of four miles three furlongs and 110 yards.

1. Balthazar King
The consensus view was that jockey Richard Johnson was overly aggressive at the head of affairs in last year's renewal, the horse fading to come home 15th. The yard has been in fine form this season and the better ground is sure to suit.

2. Teaforthree
Third last year and every chance this time racing off a mark two pounds lower.

3. Chance Du Roy
Won the Becher over these fences in December and has a nice weight here; decent effort in a listed Ascot handicap last time - 33/1 generally.

4. Swing Bill
Unlikely to win at thirteen years of age but was sixth last year - has finished in the first six on four occasions over the course. Coral offer 80/1 (four places), Betfred 66/1 (six places) - looks reasonable each-way value for the horse set to carry bottom weight and trained with this in mind.

Others worth a second look include Burton Port who is well handicapped and hinted at a return to form last time as well as The Rainbow Hunter who isn't overly big but should have a sniff if the jumping holds out. I tipped Triolo D'Alene each-way for the Cheltenham Gold Cup but he was somewhat disappointing there; that was his first run following a lay-off and afterwards Nicky Henderson described the horse as 'very stuffy'. He should improve for that run and will appreciate the ground but has his fair share of weight.

Good luck!       

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Aintree 2014 - Friday is Ladies' Day

The Melling Chase (3.05) doesn't look up to its usual standard.

Module is priced up favourite in the tissue but has never won over the trip. At the age of 11 Wishfull Thinking is no spring chicken but on official ratings he is the best horse in the race; he has four pounds in hand over Rajdhani Express who finished third behind Dynaste in the Ryanair after a lengthy break.

Previous course and distance winner Wishfull Thinking (7/1 in places) is a tentative selection in an open contest.

I'm a fan of Killala Quay (4.15). He ran a stormer to finish fourth in the Neptune but there's little value in his price for this contest. Instead I'm going out on a limb and taking an each-way interest in The Last Samuri (20/1 at the time of writing); Donald McCain's charge will certainly stay the trip.

Form choice Josses Hill may not offer much value in the opener (2.00) but the Mildmay Novices' Chase (2.30) looks a tad closer than the betting might imply. Better ground will suit RSA winner O'faolains Boy but this speed track may not. Wonderful Charm didn't appear to stay three miles when behind Solwhit in last year's World Hurdle so a chance is taken with Holywell who won the handicap chase on the opening day at Cheltenham.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Aintree 2014 - Thursday

Three weeks after Cheltenham it's Aintree - the trickiest meeting of the season in my book.

Very brief notes...

In the Aintree Hurdle (3.05) The New One is the one to beat and he'll be long odds-on. Badly hampered by the fatal fall of Our Conor in the Champion Hurdle he finished like a train in third, beaten a neck and two and a half lengths; the step up in trip will suit.

Dynaste is priced up favourite for the Betfred Bowl at 2.30. He won the Mildmay Novices' Chase over course and distance last year and took the Ryanair at the Festival, even though he looked to have plenty to do three from home. Silviniaco Conti had his market rival well beaten in the King George at Kempton over Christmas but Dynaste was found to be wrong that day; Silviniaco appeared to have a hard enough race when finishing fourth in the Gold Cup. The Nicholls yard recorded just one winner at Cheltenham (Lac Fontana in the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle) and has only managed to add two more to the total since... Course and distance winner First Lieutenant missed Cheltenham and as a consequence could have the edge over his main rivals. A trappy event I'll watch from the sidelines.

Looking at the novice chase at 4.50.... Western Warhorse beat Dodging Bullets in the Arkle while Uxiandre ran a huge race at 33/1 to finish second to Taquin Du Seill in the JLT Novices' Chase, a race in which Oscar Whisky fell at the very first flight. As a consequence Oscar Whisky should be fresher than those rivals and has won over course and distance previously so Nicky Henderson's charge gets the vote.              

Friday, March 28, 2014

Two low-key jumpers

The Flat takes centre stage this weekend with big meetings at Doncaster and Dubai, while Stratford and Uttoxeter offer more humble fare over the sticks.

Two jumpers caught my passing interest, both declared to run at Warwick a week last Wednesday but both withdrawn, possibly on account of quicker ground.

Prouts Pub (Stratford 1.55) had previously won a bumper on the all-weather at Lingfield. He has his first run for Nick Gifford who has sent out three winners from just 10 runners this month. Likely favourite Massena sets a reasonable standard off a mark of 128 but was beaten at Taunton on Monday.

Miss Lucky Penny (Uttoxeter 3.55) was withdrawn from the mares' handicap hurdle won impressively by Polly Peachum. Previously she had been beaten threequarters of a length by Wily Fox on her handicap debut at Warwick and connections have decided to have another go - Will Kennedy replaces five pound claimer R J McCarth in the saddle. At the weights there's little between the pair but I'm guessing Miss Lucky Penny will be ridden closer to the pace this time...

Friday, March 21, 2014

Polly, Molly and the Midnight Lights...

A couple of months back I managed to bag myself a couple of free tickets to Warwick races; I asked my youngest offspring if she cared to accompany me to their final jumps meeting of the season on Wednesday and she answered in the affirmative.

A spot of lunch in the Zetland Arms, washed down with a selection of our favourite beverages, was followed by a short stroll to the course just in time for the opener.

Warwick (something of a favourites' course? Five out of seven obliged on this card...) hasn't been particularly kind over the years but the night before I thought I'd winkled out something to have a bet on in the shape of Polly Peachum in the mares' handicap hurdle. The Racing Post tissue said 7/1 but unfortunately Kevin Morley ran a piece in sister publication RP Weekender on the Wednesday morning which highlighted her chance.

In the paddock beforehand Polly took a particularly keen interest in the spectators who reciprocated that interest by backing her in to 3/1 favourite.

Out on the track she appreciated the better ground (good to firm in places) and scooted up the home straight to win unchallenged by some 14 lengths. With a mares' listed handicap already to her name, she was entitled to win this Class 4 event as she did; the time however was slower than the opening maiden hurdle.

All of which led me to take a closer look at the mares' listed race at Newbury tomorrow (2.55).

Top weight Toubeera stands her ground but has to give at least 13 pounds to her field; the bottom six race off a mark higher than their long handicap rating (although in some instances this is negated by a conditional jockey's claim).

In the past decade a five or six year old has taken the spoils on nine occasions while three trainers boast a decent recent record (or perhaps I should say a recent decent record) - Nicky Henderson, Oliver Sherwood and Alan King.

Henderson saddles Polly Peachum's stablemate Free Thinking. This one was beaten by Molly's A Diva in a Sandown bumper on heavy ground last year but Molly finished well behind Alan King's Midnight Cataria over three miles at Ludlow the last day.

King's other runner The Pirate Queen held Oliver Sherwood's Luci Di Mezzanotte (pig Latin / Italian translation: Midnight Lights) a head in a Taunton bumper last year; the last day Luci finished fourth, seven lengths adrift of Toubeera in third, over three miles at Doncaster and is weighted to turn that form around. Previously she was beaten 19 lengths by Woodland Walk, second to Polly Peachum in Wednesday's race.

Polly, Molly and the Midnight Lights, and I haven't even managed to mention Lily, Joanne or Mrs Peachey yet - it's all a trifle confusing...

The Sporting Life tips up Luci Di Mezzanotte and that tip reminded me the mare was on my radar last year.

At 20/1 Luci Di Mezzanotte is the each-way selection in Newbury's 2.55.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - betting debrief

A little self-depreciation, it's good for the soul - here's a record of the blog's highlighted selections to returned SPs over the four days of the Festival...

Tuesday                                                    RET
My Tent Or Yours   2nd    3/1    1pt WIN  0.00
Vaniteux                  3rd   11/1   0.5pt EW 1.88

Red Sherlock           9th     7/2   1pt WIN  0.00
Sam Winner             5th   12/1  0.5pt EW  0.00
Captain Conan        PU    7/2    1pt WIN  0.00

Dynaste                   1st    3/1    1pt WIN   4.00
Reve De Sivola        8th  33/1   0.5pt EW  0.00

Kings Palace           F     5/2      1pt WIN  0.00
Triolo D'Alene       10th  10/1   0.5pt EW 0.00

Total outlay: 9.00 pts
Total return:  5.88pts
Profit / loss: -3.12pts
Win strike rate: 11.11%
Loss as % of turnover: 34.67%

I harbour no plans of giving up the day job and, of course, I'll be doing it all again next year...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - Friday

Fourteen are set to face the starter in tomorrow's Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20), the highlight of the week.

On ratings last year's winner Bobs Worth has three pounds in hand over Silviniaco Conti, ten pounds over Last Instalment and more over the remainder of the field. Nicky Henderson's charge was beaten the best part of 40 lengths behind Cue Card on his seasonal debut in Haydock's Betfair Chase but bounced back to form to take the Lexus at Leopardstown. He remains unbeaten at Cheltenham in five runs.

In a TV interview Ruby Walsh told viewers that if the ground stays good, Bobs Worth wins, a reference to the fact that Silviniaco's chance would be better served by more cut underfoot. Bobs Worth looks the most likely winner but at around 2/1 Bobs Worth isn't worth a bet in my book and, to be honest, I'm struggling to find an each-way alternative at a price that makes some appeal.

McCoy has already given away the winners of the Champion Hurdle and the World Hurdle so far this week. In this race perhaps we shouldn't read too much into the fact he was released from the ride on Teaforthree by trainer Rebecca Curtis and has been snapped up by Nicky Henderson to steer the Hennessy winner Triolo D'Alene. This one worked well recently and still holds a Grand National entry... 20/1 for the Aintree showpiece next month, he's as low as 8/1 with Ladbrokes for this yet is rated some 22 pounds inferior to his stablemate.

Over the years The Giant Bolster has done this blog a good turn or two; on his day he's a talented individual (finished second at odds of 50/1 in the 2012 renewal) and he obliged nicely the last day but he's quirky and you can never be certain he'll turn up in the right mood. Tom Scudamore gets the best results but the jumping, fragile on occasions, could be shown up on quicker ground.

Triolo D'Alene (12/1 Paddy Power / bet365) is the best each-way shot I can come up with. At seven years of age there may be improvement to come and he'll certainly appreciate good ground.

The Albert Bartlett (2.40) is intriguing.

Briar Hill from Willie Mullins' yard puts his unbeaten record on the line; unsurprisingly he's a short price to emulate stablemates Vautour and Faugheen by coming home first in a novices' hurdle. The challenge from this side of the Irish Sea is headed by David Pipe's course and distance winner Kings Palace, Challow Hurdle winner Captain Cutter and Deputy Dan. The last-named took the Leamington Novices' Hurdle at Warwick in January but that day Mullins' Rathvinden (third in the Neptune on Wednesday) fell when well in contention and Killala Quay pulled up (subsequently fourth in the Neptune) which detracts a little from the form.

Quoting Mullins from the Weekender (5th March): 'He has to be one of our better hopes for the week.'

That said, on official ratings Kings Palace has nine pounds and upwards in hand over his field.

I've had my fingers burned earlier in the week opposing a Mullins hotpot (Faugheen) with a Pipe horse (Red Sherlock) but at the prices Kings Palace (7/2) is my play against the favourite while Captain Cutter's chance is respected.

And on the final day it's all to play for in the race for top rider with Walsh, Geraghty and Scudamore on three winners apiece...   

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - Thursday

The tips may have fallen by the wayside but one thing I did predict last night has come to pass - the price of my RP Weekender has gone up...

The aforementioned publication bills tomorrow's World Hurdle (3.20) an 'epic battle' between Annie Power and Big Buck's yet Annie Power has never raced over this trip while at the age of eleven, Big Buck's may not be as good as he once was. There are some fancy prices around - Celestial Halo, two and a half lengths second behind last year's winner Solwhit, is 25/1 while Reve De Sivola, fourth in the same race, is quoted at 33/1. Essentially that's because last year's race was run on heavy while this year the official going is currently described as 'good to soft' but is likely to ride quicker than that. Before this year's Cleeve Hurdle jockey Richard Johnson hinted Reve De Sivola had lost his chance in this event last year by having a hard race in the Cleeve so connections have been cute enough to make the necessary adjustments this time around.

The ground has gone against the horse but Reve De Sivola has done this blog a favour or two in the past and 33/1 (bet365) is just too big and too tempting...

For the brave only, Reve De Sivola is an each-way suggestion.

More Of That has been touted in a few quarters as a more circumspect each-way wager; that's certainly the case but the gelding isn't certain to stay the trip and was passed over by McCoy (favours At Fishers Cross) on the back of those doubts.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a report that Daryl Jacob had put up Al Ferof as his banker at the meeting. The Ryanair (2.40) will be no walk in the park with Benefficient and Dynaste, first and second in last year's Jewson, amongst the opponents. Dynaste disappointed badly when sent off 100/30 joint favourite for the King George at Kempton but he was found to be wrong that day and has had treatment on some pulled back muscles. If Dynaste is back to his best he looks the most likely winner; quoting David Pipe in the Weekender: '... he worked very well last Thursday - and in that case he will take some beating in the Ryanair Chase.'

On the back of that comment Dynaste gets the nod.

I haven't looked at the opener, the JLT Novices' Chase at 1.30, in any great detail but on ratings Oscar Whisky, a previous course and distance winner, is certainly worth a second glance - he's marked up at 6/1 with most bookmakers.                

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - Wednesday

At 5/2 Sire De Grugy heads the market for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at 3.20.

That's a short enough price about a horse that has been beaten on his two previous runs at the track (by Captain Conan in November 2012 and Kid Cassidy a year later), would prefer more cut underfoot and is probably better racing right-handed. Had Sprinter Sacre been in the line-up, Sire De Grugy wouldn't be running but that comment applies to a few in the field.

Captain Conan probably needed the outing when third to Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December but he hasn't been seen since; it's a worry he comes to this without a recent run. Kid Cassidy was receiving ten pounds when beating Sire De Grugy three and a quarter lengths in the Schloer Chase; the favourite looks weighted to reverse that form.

Just three favourites have obliged in the past decade and only one horse older than nine has won in the same timeframe, the great Moscow Flyer in 2005.

Somersby seems to have been around forever but is just ten years old and has been in decent form this term, winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter before finishing four lengths behind Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek. He unseated Dominic Elsworth in this race last year, a trick he repeated the last day at Ascot. Hardly an ideal preparation but you might say that is factored into a quote of 16/1...

I'll chance that Nicky Henderson has Captain Conan back to his best; both Coral and William Hill offer 5/1 this evening.

The RSA (2.05) has a decidedly open look to it with many of the fancied runners bringing relatively little chasing experience to the table - two or three runs in smallish fields is a comment that applies to  Ballycasey, Corrin Wood, Morning Assembly, Smad Place, Sam Winner and Le Bec.

You certainly cannot say the same about Carlingford Lough who won the Galway Plate last July and came home second in the Kerry National at Listowel in the autumn; he looked unfortunate to unseat last time in a race won by Ballycasey. The bigger prices have disappeared now though and only one eight year old has come home first in the past decade - Rule Supreme in 2004.

With the ground drying out, I'll take an each-way interest in Sam Winner (14/1 Coral).

In the past couple of weeks TheTimes' Andy Stephens has attended a few Festival Preview Nights in the company of Patrick Mullins, son of trainer Willie. Patrick is quoted in today's paper as saying: 'Faugheen is much better than Rathvinden...'

Faugheen is the top-rated animal in the Neptune at 1.30 but has been the subject of a couple of negative vibes here and there in the build-up while Red Sherlock beat Rathvinden two and half lengths in receipt of three pounds the last day. I was impressed with Red Sherlock then and will stay loyal to David Pipe's charge. A much-improved performance from Charlie Longsdon's Killala Quay is expected while Nicky Henderson's Royal Boy has been paid a compliment by stablemate Josses Hill (previously beaten 22 lengths by Faugheen in a bumper) who came home second in the Supreme earlier today.

Course and distance winner Red Sherlock (9/2 Paddy Power) gets the nod.

Finally, you know you're getting old when you see the Coral Cup entries headed by Dunguib at the ripe old age of eleven. It seems only yesterday he won the bumper by an astonishing ten lengths but all that happened way back in 2009...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - Tuesday

The highlight on the opening day is a vintage renewal of the Champion Hurdle (3.20).

On official ratings Hurricane Fly has six pounds in hand over his nearest rivals. He bids to become the first ten-year-old to win since Sea Pigeon in 1980; conversely, there are relatively few miles on the clock and many will be tempted by 3/1 available in several places. The New One was beaten by My Tent Or Yours at Kempton the last day; Cheltenham's stiff uphill finish will play to his strengths but he hasn't always been the most circumspect at his hurdles. Our Conor won last year's Triumph by a staggering 15 lengths but in the past this has proved difficult for five-year-olds with just two wins recorded since 1970 - Night Nurse (1976) and Katchit (2008). My Tent Or Yours is one of three J.P. McManus owned runners - Captain Cee Bee has been supplemented and looks likely to act as pacemaker. My Tent was beaten half a length by Champagne Fever in the Supreme last year and of the principals is the only one not to have won at the course previously. A close call, as indicated by Timeform's ratings...

For me, it's between Hurricane Fly and My Tent Or Yours; I'll side with My Tent Or Yours.

The Irish boast a good record in the opener (Supreme Novices' Hurdle at 1.30) and look to have a strong hand again; on ratings Willie Mullins' Vautour is the one to beat. Nicky Henderson has had a runner placed on six occasions in the past seven years. Stable jockey Barry Geraghty prefers Vaniteux to Josses Hill - the latter underwent a tracheal wash in the week; the results have come back clean and he takes his chance with Alan Tinkler in the plate.

Vaniteux rates an each-way play at around 12/1.

I don't like to overplay on the first day but layers, keen to bolster turnover (and therefore profit), come up with more special offers than you can shake a stick at - the latest from William Hill is even money Ruby Walsh to finish the meeting top jockey.

After Tom Scudamore had ridden Baltimore Rock to victory in Sandown's Imperial Cup on Saturday, one of the Channel Four racing team pointed out that Tom Scu looked to have a decent book of rides in the week ahead (includes Red Sherlock, Kings Palace, Dynaste and Vieux Lion Rouge).

Five times in the past decade three winners has been sufficent to take the top rider prize and Walsh can no longer rely on the support of Paul Nicholls.

33/1 Tom Scudamore is a big enough price for those prepared to take the chance in a market that isn't always easy to call; of course, by this time tomorrow evening, Walsh could already have a treble in the bag...

Friday, March 07, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - early thoughts

Ten of the fourteen declared for tomorrow's Imperial Cup at Sandown hold entries in the races at next week's Cheltenham Festival; William Hill offer a bonus of £100,000 to the horse that wins the Sandown showpiece and then goes on to win any race at Cheltenham.

Many think Regal Encore shouldn't be opposed; four favourites have obliged in the past decade but the past three winners have been returned at odds of 20/1, 20/1 and 10/1.

With four days to the Festival, I'm keeping my powder dry. Here's some early thinking on selected Festival races.


Over the years my record in the opener (Supreme Novices' Hurdle 1.30) serves as little more than an egregious example of horse race tipping; for some reason this year's renewal has caught my imagination. Favourite Irving looks strong; it's worth noting all his races in this country have been on right-handed tracks. Irish runners boast a good record; Vautour has been slick at his flights to date and handler Willie Mullins states in his Weekender stable tour 'He would be one of our most exciting chances of the week...' On the lookout for some value, I thought I'd come up with something in Josses Hill. This one is priced 16/1 yet has an official rating of 148 (Irving 143); however, vibes from the Henderson stable indicate Vaniteux has made significant strides recently. I'll wait to see what Barry Geraghty chooses - the yard has had a runner placed in six of the past seven renewals.The Liquidator is another worth a second look. Paddy Power offer to return stakes on this race if your selection finishes second, third or fourth, an offer they modestly describe as 'Cheltmental'.

The Champion Hurdle winner is likely to come from Hurricane Fly, The New One, Our Conor and My Tent Or Yours. Hurricane Fly bids to become the first ten-year-old to take the crown since Sea Pigeon in 1980; the only other ten-year-old to succeed since the war was Hatton's Grace in 1950. Five-year-olds don't have a great record either; Our Conor bids to become just the third five year old to win since Night Nurse in 1976 - Katchit obliged in 2008. I feel The New One is probably better suited by further while My Tent Or Yours had a very slight setback earlier in the week but is now reported fine. At the prices currently available 5/1 My Tent Or Yours is a value play.

At the age of ten Quevega bids to win the Mares' Hurdle (4.00) for a record sixth time. She's not getting any younger but on ratings has plenty in hand over her rivals - a race to savour, perhaps,  rather than one to bet on.


Eight weeks ago I tipped Charlie Longsdon's Killala Quay in a race at Warwick; the horse ran a stinker on desperate ground and was pulled up. The trainer has since reported Killala was wrong that day and is now in much better form. The gelding goes in the Neptune (1.30) and may not be quite good enough to make a place but is overpriced at 33/1 (Skybet).

The RSA Chase (2.05) looks a very open affair. Some of the value about Carlingford Lough has disappeared and I think Corrin Wood is more likely to run in the four mile chase. Two at double-digit prices I'll look at more closely are Sam Winner (12/1) and O'faolains Boy (14/1) .The latter was on the radar but I missed him at Ascot last time; plenty will think the race was set up for him that day but Rebecca Curtis implied there was maybe a bit more to come from a horse they've held in high regard for some time. The worry would be he's probably better served by cut underfoot...

Sire De Grugy is the best horse in the Champion Chase but immediately after he was beaten by Kid Cassidy over course and distance in November connections declared Cheltenham's undulations didn't suit their charge and they would miss this race. The defection of Sprinter Sacre has forced a re-think; the gelding has been given a spin around Plumpton (!) - an undulating, left-handed track - in preparation. I still feel the favourite is at his best going the other way around; I'll look to oppose. 20/1 Somersby (rated 5lbs inferior to Sire De Grugy) looks a big each-way price.


Daryl Jacob has put up Al Ferof (Ryanair, 2.40) as his banker. He won't have things all his own way if Dynaste runs here rather than in the Gold Cup.

The World Hurdle (3.20) is intriguing. Unbeaten mare Annie Power puts her record on the line on her first attempt at this trip. Big Buck's is a legend in his own right but at the age of eleven I'm not sure whether his powers are on the wane... McCoy has chosen At Fishers Cross, a horse that has had a troubled season but appeared on the way back the last day. Reve De Sivola wants soft but is no 25/1 shot; he disappointed in the Cleeve but in a pre-race interview jockey Richard Johnson inferred that by winning that same race the previous season connections had in effect scuppered their World Hurdle chance and they weren't of a mind to repeat the same mistake this year.

Friday... Gold Cup day. Bobs Worth is unbeaten at Cheltenham and has won ten of his fourteen starts. Silviniaco Conti looked certain to be involved in the finish of last year's race before coming to grief three out. Champion trainer Nicky Henderson v. former champion Paul Nicholls. And this year Ireland has a creditable challenger in Last Instalment. I'll make a decision later in the week...

As always for the Festival, I'll post a blog with selected selections each evening before the following day's racing.

To conclude I'd intended to pass on a word for the appropriately-named Timesishard in Sunday's 4.10 at Market Rasen but handler Graeme McPherson decided the beast didn't want to run in that particular race so he didn't bother to declare him. Drat.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Stick or twist?

It's that time of year. I'm distracted.

Earlier today I purchased my copy of RP Weekender's Cheltenham The Ultimate Guide (just £2.99 at most good newsagents, as they used to say); I've been reading that rather than looking closely at tomorrow's form.

In addition, around this time of year you tend to come across previous losing selections that are trying their luck once again and you're faced with something of a dilemma  - should I stick or should I twist?

Two such selections from tomorrow's entries are Godsmejudge (3.30 Doncaster, previously pulled up in Sandown's London National) and Jumps Road (3.15 Newbury, previously recorded as 'never better than mid division' in the Betfair Hurdle at the same track).

Godsmejudge is one of twelve declared for the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster. The official ground is good which makes me wary of treating recent form too literally.

At the time of writing Monbeg Dude and Court By Surprise are vying for favouritism. The former is trained by Michael Scudamore, Tom's brother and son of Peter. I mention this casually in passing only because every time I see a comment from a Scudamore in the press, the subject of family seems to come up. Michael cunningly works in a mention in today's Times while Tom regularly repeated the trick when he wrote a column for the same paper a couple of years back.

I had begun to wonder whether family members had on-going wagers with each other on the matter... Enough. Monbeg Dude, like Godsmejudge, is looking to this as a warm-up for the Grand National in April.

Since 2004 there has only been one winner younger than nine years old (Cloudy Lane 2008) and only two with an official rating higher than 131 - Grey Abbey in 2004 together with the aforementioned Cloudy Lane. In the same timeframe just one favourite has obliged - Always Right in 2011.

This evening layers don't appear to agree about Donald McCain's Real Milan; bet365 offer 13/2 while William Hill go 10/1. This one looks less exposed than some in the field while the yard has been in decent form of late; the trainer expects his charge to improve for the better ground.

The doubt in my mind is I'm not certain the gelding really stays this extended three and a quarter miles. At 10/1 Real Milan is the each-way suggestion.

I haven't totally given up on Jumps Road (Newbury) but for a horse that started 33/1, 28/1 and 100/1 on his last three runs, the 6/1 on offer with Ladbrokes and Stan James this evening just doesn't look quite big enough...

Friday, February 21, 2014

Eider Chase 2014

Many will concentrate on Kempton tomorrow but rather than put up half a dozen short-priced losers on that card, I've chosen to exercise a modicum of self-discipline and restricted myself to putting up one bigger-priced loser at Newcastle.

Gosforth Park's feature is the four mile one furlong Eider Chase at 2.55; most layers will pay a quarter the odds four places provided the sixteen declared overnight make it to the start.

I'm interested in Wyck Hill, quoted at 16/1 with Bet Victor earlier this afternoon but now only a 12/1 chance. This one has been bang out of form this term but as a result he's dropped to a mark of 133. Last year he won a listed handicap chase at Ascot off 129 and trainer David Bridgwater is on record saying: 'I thought he was capable of winning off a good bit higher mark than this...'

The last five winners of this have all carried 11-0 or more; tomorrow connections try their charge in a tongue-tie for the first time.

I know I'm taking a chance on the return to form but at the price Wyck Hill appeals as an each-way play.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Haydock's Grand National Trial

Four weeks today we'll know the winner of the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup but the Grand National is the focus at Haydock tomorrow where the Betfred Grand National Trial (2.55) is the highlight on the card.

Welsh National form is represented by Hawkes Point (second), Merry King (fourth) with Red Rocco and Well Refreshed both pulled up while Emperor's Choice won the West Wales National at Ffos Las a fortnigtht ago. You know, I can still see Well Refreshed winning this event last year despite jumping straight through the final flight as though it wasn't there...

16/1 chance Wychwoods Brook upset several more fancied runners when taking the Peter Marsh here four weeks ago (Merry King third); that was a decent show from Evan Williams' novice who was formerly with Graeme McPherson. There may be more to come but Our Father is one that hasn't really lived up to lofty expectations.

My search for a runner at an each-way price led me to consider, amongst others, Loch Ba and Soll. The former ran creditably in Warwick's Classic Chase five weeks ago; he has a tendency to throw in the odd howler once in race but the trip and ground should pose no problems - at 9/1 his price is about right. Soll finished seventh in the Aintree showpiece last year and connections have the same target this year. The horse has form on heavy but the handler has indicated his charge doesn't appreciate it which is why, I assume, he's priced at 20/1.

I'll take an each-way interest in Loch Ba, trained by Mick Channon, having formerly been with Hen Knight.           

Friday, February 07, 2014

Newbury's Super Saturday 2014

Tomorrow's meetings at Newbury and Warwick are both subject to early morning inspections.

In the Game Spirit at Newbury (3.00) Dodging Bullets looks the likely favourite but I'm with Tom George's Module. On official ratings this one has two pounds in hand over Paul Nicholls' charge and receives an additional three pounds under the conditions of the race. Last time out Module never really troubled the principals in Huntingdon's Peterborough Chase but this drop back to two miles should suit.

Al Ferof leads the market for the Denman Chase (2.25) and favourites have a reasonable record with four wins from past nine renewals. I'm not tempted by Katenko who may well improve on his fourth in Haydock's Peter Marsh but Venetia Williams' charge has taken time to come to hand this year while Harry Topper's jumping has been a concern in the past and the gelding has been done no favours at the weights. I won't play.

The last horse older than six to win the Betfair Hurdle (3.35) was Geos in 2004. Of those set to carry less than 11 stones, the two Pipe runners catch the eye. Professor Caroline Tisdall shelled out 280,000 euros of her own money to buy Dell'Arca who won the Greatwood at Cheltenham before coming to grief in a nasty-looking incident at Ascot next time out. Provided that mishap hasn't affected the confidence Dell'Arca should run a nice race while Pipe's other entry, Swing Bowler, finished third in this race last year behind My Tent Or Yours and Cotton Mill. The mare hasn't seen a track for eleven months but as a consequence she contests this year's renewal off a mark just two pounds higher. Connections have indicated she wouldn't want the ground too soft and another tilt at the mares' hurdle at next month's Cheltenham Festival is the target. Jumps Road has winning form on heavy ground and has run into third spot at big prices behind Melodic Rendezvous and The New One in recent weeks; Colin Tizzard's inmate is worth a small each-way interest at 33/1 with Skybet who are paying a quarter the odds five places.          

Friday, January 31, 2014

Whether the weather at Wetherby will relent...

At the time of writing, tomorrow's jumps cards are subject to inspections as follows:

Ffos Las: 07.30
Sandown (all chase card): 07.45
Wetherby: 08.00

Wetherby looks to have the best chance of beating the weather but whether they will is another matter.

I'm not convinced, so I'm going to watch the rugby instead.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Cheltenham Trials Day 2014

The return of Big Buck's in tomorrow's Cleeve Hurdle is the big news at Cheltenham's Trials Day meeting. The great horse bids for his 19th consecutive win, a run that started way back on New Year's Day 2009 with victory in the Unicorn Homes Handicap Hurdle. He went off 9/2 that day and has started odds against only twice since: the Cleeve Hurdle in 2009 at 7/2 and the World Hurdle (same year) at 6/1. In the light of that, there will be those who take the view that at 11/10 with several bookmakers this evening, Big Buck's is the value.

Connections have been bullish enough in the build-up given the horse has been off the track for 420 days and has a new pilot aboard in the shape of Sam Twiston-Davies. To my mind Sam's riding isn't as tactically astute as many of the older hands in the weighing room - I thought he came out a distinct second best when pipped by McCoy on My Tent Or Yours in Kempton's Christmas Hurdle; that said, Reve De Sivola and Quartz De Thaix are two who will look to press on tomorrow. The trouble is, if you're looking to oppose, the layers don't seem too keen to lay...

Last year's winner Reve De Sivola is the obvious one while it appears Willie Mullins is hoping Boston Bob will turn out to be another Big Buck's following a couple of mishaps over the larger obstacles. At Fishers Cross' confidence looked shot the last day and the yard's form is ordinary at present but Quartz De Thaix is a tough customer particularly on testing ground - quotes of 50/1 are an insult. On balance I'm not inclined to play.

No favourite has come home in front in the Argento in the past ten years; Rocky Creek heads the market and deservedly so. I saw him win easily at Warwick 12 months ago - he didn't strike me as an out-and-out stayer then but I had to revise that opinion after his second behind Triolo D'alene in the Hennessy (Houblon Des Obeaux 18 lengths adrift in sixth).

Neither of the two Harrys - Harry Topper or Restless Harry - have convinced with their jumping but on official ratings The Giant Bolster is the one to beat. Unfortunately that's only half the story. The gelding has been out of sorts this term and in my book is on the verge of earning the comment 'has his own ideas about the game'. Trainer David Bridgwater is on record saying they have to treat this one with kid gloves but he has run well here before and my theory is tomorrow's pilot Tom Scudamore has been on board when he has put his best foot forward. There's something forlorn in the saying but I'm tempted to give The Giant Bolster, 15/2 with William Hill, another chance; I think I'll know my fate soon enough...

The Neptune should prove informative for future reference; the market tells us it's between Red Sherlock and Rathvinden who fell when making his move at Warwick a fortnight ago. Rated 140 Aubusson (7/1) won from the front over course and distance on New Year's Day and represents a sporting play against the principals.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Heavy going at Haydock...

A couple of my 'potential' value plays at Haydock have fallen by the wayside this evening.

Melodic Rendezvous is a horse I like and on his best form would serve up a stiff test for Ptit Zig in the Champion Hurdle Trial at 2.40 but handler Jeremy Scott told At The Races:

'In reality he's probably just a little bit short of where we'd like him to be... We may lack for a bit of fitness, but there's plenty of time [for the Champion Hurdle], so it would be nice to get a run into him now and another one in February and then see where we are.'

The value about O'faolains Boy in The Altcar Novices' Chase at 1.30 has also disappeared with the withdrawal of  David Pipe's Gevrey Chambertin. In last week's Weekender, Rebecca Curtis said of her charge:

'He is the one horse in the yard who is under the radar yet could be a real star this season... I hope this horse has a big future.'

Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty boast a strong record at Ascot so it's interesting to see the stable jockey prefers to travel north to ride Stand To Reason in The Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle (2.05).

Having cost a pretty penny, Un Temps Pour Tout has his first run in this country for owners Professor Caroline Tisdall and Bryan Drew; David Pipe's inmate is likely to be all the rage.

Zandy Man made all to win the listed Newton Novices' Hurdle over course and distance in November and similar tactics may be employed tomorrow; in search of some value I'm tempted to chance Stand To Reason, 9/2 generally at the time of writing.

Ten are declared for the Peter Marsh (3.15) in which Katenko will have underfoot conditions to suit but Venetia Williams' gelding has to race off a mark ten pounds higher than when winning the Murphy Group Chase at Cheltenham last January.

Four in the field obliged last time out and as a result have seen their handicap mark rise; Merry King's rating is travelling in the opposite direction and he may benefit from the application of a first-time visor but Jonjo O'Neill's yard has been out of sorts in recent weeks.

Vintage Star ran well for a long way in the Welsh National before fading to finish sixth; prior to that he was pipped a neck in Newcastle's Rehearsal Chase by Hey Big Spender. Owned by Haydock stalwart Trevor Hemmings, Vintage Star is the selection in an open race; he's priced 7/1 with Stan James this evening.