Friday, May 01, 2015

A brief review of the 2014/15 jumps season

Champion jockey: A P McCoy
Champion trainer: Paul Nicholls
Leading conditional rider: Sean Bowen

On the final day of the season, amidst emotional scenes at Sandown, Tony McCoy claimed his 20th successive jockeys' title and retired from the saddle having amassed 4357 winners in an exceptional riding career. On course for 300 winners in the early part of the season, McCoy suffered injuries which made that particular target unattainable.

Paul Nicholls won the trainers' title and in the process earned himself the nickname 'Mr Saturday' as inmates from the yard plundered the top jumps prizes throughout the winter months; Dodging Bullets emerged as the season's best two mile chaser.

Silviniaco Conti was tapped for toe behind Menorah on his reappearance in the Charlie Hall but the Ditcheat gelding claimed Haydock's Betfair Chase and the King George at Kempton before disappointing once again in the Gold Cup. The horse made amends four weeks later in Aintree's Betfred Bowl with connections now reluctantly accepting the horse is unlikely to win a Gold Cup.

This year's Cheltenham showpiece went to a novice for the first time in over 40 years. Coneygree jumped for fun from the front under Nico De Boinville and the conditional rider had kept enough up his sleeve to repel the late challenge of Djakadam and Ruby Walsh on the climb to the line.

Willie Mullins took the Festival by storm - Douvan (Supreme), Un De Sceaux (Arkle) and Faugheen (Champion Hurdle) all obliged on the opening day and the trainer's Annie Power appeared to have the mares' hurdle in the bag coming to the last but she took a crashing fall that saved the layers around £40 million in payouts.

Vautour's display of jumping to win the JLT Novices' Chase on the Thursday is something I will remember for a long time.

Trained by Oliver Sherwood, Many Clouds made a low-key seasonal debut in Carlisle's Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase but a month later the horse had the Hennessy in the bag. After victory in Cheltenham's BetBright Cup (previously known as the Argento), connections expected a strong show in the Gold Cup but the horse was a little disappointing in sixth. Four weeks on owner Trevor Hemmings watched the horse run 38 rivals ragged around Aintree to collect the 2015 Crabbie's Gand National at odds of 25/1.

At the start of the season Nicky Henderson was considered the most likely winner of the trainers' title but he suffered an indifferent season. The return of stable star Sprinter Sacre at Ascot in January was eagerly-awaited; perhaps the horse isn't quite as good as he once was but a six length second to Special Tiara at Sandown will give connections plenty of hope for the future.

Of course, we thought nothing would detract attention from McCoy's retirement day but 17 year old Sean Bowen did his best with a double on Lil Rockerfeller in the opener and Paul Nicholls' Just A Par in the feature bet365 Gold Cup. This precocious talent was quoted 33/1 for next year's jockeys' title; Richard Johnson, who rode a double on the same card, has been installed 13/8 favourite.

Friday, April 24, 2015

What are we going to do without Tony McCoy?

On 7th April 1993 the great Peter Scudamore retired with 1678 winners on the board. That day, I turned to my wife and inquired, in a semi-rhetorical sort of a fashion, 'Tell me, dear, what are we going to do without The Scu?'

Into the breach stepped one Anthony Peter McCoy.

Tomorrow A.P. McCoy brings the curtain down on a stellar career with well over 4,000 winners in the bag.

On 26th March 1992 he chalked up the first of those winners at Thurles aboard a horse called Legal Steps for trainer Jim Bolger.

On 7th September 1994, claiming seven pounds, he rode his first winner in England at Exeter - Chickabiddy,  a 7/1 chance for handler Gordon Edwards.

Tomorrow at Sandown A.P. will be crowned champion jockey for the 20th successive year; the meeting is a sell-out.

He has two booked rides - Mr Mole in the bet365 A P McCoy Celebration Chase (3.15) and Box Office in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle at 4.25.

And rightfully, for a man who has broken all records, tributes abound.

Printed on the reverse cover of McCoy's autobiography are the words of John McCririck:

'The man is a colossus, we have never seen his like before.'

Nor are we likely to again.

Tell me, what are we going to do without Tony McCoy? 


Postscript: My final bet of the season will be Polly Peachum in Sandown's finale at 5.35. Nicky Henderson's mare was beaten a short-head by Southfield Theatre in the race last year and is likely to face stiff competition from the winner's half brother Southfield Vic in this renewal. That said, Southfield Vic's jumping was particularly sloppy at Haydock last time; the mare has something in hand on the book and will appreciate good ground. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

One thousand posts, two more longshots

For blog post no. 1000, a couple of Ayr longshots...

Thirty declared for tomorrow's Scottish National (3.45) - just two carry more than 11-0 while the bottom seven race from out of the handicap.

I've seen Sego Success tipped up but Alan King's charge has some 17 lengths to find with David Pipe's Broadway Buffalo on recent Cheltenham running.

Gallant Oscar and Indian Castle are closely matched on their respective third and fourth behind The Druids Nephew last time, form that reads very well. The former is owned by J P McManus and so has already proved popular in the market while the latter isn't certain to see out the trip.

Last year's winner Al Co fell at the first in last week's Aintree National but the Weekender reports the gelding continued riderless for a full circuit, jumping ten fences in the process.  

In February Milborough won the Eider Chase off a mark of 134 with pilot G B Watters able to claim five pounds; here he races off 144 and his rider can only claim three; he's still of interest at 20/1.

At the bottom of the handicap Carli King will race from the front and is another of interest at 33/1, having made all to win at Warwick over three miles five last month. That said, he's thirteen pounds higher tomorrow and is an additional pound wrong at the weights.

Paddy Power pay five places and are currently offering 20/1 about Milborough who gets the nod as the each-way selection.

Dan Skelton fired in four winners at Cheltenham's midweek meeting and I just think 16/1 looks too big about Bertimont (seventh in the Champion Hurdle) in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at 2.35.

Quoting the trainer:

"I think Bertimont is in the best form he's been in all year, the track and ground should suit him really well.

"He's got a lot of speed, he won at Chepstow on decent ground and it will be drying all the time."

Bertimont (16/1 with Hills and Stan James at the time of writing) is the each-way pick.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Aintree Grand National 2015

A. P. McCoy's final Grand National ride is Shutthefrontdoor.

The horse is certain to be overbet, start favourite and provide no value whatsoever but should the champion jockey achieve the improbable and go on to win, he is likely to retire on the spot while the bookmaking industry collectively will huddle in a corner calculating losses on an unprecedented scale.

The race has thrown up some big-priced winners in recent times including Silver Birch at 33/1 in 2007; Mon Mome at 100/1 in 2009; Neptune Collonges at 33/1 in 2012; Auroras Encore at 66/1 in 2013; and Pineau De Re at 25/1 last year.

Stats suggest the winner will be aged between nine and twelve and carry no more than 11-5. I tend to prefer horses that have shown form over these fences previously - six of the first seven home last year try again tomorrow and feature in the selections below.

1. Rocky Creek
Fifth last year. Pulled up in the Hennessy in November and then underwent a breathing operation. Returned to win the BetBright Chase at Kempton in some style - with the National weights already declared, he's now considered nine pounds 'well in'.

2. Balthazar King
Second in 2014. Ran in the Glenfarcas Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival before coming to Aintree last year so this time connections have wisely missed Cheltenham to arrive here fresh. Likes to race with the pace and will appreciate drying ground.

3. Alvarado
Made up plenty of ground in the closing stages to finish fourth last year and looks to have been trained specifically for this - has a nice racing weight. Jockey Paul Maloney boasts an excellent completion record in the race and will be keen to ensure he's close enough to land a blow this time around.

4. Saint Are
Came home ninth in the 2013 renewal and finished third behind Oscar Time in the Becher Chase in December - best long-priced outsider.

Others worthy of a mention include:

Al Co who looks to have every chance on his Scottish National win last year but ran poorly over these fences behind Oscar Time and Saint Are in December - it may have been the very soft ground that day but he's not the biggest of individuals and the suspicion remains he may struggle in the jumping department.

Spring Heeled who has been trained specifically for the race but stable form is the main concern.

And finally last year's winner Pineau De Re who looks reasonable value at 25/1; at the age of twelve it's difficult to see him winning again off a mark eight pounds higher.

Good luck!  

Postscript: At time of writing, Bet Victor each-way terms a quarter the odds six places; Paddy Power, bet365 and Sky Bet amongst those paying five places.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Aintree 2015 - Friday

Friday is Aintree Ladies' Day and not for those faint of heart; I tentatively suggest one each-way longshot - for those brave of heart...

Wishfull Thinking is no spring chicken at the age of twelve but he won the Melling Chase (3.25) last year and was well talked-up by pilot Richard Johnson for the Ryanair on this year's Festival preview circuit.

In the event he ran a bit of stinker behind Uxizandre at Cheltenham, jumping poorly and failing to find his rhythm; Johnson pulled up four from home.

Philip Hobbs' charge is certainly better than that. Rated 164, he's the third best horse in the race behind Sire De Grugy (169) who tries the trip for the first time and would probably prefer more cut and Al Ferof (168).

It all looks mighty competitive but at 33/1 (40/1 BetWay) Wishfull Thinking is a sporting each-way suggestion.

Regular readers will know I've been following Warren Greatrex inmate King's Tempest for a while - this one runs in the Doom Bar Sefton Novices' Hurdle at 4.40. Connections step up from two miles to three which looks a bit of a jump to my untrained eye.

I'm certainly not going to risk any money on the beast; that said, I don't think connections would run if they didn't think the horse was up to this standard.

The gelding is less exposed than many in the field - we should know more by 4.50 tomorrow afternoon. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Aintree 2015 - Thursday

Two quick suggestions...

In the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle (3.25) Rock On Ruby has something to find with both Arctic Fire, second in last month's Champion Hurdle, and Jezki, a rather disappointing fourth in the same race, beaten over eight lengths by Faugheen. Harry Fry's charge missed Cheltenham but is reportedly back in good health and will be well-suited by the extra half-mile of this trip which could pose a question or two for both Arctic Fire and Blue Heron.

Rock On Ruby (100/30 with Paddy Power) is the suggestion.

Ulzana's Raid is a horse I like; he goes in the rather difficult-looking finale at 5.15. Alan King's charge has had a decent break and comes to the race fresher than most - in today's Weekender the handler tells us '... this has been the target for some time.'

Sporting first-time cheekpieces, Ulzana's Raid is worth an each-way interest (14/1 with bet365).

Friday, April 03, 2015

The UK General Election 2015 - politics and betting

Back in 2008 Nathaniel 'Nate' Silver shot to prominence with his analysis of the US presidential elections, correctly predicting the winner in 49 of the 50 states.

And he has done much work since - his highly-acclaimed book 'The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction' was published in 2012.

Silver's blog http://fivethirtyeight.com references a number of UK academics who are covering the forthcoming UK General Election at http://electionforecast.co.uk

In the past, compared to US polls, UK polls have not been very accurate but the team are taking steps to address the shortcomings.

Those considering a wager may want to monitor the team's predictions which are revised on a daily basis while Mike Smithson's http://politicalbetting.com is de rigueur - earlier this week Smithson penned this article in The Independent where he highlights five 'value' bets.

And Oddschecker does a decent job in listing the bewildering array of political wagers on offer.

By way of a slight digression, politics and betting have had their share of links to the world of racing in the past. Robin Oakley has covered politics and racing for various media outlets, Carl Llewellyn won the 1992 Grand National aboard Party Politics and recent talk of Dream Alliance is no reference to some quixotic political utopia but rather a reference to the film to be released about the 2009 Welsh National winner.

Still, the last word has to go to a politician; it was ever thus.

In today's edition of The Times Ann Treneman reports that communities secretary Eric Pickles is 'one man who is putting his money where his mouth is'.

Pickles tells readers:

"We're going to win with a majority. I have not got any elections wrong for the past six elections that I have put money on."

Eric, looks like the game's up.

Friday, March 27, 2015

National considerations

We're two weeks away from A.P. McCoy's final Grand National.

Whatever happens, one thing is for certain - his mount in the race will be significantly overbet. If he were to pass the post in front, he's likely to retire on the spot.

Earlier in the week a colleague mailed me an article entitled 'Small data: how much would you have won backing McCoy?'

You won't be surprised to learn that a £1.00 level stakes investment on all his rides since January 2nd 2000 returns a deficit of £1744.75. Respectfully I pointed out to my colleague that over a similar period I developed any number of far more sophisticated approaches to giving away money to bookmakers.

A report in The Times today focuses on another jockey likely to generate publicity in the forthcoming fortnight; Sean Bowen bids to become the first 17 year old to win the race since Bruce Hobbs rode Battleship to victory in 1938.

Bowen is set to partner Mon Parrain for Paul Nicholls in the showpiece but still has to ride one more chase winner (10 required) before satisfying the stringent eligibility criteria established for the race.

Tomorrow he's aboard  Edmund Kean for father Peter in Stratford's snappily-entitled Bordeaux Undiscovered La Fleur Morange Handicap Chase. Having failed to complete on both runs this season, Edmund doesn't look to hold the most obvious chance in Bowen's search to qualify.

I need to do some more work on the National entries in the coming week; as regular readers know to their cost, I tend to favour horses that have previously shown form over the unique fences.

That said, I'll pass on the one tip I've received to date.

A respected form student is keen on the chance of Jim Culloty's Spring Heeled. Last year this one won the Kim Muir at the Festival, finished fifth in the Whitbread and was just pipped for third in the Galway Plate behind Road To Riches (third in this year's Gold Cup).

The National has been the target all along - stable form is the concern.

Friday, March 20, 2015

After the Lord Mayor's show

Inevitably there's something of an air of 'after the Lord's Mayor's show' about tomorrow's cards.

I've been waiting a while for King's Tempest and he goes in the opening novices' hurdle at Newbury.

I saw this one win a Warwick bumper about this time last year; there was talk afterwards of Cheltenham entries but in the summer the gelding moved to Warren Greatrex. On his first run for new connections the gelding was beaten two lengths by Jollyallan who went on to finish eighth behind Douvan in the Supreme at the Festival.

Decent enough form but Nicky Henderson saddles Flat-bred Hassle (by Montjeu) who was beaten just over ten lengths on his hurdling debut by stablemate Cardinal Walter who in turn was beaten six lengths by Qewy, fifth behind Douvan at the Festival.

One who looked to be coming back last time was Graeme McPherson's Harry Hunt; he's declared in Stratford's 3.50. At odds of 50/1 this one was fifth at Doncaster 31 days ago, jumping the last in second place before weakening over a longer trip.

He's of interest in this Stratford race and there's a pointer 15 minutes beforehand when the Doncaster second and fourth, Western Jo and Our Mick, contest the 3.35 at Bangor. The winner at Doncaster, Milan Bound, was amongst the five-day entries for Kelso's 2.50 but connections have decided not to take up the option.

I'll take an each-way interest in Harry Hunt (has won previously at this track) provided:
- Western Jo and Our Mick show up well at 3.35;
- Layers offer10/1.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 debrief

For the first time in a number of years, the blog's highlighted selections showed a small profit to recorded starting prices, as shown below.

The two selections which provided a return, Cole Harden and Polly Peachum, were available at 20/1 and 10/1 on the morning of their respective races - the profit as a percentage of turnover figure soars to 38.63%  when calculated using the prices taken.

Tuesday
The New One       5th   100/30 1pt  WIN   0.00
Polly Peachum     2nd  9/1       0.5  EW    1.63
Little Jon               6th   10/1      0.5 EW     0.00

Wednesday
Sire De Grugy     4th  5/2     1pt WIN     0.00
Zarib                    6th  8/1      0.5 EW      0.00
Vigil                     5th  8/1      0.5 EW       0.00

Thursday
Johns Spirit           5th  8/1      0.5 EW     0.00
Wishfull Thinking PU 28/1     0.5 EW     0.00
Cole Harden         1st 14/1      0.5 EW    9.75
Whisper                 5th 8/1       0.5 EW     0.00

Friday
Holywell               4th 8/1       0.5 EW    0.00

Total outlay: 11 points
Total return:  11.38 points
Profit / loss: + 0.38 points
Win strike rate: 9.09%
Profit as % of turnover: 3.45%

Highlight of the entire meeting for me was Vautour's exceptional jumping in the JLT Novices' Chase. I wonder whether we will see him running in next year's Gold Cup...  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 - Friday

A very open renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup with eighteen set to face the starter at 3.20.

On official ratings favourite Silviniaco Conti (174) has seven pounds in hand over nearest rival Road To Riches (167) but his track record isn't impressive - he fell three out in the 2013 running of this race and finished a slightly disappointing fourth last year, two lengths behind shock winner Lord Windermere.

Following that defeat the gelding received treatment for ulcers. On his seasonal reappearance he was tapped for toe behind Menorah in the Charlie Hall but won Haydock's Betfair Chase and then the King George at Kempton where he made all.

I've always thought he shows his very best form on soft ground. Tomorrow he's the form choice and will make a bold show - come half past three, 9/2 could look a very big price indeed.   

This season Oliver Sherwood's Many Clouds has emerged as a credible challenger with victory in the Hennessy at Newbury and then the BetBright Cup Chase (formerly the Argento) in January; the suspicion is he's better with cut underfoot.

Ireland's challenge is spear-headed by Willie Mullins' Djakadam, well-backed in recent days but with enough to find on official ratings, and Lexus winner Road To Riches who had On His Own, Sam Winner, Boston Bob, Carlingford Lough, Lord Windermere, Bobs Worth and Home Farm in arrears that day.

Last month Carlingford Lough put his marker down with victory in the Irish Hennessy (Lord Windermere, Boston Bob, On His Own and Home Farm beaten).

For those interested there are some fancy prices available about horses with form in previous renewals - Lord Windermere (2014 winner) 14/1, Bobs Worth (2013 winner) 14/1, On His Own (short head second last year) 33/1 with The Giant Bolster (three quarters of a length third) 33/1.

Three days into this year's Festival, I'm struck by the number of winners that have either made all or led for most of the way:

Un De Sceaux (Arkle)
Faugheen (Champion Hurdle)
Windsor Park (Neptune)
Vautour (JLT Novices' Chase)
Uxizandre (Ryanair)
Cole Harden (World Hurdle)

I suspect many will now have another look at Coneygree who is talented if fragile and will take no prisoners racing from the front; it will be important for those behind to jump fluently and keep in touch.

Holywell won at this meeting last year before going on to Aintree where he added the Mildmay Novices' Chase to the haul. The gelding has been slow to come to hand this term with the stable going through a lean spell mid-winter but a facile win at Kelso the last day indicates he is in better health now.

Holywell is the each-way suggestion, currently priced at 11/1 with William Hill, Paddy Power and Bet Victor.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 - Thursday

For Thursday's card, two each-way chances in two races...

With seventeen set to face the starter, this year's World Hurdle (3.20) looks more open than ever.

Whisper - has one pound to find with top-rated Saphir Du Rheu. Collected the Coral Cup at this meeting last year before going on to Aintree where he won the three mile Liverpool Hurdle with Zarkander and At Fishers Cross in arrears. At the time of writing Ladbrokes stand out with a quote of 11/1.

Cole Harden - tough front-runner who was well beaten in the Cleeve but has had a breathing operation since. Meets both Saphir Du Rheu and Un Temps Pour Tout on better terms but has a little to find with those rivals on the book. Trainer Warren Greatrex issued an upbeat bulletin a fortnight ago; I'm hoping the wind operation and better ground bring about the improvement required - at  the time of writing bet365 offer 20/1 and pay a quarter the odds four places.

Fourteen go to post in the Ryanair Chase at 2.40.

Johns Spirit - won the Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase here in 2013, was beaten a head by Caid Du Berlais in the same race in November and finished fourth at the Festival last year in the Byrne Group Plate; connections have decided to aim higher this time. On ratings has something to find with a few in the field but the gelding clearly loves the place. At the time of writing Paddy Power stand out with a quote of 10/1.

Wishfull Thinking - the oldest horse in the race and the top-rated to boot! He has been tipped up by partner Richard Johnson on the Festival preview circuit. In decent nick this term winning Aintree's Old Roan Chase and the Peterborough at Huntingdon - something of a wildcard but Ladbrokes, Skybet and bet365 all offer 25/1.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 - Wednesday

Is Sprinter Sacre the horse he used to be?

Probably not is the answer coming out of Nicky Henderson's yard...

Of course, Sprinter wouldn't need to be at his absolute best to win this year's renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase but the air of circumspection from connections together with the fact he's priced up at 7/2 is enough to put me off.

We haven't seen an awful lot of the horse since he was pulled up in Kempton's Desert Orchid Chase in December 2013 but following a racecourse gallop at Newbury and his return at Ascot this January (a race after which he bled), the jumping hasn't appeared totally convincing.

Last year's winner Sire De Grugy has had his problems as well, falling in Mr Mole's race at Newbury on his return from injury before winning well at Chepstow 18 days ago.

Dodging Bullets is the season's form two-miler but trainer Paul Nicholls states:

"Dodging Bullets likes soft ground and I would not want it to dry up too much. He is a real staying two-miler."

Mr Mole is talented but quirky while Champagne Fever has enough to find on official ratings; Sire De Grugy is the selection. 

Like many, I was keen on Coneygree's chance in the RSA (2.05) but connections have opted for the Gold Cup instead; Coneygree is particularly fragile and the forecast rain before Friday's race is the reason behind the decision.

The RSA can be a brutal race; Don Poli is favourite and the most likely winner but I won't get involved.

I looked at David Pipe's King's Palace but this one, carrying my money, disappointed badly in last year's Albert Bartlett and his jumping in the two-runner Denman Chase at Newbury last month was far from perfect. He will appreciate better ground

McCoy rides If In Doubt who won the Skybet Chase at Doncaster the last day; those who saw that race and McCoy's post-race interview will be wary about backing the partnership here.

I was impressed with Ordo Ab Chao who won over course and distance the last day - he runs in the opening Neptune at 1.30 but the drying ground will have scuppered his chance. Two ex-Flat types are prominent in the betting - Nichols Canyon and Parlour Games - but a Flat horse hasn't won this race since No Refuge in 2005.  

Dan Skelton rates Zarib his best chance of the whole meeting so is the each-way selection for the difficult-looking Fred Winter at 4.40.

I  always like to select a couple in the bumper, just for the sheer hell of it. Years ago my wife picked Hairy Molly (won 33/1) but I forgot to put the bet on and in 2010 I tipped Cue Card (won 40/1) to a friend but never had a penny on myself.

This year, the Mullins' battalions aside, David Pipe saddles Moon Racer who cost £225,000 while Dermot Weld's Vigil returns for another stab having finished fifth last year, beaten four and a half lengths. Wait For Me from Philip Hobbs' yard is another intriguing runner.

Paddy Power offer 11/1 about Vigil; at those odds the gelding rates a sporting each-way wager.     

Monday, March 09, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 - Tuesday

Willie Mullins' horses dominate betting on the opening day of this year's Festival with Timeform expecting a super show from the unbeaten Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle at 3.20.

Only eight go to post in the showpiece but the field contains last year's winner Jezki, third The New One and fourth Hurricane Fly who happened to win this race in 2011 and 2013.

That suggests this might just be more competitive than the markets would have us believe.

I'm going to support The New One who looked rather laboured on heavy ground at Haydock the last day. He isn't always the cleanest at his hurdles (a comment that also applies to Faugheen) but he has shown fighting qualities in the past; I'd expect to see him ridden a little more prominently this time after suffering interference last year when Our Conor fell fatally.

At 7/2 (with hints of 4/1 here and there) The New One is a value play against the favourite.

As I indicated in an earlier post, bookmakers appear more inclined to lay Faugheen and Douvan (Supreme Novices' Hurdle) than Un Des Sceaux (Arkle) and Annie Power (Mares' Hurdle).

I won't have a bet  in the Arkle (2.05) but I note Mullins' comment in the Weekender:

"However, [Un De Sceaux] won't find it easy coming up the hill. He has to go for it right from the off, as that is his way, and it's exciting but also frightening to watch."

Annie Power is the form selection in the Mares' Hurdle at 4.00 but she's priced accordingly and hasn't run for 311 days. After suffering a setback in November, she was back in work on New Year's Day.

Her handler indicates in the Weekender that she's likely to be a bit fresh after the lay-off so connections have decided to opt for this race (it's often less competitive) rather than the World Hurdle on Thursday.

I've followed Polly Peachum through the season and will chance her each-way provided I can secure a double digit price. She will certainly appreciate better ground.

For those with any money left in their pocket at the end of the day, Little Jon (14/1) is an each-way suggestion in the CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices' Handicap Chase; Ryan Hatch claims five.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 - initial thoughts

As Alan Lee pointed out in a snippet in The Times earlier this week, Willie Mullins trains the market leaders for four of the seven races on the opening day (Douvan 7/4, Un De Sceaux 8/13, Faugheen 5/4 and Annie Power 8/13), yet layers are still convinced Great Britain will collect the Prestbury Cup (most winners over the four days); Coral currently bet 7/2 Ireland.

In the build -up layers have appeared particularly reluctant to take on Un De Sceaux (Arkle) but seem to think they stand a better chance of seeing Douvan beaten (Supreme) as well as Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle.

Just eight remain in the Champion with Ruby Walsh yet to decide between Faugheen and Hurricane Fly. I'll probably side with The New One.

A year ago I saw Polly Peachum win a Warwick handicap hurdle by fourteen lengths off a mark of 117 and I've followed her since. Now rated 155, she will appreciate decent ground and deserves to take her chance in the Mares' Hurdle but faces stiff opposition in Annie Power and Glens Melody and the layers aren't offering a value each-way price.

Mullins has confirmed Don Poli for Wednesday's RSA Chase - I hope to see Coneygree declared for this rather than Friday's Gold Cup.

The top two in the Champion Chase market (Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy) have had their problems this season. Dodging Bullets is the form horse but would probably prefer more cut while Champagne Fever has been racing over further and was only beaten a head over this distance in last year's Arkle. I remain undecided.

On Thursday I will bet Cole Harden each-way (currently 25/1) in an open-looking World Hurdle; Warren Greatrex's charge has had a breathing operation which could bring about some improvement.

Module, third in last year's Champion Chase, was priced 40/1 for the Ryanair but unfortunately didn't make the six day entries. John's Spirit has, has done me a favour or two in the past and is priced up in double figures in some places.

Holywell, winner of the Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree last April, is an each-way play in the Gold Cup on Friday.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Grimthorpe outsider

At this time of year Cheltenham, less than a fortnight away, proves something of a distraction and this year the distraction is compounded by the fact this is A P McCoy's valedictory Festival.

To my mind the champ has never quite left his mark on the meeting in the way, say, as Ruby Walsh has in the past. I can still recall his anguish when Gloria Victis fell fatally two from home in the 2000 running of the Gold  Cup won by Looks Like Trouble.

Along with the rest of us, McCoy will want a winner at the meeting but in recent days equine partners have proved particularly unhelpful with More Of That (World Hurdle) and Aurore D'Estruval (Mares' Hurdle) both declared out of the reckoning.

McCoy goes to Doncaster tomorrow but doesn't have a ride in the feature Grimthorpe Chase at 3.45.

Last year's winner Night In Milan tries to repeat the trick this year off a mark ten pounds higher.

With Cheltenham taking up a lot of time, I haven't done much work on the race.

Two who come to this relatively fresh are Super Duty and Samingarry. The former caught the eye in a Wetherby hurdle last month - his first racecourse appearance for over a year - while the latter ran well for a long way at Carlisle the last day; both are likely to appreciate better ground.

At the prices Samingarry (12/1) makes more appeal as an each-way wager; handler Nigel Hawke has the Scottish National as the target for his charge.     

Friday, February 20, 2015

Kempton considerations

Sixteen were originally declared for tomorrow's  feature at Kempton, the BetBright Chase (3.45), but with What A Warrior now a non-runner, most layers have reacted by offering each-way terms a quarter the odds three places; at the time of writing Betfred / totesport and BetVictor were paying four places.

In a race that often goes the way of a younger chaser, I'll take no more than a small each-way interest in Le Reve (9/1) - he won well the last day at Sandown.

On the balance of probabilities one of the top three in the market will take the Pendil at 2.35.

That said, both Gods Own and Irish Saint have questions to answer. The former looked something special when winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter and I tipped him for the Tingle Creek the next time but his jumping was awful; the latter proved disappointing in the Scilly Isles at Sandown three weeks ago, having no answer to Willie Mullins' Gitane Du Berlais.

All of which leaves Melodic Rendezvous. This one is a very smart hurdler but he doesn't have a lot of experience over the larger obstacles (rated roughly 10lbs lower over fences) and the yard hasn't recorded a winner since December. Connections thought long and hard about going to Chepstow to take on Sire de Grugy in receipt of plenty of weight but they've opted for this instead.

On ratings Gods Own wins but in receipt of seven pounds Melodic Rendezvous has just two to find. The layers aren't taking any chances (best-priced 5/2 this evening) but Melodic Rendezvous gets the vote.

Nicky Henderson saddles Days Of Heaven in the Dovecote (3.10) and Bivouac in the Adonis (2.00).

The former hasn't been entirely straightforward in the past yet I prefer him to Vago Collonges; he's no betting proposition.

At the five day stage Henderson had both Top Notch and Bivouac amongst the entries for the Adonis. It looks as though Top Notch now goes to Cheltenham without a prep while Bivouac is priced up favourite here.

He's the form selection but the pricing suggests the layers think they can get him beat with one of the more unexposed types. Beltor didn't appear anything special on the Flat but is clearly fancied to build on his Ludlow defeat of Arabian Revolution (winner since) while All Yours looks tempting at around 4/1...

All Yours is the suggestion. Primogeniture and Jeanpascal are interesting debutants in this country; Jeanpascal and Russian Bolero go here following the abandonment of Warwick earlier today due to waterlogging.

Finally I've been waiting a while for Warren Greatrex's April Dusk who ran a fine race against the more experienced Foryourinformation in a Ffos Las maiden at the turn of the year.

The gelding held a five-day entry for Newcastle's 3.30 but the handler obviously changed his mind during the week and decided that particular event wasn't part of the plan...   

Friday, February 13, 2015

Haydock's Grand National Trial 2015

Perhaps I'm getting old but it seems to me this game isn't quite what it used to be.

Ascot, Haydock and Wincanton race tomorrow but the scourge of small fields remains evident.

And to cap it all, Tony McCoy has decided to retire.

The champ rides market leader Monbeg Dude in Haydock's Grand National Trial at 2.55. In previous races Michael Scudamore's gelding has been ridden from off the pace; that tactic wouldn't suit this particular track and I'm wondering whether McCoy will decide to position his mount more prominently.

Thirteen have been declared but Ballyoliver's first preference is the listed Weatherby's Hamilton Chase at Ascot, a race in which Venetia Williams' stable jockey prefers Shangani.

Assuming Ballyoliver goes to Ascot, this year's renewal looks a little lop-sided in that just two of the twelve will carry less than 11 stones - Loch Ba (10-9) and Harry The Viking (10-2 taking the claiming rider's allowance into consideration).

Top weight Benvolio appeared a trifle unfortunate when collared on the line in the Welsh National last time (Monbeg Dude fourth, Benbens fifth, Gas Line Boy and Mountainous pulled up) while Samstown was all out to hold Benbens a neck in the Peter Marsh four weeks ago and now races off a mark nine pounds higher.

Ms. Williams saddles last year's winner Rigadin De Beauchene but the gelding has been markedly out of form this term and is probably best watched.

Broadway Buffalo took the Tommy Whittle at this track on his penultimate start before ruining his chance with a howler at the tenth in Wetherby's Rowland Meyrick Chase; I'd certainly forgive that effort.

At the prices I'm interested in Richard Lee's 2013 Welsh National winner Mountainous. This one ran no sort of race in this year's Welsh National but connections are more upbeat coming into this and the stable in better form.

Generally available at 14/1, Mountainous is the each-way suggestion; the concern is they go half a stride too quick early on and he becomes detached.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Very brief notes for Newbury's 'Super Saturday' card 2015

I have other commitments this weekend so these brief notes on Newbury's 'Super Saturday' card have been written before the final declarations are known...

As always, the Betfair Hurdle looks extremely difficult. I tipped Swing Bowler, third in this race in 2013 and fifth last year, for the Ladbroke at Ascot six weeks ago but David Pipe's mare ran no race whatsoever - she was beaten after a furlong. She showed a little at Kempton and I see connections have chosen to fit blinkers for the first time but Tom Scudamore has opted to partner Balgarry. Balgarry led two out in the Ladbroke before fading - he represents no more than a whimsical each-way selection (14/1 with bet365 and Skybet who both pay a quarter the odds five places).

Sire De Grugy returns from injury in the Game Spirit; if he's at his best, he wins. Mr Mole is the play against the favourite; he hasn't always appeared straight forward but has shown good form this term. I'm guessing connections will be particularly keen to win this and book their place at Cheltenham. Uxizandre isn't certain to line up but he beat Dodging Bullets (Tingle Creek and Clarence House winner since) over Cheltenham's two miles on soft ground in November. Vibrato Valtat looks more likely to run in the Kingmaker at Warwick.

The Denman Chase is trappy. Last year's winner Harry Topper has been out of sorts, a comment that also applies to Holywell although his third behind Many Clouds over an inadequate trip at Carlisle looks much better since Oliver Sherwood's charge has gone on to win the Hennessy and the Argento. Rated 163 Holywell has been talked of as a Gold Cup horse; he'll need to jump better than the last day at Aintree but Holywell is the suggestion. Of the market leaders, Unioniste won well at Sandown five weeks ago off a rating of 148 but has more to find giving weight to most of his opponents; Houblon Des Obeaux appears to represent more of a threat.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Ffos Las foibles

Only five declared for tomorrow's Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown; course and distance winner Irish Saint is probably the percentage call but he's likely to be priced accordingly in what looks a rather trappy renewal. For that reason, I'm off to Ffos Las for a wager.

In the West Wales National (2.40) I'll chance Oliver Sherwood's Global Power who missed the cut for the Welsh National at Chepstow if memory serves...

I happened to tip the beast for Warwick's Classic Chase three weeks ago but he was withdrawn on the morning of that race. Theatrical Star beat the selection a neck at Fontwell in December before coming home a good second to Hawkes Point in the Warwick showpiece.

The ground and trip should suit but there are dangers aplenty including last year's runner-up Firebird Flyer, Ziga Boy who was travelling very well when coming to grief in the Mandarin Chase at Newbury and David Pipe's Smiles For Miles who has shown good form this season.

Generally available at 6/1, Global Power is the selection.

The Welsh Champion Hurdle (2.05) has a competitive look to it but I'm drawn to another Sherwood inmate, Puffin Billy. This one failed to get into any sort of rhythm in the Ascot novice chase won by Irish Saint just before Christmas; he fell heavily at the last when well beaten.

Connections have chosen to revert to the smaller obstacles here; there's no denying that fall is a concern.

That said, he was good enough to finish nine lengths second to Melodic Rendezvous off a rating of 150 two years ago and then fifth behind Champagne Fever, My Tent Or Yours, Jezki and company in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the 2013 Festival.

Supporters of the fancied Foryourinformation will point to a noteworthy fourth behind Out Sam, Thomas Brown and Tea For Two in November and a second behind Value At Risk, although he was 22 lengths adrift at Newbury.

In his latest run in a Class 5 maiden hurdle over course and distance he only just landed the spoils by a neck from Warren Greatrex newcomer April Dusk.

I'm not wholly convinced but there are several better judges who feel the handicapper has let him in lightly. 

Racing off a mark of 143 tomorrow, Puffin Billy (12/1 bet365) rates an each-way play in a race where six of the field are obliged to carry more than their long handicap weight.