Friday, February 23, 2018

Kempton's Betdaq Handicap Chase

Fifteen have been declared for tomorrow's Betdaq Handicap Chase (3.35 Kempton); on a cursory glance my eye is drawn to those nearer the top of the weights.

Acting Lass from Harry Fry's stable heads the market and is unbeaten over fences but his price looks short enough against some of these battle-hardened opponents; this is his first try beyond two miles five and a half furlongs.

Master Dee is the epitome of consistency having finished in the first three on each of his eleven chase starts to date. He has been away from the track for a while but that's not considered a negative and Fergal O'Brien's horses have shown better form in recent weeks.

Paul Nicholls saddles three - Tintern Theatre, Art Mauresque and As De Mee. On jockey bookings, previous course and distance winner Tintern Theatre would appear to hold the best chance but he comes with niggling doubts in the jumping department.

I've had a closer look at Art Mauresque who will appreciate slightly better ground than we've had during the winter months. His second behind Waiting Patiently here last month reads well but the three mile trip is an unknown.

No such doubts surround Go Conquer who was particularly impressive winning the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot in November. Next time at the same track he made a bad error and nearly fell and then, with his chance gone, unseated Aidan Coleman three out. The worry is one mistake and the jumping could fall to pieces...

Loose Chips and Theatre Guide may be two old-timers but both can boast decent form at this track - Theatre Guide won the 2016 renewal of this race, finished third last year and tries this time off a one pound lower mark. Nacarat (aged 11 in 2012) is the only horse older than nine to have come home in front in the past decade.

I tipped Label Des Obeaux for the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury but his chance went with the standing start. He was better next time, under nine lengths behind Wakanda in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster. Alan King indicates in the Weekender this race is a warm-up for his spring target, the Scottish Grand National.

Relentless Dreamer was noted making headway in the Edinburgh National three weeks ago; he finished third that day - both the shorter trip and better ground here are likely to help the cause.

Owned by Robert Waley-Cohen and ridden by son Sam, the mare Theatre Territory has been running well for Warren Greatrex without winning - connections fit cheekpieces for the first time.

Art Mauresque is intriguing but Betfair's place terms are one fifth the odds four places so I'll take a small each-way interest in Go Conquer at 10/1, hoping the jumping issues seen last time were merely a temporary blip...

And, briefly, a couple of other runners noted on the same card.

In the Adonis (2.25): Guillaume Macaire brings over Beau Gosse from France; Malaya is clear of rivals on RPR ratings; Kasperenko, rated 94 on the Flat, makes his hurdling debut.

In the Dovecote (3.00): Carntop, rated 100 on the Flat, is another to make his hurdling debut. He was owned by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall until 1st February 2018; the gelding is now owned by the Duchess of Cornwall & Chips Keswick. Make of that whatever you will...

Correction added 23.02.18 @ 23:20
Tintern Theatre is trained by Nigel-Twiston-Davies and not Paul Nicholls as stated above. Sam Twiston-Davies rides for his father tomorrow, not Paul Nicholls. Apologies. PG.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Feeling snookered

For a while now I've been looking at Mrs Tips and thinking to myself she could use a rest so, as a Valentine's day treat, I took the plunge and booked a table.

First shot she went in off a red - and then the table lights went out. Give me a break.

If that isn't a cue for a tip that's going to fill the pockets and provide a much-needed financial cushion, then I'm not sure what is - Black Ivory should make the frame in Haydock's 3.50.

Look, I'd be the first to admit that so far this year the horses have left me feeling all snookered. That said, in snooker as in racing, I like to try a long shot but I'd baulk at the idea of saying there's a lot in common between the two...

Snooker and racing - they're chalk and cheese really. Here's a piece of Lancashire.

Blaklion currently heads the market for the Grand National in two months' time and he heads the market for tomorrow's Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Haydock.

In receipt of six pounds Vieux Lion Rouge beat the Nigel Twiston-Davies inmate last year; this year Vieux Lion Rouge contests the Keltbray Brinley Chase (2.25 Ascot) while Daklondike, in the same ownership, was set to start in the Haydock race but was declared a non-runner earlier this afternoon.

Blaklion has been asked to concede a minimum of thirteen pounds to all his opponents on heavy ground over a trip of three miles four and a half furlongs.

The handicapper currently rates Blaklion 161. A slight digression but for comparison purposes here are the ratings of the market leaders for next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup:

Might Bite 162; Native River 166; Sizing John 170; Killultagh Vic 153; Road To Respect 163; Coney Island 158; Definitly Red 159; Our Duke 167; Total Recall 147; Edwulf 152; Minella Rocco 161; Djakadam 165; Outlander 163.

Over the years Twiston-Davies has tended to pursue an aggressive approach when making entries for his horses, so, in a very open year, I don't quite see why he hasn't opted for the Gold Cup route with Blaklion. Nigel states:

"The Gold Cup is very tempting but we'll probably go straight to the National after Haydock on Saturday."

In contrast Willie Mullins has taken the totally opposite view with Total Recall. And four weeks today we'll know the name of the Gold Cup winner...

Digression over.

Of the eight in the field only two haven't won at Haydock previously - Wild West Wind and Sir Mangan.

The Dutchman from Colin Tizzard's yard looked good winning the Peter Marsh Chase here four weeks ago (Yala Enki fourth); stable form is improving, albeit at a slower rate than the handler might prefer.

Six weeks ago Silsol finished fifth behind Raz De Maree in the Welsh National with Wild West Wind falling at the twelfth when racing prominently and Mysteree pulling up soon after.

Previously Wild West Wind beat Alfie Spinner and Milansbar in the Welsh Grand National Trial at Chepstow. The form reads well with Alfie Spinner second behind Raz De Maree and Milansbar running away with Warwick's Classic Chase last month. That said, he took a nasty fall last time and there's little value in the price at around 4/1.

I've seen Three Faces West tipped up in a couple of places. He fell here in the Tommy Whittle just before Christmas; the form of Philip Hobbs' yard remains a cause for concern and regular pilot Richard Johnson rides at Wincanton.

Paul Kealy makes a cogent case for Silsol in the Weekender; I see where he's coming from and I'm dithering but Mysteree is also of interest.

Michael Scudamore's inmate failed to fire on his seasonal debut in the Welsh National but this time last year he won the Eider at Newcastle and then finished second behind Chase The Spud in the Midlands Grand National. The yard sent out Twenty Eight Guns to win at Fakenham earlier today.

That leaves Yala Enki and Sir Mangan.

Yala Enki is talented but temperamental and he needs to get to the start unruffled; provided there are no problems, he'll race from the front and on these terms is certainly entitled to finish a lot closer to The Dutchman than when they met here last month.

The balance of Sir Mangan's form is better since his move to Dan Skelton in September 2015. I'm not convinced he'll stay this trip on this ground.

I've had my fingers burned with Silsol in the past so, on balance, I'll play safety and take an each-way interest in Mysteree, a 10/1 shot with William Hill and bet365 at the time of writing.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Newbury's Betfair Hurdle 2018

Native River, third in last year's Gold Cup, makes his seasonal debut in the Denman Chase at 2.25 and the current two mile champion Altior makes his seasonal debut in the Game Spirit Chase at 3.00 but both headline horses face just two opponents in their respective races.

In marked contrast 24 have been declared for the Betfair Hurdle at 3.35; Nicholas Godfrey penned a short history of Britain's richest handicap hurdle in last Sunday's Racing Post.

The going at Newbury is currently described as soft and the frost covers are in place.

In the last twenty years Nicky Henderson has won this five times (Sharpical 1998; Geos 2000; Landing Light 2001; Geos 2004 and My Tent Or Yours 2013) and Gary Moore three times (Heathcote 2007; Wingman 2008 and Violet Dancer 2015).

Tomorrow Henderson's five entries include two mares, Kayf Grace and Verdana Blue, while in the Weekender Gary Moore says of his runner Knocknanuss:

'He now goes for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and he definitely has the right profile for the race. This isn't a race for horses with big weights unless they're a future Champion Hurdle winner or something like that and, although he's gone up 11lb, he's still at the right end of the handicap and is going the right way.'

Trends over the past decade point to a five or six-year-old carrying no more than 11-2.

Earlier in the week I quite liked the chance of Magic Dancer at a price but Kerry Lee's charge failed to make the cut.

In compiling this brief preview I've concentrated primarily on the form of three races - the listed William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Ascot (04.11.17); the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham (19.11.17) and the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Ascot (23.12.17). A snippet in the Weekender points out the last-named race, better known as the Ladbroke, has never provided the winner.

The Alan King trained Elgin gives a key form line between the three races. He won the William Hill at Ascot off a mark of 140 (High Bridge third, Verdana Blue fifth) and the Greatwood off 145 (Misterton second, William H Bonney fifth, Nietzsche sixth, Jenkins seventh and Project Bluebook eighth) before finishing sixth behind Hunters Call in the Ladbroke (Silver Streak second, Verdana Blue third, Bleu Et Rouge fourth, Nietzsche tenth, Charli Parcs eleventh and Divin Bere fourteenth).

Elgin is now being aimed at Wincanton's Kingwell Hurdle next week but the handler still rates the chance of William H Bonney who looked the Greatwood winner two out but didn't get home. The horse ran a similar sort of race in the Imperial Cup at Sandown last March; Alan King states:

'...I hope we've done things right this time and I still think he can win a big one.'

For those interested, 28/1 is the current price.

Two have caught my eye.

The Harry Fry trained Misterton carries his fair share of weight - he was raised five for that run in the Greatwood - but he likes to race prominently which I think could be an advantage and he has finished either first or second in eight of his ten races to date.

At around double the price Nietzsche, third in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham last March (Divin Bere second, Project Bluebook fourth), has the right profile and looks entitled to finish closer to Misterton than he did in the Greatwood.

That day, much like William H Bonney, he was bang there two out but fell away as they raced up the hill. He has been placed in seven of his nine starts over hurdles and I think he holds place prospects here.

From a philosophical perspective 40/1 Nietzsche looks better value than 20/1 Misterton.

In a wide open event Nietzsche is the each-way suggestion with Betfair amongst those layers offering one fifth the odds six places.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Trials and tribulations

At the moment we seem to be getting more trials than the Old Bailey.

Cheltenham last week, the inaugural two-day Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown tomorrow, and, this side of the Irish Sea, the two-day trials meeting at Musselburgh.

A number of trainers have sent their charges north, tempted by the prospect of better ground, but this evening's forecast predicts sleet and light rain for much of tomorrow; the going is currently described as good to soft, good in places.

Twelve have been declared for the bet365 Edinburgh National Handicap Chase at 3.15 run over a distance of four miles one furlong.

Top weight Delusionsofgrandeur heads the market while second favourite Missed Approach finished sixth in the Hennessy and then a respectable third behind Milansbar at Warwick three weeks ago.

Some commentators thought Warren Greatrex's inmate was a handicap snip that day off 139 but it didn't quite work out that way and the race itself turned into one almighty slog in the mud.

Missed Approach races off 138 tomorrow but if there's a snip in this particular field it might well be Southfield Theatre who finished fourth off a mark of 150 behind Present Man in the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton in the autumn yet starts off 139 tomorrow and has the assistance of Bryony Frost in the saddle who claims a further five.

Southfield Theatre wouldn't be one to trust implicitly and he hasn't come home in front for three years but he's top-rated on Racing Post ratings.

This marathon trip looks as though it could suit Bells 'N' Banjos on the back of his eighth in the Festival four-miler last March; the yard has had a quiet time of it lately but fired in a winner at Leicester on Wednesday.

Last year's renewal throws up some interesting contenders at double-digit prices - Dancing Shadow beat Gonalston Cloud, Azure Fly and Full Jack in a race where only three of the thirteen carried 11-0 or more; at the finish there was less than eight lengths between the four named horses.

This year Dancing Shadow tries off a mark four pounds higher while Gonalston Cloud is five pounds lower but has been well beaten twice this season after finishing behind Chase The Spud in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter in March.

In a Weekender stable tour just before Christmas Charlie Longsdon described Azure Fly as a 'great, fun horse' who 'needs extreme distances'. He was due to run in the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen on Boxing Day but missed that particular engagement for whatever reason and is currently rated four pounds lower than last year.

Full Jack is an eleven-year-old but interesting nonetheless. Fourth last year from four pounds out of the handicap, he's just two pounds 'wrong' this time and Rachael McDonald can claim seven. He went on to finish fourth behind Beer Goggles at Ayr in April and then tailed off in a Veterans' Chase at Cartmel in May.

In December the gelding was moved from Pauline Robson to Sandy Thomson and on his first appearance for new connections ran a respectable trial over hurdles at this track, beaten three and a half lengths.

In 2010 owners Mr and Mrs Raymond Anderson Green won the Scottish Grand National with Merigo and, all of a sudden, I've just caught the slightest whiff of a plot. Regular readers will be well aware my capacity for self-delusion knows no limits but there's just something different about this one...

Of the others, I tipped Looking Well for the Grimthorpe last year on the back of his previous second to Ziga Boy in the Sky Bet at Doncaster; he didn't appear particularly well-named on the day, beaten some 45 lengths behind Definitly Red.

It's much too soon to give up on him completely though, although I suspect he may need the run tomorrow - handler Nicky Richards in the Weekender stable tour 18-22.10.17:

'He...had a little issue, but he's back in training now and will hopefully be out in the new year. We'll look for those good staying handicap chases...'

Rebecca Curtis brings Relentless Dreamer up from Pembrokeshire and the booking of Brian Hughes catches the eye but it has been a tough season for Rebecca this year with just six wins from 74 runs.

I'm afraid I just can't help myself.

It may be pure self-delusion but Full Jack is the each-way selection - at the time of writing Ladbrokes offer 10/1 and are the only layer paying one fifth the odds four places.

Footnote: Beeves, a head fifth behind Full Jack in last year's race, is declared in the 3.10 at Musselburgh on Sunday; he also holds an entry in the Randox Grand National at Aintree.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Cheltenham Trials Day 2018

Tomorrow's Cheltenham Festival Trials Day should provide punters with plenty of pointers for the main event which is now less than seven weeks away.

Connections of runners in the Cotswold Chase (2.25) will also be looking for some insights from a race that looks far more open than a cursory glance at the market might initially indicate.

Favourite Bristol De Mai trounced his field in Haydock's Betfair Chase back in November but his price for this has drifted noticeably during the week. After he failed to fire in the King George over Christmas, he was diagnosed to be suffering from ulcers and has received the appropriate treatment.

From a trends perspective, Bristol looks one to take on. The last time the favourite obliged was in 1999 (Cyfor Malta) while Exotic Dancer's victory in 2007 was the last time a horse younger than nine years of age came home in front.

Unlike several in the field Bristol De Mai has shown he can act at this track - he finished 20 lengths seventh behind Sizing John in the Gold Cup last March - but his very best form has come on soft or heavy ground; I just wonder to what extent the ground at Cheltenham has dried out over the past couple of days.

At the time of writing Stan James offer 15/8.

Of course, identifying an opposable favourite is barely half the battle. The next four in the market have no noteworthy form over the Cheltenham fences.

Both The Last Samuri and American have their first run here. The former has victories at Doncaster and Kempton on the cv and receives weight from all his opponents except Singlefarmpayment; the latter is known to be fragile with connections openly admitting this is a retrieval mission after a poor display in the Hennessy. Sent off favourite that day American was done no favours by the standing start (my tip, Label Des Obeaux, suffered similarly) but had looked impressive last season when winning at Warwick and then giving Rock The Kasbah six pounds and an eight length beating at Uttoxeter.

Definitly Red was pulled up in the 2015 Albert Bartlett Hurdle and then the 2016 Festival four miler. He beat The Last Samuri 14 lengths in last year's Grimthorpe at Doncaster but Kim Bailey's charge was out of sorts at the time.

Tea For Two, third in the King George, got no further than the second fence in last year's Gold Cup but three weeks later went out and beat Cue Card a neck in the Aintree Bowl, recording his first win on a left-handed track in the process.

Nick Williams' charge was over-excited by the preliminaries in the Gold Cup; connections will be doing their utmost to ensure Tea For Two reaches the start without any mishaps tomorrow so they can watch their horse run on its merits and then make a decision about participation in this year's renewal.

The horses with form over the Cheltenham fences are those the punters appear to have rejected; Perfect Candidate, Singlefarmpayment and Theatre Guide are course and distance winners.

Perfect Candidate tries blinkers for the first time but the yard is going through a quiet spell while Theatre Guide has some decent efforts to his name and has undergone a wind operation since finishing a well-beaten third behind Present Man in the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton.

Singlefarmpayment took a crunching fall when making ground up the home straight in the Hennessy and connections have indicated their charge will be ridden more positively tomorrow; he's the lowest- rated in the field on official ratings and has enough to find to be competitive.

A rather trappy affair; a bit of a fudge, I know, but I'm going to take an each-way interest in Tea For Two at 9/1. If he runs his race and takes to the track he holds a chance of coming home in front. On the other hand...

Like many, I'll be watching the Cleeve (3.35) - as well as all the other races - notebook in hand. With due respect to those concerned, it seems a number of handlers have identified this year's Stayers' Hurdle as a weaker affair than normal.

Sam Spinner currently heads the market on the back of an impressive win in Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle last month but Jedd O'Keefe's charge has never run on anything quicker than good to soft and there's a fair chance the ground will ride quicker than that in six and a half weeks' time.

A decent showing tomorrow is likely to see a contraction in the best prices currently shown below for the Stayers' Hurdle:

Finian's Oscar 12/1
Wholestone 16/1
Beer Goggles 20/1
The Worlds End 25/1
Thomas Campbell 25/1
Colin's Sister 33/1
Ex Patriot 66/1

In particular Finian's Oscar may not have taken to fences this season but Team Tizzard have maintained their charge still retains a 'massive engine'.

Mulchays Hill brings the best form into the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (3.00). Tikkanbar faces a tough task conceding weight to the majority of his opponents; he's a decent prospect but his hurdling remains a work in progress.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Another one of those...

The other day I was debating an incident in a televised football match with a friend of mine; he took a particular point of view and I put the opposite case. He could see where I was coming from but quite clearly didn't agree and, by way of conclusion, said, 'Well, it's just one of those, isn't it?'

Fatigued, I agreed, it was one of those but I don't really know what I agreed to when I agreed it was one of those.

I've heard jockeys use the same phrase when discussing races and race-riding incidents. I recall Sam Twiston-Davies in a TV interview saying 'It's one of those,' accompanying the utterance with an ever-so-slight shrug of the shoulders, as if to say, yes, it is one of those and...

ITV Racing has recently developed a penchant for sticking a microphone in the face of a mud-splattered jock who has just trailed in last on a 14/1 shot beaten over 74 lengths - the sort of tip I put up on a regular basis - and as he makes his beleaguered way back to the sanctuary of the weighing room, out pops a reporter and simply says 'Well?' in a presumptive, inquisitive sort of a manner.

The unfortunate jock, door-stepped, bewildered and now mighty keen to weigh in, might well reply 'It's one of those.'

I was impressed the other day when I think it was Aidan Coleman who said 'It's a bit of a mystery,' although obviously not in the sense that Anthony Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolates Case, for example, is a bit of a mystery.

Now I liked that reply. It struck a chord. Here I am, backing these horses with my very own money and a jock who has just dismounted from a beast that's been beaten a distance and a half doesn't have much of a clue as to why it ran such a stinker.

Clearly, it's just one of those.

For those who have made it this far, here's one of these which, on the balance of probabilities, is more likely to end up another one of those.

Several usual suspects are amongst the fourteen declared for the Ascot Spring Garden Show Holloway's Handicap Hurdle (Ascot 2.25). In recent weeks I've tipped Air Horse One and Whatmore and they've disappointed me and, no doubt, you if you went and backed them.

Air Horse One didn't take off at the fourth flight over a two mile trip here last month and that was the end of his chance. Subsequently handler Harry Fry told the Weekender:

'But let's not kid ourselves, he's a badly handicapped horse.'

Whatmore ruined his chance in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year's Day by refusing to settle. Connections fit a hood for the first time; Henry Daly isn't one to overface his charges.

Jenkins came good in first-time blinkers last week, making all to win at Kempton. After the event the handicapper raised him from a mark of 132 to 143; James Bowen claims five tomorrow but Nicky Henderson's charge is short enough in the market and tries this trip for the first time.

At Sandown last month A Hare Breath, trained by Ben Pauling, beat Caid Du Lin (second), Crossed My Mind (third), Man Of Plenty (fifth) and Jenkins (seventh).

On that same day the Pauling-trained Le Breuil conceded nineteen pounds to Black Ivory at Aintree and was beaten six lengths; Black Ivory went in again at Warwick last weekend. In the Weekender 25-29.10.17 the handler says:

'...I'd like to think his current mark of 139 is very fair and he could be top drawer.'

The market doesn't seem to agree but on Sandown running there wouldn't be a lot between Crossed My Mind, Caid Du Lin and Man Of Plenty; on a line through Magic Dancer, Oxwich Bay and Man Of Plenty look closely matched.

The Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle over two miles here in December throws up form lines. Hunters Call won that day with Man Of Plenty fifth, Caid Du Lin twelfth and Air Horse One fifteenth following that howler at the fourth referenced above.

At the age of nine Man Of Plenty is the oldest runner in the field but he boasts form behind Misterton and Limited Reserve who was beaten into second by Elgin in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Ascot in November with High Bridge third and Air Horse One fourth.

Night Of Sin merits a mention on two counts. Firstly I haven't had one in a while and secondly Nick Williams has sent out four winners from nine runners in the past week.

Nicky Henderson's second string Burbank has been out of form - connections try cheekpieces for the first time.

14/1 Air Horse One is quite tempting but I'm put off by top weight. At an each-way price Caid du Lin and Man Of Plenty are considered; on Uttoxeter form Vivas is closely matched with the latter but Charlie Longsdon's horse doesn't want it too soft.

Many Of Plenty is the each-way selection; at the time of writing he's 20/1 with Coral who pay one fifth the odds four places.

Two points to conclude.

As of today racecards will notify the first time a horse runs after undergoing wind surgery, signified by a  'W' after the beast's name. I happen to know a few people who'd benefit from a wind operation but I'm not so certain they'd be chuffed with a 'W' appearing after their moniker.

Secondly, I haven't yet forgiven myself for failing to back Mirsaale at Kelso last Sunday. Third in the Persian War Hurdle in 2016 and then beaten by Moon Racer at Cheltenham, Keith Dalgleish's charge bounced back to form with a bang, winning at odds of 33/1.

It's another one of those.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Warwick whims

Earlier this week, unusually, the stentorian Matt Chapman found himself dancing on rather thin ice while in a YouGov poll published on Wednesday, 52% of those questioned rated horse racing either quite or very boring - have these people never placed a bet?

Tomorrow's meeting at Warwick - my local track - is the biggest of the year but there's a certain anti-climax in the air with some fancied runners either opting to race at Kempton or to stay at home in their boxes on account of the ground.

The official going is now described as soft; it has been heavy, is likely to be holding and will prove very hard work.

The Betfred Classic Chase (3.35) is the highlight; the weights have risen some fourteen pounds with Missed Approach (139) now at the top of the handicap.

Three in the field came to grief in last week's Welsh National at Chepstow: Emperor's Choice fell at the first; On The Road unseated Mitchell Bastyan at the fourth; and Milansbar unseated Trevor Whelan at the twelfth.

Nigel Twiston-Davies saddles two; Cogry is often let down by his jumping while Ballycross sports first time cheekpieces but has yet to win a chase.

Kerry Lee saddles three and appears to hold a stronger hand with Krackatoa King, Goodtoknow and Russe Blanc.

Richard Patrick gave Alfie Spinner a superb ride in the Welsh National last week; his five pound claim will come in handy here aboard Krackatoa King who boasts a decent record since moving to the yard.

Goodtoknow has been out of sorts since winning at Hereford last February but he ran a stormer in this last year at odds of 25/1, beaten six lengths into second by subsequent Grand National winner One For Arthur (Russe Blanc ninth, with Emperor's Choice, Milansbar and Ballycross all pulled up).

Despite the price Russe Blanc (127) isn't readily written off, having won the 2016 running off exactly the same handicap mark; Charlie Poste was in the plate that day and he rides again tomorrow.

Cresswell Breeze has run well this season, I've noted money for the Ian Williams trained Indian Castle in a first-time visor but On The Road and Crosspark have never won a chase over three miles or further.

I'm drawn to the Kerry Lee trio and Krackatoa King gets the each-way vote; he's currently quoted a 9/1 chance - Hills and Coral are advertising one fifth the odds four places.

I usually like to take an interest in the Leamington Hurdle (won by subsequent Neptune winner Willoughby Court last year) but to my mind the layers have it about right.

Evan Williams names Chooseyourweapon as his pick in this week's Weekender Stable Tour but qualifies it with 'I'm not getting carried away at this early stage of his career'.

Paisley Park did me a favour at Hereford just before Christmas, turning over 1/4 chance Vision Des Flos, but the favourite fluffed his lines at the last - it ranks as the one piece of luck I've had in the past eight weeks.

The Hampton Novices' Chase (1.50) has cut up with just five left in. Duel At Dawn beat Flintham 16 lengths at Exeter before finishing second to Sizing Tennessee at Cheltenham. I haven't completely given up on Big River who is the one to beat on official ratings but was pulled up with an irregular heartbeat at Haydock last time.

Finally, a historical note on which to finish - a (rather out-of-focus) picture of a noticeboard outside the Fox & Vivian public house in Leamington Spa, detailing the first course of the Leamington steeplechases in 1834...

    

Friday, January 05, 2018

The rescheduled Coral Welsh Grand National 2017

Look, I know I'm getting older and that bit more forgetful - in the pub I am constantly being reminded to buy a round - but when I checked out tomorrow's Welsh Grand National preview in the Weekender, I was struck with a very distinct feeling of deja vu.

Ten days ago I tipped Wild West Wind for the Welsh National that was subsequently called off. The Weekender preview for that race discussed Wild West Wind's victory in the Welsh National Trial on December 9th and continued:

"The gap between that race and this one is just 18 days but Tom George's charge will be thereabouts if fully recovered."

Rather strangely, that's exactly what's printed in this week's Weekender...

Tom George's charge, together with Alfie Spinner (second) and Milansbar (third), has benefitted from an additional ten days to recover from those particular exertions. Unfortunately layers are no longer offering the 12/1 originally quoted; Wild West Wind is generally 8/1.

As in my original preview, given underfoot conditions (Chepstow heavy, 'brutal' to quote Evan Williams), I've concentrated my insubstantial efforts on runners who are weighted to carry less than 11-0 - eight of the last ten winners fall into this bracket - and who have also shown some form previously at the track.

Last year Native River became the first top-weight to come home in front since Carvill's Hill in 1991. Since the war there has been no thirteen-year-old winner and just one twelve-year-old - Gallery in 1960.

The shortlist comprises Raz De Maree, O'Faolains Boy, Buckhorn Timothy, Milansbar, Alfie Spinner, Firebird Flyer and Emperor's Choice.

Taking James Bowen's five pound claim into consideration, Raz De Maree (14/1) - second last year - tries on better terms this time and it's unlikely there's another Native River in the field. I saw him tipped up here and there over Christmas but he's looking a little long in the tooth now and I prefer to look elsewhere.

Alfie Spinner (25/1) is thirteen as well but his second in the Welsh National Trial reads well; on a strict interpretation of the form he has the beating of Wild West Wind. Prior to that run Alfie was pulled up in the Badger Ales at Wincanton behind Present Man (Final Nudge a head second).

The booking of Geraghty for O'Faolains Boy (25/1) catches the eye. This evening the Racing Post quotes handler Rebecca Curtis:

"We gave him a tie-forward operation coming into the winter, which seems to have really helped. He seems in really good form and is hopefully back to his old self."

O'Faolains Boy also holds an entry in the Veterans' Handicap Chase at Sandown (3.00).

When last seen over the larger obstacles in the 2016 Welsh National Trial, Buckhorn Timothy (25/1)  seemed to find the larger obstacles getting in the way. His two recent hurdle runs provide some grounds for optimism; Joe Tizzard has told the Racing Post:

"We've had this in mind for him all season... Like them all, he's got to handle the conditions but he has a good attitude and should be all right."

Earlier in the week Neil King issued a positive update about Milansbar (16/1).

I'm wary when the trainer tells us 'Milansbar has been quite hard work for Trevor [Whelan] on his last two starts...'; the first-time cheekpieces will need to work their magic but on Racing Post ratings he is the top one in the field.

2014 winner Emperor's Choice (20/1) may find this coming a little too quickly after winning on heavy at Haydock over three miles three and a half furlongs last Saturday while Firebird Flyer is one of three entries for Evan Williams.

Pobbles Bay looks the stable's best chance while On The Road is unexposed but not guaranteed to stay.

Firebird Flyer (40/1) finished second behind Mountainous in 2016 and then eighth last year but has generally been out of sorts (pulled up in the Midlands National and the Scottish National).

There was a faint flicker of hope on his comeback run over hurdles at Ffos Las in November; he races off a mark 11 pounds lower than last year, is the second best horse in the field on Racing Post ratings and jockey Conor Ring claims three pounds.

It's a wide open event.

On the back of Joe Tizzard's comments Buckhorn Timothy is the tentative each-way suggestion at 25/1, with Ladbrokes, Coral and Betfred amongst those paying one fifth the odds five places.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Notes on Cheltenham's New Year's Day card 2018

To quote Alfred Tennyson:

"... but Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come
Whispering 'It will be happier;'"

I certainly hope so.

The Relkeel Hurdle (3.10) is the highlight on tomorrow's card but the race doesn't make much appeal as a betting medium; for that matter, neither does the Dipper Novices' Chase (1.25) or the Watch Live Racing on BetBright.com Handicap Chase (12.50) - several of the five day declarations also hold entries for next Saturday's re-arranged Welsh National at Chepstow.

In recent years the market has proved a reasonable guide to the BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (2.00); since 2008 just two winners have obliged at odds bigger than 8/1 - Stan in 2009 at 14/1 and last year Shantou Flyer at 20/1.

Shantou Flyer beat Top Gamble (third) and Quite By Chance (sixth) twelve months ago so the fact Shantou is generally quoted a 16/1 chance for tomorrow's renewal indicates he has been bang out of form recently. He was pulled up behind Get On The Yager in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day; connections try first-time cheekpieces tomorrow and the step back in trip could help.

Another outsider Viconte Du Noyer finished sixty lengths behind Splash Of Ginge in the BetVictor Gold Cup here six weeks ago (Theinval falling at the first). His second behind Sizing Granite at the Punchestown Festival reads well.

Of the market leaders Splash of Ginge's stablemate Ballyhill is probably the least exposed but his fall at Aintree last time is off-putting.

The opening Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (12.15) has triggered interest.

Springtown Lake, officially rated 139, sets the standard, having finished second to On The Blind Side at Sandown last month. The form of the Hobbs yard remains a cause for concern.

Ainchea is clearly well-regarded, as is Harry Fry's Onefortheroadtom. Early in the autumn Warren Greatrex was asked to nominate one from another yard to keep an eye on and this one was his selection. In the Weekender (28.12.17-01.01.18) Fry states:

"We went to Exeter in October to give him his first experience under rules and it was a terrific effort to edge out Lalor in a hot contest - the first three home are all rated above 130. Unfortunately I got it wrong next time at Worcester as the track was too tight for him, so you can ignore that effort."

[Lalor is currently rated 133, Kilbricken Storm 147 after finishing third behind Poetic Rhythm in the Challow.]

Aye Aye Charlie is given every respect having finished third behind On The Blind Side at Aintree in April, beaten eight and threequarter lengths. He fell three from home in the race won by On The Blind Side at the Open meeting here in November.

Tikkanbar won a Plumpton novice by 19 lengths, looks an assured stayer and could be anything but this event has been won by a five or six-year-old in the previous five renewals while Whatmore, with an official rating of 132, was only beaten one and a quarter lengths into fourth at Haydock the last day - I'm hoping the step up in trip suits.

At the time of writing BetVictor and Paddy Power offer 12/1 Whatmore. Provided I manage to get up in time tomorrow morning and there are still the eight runners I'll have an each-way wager on Whatmore.

I'd like to wish all readers a very happy and prosperous new year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Welsh Grand National 2017

A very quick look at tomorrow's Welsh Grand National at Chepstow; the official going is currently heavy, soft in places, and the meeting is subject to a 7.30am precautionary inspection.

Eight of the last ten winners have carried 11-0 or less.

When Native River won last year's renewal (with Raz De Maree second, Houblon Des Obeaux third, Vicente sixth, Bishops Road tenth and Milansbar pulled up), he became the first horse to carry top weight to victory since Carvill's Hill in 1991.

Taking riders' allowances into consideration, I've concentrated on runners set to carry 11-0 or less with some sort of previous form at this track.

Raz De Maree has a couple of eye-catching warm-up runs to his name and it's unlikely there's another Native River in this field. I've seen Gavin Crowelll's charge tipped up here and there; he's generally a 20/1 shot but celebrates thirteen years of age on Monday.

Wild West Wind beat Milansbar two and threequarter lengths into third in the Welsh Grand National Trial on heavy ground here two and a half weeks ago. The winner has gone up four pounds for that; Milansbar ran in snatches that day and connections have decided to apply first-time cheekpieces.

Buckhorn Timothy is at the right end of the handicap. He didn't jump well when sent off co-favourite for the 2016 running of the Welsh Grand National Trial and after that flop wasn't seen again until winning a three and a quarter mile hurdle at Fontwell in October. He followed up with another win over the smaller obstacles at Wincanton which just makes me suspicious he may have lost confidence in the jumping department...

Of the four on the short-list, Wild West Wind is potentially the least exposed. Wild West Wind, generally a 12/1 shot, is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas jumpers

On official ratings tomorrow's Long Walk Hurdle (2.25 Ascot) looks at the mercy of last year's winner Unowhatimeanharry but his price has been steadily on the drift (out to 2/1 now) and the manner of the defeat by Beer Goggles last time has allowed room for the doubts to set in.

There's a school of thought that 'Harry', ten years old in a week or so, isn't the horse he once was.

Those looking to oppose are unlikely to be bowled over by the prices on offer.

The layers don't appear keen to take too many chances. Sam Spinner, with a record of four wins and two seconds from his six hurdle starts to date, is rated some 12 pounds inferior to the favourite yet is priced as low as 13/2 with Ladbrokes.

I like the Long Walk but this year's renewal looks difficult. Instead I've opted for an each-way chance in the concluding Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at 3.35.

Since the race's inception in 2001, no horse older than seven has secured victory and neither has one carrying top weight; last year Brain Power won under a burden of 11-11.

Elgin heads the handicap this year having won the listed William Hill Handicap Hurdle over course and distance at the beginning of last month (Air Horse One fourth, Verdana Blue fifth and Caid Du Lin seventh) and then following up in the Greatwood at Cheltenham two weeks later (Nietzsche sixth, Chesterfield tenth).

According to calculations I've carried out on the back of a discarded fag packet, Air Horse One is closely matched with both Elgin and, on a line through High Bridge, Charli Parcs, although the latter-named could well improve for his seasonal debut.

That said, Noel Fehily has ridden both Charli Parcs and Air Horse One; he was aboard the former at Newbury the last day and rides Air Horse One tomorrow.

Handler Harry Fry knows what's required - his Jolly's Cracked It dead-heated with Sternrubin last year (N. Fehily up) - and he should also have a decent idea where he lies with Air Horse One, Misterton finishing a neck second to Elgin in the Greatwood. Nicky Henderson has stated that both Charli Parcs and the mare Verdana Blue would appreciate slightly better ground.

Divin Bere, with Bryony Frost claiming five, warrants every respect; he has not been seen since finishing second in the Fred Winter and then second behind Defi Du Seuil at Aintree in April.

Seamus Mullins saddles two. Fergall ran a stormer to finish third in this last year at odds of 25/1 while Chesterfield came home eighth. The latter went on to win the Scottish Champion Hurdle but his comeback run in the Greatwood was a tad disappointing.

At the very bottom of the handicap Man Of Plenty has form behind Misterton, Limited Reserve (second in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle) and A Hare Breath which may suggest he could outrun his current odds of 66/1 (Betfair) but I'm conscious that in recent weeks blog selections have all been running like the proverbial drain...

I was taken with Air Horse One on his penultimate run here in the William Hill; Air Horse One is the each-way suggestion, available generally at 12/1 a quarter the odds four places.

On Boxing Day Bristol De Mai goes for the second leg of the £1 million bonus in the King George at Kempton.

His Racing Post rating of 189 is 11 points ahead of nearest rivals Fox Norton and Thistlecrack. That said, in a piece earlier in the week David Ashworth indicated the horse has shown his very best form on soft / heavy ground...

The going at Kempton is currently good to soft. Clerk of the course Barney Clifford states:

"I've two different forecasts, one with 20mm [of rain] and one with 5mm, so I have no idea... It's really volatile and sporadic - to have two forecasts so far apart, it's like the north and south pole. All I can do is tell people where we are."

Something to think about while the relatives squabble over Christmas dinner...

Season's greetings.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Diverted to Doncaster

There's top class fare on offer on the second day of the International meeting at Cheltenham tomorrow.

Anyone interested in a wager in the Caspian Gold Cup at 1.55 will have had a close look at the BetVictor Gold Cup run at the track four weeks ago; Splash Of Ginge collected the spoils ahead of Starchitect (second), Le Prezien (third), Ballyalton (fourth), Roman De Senam (fifth), Foxtail Hill (eighth) and Guitar Pete (ninth).

Splash Of Ginge was raised five pounds for that effort and now races off 139 - on New Year's Day 2015 he won off a mark of 145. To my mind Starchitect, beaten just a neck, threw away his chance with poor jumps at the final two flights.

I tipped Foxtail Hill that day. He adopted his customary role at the head of affairs but his jumping was nowhere near as slick as we'd seen when he won the Randox Health Handicap Chase over a trip of two miles at the track in October. On the final circuit it looked as though he was struggling to jump out the ground which was officially described as soft and looked particularly tiring.

Tomorrow's going is described as soft, good to soft in places and the contest for the lead may not be quite so hard-fought as the last day; this race is run over the slightly stiffer new course.

Handler Nigel Twiston-Davies has talked up the chance of Splash Of Ginge; I was (and still am) prepared to give Foxtail Hill another chance and was in the process of checking out a price (14/1) when I was serendipitously sidetracked by one in the finale at Doncaster.

Anthony Honeyball's Solstice Son went into the notebook recently on the back of these comments in last week's Weekender:

"It's not often you make the long drive home after your horse has pulled up and you feel quietly pleased, but that was exactly how I felt after this horse's reappearance at Cheltenham last month. He ran a stormer for the first two and a half miles before he cut out as if the tank had hit empty. Will [Biddick] looked after him, but it was so pleasing to watch him run as he didn't half look decent. He'll do better on decent ground and will be competitive from 2m6f to 3m. I think he should come into his own in the spring when the winter ground is gone."

Now, I didn't expect to see him out quite so soon but the ground at Doncaster is officially good, good to soft in places.

He faces some stiff-looking opposition including the 2015 winner Sego Success and Viriglio, beaten over a shorter trip at Aintree last time out. A couple in the field - Ballybolley and Vibrato Valtat - have done most of their racing over shorter trips and this is Kilcrea Vale's first attempt at three miles.

Course and distance winner Killala Quay is talented but inconsistent - connections will be hoping first time blinkers help the cause - while What Happens Now has been kept on the go since June.

At 14/1 Solstice Son is the each-way selection in the bet365 Handicap Chase at Doncaster.

Friday, December 08, 2017

A suggestion for Sandown

Uncertainty over the weather means inspections are scheduled at Sandown, Aintree and Chepstow tomorrow morning.

The covers are down at Sandown where an inspection will take place at 8.00am for the Tingle Creek card which is under threat from frost; a forecast of snow has led Aintree stewards to call an inspection at 8.30am for the Becher Chase card; and at 8.00am Chepstow stewards will also check for frost.

Picking a meeting to survive the weather is proving nearly as difficult as picking a winner...

I've opted for Sandown; with the covers in place and overnight temperatures in Esher predicted to fall no lower than minus one, racing should go ahead...

Following an unsatisfactory midweek exercise Douvan misses the Tingle Creek at 2.55. Fox Norton is the one to beat but I'll be watching for an improved performance from course and distance winner Ar Mad who finished three and a half lengths behind Un De Sceaux in last year's renewal; Gary Moore's charge did well to finish so close after a bad blunder at the sixth.

The previous year Ar Mad beat Bristol De Mai ten lengths in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase - this year's renewal looks a very high class (and rather trappy) affair.

Jumping is always at a premium here; to date Brain Power has looked better over the bigger obstacles than Finian's Oscar but the latter possesses a distinct turn of foot which could serve him well if still within striking distance at the final flight. North Hill Harvey, on the same official rating as Finian's Oscar (155), is by no means out of the reckoning.

In search of an each-way wager I initially looked at the London National (3.30) but noted that Milansbar's preferred engagement is in the 2.45 at Chepstow while The Young Master will run in the 1.30 at Aintree if that meeting gets the green light.

The Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts December Handicap Hurdle (2.20) looks typically competitive - a case can be made for most in the field.

Alan King holds a strong hand with William H Bonney and Fidux. The former caught the eye behind Elgin in the Greatwood at Cheltenham when a lack of fitness told coming up the hill; the latter looked unlucky to unship Kevin Dowling at the last here last month.

I'm inclined to see Jenkins as something of a talking horse; I'll revise that view if necessary but he finished some eight and a half lengths behind William H Bonney in the Greatwood.

Last year A Hare Breath ran a blinder on his seasonal debut to finish two and a quarter lengths behind North Hill Harvey in the Greatwood; six weeks ago the plan had been to follow the same route this time; for whatever reason, there has been a re-think.

Course and distance winner Exitas has been in good form over fences recently; his chase rating is 133 but he starts off 125 tomorrow and has a seven pound claimer on board.

Front runner Rayvin Black is another on a handy mark (135);  he raced off 141 in the Contenders' Hurdle here in February, likes the track but really needs more cut underfoot.

Zubayr's fifth behind Brain Power in this event last year reads well and he now starts off a mark four pounds lower; rider Mr L. Williams can claim seven. I'm hoping Paul Nicholls' charge has come on for his pipe-opener at Wincanton last month...

At 14/1 (one fifth the odds four places) with both Betfair and Paddy Power Zubayr is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Ladbrokes Trophy Chase 2017

What's going on here then?

Ladbrokes take over sponsorship of the Hennessy meeting at Newbury and for the inaugural running of the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase William Hill and SkyBet offer each-way terms one fifth the odds seven places...

Twenty one have been declared for tomorrow's showpiece at 3.00 with the going on the chase course currently described as good to soft, soft in places. Last year Carole's Destrier finished just half a length behind impressive winner Native River with Double Ross third, Vyta Du Roc sixth and Regal Encore pulled up.

Since 2007 Denman (2009) is the only nine-year-old to have won and in the same timeframe just two have carried less than 11-0 to victory - Diamond Harry (2010) and Carruthers (2011).

Carruthers was bred by Lord Oaksey and trained by Mark Bradstock, as is tomorrow's top weight Coneygree. There won't be a dry eye in the house if connections manage to pull off the stunt again; the last ten-year-old to win was Diamond Edge in 1981.

Willie Mullins saddles two, Total Recall and Pleasant Company, with the former at the head of the market after a hint from the trainer earlier in the week the gelding may be (some way?) ahead of the handicapper. This race hasn't proved a happy hunting ground for Irish runners over the years.

American is talented, fragile and has few miles on the clock. This race has been the target for some considerable time, as it has been for Label Des Obeaux. In the Weekender Alan King states:

"My fear is that he has too much weight. Smad Place [2015 winner] was handily treated, whereas Label Des Obeaux doesn't look handicapped to win a race like this.

"We have to try and find some improvement in him, so we schooled him in cheekpieces the other day. They seemed to sharpen him up and he'll probably wear those on Saturday."

Of Nicky Henderson's pair I prefer Vyta Du Roc, sixth last year off 143, starting off 140 here and well backed, to stablemate Whisper. The latter was rated 164 behind Thistlecrack in the 2016 World Hurdle but earned a chase rating of 157 when beating Clan Des Obeaux in a match at Kempton 19 days ago; all three of his chase wins have come at distances between two mile four and two mile five furlongs.

It would be no surprise to see Singlefarmpayment in the mix; he was beaten four lengths by Cogry last time conceding 13 pounds. With Jamie Balgary's three pound claim aboard Cogry, Tom George's charge has to concede 11 pounds tomorrow so they appear more closely matched than the bookmakers' prices might indicate.

You pays your money and takes your choice.

Former Gold Cup winner Coneygree (16/1 one fifth the odds six places with Betfair) and Cogry catch the eye from a value perspective but I'm going to take a small each-way interest in the Alan King trained Label Des Obeaux, placed in seven of his nine chase starts to date.

He's currently priced up 33/1 with Betfair who pay a fifth the odds six places; William Hill offer 25/1 a fifth the odds seven places.

You pays your money and takes your choice - I'm with Betfair.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Haydock hopefuls

Tomorrow Cue Card bids to win Haydock's Betfair Chase for the third year in a row, for the fourth time overall, and to become the first eleven-year-old to collect the spoils since Kauto Star in 2011. Harry Cobden replaces Paddy Brennan in the plate after that pairing came to grief at Wetherby three weeks ago.

Sizing John didn't make the overnight declaration stage on account of the heavy going but the ground won't inconvenience current favourite Bristol De Mai one jot. The manner of his victory in the Peter Marsh at this track in January left a deep impression and he is expected to improve further after coming home ahead of his rivals in the Charlie Hall (Shantou Flyer beaten 59 lengths).

Outlander has two ways of running; if he puts his best foot forward, he has every chance. Connections retain the cheekpieces which seemed to bring about the desired improvement last time at Down Royal.

And I have only just realised that prior to victory at Aintree in April, all Tea For Two's wins had been achieved on right-handed tracks.

Traffic Fluide tries this trip for the first time and isn't guaranteed to stay.

The Haydock showpiece is full of intrigue but doesn't make much appeal as a betting medium; on ratings Cue Card is the best horse in the race. Colin Tizzard isn't one to continually talk his horses up; throughout the autumn I've been struck by his positive comments about Cue Card.

Just for the sake of comparison, here are the returned starting prices of those who ran in the Gold Cup in March: Cue Card 9/2; Outlander 10/1; Bristol De Mai 16/1; Tea For Two 40/1.

For my longshot wager I've had a look at the Betfair Stayers' Handicap Hurdle (2.25 on the same card).

Sixteen are declared in a particularly competitive event with course and distance winner The Worlds End priced up 5/1 favourite. Tom George's charge held every chance when coming to grief at the penultimate flight in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival.

On 18 November 2016 Gayebury beat The Worlds End nine lengths at level weights at Ffos Las yet Evan Williams' inmate is priced up 22/1 for tomorrow's event.

Granted, Gayebury didn't impress on his return (pulled up in the Wetherby hurdle won by Colin's Sister) but I'm prepared to give him another chance; his eight length second behind subsequent Neptune winner Willoughby Court in Warwick's Leamington Hurdle reads well.

Of course, the field is full of better fancied sorts but several of those at the top of the market are making their seasonal debuts while Fingerontheswitch and Ibsen both race from out of the handicap.

Theo's Charm was second in this last year while in receipt of seven pounds No Hassle Hoff was beaten nine lengths by The Worlds End here in February.

On Perth running in April there wouldn't be too much between Gayebury and Robbin'Hannon (25/1 in places) but I note that connections try cheekpieces on Gayebury for the first time and Mitch Bastyan claims five reducing the weight carried to 10-13.

The ground is key - quoting Evan Williams in the Weekender 11-15.01.17:

"This little horse is proving a star... This term he started off over hurdles at Ffos Las and won well enough on soft ground. That's as quick as he wants it and he'd be fine on very heavy ground - basically the softer the better."

Paddy Power offer 22/1 and pay a fifth the odds five places; Gayebury is the tentative each-way selection in a wide-open event.

Finally, in the Graduation Chase at 1.15 I merely point out that in a recent stable tour Lucinda Russell named Big River the best horse in her yard.

Friday, November 17, 2017

BetVictor Gold Cup 2017

Richard Johnson riding at Newcastle on the first day of the Cheltenham Open meeting?

There was a tally of two winners from four rides for the champion jockey, courtesy of Jassas (7/2) and Mary Eleanor (13/8).

When Taquin Du Seuil pipped front-running Village Vic (Richard Johnson up) a neck in last year's running of the BetVictor Gold Cup, the gelding became the first nine-year-old to collect the spoils since Cyfor Malta in 2002.

In the intervening years Little Josh remains the only horse older than seven to have won.

And since Cyfor Malta carried 11-9 to that famous victory 15 years ago, only four others have come home in front with more than 11-0 on their back: Our Vic (11-7 in 2005); Exotic Dancer (11-2 in 2006); Al Ferof (11-8 in 2012); and Taquin Du Seuil last year with 11-11.

This race is known for its trends and traditionally the market has proved a reasonable guide to finding the winner - there has been only one winner priced bigger than 12/1 in the past ten years.

Nicky Henderson's decision to go to Ascot with Top Gamble has seen the weights rise five pounds with the result eleven of the runners are now set to carry more than 11-0.

This year's handicap looks atypical with a top-heavy feel to it and for that reason I'm not inclined to be too dogmatic about the 11-0 weight threshold.

The market has a slightly idiosyncratic look to it as well with the following horses quoted at around 10/1 or less: Kylemore Lough, Tully East, Le Prezien, Starchitect, Foxtail Hill, Ballyalton and Romain De Senam; past trends suggest the winner will come from this list of horses (with ten-year-old Ballyalton looking to become the first winner older than nine since Clear Cut in 1975).

All the other runners are priced 16/1 or bigger.

Of the fancied horses Foxtail Hill is eight years old and burdened with 11-5 but he's my idea of the winner following his all-the-way win over two miles here three weeks ago.

He has gone up seven pounds for that effort but the additional four and a half furlongs will suit and he won over this trip on the new course in January with Jamie Balgary in the plate; Jamie rides again tomorrow and claims three so the weight carried falls to 11-2.

Foxtail Hill races from the front and, provided he gets into a good rhythm early on, should run a respectable race (famous last words); at the time of writing at least two bookmakers (Betfair and Paddy Power) go 10/1 which offers the opportunity for an each-way wager for those interested.

Of the bigger priced runners Skybet's 20/1 about Aqua Dude catches the eye as they're paying a fifth the odds six places.

This one will need to show improvement on what he has achieved to date but at seven years of age and with 10-11 to carry Evan Williams' contender has the right profile; the trainer saddled Buywise to finish second in this event in 2015 and the same horse returned to finish third behind Taquin Du Seuil last year.

Aqua Dude (20/1 Skybet) is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Badger Ales Trophy 2017

You know the full horror of Christmas can't be that far away when you see TV adverts for Nick Knowles' debut album 'Every Kind Of People' and Bradley Walsh's 'When You're Smiling'...

Thank God for National Hunt racing.

They bet 9/1 the field for tomorrow's Badger Ales Trophy for which the maximum 18 runners have been declared.

Local handler Paul Nichols has won this event seven times in the past twenty years (Flaked Oats, 1999, 2000; Montifault 2001; Royal Auclair 2004; Cornish Sett 2008; Meanus Dandy 2010; The Minack 2011) and in last year's renewal most observers thought the trainer had pulled off the stunt once again as Southfield Theatre went clear coming to the final fence but then fell with the spoils apparently in the bag, in the process handing victory to Gentleman Jon.

Wearing first-time cheekpieces and racing off a mark three pounds higher, Southfield Theatre represents Nicholls again together with Mr Mix and Present Man who fell at the second last year; he has been trained specifically for this but wouldn't be guaranteed to see out the trip in testing conditions.

The last horse older than nine to come home in front was Flaked Oats (11) in 2000.

Peter Bowen chalked up two victories with Swansea Bay in 2002 and 2003; Henllan Hari races with the pace and is respected on the back of his bet365 Gold Cup victory at Sandown in April.

Yala Enki is another who likes to go from the front while Fact Of The Matter has had this event as his target after winning at Cartmel at the end of August.

The race has the look of a bookmakers' benefit event but that's half the challenge and two have caught my eye.

Double Shuffle was due to run in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby last week but was declared a non-runner - ITV's Ed Chamberlain indicated the horsebox broke down although I'm not certain that story was ever officially confirmed.

Owned by the Crossed Fingers Partnership, Double Shuffle has some decent efforts to his name including defeat of Go Conquer in the 32Red.com Handicap Chase at Kempton over Christmas (Go Conquer won impressively at Ascot last week) and he was subsequently undone by a mercurial ride from James Best aboard Pilgrims Bay to be beaten half a length in the Betbright Handicap Chase at the Surrey track in February.

Tom George's charge had a pipe-opener over an inadequate trip at Chepstow four weeks ago and Ciaran Gethings can claim three pounds; the worry is his very best form is on good ground and he may struggle with underfoot conditions.

On 19 November 2015 Final Nudge beat Present Man seven lengths at level weights in a novices' hurdle at this track. He won on his first outing last year and was in the process of running a big race in second place in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter before coming to grief four from home.

Connections have decided to leave cheekpieces off tomorrow and the handler has stated the horse will come on for the run.

At the time of writing Double Shuffle is 14/1 (Paddy Power) while Final Nudge is generally a 16/1 chance.

Final Nudge is the each-way selection with most layers paying a quarter the odds four places.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Slow Horses

I'm currently reading Mick Herron's Slow Horses, a copy of which I received as a birthday present. The tale centres around a bunch of MI5 misfits who have displayed varying degrees of incompetence in the field and as a result have been kicked into the long grass and left there to fester.

Plagued by self-doubt, I simply had to ask Mrs Tips whether this choice of text had been in any way influenced by my own career to date.

'Oh, you bet,' came the immediate reply, 'that, along with the tips you tend to give out on your blog.'

Acerbic. Here are a couple of slow selections for tomorrow.

The Charlie Hall Chase (3.15) is the highlight on the Wetherby card. Race conditions certainly favour the talented but fragile Coneygree; layers have priced up Mark Bradstock's charge favourite although the handler is keen to point out the gelding will come on for the run and is a little heavier than ideal.

Colin Tizzard reports Cue Card in fine fettle; this remarkable horse turns 12 on January 1st.

Several in the field appear to be using this as a stepping stone. Bristol De Mai has the Betfair Chase at Haydock as his target while Blaklion and Vieux Lion Rouge are being aimed at the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly the Hennessy).

Definitly Red looked good winning the Rowland Meryck over course and distance on Boxing Day but I've never been totally convinced by his jumping.

Village Vic took a crashing fall at Chepstow three weeks ago in the race in which Double Shuffle finished second; at 33/1 with Paddy Power Tom George's charge looks the most interesting of the potential improvers but I'll watch this one from the sidelines.

The official going at Ascot is currently described as good.

Eleven go over two miles one in the Byrne Group Handicap Chase at 2.25 but only three have run recently - favourite Marracudja, Little Pop (kept busy over the summer) and Exitas.

Theinval and Calipto finished third and sixth respectively behind Rock The World in the Grand Annual with last year's winner Quite By Chance down the field in thirteenth - Colin Tizzard's charge tries this time off a mark nine pounds higher.

Spreredek has shown most of his form on soft ground so I'll take an each-way interest in Somchine who finished third behind Vaniteux and Romain De Senam at Ayr in April. He has made the frame in 15 of his 21 chase starts and is currently a 12/1 chance.

Dolos runs in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at 3.00 and is a horse I like. He has performed well at this track previously and Stan Sheppard claims three; that said, he's probably a little too high in the handicap at present and four-year-olds don't have the best record in this event.

I'm interested in Ben Pauling's High Bridge who has won three of his four starts over hurdles and finished ninth in the Supreme last March - the trainer's comments in the Weekender (25-29.10.17) are illuminating:

"He wasn't really himself for various reasons that day and it was possibly my fault for giving Alex [Ferguson] the wrong instructions. He looks fabulous after his summer holiday..."

Alex rides tomorrow and takes off seven; at the time of writing High Bridge is best-priced 14/1 with Sky Bet and is worth an each-way wager in a competitive event. The good ground will suit; connections intend to go for the Gerry Feilden after this...

Friday, October 27, 2017

Cheltenham Showcase meeting 2017 - Saturday

The Jockey Club publicity tells us 'The journey starts here' and there's a definite start-of-term feel to tomorrow's card at Cheltenham where the going is described as good, good to soft in places.

Connections have chosen to bypass the Masterson Holdings Hurdle with Triumph Hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil at 2.35.

Alcala looks the one to beat in the novice chase at 4.20 with well-regarded Two Taffs close enough on ratings to provide a decent test. I was impressed with the way Alcala won the Market Rasen Summer Plate in July; subsequently the gelding was unlucky to slip up on the bend in the Chepstow novice won by Finian's Oscar.

Sixteen face the starter for the two mile Randox Health Handicap Chase at 3.10. Top weight Vaniteux has to give eight pounds and upwards to his field; the bottom four, Un Beau Roman, Lord Ballim, Exitas and Lord Ben all race from out of the handicap. There's likely to be plenty of pace from the off.

Double W's makes the trip down from the north and holds a prominent position in the betting. His comeback fifth at Kelso twenty days ago looks short of what's required (The Flyingportrait third) but they went hell-for-leather up front that day. The generally-held view is that the lack of a recent run eventually found him out but he did go out rather tamely, beaten almost 20 lengths; he owes his position in the market to victory in Aintree's Red Rum Handicap Chase last April.

In last year's renewal Sizing Platinum finished second behind Fox Norton with Mr Fiftyone fourth; Sizing Platinum starts off a mark eight pounds higher tomorrow while Mr Fiftyone is rated seven pounds lower.

A number of the field came home behind Rock The World in the Grand Annual at the Festival; course and distance winner Le Prezien fared best in eighth (beaten 12 lengths) with Eastlake tenth, Mr Fiftyone fifteenth, Sizing Platinum nineteenth and Un Beau Roman pulled up.

Foxtail Hill is one who likes to race from the front. In January he made all to win the Hugo's Restaurant Barbados Trophy Handicap Chase here over two miles five and on the back of that was sent off favourite for the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase but he hit the second hard and fell at the eighth. I'm not convinced this is his optimum trip while Poker School has done all his winning in this country on right-handed tracks.

Of the market leaders Le Prezien and Sizing Platinum make most appeal but on the look out for some (marginally) better value I'm going to make a case for the top weight.

Sold out of Nicky Henderson's yard for £125,000 in May, Vanituex wears a first-time tongue tie on his first run for the Pipe yard.

Granted, this looks a tough ask but he has solid form in the book - he beat Romain De Senam five lengths over two miles at Ayr in the spring (Double W's pulled up), won on his seasonal debut in 2015 and finished third behind Sire De Grugy on his seasonal debut last year.

With layers offering a quarter the odds four places, in an open competitive event Vaniteux is the each-way suggestion at 12/1.

The final word in this week's post has to go to Mr Bob Wells of London.

On Tuesday October 24 The Times ran a piece in conjunction with website myracing.com indicating that, despite winning over £7 million as an owner over the past 30 years, the Queen has ultimately made a loss on her racehorses.

Mr Wells picked up a similar theme in a letter to the paper the following day:

"My father once pointed out, with some satisfaction, that the family's first TV set was bought in the early Fifties with the proceeds of a day's racing at Newbury. My mother pricked his bubble by suggesting, had it not been for Newbury races, we would have had a set in the late Forties."

Thank you Bob Wells. Marvellous stuff.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Heaven - or hell?

The wet and windy weather forecast will certainly have an affect on tomorrow's QIPCO Champions Day at Ascot but it's likely to prove far more problematic for Ffos Las where The New One, Clyne and Sire De Grugy are amongst the declarations for the Ladbrokes Welsh Champion Hurdle at 4.25.

Amateur Mr Zak Baker picks up the ride on The New One and can claim five; regular pilot Sam Twiston-Davies is on duty at Stratford. Now eleven, Sire De Grugy's best days are probably in the past but here he races off a hurdles mark of just 147 - his chase mark is 165. His price has fluctuated noticeably - a 7/2 shot mid-afternoon, Gary Moore's charge is quoted 6/1 at the time of writing. Bottom weight Remiluc races from out of the handicap but is the only one with a recent run to his name.

West Approach, third behind Unowhatimeanharry in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January, makes his debut over the larger obstacles in the Ladbrokes Download The App Beginners' Chase at 3.20. Barry Geraghty is aboard Brelan D'As for owner J P McManus.

The uncertainty over the weather tempers enthusiasm for a wager, particularly at this early stage of the season.

Bristol De Mai was exceptional at the beginning of the year when he destroyed his field in the Peter Marsh at Haydock but subsequently his jumping wasn't up to scratch behind Native River at Newbury and he then finished 20 lengths behind Sizing John in the Gold Cup. Tomorrow he picks up the trail at a far less exalted level in the totepool Live Info Download The App Handicap Chase (3.00 Stratford). He's only six but seems to have been around for ever; in seasons past he has needed the first run.

Paul Nicholls' Roman De Senam is a warm order to come home in front having won convincingly at Chepstow six days ago. Aged just five, he has won two of his eight chase starts but I feel this is more competitive than the market would have us believe.

Nicky Henderson's Days Of Heaven is a big price and is of some interest although the ground is softer than ideal - essentially he wants good ground and currently the official going is described as good to soft.

This one was beaten some 14 lengths into seventh behind Alcala in the Market Rasen Summer Plate back in July; a few were slightly disappointed with that effort - the form book notes the gelding 'gave problems beforehand' - and he faded approaching the last.

He has won previously at this track and goes off a mark one pound lower; I feel there may be more to come and that makes the 16/1 on offer tempting.

Essentially I want the wind to dry the track out, the rain to stay away. The BBC's weather forecast predicts a dry sunny morning with rain arriving mid-afternoon.

Provided it rides no worse than good to soft and the eight make it to post, I intend to take a small early season each-way interest in Days Of Heaven.