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.

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

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

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

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.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Cheltenham Trials Day 2015

On ratings Dynaste is the best horse in tomorrow's BetBright Cup Chase (previously known as the Argento) and bookmakers concur making David Pipe's charge the market leader. The grey stays three miles on a flat track but in my opinion appears slightly less effective over this trip on an undulating track; it's interesting to see connections have chosen to fit cheek pieces here. At the price he's passed over.

Eight weeks ago Many Clouds won the Hennessy off a mark of 151 (Smad Place 20 lengths adrift in fifth). The handicapper now rates the gelding 10 pounds higher and Oliver Sherwood hopes his charge will prove good enough to contest the Gold Cup come March. The gelding's profile reminds me a little of Rocky Creek who finished second in last season's Hennessy and then came to this race to be beaten by The Giant Bolster.

I've seen plenty of tips for bottom weight Smad Place who was slightly disappointing on his seasonal debut in the Hennessy. Afterwards trainer Alan King said that perhaps he should have given his charge a preliminary run; the handler reported the grey 'quiet' for a couple of weeks after Newbury but appears more bullish now. The horse receives weight from all his rivals (12 pounds better off with Many Clouds) but on official ratings he's still the lowest rated animal in the field after Theatre Guide and has just five chase runs to his name.

All of which leaves Black Thunder and The Giant Bolster. The former fell in last year's RSA Chase and looks relatively unexposed while the latter is one talented but quirky individual who happens to like Cheltenham and happened to win last year's renewal. In recent times he has shown his very best form with Tom Scudamore in the plate but Tom is aboard Dynaste tomorrow, leaving the ride to another Tom, Tom Cannon, who got on well with the horse in Haydock's Betfair Chase. Connections have previously tried all manner of aids (hood, visor, hood and visor) and have opted for just the visor on this occasion.

This renewal looks stronger than last year so I'm going to leave The Giant Bolster and chance Oliver Sherwood's Many Clouds. At the time of writing Coral stand out from the competition offering 100/30.

Just six runners in the Cleeve Hurdle (3.35) with Saphir Du Rheu reverting to the smaller obstacles after a couple of blips over the bigger ones. He's top on official ratings with owner Andy Stewart saying:

"He's no Big Buck's but he's only six so we're giving it a go."

That doesn't exactly exude confidence but you could argue some of the uncertainty is factored into the 2/1 available.

Question marks hang over the others; with the Festival on the horizon, I'll leave the race alone.

Peace And Co is currently quoted 5/2 for the Triumph Hurdle in March so it's no surprise to see him odds-on for the opener.

The novice hurdle at 3.00 appears more competitive but layers still go 5/1 the field bar favourite Value At Risk who is quoted as low as 12/1 for the Neptune in March.

On a line through Thomas Brown there isn't much to choose between Robinsfirth and Vago Collenges while Philip Hobbs' Stilletto could be anything.

Looking for an each-way play, marginal preference is for Robinsfirth (8/1 bet365); in the past week the Tizzard yard has clocked up four wins from just nine runs.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ambivalence at Ascot

Weather permitting, Sam Twiston-Davies will travel to Haydock tomorrow to partner The New One in the Stan James Champion Hurdle Trial at 2.05.

55 minutes later all eyes will turn to Ascot where Sprinter Sacre makes his reappearance in the Clarence House Chase following an absence of 386 days.

The great horse's problems have been well documented but on official ratings he has at least 23 pounds in hand over his four rivals; his starting price is likely to be the biggest since December 2011 when he beat Peddlers Cross in Kempton's Wayward Lad Novices' Chase at odds of 11/10.

Should events not go to plan, Dodging Bullets is the one most likely to benefit while Willie Mullins' Twinlight is clearly talented but not always the best of jumpers.

I'll watch from the sidelines hoping all goes to plan.

With the Haydock card not certain to beat the weather I've turned to the mares' hurdle at Ascot (1.50) in search of a wager.

Carole's Spirit sprung something of a surprise on her seasonal debut at Kempton seven and a half weeks ago. She's a tough, relentless galloper who handles underfoot conditions and on ratings the best horse in this field.

That said, Robert Walford's mare was afforded an easy time of it up front at Kempton and some fancied rivals failed to land a blow; she has to concede five pounds to all her opponents here.

Second in the race last year, she's likely to go off favourite but doesn't have much in hand over Land Of Vic who sports cheekpieces for the first time or Mischievous Milly who steps up to three miles and is entitled to improve for her seasonal debut when third behind Aurore D'Estruval (rated 147).

Oliver Sherwood's mare has good form in the book with Glens Melody (a threequarter length second to Quevega at Cheltenham in March). If she stays, she's right in the mix but the trainer has stated that the target is this year's mares' hurdle at the Festival (run over two and a half miles). 

Dark Spirit is certainly no slouch and one who has won over the trip; she was three and a quarter lengths ahead of  Mischievous Milly in Aurore D'Estruval's race at Sandown a fortnight ago. 

Bitofapuzzle is another who has to enter calculations, hailing from a yard bang in form; this evening she looks strong in the market but for me has enough to find on the official ratings.

The race looks more competitive than the market might suggest.

Hoping cheekpieces will help, I'm going to chance Peter Bowen's Land Of Vic (11/2 with Skybet this evening).

Friday, January 09, 2015

Warwick Classic Chase 2014

Sixteen have been declared for tomorrow's Classic Chase at Warwick (this is Mart Lane's second preference) including last year's one-two, Shotgun Paddy and Carruthers, 2013 victor Rigadin de Beauchene and West End Rocker who claimed the spoils in 2011.

Shotgun Paddy is normally a reliable jumper but he made a bad mistake at the second in the Welsh National and was pulled up having covered little more than a mile. He should give a better account here racing off a mark just two pounds higher than last year but he's burdened with top weight.

Carruthers is a stone better off for last year's six length defeat but he isn't getting any younger, a comment that also applies to West End Rocker.

After winning off a mark of 122 in 2013, Rigadin de Beauchene has been pulled up in four of his subsequent six starts. He can go well fresh and three pound claimer Robbie Dunne knows Venetia Williams' charge but the gelding is another with his fair share of weight.

A big weight hasn't necessarily been a drawback in the past (three winners have carried 11-7 or more since 2007 - D'Argent, Hey Big Spender and Shotgun Paddy) but I'm tempted to look at those towards the bottom end of the handicap.

Benbane Head won well the last day but his jumping of the larger obstacles has never totally convinced and perhaps Hawkes Point makes more appeal as an out and out stayer - the application of first time blinkers could bring about improvement.

Oliver Sherwood looks to further build Deputy Dan's confidence in the novice chase at 1.55 following a blip at Exeter last month; the same handler saddles Global Power, who missed the cut for the Welsh National, in the feature.

The gelding would be closely matched with Colin Tizzard's Theatrical Star on previous Fontwell form and Venetia Williams' Ballyoliver on prevoius Carlisle form - the former subsequently unseated at Cheltenham (Cadeau George ninth) while the latter disappointed in an amateur riders' race at the same track.

At 10/1 with both Ladbrokes and totesport, Global Power is the each-way suggestion - he carries a racing weight and has previously seen out similar trips but we should note that, according to the RP Weekender, he needs heavy / practically unraceable ground to be seen at his best.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Kempton's King George VI Chase 2014

Burdened with family commitments, this year I haven't spent as much time with the form book as I should have...

On official ratings Silviniaco Conti is the one to beat in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day (3.10). Paul Nicholls' charge did the blog a favour in Haydock's Betfair Chase last month; the softer the ground the better.

The next two in the market, Champagne Fever and Al Ferof, have never won over three miles so I've looked more closely at Menorah and Cue Card.

Both will appreciate drying ground and, according to the weather forecast, that's what they're likely to get.

Menorah has been something of a revelation this year winning Wetherby's Charlie Hall Chase on good ground and then finishing two lengths adrift of Silviniaco in the Betfair where underfoot conditions were far more testing. In his younger days Philip Hobbs' gelding was known to have jumping issues but he has improved with age although I'm still reluctant to trust him implicitly over these obstacles.

Following a pelvic injury Cue Card has been a little slow to come to hand this term but connections have been making the right noises recently. Colin Tizzard's inmate was outstayed when beaten by Silviniaco in this event last year but he was aggressively ridden on that occasion and a more conservative approach may pay dividends; on official ratings he has three pounds to find with the favourite.

I can still see Cue Card emptying up the home straight in last year's renewal with the race apparently at his mercy and earlier fancier prices have disappeared as well so I'll take an each-way chance on Menorah (8/1) in the hope that his sticky jumping holds out.

Wishing all readers a very merry Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2014

All I want for Christmas... a winning wager.

The thing is, with time at a premium at this time of year, it's unlikely I've found one on Ascot's Christmas card.

Still, for those interested, here are some suggested plays against likely Ascot favourites that it would be wise not to take too seriously.

1.15 David Johnson Shawbrook Bank Graduation Chase

Irish Saint didn't convince when finishing third behind stablemate Vibrato Valtat in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown a fortnight ago.

Puffin Billy was allowed an easy lead when beating Killala Quay at this course the last day; the runner up did nothing for the form when well beaten at Doncaster last week.

Thomas Crapper was probably flattered to finish within a length of Vibrato Valtat on his penultimate start but in the main has jumped well.

Suggestion: Puffin Billy (2/1 generally).

2.25 JLT Long Walk Hurdle 

Zarkandar is the selection on ratings; this trip on soft ground isn't ideal.

Things fell right for Medinas the last day; they may well do again but I don't want to bet on it.

Reve De Sivola won last year's renewal but has been out of form recently; this will be the first time he encounters underfoot conditions to suit this term.

Pilot Lizzie Kelly can't use her claim on Aubusson while the Pipe yard has openly stated the ground will not help Dell'Arca's cause.

Suggestion: Reve De Sivola (9/2 generally).

3.00 Mappin & Webb Silver Cup Handicap Chase

In January The Young Master won handicap hurdles at Fakenham and Sedgefield off a mark of 103. Impressive when winning the Badger Ales at Wincanton last month, he was subsequently disqualified on a technicality but still has to start tomorrow's race on 144.

Houblon Des Obeaux won this last year, has conditions to suit and another seven pounds to carry; ran a huge race at odds of 50/1 to finish second in the Hennessy three weeks ago.

Some money for the bottom three; both Ardkilly Witness and Polisky race from out of the handicap.

Suggestion: Houblon Des Obeaux (4/1 generally)
Each-way alternative: Hey Big Spender (14/1).

3.30 The Ladbroke  

Two each-way longshots against the field in this ultra-competitive handicap...

Garde La Victoire won the Greatwood in some style last month but has been raised nine pounds for his trouble. Has to concede at least seven pounds to all his rivals so realistically he entertains place prospects at best (16/1 SkyBet paying 5 places).

Swing Bowler's fifth, beaten four lengths behind Splash Of Ginge in Newbury's Betfair Hurdle, reads well. I have a soft spot for David Pipe's mare who probably won't appreciate Ascot's stiff finish but on the plus side has run well after a break previously and Kieron Edgar's five pounds claim means she'll carry 10-11 (28/1 SkyBet paying 5 places).

With the in-laws due to arrive next week, I may well be 'hoping beyond hope' with these selections but indulge me - this and the King George on Boxing Day is all I have to look forward to.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cheltenham Christmas card 2014

The official going for tomorrow's Cheltenham card is good to soft yet only one race has more than eight declared, the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup due off at two o'clock.

Four weeks ago Caid Du Berlais won the Paddy Power Gold Cup (run over the old course) from Johns Spirit by a head with Edgardo Sol eighth, Ericht tenth and Easter Meteor pulled up.

Paul Nicholls' five-year-old heads the market for tomorrow's Gold Cup on the back of that run with the general consensus being the two mile five trip over the new course likely to suit.

Barrakilla can be effective with a racing weight and No Buts looked impressive at Newbury the last day while a case can be made for Attaglance who clearly likes Cheltenham (won the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle at the 2012 Festival, finished fourth in the 2013 Paddy Power Gold Cup and second in a listed novices handicap chase at the 2014 Festival) yet he still has to secure that first chase win.

This doesn't look the strongest renewal so I'm going to chance Ericht. Nicky Henderson's charge appeared a little unfortunate to stumble two out when a close third in last month's Paddy Power - with Barry Geraghty back in the plate, Ericht rates an each-way wager at 10/1 (Stan James).

Eight in the International (3.10) but with The New One starting odds-on the race doesn't make much appeal as a betting medium. A couple of points of interest:

Is Bertimont (second in Wincanton's Elite Hurdle) good enough to make a place? Will Mad Moose consent to race?

The Relkeel (3.45) looks trappy.

Rock On Ruby took the 2012 Champion Hurdle when trained by Paul Nicholls but was disappointing in the Elite five weeks ago; he has never won over this distance so presumably connections feel this trip is what is now required.

On official ratings Volnay De Thaix has every chance but he appeared to have a hard enough race behind Aubusson over three miles at Haydock three weeks ago - presumably connections feel the step back in trip is what is now required.

Lac Fontana has to concede four pounds to his four rivals but first-time cheekpieces may bring about improvement. 4/1 is tempting but on balance the weight concession means I'm not going to play.

In the Albert Bartlett at 2.35 I considered Emma Lavelle's Parish Business as a play against Blaklion but in the Weekender the trainer tells us she thinks her charge is 'high enough' in the handicap after finishing second to Fletchers Flyer at Ascot. Nonetheless,  'He's a real galloper and jumps superbly.'  
Only four in the field for the novice chase at 12.50 with this engagement Virak's second preference; the intention is to go to Doncaster for the bet365 Novices' Chase at 2.50. With Virak priced up favourite there, I'll be interested to see how Killala Quay performs.

Back in January I thought Killala was something to bet on at 5/1 in Warwick's Leamington Novices' Hurdle but he ran no sort of race on heavy ground and was pulled up.

He was well beaten behind Puffin Billy at Ascot on his chase debut three weeks ago but it was very soft that day; he'll certainly appreciate this step-up in trip.

A comment I heard after that Warwick run was the gelding prefers better ground - it doesn't look as though he'll get that tomorrow but I may take the chance if bookies are offering 7/2...

Friday, December 05, 2014

Two Sandown selections, one Becher Chase longshot

A capacity crowd of 42,000 is expected at Aintree tomorrow following the course's initiative to hand out free tickets for Betfred Becher Chase day.

I've spent my time looking at Sandown's Tingle Creek card but my throw-away suggestion for the Aintree feature at 1.30 is Mr Moonshine who clearly handles the National fences having finished third behind Chance du Roy in this race last year (and subsequently completed the Grand National in fifteenth).

The going on the course is officially described as good to soft, soft in places which should help the cause and Sue Smith's charge also has a couple of runs under his belt. Granted, the gelding appears to have his fair share of weight but pilot Daragh Bourke claims five.

At the time of writing Mr Moonshine, 22/1 with William Hill who pay a quarter the odds five places, rates a sporting each-way wager.    

The Tingle Creek (3.00) tops the bill at Sandown.

Layers appear to have taken the view that Alan King's Balder Succes, beaten five lengths in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter (Pepite Rose fifth, Somersby sixth, Hinterland pulled up), should reverse placings with Tom George's God's Own on seven pounds better terms.

The star turns, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy, may be missing but several in the field are closely matched on official ratings:

163 Balder Succes (3/1)
162 God's Own (4/1)
162 Somersby (17/2 Skybet)
158 Dodging Bullets (10/1 Boylesports)
157 Oscar Whisky (13/2 bet365)

In addition Harry Fry's Vukovar (152) has come in for market support during the week and is currently rated an 8/1 chance.

4/1 looks a fair price about God's Own - handler Tom George is pretty bullish in a piece published in today's edition of The Times.

10/1 Dodging Bullets is value but in the past he has shown a tendency to jump left on occasions when racing right-handed.

Oscar Whisky is very talented but this is his first try at two miles over fences and his jumping may suffer, particularly at this most exacting of tracks.

God's Own gets the nod.

There's No Panic beat Court By Surprise in last year's London National but Emma Lavelle's charge hasn't made the final declarations for this year's renewal at 3.35.

Emperor's Choice, second to Gas Line Boy at Haydock a fortnight ago, should appreciate underfoot conditions.

At 9/2 with William Hill and Coral, Emperor's Choice is the selection for Sandown's finale.        

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday, Hennessy Saturday

After Black Friday comes Hennessy Saturday...

In the past decade nine winners of the Hennessy Gold Cup have been aged either six or seven years old; a five-year-old has never won the race yet Willie Mullins' Djakadam is the clear market leader, priced as low as 4/1 with Boylesports.

This year in particular I'm struck by the bigger prices available about horses who can boast decent form on soft/heavy ground.

Last year's winner Triolo D'Alene may prefer better underfoot conditions but is rated a 33/1 chance while Merry King (fifth in 2013) is 16/1 with William Hill and Houblon Des Obeaux (sixth) is another priced at 33/1.

Previous Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude is 25/1 and Peter Marsh Chase winner Wychwoods Brook is 28/1 (betVictor), as is Dan Skelton's unexposed sort What A Warrior (William Hill).

You pays your money and takes your choice.

With prices like these I've ignored the market leaders and had an each-way wager on Wychwoods Brook (25/1 with SkyBet paying a quarter the odds five places) who had a nice pipe opener over hurdles at Worcester last month.

I also looked closely at Houblon Des Obeaux who will relish underfoot conditions despite top weight and would be in the mix if showing a return to his very best form - the downside is this is his first outing since April.

Back in March More Of That retained his unbeaten record to collect the Ladbrokes World Hurdle in some style.

The gelding makes his reappearance in the Long Distance Hurdle at 2.25 but Warren Greatrex's Cole Harden is likely to have a fitness edge and at 4/1 represents a play against the odds-on favourite whose stable is currently in the midst of a lean spell.