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.             

Friday, October 13, 2017

Brief notes for the new season

Summer highlight - picking up a copy of R.M. Bevan's The Roodee: 450 years of racing in Chester from Fossgate Books in Fossgate, York.

The book contains a picture of a particularly young-looking Willie Carson which brought back memories of this Jak cartoon originally published in the London Evening Standard 10 June 1980 and which I saw printed in the Liverpool Daily Post at roughly the same time.

Holidaymakers may have taken a dim view of the late summer rains but the benefit to jump racing has been obvious; we've already seen a number of decent performers in action, in stark contrast to last season.

Much to my dismay I wasn't able to attend Ludlow's first October meeting but Bigmartre's victory in the novice chase catches the eye, with Mad Jack Mytton third and my fancy, Mick Thonic, unseating Brian Cooper three out when probably held by the winner.

Similarly Shantou Rock's all-the-way win in a Newton Abbot novice earlier today warrants close inspection.

Finian's Oscar makes his chase debut at Chepstow tomorrow but Market Rasen Summer Plate winner Alcala will be no pushover. Paddy Power offered 5/1 about Paul Nicholls' charge earlier today; at the time of writing 7/2 is the best price available. I'm not going to play but I prefer Alcala.

If you fancy a wager in the Paul Ferguson's Jumpers To Follow Hurdle (3.35 Chepstow) then a close look at the Fred Winter form from the Festival is de rigueur (Percy Street sixth, Dino Velvet eighth, Dolos thirteenth, Fidux nineteenth). I subsequently tipped Dolos to make amends at Ascot in April but So Celebre proved too good (Percy Street third). Before this race I fancied Dino Velvet with Alan King's yard in particularly good form but the current price makes no appeal.

In the Silver Trophy (4.10 Chepstow) I shall watch Alary with interest. On his first run for the stable in the Peter Marsh at Haydock last January he did not look good at all but connections clearly feel the talent is there. To my mind a number from the Tizzard yard are likely to come on for their first race this season and over the smaller obstacles this looks like a warm-up for the winter ahead.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Market Rasen Summer Plate 2017

In the hiatus since the Sandown finale at the end of April I've spent some time recently reading Dorothy Paget: The Eccentric Queen of the Sport of Kings by Graham Sharpe and Declan Colley.

Martin Pipe states 'I wasn't able to put it down.'

Now, I'd suggest it would be unwise to take that comment literally but the book is a jolly interesting read; in parts the authors lead the reader towards particular interpretations of behaviours and events but the research is comprehensive and the bibliography an added bonus.

In the midst of the summer months Market Rasen's Summer Plate acts as a reminder of what we've been missing and also of what we can look forward to in the autumn. Sixteen face the starter for tomorrow's renewal; the going is currently described as good.

Dan Skelton and Jonjo O'Neill have trained recent winners while Peter Bowen has targeted this race for a number of years.

This year the handicap has a lop-sided look to it with Henryville, Days Of Heaven and Alcala set to carry 11-12, 11-11 and 11-7 respectively while the remainder of the field will carry 10-13 or less. No horse has carried 11-7 or more to victory in the past ten years.

On revised terms there appears little to choose between Henryville and Days Of Heaven after the latter beat the former in the Clarke Chase at Uttoxeter eight weeks ago but that fact is certainly not reflected in bookmakers' prices.

Henryville looked unlucky to be brought down at the final flight in last year's renewal but tomorrow he starts off a mark eight pounds higher and Casino Markets is weighted to reverse the placings of April's Cheltenham Silver Trophy Chase.

Alcala's three chase wins have come with six runners or less in the field.

Jonjo O'Neill saddles two - 2014 winner It's A Gimme and I'dliketheoption; owner J P McManus also has the Ben Haslam trained Cup Final in the field. Midnight Shot beat Cup Final a nose in a Hexham novice chase last month when ridden by an amateur claiming seven pounds.

Earthmoves won the Summer Plate Trial over course and distance four weeks ago (Viens Chercher fourth) but he looked in a lot of trouble half a mile from home. Peter Bowen is always respected here but he bought this one out of a Ffos Las Selling Chase - I'm not convinced by the profile.

At the start of the week Poker School was an interesting proposition but I'm afraid the value has long since disappeared.

The Dan Skelton trained Shelford catches the eye near the foot of the handicap but he isn't easy to win with and spent most of last winter racing over much further. That said the race is likely to be run to suit.

2015 winner Brave Spartacus is probably past his best at the age of eleven and I'd be surprised if Wadswick Court proved good enough.

The threat of rain at the track cannot be ignored and that puts me off the bigger weights; in a wide open event, I'll chance Midnight Shot (14/1 generally) will be good enough to make a place. Most layers offer a quarter the odds four places; Sky Bet pay five places at a fifth the odds.

Friday, May 05, 2017

A brief review of the 2016/17 jumps season

Champion jockey: Richard Johnson
Champion trainer: Nicky Henderson
Winning owner: J P McManus
Champion conditional jockey: Harry Cobden

The exceptionally dry autumn meant the season was rather slow to pick up a discernible rhythm. Taquin Du Seuil mugged Village Vic to win the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham's Open meeting; a week later Cue Card beat Coneygree fifteen lengths in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

It soon became clear Cue Card wasn't the only star in Colin Tizzard's yard. Sent off favourite, Native River appeared to win the Hennessy with something in hand and then put in a monstrous effort to win the Welsh National off top weight on going that was officially described as soft but looked desperately heavy.

In the meantime Thistlecrack was cutting his teeth over the larger obstacles before going to Kempton at Christmas to beat stablemate Cue Card three and a quarter lengths in the King George showpiece. At that same meeting Might Bite was some eighteen lengths clear of his nearest pursuer when taking a crashing fall at the final flight in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase.

ITV took over terrestrial racing coverage from Channel Four on New Year's Day; their inaugural transmission fell some way short of the standard required with heavy showers causing problems for commentators and cameramen alike. Improvements followed, with innovative feature pieces proving particularly popular.

In a dramatic Cotswold Chase at the Cheltenham Trials meeting Many Clouds beat Thistlecrack a head and then in desperately sad circumstances collapsed and died, having suffered a 'severe pulmonary haemorrhage'; he was subsequently voted Jumps Horse of the Year.

Following victory in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot, Yanworth appeared to be heading for the Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival but plans were quickly revised a week or so later after Unowhatimeanharry, in the same ownership, won Newbury's Long Distance Hurdle.

'Harry' went into the big one unbeaten since his move from Helen Nelmes' yard in October 2015; on the day he ran a little flat, finishing third behind Nichols Canyon. Next time out Harry Fry's star reversed the form, beating his Cheltenham conqueror a head in Punchestown's Labrokes Champion Stayers' Hurdle.

Re-routed Yanworth, sent off favourite for the Champion Hurdle, was beaten some way out; Buveur D'Air claimed the title. Stepped up to three miles next time, Yanworth gained compensation, beating Supasundae a length in the Ryanair Stayers' Liverpool Hurdle.

At 1/4 Douvan couldn't be opposed in the Champion Chase on Wednesday's card but an overreach at the third effectively put paid to his chance. Special Tiara blazed a trail from the front and had just enough in reserve to hold the fast-finishing Fox Norton a neck.

Beforehand many felt the absence of Thistlecrack (and last year's winner Don Cossack) had devalued this year's Gold Cup but a new star was born in the shape of Sizing John who bounded up the hill to beat Minella Rocco and Native River with some authority. On the day Cue Card's jumping was scratchy at times with the eleven-year-old coming to grief at exactly the same fence that had caught him out when travelling so well last year.

Lizzie Kelly made history by becoming the first female professional jockey to ride in the Gold Cup. Tea For Two was particularly buzzed up in the preliminaries and the partnership lasted no further than the second fence; Kelly made amends three weeks later, pipping Cue Card a neck in Aintree's Betway Bowl.

Vieux Lion Rouge turned up for the Grand National with a win in the Becher Chase and Haydock's Grand National Trial to his name. Blaklion went off the 8/1 favourite but Warwick Classic Chase winner One For Arthur became the first Scottish-trained horse to come home in front since Rubstic in 1979. Jockey Derek Fox, only recently returned to the saddle after breaking a wrist and collarbone in March, gave the gelding a supreme hold-up ride.

Vicente, an unfortunate first fence faller in the Grand National, turned out at Ayr a fortnight later and became the first horse to record back-to-back victories in the Scottish Grand National since Androma (1984/85).

At the start of the final day, the trainers' title remained undecided. Arkle winner Altior recorded a facile victory in the Celebration Chase at Sandown, thereby ensuring Nicky Henderson claimed the prize from incumbent champion Paul Nicholls.

Across the Irish Sea, Willie Mullins had endured something of an annus horribilis for the most part but in unlikely circumstances he pinched the trainers' title from long-time leader Gordon Elliott on the final day of the Punchestown Festival.

It was a torrid season for the blog with many of the selections patently failing to live up to expectations. The one notable exception was Special Tiara whose victory in the Champion Chase at least ensured a profit was recorded at the Festival; Special Tiara is blog horse of the year.

And on Monday 1st May 11/10 favourite Bedrock, trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by Harry, won the first race of the new season, Warwick's John Greasley Sportfield Contractors Novices' Hurdle.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Sandown's bet365 Gold Cup 2017

In the past I've noted a certain similarity between selecting a birthday card for Mrs Tips and selecting a horse for Sandown's bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase, both of which, incidentally, occur around this time of year.

You've done it all several times before, you've been around long enough to know what's required and, if you get my drift, you don't want to spend too much money; you've picked the odd winner here and there, a few efforts have managed to scrape a place, several others have barely mustered a mention in passing whilst the vast majority have fallen into a category that can best be described as egregious.

Judging by the uncharacteristic affection displayed, this year's card can be considered something of an eased-down winner but any thoughts of a famous 'spring double' have to be tempered, I'm afraid, as I rate my chances of tipping the winner of the 2017 Sandown showpiece as, at best, minimal.

Still, one out of two isn't bad.

With just thirteen declared, the smallest field for many a long year, many will feel Neil Mulholland holds the key to the race; his three runners head most betting lists.

Mulholland won last year's renewal with The Young Master who pipped Just A Par a short head (stablemate The Druids Nephew fifth, Theatre Guide eighth, Le Reve pulled up) and the gelding tries again off the same mark after falling at Becher's first time in the Grand National three weeks ago; previously he had finished sixth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival (The Druids Nephew seventh and Theatre Guide eighth).

Priced up favourite, Doing Fine comes to this in fine form with a low weight to boot but this represents a step-up in class; favourites have a poor record in the race - the Weekender indicates the last outright favourite to oblige was Mr Frisk in 1990.

The Druids Nephew is certainly fresher than some and will sport a first-time visor; I've read somewhere that he was distracted by the fall of Vintage Clouds and Vic De Touzaine's unseating two out in the Ultima. To my mind he probably makes most appeal of the Mulholland horses; however on Racing Post ratings his mark of 142 is some way behind the top two, Doing Fine and Benbens, who are rated 166.

The trainers' title race this side of the Irish Sea may lack the drama of the Willie Mullins / Gordon Elliott showdown but it's still undecided - Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls saddle two apiece.

Vyta Du Roc's sixth in the Hennessy reads well and last time out he lost a shoe at Kempton; Sugar Baron was well supported for the Scottish National seven days ago but he got no further than the first and then proceeded to race loose for much of the trip.

Just A Par won the 2015 renewal and appeared to be worried out of it last year so his chance has to be respected while this is the first time Present Man races beyond three miles one.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Benbens is the other runner who competed in the Scottish National last week and what a race he ran at odds of 50/1!

The twelve-year-old finished third, beaten two and a quarter lengths, with his amateur jockey, Mr Z Baker, putting up two pounds overweight... Nigel's son Sam takes over the steering tomorrow but the worry is that effort together with the travelling involved may have taken its toll.

With Rock The Kasbah not certain to stay, I'm leaning towards What's Happening for an each-way wager.

Tom George's charge has clearly had his injury problems but back in April 2015 he won over three and a half miles on good ground at Cheltenham.

Following a long spell on the sidelines he ran second behind Perfect Candidate at Exeter in February (Masters Hill, Theatrical Star, Harry Topper, As De Fer and Buywise amongst those in behind) before finishing eleventh in the Kim Muir. The handicapper has dropped him a pound for that effort and I'm hoping there is some further improvement to come.

At 16/1 What's Happening is the each-way selection.

Rightly Altior is long odds on for the Celebration Chase at 3.00 but BetVictor price Special Tiara 5/1 while Sky Bet go 9/2; I admit to being tempted. Special Tiara was particularly quick over the obstacles in the Champion Chase six and a half weeks ago. He won the 2015 renewal of this race, having finishing third at Cheltenham that year.

On a line through Fox Norton, Altior wins comfortably but the Tizzard yard were going through a quiet spell at the time. The official handicapper rates Altior one pound superior.

The times of the Festival races were:

Altior:
Arkle 14.03.17  3m 55.50s (slow by 3.50s); beat Cloudy Dream six lengths;

Special Tiara:
Champion Chase 15.03.17 3m 55.40s (slow by 3.40s); beat Fox Norton a head.

I wouldn't blame anyone for not following but at 5/1 I'll stay loyal to Special Tiara who did me a big favour at the Festival last month.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Scottish Grand National 2017

There are thirty declared for tomorrow's Scottish Grand National (3.55 Ayr) where the going is currently described as good to soft; recent big-priced winners include Iris De Balme at 66/1 in 2008; Al Co at 40/1 in 2014 and Wayward Prince at 25/1 in 2015. Vicente won last year's renewal and tries again off exactly the same mark.

Due to circumstances entirely beyond my control, form study this week has been somewhat curtailed; I've been on the lookout for an outsider at a decent price and have come up with two possibilities...

At 50/1 Blakemount clearly fits the outsider tag and his fifth in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter five weeks ago reads well enough. Sue Smith's yard appears in decent form but jockey bookings are disconcerting; Danny Cook rides Vintage Clouds (two falls in last three runs) for owner Trevor Hemmings and Sean Quinlan is aboard Straidnahanna, suggesting Blakemount (Henry Brooke up) is considered third choice.

Dancing Shadow has been in good form this season and won the Edinburgh National Handicap Chase at Musselburgh on his penultimate start over a trip of four miles one furlong. He was raised eight pounds for that effort but was subsequently pulled up in the amateurs' four miler at the Festival. Victor Dartnall's charge has enough weight and has to put that latest effort behind him but it was 39 days ago and Hill's offer 40/1 a quarter the odds four places while Paddy Power quote a price of 33/1 and pay one fifth the odds six places.

Blakemount is the each-way suggestion at 50/1 with Paddy Power paying one fifth the odds six places.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Haydock challenges

Tomorrow Haydock Park hosts the finals of the Challenger Series; the card looks extremely challenging.

After the six Challenger Series Finals the card concludes with the Tim Moloney Handicap Chase at 5.30 run over three and a half miles. I've spent some time this Good Friday afternoon looking at this race but haven't come up with an angle that makes much appeal.

A number in the field boast respectable form on soft ground but the current going is described as good, good to soft in places, and it seems unlikely that much rain will fall overnight.

Of the eleven declared, to my mind just four look guaranteed to stay the trip and appreciate the underfoot conditions - Abracadabra Sivola, Bertie Boru, Azure Fly and Carli King.

At eleven years old the last-named is no spring chicken but he races from the front and I'd expect to see similar tactics employed tomorrow on this tight track which tends to suit front-runners.

Two years ago he won a handicap chase at Warwick on good ground over this trip off a mark of 122; tomorrow he goes off 119. Will others in the field be able to keep tabs on him in the early stages?

Sixteen days ago Abradcadabra Sivola beat Tinker Time half a length with Bertie Boru a head behind in third over this sort of trip on good going at Taunton. The winner looked a shade fortunate as Bertie Boru was snatched up four from home when short of room and subsequently couldn't make up the ground. There doesn't look much between the pair and that's reflected in the betting.

Azure Fly was to be the each-way selection (with Mr J Nailor claiming seven). He didn't run his race last time but generally is a consistent sort who likes decent ground and stays; that said, he has a lot of placed efforts to his name...

The layers bet 5/1 Courtown Oscar with no runner in the field bigger than 12/1, all of which tells me our friends in the bookmaking fraternity aren't prepared to take too many chances here so instead I've gone for a more speculative selection in the stayers hurdle final at 4.20.

Cooking Fat has always struck me as the sort of beast you wouldn't want to bet with an on-course bookmaker with six pints of real ale inside you.

He brings decent form to the table here and is clearly the best horse in the race on RP ratings. Writing in the Weekender Paul Kealy makes the case for and the fact connections expect their charge to improve on better ground is encouraging.

Cooking Fat's chance is respected but at 9/1 I've decided to look elsewhere.

At Cheltenham back in October Young Dillon was beaten just over five lengths into fourth behind Wholestone, West Approach and Ballymalin, conceding the winner three pounds and the third six pounds. That form reads well with Wholestone finishing third in the Albert Bartlett.

Young Dillon hasn't been over-raced during the winter; after a break of four and a half months he had a refresher at Bangor three weeks ago which, hopefully, will have put him spot on for this. He'll appreciate the decent ground and sports a first-time visor.

At 16/1 Young Dillon is the speculative each-way selection; most layers pay a quarter the odds four places provided the 16 make it to the start.

And here's a salutary Grand National footnote to conclude with....

Last week winning jockey Derek Fox had barely dismounted from One For Arthur when the landline rang.

My brother had struck seven £3.00 each-way bets at SP for various members of his family and was keen to ascertain what returns were due.

Using the back of one of my own unsuccessful betting slips, I calculated the return on Saint Are, third at 25/1, but he was far more interested in the return from Gas Line Boy who had crept into fifth at the rather juicy odds of 50/1.

The sums done, I asked the obvious question - which bookmaker had he placed his bets with? And therein lay the problem. 'The local bookmaker in the village,' came the reply. Trying very hard not to laugh out loud, I said 'Oh dear.'

Some time later I received official confirmation that Dave Pluck, an independent chain of bookmakers with thirty shops based in the north west, were paying four places on the Grand National.

Silly, I know, but a number of on-going straplines followed: 'Out of luck with Dave Pluck', 'Dave Pluck? What bad luck!' as well as some other straplines too.

After receiving a copy of the aforementioned betting slips, I further noted that one of his seven selections was Vieux Lion Rouge, sixth at odds of 12/1. The same wagers placed with Paddy Power (one fifth the odds six places) showed a profit of £19.20...

The moral of the story? Choose your bookmaker with care...

Friday, April 07, 2017

Aintree Grand National 2017

Mrs Tips likes a flutter on the Grand National. We've made some progress this year - she only wants to bet half the field.

A number of the fancied runners in this renewal come with niggling doubts.

Vieux Lion Rouge has looked very good this season, pinching the Becher from Highland Lodge and then winning Haydock's Grand National Trial with just a hint of something to spare. The worry is he ran out of petrol two from home last year, eventually finishing seventh. Has he strengthened up sufficiently?

Definitely Red has improved leaps and bounds this season and deserves plenty of respect but jumping was his Achilles heel last year and I think he prefers more cut underfoot.

One For Arthur is another who revels in the mud; connections are worried their charge may struggle to lie up early on in the race.

Blaklion is a street fighter who looks to have benefitted from a wind operation after the Hennessy; however he's not the biggest of individuals and these are big fences...

And all those mentioned to this point are aged eight; in the past decade the winners have been aged between nine and eleven apart from Many Clouds in 2015.

It's the Grand National and anything can happen; since Lottery won the inaugural running in 1839 it frequently has.

Fifty years ago 100/1 chance Foinavon dramatically won following a pile-up at the fence after Becher's; the fence was officially named after the horse in 1984.

More recent big-priced winners include Silver Birch at 33/1 in 2007; Mon Mome at 100/1 in 2009; Neptune Collonges at 33/1 in 2012; Auroras Encore at 66/1 in 2013; Pineau De Re at 25/1 in 2014; Many Clouds at 25/1 in 2015 and Rule The World at 33/1 last year.

You pay your money and take your choice. The BBC's Pinstickers Guide is a popular, useful tool; for those interested, here's my stab at the impossible...

1. Ucello Conti The only one of my picks to perform with much credit last year, eventually finishing sixth, and racing off the same mark this time. Fourth behind Vieux Lion Rouge in the Becher, he meets that opponent five pounds better off for two and a half lengths (20/1).

2. Blaklion Second behind Vieux Lion Rouge at Haydock, he's three pounds better off for three and a quarter lengths. First time he has raced beyond three and a half miles (14/1).

3. Thunder And Roses Beat last year's winner Rule The World in the 2015 Irish National and I'm hoping he can bring that sort of form to the table here... (33/1)

4. Perfect Candidate Likes to race up with the pace and possibly a little high in the weights but progressive this year (50/1).

5. Vieux Lion Rouge With a clear round and luck in running I'm still not totally convinced he sees out the marathon trip... (12/1).

Good luck!

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Aintree 2017 - Friday

A couple of quick suggestions for Ladies' Day...

The JLT Melling Chase (3.25) looks a hot affair.

Fox Norton just failed to catch Special Tiara in the Champion Chase 23 days ago with Top Gamble fourth, Gods Own fifth and Traffic Fluide sixth. Gods Own, very closely matched with Fox Norton on official ratings, won this last year but is one I've always struggled to catch right.

Sub Lieutenant finished one and a half lengths behind Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair 22 days ago with Josses Hill fifth and Uxizandre seventh. Alan King's charge has previously won over course and distance and reportedly did not run to his best at Cheltenham; in the Weekender the handler says:

"...when Un De Sceaux took him on it disappointed him a little bit."

He ran in cheekpieces at Cheltenham but connections re-fit the visor for this renewal.

Both Kylemore Lough and Royal Regatta come here fresh.

Following an injury Traffic Fluide has been on the comeback trail this year; he was beaten just a neck by Gods Own in the Champion Chase and may have reversed placings had he jumped the last slightly better.

Paddy Power stand out from the crowd offering 25/1 at the time of writing; Traffic Fluide is the suggested each-way play.

In the Crabbie's Top Novices' Hurdle at 2.20 I'm hoping Malcolm Jefferson's Mount Mews can record a win for the north; market rivals River Wylde finished third in the Supreme behind Labaik while Moon Racer was pulled up in the Champion Hurdle after a mistake four from home. Jefferson won the Red Rum Handicap Chase earlier today with Double W's.

Finally the opener looks an absolute minefield and I haven't done the form so can't recommend a wager but I like Bigmartre and will monitor his performance. The stable was in indifferent form earlier in the season and is now slowly coming back. He ran well for a long way in the Imperial Cup; Harry Bannister claims three and a couple of layers price him 28/1 this evening.      

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Aintree 2017 - Thursday

Three weeks after Cheltenham, to my mind this still remains one of the trickiest meetings in the racing calendar  - so much so that I was on the verge of refraining from posting a selection for Thursday's card for the first time since the blog's inception in 2006.

Having tipped Cue Card for last month's Gold Cup, I'm not inclined to venture an opinion on his well-being ahead of the Betfair Bowl at 2.50. His jumping wasn't quite up to the mark last time, even before he came to grief three out; on official ratings he has four pounds in hand over Empire Of Dirt.

Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air is short enough for the Aintree Hurdle (3.25) on his first try over two and half miles; of the six declared only Identity Thief and The New One have previously won over the distance.

I've never considered myself much of a royalist but for a first day each-way wager I'll chance Forth Bridge, owned by The Queen, in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at 2.20.

At the Festival Defi Du Seuil was atypical in that he won his selected race, the Triumph Hurdle, in the manner the odds beforehand suggested he should - Landlin was some fourteen lengths behind in eighth.

A neck separated Flying Tiger and Divin Bere in the Fred Winter but the latter is now five pounds better off and looks weighted to reverse placings. That said, both runners looked to have had a hard enough race while Forth Bridge comes to this (as) fresh (as a daisy) after winning the Triumph Hurdle trial at Musselburgh at the beginning of February.

On official ratings Forth Bridge has six pounds to find with Divin Bere and two to find with Flying Tiger. On a (possibly ambiguous) form line through Project Bluebook, fourth in the Fred Winter, a case can be made Forth Bridge has around four pounds to find with Divin Bere. Drying ground is preferable; the going stick readings indicate the management team at Aintree have done plenty of watering in the build-up...

20/1 was available earlier but has now disappeared; bet365 offer 16/1 a quarter the odds three places. Forth Bridge is the each-way suggestion provided, of course, the eight runners make it to post.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Suasive suggestions for Ascot's Sunday card?

Somebody I know is going to Ascot on Sunday and, strange as it may seem, they've asked me to mark their card.

It does happen very, very occasionally.

I can't deny that initial satisfaction, that warm, comforting glow that runs through the veins when contact is made and the request proposed but any sense of self-indulgent pride is quickly swept away when I recall that I've never actually received a repeat request - from any friend, acquaintance or racegoer. For some peculiar reason, it always seems that once is more than enough.

Bearing all that in mind, here's where I am with Ascot's final jumps card of the season; the official going is currently described as good.

2.00 ROA/Racing Post Owners Jackpot Maiden Hurdle
Venetia Williams' Burrows Park brings some respectable-looking form to the table, having been beaten a length by River Frost at Plumpton in November and then finishing third behind Chalonnial at Bangor just before Christmas; the former was ninth in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham a fortnight ago while the latter ran third behind Finian's Oscar in the Tolworth at Sandown. Burrows didn't jump well the last day at Fontwell and was pulled up but has been given time to recover; on his racecourse debut he won on good ground in France over ten and a half furlongs.

2.30 Mitie Events & Leisure Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Weekender readers, myself included, were waiting for Alan King's Dino Velvet, eighth of 22 in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham, to show up for this but he's missing (as was stablemate Hidden Cargo in the opener) so Fred Winter form is represented by Nicky Henderson's pair Domperignon Du Lys (eleventh) and Percy Street (sixth) along with the Paul Nicholls trained Dolos (thirteenth).

Since Cheltenham the handicapper has left the Henderson pair alone but has dropped Dolos two pounds and jock Stan Sheppard can claim another five. Of the others So Celebre and Gregarious are respected; the former appeared to have improved at Huntingdon last time and there could be more to come while the latter beat Deauville Crystal who has subsequently won twice.

On RPRs this contest is between the top two. Coming to two out Dolos was third in the Fred Winter but patently failed to come up the hill. You'd imagine the stiff finish at Ascot could pose a similar problem but the trip here is a full furlong shorter than at Cheltenham and the vibes for the Nicholls horse were strong before the Festival. With the weight concessions, Dolos is preferred.

3.05 Geotech Soil Stabilisation Novices' Chase
There looks to be plenty of pace here with Casse Tete, Present Man and Value At Risk (sporting first time cheekpieces) all keen to get on with it. Dark Flame was disappointing last time but has good form behind Poker School around here while Philip Hobbs wanted to get Brother Tedd in the novice handicap chase on the first day at Cheltenham as the horse's chase rating is some 16lbs lower than his hurdle rating... In which case all he has to do is jump round to win? Ascot's fences are stiff enough - on balance I prefer previous course and distance winner Present Man.

3.40 Ascot United FC Novices' Handicap Chase
A few inter-linked form lines here... Champagne At Tara was beaten a neck by Red Devil Star over course and distance in December and has since beaten Un Prophete a head at Leicester. Red Devil Star was beaten over eight lengths by Imperial Presence a week ago while Clic Work didn't jump well at Kempton last time out. On good ground San Benedeto may just be good enough to give the weight away.

4.15 grandnational2017.com Veterans' Handicap Chase
Further work required but I like No Duffer who will appreciate better ground and has won going right-handed at both Perth and Sandown.

4.50 Iron Stand Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle
It's good to see Puffin Billy return to action after 711 days on the sidelines. Le Reve hasn't had quite as long away from the track but may need the run while Billy No Name ran a bit of stinker carrying my money last time out. Ultimately Dell' Arca has been disappointing considering he won the 2013 Greatwood Hurdle and Westerndorf didn't appear to stay this trip. Back in November Ben Pauling told Weekender readers he thought Expedite was 'very well handicapped' with a rating of 114. Expedite has since had a couple of mishaps over the larger obstacles but his latest effort - fourth over hurdles off a mark of 125, beaten six lengths by River Frost (ninth in the Coral Cup) - reads well. He's a tentative selection in an open event.

Finally a word for one of my favourite horses, Reve De Sivola, who tragically collapsed and died at Kelso last week. The horse did me (and this blog) a few favours over the years, particularly in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, winning three consecutive renewals between 2012 and 2014.

Fittingly, Ascot will name this year's renewal the JLT Reve De Sivola Long Walk Hurdle.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Newbury 'mare?

It's a mere week since Sizing John won the Gold Cup at Cheltenham but in some ways it seems like half a lifetime ago. Ever since, the world and his wife has been telling anyone who'll listen which ones to look out for next time following any number of unfortunate incidents in running (my two, Dino Velvet and Ex Patriot, offer nothing in the way of originality).

And with the £1 million Grand National just a fortnight away, official handicapper Phil Smith couldn't resist joining in the fun with a list of horses he now considers "well in" for the Aintree showpiece: More Of That (two pounds, after Gold Cup sixth); Grimthorpe winner Definitely Red (ten pounds); Vieux Lion Rouge (six pounds); Cause Of Causes (five pounds, after winning the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase - handler Gordon Elliott followed a similar path with 2007 winner Silver Birch) and Just A Par (four pounds).

Tomorrow's cards are just so-so; I've spent that much time looking at the Mares' Novices' Hurdle Finale (Newbury 3.00) where seventeen are set to face the starter I've ended up confusing myself... I've found this race (along with most others, I should add) rather tricky to predict in the past but the stats show the favourite has obliged on four occasions in the last ten years while in the same timeframe no mare has carried more than 11-5 to victory.

Let's Dance won the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at the Festival last week with Dusky Legend (20/1) third, Verdana Blue (25/1) fourth and La Bague Au Roi (10/1) seventh; the three named have form lines with a couple of tomorrow's runners.

La Bague Au Roi beat Cajun Fiddle at Uttoxeter and then, in receipt of three pounds beat Dusky Legend three and a quarter lengths with Copper Kay a further two and threequarter lengths adrift in third over two miles here in November. Earlier that month Dusky Legend had beaten Copper Kay and Snow Leopardess at the track with Same Circus some thirty four lengths away in seventh. Snow Leopardess went on to confirm the form with Same Circus over two miles three and a half furlongs at Doncaster.

Copper Kay idled in front on her penultimate start at Warwick and was caught in the shadow of the post; Philip Hobbs has his team in cracking form at present. I suspect Snow Leopardess may have more to give but of the pair I marginally prefer Copper Kay, joint top on RPR ratings with Pearl Royale.

Ruby Yates' second behind Verdana Blue over two miles at Hereford in January reads well as does Gran Turina's Ludlow second behind River Wylde who subsequently ran very well in the Supreme, beaten ten and a half lengths into third by Labaik. Both mares look less exposed and more open to improvement than a number in the field.

You can't help but feel Alan King must have a very good idea where he is with Tara View given stablemate Dusky Legend finished third at the Festival. The trainer sounds bullish enough in the Weekender pointing out this race has been the target for some time.

A key piece of form is Tara View's defeat of Wizard's Sliabh and Hitherjacques Lady over two miles five at Ludlow just before Christmas. On a strict interpretation Wizard's is five pounds better off for half a length and that's the case Stuart Redding makes in the Weekender. Priced up 14/1 in places and sporting first-time cheekpieces, Wizard's Sliabh makes some appeal but the fact layers bet 9/1 the field shows what an open event this is.

At the time of writing BetVictor and Ladbrokes are the layers offering 14/1 Wizard's Sliabh and they're paying a quarter the odds four places.

Wizard's Sliabh is nothing more than a tentative each-way suggestion.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - the betting debrief

Whether it's good news or bad, I much prefer to do this job on the Friday evening of the Gold Cup.

Here's the scorecard for the blog's highlighted selections at this year's Festival. It's nowhere near last year's performance; a small loss is incurred to the SP prices recorded below but that loss is transformed into profit if calculations are made using the prices taken.

Tuesday
Supreme: Ballyandy, win,  3/1, fourth, lost;
Champion Hurdle: Footpad, each-way, 14/1, fourth, lost.

Wednesday
RSA Chase: Royal Vacation, each-way, 12/1, pulled up, lost;
Coral Cup: Peregrine Run; each-way, 15/2, eleventh, lost;
Champion Chase: Special Tiara, each-way, 11/1, first; returned 7.60;
Champion Bumper: Dans Le Vent, each-way, 100/1, sixth, lost.

Thursday
Pertemps Hurdle: Golden Doyen, each-way, 18/1, twelfth, lost;
Brown Advisory: Thomas Crapper, each-way, 7/1, fourth; returned 1.38;

Friday
Gold Cup: Cue Card, win, 9/2, fell, lost;
Gold Cup: More Of That, each-way, 14/1, sixth, lost.

Total outlay: 10.00 points
Total return:  8.98 points
Profit / loss: -1.02 points

Using prices taken (Special Tiara 20/1, Thomas Crapper 9/1) rather than starting prices, the adjusted figures look more healthy:

Total outlay: 10.00 points
Total return: 14.62 points
Profit / loss: +4.62 points

A little creative accounting here and there can go a long way, you know...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Friday's Gold Cup

Watching Special Tiara win the Champion Chase at the track yesterday was a bit like being plugged into the mains for a couple of minutes but I'm cute enough to realise one winner isn't going to rescue an attritional season so when Grosvenor Casinos offered me a small inducement to include a link to the analysis their number-crunchers have carried out on tomorrow's Gold Cup, quite frankly it was too good an opportunity to knock back...

Their number-crunchers have crunched the numbers and Outlander is the pick; I see a couple of their experts are keen on Native River - the consensus amongst fellow racegoers yesterday was that the arrival of some rain would help his chance no end...

I backed last year's winner Don Cossack but as Paddy Brennan went to make that fateful move on Cue Card approaching the third last I thought second was the best I could hope for. Cue Card took an almighty tumble but, thankfully, was up in an instant with Colin Tizzard declaring 'there isn't a bother on him [Cue Card].' Tomorrow's race represents a chance of redemption for Paddy; you can be certain he'll be desperate to take it.

Cue Card is a remarkable specimen and seems as good as ever; however the handicapper dropped his official rating from 176 to 170 following his last run at Ascot - he now has just two pounds in hand over Native River and Outlander. The last horse older than ten to win the Gold Cup was What A Myth (aged 12) in 1969 but it should be said that Cue Card is no typical eleven-year-old gelding. Since 2000 the market leader has won on eight occasions.

From the same stable as last year's winner, Outlander merits every respect having beaten Djakdam, placed in the previous two Gold Cups and still only an eight-year-old, in the Lexus over three miles at Leopardstown this Christmas; previously Djakdam had beaten Outlander over an inadequate two and a half mile trip in the John Durkan Memorial at Punchestown.

Willie Mullins has endured more than his fair share of bad luck this year and with no winners after the first two days of the Festival there were a few questions being asked in some quarters yesterday; normal service has been resumed with the master trainer sending out Yorkhill, Un De Sceaux, Nichols Canyon and Let's Dance to win today.

Bristol De Mai was something of revelation winning the Peter Marsh in a common canter by 22 lengths on his penultimate start. He did not jump well when beaten by Native River the last day but that run can be ignored as he came home lame. He's not a horse I'm particularly fond of but 25/1 understates his chance; this is the first time he races beyond three miles.

On official ratings Champagne West doesn't have much to find with the principals to be in with a shout but on occasions his jumping is a cause for concern. Regular readers will know I've used that same comment in relation to Saphir Du Rheu's attempts over the larger obstacles; we've seen some improvement in that department on his last two runs but, together with Irish Cavalier (fifth in this last year) and Minella Rocco, he has at least twelve pounds to find to be competitive.

More Of That is in a similar boat but is highly regarded by his trainer and will appreciate better ground; this one looked unlucky when coming to grief at the last when still in with a chance in the Irish Gold Cup five weeks ago where Sizing John was all out to keep Empire Of Dirt (fourth behind Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair today) at bay.

Twelve months ago Sizing John finished second to Douvan in the Arkle so this extended three and a quarter mile trip may not play to his strengths but his price in the market tells you there are plenty out there who think he has a live chance.

Lizzie Kelly is all set to make history aboard Tea For Two by becoming the first female professional jockey to ride in the race while Smad Place is a front-running grey who was sixth in this event last year beaten some thirty eight lengths.

Thistlecrack may be missing from proceedings but it looks a very open renewal. I take Cue Card to lay to rest the ghosts of last year and will chance More Of That each-way on the back of his trainer's comments.

I have an informal long-standing arrangement with our Media Services people at work. At around 3.28 on Gold Cup day three of us creep quietly into their office (on hands and knees) and watch the race live on one of the many TV screens housed therein. The commentary is turned down and we are permitted to swap notes in running only in hushed tones; bizarrely, it sort of adds to the excitement of it all. Shouting one's selection up the hill in a close finish is considered extremely bad form and is, to all intents and purposes, forbidden; obscure threats of financial penalties have been mooted in the event of outbursts of such recalcitrant behaviour. Last year apart, you'll be pleased to hear that none of my previous twenty selections in this showpiece race have come anywhere near requiring additional vocal support; fortunately, they tend to weaken markedly on the long climb to the post, thereby ensuring I'm in no danger whatsoever of incurring a hefty regulatory fine.

Two selections for the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup:

Cue Card win (5/1 in a number of places this evening);
More Of That each way at 14/1.

Reverse forecast anyone?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Thursday

Very brief notes compiled late Wednesday evening after returning from Cheltenham... 

1.30 JLT Novices' Chase
Following a cursory glance at the end of last week the opening JLT looked a pretty competitive affair to me with a couple of commentators describing it as 'hot' so I was mildly surprised to see Rob Wright from The Times say that essentially layers were offering 11/8 Yorkhill jumping round because if he jumps, he wins. Top Notch isn't the biggest but jumped impeccably around Sandown the last day, Paul Nicholls says Politologue is his best chance of the week and Disko is not lightly dismissed but may prefer more cut underfoot. RPR ratings: Top Notch 170, Politologue 168, Disko, Flying Angel 167, Yorkhill 163. Layers offer 6/4 Yorkhill at the time of writing; leave well alone.

2.10 Pertemps Network Final
There's a great story around Tobefair. Philip Hobbs' pair For Good Measure and Golden Doyen look closely matched; the former, owned by J.P. McManus, is shorter in the market but I prefer the latter who will appreciate the drying ground and has run well fresh in the past.

Golden Doyen is an each-way play 18/1 Sky Bet paying a fifth the odds six places.

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle
On more than one occasion this season I've opposed Unowhatimenaharry and I've the burnt fingers to prove it. Cole Harden helped me to (barely) break even at this meeting in 2015 and he showed an improved level of form on soft ground behind Harry Fry's hotpot last time. I'm hoping to see further improvement on better ground; he needs to find the best part of ten lengths but at around 9/1 he represents an each-way bet to nothing.

Late evening update 15.03.17 - best price 15/2 is too short.

4.10 Brown Advisory Plate
I've seen more tips for this than you can shake a stick at. Regular readers will know that after a visit to Robin Dickin's yard in the autumn I've been following Thomas Crapper closely. After a series of reasonable runs without getting placed he turned up at Newbury twelve days ago where the going was pretty desperate. I did the sensible thing, kept my money in my back pocket and he trotted up 20 lengths clear; I've since gone through a box of man-sized Kleenex every day. The one consolation was that after the race Charlie Poste had the good grace to say the ground was 'an unknown'. The handicapper has only raised him five pounds for that last run and, bless my old boots, he has just made the cut... Threats in a ferociously competitive event include Diamond King, Starchitect (widely tipped up) and Sizing Codelco, put up by Colin Tizzard as one of his best chances at the entire meeting.  All that said on RPRs Thomas is 176 and nearest rivals Voix D'Eau, Sizing Codelco and Henryville are rated 169.

Call it a hangover but I simply have to play Thomas Crapper each-way at 9/1 with Betfred paying a quarter the odds five places.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Wednesday

Beware a tough-looking card on the Ides of March.

Wednesday is Ladies' Day; I'll be at the track for the first time in a number of years to savour the atmosphere and discuss some of the finer points of late nineteenth century French poetry - Rimbaud often proves a particularly difficult topic - with an assortment of former colleagues and alehouses over ten pints of Guinness.

Douvan is 1/4 for the Champion Chase at 3.30 and it's roughly the same odds I'll have run out money before the Fred Winter. Today's edition of The Times reports that's £2.2 million was withdrawn from cash machines at the track last year; I intend to leave my cards at home.

And a quick word of thanks, too, to the Cheltenham management for drastically reducing the cost of my bar bills to no more than four drinks per visit.

Betting plans outlined below have been finalised in complete sobriety and are likely to bear little resemblance to what actually takes place; once again that dichotomy between appearance and reality...

1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Skipthecuddles has always been a particular personal favourite of mine but wouldn't necessarily be the most appropriately named winner of the opener on Ladies' Day. Favourite Neon Wolf has been well-touted throughout the season; connections have opted for this rather than the Supreme on account of the drying ground. He won a point-to-point on good to yielding at Ballyragget last March. Barcadys brings strong form to the table but appears to be drifting in the market this evening; third behind Ballyandy in last year's bumper, he went on to reverse placings with that rival in the Aintree bumper three weeks later on four pounds better terms (Willoughby Court fifth). Messire Des Obeaux is one of a clutch of horses with an each-way shout but as nine of the past ten winners have started no bigger than 7/1 I'll sit this one out.

2.10 RSA Novices' Chase
Favourite Might Bite took a crashing fall at Kempton on his penultimate start. He comes into this on the back of a confidence boosting three-runner stroll at Doncaster. The question is will his jumping be good enough - plenty on the Festival preview circuit think not. Alpha Des Obeaux bled at Leopardstown over Christmas but Acapella Bourgeois led his rivals a merry dance at Navan last month. Some commentators felt the chasing pack gave Sandra Hughes' charge too much rope there; on official handicap ratings he's the best horse in this race. Royal Vacation won well over two miles five here at the end of January and merits an each-way interest at 12/1.

Royal Vacation is the each-way selection.

2.50 Coral Cup
There are plenty with smart form at the top of the handicap including Lanzarote Hurdle winner Modus, former Greatwood Hurdle winner Old Guard as well as Tombstone and Supsasundae, fourth and seventh respectively behind Altior in the Supreme last year. Taquin du Seuil, 161 over fences, has a hurdle rating of just 148 while last Saturday The Times ran a two-page spread on the preparation of Mister Miyagi, 'one of the stable's brightest hopes for a second Festival winner', owned by two former Coventry City footballers Ben Turner (now with Burton Albion) and Jay Tabb. Carrying my money Peregrine Run got stuck in the mud at Warwick last time but he'll appreciate the drying ground here and his defeat of Wholestone and West Approach (now goes in the Stayers' Hurdle) over course and distance in November reads well.

Peregrine Run is the each-way selection. Several layers are paying a quarter the odds five places, Paddy Power and Skybet a fifth the odds six places.

3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase
Douvan is expected to win comfortably and should not be opposed. Special Tiara is reported 'in mighty form' and is my each-way pick at 20/1. Pearlyman remains my all-time favourite winner of this race; I hold John Edwards' gelding partly responsible for my current predicaments...

Special Tiara is the each-way selection.

4.50 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Often a lottery, in the past decade no winner has had an official rating higher than 133. Of Nicky Henderson's trio the well-touted Divin Bere (139) is set to carry top weight and has had a wind operation since his last run when he beat Master Blueyes a neck at Huntingdon; Master Blueyes is currently third favourite for Friday's Triumph Hurdle. Stablemate Domperignon De Lys (133) is preferred. Paul Nicholls has won the past two renewals and saddles two; last week Dreamcatching (131) was shorter in the market but Sam Twiston-Davies put up Dolos (134) as one of the rides he's most looking forward to with the result the latter is now as low as 9/1 - the value has disappeared. Diable De Sivola has placed form behind Defi Du Seuil (favourite for the Triumph) and Soldier In Action (16/1 for the Triumph) which reads well but if I want a go on a lottery, I can pop down my local newsagent. I'm not going to play.

5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper
Carter McKay is clear favourite on the back of comments from the yard; Ruby Walsh rides Next Destination. Jamie Snowden has pointed out that in the listed bumper won by Daphne Du Clos at Newbury last month, Dans Le Vent finished within two lengths of Western Ryder; Western Ryder is quoted a 8/1 chance while the Snowden inmate is 66/1. On RPRs Fayonagh is joint-top with the favourite and priced at 12/1 while Dan Skelton's runner Cause Toujours was the other one highlighted in Mike Atherton's piece in last Saturday's copy of The Times. I'm also interested to see whether Alan King has a word for Perfect Harmony in his Weekender column tomorrow. Ordinarily I'm not keen on a four-year-old in the bumper but Cue Card was good enough in 2010 and 66/1 is jolly tempting...

Dans Le Vent is the each-way play at 66/1 with bet365 a quarter the odds four places.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Tuesday

Firstly a quick word of thanks to readers Reamonnt and TW for pointing me in the direction of two sites that should prove extremely useful in the week ahead:

GaultStats is for those who like to analyse trends before making a decision;

At The Races' dedicated Cheltenham microsite has all the latest news, views and comment.

The Festival is a marathon not a sprint so in the interests of my bank balance (and yours?) just two selections for the opening day...

1.30 Supreme Novices Hurdle
Favourite Melon is clearly held in very high regard but with just one hurdle run under his belt he looks short on experience. Trainer Willie Mullins states in the Weekender 8-12.03.17:

"There's no doubt he has the ability to run a big race and Fiveforthree won the Neptune for us after one run over hurdles."

I was surprised by the turn of foot Ballyandy showed in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month. Nigel Twiston-Davies has opted to run here rather than in the Neptune or the Coral Cup and right now he must be thinking he's made the correct call as a couple of potential dangers have fallen by the wayside - Moon Racer goes in the Champion Hurdle while Betfair Hurdle second Movewiththetimes misses the Festival after picking up an injury.

Last year's Champion Bumper winner is the top one on RPR and official ratings but the nagging doubt is stable form - an RTF figure of 38% looks on the low side with just one win from twenty one runners in the past fortnight. Contrast that with Chris Gordon who has sent out ten winners from his last fifteen runners! In case you were wondering, Chris has one entry at the Festival - Remiluc in the Martin Pipe on Friday.

Bunk Off Early heads the Irish challenge and makes plenty of appeal to this employee in any Festival week, River Wylde represents last year's winning trainer Nicky Henderson and Ben Pauling's High Bridge is worth a second look at an each-way price but I'm going to remain loyal to Ballyandy who did me a favour in the photo finish to last year's bumper.

Ballyandy is the selection.

3.30 Champion Hurdle
In November J.P. McManus' Yanworth, second in the Neptune last year, beat Lil Rockerfeller over two miles three and a half furlongs in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot. Immediately afterwards the general consensus was connections would step up in trip and target Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle. That plan was quickly blown out of the water for the very next week Unowhatimeanharry, in the same ownership, beat Ballyoptic 'easily' over a three mile trip at Newbury. Fast forward four months and we find Yanworth, still unbeaten this season, favourite for the Champion Hurdle despite displaying some rather indifferent hurdling in the interim. It all just seems slightly incongruous. Admittedly, this year's race couldn't be considered a vintage renewal, but with twelve set to face the starter it remains wide open.

Nicky Henderson saddles three. Buveur D'Air, third behind Altior in last year's Supreme, would probably appreciate more cut underfoot; he beat Petit Mouchoir a neck at Aintree on soft ground last April.

Brain Power has his ground so it's not immediately obvious why he is a bigger price but his eighth over course and distance in the Greatwood Hurdle behind North Hill Harvey (holds entry in Friday's County Hurdle) just leaves a nagging doubt - does he handle the track?

At the age of ten, My Tent Or Yours, placed in this race on two previous occasions, is probably past his best.

I keep coming back to Petit Mouchoir, eighth behind Altior in last year's Supreme when trained by Willie Mullins, top-rated on current RPR ratings and equal top-rated with Yanworth by the official handicapper. He likes to race prominently, has won his last two from the front and would probably have won the Fighting Fifth but for a crashing fall three out. Is he good enough to win a Champion Hurdle from the front? Henry De Bromhead's charge is a 7/1chance.

But wait, there's further intrigue with Footpad whose form is closely linked to that of Petit Mouchoir. The latter has beaten the former twice this season but there was just a hint the last day that Daryl Jacob had held up Footpad, third in the previous year's Triumph, a shade too long ('nearest finish' comment noted). Willie Mullins' charge was in receipt of two pounds at Leopardstown; he states in the Weekender 08-12.03.17:

"...I expect the undulating track [Cheltenham] to play to his strengths, so he should be able to give Petit Mouchoir a good run."

After his annus horribilis you can see why Mullins would be mighty keen to reverse the form although it's noted five-year-olds have a poor record in this race. That said, those layers are offering 20/1... I fear it's Siren voices I can hear calling but their song is so damned seductive it's pointless trying to resist...

Footpad is the each-way selection.

4.10 Mares' Hurdle
Before a decision had been taken on Limini's participation in the Champion I had Vroum Vroum Mag down as a vulnerable favourite in the Mares' Hurdle (4.10), a race she won last year. She looked to have a hard race at Doncaster six weeks ago but it's all academic now as Ruby Walsh rides Limini who will oppose her stablemate in this year's renewal. After all that I'm going to watch from the sidelines.

Good luck to one and all at this year's Festival!    

Friday, March 10, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - the calm before the storm

I'd have to admit my concentration wasn't totally on the weather when ITV Racing's Lucy Verasamy gave her long-range forecast for the Festival last weekend but I'm pretty sure she mentioned this had been a very dry winter.

Amongst the images that immediately sprang to mind were One For Arthur and Willoughby Court winning in desperate ground at Warwick; Bristol De Mai in the Peter Marsh and Neon Wolf in the Rossington Main at Haydock; Native River in the Welsh National; Unowhatimeanharry in the Long Walk and Otago Trail in Newcastle's Rehearsal Chase. Dry?

The perennial Festival conundrum presents itself once again. We've spent winter months trying to evaluate races run for the most part on soft ground and then, all of a sudden, as if the task isn't hard enough already, we're challenged with predicting the outcome of top class championship races that are likely to be run on ground better than we've seen for the past four months.

Bearing all that in mind, here are my Friday preview notes which are, as always, subject to change without prior notice. I've done slightly more work for Wednesday's card when I'll be at the track, asking the bookmakers for their very best prices and in the process making my own personal contribution to their summer holidays on the sun-kissed beaches of the Bahamas...


TUESDAY


1.30 Supreme Hurdle
Ballyandy won the bumper last year and goes in this rather than the Neptune. Together with Foxtail Hill he has been put up by trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies as his best chance at the meeting. He's on the shortlist and so is Moon Racer if taking up this option. David Pipe's charge is fragile but talented and has finished ahead of Ballyandy twice this season, the last time giving that rival four pounds and a two and threequarter lengths beating at the November Open meeting. For the record, the vet reported Ballyandy suffered post-race ataxia on that occasion. Connections still have to make a decision about Neon Wolf but appear to be leaning towards the Neptune.


3.30 Champion Hurdle
Yanworth is undefeated this season but I'm against him here. Owned by J.P. McManus his original aim earlier this season was the Stayers' Hurdle but he's re-routed as J.P. has red hot favourite Unowhatimeanharry in Thursday's feature. Yanworth won the last day at Wincanton but didn't really jump very well at all. Alan King reports his charge has come on for that run but his hurdling remains a cause for concern.


4.10 OLBG Mares' Hurdle
Trying to predict Willie Mullins' running plans is nearly as difficult as finding the winners of the races themselves, witness the decision on Wednesday not to supplement Limini for the Champion Hurdle. Before that surprise I would have been very wary about taking a short price about Vroum Vroum Mag. Last year's winner was 'all out' to hold Midnight Jazz a head over two miles at Doncaster six weeks ago; she was placed on antibiotics afterwards and remained on the easy list for a time. Quoting the master trainer:

"She was terrible at Doncaster. But she's coming back right, we're much happier with her."

With that sort of preparation she looks vulnerable, currently holding entries in the Champion Hurdle, the Mares' Hurdle, the Champion Chase, the Ryanair, the Stayers' Hurdle and the Gold Cup; Limini holds a single entry - for the Mares' Hurdle - for which she is quoted a 5/4 chance.



WEDNESDAY


1.30 Neptune Hurdle
A number of fancied runners have form on soft but how they'll handle better ground is a matter of some conjecture. Neon Wolf earned RPR rating 152 when beating Elgin (RPR 145 - entry in the Supreme) at Haydock while Finian's Oscar earned RPR 147 beating Capitaine (RPR 142) in the Tolworth,. Since 2007 when Massini's Maguire sprung a surprise at odds of 20/1, the SP of the winner has been no bigger than 7/1. Connections of Messire Des Obeaux (RPR 146) were in no way dismayed when their charge was beaten a neck conceding eight pounds to Keeper Hill (RPR 139) at Huntingdon the last time.


2.10 RSA Chase
Favourite Might Bite brings arguably the best form to the table but has been touted as 'the lay of the meeting' on the Festival preview circuit. This year's renewal looks open but perhaps not as competitive as the JLT on Thursday which has routinely been described as 'hot'. American will be of interest if allowed to take his chance although I've heard one commentator carp his Warwick win (14.01.17) on the grounds that the horses beaten that day have failed to frank the form. I like Royal Vacation who wouldn't be the best on ratings but looks tough - his win at the track over two miles five (28.01.17) bears scrutiny (Singlefarmpayment unlucky to be brought down). There is a query about Acapella Bourgeois' latest win at Navan but Sandra Hughes was quick enough to talk up her charge's chance this week - he is preferred to Alpha Des Obeaux who bled badly last time while, whisper it, Whisper is older than ideal... Nine of the last ten winners have been aged seven.


2.50 Coral Cup
I like Peregrine Run on 10-12. His defeat of Wholestone (holds Albert Bartlett entry) and West Approach (holds Albert Bartlett and Stayers' Hurdle entries) at the track (11.11.17) reads well. Carrying my money he got stuck in the mud at Warwick the last day behind Willoughby Court (Neptune and Albert Bartlett entries) and Gayebury (Pertemps and Albert Bartlett entries). Earlier in the week Ben Linfoot's piece on Grade One form in handicaps will have sent readers scuttling to their form books. Tombstone, fourth behind Altior in the Supreme last year, goes in this rather than the Champion Hurdle; with 11-5 on his back he is, unsurprisingly, amongst the market leaders. He also holds an entry in the County.


3.30 Champion Chase
Douvan is the banker at the meeting but he's no betting proposition for the likes of you and me. Henry De Bromhead reports Special Tiara 'in mighty form'; third in the past two renewals, he is worthy of each-way support at 20/1 on his preferred decent ground.


4.50 Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle
There have been some big-priced winners of the Fred Winter in the past ten years but none has been rated higher than 133. Of Nicky Henderson's duo Divin Bere is probably too high on 139 while Domperignon De Lys is around the right mark on 133 as is Dreamcatching on 131 - Paul Nicholls has won the previous two renewals but connections appeared downbeat on this one's chance at a preview evening. Diable De Sivola (132) has a hatful of placed efforts to his name but second to Defi Du Seuil (Supreme and Triumph entries) here last November catches the eye.


5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper
Over the years Willie Mullins has appeared frustratingly equivocal about his charges' chances in the concluding bumper. No such ambiguity this year about Carter McKay with the result the gelding is priced up the clear favourite.


THURSDAY


1.30 JLT Novices' Chase
Yorkhill is short enough for a very competitive JLT given his jumping after racing at Leopardstown on Sunday was considered 'rusty'. Described as 'exciting' by connections, he's scheduled to have another schooling session before making the journey across the Irish Sea - I'm a layer rather than a backer. Paul Nicholls rates Politologue his best chance of the week, Nicky Henderson states Top Notch likes soft while Disko improved markedly for a front-running ride at Leopardstown last month.


2.10 Pertemps Network Final
Pertemps favourite Tobefair is a story in himself. Philip Hobbs' two runners, Golden Doyen and For Good Measure, are closely matched after finishing first and second in a qualifier here last October. Owned by J.P. perhaps it's not surprising that money has come for the latter but marginal preference is for the former who will appreciate good ground and has been trained with this race in mind.


3.30 Stayers' Hurdle
2015 World Hurdle winner Cole Harden hinted at a return to better form when beaten by Unowhatimenaharry last time. He was in receipt of eight pounds that day but the race was run on unsuitably soft ground; given drying conditions at around 9/1 NRNB he looks an each-way bet to nothing.


FRIDAY


1.30 Triumph Hurdle
At 10/1 Tiger Roll is the biggest priced winner of the Triumph in the past decade. Earlier in the week I'd picked up that filly Meri Devie was highly regarded at Closutton; that view is confirmed in the Weekender. Ruby Walsh has to choose between her and Baupaume; her price has contracted accordingly - she's now a 14/1 chance. I think I'm right in saying that Snow Drop was the last filly to win the Triumph in 2000.


2.10 County Hurdle
I had William H Bonney pencilled in but I didn't foresee an entry in the Imperial Cup at Sandown. A shot at the £50,000 bonus on offer is a possibility should he come home in front tomorrow. Dan Skelton won this last year with Superb Story and he's followed a similar path with North Hill Harvey.


3.30 Gold Cup
Still in with every chance coming to the last, More Of That unseated his rider with a bad mistake in the Irish Gold Cup five weeks ago. Jonjo O'Neill still rates this horse amongst the very best he has trained. Given decent ground he's my each-way outsider at 14/1; I missed 25s earlier in the week.


5.30 Grand Annual Chase
The obvious two with Grade One form are Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets. The former is reported to have worked  'lethargically' recently.


Finally, at 4/1 with Betway, I think Ireland look overpriced to win the Prestbury  / Betbright Cup.


That's it for now. In time-honoured tradition, I'll aim to publish a post for each day of the Festival. "Form an orderly queue!" is a cry that's as likely to be heard in the bar as in the betting ring this year...