Friday, July 20, 2018

Market Rasen midsummer madness 2018

When Alcala held Wadswick Court with a hint of more to come in last year's Summer Plate (Days Of Heaven seventh), the winner's name went straight into the notebook - in capital letters.

Twelve months later Wadswick Court is on a mark ten pounds higher for tomorrow's Market Rasen feature (3.15) while Paul Nicholls' charge, set to carry top weight, is rated just one pound higher which tells a story all of its own - mostly about the sort of stuff you're likely to encounter in my racing notebook.

Five weeks ago stablemate Bagad Bihoue beat Alcala three and a half lengths at Newton Abbot with Viconte Du Noyer a nose adrift in third and Days Of Heaven pulled up following a howler at the ninth. On the revised terms there wouldn't be an awful lot between the first three home while I've suffered burned fingers with the rather misleadingly-named Days Of Heaven in the past.

Shantou Village can boast some decent form but has been out of sorts of late - Paul Kealy advertises his chance in the Weekender - while Cut The Corner's second to Starchitect last November reads well but this race has gone the way of a younger horse in the preceding five years.

Callet Mad, owned by Simon Munir and Issac Suede, has mixed hurdling and chasing to good effect to date and his chance is respected, as is that of More Buck's, now trained by Peter Bowen who is known to regularly target this event.

Of the two at the bottom of the handicap Too Many Diamonds looks to have improved following wind surgery with three wins recorded at Southwell but this race asks a different question altogether; Not A Role Model could be anything and makes more appeal for those seeking an each-way wager.

Yes, there's more than a hint of midsummer madness in the air - I blame the present heatwave - but I'm going to take an each-way interest in Viconte Du Noyer (12/1 Paddy Power, a fifth the odds four places).

I'm hoping that, on revised terms, Colin Tizzard's charge can challenge the Nicholls' pair at the head of the market and that the fitting of first-time cheekpieces can eke out a little further improvement.

Friday, May 04, 2018

A brief review of the 2017/18 jumps season

Champion jockey: Richard Johnson
Champion trainer: Nicky Henderson
Winning owner: J P McManus
Champion conditional jockey: James Bowen

This proved the wettest season in recent memory; trainers with good ground horses were still waiting for the ground to dry out at Sandown's final meeting.

Underfoot conditions certainly played to Native River's strengths as Colin Tizzard's charge stayed on up the hill to beat Might Bite in an epic duel for the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup; champion jockey Richard Johnson could barely stop smiling in post-race interviews.

Those who doubted Might Bite's powers of recovery after such a tough race were made to look a tad foolish four weeks later when the gelding collected the Betway Bowl at Aintree with the minimum of fuss.

Irish domination was a feature of this year's Cheltenham Festival and that domination was further emphasized at Aintree with Irish-trained horses filling the first four places in the Grand National.

After coming home first in the cross country race at the Festival, a month later the 2014 Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll just held Pleasant Company a head to claim this year's National; Racing Post readers voted Gordon Elliott's charge their Jumps Horse of the Year on the back of those exploits.

Footpad, Samcro and Presenting Percy looked particularly impressive at Cheltenham; Buveur D'Air claimed the Champion Hurdle and Altior the Champion Chase for Nicky Henderson.

Way back in mid-November Splash Of Ginge sparked wild celebrations among connections when claiming the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham. There weren't too many others joining in - Nigel Twiston-Davies' inmate was sent off at odds of 25/1 and had just enough in reserve to hold Starchitect a neck on the line.

Four weeks later the ill-fated Starchitect appeared to have gained compensation in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup when bursting clear three out but the gelding broke down, allowing the Nicky Richards trained Guitar Pete to claim the spoils.

Bristol De Mai demolished his opponents in Haydock's Betfair Chase, beating Cue Card an eye-watering 57 lengths, but he couldn't reproduce that form at other tracks.

Irish raider Total Recall was sent off favourite for the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase (formerly the Hennessy) at Newbury and the money proved well-placed with Willie Mullins' charge holding Whisper a neck; the form of the race didn't really work out thereafter.

Might Bite took the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day but the proximity of Double Shuffle and Tea For Two led several to question the validity of the form. 2016 winner Thistlecrack also caught the eye back in fourth but he subsequently picked up an injury and unfortunately missed the remainder of the season.

The rescheduled Welsh Grand National was a memorable affair with sixteen year old conditional James Bowen guiding thirteen year old Raz De Maree to victory six lengths ahead of Alfie Spinner; the two oldest horses in the race finished first and second.

Bryony Frost proved a breath of fresh air throughout the long winter months; her association with Black Corton has been well documented while her efforts aboard Milansbar in Warwick's Classic Chase were certainly appreciated by handler Neil King. The pair were reunited in the Grand National and finished a creditable fifth.

Over the other side of the Irish Sea Samcro's fall in the Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival effectively ended Gordon Elliott's challenge to become champion Irish trainer; Willie Mullins secured his eleventh consecutive title.

At the same meeting Paul Townend suffered a dramatic 'brain freeze' when steering Al Boum Photo around the final flight with the Growise Novice Chase seemingly at his mercy. The jock returned the next day to ride a treble aboard Pravalaguna, Next Destination and Patricks Park.

On Friday 27 April Ms Katie Walsh won aboard Antey at Punchestown and promptly announced her retirement from the saddle; the following day Ms Nina Carberry won aboard Josies Orders at Punchestown and promptly announced her retirement from the saddle.

Blog selections fared considerably better than last year but, hey, that's really not saying very much at all.

I've noted that the form of the selections picked up markedly from February onwards, kick-started by Full Jack and a rather fortuitous victory in the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh. Worryingly, I can't fathom how that improvement came about.

Blog horse of the year has to go to Smooth Stepper who won the Liz Adam Memorial Chase at Kelso in a manner I could only dream of.

And the new season starts with the news that Sam Twiston-Davies has gone freelance and Harry Cobden is now the new number one at Ditcheat...

Philip Hobbs is on record saying that after such a wet winter he's going to keep a number of his good ground horses on the go over the summer. I wonder how many other trainers will follow suit.

And is there, perhaps, just the hint of an opportunity there?

Friday, April 27, 2018

bet365 Gold Cup 2018

Unfortunately a curtailed post for the last selection of the season due to intermittent technical issues...

Twenty are declared for the final day feature at Sandown (3.35) and on past trends those carrying less than 11-0 (including those racing from out of the handicap) are the ones to concentrate on.

Several in the field ran in this race last year and contested the Hennessy in December; a number of runners appear out of sorts.

Course and distance winner Carole's Destrier is of interest having fallen to an attractive handicap mark; if the rain stays away, better ground will help and connections fit cheekpieces for the first time.

However at a bigger price I'm going to chance Relentless Dreamer. This one stayed on into a well-beaten third behind Full Jack in the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh and then finished sixth behind Master Dee in the Betdaq Handicap Chase at Kempton.

After a poor season Rebecca Curtis sent out Joe Farrell to win the Scottish National at odds of 33/1 last weekend. I'm not suggesting for one moment she can repeat that sort of trick seven days later with Relentless Dreamer but I'm hoping the better ground will bring out a respectable run from her charge.

33/1 is quoted in places; Sky Bet pay one fifth the odds six places.

Relentless Dreamer is the each-way selection with Sky Bet.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Scottish Grand National 2018

The week after Aintree invariably throws up a selection of Grand National 'scrapes' generally encountered by the once-a-year punters - with runners, non-runners and reserves adding to the complications this time round.

It is with a certain degree of chagrin that I have to report my mother-in-law has been at it again - winning, that is. She backed Mon Mome at 100/1 in 2009 and she happened to be on Tiger Roll last Saturday at odds of 10/1.

Since the inception of this blog in 2006 my mother-in-law is showing an overall profit of 57.25 points; I'm seriously thinking of packing it all in and simply following her annual foray into the National market.

Percipient readers will have noticed I stated above that 'she happened to be on Tiger Roll' and therein lies a story.

Sent to the bookmakers to strike a number of bets for the extended family, my mother-in-law's runner, my father-in-law, was informed by the helpful assistant in the shop that her original selection, Thunder And Roses, was a non-runner; he should back Tiger Roll for her instead.

In terms of customer service it really doesn't get much better than that, does it?

The Times' theatre critic Ann Treneman wasn't quite so chuffed with the service afforded her when she walked into a William Hill betting shop in Bakewell, Derbyshire. Shown how to strike a £10 each-way wager on Milansbar, she was somewhat dismayed to discover later that William Hill only paid fifth place on wagers placed online.

Spare a thought though for this mother and her two daughters.

Mother backs Tiger Roll each-way single (wins); younger daughter backs Pleasant Company each-way single (second); elder daughter backs Bless The Wings each-way single (third). The tricast paid £9,439.25; the trifecta £68,670.00.

I did send a polite email earlier in the week enquiring why they hadn't informed me beforehand they were about to pull a stunt like that but, as of yet, I haven't received a reply.

If that's the sort of story that whets your appetite, tomorrow's Scottish Grand National (4.05 Ayr) is marginally easier with just 30 runners set to face the starter; the going is good, good to soft in places.

Last week a racing hack suggested layers would be targeting Flat fans after the Aintree Festival but in terms of turnover Coral rate the Scottish National their fourth best race after the Aintree National, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Derby.

Vicente has won the past two renewals and tries for the hat-trick off a mark four pounds higher than last year and with similar underfoot conditions.

Cogry was beaten a neck into second last year with Benbens a further two lengths adrift in third, Vintage Clouds seventh (beaten thirteen and threequarter lengths), Henri Parry Morgan ninth (beaten nineteen and a quarter lengths) and Straidnahanna pulled up. At the revised weights Cogry has it all to do to reverse placings with the winner (Jamie Balgary no longer claims three) but Benbens looks in the mix.

Vintage Clouds, second behind Ballyoptic in the Towton at Wetherby and then third in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, is respected off a mark seven pounds higher than last year; Sue Smith's gelding was the fourth reserve for the Aintree National last week but didn't get a run.

Two that caught my eye earlier were Looking Well and Doing Fine - or was it Looking Fine and Doing Well?

Anyway, there has been steady money for Neil Mulholland's charge Doing Fine - he's challenging for favouritism in some lists. He finished five and a quarter lengths behind Benbens in the London National last December; there's the suspicion Barry Geraghty left his mount with too much ground to make up that day. On a strict interpretation of the book the pairing look closely matched.

Looking Well's second to Ziga Boy in the 2017 Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster reads well; I backed him to follow up in the Grimthorpe at the same track five weeks later but he ran no race at all - an issue was subsequently discovered.

This term on his last run he came from off the pace and appeared to have the Edinburgh National in the bag approaching the last but he may well have been running on empty as he jinked, dumped Ryan Day on the ground and gifted a fortunate-looking victory to my selection Full Jack. The handicapper wasn't fooled - Nicky Richards' charge went up five pounds.

At the prices Looking Well makes more appeal but I'm concerned as both are hold-up horses and as a general rule of thumb those that race prominently have fared better in this event over the years.

A quick mention too for Irish runner Glencairn View who looks unexposed and could be anything; at the time of writing he's trading between 14/1 and 18/1.

Benbens is thirteen years old, pulled up last time out and is the least fancied of the three Twiston-Davies runners but on last year's running he looks in the mix and appears overpriced at 40/1 with Sky Bet (six places one fifth the odds).

However, on the better ground I'm going to chance that Looking Well can see out the trip and avoid any potential trouble in running.

Looking Well (20/1 Coral, one fifth the odds seven places) is the each-way selection.

Nicky Henderson holds a strong hand in the competitive-looking Ayrshire Hospice Land O'Burns Starlight Walk Handicap Hurdle (4.40) but one I expect to improve for the better ground is Burbank. He finished seventh in the Coral Cup, beaten seven lengths, and the handicapper has dropped him one pound for that effort. I'm not tempted by the 7/1 - 8/1 on offer this evening so I'll watch with interest.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Aintree Grand National 2018

With the going on the National course now heavy, soft in places, Minella Rocco, Vicente and Beeves have been withdrawn; three of the four reserves, Thunder And Roses, Delusionofgrandeur and Walk In The Mill, are set to take their chance.

The weights rise one pound; Blaklion heads the handicap.

When Red Marauder won the 2001 running of this famous race just four completed - and two of those were re-mounted. The picture of winning jockey Richard Guest splattered in mud remains one of the most evocative in sport.

It's anyone's guess what the going stick would have shown that day; readings became obligatory in 2009.

Ballabriggs won in 2011 over a trip of four miles four furlongs, came sixth the following year and was then pulled up in 2013, the first running in modern times over the revised trip of four miles two and a half furlongs.

Geraldine Rees was the first female rider to complete the course, finishing eighth on Cheers in 1982.

Katie Walsh currently holds the best placing by a female rider (third on Seabass in 2012); along with Bryony Frost on Milansbar and Rachael Blackmore on Alpha des Obeaux, Katie will be aiming to go into the history books as the first female jockey to win the race - she rides the seven year old grey mare Baie Des Iles.

Those who like to make their own selections may find The Sporting Life's horse-by-horse comments useful.

For everyone else, here's a view. Note that Paddy Power and BetFred are amongst the layers paying one fifth the odds six places.

1. Seeyouatmidnight (14/1 BetFred) - Talented but fragile individual. Has beaten Bristol De Mai in a match at Carlisle and finished third behind Vicente in the 2016 Scottish National off this mark. Sold to present owners for an undisclosed sum after qualifying for this race at Newbury three weeks ago. Slight concern over form of the yard (58 days since win).

2. Raz De Maree ( 22/1 Paddy Power) - Thirteen years of age and the last thirteen year old to win was Sergeant Murphy - in 1923! Won the Welsh National off a mark of 140 with James Bowen claiming five so effectively starts here off a mark eleven pounds higher. Relishes a slog in the mud and he's likely to get it here; finished eighth in 2014 and was unlucky to unseat at Becher's last year. Thirteen year old Vics Canvas (100/1) finished third behind Rule the World in 2016.

3. Baie Des Iles (14/1) - Jumps, stays and acts on the ground; at seven years of age the youngest horse in the race. Tipped up by Jim McGrath on Sunday at odds of 50/1. Last seven year old to come home in front was Bogskar in 1940.

4. Regal Encore  (25/1 BetFred) - A bit of a law unto himself and certainly not one to trust implicitly but he appeared to enjoy himself over these unique fences last year, staying on from out the back to claim eighth; races off the same mark tomorrow. Third in the Hennessy last November reads well enough - on a going day he has the ability to make a place.

Couple of quid to spare? Quixotic reverse forecast - Raz De Maree (together with Maggio the oldest horse in the race) and Baie Des Iles (youngest horse in the race).

Good luck to one and all!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Aintree 2018 - Friday

Pressed for time, I'm afraid, so just one tentative suggestion for Ladies' Day.

The Albert Bartlett at last month's Festival is the key piece of form for the Doom Bar Sefton Novices' Hurdle at 4.40.

Ok Corral finished second behind 33/1 winner Kilbricken Storm at Cheltenham with more fancied stablemate Santini third that day, Tower Bridge fifth, Poetic Rhythm tenth and Chef Des Obeaux pulled up. There's a general feeling a number in the field didn't run to their best on the day.

Poetic Rhythm is of interest at an each-way price.

Paddy Brennan didn't give his mount a hard time after the chance had gone at Cheltenham; prior to that the gelding, owned by The Yes No Wait Sorries, fought back to pip Mulcahys Hill on heavy ground over two miles four and a half furlongs in the Challow at Newbury.

That form reads well and the stable now appears to be emerging from a quiet spell (RTF figure for past fortnight: 56%); on Racing Post ratings Fergal O'Brien's charge is there with every chance.

Sky Bet offer 14/1 and are paying one fifth the odds four places.

Poetic Rhythm is the each-way selection.

Global Citizen looked very impressive winning the Dovecote at Kempton seven weeks ago; it's no surprise to see him marked up favourite for the Betway Top Novices' Hurdle at 2.20.

Two of my Cheltenham selections reappear here; Vision Des Flos steps back in trip having finished sixth behind Samcro in the Ballymore while Slate House took a crunching fall at the last in the Supreme.

Scarlet Dragon is short enough in the market for one lacking experience; rated 108 on the Flat, he finished nine lengths behind Global Citizen on his hurdling debut.

I've seen Style De Garde tipped up here and there and it's easy enough to see Irish Roe in the mix if you forgive the mare her last run in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury where a mistake at the second flight appeared to cost her her chance; an interesting renewal which should prove useful for future reference.   

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Aintree 2018 - Thursday

Four weeks since Cheltenham - in my book the Aintree Grand National meeting remains the trickiest fixture in the jumping calendar.

I certainly won't be shoving anyone out of the road to take an odds-on price about Might Bite in the Betway Bowl at 2.50. Nicky Henderson's charge lost out in the war of attrition with Native River (Definitly Red - ridden hard from some way out - sixth, Tea For Two seventh); after that memorable Gold Cup Harry Fry, trainer of American, said:

"In the conditions at Cheltenham it didn't matter whether you won, were placed, unplaced or didn't finish, you had a hard race."

David Orton points out that in the past decade, of the 13 horses that have run in the Bowl after completing in the Gold Cup, only Silviniaco Conti obliged in 2014. Last year Tea For Two fell at the second in the Gold Cup before beating Cue Card a neck in the Bowl.

Bristol De Mai has undergone wind surgery and comes here fresh but his jumping hasn't convinced as this season has progressed.

Double Shuffle finished a length second to Might Bite in the King George (Tea For Two third) and missed the Gold Cup; that said, he wouldn't want it too soft underfoot and stable form is a concern - just one win recorded since February - while Clan Des Obeaux tries this trip for the first time.

Double Shuffle and Tea For Two appeal as potential each-way plays. At the time of writing Tea For Two is still available at 16/1 in places while Double Shuffle is generally a 12/1 shot.

Tea For Two is the each-way selection, made with Harry Fry's words ringing in my ears...

Two Henderson horses, Apple's Shaira and We Have A Dream, dominate the market for the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle (2.20). Dan Skelton is on record as saying an Aintree speed test is likely to suit Nube Negra who finished a creditable third (Padleyourowncanoe fourth) when sent off favourite for the Fred Winter.

I'll monitor the performance of Beau Gosse (in the same ownership as We Have A Dream). This one finished 17 lengths third behind Redicean and Malaya in the Adonis at Kempton in February; easier underfoot conditions could bring about some improvement.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Sweet dreams

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

         Annie Lennox / Dave Stewart

It's that time of year, a week before the Grand National, and everybody's dreaming.

Trainers peddling dreams, bookmakers selling them and punters buying; there's that old acquaintance of an old friend of yours who claims he can still dream winners when he wants (and, when pressed, gives the simple riposte 'When I want, not when you want!') while Bryony Frost has her first ride in the big race on Milansbar and is one of the forty riders dreaming of coming home in front:

"In my dreams I can see him doing it, and even when I'm not dreaming I still think he has a real live chance."

Here's a dream I had last night.

I'm taking part in a team-based quiz event at an unidentified English stately home.

The main entrance is situated on the first floor and is approached from the front lawns by two semi-circular stone staircases; the black paint on the railings is flaking. I notice the floor above the entrance is completely dominated by an imposing bay window covered by net curtain.

The quizmaster is housed in an enclosed office just inside the entrance which acts as the main reception point. Players communicate with the quizmaster through a small window, similar in size to booking-office ticket windows that are still commonplace at heritage railway stations.

A single bonus point is the reward for the correct answer to the following question.

On April 18 [no year provided] Falco Dawn beat [unidentified opponent] in a handicap hurdle at Fakenham. During the post-race interview, what other name did connections use to refer to their winner?

We retreat to the lawns to confer at some length. Nobody on the team knows, we're guessing but we eventually agree a reply and I climb the stone staircase to deliver the answer to the quizmaster. As I approach the window I see he is busy writing at his desk. He stops, looks up at me but doesn't utter a word.

Conscious he will only accept my first answer, I speak clearly, deliberately.

"Our answer is 'All Fall Down'."

With the authoritative air of a quizmaster who happens to know all the answers, this quizmaster stands, walks away from his desk, pauses momentarily before turning back towards me and saying:

"It's 'Heustophon'."

Don't bother. I've checked. There are no horses currently in training with a name that remotely resembles anything uttered in that dream. That's dreaming for you.

Here's a tip for those of you who still dream on.

Ten are declared for tomorrow's Liz Adam Memorial Chase at Kelso (3.00) where the official going is heavy.

Yala Enki beat Seldom Inn seven lengths in last year's renewal with Baywing three and threequarter lengths further behind in fourth. This year Yala Enki starts off a mark six pounds higher (152), Baywing four pounds higher (taking into account Ryan Day's reduced claim allowance) while Seldom Inn is six pounds lower (139).

Seldom Inn has certainly fallen to an attractive-looking mark but his jumping has been indifferent this season and the blinkers fitted for the first time on his penultimate start, to date, don't really appear to have had the desired effect.

Baywing was impressive in the Eider at Newcastle seven weeks ago, coming home some 55 lengths ahead of Smooth Stepper in sixth. Previously however Smooth Stepper had beaten Baywing at the same track by seven and a quarter lengths over a trip of two miles seven and a half.

On the balance of form to date Smooth Stepper wouldn't be guaranteed to see out this trip on heavy ground; if he does, at the weights he finishes ahead of Nicky Richards' charge.

Wild West Wind and Lake View Lad are two more runners with question marks about their ability to stay the trip. Sent on to win his race three out at Haydock the last time, Wild West Wind stopped very quickly indeed; Tom George has only had the one winner since February - Summerville Boy in the Supreme on the first day at the Festival.

Lake View Lad has won over further but has been racing over distances of two and a half miles recently.

Chic Name is the one to beat on Racing post ratings. He comes to this relatively fresh and his sixth behind Tiger Roll in the cross country race at Cheltenham reads well. 10-4 looks a snip weight and James Bowen claims a further three; of those near the head of the market he makes most appeal.

The two at the bottom of the handicap are of interest. Harry The Viking may be thirteen but he isn't readily dismissed; Rachel McDonald takes off seven and certainly knows how to win having ridden Full Jack to victory in the Edinburgh National Handicap Chase at Musselburgh in February.

Smooth Stepper's stablemate Blakemount was kept busy last season before finishing sixth in the Scottish National at Ayr. Connections clearly decided to give their charge a well-earned rest as he made his seasonal debut just nine days ago at Wetherby.

Blakemount ran well for a long way that day and could be expected to come on for the run but, of course, it was nine days ago and he could 'bounce'. On initial inspection jockey bookings suggest Smooth Stepper has the better chance but I note Danny Cook hasn't ridden at lower than 10-5 in the past twelve months.

bet365 bet 10/1 Smooth Stepper, 12/1 Blakemount and pay a quarter the odds three places.

Smooth Stepper is the each-way selection.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention. I have this dream - of Beeves winning next week's National at odds of 100/1...

Friday, March 30, 2018

Haydock's Tim Moloney Handicap Chase 2018

The Challenger Series finals on the Haydock card tomorrow look challenging enough so I've spent some time on the concluding Tim Moloney Handicap Chase which is run over an extended trip of three miles four and a half furlongs.

Ten have been declared; the going is currently described as good to soft, soft in places, with more rain forecast - I expect a dour test of stamina on churned up ground.

Going through the form I've noted that a number in the field like to race prominently.

Three weeks ago Talk Of The South beat Muckle Roe a length over three miles five furlongs at Warwick on soft ground (Zerachiel a further four and threequarter lengths adrift in fourth).

Muckle Roe meets the winner five pounds better off here so, on the face of it, looks to have every chance of reversing the form but Paul Henderson's charge went clear two out that day and then idled when in front.

I'm assuming that's the reason behind layers pricing up Talk of The South favourite this evening but I'd be wary about taking a short price as this will be his ninth start since October.

On a strict interpretation of the Warwick form Zerachiel is also weighted to finish ahead of Talk Of The South and has under three lengths to find with Muckle Roe.

Bassarabad is unexposed and could be anything - certainly the layers don't appear to be taking too many chances. Last time out the gelding won in convincing fashion at Wetherby on his first run since wind surgery; this will be his first try beyond three miles one.

There are no stamina doubts where Kilcullen Flem is concerned. Formerly with Rebecca Curtis, this one made all to win over four miles in heavy ground at Hexham just sixteen days ago. He steps up in class here; the handicapper has raised him three pounds.

Cloudy Too has noteworthy form to his name but most of it is some way in the past. Now twelve years old, he was beaten a long way last time out at Ayr (Milborough pulled up) and in my book ranks a dubious stayer over this extended trip.

The same comment applies to both Blameitalonmyroots and Streets Of Promise who has shown a tendency to jump right on occasions. That said, the latter produced some improvement last time at Chepstow; he last won in April 2016 off a mark of 130 - tomorrow he starts off 114.

Ckalko Des Loges is clear of his rivals on Racing Post ratings but doesn't appear the most resolute. At Kempton last time he finished third behind Abracadabra Sivola (runs in Staying Chase Final at 3.15) with the formbook reporting: 'cajoled along two out, found little'.

Outsider Milborough, the other twelve year old in the field, has been pulled up on his last two starts and is tried in blinkers for the first time.

The form of the Warwick race looks key and Zerachiel doesn't have too many miles on the clock.

I can't deny I was hoping for a better price but at 8/1 generally Zerachiel is the each-way selection.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wine and horses, Cheltenham and Aintree

For reasons entirely beyond my control I have a commitment I'm obliged to keep on Friday evening this week and so, unfortunately, will be unable to post as usual.

Actually I've landed myself in a spot of rather hot water by making the sort of rudimentary mistake somebody like The Wine Tipster could only describe as 'a schoolboy error'.

Sent on a simple errand to purchase a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé (Chardonnay grape, Burgundy), I've come back home with a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé (Sauvignon blanc grape, Loire Valley), seduced by the slighly cheaper price...

It's a case of Cheltenham withdrawal symptoms.

This year there are four weeks betwen Cheltenham and Aintree, with much of the focus now on the Grand National which is scheduled for 5:15 on Saturday 14th April.

Danny Cook had barely dismounted from Definitly Red after finishing sixth in the Gold Cup before connections indicated their charge would not be running in this year's National; the Aintree Bowl is the likely target. Anibale Fly's third in the same race looked a decent enough trial - he holds entries in both the English and Irish Nationals - while American (ninth) is entered up in just the Irish showpiece at Fairyhouse, due off at 5:00 on Monday 2nd April. 

Total Recall was set to finish nearer first than last when coming to grief four from home in the Gold Cup; in some lists he is now favourite for the Aintree spectacular. 

Whatever, we should all note Harry Fry's quote after this year's Gold Cup:

"In the conditions at Cheltenham it didn't matter whether you won, were placed, unplaced or didn't finish, you had a hard race."

On Wednesday Tiger Roll ran a good trial in the cross country race at Cheltenham, beating The Last Samuri (third) and Beeves (seventh) with Cause Of Causes and Saint Are amongst those pulled up; Cause Of Causes, second in last year's National, was reported stiff and sore after the race. Beeves was noted to have run well for a long way at odds of 50/1 and Rathvinden's victory in Tuesday's four miler also mertis a mention.

In other National news Sandy Thomson is struggling to get his stable star Seeyouatmidnight qualified for the race.
 
Back in January the trainer gave Full Jack a low-key preparation before sending the gelding out to win the  Edinburgh National Handicap at Musselburgh. I spot a similar low-key approach with Seeyouatmidnight (has previously beaten Bristol De Mai and finished third in the 2016 Scottish National) but unfortunately the weather has had its say in the matter. 

Seeyouatmidnight still needs to run in a chase to qualify for Aintree. 

Mr Thomson might have expected to find a suitable opportunity at Carlisle's re-arranged meeting on Sunday but there isn't one on the card so the horse travels to Newbury on Saturday instead for the Doom Bar Handicap Chase (3.50). The gelding has been off the track for a year less one day and has had a wind operation in the interim but nonetheless has still been tipped up for Aintree in the Weekender at odds of 33/1...

The trainer states:

"He must have a fighting chance in the National and could be thrown in off 149."
 
Tempted? 

Of course, the final word after any Festival has to go to the handicapper - Matt Brocklebank has provided a neat summary of ratings adjustments together with notes on selected runners.

In the meantime, in preparation for Friday night, I'm off to do some initial spadework on these handy wine cheat sheets...

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - a brief debrief

Two of the twelve highlighted selections on the blog obliged this year (Presenting Percy win in the RSA Chase on Wednesday and Delta Work each-way in the Pertemps Final on Thursday) recording a modest profit of +1.25 points at advised prices over the week.

Regular contributor TW picked out Mohaayed in the County Hurdle and Le Prezien in the Grand Annual on Friday to record a very healthy Festival profit of +34.9 points.

Amongst the also-rans tipped, Burbank caught the eye, finishing seventh in the Coral Cup behind Bleu Berry, beaten just seven lengths on ground he didn't like. Prior to the race trainer Nicky Henderson indicated he would have really fancied the horse's chance if underfoot conditions had been more suitable.

Ireland had the Betbright Cup in the bag by Thursday evening; a late flurry from the home side on Friday brought a hint of respectability to the 17-11 scoreline but there should be no doubt questions remain for those based on the British side of the Irish Sea.

The first Festival in a generation to be run on soft / heavy ground saw a number of front runners beaten in the closing stages; Top Wood, Gino Trail and Fabulous Saga are three that come to mind from the final day. Of course, Native River proved the exception to that rule in his epic duel with Might Bite in an unforgettable Gold Cup.

The going on the members' lawn on Ladies' Day could be described as heavy, impassable in places.

This year we purchased Club enclosure tickets (full price £90) rather than Tattersalls tickets (full price circa £50); naturally conversation centred around value for money. Viewing is certainly better in Club, with the balcony over the paddock a particular boon, but for those who crave the cut and thrust of the betting ring the atmosphere was distinctly sanitised.

There were several opportunities to wander into random champagne bars and pay upwards of £154 a bottle but such temptations were easily resisted. In time-honoured fashion, after racing we retired to our regular haunt in Tatts (Guinness £5.50 per pint) where we swapped our perennial hard-luck stories and threw away unwanted betting slips.

The wind almost reached gale force on Wednesday too - at times I felt I was on platform 7 of Birmingham New St station waiting for the delayed Cross Country service from Edinburgh; several ladies had their hats returned by chivalrous gents.

A walk into the infield for the cross country race proved a mistake. As we stood next to the Cheese Wedges fence and waited patiently for the runners to pass, we sank, almost imperceptibly, further and further into the mud. All I could do was ignore the old adage 'Don't wear brown in town' as my black footwear changed colour before my very eyes; at one point there was a worry one member of the party would require 4x4 assistance to cross the track and return back to the main enclosures...

Highlights of the week for me - Native River's Gold Cup victory and Presenting Percy's commanding performance in the RSA. Will they take each other on in next year's Gold Cup? And a word too for Summerville Boy who overcame plenty of trouble in running before beating Kalashnikov a neck in the Supreme, the very first race of the meeting. It seems like half a lifetime ago now.

I'm sure we'll do the same again next year - but probably in Tatts.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Midlands Grand National 2018

Surrounded by random dog-eared notes, mostly written in HB lead pencil, losing betting slips and dishevelled racing papers, I have just watched a replay of this year's mesmeric Gold Cup and surreptitiously shed a tear.

On radio Tom Scudamore described the race as championship steeplechasing at its very best and, of course, he is correct.

Fifteen started but it effectively became a match after the first fence; a race between Native River and Might Bite to be replayed in the mind for years and years to come.

Tomorrow's card at Uttoxeter is under threat from overnight snow and rain; the going is currently heavy and an inspection is scheduled for 8.00am.

Eighteen have been declared for the Midlands Grand National (3.35) run over a trip of four miles two furlongs.

Kerry Lee saddles three while Henry Daly, Dr Richard Newland and Nigel Twiston-Davies all have two runners each.

Newcastle's Eider Chase provides a key piece of form; West Of The Edge finished second behind Baywing with Hainan fourth, Milansbar fifth, Back To The Thatch falling when appearing to hold every chance and Themanfrom Minella pulled up. That particular marathon was run just three weeks ago so there has to be a question mark over how well the participants have recovered.

This evening Dr Newland is pretty upbeat about West Of The Edge's chance and his charge heads the market; just one favourite has obliged in the past ten years.

In the same timeframe no horse older than nine has come home in front and just two have carried more than 10-12; Synchronised in 2010 and Firebird Flyer in 2016 both carried 11-5 to victory.

Those trends highlight the chances of the two Henry Daly runners; Artful Cobbler is preferred to Back To The Thatch who looked to take a pretty hefty tumble at Newcastle.

Hainan is of interest as there's a hint Danny Cook went for home a little too early in the Eider and he's 16/1 with Paddy Power who pay five places but on balance the grey has his fair share of weight.

Using the trends as a guideline I'm going to take a chance on outsider Billy Bronco who looks less exposed than a number in the field and was second behind I Just Know (declared Uttoxeter 4.10) in the North Yorkshire Grand National at Catterick in January.

Billy Bronco is 25/1 with Sky Bet paying one fifth the odds five places.

And in the event the meeting is abandoned?

I'll start my Cheltenham debrief post - and run that replay of Native River's victory in the Gold Cup.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Friday

The highlight of the whole week is the Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30) with eighteen set to face the starter; the ground on the New Course is currently described as soft, heavy in places.

On official ratings and by general consensus Might Bite is the best horse in the race but speaking earlier trainer Nicky Henderson expressed his reservations:

I'm worried about the ground and the extra two and a half furlongs as well. But he's been more straightforward and good this season.” 

Those that are likely to relish underfoot conditions include Native River, Our Duke, Killultagh Vic, Definitly Red, Edwulf, and American. 

Native River finished third behind Sizing John in last year's renewal (Minella Rocco second, Djakadam fourth, Saphir Du Rheu fifth, Outlander tenth and Tea For Two unseating Lizzie Kelly at the second flight); the official going on the day was good.

That was a decent effort from Native River who had won the Welsh National at Chepstow in December 2016 carrying top weight on soft ground. This season connections have trained the horse specifically for this race.

Our Duke hails from the same yard as last year's winner and is currently vying for favouritism. Clearly he is held in high regard but his price is short enough for one who tends to miss out the occasional fence.

Willie Mullins is responsible for four in the field. The market suggests Killultagh Vic holds the best chance but he only has three chase starts to his name and fell last time out in the Irish Gold Cup behind Edwulf. Total Recall won the Hennessy at Newbury in December but the form of the race hasn't worked out well while I feel Djakadam's best chances in this race have already passed by. Bachasson is relatively unexposed and could be anything; this is his first try beyond two miles six furlongs.  

Definitly Red looked good winning the Cotswold Chase here in January (American second, Tea For Two pulled up). He is rated just two pounds inferior to Might Bite and at around 12/1 is interesting.

Edwulf comes into calculations on the back of his neck defeat of Outlander in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown nearly six week ago (Djakadam third, Our Duke fourth, with Anibale Fly, Killultagh Vic and Minella Rocco falling). He holds each-way claims at around 14/1. 

Gordon Elliott is on record as saying Outlander is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character. The trainer can't tell which one will turn up on the day - what hope do we have? He's entitled to be in the mix on a going day.

American has been supplemented and will appreciate underfoot conditions but he has some ten pounds to find with Might Bite and there were no obvious excuses behind Definitly Red the last day.

Minella Rocco hasn't been in the same form this season as last; this is his first run following wind surgery.

A week or so ago I put up Double Shuffle and Saphir Du Rheu as potential outsiders in this; that was before the weather took its toll.

I see Double Shuffle is 66/1 in places this evening which seems a big price about a horse that finished one length behind Might Bite at Kempton on Boxing Day. Trainer Tom George has pointed out his charge has Cheltenham form in the book but the extra two and half furlongs on soft ground is the worry - in my mind's eye I can't see him staying on up the hill.

Saphir Du Rheu, fifth last year, is 100/1 this year and a little further information has come to light. He injured himself when falling in the National and wasn't seen until finishing well beaten behind Native River in the Denman last month. He is bound to improve for that but connections have indicated they would have preferred to get another run into him but have run out of time...

Native River is my idea of the Gold Cup winner but for betting purposes I have to take up Paddy Power's offer on Definitly Red.

Definitly Red (one fifth odds four places @ 12/1) is the selection.

I'm not sure I've seen a Triumph Hurdle (1.30) quite like this year's renewal before - just nine entrants with Willie Mullins saddling four. The two fillies with their allowance head the market; Apple's Shakira is a course and distance winner but short enough.

The vibes seem good for the Alan King trained Redicean who looked a different beast altogether in the Adonis at Kempton the last day. His three hurdle wins to date have all come at Kempton and this promises to be a very different test.

A distinctly trappy-looking affair but at around 5/1 Redicean is the win selection.

The County Hurdle (2.10) looks monstrous. They bet 10/1 the field, a field which contains the names of some old friends and some old foes. A number of those I had pencilled in haven't shown up (including Hunters Call) so I'm not going to play but I can see why last year's Fred Winter winner Flying Tiger, fourth behind Elgin in the Kingwell Hurdle last month, is popular.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Thursday

Brief notes for Thursday's card compiled hastily on Tuesday evening before Wednesday's trip to the track...

Just ten declared for the JLT Novices' Chase (1.30) and it looks the sort of race I should be able to strike a wager in but I'm struggling... Since its inception in 2011 this race has been won by either a six or seven year old.

Bigmartre is a horse I like and have followed for a while now; earlier I fancied him as an each-way wager in this race but as the day has crept closer I've been put off by the trip of two and a half miles on soft ground.

Finian's Oscar has found the fences getting in the way a little this season but connections are adamant the horse retains a huge engine. He has his first run since a wind operation, sports first-time cheekpieces and will be a danger to all if negotiating the obstacles fluently.

Invitation Only hails from the Mullins yard that has won the last three renewals with Vautour (2015), Black Hercules (2016) and Yorkhill (2017). The likely favourite was third last time out at Leopardstown behind Monalee and Al Boum Photo (with Dounikos fourth).

The result of Wednesday's RSA Chase should provide a useful pointer but I'll sit this one out.

The Pertemps Final (2.10) looks typically competitive. A week or so ago I followed a discussion on the Racing Post website that argued British handicappers had treated a number of Irish horses quite leniently in the Festival handicaps - the example highlighted in the discussion was Gordon Elliott's Delta Work.

Delta Work (14/1 in places) is the each-way selection.

I'm going to skip the Ryanair (2.50) to concentrate on the Stayers' Hurdle (3.30).

You couldn't fail to be taken by Sam Spinner this season - he has won the Betfair Stayers' Hurdle at Haydock and the Long Walk at Ascot (L'Ami Serge second, Unowhatimeanharry third, The Worlds End fourth and Lil Rockerfeller sixth). He has only ever raced on ground described as good to soft or easier; his record reads five wins and two seconds from seven hurdle runs and one win and one second from two bumper runs. Trained by Jedd O'Keeffe at Middleham in North Yorkshire, he may have been held up by the snow there a fortnight ago but his front-running style catches the eye and he's greatly respected. He's likely to start favourite; five market leaders have obliged in the last ten years.

Sam Spinner will face plenty of stiff competition.

The decision to send Yanworth back over hurdles hasn't really come as a big surprise as his jumping of the larger obstacles was far from convincing. Yanworth has beaten The New One in a Christmas Hurdle over two miles at Kempton and Supasundae over three miles plus on good ground at Aintree last spring.

The New One is as tough as old boots but tries this trip for the first time. Connections think he'll stay but with the ground having come up soft they would surely have preferred to run their star in Tuesday's Champion Hurdle. Stablemate Wholestone is a course and distance winner and wouldn't be lightly dismissed.

Supasundae won the Irish Champion Hurdle six weeks ago; he has run well but never won at this trip and would probably prefer better ground.

Last season I wasted enough money opposing Unowhatimeanharry who won eight on the bounce before finishing third in this race behind Nichols Canyon. His third behind Sam Spinner in the Long Walk last time out gave just the slightest hint that age may be catching up with him.

Before the rain arrived I fancied The Worlds End to show improvement for better ground; Tom George's charge was going well when coming to grief in last year's Albert Bartlett. Penhill collected the spoils that day and hasn't been seen since finishing second at the Punchestown Festival last April.

L'Ami Serge is a talented individual but looks as though he has to do it all on the bridle; he wouldn't be one to trust implicitly if push came to shove.

I like Sam Spinner who has been the surprise package this season.

Sam Spinner is the win selection.

Finally in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle (4.50) Maria's Benefit looks to have been kept very busy in comparison to odds-on favourite Laurina but she's the top one on official ratings and at 6/1 looks an each-way bet to nothing.

Maria's Benefit (6/1) is the each-way selection.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Wednesday

I've upgraded to Club enclosure for this year's visit to the Cheltenham Festival; I must check my tweed trousers don't need pressing...

Here's current thinking about Wednesday's card. Needless to say, after numerous pints of Guinness at the track, I'll probably end up changing my mind.

On Monday evening the going is described as heavy.

1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Samcro has been considered banker material by many for some considerable time now. The best of the British form is represented by On The Blind Side but he misses the race following a setback. To date the favourite has barely come off the bridle; this probably represents his first race proper. On official ratings he is five pounds clear of his nearest rivals.

I've considered Black Op and Vision Des Flos. The former might have beaten Santini here in the trial at the end of January but for a mistake at the final flight while the latter appeared to improve markedly for a wind operation when beating Mercenaire (runs in the Fred Winter at 4.50) by over 30 lengths. Black Op is generally 9/1 while Vision Des Flos is 16/1 in places.

Vision Des Flos is the each-way selection.

2.10 RSA Chase
Presenting Percy is the best horse in the race and has the considerable assistance of Davy Russell in the saddle but he's priced accordingly; four favourites have obliged in the past ten years.

Black Corton goes well for Bryony Frost, Elegant Escape looks solid and Twiston-Davies has said Ballyoptic is in the mould of 2016 winner Blaklion but on balance the Irish form has the stronger feel.

At the beginning of February Monalee beat Al Boum Photo, Invitation Only and Dounikos over two miles five at Leopardstown. Dounikos has been the subject of some bullish comment and was near the head of the market for the four mile amateurs' chase so connections clearly feel he's going to stay but he hasn't won at this trip and neither has Ruby's mount Al Boum Photo.

Presenting Percy was beaten a length by Our Duke (holds an entry in Friday's Gold Cup) over a trip of two and half miles just three and a half weeks ago. He hasn't had that much time to recover but on balance he looks the percentage call in an open race and is the win selection.

2.05 Coral Cup
Through a friend of a friend of a work colleague I have received a tip for what looks a typically impossible Coral Cup. The individual concerned tipped Supreme Story to win the 2016 County Hurdle so you'll understand if I say I feel duty bound to follow his advice...

Burbank (fourth behind Willoughby Court in last year's Neptune) is the each-way selection at around 20/1.

3.30 Champion Chase
Here's a maverick view of the Champion Chase.

At the time of writing favourite Altior is doubtful having been found lame in his near fore this morning; he has had just one run this season.

Douvan hasn't been seen on a racetrack since injuring himself in this race last year.

At Leopardstown last time Min looked set for some battle with Ordinary World coming to the final flight but the latter made a shuddering mistake, came to a standstill and eventually finished fourth.

Min is 3/1, Ordinary World 80/1; on official ratings Ordinary World has ten pounds to find with Min.

I should explain I have a bit of a history backing each-way longshots in this race. I still haven't quite forgotten how Mr O J Carter declared Venn Ottery without a tongue-tie in 2004 and in recent years Special Tiara has been particularly obliging although the ground has now gone against him.

For those of a quixotic disposition, Ordinary World (80/1) may outrun those odds and is the each-way selection.

4.50 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Last year I wrote:

"Often a lottery, in the past decade no winner has had an official rating higher than 133."

Flying Tiger won off a mark of 134.

You're probably better off purchasing a lottery ticket but I'm going to chance Oxford Blu on the back of a couple of comments trainer Olly Murphy made last week.

Oxford Blu (20/1) is the each-way selection.

5.30 Champion Bumper
Acey Milan is my idea of the winner but by this stage it's a distinct probability I'll have no money left; at around 8/1, the beast doesn't really offer any value anyway so I'll just sit this one out (in a corner of the bar, weeping silently into an empty plastic glass).

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Tuesday

The ground at Cheltenham is currently described as soft, heavy in places. Nicky Henderson has said he is 'very pleasantly surprised' by conditions but forecasters predict a further 10mm of rain before the Supreme on the opening day.

Looking for some value in the run-up to the Festival, for years I've tried to identify horses that might improve for better ground. This year it's going to be different and I've just shredded my list of decent ground performers.

As I always tell myself in the days leading up to Cheltenham, the Festival is a marathon not a sprint. Traditionally I've adopted a cautious approach on the opening day - so I can fritter away my hard-earned at the track on Wednesday's card.

This year's renewal of the Supreme (1.30) wouldn't be the strongest held in recent times but it has generated plenty of interest; layers are offering money back as a free bet if your selection loses or the favourite wins.

It's no surprise to see Getabird, unbeaten in four starts and trained by Willie Mullins, at the top of the market but  favourites don't have a particularly good record in the race - Vautour (7/2jf in 2014) and Douvan (2/1f in 2015) are the only two to oblige in the past decade.

Kalashnikov heads the British challenge. His victory in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month was impressive but if he's generally considered a 4/1 chance, I don't quite see why Summerville Boy is priced up at 10/1; Summerville Boy beat Kalashnikov four lengths on heavy in the Tolworth at Sandown (Western Ryder fourth).

At a bigger price Slate House is of interest. This one beat Summerville Boy over course and distance on soft in November. I'm prepared to forgive his next effort as the yard was out of form at the time and his fifth behind Santini the last day was over a longer trip. Connections have chosen to fit a tongue-tie for the first time.

Recently I spent some time trying to work out what plans Kim Bailey had for his novices and I'm afraid to report I've failed - miserably.

First Flow hacked up in the Rossington Main at Haydock in January; immediately after that race the trainer told TV viewers the horse was going to be put away for next season. On the back of those comments I thought Vinndication was the one for Wednesday's Ballymore but he only holds an entry in Friday's Albert Bartlett now (along with stablemate Red River).

Underfoot conditions will suit First Flow and his chance is respected but my recollection from that TV interview was connections felt the horse still had plenty to learn.

A quick word for two who finished behind Beyond The Clouds in the Scottish Trial at Musselburgh last month. I wouldn't dismiss the chance of Claimantakinforgan (14/1) on the back of that run while word is Simply The Betts (40/1) has a pretty big engine but the jumping is still a work in progress.

Slate House is the each-way selection (25/1 with bet365 paying one quarter the odds on three places).

Only five go in the Arkle (2.10) and I'm not tempted to get involved.

On ratings Saint Calvados is the play against favourite Footpad; the last five-year-old to win was Voy Por Ustedes in 2006. Brain Power took a crashing fall last time and has since had a wind operation.

The field for the Champion Hurdle (3.30) doesn't appear to have a lot of strength in depth and looks at the mercy of Buveur D'Air. If the first-time cheekpieces have the desired effect, 2015 winner Faugheen will be competitive. Between them, Messrs Henderson and Mullins are responsible for eight of the thirteen runners.

Elgin won the Kingwell at Wincanton with something in hand the last day and has been supplemented at a cost of £20,000.

Elgin is the each-way selection (20/1 with both Paddy Power and Sky Bet at the time of writing).

Finally I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all readers the very best of luck at this year's Cheltenham Festival.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Sandown's Imperial Cup 2018

In a classic 'Father Ted' moment earlier today I inadvertently found myself stranded and bewildered in the lingerie department of Debenhams - I have absolutely no idea how I arrived there - wondering whether Summerville Boy could possibly confirm Tolworth running with Kalashnikov in the Supreme on Tuesday.

Fortunately, I know how to read the signs - I need a break from all that Cheltenham form study.

So, here's a view on the Imperial Cup, not run anywhere near Cheltenham at all but at Sandown, tomorrow, at 2.25, where the going is currently described as soft.

Seventeen have been declared. Nicky Henderson's course and distance winner Call Me Lord takes his chance, carries top weight and concedes a minimum of twelve pounds to all his opponents; stablemate Whatwrongwithyou heads the market at around 4/1.

Magic Combination won the 2000 renewal at the age of seven; since then there have been only three winners older than six: Scorned (9) in 2004; Alarazi (7) in 2011 and First Avenue (8) in 2013. Seven in this year's field are aged seven or older while Shanroe Saint races from three pounds out of the handicap.

Two have caught my eye.

At the time of writing both Ladbrokes and Coral go 16/1 about Alan King's Fidux and pay a quarter the odds four places; that looks fair value.

In November Fidux was unlucky to be brought down by a swinging hurdle at the last flight when one length behind Maria's Benefit, a 6/1 chance for the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham on Thursday.

He was subsequently beaten under five lengths over this course and distance by A Hare Breadth (holds an entry the County Hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday).

The handler doesn't appear particularly bullish in the Weekender:

"I hope the ground doesn't get too bad and he seems in good order, fresh and well and not held up at all by the weather [unlike stablemate Scarlet Dragon who holds an entry in the Supreme].

"He's possibly at little high in the handicap this season but I'd love to see him back on better ground - although I don't think that will be this weekend!"

Clearly conditions aren't ideal but some may feel that is factored into the price.

Earlier in the afternoon my preference was for Master Of Irony; unfortunately it looks as though a number of others have had a similar idea. 14/1 has disappeared completely; at the time of writing Paddy Power and Betfred are amongst the layers offering 11/1 one fifth the odds five places.

Fourth behind High Bridge in the Gerry Feilden reads well; this evening the Racing Post quotes trainer John Quinn:

"He hasn't been out since that good run at Newbury in December but he'd have run at the big festival at Leopardstown but for travelling badly. He'll be fine here, as that was ferry problems, and I think he has a chance. If he were to win and come out the other end okay he's one who could run again next week, as he's had a light season."

The horse holds entries in the County Hurdle and Martin Pipe Hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday.

Master Of Irony is the Imperial Cup each-way selection (11/1 with Paddy Power / Betfred, one fifth the odds five places.)

And somehow it all comes back to Cheltenham. It really is very difficult to stop thinking about Cheltenham at this time of the year...

For the first time we will benefit from 48-hour declarations. In accordance with tradition, I'll be at the track on Wednesday and will post a blog for each day of the Festival.

Less than four days to go now...

Friday, March 02, 2018

Festival longshots in freezing temperatures

Eleven days to the start of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival and the country is in the grip of snow, ice, blizzards and freezing temperatures; at the time of writing Monday is the earliest racing on turf could resume.

Today I purchased a copy of the Racing Post Cheltenham The Ultimate Guide which I'll work my way through in more detail in the coming days.

Meanwhile, here are some initial thoughts and ideas - for you to do with as you wish.

Tuesday

The Arkle
I tipped Footpad each-way for last season's Champion Hurdle; he finished fourth, beaten ten and a half lengths behind Buveur D'Air, My Tent Or Yours and Petit Mouchoir. He's proved particularly fleet of foot over the larger obstacles this year but at around 6/4 offers no value.

Potential winners amongst the entries include Petit Mouchoir, Saint Calvados (last five-year-old to come home in front was Voy Por Ustedes in 2006), Sceau Royal and Brain Power. I'm not particularly fond of this race but will look closely at Sceau Royal's chance nearer the time.

Champion Hurdle
This doesn't look the best of renewals. At around 20/1 Elgin will be of interest if connections decide to supplement.

Wednesday

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Samcro is the Irish hotpot while On The Blind Side probably represents the best of the British form.

A word for a couple of the less fancied runners... Two entries from Tom George's yard look interesting; Summerville Boy also holds an entry in the Supreme on Tuesday while Black Op also holds an entry in the Albert Bartlett on Friday. I feel the latter is likely to appreciate the better ground.

I was pleased to see Tom Collins give a mention to Vision Des Flos. Being turned over at odds of 1/4f on his penultimate start at Hereford doesn't look very encouraging but a wind operation followed and he then beat Mercenaire (holds a Fred Winter entry) over 30 lengths.   

The one I've really been waiting for from that Hereford race is Smuggler's Blues who looked certain to be in the mix two out before fading away tamely to finish fourth. He may have had an issue but I haven't seen anything reported.

Champion Chase
Provided we get decent ground, an each-way interest in Special Tiara will be de rigueur. Henry De Bromhead's charge is eleven years old now but I simply love his style of racing; he's currently a 16/1 shot.

Thursday

JLT Novices' Chase
Bigmartre has been doing all his chasing around two miles. Last year it looked as though he failed to stay two and a half in a handicap hurdle at Aintree. He's a year older now - and 25/1 looks tempting.   

Stayers' Hurdle
Another I'm hoping to see improvement from on better ground is The Worlds End; this one looked unlucky to fall two out in the Albert Bartlett last year. He was beaten 11 lengths by Sam Spinner in the Long Walk and then 16 lengths by Agrapart in the Cleeve on unsuitably heavy ground. He's currently priced at 25/1.

Friday

County Hurdle
Not a race for the faint-hearted and I include myself amongst their number. Flying Tiger won the Fred Winter last year; his fourth behind Elgin in the Kingwell last month reads well and 25/1 makes some appeal.

Global Citizen was impressive in the Dovecote at Kempton last weekend but I suspect connections may choose to go to Aintree.

Hunters Call's win in the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle (formerly The Ladbroke) at Ascot in December catches the eye; Elgin finished sixth that day.

Gold Cup
This year's renewal looks particularly open; on official ratings favourite Might Bite is there to be shot at so here's two longshots while I work through the rest of the form.

Tom George has talked up Double Shuffle's chance on the back of his one length second behind Might Bite in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day. The trainer points out his charge has Cheltenham form in the book but my worry is he wouldn't be guaranteed to come up the hill in a Gold Cup. Double Shuffle is still available at 40/1.

Saphir Du Rheu is available at double those odds yet was only beaten six and a quarter lengths behind Sizing John when finishing fifth in last year's renewal. The horse has had his jumping problems in the past and last season I was amongst the many who thought he could never win a decent chase. However, over the course of the season, we saw steady improvement in the jumping department which culminated in that fine effort behind Sizing John. He fell in the National and then finished well behind Native River in the Denman at Newbury but he'll improve for that seasonal debut and there's just the hint he has been trained specifically with this race in mind. 80/1 is big.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Kempton's Betdaq Handicap Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Feeling snookered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digression over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That leaves Yala Enki and Sir Mangan.

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

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

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

Friday, February 09, 2018

Newbury's Betfair Hurdle 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two have caught my eye.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 02, 2018

Trials and tribulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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