Friday, January 12, 2018

Warwick whims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    

Friday, January 05, 2018

The rescheduled Coral Welsh Grand National 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's a wide open event.

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