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...

Friday, March 03, 2017

Doncaster's Grimthorpe Chase 2017

"Alexa, what's going to win this year's Gold Cup?"

A copy of 'Cheltenham: The Ultimate Guide 2017' successfully secured from my local newsagent, plans to watch Channel 5 box sets 'Baby-faced Brides' and 'Tattoo Disasters: What Were You Inking?' have been put on indefinite hold.

With less than a fortnight to the start of the Festival, somehow tomorrow's cards at Doncaster and Newbury feel like a couple of Eddie Jones' diversionary tactics.

Just seven are declared for the Grimthorpe Handicap Chase (3.35) run over three and a quarter miles at Doncaster where the going is currently described as soft.

Last year's winner The Last Samuri used this as a stepping stone for the Aintree Grand National  where Kim Bailey's charge ran a fine race to finish second behind Rule The World. Connections are following the same route this season but the gelding starts off a mark of 161, 12 pounds higher, and faces a stiff task conceding 11 pounds and more to his field.

Market leader Definitely Red looked a horse to reckon with when winning the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day seven lengths ahead of Wakanda with RSA winner Blaklion a further three and a half lengths away in third and Yala Enki fourth.

Next time in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock third looked the best Brian Ellison's charge could achieve behind Bristol De Mai when he was hampered three out, unseating Henry Brooke in the process.

Wakanda's second in the Rowland Meyrick reads well but he jumped poorly and never went a yard in the Grand National Trial at Haydock a fortnight ago; he was eventually pulled up. On Wetherby form he is closely matched with Definitely Red.

Sego Success has disappointed this punter too many times but he has won here before and the first-time visor may help the cause while Yala Enki hasn't raced over this trip previously and I'm not convinced he'll see it out.

Vivaldi Collonges is priced up the outsider of the seven but he ran well for a long way behind One For Arthur on desperate ground at Warwick seven weeks ago. Joint top on Racing Post ratings, he isn't readily dismissed but Sam Twiston-Davies rides at Kelso.

Looking Well, second behind Ziga Boy last time, gets in at the bottom of the handicap with a feather weight and Ryan Day can claim a further five. On New Year's Day last year he was beaten five lengths by Definitely Red in a Catterick novice chase off level weights. Quoting from Nicky Richards' stable tour in the Weekender 12-16.10.16:

"He needs goodish ground so I won't be overracing him this winter, but I think he'll be one to follow as we get into the spring."

Only the seven runners but it's a wide open contest and you can make a case for each. Since 2000 five horses have carried 10-00 to victory - Knight Templar (2000), Skillwise (2002), Out The Black (2009) Ikorodu Road (2012) and Quentin Collonges (2013).

The ground isn't ideal but I'm going to take the chance - Looking Well (11/2) is the selection.

"Alexa, haven't you heard that Thistlecrack is a non-runner?"

Friday, February 24, 2017

Rhythm and blues and Betbright views

"It's important to get into a good rhythm early on" is the sort of phraseology one might ordinarily associate with one of the Carry On films of the late sixties and early seventies but, for reasons unbeknown to me, in more recent times its usage seems to have become more fashionable amongst racing commentators and pundits who insist on repeating the mantra at least three times before the 'off' of every handicap chase televised.

Such sententious usage has only succeeded in inducing dyspeptic symptoms in this particular viewer during a Saturday afternoon's racing coverage.

Don't get me wrong, I fully understand the validity of the point being made but, hey, I've struck bets on beasts that have quite patently failed to get into any sort of a rhythm in any part of a race, never mind early on, they've just fiddled away and, once or twice, even managed to come good at the end. Similarly I can think of several selections that have established a good rhythm early on only to fade into oblivion at the business end of the race.

Rant over. Remind me to purchase another bottle of Gaviscon before the Festival starts...

At the beginning of the week Tea For Two was priced up favourite for Kempton's Betbright Chase (3.35) but the gelding was missing from Thursday's declarations. It transpires connections have had a re-think and now intend to run in the Gold Cup with Lizzie Kelly set to become the first female professional jockey to ride in the race.

In Tea For Two's absence, Double Shuffle heads the market and there's plenty to like about his chance.

Tom George's inmate raced prominently to win over this course and distance just after Christmas with Opening Batsman finishing some 20 lengths adrift in fifth. The handicapper has raised the winner six pounds for that effort but he's still weighted to confirm placings with Opening Batsman, will appreciate better ground and retains the hood introduced the last time.

Last year's renewal saw Theatre Guide beat Opening Batsman ten lengths (Ballykan fourth, Viva Steve sixth) but 12 months on he's 14 pounds higher which looks challenging.

                                         2016          2017         Lengths beaten
Theatre Guide                    139            153
Opening Batsman              136             133          10
Ballykan                             136             140          12.5 *Ryan Hatch (3)
Viva Steve                          133             139          13.5

Ballykan from the Twiston-Davies stable seems progressive, has been tipped up here and there and is Dave Edwards' Topspeed selection in the Weekender.

There was a lot of money for Viva Steve at Warwick the last day but ultimately he was disappointing in tenth; it was very heavy and he may bounce back but the suspicion is he'd prefer a bit more cut than he's likely to get.

'If you can't get three miles at Kempton, you can't get it anywhere.' I've lost count of the number of times I've heard that particular adage. I put no store by it so have to discount the three in the field that try the trip for the first time - Aso, Three Musketeers and Pilgrims Bay; in my book Irish Saint is another runner that doesn't look guaranteed to stay.

Fingerontheswtich wearing a tongue-tie for the first time won over three miles at Wetherby the last day so merits consideration but you need a more lateral approach to bring Nicky Henderson's duo, Cocktails At Dawn and Triolo D'Alene, into the reckoning.

Whilst Cocktails At Dawn sound far more civilised than Pistols At Dawn - mine's an Old Fashioned - I wouldn't have given this one a second glance until I read earlier in the week that the master trainer had been keeping him back for the Grand National; allocated 10-3 he looks to have every chance of making the cut. On 10 October 2015 Cocktails had As De Mee, Native River, Blaklion and Regal Encore in arrears in a Chepstow novice chase; you don't need me to tell you things haven't quite gone to plan in the interim...

Back in March 2012 at a Festival preview evening Nicky Henderson touted Triolo D'Alene as his best bet 'down in the handicaps'. The beast has frustrated me ever since. In 2013 he won the Hennessy at odds of 20/1 carrying none of my money. I've long since given up trying to predict how he'll run but I would say he has won at Kempton; in his younger days he appeared to be suited by better ground but nowadays I think he prefers some cut.

As always, an open affair - Double Shuffle has obvious claims.

At the time of writing Ballykan is 14/1 with Paddy Power who pay a fifth the odds four places while Cocktails At Dawn is 18/1 with Coral who pay a quarter the odds three places.

Of the two Ballykan appears more likely to run a race so Ballykan is the each-way suggestion. I just hope he gets into a good rhythm early on...

Friday, February 17, 2017

Haydock's Grand National Trial 2017

A sexagenarian acquaintance of mine has dedicated an adult lifetime to ensuring he never buys more than four alcoholic drinks in one go.

Earlier this week the Jockey Club announced they were to take a leaf straight out of his book by imposing a similar restriction on everyone frequenting public bars at this year's Cheltenham Festival. Interesting - should certainly keep punters on their toes in between races (when they're not collecting winnings).

Four weeks today we'll know the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup; seven weeks tomorrow we'll know the winner of the Grand National.

Tomorrow's Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase (3.15 Haydock) run over three and a half miles wouldn't be the most appropriately named event in the racing calendar given that in the past decade only three previous winners have gone on to compete in the Aintree showpiece the same season: Rambling Minster pulled up in 2009; Silver By Nature finished twelfth in 2011; and Giles Cross pulled up in 2012.

Blaklion heads the market for tomorrow's renewal. The Twiston-Davies yard has been in fine form in recent weeks and I've a soft spot for this RSA winner but the gelding hasn't looked quite the same this season - there's still a question in my mind as to whether that race has left its mark.

Ryan Hatch reported his mount 'made a noise' after coming home fifth in the Hennessy and he was comprehensively beaten behind Definitely Red and Wakanda in the Rowland Meryck at Wetherby on Boxing Day. Connections obviously feel the extra half mile will suit but on Wetherby form Blaklion struggles to reverse placings with Wakanda.

I tipped Kruzhlinin as an outsider with a squeak for last year's National (having finished tenth in 2014 and seventh in the Becher the following December) but he didn't trouble the commentator. A previous course winner, his second behind Our Kaempfer reads well but he's priced accordingly as is Goodtoknow who ran a fine race behind One For Arthur at Warwick but jumped persistently right on that occasion which causes concern.

Vieux Lion Rouge won the Becher in December (The Last Samuri, Ucello Conti and One For Arthur amongst those beaten) and has been allocated 10-7 for this year's National for which he's quoted at 25/1. There was a hint he landed the spoils a shade cleverly the last day and off a mark just four pounds higher this previous course winner looks to hold every chance.

On the lookout for an each-way chance, I've concentrated on three who come into this having shown some recent form.

Tour Des Champs was something of a revelation on his first run for new connections when winning at Cheltenham on New Year's Day at odds of 50/1. He won't be that price tomorrow and has been raised eight pounds for that effort.

Houblon Des Obeaux seems to have been around for ever and is fully exposed. On his penultimate run he was third behind Native River in the Welsh National and then finished fourth behind One For Arthur at Warwick; on revised terms he's set to finish a lot closer to Goodtoknow. All his wins have come with Aidan Coleman in the plate but Aidan rides at Ascot tomorrow; Charlie Deutsch is an able deputy, claims three and won a big prize on Otago Trail at Sandown two weeks ago.

Wakanda appeals as a young horse with a progressive profile coming slowly back to form. This is only his second attempt over a distance further than three miles; all his chase wins to date have come over distances between two miles three furlongs and three miles.

Vieux Lion Rouge is my idea of the winner but at the prices I'm going to take an each-way interest in Houblon Des Obeaux, 14/1 with Sky Bet who offer one fifth the odds four places.

Finally, congratulations to Captain Guy Disney who made history at Sandown earlier today by becoming the first amputee jockey to win at a professional racecourse in Britain, guiding Rathlin Rose (13/8f) to victory in the Royal Artillery Gold Cup.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Newbury's 'Super Saturday' meeting 2017

After a bomb scare at the track on Friday morning, Newbury officials will be hoping everything goes off smoothly for tomorrow's 'Super Saturday' meet.

Sixteen have been declared for the  Betfair Hurdle at Newbury (3.35) with three horses vying for favouritism - Clyne, Ballyandy and Movewiththetimes. I've seen different commentators claim in their turn that each one of the three comes into the race very well handicapped...

A Kempton handicap hurdle won by Bigmartre on December 27th ties in the form of Beltor, Eddiemaurice, Wait For Me and William H Bonney while at Cheltenham four weeks later William H Bonney came home in front of Wait For Me in fifth (and Bigmartre in eighth).

In last season's County Hurdle at the Festival Superb Story ran away from his field; Wait For Me finished fourth that day with Kayf Blanco a creditable seventh at odds of 50/1.

Wait for Me has been sent off favourite on each of his subsequent three starts but Philip Hobbs' charge hasn't quite managed to deliver the goods - the last day at Cheltenham he led approaching the final flight before fading to finish fifth. On occasions his hurdling continues to cause concern.

After what appears one abortive attempt over the larger obstacles, Kayf Blanco finished a four and three quarter lengths third behind Brain Power and Consul De Thaix at Sandown in early December (Zubayr fifth). That reads well given the former is priced up 7/1 for this year's Champion Hurdle and the latter 25/1 for the Neptune; on County Hurdle form Kayf has three lengths to find with Wait For Me.

On his only other run this season Kayf was hampered by a faller three out when racing over an extended trip at Exeter on New Year's Day.

Only two recent winners have carried more than 10-9 to victory (Zarkander with 11-1 in 2012 and My Tent Or Yours with 11-2 in 2013) but of the sixteen just Veinard and Eddiemaurice pass that particular test.

Of course this is an ultra-competitive event and the stats don't appear to favour eight-year-old Kayf Blanco. It's more than ten years since a horse older than six has collected the spoils; in 2004 at the age of nine Geos pulled off the trick for Nicky Henderson. That said, this just doesn't look a typical renewal to me - discounting riders' allowances, threequarters of the field is set to carry more than 11-0.

Kayf Blanco is the each-way suggestion, priced up at 33/1 in places. Most layers are paying a quarter the odds four places provided, of course, the sixteen make it to the start.

Only three go in the Denman (2.25) with the clash between Gold Cup second favourite Native River and Bristol De Mai eagerly awaited.

My marginal preference was for the former before reading a comment from Colin Tizzard to the effect that this two mile seven furlong and 87 yard trip would be the absolute minimum his charge would want.

Of course, with a small field there's the chance of a tactical affair; should Bristol win, he won't be 14/1 for next month's showpiece.

There's another small field for the Game Spirit (3.00) with just five declared and Gino Trail set to run in the Kingmaker at Warwick if that meeting gets the go-ahead.

Altior has been impressive so far this term but on official ratings still has two pounds to find with Fox Norton and seven with Traffic Fluide. Gary Moore's charge returns to the track for the first time in over a year; his performance here will determine plans going forward.

You know, I find it quite incredible that the 2015 Champion Chase winner Dodging Bullets is realistically quoted a 33/1 shot.

The handicapper judged that Festival performance worth 171; barely two years on, the horse is given a rating of just 154.

Friday, February 03, 2017

A Sandown slog

There has been precious little good news on these pages in recent weeks but here's some - as vegetable rationing hits UK supermarkets, lettuce, spinach and broccoli are likely to be in short supply...

A couple of races on tomorrow's Sandown card have cut up quite badly - just four contenders contest the Contenders' Hurdle at 1.50 (Yanworth a notable absentee) and five are set to face the starter for the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at 2.25.

At the time of writing there are fourteen left in the Betfred Mobile Heroes Handicap Hurdle due off at 3.00; the going is currently described as soft, heavy in places on the hurdle course, and further rain is forecast.

Browsing through the declarations a number in the field don't look guaranteed to stay this two mile seven furlong trip on heavy ground and there's a stiff climb to the winning line thrown in at the business end of the race.

With this in mind, I've decided to concentrate on those that look best equipped to survive the likely war of attrition. The six listed in racecard order are: Billy No Name; Valhalla; Rolling Dylan; Behind Time; Ballyculla and Desert Sensation.

A key piece of form is the Class 2 handicap hurdle run over a similar distance on soft ground at Chepstow on 27th December. Shantou Bob held Rolling Dylan a neck that day with Desert Sensation five lengths adrift in third and Billy No Name a further 14 lengths behind in fifth.

The handicapper has since raised Rolling Dylan eight pounds (to 132), Desert Sensation three (to 123) and left Billy No Name alone on 136 but, significantly, pilot Angus Cheleda can claim an eye-catching 10 pounds.

Valhalla, from the same stable as Billy No Name, reverts to hurdling having made his debut in a novice chase at Newbury five weeks ago.

Behind Time, owned by J P McManus and trained by Harry Fry, went off an odds-on favourite at Newbury the last day but was slow at some of the obstacles and was beaten four lengths by Solomon Grundy. There's a suspicion that wasn't his true running but on a line through the second Shantou Bob, Behind Time will struggle to come home ahead of Rolling Dylan.

Desert Sensation meets Rolling Dylan nine pounds better off than at Chepstow; the pair look very closely matched. His featherweight is an obvious plus in the conditions; he has a few miles on the clock for a young horse.

Ballyculla, fifth in the Rowland Meyrick on his penultimate start, has his first run over the smaller obstacles since April 2014. Having won off a mark of 136 over fences, he goes off 128 here and his amateur rider can claim a further seven. He's priced up the outsider of the field but heavy ground will help slow the others down; he's no forlorn hope.

A quick comment or two on runners that don't look quite so certain to stay...

Four weeks ago Daryl Jacob made the dash from Sandown to ride Fortunate George at Wincanton. The jock had a good word for Emma Lavelle's charge beforehand; in the event George ran a sound race from the front but had no answer to Kk Lexion. The handicapper has raised the winner 14 pounds - on a strict interpretation Kk Lexion will struggle to confirm placings. Having said all that, Jacob rides El Terremotto tomorrow which suggests he thinks the Twiston-Davies inmate has the better chance.

The Chepstow form seems apposite. I'm looking for a horse at an each-way price that should stay the trip and the eponymous Billy No Name fits the bill.

Quoted at 20/1 with several layers, Billy No Name is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Brief notes on Cheltenham Trials Day 2017

There are nine races on tomorrow's Cheltenham Trials Day card; the re-arranged Clarence House Chase is scheduled for 1.45 while the first is due off at 12.00.

I've always been wary of Trials Day. There will be Festival clues aplenty and they will be scrutinised in some detail but the main targets for many of tomorrow's participants take place in six and a half weeks' time.

There are some short-priced favourites on the card I'm not particularly inclined to oppose: Un De Sceaux, 1/2 for the Clarence House at 1.45; Thistlecrack, 2/5 for the Cotswold Chase at 2.15 (although no favourite has obliged in this race for the past ten years) and Unowhatimeanharry, even money for the Cleeve Hurdle at 4.00.

Earlier in the week I started to plan a cunning Baldrick-like plot that involved Thomas Crapper in the Hugo's Restaurant Barbados Trophy Handicap Chase at 1.10 but Paul Kealy flushed that one straight down the pan by highlighting the chance of Robin Dickin's course and distance winner on the front page of the Weekender. Thomas Crapper has had a wind issue in the past but sneaks in at the bottom with 10-1; he wouldn't want the ground a bog and is quoted 6/1 second favourite in the tissue.

A number of the usual suspects are amongst the declarations including Annacotty, Tenor Nivernais, Buywise, Aso and Saphir Du Rheu; the latter is habitually priced up market leader for similar events yet in my opinion struggles to jump well enough in a big field.

Get Involved, a 66/1 chance, runs from out of the handicap in a hot novice chase at 12.35. I'll watch with interest; this one was well thought of when I visited Dickin's yard in the autumn.

At that time the gelding was recovering from an infection and had been on the easy list for roughly three weeks. At Sandown in December his jumping looked particularly laboured; hampered by a loose horse, Charlie Poste was unseated at the eighth when any chance had long gone.

The gelding is reportedly on better terms with himself now but got no further than the second at Newbury ten days ago... His second behind Solstice Son over three miles one last April reads well; a clear round would help inform.

The Neptune at 3.25 looks open. William Henry and Wholestone head the market but I'll have a small each-way wager on course and distance winner Coo Star Sivola who has yet to finish out of the places on five runs in this country; his third in the Fred Winter last March reads well.

Returning from a long layoff William Henry was beaten a length by Pingshou over two miles here in December. Subsequently, in receipt of ten pounds, Coo beat Pingshou twelve lengths over two and a half miles here on New Year's Day. Nicky Henderson's charge steps up in trip for the first time tomorrow but the trainer feels the extra mile half will suit.

There are plenty in with chances but at 14/1 with Paddy Power Coo Star Sivola appeals as an each-way chance.

I've opposed Unowhatimeanharry this season and have the burnt fingers to prove it. West Approach was in the process of running a big race before coming to grief in the Long Walk; Ruby Walsh rides Colin Tizzard's charge in the Cleeve tomorrow. I'm just saying...

Finally a quick footnote on Johnny Og who was pulled up in a five runner chase at Taunton earlier today. Wearing cheekpieces for the first time, Johnny was led in at the start but was unable to dominate his field. He lost his place from the sixth and was pulled up before three out.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Haydock's Peter Marsh Chase 2017

Old friends Johnny Og, Thomas Crapper and Wolf Of Windlesham hold entries on tomorrow's card at Ascot but I'm afraid prospects of racing going ahead look about as remote as one of my selections coming in.

Fourteen have been declared for the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock due off at 3.15. Market leader Alary, quoted as low as 16/1 in places for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, makes his debut in this country carrying top weight off a mark of 162.

That looks a pretty stiff ask for Colin Tizzard's charge, particularly on soft ground, although his participation ensures the bottom five must race from out of the handicap.

Market rivals Bristol De Mai and Definitely Red finished second and third respectively behind Otago Trail in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle in November with Bishops Road fourth, Virak sixth.

On Boxing Day Definitely Red won Wetherby's Rowland Meryck in impressive style. Last season in races at both Warwick and Wetherby I felt his jumping wasn't quite good enough but there have been no such problems this term.

Bristol De Mai meets Definitely Red seven pounds better off tomorrow. Twiston-Davies' charge holds entries in the Ryanair and the Cheltenham Gold Cup and bids to become the first six-year-old to win this race since its inception in 1981. The last day was his first attempt beyond two miles four; he appeared to stay the trip but there is just a hint of a doubt and on occasions his jumping can be a little wayward.

Rehearsal winner Otago Trail subsequently blotted his copybook when pulling up at Leopardstown over Christmas. Nonetheless his chance is respected, as are the chances of two course and distance winners, Sausalito Sunrise and Virak - the latter finished second in last year's renewal and tries this time from a mark seven pounds lower although some of that benefit is now eroded as Harry Cobden can only claim three.

Bishops Road was beaten nine lengths in the Rehearsal on his seasonal debut but he disappointed badly behind Native River in the Welsh National (Firebird Flyer eighth) eventually coming home in tenth. Handler Kerry Lee explained there was a valid excuse that day and anticipates an improved showing.
 
The market suggests Vintage Clouds, owned by Trevor Hemmings, is the one worth a second look from those out of the weights.

Two each-way options that make some appeal are Virak and Bishops Road.

18/1 Virak could well look big after the race if Paul Nicholls' charge bounces back to form but Bishops Road (12/1) appears a more consistent proposition; he finished over thirty lengths ahead of Virak in the Rehearsal so gets the nod.

Finally, eight weeks today we'll know the winner of this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup. The Festival bandwagon is already moving into gear with pundits starting to make predictions. It's far too early for me; I offer just one piece of information which has come my way - Dan Skelton is aiming North Hill Harvey at the County Hurdle, the race he won last year with Superb Story.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Warwick Classic Chase day 2017

With the course covered since Wednesday and temperatures tonight forecast to dip no lower than freezing, prospects for tomorrow's Betfred Classic Chase day, the biggest meeting of the year at my local track Warwick. look good.

Twenty are set to contest the featured Classic Chase at 3.35 run over a distance of three miles five furlongs; the current going is officially described as soft, heavy in places.

Three former winners line-up - Rigadin De Beauchene (2013); Shotgun Paddy (2014) and Russe Blanc (2016).

Amongst those behind Russe Blanc last year were Midnight Prayer (second), Houblon Des Obeaux (fourth), and Vivaldi Collonges (fifth) with both Rigadin De Beauchene and Sego Success falling; just five of the fourteen starters completed.

Tomorrow's renewal is typically competitive. Ballycross is at or near the top of most lists; last time out in receipt of eight pounds he was beaten just under six lengths by Pobbles Bay who runs in the 1.50.

Rated 139 Shotgun Paddy appears to have been given every chance having won off a mark of 145 in 2014 and then finishing third off 147 the following year.

Last month Vieux Lion Rouge pipped Highland Lodge in heart-breaking fashion in the Becher Chase at Aintree - the form is represented here by One For Arthur (fifth), Bob Ford (seventh) and Midnight Prayer (ninth).

One For Arthur, beaten under three lengths that day, travels down from Scotland and connections fit a tongue-tie for the first time; the gelding's sound jumping should serve him well at this track.

Kim Bailey saddles Knockanrawley who hasn't seen a racecourse for 427 days. The handler states:

"He's as fit as I can get him at home, but I'm afraid he's still as big as a house. He looks like a double decker bus!"

Occasionally I've thought there might be a race like this in Bob Ford. His trainer is presently in good form but to date all his wins have come at either Ffos Las or Chepstow; at the weights he will struggle to reverse Becher Chase form with One For Arthur.

Down the years I've preferred experience in this race; on the back of Alan King's notes in the Weekender (horse in fine fettle, likes Warwick) Midnight Prayer is no more than a tentative each-way suggestion. He's priced up 22/1 in places.

Peregrine Run is the suggestion for the Leamington (3.00) on the back of his defeat of Wholestone last time. Gayebury is short enough but finished third behind Ballyandy in a Newbury bumper last February.

Finally there are some big weights in the opening novices' handicap hurdle at 12.40.

Robin Dickin's Wildmoor Boy was kept busy over the summer months and landed a Class 3 event at Cheltenham's Open meeting. The horse is talented but a bit of a worrier who needs a lot of walking; the last day at Leicester the trainer reported the horse had left his race somewhere on the M69 - readers may recall Restless Harry from the same yard who suffered with similar issues.

Wildmoor Boy runs at his local track tomorrow so the travelling shouldn't be a problem - the trouble is the ground's far from ideal... That's racing.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Sandown veterans

I've been on the lookout for a young unexposed type in the 32Red Veterans' Handicap Chase at Sandown tomorrow but haven't had that much luck... Aerial from the Nicholls yard has the fewest miles on the clock with five wins recorded from nineteen runs.

These vets, they're an absolute credit to the game.

Top weight Shuil Royale boasts the best career wins-to-runs ratio in the field at 30.3% while just three record a figure lower than 15%; in 2011 Cody Wyoming won a Lingfield maiden hurdle at odds of 100/1 and currently shows a profit of £86.45 to a £1.00 stake.

In fact twelve of the runners boast a profit to level stakes - if only they'd given me this list of horses eight years ago...

Of course, with over £100,000 in added prize money, tomorrow's renewal is highly competitive - Aachen, beaten a neck by Soll last year, tries once again at the grand old age of thirteen.

In working through the form, I've discarded the four horses that have not previously won over three miles or more (Astracad, Ericht, Baileys Concerto and Cody Wyoming) and have then looked at the Scotty Brand Veterans' Handicap Chase, the last qualifying leg of the series, run over 22 furlongs at Kelso in early December.

That day Gas Line Boy made most to beat Cloudy Too (second), Aerial (fourth), Wychwoods Brook (fifth) and Dynaste (seventh). Ratings for that race and tomorrow's are compared below:

Gas Line Boy          was 136  now 145
Cloudy Too             was 142  now 140
Aerial                      was 135  now 134
Wychwoods Brook was 132  now 130
Dynaste                  was 150  now 145

I'm not inclined to take the Kelso form too literally. Dynaste never turned up, Wychwoods Brook was making his seasonal debut and there's a possibility Brian Hughes may have pinched the race up front over a shorter trip on slightly better ground.

Of those named above, it's hard to be confident about Dynaste and he's short enough in the market (comments that apply to Rocky Creek too).

Wychwoods Brook has a Peter Marsh Chase to his name and jockey James Nixon can claim seven but he hasn't always been the cleanest of jumpers so the 2016 Peter Marsh Chase winner Cloudy Too (14/1 generally) is the each-way selection with Aerial feared. Rain would certainly help the selection -  most layers are paying a quarter the odds four places.

Capitaine is my idea of the Tolworth winner but the race makes little appeal as a betting medium.

Over at Wincanton, Oneida Trial, mentioned in last week's post, goes in the 1.30 but the price - 12/1 with Paddy Power - doesn't really tempt on what we know so far while Daryl Jacob has a word for Fortunate George in the 3.15; Daryl travels to the track from Sandown after riding Midnight Jazz in the mares' listed hurdle.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Brief notes at New Year

Following today's abandonment at Haydock, Nicky Henderson adds some spice to a run-of-the-mill card at Warwick on New Year's Eve by declaring Buveur D'Air in the adroitly-named Local Parking Security Novices' Chase (1.00).

On the same card trainer Robin Dickin has a couple of interesting runners at his local track.

Routine Procedure looks the pick of his trio in the opener; this one is on the comeback trail after missing eighteen months or so through injury.

Beaten over 17 lengths by Mrs Burbidge in a similar event at Uttoxeter last time, he was in with a shout before fading after the last eventually finishing fifth. The winner has since been beaten into third by Sober Sailor at Fontwell but both Miss Mash (third) and Dalkadam (fourth) have recorded subsequent victories so the form reads well enough (the second, Flobury, goes in tomorrow's 12.05 at Uttoxeter). Connections have opted to fit a visor for the first time so I'd be hopeful of some improvement and at around 10/1 he rates an each-way chance.

Dontminddboys, a big striking grey, runs in the handicap chase at 1.35 and is another on the comeback trail after injury.

The last day he looked outpaced half a mile from home in a Towcester novices' handicap chase before staying on stoutly to claim second without ever threatening the winner. The step up to three miles should suit but this race looks more competitive so I'll maintain a watching brief - in that same Towcester chase stablemate Oneida Tribe raced prominently and was unlucky to be brought down by Paddocks Lounge at the twelfth on his first run for the yard.

On New Year's Day all eyes will be on ITV's inaugural broadcast from Cheltenham. Rather bizarrely, the 2017 ITV Sport Racing Diary that Santa brought me last week doesn't record all the meetings ITV will actually cover during the year.

Dickin has declared Thomas Crapper in the BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (Cheltenham 2.00).

Wearing a tongue-tie for the first time, Thomas Crapper put up a personal best performance on ground softer than ideal to finish sixth behind Taquin Du Seuil in the BetVictor Gold Cup seven weeks ago.

He will meet second Village Vic four pounds better off for fourteen lengths. With Charlie Poste booked to ride at ten stone, I'll look to strike an each-way wager at around 16/1 or bigger.

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all readers a very happy and prosperous new year.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Boxing Day blues

A little like Victor Meldrew I feel I must be getting old and miserable because the Boxing Day cards have just failed to inspire.

In years gone by, driven to distraction by the family Christmas, I've attended Newton Abbot and Towcester races on St Stephen's Day but unfortunately those fixtures no longer form part of the racing calendar.

The withdrawal of Coneygree has paved the way for Thistlecrack to take on stablemate Cue Card in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. A fascinating race in prospect, agreed, but with just five runners it's one to savour rather than bet on. The meagre turnout for this showpiece event is likely to be seen as something of an embarrassment in certain quarters.

A similarly small field is assured for Kempton's Christmas Hurdle where Sam Twiston-Davies will want to try and make all aboard The New One. Richard Harper has declared Gray Wolf River, rated some 104 pounds lower than The New One, in the hope of collecting place prize money; some layers have quoted odds of 5,000/1.

Hennessy form should come in handy in the next few days with Blaklion and Henri Parry Morgan declared for Monday's Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby while Native River, Carole's Destrier, Vyta Du Roc and Theatre Guide all hold entries for the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on Tuesday.

On form Blaklion looks the one to beat at Wetherby but after his fifth in the Hennessy pilot Ryan Hatch reported his charge had 'cut out' up the long home straight and connections were likely to consider a breathing operation...

Previous Welsh National winners Mountainous and Emperor's Choice will probably try to repeat the trick on Tuesday but, provided the going doesn't dry out too much, I'll take an each-way interest in Firebird Flyer.

Second in last year's race, Evan Williams' charge went on to win the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter in March and had a reasonable prep on his seasonal debut at Haydock last month. He starts from a mark eight pounds higher this time.

Looking slightly further ahead, ITV commences its racing coverage at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Richard Hoiles is the new lead commentator; I know I'm going to miss Simon Holt.

Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Ascot assignations

The decision of connections to send Thistlecrack chasing has opened up the three mile hurdle division this year.

The market may suggest Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle (2.25) is a one horse race but to me this looks more competitive than a number of recent renewals.

Lil Rockerfeller wouldn't be the most obvious one to start a preview with but back in September trainer Neil King named this race as the target for his five-year-old and ever since I've had the chestnut pencilled in for this race.

Lil,  having missed a couple of early season targets including the Silver Trophy at Chepstow, on account of quick ground, made his seasonal debut in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby where he came home third, three and a half lengths behind Silsol and subsequent Hennessy winner Native River, conceding the pair eight pounds.

Decent form and three weeks later he made Yanworth work hard enough to collect the Coral Hurdle over a trip that probably didn't play to his strengths; pilot Trevor Whelan looked to be chasing his mount for much of the final mile but the gelding kept fighting and finding more.

With Whelan currently suspended, Richard Johnson accepted the ride earlier in the week but then opted for Ballyoptic instead. That's disconcerting, as is the fact there has been no significant rainfall recently.

A more orthodox preview might begin with the chance of market leader Uknowhatimeanharry.

Unbeaten since moving to Harry Fry's yard during the summer of 2015, 'Harry' has won six on the bounce (including the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival) and has seen his official rating rise from 123 to 165; he is top-rated but is priced accordingly and looks worth opposing on grounds of value.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who has sent out six winners from six runners in the past two days, is represented by Ptit Zig and Zarkander.

The former provides a yardstick for Alex De Larredya having finished nine lengths behind the French runner in the Grand Prix D'Automne Hurdle at Auteuil last month.

Previously Ptit Zig had beaten Alex in the French Champion Hurdle at the same track - Sam Twiston-Davies will need to show better form than he did for the jump jockeys team in the Markel Champions Challenge at the London Horse Show at Olympia earlier this evening...

Reve De Sivola has won three of the last four renewals and last year finished second to Thistlecrack. That said, Nick Williams' charge celebrates his twelfth birthday in two weeks' time and is another who would have preferred more rain - the favourite would appear to hold him (and Ballyoptic) on Long Distance Hurdle form at Newbury last month.

My heart tells me Lil Rockerfeller but since Baracouda's victory in 2000 only two other five-year-olds have come home in front (My Way De Solzen in 2005 and Punchestowns in 2008) while my brain tells me Alex De Larredya is the percentage call against the favourite. Daryl Jacob's mount is generally a 6/1 chance this evening.

I couldn't believe Wolf Of Windlesham was priced up 40/1 the day before the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. I've followed Wolfie since watching him win a lowly Ludlow juvenile hurdle on his first run over the sticks in October 2015.

Rated a modest 60 on the Flat, he runs off 137 tomorrow, a mark from which he won a Sandown juvenile handicap hurdle in April and the same mark from which he started in the Greatwood where he came to grief two from home while still in with 'every chance'. By off time that day his price had contracted to 20/1 and plenty more took note of what happened.

He goes in the Ladbroke at 3.35 - now named the Wessex Youth Handicap Hurdle. I shall place a highly speculative each-way wager at odds of 16/1.

Another well-known acquaintance, Johnny Og, goes in the 1.50. In January this year Martin Keighley's inmate won over this course and distance off a mark of 116 with amateur rider Mr H Hunt claiming seven; tomorrow he starts off 138.

Johnny Og is at his best when left alone in front over two miles plus on soft ground. In a field of 15 that contains the likes of Ultragold, Captain Conan and course and distance winner Dark Flame, he's unlikely to get his own way so I'm not going to partake of the 25/1 currently on offer...

Friday, December 09, 2016

A Doncaster Boy

Looking at the runners for tomorrow's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (Cheltenham 1.50) I'm imbued with a sense of the deja vu.

Taquin Du Seuil, winner of the BetVictor Gold Cup over course and distance four weeks ago, isn't amongst the declarations but Village Vic (second), Buywise (third), Aso (fourth), Bouvreuil (fifth) and Frodon (tenth) all try again - a matter of six and a half lengths covered the first five home.

Of course, in the interim the handicapper has felt obliged to have his say...

Village Vic is now three pounds higher, Buywise one pound while both Aso and Bouvreuil start from the same mark. Frodon, beaten some 35 lengths, is effectively six pounds worse off having been raised to a mark of 149 while jockey Sam Twiston-Davies can't claim three as Harry Cobden did last month.

Art Mauresque was my selection that day; the gelding ran well enough to finish seventh on ground considered softer than ideal. Although rain is forecast for tomorrow - the official going is currently good - I did wonder whether Paul Nicholls' charge would be sent on a retrieval mission. Connections have decided not; Bouvreuil and Frodon are the two Nicholls' representatives amongst the sixteen declared.

Many considered Aso the one horse to take out of that race and any rain between now and the off would certainly help the cause but it all looks terribly cramped so instead I've decided to pop up to Doncaster for a handicap that looks only slightly less compacted.

Eleven are declared for the bet365.com Handicap Chase at 12.55 where I'm going to quickly discard a couple, although that doesn't make finding the winner much easier.

Samingarry has his first run in 531 days and Micky Hammond, trainer of Silver Tassie, has a 4.46% win strike rate this season.

Charlie Longsdon saddles Long Lunch; the trainer's last winner was on November 26 since when his figures read 0-26 while Lord Wishes has been kept busy enough in recent weeks.

Of those that remain, Valadom was eventually pulled up in As De Mee's race at Aintree last week having made a serious error at The Chair. Previously he had beaten Sego Success (third) and Ziga Boy (fifth) at Bangor.

Ziga Boy won over course and distance twice last year and appeared a little unlucky to lose pilot Thomas Bellamy at the first in the Becher Chase last week while stablemate Sego Success has always had this as the target having won last year's renewal off 139.

The betting suggests Blakemount is the pick of Sue Smith's two runners while back in November 2015 Knock House had No Duffer some 39 lengths adrift in a Cheltenham amateur riders' handicap.

The short list consists of Sego Success, Knock House, Blakemount and Ziga Boy. Knock House is the enigma on his first run for Donald McCain's yard; fourth in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham in March, he is short enough in the market to warrant plenty of respect but is passed over on his seasonal debut.

I expect to see improvement from Ziga Boy following his Bangor debut; I don't think there's that much between the pair yet Sego Success is currently priced at 7/2 and Ziga Boy 6/1. Blakemount has yet to win over further than two miles six.

Plenty in the field like to race with up with the pace -  at 6/1 with Coral and William Hill Ziga Boy is the win selection.

Finally, the mention of As De Mee above has put me in mind of a story I heard a couple of days ago. A friend of a colleague went to the Becher Chase meeting at Aintree last week. He arrived at the course in a taxi and unusually the driver, rather than taking a tip, gave his passenger one instead...

'As De Mee is the banker in the last!'

Duly noted, the individual concerned went about his business with the on-course bookmakers on a top-class card, in the process totally forgetting the words of that prescient taxi driver from the gods. As Paul Nicholls' charge took it up two from home in the finale, the individual in question could be seen holding his head in his hands - unofficial reports have suggested he was crying.

Don't be too harsh now; I've done something very similar on more than one occasion in the past.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The Betfred Becher Chase 2016

Usually I tend to prefer a horse with form over the National fences for the Betfred Becher Chase; there are plenty on offer amongst those declared for tomorrow's renewal (Aintree 1.35).

The Last Samuri finished second to Rule The World in this year's National with Ucello Conti sixth, Vieux Lion Rouge seventh and Double Ross, Aachen and Saint Are all pulled up.

Previously Double Ross had finished fifth in the 2015 Grand Sefton while Saint Are had finished second to Many Clouds in the 2015 National and then seventh behind Highland Lodge and Dare To Endeavour in this event last year (with Portrait King falling two out when appearing to have place claims).

Alvarado and Paul Moloney were fourth behind Pineau De Re in the 2014 National, making up plenty of ground in the latter stages of the race. I tipped the same pairing the following year, hoping Moloney could race a little closer to the pace but rather frustratingly the chestnut gelding ran a similar sort of race to finish fourth once again...

Of those named, Ucello Conti looks weighted to come home in front of The Last Samuri while Dare To Endeavour starts off a mark only one pound higher than last year.

A couple of those without experience over the National fences have had this as their target for some time including Ziga Boy (went to Bangor after missing Wincanton's Badger Ales Trophy on account of quick ground) and Silvergrove who had previously finished third in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham.

In the Weekender dated 09-13.11.16 handler Ben Pauling said of the latter:

'He's the best jumper I've ever had to deal with... The aim this season is the Grand National and I think he's the type of horse who would really take to it. We'll have to get his mark up to get in that race but hopefully he'll manage that.'

He currently races off a mark of 138; plan A is clearly to raise that rating with a bold showing in tomorrow's race.

In similar vein Lucinda Russell said of One For Arthur in last week's Weekender:

'He excites me as much as anything in the yard... I'm sure he'd go well over the National fences as his jumping has never been better - I consider myself very lucky to have a horse who jumps so well.'

With a strike rate of 19.27% Neil Mulholland has his team in fine form - bet365 Gold Cup winner The Young Master is respected but is another who missed the Badger Ales on account of quick ground and doesn't have the benefit of a recent run to his name.

From the all-conquering Tizzard yard Viconte Du Noyer posted notice of his well-being with victory at Cheltenham three weeks ago (Alvarado sixth, both Cogry and Midnight Prayer brought down by a loose horse running across the twelfth fence in a nasty-looking incident) while Sizing Coal is an interesting runner over from Ireland who may just prefer more cut underfoot.

In recent years the race has tended to go the way of an older horse with the corresponding experience - Hello Bud won in 2010 and 2012 aged 12 and then 14 while Oscar Time took the 2014 renewal at the age of 13.

The race still has the look of a bookmakers' benefit event - you pays your money and takes your choice.

I buy into the Silvergrove story so suggest a small each-way wager on Silvergrove at 14/1 or bigger; bet365, Bet Victor and Paddy Power are amongst the layers offering a quarter the odds five places.