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.

                                         2015          2016         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 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.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Newbury's Hennessy Gold Cup 2016

Some old friends and foes amongst the twenty declared for the 60th running of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury tomorrow (3.10).

The roll call of previous winners includes several illustrious names: Mandarin (1957, 1961); Mill House (1963); Arkle (1964, 1965); Stalbridge Colonist (1966); Spanish Steps (1969); Bregawn (1982); Brown Chamberlin (1983); Burrough Hill Lad (1984); Playschool (1987); One Man (1994); Suny Bay (1997) and Denman (2007, 2009).

Since 2000 Denman is the only horse older than eight to have come home in front.

Last year's winner Smad Place tries again but faces a stiff task off a mark 11 pounds higher (166); by contrast Saphir Du Rheu, fifth last year, appears to have been given every chance off a rating 10 pounds lower (153). I may well be proven wrong but regular readers will know I don't think Saphir jumps well enough in a big field to win a race like this.

The leading horses in the betting have form lines with each other.

Favourite Native River was beaten fair and square by Blaklion in the Towton Novices' Chase at Wetherby last February. After that result Colin Tizzard opted for the easier route at the Cheltenham Festival, fitting his charge with first-time cheekpieces for the four miler while Blaklion won the RSA Chase for Twiston-Davies at that meeting (Vyta Du Roc fifth, beaten ten and a half lengths).

Three and a half weeks later Native River reversed the Wetherby form in Aintree's Mildmay Novices' Chase beating Blaklion into third (Henri Parry Morgan second, Un Temps Pour Tout fourth).

Henri Parry Morgan hasn't been seen since unseating Sean Bowen in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in April (Hadrian's Approach sixth, Theatre Guide eighth and Carole's Destrier eleventh) but Un Temps Pour Tout posted notice of his well-being three weeks ago by making all in a four runner hurdle to beat Vyta Du Roc eighteen lengths into third.

Taking the Cheltenham form as a benchmark, Vyta Du Roc looks closely matched with Blaklion in receipt of eleven pounds while on Aintree form Henri Parry Morgan has five pounds in hand over Native River for a three length defeat.

Vicente comes into the reckoning on the back of his win in the Scottish National (Vyta Du Roc fifth). Previously Paul Nicholls' inmate finished just under fourteen lengths behind Native River in the Festival four miler where he was hampered by a loose horse three from home. His fitness and well-being have to be taken on trust but at 20/1 he makes some appeal as an each-way wager.     

Second last year, Theatre Guide has each-way claims - off 149 he's ten pounds higher this time around - and Carole's Destrier would have been of more interest with a run under his belt. This one was fifth on his seasonal debut in Wincanton's Badger Ales last year before winning the London National at Sandown - four of his five wins to date have come on right-handed tracks.

Houblon Des Obeaux has been tipped up here and  there but I feel his best chance may have already passed - regular pilot Aidan Coleman rides Upswing for J. P. McManus.

A very open, competitive renewal for which I have two each-way suggestions:

Blaklion - Paddy Power have taken a position offering 11/1 at the time of writing and pay a quarter the odds five places - and Vicente available at 20/1 generally.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Ascot's Coral Hurdle 2016

Menorah's withdrawal leaves just six set to go to post for tomorrow's feature, the Betfair Chase at Haydock; the going is currently described as soft, heavy in places.

I'll watch with interest but I'm not going to play.

On ratings Cue Card is six pounds well in with nearest rival Coneygree who has his first run in over a year. Richard Johnson claims the plum ride aboard the 2015 Gold Cup winner, leaving Aidan Coleman, originally booked, on the sidelines. 

Plenty think Cue Card will show improvement from his seasonal debut in the Charlie Hall Chase where he finished third behind Irish Cavalier and Menorah. He may well do but in six short weeks he's going to celebrate his 11th birthday (as will old rival Silviniaco Conti); his price is short enough, even though it has drifted in recent days.

Course and distance winner Seeyouatmidnight will have conditions to suit but the odds on offer don't make much appeal; on ratings he has 22 pounds to find with Cue Card.

In contrast the betting for Ascot's Coral Hurdle at 2.40 suggests Yanworth is the one yet on ratings there is little to choose between the five contestants.

Using top weight Lil Rockerfeller as the benchmark on 160, adjusted ratings read as follows: Court Minstrel 157; Yanworth 158; Garde La Victoire 159; Zarkandar 161.

In addition, Yanworth is the only runner making his seasonal debut.

No doubt the bullish noises coming out of the King yard in the build-up will have contributed to the current price about the favourite. The trainer has said that after this he'll know which route to take - the Champion Hurdle or the World Hurdle. The question for those looking to oppose is: with what?

Zarkander is best at the weights yet I still recall how he folded after the last in 2014 Long Walk Hurdle; he has six furlongs less to travel here but at the age of nine he may just be vulnerable to a younger opponent. He last won in April 2013.

Lil Rockerfeller is as tough as old boots. Connections have had a last-minute change of mind, deciding to come here rather than go to Newbury next week; they are convinced the step back in trip will not be a problem. The plan is the Long Walk at Ascot next month.

Garde La Victoire is another tough customer who won the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las on his seasonal debut before being beaten a short head in the Haldon Gold Cup. He reverts to the smaller obstacles; regular pilot Richard Johnson is otherwise engaged at Haydock.

Court Minstrel is priced up the outsider of the field with most of his winning form coming on good ground.

I'm torn between Garde La Victoire and Lil Rockerfeller; both are best-priced 8/1 at the time of writing. Since 1990 only three five-year-olds have collected the spoils - Muse (1992), No Refuge (2005) and Annie Power (2013). Garde La Victoire is the play against Yanworth.

Back at Haydock I was tempted to take a small each-way interest in Western Cape in the 'Fixed Brush' handicap hurdle at 2.25.

I've followed this one for a while. He was put in his place by Duke Des Champs at Ascot last season but ran creditably on his seasonal reappearance and will love the ground. Kevin Jones claims five but the fancy prices disappeared when he was tipped up elsewhere earlier in the week and the stable looks out of form.

Friday, November 11, 2016

BetVictor Gold Cup 2016

Nineteen have been declared for tomorrow's BetVictor Gold Cup (2.25 Cheltenham) where the sponsors are paying a quarter the odds six places.

I've had a couple of close calls in this event in recent years with John's Spirit beaten a head by Caid Du Berlais in 2014 and last year Buywise finishing a fast-diminishing half length behind Annacotty after a number of trademark errors on the way round. Of course, as advertisements for financial products are always at pains to point out, past performance is no guide whatsoever to performance in the future.

Annacotty, Buywise and Art Mauresque (sixth) try again this year with both Annacotty and Art Mauresuque racing off a 12 pounds higher mark (159) while Buywise starts five pounds higher off 153; Annacotty bids to join a select band of just two horses that have won this event in consecutive seasons: Half Free in 1984 and 1985 and Bradbury Star in 1993 and 1994.

Of the trio Art Mauresque is possibly the most interesting - it was a fine effort for a five-year-old last year, beaten just seven lengths. Now aged six, we can reasonably expect some improvement from Paul Nicholls' charge but the handicapper has raised him nine pounds for a win at Chepstow five weeks ago where he just held Double Shuffle a head. That day he idled badly after going on three from home and I'd imagine Nick Scholfield will bide his time a little longer if the horse is in with a shout tomorrow. Quoting the handler:

"He is difficult to gauge as last season there was a point when you thought he had reached his peak, but he has won his last two starts. He is in really good nick and looks like he has improved again."

Art Mauresque is one of four from Ditcheat; Nicholls has won this twice in the past four years.

Frodon is short enough in the market for a race that has never been won by a four-year-old but he claims the age allowance and pilot Harry Cobden takes another three pounds off his back. Connections have stated that, mentally, the horse is tough and certainly doesn't ride like a four-year-old.

As De Mee's second behind More Of That at this meeting last year would suggest the former is particularly well in in receipt of fifteen pounds from that rival but I harbour doubts and a slight suspicion As De Mee prefers to race right-handed - his four wins to date have come at Sandown (twice), Leicester and Fontwell. Bouvreuil completes the quartet of Nicholls runners.

Jonjo O'Neill boasts a good record in the race having won it twice in the past decade with Exotic Dancer (2006) and Johns Spirit (2013); this year he saddles two high class course and distance winners in More Of That and Taquin Du Seuil. Of the former the handler says:

"AP (Tony McCoy) rode him last Monday morning and said he would come back for this fellow. That's the sort of feeling he gives you at home."

Colin Tizzard saddles two for his new owners Ann and Alan Potts; Tom O'Brien has chosen Sizing Granite.

Cyfor Malta gave a stand-out performance in the 2002 renewal, carrying 11-09 to victory at the ripe old age of nine. Since then Little Josh is the only horse older than seven to have won and just three have carried over 11-0 to victory - Our Vic (11-07 in 2005), Exotic Dancer (11-02 in 2006) and Al Ferof (11-08 in 2012). For those who prefer a trends-based approach, those stats quickly knock out more than half the field.

This year's renewal is a particularly open affair. Only one favourite has obliged since 2006 but More Of That would be my idea of the winner; on the back of his fine effort in sixth last year, Art Mauresque (14/1 in places) is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 04, 2016

A selection for the Badger Ales Trophy

Really pushed for time...

The Young Master returns to Wincanton for the first time following his 'victory' in this race two years ago - a race he wasn't actually qualified to run in; trainer Neil Mulholland also saddles Carole's Destrier and Fingerontheswitch at the bottom of the handicap.

Paul Nicholls has declared two - Present Man and Southfield Theatre.

In the bet365Gold Cup at Sandown in April The Young Master beat Southfield Theatre (fourth) and stablemate Carole's Destrier (eleventh).

In the past ten years the market has proved a reasonable guide. I'm looking for a reasonable each-way chance and Alan King's course and distance winner Ziga Boy fits the bill. The grey will handle the ground and was the subject of  a decent write-up in King's Stable Tour in the Weekender.

At 16/1 in places Ziga Boy is the each-way selection.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Ascot's Sodexo Gold Cup 2016

A feature of this week has been the mixed messages coming from connections of Saphir Du Rheu, with owner Andy Stewart appearing to indicate the gelding was set to make his seasonal debut in Wetherby's West Yorkshire Hurdle while trainer Paul Nicholls favoured the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot; the horse also held an entry for the Charlie Hall Chase.

Saphir goes to Ascot tomorrow (3.35) where the going is officially good, good to firm in places.

In the Weekender Andrew King writes:

'...and [Saphir Du Rheu] has looked a different horse in his work at Manor Farm so far this autumn.'

I've never really been convinced by Saphir's jumping over fences - last year's Hennessy effort sticks in the mind - and all his chase wins to date have come in fields with less than ten runners.

Feltham winner Tea For Two looks short enough in the market even with Lizzie Kelly's five pound claim while Voix D'Eau ran well on his seasonal reappearance at Chepstow but isn't guaranteed to stay the trip.

In the past ten years only three horses have carried more than 11-0 to victory: Roll Along (2008), Massini's Maguire (2010) and Houblon Des Obeaux (2013); in the same timeframe no horse has won carrying more than 11-03.

Two trainers in fine form at the moment are Colin Tizzard and Tom George with win strike rates for the season of 16.05% and 19.78% respectively.

Three weeks ago Buckhorn Timothy looked to have made progress when second at Chepstow behind Potters Cross, holding A Good Skin one and threequarter lengths (Killala Quay pulled up). Rivalry is renewed tomorrow with A Good Skin, second in the Kim Muir at the Festival in March, three pounds better off. The form was given a further boost yesterday when fifth Buachaill Alainn turned out to take the Durham National at Sedgefield.

The pair look closely matched. A Good Skin, best-priced 15/2 with Stan James at the time of writing, has the better form in the book but I am tempted by the 12/1 on offer about Colin Tizzard's inmate.

A Good Skin is the selection.

Over at Wetherby Cue Card is the one to beat in the Charlie Hall but the race makes little appeal as a betting medium while the preceding West Yorkshire Hurdle should prove informative but looks particularly trappy beforehand.

After a visit to Robin Dickin's yard last week I note the stable has two entries over the weekend - Thomas Crapper in the opener at Ascot and Dontminddboys in the 2.10 at Carlisle on Sunday.

Thomas was well behind over the smaller obstacles in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow three weeks ago where Crimson Ark finished second to Ballyoptic; I think this is probably the last chance Thomas has to race as a novice. On ratings the top five are closely matched; with Crimson Ark making his chase debut, Remind Me Later having his third chase start and San Benedeto his fourth, at around 12/1 Robin Dickin's inmate is probably overpriced.

Dontminddboys is a tall, striking grey who certainly caught my eye - a chaser in the making. He returns to action in a novices' handicap hurdle following a long lay-off through injury.

And finally, just in case you missed it, my old friend Johnny Og (PG's Tips, passim) scored at odds of 11/2 on his seasonal debut at Stratford yesterday...

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sixty not out

Sixty tomorrow.

To celebrate, Mrs Tips booked me a breakfast / stable tour at Robin Dickin's yard this morning. A brilliant insight - but I've only just finished writing up my notes.

All of which means I haven't studied form for Cheltenham tomorrow.

A birthday tip? I'm a big fan of the Wolf Of Windlesham but, in receipt of eight pounds and with a race under his belt a fortnight ago, Gibralfaro is the play against favourite Adrien Du Pont in the 3.00 race...

Friday, October 14, 2016

A teatime tip

Tesco's online customers may have struggled to get their PG Tips recently; I'm happy to report there have been no such problems here...

The continuing dry weather has meant that a number of high profile horses are set to miss intended engagements this weekend but at the time of writing the Nicky Henderson trained pair - My Tent Or Yours and Hargam - are both declared for the Listed Hurdle at Kempton on Sunday.

I put up Lil Rockerfeller for last week's Silver Trophy at Chepstow but in the event Neil King;s inmate wasn't allowed to take his chance and connections have opted not to run in this Saturday's Welsh Champion Hurdle (Ffos Las 4.10).

Welsh Shadow, trained by the in-form Dan Skelton and owned by Dai Walters, heads the market and has been talked up over the summer but this is no walk in the park; Garde La Victoire may have struggled over the larger obstacles towards the end of last season but he sets a very high standard.

Regular readers will know that last season Johnny Og, after foiling a cunning plan of mine, went on to right that particular wrong by obliging at a nice price in a Newbury novices' chase.

Martin Keighley's charge held a five-day entry for tomorrow's totequadpot Four Places In Four Races Handicap Chase (Stratford 3.15), worth over £15,000 to the winner. Johnny boasts previous winning form at the course but he hasn't been declared, presumably on account of the ground.

All of which led me to take a closer look at this race.

Gordon Elliott sends over Mountain King from Ireland; this one heads the market but I've noted that four of his five wins have come at right-handed tracks (Perth twice, Ludlow and Ascot one apiece) while his Warwick win in 2013 was in a bumper.

Both No Likey and Roman Flight have been busy over the summer - Roman Flight has had no less than ten runs since early May. At the age of eleven What A Laugh is probably past his best and No Buts has done most of his racing on soft ground which leaves Mont Royale and Top Cat Henry as potential plays against the favourite.

The former, owned by Phil Tufnell Racing Limited, won a Class 3 event at Worcester the last day and as a result has a seven pound penalty to carry.

Last year Top Cat Henry won a handicap chase at Fontwell before finishing threequarters of a length second to Carrigmorna King in this race; connections have opted to follow the same route again this year.

Henry looked unlucky when being badly hampered and brought down by eventual winner Antony at Fontwell a fortnight ago; the silver lining is he starts off a mark four pounds higher than last year.

With Dr Richard Newland's current win strike rate over 24%, Top Cat Henry, generally a 7/2 shot, is the suggested play against the favourite.

In the event he obliges, the teas are on me. Every little helps.