Friday, April 21, 2017

Scottish Grand National 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Haydock challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 07, 2017

Aintree Grand National 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Aintree 2017 - Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Kylemore Lough and Royal Regatta come here fresh.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Aintree 2017 - Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 31, 2017

Suasive suggestions for Ascot's Sunday card?

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

It does happen very, very occasionally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Newbury 'mare?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - the betting debrief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Friday's Gold Cup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two selections for the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup:

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

Reverse forecast anyone?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Royal Vacation is the each-way selection.

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

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

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

Special Tiara is the each-way selection.

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

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

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballyandy is the selection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footpad is the each-way selection.

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

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - the calm before the storm

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

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

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

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


TUESDAY


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


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


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

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

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



WEDNESDAY


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


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


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


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


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


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


THURSDAY


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


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


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


FRIDAY


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


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


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


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


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


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

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.