Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - a brief debrief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

Midlands Grand National 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in the event the meeting is abandoned?

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Spinner will face plenty of stiff competition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Spinner is the win selection.

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

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

Monday, March 12, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Wednesday

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

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

On Monday evening the going is described as heavy.

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

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

Vision Des Flos is the each-way selection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.50 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Last year I wrote:

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

Flying Tiger won off a mark of 134.

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

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

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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 - Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 09, 2018

Sandown's Imperial Cup 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Two have caught my eye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less than four days to go now...

Friday, March 02, 2018

Festival longshots in freezing temperatures

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 23, 2018

Kempton's Betdaq Handicap Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Feeling snookered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digression over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That leaves Yala Enki and Sir Mangan.

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

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

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

Friday, February 09, 2018

Newbury's Betfair Hurdle 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two have caught my eye.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 02, 2018

Trials and tribulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 26, 2018

Cheltenham Trials Day 2018

Tomorrow's Cheltenham Festival Trials Day should provide punters with plenty of pointers for the main event which is now less than seven weeks away.

Connections of runners in the Cotswold Chase (2.25) will also be looking for some insights from a race that looks far more open than a cursory glance at the market might initially indicate.

Favourite Bristol De Mai trounced his field in Haydock's Betfair Chase back in November but his price for this has drifted noticeably during the week. After he failed to fire in the King George over Christmas, he was diagnosed to be suffering from ulcers and has received the appropriate treatment.

From a trends perspective, Bristol looks one to take on. The last time the favourite obliged was in 1999 (Cyfor Malta) while Exotic Dancer's victory in 2007 was the last time a horse younger than nine years of age came home in front.

Unlike several in the field Bristol De Mai has shown he can act at this track - he finished 20 lengths seventh behind Sizing John in the Gold Cup last March - but his very best form has come on soft or heavy ground; I just wonder to what extent the ground at Cheltenham has dried out over the past couple of days.

At the time of writing Stan James offer 15/8.

Of course, identifying an opposable favourite is barely half the battle. The next four in the market have no noteworthy form over the Cheltenham fences.

Both The Last Samuri and American have their first run here. The former has victories at Doncaster and Kempton on the cv and receives weight from all his opponents except Singlefarmpayment; the latter is known to be fragile with connections openly admitting this is a retrieval mission after a poor display in the Hennessy. Sent off favourite that day American was done no favours by the standing start (my tip, Label Des Obeaux, suffered similarly) but had looked impressive last season when winning at Warwick and then giving Rock The Kasbah six pounds and an eight length beating at Uttoxeter.

Definitly Red was pulled up in the 2015 Albert Bartlett Hurdle and then the 2016 Festival four miler. He beat The Last Samuri 14 lengths in last year's Grimthorpe at Doncaster but Kim Bailey's charge was out of sorts at the time.

Tea For Two, third in the King George, got no further than the second fence in last year's Gold Cup but three weeks later went out and beat Cue Card a neck in the Aintree Bowl, recording his first win on a left-handed track in the process.

Nick Williams' charge was over-excited by the preliminaries in the Gold Cup; connections will be doing their utmost to ensure Tea For Two reaches the start without any mishaps tomorrow so they can watch their horse run on its merits and then make a decision about participation in this year's renewal.

The horses with form over the Cheltenham fences are those the punters appear to have rejected; Perfect Candidate, Singlefarmpayment and Theatre Guide are course and distance winners.

Perfect Candidate tries blinkers for the first time but the yard is going through a quiet spell while Theatre Guide has some decent efforts to his name and has undergone a wind operation since finishing a well-beaten third behind Present Man in the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton.

Singlefarmpayment took a crunching fall when making ground up the home straight in the Hennessy and connections have indicated their charge will be ridden more positively tomorrow; he's the lowest- rated in the field on official ratings and has enough to find to be competitive.

A rather trappy affair; a bit of a fudge, I know, but I'm going to take an each-way interest in Tea For Two at 9/1. If he runs his race and takes to the track he holds a chance of coming home in front. On the other hand...

Like many, I'll be watching the Cleeve (3.35) - as well as all the other races - notebook in hand. With due respect to those concerned, it seems a number of handlers have identified this year's Stayers' Hurdle as a weaker affair than normal.

Sam Spinner currently heads the market on the back of an impressive win in Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle last month but Jedd O'Keefe's charge has never run on anything quicker than good to soft and there's a fair chance the ground will ride quicker than that in six and a half weeks' time.

A decent showing tomorrow is likely to see a contraction in the best prices currently shown below for the Stayers' Hurdle:

Finian's Oscar 12/1
Wholestone 16/1
Beer Goggles 20/1
The Worlds End 25/1
Thomas Campbell 25/1
Colin's Sister 33/1
Ex Patriot 66/1

In particular Finian's Oscar may not have taken to fences this season but Team Tizzard have maintained their charge still retains a 'massive engine'.

Mulchays Hill brings the best form into the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (3.00). Tikkanbar faces a tough task conceding weight to the majority of his opponents; he's a decent prospect but his hurdling remains a work in progress.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Another one of those...

The other day I was debating an incident in a televised football match with a friend of mine; he took a particular point of view and I put the opposite case. He could see where I was coming from but quite clearly didn't agree and, by way of conclusion, said, 'Well, it's just one of those, isn't it?'

Fatigued, I agreed, it was one of those but I don't really know what I agreed to when I agreed it was one of those.

I've heard jockeys use the same phrase when discussing races and race-riding incidents. I recall Sam Twiston-Davies in a TV interview saying 'It's one of those,' accompanying the utterance with an ever-so-slight shrug of the shoulders, as if to say, yes, it is one of those and...

ITV Racing has recently developed a penchant for sticking a microphone in the face of a mud-splattered jock who has just trailed in last on a 14/1 shot beaten over 74 lengths - the sort of tip I put up on a regular basis - and as he makes his beleaguered way back to the sanctuary of the weighing room, out pops a reporter and simply says 'Well?' in a presumptive, inquisitive sort of a manner.

The unfortunate jock, door-stepped, bewildered and now mighty keen to weigh in, might well reply 'It's one of those.'

I was impressed the other day when I think it was Aidan Coleman who said 'It's a bit of a mystery,' although obviously not in the sense that Anthony Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolates Case, for example, is a bit of a mystery.

Now I liked that reply. It struck a chord. Here I am, backing these horses with my very own money and a jock who has just dismounted from a beast that's been beaten a distance and a half doesn't have much of a clue as to why it ran such a stinker.

Clearly, it's just one of those.

For those who have made it this far, here's one of these which, on the balance of probabilities, is more likely to end up another one of those.

Several usual suspects are amongst the fourteen declared for the Ascot Spring Garden Show Holloway's Handicap Hurdle (Ascot 2.25). In recent weeks I've tipped Air Horse One and Whatmore and they've disappointed me and, no doubt, you if you went and backed them.

Air Horse One didn't take off at the fourth flight over a two mile trip here last month and that was the end of his chance. Subsequently handler Harry Fry told the Weekender:

'But let's not kid ourselves, he's a badly handicapped horse.'

Whatmore ruined his chance in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year's Day by refusing to settle. Connections fit a hood for the first time; Henry Daly isn't one to overface his charges.

Jenkins came good in first-time blinkers last week, making all to win at Kempton. After the event the handicapper raised him from a mark of 132 to 143; James Bowen claims five tomorrow but Nicky Henderson's charge is short enough in the market and tries this trip for the first time.

At Sandown last month A Hare Breath, trained by Ben Pauling, beat Caid Du Lin (second), Crossed My Mind (third), Man Of Plenty (fifth) and Jenkins (seventh).

On that same day the Pauling-trained Le Breuil conceded nineteen pounds to Black Ivory at Aintree and was beaten six lengths; Black Ivory went in again at Warwick last weekend. In the Weekender 25-29.10.17 the handler says:

'...I'd like to think his current mark of 139 is very fair and he could be top drawer.'

The market doesn't seem to agree but on Sandown running there wouldn't be a lot between Crossed My Mind, Caid Du Lin and Man Of Plenty; on a line through Magic Dancer, Oxwich Bay and Man Of Plenty look closely matched.

The Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle over two miles here in December throws up form lines. Hunters Call won that day with Man Of Plenty fifth, Caid Du Lin twelfth and Air Horse One fifteenth following that howler at the fourth referenced above.

At the age of nine Man Of Plenty is the oldest runner in the field but he boasts form behind Misterton and Limited Reserve who was beaten into second by Elgin in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Ascot in November with High Bridge third and Air Horse One fourth.

Night Of Sin merits a mention on two counts. Firstly I haven't had one in a while and secondly Nick Williams has sent out four winners from nine runners in the past week.

Nicky Henderson's second string Burbank has been out of form - connections try cheekpieces for the first time.

14/1 Air Horse One is quite tempting but I'm put off by top weight. At an each-way price Caid du Lin and Man Of Plenty are considered; on Uttoxeter form Vivas is closely matched with the latter but Charlie Longsdon's horse doesn't want it too soft.

Many Of Plenty is the each-way selection; at the time of writing he's 20/1 with Coral who pay one fifth the odds four places.

Two points to conclude.

As of today racecards will notify the first time a horse runs after undergoing wind surgery, signified by a  'W' after the beast's name. I happen to know a few people who'd benefit from a wind operation but I'm not so certain they'd be chuffed with a 'W' appearing after their moniker.

Secondly, I haven't yet forgiven myself for failing to back Mirsaale at Kelso last Sunday. Third in the Persian War Hurdle in 2016 and then beaten by Moon Racer at Cheltenham, Keith Dalgleish's charge bounced back to form with a bang, winning at odds of 33/1.

It's another one of those.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Warwick whims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, January 05, 2018

The rescheduled Coral Welsh Grand National 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's a wide open event.

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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Notes on Cheltenham's New Year's Day card 2018

To quote Alfred Tennyson:

"... but Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come
Whispering 'It will be happier;'"

I certainly hope so.

The Relkeel Hurdle (3.10) is the highlight on tomorrow's card but the race doesn't make much appeal as a betting medium; for that matter, neither does the Dipper Novices' Chase (1.25) or the Watch Live Racing on Handicap Chase (12.50) - several of the five day declarations also hold entries for next Saturday's re-arranged Welsh National at Chepstow.

In recent years the market has proved a reasonable guide to the BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (2.00); since 2008 just two winners have obliged at odds bigger than 8/1 - Stan in 2009 at 14/1 and last year Shantou Flyer at 20/1.

Shantou Flyer beat Top Gamble (third) and Quite By Chance (sixth) twelve months ago so the fact Shantou is generally quoted a 16/1 chance for tomorrow's renewal indicates he has been bang out of form recently. He was pulled up behind Get On The Yager in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day; connections try first-time cheekpieces tomorrow and the step back in trip could help.

Another outsider Viconte Du Noyer finished sixty lengths behind Splash Of Ginge in the BetVictor Gold Cup here six weeks ago (Theinval falling at the first). His second behind Sizing Granite at the Punchestown Festival reads well.

Of the market leaders Splash of Ginge's stablemate Ballyhill is probably the least exposed but his fall at Aintree last time is off-putting.

The opening Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (12.15) has triggered interest.

Springtown Lake, officially rated 139, sets the standard, having finished second to On The Blind Side at Sandown last month. The form of the Hobbs yard remains a cause for concern.

Ainchea is clearly well-regarded, as is Harry Fry's Onefortheroadtom. Early in the autumn Warren Greatrex was asked to nominate one from another yard to keep an eye on and this one was his selection. In the Weekender (28.12.17-01.01.18) Fry states:

"We went to Exeter in October to give him his first experience under rules and it was a terrific effort to edge out Lalor in a hot contest - the first three home are all rated above 130. Unfortunately I got it wrong next time at Worcester as the track was too tight for him, so you can ignore that effort."

[Lalor is currently rated 133, Kilbricken Storm 147 after finishing third behind Poetic Rhythm in the Challow.]

Aye Aye Charlie is given every respect having finished third behind On The Blind Side at Aintree in April, beaten eight and threequarter lengths. He fell three from home in the race won by On The Blind Side at the Open meeting here in November.

Tikkanbar won a Plumpton novice by 19 lengths, looks an assured stayer and could be anything but this event has been won by a five or six-year-old in the previous five renewals while Whatmore, with an official rating of 132, was only beaten one and a quarter lengths into fourth at Haydock the last day - I'm hoping the step up in trip suits.

At the time of writing BetVictor and Paddy Power offer 12/1 Whatmore. Provided I manage to get up in time tomorrow morning and there are still the eight runners I'll have an each-way wager on Whatmore.

I'd like to wish all readers a very happy and prosperous new year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Welsh Grand National 2017

A very quick look at tomorrow's Welsh Grand National at Chepstow; the official going is currently heavy, soft in places, and the meeting is subject to a 7.30am precautionary inspection.

Eight of the last ten winners have carried 11-0 or less.

When Native River won last year's renewal (with Raz De Maree second, Houblon Des Obeaux third, Vicente sixth, Bishops Road tenth and Milansbar pulled up), he became the first horse to carry top weight to victory since Carvill's Hill in 1991.

Taking riders' allowances into consideration, I've concentrated on runners set to carry 11-0 or less with some sort of previous form at this track.

Raz De Maree has a couple of eye-catching warm-up runs to his name and it's unlikely there's another Native River in this field. I've seen Gavin Crowelll's charge tipped up here and there; he's generally a 20/1 shot but celebrates thirteen years of age on Monday.

Wild West Wind beat Milansbar two and threequarter lengths into third in the Welsh Grand National Trial on heavy ground here two and a half weeks ago. The winner has gone up four pounds for that; Milansbar ran in snatches that day and connections have decided to apply first-time cheekpieces.

Buckhorn Timothy is at the right end of the handicap. He didn't jump well when sent off co-favourite for the 2016 running of the Welsh Grand National Trial and after that flop wasn't seen again until winning a three and a quarter mile hurdle at Fontwell in October. He followed up with another win over the smaller obstacles at Wincanton which just makes me suspicious he may have lost confidence in the jumping department...

Of the four on the short-list, Wild West Wind is potentially the least exposed. Wild West Wind, generally a 12/1 shot, is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas jumpers

On official ratings tomorrow's Long Walk Hurdle (2.25 Ascot) looks at the mercy of last year's winner Unowhatimeanharry but his price has been steadily on the drift (out to 2/1 now) and the manner of the defeat by Beer Goggles last time has allowed room for the doubts to set in.

There's a school of thought that 'Harry', ten years old in a week or so, isn't the horse he once was.

Those looking to oppose are unlikely to be bowled over by the prices on offer.

The layers don't appear keen to take too many chances. Sam Spinner, with a record of four wins and two seconds from his six hurdle starts to date, is rated some 12 pounds inferior to the favourite yet is priced as low as 13/2 with Ladbrokes.

I like the Long Walk but this year's renewal looks difficult. Instead I've opted for an each-way chance in the concluding Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at 3.35.

Since the race's inception in 2001, no horse older than seven has secured victory and neither has one carrying top weight; last year Brain Power won under a burden of 11-11.

Elgin heads the handicap this year having won the listed William Hill Handicap Hurdle over course and distance at the beginning of last month (Air Horse One fourth, Verdana Blue fifth and Caid Du Lin seventh) and then following up in the Greatwood at Cheltenham two weeks later (Nietzsche sixth, Chesterfield tenth).

According to calculations I've carried out on the back of a discarded fag packet, Air Horse One is closely matched with both Elgin and, on a line through High Bridge, Charli Parcs, although the latter-named could well improve for his seasonal debut.

That said, Noel Fehily has ridden both Charli Parcs and Air Horse One; he was aboard the former at Newbury the last day and rides Air Horse One tomorrow.

Handler Harry Fry knows what's required - his Jolly's Cracked It dead-heated with Sternrubin last year (N. Fehily up) - and he should also have a decent idea where he lies with Air Horse One, Misterton finishing a neck second to Elgin in the Greatwood. Nicky Henderson has stated that both Charli Parcs and the mare Verdana Blue would appreciate slightly better ground.

Divin Bere, with Bryony Frost claiming five, warrants every respect; he has not been seen since finishing second in the Fred Winter and then second behind Defi Du Seuil at Aintree in April.

Seamus Mullins saddles two. Fergall ran a stormer to finish third in this last year at odds of 25/1 while Chesterfield came home eighth. The latter went on to win the Scottish Champion Hurdle but his comeback run in the Greatwood was a tad disappointing.

At the very bottom of the handicap Man Of Plenty has form behind Misterton, Limited Reserve (second in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle) and A Hare Breath which may suggest he could outrun his current odds of 66/1 (Betfair) but I'm conscious that in recent weeks blog selections have all been running like the proverbial drain...

I was taken with Air Horse One on his penultimate run here in the William Hill; Air Horse One is the each-way suggestion, available generally at 12/1 a quarter the odds four places.

On Boxing Day Bristol De Mai goes for the second leg of the £1 million bonus in the King George at Kempton.

His Racing Post rating of 189 is 11 points ahead of nearest rivals Fox Norton and Thistlecrack. That said, in a piece earlier in the week David Ashworth indicated the horse has shown his very best form on soft / heavy ground...

The going at Kempton is currently good to soft. Clerk of the course Barney Clifford states:

"I've two different forecasts, one with 20mm [of rain] and one with 5mm, so I have no idea... It's really volatile and sporadic - to have two forecasts so far apart, it's like the north and south pole. All I can do is tell people where we are."

Something to think about while the relatives squabble over Christmas dinner...

Season's greetings.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Diverted to Doncaster

There's top class fare on offer on the second day of the International meeting at Cheltenham tomorrow.

Anyone interested in a wager in the Caspian Gold Cup at 1.55 will have had a close look at the BetVictor Gold Cup run at the track four weeks ago; Splash Of Ginge collected the spoils ahead of Starchitect (second), Le Prezien (third), Ballyalton (fourth), Roman De Senam (fifth), Foxtail Hill (eighth) and Guitar Pete (ninth).

Splash Of Ginge was raised five pounds for that effort and now races off 139 - on New Year's Day 2015 he won off a mark of 145. To my mind Starchitect, beaten just a neck, threw away his chance with poor jumps at the final two flights.

I tipped Foxtail Hill that day. He adopted his customary role at the head of affairs but his jumping was nowhere near as slick as we'd seen when he won the Randox Health Handicap Chase over a trip of two miles at the track in October. On the final circuit it looked as though he was struggling to jump out the ground which was officially described as soft and looked particularly tiring.

Tomorrow's going is described as soft, good to soft in places and the contest for the lead may not be quite so hard-fought as the last day; this race is run over the slightly stiffer new course.

Handler Nigel Twiston-Davies has talked up the chance of Splash Of Ginge; I was (and still am) prepared to give Foxtail Hill another chance and was in the process of checking out a price (14/1) when I was serendipitously sidetracked by one in the finale at Doncaster.

Anthony Honeyball's Solstice Son went into the notebook recently on the back of these comments in last week's Weekender:

"It's not often you make the long drive home after your horse has pulled up and you feel quietly pleased, but that was exactly how I felt after this horse's reappearance at Cheltenham last month. He ran a stormer for the first two and a half miles before he cut out as if the tank had hit empty. Will [Biddick] looked after him, but it was so pleasing to watch him run as he didn't half look decent. He'll do better on decent ground and will be competitive from 2m6f to 3m. I think he should come into his own in the spring when the winter ground is gone."

Now, I didn't expect to see him out quite so soon but the ground at Doncaster is officially good, good to soft in places.

He faces some stiff-looking opposition including the 2015 winner Sego Success and Viriglio, beaten over a shorter trip at Aintree last time out. A couple in the field - Ballybolley and Vibrato Valtat - have done most of their racing over shorter trips and this is Kilcrea Vale's first attempt at three miles.

Course and distance winner Killala Quay is talented but inconsistent - connections will be hoping first time blinkers help the cause - while What Happens Now has been kept on the go since June.

At 14/1 Solstice Son is the each-way selection in the bet365 Handicap Chase at Doncaster.