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 BetBright.com 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.

Friday, December 08, 2017

A suggestion for Sandown

Uncertainty over the weather means inspections are scheduled at Sandown, Aintree and Chepstow tomorrow morning.

The covers are down at Sandown where an inspection will take place at 8.00am for the Tingle Creek card which is under threat from frost; a forecast of snow has led Aintree stewards to call an inspection at 8.30am for the Becher Chase card; and at 8.00am Chepstow stewards will also check for frost.

Picking a meeting to survive the weather is proving nearly as difficult as picking a winner...

I've opted for Sandown; with the covers in place and overnight temperatures in Esher predicted to fall no lower than minus one, racing should go ahead...

Following an unsatisfactory midweek exercise Douvan misses the Tingle Creek at 2.55. Fox Norton is the one to beat but I'll be watching for an improved performance from course and distance winner Ar Mad who finished three and a half lengths behind Un De Sceaux in last year's renewal; Gary Moore's charge did well to finish so close after a bad blunder at the sixth.

The previous year Ar Mad beat Bristol De Mai ten lengths in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase - this year's renewal looks a very high class (and rather trappy) affair.

Jumping is always at a premium here; to date Brain Power has looked better over the bigger obstacles than Finian's Oscar but the latter possesses a distinct turn of foot which could serve him well if still within striking distance at the final flight. North Hill Harvey, on the same official rating as Finian's Oscar (155), is by no means out of the reckoning.

In search of an each-way wager I initially looked at the London National (3.30) but noted that Milansbar's preferred engagement is in the 2.45 at Chepstow while The Young Master will run in the 1.30 at Aintree if that meeting gets the green light.

The Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts December Handicap Hurdle (2.20) looks typically competitive - a case can be made for most in the field.

Alan King holds a strong hand with William H Bonney and Fidux. The former caught the eye behind Elgin in the Greatwood at Cheltenham when a lack of fitness told coming up the hill; the latter looked unlucky to unship Kevin Dowling at the last here last month.

I'm inclined to see Jenkins as something of a talking horse; I'll revise that view if necessary but he finished some eight and a half lengths behind William H Bonney in the Greatwood.

Last year A Hare Breath ran a blinder on his seasonal debut to finish two and a quarter lengths behind North Hill Harvey in the Greatwood; six weeks ago the plan had been to follow the same route this time; for whatever reason, there has been a re-think.

Course and distance winner Exitas has been in good form over fences recently; his chase rating is 133 but he starts off 125 tomorrow and has a seven pound claimer on board.

Front runner Rayvin Black is another on a handy mark (135);  he raced off 141 in the Contenders' Hurdle here in February, likes the track but really needs more cut underfoot.

Zubayr's fifth behind Brain Power in this event last year reads well and he now starts off a mark four pounds lower; rider Mr L. Williams can claim seven. I'm hoping Paul Nicholls' charge has come on for his pipe-opener at Wincanton last month...

At 14/1 (one fifth the odds four places) with both Betfair and Paddy Power Zubayr is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Ladbrokes Trophy Chase 2017

What's going on here then?

Ladbrokes take over sponsorship of the Hennessy meeting at Newbury and for the inaugural running of the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase William Hill and SkyBet offer each-way terms one fifth the odds seven places...

Twenty one have been declared for tomorrow's showpiece at 3.00 with the going on the chase course currently described as good to soft, soft in places. Last year Carole's Destrier finished just half a length behind impressive winner Native River with Double Ross third, Vyta Du Roc sixth and Regal Encore pulled up.

Since 2007 Denman (2009) is the only nine-year-old to have won and in the same timeframe just two have carried less than 11-0 to victory - Diamond Harry (2010) and Carruthers (2011).

Carruthers was bred by Lord Oaksey and trained by Mark Bradstock, as is tomorrow's top weight Coneygree. There won't be a dry eye in the house if connections manage to pull off the stunt again; the last ten-year-old to win was Diamond Edge in 1981.

Willie Mullins saddles two, Total Recall and Pleasant Company, with the former at the head of the market after a hint from the trainer earlier in the week the gelding may be (some way?) ahead of the handicapper. This race hasn't proved a happy hunting ground for Irish runners over the years.

American is talented, fragile and has few miles on the clock. This race has been the target for some considerable time, as it has been for Label Des Obeaux. In the Weekender Alan King states:

"My fear is that he has too much weight. Smad Place [2015 winner] was handily treated, whereas Label Des Obeaux doesn't look handicapped to win a race like this.

"We have to try and find some improvement in him, so we schooled him in cheekpieces the other day. They seemed to sharpen him up and he'll probably wear those on Saturday."

Of Nicky Henderson's pair I prefer Vyta Du Roc, sixth last year off 143, starting off 140 here and well backed, to stablemate Whisper. The latter was rated 164 behind Thistlecrack in the 2016 World Hurdle but earned a chase rating of 157 when beating Clan Des Obeaux in a match at Kempton 19 days ago; all three of his chase wins have come at distances between two mile four and two mile five furlongs.

It would be no surprise to see Singlefarmpayment in the mix; he was beaten four lengths by Cogry last time conceding 13 pounds. With Jamie Balgary's three pound claim aboard Cogry, Tom George's charge has to concede 11 pounds tomorrow so they appear more closely matched than the bookmakers' prices might indicate.

You pays your money and takes your choice.

Former Gold Cup winner Coneygree (16/1 one fifth the odds six places with Betfair) and Cogry catch the eye from a value perspective but I'm going to take a small each-way interest in the Alan King trained Label Des Obeaux, placed in seven of his nine chase starts to date.

He's currently priced up 33/1 with Betfair who pay a fifth the odds six places; William Hill offer 25/1 a fifth the odds seven places.

You pays your money and takes your choice - I'm with Betfair.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Haydock hopefuls

Tomorrow Cue Card bids to win Haydock's Betfair Chase for the third year in a row, for the fourth time overall, and to become the first eleven-year-old to collect the spoils since Kauto Star in 2011. Harry Cobden replaces Paddy Brennan in the plate after that pairing came to grief at Wetherby three weeks ago.

Sizing John didn't make the overnight declaration stage on account of the heavy going but the ground won't inconvenience current favourite Bristol De Mai one jot. The manner of his victory in the Peter Marsh at this track in January left a deep impression and he is expected to improve further after coming home ahead of his rivals in the Charlie Hall (Shantou Flyer beaten 59 lengths).

Outlander has two ways of running; if he puts his best foot forward, he has every chance. Connections retain the cheekpieces which seemed to bring about the desired improvement last time at Down Royal.

And I have only just realised that prior to victory at Aintree in April, all Tea For Two's wins had been achieved on right-handed tracks.

Traffic Fluide tries this trip for the first time and isn't guaranteed to stay.

The Haydock showpiece is full of intrigue but doesn't make much appeal as a betting medium; on ratings Cue Card is the best horse in the race. Colin Tizzard isn't one to continually talk his horses up; throughout the autumn I've been struck by his positive comments about Cue Card.

Just for the sake of comparison, here are the returned starting prices of those who ran in the Gold Cup in March: Cue Card 9/2; Outlander 10/1; Bristol De Mai 16/1; Tea For Two 40/1.

For my longshot wager I've had a look at the Betfair Stayers' Handicap Hurdle (2.25 on the same card).

Sixteen are declared in a particularly competitive event with course and distance winner The Worlds End priced up 5/1 favourite. Tom George's charge held every chance when coming to grief at the penultimate flight in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival.

On 18 November 2016 Gayebury beat The Worlds End nine lengths at level weights at Ffos Las yet Evan Williams' inmate is priced up 22/1 for tomorrow's event.

Granted, Gayebury didn't impress on his return (pulled up in the Wetherby hurdle won by Colin's Sister) but I'm prepared to give him another chance; his eight length second behind subsequent Neptune winner Willoughby Court in Warwick's Leamington Hurdle reads well.

Of course, the field is full of better fancied sorts but several of those at the top of the market are making their seasonal debuts while Fingerontheswitch and Ibsen both race from out of the handicap.

Theo's Charm was second in this last year while in receipt of seven pounds No Hassle Hoff was beaten nine lengths by The Worlds End here in February.

On Perth running in April there wouldn't be too much between Gayebury and Robbin'Hannon (25/1 in places) but I note that connections try cheekpieces on Gayebury for the first time and Mitch Bastyan claims five reducing the weight carried to 10-13.

The ground is key - quoting Evan Williams in the Weekender 11-15.01.17:

"This little horse is proving a star... This term he started off over hurdles at Ffos Las and won well enough on soft ground. That's as quick as he wants it and he'd be fine on very heavy ground - basically the softer the better."

Paddy Power offer 22/1 and pay a fifth the odds five places; Gayebury is the tentative each-way selection in a wide-open event.

Finally, in the Graduation Chase at 1.15 I merely point out that in a recent stable tour Lucinda Russell named Big River the best horse in her yard.

Friday, November 17, 2017

BetVictor Gold Cup 2017

Richard Johnson riding at Newcastle on the first day of the Cheltenham Open meeting?

There was a tally of two winners from four rides for the champion jockey, courtesy of Jassas (7/2) and Mary Eleanor (13/8).

When Taquin Du Seuil pipped front-running Village Vic (Richard Johnson up) a neck in last year's running of the BetVictor Gold Cup, the gelding became the first nine-year-old to collect the spoils since Cyfor Malta in 2002.

In the intervening years Little Josh remains the only horse older than seven to have won.

And since Cyfor Malta carried 11-9 to that famous victory 15 years ago, only four others have come home in front with more than 11-0 on their back: Our Vic (11-7 in 2005); Exotic Dancer (11-2 in 2006); Al Ferof (11-8 in 2012); and Taquin Du Seuil last year with 11-11.

This race is known for its trends and traditionally the market has proved a reasonable guide to finding the winner - there has been only one winner priced bigger than 12/1 in the past ten years.

Nicky Henderson's decision to go to Ascot with Top Gamble has seen the weights rise five pounds with the result eleven of the runners are now set to carry more than 11-0.

This year's handicap looks atypical with a top-heavy feel to it and for that reason I'm not inclined to be too dogmatic about the 11-0 weight threshold.

The market has a slightly idiosyncratic look to it as well with the following horses quoted at around 10/1 or less: Kylemore Lough, Tully East, Le Prezien, Starchitect, Foxtail Hill, Ballyalton and Romain De Senam; past trends suggest the winner will come from this list of horses (with ten-year-old Ballyalton looking to become the first winner older than nine since Clear Cut in 1975).

All the other runners are priced 16/1 or bigger.

Of the fancied horses Foxtail Hill is eight years old and burdened with 11-5 but he's my idea of the winner following his all-the-way win over two miles here three weeks ago.

He has gone up seven pounds for that effort but the additional four and a half furlongs will suit and he won over this trip on the new course in January with Jamie Balgary in the plate; Jamie rides again tomorrow and claims three so the weight carried falls to 11-2.

Foxtail Hill races from the front and, provided he gets into a good rhythm early on, should run a respectable race (famous last words); at the time of writing at least two bookmakers (Betfair and Paddy Power) go 10/1 which offers the opportunity for an each-way wager for those interested.

Of the bigger priced runners Skybet's 20/1 about Aqua Dude catches the eye as they're paying a fifth the odds six places.

This one will need to show improvement on what he has achieved to date but at seven years of age and with 10-11 to carry Evan Williams' contender has the right profile; the trainer saddled Buywise to finish second in this event in 2015 and the same horse returned to finish third behind Taquin Du Seuil last year.

Aqua Dude (20/1 Skybet) is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Badger Ales Trophy 2017

You know the full horror of Christmas can't be that far away when you see TV adverts for Nick Knowles' debut album 'Every Kind Of People' and Bradley Walsh's 'When You're Smiling'...

Thank God for National Hunt racing.

They bet 9/1 the field for tomorrow's Badger Ales Trophy for which the maximum 18 runners have been declared.

Local handler Paul Nichols has won this event seven times in the past twenty years (Flaked Oats, 1999, 2000; Montifault 2001; Royal Auclair 2004; Cornish Sett 2008; Meanus Dandy 2010; The Minack 2011) and in last year's renewal most observers thought the trainer had pulled off the stunt once again as Southfield Theatre went clear coming to the final fence but then fell with the spoils apparently in the bag, in the process handing victory to Gentleman Jon.

Wearing first-time cheekpieces and racing off a mark three pounds higher, Southfield Theatre represents Nicholls again together with Mr Mix and Present Man who fell at the second last year; he has been trained specifically for this but wouldn't be guaranteed to see out the trip in testing conditions.

The last horse older than nine to come home in front was Flaked Oats (11) in 2000.

Peter Bowen chalked up two victories with Swansea Bay in 2002 and 2003; Henllan Hari races with the pace and is respected on the back of his bet365 Gold Cup victory at Sandown in April.

Yala Enki is another who likes to go from the front while Fact Of The Matter has had this event as his target after winning at Cartmel at the end of August.

The race has the look of a bookmakers' benefit event but that's half the challenge and two have caught my eye.

Double Shuffle was due to run in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby last week but was declared a non-runner - ITV's Ed Chamberlain indicated the horsebox broke down although I'm not certain that story was ever officially confirmed.

Owned by the Crossed Fingers Partnership, Double Shuffle has some decent efforts to his name including defeat of Go Conquer in the 32Red.com Handicap Chase at Kempton over Christmas (Go Conquer won impressively at Ascot last week) and he was subsequently undone by a mercurial ride from James Best aboard Pilgrims Bay to be beaten half a length in the Betbright Handicap Chase at the Surrey track in February.

Tom George's charge had a pipe-opener over an inadequate trip at Chepstow four weeks ago and Ciaran Gethings can claim three pounds; the worry is his very best form is on good ground and he may struggle with underfoot conditions.

On 19 November 2015 Final Nudge beat Present Man seven lengths at level weights in a novices' hurdle at this track. He won on his first outing last year and was in the process of running a big race in second place in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter before coming to grief four from home.

Connections have decided to leave cheekpieces off tomorrow and the handler has stated the horse will come on for the run.

At the time of writing Double Shuffle is 14/1 (Paddy Power) while Final Nudge is generally a 16/1 chance.

Final Nudge is the each-way selection with most layers paying a quarter the odds four places.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Slow Horses

I'm currently reading Mick Herron's Slow Horses, a copy of which I received as a birthday present. The tale centres around a bunch of MI5 misfits who have displayed varying degrees of incompetence in the field and as a result have been kicked into the long grass and left there to fester.

Plagued by self-doubt, I simply had to ask Mrs Tips whether this choice of text had been in any way influenced by my own career to date.

'Oh, you bet,' came the immediate reply, 'that, along with the tips you tend to give out on your blog.'

Acerbic. Here are a couple of slow selections for tomorrow.

The Charlie Hall Chase (3.15) is the highlight on the Wetherby card. Race conditions certainly favour the talented but fragile Coneygree; layers have priced up Mark Bradstock's charge favourite although the handler is keen to point out the gelding will come on for the run and is a little heavier than ideal.

Colin Tizzard reports Cue Card in fine fettle; this remarkable horse turns 12 on January 1st.

Several in the field appear to be using this as a stepping stone. Bristol De Mai has the Betfair Chase at Haydock as his target while Blaklion and Vieux Lion Rouge are being aimed at the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly the Hennessy).

Definitly Red looked good winning the Rowland Meryck over course and distance on Boxing Day but I've never been totally convinced by his jumping.

Village Vic took a crashing fall at Chepstow three weeks ago in the race in which Double Shuffle finished second; at 33/1 with Paddy Power Tom George's charge looks the most interesting of the potential improvers but I'll watch this one from the sidelines.

The official going at Ascot is currently described as good.

Eleven go over two miles one in the Byrne Group Handicap Chase at 2.25 but only three have run recently - favourite Marracudja, Little Pop (kept busy over the summer) and Exitas.

Theinval and Calipto finished third and sixth respectively behind Rock The World in the Grand Annual with last year's winner Quite By Chance down the field in thirteenth - Colin Tizzard's charge tries this time off a mark nine pounds higher.

Spreredek has shown most of his form on soft ground so I'll take an each-way interest in Somchine who finished third behind Vaniteux and Romain De Senam at Ayr in April. He has made the frame in 15 of his 21 chase starts and is currently a 12/1 chance.

Dolos runs in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at 3.00 and is a horse I like. He has performed well at this track previously and Stan Sheppard claims three; that said, he's probably a little too high in the handicap at present and four-year-olds don't have the best record in this event.

I'm interested in Ben Pauling's High Bridge who has won three of his four starts over hurdles and finished ninth in the Supreme last March - the trainer's comments in the Weekender (25-29.10.17) are illuminating:

"He wasn't really himself for various reasons that day and it was possibly my fault for giving Alex [Ferguson] the wrong instructions. He looks fabulous after his summer holiday..."

Alex rides tomorrow and takes off seven; at the time of writing High Bridge is best-priced 14/1 with Sky Bet and is worth an each-way wager in a competitive event. The good ground will suit; connections intend to go for the Gerry Feilden after this...

Friday, October 27, 2017

Cheltenham Showcase meeting 2017 - Saturday

The Jockey Club publicity tells us 'The journey starts here' and there's a definite start-of-term feel to tomorrow's card at Cheltenham where the going is described as good, good to soft in places.

Connections have chosen to bypass the Masterson Holdings Hurdle with Triumph Hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil at 2.35.

Alcala looks the one to beat in the novice chase at 4.20 with well-regarded Two Taffs close enough on ratings to provide a decent test. I was impressed with the way Alcala won the Market Rasen Summer Plate in July; subsequently the gelding was unlucky to slip up on the bend in the Chepstow novice won by Finian's Oscar.

Sixteen face the starter for the two mile Randox Health Handicap Chase at 3.10. Top weight Vaniteux has to give eight pounds and upwards to his field; the bottom four, Un Beau Roman, Lord Ballim, Exitas and Lord Ben all race from out of the handicap. There's likely to be plenty of pace from the off.

Double W's makes the trip down from the north and holds a prominent position in the betting. His comeback fifth at Kelso twenty days ago looks short of what's required (The Flyingportrait third) but they went hell-for-leather up front that day. The generally-held view is that the lack of a recent run eventually found him out but he did go out rather tamely, beaten almost 20 lengths; he owes his position in the market to victory in Aintree's Red Rum Handicap Chase last April.

In last year's renewal Sizing Platinum finished second behind Fox Norton with Mr Fiftyone fourth; Sizing Platinum starts off a mark eight pounds higher tomorrow while Mr Fiftyone is rated seven pounds lower.

A number of the field came home behind Rock The World in the Grand Annual at the Festival; course and distance winner Le Prezien fared best in eighth (beaten 12 lengths) with Eastlake tenth, Mr Fiftyone fifteenth, Sizing Platinum nineteenth and Un Beau Roman pulled up.

Foxtail Hill is one who likes to race from the front. In January he made all to win the Hugo's Restaurant Barbados Trophy Handicap Chase here over two miles five and on the back of that was sent off favourite for the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase but he hit the second hard and fell at the eighth. I'm not convinced this is his optimum trip while Poker School has done all his winning in this country on right-handed tracks.

Of the market leaders Le Prezien and Sizing Platinum make most appeal but on the look out for some (marginally) better value I'm going to make a case for the top weight.

Sold out of Nicky Henderson's yard for £125,000 in May, Vanituex wears a first-time tongue tie on his first run for the Pipe yard.

Granted, this looks a tough ask but he has solid form in the book - he beat Romain De Senam five lengths over two miles at Ayr in the spring (Double W's pulled up), won on his seasonal debut in 2015 and finished third behind Sire De Grugy on his seasonal debut last year.

With layers offering a quarter the odds four places, in an open competitive event Vaniteux is the each-way suggestion at 12/1.

The final word in this week's post has to go to Mr Bob Wells of London.

On Tuesday October 24 The Times ran a piece in conjunction with website myracing.com indicating that, despite winning over £7 million as an owner over the past 30 years, the Queen has ultimately made a loss on her racehorses.

Mr Wells picked up a similar theme in a letter to the paper the following day:

"My father once pointed out, with some satisfaction, that the family's first TV set was bought in the early Fifties with the proceeds of a day's racing at Newbury. My mother pricked his bubble by suggesting, had it not been for Newbury races, we would have had a set in the late Forties."

Thank you Bob Wells. Marvellous stuff.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Heaven - or hell?

The wet and windy weather forecast will certainly have an affect on tomorrow's QIPCO Champions Day at Ascot but it's likely to prove far more problematic for Ffos Las where The New One, Clyne and Sire De Grugy are amongst the declarations for the Ladbrokes Welsh Champion Hurdle at 4.25.

Amateur Mr Zak Baker picks up the ride on The New One and can claim five; regular pilot Sam Twiston-Davies is on duty at Stratford. Now eleven, Sire De Grugy's best days are probably in the past but here he races off a hurdles mark of just 147 - his chase mark is 165. His price has fluctuated noticeably - a 7/2 shot mid-afternoon, Gary Moore's charge is quoted 6/1 at the time of writing. Bottom weight Remiluc races from out of the handicap but is the only one with a recent run to his name.

West Approach, third behind Unowhatimeanharry in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January, makes his debut over the larger obstacles in the Ladbrokes Download The App Beginners' Chase at 3.20. Barry Geraghty is aboard Brelan D'As for owner J P McManus.

The uncertainty over the weather tempers enthusiasm for a wager, particularly at this early stage of the season.

Bristol De Mai was exceptional at the beginning of the year when he destroyed his field in the Peter Marsh at Haydock but subsequently his jumping wasn't up to scratch behind Native River at Newbury and he then finished 20 lengths behind Sizing John in the Gold Cup. Tomorrow he picks up the trail at a far less exalted level in the totepool Live Info Download The App Handicap Chase (3.00 Stratford). He's only six but seems to have been around for ever; in seasons past he has needed the first run.

Paul Nicholls' Roman De Senam is a warm order to come home in front having won convincingly at Chepstow six days ago. Aged just five, he has won two of his eight chase starts but I feel this is more competitive than the market would have us believe.

Nicky Henderson's Days Of Heaven is a big price and is of some interest although the ground is softer than ideal - essentially he wants good ground and currently the official going is described as good to soft.

This one was beaten some 14 lengths into seventh behind Alcala in the Market Rasen Summer Plate back in July; a few were slightly disappointed with that effort - the form book notes the gelding 'gave problems beforehand' - and he faded approaching the last.

He has won previously at this track and goes off a mark one pound lower; I feel there may be more to come and that makes the 16/1 on offer tempting.

Essentially I want the wind to dry the track out, the rain to stay away. The BBC's weather forecast predicts a dry sunny morning with rain arriving mid-afternoon.

Provided it rides no worse than good to soft and the eight make it to post, I intend to take a small early season each-way interest in Days Of Heaven.             

Friday, October 13, 2017

Brief notes for the new season

Summer highlight - picking up a copy of R.M. Bevan's The Roodee: 450 years of racing in Chester from Fossgate Books in Fossgate, York.

The book contains a picture of a particularly young-looking Willie Carson which brought back memories of this Jak cartoon originally published in the London Evening Standard 10 June 1980 and which I saw printed in the Liverpool Daily Post at roughly the same time.

Holidaymakers may have taken a dim view of the late summer rains but the benefit to jump racing has been obvious; we've already seen a number of decent performers in action, in stark contrast to last season.

Much to my dismay I wasn't able to attend Ludlow's first October meeting but Bigmartre's victory in the novice chase catches the eye, with Mad Jack Mytton third and my fancy, Mick Thonic, unseating Brian Cooper three out when probably held by the winner.

Similarly Shantou Rock's all-the-way win in a Newton Abbot novice earlier today warrants close inspection.

Finian's Oscar makes his chase debut at Chepstow tomorrow but Market Rasen Summer Plate winner Alcala will be no pushover. Paddy Power offered 5/1 about Paul Nicholls' charge earlier today; at the time of writing 7/2 is the best price available. I'm not going to play but I prefer Alcala.

If you fancy a wager in the Paul Ferguson's Jumpers To Follow Hurdle (3.35 Chepstow) then a close look at the Fred Winter form from the Festival is de rigueur (Percy Street sixth, Dino Velvet eighth, Dolos thirteenth, Fidux nineteenth). I subsequently tipped Dolos to make amends at Ascot in April but So Celebre proved too good (Percy Street third). Before this race I fancied Dino Velvet with Alan King's yard in particularly good form but the current price makes no appeal.

In the Silver Trophy (4.10 Chepstow) I shall watch Alary with interest. On his first run for the stable in the Peter Marsh at Haydock last January he did not look good at all but connections clearly feel the talent is there. To my mind a number from the Tizzard yard are likely to come on for their first race this season and over the smaller obstacles this looks like a warm-up for the winter ahead.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Market Rasen Summer Plate 2017

In the hiatus since the Sandown finale at the end of April I've spent some time recently reading Dorothy Paget: The Eccentric Queen of the Sport of Kings by Graham Sharpe and Declan Colley.

Martin Pipe states 'I wasn't able to put it down.'

Now, I'd suggest it would be unwise to take that comment literally but the book is a jolly interesting read; in parts the authors lead the reader towards particular interpretations of behaviours and events but the research is comprehensive and the bibliography an added bonus.

In the midst of the summer months Market Rasen's Summer Plate acts as a reminder of what we've been missing and also of what we can look forward to in the autumn. Sixteen face the starter for tomorrow's renewal; the going is currently described as good.

Dan Skelton and Jonjo O'Neill have trained recent winners while Peter Bowen has targeted this race for a number of years.

This year the handicap has a lop-sided look to it with Henryville, Days Of Heaven and Alcala set to carry 11-12, 11-11 and 11-7 respectively while the remainder of the field will carry 10-13 or less. No horse has carried 11-7 or more to victory in the past ten years.

On revised terms there appears little to choose between Henryville and Days Of Heaven after the latter beat the former in the Clarke Chase at Uttoxeter eight weeks ago but that fact is certainly not reflected in bookmakers' prices.

Henryville looked unlucky to be brought down at the final flight in last year's renewal but tomorrow he starts off a mark eight pounds higher and Casino Markets is weighted to reverse the placings of April's Cheltenham Silver Trophy Chase.

Alcala's three chase wins have come with six runners or less in the field.

Jonjo O'Neill saddles two - 2014 winner It's A Gimme and I'dliketheoption; owner J P McManus also has the Ben Haslam trained Cup Final in the field. Midnight Shot beat Cup Final a nose in a Hexham novice chase last month when ridden by an amateur claiming seven pounds.

Earthmoves won the Summer Plate Trial over course and distance four weeks ago (Viens Chercher fourth) but he looked in a lot of trouble half a mile from home. Peter Bowen is always respected here but he bought this one out of a Ffos Las Selling Chase - I'm not convinced by the profile.

At the start of the week Poker School was an interesting proposition but I'm afraid the value has long since disappeared.

The Dan Skelton trained Shelford catches the eye near the foot of the handicap but he isn't easy to win with and spent most of last winter racing over much further. That said the race is likely to be run to suit.

2015 winner Brave Spartacus is probably past his best at the age of eleven and I'd be surprised if Wadswick Court proved good enough.

The threat of rain at the track cannot be ignored and that puts me off the bigger weights; in a wide open event, I'll chance Midnight Shot (14/1 generally) will be good enough to make a place. Most layers offer a quarter the odds four places; Sky Bet pay five places at a fifth the odds.

Friday, May 05, 2017

A brief review of the 2016/17 jumps season

Champion jockey: Richard Johnson
Champion trainer: Nicky Henderson
Winning owner: J P McManus
Champion conditional jockey: Harry Cobden

The exceptionally dry autumn meant the season was rather slow to pick up a discernible rhythm. Taquin Du Seuil mugged Village Vic to win the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham's Open meeting; a week later Cue Card beat Coneygree fifteen lengths in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

It soon became clear Cue Card wasn't the only star in Colin Tizzard's yard. Sent off favourite, Native River appeared to win the Hennessy with something in hand and then put in a monstrous effort to win the Welsh National off top weight on going that was officially described as soft but looked desperately heavy.

In the meantime Thistlecrack was cutting his teeth over the larger obstacles before going to Kempton at Christmas to beat stablemate Cue Card three and a quarter lengths in the King George showpiece. At that same meeting Might Bite was some eighteen lengths clear of his nearest pursuer when taking a crashing fall at the final flight in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase.

ITV took over terrestrial racing coverage from Channel Four on New Year's Day; their inaugural transmission fell some way short of the standard required with heavy showers causing problems for commentators and cameramen alike. Improvements followed, with innovative feature pieces proving particularly popular.

In a dramatic Cotswold Chase at the Cheltenham Trials meeting Many Clouds beat Thistlecrack a head and then in desperately sad circumstances collapsed and died, having suffered a 'severe pulmonary haemorrhage'; he was subsequently voted Jumps Horse of the Year.

Following victory in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot, Yanworth appeared to be heading for the Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival but plans were quickly revised a week or so later after Unowhatimeanharry, in the same ownership, won Newbury's Long Distance Hurdle.

'Harry' went into the big one unbeaten since his move from Helen Nelmes' yard in October 2015; on the day he ran a little flat, finishing third behind Nichols Canyon. Next time out Harry Fry's star reversed the form, beating his Cheltenham conqueror a head in Punchestown's Labrokes Champion Stayers' Hurdle.

Re-routed Yanworth, sent off favourite for the Champion Hurdle, was beaten some way out; Buveur D'Air claimed the title. Stepped up to three miles next time, Yanworth gained compensation, beating Supasundae a length in the Ryanair Stayers' Liverpool Hurdle.

At 1/4 Douvan couldn't be opposed in the Champion Chase on Wednesday's card but an overreach at the third effectively put paid to his chance. Special Tiara blazed a trail from the front and had just enough in reserve to hold the fast-finishing Fox Norton a neck.

Beforehand many felt the absence of Thistlecrack (and last year's winner Don Cossack) had devalued this year's Gold Cup but a new star was born in the shape of Sizing John who bounded up the hill to beat Minella Rocco and Native River with some authority. On the day Cue Card's jumping was scratchy at times with the eleven-year-old coming to grief at exactly the same fence that had caught him out when travelling so well last year.

Lizzie Kelly made history by becoming the first female professional jockey to ride in the Gold Cup. Tea For Two was particularly buzzed up in the preliminaries and the partnership lasted no further than the second fence; Kelly made amends three weeks later, pipping Cue Card a neck in Aintree's Betway Bowl.

Vieux Lion Rouge turned up for the Grand National with a win in the Becher Chase and Haydock's Grand National Trial to his name. Blaklion went off the 8/1 favourite but Warwick Classic Chase winner One For Arthur became the first Scottish-trained horse to come home in front since Rubstic in 1979. Jockey Derek Fox, only recently returned to the saddle after breaking a wrist and collarbone in March, gave the gelding a supreme hold-up ride.

Vicente, an unfortunate first fence faller in the Grand National, turned out at Ayr a fortnight later and became the first horse to record back-to-back victories in the Scottish Grand National since Androma (1984/85).

At the start of the final day, the trainers' title remained undecided. Arkle winner Altior recorded a facile victory in the Celebration Chase at Sandown, thereby ensuring Nicky Henderson claimed the prize from incumbent champion Paul Nicholls.

Across the Irish Sea, Willie Mullins had endured something of an annus horribilis for the most part but in unlikely circumstances he pinched the trainers' title from long-time leader Gordon Elliott on the final day of the Punchestown Festival.

It was a torrid season for the blog with many of the selections patently failing to live up to expectations. The one notable exception was Special Tiara whose victory in the Champion Chase at least ensured a profit was recorded at the Festival; Special Tiara is blog horse of the year.

And on Monday 1st May 11/10 favourite Bedrock, trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by Harry, won the first race of the new season, Warwick's John Greasley Sportfield Contractors Novices' Hurdle.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Sandown's bet365 Gold Cup 2017

In the past I've noted a certain similarity between selecting a birthday card for Mrs Tips and selecting a horse for Sandown's bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase, both of which, incidentally, occur around this time of year.

You've done it all several times before, you've been around long enough to know what's required and, if you get my drift, you don't want to spend too much money; you've picked the odd winner here and there, a few efforts have managed to scrape a place, several others have barely mustered a mention in passing whilst the vast majority have fallen into a category that can best be described as egregious.

Judging by the uncharacteristic affection displayed, this year's card can be considered something of an eased-down winner but any thoughts of a famous 'spring double' have to be tempered, I'm afraid, as I rate my chances of tipping the winner of the 2017 Sandown showpiece as, at best, minimal.

Still, one out of two isn't bad.

With just thirteen declared, the smallest field for many a long year, many will feel Neil Mulholland holds the key to the race; his three runners head most betting lists.

Mulholland won last year's renewal with The Young Master who pipped Just A Par a short head (stablemate The Druids Nephew fifth, Theatre Guide eighth, Le Reve pulled up) and the gelding tries again off the same mark after falling at Becher's first time in the Grand National three weeks ago; previously he had finished sixth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival (The Druids Nephew seventh and Theatre Guide eighth).

Priced up favourite, Doing Fine comes to this in fine form with a low weight to boot but this represents a step-up in class; favourites have a poor record in the race - the Weekender indicates the last outright favourite to oblige was Mr Frisk in 1990.

The Druids Nephew is certainly fresher than some and will sport a first-time visor; I've read somewhere that he was distracted by the fall of Vintage Clouds and Vic De Touzaine's unseating two out in the Ultima. To my mind he probably makes most appeal of the Mulholland horses; however on Racing Post ratings his mark of 142 is some way behind the top two, Doing Fine and Benbens, who are rated 166.

The trainers' title race this side of the Irish Sea may lack the drama of the Willie Mullins / Gordon Elliott showdown but it's still undecided - Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls saddle two apiece.

Vyta Du Roc's sixth in the Hennessy reads well and last time out he lost a shoe at Kempton; Sugar Baron was well supported for the Scottish National seven days ago but he got no further than the first and then proceeded to race loose for much of the trip.

Just A Par won the 2015 renewal and appeared to be worried out of it last year so his chance has to be respected while this is the first time Present Man races beyond three miles one.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Benbens is the other runner who competed in the Scottish National last week and what a race he ran at odds of 50/1!

The twelve-year-old finished third, beaten two and a quarter lengths, with his amateur jockey, Mr Z Baker, putting up two pounds overweight... Nigel's son Sam takes over the steering tomorrow but the worry is that effort together with the travelling involved may have taken its toll.

With Rock The Kasbah not certain to stay, I'm leaning towards What's Happening for an each-way wager.

Tom George's charge has clearly had his injury problems but back in April 2015 he won over three and a half miles on good ground at Cheltenham.

Following a long spell on the sidelines he ran second behind Perfect Candidate at Exeter in February (Masters Hill, Theatrical Star, Harry Topper, As De Fer and Buywise amongst those in behind) before finishing eleventh in the Kim Muir. The handicapper has dropped him a pound for that effort and I'm hoping there is some further improvement to come.

At 16/1 What's Happening is the each-way selection.

Rightly Altior is long odds on for the Celebration Chase at 3.00 but BetVictor price Special Tiara 5/1 while Sky Bet go 9/2; I admit to being tempted. Special Tiara was particularly quick over the obstacles in the Champion Chase six and a half weeks ago. He won the 2015 renewal of this race, having finishing third at Cheltenham that year.

On a line through Fox Norton, Altior wins comfortably but the Tizzard yard were going through a quiet spell at the time. The official handicapper rates Altior one pound superior.

The times of the Festival races were:

Altior:
Arkle 14.03.17  3m 55.50s (slow by 3.50s); beat Cloudy Dream six lengths;

Special Tiara:
Champion Chase 15.03.17 3m 55.40s (slow by 3.40s); beat Fox Norton a head.

I wouldn't blame anyone for not following but at 5/1 I'll stay loyal to Special Tiara who did me a big favour at the Festival last month.

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...