Friday, October 21, 2016

Sixty not out

Sixty tomorrow.

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

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

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

Friday, October 14, 2016

A teatime tip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 07, 2016

A chance in Chepstow's Silver Trophy

After a long summer at grass I've only recently come back in; I'm a little backward at present and will be slow to come to hand this term...

After an absence of nearly four years racing returned to Hereford yesterday and was widely covered in the media. Newton Abbot's card this afternoon featured a couple of decent races (the well-touted Old Guard, sent off 1/5 favourite, sprawled on landing at the first and was immediately pulled up.)

The National Hunt season steps up another gear with Chepstow's two-day Jumps Festival on Saturday and Sunday. Until fairly recently there was an outside chance Colin Tizzard would let World Hurdle winner Thistlecrack take his chance in Saturday's totequadpot Novices' Chase - the stable star isn't quite ready yet and would probably prefer a little more cut underfoot.

Other highlights on Saturday include the Silver Trophy and the toteexacta Handicap Chase; on Sunday the Persian War Novices' Hurdle features while the opening juvenile hurdle should prove informative.

Lil Rockerfeller, beaten some 20 lengths by Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle last March, stands his ground for the totepool Silver Trophy (Saturday 4.25) with the result that six of the fifteen declared race from out of the handicap. Neil King is quite bullish about the horse in the Weekender, naming Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle and then the World Hurdle as targets.

Sefton Novices' Hurdle winner Ballyoptic is another with the World Hurdle in his sights. 

Of those carrying the correct weight, Tea In Transvaal, Forever Field and Who Dares Wins each have a recent run to their name so may possess a fitness edge. Who Dares Wins was desperately disappointing in the Triumph Hurdle - he has to be better than that - while Tea In Transvaal boasts previous winning form at this course.

All that said, Court Minstrel carried 11-12 to victory in this race last year and I'm taken by Neil King's pen-picture...

'He's had a summer at grass which has done him the power of good as don't forget he's still only a relative youngster. He was so enthusiastic doing a day's hunting last week and he filled me with optimism for the season.'    

At around 12/1 Lil Rockerfeller is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Market Rasen Summer Plate 2016

I tend to think of tomorrow's Market Rasen meeting as the half-way point through the summer jumps programme; the highlight is the Summer Plate with sixteen set to face the starter at 2.45.

Top weight Ballynagour, beaten two lengths in the Summer National at Uttoxeter three weeks ago (Tony Star pulled up), stands his ground and as a result the bottom four all race from out of the handicap. Paul Nicholls saddles three with Charlie Longsdon and Tom George responsible for two apiece; the trainer in form is Dr Richard Newland with a 31.58% strike rate for the season so far. 

Geraghty rides Cernunnos for J P McManus; in the same ownership It's A Gimme didn't make the final declarations, having only seen a racecourse twice since finishing sixth in last year's renewal, and Easy Street failed to make the cut.

A number in the field finished behind Minella Present in Uttoxeter's Sir Stanley and Lady Clarke Chase at the end of May: Germany Calling (third), Long House Hall (fourth), Henryville (eighth), and Dormello Mo (ninth).

Previous course winner Long House Hall, marked up 6/1 favourite at the time of writing, is two pounds better off with Germany Calling for one and a half lengths - it looks a close enough call. The latter isn't guaranteed to see out this two miles five furlong trip but he was staying on the last day...

Henryville is a horse I like and the ground will certainly suit but, to date, he hasn't totally convinced over the larger obstacles.    

With Paddy Power offering 12/1 and paying a quarter the odds four places (provided sixteen make the start), Germany Calling is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A brief review of the 2015/16 jumps season

Champion jockey: Richard Johnson
Champion trainer: Paul Nicholls
Winning owner: Gigginstown House Stud
Champion conditional jockey: Craig Nichol

Following years spent in the shadow of A P McCoy, Richard Johnson deservedly collected his first champion jockeys' title with 235 winners; nearest rival Aidan Coleman chalked up 130. Perhaps the name of the winner was no surprise but the margin of victory was - in real terms Johnson had the championship in safe-keeping before Cheltenham's Open meeting.

In stark contrast the battle for the trainers' title between Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins went to the final day at Sandown; with Just A Par and Southfield Theatre finishing second and fourth respectively behind The Young Master in the bet365 Gold Cup, Nicholls claimed his tenth championship. Vicente's victory in the Scottish Grand National the previous week, the third leg of a four-timer for the Ditcheat handler, proved crucial and changed momentum. 

For many the season was defined by two horses - Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card.

Sprinter remained unbeaten and and amidst emotional scenes rolled back the years to reclaim the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Festival. Back in 2013 commentator Simon Holt had described Henderson's charge as 'a steeplechaser from the gods'; who are we to argue?

Cue Card won the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, Haydock's Betfair Chase, the King George VI Chase at Kempton and looked to have every chance of claiming the £1 million bonus offered for winning the Gold Cup when taking a crashing fall three from home. In the post-race aftermath Colin Tizzard opined 'there's not a bother on him' and his charge proved as much three weeks later by winning the Betfair Bowl at Aintree. His subsequent fourth in the Punchestown Gold Cup was a race too far.  

Don Cossack was the principal beneficiary of Cue Card's Gold Cup mishap providing young jockey Bryan Copper with redemption following the ride he'd given the same horse in the Ryanair Chase twelve months earlier.

Owners Gigginstown House Stud went on to claim a famous treble with Rogue Angel giving Mouse Morris an emotional win in the Irish Grand National and then Rule The World winning for the first time over fences in the Grand National for the same handler. Jockey D J Mullins, victorious on his first ride in the National, returned to the same winners' enclosure an hour later aboard Ivan Grozny, recording a 578/1 double in the process.

Festival memories that still linger include Ruby Walsh's ride aboard Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle and Thistlecrack's annihilation of his field in the World Hurdle. Several bookmakers reported big losses after the meeting with Ladbrokes suffering its 'worst in living memory'; the blog's Festival selections were the most profitable on record. 

Earlier in the season Alan King bagged two big prizes with Annacotty holding the fast-finishing Buywise in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and Smad Place running his rivals ragged in the Hennessy.

Hats off too to Lizzie Kelly who became the first female jockey to win a Grade One jumps race in Britain aboard Tea For Two in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton. Six weeks later she was aboard Agrapart, winning Newbury's Betfair Hurdle by an astonishing eleven lengths.

At a slightly less lofty level, I had some modest success, particularly in the autumn, with runners from the yards of Harry Whittington, Anthony Honeyball  and Stuart Edmonds.
I saw both Wolf Of Windlesham (Stuart Edmonds) and Arzal (Harry Whittington) win at Ludlow's second October meet; Wolf Of Windlesham beat a couple of highly-regarded sorts at Sandown last Saturday but Harry Whittington's yard will still be reeling following the sad news about Arzal earlier this week.

Surprisingly the post 'Ten years of PG's Tips' generated a number of queries, most coming from readers who were keen to ascertain what my mother-in-law was backing in this year's Grand National... I don't think I've got another ten years in me. 

The award of blog horse of this year has to go to Johnny Og trained by Martin Keighley.

I'd hatched a plot to back this one at a fancy price at a Newbury midweek meeting I was set to attend in January. Frost put paid to that cunning plan but just three days later I missed the wretched beast at Ascot where he trotted up at odds of 14/1. Six weeks on, up he popped at Newbury once again. I took 14/1, he went off at 8/1 and duly obliged, coming home one and threequarter lengths ahead of nearest rival Exmoor Mist. I'm still not quite certain what I would have done if he hadn't won...

And finally... At Cheltenham on Wednesday Sam Cavallaro, trained by Miss H Brookshaw and ridden by Mr R Jarrett, won the first race of the 2016/2017 season.  

Friday, April 22, 2016

bet365 Gold Cup 2016

The curtain falls on the 2015/6 NH season at Sandown tomorrow.

After years spent in the shadow of A P McCoy, Richard Johnson will deservedly collect his first jockeys' title.

In marked contrast, the trainers' title is still undecided; at the time of writing Paul Nicholls leads Willie Mullins by some £44,000. The Ditcheat handler saddles four at Chepstow's evening meeting  - Rainy City finished third in the 4.30 and Simon Squirrel was unplaced in the 5.00; Ruben Cotter goes in the 6.05, Whispering Storm at 8.05.

Tomorrow's finale promises an enthralling conclusion; Nicholls remains odds-on to win the title.

The highlight on the Sandown card is the bet365 Gold Cup at 4.10.

I thought last week's Scottish Grand National handicap rather 'compressed' but incredibly this end-of-season finale sees the bottom weight allotted 10-11 - just five of the twenty runners will carry less than 11-0!

Paul Kealy makes a strong case for The Young Master in the Weekender but on the back of the trainer's comments I'm going to side with stablemate Carole's Destrier. I tipped this one for the Ultima Handicap on the opening day of the Festival but he ran no sort of race whatsoever and was pulled up.

Neil Mulholland points out this has been the target for the selection since winning the London National over this course in December. The horse has also undergone a breathing operation since.

In an ultra-competitive looking event, Carole's Destrier (12/1) is the each-way suggestion; he comes to this fresher than some of his rivals. Most layers offer a quarter the odds four places; bet365 and Sky Bet pay five places.   

Friday, April 15, 2016

Scottish Grand National 2016

This year's Scottish National picks up where last week's Grand National left off with a number in the field, having failed to make the cut for the Aintree showpiece, turning out here instead; among them are Cause Of Causes, Midnight Prayer, Royale Knight, Pineau De Re, Highland Lodge and Alvarado.

My overall record in this race doesn't stand up to the closest scrutiny (Milborough's fall early on last year a fair benchmark) but Hello Bud was one of two selections put up for the 2009 renewal.

Mouse Morris and Gigginstown House Stud try for a hat-trick of Grand Nationals with Folsom Blue while in the contest for the trainers' title Willie Mullins sends over Measureofmydreams and Paul Nicholls saddles Vicente.

Nicholls could be worried by the stats which show just two seven-year-old winners since 2000 (Gingembre in 2001 and Godsmejudge in 2013); Godsmejudge was the first horse to carry more than 11-0 to victory since Grey Abbey in 2004.

On the back of his sixth in last year's Grand National, as well as Dr Richard Newland's subsequent remarks, I quietly fancied Royale Knight to run a big race at Aintree and at a fancy price too.

I'm going to stay loyal here; the horse will appreciate testing ground but I have this feeling the opportunity may have passed and quotes of 14/1 for this week's race are nowhere near as tempting as the 50/1 on offer for last week's. It will be important Brendan Powell secures a prominent pitch early on.

Rather ironically, in the Weekender Peter Naughton quotes Dr Newland about the selection's stablemate:

'Pineau De Re did his best piece of work in around two years last week and the race will suit him perfectly.'
Highland Lodge is worthy of a mention on the back of his win in the Becher Chase in December. That day, on his first run for Jimmy Moffatt, he had Vics Canvas, third at Aintree, three and a half lengths adrift in fifth. In the past he hasn't been one to trust implicitly but perhaps the change of scenery has helped work the oracle.

And you just wonder if first-time cheekpieces will help Shotgun Paddy who has some decent efforts in the book (including Warwick's Classic Chase in 2014) but whose jumping frequently causes a problem.

Royale Knight (14/1) is the each-way selection; a number of layers are offering a quarter the odds five places.

On a slightly different tack, the story that has generated most comment from the blog's tenth anniversary post a couple of weeks back is the telephone interview conducted with my mother-in-law after she had backed Mon Mome at 100/1 in the 2009 Grand National.

Here's the abbreviated detail of a further family fiasco following this year's race...

Two minutes after Rule The World had passed the winning post in front our landline rang; caller display indicated it was my brother.

'That's unusual - for a Saturday - to get a call from your brother,' quipped Mrs Tips emerging from the scullery. In an instant my worst fears were confirmed; he'd backed the winner at 50/1.

PG: 'What made you chose that one?'

Bro: 'I met this guy in the bookies and he had bet Boston Bob as his name was Bob so I started to think I need a horse with a Welsh connection.'

PG: 'The old Welsh connection, huh?'

Bro: 'Ydw. Browsing through the runners, when I saw Rule The World I immediately thought of Harry Secombe singing "If I ruled the world".'

Bro continues, singing limpidly in Secombesque fashion into the handset:

'If I ruled the world
Every day would be the first day of spring
Every heart would have a new song to sing
And we'd sing of the joy every morning would bring.'

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry and still don't - where's Thora Hird when you need her? I'm considering burning the form books - offers invited.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Aintree Grand National 2016

The changing nature of the National is reflected in the fact that most of the horses I fancied this time last week have failed to make the cut...

Last year's winner Many Clouds bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back Nationals since Red Rum (1973 and 1974); Leighton Aspell aims to become the first jockey to record three consecutive wins in the race, having ridden Pineau De Re to victory in 2014.   

In his 'today's tip' selection, Coral's David Metcalf makes a cogent, persuasive case for Many Clouds; from a handicapping perspective, the favourite looks favourably treated. His chance is certainly respected but the gelding has to carry top weight over four and a half miles on ground far more testing than encountered last year.

The last horse to carry top weight to victory was Red Rum. Suny Bay, second to Earth Summit in 1998, is the only other top-weight to make a place since - in a race of forty runners, I'm happy to look elsewhere for some value.

There have been some big-priced winners in recent years including Silver Birch at 33/1 in 2007; Mon Mome at 100/1 in 2009; Neptune Collonges at 33/1 in 2012 and Auroras Encore at 66/1 in 2013. The last two winners, Pineau De Re and Many Clouds, were both sent off at odds of 25/1.

Those who like to pick their own horses will find the BBC's Grand National Pinstickers' guide a valuable tool; for everyone else there's this...   

The stats suggest the winner will be aged between nine and twelve and will have had at least one run since the turn of the year. With further rain forecast overnight, the ground is likely to remain on the soft side so I've concentrated on horses carrying no more than 11-0.

Selections are shown below with prices correct at the time of publication; note the majority of High Street bookmakers are paying a quarter the odds five places - check yours is one of them.

1. Morning Assembly
Looks to have been trained with this in mind and ran a decent trial in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham three weeks ago (25/1).
2. The Druids Nephew
In with a major chance last year when coming to grief with an indifferent leap five from home; four pounds worse off with Many Clouds at the weights (16/1).
3. Saint Are
Put up as the best long-priced outsider last year finishing one and three quarter lengths behind Many Clouds; soft ground isn't ideal (16/1).

4. Kruzhlinin
Better expected when behind Morning Assembly in the Ultima at Cheltenham. Completed in tenth in the 2014 renewal and seventh over the same fences in the Becher Chase the following December (25/1).

5. Ucello Conti 
Not guaranteed to stay, a comment that applies to several in the field. Switched to Gordon Elliott to be trained for this; soft ground no problem (25/1).

Good luck!

Finally, spare a thought for the lady who organised our annual work sweepstake.

Keen to get the job done and dusted early on, she wandered into the office Tuesday lunchtime with just a handful of horses left to sell. I paid my £2 and drew Bob Ford; my colleague drew Godsmejudge. A quick glance at her list and I saw Lord Windermere at the head of the handicap.

'Out of interest, where did you get this list?' I enquired. 'Google' came the reply.

Harsh, I know, but it had to be done - I pointed out she was using a list of last year's runners. Required action: return stakes to the individuals concerned and start afresh.

The 'revised' sweepstake arrived in the office late yesterday afternoon; I paid my £2 and drew Devon Loch.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Aintree 2016 - Friday

Friday is Ladies' Day.

In recent weeks Aintree racecourse has attempted to walk a particularly tricky line by suggesting racegoers may wish to adopt a more understated sartorial approach this year; I'd suggest it's odds against racegoers heeding the advice proffered.       

For those interested in the racing, Vautour will be no betting proposition in the JLT Melling Chase at 3.25 but in full flight Willie Mullins' charge is a sight to behold.

Blaklion is as tough as old boots and did me a favour at Cheltenham but I won't be playing up winnings in the Mildmay Novices' Chase at 2.50. Un Temps Pour Tout won the Ultima Handicap Chase with something in hand at the Festival and is now rated five pounds better than the RSA winner. Back in February I gave Native River one final chance in the Towton at Wetherby but he just didn't cut it; he finished a close second to Minella Rocco in the four miler at Cheltenham and may just get outpaced on this track.

In this week's 'Straight from the Stable' feature in the Weekender Lucinda Russell has a strong word for Sky Khan who was third in the Martin Pipe last time and goes in the opener:

"He ran on really well and Derek [Fox], who rode him, keeps saying he would have won if he had gone sooner, but that is always how he will run as he has to have a strong pace and run through horses late on."   

Ballyandy had a hard race in the bumper at Cheltenham and is saddled with a four pound penalty for his trouble in the Aintree equivalent at 5.15.

I thought Limini potentially vulnerable in the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham but we now know she's clearly very good. That said, she faces a tougher-lookng assignment against the likes of Buveur D'Air and Agrapart in the 2.15. With the ground riding on the soft side, Buveur is my idea of the winner but at the prices I'm considering an each-way interest in Agrapart who won Newbury's Betfair Hurdle by an astonishing eleven lengths and on official ratings has three pounds to find with the two market leaders.

9/1 in several places, Agrapart is the each-way selection in the Imagine Cruising First In The Frame Top Novices' Hurdle.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Aintree 2016 - Thursday

After my most successful Cheltenham in recent memory, unusually I come to Aintree with some money in my pocket; I'm in no particular rush to give it back to the bookmakers.

To my mind Aintree's April fixture remains one of the most trappy in the calendar. Those Cheltenham Festival winners - can they come out on top three weeks later over a course that presents a very different type of examination?

Added to the habitual dilemmas, this year Willie Mullins brings his stable stars over from Ireland in an attempt to secure his first British trainers' title.

I certainly won't be knocking anyone out of the way to take an odds-on price about Annie Power in the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle at 3.25; champion hurdlers have a poor record in this, run over a distance of two and a half miles. Annie had four of her five opponents behind last month but course and distance winner Nichols Canyon is a threat here while Coral's 25/1 about Camping Ground looks too big; Robert Walford's charge impressed in the Relkeel and will be better suited by this trip with give underfoot.

Cue Card is the form selection for the Betfred Bowl (2.50) and is on a retrieval mission after a nasty-looking fall three from home in the Gold Cup. He hadn't jumped with particular fluency up to that point but, that said, there appeared plenty left in the tank when he came to grief. Quotes around the even money mark make little appeal.

They're likely to go hard up front in the opener with both Sizing John and Arzal in the line-up - Rock The World has also made the running previously.

I intend to have a small each-way wager on Azzuri in the Betfred Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle (2.15).

The Triumph at Cheltenham was dominated by Irish runners and the first three home head the market here; I tipped Alan King's Sceau Royal for that race but he was a desperate disappointment in twelfth. Zubayr was one further place behind in thirteenth, having previously beaten Azzuri in the Adonis at Kempton.

Azzuri went off like a scalded cat that day but he maintained his gallop to the line, beaten just under four lengths (Nicky Henderson's Khezerabad a further three quarters of a length behind third). That looked a marked step-up on his second run for the Dan Skeleton yard; I'm hoping the first-time tongue-tie can elicit some further improvement on a track that should suit his style of racing.

At 33/1 (BetFred) Azzuri is an each-way selection for those of an adventurous disposition... 

Friday, April 01, 2016

Ten years of PG's Tips

This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the very first blog post inspired by a guy called Mike whom I met at a wedding reception in York.

The inaugural tip a few days later was a match bet in the 2006 Grand National. Paul and Nina Carberry were the first brother and sister to ride in the same National and I was sure I'd seen Nina quoted at 2/1 to get further round than Paul.  In the event she finished ninth on Forest Gunner while Paul fell from Sir OJ at Becher's on the second circuit.

The very next selection, Mam Ratagan in the concluding bumper at the same meeting, proved far more representative of the performance of the blog's selections over the ensuing ten years - the gelding finished twentieth of the twenty two runners.

I was a different person in those early days - keen, much too keen for my own good, with a tendency towards verbosity taken from the Leonard Sachs school of music hall and at a completely different juncture on my personal betting journey.

Ten years and over a thousand posts later, I retain no plans to give up the day job - a salient demonstration of my ability to find winners - and I've failed miserably to address the prolixity issue. In all that time Ludlow has been a 'lucky' track - the other 38 jumps courses have proved far less propitious.

Still, this exercise in self-indulgence has generated the odd wry laugh here and there, helping to ease the pain of egregious performance...

The saga of John Parrott and the infernal pub quiz machine remains one of the most widely read posts, primarily because back then people had started to search Google for answers to the questions posed by those wretched machines; I still haven't received an apology from Mr Parrott for the part he played in that particular downfall.

As any follower of National Hunt racing will tell you, the twin threats of abandoned fixtures and a family Christmas make for a particularly difficult time over the festive period; on at least one occasion The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game has provided some much-needed light relief...

And perhaps you were unaware the 2012 Grand National runners had starred in a piece of 'fiction noir' of their own making?
Bay mare Big Knickers proved a source of some ribaldry back in 2010 when finishing a staying-on third in a Plumpton maiden; the comments-in-running included 'held up towards rear'. Helpfully, further additional suggestions for potential use in future racecourse commentaries were offered up:

Big Knickers pulled up / brought down; Big Knickers out the back struggling with a big weight; Big Knickers just held on; Big Knickers stayed on (up the hill); Big Knickers looking comfortable; Big Knickers squeezed for room; Big Knickers out with the washing etc. etc.

Mrs Tips continues in robust health and still retains that most piquant of qualities, the ability to walk into a room where televised racing is being broadcast and pick the winner of the next whereas all of my own carefully researched selections carrying my own hard-earned money have already fallen by the wayside...

The most galling interview I have been obliged to conduct came after the 2009 Grand National when my mother-in-law backed Mon Mome each-way at odds of 100/1; the telephone transcript, reproduced below, makes no record of my own silent sobbing:

PG: 'What made you choose that horse?'
Mother-in-law: 'Well, the name Mon Mome is quite close to Mum and as I'm Mum to five girls I thought I'd go with that.'
PG: 'What did you think during the race?'
Mother-in-law: 'I didn't realise it was going to win until right at the end. Grandpa said the horse had gone - I thought he meant it had fallen.'
PG: 'How did you feel?'
Mother-in-law: 'Very excited - we were shouting at the telly. We didn't even realise what price the horse was until the caption came up on screen! When we went to the bookies the lady said "Here comes the woman with the big win."' 

It took me some five years to recover.

Horse-racing, you know, it's a game of regrets. Allowed just the one, I'd cite watching the ill-fated Synchronised pass The Giant Bolster to win the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup with a 66/1 slip about David Bridgwater's charge stuffed in my pocket; Sir Anthony Peter McCoy OBE has never apologised for that particular disservice.

And a tip to mark the tenth anniversary? 

Well, the predominant themes discussed include fancy prices, the Grand National and loosing wagers so in that spirit Royale Knight is a cautious suggestion for next Saturday's showpiece. 

Before rushing in (where angels fear to tread), note that at this stage he needs twenty to drop out in order to make the cut and soft ground would appear to suit; I've seen one 10 day forecast that predicts rain in the Liverpool area on Thursday, Friday and Saturday next week. Beaten 15 lengths in sixth off a mark of 139 last year, Dr Newland's gelding runs off 142 this time and is currently priced at 50/1 in places; Paddy Power offer 40/1 with a non-runner no-bet proviso and are paying a quarter the odds five places.

Quixotic? Of course!

Onwards and upwards as they say...

Friday, March 25, 2016

Cheltenham aftermath

Cheltenham's 2016 Festival has certainly left its mark on the layers.

David Williams of Ladbrokes is on record saying 'It's been the most expensive week here we can remember' while in Thursday's edition of The Times William Hill chief executive James Henderson bemoaned the fact that '55% of races had been won by favourites or second-favourites' going on to add: 'I've never known four losing days at Cheltenham in my 30-year career in bookmaking.'

In this week's Weekender Alistair Whitehouse-Jones has penned a paean to D N Russell, diplomat and jockey. Davy's TV interview minutes after being unseated from Zabana at the start of the JLT Novices' Chase stands as testimony to his diplomatic skills whilst his ride on Diamond King to collect the Coral Cup speaks for itself.

That article reminded me of a comment from Radio 5 Live's coverage during the week; to paraphrase - if you want to make money at the Festival, back Davy Russell. This year from a total of 13 rides D N Russell won on Diamond King (12/1) and Mall Dini (14/1), showing a profit of 15 points. I'll try to keep that in mind for next year.

Undecided on the highlight of the week? Watching the replays may help...

Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle
Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase
Don Cossack in the Gold Cup

The official handicapper seems suitably impressed with Thistlecrack's performance in winning the World Hurdle; allocated a rating of 174, Colin Tizzard's stable star is on an equal footing with the legendary Big Buck's.

Killer Crow, widely touted on the Festival preview circuit, failed to make the cut for his race. Last time out he finished second in a Grade A Handicap Chase at Leopardstown, two and a quarter lengths behind Empire Of Dirt who won the snappily-named Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate on Thursday. At the time of writing Gordon Elliott's charge holds an entry in Monday's Irish Grand National for which he is quoted at 16/1 by both Coral and bet365.  

Footballers behaving badly was a story reported in several media outlets on the Wednesday morning; obviously no one condones such behaviour. That said, even I, with a mere smattering of knowledge, know the history of the turf to be littered with examples of profligacy and dissipation.

Nicholas Clee in his book Eclipse tells the tale of a meat salesman who owns the horse and 'an adventurer who made his money through roguery and gambling. He is also the companion of the madam of one of London's most notorious brothels' while Nicholas Foulkes' Gentlemen And Blackguards depicts early Victorian society at a time of 'frenzied speculation, high stakes and low morals'.

In a letter to The Times published Wednesday 22.03.16 reader Richard Warnock picks up the theme, quoting the rector of Cheltenham from 1827:

"If you wish your child to plunge into the world's vain pleasures, to acquire a taste for dissipation, send him to Cheltenham races. Every species of profligacy - adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, envying, drunkenness, revellings and such like are promoted by a race week."

Good Lord! I don't recall the racecourse mentioning any of this in the promotional literature sent out back in October...

From Cheltenham to Newton Abbot - tomorrow's two mile Class 2 Handicap Chase at 3.15 has caught my attention; in last year's renewal Another Flutter comfortably beat Starkie and Ulck Du Lin.

From three five-day entries, Paul Nicholls lets Ulck Du Lin take his chance once again, this time off a mark eight pounds higher - the gelding has done most of his racing (and winning) on right-handed tracks.

Ut Majeur Aulmes beat Starkie a neck and four lengths last time out; taking into account David Pritchard's claim, they look closely matched here.

The two course and distance winners, Miss Tenacious and Easily Pleased, return following lengthy lay-offs which leads me to Keel Haul. Back in November this one beat Minella Present at Cheltenham but appears to have lost his way a little since. He was an intended runner in the 4.15 at Ludlow yesterday but was withdrawn and I don't know why. The declaration here suggests it wasn't too serious - Minella Present held five day entries for this and the Ludlow race but connections have taken up neither option.

On the back of that Cheltenham run in November and now sporting a visor for the first time, I'll chance Keel Haul at around 13/2.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - the betting debrief

Just a fortnight or so away from the tenth anniversary of the first blog post and I'm happy to report this year's Festival has proved the most profitable on record.

Shown below a record of the highlighted selections to the registered starting price, each-way wagers calculated to one fifth the odds.

Altior win 4/1, win - returns 5 points;

Carole's Destrier each-way 14/1, pulled up;

Polly Peachum win 6/1, tenth.

Blaklion each-way 8/1, win - returns 5.8 points;

Special Tiara each-way 16/1, third - returns 2.1 points;

Ballyandy win 5/1, win - returns 6 points.

Garde La Victoire win 4/1, fell;

Whisper each-way 9/1, eighth;

Smart Talk win 6/1, thirteenth.

Don Cossack win 9/4f, win - returns 3.25 points;

Sceau Royal win 8/1, twelfth.

Total outlay: 11 points
Total return: 22.15 points
Profit: 11.15 points
Win strike rate: 36.36%
Profit as % of turnover: 101.36%

A good day Wednesday, a dry day Thursday, book-ended with a winner on the first day and the last day. Two of the four winners were available at bigger prices on the morning of the race - Blaklion (12/1) and Ballyandy (6/1).

For many the highlight of the week was Sprinter Sacre's victory in the Queen Mother Chase but, for me, Annie Power's all-the-way win in the Champion Hurdle just pinches it.

I'm sure we'll come back and do it all over again next year... 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - Friday

The Gold Cup (3.30) is the highlight of the meeting.
The picture has changed markedly during the week with the Mullins camp deciding to re-route Vautour to the Ryanair (which he wins today, even money favourite) and Bryan Cooper opting to ride Don Cossack rather than Don Poli for owners Gigginstown House Stud.

The principals all come with reservations...
There won't be a dry eye in the house should Cue Card win; connections will collect a £1 million bonus following his victories in Haydock's Betfair Chase and the King George at Kempton. A breathing operation has revitalised Colin Tizzard's charge but there's still a question in my mind whether he'll come up the hill and stay this extended three and a quarter mile trip.

At the age of ten, he's not getting any younger either - the last ten-year-old to win the Gold Cup was Cool Dawn in 1998.

Don Cossack's Cheltenham record doesn't inspire confidence. He fell in the 2014 running of the RSA Chase and then finished a disappointing third in last year's Ryanair when sent off the 5/2 favourite. In a full and frank post-race debrief connections admitted that ride wasn't Bryan Cooper's finest hour; this race offers a chance of redemption. He also fell in Cue Card's King George, coming to grief two from home when about to make his challenge - the suspicion is his jumping suffers when the chips are really down.  

That said, Don Cossack's seven length defeat of Djakadam in the 2015 Punchestown Gold Cup looks a key piece of form. 

Djakadam finished second, one and a half lengths behind Coneygree in last year's Gold Cup, but he comes to this on the back of a fall in the BetBright Trial here seven weeks ago. That day he sustained an injury that required a number of stitches and, although connections maintain he hasn't missed any work, it's hardly an ideal preparation.

Don Poli is a big old-fashioned chasing type who looks hard work, lazy almost, but who can get the job done; he'll certainly stay the trip! He won the RSA Chase last year but on official ratings has 12 pounds to find with Cue Card so looks short enough in the market. Although Bryan Cooper prefers Don Cossack, his chance is respected but would increase with ease underfoot.

Smad Place has to come into reckonings on the back of his front running display here in the BetBright Trial. Alan King's grey likes Cheltenham and jumped for fun that day; I'd imagine connections would be keen to use similar tactics again. He won the Hennessy that way in November but finished some 16 lengths behind Cue Card in the King George.

Don Cossack is the selection.

In my initial preview last Friday I indicated I'd given up betting in Festival handicaps and generally my wallet had felt the benefit. I strayed from the straight and narrow on Tuesday, supporting Carole's Destrier in the Ultima Handicap Chase; that one pulled up.

With fingers burned, I'm not tempted to follow up the two County Hurdle (2.10) 'whispers' mentioned -  Superb Story (second in the Greatwood last time) and Wait For Me (third in last year's bumper); both have crept in at the bottom of the handicap.

Apparently the former was touted on The Morning Line soon after that post so counts more as a 'shouting-from-the-rooftops' rather than a 'whisper' (and is now as low as 7/1 in places). For those interested Sky Bet stand out offering 14/1 about the latter who is talented but isn't the best at the hurdles.

The form for the Triumph (1.30) has been all over the place this season; Nicholls saddles five, Mullins and King three apiece.

Zubayr shot to the head of the market after collaring runaway leader Azzuri in the Adonis with previously unbeaten Gibralfaro fourth; beforehand Gibralfaro had beaten Connetable yet the former is now 25/1, the latter 10/1. Both runners sport first time cheekpieces.

Ivanovich Gorbatov was beaten ten lengths by Footpad at Leopardstown last month; Ivanovich is currently 9/2, Footpad 10/1.

I was prepared to forgive Gibralfaro his run in the Adonis and the 25/1 quoted looks big but reading Alan King's column in the Weekender, the gelding is hardly given a mention whereas of course and distance winner Sceau Royal the handler says:

"Sceau Royal schooled under Daryl Jacob last week and we were thrilled with him, he's right at the top of his game."

 Sceau Royal (7/1) gets the nod.

That's it, I'm afraid; time has caught up with me. Good luck for Gold Cup day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - Thursday

The World Hurdle (3.30) is Thursday's feature and on official ratings even money favourite Thistlecrack has four pounds and upwards in hand over his opponents.

Tom Scudamore rides Colin Tizzard's charge who has been something of a revelation this season having won Newbury's Long Distance Hurdle, the Long Walk at Ascot and the Cleeve.

A 'Festival Fact' plucked from The Sun's Festival pullout on Monday:

"Tom Scudamore has NEVER ridden a hurdle winner at the Festival. He is 0 from 94 rides."

Stop Press update: That's now 0 from 96; Tom Scu finished fourth on Pass The Time in the Mares' Hurdle yesterday and down the field in twelfth on Harley Rebel in the Fred Winter earlier today. 

Thistlecrack looks his standout chance to put the record straight.

That said, I still think this is more competitive than market prices indicate.

Cole Harden saved my bacon when winning last year's renewal; he hasn't really fired in two runs on soft / heavy ground this term and connections are hoping the better ground will bring about the required improvement. This has been the target all year but we haven't yet seen evidence that he's as good as he was - here's the acid test.

Saphir Du Rheu, second to Cole Harden last year, was sent off favourite for the Hennessy but couldn't lay a finger on Smad Place, eventually finishing fifth. After weakening two out behind Thistlecrack in December he has undergone a breathing operation; Cole Harden underwent a similar procedure before winning last year.

Whisper's chance disappeared with a sloppy jump four from home in that very same race. The following month he went to Aintree and turned the tables on Cole Harden in no uncertain terms, beating his Cheltenham conqueror three and a half lengths.

Nicky Henderson said recently:
"This time last year he had to run in it to get him right for Aintree, but this time he's where he was for Aintree last year."

Kilcooley isn't lightly dismissed but he hasn't been seen since winning Wetherby's West Yorkshire Hurdle at the end of October and, to date, has shown his best form with cut underfoot.

At odds of 14/1 Whisper rates a value each-way wager.
According to the market there's little to choose between Bristol De Mai, Outlander and Garde La Victoire in the opener, the JLT Novices' Chase.

Course and distance winner Garde La Victoire beat Bristol De Mai seven lengths at Uttoxeter in the autumn and is the only one of the three named with winning form on good ground. Bristol De Mai has probably looked the more impressive since that meeting; Garde La Victoire isn't always the neatest at his obstacles.
Black Hercules stays further, jumping really well at Warwick on his penultimate start, and he appeared to have the spoils in the bag the next time before coming to grief at the last. His chance is respected.

I'm going to chance Garde La Victoire with Sky Bet who offer money back as a free bet if a selection in this opening race loses.

Vautour's switch from Friday's Gold Cup has upset a lot of punters and given the Ryanair (2.50) a totally different complexion. Owner Rich Ricci told At The Races:

"The Gold Cup has been the plan all season - I know I've said that - and my feeling was that if he was working well enough to run in a Ryanair, why wouldn't he be working well enough to run in a Gold Cup?

"It turns out he's not been doing cartwheels, I've been very clear about that in the run up to the race, but we felt we'd take our chance in the Ryanair.

"It's not like he's pulled a plough around the fields at home but he's not doing cartwheels like he was last year and the Gold Cup is a very hard race.

"We thought about it, we talked about it a lot. If he was 100 per cent fit, the conditions are all coming his way, the ground is drying out, but at 90 per cent, you take the chance of ruining the horse.

"It's (Ryanair) his best chance of win."

I wouldn't be tempted to take 8/11 about a horse who is '...not doing cartwheels like he was last year...'

In the Mares' Novices' Hurdle (4.50) I'll play Smart Talk against favourite Limini.

This one is top-rated and trained by Brian Ellison - those with long memories may recall his Latalomne (purchased for £8,000) who came to grief at the second last in two consecutive Champion Chases when in the lead.

I remember the second occasion particularly well; I'd bet him at 25/1.      

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - Wednesday

Ten declared for the feature Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.30) with Un De Sceaux installed the odds-on favourite.

Mullins' hotpot beat God's Own six lengths in last year's Arkle and has won five of his seven chase starts, falling at Thurles when still a novice and at Leopardstown last December.

Connections were pleased with his subsequent win in Ascot's Clarence House Chase where he appeared to adopt a more measured approach at some of the obstacles. I've wanted to watch that race again but haven't managed it - my recollection is that Sire De Grugy made ground at some fences with more fluid jumping.

I was surprised to see both Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy officially rated higher; Dodging Bullets and Special Tiara share the same mark. Racing from the front, Un De Sceaux isn't a wager for those with a delicate / fragile constitution...

Sprinter Sacre is now rated 18 pounds lower than after his phenomenal win in the 2013 running of this race. He isn't the horse he once was but you can argue, even at the age of ten, he wouldn't necessarily have to be in order to win - Moscow Flyer (2005) was the last horse older than nine to collect the spoils.

Sire De Grugy also falls into the ten-year-old category and has been beaten by Sprinter Sacre and Un De Sceaux on his last two runs.
Following injury the 2015 champion Dodging Bullets made his seasonal debut in Newbury's Game Spirit Chase last month. Beaten ten lengths by Top Gamble, he looked a little ring-rusty that day and there's the suspicion this year's preparation has been a race against the clock.

Special Tiara was beaten three lengths into third by Dodging Bullets last year and then went on to collect Sandown's Celebration Chase beating Sprinter Sacre six lengths. He looked a trifle unfortunate the last day when hampered by eventual winner Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek. Special Tiara is likely to challenge Un De Sceaux for the lead; the danger is the pair will start racing early on and thereby ruin their chance.

On the back of last year's Arkle run God's Own isn't totally dismissed; previously that season he'd won the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter but I've never found him easy to catch right.

Special Tiara (14/1) is the each-way selection.

In the Neptune (1.30) Yanworth was impressive beating Shantou Village last time out and is expected to improve for better ground. He's my idea of the winner but I won't be backing him at around 11/10. Mullins saddles four of the eleven; Yorkhill's defeat of O O Seven and Agrapart in the Tolworth reads well as the latter-named went on to win Newbury's Betfair Hurdle eleven lengths.

Of the two market leaders for the RSA Chase (2.10) course and distance winner More Of That is short enough with just two chase runs under his belt - the last eight-year-old to win was Rule Supreme in 2004. The yard has been quiet of late but has just bagged the amateur four mile race with Minella Rocco. 

No More Heroes is the best horse on official ratings yet at the time of writing his price is drifting out to 5/2; he's starting to look like a value play. 

I like Blaklion who isn't the biggest of animals but certainly a battler; my worry is he had a hard enough race in the Towton last time.

With just eight declared, Blaklion (10/1 Bet Victor and Paddy Power) is an each-way chance.

I've enough tales of woe about the concluding bumper to fill a wheelbarrow, including missing both Hairy Molly at 33/1 (2006) and Dunguib at 9/2 (2009) whilst at the track, and Cue Card at 40/1 in 2010.

The Irish challenge is traditionally strong; in most lists Willie Mullins' Augusta Kate shares favouritism with Ballyandy. Augusta Kate, the only mare in the race, is owned by a syndicate that includes Graham Wylie, Ant and Dec, Alan Shearer, Lee Westwood and sports agent Chubby Chandler.

Ballyandy is a course and distance winner who suffered his only defeat when attempting to concede four pounds to Coeur Blimey on soft ground at Ascot last December.

Ballyandy (13/2) is the selection. Those looking for an each-way chance at a bigger price may want to consider High Bridge (12/1) who hails from a yard that in general has done well with its bumper runners this season. On a line through Aurillac High Bridge has less than four lengths to find with the selection and better ground may help.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - Tuesday

Beware the Ides of March. Julius Caesar was assassinated on 15th March - a pointer to Band Of Blood in the 2.50 perhaps - but tomorrow it's the bookies who will be keen to make a killing.

Traditionally I've adopted a cautious approach on the first day of the Festival; this year it's unlikely to prove too much of an imposition as tempting propositions look rather thin on the ground.

Faugheen misses the feature, the Champion Hurdle (3.30), through injury; with her seven pounds allowance Annie Power, re-routed from the Mares' Hurdle (4.10), is the form selection but the price makes little appeal.

Nichols Canyon beat Identity Thief fair and square in the Ryanair Hurdle.

I tipped The New One as a play against Faugheen in last year's renewal but he was disappointing in fifth and may be better over further these days.

In 2014 I supported My Tent Or Yours - he ran a fine race and was pipped a neck by Jezki but hasn't seen a racecourse in 703 days.

Camping Ground is top-rated but probably needs further and is unlikely to be suited by drying round.

Old Guard misses the race but you can't blame connections for supplementing ultra-consistent Lil Rockerfeller at a cost of £20,000; on official ratings he has as good a chance as several in the field.

I'm not going to play in a tricky-looking Champion.

In the opener I'll support course and distance winner Altior against Min. On ratings Henderson's other runner Buveur D'Air is closely matched with his stablemate but doesn't come into this with the same level of experience over hurdles. Sky Bet offer money back as a free bet (up to maximum £25) if your horse loses in this race.

With just seven in the field and Douvan a long odds-on chance, the Arkle makes no appeal as a betting medium; Garde La Victoire goes in Thursday's JLT Novices' Chase.

Carole's Destrier has his share of weight in the Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50) and tends to make one or two mistakes in a race but last time out he won the London National with something in hand and comes to this fresher than most with the stable bang in form. I'll take an each-way interest -  at the time of writing both Sky Bet and Bet Victor offer 12/1 and pay five places.

Polly Peachum, my favourite mare in training, is a play against Vroom Vroom Mag in the Mares' Hurdle (4.10).

In John Gay's The Beggar's Opera Polly Peachum marries highwayman Captain Macheath, much to the dismay of her parents who predict she will not be able to keep him in funds for gambling and philandering. All rather apposite...

Anyway, I digress.

Polly (equine variety) probably missed her best chance last year when pipped by Glens Melody. This is her last race before retiring to the breeding paddocks; she will appreciate the drying ground.

Finally regular readers will know Johnny Og obliged at a nice price for the blog recently. He wants two to two and a half miles, likes to race out in front on his own and has been known to sulk if he can't dominate. Declared for the amateurs' four miler tomorrow (4.50), he has been given quotes of 100/1 which, from where I'm standing, appear rather frugal - a wager is not advised.

Johnny, Polly, Carole - it's becoming a bit like a dating agency in here...

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - initial thoughts

This time last year Alan Lee had written several pieces on the Festival build-up and pointed out the value in the 7/2 Coral were quoting about Ireland to win the Prestbury Cup. This week The Times coverage has been pitiful.

The old adage 'Money talks' is particularly pertinent at Cheltenham - it just hasn't had an awful lot to say to me in recent years. Thankfully, Cole Harden broke that worrying trend when winning the 2015 running of the World Hurdle.

If money talks, then comparing current prices about the Mullins hotpots with those quoted at the beginning of the month might just indicate those that are vulnerable; they are Min (was 5/4, now 2/1) and Annie Power (was 6/4, now 2/1).

I intend to oppose Min in the opener with one of the Henderson runners, depending on the ground. If it comes up soft Buveur D'air (7/1) will get the vote, otherwise Altior (4/1) will be the selection. Sky Bet currently offer a free bet if you lose on the first race of the day and also give a best odds guarantee.

Most observers seem to think Douvan a shoo-in in the Arkle. Garde La Victoire isn't always the neatest at the obstacles but his seven length defeat of Bristol De Mai at Uttoxeter while conceding that opponent nine pounds reads well. He rates an each-way chance at 14/1.

The Champion Hurdle looks very tricky; at this point I don't intend to have a bet but I will have a wager on Polly Peachum in the mares' hurdle.

Two years ago I backed her at 3/1 and watched her win a Warwick mares' handicap hurdle by an astonishing fourteen lengths off a mark of 117; I've followed her since. Ideally she needs good ground to show her best and probably missed her chance last year when beaten a head by Glens Melody after Annie Power fell at the last with the spoils seemingly at her mercy. This is Polly's last race before being retired to the breeding paddocks.

I'm not inclined to oppose Yanworth in the opener and I like Blaklion in the RSA (an each-way shot at 10/1 with William Hill) although I'm worried he had a hard enough race on heavy ground in the Towton at Wetherby the last day.

Ballyandy brings strong form into the concluding bumper.

Thistlecrack is the form selection for the World Hurdle but this looks far more competitive than the market would have us believe.

Last year's winner Cole Harden (8/1) hasn't fired this season but better ground could make all the difference; Saphir Du Rheu (10/1) was second behind Cole Harden and has since had a wind operation; Kilcooley (20/1) is returning from injury but is certainly no mug while Henderson says of Whisper (14/1): 'This time last year he had to run in it to get him right for Aintree, but this time he's where he was for Aintree last year.'

If I had to bet now, Whisper 14/1 each-way looks value.

In the mares' novices' hurdle, Smart Talk (7/1) represents a play against favourite Limini.

I gave up betting in Festival handicaps a long time ago and my wallet has certainly felt the benefit.

This year I have been tempted to stray having heard a whisper for locally-trained Superb Story in the County Hurdle. This one hasn't been seen since finishing second behind Old Guard in the Greatwood in November; Old Guard is set to take his chance in the Champion on Tuesday. Wait For Me is entered in the same race and is another of interest; both have 50 odd entries above them in the handicap so aren't guaranteed to make the cut.

A quick handicap digression here - in the Ultima on Tuesday Carole's Destrier is a chaser I like and is trained by Neil Mulholland who saddled last year's winner The Druids Nephew.

In the Gold Cup, the last ten-year-old to win was Cool Dawn in 1998 which puts me off Cue Card.

Last year's second Djakadam fell here at the end of January and required a number of stiches to his chest afterwards; handler Willie Mullins tells Weekender readers his charge hardly missed any work - nonetheless it's disconcerting.

For me, the race is between Don Cossack, Vautour and Don Poli. I'll make my selection nearer the time but in his comments to the press Mullins is fairly convinced Vautour will stay and improve between ten and fourteen pounds from his running in Kempton's King George.

That's where I am - I hope that's helpful rather than confusing. I stopped going to Festival preview evenings some time ago as you end up coming away with more tips than you can shake a stick at.

It just remains for me to say that, as usual for the Festival, I'll post a blog with selections each evening before the following day's racing.

The racing gods - are they going to look on favourably this year, I wonder?

Friday, March 04, 2016

Distractions and diversions

Cheltenham is less than a fortnight away, I've just purchased my Weekender Cheltenham The Ultimate Guide (£3.25 from all good newsagents) and new Gold Cup sponsors Timico are running a free-to-enter competition with a first prize of £250,000 - all you have to do is predict the correct finishing order of the runners.

All of which has distracted me from tomorrow's cards. Still, a couple of Newbury runners have caught my eye...

Both regular readers will know that six weeks ago Johnny Og caused me a considerable amount of anguish when winning Ascot's Thames Materials Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase at odds of 14/1;  I'd picked him out as a bet at Newbury three days earlier but that meeting was frosted off and I didn't have a penny on at Ascot...

Unplaced at Cheltenham seven days later, Johnny returns to action tomorrow (Newbury 4.35) after a short break which should have freshened him up nicely. According to Martin Keighley's comments in the Weekender at the turn of the year, the key factor with this horse is he likes to race from the front - on his own:

"He has plenty of ability but needs to be left out in front with no company. He won at Stratford... but then things have gone against him at Newbury and Ascot as he couldn't get his own way..."

Of tomorrow's nine opponents, the potential challengers for the early lead are Royal Guardsman, Lucky Jim and So Oscar; Royal Guardsman looks the biggest threat to my cunning Baldrick-like plan, having won the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle on this card last year. 

Three of the field - Take A Break, So Oscar and Florida Calling - are trying fences for the first time while another two opponents - Hughesie and Lucky Jim - have just the one chase outing under their belt.

I'll take an each-way interest in Johnny Og, 14/1 at the time of writing; given his style of racing, I think I'll know my fate soon enough.

David Pipe appears particularly upbeat about Gabrial The Great in the Weekender. This one has next week's Imperial Cup at Sandown as his target but it looks as though connections want to blow away the cobwebs with a run in Newbury's 2.50.

In August 2014 he raced off a mark of 140 but he was subsequently off the track for more than a year before finishing third at Wincanton in December. Tomorrow he starts off 126 and wears a tongue-tie for the first time; 12/1 is the current price if you're tempted.

Pure Vision has had the Newbury finale as a target since the autumn. Owned by J P McManus, he was beaten a head over course and distance in November. Alan King won last year's renewal with The Unit and saddles Sir Anthony Browne and Tara View.

Tom Segal has set a hare running with the suggestion that, on the eve of Cheltenham, the King stable may be going out of form. This follows a couple of high-profile disappointments last weekend (Gibralfaro and Criq Rock at Kempton and Grumeti and Medinas at Fontwell - both Grumeti and Medinas have since been retired). Graham Cunningham spent this morning at Barbury Castle - and reports no obvious cause for concerns.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Betfred Eider Chase 2016

Back in February 2014 I wrote:

"Many will concentrate on Kempton tomorrow but rather than put up half a dozen short-priced losers on that card, I've chosen to exercise a modicum of self-discipline and restricted myself to putting up one bigger-priced loser at Newcastle."

I'm going to adopt a similar approach this evening as on that occasion I tipped Wyck Hill for the Eider and, bless my old boots, David Bridgwater's charge obliged at odds of 9/1, having been as big as 16/1 the night before.

Afterwards, in what can only be described as a severe state of shock, I wrote:

"I haven't bothered to go back and check the fine detail but, in very broad terms, I manage to pull a stunt like this roughly once every ten years..."  

Wyck Hill goes again in tomorrow's Eider (Newcastle 2.50) but he fell at the sixth in last year's renewal and at the age of twelve it's hard to drum up confidence - he was pulled up on his last racecourse appearance in the 2015 Grand National.

Last year Miborough beat Summery Justice a length and a half with Woodford County eighteen lengths adrift in third (Portrait King ninth, Beforeall tenth, Shotgun Paddy UR and, as discussed, Wyck Hill F).

Of the first three home, at the age of nine Woodford County makes some appeal off a mark just two pounds higher. This term he has won over three miles six at Exeter in December and finished fifth behind the Kerry Lee trained Mountainous in the Welsh National, beaten just a neck for fourth spot by Saroque who claimed second in the Devon National earlier today.

Kerry Lee, enjoying a rich vein of form in this type of race, saddles likely favourite Russe Blanc but the grey has been raised a stiff-looking twelve pounds following a facile victory in Warwick's Classic Chase six weeks ago.

12/1 at the time of writing, Woodford County is the each-way selection; most layers pay a quarter the odds four places.

In an effort to manage unrealistic expectation, allow me once again to draw your attention to my comment following Wyck Hill's 2014 victory: 'I manage to pull a stunt like this roughly once every ten years...'