Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cheltenham on New Year's Day

I always like to start the new year off with a winner but, more often than not, I fail miserably. Still, I'm not going to let that small point of order prevent me from trying my luck in 2009. If Cheltenham manages to beat the predicted frost, I'll take a chance with Tartak against Kicks For Free in the Dipper Novices' Chase at 1.40. Tartak was beaten by Gone To Lunch last time out; that one franked the form by winning again at Newbury on Monday - the step back in trip here shouldn't prove too much of a problem for the selection. Although it's a small field, it would be unwise to see this as a two horse affair. You can expect Calgary Bay to improve following his first run of the season while Howard Johnson's Kealshore Boy is highly-regarded and comes from a stable that's in excellent form. This contest should give us some pointers for the future.

Likely favourite Franchoek has struggled a little this term and is worth taking on in the 3.20; I'll be doing so with the top-rated No Refuge who put up a decent performance on his seasonal debut behind Pettifour at Wetherby. Maidstone Mixture and Lough Derg should ensure there's some early pace in the race.

Alexanderthegreat is getting on a little these days but has been in decent form recently for the Venetia Williams operation; he could repay each-way support in the Cheltenham Annual Pony Club Raceday Handicap Chase at 1.05.

On New Year's Eve, congratulations go to Hayley Turner who became the first woman jockey to ride a hundred winners in Britain in the course of a year. For future reference, the name of the beast on which she reached the landmark was Mullitovermaurice. With that, may I take this opportunity to wish all readers of this humble blog a happy and prosperous new year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas review

Kauto Star's victory in a fast-run King George was most impressive; many of his rivals were taken clean off their feet. Paul Nicholls was clearly pumped up afterwards and used the post-race interviews to make a couple of points. We won't see Kauto out again before next March while Denman has Newbury's Aon Chase as his target.

I'm not certain how much store to put by Breedsbreeze's victory in the Feltham. The six novices put in some very dodgy jumping between them, the winner and favourite being the best of a poor bunch on the day. Market rival The Market Man made an absolute howler down the back straight that put an end to his chance. I'm not tempted by 10/1 this winner for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham as I wasn't totally convinced about him getting the three mile trip and his limited chasing experience to date has come in small fields. Gone To Lunch, who won today at Newbury, is priced at 16/1 for Cheltenham; he may not turn out to be the best horse in the field but his jumping should stand him in good stead.

On Saturday I thought two starts were worthy of comment. At Chepstow the starter let the runners go off any old how in the Future Champions Hurdle while in the Castleford Chase at Wetherby there were at least two or three jockeys riding speedy sorts who looked determined to get a 'flyer' and practically had their mounts galloping as the tapes went up; 7/2 favourite Calatagan was over twenty lengths off the pace at the first turn!

Diamond Harry won today's Challow Hurdle at Newbury without being extended; connections may take in one more race at Cheltenham towards the end of next month before going for the Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle at the Festival.

The prize awaiting the winner of the Weekender's Christmas crossword puzzle is dinner with Mick Fitzgerald. One thing is certain - should you win, you won't have to put in too much effort beforehand thinking about what you're going to talk about... Rumour has it second prize is a long weekend 'chez Fitz'.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Chepstow, Kempton and Wetherby

Precautionary inspections have been called tomorrow morning at both Chepstow and Wetherby. The Welsh National is usually a slog in the mud over three and three quarter miles and this year looks no different. Of the twenty to go to post, four are set to carry eleven stone or more while the bottom seven entries have to carry more than their allocated long handicap weight; I'd be surprised if any of the top four win. There are some nice horses carrying a racing weight including Nenuphar Collonges and Mon Mome; it not a surprise to see these two at the head of the market. Of the two I prefer Mon Mome as he's a bigger price and the jockey can claim a valuable three pounds. His tussle with Star De Mohaison just a fortnight ago at Cheltenham is something of a concern. I'll keep an eye on how Darkness runs in this - he was a good horse, suffered an injury that kept him off the course for two and a half years but made a decent comeback at Haydock five weeks ago.

The 2.40 is pretty hot with the protagonists likely to be Simarian, Pepite De Soleil and Walkon. In a recent stable tour trainer Evan Williams indicated tough customer Simarian was being aimed as this, so he gets the nod ahead of the other two.

At Kempton Twist Magic sets a poser in the Desert Orchid Chase at 3.15. He's the top-rated animal and looked a big danger to eventual winner Master Minded when coming down two out in the Tingle Creek. If he runs to that level he can win, but he has disappointed too often in the past.. McCoy rides - every horse has his price and on value grounds alone I'll be tempted to play if he's priced at 5/2 or bigger. Connections of Starluck appear to have dodged the serious opposition by opting to run here rather than in Chepstow's 2.40; Starluck is the one to beat in the opener.

At Wetherby Pop steps up in class in the trappy-looking 2.30; if the ground were better I'd consider a wager but on this occasion I'll watch from the sidelines. In the Castleford Handicap Chase Moon Over Miami is talented but not guaranteed to perform. In the past he has allowed the preliminaries in the paddock to affect his performance on the track. The Racing post report he has recently had a wind operation and quote him at 6/1 in their tissue. In a race that is likely to be run to suit this hold-up performer, 6/1 would be of interest, especially if it turns out the operation has worked.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Boxing Day selection box

As always, the Boxing Day selections come with their customary health / wealth warning. It's Christmas Eve, I haven't had time to study much of the form, I've had one or two more sherberts than I should have, and Mrs Tips is bending my ear. If you're hoping to win the mortgage down your local track the day after tomorrow, that's not going to happen with these picks...

I've tried to come up with at least one selection at each of the jump meetings.

1.30 The Market Man
2.05 Either Pierrot Lunaire or Snap Tie as a play against Punjabi
2.40 Kauto Star win, Snoopy Loopy each way

1.45 Marginally prefer Standin Obligation to Cloudy Lane as a play against Tidal Bay

1.15 Pride Of Dulcote

12.20 Starburst Diamond
2.00 Victorias Groom

1.25 Rate Of Knots
3.40 Neil Harvey

Market Rasen
2.25 Victory Gunner goes for his fourth consecutive win in the Lincolnshire National. I fear he may have a little too much weight this year but I'll be hoping he manages to pull it off.

12.15 River Shanakill
12.45 Kings Maiden
2.55 Justwhateverulike

Merry Christmas everyone!

Christmas dilemmas

A few thoughts after quickly looking at the Boxing Day ante-post markets...

For the King George, Voy Por Ustedes is short enough given we don't know for certain whether he'll stay. On better ground Air Force One would have won the Hennessy; he's likely to get his ground here but regular jockey Noel Fehily misses the ride after breaking his collar bone in a fall at Fontwell yesterday. Just one win from the last thirty runs will be something of a concern for those thinking about backing either David Pipe or Nigel Twiston-Davies trained horses. Exotic Dancer is quoted at fancy prices but has only been left in as a precaution - the Lexus Chase in Ireland is his target. On Betfair Chase form there's not much between Snoopy Loopy and Tamarinbleu. With better steering on the jockey's part, Snoopy Loopy would have beaten Monet's Garden last time out over two and a half miles. Prior to that Huntingdon effort, I was concerned that Snoopy would get done for toe if he ran here on this flat track; now I think he represents decent each-way value. He's as tough as old boots but has been busy over the past weeks - I just hope this isn't one race too many. The bookies quote 33/1 Albertas Run but the horse is trading shorter on Betfair.

I think the Christmas Hurdle is more competitive than the market would indicate. Punjabi is the short-priced favourite; Paul Nicholls has issued an unusually bullish update about Pierrot Lunaire. Richard Johnson holds Snap Tie in very high regard while Straw Bear is a previous winner who hasn't really taken to chasing this term.

The Market Man is entered in the Feltham and jumped exceptionally well at Newbury last time; he's not one to take on lightly.

Up at Wetherby connections have entered last season's Arkle winner Tidal Bay in the three mile one furlong Rowland Meyrick. Trading at around 6/4 he's worth opposing as he's not guaranteed to stay and his jumping hasn't been flawless in the past - I think the fences at Wetherby are amongst the stiffest in the country. State Of Play won the Charlie Hall here early in November but at the weights he was entitled to and he only just got home ahead of Ollie Magern. I've had burnt fingers with State Of Play before; at this stage I'm unsure. Two I'll look at in greater detail are Nozic and Cloudy Lane. Standin Obligation also enters calculations but he was inconsistent when with David Pipe - perhaps the change of stable has proved beneficial.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Festive fare

The only thing that makes Christmas half-bearable is the racing on Boxing Day. Last night somebody who clearly has little regard for their own money asked me for an each-way outsider in the King George; I came up with 20/1 chance Snoopy Loopy. I figured if connections have stumped up £10k to supplement the horse, they must think it has some sort of chance. Previous King George winner and current favourite Kauto Star will generate plenty of press interest. However his stablemate and Gold Cup winner Denman has a surprise entry in the 2.55 hurdle race at Wincanton on the same day; teletext reports a decision regarding his participation will be taken on Tuesday. In the meantime, if you're in desperate need of rescue from the whole horror of Christmas, I recommend ploughing through the Boxing Day declarations to see if you can spot a cunning plot; should you happen to stumble upon one, please let me know.

Many will think that within the space of half an hour at Ascot on Saturday they saw the next Champion and World Hurdle winners in Binocular and Punchestowns. After winning on Binocular McCoy had a dig at the BBC's proposed coverage cuts with a quip that the only chance viewers would have to see the horse again would be on Top Gear.

A couple of midweek results caught my eye. Bannister Lane bounced back to form to win the three and three quarter mile handicap chase at Bangor on Wednesday while Ron Hodges' Dream Falcon was backed in from 20/1 to 7/1 before taking the two and a half mile novices' handicap chase at Ludlow on Thursday. At Ascot on Friday Medermit and Dee Ee Williams fought out a thrilling finish but perhaps the horse to note was Wendel who had every chance coming to the last; that form represents a big improvement on his previous two wins at Plumpton. Quoting Charlie Mann in the Weekender - "I have some very nice novice hurdlers this season and I think he could be the best of them." Earlier in the season Black Jacari was touted as a possible Triumph Hurdle hope but the horse has patently failed to deliver; he runs with first-time blinkers applied in a Class 4 juvenile novice hurdle at Hereford tomorrow.

It might be Christmas but the press still likes nothing better than a bad news story - they've been hinitng for a few weeks now that ten household High Street names are in danger of going to the wall in 2009. I wonder if William Hill is one of those ten names. And, finally, a phrase to strike fear into the heart of any sports administrator is 'suspicious betting patterns'. Last week snooker came under the spotlight...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ascot on Saturday

Following the midweek decision to re-schedule the Boylesports International to a card that already boasts the Long Walk Hurdle and the Ladbroke, a spokesman was quoted as saying, in typically understated fashion, that this was 'probably the greatest day's hurdling ever seen'.

Your view on the Long Walk will depend on your interpretation of the Long Distance Hurdle ran at Newbury three weeks ago. To my mind, the race was run at a muddling pace and things looked to fall just right for Duke De Regniere; on the walk back to the winners' enclosure that day, McCoy practically said as much in a TV interview. McCoy retains the ride tomorrow and perhaps surprisingly the horse is pushing for favouritism. Those behind who are likely to fancy their chances tomorrow include Mobaasher, Pettifour, Blazing Bailey and Hills Of Aran. After looking through the form earlier in the week, I'm convinced Mobaasher isn't the easiest ride while the top-rated Blazing Bailey often throws in a poor jump - his effort at the penultimate flight at Newbury probably put paid to his chance. In addition there's some discussion as to whether blinkers have helped in the past - they're been left off here. Hills Of Aran is 66/1 in places which is big - the horse has an each-way squeak in my book. Both Serabad and Punchestowns, who won with any amount in hand last time at Cheltenham, may have difficulty with this trip. I prefer something I know will stay and so side with Twiston-Davies' charge Pettifour. I like this horse and the trainer has been quite bullish in the build-up. Whatever happens, we should have a race to remember.

Only five in the re-arranged International and it could turn into a tactical affair; Celestial Halo likes to race prominently. Using official handicap ratings as a guide, Katchit is the one they have to beat while there doesn't look much between Chomba Womba and Crack Away Jack. I would have preferred the race to have been at Cheltenham for Katchit but at around 9/2 the current champion hurdler looks value against the current champion hurdle favourite Binocular.

A token each-way selection at a price for the Ladbroke - Irish Legend has a racing weight and comes to this in good form.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Friday at Ascot

The Mitie Kennel Gate Novices' Hurdle looks the best race of its type so far this season; I don't think I'll get involved but the outcome should prove useful for future reference. I like Dee Ee Williams - the yard is in good form at the moment - but Bergo has a seven pound pull at the weights for the half length beating last time. Since moving to Sheena West's the four year old Golan Way reamins unbeaten. He had some decent sorts behind at Cheltenham recently when making all - that's the way he likes to race but that may leave him vulnerable here. Howard Johnson's Door Boy has finished second to the smart Diamond Harry while Paul Nicholls' Shamari could be anything; this looks an enthralling race.

Deep Purple poses something of a conundrum in the novice chase at 2.30. He didn't jump too well on his debut over fences at Wetherby but made amends last time out at Taunton. Will he handle Ascot's tougher obstacles? Naiad du Misselot has smart form behind Palomar to his name but the percentage call looks to be Buck The Legend. The doubt is the stable form - Twiston-Davies emerged from a spell without a winner when Tricky Trickster obliged at Newbury yesterday (Wednesday).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Weekend washout

The Saturday cards at both Cheltenham and Lingfield were abandoned due to heavy overnight rain. Racing went ahead at Doncaster where the finale had been selected as the 'bonus' race for the two Scoop6 punters hoping to share over £1.6 million. Their chances looked to have increased significantly with the withdrawal of three runners on account of the going, leaving a field of just nine from which to make their two picks. Ray Stubbs and Lawrence Ireland chose Duke of Touraine (6/1) and Riguez Dancer (4/1). Up the home straight both horses were in a group of three that pulled away from the rest; Duke of Touraine looked to go half a length up on Charlie Crab (12/1) after the last but on the long run to the line the outsider fought back tenaciously next to the running rail to win by half a length. Both punters took it all very well really considering Channel Four insisted on repeatedly replaying the finish. The Tote estimate the bonus fund for Saturday December 27th will top £2 million; to be in with a chance of winning it, you just have to select six winners on Saturday...

Efforts were being made today to re-schedule the Boylesports International Hurdle to Ascot this weekend - at the moment it doesn't look as though those efforts have been successful. The unbeaten Diamond Harry, an entry in the cancelled Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, now has the Challow Hurdle at Newbury as his target.

Today's Racing Post leads with an article that compares the BBC's commitment to racing a decade ago with its plans for the coming decade. Ten years ago 79 days of racing were scheduled to be covered; from 2010 the BBC intend to broadcast just 14 days. Of course, the other terrestrial broadcaster, Channel Four, is known to have serious financial problems and may be taken over by Channel Five.

BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2008 is Olympic cyclist Chris Hoy. I certainly enjoyed last night's programme; nonetheless it still remains a source of wonder to me how the racing year can be summarised in thirty seconds flat.

Comment on a Christmas card, recently received: 'Went to Chepstow last month; seen better horses on Blackpool beach.'

Finally, is anybody else having difficulty finding what they want on the new Racing Post website...?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cheltenham - Saturday's Boylesports meeting

Unsurprisingly Imperial Commander is favourite for the day's feature race, the Boylesports Gold Cup, on the back of his impressive victory in the Paddy Power Gold Cup over course and distance a month ago. The Twiston-Davies inmate is my idea of the winner but everybody else has the same idea with the result he's no real value in the market. Some commentators oppose with Silverburn but, as I've said before on this blog, I'm not particularly keen - he has disappointed on a number of occasions so, in search of some value, I'll chance Tom Taaffe's Finger Onthe Pulse who's priced up at around 7/1.

From a betting point of view the International at 3.05 is much more interesting. Current champion hurdle favourite Binocular heads this market but there are some classy opponents in the field including the current champion hurdler. In the past ten renewals the jolly has won five times but on the other occasions a relatively unfancied horse has taken the prize; I remember backing Geos at 14/1 to win this when it was known as the Bula. The game mare Chomba Womba beat Crack Away Jack last time out at Ascot and the pair reoppose on similar terms here; on balance I think Crack Away Jack will reverse the form and that view is taken by the bookies who make the chestnut gelding a 4/1 shot while the mare is 6/1. Those who have opposed Katchit this season have be on good terms with themselves but trainer Alan King issued an upbeat update during the week with the result that the champion's price for this has shortened to 9/2 in places. At the time of writing Hills still go 5/1 Katchit - at that price he has to be worth an interest.

Anyone who saw Punchestowns win here last month will know why the horse is set to be sent off a short-priced favourite for the Relkeel Hurdle at 1.20. Having said that, I'm going to take a chance with Peter Bowen's Serabad. This horse won at Aintree three weeks ago when thought to be in need of the run. The trainer reports his charge has made plenty of improvement since but, using official ratings as a guide, he will need every ounce of that improvement to be competitive against this favourite. The softer the ground, the better it will suit the selection.

On official ratings Starluck is the one to beat in the opener while the finale appears between Massasoit and Diamond Harry. Both horses have yet to race over three miles in public; Massasoit is top-rated and gets the vote.

Addendum - I've just noticed that Henry Daly runs Pop in the 12.30 at Doncaster. Last time out this horse was in the process of giving Shining Gale a run for his money in a beginners' chase at Ludlow when coming to grief four out. Since then Shining Gale has gone on to win a Class 2 novice chase at Cheltenham by over twenty lengths. If his price is in double figures tomorrow morning, I'll consider an each-way interest.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cheltenham - quick notes for Friday

In the opener I wouldn't want to take too short a price about Ballyfitz. Sir Alex Ferguson owns a share in What A Friend - I wonder if he'll be at the course.

Following Dix Villez's controversial three length defeat of Garde Champetre over course and distance last time out, the layout for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (1.20) has been modified. Garde Champetre aims for compensation here and is likely to be in the shake-up.

Simon looked as though he'd come on for the run on his seasonal debut here four weeks ago and should go well in the 1.55. The Sporting Life's early tissue prices him at 12/1 which represents reasonable each-way value. Having been found lame in his box on the morning of the Hennessy, Character Building comes to this a fresh horse and is bound to be popular.

Gloucester runs in the 3.05 and is one I like who appeared a little unfortunate last time out. Priced up at 33/1, he was brought down two out while making stealthy headway from the rear in the race won by Sunnyhillboy at the track last month - of course, the odds are likely to be considerably shorter tomorrow...

In the finale I'd consider a speculative each-way wager at a price on What A Buzz. His chance will improve with soft / testing ground and the McCain stable are currently in decent form.

Finally you have to take your hat off to Ruby Walsh who returns to the saddle tomorrow after having his spleen removed following a fall from Pride Of Dulcote four weeks ago, and Cheltenham are taking every precaution to ensure the meeting can beat the frost.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Peterborough Chase

Over recent years it's been a bit of a devil to know on which day of the week this two and a half mile chase will be run. I assume race organisers are pleased with the eleven lining up for tomorrow's renewal, as opposed to the two that lined up the year before (when the race was run on a Saturday). Many of this year's field have something to prove. On official handicap ratings confirmed stayer Snoopy Loopy is the top horse; ten years old, he has shown excellent improvement over recent weeks but the trip is likely to be too sharp. Alan King's My Way De Solzen would have a big chance if back to his best but he disappointed on a number of occasions last term for no apparent reason; on balance I'm not prepared to take the risk. Natal is a horse I've found difficult to catch right in the past although he warrants plenty of respect, especially at this trip. I'm siding with Monet's Garden. His seasonal debut at Aintree appeared below par but the very soft ground that day didn't help - if I remember correctly connections were toying with the idea of withdrawing. The better ground here will suit and I'm hoping the grey still retains all his ability.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Sandown, Wetherby and Chepstow

I was on two minds whether to play today (Friday) with a couple of decent races at both Sandown and Exeter; in the event I'm glad I didn't. The victory of Barbers Shop over Sandown's stiff three miles stands out. This evening Paddy Power offer just 16/1 the horse for the Cheltenham Gold Cup; Hills go 33/1. Nicky Henderson can do little wrong at the moment - his 13/2 shot Doubly Guest looked set to spring a surprise in the 1.00 race at Exeter but a mistake at the last handed the initiative to Lupanar (7/1) who went on to score by half a length, with Franchoek a further one and a half lengths behind in third.

The feature at Sandown tomorrow is the Tingle Creek at 2.35. McCoy takes over from Sam Thomas to ride Master Minded, the highest rated horse in training; he'll be no price but is difficult to oppose. A number of commentators oppose with Tidal Bay; he's been backed during the week and represents a value play provided you're prepared to take on the favourite. At the back of my mind I have a picture of this horse jumping poorly at Doncaster before he went on to win the Arkle last season - having said that he had a nice pipe-opener at Carlisle five weeks ago. Twist Magic looked good winning this last year but things haven't really worked out since. The race doesn't make much appeal from a betting point of view. If eight had gone to post 50/1 shot Fiepes Shuffle would have had a sporting each-way chance of making the first three; I take Master Minded to win.

Only five runners in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase, but picking the winner isn't an easy matter. The two four year olds, Free World and Araldur, get a weight allowance from their opponents and the former is a course and distance winner. The railway fences in particular will provide a stiff test for a young novice but I'm going to take a chance on Araldur as a play against the Nicholls hotpot Free World. Cheating Chance would make more appeal if underfoot conditions were better; I'm sure I saw a comment earlier in the week from trainer Andy Turnell that implied the owners (rather than the trainer) were the ones who were keen to race here.

I consider Hernando Royal an each-way play in the 3.15 after his fourth behind Sunnyhillboy at Cheltenham; his featherweight will be an advantage in the prevailing conditions.

Provided there's no overnight frost the card at Wetherby should get the go-ahead. Nicky Henderson's Punjabi is expected to take the re-arranged 'Fighting Fifth' but he won't be a betting proposition.

In the One Man Novices' Chase Will Be Done is the top-rated animal; his beating of Nine De Sivola last time out reads well. Having said that, Silver By Nature was a close second to the highly-regarded Kealshore Boy at Newcastle. I'll chance Silver By Nature as he offers value, although I harbour some reservations about him quite seeing out this trip in testing conditions. Both these race prominently - I hope they don't get caught out taking each other on early doors.

Travelling back south, the going at Chepstow is soft. The markets think the man in the news, Sam Thomas, has a couple of steering jobs with Charity Lane and Inchidaly Rock; for those prepared to take a chance, Baren De Doc may repay each-way support in the opener.

If Ardaghey is priced up favourite for the 2.10 he'll be worth opposing as the trip looks on the short side for this dour stayer. Pauillac has disappointed too often for my liking while Presenting Copper isn't guaranteed to get the trip. In a trappy affair I'm tempted to side with Lysander; Michael Murphy takes off a valuable seven pounds.

Course and distance winner Wichita Lineman is the selection for the one o'clock race.