Sunday, April 29, 2012

The 2011/12 jumps season - a personal review

In a nutshell...

Champion jockey: A P McCoy
Winning trainer: Paul Nicholls
Winning owner: J P McManus
Leading conditional: Henry Brooke

In November Kauto Star reversed the previous season's Gold Cup form with Long Run to take Haydock's Betfair Chase and then confirmed that was no fluke by winning Kempton's King George VI Chase for a record fifth time. The 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup was built up to be the big showdown between the pair but a schooling fall in late February put the Star's participation in doubt; in the event Kauto made it to the track but jockey Ruby Walsh pulled him up after the ninth. Those who then thought the Gold Cup was something of a formality were to be proven wrong as Synchronised stayed on up the hill to beat outsider The Giant Bolster two and a quarter lengths, with 7/4 favourite Long Run a further three quarters of a length behind in third. Long Run never quite hit the heights of the previous year.

After last year's race many in the sport looked with trepidation to this year's running of the Aintree Grand National and those fears proved well founded with According To Pete fatally injured in a fall at Becher's and Gold Cup winner Synchronised breaking a hind leg while running loose after his fall at the same fence. Neptune Collonges (33/1) pipped Sunnyhillboy (20/1) a nose in the closest finish in the history of the race; Paul Nicholls' charge followed The Lamb and Nicolaus Silver to become the third grey to win and was promptly retired afterwards.

Team Ditcheat took the Champion Hurdle with Rock On Ruby and Big Buck's won a fourth consecutive World Hurdle before going to Aintree to record his 17th consecutive victory in the Liverpoool Hurdle, beating Sir Ken's record which had stood for some 60 years. However many of the Nicholls runners were under a cloud at Cheltenham and it was Nicky Henderson who turned out to be man in form, recording a four-timer on the Wednesday with Simonsig (2/1f), Bobs Worth (9/2), Finians Rainbow (4/1) and Une Artiste (40/1). The one everyone is talking about though is Sprinter Sacre who won the Arkle in stunning fashion.

Malcolm Jefferson's feat in training two horses, Cape Tribulation and Attaglance, to win at the Cheltenham Festival and then at Aintree four weeks later is worthy of a mention in any review of the season.

Yet again Richard Johnson finished second in the jockeys' championship but that spot would surely have gone to Jason Maguire had he not broken a bone in the back of his neck at the end of August which kept him off the track until mid-November. Donald McCain has emerged as the top trainer in the north.

The whip debate generated plenty of discussion throughout the entire season but back at the end of November a bay gelding called Hunt Ball won a Class 5 handicap chase at Folkestone off a mark of 68. After winning five of his next six races, he went to the Festival to contest the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap Chase off a mark of 142. Keiran Burke's charge obliged at odds of 13/2 and reportedly landed owner Anthony Nott over £500,000 in winning wagers.

Blog selections went through a (pretty short-lived) purple patch earlier in the season, Carruthers winning the Hennessy (advised each-way @ 20/1), West End Rocker the Becher (advised each-way @ 14/1) and Le Beau Bai the Welsh National (advised each-way @10/1); needless to say, normal service resumed after the Christmas festivities... Blog horse of the year goes to Overturn who won Ascot's Coral Hurdle (advised @ 3/1) and one week later the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle(advised @ 7/2). The temptation to go to the well on his next two outings was resisted but he was put up as each-way value at 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle where he ran a fine race from the front to finish second.

Perhaps those who backed the losing selections may forgive a little if I point them in the direction of The Queen's Arms, Kensington (listed in Time Out's 50 best pubs in London), the next time they're in the capital with a fancy for a glass of beer...

I only managed three trips to the track but that's better than in recent years - Ludlow in October, Warwick in January and the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival; Ludlow still rates as one of my favourite tracks.

Wetherby were due to stage the first race of the new season but the meeting was abandoned - course waterlogged! So, it was Sam Twiston-Davies who won the first race of the new season, the Ludlow
Golf Club Claiming Hurdle, on a horse called Bin End. Sam went on to complete a double on the day, as did one A.P. McCoy.

Plus ca change...

Friday, April 27, 2012

The season's finale at Sandown

Tomorrow's mixed card at Sandown marks the end of the the National Hunt season with the highlight the bet365 Gold Cup at 3.10. The going is currently described as soft, good to soft in places (heavy on the Flat course); amongst the twenty declarations are several who were last seen in the Aintree Grand National a fortnight ago. This race has thrown up some big-priced winners in recent years including Bounce Back (14/1 2002); Puntal (25/1 2004); Jack High (16/1 2005); Monkerhostin (25/1 2008); and Church Island (20/1 2010) - no favourite has obliged in the past ten years.

Two that immediately catch the eye are West End Rocker (fell at the second in the National and not allowed to take his chance in last week's Scottish National on account of the ground) and Major Mallarkey who finished second to Master Overseer in the Midlands Grand National seven weeks ago and comes from a stable that is bang in form. The drawback is everyone else is thinking along the same lines so those beasts are near the head of the market as is Le Beau Bai who won the Welsh National on heavy ground last December.

It's the end of term and I've looked around for something to back at a fancy price but to be honest I've struggled so I'll stick with West End Rocker who was my original selection for the National provided the ground came up soft.      

In the Celebration Chase, having had burnt fingers with Wishfull Thinking a couple of times this year, I'm not inclined to be tempted by his apparent return to form in the Melling Chase at Aintree; it's worth noting he has never won over this trip. Last year's winner French Opera deserves every respect but I'm going to side with Somersby. Hen Knight's charge has to concede weight all round but may prove up to the task.

And, of course, it all starts again the very next day at Wetherby where the first race of the new National Hunt season, the National Festival Circus Is Here Today Novices' Hurdle, is due off at two o'clock...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Scottish Grand National 2012

Grand Nationals - they're a bit like London buses; you don't see one for an age and then three come along all at once. Tomorrow's Scottish Grand National is the third to be run in under a fortnight - 25 will face the starter at 3.25 to set off on a journey of four miles 110 yards.

Those who prefer to make up their own mind may wamt to refer to this Twitter Guide to the Scottish Grand National, comments provided by Coral's Tim Smith.

Otherwise, here's a view...

Junior, a faller at the second at Aintree, is allowed to take his chance and appears to have a stiff task conceding a minimum of nine pounds to the rest of the field; the bottom ten all race out of the handicap. Only one winner has carried more than 10-9 to victory in the past decade - Grey Abbey in 2004 - while four winners have carried the 10-0 (not including riders' allowances) - Joes Edge 2005, Hot Weld 2007, Iris De Baume 2008, and last year's winner Merigo who is rated seven pounds higher this year.

Paul Nicholls' Harry The Viking ran well to be beaten just two lengths over the four mile trip of the Diamond Jubilee National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham; R. Walsh takes over from Mr W. Biddick in the plate and Harry is likely to start favourite.

Of those near the head of the market, Portrait King catches the eye. He comes into this on the back of a win in the Eider, having won the Punchestown Grand National Trial on his penultimate start. He's been given a break since and should go well - bet365 offer 9/1 this evening. Quentin Collonges looks unexposed but Knockara Beau's sixth in the Gold Cup reads well and rates the each-way wager at around the 12/1 mark.

A Twitter Guide to the 2012 Scottish Grand National runners

Another in this occasional series...

Following publication of my Twitter Guide to last week's Aintree Grand National, I was slightly worried racing aficianado and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond might accuse me of cultivating southern bias if I didn't do something similar for tomorrow's Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.

Thing is, the feedback I received from the Aintree Guide was jolly desperate, with punters saying the comments were 'rather dry'.


So, in an attempt to address this miserable siutation, I asked Tim Smith, Senior Trader at Coral, to provide comments for tomorrow's race. As you can see below, he's far better informed than me and has a better sense of humour to boot.

Usual rules - each entry compiled using Twitter's 140 character restriction...

Has won at Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival. Didn’t get beyond the 2nd fence in the National. Compensation here?
Benny Be Good
His dad was my favourite horse ever. Adaptable type who mixes hurdling with chasing but handicapper in control now.
Was once 2nd in a Triumph hurdle. Lost his pace and now up in trip, and will be walking by the end of this slog.
Knockara Beau
Old favourite who stays extreme trips better than his jockey does. Plodded on in the Gold Cup – this more his grade.
Fruity O’Rooney
In cracking form having finished 2nd at Cheltenham. Likes a trip but no secrets from the handicapper now.
Galaxy Rock
Gold Cup winning trainer/jockey combo. In decent form, popular with punters and stays longer than the mother in law.
Harry The Viking
2nd at Cheltenham, Ruby up now and sure to plough on when others have cried enough. Will be a shocking result for the bookies!
Auroras Encore
Back to form over shorter lately but stays 3 miles. This could be a mile too far but he’ll show up well early.
Ikorodu Road
Lightly raced for his age and on a hat trick. Not sure to stay this far but will be bang there if he does.
Portrait King
Irish raider on a hat trick. Stays forever, goes on any ground and jumps for fun. Hard to see him out the frame.
Old-timer who bounced back to form last time, but will need his free bus pass to trouble the judge in this one.
Quentin Collonges
Beaten at 11/8 last time up but this lightly raced novice could be a decent EW bet, provided you can spell it on the slip.
Won this in 2010 and 2nd last year. Laid out again this season and sure to go very close under Timmy Murphy.
Mostly Bob
Runs more bad races than good ones but capable on his day. Needs to bounce back from a shocking showing at Cheltenham.
Be There In Five
Pulled up in this last year and not shown much since. If you stand by the Winners Enclosure this will be there in five…..hours.
Any Currency
Out classed in the Cotswold Chase but will be more competitive back in a handicap. Could plod into the places at a price.
Our Island
Prolific point winner with bits of form under rules. Ran ok at Cheltenham but needs to pull out more to take this.
Mixes chasing and hurdling but not very good at either these days. Was once quite decent, but then so were U2.
Mac Aeda
Improving novice from the in-form Malcolm Jefferson barn. Blew out last time but chances if yard magic rubs off.
Running ok for an old timer but not getting any better. Will jump round in his own time.
King Fontaine
Fallen on his last two chase starts. Has more letters in his form than numbers and could get another one here.
Nearly old enough to shave but continues to run well in decent races. The pick of the golden oldies.
Captain Americo
Manages to get out paced in even the slowest of races and looks likely to do the same here. More likely to get lapped than win.
Out of form and out of the handicap. The owner must want some free badges.
Heez A Steel
Form looks like a Scrabble hand, and the only word he will be making here is T-A-I-L-E-D-O-F-F.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The story behind this year's Grand National runners

[To be read in the style of fiction noir...]

Becauseicouldntsee there seemed Organisedconfusion down The Midnight Club in Calgary Bay when, through the Midnight Haze, Weird Al ordered Seabass Tatenen starter with a rum and Black Apalachi but then struggled to decide between the Neptune Equester, the Neptune Collonges and the Arbor Supreme.

In the backgound the West End Rocker, wearing his Cappa Bleu, played Deep Purple, Planet Of Sound, Alfa Beat, Tharawaat and Shakalakaboomboom which made Synchronised Giles Cross - he threatened to kick the Chicago Grey in the Ballabriggs.

According To Pete, who was Always Right and On His Own, Rare Bob was In Compliance with Sunnyhillboy about the current State Of Play but after the Junior Postmaster passed the Quiscover Fontaine to say 'Hello Bud' to Swing Bill, he was soon to realise it was Vic Venturi, not Killyglen, who fancied the Viking Blond, which left him stuck in the Treacle...

Mon Mome!

With apologies to all concerned.

Aintree Grand National 2012

Those who like to make up their own mind on the National may find my Twitter Guide of some limited use (non-runners at the time of writing - Always Waining [displayed his liking for the fences by winning the Topham earlier today at 11/1], Le Beau Bai, Any Currency, Our Island, Abbeybraney, Saddlers Storm, Smoking Aces and Ballyvessey).

For every one else, there's this....

This year has proved more of a conundrum than most. Early indications were we were likely to see the race run on soft, perhaps even heavy ground; however the forecast rain hasn't arrived in the quantities the weathermen predicted with the result the track has dried out more quickly than anticipated - the clerk of the course even watered last night. Although Aintree has seen some rain this afternoon, the questions remains - what will underfoot conditions be come 4.15 tomorrow afternoon? At the time of writing the going on the National course is described as good to soft, good in places.

I've taken a view that the rains aren't going to arrive,  so here we go. Look at it like this - if the weathermen can't predict the weather, what chance does anyone have in a 40 runner handicap chase?

1. Cappa Bleu - a big horse, the subject of bullish noises from connections; likely to appreciate better ground - 16/1 generally

2. Sunnyhillboy - 16/1 chance who ran a fine trial in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham ; closely matched with Becauseicouldntsee

3. Ballabriggs - last year's winner has plenty of weight but should run a sound race - 12/1

4. West End Rocker - my original winning selection had the ground come up soft - 14/1 with Paddy Power who also pay five places

Best outsider: Always Right (quite possibly named after Mrs Tips) at 33/1 - talented individual who could go close if a recent wind operation has helped his breathing.

A view on some of the other contenders...

I can't have Gold Cup winner Synchronised on the grounds of value as well as the fact that he isn't the most natural of jumpers and tends to need time between his races. Junior wears blinkers which I particularly don't like in the National. Giles Cross and According To Pete were considered closely but I think the ground may just have gone against that pairing while Killyglen was another in the mix but I took a view he was tiring when coming to grief four out last year.

Earlier in the week I seriously contemplated a bet on less than 12 to finish (provided the going came up soft); that wager is now firmly off the agenda!

On the remainder of the card...

The Aintree Hurdle looks intriguing. I prefer Oscar Whisky to Rock On Rubi although the handicapper doesn't agree. The five-year-old Zarkander is entitled to improve on his fifth in the Champion while Thousand Stars will be no pushover. If you held a gun to my head, I'd have to stick with Oscar Whisky.

Population is the likely favourite for the finale but deserves to be while I haven't totally given up on Sir Johnson after he disappointed me at Cheltenham; trainer Peter Bowen recorded his first win for a while with Always Waining ealrier today.

That's it everyone - I wish you all the very best of luck!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Aintree 2012 - Friday is Ladies' Day

A couple that I fancied let me down at Cheltenham (horses that is, not ladies) and they reappear tomorrow - Join Together at 2.30 and Saphir River in the 4.50.

At Haydock's Festival preview evening Mick Fitzgerald was pretty sweet on Join Together for the RSA Chase; in the event the horse went out like a light a fair way from home but at that time there was a question mark over the form of Paul Nicholls' runners. In the past fortnight the stable has recorded a strike-rate of over 50% but the worry now is Ruby Walsh prefers Silviniaco Conti, a horse that has never won over further than 21 furlongs. I'm not going to play.

I certainly intend to have an each-way wager on Saphir River in the 4.50 if the tissue price of 33/1 is readily available. This one cost 280,000 euros, has some decent French form to his name and impressed connections in a racecourse gallop at Newbury just before Cheltenham. In the Coral Cup he unshipped Sam Thomas at the second flight (but continued riderless with the field, crossing the line ahead of Veiled in third); Sam Thomas is replaced by Paul Carberry. Another who looked unlucky in running in that same race is Cape Dutch (touted beforehand by trainer John Ferguson as his best chance of a winner at that meeting).

Unbeaten Fingal Bay missed Cheltenham on account of injury but is the clear form choice for the Sefton at 4.15. He won't be much of a price although I wouldn't be tempted by Cotton Mill who took a nasty-looking tumble when ducking out two from home in the Neptune at the Festival.

I've spent a while trying to come up with something at a price for the Melling Chase. Albertas Choice shows his very best form on good ground but in any case is short enough in the market and isn't getting any younger these days while the others just don't fill me with inspiration. I'll keep my powder dry for Saturday's card.       

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Three questions for a bookmaker on the 2012 Grand National

Earlier in the week, slumbering amongst the form books, somewhat unexpectedly I received an email suggesting I dreamt up three questions to ask Simon Clare [SC, @SiClare ], Director of Communications at Coral bookmakers and James Knight [JK, @jamesaknight ], Head of Racing at the same organisation.

Here's a transcript of the outcome; of course, the replies given generated more questions in my mind but that's the thing about email - it just so damned asynchronous.

PG: I see Coral are noticeably shorter about Junior and bigger about Sunnyhillboy than other layers - talk me through your thinking on those two horses.

SC: Our stance with Junior is based on the fact that he is always extremely popular with punters on the day every time he runs. He was a shocking result for us when he won at Royal Ascot and even worse when he won the Kim Muir at Cheltenham in 2011 – so we have taken the view we don’t want a big liability on him ante post, as he will be heavily backed in the day regardless.

We’re not hugely negative about Sunnyhillboy, he comes here in good form but we’d be happy to lay him in what looks an extremely competitive renewal of the race. There are literally more than 30 horses who could win the race.

PG: Between 14 and 19 have finished in the past four renewals but they were run on decent ground. Current indications are this year's race will be run on soft, possibly heavy ground, which is likely to have a marked effect on the number that finish. How will you price up that market this year?

SC:The ground rather than class of horse is the key factor in determining the number of finishers and that is what will drive our pricing. If it is genuinely soft ground or worse, which looks likely, then we could be looking at finishers in the single figures.

[I agree with Simon's view - Sky Bet's 13/8 under 11 finishers would be tempting if the going on the day comes up soft / heavy. PG]

PG: What is Grand National day like for a layer? Simon / James - what will you be doing on Grand National day?

SC: I'm lucky enough to be attending the event so I'll be spending the day in the thick of the action with our Coral TV camera crew and Chris Dixon. We'll be previewing live for Coral TV in the morning and then we'll all be enjoying the race.

JK:All of the form study is done, so National day is actually relatively quiet in the Trading room. We will spend the morning closely monitoring the risk position on the race, especially in the shops, as the turnover on the race is incredible – we almost take as much on this one race as we do on the entire Cheltenham festival. Near race time we will be assessing the position on the race and deciding whether to hedge any of our positions.

The last word to Coral spokesman David Stevens...

"AP McCoy and Synchronised could be the best backed National contenders since Red Rum won the last of his three Grand Nationals, and if the horse [wins]... bookies will face their most expensive day since Frankie Dettori rode all seven winners at Ascot, which cost the industry £40 million."

Aintree 2012 - Thursday

In my book this is one of the the trappiest meetings of the whole year...

Can those Festival winners confirm the form a few weeks on or will the Festival flops come good over this very different course?

This year there's been an elongated break since Cheltenham (four weeks instead of the usual three) and a drying day today has seen the going changed to good to soft on the Mildmay course. Plenty to ponder...

In the opener Big Buck's goes for an incredible 17th win on the trot and will be long odds-on. The wheels will come off one day but I've run out of money with which to oppose the great horse...

The juvenile hurdle sees five principals from the Triumph Hurdle re-oppse - winner Countrywide Flame, third Grumeti, fourth Dodging Bullets, sixth Sadler's Risk and Pearl Swan who fell at the last when a staying-on seventh. It looks a jolly close call with one school of thought being that ex-Flat runner Grumeti will appreciate this track and the cut underfoot. You pays your money and takes your choice but I intend watch from the sidelines.

The feature is the Betfred Bowl at 3.05. Likely favourite Riverside Theatre, part-owend by actor Jimmy Nesbitt, is worth taking on as he has never won over further than two miles five and this is run over three miles one. Course and distance winner Burton Port has had two hard enough races since returning from injury and may 'bounce' after his commendable fourth in the Gold Cup. Medermit and Hunt Ball are two more who haven't won over three miles while Diamond Harry has been a big disappointment this term but would have every chance if at his best. What A Friend is a talented if quirky customer and comes to this fresher than most having fallen at the second in the Gold Cup but he prefers better ground, a comment that also applies to Nacarat. Still, I've a soft spot for Tom George's grey who did this blog a favour when winning this race last year - at 12/1 in the odd place, 11/1 with Coral, he rates a decent each-way wager.

Only five in the novices' chase at 4.50 but I'd be cautious about backing Al Ferof at a short price. On ratings Ruby's mount has eight and nine pounds in hand over Cristal Bonus and Menorah respectively but the manner in which he missed out a fence in the Arkle was disconcerting. Added to that, Venetia Williams saddles Pepite Rose who jumps well, has won four on the bounce and also claims the seven pounds mares' allowance - an intriguing contest.

Monday, April 09, 2012

A Twitter Guide to the 2012 Grand National entries

Here's my Twitter guide to the remaining 48 entries in this year's Grand National.

In the past this particular post has never been keenly awaited by any of my regular readers and, unsurprisingly, this year has proved no exception.

As always, the guide has been compiled using Twitter's 140 character limit for each individual entry.

It will be of  limited (if any) use when attempting to make your own selections for this year's race.

At the time of writing layers offering each-way a quater the odds five places include bet365, SkyBet, Boylesports, BetVictor, Blue Square, Paddy Power and 888sport.

SYNCHRONISED Bids to become first horse to win Gold Cup & Grand National in the same year since Golden Miller in 1934; not the most natural jumper
BALLABRIGGS Last year's winner off a 10lb higher mark; looks sure to give a good account
WEIRD AL Charlie Hall winner has disappointing effort in the Gold Cup to put behind him
CALGARY BAY Fell at the fourth last year but comes here in fine form; will he stay the trip?
NEPTUNE COLLONGES Nicholls keen to secure the services of R. Walsh for this one - Ruby prefers On His Own
ALFA BEAT Two Kerry Nationals to his name, Davy Russell booked; trainer predicts big run provided ground remains good
PLANET OF SOUND Won the Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestwon last April; others preferred
BLACK APALACHI Won Becher Chase over National fences in 2008 but now aged 13 the best years are behind him
DEEP PURPLE Won the London National at Sandown (29f) in December but possibly better over shorter; Evan Williams' third string
JUNIOR Short enough in the market; blinkered runner who didn't jump well enough going down a short head in the Grimthrope
CHICAGO GREY Won 4 mile NH Chase at Cheltenham 2011, then eighth in Scottish National; sometimes low at his fences - Paul Carberry rides
TATENEN Quirky customer who has found a new lease of life with Richard Rowe; never won beyond 21f
ACCORDING TO PETE Peter Marsh winner has been in good form this season; entitled to take his chance
SEABASS Trained by Ted Walsh, daughter Katie bids to become first woman to ride the National winner
SHAKALAKABOOMBOOM Seventh in last year's Topham over the National fences
WEST END ROCKER Unlucky to be brought down at Becher's last year. Won this year's Becher Chase unchallenged; further rain will help
ON HIS OWN Owned by Andrea & Graham Wylie and leased to charity Children's Heart Unit Fund for the day; Willie Mullins trains, Ruby Walsh rides
ALWAYS RIGHT Third in last year's Scottish National; had a soft palate operation after being pulled up in Haydock's National Trial
CAPPA BLEU Paul Moloney choses this one from Evan Williams' three entries; third in Welsh National behind Le Beau Bai and Giles Cross
RARE BOB Fourth in 2009 Irish National; done most of his winning around two and half miles
MON MOME Shock 100/1 winner in 2009; 12 years old now - age appears to be taking its toll
ORGANISEDCONFUSION Last year's Irish National winner; first try at a trip beyond three miles since that win
THE MIDNIGHT CLUB Sixth in this last year, beaten a long way in the Gold Cup; Walsh prefers On His Own
TREACLE Reasonable recent form, staying on to be beaten seven and a half lengths in the Irish Hennessy; Andrew Lynch rides
ARBOR SUPREME Fell at the Chair in 2011; hasn't won for three and a half years
SUNNYHILLBOY Third in last year's Irish National; ran a fine trial taking the Kim Muir at Cheltenham four weeks ago
KILLYGLEN In the process of running a big race at big odds (66/1) last year when coming to grief four from home
QUISCOVER FONTAINE Fourth in last year's Irish National and been racing over shorter trips since
THARAWAAT Gordon Elliott's second string
ALWAYS WAINING Likes these fences - won the past two renewals of the Topham and fourth in the Becher in December
BECAUSEICOULDNTSEE Second behind Sunnyhillboy in the Kim Muir; closely matched with that one
LE BEAU BAI Welsh National winner who stays forever but small and may struggle with these fences
STATE OF PLAY Fine record in the race - fourth 2009, third 2010, fourth 2011 but older now; Moloney prefers Cappa Bleu, Fehily rides
SWING BILL Pulled up in the Becher and beaten a long way in the Kim Muir
POSTMASTER Winning form on quick ground which he's unlikely to get here
GILES CROSS A gallant second behind Le Beau Bai in the Welsh National; gained revenge in Haydock's National Trial - every chance
HELLO BUD Won the Becher in 2010 but pulled up in this race last year and at 14 his best days are behind him
IN COMPLIANCE Completed in thirteenth last year but is another year older
MIDNIGHT HAZE Kim Bailey opted for this rather than Irish National; Sean Quinlan rides
VIC VENTURI Former Becher winner who still retains a touch of class at the age of 12; prefers soft
VIKING BLOND Blinkered front-runner likely to struggle against some of these
NEPTUNE EQUESTER Out of sorts this season
ANY CURRENCY Third in London National at Sandown last December but hasn't built on that since
OUR ISLAND Eighth in four mile NH Chase at Cheltenham - 100/1 chance
ABBEYBRANEY Didn't appear to appreciate the fences in the Becher
SADDLERS STORM Pulled up in Monday's Irish National
SMOKING ACES Sixth in the Punchestown Grand National Trial but unlikely to make cut
BALLYVESSEY Remote third in the Becher; unlikely to make the cut

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Irish Grand National 2012

A very quick look at the Irish National...

A number of  runners appeared at Cheltenham last month, including:

Alfie Sherrin (pipped Fruity O'Rooney to take the JLT Speciality handicap chase) with Magnanimity sixth beaten just under 20 lengths but re-opposing here eight pounds better off;

Catch Me second behind Cape Tribulation in the Pertemps Final (handicap hurdle) with Prince Erik tenth - Prince Erik twelfth in this race last year;

Four Commanders third behind Teaforthree in the four mile amateur riders' race with Allee Garde coming to grief at the twelfth - Ruby Walsh rides Allee Garde;

Start Me Up fifth behind Sunnyhillboy in the Kim Muir;

Glam Gerry third behind Salut Flo in the Byrne Group Plate.

Amongst those returning for another stab are Western Charmer (second last year but looking a little out of sorts this time), The Last Derby (sixth), Deal Done (ninth) and Saddlers Storm (pulled up). Groody Hill appears to have been laid out for the race (beat Cross Appeal into third on penultimate start) and has the assistance of McCoy in the saddle while two worth a second look at a price are Some Target and Lion Na Bearnai.

Over the years I have been singularly unsuccessful in this race; on balance I prefer to go for something that comes to this relatively fresh rather than one that may have had a hard race at the Festival less than four weeks ago. Younger animals have tended to fare better than their older counterparts in recent years so Willie Mullins' Some Target (Paul Townend doing the steering) is put up as nothing more than a tentative each-way suggestion (25/1 William Hill / Coral).

Friday, April 06, 2012

Easter Saturday jumpers

A busy time ahead with the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Monday followed by Aintree's version the following Saturday...

Haydock hosts the main jumps card tomorrow; five go in the opener. Course and distance winner Charminster will be popular and the percentage call but Alan King must surely feel Lidar has never quite lived up to expectations - the fences have had a tendency to get in the way on occasions. If the gelding is allowed to take his chance, connections will be hoping first-time cheekpieces can bring out some improvement. I've been scalded before with this one and, although he's closely matched with Charminster on ratings, on balance I don't feel inclined to give him another chance.

The 2.25 looks difficult but fancied horses French Ties and Tiger O'Toole both come with questions marks around their jumping.

Brian Ellison saddles seven of the twenty runners in the 2.55 with Hada Men representing the handler's best chance if the market is to be believed - the past three favourites have all obliged. I'll take an each-way interest in John Ferguson's Monarch's Way.

Persian Snow (4.05) would be worth an each-way wager at around the 10/1 mark.

In the long distance chase at 4.40 Dom D'Orgeval bids to repeat last year's win and ran a fair trial over a distance shorter than ideal the last time at Newbury. However, at the age of 12, the chances are one or two will be too quick, especially if the ground remains good. Wide Receiver (registered owners - Girls Allowed) is guaranteed to stay but had a hard race last time while top-weight Drumbaloo and Emperor Concerto wouldn't be certain to see out the trip. Outsider Seize isn't totally disregarded but I'm focusing on Bradley, Jaunty Journey and Graduation Night - Graduation Night gets the vote with this small yard having recorded two winners in the past fortnight.

In the RP Weekender Alan King had a big word for Hindon Road (3.05 Newton Abbot) but the gelding will be priced accordingly. The same trainer saddles Oh Crick in the SIS Handicap Chase 35 minutes later, a two mile Class 2 event with over £20,000 added. Only eight in the field but they're likely to go lickety-split on the fast ground at this tight track - I'll watch from the sidelines.