Friday, January 29, 2016

Cheltenham's Festival Trials Day 2016

There will be clues aplenty at Cheltenham's Festival Trials Day tomorrow but the accompanying worry is that, with the showpiece just over six weeks away, many of the runners won't turn up at the very top of their game - unsurprisingly, bigger prizes in March will be the main focus of attention for many.

Thistlecrack's trainer Colin Tizzard isn't one to adopt that sort of approach - as he makes clear in the Weekender:

"The season isn't all about one race, though, and before that [Thistlecrack] runs at Cheltenham on Saturday in the Cleeve Hurdle. There won't be any excuses afterwards saying he needed the run or it will put him right for the big one, this is a proper prize and he will be fit and ready to do his very best."    

In the BetBright Chase (1.50) Djakadam looks terribly short at 1/2 - under the conditions of the race he is just two pounds clear of Many Clouds (aimed at the Grand National) and has four pounds to find with Alan King's Smad Place.

The opening Triumph Hurdle Trial looks trappy but should prove highly informative. I saw Wolf Of Windlesham win on his hurdles debut at Ludlow in the autumn - rated no higher than 65 on the Flat, I never for a moment envisaged him in a contest like this but after his win at the Open meeting he deserves to take his place in the line-up.

With Barters Hill expected to run at Doncaster, Shantou Village will be my play against favourite Yanworth in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at 3.00. At the time of writing 5/2 is the price; I was looking for 11/4. The booking of Ruby Walsh catches the eye.

Finally, a tale to make you weep...
A group of us had arranged to go Newbury a week last Wednesday but the meeting was called off after overnight temperatures reached minus seven. I'd done the homework beforehand and noted Martin Keighley's Johnny Og in the third. He appealed as the outsider (14/1 the night before) in a field of six who might give us a run for our money on the back of the handler's comments in the Weekender 30.12.15 - 03.01.16:

"He has plenty of 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... This soft ground is ideal for him and he'll be out again next month when I think he should win sooner rather than later." 

Three days after that Newbury abandonment, Johnny Og turns up in an amateur riders' handicap chase at Ascot where the book records he 'tracked leader, led 4 out, 12 lengths clear after next, stayed on well' and won at odds of 14/1. Needless to say, I didn't have a penny on.

Since then I have worked my way through five boxes of Kleenex Mansize Tissues; I think I can now say unequivocally that I've fully recovered my composure.

Johnny Og goes again tomorrow in the 1.15. Don't even think about asking.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A horse for Haydock

Some small fields at Ascot and Haydock tomorrow with a couple of odds-on favourites to have reservations about.

All eyes will be on Un De Sceaux in the Sodexo Clarence House Chase (Ascot 3.00) but 8/13 looks a short price about a horse that has fallen twice in six chase starts.

Similarly I wouldn't be in a rush to back The New One at odds of 1/2 in Haydock's Champion Hurdle Trial after his struggle to get past Bertimont in this race on similar ground last year.

Just six go in the Champion Hurdle Trial and six are declared for the Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle at 2.05. The layers have marked up top-rated Le Presien a hot favourite but this looks decidedly closer than the prices might imply. Vieux Lille, rated two pounds inferior, is priced up 4/1 at the moment - that price appears to be disappearing - while both It'safreebee and Bigmartre enter calculations.

The former has just his second start for Dan Skelton who has saddled a couple that have run below par in big Saturday novice events since the turn of the year - Welsh Shadow in the Tolworth at Sandown and Born Survivor in Warwick's Leamington Hurdle last weekend.

I was disappointed to see a particular favourite of mine, Bigmartre, beaten at Fontwell on his penultimate run - that was over two miles three. He made amends next time out by winning over this course and distance on heavy ground; trainer Harry Whittington, who currently boasts a strike rate in excess of 30% for the season, indicates connections intend to go chasing in the autumn.

Either the first or second favourite has won six of the past seven renewals but 7/1 Bigmartre looks big to me - Bigmartre is the play against Le Presien.

I was going to take a small each-way interest in Katenko in the Peter Marsh Chase (Haydock 3.15) but at the time of writing a number of layers aren't quoting a price which suggests he may not take his chance.

It's a bit of a surprise to see Reve De Sivola priced up favourite for this slog in the mud but he races off a mark 21 pounds lower than his hurdles rating. That said, in the past he has been slow over the larger obstacles and has on occasions jumped out to the right; I'm not tempted.   

Friday, January 15, 2016

From Warwick to Wetherby

The best card of the year at Warwick, my local track, is subject to an 8.00 am inspection tomorrow; frost covers have been deployed and course officials are confident the meeting will go ahead.

As I won't be racing tomorrow I confess haven't done much prep work.

The Classic Chase (3.35) looks as open as ever with the field containing a number of runners who like to race prominently.

The Leamington Hurdle (3.00) is intriguing. Willie Mullins sends over two to challenge course and distance winner Born Survivor. The Weekender reports Dan Skelton's charge 'the best novice hurdler in the yard' so it's no surprise to see this locally-trained gelding head the market.

Skelton, who can boast a strike-rate of over 20% this season, plundered the spoils last year with Three Musketeers and is clearly expected to repeat the trick this year.

Of the Mullins pair, slight preference would be for Open Eagle but seven-year olds don't have a good record in this race and both Irish runners have to concede three pounds to the favourite on heavy ground.

While browsing the entries I was struck by the fact that Aidan Coleman has decided to ride at Wetherby tomorrow.

Venetia Williams has five runners at Warwick - Polo (12.40), Vivaccio (1.15), Rigadin De Beauchene (3.35 - regularly ridden by Robbie Dunne), Houblon Des Obeaux (3.35) and Opera Rock (4.05) - but sends just two up north to Wetherby - Gardefort (2.05) and Azert De Coeur (3,15).

Both are of interest.

Gardefort was third in the same race last year but remains unexposed racing off a mark three pounds lower while Azert De Coeur's fourth behind Cloonacool at Ludlow last time reads well enough in this lower grade event.

Two selections:
Gardefort (9/2) 2.05 Wetherby;
Azert De Coeur (5/1) 3.15 Wetherby. 

Friday, January 08, 2016

Welsh Grand National 2016

It could be touch-and-go whether tomorrow's card at Chepstow gets the all-clear.

The time of the Welsh National has been rescheduled to 1.45 so the race can be run on the best possible ground.

There are two former winners in the field - last year Emperor's Choice claimed the spoils off a mark of 131 but goes off 141 here.

Mountainous appears to have been given every chance starting off the same mark he won off in 2013. Kerry Lee's gelding ran an eye-catching trial last time when finishing fourth beaten seven lengths in the London National at Sandown.

I've scanned the declarations for a horse carrying less than 11-0 that will will handle heavy ground and stay the trip - Bob Ford fits the bill and his style of racing is suited to this course.

Granted, he has been pulled up a number of times but I'm hoping he can repeat his performance in the West Wales National last January...

Generally available at 16/1 Bob Ford is the each-way selection; most layers offer a quarter the odds four places.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Three selections for Sandown's Tolworth meeting 2016

Quick picks from tomorrow's Sandown card...

Just five declared for the Tolworth Hurdle at 2.25. Willie Mullins sends over Yorkhill who at this stage wouldn't be the yard's leading light but he's likely to start a short-priced favourite.

Nicky Henderson boasts a good record in this event winning five of the last six renewals. Four weeks ago O O Seven beat stablemate Premier Bond (winner since) over course and distance; rated 145 and available at 4/1 generally, O O Seven represents a value wager against the favourite.

Welsh Shadow from Dan Skelton's yard isn't readily dismissed. Beaten by Yarnworth on his penultimate run, he improved next time to win a listed event at Haydock. Connections rate this one highly and have indicated there is 'more to come'.

2013 Tolworth winner Melodic Rendezvous reverts to handicap company in the finale; at 13/2 he has to be worth an interest.

Finally my favourite mare in training, Polly Peachum, goes in the mares' listed hurdle at 12.40.

Polly hasn't shown her very best form on heavy ground which is a concern but the shorter trip here may help. At the weights she's the best horse in the field; priced up at 4/1 with Paddy Power Polly Peachum represents a play against the Mullins-trained favourite Gitane Du Berlais.