Friday, December 30, 2016

Brief notes at New Year

Following today's abandonment at Haydock, Nicky Henderson adds some spice to a run-of-the-mill card at Warwick on New Year's Eve by declaring Buveur D'Air in the adroitly-named Local Parking Security Novices' Chase (1.00).

On the same card trainer Robin Dickin has a couple of interesting runners at his local track.

Routine Procedure looks the pick of his trio in the opener; this one is on the comeback trail after missing eighteen months or so through injury.

Beaten over 17 lengths by Mrs Burbidge in a similar event at Uttoxeter last time, he was in with a shout before fading after the last eventually finishing fifth. The winner has since been beaten into third by Sober Sailor at Fontwell but both Miss Mash (third) and Dalkadam (fourth) have recorded subsequent victories so the form reads well enough (the second, Flobury, goes in tomorrow's 12.05 at Uttoxeter). Connections have opted to fit a visor for the first time so I'd be hopeful of some improvement and at around 10/1 he rates an each-way chance.

Dontminddboys, a big striking grey, runs in the handicap chase at 1.35 and is another on the comeback trail after injury.

The last day he looked outpaced half a mile from home in a Towcester novices' handicap chase before staying on stoutly to claim second without ever threatening the winner. The step up to three miles should suit but this race looks more competitive so I'll maintain a watching brief - in that same Towcester chase stablemate Oneida Tribe raced prominently and was unlucky to be brought down by Paddocks Lounge at the twelfth on his first run for the yard.

On New Year's Day all eyes will be on ITV's inaugural broadcast from Cheltenham. Rather bizarrely, the 2017 ITV Sport Racing Diary that Santa brought me last week doesn't record all the meetings ITV will actually cover during the year.

Dickin has declared Thomas Crapper in the BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (Cheltenham 2.00).

Wearing a tongue-tie for the first time, Thomas Crapper put up a personal best performance on ground softer than ideal to finish sixth behind Taquin Du Seuil in the BetVictor Gold Cup seven weeks ago.

He will meet second Village Vic four pounds better off for fourteen lengths. With Charlie Poste booked to ride at ten stone, I'll look to strike an each-way wager at around 16/1 or bigger.

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all readers a very happy and prosperous new year.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Boxing Day blues

A little like Victor Meldrew I feel I must be getting old and miserable because the Boxing Day cards have just failed to inspire.

In years gone by, driven to distraction by the family Christmas, I've attended Newton Abbot and Towcester races on St Stephen's Day but unfortunately those fixtures no longer form part of the racing calendar.

The withdrawal of Coneygree has paved the way for Thistlecrack to take on stablemate Cue Card in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. A fascinating race in prospect, agreed, but with just five runners it's one to savour rather than bet on. The meagre turnout for this showpiece event is likely to be seen as something of an embarrassment in certain quarters.

A similarly small field is assured for Kempton's Christmas Hurdle where Sam Twiston-Davies will want to try and make all aboard The New One. Richard Harper has declared Gray Wolf River, rated some 104 pounds lower than The New One, in the hope of collecting place prize money; some layers have quoted odds of 5,000/1.

Hennessy form should come in handy in the next few days with Blaklion and Henri Parry Morgan declared for Monday's Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby while Native River, Carole's Destrier, Vyta Du Roc and Theatre Guide all hold entries for the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on Tuesday.

On form Blaklion looks the one to beat at Wetherby but after his fifth in the Hennessy pilot Ryan Hatch reported his charge had 'cut out' up the long home straight and connections were likely to consider a breathing operation...

Previous Welsh National winners Mountainous and Emperor's Choice will probably try to repeat the trick on Tuesday but, provided the going doesn't dry out too much, I'll take an each-way interest in Firebird Flyer.

Second in last year's race, Evan Williams' charge went on to win the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter in March and had a reasonable prep on his seasonal debut at Haydock last month. He starts from a mark eight pounds higher this time.

Looking slightly further ahead, ITV commences its racing coverage at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Richard Hoiles is the new lead commentator; I know I'm going to miss Simon Holt.

Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Ascot assignations

The decision of connections to send Thistlecrack chasing has opened up the three mile hurdle division this year.

The market may suggest Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle (2.25) is a one horse race but to me this looks more competitive than a number of recent renewals.

Lil Rockerfeller wouldn't be the most obvious one to start a preview with but back in September trainer Neil King named this race as the target for his five-year-old and ever since I've had the chestnut pencilled in for this race.

Lil,  having missed a couple of early season targets including the Silver Trophy at Chepstow, on account of quick ground, made his seasonal debut in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby where he came home third, three and a half lengths behind Silsol and subsequent Hennessy winner Native River, conceding the pair eight pounds.

Decent form and three weeks later he made Yanworth work hard enough to collect the Coral Hurdle over a trip that probably didn't play to his strengths; pilot Trevor Whelan looked to be chasing his mount for much of the final mile but the gelding kept fighting and finding more.

With Whelan currently suspended, Richard Johnson accepted the ride earlier in the week but then opted for Ballyoptic instead. That's disconcerting, as is the fact there has been no significant rainfall recently.

A more orthodox preview might begin with the chance of market leader Uknowhatimeanharry.

Unbeaten since moving to Harry Fry's yard during the summer of 2015, 'Harry' has won six on the bounce (including the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival) and has seen his official rating rise from 123 to 165; he is top-rated but is priced accordingly and looks worth opposing on grounds of value.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who has sent out six winners from six runners in the past two days, is represented by Ptit Zig and Zarkander.

The former provides a yardstick for Alex De Larredya having finished nine lengths behind the French runner in the Grand Prix D'Automne Hurdle at Auteuil last month.

Previously Ptit Zig had beaten Alex in the French Champion Hurdle at the same track - Sam Twiston-Davies will need to show better form than he did for the jump jockeys team in the Markel Champions Challenge at the London Horse Show at Olympia earlier this evening...

Reve De Sivola has won three of the last four renewals and last year finished second to Thistlecrack. That said, Nick Williams' charge celebrates his twelfth birthday in two weeks' time and is another who would have preferred more rain - the favourite would appear to hold him (and Ballyoptic) on Long Distance Hurdle form at Newbury last month.

My heart tells me Lil Rockerfeller but since Baracouda's victory in 2000 only two other five-year-olds have come home in front (My Way De Solzen in 2005 and Punchestowns in 2008) while my brain tells me Alex De Larredya is the percentage call against the favourite. Daryl Jacob's mount is generally a 6/1 chance this evening.

I couldn't believe Wolf Of Windlesham was priced up 40/1 the day before the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. I've followed Wolfie since watching him win a lowly Ludlow juvenile hurdle on his first run over the sticks in October 2015.

Rated a modest 60 on the Flat, he runs off 137 tomorrow, a mark from which he won a Sandown juvenile handicap hurdle in April and the same mark from which he started in the Greatwood where he came to grief two from home while still in with 'every chance'. By off time that day his price had contracted to 20/1 and plenty more took note of what happened.

He goes in the Ladbroke at 3.35 - now named the Wessex Youth Handicap Hurdle. I shall place a highly speculative each-way wager at odds of 16/1.

Another well-known acquaintance, Johnny Og, goes in the 1.50. In January this year Martin Keighley's inmate won over this course and distance off a mark of 116 with amateur rider Mr H Hunt claiming seven; tomorrow he starts off 138.

Johnny Og is at his best when left alone in front over two miles plus on soft ground. In a field of 15 that contains the likes of Ultragold, Captain Conan and course and distance winner Dark Flame, he's unlikely to get his own way so I'm not going to partake of the 25/1 currently on offer...

Friday, December 09, 2016

A Doncaster Boy

Looking at the runners for tomorrow's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (Cheltenham 1.50) I'm imbued with a sense of the deja vu.

Taquin Du Seuil, winner of the BetVictor Gold Cup over course and distance four weeks ago, isn't amongst the declarations but Village Vic (second), Buywise (third), Aso (fourth), Bouvreuil (fifth) and Frodon (tenth) all try again - a matter of six and a half lengths covered the first five home.

Of course, in the interim the handicapper has felt obliged to have his say...

Village Vic is now three pounds higher, Buywise one pound while both Aso and Bouvreuil start from the same mark. Frodon, beaten some 35 lengths, is effectively six pounds worse off having been raised to a mark of 149 while jockey Sam Twiston-Davies can't claim three as Harry Cobden did last month.

Art Mauresque was my selection that day; the gelding ran well enough to finish seventh on ground considered softer than ideal. Although rain is forecast for tomorrow - the official going is currently good - I did wonder whether Paul Nicholls' charge would be sent on a retrieval mission. Connections have decided not; Bouvreuil and Frodon are the two Nicholls' representatives amongst the sixteen declared.

Many considered Aso the one horse to take out of that race and any rain between now and the off would certainly help the cause but it all looks terribly cramped so instead I've decided to pop up to Doncaster for a handicap that looks only slightly less compacted.

Eleven are declared for the Handicap Chase at 12.55 where I'm going to quickly discard a couple, although that doesn't make finding the winner much easier.

Samingarry has his first run in 531 days and Micky Hammond, trainer of Silver Tassie, has a 4.46% win strike rate this season.

Charlie Longsdon saddles Long Lunch; the trainer's last winner was on November 26 since when his figures read 0-26 while Lord Wishes has been kept busy enough in recent weeks.

Of those that remain, Valadom was eventually pulled up in As De Mee's race at Aintree last week having made a serious error at The Chair. Previously he had beaten Sego Success (third) and Ziga Boy (fifth) at Bangor.

Ziga Boy won over course and distance twice last year and appeared a little unlucky to lose pilot Thomas Bellamy at the first in the Becher Chase last week while stablemate Sego Success has always had this as the target having won last year's renewal off 139.

The betting suggests Blakemount is the pick of Sue Smith's two runners while back in November 2015 Knock House had No Duffer some 39 lengths adrift in a Cheltenham amateur riders' handicap.

The short list consists of Sego Success, Knock House, Blakemount and Ziga Boy. Knock House is the enigma on his first run for Donald McCain's yard; fourth in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham in March, he is short enough in the market to warrant plenty of respect but is passed over on his seasonal debut.

I expect to see improvement from Ziga Boy following his Bangor debut; I don't think there's that much between the pair yet Sego Success is currently priced at 7/2 and Ziga Boy 6/1. Blakemount has yet to win over further than two miles six.

Plenty in the field like to race with up with the pace -  at 6/1 with Coral and William Hill Ziga Boy is the win selection.

Finally, the mention of As De Mee above has put me in mind of a story I heard a couple of days ago. A friend of a colleague went to the Becher Chase meeting at Aintree last week. He arrived at the course in a taxi and unusually the driver, rather than taking a tip, gave his passenger one instead...

'As De Mee is the banker in the last!'

Duly noted, the individual concerned went about his business with the on-course bookmakers on a top-class card, in the process totally forgetting the words of that prescient taxi driver from the gods. As Paul Nicholls' charge took it up two from home in the finale, the individual in question could be seen holding his head in his hands - unofficial reports have suggested he was crying.

Don't be too harsh now; I've done something very similar on more than one occasion in the past.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The Betfred Becher Chase 2016

Usually I tend to prefer a horse with form over the National fences for the Betfred Becher Chase; there are plenty on offer amongst those declared for tomorrow's renewal (Aintree 1.35).

The Last Samuri finished second to Rule The World in this year's National with Ucello Conti sixth, Vieux Lion Rouge seventh and Double Ross, Aachen and Saint Are all pulled up.

Previously Double Ross had finished fifth in the 2015 Grand Sefton while Saint Are had finished second to Many Clouds in the 2015 National and then seventh behind Highland Lodge and Dare To Endeavour in this event last year (with Portrait King falling two out when appearing to have place claims).

Alvarado and Paul Moloney were fourth behind Pineau De Re in the 2014 National, making up plenty of ground in the latter stages of the race. I tipped the same pairing the following year, hoping Moloney could race a little closer to the pace but rather frustratingly the chestnut gelding ran a similar sort of race to finish fourth once again...

Of those named, Ucello Conti looks weighted to come home in front of The Last Samuri while Dare To Endeavour starts off a mark only one pound higher than last year.

A couple of those without experience over the National fences have had this as their target for some time including Ziga Boy (went to Bangor after missing Wincanton's Badger Ales Trophy on account of quick ground) and Silvergrove who had previously finished third in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham.

In the Weekender dated 09-13.11.16 handler Ben Pauling said of the latter:

'He's the best jumper I've ever had to deal with... The aim this season is the Grand National and I think he's the type of horse who would really take to it. We'll have to get his mark up to get in that race but hopefully he'll manage that.'

He currently races off a mark of 138; plan A is clearly to raise that rating with a bold showing in tomorrow's race.

In similar vein Lucinda Russell said of One For Arthur in last week's Weekender:

'He excites me as much as anything in the yard... I'm sure he'd go well over the National fences as his jumping has never been better - I consider myself very lucky to have a horse who jumps so well.'

With a strike rate of 19.27% Neil Mulholland has his team in fine form - bet365 Gold Cup winner The Young Master is respected but is another who missed the Badger Ales on account of quick ground and doesn't have the benefit of a recent run to his name.

From the all-conquering Tizzard yard Viconte Du Noyer posted notice of his well-being with victory at Cheltenham three weeks ago (Alvarado sixth, both Cogry and Midnight Prayer brought down by a loose horse running across the twelfth fence in a nasty-looking incident) while Sizing Coal is an interesting runner over from Ireland who may just prefer more cut underfoot.

In recent years the race has tended to go the way of an older horse with the corresponding experience - Hello Bud won in 2010 and 2012 aged 12 and then 14 while Oscar Time took the 2014 renewal at the age of 13.

The race still has the look of a bookmakers' benefit event - you pays your money and takes your choice.

I buy into the Silvergrove story so suggest a small each-way wager on Silvergrove at 14/1 or bigger; bet365, Bet Victor and Paddy Power are amongst the layers offering a quarter the odds five places.