Friday, April 28, 2017

Sandown's bet365 Gold Cup 2017

In the past I've noted a certain similarity between selecting a birthday card for Mrs Tips and selecting a horse for Sandown's bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase, both of which, incidentally, occur around this time of year.

You've done it all several times before, you've been around long enough to know what's required and, if you get my drift, you don't want to spend too much money; you've picked the odd winner here and there, a few efforts have managed to scrape a place, several others have barely mustered a mention in passing whilst the vast majority have fallen into a category that can best be described as egregious.

Judging by the uncharacteristic affection displayed, this year's card can be considered something of an eased-down winner but any thoughts of a famous 'spring double' have to be tempered, I'm afraid, as I rate my chances of tipping the winner of the 2017 Sandown showpiece as, at best, minimal.

Still, one out of two isn't bad.

With just thirteen declared, the smallest field for many a long year, many will feel Neil Mulholland holds the key to the race; his three runners head most betting lists.

Mulholland won last year's renewal with The Young Master who pipped Just A Par a short head (stablemate The Druids Nephew fifth, Theatre Guide eighth, Le Reve pulled up) and the gelding tries again off the same mark after falling at Becher's first time in the Grand National three weeks ago; previously he had finished sixth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival (The Druids Nephew seventh and Theatre Guide eighth).

Priced up favourite, Doing Fine comes to this in fine form with a low weight to boot but this represents a step-up in class; favourites have a poor record in the race - the Weekender indicates the last outright favourite to oblige was Mr Frisk in 1990.

The Druids Nephew is certainly fresher than some and will sport a first-time visor; I've read somewhere that he was distracted by the fall of Vintage Clouds and Vic De Touzaine's unseating two out in the Ultima. To my mind he probably makes most appeal of the Mulholland horses; however on Racing Post ratings his mark of 142 is some way behind the top two, Doing Fine and Benbens, who are rated 166.

The trainers' title race this side of the Irish Sea may lack the drama of the Willie Mullins / Gordon Elliott showdown but it's still undecided - Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls saddle two apiece.

Vyta Du Roc's sixth in the Hennessy reads well and last time out he lost a shoe at Kempton; Sugar Baron was well supported for the Scottish National seven days ago but he got no further than the first and then proceeded to race loose for much of the trip.

Just A Par won the 2015 renewal and appeared to be worried out of it last year so his chance has to be respected while this is the first time Present Man races beyond three miles one.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Benbens is the other runner who competed in the Scottish National last week and what a race he ran at odds of 50/1!

The twelve-year-old finished third, beaten two and a quarter lengths, with his amateur jockey, Mr Z Baker, putting up two pounds overweight... Nigel's son Sam takes over the steering tomorrow but the worry is that effort together with the travelling involved may have taken its toll.

With Rock The Kasbah not certain to stay, I'm leaning towards What's Happening for an each-way wager.

Tom George's charge has clearly had his injury problems but back in April 2015 he won over three and a half miles on good ground at Cheltenham.

Following a long spell on the sidelines he ran second behind Perfect Candidate at Exeter in February (Masters Hill, Theatrical Star, Harry Topper, As De Fer and Buywise amongst those in behind) before finishing eleventh in the Kim Muir. The handicapper has dropped him a pound for that effort and I'm hoping there is some further improvement to come.

At 16/1 What's Happening is the each-way selection.

Rightly Altior is long odds on for the Celebration Chase at 3.00 but BetVictor price Special Tiara 5/1 while Sky Bet go 9/2; I admit to being tempted. Special Tiara was particularly quick over the obstacles in the Champion Chase six and a half weeks ago. He won the 2015 renewal of this race, having finishing third at Cheltenham that year.

On a line through Fox Norton, Altior wins comfortably but the Tizzard yard were going through a quiet spell at the time. The official handicapper rates Altior one pound superior.

The times of the Festival races were:

Arkle 14.03.17  3m 55.50s (slow by 3.50s); beat Cloudy Dream six lengths;

Special Tiara:
Champion Chase 15.03.17 3m 55.40s (slow by 3.40s); beat Fox Norton a head.

I wouldn't blame anyone for not following but at 5/1 I'll stay loyal to Special Tiara who did me a big favour at the Festival last month.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Scottish Grand National 2017

There are thirty declared for tomorrow's Scottish Grand National (3.55 Ayr) where the going is currently described as good to soft; recent big-priced winners include Iris De Balme at 66/1 in 2008; Al Co at 40/1 in 2014 and Wayward Prince at 25/1 in 2015. Vicente won last year's renewal and tries again off exactly the same mark.

Due to circumstances entirely beyond my control, form study this week has been somewhat curtailed; I've been on the lookout for an outsider at a decent price and have come up with two possibilities...

At 50/1 Blakemount clearly fits the outsider tag and his fifth in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter five weeks ago reads well enough. Sue Smith's yard appears in decent form but jockey bookings are disconcerting; Danny Cook rides Vintage Clouds (two falls in last three runs) for owner Trevor Hemmings and Sean Quinlan is aboard Straidnahanna, suggesting Blakemount (Henry Brooke up) is considered third choice.

Dancing Shadow has been in good form this season and won the Edinburgh National Handicap Chase at Musselburgh on his penultimate start over a trip of four miles one furlong. He was raised eight pounds for that effort but was subsequently pulled up in the amateurs' four miler at the Festival. Victor Dartnall's charge has enough weight and has to put that latest effort behind him but it was 39 days ago and Hill's offer 40/1 a quarter the odds four places while Paddy Power quote a price of 33/1 and pay one fifth the odds six places.

Blakemount is the each-way suggestion at 50/1 with Paddy Power paying one fifth the odds six places.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Haydock challenges

Tomorrow Haydock Park hosts the finals of the Challenger Series; the card looks extremely challenging.

After the six Challenger Series Finals the card concludes with the Tim Moloney Handicap Chase at 5.30 run over three and a half miles. I've spent some time this Good Friday afternoon looking at this race but haven't come up with an angle that makes much appeal.

A number in the field boast respectable form on soft ground but the current going is described as good, good to soft in places, and it seems unlikely that much rain will fall overnight.

Of the eleven declared, to my mind just four look guaranteed to stay the trip and appreciate the underfoot conditions - Abracadabra Sivola, Bertie Boru, Azure Fly and Carli King.

At eleven years old the last-named is no spring chicken but he races from the front and I'd expect to see similar tactics employed tomorrow on this tight track which tends to suit front-runners.

Two years ago he won a handicap chase at Warwick on good ground over this trip off a mark of 122; tomorrow he goes off 119. Will others in the field be able to keep tabs on him in the early stages?

Sixteen days ago Abradcadabra Sivola beat Tinker Time half a length with Bertie Boru a head behind in third over this sort of trip on good going at Taunton. The winner looked a shade fortunate as Bertie Boru was snatched up four from home when short of room and subsequently couldn't make up the ground. There doesn't look much between the pair and that's reflected in the betting.

Azure Fly was to be the each-way selection (with Mr J Nailor claiming seven). He didn't run his race last time but generally is a consistent sort who likes decent ground and stays; that said, he has a lot of placed efforts to his name...

The layers bet 5/1 Courtown Oscar with no runner in the field bigger than 12/1, all of which tells me our friends in the bookmaking fraternity aren't prepared to take too many chances here so instead I've gone for a more speculative selection in the stayers hurdle final at 4.20.

Cooking Fat has always struck me as the sort of beast you wouldn't want to bet with an on-course bookmaker with six pints of real ale inside you.

He brings decent form to the table here and is clearly the best horse in the race on RP ratings. Writing in the Weekender Paul Kealy makes the case for and the fact connections expect their charge to improve on better ground is encouraging.

Cooking Fat's chance is respected but at 9/1 I've decided to look elsewhere.

At Cheltenham back in October Young Dillon was beaten just over five lengths into fourth behind Wholestone, West Approach and Ballymalin, conceding the winner three pounds and the third six pounds. That form reads well with Wholestone finishing third in the Albert Bartlett.

Young Dillon hasn't been over-raced during the winter; after a break of four and a half months he had a refresher at Bangor three weeks ago which, hopefully, will have put him spot on for this. He'll appreciate the decent ground and sports a first-time visor.

At 16/1 Young Dillon is the speculative each-way selection; most layers pay a quarter the odds four places provided the 16 make it to the start.

And here's a salutary Grand National footnote to conclude with....

Last week winning jockey Derek Fox had barely dismounted from One For Arthur when the landline rang.

My brother had struck seven £3.00 each-way bets at SP for various members of his family and was keen to ascertain what returns were due.

Using the back of one of my own unsuccessful betting slips, I calculated the return on Saint Are, third at 25/1, but he was far more interested in the return from Gas Line Boy who had crept into fifth at the rather juicy odds of 50/1.

The sums done, I asked the obvious question - which bookmaker had he placed his bets with? And therein lay the problem. 'The local bookmaker in the village,' came the reply. Trying very hard not to laugh out loud, I said 'Oh dear.'

Some time later I received official confirmation that Dave Pluck, an independent chain of bookmakers with thirty shops based in the north west, were paying four places on the Grand National.

Silly, I know, but a number of on-going straplines followed: 'Out of luck with Dave Pluck', 'Dave Pluck? What bad luck!' as well as some other straplines too.

After receiving a copy of the aforementioned betting slips, I further noted that one of his seven selections was Vieux Lion Rouge, sixth at odds of 12/1. The same wagers placed with Paddy Power (one fifth the odds six places) showed a profit of £19.20...

The moral of the story? Choose your bookmaker with care...

Friday, April 07, 2017

Aintree Grand National 2017

Mrs Tips likes a flutter on the Grand National. We've made some progress this year - she only wants to bet half the field.

A number of the fancied runners in this renewal come with niggling doubts.

Vieux Lion Rouge has looked very good this season, pinching the Becher from Highland Lodge and then winning Haydock's Grand National Trial with just a hint of something to spare. The worry is he ran out of petrol two from home last year, eventually finishing seventh. Has he strengthened up sufficiently?

Definitely Red has improved leaps and bounds this season and deserves plenty of respect but jumping was his Achilles heel last year and I think he prefers more cut underfoot.

One For Arthur is another who revels in the mud; connections are worried their charge may struggle to lie up early on in the race.

Blaklion is a street fighter who looks to have benefitted from a wind operation after the Hennessy; however he's not the biggest of individuals and these are big fences...

And all those mentioned to this point are aged eight; in the past decade the winners have been aged between nine and eleven apart from Many Clouds in 2015.

It's the Grand National and anything can happen; since Lottery won the inaugural running in 1839 it frequently has.

Fifty years ago 100/1 chance Foinavon dramatically won following a pile-up at the fence after Becher's; the fence was officially named after the horse in 1984.

More recent big-priced winners include Silver Birch at 33/1 in 2007; Mon Mome at 100/1 in 2009; Neptune Collonges at 33/1 in 2012; Auroras Encore at 66/1 in 2013; Pineau De Re at 25/1 in 2014; Many Clouds at 25/1 in 2015 and Rule The World at 33/1 last year.

You pay your money and take your choice. The BBC's Pinstickers Guide is a popular, useful tool; for those interested, here's my stab at the impossible...

1. Ucello Conti The only one of my picks to perform with much credit last year, eventually finishing sixth, and racing off the same mark this time. Fourth behind Vieux Lion Rouge in the Becher, he meets that opponent five pounds better off for two and a half lengths (20/1).

2. Blaklion Second behind Vieux Lion Rouge at Haydock, he's three pounds better off for three and a quarter lengths. First time he has raced beyond three and a half miles (14/1).

3. Thunder And Roses Beat last year's winner Rule The World in the 2015 Irish National and I'm hoping he can bring that sort of form to the table here... (33/1)

4. Perfect Candidate Likes to race up with the pace and possibly a little high in the weights but progressive this year (50/1).

5. Vieux Lion Rouge With a clear round and luck in running I'm still not totally convinced he sees out the marathon trip... (12/1).

Good luck!

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Aintree 2017 - Friday

A couple of quick suggestions for Ladies' Day...

The JLT Melling Chase (3.25) looks a hot affair.

Fox Norton just failed to catch Special Tiara in the Champion Chase 23 days ago with Top Gamble fourth, Gods Own fifth and Traffic Fluide sixth. Gods Own, very closely matched with Fox Norton on official ratings, won this last year but is one I've always struggled to catch right.

Sub Lieutenant finished one and a half lengths behind Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair 22 days ago with Josses Hill fifth and Uxizandre seventh. Alan King's charge has previously won over course and distance and reportedly did not run to his best at Cheltenham; in the Weekender the handler says:

"...when Un De Sceaux took him on it disappointed him a little bit."

He ran in cheekpieces at Cheltenham but connections re-fit the visor for this renewal.

Both Kylemore Lough and Royal Regatta come here fresh.

Following an injury Traffic Fluide has been on the comeback trail this year; he was beaten just a neck by Gods Own in the Champion Chase and may have reversed placings had he jumped the last slightly better.

Paddy Power stand out from the crowd offering 25/1 at the time of writing; Traffic Fluide is the suggested each-way play.

In the Crabbie's Top Novices' Hurdle at 2.20 I'm hoping Malcolm Jefferson's Mount Mews can record a win for the north; market rivals River Wylde finished third in the Supreme behind Labaik while Moon Racer was pulled up in the Champion Hurdle after a mistake four from home. Jefferson won the Red Rum Handicap Chase earlier today with Double W's.

Finally the opener looks an absolute minefield and I haven't done the form so can't recommend a wager but I like Bigmartre and will monitor his performance. The stable was in indifferent form earlier in the season and is now slowly coming back. He ran well for a long way in the Imperial Cup; Harry Bannister claims three and a couple of layers price him 28/1 this evening.      

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Aintree 2017 - Thursday

Three weeks after Cheltenham, to my mind this still remains one of the trickiest meetings in the racing calendar  - so much so that I was on the verge of refraining from posting a selection for Thursday's card for the first time since the blog's inception in 2006.

Having tipped Cue Card for last month's Gold Cup, I'm not inclined to venture an opinion on his well-being ahead of the Betfair Bowl at 2.50. His jumping wasn't quite up to the mark last time, even before he came to grief three out; on official ratings he has four pounds in hand over Empire Of Dirt.

Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air is short enough for the Aintree Hurdle (3.25) on his first try over two and half miles; of the six declared only Identity Thief and The New One have previously won over the distance.

I've never considered myself much of a royalist but for a first day each-way wager I'll chance Forth Bridge, owned by The Queen, in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at 2.20.

At the Festival Defi Du Seuil was atypical in that he won his selected race, the Triumph Hurdle, in the manner the odds beforehand suggested he should - Landlin was some fourteen lengths behind in eighth.

A neck separated Flying Tiger and Divin Bere in the Fred Winter but the latter is now five pounds better off and looks weighted to reverse placings. That said, both runners looked to have had a hard enough race while Forth Bridge comes to this (as) fresh (as a daisy) after winning the Triumph Hurdle trial at Musselburgh at the beginning of February.

On official ratings Forth Bridge has six pounds to find with Divin Bere and two to find with Flying Tiger. On a (possibly ambiguous) form line through Project Bluebook, fourth in the Fred Winter, a case can be made Forth Bridge has around four pounds to find with Divin Bere. Drying ground is preferable; the going stick readings indicate the management team at Aintree have done plenty of watering in the build-up...

20/1 was available earlier but has now disappeared; bet365 offer 16/1 a quarter the odds three places. Forth Bridge is the each-way suggestion provided, of course, the eight runners make it to post.