Martin Malone

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Aintree 2019 -Thursday

The first matter of note for this year’s Grand National Festival is that it seems that we will have decent ground, neither to fast nor too slow. As at 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday the going was good to soft on the Grand National course and good to soft, good in places on the Mildmay and hurdle courses.

*UPDATE After further rain this afternoon the ground is now good to soft, soft in places (National course) and good to soft (Mildmay and hurdles courses).

I confess that I haven’t spent much time following the build up to this year’s National Festival so I’ll confine myself to fairly brief comments and selections.

I know I say it every year but the first day of the meeting is a treat for true racing fans. The first four races are all Grade 1s (which you don’t get at the Cheltenham Festival) and they’re followed by the Foxhunters’ Chase with amateur riders taking on the unique Grand National fences.

13:45 Manifesto Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 2m 3f 200y – £100,000

Although we only have six runners, this is an intriguing race to set the ball rolling.

La Bague Au Roi (7/4)

Not seen at Cheltenham and chasing a five-timer following an impressive win at the Dublin Racing Festival, she is a serious candidate, who is top-rated and benefits from the 7lbs mares’ allowance.

Bags Groove (8/1 > 9/1)

This is another one that swerved Cheltenham. He didn’t beat much in the Pendil Novices’ Chase and was well beaten (5th of 7) behind La Bague Au Roi in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. I’m looking beyond this one to find the winner.

Glen Forsa** (7/2 > 4/1) – selection

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This was my selection for the Arkle but he unseated his rider at the 4th. I’m willing to give him another chance. He’s progressive and the Timeform highest rated behind La Bague Au Roi (5 lbs difference and both have “small ps” (i.e. progressive)). I also think that the course will suit.

Kalashnikov (4/1 > 9/2)

Unseated at the 6th in the Arkle, having been routed by Glen Forsa on his previous outing. Unconvincing this season and best watched.

Mengli Khan (15/2 > 8/1)

Has been a serial underachiever this season and has simply not progressed as expected.

Spiritofthegames (8/1 > 9/1)

Is a fair enough horse but is likely to find two or three too good for him at this level.

14:20 Anniversary 4-y-o Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 209y – £100,000

Realistically, unless they’re not fully recovered from their Cheltenham excursions, this is between the three market leaders.

Pentland Hills (13/8 > 5/2)

Largely unheralded (20/1) winner of the Triumph Hurdle, benefiting from a particularly good ride, he is unbeaten over hurdles but his only other jumps race was a maiden hurdle at Plumpton. I think that the price is too short.

Fakir D’oudairies (6/1 > 4/1)

Went off 9/2jf in the Supreme and there was a lot to like about his 4th, particularly the way he was staying on. I think that the price is fair and it is conceivable that there is more progression in him. A big race victory would be welcome for the connections (O’Brien/McManus) who tragically lost Sir Erec in the Triumph.

Band Of Outlaws*** (15/8 > 7/4) – selection

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This one is also trained by Joseph O’Brien and brings winning form from the Festival (Fred Winter 7/2f). He’s also chasing a four-timer. I think that the current 15/8 is excellent value.

Outside these three we are currently 10/1 bar, with a couple at 25/1 and the outsider at 33/1. In my view they are a long way behind the leading contenders and should be completely disregarded.

14:50 Betway Bowl Chase (Grade 1) 3m 210y – £200,000

On the face of it, this is a really classy race, comprising four participants in this year’s Gold Cup and two from the Ryanair. However, that is precisely the reason for exercising considerable caution. The gap between Cheltenham and Aintree is shorter than usual (20 days for the Gold Cup participants) and I don’t think that anyone would dispute that the Gold Cup is a tough race which often leaves its mark. Of the Ryanair runners, Road To Respect is way too short at 11/2 and Balko Des Flos is not a top order horse, as reflected by his current 33/1. So let’s take a look at the Gold Cup runners.

Clan Des Obeaux (9/4 > 5/2)

By common consent (including Paul Nicholls) he didn’t stay the 3m 2 1/2f of the Gold Cup and this 3m 200y on a flat galloping track looks ideal. A young horse (7-y-o although all these are 7 or 8) I don’t think that he was pushed too hard when clearly beaten and might therefore have the recuperative powers to bounce back.

Kemboy* (11/4 > 5/2) – tentative selection

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I warned about this one’s suspect jumping before the Gold Cup and, sure enough, he unseated at the first. However, that means that he wasn’t subjected to the energy sapping challenge of the race and comes here fresh. The Mildmay fences are fairly stiff but they are very fair and hopefully this small field will help him to keep out of trouble. A very tentative selection.

Bristol De Mai (3/1 > 7/2)

Perhaps he can smell the Haydock air from here?! Beaten by Might Bite in this race last year (Clan Des Obeaux third), critically he didn’t run at the Festival and was on the back of a three months’ break when putting up a good performance. This time round he was hard ridden to secure an impressive third in the Gold Cup. He’s well known for running well fresh after a decent break so I can see the small gap of 20 days affecting him more than the others. For that reason I am bound, very reluctantly, to oppose him. Equally I would be surprised and delighted to see him bounding ahead and winning by 10 lengths but on this occasion it’s head over heart.

Elegant Escape (20/1 > 22/1)

This horse’s form is a great deal better than the price might suggest. He opened his account this season by winning an intermediate chase and followed up with a mightily impressive second in the Ladbroke (Hennessy) at Newbury. His next outing was in the Welsh Grand National which he won and was then a valiant second to subsequent Ryanair winner Frodon in the Cotswold Chase. His sixth in the Gold Cup looked like about the best he was ever likely to manage but was nonetheless creditable. Overall he’s had a hard season and I’m far from convinced that course and distance will suit. It’s very likely that he’ll find one or two who are, quite simply, faster than him in a race of this nature.

15:25 Aintree Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 4f – £250,000

This is the most valuable race of the day, with over £140,000 going to the winner. While the same caveat applies (that Cheltenham exertions may have taken their toll), I’ve decided that, based on the prices, this is the one in which we should take the betting plunge.

Buveur D’air***** (10/11 > 5/6) – nap

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Last seen when unexpectedly falling at the third in the Champion Hurdle. Nicky Henderson didn’t seem too concerned, pointing out that he is very low and fast over his hurdles, so there is a small margin between brilliance and disaster. As a result, like Kemboy in the Bowl, he can benefit from coming to this race fresh with the Cheltenham outing unlikely to have made a difference. He won this race in 2017 so the distance should not be a problem. While beaten in the Christmas Hurdle, I think that he has everything in his favour in this race and, as such, the slight odds on currently on offer is an outstanding double your money opportunity.

Faugheen (6/1)

Was a fine, fine horse in his day but has not recaptured the same level of form following a long injury break. Aged 11 and now over a shorter trip than is probably ideal, the best to hope for is a place.

Melon (8/1 > 9/1)

Second but beaten by 15 lengths in the Champion Hurdle (at 20/1) I can’t see him beating Buveur D’air after an uninspiring season.

Supasundae (9/1 > 11/1)

A fine stayer but was beaten in this race last year by L’ami Serge and has not won this season (7th in the Stayers’ Hurdle). A decent place option.

16:05 Foxhunters’ Chase (National) 2m 5f – £45,000

This is the big opportunity for the amateur riders to take their chance over the National fences. As such it can be a bit of a lottery. However, it’s worth noting that the last five winners have been returned at 11/2, 16/1, 15/8f, 5/2f and 7/2.

I was a big supporter of Road to Rome*** (4/1 > 7/2) who was chasing an eighth consecutive win in the Cheltenham Foxhunters’, ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen and came fourth. I think that the distance (3m 2 1/2f) did for him and his excellent jumping should see him to the fore in his first outing over the National fences over a distance which should suit much better.

Burning Ambition (11/2) is a progressive 8-y-o. He was eighth of 24 in this race last year. Only 3rd in a P2P at Bellharbour in February, he’s not for me.

Of the others, Kruzhlinin (11/1) is a 12-y-o and has moved from Philip Hobbs to Gordon Elliott for a hunting campaign, but has jumping issues. I don’t have any outsider options but advise against any of the other 12-y-os and definitely the three 13-y-os.

16:40 Red Rum Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 1m 7f 200y – £90,000

This is a very competitive Grade 3 handicap with all sorts of angles. Favourites have fared poorly with none winning for the last five years (which include winners at 16/1 and 33/1). You really have to just go with your instinct and, having done so, my three against the field are, in order of preference, Diego Du Charmil** (12/1 > 9/1), a winner of the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase at this meeting last season, Lady Buttons (9/1 > 8/1), a Grade 2 winner and fourth in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival, and Brelan D’as (15/2 > 8/1), a progressive 8-y-o,

17:15 Mares’ Bumper (Grade 2) 2m 200y – £45,000

I was reluctant to make a selection for this one and confess that I know very little about these horses. However, for the sake of going through the card I’m with what a think is a bit of value with Miss Heritage* (7/1 > 10/1), who was a wide margin winner last time out, albeit in a very moderate race at Catterick. The Glancing Queen (11/2), fifth in the Cheltenham Champion Bumper, has the best form and is respected.

Good luck!

Boxing Day – other races

You can read my King George preview here. On this page I’ve taken a look a some of the (many) other races.

Kempton

12:50 Novices’ Hurdle (Class 2) 2m

Didtheyleaveyououtto (5/2) beat Thomas Darby last time out and should repeat. The Big Bite is also respected.

13:55 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 3m

Current favourite for the RSA Santini (6/4) should win this but faces decent opposition including Bags Groove, The Worlds End and La Bague Au Roi.

14:30 Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m

This is one to watch and enjoy. Dual Champion Hurdler Buveur d’Air (1/5) is streets ahead of the opposition.

15:05 King George

See my preview here.

Leopardstown

12:10 Maiden Hurdle 2m

Vision d’Honneur (6/5) has run only once in his life (winner of a three runner race at Fontainebleau) but is a very interesting recruit for Gordon Elliott.

13:10 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m

This race is often a good pointer for later in the season. Chief Justice (11/4) beat Coeur Sublime last time out and should confirm the form.

14:20 Racing Post Novice Chase (Grade 1) 2m 1f

Mengli Khan is currently odds on (4/6) but I prefer Voix du Reve (3/1) for Willie Mullins, a decent winner of a Grade 2 novices’ chase last time out at Punchestown.

15:30 Bumper 2m

This is one to watch but Allaho‘s (evens) only run to day was a second in a listed hurdle at Auteuil. He has to come back from a 297 days’ break and faces 205,000 euros Gigginstown purchase Fury Road, but could turn out to be one of WP’s serious contenders in this division.

Wetherby

14:10 Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m 45y

This race was won in 2016 by Definitly Red and there are two or three decent candidates in this renewal. I’m against current favourite Wakanda. Lake View Lad (4/1) is commendably consistent and is preferred over highly tried (RSA and Hennessey) Allysson Monterg.

Limerick

14:00 Novice Chase (Grade 1) 2m 3f 160y

Getabird is not a betting proposition at 1/2 but has taken very well to chasing and should be good to watch. It’s notable that Ruby Walsh has chosen this ride instead of other Grade 1 options at Leopardstown.

Good luck!


King George Chase 2018 preview

One race dominates the Christmas schedule and, as it should be, that is the King George. Will it be a day for the greys? Here’s a runner by runner summary.

1 Bristol de Mai**** 15/2

A favourite of mine, he didn’t run to his best in this race last season (on the back of wins in the Charlie Hall and the Betfair Chase). However, he won on his first outing in this year’s Betfair, beating Native River by four lengths on good ground. I expect that we’ll see a better performance this time. Some say that he’s a Haydock specialist but he was second to Might Bite in the Betway Bowl at Aintree last April. I suspect that the key to him is that he needs to be run sparingly (not normally Nigel Twiston-Davies’ style) and I think that having this as his second race of the season could make a big difference.

2 Clan des Obeaux* 16/1

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He is a progressive 6-y-o and definitely open to improvement. His 8 3/4 lengths fourth to Bristol de Mai in the Betfair Chase represents a fair measure of his ability at this level.

3 Coneygree* 33/1

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Imperious and unbeaten in 2014/15, including the Gold Cup. However, he’s had a number of injuries and as an 11-y-o was probably showing the peak of his current potential when third to Rock The Kasbah in the Grade 3 BetVictor Chase at Cheltenham last time out.

4 Double Shuffle* 33/1

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(Pictured right)

Was a highly unexpected second to Might Bite in the 2017 King George. There is every reason to believe that this was a one off at this level, although he was a decent second to Definitly Red on soft ground in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree last time out.

5 Might Bite** 3/1

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Now here is the conundrum of the race. If it was not for his last outing he would be a much shorter priced favourite. However, his poor last in the Betfair Chase raises serious questions. It was suggested that he didn’t take to the stiff fences at Haydock that day, but I think that far too much has been made of that. Apparently there were no abnormalities detected following the race and I couldn’t possibly back him on the back of that performance. It is far from unusual for dominant top level performers to peak and then fail to make a transition from one season to the next. That said, if the Haydock outing was a blip, then I would have him in the first three.

6 Native River*** 6/1

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The going is good to soft but he is all about stamina (former Welsh National winner over 3m 5f on soft), as demonstrated in this year’s Gold Cup. I can see him being run out of it, while putting in another decent performance. I don’t see him turning round the form with Bristol de Mai in the Betfair Chase but a safe call for a place.

7 Politologue**** 5/1

There are two big pluses which could well see this one marking a changing of the guard at the top level. First, I see him as the most progressive horse in this race and he has excellent recent form, having beaten Peterborough Chase winner Charbel in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot last month and Min in the Melling Chase at Aintree last April. Second, and most importantly, as a son of Poliglote he is bred to stay three miles and this is his first outing over the distance. As a 7-y-o (rising 8) he is ideally placed to show his full potential.

8 Tea For Two* 25/1

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Third in this race last year and fourth of five in 2016, he is a very in and out horse. His form since last running in this race is PU76PU/3 and he can’t be fancied in this renewal

9 Thistlecrack** 7/1

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He was given much praise for his last outing when third in the Betfair Chase, but I’m not so sure. He seemed to be struggling round the back of the course and was, in truth, never challenging. He’s not won since taking this in 2016 and there’s good reason to believe that he’s not the same horse as he was then.

10 Waiting Patiently** 7/2

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The price is way, way too short. Although unbeaten over fences he’s not run for 312 days and it would be nothing short of a miracle for him to take this on his return. He beat Politologue but that was back in January 2017 and his subsequent wins were in an intermediate chase in Carlisle, a listed race here and, his single top class performance to date, beating a past his best Cue Card in the Ascot Chase, his last outing. I think that the odds are stacked against him.

Verdict

My two against the field are Bristol de Mai and Politologue. I’m finding it very hard to split them and, just on balance, I’m going for the former to follow up on his impressive win in the Betfair Chase. I will also be having a forecast at an appealing 15/2-5/1.

Cheltenham selections – Friday 14 December

This weekend’s races take place on the new course, generally regarded as the slower of the two. A notable feature is that there are just two flights in the last 6 furlongs on the hurdles course. The ground is reported as good, but apparently not soft enough for Willie Mullins to bring over his star mare Laurina who was favourite for the International Hurdle on Saturday. According to the BHA website Doncaster has been watering for Saturday and don’t be surprised if the same happens here (yes, I know, in December) because there was a big report published this week into fatalities at the Festival which included in its recommendations that the ground must as a minimum be on the soft side of good for future Festivals and there is no rain forecast. Latest readings are 7.3 chase and hurdle and 7.5 cross country (good ground with no soft).  A high of 3 degrees celsius is going to make it suitably bracing for those at the course.

So, on to Friday’s card, which is decent rather than being anything special. My main interest focuses on the opening novices’ hurdle and chase and, unusually for me, the cross country where, in this distinctly European week,  I think that there might be a bit of value from a travers la Manche.

12:10 Novices’ Hurdle (Class 3) 2m 1f

The one who immediately appealed to me in this race is exciting prospect Elixir de Nuts** (9/4), not least because he won here last month (on the old course). I think that he could be a good recruit for Colin Tizzard but has to concede a good deal of weight to his opponents. Angels Breath, currently 11/10 (was 100/30), is an 85000 euros recruit for Nicky Henderson but how many times have decent Irish pointers flopped when making the transition to novice hurdles? Of the others I K Brunel (Carlisle) and Jarveys Plate (Perth) have modest form and, whether it should be the case or not, Northern course form very rarely translates to Cheltenham success, particularly in novice company.

12:45 Novices’ Chase (Class 2) 3m 1 1/2f

This is my favourite race of the day. You need to take a view because the top three, The Worlds End (15/8), Lil Rockerfeller (9/4) and Ibis du Rheu (9/2) all have a realistic chance. Of them, the doughty hurdler Lil Rockerfeller*** is my selection. I’ve watched both his chase races. The first outing over fences (here) was far from convincing but he did much better at Exeter next time out with cheekpieces and is on a four timer. As such he represents excellent value and I expect his price to shorten, so get on.

The Worlds End is a very nice horse but I’m always wary about Tom George trained horses who are often hyped but don’t deliver. He was beaten (third) behind Ibis du Rheu but has an 8lb turn on him for this one.

For me, the rock solid hardiness of Lil Rockerfeller will be decisive in the long run up the hill. My nap. 

Previous winners of this include Sizing Tennessee, Singlefarmpayment (see below), Blaklion and Sam Winner, so it’s generally one to take the winner from.

13:20 Handicap Hurdle (Class 3) 2m 1f

Two things. We have to bear in mind that this is a fairly moderate Class 3 so there could be a turn up, and I think that there is one absolutely primed for this.

This is a bog standard 0-140 moderate hurdle. It was won last year by Smaoineamh Alainn** (13/2) who was far from disgraced in a Grade 2 last time out. If you were the owner you’d have targeted this for a next exciting day out at Cheltenham. Two stars is my realistic assessment but I don’t like either of the runners ahead of him in the market (Highest Sun and Al Dancer).

The other one of note is Not That Fuisse, last out in the Greatwood Hurdle (6th) and one of Paul Ferguson’s horses to follow.

13:55 Mares’ Handicap Chase (Class 3) 2m 4 1/2f

So what do we say about a mares’ handicap chase without a star? Not much to be honest. Beware of Silent Steps (failed to win for Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls and now with Neil King). I’m swerving this one by a mile.

14:30 Handicap Chase(Grade 3) 3m 2f

Technically the race of the day because it’s a Grade 3. I hope not to offend anyone but Singlefarmpayment is a squiggly dog. Rock The Kasbah, a Grade 3 winner here, could easily win this but I’m not absolutely convinced. I think that Festival winner Coo Star Sivola** (13/2) (Festival winner, just to make that point again) is a proper contender and represents very good value.

Theatre Territory (7/2) is a relatively poor value each way option.

15:05 Cross Country Handicap Chase (Class 2) 3m 6f

Now, I’ve got a proper view about this one. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if Josies Orders wins this at a current 3/1 (from 9/4). But, this is transparently not the target. On the other hand, this looks like the absolute objective for Amazing Comedy**** (4/1), trained by David Cottin (former jockey and son of Francois) who ran well in the Festival cross country in 2017 and beat Vol Noir de Kerser by over 18 lengths in an impressive win at Compiegne (3m 3f very soft) five weeks ago. Perfectly primed for this and my next best (after Lil Rockerfeller).

15:40 Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) 2m 7f 213y

The only thing that interests me about this race is that a couple are, on the face of it, ahead of the market so there should be a betting angle in a field of 13.

Great Trango is a horse who could develop well on his form at Galway and Listowel and could be much better than the bare form suggests. However, he is not my idea of the winner.

This evening Aaron Lad is attracting marginal support at 6/1. Jumping is dodgy and not one for me.

Both Clondaws (Cian and Native) are, for me, average horses who are best avoided.

Buywise is, again with respect to the owners, the second absolute dog of the day. Every chance of a place (as is his way at 28/1) but no desire to win. If you are an each way player this could be a very good bet but not one for me.

So, the first of the two. I really like Worthy Farm***, a horse who I think is thrown in here. A really good pointer who won well with loads in hand for Paul Nicholls when last out at Taunton (typical first outing for Nicholls). I expect that we will be talking about this horse next March.

The other is Sizing Granite. He was a Newbury hurdles winner and was sixth in the Punchestown Gold Cup. His current form is 0665 but he might just spark here. Just to be clear, that is not a betting proposition.

So, in summary:

12:10 Elixir de Nuts

12:45 Lil Rockerfeller

13:20 Smaoineamh Alainn

13:55 No bet

14:30 Coo Star Sivola

15:05 Amazing Comedy

15:40 Worthy Farm

Good luck, and for those of you that are there, have a great day!!

A potentially great weekend in prospect

Friday

Undoubtedly the highlight of Friday’s racing is Kalashnikov‘s chasing debut in the 2.00 at Warwick. 1/3 is a fair price against three markedly inferior opponents. I wouldn’t often be tempted at a price like this but he has reportedly schooled well over fences (always looked like a chaser in the making) and might just stake the Betfair balance on this one to get things started.

Another of interest but at prohibitive odds is dual bumper winner Windsor Avenue (at 2/5) in the 1.05 at Hexham. This is the time of year when very short odds progressive horses are given easy outings and this one could easily be combined with Kalashnikov for a modest return on a double. A £10 double will return a little over £18. Bet placed, just to make it a little more interesting (my first bet since Aintree’s national meeting).

Saturday

Footpad is in a class of his own at Gowran

Now we’re talking! Saturday’s Naas meeting could be a cracker if some of the main entries are declared.

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I think that we’ll see seriously good bumper horse from last season Blackbow in either the midday maiden hurdle over 2m or the 1.05 maiden over 2m 3f (probably the former) notwithstanding that he won his maiden PTP on good ground over 3m (current going for Naas on Saturday is good).

The Grade 3 Fishery Lane Hurdle at 12.30 could see Saldier (15/8) v Mr Adjudicator (9/4) v Espoir d’Allen (5/2) and Stormy Ireland (6/1). Farclas was entered but it’s reported that he won’t run. Saldier was one of my horses to follow last season but I’m hoping that Stormy Ireland has progressed and that she could be a serious player this season. Her best form is on soft/heavy but she beat good horses on yielding in a listed race over 2m 1f last May.

The Grade B Brown Lad Handicap Hurdle over 2m4f has no less than eight J P McManus entries from a variety of trainers including Jezki, Sire du Berlais, Housesofparliament, Plinth, De Name Escapes Me and Fitzhenry. As matters stand, my preference is for Stooshie who was third last week in a Grade B for Gordon Elliott at Down Royal on good to yielding and will therefore have race fitness on his side.

The Poplar Square Chase (Grade 3) at 2.15 will be my highlight of the day because Willie Mullins has said that this will be Footpad‘s season debut. One of the best horses (and my favourite) last season, the current 1/4 is another fair price but he could be facing some fairly decent opposition in the shape of Saint Calvados and Tombstone. As I said in my last post, I think that this is the season in which he will progress to open company proper stardom and I can’t wait to see another foot perfect performance. 

The 3.25 may feature a few horses that disappointed last season, namely Bleu Berry, Carter McKay, Bacardys and Deal d’Estruval. However, this is a beginners’ chase and could throw up one or more who are now in their element. One to watch with interest.

Over the water, the fare is more modest with, putting aside the flat meeting at Doncaster, interest being focused on Wincanton’s big day and some fairly average racing at Aintree.

The Wincanton feature Badger Ales Chase has attracted a pretty rum bunch. I don’t have any particular fancies in this and I suspect that the field could cut up severely so it’s one to wait and see with. 

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The Grade 2 Rising Stars Novices’ Chase (2.25) at Wincanton has one of the poorest set of entries (let alone declarations) for a race at this level that I’ve seen for a long time, which I suspect is down to the predicted good to firm ground. The Elite Hurdle (3.00) is a bit better but I won’t be surprised if We Have A Dream and Verdana Blue are both pulled by Nicky Henderson, in which case Redicean (with recent decent form) should win.

Aintree is predicting good, good to soft in places on the chase course, so we have a better chance of seeing some half decent horses. 

Terrefort would be one to watch in the 1.35 Pertemps qualifier but I don’t really see the point of running him in a race like this when his future is manifestly over fences. He’s entered in the intermediate chase at Sandown on Sunday which seems far more likely as a prep for the Ladbroke (Hennessy) Chase on 1 December.

The 2m 4f hurdle at 2.10 could be a decent race but I’m afraid that I suspect that the potentially interesting participants probably won’t turn up.

The feature handicap chase at 2.40 could turn out to be a fair event but doesn’t feature any horses at the entry stage that I’d see as ones to get excited about. When are we going to get 48 hour entries for all the big national hunt races? Well, we are for next year’s Cheltenham Festival thank goodness!

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I’ll be interested in Bun Doran if he turns up for the the 3.20 handicap chase and the bumper at 3.55 could turn out to be a good pointer but I have no idea which one may prevail.

Sunday

The top racing continues at Navan on Sunday. In the 1.05 I’ll be with WP’s Quick Grabim at an attractive 11/8 (current co-favourite with Felix Desjy) and the Lismullen Hurdle (1.35) could be a cracker with too many good horses to mention so let’s see which ones turn up. The Fortria Chase is, on its face, right up to standard but will depend very much on which ones run the day before in the 2.15 at Naas. The beginners’ chase at 2.40 could feature top hurdler Mengli Khan, another who could be progressing to his natural metier.

Meanwhile at Sandown I’ll love the chasers tackling the railway fences in a taster for what the season is to bring. Most of the fields are too big to pass any comment on but the intermediate chase (2.20) definitely has the makings of being the highlight. Daryl Jacob has been named as the jockey for Terrefort which makes me think that this is his target and he could face decent opposition in the shape of Elegant Escape, Coo Star Sivola, Thomas Patrick, Barney Dwan and Ms Parfois. A race to savour! Let’s hope that they stand their ground.

Boxing

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Although national hunt racing is my favourite sport, boxing comes a close second and I can’t wait for Oleksandr Usyk v Tony Bellew on Saturday. This is an absolutely top class fight. I’ve watched Bellew more or less from the start of his career and his progression is all about heart and determination. He’s not the best technically (Usyk could well be) but… Bellew is on a nine times winning streak and his last loss was to Haitian superstar Adonis Stevenson in 2013. His last five fights have all been wins against the odds. This is Bellew’s last fight and he has promised to give it his all and leave absolutely everything in the ring. Usyk is very impressive and unbeaten but his biggest win was against a lacklustre Marco Huck (suspended indefinitely by the New Jersey Athletic Control Board) and who lost in his previous fight against Mairis Briedes who is also fighting Saturday (in Chicago against a no mark opponent). For the record I know that others might take the view that his World Boxing Super Series win against Murat Gassiev was his best but I watched that fight and Gassiev was valiant but a hyped and lesser opponent (on form). All of that taken into account the current 5/1 on Usyk against 5/1 against Bellew is crazy! I see it as about a 2/1 on Usyk, 7/4 against Bellew, 20/1 the draw. As such the 5/1 is possibly the best bet of the weekend.

On the undercard, Scotty Cardle against “The Rickster” Ricky Burns is a hastily convened fight which, for me, can have only one outcome: an easy win inside the distance for Ricky. 1/4 is absolutely fair and takeable to bolster the funds for the big one.

Good luck and enjoy!

Getting into the new NH season

News about Footpad

Footpad is in a class of his own at Gowran

Today brings news that Footpad may take part in the King George. Willie Mullins is aiming for an autumn season for my favourite horse in training and imperious winner of the Arkle back in March. Willie Mullins has said that he is yet to speak with the owners but he’s planning for two races before Christmas, the first over two miles and the second “let out” to two and a half miles. It’s worth remembering that he won as a 4-y-o on soft over 2m 3f and very soft over the same distance, both at Auteuil so, unless the ground is bottomless, the King George, as I’ve previously commented as an “easy” 3m, seems highly achievable. The current 16/1 with Paddy Power is ridiculously good and well worth a pop (as short as 7/1 with Coral).

I’m also interested in the current 4/1 Footpad for the Champion Chase, behind Altior at 7/4.

Douvan

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Disappointingly, Willie Mullins has reported today that Douvan has suffered a setback. Thankfully it is the off fore rather than the near fore which was the injury that caused his extended break. Assuming that he gets over it, and Willie thinks that he will, he could yet be a major player this season. Willie believes that he can be extended but remains a Champion Chase contender. One to watch for the moment.

Samcro

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Vying with Footpad as the star of 2017-2018 is Samcro, winner of the Ballymore at the Festival when following up on his win at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival. He looks like a star chaser in the making but Gordon Elliott has stated that his target this year is the Champion Hurdle and I agree with that because Buveur D’Air is very good but has not yet faced a true star and Samcro could be just that. He’s currently 11/4 favourite for the Champion Hurdle, ahead of  Buveur D’Air at 7/2, 9/1 bar and I think that he’ll just shorten over the season.

Tiger Roll

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Gordon Elliott has confirmed that the Grand National hero of 2018 is going to follow a similar Cross Country route in 2018-2019. For betting purposes it’s worth bearing in mind that he was 5th of 19 when tackling the Cheltenham course last December. He won well at the Festival Cross Country in March before following up in the greatest national hunt race of all exactly a month later. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see him out until 2019.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

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Tony McCoy has already selected Presenting Percy for the Gold Cup and he’s the current 6/1 favourite, slightly ahead of Might Bite (13/2) and Native River (7/1), 16/1 bar. I agree with him. He acts on any ground and won against decent opposition in the RSA. Many people take the view that the RSA takes the edge off novices but this was an easy victory and he’s a proper horse. At 7-y-o going 8 he’s primed to improve and I suspect that competition for this race may fall away during the season.

This weekend

It’s a bit early to be doing this because we don’t know the declarations yet. However, I’ll highlight a few possibles to watch out for (Saturday unless indicated otherwise).

WKD Hurdle Down Royal Friday (Grade 2)

Samcro is currently 1/3 for this. We’ll see whether he takes part and if the entries stand up then Sharjah (Mullins / Ricci) and Stratum (both with recent flat form) may provide a modicum of opposition.

Ascot Underwriting Chase (Class 3)

Mont des Avaloirs was one of my horses to follow last season. He didn’t deliver but is only a 5-y-o. There is therefore every chance that he has grown up and I fancy him at a current 6/1 in open company.

OLBG.com Mares Hurdle (Wetherby) (Class 1)

Regular readers will know that I am an unrelenting fan of Apple’s Shakira, who was another one that dominated in the early season. This is only her seventh race and she was campaigned at the highest level. Still a 4-y-o she can still show her best and the current 7/2 (behind Verdana Blue at 5/2) is great value.

Byrne Group Handicap Chase (Ascot) (Class 1)

This is one to watch but I might have a few quid on Bun Doran

Charlie Hall Chase (Wetherby) (Grade 2)

I love the Charlie Hall Chase because, for me, it’s one of the first stop and take notice races of the season (the other is the JNWine Champion Chase – see below). The going is currently good which may not suit Bristol de Mai. I don’t fancy Thistlecrack or Clan des Obeaux so I’m siding with last year’s unexpected star, Black Corton at an appealing 11/2.

Bet With Ascot Handicap Hurdle (Class 1)

This field is likely to cut up but I have to highlight another favourite choice from last season in the shape of Countister, a Nicky Henderson/J P McManus horse. I suspect that this is another whose best days are yet to come and who will have benefited from the summer break.

Mycareneedsa.com Chase (Down Royal) (Grade 2)

What an appallingly named race. I’ve been writing this while waiting for so called “trick or treaters” and I don’t know whether they, or this race name are worse. Anyway, this is a Grade 2 and it’s interesting because it has a very good field (as matters stand). Above all, Monalee.

JNwine.com Champion Chase (Down Royal) (Grade 1)

Well, this depends very much on the final field so there’s not much to say. I think that many of the current entries might be better directed elsewhere. Based on the entries I fancy a Ryanair/Gigginstown winner but couldn’t tell you which one it will be. Let’s wait and see.

Summary

So, there we go. A pretty mixed bunch but I can’t wait for the first full on National Hunt weekend. Thank goodness we are back again and watching superb horses do what they do best! Enjoy!!

The National Hunt season is imminent and there are big TV changes in store

This evening I received my first reminder that one of my selected horses for the new NH season is due to run tomorrow at Gowran. Hurrah! At last the proper racing is back and before I know it there will be races by the minute on Saturday afternoons that provide the start of the big build up to the Grade 1s that begin to shape the season.

Of course, I’ll be watching the Arc meeting on both Saturday and Sunday but on Saturday the highlight will be Ryanair winner Balko des Flos in the Grade 2 PWC Champion Chase at Gowran. 

It’s a shame that Thomas Hobson has been ruled out of the Parislongchamp Prix du Cadran on Saturday and I’ll have a little interest on Mille Et Mille at a current 12/1 as an alternative. I can’t have Max Dynamite who is placed in these type of races worldwide but isn’t an obvious choice for me.

It’s also a shame that the strange weather is impacting on the start of the season. While Chepstow is seen as the first big meeting, Exeter has often thrown up a few early starters. However, the Racing UK season opener on 11 October is in serious doubt because the ground is firm, hard in places.

The big story is to do with TV coverage. I’ve subscribed to Racing UK for about 5 years. It’s expensive: nearly £300 a year, but their coverage (to date) has been excellent, including a lot of the early races that are not available on free to air. A big downer for me is that they don’t provide coverage on secondary TVs so you have to watch on the main TV that you’ve subscribed to. I’d love to go to bed and watch the highlights of the day but that’s not available, including the free to air programmes such as Nick Luck’s Sunday morning programme which would be ideal. I’ve complained to them about this but got nowhere.

So, ATR is going to be Sky Sports Racing from 1 January 2019. Significantly, it will be broadcasting in HD which is long overdue. However, we won’t be there for their grainy pictures of Irish racing but more of that below. Also of note they have secured the rights for Ascot, Bangor, Chester and will continue with Doncaster. The channel is free for all Sky basic subscribers.

The big news for Sky, as far as I’m concerned, came a few days ago when they announced that they have signed a deal with PMU to provide exclusive  coverage of all French racing. Unlike the occasional coverage that we’ve seen on ATR and Racing UK, they are going to provide coverage of everything, including regional and trotting races. Matthew Imi, chief executive of At The Races, said:

This is a very exciting new partnership for us with France Galop, Le Trot and PMU and one that has immense potential. French racing is already well supported by owners and trainers in the UK and Ireland but we will showcase the strength and quality of French thoroughbred racing throughout the year in a way that has never been done before by UK racing media.


Sky Sports Racing will provide consistent, live broadcast coverage of French fixtures with all relevant betting information and presentation crews regularly live on site at French racecourses. Attheraces.com will deliver in depth and comprehensive online coverage of French racing to the largest digital audience of racing fans in the UK and Ireland. In addition, Sport Mediastream, ATR’s wholly owned video streaming platform, will make every one of PMU’s 10,000 French thoroughbred and trotting races available live to online betting operators in the UK and Ireland for the first time.

“We look forward to extending our long-standing relationship with PMU and now working more closely and proactively with the teams at France Galop, Le Trot and PMU on this venture which we believe will raise the already strong profile and appeal of French racing in the UK and Ireland considerably.”

Cyril Linette, CEO of PMU added:

We see a great opportunity for French racing in the UK and Ireland. At The Races will be a strong partner for us to help deliver our high quality racing to the online betting market and at the same time generate interest with regular broadcast coverage and promotion.

Switching channels, Racing UK will have from 1 January 2019 exclusive coverage of Irish racing. There has been a great deal of hoo hah on social media about whether Racing UK will be able to provide adequate coverage of the big Irish races when there are inevitable clashes. I think that we will have to wait and see. It is an obvious challenge but if, like me, you are OK with as near as possible live coverage and split screens only when absolutely necessary, I think that they should be OK. For me, a big plus will be seeing Irish races in HD for the first time and, from a National Hunt perspective, most big British races will be on a Saturday and most big Irish races on a Sunday. I’ll also look forward to top level presentation from people like Lydia Hislop and I hope that they will recruit Gary O’Brien.

It’s going to be a very different season and I understand those who say that Irish racing will be much less accessible. However, we have to bear in mind that there is still a great deal of free to air racing on terrestrial TV, e.g. the Arc meeting, so we shouldn’t be so fussy about where the hardcore stuff can  be accessed.

Cheltenham – The Grade 1 Races

This is the last update with selections before the declarations. Thank goodness we have 48-hour decs this year so we can have a good look at the fields rather than wondering which horse will take its place where. Of course there is still the possibility of double decs but, overall, it should be much better all round.

The first considerations are the weather and the ground. According to the BBC website rain is forecast every single day from this Friday until Gold Cup day. Today (Tuesday) the ground is soft, good to soft in places. I’m expecting soft ground all round on Tuesday (11/8) and soft, heavy in places by Gold Cup day. According to Accuweather extended rain is expected this Saturday, followed by next Thursday and particularly on Friday.

I’m going to confine my views to the Grade 1 races and the Cross Country today because there are too many multiple entries in the main handicaps.

Later in the week I hope to post videos of the main contenders. For now, here’s an example of Footpad’s spectacular jumping performance at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting:

Tuesday

1.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (winner £71,188)

Kalashnikov**** (15/2 > 6/1 > 11/2)

There are 53 entries but it’s 10/1 bar Getabird and Kalashnikov without NRNB. It’s a “pick ’em”. It’s easy to think of Getabird being another Melon (i.e. a beaten hotpot). His form is impeccable and he has winning form over 2m 4f on heavy so softish ground shouldn’t be a problem. He easily beat Mengli Khan and Carter McKay in the Moscow Flyer at Punchestown on soft to heavy last time out in January and may well improve.

If you disregard Kalashnikov’s second to Summerville Boy in the Grade 1 Tolworth on proper heavy ground (and I think that you can) his profile is also impeccable and his victory in the the Betfair Hurdle (formerly the Schweppes) was a mighty performance for a novice. Another horse to have progressed from this race was Make A Stand in 1997 (having improved 50lbs in the course of the season), except he went on to win the Champion Hurdle at 7/1. Kalashnikov has shown his resolution and speed in a cavalry charge on soft ground and he is a confident four stars selection.

2.10 Arkle Novices’ Chase (winner £99,663)

Footpad***** (7/4 ->11/8 > 11/8 > 6/4)

Regular readers will know that I’ve been a fan of Footpad for years and he’s moved up to top gear by chasing. I’ve already said that I see this one as a future Champion Chaser. He took a drift in the market last weekend but it now seems that this may have resulted from confusion with the Munir horses (Sceau Royal is out), as noted by Ruby Walsh:

“Footpad is 100 per cent and we don’t know why he was in the news over the weekend.

“Maybe someone had the wrong information about a Simon Munir horse or something, we know Sceaux Royal went missing on Monday, but Footpad is 100 per cent and there was never an issue with him, but you get those rumours at this time of the year.”

I can’t split Footpad and Apple’s Shakira as my nap of the week. They are both five star selections and the current prices for both are staggering value.

I agree with the Racing UK pundits that Brain Power has no chance and although Saint Calvados was impressive in the Kingmaker at Warwick he didn’t really beat that much. He was sixth of 10 behind last weekend’s star De Bon Coeur last April at Auteuil. As an aside De Bon Coeur looks like France’s next Questarabad after his latest demolition job of the opposition at Auteuil on Sunday (winning a race also won won by Questarabad at a similar stage). It would be great to see that horse taking on the best from the UK and Ireland but, if I was the owner, I’d hold on to him and sweep up all the extremely valuable prizes in France for years to come (form 111111-F111).

3.30 Champion Hurdle (winner £256,275)

Buveur d’Air***** (4/6 -> 1/2 > 8/15)

None have emerged to prevent Buveur d’Air from retaining his crown. The only reason why he’s not my nap is the price. I’m therefore looking at the place options. As previously noted Elgin should be supplemented (for £20,000) and take his chance (currently 16/1) and Wicklow Brave could well run into a place at 12/1.

4.10 Mares’ Hurdle (winner £67,524)

Apple’s Jade**** (8/11 -> 4/6 > 4/6)

W P Mullins appears to be firing his best available against his former charge Apple’s Jade but none of them should be able to see her off. This is easily Gordon Elliott’s best chance of the day and probably the week. I might have a small interest on La Bague Au Roi for a place at 14/1 if she turns up here.

Wednesday

1.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (winner £71,187)

Samcro**** (9/4 -> 8/11 > 4/5)

There appears to be a consensus that this one is the Irish banker of the week. The price is certainly very attractive but, in reality, there are better options (albeit at shorter prices). His win at the Dublin Racing Festival was mightily impressive and there is no good reason to look beyond him. He’s unbeaten and this is his graduation day.

2.10 RSA Novices’ Chase (winner £99,662)

Black Corton*** (10/1 > 8/1)

I’ve been with Black Corton from the start of these previews and I’m not going to change now. The only concern is if Monalee turns up here but I think that he’ll show up in the JLT. Don’t worry about the progression from a summer horse to a Cheltenham Grade 1 candidate. As I mentioned above Make A Stand improved 50lb in one season before winning the Champion Hurdle. His victory in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Chase, followed by the Grade 2 Reynoldstown, proves his class beyond doubt and, with Bryony Frost on board, I can already see her smile and raised arm on board the winner making the front pages of the newspapers.

3.30 Champion Chase (winner £227,800)

Altior***** (11/8 -> 8/11 > 8/11)

Altior is the chasing equivalent of Buveur d’Air in the Champion Hurdle and should ensure that Nicky Henderson bags both 2m prizes. A curve ball in this one (for a place) is Great Field for Willie Mullins after 321 days off but on a five timer (into 10/1 from 16/1 in the last few days).

4.10 Cross Country Chase (winner £40,235)

Cause of Causes** (4/1 -> 7/2 > 11/4)

There’s not much to add to my earlier views. Cause of Causes is a fair bet for this one but no more than that.

Thursday

1.30 JLT Novices’ Chase (winner £85,425)

Monalee** (14/1 > 13/2)

I do hope that Monalee turns up here and, if he does, he should win. One to watch is the Munir/Henderson highly rated recruit Terrefort at 13/2.

2.50 Ryanair Chase (winner £199.325)

Un de Sceaux**** (9/2 -> 3/1 > 2/1)

Unusually, I’ve put up the prize money in the titles of the races in this preview, particularly with this race in mind. The Ryanair is often seen as the poor relation of the other championship races but that prize to the winner of nearly £200,000 is not to be sniffed at. The ground prediction reinforces my view that this is Un de Sceaux’s for the taking. Waiting Patiently would be interesting if he turns up but I don’t think that he will. If the decs go as they might, this might be 7/1 bar the fav in which case the advice must be to get on now.

3.30 Stayers’ Hurdle (winner £185,088)

Sam Spinner** (4/1 -> 11/2 > 5/1)

Let’s get two out of the way to start with. Neither Supasundae nor Yanworth are my ideas of the winner. Both have had good days but are not champions here. This is a wide open race and that is why I think that it’s a perfect opportunity for the highly progressive Sam Spinner who, like Kalashnikov, has shown tenacity in his prep races.

Friday

1.30 Triumph Hurdle (winner £71,187)

Apples Shakira***** (4/1 -> 3/1 > 3/1)

I’m going to repeat myself – Apples Shakira is a very, very good horse. She gets half a stone from the geldings and arguably wouldn’t need it to win. That is a very significant advantage and all her wins in the UK have been on soft (she also beat 10 on her debut in France on trés souple) and this could be run on very soft ground. Unbeaten, she is all over my idea of the winner of this. Of the others Saldier (12/1) and Stormy Ireland (9/1) are candidates for a place, both at decent prices.

2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (winner £71,187)

Next Destination* (8/1 -> 6/1 > 7/1 (as low as 4/1 in places))

This is by some margin the weakest of the Grade 1s and Next Destination is the weakest of my current selections. Santini is the current 4/1 favourite and if Chef des Obeaux (11/2) turns up here I’ll be switching to him (particularly on soft ground).

3.30 The Gold Cup (winner £355,937)

Native River*** (6/1 > 6/1)

Well, bring on that properly soft ground for my selection! If it does turn up that way on properly churned ground (after two days on the new course) I can see this one grinding on and on for an old fashioned win over 3m 2 1/2f. I can see some of the the Irish horses repeating their Christmas flops and, as I’ve already said, I can’t see Might Bite winning and all the more so on trying ground. I think that Ruby will ride Total Recall and he’s excellent value for a place at the current 16/1.

Combinations

It seems this way at this time every year but this year in particular I think that there are horses to place in multiples and they are:

Footpad

Buveur d’Air

Apple’s Jade

Samcro

Altior

Un de Sceaux

Take them all (including NRNB) for a realistic 50/1. I have.

 

Good luck!

 

 

 

Cheltenham previews from the @racingblogger (Stephen Power)

A couple of years ago Stephen emerged on social media (Twitter) as an occasionally sweary video blogger. This evening he’s probably calling out Arsenal more vociferously than Piers Morgan. He’s certainly split opinions but what he has done, beyond any perceptions, is to have attracted 15,600 followers and 34,700 likes.

What he has also undoubtedly achieved is to attract lots of new fans of racing through a medium that many people in the business don’t understand. I’m a 54 year old fuddy duddy  but Stephen has often made me smile with his willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve, particularly when it comes to making selections and videoing his before and after snippets.

He’s also secured loads of interviews with big players at racecourses including all the main trainers, including a few real insights. He’s taken more than his fair share of stick from the usual slaggers on social media but, to his credit, he’s stuck with it. It’s notable that some of the best people on Twitter engage positively with him and those that don’t should rethink.

I applaud him for sticking with what he’s doing. I’ve no doubt that he would like to be a part of the presentation of horse racing (e.g. his participation in Racing UK’s Tipstar competition).

Anyhow, he’s turning up here because I’m doing an evening of Cheltenham previews and his are right up there. Here they are:

Cheltenham Part 1:

I like that he’s got an illuminated tree like mine!

“Gwann Da Pad”

Cheltenham Part 2:

Cheltenham Part 3:

Star Sports Preview time (starsports.bet) including Alastair Down

Many of the previews have been cancelled because of the weather but we have the benefit of proper recordings now, rather than the odd mobile phone clips!

Here are the Star Sports (“The Gentleman’s Bookmaker”) previews including Alastair Down.

Supreme Novices’Hurdle:

The Arkle:

Overlook them referring to Brain Power as “Brian Power”!

They think that Footpad will go off longer than 11/10 – fine with me!

So, on to the Champion Hurdle:

Ballymore thoughts:

Samcro!

Champion Chase:

The Ryanair:

The Stayers’ Hurdle:

The Triumph Hurdle

The Gold Cup:

“I love Native River”. I agree.

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