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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 Friday

There’s normally a day at the Festival when winners are thin on the ground and Thursday was it. Terrefort ran well in the JLT. The surprising defeat of Un de Sceaux by Balko des Flos (supposed not to like the ground) meant that I was bound to end on a loss for the day but the commanding win by Laurina in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle cushioned the blow.

On to the big day.

1.30 Triumph Hurdle

Apple’s Shakira***** (nap)
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On Tuesday I was absolutely delighted to hear J P McManus say that Apple’s Shakira was his selection of the week. Her sister Apple’s Jade flopped on day one and I mentioned to a fellow watcher at the Lady of Mann that it might have been her time of the month. It’s now been confirmed that she was indeed in season so that goes some way to explaining the uncharacteristic lacklustre performance. Apple’s Shakira is my selection of the week and the current 7/4 is still worth taking. I got on at 3/1 a couple of months ago and I might well top that up. She’s been campaigned at Cheltenham since her valuable transfer from Emmanuel Clayeux last September and has won all three outings on soft, including a defeat of Nube Negra (who ran well in the Fred Winter).

I expect that many of you have seen her Cheltenham races so here is a video of her win at Vichy which, I expect, prompted the purchase (she’s in yellow and green) “facilement”:

Just nine runners in this championship race for juveniles will reinforce the view that the Fred Winter has diluted this race. I take the view that the top newcomers should  have their opportunity in a decent race and the hustle and bustle will be absent this time.

Stormy Ireland is one to watch, a 58 lengths winner of her last outing at Fairyhouse on heavy ground.

2.10 County Hurdle

Smaoineamh Alainn*

Well, this one is full of horses that I’ve followed into a hole, namely Ivanovich Gorbatov, Meri Devie, Moon Racer, Jenkins, Brelade, Divin Bere and Sternrubin! I’m going each way with Smaoineamh Alainn (on a four timer at 16/1) who has winning form on soft here last December, albeit in a Class 3. To be honest I’ll have no more than a marginal interest in this race.

Current joint favourite Bleu et Rouge (10/1) is also of interest.

2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

Chef des Obeaux***

The potato race. As regular readers will know I’m all over current second favourite (5/1) Chef des Obeaux in this race. I was really taken by his win last month at Haydock in the Grade 2 trial for this. That was on properly heavy ground but he’ll keep going when others have lost their chances. Others of note are Dortmund Park (16/1), Calett Mad (16/1) (for a place) and Kilbricken Storm (33/1) (also for a place).

3.30 The Gold Cup

Native River***

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I’m still with Native River (5/1), even though the ground may not be as bad as I predicted. He was third in this race last year and the conditions are undoubtedly more in his favour this year. He made an impressive return in the Denman Chase last month (when many of Colin Tizzard’s horses were not running well).

Here are Colin and Joe Tizzard talking about him last week:

I can’t have Might Bite.

Our Duke beat Presenting Percy by a length in the Red Mills Chase last month and the latter’s win in the RSA on Wednesday was very impressive. However, I have concerns about his jumping.

Of the remainder Definitly Red (10/1), Killultagh Vic (10/1) and Road to Respect (12/1) have live chances.

Overall, it’s a very open race.

4.10 Foxhunters’ Chase

Caid du Berlais*

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Foxrock (8/1) and Burning Ambition (3/1) have been strongly supported for this. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my preference is for Caid du Berlais (14/1). He’s not seen a racecourse since coming in eighth behind Presenting Percy in last year’s Pertemps Final. However, he has won his last three point to point races easily, the most recent of them 19 days ago, and his back form includes a win in the Paddy Power Chase.

I’ll also be backing Unioniste each way (22/1), formerly a high class horse, who has won his last two hunter chases easily.

4.50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle

Dieses des Bieffes**

This race is a bit of a lottery and often throws up a long priced winner. However, I’m keen on second favourite Dieses des Bieffes (8/1) for Nicky Henderson and excellent young jockey James Bowen. Of the remainder I’m interested in the Mullins/Ricci pair Burrows Saint (18/1) (Lizzie Kelly) and Deal d’Estruval (6/1) (Liam Gilligan).

For a bit of value Delire d’Estruval (33/1) and Brillare Momento (28/1) are worth a look.

5.30 Grand Annual Chase

Theinval* (pictured) / Gino Trail* (e/w)
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I decided a while ago that I would side with Theinval (14/1) in the finale.  He was third in this race last year and has a good place record overall. He won a Grade 3 hurdle at the Grand National meeting in 2015 and followed up with a valiant second in the Red Rum Chase last year.

Gino Trail is good value for a place at 20/1 (recent form 31121) but has a lot of weight to carry.

Dresden is the Racing Post nap at 40/1 and North Hill Harvey has been routed here instead of the Arkle. However, he was beaten by 39 lengths at Warwick by Saint Calvados who was subsequently outclassed in last Tuesday’s Arkle and has enough weight to be carrying as a novice.

 

Good luck!

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!

 

 

 

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