Steeplechase Saturday Preview

Tingle Creek Day is just about my favourite day’s racing of the year: competitive handicaps galore all over the country, the National fences in use at Aintree, and graded two-mile chasing at Sandown, where only those who can cope with the furious pace through the railway fences will come to the fore.

As ever, the action at Sandown will be a terrific viewing spectacle, but both the Tingle Creek and the Henry VIII look as tough to negotiate for punters as those railway fences are for horses.

The eight runners in the Tingle Creek Chase do provide a cheeky each-way betting angle to the race, but strong place claims can be made for Politilogue, Sceau Royal, Janika and even Waiting Patiently based on his outstanding record right-handed, so there are no obvious bets there. In the win market, Defi Du Seuil is deservedly favourite, but only narrowly beat Politilogue at Cheltenham when in receipt of 3lbs that he won’t get here, and Un De Sceaux is 10/15 in 2-mile chases in his illustrious career and should be written off at punters’ peril. As I’m on course I’ll have an each-way punt, probably on Politilogue if 5s is available, but it’s impossible to have a strong view.

The Henry VIII Novices Chase is even more challenging from a betting perspective, especially with Maire Banrigh – who I would have backed due to her flawless jumping – being taken out at declarations making it a seven runner race. I can’t back a novice at Sandown on chasing debut, which takes out Grand Sancy, and I also can’t back a horse whose jumping is suspect at the Esher track, which removes Summerville Boy from the shortlist. That leaves Nube Negra and Torpillo, both of whom have impressed in their short chasing careers so far, but with the form of Nube Negra’s two wins totally disintegrating, I’ll be backing the favourite Torpillo, who helpfully gets a 6lb allowance from his elders and is 2/2 over hurdles at Sandown. Again, though, this is a tentative vote.

I’d much rather pick out some of the other races around the country where I do have strong views. Here’s my reasoning:

 

SANDOWN

The marathon London National Handicap Chase (3:55), run over 3m5f around Sandown’s unique jumping test, seldom offers up surprise winners. The four I’d shortlisted for this year’s renewal – Classic Ben, Step Beck, Royal Vacation and Sharp Response – are indeed the first four in the market, but given that of the last nine victors the longest price has been 14/1 and five have gone off single figures, that shouldn’t put us off, especially with some generous bookie terms on offer.

The one who appeals most of the quartet is STEP BACK. The nine-year-old won the Bet365 Gold Cup in 2018 over course and distance in sensational style, but disappointed in his three starts after that, most notably when jumping markedly right in the Grand National. He then returned to form in April – in exactly the same conditions he will be encountering in this race: 29 furlongs around Sandown on good ground. Another plus is that he’ll be piloted by Jamie Moore, who not only has an unmatched record around the unusual Esher track in chases, but also was on board Step Back for his big win. Mark Bradstock hasn’t given his stable star a prep run, but he went well fresh earlier in his career, so hopefully he’s fit and firing.

The problem with Step Back is that he is a mercurial talent, and sometimes he just doesn’t run anywhere near his best, for reasons Bradstock has struggled to pinpoint. That unreliability means stakes shouldn’t be too large, but if he is on song, he will surely go very close indeed down in class at his favourite venue.

 

AINTREE

It’s a real thrill to watch two races on the same day over the Grand National fences, and it’s those National fences that should be the key consideration when looking for value. Winners of both the Becher and Sefton will either have a proven track record over the big obstacles, or should stand out as super natural jumpers if they are yet to take the test. Those with any kinks in their jumping technique will quickly get found out, however good their form appears.

In the 3m2f Becher Handicap Chase Nigel Twiston-Davies has an outstanding record, with three wins in the last ten renewals, meaning his only entry Ballyoptic catches the eye. However the nine-year old has already had two very tough races this term from three starts, including his run just two weeks ago in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. That means looking elsewhere, and three experienced course specialists stand out.

2017 Grand National hero One For Arthur hasn’t won since – which is far from unusual – but looked back to form when finishing sixth in last year’s renewal. He then shaped nicely at Kelso in October before tailing off as if needing the run. Lucinda Russell’s ten-year-old was dropped to a mark of just 149 for that encouraging effort, only one pound higher than when winning the big one in 2017, so he definitely can’t be dismissed.

Vieux Lion Rouge seems to come alive over the big fences at Aintree, and his record of never falling in his many runs around the Grand National course is truly extraordinary. Second in last year’s Becher off 146, he runs off 145 this time and showed he retained his enthusiasm for the game by battling to a narrow victory in a good veterans’ race at Chepstow in October. This race will have always been David Pipe’s target ever since, and he seems almost certain to be there or thereabouts yet again.

But perhaps the best handicapped of the three course specialists is last year’s winner WALK IN THE MILL, also the youngest at nine. He won the 2018 race fairly handily from a mark of 137, and despite a good fourth in the Grand National runs off just 141 this time, which seems bizarrely lenient from the handicapper. The concern is his lifeless run in the Badger Ales in November – he was third in a decent handicap before winning last year’s renewal – but he was sent off 20/1 at Wincanton so was potentially simply not ready.

Having picked out three notable course specialists in the Becher, it’s suprirsing to see so few entered in the 2m5f Sefton Handicap Chase later in the afternoon. The clear exception to that is Ultragold, who boasts a terrific record over these tough fences. But Colin Tizzard’s charge is now eleven years old, and has been running over longer trips that this for the past 18 months; as such there’s a worry he could find himself outpaced at key moments here.

With Ultragold reluctantly – and perhaps foolishly! – passed over, the next best ‘specialist’ to consider is Flying Angel, but the best performance he can boast in this race from two starts is 6th off a mark of 142, and so he can also be dismissed, especially at short prices.

That means we are looking for a stand-out natural jumper in the field whose jumping will prove an asset, and that horse might be DIDERO VALLIS. He was foot-perfect as a novice round Carlisle, then Haydock in an open handicap, and coped well with Cheltenham’s challenges when 5th in the competitive Brown Advisory in March. His run first-time out at Ascot two weeks ago was too bad to be true, and given he raised his RPR from 53 to 136 between his first and second runs last season, it can be overlooked. Clearly this is a speculative bet, and so small stakes are advised, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Didero Vallis is a better horse than his mark of 134, and there’s a good chance he will enjoy this severe test of jumping.

Finally, MASON JAR merits a small wager in the 1:00 Handicap Hurdle, simply due to his form. The five-year old hammered House Island at Kempton, who has since won and then narrowly finished second today in a terrific graded race at Sandown. He then handed Dorking Boy a seven-length beating at Ascot, and Tom Lacey’s hurdler is now rated 123 via a win at Taunton. With Cillin Leonard on board claming seven pounds, and trainer Dr Newland in a rich vein of form (33/126 this season and +8.19 in hurdles; 2 winners this week), Mason Jar can’t go unbacked, despite this looking a hot renewal.

 

Recommended Bets:

Sandown 3:35 – Step Back 1pt e/w @ 6/1 (4 places)

Aintree 1:00 – Mason Jar 1pt e/w @ 8/1 (3 places)

Aintree 1:30 – Walk In The Mill 1pt e/w @ 9/1 (5 places)

Aintree 3:15 – Didero Vallis 0.5pts e/w @ 10/1 (4 places)

Newbury Saturday Handicaps Preview

The Newbury card is obviously headlined by the Ladbrokes Trophy, and I’ve already put up Mister Malarky as my main fancy for the big race earlier in the week. My other recommended bet in that preview was Yala Enki, but little of the forecast midweek rain actually arrived, and with the ground likely to be Good To Soft, his chances have perhaps receded – although let’s hope he pleasantly surprises us. But where one door closes, another opens, and the better ground does present a big opportunity for Alan King’s DINGO DOLLAR. Third last year off a higher mark on unfavoured soft ground, and still just seven years old, this race has always been the target, something that can’t be said for all the other runners towards the top of the weights. King has his horses bang in form, and I have to recommend a saver.

But in my view there is some value in another two races at Newbury:


1:15 Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase 2m6f

Four potentially excellent up-and-coming horses have managed to get into this 0-145 contest, and given how much better than the rest some of these may turn out to be, that’s where my attention will lie.

JERRYSBACK showed some impressive form as a novice over this sort of trip before being (slightly oddly) entered in the Cheltenham four-miler. If that pretty horrendous experience didn’t bottom him out he would have real claims here off a mark of 145, but he was mediocre first time out last season and may be seen to better effect later in the season, especially given his owner’s penchance for managing his horses’ marks.

ROCKY’S TREASURE’s novice form wasn’t quite as high-class, but his best run did come around Newbury in December when he got within four lengths of Santini, the eventual RSA runner-up. A run of that quality would bring him into considerations, but at eight years old and with 18 rules starts under his belt, he might not be as progressive as some of the others.

LARRY races here off a mark of just 142, and it would be surprising if that proved to be the peak of his progress as a chaser. Gary Moore has always rated him highly, and he was sent off at just 10/1 for the graded Sodexo Gold Cup just a month ago. That was a curious outing, with Jamie Moore never getting the six-year-old involved in the thick of the action, meaning this race may have been the plan all along; his shrewd trainer will have noted that Larry’s best RPR last season came at Newbury.

Having said that, this race also looks the perfect opportunity for HIGHWAY ONE O ONE. Regular readers of this blog – if indeed there are any – will know that I love this horse, but you can’t get too sentimental in this game and I passed over backing him at Cheltenham in his last run. That was for two reasons: firstly, he isn’t at his best on soft ground; secondly, that was an immensely hot race. Neither of those factors come into play here. In my mind, Newbury will suit this bold jumper, and this may be the race where Chris Gordon’s pride and joy finally fulfils his huge potential. Gordon is enjoying a good season, with his chasers +10.88 so far, so Highway One O One rates a strong selection.

 

2:25 Ladbrokes “Where The Nation Plays” Intermediate Hurdle

Put simply, if EPATANTE actually was suffering the ill-effects of her ‘flu jab in the Mares Novices’ at Cheltenham – a Grade 2 race for which she was sent off 15/8 favourite, let’s not forget – then she wins this race off a mark of just 137. If she’s simply not quite as good as Nicky Henderson thinks she is, then there are more than enough decent horses in this race to beat her. At the price I will happily pay to find out.

 

Recommended Bets (Newbury):

1:15 Highway One O One 1.5pts e/w 10/1 (5 places)

2:25 Epatante 2pts win 4/1

3:00 Dingo Dollar 0.5pts win 14/1
(Already Advised Mister Malarky win & Yala Enki e/w)

Ladbrokes Trophy 2019 Preview

For me, the Ladbrokes Trophy (ex Hennessey Gold Cup) is about as good as it gets in National Hunt racing. Newbury is a terrific track for this staying test: fair fences allowing quick jumping, the long run-in emphasising stamina, and the tight-ish bends requiring tactical speed. For that reason, it’s very unusual for the best handicapped horse not to win, or for there to be any hard luck stories. This decade the winners have been sent off at 12/1, 9/2, 7/2, 7/1, 8/1, 20/1 (trained by Nicky Henderson, so hardly a pin-sticking job), 4/1, 10/1 and 6/1. It is very much not a lottery and it pays to look closest at those towards the head of the market, particularly before extra place terms are being offered by the bookies on the day.

Nicky Henderson has two of the most fancied runners, which is unsurprising given his great record in this race. The current favourite is OK CORRAL, a very unexposed nine-year-old with just three chase starts to his name. Owner by JP McManus, it’s entirely possible he has been laid out for this and will hose up on Saturday, but there’s little real evidence to point us mere mortals out of the loop to that conclusion, and as such I can’t back him at the prices. Henderson’s other obvious chance is ON THE BLIND SIDE, and he makes more appeal having proven his rating of 149 is workable with a decent fourth place in a hot handicap chase at Ascot four weeks ago. The seven-year-old’s defeat of Talkischeap at Kempton in January reads particularly well, and his peak hurdles rating of 153 suggests he can progress from this mark. But all his good chase form is right-handed, and at short enough prices a leap of faith is required to back him to win this top class race.

Another trainer with an outstanding record here is Colin Tizzard, and his runners merit major respect given his two wins and two places in the last four renewals. In fact, of those at the head of the market, my pick is MISTER MALARKY, who looks to have been trained with this race in mind since his second place to Kildisart at Aintree in April. That is good form, and while he races off a 3lb higher mark here, Tizzard’s chaser can be progressive enough to defy the extra weight: he is just six-years-old and finished a good fourth in the RSA in March. Despite a poor at Ascot – “the handicapper can’t put him up for that,” joked Tizzard – the plan was always this race due to his superb run round the track in January and he wasn’t highly tried. Even with his price having shortened to single figures, he’s worth backing, especially with Jonjo O’Neill Jnr on board.

Tizzard also has the in-form WEST APPROACH entered, and he has claims, but it’s ELEGANT ESCAPE who is also of interest. Such a consistent warhorse, he was runner-up last year and then won the Welsh National in fine style before finishing a respectable 6th in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. His attitude no doubt means he will be involved again at the end, but with his lofty mark of 160 it would be an astonishing performance to actually win, having failed to land the prize last year off 155. There’s no each-way juice in the price, so he has to be passed over reluctantly.

Analysis of Elegant Escape’s excellent form means that a bet on YALA ENKI looks excellent value: their form tallies almost exactly, but Yala Enki can race off a mark of 155, just 1lb higher than last year when he finished third. The experienced nine-year-old was moved from Venetia Williams to Paul Nicholls over the summer, and while Venetia is an outstanding trainer in her own right, Nicholls has a mercurial ability to get an extra few pounds out of chasers in his charge. If he has managed to work his magic, that small improvement could make all the difference, and at 25/1 compared to 10/1 for Elegant Escape, the value is clear. Bryony Frost on board in a big staying chase is another plus.

Two others for the shortlist are DINGO DOLLAR, third last year and now off 2lbs lower, and THE CONDITIONAL, who beat West Approach at Cheltenham with plenty in hand and races off just a 6lb higher mark. But both horses’ chances will be affected by the ground on the day, and with no major reason for their prices to shorter dramatically, it is worth waiting. Besides, as much as I’d like to, I can’t back four horses!

 

Recommended Bets:

YALA ENKI – 1pt e/w at 25/1 (Various, 4 x ¼)

MISTER MALARKY – 1.5pt win at 9/1

Cheltenham Saturday Preview: BetVictor Gold Cup & Smartcard Handicap Chase

With relentless wet weather causing the Friday card at Cheltenham to be abandoned, conditions for Saturday’s races will be immensely testing – if indeed the rain relents for long enough for the meeting to go ahead.

Extreme ground conditions can lead to unexpected results, and so to my mind it’s worth looking through Saturday’s big handicap entries with an open mind to try to find some value.

 

13:50 Betvictor Smartcards Handicap Chase 27.5f (Old)

This extended trip really will turn into a slog, and while normally you’d want your horse to have a bit of speed to win on the Old Course, it may be about who is left standing turning for home.

On that basis, Ramses De Teillee merits maximum respect. He’s a dour stayer of high-class, as proven by his 2nd in the Welsh National, and arrives match-fit following an impressive spin over hurdles at Cheltenham three weeks ago – also on pretty bottomless ground. But he’ll have to lump top weight round off a hefty mark of 153, and when you consider that his Welsh National 2nd was off a mark of just 144, quotes of 5/1 don’t look appealing.

The other with obvious claims is West Approach, who also would have won in that bottomless Cheltenham ground three weeks ago had he not run into the almost comically well-handicapped The Conditional. But that was over a trip 2.5 furlongs shorter, and given that Colin Tizzard’s gelding didn’t quite get home, he may struggle to get the extra distance in potentially even deeper ground.

There are plenty of other classy horses entered, but most of them look sure to struggle in the mud, and that leaves a couple right down the bottom of the weights to consider.

Venetia Williams has entered the intriguing ACHILLE, who came into his own last season after previously racing only five times in three seasons. Finally fully fit and strong, the grey won three of his five starts last term, two of them on soft ground, with the trainer confirming after his win at Ffos Las that “he needs some cut in the ground” to be seen at his best. Williams has a terrific record running her chasers fresh at this time of year, so a lack of prep run wouldn’t be a concern; more of a worry is a lack of proven form at Cheltenham, or indeed over this extended trip, so stakes should be kept small.

At the bottom of the weights is POTTERS LEGEND for Lucy Wadham, already jocked up with Jack Quinlan on board as I type this on Thursday afternoon. This race would seem to have been the plan for a while given that Wadham gave her 9-year-old an easy spin round Cheltenham’s hurdle course three weeks ago, and no wonder given he has an excellent record at the track. Potters Legend really proved his stamina with a super staying-on victory over nearly 26 furlongs at Haycock in March 2018, but didn’t run last season, and of course that is a major factor in assessing his chances in this race. But at only 9 years old, he’s worth taking a small chance on.


Recommended Bets:
 

Achille – 0.5 pts e/w at 16/1 (365)
Potters Legend – 0.5 pts e/w at 14/1

 

2:25 BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase 20f (Old)

Normally it pays to look at the head of the market in this brutally competitive – and valuable – handicap, with single-figure priced winners the norm.

The two with the most respected claims are Slate House and Siruh Du Lac. Slate House sluiced through the mud over course and distance just three weeks ago, so has little to prove – but his mark of 147 is as yet untested in open company, which can sometimes be a harsh awakening. Siruh Du Lac has won four times on the spin, twice at Cheltenham, could still be progressive at just 6 years old, and had his form franked yet again by last season’s rival Janika winning the Haldon Gold Cup, but isn’t remotely proven on deep ground. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise were either to take home the £90k prize, but both horses are too short to back in the circumstances. Well done to those of you on at bigger prices.

However, it’s my view that the mud may prove to be a leveller, especially in light of so many of the more fancied runners stepping up in trip from two miles. That applies to Saint Calvados, Brelan d’As and Magic Saint, and as much as I rate all three horses – and absolutely adore the mighty Saint Calvados, who paid for my day at Prestbury Park three weeks ago – they have to be ruled out on the basis of non-proven stamina.

But there are two stepping down in trip whose chances look excellent.

SPRINGTOWN LAKE finished 5th in the Close Brothers at the Cheltenham Festival off a mark of 141, but runs off just 137 in this race. He ran three times over three miles as a novice last season, suggesting that trainer Philip Hobbs feels stamina isn’t an issue, and Hobbs likes to target this meeting with second-season chasers he feels are under-marked by the handicapper. Richard Johnson will ensure the 7-year-old is prominent, and that’s something I view as a major positive on Cheltenham’s old course, where front-runners can accelerate away down the hill. Indeed, that’s how Baron Alco won last year’s renewal. Quotes of 14/1 are more than fair.

The other I like is COUNT MERIBEL, also only 7-years-old and a second-season chaser, and who also has proven form at Cheltenham, having won in fine style at this meeting last season. He runs off a mark of just 146, and that looks attractive given that Count Meribel managed to track Gold Cup favourite Lostintranslation until the final furlong in his most recent run at Carlisle. Nigel Twiston-Davies loves to target this meeting, and this race in particular, and heavy ground shouldn’t be a problem. Although Count Meribel hasn’t been missed in the market, he’s still worth backing with attractive each way terms on offer.

 

Recommended Bets

Springtown Lake 1pt e/w at 14/1 (5 places, Skybet)
Count Meribel 1pt e/w at 9/1 (5 places, various)

Seven Underrated Horses For Your 2019-20 Jumps Season Trackers

VISION D’HONNEUR

Not under the radar, but certainly underrated: Vision d’Honneur ended the season with a relatively low profile, considering his hefty pricetag and big reputation this time last year. That’s because Gordon Elliott’s young horse – and don’t forget how young he is compared to his rivals, with a March 2014 birthday –  fell at the last at Punchestown after only finishing 9th in the Supreme at Cheltenham. But as the Arctic Monkeys famously sang, “anticipation has a habit to set you up…for disappointment”, and those writing off this horse as a result of his poor runs in the Spring festivals are overreacting.

He arrived at Cheltenham having traded blows with Aramon and Klassical Dream in the Grade One at the Dublin Racing Festival before ultimately being outpaced and finishing six lengths back; before that he’d won a decent Punchestown novice hurdle fairly comfortably. That’s pretty decent form, especially for a young horse who clearly had a lot of filling out left to do over the summer.

But a closer look at his apparently ‘dreadful’ run in the Supreme is where things get even more interesting. He was blatantly outpaced down the hill after travelling fine, and then was given the easiest ride imaginable after that. It’s fairly obvious that Elliott, and Gigginstown connections, feel that this horse has far more to offer as a novice chaser over further, and given his scope it’s hard to disagree. Elliott commented in his stable tour for Betfair that “last season…the ground was too quick and he was too weak…we tried him in some bog races before he was ready for that level of competition. Don’t be surprised if he makes up into a high-class novice chaser.”

I won’t be surprised, Gordon. In fact, I think he’s a ludicrous price for the JLT in March, and I’m already willing to have a small punt.

 

BRIGHT FORECAST

Ben Pauling’s pride and joy was picked out by Nico de Boinville as the horse he was particularly looking forward to riding again this season – and that’s quite some statement from the man who rides most of Nicky Henderson’s string!

Pauling gave Bright Forecast a deliberately light novice hurdling campaign last term, feeling that the horse needed to develop further over the summer before being seen at his best over fences as an older and stronger horse. In that context, his form last term is even more impressive. His second place behind Mister Fisher doesn’t look amazing on the face of it, but given it was over a sharp 15.5 furlongs at Haydock, and given he nearly ran out on one bend, it was a good effort. Best of all was his eye-catching third in the Supreme, when he ran on powerfully up the hill after being outpaced.

That run marked him out as a horse with more stamina than outright speed; indeed, Pauling has suggested the RSA could be a target, which seems remarkable given that he was sent over such sharp trips over hurdles. I would be keener for him to run over intermediate trips with an eye on the JLT in March, but either way, he first needs to prove he can jump a fence. If he can – and his schooling has apparently been “electric” – he should go right to the top of the novice chasing division.

 

ELDORADO ALLEN

In my opinion, no two-mile novice hurdler made a bigger initial impression last season then Eldorado Allen at Sandown. He was magnificent that day: he settled well, jumped efficiently, and sped away from the field with an extraordinary burst of speed. And he didn’t beat nothing; the collateral form of many of the horses behind him that day has been strong. Sadly he was the victim of cruel fortune in his next start at Aintree and hasn’t race since, but Colin Tizzard has been making encouraging noises about his recovery, and has confirmed that he will stay hurdling this season.

If he has progressed over the summer – and of course, for a horse who has missed almost a whole year, that’s a big if – then in my view he can make up for lost time and take leading rank among two-mile hurdlers this season. Last season’s champion Espoir d’Allen is regrettably out for the year, leaving Klassical Dream as the only proven outstanding horse in the division, unless Buveur d’Air retains all his ability and speed as he ages. It could be an open division.

Of course, this is highly speculative – this is all based on one run against novices, which might have been a flash in the pan – but Colin Tizzard still thinks the world of this horse, and given the prices available, it might be worth a tiny investment to find out if the wily trainer is right.

 

HIGHWAY ONE O ONE

Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Chris Gordon’s chaser, and backed him for the Close Brothers at the festival, when he disappointed. So there’s a danger that he’s simply a cliff horse for me, but let me try to persuade you otherwise.

Apart from that festival flop, his form is impeccable for a horse rated just 144 by the handicapper in his best conditions (decent ground, 2.5+ miles): he trailed Kildisart, winner at Aintree, by just two lengths carrying two pounds more than him at Cheltenham in January; he was then narrowly beaten back at Cheltenham in an open Grade 2 handicap by the high-class Mister Whitaker. With another year under his belt, he can land a big prize this year off this mark, which to my eyes underestimates his jumping and travelling ability – when things fall in his favour.

 

DRINKS INTERVAL

Colin Tizzard’s mare finished last season with form figures reading PFP, so on the face of it she’s not one to follow, but those letters don’t tell the true story. She’d been on the go since April 2018, and had 11 starts between then and her fairly short 74-day lay-off leading into her three ill-fated runs in Spring 2019. In short, she needed a rest, and Tizzard himself would probably admit he shouldn’t have run her in March and April.

At her best, she was an impressive sight over fences, particularly when allowed to dictate proceedings from the front of the field, and she would probably have got herself some black type but for an unlucky late fall at Market Rasen. Her victory under a penalty at Chepstow was particularly striking, and marked her out as a classy mare.

Following the dreadful finish to last season, she’s back down to an official rating of 137 with a top RPR in her favoured conditions of 148. That makes her one to note in handicaps, although she has shown a tendency to get het up in the preliminaries in open company, most notably before the RSA at Cheltenham. In the right race, she can get back on track, but she does need conditions to be spot on to shine.

 

UNCLE ALASTAIR

Cruelly injured after just one chase start last season, the Rooney’s strapping 7-year-old should have a lot to offer this season if his long lay-off hasn’t done him any permanent damage. Although he only finished second, that chasing debut run was full of promise, as he ran the high-class Vinndication close over 20 furlongs at Carlisle. Watching that run back, there’s nothing not to like: he had to make the running, jumped almost perfectly, stayed on very well and wasn’t given a particularly hard time in the process. He’s only rated 135 by the handicapper, and if he’s fit and firing, he should go close in a big handicap over 2.5 to 3 miles this year.

 

GOOD BOY BOBBY

Another Rooney-owned horse who went under the radar after an underwhelming 2018-19 season, Good Boy Bobby can make amends this year. His novice hurdling campaign drowned in the mud at Ffos Las in November, where he failed to defy Somme-like conditions and was shattered by the experience. To be honest, Nigel Twiston-Davies shouldn’t have entered him, but Twister doesn’t really believe in horses not running. The then 5-year-old wasn’t seen again until the kinder conditions of March and April, where he got back on track with two facile wins, the first by the small matter of 44 lengths at Southwell, and then by a good margin back at Ffos Las (for some extraordinary reason).

None of that bare form screams “proper horse”, but the visual impression given in the three of his four starts on normal ground made this observer believe that Good Boy Bobby has a lot more to offer. He may be the wrong price in his races this side of Christmas, and I intend to take advantage of that.

 

Recommended Bets 

VISION D’HONNEUR – 0.5pts win – JLT Novices’ Chase @ 40/1 (Hills)

ELDORADO ALLEN – 0.25pts win – Champion Hurdle @ 66/1 (Various)

The SkyBet Cheltenham Festival 2020 Specials: Rated!

Mornings are getting colder, the better jumps horses are back in training, and the speculation over Cheltenham targets has already begun. So in my view, it’s time to dive headlong into the murky but alluring waters of the SkyBet Cheltenham Festival Specials. Can we dredge up anything worthwhile, or even a price worth taking? Let’s find out:


Willie Mullins to train the winner of the Mares Hurdle & Mares Novice Hurdle 100/30 (was 5/1)

100/30 for one trainer to win two races in March? It seems crazy on the face of it. But actually, it isn’t: you don’t have to wade through the millions of options Mullins has in his armoury, you just have to hope that his chosen ones don’t fall at the final fence. And even when he doesn’t have an obvious superstar, somehow he still always wins these mares races. It still makes enough sense to have a proper think about it. 


Laurina to win any Novice Chase 9/2

So, in summary: we don’t yet know if she can jump a fence, we don’t actually know if she’s any good in open company, Willie Mullins hates racing his mares against the boys over fences, and it looks like a strong year for novice chasing. Other than that, she’s a cracking 9/2 shot.


Glynn to place in any race 5/1

My first reaction to this was to google ‘Glynn’, which informed me that Glynn is a small village in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Once I’d googled ‘Glynn horse’, I found out that Glynn won his only point in tidy fashion before fetching £85k at Goffs Aintree sale in April. So for this price to exist, somebody out there has been told they’ve bought the next Arkle.

The Greater Good to finish in the first 3 of any race 5/1

My favourite part of this price is “the first 3” wording, which immediately makes this wager even worse value than it already looks, which is very bad value indeed. This price seems to have been asked for by Mr Barber, his owner. I think the greater good here would be to keep your money in your pocket.

Wild Max to place in any race 5/1

This horse appears to be German. What in the name of sauerkraut is this all about then? Clearly I’ve missed a big-money purchase somewhere along the line.

Klassical Dream to win any race & Tiger Roll to win the Cross Country 10/1

Klassical Dream may very well win the Champion Hurdle; but surely Tiger Roll isn’t going to do it again, is he? Or is he, as a last hurrah to his adoring public? Maybe he is, in which case this is a financially stupid bet at such short odds, but an emotionally brilliant one. Just imagine having a 10/1 bet rolling onto Tiger Roll! But if you are tempted, the outright double pays more than 11/1, so you’d be losing a point by taking this “special”, because if Klassical Dream doesn’t run in the Champion Hurdle then he’s not worth a bet anyway.

Pentland Hills & Getaway Trump both to place in the top 3 in any race 12/1

I have neither the time nor the inclination to figure out whether this is value or not. They could both be anything and turn up anywhere or nowhere come March.


Paisley Park and Emitom both to place in 2020 Stayers Hurdle 16/1

On the face of it, this is a mental bet: you have to pick two of the top three in the same race…but if you come at it from a purely mathematical point of view, it’s not all that bad…NO. Stop it. This is a mental bet.


Aramon to win the County Hurdle 20/1

Are Sky taking the piss here? And if you’ve put this bet on, should you have the mental capacity to be allowed to handle your own money? IT IS A COMPETITIVE HANDICAP RUN IN MARCH WHICH IS PLOTTED TO DEATH AND YOU ARE GIVING ME 20/1?!

Carefully Selected to win the National Hunt Chase 20/1

Again, this isn’t a “Cheltenham Special”, Sky, it’s just a really bad price on an unpredictable race that’s happening in 7 months.

Malone Road, Andy Dufrense & Envoi Allen all to place in any race 20/1

Let’s play Bumper horse bingo! They’re all good horses, but a treble on them?! Come on, you’re better than that. And bumper horses have a pretty dreadful record at the following year’s festival anyway.

Chacun Pour Soi, Laurina, Klassical Dream & Honeysuckle all to place any race 22/1

A four-timer in September? A FOUR-TIMER IN SEPTEMBER?! Put the booze down.

Champ and Laurina both to win any race 25/1

Who priced this up – the Laurina fan club? I’d rather burn my money…at least it would warm me up and get me loads of hits on the social medias.

South Seas to win the County Hurdle 25/1

Last seen finishing 19th out of 19 in a Doncaster handicap. This makes backing Aramon at 20/1 look like a sound investment. And that’s saying something.

Dolphin Square to win the Fox Hunters Chase 33/1

Why would you name a horse after a block of flats most famous for allegedly hosting a paedophile ring? Are you drawing awareness to it? Or are you just weird? Either way, I can’t cheer on a horse called Dolphin Square, so I’m out.

Klassical Dream & Envoi Allen both to win any race 33/1

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we have something more intriguing: a double of two festival winners can never be dismissed out of hand. It’s of particular interest because as the Bumper winner, Envoi Allen could (if fit, obviously) end up in any of the three novice hurdle races in March at this stage. But I wouldn’t fancy a Bumper winner, with stamina galore, in a Supreme, so there are only two real targets…and an ante-post bet on the Albert Bartlett is a very bad idea. A direct double on the Champion Hurdle and Neptune/Ballymore/whatever is far more appealing, and far more financially rewarding too at almost 50/1.

Chacun Pour Soi & Reserve Tank both to win any race 40/1

The former can only have one target, and while he could be a beast, it’s a division potentially stacked with talent next year; the latter looks top drawer for the JLT or RSA, so the ‘any race’ angle adds an interest. But with only two possible targets, putting two doubles on at massively higher odds is more attractive than this, surely?

Envoi Allen and Chacun Pour Soi both to win any race 45/1

Definitely of interest given how good the latter is, but dismissed for the same reasoning as the Klassical Dream double.

Glynn & Chez Hans both to place in any race 55/1

Glynn is as bad a name as it gets for a horse, conjuring up an image of a put-upon but reliable assistant in a boring office job, rather than a wild and exciting stallion. Chez Hans, on the other hand, is an outstanding name for an animal athlete, because it’s clearly short for Chez Super Hans. Peep Show’s Super Hans would not be fretting over the photocopying; Super Hans would be at home, chez Super Hans, if you will, doing exactly what he wants without a care in the world. Now that’s a racehorse I want to bet on.

Malone Road & Envoi Allen both to win any race 66/1

Malone Road looked like a monster last year; Envoi Allen was a warrior. They’re in the same ownership, so if they’re both any good, they could very well be split up. Consider my interest piqued.

Envoi Allen & Samcro both to win any race 75/1

Do you get the feeling that a couple of punters out there really fancy Envoi Allen?

Malone Road, Envoi Allen, Thomas Darby, Delta Work & Commander Of Fleet all to place in any race 80/1

A FIVE-TIMER?! WHO EVEN THINKS THESE THINGS UP? AND WHO THEN THINKS 80/1 IS A GOOD PRICE? When the fun stops, STOP.

Paisley Park, Altior & Defi De Seuil all to win any race 80/1

This fits the golden rule: all three are festival winners, and all three are top-class. But it relies on Altior running in the Champion Chase, having failed to stay in the King George, because he isn’t going to win the Gold Cup. And Defi Du Seuil surely isn’t suited to win any race other than the Ryanair. So why not simply place the treble, which pays 200/1, instead? Because you’re a mug?

Thomas Darby, Emitom, Klassical Dream & Defi Du Seuil all to place any race 80/1

We’ve already talked about four-timers. At the very least have them in a yankee: imagine if two or three of them win…will you be counting your 80/1 bet, or absolutely FUMING that you threw away a massive chunk of cash?

Pentland Hills & Getaway Trump both to win any race 100/1

In the words of ‘Soap’ to ‘Bacon’ in Lock Stock, “it’s 100/1 for a reason”.

Malone Road & Champagne Platinum both to win any race 125/1

He didn’t say “it’s 125/1 for a reason”, but that’s implied.

Paisley Park, Sam Spinner and Emitom all to place in the Stayers Hurdle (3 places) 125/1

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. A TRIFECTA FOR CHELTENHAM IN SEPTEMBER. I HAVE GENUINELY SEEN IT ALL NOW. You’d have more chance of predicting the exact number of grams of coke taken in the Best Mate on Gold Cup day.

Stormy Ireland & Energumene both to win any race 125/1

The latter sounds like an early Pink Floyd experimental album track, and the former is not going to win a race at the Cheltenham Festival. But yeah, top stuff.

Allaho to win the 2020 RSA & 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup 150/1

Now, stay with me here. Interest rates are really low, so you’d have to see this bet as an investment. A high-risk, high-reward investment, sure, but you don’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs right? (Actually that bit doesn’t make sense). Anyway, Allaho looks like a lovely staying chaser in the making, so the RSA really isn’t out of the question, and then RSA have a pretty good record in the Gold Cup, so…

…no you’re right, this is completely insane.

Cheltenham Gold Cup – Altior to finish 1st & Tiger Roll to finish 2nd 250/1

If this actually happens, I won’t need a bet on it to feel like I’ve won the lottery. It would be the single greatest thing to ever happen. Ever. Anywhere.

Longhouse Sale, Envoi Allen, Pentland Hills, Bright Forecast & Paisley Park all to place in any race 250/1

Fair play to whichever trader priced this up. How do you even think they did it? Presumably they picked the number that looks like the biggest possible price that could actually give you a winner. “We can’t put 500/1. That would give the game away. But 250/1…well it might make them think it could happen, right?”

City Island & House Island both to win any race 250/1

I’ve got more chance of winning Love Island.

 

That Was Fun, But Is There A Bet Here?

Willie Mullins to train the winner of the Mares Hurdle & Mares Novice Hurdle 100/30?

First of all, we have to price up his chances of winning the Mares’ Novice Hurdle, a race in which he is 4/4 so far, and even won with a 50/1 shot this time around. Let’s go Evens to keep things easy. Now, let’s put some proper thought into the more competitive Mares Hurdle, where Benie Des Dieux dominates the market, and rightly so. If she’s fit and she still enjoys the game, she really should win this; but if she doesn’t, Mullins has plenty of other darts to throw at the target. The identifiable threats at this stage are Apple’s Jade – who we all know isn’t at her best in March – and defending champ Roksana, who has a fair chance of following up if Benie doesn’t make it. Other than that, those with proper chances on current evidence are all trained by Mullins too! So 5/1 may have been a half-decent bet, but 100/30 is just too skinny with the season not even up-and-running yet.

Malone Road & Envoi Allen both to win any race 66/1?

Envoi Allen is being priced up throughout at between 6 and 7/1 in the any race market – so Malone Road is rated about a 8/1 or 9/1 shot in any race. Malone Road could of course never be the same horse again after his injury, but go back and watch his bumper win last season, and then tell me you’re not tempted to back him blind. It’s the shared ownership of these two that makes this bet intriguing; either one of the two isn’t as good as we thought, or they’re not going to end up in the same novice hurdle, surely? But they looked like very different horses in their bumper appearances: Malone Road looked rapid and flashy, a Supreme/Ballymore type, whereas Envoi Allen looked solid and stamina-laden, a Ballymore/Albert Bartlett type. Given my basic rule of not backing horses in the potato race ante-post – you’re far better throwing a few darts on the day itself in March, as I’ve found out to my significant cost over the years – a direct double looks a much better value bet.

 

Recommended Bet:

Malone Road (Supreme) & Envoi Allen (Ballymore) – 0.25 pts win double – 186/1 (various)

Ashes 2019: Ante-Post Series Preview

It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that this Ashes series is going to see ball dominate the bat: both sides’ bowling line-ups are full of talent, while their batting is flimsy at best, and that’s without adding in the Dukes ball and mid-September finish as factors.

England’s top order is a particular concern. Joe Denly and Rory Burns have shown no signs in their county careers – or indeed their international careers so far – of having the class to succeed in an Ashes series, so it’s somewhat of a mystery how they’ve claimed two of the top four slots in the order. And even though Jason Roy is clearly a player of sublime natural talent, his technique against the red ball has always been suspect, so much so that he has tended to bat as low as number six for Surrey. Joe Root’s move to number three is clearly the right move for the side, but he’ll be under immense pressure as captain in a home Ashes series, and is likely to be walking out to bat without having had much time to clear his head and focus on getting runs. He’s clearly England’s trump card, but odds of 2/1 for him to be their top scorer in the series look short in those circumstances.

With Jonny Bairstow currently unable to defend straight balls due to his (understandable) white-ball focus, and Moeen Ali in the sort of form that makes you wonder how he ever scored hundreds in the first place, there may be some value in England’s two big-game star men, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. While neither has a stellar test record, they are exactly the kind of characters who will relish the intensity of an Ashes battle. They won’t be batting against the new Dukes ball – or at least England will hope that’s the case! – and their chances have been underestimated in what might be an unusual Test series.

For Australia, the situation is far clearer. At his best, Steve Smith is a genuine run-machine, and he has consistently raised his game against England in the past. The World Cup should have allowed Smith to find some touch and form in foreign conditions, and without the pressure to score quickly, he can go back to accumulating runs in his irritatingly unorthodox fashion as slowly he pleases. Of course, Smith’s support of his side’s sandpaper antics means he hasn’t played test cricket for some time, but if he really gets going, he has no equals. It’s therefore logical to back him to be top overall scorer, rather than just the top Aussie batsman, as better prices are of course available.

In a similar vein, James Anderson should be backed to be the leading Ashes bowler overall rather than just England’s top man. His record in home tests is stunning, and Australians struggle badly against the moving ball. While it’s true that Anderson’s age means he’s more vulnerable to injury than in previous series, the Lancastrian is a tough customer, and with Joffra Archer waiting in the wings, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad are unlikely to play all five tests. Meanwhile Australia are uncertain about their best fast-bowling line-up even at this late stage, and seem likely to rotate all options other than Pat Cummins, who has a poor career injury record himself. Anderson can take the spoils.

There is one more recommended bet, and that’s the big one: England to win the Ashes. The media’s focus on England’s undoubted batting weaknesses has diverted attention from Australia’s equally suspect top six. David Warner’s red-ball record in England is mediocre, and England’s attack will fear nobody else bar a rejuvenated Steve Smith. Only one of the last nine Ashes series has been won by the away team – with no draws – and that was achieved by England’s truly outstanding 2011 side boasting a top four of Strauss, Cook, Trott and Pietersen. This Australian team have nowhere near that level of mental or technical class, and while England’s 2019 test side is hardly of 2011 vintage, Joe Root’s men can still take advantage of favourable home conditions to take back the urn.

 

Ashes Series Recommended Bets Summary:

To Win Series – England – 3pts at Evens

Top England Batsman – Ben Stokes 0.5pts at 7/1 & Jos Buttler 0.5pts at 10/1

Top Ashes Batsman – Steve Smith – 1pt at 7/2

Top Ashes Bowler – James Anderson – 1pt at 9/2