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)

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)

Bet365 Gold Cup Preview

The curtain closes on big Saturday handicaps in this UK jumps season with the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park – so let’s see if we can find a winner to round off the year.

While it’s not quite as prestigious as in its former guise as the ‘Whitbread’, this 3m5f test is a terrific race. The winner needs: tactical speed, because Sandown can be tight when there are 20 runners, and it’s generally run on properly good ground; stamina, of course, because any horse that’s not a proper stayer will get found out over this extended trip with a stiff uphill finish; and proven jumping ability, because taking the infamous railway fences in the midst of a helter-skelter handicap isn’t for the faint-hearted.

What the winner doesn’t need is out-and-out class: since the mighty Desert Orchid won in 1988, 25 of the 30 winners have carried less than 11 stone. Looking at the last five years in more detail, in case the nature of the race has changed recently (like the Grand National), the picture is very similar. It’s easier to use horses’ official ratings rather than their weights to do this, and the picture is clear: horses rated 145 and under outperform the rest.

Weights

That means that the top five in the weights of Beware The Bear, Rock The Kasbah and Present Man can be overlooked for betting purposes. Of those, Rock The Kasbah & Present Man are hardest to ignore given they were second and third respectively in this race last year and both get to race off only three pounds higher this time around, but there should be more likely winners lurking lower in the weights.

In many of these big-money handicap chases, it’s a distinct advantage for trainers to have targeted the race, but perhaps not here. This is probably because the race is the final winning chance of the season; if you’re wrong as a trainer, or if your horse is unlucky in running, there’s no opportunity to put things right for six months. It’s clear from the statistics that it’s a positive to be match-fit, but not overcooked.

Season Runs

Having said that, all this year’s entries have had between three and seven runs this season, although with both West Approach and Flying Angel having already run seven times this term, they might not be at their absolute peak, and should be approached with caution. The latter is tricky to pass over given that he seems fairly well in at his peak, but we can’t have a bet on every horse in the race!

What about the career profile of horses who run well here? Last year’s winner Step Back was very much an outlier, being a novice with only three runs to his name. In fact, only 2 of the last 20 horses in total have had fewer than seven chase starts, meaning that novices and inexperienced chasers would need to be long prices in the betting to be worth following.

Chase Career Runs

Therefore while Talkischeap, Give Me A Copper and Just A Sting all have obvious claims, their short prices mean they don’t represent value in the market. Prime Venture is also probably too inexperienced – and won’t handle the quick ground.

That leaves a shortlist of Joe Farrell, Step Back, Rolling Dylan, Vyta Du Roc, The Young Master and Le Reve to look at in more detail in order to choose our selection(s). Rathlin Rose just shouldn’t be good enough to be getting involved here, even though Sandown is his favourite track.

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 09.51.43

The final four columns of the summary above show: horses’ peak career chase RPR and the difference between that and their current OR; and horses’ peak chase RPR this season, and the difference between that and their current OR.

The latter is used to identify horses hopelessly out of form, and Vyta Du Roc certainly fits that description, with his three runs this season PU, PU, 7th. It would be a surprise if he ran well. Step Back is a much more complex case. The defending champion has been average at best this season, running below par in handicaps at Chepstow and Warwick, but he has consistently struggled in his career with going left-handed, and so perhaps those runs can be overlooked. Of more concern is whether he has recovered sufficiently from a bold front-running show in the Grand National, where he was only pulled up after the Canal Turn on the second circuit. He jumped wildly right round Aintree, and Sara Bradstock suspected he had a foot issue, something he has suffered before. If he were at long odds, he would certainly be worth a bet, because he was so magnificent last year, but there are too many negatives to take a short enough price.

Another who may have gone too far in the Grand National to have recovered for another marathon test is Joe Farrell, who was only pulled up two fences from home.

Given the non-runners, that leaves us with just three:

THE YOUNG MASTER – 25 career chase runs (and 46 runs in rules races!) would suggest that this 10-year-old is gone at the game. He started the season rated just 130, and presumably a couple of poor races away from retirement, but he won back-to-back handicaps at Chepstow and Cheltenham, and then ran a terrific race to be third in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham. He won this race in 2016 off a mark of 148, meaning that if he is anywhere close to his best, a mark of 142 is workable.

ROLLING DYLAN – As a progressive second season chaser, he has a lovely profile for this, and he’s been on my radar for a race of this type ever since an impressive staying-on third in a big Cheltenham handicap in December. His last run over 3m4f at Taunton was excellent off top weight, proving he’s in good nick. The ground should be fine, but the only concern is no proven Sandown form in the book, although he goes right-handed no problem.

LE REVE – You’d have got long odds on this 11-year-old being on the shortlist after an uninspiring 8th place in the Veterans’ Final in January off a mark of 135, but since then Lucy Wadham has managed to reignite the spark in this gutsy horse. He’s won twice since then, at Lingfield and Sandown, and with Maxime Tissier taking off five pounds, it doesn’t matter that he’s slightly out of the main handicap. If he arrives on a going day, he should have a decent chance, given he was 3rd in this race in 2015 off a lofty mark of 147.

 

Recommended Bets:

Rolling Dylan – 1pt e/w 20/1 (5 places)

Le Reve – 0.5pts e/w 20/1 (5 places)

The Young Master – 1pt win 9/1 BOG

Scottish Grand National 2019 Preview

In April, Grand Nationals come thick and fast. After Tiger Roll’s extraordinary victory at Aintree last Saturday, it’s the turn of Ayr to host its own Grand National this weekend. The Scottish version can’t quite match the prize money or prestige of its English equivalent, but it’s still an exceptionally competitive handicap in its own right, and one that trainers can target with superb stayers perhaps not quite up to the rigours of winning a modern Aintree National.

Ayr could barely be more different from Aintree: it’s a tight, undulating, one-and-a-half mile oval. That makes the profile of winners slightly unusual for a ‘National’: they obviously need to be proper stayers, because they need to finish the marathon four-mile trip strongly, but they also must have tactical speed in order to hold their position around the tight bends. As it’s a race that tends to take place on genuinely good ground, bearing this ‘speed’ angle in mind is important – and can potentially lead to finding some value.

Beware The Bear will be bearing top weight, running off his newly lofty mark of 160 after winning the Ultima at Cheltenham. He’s undoubtedly a very good horse, but as a nine-year-old it seems likely that he’s reached the ceiling of his improvement, and to win such a competitive race of such a high mark, he’d have to be a graded horse in waiting, similar to Frodon or Aso for example. I’m not convinced that’s the case.

The Ultima is a significant form line for this race. In second place was major Aintree Grand National fancy Vintage Clouds, who fell at the first in Liverpool. Given he was such a short price for the superior race, he should have every chance at Ayr, especially when his third in last year’s Scottish Grand National is taken into account. But it’s not quite that simple: that third place was achieved off a mark of 141, and while he was able to run off 144 at Aintree, he now has to run off his ‘true’ rating of 149 at Ayr. Although he only shoulders 11-1, that means he’s no shoo-in for this contest. But his profile contains the key requirements of proven staying form combined with a speedier edge, as well as that bonus of proven course form. He is the standard against which other runners have to be judged.

Also in the Ultima were Big River (4th) and Sizing Codelco (PU). The latter is now 10-years-old, was only 8th in this race last year off 150 (with Paul O’Brien taking off five pounds), and runs off 152 this time with no form in the book. He seems to have little chance, whereas the former is of significant interest based on that Ultima run, where he stayed on strongly up the hill and gave the impression he wanted a longer trip to be seen to full effect. However, the five best RPRs of his career have all come on heavy or soft ground, and with good ground in prospect at Ayr, he looks to have been overbet.

Dingo Dollar does enjoy good ground. Alan King’s horse is just seven, so likely to still be progressing, and was a good second at Ayr last April in the three-mile novice chase. He has since been third in the Ladbroke Trophy off 148, then ran a poor race in a Doncaster handicap, but showed his health with a second place back at Doncaster in March. That recent average form means he runs off 147, which looks more than workable. He should be a major player if he is on his peak form, although the trip is unknown.

Crosshue Boy was the horse to beat Dingo Dollar at Ayr last April, but he had 17lbs in hand that day to get up by a length; he only has five pounds to play with this time. He’s been targeted at this race all season, something confirmed by his trainer Sean Doyle, but even so, the relative prices of the two contenders seem lopsided, with Dingo Dollar having proven his quality more than once versus a horse who’s quality has to be taken on trust.

Crosspark has certainly proved his credentials with a gutsy win over four miles at Newcastle in the Eider Chase. He was previously third in a good handicap at Warwick, but both those performances came off a rating of 135, and he will now run off 142. As a nine-year-old, is it fair to assume he’s still progressive to such a degree that this competitive handicap remains within his grasp? The aforementioned “good handicap at Warwick” was won in January by Impulsive Star off 133, and he now runs off 139, so similar concerns apply to Sam Waley-Cohen’s mount, especially after a brutal run in the Cheltenham four-miler. Fourth in that Warwick race was Carole’s Destrier, who won at Newbury in March and in so doing also went up the handicap from a generous-looking 137 to a tough mark of 143.

The strongly-supported Cloth Cap fell at Ayr last April – not a good sign – and has been winning class 3 and class 4 handicaps this term for Jonjo O’Neill, going up 13lbs in the process. His short price is speculative. Another younger and progressive runner is Geronimo, who would be running from two pounds out of the handicap, but Rachael McDonald will claim five pounds to negate that disadvantage. He’s risen 22lbs in the handicap this season from just four runs, and hasn’t competed in a big race such as this before. With so many other classier and proven contenders to choose from, he can also be passed over as poor value.

Blue Flight is another progressive novice in the line-up, and arrives at Ayr in top form with three wins and a second this calendar year. The best of those performances was victory over Black Corton on almost level terms at Kelso, but he’s up 16lbs in the handicap since then, putting him near the top of the weights. There are also doubts about a six-year-old being pitched into his first major race against more seasoned rivals. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ other fancied runner is the veteran Cogry, pulled up in last year’s renewal. On his day, Cogry is a doughty and tough competitor, but this mark of 140 seems too high to win from. Twiston-Davies also saddles Arthur’s Gift, who has a lot to do off 137.

Red Infantry was sent off 14/1 for the valuable Grand National trial at Haydock when rated 142, and runs at Ayr off 140. The form of that race hasn’t worked out too well since, but his second in the London National at Sandown over 3m5f showed that he should stay the 4m trip. Market support for Ian Williams’ runner would be intriguing, but on pure form he can be passed over.

Chidswell gave a nine-length beating to Dingo Dollar at Doncaster, and demands respect as a result, but he’s up 7lbs for that win, which should remove him from considerations. The other contender who merits a closer look is the staying-chase veteran Mysteree, beaten only a neck by Crosspark in the Eider. At 11-years-old, however, it would have to be a weaker renewal than this for him to win.

Skipthecuddles looks to have a colossal mark based on very little, and would have to improve significantly to get involved, while Kingswell Theatre, Brian Boranha and Takingrisks can’t be backed with any confidence based on their form. Other runners will race from out of the handicap, and none have overwhelmingly obvious claims that overturn this disadvantage. Chic Name did beat the 2018 Scottish Grand National winner Joe Farrell at Newbury recently, but he will carry an entire stone more at Ayr, and that will make a repeat victory unlikely.

 

Recommended Bet

Truthfully, this isn’t a vintage renewal of the Scottish Grand National. There are several dark horses in the race who boast progressive form as novices, and of course one may very well have several pounds in hand, but none are obviously well-in based on what they’ve produced on the track. Contenders with proven form in the book are all higher than their habitual winning marks, and that may mean that the classy VINTAGE CLOUDS is still comparably well-handicapped despite having to run off his true rating. Beware The Bear’s burden allows Sue Smith’s horse to shoulder just 11-1, and as he’s just five points shorter to win at Ayr than he was at Aintree, there is still juice in his price.

Vintage Clouds 2pts e/w at 9/1 (6 places only – SkyBet, Ladbrokes, Hills)

Cheltenham Reflections: Focus On The Handicaps, and The Drugs Don’t Work

  1. Ante-Post Betting Can Offer Good Value (No Matter Who Says Otherwise)

It seems to have become accepted as fact that “there’s no point in betting ante-post any more” – but that’s simply not true. If you are lucky enough to have open and largely unrestricted accounts with several bookies – as I am, largely due to an abysmally sloppy spell of betting about four years ago – then there was a perfectly decent variety of prices and betting terms available for ante-post bets on the Festival. Some bookies even took the old-fashioned approach of having an opinion, a good example being Paddy Power’s 33/1 NRNB on Bristol de Mai in the Gold Cup. Thanks gents. An equally stand-out instance of blatant long-term value was provided by Tiger Roll, who was available with several firms at 5/1 after his defeat under top weight at Cheltenham in November.

Of course, several of my ante-post wagers were lost due to horses being unfit to race in March – I’m still frustrated by the almost comically unlucky circumstances of the injury to Eldorado Allen – but that risk should be priced in to your betting. I have no sympathy for lost bets due to horse taking up an alternative engagement or skipping the festival: if you bet before any NRNB is available, weighing up the horse’s target is a key part of whether the price is value; if you choose not to take a smaller NRNB price once the option is there, then again, that should form part of your value consideration.

 

  1. Value Is King (It’s Not Always The Bets You’re Excited About That Work Out)

If you’re even a semi-regular gambler, then it should be obvious to you that the game is finding value, not necessarily finding winners, although a quick look at Twitter confirms that this concept remains elusive to a depressingly large number of people. I was reminded of this by getting totally unexpected returns from a couple of bets I’d struck at small stakes during the season. My answer to the question “what is your stupidest open ante-post bet?” in the pub in Painswick on the Monday night of festival week didn’t require much thought: Sam Spinner. Everybody laughed, including me. As we know, on the day I was still laughing, but this time with delight! The proven Grade One performer, running in a weaker renewal than last year (when he was sent off favourite), finally ran back to his form after a strange season. In the cold light of day, that bet was obviously good value.

Equally, even though I lost a fair chunk on him, I wouldn’t take back my bets on Pic d’Orhy in the Triumph. A proven Grade One performer in France, he looked to be facing only one serious rival in terms of outright ability (Sir Erec), is trained by a genius at bringing French horses straight onto a UK racecourse (Paul Nicholls), and yet was available at 20/1+ in January and February. He was dreadful on the day, but I maintain that bets placed at 22/1 and 25/1 weren’t poor bets.

Sometimes prices are just wrong on all objective evidence. Keep taking those prices, and things will work out in the end.

 

  1. The Handicaps Are Well Worth The Effort

Repeat after me: Cheltenham handicaps are not ‘impossible’ or ‘unbelievably competitive’. In fact, they ought to be a punter’s dream: there are great place terms on offer, a betting-friendly over-round online, and every horse in the field is trying to win.

My ante-post handicap betting didn’t work out this year – although I was already counting my Éclair de Beaufeu money on the turn for home! – but there’s always at least one winner to be found in the open handicaps during the week. Any Second Now obliged in the Kim Muir for me this year, and I’m not going to call myself a judge for finding him, as it was relatively obvious. The Pertemps didn’t offer too many surprises either, although I didn’t back the winner. And the Plate was so predictable that I managed to persuade myself into the first successful reverse forecast of my life!

I’m not saying all of this to big myself up – I only broke even across the week, which given the offers available and effort put in, is pathetic and proof I’m no judge – but I met a number of people during the week insisting many of the handicaps were a ‘lottery’. Can I play a lottery that’s this predictable please?!

 

  1. Betting During The Week Itself Requires Iron-Willed Discipline (And Fewer Pints Of Guinness)

I go the Festival to enjoy myself, and this can lead to a fairly, ahem, enthusiastic Guinness intake during the four days on-course, especially in the unlikely event of me having a decent winner. This means that when I’ve tallied everything up, I’ll have lost money on bets placed during the week itself, versus having made a profit on ante-post betting. I’ve now done this five years in a row.

My sloppy betting on course is due entirely to my inner monologue which, drunk on both alcohol and Cheltenham adrenaline, and overloaded with information, gives me thoughts like the following:

  • “Last year’s Coral Cup is looking amazing…maybe I’d better have some money on Bleu Berry [but not William Henry because he’s done nothing this season]”
  • “I’ve got ample ante-post on Pic d’Orhy at 22s and 25s, so why NOT go in again on the day at 14s?”
  • “Glen Forsa cannot lose this Arkle if he turns up. A few bets won’t cut it. I need to absolutely smash this [totally unproven at the top level, English] horse”
  • “Only having one horse in the Albert Bartlett just won’t do. I should pick another one [in the race I have never ever had a place] and punt way too much on that”
  • “Yes, I know I liked the look of him, and I know I even wrote than on the blog, and I know Duc Des Genievres has just totally franked his form and proved he’s a graded horse in a handicap…but there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY I’m backing A Plus Tard at that short a price”

I could go on. Suffice to say, this nonsense does not do wonders for my P&L.

 

  1. Pay More Attention To Collateral Form

The example I’ve just mentioned – A Plus Tard hosing up in the Close Brothers – should serve as yet another reminder that despite all the bells and whistles, and special Cheltenham trends, form is still king. If a horse’s form is franked during the week itself, that’s a good thing. If the price is still there, that’s an even better thing. Be flexible, be willing to change your thinking, and back the horses whose form is being proven as strong. I forget this every year, turning up to Cheltenham with my opinions already set in stone at the beginning of the week.

 

  1. Multiples Are A Mug’s Bet

Every year I try to resist the siren call of the muggy multiple, and then every year I get lured in and dash myself on the trixie-and-yankee-shaped rocks. Repeat after me: Cheltenham is incredibly competitive, and it’s hard enough to find a single winner, let alone predict a precise combination of winners.

My failure this year was particularly noteworthy, because it was actually based on a solid logical premise – or so I thought. I had picked out the Champion Hurdle as my starting point, due to my very strong opinion that Laurina had no chance of winning the race, even if she ran at her best. As Laurina’s odds shortened, I placed various trixies and yankees based entirely around Buveur d’Air and Apple’s Jade as the ‘banker’ leg – because with Laurina out of the picture, one of the two was certain to win. We all know what happened next: I was barely able to watch the second mile of the race, with Buveur d’Air down and Apple’s Jade already well beaten. Laurina’s bang average performance wasn’t much of a consolation given the siren’s call had basically bankrupted me yet again.

Bookies base their whole business model around what they call “exotics”, as that’s where all their money is made. Don’t do doubles, kids: leave the accas to the one-bet-a-week Ladbrokes lads.

 

  1. Play To Your Strengths

I have a good record over the years in big-money handicaps. I have a distinctly average record in open Grade Ones. Yet I continue to bet more on the Grade Ones than the handicaps. Why? Why, just because the average punter prefers to bet bigger on the championship races, should I follow suit?

Even more bafflingly, what made me suddenly decide I was a brilliant judge of juveniles this season? I know next to nothing about pedigrees, I’m not a good paddock judge, and I don’t have contacts in the game. Why I am lumping on horses ante-post for the Triumph? What possesses me to do that?

And, for the love of God, WHY DO I CONTINUE TO BET ON THE MARES NOVICES AND THE ALBERT BARTLETT?

Next year, I’m going to play to my strengths. We all have them, so be honest with yourself, and play to yours too.

 

  1. Cheltenham Form In The Book Is Invaluable In The Handicaps – Never Ever Forget It

Of course we all know this, but it was proven yet again this year. Here’s some examples, and there may be a few more I’ve forgotten:

Ultima Chase: Beware The Bear (4th Ultima 2018)

Coral Cup: William Henry at 28/1 (4th Coral Cup 2018)

Brown Advisory Plate: Siruh Du Lac & Janika (1st and 2nd over C&D earlier in the season), Spiritofthegames (5th 2018 County Hurdle)

Grand Annual: Croco Bay at 66/1 (5th 2017 Grand Annual)

 

  1. And Finally…The Jockey Club Needs A Reality Check (The Drugs Don’t Work, Kids)

Racecourse owners and administrators need a wake-up call: drug use on course is rife from Tuesday to Thursday, and it reaches another level entirely on Friday. It’s not a few leads sneaking in the odd bit of coke; it’s a very significant percentage of the crowd whose every thought during the day is focussed on how and where they can do yet another line.

Now, I’m not a reactionary, by any means: I’m young(ish) and I don’t have any particular objection to other people deciding to do drugs, apart from the fact that in the case of cocaine, it turns them into an interminable arsehole for the duration of their high. But the level of drug-taking on course at Cheltenham on Friday has reached such a level that the experience for the small number of us who haven’t snorted half of Colombia’s GDP has become unpleasant.

The general atmosphere is tense, like a town-centre nightclub on a Saturday night, rather than friendly and inclusive, meaning you constantly wonder whether accidentally bumping into someone will start a fight. People don’t really bother to watch the racing, even the Gold Cup, and cheer horses falling if it gives their £5 bet a better chance. And trying to go to the toilet between races becomes an impossibility given the number of those queuing who want privacy for something other than seeing to their bodily functions.

While it was welcome to see a couple of sniffer dogs on duty this year, this token gesture doesn’t even scratch the surface of dealing with the problem. Either Cheltenham management needs to get serious about deterring drug use on-course, and employ a far, far higher number of dogs plus random searches, or it should accept the inevitable and adapt its facilities accordingly. There would need to be loads more toilets, and stewarded “quiet areas” within each stand where people who want to watch the racing can actually immerse themselves in the action without the constant background banter of people whose copious cocaine intake means they can’t possibly concentrate for five seconds, let alone five minutes.

I don’t think any of the posh older gents – and let’s be honest, they are posh older gents – running the racecourse have any idea of the scale of the problem. If it continues for another year or two, there won’t be any actual racing fans on course on the Friday – and that’s surely not what the sport wants for its blue riband event, is it?

Ante-Post Angle: Brown Advisory Plate

The Plate is not as easy to whittle down to a shortlist as the Grand Annual, because winners of the race don’t tend to come from a clear profile. That said, there are a couple of things that the winners of this race do tend to have in common, and both of them make sense:

  1. Must have won at least a Class 3 chase between 2m3f and 2m5f – i.e. must have proven quality over fences;
  2. Must not have won a graded chase and must not be rated above 145 – i.e. must be on a workable mark with room for further progression. This is a hugely competitive race and it follows logically that only improvers tend to win this.

There are also some factors which are clear positives, particularly given results in the past decade or so, and would count in a horse’s favour:

  • Successful returners to the Festival – and indeed this race in particular – do particularly well here. Horses with proven Cheltenham form always tend to do well, of course, but that trend applies more than ever to this race, where proven ability in the hurly-burly of a 2.5 mile cavalry charge around the New Course is a big positive.
  • French-bred horses outrun their numbers here. I’m not sure if this is a statistical quirk, or whether this trend has some merit: their more precocious natures would seem suited by this test.
  • Certain trainers definitely target this race: Gordon Elliott (clearly, with 2 of the last 3 winners), but also David Pipe and Venetia Williams, both of whom have a declining record in other festival handicaps.

 

Profile Eye-Catchers

So, are there any horses with the right profile lurking out there at big prices?

Didero Vallis – Venetia Williams – OR 135
French-bred, Williams-trained and with the correct profile (won 1x C3 h’cap), this six-year-old jumps off the page. However his dire run last time out when stepped up in grade recently at Kempton is a big negative, and his opposition in his earlier season wins may not have been the best. His mark of 135 would not have got him into the race last year, and at a best price of only 33/1 there is better value out there.

Gun Digger – Gordon Elliott – OR 139 (IRE)
Gigginstown and Elliott have both won two out of the last three renewals, and they team up with this likeable seven-year-old. He has been campaigned in a fairly similar way to last season’s winner The Storyteller, with a couple of ‘sighters’ over this sort of trip over fences before a crack at a grade race. But whereas The Storyteller was only four lengths off classy Invitation Only in his Grade 3 run, Gun Digger was 31 lengths off the pace in his graded attempt. That evidence doesn’t suggest he is in the same class as his stablemate. Even though he will inevtiably shorten in the market, it could pay to wait to see the value of his form; he was a close second to Chris’s Dream, who will run in the RSA Chase. Of course, given this is Elliott/Gigginstown, Gun Digger has an array of other entries and may not turn up here at all. Another of Elliott’s entries, Ben Dundee, is more likely to run here, and is clearly held in higher regard by the yard, having been entered in a Grade One, but his last three runs have been dire and he can’t be backed blind.

Bouvreuil – Ben Haslam – OR 142
The JP-McManus owned veteran is only eight-years-old, and seemed to have been revitalised by a switch from Paul Nicholls to Ben Haslam when winning on his debut for his new yard at Wetherby in December. That win took him back up to an official rating of 142, and as he was third in the Plate in 2017 off a mark of 145, he is of serious interest. Bouvreuil’s festival record is superb: four visits, three placed finishes, and in his one failure he was unluckily brought down. His last run, only sixth in a C2 handicap, looked like a blatant bit of mark-management with this race in mind and shouldn’t be taken too literally. If he turns up at Prestbury Park full of his own vigour, he has every chance of going very close on good ground off this extremely workable mark. The one note of caution is that he is also entered in the Grand Annual, but Haslam has been open in saying he will only take up that option if the ground is soft. That means an NRNB safety-net is essential, but with Skybet providing that and a generous 33/1 price, this is a stand-out value bet. All aboard.

 

Form Eye-Catchers

Having identified some horses with the right profile, it bears repeating that this race is one of the weakest for trends and profiles at the whole festival, and as such horses with obvious form claims must still come into consideration.

One of the most glaringly obvious of these is Happy Diva. Kerry Lee’s mare spent last season learning her trade against her own sex, but has stepped up into open company with distinction this term. Her close second to Aso over course and distance on New Year’s Day demands respect, and she has backed that up with a good third at Ascot behind none other than Cyrname and a gutsy win over classy Magic of Light at Huntingdon. However, she is entered at Newbury this coming weekend, and with her price already trimmed to 16/1 for the Plate, now is definitely not the time to be backing her.

In my opinion, the Plate entries with the best form this season by a distance are Janika and Siruh du Lac. The former is now rated 156 after two outstanding runs in the UK following his transfer from France to Nicky Henderson’s yard, recording RPRs of 158 and 161 in the process. That massive last figure was recorded when he lost a titanic tussle with the aforementioned Siruh du Lac over Plate course and distance, with both horses refusing to yield up the hill. Nick Williams’ French-bred (tick) six-year-old was raised just seven pounds for that, although he will not get Lizzie Kelly’s three-pound claim in March, so he will run off 10 pounds higher. That rating of 141 still seems a very workable mark, and given that Janika is perhaps more likely to go for the Ryanair, Siruh makes more appeal of the two. But his claims haven’t been missed by the market, and at a best priced 10/1, there is no point whatsoever in striking a bet now.

 

Recommended Bet (26/2/19):

Bouvreuil – 1pt e/w @ 33/1 NRNB (Skybet)