Classic Chase & Kempton Preview

There’s some excellent races for National Hunt purists today, and none better than the Classic Chase (3:00) at Warwick. Much like Sandown, the Midlands track demands quick and accurate jumping, with four fences exceptionally close together, and this extended test really tends to bring out the best of certain

The standout bet here is THE CONDITIONAL, because I’m surprised he is even here at all. After winning a very deep handicap at Cheltenham with ease, beating subsequent winners West Approach and Cogry in the process, he ran with huge credit to finish second in the Ladbrokes Trophy. That is by far the best form in the race, and if he is still on top form after those two efforts, a repeat performance should see him win against this weaker field.

There are two obvious dangers. Kimberlite Candy consistently runs well in competitive handicaps and should put in another bold display, but his only recent win came in a poor Class 3 handicap off a mark of just 133, yet he runs off 140 here versus The Conditional’s 142, and I believe the latter is a better horse. Le Breuil is rated 148 by the handicapper and runs off top weight here, and his victory in the gruelling National Hunt Chase proves he will stay. But his other form doesn’t really entitle him to such a lofty mark, and his jumping can sometimes be pedestrian, which will put him on the back foot at Warwick. I wouldn’t put you off an each-way play – with some firms giving generous terms – but again, The Conditional looks better treated.

Over at Kempton, a specialist seems to have gone somewhat under the radar, with good prices still available as I type. MERCIAN PRINCE is seeking a hat-trick in the Unibet Handicap Chase (1:30) and has clearly been prepared for the task by Amy Murphy with a spin over hurdles just before Christmas. The nine-year-old ran well at Catterick that day, showing he’s in good health, and he comes alive over course and distance: he won by 17 lengths off a mark of 139 last year, and won handily off a mark of 134 in 2018. He’s back down to a mark of 141, and the last time he ran from this sort of mark (143) in a race of this sort of class, he beat Romain De Senam at Plumpton.

Favourite Sammy Bill is the only other horse bringing good form to this contest, but he is up 11lb for his Aintree win, and the form of that race has not been franked since. As such, he could now be in the handicapper’s grip. Sao has long been talked about as a proper horse by Paul Nicholls, but has yet to show it on the track in the UK, so let’s hope this isn’t the day he puts it all together.

Later on the card at Kempton, ON THE BLIND SIDE is sure to go close in the 3:15 Handicap Chase, but his price is too short to put him up as a ‘tip’ given he’s far from a certainty. Walt, for example, came alive on his last visit to Kempton, and could be a major danger if he does so again.

 

Recommended Bets:

Kempton 1:30 – Mercian Prince 1pt e/w at 13/2 (BOG, general)

Warwick 3:00 – The Conditional 2pts win at 4/1 (BOG, general)

Caspian Caviar Gold Cup 2019 Preview

As ever, the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup has a competitive field – as it should do with £73k to the winner – but the admin mix-up over the ante-post favourite Riders On The Storm has leant it an open feel, and with some generous bookie terms available, there is some value in the field.

In my mind, that value exists because there are question marks over the three market principals (as I type, anyway):

  • Cepage went up a mighty 8lbs for his second at Aintree, and though the form of that rate looks rock-solid, horses shouldering top weight have a poor record in this race, the exception being last year’s winner Frodon, who went on to win the Ryanair. I can’t see Cepage winning the Ryanair.
  • Brelan d’As has also been raised by the handicapper after a heroic second-place, but his second was behind Happy Diva at Cheltenham last month. Kerry Lee’s mare is an ultra-consistent sort, so this Caspian Caviar line-up would have to be a lot weaker than the BetVictor Gold Cup field for Paul Nicholl’s game eight-year-old to win this race, and I’m not convinced that’s the case.
  • Good Man Pat has every chance off this low mark of 136, which undersells his quality, but a horse who has shown such a propensity to jump badly in the past simply cannot be backed in a big Cheltenham handicap at 9/2 or shorter in my eyes.

The next two in the market are the ones that do interest me.

CLONDAW CASTLE lines up today off a mark of just 144, the same mark from which he finished second at Ascot in the extraordinary race won by Diego Du Charmil, who took out his stablemate Capeland at the last Wacky-Races-style. The handicapper has taken the view that with Diego Du Charmil getting up despite the last fence shenanigans, the bare form flatters Clondaw Castle. However, this race was probably the strongest big-handicap run so far this season given that Capeland won handsomely next time out with Diego Du Charmil in second despite now being rated 156; perhaps more importantly, Clondaw Castle was staying-on strongly over that 2m1f trip, and and extra three furlongs over the New Course at Cheltenham could be exactly what he needs. His fourth in the Arkle when sent off at 33/1 proves he handles the track, and Tom George’s horses are in fine form, so there are no clear negatives and he should be backed accordingly.

At the very bottom of the weights is NOT THAT FUISSE, the mount of Harry Skelton (who could have ridden Spiritofthegames, so that’s a positive in itself). On the face of it, his form isn’t up to much, but he was very deliberately steered round Warwick last time out over an insufficient trip, and given the trainer and the big prize on offer here, this absolutely screams “plot job”. Not That Fuisse’s jumping has been sound on all his three runs over fences, and he looks like a horse who will be rated far higher than 131 in future. With some nice each-way terms on offer, he should be covered, as he could be thrown in here.

Others with strong chances are Secret Investor for Paul Nicholls – who absolutely loves targeting this race, but his mark of 150 looks a little high – and Robin Des Foret for Willie Mullins, whose second behind Le Richebourg last October hinted at a proper graded horse in the making. But I can’t back four in the race!

 

Elsewhere on the card, while Mister Fisher has real class and shaped well behind Torpillo at Warwick, the odds available on the likeable GOOD BOY BOBBY look generous. He hasn’t put a foot wrong over fences, and has always looked like a step up in trip would suit. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ promising six-year-old really enjoyed the undulations of Carlisle, so Cheltenham may prove to his liking. The five-pound penalty he carries won’t make life easy, but that’s also why decent prices are available.

 

At Doncaster, the two handicap chases have attracted appalling numbers of entries, so aren’t of interest, but I have backed WINDSOR AVENUE to beat Sam Spinner, even if the near three-mile trip is an unknown. Windsor Avenue has looked sensational in his two outings over fences so far, while Sam Spinner has looked far from a natural over the bigger obstacles, and that should tip the contest in Brian Ellison’s favour. But at odds-on, he’s not exactly a tip, is he?

Good luck!

 

Recommended Bets (Cheltenham):

12:45 Good Boy Bobby 2pts win at 5/2 (general) 

1:55 Clondaw Castle 1pt e/w at 15/2 (4 places) & Not That Fuisse 0.5pts e/w at 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)

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)