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Wednesday 24 December 2014
That's the motto for Boxing Day - with 79 races in Britain and Ireland between 12:10 and 4:45pm there is no need to make things complicated. As I explained to a young friend earlier this week, a successful double with both selections at 2/1 returns the equivalent of an 8/1 winner - and on a day like Boxing Day it is probably easier to find a couple of 2/1 winners than an 8/1 winner.
I'm looking to place my annual Boxing Day "Yankee" - 4 selections in a combination of wagers - and if I can find 4 winners at odds of 2/1 then I'll be a happy man on Boxing Day evening. There are jump race meetings at Fontwell, Huntingdon, Kempton, Market Rasen, Sedgefield, Towcester, Wincanton and Wetherby here in the UK; and I'll be concentrating my efforts on winner finding on those. It can really help to find winners on busy days like this if you concentrate on the entries of the trainers and where they are sending horses, and where the best jockeys are riding - they will not all be at Kempton!
The meeting at Wetherby has one of my favourite races of the season on Boxing Day: the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase over 3m1f at 1:45pm, this year generously sponsored by William Hill. The fav will likely be last Saturday's winner Broadway Buffalo. Personally, I felt that race was presented to him on a plate as the early leaders went off far too fast. As such, I will be opposing him. The obvious candidate is Cape Tribulation who has been dropped to OR142 (he was rated OR165 when 5th in the 2013 Gold Cup won by Bobs Worth) and has a great chance is able to repeat last seasons effort when 3rd off OR153. However, I reckon a better chance is held by Vintage Star who ran well enough LTO when 3rd (with Broadway Buffalo behind), and will appreciate a strong pace (supplied by Corrin Wood) and also stays very well. Odds of 8/1 with Paddy Power look generous.
Keep an eye on Superior Fire in the opening race at 12:35 as this is the only runner her for Charlie Longsdon. Later in the afternoon, the useful chaser No Planning makes a belated seasonal debut in a handicap hurdle off a rating 15lb lower than his chase rating. Finally, Caroline Bailey has done well here in the past and sends out only 3 horses on Boxing Day; with a couple coming here including Galway Jack in the handicap chase at 2:55pm. He comes here in the form of his life and should run well.
This meeting has another good stayers' chase in the Lord Stalbridge Memorial Cup (Handicap) at 3:25. On the face of it, this looks a winning opportunity for the top-weight Saroque, who struggled on the soft/heavy ground at Sandown LTO. The main opposition will likely come from the Paul Nicholls trained Buck's Bond, but his jumping has let him down recently; even so he is a C&D winner. The only other interesting horse in this race is Harouet from Peter Bowen's stable. This is the sort of race he does well in and he's sure to come on for his recent run and I can see him taking 2nd or 3rd (he's currently offered at 14/1 with Paddy Power).
The 2-mile class 3 handicap chase at 1:05 looks a wagering opportunity, but I've not looked at the form yet as none of the trainers with a horse entered has an above-average strike-rate here. I may look at this on the morning of Boxing Day.
There are some trainers with entries here that have great strike-rates: McCain (28%), Jefferson (23%), Swinbank (22%) and Richards (21%). However, the race that grabs my attention is the 2:30 - a 2m4f class 4 handicap chase with just 6-runners. The likely fav is Cango who won easily LTO and has just a 7lb penalty for that win. That was over just 2-miles, but he's expected to stay this 2m4f trip and more. No such worries about the trip with King Rolfe, who is travelling from south Wales (279 miles) for Tim Vaughan. He also looks a much better horse than his rating and also won easily LTO.
This looks an ordinary meeting on paper, so that trainers like Kim Bailey, Tim Vaughan and Venetia Williams are sending solitary horses here is interesting. As such, pay attention to Bailey's Gaelic Myth in the 1:00pm; for sure, Gifted Island (sent by Tim Vaughan) should be on the shortlist for the "bumper" at 3:15pm (Vaughan has won 3 bumpers from 8 runners here); and Venetia Williams' Art Professor may be making a belated chase debut (he turns 11yo on 1st January) but stable jockey Liam Treadwell has been booked for the ride.
This meeting is all about the King George VI Chase at 3:10, and from my point of view it is very difficult to see past the fav Silviniaco Conti. This trip will suit him well (he won this race last season) and having Cue Card in the race to likely set a strong pace will mean the race is run to suit as well. If Champagne Fever was not running, "Conti" would be the 6/4 fav, and if (as I reckon) Champagne Fever is only as good as his official rating of OR158, then 5/2 about "Conti" is a real Christmas present. I expect Menorah to follow the fav home and fill the 2nd-spot.
The rest of the meeting should be dominated by the short-priced fav's.
There is a good class 3 novice chase at 1:30pm that looks competitive, but it is the 3m5f Lincolnshire National at 2:10 that takes my eye. There are a couple of non-runners so only 7 go to post, and I cannot see the race-fav Many Stars staying this extreme trip (he didn't when tried over 3m6f at Sedgefield in October). The obvious formbook winner is Chac Du Cadran who was rated OR126 after winning over 3m6f at Catterick in Jan13, but he's an odd character who needs to be cajoled along and I'm hoping the use of 1st-time blinkers will do the trick. There is nothing else in the race likely to trouble him and he'll have another proven front-runner with him in Carli King.
Trainer Dr Richard Newland does well at this track and he has only one runner: Aficianado in the 3:20. He looks well capable of improving on his recent LTO win (he's only a 4yo) and the others all look held. The only one that may do better is Ourmanmassini but he needs to recover his old form.
I will be surprised if Meetmeatthemoon does not win the 12:55pm for trainer Phil Hobbs as this is his only runner here today and he's won with 9 of his last 32 hurdlers here. I'm more interested in Major Milborne in the hurdle at 1:30pm as he looks well capable of winning off todays OR115 rating, and he comes here with a win LTO just last week. The only doubt is the heavy ground, but he acts well enough on soft to suggest it wont trouble him.
Nothing here catches my eye, with the 5-runner chase at 2:25 looking very tight.
Short-list for the "Yankee"
Market Rasen 2:10 CHAC DU CADRAN
Market Rasen 3:20 AFICIANADO
Kempton 3:10 SILVINIACO CONTI
Sedgefield 2:30 KING ROLFE
Wincanton 3:25 SAROQUE
Wetherby 1:45 VINTAGE STAR
Wetherby 2:55 GALWAY JACK
Fontwell 12:55 MEETMEATTHEMOON
Fontwell 1:30 MAJOR MILBORNE
Boxing Day YANKEE
Market Rasen 2:10 CHAC DU CADRAN @ 100/30 (available generally)
Market Rasen 3:20 AFICIANADO @ 9/4 (Bet 365, 2/1 elsewhere)
Sedgefield 2:30 KING ROLFE @5/2 (Paddy Power, 9/4 elsewhere)
Fontwell 1:30 MAJOR MILBORNE @ 9/4 (Stan James, elsewhere 2/1)
£2 win yankee, that's 11 bets totalling £22
Boxing Day eachway Double
Wincanton 3:25 SAROQUE @ 7/2
Wetherby 1:45 VINTAGE STAR @ 7/1
£4 eachway double = £8
Good luck and Merry Christmas!
Monday 15 December 2014
The horse didn't even show up in my pre-race review even tho' he'd won LTO at Ascot absolutely slaughtering a decent field of handicappers over 2m3f on 21st November. This was a significant oversight for me but, to be fair, Niceonefrankie won the same Ascot race off the same OR129 rating in very similar fashion (in 2nd was Double Ross off OR133 and he's now on OR159) in 2013, and subsequently ran consistently but was unable to compete off his revised rating (OR135-140).
Where I and, I expect, many others went wrong - as he started at the generous odds of 16/1 on Saturday - was that (apart from his next start at Newbury on 29Nov13) for the remainder of the 2013-14 season Niceonefrankie was campaigned over 3-mile. Also, little improvement was expected of him as he had already had 24 chase races in his short career.
It seems fairly obvious now that his best trip is 20-21f and, given that behind him LTO at Ascot were:
King Edmund - ran 2nd (btn a short-head) on 24Nov and won on Saturday morning over hurdles (and has since won again today at Plumpton); and...
Al Alfa - won at Cheltenham on Friday (as I should know as he was on my alert list).
Full marks to Aidan Coleman for making full use of the horses strengths to make-all and build up an unassailable lead by running-on at a good pace. Much of the field were toiling about a mile out as they ran up the hill and altho' Niceonefrankie looked to be running on empty approaching the final fence, he'd managed to run the legs off his nearest challengers.
The only horse I was "right" about in the race was Barrakilla who was having only his 5th chase start (whereas Niceonefrankie was having his 25th chase start). Being a half-bro' to China Rock it was no surprise to see him staying on in the final mile, and I expect connections will try him over further next time. His half-bro' has been rated over 152 since winning a grade 3 chase over 2m7f at Punchestown in Oct-10, and Barrakilla looks to have the potential to follow him to be a mid-OR150 chaser. Definitely one for the alert list.
The only other horse to make a race of it on Saturday was Edgardo Sol. This was his best effort (judged on my ratings) since he was 3rd in the "Game Spirit" chase over 2m1f at Newbury in Feb-13. He's not won since April 2012, and it's to be hoped that the handicapper doesn't put him up for this effort as he's not a big horse and not the type to be able to give away lumps of weight in handicaps. Even so, he's a rock solid 150-154 chaser, possibly best over trips up to 2m4f.
Earlier in the afternoon, Sew On Target showed that his best trip (by a long way) is at around 2-miles - he doesn't stay any further than 2m1f with any confidence. He beat the useful yardstick Astracad very easily and had the rest strung out behind. He can defy a weight-rise so long as he's not pushed up in trip.
The remainder of the Cheltenham card looked top-notch. I couldn't quite work out why Port Melon started the 7/4 fav for the 3-mile novice hurdle, and he was comprehensively beaten by Blaklion who confirmed the form of their previous meeting. This result makes the winner of that race, Parlour Games, look very interesting in respect of next March's Albert Bartlett (being a 7yo then would not be in his favour for an attempt at the 2m5f Neptune Novice Hurdle).
I had The New One running a career-best when taking the Grade 2 International Hurdle over 2m1f. He'll probably need to improve another couple of pounds to win the Champion Hurdle next March, but he seems a more complete horse now than he did then. However, the horse who impressed me most in this race was Olofi who, before he ran last month, had been off the track for 18-months since April-13. Remember, he won the old "Greatwood" hurdle at Cheltenham in Nov-12 off OR136 beating the usual top-quality field for that competitive handicap. As he was a well-beaten 3rd on Saturday, the handicapper is not going to be able to adjust his mark up by much (if at all), and he was looking very comfortable approachng 2-out before the front pair asserted their class. Off OR133 (or thereabouts) he looks very leniently handicapped.
Finally, the 9yo Rock On Ruby took the Relkeel Hurdle over 2m4f & 110 yards with a performance which wasn't far short of his best. While unlikely to win a Champion Hurdle again (unless a few of the better hurdlers don't show up), it would be no surprise should he line-up for the race next March that he comes in 3rd or 4th. He doesn't look the sort to go for the 3-mile World Hurdle but that does look a weaker race in-depth than the Champion Hurdle. In 2013, Solwhit won the World Hurdle on his first attempt at 3-miles, and I'd have Rock On Ruby a 7lb better horse over the Champion Hurdle trip than Solwhit ever was. Current odds of 20/1 for the World Hurdle would be interesting if connections could guarantee that he'd line-up for the race, but it may be that their prime objective will be another attempt at the Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f next April.
Saturday 13 December 2014
On to today, and the only race I'm looking at while typing this is the feature race at Cheltenham - the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (Handicap) over 2m5f. Only 13-runners go to post, which is a bit disappointing but, even so, there should be some value in this race. The race-fav is the recent Paddy Power Chase winner Caid Du Berlais who is up 5lb for that win. As such, he'll need to find some improvement to win this race. The 2nd-fav Barrakilla ran very well on his seasonal debut in what has turned out to be a solid handicap. He should improve for that run today and OR135 looks lenient - he could run to 142+. Also in that Sandown race was No Buts, who has since won and re-opposes Barrakilla on 10lb worse terms, so it is hard to see him holding Barrakilla on ground that may not be soft enough for him. Darna is the fly-in-the-ointment in this race as LTO after 2-years off the track he won a class 3 chase over 2m4f in a canter. He's up 10lb for that win to OR144 but, when he won at Ascot as novice chaser in April 2012, he looked well capable of being a 150+ chaser in time. There is a "bounce" factor to contend with, but I don't think this horse is the sort to do that (ie: run well below form on 2nd outing after a long break) as he was so well handicapped LTO that he merely had to finish the race to win it. At odds of 12/1 he looks very interesting as an eachway wager. The 8yo Attaglance was unlucky not to win at the Cheltenham Festival last March, but he's rated OR143 now and his trainer Malcolm Jefferson has a poor record at Cheltenham, so I have to overlook him. Not so the trainer of Ericht - Nicky Henderson. This horse was my selection for the Paddy Power Chase won by Caid Du Berlais, and he was bang there in it still when clouting the 2nd-last fence. As such, he comes into this race on the same OR137 rating, and that Henderson and Geraghty have returned for this race suggests they think he probably should have been in the mix LTO.
That's good enough for me, and odds of 10/1 (available generally) look good value to me.
Cheltenham 2:00 ERICHT, £5 eachway AND £5 win @ 10/1 (quarter-odds a place 1,2,3)
Total Stake = £15
All the best from Wayward Lad
Friday 12 December 2014
The meeting opens at 12:30 with a novice chase over 3m1f & 110 yards which has been won by some decent types in the past. As such, we should pay attention to all the runners with an eye for the future. Kings Palace looks the most obvious to do best after beating Sausolito Sunrise LTO. Kings Palace was also a very high-class novice hurdler and even tho' there is a turn-around in the weights of 8lb for a 4-length advantage, I can't see Sausolito Sunrise reversing the places. Don't overlook Vivaldi Collonges who is having his chase debut for Paul Nicholls, as this well-related 5yo is destined to be a much better chaser than hurdler and odds of 9/1 look interesting given he has an 8lb advantage.
The 2m4f handicap chase at 1:05 could provide a wagering opportunity. The front-running Al Alfa was 4th in this race last season off OR117, so it's unlikely he will improve on that running-off OR123. The obvious form contentender is Gallery Exhibition, but I'm not sure this drop in trip will favour him today. Buck Mulligan has been running consistently without winning off OR124, but his best form is at around this trip (he doesn't stay much further) and the ground will suit him too. At 14/1 he looks a fair eachway wager opportunity in a race which should be run at a good pace but with questionmarks over a fair number of the runners.
The 2m1f handicap hurdle at 1:40 was last won by Nicky Henderson in 2009 and he sends the unexposed Lough Kent to be ridden by Barry Geraghty. It is hard to say how good this horse is, but Henderson thought he was worth a "County" hurdle entry at the last Festival. Street Entertainer will enjoy this trip and wont be far away. The 2m5f trip here LTO found him out and he was passed on the run-in and, as a result of that effort, he's been raised 2lb - but I think he's the value in this at odds of 11/2, if Lough Kent isn't a handicap blot.
The 3m2f handicap chase at 2:10 has been won by some good handicappers, usually those on there was to a Grand National bid next April. It won't be easy for Hadrian's Approach with 11st 12lb, but expect this consistent chaser to run a cracker. I'm not confident that Cowards Close will go close in this as he doesn't seem to be improving. You can't say the same of The Ould Lad who has won his last couple of chases and runs here effectively off OR127 (carries 10st which is 4lb less than the OR131 rated Standing Ovation). As he's been rated OR130 following his latest win, he's well-in and this lightly-raced horse looks exciting. While I can't see the 11yo Charingworth repeating his LTO win, I am expecting a big run from the 7yo Standing Ovation who goes well here. His run when 2nd on the "Old" Course over 3m1f in October looks good form now, but his run LTO in the "Badger" (a race he won in 2013) has left a questionmark as he pulled-up a long way out. Of the others, Samstown won a hurdle LTO and he looks a cracking staying chaser in the making - however, he's up 20lb for his last chase win to OR136. Lamb Or Cod seems to be at his best between April to October (4 wins from 8 starts), as he's only won once in the months of November to March from 12 starts and he pulled-up LTO. The Ould Lad is the worthy fav, and odds of 4/1 could looks generous after the race, but Samstown at 10/1 (available generally, and 11/1 with Stan James) looks interesting as an eachway wager.
Of the other meetings, at Bangor at 2:30 the hurdler No No Mac should be able to recoup the losses from his seasonal debut when 2nd at Sandown LTO. Unfortunately, as his odds are less than 9/4 he can't be recommended as a wager - but 13/8 offered by Ladbrokes and Coral looks dangerous.
No recommended wagers from me today, but I'll be placing Buck Mulligan, Street Entertainer, and Samstown in small-stakes eachway doubles and trebles.
Monday 8 December 2014
The Aintree meeting started with what looked like a promising performance from the 5yo novice hurdler Ballybolley when making-all to win. Admittedly, he was a strong 6/4 fav - but this was no mean feat to make-all. While I can't see him winning at Cheltenham, he should make an interesting chaser next season.
The Becher Chase over the National fences went to veteran 13yo Oscar Time, who was given an exemplary ride by Sam Waley-Cohen. The place to be over these National fences is "in-the-van" and that's were Oscar Time was throughout the race; leading over the first few fences then settling-in behind the front runners until chasing and passing the weakening race-fav on the run-in. Behind him, I was taken by the run of Saint Are who ran-on to be 3rd. This 8yo didn't run in the National last April, but was a finisher (ran 9th) behind Auroras Encore in April 2013 off a rating of OR142. He's slipped to OR127 and will struggle to get a National start off that rating (min OR138 in 2014) - but he's capable of running to 137+ on my ratings so he's clearly coming back into form. In 2nd was Mendip Express, who never seems to run a bad race. He is a very consistent performer who I reckon ran up to his OR144 rating - however, he seems to have reached his ceiling.
What was very upsetting was losing Balbriggan to a fatal injury. He appeared to jump the 9th fence well but sustained a leg-fracture a few strides after jumping the fence. I was disappointed that 5lb claimer Ryan Hatch was unseated from Benbens at the 12th fence, just as the horse seemed to be getting involved. The horse remains well-handicapped and relatively unexposed and one to keep on the right-side of.
Later in the afternoon, the Sefton Chase was won by Poole Master who has always been capable of running to his OR142 rating, but never seems inclined to do so - hence his SP of 25/1. Jockey Sam Waley-Cohen was in rare form having won the Becher Chase earlier and, in this, he was riding the talented - but lazy - Cedre Bleu, who looked like winning easily jumping the last fence but (as usual) found nothing. This horse is proving exasperating and, since he last won in March 2013, he's been 2nd x 4 times. He's at least 7lb better than his OR138 rating, possibly more than 10lb better, but he doesn't like putting his head in front.
At Sandown, the feature race was the Tingle Creek, and the result was a bit of a surprise as both the joint-fav's (God's Own and Balder Succes) made jumping errors and ran well below form. I'm prepared to forgive both these horses this run. Balder Succes ran the better of the pair, looking like being involved in the finish after jumping the 3rd last fence, but he'd made a succession of jumping errors over the "Railway" fences and these must've taken a lot out of him - and it must be remembered that he ran a stinker when well-beaten in the Henry VIII novice chase on this card last year. It could be that Balder Succes just doesn't like Sandown. I've rated this race thru' Somersby who is a consistent yardstick. Even so, I don't have him at OR162 as he hasn't run to 160+ since he was 4th to Cue Card at Ascot in Feb 2013 in my book. For me, he ran to 155 (just 3lb below his QMCC performance when 2nd to Sire De Grugy in March), and that puts the winner Dodging Bullets on 158 which is a probably his best chase performance to date. As such, had he jumped cleanly, I'm sure that Balder Succes would've won on Saturday, and so he's still my idea of the QM Champion Chase winner next March.
I was out Christmas shopping yesterday, so missed a cracking opportunity in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, where Wishful Thinking maintained his rich vein of form this season when winning at 13/2. Although he's sneaked up to OR159, the 6yo Wonderful Charm has never looked better than 155 in my book, so he looked held on the weights and will likely struggle in handicaps. And while the race fav Eduard has improved with every run as a chaser to-date, he hasn't entirely convinced me that 2m4f & 110 yards is his trip and, sure enough, he was unable to peg-back the eventual winner after jumping the final fence. Rajdhani Express was very disappointing (again) and was reported to have finished lame. I'll give Rajdhani one more chance, but I'm begining to think that his 3rd in the Ryanair (won by Dynaste) flattered him a bit - maybe he's more of a "Spring" horse.So, Wishful Thinking merely had to run up to the form of his handicap win at Cheltenham last January to win this and he probably had about 7lb in-hand at the line. Sending him off at 13/2 was a real Christmas bonus for connections and his supporters.
Friday 5 December 2014
Saturday see's jump racing return to Aintree for the Becher Chase over the National fences. However, at 1:00 there is an interesting chase handicap over 2m4f and it is OUR MICK that catches my eye. Once rated OR145 after running 2nd to Golden Chieftain at the Cheltenham Festival, he's slipped to OR132 after a series of disappointing runs - but LTO over this C&D he ran his best race since that Cheltenham run in March 2013. If OUR MICK can build on that run, he could be absolutely thrown-in for this race. Of the others, I think that Distime is handicapped to beat Baileys Concerto and depending on the odds (I'm writing this on Friday afternoon) he could be worth a wager.
Both the handicap chases over the National fences look terrific events. It looks like there are 24 starters for the 3m2f Becher Chase at 1:30 and Troytown Handicap Chase winner Balbriggan could catapult himself into the Grand National picture if he continues his improvement with a win in this race off OR130. The horse has always looked to possess potential, and he was on my alert list for a long time, but he disappointed me too many times and I honestly thought (before he joined Gordon Elliot in Ireland) that he didn't stay 3-mile. I thought BENBENS was unlucky LTO at Cheltenham, and he comes into this on the same rating and with the benefit of 5lb claimer Ryan Hatch. That could be enough to get him into the frame for this.
The shorter 2m5f & 110 yard Sefton Chase at 3:15 looks just as competitive. Top-weight Rolling Aces could find life tough in this race, even though he is a very good jumper of a fence. Dolatulo always runs a good race, and the ground will suit him better than that he ran on at Sandown, so he could run a great race. I was on FOUNDATION MAN in that race at Sandown and he fell early-on without showing his true form. It would not surprise me to see him run well in this race.
The feature race of the day is the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown at 3:00pm. Run over 2-miles, this has 10-runners this year and should be spectacular. The race fav is BALDER SUCCES and I've been tipping this one to be the champion 2-mile chaser and winner of the Tingle Creek and QM Champion Chase next March at Cheltenham every since he won at Aintree last April. Strictly on the formbook, he's better than his recent conqueror God's Own, but not by much. The novice chaser God's Own has improved with every one of his 5 chase runs to date, and if his improvement continues then he's going to take some beating in this. Of the others, nothing seems to be capable of finishing in front of this pair. I'd put Dodging Bullets ahead of Oscar Whisky; and Hinterland has too many issues to be considered. The others look outclassed.
I hope those who read it enjoyed yesterdays look at the racing career of HEY BIG SPENDER who won the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle for the 3rd time in 4 years last Saturday. If you haven't already done so, please take the time to read it as HEY BIG SPENDER is a considerable chaser, possibly one of the gamest chasers in training over the past few years; and keeping him at the very top of the handicapping tree has been a significant feat of training for Colin Tizzard and his team.
There are a couple of interesting meetings today at Exeter and Sandown but, after an early view of the cards, it's unlikely that there will be much in the way of value. At Exeter, the novice chase over 2m3f & 110 yards looks exciting, as it brings together Deputy Dan and Saphir Du Rheu who were at the top of the novice staying hurdlers last season. I reckon the official rating of Deputy Dan of OR145 seriously underrates the ability of that horse, while the OR165 rating given to Saphir Du Rheu is probably a bit too generous - as such, I don't think there is that much between them over this sort of trip. However, Saphir Du Rheu does have a 5lb advantage on the race conditions. Nothing else in the race comes close to the quality of this pair so, as long as one of them are still in the race after the final fence, the winner should be one of them. I can't split them, so it's a race to watch and enjoy.
The handicap chase over the same C&D which is the next race on the card at 1:40 is more interesting. The race-fav is the Paul Nicholls trained Wilton Milan who won very easily last Friday at Newbury over a similar trip. He has since been re-rated OR134, but runs off his old rating of OR123 today - he looks as near a certainty to win as it is possible to get over jumps. Of the opposition, Filbert could be the one to give him most to do, as he's slipped from OR135 to OR130, and this "in-between" trip of 2m3f & 110 yards could suit him perfectly. He doesn't stay much beyond today's trip, so LTO at Sandown he was never going to win - but his run wasn't bad in the circumstances, especially as the ground that day was far more taxing than the "good-to-soft" description (more heavy than soft in my opinion). However, odds of 4/1 are poor value in my opinion, and I'm more taken by WORKBENCH who last won over 2m2f at Fontwell in October, and showed enough to suggest he was capable of wining at this sort of trip when only losing out on 3rd place on the run-in at Cheltenham on 18th October (race won by Johns Spirit). He didn't have the stamina for the 3m1f Badger Ales Trophy LTO, but was still the 4th horse past the post. This trip will be much more to his liking and odds of 7/1 look fair eachway value. Even so, it is difficult to see past WILTON MILAN and if you can get odds of 9/4 or better then that's the one to be on. Stan James go 5/2 but I'm not sure how much they'll let you have on.
Exeter 1:40 WILTON MILAN, £10 win @ 5/2 with Stan James (odds of 9/4 available elsewhere)
Thursday 4 December 2014
Dame Shirley Bassey herself could not have been more proud of the horse when he won on Saturday.
The pace set by the early leaders for much of the race was punishing, and those "in-the-van" (What A Warrior, Annacotty, and Le Reve) all failed to finish. The blog selection Midnight Prayer was also amongst the leading bunch of 4, and was the only one of them to finish - albeit in 9th and last place. When watching the race "live", my opinion was quickly made that the horse did not seem to be enjoying himself and he was working hard to maintain his position. Jockey Tom Bellamy pushed the horse for a final effort 4-out but (thankfully) on realising there was nothing left in the tank, he allowed the horse to canter home at his own pace. Trainer Alan King was positive about the run, and he seems of the opinion that the horse will be primed for a big race in the Welsh National NTO.
The race fav - Djakadam - was given every chance by his rider Ruby Walsh, but the horse had nothing left to give when push came to shove. The Hennessy Gold Cup is a tough race, the most competitive chase handicap in the calender in my opinion - even more competitive than the Grand National - and it is no race in which to discover a horses stamina. Djakadam had never run beyond 2m5f before Saturday and, while a 3-mile chase looks within his grasp, for me the jury is still out.
The requirement for stamina was most evident when you consider that 3 of the 1st-4 home were all proven, dour, staying chasers. In 4th, Monbeg Dude was never likely to win (unless one of only a handfull of finishers) off a rating of OR146, yet his stamina carried him from a poor position from half-a-mile out and into the places. He is capable of a better performance than this, but not much, and (even if he'd run equal to his best) would never have beaten the 3rd-placed Merry King.
It is through Merry King that I have rated the race. Last year, Merry King ran 5th behind Triolo D'Alene on "good" ground and I rated that at 132. His best performances are on soft/heavy ground and, as such, I reckon he's run up to his best form of 140. The horse finished 6-lengths behind Houblon Des Obeaux at Ascot in Nov'13 over 3-miles when in receipt of 7lb; and this race suggests that Houblon Des Obeaux has improved a few pounds. Merry King never runs a bad race, and he goes forever, but he lacks a "gear" when it matters - and just one win from 13 chase starts proves it. For me, he could be an ideal Grand National horse and could be the one to provide AP McCoy with the perfect excuse to retire on a high should he win that race next April.
Houblon Des Obeaux defied his 50/1 odds - which were surely an insult given he was 6th in last years Hennessey and that this years soft ground was clearly more favourable. What was more debateable was whether he could repeat his form of last season when racing right-handed. He's run 4 cracking races at Ascot over 3-mile - winning twice - and if he was able to repeat that form at Newbury (going left-handed) he was surely going to be in the mix. He'd won on his seasonal debut for the past couple of years so, coming for this on his first run since April, this was not an issue. As I've written already, Houblon Des Obeaux ran a career-best on Saturday and if soft ground was guaranteed at Cheltenham next March, he'd be on my Gold Cup shortlist. I have him achieving 160, and when he jumped the 2nd-last in front I didn't think he'd be passed as stamina is his strength.
Where does this leave Many Clouds? It was a very good effort to peg-back Houblon Des Obeaux on the run-in, even if that rival was conceding 6lbs. But it was not a 160+ performance (Racing Post Ratings have assessed it as RPR164). It has to be taken into account that he'd never won beyond 2m4f before, and he'd been easily beaten by Black Thunder at level weights as a novice chaser last November over 2m7f (with Shotgun Paddy in 3rd). With Merry King on 140, this puts Many Clouds on 157. By comparison, I rated Bobs Worth at 169 when he won the Hennessy Gold Cup in 2012 before taking the Gold Cup at Cheltenham - so (on that score) Many Clouds has a lot of improvement to make before he can enter the Gold Cup picture as a realistic candidate.
Even so, his half-brother The Tullow Tank, who is a novice chaser in Ireland, must surely have one of the Cheltenham Festival novice chase races as a target.