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Friday, 27 February 2015

Betbright Grimthorpe Chase Preview

The feature race at Doncaster on Saturday, the Betbright Grimthorpe Chase (3.45), has only thrown up one winner at double figure odds in the last 10 years, but it is a handicap, and typically a competitive one at that, so there’s always the possibility of a ‘surprise’ result.

Right at the foot of the handicap – in fact, 1lb out of the handicap proper – William Money hasn’t seen a lot of racing in the last couple of seasons, but popped up at 22/1 in a 0-135 contest over 2 miles 7½ furlongs at Kelso earlier this month and may be capable of building on that effort. He steps up in class off a 4lb higher mark, so he’ll need to, but he loves good ground and the way he stayed on at Kelso, after being outpaced heading down the back straight, suggests that 3 miles 2 furlongs should suit him admirably at this stage of his career.

Another who falls into the ‘lightly raced’ category is Ian Williams’ 9-year-old Super Duty, who missed most of the 2013/14 season, but made a promising reappearance over hurdles at Wetherby four weeks ago. The Grand National is the principal target for the son of high-class jumps sire Shantou, but he only failed by 1¼ lengths to give 3lb to subsequent Bet365 Gold Cup winner Hadrian’s Approach when last seen over fences and is 4lb lower in the weights. He’s yet to win beyond 2 miles 5 furlongs, but was only just touched off in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup, over 3 miles 1½ furlongs, at the Cheltenham Festival two seasons ago, so stamina shouldn’t be an issue.

Wayward Prince lost his way completely in his second season with Ian Williams and, having returned to his owner, Hilary Parrot, at the start of the 2012/13 season appears to have done so again. The 11-year-old has only completed the course twice in his last five starts and was hopelessly tailed off on both occasions, including in this race last year. On that occasion, he gave Night In Milan 14lb and was beaten 68 lengths into seventh place; this year, he receives 22lb from the same horse, so is 36lb better off. Wayward Prince has returned from the doldrums before and, while it’s asking a lot for him to do it again, his current handicap mark of 124 is the lowest it’s ever been.

Our friends the enemy have been very slow pricing up the Grimthorpe Chase this year, so I’ve had to make an educated guess about likely prices. Super Duty may not, I suspect, fall into the ‘outsider’ category when the prices do appear and Wayward Prince is likely to be a ‘War Of The Worlds’ sort of price – 1,000,000/1, geddit? – so, in a break with tradition, I’ll row in with just one selection, William Money, this week.

Selection: Doncaster 3.45 William Money

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Betbright Chase Preview

The Betbright Chase (formerly the Racing Post Chase), run over 3 miles at Kempton, hasn’t had a habit of throwing up long-priced winners in recent years. Nevertheless, Bally Legend (28/1) last year, Opening Batsman (12/1) in 2013, Razor Royal (11/1) in 2010 and Nacarat (10/1) in 2009 provide some cause for optimism so, as usual, we’ve selected a few that we think are capable of upsetting their more ‘illustrious’ rivals.

The first one to catch the eye is Alan King’s 9-year-old Godsmejudge (33/1), who’s only 1lb higher in the weights than when second in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr and third in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last April. The son of Witness Box – a good source of staying chasers – has typically been campaigned over marathon distances in recent seasons and weakened after the fifth last when pulled up in the Sky Bet Chase, over 3 miles, on his seasonal reappearance at Doncaster four weeks ago.

Trainer Alan King has confirmed that the Grand National at Aintree is, once again, ‘Plan A’ for Godsmejudge this season, but it’s interesting that connections are persevering at this shorter distance, especially when the Eider (over 4 miles 1 furlong) at Newcastle must have been a tempting alternative. Of course, it’s possible that Godsmejudge may be taken off his feet over 3 miles on a sharpish, flat track, but with the going at Kempton good to soft and a wet afternoon forecast on Thursday, conditions may be testing enough to bring his stamina into play.

The Rainbow Hunter (33/1) hasn’t been seen since unseating his rider at Valentine’s on the first circuit in the Grand National at Aintree in April, but ran respectably on his reappearance last season and the one before, so could be a potential ‘fly in the ointment’ if fit and ready to do himself justice. An 8lb rise in the weights for winning the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last January doesn’t make life an easier, but Noel Fehily, who’s never ridden for the yard and has just one booked ride at Kempton on Saturday, is an interesting jockey booking.

What A Warrior (25/1) has only been with Dan Skelton since October and, although pulled up in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November, had previously been on a sharply upward curve for his new hander. He comfortably won a 0-130 affair over 3 miles 1½ furlongs at Ludlow in October on his first start for the yard and then took a step up to Grade 3 company, and a 13lb rise in the weights, in his stride when making all to beat subsequent winner Black Thunder in the United House Gold Cup at Ascot in November. He’s another 7lb higher in the weights here and wouldn’t want too much rain, but 25/1 is, frankly, a silly price.

So, for richer for poorer, our three against the field this week are, in order of preference, What A Warrior (25/1 with Totesport, Betfred, Betway and (amusingly) the sponsors Betbright), Godsmejudge (33/1 generally available) and The Rainbow Hunter (33/1 with Boylesports and Betbright). Good luck!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Cheltenham Festival Preview

The highlight of the National Hunt season, the Cheltenham Festival, takes place between Tuesday, March 10 and Friday, March 13. The customary ‘Cheltenham roar’ that greets the runners at the start of the opening race, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, is a prelude to 27 races of superlative quality, including the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the World Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The Champion Hurdle, run over 2 miles 110 yards on the Old Course at Prestbury Park, is the feature race on the opening day. Encouragingly, the contest has been won by just three outright favourites in the last ten years, with winners at 16/1 and 22/1 in the same period, so our policy of looking beyond the market leaders could pay dividends.

A glance at the current ante post market reveals that the bookmakers 16/1 bar the first four, so we’ve selected a couple that we think could go well at rewarding odds. Throughout you can check out the latest Cheltenham results at William Hill plus  The Gold Guide to Cheltenham is also useful for a good overview.

The one that leaps from the page, as far as we’re concerned, is Kitten Rock (40/1), owned by J.P. McManus and trained in Co. Tipperary by Edward O’Grady. The Laverock gelding was beaten on his sole venture into Grade 1 company at Punchestown last May, but has resumed his improvement this season, winning convincingly on all three starts.

Kitten Rock delighted his trainer with his jumping when winning over 2 miles 3 furlongs on his most recent start at Naas in January. On that occasion, he took advantage of a mistake at the last by eventual runner-up, Glens Melody, to win by 3¾ lengths with 18 lengths back to the third horse. It’s worth noting that Glens Melody is no slouch; in fact, far from it. Willie Mullins’ mare only went down by three-quarters of a length to stable companion Quevega in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and was still on the bridle in the last 150 yards when winning a Listed mares’ hurdle by 7 lengths last Saturday.

In fact, Kitten Rock is due to run next in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park on Saturday, February 14, where his trainer is ‘hopeful that going back to two miles with a faster pace will suit him’. Kitten Rock is the best horse in that race, according to official ratings but, even so, a win against a couple of geldings that ran in last year’s Triumph Hurdle, would surely see his odds cut for the Champion Hurdle.

Of the others, Garde La Victoire (50/1) never threatened in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, eventually finishing fourteenth of eighteen, beaten 18½, but won the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November. He also battled back gamely to beat Jollyallan (a 12/1 chance for this year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) by half a length at Sandown two weeks ago. Like Kitten Rock he has about a stone to find with current ante post ‘hotpot’, Faugheen, but the case for Willie Mullins’ charge is hardly watertight and he heads straight to Cheltenham without a prep run this calendar year.

So, as just a little ‘taster’ of what to expect at the Cheltenham Festival, our two against the field in the Champion Hurdle are, in order of preference, Kitten Rock (40/1 with Bet365, Betvictor, Coral and William Hill) and Garde La Victoire (50/1 generally available). Above all, have a cracking Festival and good luck!



Thursday, 5 February 2015

Betfair Hurdle Preview

Six of the last ten winners of the Betfair Hurdle started at odds of 12/1 or longer, including Heathcote (50/1) and Splash Of Ginge (33/1) last year. This year’s renewal looks as competitive as ever, so we hope it’ll be another profitable week for those of us who like to look beyond the market leaders.

The Betfair Hurdle is a handicap, and a Grade 3 handicap at that, but you can’t tell me that, in a field of 24 runners, just two warrant odds longer than 33/1. The ante post market is, frankly, disgraceful.

Anyway, as we like to do in such circumstances, let’s have a look at one of the complete outsiders of the party. Bordoni (40/1) didn’t cut much ice on his reappearance, over 2 miles 3 furlongs, at Newbury in December, but is probably better judged on his previous start in the valuable Galway Hurdle, over 2 miles, in July. On that occasion, he kept on well to finish fifth, beaten just 4½ lengths, and is just 1lb higher in the weights here. He’s won a couple of times on soft ground and is reunited with winning jockey Brian Hughes (who’s 2-5 on the yard’s hurdlers), so his chance is by no means as forlorn as his current odds suggest.

I must confess, I had to look up the name of Sparsholt trainer Harry Whittington in the Racing Post because his name was unfamiliar to me. However, my ignorance may not prevent his promising novice Arzal (33/1) from running well at generous odds. The five-year-old French import was far from disgraced when third, beaten 9½ lengths, behind Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hopeful Jollyallan at Kempton on Boxing Day and doesn’t look overburdened for his handicap debut. He’s proven on soft ground, open to significant improvement after just three starts in this country and, although due to be ridden by a 7lb claimer, attractively weighted.

Evan Williams’ seven-year-old On Tour (16/1) appears to be improving by leaps and bounds this season and his 77-day absence suggests that he’s been trained with this race in mind, en route to the Cheltenham Festival. His recent winning form has been over further, but this should be run at a decent gallop on soft ground, so his abundance of stamina could be a blessing. Indeed, the form of his most recent win, at Haydock in November, has worked out brilliantly and he looks massively overpriced at his current odds.

So, voila mes amis, our three against the field this week, in no particular order, are Bordoni (40/1 with Coral), Arzal (33/1 Bet365, Totesport, Betfred and others) and On Tour (16/1 with Ladbrokes). Why not back the three of them in forecasts and tricasts with your local independent bookmaker and watch the colour drain from his cheeks as the field turns into the straight? Good luck!