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Sunday, 20 January 2019

5.45 Newcastle, Tuesday, January 22

Suffolk trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam has only ever had four runners on the Tapeta surface at Newcastle, but two of them have won, which makes the entry of Suzi’s Connoisseur, who has just his start for the yard, in the Betway Conditions Stakes (5.45) on Tuesday evening all the more interesting. The eight-year-old hacked up in a 0-80 handicap, over 6 furlongs, at Lingfield on his stable debut in December – earning himself a 10lb rise in the weights – but, unsurprisingly, finished well beaten in a similar conditions race to this one, again over 6 furlongs, on Boxing Day; unsurprisingly because he met all five of his rivals that day on at least 13lb worse terms than he would have done in a handicap and, in the case of the easy winner, Kachy, 20lb worse.

The son of Art Connoisseur has subsequently been dropped 1lb to a handicap mark of 86 and, once again, meets all his rivals on disadvantageous terms, so the thinking behind his entry is hard to fathom. Suzi’s Connoisseur hasn’t raced over the minimum trip since his two-year-old days, so surely Jane Chapple-Hyam doesn’t think he can beat five-furlong specialist Encore D’Or – to name but one of the more likely winners – on 23lb disadvantageous terms? Or maybe she does?

Either way, aside from the possibility of collecting fourth or fifth money, Suzi’s Connoisseur also runs the risk of ruining his handicap mark forever, if he runs above expectations. Unless connections know something we don’t and plan an almighty gamble, Suzi’s Connoisseur seems certain to be sent off at long odds – on the grounds that the handicapper doesn’t make mistakes of the magnitude required for him to win – and looks worth a small wager, if only to find out what on earth they’re playing at.

Selection: Newcastle 5.45 Suzi’s Connoisseur to win 25-1

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Welsh Grand National

The Welsh Grand National, run over 3 mile 5½ furlongs at Chepstow and due off at 2.50 p.m. on Tuesday, December 27, has a safety limit of twenty, but is invariably hotly contested. The race is often run in demanding conditions and, with the going at the Monmouthshire course already good to soft and rain forecast, another ‘war of attrition’ seems likely.

For those who fancy history repeating itself, the first four home in the 2017 renewal, Raz De Maree (25/1), Alfie Spinner (66/1), Final Nudge (25/1) and Vintage Clouds (12/1), are all among the 59 entries that stood their ground at the latest declaration stage. At the time of writing, though, Elegant Escape (8/1), trained by Colin Tizzard, heads the ante post market after finishing second, beaten 10 lengths, behind comfortable winner Sizing Tennessee in the Ladbrokes Trophy, formerly the Hennessy Gold Cup, at Newbury earlier this month.

The six-year-old has yet to win beyond 3 miles, but finished first and second on his two previous visits to Chepstow and is just 4lb worse off for the 7 lengths he beat Dingo Dollar (16/1) at Newbury. Both horses remain open to significant improvement over fences, but just three six-year-olds have won the Welsh National since 1948 so, statistically, they look up against it.

A similar comment applies to Ramses De Teillee (8/1), trained by David Pipe, who’s 3-3 over 2 miles 7½ furlongs over fences at Chepstow, including the Welsh Grand National Trial earlier this month, for which he carries just a 4lb penalty.

However, Pipe may also be represented by the nine-year-old Vieux Lion Rouge (25/1), who likewise ran an encouraging trial when second of 18, beaten 4½ lengths, behind Walk In The Mill in the Becher Chase, over 3 miles 2 furlongs, on the National Course at Aintree earlier this month. Left with plenty to do at the fourth last, Vieux Lion Rouge closed on the winner all the way to the line and, having previously won the Grand National Trial, over 3 miles 4½ furlongs, at Haydock off today’s handicap mark of 146, makes no little appeal.

The Master of Pond House clearly holds a strong hand, with last year’s sixth, Rathlin Rose (50/1) – who, with 10st 1lb, may struggle to beat the ballot – also in the field, but, at the odds on offer, it’s hard to get away from Vieux Lion Rouge. He ran well on his sole start over hurdles at Chepstow, has distance and going to suit and appears well-handicapped, so there appears no reason why he shouldn’t go, at least, very close on his second start back following a wind operation.

Selection: Chepstow 2.50 Vieux Lion Rouge (25/1) to win

Monday, 3 December 2018

3.10 Lingfield, Wednesday, December 5

As might be expected, in a 0-60 amateur riders’ handicap, worth less than £3,000 to the winner, recent winning form in the Betway Stayers’ Amateur Riders’ Handicap (3.10) at Lingfield on Wednesday is in short supply. However, one horse who appears to have brighter prospects than most is Evan Williams’ 4-year-old gelding, Knab Rock, due to be ridden by his daughter Isabel.

The son of Mastercraftsman didn’t see a racecourse until August, when finishing third of six, beaten 8 lengths, behind Dorette in a ‘bumper’, over 2 miles 1 furlongs at Newton Abbott. He failed to make much of an impact in three novice stakes races – including two over a woefully inadequate 7½ furlongs – at Ffos Las and Chepstow in September but, after a 52-day break, ran with much more promise on his handicap debut, over course and distance, 15 days ago.

Ridden by Shane Kelly on that occasion, Knab Rock was held up in the last pair and, when asked for an effort inside the final quarter of a mile, kept on to finish fifth of 10, beaten 2¾ lengths, behind the gambled-on Lumen. Despite failing to trouble the judge, he was, nevertheless, closing on the winner at the finish and, after just four starts on the level, may be capable of better yet.

He’s clearly no world-beater, but he’s been dropped 2lb in the weights for his latest effort so, with Isabel Williams capable of riding at 9st 8lb – and, therefore, able to claim her full 3lb allowance – he must surely have a decent chance of winning an ordinary race, in which his rivals are fully exposed as moderate, at best.

Selection: Lingfield 3.10 Knab Rock to win 14-1

Sunday, 18 November 2018

3.40 Lingfield, Tuesday, November 20

In the Sun Racing Apprentice Handicap (3.40) at Lingfield on Tuesday, Wilson has won just one race, over 7 furlongs at Brighton on his second start as a juvenile last September, but ran his best race since joining Julia Feilden on his Polytrack debut at Kempton last month and may be capable of building on that effort. On that occasion, the son of Born To Sea – a half-brother to Sea The Stars and Galileo – could only keep on at one pace to finish fourth of 13, beaten 3 lengths, in a 0-70 handicap won by Directory, but did, at least, demonstrate his ability to handle the surface.

Admittedly, his wide draw, in stall 10, isn’t ideal, but dropped 2lb in the weights and eased slightly in grade, there appears no reason why he shouldn’t run well again. Over the last five seasons, Suffolk trainer Feilden has a healthy 14-78 (18%) strike rate with her older horses at Lingfield, for an even healthier level stakes profit of 64.49 and, in the hands of her daughter, capable apprentice Shelley Birkett, Wilson looks a decent bet to improve that record.

Selection: Lingfield 3.40 Wilson to win 12/1