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Thursday 30 April 2015

2,000 Guineas – Unexposed Room Key Open to Improvement

Four favourites have won the first Classic of the season, the 2,000 Guineas, in the last ten years, but winners at 40/1, 33/1, 25/1 and 11/1 in the same period provide cause for optimism as far as this column is concerned. Regular readers may recall that, this time last year, we latched onto the ‘wrong’ outsider trained by Richard Hannon, Shifting Power, instead of the winner, Night Of Thunder, so we’re hoping for better fortune this time around.

Room Key (100/1) was beaten 4 lengths when fifth of six behind Estidhkaar in the Champagne Stakes, over 7 furlongs, at Doncaster last September, but that form looks all the better for the latter’s neck second, behind Muhaarar, in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury two weeks ago. Ivawood was only third, beaten 4½ lengths, on that occasion, so a strict interpretation of the form suggests Room Key is outstanding value at the odds on offer. He’s by Mount Nelson, winner of the Eclipse Stakes, so should be suited by the step up to a mile and could be open to significant improvement after just four starts.

Trainer Hugo Palmer is confident that Home Of The Brave (33/1) has sufficient stamina for a mile after winning the European Free Handicap, over 7 furlongs, at Newmarket earlier this month. Home Of The Brave is by Starspangledbanner out of a Beat Hollow mare, so has plenty of stamina in the bottom half of his pedigree. However, he attempts to become the first winner of the European Free Handicap since Mystiko, in 1991, to win the 2,000 and, as his trainer acknowledged, there’s ‘a big difference between staying a mile and being good enough to win a Guineas’.

Celestial Path (25/1) has 3¼ lengths to find with Elm Park on their running in the Racing Post Trophy over a mile at Doncaster last October but, back on faster ground, may be able to reverse the form. His two previous wins came on good to firm and good going so, although he’s officially rated 7lb inferior to Elm Park, he could be worth chancing. Certainly, he’s bred to be a top-class miler and may just have a little more scope for improvement than his rival.

Selections: Room Key (100/1 generally available), Home Of The Brave (33/1 with Bet365, Sky Bet and William Hill) and Celestial Path (25/1 generally available).

Good luck!

Friday 24 April 2015

Bet365 Gold Cup Tips

The Bet365 Gold Cup, run over 3 miles 5 furlongs and 110 yards at Sandown, has produced winners at 25/1, 20/1, 16/1, 14/1, 11/1 and 10/1 twice in the last 10 years. No favourite has won in that period, so there must be a chance that the traditional National Hunt season finale can provide this column with one last ‘hurrah’.

A.P. McCoy is conspicuous by his absence from the big race, but Jonjo O’Neill could still be victorious with Lost Legend, who has the services of Richie McLernon and can be given a chance on his best form this season. The son of Winged Love could make no impression on the leaders from two out in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase, over 3 miles 1 furlong, at the Cheltenham Festival, but the way he stayed on in the closing stages suggested an extra 4½ furlongs is within his compass. If it is, he’s only 2lb higher in the weights than his last winning mark and could make the 25/1 on offer with Coral look silly by teatime on Saturday at 15:50.

Tony Martin’s runners on the mainland are always worth a second look and, here, the shrewd Co. Meath handler has Guess Again lurking off joint bottom weight. Formerly trained by David Pipe, the 10-year-old unshipped Declan Lavery at the fifth last in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, but was still travelling well within himself at the time. He, too, has his stamina to prove, but looks one to keep on the right side at 20/1in the ante post lists.

Last, but hopefully not least, let’s row in with Royale Knight, who should lack nothing in stamina and ran well when sixth, beaten 15 lengths, behind Many Clouds in the Grand National two weeks ago. He remains 15lb higher in the weights than when hacking up in the Durham National, over 3 miles 6 furlongs, at Sedgefield in October, but seems equally effective on top of the ground as he is on softer going and may be capable of providing Dr. Richard Newland with another high-profile winner.

So, there we are dear readers; our final National Hunt selections for a while are, in no particular order, Lost Legend (25/1 with Coral), Guess Again (20/1 with Sky Bet) and Royale Knight (20/1 generally available). Good luck!

Thursday 16 April 2015

Scottish Grand National

Unfortunately, our headline selection for the Grand National, Gas Line Boy, got no further than the first fence and while our other selections, Night In Milan and Oscar Time, completed the course, they did so in their own time. Frankly, neither of them ever looked like troubling the judge but, undaunted, we move on, this week, to the Scottish Grand National, run over 4 miles and 110 yards around the left-handed circuit at Ayr.

One of the lovely things about the Scottish Grand National is that it can be won by horses racing out of the handicap, as in the case of Joes Edge (20/1) in 2005, Iris De Balme (66/1) in 2008 and Al Co (40/1) last year. In fact, Iris De Balme carried fully 26lb more than his long handicap weight, so pretty much anything’s possible – and that’s fine by us!

Although Benvolio (14/1) doesn’t really qualify as an ‘outsider’, it’s interesting that Tony McCoy said earlier in the week that he wouldn’t take a ride in the Scottish National ‘just for the sake of it’ and recorded his sole win in the race on Belmont King, trained by Paul Nicholls – trainer of Benvolio – in 1997. The 8-year-old is beyond our usual remit, but we probably exclude him from calculations at our peril.

The one that really ‘floats our boat’ this week, though, is Carrigdhoun (33/1). Right at the foot of the weights – in fact, 4lb out of the handicap – Maurice Barnes’ 10-year-old overcame an absence of 510 days to win on his belated seasonal debut in March and was far from disgraced when second, beaten 6 lengths, behind Virak, at Haydock two weeks ago. The Goldmark gelding has yet to win beyond 3 miles 2 furlongs, but the step up to marathon distances could be what he needs at this stage of his career and he looks a sporting bet at the odds on offer. Jockey Michael McAllister may be sweating to make his allotted weight of 9st 10lb, but if he had to put up overweight it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Watch out for Benvolio, but our one, bona fide selection this week is Carrigdhoun (33/1 with Sky Bet or Betvictor. Good luck!

Thursday 9 April 2015

Grand National Preview – It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas!

Winners at 100/1, 66/1, 33/1 (twice) and 25/1 in the last ten years are just a few of the reasons why the Grand National is our favourite race of the year. Forty runners, 4 miles 3½ furlongs and 30 spruce fences are a few more but, frankly, the world’s greatest steeplechase needs no further introduction, so we’ll plunge straight into our annual search for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

At the time of writing, the bookmakers bet 15/2 Shutthefrontdoor, A.P. McCoy’s last ride in the race, and 33/1 bar the first ten or so in the betting, so there are plenty of ‘true’ outsiders to consider.

The first one that took our eye is Keith Reveley’s 9-year-old Night In Milan (33/1), who runs in his first National, but looks the right type for the race. The Milan gelding is 10lb higher in the weights than when last winning and, although his three placed efforts this season suggest the handicapper is in charge, the unique National fences could be the making of him. Like many of his rivals, he has his stamina to prove, but he’s usually a pretty accurate jumper and, if he can get into a rhythm, he could prove a danger to all.
Oscar Time (50/1) has already been placed in two Nationals and won over the National fences, in the Becher Chase, as recently as December so, even as a 14-year-old, is too big a price to resist. He’s 3lb lower in the weights than when second to Ballabriggs in 2011 and fourth to Auroras Encore in 2013 and appears to have been trained with this race in mind, so must have a chance of becoming the oldest National winner ever. The National winner always has a ‘story’, so maybe that’s his!

National Day wouldn’t be National Day without a ludicrous punt at seemingly ridiculous odds, so for our third and final selection this week, how about Gas Line Boy (100/1), who’s 9lb higher in the weights than when winning with plenty in hand at Haydock in November, but doesn’t need bottomless ground and could relish the extreme distance. Trainer Philip Hobbs, of course, also has the well-fancied Balthazar King in the field, along with Chance Du Roy and Duke of Lucca, but Gas Line Boy is a silly price for a horse of his ability.

So, for richer for poorer, our three against the field this week are, in no particular order, Night In Milan (33/1 with Sporting Bet and Ladbrokes), Oscar Time (50/1 generally available) and Gas Line Boy (100/1 with Totesport, Betfred, Sporting Bet, Coral and Betway). Good luck!

Friday 3 April 2015

Connolly’s Red Mills “Precision Nutrition” Series Handicap Hurdle Final

The Connolly’s Red Mills “Precision Nutrition” Series Handicap Hurdle Final, run over 2 miles 4 furlongs at Haydock Park (2.35), may not be as competitive, numerically, as some other races of its kind, but still has the potential for a ‘surprise’.

Thundering Home (22/1) has done all his winning on good to soft, or softer, going, but ran creditably in defeat on his first attempt beyond 2 miles 3 furlongs, on good going, at Kempton three weeks ago. The Storming Home gelding could only keep on at one pace when fifth of seventeen, beaten 13½ lengths, behind Theinval on that occasion, but the return to rain-softened ground on a more galloping track could show him in a better light this time. Jockey Tom Bellamy has a healthy 5-13 (38%) strike rate on Richard Mitchell’s hurdlers over the last five seasons, for a level stakes profit of 63.00 points, so it’s not difficult to envisage Thundering Home running well again.

Uisge Beatha (22/1) ran below par when only fifth of six, beaten 29 lengths, behind Derrintogher Bliss at Newcastle six weeks ago, but had previously been progressing well and is another who looks a shade overpriced. The horse that beat him at Musselburgh on his penultimate start, Shanroe Santos, was thought good enough to contest the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and, although still 12lb higher in the weights than when winning a 0-120 contest at the same course in January, he could still be open to further improvement.

The bookmakers bet 7/1 the field, in a place, and it’s difficult to find anything else that qualifies as a true ‘outsider’, so we’ll settle for just the two selections this week. In order of preference, they are Thundering Home (22/1 with Bet365 and Betvictor) and Uisge Beatha (22/1 with Bet365, Sky Bet and Betvictor). Good luck!