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Thursday 26 November 2015

3:00 Newbury, Saturday, 28th November

The Hennessy Gold Cup, run over 3 miles 2 furlongs at Newbury, is the first major staying chase of the season and, often, a bona fide trial for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Fittingly, the race doesn’t have a habit of throwing up long-priced winners and doesn’t feature too many horses that can be written off completely. In fact, a handicap rating of 139 required to make it into the 17-strong field this year, so not even the complete ‘rag’, Al Co (100/1) can be totally discounted.

Splash Of Ginge (50/1) completely lost his way last season after winning a competitive chase, over 2 miles 5 furlongs, at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, but offered signs of encouragement when seventh of 20, beaten 11½ lengths, behind Annacotty in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham two weeks ago. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ 7-year-old has yet to race, never mind win, beyond 2 miles 5 furlongs over fences, but has winning form on good to soft, soft and heavy going. He remains 4lb higher in the weights than at Cheltenham, but talented conditional jockey Jamie Bargary takes off 5lb so, if he stays, he could run well above expectations.

Fox Appeal (50/1) won twice over 3 miles over hurdles and appears to have improved a little for steeping up to 3 miles, and beyond, over fences. While his placed form at Cheltenham and Ascot doesn’t suggest that he’s readymade winner-in-waiting, the step up to 3 miles 2 furlongs on soft going could be the making of him and the bookmakers may have seriously underestimated his chance. Emma Lavelle traditionally does well at this time of year, so the son of St. Leger winner Brian Boru could be cause for further celebration by the Hampshire trainer.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ other entry, Benbens (40/1), is obviously no spring chicken at the age of ten, but has winning form over 3 miles 1 furlong on soft going and is only 5lb higher in the weights than when winning at Aintree in October, so appeals as another who’s overpriced. He’ll need a career-best effort to win, but that’s by no means out of the question, having won with something in hand at Aintree.

Selections: Newbury 3.00 Splash Of Ginge (50/1), Fox Appeal (50/1), Benbens (40/1)

Friday 20 November 2015

2.25 Haydock, Saturday, November 21

The Betfair “Tap Tap Boom” “Fixed Brush” Handicap Hurdle, run over 2 miles 6 furlongs and 77 yards at Haydock, is a fairly recent addition to the National Hunt calendar, but is invariably highly competitive. At the time of writing, all bar five of the 16-strong field declared for this year’s renewal are trading at 12/1 or longer, so a long-priced winner is a distinct possibility.

The first one that catches our eye is One For Harry (20/1), who was still well in contention when falling at the fourth last in this race last year and is just 2lb higher in the weights this time around. Indeed, the Generous gelding recorded a career-best effort when beating Shotavodka by half a length over 2 miles 4 furlongs on his seasonal reappearance at Ayr earlier this month, so comes into the race at the top of his game. Nicky Richards’ 7-year-old has yet to win over this far, but has won over 2 miles 4 furlongs on testing courses such as Carlisle and Hexham, including on soft going, so shouldn’t be inconvenienced by an extra three furlongs or so.

David Pipe makes life difficult by saddling two, but it’s interesting that stable jockey Tom Scudamore has chosen Batavir (20/1) over stable companion Low Key (20/1). The Muhatthir gelding could only finish ninth of 16, beaten 16 lengths, behind Ron’s Dream over regulation hurdles at Cheltenham last week, but he makes a quick reappearance and his experience over hurdles based on the French design should stand him in good stead. He remains 7lb higher in the weights than when winning over 2 miles 5½ furlongs at Wincanton on Boxing Day, but only beat a retreat after the second last at Cheltenham at may be a different proposition this time. Certainly, he’ll relish testing conditions.

Selections: One For Harry (20/1 with Paddy Power), Batavir (20/1 with Paddy Power)

Friday 13 November 2015

2:25 Cheltenham, Saturday, November 14

The Paddy Power Gold Cup is the first major handicap chase of the season but, despite its competitive nature, hasn’t thrown up many long-priced winners in recent years. However, history is, as they say, in the past, so we’ve continued undaunted in our quest for a few that we think could go well at rewarding odds.

The first one that jumps off the page is Malcolm Jefferson’s progressive 7-year-old Oscar Rock, who can be backed at 16/1 in a couple of places. The son of high-class jumps stallion Oscar has only had five starts over fences, but travelled beautifully and won as he pleased on his seasonal debut at Market Rasen 7 weeks ago. He’s only finished outside the first three once in 13 completed starts, acts on any ground and looks excellent value to defy an 8lb rise in the weights.

Darna (25/1) has been off the course since April, but had been absent for over two years prior to winning on his seasonal debut at Sedgefield last November, so probably doesn’t take much preparation. Kim Bailey’s 9-year-old is closely handicapped with Monetaire and Buywise on their running at the Cheltenham Festival last March, but is twice the price of either of his rivals, so looks good value-for-money. He has an excellent wins-to-runs ratio and appears best fresh, so his price is something of a mystery.

For a horse that’s never won beyond 2 miles 5 furlongs, Double Ross (20/1) ran an eye-catching race over 3 miles at Ascot two weeks ago, running on under pressure from the second last to take second place once the race was effectively over. The son of Double Eclipse hasn’t won for a while, but back at a more suitable distance on a track where he’s won three times in the past he could surprise a few better-fancied rivals.

Selections: Cheltenham 2.25 Oscar Rock, Darna, Double Ross

Thursday 12 November 2015

3.25 Cheltenham, Friday, November 13

The Opus Energy Novices’ Handicap Hurdle (3.25) at Cheltenham on Friday is numerically the most competitive race on the first day of the Open Meeting and, with plenty of winning form on offer, may take some winning.

Trendsetter made a promising start to his hurdling career when third of nine, beaten 1¾ lengths, in a maiden hurdle at Wetherby on Boxing Day and, although failin to build on that effort in two subsequent starts, he’s shown improved form on the Flat in recent months. The prevailing good going should suit him and he starts life in handicaps off a fairly lowly mark if able to translate his recent improvement back to hurdles.

At the other end of the handicap, French import Baraka De Thaix also made a promising hurdling debut when third of nine, beaten 2 lengths, behind Golden Doyen in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham last November. The Dom Alco gelding subsequently finished well beaten in the JCB Triumph Hurdle proper, in which he jumped poorly, but remains one to keep an eye on, despite the ‘steadier’ of 11st 12lb on his handicap debut.

Lightly-raced 7-year-old A Hare Breath has been off the course for nearly two years and was only recently transferred to Ben Pauling from Nick Gifford. However, the winning point-to-pointer showed decent form behind Irving (now rated 162) and Josses Hill (now rated 158) on his two starts under rules and could be extraordinarily well handicapped if retaining his ability. Of course, he’s obviously had his problems, so he’s not with risks, but that’s what this column is all about and he’s too tempting to resist.

Selections: Cheltenham 3.25 Trendsetter, Baraka De Thaix, A Hare Breath

Thursday 5 November 2015

3:30 Doncaster, Saturday, November 7th

The Betfred November Handicap, run over 1 mile 4 furlongs at Doncaster, has produced winners at 20/1 (twice), 14/1 (twice) and 10/1 in the last ten years and, with a maximum field of 23 runners going to post on Saturday, is the perfect way for us to bid farewell to the Flat racing season.

Litigant (16/1) has already done this column a favour this season, when returning from a 16-month absence to win the Betfred Ebor, over 1 mile 6 furlongs, at York in August at odds of 33/1. Joseph Tuite’s 7-year-old has run just once since, when ninth of thirteen, beaten 9¼ lengths, behind Flying Officer in the Group 2 Qipco British Champions Cup at Ascot three weeks ago, but hardly had the run of the race on that occasion. He should be suited by Town Moor, especially on soft going, and it’ll be fascinating to see how he goes back at 1 mile 4 furlongs off his revised mark. Oisin Murphy, who won on him at York, has been claimed by Qatar Racing for Argus, but George Baker, who won on him twice for previous trainer Seamus Durack, is an able deputy.

Storm Force Ten (16/1) ran inexplicably badly when last of eleven, beaten 7¾ lengths, behind Argus over course and distance two weeks ago, but was entitled to have needed that run, his first since May, and may be capable of much better. Certainly, his early-season form with subsequent Chester Cup and Gold Cup winner Trip To Paris entitles him to respect and he was, frankly, just too bad to be true last time.

Seamour (12/1) doesn’t really fall into the ‘outsider’ category in race where the major bookmakers bet 6/1 the field and 12/1 bar two, but Brian Ellison’s decision to run him here, rather than in the Cesarewitch, over 2 miles 2 furlongs, at Newmarket in September could be a shrewd move. The Azamour gelding weakened in the closing stages of the Doncaster Cup when last seen in September and, although his recent wins have come over 2 miles, he may not be unduly inconvenienced by dropping back in distance, especially on soft going.

So, there you go Flat racing fans, in our final ‘tilt’ of the 2014/15 season, our three against the field are, in no particular order, Litigant (16/1), Storm Force Ten (16/1) and Seamour (12/1). Good luck!