Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes Tips (Group1) 1Mile Newbury Saturday

It is fifteen years since Aidan O’Brien has won The Lockinge (with the brilliant Hawk Wing) and indeed he has drawn a complete blank with all eleven contenders, failing to even secure a place, but he mounts a serious looking challenge this year with four entries at the time of writing, War Decree, Deauville, Lancaster Bomber, Rhododendron. Of the four, if the vibes are correct, the two to concentrate on are the the son of War Front, Lancaster Bomber, and the daughter of Galileo, Rhododendron.

Despite having only a single victory from his sixteen starts, a Leopardstown Maiden in August 2016, on his C.V. Lancaster Bomber has managed to amass prize money approaching £1000,000 from some excellent performances at Group1 level. He was only 1 1/2L behind stable companion, Churchill, when finishing 4th in last year’s 2000Gns, and finished a length second to Barney Roy, putting in a top class effort in the St James’s Palace at Royal Ascot. He could also count seconds in The Woodbine Mile and The Breeders Cup, together with a close fifth in the Hong Kong Mile, all Group1 contests, amongst last terms achievements so is a proven Group1 player. He disappointed at Meydan on his reappearance, but drawn 12, had to race wide the whole way and is easily forgiven. A son of War Front the key to Lancaster Bomber is the ground and given a fast surface at the weekend must have serious prospects of getting win number two on the scoreboard.

Rhododendron_oddsguruHaving won twice at the top level, and finished second in both the 1000Gns and Oaks last year, Rhododendron (pictured) is clearly out of the top drawer, and put in another excellent effort when runner up in the Breeders Cup over a mile last November. Probably needing the run, she put in a satisfactory performance when finishing 5th behind Cracksman at Longchamp on her reappearance 20 days ago over 10 1/2f which should have put her spot on for Saturday. She won the Group1 Dubai Fillies Mile as a 2yo on Good/Firm ground very comfortably from stable companion Hydrangea so should find Saturday’s test ideal and looks the one to beat.

The Henry Candy trained 6yo, Limato has won nine of his nineteen starts, two of them at the top level. His first Group1 success was in the 2016 July Cup at Newmarket and he followed up by winning the 7f Group1 Prix De La Foret at Chantilly the same year. Reported to be fit and well and with ground conditions likely to be in his favour the big question mark concerning Candy’s speedster has to be his failure to ever win over a mile. However he was 4th behind Belardo in the 2016 renewal and the way he has won over 7f does suggest that Saturday’s trip should be within his compass.

Having won five of his seven starts, the Andrew Balding trained 4yo, Beat The Bank’s career is clearly on a sharp upward trajectory. Unraced as a 2yo, he won his first race, a lowly Dundalk Maiden on the All Weather in February 2017, and six months later found him in the Newmarket Winners Enclosure having won his fifth race, the Group2 Shadwell Joel Stakes by 5L from The Aidan O’Brien trained Sir John Lavery. Having been on the go for seven months he can be excused his poor run in the Queen Elizabeth 11 a month later, and if the son of Paco Boy has maintained his progress over the Winter, Beat The Bank will be a threat to all.

Another animal whose best days are probably ahead of him is the Roger Varian trained 5yo Zabeel Prince. Very lightly raced, he has only had the six starts, and was quite impressive in the last of them, winning the Listed, Doncaster Mile, pretty comfortably from the front, eight weeks ago. Having his first run for 154 days, he made all, and pulled clear in the final furlong to register his fourth success. While Saturday’s test is a big step up, Roger, who won with Belardo two years ago, feels that it is only now, as a 5yo that Zabeel Prince is reaching his full potential, and it won’t come as a surprise to see him involved on Saturday.

Connections of the 4yo Addeybb, clearly knew they had a Group horse in the making when he trotted up in The Lincoln, landing a substantial gamble, and so it proved five weeks later when the son of Pivotal won the Group2, bet365 Mile at Sandown quite impressively. He is now on a mark of 117 which puts him right in the mix for Saturday but firm ground would be a concern. Four of his five victories have been achieved with soft in the going description, and the fifth, (Ascot July 17 Good) was won in a time suggestive of a slower surface. However he looks to be an animal going places, and while plenty of horses by Pivotal do handle soft ground really well, it is by no means a prerequisite for his offspring.

Selection: Rhododendron

E.W. : Lancaster Bomber

John Gray

Advertisements

Pertemps Network Swinton Handicap Hurdle Tips 1m7 1/2f Haydock Saturday

As Welsh Maestro, Evan Williams has won three of the last five renewals of this valuable contest, his two contenders, John Constable, and Silver Streak, have to be of particular interest. The former won last year’s race by an impressive 14L racing off a mark of 134, and went on to defy a 16lbs higher mark in Market Rasen’s Summer Hurdle next time out. Raised another 6lbs to Saturday’s mark of 156 has seen him confined to conditions events with little success, including last time, when he finished 41L behind Buveur D’Aire in The Champion Hurdle in ninth place. Considering a mark of 141, ( Nicky Henderson’s Eradicate in 2011) is the highest rating of any winner in the last twelve years, John Constable clearly has a mammoth task on his hands, so perhaps Evan’s best chance of landing a fourth Swinton lies with the 5yo, Silver Streak.

A winner of three of his ten starts over hurdles, his highest winning mark to date has been 122, but he did run really well when finishing 2nd off a mark of 130 in the very valuable Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Ascot last December. If top weight and stable companion, John Constable, takes up the engagement, Silver Streak will only have the featherweight of 10-2 to carry and with his preferred good ground at the weekend almost assured, has to be worth considering.

Nicky Henderson won back to back runnings of The Swinton with Eradicate in 2010 and 2011 and fields two strong looking candidates, the 6yo mare, Verdana Blue and the 7yo Whatswrongwithyou this time around. The mare has been unplaced in her last two races but was a decent 3rd in that Racing Welfare heat at Ascot in December, and is 3lbs better off with the runner up that day, Silver Streak. Nevertheless, she looks high enough on her mark of 143, and preference is for the year older Whatswrongwithyou.

Lightly raced, he has only run four times over timber, finishing 2nd on his debut in December, winning a Novices next time from the useful Ok Corrall, and then winning his first venture into handicap company very easily off a mark of 133. He was beaten last time at Sandown off a mark of 139 but there were excuses as he was caught behind a wall of horses turning in, and did run on to finish 9L third of fifteen. We are unlikely to have yet seen the best of the 7yo, but a concern would be the likely top of the ground conditions at the weekend as he has never won on a surface with good in the going description before. However the messages from his pedigree are positive as his sire, Bienamado, won three times at the highest level on either Firm or Good to Firm, and his half brother, Gvs Irportensa has won and been placed on Good.

Philip Hobbs won the Swinton with Dreams end way back in 1994, and doubled up three years ago with War Sound, so certainly knows what is required, and he fields a likely looking candidate in the tough handicapper, Sternrubin. Mixing the flat, chasing and hurdling, the 7yo has won four of his sixteen starts over timber, (including a 4L victory over John Constable in Nov 2015) but has only raced four times over the smaller obstacles since beating Instant Karma in a Class1 Ascot Handicap Hurdle off a mark of 142 in October 2016. His last two runs have been quite promising, 10/24 in The County Hurdle, and 3/15 last time at Aintree, 11L behind Havana Beat, Racing off a mark of 140. Competing in large field handicaps holds no fears for the 7yo, who should have his preferred ground on Saturday, and running off a mark of 139, with the Hobbs operation firing in the winners at present, is well worth a second look.

Having fallen in The Henry V111 Novices Chase behind Sceau Royal in December, the Paul Nicholls trained Capitaine reverted to hurdles 130 days later, and finished a respectable 5/15 at Cheltenham in April, racing off a mark of 139. The 6yo has been dropped to a mark of 137 (12lbs below his Chase mark) which looks pretty generous for an animal that won an Ascot Grade2 in December 2016. He likes good ground and has form over the course so could just fill in a significant gap in the P. Nicholls C.V.

Another reverting to hurdles following a highly successful stint steeplechasing is last year’s runner up, Optimus Prime. Since then the Dan Skelton trained 6yo has made serious progress over fences, winning three of his four starts, and finishing runner up, albeit at a respectful 12L, to superstar Footpad, at The Punchestown Festival. He is now rated 147 in that discipline and if he has made similar progress over hurdles would look very well treated on Saturday’s mark of 140.

Having been held up off the pace in last year’s contest, the Alan King trained William H Bonney started to improve from before the third last, and but for having to swerve to avoid a faller at the last, might have been placed. His last four races have been disappointing, although he did look as if he might deliver at Cheltenham in November in the Greatwood Hurdle, when he looked a possible winner at the last, but faded up the hill to finish 6th off a mark of 137. His master trainer has always felt that the 7yo has what it takes to win one of these valuable handicaps and has certainly been given a chance by the handicapper, racing off a mark 4lbs lower than last year, and 8lbs lower than for the Greatwood. Odds of 33/1 available at the time of writing.

Selection: Capitaine

E.W. : Sternrubin and William H Bonney

John Gray

Qipco 2000Gns Tips 1mile (Rowley) Newmarket Saturday

Rock The Kasbah gave us a good run for our money in last week’s bet365 Gold Cup but the ground had gone against him, and he did well to hold onto second place behind the runaway winner Stepback to whom he was conceding a stone. The dreadful weather has had a huge influence on results all through this winter so let’s hope the forecasters have got it right, and the first Classic of the year on Saturday is run with the Sun shining on a decent racing surface.

Aidan O’Brien, with an astonishing eight wins in the race, (an all time record), won four of the five British Classics last season, including the 2000gns, (with Churchill) and will be hoping to get off the mark again this year at the first time of asking. Of his quartet of entries at the time of writing, the two to concentrate on are Gustav Klimt, and last year’s Group1, Racing Post Trophy Victor, Saxon Warrior.

The former has won three of his four starts, including the Group2 Superlative Stakes (7f Gd/fm) over The July Course, where despite being hampered and losing his place at the 2 furlong marker, he battled back to win by a head from the useful Nebo. He was quite impressive on his reappearance, winning The Leopardstown 2000gns Trial (7f Hy) putting 1 3/4L between himself and the runner up, Imaging, in the last 150yds. By super stallion, Galileo, out of the Danehill mare Massarra, (a cross much favoured by Coolmore) Gustav Klimt hasn’t had the opportunity to race at the top level yet, (withdrawn from the Group1 National Stakes because of a stone bruise last September),but his full brother, Mars, was placed at the top level and finished 6th in the 2013 renewal of Saturday’s contest. Of further interest from a breeding point of view is that the grand dam, Rafha has produced the two outstanding stallions, Invincible Spirit and Kodiac.

Saxon Warrior has raced three times and won all of them, including last time, when he won the Group1 Racing Post Trophy from Saturday’s opponent, Roaring Lion last October. He was headed by the Gosden horse, who tended to hang left inside the final furlong but gamely fought back to win by a head. There are mixed messages from his pedigree as he is by the very successful Japanese stallion, Deep Impact out of The Galileo mare Maybe, who didn’t seem to train on after a terrific two year old career. She won all five of her starts as a 2yo, including at the top level, but never beyond 7f. She was beaten 10L, finishing third behind Homecoming Queen in the 1000gns and never again troubled the judge in her career. Her only other offspring, Saxon Warrior’s full brother, Pavlenko, has only managed a single maiden victory from eleven starts.

While the Charlie Appleby trained Masar did win two of his six starts as a 2yo, including the Group3 Solario Stakes at Sandown, his overall form didn’t suggest that he might win a 2000gns, an impression reinforced by his first run as a 3yo, where he finished 10th on the dirt at Meydan in March. However, last time he put up a real eye catching performance in The Craven Stakes, Racing over Saturday’s course and distance, he made all to come home 9L clear of White Mocha, with the Racing Post Trophy runner up, Roaring Lion, the 8/13 favourite, another 1/4L back in third. While visually very impressive it’s worth remembering that the runner up was rated 13lbs inferior to masar and the time, 3.1 seconds slower than standard on good ground, was nothing to write home about. However his winter in the sun has obviously done him good and he’s worth a second look.

We can only assume that Roaring Lion didn’t run his race in The Craven but based on his Racing Post form, and his win over Aidan O’Briens’ talented Nelson, in The Royal Lodge last September, he has to be of interest. However that poor performance last time is a serious concern, so perhaps Gosden’s best chance of landing a first 2000gns lies with the lightly raced son of Frankel, Without Parole.

He didn’t see a racecourse until last December when he dotted up in a lowly Class5 on the AW at Newcastle, and was again impressive when winning another Class5 at Yarmouth eleven days ago. The form doesn’t amount to much and Saturday represents a huge step up in class, but it’s worth noting that half brother Tamarkuz has had a hugely successful career, albeit on the AW, winning at the highest level, and banking more than £1.2 million in prize money.

Since winning with Mister Baileys in 1994, Mark Johnston has drawn a blank in the 2000gns but must entertain serious hopes of landing a second with his talented son of Frankel, Elarqam. He is out of that wonderful mare, Attraction, who won five Group ones, including the 1000gns in 2004 for Johnston, and Elarqam has been impressive in winning both of his starts, at York and Newmarket. The form of his win at Headquarters has been franked, with the runner up, Tip Two Win, easily winning his next two races, including a local Group2 in Doha last time. Elarqam not only has his inexperience to overcome, as well as the rest of the field, but coming from this yard, it won’t surprise if he does.

Selection: Elarqam

E.W. : Masar

John Gray

bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase Tips 3m5f Sandown Saturday


First run in 1957 under the sponsorship of the Whitbread Brewery, the race is now sponsored by the Stoke Bookmakers, bet365, and this valuable, always competitive Chase, which has been won by some of the greats of The Winter Game, brings the curtain down on what has been another terrific National Hunt season.

Nigel Twiston-Davies won this back in 2000 with the 7yo, beau, and will be hoping that his tough and talented Blaklion might achieve some compensation for his early departure in The Grand National a fortnight ago. Unluckily brought down at the first at Aintree, the son of Kayf Tara had made a good start to his season, finishing 1/2L second to his stable companion, Bristol De Mai, in The Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in November, and then putting up a career best performance the following month, when winning The 3m2f Beecher Chase at Aintree by 9L from The Last Samurai. Raised a severe looking 9lbs, he finished a distant second at Haydock on ground that was bordering on the unraceable in February to Yala Enki. His current rating of 161 leaves him with top weight of 11-12 to carry but his performances before Christmas showed him to be an improved animal this term, and it will come as no surprise to see this tough character involved at the business end on Saturday.

If Blaklion fails to do the business the Naunton yard has a strong looking second string with the 9yo Bigbadjohn. A winner of the Grade2 Reynoldstown Chase for Novices at Ascot in 2017 the future looked bright for the son of Vinnie Roe, but alas, his next five runs were most disappointing. However he got back into the winning groove at Kempton in February where, jumping soundly, he stayed on strongly over the three miles trip to beat the useful Brandon Hill by a length. He can be forgiven his fall at The Chair in The Topham Trophy at Aintree fifteen days ago and back on a more conventional track he doesn’t look badly treated on his mark of 138 giving him a lovely racing weight of 10-3.

A winner of his only PTP and Bumper, Missed Approach went on to win his first race over hurdles and indeed his first handicap over the smaller obstacles, (3m Soft) but his future was always going to be as a staying chaser and so it has proved. He has to date put up some sterling performances in that discipline, including a second to subsequent Grand National Hero, Tiger Roll in the 4mile National Hunt Chase at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival and a superb win over Mall Dini in the 3m2f Kim Muir at this year’s Cheltenham Jamboree. He has been raised 8lbs for that victory but still doesn’t look overburdened with 10-11 at the weekend, and I suspect we have still to see the best of Warren Greatrex’s 8yo.

The Philip Hobbs trained Rock The Kasbah, having got behind, stayed on strongly from the second last to claim 6th place, only 2 1/4L behind the winner Henllan Harry, in last year’s renewal when racing off a mark of 142. phillip hobbs oddsguruHe made his seasonal reappearance a winning one off the same mark at Chepstow nearly six months later, and was then pulled up on unsuitable heavy ground in his only other race at Haydock in January. A year older, and a stronger animal this time, who will enjoy the likely good ground, he looks well treated on his mark of 149, giving him a racing weight of 11-0, and is well worth considering.

The David Pipe trained 6yo, Daklondike, has looked a seriously progressive young chaser. He won over fences for the first time at Wetherby in November off a mark of 114, and only eight weeks later saw him winning The Mandarin Chase at Newbury (3m2f Heavy) in facile fashion from that good yardstick Grand Vision off a 19lbs higher mark. He looks very well handicapped on Saturday racing off a mark of 140, giving him the featherweight of 10-5 to carry and the only reservation I have is the ground. He has done all his winning with plenty of give underneath and it remains to be seen how he will cope with conditions at the weekend. However in his favour his very talented half brother, Great Endeavour had no problem with good ground and neither had the grand dam, Ross Gale.

One who will cope if the going is on top on Saturday is the Nicky Henderson trained Sugar Baron. A winner on Good/ Firm, the 8yo was 7th in last year’s race, only 2 1/2L behind the winner Henlland Harry despite some sticky jumping and a weak finish. Jumping better and finishing strongly over course and distance in December he just failed to catch Benbens off a mark of 135. He is easily excused his last run behind Missed Approach at the Festival on unsuitable soft ground and should have his optimum conditions at the weekend. Again racing off 135, giving him a lowly 10-2 to carry he has to be worth considering.

Selection: Rock The Kasbah

E.W. : Sugar Baron

John Gray

Coral Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase 4 Miles Ayr Saturday

The history of the race goes all the way back to 1858, but the contest didn’t reach it’s present venue until 1966 when it was run over Saturday’s course and distance for the first time. Always run with a big field, racing with the choke out, experience clearly counts, and only one 6yo, (Earth Summit 1994, and he had already raced ten times over fences) has managed to win. Age has been no bar to success with twelve animals older than nine coming home in front, and indeed the last decade has seen three 11yo’s collecting first prize, Hello Bud 2009, Merigo 2012, and Wayward Prince in 2015.

Earth Summits’ trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, is seeking an unprecedented fourth win in the contest, and at the time of writing has three entries, Ballyoptic, the veteran Benbens and last year’s runner up, Cogry, and despite the claims of the latter, the 8yo Ballyoptic looks his best chance. He has only raced five times over fences but has won two of them including a Wetherby Grade2 in February from Saturday’s opponent, Vintage Clouds, and he ran well enough last time to finish 4th in The RSA to Presenting Percy at The Cheltenham Festival. His ability to last out Saturday’s marathon trip has to be taken on trust but he is stoutly bred, (by Old Vic out of an Un Desperado mare) and it’s worth remembering that he had the class and stamina to beat Bellshill in a 3m1f Grade1 Hurdle at Aintree two years ago.

Last year’s winner, the Paul Nicholls trained Vicente, was the first animal to bag two consecutive Scottish Grand Nationals since Jimmy Fitzgerald’s Androma came home in front for the second time in 1985, and having had a fairly easy time of it this term, must have decent prospects of bringing up the hat trick. vicenteHe looked as good as ever when just losing out to Perfect Candidate on his seasonal reappearance in November, and then twice avoided a tough race, when unseating in The Welsh National in January on attritional ground, and again, racing on very heavy ground, was pulled up at the Cheltenham Festival behind Coo Star Sivola. He has a higher mark to defy this time but remember last year’s success was achieved a fortnight after falling in the Aintree edition, and with the drying ground very much in the 9yo’s favour, he has to enter calculations.

The Sue Smith trained 8yo, Vintage Clouds, meets his Wetherby conqueror, Ballyoptic, on 5lbs better terms for that 2 3/4L beating and he subsequently ran a fine race to finish 3rd to Coo Star Sivola at The Cheltenham Festival. He stayed on dourly in The Welsh National (3m5f Heavy) so could find Saturday’s trip right up his street, and with 10-12 on his back at the weekend, provides owner, Trevor Hemmings, with a useful looking second string to his bow, (also owns Vicente).

The Neil Mulholland (pictured) trained Doing Fine, has had a nice easy time of it this winter and having avoided the dreadful Winter ground will strip a fresh animal at the weekend. The 10yo hasn’t been seen since finishing 4th to Benbens over 3m5f at Sandown in December and meets that rival on 10lbs better terms on Saturday. neil mulholland ayrHe has never won over Saturday’s trip but looked an out and out stayer when beating Ugolin De Beaumont to whom he was conceding 18lbs by 6L over 3m4f at Cheltenham last April. Doing Fine, who will enjoy Saturday’s drying conditions and can go well after a break, has only been with his talented trainer for 18 months, and as the yard is firing in the winners at present, is definitely one to note with his nice racing weight of 10-6.

Having won The Irish, and Aintree Grand Nationals this Spring, the County Meath Maestro, Gordon Elliott seeks an unprecedented third with Fagan and Folsom Blue. The latter, an 11yo must have had a very hard race when finishing 4th to his stable companion, General Principle, in that controversial Irish National run on ground that many deemed unraceable, so perhaps his best chance lies with the 8yo Fagan. The ex pointer, won three of his five races in that discipline before joining the Elliott Academy where he won his first two bumpers and two of his four Hurdle races. His future always lay over fences and he duly won the second of his four chases, winning a Perth Novices Chase by 95L. Only 2nd in his last two, it was in pretty good company, finishing runner up to Ballyandy last September and Black Corton last October. Saturday’s task looks a huge one making his handicap debut in such a competitive heat off a stiff enough looking mark, but coming from this yard I suppose anything is possible.

The David Pipe trained, Daklondike as a 6yo will be trying to emulate Earth Summit, the only horse of that age to succeed in the whole history of the Scottish National, and he will be attempting to do it with far less experience over fences than the subsequent winner of the Aintree Grand National had at the time. He has only raced five times over the larger obstacles, but has won three of the last four, and looked a staying chaser of some potential when winning the 3m2f Mandarin Chase at Newbury last time. He finished with a real flourish to put that good yardstick, Grand Vision, in his place, and looked as if there was plenty more to come over staying distances. However that was on heavy ground and it remains to be seen how he will cope with the likely faster ground on Saturday. In his favour, the elder Pipe has brought the trophy back to Pond House on two occasions so they certainly know what is required down Nicholashayne way.

Selection : Doing Fine

E.W. : Vintage Clouds and Daklondike

John Gray

Randox Health Grand National Handicap 4m2 1/2f Aintree Saturday

In the forty renewals of the great race, between 1958, when the Co Wicklow trained Mr What came home in front, and 1997, Irish yards only collected the prize on one other occasion, (the Dan Moore trained L’Escargot in 1975) but in the twenty runnings since, stables from across the Irish Sea have been responsible for more than a third of the winners, (Bobbyjo 1999, papillon 2000 Monty’s Pass2003, Hedgehunter 2005, Number Six Valverde2006 Silver Birch 2007, and Rule The World two years ago. This is clearly a very significant trend so any contenders from The Emerald Isle need to be treated with plenty of respect, perhaps none more so than current market leader, Total Recall.

Trained in Co Carlow by master handler, Willie Mullins, (who won with Hedgehunter in 2005) the 9yo son of Westerner certainly has plenty to recommend him. He was campaigned until this season mainly around 2 1/2m, with only limited success, (a single victory from his first six races over fences). It is only since he started tackling longer distances last October, that Total Recall’s career has really taken off, culminating in a superb victory in The Ladbroke Trophy at Newbury, ( The Hennessy Handicap until 2017 ) last December. Having won his previous race, a 3m Limerick Handicap very easily from Alpha Des Obeaux off a mark of 129, he was sent off the well backed 9/2 favourite in the 20 runner field for the Newbury classic. Racing off an eighteen pounds higher mark for the 3m2f contest, he duly obliged in the style of a real stayer, keeping on strongly from the last to collar the talented Whisper on the line. Reverting to hurdles two months later, he won a Leopardstown 3m Handicap easily prior to his latest race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Sent off a 14/1 chance, he was responding to pressure from pilot, David Mullins, to go into 6th place with four to jump, but unfortunately came down at the third last. We will never know what might have happened had he stood up, but there was still petrol left in the tank and I suppose the fall saved him from having too hard a race. He had only fallen once before, (his first race over fences) so this progressive staying chaser, although 9lbs higher than for the Ladbroke Trophy, with 11-4 on his back on Saturday doesn’t look overburdened, and could just make it number two for Willie.

One who did have a hard race at the Cheltenham Festival was the gallant 8yo Shantou Flyer. Runner up in his three previous races, he looked as if he might break the sequence under a good ride from the excellent young James Bowen ( and would have done so in another few strides) when mugged by Coo Star Sivola in The Ultima Handicap. He was pulled up in last year’s National as a 7yo when trained by Rebecca Curtis, but is a much stronger and more mature animal now, and he was staying on stoutly in the 3m1f Ultima on dreadful ground on the first day of The Cheltenham Festival. His pedigree, (by Shantou out of the Bob Back mare Carrigmona Flyer) shouts stamina, and having had thirty two days to get over his Festival effort, he looks nicely handicapped racing off the same mark, giving him a racing weight of 11-1 and at current odds around 40/1 this veteran of 24 chases, who has only ever fallen once, looks one to be interested in.

The Gordon Elliot trained Ucello Conti was going well enough in mid division when unseating at Beechers on the second circuit last year, and runs this time off a 2lbs lower mark, giving him a nice racing weight of 10-9. His Uber shrewd trainer has only given him the two runs since last year’s effort, finishing second to Saturday’s opponent Anibale Fly at Leopardstown in December, and pulled up on heavy ground in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park the following month. He is owned by one of the most successful partnerships on the National Hunt scene, Simon Munir and Isaac Souede and it would come as no surprise to see the 10yo involved on Saturday.

The above mentioned Anibale Fly did best of the Irish contenders in the Gold Cup, finishing third, 8 1/2L behind Native River. While he couldn’t go the pace of the first two, Tony Martins 8yo stayed on well to hold on to third place. Given a revised rating of 168 following that Gold Cup effort he gets to race off his previous mark of 159 in this early closing contest giving him 11-7 to carry. His sire Assessor is a big influence for stamina and his legendary owner J.P. McManus would love to bag a second Grand National.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Blaklion ran a marvellous race in last year’s renewal finishing in 4th place. He looked the most likely winner approaching the 2nd from home but took a bump, and was headed between the last two. Slightly hampered at the last he stayed on but lost third place near the line. He ran another fine race over the National fences when winning The Becher Chase, (3m2f) on heavy ground last December, beating The Last Samurai by 9L. Unfortunately this has led to a 9lbs rise in his rating to 161 giving him a racing weight of 11-9 at the weekend, a burden only carried once successfully (by Many Clouds three years ago) since the immortal Red Rum won with 12-0 on his back in 1974. That said his top trainer has won the great race twice before, with Earth Summit in 1998 and Bindaree four years later, so certainly knows what is required, and Blaklion is undoubtedly an improved performer this term.

The David Pipe trained 9yo Vieux Lion Rouge has an enviable record over the big Aintree fences having completed in all four attempts. He was 6th in last year’s National, 7th the year before, finished 7th behind Blaklion in the Beecher Chase last December and won the previous year’s renewal of that same contest. Presumably with the National in mind he has only had one run since early December, finishing a respectable 4th in an Ascot Handicap (17Feb 3mSoft). He will strip a fresh horse on Saturday and off a 2lbs lower mark than last year it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see the prize go back to Pond House in Somerset for a third time. (Miinnehoma 1994 Comply Or Die 2008).

Selection: Total Recall

E.W. : Shantou Flyer and Ucello Conti

John Gray

Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase 3m 2f Kelso Saturday

With the big Aintree Jamboree scheduled for next week it’s not surprising that this Saturday’s fare is of a fairly low order, but lovely Kelso, in The Scottish Borders, does host their biggest meeting of the year, so let’s hope the awful weather relents, and allows this interesting card to go ahead. The most valuable heat of the day is the Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase over 3m2f, and with heavy ground a near certainty, stamina is going to be the order of the day.

One who will love the conditions is last year’s winner, Yala Enki (pictured). In a small field of only seven runners, he won by 7L from the re-opposing Seldom Inn. yala-enki-oddsguruHowever, it was all downhill for the Venetia Williams trained 8yo in his next five races, until getting his act together at the sixth time of asking, he came home 54L clear of Blaklion on atrocious ground in a Haydock Grade3 Chase, (3m4 1/2f Heavy) in February. He also ran well enough last time, finishing 6th of eighteen runners behind Coo Star Sivola at The Cheltenham Festival. There is plenty in his favour but it’s worth noting that his win in last year’s renewal was achieved off a relatively light campaign, (only one run in the previous three months) whereas this time he has had four tough races on attritional winter ground in the same timespan, and he is racing off a 6lbs higher mark.

With three wins, and three places from seven starts at Kelso, the course record of last year’s runner up, the Sandy Thomson trained Seldom Inn, speaks for itself. He has been mostly campaigned at around three miles but did show in last year’s contest, and more recently, when finishing a close 2nd in a Kelso 3m2f Hurdle on heavy ground that Saturday’s trip is within his compass. Off a 6lbs lower mark, (12lbs better off with Yala Enki), he has a good chance of keeping the prize in Scotland.

The Nicky Richards (pictured) trained Baywing could only manage 4th in last year’s renewal, finishing 11L behind Yala Enki off a mark of 147. Put away for the season, he failed to shine in any of his first four races this term, but, dropped to a mark of 140 last time, he looked much more the finished article when winning the valuable Eider Chase by 4L from West Of The Edge at Newcastle. Nicky-Richards-oddsguruThe handicapper has done him no favours, raising him to a mark of 149, but this will be partially offset by regular partner, Ryan Day’s 3lbs claim. He looked a more assured jumper in the Eider, and as a horse who has had the pace to win over hurdles at 2 1/2m, the drop back in trip shouldn’t be a problem. Looks one for the shortlist!

The Donald McCain trained mare, Lastbutnotleast, has got quite a progressive look about her. The 8yo has won a PTP, a Bumper, and all three of her races over hurdles including at Class1 level over 3m1/2f (Doncaster Soft). Her three races over fences have been a mixed bag, pulled up in her first, winning her second by 36L and trailing in last in her third. Both defeats can be relatively easily explained, as the first of them was her first run for nearly ten months, and the second followed in a race, where in all probability she hadn’t recovered from her win on truly attritional ground only 24 days earlier, ( despite her winning margin of 36L, she finished legless ). She has had a nice 74 days break since, and looks quite well treated on a mark of 135 giving her a racing weight of 10-9 for this her handicap debut. A slight concern would be Saturday’s trip as her dam, the useful Lakill Princess was best at around 2m on soft/heavy ground. However her sire, Flemensfirth is a strong influence for stamina.

As well as Baywing, Nicky Richards also has the 9yo Takingrisks entered here, and if taking up the engagement, (also entered in the 3m2f Hurdle race on the card) would have to be of interest. With two wins, both on heavy ground, from three Kelso appearances, he clearly likes the venue, and added to his appeal last time when staying on strongly to beat Saturday’s opponent, Indy Five, by 2 1/4L. (Ayr 3mHeavy) four weeks ago off a mark of 127. He is only 4lbs higher on Saturday giving him the nice racing weight of 10-4, and although he has never won beyond 3m1f the way he put that Ayr contest to bed would strongly suggest that the step up in trip will suit.

The ex French trained Chic Name put in a great performance that certainly belied his odds of 100/1 when finishing 5th in the sixteen runner 3m6f Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.He was still there with a shout at the second last but could only stay on at the one pace. Mild heat stress was diagnosed post race making his effort even more commendable, and it may well be that the 6yo’s future career lies over staying trips. With only 10-4 on his back, and ace 3lbs claimer, James Bowen booked, he’s definitely worth a second look.

Selection : Baywing

E.W. : Chic Name

John Gray