King George VI Chase Grade1 3m Kempton Saturday

I hope you backed last weeks selection, Jolly’s Cracked It, and put yourself in funds to help defray some of the upcoming festival expenses. Despite a mistake at the third flight, he travelled extremely well throughout and looked primed to collect the pot outright when flying the last and powering up the run in. He went at least 1/2L up on the free going Sternrubin and seemed to have the race in the bag, only to falter near the line, allowing the Hobbs horse to grab a share of the spoils. However as the old saying goes “half a loaf is better than no bread” and the starting price of 7/1 wasn’t the worst. With the first four in Saturday’s showpiece trading at prices between 9/4 and 7/1 it is unlikely that last weeks SP will be bettered, particularly in view of the fact that the 9/2 recorded about long Run when winning The King George in 2011 is the longest SP of the past decade.

First run in 1937 in honour of the newly crowned monarch, the race has become the second most prestigious chase in the calendar after the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself, and has been won by some of Steeplechasings greats, including Cottage Rake, Mandarin, Arkle, Desert Orchid, who won it an amazing four times, and Kauto Star who hit the back of the net on an even more amazing five occasions. Nothing in Saturday’s renewal can improve on either of those two outstanding records, but the Paul Nicholls trained Silviniaco Conti is going for his hat trick and it would be foolish to ignore this Kempton specialist’s chance. A winner of over £1,000,000. in prize money, and ten of his twenty chases, he has won two and been placed twice from his four course appearances. He looked as good as ever at Aintree last April when beating Ballynagour, Holywell, and Smad Place, but did disappoint in the Betfair Chase at Haydock eight weeks ago. Having had the benefit of a pipe opener over hurdles, he was sent off the 5/4 favourite, but had no answer to Cue Card, who won easily. On that running his prospects of getting the better of the Tizzard horse at the weekend look remote, but back at his favourite track, and in a truer run race, I’m not so sure.

Cue Card certainly looks a rejuvenated animal this year, and the Haydock win followed an equally impressive performance on his reappearance at Wetherby in October, where racing keenly, he won easily from the stable companions, Dynaste and Ballynagour. It seems hard to credit that rising ten on January 1st, he is improving, but perhaps it’s a case of his excellent trainer having sorted out the multitude of niggling problems that have beset this super animal over the years, and that we are now seeing the full promise of that young horse who flew up the Cheltenham hill to take the Champion Bumper five years ago, being realised.

The Willie Mullins trained Vautour looked a horse in a million when cruising up in the 20f novices chase at the Cheltenham festival.He made all, jumped like an old hand and won by 15L in a time nearly five seconds faster than standard, from Apache Stronghold, and stable companion Valseur Lido. Retired for the season, he reappeared at Ascot five weeks ago and wasn’t the most convincing when beating Ptit Zig from whom he was receiving 5lbs, by what looked a hard fought 1 3/4L. A tendency to jump left which he had shown previously at right handed Punchestown reemerged, and obviously raises concerns about how he will cope travelling in the same direction at the weekend. However that wonderful performance at Cheltenham will live long in the memory, and I doubt if master trainer Mullins would run this super young horse right handed in such a competitive race if serious doubts were entertained. It was his first run for nine months, so the race was probably badly needed and considerable improvement can be expected.

No concerns about the direction of travel will be keeping the connections of the 8yo Don Cossack awake,as he has won ten of the fourteen races he has contested going right handed.. His score of five from six chase wins in 2015 is mighty impressive, particularly as three of them were at Grade1 level.The only slight blot on his copybook came at the festival when finishing third to Uxizandre over an inadequate 21f. Following three subsequent victories he is considered by the assessor to have improved 9lbs from Cheltenham, making him the highest rated animal in Saturday’s contest. He was very impressive when taking a Grade1 chase at Down Royal at the end of October easily from Rocky Creek and Roi Du Mee and looks to have plenty going for him on Saturday. A worthy favourite to give his superb trainer his first “King George” win!

Selection: Don Cossack

E.W: Silviniaco Conti.

The Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle Ascot

Despite Richard Johnson’s late defection to the eventual winner, Village Vic, I thought last weeks selection, Champagne West, ran a great race to come second. Despite a serious blunder at the seventh fence, he chased the winner throughout, and stayed on really well up that punishing hill. Considering it was his first run since coming back from injury, and he was conceding 14lbs to his talented stablemate, this was a performance full of merit, and he is one to keep in mind for the Ryan Air in March. Saturday’s Ladbroke may also contain some Festival pointers, as being one of the most important handicaps in the calendar it always attracts runners from the top yards. Irish trainer Gordon Elliott, who has won two of the last three renewals, has three possibles at the time of writing, and while it would be foolish to dismiss any of this superb trainers runners, none of them would seem to hold particularly strong chances.

A trainer with more obvious prospects at the weekend is man of the moment, Dan Skelton. He won this two years ago with the 6yo Willows Saviour, and has two interesting candidates for this years contest, the 5yo Hurricane Hollow, and 4yo Zarib. The former ran well following a three month break in the 2m3 1/2f Silver Trophy at Chepstow, where patently not getting home over the trip, he finished third. The form of the race has worked out exceptionally well with the runner up winning a £25,000 contest next time by 8L, and the fifth, Rons Dream, winning next time, and finishing second to hat trick scorer, Lilly’s Waugh at Cheltenham last Saturday. A winner of three of his six hurdle starts, all around 2m, Hurricane Hollow looks nicely handicapped off a mark of 139 giving him a nice racing weight of 10st11lbs. One for the shortlist!

Stablemate, Zarib, was a good sixth in the Fred Winter at the Festival where he led briefly at the last. He was made favourite for the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on his reappearance, but unsuited by the steady pace, finished third. The run was not without merit however, and bound to be better suited by Saturday’s contest, racing off the same mark as in the Fred Winter, he is worth considering. The one caveat would be the poor record of four year olds in the Ladbroke, with only one coming home in front in the ten runnings since it’s inception.

As his superb record at the track bears witness to, no trainer enjoys success at the Berkshire course more than the very talented young handler, Harry Fry (pictured above), so expect his dual course winner, Jollys Cracked It, to turn up with all guns blazing. He ran another fine race at the track on his reappearance in a very steadily run affair in October, a Cl1 handicap.

Despite finishing strongly, he was beaten three quarters of a length, and a nose by Nabucco, and Saturday’s opponent, Unanimite. He meets the runner up on a pound better terms, will have come on for the run, and in a race likely to be taking place, both on a more suitable easy surface, and at a truer pace, it isn’t difficult to envisage the Fry horse taking his revenge. With Noel Fehilly, who has never ridden better, in the plate, he is another for the shortlist, and might just be the one to help with those Christmas expenses.

The all conquering Alan King runs the 4yo, Winner Massagot, and he showed what a useful animal he is when, despite running too freely, won a Class2 handicap on soft ground at the course three weeks ago off a mark of 123. His trainer hopes that the run will have taken some of the”fizz” out of him, and that Wayne Hutchinson will have a more tractable mount under him at the weekend. However the Handicapper has had his say, raising him 12lbs, and with the poor record of four year olds, the King horse may just find himself up against it.

Gordon Elliott may be the only successful Irish Trainer in the race to date, but Noel Mead certainly has prospects of improving the record with his talented six year old Waxies Dargle. He demonstrated his liking for the hurly burly of these large field handicaps, when taking a very competitive one at Killarney’s tight course last May. He ran a fine race on his reappearance in the Greatwood handicap at Cheltenham four weeks ago when, running off the same mark as Old Guard, he got to within six lengths of the Nicholls horse. In the light of Old Guard’s subsequent performance and his prominence in the Champion Hurdle market, this has to be considered a decent performance and a rise of only 4lbs seems more than fair.

Selection: Jollys Cracked It.

E.W. : Waxies Dargle.

Caspian Caviar (December) Gold Cup

Caspian Caviar December Gold Cup 20f 166yds Cheltenham Saturday.

The December Gold Cup was first run in 1963, under the sponsorship of Massey Ferguson, and two of steeplechasing’s greats, Flying Bolt and Pendil, won it in its early years carrying the mind boggling weights of 12st 6lbs, and 12st 7lbs respectively. Happily such eye watering imposts are now a thing of the past and the top weight on Saturday will be asked to shoulder a mere 11st12lbs. Its worth noting that weight hasn’t been a bar to success in recent years with the winner of five of the last eight renewals carrying north of 11st. Indeed the Paul Nicholls-trained Poquelin won consecutive runnings in 2009 and 2010 with 11st8lbs and 11st9lbs on his back. The Ditcheat handler also trained the 4yo Unioniste to win in 2012, so his three candidates this year, Sound Investment, Salubrious, and Art Mauresque, are certainly worth considering.

Sound Investment, who carries top weight, and is the choice of stable jockey, Twiston-Davies, ran a great race in the “Paddy Power” where carrying the maximum burden, he finished third, 1 1/4L behind the winner, and Saturday’s opponent, the Alan King trained, Annacotty. The Nicholls 7yo had impressed in his previous race, a Gd2 Cl1 handicap off a mark of 155 at Aintree, and having demonstrated his ability to safely negotiate the vagaries of Prestbury Park last time, he must, on 4lbs better terms have serious prospects of reversing the form with the King horse at the weekend.

The 8yo Salubrious was having only his second run over the larger obstacles when taking a Cl2 3ml Carlisle chase four weeks ago. It was his first outing for 13 months, so further progress can be expected, but considering seven of the last ten winners had run at least six times over fences, he is likely to prove too inexperienced for Saturday’s test.

Of more interest is the Nicholl’s third string, Art Mauresque. This 5yo, ex French gelding has won four of his seven starts over the larger obstacles, including two victories over Kempton’s tricky fences, and quite impressively, here at Cheltenham in October. He was a tad disappointing in the “Paddy Power” when finishing 6th but may have had a little too much use made of him. Given a more conservative ride it is not hard to envisage him being involved at the weekend, and it will come as no surprise if he finishes the season on a considerably higher mark than his current 147.

Only three horses, Pegwell Bay, Senor El Betrutti, and Exotic Dancer have managed to win both the Paddy Power, and this in the same season, so racing off a 5lbs higher mark than last month, it looks a tall order for Annacotty to join this select band. However his excellent trainer, who is carrying all before him this season, is quite bullish, and reports the horse to be in fine fettle, so he can’t easily be dismissed.

Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson combined to win this with Monkerhostin in 2004 and have prospects of a repeat this year with the talented 7yo Champagne West. He is a winner of two of his four starts over fences, both here at Cheltenham, and he also ran well in the Dipper Chase, again at the course last January, finishing second to Ptit Zig. He sustained a minor injury in his next race when joint favourite for a Gd1 novices chase at Sandown and was retired for the season. He looks nicely handicapped off a mark of 150 giving him a racing weight of 11st and the only reservation would be his lack of a recent outing. However he did win after an eight month break last year and coming from this yard is unlikely to fail for lack of fitness.

Evan Williams’s 8yo Buywise has been a frustrating animal around Cheltenham. He did manage to win a handicap here in April 2014, but usually, due to poor jumping, gets himself well behind and seemingly out of contention, only to come up the hill like the proverbial train and manages to grab a place. It was a similar story last time in the Paddy Power when finishing second to Annacotty off a mark of 148. One day hopefully he will get everything right, but raised another 4lbs for coming second he has it all to do.

Rebecca Curtis’s 6yo Irish Cavalier won a handicap at the festival over course and distance off a mark of 137, and comfortably defied a mark of 151 at Newton Abbot in October. He was a well backed 8/1 chance for the Paddy Power off a 5lbs higher mark and came to the third last looking the most likely winner. He took it up at the penultimate fence but was headed after the last and with nothing more to give finished fifth. It may well be that he got there too soon, and if held onto for longer, may do better on Saturday. However the stable remains in poor form, and with “fodder” problems reported, he is one to treat with caution.

Selection: Champagne West.

E.W: Sound Investment.

Caspian Caviar December Gold Cup 20f 166yds Cheltenham Saturday.


Betfred Becher Handicap Tips Chase 3m2f Aintree

I hope you managed to have a few quid on our e.w. selection, Smad Place, in last weeks Hennessy Gold Cup. Hugely impressive, he got to the front before halfway, and jumping like a stag, showed no signs of tiring, and drew right away from the third last. This was a performance with Gold Cup written all over it, and adds yet another dimension to what was already building up to be one of the most intriguing renewals of the Cheltenham Classic in many a long year. Saturday’s Becher Chase at Aintree is highly unlikely to even contain a Gold Cup contender, but may well have a future Grand National winner lurking in amongst the contenders. To date two winners, Amberleigh House (2001) and Silver Birch (2004), have gone on to glory in the big one, and the victor in 1998, Earth Summit, had come home in front in that years renewal.

With three winners, Paul Nicholls has the best record in the race and runs two at the weekend, Unioniste, and Mon Parrain. The latter hasn’t been seen since finishing 11th, 56L behind the winner in this years National, but doesn’t look badly handicapped on some of his form. Unioniste’s season is likely to be geared towards another crack at The Grand National despite coming down at the fifth this year, so Saturday’s race looks the ideal starting spot. He has gone well fresh in the past, and despite carrying top weight of 11st 12lbs doesn’t look too badly handicapped. (A running on 10L behind Gold Cup winner Coneygree to whom he was conceding 5lbs at Newbury over an inadequate 2m7f last Febuary reads quite well.) Four horses have defied a burden of 11st12lbs or more since the races inception, so Unioniste goes there with decent prospects.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has won two previous renewals and both his runners, Algernon Pazham, and Foxbridge are of interest. The former is only six, but has looked a very safe conveyance, and ran a very solid race on his seasonal debut at Bangor three weeks ago. Having his first run for over six months, he was just run out of it close home by What A Good Night, going down by a neck, with that good yardstick, Restless Harry, 10L back in third place. Although raised 7lbs on Saturday, he will be helped by Ryan Hatch’s 3lbs claim, and goes to post with a nice racing weight of 10st7lbs. One for the short list!

The second string from the Naunton yard, Foxbridge, is one to consider if the heavens open. His three chase victories have all come on heavy ground at Ffos Las, a surface reputed to be some of the most testing in the country when the rain gets in. He ran a fine race on good ground in an amateurs race at Cheltenham on his reappearance, beaten a neck by Knock House, three weeks ago, and despite being 5lbs out of the handicap at the time of writing, given his optimal conditions at the weekend, he is worth considering.

The late Dessie Hughes won the race twice, and his daughter Sandra would seem to have good prospects of adding to the family record with her impressive Irish National winner Thunder And Roses. The 7yo was put away after his Fairyhouse triumph and made a satisfactory reappearance at Thurles when fifth in a handicap hurdle three weeks ago. He is 11lbs higher than for his Irish National win, but it is more than likely that after only seven runs over fences he has plenty more to give.

Saint Are, who was our e.w. selection when running such a fine race in this years Grand National, (2nd at the rewarding odds of 25/1) loves Aintree and seems to reserve his best for the course. He was given a well deserved rest after his National exertions, and didn’t reappear until the November Cheltenham meeting where he finished sixth in the cross country race, proving if nothing else, his current wellbeing. He is only 5lbs higher than April, so another forward display is anticipated, although testing conditions would be a definite negative.

Last April Sue Smith’s 8yo No Planning was 1L behind behind Algernon Pazham at Haydock (2m7f) and meets the Twiston-Davies horse on 5lbs better terms on Saturday. Sue trained Ardent Scout to take the Becher thirteen years ago, so certainly knows what is required, and it will come as no surprise if her strong stayer, competing over Saturday’s 26f is in the mix as they come over the last, and battle up Aintree’s long attritional run in.

Selection: Thunder And Roses

E.W. : No Planning