Oddsguru’s guide to Sunday’s, Unibet Irish Gold Cup, 3 Miles Leopardstown

First run in 1987, The Irish Gold Cup, proved a pretty solid guide to success in it’s English counterpart in the nineteen nineties, with both Jodami (pictured, 1993) and Imperial Call, (1996) both bringing off the double in the same season. However it has taken another twenty years for the feat to be repeated, when last year’s Hero, Sizing John collected both prizes. With this year’s renewal of The Cheltenham Gold Cup having such an open look, it is by no means impossible, that Sunday’s winner might just become the fourth to bag the elusive double. Having trained an amazing nine previous winners, the master of Closutton, Willie Mullins, is leagues ahead of the opposition, and with two very viable candidates for this year’s renewal, Killultagh Vic and Djakadam, he must be harbouring serious hopes of getting into double figures.

A 9yo son of Old Vic, Killultagh Vic has only had the two outings over fences, both of which he won, but he was sidelined after the second of them, a Grade2 Leopardstown contest, two years ago. Following a 714 days break, he made a highly satisfactory reappearance over hurdles at Punchestown five weeks ago, winning by 2 3/4L from Ex Patriot. This previous high class staying hurdler, a winner at The Cheltenham Festival, and conqueror of the outstanding Thistlecrack in a Punchestown Grade1, achieved a rating of 157 in that discipline, and promises to be at least as good over fences. If overcoming his inexperience on Sunday, he can be involved at the business end.

Twice a winner at Grade1 level and twice runner up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the 9yo, Djakadam has clearly been a great servant to connections. He followed last year’s fourth to Sizing John in The Gold Cup at Cheltenham by beating the same animal by a short head at The Punchestown Festival the following month, another excellent performance! He probably needed the race when beaten 7L by Sizing John over an in adequate 2 1/2m on his reappearance, following a seven month break, but his dismal performance eighteen days later at Leopardstown, when pulled up behind Road To Respect, is harder to explain. Perhaps the race came too soon. However connections” report him in good shape for Sunday, and it has been this pundits experience, that it often pays to forgive an animal the one bad run, and odds around the 10/1 mark at the time of writing look tempting.

The Jessica Harrington (pictured above) trained Our Duke won the Irish Grand National by 14L from Bless The Wings, conceding 16lbs, with his head in his chest, last April, and looked an animal destined for the very top. However the wheels seemed to come off on his reappearance at Down Royal six months later, when he trailed in seventh of eight, 51L behind the winner, Outlander. There were excuses, as he scoped dirty, and a back problem was also discovered as a contributory factor. His back has been successfully operated on, and all is now reported well with the 8yo. Prior to his National win, Our Duke had already shown himself to be out of the top drawer, when winning a three mile Leopardstown Grade1 from the very useful Coney Island, (won next time out at Ascot, a year later, giving Adrienne Du Pont eleven pounds, and a nine lengths beating) in December 2016. A slight reservation would be that he didn’t have the speed to cope with Disko over 2m5 1/2f last February, and went down by 1 3/4L to that top class performer in another Leopardstown Grade1. He will need a truly run three miles on Sunday which he should get. If Our Duke arrives at the top of his game at the weekend he will be hard to beat and might just put himself in line for that Gold Cup double.

The Tony Martin trained Anibale Fly looks interesting. Mostly campaigned at shorter than three miles, the 8yo looked an improved performer when winning a valuable 3m 1/2f Handicap Chase easily by 7L from the useful Ucello Conti, to whom he was giving 10lbs, over the course, at the end of December. Now rated on the 159 mark he doesn’t need to find that much more to be competitive on Sunday, and coming from this yard, and owned by JP Mc Manus it wouldn’t come as the greatest surprise if he did.

Beaten under three lengths when finishing second in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Jonjo O’Neill trained Minella Rocco ran reasonably well when finishing fourth behind Road To Respect over course and distance at the Christmas meeting. It was too early In last year’s renewal when he unseated Aidan Coleman at the seventh, to draw any conclusions, but he was sent off a 7/1 shot, so if he does run, (also engaged Newbury Saturday) would be worth a second look.

The 10yo Outlander, trained by the hugely talented Gordon Elliot, who continues in such good form, is a rather enigmatic type, rarely running two consecutive races alike, but he does have a great record at the track. He won on all of his first four appearances at the south Dublin track, and last time, in his fifth race at the course, he was a good third to Road To Respect. One never knows quite what to expect from Outlander but he clearly enjoys the Leopardstown air and is hard to ignore.

Selection : Our Duke

E.W. : Killultagh Vic

John Gray

Sky Bet Handicap Chase Tips 3m Doncaster Saturday

Historically known as The Great Yorkshire Chase, it was first run in 1948, and was won by Cool Customer, carrying the eye watering weight of 12-7. However, heavy burdens have been a serious bar to success in recent renewals, with the Henrietta Knight trained Calgary Bay (11-11) in 2012, being the only animal to carry more than 11-02 to victory since Speaker Weatherill in 1998. Older horses have a poor record in the race with only five in double figures obliging in the entire history of the contest. Proven stamina at three miles has proved essential, as Doncaster with it’s long strait, is a track where they tend to start racing in earnest early, and it takes a true stayer to get home. Another couple of significant relevant stats are that all of the last ten winners had winning form going left handed, and there hasn’t been a winning Northern trainer since Richard Guest won with Tyneandthyneagain fourteen years ago.

One horse that fits plenty of the above criteria is the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Bigbadjohn. The 9yo was sent off favourite for last years renewal when trained by Rebecca Curtis, but never travelled after a bad mistake at the sixth, and slipped up on the following bend. He put up an excellent performance next time out winning a Grade2 Ascot Novices Chase over three miles but alas, his next five races have been very disappointing. However he can be excused as the Curtis yard has been hopelessly out of form all season. He recently joined the Naunton powerhouse, and it wouldn’t come as the biggest surprise, if Nigel, who has won the race on two previous occasions, ( The Young Hustler 1993 and Beau 2000) didn’t effect a Renaissance in the horse, who is 3lbs better in than last year, and has only the featherweight of 10-00 to carry.

Paul Nicholls has also trained the winner twice, (Colourful Life 2005 and Big Fella Thanks 2009) and of his two contenders, the 9yo, Warriors Tale (pictured) has the more taking profile. He was only beaten a neck by the talented Gold Present (Newbury 2m6 1/2f Dec9) where he was staying on stoutly. warriors taleHe has only been raised 4lbs for Saturday and as his Newbury conqueror, having won at Ascot since, is now on a mark 13lbs higher, the Nicholls animal looks very well treated. He has won over three miles and had the pace to win over shorter. With a nice racing weight of 11-0 he looks one for the shortlist.

The Emma Lavelle trained Vibrato Valtat has been rated as high as 162 in the past, but having failed to catch the judges eye since November 2015, had dropped to a mark of 145 last time out. He showed then that there was still plenty of petrol in the tank when putting in an excellent performance he ran Mustmeetalady to a neck over Saturday’s course and distance. He meets his conqueror on 2lbs better terms on Saturday, and only raised four pounds to 149 giving him 11-02 to carry, has to be worth considering.

Despite jumping badly out to the left, the Neil Mulholland trained, The Young Master put in one of his better efforts for some time when finishing third behind Fountains Windfall and Ballykan at Kempton two weeks ago. He has been dropped to a mark of 139, nine pounds lower than his highest winning mark, giving him a nice racing weight of 10-6 with a further 3lbs to come from his talented owner/Jockey, Mr S Walley-Cohen. Back on a left handed track worth a second look!

The Kim Bailey trained 8yo, Thumb Stone Blues, has only had the three outings over fences, and put up a very creditable effort on his handicap debut last time out,

(Catterick 3m1f Nov27). Jumping soundly he finished second off a mark of 132. Racing off the same mark at the weekend, there could be more to come over the larger obstacles from this very genuine and consistent animal, (has won three and been placed ten times from his fourteen races under rules).

We have to rewind ten races to the last time the Nicky Henderson trained, L’Ami Rouge (pictured), jumped a fence in public. In the meantime he has been making hay over the smaller obstacles, winning twice, including at the highest level, and as a result is now rated 7lbs lower over fences. Mind you, he was no slouch steeplechasing, winning twice at distances of 2m1f and 2m4f. Judging by his strong staying performances over hurdles, he seems sure to be well suited by Saturday’s trip, and will undoubtedly have been well schooled at the Seven Barrows Academy and deserves his place at the top of the market.

Selection : L’Ami Rouge

E.W. : Warriors Tale

John Gray

Peter Marsh Handicap Chase Racing Tips (Grade2) 3m1 1/2f Haydock Saturday

First run in 1981, the first nine runnings saw an amazing four of the winners (Little Owl 1981, Bregawn (main picture) 1983, The Thinker 1987 and Jodami 1993) going on to victory in The same years Cheltenham Gold Cup, (the race was abandoned in 1984 1988 and 1991). However those were the days of the northern powerhouse in National Hunt Racing, when legends like Peter Easterby, Michael Dickinson, Arthur Stephenson and Peter Beaumont had the talent, and just as important, the ammunition, not only to compete with their powerful southern counterparts, but beat them at the highest level. Alas that golden age is long gone, and with the loss of prestige that Saturday’s contest has suffered over the years, it has become a race in which the older more experienced handicapper has come to dominate. With the exception of last year’s 4/1 winner, the 6yo Bristol De Mai (Oddsguru’s selection), no animal younger than eight has passed the post in front since Peter Easterby’s 7yo Scotton Banks in 1996, and indeed, with the exception of last year’s winner, the younger brigade are zero from thirteen in the last decade. Another very solid statistic has been the number of winners who had previous form over the track. Twelve of the last nineteen winners boasted winning form, either over fences or hurdles at the track, and indeed seven of the last ten winners had either won or been second at the venue.

One that certainly fits the trends is the Philip Hobbs trained 8yo Rock The Kasbah. A winner over hurdles on his only course appearance (2m3f soft November 2015) he made the ideal start to this year’s campaign winning a Class 2 Chepstow Handicap in October following a five and a half month break off a mark of 142. He was taken out of The Welsh National due to the very heavy ground, but it is also worth noting that the yard had been going through a very untypical, lean spell at the time. With the stable going much better now, and as he clearly goes well after a break, he could just be one of the freshest in the field, and doesn’t look too badly treated on a mark of 149.

2016 Peter Marsh oddsguru preview.

The Stuart Coltherd trained 9yo, Captain Redbeard boasts a record of two wins and a second from his three course appearances. He won last time out, here at Haydock, (2m7fHeavy) four weeks ago by six lengths from Catamaran Du Seuil off a mark of 135 and has been raised a quite severe looking nine pounds, but in his favour he will be partnered by his usual rider, the five pounds claiming Sam Coltherd, who knows the horse so well.

The James Moffat trained 12yo, Highland lodge is well into the veteran stage but has only raced twenty four times under rules and showed last time out there was still plenty of life in the “old dog” yet. He put in a great round of jumping, finishing third of fifteen to Blaklion on heavy ground over the Grand National fences six weeks ago. He did finish 14L behind the winner but was still in contention at the last so off the same mark on ground that he will relish with a nice racing weight of 10-9 it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise to see him involved at the business end on Saturday.

Being only a 7yo and with no course experience you have to say that the stats do not speak in favour of the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Tintern Theatre (pictured above) but it is worth remembering that his brilliant trainer has already defied the age statistic twice, winning with the 6yo Bristol De Mai last year, and with the 7yo Earth Summit in 1995. Tintern Theatre has met with mixed fortunes in his five efforts over the larger obstacles to date, falling once, and unseating once, but his other three efforts were quite promising, particularly last time when winning a competitive heat at Kempton off a mark of 134 with some authority. He has only been raised 4lbs for Saturday giving him a nice racing weight of 10-9 so if he copes with the conditions, the prize could be going back to Naunton for a third time.

David Pipe won this in 2010 with the 12yo Our Vic and is represented at the weekend by the talented 9yo Vieux Lion Rouge. He is two from three over the course and the last time he appeared at the Merseyside venue he took the notable scalp of Blaklion, and races on Saturday off a mark only four pounds higher. He hasn’t set the world alight with his two runs this term but as a double Class1 and Graded winner who thrives in testing conditions, has to be worth a second look.

The Venetia Williams (pictured) trained 8yo, Yala Enki won a Class2 Kelso Handicap over 3m2f in bog like conditions off a mark of 146 and races on Saturday off a mere 1lb higher. His three subsequent appearances haven’t been exactly promising, but he hasn’t had his conditions so with testing going a certainty, this previous course winner may be in for another payday.

Selection : Yala Enki

E.W. : Vieux Lion Rouge

John Gray

Coral Welsh Grand National Tips (Handicap) 3m5 1/2f Chepstow Saturday

Following rainfall of biblical proportions the Welsh Grand National, scheduled for last Wednesday, the 27th, the annual “slog in the mud” was cancelled, but thanks to a flexible executive, and cooperation from The British Horse Racing Authority, the race has been saved and is due to be run on Saturday. Reports from the track at the time of writing are positive, so unless there is an unexpected deterioration in the weather, the contest should be underway sometime after ten past two on Saturday. First run at a track near Cardiff way back in eighteen ninety five, Chepstow has been the home of the gruelling marathon since nineteen forty nine, when the winner was ridden by the “Royal Jockey”/ Thriller Scribbler, Dick Francis, of Devon Loch fame. Dick Francis Two legends of the Winter Game, Martin Pipe and Jenny Pitman, had great success in the nineteen eighties and nineties with eight victories between them, but in recent renewals, it has been the Lee family, (dad Richard, and daughter, Kerry) who have been the yard to follow. They have won three of the last six renewals, and their, Bell House Operation, with two solid looking candidates in Bishops Road and Alfie Spinner, must entertain serious hopes of adding to their haul this year.

The ten year old, Bishops Road, did manage to win a couple of “Bumpers”, a Maiden Hurdle and a Chase when trained in Ireland by Henry De Bromhead, but transferred to Kerry Lee in December 2015 and stepped up in trip, he met with immediate success, winning his first two races, including a Grade3 Haydock Handicap over three miles four and a half furlongs on heavy ground, by an aggregate of twenty six lengths. He drew a blank in his next six races, but put up a highly satisfactory effort on his reappearance following an eight month break, when running Saturday’s leading fancy, Beware The Bear, to two and a half lengths over an inadequate two miles seven and a half furlongs at the beginning of December. He meets the winner on four pounds better terms and off a mark only two pounds higher than for that impressive Haydock victory this strong stayer who will love the conditions is well worth considering.

The evergreen Alfie Spinner, thirteen last Monday, was second to Wild West Wind in the Trial race for this (Chepstow 2m 7 1/2f heavy Dec9). A horse in it’s teens has never won the Welsh National but after competing in thirty chases the son of Afflora looks as good as ever, and as a real mud lark, racing off a nice weight of ten stone seven, it wouldn’t come as the biggest surprise if he managed to become the first.

Nicky Henderson has never won this contest but looks to hold a strong hand with current market leader, Beware The Bear. As we saw above, he won the Trial for this by two and a half lengths from Bishops Road, and as he also was coming back from a break, further progress can be anticipated. Having won three of his five starts over fences he is clearly progressive, and as a son of Shantou, out of the Be My Native mare, Native Bid, staying is going to be the name of his game, so he has plenty to recommend him on Saturday. My only slight reservation would be the very likely heavy ground. The only time he has raced on a heavy surface he duly won, but it was only a three runner Bangor Maiden Hurdle and the runner up is only rated on 110.

The Philip Hobbs trained eight year old, Rock The Kasbah just loves Chepstow, and he can boast a record of three wins and a second from his four course appearances, including last time out,(2m7 1/2f Ch good/soft) in October when beating petrou by two lengths off a mark of 142. He has paid the price for that success and races off a mark of 149 on Saturday giving him 11-10 to shoulder at the weekend. However he is still on a mark a pound lower than his hurdles rating and as he is by that strong influence for stamina, Shirocco, out of The In The Wings mare, Impudent, who won over two miles plus on soft to heavy ground when trained by Willie Mullins, should find Saturday’s trip right up his street. Due to the postponement of the race, he will have the benefit of Richard Johnson’s assistance from the saddle, as the champion jockey, having been stood down by the doctor for concussion following a fall at Ludlow, would have had to forego the ride last Wednesday.

The Michael Scudamore (pictured below) trained ten year old, Mysteree, got to within one and a half lengths of Chase The Spud in the Midland Grand National (4m 1/2f soft) last March and meets the winner on thirteen pounds better terms on Saturday. Michael Scudamore's Mysteree has a fine chance of landing the spoils.As he had previously beaten the same horse by three and a quarter lengths (Haydock 3m4f heavy) when meeting him on the same terms as he will at the weekend, he does look well handicapped. It is a slight concern that he hasn’t been seen since that good run in The Midland Grand National but that emphatic Haydock victory over Chase The Spud came after an eight month break, so perhaps the plan was always going to be, to line up as a fresh horse.

The 8yo Pobbles Bay, trained by Welsh Maestro Evan Williams, won the Novices Chase on this card last year off a mark of 139. He reappeared over an inadequate two and a half miles at Aintree in November finishing a well beaten ninth, but the evidence of his three quarter length second to the useful Flintham over 3m2f in a Warwick Class2 Handicap Hurdle on heavy ground two years ago, strongly suggests that staying trips should be his forte. Only five pounds higher than for his course win he is another to consider.

Selection : Mysteree

E.W. : Pobbles Bay

John Gray