Ladbrokes Trophy Chase (Handicap) (Grade3) 3m2f Newbury

newbury grandstand viewWhat a super animal Bristol De Mai is! Jumping for fun, last week’s EW selection, maintained his 100% record at the Merseyside track when winning The Betfair Chase by 4L from the Gold Cup victor, Native River. From turning into the straight, the outcome was never in doubt, and if the Twiston-Davies yard can keep the galloping grey sound, (difficult to train because of niggling problems) his chances of landing that £1million bonus (needs to win The King George at Kempton and Cheltenham’s Gold Cup) for his lucky owners, messr’s Munir And Souede, is not such a remote possibility. With a roll of honour that boasts nine individual Gold Cup winners, Newbury’s Highlight on Saturday, might just unveil another serious contender for Cheltenham honours, and Irish Maestro, Willie Mullins, who amazingly has yet to land “The Big One” at Prestbury Park, will be hoping that it is one of his upwardly mobile, 6yo contenders, Kemboy or Al Boum Photo who pass the winning post in front.

Kemboy, a winner of 4 of his 7 starts over fences, was going well enough when blundering away his chance at the 9th in The Grade1, JLT at Cheltenham in March, and 18 days later didn’t get past the 1st, when brought down in The Irish Grand National. However his next two runs saw a serious improvement in his fortunes, winning a Limerick Grade3 by 8L from the useful Tombstone, and 15 days later winning a valuable handicap at The Punchestown Festival. Racing off a mark of 147 he won very comfortably indeed. Following a 202 days break, he returned to action 16 days ago to beat the 154 rated Alpha Des Obeaux over an inadequate 2 1/2miles, and this son of the hugely successful, but alas deceased, National Hunt stallion, Voix Du Nord, (sire of Vaniteux, Vroum Vroum Mag, Taquin Du Seuil, and Defi Du Seuil to name but a few) is beginning to emerge as a pretty serious tool, and if he does prevail at the weekend, the 33/1 now available for The Gold Cup will be but a distant memory.

Willie’s second contender, Al Boum Photo, had Punchestown’s Grade1 Growise Champion Chase at his mercy, when pilot Townsend, inexplicably decided to alter course at the final fence,and crashed out through the wings. Al Boum Photo had had some jumping issues in 2 of his previous 4 chases, (fell twice) but looked the finished article until pilot error robbed him of a well deserved victory in that Punchestown heat, so riding arrangements for Saturday will be interesting. However he is undoubtedly a talented individual and as one who goes well after a break, and relishes soft ground, is hard to ignore.

The Anthony Honeyball trained mare, Ms Parfois has improved substantially since being stepped up in trip, and she ran the race of her life when just edged out by Saturday’s opponent, Rathvinden,(another contender from Willie Mullins’ Closutton Yard) in the 4miles, National Hunt Chase, at The Cheltenham Festival. She might have won but for hitting the 2nd last, and the pair finished 21L clear of the 3rd horse home, Sizing Tennessee, strong form indeed! and she showed what a tough mare she is when going on to finish 2nd in an Aintree Grade1 a month later. The 7yo meets Rathvinden on a pound better terms and having only raced 7 times over fences further improvement can be anticipated. She has a nice racing weight of 10-12 and my slight concern would be her lack of a recent outing and the yard’s poor form.

Colin Tizzard’s Elegant Escape, and Tom Lacey’s Thomas Patrick fought out a ding dong battle up the Sandown hill 20 days ago, with the Tizzard horse prevailing by 1/2L.
They were both having their first run of the campaign, so both can be expected to come on for the outing, but on 5lbs better terms one has to fancy the course and distance winning Thomas Patrick to come out on top.

tom lacey oddsguru

Tom Lacey’s Thomas Patrick has a terrific chance this weekend

It has to be a great compliment to Tom Lacey’s training skills, that he has produced an animal, whose only success from 6 attempts in the PTP field, came when given a walkover, is now a leading fancy for the second most valuable Handicap Chase in the entire calendar. No immediate improvement in the ex pointer was obvious on joining the Lacey yard, as he was well beaten at odds of 40/1 and 200/1 in his first two races under rules, but hints of the hidden potential were revealed next time, when finishing second at 100/1 in a Class 3 Novice Hurdle. He has now won 3 of his 5 starts over fences, which included victory in the 16 runner Grade3 Mildmay Handicap at Aintree in April, demonstrating that Saturday’s large field should hold no fears. He has a nice racing weight of 11-0, handles heavy ground, and it would be a great feather in Tom’s hat if the 6yo could win on Saturday.

Alan King won with Smad Place three years ago, and he has another likely looking type in the 6yo Dingo Dollar. He won twice over hurdles, but was always going to make a chaser, and has won 2 of his 5 starts over fences. He put up an excellent effort in Ayr’s Novices Championship Handicap last April, going down by only 1L, off a mark of 143, conceding 12lbs to the now rated143 winner Crosshue Boy, which makes Dingo Dollar, on a mark of 148, look very fairly treated on Saturday. He had a nice pipe opener 3 weeks ago, has won over the course, and with an entry in The Welsh Grand National, one presumes connections have no stamina doubts for a race that is invariably run with the choke out.

Selection  : Thomas Patrick
EW.            : Kemboy

John Gray

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Haydock Betfair Chase (Grade1) 3m1 1/2f

betfair chase haydockLast week’s EW selection, Frodon, gave us a good run for our money at the generous odds of 16/1. Under another excellent ride, from the upwardly mobile Bryony Frost, the Top weight, just found the concession of 15lbs to the tough Baron Alco beyond him, and try as he might, was unable to pull back the freewheeling winner, up the punishing Cheltenham hill. The unlucky contender in the race was probably Nicky Henderson’s Rather Be who was travelling conspicuously well when brought down at the 4th last, so let’s hope none of the runners in Saturday’s Haydock Showpiece meet a similar fate, as it promises to be the best, and most revealing heat of the season so far, not least, because it features a rematch of the winner, Native River, and the runner up, Might Bite, of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

2017 Betfair Chase preview.

The former hasn’t raced since his epic victory in March, but reports from down
Milbourne Port way, report “the apple of Colin Tizzard eye” in rude health and raring to go. The Markets make Might Bite a pretty short favourite taking the view that it was Native Rivers superior stamina that won the day at Cheltenham, and back on the flatter, and easier Haydock track, on better ground, placings are likely to be reversed, but I’m not so sure. The Tizzard horse had the pace to win over hurdles at 2m1f and has plenty of form at the highest level on flat left handed courses, (won the Grade1 Mildmay Novices Chase at Aintree in 2016). The fact remains that on the only occasion Saturday’s “big two” have met, Native River prevailed by 4 1/2L, and with the £1million bonus (if bringing off the King George and Gold Cup treble) firmly in connections sights, the markets might just have got this one wrong.

Might Bite did go on from Cheltenham to win the Grade1 Betway Bowl Chase at Aintree by 7L from Bristol De Mai in April ( 2nd Course win), and with victories at Kempton, (King George) and two at Doncaster, there is no denying the Henderson horse’s preference for a flat track. With only sporadic outbursts of rain in the forecast, Henderson’s 9yo could find himself racing in his ideal conditions on Saturday so can’t easily be passed over.

Last year’s winner by 57L from the legendary Cue Card, the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained, Bristol De Mai, May have something to say to those who think this year’s renewal is a two horse affair. twiston davies haydockA real Haydock specialist, he has a 100% record on the course and has won his three chases there by an average of 33L. He disappointed in his two races following last year’s win, but fared better following wind surgery, when chasing home Might Bite at Aintree in April. Ideally he would like plenty of rain but with the going unlikely to be anything faster than Good/Soft, if he gets away from his field the opposition will have their work cut out to peg him back.

Colin Tizzard’s second string, Thistlecrack looked to have the world at his feet when hosing up in the 2016 King George but has been a big disappointment in his subsequent 3 races. However Colin reports him back on track and a reproduction of his Kempton win would make the 10yo a danger to all.

Paul Nicholls has won an amazing 6 of the 13 renewals of The Betfair Chase, (4 times with the immortal Kauto Star and twice with Silviniaco Conti) so any contender from Ditcheat needs the closest appraisal, which has to make Clan Des Obeaux of interest.The 6yo son of Kapgarde has won 3 of his 10 chases showing a steadily progressive profile, and the way he won the Graduation Chase (2m5 1/2f) on heavy ground, on Saturday’s Card last year, strongly suggests that the 3m1 1/2f at the weekend could see further improvement. He took it up 2 out and stayed on well to draw clear on the run in to win by 7L on the heavy ground. With the Ditcheat operation firing in the winners from all directions, he’s well worth a second look!

Irish yards have yet to land a “Betfair” but Maestro, Gordon Elliott with 3 entered looks as if he might be serious about correcting the deficit, and if his super mare,
Shattered Love, takes her chance we could see the prize heading in the direction of The Emerald Isle. A winner of 5 of her 9 starts, the 7yo daughter of the triple Ascot Gold Cup winner, Yeats, put up her best performance to date when winning the Grade1 JLT Novices Chase (2m4f) at The Cheltenham Festival in March by 7L from Terrefort, staying on strongly from the last. She probably had had enough for the season when well beaten over 3 miles at The Punchestown Festival in April, but following a 193 day break, made a satisfactory reappearance at Down Royal 3 weeks ago (2m3 1/2f). Easy in the market, she kept on well to finish second, strongly suggesting that a return to further would suit. She has won a Leopardstown Grade1 over 3 miles, and her pedigree, (Out of the Bustino Mare Tracker which makes her a half sister to the talented staying chaser Irish Cavalier), certainly suggests that Saturday’s trip should be well within her compass, and with the benefit of her 7lbs Mares Allowance she must hold out serious prospects of becoming the first Irish winner of the contest.

Selection: Native River
E.W.         : Shattered Love.  (If abs Bristol De Mai)

John Gray

BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase 2 1/2m Cheltenham (Old Course) Saturday

Cheltenham RacesInaugurated in 1960, this valuable Grade3 Handicap, with it’s maximum field of 20, is invariably run with the choke out from flag-fall, and is no place for the faint hearted. The great Martin Pipe with an amazing 8 wins before retiring, certainly understood the type of animal required to succeed in this tough handicap, and son David will be hoping that a little of the Old Mans Magic has rubbed off when he attempts to win the race for the second time on Saturday with the ex French, Kings Socks.

The 6yo has only raced 3 times since finishing 2nd (Btn 2 1/2L) to the outstanding Willie Mullins trained, Footpad, now rated 166, in a French Grade1 Hurdle back in
June 2016. Thanks to niggling problems, it was a frustrating 607 days interval between his arrival  at Pond House in September 2016, before the son of Kings Best could make his British racecourse debut. He finished 3rd to Modus in a Class 2 Kempton Graduation Chase last February and 34 days later ran well to finish 5th, 8 1/2L behind
The Storyteller off a mark of 140 in a Grade3 Handicap at The Cheltenham Festival. Sent off the 7/2fav for the Red Rum Chase at Aintree the following month he was pulled up before 3 out and hasn’t been seen since. None of the above inspires any great confidence, but the suspicion lingers that we have yet to see the best of the Pipe horse, and off his mark of 139, giving him a racing weight of 10-4 he looks dangerously well handicapped.

Nicky Henderson’s sole success came with Fondmort 15 years ago, but he goes out to bat this time with a very live contender, the 7yo son of Oscar, Rather Be. He hasn’t raced since going down by a Head, off a mark of 153, to Mister Whitaker in The Close Brothers Novices Handicap (Soft) at The Festival in March, and meets that opponent on 9lbs better terms at the weekend. He goes well at Prestbury Park, running  well in the 2016 Festival Bumper, and significantly, “The Close Brothers”was run over Saturday’s track, The Old Course. Lack of a recent run is of no concern as he has won 3 times following a break of 6 months or longer. He looks nicely handicapped on a mark of 149 giving him a racing weight of 11-0 and has a serious chance of providing The Master Of Seven Barrow’s with a second success.

Despite being 9lbs worse off with Rather Be, Mick Channon’s Mister Whitaker deserves plenty of respect as he is clearly an animal improving at a rate of knots.

mick channon windmill

Will we get to see Mick Channon’s famous windmill on Saturday?

He has won his last three races, including the above heat over course and distance, and is bound to have benefited hugely from his reappearance win over Happy Diva at Carlisle 14 days ago. Very buzzy at the start he finished strongly up the Carlisle hill to beat the 140 rated runner up and should be a much more settled horse on Saturday. A 7lbs rise for the win looks quite severe but this 6yo, half brother to the useful, Broadway Buffalo, probably has plenty more to offer, and with the stable firing on all cylinders will be hard to keep out of the placings.

The Neil Mulholland trained 7yo, Kalondra would have gone close to winning The Galway Plate but for falling at the 2nd last racing off a mark of 147, and looks well handicapped on only a pound higher. He is another who enjoys the Prestbury Park air, finishing 3rd to Traffic Fluide last April and winning a Novices Chase last December both over the New Course, and coming from a yard in form is worth considering.

Irish stables have only taken the prize twice in the last 40 years, and if this poor record is to be improved, the sole representative from across The Irish Sea, Black Scorpion, will need a few above him in the Handicap to come out, but if he does get into the race, he wouldn’t be the worst EW punt, at 33/1 in the contest. He won nicely at Listowel in September and probably found the 3mile trip in The Munster National last time beyond him.

The BetVictor hasn’t been the greatest heat for top weights, but having said that it’s hard to ignore the claims of this year’s racecard no1, Frodon. bryony frost betvictorOne of 4 entries from the twice winning yard of Paul Nicholls, the 6yo, French bred Frodon, has won 8 of his 19 starts over fences, and following wind surgery and a 193 day break, put up a career best effort 3 weeks ago when winning the Grade2 Old Roan Chase at Aintree, off a mark of 158, under a great ride from Bryony Frost (pictured). Frodon has won twice at Cheltenham, including a near unique victory as a 4yo in the 2016 “Caspian Caviar,” and indeed was travelling strongly in that year’s renewal of the BetVictor when blundering away his chance at the 4th last. The son of Nickname has been jumping fences since his 3yo days in France and May only now be reaching his full potential, (has been entered for The King George V1) and it will come as no surprise if he joins that select band of Top Weighted Winners, particularly if Ms Frost keeps the ride.

Selection : Mister Whitaker
E.W.          : Frodon

John Gray

November Handicap 1m4f Doncaster Tips Saturday

doncaster flat racingSaturday at Doncaster brings the curtain down on another turf flat racing season, and punters hoping to improve their bank balance, should approach the feature handicap with some caution, as only a single “Jolly”has obliged in the last 22 years. Mind you, it hasn’t by any means been an impossible heat to crack, as 6 of the last 10 winners have been returned with an SP in single figures, and two of those have been trained by the race’s  most successful handler, (5 wins) John Gosden, which has to make his sole representative on Saturday, the 4yo colt Royal Line of particular interest.

By Dubawi, he was unraced as a 2yo, and has only had the 6 starts. He hasn’t been seen since his last run at the end of April when his form took a decidedly upward trajectory, winning Epsom’s Great Metropolitan Handicap off a mark of 95 by
2 3/4L from Golden Wolf, with that good yardstick, Firefighting, a further 3 1/4L back in 3rd. A 10lbs rise to 105 looks quite severe but, beautifully bred, he is a half brother to the Group2 winner, Masterstroke and the Group3 winning Mr Moonlight Magic, he just
could be a Group Horse running in a Handicap. With his ability to go well fresh, (won 1st time out) he may be up to defying his new mark.

2015 November Handicap preview.

There have been 18 winners from the Classic generation since 1980, and Willie Haggis,
(won with Conduit 5 year’s ago) fields a likely looking 3yo, My Lord And Master, this time. Lightly raced, he won the 2nd of his two juvenile heats, beating his stable companion, Young Rascal, (now rated 116) by 6L in a Nottingham Maiden. Just beaten on his 3yo debut, he followed up with a creditable 2nd in Chester’s Dee Stakes in May,  but 17 days later was well beaten in a Longchamp Group3. However last time out he showed the talent was still there, going down by a Neck, off a mark of 99, in a 10 1/2f York Handicap, finishing with great gusto on the soft ground. Stoutly bred, by
Master craftsman out of a Dalakhani mare, he should be well suited by Saturday’s trip, is only 4lbs higher than York, and with Daniel Tudhope, who won on Open Eagle in 2014 doing the steering, has plenty to recommend him.

The Clive Cox trained Now Children took a considerable step forward 27 days ago when winning a Class2 Goodwood Handicap (1m4f Soft) by 4 1/2L from Saturday’s opponent, Wolf Country, on only his 7th racecourse appearance. By a miler out of a sprinter it is surprising that staying appears to be the Cox’s horses forte, and it may “be, that campaigned over middle distances, he is beginning to realise his full potential. With a rise of 6lbs for that facile Goodwood victory looking very fair he will be hard to keep out of the places at the weekend.

There has never been an Irish trained winner of Doncaster’s November Handicap but top handler, Ger Lyons will be hoping to rewrite the script with his 4yo gelding, Inscribe. He does need a few above him in the handicap to come out to get a run but if he does, with only 8-7 to carry and Joe Fanning doing the steering, he has plenty in his favour. Lightly raced, the 4yo son of American stallion, Harlan’s Holiday, is out of a Sadler’s Wells mare and has won 3 of his 7 races on turf.  The manner of his two victories over 10f, at Naas and The Curragh, on testing ground, strongly suggest that Saturday’s trip will be fine and it won’t be the biggest surprise if the trophy ends up on the other side of The Irish Sea.

Racing over 12f for the first time, with trainers daughter, Megan, in the plate, the Paul Nicholls trained Birds of Prey looked a tad unlucky, to go down by a Shd in Haydock’s Ladies Trophy Handicap 61 days ago. Headed by the winner inside the 2f marker, he fought back, and kept up a persistent challenge all the way to the line. Campaigned over shorter when trained in Ireland by John Oxx, he won twice for the Curragh Maestro on testing ground, and looks nicely handicapped on 92 which including Ms Nicholls 5lb claim, means he will only have the featherweight of 8-4 to carry.

The Hughie Morrison trained Buzz put in a really solid performance 7 week’s ago when getting up on the line to win a Class2 Newbury Handicap off a mark of 93 over an inadequate 10f. Back up to 12f off a 5lbs higher mark the son of Motivator is worth a second look.

Despite trips to Switzerland Germany and Ireland, last year’s third, Eddystone Rock has failed to hit the back of the net in his 11 subsequent starts but as a result gets into Saturday’s contest off a 9lbs lower mark. He ran well enough last time finishing 5/20 in a valuable Naas handicap to suggest that he can be competitive off his mark of 91 and could be interesting, especially on soft ground.

Selection : Now Children
E.W.          : My Lord And Master    Eddystone Rock.

John Gray