888Sport Grimthorpe Handicap Chase 3m2f Doncaster Saturday

img_5309-1Saturday’s Grand National Trial, The Grimthorpe Handicap, (hasn’t produced a winner of the great race since Amberleigh House in 2004, but the 2016 Victor, The Last Samuri, did go on to finish 2nd at Aintree the following year) is quite a strong heat for trends. Weight has been pretty significant, with only 4 winners in the last 20 renewals carrying more than 11 stones, as has age, with no horse younger than 8 succeeding since the Paul Nicholls trained 7yo, Knight Templar, got his head in front in 2000. With Doncaster’s long attritional straight to cope with, contenders tend to start racing in earnest earlier, putting an additional emphasis on stamina, and winning form over at least three miles has been essential.

Following wins with Shraden Leader, (1994) and The Last Samuri, (2016) Kim Bailey is seeking to bring up a third victory with his upwardly mobile 8yo, Rocky’s Treasure. A winner of 4 of his 6 starts over fences, he hacked up over the course, (3m Good Dec15) where, making all in the Grade2 contest, he stayed on stoutly to beat the 138 rated, Theclockisticking by 17L in a race run at a good clip. He blotted his copybook 4 weeks later in a Warwick Class1 Handicap. Sent off a 6/5 Fav, he didn’t seem to cope with the course’s unique jumping demands, and finished a well beaten 3rd. Stoutly bred, by Westerner, out of the brood mare, Fiddlers Bar, he is a half brother to the classy Double Shuffle, so should find Saturday’s trip ideal. Back at Doncaster, where he had been so impressive in his previous race, and with the stable in good form, he has plenty to recommend him, and my only concern would be his top weight of 11-10.

Cumbrian trainer, Nicky Richards (pictured) who is having such a good season, is represented by the two 10yo’s, Chidswell and course winner, Looking Well. The former has mostly been campaigned at shorter than 3 miles but looked as if Saturday’s trip might be within his compass when staying on well to win a Kelso Class3 Handicap, (2m 7 1/2f) last time out. img_5310However there has to be some doubt as the last fence was omitted, and the time was slow, so Nicky’s best chance of bringing the prize home to Greystoke would seem to lie with Looking Well. By the very successful NH stallion Gold Well, he is bred to stay long distances, and indeed was going extremely well when falling at the 3rd last in the 4m1/2f Scottish Borders National in December. He made amends 10 days ago with a comfortable victory here at Doncaster off a mark of 133, (3m Good) looking like an animal at the top of his game. The extra 2 furlongs on Saturday looks ideal and only 6lbs higher giving him a racing weight of 11-2 he looks quite well treated.

Richard Newland has a well deserved reputation for rejuvenating cast offs from other stables and seems to have worked the Oracle yet again with the 11yo, Abolitionist. Having recorded his last success at Naas in March 2017 he joined the Newland operation in January 2018, and made his debut for the yard (Nov 18) a winning one, cruising up in a 3m Class2 Aintree Hurdle off a mark of 122 by 10L from the 139 rated

richard newland

Can the doctor find the winning remedy?

The Organist, and earning a new mark of 134 in that discipline, 19lbs higher than his previous winning mark of 115. He was excellent 3rd in the 2017 Irish Grand National, racing off a mark of 145, and if the talented Dr Newland has elicited anything like the same improvement over fences from this veteran, he has to be a very well handicapped animal racing off the same mark at the weekend. A slight concern would be the stables lack of recent form, but they are already 7 ahead of their previous best season.


The Chris Grant trained AcDc, a winner of 4 of his 12 starts over fences is attempting Saturday’s trip for the first time but wasn’t stopping when winning over 3m1/2f at Ayr
(Nov2017) and as a son of Kings Theatre out of a Slip Anchor mare shouldn’t find the trip a problem. He won nicely at Wetherby on his seasonal debut in October and ran ok 17 days later, finishing 4th at Ayr. Unsurprisingly beaten when stepped up to Grade2 level last time, he races on Saturday off a mark of 133, giving him a nice racing weight of 10-10 and is worth considering.

Animals younger than 8 have found it difficult to win but Philip Hobbs’s 7yo
Beau Du Brizais, with 10 chases under his belt, has not only had plenty of experience, but has shown definite improvement in his last two runs. The son of Kapgarde won a Ludlow Class3 over 3m1 1/2f off a mark of 123 in early December, and followed up at the same venue a fortnight later (3mSoft) where despite meeting plenty of trouble in running, and racing off a 6lbs higher mark, won by 2 1/2L and 7L from the 132 rated pair Holly Bush Henry and Fox Appeal, which makes Saturday’s mark of 135 look very fair. Philip won with Out The Back ten years ago, and looks to have another serious contender on Saturday.
Selection : Looking Well
EW.           : Beau Du Brizais

John Gray

Vertem Eider Handicap Chase 4m 1/2f Newcastle Saturday

newcastle races oddsguruThe now, sadly departed, Toby Balding, won the Eider an impressive 4 times, 3 of them with his Aintree Hero, Highland Wedding, but no handler, has managed to even double up, since Toby landed his 4th success with Lucky Vane in 1984. However, one stat that does stand out, has been the success rate of runners from the Emerald Isle, three of whom have collected in the the last 16 renewals, representing a pretty impressive strike rate from the relatively few runners entered from across the Irish Sea. The Celtic challenge, with 3 contenders this year, is numerically stronger than usual, and all three are worth a second look.

High flying, Gordon Elliott, relies on the 12yo, Folsom Blue, who as a veteran of 30 chases, is obviously well exposed, but showed that he can still perform at a decent level when finishing 4th of 16 in a Grade3, 3m Sandown Handicap 3 weeks ago, where he was putting in his best work in the closing stages. His mark on Saturday of 144 looks plenty high enough, but this is the first time he has tackled 4miles+ since contesting The Scottish National in 2016, where he was going ominously well when brought down at the 6th last fence. His brilliant trainer certainly knows the time of day with these stayers, and it won’t come as a surprise to see his 12yo involved at the business end.

The second of the Irish challengers, is the evergreen 14yo veteran, Raz De Maree, trained by his upwardly mobile handler, Gavin Cromwell. The son of Shamaan, has won 5 of his 31 starts over fences, and if one is supposed to deteriorate with age, no one has told Raz De Maree, as he put up his career best performance, when winning the (delayed) 2017 Welsh Grand National, as a 13yo on heavy ground, off a mark of 140.

toby balding oddsguru

Toby Balding won four Eiders

He ran well enough again in the Chepstow marathon this year, finishing 5th, staying on strongly. Not surprisingly, he would be the first of his age to win The Eider, but two 13yo’s, Pontin Go (1967) and Peaty Sandy, (1987) have managed to, and if Raz De Mee gets his preferred heavy ground, Gosforth Park could witness quite an emotional climax to the race.

The third Irish contender, the 9yo, Kilkishen, won for the first time over fences, at his 7th attempt, when winning at Fairyhouse on New Years Day, when virtually making all.” He can be excused his poor performance 6 weeks later, as buried in midfield, he could never get to the front, and finished a well beaten 7th. However the step up to 4m on Saturday could be a definite plus, as he is by that strong influence for stamina, Oscar, is a full brother to the  talented staying hurdler, Louis Vac Pouch, and his dam,
Coming Home, was a strong stayer on the flat in France.

David Pipe, who won with the subsequent Grand National Hero, Comply Or Die, runs the progressive looking 7yo, Daklondike. He ran his best race to date when winning The 2m7f Tommy Whittle Chase on heavy ground at Haydock  in December, but sent off the 4/1 favourite on faster ground, at the same venue 4 weeks later, he never got into any sort of rhythm, and unseated Tom Scudamore at the 5th fence. Out of the brood mare, Strong Irish, he is a half brother to the very talented Great Endeavour, and by Gold Well, an unraced full brother to top stallion Montjeu, and sire of last year’s Irish Grand National winner Isleofhopenddreams, there is an abundance of stamina in his pedigree, and if it comes up soft will be a danger to all.

SUE SMITHThe Sue Smith (pictured) trained 8yo, Sharp Response, put up a quietly impressive staying performance, at Catterick, (3m6f Good) 45 days ago. Jumping from fence to fence, and keeping on strongly off his mark of 134, he came home 5L clear of the 122 rated Little Bruce, (rec17lbs) which makes Saturday’s mark of 140 look very fair. Nicely bred as a staying chaser, he is by Oscar, and is a half brother to the 152 rated Ballyoptic,
(beaten a nose in last year’s Scottish National) and I don’t think 140 is the limit of this animal’s potential.

If Newcastle avoids a lot of rain for the rest of the week, the Paul Nicholls trained, double Scottish National Laureate, Vicente, should find conditions ideal. Once considered a Spring horse, the Paul Nicholls trained 10yo has become more versatile season wise, and had a nice pipe opener, when finishing 3rd at Taunton 5 weeks ago. He is a pound lower on Saturday so should be competitive.

Since coming to The Skelton yard last July, the 9yo, Ange Des Malberaux, has won 5 of his 7 starts, and seems to get better the further he goes. He hacked up over 3m3 1/2f at Market Rasen in December, and really caught the eye last time when winning very easily at Warwick 33 days ago off a mark of 117. He cruised home from the 40/1 outsider Oneida Tribe, and had the 122 rated Muckle Roe 9 1/2L back in third. Rated 127, he needs 2 to come out to get a run on Saturday, but if he does get into the contest, he is going to have a lovely racing weight of 10-1.

Selection  : Sharp Response
EW.           : Ange Des Malberaux (if abs Folsom Blue)

John Gray

Rescheduled Betfair Hurdle (Handicap) Grade3 Newbury

hurdle race newburyGood news for racing fans! Last week’s feature (below), The Betfair Hurdle, cancelled because of a particularly nasty strain of Equine Flu, has been rescheduled, and is to be included in a 9 race program at Ascot on Saturday. As the indications are that most, if not all, of the original field will be present.

Newbury hosts, one of the major betting heats of the Winter, when a maximum of 23 runners line up for The Betfair Hurdle at the Berkshire track at the weekend. First run in 1963 as The Schweppes Hurdle, the first five runnings were dominated by the legendary Captain Ryan Price who won four of them, including the first two with Rosyth, who remains the only animal to have won back to back renewals. Age has been a very significant factor, with younger horses dominating. There have only been 3 animals older than 7 collect in the entire history of the contest, the last being the 9yo Geos 15 years ago. Weight has also played it’s part, with only 2 animals, both subsequent Champion Hurdle laureates, Persian War, and Make A Stand, who have defied a burden of more than 11-6. There have been plenty of multiple winning trainers in the race, but with 5 wins, Nicky Henderson’s record is outstanding, which has to make the sole  entry from his Seven Barrows yard this year, Countister, of particular interest.

The ex French 7yo, a daughter of Smadoun, has had a rather unusual racing career. Campaigned mostly in minor NHF races in the French Provinces, (won twice) for her first 8 races, she changed stables in June 2016 and her form stepped up a gear. Again, campaigned exclusively in the same Genre, but this time in the top level metropolitan tracks, she won 3 of her 5 starts, two of them at Grade2 level, and was only beaten a neck in a St Cloud Grade1. Since her transfer to Seven Barrows in September 2017, she has raced 4 times over hurdles, winning twice, at Doncaster in December 2017 and at Sandown in February 2018. She was sent off a 16/1 shot for the Grade2 Dawn Run at The Festival, but could only finish a well beaten 5th, and hasn’t been seen since. She is all about potential, but on a point of handicapping, the horse she beat at Doncaster by 7L, De Rasher Counter, is now rated 139, which makes her mark of 133 on Saturday look lenient.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has won the race twice in the last 5 years, and runs both previous winners, Splash of Ginge and Ballyandy, but the stats are against them, so his third contender, Al Dancer, is preferred. Bred for the game, he is a half brother to the very successful French Hurdler/Chaser, T’zar’s Dancer, and has won all his 3 starts over hurdles. He impressed last time, easily winning a Cheltenham Class3, off a mark of 129. He won by 11L from the subsequent winner, Not That Fuisse, which  justifies the 12lbs rise to Saturday’s mark of 141, and it will be surprising if that is the limit of this exciting animals potential. A minor concern would be his lack of experience in such a large field, competitive handicap, but he jumps well, and wasnt discommoded in the 20 runner, Grade2 NHF race, at last year’s Aintree Festival, where he finished 4th.

The Devon yard of the Williams family, carried home the bacon 3 years ago when their 5yo Agrapart won, and they will be hoping for a repeat with another animal of the same Vintage, Monsieur Lecoq.

monsieur le coq

Punters’ palates could be distinctly agreeable on Saturday afternoon.

Having failed to make much impression in his first 4 starts, the penny seems to have dropped the last twice. He won a Flos Las Maiden by 7L in December, and 5 weeks later trotted up in a Sandown Handicap off a mark of 122. A rise of 10lbs looks fair, giving him a racing weight of 10-9 to be further reduced by Lizzie Kelly’s, very useful 3lbs claim.

Philip Hobbs has never won the Betfair, but will be hoping for a big run from his improving 5yo Zanzibar. He ran an excellent race 6 weeks ago winning by 1L from
Birds Of Prey, and had  Champagne Well (rec 6lbs and now rated 130) a further 1Lback in 3rd. A strict interpretation of the form makes Saturday’s mark of 135 look pretty fair and if this progressive type can overcome his inexperience, he could be involved at the business end.

Gary Moore has won 3 of the last 11 Betfair’s and has 3 contenders on Saturday, the best of whom may prove to be the 5yo Sussex Ranger. A winner of 3 of his 7 starts, he won a Fontwell Class3 by 4 1/2L off a mark of 130 conceding lumps of weight to Monday Club, 25 days ago, and looks well handicapped on 136, giving him a nice racing weight of 10-13. Mr Moore is a past master at placing horses in these big handicaps, and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see any of his runners involved where it matters, at the weekend.

Paul Nicholls who won with Zarkandar 7 years ago, runs two, Getaway Trump, and
Mount Des Alvoirs and while both are clearly talented, the former looks the more progressive. The 6yo has won 2 of his 4 starts over hurdles, and while he was beaten last time, in the Grade1 Challow Hurdle, there was no disgrace in going down by 2 1/2L to the exciting, 150 rated, Champ, over 2 1/2miles. In his previous race, the son of Getaway, racing over 3f shorter, gave the now 131 rated Tedham, 6lbs and an impressive looking 5L beating, all of which makes the Ditcheat runner look well handicapped on Saturday’s mark of 142 and very interesting back over two miles.

Selection : Getaway Trump
EW.           : Monsieur Lecoq

John Gray