bet365 Charlie Hall Chase (Grade2) 3m Wetherby Saturday

charlie hall chaseSaturday sees the first Grade2 action over fences of the season, and with 12 contenders, nearly all for whom a credible case can be made, it promises to be a real cracker. The Naunton yard of Nigel Twiston-Davies has sent out the winner on 5 previous occasions, (the first time with Tipping Tim 27 years ago) and the stable will be hoping their talented 9yo, Ballyoptic, can bring home the bacon for a 6th time.

A son of the top class jumps sire, Old Vic, he has won 3 of his 11 starts over fences, including a Grade2 heat over Saturday’s course and distance, (The Towton Novices Chase on Heavy ground) in February 2018. His fortunes have certainly been of the mixed variety since, losing out by the minimum distance in the 4 mile Scottish Grand National in April 2018, and falling twice over the Big Aintree fences including in this year’s Grand National (came to grief 4 out). However he made a bright start to this year’s campaign, making all, and jumping with aplomb he came home 9L clear of
Lil Rockefeller in a 3m Class2 Chepstow Handicap three weeks ago. Relatively lightly raced for his age there may be further improvement in him and coming from this yard is one to keep on the right side of.

Paul Nicholls has won this 3 times, twice with the 1999 Gold Cup Hero, See More Business, and with Silviniaco Conti seven years ago. He relies on the tough and consistent runner up in last year’s renewal, Black Corton, and the 8yo certainly did his prospects no harm with an excellent effort in the Uber competitive, Galway Plate last time out. Carrying top weight in the 22 runner handicap, he finished 2nd but may have been a little unlucky, as he was going really well when hampered by a loose horse and carried right on the run in. Beaten 2L by Definitely Red in last year’s renewal, he didn’t seem to quite get home, but he looks a stronger and improved animal this year, and it could be close between them.

Last year’s victor, now 10, is trained close to the course in North Yorkshire by the talented Brian Ellison, (trains last week’s Oddsguru selection, Forest Bihan, who didn’t take up his Cheltenham engagement but went for the more valuable Old Roan Chase at Aintree the following day, a race he won very comfortably) and Brian is currently operating at an amazing 50% win to runners ratio (8 wins from last 16 runners).
Following his win in The Charlie Hall, Definitely Red won again, an Aintree Grade2, 5 weeks later, but finished his season well beaten in the Punchestown Gold Cup at the beginning of May. However, following the same pattern as last year, he is making his seasonal debut, and following a recent workout on the course, Mr Ellison reports him in rude health. With a course record of 2 wins and 2 places from 4 starts, and meeting Black Corton on 3 lbs better terms, his prospects of joining the elite band of Celtic Shot, 90 91, One Man, 96 97, and See More Business, 2000 2001, as the only consecutive winners of The Charlie Hall are hard to ignore.

charlie hall greatrex

In the Bague? Warren Greatrex saddles our leading fancy

The exciting mare, La Bague Au Roi won 4 of her 5 starts over fences, (including 2 at the top level) and didn’t look suited by the drop to 20f last time, when despite running on strongly, she was beaten 1 1/2L by Kalashnikov in an Aintree Grade1 in April. The apple of trainer Warren Greatrex’s eye, she can go well after a break, and back up in trip, with her nice Mares allowance a bonus, is well worth considering.

Having only been beaten 1 1/2L by the seriously upwardly mobile Frodon in Cheltenham’s Ryan Air Chase last time out, the Venetia Williams trained 9yo Aso, is top rated for Saturday’s heat, and if the race was run over 4f shorter, would probably be at the head of the market. However, he has only run beyond 21f twice in his 30 race career, and didn’t seem to get home on either occasion. However, that said, his shrewd trainer certainly knows the time of day, and may be hoping the undemanding Wetherby track will suit,  and her talented 9yo is another who can go well after a break.

Colin Tizzard won with the outstanding Cue Card four years ago and will be hoping his progressive 7yo, Elegant Escape can bring the prize back to Milborne Port for a second time. One thing is for sure the son of Dubai Destination won’t fail for a lack of stamina as he certainly wasn’t stopping when winning last year’s 3m5 1/2f Welsh Grand National. He ran another excellent race in the 3m 1 1/2f Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January finishing a staying on 2nd to Frodon who was conceding 2lbs. He failed to make any impression in the Gold Cup or in an Aintree Grade1 20 days later and hasn’t been seen since. I just wonder if he has the pace for a race like Saturday’s and unless the heavens open he may find them going a little too quick.

Selection : La Bague Au Roi

EW.           : Ballyoptic

John Gray

Randox Health Handicap Chase 2 miles Cheltenham Saturday

Cheltenham RacecourseThis weekend sees the commencement of the new season at Prestbury Park and Saturday’s feature, The Randox Health Handicap Chase, with 18 runners declared at the time of writing, looks like being a pretty competitive affair. The Paul Nicholls trained Modus won last year’s renewal, but only after a sustained battle up that famous hill with the 10yo Duke Of Navan, and racing off the same mark this year, the “Dukes” talented trainer, Nicky Richards, must fancy his chances of going one better with his evergreen veteran. Having his first run for 189 days, the son of Presenting travelled superbly throughout last year’s heat, took it up after the last, and in a sustained dual with the winner was only collared in the shadow of the post. The 11yo, who handles most ground, showed he was as good as ever when finishing a close 3rd in a valuable Leopardstown Handicap in February, and following the same pattern as last year (he is again making his seasonal debut following a 197 day break) has to be of interest.

Mr Nicholls has two entered, Capeland and Brelan D’As, and despite the formers win in a Bumper over the track in 2016, the impression remains that he is better suited by going right handed, so Paul’s best chance of bringing the prize back to Ditcheat again would seem to lie with the 8yo Brelan D’As. The ex French son of Crillon has won 2 of his 10 starts over fences, and put in an excellent effort when finishing 3rd in The Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap over the New course at The Festival in March. He could be better suited by the less galloping nature of the Old course on Saturday, and as one who can go well after a break, and handles soft ground is well worth considering.

trainer brian

Brian Ellison saddles our fancy Forest Bihan

Just behind Brelan D’As in The Grand Annual was the Brian Ellison trained Forest Bihan, and 8lbs better off with the Nicholls horse on Saturday must have serious prospects of reversing the form if taking up the engagement. (Also entered in The Old Roan at Aintree on Sunday). Following a break of 176 days he had a nice pipe opener when finishing 3rd behind Saturday’s opponent, Mcgroarty at Kelso 20 days ago and sure to have benefited from the run can be fancied to get the better of Dr Newland’s charge on 5lbs better terms. As a Grade 2 winner over fences he has a touch of Class and with the yard firing in the winners from all directions the 8yo has plenty to recommend him.

Mind you the Ellison second string, the 6yo, Nietzsche, is not without a chance. A hugely versatile type, he must be a real pleasure to own. A talented competitor on the flat, he has won 4 times in that discipline, and has proved just as adept at hurdling, notching up another 4 wins over timber. To date he has won 2 of his 6 starts over fences and is rated on a mark of 135 giving him a nice racing weight of 10-6 on Saturday. However a lot of rain wouldn’t help his cause.

The Charlie Longsdon trained Western Miller’s form took a definite upturn in June with two impressive front running victories over 20f at Stratford and Southwell and is now rated 16lbs higher than he was at the end of May. He has never won over 2 miles but isn’t short of pace, (close 2nd twice in National Hunt Flat races) and could make his presence felt with another front running effort.

The Dan Skelton trained 8yo Marracudja, has won over Saturday’s course and distance when trained by Paul Nicholls but has drawn a blank in his 8 starts since changing yards 14 months ago. However his penultimate run at Perth wasn’t without promise and he is now on a mark a pound lower than his previous winning mark. Coming from this yard it won’t surprise if the son of Martaline proves competitive.

Harry Whittingham’s ex French 6yo, Saint Calvados, has won 4 of his first 5 races including  a Warwick Grade2 in February 2018 and a Naas Grade3 in Nov 2018 since crossing the Channel. However, stepped up to Grade1 level for his three runs since, he has failed to be competitive, last time finishing 24L behind Altior in The Queen Mother Chase at The Festival. Saturday represents a big drop in class for this talented individual who will relish plenty of rain, can go well fresh and looks reasonably treated on his mark of 155.

Selection  : Forest Bihan

EW.            : Duke Of Navan

John Gray

Queen Elizabeth 11 Stakes (Group1) 1m (Str) Ascot Saturday

ascot moetThe Queen Elizabeth II Stakes is the big international centrepiece of British Champions Day on Saturday, and while the overall record of Gallic invaders hasn’t been that impressive, they have won two of the last five renewals, courtesy of the Freddy Head trained duo, Charm Spirit in 2014 and Solow the following year. The legendary Jockey/Trainer is unrepresented at the weekend, but fellow French handler, the upwardly mobile, Francis-Henri Graffard, looks to have serious prospects of again taking the prize across the Channel for France with his rapidly improving 4yo gelding, The Revenant.

The son of Dubawi has won 8 of his 10 starts, the first two, (at a pretty modest level) when trained at Newmarket by Hugo Palmer. Transferred to Chantilly handler, Graffard, for his 3yo campaign, he won 3 of his 4 starts, again at a fairly low level, ending the season with a win in a Saint-Cloud conditions event. Gelded over the Winter, he returned to action at a higher level, winning all his first 3 starts, culminating with a Group2 Victory at Baden-Baden at the end of May. A real soft ground specialist, he took a 128 day Summer break, (presumably avoiding the faster ground) and put in a really scintillating effort on his reappearance in Longchamp’s Group2, Prix Daniel Wildenstein, on very soft ground a fortnight ago, beating the Group1 winning Olmedo, by 4 1/2L. With plenty of rain in the forecast he looks likely to get his ground, and with riding phenomenon, Pierre-Charles Boudot, doing the steering, the son of Dubawi, has plenty to recommend him.

Aidan O’Brien has won the race 4 times and both his Magna Grecia, and Circus Maximus, look interesting. The former, was landing his second Group1 from 4 starts when winning The 2000gns by 2 1/2L from King Of Change at the beginning of May but then was a major disappointment when sent off a 6/4 chance for the Irish equivalent 3 weeks later. He failed to make any impression and finished a well beaten 5th. However that was on fast ground and his only other defeat came on a similar surface. The going for his Guineas victory was described as Good but the time would suggest that there was plenty of juice in the ground so it’s probably safe to assume that the son of Invincible Spirit needs to get his toe in to perform to his optimum. Indeed his dam, Cabaret, a daughter of the great Galileo scored her only two wins on soft and his half brother, Invincible Ryder was also at his best when the mud was flying.

Aidan O’Brien’s Yucatan For Racing Post Trophy GloryCircus Maximus was landing the second top level success of his 10 race career when winning the Group1 Prix Du Moulin by the minimum distance from Romanised 6 weeks ago. Headed at the furlong market he really had to battle for it, demonstrating what a tough individual he is. A strict interpretation of the form through the 4th home in The Moulin, Olmedo, leaves him with something to find with The Revenant, but the son of Galileo is out of that classy mare Durtle who was progressive throughout her career, and was at her best on easy ground, suggesting that her son’s career may be following a similar pattern.

Saeed Bin Suroor, with 5 wins to his credit, has the best record in the race, and will be hoping to make it 6 with his top rated, globe trotting, 5yo, Benbatl. The son of the exceptional Dubawi has top level victories in Australia, Hong Kong, Germany, and Dubai on his c.v. and connections would love to add Great Britain to the list, and following an impressive win in Newmarket’s Group2 Joel Stakes 22 days ago it certainly looks possible. Racing over a mile for the first time since June 2018, champion elect, Murphy, sent Benbatl straight into the lead, and dictating the pace throughout, cleared away for an impressive 5L victory. Campaigned over further for most of his career, connections must have been delighted with the performance and are surely looking forward to Saturday with plenty of optimism. A word of caution though, their Super Star, has never won with with the word soft in the going description.

With 2 wins, and 3 seconds, from 6 starts at the Berkshire track, the David O’Meara trained 6yo, Lord Glitters, clearly loves Ascot, and ran his best race ever at the track when landing the Group1 Queen Anne Stakes over Saturday’s course and distance in June. He seems to handle any ground and I’m sure the talented Irishman will have his stable star primed for maximum effort on Saturday.

The Richard Hannon trained King Of Change, was a 66/1 shot when runner up in
The 2000gns, but showed there was no fluke about it 137 days later, when comfortably beating the 112 rated Turgenev, at Sandown 31 days ago. His half brother,
Century Dream ran a great race in this last year beaten only 3/4L in 3rd when an unconsidered 25/1 shot on soft ground.

Selection.  : The Revenant

EW.             : Magna Grecia

John Gray

Emirates Cesarewitch Stakes (Handicap) 2m2f (Rowley) Newmarket Saturday

Cesarewitch guruI hope plenty of followers of The Oddsguru Blog took our advice and rowed in with our EW suggestion, Waldegeist in last Sunday’s “Arc”. Available at some very fancy prices when first advised last Wednesday, Andre Fabre’s, Longchamp specialist was always travelling well within himself at the back of midfield, and when asked by his outstanding rider, Pierre-Charles Boudot, made up ground with consummate  ease from 1 1/2f out, and went past the 1/2fav, Enable, 50yds from the post to win by 1 3/4L, recording his 5th course victory in the process. There will be nothing in the Waldegeist class lining up for Saturday’s Cesarewitch, but in a heat, 2m2f in length, contested over 2 counties, (starts in Suffolk, ends in Cambridgeshire) that is always run with the choke out, some of the French Star’s stamina will not go amiss, and the current market leader, Buildmeupbuttercup, shouldn’t fail on that front.

Trained by top Irish trainer, Willie Mullins, (won last year’s renewal with Low Sun) Buildmeupbuttercup proved her stamina for this when a running on 2nd in Royal Ascot’s 2m4f eponymous Handicap in June. The 5yo daughter of Sixties Icon, showed that she wasn’t short of pace either when taking a 12f Galway Maiden next time out, and following a 45 day break, put up another excellent performance 4 weeks ago, when failing by a neck to concede 15lbs to the rapidly improving 3yo Kastasa over 13f. As the winner has gone on to win a Curragh Group3 and is now rated 109, a strict interpretation of the form would make the Mullins mare look like something of a good thing on Saturday off her mark of 94, but it has to be remembered that Kastasa is a rapidly improving 3yo so perhaps that conclusion is a little tenuous. Nevertheless, however you look at it the Mullins mare looks very well handicapped, and proven on soft ground, (won a Bumper on soft when trained by Mick Channon) she is well worth considering.

prescott newmarketThat uber shrewd master of getting a horse well handicapped, Sir Mark Prescott has never won The Cesarewitch but goes to war on Saturday with two contenders, both of whom look very well in, Timoshenko and Land Of Oz. The former, a 4yo, won all 5 starts at 3, and carried on the good work on his seasonal debut, following a 355 days break, he landed a Goodwood Handicap over 2m4 1/2f, 73 days ago. Clearly still improving, he is only 5 lbs higher on Saturday, and the main concern would be soft ground, as he has never won, or been placed on anything slower than Good. On the other hand, Sir Marks’ second runner, Land Of Oz, looked very much at home on soft ground when winning over 2m1 1/2f at Ayr in July, and this improving 3yo son of Derby winner Australia, has been very shrewdly placed to sneak into Saturday’s heat at the bottom of the handicap. He won his first run in a handicap, back in July, off a lowly 58, and despite winning 4 of his next 5 starts, still needed to win Newmarket’s Cesarewitch Trial over Course and Distance 3 weeks ago to get into Saturday’s race, a feat he accomplished in some style, winning comfortably by 1 1/2L. Top lightweight pilot David Egan, takes the ride, and could be the one to Land Sir Mark, his first Cesarewitch.

Another upwardly mobile 3yo is the Andrew Balding trained Ranch Hand, and he revelled in the Haydock mud when landing a valuable 14f Handicap 5 weeks ago. By The Melbourne Cup winner, Dunaden, out of the High Chaparral mare Victoria Montoya who stayed 2 miles well, he is bred for the job, and with champion elect, Oisin Murphy, doing the steering has plenty to recommend him.

It isn’t often that the master of Ballydoyle has runners in a race like The Cesarewitch, so it’s worth taking note when 4 of them appear in the declarations, and the one that catches the eye is the 3yo colt, Barbados. Beautifully bred by Galileo out of the Danehill mare, Sumora, he has only won one of his 8 starts, a Navan Maiden, but undoubtedly his best performance came when racing on soft ground for the first time, he was only beaten 1/2L, by the now 109 rated Dashing Willoughby, in Royal Ascot’s 14f Group2 Queens Vase, where the subsequent St Leger 3rd, Nayef Road, was a further 1/2L back in 3rd. He has done little since, and indeed finished last of 17 last time out, but coming from this quarter, it is premature to write him off, and if the ground does come up soft on Saturday, it could well spike a revival in the fortunes of this well bred colt.

If the going does get testing don’t ignore Alan King’s Chester Cup Hero,
Coeur De Lion as he came home 5L clear of his rivals over The Roodeye’s 2m2 1/2f on heavy ground. He ran well without troubling the judge in his following 3 races, so top handler King has given him a nice 78 day break, and he will strip one of the freshest in the field.

Selection.  : Land Of Oz

EW.             : Ranch Hand

Qatar Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe 1mile 4furlongs Longchamp

waldgeist arc

Waldgeist represents cracking value at his current odds of 12-1

The big question facing racing fans on Sunday is whether Khalid Abdullah’s fabulous mare can enable, (forgive the pun) his owner to become the winning most in the 99 years of Europe’s premier contest. With 6 victories he currently shares that distinction with the legendary Marcel Boussac, and on all known form it is rather difficult to envisage Enable failing to deliver the goods on Sunday. If she does, she will be carving her own niche in the history books, as the first to win the great race 3 times, and will be giving Jockey, Frankie Dettori a seventh success, and trainer, Gosden a fourth. Having won the last 2 renewals, and achieving the fantastic record of winning all 10 of her races at the top level, it can be argued that her current odds of 8/11 still represent some value, but I’m not so sure. Last year’s win at Longchamp was her only appearance at The Paris track, (the 2017 renewal was run at Chantilly) and despite having the best of the draw in stall 6 she only got home by a short neck from Sea Of Class, drawn out in 15. Her first 2 wins this year were hard fought, particularly that epic struggle against Crystal Ocean in the King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and while her win in The Yorkshire Oaks 46 days ago was more comfortable, it’s worth remembering that plenty of “good things” have met their Waterloo on the Paris track.

obrien investec

The Master of Ballydoyle will be hopeful of Japan’s chances and so are we

It has been a good race for improving 3yo’s, (have won 6 of the last 10 renewals) and the Aidan O’Brien trained Japan, certainly falls into that category. Ignored in the market for the Derby, he started a 20/1 shot, but belying his odds finished best of all and despite pilot, Wayne Lordan, dropping his “persuader” was only beaten 1/2L in 3rd. It has been a case of upwards and onwards since, and he is unbeaten in his last 3 races.  I felt he was particularly impressive last time over an inadequate 10 1/2f in York’s
Juddmonte International, where, headed inside the last 50 yards by the hot favourite,
Crystal Ocean, (rated 127) he battled back heroically to get up on the line. By the great Galileo out of the Danehill mare Shastye, (won over 13f) he has won over Sunday’s course and distance, (Group1 Grand Prix De Paris in July) is improving at a rate of knots and looks great value at his current odds of 6/1.

Another 3yo taking serious steps forward is the Pau based handler, J-C Rouget’s Sottsass. By the very successful sire, Siyouni, (stud fee €100,000) he kept on strongly to win the 10f Group1 Prix Du Jockey Club, (French Derby) at the beginning of June and stepped up to 12f, readily won the good Arc trial, The Prix Neil, over course and distance 3 weeks ago. In a heat run in a time 3 seconds faster than standard, he overcame difficulties in running to win comfortably. He is out of the Galileo mare, Starlets Sister, which makes him a half brother to the top American mare, Sistercharlie, who has won 6 Grade1 events, and it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise if the winners share of Sunday’s €5,000,000 pot were to end up down in the lovely Pyrenean town of Pau.

Godolphin have won the race twice, and trainer, Charlie Appleby will be hoping to make it three with the lightly raced 4yo, Ghaiyyath. A winner of 5 of his seven starts, he struck at the top level for the first time when landing Germany’s Group1 Grosser Preis Von Baden in Spectacular fashion 36 days ago. Tackling 12f for the first time, he took it up 3f out, went clear, and won by an impressive 14L. With a 19/1 shot finishing second the form is difficult to weigh up but the Group1 winning favourite, Laccario, was a further 4 1/2L back in 3rd. Beautifully bred, he is by the exceptional, Dubawi, out of the 2006 winner of The Irish 1000gns, Nightime, which makes him a half brother to the top class mare, Zhukova, and I’m sure there is plenty more to come from the Godolphin colt.

With 7 wins, French genius, Andre Fabre, is by some distance the most successful handler in the race, and his 5yo, Waldgeist, who finished 4th last year, is no forlorn hope. A real Longchamp specialist, he has won 4 of his 6 starts at the track, and perhaps even more significantly, the only time he was beaten in his 4 heats when racing over 12f at the course, was when finishing 4th in last year’s Arc. Badly drawn in 13, he was held up at the back of midfield where he met plenty of trouble and couldn’t get a clear run. When he did get out, the bird had flown, but the son of Galileo is a real pro, and he stayed on strongly to finish 4th, 1 3/4L behind Enable. He looked in great form when winning the Prix Foy over course and distance 3 weeks ago under a hands and heels ride, and current odds of 16/1 look generous.

Selection.      : Japan

EW.                 : Waldgeist

John Gray