888Sport Grimthorpe Handicap Chase 3m2f Doncaster Saturday

doncaster grimthorpeWith trainers having to make multiple declarations due to the wretched weather, it’s hard to know how many of the 23 five day runners declared for Doncaster’s feature will stand their ground, but on paper the heat looks a cracker, so let’s hope the wet weather doesn’t deter too many of them. On the face of it, the beautifully level track at Town Moor doesn’t look a particularly testing course, but Handicap Chases here tend to be run with the choke out, and if runners go for home turning into the long straight, which they nearly always do, its a long way to the finishing post, and usually it is the strongest stayer who prevails, so sufficient stamina to see out the trip is most important. Neither of the two previous winners in Saturday’s field, Definitely Red (2017) and last year’s Hero, Chidswell, should fail on this front, and of the two, the former looks the better equipped to handle the likely testing conditions at the weekend, and is preferred.

Racing off a mark of 149, Brian Ellison’s stable star, ran a marvellous race to win the 2017 renewal, never touching a twig the whole way round he came home 14L clear of the subsequent Grand National runner up, The Last Samuri. He races off a mark 7 lbs higher on Saturday but having put in some classy performances in the intervening three years, he has been rated as high as 167, and the evergreen 11yo, showed there is still plenty left in the locker when finishing 2nd to Vintage Clouds (rec 13lbs) in Haydock’s Grade2 Peter Marsh Chase last time, off Saturday’s mark of 156.

Paul Nicholls (main picture) sole victory came 20 years ago with one of the few 7yo’s to have ever won the race, Knights Templar, who won with the featherweight of 10-0 on his back, and the master of Ditcheat will be hoping to pull off a similar trick on Saturday with another 7yo, Worthy Farm, who has just 10-4 to carry. The son of Beneficial made little impression in his first two runs over fences but demonstrated in pretty convincing fashion in his last two that what is required is a trip, 3 miles+ on testing ground. In the first of them, racing off a mark of 125, (Wincanton 3m1f Soft Dec26) he travelled well throughout and comfortably held the challenge of Broadclyst who was receiving 15lbs.  5 weeks later, racing off a 5lbs higher mark, he outstayed the 137 rated, The Kings Writ, for a 2L victory over the same course and distance on Heavy. The latter victory was all the more meritorious as the runner up was well ridden by a 7lbs claimer that day which makes the improving Nicholls horse look very well treated on his mark of 137 at the weekend.

Michael Scudamore, whose yard is currently operating at a 100% success rate (3/3 in the last 14 days) runs the lightly raced 9yo, Some Chaos and if by some miracle the ground did start to dry out could be interesting. A winner of 4/7 over fences he ran his best race to date when winning a Kelso Class2 Handicap (3m2f Good)off a mark of 138 last March by 2 1/4L from the 146 rated Blue Flight. Retired for the season he has run 3 times this term, twice in Novice Hurdles and just the once over fences when finishing 13/24 in The Ladbroke at Newbury in November. He looks well handicapped on Saturday’s mark of 142 and if the sun did come out would be well worth a second look.

Dan Skelton has 3 entries, all lurking around the bottom of the handicap, and the most interesting of them could be his Warwick Classic Chase runner up, Captain Chaos. The 9yo has a relatively poor strike rate of 3/20 over fences but the Warwick effort was his best for some time, and racing off the same mark on Saturday, (134) will think he’s loose with just 10-1 on his back.

Despite some dodgy jumping, the Caroline Bailey trained 7yo, Boldmere, beat the subsequent Musselburgh Class2 winner, Bob Mahler by 10L in a Clas3 Handicap over 3 miles here at Doncaster off a mark of 133 at the end of December, and 34 days later, taking a big step up in class, looked to have the race at his mercy when coming down at the last when 3L clear in Wetherby’s Grade2 Towton Novices Chase. (3miles Soft) Boldmere only came to the excellent Ms Bailey at the end of last October and has now won 2 of his 4 starts for the yard and if she can get him to concentrate a little better at his fences there could be plenty more to come.

The Stuart Edmonds trained 9yo, Now Mc Ginty was a decent hurdler, (142) and is maturing into an even better chaser. He has only won one of his 8 starts over fences, but has run some excellent races in defeat, not least when giving the 163 rated Santini a fright at Sandown in November. Making his seasonal debut, he made the running until after the 2nd last, where the classy Santini forged ahead, but Now Mc Ginty battled back and was only beaten a head. He was sent off a 7/1 chance for The Welsh Grand National next time out but 3m6 1/2f in the Chepstow mud proved a bridge too far for the son of Stowaway and he finished 9/27, 29L behind the winner. However he has had a nice 9 weeks break since, and considering he ran last weeks Betway Handicap Chase winner, Mr Malarky (151) to 1 1/2L in last year’s Grade2 Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot, he doesn’t look at all badly treated on Saturday’s mark of 147, giving him a comfortable racing weight of 11-0. From a top NH family, 5 of his 6 siblings have been winners, the most notable of them being the triple Grade1 winner Outlander.

Only 3 animals have successfully carried more than 11-7 in the history of the event so top weight, Beware The Bear has a serious challenge on his hands. However he is no stranger to carrying big weights and won a Cheltenham Handicap (3m2 1/2F G/S Jan 2019) with the steadier of 12-1 on his back. However that was off a mark of 146 in a poorer race and he is 13lbs higher on Saturday. He could only finish 4th in The Ladbroke Trophy off a pound lower so a win for the 10yo looks a big ask.

Selection.    : Worthy Farm

EW.              : Captain Chaos  Now Mc Ginty

John Gray

Betway Handicap Chase (Grade3) (Class1) 3miles Kempton Saturday

kempton nicholls

Paul Nicholls bids for a hat-trick on Saturday

With floods of Biblical proportions devastating the country, North, South, East, and West, it’s difficult to predict what meetings will survive the dreadful weather, but the excellent draining track at Sunbury would seem to hold out the best prospects of any jumping action at the weekend. The top class card features three Grade2s over timber and the very valuable, highly competitive looking, Grade3, Betway Handicap Chase over fences, so let’s hope this quality card gets the go ahead. The Chase was first run in 1949, and while it was always considered a Grand National Trial, it wasn’t until 1988, when the Racing Post Organization took on sponsorship of the event for the first
time, that  the winner, Rhyme ‘n’Reason, went on to land the Big One at Aintree. There has only been one other animal to bring off the double since, Rough Quest in 1996, but who knows, another might emerge on Saturday.

Paul Nicholls has won the race twice, and with 4 entered is clearly hoping to land it for a 3rd time. Of his 4, Black Corton has a huge task with top weight, and Romain De Senam hasn’t run since June, so the two to be interested in are Adrien Du Pont and Sametegal. The former was 3rd in last year’s renewal off a mark of 151, and following three, less than convincing efforts since, gets into Saturday’s race on a mark 6 lbs lower. It would be hard to fancy him on his last run, 4/5 beaten 25L at Ascot 9 weeks ago, but he is well handicapped with Saturday’s opponent, Just A Sting who he beat by 3 1/2L over Course and Distance, (Dec 2018) and is only a pound worse off. However, despite plenty of interest in him in the markets, he certainly has questions to answer, and the Ditcheat runner to be interested in is the lightly raced 11yo Sametegal. He has only had 11 starts over fences, (won twice), and has put in 2 very solid rounds since returning from a 665 days break in November. He was an excellent runner up to the now rated 149, Benny’s King, on his reappearance in November, (Newbury) and was even better last time, finishing 4/11, only 2L behind Saturday’s opponent, Just A Sting, over Saturday’s Course and Distance, giving him 7lbs. He didn’t help his cause that day by blundering badly at the first and with the benefit of the talented Conditional,
Bryan Carver’s 5lbs claim at the weekend, he meets the winner on 8lbs better terms, and it should be close between them.

Mind you, Just A Sting has only raced 7 times over fences, and may have needed that last run, so on just a 3 lbs higher mark, he could still be well handicapped, and his talented trainer, Harry Fry, having won with Opening Batsman in 2013 knows what is required.

The last 6yo to land the spoils was the brilliant but unlucky Gloria Victis 20 years ago,(having cantered up in this was killed contesting the Cheltenham Gold Cup 3 weeks later) so the Jane Williams trained market leader, the French bred Erick Le Rouge, will need to be a little special. That said, the 6yo, jumped like an old hand when winning a 2m4 1/2f Handicap here at Kempton 6 weeks ago. Ridden 4L clear two out, he put in a super jump at the last and held on well to win by 3/4L. As this was only his 4th race over fences a 7 lbs rise shouldn’t stop him, but a bigger concern would be Saturday’s trip. ( also engaged in the 2 1/2m Novices on Saturday’s Card) He has never raced beyond 2m5f, (won 2 Hurdle races here at Kempton over 2m5f) and his style of racing doesn’t convince that 3 miles will be ideal, but there are positives from his pedigree, as his half brother, Ornais, won over 3m 1/2f,  and wasn’t stopping when finishing 5/20 in the 4 miles National Hunt Chase at the 2008 Festival.

The 10yo, Double Shuffle, has raced 5 times over Saturday’s Course and Distance, and his record reads an impressive 2 5 2 2 1. Racing off a mark of 154 in last year’s renewal and carrying top weight of 11-12, he was  conceeding a massive 20lbs to the winner,  but despite a courageous effort from the last failed by a length to haul him in. The Handicapper has relented a little, dropping him 4 lbs Giving him a more comfortable racing weight of 11-3 this time, and there would be no more deserving winner, if this runner up in the 2017 King George, managed to get his head in front on Saturday.

The Alan King trained Talk Is Cheap was sent off the 4/1JF for last year’s renewal but could only finish a well beaten 5th off his mark of 145. He put up a dramatically improved performance 9 weeks later when hosing up by 10L off the same mark in Sandown’s Bet365 Gold Cup (3m5f Good) and now races off a mark 12 lbs higher. Perhaps the improved performance at Sandown was down to the longer trip but the lightly raced 8yo isn’t short of pace, (has won 2 Hurdle races over 2m3f) and even off his new mark could make his presence felt particularly in the unlikely event of getting decent ground. A prominent showing would certainly see a contraction in his current odds of 33/1 for Aintree.

The Ben Pauling trained 8yo, Kildisart is 3/8 over fences and a reproduction of his performance when winning an Aintree Grade3 off a mark of 148 by 5L from Mister Malarky last April would make him interesting. He has failed to show a similar level of form in his subsequent 3 races including last time in the Ascot Mud, but is another for whom decent ground could spark a revival. Interestingly his 3 years younger half brother, The Big Breakaway, is getting the pulses racing at Chez Tizzard, down Milborne Port way,  as he has trotted up in his one Irish PTP and won both his starts over hurdles with consummate ease.

Selection.   : Sametegal

EW.              : Just A Sting

Betway Kingwell Hurdle (Grade2) 2miles Wincanton Saturday

horse called bulka

Bula and John Francome

The inaugural running of the Kingwell in 1971 was won by that fabulous hurdler Bula who went on to win that year’s, and the 1972 Champion Hurdle. The race has continued to be fair guide to “The Champion” with 4 winners, Lanzarote, Alderbrook,
Hors La Loi and most recently Katchit in 2008 landing both prizes. While at first glance Saturday’s field looks a little unlikely to be harbouring a future Cheltenham hero, I’m not so sure. In what looks a very open year it’s not impossible, and one whose Champion aspirations should not be underestimated is Nicky Henderson’s
Fusil Raffles.

The ex French 5yo won one of his two starts, a minor 3yo affair in the provinces, when trained in France by racing legend, Guillame Macaire, but arriving at Seven Barrows at the end of 2018, Nicky threw him in at the deep end for his first race, Kempton’s Grade2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle, and connections must have been delighted with the way he drew right away from a useful field after the last for a facile 9L victory.

macaire

Monsieur Macaire

He demonstrated emphatically that there was no fluke  about it 70 days later when stepped up to Grade1 level in Punchestown’s Champion 4yo Hurdle, he registered another impressive win, beating the talented Fakir D’oudairies by 2 1/2L. As the runner up had previously run Pentland Hills, (a 5/1 shot for next months Champion Hurdle) to a hard fought neck in Aintree’s Grade1 4yo Juvenile Hurdle, this has to be seen as a pretty outstanding performance. Put away for the season after Punchestown, he made his seasonal debut in The Elite Hurdle over Saturday’s course and distance in November, and while he won, (from last year’s Kingwell winner, Grand Sancy) the performance could best be described as workmanlike. Connections must have been hoping for better 47 days later when he was sent off the 2/1JF with his well backed stable companion, Epatante, for Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle, but must have been bitterly disappointed, as he raced far too keenly, and was beaten before 2 out, where he was pulled up. Undoubtedly a bit of a shocker, but one poor run doesn’t make him a bad horse, and a repeat of his Punchestown effort would make him something of a good thing on Saturday.

Alan King has won the race 4 times, and it would be a terrific feat of training if the
Barbury Castle handler could make it 5 with his 2018 winner, Elgin. Off the track for 704 days, (582 flat) the last time he jumped a Hurdle in public was when finishing 5/11 in the 2018 Champion Hurdle, but in his previous race had beaten Saturday’s opponent Ch’tibello, (rec 4lbs) by 2 1/2L in Saturday’s feature. Elgin meets the Skelton runner,
(has improved since) on 8lbs better terms at the weekend, and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see him involved at the business end.

Having finished runner up twice, (2017, 2018) the 9yo Ch’tibello, certainly deserves a change of luck, and last year’s impressive County Hurdle winner shows no signs of deteriorating. He was only 1 1/2L behind the 157 rated Call Me Lord (rec4lbs) on his seasonal debut in December, and the race probably came too soon when finishing 5/10 in the Christmas Hurdle only 12 days later.

chtibello

Ch’tibello owner Ian Marmion

The son of Sageburg has had a nice 51 days break, (goes well fresh) and  Saturday’s renewal could easily prove to be a case of third time lucky.

Ditcheat handler, Paul Nicholls, has won the race three times, and will be hoping that either Quel Destin, or Diego Du Charmil can emulate his 2019 winner, Grand Sancy. The 8yo Diego Du Charmil, having enjoyed mixed fortunes (3/12) over fences, reverts to hurdling for the first time in nearly 3 years. A talented hurdler, he won the 2016 Fred Winter at the Festival off a mark of 133 and a Musselburgh Class1 Handicap off 140 in February 2017 but Saturday’s race looks a very big ask and Paul’s best chance of landing a 4th win looks to lie with the 5yo Quel Destin. Very experienced for his age, he  is a winner of 8 of his 15 starts over hurdles, and all ground seems to come alike to the tough son of Muhtahir. He positively revelled in the Sandown mud when coming home 3L clear of Call Me Lord (gave 3lbs) a fortnight ago, and with two Grade2 wins on Good, and a Grade1 on Soft, to his credit, the Ditcheat contender is clearly a very versatile animal and I’m sure there is plenty more to come from this Uber tough animal.

Colin Tizzard’s 6yo, Master Debonair, rather unusually for an animal bred to jump, spent his first 18 months contesting NH flat races where he won 2 of his 5 starts including a Cheltenham Class1, but since he’s had a Hurdle put in front of him his career has really blossomed, and is probably a little unlucky not to have a 100% record in his 3 races over timber. He has won his last two with his head in his chest and was particularly impressive last time, when, despite being a little “novicy” he beat the 142 rated Ribble Valley, (rec 3lbs) by 8L In Ascot’s Grade2 Supreme Trial Novices Hurdle
(2m Heavy Dec 20). By the 4 times Ascot Gold Cup winning stallion Yeats, out of the useful race mare, Swincome Flame (rated135) who was best at 2 1/2 miles, ( third to the mighty Quevega in the 2 1/2 miles David Nicholson at the 2013 festival) Colin Tizzard’s highly promising charge will probably need further in time, but he has been pretty convincing over two miles to date.

Selection   : Fusil Raffles

Danger.      Ch’tibello

John Gray

Betfair Hurdle (Handicap) (Grade3) (Class1) 2m1/2f Newbury Saturday

newbury betfair chase

Willie Mullins saddles the handily weighted Ciel De Niege

One of the major handicaps in the calendar, The Betfair In recent years has become the preserve of the unexposed, younger hurdler, and the last 13 renewals have been won by either a five or six year old. Nicky Henderson with 5 wins is the most successful handler, (last win came with JP McManus’s My Tent Or Yours seven years ago) but the best recent record belongs to Naunton trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has won 3 of the last 6 runnings, including last year with the 6yo Al Dancer, and he looks to have another strong hand this year with Stolen Silver and Sir Valentine.

The former, a French bred 5yo son of the good NH stallion Lord Du Sud, has won 2 of his 4 starts over timber and put in a career topping effort last time when getting up in the last stride to win the Grade2 Rossington Main Novices Hurdle at Haydock 3 weeks ago. Hanging left before 2 out on the heavy ground he seemed outpaced, but rallied strongly inside the final 150yards to claim the scalp of the 142 rated Edwardstone. He has been given a mark of 148 for Saturday giving him 11-7 to carry which looks tough for a 5yo but is clearly improving and would be well suited by plenty of rain.

Nigel’s second string, the 7yo ex flat racer, Sir Valentine, with just 4 starts over hurdles is pretty unexposed. He looked destined for second place when falling at the last when making his debut over the smaller obstacles last October, but 27 days later looked much more the finished article when winning a Novice Hurdle over Saturday’s course and distance in quite taking style. His next 2 efforts were more workmanlike, finishing 2/13 in a Wetherby Novices, (Soft) and stepped up to Grade3 level finishing 3/13 to Saturday’s market leader, Not So Sleepy in the Sandown mud 7 weeks ago. He finished
13 1/2L behind the winner, who clearly revelled in the heavy ground at the Esher Track, but Sir Valentine is 17lbs better off on Saturday, and given the likely more suitable going at the weekend, needs considering off his low weight of 10-3.

Legendary owner, JP Mc Manus’s record in the race in the last decade reads an impressive 2 wins and 3 seconds, so clearly The Betfair is a heat very much on his radar. He has 3 entered at the 5 days declarations and of the three the one that catches the eye is the Willie Mullins trained Ciel De Neige. A 5yo, French bred son of Authorized, has failed to catch the judges eye in any of his 6 starts, (3 in his native France) but making his debut for his new connections, Mullins and McManus, in last year’s Fred Winter off a mark of 132 at The Cheltenham Festival, he ran an excellent race to finish 3/21. Racing for the first time over English style obstacles he was only 3 3/4L behind the 139 rated winner, Band Of Outlaws, and but for a mistake 3 out would have finished closer. The winner went on to land the Galway Hurdle and is now rated on a mark of 149 which makes the Mullins horse look very well treated on 135 on Saturday. Shrewdly, Ciel De Neige was put away for the season after Cheltenham and hasn’t damaged his mark by finishing 2nd (almost collided with railings and mistake 2 out, finished strongly, just denied) in a modest Limerick Maiden 6 weeks ago.  With the nice racing weight of 10-8 he has to be of serious interest.

Philip Hobbs has yet to win a Betfair but with 3 entered, including the top weight,
Gumball, he is clearly intent on improving his record. Gumball, with the steadier of 11-12 will have his work cut out and preference is for the 7yo, Oakley. A winner of 2 of his 7 starts, the son of Oscar has made steady progress this term, and ran his best race to date when finishing 2nd in a Cheltenham Class3 last time. (Dec13 2m1f Soft)
Ridden to take it up after the last, he was headed in the final 100yds, and found the concession of 23lbs to the neck winner Repetito just too much. Saturday’s opponent, the Nicky Henderson trained Never Adapt, (Racing in the Green And Gold Mc Manus livery) was a further 1 1/2L back in third and meets Oakley on a pound worse terms. However it was Never Adapt’s first run for 391 days and he landed a Kempton Handicap 4 weeks ago for the Seven Barrows handler so it could be close between them.

The Harry Fry trained 6yo, Lightly Squeeze hasn’t beaten much in his last 3 races but couldn’t have done it more easily, and was particularly impressive last time winning a modest Plumpton Handicap by 14L. Harry must have been quietly hoping that the 5lbs claimer would have put the brakes on a bit earlier as the son of Poet’s Voice was landed with a whopping 17lbs hike in the weights for his facile victory. An ex flat racer, he failed to failed to trouble the judge in any of his 4 starts over hurdles for his previous handler but since joining the Fry operation his record stands at 3/6 and with Welsh Ace, Sean Bowen, doing the steering on Saturday it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see him involved at the business end.

If connections Champion Hurdle ambitions are to be realised, the Hughie Morrison trained, Not So Sleepy, will need to win Saturday’s race off his mark of 144. Rated 94 on the flat (4th in last year’s Cesarewitch) the son of Beat Hollow is a latecomer to the jumping game and he never jumped a Hurdle in public until January last year. However his score is now 3/5 in his new discipline  and he got his connections collective pulses racing, with two impressive Ascot victories in his last two races, winning a Class2 Handicap off a mark of 122 in November, and even more eye catchingly, landing the Grade3 Class1 Betfair Exchange Trophy by 9L in the Berkshire mud 29 days later off a 5 lbs higher mark. Clearly a talented animal, but he does seem to need the mud flying to produce his best, and with a dry week forecast he may struggle to defy his 17 lbs higher mark, and a waiting brief is advised.

The Evan Williams trained 6yo, Mack The Man is another whose form is on a strong upwards trajectory and he took the step up in Class in his stride when winning a Sandown Class1 last time off a mark of 122. (Dec7 Heavy). In his previous race he had beaten Saturdays opponent Lightly Squeeze giving him 6lbs and meets Harry Fry’s contender on 7 lbs better at the weekend. However don’t read too much into this as Light Squeeze has clearly improved in the meantime. Nevertheless Mack The Man looks really well handicapped on a mark of 130, giving him a lovely racing weight of
10-3.

Selection.      : Ciel De Neige.     If abs Mack The Man

EW.                 : Oakley.             Lightly Squeeze
John Gray