Newtonabbotracing.com Handicap Hurdle, 2m5 1/2f Newton Abbot Saturday

On a day when most of the flat racing is of a fairly pedestrian nature, Saturday’s Newton abbot Card provides this very competitive looking heat, so let’s hope that most if not all of the 13 four day declarations make it to the start.

Harry Skelton learning that he’s carry the weight of yours truly’s twenty pounds at Bangor last summer

 

Topweight, High Secret, only joined The Skelton Academy in June, (from Paul Nicholls) and hit the back of the net at the third attempt for his new yard when he impressively won a Class2 Market Rasen Handicap (2m4 1/2f Good) 6 week’s ago. Racing off a mark of 132 he made all, went clear before two out, and won hard held by 9L and the same, from North Hill, and Saturday’s opponent Voodoo Doll. He is 9lbs higher on Saturday and it’s a slight worry that his two previous victories over hurdles were also achieved on right handed tracks, but that performance at Market Rasen was most impressive, and a literal reading of the form with Voodoo Doll from their meeting at Worcester in June, (second run for Skelton) would suggest that High Secret had improved by at least 12lbs.

The Michael Blake trained Knight Of Noir is 4/18 over hurdles but has drawn a blank in all 6 starts since transferring from the Neil Mulholland yard last February. However there was some encouragement from his penultimate start when finishing 3rd, he was only beaten 1 1/2L in a Class2 Market Rasen Handicap racing off Saturday’s mark of 135. He can be excused his 4th on soft ground at Uttoxeter last time and it’s worth noting  that the 9yo has won off a mark 5lbs higher than Saturday’s in the past.

The above mentioned Mulholland has an interesting contender himself with the Tony Bloom owned 6yo, Sleep Easy. Since winning a Class3 Handicap at Wincanton off a mark of 130 in March 2017 he has been disappointing, but following wind surgery and a 91 day break, his 4th/6 here at Newton Abbot (2m2f) 32 days ago, racing off a mark of 134 was a little more encouraging. He was in contention until the 2nd last and may have found the trip on the short side. He races on Saturday off 132, and with his connections, any market moves are worth noting.

newton abbot odds

Newton Abbot race course

Harry Fry won last year’s renewal with the 6yo, Golden Birthday, and at the time of writing has two entries, Litterate Ci and Serosevsky. The former is 3/10 over hurdles and the JP McManus owned 5yo was quite impressive when stepped up to 2 1/2m for the first time. He won over this trip at  Ffos Las  off a mark of 125 under 7lbs claimer, Miss A O’Connor at the end of May, and he again ran well last time, under the same rider, in that heat won by Voodoo Doll at Worcester in June. Meeting trouble in running and not getting a clear run on the flat he finished strongly to finish 4th, 2L behind Voodoo Doll who he meets on 5lbs better terms on Saturday. He also meets High Secret who finished just ahead of him in 3rd on 9lbs better.

Harry’s second contender, Serosevsky, has won 2 of his 4 starts over hurdles and had little more than an exercise gallop when winning a Novice’s over the course (2m2f) ten days ago, at odds of 1/4. He makes his handicap debut off a lenient looking mark of 125 and while he has yet to race over Saturday’s distance under rules, he is stoutly bred and had no difficulty winning a PTP over 3miles as a 4yo.

The Philip Hobbs trained mare, Katy P is a course and distance winner, and the 6yo had a nice pipe opener following a 78 day break at Southwell, 13 days ago. Racing off a mark of 128, she looked to have every chance until weakening between the last two obstacles. A winner of 3 of her ten starts over hurdles she races off a mark of 127 and it wouldn’t surprise to see her involved at the business end.

The Nicky Henderson trained 8yo, Ballinure is 3/12 over hurdles and looks pretty exposed. His highest winning mark over hurdles is 122 so looks to have it all to do under 3lbs higher on Saturday.

The 8yo mare, Kentford Heiress, has been a great servant to connections, winning 7 of her 13 starts, and she also boasts an excellent record here at Newton Abbot, nearly always running well, and winning two of her 8 starts at the track. Indeed her last appearance here in July, (3m2f) only beaten 1 3/4L when finishing 4th off a mark of 122 was one of her best performances. However she finished 7/7 at Stratford last time and connections will be hoping the Devon air sparks a revival.

Selection. : litterate Ci (if abs) High Secret

E.W.           : Katy P

John Gray

188bet Summer Plate 2m5 1/2f Chase Market Rasen Saturday, a preview by Oddsguru

alcala summer plate

Alcala with trainer Paul Nicholls

First run in 1995, The Summer Plate has come home to the Ditcheat yard of Paul Nicholls on two occasions, when Dorans Gold won in 2001, and last year, when Oddsguru’s, 9/1 selection, Alcala, brought home the bacon. Last year’s Victor is joined this time by the 7yo, Bagad Bihoue, and the ex Point to Pointer, Monsieur Gibraltar, to mount a pretty serious looking challenge for this year’s renewal by the Somerset stable.

Alcala, on a mark of 148, is only a pound higher than last year, which seems quite lenient, as this winner of six of his fifteen starts over fences, went on to win his next two contests, and might well have made it three but for slipping up on the bend before the straight just after taking it up in a Listed race at Chepstow next time. He always seemed to be travelling well within himself in last year’s contest and beat the Peter Bowen trained Wadswick Court, (also entered on Saturday) by 3/4L giving him 21lbs. The runner up went on to win a valuable Uttoxeter heat a week later, and meets Alcala on 9lbs worse terms at the weekend. Alcala has had a pretty similar preparation for this as last year, and should be primed to give it his best shot on Saturday.

Stablemate, Bagad Bihoue, has won five of his nine starts over fences and beat Alcala last time by 3 1/2L at Newton Abbot 26 days ago on his first start for seven months. He meets Alcala on 4lbs worse terms at the weekend which should bring them closer together, and it’s worth remembering that Bagad Bihoue has won after a long break in the past. He may just have had a fitness edge on his stable companion and with Sam Twiston-Davies, (has won two of the last five renewals) in the plate, Alcala is preferred.

The third Ditcheat contender, the Hunter Chaser, Monsieur Gibraltar, has won four times in that discipline and gets into Saturday’s contest on a mark of 128 but a race like Saturday’s looks a big ask on his first attempt handicapping.

Peter Bowen has won The Summer Plate a record five times and is mob handed on Saturday, but the markets would seem to suggest that his best chance of landing a sixth win, lies with his 8yo, More Bucks. A winner of four of his thirteen starts over fences, including last time when coming home 21L clear of Pickamix off a mark of 119 in a Class3 Perth Handicap four weeks ago. He is 8lbs higher on Saturday but has won of this mark in the past, (Sandown 3mGd Dec 2016), and it wouldn’t surprise to see the son of Presenting involved.

market rasen summer

The finishing post at Market Rasen

JP McManus has seen his colours carried first past the post on two previous occasions, (No strings attached 2009 and It’s a Gimme 2014) and he will be hoping for a third win with the Rebecca Curtis trained Geordie Des Champs. A winner of two of his five chases, he could only finish 5th of 18 in Uttoxeter’s Summer Cup three weeks ago, but probably found the 3m2f trip beyond him, and will find Saturday’s trip more suitable. Rated 2lbs higher over hurdles we have probably yet to see the best of the son of Robin Des Champs over the larger obstacles and is worth considering.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Calett Mad has been plying his trade over the smaller obstacles for his last seven races, but has plenty of form over fences that makes him of interest in Saturday’s Chase. His 6L victory over Roc D’Apsis at right handed Taunton in a three mile Chase off a mark of 138 in January 2017 would suggest that he may well be suited by Market Rasen’s clockwise circuit and could also be well handicapped off his mark of 143. An excellent run in the 18 runner, 4miles, 2017 National Hunt Chase, where he was in contention until the 3rd last but didn’t last home, demonstrated his ability to cope with the demands of a large field. Only six, there could be plenty more to come from the ex French son of Axxos.

The Colin Tizzard trained Vicente Du Noyer finished 3rd, 3 1/2L and a nose behind Bagad Bihoue and Alcala in that Newton Abbot heat 26 days ago and meets the winner on 4lbs better on Saturday which must give him a squeak, but it has to be noted, that the 9yo veteran of 33 races under rules, has never won going right handed.

The Peter Niven trained 7yo, Brian Borhana is already a much better chaser (130)than hurdler (114) after only five outings over the larger obstacles, and showed how progressive he is last time, when winning a Class3 Southwell Handicap comfortably from that good yardstick, Ballyboker Breeze four weeks ago. The runner up went on to win his next race and is now rated 140, which makes Peter Niven’s son of Brian Boru, look pretty well treated on 130 giving him a very nice riding weight of 10-8.

Selection : Alcala
E.W.             :  Calett Mad      Geordie Des Champs

Pertemps Network Swinton Handicap Hurdle Tips 1m7 1/2f Haydock Saturday

As Welsh Maestro, Evan Williams has won three of the last five renewals of this valuable contest, his two contenders, John Constable, and Silver Streak, have to be of particular interest. The former won last year’s race by an impressive 14L racing off a mark of 134, and went on to defy a 16lbs higher mark in Market Rasen’s Summer Hurdle next time out. Raised another 6lbs to Saturday’s mark of 156 has seen him confined to conditions events with little success, including last time, when he finished 41L behind Buveur D’Aire in The Champion Hurdle in ninth place. Considering a mark of 141, ( Nicky Henderson’s Eradicate in 2011) is the highest rating of any winner in the last twelve years, John Constable clearly has a mammoth task on his hands, so perhaps Evan’s best chance of landing a fourth Swinton lies with the 5yo, Silver Streak.

A winner of three of his ten starts over hurdles, his highest winning mark to date has been 122, but he did run really well when finishing 2nd off a mark of 130 in the very valuable Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Ascot last December. If top weight and stable companion, John Constable, takes up the engagement, Silver Streak will only have the featherweight of 10-2 to carry and with his preferred good ground at the weekend almost assured, has to be worth considering.

Nicky Henderson won back to back runnings of The Swinton with Eradicate in 2010 and 2011 and fields two strong looking candidates, the 6yo mare, Verdana Blue and the 7yo Whatswrongwithyou this time around. The mare has been unplaced in her last two races but was a decent 3rd in that Racing Welfare heat at Ascot in December, and is 3lbs better off with the runner up that day, Silver Streak. Nevertheless, she looks high enough on her mark of 143, and preference is for the year older Whatswrongwithyou.

Lightly raced, he has only run four times over timber, finishing 2nd on his debut in December, winning a Novices next time from the useful Ok Corrall, and then winning his first venture into handicap company very easily off a mark of 133. He was beaten last time at Sandown off a mark of 139 but there were excuses as he was caught behind a wall of horses turning in, and did run on to finish 9L third of fifteen. We are unlikely to have yet seen the best of the 7yo, but a concern would be the likely top of the ground conditions at the weekend as he has never won on a surface with good in the going description before. However the messages from his pedigree are positive as his sire, Bienamado, won three times at the highest level on either Firm or Good to Firm, and his half brother, Gvs Irportensa has won and been placed on Good.

Philip Hobbs won the Swinton with Dreams end way back in 1994, and doubled up three years ago with War Sound, so certainly knows what is required, and he fields a likely looking candidate in the tough handicapper, Sternrubin. Mixing the flat, chasing and hurdling, the 7yo has won four of his sixteen starts over timber, (including a 4L victory over John Constable in Nov 2015) but has only raced four times over the smaller obstacles since beating Instant Karma in a Class1 Ascot Handicap Hurdle off a mark of 142 in October 2016. His last two runs have been quite promising, 10/24 in The County Hurdle, and 3/15 last time at Aintree, 11L behind Havana Beat, Racing off a mark of 140. Competing in large field handicaps holds no fears for the 7yo, who should have his preferred ground on Saturday, and running off a mark of 139, with the Hobbs operation firing in the winners at present, is well worth a second look.

Having fallen in The Henry V111 Novices Chase behind Sceau Royal in December, the Paul Nicholls trained Capitaine reverted to hurdles 130 days later, and finished a respectable 5/15 at Cheltenham in April, racing off a mark of 139. The 6yo has been dropped to a mark of 137 (12lbs below his Chase mark) which looks pretty generous for an animal that won an Ascot Grade2 in December 2016. He likes good ground and has form over the course so could just fill in a significant gap in the P. Nicholls C.V.

Another reverting to hurdles following a highly successful stint steeplechasing is last year’s runner up, Optimus Prime. Since then the Dan Skelton trained 6yo has made serious progress over fences, winning three of his four starts, and finishing runner up, albeit at a respectful 12L, to superstar Footpad, at The Punchestown Festival. He is now rated 147 in that discipline and if he has made similar progress over hurdles would look very well treated on Saturday’s mark of 140.

Having been held up off the pace in last year’s contest, the Alan King trained William H Bonney started to improve from before the third last, and but for having to swerve to avoid a faller at the last, might have been placed. His last four races have been disappointing, although he did look as if he might deliver at Cheltenham in November in the Greatwood Hurdle, when he looked a possible winner at the last, but faded up the hill to finish 6th off a mark of 137. His master trainer has always felt that the 7yo has what it takes to win one of these valuable handicaps and has certainly been given a chance by the handicapper, racing off a mark 4lbs lower than last year, and 8lbs lower than for the Greatwood. Odds of 33/1 available at the time of writing.

Selection: Capitaine

E.W. : Sternrubin and William H Bonney

John Gray

bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase Tips 3m5f Sandown Saturday


First run in 1957 under the sponsorship of the Whitbread Brewery, the race is now sponsored by the Stoke Bookmakers, bet365, and this valuable, always competitive Chase, which has been won by some of the greats of The Winter Game, brings the curtain down on what has been another terrific National Hunt season.

Nigel Twiston-Davies won this back in 2000 with the 7yo, beau, and will be hoping that his tough and talented Blaklion might achieve some compensation for his early departure in The Grand National a fortnight ago. Unluckily brought down at the first at Aintree, the son of Kayf Tara had made a good start to his season, finishing 1/2L second to his stable companion, Bristol De Mai, in The Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in November, and then putting up a career best performance the following month, when winning The 3m2f Beecher Chase at Aintree by 9L from The Last Samurai. Raised a severe looking 9lbs, he finished a distant second at Haydock on ground that was bordering on the unraceable in February to Yala Enki. His current rating of 161 leaves him with top weight of 11-12 to carry but his performances before Christmas showed him to be an improved animal this term, and it will come as no surprise to see this tough character involved at the business end on Saturday.

If Blaklion fails to do the business the Naunton yard has a strong looking second string with the 9yo Bigbadjohn. A winner of the Grade2 Reynoldstown Chase for Novices at Ascot in 2017 the future looked bright for the son of Vinnie Roe, but alas, his next five runs were most disappointing. However he got back into the winning groove at Kempton in February where, jumping soundly, he stayed on strongly over the three miles trip to beat the useful Brandon Hill by a length. He can be forgiven his fall at The Chair in The Topham Trophy at Aintree fifteen days ago and back on a more conventional track he doesn’t look badly treated on his mark of 138 giving him a lovely racing weight of 10-3.

A winner of his only PTP and Bumper, Missed Approach went on to win his first race over hurdles and indeed his first handicap over the smaller obstacles, (3m Soft) but his future was always going to be as a staying chaser and so it has proved. He has to date put up some sterling performances in that discipline, including a second to subsequent Grand National Hero, Tiger Roll in the 4mile National Hunt Chase at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival and a superb win over Mall Dini in the 3m2f Kim Muir at this year’s Cheltenham Jamboree. He has been raised 8lbs for that victory but still doesn’t look overburdened with 10-11 at the weekend, and I suspect we have still to see the best of Warren Greatrex’s 8yo.

The Philip Hobbs trained Rock The Kasbah, having got behind, stayed on strongly from the second last to claim 6th place, only 2 1/4L behind the winner Henllan Harry, in last year’s renewal when racing off a mark of 142. phillip hobbs oddsguruHe made his seasonal reappearance a winning one off the same mark at Chepstow nearly six months later, and was then pulled up on unsuitable heavy ground in his only other race at Haydock in January. A year older, and a stronger animal this time, who will enjoy the likely good ground, he looks well treated on his mark of 149, giving him a racing weight of 11-0, and is well worth considering.

The David Pipe trained 6yo, Daklondike, has looked a seriously progressive young chaser. He won over fences for the first time at Wetherby in November off a mark of 114, and only eight weeks later saw him winning The Mandarin Chase at Newbury (3m2f Heavy) in facile fashion from that good yardstick Grand Vision off a 19lbs higher mark. He looks very well handicapped on Saturday racing off a mark of 140, giving him the featherweight of 10-5 to carry and the only reservation I have is the ground. He has done all his winning with plenty of give underneath and it remains to be seen how he will cope with conditions at the weekend. However in his favour his very talented half brother, Great Endeavour had no problem with good ground and neither had the grand dam, Ross Gale.

One who will cope if the going is on top on Saturday is the Nicky Henderson trained Sugar Baron. A winner on Good/ Firm, the 8yo was 7th in last year’s race, only 2 1/2L behind the winner Henlland Harry despite some sticky jumping and a weak finish. Jumping better and finishing strongly over course and distance in December he just failed to catch Benbens off a mark of 135. He is easily excused his last run behind Missed Approach at the Festival on unsuitable soft ground and should have his optimum conditions at the weekend. Again racing off 135, giving him a lowly 10-2 to carry he has to be worth considering.

Selection: Rock The Kasbah

E.W. : Sugar Baron

John Gray

Coral Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase 4 Miles Ayr Saturday

The history of the race goes all the way back to 1858, but the contest didn’t reach it’s present venue until 1966 when it was run over Saturday’s course and distance for the first time. Always run with a big field, racing with the choke out, experience clearly counts, and only one 6yo, (Earth Summit 1994, and he had already raced ten times over fences) has managed to win. Age has been no bar to success with twelve animals older than nine coming home in front, and indeed the last decade has seen three 11yo’s collecting first prize, Hello Bud 2009, Merigo 2012, and Wayward Prince in 2015.

Earth Summits’ trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, is seeking an unprecedented fourth win in the contest, and at the time of writing has three entries, Ballyoptic, the veteran Benbens and last year’s runner up, Cogry, and despite the claims of the latter, the 8yo Ballyoptic looks his best chance. He has only raced five times over fences but has won two of them including a Wetherby Grade2 in February from Saturday’s opponent, Vintage Clouds, and he ran well enough last time to finish 4th in The RSA to Presenting Percy at The Cheltenham Festival. His ability to last out Saturday’s marathon trip has to be taken on trust but he is stoutly bred, (by Old Vic out of an Un Desperado mare) and it’s worth remembering that he had the class and stamina to beat Bellshill in a 3m1f Grade1 Hurdle at Aintree two years ago.

Last year’s winner, the Paul Nicholls trained Vicente, was the first animal to bag two consecutive Scottish Grand Nationals since Jimmy Fitzgerald’s Androma came home in front for the second time in 1985, and having had a fairly easy time of it this term, must have decent prospects of bringing up the hat trick. vicenteHe looked as good as ever when just losing out to Perfect Candidate on his seasonal reappearance in November, and then twice avoided a tough race, when unseating in The Welsh National in January on attritional ground, and again, racing on very heavy ground, was pulled up at the Cheltenham Festival behind Coo Star Sivola. He has a higher mark to defy this time but remember last year’s success was achieved a fortnight after falling in the Aintree edition, and with the drying ground very much in the 9yo’s favour, he has to enter calculations.

The Sue Smith trained 8yo, Vintage Clouds, meets his Wetherby conqueror, Ballyoptic, on 5lbs better terms for that 2 3/4L beating and he subsequently ran a fine race to finish 3rd to Coo Star Sivola at The Cheltenham Festival. He stayed on dourly in The Welsh National (3m5f Heavy) so could find Saturday’s trip right up his street, and with 10-12 on his back at the weekend, provides owner, Trevor Hemmings, with a useful looking second string to his bow, (also owns Vicente).

The Neil Mulholland (pictured) trained Doing Fine, has had a nice easy time of it this winter and having avoided the dreadful Winter ground will strip a fresh animal at the weekend. The 10yo hasn’t been seen since finishing 4th to Benbens over 3m5f at Sandown in December and meets that rival on 10lbs better terms on Saturday. neil mulholland ayrHe has never won over Saturday’s trip but looked an out and out stayer when beating Ugolin De Beaumont to whom he was conceding 18lbs by 6L over 3m4f at Cheltenham last April. Doing Fine, who will enjoy Saturday’s drying conditions and can go well after a break, has only been with his talented trainer for 18 months, and as the yard is firing in the winners at present, is definitely one to note with his nice racing weight of 10-6.

Having won The Irish, and Aintree Grand Nationals this Spring, the County Meath Maestro, Gordon Elliott seeks an unprecedented third with Fagan and Folsom Blue. The latter, an 11yo must have had a very hard race when finishing 4th to his stable companion, General Principle, in that controversial Irish National run on ground that many deemed unraceable, so perhaps his best chance lies with the 8yo Fagan. The ex pointer, won three of his five races in that discipline before joining the Elliott Academy where he won his first two bumpers and two of his four Hurdle races. His future always lay over fences and he duly won the second of his four chases, winning a Perth Novices Chase by 95L. Only 2nd in his last two, it was in pretty good company, finishing runner up to Ballyandy last September and Black Corton last October. Saturday’s task looks a huge one making his handicap debut in such a competitive heat off a stiff enough looking mark, but coming from this yard I suppose anything is possible.

The David Pipe trained, Daklondike as a 6yo will be trying to emulate Earth Summit, the only horse of that age to succeed in the whole history of the Scottish National, and he will be attempting to do it with far less experience over fences than the subsequent winner of the Aintree Grand National had at the time. He has only raced five times over the larger obstacles, but has won three of the last four, and looked a staying chaser of some potential when winning the 3m2f Mandarin Chase at Newbury last time. He finished with a real flourish to put that good yardstick, Grand Vision, in his place, and looked as if there was plenty more to come over staying distances. However that was on heavy ground and it remains to be seen how he will cope with the likely faster ground on Saturday. In his favour, the elder Pipe has brought the trophy back to Pond House on two occasions so they certainly know what is required down Nicholashayne way.

Selection : Doing Fine

E.W. : Vintage Clouds and Daklondike

John Gray

Randox Health Grand National Handicap 4m2 1/2f Aintree Saturday

In the forty renewals of the great race, between 1958, when the Co Wicklow trained Mr What came home in front, and 1997, Irish yards only collected the prize on one other occasion, (the Dan Moore trained L’Escargot in 1975) but in the twenty runnings since, stables from across the Irish Sea have been responsible for more than a third of the winners, (Bobbyjo 1999, papillon 2000 Monty’s Pass2003, Hedgehunter 2005, Number Six Valverde2006 Silver Birch 2007, and Rule The World two years ago. This is clearly a very significant trend so any contenders from The Emerald Isle need to be treated with plenty of respect, perhaps none more so than current market leader, Total Recall.

Trained in Co Carlow by master handler, Willie Mullins, (who won with Hedgehunter in 2005) the 9yo son of Westerner certainly has plenty to recommend him. He was campaigned until this season mainly around 2 1/2m, with only limited success, (a single victory from his first six races over fences). It is only since he started tackling longer distances last October, that Total Recall’s career has really taken off, culminating in a superb victory in The Ladbroke Trophy at Newbury, ( The Hennessy Handicap until 2017 ) last December. Having won his previous race, a 3m Limerick Handicap very easily from Alpha Des Obeaux off a mark of 129, he was sent off the well backed 9/2 favourite in the 20 runner field for the Newbury classic. Racing off an eighteen pounds higher mark for the 3m2f contest, he duly obliged in the style of a real stayer, keeping on strongly from the last to collar the talented Whisper on the line. Reverting to hurdles two months later, he won a Leopardstown 3m Handicap easily prior to his latest race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Sent off a 14/1 chance, he was responding to pressure from pilot, David Mullins, to go into 6th place with four to jump, but unfortunately came down at the third last. We will never know what might have happened had he stood up, but there was still petrol left in the tank and I suppose the fall saved him from having too hard a race. He had only fallen once before, (his first race over fences) so this progressive staying chaser, although 9lbs higher than for the Ladbroke Trophy, with 11-4 on his back on Saturday doesn’t look overburdened, and could just make it number two for Willie.

One who did have a hard race at the Cheltenham Festival was the gallant 8yo Shantou Flyer. Runner up in his three previous races, he looked as if he might break the sequence under a good ride from the excellent young James Bowen ( and would have done so in another few strides) when mugged by Coo Star Sivola in The Ultima Handicap. He was pulled up in last year’s National as a 7yo when trained by Rebecca Curtis, but is a much stronger and more mature animal now, and he was staying on stoutly in the 3m1f Ultima on dreadful ground on the first day of The Cheltenham Festival. His pedigree, (by Shantou out of the Bob Back mare Carrigmona Flyer) shouts stamina, and having had thirty two days to get over his Festival effort, he looks nicely handicapped racing off the same mark, giving him a racing weight of 11-1 and at current odds around 40/1 this veteran of 24 chases, who has only ever fallen once, looks one to be interested in.

The Gordon Elliot trained Ucello Conti was going well enough in mid division when unseating at Beechers on the second circuit last year, and runs this time off a 2lbs lower mark, giving him a nice racing weight of 10-9. His Uber shrewd trainer has only given him the two runs since last year’s effort, finishing second to Saturday’s opponent Anibale Fly at Leopardstown in December, and pulled up on heavy ground in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park the following month. He is owned by one of the most successful partnerships on the National Hunt scene, Simon Munir and Isaac Souede and it would come as no surprise to see the 10yo involved on Saturday.

The above mentioned Anibale Fly did best of the Irish contenders in the Gold Cup, finishing third, 8 1/2L behind Native River. While he couldn’t go the pace of the first two, Tony Martins 8yo stayed on well to hold on to third place. Given a revised rating of 168 following that Gold Cup effort he gets to race off his previous mark of 159 in this early closing contest giving him 11-7 to carry. His sire Assessor is a big influence for stamina and his legendary owner J.P. McManus would love to bag a second Grand National.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Blaklion ran a marvellous race in last year’s renewal finishing in 4th place. He looked the most likely winner approaching the 2nd from home but took a bump, and was headed between the last two. Slightly hampered at the last he stayed on but lost third place near the line. He ran another fine race over the National fences when winning The Becher Chase, (3m2f) on heavy ground last December, beating The Last Samurai by 9L. Unfortunately this has led to a 9lbs rise in his rating to 161 giving him a racing weight of 11-9 at the weekend, a burden only carried once successfully (by Many Clouds three years ago) since the immortal Red Rum won with 12-0 on his back in 1974. That said his top trainer has won the great race twice before, with Earth Summit in 1998 and Bindaree four years later, so certainly knows what is required, and Blaklion is undoubtedly an improved performer this term.

The David Pipe trained 9yo Vieux Lion Rouge has an enviable record over the big Aintree fences having completed in all four attempts. He was 6th in last year’s National, 7th the year before, finished 7th behind Blaklion in the Beecher Chase last December and won the previous year’s renewal of that same contest. Presumably with the National in mind he has only had one run since early December, finishing a respectable 4th in an Ascot Handicap (17Feb 3mSoft). He will strip a fresh horse on Saturday and off a 2lbs lower mark than last year it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see the prize go back to Pond House in Somerset for a third time. (Miinnehoma 1994 Comply Or Die 2008).

Selection: Total Recall

E.W. : Shantou Flyer and Ucello Conti

John Gray

Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase 3m 2f Kelso Saturday

With the big Aintree Jamboree scheduled for next week it’s not surprising that this Saturday’s fare is of a fairly low order, but lovely Kelso, in The Scottish Borders, does host their biggest meeting of the year, so let’s hope the awful weather relents, and allows this interesting card to go ahead. The most valuable heat of the day is the Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase over 3m2f, and with heavy ground a near certainty, stamina is going to be the order of the day.

One who will love the conditions is last year’s winner, Yala Enki (pictured). In a small field of only seven runners, he won by 7L from the re-opposing Seldom Inn. yala-enki-oddsguruHowever, it was all downhill for the Venetia Williams trained 8yo in his next five races, until getting his act together at the sixth time of asking, he came home 54L clear of Blaklion on atrocious ground in a Haydock Grade3 Chase, (3m4 1/2f Heavy) in February. He also ran well enough last time, finishing 6th of eighteen runners behind Coo Star Sivola at The Cheltenham Festival. There is plenty in his favour but it’s worth noting that his win in last year’s renewal was achieved off a relatively light campaign, (only one run in the previous three months) whereas this time he has had four tough races on attritional winter ground in the same timespan, and he is racing off a 6lbs higher mark.

With three wins, and three places from seven starts at Kelso, the course record of last year’s runner up, the Sandy Thomson trained Seldom Inn, speaks for itself. He has been mostly campaigned at around three miles but did show in last year’s contest, and more recently, when finishing a close 2nd in a Kelso 3m2f Hurdle on heavy ground that Saturday’s trip is within his compass. Off a 6lbs lower mark, (12lbs better off with Yala Enki), he has a good chance of keeping the prize in Scotland.

The Nicky Richards (pictured) trained Baywing could only manage 4th in last year’s renewal, finishing 11L behind Yala Enki off a mark of 147. Put away for the season, he failed to shine in any of his first four races this term, but, dropped to a mark of 140 last time, he looked much more the finished article when winning the valuable Eider Chase by 4L from West Of The Edge at Newcastle. Nicky-Richards-oddsguruThe handicapper has done him no favours, raising him to a mark of 149, but this will be partially offset by regular partner, Ryan Day’s 3lbs claim. He looked a more assured jumper in the Eider, and as a horse who has had the pace to win over hurdles at 2 1/2m, the drop back in trip shouldn’t be a problem. Looks one for the shortlist!

The Donald McCain trained mare, Lastbutnotleast, has got quite a progressive look about her. The 8yo has won a PTP, a Bumper, and all three of her races over hurdles including at Class1 level over 3m1/2f (Doncaster Soft). Her three races over fences have been a mixed bag, pulled up in her first, winning her second by 36L and trailing in last in her third. Both defeats can be relatively easily explained, as the first of them was her first run for nearly ten months, and the second followed in a race, where in all probability she hadn’t recovered from her win on truly attritional ground only 24 days earlier, ( despite her winning margin of 36L, she finished legless ). She has had a nice 74 days break since, and looks quite well treated on a mark of 135 giving her a racing weight of 10-9 for this her handicap debut. A slight concern would be Saturday’s trip as her dam, the useful Lakill Princess was best at around 2m on soft/heavy ground. However her sire, Flemensfirth is a strong influence for stamina.

As well as Baywing, Nicky Richards also has the 9yo Takingrisks entered here, and if taking up the engagement, (also entered in the 3m2f Hurdle race on the card) would have to be of interest. With two wins, both on heavy ground, from three Kelso appearances, he clearly likes the venue, and added to his appeal last time when staying on strongly to beat Saturday’s opponent, Indy Five, by 2 1/4L. (Ayr 3mHeavy) four weeks ago off a mark of 127. He is only 4lbs higher on Saturday giving him the nice racing weight of 10-4, and although he has never won beyond 3m1f the way he put that Ayr contest to bed would strongly suggest that the step up in trip will suit.

The ex French trained Chic Name put in a great performance that certainly belied his odds of 100/1 when finishing 5th in the sixteen runner 3m6f Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.He was still there with a shout at the second last but could only stay on at the one pace. Mild heat stress was diagnosed post race making his effort even more commendable, and it may well be that the 6yo’s future career lies over staying trips. With only 10-4 on his back, and ace 3lbs claimer, James Bowen booked, he’s definitely worth a second look.

Selection : Baywing

E.W. : Chic Name

John Gray