Unibet Tolworth Novices Hurdle (Grade1) 2miles Sandown Saturday

nicky henderson oddsguru

Henderson saddles Son of Camas

Following the superb racing we have enjoyed over the holiday period, Saturday’s fare has a distinctly pedestrian feel about it, but Sandown, which hosts the only Grade1 action of the weekend, lightens the gloom a little with a pretty competitive looking field for their top level TolworthNovices Hurdle. Don’t expect to see a future Champion Hurdler on display at the Esher track on Saturday as the 38 runnings since it’s inception in 1976 have yet to produce one, but plenty of top class animals, including the mighty Desert Orchid in 1984, have graced the winners enclosure. Indeed more recently, the 2018 winner, Summerville Boy, went on to win The Supreme Novices, and the 2016 winner, Yorkhill, collected the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival. Nicky Henderson has won the race 5 times and Paul Nicholls 4, but the trainer with the best recent record, winning 2 of the last 3 renewals, has to be Colin Tizzard, and he fields another likely looking contender this time, the 6yo, Fiddlerontheroof.

Unplaced in 2 PTP’S, his sole success came in a Navan NHF race before joining the Dorset handler from Ireland in October. His first run for his new yard, in Chepstow’s Grade2 Persian War Novices Hurdle, (2m3 1/2f Gd/Sft Oct 11) was a highly promising one. Racing prominently throughout, he jumped ahead at the 2nd last, but was outstayed by the winner Thyme Hill, and was beaten by 2L. However, as the winner went on to win his next 2 races, including Newbury’s Grade1 Challow Hurdle, this was a pretty smart effort by the Tizzard horse on this his hurdling debut. Back at 2miles on Good ground for a Wincanton Novices 29 days later, he looked as if he would be suited by a stiffer test when going down by 3/4L to the subsequent Aintree winner, Edwardstone. He made no mistake next time, winning a 2 mile Novices on Heavy ground over Saturday’s course and distance very easily by 7L from the 128 rated Arrivederci, and if similar conditions prevail on Saturday, will be hard to beat.

The upwardly mobile trainer, Gavin Cromwell, will be hoping to become only the 2nd Irish based handler, (Willie Mullins won 4 years ago with Yorkhill) to land the spoils with his very promising mare, Jeremy’s Flame. The 6yo has won one of her 4 starts over timber, a Listowel Maiden on her hurdling debut last September, and has run well in her last 2 races, going down by 1 1/4L in a Mares Grade3 at Down Royal at the beginning of November, and again finishing a close 2nd, when beaten by the 138 rated Henderson Mare, Floressa, at Newbury 5 weeks ago. By the very successful dual purpose Stallion, Jeremy, there could be plenty more to come from the Irish mare, and her 7lbs Mares allowance, will also come in very handy on Saturday.

The market is headed by the Emma Lavelle trained, 6yo, Hang In There, and since coming to the Wiltshire yard from Margaret Mullins in Ireland last October, has won 2 of his 3 starts. Indeed if the market had it right, (he started a hot 1/2fav) he would have a 100% record for the yard, as following severe interference, he unseated at the first on his debut for the stable in October. Since that mishap it has been a case of upwards and onwards, with easy victories in an Exeter Maiden, and impressively last time, when taking a big step up in class, he landed Cheltenham’s Grade2 Supreme Trial Novices Hurdle by 3L from the 140 rated Pacify, (100 on the flat) 7 weeks ago. By the 4 times Ascot Gold Cup winner, Yeats, out of a mare that has produced the winner of the 3m4f Cork Grand National, Hang In There, could find Saturday’s trip on the sharp side, but he did show plenty of toe in that Cheltenham Grade2 heat, quickening impressively turning in, to go 5L clear, and putting the result beyond doubt. (Looks a big price at the 25/1 currently available about him for the Supreme at Cheltenham in March)

5 times winning trainer, N. Henderson, will be hoping to make it 6 with his contender, Son Of Camas. The son of Miler, Creachadoir, has only run 3 times, and was  sent off the 2/1 favourite for a valuable Punchestown Bumper on the first of them last April  where he finished last of the 19 runners. However, he has won both his starts since, a Newbury NHF race in November, and 3 weeks later a Maiden Hurdle in workmanlike fashion at the same venue. Saturday represents a serious step up in class, but Son Of Camas must have been showing plenty at Seven Barrows before that valuable Punchestown heat, and it won’t be the biggest surprise if he rises to the occasion.

The Fergal O’Brien trained Silver Hallmark won an Irish PTP in fine style 13 months ago, and in his first race under rules (2m1/2f NHF Newbury March 2) finished 7L behind the Paul Nicholls trained, triple NHF flat race winner, Mc Fabulous, but in his next race, 249 days later, making his hurdling debut, he beat the Nicholls horse by 4L in a Chepstow Maiden. The runner up hasn’t exactly advertised the form, (last of 4 beaten 15L in an Ascot Grade2 next time) but Silver Hallmark remains an animal of some potential.

Selection.        : Hang In There
Danger             : Son Of Camas

John Gray

Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase (Grade3) 3m 6 1/2f Chepstow Friday

welsh national chepstowFirst run in 1895, it moved to Chepstow in 1949 where it’s inaugural running was won by  the 10yo Fighting Line, ridden by Dick Francis, better known for being aboard the Queen Mother’s Devon Loch in that inexplicable incident in the 1956 Grand National, when seeming to have the race at his mercy, and for his subsequent career as a crime writer. There have been plenty more 10yo’s in the winners enclosure over the decades, but no particular generation has dominated, and winners have come from all age groups between 6 and 12. Weight, not surprisingly, has had it’s say, and only 2 animals have carried more than 11-7 to victory since Carvill’s Hill won in 1991. In a contest not far short of 4 miles, run over Chepstow’s galloping track, usually on testing ground, bottomless reserves of stamina are essential, and the 4 winners of the Chepstow marathon, who went on to land The Cheltenham Gold Cup, Burrough Hill Lad, Master Oats, Synchronised and most recently Native River, had it in spades. Last year’s winner Elegant Escape, is obviously well endowed in this department, and will be attempting to become only the 2nd horse to win the race in consecutive years, (Bonanza Boy 1988 1989) and indeed, give the excellent Colin Tizzard his 3rd victory in 4 years, (Native River 2016).

It was a pretty impressive effort by Elegant Escape last year, as not only was he one of only four six year olds to have ever won the race, but he was also only the second to shoulder more than 11-7 since Carvill’s Hill’s win 28 years ago. Racing off a mark of 151, he took it up two out, and ran on strongly to win by 1 1/4L and 4L from Ramses De Teillee and Saturday’s opponent Yala Enki. He ran well again a month later when going down by 3/4L to Frodon but was then well beaten in the Gold Cup and Aintree’s Betway Bowl Chase. He has made a promising start to this season finishing 2nd in The Charlie Hall at Wetherby, and 3rd in Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy Chase off a mark of 160. The Handicapper has left him on the same mark, leaving him with top weight of 11-12 to carry on Friday, 9 lbs higher than last year it is a big ask for the tough 7yo, but he is a year older, and one feels that this has been his target for some time.

Last year’s 3rd, Yala Enki, following wind surgery in August, moved from Venetia Williams to the Ditcheat yard of Paul Nicholls. He showed up well in the Ladbroke until the 17th for his new yard, before dropping away, and there is no way of knowing if the wind surgery has been a success, but he meets Elegant Escape on 9lbs better for that 5 1/2L beating, stays really well, and loves heavy ground.

Mr Nicholls who has won the race twice before is also represented by the 7yo Truckers Lodge, and his form figures at the track read an impressive 11241. He has only raced 3 times over fences, winning once, but that was here at Chepstow last time (29 Oct) when taking a beginners chase in workmanlike fashion. His stamina credentials were certainly on display when easily winning a handicap hurdle in very deep ground over the course last December, and his pedigree, by the strong stayer Westerner, out of an Accordion mare who won twice between the flags on heavy, would certainly suggest that staying should be his game. He is to be ridden by the useful 3lbs claimer, Lorcan Williams, and with just 10-2 on his back could be a serious blot on the Handicap.

welshgrandnationalThe Christian Williams trained 9yo, Potters Corner, also has a pretty impressive course record. He has won 3 of his 4 starts at the track, including last time, when winning a 3 miles Hurdle on Soft, under a great ride from the excellent 7lbs claimer Jack Tudor, 20 days ago. He showed what an out and out stayer he is when winning Uttoxeter’s Midland Grand National (4m 2f Heavy) on truly attritional ground last March, and presumably, with one eye on the Handicapper has been campaigned over the smaller obstacles since. If Tudor is on board again he will have only 10-2 to carry, and will be one of the best equipped to cope if conditions are seriously testing.

The Philip Hobbs trained Steely Addition has won 2 of his 5 chases, including a win over the course, (3m Heavy) last December. The Handicapper took quite a harsh view putting him up 13lbs but despite a convincing victory at Hereford in March he has relented a little and the son of Craigsteel races on Friday off a mark of 147 giving him a racing weight of 10-13. Never having raced beyond 3m1f there are obvious questions about his stamina, but the 7yo is stoutly bred, and it’s worth remembering Phillip’s excellent record at Chepstow.

The Lucinda Russell trained Big River is prone to making the odd mistake but it wasn’t his fault when unluckily brought down in The Scottish Borders National at Kelso 19 days ago. Travelling smoothly the Scottish trained 9 yo came to grief at the 14th following the fall of the favourite, Caventara, but I suppose every cloud has a silver lining and he is able to race on Saturday off the same mark, giving him a racing weight of 10-3. Given a clear round he could become the first winner from across the border since Peaty Sandy took the trophy back to Scotland in 1981.

The Dan Skelton trained Benny’s King had never travelled further when taking
a 2m 6 1/2f Class2 Newbury Handicap 28 days ago, but the manner of his victory strongly suggested there might be more to come over further, and if turning up
(Also engaged Wetherby Thursday) this stoutly bred 8yo could be interesting.

Selection.   : Truckers Lodge

EW.              : Steely Addition

Betway Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase 3m1 1/2f Haydock Saturday

tommy whittle handicap

We’re keen on Sue Smith’s chances with Vintage Clouds

Following it’s inception in 1982, 3 winners of the previous year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, Little Owl 1981, Forgive ‘n Forget 1985, and The Thinker 1987, have won Saturday’s feature, underlining what an important heat it was in the racing calendar, but since its loss of Graded status in 2004, it is now run as a Class2 Handicap, and the prospect of any future Gold Cup Hero again appearing on the Tommy Whittle roll of honour, seems
pretty remote. However, this is always a very competitive heat that demands a tough, talented sort to succeed, particularly as this year’s  contenders will have a further
2 1/2f to travel, and one that can certainly boast those requirements in spades, is last year’s winner, Daklondike.

Trained by David Pipe, (also trained the 2014 winner, Broadway Buffalo) Daklondike, was a length down jumping the last, but kept on resolutely to outstay the Twiston-Davies trained Ballyarthur and win going away by a length. A comfortable winner over 3m2f on heavy ground at Newbury, the son of Gold Well is only 6lbs higher this year and should find the extra 2 1/2f of this year’s Tommy Whittle right up his street.
Only 7, Daklondike is a half brother to the multi talented Great Endeavour, also trained by David, and with the yard in such great form looks to have serious prospects of becoming the third animal to land the prize for a second time, and indeed bring the prize back to Nicholashayne for a 4th time, (David’s Dad, Martin won with Chatham in1994)

the hollow ginge

Master handler Twiston-Davies saddles The Hollow Ginge

Nigel Twiston-Davies will be hoping that he can go one better than last year with his 6yo, The Hollow Ginge. Short on chasing experience, he has won one of his 3 starts over fences but put in his best effort in his penultimate race, an Aintree Class3 Novices Handicap Chase over 3m1f on soft at the end of October. Having coped well with the stiff Fences on the Mildmay course, he came to the last 3L in arrears but ran on to such effect that he made up the deficit and was only beaten a head, when the winner, the progressive Irish trained, 135 rated, Plan of Attack, who was receiving 5lbs found extra in the shadow of the post. The son of Oscar probably found the 2m5 1/2f trip on Gd/Sft at Haydock 4 weeks ago on the sharp side, and he could only finish a 14L 3rd, but back up in trip, on the likely heavy ground which he handles so well, (won a 2m7f Haydock Hurdle on Heavy) The Hollow Ginge might just Land the Naunton handler his first Tommy Whittle.

The small Oxfordshire yard of Owner/Trainer, Andrew Martin doesn’t have many winners, but if Stable Star, Militarian, turns out on Saturday, (also engaged Ascot) he has to be of interest. A winner of 4 of his 14 starts over fences, he surprised many better fancied opponents at Ascot 29 days ago when jumping from fence to fence he coasted home 4L clear of his rivals at the tasty odds of 50/1. He races on Saturday off a 6lbs higher mark, (144) which looks fair and is usually ridden by the 7lbs claiming amateur James Martin. He has won on soft but heavy would be a concern, as neither he nor his 158 rated half brother, Hell’s Kitchen have raced on it.

The Sue Smith trained Vintage Clouds doesn’t win very often, (2/20 over fences) but is a thoroughly genuine type, and the Trevor Hemmings owned 9yo has rarely run badly in his 9 Haydock appearances, (has won a Chase over Saturday’s course and distance, and won the 2016 running of the 2m7f Grade2 Prestige Hurdle on heavy). All ground comes alike to the 9yo, and he stays well beyond Saturday’s trip. He is only 2lbs higher than his last winning mark, and Sue won the race in 2004 so knows what is required. If Saturday’s heat turns into a slog in the mud, Vintage Clouds could be the best equipped to deal with such conditions.

The ex French trained 6yo, Lord Du Mesnil, failed to hit the back of the net in his 9 races in his native France, and hasn’t fared much better since joining the Gloucestershire yard of Richard Hobson, registering a single victory from 15 starts. However that win came in his last race, a 3m Class3 Handicap on heavy ground at Newcastle 3 weeks ago where despite being headed, and making a mistake at the 2nd last, he rallied, and showed plenty of courage to get back up. It will require further improvement to win off a 5 lbs higher mark on Saturday, and connections, looking at the exploits of his 2 years younger full brother, Happy Monarch, who has won both his starts over fences, the last time a Listed Chase at top track, Auteuil, will be hoping that there is still some undiscovered improvement to come from their hitherto not so successful, son of Saints Des Saints.

The Herefordshire yard of Venetia Williams is going great guns at the moment and her lightly raced 8yo contender, Yalltari could be well handicapped. He has only raced 9 times, winning 3 of his 5 starts over hurdles, and one of his 4 starts over fences, a 3m Chepstow Novices Chase off a mark of 137 last December. Sent off the 11/8fav for his next race, at Exeter in January, he came a cropper at the first, and then in his last race, the Grade2 Reynoldstown Novices Chase at Ascot in February, he looked a serious threat until a mistake at the last put an end to his challenge. However, he stayed on for 3rd, 4 3/4L behind the winner Mister Malarky on the Gd/Sft ground. The winner that day is now on a mark of 148, which I suppose makes Yalltari‘s mark of 145 look just about fair. Venetia has few competitors when it comes to having an animal at it’s peak after a break, and with his liking for testing conditions, Yalltari is one to be interested in.

Selection.        : Vintage Clouds

EW.                   : The Hollow Ginge

John Gray

Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Grade3) 2m4 1/2f (New Course) Cheltenham Saturday

caspian caviar gold cup

Venetia Williams has high hopes with last year’s runner-up Cepage

First run in 1963 as The Massey Ferguson Gold Cup, Saturday’s contest has been won by some of the greats of the Winter Game including the mighty Flyingbolt, (some good judges rated him better than his illustrious stable mate, the immortal Arkle) who carried an eye watering 12-6 to a 15L victory in 1965, and the Fred Winter trained Pendil who won carrying the mega weight of 12-7 in 1973. Happily, horses no longer have to carry such welter weights, but 3 winners in the last decade have done so with 11-7 or more in the Plate, and last year’s Hero, Frodon, carried 11-12. Course form is particularly relevant, as the last animal to win on his Prestbury Park debut, was Kings Fountain 28 years ago, as is age, as we have to go back to Fragrant Dawn’s victory in 1993 to find a winner older than eight. The stand out statistic in the contest though,  has to be the record of runners trained by Paul Nicholls, who have won 5 of the last 10 renewals, and the Master of Ditcheat again seems to hold a strong hand with his two contenders this year, Secret Investor, and Brelan D’As.

The former, a 7yo son of Kayf Tara, has won 2 of his 6 starts over fences, including a Grade2 at Ayr last April, and looks progressive. He made a satisfactory reappearance in another Grade2, 6 weeks ago, when finishing a 14L second at Down Royal following a 203 days break, and can be expected to have come on for the run. On a mark of 150  giving him 11-7 to carry on Saturday, he looks fairly treated, and my only concern would be that this will be his first run at Prestbury Park.

Stable companion, the 8yo, Brelan D’As on the other hand will be appearing at the track for the 7th time, and while he has yet to score at the course, ran his best race ever when finishing a brave 2nd in last months Bet Victor Gold Cup. It was only by a diminishing neck that he failed to reel in the winner, Happy Diva in an epic battle up the Cheltenham hill. A French bred son of Crillon, he looked well suited by racing back at 2m4f in The Bet Victor (Old Course) where he ran on so resolutely, (his 4 previous runs had been over 2miles) and might well find the more galloping nature of the new course on Saturday even more to his liking. Despite a 5lbs rise his mark of 143 looks fair, giving him a racing weight of 11-0.

Venetia Williams won with Niceonefrankie 5 years ago, and will be hoping that last year’s runner up, the 7yo, Cepage, can go one better this time. The son of Saddler Maker was retired for the season following that excellent effort, and following a 329 days break, made a very satisfactory reappearance 5 weeks ago, when giving Saturday’s opponent and current favourite, Riders Onthe Storm, plenty to think about. In a Class2 Aintree Handicap, he was only beaten 1 3/4L by the Twiston-Davies runner and meets him on 5lbs better terms on Saturday. With the run under his belt, and obviously well suited by Saturday’s track it should be close between them.

It is only since joining The Twiston-Davies Academy in November that Riders Onthe Storm has shown what a talented individual he is with that impressive Aintree victory. His record of 1/5 over fences when trained by Tom Taaffe was hardly impressive, and he had either fallen or was pulled up in his 2 previous races. However they have obviously found the key to him at Naunton, and that was a near faultless round over the stiff Mildmay fences. My only concern would be the Handicappers reaction of raising him a very severe looking 13 lbs.

The Dan Skelton trained 6yo, Not That Fuisse, a decent hurdler, has only raced 3 times over fences, finishing 2nd twice. He was runner up in a 2m Novices here at Cheltenham in October, but his best effort was over 2m4f when finishing a close 2nd on his chasing debut at Uttoxeter the same month. Giving 5lbs to the 137 rated, Eric The Red, he was only beaten a length, and the Handicapper seems to have been quite lenient leaving him on 131 for this his handicap debut. He needs a few above him to come out but if getting into the race could be interesting.

Winning three chases off the reel,  including a Grade2 in late 2017, the future looked bright for the Gary Moore trained Benatar, and he did indeed perform well in his first race of 2018, the Grade1 JLT Novices Chase at The Cheltenham Festival, finishing 3rd despite being found to be lame in his off hind. However the wheels have come off in his 4 subsequent races, the last time at Ascot in January. Nevertheless Benatar can go well after a break, and Gary Is a past master at reviving a horse’s fortunes so it’s definitely too early to write off this son of the outstanding National Hunt stallion, Beneficial.

Following a 231 day break and wind surgery, the Warren Greatrex trained 8yo Keeper Hill ran his best race for a long time when winning a valuable Haydock Handicap off a mark of 146 three weeks ago, a career best. He beat the runner up, the 155 rated Midnight Shadow in a sustained duel by 1/2L giving him 11lbs and may only now be fulfilling the promise he showed when winning a Doncaster Grade2 two years ago.

Selection  : Cepage

EW.            : Brelan D’As.  Benatar

John Gray

Virgin Bet Grand Sefton Handicap Chase (Grand National Course) 2miles5f Aintree

grandseftonhandicapFew names resonate more loudly than Carberry around the historic Aintree track. The legendary Irish Jockey, Tommy Carberry (pictured) rode the winner of The Grand National, L’Escargot, in 1975 and then went on to train the 1999 winner, Bobbyjo, ridden by his son Paul. Daughter Nina has also left her mark on the track, competing in six Grand Nationals and winning the Aintree Foxhunters in 2015. All in all it is a superb family record, and Nina’s sister in law, Louisa Carberry, will be hoping to add a further embellishment to the family’s achievements, when her mare, It’s Jennifer, lines up for The Grand Sefton on Saturday.

A 7yo daughter of Martaline, she is trained in France by Louisa, (married to Philip Carberry) and while her win record over fences of 1/11 is hardly inspiring, she looked  an improved animal last time (Auteuil 2m7f VSft Oct 19) when finishing a close 2nd in a valuable Grade3 Handicap. She is a sound jumper, her only blip coming 31 months ago, and Louisa reports the mare to have schooled well over some Aintree like fences at home. She looks well treated on Saturday’s mark of 130, giving her a lovely racing weight of 10-2, and it will come as no surprise if she adds yet another chapter to the Carberry’s amazing Aintree story.

Nigel Twiston-Davies won with the 10yo, Little Josh 7 years ago and will be hoping that his current market leader, Flying Angel, can Land a 2nd win for his Naunton yard. The 8yo has won 4 of his 21 starts over fences and was quite impressive last time,
(Ascot 2m5f Soft Nov22) winning the Class2 Handicap by 8L off a mark of 140. He doesn’t look badly treated off a 6lbs higher mark on Saturday, (has been rated as high as 157 in the past) and has run well enough in his two forays over the National fences, finishing 10/27 despite losing a shoe in the 2018 Topham Trophy, and 6/27 in this year’s renewal of the same heat. Back over the same course and distance it could be a case of third time lucky.

Paul Nicholls, with 3 wins has the outstanding record in the race, and when his sole entry, Touch Kick, is owned by Mr Trevor “Aintree” Hemmings, it’s time to take notice. Trevor has won the Grand National an astonishing 3 times, and himself and Paul combined to win Saturday’s heat with the 9yo, Warriors Tale last year. The year younger, Touch Kick, has won 4 of his 10 starts over fences, and put up his best performance to date last time, winning a Fakenham Class3 Handicap (3m Good Oct 18) by 7L off a mark of 132, following a 195 day break. A 7 lbs rise to 139 for Saturday makes things a little trickier, but it’s worth noting that his full brother, Slate House, is currently rated on 153 and we may not yet have seen the best of this sound jumper.

Nicky Henderson has yet to land a Grand Sefton, but looks to hold quite a strong hand this year with the 9yo Gold Present, and the 7yo Casablanca Mix. The former was sent off a 12/1 chance for the 2017 renewal of The Topham Trophy over Saturday’s course and distance, and jumped well until coming to grief at the 12th, (The Canal Turn). He went on to win his next 2 races, including a victory over the talented Frodon,
(Ascot 3m Gs Dec 2017) but has disappointed in his 6 starts since. He hasn’t been seen since April but is an animal who can go well fresh, and there has been plenty of interest in him in the markets. They certainly know the time of day at Seven Barrows, and if they have the son of Presenting in the same form as when beating Frodon in that Ascot heat, he will be a danger to all.

Stable companion, Casablanca Mix, has won 3 of his 10 starts, including the last 2 and looked a much improved performer when landing Market Rasen’s Summer Plate last time out off a mark of 143. He has been put up a severe looking 11 lbs for Saturday’s race, giving him the unenviable task of having to carry top weight of 11-12 over the big fences on Saturday, but that said, he is a well bred animal (half brother to the multiple French winner, Vanilla Crush, who to date has banked more than £350,000 and the 3 times winning Arkwrisht), and if turning out is worth considering.

The ex Irish 10yo Killaro Bay’s form figures read, 1/2/2 since joining the Worcestershire yard of Henry Oliver last May, and his last run, 6 weeks ago, was probably his best, finishing 2nd to Burtons Well over 3 miles on The Mildmay Course, here at Aintree, following a 119 days break. A sound jumper, he is the type of older chaser who often adapts well to the big fences, and down in trip, off the same mark, could be interesting.

With form figures of 1/2/1 over Saturday’s course and distance the claims of Colin Tizzard’s 11yo Ultragold, are hard to ignore. The veteran has been unsighted in his 6 starts since winning the Topham in April 2018, but perhaps the Merseyside air can spark a revival.

Selection.  : It’s Jennifer

EW.            : Gold Present.  Killaro Bay

John Gray

BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase 2m4f (Old Course) Cheltenham Saturday

oddsguru tom dreaper

Tom Dreaper claimed the first ever Mackeson

First run as The Mackeson Gold Cup 59 years ago, the inaugural running was won by Fortria, trained in Ireland by the legendary Tom (Arkle) Dreaper. Fortria did win again 2 years later, but since then Irish successes have been few and far between, and the sole victor from the Emerald Isle in the past 37 years has been the Eddie O’Grady trained
Tranquil Sea ten years ago. However, the Multi-talented trainer from Co Kilkenny,
Joseph O’Brien, is not one to be discouraged by statistics, and is hoping that his upwardly mobile young chaser, Us And Them, can reverse this sorry trend, and land him a first victory in the contest.

On first glance, the 6yo’s record over fences of one win from nine starts, hardly inspires confidence, but closer inspection reveals that he has finished 2nd, (including in this year’s Arkle over the Old Course) four times at Grade1 level, which paints a rather different picture. Until stepping up to 20f for his seasonal debut at Gowran Park 6 weeks ago, he had been campaigned for all his previous 15 starts at around 2 miles, but even a cursory inspection of his pedigree, (by the stayer Stowaway out of the stoutly bred Flemensfirth mare, Manorville) strongly suggested that he would stay further, and so it proved at the Co Carlow track 6 weeks ago. Having his first run for 156 days in the Grade2 heat, he was always towards the head of affairs, and but for mistakes at the last two fences would have finished a lot closer than the 6 1/2L and a Head that he was beaten by. The runner up Peregrine Falcon is rated 159 which makes Us And Them look very fairly treated on Saturday’s mark of 152.

The Colin Tizzard trained 7yo, Slate House, struck for the first time from 5 attempts over fences when landing a 6 runner Novices Chase over Saturday’s course and distance 3 weeks ago. (His record at Prestbury Park in all races is 3/6). Having his first run for 228 days, and a wind operation in June, he travelled really strongly on the heavy ground, and never off the bit, won as he liked. Saturday represents a very different test, but the Tizzard horse is already a better chaser than he was a hurdler, and being by the multiple champion jumps sire, Presenting it won’t come as a great surprise if he ends the season on a considerably higher mark than Saturday’s 147.

The Nick Williams trained Siruh Du Lac’s record over fences is 6/8 and he is unbeaten in his last 4. His last two wins were here at Cheltenham, both Class1 handicaps,
at 2m4 1/2f and both over the new course, in January, and at The Festival in March. He won by narrow margins, on both occasions from the now 166 rated Janika (gave 18 lbs last time) He is making his seasonal debut on Saturday off a mark a whopping 19lbs higher than last time, and racing over the tighter Old Course, looks to have plenty to do.

oddsguru mackesonThe Dan Skelton trained 7yo, Spirit Of The Games, finished 3rd, 3L behind Siruh Du Lac in that Cheltenham race giving the winner 9lbs, (including Lizzie Kelly’s 3 lbs claim) and off level terms on Saturday must fancy his chances of reversing the form. He is another making his seasonal debut, but has won his first race of the season in each of the last 3 years. He has run well in all of his 5 Cheltenham appearances, including in large field handicaps, ( 5/24 County Hurdle 2018), and handles most ground.

Considering the poor record of top weights in the race (only 2 have succeeded in the last 25 years) Harry Whittingham’s classy 6yo, Saint Calvados, looks to have a tough task on his hands. The French bred made an excellent start to his chasing career winning 4 of his first 5, including a Warwick Grade2, and a Naas Grade 3 but stepped up to Grade1 level has been very disappointing, finishing well beaten 3 times. However, following wind surgery in September, he put in an excellent effort 3 weeks ago, over the Old course on his reappearance, winning a valuable 2mile Chase on heavy ground, conceding lumps of weight. He has never raced beyond 2m1/2f  in his 9 starts since coming to England, but his pedigree, (by the excellent jumps sire, Saint Des Saints, out of the Pistolet Bleu mare Lamorrese) certainly offers hope that he will stay, and he did run on gamely with his big weight up the Cheltenham Hill last time.

The great Martin Pipe won the race 8 times, and son David once, so they certainly know what is required down Nicholashayne way, and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see last year’s 5th, the 8yo, Eamon An Cnoic play a prominent part on Saturday. Starting at odds of 50/1 last year, he stayed on to finish 11L behind the winner, Baron Alco and ran another excellent Cheltenham race when finishing 4th, beaten 3 1/2L in the race won by Siruh Du Lac at The Festival, (11 lbs better off on Saturday). He hasn’t been out since Punchestown in May, but can go well fresh, and at current odds of 25/1 is worth a second look.

Nigel Twiston-Davies with 4 wins on the scoreboard is another who knows what is required and his 7yo Count Meribel looks very nicely handicapped on a mark of 146, giving him a nice racing weight of 10-13. A winner of 2 of his 5 starts over fences, including over course and distance in the Novice Chase at this meeting last year, he made a very satisfactory reappearance when finishing 2nd at Carlisle 13 days ago and should be spot on for Saturday.

Selection.   : Spirit Of The Games

EW.               : Slate House.   Us And Them

John Gray

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

Betway Summer Plate Handicap Chase 2m5 1/2f Market Rasen

peter bowen training

Welsh handler Peter Bowen’s record in the Plate is exceptional

With a relative dearth of top class flat racing on Saturday, we have one of the highlights of the Summer jumping season, Market Rasen’s, eponymous Plate, to get our teeth into. Some of the top yards are represented, but the first port of call has to be the Yet-Y-Rug stables, down Haverfordwest way, of Welsh Maestro, Peter Bowen, as he has won exactly 25% all the runnings of The Plate since it’s inception in 1995, a pretty remarkable achievement for a small yard operating so far from racing’s centre!
Of his 3 entries at the time of writing, last year’s Hero, More Bucks looks the most interesting.

In a heat run at its usual pillar to post gallop, the son of Presenting, jumped fluently throughout, and held on very gamely, to beat the Skelton-trained Too Many Diamonds by 1/2L, and land Peter his 6th Summer Plate. More Bucks has only caught the judges eye once in his subsequent 10 races, ( a Ludlow Class3 Chase in January) but as a result races on Saturday off a mark only 7lbs higher than last year. He showed little in his last two races, (a race on the flat at Bath and a Hurdle race at Market Rasen 13 days ago) but back in a race that suited so well last year, and coming from this yard, the 9yo has to be considered.

7yo’s have won the contest 8 times, and Warwickshire genius, Dan Skelton, will be hoping to improve that record even further with his son of Beneficial, Gortroe Joe.
He is a winner of 2 of his 5 starts over fences for the Alcester handler, including last time out, when he cruised up by 12L over Saturday’s course and distance 90 days ago. It was only a 4 runner affair, and Saturday’s 16 runner field, all racing with the choke out, will present a very different challenge, but the Skelton’s, with a win and a 2nd in the last 3 years, know what is required, and their contender is owned by that great supporter of National Hunt racing, Terry Warner.

Like many a horse before him, the 11yo, Ronava, has improved dramatically for coming under the Tutelage of Worcestershire trainer, Dr Richard Newland. He only arrived at the Claines yard a mere 54 days ago, on a mark of 117, and he is already rated 19lbs higher. The ex Irish son of Blueprint, had plied his trade in the PTP field, over hurdles, and over fences, for the meagre return of a couple of PTP victories, 3 wins over hurdles, and a single chase victory in a 7 year career. Since joining the good doctor, the veteran has won two of his three starts, and was pretty impressive at Hexham last time, winning by an eased down 8L off a mark of 124. He has to cope with a hefty 12lbs rise at the weekend, and would be only the third 11yo to win the contest, but in the hands of Dr Newland, who won with Bobowen 6 years ago, nothing seems impossible.

nicky henderson oddsguruSomewhat surprisingly, Nicky Henderson still awaits a first victory in the Market Rasen feature, but with 3 contenders this year, Theinval, Pacific De Baune, and Casablanca Mix, he looks to be determined to fill the gap in his outstanding CV.  Theinval finished 3rd three years ago as a 6yo, when despite travelling well throughout, he didn’t seem to quite get home, and was beaten 11L. Indeed the rest of his career would suggest that 2m4f is the limit of his stamina so Nicky’s best chance of bringing the prize back to Seven Barrows would seem to lie with one of the other two.

Pacific De Baune is a 6yo son of that good dual purpose French stallion, Al Namix,
(sire of Petit Mouchoir and Saphir Du Rheu amongst many other good horses) and has won 2 of his 4 starts over fences. He showed last time that his recent wind operation had been a success, when comfortably winning a Class2 Newton Abbot Handicap off a mark of 142 from that good yardstick, Wait For Me by 3 1/2L, which makes Saturday’s mark of 149 look fair. A slight concern would be  Pacific De Baune’s lack of experience in a race like The Plate, but he looked a sound jumper in his last 2 races and put in a near flawless round over Warwicks tricky circuit last November.

The 3rd contender from Seven Barrows is the ex French 7yo Casablanca Mix, and he is 2/9 over fences since joining the Lambourn genius in April 2017. He looked well worth his rating of 142 for Saturday when winning an Aintree Class3 Handicap 64 days ago off a mark of 138, and could be well suited by Saturday’s race. All his best efforts have come on flat tracks, and he has looked particularly well suited by a right handed circuit. He has won and been placed twice at Huntingdon, where he gave the now 152 rated
Willoughby Court a fright in 2017, and didn’t quite see out the 3miles trip when failing by only 1/2L to win a Class1 Listed Chase here at Market Rasen last November. Back over a more suitable trip and with Nico De Boinville doing the steering, he could be the one to fill in that gap in the Master of Seven Barrows CV.

Selection  : Casablanca Mix

EW          : Gortroe Joe

John Gray

Pertemps Network Swinton Handicap Hurdle (Grade3) 2Miles Haydock Saturday

oddsguru haydock ringHaving won the race four times in the last six years, including the last twice, any contender from the Llancarfan yard, in the Vale of Glamorgan, of Welsh Maestro, Evan Williams, needs a close look, and his two contenders this time, Court Royale and John Constable, are certainly of interest.

The former, a 6yo, has won 3 of his 9 starts over hurdles including last time out, when he outbattled the useful, Snapdragon Fire to win a Class3 Ludlow Handicap by 1 1/2L 23 days ago, racing off a mark of 121. He has been put up 5lbs for Saturday’s contest which looks fair, but still needs 10 above him in the handicap to come out to get a run. Another slight concern would be that all his wins have been on right handed tracks, and indeed he has done most of his racing going clockwise, so perhaps Evan’s best chance of landing a 5th victory lies with the 8yo John Constable.

By Montjeu, he is a full brother to the St Leger and Ascot Gold Cup winner, leading light, and he won The Swinton 2 years ago by an impressive 14L off a mark of 134. Raised 16lbs for his next run, he comfortably won the valuable and competitive Summer Handicap Hurdle at Market Rasen 3 months later, but has failed to fire in his subsequent 14 starts, (was a respectable 7th off a mark of 156 in last year’s renewal). There was little encouragement to be drawn from his last run 4 months ago either, finishing down the field in a Cheltenham Handicap in January off a mark of 134, but if the man from Llancarfan has been able to get this talented individual back to anywhere near his best, he is an extremely well handicapped animal on his mark of 132. Interestingly if Mr Williams did land the race with the 8yo, it would complete a striking sequence for Evan, winning the contest with a 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8yo.

Nicky Henderson has won this twice, (Eradicate in 2010 and 2011) and must have serious prospects of landing a 3rd with his course and distance winning Novice,
Mister Fisher. He won The Grade2 Rossington Main Novices Hurdle in January, from the now 149 rated, Bright Forecast by 2 1/2L, (3rd in the Grade1 Ballymore at The Cheltenham Festival) which does make Saturday’s mark of 145 look reasonable. He has to be forgiven a poor showing in the Supreme Novices at The Festival, (8/16) but back on a flat track on better ground can make his presence felt.

oddsguru richard newlandThe Dr Richard Newland (pictured) trained 7yo, Le Patriote is 5/14 over hurdles and has looked an improved performer in his last 2 races. He won an Ayr Class2 (2Miles Good) in November off a mark of 135 and following a 165 day break won a Cheltenham Class2 (2m4f Good) off a 7lbs higher mark 25 days ago. A 3lbs rise looks very fair, and with Sam Twiston-Davies who is riding better than ever in the Plate, The Newland horse is definitely one to be interested in.

A Swinton victory is one of the few big Hurdle races missing from the CV of Paul Nicholls, but the master Of Ditcheat will be hoping that his 4yo, Christopher Wood can get his head in front on Saturday and fill in the gap. 4yo’s, with only 2 wins in the last two decades, don’t have a great record in the race, but they do get a valuable 4lbs age allowance, and the Nicholls horse looked much more the finished article when coming 3rd in the Grade1 Anniversary Novices Hurdle at Aintree last time. This was only the ex flat racers third race over hurdles, and he travelled well throughout keeping on well to finish 6 1/4L behind the winner, Pentland Hills. Rated 142, with his 4lbs age allowance, he has the nice racing weight of 11-2 and could be interesting.

Talented flat racer, Sofia’s Rock, achieved a rating of 106 when trained by Mark Johnson, and promises to be just as good over hurdles. He joined Dan Skelton’s yard last September and has won 2 of his 3 races over hurdles. He was quite impressive last time winning a Ludlow Novices by 13L from the previous winner Good Man Jim. With plenty of experience in big handicaps on the flat, Saturday’s large field shouldn’t be a problem, and he looks well treated on a mark of 140.

The Seamus Mullins trained Arthington ran the best race of his career three weeks ago when just failing to get up to beat Saturday’s opponent, Cubwin, over course and distance. In a very competitive 16 runner field, he finished much the strongest and was an unlucky loser. On the same terms he should finish in front of Cubwin and there could be plenty more to come from the 6yo.

olly murphy oddsguruThe Olly Murphy (pictured) trained Fiesole is another who put in a career best performance last time, winning a Plumpton Class2 by a long looking 9L from Saturday’s opponent Legal History despite being impeded at the 2nd last. A hike of 12 lbs looks severe but at the very least he should confirm the form with the runner up, (10lbs better off) and it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise if the talented Murphy’s charge, landed the spoils.

Selection : Fiesole
EW.           : Arthington.      Le Patriote

John Gray