BoyleSports Irish Grand National (Handicap) 3m5f Fairyhouse Monday

fairyhouse grand national
With no stand out contender like Tiger Roll at Aintree, Ireland’s Grand National looks a difficult heat to solve, but there are some strong trends to help. Weight has been hugely significant with only two animals in the last two decades carrying more than
10-13, and in the same period  younger contenders have had the best of the argument, with only 3 animals older than 9 getting their head in front. Favourites have a poor record in the race, and 13 of the last 16 winners have been returned at a double digit price. Stamina is obviously important, and only one of the last 16 winners hadn’t registered a victory over at least 3 miles. Racing for 3m5f with the throttle out, demands maximum fitness, so it’s not surprising that 15 of the last 16 winners had raced within the previous two months, but interestingly, only 2 of them had won last time out. There are no multiple winning trainers represented on Monday, but Ted Walsh, who won with the 7yo Comanche Court in 2000, will be hoping that another animal of the same age, Any Second Now, can land him win number two.

fairyhouse irish grand national

The JP McManus colours should be prominent on Monday

A winner of 2 of his 4 Hurdle races, including at Grade2 level, the son of Oscar has been taken along very steadily in his chasing career, by his Uber shrewd connections , and it wasn’t until the 10th time of asking, that he got his head in front, and that was in the prestigious, and hugely competitive Kim Muir at The Cheltenham Festival last time out. Racing off a mark of 143 he took it up after the last and stayed on stoutly up the hill to win the 23 runner 3m 2f contest by 3 3/4 lengths. He actually races off a one pound lower mark in Mondays early closing event, and looks very attractively weighted
on 11-0. Bred by JP’s Missus, Noreen, I’m sure the McManus’s would like nothing more than to add to their 2 previous wins in the Irish National (Butlers Cabin 2007, Shuthefrontdoor 2014) with their home bred, Any Second Now.

Mind you, Team McManus have another interesting looking contender in the Philip Hobbs trained 7yo Novice, Jerry’s Back. A winner of an Irish PTP, he won his first two Hurdle races after joining the Somerset trainer as a 4yo, but suffered a setback and was off the course for 601 days. He won a Class4 Bangor Chase, (2m4 1/2f Soft) last December at odds of 50/1, and stepped up substantially in Class to Grade 2 level for his next 2 races, acquitted himself well, finishing 2nd on both occasions. He was sent off a not unfancied 16/1 shot for The 4miles National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last time, and despite a very troubled passage, finished 3rd, albeit at a distance of 47 lengths. I feel that we have yet to see the best of Jerry’s Back, and if he really stays Monday’ trip, could be interesting with his nice racing weight of 10-9, and could add to the decent record of English trained runners in the race.

Jessica Harrington won 2 years ago and will be hoping to do so for a second time with her gallant Aintree runner up, Magic of Light. The 8yo races off a 2lbs lower mark giving him a racing weight of 10-13 and if fully recovered from his Aintree exertions has to be firmly in the picture.

Paddy (Dawn Run) Mullins, won the race 4 times, but surprisingly, son Willie, has yet to score. Mobhanded at the time of writing, Willie’s best chances would seem to lie with Pairofbrowneyes and Total Recall. The former was sent off the 15/2 favourite for last year’s renewal off a mark of 146, but got no further than the 5th fence. However he has been brought along quietly since, and won the valuable Leinster National, (3miles yielding to soft) 44 days ago off 146, staying on strongly at the finish, and he gets into Monday’s heat on the same mark. Last year’s mishap was his only fall in 21 races over fences, and if the son of Luso gets Monday’s trip, and the signs are positive, he will be a danger to all.

Total Recall has won 3 of his 13 starts, including the 2017 running of Newbury’s big Handicap, The Ladbroke Trophy, (was The Hennessy). Sent off the 7/1 Fav for last year’s Aintree Spectacular, he didn’t enjoy the experience and was pulled up before two out, and 11 days later was again pulled up in The Punchestown Gold Cup. However 251 days later, making his seasonal debut on New Years Day, he ran respectably to finish 2nd to subsequent Gold Cup Hero, Al Boum Photo, and 19 days later finished a decent 3rd in a Thurles Grade2, a race he might have won but for making a dreadful mistake at the last.

Winning course form is always an asset, and the Liam Cusack trained 9yo  Snugsborough Benny was quite impressive when easily landing a 3miles Fairyhouse Chase 68 days ago, running on strongly at the finish. At home in a large field of handicappers, he won a 20 runner Handicap Chase at The Galway Festival in August,(2m6 1/2f Soft) coming through the field, and staying on strongly to lead near the finish. A son of Beneficial, out of a Saddlers Hall mare, he comes from a good NH family. His full brother, the year younger Snugsborough Hall, has won his last 2 races and looked a stayer when keeping on strongly to finish 2nd over 3m2f in a Punchestown Handicap last December. One can never be sure, but the signs from Snugsborough Benny’s pedigree, and style of racing, strongly suggest that he will stay, and might even improve for Monday’s trip. On a mark of 145 he is definitely one to be interested in.

Selection. : Any Second Now
EW.            : Snugsborough Benny.      Pairofbrowneyes.

John Gray

November Handicap 1m4f Doncaster Tips Saturday

doncaster flat racingSaturday at Doncaster brings the curtain down on another turf flat racing season, and punters hoping to improve their bank balance, should approach the feature handicap with some caution, as only a single “Jolly”has obliged in the last 22 years. Mind you, it hasn’t by any means been an impossible heat to crack, as 6 of the last 10 winners have been returned with an SP in single figures, and two of those have been trained by the race’s  most successful handler, (5 wins) John Gosden, which has to make his sole representative on Saturday, the 4yo colt Royal Line of particular interest.

By Dubawi, he was unraced as a 2yo, and has only had the 6 starts. He hasn’t been seen since his last run at the end of April when his form took a decidedly upward trajectory, winning Epsom’s Great Metropolitan Handicap off a mark of 95 by
2 3/4L from Golden Wolf, with that good yardstick, Firefighting, a further 3 1/4L back in 3rd. A 10lbs rise to 105 looks quite severe but, beautifully bred, he is a half brother to the Group2 winner, Masterstroke and the Group3 winning Mr Moonlight Magic, he just
could be a Group Horse running in a Handicap. With his ability to go well fresh, (won 1st time out) he may be up to defying his new mark.

2015 November Handicap preview.

There have been 18 winners from the Classic generation since 1980, and Willie Haggis,
(won with Conduit 5 year’s ago) fields a likely looking 3yo, My Lord And Master, this time. Lightly raced, he won the 2nd of his two juvenile heats, beating his stable companion, Young Rascal, (now rated 116) by 6L in a Nottingham Maiden. Just beaten on his 3yo debut, he followed up with a creditable 2nd in Chester’s Dee Stakes in May,  but 17 days later was well beaten in a Longchamp Group3. However last time out he showed the talent was still there, going down by a Neck, off a mark of 99, in a 10 1/2f York Handicap, finishing with great gusto on the soft ground. Stoutly bred, by
Master craftsman out of a Dalakhani mare, he should be well suited by Saturday’s trip, is only 4lbs higher than York, and with Daniel Tudhope, who won on Open Eagle in 2014 doing the steering, has plenty to recommend him.

The Clive Cox trained Now Children took a considerable step forward 27 days ago when winning a Class2 Goodwood Handicap (1m4f Soft) by 4 1/2L from Saturday’s opponent, Wolf Country, on only his 7th racecourse appearance. By a miler out of a sprinter it is surprising that staying appears to be the Cox’s horses forte, and it may “be, that campaigned over middle distances, he is beginning to realise his full potential. With a rise of 6lbs for that facile Goodwood victory looking very fair he will be hard to keep out of the places at the weekend.

There has never been an Irish trained winner of Doncaster’s November Handicap but top handler, Ger Lyons will be hoping to rewrite the script with his 4yo gelding, Inscribe. He does need a few above him in the handicap to come out to get a run but if he does, with only 8-7 to carry and Joe Fanning doing the steering, he has plenty in his favour. Lightly raced, the 4yo son of American stallion, Harlan’s Holiday, is out of a Sadler’s Wells mare and has won 3 of his 7 races on turf.  The manner of his two victories over 10f, at Naas and The Curragh, on testing ground, strongly suggest that Saturday’s trip will be fine and it won’t be the biggest surprise if the trophy ends up on the other side of The Irish Sea.

Racing over 12f for the first time, with trainers daughter, Megan, in the plate, the Paul Nicholls trained Birds of Prey looked a tad unlucky, to go down by a Shd in Haydock’s Ladies Trophy Handicap 61 days ago. Headed by the winner inside the 2f marker, he fought back, and kept up a persistent challenge all the way to the line. Campaigned over shorter when trained in Ireland by John Oxx, he won twice for the Curragh Maestro on testing ground, and looks nicely handicapped on 92 which including Ms Nicholls 5lb claim, means he will only have the featherweight of 8-4 to carry.

The Hughie Morrison trained Buzz put in a really solid performance 7 week’s ago when getting up on the line to win a Class2 Newbury Handicap off a mark of 93 over an inadequate 10f. Back up to 12f off a 5lbs higher mark the son of Motivator is worth a second look.

Despite trips to Switzerland Germany and Ireland, last year’s third, Eddystone Rock has failed to hit the back of the net in his 11 subsequent starts but as a result gets into Saturday’s contest off a 9lbs lower mark. He ran well enough last time finishing 5/20 in a valuable Naas handicap to suggest that he can be competitive off his mark of 91 and could be interesting, especially on soft ground.

Selection : Now Children
E.W.          : My Lord And Master    Eddystone Rock.

John Gray

Queen Anne Stakes (Group1) 1mile Str Royal Ascot Tuesday

royal ascotOur selection last week, God Given, stayed on well, and found plenty to give Luca Cumani his second Pinnacle Stakes at Haydock, and another success for the Oddsguru team, so here’s hoping we can keep the ball rolling in the opening heat of next week’s Royal Ascot Jamboree, The Queen Anne Stakes. First run as The Trial Stakes in 1840, it was renamed in 1930 in honour of Queen Anne who founded the Berkshire Track way back in 1711, and her race was belatedly given Group1 status in 2003. Prior to receiving it’s top level status, Sheik Mohammed’s Godolphin operation won the contest four times, and since becoming a Group1 race, they have registered a similar number of victories, all of which has to make their contender next Tuesday, Benbatl, of particular interest.

Unraced as a 2yo, Benbatl won two of his seven starts as a 3yo, including the 10f Group3 Hampton Court Stakes at last year’s Royal Meeting, but it is only since turning four and being campaigned in Dubai, that he has really begun making hay. He has won three of his four race in the Emirate, beginning with a smooth victory in January in the Group3 Singspiel Stakes, followed by another facile victory in the Group2 Al Rashidiya Stakes at the beginning of February. He followed this with a good second to Blair House in The Group1 Jebel Hatta Stakes, five weeks later, but it was his performance last time, when winning the hugely valuable Group1 Dubai Turf (worth well over £2.5 million pounds to the winner) that stamped him out as a very serious animal indeed. He won the 9f heat very easily by 3 1/4L from the Japanese horse Vivlos and had his previous conqueror, Blair House 12L back in 10th. Beautifully bred, by the great Dubawi, out of the top class mare, Nahrain, ( won twice at the top level, The Prix De Lopera 2011 and Belmont Park’s Invitational in 2012), Benbatl has had a nice 11 week break since his Dubai exertions, and if handling the one furlong drop in trip will make them all go.

Aidan O’Brien has won the race three times and his best chance of landing a fourth would seem to lie with his 4yo daughter of Galileo, Rhododendron. She needed every yard of Newbury’s straight mile to win the Group1 Lockinge Stakes four weeks ago, (Oddsguru’s Selection), mounting a strong challenge entering the final furlong she got up to beat the gallant Lightning Spear in the shadow of the post. This was the filly’s third Group1 success, two of them achieved over a straight mile, (won The Dubai Fillies Mile over Newmarket’s Rowley Mile as a 2yo) so despite a second in The Oaks, and a win in the 10f Group1 Prix de L’Opera Longines, her optimum trip does seem to be a strongly run mile. Her dam, Halfway To Heaven who won the Irish 1000gns in 2008 and the Group1 Sunchariot Stakes over a mile at Newmarket was certainly best at the trip and her full sister, Magical was best at seven furlongs.

Following a good 3rd to stable companion, Rhododendron (beaten 2 3/4L) in The Lockinge, the much travelled, Lancaster Bomber, got off the mark at the top level for the first time when winning the 10f Tattersalls Gold Cup from stablemate Cliffs Of Moher twenty three days ago. Having made all he found plenty for pressure and ‘won by 2L, and had the hot favourite, Defoe, a further 1 1/2L back in 3rd. A cautionary note is added as he did have his own way out front and the time was slow for the conditions but as a son of Warfront he thrives on fast ground, and it’s worth remembering that he was only collared inside the final furlong by Barney Roy in last year’s St James’s Palace Stakes when attempting to make all.

The French trained filly, Recoletos has won six of her ten starts, including last time, when she was quite impressive winning the 9f Group1 Prix d’Ispahan at Longchamp, where she beat the 113 rated Almodoran easily by 1 3/4L. This talented filly was only beaten a length in last year’s 10f Group1 Prix Du Jockey Club where she was only headed 50yds from the post, and in her first race this term she put up an excellent performance winning the Group2 Prix Du Muguet very readily from the proven Group2 performer Jimmy Two Times. The C Laffon-Parias trained 4yo does seem to have progressed over the winter and it wouldn’t take much more to put her in the mix. A slight concern would be that she has never raced on anything faster than good.

The American trained Yoshida would be an interesting contender if turning up. Lightly raced with only eight runs under his belt the 4yo son of the very successful Japanese stallion, Hearts Cry didn’t exactly set the world alight in his first six races, and it was only at the seventh time of asking that he was successful at Graded level. He won the Grade3 Hill Park Stakes at Belmont Park last October and then seemed to have significantly improved over the winter when winning the 9f Grade1 Old Forester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on his reappearance in May. He beat the three times Grade1 winner Beach Patrol” by 3/4L in the style of an improved performer and could be interesting for his hugely successful trainer, William Mott.

Selection: Benbatl.  If abs Rhododendron
E.W.         : Yoshida

John Gray

Oddsguru’s guide to Sunday’s, Unibet Irish Gold Cup, 3 Miles Leopardstown

First run in 1987, The Irish Gold Cup, proved a pretty solid guide to success in it’s English counterpart in the nineteen nineties, with both Jodami (pictured, 1993) and Imperial Call, (1996) both bringing off the double in the same season. However it has taken another twenty years for the feat to be repeated, when last year’s Hero, Sizing John collected both prizes. With this year’s renewal of The Cheltenham Gold Cup having such an open look, it is by no means impossible, that Sunday’s winner might just become the fourth to bag the elusive double. Having trained an amazing nine previous winners, the master of Closutton, Willie Mullins, is leagues ahead of the opposition, and with two very viable candidates for this year’s renewal, Killultagh Vic and Djakadam, he must be harbouring serious hopes of getting into double figures.

A 9yo son of Old Vic, Killultagh Vic has only had the two outings over fences, both of which he won, but he was sidelined after the second of them, a Grade2 Leopardstown contest, two years ago. Following a 714 days break, he made a highly satisfactory reappearance over hurdles at Punchestown five weeks ago, winning by 2 3/4L from Ex Patriot. This previous high class staying hurdler, a winner at The Cheltenham Festival, and conqueror of the outstanding Thistlecrack in a Punchestown Grade1, achieved a rating of 157 in that discipline, and promises to be at least as good over fences. If overcoming his inexperience on Sunday, he can be involved at the business end.

Twice a winner at Grade1 level and twice runner up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the 9yo, Djakadam has clearly been a great servant to connections. He followed last year’s fourth to Sizing John in The Gold Cup at Cheltenham by beating the same animal by a short head at The Punchestown Festival the following month, another excellent performance! He probably needed the race when beaten 7L by Sizing John over an in adequate 2 1/2m on his reappearance, following a seven month break, but his dismal performance eighteen days later at Leopardstown, when pulled up behind Road To Respect, is harder to explain. Perhaps the race came too soon. However connections” report him in good shape for Sunday, and it has been this pundits experience, that it often pays to forgive an animal the one bad run, and odds around the 10/1 mark at the time of writing look tempting.

The Jessica Harrington (pictured above) trained Our Duke won the Irish Grand National by 14L from Bless The Wings, conceding 16lbs, with his head in his chest, last April, and looked an animal destined for the very top. However the wheels seemed to come off on his reappearance at Down Royal six months later, when he trailed in seventh of eight, 51L behind the winner, Outlander. There were excuses, as he scoped dirty, and a back problem was also discovered as a contributory factor. His back has been successfully operated on, and all is now reported well with the 8yo. Prior to his National win, Our Duke had already shown himself to be out of the top drawer, when winning a three mile Leopardstown Grade1 from the very useful Coney Island, (won next time out at Ascot, a year later, giving Adrienne Du Pont eleven pounds, and a nine lengths beating) in December 2016. A slight reservation would be that he didn’t have the speed to cope with Disko over 2m5 1/2f last February, and went down by 1 3/4L to that top class performer in another Leopardstown Grade1. He will need a truly run three miles on Sunday which he should get. If Our Duke arrives at the top of his game at the weekend he will be hard to beat and might just put himself in line for that Gold Cup double.

The Tony Martin trained Anibale Fly looks interesting. Mostly campaigned at shorter than three miles, the 8yo looked an improved performer when winning a valuable 3m 1/2f Handicap Chase easily by 7L from the useful Ucello Conti, to whom he was giving 10lbs, over the course, at the end of December. Now rated on the 159 mark he doesn’t need to find that much more to be competitive on Sunday, and coming from this yard, and owned by JP Mc Manus it wouldn’t come as the greatest surprise if he did.

Beaten under three lengths when finishing second in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Jonjo O’Neill trained Minella Rocco ran reasonably well when finishing fourth behind Road To Respect over course and distance at the Christmas meeting. It was too early In last year’s renewal when he unseated Aidan Coleman at the seventh, to draw any conclusions, but he was sent off a 7/1 shot, so if he does run, (also engaged Newbury Saturday) would be worth a second look.

The 10yo Outlander, trained by the hugely talented Gordon Elliot, who continues in such good form, is a rather enigmatic type, rarely running two consecutive races alike, but he does have a great record at the track. He won on all of his first four appearances at the south Dublin track, and last time, in his fifth race at the course, he was a good third to Road To Respect. One never knows quite what to expect from Outlander but he clearly enjoys the Leopardstown air and is hard to ignore.

Selection : Our Duke

E.W. : Killultagh Vic

John Gray

Kingdom Of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes (Group1) 1mile Newmarket Saturday

The race is named after the 1942 winner of the fillies Triple Crown, Sun Chariot (pictured), who was foaled in 1939 at the British National Stud, which interestingly, at that time was located at Tully Co Kildare in the Irish Republic. The property subsequently became the Irish National Stud and with its famous Japanese Gardens is well worth a visit. The contest is limited to fillies and mares and is run over the straight Rowley Mile. The excellent trainer Luca Cumani has trained the winner on an impressive six occasions but sadly, with his reduced string is not represented this time, so in his absence, Sir Michael Stoute with four previous victories, the last one in 2014 with Integral, is the leading handler at the weekend. French yards have a great recent record in the contest with five of the last eight winners coming from across The Channel. Since the race was opened to all ages in 1974 the Classic generation have had much the best of the argument with thirty three 3yo’s winning, including last year when Aidan O’Brien’s Alice Springs came home in front.

We have to go all the way back to 1991 to find the only successful contender from the all conquering John Gosden yard, but they do seem to hold a strong hand this time with current market leader, Persuasive. The 4yo daughter of Dark Angel won her first five starts but has come up short in her three efforts at the top level, including last time, when finishing third to the O’Brien pair Hydrangea and Winter in the Group1 Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. However she was beaten less than a length and was putting in all her best work at the finish, so with the tougher track, possible softer ground, and a strong pace in her favour on Saturday, it might just be the Gosden filly’s turn to be the bride.

Having won an amazing four Group 1s last weekend, Aidan O’Brien has the American, Bobby Frankel’s world record of twenty five top level victories in a season, firmly in his sights, and must have high hopes that the tough Roly Poly will bring him another step closer. Already a veteran of fifteen contests, the robust 3yo had to settle for minor honours twice behind stable companion, Winter, earlier in the season, but came good in July when winning back to back Group1s, The Falmouth at Newmarket, and The Prix Rothschild at Deauville. Following a six week break she could only manage sixth in The Matron Stakes at Leopardstown under Seamie Heffernan. However, significantly, only three of the last ten winners of Saturday’s contest boasted a last time out win, and as five of the last six came from the Falmouth, the stats certainly speak in the O’Brien contenders favour. With Moore back doing the steering she has to be on the shortlist.

The French trained 4yo, Qemah won twice at the top level in 2016 and put up another excellent effort when winning the Group2 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes at this year’s Royal Meeting. She was less than 1/2L behind Roly Poly at Deauville but was well beaten in The Matron at Leopardstown and needs to bounce back, but with that good recent record of Gallic raiders in mind she is not so easy to pass over.

The Marco Botti trained 4yo daughter of Shamardal, Aljaazi, looked an improved filly last time when winning a Sandown Group3 easily by 3L from the Gosden trained Nathra, a possible contender on Saturday. Well suited by the stiff track she drew clear in the final furlong to win convincingly in what was a truly run heat. In her previous race, ten weeks earlier, she had put up another excellent performance when going down by 3/4L to Qemah at Royal Ascot. Relatively lightly raced she won her maiden over the Rowley Mile so should be very much at home on the stiff track and is well worth considering.

The Willie Haggas trained Sea Of Grace fetched €260,000 as a yearling, and it looked money well spent when she won a Curragh Group3 on her third racecourse appearance. The 3yo daughter of Born To Sea moved from the John Oxx yard at the end of her 2yo career and she put up a decent effort when finishing fourth behind Roly Poly in the Falmouth Stakes. An even better effort followed when winning a Haydock Group3 very easily from Lincoln Rocks and she can be excused her defeat in a 10f Curragh Group2 last time as she didn’t get home on the rain softened ground. Worth a second look!

Selection : Aljaazi

Danger : Persuasive

John Gray

William Hill St Leger Tips (Group1) 1m6f132yds Doncaster Saturday

The St Leger, the oldest of the English Classics, was first run in 1776, but it didn’t reach it’s present venue on Town Moor until two years later. It was named for a local politician and soldier, Anthony St Leger and is the third leg of the Triple crown, a feat last completed by the immortal Nijinsky (pictured) in 1970. It’s a fair bet that none of Saturday’s handlers are going to get near the sixteen winners sent out by John Scott between 1827 and 1862 although John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien’s four previous victories is a fair tally. The son of the latter, Joseph O’Brien is attempting to emulate the feat of the great Harry Wragg and become the only man to both ride and train a St Leger Winner. Harry, also known as “The Head Waiter” for his ability to put a horses nose in front where it mattered, won on Sandwich in 1931 and trained Intermezzo to collect the prize in 1969. The young O’Brien rode Leading light to victory in 2013 and is hoping to bring off the elusive double on Rekindling on Saturday.

Trained as a two year old by the now retired David Watchman, he made a promising start to his three year old career when beating Douglas Macarthur in a Leopardstown Group3 (10f) in April, and then ran a reasonable race to finish fourth in the 10 1/2f Dante Stakes. He was out the back in the Derby but showed that staying was his game when beating last year’s Irish St Leger winner, Wicklow Brave in a Group2 over fourteen furlongs in his next race. Last time, he finished second to the great Order of St George, (14f Curragh Aug19 yielding) albeit at a respectable distance of 4 3/4L. He needs to improve to trouble the principals on Saturday but in the hands of the talented O’Brien it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise if he did.

Dad, Aidan’s, best chance of adding to his tally of four would seem to lie with his Irish Derby hero, Capri. He put up a decent performance when finishing 6th in The Epsom Derby but then emphatically reversed the form with the Epsom 3rd, Cracksman, when beating him by a neck in The Irish Derby. Capri is by Galileo, whose progeny generally stay well, out of the French mare, Dialafara, who only raced the once, (unsuccessfully) but is quite stoutly bred. There can be no guarantees about Capri’s ability to stay Saturday’s trip, but he was clearly much better suited by the galloping nature of the track at the Curragh, and his genius of a trainer certainly knows what is required.

The Roger Varian trained Defoe, is undefeated in all of his four races this term, and the further he has gone the better he has looked. He confirmed that he was a high class stayer in the making when taking the 1m5 1/2f Group3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury last time by 3/4L from the good yardstick Wall Of Fire. By the strong influence for Stamina Dalakhani, out of the Pivotal mare Dulkashe, who won over 10f he should find Saturday’s trip ideal and as soft ground won’t pose any problems, is well worth considering.

Sir Michael Stoute won with Conduit in 2008, and following the impressive win of his contender, Crystal Ocean, in The Gordon Stakes at Goodwood (1m4f soft) must be harbouring strong hopes of landing another. Backward and immature, he did really well to get within 1 3/4L of Permian in the Dante stakes last May, and there was nothing wrong with his third to the same animal in the King Edward V11 Stakes at Royal Ascot. By Sea The Stars, whose progeny stay well out of the Mark Of Esteem Mare, Crystal Star, who was rated 104 at her best. She won twice and was placed second in a Newbury Group3 all over 7f so wouldn’t be the most likely dam of a St Leger winner. However the manner of Crystal Ocean’s Goodwood win suggests that this backward colt is now beginning to reach his full potential, and as his erstwhile stable companion, Conduit, brought off the Gordon Stakes/ St Leger double for the yard in 2008 we may well see history repeat itself.

Only a length behind Crystal Ocean in The King Edward V11 Stakes at Royal Ascot, Brian Meehan’s Raheen House took another step forward next time when winning The Bahrain Trophy, a 1m5f Newmarket Group3 by a length from Desert Skyline. The race was won by Masked Marvel prior to his St Leger win in 2012, and last year’s Doncaster hero, Harbour Law finished fourth in the same heat. Following his win trainer Meehan decided to by pass The Great Voltigeur and go straight to the St Leger. By Sea The Stars out of a Monsun mare, he is certainly bred for the job and as he handles soft ground is another to consider.

John Gosden is hoping to land his fifth St Leger with Stradivarius, and as the winner of the Group1 Goodwood Cup over two miles last time, there are absolutely no doubts about his stamina for Saturday’s test. He won at Goodwood from the redoubtable Big Orange with a strong staying performance, all the more meritorious, as he was the first of the classic generation to win since John Dunlop’s Lucky Moon came home in front in 1990. He had previously won the 1m6f Queen’s Vase at The Royal Meeting, where he quickened up nicely to collar Saturday’s opponent, Count Octave in the shadow of the post. By Sea The Stars out of the Bering mare, Private Life, stamina is assured but the only slight reservation I would have is that Stradivarius has yet to race on a testing surface, and his half brother, Rembrandt Van Rijn didn’t seem to perform on it.

Selection : Defoe

E.W. : Rekindling

John Gray

Racing Tips Keenland Phoenix Stakes (Group1) (2yo) 6f Curragh Sunday

First run at the charming, but now sadly defunct, Phoenix Park racecourse (parade ring pictured below) in 1902, it was known to generations of Dublin's racegoers as the "1500". It was run over the minimum distance and was won by some very fast horses such as Windy City (1951) Current Coin (1965) and Marble Arch (1972). Interestingly Windy City went on to achieve a Timeform rating of 142, which remains one of the highest in the organisation's history. Having been promoted to Group1 status in 1979 the distance was extended by a furlong in 1983 and following the closure of The Phoenix Park racecourse in 1990 the race was moved to Leopardstown until arriving at it's current venue at The Curragh in 2002.

Having won the contest an amazing fifteen times, including last year with Caravaggio, who won this year's renewal of the Group1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, Aidan O' Brien again holds a very strong hand. He has seven of the twelve entries including Sioux Nation, the winner of the 5f Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot. However this son of Scat Daddy looked well suited by the drop in trip at The Royal Meeting, so perhaps The Master of Ballydoyle's best chance of landing a sixteenth success lies with the improving filly, Actress. With six runs under her belt the daughter of Declaration Of War certainly wont be beaten by lack of experience, and her last three runs have shown her to be a filly very much on "the up". She ran a solid race to finish sixth in Royal Ascot's 6f Albany Stakes, and put up another decent performance when finding the drop back to 5f against her when beaten a neck in a Tipperary listed contest. However it was her run in the 6f Group3 Anglesey stakes here at The Curragh last time that was a real eye opener. Starting at 7/1 ( from an opening 11/2) she travelled sweetly throughout, and when Seamie Heffernan asked her to go and win her race, she quickened in the style of a top class filly to put 1 3/4L between her and the runner up Theobold at the line. As the runner up had won his maiden by 8L and subsequently finished second to Derby antepost favourite, The Pentagon, the form looks pretty solid. Getting her 3lbs filly allowance she can make them all go on Sunday.

A major fly in the ointment may be Gordon Elliott's exciting son of Bated Breath, Beckford. He made his racecourse debut over course and distance and starting at the generous odds of 10/1 hosed up from Red Persian. The runner up hasn't done a lot for the form but did manage to get his head in front over 7f at Leopardstown. However it was Beckford's next run which marked him out as being a bit special. Up in class to Group2 level in The Railway Stakes again over course and distance he won comfortably by a length from Jim Bolger's Verbal Dexterity with Aidan O'Briens Murillo a further 1 1/4L back in third. As Murillo had been beaten less than 1/2L in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot the form looks solid, although it has to be said the O'Brien horse may not have been ideally suited by the good-soft ground at The Curragh. Another point of interest vis a vis O'Briens filly Actress, is that Commander Grigio was beaten 7L by her in the Anglesey whereas the same horse finished only 5L behind Beckford in the Railway. However with Mr Elliott turning his prodigious training talents towards the flat, it's going to be very interesting to see how the Beckford story pans out.

The Tom Dascombe trained Frozen Angel ran well to finish fourth in the 5f Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot, (2 3/4L behind Sioux Nation) and took another step forward when upped to 5 1/2f in the Group2 Prix Robert Papin at Madison's-Laffitte when going down by 1/2L to Unfortunately. By Dark Angel out of the Verglas mare, Cut no ice, his pedigree suggests that six furlongs could prove his optimum trip. The dam was no great shakes as a racehorse but did win a small 5f contest at Folkestone and was placed twice over 6f at Newbury and Newmarket, while his prolific sire has got plenty of milers including Lincoln winner Gabrial, and Cambridgeshire winner, Bronze Angel. With Tom Dascombe's talent with sprinters in mind, this son of Dark Angel is certainly worth a second look.

Mick Channon must have a high opinion of his Bath winner Helvetian to fly this high, and this son of Swiss Spirit was quite impressive on the good-soft surface. Given similar conditions on Sunday he could be interesting.

Selection : Actress

Danger. : Beckford

John Gray

Betting Tips Scottish Grand National 

Preview: Scottish Grand National 4m Ayr Saturday – Last year’s winner, Vicente did the Oddsguru proud when coming home in front at the rewarding odds of 14/1, and racing off the same mark this year, a repeat is certainly not out of the question, as it is a contest that has been good to those who have performed well in it before. For example, Godsmejudge followed up his win in 2013, with a second in 2014, and Merigo, sandwiched in a second, between his two wins in 2010 and 2012. However, it has to be said that Vicente, having come a cropper at the first in The Grand National two weeks ago, doesn’t seem to be in the same form as last year, when running a race full of promise in Cheltenham’s 4m National Hunt Chase to finish fifth, prior to coming here. On the plus side, this is definitely his time of year, and there seemed to be plenty of confidence in him at Aintree before his unlucky fall at the first. His early exit will have saved him from a hard race so is not one to lose faith in, and he could yet join the elite band of Queens Taste, Androma and Barona who have won this in consecutive years. 
The Nicholls yard have another strong contender with the 7yo Novice, Arpege D’Alene. By the same sire, Dom Alco, as Vicente, he also demonstrated his stamina credentials, when staying on to finish 4th in this years renewal of the National Hunt Chase. Hampered after three out, he rallied under pressure to finish six lengths behind the winner, Tiger Roll. He races close to the pace, always a plus in this contest, and will enjoy the likely decent ground, but I just wonder if his burden of 11st6lbs might find this Novice out. 
Nicky Henderson has never won this, or indeed any other “National” but does have a really strong looking candidate with Premier Bond. A 7yo son of Kayf Tara out of that terrific race mare, Celtic Native, who won ten times for Philip Hobbs, and ran third to the great Barracouda in the 25f Longwalk Hurdle, should find Saturday’s 4m test right up his street. Beaten 14L by his super star stable companion, Might Bite, over an inadequate 19f last December, he put up strong staying performances to win his next two Novice chases. Sent off a 9/1 shot for the 24 runner, 26f, Kim Muir Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, despite being hampered at the first, he stayed on strongly in the closing stages to finish 3rd, 1 1/2L behind the winner. He races on Saturday off a mark only 2lbs higher than Cheltenham, giving him a nice racing weight of 11st, and the 7yo might just prove to be the first to bring a “National” home to the Master of Seven Barrows. 
The Neil Mulholland trained Southfield Royale ran a fine race in that 2016 renewal of the National Hunt Chase, won by Minella Rocco, with subsequent Gold Cup runner up Native River in second, and Ayr hero Vicente back in 5th, to finish 4th, but the wheels seem to have come off since. Well beaten at Punchestown in April, he trailed in 12th of 14 on his reappearance in January. Connections seem to have kept the faith, because he was sent off a well backed 7/1 shot for the Kim Muir, where he fell at the ninth fence. I suppose he remains an animal of some potential, and as a son of Presenting, should be well suited by decent ground at the weekend, but one has to wonder if his jumping will stand the test. 
The Warren Greatrex trained, Missed Approach, certainly didn’t look a 50/1 chance when putting up a great performance to finish 2nd in this years renewal of The National Hunt Chase. Having raced prominently throughout, the 7yo was 8L down after the second last and stayed on stoutly to get within 3L of the winner Tiger Roll. A prominent racer with bags of stamina is what is required for the Ayr fourmiler and the Greatrex contender certainly qualifies on these two fronts. However weight is a negative and with top weight of 11st9lbs to shoulder he has it all to do. However Missed Approach is clearly an animal on the “up” and might well give pilot Leighton Aspell a Scottish National to add to his two Aintree triumphs. 
Jonjo O’Neill’s Another Hero, should enjoy the step up in trip, and will like the good ground forecast for weekend. He stayed on into fourth place in a 3m Ascot Handicap in December and again ran well over Doncaster’s 3m in January to finish 3rd. There was money for him in the Kim Muir at the Festival, but badly hampered at the 9th fence, he never got back into the race and finished 13th. By Kalinisi out of a Strong Gale mare, 4miles on good ground should suit and with his nice racing weight of 10st10lbs is worth considering. 
The Nicky Richards trained, Looking Well, has won four of his thirteen starts, and all four victories have come in either April or May. He is another with a nice racing weight of 10st12lbs and he looked a strong stayer when winning over 26f at Kelso last May off a mark of 122. He ran another solid race when finishing 2nd to Ziga Boy off a 10lbs higher mark in January over 3m. He can be forgiven his last run on unsuitably soft ground in March and should find conditions in his favour on Saturday. With useful 3lbs claimer, Ryan Day in the plate worth considering. 
Selection : Premier Bond 

E.W. : Looking Well 

: Another Hero 

John Gray

Irish Grand National Betting Tips

BoyleSports Irish Grand National Handicap Chase 3m5f Fairyhouse Monday – Last week’s selection, Blaklion, ran a smashing race to finish fourth in the Grand National and if only, pilot Fehilly, had been able to hold onto him for a bit longer, he may well have gone very close. However the race was won by an exceptional stayer who could well figure in Cheltenham’s showpiece next year, and it was great to see all forty runners return unscathed in what was the 170th renewal of the great race. 

Fairyhouse stages merely the 145th renewal of the Irish equivalent on Monday, and let’s hope for a similar happy outcome there. 
With a maximum field of thirty the Irish edition looks an easier puzzle to solve than Aintree, but with only one favourite, (8/1), a 50/1, and three 33/1 shots winning in the last decade, it has proved anything but. However, it is a contest with some particularly strong trends, not least the significance of weight. Only two animals, the Gold Cup placed Commanche Court, (2000) and Aintree Hero Bobbyjo (1998) have managed to carry more than 11st to victory in the past twenty years. Age has also been significant with only two 6yo’s making it to the winners enclosure since 1973, and 11yo’s are nearly as infrequent visitors, with Jenny Pitman’s Mudahim twenty years ago, the last to succeed. The most successful age group have been the 7 and 8yo’s with surprisingly, for such a competitive race, plenty of Novices,(21 in the last fifty years) coming home in front. A recent outing, and a win going right handed, have also been important. 

Mouse Morris has been the most successful handler with two wins in the past decade, but a surprising absentee from the roll of honour is Willie Mullins. Dad, Paddy, won the race four times, but Willie has failed to hit the back of the net, and indeed has drawn a blank from twenty runners in the last ten years. 
Eddie Harty has never won the race either but looks to have a strong candidate with his 8yo Minella Foru. This son of Kings Theatre out of a Topanoora mare was always going to be a staying chaser, and so it proved when stepped up to three miles in the 2015 running of The Paddy Power Chase, he stayed on strongly to beat the useful Ucello Conti. Sidelined for over a year he made a satisfactory reappearance in a Grade2 Hurdle at Naas in January. Fairly handicapped, and in the Green and Gold colours of JP McManus, he is worth considering. 
Following his three Cheltenham Festival wins and four further victories at Aintree, man of the moment, Robbie Power, will be hoping for further success when he climbs aboard the Jessica Harrington trained Our Duke on Monday. The 7yo Novice has only had the three races over fences, winning the first two and coming second last time. He comfortably won a 2 1/2m Navan Novices in December, and took a big step forward nineteen days later when winning a Leopardstown Grade1 over three miles. Last time he was putting in all his best work at the finish when beaten by Disko over an inadequate 21 1/2f again at Grade1 level. Well found in the markets, he looks a danger to all particularly if there is “soft” or “yielding” in the going description. 

Ever since winning a 3m6f handicap at last years Punchestown Festival off a mark of 138, Harry Fry has had the Irish Grand National in mind for his talented 9yo, Fletchers Flyer. He did his prospects no harm when finishing a good third in an Ascot Grade2 conditions event over three miles eight weeks ago, and will relish the step back up in trip on Monday. He looks well treated on a mark of 145 and has to be on the shortlist. 
Could the Crafty Butcher be the one to at last fill that gaping hole in the C.V. Of the Master of Closutton? He has never won beyond three miles, but the way he finished in the hugely competitive, 24 1/2f, twenty eight runner Paddy Power Chase at Christmas strongly suggests that this 10yo could be well suited by a step up in trip, and racing off a mark of 135, could put an even broader than usual smile, on the visage of Willie Mullins come Monday evening. 
Despite being given too much to do in Cheltenham’s 3m2f Kim Muir, and meeting trouble at the second last, the Patrick Kelly trained Mall Dini ran a great race to finish 5th only 3L behind the winner. Surprisingly, this hero of last years three miles Pertemps Final at the Festival, has yet to score over fences, but his run in the Kim Muir was certainly a move in the right direction. Well suited by good ground, and only 1lb higher than his Hurdles mark, this 7yo has his best years in front of him, and it will come as no surprise if he breaks his steeplechasing duck on Monday. 

Selection : Mall Dini 

E.W. : Fletchers Flyer (if abs The Crafty Butcher) 

John Gray

Racing Tips Randox Health Grand National

With our selections finishing second in the last two renewals of the great race, the Oddsguru is due a change of fortune, so here’s hoping that this year we can highlight that special animal, with the right blend of pace, stamina, and above all courage, to take home Saturday’s great prize. 

Our selection last year, The Last Samurai, ran a superb race to finish second, and showed that the fire was still burning brightly, when finishing second to Definitely Red in that good Grand National Trial, The Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster in Febuary, a contest he won in 2016. However, he now carries top weight, leaving him with a burden 16lbs higher than last year, obviously posing a rather serious question. Despite that, his great run last year, remains fresh in the memory, and it will come as no great surprise to see him jumping the last in contention again. 

Irish training sensation, Gordon Elliott, who handled the 2007 winner, Silver Birch, runs two likely looking types, Cause of Causes and Ucello Conti. Having now won at three consecutive Cheltenham Festivals the former is beginning to acquire mythical status, and it will come as no surprise if this hardy, brave, and amazingly versatile animal gets his head in front on Saturday. Stable companion, Ucello Conti, a half brother to that outstanding chaser, Silviniaco Conti, also has plenty to recommend him. This ex French 9yo has been jumping steeplechase fences since he was three and as a relatively new recruit to the Elliott Academy ran a solid race to finish sixth in last years renewal. Elliott always thought that the son of Martaline was a “natural” for Aintree and having had him for another twelve months could well be proved right. 

Having won the Grand National twice, with Earth Summit in 1998 and Bindaree four years later, Nigel Twiston-Davies certainly knows what is required, and his talented 8yo, Blaklion, has the ability to take his score to three. When, probably needing the race after a break, he put in an eye catching performance finishing second to current market leader, Vieux Lion Rouge in Haydock’s Grand National Trial over 3m4f on stamina sapping ground. He looked like making all until lack of full match fitness told close home, and post race vibes from his excellent trainer strongly suggested that placings would be reversed come the big day in April. Blaklion, as a Grade2 winner over hurdles, and a Grade1 victor over fences has that touch of class, and as one who can race up with the pace, (often the safest place to be at Aintree), has to be on the shortlist. 

Lucinda Russell’s 8yo, One For Arthur looked an out and out stayer when winning easily over 26f at Kelso last October, and confirmed his stamina credentials when winning The Warwick Classic,(previously The Warwick National), from nineteen other runners, over 3m5f on holding ground in January. He had previously shown that the big Aintree fences hold no fears for this good jumper, when getting to within 3L of Vieux Lion Rouge in the Betfred Beecher Chase over the course, running on with great resolution. Definitely worth considering, particularly if the ground comes up soft! 

The prize has come back to the village of Nicholashayne in Somerset twice previously, courtesy of Minnehoma in 1994, and Comply Or Die nine years ago, and the Pipe yard will be hoping for further celebrations on Saturday night. They certainly have a very progressive looking candidate in current market leader Vieux Lion Rouge. Starting as an unconsidered 66/1 outsider in last years renewal, he outran his odds to finish seventh, a highly commendable effort for a seven year old in the National. Winner of the Beecher Chase over the Aintree fences and the Grand National Trial at Haydock, underlines his progress this term, and with another year under his belt looks a worthy favourite. 

Astonishingly, Trevor “Blackpool Tower” Hemings, has won three of the last twelve renewals of the great race, and his recent purchase Vicente, will be attempting to join his three previous winners Hedgehunter(2005), Ballabrigs(2005), and Many Clouds(2015). The Paul Nicholls trained 8yo won last years Scottish National as a novice, and thanks to four subsequent lacklustre efforts, gets into Saturday’s contest on only one pound higher. These poor efforts can be ignored as Vicente is very much a “Spring Horse” who reserves his best for this time of year, and with his nice racing weight of 10st10lbs has to be considered a live outsider, to give Mr Hemings a fourth success, and indeed his trainer a second, (Neptune Collonges 2012). 

Brian Ellison’s 8yo, Definitely Red, has been popular in the ante post markets since his impressive win in The Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster, (after the weights for the Grand National were published) and this strong stayer does look well handicapped with 10st12lbs on his back. Worth considering! 
Selection : Blaklion 

E.W. : Ucello Conti 

E.W. : Vicente 

John Gray