Match Book Imperial Cup Tips Handicap 2m Sandown

imperial cup oddsWith only 5 animals older than seven collecting in the last 70 years, this is definitely a heat for the less exposed, younger horse. In recent renewals weight has also played it’s part, as only one winner, (the now sadly departed London Prize in 2017) has carried more than 10-13 in the last 15 years. The Pipe family have an outstanding record in the race, with dad, Martin, leading up the winner six times and son David three. They have also managed to land the bonus, (£100,000 last year, on offer to any animal who wins a race at The Cheltenham Festival the following week) on three occasions, all of which has to make this year’s sole representative from Pond House, Extra Mag, of particular interest.

A 5yo son of the successful NH stallion, Kapgarde, Extra Mag has only been on a racecourse 4 times, and has quite an impressive 50% record. He won a modest maiden on the flat in the French Provinces before coming to Pond House last November.

david pipe imperial

David Pipe with father Martin

He made his British debut in a Wetherby Novices the same month, where, despite starting as an unfancied 14/1 shot, he had the race firmly in his grasp when unseating at the last. He made amends next time, despite some sticky jumping, and another stumble at the last, he comfortably won an Exeter Novices. Sent off the 6/4 joint Fav at Kempton six weeks ago, he had no answer to the Henderson trained, other co favourite, Precious Cargo,(Rec 7lbs) and was beaten by 3 1/4L. However, he did do enough to get into Saturday’s contest on the attractive mark of 132, leaving him on bottom weight of 10-0, (assuming top weight Call Me Lord takes up the engagement). With multiple entries for the 5yo at next weeks Festival, Family Pipe may just be dreaming of landing that bonus for a 4th time.

Nicky Henderson’s Top Weight, Call Me Lord, was only beaten a neck in last year’s renewal off a mark of 152, and has a tough looking task this time off an 8lbs higher mark. He did however earn that higher mark with a convincing win in a Sandown Grade2 over 5 1/2f further next time, beating Lil Rockerfeller by 16L. He made his seasonal debut in Ascots Grade1 JLT over 3m1/2f, and it looks as if connections feel that his future lies over staying trips, so Mr Henderson’s best chance of landing a second Imperial Cup, (won with the 6yo Daves Dream in 2009) would seem to lie with his second runner, another 6yo, Dream Du Grand Val.

Ex French, the 6yo failed to catch the judges eye in any of his 6 races over hurdles in his home country (placed three times) but since joining the Seven Barrows operation has won two of his three starts. Making his debut for the yard at Cheltenham in November, he put in a decent enough effort, finishing a respectable 6/20, despite taking a pretty strong hold, and some indifferent jumping. He was again pretty keen 72 days later when winning at Fontwell, but then had little difficulty landing the odds At Kelso last time, where he had the 119 rated Point Break (rec6lbs) 14L back in 3rd. His mark of 139 at the weekend, giving him a racing weight of 10-5, (so long as stable companion Call Me Lord stays in) looks very fair, and with entries in The County Hurdle and The Martin Pipe at The Festival, Dream Du Grand Val, (as low as 14/1 for The County) could be another with one eye on that bonus.

The Jane Williams trained Monsieur Lecoq has a very progressive profile, and following a pretty impressive performance over course and distance last time, deserves his place at the top of Saturday’s market. Making his handicap debut on a mark of 122, the 5yo took it up before the 2nd last, after which the result was never in doubt, and the son of Diamond Boy, won by 9L from the 128 rated, Our Merlin, and had the 135 rated, Eragon De Chanay a further 8L back in 3rd. Saturday’s mark of 132, putting him on 10-0 (2lbs out of the handicap) looks very fair, and Lizzie Kelly’s 3lbs allowance will be an added bonus.

The Kim Bailey trained 7yo, First Flow, hasn’t been on a racecourse since being pulled up in last year’s Supreme Novices at The Festival, but had impressed in his previous race, when winning Haydock’s Grade2, Rossington Main Novices Hurdle by 10l from the now rated 157 Midnight Shadow, (2mHeavy). A strict interpretation of that form would make him look thrown in on Saturday’s mark of 148, (the runner up has since improved) but nevertheless, he does look attractively weighted on 10-10 particularly if the ground turns heavy and the stable is in good form.

Harry Fry has done well with the ex flat racer, Winston C who has won 2 of his 3 starts over hurdles for the Dorset trainer, including last time, when winning a Class3 Novices over Saturday’s course and distance 5 weeks ago. There is  nothing special about the form but he was giving the now rated 129 runner up 6lbs and with his talented trainer in form is worth considering.

The Fergal O’Brien trained 6yo Benny’s Bridge made his handicap debut a winning one when coming home 2 3/4L clear of Flash Of Steel in a Cheltenham Class2 6 weeks ago. The form has worked out quite well and even from 8lbs out of the handicap, if getting a run, (needs 2 above him to come out) could be interesting, particularly as there seems to be plenty of support for him in the Markets.

Selection: Monsieur Lecoq

EW.          : Extra Mag,  Dream Du Grand Val

John Gray


888Sport Grimthorpe Handicap Chase 3m2f Doncaster Saturday

img_5309-1Saturday’s Grand National Trial, The Grimthorpe Handicap, (hasn’t produced a winner of the great race since Amberleigh House in 2004, but the 2016 Victor, The Last Samuri, did go on to finish 2nd at Aintree the following year) is quite a strong heat for trends. Weight has been pretty significant, with only 4 winners in the last 20 renewals carrying more than 11 stones, as has age, with no horse younger than 8 succeeding since the Paul Nicholls trained 7yo, Knight Templar, got his head in front in 2000. With Doncaster’s long attritional straight to cope with, contenders tend to start racing in earnest earlier, putting an additional emphasis on stamina, and winning form over at least three miles has been essential.

Following wins with Shraden Leader, (1994) and The Last Samuri, (2016) Kim Bailey is seeking to bring up a third victory with his upwardly mobile 8yo, Rocky’s Treasure. A winner of 4 of his 6 starts over fences, he hacked up over the course, (3m Good Dec15) where, making all in the Grade2 contest, he stayed on stoutly to beat the 138 rated, Theclockisticking by 17L in a race run at a good clip. He blotted his copybook 4 weeks later in a Warwick Class1 Handicap. Sent off a 6/5 Fav, he didn’t seem to cope with the course’s unique jumping demands, and finished a well beaten 3rd. Stoutly bred, by Westerner, out of the brood mare, Fiddlers Bar, he is a half brother to the classy Double Shuffle, so should find Saturday’s trip ideal. Back at Doncaster, where he had been so impressive in his previous race, and with the stable in good form, he has plenty to recommend him, and my only concern would be his top weight of 11-10.

Cumbrian trainer, Nicky Richards (pictured) who is having such a good season, is represented by the two 10yo’s, Chidswell and course winner, Looking Well. The former has mostly been campaigned at shorter than 3 miles but looked as if Saturday’s trip might be within his compass when staying on well to win a Kelso Class3 Handicap, (2m 7 1/2f) last time out. img_5310However there has to be some doubt as the last fence was omitted, and the time was slow, so Nicky’s best chance of bringing the prize home to Greystoke would seem to lie with Looking Well. By the very successful NH stallion Gold Well, he is bred to stay long distances, and indeed was going extremely well when falling at the 3rd last in the 4m1/2f Scottish Borders National in December. He made amends 10 days ago with a comfortable victory here at Doncaster off a mark of 133, (3m Good) looking like an animal at the top of his game. The extra 2 furlongs on Saturday looks ideal and only 6lbs higher giving him a racing weight of 11-2 he looks quite well treated.

Richard Newland has a well deserved reputation for rejuvenating cast offs from other stables and seems to have worked the Oracle yet again with the 11yo, Abolitionist. Having recorded his last success at Naas in March 2017 he joined the Newland operation in January 2018, and made his debut for the yard (Nov 18) a winning one, cruising up in a 3m Class2 Aintree Hurdle off a mark of 122 by 10L from the 139 rated

richard newland

Can the doctor find the winning remedy?

The Organist, and earning a new mark of 134 in that discipline, 19lbs higher than his previous winning mark of 115. He was excellent 3rd in the 2017 Irish Grand National, racing off a mark of 145, and if the talented Dr Newland has elicited anything like the same improvement over fences from this veteran, he has to be a very well handicapped animal racing off the same mark at the weekend. A slight concern would be the stables lack of recent form, but they are already 7 ahead of their previous best season.


The Chris Grant trained AcDc, a winner of 4 of his 12 starts over fences is attempting Saturday’s trip for the first time but wasn’t stopping when winning over 3m1/2f at Ayr
(Nov2017) and as a son of Kings Theatre out of a Slip Anchor mare shouldn’t find the trip a problem. He won nicely at Wetherby on his seasonal debut in October and ran ok 17 days later, finishing 4th at Ayr. Unsurprisingly beaten when stepped up to Grade2 level last time, he races on Saturday off a mark of 133, giving him a nice racing weight of 10-10 and is worth considering.

Animals younger than 8 have found it difficult to win but Philip Hobbs’s 7yo
Beau Du Brizais, with 10 chases under his belt, has not only had plenty of experience, but has shown definite improvement in his last two runs. The son of Kapgarde won a Ludlow Class3 over 3m1 1/2f off a mark of 123 in early December, and followed up at the same venue a fortnight later (3mSoft) where despite meeting plenty of trouble in running, and racing off a 6lbs higher mark, won by 2 1/2L and 7L from the 132 rated pair Holly Bush Henry and Fox Appeal, which makes Saturday’s mark of 135 look very fair. Philip won with Out The Back ten years ago, and looks to have another serious contender on Saturday.
Selection : Looking Well
EW.           : Beau Du Brizais

John Gray

Vertem Eider Handicap Chase 4m 1/2f Newcastle Saturday

newcastle races oddsguruThe now, sadly departed, Toby Balding, won the Eider an impressive 4 times, 3 of them with his Aintree Hero, Highland Wedding, but no handler, has managed to even double up, since Toby landed his 4th success with Lucky Vane in 1984. However, one stat that does stand out, has been the success rate of runners from the Emerald Isle, three of whom have collected in the the last 16 renewals, representing a pretty impressive strike rate from the relatively few runners entered from across the Irish Sea. The Celtic challenge, with 3 contenders this year, is numerically stronger than usual, and all three are worth a second look.

High flying, Gordon Elliott, relies on the 12yo, Folsom Blue, who as a veteran of 30 chases, is obviously well exposed, but showed that he can still perform at a decent level when finishing 4th of 16 in a Grade3, 3m Sandown Handicap 3 weeks ago, where he was putting in his best work in the closing stages. His mark on Saturday of 144 looks plenty high enough, but this is the first time he has tackled 4miles+ since contesting The Scottish National in 2016, where he was going ominously well when brought down at the 6th last fence. His brilliant trainer certainly knows the time of day with these stayers, and it won’t come as a surprise to see his 12yo involved at the business end.

The second of the Irish challengers, is the evergreen 14yo veteran, Raz De Maree, trained by his upwardly mobile handler, Gavin Cromwell. The son of Shamaan, has won 5 of his 31 starts over fences, and if one is supposed to deteriorate with age, no one has told Raz De Maree, as he put up his career best performance, when winning the (delayed) 2017 Welsh Grand National, as a 13yo on heavy ground, off a mark of 140.

toby balding oddsguru

Toby Balding won four Eiders

He ran well enough again in the Chepstow marathon this year, finishing 5th, staying on strongly. Not surprisingly, he would be the first of his age to win The Eider, but two 13yo’s, Pontin Go (1967) and Peaty Sandy, (1987) have managed to, and if Raz De Mee gets his preferred heavy ground, Gosforth Park could witness quite an emotional climax to the race.

The third Irish contender, the 9yo, Kilkishen, won for the first time over fences, at his 7th attempt, when winning at Fairyhouse on New Years Day, when virtually making all.” He can be excused his poor performance 6 weeks later, as buried in midfield, he could never get to the front, and finished a well beaten 7th. However the step up to 4m on Saturday could be a definite plus, as he is by that strong influence for stamina, Oscar, is a full brother to the  talented staying hurdler, Louis Vac Pouch, and his dam,
Coming Home, was a strong stayer on the flat in France.

David Pipe, who won with the subsequent Grand National Hero, Comply Or Die, runs the progressive looking 7yo, Daklondike. He ran his best race to date when winning The 2m7f Tommy Whittle Chase on heavy ground at Haydock  in December, but sent off the 4/1 favourite on faster ground, at the same venue 4 weeks later, he never got into any sort of rhythm, and unseated Tom Scudamore at the 5th fence. Out of the brood mare, Strong Irish, he is a half brother to the very talented Great Endeavour, and by Gold Well, an unraced full brother to top stallion Montjeu, and sire of last year’s Irish Grand National winner Isleofhopenddreams, there is an abundance of stamina in his pedigree, and if it comes up soft will be a danger to all.

SUE SMITHThe Sue Smith (pictured) trained 8yo, Sharp Response, put up a quietly impressive staying performance, at Catterick, (3m6f Good) 45 days ago. Jumping from fence to fence, and keeping on strongly off his mark of 134, he came home 5L clear of the 122 rated Little Bruce, (rec17lbs) which makes Saturday’s mark of 140 look very fair. Nicely bred as a staying chaser, he is by Oscar, and is a half brother to the 152 rated Ballyoptic,
(beaten a nose in last year’s Scottish National) and I don’t think 140 is the limit of this animal’s potential.

If Newcastle avoids a lot of rain for the rest of the week, the Paul Nicholls trained, double Scottish National Laureate, Vicente, should find conditions ideal. Once considered a Spring horse, the Paul Nicholls trained 10yo has become more versatile season wise, and had a nice pipe opener, when finishing 3rd at Taunton 5 weeks ago. He is a pound lower on Saturday so should be competitive.

Since coming to The Skelton yard last July, the 9yo, Ange Des Malberaux, has won 5 of his 7 starts, and seems to get better the further he goes. He hacked up over 3m3 1/2f at Market Rasen in December, and really caught the eye last time when winning very easily at Warwick 33 days ago off a mark of 117. He cruised home from the 40/1 outsider Oneida Tribe, and had the 122 rated Muckle Roe 9 1/2L back in third. Rated 127, he needs 2 to come out to get a run on Saturday, but if he does get into the contest, he is going to have a lovely racing weight of 10-1.

Selection  : Sharp Response
EW.           : Ange Des Malberaux (if abs Folsom Blue)

John Gray

Rescheduled Betfair Hurdle (Handicap) Grade3 Newbury

hurdle race newburyGood news for racing fans! Last week’s feature (below), The Betfair Hurdle, cancelled because of a particularly nasty strain of Equine Flu, has been rescheduled, and is to be included in a 9 race program at Ascot on Saturday. As the indications are that most, if not all, of the original field will be present.

Newbury hosts, one of the major betting heats of the Winter, when a maximum of 23 runners line up for The Betfair Hurdle at the Berkshire track at the weekend. First run in 1963 as The Schweppes Hurdle, the first five runnings were dominated by the legendary Captain Ryan Price who won four of them, including the first two with Rosyth, who remains the only animal to have won back to back renewals. Age has been a very significant factor, with younger horses dominating. There have only been 3 animals older than 7 collect in the entire history of the contest, the last being the 9yo Geos 15 years ago. Weight has also played it’s part, with only 2 animals, both subsequent Champion Hurdle laureates, Persian War, and Make A Stand, who have defied a burden of more than 11-6. There have been plenty of multiple winning trainers in the race, but with 5 wins, Nicky Henderson’s record is outstanding, which has to make the sole  entry from his Seven Barrows yard this year, Countister, of particular interest.

The ex French 7yo, a daughter of Smadoun, has had a rather unusual racing career. Campaigned mostly in minor NHF races in the French Provinces, (won twice) for her first 8 races, she changed stables in June 2016 and her form stepped up a gear. Again, campaigned exclusively in the same Genre, but this time in the top level metropolitan tracks, she won 3 of her 5 starts, two of them at Grade2 level, and was only beaten a neck in a St Cloud Grade1. Since her transfer to Seven Barrows in September 2017, she has raced 4 times over hurdles, winning twice, at Doncaster in December 2017 and at Sandown in February 2018. She was sent off a 16/1 shot for the Grade2 Dawn Run at The Festival, but could only finish a well beaten 5th, and hasn’t been seen since. She is all about potential, but on a point of handicapping, the horse she beat at Doncaster by 7L, De Rasher Counter, is now rated 139, which makes her mark of 133 on Saturday look lenient.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has won the race twice in the last 5 years, and runs both previous winners, Splash of Ginge and Ballyandy, but the stats are against them, so his third contender, Al Dancer, is preferred. Bred for the game, he is a half brother to the very successful French Hurdler/Chaser, T’zar’s Dancer, and has won all his 3 starts over hurdles. He impressed last time, easily winning a Cheltenham Class3, off a mark of 129. He won by 11L from the subsequent winner, Not That Fuisse, which  justifies the 12lbs rise to Saturday’s mark of 141, and it will be surprising if that is the limit of this exciting animals potential. A minor concern would be his lack of experience in such a large field, competitive handicap, but he jumps well, and wasnt discommoded in the 20 runner, Grade2 NHF race, at last year’s Aintree Festival, where he finished 4th.

The Devon yard of the Williams family, carried home the bacon 3 years ago when their 5yo Agrapart won, and they will be hoping for a repeat with another animal of the same Vintage, Monsieur Lecoq.

monsieur le coq

Punters’ palates could be distinctly agreeable on Saturday afternoon.

Having failed to make much impression in his first 4 starts, the penny seems to have dropped the last twice. He won a Flos Las Maiden by 7L in December, and 5 weeks later trotted up in a Sandown Handicap off a mark of 122. A rise of 10lbs looks fair, giving him a racing weight of 10-9 to be further reduced by Lizzie Kelly’s, very useful 3lbs claim.

Philip Hobbs has never won the Betfair, but will be hoping for a big run from his improving 5yo Zanzibar. He ran an excellent race 6 weeks ago winning by 1L from
Birds Of Prey, and had  Champagne Well (rec 6lbs and now rated 130) a further 1Lback in 3rd. A strict interpretation of the form makes Saturday’s mark of 135 look pretty fair and if this progressive type can overcome his inexperience, he could be involved at the business end.

Gary Moore has won 3 of the last 11 Betfair’s and has 3 contenders on Saturday, the best of whom may prove to be the 5yo Sussex Ranger. A winner of 3 of his 7 starts, he won a Fontwell Class3 by 4 1/2L off a mark of 130 conceding lumps of weight to Monday Club, 25 days ago, and looks well handicapped on 136, giving him a nice racing weight of 10-13. Mr Moore is a past master at placing horses in these big handicaps, and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see any of his runners involved where it matters, at the weekend.

Paul Nicholls who won with Zarkandar 7 years ago, runs two, Getaway Trump, and
Mount Des Alvoirs and while both are clearly talented, the former looks the more progressive. The 6yo has won 2 of his 4 starts over hurdles, and while he was beaten last time, in the Grade1 Challow Hurdle, there was no disgrace in going down by 2 1/2L to the exciting, 150 rated, Champ, over 2 1/2miles. In his previous race, the son of Getaway, racing over 3f shorter, gave the now 131 rated Tedham, 6lbs and an impressive looking 5L beating, all of which makes the Ditcheat runner look well handicapped on Saturday’s mark of 142 and very interesting back over two miles.

Selection : Getaway Trump
EW.           : Monsieur Lecoq

John Gray

888Sport Scilly Isles Novices Chase (Grade1) 2m4f Sandown Saturday

sandown 888Last week’s selection in the galliard Cleeve Hurdle, Paisley Park, proved, in no uncertain fashion, that he is the horse we strongly suspected he might be, when hosing up in the 3m Grade2 heat. Always travelling well in mid division, he needed a little encouragement from the saddle after three out, but made easy progress between the last two, led before the final flight, and showed the runner up, West Approach a clean pair of heels up the Cheltenham Hill. He won by 12L and had the 3rd horse, Black Op, (our EW suggestion) a further 2L back in third. He was superbly ridden by Aidan Coleman, who maintained his 100% record(4/4) on the son of Oscar, and connections will surely be looking forward to Cheltenham’s Sun Racing Stayers Hurdle with some confidence, particularly as both Big Buck and Thistlecrack won “The Cleeve”on their way to Cheltenham glory in recent years. Indeed a strict interpretation of Saturday’s race would give Paisley Park a rating in the low 170’s, which would have been good enough to have won every renewal of The Stayers since Big Bucks last victory in 2012. Unfortunately the bookmaking fraternity aren’t blind to his talent, and have made him their 7/2 Fav for Cheltenham, but with the promise of more to come from the apple of Ms Lavelle’s eye, perhaps even that represents some value.

Unlike The Cleeve Hurdle, The Scilly Isle Chase hasn’t been much of a guide to further success at Cheltenham, but both of the last two winners, Terrefort and Top Notch did finish runners up in The JLT at The Festival. Both were trained by the master of Seven Barrows, Nicky Henderson, who was notching his 5th victory in the race when the former won last year’s renewal, all of which has to make the  sole contender from his powerful yard, Ok Corral, of interest.

A 9yo son of Mahler, Ok Corral has only had 9 runs under rules, and has won 5 of them, including both his starts over fences. Very lightly raced, he obviously has had some fitness issues, but coming from the same family as that fantastic chaser,
Tidal Bay, connections have persevered and their patience is beginning to be rewarded as he showed himself to be a chaser of some potential at Warwick 3 weeks ago. Jumping well over the tricky 3 mile course, he showed plenty of pace, and came home a comfortable 6L clear of the 143 rated, Secret Investor. He shouldn’t be inconvenienced by the drop back to 2m4f as he had the speed to win 2 of his 3 NHF races, (2nd to the talented Yorkhill in the third) all over 2 miles, and also won a Novices Hurdle over the same trip. He has won twice going right handed so Sandown’s clockwise track shouldn’t be an issue and I will be surprised if there isn’t more to come from the 9yo.

Also racing in the same colours, (JP McManus, green and gold hoops) is the Philip Hobbs trained, 6yo, Defi Du Seuil and he also looks an animal of some potential. He lost nothing in defeat last time, going down by 1 1/4L to Saturday’s opponent,
Lostintranslation, at Cheltenham on New Years Day. A winner seven times over hurdles, including three times at the top level, this son of the super National Hunt Stallion,
Voix Du Nord, has only run 3 times over fences, (was quite impressive winning his second race at right handed Exeter) and meets his Cheltenham conqueror on 3 lbs better terms so it should be close between them.

Colin Tizzard’s, Lostintranslation’s form, also ties in closely with the warren Greatrex trained mare, La Bague Au Roi. She beat him by 1 1/2L on his Seasonal Debut at Newbury in November, and 3 weeks later, meeting for the second time, the Tizzard horse was going ominously well when hitting the third last so hard he broke the fence.
He nevertheless continued, but finished a well beaten 3rd, 13L behind the mare. We shall never know what might have been but there doesn’t seem to be a lot between them.

Warren Greatrex must be extremely happy with his super mare as she continued her winning run next time, winning The Grade1 Kauto Star Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. This was a super effort, beating the boys, and if she turns up in the same form, with that very useful 7lbs Mares Allowance, she will be difficult to beat. A word of caution though, she seems to preserve her best for the first half of the season.

kim bailey trainerThe Kim Bailey trained 6yo, Vinndication, has won all of his 6 starts, (all going right handed). He achieved a rating of 149 in his 4 Hurdle races (beat the exciting Champ giving him 6lbs, and the 150 rated, Western Ryder, by 3L) and has looked even better in his two outings over fences. He won a minor affair at Carlisle in November, and 33 days ago, jumping soundly, comfortably beat the now 149 rated, Jerrysback, in an Ascot Grade2, (2m5f Soft). The unbeaten son of Vinnie Roe, must have Kim dreaming of the glory days of 1995, when he won the Champion Hurdle with Alderbrook, and The Gold Cup with Master Oats. Such thoughts may be a little fanciful, but there’s no denying that Mr Bailey has a very talented individual in his care.

Selection  : Vinndication
EW.            : Ok Corral

John Gray

Galliardhomes Cleeve Hurdle 3miles Cheltenham Saturday

Cheltenham RacecourseFollowers of the Oddsguru Blog who backed our EW suggestion, Wakanda, (odds of 16/1 available when first advised) will have left the Merseyside track on good terms with themselves, having seen Sue Smiths 10yo, winning The Peter Marsh Chase
by 1 1/2L from our other selection, Robinsfirth, (Exacta paid 52/1). Wakanda stayed on well and must come into the Aintree picture, but Colin Tizzard’s runner up ran in snatches, and despite rallying, and running on strongly, didn’t seem suited by the track. The Milbourne Port handler will be hoping for better luck when Thistlecrack’s half brother, West Approach, tackles Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle, and will be hoping that the 9yo can emulate his more famous sibling’s victory in 2017.

Having been campaigned over fences in his previous ten outings, (won twice) West Approach reverted to hurdles for the first time since being pulled up in an Aintree Grade1 in April 2017, and ran a most promising race. Starting at odds of 40/1 for the Grade1 JLT Hurdle over 3miles at Ascot (Soft) 5 weeks ago, he travelled strongly throughout, and was only headed after the last by Saturday’s opponent, the exciting Paisley Park, who went on to win by 2L. Obviously he has a bit to find with the winner, and his Cheltenham record isn’t great, (0/12) but that was an excellent effort at Ascot, and coming from this yard, it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise to see him involved at the business end on Saturday.

Devon trainer, Nick Williams, won the contest for the 2nd time last year with Agrapart, and will be hoping the same animal can provide him with a 3rd success on Saturday. Clearly best on testing ground, he came home 3L ahead of Saturday’s opponent, Wholestone, on going described as heavy in last year’s renewal. The 8yo son of Martaline had just the one further outing last term, losing by 2 1/4L at odds of 4/7 to Donna’s Diamond at Haydock in February. He has also failed to shine in both outings this season, but he has a decent record at Prestbury Park (2/4), and with the yard in top form is difficult to ignore, particularly if the ground is testing.

Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park has been something of a revelation since teaming up with top jock, Aidan Coleman this season. The lightly raced 7yo son of Oscar only managed a single victory, ( Class4 Hereford Novices)) from his first 5 starts, but has won all 3 since Coleman took over steering duties this term. emma lavelle oddsguruVictories on Good ground at Aintree and Haydock preceded a first Grade1 for both horse and rider in The JLT over Ascot’s 3 miles on soft 5 weeks ago. He is now rated 16 lbs higher than he was at the end of last season and this observer for one, doubts very much if that is the limit of this exciting horse’s progress.

Sue Smith who won with Patriarch Express 14 years ago, is also represented by a young horse to fire the imagination, and get the pulse racing, the 6yo, Midnight Shadow. Always held in high regard at the West Yorkshire yard, he started to prove that esteem well founded when winning Scotland’s valuable Champion Hurdle, (2m Handicap Good) last April. Stepped up to 2 1/2miles for his last 2 races, he won an Aintree Handicap off a mark of 141 in early December, and 3 weeks later showed dramatic improvement when putting Wholestone and Old Guard firmly in their place in the Grade2 Relkeel Hurdle over Saturday’s  Course, earning a rating of 158. There was no fluke about the Cheltenham win and the Sky looks the limit for this exciting horse, but there has to be a slight doubt about Saturday’s trip. His sire, Midnight Legend is a strong influence for stamina, but his dam, Holy Smoke, is by the sprinter, Statoblast, and his full brother, Unify, was best at 2 1/2m. That said the dam did win over 10f on soft ground at Doncaster, and Midnight Shadow certainly wasn’t stopping up the hill at Cheltenham last time.

The Tom George trained, 8yo, Black Op, has only raced 9 times under rules, winning a NH flat race, and two heats over hurdles, including a Grade 1 at Aintree last April. Clearly very talented, he ran a great race in the Grade1 Ballymore at The Festival, finishing 2nd, 2 3/4L behind Samcro, where he had the subsequent Grade1 winner, Next Destination, 5L back in third. Having failed to make much impression in his first two attempts over fences, he reverts to the smaller obstacles and he could find the step up to 3 miles, (won his sole PTP over 3 miles by 25L) right up his street.

Selection : Paisley Park
EW.            : Black Op

John Gray

Peter Marsh Chase (Grade2) Handicap 3m1 1/2f Haydock

Horse Racing - Cheltenham Gold Cup - Cheltenham - 1981First run in 1981, 4 of the first 9 winners went on to collect Cheltenham’s Blue Riband,
Little Owl (pictured), Bregawn, The Thinker, and Jodami. However subsequent renewals have seen The Peter Marsh become the preserve of tough, established handicappers, and it is hard to envisage any of this year’s contenders (with the possible exception of Nicky Henderson’s recent French import, Valtor, who has ambitions in that direction) troubling the judge at Prestbury Park in March. West Yorkshire trainer, Sue Smith, with 3 successes in the contest, has the best record, and her sole entry this year,
Wakanda, is certainly tough, and wont fail for lack of experience.

A son of Westerner, and a half brother to the useful Irish pair, Shanahan’s Turn, and
Kings Song, Wakanda is certainly bred for the job and has won 7 of his 25 starts over fences. The 10yo put in an excellent effort 12 months ago when winning Doncaster’s valuable Sky Bet Handicap Chase off a mark of 145, staying on strongly, to get the better of Warriors Tale and the Nicky Henderson trained warm favourite, L’Ami Serge, in a close finish. His 2 subsequent efforts last term were disappointing, but both starts this season, 5th in a Wetherby Hurdle over an inadequate 2 miles, and a respectable 4th in a Grade3 Chase at the same venue 24 days ago, suggest that he may be nearing his peak. He is only 1lb higher than Doncaster on Saturday, and if turning up,
(also entered in next week’s Sky Bet Handicap) has to be seriously considered.

David Pipe won with the 12yo, Our Vic, 9 years ago, and fields 3 interesting looking contenders this time, Two 7yo’s, Ramses De Teillee, and Daklondike, plus the 10yo Vieux Lion Rouge.

david pipe trainer

David Pipe could travel to Haydock mob handed

While it is 23 years since a 7yo has won, both Ramses De Teillee and Daklondike have plenty to recommend them. The former, a winner of 3 of his 9 starts over fences put in a career best performance last time when going down by 1 1/4L to Elegant Escape in The Welsh Grand National 23 days ago, (Indeed might have won but for a bad mistake 4 out). He looks an improving stayer and may be capable of defying his 5lbs higher mark on Saturday. Daklondike has won 4 of his 8 starts, and also put in an excellent effort last time, sporting a visor for the first time, he won the 2m7f Tommy Whittle over the course 4 weeks ago. A length down at the last, he responded gallantly to Tom Scudamore’s driving, and ran on strongly on the heavy ground to beat Saturday’s opponent, Ballyarthur. He is 6 lbs higher at the weekend but should be well suited by the extra 2 1/2f, and as a course winner, (not every animal handles Haydock’s upright fences and clay surface) has plenty going for him.

The third runner from Pond House, the 10yo, Vieux Lion Rouge has become inconsistent. It is nearly 2 years since he last got his head in front where it matters. However, following wind surgery, he did run well to finish 2nd in The Beecher Chase, over the National fences on his reappearance, but then never looked at all interested  in The Welsh National 3 weeks later, where he was pulled up at the 20th. However, racing in the same colours as Daklondike, and as a double course winner, he is difficult to entirely dismiss.

Having joined Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard in mid November from France, the 10yo veteran of 51 races, Valtor, put up an amazing performance only 5 weeks later, winning a valuable Ascot Class1 Listed Handicap at odds of 33/1. Always travelling well within himself, and handling the British fences, which he was seeing for the first time, with aplomb, he came home 8L clear of Jammin Masters, with the 149 rated Benatar a further 1/2L back in third. A strict interpretation of the form I suppose justifies his 12lbs rise to 160, giving him top weight of 11-10 on Saturday, and if connections Cheltenham ambitions are to be entertained, a very prominent showing this weekend will be required.

The second Henderson runner, O O Seven was ending a 23 months drought when getting his head in front at Doncaster 5 weeks ago. Racing off a mark of 147 he stayed on well to beat Go Conquer by a head. There probably isn’t that much more to come from the 8yo, and off a 5 lbs higher mark on Haydock’s holding surface, Henderson’s best chance of landing the prize lies with his recent French import.

Colin Tizzard won last year’s renewal with The Dutchman, and relies this time on the lightly raced 10yo, Robinsfirth. A winner of 2 of his 6 starts over fences, he hasn’t been seen since winning a Cheltenham Grade3 off a mark of 142 13 months ago. He beat the now 137 rated Shanroe Santos, to whom he was conceding 15 lbs, by 2L, which makes his mark of 146 on Saturday look generous. He has solid course form, finishing 2nd on his only other Haydock appearance, goes well after a break, and with the talented Tizzard Team doing the training, the son of Flemensfirth has plenty going for him.

Selection : Robinsfirth
EW.           : Wakanda   (If Abs. Daklondike)