Punchestown Day 1 Preview & Selections

Day one of the Punchestown Festival may not match the other spring festivals in terms of quantity, with the three grade one contests consisting of eight or less runners, but it’s nevertheless top class action and is required viewing for National Hunt fans.

2:40 – Herald Champion Novice Hurdle – 2m – Grade 1
The first of the grade one races is the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at 2:40 and on the face of things it doesn’t look a betting race. Klassical Dream was brilliant in the Supreme and the clock backs up this view. It would be no great surprise if there was more improvement in him and it’s possible that he could step up in trip considering the fact that the Ballymore was an option. However, he faces stiff opposition today. Felix Desjy was 5th in the Supreme after receiving considerable market support before the off. He travelled well but couldn’t find much towards the end of the race. I’ve wondered for a while whether small fields could be key to this horse and he duly obliged in a field of 7 at Aintree next time out, beating Aramon by a length and a half (although he idled on the run in and could well have won by a lot more).

Aramon is a horse that I feel has been unlucky this year, though. He exceeded expectations on the good ground that prevailed throughout the season but was unsuited by the softer conditions at Cheltenham and Aintree. I still think that he could be a very good horse on better ground, although the concern will have to be whether he begins to feel the effects of a long season.

The interesting thing about the race is that each and every one of them could be considered in with a chance. Champagne Platinum has been hugely impressive on both starts to date although this is a big step up in class. Mister Blue Sky won a grade 2 at Fairyhouse a few weeks ago and deserves his place here. Quick Grabim was ruled out of Cheltenham due to injury but his win in the Royal Bond in December (beating Aramon with considerable ease) suggests that he could be in the mix here if back to his best. He was a really exciting horse early in the season and may benefit from coming here a fresher horse than the others. This will be a great race to watch.

5:30 – Boylesports Champion Chase – Grade 1 – 2m
Min is the odds on favourite here after a terrific display at Aintree. Next in the betting is Un De Sceaux, who would appreciate some rain, followed by Great Field. The interesting point here is probably that these three are all likely to go forward. These tactics worked well for Min at Aintree and it would be a surprise if they were deserted today, while Un De Sceaux has always gone from the front (the exception was the Ryanair last time out when more patient tactics didn’t work out) and Great Field is another confirmed front-runner (the question in his case will be how long his jumping can hold up).

With these three getting into a battle up the front, the race could play to the strengths of something else. Hells Kitchen may not go forward but does tend to race very keenly and so he wouldn’t be the prime candidate for picking up the pieces. Castlegrace Paddy and Ordinary World are the two at the bottom of the betting and it’s this pair that we know will be given patient rides, hunting around and attempting to come through in the finish when others have expended too much energy early on. Castlegrace Paddy does have a decent record at right-handed tracks (4 wins from 8 compared to 0 from 4 going left-handed) but all of his wins have come on softer ground and after a longer break.

This leaves us with the somewhat unusual option of Ordinary World. He was 7th of 9 in this race last year, 26 lengths behind the winner. However, that was on tougher ground than he will encounter this year and his form in chases around this trip in going conditions more similar to today’s is 12323232. On all known form he shouldn’t be good enough to win today. However, with six runners we have the prospect of a without the favourite market in which we can still bet each-way.
Ordinary World 0.25pt e/w 100/1 (1/4 odds, 2 places, Skybet, BetVictor, Boylesports)
Ordinary World W/O Min 0.25pt e/w 50/1 (1/4 odds, 2 places, Boylesports)

6:40 – Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase – Grade 1 – 3m½f
Delta Work only managed to finish 3rd in what was a high class RSA Chase but there are plenty of reasons to think that he could be better than that already impressive standard. Firstly, he’s only 6 years old, a year younger than any other horse than ran in the RSA that day other than Mister Malarky. Secondly, Gordon Elliott’s form at that point hadn’t been brilliant – his form for the festival overall was 7%, whereas he usually operates at a strike rate of around 15% and his strike rates for the 2017 and 2018 festivals were 21% and 25% respectively. Thirdly, the ground still had some cut in it on the Wednesday at Cheltenham and Delta Work has shown his best form this season on a sounder surface (212111 on yielding or better, 3324313 on soft or worse).

Fourthly, the key to his form looks to be a recent run (4 wins and 2 places from 6 starts when back out within 30 days of his last start), but he had had a 74-day break going into the RSA (his break since that race has been 48 days). Finally, a look at the race itself suggests that he suffered from a lack of luck in running. One excellent jump probably brought him to the front earlier than would have been ideal. He committed at that stage and then was short of space jumping the last and was forced to switch out to the right.

Overall, I’m just convinced that Delta Work is a very good horse. To me, 7/4 seems a very reasonable price due to the fact that A Plus Tard is so short in the betting. The latter certainly looked like a graded horse when winning the Close Brothers, but it has to be remembered that the Close Brothers is rarely a fantastic race and the subsequent form this year hasn’t done anything to suggest otherwise. He’s competing for favouritism with Delta Work at the moment and my preference has to be for the former.

Getabird is clearly a talented horse on his day and has run well at Punchestown in the past but again, 7/2 is a bit short for me. Discorama is also a nice type, but the concern would be that the gruelling four miler at the festival may have taken a lot out of him. Clondaw Cian and Atlanta Ablaze, two other horses which were involved towards the finish in that race, didn’t look like themselves next time out and Discorama tends to run well fresh anyway, with his form when back out within 50 days of his previous start reading 2372552, compared to 11F after a longer break. He has also shown his best form in bigger fields.

Winter Escape would need to improve significantly from his last start on Easter Sunday to be in contention, Drovers Lane has 21 lengths to find with Delta Work and Chris’s Dream and Articulum would also need to find significant improvement.
Delta Work 2pt win 7/4 (general)

Naas Monday Preview

A Look Back on Sunday

I was very keen on Capri coming into this season but he was disappointing in the Vintage Stakes. It’s possible that he needed the run but I don’t want to get too carried away with that theory considering the form of O’Brien’s team in the early stages of this season (something that was covered in another post). Southern France was very sweaty before the race, though, and looked a bit big, so it’s not hard to imagine improvement from him and he seemed quite green throughout the season this year. Of the two, he’s the one who looks to have more room for improvement, although the Ascot Gold Cup could come a bit soon.

Verhoyen ran another good race in defeat and I’m still convinced that he’s well handicapped but if he was to go up a few pounds from that run I’m not sure that I’d want to keep following him. Encapsulation was a nice each-way win and considering the rate of her progression so far, she looks like an exciting prospect – the winner is the Oaks favourite, after all. Crimson King finished less than a length outside of the places and he might be one to keep an eye on – it’s a tough uphill finish at Navan and he came through the field well, so I would think that this is his trip.

Monday at Naas

It’s a good card at Naas on Monday and a couple of horses who I’ve been keeping an eye on are running.

5:15 – Sonaiyla’s first two starts came over 6f at Naas. On her first appearance she was 5th of 18 in October 2018 when drawn in stall 17 of 18. She was just 4 lengths behind the winner and the stalls of the first 7 home were 6, 1, 12, 7, 17 (Sonaiyla), 5, 2. She was only a head behind the horse in 4th, who went on to win her maiden a week later and is now rated 84. Sonaiyla was the only runner that day without a run under her belt. She then went to Naas on Lincoln day, finishing 2nd by 2 lengths when drawn 18 of 20. The winner came from stall 5 and the 3rd came from stall 2. Pedigree suggested that a step up in trip might suit and she ran creditably over 7f at Leopardstown next time, hitting the front over a furlong out but eventually getting passed by a few stronger finishers in the last 100 yards. The drop back to 6f seemed like a good idea and she’s back at Naas today, but yet again has been unlucky, drawn in stall 23 of 24. If she runs creditably again from a bad draw, she’ll definitely be one to keep an eye on.

5:50 – T For Tango is also drawn very badly in stall 24 of 24. It’s just worth noting that he was rated 90 two years ago and is now rated 76. There was a bit of money for him first time out this season and was slowly away from a bad draw, was unlucky in running and then ran on well. He didn’t run an awful race at Leopardstown last time and again, if he runs well at a bad draw today he might be worth keeping an eye on, especially back at this trip.

6:20 – Primo Uomo was highly thought of in the early stages of last season but lost his way a bit after that. He was unlucky in running in the Cork Stakes, though, finishing 6 lengths back but encountering interference a few times, so he probably could have gotten closer. It will be interesting to see whether he is getting back on track, but he’s a bit short for me today.

6:50 – Crockford hasn’t always seemed like a horse that you would want to trust in a tough finish, and has been wearing a tongue tie since his second start. However, he ran really well against a strong draw bias and pace bias at Naas last time, coming from last to first on tough ground. I suspect that the patient ride is given intentionally and that he may be a bit of a rogue when he hits the front, but his mark may be lenient and he has been given a much nicer draw here today in stall 3 of 15 (16 of 16 last time). 12/1 looks like a fair enough price.
Crockford 1pt win 12/1 (Bet365)

That’s it for today – I’ll be posting on Monday evening with a look at the first day of the Punchestown festival. For anyone who missed the only ante post bet for the meeting, Bellshill (Gold Cup) can still be backed at 7/1 and the bet was 2pt e/w.

Sunday Navan Preview & Selections

A Look Back on Saturday

Getaway Trump ran a seriously good race to win the first race on the card at Sandown carrying 11 stone 12lb, and he’ll be an exciting horse to watch next season. Scarlet Dragon ran a good race to finish 4th and it seems as though the big field and strong pace made all the difference, as he ran too keenly on his previous start and the conditions yesterday helped him to settle. Definitly Red was a non-runner in the Oaksey Chase and so Black Corton went on to be the impressive winner. Altior was excellent and although he didn’t win with the swagger that we’ve seen in the past, it was another solid run from the champion considering the fact that he would have preferred not to have made the running and the right-handed track didn’t necessarily help his jumping.

Step Back ran creditably back at a right-handed track and that does seem to be the key to his form. Talkischeap appears to have been a very well handicapped horse. Over at Haydock, Spirit Of Lund missed the break again and then ran no race at all. I wouldn’t necessarily give up on him as it was his first time running on a softer surface and it’s possible that this went against him. Overall, it was a poor day for the selections after a good day on Friday, but that is only to be expected from time to time and it’s onwards and upwards.

Sunday

It’s a quieter day today after a manic Saturday, and the best of the action is at Navan with two listed races in the support card for the Vintage Crop Stakes.

2:35 – The first handicap on the card sees the return of a horse that we backed a few weeks ago. Verhoyen went off at 20/1 that day and finished a close 3rd at Naas. He has shown definite promise in his last two starts and I don’t think that going up 2 pounds was overly harsh for that performance. He’s dropping back to 5½f today which shouldn’t be an issue and it’s a similar class of race. I reckon that the 8/1 on offer at the moment is more or less the right price and if he was to get any bigger, he’d probably be a bet for me at around the 10/1 mark – not as of now, though. UPDATE: Bet365 have gone 10/1 on Verhoyen and it seems a fair price to me for a horse that I suspect is still well handicapped.
Verhoyen 1pt win 10/1 (Bet365)

3:10 – The Irish Rover really caught my eye in the 2000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown. He wasn’t quite up to the top level as a juvenile but he didn’t seem to get the toughest ride first time out this year and once Heffernan did ask him for some effort he made some nice headway through the race. O’Brien has always maintained that he shows plenty of speed so it’s no great surprise to see him drop back to this sort of trip and he’d be my idea of the winner here, but again, I was looking for a bit more than the current best price of 5/2. If strong support comes for Cava or another runner and The Irish Rover drifts, he will be more interesting, but I’m not having a bet at the current prices and will update here if that changes.

3:40 – Encapsulation is one that we’ve been following since she caught the eye running green at Leopardstown first time out. She broke her maiden impressively next time out but this is a serious step up in class – that said, she is one of the only fillies in the field who is more or less guaranteed to stay the trip and considering it’s a ten-runner race I don’t see any harm in having a small each-way bet, although the race is likely to be dominated by Pink Dogwood who is ante post favourite for the Oaks.
Encapsulation 0.5pt e/w 25/1 (1/5 odds 3 places Paddy Power, Betfair)

4:15 – Capri is likely to go off at a short price here and he’s a horse than I’m very keen on. He did win first time out last season and the yard is in flying form, but O’Brien seems to think that he’s the type to need the run. He wouldn’t be a betting prospect for me today but he is interesting for the Ascot Gold Cup. Southern France is another to keep an eye on. He took a while to mature last season so one would imagine that he will have come forward a bit over the winter and he could be there or thereabouts in the staying division this season.

4:45 – Crimson King missed the break at Leopardstown on Guineas Trials day but stayed on into 6th like a horse with plenty of stamina. I was wondering whether they might step him up even further in trip, but that 10 furlong race was his first run over further than a mile and it will be interesting to see him again over that trip. A look back at some of last year’s form suggests that he’s well handicapped: he ran at Naas in a handicap over 7f, coming out of the stalls slowly that day too and then shaping like a horse who wants a step up in trip, staying on for 3rd. He was carrying 7lb less than the winner, Antilles, who finished 4 lengths ahead of him but who is now rated 35 pounds higher. The horse in 2nd (Colfer Me, also 4 lengths ahead) was carrying 1lb more than Crimson King and is now rated 27 pounds higher. Crimson King may well come on for his last run, will be suited by the trip and looks very well treated (on the assumption that he breaks well, which has been an issue on every run to date).
0.5pt e/w Crimson King 33/1 (1/4 odds 4 places, Skybet, William Hill, BetVictor)

5:15 – Newcross is just one that I want to keep an eye on over the next couple of months. He was unlucky at Galway last summer (in fact, he was unlucky a few times but Galway is the one that stands out in the memory) and that run saw his mark increase from 75 to 83. It’s back down to 80 now which makes him top weight today, but I get the impression that they might be aiming him at something. Whether or not it’s today remains to be seen, so he’s not carrying my money, but he would be interesting if his mark was to drop another few pounds over his next couple of starts.

Saturday’s In-Form Trainers

This isn’t a definitive list of in-form trainers, but just three that it might be worth keeping an eye on today, as well as a bit more information about Aidan O’Brien’s strong current form:

Dan Skelton
Dan Skelton’s duo of winners yesterday won’t have come as any major shock at starting prices of 4/9 and 8/13 but both won with considerable ease and were just a latest in a stream of winners over the past week. In the last 7 days, his runners’ form reads 4P22P1126U111141P201453233111 – that’s 11 wins (and another 6 places) from 29 runners. Skelton runs 6 at Sandown today in a bid to keep his winning run going right up to the end of the season:
1.50 Sandown – Flash The Steel
1.50 Sandown – Humble Hero
2.25 Sandown – Cobra De Mai
3.35 Sandown – Captain Chaos
4.40 Sandown – Bandsman
5.15 Sandown – Wynford

Aidan O’Brien
This wouldn’t always be considered Aidan O’Brien’s time of year but his yard has a 46% strike rate over the last two weeks, with 12 wins from 26 runners. His strike rate throughout April is 25% which is only bettered by the strike rates of April 2016 (26%), 2012 (29%) and 2010 (26%) in the last 10 years. His strike rate in the month of April last year was 17% and in 2017 it was just 15%, so the usual theory that O’Brien’s will need the run hasn’t necessarily applied this year.

Even more striking is the record of his newcomers (note that the following statistics regard any horse which has never run in the UK or Ireland as a newcomer) – over the last 2 years, just one O’Brien horse won on their first ever outing in March or April from 17 total runners, and that was So Perfect. This year, 5 of his 12 runners have done it, a 42% strike rate (the highest that he has had since 2004). One point which may be worth noting is that the old strategy of backing his horses on their second appearance on the basis that they needed the run the first time out may not work out as well this year – of the 7 that were beaten, two have had a second start and both have disappointed (one of them, 3yo King Pellinor, was 4/5 favourite on his second start having been considerably unlucky in running first time out). Magic Fountain runs in the 2:50 at Limerick today, having finished 10th at Leopardstown on debut, and this may tell us more in this regard.

George Baker
Finally, George Baker warrants a mention despite the small sample size – his form figures in the last week are 1162, and the interesting thing about this is that his winners came at odds of 2/1 and 12/1 and the runner-up was 10/1 and only narrowly beaten. He runs two outsiders today (The Gates Of Dawn in the 1:40 at Leicester and Borderforce in the 4:50 at Haydock) and it will be interesting to see whether they outrun their odds.

Selections from Sandown’s Jump Finale and Across the Cards

There are eight meetings across the UK and Ireland today so plenty of racing to get stuck into. My focus is mainly on Sandown where we see the final day of the UK National Hunt season after a good day of flat racing there yesterday. I’m going to take a look back at yesterday’s racing with some points to note, before moving on to selections from Sandown (4 bets in total) and elsewhere (another 3 bets), along with a few horses to note and keep an eye on.

Looking Back on Friday’s Action

In the Gordon Richards Stakes, Crystal Ocean looked to run up to a much better level than he did in the same race last year, so if he comes on for the run as he did last season and improves for a step up in trip, he should be a real group one horse this year, having come agonisingly close to winning one last season. Knight To Behold ran up to his best form in 2nd, so it’s possible that the key to his unpredictable profile is that he runs well when fresh, and when able to dominate in a small field. Oisin Murphy gave him what appeared to be the ideal ride as he can be exuberant and there doesn’t seem to be much point in trying to restrain him. He lost nothing in defeat and I’ll be interested in him the next time that he runs after a break if likely to get the run of the race up front.

Bangkok was a very good winner of the Classic Trial. He was a bit warm before the race and he did run keen – it took a bit of effort from De Sousa to keep him back but he ultimately was just as effective under more patient tactics as he was when ridden more prominently at Doncaster. Technician might be seen as an unlucky loser and he did encounter plenty of trouble in running but I doubt that he would have had the turn of foot to match the winner over this trip. That said, he was coming close at the line and came into this race off the back of a win over a mile and a half – a step back up to that trip should see him to best effect next time, although I doubt very much that he’ll go unnoticed in the betting.

The form from Bangkok’s maiden win at Doncaster last month is working out really well, with his win yesterday adding to wins next time out for Telecaster (2nd that day) and Dubai Instinct (4th). Telecaster in particular won with considerable ease on his next outing, staying on really well over 1m 2f at Windsor and he could be one to keep an eye on. Noble Music (3rd in the Doncaster race) will also be interesting to watch – he was 9 lengths behind Telecaster in 2nd, but over 2 lengths ahead of Dubai Instinct in 4th who was also an impressive next time out winner. Two horses run today which finished down the field in that race – Soft Summer Rain (13th, runs in the 1:30 at Haydock) and Just You Wait (6th, runs in the 5:00 at Leicester).

Beat The Bank was the biggest bet I’ve put up in a while and it came through – the winner’s form in fields of 11 or less now reads 11111511, with the 5th placed finish just 2 lengths behind the winner in the Sussex Stakes. His form in bigger fields is 100060, so that looks like it’s the key to his form and it could be something that makes us a bit more money throughout the season.

Already Advised for Today

The two bets already advised for today are 1pt win on Step Back at 8/1 in the 3:35 at Sandown and 0.5pt e/w (1/4 odds 2 places) on Vosne Romanee at 66/1 in the 3:00 at Sandown. Previews of those races are in a separate post.

Sandown

1:50 – Novices Handicap Hurdle – Class 2 – 2m
It’s easy to see the case for Getaway Trump and he could be the one to side with today. However, I’d rather look for something at a nicer price in a field this big. Dream Grand Du Val was very promising at Fontwell and Kelso early this year and it’s easy to forgive his disappointing run at Sandown last time out based on the ground. He’s back on proper good ground today and that could see him back to good effect. Humble Hero might turn out to be running off a very nice mark considering the fact that he was a smart type on the flat and that he was 3 lengths behind Bright Forecast on his first start over hurdles in December – Bright Forecast is now rated 149. He showed a really good attitude at Newbury last time and 126 might still be lenient. Scarlet Dragon is another one of interest, having run too keenly last time out. It’s very possible that this large field and strong pace is just what he needs. This looks like a really competitive heat and all three of the aforementioned contenders should be content on fast ground, so it’s one that I’m going to leave alone.

2:25 – Oaksey Chase – Grade 2 – 2m 6½f
With the absence of Cyrname and Janika, this is a competitive renewal and Definitly Red and Black Corton are currently battling it out for favouritism at 7/2, followed by Charbel at between 4/1 and 11/2. Personally I’m against Black Corton at the prices.

Charbel looked very impressive when winning the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon in December, although it should be noted that the form from that race hasn’t worked out particularly well, with the horses that finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th failing to make the frame from 8 total subsequent starts. Charbel’s own subsequent performances haven’t been too reassuring either, although he probably did too much early on in his next two starts which caused him to fade at the business end of the race. More patient tactics were employed at Cheltenham and didn’t seem to work any better, although he did come back from that race cut and it will be interesting to see whether they try holding him up again here. He’s not really a horse who tends to find much when it comes to this end of the season, with form of 1455F3FP in March and April – just one win (in a bumper) and 7 unplaced efforts.

Preference is for Definitly Red, who never got the chance to run his race in the Gold Cup, brought down by Invitation Only at the tenth fence. During the winter he picked up a brace of graded wins in the Charlie Hall Chase and the Many Clouds Chase – although, as is the case with Charbel, the form hasn’t worked out too well from either race, with no subsequent winners from either of these four-runner contests. The main discussion ahead of the race with regard to Definitly Red’s claims is likely to be the ground – he has won 10 times and placed another 6 from 19 starts on soft or worse, whereas he has won 4 times from 10 starts on good to soft or better.

There are a few other interesting points, however; his form in fields of 11 or less is 11121112211311311U112 (14 wins and 5 places from 21 starts), remarkably consistent compared to 7P2FUP6B in fields of 12 or more. Another key note is his form in the first half of the season (12 wins and 6 places from 20 starts from October to February, 2 wins from 9 in March and April). He’s likely to get his preferred small field today and I’m not sure that the time of year will be a major concern, as his form in March/April in fields of 11 or less is 11U.

Honourable mentions go to Gold Present, who was running well at Ayr when he fell and has good form when back out within 30 days (1152F19) – it will be interesting to see whether he runs another good race after a short break today – and San Benedeto whose form from February to June reads 11111132317 (7th was in the Topham this year). He’s a real good ground horse (7 wins from 18 on proper good ground or better, 3 wins from 20 on good to soft or worse). The Topham run can be excused on the basis of the testing conditions and the only question mark is whether he’ll stay the trip today (although it wouldn’t be a huge surprise based on his win at Newbury over 2m4f in March).
Definitly Red 1pt win 4/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair)
San Benedeto 0.5pt win 9/1 (general)

3:00 – Celebration Chase – Grade 1 – 2m
This one has already been previewed, with Vosne Romanee the each-way selection at 66/1 (1/4 odds, 2 places, 0.5pt e/w).

3:35 – Bet365 Gold Cup – Grade 3 – 3m 5f
Again, the race has been previewed already and Step Back was the 1pt win bet at 8/1. I will be watching out to see whether Flying Angel can run a big race, as he tends to run well each spring and hasn’t disgraced himself on either start this spring – he’s not one that I’d consider backing, though.

Bets Elsewhere

2:20 Ripon – Crownthorpe was 5th in the Irish Lincoln at Naas from stall 12, in a race where the top 4 came from stalls 3, 4, 6 and 5. There’s a definite low bias over a mile at Naas so that run was creditable to say the least. The soft ground that day won’t have been a hindrance but it’s not a necessity for Crownthorpe, who has won on good ground in the past. He ran on well in the Lincoln and caught the eye, covering a considerable amount of ground in the closing stages of the race. The English handicapper has him on a mark of 85 (1 pound lower than the mark he ran off in Naas) which is his last winning mark, in a handicap one year ago over this course and distance. It’s possible that he would prefer a cut in the ground but he looks like a very nice prospect to me.
Crownthorpe 1pt win 5/1 (general)

2:40 Haydock – Spirit Of Lund had one of the unluckiest runs imaginable at Musselburgh last time. He was slow away to begin with, came from a mile back, had to switch and was checked more than once before not finding any space as they approached the line in what could only be described as a rough finish. He was staying on strongly and shaped as if the extra furlong today should see him to better effect, and he has only been put up a pound. He could make a mockery of his mark today and I was surprised to see him put up at 15/2 and 7/1 considering the amount of notebooks he must have entered following the Musselburgh run.
Spirit Of Lund 0.5pt e/w 15/2 (Unibet, 7/1 general, ¼ odds 4 places)

5:30 Wolverhampton – Dotted Swiss ran well over 6f at Wolverhampton two starts ago but couldn’t find anything towards the finish. This prompted connections to drop her back to 5f next time out but I wouldn’t necessarily crab the Wolverhampton run in terms of the trip as she came up along the rail which wasn’t the ideal place to be. She ran creditably over the minimum trip at Lingfield last time from the widest draw, running on well into 4th, just a length behind the winner. She didn’t have the speed from the stalls to cut inside quickly and so was caught 3-wide turning the first bend. She was held up at the back of the field and ran on like a horse looking for a step back up to 6f.
Dotted Swiss 1pt win 11/2 (Bet365)

Ones to Watch

2:45 Leicester – this isn’t a race that I want to have a bet in but it is an interesting contest from a number of perspectives – Laugh A Minute steps up in trip to 7f which could bring about improvement from a horse who has been a bit underwhelming at times, as does Eqtidaar who won the Commonwealth Cup last year but was down the field in both subsequent starts. Hey Gaman didn’t manage to win last year but he came very close on a number of occasions including being beaten by just a neck in the French 2000 Guineas and he should run well fresh. A nice race to watch.

3:30 Ripon – Yabass won over 1m4f at this track this time last year and shaped like a horse that would want a step up in trip. However, he hasn’t looked like much of a stayer on his subsequent starts. He was given a tough mark after being tried in a group 2 (went up from 88 to 98) but he’s back on 92 now and could be of more interest having been gelded.

4:20 Haydock – just another side note on a horse to keep an eye on. Sands Chorus ran very well to finish 3rd of 18 at Newbury last time considering his poor record in large fields (0 wins from 18 in fields of 12 or more, 8 wins from 32 in fields of 11 or less). He doesn’t like getting caught up in the middle of a big field so on the occasions that he has shown good form in big fields he tends to be making the running – he led on his side when 2nd in the Cambridgeshire in 2017 and led at Newbury too, before switching to the centre of the track on the straight and eventually being passed by two horses. His rating has stayed the same after the Newbury run (78) and he was rated 92 when 2nd in that Cambridgeshire, so looks like one to keep an eye on. However, plenty of these tend to race prominently and it’s unlikely that he’ll have his own way up front from stall 9 of 16, so he’s just one that I want to watch today.

5:25 Haydock – I put up Gabrials Kaka each-way at 20/1 two starts ago and he ended up finishing just a neck outside the places. This was off the back of an eye catching run and it wasn’t the first time that he looked unlucky on the all-weather (his mark has fallen by 14lb in his six all-weather starts since his last turf start). His last win came in Chester last summer, at which point his mark had fallen by 13lb in seven starts. It’s just possible that he still has a big day in him off a freefalling mark, and I have to admit to being tempted by the 16/1 on offer this evening, but not quite tempted enough. Still, if he runs a good race in defeat or is unlucky again he’ll be interesting to watch, and if he wins without carrying my money I’ll be delighted for him – he’s a real veteran and a constant presence in the big one mile handicaps for years.

Bet365 Gold Cup and Celebration Chase Previews

The curtain-closer of the National Hunt season takes place at Sandown tomorrow. I’ll be posting a full preview of the card this evening, but just want to give some early thoughts on the two feature races – the Bet365 Gold Cup and the Celebration Chase.

Bet365 Gold Cup

There has been sustained market support throughout the week for Alan King’s Talkischeap, and the case is easy to see. For any race at this stage of the season, there will be a concern that the contenders will have been trained for an earlier target and are showing up here as an afterthought, or have shown the handicapper their hand during the spring festivals. Talkischeap skipped the Ultima at Cheltenham and other potential spring targets in order to come straight here after a disappointing effort at Kempton towards the end of February. His form earlier in the season suggests that he’s well handicapped. He was 2nd in the Berkshire Novices Chase at Newbury last November, 7 lengths behind La Bague Au Roi (now rated 151) and 6 lengths ahead of Lostintranslation (now rated 161). He looked that day as if a step up in trip would suit and he won next time out over 3 miles, then finished 2nd to On The Blind Side over the same trip, 21 lengths clear of Bob Mahler (then rated 130 and now rated 140 after two subsequent wins). Talkischeap is now rated 145 and so there’s a clear case to be made that he’s well treated and that the step up in trip could see further improvement.

However, my preference would be for a horse not as obviously well treated but still a clear leading contender. Step Back won this race last year in what appeared to be his optimum conditions, leading from the 6th fence and making all from then on. He doesn’t always show his best form in larger fields (he was unplaced on all other starts with 12 runners or more) but if he can get out in front early on and keep the lead, he could be difficult to catch with a display of jumping like last year’s. His jumping hasn’t been as aesthetically pleasing this term but he has only been seen at left-handed tracks and has displayed a strong tendency to jump out to the right, with his form reading 76P. His form at right-handed tracks reads 131. He won this race off 135 last year and was raised to 149, but his subsequent disappointing performances at tracks which didn’t suit have seen him dropped 4 pounds to 145, and while this may not appear to be overly lenient from the handicapper, the image of him pulling 13 lengths clear and powering up the run-in are still strong in the memory. You might argue that he won’t have been suited by the good ground that he encountered this season (his only start on good ground before that came in the Albert Bartlett in 2017 when he finished a distant 9th), but I think that the evidence regarding him needing a cut is a bit inconclusive.

Looking at the other protagonists in the betting, The Young Master was a decent 3rd in the Kim Muir and will stay the trip, but has finished 9th and 8th in the last two renewals of this race since winning it in 2016, the 8th placed finish last year off a mark 7lb lower than this time around. Give Me A Copper is highly thought of but the Ultima seems to have been his main target and he may be priced more on reputation than evidence. Beware The Bear was an impressive Ultima winner and would be of interest if the rain does come, with his form on good to soft reading 21171 and to win this off a mark of 160 would be a serious feat. Joe Farrell was pulled up before two out in the National and looked a tired horse. His previous start was just two weeks before that, and one would wonder whether he’ll be up for this teat today.

It’s possible that I’ll be posting another bet in the race tonight, but I’m happy to go with Step Back at 8/1.
Step Back 1pt win 8/1 (general)

Celebration Chase

Cyrname doesn’t show up in the Celebration Chase to take on Altior in what arguably would have been the clash of the season. This is obviously massively disappointing to jumps fans, but there’s little doubt that Paul Nicholls will be acting in the horse’s best interests and it’s likely that we’ll see the pair up against each other next season in the King George, assuming that both stay sound in the meantime.

The general consensus is that this will be a procession for Altior and he is undoubtedly better than anything else in the field. It’s possible to question him on the basis that he jumped to the left at Ascot in the Clarence House Chase, and that he had to work hard to beat Politologue at Cheltenham, but on all known form he shouldn’t have any trouble here. That said, I won’t be backing him at 1/4 and I doubt that many will, so we’ll search for an alternative.

Sceau Royal is generally a fairly consistent type and can be expected to run his race, but his form from February until the end of the season reads 0636923, compared to 221111141211114 earlier in the season, and so he’s not of much interest at 7/2, nor will he be of much interest at short prices in the without market. In his defence, he has placed on his two starts so far this spring, but was beaten by Grand Sancy over hurdles and then was 4 lengths behind a below-par Altior at Cheltenham.

Gods Own is now 11 and regularly appears to be past his best before putting in a good performance such as his win last November in the Haldon Gold Cup and his brace of grade one wins at the end of 2016 having finished outside the places on all three previous starts that season. He was very poor on his last two starts and it would take a significant leap of faith to side with him here.

Diego Du Charmil finished a distant third of three in the Clarence House, some 41 lengths behind Altior, and before that finished 2nd in the Desert Orchid Chase, 19 lengths behind Altior. Connections must be applauded for their willingness to continue to oppose Altior when victory looks almost out of the question. The one possible upside for Paul Nicholls’ charge is that he tends to run well fresh (form after over 90 days off is 1125 – the 2nd was when well beaten by Saint Calvados in the Kingmaker Novices Chase last year but when still finishing 17 lengths ahead of the other two runners, and the 5th was a disappointing effort in the Haldon Gold Cup but he did suffer an overreach in that race which may be a good enough reason to excuse the run).

Vosne Romanee ran a career best when winning a handicap at Ascot last November and then wasn’t able to come close to Azzuri when finishing 2nd at Ayr last time out. He’s a proper good ground horse who has never won from 9 starts with “soft” in the going description, but who has won 10 times (and placed another 6 times) from 21 starts on good ground or better. He also loves small fields such as this one, with form over jumps of 13211121453112P1 in fields of 7 or less (8 wins from 16 starts compared to 2 wins from 15 in bigger fields). His form over jumps when back out within two weeks of his previous start reads 1171431 (4 wins and a place from 7 starts compared to 6 wins from 23 after a longer break) and he runs here after a 14-day break. It looks as if the ground will be quick enough and at 66/1 in the win market, it will be interesting to see what type of price we can get in the without market once bookmakers begin to offer it.

Darebin walked over at Plumpton earlier this week and one would imagine that anything he does now would be a bonus. He would probably prefer the ground to be a bit softer but realistically should be out of his depth here regardless.

Altior will take all the beating but at 1/4 he’s not a working man’s price. Sceau Royal represents little value as an alternative considering his poor form in end of season targets, and there’s no real evidence to suggest that Gods Own will be back to his best. It’s hard to envisage Darebin having a say in the race, so that leaves Diego Du Charmil, who does go well fresh but who hasn’t been able to come close to Altior in recent clashes, and Vosne Romanee who will love the ground, the small field and the short break. He has run twice with all three conditions in his favour and won on both occasions (11/10 favourite in a juvenile hurdle in 2014 and 13/2 in a listed handicap chase last November in what was arguably a career best performance). Although it will be interesting to see what price we get in a without market, I’m going to go with a small each-way bet at 66/1 with Paddy Power and Betfair for now.
Vosne Romanee 0.5pt e/w 66/1 (1/4 odds 2 places, Paddy Power, Betfair)

Sandown Friday Preview and Selections

13:50 Sandown – Esher Cup Handicap
Lestrade is taking a big step up in terms of class but his loss by a head last time out when giving away 7lb to the whole field at Lingfield wasn’t a bad effort at all – he had to race three wide and was staying on gamely despite his extra weight. He actually did race quite keenly that day and has worn a hood in all three starts to date so he will have to settle better here over a mile, but based on his last start it seems as if the step up in trip should suit. He can be backed at 16/1 but considering the fact that there are only 11 runners, Skybet’s extra place is more tempting at 14/1.
Lestrade 0.5pt e/w 16/1 (1/5 odds 4 places, Skybet, Paddy Power)

14:25 Sandown – Gordon Richards Stakes
Crystal Ocean is the obvious starting point, having gone close in the King George VI Stakes last year and winning three group races, including this one, at the start of the season. He certainly looks the most likely winner but is one that I can leave alone at 8/11. For an alternative, Knight To Behold is the one for me – he seems like a fairly unpredictable horse, having looked completely out of his depth in the Epsom and Irish Derbies last season. Prior to that, though, he did beat Kew Gardens at Lingfield – Kew Gardens went on to win two group 1 races. Knight To Behold finally got his day in the sun after Derby disappointments in a group 2 at Deauville, and then went on to run another disappointing race in a group 2 at Longchamp. He’s clearly good on his day, though, and the reason that he’s interesting for me today is simply that he has run well fresh in the past – he was beaten by just a nose first time out as a 2yo, running to more or less the same level as when he won on his next start, and victory over Kew Gardens came on his first start as a 3yo. There’s obviously a chance that he could put in another awful run, but his performance at Deauville was probably more or less on a par with what Crystal Ocean did in this race last year, and 12/1 seems a fair price.
Knight To Behold 1pt win 12/1 (general)

15:00 Sandown – Classic Trial
It seems somewhat unlikely that we’ll actually see a classic winner in the Classic Trial, but Bangkok did look like an exciting prospect at Doncaster on his first 3yo start. He looks a different horse to last season and the form from that race is working out well, with the 2nd and 4th both going on to win with considerable ease since. Bangkok could well emulate their success, and 7/4 seems generous.
Bangkok 1pt win 7/4 (Bet365, Ladbrokes, Unibet)

15:15 Perth – Mares’ Chase
Atlanta Ablaze had a wind op in August and it seems to have brought about significant improvement, with subsequent form of 1131U1F. She was still in with a chance on both of the occasions that she fell or unseated, the latter in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham when she was running an excellent race when falling at the third last. There may be some question marks over how much that tough race might have taken out of her, but it was 45 days ago and her 4 recent wins have come after similar gaps. Drinks Interval and Got Away will make it a competitive affair, but 5/2 just about looks a fair price for Atlanta Ablaze.
Atlanta Ablaze 1pt win 5/2 (Bet365)

15:35 Sandown – Bet365 Mile
Beat The Bank was only 11th of 13 on his final start of last season and that sees him come into this race as 3/1 second favourite, despite the fact that he has three group 2 wins under his belt (the only other group 2 winners in the field are Addeybb and Suedois with one each). The clear pattern in his form is field size – his form in fields of 11 or less is 1111151, with the 5th coming in the Sussex Stakes when he ran creditably and was only beaten by 2 lengths. His form in fields of 13 or more is 100060, and the time he clocked on his penultimate start in the Celebration Mile Stakes at Goodwood really sets the standard here. I make him a very nice bet at 3/1.
Beat The Bank 3pt win 3/1 (Bet365, Skybet, William Hill, BetVictor, Betway, 888Sport)