Plenty of success I could brag about last week but then again, so much to talk about this week that I won’t waste your time for a change.
First things first, and over in Ireland the horrendous story of a horse being “nobbled”, and trainer Charles Byrne basically carrying the can for the actions of an unknown actor. You will have read the story elsewhere no doubt, and it is not a positive story for anyone involved in horse racing, but the one aspect that I took from the reams of reports was the unknown limited company laying the horse to significant sums on the exchanges.
Forgive my almost limitless ignorance, but when the exchanges by definition took lay bets (i.e., betting that a horse will lose), the whole point was that it would be 100% transparent and if anything untoward took place, traceability was the key – apparently not. If, and this is only my understanding, shell companies based who knows where can bet with anonymity at will, then who of us is really surprised that this unfortunate event took place.
Personally I am more surprised it has not happened before, to our knowledge, of course, and it is something that needs to be stopped – no point of contact for possible legal action, no betting account would be my motto going forward, simple as that.
The other important news for me this week was the retirement from the saddle of David Mullins – at the ripe old age of 24! Of course, it is his decision to make, and I am sure we all wish him the best of luck in whatever he turns his hand to next, but when a Grand National winner calls it a day so young, it does make you think that perhaps we take their efforts from the saddle far too lightly with far more criticism on social media for a “bad ride” than plaudits when they bring home a winner.
Admittedly, the clues were there with just the 90 rides this season (starting last May), but it still came as a bolt out of the blue to me, and all I ask is that we remember they put their lives on the line every time they climb on a horse and try to avoid the unnecessary criticism they get given when they ride a loser we have a bet on, when most of us have never even sat on a horse let alone ridden in a competitive event.
Saturday Racing: (all cards subject to getting the go ahead sadly)
I am not sure why I put myself through these things but at first glance this looked an interesting class three juvenile hurdle - until I saw the runners with just the two of them (out of ten) having raced over hurdles before, and the rest arriving after a flat campaign and five of them making their debuts for a new trainer. Alan King does particularly well with his recruits from the summer game and in Tritonic he has a likely one here – assuming he can jump a hurdle, of course. Rated 99 when last seen coming home fourth in a decent Newmarket handicap over a mile and a half, he should comfortably get the trip over hurdles here and if the market speaks in his favour, he could well be the one to beat. Vulcan looks a serious danger for Dr Richard Newland and jockey Richard Johnson and is not passed over lightly but may not be quite as good as the selection, while Stepney Causeway intrigues for the Skeltons. Formerly with Michael Bell, the son of New Approach was last seen finishing a neck second over seven furlongs at Leicester and will have his stamina tested here, but he has had a wind op since then and sports a first time tongue tie so it will be interesting to see how much improvement they bring.
Five runners for a first prize of close to £20,000 is disappointing to put it politely, but we now have what looks to be a two horse race, on paper at least. The fact that Jessica Harrington sends Magic Of Light over from Ireland in the current circumstances of covid and Brexit restrictions may yet speak volumes, and after a comfortable win at Newbury over fences last time out (and over this trip), we do at least know that she is at the top of her game. The fact that she is rated far lower over hurdles sees her priced at 11/4 at the time of writing, but that may yet be down to racing over shorter trips with a comfortable course and distance success here in January in this very race last season. She does of course have the odds on Roksana to beat here, who ran a blinder last time out when third to Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle here over even further, but the ground is forecast to be quicker here and at the odds I will take a risk on our Irish challenger.
This is a race I may watch peaking around the side of a cushion as my antepost selection for the Champion Chase returns to the track with an easy win expected. Politologue really impressed me when winning on his seasonal return in the Tingle Creek at Sandown and with the likelihood he will improve for that, he will hopefully win this unchallenged. The Paul Nicholls yard remain in great form with a 37% strike rate and with a two out of three win record here (admittedly all over further), I am hopeful my antepost slips will be worth keeping even after the race is finished. Naturally for a Grade One there will be plenty of quality challengers including Waiting Patiently (apparently bucking and kicking at home and likely to go well accordingly), Defi Du Seuil (bitterly disappointing at Cheltenham in November but the winner of this last season and well above average at his best), and the intriguing First Flow, unbeaten in his last five starts in lesser company and taking on the big boys for the first time, where I suspect he still has a bit to find despite his willingness to get involved in a battle when necessary.
Just the five runners again but the going looks bottomless, leaving better excuses for the owners not sending their horses for the possibility of a season ending slog in the mud. Possibly one for the odds on players with the Nicky Henderson trained Allart likely to go off a shortie but be warned, he only has a couple of pounds in hand of Silver Hallmark and in my view is no “good thing” with both of them open to any amount of improvement. Interestingly, Nico de Boinville was on board Silver Hallmark when he came home a head second to Fiddlerontheroof at Exeter and is now on the jolly for Nicky Henderson (no great surprise there) and looked likely to be suited by a bigger test of stamina which may well be the case on this ground. He did win his point to point on yielding ground at Tattersalls Farm suggesting this going may not inconvenience him as much as some of his rivals, and I personally felt he looked the more natural jumper which could yet be the deciding factor. Fergal O’Brien has his string in great form at present as well which is a bonus, and once again I surprisingly find myself opposing a favourite for no good reason, with the others having to find more but all open to further improvement.
Amazingly four of the five were winners last time out, yet it is the other runner, Llandinabo Lad who is expected to head the market, despite having to give five pounds or more away to all of his rivals. Second to My Drogo at Ascot in a Grade Two last time out he had previously won at Bangor and then over this course and distance when seeing off Do Your Job by over four lengths in a six runner Listed race. He also finished second in a bumper on heavy ground which has to be encouraging but giving weight in these conditions may not be as simple as the odds imply. Although I am not massive fan of the Donald McCain yard who I never seem to catch right, I was quite taken with the way Minella Drama put a lesser field to bed on similar going last time out at Bangor. Admittedly, he does need to reverse earlier Bangor form when five and a half lengths adrift of the favourite, but he is ten pounds better off this afternoon and has certainly improved. Again, no good thing by any means, but if he gets a soft lead as hoped, he may well take some catching on this ground.
The obligatory handicaps and as we all know by now, time to look at the stats for a bit of help (though both first and second last week shattered previous statistics and made me look even more stupid than normal).
With just two winning favourites in the last twenty years you would think all options were open, but only the one bigger than 20/1 suggests the better fancied horses still hold some kind of sway. Interestingly no seven-year-old has won this (23 have tried) and guess how old favourite Royale Pagaille is lol? He does look a decent sort after wins here (on similar going) and then at Kempton, but he has an added sixteen pounds to shoulder this afternoon and with age plus favourite against him, I am willing if not happy to look elsewhere.
Although this sort of stat went horribly wrong last week, the fact is only two winners had been off the track for more than 60 days which interestingly gets rid of second favourite Sam Brown, though be warned, he has won over this sort of trip on heavy going at Lingfield in the past and should not be written off that quickly. Although that will not stop me looking for an each way alternative to the first two in the betting. By now you may have worked out that rightly or wrongly (normally wrongly before you say anything), I prefer not to ask a horse to do anything he or she has not done before.
Looking at the handicap marks today and Crievehill is the only horse entered to have won off his current mark, while both Smooth Stepper and Just Your Type have won off just the two pounds lower, so I will focus on that trio (fingers crossed). All are distance winners which has to be a positive, and all three have won on heavy going as well, but if I had to nail my colours to one mast, I would take an each way chance on Just Your Type, with the first time blinkers a possible road to further improvement. Nicely weighted off ten four, he was pulled up last time out at Kelso over far further but had previously won over this sort of trip at Uttoxeter and at 16/1 or thereabout will hopefully give us a decent run for our money.
Not a race I would be betting on with someone else’s money and I am shocked to see Nicky Henderson allowing Buveur D’Air to take his chance on his first run since November 2019 on ground which is likely to be atrocious. He is the best horse in the race full stop being rated six pounds higher than Ballyandy, yet he gets six pounds from that rival and ought to win this in a hack canter, but we all know a Champion Hurdle return is the target this season, and I doubt he will be knocked about today if things do not go according to plan and they will not want to leave Cheltenham behind him in the Haydock mud. He has won on heavy going (the Champion Hurdle in 2018 would be a great example), but I am wary of his fitness after a long lay-off and will be sitting back to watch while cuddling my 33/1 antepost voucher, and just hoping he gets round in one piece, win or lose, with bigger fish to fry in March.
I do not often head off to Taunton to look at a race, but this is a decent looking chase over three and a half miles plus and very much deserving of a place in our spotlight. At level weights (eleven stone exactly for all seven runners), it is pretty close to impossible to see past Yala Enki here, who ticks and awful lot of boxes. Firstly, he is officially rated three pounds better than Al Roc, secondly he is trained by Paul Nicholls (62% running to form and with a 35% strike rate in the last two weeks), thirdly he is course and distance winner, and fourthly he won this race last season by five and a half lengths from Rock The Kasbah, who reopposes today on the same terms, and who hasn’t had a run this season (unlike last when he was race fit). Al Roc intrigues on his first start for Dr Richard Newland after arriving from the Yannick Fouin yard in France and could be a big danger or the one for forecast backers with his trainer pretty adept at improving horses from other yards, but all in all I cannot oppose Yala Enki here who has most things very much in his favour.
I have covered this contest just in case Haydock is off, but I cannot say it is a race that fills me with any confidence. Paul Nicholls has an excellent record here with three of the eight winners emanating from his Ditcheat stables, and he looks sure to make a bold attempt at win number four with Capeland who looks sorely tempting as an each way bet to nothing at odds of 6/1. A winner last time out at Wincanton when looking as if he had a bit up his sleeve, he only has an added four pounds today and I have to say that does look pretty generous of the handicapper and as he seems equally at home on any going, I do like his profile. Of the others, Louis’ Vac Pouch is very well handicapped but woefully out of form, leaving Good Boy Bobby and even Domaine De L’Isle as interesting alternative with the last named particularly of interest in first time blinkers and having won this race off the same mark and at the very tempting odds of 16/1.
“Only” a novice chase and one that has seen the likes of Vroum Vroum Mag successful in the past, with a certain Willie Mullins responsible for three of the last four winners and all of them going off the favourite as well, which is worth keeping in mind. Much as I dislike backing the jolly, on this occasion it does look like it could be folly to oppose Colreevy who won a better race last time out at Limerick against the geldings, and she should find life even more comfortable back among her own sex here. She certainly showed plenty of fight that day to see off Pencilfulloflead by half a length when running on strongly over half a furlong shorter, and it will a surprise to most if she can’t see off this lot, even though she has to give weight away all round in this line up. Those who don’t like taking a short price in a novice chase (and who can blame you) may want to look elsewhere for a spot of value, in which case Scarlet And Dove springs to mind as a lively alternative for trainer Joseph O’Brien. Her win last time out was pretty impressive albeit it in lesser company at Limerick, but more importantly she seems to be a far better horse stepped up to this sort of trip, and barely touched a twig on her way round to a very easy victory. 13/2 is sorely tempting each way as what could be a bet to nothing, and that will be the way I play it this afternoon at the forecast prices.
Two and a half miles over fences again here but more seasoned animals and a race won by the likes of Don Cossack, Sizing John, and Real Steel in recent renewals. Trainer Willie Mullins has won two of the last ten renewals as has Noel Meade, with Gordon Elliott topping them both with three, though one of those was Don Cossack (twice), if that makes any sense. As if to make life that little bit more confusing than it already was, Willie Mullins is responsible for four of the seven runners, so who knows what team tactics will be issued come race day? Official ratings suggest Allaho is the best of the quartet, though only by a pound and despite a solid third to Champ in the RSA at Cheltenham last March, he is yet to fire on all cylinders this season with a thirty-four length sixth at Punchestown and a twenty length fourth at Leopardstown. Dropped in trip here he has a bit to prove in my book at present and I narrowly prefer the chances of Balko Des Flos to pennies at a big price. Forecast to go off at 16/1 or thereabouts, his form since winning the Ryanair Chase in March 2018 makes even that look too skinny, but he finally drops back to this sort of trip after far too many disappointing efforts over further and sports first time cheekpieces.
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Sorry but not in this ground, hopefully next week.