Well, we had a perfectly respectable list of results last weekend with some winners, some placed and some still running at a guess, but that is the way racing goes despite what some of the pay by the day tipsters will have you believe.
Racing has certainly had a week to forget publicity wise with two odds on shots in the same race on Saturday, a dead heat called that was not in fading light at Cheltenham, a farcical finish at Fontwell seeing all bar one of the runners disqualified for omitting a hurdle, and what look like some serious gambles landed that really need a second look.
The first was called Le Fou Royal who was available at an early 50/1 before scooting home at odds of 9/2. Sadly, in the year 2020 I rather doubt anyone got rich from the gamble now that it is so hard to get a bet on of more than a tenner for most people, and to be honest, a look back through his point to point form did at least suggest he had a far better chance than his opening odds.
On Wednesday we saw Bushypark stroll home by eleven lengths at Hexham off a mark of 83 in a Class Five handicap hurdle at odds of 7/4. Trainer Philip Kirby reported his improvement was down the softer ground and the cross noseband helping him to settle better. To be fair he is a lightly raced sort with winning form in a Dungarvan point to point in January, though that is of little or no benefit to all the punters who felt he was a no hoper before the money came down.
I do not suggest for a second anything untoward has occurred, but I am wondering whether a change of noseband should be declared as are blinkers hoods etc so that us punters are made aware of changes that may well affect the performance in a race. I have raised the suggestion with the HBF and will see where that gets us – no doubt the trainers will push back, but in my opinion they cannot have it both ways – not important enough to declare them but a great reason when a gamble is landed?
That was more than enough bad news for one week (no need to go in to detail about the other issues which seem self-explanatory), and I will round off the chit-chat section with something positive for a change. Although I suspect Tom Marquand and Hollie Doyle collectively hate the much used term “power couple”, they are very newsworthy, photogenic, and most importantly, very, very good in the saddle. I was absolutely delighted to read this week that they have both been invited to take part in the Longines International Jockeys Championship at Happy Valley on the 9th of December. I am sure they will thoroughly enjoy the experience of riding against the likes of Zac Purton and Joao Moreira as well as Karis Teetan, Pierre Charles-Boudot, Ryan Moore and William Buick, though sadly I cannot be in attendance thanks to this bloody covid virus!
On to this week’s racing and it is not as good as last week, but just as competitive – let us see what we can find to boost the old betting bank accounts!
Some have claimed in the past I fail to give sufficient attention to the Irish racing so off we go with this Grade Two hurdle to be raced over two miles and on pretty testing going as things stand.
With four of the seven declared a winner last time out something obviously has to give, and to my surprise (at first glance), the forecast favourite is not one of them. Wolf Prince was beaten forty-two lengths when weakening over this sort of trip at Down Royal on his seasonal return (over hurdles) in a handicap, but had good form last season headed by a second at Leopardstown in a Grade One in February. He may make a fool of me and run away with this, but he was fit enough off the flat that day, and at 2/1 (forecast) he looks poor value to me.
Get Free has her first run for the Martin yard and would be interesting if the market speaks in her favour, though at the moment I suspect she will be winning a handicap or two later in the season, leading me to either Call Me Lyreen or Gars En Noir. Both bring their own problems with some far from slick hurdling to their names, but the last named seemed to have a decent change of gear when in action in France, and if Willie Mullins can improve him as expected then he could be the one to be this lunchtime.
Just the four runners making this pretty much a no bet contest, but we do have some class chasers on show to enjoy with the three likelier winners all making their first start of the new season, making fitness a bit of a potential issue. The three mentioned have two pounds between them on official ratings (when you take the weights carried into consideration), so we could be in for a right old ding dong battle, and I have decided to back Fakir D’oudairies on this occasion.
Trained by Joseph O’Brien, he has only had six starts over fences so far and only four of those since joining the yard, winning two at Navan and Fairyhouse, and finishing second to Notebook (seven pounds worse off today for a length and a half) at Leopardstown, and then in the Arkle at Cheltenham (Notebook a long way adrift). Those two plus room for improvement just about give him the edge in my book with Cashback the one for third, though this looks a race to sit back and enjoy and not necessarily one to get involved in.
Six runners this time around and an interesting little Graduation chase though I doubt as things stand that any of these will go on to take any of the major prizes (with apologies to any connections reading).
With six of the last nine winners trained by Paul Nicholls it seems fair to suggest he targets this race with the right sort and as we have seen the likes of Politologue and Clan Des Obeaux winning this, perhaps I ought to be less damning of this season’s participants. Master Tommytucker represents the Somerset yard in 2020 and he did win easily enough last time out at Huntingdon to be in with a chance, but he looks as if he may have attitude and that has to be of some concern for a 7/4 shot.
Finding an interesting alternative has proved difficult as they all seem to have their minor issues, but if I bet at all then Dashel Drasher looks the most interesting alternative. Already a course and distance winner (tick), he won a decent looking novice chase here in December and if the wind surgery brings about any improvement at all, he could be the one to serve it up to the jolly, though his lack of a recent race has to be of some concern in this competitive field.
If you have been reading my once or twice a week handicap previews you will now understand why I rarely get involved – and I do not think I have found a winner yet. Here we have a prime example, seventeen declared to run, but with twenty-two pounds between top and bottom weights there is every possibility that the best horse will not win.
The wonderfully named Shakem Up’Arry just about heads the betting as I write after he hacked up in a novice at odds on at Ffos Las, and an added three pounds for that does admittedly look pretty generous. Trainer Ben Pauling has his horses running well lately despite a shortage of winners and as we haven’t had a double figure winner since 2012, he has to have a very serious chance at these weights. Kid Commando will take plenty of catching if he can get to the front early off just seven pounds higher than when winning a Listed handicap at Ascot and has to be a very serious danger, as is On The Wild Side who is another unexposed novice here who could be in with a real each way chance at these weights.
A disappointing turnout of four despite good old British soft ground and the small matter of £25k for the winner, but we can only deal with what we have in front of us and I still need to try and find a winner.
Trying to improve a horse that used to be in the care of Willie Mullins sounds like some task to me but that is the job facing Paul Nicholls with Real Steel and as a huge fan of the yard, he will do for me here. Five wins from eleven starts over fences have seen over £173,000 go into the kitty and he ran an absolute blinder for a 50/1 chance when sixth to Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. In theory, a repeat of that would be enough to win this and with his main danger on paper (Black Corton) his stable companion, I will be betting on a Nicholls one two with the mount of Harry Cobden proving a bit too good for Bryony Frost’s gelding.
Of the others, Imperial Aura has a bit to find but he does arrive with a fitness advantage (though I cannot really see why he is predicted to go off favourite), while the six-year-old Itchy Feet intrigues as well – he looks outclassed to me but why run here to come home last and risk a rise in the ratings before any future handicap outings if they do not think he is good enough I wonder.
Adding a second handicap was not my brightest idea but this one really interests me, so I might as well give it a mention. Looking at the form without seeing the prices is always a lesson for me and I skimmed over The Jam Man despite his recent form including a very comfortable success over fences at Navan earlier in the month. That was off a mark nineteen pounds lower than he has this afternoon and I far prefer three others headed by Main Fact who is in ridiculous form with five wins over hurdles followed by three on the flat, the latest at Nottingham on the fourth of this month. The three mile trip is the question mark today for the son of Blame, but he wasn’t stopping over two and a half miles at Uttoxeter in March and if he improves again and gets the trip, he will take some stopping. Wholestone is a lovely animal trained by my friend Nigel Twiston-Davies who is top class at his best but may struggle to repeat that at the age of nine, though he is undoubtedly well handicapped, while top-weight Kalashnikov returns from a wind-op leaving him as one to watch before an expected return to fences later in the season.
I am at a loss once again to try to explain why a race worth £90,000 to the winner has attracted a five runner field while every race at Wincanton on Thursday afternoon was worth considerably less and attracted between nine and fourteen starters each. Quality certainly makes up for quantity though with Bristol De Main back for a third win if possible after success in 2017 and 2018, as well as Lostintranslation who won this last season. Add in Clan Des Obeaux, the winner of the King George on Boxing Day and we have some field, though I must also mention Keep Hill and Bellshill to complete the line-up in a race that looks touch to call.
My heart would love to see Bristol De Mai come home at the head of affairs once more but the truth is, I think this could be the toughest opposition yet for the now nine-year-old and possibly too much for him to be able to keep in his comfort zone and get the rhythm he needs to give his best. Lostintranslation seems sure to go off at the head of the market, but not all the Tizzard horses have been at their peak first time out (with exceptions) and there is a buzz at Ditcheat that suggests Clan Des Obeaux is the one to be on. His Kempton form is straight out of the top drawer and after a wind operation to help his breathing, he can hopefully start this season with another win to add to his eight previous career successes.
Historically a decent race with the likes of Samcro and Fury Road successful in recent years, and with Gordon Elliott winning three of the last four renewals, and four of the last six. He has two of the seven here as well with Farouk D’alene perhaps the potential superstar after an unbeaten career to date encompassing one point to point, two bumpers and a maiden hurdle so far. He did seem to struggle over the two miles six that day and could well be better suited by the drop in trip this afternoon, though he is no good thing barring further improvement in this far classier field.
Fire Attack is in the same ownership but trained by Joseph O’Brien and he looks really interesting on his hurdling bow. A head behind the jolly in a Naas bumper he was mugged close home that day, but over obstacles and upped in trip I wonder if he may well get his revenge today though yet again, we have to be wary of his fitness on his seasonal debut. Lieutenant Command (same ownership again) needs to brush up his jumping if he wants to get competitive here which rules him out for me (famous last words), and Champagne Gold has a bit to find according to my reading of the form, leaving the first two named as by far the most likely to fight out the finish.
Not the biggest field seen at Navan today and no money to be made with Minella Ido set to go off at long odds on. It is hard to pick holes in the form of any horse who gets within a length of Champ as he did when caught close home in the RSA at Cheltenham in March and having returned with a very easy win at Wexford last month he cannot be opposed realistically now. The only negative I can find is the poor form of the Henry De Bromhead horses (7% strike rate in the last two weeks) but the seven-year-old ought to prove far too good for Braham bull who is the natural suggestion for those who like to have the occasional forecast.
Mares only over the two miles this time around and some classy sorts look set to go to war considering the first prize is less than £4000. Somehow they have attracted eleven runners (see the so called better races – where are the horses for those), though in most cases we have precious little form to go on.
With no early odds to work with I don’t know whether my selection will be an each way price or not, but I am willing to take a chance on Pure Bliss for a place at least. Trained by the excellent Harry Fry, she won her point to point at Rathcannon before being sold to new connection for 100,000 Euros at the Goff Punchestown sales in May last year, and she paid some of that back at Ffos Las with a comfortable bumper win almost exactly a year ago. She tried to follow up at Ascot in February but was pulled up with breathing issues on heavy ground but has had an operation of some kind since and will hopefully be back to her old self.
If she is, she will go close, but I suggest keeping an eye on the betting as she looks to see off the likes of Anythingforlove (two bumper wins but more to find here) and likely favourite Cocquelicot who won three of her five bumpers and was a decent second on her hurdling bow at Fontwell. This does look tougher but the daughter of Soldier Of Fortune has the experience edge and is another likely to put up a very bold showing.
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Real Steel 2.05pm Ascot Saturday
Pure Bliss each way 12.18pm Uttoxeter Sunday