I thought it might be a good idea – with just nine weeks to go – to start having a look at a couple of the big races, and almost immediately regretted my thinking. It’s a bit like ordering a 1000 piece jigsaw of a green square, and discovering too late that the manufacturer will be sending it in two batches. Honestly, Guv, I did try… I had a look back at some of the races and then applied some trends and then had a look again, but there were too many imponderables.
The Gold Cup is the prime example, with the problem being that we will probably need Newbury’s Denman Chase on Feb 8th to make any sense of the shape we’re trying make – let alone solve the damn thing. LOSTINTRANSLATION ran like a dog in the KG, and something was patently wrong. A wind-op has apparently been done and his target will be the Denman. If he wins – his price will fall through a hole in the floor. Even so, he is still only 8/1 at the moment, and on top of that, I’m trying to remember the last time a horse that had pulled up previously that season, had been placed – let alone won – a Gold Cup. A leading online journal suggested NATIVE RIVER but surely he is too old; another pointed at CLAN DES OBEAUX who won the KG on Boxing Day, but I think Kempton’s flat, speedy fences are ideal for Clan and he is unsuited by the rigours of Cheltenham. In fact, all his wins have come on tracks that are in the main Flat and only slightly undulating, with the exception of Exeter back in 2017. ELEGANT ESCAPE caught the eye in November and has been mentioned, but surely his target is the National? So can AL BOUM PHOTO do it again? Of course, it’s possible, but is he The Special One? Has he been chosen by the Gods of Racing to carry the mantle and to become a hero? No. His name doesn’t work in catchy PR terms, and his stablemate KEMBOY is a better horse in my opinion. Oh yes, and in case you think I’m clutching at negative straws, his record at Cheltenham is a never-better than 4th from three runs. So for the moment, my advice is to hold fire on all fronts.
The same applies to the Champion Hurdle. Last year’s winner Espoir D’Allen is sadly dead; Buveur D’Air is injured; KLASSICAL DREAM (10/1) and PENTLAND HILLS (8/1) have both to get to grips with the season and to find their form. Current favourite is the mare EPATANTE, (7/2 in only a few places), who has impressed when winning her two starts this term – and indeed the Christmas Hurdle which she won cosily by 5l, might very well hold the answer. Epatante was sent off joint-favourite along with her 4yo stablemate Fusil Raffles and looked comfortable throughout. She took up the running after the last and never looked as though she could lose it. SILVER STREAK caught the eye, recovering from a stupid mistake and finished a decent second having made up some of the lost impetus and ground. Last year’s Christmas Hurdle winner VERDANA BLUE was in 4th, but would have preferred faster ground. If the Champion Hurdle is run on good ground, we should maybe have a look at both SILVER STREAK and VERDANA BLUE for possible places. I don’t think either can win, but their prices might be worthwhile to place money. As regards EPATANTE her best RPR of 157 seems a bit light. There are still some possibilities out there that we need to see again, possibly on faster Cheltenham ground, that will help clear the fog. My shortlist still has SHARJAH on it as well as COEUR SUBLIME and SUMMERVILLE BOY, but pro tem, I’d leave alone. So there you have it. Nada, Zilch, Zero, sorry. At least, however, it is an honest opinion.
Meanwhile, here’s what I think for today.
1:50 WARWICK Hampton Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) Cl1 (5yo+) 3m
HIGHEST SUN is a 2/1 shot as I write, but he’s pink everywhere. I think he’ll go off shorter but get BOG just in case. He won a two-hander at Plumpton LTO and made all in good fashion – but on favourable terms – his first victory at the third attempt over fences. He qualifies for a bonus if winning over fences at the festival in March and the 3m1f handicap on the first day seems the likeliest route to the cash. ARDLETHEN is next best.
2:05 KEMPTON Silviniaco Conti Chase (Grade 2) Cl1 (5yo+) 2m4½f
TOP NOTCH rarely runs a poor race, and this five-runner affair should be between him and Frodon. He is unbeaten in two starts this term, winning over hurdles at Aintree and going on to take the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon. He sometimes seems to do the bare necessity, but despite the closeness of his stone-inferior rival at the Peterborough finish, he might have been kidding us. He rarely runs a bad race and is always up for a fight, making him the one to beat in his current vein of form. I think Frodon prefers to go left-handed and the way to beat Top Notch might be to go flat out from the front. There isn’t a clever alternative, sadly.
2:25 WARWICK Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) Cl1 (5yo+) 2m5f
The two at the bottom of the market are the ones to catch my eye. KEEN ON, (whose owner I hope derives more pleasure from this than she has enjoyed the rest of this week thanks to her self-centred grandson), won a Novice Hurdle at Southwell LTO and before that a Sandown maiden on Heavy. He looks pretty decent. WHATSUPWITHYOU won a pre-Christmas maiden at Ascot by a convincing 3½l. He took the inside line, hurdled well throughout, and didn’t mind the slogging ground. The gelding was priced at 33-1 for the Albert Bartlett as a result and is a best-priced 10/1 for this. Get that if you can.
2:40 KEMPTON Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle (Listed Race) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m5f
The trend horses here are BURROWS EDGE – NOTRE PARI – NORTHOFTHEWALL and I think the one I fancy most, and because we haven’t backed any Skelton horse so far today, is NORTHOFTHEWALL. Dan Skelton is flying at the moment, and I think NOTW’s mark is very decent for only his second handicap. The step-up in distance won’t inconvenience, and at 11/1 he is decent e/w value. Henderson has BURROWS EDGE who I will have at 9/2 as my winner. Nicky has won two of the last seven runnings of this, and it appears to be his go-to race when a decent horse doesn’t take to chasing. All four with that profile including previous winners OSCAR DARA AND WILLIAM HENRY have been placed. I wouldn’t discount Notre Pari especially as Olly Murphy might be about to begin something of a comeback, but he is only 2/25 at Kempton and 2/35 in Class 1 races.
3:00 WARWICK Classic Handicap Chase (Grade 3) Cl1 (5yo+) 3m5f
The top two in the market both meet the trends, but this a slogging match and I’m not dutching a brace of 4/1s for the sport. THE CONDITIONAL and KIMBERLITE CANDY could both win, but I will give you a shortlist of three and they are DARLAC, PETITE POWER and BOB MAC. Of these, I believe Fergal O’Brien has found the secret to rekindling PETITE POWER‘s enthusiasm and it might well be because of his super claimer Mr Liam Harrison who has coaxed two wins and a second out of him this year. He stays forever and is a good e/w at 10s, but he might be 12s later on.
3:15 KEMPTON Handicap Chase Cl2 (5yo+ 0-150) 3m
This could be a treble today for Nicky with the class act in the race ON THE BLIND SIDE, who has slowly got his act together over fences and was unlucky to bump into one in a competitive graduation chase at Ascot on his latest start. He steps back up in distance today, which will help matters, and his current rating is very dangerous. With a tall reputation from his hurdling days to uphold, a big run has to be expected under Nico de Boinville. KING OF REALMS has to be forgiven his November Ascot run on ground that was less than ideal, and it’s worth giving him another chance. This sharp track will suit his front-running style, and Bryony Frost is worth another 2lbs when winning from the front and on better ground.
3:35 WARWICK Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (Series Qualifier) Cl2 (5yo+) 3m1f
TEDHAM was favourite at Haydock back in November when 3rd to STONEY MOUNTAIN by 5¼l. He got chopped up on the inside, turning out of the back and seemed well held, but he finished strongly and grabbed third on the line. He’s lightly raced and unexposed and off his mark should be able to take this today. STONEY MOUNTAIN is next best, but value probably lies with SILVER SHEEN e/w