And they’re [almost] off…
1:20 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (G1) (4yo+) 2m½f
It’s hard to argue that APPRECIATE IT shouldn’t be the favourite. He is after all 3/3 over hurdles and had a 2½l second to Ferny Hollow in last year’s Champion Bumper to his name. His trainer has won it six times, and the horse looks as though he’ll handle the pace despite being a big chap, and he’s a fluid jumper who prefers to be mixing it up at the front. He’s got a great set of gears and a big stride… all so far, so good. I have just one question… is he in the right race? I’m not for a moment suggesting that he isn’t the best overall horse in the race, I just think that he’s potentially going to be beaten by a horse who perhaps has been waiting for the ground to dry out a bit and who has some decent finishing speed. If this were a race for having a punt on the winning distance, I’d suspect this might be it. BALLYADAM has been beaten by the favourite twice now, and there will be plenty of speculation about whether he might have won LTO against APPRECIATE IT in the Chanelle Pharma apart from his last hurdle clumsiness. He wouldn’t have, but he has improved, and the faster ground will improve him further. I worry about his hurdling which is not fluid and the possible absence of a 5th gear. Despite my ante-post slip on him, I think he’s a place horse. METIER does not know what fast ground is, and even on the Flat, he only ran on easy ground. He tends to jump right, and that will not help if he is thinking about the racing surface. However, he is a quick horse and only SOARING GLORY has a higher split-second figure, which he won on G/S ground. SOARING GLORY won a brace of Bumpers last term and made a successful debut over hurdles at Chepstow in October. He confirmed his abilities LTO when winning the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury by three lengths and he looks progressive. BLUE LORD has been a puzzle for Willie in terms of possible running plans. He won his Punchestown Maiden Hurdle in November and ran on to be 2nd to Bob Olinger, in a G1 at Naas in January, and was then a 6l third to APPRECIATE IT in the Chanelle Pharma. He’s flighty at his hurdles but has some speed and probably benefits from a decent pace. The winner is on that list, (as I write I suddenly had visions of a grinning Ms Blackmore!), but many of them and Ms Blackmore fail on the trends, which simply asks a maximum of 9 career runs, a C1 win in that time, aged between 5 & 6 yo and preferably to have won LTO. that leaves me with METIER and SOARING GLORY. At current prices, of 4/1 and 11/2 it seems an obvious Dutch, giving you a little better than 7/4 about your money.
METIER and SOARING GLORY WIN dutched. The RFC might also be worth a shot
1:55 Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (G1) (5yo+) 2m
I think most SHISKIN fans will have been delighted by The G2 Pendil Nov Chs at Kempton a fortnight ago, which Tamaroc du Mathin won going away. He was beaten 13l by SHISKIN in the Wayward Lad and a number of people regarded it as a facile victory – rather than the defeat of a good horse. Thus, in seeing the good horse appear, we know that SHISKIN is the real deal. That does nothing for us value-seekers, cos in a six runner race and a big odds-on favourite, I suggest you save him Doubles and trebles.
If I were to look for the runner-up, Heather Main’s charge can be eliminated. If she gets place money Huzzah, the job is done. That leaves four and with the removal of Energumene, who might have been hassled by Dan Skelton’s ALLMANKIND, it may be that the aforementioned NUMITOR will set a pace battle for the Skelton’s charge. We’re now into IF this and IF that territory. If the two front runners burn each other off, this will allow SHISKIN to cruise forward past the labouring duo. Up then comes FRANCO DE PORT, who has G1 form past CAPTAIN GUINNESS et voila.
SHISKIN to beat FRANCO DE PORT 2pts SFC
2:30 Ultima Handicap Chase (G3) (5yo+) 3m1f
Only three horses make the cut here, on a strong set of trends.
- 11/11 Aged 6-10
- 11/11 Top 6 LTO
- 11/11 Had raced at Cheltenham
- 11/11 were 18-70 DSLR
- 11/11 Raced over 20½f+ LTO
and they are AYE RIGHT, CEPAGE, and THE WOLF, in order of preference. I think the ground will remain now G/S, possibly Good in places, ground he will love. He’s got some strong form (2nd in what was the Hennessy in November and a 7l 3rd in The Charlie Hall before that) and he is consistent running to RPR 150+ in four of his last five chases. His jockey lost his whip three out LTO in a Listed so his 1¼l beating was irritating. CEPAGE was 7th in this last year when trying the trip for the first time. He’s got a lot of miles on the clock which does make me think, but he has not campaigned hard this season. Finally, if only for Olly’s sake, I keep hoping that THE WOLF will start to get his chasing act together. He looks as though he’s sulking since showing some talent in a Chepstow Beginners Chase in October. Forgetting the trends for the moment, the Skelton’s ALNADAM is being whispered about and the price will surely go. He is lightly raced with only 4 chase starts from his 9 races. He won two of those at Sandown and runner up on the other two. The handicapper has not found his mark yet, and he is bred to get the distance which he has won at in a PTP. He only failed the trends incidentally, because he has not yet raced at Cheltenham.
AYE RIGHT Win – ALNADAM e/w – THE WOLF e/w
3:05 Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (G1) (4yo+) 2m½f
I am frankly terrified that GOSHEN has another tachycardia episode something he suffered at Cheltenham during the International. 70 days after that, he produced probably the best piece of hurdling form we have seen this season when he eviscerated the Kingwell field. That was three weeks ago and I hear the family has been busy keeping his mind in gear, with local roadwork and hacks across the hunting country. EPATANTE is going to have to bring her “A” game with the unbeaten HONEYSUCKLE turning up here rather than the Mares Hurdle and both with their 7lb allowance as well. I have mentioned elsewhere, the positive comments made by Nicky and Jessica the other night regarding SILVER STREAK who, don’t forget has beaten EPATANTE this year. That came about because of a change of tactics and the adoption of a front-running style. This time there are at least two others who will turn this into a blistering pace on drying ground, in the form of ASPIRE TOWER and NOT SO SLEEPY (please God let nobody do the Sneezy and Dopey joke). Perhaps they’ll keep SILVER STREAK just off the pace with ABRACADABRAS, EPATANTE and SHARJAH all making their move, two out. JAMES DU BERLAIS has the potential to surprise as very little is known about him, except he has some very strong form figures that contain only 1s & 2s and the majority in C1 races. His weakness may be the going, as it appears as though his form is all Agincourt-levels of mud. In brief, this is going to be a very tactical affair, and the race could be simply won by the best positioning and the best clock ticking away in the winning jockey’s head. I think I know….
GOSHEN Win – SILVER STREAK e/w
3:40 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (aka The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle) (G1) (4yo+) 2m4f
It’s hard to see past CONCERTISTA who has been rock steady all season in preparation for the Willie Mullins Annual Benefit. OK the fabulous QUEVEGA won this race six times and got one of the world’s most unpleasant and smelliest bars named after her, as a reward. (I kid you not, you could go in there and pour a pint of Guinness over your head and still come out smelling of greasy hamburger and onions). However, MINELLA MELODY has to be worth an e/w punt. Runner-up in CONCERTISTA’s last two races and was also behind in last year’s Dawn Run. She had a bad hair day at last year’s Festival. ROKSANA is of course the obvious danger, not least because the last 12 winners have all come from the top 4 in the market. I should also perhaps be worried by the fact that five of the last six favourites have all been beaten, that ROKSANA is a previous winner and that she is in cracking form this season. I’m not and I think she has been lucky. We shall see.
CONCERTISTA Win – MINELLA MELODY e/w
4:15 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (aka The Fred Winter) (G3) (4yo) 2m½f
Quiz question: Despite having 14 entries, which leading trainer has never won this race and only had a third? A: Willie Mullins!
Oliver Greenall has been making encouraging noises about HOMME PUBLIC who finished a neck behind the current market leader HOUX GRIS at Auteuil in October where they both picked up RPRs of 120. HOMME PUBLIC had previously beaten HOUX GRIS, at the same course and as far as I can work out is now 3lb better off. He is being backed and in the last couple of days has come in 6 points. He must have a strong e/w chance. BUSSELTON is around 9/1 and he has turned in some decent performances in better grades this season and this effective drop-in class should help – but for one tiny fly in the ointment. SAINT SAM was thought to be heading elsewhere, nut here he is and he has twice beaten BUSSLETON , a lot. Alan King’s HER INDOORS meets all the trends and will love the drying ground. Her three hurdle races to date have all produced winners and she has been consistent.
HOUX GRIS wins – HOMME PUBLIC e/w – HER INDOORS e/w
4:50 Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase (G2) (5yo+) 3m6f
ESCARIA TEN is now 4s, but was widely backed when around 16s. This is a corker of a race, with good quality entries aplenty, perhaps keen to avoid bumping into Monkfish in the Browns Advisory! By the same token Royal Pagaille has slipped from here over to The Gold Cup, which frankly removes 19lb of problems which was the rating difference between the two. He’s 4-6lbs shy of GALVIN and NEXT DESTINATION but one assumes his trainer [?] believes the step-up in distance will iron that difference out. Frankly, the value has gone now, and I don’t fancy the top two in the betting either. I just have the feeling however that there are a couple here who have been laid out for this and with the hope of decent ground. Colin Tizzard’s OFALLTHEGINJOINTS strikes me as being one such, as does Ben Pauling’s NESTOR PARK. They’re big prices, but there are no knowns in this race and we might as well have a couple of long-priced known unknowns on our side.
NESTOR PARK e/w – OFALLTHEGINJOINTS e/w