Thursday, 29 April 2021

Friday 30th April 2021: Be On Garde in Cheltenham Season Finale

It’s Cheltenham’s season-closing Race Night on Friday evening, a fascinating card featuring seven races for hunter chasers only.

There are some pretty good value bets to be had on what should be an entertaining night of racing, beginning with the two-miler.

5.00 (2m½f Open Hunters’ Chase – Class 5) – ENVOYE SPECIAL

The opening race looks ideal for seven-year-old Envoye Special, last seen under rules when finishing a decent if distant second to Adrien Du Pont at Kempton Park.

That was over two-and-a-half miles, seemingly his favourite trip, but given the nature of Cheltenham and the New Course in particular he should have enough time to reach his full racing speed when it truly counts under James King.

Jack Andrews’ mount Fumet D’oudairies is next best by our reckoning having put in a good round when scoring at Leicester back in March. The ground was much slower that day and he’s been beaten in a point-to-point at Dingley since then, though at just six there is clear improvement still to come. Sam Cavallaro is likely to prove to be best of the rest.

5.35 (3m2f Point-to-Point Hunters’ Chase – Class 4) – HOTEL DU NORD

Top point-to-point trainer Will Biddick saddles two in here with a chance, the handler looking to supplement his brilliant Cheltenham Festival win with Porlock Bay last month.

His Definite Dilemma, and especially Hotel Du Nord, have outstanding chances with the mount of Charlie Sprake getting the vote this time.

Based on what the eight-year-old has achieved in point-to-points, rules chases and also over hurdles, he looks like the classiest runner in the field here and will have no doubt been prepared perfectly.

Stablemate Definite Dilemma is indeed next best, while Alan Gill’s Getting Closer may also be worth a second look in the betting.

6.10 (3m1½f Open Hunters’ Chase – Class 4) – WICK GREEN

There should be plenty of attention here on duo I’m Wiser Now and Trio For Rio given what they have achieved under rules, however Wick Green could now improve past them both in this sphere.

The eight-year-old ran in his first “proper” chase at Exeter earlier in the month, putting up an impressive performance to score by 2¼ lengths on fast ground. He should handle this OK and is bound to put up even better numbers in this bigger field on a tougher track.

6.45 (3m2½f Open Hunters’ Chase – Class 4) – GARDE VILLE

Chasing a fourth win in a row and reappearing after just nine days off the track is Patricia Rigby’s Garde Ville, and it may be that the smart money will head this way.

Immy Robinson takes the ride on a horse who at 11 seems to be in the form of his life, and while even his brilliantly consistent best wouldn’t be enough to beat a fully on-form Sugar Baron here, that rival has not shown his true form for some time and so the value lies with our selection.

Sugar Baron must till be considered of course, along with Just Cause and Summer Sounds, however Garde Ville’s simple win at Ludlow in a four-runner race seemed to indicate a horse who has a little more to give now which could be enough to prove successful in this arena.

7.15 (3m1½f Mares Open Hunters’ Chase – Class 4) – HIGHWAY JEWEL

There does seem to be a genuine pecking order here in the mares’ event, meaning unfortunately the most likely winner is also likely to be much the shortest price of the bunch.

That mare is Highway Jewel, Bradley Gibbs’ seven-year-old. Having won four point-to-points in a row, Highway Jewel was sent off at 20/1 in that sphere at Chaddesley Corbett against good old Hazel Hill and ended up making all to win un-hassled by some 25 lengths.

After, the mare went to Warwick for her first chase run under rules and ran a fine second. That’s top form in these ranks, and she on that basis looks too good for this field.

Miss Seagreen is the one who looks sure to be priced-up second and will attract her share of wagers, while for the tricast African Belle can be said to have some sort of form chance as well.

7.45 (4m½f Open Hunters’ Chase – Class 4) – CAPTAIN CATTISTOCK

In all Cheltenham meetings other than the Festival in March, Fergal O’Brien can be relied upon to provide a winner or two.

In among the various point specialists here, O’Brien has Captain Cattistock who even based solely on the numbers has an outstanding chance in the race.

Of the four biggest contenders by our reckoning, Captain Cattistock is at least 11lbs well-in at the weights. To add to that, he is only eight years old and can yet improve much further.

Looking at his form a little deeper only adds to the confidence. While he hasn’t been at his very best of late, it’s entirely possible that he hasn’t been enjoying the ground and so now he gets to race at “home” and has four full miles to sort himself out, we can see him pull away.

The other three on our shortlist were Ennistown, Kilkishen and Know The Score who in particular can go well at what should be a fairly juicy price.

8.15 (2m4½f Open Hunters’ Chase – Class 5) – BARNEY DWAN

We have a real mixed bag in the lucky last, and while there are many ifs, buts and maybes in the field not least connected to Risk A Fine who has been off for 700 days, we can at least play relatively safe with one contender.

That contender is Sally Randell’s eleven-year-old Barney Dwan who is rarely unplaced when hitting the track. An easy win and two good runner-up efforts on the point-to-point scene last year read well, and given that he goes well fresh there should be no worries about him running right up to form.

Lawney Hill runs Clondaw Westie off top weight who also has a chance, while Marcle Ridge remains of interest given that there is potential improvement to be found.

The aforementioned Risk A Fine was rated 135 when with Alan King and even higher when with Gareth Moore, but it remains to be seen how much of that ability remains now he has changed hands once more to Francesca Nimmo.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

April Meeting Day Two: Thursday 15th April 2021 - Progressive to Advance to Grade 3 Win

It’s all about the mares on day two of the April meeting at Cheltenham, all seven races being exclusively for the females and we have found some decent betting opportunities in amongst them.

1.30 (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – Listed Race) – MARTELLO SKY

Most of the online cash in this opening race will no doubt be going the way of The Glancing Queen, and she is very solid at the top of the market too.

Alan King’s seven-year-old is just five runs into her hurdling career, but she’s been seen twelve times in total in public and doesn’t appear to necessarily be hugely improving now.

The value therefore could be in Lucy Wadham’s Martello Sky. Only a five-year-old, she won her first two hurdle races before heading to the Cheltenham Festival where she found things a little hot.

She still carried on her improvement however, running a fine 8th of 15 at Grade 2 level and now in this easier contest and with more progression to come, she rates a fair bet. Fantastic Lady could also run into a place for Nicky Henderson.

2.05 (Fillies’ Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – PROGRESSIVE

There is a lot of focus on the horse at the head of the market here – Joseph O’Brien’s Scholastic. JJ Slevin’s mount is the only runner on the card for O’Brien and her form backs up her position, however she is no certainty after nine attempts over hurdles which have so far yielded one win.

Scholastic has also gone up another 6lbs in the handicap since last seen, and it may be that there has been an overreaction after the Cheltenham Festival to the presence of any Irish-trained National Hunt horses in English races.

On the numbers, much stronger is Nicky Henderson’s Progressive who could live up to her name. Only seen four times over timber so far, she is getting better all the time and looks to be better treated in the weights as a result.

Of the outsiders, Table Mountain looks best in what should prove to be a very competitive betting event and an equally competitive race on the track.

2.40 (Mares’ Handicap Hurdle – Listed Race) – REGARDING RUTH

According to our calculations, Lucy Wadham could be in for quite some day! As well as the fancied Martello Sky in the first, she also trains this underrated and overpriced Regarding Ruth and she may be worth a bet to small stakes.

With likely favourite Sexy Lot of the David Pipe stable the one to compare her to, it seems on the numbers Regarding Ruth is right where she needs to be and after an easy win last time out it would be no stretch to expect even more improvement now.

The doubt for many punters will come from the fact that said win last time was over three miles, she drops to 2½ here, but around Cheltenham that extra stamina may come in very handy. Molly Ollys Wishes is next on the list.

3.15 (Mares’ Handicap Chase – Class 3) – BLACK TULIP

This three-and-a-quarter-mile event is extremely close to call, with all runners holding a realistic chance of winning and, at the time of writing, all being listed between 5/1 and 10/1 in the betting.

Small stakes are therefore recommended here, with the one to perhaps side with being Henry Daly’s consistent nine-year-old Black Tulip. Tom O’Brien takes the ride.

For the places, there is little to separate the likes of Whatsdastory and Goodnight Charlie at the weights, though it may be prevalent to watch any betting moves in the minutes before post time.

3.50 (Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase Final – Listed Race) – FLOWER OF SCOTLAND

Another close race, at least between the three we’d initially shortlisted who were Pink Legend (Venetia Williams), Danse Idol (Dan Skelton) and Liberty Bella (Brian Eckley).

When assessing the form a little more closely however, the one who stands out is Sandy Thomson’s Flower Of Scotland who could well make the team’s journey worthwhile.

Flower Of Scotland is a six-year-old grey who’s had just a couple of goes over fences since arriving from France; an average effort at Carlisle albeit in Listed company, and an easy win in a three-runner contest at Kelso last time out.

She’s getting better and looks to be the type who can put daylight between herself and her rivals at the crucial stage of this race, while she should also have enough stamina to see it out. Ryan Mania rides.

4.25 (Mares’ Handicap Chase – Class 2) – MISS AMELIA

This could be another close race with five of the six scheduled runners having all been under consideration, however all things considered the one at the head of the market is indeed the most solid overall and so it’s worth sticking with Miss Amelia.

Mark Walford’s mare will be ridden by the excellent Brian Hughes who should get the best out of her, and at the weights that best should be good enough for her to beat Cut The Mustard (Paul Nicholls) and Northern Beau (Michael Scudamore).

5.00 (Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race – Class 2) – WIND FROM THE WEST

It’s very difficult to know at the time of writing how this market will shape up, which is rather typical for a bumper race.

With that in mind, you should once again consider any horse being solidly backed in the moments before the off, but with what information we have to hand on an inexperienced field we’d say there may be some value in this Wind From The West.

Warren Greatrex’s young filly has had just the one run, a decent third-placed finish at Taunton in March, and she is obviously the type to improve plenty from that run to this.

She also has the assistance of Sam Waley-Cohen up top who knows Cheltenham like the back of his hand, so presumable she’ll be eased into the race at just the right time. Brian Hughes’ mount Game On For Glory was next on our shortlist.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

April Meeting Day One: Wednesday 14th April 2021 - Take a Big Bite Out of the Bookmakers’ Profits

All the hubbub of the Festival has gone now, but the always popular two-day April meeting is upon us and we have a tip for all seven races on day one: 

1.30 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 2) – FAVOIR

Of the three main contenders by our reckoning, Favoir, Torn And Frayed and Witness Protection, the first named is already at the highest level and as the youngest, also has more potential for improvement.

Dan Skelton has frankly done a brilliant job of attempting to propel his brother to the jump jockey’s championship title ahead of Brian Hughes, and their Favoir may well take that a step further.

The 6yo wasn’t impressive visually last time when winning at 1/7 in a three-runner race, but he’s way better than that and can add one more win to what has been a productive season. 

2.05 (Ballymore Silver Trophy Handicap Chase – Grade 2) – THE BIG BITE

The Skelton’s are in with a strong chance again in this Grade 2 handicap chase over 2½ miles, their Romain De Senam having had a busy but productive season.

He still doesn’t look too badly handicapped following his easy win at Musselburgh two outings ago, though he hasn’t had a change in his mark since finishing fourth next time out.

Evan Williams’ Coole Cody won the Paddy Power Gold Cup around here back in November and that is of course rock-solid form. He has been very consistent since then, but is higher in the handicap and so without more improvement he looks a tad vulnerable.

The most interesting one in the field is Henry Oliver’s The Big Bite. A lightly-raced eight-year-old, The Big Bite keeps improving race on race and even when finishing second or third, has been doing so behind some really good yardsticks.

Remaining on a workable handicap mark, Jonathan Burke’s mount looks good enough to land a decent pot here before perhaps being put away for the season.

2.40 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – PROSCHEMA

Very smart on the flat, Proschema has always promised plenty in the National Hunt sphere and it seems that a few factors point to him now getting the job done on a big stage.

First is the form of his trainer and jockey, the Skeltons, then there is how he performed in the ‘bumpers for jumpers’ at Newcastle where he won twice. Most importantly of all, the 6yo has now gone up in trip by a full mile-and-a-half which should be the making of him over hurdles considering how well he stayed on the flat.

Against him in a close affair on the numbers is Beauport, Global Society, Java Point and Captain Tom Cat with plenty of top yards being represented.

3.15 (Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase – Class 3) – BENEVOLENTDICTATOR

Rather wisely it seems, Gary Moore has given his Benevolentdictator some time off the track which should now work to his favour.

Back in December he made light of his lowly handicap mark when smashing his opposition over this 3m1f trip at Plumpton and, despite going up 11lbs, still looked to be a fair bit ahead of the handicapper.

He was sent up in trip next time at the same venue however and didn’t respond quite as well, although he finished a decent third, and now he’s had some time to recover from it all he should resume his improvement and can prove to be too good for this opposition at the weights.

After a cracking few weeks, owner JP McManus is still on the attack and has a chance here with his Eaglehill, while Oski and Accordingtogino also make the shortlist.

3.50 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – ASK DILLON

Local trainer and perennially popular social media figure Fergal O’Brien is often underestimated, and while he has not had the success at the Festival that he’d have liked, at the other meetings he has been great and this very column has often done well on the back of that.

He may win yet again at Cheltenham with this Ask Dillon in the three-mile handicap hurdle, the eight-year-old being burdened with top weight but looking well capable of doing it.

He ran solidly at the Festival last month when finishing 6th in the Pertemps Final, so considering that the pace of this race will be far less demanding it’s easy to envisage Ask Dillon having much more in the tank after the final flight off the same handicap mark.

Encore Champs, Welsh Saint and Trincomalee all appear to be capable of landing a blow off their current ratings too.

4.25 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – DOMAINE DE L’ISLE

The Kelvin-Hughes’s had a fantastic result with their My Drogo at Aintree, while Dan and Harry Skelton are all the rage right now so just about all eyes in this race will be on favourite and last-time-out winner Born Survivor.

Available at around twice the price however is Sean Curran’s Domaine De L’Isle and he could be the smart bet. In winning at Kempton by five lengths over 2½ miles he reached a new level and frankly, the further he went the better he looked.

Jumping right up to the Gold Cup trip could well be in his favour, while his yard has also booked current champ and Harry Skelton’s closest rival Brian Hughes for the ride – this being one of only two mounts for Hughes on the card.

Beware The Bear and good old Singlefarmpayment also rate a strong mention, but not too many in the field look very well handicapped in truth.

5.00 (Conditional and Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – ELHAM VALLEY

Our pal Fergal O’Brien could land us a winning double in the lucky last, courtesy of his four-year-old hurdler Elham Valley.

True, any horse of this age against older horses lacks a little something in the way of experience, but at these weights with general progression taking into consideration Elham Valley appears a little way clear of his main rivals Hooper and French Crusader. Liam Harrison takes the ride.