Friday, 31 December 2021

New Years Day Meeting: 1st January 2022 - Bank on Millers in the Dipper

A fantastic New Year’s Day of action is on the cards at Cheltenham, potentially in front of a 30,000-strong crowd.

What the ultimate effects of that big crowd will be are yet to be discovered, but watching from afar and taking a punt on our seven selections could be the best way to start your year!

12.15 (Novices’ Hurdle – Listed Race) – GET A TONIC

A fascinating start to the seven-race card. The likely strong favourite here is I Am Maximus for the Nicky Henderson stable. A winner at the second time of asking over hurdles, the now six-year-old scored nicely from Raymond Tusk and previously beat My Drogo in a bumper race.

At a glance that all reads like strong form so his position in the market is understandable, though a look at the form of the horses he’s beaten recently shows that he is potentially at no higher a level than Hillcrest and Get A Tonic who are preferred at the odds.

It was a close call between the two initially for us, but ultimately Get A Tonic’s speed figures on soft ground are more impressive meaning she may just get through this surface a little faster than Hillcrest.

The other factor was that both horses are officially rated 128, yet the mare Get A Tonic gets the 7lb weight pull which could prove to be very crucial for the Skelton team.

12.50 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – DESTINEE ROYALE

It’s close at the top of the market for this 3¼-mile event between Honest Vic, Destinee Royale, The Wolf and Undersupervision.

Honest Vic is in good form but carries comfortably the most weight among the main contenders and may just struggle in these conditions.

The Wolf and Undersupervision could be pretty closely matched at the weights, but the one that stands out the most for us is Venetia Williams’ Destinee Royale who is worth backing.

Having her first run for 283 days, which isn’t a big negative, Destinee Royale has easily the most potential in these conditions. Despite being a beaten favourite back in March, she was going over 3½ miles there and may have had a problem, but her form before that is the best on offer here versus the official ratings.

A comfortable winner at Wetherby over three miles in February, she is capable of a good deal more now just with natural improvement and so looks the best handicapped horse in the line-up.

1.25 (Dipper Novices’ Chase – Grade 2) – MILLERS BANK

The Dipper, as it is still known to many despite sponsorship, may yet provide us with a big Festival clue. It seems as though four can be taken against the field this time around with all worth watching between now and March.

Of the quartet, it could be rather close all things considered between Fantastikas, The Glancing Queen and probable favourite L’Homme Presse, but while the form of the latter looks the strongest at a glance, he does give away 3lbs and there is plenty to like about Millers Bank against him.

Alex Hales’ runner was as impressive as any of these on his chase debut in late October, while he looked well set to win at Grade 2 level in November at Newbury but for falling two from home.

Assuming he can handle the softer going, which we think he will, he could simply prove to be the best horse in this line-up and is good value too.

2.00 (Paddy Power New Year’s Day Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – ADMIRAL BARRATRY

Another big 2½-mile Grade 3 handicap chase at Cheltenham, one in which the Racing Post Gold Cup winner and runner-up, Coole Cody and Zanza, are bound to be popular.

Alnadam and the much-improved mare Vienna Court are also respected, but there is a lot to like about Lucy Wadham’s Admiral Barratry at bigger odds. An easy winner last time out, he has plenty more to give and handles these conditions well.

2.35 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – TAMAR BRIDGE

Famous last words and all that, but Tamar Bridge is a pretty confident selection in this three-mile handicap hurdle.

He’s at the top of our ratings and the top of the betting anyway after winning his last three hurdle races, but it also appears that the race conditions today may bring plenty more improvement out of him.

His form is very good, but he has little speed and so it appears he’s been winning despite the 2½-mile trip and not because of it. This three-mile distance on soft ground is sure to bring the best out of him, which makes him well handicapped ahead of Whatsupwithyou, Pileon, Ask Dillon and My Bobby Dazzler.

3.10 (Relkeel Hurdle – Grade 2) – McFABULOUS

Former chaser Brewin’upastorm is all the rage here and it’s easy to see why after a recent impressive handicap win.

He’s very much in our thoughts, as is Guard Your Dreams and Stormy Ireland, but it could be close between the three which leaves us looking for the potential standout runner.

There is one, and it’s McFabulous for Paul Nicholls. Always thought of as a potential star after winning a Grade 2 bumper at Aintree in 2019, he’s reached a mark of 158 over hurdles, the same as the favourite, and has now had a break after wind surgery.

There’s no doubt that he has more to give in the future than his main market rival, conditions look good for him and he can add to his tally of three Grade 2 career wins before moving up to the top level once more.

3.50 (Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race – Listed Race) – BEYOND BOUNDARIES 

This one-mile, six-furlong bumper is an intriguing end to the card. Given the nature of the race, one in which we know little about the contenders, it’s always possible that something unexpected comes out of the pack and so we always recommend you check the betting in the moments before the off.

On what we know right now however, three horses stand out. Poetic Music first of all is two from two for Fergal O’Brien, will have been expertly prepared no doubt and may improve for the step up in trip having won last time over a mile-and-a-half.

Iliade Allen is the other last-time-out winner of interest, however newcomer Beyond Boundaries is fascinating and is worth chancing at the odds.

Representing top Flat connections Andrew Balding and King Power Racing, Beyond Boundaries is a full brother to Western Australia who reached a peak rating of 110 on the level. If he were to make a belated debut in the mid-80’s for a Flat runner, which is eminently possible, that would perhaps make him too good for this field.

Friday, 10 December 2021

International Meeting Day Two: Saturday 11th December - Sceau to Put Up Royal Performance in International

Day 2 of the International Meeting promises to be another belter. With two Grade 2 events, the Racing Post Gold Cup and a key trial for the Triumph Hurdle on the card we have plenty to get our teeth stuck into on Saturday.

12.05 (Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle – Class 2) – MESSAGE PERSONNEL

After finishing third on his hurdling debut in a similar contest albeit at Grade 2 level last month, Yorksea has the best provable form and is the rightful favourite on the book for Gary Moore.

More interesting however is Message Personnel. His French form is hard to quantify and he carries a 7lb penalty, but his odds are juicy and there is plenty to like when you dig a little deeper.

Dan Skelton’s new recruit beat Selma at Dieppe in July, a horse whose subsequent form gives Message Personnel the look of a runner that could just be at a higher level despite the penalty.

As we know so little about these juveniles it’s better to go with potential along with form rather than only the latter so he gets the nod, Interne De Sivola also making the shortlist.

12.40 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – MY DROGO

The major competition hasn’t turned up for this extended 2½-mile novice chase and so it’s very hard to see beyond My Drogo here.

For those who may not remember; My Drogo was involved in a match race with Gin On Lime at the November meeting and while ultimately the result was a good one for this column, Dan Skelton’s six-year-old was a very unlucky loser!

Both horses appeared to have fallen that day, only for Rachael Blackmore to somehow remain on board her mount and claim victory.

My Drogo is better than that and better than the two rivals he faces here so as long as he stays upright this time, he should land a first victory of his fledgling chase career.

1.15 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – FRERO BANBOU

This race has been named in honour of Simon Claisse, the long-time Cheltenham clerk of the course and a competitive wee bunch of eight horses has been assembled.

On our own private ratings, its very tight between Torpillo, if fit enough after 641 days off the track, Cheddleton who was too free last time and is capable of better, and likely market leader Editeur Du Gite who is the most solid of that bunch.

The one with the potential to offer more though is Frero Banbou. Venetia Williams’ gelding is three from 8 so far and doesn’t seem to have been properly collared by the handicapper.

Having run twice this season already but just eight times over fences in all, even natural improvement would make him potentially the best treated horse in the line-up at the weights and he’s a nice price too.

1.50 (Racing Post Gold Cup Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – FARINET 

The newly renamed Racing Post Gold Cup is a brilliantly competitive 2½-mile handicap chase, one in which the form of last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup is likely to come to the fore.

Winner Midnight Shadow, third-placed Lalor, fourth Dostal Phil and sixth Zanza are all back for more while the runner-up that day, Protektorat, has since demolished a Grade 2 field at Aintree by 25 lengths.

They are all in with chances on the book, naturally, but coming out of novice company now is Farinet of the Venetia Williams yard and he is taken to improve past them off a handy weight.

A very good winner at Sandown in March on his second start in this country, Farinet is capable of very much more and could prove to be great value in the feature event.

2.25 (Bristol Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – BARONY LEGENDS

Blazing Khal managed to see off Gelino Bello over 2 miles, 5 furlongs at the November meeting here and the two reoppose.

Blazing Khal now has a 5lb penalty, but given that he never showed much speed we can assume he’ll appreciate this step up to three miles and so may still be just a step ahead of his old rival who challenges him at the top of this market.

The one to take against them is the unexposed Barony Legends for the Olly Murphy yard. 41 days ago, he was a very, very easy winner at Lingfield over 2m3f and while his ability to stay the trip isn’t proven there is no end of improvement in him and he could be the best value in the race to small stakes.

3.00 (International Hurdle – Grade 2) – SCEAU ROYAL

Make no mistake; Alan King’s star Sceau Royal had a real chance at Newcastle last time in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth, the key trial for the Champion Hurdle back here in March.

While the ground officially was good to soft there, conditions at race time were horrible and Sceau Royal did well just to battle on and claim a close third place behind Not So Sleepy and Epatante.

He’s better than that and he can prove it here with a performance that should make him one of the frontrunners for the big one in March.

Ballyadam will have his supporters, but frankly his form over hurdles doesn’t match up to what is required here. Song For Someone is the likely favourite but, while there is talent there, he isn’t at Sceau Royal’s level in our opinion with a better bet for the forecast at these weights arguably being Guard Your Dreams.

3.35 (Mares’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – TRAPISTA

Paul Webber’s mare Indefatigable is a real favourite around here and hopefully she’ll put up another big performance, but the young pretender Trapista looks like improving to just the right level and may take the lucky last.

Jonjo O’Neill’s horse, trained for JP McManus, made a very successful British debut at Huntingdon back in late October and has been given plenty of time to come to herself and is now ready to go once more.

Indefatigable is indeed next best, ahead of Martello Sky.

Thursday, 9 December 2021

International Meeting Day 1: Friday 10th December 2021 - Rocco ‘n’ Roll in Friday Feature Race

There are even bigger and better things to come on Saturday, but Friday sees the first day of the International Meeting hosted at Cheltenham Racecourse and we have a tip for all seven races on the card.

12.05 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 3) – JPR ONE

Even over two miles and a furlong this hurdle race may take some getting for some of these novices, but despite the need for a little stamina there’s no shortage of class on show either for the grade.

The likely favourite is Hartur D’Oudairies. While he is unbeaten after a bumper win in France and a successful hurdling debut at Warwick in which he was described as “impressive”, he looks far from unfillable to us.

Much of his reputation in the market comes from him carrying the JP McManus colours and being trained by Dan Skelton, but we’ve had his favourites beaten here before at odds and we’re looking to repeat the trick with Jpr One.

Also a winner on his hurdle debut for Colin Tizzard, Jpr One reached a higher level than Hartur D’Oudairies in our opinion and has the capacity to kick on now. Washington and Datsalrightgino can fight it out for places.

12.40 (Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase – Class 3) – CORACH RAMBLER

In what looks like a competitive race for a seven-runner affair, Scottish trainer Lucinda Russell may well be able to make her trip with two horses pay, Corach Rambler being her most likely winner.

The seven-year-old ran well on his chase debut to finish third at 14/1 at Perth in September, and improved upon that when winning very well at Aintree in October.

Off the track since then, he can prove he is on an upward curve, one that would make him well handicapped off his rating of 134. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not Derek Fox’s mount is well backed considering he was punted into 5/2 at Aintree before scoring by six lengths.

Eva’s Oskar is next on the list after his win at Chepstow and fine second at Ascot, with Coeur Serein and Undersupervision also considered. Barbados Buck’s probably has to improve plenty at the weights.

1.15 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – QUINTA DO MAR

Quite easy to put numbers against in terms of handicapping here were The Grey Falco, Broomfield Burg, Royaume Uni, Punxsutawney Phil, Castel Gandolfo and Lively Citizen who were all very close on our ratings.

When things are that close, at least on paper, it’s best to look for something potentially very well handicapped and therefore we are taking a chance on Ben Pauling’s Quinta Do Mar.

The six-year-old is on a hat-trick now and won very easily by 31 lengths last time. We’re banking on taking that form at face value and there being more to come and if there is, then there is little doubt that the bay is best at these weights. He just has to handle Cheltenham.

1.50 (Mares’ Handicap Chase – Class 3) – ROSE OF ARCADIA

While it doesn’t work every time, many jumps horses show a factually better performance over fences if taking to them than they do over hurdles. With that in mind, we go for a punt on Cheveley Park’s Rose Of Arcadia here for the Colin Tizzard yard on her chase debut.

She finished her five-run hurdling career on a mark of 119, but it appears that overall, her team thinks that does not truly speak for her ability.

Timeless Beauty represents Fergal O’Brien and can go well, with Jubilympics and Fontaine Collonges also on the shortlist.

2.25 (Betfair Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – ROCCO

Our Grade 3 feature race over 3¼ miles looks like a cracking race, but still an eminently winnable one.

Enrilo may be favourite. He is only 7 and comes from the Paul Nicholls yard so he is an obvious candidate, one that fell last time but showed some solid form before that.

Hurricane Harvey is interesting as are Fagan and Commodore, but we bank on Rocco doing the business for Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies for the first time at Graded level.

Suddenly kicking on and improving after twelve chases, Rocco was a convincing winner last time out at Wincanton in the Badger Beer where he beat Potterman and the aforementioned Hurricane Harvey and there looks sure to be further improvement to come.

He hasn’t been tried over fences around here, but he was a good third at Cheltenham at Grade 2 level over hurdles some time ago and looks primed for the run of his life.

3.00 (Crystal Cup Cross Country Handicap Chase – Class 2) – PLAN OF ATTACK

With Tiger Roll and Easysland not on the scene, these cross-country races are wide open and there may be a form turnaround this time.

At the November meeting we successfully went for Back On The Lash to do the business and while another big run is on the cards, the horse back in fourth that day has more to give and a handy 3lb weight pull.

That horse is Henry De Bromhead’s Plan Of Attack. Fourth in the 2020 Kim Muir and a faller when going well in it this year, Plan Of Attack took fourth place and was staying on nicely in the last cross-country race here and it’s easy to see him going a few places better now.

3.35 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – SPORTING JOHN

There will need to be improvement from The Wrekin and Botox Has, who have place chances, but the two to concentrate on in the finale have already battled it out around here at the November meeting and may do again.

Runner-up last month was Fergal O’Brien’s Onagatheringstorm who will surely put in another solid performance, but he was no match for Sporting John that day who perhaps has more to come over hurdles and remains the sensible betting choice.

Sporting John was tried over fences but staying hurdles look like his game and he can land this before moving up in grade.