This weekend’s racing is so good that it’s only right to a) Cover it all and b) Showcase it for the masses. This is an example of what you get from me when you sign-up, on a weekly basis and for the big festivals too. Plus you’ll get Daily Tips plus our profitable Plays and Lays. We also offer our Saturday Steamer (recent winners 10/1, 10/1, 11/2 and 11/2) for free. Happy racing and enjoy!
We finally hit some form through last weekend with three winners, two of them double figure prices, all coming from the red-hot yard of Gordon Elliott. His six winners was just reward for a huge effort on his team’s behalf, having sent 27 runners from his yard, and it was fitting that his stable staff were all in an end-of-day picture taken to commemorate the occasion.
His strength in depth has increased exponentially over the last two years, with the dispute between Willie Mullins and Gigginstown having been of huge benefit him. Whilst Elliott was no small player beforehand, the moving of talent across yards does promise for several big head to head clashes earlier through the season and the prodigious talent is to be applauded for his feats.
The opportunities and pitfalls come thick and fast this weekend, with a strong renewal of the Becher Chase (1.35) at Aintree the feature betting contest of the day. Six of the last 10 winners of this contest had seen the famous fences before, so it may be wise to have at least one of those horses in your portfolio.
Vieux Lion Rouge’s petrol gage ran out when he was seventh in last year’s National on testing ground but he had jumped with nothing but aplomb before and over a trip more like today it’s not hard to imagine him being far more involved. The handicapper has dropped this seven year old 4lbs for that effort, a lenient move, and the form of the National Hunt Chase has worked out remarkably well, so much so that even a 20 length sixth is nothing to be ashamed of (over a trip probably too long for him as well).
This is his first run since the National but David Pipe can be trusted to get him spot on with the major incentive of encouraging the handicapper to raise him from a mark of 142 – which would not have been sufficient to make the final field in the National last year – encouragement enough to back him on this first run.
A clear standout amongst the first timers at Aintree is Viconte Du Noyer, who is one of many new recruits to Colin Tizzard’s yard that have already made a serious mark. It was a wild Grade 3 chase that he won at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting over just about the same trip here, but it was one that was filled with quality, including Minella Rocco, National Hunt Chase winner, in third. He appeared dramatically improved for the step up in trip and whilst this is once again tougher, his jumping held up at Cheltenham were many others failed.
If he is to be considered, then so must Alvardo, who was fourth in successive Nationals and then second in the Scottish edition last year. He has often been handed with minimal effort for end of season goals in the past but with the rising standard, connections are keen to grab the handicappers attention earlier in season in order to ensure entry.
A fine sixth at Cheltenham when he was staying on eye-catching, that was his first since since Ayr in April and he ought to progress plenty for that.
This is a crucial question with The Last Samuri, sensibly sent here to see more of the fences that he took to with such aplomb when he was second in the national last year. His return at Down Royal suggests that he should be coming here fit and ready, although on a mark of 159 entry to the big prize is assured and victory is not the be all and end all that is could be for some others.
Gordon Elliot took a big staying handicap prize with Empire of Dirt and the claims of Ucello Conti are obvious. The French import was second in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase and then third in the Thyestes last season before his National sixth, and having had a spin over hurdles, he ought to be ripe and ready for an attack on this big prize. The Young Master, a winner of the Bet365, went up just 1lb for that and appeals as still being well treated here,
Cogry still holds a great deal of potential as a staying chaser although a clear round would be a bonus for the midlands National third here. Highland Lodge won this race last year (although certainly a weaker renewal). He didn’t get into the National, although anther win would give him great chances of making Aintree. It would be a surprise where he not ready to go for here.
Saint Are disappointed in the National last year but the ground may not have been to his liking. He’s still just 1lb higher than his last winning mark and he’s impossible not to notice at 16’s Sizing Coal disappointed when last seen on these shores, but he redeemed himself with a fine run at Punchestown in April over 3m5f and won nicely at Sligo when last season, giving the Potts a solid hand.
The Grand Sefton (3.15) is no less competitive but Benny’s Mist, an impressive winner last year, could take the beating once again. He disappointed at the National meeting but didn’t run a bad race for the rest of the season and improved rapidly from his first run at the last time of asking last year. This has clearly been the plan since and it’ll likely take a good effort to beat him.
This is Valadom’s first time over these fences but the way that Richard Hobson’s seven-year-old has shaped suggests he will adore them. He was brilliant in the Cross-Country at the festival last year, leading the field at a fearsome gallop until his stamina gave out from the third last, but recently he has won impressively over three miles and Uttoxeter and Bangor, the last time getting the better of the topweight Seventh Sky. This trip is probably exactly what he wants and he looks sure to go well.
Down south at Sandown, the Henry II Novices’ Chase is a race that defines the term small but select. Altior, the stunning winner of last year’s Supreme when he won by seven lengths going away, has always promised so much as a chaser and he looked in love with jumping in his own time during a match race at Kempton. Today he has just three more rivals, but this is going to be a far tougher test with the front running pair Charbel and Marracudja in attendance to test him – and the first time out winner Max Ward.
He should still be far too good for that pair – he was 12 lengths ahead of Charbel in the Supreme of last year and is rated 8lbs clear of Marracudja – but today will not be the gallop round that he enjoyed. Charbel was sensationally tough when he beat the subsequent Grade 2 winner Le Prezien and the subsequent dual winner Top Notch at Uttoxeter from the front.
Marrcudja is a dual chase winner already, having bolted up by nine lengths at Newton Abboy before getting home by a neck having set strong fractions at the Showcase meeting (Cheltenham) when the first three (one of whom has won since) ended up 24 lengths clear of the rest. Mac Ward himself came from a long layoff when he won on his chasing debut by four lengths, so we should see a bit more from the Arkle favourite.
The Tingle Creek (3.00) has been all about what horse hasn’t turned up, but it’s a fascinating renewal nevertheless and it might well go to Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh in the shape of Un De Secaux. He has fallen on his seasonal reappearance for the past two years, but he appears to be a more tractable horse now than he was in the past and it’s worth remembering the best of his form.
He beat God’s Own by six lengths in the Arkle as a novice and then he beat Sire De Grugy by 5 lengths in the Clarence House in January; Whilst he was thrashed in the Celebration Chase here, there is no Sprinter Sacre around here for him today and he ought to take the beating.
Gary Moore is a key player with Sire De Grugy, the 2013 and 2015 winner. Tears will be shed if he wins again and his recent victory was deeply impressive at Ascot last time, although he has to improve again a little on the figures if he is to turn around the form with Un De Secaux.
The one horse in the field with the most potential is Ar Mad, who was wildly impressive when he took the Henry The II novice chase last year over course and distance before then taking the Wayward Lad. The times he recorded on both occasions (he was faster than the Tingle Creek last year on this card) particularly in the latter, where he was faster than Sprinter Sacre on the same card to the tune of three were remarkable, and nobody doubts that he has more to offer given his short career and the fact connections had only just discovered his best tactics when he suffered injury last year.
God’s Own, fourth in the Champion last year, then won the 2 mile Champion at Punchestown and made a fine return in the Old Roan. However he didn’t find nearly as much as had been expected in the 9165 for pressure and that might leave him with something to prove.
It was a weak renewal of the Haldon Gold Cup that Sir Valentino won and Vibrato Valtat was behind God’s Own at Ascot.
The December Handicap Hurdle (2.25) is a tough affair but as with so many things, the answer may lie with Nicky Henderson. His Consul De Thaix is fascinating contender after just three runs off 132, having debuted in promising fashion when third in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham, but another younger of his might be best.
Brain Power didn’t quite live upto the heights that were promised at points during his novice season, but an 11 length defeat to Charbel doesn’t look as bad now and his third at the Punchestown Festival in a Grade 1 showed plenty of potential. He didn’t really build on that a lot in the Greatwood, but he travelled well before blowing up significantly and it would be a surprise if he didn’t strip significantly fitter this time around.
Zubayr, booked for second in the Elite Hurdle when coming down at the last, and Wishfull Dreaming, who is still open to improvement despite disappointing at Cheltenham when well fancied, are both of interest, as is the UK debutant Indietir, who has three wins and two seconds in nine starts over hurdles in France including a second in a Grade 1. The young Grassten should improve for the Moores, and Faithful Mount, second in a fair race at Musselbrugh, is also of interest.
Over in Ireland, there is a fantastic weekend of action which starts in the strongest fashion with the Jim Ryan Racecourse Services Beginners Chase (11.55). This is usually a well upto scratch race and this-years also looks right up there.
It’s a surprise that Martello Tower didn’t go chasing last season when he ran three times over hurdles with a moderate amount of credit, but he looked at home over fences when he was second to the smart Anibale Fly (Grade 1 placed) on his chasing debut at Navan with a smart previous winner behind – the three 11 lengths clear. This step up in trip ought to bring about bundles of improvement, as a step to three miles will in the future, and he holds strong claims today.
He’ll need to be on his game if he’s going to be able to get the better of Acapella Bourgeois, a double Grade 2 winner last year, and A Genie in a Bottle, who impressed on his chasing debut at Galway. If Childrens List can recover his form over hurdles, then he ought to be able to go very well over fences.
The Irish Racing Year Book Maiden Hurdle (2.00) is of great interest for the return to the racecourse, and hurdling debut, of Castello Sforza. A deeply impressive winner of the George Mernagh Memorial Sales Bumper, where he beat Sunni May ans a certain Death Duty in impressive style last April, he changed hands to JP McManus and was not seen until the festival last March when he was a fine fourth on his only run of last season. The form of that race has taken a couple of knocks but he could easily be called the most promising prospect from the race and after two runs it would be a shock if he didn’t have plenty of improvement left in him. This is not a gimme assignment, given that the talented Gunnery Sergeant, third in the Royal Bond last year, is in opposition, and Runfordave, who was third over 2m4f at Punchestown in a smart event that has already seen a subsequent winner, now gets to drop in trip here to boot.
However he is a horse of immense potential and it would be no surprise if he were to take higher rank than his contemporaries here. Take the chance that tomorrow’s price is correct, and back him for the Neptune at what is a big each/way price.
The action does not stop today, however, with the Hatton’s Grace day at Fairyhouse. We start with the Bar One Racing Juvenile (12.40), where one of the leading Triumph contenders takes shape in Landofhopeandglory. Fourth in the Queen’s Vase and second in the Curragh Cup on the flat, he has won both his starts with ease but will have his first tough examination here as Mega Fortune, a 13 length winner at Down Royal and useful himself on the flat, is in opposition and receiving weight, whilst Bapaume was a seven length winner of the Milly La Foret on her second French start. Fellow import Soir De Chanetenay is already a three-time winner, twice at Auteil, and ought to be respected, whilst the money had come for Daktoa Moirette before her debut at Gowran when she fell early. Easy Pass also unseated in the same race but looked exposed on the flat.
The Royal Bond (1.10) is even better. Peace News, well races and consistent on the flat, was impressive when winning a strong maiden hurdle at Cork when he beat two fellow Irish debutants, both of whom are well regarded (especially the third, Timi Roli). The fourth, eight lengths back from the first three, was beaten 12 and a half lengths further than he was on his debut. It’s understandable that he’s favorite for this and short for the supreme, although this is a deep race.
The most striking visual performance came from Saturnas, who streaked away from his field to leave them eight lengths behind and in the dust at Naas. That victory showcased limitless potential for him to go further and that must be respected although it should be noted that Valgor Du Ronceray, runner up that day, has since been beaten further (13 & ½ lengths at Thurles), to dampen down the form.
Labaik is already a Graded winner, having overcome a bad trip and some worse jumping to win the For Auction Novice Hurdle at Naas. A fine ride from Ruby Walsh got him home that day but he will have to be sharper on all counts. He was too good for Le Martalian, who disappointed there. The blinkers are off for the hood, which should allow him to settle better
The finish of his was fought out between two horses who had long summer campaigns and it’s interesting that Ruby Walsh has kept faith with Penhill of Willie Mullins, the classy flat performer who would most likely be unbeaten if it wasn’t for him bleeding in July. He didn’t jump as well as one would have hoped a five time winner over hurdles would have when he won the Joe Mac Novice Hurdle and that most likely won’t be sufficient here; His speed isn’t in doubt.
Airlie Beach, the remarkable mare who has already foaled (she did so at 3!) is on a roll and impressed when giving weight and a beating to Shattered Love at Down Royal. She looks to have been a little underestimated by the market given that runner up’s useful.
Forge Meadow is 25/1 following a debut win where she got the better of the very useful flat horse Toe The Line. Only a short head separated them there but that’s no shame and she was second only to Augsta Kate at Punchestown last year, having previously won a valuable Fairyhouse Bumper by five and a half lengths. Getting weight from all, she can go well.
In the Hatton’s Grace (1.40), the will they won’t they story has left us with Vroum Vroum Mag from the Ricci and Mullins battalion. It will be fascinating to see the mare return after her hard fought win in the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown, where she beat Identity Thief and My Tent Or Yours, a career best on her first start in open company. Repeat that performance and she most likely wins here but this is her first start of the season and she will have to be fit and on her game to get better of some talented enough rivals.
The market only give stabemate Shaneshill a chance. Graham Wylie’s chosen charge – Nichols Canyon stays home – mixed between chasing and hurdling last year, finishing second at Cheltenham in the RSA and then second to Thistlecrack at Aintree over hurdles. He could well have won his Grade 1 over hurdles had he stayed up at Punchestown in the World Series Hurdle, and he appears big having had a run to boot; although he would want a strong pace here; he made his ground too late on his reappearance at Navan in the Lismullen Hurdle.
Apple’s Jade is interesting – she’s not yet been as impressive as she was as a juvenile, but had she not been hampered she might have won the Fighting Fifth and surely would want to step up in trip too. If she’s gotten over that hard race then she’s a serious player even if this demands yet more improvement.
Ivanovich Gorbatov has been a disappointment this year whilst this is surely too short for Dedigout as he showed when he was fourth in the Lismullen. Monksland may enjoy hurdling again but has something to prove still and Whiteout is in the same category.
The Drinmore (2.40) is arguably the race of the day. Diamond King is favourite having won the Coral Cup last year before finding the World Series Hurdle too far for him. The way he jumped so easily on his winning debut at Galway suggests that he’ll do well here, but this is a seriously, seriously hot race.
A Toi Phil was disappointment in the spring of last season but before that he’d been deeply impressive in winning a Grade 2 and he trashed his opposition in the Florida Pearl at Punchestown. He appears to be a winter horse and a repeat of his best efforts here will make him a serious player.
Alpha Des Obeaux is the best staying hurdler that will go novice chasing through the season in the absence of Thistlecrack, but his start to the larger obstacles has not gone as smoothly as hoped. A step up to three miles will help him and his jumping but it has come a cropper once or twice already and he faces speedier rivals too already this season.
Tony Martin’s Anibale Fly was impressive on chasing debut and looks still to be improving in what has been a short but fruitful career. He jumped nicely on his chasing debut when he won a strong enough race and the step up in trip ought to be a big benefit to a horse whose career best came when stepped up four furlongs in trip over hurdles.
Those four are the clear best on figures and it is very hard to look outside that. Coney Island will be much better for a step up to three miles and the same can be said of Road To Respect and Lieutenant Colonel.
11.55 Fairyhouse – 2 pts win Martello Tower (15/8 general)
1.35 Aintree – 1 pt each/way Alvarado (10/1 Bet Victor*, general)
1.35 Aintree – 1 pt each/way Vieux Lion Rouge (9/1 Coral, Paddy Power, Bet Victor*)
2.25 Sandown – 1 pt each/way Brain Power (15/2 Paddy Power, Bet Victor)
3.15 Aintree – 1 pt each/way Valadom (9/1 *Sky Bet, 11/1 general)
3.05 Sandown – 2 pts win Un De Sceaux (2/1 general)
1 pt each/way Castello Sforza, Neptune (25/1 Hills, 20/1 general)
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