When thinking of horses to follow through the jumps season proper not many will turn their heads back to Galway, but tonight’s opening Colm Quinn BMW Novice Hurdle (5.15) looks to be a race that form watchers ought to keep a close eye on. Favourite Three Wise Men has had just two starts, but he looked a decent prospect when taking his maiden hurdle and ran a fine race to be third at the Punchestown behind two high class prospects in the shape of Koshari and Bello Conti. The latter named of those had been fourth in the Neptune and then again at Aintree, so sets a high level of form, whilst Sound Money (nine lengths behind) has since won to boot.
Joesph O’Brien had his first winner at the festival – a tally that’s sure to rise rapidly this week and through other years – and his Oathkeeper has impressed in two hurdle wins over longer distances. The drop back shouldn’t inconvenience him too much whilst one has to be wary of Penhill, the 100 rated flat horse who burst a blood vessel last time out at Killarney. If bouncing back he should go very well and they make a fascinating trio of market leaders; Master of Verse should be happier at this trip than others but has failed to take advantage of being in strong positions the last twice whilst Billy’s Hope has run in better company and been beaten here. Derulo should appreciate the return to good ground whilst Hudson’s Bay makes more appeal than Gunner McGregor for an each/way bet.
Former Cheltenham Bumper winner Briar Hill has been reasonably popular as he attempts to get back on track in the Latin Quarter Beginners Chase (5.45). If he shows his best form he should take the beating but injuries sustained at the 2013 festival have taken their toll in a significant way and this trip looks to be shorter than he would want even at a stiff track. However he doesn’t seem to have a huge amount of opposition here although his chief rival Tocororo is of most interest. A Consistent juvenile hurdler, she gets plenty of weight and may have more to give than Joesph O’Brien’s Draco.
Aidan O’Brien and Dermot Weld dominated the juvenile maiden yesterday with the colts and they are expected to do the same with the Colm Quinn BMW E.B.F. Fillies Maiden (6.15) in the shape of Ezyira, a good second on her Tipperary debut when surrounded by horses with previous experience. She makes more appeal than Hydrangea, widely expected to improve significantly on her late running 10th at the Curragh in a maiden the stable have used to good effect. Both are probably too short however and a third contender with experience is of significant interest here.
Magen’s Moon looked as if she would improve for another furlong when she was fourth at Naas behind and impressive winner who has since finished runner up in a Group 3 and if she breaks on terms today from 3 she could find herself on the premises once again. Any money for Falling Angels, a Galileo filly who is out of the trainer´s Moyglare and Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Again, would speak volumes whist Dreamy Gal, a Dream Ahead filly out of a winner at a previous festival, is also one to watch in the market.
On the ratings, the Caulfield Industrial E.B.F. Maiden (6.50) is a match between the useful Saffaar and the once raced Sikandarabad, gelded and absent for 404 days since finishing second to the subsequent group 2 winner Painted Cliffs when giving weight. He has likely had his issues but surely has been primed to the minute for this and would be preferred of the two on natural ability.
The BMW Mile (7.20) is one of the toughest and most fiercely contested events of the week every year and this renewal is no different. It’s interesting to note that despite the draw playing a major factor over the course of the week, several of the past winners of the decade, six in total, have come from double digit draws to boot. The market has several contenders stacked on the inside, all of whom with decent claims, and of those Creggs Pipes and Gussy Goose are of most interest. Creggs Pipes, an all out Listed winner at Killarney when following up a decent Curragh handicap win, only went up 4lbs for that, a fair verdict even if many contenders disappointed there. Gussy Goose, coming from last year’s winning stable, had no luck in running there and would surely have been close with a clear run to boot. Only 6lbs higher than her last winning mark, she’s of great interest here although trouble in running could become a serious issue again for her, a chance worth taking. Brian Ellison’s three ore of interest, perhaps headed by Stipulate on better ground than he faced at Doncaster with Baraweez having a pig of a draw and Top Notch Tonto well handicapped but exposed still. Dermot Weld’s pair of Ashraf and Karalara are of major interest, although the former wants it softer on all previous evidence (having disappointed in two handicaps before) and the latter is dropping in trip two furlongs after breaking her maiden.
In the Caulfield Industrial Handicap (7.50), Weld’s Malinka may be flattered by a mark of 76 and is already popular but Previous C&D winner Could Should Would was caught late by a well-handicapped horse over 1m at Killarney last time and this drop in trip gives him a fine chance of making amends here.
In the Caulfieldindustrial.com Handicap (8.20) Weld has a fantastic record and his Monocle, a relative To Workforce and King’s Best, should enjoy the step up in trip but nothing from the head of the market makes real appeal and recent Killarney third Neatly Put, whose form reads well, makes most appeal. Watch out too for Grey Sky Blue as well, inching up the handicap without incurring too many major
1 pts Three Wise Men, 5.15 Galway (5/2 general)
2 pt win Torocoro, 5.45 Galway (11/4 general)
1 pt each/way Magen’s Moon, 6.15 Galway (9/1 general)
1 pt each/way Gussy Goose, 7.20 Galway (8/1 genera)
1 pt each/way Could Should Would, 7.50 Galway (15/2 Bet365)
1 pt each/way Neatly Put, 8.20 Galway (14/1 general)
The debate over which code is better rages on and on through the year, and especially the long hot summers, but fans of both codes are the real winners this week as the Galway Festival kicks off tonight with a mixed card before Glorious Goodwood tomorrow, giving us one of the most action packed weeks of the entire year.
This evening’s card starts with a sight familiar to many jumping fans; A long odds on Mullins French import in a novice hurdle (5.15) and it would be a surprise if Muthaza, a three time French winner on the flat and a two time winner in Ireland so far, was beaten here. She has not extended out of a gallop in two wins, including when beating buyer Beware at Bellewstown, and it should be as simple again although players in the markets without and each/way thieves. Buyer Beware may be a good bet in those markets, seeing as she is on 7lbs better terms with her last time out conqueror Tagg’s Island, and that maiden hurdle form looks a bit better than St Lawrence’s Gap win last time.
The Easyfix Handicap Hurdle (5.45) is the first of many competitive events of this style throughout the week and market confidence behind Camlann and Sarwistan should be noted, especially with the former having had a convincing flat win under his belt. Beckwith Star, a winner of this race for the last two years, has been well out of form this time around even with the help of 7lbs claimer Dylan Robinson and he makes less appeal than both those. Stormey has quickly become a useful horse in a short space of time with a win in a maiden hurdle at Sligo followed up by a second at Ballinrobe on his handicap debut. Dixie Highway went one better, winning two handicap hurdles by a neck and half a length in June and May. It’s interesting to note that he’s been kept ticking on the flat since and in a race where many at the top of the market lack leading form he makes appeal.
Aidan O’Brien and Dermot Weld are likely to go head to head between themselves a lot this week and their pair dominate the Claregalwayhotel.ie (C & G) E.B.F. Maiden (6.15) with Courage Under Fire and Right Honourable. Dermot Weld’s Right Honourable gets the vote on the basis that he ran in the stronger maiden of the two, when he got no run late on. Watch out for the Ger Lyons pairing of Brutal and Buffalo Blues.
It’s tough to get a handle on the Claytonhotelgalway.ie Handicap (6.50) with a 15 draw for Heartful over 7 furlongs taking away from the general appeal of the favourite although there’s lots to recommend her. Zebgrey, a winner of two of her last three starts, has to be considered a serious player.
The Connacht Hotel Q.R Handicap (7.50) is one of many battles between the flat and the jumps and it would be no surprise to see the Time To Inspire leave his recent debut (handicap) behind with a visor on for Fintan Maguire but it’s a competitive enough race and he makes the market in what should be an each/way race with the rest of the field 10/1. Listed winner Benkei (also a course and distance winner), was a slid winner over 1m6f the time before and must go well for Jamie Codd whilst strong-finishing Curragh third Weather Watch is entitled to be thereabouts off same mark for Jessie Harrington.
Roconga didn’t get a clear run in a Fairyhouse apprentice handicap but if he’d have had a better run there he may well have gone close to winning so this step up in trip is a positive for him. Of serious interest on jumping form are the crack pair of handicappers Ted Veale and Rennetti, both of whom are flat winners. Rennetti has had a fine jumping season, finishing fourth in the Greatwood and then third in the Ladbroke, needed the run badly on his recent flat return but should be straighter now and could be best of all.
The Eventus Handicap (7.50) is one of those contests where any one of 6 last time out winners could realistically be the choice. Motherland’s impressive maiden win would make him the visual choice ahead of the others but the best form may belong to My Fantasia, who has bumped into two progressive prospects on the AW before winning last time. John Oxx has been back in recent form and he could land a notable winner here.
The last (8.20) should be lucky for some with experience already and Robin Des Forest should improve on his opening show of fourth at Wexford whist Sizing Knockeen should have more left in the locker if he managed to keep company with his rider on his way to the start this time like had failed to do at Clonmel. Both can go well along with Bensachuine but Jessie and Kate Harrington partnered up well to take a number of contests at big festivals with debutants in bumpers and their Kalinte is of real interest here.
1 pt each/way Dixie Highway, 5.45 Galway (12/1 general, 10/1 Ladbrokes*)
2 pts win Right Honourable, 6.15 Galway (11/8 Bet Victor)
1 pt each/way Renneti, 7.20 Galway (10/1 Ladbrokes)
1 pt each/way My Fantasia, 7.55 Galway (7/1 general)
As Tesio, one of the kingpins of breeding himself, said: “The Thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended, not on experts, technicians, or zoologists, but on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby. If you base your criteria on anything else, you will get something else, not the Thoroughbred.”
It is a reminder of the legacy of today’s Epsom Derby (4.30) that the above remains true to this very day, with generations upon generations of our greatest stars having passed the post infront after the incredible journey that the Downs takes. At The Races analyst and Final Furlong star Kevin Blake best describes it here – https://t.co/0amRhLPfbg – but it’s one of many factors that makes today’s event so wonderfully open from both a sporting and betting perspective.
There are 16 runners, more than half the field is separated by less than 6lbs, the first and joint third favourites have had less than 10 runs combined and it’s 6/1 the field. In such circumstances, some will find going for the favourite a cop-out but Wings of Desire showed immense promise in landing the Dante, the strongest recognised trial for this, and if improving as one would hope, he can take the beating today.
His journey to the top has been a rapid one, having made a nice debut on his debut when running on into third at the Craven meeting over 10 furlongs. Having been out the back, he promised to improve for a step up in trip, and duly won his maiden with ease. Connections sent him for the Dante straight afterwards, and the booking of Frankie Dettori – who jumped off the proven Foundation – spoke volumes beforehand. Keen early, Dettori had him anchored in rear and with plenty to do to say the least when the race go going, but he was relentless in coming down the outside to pass most of the field and with every run it becomes clearer and clear that he was always going to get there and that over today’s extra distance he would have been even more impressive in victory.
He did not impress everybody at Breakfast With The Stars, but he has been supplemented nevertheless and the man who had last year’s Derby 1-2 can be trusted to make the right choice on his participation; It may be that he finds today coming too quickly for him – this is his fourth run in just over 31 days and he was doing halfspeeds for most of them – but others are in the same boat and in any case he can still be improving.
The trials this year may not have been the strongest overall, but in beating Deauville (Group 3 winner, Group 2 second in Royal Lodge), Foundation (unlucky in Racing Post Trophy) and coming clear nicely of a field full of prospects, he sets a standard that should see him shorter than he currently is.
Such is the esteem that US Army Ranger is held in that before he’d stepped foot on a racecourse he was being backed for this and he did nothing to dispel those vibes when taking his maiden at the Curragh on debut. Expected to improve, he did leave the bare form behind when he won the Chester Vase, travelling smoothly, but he did not impress in struggling to get past the rallying Port Douglas (fourth in the Racing Post Trophy) and Biodynamic (well behind him as well) when getting 4lbs, with the runner up handled kindly to be polite that day. One would wager that he will improve more than the runner up will on just his third start, but he must if he is to take a leading role here on many formlines (albeit he is bred in the purple to do so). Preference would be for Port Douglas of the two.
The best form in this race comes from Maasat, second in the Dewhurst and then the Guineas, when he stated on as if he’d relish 10 furlongs at the least. He has to be respected on that basis, but there are many doubts in the pedigree as to whether he’ll get a stiff 12 furlongs here. We can take or leave him, and even at the prices, I’ll leave him.
The openness of this race sees a lack of Group 1 form, but Cloth Of Stars was second in the Criterium De Saint-Cloud last year when Idaho was fourth and he has since looked just as good, winning his two races there in style, including the Prix Greffulhe in fine style when he stayed on strongly to beat Robin Of Navan. Whilst he was having his first run of the season, the time shaped very well, he promises to improve for this trip being by Sea The Stars, and he handled the course beautifully at Breakfast With The Stars. He has a great deal going for him today and is taking the same route that Pour Moi did before winning in 2011; At 9/1 he is a strong each/way bet to give Goldolphin a first Derby.
Ulysees is regally bred, being by a classic pairing of Galileo and Oaks winner Light Shift, and he has improved rapidly with three promising starts. However his contention here is partly taken on trust, given the lack of substance to his latest win (went off 4/11). Improve he will, but he is rightly priced from this standpoint. Rain in the week was a godsend for Harzand’s chances, and he has to be respected following his win in the Ballysax, but the initial impression from connections that he wouldn’t handle the track remains strongly in the mind and the juice has gone out of the course to boot. Idaho, who was behind him in the Ballysax and then third in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, can reverse the form on this better ground with his conquerors on those two occasions. It was a tight finish to the Derrinstown Stud Derby trial last time, but the winner Moonlight Magic, impressive as he was, had the run of the race that day whilst Idaho promised to improve again for another step up in trip that day having gotten going in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Shogun was ahead of him that day but has always wanted a quicker surface than he’s going to get today and his 1-8 record doesn’t make a whole load of appeal.
Algometer was second to Midterm after winning a good Newbury maiden on the same day he did, and he rallied really well to land the Cocked Hat Stakes. The further he goes the better he’s going to be and the ground is perfect, so 33’s looks overpriced but so do many here. It’s a shame that Midterm is injured, although he represented the form as well as he could at York.
The Lingfield trial hasn’t given us a winner since High Rise but Humphrey Bogart was strong at the finish and has to be respected here, having proven he handles the course when second to So Mi Dar in the Derby trial, the form of which has worked out well. However he may struggle to confirm the form with Across The Stars, who was coming with a rattle late and looked as if a stiffer finish may have seen him reverse the form.
Red Verdon is a rapidly progressive colt who could have gone for other targets but his connections deserve credit for giving him the chance to be here (as do Ulysees, given his lowly official rating). He’s a nice horse but he has not given a signal that he could play a leading role here even if coming forward again for a third run at 12 furlongs. Advice The Derby, Wings Of Desire, 1 pt win (5/1 general) The Derby, Cloth Of Stars, 1 pt each/way (8/1 general, 15/2 Paddy Power, Skybet*)
The narrative leading upto the Derby has been a fractured and compelling one, with one horse emerging as the clear leader as plenty have taken major prizes and points across the way, beating each other in the process, whilst there have been plenty who have not had their chance to shine in warm-ups and trial who could improve considerably.
Nyquist, despite winning all seven of his starts, hasn’t impressed everyone including the clockwatchers and ratings men to a notable extent but he has made his credentials clearer and is deserving of his favouritism.
The outstanding juvenile of last year, he went four wide around the first turn and three wide around the home turn but had more than enough in hand when winning the Breeders’ Cup juvenile, and in two wins this season he has looked at least as good, showing enough toe to hand off Exaggerator in the San Felipe Stakes before romping home in the Florida Derby, going further clear the more ground he covered. The form of the latter can be questioned as many, including Mohaymen, didn’t run to form there, but his attitude cannot, most of his other form cannot, and post 13 should be OK if he breaks well enough for the forward going type with Outwork and Danzing Candy stuck out wide in 15 and 20.
Exaggerator couldn’t get past Nqyuist in the San Vincente and was third behind Danzing Candy (gave weight) in the San Felipe, before Kent Desormeaux timed everything right to win the Santa Anita Derby in a wide margin. He was a little flattered by the result that day given the early speed and the slop, but if there is enough pace then few will be coming better late and this trip is a bonus as well.
Mohaymen did not enjoy the slop when favourite for the Florida Derby and can be forgiven on that basis, although the form of his Fountain Of Youth win was not well represented by Zulu, since well beaten as he stepped up to Grade 1 level. He still retains potential though and we’ve not seen the best of him.
Gun Runner has already shown himself much better at three than two with a pair of wins at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby, on the latter occasion posting what seemed a good fast time figure (the final time of 1m43.94s was more than a second faster than the Grade 2 race for fillies at the same distance earlier on the card.). However over this distance he may struggle to hold off the charge of Mo Tom, blindsided behind him the last twice here. The latter has potential to outrun his price, but he must prove himself good enough here.
Brody’s Cause was one of the top juveniles last year, winning the Futurity at Keenland when coming from a seemingly impossible position of calm fractions to get past Exaggerator, and then reversing that form in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he took a solid third. Things didn’t drop at all right for him at Tampa Bay on his reappearance, but he was a solid winner of the Blue Grass when beating My Man Sam with plenty of ease relative to the winning margin and holds one of the more solid form chances. Post 19 is not idea, but with plenty from inside him trying to go fast and rush up the early fractions then he can drop in and if there’s enough pace he’s a major threat.
Mor Spirit has never been outside of the top 2 in his seven starts and paid the price for going too quickly when he was second in the Santa Anita Derby, following scalding fractions behind Danzing Candy. The track was too wet for him that day and before he’d tried to give weight to Danzing Candy the time before, but one wonders how stall 17 complicates his own chances. Danzing Candy was a recommended each/way bet after his win in the San Felipe when he was a smooth winner who promised to improve from that winner. When in the Santa Anita Derby, he tried too hard to do the same and ended up being beaten on a sloppy track. One can forgive him that, being trying to set the pace in this field from 20 is a very hard task.
The pace collapsed in the Arkansas Derby, where Creator took the prize after coming from last to first (making up 16 lengths) to give Steven Asmussen yet another hand in the race and WinStar Farms a first winner for the combination. He can go well if there’s enough pace, and if that happens to be the case, then Suddenbreakingnews, forced to go widest of all around the home turn, can be involved too. Beaten half a length at Oakland Park, he was giving 4lbs that day to the winner and appeared to get outpaced around the home turn before coming fast late. A winner of the Southwest before finding the lack of pace in the race too much in the Rebel, it’s tempting to give him a chance here at 25/1 with much of the pace from 10 and outwards here, especially on these revised terms. Rebel Stakes second Whitmore was a fair third there but looks to have a struggle to reverse that form on these same terms.
The Wood Memorial has a chequered record as a Derby trial but the way that Outwork managed to last off strong fractions before holding off Trojan Nation in the deep stretch after duelling hard with Matt King Coal. The performance of the hold-up horses in that race suggests his performance can be marked up and he is respected on that basis; Trojan Nation’s previous form suggested that he was heavily flattered by the pace meltdown and the chances of such a scenario happening again would seem to be lessened; Other closers seem to have better claims in any case. Outwork can go well but will be hard pressed to do the same again if there is enough pressure on the front race. Shagaf, a previously smart winner of the Gotham when he got well on top late, hated the track at Aqueduct and was well behind even Trojan Nation in the early stages. His stamina is assured and connections are confident after a good week’s training.
Outwork had duelled hard with Destin in the Tampa Bay Derby but came out the best fair and square after a protracted duel, getting the best of the argument late on. He gave 4lbs to his stablemate there on just his second graded start (a previously impressive winner of the Sam F.Davis Stakes, having been beaten on his January return). The upping in trip by 1.5f and a 68 day break may not be ideal for some, but he looks overpriced on the bare balance of his form to date. It’s hard to suggest that Majesto can reverse the Florida Derby form here in any circumstance. Tom’s Ready trainer had the 35-1 2nd in 2013 & 38-1 2nd in 2014, so has to be respected, but the utter disrespect with which he was treated by Gun Runner.
Lani had already posted useful pair of performances on Dirt in Japan (twice a winner at Tokyo) showed a game attitude to win the UAE Derby. Some are of the opinion that the second did not help herself there (previously very impressive winner earlier in UAE season). Behind early, he made his ground in the back straight and was fighting around the home turn, which is encouraging for his attitude. Bred in the purple for this, it would be no surprise to see him take yet another step forward but the bare form of those around him does not convince. Oscar Nominated’s win in the Horseshoe Classic was a game one, but the time did not impress the clock-watchers and this is a very hard dirt debut for him.
Advice – UK Bookmakers
2 pts win Nyquist (3/1 general)
1 pt each/way Destin (16/1 SkyBet)
1 pt each/way Suddenbreakingnews (20/1 Bet365)
Advice – US Players
1 pt win Destin (21/1), and Suddenbreakingnews (22/1)
Advice – Already Advised
2 pts each/way Nyquist, Kentucky Derby (12/1 general), 2 April
The end of season card at Sandown today is likely to disappoint many of you – purely because it brings the curtain down on a fantastic jumping season – but it’s true that we can save the best for last, and a stunning Sandown card helps us say goodbye to a memorable season in style. First things first, a congratulatory message to Richard Johnson, a first time Champion and as dominant as his old rival AP McCoy ever was throughout this season. The 16 time runner up has been a bastion of consistency during a fine career, and the outpouring of congratulations that have come his way have been only too deserved – along with the time in the national spotlight for a fantastic ambassador. He must be long odds on to retain his title and bigger career landmarks are surely within his sights after the fifth best season of any jump jockey in the past 10 years and his personal best by a considerable margin. If he stays healthy, then 4,000 winners – with the same luck he’s had this season – his surely within his reach. The Trainers title is nowhere near done, however, and the battle between Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins has given Sandown racegoers, punters and general fans a treat as the two have 29 runners across the course of the card today with many of Colsutton’s best flying over for the assault. The difference between the two stands at £53,393 in favour of Nicholls, whose five timer last week – including the Scottish National – changed the game in favour of the home team. Mullins has 10 runners here today on a card that’s full of riches, and based on the betting markets he has plenty going for him. But odds on quotes for the title to stay home look right considering the sheet amount of place money that Nicholls can be expected to gain today and perhaps next year will be the one for him. He can kickstart his challenge in the best possible way with victory for Voix Du Reve in the Bet365 Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (2.20). The French arrival let a few down on his debut when beaten at 4/7, but he was going swimmingly in the Fred Winter at the Festival when he fell at the last and off a 5lbs higher mark he has to take all the beating today. The chief threat is Tommy Silver, seventh in the Triumph but sure to go well here, according to the betting, but Ashoka has been given a big pull in the weights from their meeting at Musselburgh in the Triumph Trial and has a nice mark for the red hot Skeltons. Duke Street may not relish the drop back in trip from 2m3f and Wolf of Windlesham can go well in a good opener. If he doesn’t hit the board in the first, Mullins will hope to take The Oaksey Chase (2.50) with Valseur Lido. The seven year old ideally would be suited by further, but he has built on a solid novice campaign with a decent season that saw him finish best of the rest in the Ryanair behind Vautour at Cheltenham. The time before he was going to take all the beating when falling at the last in the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup – whilst his second in the John Durkan doesn’t look all that bad – and the worry for him is likely to be the trip and the ground, although he’s run well at this time of year (won at Punchestown last year) and he’s well treated at these conditions, getting weight from everyone but his stablemate Ballycasey. Nicholls has three in the race, but all of Saphir Du Rheu, Rocky Creek and Wonderful Charm have their serious issues. The danger is the winner for the last two years, Menorah, who must give the pick 5lbs. The Celebration Chase (3.35), one of the feature events of the day and the second richest, gives Mullins a big opportunity with a £71,131 first prize but Un De Sceaux was trashed at Cheltenham by Sprinter Sacre and the dream comeback can have a happy ending here. Nicky Henderson’s charge found buckets when asked for a response at Cheltenham having travelled and jumped with much of the old zest that he did before his heart issues, and perhaps more crucially, he gets his ground once again with little rain overnight. Sire De Grugy, Dodging Bullets, Solar Impulse and Ulck De Lin would have mountains to climb based on previous form. The Bet365 Gold Cup (4.10) could be sure to change everything with Southfield Theatre the current joint favourite for Nicholls. Based on his second in last year’s RSA he’s on a decent mark but in the two starts before his unfortunate exit at the Cheltenham Festival he jumped poorly before being beaten all ends up and whilst he should stay based on previous impressions, more has to be taken on trust than his comfortable. Mullins brings Measureofmydreams and Sir Des Champs over, but both have weaknesses. Measureofmydreams was the pick for the Scottish National and has an obvious chance on that form – after all he was well ahead of Vincente at the Festival and Native River has since gone onto win a Grade 1 – but he didn’t jump well at the Festival and fell at the third last week where he ran loose for a least a circuit. Sir Des Champs didn’t take to Aintree but hasn’t been in the best of form since coming back from injury and whilst good ground is vital to him I’m not sure he’s the horse of old. The Young Master made up ground hand over fist in the straight at Cheltenham when an excellent fourth in the Ultima Handicap Chase, crying out for the extra distance of today, his second decent handicap effort of the season following his fourth in a strong Listed event at Ascot, and with the 3lbs claim of Sam Whaley Cohen he should be finishing stronger than almost anything whilst holding much of the best form. The same can be said of Henri Parry Morgan, who has been transformed since having a breathing operation. Connections took advantage of that rule to take decent prizes at Chepstow and Uttoxeter in style, but he was then even better when second in the Mildmay Novices Chase when well ahead of the RSA and Ultima Handicap Chase winners (albeit coming on from post Cheltenham wins) and a mark of 149 based on that is reasonable if he has recovered; He should stay this far. Saint Are, Le Reve, The Druids Nephew and The Young Master have their ground but all ran in a gruelling National and completed the course so how fresh they are will be a question mark that lingers. This has been the aim for Carole’s Destrier who should go well but he was poor at the Festival and must bounce back; Theatre Guide is now 150 but uber consistent and was such a wildly impressive winner at Kempton in a Grade 3 handicap that the mark is fair. Bishops Road’s connectios endured a frustrating week at Aintree when he fell at the first in the Topham and was balloted out of the National, but his Haydock Grand National trial win is one of the best pieces of form here today and he must be respected. An interesting springer from Nicholls could be last year’s winner Just a Par, who has the 8lbs rise negated by Harry Cobden’s claim. In the Select Hurdle (4.45), Vroum Vroum Mag meets males for the first time since joining the Mullins yard. Impressive in her two British starts, she’s likely to be popular but has yet to have a main rival run to form to date and if either of Ptit Zig or Vaniteux run to form then she could be going into the unknown and Silasol and Ubak, third and first in a competitive handicap hurdle at Aintree recently, could play a part. Court Minstrel has his ground but also has to prove his stamina at this trip to boot. Nicholls has sent an army of horses to the Josh Gifford Novices´ Handicap Chase (5.20) and perhaps his As De Mee, seventh in a strong Topham Chase, could prove to be a key title swinger on good ground over a course and distance that he’s run well over before. If the battle is still on then the Bet365 Handicap Hurdle (5.55) could be even more fun than it already is. Mullins sends three with Bellow Mome the favoured of them. A winner of his last two starts – and only three for the yard – he can improve since but will need to jump better on an entirely new surface. McKinley has become disappointing over fences, so Burgas may do best, dropped back in trip here for Bryan Cooper. A very interesting pair of contenders who the market may have ignored are Hunters Hoof and Ma Du Fou. Hunters Hoof has disappointed the last twice but one of those can be put down to the ground and off 138 he may still have more to offer. Ma Du Fou went off 7/1 for one of the most competitive races of the Aintree Festival after an impressive Huntingdon win, the form of which makes a mark of 139 look very generous. If that is forgiven his price looks to be generous and he may bounce back. The pick is Matorico, who won a well contested event at Cheltenham 10 days ago when a first time tongue tie bought the best out of him and a 4lbs rise for that looks fair enough here. He could be a different horse if that application has worked and a big field handicap over this trip should suit him just fine. Nicholls’ trio of Red Hanrahan, Alcala and Qualando have plenty going for them but watch out for the market vibes on Wilde Blue Yonder – fifth in the Supreme won by Vautour before then finishing fourth in the Mersey afterwards – who makes his comeback after 749 days off. Advice 1 pt win Voix Du Reve, 2.20 Sandown (11/4 Hills) 3 pts win Valesur Lido, 2.55 Sandown (5/6 general) 3 pts win Sprinter Sacre, 3.35 Sandown (11/10 Bet365) 1 pt each/way The Young Master, 4.10 Sandown (8/1 general; seek five places) 1 pt each/way Henri Parry Morgan, 4.10 Sandown (8/1 general) 1 pt win As De Mee, 5.20 Sandown (6/1 Coral) 1 pt each/way Matorico, 5.55 Sandown (14/1 Betway)
With no sign this season as of yet and questions marks over the wellbeing of reigning champion chaser Dodging Bullets, the Grade One Clarence House chase on Saturday will surely determine who starts favourite for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham Festival 2016 in March.
The last three winners of the Ascot Grade One have gone on to follow up with victory at the mecca of jump racing, by claiming the two mile championship. Previous winners of this race include greats Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre.
The winner of this race in 2014 and former Champion Chase hero Sire De Grugy goes in to this race nearly back to his best. Disappointing his army of fans last season with under par performances in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury when unseating his rider Jamie Moore, and in the Queen Mother at Cheltenham, when only finishing fourth behind Dodging Bullets.
His best days seemed behind him when a fall in the Melling Chase at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, ended a disappointing season. But the Gary Moore trained ten year old has rejuvenated himself this season with bouncing back from disappointment in finishing last in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, by adding another Grade One by winning a controversial Tingle Creek at Sandown after bumping in to consistent performer Special Tiara.
A rivalry rekindled with Sprinter Sacre in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas brought out the best in Sire De Grugy, where he put on a gutsy display, only going down to the Henderson inmate by three quarters of a length.
With Sire De Grugy looking back to near his best, and having the experience of winning this race before, he will hold a big chance on Saturday, if his jumping stands the test against the fierce gallop that is sure to be set.
The Willie Mullins express is set to touch down at Ascot on Saturday with star mare Vroum Vroum Mag set to make her UK debut in the OLBG Mares Hurdle. The French connection will continue later in the day, when punters will look to latch on to a quick fire double in the shape of the Cheltenham ante-post favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Un De Sceaux who runs in the Clarence House.
Last year’s Racing Post Arkle winner will go in to the race odds-on favourite and will be sure to go off favourite for the big race in March with a victory on Saturday. Some of his performances last season were breath taking, demonstrating a bold jumping and front running tactic which gave little chance to his rivals to land a blow. The downside to Un De Sceaux, is a vulnerability to fail to get his landing gear out in time. Last season on his chasing debut at Thurles when sent off long odds on favourite, he came down when well clear on the run for home.
This season in the Christmas feature at Leopardstown, Un De Sceaux again showed his tendency to be a bit vulnerable on the other side of his fences, when coming down when going well in front of the Paddy Power Chase, which was eventually won by old favourite Flemenstar.
If Un De Sceaux turns up in the mood which he showed at the back end of last season, he will be very tough to beat. The only time he has ever been defeated, is when he has fallen and if he irons out the mistakes, he could win by as far as he wants.
Paul Nicholls has a great record in this race and will look to follow up with another victory in the race he won last year with Dodging Bullets, when he sends out the dashing grey jumper Vibrato Valtat.
The seven year old has contested the best two mile chases this year and started off his season in convincing style by winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter. Two poor performances followed in the Tingle Creek and Desert Orchid Chase, where he finished well behind eventual winners Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy respectively.
This race will be another tough test for the grey who was well behind Un De Sceaux in last year’s Racing Post Arkle. He will need to improve a lot to become a major player in this race. This could be the last time we see Vibrato Valtat run over the minimum distance, as his trainer Paul Nicholls has expressed his desire to run him over an extended trip and a possible tilt at the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham Festival 2016 is being considered.
The presence of the former Champion Chaser and winner of this race in 2014 Sire De Grugy will give Un De Sceaux plenty to think about. Sire has returned to something near his best this season and will enjoy the fast run pace sure to be set by the Mullins horse.
Vibrato Valtat is almost certain to be ridden with restraint and will be found wanting for pace in my opinion when push comes to shove, along with Simply Ned and Traffic Fluide.
The big horse of the race is Un De Sceaux. He has never been beaten when completing his races and you can be sure he has been schooled well at home to iron out his landings and jumping. With the pace setting and trail blazing tactics that Ruby Walsh will be sure to imply here, I cannot see anything getting past Un De Sceaux, at a course that will suit his galloping style.
If he stands up, which I think he will, he wins!
TIP: 3 Pts Win – Un De Sceaux 4/7
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Kempton Park 21st February BELTOR won the Adonis Hurdle in good style. He was keen through the race but still able to come through to win easily. His jumping is fluent and while he has to prove as effective on an undulating track, he deserves to take his chance in the Triumph Hurdle. Connections may elect to wait until Aintree, the reported target of runner-up All Yours. He too ran well finishing strongly up the straight. Bivouac ran below form and needs a break. Cape Caster is now qualified for handicaps. He should be noted when the ground improves. IRISH SAINT was given an easy task following the withdrawal of God’s Own. Nevertheless, he jumped well, set a good pace, coming home to win easily. Time may show his runner-up spot behind Gitane Du Berlais was an excellent run. DAYS OF HEAVEN continued his progression with a game performance to deny Vago De Collonges. He travels well though his races, overcoming a mistake at the second last to land the prize. A highly-strung individual, Cheltenham and Aintree will be off the agenda this season. Vago De Collonges was unsuited by lack of a proper gallop. He may wait for Aintree despite running well recently at Cheltenham. The BetBright Chase lost both Easter Day and Fox Appeal at an early stage. ROCKY CREEK moved easily though the race coming into contention at the fourth last. Steadily going clear he jumped well in the home straight winning comfortably. The handicapper has raised him 9lb. His supporters for the Grand National will be encouraged by the run, as he will race at Aintree off his old mark. Le Reve finished well to take second place. He will now target the bet365 Gold Cup at his beloved Sandown Park in April. Bally Legend returned to form in third following a breathing operation, while Radjhani Express ran encouragingly if appearing a non-stayer over three-miles. 2013 Scottish National winner Godsmejudge is running himself into form; he should be added to the short list for the Grand National. In the handicap hurdle won by SHAMMICK BOY, Auvergnat left the impression he will be adding to his wins in France. A winner over hurdles and fences, he may prove best at distances around two and a quarter-miles. GHOST RIVER won the Bumper in good style. He is still raw and promises to make up into useful a hurdler/chaser next season. Runner-up Vieux Lille is improving. He too possesses the build to improve over obstacles. Chepstow 21st February SIRE DE GRUGY returned to his best with a decent weight carrying performance. He jumped well and ran on strongly up the long straight. Timeform have him 3lb behind Sprinter Sacre on 2015 form. The runner-up Grey Gold ran below his best based on RPR’s. However, the third Mister Grez has come out and won a novice hurdle. In the process, he defeated a well-regarded Pipe horse in receipt of a stone. Ascot 14th February Paddock watchers felt Tea For Two looked just below his best. He ran well but was unable to hold the final thrust of ARPEGE D’ALENE. Paul Nicholls charge looked under pressure at various stages of the race. However, he kept on gamely to gain a well-deserved win. The winner looks a chasing type for the future. AINSI FIDELES took advantage of below-par performances from Deputy Dan and Virak to bound away for an easy win the Reynoldstown Chase. Whilst the race fell apart, AINSI FIDELES is a progressive sort that should improve further for a summer at grass. CAROLE’S DESTRIER looked in good nick prior to the three-mile handicap chase. Despite several jumping errors he made good headway in the final half-mile to run a comfortable winner. He is amongst the best three-mile novices being rated 148 by Timeform and 152 by the official handicapper. He is reported more likely to go to Aintree than Cheltenham. Clondaw Knight ran a blinder in second. He made a lot of the running and kept on well despite losing a shoe at some stage. The handicapper has left him on the same handicap mark while left-handed tracks may suit him best. UNIQUE DE COTTE returned to his best in the two and half-mile handicap hurdle. Despite making several mistakes, he made all and ran on well. His profile suggests he needs soft ground; however, he has won on good to soft in France. Padge finished second. He ran well but needs to settle down in his races and concentrate on the job in hand. Third home Minstrels Gallery ran well on ground that had gone too soft. He can win a similar event on better ground. Rolling Star need the run and had a quite run round once his chance had gone. He is dropping in the handicap looking the type to pop-up at some stage. BALDER SUCCES continued his progress since racing over two and a half-miles plus. Always prominent, he led at the thirteenth and held on well despite a mistake at the last fence. Overall, his jumping was good while he possesses a decent turn of foot. His chasing profile displays a slight preference for right-handed tracks and single-figure fields. His Cheltenham record reads F, UR, and F. Successful at Aintree last year that may prove his best chance of another Grade One win. Ma Filleule ran a fine race in second place. Just in need of the run, the ground turned against her overnight. Taken round on the wide outside, she ran on well in the home straight. Ma Filleule is best in the spring, ran well at the Festival last season, and looks a fair each-way shout for the Ryanair. Ballycasey has stacks of ability but little in the way of courage. Ptit Zig attracted market support. He departed the fun at the ninth, which will have not helped his confidence going into Cheltenham. THISTLECRACK finished strongly to snatch his race from the second and third. Approaching the second last, he looked beaten. However, as Saint Charles and Otago Trail came to the end of their tether, his stamina kicked in clearing away under a brilliant ride from Mr Walsh. Bred to stay two and half-miles and further, he has won all his races going right-handed. Effective on good through too soft he has two handicap entries in at the Festival. Saint Charles travelled into the race like a dream. However, he faltered at the last with a combination of ground and inexperience costing him the race. Otago Trail tried to make all but found the closing stages catching him out for speed. He loves soft/heavy ground and has the stamp of a chaser. Sirabad ran well on his UK debut. Useful in France, he looks handicapped to win in the near future. WAIT FOR ME won the Bumper with plenty in hand. If he goes the right way, he could be useful. Theo’s Charm ran well despite a less than trouble-free journey. Western Approach ran on strongly and looks one for the future while, Stonegate should find races over hurdles. February 13th Sandown Park URANNA won the Mares Listed Hurdle in the manner of one that can win in Graded races. Look out for her at Punchestown and Fairyhouse. Whilst BIDOUREY ran away with the juvenile hurdle, I suggest we keep a close eye on third placed Rock Des Champs. A good-looking fellow, he went well for a long way before making a mistake and floundering in the ground. Two and a half mile handicaps on better ground will see him off the mark. February 13th Fakenham CLEAN SHEET and MEDIEVAL CHAPEL in the novice hurdle and novice chase provided Mr Henderson with a double. Both are slow maturing sorts than enjoyed the better ground. Liable sorts they can win further races and looks sure to improve again over the summer. grahamrichardsonline.co.uk – Cheltenham Preview
The most successful current jockeys are Barry Geraghty, Tony McCoy, and Ruby Walsh with two wins each. Prior to Bobs Worth’s win, the previous thirteen winners ran in either the King George or Lexus Chase. The last ten winners had previously been successful in at Grade 1 race. Bobs Worth apart, winners in the past ten-year had prep runs between thirty-four and eighty-three days prior to the race. Four of the last six winners won a race at the previous festival.
Silviniaco Conti TR 176 will enter the arena with 2014 Betfair Chase and King George Chase wins to his name. His TFR is 11lb clear of the next horse in the betting market. What dampens enthusiasm is his apparent dislike of undulating tracks. Since cheek-pieces were fitted in the Betfair Chase, Noel Fehily has made most of running, jumping well to outstay his rivals. One imagines he will try to control the pace from the front, thereby given him every chance of seeing out the trip. Many Clouds and Road To Riches are both TR 165. The former won well on Trials day with course experience a valuable asset. Last year’s winner Lord Windermere TR 161 showed more in the Irish Hennessy despite looking just short of his best fitness-wise. However, both RPR’s and TFR’s suggest those crossing the water need to improve if Silviniaco Conti runs to his best. The one exception may be the hugely exciting Djakadam TR 160. TFR’s display he needs to improve. However, he could not have won the Thyestes Chase any easier under a big weight. Coneygree ran out an impressive winner in the Denman Chase. His RPR suggests the RSA is the safest choice in terms of achievement, though at eight-years, he is old enough to run in an open-looking renewal. Interestingly his RPR is the same as Carlingford Lough achieved in the Irish Hennessy. I am of the opinion Boston Bob, in preparation for Cheltenham and the spring festivals received a considerate ride. Not put in the race until the latter stages, he looks one sure to enjoy the extra quarter of a mile at Prestbury Park. Shutthefrontdoor is promising. However, he is facing time against him in search of a prep run. Foxrock TR 161 is likely to be supplemented after his fine run in the Irish Hennessy, while Sam Winner TR 159 is expected to take his chance having reportedly improved since his run in the Lexus Chase.
THE PREVIEW AVAILABLE @ grahamrichardsonline.co.uk
Well done to Chris Kenny @ChrisKenny_ who has won our Jumps Season Preview Video competition as well as Community Membership up to 30 April 2014. The correct answer to the competition question, ‘Who won the 1998 Queen Mother Champion Chase’ was One Man. Chris will join the JPFestival.com team at Cheltenham Racecourse on 23 October for filming of our Jumps Season Preview Video for a look ahead to the 2013-14 season including the Paddy Power Gold Cup. Chris will also receive Community Membership up to 30 April 2014.