Friday, 22 January 2021

Saturday 23rd January 2021: Waiting Patiently to Punish the Bookmakers

It’s another Grade 1 weekend as the Clarence House Chase provides us with top-class action in its own right, as well as some very important Cheltenham clues.

Haydock too hosts a fantastic card, though races there will take some getting in the heavy conditions, while we also have a fancy at Newcastle on the all-weather track as one of last season’s best jockeys makes the journey to ride.

We’re kicking off at Ascot though with an underrated mare who could be good value to get the day off to a good start for the Paul Nicholls team.

1.15 Ascot (Warfield Mares’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – EGLANTINE DU SEUIL

We have just the five runners for the Mares’ Hurdle this year. Roksana should go off odds-on favourite and all eyes will be on Magic Of Light as the former winner of this race prepares for Cheltenham and/or Aintree, however the other one of the big three has been a little overlooked.

Eglantine Du Seuil, the former Willie Mullins mare and Cheltenham Festival winner now with Paul Nicholls, is overpriced in the overnight market.

Arguably she has not kicked on as many would have thought and the jury’s out as to why that is, but it seems there is more to come from her and in truth her form this season has been fine in the main.

She’s been raised 3lbs for a handicap second at Cheltenham, but I think that’s fair as it represents an upturn and I reckon she reaches a new career peak in this race given the conditions.

She’ll most likely need to beat Roksana to win so I’ll be keeping a sharp eye on Dan Skelton’s runner, while Magic Of Light may not be at her very best right now but will hopefully be seen once again in the Grand National in April.

1.30 Haydock (Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – MINELLA DRAMA

Llandinabo Lad is a good one and it appears he is on target for the Cheltenham Festival, though he doesn’t look a firm favourite to me.

He won over the course and distance a couple of runs ago and that reads well, however he was turned over at Ascot in this grade when favourite back in December and is not infallible.

Based purely on his own form, Minella Drama has a top chance here. However, his opportunity becomes starker when you consider that he was beaten 5 lengths by Llandinabo Lad on his hurdling debut when giving away 5lbs.

Level weights would put them close now, so considering he actually gets another 5lbs from his main rival and has himself improved massively since they last met and is just too good a proposition to ignore.

The only other one in contention was Faivoir, but he should be falling a little way behind the big two and its Donald McCain and Sam Twiston-Davies who are backed to score.

3.35 Ascot (Clarence House Chase – Grade 1) – WAITING PATIENTLY

It would appear by my reckoning that the bookies have done a fair job getting the weekend’s biggest race right, at least in terms of separating the big three from the others.

Politologue, Waiting Patiently and Defi Du Seuil are the class acts in the contest and while I have all the respect in the world for Champion Chase and Tingle Creek winner Politologue, one of his rivals looks overpriced for this.

The horse in question is Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently. There have been some unkind things said about both the horse and the trainer recently, but the truth is the ten-year-old has always been a little fragile, needs this soft ground and in fact has been consistent at the top level overall.

Once thought of as a staying type, he won the 2018 Ascot Chase in great style and was second in this season’s King George at Kempton.

Second however in the Tingle Creek last season, this should be perfect for him and the fact that he was supplemented for the race shows the confidence connections have in his ability against the best two-milers.

Conditions are ideal for him here and now that he is fully ready to go, we can see a new career high, one that would have him challenging Politologue on a level playing field at least while Paul Nicholls’ charge is half the price.

Defi Du Seuil has been on the drift, and while at his very best he’d take close order as well, he didn’t finish last season brilliantly at Cheltenham and was pulled-up on his seasonal return at the same venue back in November so he may at least need this run.

5.40 Newcastle (Handicap) – TINTORETTO

Flat racing’s dream couple flies north from Chelmsford and Lingfield to ride at Newcastle on Saturday before heading back down south to ride again on Sunday. While Hollie Doyle has a chance on a skinny one, it’s Tom Marquand who can be backed at reasonable odds with this Tintoretto.

Lambourn’s Tom Ward sends this six-year-old gelding as his only runner on the card for the seven-furlong handicap. It’s a race which should prove to be perfect for a horse who has been the epitome of consistency and has already gone close on a similar surface at Wolverhampton.

Despite hardly putting a foot wrong on turf, Polytrack and Tapeta, he has gradually gone down the handicap (although back up 2lbs from last time) and after his latest effort at Wolverhampton he looks primed.

At a bigger price Seas Of Elzaam has a lot going for him in the context of this race, in fact if we could only guarantee he’d be back to his best he would have come right into the reckoning but that’s far from certain. Danielsflyer also made the shortlist for Michael Dods and Tom Eaves.

Friday, 15 January 2021

Saturday 15th January 2021: Total Commitment to Huge Betting Saturday

We have a busy Saturday of horse racing and it’s a potentially very important one too. Former Welsh National champ Potters Corner makes a return while there are plenty who are effectively going on trial for Cheltenham at Warwick and Market Rasen.

We have selections at both National Hunt venues as well as on the level at Lingfield and Kempton as seven carry our hopes (and cash) with them.

1.25 Lingfield (Handicap) – INTUITIVE

This is a good-quality one-mile handicap, one in which plenty are in with chances at first glance. Fox Power, Corazon Espinado, Crownthorpe and Lord Rapscallion will all be supported to a degree, but all things considered the value looks to be in Simon and Ed Crisford’s Intuitive.

Given the how he performs on the surface, which some in the field aren’t at their best on, the quality of the yard and the fact they’ve booked PJ McDonald to ride Intuitive looks a safe and value proposition for our first bet of the day.

2.15 Fairyhouse (Handicap Chase) – CHATHAM STREET LAD

Runaway Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner Chatham Street Lad returns in this handicap chase, one in which he races for the first time since being raised 10lbs by the handicapper back in Ireland.

In truth, that 10lbs probably doesn’t even account for how impressive he was at Cheltenham, let alone how much he may improve, so he looks to be well in for this race.

As well as this, and despite the competitive look that the race has at first glance, he has fully 10 of his opposition running out of the handicap and in truth he should simply outclass them all.

2.25 Warwick (Leamington Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – MAKE ME A BELIEVER

David Pipe has two or three options at the Festival for his Make Me A Believer and so clearly his likes and dislikes are not all ironed out yet. That said, his form is unquestionably good and whatever happens I can only see him improving for stepping up in trip to this 2m5f event.

Most of the field are last-time-out winners, but that only strengthens belief in the form and Make Me A Believer’s is the best on offer right here.

3.10 Lingfield (Handicap) – TOTAL COMMITMENT

Hampshire’s Simon Hodgson doesn’t have a massive string, but he has a terrific opportunity to land the Class 3, six-furlong handicap on the card with his Total Commitment. PJ McDonald has been booked and flies down from Newcastle for this and three other mounts, a move that should prove to be most rewarding.

This 5yo Exceed And Excel gelding was a winner over this trip at Kempton before running close over seven at Lingfield, the combination of this track and going back in trip now looking ideal. Sun Power and Mark Johnston’s Huraiz are preferred for places.

3.15 Market Rasen (Mares’ Bumper – Listed Race) – GRANGEE 

Multiple champion Willie Mullins is not exactly a regular visitor to Market Rasen, but he did send one for this very race last year en route to Cheltenham and he’s looking to repeat the trick.

This year’s entrant is Grangee and, while his overnight best price of 2/1 isn’t going to make us rich, it is certainly bigger than I’d expected owing to the presence of dual winner Eileendover.

The 4yo filly gets plenty of weight but there is a ton of improvement to come from the selection and as we all know, Mullins isn’t short of similar types to compare Grangee too so if he is confident then so too should we be.

6.20 Kempton Park (Handicap) – BABAJAN

Uncle Dick is likely to be all the rage for this small, three-year-olds only one-mile handicap but it’s more than possible that Eve Johnson Houghton’s gelding won’t have things all his own way.

True, he’s a last-time-out winner and he’s bound to improve having had only four career runs and one on the all-weather, but a closer look reveals a few negative aspects of his profile.

His win came at Wolverhampton, and the form from there doesn’t always translate well at Kempton, while he also jumps up to a Class 4 from a Class 6. He just got there against his lowly opposition last time out and is now up 3lbs so all in all he looks vulnerable at the top of the market.

Babajan on the other hand is excellent value in the circumstances. 3/1+ in a five-runner race, he looks a real improver having been 5th on his all-weather bow at Wolverhampton and then third around here last time.

Richard Hannon’s runner is getting better and has performed well over the course and distance and could well be on for a first career win. Andrew Balding’s Discomatic is next on the list.

7.20 Kempton Park (Fillies’ Handicap) – DANCING FEET

This is a decent seven-furlong handicap for the fillies and given the general form of all bar two of them, the entrants look in good shape giving us a reliable form outlook.

With that in mind the one with the most ticks in the most boxes is Archie Watson’s top weight Dancing Feet and she is backed to score.

The four-year-old daughter of Footstepsinthesand has the assistance of Hollie Doyle up top and while others may face questions regarding either the trip or Kempton’s surface, she very much has them already answered.

Dancing Feet remains in decent form after a couple of thirds at Lingfield and Wolverhampton over the winter, but in defeat the only thing she’s lost is a few pounds in the handicap which is ideal for us.

Back in October she put in her best career performance over this very course and distance and it seems these conditions are her ideal.

If that is true, then given natural improvement from then until now could mean she’s pretty well in and can land this at the expense of Broughton Sunpearl and Gold Brocade, the latter looking very good value in the market to grab a place.

Friday, 8 January 2021

Saturday 9th January 2021: Esprit to Give it Large at Chepstow

We have a snow, rainy, foggy racing weekend on the cards for sure but it is brightened right up by all the good value betting opportunities.

All-weather racing at Lingfield and Chelmsford ably compliments some excellent action at Kempton, Chepstow and Wincanton over the jumps as we get to witness Grade 1 action and the rescheduled Welsh Grand National.

While racing is of very high quality on Saturday afternoon, some of the major contenders are set to go off at skinny prices and as such are unbackable, while these four on the other hand all represent good value and could make a gloomy weekend a whole let better by 4pm.

12.00 Lingfield (Novice Median Auction Stakes) – WHO CARES WINS

This is an interesting if low-grade three-year-old novice race, one in which two of the leading contenders and market leaders have arguably had enough chances to impress.

Both Andrew Balding’s Discomatic and Gary Moore’s Toronado Grey have had three spins, and while their form is OK is arguably doesn’t quite match up with that of the selection who also has a little more improvement to come on the all-weather on what is his own third start.

Who Cares Wins, trained by Alan King and ridden by Hollie Doyle, has run twice over at Chelmsford over a mile and improved nicely between starts.

He kept on well for a decent third last time out in a higher quality race and by all accounts he has come on very nicely in the three weeks since, making him a fairly obvious selection now despite him being only third in the market overnight which could work very much in our favour.

12.17 Chepstow (Handicap Chase) – ESPRIT DU LARGE

Our early start continues and it’s hoped we’ve all got some pretty decent profit in the bag before it even ticks 12.30!

The one we’re banking on in this near-2½-mile handicap chase is Evan Williams’ Esprit Du Large. The level he reached a year or so ago on only his third chase start would be enough to get him home here off this mark, and while he hasn’t got to that level again since it’s what makes him interesting.

Given his age and experience it seems he should reach that level and get beyond it soon enough, so the fact that he fell on his seasonal debut this term before improving markedly to run third at Carlisle on bottomless ground is very encouraging.

This is just his seventh start over fences, he’s had two months off and has been sent to a race giving him ideal conditions in which to show his best so it would be no surprise if Adam Wedge’s mount comfortably outruns his odds.

Dangers here include Venetia Williams’ Cepage, who is usually very well supported in the market, Paul Nicholls’ My Way who is ridden by Bryony Frost and Phlip Hobbs’ Gala Ball with those connections ensuring there should be enough money against our horse to keep Esprit Du Large’s price honest.

2.15 Lingfield (Handicap) – SCARLET DRAGON 

We’re back over to the all-weather for this one, a good-looking Class 2 handicap over a mile-and-a-half.

Ian Williams’ recent dual all-weather winner Autumn War will most likely go off favourite, though both of those wins were achieved on Wolverhampton’s Tapeta track over 1m6f making this race look very, very different indeed. He may just be taken off his feet.

His stablemate Cardano is next in but he suffers from a very similar form malady. His two recent runner-up efforts were both very solid indeed, but again were achieved on Tapeta at Newcastle over the extended 1½ miles there which again rides very differently to Lingfield.

The one I like here is another representing the Alan King/Holli Doyle combo, Scarlet Dragon. A veteran now under rules, Scarlet Dragon will be having his 50th outing on Saturday but while he’s well known over hurdles, he has had just the eight starts on the all-weather.

His latest one was over this course and distance in a very similar contest back in December, one in which he was slowly away but just quietly plugged on for a 1¾-length fourth. He is clearly capable of way better than that, so he can be expected now to put in a much stronger performance.

Good old Raymond Tusk is also in the line-up here and would always hold a chance, though it seems those solid types could just be setting it up for our boy who looks sure to reach a new level on the flat this weekend.

3.57 Kempton (Handicap Hurdle) – BREFFINBOY 

There’s been a three-way fight for favouritism in this two-mile Class 3 handicap hurdle as we head into the weekend; Pam Sly’s Fransham, Donald McCain’s Chti Balko and Johnny Farrelly’s Breffinboy all being well supported.

That is great for anyone with a reasonably strong selection in the race as it ensures we don’t see it go too low in the market, and so at around 3/1 this Breffinboy starts to look really good value to me.

A winner of five of his last 6 races Breffinboy is obviously on the up, there is no doubt about that at all. The key from a punting point of view is to decide just how much more there is still to come from a horse climbing the weights all the time, and I reckon there is plenty.

He wasn’t fully stretched when running his best race, his last-time-out win, so bearing in mind that was at Cheltenham against 15 rivals you’d have to mark that down as being pretty impressive.

He’s gone up another 6lbs here but he’s worth a rise of at least that much for my money, while this weekend’s opposition may actually be a step down for him.

The aforementioned Fransham and Chti Balko are the main dangers, while we cannot discount Nordican Bleue of Dr Richard Newland’s yard either.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Friday 1st & Saturday 2nd January 2021: Proschema to Make the Trip Worthwhile

Most of the country is more than happy to see the end of 2020, although 2021 begins with more lockdowns and more empty racecourses.

That said, what has never changed is the ability we have to look for value betting opportunities and we have five of them over Friday and Saturday with which to kick off the new year.

Friday 1st January 2021

1.40 Exeter (Mares’ Handicap Hurdle) – LILY THE PINK

The one for money here may well be Harry Fry’s dual winner Pure Bliss after her comfortable recent course and distance success.

The level of opposition she beat last time can be questioned to some degree though, and whether an opening handicap mark of 125 is fair, so she remains eminently beatable.

The one to take advantage may well be Anthony Honeyball’s Lily The Pink. Experienced having had seven spins over the timber, Lily The Pink was improving nicely before being a well beaten favourite last time. That day the distance was too much for her and the ground too firm, so now should her improvement continue then her mark of 110 looks like underestimating her significantly.

1.55 Musselburgh (Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle) – PROSCHEMA

Proschema is not the only one to be sent on a long trip to get to Musselburgh for this race, but for me he is the most likely to reward his connections.

Also coming from the south is Paul Nicholls with his Miranda, and while she won nicely last time she may find it harder to get home here and she has been raised 7lbs for winning a mares-only race narrowly.

Dan Skelton’s Proschema however, once even thought of as an outside hope for the Derby when with Tom Dascombe on the flat, has shown glimpses of real talent over hurdles and should get the chance to prove it now.

An easy winner at Wetherby a year ago, the gelding would be well handicapped if getting back to that form let alone improving on it which is now expected of him, while his latest run can be forgotten after he encountered problems.

2.50 Exeter (Handicap Chase) – MUCKAMORE

We’re taking a slight chance here with Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner in this three-mile event, but the first betting show makes him look terrific value and so he’s worth a small punt.

Improving very nicely and appearing to like a trip over hurdles, Muckamore ended last season with a very easy win on soft ground and was to be sent chasing this season.

Going over the bigger obstacles in November, he was sent off favourite for his debut over fences but was well beaten at Market Rasen in the end. Looking closer at that run, it becomes apparent that neither the trip or ground were in his favour and the yard was not doing so well at the time either.

With seven months or so having gone by and this horse having strengthened up more, the soft ground, the trip and the return to hurdles it all makes Muckamore’s rating of 123 seem lenient enough and at a nice price he can be backed to small stakes.

Saturday 2nd January 2021 

12.35 Lingfield (Maiden Stakes) – ABRAG

This is a run of the mill one-mile maiden for £3,000 on Lingfield’s all-weather track, but at closer look there appears to be a standout candidate at the likely prices.

Having made a good debut at Kempton when second, Simon Dow’s Wake Up Harry should keep the market honest and has a chance, while William Haggas’ debutant Pop Favourite is also bound to prove popular.

The one to note however is Andrew Balding’s Abrag and it would be extremely interesting to see significant money coming for the three-year-old Acclamation overnight.

Sent off at 16/1 for his debut at Kempton, little was expected of Abrag. Just as many suspected, he showed inexperience and made a very slow start to that seven-furlong event before recovering nicely and running on very well for a never-nearer fourth.

He will be a completely different proposition this weekend, he gets an extra furlong to race over and really could reach a whole new level. How good Abrag will prove to be in the long-term remains a mystery, however this race won’t take that much winning and there is every hope that David Probert will be able to coax him into position before the final turn and use his finishing kick to good effect.

3.35 Sandown (Handicap Hurdle) – HIGHWAY ONE O TWO

Highway One O Two is another horse I think will benefit greatly from a return to smaller obstacles this weekend and he is another we can take a chance on.

Chris Gordon’s charge was three from three over hurdles between December and February last season, finishing off with a Grade 2 win in the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle which earned him a rating of 145.

In truth there is no reason to think he wouldn’t have gone on to be significantly better than that and had he been running over hurdles this season, he may well by now have been a 150-155 horse.

That means he is potentially well handicapped for this race so if we can forget his two chase runs this term, neither of which he completed, he looks the type to simply carry on where he left off in this sphere and at prices of around 6/1 he looks particularly good value in the market too.

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Saturday 26th December 2020: Clan to Land King George Treble

Boxing Day is all about Kempton Park in the UK, their three top-level races all supplying is with value bets this time around.

Clan Des Obeaux goes for an amazing third King George title but has a terrific field to beat, while Epatante looks to stay on the road to a second Champion Hurdle success.

We have six bets in all with every one of them being at Grade 1 level; three over the jumps at Kempton and three in the States at Santa Anita which keeps us entertained long after the excess Turkey sandwiches have been polished off!

1.50 Kempton (Kauto Star Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – IF THE CAP FITS

A terrific race featuring several major stars of the future. Shan Blue is the one for money and there is little doubt that Dan Skelton’s double chase winner is among the best in the field.

The Big Breakaway is another who has gone well so far and clearly didn’t appreciate the drop down in trip last time, but at the prices the best value in the race is If The Cap Fits.

Harry Fry’s eight-year-old made what I believe to be the best chase debut of this bunch at Ffos Las and while he was a beaten odds-on favourite at Listed level next time behind Pym, it is more than possible that he hated the three-runner field element and the markedly quicker ground.

2.25 Kempton (Christmas Hurdle – Grade 1) – SILVER STREAK

The Christmas Hurdle has thrown up a few surprises before and it could easily happen once more in 2020. Epatante, there is no doubt, is a great mare and getting 7lbs from her main rivals is a crucial point, but even in winning the Fighting Fifth last time she wasn’t at her absolute best and she remains vulnerable.

Nicky Henderson’s horse will be long odds-on for this race, she is the champion hurdler and is 6/7 in this sphere, but she’s not that far ahead and just one chink in her armour will leave her exposed in a race like this.

At small stakes then and at the likely odds, a chance can be taken on Silver Streak. Evan Williams’ seven-year-old is admirably consistent at this level and rarely puts a foot wrong. He’s not a million miles behind Epatante at the weights and will be the one to cash in if his main opponent is less than perfect.

3.00 Kempton (King George VI Chase – Grade 1) – CLAN DES OBEAUX

Paul Nicholls saddles four runners here but all the talk, quite rightly, has been about the two challenging for favouritism. Cyrname and Clan Des Obeaux are the pair in question and despite having confidently tipped up Cyrname before, I think a King George treble could be on the cards for his pal.

Clan Des Obeaux has been brilliant in this race the last two years and will once again love going around his favourite track, so while Cyrname has been then highest rated around, Santini was a close runner-up in the Gold Cup and Lostintranslation is no mug, the main man at Kempton has too much in his favour to ignore.

10.30 Santa Anita (La Brea Stakes – Grade 1) – FINITE

It’ll be a very different Boxing Day out in California with around 18 degrees forecast for Arcadia but what remains the same to us is matching value with racing quality. There are three stakes races staged at the very top level on the dirt and we have a selection for each of them.

The La Brea is a seven-furlong race for the three-year-old fillies and clearly the best of this bunch so far in similar conditions has been Finite.

Steve Asmussen’s filly gives away a couple of pounds but is flying at present and looks ready to go in again, so the fact that she has been priced up at around the 7/2 mark in the UK is somewhat of a surprise.

11.00 Santa Anita (American Oaks – Grade 1) – SHARING

We have a strong field for another fillies’ race, this time the American Oaks over 1¼ miles. Red Lark is arguably the yardstick given that she’s solid after 11 turf starts, while it’s hard to know whether or not Capital Structure or Duopoly can improve past her.

Much is expected of those two, however the most fascinating runner in the field is undoubtedly Graham Motion’s filly Sharing and she is taken to land the £135,000 first prize.

In winning a conditions race at Churchill Downs, running second at Royal Ascot in the Coronation Stakes and landing a Grade 2 she has made good impressions all the way down the line this year. But it is even more prevalent that her standout run was when she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2019 on the turf track at Santa Anita, where she now returns.

11.30 Santa Anita (Malibu Stakes – Grade 1) – NASHVILLE

This is a high-quality race featuring three horses who at one time or another were considered for the Triple Crown trail. Thousand Words, Independence Hall and especially Charlatan all gave their connections hope of winning the Kentucky Derby however they now drop down to seven furlongs.

Charlatan in particular is an extremely talented colt, a good winner of a division of the rescheduled Arkansas Derby (Grade 1) back in early May.

He has been off the track since and it could be that he needs to go a little further, something that opens the door right up for the fast-improving Nashville of Steve Asmussen’s barn.

Unlike the others he’s been doing his winning at six furlongs and has been mightily impressive. He is already beyond their level for me and may well improve over this trip, making him look a real star for next year.

Friday, 18 December 2020

Friday 18th & Saturday 19th December 2020: Thyme for Hill to Shine in Long Walk

We’re betting on the flat and the jumps across both Friday and Saturday this week with five good value selections.

Friday 18th December 2020

2.30 Ascot (Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – NO ORDINARY JOE

No matter your fancy in this race you will always be taking some sort of a chance given the obvious inexperience of the bunch as hurdlers.

That said, as the field look so close on known evidence it presents us with some fair odds and on that basis, I’m happy to take 3/1 and potentially bigger about Nicky Henderson’s No Ordinary Joe.

Henderson doesn’t need to run this horse here. Only a bumper winner, he could easily have been afforded another opportunity without obstacles or been sent to a small race over timber to gain confidence and experience but in sending him straight to a Grade 2 the trainer is letting us know the quality of the horse.

While his expected form, and it is just that, ranks at a very similar level to main rivals (at the weights) Llandinabo Lad and My Drogo, what he did in his bumper is superior to what they managed and it could yet be that he is simply a class above them.

3.05 Ascot (Noel Novices’ Chase – Grade 2) – FIDDLERONTHEROOF

Another Grade 2 here for the inexperienced types, this time over fences. Henderson’s Allart goes into the ‘could be anything’ category and Paul Nicholls’ Pic D’Orhy has obvious qualities, though he has failed to finish in two of his three chases to date including when trained in France.

The rock-solid one in the line-up is Colin Tizzard’s Fiddlerontheroof. Over hurdles he was at his best at Sandown on soft ground, something that bodes well for this contest, and he was sent off at only 6/1 to beat Shiskin at Grade One level at the Festival.

Over fences he’s been beaten twice in three-runner fields while still putting in performances that would see him be a genuine favourite for this race, and in between won at Exeter from the front. He has far more to give yet and in these racing conditions we should see a new career high and that would be enough.

6.45 Wolverhampton (Handicap) – EXALTED ANGEL

We nip over to Wolverhampton’s decent all-weather card on the flat on Friday night for this one, where the winner of this contest will probably be described as pretty decent.

Many will expect that winner to be improving three-year-old Lampang and Tim Easterby’s runner does have great qualities. The King Power horse is dropping to five having only been run out of a Listed race over six at Lingfield by a bang in-form type, and on all known evidence he should put in a solid display on the Tapeta.

Karl Burke’s Exalted Angel however is even more fascinating. A proper five-furlong horse, he won at Southwell in October before being sent off favourite for a decent Class 3 event on Newcastle’s Tapeta track.

Blocked in his run a couple of times, he didn’t quite get past Venturous that day, who reopposes here, but we can mark up his run and he has plenty of improvement left to come by the looks of it. He gets the vote, while Lord Riddiford is also worth a mention.

Saturday 19th December 2020

2.00 Lingfield (Quebec Stakes – Listed Race) – DUBAI WARRIOR

We’re back on the all-weather to kick off our Saturday tips and this time on a track that favours more speed.

There are a few subplots here. It’ll be interesting to see who is considered to be King Power’s first choice given the level that Bangkok has reached over this track and trip – he was sent off favourite for the Group 3 Winter Derby last season – while Johnny Drama is now 4 from 4 on the all-weather.

Johnny Drama although unbeaten has done his winning over further distances at Kempton and Southwell, making this race look very different. Bangkok finished the turf season a little underwhelmingly despite being highly tried at Group 1 level but they both have it to do in what is a strong Listed race.

Tying in with Bangkok is Dubai Warrior, 6/7 on the all-weather and three times a course and distance winner including when defeating his old pal in the Winter Derby.

We have to decide whether we believe that Dubai Warrior is simply a better horse than Bangkok or not. That Winter Derby performance was gained via an inspired ride from Frankie Dettori but was achieved fair and square and we can’t lose sight of the fact that the four-year-old is very much still improving.

Always seen as a potential Group 1 horse, he is solid in these conditions and at the very least it is hard to see him not running a race that would ordinarily see him win a typical Group 3 or above.

Lastly, it’ll be more than a little interesting to watch the return of Sir Michael Stoute’s Sangarius. Another seen as top-class, he has had his problems but is back after a break and should go well. He may need this run and would perhaps prefer a different surface, but his presence here helps the look of what is a high-quality event.

2.25 Ascot (Long Walk Hurdle – Grade 1) – THYME HILL

Thyme Hill and Paisley Park have proven to be tough to split in the market this week after their ding-dong battle at Newbury three weeks ago.

There is little doubt that on his very best form of a couple of years ago Paisley Park would prove too good, but he hasn’t shown that level for quite a while despite his recent performance and it seems the younger Thyme Hill is taking over in the staying division now.

Always considered to be the best staying novice last season, had he not been blocked at crucial times he would have proven it in the Albert Bartlett so putting that form together with his comeback Long Distance Hurdle win it seems he is the one to be on.

Roksana will challenge for a place, as may the returning Thistlecrack at a big price.

Friday, 11 December 2020

Saturday 12th December 2020: Zoff Looks Glorious in Doncaster Grade 2

It’s all about squeezing out the value this week, with five bets to play across both codes at Doncaster, Newcastle and Wolverhampton.

See also coverage of today's International meeting over on our Cheltenham Blog.

2.05 Doncaster (December Novices’ Chase – Grade 2) – HURRICANE HARVEY

This three-mile event will take come getting for the novices, but in Hurricane Harvey we have a horse who is going the right way overall and appears to want this test.

Colin Tizzard’s Ofalltheginjoints may well go off a strong favourite for the race after his Exeter victory, but Hurricane Harvey’s form wasn’t too far behind that on debut and that was over what now appears to be a slightly inadequate 2½ miles.

Fergal O’Brien’s six-year-old wasn’t too hot last time out when the ground was against him, but he is an attractive price today to get the job done under jockey Paddy Brennan. House Island may also grab a place.

2.20 Newcastle (Conditions Stakes) – MILDENBERGER

This is a high-quality conditions race over the two-mile track, one that may serve as an early trial for the Northumberland Plate as well as a number of top Pattern races over staying distances next spring.

Many of the names you’d expect over this course and distance are present; Stargazer, Raymond Tusk, Carnwennan et al, while Rainbow Dreamer also makes a rather congested shortlist.

The one who sticks out should he get somewhere near his best however is Mark Johnston’s Mildenberger. Out of form in two turf runs most recently, he was an excellent second in the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes over this course and distance behind stablemate Nayef Road in June and a return to anything like that form would see him dominate this race.

As a four-year-old Mildenberger was placed in this event behind Raymond Tusk, but he has improved significantly since then and is therefore not best judged on that admittedly good run.

2.40 Doncaster (Summit Juvenile Hurdle – Grade 2) – GLORIOUS ZOFF

This potentially important Grade 2 juvenile hurdle has the look of a match on paper. The five-runner race has two horses whose form looks substandard on paper, a newcomer over hurdles and the two standout performers; Monmiral and Glorious Zoff.

The first-named is a former French runner now trained by Paul Nicholls. Officially, he is rated highest at 137 here but I feel that rather overestimates what he’s done so far.

The form of Monmiral’s winning British debut at Exeter, while impressive enough on the eye, closely matches what he did in France when winning back in March and neither of those two runs entitle him to a mark of 137.

Naturally, he is expected to improve in lumps, but he’d need to do that just to get to the level Glorious Zoff reached on his own debut at Sligo in October and he is bound to be a fair bit better than that now.

Gordon Elliott’s charge didn’t perform when expected next time on the track, but all horses are allowed one blip and so now with natural progression expected and the added bonus of receiving 5lbs in weight from his main rival, he looks terrific value to win this race under Robbie Power with Monmiral looking like going off at odds-on.

2.55 Newcastle (Handicap) – MYSEVEN

This is a competitive enough race for an eight-runner, Class 4 handicap but there are two outstanding candidates on paper and it would be no surprise to see them fighting it out on the uphill finish at Gosforth Park.

The first is likely favourite Dublin Pharaoh. As a son of American Pharoah, it’s hardly surprising that Roger Varian’s colt seems at home over this sort of track and trip, in fact he’s already a course and distance winner.

In winning at Lingfield in February over a mile, at Sandown on the turf over 1¼ miles and at Newcastle last time over this mile-and-a-half trip his versatility has already been proven but while he is consistent, his rate of improvement isn’t actually that steep.

Add to this the fact that the excellent James Doyle was riding last time out and he is now on board his main rival, he may well just come a cropper here.

Doyle rides Myseven, Simon and Ed Crisford’s only runner of the weekend for Sheikh Ahmed, who himself is a last-time-out winner on the all-weather over a mile-and-a-half.

That was at Kempton Park on a different surface but there is every reason to believe that he will love the Tapeta and given that he is by Golden Horn out of a Darshaan mare the stiffer test that Newcastle provides should also be right up his street.

7.15 Wolverhampton (Handicap) – ONE NIGHT STAND

We have a maximum 13-runner field for this Class 3 six-furlong handicap, one that may well be fought out by the younger horses in the line-up.

The likes of Ornate and Merhoob are not finished yet of course, but the natural improvement being shown by four-year-old Astro Jakk and three-year-olds One Night Stand, Melodic Charm and Misty Grey should hold sway.

Astro Jakk comes into this race on a hat-trick for Karl Burke, but he has just about been getting home at Newcastle and while this track is a little easier, he has been raised in the weights once again.

Melodic Charm is an interesting one given that he was a good-looking course and distance winner two outings ago. He wasn’t so hot at Kempton next time, though he may not have appreciated the change in surface so off a 2lb higher mark than when winning in October he remains high on the list.

Better still could be the chances of William Jarvis’ One Night Stand. Also a course and distance winner, the three-year-old gelding won with a bit in hand last month and refreshingly has been left alone to recover rather then being turned out quickly.

He’s up just 5lbs for that, something his comfortable rise from 73 when winning at Windsor to 80 when winning here shows he can handle no bother.