Friday 29 March 2019

Saturday 30th March 2019: Bring on the Thunder in Dubai

Even with the Grand National still to come, if you are a flat racing fan this weekend truly ends the calm before the storm as right across the world the sport explodes into life on the level.

The Lincoln as always heralds the official start of the turf season at Doncaster where a big performance from Auxerre is expected and we also have five Group 1’s to look forward to in Dubai as the carnival reaches its end, culminating in the £9million Dubai World Cup.

There is a key Kentucky Derby prep over in the States as the $1million Florida Derby takes place, so across three continents and many time zones this really is a fantastic weekend of action.

1.50 Doncaster (Cammidge Trophy – Listed Race) – EQUILATERAL

Whatever the result of this race, keep it written down because this is hot for a Listed contest and it could produce winners over the course of the season at various levels.

Arbalet could be a very good animal coming down to six furlongs and has a good year ahead while Invincible Army is a good yardstick.  Mokarris has been kept in training for a reason and is another with a place chance but Charlie Hills’ horse is the one given that he could yet get to Group 1 level.

Equilateral has speed to burn but trying to get him to do that over five and on quick ground hasn’t proved ideal, but back to the scene of last year’s seasonal opener where he blitzed subsequent four-time winner Foxtrot Lady (rated 102) by eight lengths should be ideal.

2.05 Meydan (UAE Derby – Group 2) – DIVINE IMAGE

Godolphin’s improving three-year-old filly has potential engagements in the European classics and/or the Kentucky Oaks given that she’s found her feet on dirt, and it’s that point that makes her so attractive here.

Having won so impressively on debut Chelmsford in December, Divine Image faced a surprise defeat on her dirt debut in January at Meydan.  On her second start in the Group 3 UAE Oaks she once again took an age to get going but got there on the line before much smoother progress last time out saw her take a Listed contest here by over seven lengths.

She is getting better on dirt all the time and, given the sex allowance, even a repeat of her latest performance could be enough to win this so with significant improvement to come from the daughter of Scat Daddy she should be comfortably clear, perhaps of another horse making leaps and bounds in the shape of William Haggas’ four-time all-weather winner Jahbath.

3.20 Meydan (Dubai Turf – Group 1) – WITHOUT PAROLE

This a competitive race on paper; Japan’s Almond Eye is a top class filly but one who has been doing her winning over 1m4f (1m1f here) and on very firm ground.

Aidan O’Brien’s filly I Can Fly showed great form towards the end of last season and warmed up for this with an easy win, the sex allowance for her too perhaps proving pivotal while it could be close yet again between Godolphin runners Dream Castle and the improving Wootton who may yet land a Group 1.

There are several factors in the overpriced selection’s favour though.  Having won so impressively on debut, Without Parole was way too good for Ostilio at Yarmouth (around 20lbs better) who is now a Group 2 winner, he was too good for Wootton when winning the Group 1 St Jame’s Palace Stakes and his expert trainer believes there is still more to come.

He didn’t finish last season well but will be right up there in and around the mile division this year so looks far too big at a general 16/1 going into the weekend under Frankie Dettori.

4.00 Meydan (Dubai Sheema Classic – Group 1) – OLD PERSIAN

Having already finished a decent sixth in the Irish Derby and beaten stable mate and solid yardstick Cross County in the Great Voltigeur last season, Old Persian came back from a layoff in pleasing fashion three weeks ago when weaving through to nab Racing History on the line and take a Group 2.

He’s ready to go on from that now and looks a solid favourite in this race, Aidan O’Brien’s Magic Wand probably being second best and with further improvement to come while of the Japanese runners it looks like Rey De Oro is the best of them and can run into the places.

4.40 Meydan (Dubai World Cup – Group 1) – THUNDER SNOW

2019’s renewal could go down in history, not only is the Dubai World Cup once again the world’s richest race but for the first time there could be a dual winner with Saeed bin Suroor’s admirable Thunder Snow looking to overcome a wide draw and take the race for the second year running.

A much underrated animal having won this, a Prix Jean Prat, been second to Churchill in an Irish Guineas and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the son of Helmet best case scenario could be on for another career best and even if not quite nailing that under Christophe Soumillon he may prove tough enough.

It’s a deep renewal this time around with Capezzano, Gunnevera, Audible and Yoshida all holding chances while North America looks overrated at the price but if Thunder Snow can bounce out and get a good position he could take the £5.7million first prize again.

10.30 Gulfstream Park (Florida Derby – Grade 1) – HIDDEN SCROLL

The early fancy for the Kentucky Derby for yours truly, Hidden Scroll made an amazing debut round here on a sloppy track in January before being beaten in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes last time with some speculating that the track played into his hands on his first start.

The truth is he set crazy fractions last time and has learned to relax more now, he’s been working with a lead horse and doesn’t have to be on the front end and he’s also drawn right on the rail today.

Given that this race will be run very differently to the FoY, going up against the same horses is a good thing as there’s no doubt they benefitted heavily from the pace Hidden Scroll and an outsider set so while Code Of Honor and Bourbon War are fancied they should not get to Bill Mott’s horse this time.  Morning Line odds of 5/2 and UK quotes of 2/1 look very fair.

Friday 22 March 2019

Saturday 23rd March: Stone to Fufill his Destiny at Lingfield

With the Festival behind us and the excitement of the Lincoln and Dubai World Cup day still a week away, this promised to be a rather dull Saturday for betting purposes but in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

Sunday sees Ireland start their flat turf season at Naas with pattern races backing up the Irish Lincolnshire, though while those races will be fascinating to watch we cannot have a strong view on any of them at this stage.

Back in the UK, Kelso stages its Party in the Paddock race day live on TV and we have one value selection from there, Newbury’s Jumps Season Finale provides us another bet but we begin on the flat at Lingfield with one of three punts from the trouble Arc track.

2.35 Lingfield (Class 5 Novice Stakes) – MOFTRIS

Taking a glance at this race on paper wouldn’t fill you with joy and it certainly doesn’t look at a glance like a race you’d want to get seriously involved in, but just watch out should any good money come late Friday/early Satruday for this Moftris.

William Haggas’ Sheikh Ahmed colt, a well-related son of Ifraaj out of a Dubawi mare and bred by Godolphin, didn’t show an awful lot on debut but will clearly improve plenty and can leave that distant third of 4 at Chelmsford well behind now that he has the experience under his belt.

As the 15/8 second favourite he was expected to push the odds-on winner very close last time, perhaps even win on debut in fact, and assuming the normal rate of improvement along with the 7lbs he gets from leading form contenders Fields Of Athenry and Metatron he can get his head in front this time under James Doyle.

3.10 Lingfield (Class 3 Handicap) – INSURGENCE

The key piece of form here appears to be Sha La La La Lee’s win over the course and distance three weeks ago and while Tom Dascombe’s gelding has a chance of following up at these weights, conditions should be different this time in that he may not get quite as easy a lead.

On top of the fact that Sha La La La Lee might not get things his own way up front, either by being taken on at the head of affair or at least being obliged to go quicker given the larger field, James Fanshawe’s Insurgence will appreciate the faster run race and is now 2lbs better off with his old rival.

Like Sha La La La Lee, Insurgence is a four-year-old with plenty of improvement still to come so with conditions set to suit him best of all he can score under Daniel Muscutt.  Second in the key race we’ve reviewed was Family Fortunes and he is another who rates a place chance for Michael Madgwick and jockey Scott McCullagh.

3.15 Newbury (Mares National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle Series Final Handicap – Grade 2) – THE WHITE MOUSE

This is a competitive affair, as you’d expect, but the one with the form in the bag and crucially more improvement to come is Lucy Wadham’s mare The White Mouse.

We can significantly upgrade her win at Doncaster last time given that in a slowly run three-runner race the figures are never going to be exciting, but her success at Lingfield in November allied with that Donny win is a good indicator that she has the ability yet gets in here off a mark of 125 and that seems lenient to me.

Nicky Henderson’s She Mite Bite and Dan Skelton’s Etamine Du Cochet are next on the list and each have fair chances, but it may pay to go with the one with more as yet unseen ability with Leighton Aspell in the saddle.

3.35 Kelso (Class 2 Handicap Hurdle) – CAPTAIN DRAKE

Harry Fry sends up this six-year-old gelding and he’s one who’s shown as much versatility on the track of late as he has improvement.

Having won a 2m4f maiden hurdle at Uttoxeter on heavy ground back in December, quite easily I must add, he went on to win again at Southwell on good ground over three miles and as he was left clear by a faller at the last he did so in effortless fashion meaning we don’t even know what level he could have truly reached that day.

As it was he ran to a mark of around 127 or so, which is his handicap mark now, but clearly he could have pulled out another 3 or 4 pounds if he’d needed it that day, will have gone forward again since then and handles just about any ground.

He gets the vote then at a decent price ahead of Paul Nicholls’ recent winner Worthy Farm and the Gillian Boanas-trained Teescomponents Lad.

3.45 Lingfield (Class 2 Handicap) – STONE OF DESTINY

We should never lose sight of the amount of improvement early four-year-olds can offer and so while this is a tight handicap in which plenty have chances, there is some value in backing Stone Of Destiny to small stakes.

Having run third to Encore D’Or at Newcastle, third to Katchy round here over 6 furlongs at Listed level and then run second in a very valuable race in Doha his form is not in question and I’m sure given his raw pace that going down to five furlongs is what he needs now.

At four years old, trained by Andrew Balding, ridden by James Doyle and drawn in stall 2 there are no other obvious negatives against him and at 4/1 or above he looks a fair prospect.  Royal Birth is next on the shortlist while we can’t ignore Corinthia Knight who keeps trying hard around this track and whose day will come.

Friday 15 March 2019

Saturday 16th March 2019: Sam’s Adventure to End with Success

After the drama, emotion, sadness and unbridled passion and joy of the Cheltenham Festival comes what has to be said is a run of the mill Saturday of racing, save for the Midlands National should it definitely go ahead, but always there are betting options placed on the table and we have a handful of them

We reach a turning point in the racing calendar now as over the next few weeks the National Hunt game will have one last hurrah at Aintree before fully handing over the limelight to the stars of the flat and while ours aren’t stars, we have a couple on the level who look very backable in Wolverhampton’s evening meeting.

We start with Kempton’s Silver Cups day and a couple of big value bets in both the feature races:

2.40 Kempton (Silver Plate Handicap Hurdle) – TOWNSHEND

This is a very tight handicap with at least four of the runners very hard to separate, namely Mahlervous, Honest Vic, My Way and Crystal Lad who all have place chances.

The competitive nature of the race should ensure that it is fairly run and will mean this Townshend, improving with every run this season and acting well for conditional jockey Joe Anderson after a wind op, should be able stay on past them in the last furlong or so.

Despite his latest runner-up effort at Wincanton he was put in at a crazy price on Friday afternoon, a general 10/1 shot on the first showing, and is worth chances now that he has seemingly got his act together for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.

3.15 Kempton (Silver Bowl Handicap Chase) – VALUE AT RISK

There could be plenty of value, appropriately you’d say, in Dan Skelton’s Value At Risk who despite some sketchy form has the ability even at the age of 10 to see this lot off from his current handicap mark.

Two outings ago at Market Rasen in January, the Kayf Tara gelding ran close to his career best when scoring off a mark just a pound lower than he gets in here off and with plenty of question marks next to his rivals he may be the one at a big price.

Both Brother Tedd and Kayf Blanco are in a similar position and can run into the money, but at the odds bandied about on Friday Value At Risk could be one worth chancing to small at stakes with perhaps even room to take him each-way to play it safe.

3.45 Newcastle (Northern Staying Novices’ Hurdle Series Final Handicap) – SAM’S ADVENTURE

Confidence can’t be sky high with this one given that, having shown good improvement over his first three hurdle starts, he ran poorly in these conditions over the course and distance last time out leading some to believe he doesn’t act around Newcastle.

He was a little keen that day though and wasted a fair amount of energy so assuming that was the reason for his failure and that it has been eradicated, he should be able to improve past this field to score at a level he’s more than capable in.

Brian Ellison loves a winner in his home town so I’m sure the son of Black Sam Bellamy will have been prepped to perfection too, just watch out for any strong money coming for him late on Friday or early on Saturday as if the stable are very confident the price is in danger of collapsing.

Lord Du Mesnil and Stop Talking, the latter seeking a four-timer in this race, are probably next on the shortlist and can fight it out for the places.

6.15 Wolverhampton (Class 3 Handicap) – SALUTE THE SOLDIER

This is another tight looking race but crucially the selection has, on the balance of things at least, more chance of progressing from where he is right now than the others do and rates a fair bet to go one better than when last seen 105 days ago.

Before his break he had won two on the bounce before losing out only to the battle-hardened and progressive Original Choice who has since tried his luck in Dubai.  All of these runs were on different all-weather surfaces too which proves his versatility though it seems his best may be saved for the Tapeta.

The quality combination of trainer Clive Cox and jockey Adam Kirby may be the ones to follow here with David O’Meara’s solid yardstick Ballard Down next on the list ahead of Tough Remedy, who perhaps would have had a better chance if had he been a little better drawn.

7.15 Wolverhampton (Class 3 Fillies’ Handicap) – TIGER EYE

In fillies’ handicaps such as this the form is often sketchy but the trick is usually to find a young filly who is improving, or at the very least hinting at improving.

James Fanshawe’s four-year-old filly Tiger Eye is moving up the ranks nicely and fits the profile after winning easily at Lingfield Park last time and, perhaps even more pertinently, scoring over the course and distance in a novice race back in January proving that she acts on this surface.

She’s been given an opening handicap mark of 83 which seems pretty generous to me, so while she won’t be a huge price in the market come Saturday evening she can be backed pretty confidently to secure a third win in four starts under jockey George Wood.

Toy Theatre, the top weight who is on a hat-trick, and four-year-old Treasure Me who much the like the selection can improve in the early part of 2019, are next on the list.

Friday 8 March 2019

Saturday 9th March: First to Get the Imperial Winnings Flowing

We have one last chance to build our Cheltenham betting banks up and while we have a good value shout in the ultra-competitive Imperial Cup at Sandown, the bulk of our betting opportunities come some 4,000 miles away in Dubai as Super Saturday takes place in advance of the Dubai World Cup day on March 30th.

It’s an early start so make sure you’re on the ball, and be on the lookout for World Cup winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic third Thunder Snow making his comeback in the Maktoum Challenge at 2.55 though he’s not always at his best first time up after a break.

We start with the Listed race at Meydan however and a filly who should be seen to good effect back in Britain at some point over this coming summer on the turf:

12.35 Meydan (Al Bastakiya – Listed Race) – DIVINE IMAGE

She’s taking a little bit of time to get used to things in Dubai having started off in Britain, perhaps specifically the dirt surface at Meydan which catched some newbies out, but having made such a wonderful debut at Chelmsford it’s clear this daughter of Scat Daddy has a very big future in the game.

Having blown her chances in the race completely before staying on for second place in an unsatisfactory running of the UAE 1000 Guineas, Charlie Appleby’s filly took her time once again to get going in the Group 3 UAE Oaks before winning on the line last time out and she gets into this race without a penalty.  More significantly perhaps, major improvement is expected now.

Fellow Godolphin runner Estihdaaf carries the first colours for trainer Saeed bin Suroor and jockey Pat Cosgrave having won the UAE 2000 Guineas but he’s drawn wide and arguably doesn’t have as much improvement in him as the filly who gets the nod to get us off with a flyer.

1.45 Meydan (Burj Nahaar – Group 3) – AXELROD

Phoenix Thoroughbred, known for not being slow to shift their horses around when needs be, had this American-bred solely trained in the States as a two and three-year-old where his form stands up very well in the context of this race.

They have ambitions to win with him on Dubai World Cup day and so despite perhaps needing the run, we can expect Axelrod to be no bit-part player in this race and this Group 3 level is well within his compass.  His form with McKinzie last year puts him way up around the 120 level if his improvement has continued and that would be more than enough to win today.

Doug Watson keeps improving his horses and his Muntazah knows his way around here, so if still in the same form as when winning at Meydan three weeks ago he rates as the obvious danger but the value lies with Axelrod for connections who also have the former Jeremy Noseda runner Gronkowski performing later on the card against Thunder Snow.

2.20 Meydan (Dubai City of Gold – Group 2) – OLD PERSIAN

Godolphin’s domination of these races looks set to continue and last year’s vastly improving Great Voltigeur winner Old Persian can kick his belated carnival form off with another Group 2 win under star man William Buick.

Charlie Appleby’s four-year-old Dubwai colt went off well fancied for the St Leger at Doncaster following wins at Ascot and York last backend but this trip is his ideal and its thought this race could put him spot-on for the big day in three weeks’ time.

David Simcock sends 7yo globetrotter Desert Encounter for this as well and he could be a little overpriced given his overall profile, rating as the main danger ahead of the improving Spotify.

2.25 Sandown (Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – FIRST FLOW

There are plenty in with winning chances as you’d expect in this race but Kim Bailey’s First Flow, despite the long absence, is the one who stands out as having the most speed between markers in these specific underfoot conditions and as a seven-year-old with just four hurdles under his belt he could have plenty more to give yet.

He did precious little wrong last season before his Cheltenham off-day in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, pertinently mostly on soft going which he’ll also encounter here, the highlight being his Grade 2 novice win at Haydock where he smashed a horse who has gone on to be rated 157 over hurdles whereas he gets in this race off a mark of just 144.

His rivals are numerous, the best of them all things considered probably being likely favourite Monsieur Lecoq for Jane Williams, in-form Paul Nicholls’ Malaya and the returning runner-up from 2018 Call Me Lord from Nicky Henderson’s yard.

3.30 Meydan (Jebel Hatta – Group 1) – WOOTTON

It rather went under the radar when Godolphin purchased this son of Wootton Bassett over the winter and when winning his French 2000 Guineas trial last spring for Henri-Alex Pantall he looked the real deal.

He went on to finish fourth in the big race behind Olmedo in what was a messy event before running a creditable third in the St James’s Palace Stakes, 3¾ lengths behind Without Parole at Royal Ascot who was given a rating of 119.  Judging by the way he ran on his first start for the boys in blue, it seems plenty of improvement is needed, but crucially it is expected.

He was never in the Zabeel Mile in truth though he ran on well towards the end but William Buick takes over in the saddle now and since he’s a little more used to things and he gets the extra furlong to chase down, he can finally prove that he is a Group 1 performer with fellow Godolphin runners Dream Castle and Loxley expected to give him most to do.

Friday 1 March 2019

Saturday 2nd March 2019 - Mercian a Regal Bet at Newbury

We have very much a mixed bag this week as British National Hunt and all-weather flat racing meet, while the Road to the Kentucky Derby gets going in earnest over in the States.

Kelso’s seasonal highlights are run on an afternoon when, despite great prize money, none of the big yards other than Paul Nicholls have supported the card and it would be great to see both he and Bryony Frost rewarded with a win for Black Corton, while Newbury hosts its Greatwood Charity Raceday and it’s there we begin with a juicy looking bet in the Grade 3 handicap chase:

2.40 Newbury (Greatwood Gold Cup Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – MERCIAN PRINCE

There are plenty in with chances on the book as you’d expect in such a competitive handicap chase, but in Amy Murphy our selection is trained by an underrated handler and with plenty of improvement expected after what was an easy and impressive win at Kempton Park this Mercian Prince may have too much despite a 10lb rise in the weights.

The eight-year-old dominated that four-runner event last time on decent ground and, even though he of course faces tougher opposition this time, he won with such ease we have no idea where the bottom of him is.

Dan Skelton’s ten-year-old Value At Risk is probably overpriced too after his recent success while Dr Richard Newland can no doubt coax more out of lightweight Dustin Des Mottes who himself looks a very backable each-way price.

2.50 Lingfield (Class 2 Handicap) – CORINTHIA KNIGHT

We went for this chap last week over the course and distance and while once more it didn’t work out for him seven days ago, his time will undoubtedly come and he once again has conditions to suit this weekend.

Despite the weight turnaround, Archie Watson’s four-year-old has a great chance of reversing last week’s form with Royal Birth from the Listed race while Gracious John’s form is close to Corinthia Knight’s on the book and so he can go close as well.

With a strong pace and a little luck in running, this Corinthia Knight should eventually truly show what he can do back on the same handicap mark he was on when scoring nicely here back in December.

3.20 Lingfield (Class 3 Handicap) – INSURGENCE

This is a very tight one-mile handicap at first glance and on the book anything could win it, but in James Fanshawe’s four-year-old Insurgence we have one horse in particular who may improve significantly given his age and mileage and that makes him a backable prospect.

His level of form in finishing second to Mr Scaramanga last time out is higher than the others for me and given that he didn’t get the ideal trip round last time, it’s thought he can go one better now.

Despite that race being very much one to blow the cobwebs away, it was comfortably his best performance to date showing that he’s improved nicely from three to four so off a mark 3lbs lower than the heights he reached last year the race could be his.  Chevallier and Family Fortunes look to be the best of the rest and can fight it out for place money.

3.50 Lingfield (Spring Cup – Listed Race) – FANAAR

We’re taking a slight chance here and going for the one horse with no all-weather form in the shape of William Haggas’ Fanaar, though it is very much expected that this surface will suit him.

His overall form, especially in defeat behind Arctic Sound last season, seems to put him a couple of pounds ahead of the field for his seasonal debut at a level he can handle with Don Armado expected to do well now going over this trip with Oisin Murphy on board, perhaps therefore reversing Newcastle places with Deep Intrigue.

Fanaar doesn’t have any fancy entries at this stage but it was always felt last year he could reach triple digits in the ratings and go for some low grade Group races; Saturday will help determine that.

6.30 Chelmsford (Class 3 Handicap) – TECHNOLOGICAL

We could be set for one at a very tasty price here in the shape of George Margarson’s Technological, a four-year-old with plenty more to give despite the fact he’s already run four times since the end of December.

A close look at his form suggests this surface will suit him much more than Kempton and Wolverhampton did, though he’s remained in decent form the whole time while the step up to one-and-a-quarter miles and the booking of the globetrotting Oisin Murphy are also positives for him.

Bottom weight Temur Khan as well as Marcus Tregoning’s Seafarer can also present big challenges, but on a day when his star riders arrives here for three rides with this being the most valuable of them, Technological may just be the one.

10.32 Gulfstream Park (Fountain of Youth Stakes – Grade 2) – HIDDEN SCROLL

The race to grab a place in the Kentucky Derby field truly takes a step forward this weekend when Juddmonte’s outstanding January debut winner Hidden Scroll makes his second appearance at Gulfstream in Florida.

In dancing away to score by an easy 14 lengths during the Pegasus World Cup meeting Bill Mott’s colt made a huge impression and earned a similar speed rating to last year’s Triple Crown hero Justify, and given that his sire and damsire are both Kentucky Derby runners-up it seems he is bred for the job.

It was very interesting to note that one prominent UK bookmaker priced this horse up at 7/4 on Thursday before bringing him in to 6/4 very quickly, but with some American watchers not yet convinced about Hidden Scroll given that he went on a sloppy track last time (which can actually ride faster) and with his morning line odds set at 9/5, there is hope we can get a decent price on the night.  Signalman and Code Of Honor look the main dangers.