Friday, 28 February 2020

Saturday 29th February 2020: Godolphin to Batl to Saudi Cup Win

Riyadh and Kelso don’t go together in conversation much, so this weekend really is a real mixed bag.  While Cheltenham fever continues to grow and the cold weather batters Britain, over in Saudi Arabia they host the first Saudi Cup card on the flat in likely 30-degree temperatures.

Millions of pounds are being offered and while the races aren’t graded yet they have attracted some top runners, many of whom will be very familiar with fans of British and Irish racing.

Among other things, money is going down this week on a Willie Mullins-trained horse, but not in the setting you’d expect!

1.35 Riyadh (1351 Cup) – GLORIOUS JOURNEY

Run over a trip just short of seven furlongs, this race looks absolutely tailor-made for Charlie Appleby’s charge Glorious Journey and he may yet be able to lead home a 1-2 for the yard with Mubtasim.

There are plenty of familiar names here and lots of reasonable contenders including Sir Dancealot, Speak In Colours, Larchmont Lad and the former John Gosden-trained Legends Of War, but really they do not possess the tactical speed over this trip that our lad does and he could be on for this huge £450,000 first prize.

Despite having to tackle a wide draw on this tight track, Glorious Journey’s basic level of form is way above this field and should see him prove too good following a fluent comeback win at Meydan in a Group 2 last month.

Last season he carried on showing improvement and was a close second to Limato at Newmarket before winning the Hungerford Stakes and now he can add this valuable prize to his CV under first choice jockey William Buick.

2.10 Riyadh (Turf Handicap) – TRUE SELF

The Turf Handicap is the staying race on the card, run over a trip of 1m7f and at these weights it could be wise to stick with not only the nous of Willie Mullins, but also the sheer race riding brilliance of Frankie Dettori who is in the form of his life.

Top contenders from major European races Cross Counter and Dee Ex Bee, who is now trained in the Middle East, should head the betting but given their ratings they, along with Call The Wind are arguably much of a muchness.

True Self on the other hand, a seven-year-old mare rated 130 over hurdles, has won five of 11 on the flat and continues to improve for experience.  She’s a Listed winner at Bath, Newmarket and Gowran while she also took a Group 3 at Flemington in Australia in November and she can carry on her successful globetrotting with another win here.

2.45 Kelso (Premier Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – CLONDAW CAITLIN

We may be able to grab just a little bit of value here with this Clondaw Caitlin on the basis that most of the attention (and cash) could go the way of Paul Nicholls’ Calva D’Auge.

The fact however that the Nicholls horse has been doing his winning at Plumpton and Wincanton, without improving a whole lot, doesn’t bode well for this very different test.

Our horse won ever so easily on another stiff track at Newcastle and will love conditions here.  Ruth Jefferson has the assistance of Brian Hughes once again for this mare who would have had a serious chance off level weights for me, so with a 7lb allowance she has to be backed.

Cheddleton is next best with conditions in mind, while the bigger priced Elf De Re can also not be ruled out.

3.57 Kelso (Handicap Hurdle) – BIALCO

There are questions in this race regarding several of them when it comes to trip, ground or form but Lucinda Russell’s Bialco is rock solid and is worth a punt for sure.

This beautiful nine-year-old grey loves it round here, winning over the course and distance last March before doing so again in December very comfortably indeed.

He is improving overall but perhaps didn’t like the slight step back in trip last time, but with his overall progression taken into account in conditions he is proven to thrive in, he looks to be still the best handicapped horse in this race and could well go off at a value price.

Kalaharry and Milvale are next on the list while the others all have just too many doubts surrounding them, although Lucinda Russell’s recruit from Ireland Sutton Manor was once rated 142 over hurdles and it’ll be fascinating to see how quickly, if at all, she can get him back to his best.

5.40 Riyadh (Saudi Cup) – BENBATL

Godolphin and Saeed bin Suroor have spoken about their need to find a replacement for the underrated dual Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow and, whether by luck or by design, they may well have done so.

In fact, strictly speaking I think Benbatl is developing into a better horse than the winner of the former richest horse race in the world and he could prove it by winning the new richest race, the Saudi Cup over 1m1f for an amazing £7.5million.

Fifth in the Derby and a Royal Ascot winner as a three-year-old, he became a Group 1 winner in the 2018 Dubai Turf and returned to Britain last season with a stunning win in the Joel Stakes.

This year Benbatl has already won another Group 2 race easily on turf before making a taking dirt debut at Meydan, winning another Group 2 so easily and his new career best looks like it’s on its way.  If that materialises for the six-year-old son of Dubawi, he should prove to be too good even for some of America’s very best dirt horses.

Maximum Security is the best of them for me; probably the rightful winner of the Kentucky Derby as well as being Haskell Invitational and Cigar Mile champ, beating Mucho Gusto in the former race who has since gone on to win the Pegasus World Cup easily although that race cut up badly due to runners being aimed here.

McKinzie represents Bob Baffert as well as Mucho Gusto and they’d be very close on form with this trip suiting more than the 1m2f of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, while the weight Midnight Bisou receives could prove crucial and Tacitus is bound to come to himself and start seeing his races out better at some point which would make him a serious horse.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Saturday 22nd February 2020: Dubai to be Winter Derby Warrior at Lingfield

There is some fascinating action at Kempton Park over the jumps as they now stage an eight-race card incorporating the rearranged Kingwell Hurdle from Wincanton, while at Newcastle it’s Eider Chase day in testing conditions.

Both of these meetings provide us with a bet apiece, but it’s at Lingfield on the flat where we could see a genuinely top-class performance (or two) as the Winter Derby takes place and features two four-year-olds aiming for the very top this season.

2.05 Lingfield (Hever Sprint Stakes – Listed Race) – HAREEM QUEEN

The selection hasn’t gone on the Polytrack before and comes into this having taken a five-runner handicap at Southwell, however she is a real typical four-year-old improver and a look at her profile suggests she is just getting quicker and quicker which is ideal for this track.

She could potentially burn them off then for Karl Burke, and so is advised at small stakes given her overnight price of around 7/1 looks to underestimate her a tad.  Best of the rest are Good Effort and the other potential improver Furious who is a little harder to judge.

2.25 Kempton (Kingwell Hurdle – Grade 2) – SONG FOR SOMEONE

I went for this chap last week when the race was originally scheduled for Wincanton, and despite the change in venue I see no reason to change my mind now and so he is the choice to score.

Tom Symonds’ five-year-old is a real improver who has been arguably running over unsuitably longer trips to this point, but his speed at this distance could be the deciding factor and he remains good value in the market given the presence primarily of second-best Ch’tibello for the Skeltons.

The returning Elgin is a fascinating contender for Alan King although he may just need the race, although his presence in the field has done the job of keeping the overnight price on our horse reasonable at around the 3/1 mark.

3.15 Lingfield (Winter Derby – Group 3) – DUBAI WARRIOR

The basic question most punters will be asking here is; who did it better?  Both odds-on favourite Bangkok and the selection have beaten yardstick Court House easily on their way to this Group 3 race but there’s more to take into consideration than that.

Court House had to play second-fiddle to another stablemate last year of course, but was a solid second in this race and shouldn’t be discounted once again for each-way purposes at a forecast 14/1, albeit bookmakers will only be paying out on two places.

Andrew Balding’s Bangkok, a son of Australia, undoubtedly has some high-class form having won the Classic Trial last year before running in the Derby and finising second to Japan in the King Edward VII at Royal Ascot, and he could yet be a Group 1 horse in the making as he matures.

However, in what is a real treat for Lingfield, Dubai Warrior could simply be even better than him and of course he is a horse who himself was left in the Derby by John Gosden last year before he took an injury.

He’s progressed nicely since getting back out onto the track, isn’t far behind Bangkok on ratings anyway and definitely has more potential for further improvement than his rival which is the crucial factor.  The last positive is that he shows more speed than Andrew Balding’s runner, something as mentioned before that could be crucial on this surface.

Look out for Dubai Warrior being entered into the top races over the spring if he wins this, with Group 1’s surely already being considered.

3.55 Newcastle (Handicap Hurdle) – MINELLA CHARMER

With heavy ground, strong winds and that difficult finish up the hill Newcastle is not going to be a place for the feint of heart on Saturday afternoon, nor will it be one for fancy-looking entries from far away stables.

Those from in and around the area know exactly what it takes to win around here in such conditions, and while borders trainer Sandy Thomson will be tough to be beat here with his McGowan’s Pass, it’s the Cumbrian entrant Minella Charmer that gets the vote.

James Moffatt has moved to book Brian Hughes for this nine-year-old, who looks as though he’s been wisely laid out for the contest having been given a couple of months off.

He has won around Newcastle in similar conditions to this less than a year ago (under Hughes) and got the job done nicely on his return at Haydock back in December, so all in all has very few negatives to speak of.

McGowan’s Pass is next on the list, but I can’t help thinking that the handicapper kind of has him in his grasp now and so he’ll have it all to do if one is better treated, which I think the selection very probably is.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Saturday 15th February 2020: Emitom to Claim Rendlesham Glory

Another cracking weekend of racing is in prospect, at least if the weather holds up with yet more storms battering the country left and right.

Lingfield is slowly gearing up towards its valuable all-weather championships day at Easter and we have a good value shout in their sprint handicap at 2.35, while over the jumps there are various opportunities at Ascot, Haydock and Wincanton.

Look out for a strong run from Riders Onthe Storm in the Ascot Chase at 3.35, although in all honesty he should not beat a fully fit Cyrname meaning there is no bet for us in the big Grade 1 given the prices on offer.

We kick off instead with Ascot’s second race, the £40,000 Reynoldstown Chase.

1.50 Ascot (Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase – Grade 2) – PYM

While given the class of this race we of course have a fair idea of where these horses already are in their chasing careers thus far, it is still a novice event and as such we have to use the form of the horses they’ve finished close to in order to assess their real current ability.

With that in mind, as well as the receipt of weight and the fast rate of his improvement this season, the best of them looks to be Nicky Henderson’s Pym.  The fact that he’s won over this course and distance and on soft going isn’t harmful at all either and so he is taken to score here ahead of Sam Brown and Copperhead for the yards of Anthony Honeyball and Colin Tizzard respectively.

2.05 Haydock (Rendlesham Hurdle – Grade 2) – EMITOM

Tom George’s nine-year-old The World’s End looks like being a very short-priced favourite for this race, and while he makes the shortlist his overnight odds I feel just don’t at all reflect his true chances in this fine Grade 2 event.

Even older than him is West Approach, another for the powerful Colin Tizzard operation who has a better chance here than his form figures of 21U3P would suggest, but on a more striking upward trajectory is the 6yo Emitom and he looks easily the best value in the race at 3/1 and bigger.

Warren Greatrex’s bay won three novice hurdles on the spin last season and looked to be really going places before probably just running out of puff at Aintree.  He finished a fine second to Champ in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle there, an event he could well have taken had he been just a tad fresher.

He could be coming into this already a Grade 1 winner then and having had a pipe-opener this term, which is the positive way to look at his admittedly underwhelming reappearance at Cheltenham in January, he should trip fitter now and so back on a track that will suit him much better he can prove his class under Gavin Sheehan.

2.35 Lingfield (Handicap) – HARRY’S BAR

This race revolves around likely odds-on shot Kachy and many will be putting Tom Dascombe’s course specialist speed demon in their doubles and trebles, but back in a handicap and carrying 10-2 there’s no way we can describe the seven-year-old as anything like a good thing.

He is not regarded by many as expected to be in the form of his life for this return, a thought that has developed after his defection from his last intended race, so with that in mind there are others to have against him including Peter Hedger’s Total Commitment and our boy Harry’s Bar for James Fanshawe.

The latter-named hasn’t finished outside of the places on the all-weather in ten runs to date and a proper look through his form tends to reveal a thought that he could prefer Lingfield over Kempton and Newcastle.  So, with a new career best now looking quite likely, Harry’s Bar appears better handicapped than the jolly and gets the vote with crack rider Andrea Atzeni on board.

2.45 Wincanton (Kingwell Hurdle – Grade 2) – SONG FOR SOMEONE

This is one of Wincanton’s two major two-mile hurdle races during the season and it is arguably still underrated as a contest, although to be fair I don’t think we’ll be seeing next month’s Champion Hurdle winner here.

There are four to take against the field and all are within 5lbs of each other on private ratings, but given that Wincanton’s two-mile track is one of the fastest in the country it felt germane to assess the contenders’ speed ratings on soft over this distance as well as their normal expected performance before coming to a conclusion.

Having done that, the one that looks the best value and could properly come of age is Tom Symonds’ Song For Someone, a five-year-old who has continued to improve recently despite going over seemingly unsuitable longer trips.

Back over this distance he could prove to be the best of these under jockey James Nixon, ahead of the better-known Quel Destin of Paul Nicholls’ yard and the returning Elgin for Alan King.  Ch’tibello is best of the rest.

4.45 Ascot (Mares’ National Hunt Flat Race) – FORTHEGREATERGOOD

Ascot’s closing contest is the bumper, not a particularly strong race of course but one that could provide one last bit of value during our punting day.

That value comes in the shape of Fergal O’Brien’s Forthegreatergood, a point-to-point winning mare.  She didn’t perform to a great level on her bumper debut, fairing not as well as chief rivals Sabrina and Belle De Manech for example, but there are other variables to consider.

Having been sent off favourite at Uttoxeter back in December more was expected of her under rules though ultimately, she could do no better than third.  Having been freshened up, had a wind operation and been given a tongue-tie for this reappearance a much better performance is expected and so if she lives up to previous expectations, she can be good enough to see of this field and hopefully at a very attractive price.

The aforementioned Sabrina for Paul Nicholls and Belle De Manech for Anthony Honeyball are next on the list, while there should be support for Harry Fry’s unbeaten Pure Bliss.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Saturday 8th February 2020: Indefatigable in our Pursuit of Profits

Altior makes his return to two miles in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury and in all honest, he should be more than capable of winning that contest before drastically shortening his odds for a third Queen Mother Champion Chase next month.

He’s no price on the day though, neither is former Gold Cup winner Native River in the Denman Chase and so we concentrate efforts elsewhere, both on the flat and over jumps during what is a busy weekend promising to give us plenty of opportunities.

2.05 Warwick (Kingmaker Novices’ Chase – Grade 2) – TORPILLO

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Torpillo gets into this race with a little weight advantage and, as a course and distance winner on soft going, may yet represent some decent value in what is a bona fide Arkle Trophy trial race.

The likely favourite is Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra who is indeed on an upward curve having won easily twice, including here, before being beaten narrowly in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase, but he may struggle to hold off the selection this time.

On a line through Mister Fisher, who he beat at Warwick, and given the fact that he was a solid favourite in the Henry VIII himself, there is every reason to believe Torpillo has enough at these weights to get his head in front and so he gets the nod.

The likes of Precious Cargo, a beaten favourite last time for Nicky Henderson who is clearly capable of better yet, and Harry Whittingdon’s Wayward Lad runner-up Rogue Vif may also be sniffing around at the business end of the race at least for place money.

2.20 Lingfield (Handicap) – CORAZON ESPINADO

Trainer Simon Dow was quick to book crack all-weather jockey Luke Morris once again for his last-time-out winner Corazon Espinado, a five-year-old who just seems to be getting better and better as time goes on.

He is not improving in huge lumps race by race  by any means, however he’s only been given a rise of 2lbs for his last course and distance success and given that his speed figure puts him ahead of this opposition and with the prospect of more to come seeming likely, he looks a safe bet to land another handicap prize.

Andrew Balding’s four-year-old Spirit Warning has a live chance too if stripping fit enough having been off the track for some 147 days.  His best speed figures have come over this trip and on quick going too, something that usually bodes well at Lingfield, while his current handicap mark of 89 does not accurately represent his true ability making him potentially well-in.

Kuwait Currency would not be without a chance at the weights while Goring is another to consider for place money.

2.40 Warwick (Warwick Mares’ Hurdle – Listed Race) – INDEFATIGABLE 

While more could come from Rebecca Curtis’ Legends Gold who has a year on the selection and was a winner last time showing the promise of more improvement, the safe call in this race is definitely Indefatigable and she is backed to get back on the winning trail herself.

Paul Webber’s seven-year-old mare won at Cheltenham in the spring but has had a solid if unspectacular season this far, though overall she remains on the upgrade and finds herself in conditions that should suit her down to the ground.

Second in a competitive mares’ handicap hurdle back at Prestbury park in December, her overall profile marks her out as the best of this bunch considering this extra furlong should really bring out the best in her.

Coded Message, Copper Gone West and the returning Cap Soleil are all capable and could find it out for the places, but hopefully nothing more.

3.30 Lingfield (Handicap) – EXPRESSIONIST

The solid one here, and certainly the benchmark over this course and distance, is Archie Watson’s Electric Ladyland who is three from five on the all-weather and so of course she had to be carefully considered.

Her last win however was over five furlongs at Chelmsford and she was beaten around here last time so she is certainly vulnerable, especially to Charlie Appleby’s Expressionist who looked a real player when winning on debut as a juvenile last May at Ascot.

He didn’t really confirm his promise last season, but he’s now been gelded and comes from a yard that knows exactly how to get them ready first time up for the year.

On breeding and on what ability he showed in the spring it seems he’d be capable of being a 100+ horse for sure, making his current mark of 89 look a little short of his real ability and so it would be no surprise to see him score on his reappearance.

4.10 Newbury (Handicap Chase) – REDZOR

There is of course a lot to consider when ploughing through a novice handicap chase, but on all known evidence the safest play is likely to be Dan Skelton’s Redzor.

Having really fancied Shannon Bridge at the original entry stage for the same yard, I’d like to think the trainer knows what it may take to land this contest and Redzor looks more than just a substitute.

Highest Sun may well be sent off favourite for this event, but Colin Tizzard’s runner has earned his recent reputation mostly getting beaten and winning a two-runner race on the heavy at Plumpton, arguably giving him the look of a bookies’ favourite.

The wildcard could well be Paul Nicholls’ Mont Des Avaloirs who retains potential, though his most recent appearances aren’t overly inspiring in all honesty.