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.

Friday 4 December 2020

Saturday 5th & Sunday 6th December 2020: Politologue the New Governor of the Two-Mile Division

We have a cracking weekend of National Hunt racing on the cards, with plenty of great value bets to be had along the way at Sandown, Aintree, Punchestown and Huntingdon. There’s even a cheeky all-weather bet early on Saturday evening for us.

These are six of the best for the weekend: 

Saturday 5th December 2020 

1.50 Sandown (Henry VIII Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – HITMAN

This is always a hugely interesting race, with potential Arkle and Champion Chase winners of the future in the field.

The three standouts this year are six-year-old Eldorado Allen, on a hat-trick here, likely favourite Allmankind and the potentially top-class Hitman with the latter two being four-year-olds. Allmankind remains interesting, a very easy winner over a horse who has scored subsequently and one who appreciated softer ground over hurdles meaning he could improve plenty here.

Paul Nicholls’ Hitman however looked brilliant when winning by 30 lengths at Ffos Las, if not the finished article of course, with the runner-up giving us a decent line on how to rate him. He can reach a very high level here under Harry Cobden.

2.25 Sandown (Tingle Creek Chase – Grade 1) – POLITOLOGUE

One of the top races of the season, at least in name, with this year’s Tingle Creek just perhaps signalling a proper changing of the guard.

Paul Nicholls’ runner was second to the great Altior in the 2019 Champion Chase and got close enough, while he won it in easy fashion last season with his rival out.

Even taking out the failed 2m5f experiment entered into by Nicky Henderson last term, a genuine case can be made for Altior going backwards a little now while Politologue is still heading the right way over two miles and looks a fair value bet to claim this crown on merit.

The others don’t seem to be at the same level, but Greaneteen and Rouge Vif may fight it out for third place.

2.40 Aintree (Many Clouds Chase – Grade 2) – SANTINI

Another high-grade chase, one that is so often a Grade 1 race in all but name and we can probably say that about this year’s renewal.

While we all love Frodon and know he gets on so well with his jockey, he will have to reach a new recent high to land a blow here and while that remains possible, it seems a stretch given the quality of the selection to name just one horse.

Native River, the 2018 Gold Cup winner and 33-length scorer of this race twelve months ago, is ten years old and thus not finished yet but he cannot be judged on his win a year ago as the competition was nothing compared to this time around.

Santini, very narrowly beaten in the Gold Cup this year after first landing the Cotswold Chase, is still getting better and will have the class to remain on the bridle in the final half-mile, something that is crucial here, while he clearly stays more than well enough to see out the trip too.

His general price of 6/4 at the time of writing is not ideal from a punting point of view, but confidence is high about Santini and it is hoped that there will be enough support for both Frodon and Native River to help boost the price of the selection as the afternoon goes on.

5.30 Wolverhampton (Conditions Stakes) – YAZAMAN

It’s always a tad risky going with a horse carrying the owner’s second-choice colours, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Sheikh Ahmed’s Yazaman is a better horse than Zamaani and may well prove it in this six-furlong juvenile race.

James Doyle has picked the Crisford’s Zamaani based probably on the fact that he ran a close second in Listed company at Redcar, but that may have flattered him slightly and a 21-runner race on soft turf versus this small Tapeta event is hardly the same thing.

Yazaman was good enough to be placed at Royal Ascot, the July Meeting and Glorious Goodwood, is a proven group performer and can get back to his best now he’s been gelded. He looks like the value in the race under the excellent Cieren Fallon.

Atalis Bay may go well, while Mighty Gurkha has the quality but has been in poor form and gives away 7lbs which may prove to be a little too much.

Sunday 6th December 2020

1.40 Punchestown (John Durkan Memorial Chase – Grade 1) – ALLAHO

On private ratings there are four of these very close together; Min, Chris’s Dream and Samcro being impossible to split for me with Allaho a little way ahead of them.

There are two ways you can go with a race of this nature; either leave it alone as it is too close to call, or trust in the fact that with ratings so close the race looks reliable in nature and so we’re going to take what looks like a good value price on Allaho.

Min won this race last year as well as the Ryanair Chase at the Festival, but he is not guaranteed to hold his form and his best would be needed to repel this lot.

That is especially true of stablemate Allaho. His first season as a chaser culminated in him finishing third to Champ in the RSA at the Cheltenham Festival, a race for which he was favourite and stumbled at a crucial point. He looks sure to make the very top and can begin a big campaign by landing this.

2.25 Huntingdon (Peterborough Chase – Grade 2) – AL DANCER

A fascinating race, with contenders flying up and down in their careers based on age, experience and a change in race distance.

Dolos is capable and rates second on our list, Fanion D’Estruval has a chance alongside Mister Fisher while Top Notch has it all to do, but they’ll all have to go some to catch Al Dancer.

The Twiston-Davies runner is on the way up in his career, won easily in October and was sent off favourite for the Paddy Power Gold Cup last month but will like this much better.