Friday 26 February 2021

Saturday 27th February 2021: Gosden to Land Winter Derby Again

It’s Eider Chase, Winter Derby and Close Brothers Chase day on Saturday as the flat and National Hunt action comes at us thick and fast.

There are plenty of good value betting opportunities for us as we head to Lingfield, Kempton and even the USA in search of profit this weekend. We make an early start with one in the 11.45 at Lingfield, Ryan Moore looking once again to be the start of the show.

11.45 Lingfield (Handicap) – CONVERTIBLE 

Ryan Moore has been brilliant at Lingfield of late, despite his constant and unnecessary criticism in some quarters, and he has another strong book of rides once again on Saturday.

We’re backing him to make the perfect start on Hugo Palmer’s Convertible in the early mile-and-a-quarter handicap. Just a four-year-old, Convertible is still improving and ran a career best here under Moore last time out.

The gelding looks well capable of defying a rise in the weights, has easily the strongest speed figures and now gets standard going as opposed to standard-to-slow which will help him along from stall 3.

2.40 Lingfield (Winter Derby Stakes – Group 3) – FOREST OF DEAN

We have only a small field for this year’s Winter Derby, and it can once again go to the John Gosden team courtesy of their Forest Of Dean.

Off the track all of last season, the team retain plenty of faith in the now five-year-old who is in the care of Godolphin these days.

Just feeling his way back with two third-placed efforts, he is the strongest traveller of this bunch when at his best and has been prepared to peak now.

He’s good value to beat impressive handicap winner Father Of Jazz, Felix and Johnny Drama, and can prove he is up to this sort of class under Rab Havlin.

3.00 Kempton (Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – CALICO

The top three in the market, Atholl Street, Calico and Cape Gentleman have only six runs between them at this point and all are capable of tons of improvement.

Atholl Street has been the one for money in the build-up to the weekend, however the one who has more to come on better ground is the Skelton five-year-old and so he represents the best value.

In winning on his hurdle debut at Ludlow last month Calico was almost as quick between the flights as Atholl Street was last time, so considering he had to do that on heavy ground it seems we can see the sort of performance on this surface that may well have this lot beaten off before they hit the last.

It may yet be significant that Emmet Mullins brings Cape Gentleman over from Ireland for this event and he too can go well, but there’s a lot to like about Calico and he gets the vote this time.

4.25 Newcastle (Handicap Chase) – ASCOT DE BRUYERE

This is a decent two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase featuring just the eight runners, and it seems the weather has turned out perfectly for James Ewart’s Ascot De Bruyere.

The ground was good when he won very impressively at Newcastle three months ago, so the fact that it has been sunny and a little windy all day on Friday on Tyneside the advertised good-to-soft may turn to just about the good going he had when winning over the track and trip.

He’s only gone up 7lbs for winning by miles, has had plenty of time to recover, is clearly on the improve and has the services of Brian Hughes up top. He seems like a very sound selection.

Seemorelights and Clan Legend look best of the rest, but a nice clean round of jumping should see Ascot De Bruyere go in at Gosforth Park once more.

10.58 Oaklawn Park (Southwest Stakes – Grade 3) – ESSENTIAL QUALITY

This is the delayed $750,000 Southwest Stakes in Arkansas, a key early Kentucky Derby prep race. Bad weather put paid to the latest showdown between Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior two weeks ago, but the delay may have helped in terms of their training and readiness for the season ahead.

There was dismay flying around from the Jackie’s Warrior camp that they didn’t win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last season, however regular readers will know how confident I was about Essential Quality that day in November and the Godolphin horse duly won in big style to become America’s champion two-year-old of 2020.

He has been a very worthy winter Kentucky Derby favourite and really should win this race too, though the presence of his old rival means he has been available at 6/5 here and has a morning line price of 6/4 in the States.

Just shop around to get the best odds you can on a horse who will have one more prep after this before heading to Churchill Downs on May 1st for his date with destiny.

Friday 19 February 2021

Saturday February 20th 2021: Knicks Ready to Go Again in the Middle East

There are a number of crucial National Hunt prep races on Saturday, not least the Kingwell, the Rendlesham and the Grand National Trial.

On the flat, there are tens of millions of pounds up for grabs over in Saudi Arabia for Saudi Cup day and we have four solid selection from there as well as two more over the jumps.

1.00 Riyadh (Neom Turf Cup) – TILSIT

This is a fascinating conditions race over the extended mile-and-a-quarter, worth some £437,000 to the winner. The each-way value may be in the UAE-trained For The Top, however the class acts are Bill Mott’s Channel Maker and Charlie Hills’ Tilsit.

There is a lot to like about the latter, despite the wide draw. We successfully tipped him here at big odds in Group 3 company at Glorious Goodwood last summer, and personally I’ve thought he was heading to the top since I saw him demolish his field at Newcastle on his second start last June.

He is potentially top class for sure and he should be good enough to win this, Channel Maker being the big danger although the American horse tends to need the full mile-and-a-half to be seen to best effect.

1.35 Riyadh (stc 1351 Turf Sprint) – SPACE BLUES

Run over the seven furlongs, this race once again hands out more than £400k to the winning horse. There are some crack six and seven-furlong performers here, two of them trained by Charlie Appleby who could be in for a very successful day.

His Glorious Journey is rock-solid, a Group 2 winner and is match fit after a solid third in Dubai. His teammate however, Space Blues, is unsurprisingly the choice of William Buick and is the selection.

Space Blues can be brilliant on his day, his only negative being that he has often needed his first run of the year. There is no guarantee he will be undercooked though and, even being a few pounds under-par, he’d still be in with a big chance and the Group 1 winner can prove his class.

3.18 Wincanton (Kingwell Hurdle – Grade 2) – GOSHEN

We’re playing the numbers just a little bit here with potential superstar Goshen. He had famously taken apart his Triumph Hurdle field at the Cheltenham Festival last year before falling at the last, and hasn’t been seen to best effect since.

A beaten favourite twice on the flat before completely bombing out on his National Hunt seasonal reappearance, it is understandable at a glance that he has been overlooked by the layers for favouritism.

However, his flat form was solid and all horses are allowed one proper off day. Assuming there is not something a miss then, at these weights and somewhere near his best he would have plenty in hand and so even without knowing that for sure, at the odds published he is worth taking a chance on.

Goshen could still be the best in his division, while likely short-priced favourite Song For Someone is solid if unspectacular and Navajo Pass is the other one who makes the shortlist for place purposes.

4.10 Riyadh (Saudi Derby) – REBEL’S ROMANCE

Back to Riyadh we go, this time for the Saudi Derby. This is a one-mile race for the three-year-olds on the dirt and is worth a mental £656,000 to the winner.

We mentioned Charlie Appleby might have a great day and he was in among the winners at Meydan again on Thursday. This could be another winner for him in the shape of the impressive-looking Rebel’s Romance.

Three from three now, Rebel’s Romance looked great in winning at Newcastle and Kempton before opening his account at Meydan in January. He beat Mouheeb that day who has since gone on to beat Meshakel, in opposition here, and he did that much easier than the margin alone would demonstrate.

He is a better horse than the numbers suggest and, as a son of Dubawi, could stay further so a win here may put him in line for the UAE Derby – would they think about Kentucky thereafter?

I hope he can land this, with American-trained Cowan probably next best while Godolphin’s other runner, Soft Whisper, has a handy weight concession and can also land a blow for Saeed bin Suroor and excellent jockey Mike Smith.

4.25 Haydock (Prestige Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – ALAPHILIPPE

It’s tight at the top of the market here, as it is at the top of the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle for which this is a trial, but one horse may just prove to be good value at this three-mile trip.

Alaphilippe, trained by Fergal O’Brien, was on a fine winning streak before being turned over at Taunton last time but he ran as though the 2m3f trip did not suit him at all. He can improve plenty from that, enough perhaps to beat Mint Condition while Young Buck was the other horse under consideration.

5.40 Riyadh (Saudi Cup) – KNICKS GO

Although this race isn’t graded yet, it’s a Group 1 in all but name despite the glaring omissions especially from the States.

Now the richest race in the world at £7.3million to the winner, it is very classy and while John Gosden’s Mishriff can get competitive, this could come down to the American runners.

The solid but perennially underperforming Tacitus can put up a decent each-way show once again, while most of the money across the pond is going the way of Bob Baffert’s Charlatan.

Last year’s Arkansas Derby winner (since disqualified) was at the head of the Kentucky Derby market at one stage, and while he could reach the same level as the likes of Maximum Security it has not been proven yet which makes his odds too short.

Step forward Knicks Go for the value. Five years old now and improving nicely, Knicks Go is trained by the brilliant Brad Cox and he landed a gamble to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November. He followed that up with a rather easy Pegasus World Cup win over this 1m1f trip, and to my eye he is the best of this bunch.

Friday 12 February 2021

Saturday 13th February 2021: Lord to Rule the Manor at Wolverhampton

Saturday’s jump racing has been completely decimated in Britain due to the extremely cold weather, Newbury moving to next weekend and Warwick hopefully now going ahead on Monday.

There are always betting opportunities however, as long as we play smart. Across the all-weather meetings at Lingfield and Wolverhampton (Lingfield needing to survive an inspection) as well as Laurel Park in the States, there is enough for us to take an interest.

To have a chance at a reasonable return, we keep stakes to a minimum and play the long game with these six selections: 

1.25 Lingfield (Fillies’ Novice Stakes) – MUMMY BEAR

We should be on the lookout for any significant money coming the way of Clive Cox’s newcomer Just Amber, but if she turns out to be nothing special them Mummy Bear is easily the most solid in the contest.

The key here is her improvement. She ran a rather below average debut when fifth at Chelmsford before bettering that with a runner-up effort here at Lingfield. She was 14/1 and 10/1 respectively and so nothing more was expected of her, but now she can move up another notch and will have the assistance of Ryan Moore up top.

Debut winner Rita The Cheetah is next best, while in this company the Cox team can expect a good run from Just Amber.

2.35 Lingfield (Handicap) – CRACKLING 

We’re on Ryan Moore again here, the top-class rider having been put up by Martyn Meade for owners Manton Park Racing on lightly-raced five-year-old gelding Crackling.

Again, improvement is the main factor here given that Crackling won on debut at Lingfield back in late 2018 before coming back from injury to run fourth at Kempton and second at Southwell, getting better each time.

Back on the surface at which he excelled on his first run, Crackling can now kick on and so considering he is already at the requisite level to be able to go close in this company, another step forward should definitely get the job done.

On form he has last-time-out winner Accomplice, Luke Morris’ mount Apex King and 1¼-mile Lingfield scorer Noble Peace to beat.

5.45 Wolverhampton (Handicap) – ARAFI 

Another very solid form proposition and, like Mummy Bear one from the Richard Hannon yard, is the filly Arafi who runs in this seven-furlong handicap.

Well bred, Arafi hasn’t hit the heights as of yet in eight starts but is getting better and has certainly shown some versatility. A good second on good-to-firm ground at Salisbury last year, she returned there to win on softer going before taking a break and landing another race on Kempton’s all-weather track a week ago.

She is being turned out quickly and there is good reason for that. She is in flying form, is not badly treated by the handicapper and looks likely to have a couple of pounds in hand.

Mark Johnston has Love Destiny in this who also won two in a row and could easily bounce back after defeat last time, while Mark Loughnane’s ultra-consistent Critical Thinking is another in with an obvious chance.

7.15 Wolverhampton (Handicap) – LORD RIDDIFORD

The best race on the card is this Class 2, five-furlong sprint handicap. Short in the betting after winning last time is Tone The Barone and he will have a major say in this, while David Barron’s Venturous is on a hat-trick.

The overpriced one in the event however is John Quinn’s Lord Riddiford. His price, around 5/1 at the time of writing, is based principally on his unseating Jason Hart at Chelmsford last time when he was a short 10/3 shot to win a similar race to this.

Before that he was showing continuous improvement, winning and finishing a good second over this course and distance, and so now with Hart sitting tight he can really make his presence felt.

As well as the six-year-old’s overall form remaining solid, Lord Riddiford’s time figures are amazingly consistent and so he looks guaranteed to run his race.

7.45 Wolverhampton (Handicap) – CITYZEN SERG

In Richard Hannon’s Cityzen Serg we have a strangely similar scenario to that of Lord Riddiford. A classy four-year-old for Middleham Park Racing who has now reached a mark of 87, this son of Raven’s Pass won three from four at this track between November and January and did not look finished.

A strong fancy on Newcastle’s Tapeta last time, he ran way too freely and bombed out, finishing stone last which has led to him being overpriced and under bet for this race. He should have got over that now and if back to his best, remains well handicapped to score.

Cityzen Serg’s main rivals appear to be likely favourite Arij, a consistent type but one who is overrated in the market given that he has been getting beaten and is no better handicapped than our horse, as well as David Loughnane’s last-time-out scorer Dark Pine.

8.53 Laurel Park (General George Stakes – Grade 3) – SHARE THE RIDE

We’ll dip just the one toe into Maryland on Saturday night (although we’ll be back in May), to have a small bet in this $250,000 Grade 3 race at Laurel Park.

Laki still possesses some quality and is fancied by many for this race, but at 8 he is not getting any better. Indeed, his ratings are steadily decreasing and to be honest there is no reason to think he’ll suddenly reverse that here. He also gives away 2lbs to the rest of the field.

Better placed to run well may be the five-year-old Funny Guy. Consistent if not prolific, he has been running well at Aqueduct but has had the assistance of Joel Rosario until now.

The one to perhaps show them both up is the six-year-old Kentucky-bred, Share The Ride. Improving lately in terms of both his overall rating and his speed figures, Share The Ride just keeps getting better despite his age and switching stables, his morning line price of 3/1 looking more than fair.

Friday 5 February 2021

Saturday 6th February 2021: Bristol to Lay Down Gold Cup Claims

It’s a huge racing weekend for Leopardstown who host the Dublin Racing Festival, and we have a solid selection from of their events to complement a Grade One pick at Sandown and some good value flat selections too.

1.11 Lingfield (Kachy Stakes – Listed Race) – MISTY GREY

This is the first running of the Kachy Stakes, a race named after the four-time Lingfield winner trained to such good effect by Tom Dascombe and ridden by Richard Kingscote.

The same trainer/jockey combination could yet win his inaugural race too. Their Misty Grey, coming here on the back of a hat-trick, has likely been laid out for this contest but the gelding’s form entitles him to have a strong shout anyway.

True, his wins have come on the Tapeta at Wolverhampton, but having made a good all-weather debut over a mile at Kempton and then been successful over seven furlongs, he seems to be getting quicker and we know Dascombe can trainer them for speed. Aberama Gold, Tinto and Summerghand also made the list.

1.45 Lingfield (Winter Derby Trial Stakes – Listed Race) – FOREST OF DEAN

John Gosden knows this division very well having secured second place in it last year with Court House, before going on to train the first two home in the Winter Derby itself.

His Forest Of Dean, now in the Godolphin colours, won two competitive handicaps on the turf in 2019 when owned by Princess Haya and was very much going the right way before taking an injury.

After 16 months off he made a very satisfactory return in January when third of four at Wolverhampton behind today’s rivals Felix and Bangkok (beaten only a length), and it is thought that much like the 2020 Winter Derby winner Dubai Warrior he can go on to become a group performer.

He should be able to improve past his two old rivals now, while Red Verdon can also make his mark on this surface. Rab Havlin rides.

1.50 Sandown (Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – HITMAN

Another good renewal of this top-quality novice event, one in which we could see a performance from Hitman that may put him right in the running for Cheltenham Festival honours next month.

Paul Nicholls’ five-year-old is the youngest of the main contenders and while on its own that isn’t always a good thing, he has looked tough enough in his two chase races to date.

After winning ever so easily on soft ground on his debut over fences as a 3/1 shot, he ran a cracker in the Henry VIII here at Sandown to finish second to Allmankind. With that experience behind him he should be that bit closer to Grade 1 form, he was staying on there which is a good sign for this step up in trip and he’s in the right hands.

Not far behind on my ratings in the conditions is Shan Blue for the Skelton’s who is on a four-timer, while Messire Des Obeaux and Dame De Compagnie may yet hit the heights.

2.16 Lingfield (Handicap) – SYMBOLIC POWER

It’s a little irregular to see a Charlie Appleby horse in a Class 4 handicap and at the time of writing it’s unclear what sort of price we can expect about this Symbolic Power, but he is a very solid proposition.

While the others, even last-time-out winners Coupe De Champagne and Swinton Noon, look handicapped to near their best, Symbolic Power’s rating of 82 at the top of the weights appears to underestimate him.

Charlie Appleby and Godolphin had a quieter time with their juveniles last season, largely owing to the change in schedule, and it’s expected that they will have plenty of three-year-olds now being described as dark horses.

This horse won’t necessarily go on to become a group performer but he’s coming along nicely, handles this track and looks likely to improve past the rest. Adam Kirby rides.

2.20 Sandown (Cotswold Chase – Grade 2) – BRISTOL DE MAI

We’re getting a very different Cotswold Chase this year after Trials Day at Cheltenham was abandoned, but that’s not to say that the winner of this race won’t feature highly in the betting for the Gold Cup in March.

This rearranged race still has a high-quality field, last year’s narrow Gold Cup second Santini being the subject of many of the bets while Native River will be as popular as ever.

Saint Calvados is frankly overpriced for this in receipt of 6lbs, but the one who still looks good enough to land this event if not the Gold Cup is Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Bristol De Mai.

Many things have been said about him in the past; “he won’t be beaten at Haydock”, “he can only win at Haydock”, “he can’t go right-handed” etc, but that of course is all nonsense.

The fact is that he is just a damn good three-mile chaser, especially on soft ground, and so given the potential flaws in his opponents when it comes to underfoot conditions and/or the even three-mile trip, he on balance looks the best of the bunch.

3.15 Leopardstown (Irish Champion Hurdle – Grade 1) – SHARJAH 

The Dublin Racing Festival is absolutely top-notch and, in my mind if not in many others, it has provided horses and trainers competing there with an advantage at Cheltenham given that they are very much match fit when they get to the big one in March.

Races such as the Irish Champion Hurdle are massive in their own right of course, and this year we may well see Willie Mullins’ Sharjah truly coming of age.

Already a winner of four Grade One races, he wasn’t at his best in this contest last year behind the likely favourite for this renewal, Honeysuckle, but he’s in truly flying form going into the race.

The track, trip and the ground will have him at his best, while the hitherto unbeaten Honeysuckle has arguably been better over two-and-a-half miles and so a slight upset could be on the cards here.