Friday, 12 February 2016

Warwick feature races preview

Decent National Hunt racing at Warwick tomorrow, but unfortunately, the fields are a bit on the thin side. It's a welcome return to David Massey, @tenembassy

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Warwick Preview

I was, of course, hoping to write this preview up for Warwick’s big races this weekend with competitive fields, but sadly both races have rather cut up and we’re left with small fields, again. It’s something that needs addressing and the arguments for possibly scrapping some Grade 2/3 contests in the racing calendar can be debated by people far more handsomer and cleverer than myself – I’m here to try and squeeze what value, if any, there could to be in the Listed Mares contest and the Kingmaker Chase for sportismadeforbetting readers.

2.10 – OLBG Listed Mares Hurdle
OLBG are to be applauded for their sponsorship of a series that plenty wouldn’t go near, and they’ve been rewarded with some decent, competitive events along the way. At first glance, this would appear not to be one that’s going to live too long in the memory, but it’s a race that asks a few questions regardless.

The main one being as to which way Petite Parisienne is heading. Last May, at both Fairyhouse and Punchestown, she looked a mare of some potential, running Bitofapuzzle (who was in tremendous form) to four lengths at then winning the Champion 4-y-o Hurdle with a degree of ease. Sadly, from this point, it all starts to go wrong – an Auteuil flop is easily enough forgiven as she may well have had enough for the season, but her reappearance at Naas in November, when vastly favoured by the weights, takes a little more explaining. And then latterly at Sandown, where after pulling too hard early she was a spent force by two out. Connections go for the hood to try and solve the latter issue, but even if that works, there’s little evidence that 2m5f in heavy going will bring out the best in her. As much as she’s favoured again at the weights, there’s a possibility she’s simply going backwards, and there’s too much to take on trust, even allowing for Willie Mullins’s good record at Warwick.

Jessber’s Dream is one that won’t have any issue with the ground, having already taken a couple of small Novice events at Lingfield and Exeter, and stepped up on those efforts when second to Mullins’s Myska at Taunton. She travelled well throughout that contest, although a tendency to go to her right under pressure in the straight (into the worst of the ground) didn’t help her cause. If she does that at Warwick, she will at least end up on the favoured stands side, and given that this step up in trip looks a positive (is a winning pointer) Noel Fehily may well set out to try and make most of the running here.

Vroum Vroum Mag fans will be looking for a Festival form boost from Jennies Jewel. She’s the one you can almost set your watch by, having had almost 30 goes over hurdles already, and we know exactly what she can do and what she can’t. She’s capable enough at this level and given she generally takes a run or two to get fit, there’s no reason to think she didn’t run right up to her best at Ascot. At the weights she’s a chance, and this slight drop back in trip will help, but her overall win record isn’t great for one of her ability. Jessber’s Dream may well have more to come and could improve past her.

The other three – Flute Bowl, Grape Tree Road and Bobs Lady Tamure – may all struggle outside of handicap company. They will probably be scrapping it out for the diesel money, and of the three, if Flute Bowl puts her best foot forward she’ll probably take the lion’s share of it, but they’ll be looking for the front three to run below their level to get involved for anything bigger.

There’s probably less questions about Jessber’s Dream than Petite Parisienne or Jennies Jewel here, and at anything around the 9-4 mark I’d have a small bet on her.

2.40 7Bets4Free.com Kingmaker Novices Chase (2m)
A real shame to only see the three runners line up for a race that has given us some exciting finishes in recent times – Gauvain bravely battling back to chin Cornas and Free World when this race held at Sandown, and a near-legless Majala scrambling home from His Excellency after being ten lengths clear at the last (which I remember well, as I was on the second) but it looks odds-against that we’re going to get anything that gets the pulse racing like that today.

And we might not learn much more about hot favourite L’Ami Serge than we already do from his short chasing career to date, although it must be said that neither Violet Dancer nor Fox Norton are mugs, and might at least give him something to think about this time. He culminated last season with a hard-gained fourth in the Supreme to Douvan at Cheltenham, a race that saw him off the bridle from an early stage. It may well have been the ground was a little too quick for him at the minimum trip, one that leads me to believe the JLT will ultimately be his target come March if the ground does dry (will it ever dry up, we ask ourselves?) but for the time being he’s had little more than schooling exercises at Plumpton against a handicap-mark-seeking Doctor Harper and the useful Run Ructions Run at Wetherby. He won’t even have to worry about leading these out – Violet Dancer will see to that – and if he’s got claims to one of the chasing crowns come March you’d expect him to win this without too much fuss. If there’s a straw to clutch at, if you’re trying to get him beat, it’s the very patchy form of the Henderson yard (plenty not finishing their races off) but even that looks a pretty thin straw….

Twelve months ago Gary Moore’s Violet Dancer was winning the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in game, front-running fashion, a style already replicated in his four runs over fences to date, and never more evident that when rallying to worry Stiletto out of it at Newbury on his latest start. Of his four starts, that was probably his least convincing round of jumping to date, and he’ll need to be foot perfect down the back here – the fences come thick and fast. Even if he does wing them, he’ll find L’Ami Serge a rather more difficult opponent to shake off than Stiletto, with all due respect to him. The Grand Annual looks the target for him. Whereas Aintree would look the natural target for Fox Norton. A flat track and better ground suit him best, and he may well find conditions against him here. He’s useful though, and has been far from disgraced in Grade 2 events at Cheltenham and Doncaster. Possibly best in the Spring and one to note come April.

Apollo Stakes preview

The 'autumn' carnival of racing steps into full swing this weekend in Australia with the C.F.Orr Stakes at Caulfield and the Apollo Stakes at Randwick. It's the latter race which has flushed out a new contributor, Paul Nathan, @paulnathan92. Welcome aboard!

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Optus Business Apollo Stakes
Group 2, $250,000, 1400m
1625 AEDT, 0525 GMT


1. Who Shot Thebarman.
Classy stayer back from a break. This trip is well short of his optimum. Look for him to be staying on at the end without troubling the eventual placings. He's just here for the run.

2. Magic Hurricane.
British import into his third Aussie prep. Last seen winning the Metropolitan over 2400m. Another who will be looking for further later into his prep however has shown speed since arriving in Australia, winning his debut over course and distance albeit in a weaker race (BM. Goes well on the track form reads 1,4,2,1 look for him to be staying on at the end has a good chance of getting into the placings.

3. Grand Marshall.
Quality stayer back from a break. Needs to go a lot further to get into contention.

4. Dibayani.
X Hong Kong runner resuming after a break ran well on his Aussie debut over 1400m at Caulfield progressed from that running another good race in the Dato' Tan Chin Nam Stakes at the Valley over 1600m he will be looking for further in time but has shown speed in he's first Aussie prep which ended in a run to bad to be true. Awkward Barrier in 11 would expect him to be ridden close to the pace which could see him caught 3 wide. Expect him to run a respectable race and be plugging on right to the line. Decent chance of getting into the placings

5. Hauraki.
Nice horse. Last seen running a respectable eighth in the Caulfield Cup at single-figure odds. Another runner who will be looking for further later into his prep. Does not have much chance here for me, was well beaten first- and second-up last campaign but they were also on wet tracks which aren't his favourite. Will be running on, watch and see how he goes. Small chance, trial runs leading into this weren't too bad.

6. Leebaz.
Once again another stayer resuming here has run respectable races over 1400m in the past trialled VERY well for this race. Expect to lead or be up right on the pace look for him to be right there close to home and a few finishing over him. I rate him to have a good chance of getting into the placings. Decent place chance

7. Centre Pivot.
Resuming after a short break since running third at the Gold Coast in the Magic Millions Stayers Cup over 1800m. Will be fitter than most having run on Jan 9 and having trialled for this race on Jan 29. Outclassed here for me, can't see him being a danger. Little chance.

8. Winx.
This horse needs no introduction she's the best horse in Australia she has speed and stamina to suit as shown in her last prep starting over 1300m where she flew home to win in the Theo Marks Stakes, and ending with an effortless win in the Cox Plate over 2040m. Drawn the inside which could cause some problems if the leaders decide to crawl in front, or the rail is off. But she has the tactical speed to get out of any problems she should win here if comes back as good as she was last year. Wins.

9. Gust Of A Wind.
Stayer resuming after running a cracking sixth in the Melbourne Cup. Unlikely to trouble the field here, look out for her over further.

10. Solicit.
Second run back this prep after running second to the classy Our Boy Malachi was no match that day but was staying on well over 1200m. For me, she is the main danger to Winx. Solicit is one of the few horses in the field who can be called a genuine sprinter/miler. Will be fitter for her first run and will be ready to fire here. Gets a gun barrier in four, will sit right on the pace and kick to try and make Winx catch her. Next best winning chance, shouldn't be out of the top three.

11. Bohemian Lily.
Stayer resuming does not have much hope here for me can see her going forward and coming back to them close to home look out for her over further later into prep.

Top 5 Prediction
1st Winx
2nd Solicit
3rd Magic Hurricane
4th Leebaz
5th Dibayani

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Superbowl 50 preview

Carrying on the successful tradition of the last few years, America's big she-bang is previewed by the guru that is Ian Steven, @deevo82. Want to see some evidence of his talent? Check out his pre-season player prop previews here.

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SUPERBOWL 50
Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos
San Francisco


The unique spectacle that is the Super Bowl is about to descend upon us for the 50th time (or should that be “Lth time”?) as the Carolina Panthers lock horns in a tussle which is part PT Barnum and part Roman Colosseum.

Worried that fans will be overstimulated by the intense battle on the grid iron coupled with the razzamatazz of the peripheral entertainment, the NFL have wisely chosen Coldplay as the half time entertainment to gently soothe spectators into a coma-like status as one of mankind’s most tedious ensembles encourages a 15-minute beer break for viewers at home.

We can forgive Commissioner Roger Goodell for his musical myopia as last year’s curtain ender was an all-time classic with Malcolm Butler picking off Russell Wilson in the end zone to seal the victory for the Patriots. I actually think it was the best Super Bowl of all time, but can we expect more of the same this year around?

The Panthers enter the game as heavy favourites with the best price of 1.50 to win outright after going 14-2 in the regular season. They have a physical quarterback playing lights out in NFL MVP Cam Newton and look set to one stage further than they did in Super Bowl XXXVIII and hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

Part of the reasoning behind Carolina being such heavy favourites was the way in which Ron Rivera’s men dispatched the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs – two very good teams with tough defences. Carolina jumped out to an early lead in both games and rode the back of their solid defense to close out the match.

In stark contrast in Denver, in week 10 Payton Manning threw four interceptions against the Chiefs and was benched by head coach Gary Kubiak, promptly dismissing the Broncos as contenders in the eye of many experts. Manning enjoyed a mini-renaissance after resting foot and rib injuries that caused his woeful form, using his veteran guile and benefitting from a devastating pass rush to stun the defending champion Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

If you like wagering on winners, then the handicap would probably be the smart choice with the Broncos sitting at +7.5 @ 1.62 with Ladbrokes and Skybet. It might not be as close as last year but it should not turn into the rout that humiliated the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVII (this is getting confusing) at the hands of the Seahawks.

The half time/full time market also holds some intrigue as the Panthers have shot out the gates early in the playoffs to hold commanding leads only to waiver in the second half and allow opponents to come back into the game. You can get 11.00 from Ladbrokes in a Panthers/Broncos split which whilst not only boosting your bank balance, it would also ensure we had a cracking sporting spectacle to watch.

We have already touched on the quarterbacks and they are both rightly at the head of the queue to be named Super Bowl MVP in Santa Clara. 64% of all MVPs have been quarterbacks. There is a huge margin between the two of them however as Newton has the best price of 1.73 but for Manning you can get a whopping 5.00 from a number of different bookies. Peyton isn’t an average quarterback riding the back of a strong defense like Trent Dilfer with the Ravens and Brad Johnson with the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl ring. We are talking a first ballot Hall of Famer, he leads the NFL all-time with most yards and touchdowns in a career with a 96.5 QB rating. That is a huge price when you consider he has players like Brandon Marshall and Emmanuelle Sanders to throw to in order to inflate his numbers.

Other interesting players in the MVP conversation are Luke Keuchly at 26.00 with the linebacker possibly getting into double figures in tackles, Aqib Talib at 150.00 who has the talent to make a couple of interceptions if Cam feels pressure and an outside bet in Thomas Davis at 150.00 who will play the game with a broken arm and will form part of the narrative during the evening.

It will be interesting to see what Denver does to limit the effectiveness of the Carolina passing game as defensive co-ordinator Wade Phillips produced a blinder against the Patriots in the Championship game, bamboozling Tom Brady with his coverages. There has been speculation that Aqib Talib could match up on tight end Greg Olsen in a big to thwart their biggest weapon and Newton’s favourite target but that could leave the Broncos susceptible to the running game. Ron Rivera has no qualms whatsoever handing the rock toe Jonathan Stewart to pound it down the throats of their opponents – especially if they take a linebacker out of their run defense to allow Talib to match up on Olsen. You can get 2.25 from Paddy Power on Stewart gaining the most running yards and those are pretty tasty odds for a team who need to keep Denver honest and not allow their pass rushers in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to pin their ears back.

Speaking of pass rushers, both sides are loaded with Derek Wolfe adding to Miller and Ware whilst the Panthers have Charles Johnson and Jared Allen (who is playing with a broken foot.) For the Panthers to pressure Manning successfully however, they need Kawann Short to push the pocket from defensive tackle to allow Manning no room to step into his throws. Both offensive lines have played well this season as units but neither can boast blue chip talent and are facing some seriously skilled defenders. You can get 2.2 on the over/under at 5.5 sacks which is definitely something to take on board.

We have already spoken about Thomas Davis and his inclusion to play at linebacker with a broken arm. The man has already come back from three ACL tears in his career so it seems wild horses could not keep him away from playing. As courageous as has intentions are, Gary Kubiak has basically had two weeks to work out how to exploit a player who can only utilise one arm to tackle. The logical approach would be to run right at Davis, forcing him to shed off a block before trying to make a tackle but the risk is that you still allow Kuechly to roam side line to side line unimpeded from the weakside of the play and nothing gets by him. What is more likely to happen is that the Broncos will try to identify man coverage (remember Peyton is the best in the business at reading defences) before using motion to get Davis isolated on either one of the tight ends or a running back. The linebacker should be able to shadow his opponent but he will struggle to wrap up in the tackle. You can get an over/under of 13.5 receiving yards @ 1.85 with Ladbrokes on CJ Anderson which seems to be quite a low target that has been set.

Finally, clock management is an important part of any NFL game and this is an area the Broncos definitely have an edge. Gary Kubiak is an ex-quarterback whilst Manning may be the best of all time at the position. They have collectively seen most things a defense can throw at them. Manning also is adept at running a no-huddle offense and can move players all over the line of scrimmage like chess pieces. Can Newton on the other hand is on a tighter leash in Mike Shula’s offense. He has simpler reads to make than Manning and if there is something he does not like, he is coached to call a timeout rather than risk a turnover and there is tremendous value in this. Both teams are 1.91 with Coral and Ladbrokes to call the first timeout when in reality the Panthers are 50% more likely to use the first timeout of the game.

Who do I think will win? The Panthers offensive line will be key in my opinion. If they can create some holes for Jonathan Stewart and protect Newton, then they can win the game. But there is so much experience on the Broncos side line with Kubiak and Wade Phillips that makes me edge towards the Broncos, especially with the handicap in their favour.

Bets -
links are to Oddschecker market comparisons

3 points on Carolina to call the first timeout @ 1.91 with Ladbrokes and William Hill.

2 points on Jonathan Stewart gaining the most rushing yards @2.25 with Paddy Power.

1 point on CJ Anderson to get over 13.5 receiving yards @ 1.85 with Ladbrokes

0.5 points on Peyton Manning being named MVP @ 5.00 with various.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Victoria Cup preview

The Victorian summer of harness racing is in full swing this weekend with a fantastic meeting at Tabcorp Park Melton. The Group 1 Victoria Cup headlines the card but strangely hasn't found a sponsor ('Good Form' is a department within Harness Racing Victoria). The Victoria Derby is the traditional pinnacle of the classic generation and the Australasian Trotters Championship tops it off for the square-gaiters.

For the preview, it's over to harness racing tragic and racecalling prodigy Luke Humphreys, @WorldRacingLuke.

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Victoria Cup

Saturday January 30
Melton Race 7 - 9:30pm AEST (1030 GMT)
2240m – Mobile Start
Grand Circuit, Group 1
AUD$400,000


1: FLAMING FLUTTER: You’d struggle to find a more consistent horse anywhere. Placed in the last two Inter Dominions and last start controlled the race and did it well to get a much deserved G1 win in the South Australian Cup. Now even though that race is nothing like this particular race, from a quality perspective, it was a tough commanding win from the breeze. Drawing barrier one is a massive plus to his chances and whilst overall he’s probably not good enough to win, there’s no doubt on planet earth he’s the most consistent horse in the race that is likely to get a lovely trip on the pegs and with the luck he’s clearly the safest each-way bet in the race.

2: MESSINI: Returned from a New Zealand Cup campaign, which included a Methven Cup win, in the G2 Shepparton Gold Cup when not having the greatest of luck when checked mid-race and never on the pegs, and in that race if you weren’t on the pegs you weren’t going to be in the drum. Was the first horse over the line that wasn’t on the inside so his run was huge. Now he was only beaten a nose into third in the G1 New Zealand Free For All behind Tiger Tara and Mossdale Conner and was second to Arden Rooney beaten a head in the G2 Kaikoura Cup and was fifth in the G1 NZ Cup. I’m still not 100% sure whether he’s quite good enough for this yet but there’s no doubting he tries very hard, with his popular head action, and is very consistent. He’s only second up going into the Victoria Cup which is some concern for mine but certainly with some luck he can get into things.

3: FRANCO NELSON: G1 NZ Cup runner up in 2014 that finished a remarkable fourth in the 2015 edition when being first-up over the Addington 3200m. He made a big run to take the lead four wide at the 400m but dropped out in the end in the G1 Auckland Cup but was a tough third in the G2 Waikato Flying Mile the next start. Worked out of the gate and got shuffled out of it but then ran on only well enough in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week. His gate speed could make things interesting. Whether he’s quite good enough any more I doubt it but with luck can run into a place at best.

4: SMOLDA: New Zealander who was produced a huge runner-up performance in the G1 NZ Cup behind Arden Rooney after galloping out and then again was unlucky in the G1 NZ FFA when never in the race and absolutely stomping home. He never quite got into the G2 Franklin Cup and had every chance when third behind Have Faith In Me and Hughie Green in the G1 Auckland Cup. Was able to find the lead mid-race in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week and held off Lennytheshark in track record time and did it well, with maybe still a little bit left in his sleeve as well. Barrier draw a huge help to his chances drawing the best of the big guns. Should find the lead like he did last week and will get every chance, will be tough to run down.

5: MISTER MUNDAKA: Has improved a lot and continues to this season. Needs to be in front, on the pace at least, to be at his best. Victor of the G3 Popular Alm FFA three runs back over Keayang Cullen and was then second to that rival in the G3 Lightning Mile when breezing and was 3rd in the G2 Horsham Cup last time. Now on that occasion he lead and had a very easy time of it and couldn’t sprint on. So I don’t think he can win this when you look at that particular run but I think he’s a horse that is continuing to improve and will be a major player in these races next season. This will harden him up. Plus I can’t see him leading or being in the first three in the run which won’t suit his style.

6: HECTORJAYJAY (EM 1): Emergency that rarely runs a bad race and is very consistent. Was second in the G3 Yarra Valley Cup first-up and then bombed the start in the G3 Cobram Cup when eventually pulled up. He then led in the G3 Geelong Cup but was done on the sprint lane by It Is Billy. He never got into the G2 Shepparton Gold Cup last time in a fast run affair when out wide. If he starts, he’s a place chance from this draw and will be better in 12 months.

7: LENNYTHESHARK: Inter Dominion champion that produced brilliant performances in the heats and Grand Final of the Championship. Resumed in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week, his preparation for this, when making a three wide move mid-race to the breeze and running a very game second to Smolda in track record time. The draw isn’t perfect here but you’d expect him to find the breeze and control the race from there on. He will improve off last week too so is going to be hard to beat is last year’s runner-up.

8: HOTASEL: One of the most improved horses anywhere over the last 12 months by a long way. Second to the horse he follows out here Flaming Flutter in the G1 SA Cup two runs back and even though he had a soft run on the pegs in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week he had to check around the home turn and hit the line better than anything to get fifth. Like many will be better again in 12 months but is certainly a place hope with the form he’s in and from the lovely trailing draw.

9: MAJOR CROCKER: Another one that will be better in 12 months but is very consistent and a great horse for connections. Ran with great credit during the Inter Dominion getting an easy victory in the consolation. Although to be honest I don’t think he’s been very good in his first two runs back from Western Australia. Yes he had to work three wide without cover at the fastest part of the race in the G1 SA Cup but I really don’t believe he should’ve dropped out like he did to finish second last. He sat on the pegs in the G1 Ballarat Cup and while it was a 27s last quarter, I thought he could’ve finished it off better. Very consistent horse but would want to get to his Inter Dominion form to have a chance of placing at the least here. If he does, Each-Way.

10: BLING IT ON: New South Wales representative who was producing brilliant wins before his campaign down here. His victories at Menangle and Bathurst we’re simply awesome and he had to work mid-race in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week before getting cover for the last 1400m however was shunted back to midfield and then stormed home into third making up the most ground on Smolda and Lennytheshark in a 27s last quarter. Now the second row isn’t perfect for your usual horse but if he gets a three-wide cart up into it with a good tempo early, which I expect to happen, he is going to be super dangerous late with his awesome turn of speed. Very dangerous.

11: MOSSDALE CONNER: Last year’s G1 Taylor Mile winner from New Zealand that is very consistent. Finished third and second in the G1 Cup and FFA during Cup week at Addington and also finished second and fourth in the G2 Franklin Cup and G1 Auckland Cup during Christmas at Alexandra Park. Made his Australian debut in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week when a game fourth but not quite good enough. Considering his run so well in some of NZ’s biggest races, I’m probably harsh on him when I say this but I’m still not quite sure whether he’s quite good enough to win a race of this nature. Will be suited next week in the G1 Hunter Cup, Each-Way tonight.

12: IT IS BILLY: Popular horse and many congratulations must go to Michael Barby and Anne-Maree Conroy for getting this horse to this level for the popular Glenlyon Syndicate. Got the sprint lane to win the G3 Geelong Cup in track record time and has since finished down the track in the G2 Shepparton Gold Cup and G1 Ballarat Cup. Another one who will be better in a year but has improved so much and with luck can place. Consistent.

13: MY HARD COPY: Has come a long way since his last Victorian campaign with Mark Peace. Has the best turn of foot out of the FFAs in Western Australia no doubt. Although did it three wide without cover for the last 900m in the G1 Western Australian Cup last time to win it for the second successive year, showing he’s not completely one-dimensional. One of his toughest tests tonight from the draw but if the pace is hot and he gets a nice cart up into it, not getting too far back, he will be coming with every single stride in the closing stages.

Summary
It’s certainly not the greatest Victoria Cup of all time especially compared to last year, 2012, 2000 etc. But it’s still a very good field. Lots of horses are going to be better in 12 months. I’ve tipped (10) BLING IT ON, now we all expect (4) SMOLDA to find the lead and (7) LENNYTHESHARK to breeze. I expect them to go a better than average speed and I feel the three wide line will start with a lap to go. I think (10) BLING IT ON and (13) MY HARD COPY could get perfect runs into the race, maybe on the back of (11) MOSSDALE CONNER and they both have brilliant turns of foot and I think (10) BLING IT ON can come over the top in the straight. He was absolutely brilliant at Ballarat and with the right run he has a huge show. (7) LENNYTHESHARK was clearly the run of the race at Ballarat and will improve off that immensely. There the main two chances. (13) MY HARD COPY will need to get a similar run as to what I predict with (10) BLING IT ON to have a chance but if he gets that luck he will flash and whilst (4) SMOLDA was very good in the Ballarat Cup when winning, I think (10) BLING IT ON and (7) LENNYTHESHARK can reverse form as they both had harder runs and (7) LENNYTHESHARK was first-up for just over a month and had to go three wide from the 1200m from well back to the breeze whethers he should be breezing here after 400m and I think can control (4) SMOLDA. Whilst there are many other consistent, good horses in the race, those four are clearly the best four in the contest that are in form and look to have between them.

Selections
(10) BLING IT ON – (7) LENNYTHESHARK – (13) MY HARD COPY – (4) SMOLDA

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Cheltenham Gold Cup antepost preview

Inside two months now before the Festival and to keep the blog ticking over, why not have an antepost preview of the Gold Cup? Jon da Silva, @creamontop, pipes up with an early assessment in his own inimitable style.

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The 'Who's Sponsoring It This Year?' Gold Cup

Let's deal with the elephant in the room, Vautour.

I have to say if there is one thing I dislike about National Hunt racing it's the constant veneration of Novice racing. Much of it is completely uncompetitive and runaway winners of novices merely prospects - "novice championship" being an oxymoron and far too many of them to even be a test. Yet before a fence and in some cases even a hurdle is jumped they are stars. On breeding Vautour's best at three miles like Kempton not the 3 miles 2f Gold Cup see park [course] 3 milers Quinz, Sir Des Champs, un Temps Pour Tout and arguably Quevega who ducked the big bucks taking on Big Buck's.

In many ways like anointed yet non superstar Champagne Fever Vautour has already shown his vulnerability and indeed won a execrable renewal of the Supreme. Fever at least pinged a couple of real stars in his Supreme. He then beat Clarcam as a novice chaser handed an easy lead and pixie jumping [posing in air] to a debut success before being mullered by Clarcam who did go on to win a toilet race at Aintree and has been buried every since. Vautour was then visually impressive in beating trees in the JLT, form that has not worked out - the 150 rated Gilgamboa seeing off his 15 length victims Apache Stronghold and Valseur Lido - toilet excuse they'd had a hard race three weeks before something hardly borne out when 3 weeks after that Valseur won an admittedly piss Grade 1 novice. Ptit Zig did win an ummh err grade 2* beating the pinata Clarcam and then being better at the weights than Vautour (!) at Ascot before being utterly exposed twice, falling when broken by 33/1 shots for this. Irish Saint was bullied at Aintree by the adequate chaser Saphir de Rheu. So his novice form is visually impressive and rating friendly but for me form-wise questionable and he lost to a tree, I know never start a sentence with so.

* Grade 2 is Gaelic for Shit.

Vautour at least does have alternatives. The Ryanair makes sense for Vautour in that he can run to 170 again over 2.5 miles and that would win it most likely. Ditto the standard of two-milers he could win as you may only need to run to 170 if Sprinter Sacre gags. However if you want to see how a two-miler jumps have a look at Desert Orchid's videos when pressed - he was prone to massive over jumps which get the publicity but he could take fences at the end of 3 miles like a hurdler, really fast whereas Vautour sails over em unlike a top two-miler. Not to mention on his one attempt in a Grade 1 two-miler he was beaten by Clarcam, out of sight.

Don (The) Cossack

Best horse in training. Error prone and course maybe not be in his favour being bigger than a big horse. Cheltenham is at some points twisty and turney and he did not enjoy Kempton hemmed in. He did win at Aintree in a field of 10 but I would view more runners for a horse who jumps much as I imagine a routemaster would if it could jump as problematic. They could use headgear and/or take him to the front but that merely shows not a straight forward hoss. Fairly priced as best horse with negatives.

Don (The Plod) Poli

Humourless [(c) Prof Hindsight] chaser who has some class but probably not enough here. I'd rather take 4s knowing it's a bog than 6 or 7 now. I think he needs a bog and that is not odds on. Like Bob's Worth yes he may travel better on better ground but so do the others but on a bog he can out last them.

Djakadam

Has fallen into favourite after last year's 2nd. Meaningless trends warning no horse has won a 1st Gold Cup at his 2nd or more attempt since See More Business (who was carried out on his 1st try). Djak' is 7 and appears to be as good as last year if not better. Given a beating by The Cossack at Punch and whilst unfit was never winning at ultra galloping Newbury last year. Thus I question whether Djak' has the pace for a fast ground race. Soft ground is not the prevailing March ground since the drainage was done. Oh and probably loses Ruby Walsh to boot.

Cue Cue Card

Cue Card is a bigger price than horses he beat. He is bred for it and with his wind straight should be up to the distance. With his history of physical issues and the lifespan of breathing ops I would wait for day if I really liked The Cue. I would be doubtful he would hold up on deep going but it would not be forlorn.

Road to Riches

Main negative is in same ownership as the 2 Dons otherwise looks cracking EW price but one has to factor he may not run and probably not good enough for a win bet. Goes on all ground and one that will probably give you a good run for your money. Would love it if he turned up in the Ryanair #wins.

Smad Place

Fourth or fifth best on some ratings no chance on the da Silva scale. Wide margin winner at gallopers heaven Newbury but well seen off in the King George. Might provoke interest if they decide to send him to the front but will have others on his tail not standing off respectfully in this.

No More Heroes

I don't even fancy him for the RSA. To take his entry here as a positive as some have done explain the entry in the 4 miler? Plodder.

O'Faolains Boy

Nice win in an intermediate chase. Needs to find 25 pounds improvement. Been injured not for me but of the outsiders one who could leap into it.

Holywell

Fourth last year and trained by anyone else you'd say no chance. That is not a compliment merely that poor runs by Jonjo horses are more excusable. Can make an argument improves on better ground and butchered Don Cossack as a novice, who did not, but seems shy even at his best.

Of the rest Triolo D'Alene, Sir Des Champs who was second to Plod's Worth in the race, Valseur Lido probably worth a mention. There, done.

Conclusion

Usual race between the Out Blasters and the Out Lasters and since the drainage was repaired the Blasters have held sway. In a tight NRNB market value is hard to find but people habitually underestimate the chances of horses stepping up in trip and over extrapolate limited evidence. I recommend a NRNB on Vautour! Yes reintroducing the murderer in the last paragraph.

a) 3rd best [TF] rated in the race already after only two proper chases - one if you take my view of the Ptit Zigger.
b) Showed his best form yet stepping up in trip to 3 miles for the first time. Hunt fans like to call all their geese swans and I am saying is he was not a superstar before the King George just a goose with a regal neck.
c) Most likely of the King George 3 [Cue DonC V] to run his race.
d) Cheltenham form is in front of season's form the 2 years prior why not this year? Ditto if we got top of ground.
e) Kempton run was on a track he clearly jumps slight the wrong way on, this is not.
f) Could be the lone front runner or at worst the controlling speed.
g) NRNB also most likely of the big boys to switch races if conditions not ideal - Cue has a Million reasons to run.
h) It is an assumption it will be a better race than last year with favourite last year's 2nd! Illogical Capt?
i) Ruby Walsh
In simple terms he has the highest potential ceiling of these and frankly given the way race was run I rate him best gelding in the King George.

NRNB 6/1

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Tennis match-fixing in the headlines again

You can't blame media outlets for saving the big stories until the spotlight is naturally on the particular sport. This story has obviously taken plenty of time to put together, seems strange that it's a collaboration between the BBC and Buzzfeed but there's plenty of depth to it.

The Tennis Racket - Excellent but VERY long. The best quote is saved until the final line - “Tennis hasn’t got a problem because they don’t want to have a problem.”

How BuzzFeed News Used Betting Data To Investigate Match-Fixing In Tennis

For the data miners, here's a link to the data and the Python code on Github

BBC - Tennis match fixing: Evidence of suspected match fixing revealed - short but they have a Radio 4 special due to air on Tuesday night.

My brief take on it - you'd be very naive to think that all the corruption in tennis has been restricted to the no-name players that the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) has banned. Too many players nobody has ever heard of, picked off because they couldn't afford the big lawyers to defend themselves.

And here's a bit of me on the Victoria Derbyshire programme this morning (Monday) on BBC2.



And another clip from the same segment:



Thursday, 7 January 2016

Fremantle Pacing Cup preview

The Inter Dominion might have finished a few weeks ago but now it's time for the traditional summer features. Once again Trent Orwin, @themightytrent3, chips in with the preview.

----------------------------

Retravision Fremantle Pacing Cup
Group 1, $300,000. 2536m
Gloucester Park
2100 local, midnight AEDT

Form Analyst: Trent Orwin
Twitter: @themightytrent3
Website: BettingPro
Form guide

The Fremantle Cup (2536m) at Gloucester Park on Friday night is one of WA’s most prestigious races. I have provided a runner-by-runner guide of the Group 1 feature that outlines the best odds available at the time of writing on Thursday, January 7.

Speed Map:
Bettors Fire has the pace to lead and Beaudiene Boaz is likely to sit outside him. Alternatively, Bettors Fire could hand up to Beaudiene Boaz which would allow the breeze position to be occupied by Lovers Delight.

Assuming Bettors Fire holds up, Devendra will be behind him, Libertybelle Midfrew and Our Blackbird are likely to be three pegs and four pegs respectively. Beaudiene Boaz breezes, John Of Arc settles 1 out 1 back and Waylade 1 out 2 back. Coming three-wide late will be Lovers Delight if he hasn’t found the breeze along with Run Oneover and My Hard Copy.

Runner-by-runner guide:

1. Bettors Fire – $6.50 UBET
His excellent gate speed will ensure he is leading the race for as long as trainer-driver Kyle Harper desires. A recent setback means he could be vulnerable late and with pressure from Beaudiene Boaz, the lead could be on offer to that horse. Races well when driven cold or leading so rates as one of the leading hopes. Each-way chance in the race.

2. Waylade – $10 bet365
A few months ago he looked like the number one or two seed for the Gary Hall Snr stable but his efforts recently have been good without being great. Will be close to midfield after getting shuffled back early and is going to need some luck along with finding his peak form to win here. Suited by the staying distance and is a small each-way hope.

3. John Of Arc – $9 UBET
This horse has speed to burn and could be the quickest point-to-point horse in the race (even quicker than My Hard Copy). Maps perfectly to be 1 out 1 back trailing Beaudiene Boaz or Lovers Delight and he was hitting the line better than anything last start in a 26.7 final quarter. If anything is vulnerable late and he gets luck then expect him to be charging home. Strong each-way chance.

4. Beaudiene Boaz – $2.80 bet365
Superstar four-year-old that is the horse to beat. Has already won five Group 1 contests and has beaten most of this field in recent times. He has been beaten when breezing on a number of occasions so could be vulnerable if he races there for the entirety here. If he finds the lead then it looks game over but even from the breeze, rates as the one to beat.

5. Lovers Delight – $10 CrownBet
Was an excellent second in the Inter Dominion Grand Final behind Lennytheshark but this is much tougher from the draw. Would love to find the lead but would need to get across the Hall Snr runners inside to be any chance of that. The breeze won’t be on offer if Beaudiene Boaz can hold him out at the start and will likely be the horse leading them up three-wide or on the back of Run Oneover. Each-way chance but place may be best.

6. Run Oneover – $18 UBET
Run Oneover is another four-year-old from the Hall Snr stable and he has been a surprise find with enormous runs at his past three starts. Has to go back from his draw and will need to cover extra ground in order to salute. Coming from off the speed to beat Mach Alert last start is a positive but this is much harder. Place chances appear best.

7. Classic American – $101 Ladbrokes
Sit-sprinter that generally finds open class racing too tough for him. The barrier draw hurts his chances and will need plenty of luck to be figuring. Doesn’t look any chance of winning and I’d be shocked to see him run a place.

8. Jason Rulz – $151 Sportsbet
Another sit-sprinter that has been hurt by the wide draw and will settle close to last. Yet to win in WA and couldn’t see it coming in a Group 1 feature from barrier eight. Happy to oppose and deserves to be one of the rank outsiders.

9. My Hard Copy – $13 Sportsbet
One of the quickest closers in WA but from barrier nine, he will be restraining and giving some of the best horses in the race a 15m-30m headstart which looks too big a task. Can win if they run the race upside down and declare war up front, otherwise place chances appear best and he could start well under the odds given his following.

10. Devendra – $7.50 TAB
Won two heats of the Inter Dominion and has an excellent turn of speed. Trailing Bettors Fire could be a benefit or a hindrance as he will rely on that horse keeping him close to the action. The Hall camp will be mindful of this horse and could lock him into a pocket so luck will determine where he finishes. Has to be respected and is an each-way chance.

11. Libertybelle Midfrew – $26 Ladbrokes
WA’s star mare and the only female in the event. Should land the back of Devendra and be three or four back on the fence. She has very little chance of winning from the draw but could be a cheeky place chance at massive odds if the pegline holds up. One to include in wider exotics.

12. Our Blackbird – $81 Sportsbet
He will be too far back in the run to have an impact and running fourth looks to be about his best chance. Will most likely beat a couple of runners home but won’t pose a winning threat at any stage in the run. Throw him in for fourth if playing a first four but it would be a remarkable effort for him to run top three.

13. Mach Alert (1st Emergency) – $51 CrownBet
He would need to draw the fence in order to be any hope of running top three. Hard to give an assessment considering he isn’t in the field at present, but he can’t do work in this company. If he draws wide, forget he is even in the race.

14. Smokey The Bandit (2nd Emergency) – $51 UBET
One of the most popular horses in WA but the grey looks unlikely of gaining a start. Has a very good turn of foot and would need to be close to the action, preferably on the rail, to be finishing close to them. Oppose if he gets a run from barrier three or wider on the front line.

Suggested Bets:
Beaudiene Boaz & John Of Arc to win – bigger stake on Beaudiene Boaz

Ratings:
1. Bettors Fire $6
2. Waylade $14
3. John Of Arc $6.50
4. Beaudiene Boaz $2.80
5. Lovers Delight $16
6. Run Oneover $18
7. Classic American $251
8. Jason Rulz $201
9. My Hard Copy $41
10. Devendra $8.50
11. Libertybelle Midfrew $101
12. Our Blackbird $151
Note: Emergencies not rated

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Hilly Way Chase preview

Some rather ordinary weather in Ireland of late meant today's attempt at running the Hilly Way Chase at Cork had to be rearranged. Technical difficulties prevented me from publishing the original preview, so here's a tweaked version from Irish racing analyst Neal Murphy, @njmurphy1985.

-------------------------------

Hilly Way Chase
rescheduled to Monday 12:35 Navan
Grade 2, €47,500, 2m 1f
Going: Heavy


Bright New Dawn

On ratings Bright New Dawn has little chance. The handicapper did not think much of his effort in front of Felix Yonger, First Lieutenant and Mallowney in Clonmel last day leaving him on 148 but this parish takes a contrasting view. All bar Bright New Dawn were open company Grade 1/2 winners and First Lieutenant has since proven he retains some old sparkle when third in the Hennessy off 147. His switch to Gordon Elliott’s stable has gotten off to a shaky start, falling at the second on debut and rear-ending himself at the third in the Fortia losing his rider but he was backed on both occasions and it would be no surprise if the yard has significantly improved him given their history. I think he is bordering on a 160s horse and with definite race fitness, this gives him a live chance on Sunday (Monday). If he had completed in the Fortia, I think he’d have won and should go close this week.

Days Hotel

A good servant to the stable but now at 10, looks like he has seen better days. A winner of this in 2012 and his 2nd in the Fortria on seasonal re-appearance would suggest all hope is not lost, but he plugged on for runners up spot after the race had completely fallen apart and it was February ’14 when he last got his head in front. Very tough to see him reversing the clock and he goes unconsidered.

Felix Yonger

A very consistent performer last season, winning on all starts bar his seasonal re-appearance. His culminating victory in the Punchestown Champion Chase proved he was right back to his days of defeating the likes of Defy Logic, Trifolium over fences and finishing a good second to Simonsig in the Neptune Hurdle. A talented operator and one that does not go without consideration for the Cheltenham Champion Chase, he will take all the beating this weekend. The heavy going is the one concern but he looked to handle it on seasonal re-appearance in Clonmel and his class should see him through.

Hidden Cyclone

A consistent performer over the years and a very good horse on his day, particularly over 2 miles. The winner of this season’s Fortria Chase, it is questionable form given the market principles failed to fire and they all finished very tired horses having needed the run. His run last Sunday in the John Durkan is a worry given he fell half way but continued to run with the leader for the reminder of the race. The trainer has said he has come out of it fine and is 100% but I would think it has left a mark.

Twinlight

A scorcher with the finest tea-leaves is needed for this fella but definitely a classy animal on his day. A PU in this race last year followed by a very impressive Grade 1 win at Leopardstown 20 days later gives a good insight into his predictability. As a previous winner of the race in 2013 and pulled up on seasonal re-appearance in the Fortria, you’d have to give him a serious chance!

Summary

WP Mullins’s yard has shifted into full throttle in December, with seven winners from 14 attempts. He has top quality arsenal for all challenges and this race is no different. As mentioned above, Felix Yonger has proved himself a Grade 1 performer and dispelled initial winter ground worries both this season and last. He looks ultra consistent, has won over further on bad ground and gets the vote for Sunday. He is currently best price 6/4 and I see him going off a lot closer to odds-on. Of the challengers, Bright New Dawn looks the next best on the basis of his stable switch and a good run last time out. He has also proven his stamina over further, which will be needed given the weather forecast. Hidden Cyclone’s efforts last weekend is a big negative, saying Twinlight is inconsistent is an understatement and Days Hotel is very unlikely to cut it in this company.

1. Felix Yonger
2. Bright New Dawn

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Inter Dominion Final

After three rounds of heats, it's now time for the richest race in Australasian harness racing, the Inter Dominion Final.

Our regular pundit, WA harness specialist Trent Orwin, @themightytrent3, has appeared courtesy of BettingPro throughout the carnival, and once again, he shares his assessment of the feature race.

------------------------

Inter Dominion Final
Gloucester Park, Perth
$1.3m, Group 1, Grand Circuit
Sunday Dec 13, 1450 local, 1750 AEDST, 0650 GMT
2536m, Mobile Start.

Form guide

1. Lovers Delight – $7 William Hill

Gets an ideal draw to set the pace and they won’t be handing up with him unless he gets crossed early. He defeated Lennytheshark by a narrow margin after finding the front last start and is capable of running strong sectionals. Regular driver Chris Lewis takes the reins and he is one of the very best when it comes to rating a leader. The downside is there is sure to be plenty of pressure but he does have toughness. Looks a strong each-way chance in the race.

2. Waylade – $9 Ladbrokes

This looks a good draw for this promising five-year-old from the Gary Hall Snr stable. Another superstar local drives in the form of Gary Hall Jnr. His run last start was excellent when leading the three-wide train and wasn’t beaten far. There is every possibility that he will be able to trail Lennytheshark in the run. Each-way chance from this draw.

3. Lennytheshark – $2.05 William Hill

The most impressive runner in the series thus far with two victories in the heats and a narrow second placing. His turn of foot is his greatest weapon and he will be close to the action from barrier three. The breeze looks the most likely position for him but he could take cover on a suitable rival knowing he could run past them late. Chris Alford is a champion driver and Lennytheshark rates as the horse to beat.

4. Philadelphia Man – $6.50 Sportsbet

Along the same lines as Lennytheshark, this fellow Victorian pacer has really impressed me throughout the series and should be midfield early in the race. Gavin Lang is cool under pressure and will have options during the race. Expect him to race around the 1 out 2 back position before coming three-wide in the final 1000m-1200m. Each-way chance.

5. Our Blackbird – $101 bet365

He is a one-trick pony and will get his opportunity to use that trick by racing on the pegs before showing his customary turn of foot. Should land three back on the fence behind Flaming Flutter and has the potential to be a complete knockout (more so for the place at $15+ odds). He ran second when racing behind the leader in the opening heat. Knockout hope.

6. Libertybelle Midfrew – $61 Sportsbet

The only mare in the race (and the entire series for that matter) will need heaps of luck to be in the finish. Likely to be four back on the pegline and a midfield finish would be a good effort. She was an excellent last-start winner but there won’t be any lead for her this time around and it’s hard to make a case for her against this company.

7. Avonnova – $51 bet365

Queensland’s sole representative and he will need a stack of luck to be figuring in the finish here. He has performed well throughout the heats and his toughness has allowed for him to thrive on this style of racing. He would love to get close to the speed but that looks unlikely and he isn’t the same horse coming from behind. I’d be looking elsewhere in the race.

8. Devendra – $10 William Hill

If there was a coach’s award for the series, this guy would get it. He wasn’t even in the top 30 when he boarded the flight to Perth and was the last horse to make the series. Two heat wins later and he stamped himself as a serious contender. Trainer-driver James Rattray has won the past two Inter Dominions with Beautide. Looks versatile but the wide-draw is not ideal. All scenarios lead to him covering heaps of ground. Each-way chance but looks under the odds at $10.

9. My Hard Copy – $17 Sportsbet

One of the quickest closers in the race, he is going to need heaps of luck and a crazy tempo to get involved in the finish. His WA Pacing Cup win was awesome and the same will be required here in order for Clinton Hall to get the sit-sprinter over the top of rivals. If he had drawn close to the speed he would have been a massive winning chance. Still an each-way chance but I’d be wanting a bigger price for him.

10. Flaming Flutter – $26 Sportsbet

A difficult horse to assess and his last run was fairly plain when Devendra raced straight past him. Racing on the pegs could help his cause and Lovers Delight should be a good helmet to follow. The staying trip is a plus and he was runner up in the Menangle edition earlier this year. If they sprint home then I fear he won’t catch a few, but if they have run along and there are tired legs then he looks the opportunist from the draw. Each-way chance and looks value in the race.

11. Major Crocker (First Emergency) – $51 William Hill

I won’t give an assessment as he isn’t in the field at present.

12. Blazin N Cullen (Second Emergency) – $51 bet365

Same as Major Crocker except even more unlikely to gain a start so no assessment will be given.


RACE ANALYSIS

Regular followers of my Bettingpro column will know that we are on My Hard Copy at around the $34-$41 mark and Lovers Delight at $41 as tipped before and during the series.

Starting off with the speed map, Lovers Delight has enough gate speed to hold the lead and there won’t be handing up with this pacer. Lennytheshark looks the early breeze horse and it is difficult to predict whether he would hand up that position.

Flaming Flutter should be able to muster enough pace to trail Lovers Delight, but don’t be surprised if Waylade tries to duck in if Lovers Delight is forced to go full throttle early to repel Lennytheshark and/or Devendra.

Assuming Flaming Flutter is behind Lovers Delight, Our Blackbird should be three back on the markers with Libertybelle Midfrew four back on the fence.

Philadelphia Man should drop straight into the moving line and could be 1 out 2 back early if Waylade stays in the 1 out 1 back position behind Lennytheshark. The rest of the moving line should consist of Avonnova, Devendra and My Hard Copy – the latter may head for the pegs and then look to get off later in the race.

Lennytheshark has been the horse that has impressed me the most throughout the series and he looks hardest to beat. Bookmakers have found his right price and others are offering an odds-on quote which looks too short.

I am struggling to find any real standout value in the race and that is a credit to the field and the barrier draw/speed map configuration.

It is hard seeing Lennytheshark missing the top three and he will be the banker for our trifecta combinations.

Each one will have him as a standout runner to win, run second and also third.

Lovers Delight, Waylade and Philadelphia Man look the three main dangers and I will be having them in a group to either win or run second and adding Our Blackbird, Devendra, My Hard Copy and Flaming Flutter into the wider group.

Along with three trifecta combinations, I am happy to be on Flaming Flutter who looks good each-way value.

He should be behind the leader and while he doesn’t have a great change of speed, he can follow speed and a strong tempo should suit him.

The one that I like, mainly for the place, at knockout odds is Our Blackbird who will get a soft run on the pegs. He ran second behind Lennytheshark in the opening round after enjoying a soft passage and his turn of foot could be seen late in the piece.

SUGGESTED BETS

Trifecta: 3/1,2,4/1,2,4,5,8,9,10 ($21 for 100%)
Trifecta: 1,2,4/3/1,2,4,5,8,9,10 ($21 for 100%)
Trifecta: 1,2,4/1,2,4,5,8,9,10/3 ($21 for 100%)

Flaming Flutter each-way ($26 with Sportsbet)
Our Blackbird each-way ($101w & $14.10p with William Hill)

MY MARKET

My ratings for the Inter Dominion Final. All prices add up to 100% and are the odds that I believe each runner should be in the final – any price above the rating is considered ‘value’ or an ‘overlay.’

1. Lovers Delight - $6
2. Waylade - $10
3. Lennytheshark - $2.20
4. Philadelphia Man - $7
5. Our Blackbird - $101
6. Libertybelle Midfrew - $251
7. Avonnova - $251
8. Devendra - $31
9. My Hard Copy - $31
10. Flaming Flutter - $14

Saturday, 5 December 2015

John Durkan Memorial Chase Preview

A spate of feral weather in the UK and Ireland has put several meetings at risk, so let's hope the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase goes ahead at Punchestown on Sunday. It'll almost certainly be a heavy track.

Making his first appearance on the blog with no fear about the going or the uncertainty is Neal Murphy, @njmurphy1985. Welcome aboard!

-----------------------------------

John Durkan Memorial Chase
Grade 1, €80,000, 2m4f
1350 local 0050 AEDST
Likely Going; Heavy

Clarcam

Having shaped quite nicely on seasonal return needing the run in Gowran, his effort in Down Royal was tremendously disappointing. He travelled through the race without his usual verve and didn’t land any sort of blow on the day. On the back of that run and the pick of his form last season beating an out of sorts Vautour at Christmas and Vibrato Valtat in Aintree, I think he will find his level short of open Grade 1 company this season. Unlikely to feature on Sunday.

Djakadam

A serious player in this season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup given his tremendous second last season, Djakadam opened on Monday as best price 13/8 favourite for this race. Six pounds clear of Foxrock on official ratings, one can see on the back of the Gold Cup performance, potential improvement with age and connections why odds-compliers placed him top of the market. The positives are hard to argue with but two negatives make the opposition a viable choice. Firstly, Willie has one race in mind for this horse and it is not this. Like all his superstar stable mates he will definitely need the run on seasonal bow and will be seen to better effect next day out. Secondly, the trip will be inadequate for a horse that appears to want every inch of three miles. He’s an archetypal Gold Cup candidate and while Road To Riches recently won a Grade 1 over 2.5 miles, he is a more talented individual with a few more gears than this fella.

Flemenstar

Just seeing him back on the track would warm the iciest of hearts but like us all, Father Time waits for no man and particularly given the long spell on the side-line, his Rolls-Royce engine appears to lack the glorious ferocity of yesteryear. Now trained by the owner’s son, Anthony Curran, connections were bullish re his seasonal comeback and he shaped nicely, showing enthusiasm of old but once they hit two out he emptied worryingly like his runs last season and spluttered home a very tired horse. This race is over an extra four furlongs and should be run to a true enough pace and with that, the head rules the heart and gives him no chance. The romantics amongst us will have a stab at 33s and I can see why but if he is to win this season, I think it will be in a lesser grade over the minimum trip.

Foxrock

While a good second in last season’s Irish Hennessy, a look through the field would not inspire and his subsequent outing in the Ryanair at Cheltenham was a non-event after being supplemented. A prep run over hurdles will have him fit and is a winner of a valuable handicap off 149 over the trip but I think he’ll come up short on Sunday given the opposition.

Gilgamboa

After promising a lot in his Grade 2 win in Limerick at Christmas, Gilgamboa’s subsequent runs last season and even including a Grade 1 win, were disappointing in comparison. He was taken out his comfort zone by Un De Sceaux in the Irish Arkle, beaten by Rawnaq over an inadequate trip (2m1f) in Navan and laboured in a hard fought win in the Ryanair Gold Cup (formerly Powers Gold Cup) when the two market principles, Apache Stronghold and Valseur Lido, failed to fire 3 weeks post Cheltenham which he skipped. He was also fortunate The Tullow Tank only woke up after the last, just failing to reel him in in the dying strides. While he will enjoy conditions on Sunday, there is uncertainty over best trip (trainer said in a recent stable tour he will step up to 3 miles), more than likely will need the run on seasonal debut and most pertinently of all, have to answer serious questions over his class to mix it in open Grade 1 company this season. Currently available best price 9/2, I think he is the poor value and to be avoided at the prices.

Hidden Cyclone

A consistent performer over the years and a very good horse on his day, particularly over two miles. The winner of this season’s Fortria Chase, it is questionable form given the market principles failed to fire and they all finished very tired horses having needed the run. While he has placed in a Grade 1 over this trip before, this is likely to be a real test of stamina with conditions and I can see him struggling to get home.

Valseur Lido

Proved himself as a high quality novice chaser last season on the back off two Grade 1 victories and a placed effort behind Vautour and Apache Stronghold at the Cheltenham festival. He is a horse to look forward over the coming seasons but I do feel his Punchestown Grade 1 over three miles flatters him as they went a steady pace and all were coming off the back of a long season. Irish Cavalier’s proximity four and a bit lengths behind besmirches the form in my book. It was also very surprising when the stable suggested him as a possible Grand National horse in a recent stable tour as I’d have thought he was held in higher regard than that. With him more than likely to need the run and the stable mentioning handicap targets in April, the best price 3/1 looks skinny.

Summary

This is a very difficult race to have a confident selection given the question marks raised above. Djakadam and Valseur Lido will need the run; do Clarcam, Gilgamboa, Foxrock have the class and Hidden Cyclone is far more at home over two miles. Djakadam was beaten off 142 last season in the Hennessy first time out and many will highlight this is why he can’t win on Sunday. However, he travelled well in the race looking like the winner for much of it, tiring badly around four out and struggling to get home over the 3m 2f trip. It is no coincidence the winner that day, Many Clouds, went on to win the Grand National the following April. He opened best price 13/8 earlier in the week and is now available at 9/4 with Valseur Lido vying for market favouritism. This looks an overreaction and with the heavy ground and no standout opposition he looks the best bet at the prices. The seven runners ruin any EW consideration and while he does lack gears, his run in the Gold Cup shows he is absolute Grade 1 class and this should see him prevail.

1. Djakadam
2. Valseur Lido


Neal Murphy njmurphy4@hotmail.com @njmurphy1985