Friday, 28 March 2014

Lincoln Handicap preview

The UK Flat season traditionally opens with the Lincoln meeting, featuring a straight mile handicap, a declared field of 22 and most of them first-up off a winter break. Good luck!

Not phased by the challenge is Chris Day, @chrisday100, and you can read his fine work below.

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

William Hill Lincoln
Heritage Handicap (Class 2)
£100,000
Straight Mile course
Likely Track Condition - Soft


For those who love the Jumps, as I do, the next couple of weeks are the culmination of another great season but for those who love the Flat, as I also do, they signal a new start where we look forward to crowning new champions and trying to find the winner of some unfathomable big field handicaps where the draw can be more important than the form of the horses.

The Lincoln Handicap kicks off the season on Saturday and the job of the punter in recent seasons has been made even more difficult with the plethora of All Weather form needing to be taken into account against horses who’ve been rested since last Autumn plus the odd horse who’s wintered and possibly been got fit in Dubai.

Richard Fahey, a trainer whose charges are invariably ready to go straight away, supplies the favourite, Gabrial’s Kaka, in the absence of Roger Charlton’s Captain Cat due to unsuitably soft ground. A four year old by Jeremy, he finished second of 11 over nine furlongs at York in October but races from a 3lb higher mark, has no soft ground or big field form and went off 16-1 last time, whereas he now trades at single figure prices. Not for me but I respect connections.

Next in the betting is another unexposed four year old from the Tim Easterby yard in Off Art, who will find this a more searching test than small field wins he gained against three year olds on better ground last season and is passed over due to the price.

A case can be made for Tullius, who plied his trade in pattern races last season but has won a straight nine furlong handicap at Newmarket and ought to go well. Defying a mark of 109 will take some doing for any horse.

Whispering Warrior strikes as an improver, racing from the same mark as when winning The Lincoln Trial at Wolverhampton but most of his form is on All Weather surfaces and I’d want to see him do it on grass considering the odds on offer.

Bronze Angel is a former Cambridgeshire winner from only an 1lb lower mark and clearly loves big field handicaps on straight tracks, having also finished third in a Britannia. He made no show last year in three attempts and it takes a leap of faith to expect him to win this off such a preparation although I think he may be a Royal Hunt Cup type for this year.

Last season’s victor, Levitate, is 16lbs higher and races from a mark of 106. Shrewd trainer but that would be some performance were he to win this and I’m pretty sure there’ll be others better in even though he did win off 98 over the track in soft ground in November. He’s almost guaranteed to run his race, though.

Another horse to have contested last year’s renewal, Jack’s Revenge, is now 4lb higher than when fifth and 14lb higher than his last win so needs to find something to have a say at the business end.

Charlie Hills was a trainer who showed excellent placing of his horses last season and One Word More is interesting, having won first time up at Kempton last season before running in The German 2000 Guineas and Jersey Stakes and his best handicap form came when a ½ length second to Breton Rock, conceding 2lb over 7f of this track in soft ground. The winner franked the form by winning a 50 grand Ascot handicap the following month and the form is strong. Tom Queally was booked early and I think a good run is expected.

However, flying in the face of the trends boys, who all know horses older than six don’t win Lincolns, I’m about to tip a seemingly exposed nine year old who won this race three years ago from a 6lb higher mark. Sweet Lightning has always been a strong traveller who needs cover and these type of races, where his turn of foot can be played late, invariably see him run his best races. First time up last year, when trained by Johnny Murtagh, he won The Irish Lincoln by 3 ¾ lengths in heavy ground from a mark of 100, strong form when subsequent performances of the placed horses are taken into account. Afterwards he had little chance in small fields or fast ground and tomorrow he will have everything in his favour. Wintered in Dubai, his last time out seventh could be viewed as a step in the right direction and he has the aid of a tongue tie tomorrow.

What really interests me is that Middleham Park Racing, who’ve won the race before, bought him from Murtagh at the end of last season, presumably with this in mind and have sent him to David O’Meara, a man who’s regularly proven his mettle with older seemingly exposed horses. The course had 18mm of rain overnight and the conditions should be A1 so all we need now is the hard bit but I have to admit to throwing 30 quid at him at 33-1 when the decs were made and can’t see anything else I’d rather back.

For forecast and tricast purposes I’ll go with Tullius and One Word More but there’s only one horse I’ll be shouting for tomorrow.

Dubai World Cup night preview

The Dubai World Cup meeting is always a fantastic card, a championship meeting across different ages, distances and surfaces. To help find a winner, Dubai-based racing writer Trent Masenhelder, @tmase04, has worked his way through the card and whittled down the chances for us.

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

Dubai World Cup meeting

Odds quoted from William Hill, prizemoney in USD.

RACE 1 – Kahayla Classic (for Purebred Arabians)
Group 1 - $250,000 - 2,000m (All-Weather)
Versac PY was second behind Al Mamun Monlau in this race last year and can go one better here. He’s had a good prep and was just nailed by Raaziq last time. Mushrae is the highest rated horse and is right in the mix, while Raaziq rates highly on his last start win. Rabbah De Carrere, Djainka Des Forges and Al Mamun Monlau should be respected, despite wide gates.
Tips: 1. Versac PY, 2. Mushrae, 3. Sahib Du Clos

Race 2 – Godolphin Mile
Group 2 - $1,000,000 - 1,600m (All-Weather)
Soft Falling Rain (7/2EF) is back to defend his title but isn’t going as well as last year. His last two starts are a real concern. At his best he’s brilliant but I’m prepared to risk him until he shows something. Elleval (20/1) looked a million dollars at trackwork Thursday morning and can run a cheeky race at odds. Variety Club (5/1), a two-time South Africa Horse of the Year, has stacks of ability, and won as he liked first time out at Meydan last month. He had his colours lowered last time, however. He’s won 15 of 21, but gate 15 is a worry. Will be hard to hold out if he doesn’t cover too much ground. Shuruq (7/2EF) is flying this prep and loves the Tapeta surface, while Flotilla is an underrated filly. She’s also impressed on the track this week.
Tips: 1. Variety Club, 2. Shuruq, 3. Elleval

Race 3 – Dubai Gold Cup
Group 2 - $1,000,000 - 3,200m (Turf)
Cavalryman (11/4F) is surely the best on the card. He’s the defending champion, Godolphin have won all five renewals of the race, and he won his prep race by 5.5L earlier this month. Reckon he just wins. The Boys in Blue can quinella the race with Songcraft (9/1). He’s been impressive in two Carnival runs (first and second) and he’s drawn to get a lovely run from six. Ernest Hemingway (13/2) is very talented but he’s not raced since September and that’s a concern. Although, Aidan O’Brien knows a lot more about the caper than I. Star Empire (11/1) and Sheikhzayedroad (16/1) are both good each-way value. Watch for the latter flashing home late.
Tips: 1. Cavalryman (BEST), 2. Songcraft, 3. Sheikhzayedroad

Race 4 – UAE Derby
Group 2 - $2,000,000 - 1,900m (Tapeta)
Former Peter Snowden runner Long John (7/4f) is short but deserving of his quote. He has the best credentials and couldn’t have been more impressive at his local debut, strolling home by 4.25L in the 2,000 Guineas. It was his first try on the Tapeta and he took to it like a duck to water. His failure over 2,040m in the Cox Plate has to be a slight concern, but speaking with trainer Charlie Appleby during the week, he’s very confident he’ll see it out. He’s bred on staying lines - by Street Cry out of a Night Shift mare. The Group 1 Caulfield Guineas winner has drawn perfectly in four and should get a sweet run. If he stays, he wins. He’s not been seen since last month but Appleby assures me he’s come on and done very well. The Englishman is very bullish. Aidan O’Brien’s pair, Giovanni Boldini (11/4) and Sir Jack Hawkins (14/1), are highly talented and the trainer has won the past two renewals of the race. Importantly, the former has won twice on the All-Weather and his second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in November was brave. Cooptado (14/1), who’s done all of his racing in Argentina and has strong Group 1 form there, is the wildcard. Paximadia (20/1), another former Aussie, was slightly disappointing behind Long John, but on his day, he’s very good and should be thereabouts. Asmar’s (5/1) 6L win last time, which saw him deservingly break his maiden status, was full of merit and he’s horse on the up.
Tips: 1. Long John, 2. Giovanni Boldini, 3. Asmar

Race 5 – Al Quoz Sprint
Group 1 - $1,000,000 - 1,000m (Turf)
All the pre-race talk suggests it’s a match race between Hong Kong speed sensation, Amber Sky (3/1), and reigning champion, Shea Shea (11/8F). Amber Sky is one of the fastest horses you will see – some of the racing folk from Hong Kong who are in town claim he’s as quick, if not quicker, than Silent Witness. Trainer Ricky Yiu told me he’s settled in well. Shea Shea, meanwhile, has a lot in his favour, too. As well as winning the race last year, he loves Meydan, is the track record holder, and is ideally drawn out in 12, given his liking for the rail. Sole Power (7/1), runner-up to Ortensia in 2012 and fourth last year, is as honest as they come. He beat Shea Shea at Royal Ascot in the King’s Stand in June. Evergreen sprinter, Joy And Fun (20/1), is yet to miss a place in three goes in the race and it’d be fitting for him to run a blinder at his final start before setting off into retirement in New Zealand.
Tips: 1. Amber Sky, 2. Shea Shea, 3. Joy And Fun

Race 6 – Dubai Golden Shaheen
Group 1 - $2,000,000 - 1,200m (All-Weather)
Another speedy customer from Hong Kong in the way of Sterling City (11/4F) lines up here. He’s got very good form around some of the best sprinters in the world, including Lord Kanaloa. He’s trained by John Moore, one of the best in the business, and the Australian is very happy with him. Moore says the Tapeta won’t be a problem but until he proves it, there’s always an element of doubt. Reynaldothewizard (4/1) won this race last year and trainer, Satish Seemar, couldn’t be any more confident. Seemar expects the horse to win and win more convincingly than he did 12 months ago. Rich Tapestry (3/1) won his prep race impressively, while Bello (25/1) and Complicate (12/1), two Godolphin recruits from Australia, should be competitive.
Tips: 1. Sterling City, 2. Reynaldothewizard, 3. Complicate

Race 7 – Dubai Duty Free
Group 1 - $5,000,000 - 1,800m (Turf)
The best race on the card for mine. Incredibly competitive race with a great blend of seasoned Group 1 performers and young guns on the rise. The Fugue (3/1F) is a consistently brilliant mare and drawn ideally in gate four. Dank (6/1) is another mighty mare who’s proven she can travel, winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita in November. She’s won seven of 12. Plenty of talk this week at Meydan about Japanese contender Just A Way (7/2). She’s won her last two starts by a combined 7.5L, including a 4L decision over two-time Japan Cup winner, Gentildonna, in the Tenno Sho in October. Rates very highly. Mshawish (6/1) looked a ball of muscle at trackwork on Thursday, is drawn one, has Frankie Dettori on top, and is trained by the astute Mikel Delzangles. He was very good in winning the Zabeel Mile by 2.5L last month. What do we make of Vercingetorix (13/2)? He’s a perfect six from six, but has drawn 11 and faces his stiffest test here. Mike de Kock knows what it takes to win the race, having won it twice, and he’s been very bullish about the son of Silvano ever since he landed in the UAE.
Tips: 1. Dank, 2. Just A Way, 3. Vercingetorix

Race 8 – Dubai Sheema Classic
Group 1 - $5,000,000 - 2,410m (Turf)
The toughest race on the card, but a great one, nonetheless. Cirrus Des Aigles (6/1) is a grand old campaigner who won the race in 2012. He’s probably past his best but will give a great sight and is a solid place chance. Denim And Ruby (7/1) has been one of the standouts at trackwork during the week. Her form in Japan is enormous and she’s drawn to get a gun run from gate three. If there’s enough pace on she’ll take holding out, especially with her allowance. She can unleash a scintillating finishing burst. Gentildonna (4/1), who beat Denim And Ruby last time, is one of the best mares in the world…two japan Cups tell you that. Mount Athos got home well last time and looked a treat at trackwork. Can run a big race. Empoli, Dubday and Magician all could win without surprising.
Tips: 1. Denim And Ruby, 2. Gentildonna, 3. Mount Athos

Race 9 – Dubai World Cup
Group 1 - $10,000,000 - 2,000m (Turf)
A terrific renewal of the richest race in the world with plenty of chances. Hong Kong pair Military Attack (13/2) and Akeed Mofeed (8/1) rate highly. They’ve had some great battles in recent times and according to connections, both have settled in well. The Tapeta could pose a problem for the, though. Military Attack has had one go on the All-Weather and was beaten 12L at Kempton, although it was back in 2011. Trainer John Moore is convinced he’ll handle it. Four runners for Godolphin, with Prince Bishop (8/1), who’s absolutely flying, their best chance. Sanshaawes (12/1) is in great form and has plenty of upside. He’s proven on the surface, drawn perfectly in gate five and was so game in defeat last time out. Happy to risk Ruler Of The World (4/1) at the price, given his wide gate (12) and fact he’s untried on the All-Weather. Plenty of other chances, including; Belshazzar (12/1), the Group 1-winning Japanese stayer, who’s worked impressively during the week, Mackinnon Stakes winner, Side Glance (33/1), and Hillstar (12/1), who’s a cracking sort. Red Cadeaux (25/1) is as brave as the day is long and was so good in this race last year (runner-up to Animal Kingdom), but gate (14) makes it tough.
Tips: 1. Military Attack, 2. Sanshaawes, 3. Prince Bishop

N E Manion Cup preview

Aquatics day at Rosehill tomorrow kicks off with the N E Manion Cup, a Group 3 staying contest over 2400m. Returning to the blog to cover this traditional prelude to the Sydney Cup is regular NSW racing contributor, Colleen Goth, @colleengoth.

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

N E Manion Cup

Good Evening Punters

I am enjoying the rain falling on the Breadalbane Plain here today but I am hoping the trough that stretches down from Rosehill in Sydney will clear for tomorrow’s racing. The big wet this week means a heavy track for Rosehill Guineas day but the card should bring us some great racing nevertheless.

I would like to get punters off to a good start in the first race, the Ambassador Travel N E Manion Cup for the stayers over 2400m. There are only seven horses still in the field following the scratching of Vaquera and I find them a fairly evenly matched bunch of stayers. They have raced each other previously and are seasoned and fit. Race tactics will play an important part in the outcome – and all the jockeys know their craft well.

But my top pick is Desert Jeuney. He is fit, hard and ready to win. He does have some opposition though:

1. Permit. This 7 year old imported gelding by leading European stallion Dansilli has solid credentials for this race. Forget his last start on 1 March when he pulled up last but also lame. He will be sound tomorrow – he would not be started by Chris Waller if he wasn’t - and he won this race last year – along with the Chairman’s Handicap that followed in April. He has the services of Hugh Bowman which is a plus but the big negative I see is that he has to lug the top weight of 58 kg. For that reason he does not figure in my top three.

2. Junoob. The stable mate to Permit produced an impressive run to win at Randwick on 15 March and had previously run and won at Rosehill. He shows great determination in his runs and he is tough - and the one to beat. Has a great young gun jockey in James McDonald.

3. Opinion. The third of the Waller runners trying to make it a Waller trifecta. Has a great mature gun jockey in Jimmy Cassidy and in my opinion no one rides Rosehill as well as the Pumper! This Opinion has a classic pedigree, being by Oasis Dream out of a Sadler’s Wells mare. He is raced by the Highclere Thoroughbred Racing operation in Australia and is bred to make light of the heavy going. He was second to stablemate Junoob at Randwick on 15 March and won the Parramatta Cup at Rosehill over 1900m back on 1 March. I expect him to be in the first four across the line.

4. Gondokoro. This mare loves wet tracks – the wetter the better – and she was good enough to win the Queensland Oaks. She has a classic Australasian staying pedigree as her sire is the legendary Zabeel and her dam is by the Arc winner Carnegie who appears in the pedigrees of many top tough stayers in this country. I was lucky enough to see Carnegie at the end of his stallion career and my lasting impression was of his tremendously strong hind quarters! He passes this strength onto his stock and with 54.5 kg I would expect this mare to be very competitive. Trainer Pat Carey knows how to prepare a stayer and whilst she was a tad disappointing last start, I am expecting to see improvement tomorrow.

5. Tremec. Another Zabeel, this five year old gelding also enjoys 54.5 kg in weight. He will handle the heavy track on pedigree and past form but he is not racing as well this year as previously. A good horse but I think he will find this field quite daunting.

6. The Offer. This well bred gelding is getting better with his two runs since resuming in March. He has the right pedigree for the distance and the expected going – being by Montjeu out of a Darshaan mare and trainer Gai Waterhouse will have him primed to win. He has the in-form and indomitable Tommy Berry on board and so it is little wonder that he is right up at the top of the market. I would expect him to place and would not be surprised if he won. But he is not my top pick.

7. Desert Jeuney. My top pick is this Desert King gelding out of a Jeune mare. It’s a Melbourne Cup pedigree and I have noticed how runners out of Jeune mares seem to find something extra on very heavy tracks. This is a horse on the up, steadily improving under the well-tuned guidance of Nigel Blackiston. I confess to following this four year old gelding from the beginning of his career and may therefore be biased in my selection of him as the winner in a tough contest tomorrow. But I see how he is improving with each run and the backup from a gallant third last week over 1900m suggests that he is hard fit and ready to give his best. He is nice odds too.

Selections:

Desert Jeuney
Junoob
The Offer
Opinion

Dubai Golden Shaheen preview

The premium sprint race of Dubai World Cup night is the Golden Shaheen on the synthetic Tapeta surface. Tasked with the preview is international racing shrewdie Calum Law, @calumswanlaw. If you remember his last preview on the blog, you're probably still celebrating!

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

Dubai Golden Shaheen

Balmont Mast- Consistent sprinter under these conditions and ran a blinder in this contest last year when he was a neck runner-up behind Reynaldothewizard. His poor strike rate remains a concern though and his only win in his last 12 runs came in a modest listed event at the Curragh. A possible to pick up some prize money but has to rate an unlikely winner

Bello- Ex-Australian sprinter who hasn't looked up to this level in his two runs at Meydan. The white cap of Godolphin can often be misleading but looks fully justified here

Complicate- A ready winner of a listed contest at Caulfield on his last start in Australia and has looked a sprinter of promise in his two runs over this C&D. Yet has the tendency to hit a flat spot in his races and that is likely to cost him dear against this level of competition. Look for him flying late, probably too late

Jamesie- Improving six year old gelding who has gained two victories this carnival over this C&D and was an eyecatcher last time when hitting the line strongly when fourth in the Mahab Al Shimaal. These connections have been having the time of their lives this carnival and are always feared around here, but it would be disappointing should he prove good enough

Krypton Factor- Winner of this in 2012 when besting the legendary Rocket Man but winless since and was well beaten in the trial for this race. Has been falling out of the gates of late and looks up against it to reclaim his title

Nawwaar- Much improved this season but has done all his winning at Abu Dhabi over further. Has been disappointing on his last three trips to Meydan and looks outclassed against the specialist sprinters

Reynaldothewizard- Defending champion and arrives here having ran a solid race in the trial for this. His trainer has been making bullish noises about reversing the form with the winner that day Rich Tapestry, but for me the winner was much the best horse and i feel at 8 thewizard has it all to do to defend his crown

Rich Tapestry- Hong Kong sprinter who was an easy winner of the recognised trial for this race on Super Saturday. His jockey that day could be seen taking a cheeky pull 300 metres out and such was his dominance it is hard to see those in behind bridging the gap. He brings an unbeaten record off turf and is an obvious threat to all

Russian Soul- Super-consistent Irish sprinter for the on-fire Mick Halford team. He has hit the board in 18 of his 24 runs to date, yet was a little disappointing last time when never getting involved in the Mahab Al Shimaal. Was similarly consistent at the carnival last year before being found out at the big dance and although this race does lack depth it is likely to be the same story this year

Sterling City- Top class Hong Kong sprinter who has been mixing it with some of the best sprinters around of late. Was unlucky not to beat the world class Lucky Nine at Sha Tin last time when he was blocked at a crucial time before rattling home to finish a close up third, beaten only half a length. Gets the assistance of the magic man in the saddle and has stronger form than Rich Tapestry in his homeland. If he translates his turf form to the Tapeta he will be mighty hard to beat in a weak enough renewal

United Color- Fifth in this race last year and looked a sprinter to follow when taking the Dubawi Stakes on his first run of this campaign. He would have went close next time when nearly put through the rail in the Al Shindagha but seemed to have no excuses when a disappointing 10th behind Rich Tapestry on super Saturday. If you are willing to forgive that run he could be a touch of each way value

Zee Bros- US raider who ran a sneaky good race on his local debut when fourth behind Medicean Man over this C&D. Wasn't so good on the turf next time in the Meydan Sprint, but connections were forced to run there due to his rating not being good enough to get into the Al Shimaal and these conditions are much more likely to suit. Still unexposed and could have more to give under Dettori. Over priced and has place credentials

My Catch- Group 3 winning juvenile when trained by David Brown but not so good since joining his current stable. Won arguably the weakest race of the carnival when taking the Meydan Classic over seven furlongs and even with his weight break he looks out of his depth

Summary- A race that looks at the mercy of Hong Kong with Rich Tapestry and Sterling City appearing to tower over their rivals. Rich Tapestry is proven under these conditions having readily won the trial for this but Sterling City has superior form back in Hong Kong and can strike for the dream team of Moore and Moreira. The rest make limited appeal as win prospects but United Color and zee Bros are capable of fighting out minor honours

Selection- Sterling City

Dubai Sheema Classic preview

The focus of world racing this weekend will be on Dubai with the rich World Cup meeting at Meydan. Most races will be covered on the blog, and to begin proceedings, it's over to Harriet Fuller, @HattieLFuller, for the USD$5m Dubai Sheema Classic. You can read more of her work on her blog.

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

Dubai Sheema Classic

The Sheema Classic may not be the highlight of Saturday’s meeting at Meydan, but it will be a contest full of class. This year we have sadly lost the last hero of this race; St Nicholas Abbey, who lost his battle against colic. However, once again there is a strong line up, including Cirrus Des Aigles. The winner of this race in 2012 may be past his sell by date, but ran a credible third in the Hong Kong Cup in December, and there may well be one last celebration.

A lot of the talk recently has been surrounding the Japanese superstar Gentildonna. In 2012 she won the Japanese Fillies Triple Crown, before becoming the first three-year-old filly to win the Japan Cup. Back in November last year, under Ryan Moore – who takes the ride on her again on Saturday – she became the first horse to win the Japan Cup twice. Moore has talked up her chances before the race, but she will have to overcome a rather undesirable draw in stall 12.

The Japanese will also be represented by Denim And Ruby who was narrowly beaten by Gentildonna in the Japan Cup. Clearly full of potential, the four-year-old filly may just find this race too challenging, and there are others who have more appeal.

Ten of the last twelve winners were among the four top rated horses in the race, this year they include Cirrus Des Aigles, Dominant, Dunaden, Gentildonna, Magician and Twilight Eclipse (There are six because of three joint fourths).

Dominant tends to be a late runner and preferably needs a strong pace, which he may not get here, and Dunaden hasn’t won in eleven races. The case against Twilight Eclipse is that he has never won when in Group 1 Company, and Saturday looks tougher than some of his previous races.

It is Magician who, so to speak, has all the tricks needed to be victorious in the Sheema Classic. As far as trends go in the race, wins at Group 1 level are vital, and Magician has plenty to show for that. A disappointing performance in the St James Palace Stakes, he certainly made amends when winning the Breeders Cup, defeating The Fugue in the process. That is no easy job, and the victory puts him in a very good position for Saturday, and drawn in stall 4, there is every chance he will pull a winning performance out of the hat.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

George Ryder Stakes preview

A great meeting lined up at Rosehill this weekend, at least if the fields hold up. The taps have been on all week in Sydney, and while the weather might improve over the weekend, it'd take a lot to dry this up. Regular contrbutor Manny Galouzis, @mannygalouzis, analyses the field.

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

George Ryder Stakes

Rosehill $1,000,000 Group 1
1600 local time, 0500 GMT.
1500m, track expected to be Heavy8-Heavy10 range.


Another Saturday, another day filled with high quality Group 1 racing. It really is a wonderful time to be a punter. Three Group 1s from Rosehill this weekend, but we are going to look at the $1million George Ryder Stakes; and this year's edition looks to be oozing with class.

A traditional lead up to the Doncaster Handicap, this race has been won by some absolute champions over the last few years. Pierro, Weekend Hussler, Haradasun and Lonhro just to name a few. More recently, Chris Waller has had a firm grasp on this race, winning three out of the last four. In the last ten years, three winners of this race have gone on to win the time-honoured Doncaster, but before that you'd have to go all the way back to 1983 too see that happen, when Emancipation did the double. 15 runners will take their place this time in and with what will probably be a heavy track, it's anyone's race.

1. Boban

If you know me at all, you know I am a huge fan of this horse. Waller has really taken him to another level and I think he could be one of the best WFA horses in Australia. It's pretty clear that this bloke needs Glyn Schofield on board, he just runs that much better with him. Two fairly disappointing runs this prep were all but forgotten when he won the Chipping Norton three weeks ago. He was very impressive in doing so, especially considering he beat It's a Dundeel. He should be able to lob into a lovely position from barrier nine and he will take a world of beating here. The only query is if he handles the heavy track. He is 0/2 on rain affected ground, but those two races were a while ago. If he handles it, he could just blow them away. I've got him on top.

2. Gordon Lord Byron

The most interesting runner in this race for mine. Trained by Tom Hogan, this guy has been all over the world lately, racing in England, Ireland, France and more recently Hong Kong, where he ran 4th beaten 2L in the Hong Kong Mile by Glorious Days. He should handle the wet fine and Williams will be able to put him wherever he wants in the race, though his first-up record is nothing to write home about and I'd like to see him show something here before he gets any of my hard earned. I can't entertain him here, but will be watching with interest.

3. My Kingdom of Fife

Now second-up after a lengthy spell, he did what you'd expect him to when he returned in the Canterbury Stakes. He will obviously improve up in trip but you'd expect he would need at least another run or two before you see anything out of him. Not here.

4. Sacred Falls

He returned brilliantly in the Canterbury Stakes, really finding the line late and showing he is in for a big prep. He's 3/3 on wet going and is in this up to his ears if he finds clear running in the straight. From barrier two, it could be the Doncaster all over again for this guy if he can shoot right up the rail. With as much as $11 on offer, I think he represents a big price. I've got him second pick.

5. Toydini

Up to 1500m should suit him better and his third-up record isn't too bad. Just not sure if he is up to this lot. Not for me.

6. Speediness

Very good in his first two races this time in, but I thought he was quite disappointing in the Canterbury Stakes. Heavy track shouldn't be an issue and 1500m is ideal for him. Will get a great run from the barrier too. Rough place chance, but don't think he can win.

7. Fat Al

Looks like Moody has finally turned him around. He won very nicely in the Golden Mile last start, but it is a long way from Bendigo to Rosehill. Hard to come into here, especially from the gate.

8. Lidari

Nolen put on a master class with Lidari last start, making every post a winner. Don't think he will get the same favours here though. Might find the rise in class a bit tough, and as such I don't think he will be in the finish.

9. Terravista

This guy just keeps doing everything right. He's been very good both times at the races this prep, and the form holds up with El Roca only being beaten a head in the Randwick Guineas. He's untested on a wet track and he might have to work too hard to find a position from barrier 12. He's well in the market, but I'm prepared to risk him here.

10. Ninth Legion

First-up this time in, he trialled well and will get a nice run from barrier seven. This is a massive rise in class though, but to be honest, with the way the Hawkes are going at the moment, anything is possible. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.

11. Tres Blue

First-up after a dismal performance in last year's Melbourne Cup. It's good to see him back at the races, but you'd think this is just a pipe-opener for better things to come.

12. Red Tracer

With the recent retirement of Appearance, she probably now holds the title for best mare in Australia. Very unlucky last start when missing the kick and almost falling after 100m. She positioned up closer to last and showed a big turn of foot only to be beaten 1.4L. Obviously grows a leg in the wet, if Rodd can some how find cover in the run, she could prove very hard to beat. Though there is no guarantee she will be running. Waller has come out and said he will make a decision as late as possible, as she might be saved for another race against her own sex. If she does run, you'd expect her to go close. Big chance.

13. Streama

Just fair at both race starts this campaign, but she does get everything to suit here. Up to 1500m, rain affected ground and has drawn barrier 3. I don't think she can win, but if she brings her best she might be a place chance.

14. El Roca

Unlucky in the Randwick Guineas, only beaten .1L after shifting in on top of Dissident in the last 100m. He's going very well this time in and a wet track should suit. Barrier 11 makes things a bit tricky but he has enough early gate speed to get across. Place chance.

15. Eurozone

I thought he was very good in the Guineas, just running out of steam in the last 100m. Dropping back to 1500m should suit and he is 3/3 on wet going. I don't think he'll settle too far back from barrier 1 and with any luck he could be in the finish. I think he is a winning chance.

It looks like there could be a fair bit of pace in this race. From the 1500m start at Rosehill, they come out of a chute and have roughly 300m to get in before a big sweeping turn. Terravista and El Roca will have to work early to get across, possibly with Fat Al and Lidari. Streama, Eurozone and Speediness shouldn't be too far away either. I expect a fairly solid pace, and horses most advantaged will be sitting just behind the leaders or midfield. You probably don't want to be too far back given how wet the track will be.

I'm $3.50 the field in a 100% market. If Boban can settle midfield and get through the ground, he could blow them away. Sacred Falls is the most enticing bet for mine though, I've got him marked $5 and that is a considerable overly with double that on offer. All eyes will be on Chris Waller over the next few days too see if he runs Red Tracer and if she does, she goes very close to winning this.

Selections:

1. Boban
2. Sacred Falls
3. Red Tracer
4. Eurozone

Recommended bet:

Back Sacred Falls the WIN with a saver on Boban.

Good luck punters, and as as always, there's no such thing as the last race.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Ranvet Stakes preview

All eyes on Sydney now as their carnival gets into full swing and Rosehill has the spotlight for the next two weeks. The Ranvet Stakes has become a key lead-up to the Queen Elizabeth Stakes in the revamped calendar but it is a quality field all the same.

Aussie racing expert Manny Galouzis returns to preview this encounter, follow him via @mannygalouzis.

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

Ranvet Stakes
Rosehill $500,000 Group 1
1640 local time, 0740 GMT.
2000m, track expected to be Dead 5-Slow 6 range.


Racing returns to Rosehill Gardens this Saturday and it looks to be a fantastic day of high quality races. Not only are we treated to two Group 1s, but the supporting card looks just as enticing. I'm going to focus on the Ranvet Stakes, which appears to be oozing class in this year's edition. We showed a healthy profit last week in the Canterbury Stakes with my exotics selections running the First 4 which paid $1100. Let's see if we can keep it going.

Gai Waterhouse has had a solid grasp on this race over the last decade, winning five out of the last 10 runnings with WFA superstars such as Desert War and dual-winner Theseo. Going further back, the winners list includes champions like Gunsynd, Bernborough and two-time Melbourne Cup winner Peter Pan. Put it simply, good horses win this race, and the SP profile of the winner's each year further confirms that. The majority of winners in this race start under 2/1. However, this isn't always the case. Last year, Foreteller popped up at odds of 30/1 and who could forget old Zavite nosing out Descarado in the wet at cricket score odds in 2011. The past is in the past though, let's find this years winner.

1. Fiorente

Last year's Melbourne Cup winner was far too classy for them in the Australian Cup. He showed that all too familiar turn of foot to go past Green Moon and win like the good horse that he is. Third-up now and one would expect he is almost 100% fit, I think he is going to get a lovely run from the barrier and prove very hard to beat. He's on top of my selections.

2. It's A Dundeel

A brilliant return to racing when beaten a length in the Chipping Norton by Boban. One could argue that the only thing that beat him was being first-up. One would imagine he will take plenty of improvement from that run and will be a major player throughout the Championships. Barrier one is slightly concerning as he will go back towards the tail of the field. He's back up to an ideal distance now and with luck in running he'll be fighting out the finish. The clear danger to Fiorente.

3. Foreteller

Last years winner at any old odds, this bloke has a nasty habit of popping up when least expected and saluting. He was doing his best work late in the Australian Cup; slightly outsprinted by Fiorente at the 200m but really hit the line well. It wouldn't shock to see him win here, but I think he might be a touch outclassed. Place chance.

4. Hawkspur

Very ordinary in the Orr Stakes but was brilliant in the Chipping Norton. He was dead last on the turn and powered through the field to run 3rd only beaten two lengths. He is clearly looking for 2000-2400m, and based on his last run I think he is a chance of knocking off the favourites here, depending on how they ride him. I had him marked quite a bit shorter than the $11 currently on offer and as such I think he is a great each-way bet.

5. Moriarty

He was well backed last start and now is finally getting up to a suitable distance. I just don't think he is in the same class as some of the other horses in the market. He's a rough place chance, but I can't see him winning here.

6. Carlton House

Last week he finally showed what he was capable of, living up to his impressive overseas record. He did a great job last start running 2nd to Opinion whilst carrying 61kg on his back. With not a great deal of speed in the race, Tommy Berry should be taking him straight to the front. If he gets away with some cheap sectionals, he could very easily skip away on the turn and give the rest of the field a hard time in chasing him down. He's about $11 with the bookies and I think that is about his right price. Chance.

7. Sertorius

Interesting run last start, was left flat-footed off the very slow pace but got going late and ran on nicely into 3rd. He's going very well this time in but I struggle to see how he is going to beat this lot. Not for me.

8. Silent Achiever

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I am a big fan of this girl. She has been very good so far this time in, winning first-up over 1500m and then taking out the New Zealand Stakes in emphatic fashion at Ellerslie. She will be last on the turn and I don't know if she's got the turn of foot to keep up with this lot over 2000m, but I'd be expecting her to run on strongly. Watch her over 2400m.

9. Gondokoro

Hasn't done a great deal since her Queensland Oaks win. She now get's up to a better distance but she won't be troubling any of these. She is triple-figure odds and is entitled to be. No thanks.

The speed map is quite interesting here. There doesn't appear to be much pace at all. You'd expect Carlton House to take up the running based on it's efforts last start. I hope they ride Hawkspur a lot more forward than in recent times. From barrier 8 I think he can easily cross to sit outside the leader and outside of those two. With no other clear speed in the race, these two could get a very easy time in front. I'd expect Fiorente to lob three pairs back one off the fence and It's A Dundeel to either be inside of him or one pair further back, which could prove troublesome coming around the turn.

I'm $3.70 the field here in a 100% market. The two favourites could easily come out and put a gap on the rest of the field, but they are both a bit short for my liking. I really liked the run of Hawkspur last start and up to 2000m 3rd-up, he could be a blowout chance.

Selections:

1. Fiorente
2. It's A Dundeel
3. Hawkspur
4. Carlton House

Recommended Bet:

Back HAWKSPUR, 1 unit the win and 3 units the place.

Good luck punters, and as always, there's no such thing as the last race.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

ATP/WTA Miami tennis preview

High class tennis action this week with the ATP Masters Series/WTA Premier Mandatory tournament this week in Miami. The finest tennis data analysis around can be found via Dan Weston, @tennisratings, and his website TennisRatings. It is so much more than basic tips and odds discussion!

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

Miami Rd1 preview

It's day two of the Miami Masters/Premier Mandatory tournament and the men's event commences today after the women started yesterday.

With 16 men's matches and 20 women's matches on the schedule, there's plenty for traders to get involved with and there's also some very intriguing matches.

As I mentioned in yesterday's preview, the courts in Miami tend to play slow and last year this affected the ATP more than the WTA with service hold mean being just 72.9%, 5.4% below hard court average.

This slow surface should suit those who favour clay and one of those is Albert Montanes.

The Spanish veteran has atrocious hard court stats in the past 2 years, failing to win a single match at main tour level, and losing eight. In those he's held 61.6% and broken 8.2% which illustrate why he's had difficulty!

Today he faces the limited Michal Przysiezny with the Pole starting at 1.57. This looks some value and with Montanes' projected hold unsurprisingly low (even against a player who doesn't have a good return game), laying Montanes' serve is viable in almost all circumstances, according to the Rolling Projected Holds in today's daily spreadsheet.

With the courts likely to play slowly, as mentioned, there are a number of men's matches today which feature low projected holds for both players.

David Goffin's matches usually make for excellent trading material and today he faces the Argentine clay courter, Horacio Zeballos.

Projected holds make this much closer than the 1.36 prematch price on qualifier Goffin's suggests, and I feel the Belgian is likely to trade higher here.

I feel laying his serve should have high positive expectation.

Alejandro Falla looks some value at just over evens against Marinko Matosevic with the Australian journeyman not a fan of slow surfaces.

The Columbian edges two low projected holds and taking on Matosevic's serve works for me.

Several players worth laying a break up include Thiemo De Bakker against Victor Hanescu - the Dutchman has lost a break lead 50.0% of the time in the last 12 months - and Jeremy Chardy who faces Juan Monaco.

These courts should be much more to the Argentine's liking than the average hard court and with Chardy losing a break lead 33.3% and Monaco recovering that deficit 50.0%, this takes the combined score on Chardy when a break up to 83.3 - above the required 75 in the ATP.

In women's action, I like the chances of Victoria Duval against qualifier Kiki Bertens.

The American youngster has impressive stats from her qualifying matches on hard court in the past 12 months - winning 13/16 - and this should make her a player of decent potential.

Bertens has flattered to deceive for a while and is better on clay in any case, and I feel Bertens is a false favourite at 1.63.

Projected holds are both low and I feel opposing the Bertens serve is a great strategy here.

Other good matches with high swing trading potential include Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor versus Andrea Petkovic with projected holds both low.

The German recovers a break deficit an impressive 61.6% of the time and this is enough to take the combined score on Torro-Flor to be over the required 105 in the WTA - she loses a break lead 46.7%.

Also in this bracket is Yvonne Meusburger's match with Lourdes Domingues Lino.

The Spaniard's hard court record in the last year is atrocious, winning just one of nine encounters. Her stats of 42.5% holds and 34.9% breaks show why she has issues winning matches...

Against a good returner, Lino's projected hold is very low indeed and her serve can be laid whenever the price realistically allows.

Furthermore, with her losing a break lead 61.3% and Meusburger's recovery percentage being decent at 54.6%, laying Lino a break up also appeals.

Finally, Kimiko Date-Krumm has one of the worst percentages in the WTA for holding onto break leads at 67.4% although stats show her to not be without a chance at 2.72 against the talented young Croatian, Donna Vekic.

I said a while back that if Vekic can improve her clutch play and take and save more break points, in line with her expectation, that she is a player of immense potential, and this still looks to be the case.

Good luck in the markets and there will be more tomorrow!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Canterbury Stakes preview II

The Canterbury Stakes at Randwick today is so good, it needs two separate previews! Actually, I've screwed up and double-booked the race so I've posted both of them. An interesting point to note since these were written is that Chris Waller, trainer of Zoustar, has revealed there is a $2m bonus for the original owners of Zoustar if the horse wins another Group 1.

This preview is written by regular Sydney racing contributor Tom Stewart, @tstewcav26.

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

2014 Canterbury Stakes

The Canterbury Stakes is a Group One event held under weight for age conditions. Run over 1300m it has proved a benchmark race for many horses heading towards the George Ryder Stakes and the Doncaster Handicap. Over the years it has provided a launching pad for star horses such as More Joyous and Pierro, thus the reason it was elevated to Group One status last year. This year’s edition is enough to make my mouth water. The array of stars lining up in this field will make for a great contest. Star three year old Zoustar looks to ascert himself as racings next big thing, while the progressive Notlistenintome will be out to spoil the party along with veterans Red Tracer and Appearance.

#1 My Kingdom of Fife (5) – Glyn Schofield, Chris Waller (59kg)
Group One winner returning after a long injury lay off of two and a half years. Looked to be a serious talent when he won three of his first four Australian starts, including the G1 Queen Elizabeth stakes. However, a career threatening injury saw him sidelined for over two years. Under the careful and masterful eye of Chris Waller he has been back in work and two recent barrier trials have got him fit and ready for his first-up assignment Saturday. Waller stated during the week that he didn’t expect much from the galloper first up and he was just happy for him to get through the race and build towards 2000m plus.Regardless of the good draw these horses will be to quick for him over this distance and I expect him to settle at the rear of the field and stay there. Not this race.

#2 Sacred Falls (2) – Tommy Berry, Chris Waller (59kg)
Last year's Doncaster winner looks to atone for a below average spring carnival and regain the same form that saw him beat Pierro last autumn. His recent trial suggested that he may be back at his best and ready to fire this autumn carnival. First up with the blinkers on I believe he will run a cheeky race and especially if there is rain about come Saturday. His first-up record suggests that he can run well, having won two of his four starts first up.

From barrier two he looks to get a good run with Rain Affair drawn inside him. Rain Affair looks to be the only horse that will be gunning for the lead and with the blinkers on and from barrier two I would be hoping that Berry would look to take a sit behind Rain Affair and tag him into the race at the top of the straight. If he can produce the same run that saw him capture the Doncaster last year then he might be able to skip away from some of the back markers up the rise. My concern for him is that he may be looking for further and during the spring he failed to produce the turn of foot we know he is capable of. Sneaky place chance.

#3 Toydini (9) – Blake Shinn, Guy Walter (59kg)
One of my favourite horses who has got me out of trouble more than a few times. Despite his first-up performance he generally runs a competitive place and always gets a cheque for his owners. Although his first-up record is poor, he generally does his best work late but he was a bit disappointing first up and this was backed up by Guy Walter who was puzzled by the geldings performance. Second up now and back to Randwick where he has had most of his success, including a third in last year's Epsom Handicap, I expect him to run a lot better. Barrier nine doesn’t give Shinn many options rather than to go back and hope that the speed is put on for him. Considering how far back he might be, the distance of this race and the poor first up performance I would be wary of backing him in this race because he may not be 100%. Hes a quality galloper and at his best he would be competitive in this race for sure but I'm just worried after his lacklustre first-up performance. Not this race.

#4 Speediness (4) – Damien Oliver, Colin Scott (59kg)
Ran a huge race in the Apollo and has had a month off since that run. Like Toydini he is an ultra consistent horse and no doubt he will be competitive here in this race. Big plus getting the in form Damien Oliver on board and barrier four will be perfect for this horse. From the barrier I expect Oli to look to settle midfield or just off the pace. With Rain Affair setting a decent tempo up in front he might be able to get a nice drag into the race and if he is handy to the speed, possibly sneak away at the top of the straight. Cant really fault him here because he always runs a good race, maybe he isn’t up to this class but he always runs well and will be around the mark towards the finish. Place chance.

#5 Rain Affair (1) – Jason Collett, Joseph Pride (59kg)
Ran a horrible race first up in the Expressway finishing last. Since then has had a barrier trial which he won by 11 lengths over 800m at Warwick farm. His second up records suggests that he can atone for his average first-up performance, with two wins and a placing from five second-up runs. Barrier one looks perfect for him in a race with very little speed. He is at his best when he is allowed to roll up in front and if Collett allows him to do so and find his Rhythm then he will be very hard to chase down in the straight. Despite having a lot of favours in this race I couldn’t possibly have him in my top four after his first-up run. Not this race.

#6 Appearance (10) – Kerrin McEvoy, Guy Walter (57kg)
Highly underrated mare who continues to prove her worth with two wins from two starts this preparation. Made Boban look like a Kembla Grange maiden horse when she won first up in the Expressway Stakes and continued that form with a classy win in the Apollo Stakes. That form has been franked with Boban winning the Chipping Norton Stakes last week in dominant fashion and certainly reads as a good form line for Appearance. Barrier ten doesn’t help her causes but she has been getting back in both her races this preparation and I expect McEvoy to do the same again. Although Rain Affair is the only real speed horse, he will set a solid tempo and that will bring Appearance into the race and she will be doing her best work late. The barrier will be her only obstacle and if she gets to far back then she might have to much work to do and the bird will have flown. She is absolutely flying this preparation and although I was surprised with her first two runs I wont be surprised if she wins here. Big chance.

#7 Streama (8) – Glen Boss, Guy Walter (57kg)
Stable mate to Appearance who comes into this race second up after an average first up run in the Breeders Classic. Her second-up record suggests that she will be running a lot better here, having won three races and placed in two from six starts. She loves Randwick and although untested at 1300m there is no doubt that she will be competitive over this distance. Barrier eight is an awkward one for Boss to deal with but based on the way that she raced last preparation I expect him to be positive and look to go forward and settle in a top four position. She knows how to find the line and I expect her to be around the mark towards the finish but I'm just not sure if she will have the dash to beat the top three favourites. Place chance.

#8 Red Tracer (7) – Nash Rawiller, Chris Waller (57kg)
The last 12 months has seen Red Tracer go from a consistent group performer to an absolute star. There really isn’t anything to fault this mare. Over two million in prize money, 15 wins from 33 starts including two group one wins in the Tatts Tiara and the Myer Classic. Her first-up win was arrogant with Nash Rawiller barely touching her as she coasted past her rivals at the 200m to go on and record a two-length win. Despite beating only inferior opposition, the way in which she did it was the sign of a really classy horse. From barrier seven I think Nash will settle midfield and try and hold her up as long as he can before he lets her rip down the centre of the track and descend on the field. I think if there is a chink in the armour of the favourite she will be the one to expose it. Big danger!

#9 Zoustar (3) – Jim Cassidy, Chris Waller (56kg)
Star galloper who set the racing world alight last spring with two dominant Group One wins in the Golden Rose and Coolmore up the Flemington straight. Looks to assert himself here as the next big thing and considering the gap between now and his second up performance in the TJ Smith Stakes in April I expect that he will be ready to win first up come Saturday. First up last time he wasn’t ridden all that well and exposed three wide throughout the race. First up this time from barrier three Cassidy will be giving him every chance to win and certainly wont be getting stuck three wide. I think Cassidy will look to settle midfield and let Zoustar build momentum up the rise and let him rip around the 300m mark. The only concern for me is race fitness, but he has had two easy barrier trials leading into this and Waller believes he is “ready to rock ‘n’ roll”. Considering what he is worth and his lucrative stud deal he will be there ready to win. The one to beat.

#10 Notlistenintome (6) - James Mcdonald, Michael, Wayne and John Hawkes (56kg)
Progressive three year old who showed that he may be up to the A grade with a dominant and arrogant win first up in the Zeditave stakes. Second up last time won easily by two lengths defeating the consistent Sistine Demon with ease. From barrier six I think Mcdonald will look to be handy and be up around the top four horses in running. 1300m will be no problem for him and if he shows the same turn of foot that saw him win first up than he might be hard to get past. My concern is whether he would be better suited under handicap conditions at this stage in his career as opposed to weight for age. Wayne Hawkes has gone as far to say that he is a star in the making so he may prove me wrong Saturday. Definite chance.

Summary:

Absolute cracker of a race which will no doubt be a close contest. The rising three year olds up against veteran group one performer’s. I think Zoustar will prove his worth and put on a big performance to win first up Saturday. He is a real professional horse and has a serious turn of foot that will prove superior to this field if he is on his game. Odds of $3 look enticing and I think it will be the last time you will be able to associate him with odds of $2 or more so I suggest a bet on the nose of Zoustar. If there is a chink in his armour I think that Red Tracer will be the big threat, but I expect Appearance and Notlistenintome to be right up there in the finish as well.

1- Zoustar
2- Red Tracer
3- Appearance
4- Notlistenintome

Triumph Hurdle preview

After tipping us into Taquin de Seuil yesterday at 9/1, it's only fair we bring back James Norris, @jpnorris. The first of these is the juvenile feature, the Triumph Hurdle, a tricky contest with so many unexposed hurdlers, a mix of flat and NH-bred horses, and a few recent purchases from France as well. This preview was originally published on CheltenhamZone on Feb 25, so note there might be a few extra runners mentioned, and prices have moved. Content courtesy of @CheltenhamZone.

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

Triumph Hurdle

Since analysing the Triumph Hurdle picture shortly after Cheltenham’s ‘Trials Day’ all of the leading contenders have now completed their preparations on the track. The picture, as a result, has developed and shifted in a number of ways but one aspect has remained constant, LE ROCHER (N/R)still sets the standard (at least in form terms) having trounced his not insignificant opposition in Cheltenham’s Finesse Hurdle.

He first arrived on the Triumph Hurdle scene in December’s Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow, where he showed tremendous resolve to recover from a serious error three out and see off the mud-loving Kentucky Hyden by two-and-a-half lengths. After four runs over hurdles in France it would have been fair to harbour concerns over his jumping given the experience he already had. He was not foot perfect once again at Cheltenham, though he had certainly improved and there was an overall and striking progression made as he increased his superiority over that same rival to ten lengths. On both occasions Le Rocher encountered heavy ground and it is rare to see a young horse attack the Cheltenham hill with that degree of relish in such trying conditions. He appears to excel when the going literally gets tough and if faced with a similar scenario in the Triumph Hurdle his chances would be increased considerably.

That is not to say he necessarily needs the rain to keep on falling, his trainer, Nick Williams would tell you that he has won at Dieppe on good-to-soft and his action is fluid enough to handle a quicker surface. Deep ground would undoubtedly benefit this Saints Des Saints gelding though and he has produced a level of form that, in my opinion, others have yet to match. While his inconsistent jumping may benefit from the extra spring and I would fully expect him to throw down a serious challenge, Le Rocher has been about powerful galloping so far; hence on anything faster than soft I suspect he will be outpointed by an opponent with a touch more speed.

The Triumph can be about guts and experience, in which case Le Rocher fits the bill. If this year it proves to be more about speed and class he should lose out to Paul Nicholls’ Califet gelding, CALIPTO. In rating terms Calipto is on the same mark (149) as Nick William’s charge following his latest Newbury success. I would suggest Le Rocher has achieved more and that Calipto’s rating is on the high side, however, it is easy understand why the handicapper would be keen to take such a positive view and I would be surprised and ultimately disappointed if his rating wasn’t even higher by the start of next season.

His first authoritative victory at Newbury looks an even stronger contest now following the runner-up’s success in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton. There is every possibility that the race will produce winners of both juvenile contests at the Festival with the front pair heading with solid claims to the Triumph whilst the fourth and sixth head to the Fred Winter, having posted impressive wins subsequently, with likewise. Calipto despatched this high quality field, both in terms of appearance and future form, with relative ease. He travelled strongly in behind the fierce pacesetting leaders, displaying notable speed, before pulling away nicely and exhibiting the requisite stamina to comfortably hold off the rallying runner-up.

In the paddock prior to Calipto’s British debut I felt he was a nice type, if a little insubstantial. On his return to the Berkshire venue it was plain to see that in the intervening seventy one days the French-bred gelding had filled out and grown into an imposing four-year-old. Before, one could have questioned whether he would be up to the rigours of a Cheltenham Festival examination, now he looked ready. This was not irrelevant at Newbury either, as he was put in against older horses carrying a penalty and therefore effectively received no weight allowance. In fact he had to give the eventual second, Little John (a six-year-old whose jockey was already claiming seven), six pounds. Despite this being a moderate bunch, with his main danger, Seedling, failing to perform in the heavy ground, this was another exciting performance that cemented his place as one of the leading players in the Triumph Hurdle.

It was another display of smooth travelling combined with accomplished hurdling. He oozes class and the hectic pace of a Triumph would pose no problems. The question has been raised as to why he has failed to quicken further clear and in a more dominant fashion once he has coasted into the lead. The ground has played a major role in that as he faced testing conditions on his latest start and it was difficult to accelerate out of it, while on his British debut he was still a raw, inexperienced gelding who had met a very talented adversary. Calipto has won arguably the strongest juvenile hurdle run in Britain this season and has everything required to win a Triumph Hurdle, even if the lack of a flat career can be construed as a negative. No other four-year-old has left such an impression on me, barely another novice, and he is the selection at 7/1.

Kempton’s old Racing Post Chase (now BetBright) day is generally the last opportunity for Festival hopefuls to strut their stuff and the aforementioned “talented adversary”, ACTIVIAL (N/R) thrust himself into the Triumph limelight with a commanding success in the Adonis Hurdle. Having attempted to make all when conquered by Calipto on hurdling debut, the lengthy grey was settled in behind this time until quickening away from his challengers between the last two flights. This was a fine performance, including a faultless round of jumping, certainly worthy of Triumph consideration, but after the race concerns surrounding his suitability for the Cheltenham contest were raised by his trainer Harry Fry. Were he to turn up on that Friday in March he would need to be respected, though whether he can reverse form with Calipto is doubtful. He may well have been forced to travel faster than ideal at Newbury, and saving his effort at Kempton certainly brought about improvement, yet Calipto has moved forward in a variety of ways since then and shaped considerably better, even, than the bare result at Newbury. It is also important to note that Activial’s win may not have been as good as it first appeared given the second, Commissioned’s awkwardness and reluctance to go through with his effort after the last.

John Ferguson will have a handle on Activial thanks to Commissioned and it may have provided him with some extra confidence in his leading contender, BROUGHTON. With the desirable toughening up process of a flat career behind him the Teofilo gelding clearly showed a natural aptitude for hurdling as he was pitched straight into a Grade 2 for his first start over obstacles. Beaten only by inexperience there, behind the well-regarded Fox Norton, he went one better, and in some style, in Musselburgh’s Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial. Last year’s winner (Sametegal) went onto place at Cheltenham and there is enough hope to suggest Broughton can do at least as well. His jumping was more than proficient, as the pace quickened so did his hurdling; he cruised into the lead and quickened away well from an, admittedly tired, Irish raider who had previously finished second to Ireland’s principal Triumph hope. His form may not be up to the likes of Calipto and Le Rocher, he is rated some eleven pounds below that pair, but usually the trouble with the Bloomfields horses at Cheltenham is a lack of stamina, Broughton has no worries on that score and should excel himself.

John Quinn’s ability with juvenile hurdlers, especially off the flat, is worth reiterating and his Triumph Hurdle challenge appears to have sorted itself out. The leniency of the handicapper towards the talented, but quirky, Rutherglen has pointed connections in the direction of a tilt at the Fred Winter. Classy French recruit, Aurore D’Estruval may also head down that route or skip Cheltenham altogether. She was unlucky at Haydock and should be watched closely wherever she lines up next. Whereas, PEARL CASTLE has his sights firmly fixed on the Triumph, assuming the ground stays on the faster side of soft.

He is blessed with pace having come off the flat and that was in evidence on his second try over hurdles (Doncaster) where he tore the race apart with a late burst. There were a number of horses with questions to answer in behind therefore perhaps it was not worth taking the form at face value, yet he returned to Doncaster more recently and fought off a decent field of juveniles with a seven pound penalty on his back. It was not the most impressive performance and that instant turn-of-foot was absent, but plenty went wrong for him in the race and he still overcame that adversity in convincing style. He does just seem to lack the ability to win a normal Triumph and would be difficult to entertain on anything other than good ground. If the conditions were right, however, it is hard to forget that acceleration at Doncaster against his elders and a surprise isn’t impossible.

Nicky Henderson is set to rely on ROYAL IRISH HUSSAR, unless the ground was bottomless then Kentucky Hyden may come into the reckoning for place terms. He is far from an ideal Triumph type having seemingly peeked early in the season and he appears held by Broughton on Doncaster form. He does give us a line into the Irish juveniles though, namely their leading contender Guitar Pete who finished behind him at Cheltenham in November, and without Our Conor this time around they look set to struggle.

GUITAR PETE has undoubtedly progressed since that first foray to Cheltenham but I would be surprised if it was enough to take a hand in the finish on his return, admirable though he is. Ivan Grozny and Plinth were Ireland’s chief hopes for the Triumph prior to Leopardstown’s Grade 1 Spring Hurdle. Afterwards it was clear that Plinth’s jumping was insufficient for such a test and Ivan Grozny was rather overrated and would head to the Fred Winter instead. That pair were soundly beaten by the Dark Angel gelding, though he was best positioned and the feeling is that it was a weak renewal. TIGER ROLL has been talked up in the aftermath as a potential Triumph Hurdle player, he is hard to weigh up given he is likely to find continued improvement with Gordon Elliott, but he had only won a minor event at Market Rasen for his English trainer and is another who shouldn’t be good enough.

One of the few races at this year’s Cheltenham Festival where Willie Mullins appears not to have a strong hand is the Triumph Hurdle. He intends to rely on the filly GITANE DU BERLAIS (N/R) and possibly Abbyssial. She was comprehensively beaten by Guitar Pete on hurdling debut before a trip to Aintree saw her bolt up on softer ground which she appeared to appreciate. That was a poor race but there was plenty to admire about the performance. Her four-year-old allowance paid dividends next time as she took on older mares over two-miles-and-two furlongs. She appreciated the stamina test there as she saw off her stablemate Vicky De L’Oasis. Again that form would not be good enough for a Triumph Hurdle and she would probably need very testing ground to get involved.

ABBYSSIAL is one of the most interesting long term prospects around. He is a huge framed horse, the like of which is rarely seen in juvenile hurdles, and is very much a staying chaser in the making. The Beneficial gelding has made all on each of his three hurdle outings and his jumping has proven a real asset as his pursuers have been unable to match him late on in races. Last time in the Fairyhouse Grade 2 Fair Juvenile Hurdle he held off his better fancied stablemate in determined fashion. It had looked set to be an impressive win for the giant four-year-old until his tail started to swish after the last and he pulled himself up somewhat allowing the trailing filly, Adriana Des Mottes, back into contention. Willie Mullins has indicated that he will only run at Cheltenham if the ground was extremely heavy and his size, coupled with those signs of immaturity suggest that it would be the sensible decision to leave National Hunt racing’s centre stage for another twelve months, when it would be no shock to see him line up as a contender for the 2015 RSA Chase.

Advice: Calipto 1pt win 7/1 (Sportingbet) (originally posted Feb 25)

Gold Cup Preview

It all comes down to this, the highlight of the Festival, the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. He's written all the intro spiel down below, so I'll simply hand over to Andrew Downes, @17forlife

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

Gold Cup Preview

The pinnacle of the entire Cheltenham Festival and the National Hunt season. It’s the race all jockeys and trainers want to win and the winners are remembered forever. It is often a crowd favourite as the same horses come back for another crack, year after year which means the horses carry a following from the punters and crowds.

This year is no different as last year’s winner, Bobs Worth, is the current market leader. One of the most popular horses in training for his never say die attitude and his record at the festival. The endearing eight year old has won at the last three Festivals winning the stayers novice hurdle and chase and the big one itself last year. He would, or should I say WILL, be a hugely popular winner with both punters and horse lovers. Current favourite at around 7/4 indicates that he has a huge chance of doing so.

Any statistic lovers out there will be screaming at the screen telling me that Bobs Worth cannot win! This is because it is very difficult to retain a Gold Cup. Only 2 horses since the late, great Arkle won his last Gold cup in 1966 have done so. This is mainly due to the race often being a very grueling race which can leave a mark on a horse’s career. 3m2f around Cheltenham over fences is a test for any horse but add to that, that it is usually run at a fierce pace means it’s a grueling test. Stats are stats, you can take what you want from them whatever you want and I’m fully in the, ‘stats are there to be broken’ camp. Everyone said the superstar Kauto Star couldn’t win in 2009 because no horse had ever regained the Gold Cup, well stats fans will have left Prestbury Park penniless that day, after he flew up the hill. The opponents, type of horse, conditions and preparation are more important than statistics.

The opposition

This year’s renewal is essentially a duel between Bob's Worth and Silviniaco Conti. The Paul Nicholls trained high class horse won the most important trial in December, when he won the King George chase at Kempton. He has all the attributes to trouble Bob. He was travelling far superior when he fell coming down the hill in last year’s race and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see them in the finish against each other as it would make analysis of this year’s race easier!

I believe his victory in the King George this year can be downgraded when analyzing the race. Cue Card is a top class horse but still carries the reputation of being a non-stayer. CC travelled all over Conti that day until he appeared to run out of stamina. Al Ferof has been below form all year and was far too close in 3rd to give the form a strong look. Mount Benbulben jumped horrendously and still finished within 16 lengths. Add to that Dynaste clearly didn’t run his race and the race starts to have a weak look to it, given that Cue Card didn’t stay. The strong negative surrounding Conti is an important one, his lack of Cheltenham form. He has never won at the course, albeit in only 2 attempts. It isn’t that he doesn’t act at the course, it’s the fact we don’t know whether he will or not. Compare that to the course and festival form of Bobs Worth and it would certainly be a worry for any Conti backer. Travelling well down the hill is a lot different that coming back up it and we know Bobs Worth loves nothing more than sticking his neck out and getting to the top of that hill with his head in front.

There are two Gigginstown House Stud owned contenders are very talented horses but can be dismissed for differing reasons;

Last Instalment (7/1) would be a highly controversial runner given that he is trained by Philip Fenton, recently under investigation for drugs found at his yard. He would have brought high class form into the race, similar to that of Bob and is still thoroughly unexposed. His victory in the Irish Henessy, albeit in a slowly run race, is similar to the Lexus victory of Bobs Worth. He beat most of the same horses and he won by a larger margin. That margin was slightly flattered in my opinion do the slower pace. Unfortunately the drying ground means his chance is limited. I still expect him to pull out on the day due to the ground. If he were to turn up and there was a freak rain storm, he’d be a danger to the selection!

First Lieutenant (10/1) brings a high level of form into the race, finishing close behind Last Instalment and previously a close second to Bob's Worth. They were both over 3miles and the extra couple of furlongs seem to be against him here. Both the horses he lost to were increasing their advantage at the line which isn't a good sign for the extra distance he will face in the Gold Cup. Last year he finished a gallant second to the very talented Cue Card in the Ryanair Chase, over 2miles 5furlongs. He doesn't strike me as a Gold Cup horse as he doesn't look a thorough stayer, which you need to be to win this race. He has won over 3m at Aintree but he beat inferior opposition on a lot easier a track.

The rest pose very little danger to the market leaders.

The Giant Bolster (16/1) came a close 4th last year but hasn’t quite been the same horse this year. He ran well below par in the Betfair Chase, unseated at Aintree and then flopped over hurdles from a very low mark in a handicap at Cheltenham. He has since narrowly won an Argento chase at Cheltenham however he was getting a lot of weight from some smart but not Bob or Conti class chasers. He appears to have slightly regressed and his jumping errors mean he doesn’t offer great each way value at a 16s. He couldn’t get within 15 lengths of Bobs Worth on bad ground in last year’s race; he certainly won’t be getting any closer on the predicted good ground. Lord Windermere (33/1) and Lyreen Legend (40/1) were expected to become contenders for the top 3 mile chases this year however neither have been able to do so. Both have been disappointing and nothing they have done this year entitles them to get involved here. Lyreen legend is expected to improve for the better ground and may outrun current odds of 40/1 but not enough to get involved in the finish.

Triolo D’alene (12/1) has been the subject of some market support this week after being confirmed as an intended runner by his trainer Nicky Henderson. This year’s Hennessey winner follows a similar passage into the Gold Cup to that of Bobs Worth last year. He lacks the Cheltenham form, in fact he has run at Prestbury Park when he pulled up when favourite for the Paddy Power Chase and disappointed in a festival handicap. He is improving and thoroughly unexposed. His work at home has apparently been very good which would agree with the recent market support. The price has now gone and is as short as 12/1. Too short a price for a horse with such bad Cheltenham form although he is probably the most likely candidate to finish third but doesn’t appeal as a place bet at the price.

I apologise to those looking for a big priced horse that will save their festival on the final day, I will not be suggesting backing any horse on here apart from that of Bobs Worth. He is the festival banker for many and is certainly mine. Every single box you could possibly want to tick and he ticks it. A short price to many at 7/4 but that is seriously tempting value to me about a reigning Gold Cup champion. He should be trading at much nearer even money in my tissue.

He won a much better renewal last year when conditions didn’t suit. Ground conditions are a huge factor in my confidence behind Bob. Last year he was fortunate to have such a genius riding him. Barry Geraghty, who will be riding again, had to nudge Bob along as he struggled in the mud. He doesn’t travel as well on the bad ground but it says all you need to know about the horse that he managed to beat the best 3m chasers around whilst hating the ground the entire way round. His attitude is one of his best features and you can be assured that should he need to battle against any rivals on Friday, then he will and will not be found wanting.

This season started off on a bad note when he struggled the entire way round a bottomless Haydock in the Betfair Chase. This just emphasizes how ground dependent I believe Bob is. He then went to Ireland for one of the most competitive and high class staying chases of the season in the Lexus at Leopardstown. He finished very strongly and that of a quicker horse than people realised to win by a cosy two lengths on Yielding/soft ground. That is the best form around (except the unlikely to run Last Instalment, see above). The extra two furlongs and Cheltenham hill along with the better ground will help him enormously so it is a credit to Bob that he was still as impressive as he was.

I cannot get across how important Cheltenham and Festival form is when analyzing these big festival races is. Bobs has been there and done it. Will Conti get up the hill? We have no idea but we KNOW Bob does and does it very well. The atmosphere and buzz around the Gold Cup can cause some horses to sweat up or get on their toes hence why when we know a horse can deal with all of the buzz and excitement, it’s very reassuring.

The selection is Bobs Worth who is easily my banker of the entire Cheltenham Festival. He somehow managed to win last year in a far better renewal on conditions he hated! A worse renewal and more importantly better conditions under feet mean he is impossible to opposable in my opinion. If you like a horse with a huge engine, a decent jumper, a very good turn of foot for a 3 mile chaser, the biggest heart in racing, almost indefinite amount of stamina, a 5 time course winner and superior ability to his opposition then you will agree with me that Bobs Worth retains his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown!

Canterbury Stakes preview

Not only is their magnificent racing this week at Cheltenham, but the Sydney racing carnival (yes, we call them carnivals in Australia rather than festivals) cranks right up as we head towards the inaugural running of The Championships. There's English interest in this race too, not only is it the resumption of the former royal-owned galloper (My) Kingdom of Fife after 2.5 years off due to injury, but the Royal Ascot-bound super colt Zoustar starts his 2014 campaign. There are no slouches in this field, although some might have targets later on in the autumn over more ground.

Charged with the preview is astute form student and regular contributor Manny Galouzis, @mannygalouzis.

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

Canterbury Stakes
Randwick $500,000 Group 1
1722 local time, 0822 GMT.
1300m, track expected to be Dead 5-Slow 7 range.
Here we go again, punters. All eyes shift from Melbourne to Sydney this week as the Sydney Autumn Carnival kicks off. Two Group 1 races, the Randwick Guineas and the Canterbury Stakes. We had a decent day at Flemington last week. Thunder Fantasy couldn't get the job done, but Spirit of Boom ran a cracking race at place odds of about 7/2 and my selections ran the boxed First 4. Hope some of you stepped into the exotics, as I suggested. No point dwelling on the past however, there is money to be made this week. Today we focus on the Canterbury Stakes, and what a race it is shaping up to be. First, as always, a bit of history.

Run as a Group 2 up until 2012, The Canterbury Stakes reached Group 1 status last year, and it is easy to see why. Year after year the fields for this race got much stronger and the winners were all genuine Group 1 performers. Pierro, More Joyous, Hot Danish, All Silent and Mentality in more recent times. If we go back a bit further, we will see such names as Placid Ark, Emancipation and Manikato, just to name a few. This year is no exception, with at least 10 Group 1 wins amongst the runners. Let's get stuck into it.

1. My Kingdom of Fife

This horse could have been anything, if not for some horrible luck with injuries. He sticks out in my mind as one of Waller's first imports to come and take Australia by storm. He is first-up here after a lazy 896 days off, so I'm tipping he might need the run. He is 150/1 and that's probably a fair price; but cast your mind back to April 2011, where he was first up over 1600m at this very course in the Royal Parma Stakes. He duly went on to get the chockies at the same odds he shows right now. I'm not saying that lightning will strike twice, but if anyone can do it, it's C.Waller. If he wins, I'll officially retire from the punt and then proceed to build a statue in honour of what a freak his trainer is.

2. Sacred Falls

Hasn't won since the 2013 edition of the Doncaster (a race I still have nightmares about, tipped him at 50/1 and didn't have a cent on him), but he hasn't been too bad since then. Beaten less than a length in the Emirates and ran 3rd in the MV Crystal Mile. Don't know about 1300m first-up, but I'd be hoping he finishes off nice enough to be a factor in later Autumn features. 33/1 I think is a fairly big price. Can't win but I think he is a rough place chance.

3. Toydini

Very average first-up, I don't know what to make of him here. He clearly has the ability, considering he was only beaten a length in the Emirates, but I don't think 1300m against this lot will suit him. Not for me.

4. Speediness

Great run last start, beaten 1.5L by Appearance in the Apollo Stakes. He has always shown he has talent, but he really stepped it up last prep with placings in the Crystal Mile and the Emirates. Would prefer to wait and see what he can do at 1600m though. 18/1 is about his right price. Place chance.

5. Rain Affair

Who knows what to make of this bloke. Ordinary in the Theo Marks last Spring, awful in the Expressway, he might need a very long stay in a large paddock. He did win a barrier trial by 11 lengths on the 28th of February, but you would expect him to do so against that lot of horses. He should get a fairly soft lead and a bit of sting out of the track will help his chances, but he really is a take-on-trust prospect. He won't be getting any of my hard earned.

6. Appearance

Fantastic in the Expressway and the Apollo; this mare is a force to be reckoned with in Autumn feature races. She has showed a devastating turn of foot in both of her wins this prep, my only issue with her here is that she is going to be a long way back off the turn on what might be a slow pace. She could come out and win, but I think she is under the odds.

7. Streama

Just fair first-up and you'd be expecting her to show her best over 1600m. A slower track will help her chance but I can't back her here.

8. Red Tracer

Won as expected first-up, but the way she ran through the line was the most impressive part of that win. Clearly she is bound for bigger and better races. Never out of a place at the trip and she should lob in nicely behind the speed, she is a big chance here. Any rain certainly only improves her chances, I've got her equal second pick.

9. Zoustar

Well, it'll be all eyes on Zoustar when the barriers open up. He proved himself to be one of the best colts in the land last Spring, taking out the Golden Rose and Coolmore Stud in emphatic style. He's trialled twice leading up to this, so he should be ready to go. I thought first-up against older horses might be too tough a task, but you have to remember that he is a VERY expensive colt owned by Widden Stud, so he wouldn't be running in a Group 1 unless Waller thought he could win. If he shows any glimpses of his Spring prep, you'd think he would be just about winning this. 2/1 is a little short for me, but I've got him on top.

10. Not Listenin'tome

He blew the field away first-up in the Zedative Stakes at Caulfield; you could not ask for a more impressive return to racing. He's got Group 1 galloper written all over him and it would be no shock if he won on Saturday. The Hawkes team is absolutely flying right now and if there are any chinks in the armour of Zoustar, he is going to be the immediate danger. He was only beaten 2L to Zoustar in the Coolmore Stud Stakes and it is quite obvious he has improved a few lengths since then. I think he will get a lovely trail into the race just behind the speed and at some point down the straight, look like the winner. Equal second pick and at odds of about 13/4, he is the right price.

Rain Affair should find the front fairly easily, with Not Listenin'tome, Red Tracer and Streama behind him. I would expect Zoustar to sit 3 pairs back, which should leave him within striking distance on the turn. The speed of the race depends on what Jason Collett does on Rain Affair here. Does he high-ball out in front or does he just hope to try and pinch a few cheap sectionals and kick on the turn? If the former, it brings a horse like Appearance right into the race. If not, horses most suited with be those right behind the speed.

A fantastic race on paper, I've actually found it quite difficult to recommend a bet here. I'm $3.70 the field in a 100% market. Zoustar could just come out and blow them all away, but at odds of $2.80, I'm not prepared to find out until after the race. I could have something small on Red Tracer and/or Not Listenin'tome, but I'd need about $5.50 to invest on either of them. Perhaps this is just a race to sit back and enjoy.

Selections:

1. Zoustar 2. Red Tracer and Not Listenin'tome 4. Appearance

Recommended Bet:

No recommended bet today but if you must invest, play exotics small around 2,6,8,9,10.

Good luck punters and as always, there is no such thing as the last race.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

JLT Novices Chase Preview

Opening the day three programme is another Novice event, and lo and behold, the favourite belongs to Willie Mullins! Can he make it three days in a row?

For this race, we've once again called upon the services of CheltenhamZone, @cheltenhamzone and talented writer James Norris, @jpnorris. Originally posted Feb 27 so there will some slight difference in prices, but not the important one of the tip! Read more of their comprehensive content on their site

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

JLT Novices Chase

Many will argue this race has no place at the Cheltenham Festival, largely because of what it takes away from others. This intermediate version is a modern creation and now, after three successful years, it has been upgraded to Grade 1 status. In time one can envisage it becoming the pre-eminent source of superstar stayers of the future and the victory of Sir Des Champs gives some indication of what’s to come. In fact, that mesmeric performance in 2012 almost single-handedly justifies this race’s presence in the calendar and the upcoming renewal is another very much to look forward to.

Intriguingly three of the major figures in this year’s contest have intertwining form lines that are tricky to pick apart. Determining the relevance and solidity of the form when Taquin Du Seuil beat Oscar Whisky, when Oscar Whisky beat Wonderful Charm and when Oscar Whisky beat Taquin Du Seuil is fraught with danger given how the races were run, the respective weights carried and states of fitness. A cogent case can be made for each of these at Cheltenham and I suspect whichever comes out on top will win the 2014 JLT Novices’ Chase.

WONDERFUL CHARM heads the betting and has done for some time. Paul Nicholls has been determined to bring him to the Festival fresh and nominated this as his target following his last run at Cheltenham’s December meeting.

Having made a blistering chase debut at Fakenham, jumping and quickening impeccably, Nicholls immediately stepped him up in class to the Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Wincanton, a race he often uses to showcase his best staying novice talent. Once again his jumping, until the home straight, was measured and noticeably superior to his rivals. In the home straight, as the strong travelling Fox Appeal accelerated away from him, he essentially ran through the last two fences. Fortunately, the Poliglote gelding was given an expert ride by Nick Schofield as he refused to panic when Emma Lavelle’s charge went clear, gathering his mount together for that opportune moment where a mixture of class and stamina enabled him to pick up the leader in the last half-furlong. Fox Appeal subsequently went on to prove that was no mean feat with a fluent success at Ascot and two placed efforts in Grade 2s.

Wonderful Charm then outclassed a small but inferior field at Newbury, in the race previously won by 2013 JLT runner-up Dynaste, before turning up at Prestbury Park to take on Oscar Whisky. On paper he was set a stiff task, forced to give a talented and high class horse in Oscar Whisky eight pounds. He had though taken to fences extremely well and has far greater scope for improvement than the Seven Barrows inmate, about whom there were negative murmurings surrounding his aptitude for fencing thanks to a less than foot-perfect round on debut. Such concerns were unfounded as Oscar Whisky’s extra speed, an optimal ride and the aforementioned eight pounds proved decisive.

Wonderful Charm lost little if anything in defeat and it would be fair to assume that at level weights, preferably off a stronger gallop, the form will be reversed. I, perhaps unfairly, fear that race may have been indicative of his impending shortcoming in the JLT, a slight absence of pace. I have a huge amount of time for the horse and I look forward with relish to his career next season over three miles. It’s just that already three miles could be what he needs to be seen at his best and were he to head for the longer RSA chase I would be far keener on his chances.

OSCAR WHISKY, on the other hand, has always been ideally suited to this ‘in between’ distance and over hurdles he was nearly unbeatable at it, particularly round Cheltenham. That defeat of Wonderful Charm is probably the most pertinent of all Oscar Whisky’s form this season given the farcical nature of both other contests at Cheltenham and the appalling ground conditions, coupled with the sub-par rivals, at Sandown last time out. He seemed somewhat laboured there in the Scilly Isles Chase, a few mistakes crept in, and he took longer than expected to see off Manyriverstocross. Such was the severity of the test in the ground however I would be prepared to largely ignore that performance, assuming it hasn’t left its mark, and prefer to judge him on his Cheltenham form, even if it does take some guesswork.

On chasing debut he met Taquin Du Seuil, who had to carry a five pound penalty thanks to a simple win at Ffos Las. Barry Geraghty’s race almost ended prematurely as a reluctant The Cockney Mackem almost refused at the first thereby putting off Oscar Whisky. From then on there was barely a gallop set and the race turned into a sprint from the second last. Taquin Du Seuil just prevailed on the run to the line and given the weight concession it had to be considered a significant effort. Oscar Whisky was only seeing fences in public for the first time and it could be argued that he needed the race to some extent. There were plenty of reasons to be positive about his performance and despite a weight turnaround in favour of the Jonjo O’Neill trained gelding a reversal of form was easy to imagine when they next met on New Year’s Day, Oscar Whisky having despatched Wonderful Charm in the interim.

In sloppy, wet and windy conditions pace eluded the race, with the pair of old rivals determined not to set the race up for each other. Another sprint ensued and this time it only began in earnest at the last where Taquin Du Seuil landed steeply, effectively handing the race to Oscar Whisky. For the second time there was very little in it at the line. Conflicting conclusions can be drawn as to which is the better chasing prospect and who has been less suited by the nature of their battles so far. To my mind, Oscar Whisky suits being ridden very prominently in races that build. I can see him coming unstuck back at Cheltenham when the pace is fierce and pressure is applied to his jumping which, while far less of an issue than some make out, does tend veer off to the right. At nine years old, with a lengthy and arduous hurdling career behind him, I doubt he can become as good over fences as he was over the smaller obstacles. I am not expecting a further leap forward in his development and that may be required if he is to contend with talented, upwardly mobile horses two or three years his junior.

TAQUIN DU SEUIL is one such horse and despite coming off second best in The Dipper Novices’ Chase I fully expect his younger legs to comprehensively reverse that form in The JLT. Thoughts of a tilt at the Arkle were shelved after appearing to be outpaced by leading contenders Hinterland and Grandouet in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase over two miles at Sandown. I feel an error cost him more than a lack of speed there and would not be quick to rule him out at the minimum trip but this two-and-a-half miles is ideal.

There has been a misguided sense of unease around Taquin Du Seuil’s jumping; in reality it has been more than adequate so far and the end to end gallop at Cheltenham should help him to clear his fences even more fluently. The Voix Du Nord gelding is a tall, striking animal with scope in abundance and though disappointing in last season’s hot Neptune his run is worth watching back as on a surface many would deem too quick his jumping was impeccable. Until now he hasn’t looked exuberant at his fences but so often he has run in races devoid of pace or in heavy ground and McCoy has taken a grip, concerned a big jump would take him to the front.

In spite of a rounded action I do not concur with the majority that he needs soft ground, or preferably worse. He may handle it better than others but on good ground in November he showed too much speed for Oscar Whisky, while he was an unfortunate third in a Grade 1 next time on the same, over a trip shorter than ideal. Even during his novice hurdle days he proved himself on good-to-soft ground at Ascot when beaten less than two lengths by My Tent Or Yours.

The emphasis there was on speed, at Haydock on his most recent start it was on stamina. Here he was at his most impressive over fences, trouncing a small but very useful field and exhibiting the considerable reserves that could see him involved at the death in an RSA.

A Grade 1 winner of over hurdles, Taquin Du Seuil should not be long in winning one over fences and it could well come in Cheltenham’s latest upgrade. This race is made for him, even more so than Oscar Whisky at this stage of his career, and 9/1 is an attractive price worth taking.

The rest of the English challenge is headed Harry Fry’s French import VUKOVAR. He has the size of a chaser and immense potential, especially up in trip, as it will be at Cheltenham. His jumping has been accurate on the whole and it should prove to be a strength but just two starts over fences is a worry. Whether too slow on chase debut, or too inexperienced, it was disconcerting to see him come off second best to the unlovable rogue, Mr Mole, on his first attempt at Warwick. A tongue tie undoubtedly helped at Newbury next time, where he ran out a wide margin winner, but so did the lamentable performances of his rivals, especially Open Hearted who sweated up badly beforehand. There are simply too many question marks with him to consider taking a single figure price for the JLT.

OFF THE GROUND and DOUBLE ROSS are two likely to come from handicaps. Emma Lavelle’s eight-year-old has been an emphatic winner of his two most recent chases, both at Doncaster, yet it is hard to envisage him being good enough to make his presence felt in this company. If an outsider is to make the frame Nigel Twiston-Davies’s December Gold Cup winner could be the one. Double Ross beat a good field that day and consolidated that performance with another, more convincing, handicap success on January 1st. During Cheltenham’s ‘Festival Trials Day’ he travelled like the winner until the last, from which point Wishfull Thinking, runner-up in the very first JLT, showed a touch more pace. Had jockey Sam Twiston-Davies kicked on earlier, and stretched the field, the result could have been different. It was still a notable performance and once again proved his liking for an intermediate trip at his local track.

Unsurprisingly the principal contender from across the Irish Sea is housed at Willie Mullins' Closutton base. FELIX YONGER was also seen as a potential Arkle player but the presence of Champagne Fever and the manner in which he sees out his races strongly has made that unlikely.

A staying on second in Simonsig’s Neptune was the highlight of his career over hurdles. Disappointment at Punchestown and then a year off through injury followed before making a bright start over fences with a comfortable win over White Star Line in May 2013. After the summer break he finally hit his stride. Two striking successes at around two miles on yielding and good-to-yielding ground saw him promoted to the forefront of the Arkle market. However, on each occasion the leader, Defy Logic and Trifolium respectively, set off too quickly and set it up for this strong staying son of Oscar. Then, upped in trip on ground that was perhaps against him, a late mistake cost the eight-year-old as he merely plugged on behind stablemate, The Paparrazi Kid. Trifolium, ridden more conservatively, then gained his revenge by comprehensively reversing earlier form in Leopardstown’s Irish Arkle, albeit on heavy ground. Cracks appeared in Felix Yonger’s jumping before superior stamina helped him pick up second.

On a sounder surface, over this longer trip he is sure to come into his own but I still doubt whether he is quite up to the level of the English triumvirate first mentioned. That defeat of Trifolium at Navan is a little misleading and despite challenging for favouritism he needs to improve again in order to win this competitive heat.

Willie Mullins is also likely to be represented by the Rich Ricci owned five-year-old, DJAKADAM. Below the top level in juvenile hurdles, he has the presence of a chaser and made full use of his weight-for-age allowance in both starts over fences. He is a solid jumper, a solid prospect overall in fact, but he fails to really excite for this race. His defeat of Bright New Dawn is unquestionably good form though not up to the standard of those heading the market. The Gigginstown representative is eminently beatable by the top novices and Djakadam won the race through stamina. He will soon require a stiffer test and realistically this first trip to England is more an opportunity to gain experience than Grade 1 honours.

Few debut rounds over fences will match that of SIZING GOLD. Wonderful Charm comes closest in this regard. His natural athleticism sets a rare foundation to build from and at Naas, upped to a Grade 2 for his second chase start, Henry De Bromhead’s charge jumped to the front travelling on the bridle. Having always shaped like a staying chaser, and with a convincing victory on the cards, it was disappointing to witness his stamina run out against the doughtier Foxrock. Helpfully, the drop back to two-and-a-half miles at Cheltenham will be in his favour, as will the test of jumping it provides and 16/1 may underestimate his chances. Nonetheless, he appears to lack a degree of speed, suggesting he could be outpaced at the highest level over this trip.

Ireland’s 100% record in the JLT is under threat and with the cream of their novice crop heading elsewhere it may pay to look towards the Cotswolds for the winner this year.

Advice: 1pt win Taquin Du Seuil 9/1 (William Hill)