Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Perth Cup preview

New Year's Day in Australia brings a swathe of race meetings all around the country, but the highest profile race of the day is the Perth Cup. Often conducted in temperatures nearing the 40C, it's a tough day with a New Year's Eve hangover! This year the forecast is for a far more moderate 29C. Taking the reins with the preview is @BrisburghPhil

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Perth Cup 2015
Group 2, 2400m
1650 local time, 0850 GMT Preview by @BrisburghPhil

Form guide

Another time-honoured race on the Australian racing calendar but it unfortunately lost it’s two mile status after 2008. That year the race failed to attract any Eastern States visitors which pretty much sealed it’s 3200m fate. Interestingly though it has failed to attract any this year either. Food for thought?

Below are the last six winners of the Perth Cup (with relevant stats) since the race became a 2400m event. The last figure in brackets is the weight drop from prior start;

2014 BLACK TYCOON 8G D.Oliver (5) 55.5kg 2.5L 4th Cox Stakes (-3.5kg) $5
2013 TALENT SHOW 6M Jarrad Noske (1) 53.5kg 3L 4th Cox Stakes (-3.5kg) $31
2012 WESTERN JEWEL 5M K.Yuill (1) 52kg 1st (2L) ATA Stakes (-5kg) $7
2011 GUEST WING 4G B.Parnham (8) 52kg 0.3L 2nd ATA Stakes (-2kg) $21
2010 LORDS RANSOM 6G A.Kennedy (2) 55.5kg 1st (1.8L) Cox Stakes (-3.5kg) $3
2009 GUYNO 5G J.Whiting (12) 54kg 6L 7th COx Stakes (-5kg) $9

Pertinent facts:

1. 6/6 dropped 2kg or more from prior start and 5/6 dropped more than 3.5kg

2. No horse has carried more than 55.5kg to win

3. 4/6 drew barriers 1-5 & 5/6 barriers 1-8

4. 3/6 sired by Jeune and 4/6 sired by a British born horse.

5. Only one horse beaten more than 3L at its prior start and two horses beaten 3L or more both ran in WFA Cox Stakes at prior start.

6. Four winners have come out of WFA Cox Stakes (2100m) and two from ATA Handicap (2200m)

7. Five of six have been 5 years old or older.

8. Average winning price $12.16

Taking all this into account I think the most likely winner on a historical basis would appear to be RED BLAST. He has drawn okay in barrier eight. REAL LOVE and RESPONDENT very prominent in historical discussions too, though the St.Leger is yet to produce a winner of this race. It was a far stronger version this year though, and we know both those horses are at least capable of matching it with those in the Cox on previous form. RL too short a price though, and maybe both she and Respondent are a bit shy of the best age? Bass Strait looks a nice history-based hope too but his very wide barrier is a big hurdle to overcome.

Race Tempo: KIROV BOY is almost certain to ensure this race is a true 2400m staying test as he did in the ATA Stakes last start, setting up a massive lead and sustaining the margin to the finish line. Chester Road, Global Flirt & Lucciola should be on pace in the race, whilst most of the rest of the field will be biding their time midfield or rearward in the race. Kirov Boy is probably one dimensional in that he will have to go quickly to give himself a chance to win. He is not the type of horse who can lead and win off a slow pace, and the plan will be to take the last sprint away from those who have greater late acceleration.

The worry for some of the favoured horses here (out of the Cox & St. Leger), is that both races weren’t true staying tests. The time in both was quite pedestrian compared to previous years (last year's winner Black Tycoon would have run three seconds quicker when fourth in Cox 2013), so the trick might be to find which horses were most disadvantaged in both those races, with a view to this race.

Runner Analysis:

1. MR MOET- Doesn’t seem to have recaptured his best form of 2012 and early 2013, and though he was ridden upside down last start near the lead, he probably should have done a bit better given the tempo was fairly pedestrian. Out of that race he meets the likes of Red Blast, Bass Strait, Operational & God Has Spoken 5kg worse off at the weights, so it’s hard to see him beating any of them home in this. Ideal barrier his biggest positive.

2. IHTSAHYMN – Had every chance in the Cox Stakes, and finds himself horribly in at the weights here out of that race. Not only that he was completely outstayed in the Derby by Respondent last April, now has to concede that horse 4.5kg which is just ridiculous. How can you concede him much of a chance given that factor?

3. CHESTER ROAD- Is another poorly weighted out of the Cox Stakes, and given he hasn’t done anything remarkable for two years (largely due to injury), it is just a travesty that he isn’t on the minimum weight in this. He ran an improved race in the Cox, but was the leader in a slowly run race. Can’t have him in this though he was a very promisiing horse in 2012.

4. BALMONT GIRL- Would be a distinct chance in the race, but she (unfathomably) has to give Respondent & Real Love 3kg in weight from the St.Leger. Real Love beat her home, and Respondent was a nostril behind her in that race. Respondent has a 5kg weight turnaround off that meeting, and also beat her home comfortably in the Derby. She has drawn poorly too which doesn’t help.

5. ASK ME NICELY- is the first of the horses we look at down on the minimum weight here (there are 14 of them!). She rates a chance on her excellent (and surprise) third in this race last year, but hasn’t won in 18 starts since. She was also a well beaten 8L second in the ATA Stakes last start so it’s hard to see her winning. She has drawn well so perhaps a chance of a placing, given she can run the distance strongly

6. BASS STRAIT- Looks good historically and he drops nicely in weight from the WFA Cox Stakes. His run there though didn’t have as much merit as that of Red Blast, and they meet at level weights again here. And he has drawn a far worse barrier than that horse. He is also a bit of a query at 2400m, especially in a fast run race, as this should be. I can’t completely leave him out, but he will need to improve considerably to win. Placing is a definite possibility though if he gets a decent run in transit.

7. CLASSIQUE IVORY- Really is struggling for form and can’t see him figuring in this.

8. GLOBAL FLIRT- Was a surprise winner of the Tatts Cup at massive odds three starts ago which was his first glimpse of form for some time. But that form has deserted him at his past couple and his hopes look forlorn from a wide barrier.

9. GOD HAS SPOKEN- May well be the best rough chance in the race given his run in the Cox wasn’t too bad given his rearward position before the turn. He was doing his best work late. He ran a surprise second in this race last year (with 1.5kg more), off a far worse run in a faster run Cox, so he can make his presence felt at massive odds. This will be his fifth attempt at winning this race, with his best two efforts a second and a fourth. Both were off wide barriers, and the failures when drawn in. He has drawn 10 this year so that might be a positive. Not getting any younger but he is very battle hardened which might negate that factor. Definitely an each-way hope.

10. KIROV BOY- Put himself in the picture for this with a resounding win in the ATA Stakes last start (see comments in race tempo above). Veteran jockey Danny Miller jumped off him after the win and stated he wished the Perth Cup was 3200m, which I didn’t take as a vote of confidence. He looked no hope of gaining a start in this race before that effort, as his class didn’t appear to warrant one. All of a sudden he is a $7 second favourite. The time he ran in the ATA (2200m) didn’t rank all that highly against previous renditions of that race, but it looks quite good up against the Cox and St. Leger times run recently (2100m). I doubt he is good enough to beat some of these at level weights, but I could be wrong. He looks to be in the top half dozen chances though if he can repeat that last effort.

11. LUCCIOLA- Is a restricted class mare who strung a remarkable seven consecutive wins together during the Winter. Six of those were at Belmont though and she has struggled to win in the higher class races at at Ascot (0/6) this Spring/Summer. She had every chance up on the pace in a slowly run race in the Cox, so it does appear she is a bit short of this class. The 3kg weight drop won’t hurt though, and she has drawn to advantage and always tries her best. Some hope of a placing for her.

12. OPERATIONAL- Ran a slightly better trial for this than God Has Spoken in the Cox Stakes, and he did have form around Red Blast during the Winter. He ran poorly in this race last year when fourth up from a spell, but interesting to note his third up form has always been an improvement on his first and second up starts in a campaign. He is third up here so can improve markedly especially with a 5kg weight drop. He does seem to be a much better horse at Belmont though, and he has drawn a poor barrier. A fast run 2400m could be a query, but he still ranks as one of the better rough odds chances.

13. REAL LOVE- Comes in as a deserved favourite off a win in the St. Leger last start, and of all of the horses in that race she was the one least suited by a slow tempo. She seems to be the 4yo that has improved most from the Autumn, and a look at the Derby replay in April doesn’t put you off her chances. It was a quite strange ride by the jockey in that race, almost suicidal might be a better description. She made a mid-race move from the back, off a slow tempo, but the moment that happened, the pace quickened, and she was left three wide up on the pace. That put paid to her hopes but she really did fight hard the last 200m to more than hold her position against the winner and runner up. She is by the same sire as Makybe Diva (Desert King), and may well be the best Australian-based staying mare by that sire since. She should cope with a fast run race (the Derby had pressure), and has drawn ideally with a 2kg weight drop form last start. Very hard to beat but I think her price is a bit too short, given she meets Respondent 2kg worse for the Derby defeat, and St. Leger win.

14. RED BLAST- Put in a career-best run in the Cox Stakes last start, and especially so given the torrid run he had in the race. He was merely a handicapper coming into that race, but a good second there gives him WFA class status, and puts him in the well weighted category here, dropping 5kg. I’m just a little suspicious about the merits of that run given the overall time of the race. Where did the sudden improvement come from, and can he go on with it here? You are getting double figure odds from a decent barrier to find out, so he is worth a bet. Also note his prior run in the Queens Cup was an unlucky one behind Real Love, though he wouldn’t have beaten her even with more fortune. She meets him on the same weight terms here, and she did jump 800m in distance going into that race. Not sure he can beat her unless he improves again off that last effort.

15. RESPONDENT – Looks a leading chance here given he won the Derby in April, and has absolutely no weight penalty from it. His form hasn’t been as good this Summer admittedly, but his last run in the St. Leger was a glimpse of his best. His Derby win was super in decent time, with his last 200m quite explosive. Maybe he was advantaged by being held up at the rear in that race, but he really did accelerate quickly in the straight, to put the issue beyond doubt very quickly. Personally I have been waiting for him to get back to 2400m, and expected a better showing last start. I got it and the Blinkers go on for this. The reasoning is he got his head up when making a possible winning bid last start. That was supposedly the difference between winning and losing, though in reality I think Real Love was going away from him at the finish. Not sure the Blinkers are a positive (if they are he will win), but I think his double figure odds are. He is a little awkwardly drawn but I’m not sure that is any concern. He looks the main threat to Real Love, and (excepting his overall form) is one of the best weighted horses I’ve seen for quite a while.

16. SON OF SOMETHING- Started a warm favourite in the ATA Stakes but was blown away there by Kirov Boy. He lost a race plate though so perhaps that was a legitimate reason, and he does meet Kirov Boy 3kg better for that run. He is a bit hard to gauge here at 2400m, not having started beyond 2200m, but I just doubt he is quite good enough to trouble the likes of Real Love & Respondent at level weights. He meets Real Love 1.5kg better for meeting her in the Queens Cup but she was very dominant in that off an 800m distance rise, so doubtful he can turn the tables. Especially so from the wide barrier.

17. STARLIGHT LADY- Is first emergency here and her form just doesn’t suggest she can win a race of this calibre.

18. BEDAMIJO- 2nd emergency and deserves to be the extreme outsider in this field if he does gain a start.

Conclusion

REAL LOVE looks the one to beat, but at the odds on offer I’m keen to select RESPONDENT at roughly 5 times the price. He looks the one to have truly beaten the handicapper given his Derby win, and whilst his form hasn’t been quite up to par this preparation, he looks to be on the way back to his best, and the 2400m could be his biggest asset.

RED BLAST has to be considered a winning chance given his last run at WFA and a 5kg weight drop. KIROV BOY will give his backers a run for their money but might not have the class to see it through.

Best at a rough price appear to be GOD HAS SPOKEN & OPERATIONAL. Both are capable of getting into the placings at least.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Betway 'scandal' resolved

Recently Twitter lit up with allegations of the new Champion Chase sponsor Betway refusing to pay a punter his winnings. The punter in question won a couple of his early bets on a new account and then wanted to withdraw his winnings. Possibly suspicious that the punter was betting for someone else, Betway asked for KYC (Know Your Customer) details to verify the identity of the punter - as they are required to do as part of their licensing conditions.

This is where it went awry. The customer, a student who had changed address several times over the summer, as uni students in particular are prone to (been there, done that), sought to expedite the process by doing a little cut and pasting of one scanned document (not illegal, just silly), rather than just being open and explaining the situation. Also understandable if you've ever wanted to get a mobile phone account or similar where a credit check is required. Betway audit staff noticed the irregularity and then the problems began. Rather than starting a conversation with the punter, they demanded more documentation which he submitted. All genuine documents however one of them contained a typo in the post code (probably easily done if you keep changing addresses, but again, not the fault of the bookmaker). Betway staff then pulled down the shutters and refused to discuss the case any further with the customer. Winnings confiscated, deposit to be returned, go away, no further correspondence to be entered into. All the while never telling the customer why. A fairly shambolic set of rules essentially allowing the firm to do whatever they want didn't help either.

Twitter went nuts and it's not hard to see why. Both sides were at fault - the punter for his naivety in editing an identifying document and Betway for digging their own hole with terrible communications. A new Head of PR, the experienced Alan Alger, conveniently walked into this in his first week in the job and was able to resolve the situation through mediation. The customer admitted his fault, Betway admitted their communication on the issue was poor and would pay out once that single issue was resolved. Their rules are now under a 'very thorough review'. Case is now closed.

Moral of the story - customers shouldn't muck around with ID documents and bookmakers shouldn't close up shop when customers have genuine grievances.

Betway aren't thieves, they just don't like making it easy for punters who raise red flags. Most bookies will do that...

Friday, 12 December 2014

Villiers Stakes preview

The highlight of summer racing in Sydney is the Villiers Stakes. Tasked with the preview is Mitch Fenton.

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Villiers Stakes Randwick, G2, 1600m
1615 local time, 0515 GMT

Form link

Website
Twitter: @weekndkngracing
Facebook: /weekendking


The most reliable guide to the Gr2 Villiers has always been the Festival Stakes.

I’m going to stick with that form line; here’s the horses who ran in the Festival, running today.

1 I'm Imposing (55.5) 20-1
2 [0.1] Estonian Princess (54) 7-1
3 [0.3] Strawberry Boy (57.5) 6-1
5 [1.7] Sir Moments (56) 11-2
6 [2.5] Multilateral (54) 60-1
7 [3.8] Scream Machine (56) 20-1
8 [4.3] Aomen (58.5) 30-1
11 [6.8] Monton (60) 16-1
12 [8.0] Keep Cool (54) 80-1

Out of all those runs in the Festival, Strawberry Boy was a clear top pick for mine.

He worked very hard out in front with his 1500m to 600m times and was 3L quicker than the average. He was entitled to drop out of the race but instead he fought on doggedly. Jim Cassidy goes on today (Is there a better front running jockey around??)

There doesn’t look to be any speed on paper at all, so “Pumper” should be able to dictate terms. He loves the wet also, so that’s not an issue. VERY HARD TO BEAT!

I’M IMPOSING, ESTONIAN PRINCESS, SIR MOMENTS and MULTILATERAL also ran nice races in the Festival. There’s where the chances end for mine. Can’t entertain any of the others, except for Rose of Peace who is very progressive and might well improve sharply.

I’ll be backing 3 in the race;
STRAWBERRY BOY @ $6 win bet
MULTILATERAL @ $26 each way bet
I’M IMPOSING @ $13 each way.

I’m also going to box up STRAWBERRY BOY, ESTONIAN PRINCESS, SIR MOMENTS, MULTILATERAL & I’M IMPOSING in a first 4 as well.

BEST BETS: STRAWBERRY BOY the win and MULTILATERAL each way

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Hong Kong Vase

One of the great days of international racing takes place on Sunday, International Day at Sha Tin racecourse in Hong Kong. Hopefully this isn't the first time you've read about it on the blog - last year we landed a 150/1 winner (before NR reductions)! The author on that occasion was Calum Law, @calumswanlaw, and he returns to analyse this year's edition of the same race.

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Hong Kong Vase
G1, 2400m, Sha Tin, Sunday

Flintshire- Runner up in the Coronation Cup, The Arc De Triomphe and the Breeders Cup Turf in 2014 and all three pieces of form are more than enough to take this race. Will relish the ground, only flop this year came on good to soft at St Cloud, and he has plenty going for him on paper. On the flip side he is winless in seven and there is every chance this race is an afterthought. At south of 2/1 he looks poor enough value.

Dominant- Shock winner of this race last year but has largely struggled this term since his excellent fifth place effort in the Sheema Classic in March. Has only beaten five of 56 rivals in his five runs since Dubai and it will take a big turnaround in form for him to double up here.

Curren Mirotic- Not a superstar in his homeland but still capable of achieving high levels of form, as he proved with his three-length second to the mighty Gold Ship in the Takarazuka Kinen in the (northern) summer. Also finished within 1.25 lengths of Japan Cup sensation Epiphaneia, when a three-length fourth in a Grade Two behind Kizuna in April. He was discounted by the locals on both occasions going off at 55/1 and 31/1 respectively, which is an indication of his standing in the Japanese pecking order, however this is an easier assignment and he has to be taken very seriously.

Empoli- Consistent German galloper who finally broke his top level maiden in the Preis Von Europa after a string of top efforts in Group One company around the globe. That needless to say was a weak race for the grade and this is much tougher. Will be suited by the ground and showed, with his luckless fourth in this years Sheema Classic, that he is capable of competing at this level. Likely to run his usual solid race whilst finding a couple too strong.

Red Cadeaux- Globetrotting warrior who is often described as the bridesmaid of world racing, but has a win in this race in 2012 on his CV. Arrives here having finished runner-up to Protectionist in a lightweight edition of the Melbourne Cup, and has backed up in this race impressively from that event the past three seasons. Gerard Mosse knows Sha Tin like the back of his hand and he has to be a place contender. However he is rising nine and this is arguably the deepest Hong Kong Vase field he has faced. As current second favourite on the UK books he makes little appeal on value grounds.

Bubble Chic- Local raider who has plenty of back class, twice a runner up at the top level when trained in France, and has had a profitable season to date locally. He won a Group 3 Handicap over course and distance when giving weight to a useful field, before a fine effort when 4th in a hot renewal of the Champions and Chaters Cup. Has been running over inadequate trips this prep, and showed more when a solid 6th over 10 furlongs last time. This will have been the target for a while and he could go well at decent odds.

Parish Hall- Dewhurst winner at two, but hasn't scored above Group 3 level since. Jim Bolger won at this meeting in 2004 with Alexander Goldrun but has a poor recent record when campaigning horses long haul and the now five-year old entire makes no appeal

Willie Cazals- Ex-Italian Derby runner-up who has shown useful form over 12 furlongs since his transfer to Hong Kong. His second place efforts behind Dominant and California Memory over course and distance read well in the context of this race. Finished on the heels of the leaders in his prep for this challenge over 10 furlongs and he is a strong contender for the home team.

Rainbow Chic- Group 3 winning miler as a three year old when trained in France, but has largely struggled in the top events in Hong Kong. His best form has come over shorter than this and he doesn't look good enough anyway. Would be a big surprise were he to come out on top.

Khaya- New Zealand bred galloper who was beaten by Bubble Chic in a course and distance handicap when in receipt of a stone. Carries an international rating of 102 into the race and unlikely he will have the class to contend at the finish.

Wayfoong Express- No great shakes when trained in England when trained by Willie Muir but has made up into a decent horse in Hong Kong. However he is the lowest rated in the field and looks to have a mountain to climb in this company.

Just The Judge- Two time Group One winning filly who recently went through the sales ring at £4.5 million. Showed she can compete on the international stage with a successful three-run stretch in North America. However they were weak events restricted to fillies and she will need a career best to take down the colts here. Even with her fillies allowance she makes zero appeal.

Snow Sky- The second string to Juddmonte's bow and as the only three year old in the race receives 5lbs from the older colts. Arrives here off of a career best performance over 16.5 furlongs in the St Leger and gets the assistance of the 'world's best' Jockey, but also looks as a one-pacer and will likely lack to turn of foot to get the better of today's rivals. As current third favourite he looks well unders and can be safely discounted.

Verdict

Flintshire is the class horse in the field but he has had a busy season and this appeals as a possible afterthought for connections. At skinny odds he needs taking on and can be done so with the Japanese raider Curren Mirotic. He has been in and amongst some genuine superstars of late in his homeland and this rates as a slight drop in class. Having won the race last year the local horses need respecting and both Willie Cazals and Bubble Chic look over priced and are capable of reaching the frame.

1 Curren Mirotic
2 Willie Cazals
3 Bubble Chic

Sunday, 7 December 2014

John Durkan Memorial Chase preview

The weather's brisk and the National Hunt season is in full swing. If your whole racing year is based around Cheltenham, then you'd better be keeping a close eye on what goes on in Ireland.

Taking on this weekend's feature race from Punchestown is prolific racing blogger, Sam Preen, @SamPreen.

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John Durkan Memorial Chase
1400 Punchestown
2m4f, €80,000.


Preview originally posted here.

Baily Green
Had a fine time of things a few seasons ago, racking up a long string of victories, which came undone by Twilight in a thrilling finish at Punchestown, but went on a long losing run, having run his best race when second to Texas Jack back in January, and posted a disappointing effort over hurdles after that. Fell in the Champion Chase, and was soundly beaten by the aptly named Bog Warrior in the mud at Navan, before being beaten by old foe Sizing Europe at Punchestown. Won a minor chase in May, but pilled up before three out on his seasonal debut, and finished badly distressed at Navan last month.

Boston Bob
Boasts an unbeaten record over this trip, and registered his last victory in the Punchestown Gold Cup, from First Lieutenant. Soundly beaten on his comeback at Down Royal, which was out of character for him, having won both starts after a break. Entitled to come on tons for that run, and capable of getting the better of a few of these, who he’s previously beaten.

Don Cossack
The Gigginstown Jolly will surprisingly be ridden by Brian O’Connell, instead of Barry Geraghty, as previously mentioned, but “The Don” has won both starts as a fully-fledged chaser, albeit facing only five rivals in both races. Warrants tons of respect at top level, but if runners stand their ground, he may find things tougher than usual.

Lord Windermere
Third to Boston Bob last Feburary, before winning the RSA, he failed to fire for most of last season, but sprung a surprise in a thrilling Gold Cup, holding on for dear life under a possessed Davy Russell, landing the spoils and sending punters to consult the formbook, or throw it in the bin. Being a Gold Cup winner, he warrants plenty of respect, but may need this run to get going, and interesting to see how he’ll fare on his comeback, with a second Gold Cup the main aim.

Rathlan
No win since forging clear from Hidden Cyclone at Galway last July, but has shown very little since, but showed a hint of promise when a distant fifth to Boston Bob in April. Finished fifty lengths last of seven at Clonmel on his comeback, so easily ignored.

Texas Jack
Faced off against a few of these previously, beating Baily Green back in January, and losing out to Boston Bob in last year’s Dr. P.J. Moriarty Chase last Feburary, after getting the better of Lord Windermere last January. Rarely seen these days, and his participation depends on a piece of work this week. Though he boasts a modest strike rate over this trip, if he’s on a going day, he’s all heart. Comes with obvious warning signs, due to his absence, though.

Conclusion:
A race largely revolving around Don Cossack, who bids for a hat trick on his first season as a proper chaser, but his last three wins have come in Graded races with only a few rivals, and it’s interesting seeing him back in a proper test, but TEXAS JACK gets the nod, having beaten both Lord Windermere and Baily Green previously. He’s been aimed at this for a while, and if he gets the green light, he can defy his lay off and run a huge race for connections, having hardly disgraced himself in the Irish Hennessy. Boston Bob, who beat Texas Jack, boasts a 6-6 record over this trip, and can be the main danger to the Gigginstown jolly.

Texas Jack @ 10/1 E/W (Betvictor)

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Becher Chase preview

Running late with this one, entirely my fault. It's the Becher Chase preview from Adam Webb, @adamwebb121...

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Becher Chase
1330 Aintree, Grade 3 Handicap

The Grand National fences return for their one appearance outside of the April meeting with the Becher Chase and the Grand Sefton taking centre stage away from Sandown’s Tingle Creek. Since its inception in 1992, the Becher has thrown up a variety of winners and provided a stepping stone towards the Grand National, with the likes of Amberleigh House and Silver Birch who both won this before winning the main event whilst Earth Summit won this race after his National success.

This year now has the record of the biggest field assembled in its history with twenty five due to go to post and it looks one of the most open renewals with a whole host of horses holding strong claims. Last year’s winner Chance Du Roy heads the market for Philip Hobbs and Tom O’Brien. He probably ran the race of his life in the Grand National where he made a bad mistake early on and was given an excellent patient ride by O’Brien. They were right there at the third last before stamina limitations kicked in and finished sixth behind Pineau De Re.

Interestingly, he was dropped two pounds for that effort and his record around here is fairly strong. If he is in the same form as last year then he will definitely have a say in the finish. Course form is considered a huge positive and the third from last year Mr Moonshine returns again. Sue Smith has finally hit form and her consistent performer ran a fine race when not staying in the Grand National. He ran well enough in the Old Roan and a return to his favourite course should see another bold bid. Daragh Bourke taking five pounds off is no harm to his chances.

Also placing in this race last year was the likeable Ballybough Gorta who was fourth. The Cartmel specialist jumped these fences nicely and whilst this looks a stronger contest, he certainly shouldn’t be underestimated from a trainer who likes to target this race in Peter Bowen.

The Irish challenge is headed by Balbriggan and Goonyella. The former was given a fantastic ride last time out when making all the running in the Troytown at Navan. Gordon Elliott’s grey has improved significantly of late and his prominent style will stand him in good stead around here but the concern would be if this run comes too quickly after his last win.

Goonyella agonisingly missed out on a chance to run in the Grand National by one. He ran well enough in the Irish National on better ground when seventh to Shutthefrontdoor and his return over hurdles was a fair effort when just denied by Plinth. He will strip fitter and this is a sighter before returning here in April however the distance here could be on the sharp side having looked to be a thorough stayer. Any rain that falls would be welcome.

Mendip Express and Just A Par are both fascinating contenders here. The former could be a handicap snip still off his mark and showed he was in good heart when returning with an easy win at Warwick where his hurdling was excellent. The only real concern is that he likes to clout a fence on the way round and whilst Aintree’s challenge is somewhat easier, these fences still need plenty of respect.

The latter won a Graded novice chase at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting and the sky looked the limit however a disappointing effort in the Feltham derailed his season. His RSA performance was a solid effort over a trip probably sharp enough for him on Cheltenham’s Old Course and he has looked tailor made for this course. The return last time out was a solid effort despite a bad mistake just after halfway in the Badger Ales behind Court By Surprise. He is another that looks a proper stayer and will appreciate extreme distances in the future but should be fine tomorrow with the long run in at Aintree.

Paul Nicholls’ second string Mon Parrain looked to have the world at his feet when putting in one of the finest rounds of jumping Aintree has seen in recent years in the 2011 Topham, before stopping at the Elbow to allow Always Waining his second win in the race. Since then, his career has been a stop start affair but he finally put it all together when given one of the rides of last season ride by Nick Scholfield at Cheltenham’s April meeting to just get up and beat Forgotten Gold. He would have needed his return at the Showcase Meeting and if he sees out the trip then he has a chance but like Our Father, he isn’t one to trust.

GREEN FLAG is a horse that I have liked for this particular race for a while. He was a progressive novice last season for Lucinda Russell and ran some great races in defeat including when second in the Feltham to Annacotty and has solid handicap form when fourth to Holywell in the Baylis & Harding at the Cheltenham Festival.

He travelled really well through the Scottish National before not seeing out the trip and opened up his season with a nice pipe opener when fourth to subsequent Hennessy winner Many Clouds over an inadequate trip. On the whole, he’s an efficient jumper and the step back up in distance will be a plus.

Saint Are has been well backed throughout the week and returned to something like his best last time out at Cheltenham for new trainer Tom George when third behind Sam Winner. The better ground here will suit and he looks potentially well treated on his old form. Fourth in that same race was Master Neo and he was well backed that day but faded away after looking a danger going to the third last however this is his stiffest task to date and he could struggle here.

Our Father has a tendency of going really well fresh and is down on a tempting mark. He jumped these fences well in the Grand National before unseating Denis O’Regan at the Canal Turn and if taking to this again, he could easily be in the shake-up but he is not one worth trusting. David Pipe also runs The Package who is two pounds lower than his Festival third behind Holywell when ahead of Green Flag. He was another to travel sweetly in the National before failing to stay. The one slight negative is how well he runs fresh but deserves respect.

Al Co and Burton Port both deserve a mention together as both are here to see whether they handle the track, especially the latter who unseated early in this year’s Grand National. The former won the Scottish National and was severely outpaced over hurdles last time out at Haydock. As mentioned above, he is surely here for a sighter and a safe round is the ideal result for connections.

Highland Lodge is one of several that like to get on with things and is sure to be pressing the pace early on. This has been his early season target and his record at this time of the year is strong including when fourth in last year’s Hennessy behind Triolo D’Alene. If he can get into a rhythm around here, then he will be dangerous and off an eleven pound lower mark, he could be leniently treated. McCain is a name synonymous with Aintree and Donald McCain fields two in Across The Bay and Kruzhlinin. The former was hugely unlucky in the National when carried out by the mercurial Tidal Bay at the Water Jump but looks to need some help from the handicapper whilst the latter surprised in the same race when staying on and is the preferred choice of Jason Maguire yet is a bigger price. He will need to jump better but could look overpriced having seen out the trip well.

Knock A Hand should be an exciting ride for Michaal Nolan and is another that could potentially be ridden handy to make use of his bold jumping. The only slight worry is the distance and it could be that the Grand Sefton would have suited him better. Benbens represents Nigel Twiston-Davies who has a fine record in the Becher having won the race five times and Ryan Hatch who is more than capable of mixing it in big races takes a handy five pounds off. The worry is that he can take a liberty with some of fences so he needs a foot perfect round to be in the shake-up.

The Waley-Cohens have a fantastic record around these fences and OSCAR TIME could potentially be overlooked. Although he is in the veteran stage of his career at thirteen, age is no barrier in this race. The likes of Kildimo, Into The Red and more recently Hello Bud all won this at the age of twelve, with the last named returning two years ago at the grand old age of fourteen to raise the roof one last time. The horse has the experience over these fences having finished placed in two Grand Nationals and was travelling well last time out when unseating Sam Waley-Cohen. He still remains in fine form with himself, even winning a hunter chase over two and a half miles showing he still possesses pace. At 25/1, he is definitely worth an each way bet.

Renard ran a nice race at Haydock two weeks ago when staying on behind According To Trev and any rain would be welcome for his chances. Shakalakaboomboom would prefer better ground and was disappointing in the National this year but has had a wind operation since. The jury is currently out with him. Alfie Spinner has been consistent in staying handicap chases and this sort of challenge could be right up his street but he hasn’t won for nearly three years and Lion Na Bearnai had his excuses in the National but didn’t show too much on his return in the Troytown.

Conclusion
In what is possibly the most competitive renewal of the Becher Chase ever staged at Aintree and with so many to make a case for, it is worth respecting the course form of several including Chance Du Roy and Mr Moonshine but GREEN FLAG looks an ideal candidate having the handicap form in the book when fourth at the Cheltenham Festival and warmed up for this in a competitive intermediate chase behind the Hennessy winner Many Clouds. He’s a sound jumper and back up in distance should go close. Just A Par is one I can see definitely making the frame whilst OSCAR TIME is overpriced with his excellent record around here.

1. Green Flag
2. Oscar Time
3. Just A Par
4. Chance Du Roy

Friday, 5 December 2014

Henry VIII Novices’ Chase

It's not just about the Tingle Creek tomorrow at Sandown, there's a Grade 1 Novice Chase amongst the rather decent supporting card. Lining up for the preview is astute NH enthusiast Sam Tribe, @samtribe87.

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Racing Post Henry VIII Novices’ Chase
Grade 1 Chase, 2 Miles
Sandown 13:50
Likely going Soft, Good to Soft in places


With doubts concerning the fitness of last year’s Queen Mother Chase winner Sire De Grugy and of the two mile chase king Sprinter Sacre (despite bullish remarks from Henderson) there is a chance for another to step into the limelight. Both have won the feature race of the day, The Tingle Creek Chase and that will more than likely throw a few into the hat. However, I have chosen to take a look at the Henry VIII chase, which was changed to a grade 1 in 2011 and has been won by some nice prospects in the past (Somersby and Al Ferof to name but a few). Let’s hope that a potential Champion Chase contender of the future will feature in this event.

When first studying this race I was hopeful for at least seven runners to feature but unfortunately at the 24 hour mark, we are down to just four. However, the contest is still an intriguing one with some high class novices showing great early season form.

1. Court Minstrel 3/1
Two from two this season thus far, Court Minstrel has seemingly taken to jumping fences well. However the ground tomorrow will be a concern for many. Although no rain is forecast, the cold will ensure the ground doesn’t dry up too much and with both wins coming on good ground this season, the cause for concern seems justified. To further prove that point, all his wins over hurdles had come on ground that was good to soft or better. I think it’s fair to say Evan Williams will be hoping for a good run before putting him away for the winter in preparation for the festival. There he will probably go for the Arkle, and is currently seen as a 25/1 chance for that contest. If he goes on to win the Henry VIII that price will undoubtedly be slashed.

2. Dunraven Storm 4/1
A noticeably late addition to the chasing scene as a 9 year old novice, Dunraven Storm is another who is two from two over fences. It’s worth noting that the two he has beaten in Vibrato Valtat (entered in this contest) and Far West, are two Nicholls’ horses that were considered favourites for both of those races. This further highlights the cracking form Hobbs’ yard is in. There is nothing to separate the two in terms of strike rate this season (both on 46%) and that will probably be reflected in this race too.

3. Irish Saint 13/8
Beat Chris Pea Green (second to Court Minstrel in October) by ten lengths in a Grade 2 chase over C&D in November and with that form deserves to be market leader here. He can seemingly act on any ground and is favoured by stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies. So where are the chinks in the armour? Well he has had only one spin over the bigger obstacles whereas the others are slightly more experienced but that is clutching at straws.

4. Vibrato Valtat 7/2
A classy horse in his own right and has only finished outside the places once (and that was fifth in a field of nineteen) so would be stupid to write off. Many are also suggesting that if Sam Twiston-Davies had shaken him up earlier on the run in at Cheltenham LTO he would’ve beaten Dunraven Storm. Level here in terms of weights on paper makes those two inseparable in my eyes.

Verdict
The market seems to have got it just about right at the moment. Irish Saint deserves to be at the top of the market and will take some beating. This is backed up by the fact that Nicholls has won this contest three times out of the last six and it would be foolish not to side with him in this contest. The three behind though our no slouches and will press Irish Saint all the way. Get ready for a hot contest (and take 13/8 now!)

Tingle Creek Chase preview

The Tingle Creek is one of the top echelon of steeplechases, particularly for those with more class than stamina. It has been a Grade 1 race since 1994 and you won't find any fluke winners here - Flagship Uberalles (three times), Moscow Flyer (twice), Kauto Star (twice), Master Minded (twice), Sprinter Sacre, Sire de Grugy - what an honour roll!

Taking the reins for the preview is the talented Harriet Fuller. You can read more of her work on her blog and follow her on Twitter @HattieLFuller

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888Sport Tingle Creek Chase
Grade 1, Sandown, 2m
Saturday 3pm GMT


The Tingle Creek Chase may be without either of its stars in Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre, but it has left an extremely open and intriguing race. I could give a few of them a good chance of being there or thereabouts at the end, and in a declared field of ten, that isn’t rather helpful. I do believe there is value in this race, whether for win purposes or an each-way punt.

Balder Succes is for me, a surprise leader of the market, mainly due to the fact that God’s Own, mentioned next, has beaten him on his last two outings. Yes, he had got the better of him back in February, but it really does make me question the market when I would rate God’s Own a much better chance. The former will no doubt run a big race, although I think he will find one or two too good for him, and at 5/2 I will be leaving him on the shelf.

God’s Own currently sits second in the market at around 4/1, this is, quite frankly, due to his form. He made a successful reappearance at Exeter in the Haldon Gold Cup, beating Balder Succes who he will once again come up against here. There is a lot to like about this six-year-old, he’s always run well against top company and a big run will be expected here once again. However, as I said at the start I believe there is better value in the race.

Oscar Whisky is an interesting runner, and unfortunately there are a few reasons why I won't be backing him. Henderson’s yard isn’t firing on all cylinders at all at the moment, and it does put me off slightly, but more so is the drop back in trip. Most of his winning has come over 2m3f+ and on softer ground. He’s back down to two miles now, and even with the help of Barry Geraghty on board, I can see the race happening too quickly for him. The ground won’t be a mud-bath either so it won’t turn into a test of stamina. If you think he will handle the drop back in trip then 15/2 is a nice price, but I can’t see it myself and I will be avoiding him.

Somersby is the real value in this race. The 10-year-old may be getting on a bit, but he came back to form with a good second behind Al Ferof in the Amlin Chase at Ascot. We know he likes Ascot, but it seems he also quite likes Sandown. His three runs here have yielded a win and two seconds, beaten by the likes of Sire De Grugy in this race last year and Sanctuaire. Channon has secured the services of Champion Jockey McCoy, which is a huge bonus. He’s only ridden this horse three times before in his 32 starts. This year the field doesn’t have a stand-out contender and I think Somersby could take advantage of this, and at 8/1 he would line your pockets nicely too.

Somersby is my win bet at Sandown, but for an each-way bet, it is best to look further down the field. Dodging Bullets I feel just isn’t quite up to the task here, clearly talented but he will find others too good, while Vuvokar is an intriguing runner in the race having finished 7th in the JLT at the Festival after only two runs over here in England. For me, this is a step too far for him but this could be a stepping-stone for him to go on to better things later in his career.

It is William’s Wishes who catches my eye for the each-way punt. Available to back at around 16/1 this clearly talented horse has had a stop start career due to injuries. In January 2013, time was called on his season having been unbeaten in five starts over fences. He came back in November last year with a disappointing run in the Haldon Cup behind Somersby, and wasn’t seen again till late November this year when finishing 12 lengths behind The New One at Haydock. He is clearly a fragile horse, who possibly hasn’t got over his injury, but the run over hurdles will have primed him for a tilt at the Tingle Creek and if reproducing his previous chase form, he could well outrun his price here.

Win selection – Somersby
Each-way selection – William’s Wishes

Golden Nugget preview

The Golden Nugget has long been a favourite race of mine, it marks the arrival of 4yo pacers onto the scene, and what a star-studded honour roll it is over the 35 years it has been conducted. Sinn Fein, Vanderport, Our Maestro, Sinbad Bay, Westburn Grant, Manifold Bay, Bonavista Bay, The Gold Ace and Im Victorious to name just a few.

Casting an eye over this year's hot field is WA harness specialist, Trent Orwin.

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Retravision Golden Nugget 4yo Championship
Gloucester Park, Group 1, $175,000. 2536m, no sprint lane
Friday. 2045 Perth time, 2345 Melbourne, 1245 London


Author: Trent Orwin
Twitter: @themightytrent3
Website: Bettingpro.com.au
Form Guide: Harness.org

“Waylade is well clear though with 100m to go – he’s bolted away,” race caller Richard Bell declared as the Gary Hall Snr-trained Waylade decimated his rivals by 11m with Bettor Offer running a clear second ahead of Classic American who finished a further 8m away in third place. That was the concluding stages of the Group 1 McInerney Ford 4YO Classic (2536m) run on November 21.

Race Overview:
The barrier draw has ensured that the $175,000 Group 1 Golden Nugget Championship (2536m) will not be a one-act affair with race favourite Waylade having drawn barrier six. But will it be one of his stablemates? Trainer Gary Hall Sr will need the big float truck tonight, he fields six runners in this Group 1 race, an incredible feat. For just the fifth time in 35 editions of the Golden Nugget, this is an exclusively WA-trained field.

Former Kiwi pacer Billies A Star adds intrigue as he is the x-factor and has drawn barrier one with star driver Luke McCarthy in the sulky. Group 1 Mares Classic (2130m) winner Majorly Foxy Styx has drawn alongside him and that mare has a tendency to pull during the race and they may do battle for the first 400m of the race.

Bettor Offer draws barrier five and will be looking to find the breeze whilst VC Manoeuvre could be the improver after drawing barrier eight. Libertybelle Midfrew is the other mare in the race and barrier nine is ideal as she will follow Majorly Foxy Styx through and should be forward of midfield in the moving line.

They aren’t the only chances in the race but they are the leading candidates and an analysis of all 12 runners chances is listed further below.

Speed Map:
There are two likely scenarios here with either

1 - Billies A Star holding the lead and Majorly Foxy Styx occupying the breeze which makes it interesting because if she starts to over-race, it means that the tempo will be pretty hot and Bettor Offer may be planted three-wide and forced to press the issue or restrain looking for a gap.

Or 2 - Billies A Star lets the freewheeling mare take up the running and gets a lovely sit behind her with Bettor Offer punching the breeze and not keen to give it up without a fight. This is the speed map that I envision will happen as an early burn at the start would be detrimental to both Billies A Star and Majorly Foxy Styx.

Assuming this speed map occurs, we have Majorly Foxy Styx wheeling and dealing out in front with Billies A Star on her back. VC Manoeuvre will be cuddled up three back the fence with Classic American likely to land four back. A Boy Named Rosie and Ohoka Cooper could be behind him on the fence.

Bettor Offer will be in the breeze with either Soho Lennon or Libertybelle Midfrew in the one-one. Three Blind Mice, Mista Rush and Waylade will be in the moving line worse of midfield and they are the three horses likely to lead up the three-wide train with Libertybelle Midfrew potentially coming out to avoid being pocketed if she is one-two.

Analysis:
FRONT LINE
Billies A Star – Will either be leading albeit forced to contend with a fair amount of pressure or will enjoy a trail and will be hoping that he sees daylight so that he can show his customary turn of foot in the home straight. Rated him a $3.70 chance and he may get to that or better on the night.
Best Price: $3.40 (Sportsbet)

Majorly Foxy Styx – Terrific win last start against open class mares in a fast mile rate of 1:56.3 after Hall Jnr drove her perfectly. On talent alone she is right in this but has yet to run over the 2536m and if she doesn’t lead then your ticket is confetti. Steps up in grade again. Rated $11.
Best Price: $21 (Bet365)

Soho Lennon – Was extremely disappointing last start after trailing Waylade and fading to finish seventh. Hall Snr has said he was a little round and hopefully he has laid off the carrots in preparation because if he isn’t at peak fitness then he won’t be winning. At his best he is a winning chance in the race and could land a nice position. Rated $31.
Best Price: $51 (Tatts/Sportsbet)

Ohoka Cooper – Completely outclassed here. He led in the Group 2 4YO Championship (2130m) and knocked up to run ninth. Last start was an improvement but cannot possibly win here. Rated $651.
Best Price: $126 (Sportsbet)

Bettor Offer – Will most likely be in the breeze and over 2536m it is very hard to win. Was a clear second last start but a couple of sit-sprinters draw better and although he is tough, he will most likely feel the pinch late. Would be favourite if he was leading though and has beaten Waylade this preparation. Rated $10
Best Price: $7 (Sportingbet)

Waylade – Aiming for his fourth consecutive victory and if he was able to find the breeze would be the horse to beat. Conditions could suit and if they go hard early and he finds a suitable cart home then he can run over the top of them. Would have been unbeatable leading. Rated $3.80
Best Price: $2.80 (TAB)

A Boy Named Rosie – Will be giving them a very big headstart and he wasn’t sighted last start (due to no luck). Has won three of six over the distance and if he got the right luck he could finish top four. Prefer his other stablemates over him but $28 the place could be worth a throw at the stumps. Rated $65
Best Price: $151 (TAB/Sportsbet)

BACK ROW
VC Manoeuvre – Expect this guy to be a winning chance and if they go like scalded cats early then he could be flying past them late. Draw is perfect for him and his last two efforts have been fantastic. The best each-way chance in the race. Rated $12
Best Price: $21 (Tatts)

Libertybelle Midfrew – Will get a lovely run throughout the event and she was a dominant winner in the Group 1 WA Oaks (2536m) after scoring by 22m. She has taken on the open age males and been competitive. She is a rising superstar and they have backed her heavily. Around $17 was offered but that is long gone. Rated $13
Best Price: $10 (Tatts)

Three Blind Mice – Group 1 WA Derby (2536m) winner defeating the likes of Machtu and Elegant Christian when leading. This is tougher due to the draw but he is a knockout hope if they run at a genuine tempo and he finds a cart home. Rated $26
Best Price: $34 (Sportsbet)

Mista Rush – From the draw it looks beyond him but he does have a fair bit of ability and would not surprise if he ran a good race. Possibly a top four chance but his last two starts haven’t suggested that he would be turning the tables on Waylade or Bettor Offer. Rated $151.
Best Price: $101 (Tatts)

Classic American – Never draws a barrier and could be searching for a couple of openings late in the race. The 2536m is no issue and he has a good turn of foot but he may be too far back and could be flashing late if he does get out but it will probably be too late. Rated $51
Best Price: $41 (Sportingbet)

Tasmanian Bromac (1st Emergency) – Could be a place chance if he gains a start and has shown he can run on late. Would be more of a chance than Ohoka Cooper.

Ultimate Major (2nd Emergency) – Would need to lead or have a soft pegs run close to the front to be any chance at all. Won’t gain a start so forget about him from this event.

Selections:
1. Billies A Star (#1)
2. Waylade (#6)
3. Bettor Offer (#5)
4. VC Manoeuvre (#8)

From a betting perspective, this is a tough race. Brimming with class but I think the favourites have all been well found in the early market. It won't be a big betting race for me and with that in mind, I'll be looking for value outside the main chances. We saw in the 4yo Championship how the weight of money for the favourite pushed every other runner in the field out well beyond their early prices, this could easily happen again, so there's no rush to get in early. Late tote prices will probably be the place to shop.

Small wagers on
VC Manoeuvre each-way
Soho Lennon each-way
Majorly Foxy Styx to win
A Boy Named Rosie to place

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Systematic Russian doping

If there's any integrity left in sport, then Russia should be booted out of every Olympic sport and possibly more based on the revelations in a German TV documentary this week. Government-funded programmes, cover ups, ultimatums to athletes that they simply won't be good enough or picked without cheating....

The translated transcript from WDR is now available - 'Top-secret Doping: How Russia makes its Winners'

From the BBC Doping: Russia doping allegations on German TV prompt WADA investigation

The Guardian: Russia accused of athletics doping cover-up on German TV

ABC: Russian anti-doping agency will wait for official censure before investigating claims of doping

Follow the timeline of @heywoodu for a lengthy series of tweets detailing the information on the documentary, and the fallout since. Here are just a few:






Is it even anything knew? The Mail on Sunday tried to bust this open over a year ago - SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Drugs, bribery and the cover-up!

So who's going to cop the brunt of this - Russia? Does anyone really have the balls to stand up to them? The Russian Anti-Doping Agency intends to investigate itself - that's going to be as useless as FIFA investigating itself!

Russia probes systematic doping

In three years' time, will we return to the era of the Berlin Wall, when specialist events are held in Russia because nobody else will play with them, and they won't even bother to waste time drug testing anyone?

The last time I blogged about a Russian doping scandal, I received a pile of abusive comments, all from Russia defending their cheating ways. And that's why comments are now more stringently regulated. Do they plan on defending this one with their deluded diatribe?