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my thoughts and bets for 16/1/2016


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1.15 Warwick – Betfred “January Sale” Handicap Chase.



There are a couple of lightly-raced chasers who make some appeal in this smallish field, starting with Lanceur who would have finished nearer the winner over course and distance last time but for a slithering error at the second last. Prior to that he had turned in a pretty good display on his chasing debut and if he can build on that, he looks likely to be competitive off this mark with the in-form Richard Johnson booked to ride him.


Similar comments apply to Robert Walford’s Walk In The Mill who was a winning chaser in his native France and ran well when second to Doctor Phoenix on his British bow in November. He failed to build on that last time at Chepstow over 2m4f but he got tired in the closing stages and it is easy to see why connections are now dropping him back to 2m. His Lingfield conqueror has won since and if he can tidy up his jumping, then he could have a say at the business end of the race.


Johnny Farrelly’s All Together has looked progressive of late, winning by a wide margin at Bangor in November before finding one too good at Ascot last time. He is one of the more consistent members of the field but he received a 15lb hike in the weights for his Bangor win and there was reason last time to suggest that he might not be up to winning from his current mark.


One of the more experienced members of the field is Fergal O’Brien’s Owen Na View who has been running in better company than this of late, most recently when fifth behind Pearls Legend at Cheltenham last time. The handicapper continues to give him a chance by dropping him in the weights and in calmer waters, he could run better than his sizeable odds suggest.


However my preference is for LASER HAWK who was third behind two smart chasers at Newbury in November. He stayed on well in the closing stages that day and having run well on testing ground in the past, I don’t see the conditions tomorrow being too much of a worry for him. He is able to race off a 1lb lower mark than he did at Newbury and considering that was his first run for nearly a year, you would have to expect him to come on for the run. The Evan Williams yard has been in good form of late and despite carrying top weight, I think he has a solid each-way chance in the race.




LASER HAWK – 1pt e/w @ 9/1 (Ladbrokes)




1.50 Warwick – Betfred Mobile Hampton Novices’ Steeple Chase (Class 1) (Listed Race)



Some very interesting entries for this Listed contest, none more so than Willie Mullins’ Irish raider, BLACK HERCULES, who got off the mark over fences in style last time out, defeating stablemate Sambremont with consummate ease in a two and a half mile beginners chase at Navan. He’s a horse who has always looked a chaser and shaped as if three miles is his best trip. His jumping was very tidy and efficient on his first try over fences and his strong galloping way of going will always make him a formidable opponent – Mullins hasn’t specified a target at the Cheltenham Festival for him just yet, but has said that he will be going – you’d think he’d be an RSA type, or maybe a JLT horse on soft ground. If he is good enough for that kind of event, he’d want to be winning this, rather like Mullins’ Festival-targeted Yorkhill at Sandown a couple of weeks ago.


Silsol has made a decent start to his career over fences, with two wins and a second to the impressive Seeyouatmidnight in a heavy ground three mile novice chase at Kelso. The winner has gone on to majorly frank that form, hacking up in the Dipper at Cheltenham, but I’m not sure, a) that Silsol wants three miles, and b) whether he’ll be good enough to hold off the exciting prospects in this race while giving them 3lb or more.


Brian Ellison’s charge, Definitly Red, doesn’t have any issues with the trip and is another who made a winning chasing debut, albeit in a weak event, on New Year’s Day. He could go well again here if he can tidy up his jumping; Danny Cook had to sit tight on a couple of occasions on his first go over fences. Seventh in the Cheltenham Bumper and winner of the Grade 2 Prestige Hurdle at Haydock, Definitly Red clearly has a good deal of ability and his second in the Fixed Brush hurdle in November, ahead of Yala Enki, Closing Ceremony and Tea For Two to name but three, showed he is still improving and if he can carry that form into this race, he may be able to mix it at this level, especially receiving weight and the considerable assistance of Richard Johnson.


Representing the girls is Kim Bailey’s Emily Gray, who has put up plenty of useful efforts recently, including defeating Gitane Du Berlais in a Listed chase at Carlisle and bravely going down fighting when conceding weight to 2015 Ryanair second Ma Filleule. You can’t fault her effort and bravery, but the step up to three miles in soft ground and against this promising company could be a tough ask for the mare despite her handy weight allowance.




BLACK HERCULES – 3pts win @ 8/11 (SkyBet)




2.05 Wetherby – 188Bet Handicap Chase



Another small field to try and figure out here and one that immediately catches the eye is Gardefort as he represents a fairly rare runner for Venetia Williams here at Wetherby. She has only had 15 runners here in the last five seasons and this seven-year-old was still going well when making a bad mistake at Newbury last time. He is still relatively unexposed since coming over from France and with conditions likely to suit, he looks likely to play a big role in the outcome.


The same can be said for Sir Valentino who landed a hat-trick of victories when winning at Ludlow in December. He only went up 4lb for the last of those successes and can be forgiven his run in the Desert Orchid last time where he was blatantly outclassed on the day. This is a more realistic level for the seven-year-old and he is by no means handicapped out of the race.


Having said that, my narrow preference is for UPSILON BLEU who was a course and distance winner in December 2014 off a 1lb lower mark. He ran well in better company last Spring and has come down in the weights since disappointing at Newbury in November. There was plenty to like about his spin over hurdles on New Year’s Day and having been reunited with partner in crime James Reveley, he looks the most likely winner.




UPSILON BLEU – 1pt win @ 9/2 (Betfair Sportsbook)




2.25 Warwick – The Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (Series Qualifier) 



This promises to be a stern test of stamina so we really need to look for a horse that stays all day in heavy ground. Howaboutnever is the only course and distance winner in the field following his win last-time-out on New Year’s Day. He showed a good attitude that day, battling his way back to the front having been headed two out. The stamina-sapping going seemed to bring the best out of him but he did have a tough race that day and may find a 6lb rise in hotter company tough to deal with.


Another to have found a great deal of improvement tackling heavy ground is recent Ludlow scorer Arctic Gold. The five-year-old only made his racecourse debut in March last year and has been in great heart of late, landing the hat-trick last-time-out. He made a mockery of his opening handicap mark that day, making all for a convincing five length victory and has duly been hit with an 8lb rise by the assessor. The races he has won haven’t been the strongest and this is by far the biggest test he has faced so far but he is a young, fast-improving type and cannot be discounted.


However, preference is for ISAACSTOWN LAD who is another that has improved markedly in recent times. Since joining Nicky Richards, he has been in flying form landing four of his five completed starts. After having a pipe-opener on his stable debut, the nine-year-old went on to land a quick-fire double in May before completing the hat-trick at Kelso in November. He was well-fancied in his bid for a four-timer but fell early on next time up before duly regaining the winning thread six days later at Haydock with another career-best. His winning streak has seen him shoot up a whopping 41lb in the handicap since his maiden win but the manner in which he prevailed on his latest victory suggests that there was still room for manoeuvre. A 9lb rise is a tough ask but he looks very capable of defying that and encounters conditions that will suit him down to the ground.


One to keep an eye on is Rolling Maul now reverting back to the smaller obstacles following an unsuccessful spell chasing. He was heading in the right direction this time last season with back-to-back wins in similar contests at Cheltenham and Warwick this time last year and rounded off his campaign with a solid third in a competitive Cheltenham handicap in April. He will have to produce a career-best off the same mark to get involved here but he is a contender if putting his best foot forward and it would be folly to dismiss him completely.




ISAACSTOWN LAD – 1pt win @ 3/1 (Sky Bet & William Hill)




Wetherby 2.40 – Asian Handicaps At 188Bet.co.uk Handicap Hurdle Race.


This is a very competitive-looking race over almost two and a half miles and stamina in this ground will be of vital importance, especially given the rail move will add another 153 yards, so I’m drawn more to those with three mile form or horses that look like they’ll appreciate a stiffer test.


Vendor and Maxie T look to be more suited to closer to two miles than this longer trip, so even though they are in good form and no doubt will be well-fancied for this, it may be prudent to look elsewhere, especially given they have gone up 8lb and 11lb for their respective last-time-out victories.


Considered good enough to contest the Fixed Brush Hurdle, One For Harry could be the class angle of the race, defeating Shotavodka, Out Sam and L’Aigle Royal in a two and a half mile handicap hurdle at Carlisle before being pulled up in the Haydock race. However, he’s never won off a mark as high as 133 before and he could find a couple of rivals better handicapped on the day.


Unbeaten over hurdles and impressively so since he joined in-form Dan Skelton, MASTER JAKE has the look of a highly progressive horse and given he was a very good pointer, will have no issues with soft ground conditions or this extended two and a half mile trip. Bridget Andrews takes a handy 5lb off an already lenient-looking mark of 128 and this eight-year-old looks to have a huge chance in what seems a very winnable race in which to make his handicap debut.




MASTER JAKE – 2pts win @ 4/1 (Betfair Sportsbook)




3.00 Warwick – The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle Race (Registered as The Leamington Novices’ Hurdle Race) (Grade 2)



With the Cheltenham Festival now only two months away, races of this nature are really going to start hotting up as the contenders start to put their credentials to the test.

Dan Skelton knows how to win these kind of races and landed last year’s renewal with Three Musketeers. He bids for back-to-back victories and has a great chance with the exciting BORN SURVIVOR. After his sole success in an Irish point, he was purchased for a hefty £220,000 by current connections and started to pay back some of that hefty wedge when landing a maiden hurdle over course and distance in December. He recorded a facile victory that day and the form has since been franked with the runner-up a wide-margin winner at Plumpton earlier this month. Since that day, this race has always been the plan and he could well be up to the challenge.


His credentials will be firmly put to the test by a pair of ex-flat horses sent over by Willie Mullins. It’s slightly surprising to see Thomas Hobson lining up given a return to the level was mooted by connections following his Punchestown win in December. His jumping has left a lot to be desired and a stark improvement at home can be the only reason for him sticking to the hurdling ranks at present. If eradicating the jumping errors, he could be a serious contender but that is a very big IF. The very testing ground may not be ideal either.


Open Eagle must hold strong claims on the back of his Fairyhouse win and respectable second behind Supreme-fancy Altior at Kempton on Boxing Day. He should be able to handle the step up in trip but that is still a bit of an unknown giving the emphasis on stamina in the testing ground that he will likely encounter here. Few will be able to forget his dominant display in the 2014 November Handicap that saw him saunter to a twelve length victory in heavy ground, so he does handle the going. The real test will be how he copes with it going the extra distance with obstacles in his way.With the question marks about the Mullins pair, the 3lb concession received by BORN SURVIVOR is enough to swing the pendulum in his favour.




BORN SURVIVOR – 1pt win @ 5/2 (bet365 & William Hill)



3.35 Warwick – Betfred Classic Steeple Chase (A Handicap) (Class 1) (Grade 3) 



This is a race which is usually won by a dour stayer and this year’s renewal looks no different given the testing conditions we’re almost certain to see.


The market has spoken positively about Alan King’s Hampton Novices’ Chase course winner from last year, Sego Success, who relishes a trip and comfortably won a competitive handicap at Doncaster last time out. Fifth in last year’s National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and effective on soft ground, he’s one that you can’t rule out off top weight although there may be a few better handicapped.


King also has MIDNIGHT PRAYER in the race, a lightly raced 11-year-old who was a winner of the National Hunt Chase in 2014. He’s had his problems with injury over the years, but his first run for a year at Newbury over a shorter trip than required was a promising effort and he is sure to have improved for it now. He missed the Welsh National due to ‘coughing’ but has no issues with deep ground and stamina is clearly his forte, so off a lenient-looking 135 (4lb lower than his NH Chase winning mark) and with good 3lb claimer Tom Bellamy on board, he has to have a serious chance in a race that should play to his strengths.


Sharing the welter-burden with Sego Success is Houblon Des Obeaux, Venetia Williams’ charge who, on his best form, would be in with a big shout. However, he hasn’t looked the same horse so far this season and it would take a real turnaround to defy the big weight, even though his mark has come down 15lb since his Gold Cup run last season. 2013’s Classic Chase winner, Rigadin De Beauchene, is Williams’ second entry in the race and the ground is never deep enough for him, so if his back-to-form run in a bog at Haydock hasn’t taken too much out of him, he could be interesting if taking them along from the front.


Seven-year-old Vivaldi Collonges made an impressive seasonal return at Kelso, beating Firth Of The Clyde and Silver Tassie comfortably, but the handicapper reacted by putting him up 8lb and it could be enough to anchor him. However, Paul Nicholls has a good record in the race, winning three of the past eight renewals (including last year’s with Hawkes Point), so with Vivaldi Collonges being his only runner and improvement very much possible, you can’t rule him out.


What A Good Night lurks towards the bottom of the weights for the Skeltons and hasn’t been harshly treated for his win over the reopposing Algernon Pazham at Bangor. He looks like he could have the beating of that rival on bare form and even though he’ll certainly have to improve to be involved with some of the classier types in this, that day showed he shouldn’t lack for stamina. As well as Algernon Pazham, also representing Nigel Twiston-Davies is Foxbridge, who again has a lot to do to reach the level of the top horses here, but soft ground and an extreme trip may be right up his street and he may go well at a price.





MIDNIGHT PRAYER – 1pt e/w @ 8/1 (Bet365, BetVictor, Paddy Power)

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