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SATURDAY 23/1/2016


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1.15 Ascot – Thames Materials Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase.



There should be a lot of pace on early in this, with Brody Bleu, Fairy Rath, Johnny Og, Capilla and Bold Bachelor all often showing a liking to being up towards the head of proceedings, and being an amateur riders’ race, it may well be that they go off too fast in the battle for the lead, opening the race up for some more patiently ridden contenders. Out of those, however, Bold Batchelor is still interesting, especially off bottom weight and after a very easy win under the same jockey last time out.


One such patiently-ridden horse to watch out for is Philip Hobbs’ Mountain King, who heads the weights but has Sean Houlihan’s 7lb claim to help out on that count. He’s been running well recently, a second place to Mon Sucesseur over C&D after hitting the front too soon his latest good effort, but I can’t help but think 2m3f on very soft ground could well be too much of a stretch for his stamina – he seemed to weaken fairly dramatically after the last on his previous run and only just held on to a place.


But it is a Saturday race on heavy ground after all and Venetia Williams often has just the right horse for these conditions, she saddles ELENIKA here. After falling at Wetherby while disputing the lead after a long absence, the eight-year-old bolted up in heavy ground at Chepstow off a mark of 117. The horse’s last run at Haydock was poor, but I’m willing to forgive that as it seems the horse may just hate the track, finishing a 34l 3rd, 45l 13th and 45l 9th in three runs there – clearly below his ability – and the return to a track that seems to suit better, combined with a slightly shorter trip could make a big difference. A mark of 120 is by no means unworkable;


Elenika was second to Buywise and third to Shangani last season off a mark of 123, so given these seemingly ideal holding conditions for a horse that does appear to lack a real turn of foot, the eight-year-old has a decent chance in an open race that could be run to suit.





ELENIKA – 1pt e/w @ 8/1 (SkyBet)




1.30 Haydock Park – The Start Your Racing UK Free Trial Now Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) 



A select field but one that is of great interest. Otago Trail has been ultra-consistent throughout his career and has only finished outside of the first three once in twelve starts in both points and under rules (and that was when he slipped up early on). He progressed into a nice hurdler last season but has blossomed into a top chaser this term, bagging a pair of valuable handicap chases at Exeter and Chepstow on his last two outings. This presents a big step up in class but he is evidently well thought of by connections and is entitled to his place in the field. His last win on the Welsh National card was most impressive as he proved to be a class apart but, despite the ease of his victory, the ground was still very testing and it is a slight concern that he reappears again after only a fortnight off.


Therefore, the selection is BRISTOL DE MAI who is already a Grade 1 winner over hurdles. When winning last season’s Future Champions Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow, he proved he handled the testing ground that will face him this afternoon and at the tender age of five, he seems to be on a steep upward curve. The young chaser opened his account over fences in fine style at Warwick before performing admirably to finish second in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase next time out. His latest win at Leicester was little more than a canter round in truth but it served its purpose in keeping him ticking over. He already has some smart form to his name but there is undoubtedly more to come and a race of this nature should be well within his compass.


Amore Alato arrives here as a winner without a penalty as he looked set to open his account over fences until unseating Harry Skelton at the last in the Grade 2 Noel Novices’ Chase at Ascot just before Christmas.  Assuming he has suffered no ill effects from that final fence blunder, he will likely be in the mix again and he could well set the fractions to his own liking.





BRISTOL DE MAI – 1pt win @ 5/2 (Betfair Sportsbook)




1.50 Ascot – Olbg.Com Mares´ Hurdle (Grade 2)



All eyes are likely to be fixed on Vroum Vroum Mag here who makes her first start in Britain having won on her first seven visits to the racecourse in Ireland. Having mixed between fences and hurdles over the past two seasons she looks pretty versatile and we have scarcely seen her off the bridle since her movice to Willie Mullins in 2014. She currently sits towards the head of the market in both the World Hurdle and the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and given how dominant her trainer has been with raiders in recent weeks, she looks tough to oppose.


Having said that there are a number of smart mares in the remainder of the field who could give her a race including the top one Aurore D’Estruval, who shaped with plenty of encouragement in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham last time. She was probably found wanting for fitness in the closing stages that day having been off the track for a year and her new trainer Rebecca Curtis is keen to try her at this trip. She has plenty of class having been runner-up in the Fighting Fifth two years ago but she does have to concede 2lb to the market leader. That fact just prevents me from putting her up on her own and instead I would suggest a small play on the forecast at around 7/2 as I feel that these two could be a good bit better than the rest of their rivals.


The likes of Desert Queen and The Govaness are likely to run their races but on their form to date it is hard to see them troubling these potential Grade 1 mares. The former’s tendency to be keen in her races would also raise concerns over this 3m trip in testing ground.




1pt forecast – Vroum Vroum Mag to beat Aurore D’Estruval





2.25 Ascot – “40 Years Of Keltbray” Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) (Class 1)



An extremely competitive Grade 3 handicap with a few involved who will likely prove to be better than handicappers.


Lil Rockerfeller sits at the top of the weights and has certainly earned his spot there after a Listed handicap win at Sandown and second place in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham. I have no doubt this tough five-year-old will run another decent race but it could be that the handicapper has just about got to grips with him now off a mark of 151 and another worry is the trip – his best form has come at two miles.


Currently Rock The Kasbah heads up the market for Philip Hobbs and this progressive son of Shirocco was very impressive in winning at Haydock last time out. He’s gone up 8lb for that and is now 13lb higher than when finishing second to Court Minstrel in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow, so the combination of the weight and this being a very deep race could make it difficult for this keen-going sort, although I wouldn’t want to rule out further progress.


Theo’s Charm, trained by Nick Gifford, is a horse I really like. Seventh in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham festival, the six-year-old has improved with every run over timber and his runaway 23 length win over Clayton at Plumpton three weeks ago illustrates his quality. He may not enjoy deep ground that much but he certainly handles it and looks as if he’ll like this trip. Off his low weight and probably lenient mark of 132, he could well be involved at the business end even though he’s up against some more experienced opponents.


One such older competitor is Value At Risk who has returned to hurdling after two second-fence falls in his embryonic chasing career. If those slips haven’t dented his confidence, he’ll be a big player here on his best form. His second in the Grade 2 Neptune trial at Cheltenham’s trials day last year and his fifth in the Albert Bartlett were good efforts and if he can run to that level here, he could be right there at the end.


But towards the head of the weights that I’ve spotted something very interesting, Nicky Henderson’s KILCREA VALE has been handed a mark of 147 off the back of a 26l dismantling of a Market Rasen novice hurdle and after falling two out when cruising on the lead of an introductory hurdle at Ascot in November. On the face of it, this seems a harsh assessment, but when you consider he was purchased for £100,000 following his point-to-point victory and although a very unlikely runner and still holds an entry for the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in March (20/1 in some places!) it’s clear that the stable think a lot of this horse. He shouldn’t have an issue with trip or ground with his pointing background and if Henderson thinks he’s good enough to go straight into a competitive handicap off this mark, I’d be inclined to make sure I kept Kilcrea Vale well on-side.






KILCREA VALE – 1pt e/w @ 10/1 (Bet365, BetVictor)




3.15 Haydock Park – Peter Marsh Chase.



The Peter Marsh Chase has been abandoned three times in recent years which makes it slightly more difficult race to analyse over a ten year period.


However the trends still hold their own when it comes to selecting winners of this race. In terms of age, the success of Wychwoods Brook last year meant that an eight or nine-year-old had been successful in seven of the last ten renewals. Only four of this year’s field of 13 sit within the desired bracket, the eight-year-old Splash Of Ginge and the trio of nine-year-olds Third Intention, Seventh Sky and Presenting Junior. Whilst horses older than this have done well in recent years, you have to go back to 1996 to find the last seven-year-old to land this prize, which doesn’t bode well for Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Algernon Pazham.


Eight of the last ten renewals have been run on ground described as no better than ‘soft’ and with eighteen fences to face over a 3m trip, ground conditions must be brought into consideration. Looking back to all of the past ten winners, every single one had previously showed winning ability on soft or heavy ground. This year’s renewal looks to be no different with conditions described as heavy at the time of writing but all of this year’s field appear to have shown a liking for these conditions in the past.


As I mentioned above the Peter Marsh can often turn into a bit of a slog and therefore there is no point taking a chance on a horse’s stamina. In fact, seven of the last ten winners had previous winning form over three miles or further. Third Intention and Splash Of Ginge are the only ones with stamina to prove having won over as far as 2m4f in the past.


The weight carried can often have a significant impact on the result especially in testing conditions as we saw last year when Samstown carried a low weight to victory. The ceiling in this case looks to be 11st 1lb as only three recent winners have carried more than that to success. When applying that to this year’s field it spells trouble for supporters of Virak, Third Intention (11st 10lb) and Seventh Sky (11st 5lb) despite the top two having 7lb claimers on their back.


Our Vic was a previous Grade 1 winner when he battled to success here in 2010 and while that is a slight extreme, the race can now boast the fact that seven of the last ten winners had previously been successful at Class 2 level or better. There is a quintet of runners without this on the resume, Algernon Pazham, Gas Line Boy, Man With Van, Universal Soldier and Fingal Bay although it is worth noting that the last named is a Class 1 winner over hurdles.


When looking at trainers, Sue Smith and Venetia Williams have both won this race twice in recent years and they are represented by Cloudy Too and Katenko respectively here. Both trainers have a fine record in the race and will be hoping they can add to that this year.


The final factor worthy of consideration is the betting and with Lord Transcend the only winning favourite in the last ten renewals it is fair to say that this is not a race in which following the market leader has proved successful. Recent winning SPs of 33/1, 20/1 and 16/1 also suggest that it shouldn’t put us off taking a chance on an outsider.







Katenko – 6/7


Presenting Junior – 6/7





In a race in which all of the runners miss at least one of our key trends, we are left with a trio of runners to pick from and the one who gets the nod is CLOUDY TOO. A former winner of the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby, Sue Smith’s ten-year-old has struggled for form since finishing second to Captain Chris in Grade 1 company in 2014 but the handicapper has slowly relented and there were signs of encouragement at Haydock last time. He now sits 11lb below his last winning mark and given his trainer’s fine record in the race I fancy him to run a big race.


Narrowly missing out on the top spot is Katenko who on his best form would have a leading chance in this contest. He was touted as a potential Gold Cup horse at one time but a bout of colic set him back and his only run of note in the last couple of years was in this race two years ago where he finished fourth. There wasn’t much to take from his return to action in December where he made a couple of bad jumping errors before being pulled up. The conditions on Saturday should suit him but he would need to step forward on his recent form to get his head in front.


The final member of the shortlist is Presenting Junior who races from 5lb out of the handicap for trainer Martin Todhunter. The only trend he misses is the trainer one but otherwise he has a strong profile, having won a Listed chase at Ayr back in April. He is probably a little too high in the handicap at present and although he has won on soft ground in the past, a lot of his better form has come on a sounder surface. However the trends have proved a good guide to this race in recent years and he could outrun his sizeable odds.




CLOUDY TOO – 1pt win @ 7/1 (William Hill, Coral, Paddy Power)




3.35 Ascot – Bet365 Handicap Chase (Class 2) 



Paul Nicholls has won both of the last two runnings of this race with Bury Parade and Rebel Rebellion, and his entry this year, SALUBRIOUS, has to hold big claims. Running off a mark of 146, 7lb below his highest hurdles mark and 2lb lower than when a decent 6th in the Listed Silver Cup at this track, he should be able to make his presence felt in a big way. The drop from 3m to 2m5f may also suit as much of his best form over timber came over this slightly shorter trip, even though he’s proved he has the stamina for a 3m slog in heavy ground when beating Masters Hill on reappearance at Carlisle. After just three runs over fences, I’d be shocked if there wasn’t more to come from this Cheltenham Festival winner.


Royal Regatta’s runaway win here last time out in a Graduation Chase for Philip Hobbs seemed to be the result of a prominent ride and the first-time application of a blinkers/tongue-tie combination and the form of his 11l beating of Mala Beach was franked this week when the runner up filled the same spot in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park. However, that win has pushed his handicap mark up to 149 now, higher than ever before and if the headgear doesn’t work the oracle second time (as it very often doesn’t) he may find it hard to dominate here thrust back into a handicap.


Anthoney Honeyball’s Regal Encore put in a nice performance to defeat Cloonacool & Zamdy Man in a Plumpton Novices’ Chase , but a mark of 144 seems a little harsh for a horse that only reached 139 over hurdles. The step up in trip should help to eke out some improvement, but I can’t help but think there’s a few better handicapped.


Speaking of horses that might find some better handicapped, Cold March has found things difficult since hammering Pearls Legend at this track in October. After going up to 150 for that, the six-year-old has put in two strange efforts, looking in trouble a long way out before staying on like a train late on. It may be a similar story again here unless he’s improved again – not out of the question, but on recent evidence, he’s unlikely to have improved enough to defy that mark here.


Minella Reception could be one that might be ahead of his mark and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge looked to be in the process of proving that when coming down 3 out in a Haydock Handicap Chase won by Morney Wing. He clearly handles heavy ground and should stay the trip fine, so could run a nice race at a likely double-figure price.





SALUBRIOUS – 1pt win @ 6/1 (Ladbrokes, BetVictor)




3.50 Haydock Park – The Lymm Handicap Chase 



This looks like the perfect opportunity for ISLAND CONFUSION to get off the mark over fences. The former Irish pointer made a fine impression on his debut under rules when a wide margin winner of an Ayr bumper on his debut (with a subsequent Grade 2 scorer seven lengths back in second). He hasn’t quite hit those heights since though, failing to defy a penalty in a pair of bumpers before performing with credit without setting the world alight in a trio of solid runs over hurdles. He ended last campaign with a sub-par effort on his chasing debut but put his experience to good use last time out when only narrowly denied at Newcastle in December. That was his first run for ten months and he is likely to strip a lot fitter for that here. Lucinda Russell’s charge looked set to score until badly blundering at the final fence and he showed enough to suggest he can get his head in front sooner rather than later.


Morning Royalty is likely to be his toughest opposition on the back of a pair of runners-up places in December. However, although the heavy ground will likely make this a stern stamina test, the drop in trip doesn’t look immediately likely to suit. Another who has been in good heart of late is Goohar and he is entitled to figure if repeating the form that saw him finish second at Ludlow earlier this month while Little Jimmy has been flying recently and could be a bit of a flyer from the foot of the weights.




ISLAND CONFUSION – 2pts win @ 4/1 (Coral)





4.20 Haydock – Brown Shipley “Fixed Brush” Novices´ Hurdle.



The final race on Saturday at Haydock looks likely to centre around the top three as they appear on the racecard. Tom George’s Bun Doran has only had one spin over hurdles so far but he finished a good fourth behind Buveur D’Air at Newbury in a race which has worked out well subsequently. An impressive winner on his only start in an Irish point, he should have no problem with the slight step up in trip here and the Fixed Brush obstacles shouldn’t be any inconvenience too him. However he might have his work cut out against the front two who met here last month.


It was VINTAGE CLOUDS who came out on top that day and I feel he is well placed to confirm the form having been narrowly beaten over an inadequate 2m last time. A half-brother to Vintage Star, he looks a stayer in the making and having done all of his best work at the finish last time, this should be right up his street. The horse who beat him lines up in the Supreme Trial earlier in the afternoon and the front two drew well clear of the third home. I think he was just caught out by the drop back in trip last time and returned to more suitable conditions, he should take all the beating.


He beat Dan Skelton’s Baratineur by nine lengths over course and distance in November and whilst the runner-up does get a 6lb pull in the weights, I find it hard to see him reversing that form. He too dropped back to 2m next time but was collared right on the line and he remains a maiden over hurdles to date. He could follow the likely market leader home again this time but he looks set for a tussle for second place with Bun Doran.




VINTAGE CLOUDS – 2pts win @ 7/4 (Betfair Sportsbook)

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