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Cheltenham and doncaster Saturday 30/1/2016


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1.15 Cheltenham – Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase (Class 2) 


From the early entries, this is a race that seems to have cut up a little, with only Un Temps Pour Tout of the classier few at the top of the weights standing his ground. Dropping back to two and a half miles wouldn’t instantly seem like a good move, but on this track and ground, he could get away with it. However, having to give at least 9lb to every other horse in the race probably wasn’t what David Pipe envisioned having to do before the declarations were in – if he’s able to do that, he’ll have to be a serious horse.


Regal Encore was pulled up at Ascot just last week and the decision to let him take his chance here so soon after is an interesting one. He clearly has a good deal of talent, but more of a concern than the quick return to action is the fact that his jumping is a real work in progress and in a race that is likely to be run at a decent clip, that’s enough to put me off.


One who looks fairly well treated and has more improvement to come is Evan Williams’ seven-year-old KING’S ODYSSEY, who comes into this after comfortably disposing of Southfield Vic over two and a half miles at Wincanton. Going up to a mark of 139 from 130 looks more than fair given the ease with which he beat the 145-rated novice chaser off level weights and if he can improve as expected on what is just his eighth career start, he’ll run well in an average renewal of this race. Stamina shouldn’t be an issue given he only finished five lengths behind Capard King over three miles on his first go over fences and he’s won on heavy ground before so there’s no issue there either. Leighton Aspell is an interesting jockey booking as well, what’s not to like?


Javert has improved hand over fist for the switch to fences and is in a similar boat to King’s Odyssey in that he was always seen as a chaser and hasn’t had many runs over hurdles. He hammered a poor field last time at Doncaster and this trip has been the plan all along for Emma Lavelle’s gelding who was raised 7lb for that win. He’ll likely be up there with the pace in this and if there’s any stamina doubts, Cheltenham will ruthlessly expose them if you race prominently, but if he stays the course, he’ll be a threat.


One we know relatively little about is Jonjo O’Neill’s French import Rezorbi, who comfortably won his last two starts over fences at Enghien and Lyon Parilly. Josh Moore takes the ride on the five year old and if you look far back enough, he’s beaten Label Des Obeaux and finished in midfield behind Politologue, so he can’t be ruled out given the connection with those useful young horses.


Lingering at the bottom of the weights is the improving chaser Imagine The Chat, who got off the mark over fences in style last time out and should progress again in ground he likes. But he may find things happening too quickly around him here, before staying on late off a 12lb higher mark than his last race.




KING’S ODYSSEY – 1pt e/w @ 10/1 (Ladbrokes)



1.30 Doncaster – Play Channel 4 Racing´s Pick 6 Handicap Chase.


With such a valuable prize on offer, it is little surprise that this race has attracted such a strong field, including a number of horses arriving here at the top of their game.

The weights are headed by Henry Oliver’s Dresden who has not been seen since November, when he landed a valuable handicap at Ascot. He beat Dunraven Storm that day in good style and it was always the plan to put him away over Christmas so the absence should be no concern. He has course and distance winning form to his name, having beaten another of today’s rivals Ifandbutwhynot last February and although it will be a tough ask of top weight, he looks likely to play a leading role.

Trainer Kim Bailey has enjoyed something of a resurgence in the last couple of years and he looks to have a progressive horse on his hands in the shape of Red Spinner who made it two out of two over fences with a wide-margin success at Warwick in December. Following that effort he mentioned that Doncaster was likely to suit the horse and having been raised 8lb for that effort, things will be tougher here. He has won on his last four starts to the racecourse and having had just two runs over the larger obstacles, there could be more to come from this lightly-raced six-year-old.


If we glance towards the foot of the weights, we come across the lightly-raced Gardefort who finally got his act together when winning at Wetherby a couple of weeks ago. Aidan Coleman was keen to point out that he felt this horse didn’t necessarily want it soft and so potentially better ground on Saturday could bring about further improvement. He got the better of Sir Valentino that day and although the runner-up gets a pull in the weights I find it hard to see him reversing that form.


Evan Williams On Tour is another who can’t be dismissed having got the better of two useful rivals in Otago Trail and Sirabad on his first two starts over fences. It is difficult to know whether he is well treated off his current mark of 138 but he too is unexposed and could well play a part under Brian Harding.


However, I am going to go with JUST CAMERON who was most progressive last Spring and finished the season by getting within three lengths of Un De Sceaux at Punchestown. I tipped him on his return to action at Sandown at the beginning of the month and although he travelled well, he blew up at the Pond Fence and is bound to have come on for the run. The tongue-tie which he wore for most of last season was left off that day but is back on today and I think we can expect him to improve a lot for his seasonal reappearance. He does have to concede weight to some progressive rivals but has plenty of ability and can get his head in front on his second start of the campaign.




JUST CAMERON – 1pt e/w @ 8/1 (Betfair Sportsbook)



2.05 Doncaster – Olbg.Com Mares´ Hurdle (Grade 2) 


Karl Burke’s Intense Tango returns to defend her crown having got the better of Pass The Time and Analifet in this race twelve months ago. Since then she has struggled to get her ground and whilst running well in defeat on a couple of occasions, she should benefit from the return to a sounder surface. She hasn’t run over hurdles since November but will be fit from two good runs on the level and looks likely to play a leading role once again here. However on official ratings at least, she may have her work cut out with a member of the all-conquering Willie Mullins team.


MORNING RUN was six from six under rules before her defeat at Leopardstown over Christmas where a combination of heavy ground and trying 2m4f for the first time probably caught her out. She appeared to be travelling as strongly as normal but made a mistake at the second last and was soon under pressure. I think we can put a line through that and a return to two miles and better ground should see her in a much better light. Her form prior to Christmas was as good as any of the mares in Ireland and she is very much the one to beat on her first visit to these shores.


Of the rest, the progressive Lily Waugh has to be considered although she is far from certain to benefit from the drop back to two miles. She registered her third win in succession when winning at Cheltenham in December and she is clearly thriving at present. She receives a handy 5lb from the two protagonists I have mentioned above but she still looks up against it in this sort of class.




MORNING RUN – 2pts win @ 6/4 (Paddy Power)



2.25 Cheltenham – Freebets.Com Trophy Chase (Handicap) (Grade 3) 



The course and distance form of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup is likely to shape this contest with three of the first six home re-opposing here. Of course Village Vic came out on top that day but his stablemate CHAMPAGNE WEST was his nearest pursuer, beaten just over four lengths at the line. That was his first run since January and although he made one novicey mistake on the way round, it was still a very encouraging reappearance from Philip Hobbs’ eight-year-old. He won here twice last season as a novice and with that run likely to have brought him on, he looks the one to beat despite a 4lb rise in the weights.


Just behind him in December was Tenor Nivernais who subsequently went on to chase Village Vic home on New Years’ Day. The 3lb rise that Venetia Williams’ nine-year-old got for his latest effort means that he meets Champagne West on the same terms as December here and as he had the benefit of race fitness on that occasion, it is difficult to see him turning the tables on that rival. The same can also be said for Annacotty who won the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November but is probably high enough in the weights now. He won this race off a mark of 144 last year and off 7lb higher, it looks a much tougher assignment.


Irish Cavalier could also play a role having looked like the winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup before weakening from the back of the second last. The yard’s horses were under a bit of a cloud at the time and having been up against it in the King George last time, I am a little surprised that the handicapper has chosen to drop him 2lb. Barry Geraghty gets the leg up and despite carrying top weight, he looks the main danger to the selection.


At a bigger price, the handicapper continues to give Johns Spirit a chance and his mark of 148 is just 1lb higher than his last winning mark. There were signs of encouragement in his latest run at the beginning of this month although the form of the Jonjo O’Neill yard is a slight concern having had very few runners in the past couple of weeks.




CHAMPAGNE WEST – 2pts win @ 9/4 (Bet365, BetVictor)



3.00 Cheltenham – Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2)


On paper, this looks a superb renewal of this Neptune trial, with at least four or five genuine contenders for the prize in March lining up, even though Barters Hill’s first preference is to go to Doncaster in search of a sounder surface.


Yanworth heads the market, and given the simple manner of his victories over timber to date, you can see why – many (including one AP McCoy) thought this horse was a brilliant Neptune prospect, but this will be his first run over two and a half miles. Alan King seems to have been changing his mind all the time as to whether he should step Yanworth up in trip or not and that’s a bit of a worry for me even though the horse has shaped as though he’d be fine with the extra half-mile. This soft ground will make the race even more of a test so even though the six-year-old is clearly very classy, I can’t recommend an investment at the short price he currently trades at.


One proven over both course and distance is the hugely impressive SHANTOU VILLAGE for trainer Neil Mulholland. This horse absolutely destroyed the reopposing Champers On Ice here in November and the margin of victory that day as well as the visual impression, was a big one, so I find it difficult to see that form being reversed, even on this softer ground which will suit David Pipe’s horse. Mulholland has also pulled off a bit of a coup in booking Ruby Walsh to ride his contender, so he clearly thinks this is a top class animal. Although Shantou Village won’t have encountered ground as soft as this yet, I don’t think it’ll be a problem as he stays three miles (Point-to-Point winner) and he has to hold a huge chance.


Charmix was another impressive winner last time out, taking apart Alan King’s Big Chief Benny at Newbury over just short of this trip. He should stay and give it a good go, but I wonder whether he’ll have the class of some others.


Two very unexposed contenders in this are Warren Greatrex’s Chef D’Oeuvre and Nicky Henderson’s Baden, both having only one run over hurdles so far. The first mentioned of these beat Krugermac by 28 lengths last time out in bottomless ground at Lingfield, and while this is undoubtedly a much tougher task, he could be anything and this galloping sort may well be the one to go out from the front.


Baden is a different type of horse, making an eye-catching debut over the extended two miles here at Cheltenham, finishing second to Dan Skelton’s useful North Hill Harvey and looking desperately in need of both the experience and the step up in trip. While he’s entitled to improve a lot for that, and he should do being at the Henderson yard, I wonder whether he really likes this soft ground as he won his point on a quick surface. Still, he could be one to go well at a bigger price.




SHANTOU VILLAGE – 2pts win @ 9/4 (Paddy Power)



3.15 Doncaster – Sky Bet Chase (Listed Race) 


If you look back in the history of this race, you can see the names of some serious stayers – The Rainbow Hunter, Calgary Bay, Big Fella Thanks and Simon are on the Roll of Honour and it seems a profile worth sticking with here.


Holywell nearly always saves his best form for that meeting in April and he carries top weight here in what looks to be a prep run for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. The better ground at Doncaster will help his chances no end, but it won’t be spring ground by any means, so giving weight away to everything and with bigger targets in mind later on in the season, he could be one to swerve despite his form being clearly the best in the race.


Speaking of Aintree, DOLATULO put up a very nice performance on his seasonal reappearance in the Becher Chase, finishing third despite being shoved into the rail at the elbow and hampered on the run in. The ground may have been as soft as the nine-year-old would want it on that occasion and this probable better surface could suit. Warren Greatrex’s inmate looked to be fairly treated by a mark of 146 in the Becher and being able to run off the same mark again, with the added bonus of having that run in the bank, leaves him in with a big shout here. He could be off to the Cross-Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival rather than the National this year and he fits the type of horse we’re looking for trends-wise; between seven and nine years old, nice middle-range weight (10-13) and looks to be getting better with age. Expect him to creep into the race under Denis O’Regan and hopefully stay on best of all at the end.


One of the most in-form contenders is Venetia Williams’ Aachen, who comes into the race off the back of two wins and an agonisingly close second to Soll in the Veterans’ Final at Sandown. At the age of 12, his handicap mark has gone from 123 all the way up to 151 now and even though it hasn’t seemed to hinder him so far, the combination of better ground and the extra 5lb lumped on his back from his last run could be enough to stop him winning again.


Buywise finally gets the step up to three miles that his running style has suggested he’ll love and he’d have a big chance if he does indeed stay the distance. However, he’s a horse that always makes mistakes over his fences and loses critical ground – three miles may help to minimise the ground lost for early mistakes, but a big error late on in a staying race can often stop horses dead in their tracks, so he’s one I can’t put too much trust in.


Le Mercurey and Coologue make up a threatening-looking novice chasing contingent and if they can adapt to this big field race that often turns into a slog, they could be a threat, but Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old hasn’t tried three miles yet and this could be a bit too much too soon, while Coologue’s trailblazing style could make him the one to be shot at by the strong stayers in the race. Ziga Boy is another younger contender off a small weight, but whether he’s really got the class to challenge the big boys in this is questionable, even though he will certainly stay the trip.




DOLATULO – 1pt e/w @ 12/1 (General)



3.35 Cheltenham – Galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2) 


 Colin Tizzard’s THISTLECRACK is going  for the World Hurdle in March. So clearly, if he’s to justify his now very short price in the market for that race, he’ll have to be winning here and winning pretty well. He’ll need to put to bed any doubts that he might not like the track – tailed off 7th of 9 in the Neptune trial here a year ago – even though Tizzard insists that day had nothing to do with the track. Cheltenham should suit him really, with his huge engine and galloping style so I don’t think there’s much in that argument anyway.


His biggest rival could well be Camping Ground for Robert Walford, who won hugely impressively in the Relkeel Hurdle over two and a half miles on New Year’s Day. It was heavy ground, but in thumping Lil Rockerfeller, Cole Harden, Top Notch, Bobs Worth, Whisper etc, he really announced himself on the Graded scene. However, this will be his first effort over the three mile trip and while he’s shaped like he’ll enjoy it, you never know until you try and having a first crack against a real stayer like Thistlecrack is a tough ask.


Lurking 8lbs lower in the weights is Paul Nicholls’ Ptit Zig, back from chasing after some unfortunate incidents over the larger obstacles. Rated 159 over timber, he is certainly no back marker here and if he is to take up his option to run in the World Hurdle in March, he’ll have to show an aptitude for three miles in soft ground here. The seven-year-old is another horse who hasn’t seen the longer trip yet in his career and even though he’s looked as if he sees two and a half miles out fine over fences, I’d still be a little wary of whether he’ll be able to stretch his stamina quite this far – he finished sixth in a Champion Hurdle after all.


Back for more in this race after an amazing win two years ago is George Charlton’s admirable 13-year-old Knockara Beau and while he’s the oldest contender in the field by some way, he’ll love the ground and stays every yard so could sneak a place at larger odds.




THISTLECRACK – 3pts win @ 4/5 (William Hill, Ladbrokes, SportingBet)



4.10 Cheltenham – Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle


Cheltenham’s finale on Saturday looks a competitive renewal despite Cheltenian conceding over a stone to all of the field. Nicky Henderson has two runners both returning from lengthy absences. The first string of the pair appears to be Clean Sheet who beat Kilcooley in an Irish point in 2013 before winning two of his first three starts under rules.  He was last seen winning at Fakenham in February but that was over 2m4f and he was still pretty green on the day. I’m not sure what the holdup has been with him this term but he doesn’t look badly treated off a mark of 135.


His stablemate Maestro Royal has a similar profile having been off the track since winning at Huntingdon last January and he looks open to further improvement having had just one run over obstacles. Like his fellow Henderson inmate, fitness and wellbeing have to be taken on trust although in truth his form isn’t as strong as Clean Sheet.


At the foot of the weights and racing from 5lb out of the handicap is Solstice Star who notched his fourth successive victory when winning over course and distance in December. He seemed to appreciate the drop back to two miles that day and beat a well-regarded member of the Jonjo O’Neill stable in Mad Jack Mytton. He has gone up another 9lb for his latest success but is in the form of his life at present so can’t be discounted lightly.


With no firm inkling in the race I am going to side with FRODON who makes his British debut for Paul Nicholls. A winner of a valuable newcomers’ race in his native France in April, he has since been highly-tried without success and was fourth in a Grade 2 over fences on his last run in November. Nicholls won this race with a juvenile in 2008 with Five Dream and also took this prize with Lac Fontana two years ago. He too races from 1lb out of the handicap but in an open race, I think he is worth taking a chance on.




FRODON – 1pt win @ 7/1 (Ladbrokes)

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