Friday, 10 February 2017

Betfair Hurdle Preview 2017

Nigel Twiston-Davies has always held Ballyandy in high regard and he’s one of three who are currently vying for favouritism. A winner of the Champion Bumper last season, he’s been given a mark of 135 for his handicap debut having posted three respectable efforts in defeat so far this season. Has been given a break since a close second to Messire Des Obeaux who has franked the form since, surely has more progress left in him and this race is likely to have been the plan for some time.

Second to The New One at Haydock last time out was Clyne who is now as short as 4-1 with some firms having been well supported since that run. Is due to go up 5lb in the handicap after this race which means he’s well handicapped on that form. Had previously won twice at the same track, has a progressive profile and the soft ground is sure to suit having raced on easy going throughout his career.

The other horse who is prominent in the betting is Movewiththetimes who has only had four runs to date and was last seen winning a novice hurdle at Wincanton. The form of that race hasn’t worked out too well since and starts life off in handicaps with a mark of 136. Had previously finished just a length behind Ballyandy at Cheltenham giving him 4lb and was hampered at a crucial stage. Although he’s a potential improver now sent handicapping, he looks a short enough price based on his form to date.

Alan King will be represented by William H Bonney who travelled well when winning a competitive handicap at Cheltenham on trials day. Improved plenty for his seasonal debut that day but King reported afterwards that he still felt the horse would have needed another run having had a setback in training at the start of the season and his win at Cheltenham should have put him spot on for this race. Has a 5lb penalty to contend with in a stronger contest but is clearly held in high regard having run in the Supreme Novices Hurdle last season.

Seven-year-old Song Light has some good form to his name in similar races to this one and posted his best effort to date when third in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November. Has been given a 3lb rise for his efforts but the form of that race has worked out well and, although he hasn’t been seen since, this race is likely to have been the plan for a while and should run his race once again.

An impressive winner of the Adonis Hurdle last season was Zubayr whom trainer Paul Nicholls has likened to Zarkandar who won this race back in 2012. He looked held when falling at the last in the Elite Hurdle on his seasonal debut and ran disappointingly at Sandown afterwards. In my opinion, his future lies over further and he also looks a chaser in the making.

Irish raider Veinard has been running consistently this season and went close in a strong handicap at Leopardstown last time. He has 3lb extra to carry in this race compared to the others which will make life tough as he doesn’t look obviously well handicapped and he doesn’t always find as much off the bridle as you might expect looking at the way he travels.

Wait for me looked the winner for a long way last time at Cheltenham when finishing fifth behind one of today’s rivals William H Bonney. Clearly has plenty of ability and was a good fourth in the County Hurdle at the festival last season but his jumping still isn’t polished and it’s hard to see him reversing the form with that rival today, despite being 5lb better off.

Similar to Veinard, De Name Escapes Me has extra weight to carry compared to his rivals and hasn’t been seen since finishing down the field in a strong handicap at the Punchestown Festival. Has only had five runs to date and was a dual winner over hurdles at the start of last season but he’s clearly had his problems having had substantial breaks in between runs. Also runs without a hood having worn it the last twice and Barry Geraghty has chosen to ride the other McManus owned runner Movewiththetimes.

Dual performer Beltor beat three of today’s rivals at Kempton last time out when he looked the winner before making a mistake at the last which proved costly. A decent juvenile, he landed a gamble when bouncing back to form on the flat at Kempton in December. A 2lb rise for his latest effort seems fair although two of the rivals he beat that day have progressed since then and will need a fast pace as he tends to race keenly.

Kerry Lee has been in good form of late and runs Gassin Golf who will be wearing a tongue-tie for the first time and will be suited by the drop back to two miles having finished fifth at the course over 2m5f last time out. Has some decent form to his name but looks vulnerable against some unexposed rivals.

Kayf Blanco has some respectable form to his name, most notably when third to Brain Power at Sandown on his second start this season but was disappointing last time over further at Exeter. Capable of out-running his odds if he bounces back to form but looks high enough in the handicap at present judging by his recent form.

Nigel Twiston-Davies also runs Ballyhill who has been kept busy in novice company throughout this season and this will be his first run in a handicap. Starts life off in handicaps with a mark of 136 which looks fair judging by his novice form and Tom Humphries takes a handy 7lb off but has run below par on his last two starts and needs to bounce back.

The handicapper has given Hargam a chance dropping him to a mark of 146 having been rated as high as 157 in the past. Posted a couple of decent efforts in graded company last season and clearly has plenty of class but is hard to recommend on his last two runs.

Another trainer in decent form at present is Warren Greatrex and he runs Boite who wears cheekpieces for the first time. A ready winner at Wetherby on his seasonal debut but disappointed next time at Newbury. The extra trip was potentially the reason for a below-par run that day but needs to progress again even on his best form to be competitive today.

Current outsider of the field is Eddiemaurice who returned to form beating two reappearing rivals when finishing a close fifth in the same handicap Beltor was third in at Kempton. He’s only 4lb above his last winning mark and it wouldn’t surprise me if he did outrun his odds. 

Verdict: This year’s renewal lacks the class compared to previous years but is still as competitive as usual and the selection is William H Bonney who travelled well when winning last time out, is progressing nicely and I’m sure Alan King has had this race in mind for a while as he felt his win last time will have put him right for this race. Song Light is sure to run his race again having gone close in the Greatwood Hurdle in November. The well supported Ballyandy should be able to go close off a mark of 135.

              1)      William H Bonney                 2) Song Light                 3)  Ballyandy

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 Ante-Post Preview

Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle

2014 Champion Bumper winner Moon Racer currently heads the betting for the Supreme Novices Hurdle and was a winner over course and distance in November. He won what turned into a tactical race that day and beat horses who look better suited over further. Although he’s three from three at Cheltenham and is still relatively lightly raced for an eight-year-old, I think he will prove vulnerable against some potentially top class horses.

I was seriously impressed with Charli Parcs when he won at Kempton on his UK debut where he jumped and travelled well and won without coming off the bridle. That wasn’t the strongest of races but he had the race won a long way from home that day as well as posting a decent time. Held in high regard, he looks a high-class horse in the making.

Jenkins was ante-post favourite for this race until running disappointingly at Kempton on Boxing Day. Prior to that he had shown some useful bumper form and won in workmanlike fashion at Newbury on his hurdling debut in what looked a strong maiden hurdle. He still remains with plenty of potential but is hard to recommend on the back of that disappointing run and has also had suffered a setback since then.

The Willie Mullins trained Cilaos Emery won nicely on his hurdles debut at Navan and at the time that looked an uncompetitive race. However, the second that day is now rated 139 but probably found the trip too short when second to Cilaos Emery and Mullins looks to hold stronger claims with Melon who had a lofty reputation before winning easily at Leopardstown at the end of January. The form of that race is questionable but couldn’t have won any easier and is clearly held in high regard.


Although it hasn’t been confirmed, this race is likely to be the target for Charli Parcs and still looks value at 8-1 having been well supported for this race over the last few days. It’s worth having a saver on Melon who Willie Mullins holds in high regard and created a good impression when winning at Leopardstown.

Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices Chase

Won in 2012 by the mighty Sprinter Sacre, Nicky Henderson looks to have another superstar on his hands with Altior who is three from three over fences and looks destined for the top. He’s unbeaten at the course, jumps well for a novice and is a confident selection to continue his winning streak in the Arkle.

Min is currently clear second favourite and is also unbeaten over fences. He raced keenly in his races as a hurdler but has settled better over fences this season. However, he has suffered a setback in training recently and was beaten easily by Altior in last year’s Supreme.

The former Paul Nicholls trained Some Plan looked unfortunate not to win over course and distance in December but has made amends since then by winning at Navan and Leopardstown. He travels well and his jumping has improved on each of his starts over fences. He will also be suited by the likelihood of a small field.


Altior is a confident selection to win but I wouldn’t put you off having a few quid each-way on Some Plan who is not without hope at 25-1.

Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy

This race revolves around current favourite Faugheen who we haven’t seen since winning the Irish Champion Hurdle in January last year. He’s been due to run a couple of times already this season but has once again picked up a couple of injuries. Providing he does make it to the race he will be tough to beat but I wouldn’t want to be taking short odds at this stage on a horse who’s had a disrupted preparation and may not even make it to the race.

The Henry de Bromhead trained Petit Mouchoir put in a brave performance to win this year’s Irish Champion Hurdle, travelling well before holding off the late challenge of Footpad. He’s progressed gradually this season and, providing he handles the track, he has a chance of going close.

Yanworth is currently prominent in the betting and had previously been fancied for the World Hurdle at the start of the season. Having beaten The New One in the Christmas Hurdle over two miles at Kempton, this race is now the plan for him. He didn’t jump too well that day though and I believe he wants further.

Nicky Henderson will be represented by Brain Power who bolted up in a competitive handicap at Ascot in December. When quotes came in for the Champion Hurdle after that win I thought they were a bit optimistic but looking back at the race he was highly impressive indeed carrying almost top weight in one of the strongest handicaps run this season. He defied a 7lb higher mark that day and has now been given a rating of 162 which doesn’t leave him with much to find with those at the head of the market. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if Yorkhill was supplemented for the race if Faugheen doesn’t turn up. He’s unbeaten over fences this season but was a good winner of the Neptune last season beating Yanworth and looks to have enough speed for two miles.


Plenty of speculation as to who will actually turn up in this race. If Faugheen does run then he will be tough to beat but that’s looking more and more unlikely and I would rather take a chance on the progressive Brain Power each-way at a general 12-1.

Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

Seven-year-old Douvan has looked unbeatable in eight career starts over fences to date, easily winning the Arkle last season and completed a hat-trick of wins at the three big festivals. He’s jumped imperiously in each run over fences as well as beating some useful horses along the way. He’s currently best priced 2-5 for the race so will be many peoples banker and should duly oblige.

The horse that is most likely to follow him home though is Fox Norton who has a progressive profile, goes well at the course and is likely to go for the race unlike most who have been given an entry. He was beaten just over ten lengths by Douvan in the Arkle last season but has clearly improved this season. With a revised mark of 167, he’s only rated 2lb inferior to Douvan. He’s three from five at the course and has also produced a couple of decent placed efforts.


Douvan really should be winning this race and has done nothing wrong over fences in his career to date. This race is likely to have very few runners with most of the horses entered having other races as preferred targets. Fox Norton is progressing nicely over fences and this race is the intended target for him at the moment so is the most likely to follow the favourite home.

Ryanair Chase

Although the target for Un De Sceaux is currently undecided, he looks likely to go for the Ryanair Chase with stable mate Douvan a short priced favourite for the Champion Chase, a race in which Un De Sceaux was second in last year. He won the rescheduled Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham in good fashion on Trials day and clearly stays the Ryanair trip having won over 2m5f in France last year. He didn’t jump too well at Cheltenham in the Champion Chase but was much better in the Clarence House, travelling well and finding plenty under pressure.

One horse who ran an eye catching race at Cheltenham on Trials day was Uxizandre who ran a fantastic race to finish second behind Un De Sceaux, his first run since winning this race in 2015. Although he looked pretty fit beforehand, he’s sure to come on for the run and two miles is on the sharp side for him. Providing he can avoid the dreaded bounce factor, he’s sure to go close in this race especially with the likelihood of better ground than he encountered on Trials Day.


As mentioned, although the target is not yet decided for Un De Sceaux, this race looks tailor-made for him in my opinion and should take plenty of beating providing he goes for the race. Uxizandre is the obvious danger having ran so well in defeat behind the selection on his comeback after a long absence.

Sun Bets Stayers Hurdle

The Harry Fry trained Unowhatimeanharry has done nothing wrong all season and made it eight wins on the bounce in the Cleeve Hurdle since winning a Handicap off a mark of 123 in November 2015. That was also his fourth win at the course and I’m surprised he’s not shorter than 15-8 to win this race. He strikes me as a horse who only just does enough and clearly idled up the run in when winning the Cleeve Hurdle.

2015 winner Cole Harden was second to Unowhatimeanharry in the Cleeve and that was his best run for some time having run a few disappointing races. He’s sure to go straight to the stayers hurdle now and looks to be gradually coming back to form so has an each-way chance.

2014 Champion Hurdle winner Jezki won on his return at Navan in January after a long lay-off due to injury. The form of that race is below what some of his rivals have achieved in the run up to this race but he’s a high class horse, has won over three miles in the past and usually shows his best form in the spring. He has the ability to go close providing he can build on that comeback win.


My festival banker is going to be Unowhatimeanharry who has improved nearly 50lb since the start of his winning streak. He enjoys Cheltenham, is versatile ground wise and could have even more improvement left in him. He’s a confident selection but is likely to be an even shorter price than he is now on the day and one for the each-way players is Cole Harden who is a previous winner of this race and showed he was coming back to form with a good run last time out.

JCB Triumph Hurdle

Defi Du Seuil has done nothing wrong all season and deserves to be the current favourite for this race. He won two on the bounce at the track before winning the Future Champions Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. He didn’t jump so well that day but beat two smart novices easily and was conceding 7lb to a 144 rated rival. He’s been winning on soft ground but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be just as good on better ground and has plenty of speed. He will be going into the race with the best form, already has three wins at Cheltenham under his belt and has plenty of experience for a four-year-old.

I was impressed with Dinaria Des Obeaux when she won at Cork in December. She travelled and jumped well in the main that day and the form has worked out okay since. I thought she deserved to be a shorter price for this race as she looked a high class horse in the making on her Irish debut and is also a likely runner.


Although Defi Du Seuil will prove hard to beat having done nothing wrong all season and will have the strongest form going into the race, the value lies with Dinaria Des Obeaux who bolted up on her first run for Gordon Elliot and I’m surprised she’s still available at 16-1.

Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup

Unfortunately plenty of horses who were fancied for this race at the start of the season are now out of the race. Thistlecrack lost nothing in defeat when second in the Cotswold Chase on trials day and is still the clear ante-post favourite for the race. He was foot perfect in the King George the time before, easily beating stable mate Cue Card. The trip is of course a question mark in the Gold Cup having been outstayed in the Cotswold Chase but I have no doubt he will stay the trip on better ground which he looks better suited by. His jumping around Cheltenham is still questionable but hasn’t done much else wrong this season and deserves to be favourite.

It was confirmed recently that Cue Card is now an intended runner in this race and was deemed an unlucky loser by some last year when falling at the third last. Like Thistlecrack, he will also be suited by better ground but has work to do to beat the favourite having been beaten easily by him in the King George. The Hennessy and Welsh National winner Native River is also due to line up for the Tizzard team. He’s a thorough stayer and is likely to make this a proper test for his rivals having made virtually all to win his last two starts and I can see him running a big race, especially if the ground is soft.

Twice a runner-up in this race is Djakadam who was third in the Lexus Chase last time out. He’s sure to run his race in the Gold Cup again but was beaten by Outlander whom I believe the value lies with having won a competitive renewal of the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. He clearly improved for the step up in trip that day and looks certain to be suited by the Gold Cup trip judging by the way he won that race. He’s not won at the course before but was going okay when falling in the JLT last year and I expect him to go close.


The value, as mentioned, lies with Outlander who looks a great each-way bet at 12-1 although Thistlecrack will be hard to beat if the ground is good. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Fergal O'Brien Stable Feature - 18th January

Up-and-coming trainer and all round nice guy Fergal O’Brien is currently into the fifth season of his training career and is enjoying his best season thus far with 44 winners from 221 runners and operating at a strike rate of 20%. With his yard situated in the heart of the Cotswolds at Grange Hill Farm with spectacular surroundings, Fergal currently shares the same gallops as veteran trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies whom Fergal was assistant trainer to for 16 years until Chris Coley decided to support Fergal financially to start his own operation.

                                                                   Fergal O'Brien

Fergal’s passion to succeed is clear and it’s not surprising the success that he has achieved as he's supported by a talented team which is led by assistant trainer and Fergal’s partner Sally Randell who trained horses herself before joining forces with Fergal in Naunton. Kevin Brown is the head lad and top jockey Paddy Brennan rides the majority of Fergal’s horses along with conditional jockey Conor Shoemark who has also enjoyed plenty of success. Brodie Hampson is now riding as a conditional having ridden as an amateur for a number of years. Ally Stirling is the amateur rider among his team and Ally recently rode Troika Steppes to a popular success at Cheltenham. Alain Cawley is currently on the side-lines but is planning to make a comeback at the end of February all being well and will be hoping to hit the ground running when he returns having dislocated both of his shoulders as well as fracturing one at Kempton in October of last year. Doctor and racehorse owner Simon Gillson operates the Fergal O’Brien Racing social media pages and does a splendid job of keeping them active and updating followers with the latest news and pictures.

                                                       Potential Stars on the Gallops

Fergal’s success has caught the eye of some top owners. Paul and Clare Rooney, who are currently his leading owners this season, have chosen to support Fergal and they have got off to a flying start. Mr and Mrs William Rucker who own the honourable Alvarado have also purchased a couple of new horses and it seems only a matter of time until J P McManus sends one to Fergal!

Onto the horses, potential star Colins Sister is set to run in the Mares Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday having worked well on the gallops this morning. Already a three time winner this season, she looks set to go close and enhance her claims for the Cheltenham Festival. The current plan is to run at the Festival after Saturday and will have an entry in the Albert Bartlett and the Mares Novice Hurdle. Held in high regard, she has the potential to be Fergal’s future stable star.

                                                                  Colins Sister

Staying stalwart Alvarado is set to school at Chepstow on Friday. He unfortunately fell at the second in the Becher Chase at Aintree but had previously run a promising race on his seasonal debut at Cheltenham. All roads lead to the Grand National for him again this season, a race that he has twice finished fourth in and was in good spirits this morning.


Perfect candidate is going to take on the mighty Thistlecrack in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham next weekend. He was an agonising second at the course in December behind Theatre Guide and although Thistlecrack will obviously be hard to beat, connections will be hoping to pick up some prize money in a race that is unlikely to have many runners. He holds an entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as well in which he will be a likely runner.

                                                                 Perfect Candidate

One that caught the eye on the gallops was Wizard’s Sliabh who was successful on her seasonal debut at Market Rasen before finishing second to Alan King’s Tara View at Ludlow. She doesn’t hold any entries at the moment but looks one to watch out for next time.

Another who worked well this morning was Global stage who finished a promising fourth in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown last weekend behind Finians Oscar over a trip that would have been too short for him. He looks a chaser in the making judging by his size and looks sure to turn into a smart staying chaser in the long-term. Like Colin’s Sister, he will also receive an entry in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival.

Infinite Sun is a huge horse and anything he does in bumpers and over hurdles will be a bonus. He started his career off with a win at Market Rasen in a bumper, the form of which has worked out well since. Infinite Sun has the potential to be very smart over fences and is certainly one for the Tracker.

The Fergal O’Brien Racing Club is an ownership syndicate run by Fergal and is the perfect way to experience the thrill of owning a racehorse. The club currently has two racehorses in, a point to pointer and even a greyhound! The two racehorses (Poetic Rhythm and Miss Maiden Over) have both provided current members with great experiences and the excitement of owning a winner having both won two races this season.

                                             The Fergal O'Brien Racing Club Members

With more than 40 horses currently in training and a yard full of promising young horses who have the potential to be above average, the future looks brighter than ever for the Fergal O’Brien Team.

Friday, 13 January 2017

32Red Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle Preview - Kempton 14th January

The unexpected news that Kempton Park Racecourse is set to close in the near future has caused plenty of uproar and frustration this week. With the huge heritage that Kempton holds with the likes of Arkle, Desert Orchid and more recently Kauto Star providing some scintillating moments, it’s not surprising that many racing fans are against the idea. Some big names in racing are certain to protest in a bid to change the Jockey Club’s decision but in my opinion, it’s likely to be a false hope.

At first I was against the idea but having read up the facts regarding the decision, I can see why the Jockey Club are doing it. Reportedly being £115m in debt, they obviously need to raise capital from somewhere in order to continue investing in and improving their racecourses. This is a decision that clearly hasn’t been made overnight and with an investment plan of £500m, we have to believe this decision will be a positive one in the long run.

Anyway, this is a discussion that will be at the forefront for some time yet and the plan is not scheduled to happen until 2021 at the earliest so let’s enjoy the racing at Kempton while we still can and they stage some good racing this weekend.

The 32Red Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle is the feature race at Kempton on Saturday and last year’s winning trainer Venetia Williams has another fancied runner with Bennys King this time round who sneaks in at the bottom of the weights off 10st1lb. He finally got his head in front after a string of seconds with a win over 2m4f at Uttoxeter on his latest start beating the Anthony Honeyball trained Pure Vision who had bolted up at Lingfield on his previous start. A 6lb rise for that win means more is required now upped in class but this six year old looks progressive and this trip will be ideal for him.

Doesyourdogbite opened up joint favourite in the betting on Thursday with Bennys King but was quickly shortened to 5-1 clear favourite. He was a ready winner on just his third start over Hurdles in a similarly competitive race over course & distance on Boxing Day. With the likelihood of more progress to come, he looks capable of remaining competitive despite a 6lb higher mark.

The best backed horse of the race so far is Jaleo who has already halved in price with some firms. I thought he did well to win last time in a race that wasn’t run to suit. That was over 2m3f and the extra two furlongs is likely to suit judging by the way he stayed on. Although that wasn’t the most competitive race, it was his seasonal debut and he went off favourite for the Fred Winter at the Festival where a bad mistake four out ended his chance. Useful amateur Alex Ferguson gets the leg up and takes a handy 7lb off.

Also well supported is Lord of the Island who was last seen falling when in with a chance at Exeter. Prior to that, he was a respectable third off a revised mark at the same track. He’s still relatively lightly raced for a nine year old with just nine runs to date. The trip and ground will be ideal for him although he will need to step up again to defy his current mark upped in class.

The J P McManus owned Modus finished seventh in the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle at Ascot last time but had previously been runner up in two high class handicaps. He received a 5lb rise for his second in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November and now looks on a high enough mark based on his run last time. The going is currently good to soft so I’m sure connections will be hoping for the forecast snow to stay away as Nicholls has stated in a recent Betfair column that good ground suits him best.

Chesterfield is an interesting runner who ran a respectable race off the back of a two year absence when he finished a place behind Modus in the Wessex Youth Trust Hurdle. Back in 2014 he posted some smart form, most notably when winning a competitive race at the Cheltenham open meeting. If he can avoid the dreaded bounce factor and build on his comeback run then I wouldn’t be surprised if he put up a bold show over this longer trip.

New recruit to the Dan Skelton team is Sam Red who was last seen finishing fourth over fences at Killarney. It looks as though he may have had a few problems along the way judging by the time he’s had off in between runs and doesn’t look that well handicapped based on his form so far. It’s interesting that the Skelton team have chosen to target a race like this on his seasonal debut though.

Champion Jockey Richard Johnson takes the mount on Kalondra, a horse that remained consistent in novice races and since switching to handicaps this season. Patiently ridden to win a conditional jockeys race at Ascot last time, the likelihood of a strong pace looks sure to suit him. An 8lb rise for that win looks harsh though and will need to progress again to be competitive today.

Fountains Windfall was an impressive winner of a weak Maiden Hurdle at Fontwell last time and had previously been runner-up to a 133 rated rival. His current mark of 130 looks fair based on the form he’s shown so far and top conditional David Noonan claims a handy 3lb. The longer trip should suit and there should be plenty more to come from this lightly raced seven year old on his handicap debut.

Sent off a well backed favourite for a strong handicap at Cheltenham last time, Templeross was ultimately disappointing. He had previously been running consistently, winning two of his three runs in novice races. Needs to put his last run behind him and a mark of 126 looks high enough judging by the form he showed in those novice races.

I thought Will O’The West should have won his seasonal debut when third at Cheltenham in October, kicking on for home soon enough and drifting left up the run in only to be headed close home.  Disappointed at the same venue last time but the ground would have been plenty soft enough for him that day so can be forgiven that run. A mark of 130 looks fair despite being 5lb higher than his third at Cheltenham, the trip and ground should suit (providing the ground doesn’t race on the slow side) and he looks over priced at 25-1.

The Ben Pauling trained Jaleo looks to be the stables main hope but he also runs Local Show who was last seen running in the Hennessy Gold Cup where he was pulled up having never jumped with any fluency. Clearly held in high regard, he now reverts back to Hurdles off a 5lb lower mark. Another who is relatively lightly raced for his age, he still remains with potential and it looks as if connections are using this race as a confidence booster having made those errors over fences last time.

Little Boy Boru will be having his third run in this race, previously finishing second and fifth in 2015/2016. Ran a promising race on his seasonal debut behind Splash of Ginge at Haydock last time. This race is likely to have been the target for some time but hasn’t won for over two years and is 6lb wrong.

The other Paul Nicholls trained runner is Old Guard who is the class horse in the race with a mark of 153 and won the Greatwood and International Hurdle at Cheltenham last season. Had been sent chasing at the start of this season and won a Beginners Chase at Exeter, although struggled to beat a 130 rated horse that day. Has now reverted back to hurdles and improved by 20lb during last season but it will require a big performance if he is to win this race off top weight and hasn’t looked in the same form this time round. The step up in trip is also a big question mark.

Verdict: Plenty you can make a case for but a chance is taken with Will O’The West who needs to put a disappointing run at Cheltenham last time behind him but there’s every reason to believe he can do and is of strong interest based on his third the time before. Bennys King is progressing well and looks the main danger despite a 6lb rise in the handicap for his win last time. Fountains Windfall should still have more to come and looks potentially a well handicapped horse off 130 despite this being his seasonal debut. 

              1)      Will O’The West           2)Bennys King           3)Fountains Windfall

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Cheltenham New Years Day - 2.00 Preview

The races at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day look set to be highly competitive, none more so than the BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase that comes up at 2.00. Won last year by the reappearing Village Vic who showed a game attitude to fend off another reappearing rival Tenor Nivernais to complete a four timerThat was off a mark of 144 and now races off a mark of 158 but has progressed again since that win. Has run two good races at Cheltenham so far this season off marks of 155 and 158 respectively and looks sure to go close again. 

Currently heading the betting is the Nicky Henderson trained Vaniteux who has some very smart form to his name. He’s finished third on both his starts in handicaps this season off a mark of 154 and now steps up in trip. Henderson has stated in his Stan James blog that he feels it’s only a matter of time until he wins a big one. However, I’m not convinced that 2m4f around Cheltenham is going to be ideal for him and he looks high enough in the handicap based on those two runs this season.

Paul Nicholls is represented by the 7 year old As de Mee who disappointed in a similar handicap over course and distance in November but got back on track with a win in the Grand Sefton Chase over the National fences at Aintree last time out. Similar to Vaniteux, As de Mee showed some smart novice form and has won two of his three starts over fences this season. An 8lb rise in the handicap for his last win will make life harder but he’s clearly progressing and the trip and ground will be ideal for him.

Quite by chance was deemed unlucky by some when finishing a staying on fourth in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup over course and distance last time having been hampered down the back straight by a faller. He eventually stayed on to be beaten only two lengths at the line off a mark of 147. He has a progressive profile and looks sure to be competitive again off the same mark for man of the moment Colin Tizzard.

Visored for the first time is Henri Parry Morgan whose second at Aintree last season behind Native River is the stand out piece of form in this race. On that form he would be the one to beat but hasn’t got off to the best of starts this season having disappointed in the Hennessy and unseating his rider last time out. Trainer Peter Bowen isn’t in great form at the moment either and he looks a horse who is best caught in the spring.

Sent off joint favourite last time for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup was Thomas Brown who was ultimately disappointing in the end and failed to build on a successful seasonal debut at Aintree where he put in his best round of jumping to date. The form of that win hasn’t worked out great and he looks on a high enough mark now.

Another horse who ran in this race last year was Top Gamble who finished third off a mark of 153. He then went on to win a Grade 2 at Newbury and at Fairyhouse. It’s likely he would have needed the run when finishing fifth behind Fox Norton here in November. Kerry Lee has booked Davy Russell for the ride and although he will be running off a 6lb higher mark than last year, there should be plenty more to come from him this season and I can see him running a big race.

As mentioned, Tenor Nivernais was second in this race last year behind Village Vic. He was a good third in a competitive race on his seasonal debut at Ascot last time out off a mark of 150. Has been put up a couple of pounds by the handicapper for that run though so that puts him on a career high mark again and has shown his best form on soft/heavy ground.

Shantou Flyer was last seen running a creditable ninth in the Galway plate. Has since moved to Rebecca Curtis and although returns from a five month break, this is likely to have been the target for some time. A mark of 149 means more is required having never won off a mark this high before but he’s still only seven and was a course winner in October last year.

2014 Irish National winner Shutthefrontdoor has been relatively disappointing since finishing fifth in the 2015 Grand National. That race is likely to be the target again for him this season and this looks to be another stepping stone. The handicapper has given him a chance though but hasn’t looked in love with the game this season.

Cheltenham regular Thomas Crapper has recorded just one win from seventeen chase starts but has been given some impossible tasks. Was sixth in the Bet Victor Gold Cup on his latest run where he wore a tongue tie for the first time. Needs to find more though to be competitive today and looks held by Village Vic on that form.

Last but not least is Solar Impulse who is bidding to give Sam Twiston-Davies his second win in this race. Won the Grand Annual at the Festival last season but has been disappointing in two runs so far this season for new stable. Hard to recommend in current form despite the fact he is only 3lb higher than his win in the Grand Annual. 

Fiercely competitive as you would expect for a race of this natureVillage Vic is sure to be there at the finish but the selection is Quite by Chance who went close here last month despite being hampered, should still have more progress left in him and can continue Colin Tizzard’s run of good form. Top Gamble looks to have an each way chance too despite having to carry top weight.

1) Quite by Chance         2)  Village Vic        3)  Top Gamble