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Haydock Grand National Trial Preview: Achille Has Claims For Form Reversal With Favourite

On Saturday we have Haydock’s Grand National Trial Handicap Chase to look forward, a race in which Neptune Collonges finished runner up in 2012 before landing the big one just six weeks later.

The off time is 2.40pm for this contest and whether it throws up another Grand National winner or not it should be a great race and a real test of stamina.

As usual I’ll be going through this race using a range of tools and data that are available with a Geegeez Gold subscription.

Don’t forget you can get your first 30 days of Geegeez Gold for just £1 right here.

Pace

Pace is one of the most crucial (and overlooked) factors in racing. Using the Pace Analyser we can see any potential pace bias over staying trips at Haydock.

In this kind of field size there is an edge towards horses that race closer to the pace.

The most common racing style for a winner is prominent and it’s interesting to compare the win percentages of 18% and 14.29% for front runners and prominent racers respectively to those provided by mid division (5.06%) and held up (7.75%).

Place percentages follow a similar trajectory which adds to the impression that there is a fairly strong pace advantage here and both front runners and prominent racers have strong IV figures 1.71 and 1.36 respectively.

We might gain further insight from looking at races only run on soft or heavy ground given the current going at Haydock is soft, heavy in places.

It’s a similar story again with prominent racers providing the most wins but with front runners having the best win percentage. Prominent racers seem to enjoy almost exactly the same advantage they do in better conditions but it is notable that front runners seem to perform better in the more testing conditions.

The fact that when you only look at soft or heavy ground races front runners perform even better and hold up runners perform worse suggests that the pace bias might be exaggerated in softer ground.

The above information is best used in conjunction with the pace data for each individual race. Each runner is assigned a ‘pace score’ every time they run based on what early position they raced in and this data is used to create an interactive pace map.

It looks highly likely that The Two Amigos is going to get an easy, uncontested lead in this race with no other real pace options in the race. Achille tends to race fairly prominently and has led in the past but he was held up last time so looks likely to be handy at best.

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If this race does end up suiting those up with the pace then Sojourn and Potters Legend could be the most inconvenienced by the pace setup.

Instant Expert

Instant Expert can give us a snapshot of each runner’s suitability to the important race conditions here. First let’s look at the place data.

Plenty of green on offer and very little red suggesting the majority of these are well proven in conditions. It’s worth noting that class data would include non handicap runs too which makes it a bit less relevant in the context of this race.

Sojourn and Notachance clearly go very well in this kind of ground whilst four runners come into this with a 100% place record at the course (Perfect Candidate and Lord Du Mesnil have both placed in all three runs here).

One of the more worrying red flags here is that Potters Legend has failed to place in two runs over this kind of distance. On closer inspection he has run well enough over a furlong shorter though.

Now let’s narrow things down for win purposes.

Another worry for Potters Legend, he’s just one from fourteen in these ground conditions. The Two Amigos and Achilles also have questionable win records on testing ground. Lord Du Mesnil and Perfect Candidate both score well across the board (disregarding race class) and that pair both have won two out of three here so the course clearly holds no fears for them. Based on Instant Expert alone they both seem decent each way bets.

The Runners

Let’s take a look at each runner in odds order.

Notachance

A very exciting prospect. He’s finished 1st or 2nd in five of his six chase starts and he’s won his last two, including the Warwick Classic Handicap Chase over a furlong further last month. He tracked the pace at Warwick last time out and a repeat of those tactics should give him an advantage here.

He’s up 7lbs for that latest effort but he’s completely unexposed at this sort of distance so it’s not unfeasible that he’ll have improved that much since his last run. There is very little in the formbook to suggest he won’t run very well once again in this race ahead of a possible tilt at the Scottish Grand National.

The Two Amigos

A consistent front runner who has hit the frame in all four starts since finishing 4th in this last year. He's 2lbs higher this time around but should get the uncontested lead he didn’t get last year and that should see him improve. Finishing 2nd to Secret Reprieve in the Welsh National last time out was certainly a decent trial for this and suggests he is as good as ever.

He hasn’t won for over two years now though which is a major concern and although he’s entitled to give his running once again, he does look vulnerable for win purposes, especially at the current odds.

His jockey, James Bowen, has been in great form in the past 30 days, generating an IV (Impact Value) of 2.53.

Enqarde

Been in very good form since joining Dr Richard Newland, winning twice, finishing a neck runner up and unseating his rider on his other start. With only one completed chase start on these shores he’s potentially well ahead of his mark considering the style in which he won (and he beat two last time out winners). He also jumped left when winning at Ascot so this course should suit better.

He’s the shortest priced contender who is yet to prove his stamina but that does also mean he potentially has more secrets from the handicapper than much of the rest of the field.

The Profiler is great for telling us the likelihood of a horse staying based on sire stats and although this could be the limit of his stamina, his sire’s offspring do have a good record over this distance with a 44.44% place strike rate. This suggests there is a good chance he stays and if he does he should go very well. He should also race prominently which will suit.

Sojourn

Not seen since finishing 2nd last time out here before Christmas having previously won a hot handicap at Carlisle.

The runner up and 3rd both won next time out and the 4th was runner up on his next start so to beat those runners by 15 lengths is quite impressive.

Trainer Anthony Honeyball has previously stated that the horse is probably best fresh so the recent break should have done him so good. In fact Honeyball has an IV of 3.52 with handicap runners returning from a break of 60+ days so that’s another bonus.

He’s got very few miles on the clock and does have to prove his stamina over an extra couple of furlongs but it should be no issue. He’s tactically versatile and another very strong contender.

Lord Du Mesnil

A possible good each way place according to Instant Expert with some strong stats for the most important criteria. He has course form figures of 112 and that includes two course and distance efforts. He’s only 2lbs above his mark when 2nd in this last year.

He hasn’t been in quite the same form this season, having not run brilliantly in either run. This and/or the Grand National have probably been the aim all season so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he steps forward from that form but he does come with risks attached given those two runs so isn’t quite the each way play he might have looked.

Achille

Runner up behind Notachance on his latest start, which came off the back of a 427 day break. Given he could come on for that run and is 3lbs better off with the winner for a half length defeat he’d have a fair chance of reversing form and looks a possible value play at the odds given his form line with the favourite.

He’s clearly not been easy to train but he’s been consistent on the track when getting there in one piece so his problems shouldn’t be too off putting. Reverting to slightly more aggressive tactics than last time out should suit and he’s very much respected.

Potter Legend

Potters Legend looked like he may be unsuited by the way the race will be run in the pace map and there were also some question marks when looking at Instant Expert, namely the going. He has won three times in his career on soft but he hasn’t won in six runs on heavy so the heavy in places is a concern. He’s a previous course winner but he doesn’t look amazingly handicapped and is yet to fully convince at the more extreme trips so there are enough negatives to go against him.

Ramses De Teillee

Beat reliable yardstick Yala Enki in November but has struggled twice in similar contests to this on his last two runs. He’s a previous course winner in a small field so perhaps the return to this venue will spark a return to form.

It's worth noting that trainer David Pipe is in excellent form at the moment, notably producing an A/E of 2.57 in the past 14 days. It’s possible that helps him return to form too but on the whole he remains a risky proposition.

Perfect Candidate

Perfect Candidate also looked a fair each way shout according to Instant Expert but he’s the complete outsider in the field. He’s gone up 8lbs for winning a course and distance handicap by a procession in which not many handled the conditions. He’s never finished worse than 2nd in three course and distance runs and the only real negative is this is a very exposed 14yo against some well handicapped rivals. If the ground was to deteriorate further he’d look a very interesting each way option but he’s going to need at least a couple of these progressive rivals to fail to give their running to win this.

Verdict

If the going was predominantly heavy on Saturday then Perfect Candidate would be the value each way call.

Notachance, Enqarde and Sojourn are the most interesting trio longer term. Notachance is really solid and looks to have a really good chance, Enqarde has a bit more risk attached but still has plenty of upside (potentially even more than Notachance) and Sojourn still looks well handicapped but was beaten last time out and does still have to prove he stays this extra couple of furlongs.

The value against the favourite though is surely Achille at 9/1. With that last run under his belt and a change to more positive tactics than were used last time he could potentially improve past Notachance, in the short term at least.

Allmankind reigns in Kingmaker contest

Allmankind survived a scare at the penultimate obstacle to remain unbeaten over fences in the Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

Dan Skelton’s five-year-old adopted his usual front-running tactics, but Harry Skelton did not seem to be going out of his comfort zone in front.

A feature of his first two victories this season, including at Grade One level last time out, has been his accurate jumping but this time around there were a couple of scruffy leaps.

In testing ground, he was perhaps not quite as exuberant at his fences, but was still able to get away from the obstacles quicker than his rivals.

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Cheddleton soon dropped away, but Sky Pirate was still in contention heading to the last fence in the back straight.

Allmankind (4-7 favourite) met that fence spot on and then got away quickly, but he still had to survive a blunder at the second last before victory was sealed.

Sky Pirate stuck to his task, but Allmankind galloped all the way to the line, coming home 17 lengths clear.

Dan Skelton said: “I was happy with the result, but all the way round it was a little concerning. The ground is testing here and he got stuck in the jumps a little.

“You can’t be asking for too many big jumps on this ground and that’s why he couldn’t get into a rhythm as he sometimes does.

“He showed a great attitude to get stuck in, he put his head down for the line. He won quite authoritatively in the end.

“He showed today he can get himself into some unusual positions at the fences and knows how to get out of he them and survive them. That is vital. That is something else he has learned today.

“I’ve no concerns about his durability or suitability, but we’re taking on two monsters (Shishkin and Energumene) in a month’s time (in the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival).”

Harry Skelton said: “(I’m) delighted, job done. The ground is really hard work. We got stuck in it a bit, but he’s pulled right away going to the line.

“He’s a remarkable horse really. He just doesn’t know when to give in. He’s done brilliantly.

“At the second last, he was probably getting stuck in the ground. When you have frost covers down, that is what it does to it. It’s the toughest ground he’s run on, but he went away well at the line.

“To come off the Flat and achieve what he’s done is brilliant. Delighted for the owners. They will be happy.”

Quinn ‘gutted’ over Pink Sheets’ injury-enforced retirement

Mick Quinn has been left “gutted” after injury forced the retirement of his stable star Pink Sheets.

The seven-year-old hurdler had won her last four races, including a Listed event at Newbury in fine style in November.

Quinn and owner Kenny Bruce were dreaming of the Cheltenham Festival. But a problem – which Quinn believes manifested itself at Newbury – is serious enough to end her racing days.

“I’m gutted. It’s hugely frustrating for everyone, the owner, myself and the staff – we’d waited so long for another stakes horse,” said Quinn.

“It appeared after her last race – a suspensory has split, but it’s looped round to the fetlock. She’s sound now, but there’s a zero percent chance of her taking full training.

“It’s an unusual one, but funnily enough the vet had seen it in a decent Flat mare as well. So it’s not worth waiting a year, because it could go again and there was a chance she wouldn’t make a mare.

“We gave her three weeks after Newbury, then she was cantering for two weeks back in training but went lame again. So it was probably bubbling from the Newbury race.

“What makes it even more frustrating is she’s never had a lame day since we’ve had her. We’ve had to pick our chins up off the ground.

“When you get a nice horse every asks about her. She’s going to be covered by Jack Hobbs anyway, and hopefully her offspring jump as well as she did.”

No hurry to decide on Festival outing for Roseys Hollow

Connections are in no rush to decide whether to send Roseys Hollow to next month’s Cheltenham Festival following her impressive victory at Fairyhouse on Monday.

Bought by leading owner JP McManus after winning a Cork bumper on her racecourse debut last spring, the Jonathan Sweeney-trained seven-year-old was subsequently beaten on her first two starts over hurdles before making it third time lucky at Fairyhouse last month.

Roseys Hollow faced a step up in class for the Grade Three Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle, but proved too strong for hot favourite Royal Kahala, leading to several bookmakers promoting the winner to ante-post favouritism for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in the Cotswolds.

Sweeney said: “She seems fine since the race – I’m very happy with her.

“She’s the first mare I’ve trained for JP. I recommended her to Frank (Berry, owner’s racing manager) prior to her winning in Cork as we always liked her.”

Asked whether Cheltenham would be next on the agenda, the trainer added: “No decision has been made and no plans have been made yet.

“I had a runner in the Champion Bumper last year (Mahler Allstar). He was my first runner at the Festival.

“We’ll take it one day at a time with this mare and talk to the lads and put a plan together.”

Altior to bypass Newbury and take direct Festival route

Nicky Henderson has confirmed Altior will sidestep next Sunday’s rescheduled fixture at Newbury and head straight for the Cheltenham Festival, while stablemate Champ is set for a surprise outing in the Betfair Cheltenham Free Bet Pot Builder Game Spirit Chase.

The Seven Barrows handler had intended to let Altior bid for a fourth victory in the Game Spirit ahead of aiming to wrestle back his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase next month, while Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Champ was due to make his seasonal reappearance in the Betfair Denman Chase on the same card.

However, with the cold snap causing the entire meeting to be pushed back eight days, Henderson has revised running plans.

In a statement posted on his Twitter feed on Sunday, he said: “First of all I would like to congratulate Newbury, the sponsors, the BHA and ITV for rearranging yesterday’s Super Saturday card.

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“They have done a fantastic job under difficult circumstances and we are keen to support the meeting as best as we can, so with that in mind, the intention is still for Buzz, Mister Coffey and now possibly Fred as well to take their chance in the Betfair Hurdle.

“With regards to Altior and Champ, under the current circumstances and having discussed the situation in detail with all connections involved, we have come to the conclusion that Altior will head straight to the Cheltenham Festival without a run beforehand.

“He is in excellent form, but he does tend to take his races quite hard and we have therefore decided to continue his preparation at home and almost certainly an away-day at some stage in the next 10 days.”

Champ will be taking a sizeable drop in trip to an extended two miles in the Game Spirit, but Henderson feels it is the correct call with a tilt at Gold Cup glory in mind.

He added: “We have to decided to change things around with Champ, very much for the same reason and our close proximity to the Festival.

Champ after winning at last year's Cheltenham Festival
Champ after winning at last year’s Cheltenham Festival (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“He will now drop back down to two miles and contest the Game Spirit, instead of the Denman Chase.

“He hasn’t run for a year, so we could be in danger that three miles may be slightly too far for his first run of the season. He is a fresh horse and can be quite free in his races, so it would be harder to curtail enthusiasm and you’re never going to take as much out over two miles as you are over three.

“He could be keen and do too much, so in the interest of the Gold Cup being his ultimate goal, it is preferable to run over a shorter distance, which could stop him having a harder race than necessary and also help eliminate the risk of the bounce factor.

“He was a very useful horse over two and two and a half miles last season and I think that the Game Spirit could suit him well, both in the short term and the long term.”

Nicholls expecting tough task against ‘nearly unbeatable’ Chacun

Paul Nicholls is under no illusions about the task facing defending champion Politologue in next month’s Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – hailing red-hot favourite Chacun Pour Soi as “nearly unbeatable”.

Politologue provided the Ditcheat handler with a joint-record sixth victory in the two-mile showpiece at the Cheltenham Festival last March, and made a successful start to the current campaign by bagging his second Tingle Creek at Sandown.

However, the grey was beaten by First Flow on his latest outing in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase – and having witnessed the Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi trounce his rivals at last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival, Nicholls admits his charge has plenty on his plate.

Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme, Nicholls said: “Chacun Pour Soi looks nearly unbeatable on his run at Leopardstown the other day.

“He has got to act at Cheltenham – it’s a slightly different track and that is the only question mark I can see.

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“Politologue always gives his all and is the most genuine and tough horse. I think this year will be his sixth Cheltenham Festival.

“But if Chacun Pour Soi does turn up in really top form, he’s going to be hard for us all to beat.

“Politologue does like Cheltenham, which is a big plus, but I think he’s got plenty to do.”

Bravemansgame is one of Paul Nicholls' leading hopes for the Cheltenham Festival
Bravemansgame is one of Paul Nicholls’ leading hopes for the Cheltenham Festival (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

During an extensive interview, Nicholls confirmed his Challow Hurdle winner Bravemansgame firmly on course for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at next month’s Festival, while the improving Barbados Buck’s is “in the mix” for the Albert Bartlett.

Of Bravemansgame, he said: “He’s in good form and nice and fresh. He had four runs up to and including the Challow Hurdle at Christmas and we just decided to keep him fresh after that.

“He worked well on Saturday and is very fit. We’ll probably have an away-day somewhere with him and I couldn’t be happier with him.

“Physically, he just keeps on improving.”

Nicholls’ Cheltenham team also includes Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Frodon, of whom he added: “He’s an amazing horse. He’s gone and won a King George VI Chase now on top of a Cotswold Chase and a Ryanair.

“He’s definitely in the mix. Nobody will ever believe Frodon will win a Gold Cup, but he keeps on surprising people.”

The multiple champion trainer confirmed the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell followed by a trip to Aintree as “the plan at the moment” for McFabulous, although testing conditions at Fontwell may prompt connections to consider the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

More immediately, Nicholls is looking forward to saddling both Cyrname and Master Tommytucker in next Saturday’s Betfair Ascot Chase.

“Master Tommytucker would be fine getting a lead if Cyrname goes a real gallop. They’re both free-going kind of horses, but Master Tommytucker doesn’t need to lead,” said Nicholls.

“Cyrname doesn’t need to lead now either. They’ll probably help each other.”

Druid’s Altar cut for Cheltenham following Naas triumph

Joseph O’Brien will be hoping lightning can strike for a third time in the case of Druid’s Altar.

The previous two winners of the Naas Rated Novice Hurdle, O’Brien’s Band Of Outlaws and Gordon Elliott’s Aramax, have gone on to win the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Sent off the 13-8 favourite, Druid’s Altar was hard pressed on the run-in by Zoffanien, but Hugh Morgan galvanised him and he ended up going away to win by two and a quarter lengths.

Betfair and Paddy Power cut the winner to 14-1 from 25s for the Boodles next month.

Assistant trainer Brendan Powell said: ““He has a good attitude and stays well. Hugh said he was better there with a bit of company, because he’s made it a few times.

“He was in top-class company on his last few races and it’s nice to get his head in front again. He’s done it nicely in the end and he seems to cope with most types of ground.

“He’s a big horse and will jump a fence some day.”

Owner JP McManus and jockey Mark Walsh enjoyed a treble on the card, instigated by expensive French purchase Gentleman De Mee (2-7 favourite), trained by Willie Mullins, in the second division of the Naas Business Club Members Maiden Hurdle on his Irish debut.

Mullins said: “He had a setback early in the season, so I hadn’t as much done as I would have liked. It was pure natural ability what he did there.

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“He jumped well, a bit green looking at the Irish hurdles, even though he’s schooled over them before. Mark thought he was in control at all stages and I’m very happy with the performance.

“He’s in the Supreme and the Ballymore, and to me he’d be looking more like a Ballymore horse. I’ll see what connections want to do, but I think he’ll improve as he goes up in trip.”

Mullins and Walsh also teamed up to win the feature Opera Hat Chase with Elimay, while Walsh then rode Elliott’s Minella Till Dawn (12-1) to victory in the Naas Handicap Chase.

Elliott said: “He’s a bit of a monkey, but he has plenty of ability. Mark knows him well and gave him a good ride today. He’s a bit hot and cold and thankfully it worked out today.

“He missed the fifth-last and got a bit close to the last, but other than that he wasn’t bad. We’ll try to find something similar.”

Elliott also took the concluding bumper with Eyewitness (13-2), ridden by Jamie Codd.

The trainer said: “He’s come forward a lot from his first run. He was very green the last day and we could ride him the way we wanted to ride him today.

“He stays and is a nice horse. He probably doesn’t want real winter ground.

“He could mix it between the Flat and bumpers and will go over hurdles. He’ll do everything.”

Hurricane Cliff (13-8) floored the odds-on Captain Kangaroo in division one of the Naas Business Club Members Maiden Hurdle.

The pair jumped two out together, before the winner just began to assert and ultimately was always doing enough from the last to prevail by two and a half lengths in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.

Winning trainer Henry de Bromhead said: “I was a bit disappointed with him in Leopardstown at Christmas so we said we’d sit with him and wait a bit longer. He ran well at Punchestown and it’s lovely to see him go and do it here.

“He’s learning all the time and is a lovely big scopey horse. He should be good over a fence in time.

“We’ll aim for the festivals here later on in the spring.”

A gamble on the Charles Byrnes-trained Rough Terrain went astray in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle, with the 2-1 favourite beaten when taking a tired fall at the last.

The race was won by Philip Dempsey’s Fou Diligence (7-1) under Tommy Brett.

“He’d been knocking on the door and you’d be hoping he hadn’t missed his chance. He was consistent last year and then got a knee injury and it took him a while to come back,” said Dempsey.

You Raised Me Up is already eight and had finished third in the Ladbrokes Hurdle at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival.

However, he only won for the first time over hurdles in September and followed up when finishing with a late flourish in the Connolly’s Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Novice Hurdle – a race the same connections won with City Island in 2019 who went on to win the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle next time out.

“We were waiting for a bit of nicer ground and I didn’t think we were going to get it,” said Brassil after the success of his 9-2 chance.

“Anyway I wanted to run him here to qualify for the final in Punchestown and also a stepping stone to running in the County Hurdle in Cheltenham.

“Sean and Bernadine (Mulryan, owners) like to go to the festival meetings.”

Naas victor Elimay states Cheltenham case

Elimay booked her ticket to the inaugural running of the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham with victory in the BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Mares Chase at Naas as she highlighted a treble for Mark Walsh.

The grey finished a creditable second to stablemate and Ryanair Chase favourite Allaho last time out – and with Willie Mullins seemingly having his strongest ever team heading to the Festival, Elimay made sure she will be on the list of many with a smooth display.

Mullins’ Yukon Lil and Gordon Elliott’s Shattered Love appeared keen to make it a test of stamina, as both have form over further than this two miles – but so does Elimay, and she was able to cruise into contention on the home turn.

The three jumped the second-last in line, but then Elimay was given just an inch of rein by Walsh and she put the race to bed before jumping the last.

Those who backed her at 8-15 had little to worry about as the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old strolled to a five and a half length win.

Coral trimmed Elimay into 3-1 from 4s for the Mares’ Chase, while Betfair go the same price from 7-2.

“That was a nice race to win and shows up Allaho’s form. It’s great to win the Opera Hat in honour of Valerie Cooper’s good mare and hopefully this mare might some day be as good as her,” said Mullins.

“Mark was happy to let the pace materialise up front and the ground is quite boggy down the back. The further the race went, the better she was going and Mark was very pleased how she finished.

“That’s a nice stepping stone towards Cheltenham. I’ll have a word with connections, but I would imagine that will send us towards the Mares’ Chase.”

Walsh also won the second division of the Naas Business Club Members Maiden Hurdle on Gentleman De Mee (2-7 favourite) for Mullins and the Naas Handicap Chase on the Gordon Elliott-trained Minella Till Dawn (12-1), both in the McManus colours.

The Conditional on course for rearranged Denman Chase

David Bridgwater has confirmed The Conditional an intended runner in the rescheduled Denman Chase at Newbury next weekend, ahead of a likely return to the Cheltenham Festival.

The nine-year-old claimed a narrow victory in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the showpiece meeting last season and has run two sound races in defeat so far this term – finishing third in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and second in the Silver Cup at Ascot.

While the weather has disrupted running plans since the turn of the year, Bridgwater reports his stable star to be in rude health as he prepares to clash with dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux and the exciting Champ.

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He said: “He’ll be going to Newbury next weekend, all being well. There’s not many races left for him really, so he’ll be entered again and we’ll try again.

“The horse is in fantastic order, but he’ll need to be.

“He was going to go to Cheltenham for the Cotswold Chase at the end of January, but when it got moved to Sandown last Saturday I didn’t want to run because I’m not sure he wants to go right-handed.

“He went to Ascot and didn’t really like that, so I didn’t think he’d like Sandown.”

Bridgwater expects to have a clearer idea after The Conditional’s run at Newbury as to whether his entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup is realistic or not, adding: “If you’re not in, you ain’t got the choice.

“Some of the Gold Cup horses have been bombing out and disappointing. If some of them bomb out on the big day, it would give you a chance of nicking a bit of prize-money.

“There’s some good Irish horses, but if it was just the English horses in the race, I’d fancy us to be placed.

“He’s in the Gold Cup, he’s in the Grand National and he’ll be entered for the same race he won at the Festival last year as well.

“We’ll either be going to be back to that race, which would be great, or if he overperforms on Sunday, then we might look at the Gold Cup, which would be the owner’s dream.”

Miss This Lingfield Runner At Your Peril!

The cold snap continues to claim fixtures on a daily basis, even the all weather fixtures, but Lingfield looks highly likely to survive a morning inspection and we’ll go there for Saturday’s preview.

The 3.10pm, run over 10f, will now be shown live on ITV4 thanks to the abandonments of Newbury and Warwick and despite being a relatively lowly class 5 race, that TV coverage should make it a much more popular betting heat than it would have been otherwise.

Pace

Over several distances at Lingfield you see a pace bias towards front runners, is that the case over this distance of ten furlongs?

We do see a slight edge towards those closer to the pace but this distance looks a lot fairer than many others. The win percentages and place percentages favour prominent racers but there isn’t much between front runners and those from mid division which gives the majority of runners a very fair chance.

It’s worth noting that those that are held up are worse off for all metrics so extreme waiting rides around here should be avoided where possible.

Of course the pace of each individual race has a huge bearing on any potential pace biases so the pace map for this race should be examined closely.

There isn’t a whole lot of pace in this race and it’s unlikely to be a well run contest that favours hold up horses. Convertible and Amsby are comfortable racing prominently but neither are habitual front runners so there is every chance that prominent is the most advantaged position in this once again.

Draw

This race is run over the same course and distance as the Winter Derby and the Easter Classic on All Weather Finals Day and in those races a high draw is often talked about as a big negative.

There does seem to be a slight disadvantage for higher drawn runners in this field size. PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) is most likely to flag a draw bias and a figure of 0.48 for high draws compared to 0.51 for both low and middle suggests a small disadvantage but no major concerns.

The win percentage figures for high draw runners are a bit more concerning though, only 4.7% of high drawn winners have won in the data sample compared to a 12.39% win percentage for low draws and a 12.18% win ratio for middle draws. The place percentage uses three times as much as the win percentage figures and things are more even looking at place percentage. High draws place 25.64% of the time and that’s only around 6% lower than low and middle draws (which are once again extremely similar) which backs up the impression that a high draw is a slight disadvantage but not a factor that should be used to completely write off a runner.

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Looking at the individual stall data should give some more insight.

Despite a high draw generally being a slight disadvantage, the worst individual stall as far as PRB is concerned is stall 1 with a PRB of just 0.44. This stall 1 issue is found at other distances too (notably 1 mile) and is possibly down to patiently ridden horses from stall 1 rarely getting a clear run.

The poor results for stall 1 will have an affect on the low draw data so the fact that low draws do well on the whole suggests stalls 2 and 3 should be marked up somewhat. Stall 3 in fact has the best PRB (0.56) ahead of stalls 2, 4 and 6 which all have a PRB of 0.53.

The above image is sorted by PRB3, which combines data from the two adjacent stalls to flatten the curve and remove data anomalies. This suggests that a low to middle draw is ideal as long as you aren’t drawn in stall 1. On the whole though no stall should be considered a coffin box.

Pace And Draw Combination

The pace and draw combination graphics on Geegeez Gold are excellent in showcasing possible hidden advantages and disadvantages.

This particular data set seems to show that being on the outside of the field around Lingfield’s fairly sharp circuit is quite the disadvantage and the reason why higher draws tend to perform less well than low and middle. The fact that front runners and hold up horses seem to be better at overcoming a high draw will be down to those run styles being more likely to get closer to the inside whilst high drawn prominent racers and mid division racers will be forced wide more often than not.

The Runners

We’ll take a look at the runners one by one in their early market order, starting with the most fancied and working our way down to any outsiders.

Stopnsearch

Beaten over course and distance on his last two runs but that doesn’t tell the full story for this lightly raced 4yo. He’s had just the two starts at 10f and he’s been a little unlucky in both. On the first occasion he was beaten less than 2 lengths having endured a bit of a nightmare passage in the straight and he followed that up by being beaten just a short head last time out.

He’s only gone up 2lbs for that last effort, which is probably fair given it didn’t look the strongest of contests. He wasn’t seen to best effect off a slow gallop but the likely front runner in this race is the same horse that made the running in his last race so he’s unlikely to get a stronger pace to chase this time around.

He’s clearly a leading contender on his last two runs and should go well again.

Convertible

Hugo Palmer does well with headgear changes and he seems to have found the key now with the tongue tie and visor combination for the previously inconsistent Convertible. He set a steady gallop last time out when 3rd behind Stopnsearch, a horse he also faced on his penultimate start too when he was a slightly fortunate half length ahead of that rival on that occasion.

He was beaten absolutely fair and square last time when getting the run of the race and assuming he gave his full running that day his chance of reversing form probably rides on Ryan Moore getting a better tune out of the horse. He’s capable of running well again but makes less appeal than Stopnsearch, even at the bigger price. Stall 1 may also be a slight concern.

Capla Crusader

Seemed to step up last time out when winning, switching from extreme hold up tactics to making all. He's a possible pace angle again here despite what the pace map tells us having run so well with those tactics employed. That was his second run for a new trainer that day and it seems everything came together.

He very much stole that race by kicking into the bend and although previously rated 9lbs higher he never went close off those higher marks and a 7lb rise for that last win, which probably flattered him a little, might well be enough to find him out. He may be able to get an easy lead once again though.

Avorisk Et Perils

A dual course winner, representing Gary Moore, a trainer who has been in excellent form over the winter. On his latest start he finished half a length in front of Capla Crusader and is now 6lbs better off. Capla Crusader clearly improved from first run to second run for his new trainer but that’s an important form line to note. What’s even more interesting is that Capla Crusader wasn’t the only winner to come out of that race. The winner and the 3rd both won next time out as well plus the runner up was a half length 2nd on his next start. That’s clearly hot handicap form and Avorisk Et Peril was held up in his run a couple of times so can be marked up a little too.

He’s run well here on several occasions and had various excuses for some poor runs here too. He’s run twice over course and distance off this mark, winning one of those and running very well in the aforementioned hot handicap last time. He’s clearly capable off this mark here and could represent plenty of each way value.

Stall 8 isn’t completely ideal and he wouldn’t want to find himself too far back but he’s sat in mid division often enough (including last time out) to suggest that’s how he’ll be ridden in this. Hopefully he doesn’t find himself caught on the outside of runners.

Amsby

Handicap debutant Amsby is the big unknown in this. His first two runs came here at Lingfield and they included a one length 2nd to Group One Power. That horse was competitive off marks in the low 80s last season but those runs were over middle distances and he gave Amsby a beating giving him 7lbs over a mile so Amsby looks only fairly treated off 69 based on that form.

Amsby wasn’t seen for 291 days before being beaten 13 lengths at Kempton in December. That was a decent enough contest but he still ran below par and does need to improve to be competitive off this mark now.

Capriolette

A consistent mare on the all weather that brings course form figures of 1344 into this. She’s been defeated on all three tries over this course and distance but they all came off higher marks in races that have worked out fairly well so it can’t really be said she doesn’t stay (she’s placed over a furlong further at Kempton). She also probably had too much use made of her on her latest run here.

There is plenty of form in the book that suggests she’s very capable of winning off this sort of mark and her ability to run well over a mile could be of use here if there isn’t much early pace. The cheekpieces she’s worn on her last two starts are left off but she’s run well plenty of times without headgear so that’s no real concern.

She’s overpriced here at around 10/1 at the time of writing but looks more of a place only bet in this company.

Aztec Dreams

Second run after a wind op and a 438 day break. Given that break this 8yo ran really well in 5th over course and distance last time out, beaten less than three lengths. It’s difficult to know what to make of his previous French form or how much he’ll improve for his latest outing but he’s not without a chance in this. He will need to improve on his comeback run though.

Bealach

Probably Gary Moore’s second string in this, Bealach went from racing over 12f on polytrack to racing over 1m on fibresand on his stable debut last time out. It’s therefore no real surprise he was an 18 lengths last in that race. This contest will tell us more about his well being but even if he bounces back to form, 10f round here off a slow early pace will probably still be too sharp. One to watch with a view to possibly backing next time out when going up in trip again.

Compass Point

A surprise winner two starts ago over course and distance but far less convincing last time when well beaten behind Capla Crusader. He’s dropped just 1lb for that and would need to run better than his recent win to take this so he’s opposable even if bouncing back to form.

Decompartmentalize

He hadn’t shown much in Ireland before moving to Pat Phelan and he continued that trend when last and well beaten on handicap debut for his new trainer last time out at Kempton at 100/1. Huge odds again here and with good reason.

Verdict

Capriolette is interesting and capable of taking a slightly weaker race than this but this might be a little competitive for her.

Stopnsearch is the obvious one with few negatives and if Covertible and Capla Crusader were to compete for the lead that might set things up nicely for him. He’s short enough in the early betting though.

The one who makes most appeal is Averisk Et Perils at around 10/1 early. I’m a big fan of ‘hot form’ and his latest effort certainly fits that profile with three next time out winners and a next time out runner up from the first six finishers. He’s won off this mark, over this course and distance and if able to get a decent early position he should have as much chance of winning this as the favourite, at much bigger odds and an each way price. There is a fair chance he finds himself wider than ideal though which could be enough to cost him victory.

Metier heading straight to Cheltenham for Supreme tilt

Harry Fry has revealed ante-post favourite Metier will sidestep the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Sunday week and head straight to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Mastercraftsman gelding is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles this term, completing his hat-trick with a runaway Grade One success in last month’s Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

Fry was preparing to let his stable star step into handicap company for the lucrative contest on Saturday – but with the cold snap leading to the entire meeting put back eight days, the trainer has confirmed a change of plan.

He said: “The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is very much our number one target and while we were happy to have a go at the Betfair en route, next weekend is only just over three weeks before the Festival.

“It’s not like he was going to the Betfair rated 139 – he’s rated 149 and already a Grade One winner.

“We think he’s got a very good chance in the Supreme, so that’s where our focus is.

“Newbury and the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) and everyone involved deserve a lot of credit for rescheduling the whole fixture, but sadly it doesn’t fit in with our plan for Metier – it wasn’t to be.”

Metier is the shortest-priced British-trained runner for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 7-1, with the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It the 7-4 favourite following his second Grade One success at Leopardstown last weekend.

Fry added: “Appreciate It probably wasn’t as visually impressive as he was at Christmas, but you still can’t knock him – he’s a dual Grade One winner.

“I don’t think we should dismiss Ballyadam either, who obviously didn’t run as well as he can at Christmas, but certainly ran much better to be second to Appreciate It the other day.

“As always there will be formidable opposition coming from the other side of the Irish Sea, which is another reason why we want to make sure we have our horse fresh and absolutely A1 for the big day.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Russell upbeat on prospect of Festival return after injury

Davy Russell remains confident he will return to competitive action in time to ride at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

Russell – who won the Gold Cup aboard Lord Windermere in 2014 – has been on the sidelines since dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick in October aboard Doctor Duffy.

Having returned to riding out last month, the 41-year-old is keen to get back on the racecourse before the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds, which starts four weeks on Tuesday.

Russell said on Friday: “It’s progressing well. I went to see a specialist today and had a bit of physio – and everything is good.

“I’m waiting on a report on a scan, and it will probably be next week before I can put a date on it, but it’s all looking good.”

Asked whether he was hoping to get in some match practice before the Festival, he added: “That’s exactly it. Hopefully I can get back a week or two beforehand.”

Having been stuck at home for most of the season, Russell was delighted to be back on a racecourse for last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

Davy Russell was a winner on Envoi Allen at last year's Cheltenham Festival
Davy Russell was a winner on Envoi Allen at last year’s Cheltenham Festival (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Watching the pulsating action live only whetted his appetitive further to get back in the saddle, though.

He added: “It was unbelievable – there was some marvellous racing. It was a helluva weekend.

“I think the novice hurdles in particular were very strong, and you had horses in them that could go different directions.

“There were a lot of competitive races, and I would think there’ll be plenty of winners to come out of them.”

Elimay to put Festival credentials on line at Naas

Elimay bids to confirm herself a leading contender for Cheltenham Festival honours by providing Willie Mullins with a fourth successive victory in the BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Mares Chase at Naas.

The JP McManus-owned grey has had to make do with the runner-up spot in her two previous outings this season – going down by a nose to Buildmeupbuttercup in a Listed hurdle at Punchestown, before chasing home another stablemate in Allaho in a Grade Two chase at Thurles.

On the strength of that most recent piece of form, Elimay heads ante-post lists for the inaugural Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham next month with several bookmakers, but must first come through Saturday’s Listed assignment in County Kildare.

The owner’s racing manager, Frank Berry, said: “She’s a very consistent mare. Shattered Love will be no easy mare to take on, but Elimay is in good form and hopefully she’ll give a good account of herself.

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“We’ll get this weekend out of the way before we make any plans. She’s in a few races over there (Cheltenham), but let’s see how we go on Saturday first.

“Willie is happy with her, so hopefully all goes well.”

Elimay concedes 5lb to each of her four rivals, with Mullins also saddling Yukon Lil as he aims to add to the recent triumphs of Benie Des Dieux, Pravalaguna and Cut The Mustard in the two-mile feature on a card which is subject to a 7.30am inspection because of forecast snow and ice.

Shattered Love on her way to winning at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival
Shattered Love on her way to winning at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival (Tim Goode/PA)

The biggest threat to the Closutton pair is the Gordon Elliott-trained Shattered Love, who is already a Festival heroine, having landed what is now the Marsh Novices’ Chase in the Cotswolds three years ago.

In the twilight of her racing career at the age of 10, the daughter of Yeats switches back to fences following a disappointing effort when last seen contesting a handicap hurdle at Navan in early December.

“This trip is a bit on the short side for Shattered Love, but I am keen to get a run into her before the new mares’ chase at Cheltenham, and this looked a nice option for her,” Elliott told Betfair.

“She’s in good form and has been ready to run again for the last few weeks, so I’m looking forward to getting her out again – and despite the distance not being ideal, I’d expect a good run from her.

“Elimay will be hard to beat, though.”

Elliott’s second string Tintangle and John Ryan’s outsider Waitnsee complete the field.

Elliott added: “Tintangle is a disappointing mare. She has plenty of ability and would be more than good enough to play a leading role here at her best, but you just don’t know what to expect from her.

“After a good run back over hurdles at Navan in December, she was going to be well beaten when coming down at the second-last in a mares handicap hurdle at Leopardstown last weekend.

“She did run well in this last year (finished second) and hopefully she will do so again, but she does have her own ideas about things.”

First Flow building towards Champion Chase

Kim Bailey is gradually building First Flow back to his peak for a crack at the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

The nine-year-old has had a relatively easy time since booking his place in the two-mile showpiece with last month’s victory over reigning champion Politologue in the Grade One Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

With the Champion Chase now less than five weeks away, Bailey is preparing First Flow for the big day.

“He’s good. He’s started cantering this week, so I’m happy with him,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“I won’t be taking him for an away day. He’s an easy horse to get fit.”

First Flow is a top-priced 14-1 for Festival honours, with Chacun Pour Soi a shade of odds-on after extending his unbeaten season to date with an impressive victory in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.

It was another eyecatching performance from Willie Mullins’ charge, for which he has rightly been lauded – but all Bailey and others can do is prepare their contenders for the challenge ahead.

Asked for his reading of Chacun Pour Soi’s latest win, Bailey said: “I don’t think I need add to the accolades people have given him.

“Getting our horse there in one piece is the most important thing.”

Gold Cup prep options open for Lostintranslation

Lostintranslation is likely to run at either Newbury or Ascot ahead of a second tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Third behind Al Boum Photo in last year’s renewal of the blue riband, Colin Tizzard’s charge has disappointed in two starts this season – finishing a well-beaten third in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, before being pulled up in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

With the Tizzard string showing signs of a revival, highlighted by the success of 2018 Gold Cup hero Native River at Sandown last weekend, hopes were high Lostintranslation could get back on track in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday – before it was rescheduled on Sunday February 21.

Joe Tizzard with Gold Cup contender Lostintranslation
Joe Tizzard with Gold Cup contender Lostintranslation (David Davies/PA)

The high-profile meeting’s new slot was confirmed after a Friday morning inspection which found the ground frozen – and Lostintranslation could still make an appearance next Sunday, although the previous afternoon’s Betfair Ascot Chase is viewed as a viable alternative.

Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, said on Thursday: “He’s in at Newbury and he’s also got an entry at Ascot, so he’ll run in one of them.

“We think he’s in quite good form and we’d quite like to get a run in before Cheltenham.

“He’ll go to Ascot or Newbury next weekend, one of the two.”

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