It's the first day of Cheltember, dear reader, and let's get in the groove with a bit of Newbury action. The first half of this month will be race previews all the way, as we aim to get some ante-post tickets in the wallet ahead of the big four days.
I'll also be mentioning all the latest bookmaker giveaways and freebies in the run up, and during, The Festival. These things are worth £100's literally, and can literally make the difference between winning and losing at Cheltenham. Literally. 😉
It's all about value as you know, and free money/free bets represent the very best I know of in racing..! One other way of getting some big free bets this month is to enter the geegeez Tipping League. It's free to enter, and Betbright - those mad fools who offered double the odds on the big race last week - have kindly offered to sponsor March's competition. Click here for the Tipping League, and its simple rules.
OK, on with today's Newbury action, consisting of tips and a placepot perm. The ground is heavy, so conditions will be testing all round, and it all kicks off at 1.30pm.
1.30 2m5f Handicap Hurdle (Class 4)
Ten go to post and the ones proven in the ground are Red Devil Lads, Westaway and Minella Definitely. Red Devil Lads is ridden by Tony McCoy, and is the 11/4 favourite. As such, if I can, I'll be trying to get him beaten. Why? Because he is little value in such a competitive race, especially when you consider he's going to try to lead from tape to jamstick, and he might not get his own way on the front.
Indeed, Red Devil Lads is yet to win a race, albeit from just four starts under rules. He looks a bit paceless so far over a variety of trips and if he's set to the front, I'd expect at least one horse to have more left in reserve as they get to the latter part of the long Newbury straight.
Westaway is also a maiden, but has run his best races on heavy ground and from off the pace. This looks to be his sort of trip and he was only beaten four lengths last time in higher class. At around 11/1, he looks a cracking each way bet with conditions close to optimal.
Minella Definitely has done something all of these haven't, which is win a race on heavy ground. That immediately makes him of interest, despite an ostensibly indifferent season. But, look more deeply into the form book, and you'll find a very good bet. You see, this fellow was rated 131 over hurdles after winning that heavy ground novice event, and was last seen over timber in Listed company - this is a Class 4!
Since then, he's fallen twice and finished fifth and seventh, all in chases and all on good to soft. In other words, all on what were probably unsuitable conditions. Today, he is rated a full stone below that last hurdles run, on a tempting 117. 7/1 looks the bet.
King's Bayonet, the second favourite, has done all his winning and placing on good ground and has been absent for almost two years.
Selection: Minella Definitely 7/1 BetVictor
Best each way: Westaway 11/1 betfred
Placepot: A - 3, 5, 7
2.05 3m 110yds Handicap Hurdle (Class 3)
Another handicap hurdle, this time in slightly higher class and over slightly further. My starting point is the same: who are the heavy ground hounds with the class to get the job done? The best answer is Brackloon High, a nine year old who went close over course and distance on heavy last time, and in a higher class race. He looks sure to get a tow into the race, and should make the frame.
Who Owns Me, with an impressive five wins from ten handicap hurdles, including at this trip on this ground in this grade, is the next best. He has to carry top weight, which won't be easy here, but he is well suited after that return to form last time.
Again, the booking of McCoy for Lawney Hill's Billy Twyford looks interesting, but this fellow is not obviously well handicapped, nor does he obviously want this sort of turf, and he ran poorly last time. There's a good chance that more is expected today, but nothing in the form book especially supports that prospect.
Selection: Brackloon High 3/1 BetVictor
Next best: Who Owns Me 4/1 SkyBet
Placepot: A - 1, 4
2.40 3m2f 110yds Handicap Chase (Class 2)
A veterans' handicap chase. I do love these race, and think they're an excellent innovation. The trick for punters is to separate the horses that have been 'out of form' from those who are 'gone at the game', and that is not always easy, given their form profiles can look identical!
Take a horse like Master Overseer, with form figures of 1P1P-P. Where do you start? Well, the key to this chap is that he needs to lead and, when he doesn't, he sulks. When he does, however, he has a strong winning profile. Of course, there's always the chance that at eleven, he's regressive. Today, he will have to share the donkey work on the front with Carruthers, a far more resilient chap, and a more obvious bet as a consequence.
But this is Master Overseer's trip (three from three), and he likes heavy ground (three wins from seven); and he could conceivably 'own' the early pace. In that context, 14/1 is too big, win only (seven wins from 14 career starts, and just one place!)
Carruthers looks highly likely to run his race, and heavy ground holds no fears.
Of the lower weighted horses, Burton Port is dropping like a stone down the handicap, and it could be he shows a resurgence of form at Cheltenham next time where he has two entries. I'd be happy enough that today is not quite the day for him.
Tullamore Dew looks more likely, though he doesn't win that often. From a placepot perspective, he could be interesting.
Selection: Master Overseer 14/1 BetVictor
Obvious Danger: Carruthers 9/4 bet365
Placepot: A - 1, 2 B - 6
3.15 2m 110yds Handicap Hurdle (Class 3)
Tiqris is impossible to leave off the ticket here despite a propensity to find one too good. His placed form under today's conditions is bombproof - 2/2 on heavy; 1/1 in Class 3; 2/2 at the track; 5/5 at two mile trips; and 1/1 in small fields. He's also a pound lower than his last win. He's a lone 'A' on the placepot, though from a win perspective, while hugely respecting his chance, I couldn't be tempted by 2/1 if there was anything else in the race remotely playable at bigger.
The something else could be the highly tried, and resurgent, Jumps Road. He's been running in Graded company against the likes of Melodic Rendez Vous (!) and The New One (!!!), and not been beaten that far. His record of two heavy ground wins, three Class 3 wins and four distance wins commands respect even though he's seven pounds higher than his last win, which came four starts back.
This looks a weak race, and last time out maiden scorer Bodega may come into calculations at the bottom of the weights. He seemed to appreciate the heavy ground that day, and gets a few pounds from the rest.
Selection: Jumps Road 6/1 Betbright
Most Likely Winner: Tiqris 2/1 PP
Placepot: A - 3 B - 2, 6
3.50 2m4f Handicap Chase (Grade 3).
The feature race of the day is the Grade 3 Greatwood Gold Cup, a contest in which Paul Nicholls has saddled the winner in six of the last eight years! He has Ulck du Lin and Rebel Rebellion, and only a fool would ignore their chances even before scanning its form. Whilst it is difficult to overlook such a stat, and indeed when going public with one's thoughts - on a blog, for instance - it may be even harder, Ulck du Lin's form in Graded races is abysmal. 0P98 is the string and he doesn't seem to be in any kind of form just now.
The positive on that is a rapid descent in the weights; the negative is a price of just 9/2 in a well-contested heat. Not for me, though it clearly wouldn't be the biggest shock if he bounced back off the lowest rating since he last won.
Rebel Rebellion is shouldered with top weight here, but has a far more compelling look. A winner two starts back in the Grand Sefton at Aintree, he ran well over a trip short of his best last time at Sandown, finishing third. Back to optimal distance, and on ground he's demonstrated affection for, he should go close even with 11-12 on his back.
Shangani has chances, though his winning record is pretty weak. Despite that, he's run consistently well in these sorts of races and is an automatic placepot choice without offering any temptation for a win bet.
Dashing George is an old boy at twelve, and he and connections may appear to be punching above their weight here. But he has a few things in his favour: firstly, he won last time out notching a verdict over Elenika; secondly, he gets seven pound for his jockey meaning he's got the least weight here; and thirdly, he likes to bowl along on the front, and could try to stretch them. His jockey, whilst a likable lad, is not the most stylish, but he may not need to be against some fairly hard to win with types.
Majala could plug on into the frame, if lasting out the trip, in a race I really don't like the look of.
Selection: Rebel Rebellion (tentative!) 6/1 Coral
Outsider with a squeak: Dashing George 10/1 BetVictor
Placepot: A - 1, 5 B - 2, 4, 6
4.25 2m2f 110yds Novices' Handicap Chase (Class 3)
A tricky puzzle to close out the placepot and, in truth, I'll not be betting here. Filed under waaaaay too hard, and I'm just trying to get something to claim a share of dividend.
Un Bon P'tit Gars drops in class today and back into novice company too and, though he lugs the most lead, he looks to hold a leading chance. A second to Arkle-bound Valdez - albeit on quicker turf - reads well in a race like this.
The booking of McCoy on a Frank Brennan-trained 10/1 shot is eye-catching to say the least. Sergeant Dick, the horse in question, is more experienced than most of these and is clearly expected to run well with such a noteworthy pilot recruited.
The Ould Lad is the probable plot here, if there is one. Given three runs in novice hurdles to get a handicap rating, he leaps straight into a novice handicap chase. That's another eye-catcher in a race full of lines between which punters are required to read. He looks likely to go well if jumping round.
Of the more exposed mob, Headly's Bridge and Cody Wyoming are of mild interest. The former is another going straight into a handicap on first chase start, and has plenty of heavy ground placed form over hurdles. A mark of 120 may not be a bargain but nor is it a death knell.
Cody Wyoming get the Nico de Boinville treatment today, and he is most definitely a jockey to follow. Cody is having his second start off a long break, and has had a nice rest since that first run back, when a decent third in deep ground. Trainer Heather Main can ready one, and he is yet another that could go well.
It's a bugger's muddle of a race on paper, and one where I'm happy not to bet.
Possible winner: The Ould Lad
Other possibles: The rest!
Placepot: A - 1, 6 B - 2, 3, 8
A's only: 3 x 2 x 2 x 1 x 2 x 2 = 48 bets
A's and B's: 3 x 2 x 3 x 3 x 5 x 5 = 1350 bets (!)
Ticket Builder perm: