Saturday's 1-2-3 finished 3-2-1, as Cloth Cap made light of being badly off at the weights. He made all and won rather easily if truth be told. So, close but not close enough for my liking, but we get to do it all over gain for Monday, where 'feature of the day' is free access to the pace tab for ALL races for ALL readers irrespective of membership status. We also offer everyone a full look at a selection of races for free every day and for Monday, they are...
- 1.20 Leopardstown
- 2.20 Leopardstown
- 2.45 Wetherby
- 3.15 Wetherby
The only handicap of the four above is the first of the two English races, so today's focus will be on the 2.45 Wetherby. It's a 10-runner, Class 5, Novice Handicap Chase over 1 mile 7.5 furlongs on good to soft ground and the top prize is a paltry £2,989.
I don't normally get too involved in these novice handicap chases, but there were plenty of reasons for avoiding the other three races.
Pure Country is a lightly-raced (2 x A/W, 3 x hrd) six year old gelding, whose best run came on his debut in October 2018, finishing 3rd (bt by 2L) of 13 over 1m4f at Kempton and it has been pretty much downhill since. Has been beaten by 50L, 15L and 39L over hurdles so far and unless a switch to chasing suddenly unearths some massive potential, I'm not expecting this one to live up to his father's superstar status.
Dexcite looks like one that punters might get dexcited (sorry!) about here. He won a couple of hurdles contests at similar trips to this and was second in a Class 4 handicap chase two starts ago on soft ground. He was going well in his latest run too but fell at the last when not far off the pace and a similar run to those last two would have him involved here.
Shady Oaks is still a maiden after 16 efforts over fences, but looked like his time was coming with back to back decent runs at Southwell inside a week in late November/early December, but struggled last out when dropped down to Class 4 over 2m4.5f on soft ground. We've better ground here, the drop in trip should help and he's down in class again. Could this be the day?
Rollerruler is another class dropping maiden, but was a runner-up at this grade two starts ago. He was beaten by just over five lengths over 2m on heavy ground at Carlisle, tiring in the mud. This is slightly shorter, the ground is quicker and he has been eased a pound by the assessor. Not one you'd instantly think "winner" about, but he's every chance in a poor race.
Follow Your Fire has actually won a race, getting home by a neck in a 2m4f C4 soft ground hurdle at Sedgefield five starts ago. Unfortunately, the weight he gained for that win has seen him finish 85L, 57L, 14L and 42L off the pace since and now tries the bigger obstacles for the first time off a mark 2lbs lower than his hurdle rating.
Gris de Pron was a runner-up beaten by 1.5 lengths over 2m3.5f (C4) and then won over 2m3f (C5) a dozen days later in late August 2019, both over hurdles but it hasn't gone well for him since. He had a 113-day break in late 2020 and returned to action and chasing (where he's now 0/13) at Southwell just before Christmas, where he probably needed the run, made a few errors and was pulled up before the last fence. Nearer the back than the front for me.
Go To Court is a 13-race maiden (6 x hrd, 7 x chs) who was pulled up in her last start just before Christmas 2020. In her other five efforts over fences in 2020 since moving to Joanne Foster's yard, she ran creditably but without much joy, losing each of the five by an average of around 16 lengths. I'd expect a similar result today and I'd guess her usual 5th or 6th place might be as good as she could hope for here.
Champion Chase is a fanciful bit of wishful thinking, I'd guess. No wins in nine over hurdles and 19 over fences, it's getting to a point where you think he'll retire a maiden, but he did run well a few times in early 2019 to early 2020, finishing 2243322, suggesting he could be one of those who place regularly without winning. He's actually made the frame in 10 of 19 starts over fences and was a decent enough third at Ffos Las last time out. It might say more about the quality of the race than the horse himself when I say he might be a possible E/W bet here, despite running from 4lbs out of the handicap.
Silken Moonlight also runs from 4lbs out of the handicap and has also failed to win any of her previous 14 starts, including 5 on the Flat, 3 on the A/W, 5 over hurdles and a bumper! She makes a chasing bow here, probably because it's the only thing she hasn't tried (and failed at!) yet. Her last three runs have been a Class 5, heavy ground 2m5.5f handicap hurdle, a 2m 0.5f Class 5 bumper and and Class 6, 1m6f A/W handicap. She has been beaten by 24L, 11L and 29L in those three and now is asked to tackle a Class 5 chase : she probably doesn't know whether she's coming or going, but I'm fairly confident she's doing nothing here.
And finally (most likely!), we have Rann of Kutch, who is another maiden mare making a chasing bow from out of the handicap after little joy elsewhere. 6th of 8 (67L) in a bumper was followed by defeats of 84L, 40L and 62L over hurdles to get her a handicap mark of 73, since when she has failed to complete both of her handicap runs. Not finishing last here will be deemed success, I think.
I accept that the above is a fairly damning critique of the runners here, but it has to be said sometimes. This is, unfortunately, standard pre-Cheltenham fare. Poor horses thrown together in poor contests, so why do we look at them? Quite simply, because one of these horses will actually go on and win a race and two others will make the frame. Admittedly, if they could all lose, I'm sure they'd find a way of doing that, but let's see if we can find something the market and other punters can't.
I'd normally turn to Instant Expert here to see which horses are most likely to relish conditions, but when the group has made the frame just 30 times from 157 runs (19.1% SR), winning just 6 times (3.82%) between them, we might not get much from IE, but perhaps the place side of things might help us whittle them down...
Still not a lot to be gleaned, even after I opened up the going, distance and field criteria to increase sample sizes, but Champion Chase's place credentials look decent from the above, whilst Pure Country, Dexcite, Rollerruler and Go To Court at least have some colour other than red on their form.
What about pace? Might that help us out? I hope so!
So, you want to lead or race in mid-division ideally, although most runner try (and fail) to win from a prominent or held-up position. Shady Oaks looks set to lead them out here and take it on alone. The question is whether hew can create a big enough lead to hold on too and whether he'll have the stamina to repel opposition late on.
Well, he stays 2m3f and beyond, made the frame over 2m5f at Class 4 on good to soft last November at Southwell and might just fancy his chances here.
Honestly, I'm not particularly enthused by any of these runners and here's where the Geegeez adage of "there might not be a bet in every race" rings truer than ever.
And normally I'd say walk away, but in the spirit of the daily piece and seeing a job through to its conclusions, let me start by narrowing the field by telling that I DON'T like Go To Court, Gris de Pron, Pure Country, Rann of Kutch or Silken Moonlight based on what we've seen above.
So, that's half the field gone.
I noticed that Dexcite was the 5/2 favourite here, so he's gone too! I'm not backing 10yr olds at that price in a poor race after a fall last time out and no great chase form, you might as well back a longshot for a place. That leaves us with four : Champion Chase, Follow Your Fire, Rollerruler and Shady Oaks. They're all of a similar standard/quality, any of the four could make/miss the frame, but if I was having a bet here, I'd want a nice price for an E/W punt on one/some/all of them, depending on your own risk aversion!
Follow Your Fire is the longest at 10/1 and Shady Oaks next at 8's. I don't play E/W below 8's, so if I'm having a bet here, the process of elimination leads me to these two.