It's the last day of the flat season, and the day the jumps season kicks up a notch too. Channel 4 has it all covered from a televisual perspective, and in this post I'll take a look at the two most interesting races on the Wincanton card, starting with the...
2.40 Badger Ales Trophy (Listed Handicap Chase) 3m 1 1/2f
There are a few trends of note in this race, researched using horseracebase which goes back as far as 1997, as follows:
David Pipe (three) and Paul Nicholls (seven) have collectively saddled ten of the last fifteen winners. And David's dad, Martin, also bagged one during the same time span.
Only one winner since 1997 that completed last time out finished worse than fourth that last day.
Weight seems largely immaterial, in terms of preventing a talented horse from winning. That said only one horse has carried more than 11-07 to victory in the last 17 years. That's 6% winners from 20% of the runners.
Horses rated below 140 have accounted for 15 of the 17 winners since 1997 (88%) from 74% of the runners.
Time off the track seems irrelevant with seven winners wheeling back within a month, and ten having been off for four months or more.
Looking at that chunk of history (excluding the David and Paul angle), and adding in a bit of trainer form (which seems more material than normal at this transitional time of year) - 16% or higher win rate in the past fortnight - gives 9 winners from 49 qualifiers and 39.25 points profit at SP. The each way strike rate was a whopping 47% suggesting these are fairly material factors.
Using the Geegeez Gold cards, it's really easy to whittle the field down, as per the image below (click to open full size in a new window).
As you can see (if you look carefully), we have a trendy shortlist of four: Dare To Endeavour, Standing Ovation, Ifyousayso, and The Young Master. Closer inspection reveals that Standing Ovation is trained by David Pipe, which is worth another brownie point.
Let's start with that one, especially as he's favourite. Standing Ovation has already had a run this year, when second behind Roalco De Farges at Cheltenham, and that looks a solid effort. More materially perhaps, he won this race last year, when rated 120, and ran consistently well throughout the remainder of the season.
Now on 131, that looks far from punitive, especially given just a two pound elevation for that last day silver. He'll have been targeted at a repeat victory no doubt, and with the ground officially good to soft - the same as last year - all looks set fair for another gallant effort from a horse who, still only seven, retains upside scope. 7/1 in a place is fair enough.
The Young Master is second favourite in most lists, and it's easy to make a case for this most progressive individual. Neil Mulholland's five year old would be the youngest horse to even try to win this since at least 1996, so he's pretty well named.
To his form, which reads 11 for chases; 21F1111 for all National Hunt; and 21F1111011 if we lob in his flat form as well. Crikey, this boy likes winning. He started in National Hunt handicaps off a mark of just 94 and has managed to increment that to today's 130. If that's not impressive enough, he was a comfortable winner of a Cheltenham handicap chase last time out, further suggesting there's more in the tank.
This will be easily his toughest assignment yet, but in a field of mostly exposed stayers his potential shines out as brightly as that string of 1's by his name. The fact he's a prominent racer only adds to the dashing nature of his career to date.
Tom George's pair, Dare To Endeavour and Ifyousayso, make up the trendy quartet, and the first named is better fancied. Himself a rapid improver, Dare To Endeavour has bounced up the ratings from 115 to 138 as a result of three wins in four starts. But they were all on soft and heavy ground and, unless the rain gets into the Wincanton lawns, he might find this all a bit quick.
Ifyousayso requires a slightly larger leap of faith after pulling up on his final start last season, in a handicap chase at Cheltenham in April. Prior to that, he'd looked another progressive type, winning twice and finishing a neck second to Thanks For That in a Class 3 novices' handicap chase at Newbury. Good to soft looks fine for him, as does the trip, but he'll need to have improved again since last seen to take a hand.
Alfie Spinner was second to Standing Ovation in this last year, and he gets in off bottom weight. He was one place behind the same rival last time at Cheltenham, and their chances are closely linked on that evidence. Both were having their first runs of the season, and Alfie is two pounds better in as a result of finishing two lengths behind Standing Ovation there. His overall form profile is more patchy than the Pipe runner, but that's why he's twice the price. It's also fair to say that, with just one win from eighteen chase starts, he finds it hard to get his head in front. Eight second or third placed efforts support that assertion.
Golden Chieftain also ran in that Cheltenham race, finishing a 16 length sixth, and he's been the subject of support as - I think - the Pricewise selection. Colin Tizzard's team are in solid if unspectacular form, and after a few problems with the lurgy last year this chap could be ready to step forward. Still, he's not much of a price now on the balance of his form though I can see the case for him.
Paul Nicholls' quest for an eighth win in the race since 1997 is two-pronged, with the slight market preference for second season chaser, Benvolio. 11-08 is a lot for a young and relatively inexperienced horse, so jockey Sean Bowen's seven pound claim is valuable. With Nicholls in decent form, and the young pilot himself boasting some impressive early figures, the horse will have been prepared and will be handled well. His trainer believes he goes well fresh so this first run for 258 days ought not to be a worry.
The trainer also runs last season's Grade 2 Worcester Novices' Chase winner, Just A Par, but he looks to have it all to do off joint top weight.
Bennys Mist runs for Venetia Williams, and with that stable now hitting top gear, he's of interest. Good enough to be second in the Grade 2 Topham Chase in April, he has a very attractive profile if his two Cheltenham runs are ignored. With his best form coming on flat tracks - Aintree, Warwick, and a win here in January - he could run a big race, and is appealing at 16/1.
It is, as it should be, a wide open heat, and I'm happy to try Bennys Mist (16/1 PP, Ladbrokes, Coral) and Standing Ovation (7/1 SJ) against the field.
3.15 Elite Hurdle (Grade 2 Handicap) 2m
A two mile handicap with some smart performers lining up, including the 2012 Champion Hurdler, Rock On Ruby. It's a race that's been won by the likes of Azertyuiop, Well Chief, Celestial Halo and Zarkandar in recent times, and it would be no coincidence that three of those four were trained by Paul Nicholls.
He saddles Irving this time, a very good novice last year who went unbeaten through four flat track runs before coming unstuck at Cheltenham. It may well have been the undulations that caught him out there, as well of course as the higher calibre of opposition, and back on a pan flat oval, he has every chance to kick his season off on the right note.
The presence of Rock On Ruby anchors the weights for the rest of the field, and Irving's 10-12 looks plum. He'll be cherry ripe for this and, if Sam Twiston-Davies can give him a peach of a ride, I'll have cleared out the fruit bowl of clichés 😉
The potential banana skin (I knew there was another one in there somewhere!) is Dan Skelton's Bertimont. This lad was having his first run for Skelton when lagging up in a handicap at Chepstow, and a rise of ten pounds to 148 looks on the lenient side. He should have more to offer again, but faces some high class animals in Rock On Ruby and Irving.
Ruby will probably try to make all under Noel Fehily and Sam T-D will need to be careful not to let that one have too much rope. There are other pace elements in the race - any or all of Fergall, Forgotten Voice and Bertimont could go on - so it might be a fairly well run affair. That all plays into the hands of Irving, and I think he'll probably win.
With Nicholls' ex-apprentices, Fry and Skelton, keen to take him on, Irving won't have it all his own way, but I expect him to be better class than these and he might make up into an Aintree Hurdler if connections take the brave - i.e. the bypass Cheltenham - route.
Irving is about the right price at 6/4 and 13/8, but one firm is offering new customers 5/1 for a tenner, and that looks well worth availing of if you're not with them already.
Winner Sports are they, and here's how to get £50 to £10 on Irving.
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Winner have been making similar offers a lot recently, and plenty of you filled them in with Goldencents in the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile (sent off odds on, geegeez readers paid out at 5/1). So if you haven't got a Winner account, follow the simple instructions above if you think Irving is a good bet at 5/1.
[Hint, he's an absolutely blinding bet at 5/1, though that doesn't guarantee he'll win!]