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Gladiators Gather for Newbury Showpiece

The Ladbrokes Trophy Chase (formerly the Hennessy) takes place on Saturday, and despite the ground likely to be a little lively for him, the money continues to come for Harry Fry’s American.

Three from three during an impressive novice campaign, his trainer couldn’t be happier as the ‘big day’ draws near. “We’ve made no secret that this race has always been the plan,” said Fry. “It’s no easy task first time out but we’ve been very happy with him at home. He’s fragile, but we’ve given him away days at Wincanton and Newbury recently, and he’s in good form. We were delighted with everything he did last season, but he’ll have to improve again on that form to win at Newbury.”

He’s also entered in the Welsh National as back-up. But with the going currently described as good to soft at Newbury, he looks likely to take his chance.

American is tussling for top spot in the betting with the Willie Mullins-trained Total Recall. An impressive winner of the Munster National last time, he takes a huge hike in the handicap, and it’s tough to assess whether he arrives at Newbury on a handy mark or not.

“He did one or two bits of work and it looked like his rating might be a little low with the type of work he was doing at home,” said Mullins, referring to his Limerick win. “A lot of things went his way and he won very handily at the end. You need a lot of luck in those races and he got it that day. He is doing everything right at home.”
“I don't know whether the handicapper has caught up with him or not,” the trainer added. “If the weights stay as they are, it's a lovely racing weight. The trip won't be a problem and jumping won't be a problem, so he has a lot going for him.”

Whisper has also been popular with punters and Nicky Henderson is clearly pleased with his preparation: “That was a good race at Kempton. I know it was a two-horse race, but there was not much in it. The extra trip will help him. It was exactly what we wanted to do. The timing was right. It was nice to see Clan Des Obeaux win at Haydock. To be fair, this horse has had a good time ever since. He schooled on Friday and we will give him one more pop and off we go.

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“Davy (Russell) gets on with this horse really well. He will already have an idea of where he is going to go and what he is going to do. He is a great jockey and is pretty cunning and he will have a plan. He has got the hang of this horse very swiftly. He lets him warm up over the first few fences. You can't afford to be hunting around the back to get him through a few gears as the race will be gone. I think he has got enough experience of him now. His work was good on Saturday.”

The Master of Seven Barrows has won three of the last dozen renewals and has another fancied contender in last year’s sixth Vyta Du Roc. The eight-year-old is 3lb better off this time around and has seen his price half in recent days. “He had a run over hurdles at Aintree the same day Top Notch had a run and you saw how much good that did for him last Saturday (winning at Ascot),” said Henderson. “I'm quietly hopeful that will put him exactly where he needs to be and if he comes back to the last day at Sandown last year where he was only beaten a nose, he might have a chance.”

In his ‘Weekender’ column trainer Alan King wrote of his hopes for Label Des Obeaux. The son of Saddler Maker was third to Might Bite last time at Sandown and looks sure to be suited by this extended trip. “We have to try to find some improvement in him, so we schooled him in cheekpieces the other day. They seemed to sharpen him up and he’ll probably wear them on Saturday,” King penned.

King’s Smad Place landed the prestigious event in 2015 and the trainer appears hopeful rather than confident of further success, cautiously adding: “My fear is that he has too much weight. Smad Place was handily treated, whereas Label Des Obeaux doesn’t look handicapped to win a race like this.”

Stat of the Day, 15th November 2017

Tuesday's Result :

1.50 Lingfield : Arden Denis @ 9/2 BOG PU at 11/2 Mid-division on inside, mistake 6th, weakened, tailed off when mistake 4 out, pulled up before 3 out.

Next up is Wednesday's...

2.50 Bangor :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Midnight Tour @ 4/1 BOG

A Class 2, 4yo+, Handicap Hurdle over 2m3.5f on Soft ground worth £14,076 to the winner.

Featuring a 7 yr old mare who won a Listed hurdle race by 6 lengths last time out. That was at Cheltenham some 30 weeks (approx 7 months) ago, but this reappearance certainly represents a drop in class for a runner that is...

  • 3/7 going left handed
  • 4/6 at odds shorter than 5/1
  • 2/5 since moving to Alan King's yard
  • 2/4 in handicap hurdles
  • 2/3 on Soft ground
  • 2/3 after a break of longer than 4 months
  • 1/2 under jockey Wayne Hutchinson
  • 1/1 here at Bangor
  • and 1/1 running in November

Her trainer, Alan King's handicap hurdlers who won LTO are 16/83 (19.3% SR) for 26.3pts (+31.6% ROI) since the start of 2013, from which...

  • those priced at 6/1 and shorter are 14/49 (28.6%) for 8.6pts (+17.6%)
  • those ridden by Wayne Hutchinson are 9/43 (20.9%) for 43.5pts (+101.1%)
  • and those ridden by Wayne Hutchinson at 6/1 and shorter are 7/27 (25.9%) for 7.8pts (+29%)

Whilst since the start of last year, Alan's runners are 9/25 (36% SR) for 13.8pts (+55.1% ROI)  here at Bangor, including...

  • under Wayne H : 7/20 (35%) for 6.6pts (+33.1%)
  • hurdlers are 5/12 (41.7%) for 6.4pts (+53.6%)
  • and handicappers are 4/9 (44.4%) for 9.8pts (+108.5%)

The last thing that I'm going to mention is that Midnight Tour was sired by Midnight Legend. Regular/long-term readers of SotD will read extensively about the prowess of the Midnight Legend offspring, so I'm not going to churn out loads of data today, but suffice to say that his female handicap hurdlers do really well and they don't mind a bit of mud!

...directing us to... a 1pt win bet on Midnight Tour @ 4/1 BOG which was widely available at 5.50pm on Tuesday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 2.50 Bangor

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

Wonderful Warwick – Castle and All

Death Duty’s return to action on Tuesday reminded us that the new Jumps season is beginning to gather pace. With the Arc now behind us, thoughts will soon be turning to the likes of Wetherby’s Charlie Hall, Cheltenham’s Paddy Power (yes, I know it’s the BetVictor Gold Cup nowadays) and the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

The Skelton’s continue to set the pace, and were yesterday amongst the winners thanks to a double at Bangor-On-Dee. Today National Hunt fans are to be treated to the Autumn Meeting at Warwick. The West Midlands racecourse is a favourite of mine, not least because I can get there in little more than an hour.

It’s a cracking course, set on the very edge of the market town. The town itself is quite small, but has enough to occupy a visitor prior to racing. It is of course famous for the castle, something that really shouldn’t be missed while you’re visiting. Dating back to the time of William The Conqueror, it’s a truly magnificent structure, with towers, ramparts, mottes and a dungeon. Open all-year-round, the kids will love it.

But back to the reason for this article, the racecourse. It’s one of the oldest in the country, with racing dating back to the late 1600s. When established, it was hoped that the sport would attract wealth to the area following the devastating fire of 1694. In the early 1800s the first stand was built, parts of which remain to this day.

One of racing’s greats, Red Rum, ran at the track in 1967. And it proved to be a year to remember, with the course being purchased by The Jockey Club. The group had acquired Cheltenham in 1964, with Wincanton following in ’66. The purchase would help ensure the long-term prosperity and ongoing investment in the course.

Warwick has plenty in common with another Midlands favourite of mine, Uttoxeter. Relatively small yet beautifully formed, both have great facilities for the racegoer, are flattish tracks with slight undulations, and are easily accessed by road or rail.

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Warwick possibly has the edge on the quality of racing throughout the winter. The Betfred Classic Chase Meeting in January attracts high-class staying chasers for the main event. One For Arthur took this year’s renewal and went on to win the Grand National at Aintree. Willoughby Court was also a winner on the day, and he went on to success at the Cheltenham Festival, when capturing the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle in thrilling fashion from the ill-fated Neon Wolf.

In February the course play host the Kingmaker Chase, a two-mile novice event that over the years has gone to Flagship Uberalles, Voy Por Ustedes, Long Run and Finian’s Rainbow. Willie Mullins has also taken to sending horses to the meeting, with talented hurdlers Open Eagle, Arbre De Vie and Glens Melody all successful in recent years.

One of the stars of today’s action is sure to be novice chaser Sceau Royal. Alan King’s hugely talented five-year-old was a high-class hurdler, winning the Elite Hurdle last November and putting in a solid performance to finish sixth in the Champion at Cheltenham. He sports the familiar silks of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, a duo that are gathering a formidable battalion of National Hunt horses. They are responsible for the likes of Bristol De Mai, Top Notch and L’Ami Serge.

Sceau Royal has a look of Top Notch about him, and I’m sure Alan King would be thrilled if he was to have such an impressive first season over fences. Nicky Henderson’s young chaser stepped-up in trip during his novice chase campaign, finishing a terrific runner-up to Yorkhill in the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival. Sceau Royal may well possess a few more gears, and there’s every chance that we could see him back at Warwick in the spring contesting the Kingmaker.

It could prove a fruitful day for King, with Sego Success favourite for the stayers’ chase, and a JP McManus owned favourite running in the opening novice hurdle. With Hobbs, Tizzard and Twiston-Davies all in attendance, those making the trip to Warwick look set to be rewarded with a fine day’s racing. Don’t forget The Castle.

Cue an Aintree Tizzard Treble

The Randox Health Grand National Festival kicks-off today, with Cue Card’s appearance in the Betway Bowl the undoubted highlight.

Cheltenham had promised so much for trainer Colin Tizzard. Indeed at Christmas, the Dorset handler had the top three in the betting for the Gold Cup, and many were talking of a ‘blue riband’ clean sweep. Injury to Thistlecrack was a major blow, and when the big day arrived, Cue Card came down at the third last, whilst Native River, though putting up a brave performance, could only manage a third-place finish behind Sizing John.

Tizzard’s team suffered another pre-Cheltenham blow, when leading Neptune Novices’ Hurdle contender Finian’s Oscar, was ruled out due to a minor setback. And further frustration was forthcoming, when the fast finishing Fox Norton came within a whisker of capturing the Grade 1 Champion Chase.

Last year’s successful Aintree assault was led by Cue Card, with Thistlecrack and Native River adding further gloss to a wonderful few days. Tizzard will be hoping for more of the same, though the protagonists differ slightly.

His stable star is favourite for today’s Betway Bowl Chase, having romped to success 12 months ago. Empire Of Dirt may prove to be his toughest challenger, though Cue Card at his best, or anywhere near, would surely win this with the minimum of fuss. And I expect him to do so.

Part two of a potential Aintree treble is the Champion Chase runner-up Fox Norton. He runs in the Melling Chase on Friday, and is currently the market leader. This step-up in trip should surely suit the gutsy young chaser, who finished with such a rattle at Cheltenham.

He faces tough opposition, especially in the form of Tom George’s nine-year-old God’s Own, who landed this event 12 months back. He was half a dozen lengths behind Fox Norton at Prestbury Park, but arguably has stronger form at Aintree. He’ll also enjoy the trip, and a sound surface, though I can’t see him reversing the Champion Chase placings.

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Sub Lieutenant will look to build on an outstanding campaign, and could prove a sterner test for the favourite. Runner-up to Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair last time, he filled the same spot behind Sizing John in the Kinloch Brae in January, and ran a cracker when third to Djakadam in the John Durkan back in December. Those performances are outstanding, and I’d expect him to be ridden aggressively by Bryan Cooper, and prove hard to pass.

This looks a hugely competitive renewal, with Uxizandre looking to bounce back from a disappointing Cheltenham, and Kerry Lee’s pair of Top Gamble and Kylemore Lough both capable of going close. But it’s Fox Norton for the Tizzard’s that looks to possess the class to come out on top in a battle-royal with Sub Lieutenant.

A win there for Tizzard and owners Ann and Alan Potts, will raise hopes of a famous double for connections, when Finian’s Oscar goes for the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle on Saturday. No doubt gutted to have missed Cheltenham, the team have a potential star in this undefeated novice hurdler. He’s been impressive in his three starts under rules, especially when a comfortable winner of the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle earlier in the season. This better ground should suit the son of Oscar, as should the two-and-a-half-mile trip.

Messire Des Obeaux brings strong form to the table, having finished third in the Neptune behind Willoughby Court and Neon Wolf. Alan King’s five-year-old carries the familiar silks of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, and is without doubt a classy sort. But I’d be surprised if Finian’s Oscar were turned over, though this is certainly his toughest test to date.

A ‘Tizzard Treble’ at the home of the Grand National would be no less than the handler deserves, after such a sparkling campaign. The Cotswolds in March may have proved a little disappointing, but Merseyside in April could once again prove a whole lot more satisfying.

Cheltenham Festival: The Role of Luck

When the Festival concludes next Friday, praise will be variously doled to the talent involved, writes Tony Keenan. Horses, trainers, jockeys, maybe even stable staff, will get credit for their efforts in victory. Much of it will be deserved but the one thing unlikely to be mentioned is luck.

Part of this is simply our thinking biases; humans operate under the illusion of control, overestimating the role we play in outcomes. Another aspect is that luck is hard to quantify in racing; we can all recall specific examples of luck in action, when a horse fell when seemingly going best or failed to get a clear run when travelling strongly or simply a narrow defeat, but gauging trainers who are the victims of variance over time is more difficult. Surely not all of them are equally lucky, especially at the Cheltenham Festival where there are only 28 races, a very small sample size.

Data analysts or sabremetricians have sought to quantify this in other sports, specifically those based in the US. Pythagorean expectation, the formula that estimates how many games a team should have won based on their scoring, have proven a better predictor of future success than past win-loss records in sports in baseball, basketball and American football. These theories have crossed into European soccer too with numbers on shots, shot quality and expected goals now playing a part in some sensible conversations on the sport.

Translating this into racing isn’t easy but it seemed worth a try going back as far as the 2010 Festival.

Rather than taking just one criterion, I decided to use three to see if the same trainers were unlucky across the different metrics. Firstly, the old favourite expected winners -the number of winners a trainer should have had judged on market prices - to see who was lucky and unlucky, overachieving and underachieving. From there, I took the number of seconds and placed runs relative to winners to uncover who was getting close without winning.

Finally, I looked at the in-running markets from Betfair for all the races since 2010 to see how many odds-on in-running trades trainers had, as sometimes the place results may not tell the whole truth, for instance when a horse that looked set to be involved in the finish fell close home. I used 2.0 as my cut-off point as an odds-on trade reflects a view held by someone (rightly or wrongly) that a horse was more likely than not to win a race at a given point.

 

Cheltenham Festival: Trainer Performance Based on Market Expectation

Trainer Actual Wins Expected Wins Difference Actual/Expected
W. Mullins 33 29.5 +3.5 1.12
N. Henderson 21 21.8 -0.8 0.96
P. Nicholls 15 18.0 -3.0 0.83
D. Pipe 11 9.9 +1.1 1.11
JJ. O’Neill 10 6.2 +3.8 1.61
G. Elliott 8 5.3 +2.7 1.51
N. Twiston-Davies 7 5.2 +1.8 1.35
P. Hobbs 7 6.6 +0.4 1.06
C. Tizzard 5 3.3 +1.7 1.51
R. Curtis 4 1.6 +2.4 2.50
T. Martin 4 1.7 +2.3 2.35
D. McCain 4 3.5 +0.5 1.14
A. King 4 6.5 -2.5 0.61
J. Culloty 3 0.3 +2.7 10.00
E. Bolger 3 3.1 -0.1 0.97
H. De Bromhead 3 2.4 +0.6 1.25

 

It seems scarcely credible but these figures suggest the Festival markets still hasn’t totally caught up with Willie Mullins; he is outperforming expectations despite breaking records at the meeting.

Perhaps this year, when the yard has had so much bad luck ahead of the meeting, will finally see his runners overbet. Paul Nicholls could be Mullins of five years in the future; after a period of being top trainer at the meeting (he won it five times between 2004 and 2009), he now has one of the poorer records among the top trainers, with only Alan King having a lower actual/expected figure.

This is the top group of trainers in terms of winners sent out at the meeting, however, and unsurprisingly most are doing better and/or are luckier than the betting suggests. That could well simply reflect their skill and the quality of their horses but one obvious conclusion is that there must be an awful lot of smaller yards really struggling for a winner who have negative figures.

Gordon Elliott and Jonjo O’Neill are two that stand out in terms of luck though with Elliott it seems likely the market will take full cognisance of the level he is currently operating at; whereas in past seasons, he was slightly under-the-radar, now he is a presumptive Champion Trainer with the favourite or second favourite in seemingly every handicap at the meeting. O’Neill is a different case and his results might be down to how his stable performs through the winter; it seems that every March, his runners come into the Festival under a cloud and the markets have to have them at bigger prices as a result.

Alan King is one of the unluckiest big trainers – a point we’ll return to later – while Jim Culloty is the luckiest and it’s not even close. His actual over expected ratio is off the charts but this looks a case of pure randomness rather than skill; everything else we have seen in his training career thus far says he is not this good and, realistically, no trainer could maintain such figures. Trusting those figures and betting his horses at the Festival would be to fall prey to an extreme form of survivorship bias.

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Cheltenham Festival: Seconds and Places

Trainer Wins Seconds Difference Places (2nd, 3rd and 4th) Winners to Places Ratio
W. Mullins 33 22 +11 69 2.09
N. Henderson 21 21 0 57 2.71
P. Nicholls 15 19 -4 43 2.87
D. Pipe 11 9 +2 24 2.18
JJ. O’Neill 10 8 +2 15 1.50
G. Elliott 8 7 +1 22 2.75
N. Twiston-Davies 7 6 +1 14 2.00
P. Hobbs 7 2 +5 18 2.58
C. Tizzard 5 2 +3 8 1.60
R. Curtis 4 0 +4 3 0.75
T. Martin 4 1 +3 5 1.25
D. McCain 4 5 -1 8 2.00
A. King 4 6 -2 25 6.25
J. Culloty 3 0 +3 0 0.00
E. Bolger 3 2 +1 5 1.67
H. De Bromhead 3 4 -1 10 3.33
D. Weld 2 3 -1 4 2.oo
M. Morris 1 5 -4 7 7.00
N. Meade 1 2 -1 9 9.00
E. Lavelle 1 3 -2 5 5.00
M. Keighley 0 3 -3 5 0.00
T. George 0 3 -3 8 0.00
N. Williams 0 1 -1 11 0.00

 

In terms of simple winners to seconds difference, Mullins comes off best again. Philip Hobbs is next in with five more winners than runners-up while Rebecca Curtis could well be called "the milk-woman" in that she always delivers with not a single runner-up and only three places to go against her four winners. The unlucky trainers in this regard are Paul Nicholls, Mouse Morris, Martin Keighley and Tom George.

Winners to place ratio is simply places divided by winners; the places here don’t include winners. By my reckoning, a ratio of above 3.00 suggests bad luck while below suggests good luck; there are 3 places available in each race with only one win. Alan King’s misfortune is the one that jumps out here with an amazing 25 places to four winners for a ratio of 6.25 which is more than double what would typically be expected. Both Mouse Morris and Noel Meade have higher ratios but King’s comes from a bigger sample size. Nick Williams, too, has had a lot of horses run well without winning and is still waiting for a first Festival winner.

 

Cheltenham Festival: In-running Trades

Trainer Sub-2.0 Trades Winners Difference
W. Mullins 20 33 +13
N. Henderson 19 21 +2
P. Nicholls 17 15 -2
D. Pipe 11 11 0
G. Elliott 10 8 -2
JJ. O’Neill 6 10 +3
A. King 6 4 -1
N. Twiston-Davies 4 7 +3
E. Bolger 4 3 -1
T. George 4 0 -4
M. Keighley 4 0 -4
N. Williams 3 0 -3
D. McCain 3 4 +1
M. Morris 3 1 -2

 

These in-running histories would surely make for grim reading for many a punter though perhaps not as much as they do for Paul Nicholls; in back-to-back renewals of the Gold Cup in 2010 and 2011 he watched both Kauto Star and Denman trade odds-on in-running before getting beaten. That’s rough.

Nicky Henderson – 2011 Supreme with both Spirit Son and Sprinter Sacre – was only other trainer that happened to in the period covered. These Betfair numbers basically back up a lot of what we’ve seen already: Willie Mullins, Jonjo O’Neill and Nigel Twiston-Davies have been lucky; Tom George, Martin Keighley and Nick Williams have not.

So who should we be looking at for some regression, positive or negative, next week?

Overall, Willie Mullins, Rebecca Curtis and Jonjo O’Neill might see their winners drop while Tom George, Martin Keighley, Noel Meade and Alan King could be heading the other way. That of course depends on whether you think they were lucky or good and as they always say, it’s better to be the former than the latter!

- Tony Keenan

Kempton Course Key to Saint BetBright Bid

Attention turns to Kempton and Newcastle on Saturday, with the former hosting an exciting card, including the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle, the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle and the BetBright Chase.

All eyes will be on Nicky Henderson’s young hurdler Charli Parcs in the juvenile, as he looks to add to his course success in December, and bolster his already lofty reputation. The Seven Barrows team also have a leading contender in the Dovecote, in the form of two-time Ludlow winner River Wylde. He faces stiff opposition, including Team Ditcheat’s Capitaine, and course winner Elgin, trained by Alan King. I like the latter, especially if the ground remains good.

The BetBright Chase is as competitive as ever. First run in 1949, it has a classy looking roll of honour. Crisp and Pendil were successful in the 1970s, whilst Rhyme ‘n’ Reason and Rough Quest took this before winning the Grand National. Desert Orchid loved Kempton, and won this race as an 11-year-old in 1990. Last year’s renewal went to Colin Tizzard’s Theatre Guide, and he returns in an attempt to emulate Pendil and Docklands Express, by winning in successive seasons.

It’s a tough task for Tizzard’s 10-year-old, as he’s a stone higher in the handicap this time around. Nevertheless, this race has been won by numerous runners lumping top-weight around the track, and he clearly likes the place. He’ll appreciate the sounder surface, and the trip looks ideal. I’m anticipating a bold bid.

Aso looked a progressive sort, until disappointing at Cheltenham last time. Though only a seven-year-old, there’s a chance he’s already in the grip of the handicapper. He also lacks experience over this trip, and is possibly a better horse with a little more juice in the ground. His age suggests there’s more to come, but it may not come tomorrow.

Three Musketeers is another seven-year-old, stepping up in trip. His pedigree at least suggests that the three miles should suit, and he arrives here off the back of a strong performance at Market Rasen. Dan Skelton has always thought plenty of him, and he does look a horse with untapped potential. I can see him running a huge race, though I’m not sure I trust him enough to throw money his way.

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Similar can be said of Double Shuffle, who won over course and distance in December. He wore a hood last time, and was having his first run at three miles. He’s another that cannot be discounted, though I’m not sure his form stacks up with some of these. He’s another that can throw in the odd stinker.

Paul Nicholls has won two of the last 10 renewals, and goes with Irish Saint this time. He’s a horse I like, and looked to be returning to something like his best when going well for a long way at Sandown last time. He missed a whole season due to injury, having looked a classy novice chaser prior to the absence. I fancy this trip stretches him a little, though he certainly enjoys Kempton, being three from three at the track. Indeed, his six career wins have all come when going right-handed. I fancy he’ll go close.

The trends suggest that horses of any age can win this event, and Nicky Henderson’s only previous winner was the 12-year-old Marlborough. He has a pair entered this time, with the one that interests me being Triolo D’Alene. The 10-year-old has proved hard to keep right, but on his day, with ground in his favour, is an extremely talented gelding. This ground will suit, and his handicap mark has dropped to its lowest since 2013. His odds of 20/1 are very tempting.

Finally, I need to mention the Twiston-Davies trained Ballykan, who came fourth in the race last year. He has a bit to find if he is to get the better of Theatre Guide, but there’s every chance that he’s strengthened from six to seven, and he carries the now familiar, and very successful colours of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. He’s on a mark that makes him very competitive, and he could go very close.

In a race that I’m finding tough to read, I have finally sided with Irish Saint, and will have a little each-way on Triolo D’Alene. There are several others that I fear, and I’m certainly not as confident as I’ve been in recent weeks. Best of luck to all those having a punt.

McManus Launches Champion Hurdle Assault

The JP MCManus decision to switch Buveur D’Air from fences back to hurdles came as quite a surprise, though it shouldn’t have.

Nicky Henderson’s talented youngster looked sure to be heading for the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in March, but suddenly finds himself a live Champion Hurdle contender. JP clearly believes that the Mullins contingent are vulnerable, and now is the time to attack with everything at his disposal.

Binocular in 2010, and Jezki in 2014 are the most recent winners of the Champion Hurdle to carry the famous Green and Gold silks, though it was Istabraq who famously carried the colours to a hat-trick of victories from 1998 to 2000.

This year’s Champion Hurdle is starting to resemble 2014’s, when McManus sent Jezki, My Tent Or Yours and Captain Cee Bee into battle against the Mullins favourite Hurricane Fly, and a young unexposed The New One. On that occasion, Jess Harrington’s charge defeated the more fancied My Tent Or Yours in a thrilling finish, with the ‘Captain’ back in fifth. ‘The Fly’ was then a 10-year-old, and though I hesitate to say it, was probably somewhat past his best. For what it’s worth, it’s my view that The New One was outpaced by the front two before staying on for a third-place finish. Understandably, Mr Twiston-Davies has a different opinion.

The field for this year’s renewal continues to evolve. Annie Power met with a setback and will not be there, and Mullins, though sounding confident, must be a little concerned over the wellbeing of Faugheen. The Champion Hurdle favourite, and winner from 2015, has not been seen on a racecourse for more than a year, and missed his intended return last weekend after a slight muscle issue. Chances are that he will now head directly to Cheltenham in March, without a prep-run. He’s a ‘tank’ of a horse, and is known to improve for a run or two.

It’s hard to believe that Faugheen will arrive on the opening day of the festival firing on all cylinders. The question is whether a 90% primed ‘Machine’ will be enough to repel a McManus assault.

Yanworth was expected to deliver the sternest challenge, having impressed in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Alan King’s seven-year-old was due to run at Sandown this weekend, but has also met with a minor setback and may also now head straight to the Festival. In his ‘Weekender’ column, King, writing before the injury came to light, said: “He could have gone straight to Cheltenham, but he’s had only two races this season, and it’s a long time from the Christmas Hurdle to the Champion. It will do him no harm to have a bit more match practice.”

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Unfortunately, yesterday JP McManus' racing manager Frank Berry announced: “He's just met with a small problem. He's tweaked a muscle in behind, it's nothing serious but he can't run this weekend. Hopefully it won't take too long to come right and we can get going with him again. Whether he runs again we'll just have to play it by ear, he could go straight to Cheltenham.” Again, by no means ideal, but at least Yanworth has had a couple of runs this winter.

In his absence, it looks like Buveur D’Air will now head to Sandown for the Contenders Hurdle. It was anticipated that Henderson’s hurdler, turned chaser, turned hurdler, would head north to Kelso in a couple of weeks, but a rather busy Frank Berry announced: “Obviously Buveur D'Air is in at Sandown, so it's still an option. We'll see how he is in the morning and we'll come to a decision then I'd imagine. Nicky had mentioned taking him up to Kelso, so we'll just see.”

On Twitter Henderson tweeted: “Change of plan! With Yanworth not going to Sandown, Buveur will now head there instead. Lots of chopping & changing this week!”

A trip to Sandown means that Henderson now has the top two in the market, with Brain Power already an intended runner. An impressive winner at Ascot prior to Christmas, I’m a huge fan of the horse, but this will come as a major test. He’s bred to become a chaser, and certainly has the physique to excel in that sphere. I’m not sure he’ll possess the speed to cope with Buveur D’Air on Saturday.

Decisions made by McManus have certainly given the Champion Hurdle picture a shake. In Nicky Henderson and Alan King, he has trainers that know how to win the main event in March. A McManus-Mullins clash is on, and let’s just hope that all the main contenders now arrive at the start on a thrilling opening day of the Festival.

Robin to Rock at Newbury

The Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle is the centrepiece of Newbury’s card on Saturday.

Run at just over two miles and four furlongs, the race has a short yet illustrious roll of honour. Classy types have taken this, and gone on to take high order over hurdles and fences.

Large Action was successful in 1993, before finishing third in the Champion Hurdle a few months later. Trained by Oliver Sherwood, he went one place better the following year, when chasing home Alderbrook at the Festival. Cornish Rebel won the Challow in 2003, and went on to become an outstanding staying chaser. Third in the RSA at Cheltenham in 2005, he came second in a Scottish National, third in a Welsh National and third in the Hennessy Gold Cup.

A horse that went on to become one of the great staying chasers, took this in 2006, though the race was run at Cheltenham. Denman finished runner-up in the Neptune that season, but returned to the Cheltenham Festival to win the RSA and of course the Gold Cup. His demolition of Kauto Star was one of the most incredible performances I have ever witnessed. His victories in the Hennessy were no less impressive. He was a true warrior on the track, a mighty racehorse.

Wichita Lineman took the Challow the year after Denman. He too went on to festival success when winning the stayers novice hurdle at Cheltenham. His most memorable win came over fences at Prestbury Park, when taking the William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase, thanks to an incredible ride from AP McCoy. Only the ‘Champ’ could have got the horse home in front that day.

Further top-class winners of the Challow Novices’ Hurdle include; Diamond Harry, Reve de Sivola, Fingal Bay, Taquin du Seuil, and last year Barters Hill.

This year’s renewal has attracted a similar array of talented looking contenders, though the final line-up is still uncertain. Gordon Elliott has a talented team engaged, though it would come as no surprise should none arrive. Death Duty for Gigginstown and Baltazar D’Allier owned by JP McManus are the two outstanding challengers. The former has arguably been the most impressive Irish novice hurdler so far this winter. Should he travel over, he’ll take all the beating.

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One that does look certain to make the start is the Dan Skelton trained Robin Roe. Sensational at Aintree on his hurdling debut, he has an eye-catching pedigree, being by Robin Des Champs out of a Flemensfirth mare. He’s a gorgeous looking gelding, built for fences. It’s always unwise to go overboard on the back of such little evidence, but he does look to have huge potential.

Alan King is set to run Messire Des Obeaux, who last time gave 7lbs and a beating to the useful Ballyandy. He got the better of Nicky Henderson’s Cultivator on that occasion, and the two are set to clash again. They appear closely matched and set a solid standard, though maybe lack star quality.

Geordie Des Champs has been kept busy by trainer Rebecca Curtis, and is three from three so far over hurdles. Like Robin Roe, he is by Robin Des Champs and is likely to make a lovely chaser. He showed plenty of guts last time, winning under a double-penalty at Warwick. Owned by JP McManus, this fella looks sure to go close.

Colin Tizzard has been sweeping all before him, and should Elegant Escape take his place at the start, he’d be impossible to dismiss. His jumping was somewhat patchy last time, when battling bravely to win at Ascot. He’s undoubtedly talented, but this marks a huge step up in class. I’d expect him to run well, but likely come-up a little short at this level.

In the likely absence of Gordon Elliott’s best performers, I hope and expect that Robin Roe will prove too good, though his lack of experience is a slight concern. I believe that the battle-hardened Geordie Des Champs is his main danger.

Stat of the Day, 2nd December 2016

Thursday's Result :

2.45 Wincanton : Tikkapick @ 5/2 BOG non-runner (Meeting Abandoned)

Friday's pick goes in the...

2.25 Sandown :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Messire Des Obeaux @ 7/2 BOG

Why?

This 4 yr old gelding warmed up for this race by winning by 10 lengths 23 days ago and has won his only start on good to soft ground and on his only ride under Daryl Jacob.

Trainer Alan King's runners are in great form, winning 9 of 43 (20.9% SR) in the past fortnight and 6 of 21 (28.6%) in the last 7 days, whilst jockey Daryl Jacob's figures in that same time frame are 10/33 (30.3%) and 8/18 (44.4%) respectively. And Daryl is 19 from 66 (28.8% SR) for 49.5pts (+75% ROI) here at Sandown since the start of 2012.

In addition to the above , since 2010 Alan King's Class 1 to 3 runners are 15/93(16.1% SR) for 14.1pts (+15.2% ROI) here at Sandown, whilst his runners over trips of 2m4f to 3m1f are 11/46 (23.9%) for 48.2pts (+104.8%)

AND...Alan King / Class 1-3 / 2m4f to 3m1f / Sandown / 2010-16 = 11/44 (25% SR) for 50.2pts (+114.1% ROI)

...and...a 1pt win bet on Messire Des Obeaux at 7/2 BOG from Betfair Sports and/or Paddy Power, as of 6.05pm on Thursday. To see your preferred bookies' odds, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 2.25 Sandown

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

Robin Roe Steals The Show

Neil Mulholland will have been thrilled with Saturday’s trip to the Cotswolds, thanks to excellent performances from stable stars, Fox Norton and Shantou Village.

Both were sent off favourite for their respective events, and neither let the punters down. Fox Norton romped to victory in the Randox Health Handicap Chase. Travelling well throughout the two-mile contest, he was allowed to stride on fully four fences from home. Stretching clear down the hill, he met the second-last with a 10-length advantage, and never looked in any danger.

Third in the Arkle, Mulholland has always thought plenty of the gelding: “We felt there was marked improvement in him through the summer and he'd been working particularly well. It was his first run in a handicap but I sense it could be the last and we're going to have to raise his sights now, possibly towards the Shloer back here. He wears a hood because he can be a bit of a handful until you get him ‘jocked-up’, but touch-wood, it's all good now.”

Later in the day Shantou Village was a heavily backed favourite, and though pushed all the way by Colin Tizzard’s newcomer, Mick Thonic, he proved too strong at the finish, pulling four lengths clear at the line. His jumping was solid in the main, bar an error at the 12th, and though he’s not short of speed, the way he finished off the race suggests a step-up in trip is likely.

Speaking of the winner, Mulholland said: “He was struck into in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival but we have always known fences would bring out the best in him. Apart from that one blip, I was pleased with his jumping, and in the end he's done it really well. Noel was delighted and so am I. It's been a good day.”

Arguably the best performance of the meeting came in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle, where Sceau Royal ran-out a stunning winner, completely out-classing his opponents. Alan King’s four-year-old travelled like a dream throughout, and swept to the front approaching the last. Asked to go and win his race, he stormed up the famous hill, to win by 11 lengths. This was a huge step forward on anything he’d produced as a juvenile. And it will be interesting to see where King sends him next.

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The trainer said of the performance: “He's always been a very good horse but he wasn't right at both the Festival and Aintree. Last year he used to pull up in front and that's why Daryl held on to him for as long as possible. I was thankful they went a good gallop up front because it enabled him to settle. I'm not getting carried away at this stage but we will certainly get together and discuss the big handicap at Ascot next Saturday, because normally he doesn't take long to get over his races.”

Over in Ireland, Identity Thief proved a natural over fences when winning the two-mile beginners chase at Punchestown. Last year’s Fighting Fifth winner was a high-class hurdler, and looks sure to make a huge impact now switched to the larger obstacles. Henry de Bromhead has had a terrific start to the campaign, and knows a thing or two about classy two-mile chasers. He trained Sizing Europe to become one of the best in the business, winning the Arkle in 2010, and capturing the Champion Chase 12 months later.

At Aintree yesterday Team Tizzard struck in the Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase, thanks to their unpredictable talent, Third Intention. Taking over from Vibrato Valtat approaching the last, he held off a late charge from God’s Own. The runner-up was perhaps a little unfortunate, having been stopped in his tracks at the third last, when Royal Regatta decided to up-root the fence. The winner is set to head for the Hennessy, though it was the runner-up who left the impression that plenty more exciting days lie ahead.

Though Tizzard took main honours, it was Dan Skelton’s novice hurdler Robin Roe, that produced the most eye-catching performance at Aintree. The gorgeous looking son of Robin Des Champs, out of a Flemensfirth mare, moved stylishly through the pack before storming clear from the last, for a 12 length success. It was a mightily impressive display, and Skelton was more than satisfied when saying: “We're obviously very happy with him. I hoped he'd win, but I can't say I expected him to win like that. He's a very talented horse and the plan now is to go straight to the Challow. We're lucky to have him.”

We must remember that we are still in October, and it’s easy to get carried away by eye-catching performances. Nevertheless, I’ll allow myself to get a little carried away by Robin Roe.

Stat of the Day, 23rd September 2016

Thursday's Result :

5.40 Pontefract : Highly Sprung @ 11/2 BOG 7th at 4/1 (Prominent, ridden 2f out, no impression over 1f out, weakened entering final furlong)

Friday's pick goes in the...

5.15 Worcester :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Miss Crick at 4/1 BOG

Why?

This 5 yr old mare is in fine form at present with three wins and a runner-up finish from her last four efforts over hurdles (1121) and she's well suited by conditions here, as she's 3 from 4 under today's jockey Wayne Hutchinson, she's 3/5 going left handed, she's 1 from 1 at this track, 1 from at Class 3 and although this is her first crack at 2m4f, she is 1 from 1 at 2m3f.

In addition to those details, jockey Wayne is 5 from 21 (23.8% SR) here at Worcester since 2013 when riding for Alan King, including 3 wins from 9 (33.3% SR) for 70.6pts (+78.5% ROI) over hurdles, including a win on Miss Crick here back in May of this year.

And if her own stats and those of the trainer/jockey aren't quite enough to persuade you, then a quick look at her breeding might. She's one of many offspring of one of my favourite sires, the recently departed Midnight Legend, about whom there are a myriad of profitable angles to follow, but the one I'm going to share here is very simple indeed...

...Midnight Legend offspring / Class 3 hcp hurdles / 2009 onwards = 35/160 (21.9% SR) for 190.8pts  profit at a whopping ROI of 119.3%.

And of those 160 runners...

  • those who last ran 11-90 days ago are 30/125 (24%) for 169.5pts (+135.6%)
  • those racing over 2m1f to 3m are 29/110 (26.4%) for 194pts (+176.4%)
  • females are 19/75 (25.3%) for 136.5pts (+182%)
  • 5 yr olds are 7/33 (21.2%) for 42.6pts (+129.1%)

and females racing over 2m1f to 3m, 11-90 dslr are 13/47 (27.7% SR) for 120.4pts (+256.2% ROI).

...resulting in...a 1pt win bet on Miss Crick at 4/1 BOG, which was available from Bet365, Betfair Sports and/or BetVictor at 5.25pm on Thursday (it was 5/1 at 5.20!), but to see your preferred bookies' odds, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 5.15 Worcester.

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard...

Triumph Test For Nicholls Newcomer

The BetBright Adonis Juvenile Hurdle is the last recognised trial for four-year-olds with ambitions of heading to contest the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival.

It has a habit of producing talented winners with two of the last 10 following up with victory in the Triumph at Prestbury Park. It’s an event that has favoured lightly raced youngsters rather than those with plenty of hurdling experience under their belt. Indeed, Zarkandar took the Grade 2 in 2011 on his hurdling debut before heading to Cheltenham three weeks later and winning the juvenile feature on just his second hurdles start.

A year earlier Soldatino was making his UK debut when taking the Adonis prior to winning the Triumph at the Festival.

Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls have shared six of the last 10 renewals. They have become the dominant force in juvenile events in recent times, having also struck in five of the last 10 Triumph Hurdles. Those bred in France also feature strongly with six wins from the last 10 renewals. And juveniles contesting under a penalty have also fared well in recent years.

It pays to side with a fancied runner in the Adonis. The top two in the betting account for almost 70% of the winners over the past two decades. Favourites have a terrific record with 9 wins from the last 19 renewals. Zarkandar was the biggest odds winner in the past decade when sent off at 8/1.

Alan King’s Gibralfaro looks sure to go off favourite having impressed in his two hurdles wins to date. Though bred in Ireland, he arrived in King’s yard having run on the flat in France. He has plenty of racing experience and has taken well to the change in codes. He beat Nicholls’ Connetable at Ascot last time, and that form has taken a boost since. He is owned by the McNeill family, and their famous silks were carried to third in the Triumph Hurdle of 2012 by Grumeti.

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Paul Nicholls has several entered with the shortest priced being the hurdles newcomer Zubayr. Formerly owned by the Aga Khan, he ran twice on the flat at Longchamp as a three-year-old before being purchased for a huge sum at the Arqana sales in July. Anthony Bromley of Highflyer Bloodstock along with Harold Kirk representing Willie Mullins and Tom Malone, on behalf of Paul Nicholls, were all bidding for this exciting youngster, and his hurdles debut has been eagerly anticipated.

Pilansberg is another possible newcomer from Ditcheat. Also arriving from France, he was group class on the flat and has some outstanding form in the book. He got to within two lengths of Erupt at Chantilly in June, and that colt went on to finish fifth in the Arc. If he can transfer that kind of form to his hurdling career he could be a really exciting prospect.

Of the remainder, it is always sensible to take note of any juvenile carrying the Munir-Souede silks. Nicky Henderson has a couple entered for connections, with Omessa Has looking the most likely to run. He has plenty of experience having run eight times at Auteuil in 2015. His form is solid rather than spectacular, and although his profile rather goes against the typical Adonis winner, he has to come under consideration when representing such powerful connections.

On what we have seen over hurdles thus far, Gibralfaro is the rightful favourite. However, I’ll be taking a chance with the Paul Nicholls newcomer Zubayr. Ditcheat’s expensive juvenile is finally set to be unleashed and we will find out if the huge outlay was money well spent.

Does King Hold The Aces in Triumph Conundrum?

One bi-product of the weekend’s jump racing action was the continued confusion over the state of the juvenile hurdling scene.

With just five weeks to go before the famous ‘Festival Roar’ reverberates around Prestbury Park, we are no closer to unravelling the mystery that is the 2016 Triumph Hurdle. The downfall of Ivanovich Gorbatov at Leopardstown on Saturday merely served to show just how open this year’s renewal is.

He remains the bookies favourite for the Cheltenham juvenile showpiece, despite the crushing defeat. Better ground at The Festival may suit, though many horses by Montjeu operate at their best on soft ground. It’s some time since a Triumph Hurdle winner arrived off the back of a thumping, and trends strongly favour a winning prep.

The 2012 victor, Countrywide Flame, arrived having finished a three lengths third in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown. Hope then for Let’s Dance who filled that identical spot on Saturday beaten the same distance by Footpad. Rich Ricci’s filly ran on again close home suggesting the famous Cheltenham finish will hold no fears.

Willie Mullins trained the winner at Leopardstown on Saturday, and in Footpad Messrs’ Munir and Souede strengthened their hand further for the Triumph Hurdle. Mullins’ fella looks a thorough stayer and clearly appreciated the testing conditions. His French form ties in very closely with two other contenders in Fix Le Kap and Connetable. He was ahead of both in a race at Auteuil last May, though was favoured by the weights on that occasion. Nevertheless, on that showing, the three are closely matched.

Connetable is trained by Paul Nicholls, and at Sandown on Saturday defeated older horses including Peace And Co. He probably ran to a handicap mark of around 140, and with likely improvement still to come, he would certainly be a player in an ordinary Triumph renewal. Whether this proves to be merely an ordinary renewal remains to be seen.

Fix Le Kap is another carrying the Munir-Souede silks, and is two from two since arriving from France. He romped to victory last time at Warwick, but his earlier success at Newbury was gained after a tough battle with another Nicholls Triumph Hurdle contender in Tommy Silver.

That Newbury race suggests the two are closely matched, with Nicholls’ youngster having come out and won impressively at Musselburgh on Sunday. The Newbury form will come under further scrutiny today when Kasakh Noir runs at Market Rasen. Skelton’s youngster was a dozen lengths behind the front two on that occasion, though carried a penalty due to a previous win at the track. He’s another smart juvenile to come from France, though has plenty on his plate today in the form of Wolfcatcher.

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John Ferguson will be hoping that he has a major Triumph hurdle contender, in what is to be his last National Hunt campaign. The trainer has had a quiet spell of late though is still operating at a stunning strike rate. Wolfcatcher was an impressive winner at Market Rasen on his hurdles debut. He is a striking looking son of King’s Best, out of a Sadler’s Wells mare. He was pretty classy on the flat in France when trained by Andre Fabre. Should he win convincingly today, he becomes yet another realistic contender for the main event at Cheltenham.

Though Ivanovich Gorbatov remains favourite for the Triumph, many believe that trainer Alan King holds the aces and is set to win the March renewal for the first time since the wonderful Katchit back in 2007. Gibralfaro and Sceau Royal are owned by successful juvenile hurdle regulars the McNeill family and last year’s Triumph winning owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.

The latter pair own three of the top six in the betting for the Triumph and Sceau Royal is arguably their most promising challenger. A facile winner at Huntingdon last time, he had previously won at Cheltenham when out-gunning the useful Adrien Du Pont. He’s neat over his obstacles and travels strongly through a race. He also looks to have gears, and has proven his liking for Prestbury Park.

But King also has the Ascot winner Gibralfaro in the yard. He defeated Connetable on that occasion, though Nicholls’ gelding may well have been a little rusty having been off the track for seven months. The Adonis Hurdle at Kempton looks to be the next target for King’s youngster, with the trainer wishing to get a little more experience into the horse.

It’s pretty clear from the above that I have struggled to narrow down the likely leading contenders for this season’s Triumph Hurdle. It’s a race I love and have had a fair amount of success from a punting point of view in recent times. However, this year’s race looks to be one of the most competitive for many a year.

At this particular moment in time I have a feeling that Alan King along with owners Munir and Souede probably have the most potent contenders. The latter pairing continue to gather a mighty team, and look set to become a major force in the coming years.

Yanworth success great news for High-Flying Yorton

Alan King’s novice hurdler Yanworth proved one of the stars of Trials Day at Cheltenham.

His success was great news for the trainer and connections, but also for the Yorton Farm Stud, home to Norse Dancer, the sire of the talented young hurdler. A dual group winner and runner-up in three Group 1’s, he is still a relative newcomer to the breeding game. Nevertheless, he is making quite an impact, providing bumper winners for Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson and now producing his most exciting National Hunt runner in Yanworth.

Big, strong and very athletic are typically words used for Norse Dancer offspring, and that’s certainly the case with King's Cheltenham winner, who now looks the one to beat at the Festival in March.

Yorton Farm is very much the new kid on the block when it comes to the stud industry. Based at Leighton Farm near Welshpool, in 300 acres of the most beautiful Powys countryside, Yorton has become one Britain’s fastest growing breeding operations. Run by the husband and wife team David and Teresa Futter, it’s very much a family affair.

They have quickly gathered a group of top-quality stallions and are dynamic in their approach. Indeed, the arrival of Coronation Cup Group 1 winner Pether’s Moon and the young French National Hunt stallion Blue Bresil, is evidence of their ambition in the industry. The latter has joined the stud from Haras de la Croix Sonnet where he had already sired the likes of Ibis De Rheu, Bol D'Air and Le Prezien.

Blue Bresil appears to fit the Yorton blueprint of the perfect stallion. He is already renowned for producing precocious young jumpers who have size and athleticism. He was a Group 2 performer on the flat in France, and hit similar lofty heights over the jumps.

“It is our on-going aim to build a stallion roster that delivers choice to both the commercial breeder and those who breed for the love of National Hunt," said the ambitious owner David Futter. “We’ve been fortunate to secure two top-quality young stallions in Pether’s Moon and Blue Bresil, who we hope will both have exciting futures and further extend the choice available to the British Breeder.”

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Anthony Bromley from Highflyer Bloodstock also appears excited at the progress being made by the UK stud, saying: “Blue Bresil’s first crop of four-year-olds has really impressed and I have purchased five so far who are above average performers. He is a major coup for the British National Hunt Stallion industry and he has been brought over at the perfect time for British Breeders to capitalise on this.”

All this has come about from the humblest of beginnings when foaling mares for nearby contacts. The business quickly expanded and the move to Leighton Farm took place towards the end of 2013. Futter was originally an equine dentist and worked part-time at various studs in Shropshire.

The enterprise is not exclusively National Hunt driven, with the owners still willing to take horses from the flat. Sulamani is a successful stallion on the roster capable of producing quality over the jumps and on the flat. Rule The World is one such offspring who has already been runner-up at the Cheltenham Festival, whilst Mastery won the St Leger back in 2009.

Gentlewave is another popular inmate, imported from France to Yorton in 2015. The son of Monsun won the Italian Derby and finished runner-up to Dylan Thomas in the Irish equivalent. Pearl Swan has proved the most successful Jumps progeny to date, but the Neil Mulholland trained Pinkie Brown is also making an impact as a juvenile hurdler, and may well take his place in the Fred winter next month. Futter and his team will be confident of many more to come from this powerfully built stallion.

With top-class facilities, quality stock, and all set in magnificent Powys countryside, this is a business flourishing at a rate of knots. Exciting times lie ahead for Yorton Farm Stud.

Keighley’s Cheltenham Delight

Though Alan King rightly received the plaudits for his yard’s high-profile victories at Cheltenham on Saturday, it was also terrific to see Martin Keighley take the concluding handicap hurdle.

Much has been said regarding the loss of Annacotty to King’s stable, and the continued success of that horse is sure to rub a little salt into the wounds. Nevertheless, Keighley continues to do a top-class job and with Solstice Star has extracted a stunning amount of improvement during this latest campaign.

This was the six-year-old gelding’s second success at Cheltenham and he now has an impressive five victories from a dozen hurdle starts. It’s also proving an incredible story for owners Richard East and James Gibbs, who purchased the horse back in September, just before the season began. They have now cheered him to victory five times on the trot; twice at the home of jump racing.

The horse is at his best when the mud is flying, and his trainer must have been concerned when the meeting was in danger of being lost due to the heavens opening during Friday night and into Saturday morning. Keighley was actually part of the inspection team, called upon by Clerk of the Course Simon Claisse, to give a trainer’s view of the track. He describes the scene on his website, saying: “It really was the heaviest I have ever seen it but I knew it would suit my runners and was happy it was safe.”

And so it proved with Solstice proving the star turn. Keighley’s other entrant at Prestbury Park was Johnny Og, who was hoping to follow-up a thrilling success at Ascot just a week earlier. Maybe the race came too soon, or more than likely according to his trainer, the horse was slow away and unable to lead. He is a gelding who enjoys making the running and hates being crowded in his race. When unable to get involved his jockey Andrew Tinkler rightly pulled him up.

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Keighley trains from Condicote Stables in the heart of the Cotswolds, within spitting distance of Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow. It’s an area of outstanding natural beauty, and very much at the heart of the jump racing fraternity. Condicote was once the base of legendary trainer David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson, who trained hundreds of winners from the village, and became Champion trainer twice in the 90’s.

‘The Duke’ captured the Gold Cup in 1988 with Charter Party, and played a huge role in the career of Martin Keighley. Keighley started out in Nicholson’s yard, taking out his Conditional Jockeys’ Licence. He partnered the likes of Barton Bank and Viking Flagship in all of their most serious work. Such experience proved invaluable as he moved into the training ranks.

In recent times horses such as Champion Court, Any Currency and Benbane Head have proved stable flag-bearers. Replacing such stalwarts is always a difficult task, especially in such a relatively small yard. The trainer will be hopeful that stable newcomer Cottersrock can build on his runner-up performance at Doncaster over the weekend. The six-year-old ran a cracker at fanciful odds having previously been trained in Ireland. He has the look of a nice staying type and should make into a decent chaser in time.

Keighley has been in the business long enough to cope with the lows and fully appreciate to highs that come his way. Saturday was certainly the latter, and he’ll be hoping for many more in the coming months.