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Racing Insights, 5th May 2021

Hump Day is almost here and Wednesday's free feature is the Trainer Stats report, whilst our daily free races are...

  • 1.00 Newton Abbot
  • 2.15 Chester
  • 3.05 Newton Abbot
  • 3.35 Newton Abbot
  • 7.50 Fontwell
  • 8.10 Kempton

I'm going to focus on the Trainer Stats report today, using the course 5 year handicap record of the Geegeez-sponsored Anthony Honeyball yard, who have an excellent record when sending handicappers on the 110-mile or so trip East from the Dorset base to Fontwell Park, as seen below...

Anthony has two runners here today, Windance runs in the 6.20 Fontwell, a 7-runner, Class 4, Novices Handicap Hurdle for 4yo+ over 3m2f on Good ground, worth £3,159 whilst Bleue Away runs an hour later in the 7.20 Fontwell, a 6-runner Class 4 Handicap Chase for 5yo+ mares over 2m5½f for a first prize of £3,594.

Anthony Honeyball has been on the rise for a while now and he comes here with his horses having won 3 of 12 in the last 30 days and they have run consistently well for many years here at Fontwell, winning 50 of 150 (33.33% SR) since the start of 2008.

I don't want to lean on old data, though, so we'll just consider his record here since the start of 2017 which stands at an even better 25 from 65 (38.5% SR) and these include of relevance today...

  • 15/38 (39.5%) over hurdles
  • 15/35 (42.9%) in mixed sex races
  • 13/29 (44.8%) from female runners
  • 12/26 (46.2%) from runners aged 6 or 7
  • 12/36 (33.3%) from males
  • 11/36 (30.6%) at Class 4
  • 10/31 (32.3%) in handicaps
  • 8/17 (47.1%) in female only races
  • 6/23 (26.1%) with Rex Dingle in the saddle
  • 3/9 (33.3%) during May
  • 3/15 (20%) over fences

Now to the 6.20 race...

Windance has certainly come on leaps and bounds since being sent out in handicap company, where he is now 2 from 2.

He won a big-field (17 ran) contest over 2m3.5f at Taunton seven weeks ago, pulling clear in the closing stages to win by four lengths. He was then sent out just five days later, upped in class, weight (+7lbs) and trip (+7f) to win here at Fontwell over course and distance, getting up late on to win by a neck despite errors 3 out and 2 out that meant he was still 4 lengths down at the last, but he stayed on strongly to win.

He's up another 6lbs here and probably has little room for error today, but seems to have a massive heart and appetite for the win!

As for the 7.20...

Bleue Away was 2 from 2 in point to point races winning by five lengths over 2 miles and by 30 lengths when stepped up to 2m4f. These runs were in March/April 2019 and her rules debut came in a 31 length defeat when 5th of 12 in a Ffos Las bumper.

Her PTP form suggests she must have some jumping ability, but she hasn't shown us much over hurdles if truth be told, failing to make the frame in four starts so far (7P85), the latest being a 27 length defeat three and a half weeks ago at Plumpton.

She runs here off a mark 4lbs lower than her hurdles mark, but she's really going to have to step up here to get involved, up in both class and trip.

Summary

Of the two, Windance has far the better chance and I actually think he'll finish in the first two home, if not winning. He's currently priced as the 2/1 favourite, which is a little disappointing as (a) I thought he'd be maybe half a point longer and (b) I expected Certainly Red to be a favourite to take on. That said, I've got Windance as the best in the field on my workings, so 2/1 it is.

Bleue Away, however, is right up against it here and if she finishes fouth of the six, she'll have done well. To do any better than that she's going to have to beat Episode, Eyes Right and/or Martha Brae and that's a big ask, so even at 12/1, I'll be leaving her alone.

This doesn't mean Team Honeyball can't land a double on the card, as they've got Credo running on the last race on the card, a mares' bumper. Credo won her sole PTP effort when clear by nine lengths over 3m in mid-November and she backed that up by landing a bumper at Plumpton by 20 lengths on her Rules debut 24 days ago. She's entiteld to come on for the run and although bearing a penalty, could well go in again here at 6/5. Pretty measly odds, for sure, but there's a possible 11/2 double with Windance for those that way inclined.

Regal Encore primed for ‘his Gold Cup’ at Ascot

Anthony Honeyball has Ascot specialist Regal Encore primed for his “Gold Cup” in the ‘My Oddsboost’ On Betfair Swinley Chase on Saturday.

The veteran is now 13 – but showed he was as good as ever last time out when third to Mister Malarky in December at the track in a race he has won before.

While he was pulled up in the Ladbrokes Trophy, before that he won the Sodexho Gold Cup at Ascot – his fourth win at a venue he has also been placed at another four times.

“He seems in good form and he seems to cope with testing ground, these days he appears to appreciate a big of dig in the ground and you could say he likes Ascot,” said Honeyball.

“I’ve never added up how much money he’s won around there, but it’s a hell of a lot.

“He’s won every decent three-mile chase they have. They have three particular valuable ones and he’s won them all. The one in October, the one in December twice and he won this one three years ago and has been third in it twice. He’s an absolute star.

“He probably appreciates Ascot so well because he can get breathers going down the hill and they go a pretty even gallop which he can cope with.

“He quite enjoys the fences there and they can catch a few out if you are not on your A game. Even when he gives them a rub he’s still quite quick over them.

“Just the nature of Ascot helps him, he gets his breathers in and the fences help – he’s got a remarkable record around there.”

He added: “He’s rated 150 at 13 and his career-high was only 154. Last season he would have only just sneaked in the National – if he had done. He wasn’t put in the National this year – we might look at something like the Midlands National.

“Ascot is probably plan A, B and C at the minute – this is just like his Gold Cup.”

Racing Insights, 23rd January 2021

Little went to plan at Lingfield for me today, as course specialist Fizzy Feet abandoned his expected tactics and did what needed to be done ie make all to win. The fact that leading is the best plan at Lingfield was about the only thing I called right, other than it was a tight contest that would be tough to call.

Battered, but not quite defeated, I'll pick myself up for one last tilt at it for this week with a look towards Saturday's racing. Feature of the day is the Trainer/Jockey combo report, whilst our free races are...

  • 1.22 Navan
  • 1.30 Haydock
  • 3.00 Ascot
  • 4.05 Newcastle

Our four free races are a 20-runner maiden hurdle, a 5-runner novice hurdle, a race that Sam Darby has already previewed elsewhere on the site and an 8-runner A/W handicap that looks a 2 horse race with both at short odds, so its off to the Trainer/Jockey combo report (1 year) and a bit of a Geegeez feel to it all, as we sponsor both yard and jockey...

Matt mentioned in his mail-out that no jockey riding at Haydock on Saturday has a better IV in heavy ground in the past 5 years than Geegeez-sponsored Ben Godfrey (2.59) and that's got to be a positive before we even start.

Sam Brown is a 9 yr old gelding, who runs in a Grade 2 handicap chase over 3m2f, whilst Le Coeur Net is another 9 yr old gelding, but he goes in a Class 3 handicap chase over 2m0.5f.

We know from above that the Honeyball/Godfrey alliance has 8 wins and 2 places from 19 over the past year, but those 19 runs include...

  • 7 from 18 in handicaps & 8/13 at odds shorter than 9/1
  • 6/11 on heavy ground & 3/9 on male runners
  • 2/8 over fences and 3/5 in January
  • 3/4 at Class 3, but no run at Class 1
  • 2/4 with Le Coeur Net, but Ben rides Sam Brown for the first time here.

So, to the races, starting with the 2.40 Haydock...

Sam Brown makes his handicap debut here, our racecard snippets show that Anthony Honeyball has a good record with handicap debutants and they also show that Ben Godfrey is in good nick right now. We already know about the trainer/jockey combo and that Ben rides well on heavy ground.

Instant Expert shows the horse in a very good light and he comes here on the back of finishing third in a Listed event twelve weeks ago. In his defence, he ran for a good while before fading as you'd expect after a 260-day absence. Aside from that run, he was two from three over fences including a Grade 2 win here at Haydock on heavy ground a year ago. He was rated at 148 at the time of that race and won comfortably by 15 lengths, earning him his current mark of 152, which doesn't look too much of an imposition here, especially if you consider that Ben Godfrey can take 5lbs off.

On top of the stats shown in Instant Expert, he is 4 from 4 going left handed, 3 from 4 when not favourite, 2 from 4 over fences, 2 from 2 in January and 1 from 2 at Grade 2, with that Gr 2 heavy ground chase win here a year ago very relevant today.

He likes to get on with things, as shown by the pace tab and that's a tactic that has paid dividends in the past here at Haydock and I'd expect a similar bold show this time, especially if the first-time tongue tie does the job.

Did you know? Anthony Honeyball's runners tongue tied for the first time are 6 from 17 (35.3% SR) since the start of 2020.

*

And now to the 3.50 Haydock...

Once again, the racecard reminds us of Ben Godfrey's form and the TJ Combo stats and Instant Expert also shows that Le Coeur net has some form under the conditions he's likely to face here. In 20 handicap starts over fences, he has made the frame 10 times, winning 5 of them, which is a decent return, although he was a tad disappointing seven weeks ago at Chepstow and will need to improve/bounce back from that, but he had won all three of his previous completed (5 starts in total) runs before that race.

In relation to this race, his 20 handicap chase efforts include...

  • 5 wins, 5 places from 19 in a tongue tie & 4 wins, 4 places from 13 going left handed
  • 3 wins, 4 places from 13 as a non-fav & 3 wins, 2 places from 10 on heavy ground
  • 3 wins, 2 places from 9 under Ben Godfrey & 4 wins, 1 place from 7 over 2m to 2m1f
  • 3 wins, 1 place from 6 in cheekpieces & 2 wins from 5 in fields of 8-11 runners
  • 1 from 2 at Class 3, 1/2 in January, 1/1 after 1-2 months rest, but 0/1 here at Haydock.

All of which points to him having a decent chance of at lest making the frame, if previous form is anything to go by. He is, however, effectively 6lbs worse off than when he last won (2 starts ago) and only a pound better off than that poor run last time out.

Regarding the pace of the race, we've not got enough past data from similar contests to assess what would be the best way of approaching this contest tactically, but it does look like four or five of them will want to get on with it early doors and this could lead them to taking each other on, doing too much and leaving the door open for what is essentially the bottom half of the pace graphic.

Summary

We'll start with Sam Brown, who I have as second best here in my mind behind likely favourite Royale Pagaille with Sam's Adventure my third pick. I suspect that the market might well agree, I'll find out soon. My issue with Royale Pagaille is the weight, he won a soft ground, Class 2 contest over 3 miles by just over three lengths last time out and as he steps up in class and trip here, the ground will be bottomless and he has been raised some 16lbs, which seems punitive.

As for Le Coeur Net, he's definitely good enough to win this, although I rate him fourth here, marginally ahead of long-term absentee Reivers Lad but behind Destined To Shine, Protek des Flos and Black Pirate. As I suggested earlier, Protek might get involved in a burn-out up front, enabling Le Coeur Net to make the frame late on. The question is which horse turns up for Mr Honeyball : the impressive chaser from Plumpton & Ffos Las last November or the Chepstow version from seven weeks ago.

I've now seen the markets, Sam Brown is a best-priced 7/2 second favourite, I had hoped for 4's or better, whilst Le Coeur Net is 11/2, whereas I expected something in the region of 15/2.

I can't back the latter each way at 11/2 and I have reservations over his chances of winning here, so I'll leave him out, but I will chance a couple of quid on Sam Brown at 7/2.

 

Pipe delight as Umbrigado gets off the mark over fences

David Pipe was delighted to see Umbrigado make it third time lucky for the season with a battling victory at Fontwell.

Having made a promising start to his season when runner-up in a competitive handicap hurdle at Haydock, the grey was well fancied to make a successful debut over fences at Uttoxeter last month, but ultimately proved no match for marginal favourite Northofthewall.

Ridden by Tom Scudamore, the seven-year-old was the 1-2 favourite to go one better in the Subscribe To attheraces On Youtube Novices’ Chase – and as the betting predicted, it turned into a straight shootout between Umbrigado and Up The Straight.

Odds-on backers were made to sweat, with Up The Straight refusing to go down without a fight, but Pipe’s charge dug deep in the testing conditions to prevail by three and a half lengths.

Pipe said: “I thought the betting was probably wrong beforehand as I didn’t think there was much between them (Umbrigado and Up The Straight) – there was only 3lb between them on ratings.

“Our horse has jumped and found for pressure and I thought it was a good performance.

“We’ll probably try to find another low-key race for him. He doesn’t mind this ground we’ve got at the moment, which is a big plus.”

Trainer Anthony Honeyball and conditional jockey Ben Godfrey combined for a treble on the card, with Gustavian striking first in the ‘Off The Fence’ On youtube.com/attheraces Handicap Hurdle.

FonBen Godfrey riding Lily The Pink (right) at Fontwell twell Park Races – January 14th
Ben Godfrey riding Lily The Pink (right) at Fontwell (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

It was hard work for the 6-4 favourite under a big weight, but he eventually reeled in Hasankey on the run-in and passed the post two lengths to the good.

“I was really pleased with him and if you’d seen his other races, today was probably easy viewing – I think he’s learning that he’s not as fast as he thinks he is! said Honeyball.

“Back over an extended two miles in heavy ground really suited him, the tempo was better for him as he can cruise, but he’s a bit one-paced. It’s all about picking the right race, right track and right ground for him.”

Honeyball and Godfrey were on the mark again an hour later, with 9-4 shot Lily The Pink proving strongest in the Visit attheraces.com Handicap Hurdle, before the hat-trick was completed by Swincombe Fleat (7-2) in the Sky Sports Racing HD Virgin 535 Maiden NH Flat Race.

Ben Godfrey and Swincombe Fleat come clear in the bumper
Ben Godfrey and Swincombe Fleat come clear in the bumper (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

On the latter, Honeyball said: “She’s really well related, but just went through the motions a bit on her debut at Ffos Las.

“Today she was a bit more lit up and had her racing brain on. Ben was able to sit handy and she was getting a fair bit of weight, too.

“Her dam (Swincombe Flame) won a Listed bumper at Sandown and I think we’ll probably end up there as the right horse (favourite) was second today.”

It was a first treble for Godfrey, who is now down to 5lb from 7lb.

“He’s been grafting away and has some great fun riding for the owners of Lily The Pink (Wessex Racing Club) and rides all their horses,” said Honeyball.

“We’ve gradually given him more opportunities. He’s a lot like Rex Dingle, he’s light, great to deal with and it’s no hardship giving them rides.

“I think he’s down to 5lb now but we’ve plenty of winners to use it up.”

Honeyball looking to headgear to reignite Jepeck spark

Anthony Honeyball hopes the addition of cheekpieces and a tongue tie can help Jepeck bounce back to form and secure back-to-back victories in the Unibet Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Sandown.

The 12-year-old will bid to open his account for the season by repeating his success of 12 months ago in the three-mile final of the veterans’ series.

After pulling up over course and distance in November on his return to action, Jepeck suffered the same result on his most recent outing in last month’s Welsh National Trial at Chepstow.

Honeyball said: “He seems in good form at home – we’ve had this race in mind since he qualified at Carlisle at the end of last season and we have gone through similar paces to end up in the final.

“Last season he was coming into the race off some pretty good efforts over hurdles and his confidence was sky high.

“His two runs this season have been nothing to get excited about, but hopefully the addition of cheekpieces and a tongue tie can spark him up.

“He is back down to the same mark as last year’s race, but I think it is a tougher race this year. There are no signs at home to suggest why he won’t run well.”

Crosspark has not won since landing the 2019 Eider Chase at Newcastle and has finished second in his three starts so far this season.

Caroline Bailey, trainer, said: “Crosspark is fit and well and he goes there in good form from his last run at the track.

“He has gone up 6lb since the start of the season as he is running so well, but you can’t ignore that (the rise) is frustrating when they aren’t winning.

“The handicapper thinks he is still improving from 10 to 11, but whether he has too much weight, only time will tell.

“He won’t particularly like it if it becomes sticky, but it was pretty horrible last time and he ran well and we know he stays well.”

Potters Legend will be out to gain a second success this season having made a winning return at Warwick (Adam Davy/PA)
Potters Legend will be out to gain a second success this season having made a winning return at Warwick (Adam Davy/PA)

Lucy Wadham expects recent Cheltenham runner-up Potters Legend to have no problems handling the testing conditions.

She said: “I thought we were going to get there at Cheltenham, but both he and third probably helped the winner pick up. However, he ran on well to the line.

“This race has been in the back of our mind, but he would have probably run at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, so it’s plan B.

“He is probably as good now as he has ever been as he has just matured as a chaser. He is a very strong horse, so he pretty much handles any ground.”

Sametegal and Sam Twiston-Davies (right) gets up to win the 2016 Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury (Jonathan Brady/PA Images)
Sametegal and Sam Twiston-Davies (right) gets up to win the 2016 Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury (Jonathan Brady/PA Images)

Paul Nicholls believes a day out hunting has sharpened up Sametegal, who will be seeking a first success since the 2016 Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury.

“This veterans’ race has been the target for Sametegal ever since he finished sixth in the Grand Sefton Chase over the National fences at Aintree,” said Nicholls in his Betfair column.

“He is so consistent he doesn’t get much help from the handicapper and he ran as well as ever when a close third behind Step Back at Sandown over three miles early in November.

“Sametegal loved his day out with the Blackmore and Sparkford Hunt the other day. I expect him to run his usual honest race, though he does find it hard to win.”

Sir Ivan has run well in both starts over two and a half miles this season, however trainer Harry Fry expects the 11-year-old to be equally effective stepped back up in trip.

Fry said: “He’s been running consistently well this season, which has always been his downfall really because he never moves much in the handicap.

“He ran his best race over fences in a long time the last day at Leicester.

“Obviously this is a step back up in trip, but he’s got form over the distance and takes his chance.”

Honeyball confident Sojourn fits bill for Tommy Whittle

Anthony Honeyball is confident Sojourn ticks all the boxes for a big performance in the Betfair Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase at Haydock.

The near three-and-a-quarter-mile trip and the certainty of heavy, testing ground on Saturday should suit the lightly-raced seven-year-old, according to the Dorset-based trainer.

Honeyball decided to aim Sojourn at this race after the Getaway gelding shrugged off 330 days on the sidelines with a 15-length romp on heavy ground at Carlisle seven weeks ago.

Sojourn made a couple of mistakes at the Cumbrian track, but that was understandable because it was only his third race over fences and his seventh career stall in all.

A blunder at the penultimate obstacle when he was well clear failed to stop him coming home well clear of his nearest pursuer, Amateur. He in turn was 24 lengths ahead of the third.

“After he won at Carlisle, we felt that he hadn’t taken a lot of racing, so we’d target this race with him – and hopefully we’ve got there in one piece,” said Honeyball.

“He hasn’t had that many runs over fences yet. But he’s really shaped nicely, and we’re looking forward to running him in it.

“Conditions should suit him fine, and it all looks set fair with the trip and the ground. The track on that ground won’t be a problem. We’re looking forward to it.”

Hill Sixteen is on a hat-trick after winning both his outings this season since joining Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Cotswolds yard.

The seven-year-old was trained by Sue Smith in Yorkshire and was one of the horses sold by owner Trevor Hemmings in the autumn. He was bought for £46,000 at his dispersal sale.

Hill Sixteen could not have made a better start for new connections when trotting up by 46 lengths over fences at Ffos Las.

Twiston-Davies then tried him over hurdles, and he duly obliged with a length verdict over Lil Rockerfeller.

The trainer admits he has concerns about the going for the Court Cave gelding, though.

“He’s done nothing wrong, and hopefully it won’t be too soft for him,” said Twiston-Davies.

“I’m just worried about the ground, but it’s the same for all of them.”

Enqarde is making his debut over fences in Britain for Grand National-winning trainer Dr Richard Newland, although he has plenty of experience in his native France.

Newland believes the time is right to put him over the bigger obstacles after he got off the mark over hurdles at the second attempt at Newcastle this month.

“We’re going over fences, he’s in such super form,” said the Worcester trainer.

“Whether he’ll quite get this trip in the ground, we’ll see.

“He’s got a nice low weight, and he’s in good form, so I’m hopeful he’ll go well. The horses are running well at present.”

Regal Encore headlines Ascot treble for Honeyball

Anthony Honeyball described Saturday as the “best day” of his training career after celebrating a 308-1 treble at Ascot, highlighted by the victory of Regal Encore in the Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap Chase.

Despite being in the twilight of his career, the popular 12-year-old demonstrated he still has plenty to offer when going one better than 12 months ago in the valuable Grade Three prize to register a fourth course-and-distance success.

Jumping well throughout the three-mile contest in the hands of Richie McLernon, the 14-1 shot took command of matters from long-time leader Might Bite over the second last before demonstrating the best of his battling abilities to defeat Whatmore by a length and quarter.

Honeyball said: “Without a doubt it’s our best day I think. Any day Regal has been here and won a big pot has been incredible.

“Ordinarily we would have been hopeful of a big run, but a few weeks ago he was a bit flat and he wasn’t eating up as well.

“He has come back to hand, but we felt we missed one or two bits of work in that time. It was right to run, but it was last minute. As he loves it, we thought if it only ends up as a run, it will get us back on track for another day and that’s fine.

“Richie kept him happy and you couldn’t really see him running poorly from there as he was always running a good race, but I was worried he might blow up a touch with what we missed.”

Assessing future plans, Honeyball hinted an outing in next month’s Ladbrokes Trophy could be next on the agenda, for which Regal Encore was introduced at 25-1 by William Hill and Paddy Power.

He said: “He has run well in the Ladbrokes Trophy before and he is in that. He can go out wide and be handy and I think it probably is the obvious option.

“We were thinking about a Becher Chase, but we will probably go for the Ladbrokes Trophy as they will go an end-to-end gallop.”

Kid Commando formed the middle leg of Honeyball’s haul when resuming his progression with an impressive front-running success in the Sodexo Handicap Hurdle.

Last sighted finishing third in a Grade Two at Kempton in February, the six-year-old made the most of a drop down to Listed company to add a second win over hurdles to his name.

Maintaining a good gallop throughout the extended one-mile-seven-furlong prize, the 11-4 favourite found plenty from the sharp end to cross the line four and three-quarter lengths clear of Malaya.

The winning trainer said: “It was a good decision (to stick at this trip) as if he ran well but it had been too sharp. it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but he will come out of this better for another day.

“If we had gone to Carlisle on Sunday, it would have definitely been a hard race for him and he has probably got too much boot to run over two and a half round Carlisle.

“I was keen to go up to two and half, but I think now, as long as it is very soft ground, we will stick at two and if not we will go up to two and a half.”

Sully D’Oc (9-2) got the ball rolling for both Honeyball and McLernon with a first victory over fences in the Ascot Underwriting Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.

Sam Brown ready to return

Anthony Honeyball’s five-time winner Sam Brown may start his season at Carlisle in the Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase.

The eight-year-old scored twice over fences last season, winning his chasing debut by 22 lengths before claiming a Grade Two at Haydock by a wide margin too.

Sam Brown was then pulled up in Ascot’s Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase before his season was prematurely ended by Covid-19 and the resulting cancellation of Aintree’s Grand National meeting, where he was set to contest the Mildmay Novices’ Chase.

He holds an entry for Carlisle’s Listed event on Sunday, with a return to Haydock also under consideration.

“He might well run (at Carlisle)” said Honeyball.

“I am certainly keeping an eye on the race. If it turns out to be very heavy and the race cuts up a bit then he might well take his chance there.

“It’s there or he’s going to have to wait another three weeks for a graduation chase at Haydock at the Betfair Chase meeting.

“The Haydock race would be absolutely ideal for him – but with this race on Sunday, it would just be nice to get him out again.

“It’s a good sort of race for him – and they’ve also got a lot of rain forecast, which he’ll love – so he might well end up taking his chance.”

Carlisle could also be the scene of a seasonal comeback for Honeyball’s decent hurdler Kid Commando.

The six-year-old cut his teeth in Graded company when finishing third in the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle last season.

His trainer is weighing up whether to campaign him over the same minimum distance at Ascot on Saturday, or head to Carlisle instead to take on an extended trip of two miles and four furlongs.

“Kid Commando is going to come out at the weekend, I hope,” he said.

“He might go to Ascot – he’s second favourite for a Listed handicap hurdle on Saturday. He’s also got the option of going to Carlisle for a £20,000 two-mile four handicap.

“Both races are in mind – he’s going well and he’s a lovely horse. If he was to step up to two and a half miles that would suit him well, and he handles soft ground very well also.

“It might end up quite a stiff two miles at Ascot on Saturday if it keeps raining there, however, so it might be an option for him. ”

Kid Commando is another whose Aintree plans were scuppered last year when his intended target was the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.

“We were going to run him in a Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree next time out after that (the Dovecote),” added Honeyball.

“That was a step up to two and a half. That will be the interesting thing, going up to two and a half.

“We’re excited about him. He’s a nice horse and he’s trained on well this season.”

Another National Encore on agenda for Regal

Anthony Honeyball’s veteran chaser Regal Encore may yet contest the Grand National for a third time this season.

The 12-year-old, whose two attempts at the Aintree spectacular so far have come in 2017 and 2019, could make his seasonal reappearance in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot on Saturday.

Having finished second behind Kim Bailey’s Vinndication in the same race last season, Regal Encore will aim to go one better before moving on to the Becher Chase at Aintree.

“He might well go to Ascot on Saturday for the race he was second in last season, the Sodexo,” said Honeyball.

“He could then back that up a month later in something like the Becher Chase.

“That could well be his two-race plan – go to Ascot, and if he came out of it well then have a break through to the Becher Chase, which would be a nice target for him.”

Regal Encore has finished eighth and seventh so far in his two National bids, and Honeyball remains open to the idea of a third tilt at the race – if he makes the cut from his rating.

“His mark is such that he’s just on the cusp right now,” said the Dorset trainer.

“He just might squeak in off his mark, but obviously in the races he’s running in it’s going to be tough – these handicaps are tough.

“He might end up dropping a few pounds – so it would be nice, during the course of the season, if he could once again win one of these nice races and then that would just about get him in.

“We’ll just have to see how he goes. He’s 12 rising 13 now, but if his handicap was such that he could get in the National then he would run in it again.”

Honeyball has also issued an update on the promising Acey Milan, who impressed with a winning chasing debut at Aintree on Saturday.

A run in Newbury’s John Francome Novices’ Chase is now pencilled in for the six-year-old, who already has two Listed bumper wins and a second-placed finish in the Grade Three Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock on his CV.

“He’s looking very good – he came out of (Aintree) really well,” said Honeyball.

“The earliest he’d probably run again would be a race at Newbury that we’ve got in mind, a Grade Two three-mile novice chase.

“It’s a bit of a leap up – obviously it was a handicap the other day, and his rating will be such that we’d probably be looking more to towards handicaps, but he’s got that high-quality back form from his bumpers.

“We just might be inclined to go there if it came up with very soft ground. It’s a possible for him next, because he’s come out of the race very well.”

Monday Musings: Bolger’s Bright Futurity

I remember back in May when the BHA and the more influential trainers were hoping for a resumption of racing during that month, I was thinking that because the weather can be less wintry during October and November, maybe Flat racing could extend a few weeks longer to help restore some of the losses of fixtures during the spring closure, writes Tony Stafford.

Fortunately the BHA are not so stupid, and the end of turf racing will be at Doncaster on November 7 when hopefully the Bombardier British Hopped Amber Beer November Handicap – if not simply so that the commentator can try that on for size – can be staged, unlike last year.

Last year, not only the end of season card but also the two scheduled turf meetings at Doncaster and Newbury equivalent to last weekend were washed out. The Vertem Futurity, the last UK Group 1 two-year-old race, was switched to Newcastle’s Tapeta the following Friday and won by Kameko, who went on to 2,000 Guineas success seven months later on the first Saturday after the restart.

This year’s Vertem Futurity went ahead at the normal venue. The Doncaster going, officially described as heavy and deemed too testing for Wembley, left the Ballydoyle team with a rare blank in the contest. It was won by the Jim Bolger-trained and -bred Mac Swiney and while the race didn’t have a single son (or daughter) of Galileo on hand, Mac Swiney is by Galileo’s son New Approach out of a mare by Teofilo, also by Galileo so is closely in-bred to the great champion.

Both Teofilo and New Approach were bred and raced initially by Bolger and went unbeaten through their juvenile campaigns, each winning five out of five, culminating in the Dewhurst and being awarded two-year-old champion status.

Teofilo retired after that single season, being the first juvenile champion for the sire, but New Approach went on to win the Derby at Epsom, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Champion Stakes by an overwhelming six lengths. Narrow defeats in the 2,000 Guineas and then the Irish equivalent briefly tarnished his reputation as did a sole third place in the Juddmonte, switched to Newmarket when York closed for a year. His overall record stands the closest inspection.

Not content with a track career, he was sent to stud and immediately produced Dawn Approach, yet another unbeaten juvenile champion that collected the Dewhurst as his rite of passage and then the 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes for good measure. The family has done Mr Bolger proud, just as gentleman Jim was fundamental in the early years to help along the Galileo legend.

But back to the going, and certainly Mac Swiney’s combination of speed and power through soft ground – it was barely heavy according to the times on Saturday – will serve him well when sure as night follows day he turns up for the Classics on one side of the Irish Sea or other, possibly both.

It was definitely heavy at Newbury and looking at those seven times I wager that the racecourse authorities there must be relieved they can turn their attention to the separate jumps course which will not have been watered during the dry months while racing was off, unlike the Flat strip where the recent deluges have rendered it virtually unraceable.

The least excessively slow time was the 10.22 sec above standard it took to run the second race, a six-furlong fillies’ nursery. Everything else, including the Radley and St Simon, the two Group races on the card, were almost two seconds per furlong slow, unconscionably so for Flat races. The finale, an amateur handicap, took almost 30 seconds more than standard to run a mile and a half.

With rain seemingly about all over the country it will be more interesting to see which of the remaining nine scheduled turf Flat fixtures can go ahead. Leicester (heavy) and Redcar (soft) are planned for today and are expected to survive. Then we have Catterick tomorrow (soft/heavy), Nottingham Wednesday (soft), and Newmarket on Friday and Saturday for the season finale again on soft ground. Next week Redcar and Nottingham on Wednesday and Thursday respectively and that Doncaster date on Saturday week bring matters to a damp conclusion.

Last weekend featured, as ever, three of only 13 Group 1 juvenile races to be run all year in Europe. Ireland’s three are run earlier than the five each of the UK and France. This year the 6f Phoenix Stakes in August and both the Moyglare and National Stakes the following month were staged on decent ground and run in acceptable times.

The first four juvenile Group 1 races in England were all staged at Newmarket. The Royal Lodge, Middle Park and Cheveley Park are the triple centre-pieces of Future Champions Day and the Rowley Mile on that September afternoon was blessed with fastish ground and quick times. It was also satisfactory for the Dewhurst won by St Mark’s Basilica early this month. Interestingly, before their Group 1 victories, both colts had run in the National Stakes behind Thunder Moon, St Mark’s Basilica finishing third and Mac Swiney eighth. Immediately before that, they each won on the same card again at the Curragh, the O’Brien colt in a maiden and Mac Swiney as a 28-1 shocker in a Group 2.

But it’s the French who are most often a hostage to fortune, seeing that their only pre-October Group 1 race is the Prix Morny close to the end of the Deauville summer festival. Wesley Ward and Frankie Dettori won that this year with the filly Campanelle and, while the ground was officially soft, the winning time of only a second slower than standard argues with that.

For the remainder, there are two races on Arc Day, the Jean-Luc Lagardere over 7f for colts and fillies, and the one-mile Marcel Boussac for fillies only. Heavy was the designation, and times of plus 3.49 and 5.73 suggests the description may be a shade exaggerated. When you get to heavy, after that, there’s probably only treacle. Of the year’s last two G1 races, one is the Criterium International, a race I remember fondly because of French Fifteen. That, over a mile, is the shorter while the Criterium de Saint-Cloud is a gut-busting 10 furlongs.

They were run on the Paris track on Saturday and heavy really did mean heavy. The Aidan O’Brien-trained Van Gogh, by American Pharoah, was an emphatic four-length winner but took 10.71 sec longer than he normally should have done. The Mark Johnston-trained Gear Up, making it three wins in four starts, relished the ground and with a show of great determination saw off a challenging quintet of would-be top-level winners at 27-1 under James Doyle. His time was more than 18 seconds slower than standard.

That race’s scheduled off time was only five minutes after the Vertem Futurity and you could call it an acceptable few minutes in the 78-year life of Jim Bolger as Gear Up, by Teofilo, was also bred by the trainer/breeder. The dam Gearanai, by Toccet, was of little account in racing terms but has been a brilliant mate for Teofilo producing four decent winners as well as another by New Approach. Sold as a yearling for €52,000 at Goffs just over a year ago, Gear Up has brought fantastic enjoyment to Teme Valley 2 and the Johnstons.

Having collected the final French juvenile Group 1 race of the year, Mark also had the last word by winning not only France’s final Group 1 of any age but also Europe’s concluding Group 1 of all at Longchamp yesterday. His three-year-old, Subjectivist, who faded into seventh behind Galileo Chrome after setting the pace in what is turning out to have been a high-quality St Leger, kept going to the finish to win the Prix Royal-Oak against his elders. Tony Mullins’ mare Princess Zoe, attempting to follow her Prix Du Cadran win over the Arc weekend, could get no nearer than fourth over the half-mile shorter trip.

*

The ground was pretty slow too for both Cheltenham on Saturday and Aintree yesterday as the jumps season finally got into its stride. I also watched one early race at Hexham where 14 set off for a 14-runner handicap hurdle and with half a mile to go basically two were galloping, one plodding and the rest crying enough. It was heavy for much of last winter and trainers will be dreading similar conditions this winter having had the last season so cruelly ended before Aintree and the other important spring fixtures could be concluded.

Aintree yesterday gave a couple of indications that the Skelton team was getting into full stride. Their summer activity, a feature of Dan’s early training career, is almost negligible in comparison nowadays, but the smart horses are coming out now. Two from yesterday (from a sample of 13 winners during an accelerating two-week period) that advertised the team’s well-being and the trainer’s skill, were debutant Real Stone, a comfortable 50-1 winner of the competitive maiden hurdle which opened the card and bumper winner Elle Est Belle, also a newcomer who swamped previous winner Windswept Girl in the finale.

She is a daughter of Fame And Glory, whose early demise – he was just 11 having raced until six winning 14 times – was such a loss to Coolmore’s jump stallions. After this stylish win Elle Est Belle would be an early contender for the Cheltenham and Aintree Festival bumpers if Dan and owner Mrs Suzanne Lawrence can wait that long.

It was a frustrating few days for the Geegeez.co.uk colours as Windswept Girl’s stable-companion Coquelicot was a beaten favourite at Fontwell, where her jumping on hurdles debut was open to a deal of improvement. Both talented females carry high hopes into their second season with Anthony Honeyball and, don’t worry Matt and co, I reckon you have days of success and enjoyment to look forward to.

Anthony Honeyball Stable Tour 2020/21

On the eve of Anthony Honeyball's first intended runners of the 2020/21 National Hunt season, I caught up with the progressive Dorset handler to discuss his team - sponsored by geegeez.co.uk - for the campaign ahead.

It's an exciting blend of unraced stores, novices and experienced handicappers which should pay to follow.

Here, Anthony discusses current plans.

Click here to view Anthony's current entries and recent results

 

HorseThoughts/ plan for this season?
ACEY MILAN (IRE)Goes novice chasing this season, wants ground on the easy side of good; 2m2f-3m nov hcap chase maybe Aintree early Nov. Feel his mark is workable in spite of performing well last season. Hoping he can progress into pattern chases.
AVOIR DE SOINS (IRE)He's had his problems but hopeful he can win a little handicap hurdle if his jumping holds up; if he can win one he might end up winning three! First things first, though.
BELLE DE MANECH (FR)Nice filly. Seems to handle any ground, will start in a mares' maiden hurdle; nearly ready to run. Home work is good, ignore final run last season where she was probably feeling the effects of a gruelling race at Ascot. Nice mare to follow.
BLEUE AWAY (IRE)Had an issue with cramping at the back end of her race; really pleased with her now and hopefully she'll go well in a mares' maiden hurdle early November. Really good jumper, probably start over two miles, ridden positively. Very hopeful.
BOB BACKUS (IRE)Taking his time to come to hand, and might need a bit of experience in novice hurdles; perhaps won't fully come to himself until novice handicap chases.
CAPTAIN CLAUDEHalf brother (Flinck) placed in Silver Trophy so promising sign. Just getting going now so hope to run in a bumper in Spring.
COQUELICOT (FR)Very strong galloper. Was a star for the yard and her owners (a geegeez syndicate) last season, winning three (including Listed bumper). The further she goes the better she goes. She'll start off in a maiden hurdle and then go down the mares' novice route, hopefully ending up at Cheltenham in March.
DEJA VUE (IRE)Schooled really well over fences; appreciates heavy ground and front running. Small field mares' novice chase and proper winter ground will be ideal for her.
DON LAMITrained really well so far, wants good to soft ground and should be competitive in three mile handicap chases, hopefully still progressive
DREAMING BLUE (GB)Has the stamina to make a juvenile; schooling has been fine, improving each time. Excited to see how he fares, probably starting next month. Also has the option to have a run or two on the flat.
FANFARON DINO (FR)Huge horse; showed well in bumper but no good twice in novice hurdles; bred to be very good (half brother to Champion Hurdler, Epatante). Might be seen to better effect in handicaps. Soft/heavy, 2m4f
FIRESTREAM (GB)Spring horse, strong pedigree. Could be very nice.
GABRIEL’S GETAWAY (GB)Staying pedigree, so likely to need more time. Might be ready for a spring bumper but more likely one for next season
GLORIOUS ISOLATION (IRE)Schooled eye-catchingly well, and has a fair engine. Might go straight to mares' maiden hurdles to make use of her athleticism.
GUSTAVIAN (IRE)Goes into handicaps off 120 which looks a decent starting perch. Dropped in usually because he's keen at home; but ended up having a bit too much to do more than once. There weren't many hurdles to jump the day he won, but he did it well. He's talented and will be well in if not pulling his chance away. Might progress to be a Pertemps type.
HIDEAWAY VIC (IRE)Going chasing. Schooled very well. Has had breathing issues, had a wind op. Handles deep ground, but 120 may not be a gimme in novices' handicap chases. That said, hoping he can win off that mark. Soft ground, 2m4f-3m
HOWLINGMAD MURDOCK (IRE)Apart from the name, he has a fair bit going for him! Brother to Easy As That, who is a very talented horse. Very straightforward so far. Looking towards spring bumpers with him.
JEPECK (IRE)Qualified already for the veterans' final, and that will be his primary target.
KAYF SERA SERA (GB)Another who if she wins one she might run up a sequence. Ran well on her debut at Ffos Las but not gone on over hurdles. Should improve with another summer on her back and may just need her first run back.
KHALINA STAR (GB)Geegeez syndicate mare. Still growing, good size; will come back in when the weather gets colder and be aimed at a spring bumper
KID COMMANDO (GB)Lovely horse, ran a cracker in the G2 Dovecote Hurdle. Always wants to please. Will ideally like 2m4f, softish ground, and could feasibly handicapped even off 136. Ready to go towards end of October, maybe at Aintree and then on to Haydock on Betfair Chase day.
KILCONNY BRIDGE (IRE)Mares' handicap hurdle at Wincanton next month is the initial target for her, then go from there. Tough ask off 126 but she's earned that after four wins last season. She'll jump a fence, maybe later in the season. Has schooled nicely, though may want to go right-handed
LE COEUR NET (FR)Quietly progressive from season to season, now rated 115, and will probably follow a similar path to last season (conditionals' race at Newbury, handicap chase at Wincanton)
LILITH (IRE)Think she wants soft ground - she has a very high knee action; looking forward to getting her over fences but will go novice hurdling this season. 2m4f mares maiden hurdle mid-Nov onwards in the mud
LILY THE PINK (GB)Has a bit of scope and may be interesting over a fence, but we may try to win one more handicap hurdle first.
MARCO ISLAND (IRE)Lovely big horse, aiming for a bumper in the spring but may not be quite ready until next autumn. Very much a chaser in the making
MARILYN MONROE (IRE)Runs off a lowly mark, and if she has any ability should be able to win races on decent ground. She is quirky but has schooled well and will be ready to go soon.
MIDNIGHT CALLISTO (GB)Lovely mare, schooling well; ready to go now in a mares' maiden hurdle. Has minor black type already, and looking forward to seeing how far she can go in that sphere.
MIDNIGHT TUNE (GB)Had a palate fire; pulled up in two of her last three, and this will probably be her final season before going to the paddocks. She'll be aimed at decent mares' chases and/or good class staying handicap chases. We love her to bits, and she owes the yard nothing.
MONT SEGUR (FR)Few little setbacks but has run very well in between. Quirky but really talented; schooled well over hurdles but won't go novice hurdling until after a bumper (or two) at Ascot end of the month.
MOONDANCER (GB)Well related to flat horses, smart flat pedigree but doesn't behave like a flat horse. Slowly getting the hang of things, and will be aimed at bumpers late this year.
NOCTURNAL MYTH (GB)Good work horse at home. Got a fair mark, had a wind op, should go very well in a handicap hurdle. Will then kick on over fences. Could be a lot of fun if he clicks this season.
PRECIOUS (IRE)Very (like, very!) big mare, and carries a lot of condition; but she always responds in her work. Hoping she'll be ready to go in November (both her sisters have won bumpers)
PURE VISION (IRE)Pretty good on his day but hasn't taken much racing in recent times; had a palate fire. Goes on any ground, probably better on softer side, 3m+. Everything seems right just now so hoping he'll be competitive again.
REGAL ENCORE (IRE)Superstar for the yard, likely to go back to Ascot before heading towards Aintree. Plan is well understood after a number of years the same: try to win a valuable handicap at Ascot before a tilt at the National. That said, might have a spin in the Becher this season.
REPRESENTED (IRE)Back cantering; wants quicker ground. Has had over a year out, but is looking really well now and hoping he's nicely handicapped off 107
ROCKET ROBBO (GB)Juvenile bumper horse. Quite pleased with him; he was bred by his owner who also bred Malinas Jack. Robbo was a little tentative at first but has been getting the hang of things. Hopefully be ready for a junior bumper in early December.
SAM BROWN (GB)Doing well. Planning to go to Haydock on Betfair Chase day where there's a valuable graduation chase, 2m5f. After that, not sure: maybe Welsh National, maybe the Grade 2 chase at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. But first things first!
SOJOURN (IRE)Could have a nice weight for something like Welsh National; would have to win another smaller race first and then aim for a nice pot. Maybe the Tommy Whittle or something of that ilk.
SOLDIER OF FORTUNE x QUIET THOUGHTNice filly, will aim for spring bumper; if not, autumn.
SULLY D’OC AA(FR)Talented horse; had a palate fire just to give him every chance, feel like there's a very good handicap in him. Might want to run on good to soft ground, and definitely has a playable mark. Could drop back to two miles.
SWINCOMBE FLEAT (GB)Related to Firestream, be running in a bumper in November we hope. Good size, learning all the time, feels like a nice mare. Hopeful she'll go close on debut.
UCANAVER (GB)Really caught the eye when second to Coquelicot, with a winner in third and distance to the rest. Will run in a mares' bumper this week and looking forward to seeing how she goes.
WAGNER (IRE)Very nice horse; hard to know where to start: could go handicap hurdling but he has schooled well over fences, too, so a bit of a conundrum. Could be progressive, and seems nicely handicapped.
WINDANCE (IRE)May have another run in a bumper before going novice hurdling; schooling well though so could go straight down that route.
WINDSWEPT GIRL (IRE)Another geegeez mare, she keeps surprising us. We don't really know what her level is as she only ever does enough at home. She's very laid back, but won a minute at Taunton, albeit in a weak-looking race. Will either school more and go mares' maiden hurdling, or she'll run in another bumper; probably the latter.
WORLD OF DREAMS (IRE)Super pedigree, close up to Samcro on the page. Ready to run in a bumper in a fortnight or so.
YOU CAUGHT MY EYE (IRE)Stayed on really well in a weakish bumper; will stay in bumpers for now before going mares' maiden hurdling.