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Clues abound on Festival Trials Day

Saturday’s Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham is often a source of pointers for the main event in March.

The opening Triumph Hurdle Trial went to Defi Du Seuil 12 months ago, and the Philip Hobbs-trained juvenile followed up in the festival’s four-year-old showpiece in impressive fashion. In 2015 the Trials Day opener went to Peace And Co. He too was successful at the festival, though Henderson’s talented hurdler failed to progress, much to everyone’s surprise.

Nicky Henderson is responsible for Saturday’s favourite. Apple’s Shakira has already won twice at the track and is one of the leading contenders for the main event in March. A daughter of Saddler Maker, she’s looked a future star and will have conditions to suit this weekend. She’ll take all the beating.

The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (formerly Neptune) is another that’s likely to reveal leading festival contenders. Wholestone continued his Cheltenham love-affair when winning comfortably a year ago, before a cracking third place finish in the Albert Bartlett some six weeks later. He’s back on Saturday contesting the Cleeve Hurdle.

In 2016 it was Yanworth who romped to success in the trial, before meeting his match at the Festival when chasing home Yorkhill in the Neptune. Back in 2013 a stellar renewal was won by At Fishers Cross. He was chased home by The New One, with Coneygree back in third. Whisper was a distance back in fourth. At Fishers Cross went on to win the Albert Bartlett, whilst The New One landed the Neptune. A couple of years later it was Coneygree’s time to shine, when as a novice chaser he led all the way to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He too is back this weekend contesting the Cotswold Chase.

As for Saturday’s renewal, it’s the master of Seven Barrows that again appears to hold the aces. Henderson has three entered, though Santini and Pacific De Baune look most likely to line up. The former is priced-up as favourite having impressed at Newbury in December. He defeated stablemate Chef Des Obeaux on that occasion, and he has since romped home at Kempton.

The Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle is one of Saturday’s features, and is regularly a pointer to the Stayers’ at The Festival. Unowhatimeanharry was successful 12 months back, though could only manage third behind the ill-fated Nichols Canyon when returning in March. Thistlecrack made no mistake when taking the trial in 2016 before destroying the field in the main event several weeks later. In 2015 it was Saphir Du Rheu that landed the Cleeve, though he too came up just short in the ‘big one’ when runner-up to the surprise package Cole Harden.

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None-other than Big Buck’s was twice successful in the Cleeve Hurdle during his dominant period as leading staying hurdler. Beer Goggles would prove an emotional winner this weekend, following the tragic loss of trainer Richard Woollacott. Cheltenham regular Wholestone is also fancied to go close. The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained seven-year-old comes to life at Prestbury Park.

Another intriguing contender is Colin Tizzard’s Finian’s Oscar. He’s back over hurdles after failing to impress over the larger obstacles. There’s no doubting he’s a talented racehorse, but he has plenty to prove, not only his ability to see-out this sort of trip.

The trainer’s son Joe Tizzard, said yesterday: “He's in real good form and runs in the Cleeve on Saturday. He hasn't really done a lot wrong over fences, but he's a young horse and there will be plenty of time to go back chasing with him.”

One race on Saturday that rarely proves insightful with the Festival on the horizon, is the Cotswold Chase. Many Clouds was a thrilling winner 12 months ago, only to collapse and tragically die moments after one of his most memorable victories.

Though competitive, it’s hard to imagine a Gold Cup winner coming from this latest renewal, despite one of the contenders being the highly rated Bristol De Mai. Ground conditions will be in his favour, and should he win well, there’s no doubting he’ll be back on many peoples fancied list for the ‘Blue Riband’ in March. Coneygree looks to get back on track, though punters faith in the ex-champ is shaky at best. The Last Samuri looks an intriguing proposition and receives weight from plenty of his opponents. The Grand National is the target, but he’ll likely run a huge race here.

It’s sure to be a cracking day, with pointers aplenty as The Festival draws ever near.

The Festival looms large on the horizon

Though I know it upsets a fair few folk when Cheltenham becomes the only topic of conversation, I must admit that it’s becoming a little difficult for me to think of anything else.

Admittedly, there’s still plenty of top-class racing between now and March 13, though most of the racing news will be dominated by ‘Festival Fever’. At this point in the National Hunt calendar, even races that carry huge prestige, tend to be viewed more as Prestbury Park pointers.

This weekend’s Clarence House Chase is such an example. The Grade One is worth £85,425 to the winner, and the race has a stunning roll of honour. Desert Orchid won an epic 1989, when the race was still a handicap. Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre were modern day two-mile goliaths, with the former winning this twice. Un de Sceaux has captured the last two, but should he make it a magnificent three in-a-row, much of the post-race chat will focus on his form as he heads to defend his Ryanair crown in March.

Nicky Henderson’s Brain Power is also in the line-up on Saturday, with Nicky Henderson hoping for an improved performance in a race he feels should suit his novice chaser. Via his Unibet blog, the champion trainer said: “With Un De Sceaux, the race is likely to be run at a decent gallop. He wants dropping-in and doesn't want to be doing silly things like going out and making the running like he did at Sandown. It was the wrong way to ride him in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase, so a good gallop around Ascot might well suit him better than if you run in a small four-runner novice at a little track. The Arkle is obviously where we'd like to end up.”

In little more than a week we have the aptly named Festival Trials Day from Cheltenham. The Grade Two Cotswold Chase is the feature, and though the roll of honour is another tasty one, its timing lends itself to the role of Gold Cup prep-race. It’s fair to say that in recent times it’s rarely given many clues towards the blue riband in March.

The same cannot be said of the Cleeve Hurdle, which takes place on the same card. Inglis Drever, Big Buck’s and Thistlecrack have all won this prestigious staying hurdle in recent years, prior to heroic performances when returning to the track in March.

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From Cheltenham, attention will turn to Ireland in early February, when Leopardstown play host to the Dublin Racing Festival. The two-day event has certainly captured the imagination, and is a terrific effort by organisers to make this a ‘stand-alone’ treat for Irish racegoers. Indeed, there’s plenty of Jump racing fans from the UK who, if not travelling over this time, will be watching with interest and making a note in diaries for future reference.

The Irish Champion Hurdle headlines on day one, a race that both Istabraq and Hurricane Fly made their own. The following day’s showpiece is the Irish Gold Cup, won last year by Sizing John, prior to his glorious excursion to the Cotswolds. The card is packed with high-class action, and of course those vital Cheltenham Festival pointers. Nevertheless, the quality of racing is such that those attending may give little thought to the looming presence of the Prestbury Park gathering. Along with the equine talent on display, racegoers will be treated to comedy, music and the best of Irish food and drink. It sounds like a cracking event.

Newbury is next on the radar, with the valuable Betfair Hurdle its centrepiece. Established in 1963, this is rarely a race won by elite hurdlers, though Make A Stand took this in 1997 en route to Cheltenham glory. My Tent Or Yours was another high-class winner, when landing the spoils in 2013.

Far less valuable though arguably of greater significance, is the Denman Chase, which takes place earlier on the Newbury card. In its relative short history, the race has been won by See More Business, Kauto Star, Denman, Long Run and Coneygree. Native River landed the pot 12 months ago, prior to going close in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. I’d expect another powerful line-up come February as trainers look to ‘fine-tune’ their talented staying chasers.

Buckle-up as we accelerate to the inevitable. Outstanding racing is still to be had, as Cheltenham looms on the horizon.

The Stayers’ Hurdle – Fry’s Favourite Vulnerable To Irish Speedsters

He’s proved peerless over the winter, and is understandably a short-priced favourite, but is Unowhatimeanharry vulnerable to a speedier type when he lines up for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival next Thursday?

He took the Albert Bartlett a year ago, and is four from four at the course. He’s spent the season sweeping-up the usual trials, and has looked impressive in winning the Long Distance, the Long Walk and the Cleeve. Previous staying stars such as Baracouda, Inglis Drever and the mighty Big Bucks, often travelled a similar path towards Cheltenham glory, as did Thistlecrack during his dominant campaign over a hurdles a year ago.

The Irish have a shocking record in the Stayers’, with Solwhit the sole winner this century. And with Harry Fry’s nine-year-old having accounted for all the British contenders during his dominant spell, he starts to have the look of a ‘Festival Banker’. If you add to this the strong record of favourites, and that only Cole Harden has won at double-figure odds in the last 10 years, then we are amassing a pretty strong case for Unowhatimeanharry landing his ninth straight victory.

The intriguing aspect of this year’s race is the likely assault of speedier Irish contenders, similar in type to 2013 winner Solwhit.

Vroum Vroum Mag now looks unlikely to head here, instead going for the Mares’ Hurdle. Nevertheless, Willie Mullins could have both Nichols Canyon and Shaneshill challenging for this, with both possessing plenty of natural speed. The former was third in the Neptune of 2015 and filled the same spot in last year’s Champion Hurdle. He won at Aintree over 2m4f in 2015 and then demolished Alpha Des Obeaux over the same trip at Punchestown. It was a little surprising that he was then dropped in trip last year, though he ran well in smart company. Whether he’ll get the three miles is questionable, but on good ground at two and a half he’s looked impressive.

Shaneshill has become a Festival stalwart, having finished runner-up in his three visits. He chased home Douvan in the Supreme of 2015, proving that he has plenty of speed, and last year came within half a length of winning the RSA Chase. Cheltenham in March clearly sparks this son of King’s Theatre, and he won his prep at Gowran over the trip. He’s a horse I like, and is probably better trusted to get the trip than Nichols Canyon.

The other Irish contender of interest is the 2014 Champion Hurdle winner Jezki. He returned from injury to win at Navan over two-miles, but was beaten by Tombstone last time at Gowran. Connections are yet to commit to this, and the open nature of this year’s Champion Hurdle is probably tempting, especially on better ground. If he heads here, he has to be a serious contender, though the year off the track is a nagging concern.

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The 2015 winner Cole Harden is fancied by many to go close, especially after his promising performance in the Cleeve on unsuitable soft ground. He came off second best to Unowhatimeanharry that day, in receipt of 8lbs, so he has his work cut out to reverse placings, even on a sounder surface. Warren Greatrex had sent him over fences at the start of the season, but a mediocre performance at Wetherby brought about a change in direction. I think he’s held by the favourite, though he could run into a place.

Ballyoptic is another that appears to be well-held by the favourite. He was running a huge race at Ascot in December when coming down at the last, but was disappointing at Cheltenham in the Cleeve. I fancy he’ll make a better staying chaser, and he’s not for me.

Of those at a bigger price, there are two that catch my eye as each-way propositions. Lil Rockerfeller can’t beat Unowhatimeanharry on all-known form, but at 25/1 looks a fair bet to run into a place. He missed his intended prep at Fontwell, but that could prove a blessing, having looked a little jaded when finishing fourth in the Relkeel on New Year’s Day.

The horse that won that day is Agrapart, trained by Nick Williams. He was behind Zarkandar last time at Haydock, but was giving the winner 8lbs, and I fancy that 40/1 for the Stayers’ is wildly underestimating his chance of hitting the frame. He wasn’t stopping at Haydock last time, and I’m sure he’ll run far better than his odds suggest.

Everything points to the favourite in this, and often a punter can be guilty of trying too hard to find a chink in the armour of something that appears bulletproof. Unowhatimeanharry ticks every trend box and is rightly a short-priced favourite. Nevertheless, you occasionally need to go with a ‘gut feeling’, and this is one of those occasions. I think Shaneshill will have the gears to ‘out-kick’ the favourite from the last. And I take Agrapart at the prices to creep into the frame for each-way backers.

As always, best of luck to those having a punt.

Harry’s Pertemps Hopeful Is No Softy

Unowhatimeanharry continued his sparkling run for trainer Harry Fry when winning the Pertemps Series Qualifier at Exeter on Sunday.

Twice a winner at Cheltenham over the winter, he looks set to be a major player at the Festival if contesting the Pertemps Final as anticipated. His last three victories have all come in testing conditions, and that may be one reservation when assessing his form, with ground likely to be livelier in March. His trainer has expressed confidence that better ground would be fine for the horse. His sire Sir Harry Lewis has tended to produce strong staying types though several proved to be mud-lovers.

The popular stallion was an American-bred racehorse and won the Irish Derby back in 1987 when trained by Barry Hills. Prior to the victory in Ireland he had won the Dee Stakes and finished a creditable fourth in the Epsom Derby.
As a four-year-old a change of ownership brought about a permanent move to America, though he failed to make much of an impact. He started his stallion career in Kentucky before moving to New York. He later returned to Europe and stood at Wood Farm Stud in Shropshire, until his death in 2009 at the age of 25.

He created a huge impression as a sire of National Hunt racehorses. One of his most successful offspring was the Hennessy Gold Cup winner Diamond Harry. A huge beast, he was trained by Nick Williams and arrived at the Cheltenham Festival in 2009 undefeated under rules. He’d won the Challow Hurdle at Newbury and was fancied to go close in the Ballymore Novices’ (now the Neptune). Unfortunately he bumped into Mikael D’Haguenet, and found himself tapped for toe in the latter stages.

He probably didn’t achieve as much over fences as many thought likely. Nevertheless, he did gain a famous victory in the Hennessy of 2010, when getting the better of Burton Port in a thrilling finish. He carried the minimum 10 stone thanks to the inclusion of the mighty Denman, who hauled 11st 12lbs to a third place finish.

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Harry Topper is another of the mud-loving offspring. Out injured at present, he’s had a number of terrific days on the track. He took the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in November 2013 and then won the Denman Chase in February 2014 when scything through the Newbury mud to win by 25 lengths. He’s a relentless galloper in deep ground but lacks the gears necessary to compete against the very best on a sounder surface.

One fella that did appreciate better ground was the gutsy staying hurdler Mighty Man. He lacked the stature of a typical Sir Harry Lewis offspring, and therefore spent most of his career over timber. He twice came close to winning the World Hurdle, and though unfortunate to be around at the time of Inglis Drever and Big Buck’s, he still managed to win a Relkeel Hurdle, two Liverpool Hurdles and the Grade 1 Long Walk at Ascot.

Carole’s Legacy was another successful stayer that coped admirably in all ground conditions. The mare finished first or second in all but two of her career starts, proving just as adept over fences as hurdles. Runner-up to Quevega in the Mares’ Hurdle at The Festival of 2010, she returned 12 months later and again finished runner-up, this time in the Grade 3 Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase. She’s now a broodmare at Wychnor Park Stud in Staffordshire.

Harry Fry continues to build a strong team at Manor Farm in Dorset. He’s now hit 40 wins for the season, outdoing last year’s total of 37. With almost half a million in prize money he continues to churn out the winners at an impressive 25% strike rate. Back in April the yard’s classy mare Bitofapuzzle gave the team a thrilling Grade 1 victory. In just four weeks, Fry will be hoping that he can add a much sought after Cheltenham Festival success. Sir Harry Lewis may yet prove the key to that particular puzzle.

Newton Abbot finish in style

Newton Abbot Racecourse

Newton Abbot Races

Today’s ‘Season Finale’ at Newton Abbot is set to be a cracker. Since declarations were announced, social networks have been abuzz with anticipation. One race in particular has set the pulses racing.  It’s rare that an intermediate chase in early October would attract such interest, but for many jump racing fans, the new season begins at 3.55 this afternoon.

So why all the fuss?  Quite simply, it’s the quality of runners, trainers and jockeys involved in the five runner field. Though any one of the contenders is more than capable of taking the prize, finding the winner has become an even more complex puzzle. Regular pilots find themselves engaged to ride different partners. A trainer and his jockey are split by an owner. A father and son are split by a trainer. An owner and jockey may be split by a fall at Worcester yesterday. You get the picture.

Three of the first five from the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival re-oppose. Taquin Du Seuil is without doubt the headline act. He’s one of Jonjo O’Neill’s stable stars, and thought by many to be a potential ‘King George’ contender. His win in March was mightily impressive, having looked a rather suspect jumper earlier in the campaign. But he is without regular jockey AP McCoy, who has been claimed to ride the JP McManus owned Colour Squadron.

Double Ross improved with every race throughout his novice chase campaign. Finishing a close third to Jonjo’s fella at The Festival was clearly a lifetime best performance. If he is to win this, he must do so without his usual partner Sam Twiston-Davies, who now rides for Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, and therefore gets the ‘leg-up’ on Wonderful Charm.

He partnered today’s ride at Aintree, when the horse appeared to have his stamina stretched in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase. Previously fifth in that JLT contest, his performance that day had been a little disappointing. He’d started the season stylishly, with his slick jumping catching the eye. On Newton Abbot’s tight track, 'he who jumps best' is sure to take some beating.

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Nicholls enters the race double-handed with Black Thunder appearing to be his second string. The trainer had hinted that he would head for Down Royal in November, and is probably ‘best fresh’. The ‘trip’ at this particular track may not be ideal, though the horse is undoubtedly talented.

The fifth and final contender is the Philip Hobbs trained Colour Squadron. Should ‘AP’ be fit enough to ride, after his nasty fall at Worcester yesterday, he will be on-board this JP McManus owned gelding. Second at The Festival in the Byrne Group Plate, he has the same BHA rating as Double Ross. He is prone to the odd blunder, and incredibly remains without a victory over fences. Currently favourite for the race, Richard Johnson is likely to take the ride if required.

But this terrific fixture isn’t all about the tasty main course. Paul Nicholls unleashes several promising types. A smart looking novice hurdler in the opener arrives from France. Arenice Et Pictons, was last seen in a conditions hurdle at Auteuil. Owner’s Potensis Limited, already have Silviniaco Conti and Lac Fontana at the stable.

Solar Impulse may have disappointed slightly over hurdles, but is made for fences. The son of Westerner goes in the two mile novices’ chase. And finally in the last, More Buck’s , related to the mighty Big Buck’s, is ridden by the trainer’s daughter in his second racecourse outing, and carrying those famous ‘Stewart family’ silks.

It’s sure to be a terrific afternoon’s racing. It could be one of Newton Abbot’s greatest.

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

Despite including the historically significant Big Buck's within its field, the 2014 Ladbrokes World Hurdle is a very strong contender for worst Championship race at the Cheltenham Festival.

Whilst such an opening statement may seem harsh, it is rooted in the reality that Big Buck's is favourite as a venerable eleven-year-old, despite having only run once since 1st December 2012. And that run was a defeat.

So, does this possible weakness atop the betting pile offer value further down? You bet your booties it does; the only slight issue is in trying to identify just where further down we ought to be snooping. Perhaps the recent history of the race can guide us...

World Hurdle 2014 Trends

The trends for this race are rather skewed by the fact that three horses - Big Buck's, Inglis Drever, and Baracouda - are responsible for nine of the last twelve winners of the race. Nonetheless, they did have plenty in common aside from being multiple World Hurdle winners.

Age: Every winner since 1987, and every winner bar Crimson Embers since the race changed to its present format in 1972, has been aged six to nine. Crimson Embers was eleven, like Big Buck's, and was winning for the second time having previously scored as a mere whipper snapper aged seven.

Recent form: Seventeen of the last twenty World Hurdle winners finished first or second last time. Two of the other three finished third, and one finished fourth. All of the last sixteen winners were returning to the track within three months. Of the handful (14) absent for longer, they've failed to make the frame between them.

Rating: Of the dozen World Hurdle winners since 1997 with an official rating, all bar Anzum in 1999 and Solwhit last year were rated at least 157.

This would give us a trends shortlist of At Fishers Cross, Rule The World, Zarkandar, Annie Power, and More Of That.

World Hurdle 2014 Form Preview

The market is dominated by two horses with serious question marks over their chance. Big Buck's, as mentioned, is eleven, and has raced just once in the last sixteen months. That was a game third place in the Cleeve Hurdle and it might be argued that he performed admirably to finish so close after such a long absence. It could, however, also be argued that he had a hard enough race that day after the long break.

Most pertinently from my perspective, it can be argued that he ran some way below his best. There will be plenty of sentimentalists who want to back Big Buck's, and he unquestionably retains a chance in a race that he's made his own in recent seasons, winning on each of the four times he's contested it. But the price does not allow for sentiment. Not one bit.

While the sponsors' quote of 5/4 is offensive in any language, the more sensible 2/1 generally available is still not even remotely tempting. Sure, Big Buck's can win. And he's one of those lads you'd be happy enough - or at least grudgingly accepting - if he nutted your pick in a photo.

The other market leader is the unbeaten Annie Power, whose winning streak now extends to ten. What it does not extend to is a victory beyond 2m5f, and that in a three horse dawdle. Will she stay? Probably. Will she stay and win at Championship pace? Possibly. Is she any value at 5/2? Not really. Although there is a further question - will she even run in this race (she's also quoted in single figures for the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Hurdle, the latter of which she's odds on 'with a run') - that is mitigated by the non-runner no bet concession widely available.

It's hard to quantify the level of ability of horses yet to be beaten, and she's won by clear daylight in each of those ten races. But... she does have to prove she will stay, and that's enough - just - to ensure this scribe looks elsewhere.

So if that's the top pair with questions to answer at short enough prices, where does the value lie against them?

At Fishers Cross is the third market choice - just - and is also the choice of Tony McCoy for his guv'nor JP McManus. At Fishers Cross was unbeaten in six races last year, including the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival, and the Grade 1  Sefton Novices' Hurdle at the Aintree Festival. He's a horse that has had well documented back problems, and they seemed to plague him in the early part of this season.

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But, after a break, his last run - in the Cleeve Hurdle - was much better: a staying on short head behind shock winner Knockara Beau. At Fishers Cross would have won in another stride, and was staying on stoutly, an ideal attribute for the World Hurdle.

Just three-quarters of a length behind was Big Buck's but, if At Fishers Cross' back issues continue to be managed, I can't see why the form will be reversed. The latter is progressive at just seven years old and the former is surely on the wane now, aged eleven. 6/1 is a solid enough play.

Next come More Of That and Rule The World at around 8/1. More Of That has had just the four runs, winning all of them, and has progressed into a very promising horse. He was last seen three months ago, however, and although the form of his two length defeat of Salubrious in the Grade 2 Relkeel reads well enough, that's a long absence to defy. Moreover, he has to prove that he sees out this longer trip. It's possible that he'll improve for it, but he'd need to. As progressive as he undoubtedly is, that combination of time off and unproven stamina is enough for me to overlook him, especially as Tony McCoy has done likewise. A lovely prospect, all the same.

Rule The World has been first or second in eight of his ten career starts, and won five of them including a Grade 2 and a Grade 3. But... all his winning has been on a soft surface, and almost all of it - a facile maiden hurdle win aside, when he likely totally outclassed his opposition - has been in small fields. He ran his best race, though, when second in last year's Neptune to The New One, and his low key prep has been geared totally to the World Hurdle.

Rule The World has improved from race to race this term and, if the ground is soft, I think he'll have a good chance in what looks to me to be an open race.

It is quite hard to believe that 10/1 shot Zarkandar is only seven years old, as he seems to have been around for a good while. Paul Nicholls' charge is a model of consistency, with twelve of his fifteen hurdle runs finishing in gold or silver medals. He's a triple Grade 1 winner too, including the Triumph Hurdle of 2011, and has finished fifth and fourth in the last two Champion Hurdles.

The step up to three miles is taken on trust, as with a number of his rivals but, unlike some of them, he acts on any ground. It is easy to envisage Zarkandar running a nice race, but - for me, at least - it is hard to see him out-staying all of the field, especially if nemesis Annie Power shows up (she's beaten him comprehensively twice already this season).

It's 16/1 bar those, which brings in Noel Meade's Monksland. That trainer's lamentable record at the Cheltenham Festival (2 from 87 since 2003) is widely known, but of more concern must be the 440 day absence Monksland bids to overcome. Surely not.

Of the remainder, Fingal Bay would be mildly interesting at 25/1 or bigger. He won nicely on his first start after fifteen months off and didn't look to have a hard race there, so any fears of the dreaded 'bounce' (when a horse runs poorly on second start after a long break, having run well in a battle on that first run back) should be unfounded. There is a more pertinent question regarding whether Fingal Bay is anywhere near good enough, and connections have another option in the Pertemps. Should he line up here, that would be a positive sign, and non-runner no bet allows for absence.

Quevega is quoted around 6/1 in the betting, but she'll surely go to the Mares' Hurdle if over a recent slight setback, so she's ignored.

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

The 2014 World Hurdle is a really tough race to unravel with so many if's and but's. It is not a race I will be piling into, and I cannot recommend any horse with confidence. However, I do feel the top of the market looks a bit suspect and, consequently, I'm happy to take a couple against Annie and Buck's.

At Fishers Cross showed far more of his previous zest last time out, implying his back problems have been resolved. If he gets to the Festival in the same physical form, then he can be expected to improve a notch or two on that last run, which might be good enough.

If the ground is on the soft side, and at time of writing (2nd March), it's still too early to say (though the official line is soft currently), then Rule The World comes into it. He's a relentless galloper who would benefit from as much mud as possible, where others may struggle to get home in such conditions.

World Hurdle Selection: At Fishers Cross 6/1 BetVictor NRNB
World Hurdle Alternative: Rule The World 8/1 SkyBet BOG NRNB

Double Dutch, 25th January 2014

Double Dutch

Double Dutch

Double Dutch, 25th January 2014

Chris is taking a well earned weekend off, and so it's me (Matt) in the chair for a couple of days. No joy on Friday, so let's look with fresh eyes towards Saturday's excellent fare.

Yesterday's results were as follows:

Atlantic Roller : 3rd at 13/8
Tornado Bob: 4th at 3/1 
---------------------------------
Electric Qatar : 2nd at 11/4
Shawkantango : 3rd at 3/1

Results to date:
127 winning selections from 448 = 28.35%
41 winning doubles in 120 days = 34.17%

Stakes: 238.00pts
Returns: 248.04pts

P/L : +10.04pts (+4.22% ROI)

Here's Saturday's suggested play:

12.55 Doncaster:

A cracking novice chase featuring 2012 Champion Hurdler, Rock On Ruby, and four unexposed exciting sorts in opposition. Rock On Ruby has been a stable star for Harry Fry, a man who has a 31% strike rate since taking out a license in late 2012. Compare that with Nicky Henderson's 24% and Paul Nicholls' 22% and you can see what a staggering achievement that is.

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The horse, for his part, was foot perfect bar one minor incident in a nothing race at Plumpton on his fencing bow. The thing I loved about that was how clever he was when getting in close, and that - allied to his obvious speed as a former Champion Hurdler - will stand him in good stead here. 6/4 could look a smidge generous by ten-past-one.

Of the rest, though I fear a few, the one I like is Valdez, who looks a much better chaser than hurdler already. Rated 135 at his peak over timber, he's perched on 152 over fences after just two impressive spins. He likes the good to soft ground, and deserves to test his mettle in this better grade now. 4/1 looks about right.

*

3.35 Cheltenham:

The Cleeve Hurdle, and the return of Big Buck's. I'm actually sorely tempted to oppose the champ, on two counts. Firstly, he's having his first run back after 420 days off, and this is a hot race. And secondly, he's now eleven years old - was nine officially when last seen - and this is a hot race. Also, he's evens and this is a hot race.

But... he's eighteen from eighteen since 2009, and that's a monumental effort unparalleled by any horse, let alone any horse in this field. At the prices, I'm going to oppose him. You might not want to, and that's your choice, but I think he's too short in deep ground after a long layoff aged eleven.

Against him, I get two bullets, which helps, and I'm siding with Reve de Sivola and Boston Bob, though I fear a back-to-form At Fishers Cross too. Reve de Sivola loves jumping up and down in muddy puddles (as Peppa Pig's narrator might say), and he'll have his hooves caked in quag this day for sure. He's normally needed the run on seasonal debut so it was a fair enough effort when third to Celestial Halo two starts back. Last time, he showed the benefit of that run by putting ten lengths between himself and the decent Salubrious in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

His record on heavy is 211121 and there's a good chance of it being officially heavy by the time the tapes rise for the Cleeve, as it's tipping down on Friday night (as I write).

Boston Bob loves the mud too, and he looked very good when reverting to hurdles after a couple of bungled leaps over the bigger obstacles last Spring. The first probably cost him victory in the RSA Chase, and he has a second in the staying novice hurdle at the 2012 Festival too. That was on good ground, and on heavy (or soft to heavy) his record is 311111. He needs to improve on the bare form of his hurdling runs to date, but is capable of that, and 7/2 is reasonable.

4 x 0.5pt BOG doubles as follows:
Rock On Ruby / Reve de Sivola @ 11.5/1 (SeanieMac)
Rock On Ruby / Boston Bob @ 10.34/1 (Paddy
)
Valdez / Reve de Sivola @ 19.25/1 (Bet365)
Valdez / Boston Bob @ 
19.25/1 (BetVictor)

Sprinter Sacre – ready to better Kauto?

Sprinter Sacre - rated within 2lb of Kauto Star

Sprinter Sacre - rated within 2lb of Kauto Star

The publication of the Anglo-Irish National Hunt classifications on 21 May confirmed Bobs Worth, Sprinter Sacre, Big Buck’s, Hurricane Fly, The New One and Simonsig as the top horses across the seven categories. There were no major surprises, and with the exception of top novice chaser Simonsig, all the winners were rated four pounds or more ahead of their nearest rival. Read more

Trainer Stats: 15th Jan 2013

Mullins

122 Winners Already For Willie Mullins

Did you know Willie Mullins has already fired in 122 winners this season? He’s one of seven trainers on Andy Newton’s hot-list this week....... Read more

National meeting closes in on £3 million prize money

nationalstartPrize money at this year’s Grand National meeting is up by £185,000, an increase of 7.3%, although the National itself is not one of the 13 races over the three days to see a higher reward for the winner. The increases mean that a total of £2,725,000 will be won over the three days of the meeting, which takes place from 4-6 April. Read more

Sat TV Trends: 22nd Dec 2012

The C4 cameras head to Ascot and Haydock for the last weekend before Christmas – Andy Newton’s got all the key TV race trends..... Read more

Double blow for Nicholls sees Big Buck’s and Al Ferof out for season

Big Buck's - No fifth World Hurdle this season

Big Buck's - No fifth World Hurdle this season

The Cheltenham engraver can probably inscribe the name Big Buck’s in his sleep, but he’ll have no need to write it at all when the Festival comes round next March. The horse has an injury, which has ruled him out for the rest of this season. Read more

Sat TV Trends 1st Dec 2012

Can Carruthers win back-to-back Hennessys?

It's Hennessy Gold Cup day at Newbury this Saturday, while there's also LIVE C4 action up at Newcastle... Read more

Just how good is Big Buck’s?

The publication of the Anglo-Irish Jumps Classifications yesterday confirmed that there are currently two horses in training in desperate need of serious opposition if we are to learn how good they are, one from each code of the sport. Read more

Record crowds and Tote turnover at Cheltenham

We have already noted some of the records set at Cheltenham last week, by both horses and trainers. And whilst the achievements of Big Buck’s and Nicky Henderson are the ones that will stick in our minds, there were notable ‘highests and biggests’ off the track as well, that will have left both Cheltenham and bookmakers Betfred particularly happy. Read more