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Don Gone! – Elliott Calls Time on Cossack Career

Kempton may have captured most of the headlines for obvious reasons, but for me, the major news from yesterday was that of the retirement of Gold Cup winner Don Cossack.

Gordon Elliott’s top-class staying chaser had been off the track since his devastating performance at Cheltenham last March. Hopes were high of a return, and only in December Elliott said of his Gold Cup hero: “He’s been coming along nicely over the past few months. In addition to cantering away, he swims twice a day and it's so far so good with him. It's still a case of taking one day at a time, but if things continue to go well the plan will be to give him one run before the Gold Cup.”

Sadly, yesterday the County Meath trainer revealed that the horse had met with a further setback, and the decision was made to call it a day. On his Betfair blog Elliott announced: “It's a real sickener for Gigginstown, myself, Bryan Cooper and the whole yard. We knew it was never certain we would get him back to the racecourse and even after that, to get him back to his best, but we were hopeful and he was on track for a run at Gowran Park next month.”

Elliott went on: “He's a horse of a lifetime and he owes us nothing. I said all season that if he had any sort of setback at all we would not abuse him and retire him straight away. He's won Grade Ones at Cheltenham, Aintree, Punchestown, Fairyhouse and Down Royal. He was the top-rated horse in Britain and Ireland for the last two seasons running, and we'd have loved to see him take on Thistlecrack in the Gold Cup. It was one of the highlights of my career when Don Cossack won the Gold Cup for us last year and he retires a champion.”

It’s been a tough week for lovers of the Gold Cup, with the news that Coneygree will also miss the race in March. On Monday, Sara Bradstock appeared to admit that time had run out for the Gold Cup winner of 2015, when saying: “We're not going to enter him. If everything changed and suddenly everything looked perfect, his x-rays and him, we could supplement him, but I'm not going to enter him because I'm 90 per cent certain he will not run.”

She added: “It's all too quick. It's only two months from now and he's still only walking and we're not going to be there in top form. He'll definitely have some spring target and could go to Aintree or Punchestown unless something else goes wrong. We just need to do this right.”

For Jump racing fans, all of this is of course hugely disappointing. The best races need the best horses in opposition, and unfortunately this year’s Gold Cup now looks a little threadbare. Colin Tizzard’s grip on the ‘Blue Riband’ now looks tighter than ever, with Thistlecrack a shade of odds-on across the board. His stablemate, Native River, is generally a 5/1 shot, and another from the Tizzard yard, Alary, continues to be supported, despite never yet stepping hoof on a British track.

The French recruit was a top-class performer in France. A huge chestnut gelding, with an eye-catching white flash down his face, he was last seen going down by half-a-length in a Grade 1 at Auteuil. He’s only a six-year-old, and that appeared to be his best run to date. Tizzard has made no secret of how much he thinks of the youngster, and he remains an intriguing ‘dark horse’ for the main event in March.

Magnificent Martaline – A Leading French Stallion

The career of talented chaser Dynaste came to an end at the weekend, following a slightly disappointing run in the Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Sandown.

The popular 11-year-old grey had been one of David Pipe’s stable stars for almost half a dozen years. The racecourse highlight came when winning the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival back in 2014. He followed that performance with a second-place finish in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree, and later that year was runner-up to Silviniaco Conti in the King George at Kempton.

Though an attractive looking grey, Dynaste could not compete in the looks department with his talented father Martaline. The truly gorgeous French stallion is virtually white from nose to tail. A strikingly powerful colt, he stands at Haras De Montaigu, a beautifully picturesque stud in North-West France.

A classy horse on the flat, Martaline was at his best as a four-year-old in 2003, when runner-up in the Group 2 Grand Prix De Chantilly before winning the Prix Maurice De Nieuil at Longchamp. That victory came at 1m6f, when he defeated an outstanding stayer in Westerner. He was victorious or placed in 12 of his 22 career starts. It’s also interesting to note, that his most disappointing performances came on heavy ground.

As a leading French National Hunt stallion in recent years, he has produced numerous talented jumpers for trainers on both sides of the English Channel.

Agrapart was a high-profile success for the French sire recently, when taking the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Trained by Nick Williams, the six-year-old clearly thrived in testing conditions, when getting up late to beat L’Ami Serge, with Cole Harden seven lengths back in third. He’s likely to head for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, though he looks a chaser in the making, and certainly has the action over hurdles to suggest that he’ll suit a fence.

Another with a Cheltenham success to his name this season, is the Colin Tizzard trained Viconte Du Noyer. Owned by the Potts’, he’d previously been trained in Ireland by Henry De Bromhead, and was winning the Grade 3 Betvictor Handicap Chase on his first run for the new yard. He failed to take to the Grand National fences next time at Aintree and then ran below par in testing ground at the Welsh National. His win at Cheltenham suggested there’s plenty more to come, so I wouldn’t be losing faith in this fella. Better ground may well be essential, and he’s worth a second luck with conditions to suit.

One from the bloodline that does enjoy Aintree’s National fences, is the Gordon Elliott trained Ucello Conti. He was fourth in the Becher Chase in December, having been sixth in the Grand National last April. It’s tough to say whether he truly stayed the trip that day on soft ground, but he’s likely to be back for another crack this year, and on a more attractive looking handicap mark.

Noel Meade also looks to have a talented chaser on his hands with the six-year-old grey gelding Disko. He seemed to appreciate better ground when running a cracker at Leopardstown over Christmas. His third-place finish in the Grade 1 three-mile novice chase was a personal best, and he’d be a live contender at Cheltenham in March, for either the JLT or the RSA. He’s not short of speed. Meade’s last Cheltenham Festival winner was another son of Martaline, with Very Wood landing the Albert Bartlett of 2014 at huge odds.

Another from the Martaline production line, who is rapidly going the right way, is Tim Vaughan’s hurdler, Theligny. Despite four victories and three second place finishes from his eight outings over hurdles, the six-year-old remains on a fair handicap mark. He was impressive at Newbury last time, when showing a terrific attitude in holding off the Rebecca Curtis trained Geordie Des Champs. That came at two and a half miles, and the target may well be the Martin Pipe Conditional at The Festival, with classy claimer Alan Johns likely to be on-board.

As an 18-year-old, Martaline continues to prove an extremely popular stallion. A strike-rate of 31% this season for his offspring, shows just how potent he is. It would be no surprise to see many more of his progeny travelling across the Channel in the coming years.

Tizzard top in Tolworth

Finian’s Oscar ran out a comfortable winner of the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

In the absence of Nicky Henderson’s Kayf Grace, Saturday’s renewal looked to be a head-to-head between Tizzard’s exciting youngster, and the Paul Nicholls trained Capitaine. The pair battled for favouritism, and then continued the tussle on the track. In truth, the result rarely looked in doubt. Approaching two flights from home, Tom O’Brien made his move, and Finian’s Oscar swept clear. Capitaine tried to go with him, but a poor jump at the second last put paid to his chances.

Tizzard said of the impressive winner: “He’s a real professional horse. He's a gorgeous young horse, but we were worried we’d not done enough with him. He's only won a point to point and a novices' hurdle at Hereford, but the way he did it at Hereford, why waste him in a little race when you can have a go at this? He looked in control most of the way and he soon went five lengths clear. He stuttered into the last and I thought ‘is he going to stop’, but as soon as Tom got busy, he went on again.”

Of plans leading to The Festival in March, Tizzard added: “He probably will run again. I think the easiest option is to go two and a half, but he's got the speed for two and he stays.”

Bookies were taking no chances, and slashed his odds to 5/1 for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle. He’s generally a 10/1 shot for the shorter Supreme Novices’. With the ground likely to run quicker at Cheltenham in March, the chances are that he will head for the Neptune. The trip should prove ideal, though whether his performance on Saturday warrants such euphoria is questionable.

Capitaine floundered somewhat in the ground, having previously run below par at Haydock in testing conditions. It was also a surprise to see Sam Twiston-Davies riding such a patient race, after the horse had performed so well from the front at Ascot the time before. He’s a gelding that lacks gears, and was caught short when O’Brien kicked for home on the winner. Messire Des Obeaux, and numerous runners from Ireland, are likely to prove a far more serious test for Tizzard’s young novice in March.

One that looks likely to swerve the clash is the impressive Irish hurdler, Death Duty. He was in action at Naas yesterday, taking the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle. His task was made easier by the last flight fall of Augusta Kate. Willie Mullins’ mare was launching a strong challenge, and had every chance, when Ruby was forced to go long at the last. The mare crumpled on landing, leaving Death Duty in glorious isolation, galloping home to win by nine lengths.

Of the victory, Gordon Elliott said: “To be honest, I thought they didn't go fast enough. Our lad is just an out-and-out stayer. They were upsides when the mare fell, so it's hard to say but the one thing you know about our horse is that he would have kept pulling out. Jack thought he had it covered. He has his job done again and that will be it now until Cheltenham.”

Doubts remain over the festival target, though Elliott appeared to be favouring the longer race when saying: “There is a long way to go between now and Cheltenham, but if the race was tomorrow, I'd be saying the Albert Bartlett, definitely. He's a proper, big three-mile chaser. At this stage, of all the good horses I've had, none of them were ever as good as hurdlers, but that doesn't mean they'll do it as chasers. I'd say he's a fair one.”

Mullins was philosophical in defeat, when saying of Augusta Kate: “She trotted up fine. I'm sure she'll be a little bit sore in the morning. She was running a good race and Ruby felt he had a little bit left, but there was still a lot of racing to do. The winner is a fair machine, so we're just happy our mare was running a good race. Whether she'd have won or not is another day's work.”

Festival targets remain a mystery, with Mullins adding: “We'll see how she comes out of the race and go from there.”

There’s no doubt that she was running a huge race when coming down at the last, and is now generally a 5/1 chance for the Mares Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Mullins already has the favourite for that particular race in Airlie Beach, and it would come as no surprise should one of them take their chance against the boys in the Neptune.

For now, it’s Death Duty and Finian’s Oscar that have enhanced their reputation, with the Cheltenham Festival looming large on the horizon.

Expect an Oscar winning performance in the Tolworth

It looks a competitive renewal of the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle on Saturday, with the Paul Nicholls trained Capitaine heading the betting.

Winner of a Grade 2 at Ascot in December, the handsome looking grey ran green at times, but nevertheless, stayed on powerfully to pull clear of a decent field. That victory came from the front on good to soft ground, though his high knee action suggests he should be fine in the likely testing conditions at Sandown. He’d previously been held too far off the pace at Haydock, when finishing second in a listed event. He’s a robust, scopey type, that looks sure to make a chaser in time.

The past nine renewals have all been run on soft or heavy ground, and without exception, have gone to horses that looked suited by further than the bare minimum two-mile trip. Fancied horses have a strong record in the race, with seven of the last 11 winners sent off at 3/1 or shorter. And though five and six-year-olds have proved most successful, a pair aged seven have landed the prize in the past 10 running’s.

Nicky Henderson has a terrific record in the race, and has a couple of seven-year-olds set to line up tomorrow. Kayf Grace looks to be his most notable challenger. A high-class bumper performer, she opened her account over hurdles at Bangor. By Kayf Tara, her record suggests that soft ground will not be an issue. She looks to have gears, and though this is sure to be a serious test, her Aintree bumper win proved that she has both class and guts. I would be slightly concerned if the ground became heavy. Indeed, the trainer has a habit of withdrawing horses late-on if he feels they are unsuited by a slog.

Henderson’s second dart at the bullseye is Gaitway. Back from two years on the sidelines, his effort at Cheltenham in December was respectable. He should improve for the run, but the long lay-off is a major concern. He’s not a horse I’d be backing at this stage of his comeback.

Colin Tizzard is having a sensational campaign, and looks to have a classy young hurdler on his hands with Finian’s Oscar. Ann and Alan Potts spent a small fortune on this fella, and he looked an exciting recruit when storming home at Hereford on debut. He’s dropping back in trip, which is a slight worry, though testing conditions will help. He looks the likely type for this race, and his trainer can do no wrong. I fancy he’ll go close.

Celestial Path is an interesting contender, though his entry rests on a schooling session this morning. “Tom Scudamore will school him and we'll make a decision on the Tolworth after that,” said trainer David Pipe. “He was a very good Flat horse, but he only went a mile and you'd prefer it if he was proven over further. He's been gelded since we got him and he's done lots of schooling already, he's been jumping okay.”

The ‘jumping okay’ comment is hardly a ringing endorsement, and I’d be a little surprised if he isn’t given an easier option for his hurdling debut.

One that certainly could go close, if taking up his entry, is Dan Skelton’s Mohaayed. He ran a cracker over Christmas at Kempton on hurdling debut, and should improve for the experience. As an ex-flat performer, the ground would again cause concerns. His sire, Intikhab, has been responsible for several decent jumpers over the years, including the talented Kempes, who was good enough to chase home Hurricane Fly in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in 2009. Mohaayed certainly possesses the ability, if he copes with conditions.

One that should be suited by both the ground and track, is Harry Fry’s Chalonnial. He’s a big chasing type who galloped powerfully to victory at Bangor last time. The worry is whether he’ll possess the necessary speed to get competitive in a Grade 1. Nevertheless, I fancy he’ll be finishing the race to great effect.

It’s a tough one to call, but I’ll be siding with Finian’s Oscar for the all-conquering Tizzard Team. I fancy that Kayf Grace will go on to achieve more over hurdles, but track and ground will be against her on this occasion. Best of luck to those having a punt.

Tolworth Tales

The Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle is often viewed as a stepping stone for the Supreme or Neptune at Cheltenham, with last year’s winner Yorkhill, taking the latter at the Festival in March.

Nicky Henderson has dominated the race in recent times, with four wins from the last six renewals. This Grade 1 was first run in 1976, and has gone to numerous classy types. The legendary Desert Orchid took the race in 1984, though failed to make much of an impact over hurdles. The same cannot be said when switched to fences. The glorious grey went on to become one of the all-time great chasers, winning the King George on four occasions, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

French Holly took the race for Ferdy Murphy in 1998. He went on to take the Neptune, then the Royal & SunAlliance, a few months later. A huge gelding measuring 18 hands, he finished runner-up in the Fighting Fifth later that year, before winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. He chased home the mighty Istabraq on several occasions, getting within a length in a thrilling Aintree Hurdle.

Paul Nicholls struck four times in six years, from 2003 to 2008. The first of those victories went to one of my favourite horses of the period, Thisthatandtother. The race had been switched to Wincanton, a track he loved. He ran-out a comfortable winner, and a couple of months later finished fifth in the Supreme Novices’ at Cheltenham. He went on to become a high-class chaser, especially at trips around two and a half miles. He took the Ryanair back in 2005, then the Festival Trophy Chase, beating Fondmort and Rathgar Beau in a thriller.

One horse that is certainly worth a mention among the Tolworth roll of honour, is the Martin Pipe trained Marcel. He won his hurdling debut at Stratford in August 2004, and by the end of November had racked-up an incredible seven victories, including a Grade 2 at Cheltenham. Beaten for the first time at Haydock in December, he then won at Windsor before arriving at the Tolworth with eight wins from nine races in little more than four months.

In a classy looking nine-runner affair, Marcel proved a cut above the rest, running on powerfully to win by a couple of lengths. He had Noel Meade’s Wild Passion more than six lengths behind him that day. He was beaten at Exeter a month later, and by the time he arrived for the Supreme Novices’ at Cheltenham had clearly run out of steam. Sent off the 13/2 favourite, he faded badly late-on to finish well down the field. Wild Passion, beaten comfortably in the Tolworth, finished second. By the end of the season, Marcel had won nine of his 13 starts.

A year later, Paul Nicholls mapped a rather more conservative path for young novice hurdler Noland. He arrived at the Tolworth with a couple of hurdle starts under his belt, and romped to victory. He warmed up for the Supreme with a gutsy win at Exeter, before famously getting-up in the dying strides at Cheltenham to defeat AP McCoy on Straw Bear.

Last year was the turn of Yorkhill to take in the Tolworth with little hurdling experience in the bank. He had won a 2m4f maiden at Punchestown, and arrived at Sandown with a burgeoning reputation. He duly ran out an impressive winner in testing conditions, before again stepping-up in trip to win the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park. He currently stands on seven wins from eight career starts, and is one of the most exciting novice chasers.

A number of classy types are sure to line-up for this weekend’s renewal of the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle, with the likes of Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, and Colin Tizzard represented. Whether a Cheltenham Festival winner emerges from the pack remains to be seen, though history suggests there’s every chance.

Power Struggle Continues as Elliott Captures Lexus

The last few days have done much to ignite the trainers’ championships either side of the Irish Sea.

In Ireland, Team Mullins have been in astounding form. On Monday, a trio of victories at Leopardstown was matched by a treble at Limerick. On Tuesday, the Closutton guys bagged a stunning five-timer at Leopardstown. And yesterday a further four victories were added to the incredible haul. Douvan, Min, Vroum Vroum Mag and Bellshill, have been among the high-profile winners, as Mullins unleashed the ‘big guns’.

With such a flurry of success, it was vital that Gordon Elliott struck back, and this he certainly did when winning the valuable Paddy Power Chase on Tuesday, and yesterday capturing the Grade 1 Lexus Chase in a truly thrilling renewal. With the combined winnings of almost €200,000, Elliott has managed to maintain his advantage at the head of the Trainers’ Championship.

In the Lexus, it came as something of a surprise when Elliott scooped first and second with Outlander and Don Poli. The former was trying three miles over fences for only the second time, whilst the latter was returning from a truly stinking effort at Down Royal. The Mullins trained Djakadam was sent off favourite, and held a prominent position throughout. But as the leaders quickened turning for home, Walsh needed to get serious to keep the favourite in touch.

At the last, a trio of Gigginstown horses appeared to have the race between them, with Bryan Cooper on Valseur Lido making a race winning move. But somewhat surprisingly, he wilted in the heat of battle, leaving Don Poli, Outlander and the staying-on Djakadam tussling for major honours. And it was Outlander that found most for pressure, pulling clear for a two-length success.

The trainer was understandably thrilled with both when saying: “Don Poli was brilliant, David was brilliant, Outlander was good and Jack was great. I feel a bit sorry for Bryan, who had to make the decision, but he'll be back. We've been out hunting with Don Poli and took the headgear off to try and sweeten him up today and it looked to have worked, then Jack was riding Outlander to be placed and coming to the last I started to get excited.”

Elliott went on: “I thought Outlander's last run was his career-best and, sure, he improved again today, didn't he? It was touch and go whether he ran here, but with the ground drying out we decided to come. He was only beaten about a length by Djakadam at Punchestown the last day, and one jump made the difference between winning and losing. I suppose the obvious race is to come back here for the Irish Gold Cup. I'm delighted with Don Poli, and I'd say the Grand National is the plan with him.”

Interestingly, with the trainers’ title in mind, Mullins spoke of sending Djakadam straight to Cheltenham, thereby missing the valuable Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February. Elliott currently leads the title race by almost 300,000 euros. And his firepower in valuable handicaps, both over hurdles and fences, coupled with the dramatic ascent of Outlander, give renewed hope that he may well take this title-tussle to the brink.

If Elliott versus Mullins continues to thrill, then the Tizzard v Nicholls dual also took a twist or two over the Christmas period.

It’s fair to say that the depth of talent at Ditcheat continues to give them the edge. With 99 wins from more than 300 runs, Nicholls probably has the numbers to cling to his title. Yet Colin Tizzard remains a huge threat, thanks in the main to his three outstanding chasers, Cue Card, Native River and Thistlecrack. With the Welsh National and King George VI Chase secured, the gap at the top of the title table was reduced to just £200,000.

Whilst Tizzard had a Christmas full of joy, Mr Mix at Wincanton was Team Ditcheat’s lone winner from nearing 20 runners. Frodon and Present Man were also-rans in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton. Marracudja was kicked aside by Altior in the Wayward Lad Chase, and though Silviniaco ran a cracker in the King George, he never looked like winning. At Chepstow, Vicente was a distant sixth in the Welsh National.

The season ending festivals will play a huge part in the outcome of this year’s championship, and you’d have to say that it’s Team Tizzard that appear to hold the stronger hand. It’s an enthralling season on so many fronts, but these training power tussles, are arguably proving to be the most captivating narrative of all. The dominant forces of Mullins and Nicholls find themselves in a mighty scrap, and neither make a habit of coming off second best.

Thistlecrack Crowned King Of Kempton

The star of tomorrow became the King for a day, as Thistlecrack stormed to a hugely impressive victory in the King George at Kempton.

It proved to be a dominant display from Colin Tizzard’s young chaser, despite concerns that the sharp track would prove less than ideal. In truth, the result never looked in doubt. Tom Scudamore sent Thistlecrack to the front from the off, and though he had company for the first circuit, he appeared capable of stretching clear whenever asked to do so. His jumping was assured throughout, and despite the step-up in class, he tanked along in his now customary superlative fashion.

Paddy Brennan moved Cue Card alongside his stablemate, in an attempt to apply some sort of pressure. But as the pair approached the home turn for the final time it was Thistlecrack that stepped on the gas and stretched clear. No more than nudged out by Scudamore, he was allowed to run down the last two fences, and still finished more than three lengths clear at the line. Cue Card held on to second spot in a blanket finish for minor honours.

Scudamore was clearly chuffed to bits with the stunning success, saying: “For the first time in my life I'm pretty speechless. It's wonderful - I thought he'd win, but I never imagined he'd do it as easy as that. He's a phenomenal racehorse, he's a pleasure to ride and a great credit to everyone. To win a King George on his fourth run over fences, it just shows the hard work everyone back at the yard has done and I'm so thrilled to be part of it.”

The decision to run Thistlecrack had surprised many, myself included. But Colin Tizzard had never doubted the exceptional talent, and spoke of the reasoning and of the pleasure in a plan coming to fruition, when saying: “He's not a five or six-year-old, he is eight and he'll be nine in a few days' time. He's at the peak of his powers and he's just proved we all got it right.”

The trainer went on: “It's quite frightening to watch, isn't it? We've all seen Thistlecrack for the last few years, he's had his biggest test and he's a brilliant horse. Tom was being a bit careful at the second-last and he shortened up almost like a show-jumper - he never touched a twig. He's got everything you'd want in a racehorse. Cue Card could have cried enough at the last, but he stuck his head out and finished second, so it's brilliant.”

Paddy Brennan was philosophical in defeat, when he said: “You want to win, but some things are impossible and trying to beat that racehorse today was one of the most impossible things I've ever tried to do. You can make all the excuses in the world, but it's a long time since I've ridden against a horse like that. Cue Card was really brave today and I'm proud of him. The ground was lively enough for him at times.”

Looking ahead to Cheltenham, he added: “It would be nice, but I'm very realistic and we'd need a lot of things to go right on the day. But on a bit softer ground, I won't give up hope.”

Unfortunately for Cue Card and the rest, ground conditions appear to have little effect on this sensational racehorse. And the way he trounced the opposition in last year’s World Hurdle suggests he’ll actually be better suited by Cheltenham. A practice spin in the Cotswold Chase at the end of January now appears likely. King for a day at Kempton, chances are that Thistlecrack will reign for some time to come.

Slick and Quick – A Huge Test For Thistlecrack

Can Thistlecrack really put-it-up to Cue Card in the King George today?

This is a monumental task for a novice chaser, as talented as he clearly is. In three chase outings to date, he has defeated 137 rated Aqalim, 136 rated Bigbadjohn and 140 rated Marinero. Today he tackles a pair in the 150s, one in the 160s and Cue Card, currently rated 176, at a track that puts an emphasis on jumping accurately at speed.

A surprising and somewhat disappointingly small field will give hope that Thistlecrack can settle into a comfortable rhythm, though chances are that Silviniaco Conti and the rejuvenated Josses Hill will be at the head of affairs, making this a true test. As the pair apply pressure from the front, Tizzard’s novice chaser will need to be foot perfect to keep tabs. And just when he looks to be mounting a challenge, Cue Card will move through the gears to put his jumping under maximum pressure.

His last effort at Newbury was visually impressive, and will have given connections the confidence to take the plunge. His jumping was slick, as he powered along at the head of a small field. Five-year-old chasing debutant Ibis Du Rheu, attempted to go with him, and ultimately paid the price. He has a tendency to shift slightly to his right at his fences, which will be in his favour at Kempton. And that high cruising speed will prove a valid weapon in a race that will inevitably test both speed and stamina.

That high cruising speed is the component in his armoury that will come under severe scrutiny. Has he enough speed to lay-up with horses that are quicker than those he has competed against for several years?

His last defeat came as a novice hurdler back in April 2015. He was outpaced that day by Killultagh Vic and Shaneshill, before staying on powerfully to go down by less than a length. His last eight victories have all come at three miles, in races that tested his stamina rather than his speed. He did win at Aintree during that period, a flat sharpish track. Though that win came on soft ground, where he undoubtedly outstayed Shaneshill.

Today he faces Josses Hill; a horse that came second in a Supreme and third in an Arkle. Silviniaco Conti, though not the force of old, won the Grade 1 Ascot Chase at 2m5f last February by 20 lengths. And then there’s stablemate Cue Card; Supreme Novices’ fourth, Arkle runner-up to Sprinter Sacre, runaway winner of the Ryanair Chase and current King George supremo. Though a small field opposes Thistlecrack today, there will be no hiding place. Pace is guaranteed.

Despite all that, it would come as no surprise to see him ‘loom large’ turning for home. He is hugely talented, and a potential superstar of the sport. Had this been at Cheltenham, a largely galloping track, with a stiff uphill finish, then I would probably be siding with him over his illustrious team-mate. But not today. Not at Kempton.
Thistlecrack and Cue Card are jump racing goliaths, and their clash should make for a fabulous spectacle. However, one is a hero of today, the other a star of tomorrow.

Carole’s to prove ‘Pitch-Perfect’ in Wales

The Welsh National was first run at Chepstow in 1949, though dates back to 1895 when run at Ely Racecourse in Cardiff.

The race took place at Easter and then in February, before the switch to December in 1979. Trainer Jenny Pitman struck in 1982 and 1983 with a pair of exceptional horses. Corbiere was her first winner, and went on to glorious success in the Aintree version a few months later. Burrough Hill Lad won the following year, before lifting the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. He was a sensational racehorse, though his career was blighted by injury. He still managed to add victories in the Charlie Hall, the Hennessy and the King George.

Cool Ground was another future Gold Cup winner to take the Welsh National, when winning in 1990. Master Oats completed the same double during the 94/95 season, though the Chepstow event was transferred to Newbury due to the weather. Earth Summit took the Welsh and then the Aintree Nationals, and Bindaree completed the same double, though in the reverse order in 2002 and 2003.

In 2004 Silver Birch won the showpiece at Chepstow, but had to wait three years before capturing the Grand National at Aintree. Whilst ill-fated Synchronised won in Wales in 2010, then took the Lexus in Ireland in 2011, before his sensational victory in England, at Cheltenham, in the Gold Cup of 2012. Tragically, he was to die at Aintree just weeks after his greatest success.

Synchronised is one of only three horses to carry 11 stone or more to victory in the last 19 Welsh Nationals. He was successful as an eight-year-old, an age that has accounted for five of the last seven winners. It usually takes a horse with a fair amount of experience to win a Welsh National. Only two six-year-olds have won since the race came to Chepstow, and they are the youngest to capture the prize.

Older horses have a similarly patchy record however, with just one 11-year-old, and a pair of 10-year-olds winning since 1979. Mountainous was the lone 11-year-old, successful in the race just 12 months ago. It was his second success in three years, and he returns for another crack next week. Though older horses have a poor record, he does at least have plenty of racecourse experience, which has often proved a prerequisite for potential winners of this.

In a marathon handicap of this nature, it’s somewhat surprising that there have not been more shock results. Though favourites have a poor record, the winners do tend to be fancied contenders. In the last 10 renewals, only two have won at odds bigger than 16s, and those were both 20/1 shots. It does however, come as no surprise that horses need to have experience of competing in staying chases. The last 10 winners had all run, and indeed won, at three miles or more. This race is often a slog, and contenders must possess the guts for such a battle.

Of this year’s field, Native River heads both the weights and the betting. The Hennessy Gold Cup winner is undoubtedly classy, and is trained by the triumphant Tizzard team. Very few have carried top-weight to victory, with Carvill’s Hill the last fella to do so in 1991. The chances of Tizzard’s young chaser making the start, diminish with every day of rain, and I’d be surprised if he’s not spared the inevitable slog through the mud, with a potential Gold Cup bid still on the horizon.

The same cannot be said for Bishop’s Road, who off 11st 11lbs is a recognised mud-lover, and is trained by last year’s winner, Kerry Lee. His handicap mark remains a mighty issue when viewing him as a potential winner. He’s 10lbs higher than when winning the Grand National trial at Haydock in February. He can be a little clumsy over his fences, and is yet to win a big-field chase, which is an added concern.

Carole’s Destrier is another on a career high mark, though his 11st 5lbs is somewhat more bearable. He put in a stunning performance when runner-up in the Hennessy at Newbury, and took the London National at Sandown last winter when carrying 11st 10lbs. He goes on any ground, and has been well-backed for the race. He’s an eight-year-old with the right amount of experience, and looks to have a great chance.

Money has poured in for the Philip Hobbs trained Onenightinvienna. A very good novice chaser last season, he chased home RSA winner Blaklion at Cheltenham last December, and looks to be on a fair mark. He is another that will not be inconvenienced should the ground turn soft or heavy. He does occasionally shift slightly right at his fences, which is a concern, but he is a horse I like. His return at Carlisle was solid, though only a two-runner affair. He looks a serious player.

Another second-season chaser with the pedigree to go well is Nicky Henderson’s Vyta Du Roc. He appeared to lack the speed to challenge for honours in the Hennessy, though stayed on well enough for sixth. Though he goes on soft, I’m not convinced it’s ideal for him. And despite running well in the Scottish National, I’m by no means certain that he’s an out-and-out stayer. Nevertheless, his handicap mark looks attractive, and odds of 20/1 are hugely tempting.

Firebird Flyer was runner-up in this race 12 months ago, and will love the slog. The worry is, that he’s now 8lbs higher in the handicap, and there’s been no Welsh-trained winner since the year of my birth, 1965. Evan Williams has had some terrific staying chasers in the yard over the years, and will be hoping to finally crack that Welsh National hoodoo.

Another that quite enjoys a marathon, is the Richard Newland trained Royale Knight. He’s not the quickest, but he’ll be staying on well, when others have cried ‘enough’. He was fourth in the Scottish National in April, won the Durham National at Sedgefield in October 2015, and was sixth in the Grand National the same year. His recent run in the Borders National shows that he retains plenty of ability and enthusiasm, and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the mix at the prize-giving end of the race.

Surely Shotgun Paddy will go close off a mark of 139, assuming he makes the cut. Third last year when off 145, he looks to have been given a great chance by the handicapper. Twice a winner and twice placed at Chepstow in his five visits, he’s a major each-way shout at 16s. His return at Cheltenham was more than satisfactory, when only fading late-on. He’s impossible to ignore when searching for the likely winner.

This is such a competitive renewal, with so many contenders looking to have a winning profile. In the absence of my original selections, Vyta Du Roc and Shotgun Paddy, I'll now be siding with Carole's Destrier, ridden by Grand National supremo Leighton Aspell. The horse came so close in the Hennessy, and can go one better today. Best of luck to all those having a punt.

Boxing Day Trends: Kempton Park

It's always one of the biggest racing days on the horse racing calendar with eight domestic cards, but the festive feature as racing returns after a three day break is always the King George VI Meeting at Kempton Park.

Six races to take in from the Sunbury-On Thames track as punters look to get some of their Xmas expenses paid by finding the winner of the King George VI Chase. So to help you out we've got all the races covered from a trends and stats angle - use these to find the best profiles of past winners  of each race. Enjoy!

 

Kempton Horse Racing Trends - Monday 26th December 2016


12:55 – 32Red Casino Mobile Novices' Hurdle Race 2m

9/9 – Had raced in the last 8 weeks
8/9 - Aged 4 or 5 years-old
8/9 – Winning distance 3 lengths or more
8/9 – Favourites placed in the top 3
8/9 – Returned 7/2 or shorter in the betting
6/9 – Won just once over hurdles before
6/9 – Winning favourites
6/9 – Had won a NH Flat race before
3/9 – Ridden by Richard Johnson
3/9 – Trained by Nicky Henderson
2/9 – Ridden by Barry Geraghty


1.30 – 32Red.com Chase (A Novices´ Limited Handicap) Chase Cl3 2m4f110y CH4

12/12 – Aged 7 or younger
11/12 – Had won between 0-1 times over fences in the UK
10/12 – Raced within the last 5 weeks
9/12 – Placed 1st or 2nd last time out
8/12 – Placed favourites (1 joint)
6/12 – Officially rated between 119 and 125
6/12 – Carried 11-6 or more
6/12 – Winning distance – 6 lengths or more
6/12 – Winning favourites (1 joint)
5/12 – Won by a French bred horse
5/12 – Trained by Nicky Henderson
3/12 – Won last time out
2/12 – Ridden by Richard Johnson
2/12 – Raced at Kempton last time out


2.05 – 32RedKauto Star Novices´ Chase (In memory of Nigel Clark) (Grade 1) Cl1 3m CH4

13/13 – Placed in the top two last time out
13/13 – Raced within the last 6 weeks
11/13 – Won last time out
10/13 – Returned 5/2 or shorter in the betting
10/13 – Winning distance – 3 lengths or more
9/13 – Aged 6 or younger
9/13 – Had won at least 2 times over fences in the UK
9/13 – French (5) or Irish (4) bred
8/13 – Placed favourites
8/13 – Went onto run in that season’s RSA Chase (no winners)
7/13 – Winning favourites
7/13 – Aged 6 years-old
6/13 – Had won (chase) over at least 3m before
6/13 – Raced at Newbury last time out
2/13 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
2/13 – Trained by David Pipe
2/13 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
2/13 – Ridden by Tom Scudamore
2/13 – Raced at Cheltenham last time out
1/13 – French trained
1/13 – Went onto run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (One winner - Coneygree 2015)

Note: The 2005 running was staged at Sandown


2.40 – 32Red.com Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1) Cl1 2m CH4

12/14 – Raced within the last 6 weeks
12/14 – Had won at least 4 times over hurdles before
11/14 – Placed favourites
11/14 – Returned 11/4 or shorter in the betting
8/14 – Went onto run in the Champion Hurdle (Faughan (2015) only winner)
8/14 – Won last time out
8/14 – Irish trained
7/14 – Ran in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle (Newcastle) last time out
7/14 – Went onto finish in the top 5 in the Champion Hurdle that season
7/14 – Had run over hurdles at Kempton before
7/14 – Winning favourites
5/14 – French bred
4/14 – Trained by Nicky Henderson
4/14 – Trained by Noel Meade
2/14 – Trained by Jonjo O’Neill
2/14 – Trained by Willie Mullins
Faugheen has won the last 2 runnings
Note: The 2005 running was staged at Sandown
The 2010 renewal was run on 15th Jan 2011


3.10 – 32Red King George VI Chase (Grade 1) Cl1 3m CH4

Past King George VI Chase Winners

2015 – Cue Card (9/2)
2014 - Silviniaco Conti (15/8 fav)
2013 – Silviniaco Conti (7/2)
2012 – Long Run (15/8 fav)
2011 – Kauto Star (3/1)
2010 – Long Run (9/2)
2009 – Kauto Star (8/13 fav)
2008 – Kauto Star (10/11 fav)
2007 – Kauto Star (4/6 fav)
2006 – Kauto Star (8/13 fav)
2005 – Kicking King (11/8 fav)
2004 – Kicking King (3/1 fav)
2003 – Edredon Bleu (25/1)
2002 – Best Mate (11/8 fav)
Note: The 2005 renewal was staged at Sandown Park

King George VI Chase Trends

14/14 – Had won a Grade One chase before
13/14 – French (10) or Irish bred (3)
13/14 – Returned 9/2 or shorter in the betting
13/14 – Had raced within the last 5 weeks
13/14 – Finished in the top three last time out
12/14 – Placed favourites
12/14 – Officially rated 169 or higher
12/14 – Had won over 3m or further (fences) before
10/14 – Aged 8 or younger
10/14 – Had won a race over fences at Kempton before
9/14 – Winning favourites
9/14 – Won last time out
9/14 – Ran in the Betfair Chase (Haydock) last time out
8/14 – Aged 6 or 7 years-old
7/14 – Won by a previous winner of the race
7/14 – Trained by Paul Nicholls (9 times in all)
5/14 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
2/14 – Ridden by Barry Geraghty
2/14 – Ridden by Noel Fehily
2/14 – Won by an Irish-based yard (only 3 in the last 30 runnings)
The average winning SP in the last 14 years is 7/2


15:45 – 32Red On The App Handicap Hurdle Race 2m5f

9/9 – Won no more than 3 times (UK Hurdles)
8/9 – Aged 6 or younger
7/9 – Carried 11-2 or more in weight
7/9 – Won between 0-2 times hurdles (UK)
7/9 – Returned 8/1 or shorter
7/9 – Placed in the top 3 last time out
6/9 – Officially rated 120-128
5/9 – Ran 4 or less weeks ago
5/9 – Aged 5 or 6 years-old
5/9 – Unplaced favourites
5/9 – Won last time out
5/9 – French bred
3/9 – Winning favourites
2/9 – Trained by Nicky Henderson

 

Trainers Quotes

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"Ballylare - Claimed out of the John Best yard a few weeks ago. Therefore, not had the horse long, but seems well and based on his form should have a decent each-way chance here, but we'll obviously learn a lot more about the horse after this."
Lee Carter

19/12/16 1st 8/1

"Plutocracy - Well drawn in stall 1 and gets in here off the same mark as when a fair third last time out at Kempton over this trip. Not won since 2013, but a very consistent horse that is never far away in his races. 3 recent winners are feared, but we head here with another solid-looking each-way chance."
Gary Moore

18/12/16 1st 8/1

 

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Moore’s Mad to miss Christmas Cracker

We’re now less than two weeks away from the highlight of many peoples Christmas.

Turkey and roasties, along with Christmas pud and Brandy sauce are all well and good, but it’s the King George VI Chase that has me counting down the number of sleeps with mounting anticipation.

Cheltenham’s Gold Cup and the Grand National at Aintree are rightly seen as two of the jewels in the National Hunt crown. But the sight of top-class chasers hurtling around Kempton, with every miniscule error magnified ten-fold in its significance, is for me, one of the greatest races of the winter. It’s not dissimilar to the Tingle Creek at Sandown, when horses are ‘at-it’ from the off, with the winner often being the slickest and fastest for longest.

Desert Orchid was a fabulous two-mile chaser, capable of winning a Tingle-Creek and a Victor Chandler Chase, yet won the King George at three miles in 1986, 88, 89 and 1990. One Man was another that had the speed and accuracy to win a Champion Chase at the minimum trip yet had enough stamina to take Kempton’s showpiece in 1995 and 96.

Many forget that the great Kauto Star won back to back Tingle Creeks before becoming a record-breaking five-time winner of the King George. Recent winners, Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card undoubtedly possess that crucial blend of pace and stamina to lift this prestigious Christmas prize.

Despite appearing to have many of the requisite qualities, Gary Moore has decided that the time is not yet right to take the plunge with his exciting young chaser Ar Mad. Moore said of the decision: “I spoke to the owner (Ashley Head) and he definitely won't be going to the King George. There'll be a lot of pace in the race and it will be a tough race for his first time over three miles, and I won't test him out in one of the best chase races of the season. The plan is to go to Ascot for the two-mile-five-furlong Grade One, and he might have a prep run beforehand.”

The fact that Ar Mad has only recently returned from injury will have undoubtedly had a bearing on the decision, and time is certainly on the young chaser’s side. Nevertheless, the prospect of Moore’s exciting front-runner going hoof to hoof with Coneygree around Kempton was incredibly appealing.

If Moore isn’t up for a King George clash, the same cannot be said for Sara Bradstock. She remains bullish and is more than hopeful of revenge over Cue Card after the Betfair Chase defeat at Haydock. “I can honestly stand here and say that I’m very frightened of Cue Card,” said the trainer, “but I’m not frightened of Thistlecrack. He is a beautiful, very talented, athletic horse, but he’s still going in the air, he’s still jumping rather than racing to me. He’ll learn, I’m sure he will, but I think it’s going to be a tall order to go a Coneygree type of pace and jump. He hasn’t done that yet, has he?”

Of Cue Card, Bradstock is fully aware that her fella needs to apply more pressure at Kempton, than he was able too at Haydock. He should strip fitter this time, and his jumping is a major asset. Slick over his fences, and a relentless galloper, he appears to tick King George boxes. “The only way we can beat Cue Card is by making it impossible for him to get to us cruising,” said Bradstock. “If you see him cruising up behind us, he’s going to beat us, because he’s got more toe, but what I want to see is him already having to start racing before he gets to us. Then we’re in for a battle, which I’m hopeful we can win.”

Tizzard was yesterday leaving options open, when speaking at a media event. He has the top two in the betting, and though money has come for Thistlecrack, the trainer may have been hinting at the novice option at Kempton. “While Thistlecrack would be comfortable racing at speed, it may lead such an inexperienced fencer into making mistakes,” said the trainer. “We just want to make sure it’s right for him. A flat-out gallop round Kempton, he could easily sit third or fourth, pick ’em up and beat ’em all. Or it could take him out of his comfort zone. We had a long discussion about it with Tom Scudamore. It’s not straightforward.”

It’s that intense pressure on the jumping that will surely cause Tizzard to go the novice route, leaving Cue Card to take on Coneygree in a sensational main event.

Nicholls and Mullins – Power and the Glory

The usual suspects from Ditcheat and Closutton were at it again over the weekend, firing warning shots at those that have the audacity to challenge their supremacy.

Nicholls and Mullins struck major blows, claiming prestigious prizes in the UK and Ireland, as they battle to retain their positions as champion trainers.

At Cheltenham, Nicholls repeated his feat of 2012, by winning the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with a four-year-old. Frodon had blundered away his chance a month ago, when finishing down the field in the Betvictor. This time around, he was always travelling ominously well for Sam Twiston-Davies, and was delivered with his challenge between the last two fences. He was foot-perfect at the last, and ran on strongly to hold off the fast finishing Aso.

Top weights Village Vic and Kylemore Lough had duelled from the front, with the latter seemingly making a race-winning move turning for home. But Kerry Lee’s talented chaser got in close at the last, and lost crucial momentum. He faded to fifth at the finish, with Aso, Village Vic and Quite By Chance chasing home the winner.

The runner-up is a ‘big-race’ winner in waiting. Venetia Williams will have been thrilled with the run. His jumping wasn’t without fault, but he continues to learn, and is mightily progressive. Village Vic was once again heroic in defeat. He looked beaten when Kylemore Lough flew past him heading for two out. But he fought like a lion, and was only just pipped for second.

“He's a 100 per cent trier,” said a contented trainer, Philip Hobbs. “He ran on very well in the end. He's run fantastic again. The great thing about him is he gets into a rhythm and jumps well. Although his jumping was good, I don't think it was quite as good as last time. He was very brave and is good at organising himself.”

The Colin Tizzard trained, Quite By Chance, caught the eye in fourth. He finished powerfully, and is another on a workable handicap mark. Very much like Aso, he is a fast improving chaser, and wonderfully consistent. He’ll have his head in front before too long.

Of the winner, Nicholls was clearly thrilled, and speaking to Channel 4 said: “I enjoyed that, I thought he was awfully unlucky the last day. The rain suited him and I thought he'd go close today. Frodon's a good horse, he jumps well. They can all make the odd mistake, he's only a novice, but we put that right in the last month and he was a lot fresher today. It was great for Sam to have a winner on the big stage. It will have done his confidence the world of good.”

It proved a terrific Saturday for Team Ditcheat, with a treble at Doncaster raking in a further £50,000 in prize money.

A day later in Ireland, Willie Mullins proved the dominant force, winning a pile of euros in the process. The ‘big guns’ were out, and in Djakadam and Douvan they don’t come much bigger. The former took the valuable John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown for the second time. He was made to fight hard by a pair of Gigginstown owned runners. Gordon Elliott’s Outlander came closest to overhauling the favourite, but the Gold Cup runner-up was not to be denied.

Mullins said of the winner: “I'm happy that he's learned to find a leg at last, when he made a mistake at the one going down the hill. We'll probably try to do what we did last year. I'm delighted that he could win that first time out, and he's making progress. I just wanted to get today out of the way first, and we'll see where we go from here.”

Djakadam formed part of a four-timer for Mullins at Punchestown, and he added to this a double at Cork, with Douvan the star turn. His returning Arkle Trophy hero strolled to victory in the Grade 2 Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase. It was by no means a perfect performance, with the third last a particularly sticky moment. Nevertheless, he devours the ground, and appears at all times to be cruising along in second gear.

For owner Rich Ricci, it proved to be a terrific day. Of Douvan he said: “I think the Dial-A-Bet Chase at Christmas, I think we'll stick to two miles. He seems to handle that distance, I wouldn't be afraid of stepping up in trip, but there's no need to at the moment. In my own mind I'd probably stick to two miles this year and then see where we are next year.”

Willie Mullins remains the man to beat in Ireland, and though Gordon Elliott will put up a fierce challenge for the trainers’ crown, the team at Closutton have mighty firepower at their disposal. The Christmas period is sure to prove key, with valuable events at Leopardstown the next test for both camps.

Back in the UK, Nicholls, as always, sets the pace. But he’ll be looking over his shoulder, as Colin Tizzard looks set to unleash his own ‘big guns’ at Kempton. Jump racing fans look set to enjoy a thrilling Christmas, with equine stars galore, lighting up the holiday period.

Lee Holds The Key To Caspian Caviar Glory

It’s Cheltenham time again, with the two-day December meeting known as The International. The action begins today, with the showpiece Caspian Caviar Gold Cup taking place tomorrow.

As always, the prestigious handicap has attracted a classy looking field, with Britain’s elite trainers well represented. The ‘December Gold Cup’ was first run in 1963, and has gone to several outstanding racehorses over the years. Pendil was successful in 1973, the year he won his second King George. Trained by Fred Winter, he was arguably the greatest horse never to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Fondmort was a Prestbury Park regular, and won this race back in 2002. Trained by Nicky Henderson, he became one of the most popular horses in training, finally winning at the Cheltenham Festival in 2006 at the grand old age of 10, having finished placed in his three previous festivals. His famous victory in the Ryanair is a personal favourite of mine. The way he travelled and jumped that day was something special. He then had to show tremendous courage to hold off the late challenge of Lacdoudal and Impek up the famous hill. It was everything Jump racing aspires to be, and more; true sporting theatre.

The December Gold Cup winner of 2006 was another terrific chaser, who found himself up against Jump racing giants during his illustrious career. Exotic Dancer was trained by Jonjo O’Neill, and had won the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham a month earlier. His rise to the top was swift, though the number one spot was already taken, by a certain Kauto Star. Jonjo’s fella came second to Nicholls’ hero in the King George that year, before filling the same spot in the Gold Cup the following March. He was to see Kauto’s rear-end on countless other occasions, during his all-to-brief career.

The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup often goes to one of the premier trainers. Hobbs, Henderson and Nicholls have won the lion’s share in recent times. Team Ditcheat have took three of the last seven, whilst Seven Barrows have three victories since 2002. Philip Hobbs won last year’s renewal, and was successful back in 2004, thanks to Monkerhostin.

Those same protagonists have strong looking contenders this time around, especially Nicholls and Hobbs.
Though Addlington Boy was the last top-weight to take the race back in 1996, that shouldn’t put people off from fancying those from the top end of the handicap. Five horses have carried 11st 4lbs or more to victory in the last 10 years.

That will give hope to fans of the Hobbs trained Village Vic, who looks to emulate Poquelin in winning this two years on the trot. He’s rated a stonking 22lbs higher than when successful 12 months ago, though only just failed to land the BetVictor Gold Cup (formerly Paddy Power) a month back. Nine-year-olds have a poor recent record in the race, but I’d be surprised if this fella wasn’t there or thereabouts. His aggressive running style will have the field stretched from some way out, and it’s then a case of hanging on.

With just 2lb less to haul around Prestbury Park, the Kerry Lee trained Kylemore Lough also looks to have an outstanding chance of lifting the coveted prize. The seven-year-old ran a cracker on his return to action, when just touched off at Ascot in the Grade 2 Stella Artois. He was running on strongly at the line, and Cheltenham’s stiff finish ought to suit. It’s fair to say that he lacks handicap experience, but his chase record is impressive, with five wins from seven. His age group have a great record in the race, and he has just the right amount of experience over fences to tick off another trend box.

Paul Nicholls’ duo are aged four and five, which on a trends basis is undoubtedly a negative. Only two horses from that age group have been successful in the races history. Bouvreuil looks to be his best hope, and ran well last time when fifth in the BetVictor Gold Cup. He has a little to find with some of these, but should strip fitter this time. His jumping can be ‘sticky’ at times, and it will be severely tested here. Nevertheless, he’s without doubt a player, and has the advantage of having Barry Geraghty in the plate.

Aso finished one place ahead of Bouvreuil at Cheltenham last time, and looks likely to go close again. Rain would possibly help his cause, and his jumping would also be a cause for concern. A mistake two from home cost him dear last time, but he also should be fitter for that run, and must have a great chance on Saturday.

Finally, a mention for the Tizzard trained Quite By Chance. The trainer can do no wrong, and he has his horses flying this winter. This fella has undoubtedly improved, and ran a terrific race at Ascot last time, when chasing home Sire De Grugy. This step-up in trip may well be in his favour, and though he’s probably a better horse going right-handed, his run last time makes him a huge player here.

Rarely can I remember a handicap of this nature, where the top weights appear to have such an outstanding chance. I fancy that both Village Vic and Kylemore Lough will go close, with Aso a lively contender from lower down the handicap. I’m just about favouring Kerry Lee’s fella to nick it from Hobbs’ top weight, though I expect it to be tight.

Stat of the Day, 1st December 2016

Wednesday's Result :

3.20 Ffos Las : Copper Birch @ 11/4 BOG 5th at 5/4 (Heavily backed and stayed in touch, jumped slow 6th, soon lost place and outpaced, plugged on before 3 out, never dangerous, beaten by 21 lengths - sigh!)

Thursday's pick goes in the...

2.45 Wincanton :

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?

Tikkapick @ 5/2 BOG

Why?

This 6 yr old gelding has still to win, but does seem suited by a stamina test akin to the one he'll face today. He's on a reduced/workable mark, but despite a lack of wins has been there or thereabouts of late, finishing 24323 in is last five outings.

His yard couldn't be in better form either and although he's hardly one of the yard's leading lights, his trainer Colin Tizzard is certainly the man of the moment! 8 winners from 25 (32% SR) has given way to 3 winners from 8 over the past week and those have contained some really high profile runners.

We're not quite pitching a that level today, nor are we on one the "prestige tracks", but recent times have been kind to Mr Tizzard and his string when making the short journey to this local venue with 15 winners from 77 runners (19.5% SR) since the start of 2015, resulting in profits of 25.2pts at an ROI of 32.7%, not bad at all for just popping down the road!

With today's race in mind, those 77 runners can be further assessed as follows...

  • males are 13/66 (19.7%) for 30.8pts (+46.7%)
  • during October to February : 15/56 (26.8%) for 46.2pts (+82.4%)
  • in handicaps : 13/49 (26.5%) for 49.2pts (+100.5%)
  • over fences : 9/28 (32.1%) for 40.7pts (+145.5%)
  • after a break of 6-20 days : 5/26 (19.2%) for 34.8pts (+133.8%)
  • and at trips of 3m 1f / 3m 2.5f : 3/8 (37.5%) for 28.6pts (+357%)

AND...Male handicap chasers running in that October to February period are 9 from 23 (39.1% SR) for profits of 45.7pts at an ROI of 198.9%.

...directing us to...a 1pt win bet on Tikkapick at 5/2 BOG from Bet365, Betfair Sports, Betfred, Racebets and/or Totesport, as of 6.20pm on Wednesday. To see your preferred bookies' odds, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 2.45 Wincanton

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

’tis Tizzard Again

Another Saturday brought another huge success for Colin Tizzard and his Dorset team, as they lifted the Hennessy Gold Cup.

Punters launched into race favourite Native River as if defeat was out of the question. And they were proved right, as the six-year-old held off a late challenge from Carole’s Destrier, to win the prestigious prize. Positioned towards the head of affairs by Richard Johnson, Tizzard’s charge jumped with gusto, sharing the lead with Double Ross throughout.

Turning for home the Twiston-Davies chaser was travelling the better of the two, and he swept to the lead, looking the likely winner. But as the pair approached the second last fence, the favourite had responded to Johnson’s urgings, and was back alongside his main rival. A prodigious leap at the last looked to have sealed the victory, but punters were made to sweat, as Noel Fehily produced a late charge from the Neil Mulholland trained Carole’s Destrier.

The winning distance of less than a length probably flattered the runner-up, with Native River appearing to pick-up again when challenged.

Tizzard spoke to Channel 4 after the victory, saying: “Everything was right for him today; going left-handed and a flat track. He went clear and looked like he would win easily. The other horse (Carole's Destrier) nearly got to him, but then he went again, which is the sign of a good, honest stayer.”

Speaking of future targets, the trainer hinted at a three-pronged assault in the Gold Cup: “He's in the Welsh National but he won't go there if it’s a slog. He's a stayer but he might just be a bit better than that. If he is in the same sort of form in March, he will join Thistlecrack and Cue Card. Hennessy winners go on to do that. They are right there in with the best of them.”

Richard Johnson was winning the Hennessy for the first time, and was clearly delighted when saying: “I was very lucky to pick up the ride on him at Aintree at the end of last season. Colin Tizzard said he stays and jumps and does what it says on the tin. Three and a quarter miles around here, you need a proper stayer and he had it in abundance. He probably idled and found a bit more. The big winners on Saturday is always what you are aiming at. This is race I've never won before and I've had quite a lot of goes. I've been second a couple of times so to win it is special.”

Carole’s Destrier finished the race to great effect, and looks every bit a national horse. He goes on all grounds, and his trainer, Neil Mulholland, confirmed: “He wants further. He will have an entry in this year's Grand National all going well. The plan was always to come here and go for the Welsh National so I don't see why that will change.”

Blaklion looked to have every chance turning for home, but his challenge flattened-out. He’ll have his wind checked, but I’m of the opinion that he’s a little one-paced. A stiff finish and softer ground will see him winning a valuable prize before the season is over.

And of the winner, Tizzard must now map a course for three potential Gold Cup challengers. There’s a chance this fella would be outpaced a little against the elite, but he finds a ton for pressure, and would be storming up that famous hill if taking his chance. He’s still 20s in places for the ‘big one’ in March. That looks a tasty and tempting price to me.