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Tizzard Star to Shine at Kempton

The King George VI Chase from Kempton is the highlight of the Christmas period, and one of the most prestigious events of the winter.

Its roll of honour is the stuff of legends, simply oozing quality, jam-packed with steeplechasing heroes. Jumping goliaths, Mill House and Arkle, won the race in the 60’s. In the 1970’s Pendil and Captain Christy were simply sensational. In the early 80’s the Kempton masses were thrilled by Silver Buck, Wayward Lad and Burrough Hill Lad. It was then the turn of the glorious grey Dessie.

Desert Orchid dominated the Kempton Christmas cracker in the latter part of the eighties, with four victories. Only in 1987 did the bold front-runner find one too good, when beaten by the Francois Doumen-trained Nupsala. He was taken-on for the lead for much of that renewal, and arguably set the race up for the French raider.

Doumen was back again at the start of the 90’s with The Fellow, followed closely by a quick-fire double from another wonderful grey, One Man. Best Mate added his name to the wondrous list with victory in 2002, and Kicking King struck for Ireland in 2004 and 2005. Then came Kempton’s greatest, Kauto Star. Five victories from 2006 to 2011 saw him surpass the achievements of Dessie. He truly is Kempton’s King George King.

Last year’s race went to Thistlecrack, a horse with the potential to emulate some of those former greats. A novice at the time, he was scintillating throughout the three-mile contest. It was a display of pace and authority that left his talented opponents powerless. The rigours of a King George aren’t for every staying chaser, but it proved ideal for Thistlecrack. Injury cut short his first season over fences, and his return over hurdles at Newbury proved underwhelming. Nevertheless, the sounds from Team Tizzard are positive, and if he’s back to the form of 12 months ago, he’ll prove hard to beat.

The favourite for Boxing Day’s showpiece is the Nicky Henderson-trained Might Bite. He too looked sensational at Kempton 12 months ago. That is, until a final-fence blunder sent him crashing to the turf when clear of the field in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. He put that mishap behind him when winning at Cheltenham and Aintree, and returned to action in November with a comfortable victory at Sandown.

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He looks hugely talented, though this is by far his toughest test to date. He got the better of Whisper as a novice chaser, and you’d fancy he has the potential to maintain that advantage. Whisper was beaten 30-lengths and 46-lengths by Thistlecrack over hurdles, and though comparison of codes isn’t always reliable, I’d fancy Might Bite needs to improve a ton to beat a match-fit Tizzard stable-star.

Bristol De Mai is second-best in the betting, having demolished the opposition in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. In testing ground he absolutely rocks, but can he prove as dominant on a sounder surface? There’s also a feeling that Haydock brings out the best in the Twiston-Davies chaser, and his record at the track certainly supports that theory. He came up short in the Gold Cup back in March, and again failed to spark at Aintree the following month. He may be a vastly improved horse after a summer in the field, but I’m not convinced. I also have issues with his jumping, which will be severely tested in a ‘full-throttle’ King George. Unless we get a substantial amount of rain over the weekend, he’s not for me.

I’m anticipating a huge run from Fox Norton. He was runner-up in the Champion Chase and filled the same spot in the Tingle Creek earlier this month. The tempo of this race should prove ideal, though whether his stamina will last into the latter stages is the crucial question. He’s never looked a true two-miler, always running-on strongly at the end of such events. Arguably his best performance to-date came in the Melling Chase at Aintree over 2m4f, when running away from Sub Lieutenant. He’d looked out-paced in that until getting on top in the latter stages. He certainly wasn’t stopping at the line.

Though Whisper ran a cracker in the Ladbrokes Trophy (Hennessy), I cannot see him turning the tables on Might Bite. He was clearly second-best to his stable companion last season, and I cannot see that changing. I’ve always thought that Whisper, though clearly a talented horse, is just shy of the very best. He may well run admirably, but I’d be shocked if he wins.

Repeat victories are common in the King George, and I’m convinced that a back-to-his-best Thistlecrack will be too hot to handle. Might Bite is a chaser of huge potential and may well pick up the pieces should Tizzard’s star fail to shine. Of the remainder, I fancy Fox Norton to run a huge race at a trip that should be to his liking.
Enjoy this Christmas cracker. And best of luck to those having a punt.

A Thrilling Kempton Christmas Gathering

I went out and bought the Christmas TV magazine yesterday, and have started circling all the programmes that will excite me during the holiday period.

The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio and Shrek 2, instantly caught the eye. However, there’s no doubting the highlight at this time of year, and I don’t mean Christmas Top Of The Pops.

The channel may have changed, but Boxing Day racing from Kempton remains my ‘numero uno’ (The Wizard Of Oz is a close runner-up). The King George VI Chase is one of the most thrilling races of the winter with a truly wondrous roll of honour. Last year’s renewal was truly ‘Joyful and Triumphant’ for Team Tizzard, as Thistlecrack swept far more experienced chasers aside, to win in the style of a superstar. Things haven’t gone to plan since, but one of Jump racing’s major player’s is back for more, with his jockey at Kempton hopeful of a repeat performance.

Tom Scudamore told At The Races: “It felt like he had all his old spark, but just got tired from going to the second last (Newbury Long Distance Hurdle). He'd suffered an injury at Cheltenham and had plenty of time off the track. He'd been showing everyone the right signs at home. Joe and Colin (Tizzard) were happy with him, but unfortunately the time he had off just got the better of him at Newbury. Colin and Joe tell me he's been going very well at home, but the proof in the pudding will be on Boxing Day.”

Ruby Walsh knows a thing or two about Kempton’s showpiece, having ridden Kauto Star to a record-breaking five victories. Still recovering from injury, he believes that Nicky Henderson has the leading contender. Speaking to Racing UK he said: “Strictly going on novice form and the performance he was putting up in last year's Feltham, I'd be leaning towards Might Bite. I rode in his RSA and the gallop he went was phenomenal. Kempton will suit him, going right-handed. I think he'll be very hard to beat.”

Walsh also spoke of the Betfair Chase winner, Bristol De Mai, saying: “If we were to get a drop of rain and the track was to get a bit slower, then Bristol De Mai would have a chance. I would say he is an unbelievably strong stayer and that’s why, on testing ground, he just goes the same speed as he would on good ground and it kills off the opposition. I’m not saying he won’t go on good ground, it’s just can he burn the opposition off to the same effect as he does on soft ground?"

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Should trainers and connections hold their nerve, this looks to be a thrilling renewal, with a feel of the ‘changing of the guard’. We have a pair of six-year-olds in Bristol De Mai and Disko. The former fresh from that stunning success at Haydock, and the latter highly regarded by his trainer Noel Meade, and talked of as a Gold Cup prospect. There’s a trio of seven-year-old's, including Tizzard’s classy Tingle Creek runner-up Fox Norton, who steps-up in trip having come-up just short at two-miles. The race favourite; Henderson’s Might Bite, is just eight, and though Thistlecrack and Whisper are both nine, they have very few chase outings to their name.

The decision not to send Sizing John over for the prestigious event came as no surprise. But arguably the biggest name lacking from this year’s line-up is that of trainer Paul Nicholls. He’s won the race seven times in the past 11 years, with Kauto Star and Silviniaco Conti proving Kempton heroes.

Politologue’s win in the Tingle Creek at Sandown would have come as a huge relief to the Ditcheat handler, but the lack of a quality staying chaser in the yard will be hugely frustrating. The performance of Clan Des Obeaux last week at Cheltenham, will give hope of a Nicholls renaissance in this division. By next Christmas, he could be the one making his presence felt in the Christmas showpiece.

Colin Tizzard and Nicky Henderson have shared four of the last seven renewals and both have a pair of strong contenders this time around. Nigel Twiston-Davies will hope to spoil the party, but there’s no doubting that the staying chase landscape, and to some extent the Grade One picture, continues to change, with Team Ditcheat rarely invited to the gathering.

Fox lacks Fizz as Nicholls makes it a Tingly Ten

At the highest level, Fox Norton’s vulnerability to a slicker and quicker two-miler proved his undoing, as Politologue held on for a thrilling victory in Saturday’s Tingle Creek at Sandown.

The six-year-old grey, trained by Paul Nicholls, jumped beautifully throughout and at the third-last came alongside Ar Mad at the front of affairs, with a couple of lengths back to Fox Norton. He maintained that advantage to the last and though the runner-up gained all the way to the line, he was never able to bridge the gap.

Nicholls was clearly thrilled with the victory, his tenth in the race: “That means an awful lot, we are just short of a Grade One horse and I always believed in this one. It was a good ride from Harry and I'm delighted for everybody. He is starting to look the proper job. I knew when he went to Exeter there would be huge improvement. No one ever believes you when you say they need a run, but he hadn't been back long enough really.”

The trainer added: “I knew they would go quick and his jumping stands him in great stead. Harry said he just cruises there and ends up idling in front. The faster they go, the more he can get a tow into the race. John (Hales, owner) has always wanted him to be a Gold Cup horse. I just thought at Haydock last season and at Cheltenham we were riding him wrong and doing the wrong thing. That's why I said we will go to back to two at Aintree and we were unlucky that day.”

Speaking to Racing UK a little later Nicholls added: “He’s only six and we’ll just go along with him quietly. That’s only his second run out of novice company and he’s won a Tingle Creek and a Haldon Gold Cup, which is what all those good ones I had before had done. His jumping is brilliant and that’s a big asset to him. We’ll possibly go to Ascot at the end of January for the Clarence House, but there’s one target, the Champion Chase, and that’s what we’ll aim at.”

Hales has owned other high-class two-milers including One Man and Azertyuiop, but had never previously captured the Tingle Creek. He said of the victory: “It is a wonderful win. I'm absolutely delighted. He is only a six-year-old. I thought we had a chance. I thought if we win this today, we've beaten a really good horse. It is a pity Douvan didn't come or Altior wasn't fit because I like to compete against the best and we don't duck anybody. But he a beat a very good horse and all credit to him.”

Harry Cobden had given the winner a perfect ride, and said: “He's a lovely horse, the first day I sat on him was at Haydock over two and a half on heavy ground, he took a bit of my heart that day and he's got it all now.”

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Tizzard appeared a little stunned at proceedings, but admitted that there were always concerns over the right trip for Fox Norton: “Whether he is a Ryanair horse or a King George horse I don’t know. We’ll think about it. I’m sure from now on he will go up in trip - we hankered on it all last year and it looks more like it every time we talk about it. We got in a bit tight at the last and the Paul Nicholls horse was away.”

It became a day of rare disappointment for the Tizzard team, when the decision to run Finian’s Oscar in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase backfired spectacularly. Outpaced on the flat and woefully ponderous at his fences, the five-year-old is clearly no two-mile chaser. Tailed off throughout the contest, he finished 61 lengths behind the impressive winner Sceau Royal and will not be seen over the minimum trip again. Along with Fox Norton, Tizzard will be stepping him up for the remainder of the campaign. Both could find themselves running over three-miles at Kempton during the Christmas period.

The Alan King-trained winner was foot-perfect throughout and zipped past Brain Power approaching the last fence. Henderson’s fella got in close and stumbled on landing, sending David Mullins to the turf, whilst Sceau Royal scooted clear for an 11-length success. North Hill Valley was the eventual runner-up in a dramatic renewal.

The winner is likely to be aimed at the Arkle, though the large galloping and undulating track may not play to his strengths as Sandown clearly did. He was laser-sharp over the obstacles and clearly that will be of benefit come March, though his ability to battle bravely up the final hill will prove just as crucial.

One horse that did battle bravely in testing conditions was Blaklion at Aintree. Punters latched on to the Twiston-Davies chaser, and he was sent-off a short-priced favourite for the Becher Chase. He proved himself the class act, travelling powerfully throughout before pulling clear for a nine-length success. The Last Samuri ran another cracker over the National fences to finish second. Both are likely to return for the ‘main event’ in April, though their respective handicap marks will make life awfully difficult.

Fox to Capitalize on Douvan ‘No Show’

The Douvan ‘no show’ is clearly a blow for Sandown and their feature, the Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday.

Nevertheless, no one should be surprised, as Willie Mullins has previous. Antepost punters must learn that lumping on a Mullins contender comes with a serious health risk. The trainer would say that his only loyalty is to the horse and the paying owners. Jump racing fans will be hoping that Douvan returns to his best sooner rather than later, and that a clash with the best two-milers takes place at Cheltenham in March.

The Tingle Creek was already missing one of the most exciting young chasers, in the Nicky Henderson-trained Altior. Stunning at the end of the last campaign when romping to victory in Sandown’s Celebration Chase, he’ll hopefully be back in time to lock horns with Douvan at Prestbury Park.

In the absence of arguably the most exciting pair of two-mile chasers, the money has come for the Colin Tizzard-trained Fox Norton. Impressive winner of the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham on his seasonal return, he has yet to run at Sandown, though did win the Champion Chase at Punchestown in April going right-handed. Robbie Power gave him a fabulous ride that day, bustling the horse along early to ensure the speedier Un De Sceaux didn’t give them the slip. He both outstayed and out-battled the Mullins chaser that day.

Of his six opponents on Saturday I’m struggling to find one that is likely to trouble the favourite. A back to his best Ar Mad may have what it takes to get Fox Norton out of his comfort zone, though Gary Moore’s brittle seven-year-old has only run three times in the past two years. If allowed to bowl along at the head of affairs, he could have plenty of these in trouble, and he did run well to finish fourth in last year’s renewal despite having made a serious error at a crucial stage.

Politologue is the other contender with the potential to improve and become a serious challenger. The six-year-old is trained by Paul Nicholls, who just happens to be the most successful handler in the history of the race. He has nine wins in total, with eight of those coming in the last dozen years. The horse was an impressive winner on his seasonal return, when giving weight and a beating to San Benedeto in the Haldon Gold Cup. I’d expect him to be up the front end with Ar Mad, though whether he can hold off the late rattle of Fox Norton has to be doubtful.

I can’t see beyond the favourite, though Ar Mad at 20s has to worth a punt on finishing in the top two.

The other highlight of Saturday’s action is the Becher Chase at Aintree. The 3m2f trip over the National fences is always a major test for the staying chasers, but with ground described as ‘heavy’ this renewal looks sure to be a war of attrition.

Blaklion is as short as 5/2 in places for Saturday’s race, which seems incredibly mean for a 16-runner handicap of this nature. Nigel Twiston-Davies has had a terrific start to the campaign, and this fella ran a cracker on his seasonal debut when getting close to Bristol De Mai in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby. That performance came on soft ground and I’m convinced he’ll revel in conditions. He thoroughly enjoyed his last visit to the track, when looking the likely winner of the Grand National in April. He looks sure to go close, though is undoubtedly vulnerable to one off a low weight.

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Vieux Lion Rouge and The Last Samuri are next best in the betting though I can’t see either beating the favourite. The former won the race last year with the latter third. Pipe’s chaser has gone up 10lbs since that victory and was 40 lengths behind Blaklion at Wetherby last time. The Last Samuri is likely to put-in a solid performance, but I can’t see him winning off top-weight.

As De Mee proved his liking for these unique fences when winning the Grand Sefton a year ago. He’s another that has seen his handicap mark suffer, and I’m far from sure he’ll enjoy the gruelling conditions. He’s talented, but he’s not for me in this ground.

Highland Lodge is not without a chance having won this race in 2015 and finished runner-up last year. He’s now an 11-year-old, though equine pensioners cannot be discounted from this. A 12, 13 and 14-year-old have won in the past seven renewals, and this fella is much better off at the weights with Vieux Lion Rouge this time around. The ground is no concern and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the shake-up.

Kerry Lee’s Goodtoknow will enjoy the test, having performed at his best in challenging conditions. He finished runner-up to One For Arthur in the Betfred Classic at Warwick back in January and then won in desperate ground at Hereford. He failed to see-out the trip in the National, but was prominent for a long way. I think he’ll run well.

Rogue Angel has proved a disappointment since winning the Irish National in 2016, but the nine-year-old has now dropped to a nice handicap mark and could go well. Mouse Morris won the ‘big-one’ with Rule The World and if this fella puts his best foot forward he’s capable of a huge performance. He was down the field in last year’s renewal though is 10lb better off. He led the Grand National for a long way in April before fading late-on. His odds of 18s look fair though not generous.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if Federici goes well from the bottom of the handicap. The eight-year-old is trained by Donald McCain, a man who knows a thing or two about the National course and how to win. Fifth in the Ulster National back in March, there is a slight concern over the ground, but the trip should prove ideal. He ran reasonably well in the Grand Sefton last winter, though would need a lifetime best to win this.

Despite my concerns over the weight he’s set to carry in such testing conditions I think Blaklion will take some beating. He’ll love the ground and a repeat of his run at Wetherby may well be good enough. Goodtoknow looks the main danger and will be my each-way punt.

Best of luck to those having a bet on Saturday.

A Bristol Blitz – It’s De Mai All The Way

Bristol De Mai romped to victory in Saturday’s Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Simply devastating in the testing conditions, he led from start to finish, stretching effortlessly clear of his pursuers, hitting the line an incredible 57-lengths clear of runner-up Cue Card. It was a dream ride for Daryl Jacob who simply pointed the six-year-old in the right direction and then sat motionless for seven minutes. In his three racecourse victories, BDM has now amassed a cumulative winning margin of 110 lengths.

The winner has always been held in high regard by his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who said: “That was very good. I didn't have to worry about too much. I only had to worry about the last few fences and he jumped them well. We've had a brief chat and the idea would be the King George, the Cotswold Chase and then the Gold Cup. You might not get this ground (at Kempton), but we'll see.

“He goes out and has his own way of doing it. He has a big engine and can go faster than that. He's always worked fantastically well and he's a supreme horse. He's very much an Imperial Commander type - he's a big, strong, gorgeous horse. We were in a bit of a rush to get to the Gold Cup last year. He was ready, but I don't think he was at his best. From what he does at home you wouldn't think he's improved from last season, but he obviously has. He was beaten 20 lengths in the Gold Cup. It's a shame Sizing John isn't here so we could find out.”

Owner Simon Munir was clearly thrilled with the victory and said: “That's absolutely amazing. It's wonderful. These are the days that one comes into racing for. Just speaking to Daryl and he's in a state of shock. He was saying he wanted to increase the pace. He thought everybody had fallen behind him. To win by 57 lengths is amazing. I thought it could be game over when he got in too tight two out, but he's a clever horse and he adjusts himself very well. The King George is what we're looking at.”

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Though beaten out of sight, Cue Card did battle on bravely for second spot. Colin Tizzard looked a little shell-shocked, but gave an honest appraisal, saying: “The grey horse has run a marvellous race and galloped them all into the ground. He’s never come off the bridle really. I think he's (Cue Card) run on par with his other runs. He's just been beaten by a very good horse on the day. The winner blew the race away. He jumped round and galloped on and finished second. We'll go back home and see how he is.”

It’s tough to judge whether this was a below-par performance from the runner-up, as Bristol De Mai appears to do this to everyone at Haydock. It’s probably fair to say that he didn’t travel as well as he can. Harry Cobden was niggling away at him on the first circuit, and it appeared an effort to keep tabs on the winner. His jumping was solid throughout despite him being under pressure for much of the contest. It seems clear that his best days are now behind him. The Ascot Chase in February may be his last hope of further Grade One success. He has won the race twice and would be looking to emulate Monet’s Garden, in winning the race as a 12-year-old.

As for Bristol de Mai, all roads now lead to Kempton at Christmas. Despite having run 16 times over fences, this will be his debut at the track. He has won over fences at Sandown, though this will be more of a test of speed. He also needs to prove himself an elite chaser on a sounder surface. The King George will tell us whether this youngster is truly top-class, or rather a soft-ground bully. I for one, remain in the undecided camp.

Sizing John No Show A Blow

It came as something of a shock when yesterday Jess Harrington announced that her Gold Cup winner, Sizing John, would not be making the trip to Haydock for the Betfair Chase on Saturday.

“Sadly, he's not running because the ground is soft, heavy in places and there's a bit more rain due,” said Harrington. “It's just the ground. I've been a bit worried all week. I didn't mind soft, genuine soft ground, but when they start putting heavy into Haydock, it gets very heavy. Plan B will be the John Durkan and then we'll take it from there.”

There’s no doubting that the trainer has Sizing John’s well-being at heart. Nevertheless, her decision goes against the wishes of the late Alan Potts, who had targeted the £1million bonus offered by the Jockey Club for a horse winning the Betfair Chase, the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in the same season.

It’s hard to imagine that Alan Potts was solely driven by the thought of a million, but rather by the chance of creating a piece of history in emulating the achievement of the mighty Kauto Star.

Just a couple of days back, Harrington spoke of racecourse gallops, and of having the horse ‘as fit as I can have him’ prior to the trip over. Sizing John has won eight times under rules, with half of those victories coming on testing ground. His first attempt at three-miles came when winning the Irish Gold Cup in challenging conditions at Leopardstown. Those committing to a Haydock trip in November tend to know what to expect, with the last five Betfair Chase renewals being run on soft or heavy.

Fans and punters will be disappointed by the decision, and the withdrawal certainly leaves the race looking a little threadbare on quality. Though the ground is likely to be better for the King George at Christmas, there must now be doubt over Sizing John’s participation in Kempton’s showpiece. The likelihood of the Gold Cup winner staying home throughout the winter has greatly increased since Harrington’s other high-class chaser Our Duke, is now on sick leave. He’s recovering from an operation on his back, and will likely be out until February, leaving an opening for a Harrington contender in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

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With the headline act missing, Colin Tizzard will be far more optimistic that Cue Card can add a fourth Betfair Chase to his CV. Lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place, yet a victory for the stable star on Saturday would surely spark scenes reminiscent of those witnessed in 2011. Back then it was Kauto Star, also as an 11-year-old, that captured his fourth Betfair having been dismissed by many as on the wane. Those that were there will never forget the emotional return to the winner’s enclosure.

Last year’s Betfair Chase victory came on heavy ground, and arguably his best performance of last season came in testing conditions when romping home in the Ascot Chase. There’s little doubt that Cue Card now operates as well as any staying chaser when the mud is flying. Harry Cobden is tasked with keeping tabs on race favourite Bristol De Mai, who seems likely to be ridden positively by Daryl Jacob.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained seven-year-old also thrives in the prevailing conditions and is unbeaten at Haydock. In his two outings at the Lancashire track, he has won by a combined 54 lengths. He was mightily impressive in the Grade Two Peter Marsh Chase back in January, when cruising to a 22-length success as those around him floundered in the mud. Cue Card will be a much tougher nut to crack, but BDM looks a beast when conditions suit.

Despite the disappointment of a Sizing John no show, the sight of the old warrior pursuing the young pretender should still have pulses racing come Saturday afternoon.

Stat of the Day, 23rd November 2017

Wednesday's Result :

4.40 Kempton : Roman Spinner @ 7/2 BOG WON at 9/2 Keen early, held up towards rear, switched left over 2f out, good headway on outside chasing leaders over 1f out, 2nd inside final furlong, ran on to lead final 100 yards, soon clear

Next up is Thursday's...

1.25 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?

Cucklington @ 11/4 BOG

A Class 4, 4yo+ Handicap Chase over 3m1f on Soft ground worth £6,498 to the winner.

And a 6 yr old gelding who is in fine form having finished 221 in his last three outings, having recently (17 days ago) won a handicap novice chase at Plumpton last time out. That was over 3m2f and he takes a slight drop back in trip today.

The drop in trip should help on the stamina front, as the ground is tougher today and whilst he's neither proven nor disproven yet on Soft ground, he did finish 3rd in a bumper on heavy ground and he looked to have plenty on hand when winning LTO.

That said, had he won previously on Soft ground, we'd be looking at 7/4 and not 11/4 and if we're to continue to get on horses at the "right kind" of prices, we have to take horses that don't always tick every box we'd like.

He's trained by Colin Tizzard, whose record in handicap chases here at Wincanton with runners priced at Evens to 8/1 stands at 25/111 (22.5% SR) for 20.1pts (+18.1% ROI) since 2008 from which Class 4 runners are 11/50 (22%) for 3.9pts (+7.8%) whilst on Soft ground they are 9/30 (30%) for 22.4pts (+74.7%).

More generally, since 2008, handicappers racing over trips of 2m6f to 3m3.5f after winning a Novice Chase LTO, 4 to 25 days earlier are 121/487 (24.9% SR) for 119.6pts (+24.6% ROI), from which...

  • males are 114/451 (25.3%) for 133.2pts (+29.5%)
  • at odds of 10/1 and shorter : 120/448 (26.8%) for 138.6pts (+30.9%)
  • at Class 4 : 49/179 (27.4%) for 18.5pts (+10.4%)
  • on soft ground : 28/121 (23.1%) for 22.4pts (+18.6%)
  • and here at Wincanton : 7/15 (46.7%) for 21.8pts (+145.1%)...

...whilst 6 to 9 yr old male Class 4 chasers who won a handicap chase by 2 to 4 lengths last time out, 11 to 75 days earlier are 61/266 (22.9% SR) for 38.1pts (+14.3% ROI) since 2010, of which those racing over 2m7f to 3m2f are 25/104 (24%) for 46.4pts (+44.6%) with runners here at Wincanton winning 3 of 10 (30%) for 3.98pts (+39.8%).

...giving us... a 1pt win bet on Cucklington @ 11/4 BOG which was generally available at 5.55pm on Wednesday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 1.25 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

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

Harry’s Game

Dan and Harry Skelton continue to make their mark, despite the big-guns beginning to unleash their major players.

Currently second in the trainers’ championship, the Warwickshire team made a fabulous start to the current campaign, and though realistic in their ambitions, will be hoping for further success, such as the promising performance from North Hill Harvey at Cheltenham on Sunday.

Ridden with supreme confidence by Harry Skelton, the imposing young chaser had the race won some distance from home. Cool and calm on top, Skelton met the last two fences on a perfect stride and the horse did the rest. He may not be a World beater, but this young chaser now has four wins to his name at Cheltenham, including last year’s Greatwood Hurdle. A fast run two-mile appears ideal, and there’s scope for plenty more improvement.

The way with which Harry goes about his business is testament to the professionalism of the Skelton’s. Completely immersed in all things Lodge Hill, Harry will be found working and schooling the equine team every day. A stylish, well-balanced young jockey (still only 28), he is particularly strong in a driving finish, low over the horse, getting every drop of effort from his mount. He shuns the limelight, despite himself lying second in the jockeys’ title race, instead praising big-brother Dan for supplying the quality ammunition.

It’s no secret that the Skelton’s are going places, but Harry is undoubtedly a vital component in the team’s success.

Another Harry who sees his stock rising at a rate of knots, is young Harry Cobden. Weather permitting, this coming Saturday he’ll be aboard chasing royalty in Cue Card. A regular these days for both Colin Tizzard and Paul Nicholls, and yet still just 19, this has been an incredible period for the young man from Somerset.

Another that graduated from the pony racing circuit, Cobden has already won his fair share of prestigious races. Paul Nicholls entrusted him with Old Guard in the Greatwood Hurdle of 2015, despite his lack of experience. The then 7lb claimer didn’t disappoint, timing his challenge to perfection before pulling clear after the last.

A year later, the young jock was landing his first Grade One, when driving Irving to a thrilling victory in the Fighting Fifth, defeating Apple’s Jade by a nose. At the time Cobden said of the victory: “To win a Grade One is what dreams are made of and I’m grateful to Mr Nicholls and the owners for putting me on him. To put a 3lb claimer on, in a race like that, may not be the done thing in some eyes, but thankfully the boss has faith in me.”

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The conditional jockeys title followed for the youngster, and those occasional ‘good rides’ have become a regular occurrence. He had a couple of victories at Cheltenham over the weekend. He was onboard Posh Trish for Nicholls in the listed mares’ bumper. And then rode Tizzard’s classy young hurdler, Slate House, to victory in the Supreme Novice Trial. He also came close to landing the BetVictor.com Handicap Chase aboard Vicente, rather ironically losing out to Paddy Brennan and Perfect Candidate.

On Saturday we’ll see if Paddy’s loss is Harry’s gain. Win or lose, there’s no doubting this young man has a bright future in the saddle.

You’d think a pair of upwardly mobile Harry’s would be enough for one article, but it would be unfair to leave out 23-year-old Harry Bannister, who is currently enjoying something of a purple patch. With four wins from his last eight rides, including a double at Southwell yesterday, this young man can do little wrong. Most of his opportunities are coming aboard horses trained by Harry Whittington (I know, hard to believe isn’t it), and a strike-rate of 22% is testament to just how well things are going this season.

But this wouldn’t be horse racing if several highs were not followed by a shattering low. And so it was at Cheltenham, when Whittington’s talented mare Glenmona, ridden by young Harry, stumbled in the back straight resulting in her death. Bannister will have been shaken by such a blow, but jockeys know just how quickly fortunes can change.

Despite the Cheltenham setback, this Harry double-act is clearly flourishing and let’s hope that there are many more successful days to come.

Some will feel that I missed a trick in not exploring in more depth, the achievements of Harry Fry in this piece, especially as he had a winner at Leicester on Sunday by the name of Old Harry Rocks. But this article was always intended to cover the emergence of young Harry’s in the saddle. And the trio profiled are certainly heading in the right direction.

Ginge makes a Splash at Cheltenham

Splash Of Ginge battled his way through the mud for a thrilling victory in Saturday’s BetVictor Gold Cup.

Flagged up in my Friday piece as a decent each-way proposition, the nine-year-old, trained locally by Nigel Twiston-Davies, travelled powerfully throughout, and held off a persistent challenge from David Pipe’s Starchitect. Available at 50/1 on the course (yes, I was on), the winner was backed in to 25s before the off. With testing conditions, an attractive handicap mark, and a return to a track he enjoys in Prestbury Park, he had the look of a serious contender. And so it proved, with Tom Bellamy positioning him just behind the leaders, before making his move sweeping downhill towards the third-last fence.

The David Pipe-trained Starchitect was travelling every-bit as well, but Ginge was better at the second-last, and that proved crucial. Neat again at the final fence the length-and-a-half advantage was whittled away as the line approached, but Bellamy and his brave partner held on for a thrilling victory. An emotional winning jockey said: “When I looked at the race I thought he was over-priced. I was told to give him plenty of light, he was hanging left so I thought I'd be in trouble, but it worked out well. I've just started riding out for Nigel again and I've had two winners in a week for him now.”

When asked what it means to land such a big prize, Bellamy added: “It means an awful lot, in the fact that I lost my claim last year and it's been very quiet since, so hopefully that might get the ball rolling a little bit now.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies was winning his third BetVictor Gold Cup in 10 years, and said of the winner: “He has a big following does ol' Ginge. He has been a remarkable horse and just lost his confidence a bit over fences last season, so we put him back over hurdles and he has come back like a bull. He ran really well at Wetherby and as soon as this rain kept on and on we were hopeful, as the soft ground is the key to him. It is probably heavy ground now.

“He just doesn't notice it when it's this soft. It was the same when he won the Betfair Hurdle. It's just come right today. I think I'll be out with the owners tonight though - they'll insist on it! It's unbelievable, especially when it's a horse like that. He'd lost his way a little bit but it's great to give Tom Bellamy a chance as he's not having a great time at the moment. John (Neild, the owner) likes to give the young jockeys a chance so that's great.”

The November Meeting proved fruitful for the ‘Big Three’ of Nicholls, Henderson and Tizzard. There was a poignant success for Finian’s Oscar on the opening day, as Bryan Cooper steered the exciting five-year-old to win the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase. Carrying the famous silks of the late Ann and Alan Potts, Tizzard’s youngster found plenty from the back of the last and clearly has a bright future.

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The same combination of rider, trainer and owners took the Shloer Chase on Sunday, when Fox Norton proved far too good in testing conditions. With Altior out of action for a while, and Douvan yet to return from injury, Tizzard’s chaser could prove dominant over fences at two to two-and-a-half miles.

The trainer appeared to be leaving all options open for the winner, when saying: “He looks a heavier horse to me and that might be because he is older. The Tingle Creek will be next. It was always Alan Potts' wish to keep him away from Sizing John, who still has the chance of winning the £1million bonus. If Sizing John gets beat (in the Betfair Chase on Saturday) and we won the Tingle Creek, he is entered in the King George just in case. We must not pigeon-hole horses. When he can win like that I don't see any real reason why we should step him up, but the biggest and most prestigious races are over three-and-a-quarter miles.”

One of the meeting’s most exciting performances came from a juvenile in the Triumph Hurdle Trial, when Nicky Henderson’s Apple’s Shakira demolished the previously impressive Hobbs-trained Gumball. The sister of Apple’s Jade put 17-lengths between herself and the runner-up, and looks a thrilling prospect.

Henderson’s Thomas Campbell was another terrific winner, when lumping plenty of weight in capturing the listed stayers’ hurdle on Saturday. Still only a five-year-old, the son of Yeats coped admirably with the testing conditions, responding impressively to the urgings of conditional jockey James Bowen to pull clear late-on. There’s plenty more to come from this young hurdler, and it would come as no surprise if he were to take high-rank as the winter progresses.

Another young jockey making a name for herself is Bryony Frost. A week after winning the Badger Ales, she was steering the Paul Nicholls-trained Black Corton to yet another success. The young chaser was making it five in-a-row (all with Frost aboard) when taking the three-mile novices’ chase. Like Present Man a week earlier, this fella was expected to struggle in the testing ground. That certainly didn’t prove the case, as he stayed-on powerfully, stretching clear of his main rival Ballyoptic, to win by four-lengths. He continues to go from strength to strength and may well prove the type who takes to the four-miler at The Festival. There’s no doubt who’d be looking for the leg-up come March.

Hendo Blow – But it’s on with the Show

As attention turned to Cheltenham, Jump racing fans were rocked yesterday with the news that Altior will miss most of the season due to a breathing issue.

Nicky Henderson dropped the bomb, saying: “I'm really disappointed to report that Altior will miss the Grade One Tingle Creek at Sandown next month due to a wind problem that has surfaced, which means he will not be ready in time. He started faster work last week in the build-up to Sandown and did an excellent piece with Lough Derg Spirit last Tuesday. However, he made a whistling noise on Saturday, so we did an overland scope yesterday, which is basically galloping while being scoped.

“Between our own vet Dave Matterson and Geoff Lane they both concluded that he has a small issue with his wind whereby his larynx isn't opening sufficiently. After discussing the matter with his owners, Christopher and Pat Pugh, we decided that he will need a small procedure to rectify the problem.”

The trainer is hoping that his equine goliath will return in the Spring, in time for a tilt at the Champion Chase. Sprinter Sacre and Might Bite have had the same procedure in the past, to correct slight breathing problems. Altior’s return to the track looks assured, though the timing remains uncertain. Let’s hope he makes the end of season festivals, and again shows us what a fabulous racehorse he is.

With Defi du Seuil’s withdrawal from Sunday’s Greatwood Hurdle, it is a Henderson inmate that’s taken over at the head of the market. It’s hard to believe that a trainer so dominant in the Champion Hurdle has yet to capture this prestigious event. Jenkins is fancied by many to put that record straight. The form of his win at Newbury last November is strong, though Henderson maintains the youngster is badly handicapped.

He spoke earlier in the week, insisting: “He is handicapped on his reputation as a bumper horse, not on what he’s achieved. He was awful that day when he beat Bags Groove. He couldn’t jump a hurdle. Then he fell into one at Ffos Las in the most appalling race you’ve ever seen and somehow ended up on 137.”

Despite his handicap mark, Henderson does believe the horse is in good shape, adding: “He wants to jump this year and wants to work. If he is back to what he was as a bumper horse, he will be very good.”

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The Dan Skelton-trained North Hill Harvey took the Greatwood 12 months ago, and the stable had the runner-up, Superb Story, in 2015. Mohaayed is their representative this time, and he has been well supported in the markets. He has a winning profile and the trainer insists that he’s suited to better ground. Speaking last month, Skelton was clearly targeting this race with the five-year-old, saying: “We will run him fresh in the Greatwood Hurdle. He’s off a nice mark. We will plan his season from there. He’s got his experience and jumps nicely.”

The feature race on Saturday is the BetVictor Gold Cup, a race that Paul Nicholls has won twice in the past five years. The Ditcheat handler has a pair of strong contenders, and said of them: “This is the ideal race to run him (Romain De Senam) in, as he needs a real fast-run race, which he will get at Cheltenham, and he is in good shape.” The five-year-old has improved for a step-up in trip this term, though his handicap mark has suffered as a consequence.

Of his other entry, Nicholls said: “Le Prezien is in good order. He is rated 150 which is quite high. He is an improving game young horse that gets the trip, so he must have a chance.” He was a close second at Cheltenham in October, when beaten by Foxtail Hill over two miles. It would come as no surprise to see both go close again, with this two-and-a-half mile trip likely to suit the pair.

Colin Tizzard will be looking forward to the meeting, with Fox Norton and Finian’s Oscar expected to go well. Both run under the familiar colours of Alan Potts, who very sadly died earlier in the week. Alan’s death comes just three months after the passing of his wife Ann, and yesterday the family confirmed that horses under the ownership will run as planned. Speaking at Exeter yesterday, Joe Tizzard said: “We’ll certainly be running them because they’ve been planned out for this weekend. Alan was due to come to our place Thursday night and see the yard, then go to Cheltenham. It’s a real shock that he’s no longer with us.”

Potts’s daughter Julie is known to have shared her parent’s love of racing, though whether she’ll be at Cheltenham is unknown. Bryan Cooper will continue as main jockey for the English-based horses. “That’s how Alan wanted it, so it’ll stay like that,” Tizzard Jr said.

Cobden call-up on Cue Card

Cue Card, Coneygree and Our Duke hit the headlines at the weekend, for all the wrong reasons.

And yesterday it was dear old Cue Card that again made the news, as the Tizzard team decided a change of jockey is required in the hope of resurrecting the chaser’s winning ways. Having hit the deck twice in his last three starts, Paddy Brennan has been asked to step-aside, and it will be young Harry Cobden that takes the reins in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

The 19-year-old has impressed in his short time in the saddle, and has been riding regularly for both Paul Nicholls and Colin Tizzard. This is a huge opportunity for the young man, and he is clearly thrilled to be given the chance. Speaking yesterday he said: “I schooled him this morning and he felt A1. I'm very much looking forward to riding him. It is a great opportunity for a young jockey to pick up a ride like that and the target is the Betfair Chase. I ride out for Colin every Wednesday and I know all the horses well. I've not really got any commitments in Graded races, so it will be nice riding a horse like that as these opportunities don't come around too often.”

There’s no doubting it’s tough on Paddy Brennan. He’s had some fabulous times on Cue Card, most notably the thrilling King George success of 2015, when getting up in the final strides to defeat the wonderful Vautour. Brennan will still ride for the Tizzard’s, but this will still be a blow for the jock.

Colin Tizzard spoke of the decision yesterday afternoon: “I spoke to Paddy on Monday and said I thought the horse deserved to have a change of rider as he has fallen twice out of the last three times. He said it was fair enough. It's not a big issue changing jockey as we do it all the time, but it might be on Cue Card because of his profile. It is a different set of hands on board, so we will see what happens.”

The trainer added: “Harry might be available for two or three races, whereas a lot of the top jockeys are already on the best horses. I like the idea of having a younger man on him. I've known Harry all my life and he has got plenty of experience. He has ridden a lot of winners for us and he is a good young rider. I consulted Jean (Bishop, Cue Card's owner) about it and she is a very loyal person, but she thought the horse deserved a new rider. He (Cobden) will be scrutinised, no doubt, but getting on Cue Card when you are 19 years old, he should be chuffed.”

With Tizzard’s older statesman looking to land his fourth Betfair Chase at Haydock, the yard’s younger star was among 26 entries for the King George at Christmas. Thistlecrack won Kempton’s Christmas cracker last December, and is on course to attempt a repeat performance.

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Speaking on the Jockey Club's Love The Jumps podcast a week ago, the Dorset trainer said: “We had him in first week in August, we're now nearly in November and we're just starting to go a bit faster with him. He's got a month of fast work and he'll be ready to run. He'll have a hurdle before we go in the King George because we can't really go there first time up. I feel his legs once a week now and someone else feels them every other day and they seem absolutely fine.”

Earlier this week Tizzard confirmed that the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury would act as Thistlecrack’s King George warm-up run. He took the race in 2015, and it would leave a gap of almost four weeks before that huge event at Kempton.

Tizzard also spoke of last year’s Gold Cup third, Native River. The seven-year-old is set for a light campaign, with another crack at Cheltenham’s Gold Cup the prime objective. He’ll not be seen until the new year, with connections keen to have him spot-on for the big day.

Might Bite, Sizing John, Douvan and Djakadam were other eye-catching entries for what may well prove to be a stellar renewal of the King George. Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite looks likely to head to Sandown for his seasonal debut on Sunday. The three-mile 188Bet Future Stars Intermediate Chase appears the ideal starting point, giving the young chaser vital practice before taking on the ‘big guns’ over Christmas. The opportunity of having another run on a right-handed track would also have been on Henderson’s mind when choosing this as a pipe-opener.

Sizing John has the million-pound bonus on his agenda for this campaign. He’ll head for the Betfair Chase before a crack at the King George. The cheque will be handed over should he win both and then repeat his Gold Cup success at Cheltenham. Sounds easy enough.

Jumps Over and Feeling Flat

Nicky Henderson captured the Trainers’ Championship for the second time in five years, with a dominant display at Sandown on Saturday.

Paul Nicholls had hoped for a successful final day of the campaign, but it was Henderson who landed a treble on the day, and came close to making it four, when Vyta Du Roc was denied by a head in the Bet365 Gold Cup.

Altior proved the star-turn with a stunning display in the Grade 1 Celebration Chase. He swept past the Champion Chase winner Special Tiara, as they headed for the last fence, and though he got in close, he quickly regained momentum, sprinting to an eight-length victory. His jumping was arguably as good as we’ve seen from him throughout the winter, and he travelled effortlessly throughout. It was a truly devastating display, and many Jumps fans will already be licking their lips at the prospect of Altior versus Douvan in the autumn.

Juvenile hurdler Call Me Lord had been a comfortable winner for Seven Barrows in the first, and L’Ami Serge finally put in a performance worthy of his talent, in winning the Grade 2 Select Hurdle. That double for owners Munir and Soude arguably should have been a treble on the day, when Vyta Du Roc appeared to be given plenty to do, before charging through traffic late-on to fail by just a head in the Bet365 Gold Cup. Peter Bowen’s Henllan Harri was given a peach of a ride by son Sean, and managed to hold-off Henderson’s horse. Though not the biggest, the runner-up will surely be aimed at nationals next season.

Of his success in the title race, Henderson said: “We’ve got some Grade One horses and to be fair to Paul, he has done incredibly well and won a huge amount of prize money whereas we’ve got horses like Altior, Buveur d’Air and Might Bite.” Of Altior he added: “He's top class. I think we've always known that. He’s got a bit of everything - he's got class, he's got the gears. I think we've always known that he is very special ever since a young horse as a hurdler. You know that Special Tiara is going to set serious fractions but this fellow can always have it covered as he has the pace to do it.”

A special Sandown mention goes to the wonderful Menorah, who won the Oaksey Chase for a fourth time, before being retired by connections. The 12-year-old has been campaigned at the highest level throughout his career, and has brought great success to owners Diana and Grahame Whateley. It was terrific to see him go-out with such a stunning display.

So, whilst Henderson successfully kept Nicholls at arms-length, the same could not be said in Ireland, with Gordon Elliott finally overwhelmed by a tsunami of Willie Mullins winners. A lead of around €400,000 going into the Punchestown Festival put Elliott in pole position, but despite several unlucky defeats during the week, the Master of Closutton still managed to retain his crown by a staggering €199,455.

Great Field was mightily impressive in winning the Ryanair Novice Chase earlier in the week, and on Friday, Wicklow Brave in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle and Bacardys in the Champion Novice Hurdle put Mullins in front. A double on the final day of the meeting, which included a victory in the juvenile hurdle for Bapaume, proved to be the title clincher.

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Of the dramatic turnaround, Mullins said: “I didn't think it was possible for us to win, particularly when a few of the early photo-finishes went against us this week. It's fantastic to win and a big thank you to all the team at home and all my owners. It's been a funny season. It hasn't been that enjoyable and I'm glad it's over. Gordon is a great competitor. He's fantastic and has been a gentleman the whole way through.”

Elliott had led from the off, and was understandably gutted to come off second best: “It's a bit heart-breaking. We've led from day one of the season, but to be in the same sentence as Willie Mullins is brilliant. Hopefully we'll do it one year. I'm still only 39 and hopefully I'll be around for another few years. We've equalled Willie's record of 193 winners in a season. I said coming here that if I could equal that, it would be something. I'll keep my head up and enjoy it.”

Saturday’s action brought the curtain down on a dramatic National Hunt season. Mullins’ ‘against all odds’ title victory will have left him needing a summer break more than ever before. The loss of Vautour was a huge blow, and then Mr O’Leary took his horses elsewhere. Faugheen, Annie Power and Min were all struck-down by injury, yet the Master of Closutton found a way to grab victory from the jaws of defeat.

A tough winter also for Paul Nicholls. His title challenge masks an underlying decline in the quality of horses at his disposal. He desperately needs to uncover a star or two if he is to challenge a resurgent Nicky Henderson. Sprinter Sacre was retired, but Altior has moved seamlessly into the role of Seven Barrows Superstar. He also has a new hurdling hero in Buveur D’Air.

And both will be looking over their shoulders, as Colin Tizzard continues to build on a stunning campaign. Fox Norton, Thistlecrack and Native River have all captured major prizes, and promise much of the same for some time to come.

Now, if we can just get this Flat season out of the way.

Punchestown – The Brits Are Back For More

Several Brits came and conquered a year ago at the Punchestown Festival. And those same trainers are queueing-up today in hope of repeating that success.

Team Tizzard struck gold on the opening day, when the fast-improving Fox Norton landed the Champion Chase. He needed to be rousted along by Robbie Power to stay in touch with Un De Sceaux, but once on terms approaching the last, his superior stamina proved the crucial factor. The horse may well head for the King George at Kempton, and looks tailor-made for the Ryanair next March.

A year ago, Harry Fry was thrilled to saddle Fletchers Flyer to victory, and today has a leading contender in the Stayers Hurdle with Unowhatimeanharry. By no means disgraced, when third at Cheltenham behind Nichols Canyon and Lil Rockerfeller, the nine-year-old appeared outpaced late-on. Noel Fehily takes the ride, and may need to force the issue a little earlier in the piece, if he is to take the sting out of several swifter opponents.

Warren Greatrex trained the surprise winner One Track Mind a year ago, and he’s back for more. The trainer has given up on a chasing career for the talented seven-year-old, after a pair of disappointing attempts over the larger obstacles. This year’s renewal looks a strong affair, but Greatrex will be hopeful that a return to hurdles will spark a return to form.

Nicky Henderson loves a trip to Punchestown, and will be hooking-up with his great friend Jess Harrington. Who could forget the wonderful Sprinter Sacre, strutting his stuff for the Irish racing public a few years back. The stable won last year, when Cup Final took a three-mile handicap hurdle, and today Henderson has a talented mare Kayf Grace, entered in the two-mile Mares Novice Hurdle. Good enough to defeat Augusta Kate at Aintree last year, she’s been off the track since December due to a minor leg injury, but will hopefully be able to do herself justice here.

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Philip Hobbs should also be represented today by a returning Punchestown Festival winner. No Comment may lack star-quality, but he’s no mug, and won under a power-packed ride by Jamie Codd 12 months ago. He beat Monalee on that occasion, and looked to have a bright future, but has arguably been slightly disappointing thus far. Nevertheless, he ran well to finish second at Aintree last time, and could be off a decent mark for a prominent finish in the valuable three-mile handicap hurdle. Owned by JP McManus, it would come as no surprise should this fella go close to repeating last year’s success at the course.

Rebecca Curtis is another of the British raiding party, hoping to add further Punchestown glory. Irish Cavalier has proved a hero at the meeting, and during the week the Welsh trainer has several other entrants capable of going close. Geordie Des Champs has a touch of class about him, and may well be taking on No Comment in today’s staying handicap hurdle. Another of the McManus battalion, he also ran a cracker at Aintree, when third over possibly an inadequate trip of 2m4f. He’s also entered on Saturday over the shorter trip, though I’d hope he goes for this. He’s capable of running well in either event, and looks a horse that needs decent ground to shine.

These successful British raiders are ably supported by other familiar names, hoping for a taste of Punchestown glory. Neil Mulholland will have been disappointed with Peter The Mayo Man on Tuesday, but has half-a-dozen or so more entered throughout the week, including his classy young chaser Shantou Village. Kim Bailey, Anthony Honeyball and Gary Moore also have a handful entered during the festival.

Colin Tizzard may be leading the British assault, but expect one or two other victories as the Brits take in Ireland’s most prestigious Jumps festival.

Power Surge both Home and Away

An undoubted star of the three-day Aintree meeting, was Ireland’s Robbie Power.

It’s proved to be an incredible period for the popular jockey, yet he looked set to miss much of it, when struck down by a serious looking back injury at the end of January. At first, his participation in the Cheltenham Festival seemed in doubt, but thankfully Power was back in action in no time, and onboard Sizing John, when the young chaser advertised his Gold Cup credentials, in the Irish version at Leopardstown in February.

Several weeks later, the jockey arrived at Cheltenham in his role as Jess Harrington’s number one, and captured the main prize. Sizing John was part of a treble during a thrilling Festival, with Supasundae taking the Coral Cup, and Rock The World winning the Grand Annual. The victory in the Gold Cup for owners Ann and Alan Potts secured the jockey his spot as retained rider, and he certainly made the most of it at Aintree.

Sporting the famous green, yellow and red silks, Power made a huge impact at Liverpool for trainer Colin Tizzard, first causing an upset on Pingshou in the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle. The seven-year-old had finished down the field in the Supreme, but bounced back to form with a four-length success over Malcolm Jefferson’s talented youngster, Mount Mews. He galloped powerfully to the line, and looks to have the stature to make a nice chaser next season.

Power then had a dream ride on the impressive Fox Norton. He ran-away with the Melling Chase, thrashing Sub Lieutenant in the process. He’d only just failed to land the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, and this step-up in trip appeared to suit. Tizzard’s chaser looks to be progressing at a rate-of-knots, and may well be one for the King George next Christmas, with the owners having Sizing John for the Lexus Chase in Ireland. Power may have to forego the Turkey and Christmas pud.

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Sizing Codelco was something of a bonus on Saturday, but Finian’s Oscar looks the real deal. The jockey had the opposition covered turning for home in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, and the five-year-old stayed on powerfully for a three-length success. There’s every chance he’ll be sent over the larger obstacles next season, with Power then having the prospect of riding Finian’s, Foxy and Sizing John. He must be licking his lips in anticipation.

Arguably his greatest achievement in the saddle, was riding Silver Birch to victory in the Grand National of 2007. The son of an Irish show-jumper, he became champion conditional jockey in 2004, and though better known for success in Ireland, he did partner Boston’s Angel to victory in the RSA at the Cheltenham Festival of 2011 for Jess Harrington.

His top-level victories on home soil have been numerous, and include Grade 1s on Jezki, Big Zeb, Oscars Well, and twice on Boston’s Angel. He also partnered the Harrington trained Our Duke to victory in a Grade 1 chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. It’s this staying chaser, not risked at Cheltenham, that could prove a realistic challenger to Sizing John next season. Power will hope that the pair can be kept apart during the winter, though a clash looks inevitable at some stage, with Our Duke appearing to be this year’s outstanding staying novice in Ireland.

The man from Meath has Fairyhouse and the Punchestown Festival still to look forward to, before a well-earned summer break. He’ll then be counting down the days, desperate to get back aboard several of the best horses in training, and dreaming of yet another winter to remember.

King Arthur Rules At Aintree

One For Arthur became King of Aintree, as he stayed on powerfully to land the Grand National in thrilling fashion.

The Gigginstown pair of Roi Des Francs and Rogue Angel set the pace for much of the race, tracked by the heavily backed favourite Blaklion. As the front duo began to feel the pinch, Noel Fehily took up the running on the strong-travelling market leader, and looked to be making a break for glory. But at the second last it was One For Arthur that swept to the front, with Cheltenham hero Cause Of Causes launching a brave challenge.

At the elbow the winner had pulled three lengths clear, and maintained that advantage all the way to the finish. A brave Cause Of Causes galloped all the way to the line for second place, whilst Saint Are stayed on well to pip Blaklion for third.

It was a first Grand National win for Scotland since Rubstic in 1979. The winning trainer Lucinda Russell, was bursting with pride when saying of the success: “I am so proud of the horse. He jumped fantastically and I thought Derek gave him a great ride. He has done us proud, he has done Scotland proud and he has done everyone at the yard proud.

“Before the Melling Road, I was up with the owners and we just shouted, ‘We're going to win the National.’ Derek is great at getting these horses to finish strongly and I knew that he would stay, so maybe it was a bit bold but it was right.”

It was a wonderfully cool ride from Fox, who sat well off the strong pace, timing his challenge to perfection. The victory was especially sweet, as he had only just returned from injury to make the ride. He fractured his left wrist and right collar bone in a fall last month, and spent three weeks in Jack Berry House, undergoing intensive treatment at the rehabilitation centre.

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“I saw the doctor a couple of days after the fall, and he took the plaster cast off,” Fox said. “I asked him whether I could back in four weeks and he said the only way to do it would be to be without a cast and left a splint on. I stayed there for just under three weeks and I didn’t leave. I did a lot of physio work in the hydro pool and training on the bike. Every other bit of fitness work you could do without putting any pressure on the collar bone I did it.”

Though only half the field finished the race, it was fantastic to see all 40 runners return home safe and sound. Of the leading pre-race contenders that failed to place; Vieux Lion Rouge again appeared to find the National trip beyond him, finishing sixth. Very much in touch three from home, he was almost 30 lengths adrift at the finish.

Top-weight and last year’s runner-up The Last Samuri was unable to cope with the burden of 11-10, and trailed home in 16th place. Definitly Red was badly impeded at Becher’s first time, and had to be pulled-up shortly after. Gold Cup fifth Saphir Du Rheu only made it to the 11th fence, and More Of That failed to last out the marathon trip, being pulled-up by Barry Geraghty at the last.

Of the top 15 finishers, only Blaklion carried more than 11 stone, with the first three home carry 10-11, 10-13 and 10-10. Despite all the talk of classier renewals and handicap-compression, weight remains a vital factor in winning the World’s greatest steeplechase.

Away from the National, there’s a need to mention the fabulous Aintree experienced by Colin Tizzard, owners Ann and Alan Potts and their jockey Robbie Power. Finian’s Oscar and Sizing Codelco were winners on the day, adding to Pingshou and Fox Norton a day earlier. It’s been an especially thrilling period for the owners, following on from the glorious success of Sizing John in the Gold Cup. They have much to be excited about.