Posts

Tizzard Strikes Gold at thrilling Cheltenham Festival

There were many outstanding performances during last week’s Cheltenham Festival, though there’s no doubting testing conditions proved a gamechanger for some.

Summerville Boy and Kalashnikov had fought through the mud in the Tolworth Hurdle back in January and were well suited by the heavy ground encountered in the Festival opener. As at Sandown, it was Tom George’s six-year-old that came off best, though he needed every yard to get his head in front. A haphazard jumping display almost cost him, but he stayed on powerfully up the famous hill to deny Kalashnikov by a neck.

Mengli Khan travelled powerfully and on better ground may well have finished ahead of the front two. There’s plenty more to come from Gordon Elliott’s youngster, and he may be the one to take out of the race. Getabird was a major disappointment, having pulled his way to the front he travelled far too keenly and faded out of contention after the second-last. He’s not been the easiest to train, and I’m convinced that he’s far better than he showed here. It would come as no surprise should he bounce back to form at Punchestown in April, where he’ll likely clash again with Mengli Khan.

Ground conditions were also ideal for Footpad as he romped to victory in the Arkle Chase. His task was made far easier by a rare poor riding performance from Davy Russell aboard Petit Mouchoir and an inspired one from Ruby Walsh. De Bromhead’s chaser had little chance of seeing out the trip having set-off like an equine Usain Bolt, whilst the Mullins-trained favourite was ridden with restraint and delivered with a perfectly timed challenge. This isn’t to say that Footpad was a lucky winner. He’s a class act and looks capable of mixing-it with all bar Altior at the minimum trip. Though I’d be surprised if Mullins didn’t move him up in distance next season. He looks a natural successor to Un De Sceaux.

Buveur D’Air clung on to his crown and fought off Melon to win the Champion Hurdle. Conditions wouldn’t have favoured the favourite. Slick jumping at pace has proved his forte, along with a potent finishing kick. On this occasion he was forced into a slug-fest with a Mullins youngster who clearly has more to offer than many had anticipated. Melon is no mug, though I fancy on better ground the Champ would have too many gears for the youngster. It’s hard to assess how the pair will match-up in a year’s time. There’s the possibility of further progress from the Closutton inmate, though the team may also consider sending him over fences. He has the size and scope to make a chaser and could easily become an Arkle contender.

Another that could be heading for next season’s Arkle Chase is the wonderfully talented Samcro. Second-guessing future targets for this fella won’t be easy. Seemingly blessed with the speed that would make him a realistic Champion Hurdle contender, connections seemingly insist that his future lies as a staying chaser. There’s certainly plenty of stamina on the dam’s side, though his sire, Germany, was responsible for the mighty Faugheen.

Samcro proved far too quick for the opposition in the Ballymore. Having powered through the race, he swept past the field turning for home, with only Black Op capable of putting up any sort of resistance. The Tom George-trained seven-year-old managed to get within three-lengths at the finish, though never looked like landing a serious blow. The runner-up looks a cracking prospect and should improve plenty for fences. Next Destination was badly outpaced coming downhill towards the second-last, yet flew up the hill to finish third. He’s likely to be sent chasing and looks an RSA type.

Presenting Percy was next to impress, though I’ll reserve judgment as to his potential as a serious player in next year’s Gold Cup. Monalee finished second though looked a non-stayer. Al Boum Photo came down at the second-last when looking to lay down a challenge, though I doubt he’d have got to the winner. Nevertheless, Presenting Percy has now to step into the ring against top-level experienced chasers. Our Duke’s performance later in the week illustrated the unique demands of a high-class Gold Cup. Presenting P has been installed as a 6/1 joint-favourite for next year’s ‘blue riband’ and I fancy that’s a slight over-reaction to his RSA romp. Native River remains available at 8s.

Wednesday’s Champion Chase finally delivered the Douvan/Altior clash that so many Jump racing fans had been waiting for. Mullins also threw Min into the mix, attempting to wrestle the prize away from Nicky Henderson’s stable star. For much of the race Douvan looked back to his sublime best, jumping like a stag at the head of affairs. But just as we started to get excited he guessed at the fourth-last and was down.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Altior was struggling in the testing ground and turning for home looked in trouble, with Min travelling much the stronger. But rarely has a horse surged up the famous hill like Altior. He put seven-lengths between himself and the runner-up in a simply astounding finishing burst. Min wasn’t stopping, but the winner is a freak. That he should arrive on the scene so soon after the glorious Sprinter Sacre must be a dream come true for Nicky Henderson.

Gordon Elliott had a sensational Festival, as did owner’s Gigginstown House Stud. Day three proved a cracker for both, with a talented mare, Shattered Love, landing the opening JLT Novices’ Chase. She’s regally bred, being by Yeats out of a Bustino mare, yet has the perfect physique for this game. She’s a huge beast, and powered clear up the final hill, despite taking a chunk of the final fence with her. Now five from six over the larger obstacles, she did fiddle a few, but given this type of testing ground is clearly hugely talented.

Gigginstown supremo, Michael O’Leary, then landed his own race, the Ryanair Chase. Balko Des Flos travelled supremely well throughout and proved far too hot to handle. The seven-year-old drew clear of last year’s winner, Un De Sceaux, to win by a little over four-lengths. There’d been concerns over the suitability of the ground, but in the event, he simply cruised his way through the mud. This was a power-packed performance from a horse on a steep upward curve.

Many had hoped for a similar display from Sam Spinner in the Stayers’ Hurdle, but a pedestrian pace played to those with a finishing kick and it was Penhill that found more than Supasundae. The winner is without doubt a talented horse, but this was a disappointing race for those that had hoped for a pulsating battle.

Elliott and Gigginstown were at it again at the start of day four, when Farclas landed the Triumph Hurdle. He toughed it out to beat fellow Irish raider Mr Adjudicator. Apple’s Shakira ran well but was probably undone by the testing conditions. Stormy Ireland was another that ran with huge credit, before tiring and coming down at the last. She could take some catching on better ground.

Colin Tizzard’s Kilbricken Storm caused an upset to win the Albert Bartlett, though the lightly raced Santini looks the horse to take out of the race. Henderson’s six-year-old should make a terrific chaser next season.

It became a day to remember for Tizzard and his team, when Native River pulled out all the stops to defeat Might Bite in the Gold Cup. The pair proved a class apart as they duelled throughout the race. Turning for home, Henderson’s King George winner appeared to be travelling the better. But it was Richard Johnson who managed to get a little extra from the gutsy Native River up the final climb to the finish. The runner-up lost little in defeat and, on a better surface, may well have come out on top. Nevertheless, this was Tizzard’s day, and in Johnson and Native River he’s uncovered a match made in heaven.

In a Festival where Mullins and Elliott proved dominant, the Brits turned to Henderson and Tizzard for a small piece of solace. There were grounds for concern throughout, but once again Cheltenham delivered.

King hopeful of Triumph Glory after Redicean Romp at Kempton

Redicean put in another dazzling display at Kempton and heads to Cheltenham as a leading contender for the Triumph Hurdle.

He’s now generally a 5/1 second-favourite for the juvenile showpiece behind Nicky Henderson’s Apple’s Shakira. He’s one of the few youngsters to have had the opportunity of proving his ability on both testing and quicker ground.

There’s no doubting he was mightily impressive on Saturday. Travelling powerfully throughout, his jumping was accurate, and when asked to quicken he instantly put the race to bed, showing the acceleration that had been evident on a more testing surface.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Malaya did best of the rest, though she was seven-lengths back at the finish. That form-line suggests that Redicean has more to find when he arrives at Cheltenham. Nevertheless, his ability to travel powerfully through a race and then quicken on demand makes him a realistic contender. He also stayed 1m6f on the flat, which suggests that famous hill should hold no fears. Trainer Alan King was winning the race for the fourth time and completed the Adonis/Triumph double back in 2005 with Penzance.

The trainer was clearly excited by the performance, saying: “He has probably jumped 200 hurdles since last time. It was a rush to get him here for the Christmas meeting as we only got him in October. He was then gelded, so he was on the back burner for a while. He was always going to get better. I thought he was very accurate today.

“He got a mile-six on the Flat so he will stay. I've not deliberately kept coming here, it was just that's the way it suited. Penzance never saw the hill and he managed to win a Triumph. I don't think the ground matters. This is the best ground he has raced on so far. Better ground will probably help. He hadn't beaten much up until today and he has come through it well.”

His jockey, Wayne Hutchinson, was similarly impressed: “Breathtaking - I was adamant he would jump better in a truer run race and he proved that today and he settled better, always in my comfort zone and he’s gone through the gears with ease.”

Meanwhile at Newcastle, the star of the show was the Nicky Richards-trained Baywing. This was the nine-year-olds first attempt at a marathon trip, and clearly won’t be his last. Given a peach of a ride by Ryan Day, this son of Winged Love revelled in conditions. Held up off the pace, he began to make a forward move turning for home, before being delivered perfectly at the final fence. A wonderful leap at the last ensured he grabbed the initiative from West Of The Edge, before powering to a four-length success.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Richards told Press Association Sport: “He got into a good rhythm, jumped well and has seen it out well. After he won the Towton, though it was a good race to win at the time, it sort of limited our options to get experience into him. I've always thought he was a talented horse. Soft ground is important to him. It might be that we look at the Midlands National or something. We'll just see, we're in no rush and he's won a nice prize today.”

Away from the racecourse, there was important Cheltenham Festival news delivered by Colin Tizzard. In a meeting with owner Jean Bishop, the decision has been made to run Cue Card in the Ryanair Chase, rather than take on the Gold Cup. “We've discussed it and we thought he was in very good form over two-five, he has won the Ryanair, and the Gold Cup is a hard race and the best chance of winning is the Ryanair,” said Tizzard.

The trainer continued: “It was not a hard decision in the end. Our heads are ruling our hearts and it's the most obvious race for him and we can concentrate and go straight on into it. He is race fit and if we take that form from here to Cheltenham, we will have a chance. Paddy (Brennan) will be on board.”

Having lost to Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle of 2012, Cue Card returned a year later and romped to a stunning success in the Ryanair Chase, defeating First Lieutenant by nine-lengths. A month later he ran arguably his best ever race, when getting within five lengths of Sprinter Sacre in the Melling Chase at Aintree. Henderson’s superstar was at the peak of his powers, yet for much of the race Cue Card had the audacity to share the stage.

He was to step-up in trip late in 2013 and impressed in winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock. A month later he lost the King George having looked sure to win halfway up the straight. A poor season followed, before the sensational winter of 2015. Now aged nine, he took the Charlie Hall, the Betfair and the King George, but at Cheltenham came down at the third last when seemingly in with a great chance of landing the Gold Cup.

Having won another Betfair Chase in 2016, he came off second-best to Thistlecrack in the King George. Another terrific performance followed in the Ascot Chase at 2m5f, but connections could not resist stepping up for another crack at Cheltenham’s blue riband. Sadly, Cue Card was again to crash out at the third last, though on this occasion looked to be struggling at the time.

This campaign hadn’t gone to plan thus far, but he appeared back to somewhere near his best when chasing home Waiting Patiently at Ascot last time. A decision needed to be made as to his Cheltenham target. Tizzard had mentioned the ‘unfinished business’ of the Gold Cup, yet opting for the Ryanair is without doubt the sensible choice. Aside from Waiting Patiently, he hammered classy types in Frodon and Top Notch in that recent Ascot Chase. If he’s as good at The Festival, the 12-year-old may yet deliver a show-stopping finale.

Festival Fever – Decisions to be made

With the Cheltenham Festival now less than three weeks away, news on intended targets for the leading contenders will likely be released daily.

Yesterday, it was several of Colin Tizzard’s team that came under the microscope. A decision on Cue Card is yet to be made, with the trainer saying: “Whether he goes for the Ryanair or Gold Cup, if you read Monday's paper it was all decided but it is not. We will let that run for a while. Jean (Bishop, owner) is coming down for three days to have a little holiday with the family and we will make a decision then for sure. There is no reason why we shouldn't go for the biggest one. Is that harder to win than the Ryanair? Possibly, yes.”

Of another Gold Cup contender, Native River, the Dorset handler said: “We are a lot stronger this time round. He has just had the one run, but we had him ready at Christmas to run. He was equally as good (at Newbury) as he had ever been. He has got a wonderful chance. I think at the moment we have got it dead right with him. We've had a little skirmish round Newbury and sprinted for half a mile up the run-in over the last three fences, and that should put him spot on. He was ready to run first time, but he is bound to improve, as every horse does. How much he has got to improve, we will find out.”

Though not quite certain, Tizzard appears to be favouring the Ryanair Chase for Fox Norton. Last year’s Champion Chase runner-up has been absent since a disappointing performance in the King George. The trainer explained: “After he ran in the Game Spirit last year he was lame in his back and we had to give him a few injections for a kissing spine. He had that after this year's King George. That is why he didn't jump at all. He is absolutely fine now. We missed the Game Spirit with pus in his foot.

“I expect we will go for the two-and-a-half-miler, unless Altior frightens everyone off, then we might take him on. He does look the business, but we must not run away from one horse.”

The trainer looks likely to send Elegant Escape to the RSA Chase, though the four-miler is still under consideration. Tizzard said: “This is a beautiful young horse. Black Corton is a very good horse, but he beat him at Newbury and we were closing on him fast at Kempton as well. I think Cheltenham will be right for him. At the moment we are definitely leaning towards the RSA, but if a top Irish jockey (amateur) became available, that might change it.”

Nicky Henderson has also been mulling over the fact that he has favourites for three of the championship races. The Seven Barrows handler said: “I think of the three, Might Bite probably has the most to prove, whereas the other boys are proven. He has got to stay and make sure no funny quirks develop.”

He added: “It’s a nice position to be in, of course it is, and I’m a lucky boy. I’m fortunate these horses have come around at the same time.” Nevertheless, having such a powerful team heading to the Festival puts a huge amount of pressure on him and the team. He went on: “I’d rather have the pressure, or the responsibility of minding these guys, to get them there and get it right, than having nice peaceful nights and not worrying about it all.”

Alan King will be hoping for a better Festival than 12 months ago. Messire Des Obeaux, Who Dares Wins and Dusky Legend all managed third place finishes, but this year’s team looks stronger. The Barbury Castle handler has confirmed that Yanworth will line up in the Stayers’ Hurdle. He’d won a couple of races over fences during the winter and the RSA had looked likely. But having defeated Supasundae (currently favourite for Stayers’) at Aintree in April the team can’t resist another crack at the Irish raider in March.

Your first 30 days for just £1

The team have also announced that Who Dares Wins is being aimed at the Pertemps Final. Third at 33/1 in last year’s Coral Cup behind Supasundae, the six-year-old filled the same spot in a qualifier at Kempton in November. He ran a cracker in the Ascot Stakes during the summer and is sure to be suited by decent ground at Cheltenham. Expect him to be available at a tasty each-way price.

King is also set to parachute Elgin into the Champion Hurdle. This vastly improved six-year-old took the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last week and has won three of his five starts this term. He’s no Buveur D’Air, but in a very open looking Champion, he’s possibly an each-way player.

One of the team’s most exciting Cheltenham prospects is the unbeaten juvenile hurdler Redicean. An easy winner of his two starts to date, he’ll be running this Saturday in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton. It’s a recognised Triumph Hurdle trial, and this fella has huge potential.

All doubt over Samcro’s Festival target was removed on Monday when Gigginstown racing manager Eddie O’Leary confirmed the horse would head for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. “He runs in the Ballymore and that’s final,” said O’Leary. “We think he will be a nice chaser over three miles for next season so, even though he won the Deloitte over two miles, he won’t be running in the Supreme.” Now odds-on across the board, the undefeated six-year-old is seen by many as the banker of the meeting.

Another well-fancied festival contender is the Jed O’Keeffe-trained Sam Spinner. As short as 4s for the Stayers’, he was taken to Newcastle on Tuesday for a spin. The trainer remains pleased with his preparation, saying: “It was a strong canter really, just to get him away for the day and do something different. We were really happy with him. It wasn't a serious workout. He's very fit already. It was just to stretch his legs and go somewhere a bit different.”

The trainer added: “It's fairly straightforward what we'll do between now and Cheltenham. He'll have a few easy days after being away and then just one or two easy pieces of work at home. He'll have a school, maybe two, as we get closer to the Festival. He's basically ready now. I'm counting down the days - nervously and anxiously.”

The main event is coming around fast. Plans for many will no doubt change and then change again. We’ll do our best to keep Geegeez readers updated as the opening day draws near.

Jefferson Joy – Patience pays as stable star lands Ascot Chase

Emotions ran high on Saturday, as Waiting Patiently maintained his perfect record over fences when capturing the Grade One Ascot Chase.

The classy seven-year-old is now under the guidance of Ruth Jefferson following the death of her father. Always held in high regard, the youngster’s progress has been measured, with the team mindful of allowing the horse time to mature. They are now reaping the rewards, with the young chaser taking this step up in grade in his stride.

It looked a hot renewal with Top Notch, Coney Island and the old warrior Cue Card in opposition. And it was Tizzard’s 12-year-old stable star that proved the toughest nut to crack. He was ridden aggressively by Paddy Brennan, responding bravely to the jockey’s urgings. Turning for home the pair drew clear of the field, with Waiting Patiently cruising alongside his older rival. He led at the last and stayed on strongly to win by just shy of three lengths. The pair stretched 15 lengths clear of Frodon in third, with a slightly disappointing Top Notch back in fourth.

“He jumps and he travels and when Brian says go he just does,” said Jefferson after the win. “He’s uncomplicated and it’s lovely to watch a horse like that. He’s grown up a lot this year and just seems much more mature.” Speaking of her father, she added: “He liked to take time with his horses. He said ‘if you look after them when they are young, they will look after you when you’re old’. He’d be proud and I must thank him because Richard (Collins, owner) sent the horse to him, not me! I’m thrilled to bits, thrilled for Richard and for everyone at home. I think dad would be crying now.”

The horse needs cut in the ground and Jefferson was adamant that should conditions not suit, the horse would not be running in the Ryanair Chase. “Cheltenham isn’t the be-all and end-all, there’s Aintree or Punchestown. There's also just a slight suspicion that he's better on flatter tracks and there's no hiding place at Cheltenham. I'm not saying we'll never go there, but if we're not 100 per cent happy we won't go.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Speaking yesterday, the trainer reiterated that a trip to Prestbury Park is far from certain, whilst hinting that the King George is a likely target next term: “He could run again this season, but it won't be the end of the world for us if he doesn't and there are races we're looking at next season. It's an easy three miles at Kempton and he's settling better now, so you would like to think he'd stay and he has form on the track.”

Colin Tizzard was understandably thrilled with the performance of Cue Card. Back to something like his exuberant best, the stable hero is set to head to Cheltenham for one last hurrah. The trainer enthused: “That was lovely. He gives everything and it's a serious horse that's beat him today. He showed what he’s been showing us on the gallops every day. It’s definitely Cheltenham next. We have unfinished business in the Gold Cup and he’s won a Ryanair. Jean (Bishop, owner) will decide and we’ll do what’s best for the horse.”

Should he head for the ‘Blue Riband’ he’ll line up alongside Jess Harrington’s Our Duke. Last year’s Irish National winner bounced back to his best in winning the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park. Speaking yesterday the Gold Cup winning trainer said: “Everything is good this morning and the plan is for Noel Fehily to ride Our Duke at Cheltenham, providing Sizing John gets there and Robert rides him. I was delighted with him yesterday. It was brilliant to see him do that. I'm very lucky to have the two of them, but we've got to get them there now.”

Our Duke’s odds were cut to around 8s, whilst Sizing John is a 6/1 shot. The talented novice, Presenting Percy, was runner-up in Saturday’s Gowran showpiece. It was huge performance from the youngster on just his fourth start over fences. A winner at last year’s Festival, he looks sure to go close in the RSA for which he’s now as short as 5/2.

Clues abound on Festival Trials Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your first 30 days for just £1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Your first 30 days for just £1

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?"

Your first 30 days for just £1

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.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

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.

Your first 30 days for just £1

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.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

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.

Your first 30 days for just £1

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.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

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.

Your first 30 days for just £1

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.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

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.