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O’Brien team reaping the rewards after embracing coaching scheme

After only a year, trainer Fergal O’Brien has already seen a vast improvement in the riding skills of those who have embraced the jockey coaching programme.

Since Sally Randell, O’Brien’s assistant and partner, successfully completed the jockey-coach course, the 25 full-time staff and part-time workers at Ravenswell Farm near Cheltenham have wasted no time in improving their efforts in the saddle.

June 7 to 13 is UK coaching week, highlighting one of the many training activities and modules available through the Racing2Learn platform for staff throughout all sectors of the industry. Thanks to funding from the Racing Foundation, there is something for anybody looking to enhance their career prospects.

“It’s been hugely important to us in the yard having young people coming through and trying to train them up, so they come in one side and are able to go out the other fully trained and able to do a job in other yards or other parts of the industry,” said O’Brien.

“The jockey coaching has been great because it’s a great sounding board for them as well.

“It’s also good for the part-timers who are either at college or university in the area.

“Their day-to-day job is mucking out and riding and stuff, but some of them have never worked in racing before so for them to come into a racing yard, it’s great to have the simulator in the British Racing School lorry.

“It teaches them about position and Sally can video them on the gallops. It helps us to improve their position on a horse and all the rest of it.”

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Randell, a former successful amateur rider herself, said: “It’s a civilian sports coaching certificate and a proper qualification. It’s really nicely run by the racing industry.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily important for you to have race-ridden in this role because it’s experience you need within racing, not necessarily as a jockey, but I do think that definitely helped. I’ve always helped bringing young people through when I was a smaller trainer and helping them get their first point-to-point rides.”

Tia Harrison has been with O’Brien for two and a half years and has found learning to school horses over hurdles and fences a boost.

“We did a theory lesson first and then we did some lessons in a school to get us used to schooling, then we were able to go out on a schooling strip and now we can school when we’re able to,” she said.

“It was really helpful to learn the basics of how to school safely and properly before we were allowed to actually school all the racehorses.

“I schooled a few months ago and we’ve able to school a few times since. Me and Zoe (Peake, stable hand) did it with two others from Kim Bailey’s yard. It was great to do it in small groups.”

O’Brien has seen the advantages of having stable staff learn to help with schooling.

“Most yards, especially our size with 80-plus horses, general stable staff would not do a lot of schooling. They would leave it to the jockeys who ride on the race track. It’s nice to be able to get everyone involved and gives everyone a better understanding of the job going forward.

“The riding courses help us as trainers, but it’s also great for the people who are learning as well.”

Randell has seen the benefits it brings to other yards.

“From going the round the yards where I’ve been helping in the Lambourn and Cotswolds areas, you notice which yards are taking on this opportunity,” she said.

“Daniel and Claire Kubler in Lambourn are really into it. They have got a rider coach in their yard and you can see how far ahead their staff are just by getting the regular coaching to yards that don’t do it. There are a lot of people that need more help.

“If we can get the rider coaches into as many yards as possible, with the experienced people and experienced riders without needing the racing school lorry going everywhere, you can help your staff in house. We’re going to keep people in racing and keep them improving.

“I think it’s been massive. Tia and Zoe got to do the introduction to schooling which was great, but we’ve also had a few people join our yard from the eventing background and just a general riding background.

“We’ve got a lad called Jake (Mann) who had never ridden a racehorse when he came to work for us and I did some work with him only two weeks ago and the improvement in him in a week, just work riding, was really noticeable.

“That sort of thing, it gets everyone to a level. No one is falling back, everyone is getting an opportunity and the people you see who don’t quite grasp the work-riding structure, they only need a lesson to understand it all and they jump up to scratch.

“Then you are keeping all your staff up to a level and getting the horses trained well, so it’s really important.”

O’Brien said: “It’s nice to have everyone on board and the aim is when people come here to work for us, we don’t lock the gates and keep them here.

“What we want to do is make them better individuals and when they do leave, they leave with more skills than when they arrived – whether they were with us for one year or three years.

“The important thing for us is they learn while they are here and it can help them go forward.”

With the yard hitting 100 winners for the first time last season and the tally for this term already into the 20s, the O’Brien stable is not standing still.

Fergal O’Brien celebrating maiden century of winners

Fergal O’Brien already has his mind set on a second century of winners next season, after reaching the three-figure landmark for the first time in the final week of the jumps campaign.

Fittingly, it was Oscar Rose who gave O’Brien that all-important 100th winner at Kempton on Monday evening, as the mare had opened O’Brien’s account from his new base at Ravenswell Farm, near Cheltenham, at Southwell in October 2019.

“One hundred winners in any season is pretty phenomenal, so the fact we lost two months (due to Covid-19 pandeminc) early doors as well makes it all the more special,” he said.

“It’s a great achievement by everyone in the yard. You need everyone to be pulling in the right direction and the last year and a half since we’ve been at Ravenswell we’ve had great people there.

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“I put it all down to Ravenswell because it’s a fantastic place to train and we were very lucky to find it.

“It was a big gamble by my landlords Rupert and Nicki Lowe. They invested a lot of money in the facilities, but it’s paid dividends. It’s working very well. It’s a fantastic place to train and everyone likes being here.”

O’Brien recalled the day he bought Oscar Rose for £14,000 as a four-year-old at Doncaster in May 2015.

“We bought her as a store horse,” he went on.

“She was our very first runner out of Ravenswell Farm and our first winner from there. We followed the builders in. There were 10 stables up and she went there at the end of that August from a pre-training yard and then she ran at Southwell. Brief Ambition won the same day and he was our second runner.

Oscar Rose has been a star for Fergal O'Brien
Oscar Rose has been a star for Fergal O’Brien (Richard Sellers/PA)

“We hit the ground running and, touch wood, we’ve kept going forward ever since.

“We’ve just got to keep going on and reproduce next year. We have to do it the same again. We’re looking forward to that challenge.

“We’ve got to go back to the sales and buy some new horses and replace some of the ones that have done their job and need to move on to new homes. You can’t stand still in this job.

“We’re very privileged to be able to do what we do and I feel so lucky to be involved in jump racing.”

Tom Lacey sights set on Festival first with Adrimel

Adrimel will bid to provide his upwardly mobile trainer Tom Lacey with a breakthrough first Cheltenham Festival victory in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

Lacey is consolidating his rise through the training ranks from his Herefordshire base – and Adrimel is his leading light this season, having already registered a first Grade Two success for the yard in January’s Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick.

As well as the exploits of Adrimel and his big Grand National hope Kimberlite Candy under rules, Lacey’s name is associated with a string of potential stars – such as Willie Mullins’ top-class Energumene – who have graduated from the nurture of his wife Sophie’s point-to-point string.

Among Adrimel’s stern opposition on Friday, Mullins supplies the well-fancied Stattler from his Closutton powerhouse – one of three Irish challengers near the top of the market, alongside Denise Foster’s Fakiera and Torygraph.

Top British trainers are inevitably to the fore too, with both Paul Nicholls (Barbados Buck’s and Threeunderthrufive) and Fergal O’Brien (Alaphilippe and Ask A Honey Bee) double-handed.

Adrimel will therefore need a clear career-best if he is to succeed Mullins’ mighty Monkfish as the latest winner of Friday’s Grade One novice stamina test – but after his improvement when moved up in trip to two miles and five furlongs for the first time, hopes can be high.

Lacey also put cheekpieces on the six-year-old for the first time then, and is in no doubt they were a huge help.

He said: “The cheekpieces had a huge effect on him last time, because they sharpened up his jumping so much it made life much easier for Richard Johnson and himself.

“It is one of the finer decisions I’ve made.

“I was nervous putting them on such a young horse, but I had to do something to make him more professional in his races.”

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Lacey hopes former winning Irish point-to-pointer Adrimel will be well-served by his clean jumping and adaptability too.

“At Warwick he was incredibly accurate – and if he had winged the last he would have won more impressively – but he just keeps digging,” he added.

“He doesn’t have to make it either.

“When he won his bumper at Doncaster, he was dropped in that day. I would much rather have him dropped in the second or third row at Cheltenham.”

Among Adrimel’s rivals, Nicholls is confident stamina will be a huge asset for both his hopefuls.

Barbados Buck’s has been a prolific winner since moving up to this trip

“He’s been really progressive this year – he’s rated 143, and his form just keeps getting better,” said the multiple champion trainer.

“He’s won his last three – the last day at Kempton, he carried a 10lb penalty, he was strong from the back of the last and won nicely.

“He’s a proper staying horse. You need something here that will stay forever, and he’d be right in that. I think he’s so laid-back he will be absolutely fine (stepping up in class).”

Threeunderthrufive must do likewise, having won three times for owners the McNeill Family – who also have Olly Murphy’s Champagnesuperover in the 17-strong field.

Nicholls said: “He’s unbeaten over hurdles, and you wouldn’t know what’s in the locker with him.

“He just does enough and goes along with his ears pricked. He jumps well and will get every bit of the trip – he’s another one with a nice chance.

“This is a nice horse, and they’re very much on a par with each other.”

Alaphilippe has only been beaten once over hurdles and was last seen winning a Grade Two trial for this race at Haydock.

O’Brien said: “Alaphilippe obviously hasn’t done anything wrong.

“He’s four from five. We’d love it if the ground was softer, but it’s not soft. That’s just the way it goes – you can’t do anything about it.

“We would have won, no question (when Young Buck fell at Haydock last time) – Paul (Nicholls) conceded that.

“The margin was a bit bigger, but we still would have won that day, and we’re very happy with Alaphilippe.”

He added of Ask A Honey Bee: “He needs to bounce back from that disappointing run at Doncaster.

“He went into that race as favourite, and the first three or four in the betting all pulled up.

“It was a funny race – I just think they went very quick early on and paid the price for it in the end, and the winner came from behind.

“I just think it was very, very testing ground that day – drying out and very holding – so I think that’s what did us in the end really.

“He ran well in the (Champion) bumper there on nice ground – so it will definitely suit him a bit more.”

Trainer Ben Pauling would prefer the ground to be softer for The Cob, who confirmed his place in the line-up with a nine-length victory in the Grade Two River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster.

“He seems well. The drying ground wouldn’t be in his favour, but they should go a gallop and he stays well, so we’ll see how we get on,” said Pauling.

Karl Philippe seeking to extend O’Brien’s fine season

Karl Philippe bids to provide Fergal O’Brien with another big-race victory in the EBF Final at Sandown.

The Gloucestershire-based trainer is enjoying an excellent campaign, highlighted by the Grade Two triumphs of Hurricane Harvey, Silver Hallmark and Alaphilippe.

Before saddling likely Pertemps Final favourite Imperial Alcazar at next week’s Cheltenham Festival, O’Brien is first out to strike Grade Three gold on Saturday with Karl Philippe – who made it third time lucky over hurdles with a 10-length success at Exeter last month.

O’Brien said: “I hope he goes there with a good chance. He’s in good form.

“He was placed in his first two hurdles over two miles – and as soon as we stepped him up in trip and rode him a bit more forward, he proved the shorter trip was the problem.

“We’re looking forward to running him on Saturday and seeing how he gets on.

“It’s very competitive, but we’ll go there and take our chance.”

David Pipe saddles top-weight Martinhal, who beat Karl Philippe by half a length in January and followed up last time.

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“He’s won his last two, and the step up in trip should suit,” said the Pond House trainer.

“Like a lot of these horses, all his form has been on softer ground.

“It’s difficult to win a race like this off top-weight, but we’re hoping he has an each-way chance.”

Nicky Henderson has two contenders Captain Morgs and Patroclus, while Colin Tizzard’s Striking A Pose and Sam Barton from Emma Lavelle’s yard also feature.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Rainyday Woman sets the standard in the first of two Listed races on the card – the British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.

The daughter of Kayf Tara bolted up on her debut for the Ditcheat handler at Stratford in November, before following up in Listed company at Huntingdon the following month.

“She has done nothing but please since she joined us in the summer, winning stylishly at Stratford before following up in a Listed mares’ bumper at Huntingdon just before Christmas,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“Rainyday Woman has a 4lb penalty in a hot looking race, and any further rain at Sandown would be in her favour.”

Rainyday Woman is re-opposed by Kim Bailey’s Huntingdon runner-up Flirtatious Girl, while the dangers include Henderson’s Tweed Skirt.

Listed honours are also up for grabs in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Novices’ Handicap Chase – a race which has been switched to Sandown from the Cheltenham Festival.

High Up In The Air has won his last five races for Gary Moore, who said: “This is a massive jump up in class.

“He just needed that first run over fences at the start of the season, while he loves soft ground and was well handicapped.

“He is a very good jumper, and that has helped him. He has won here before, but that was over shorter, and I think the extra few furlongs will suit him.”

Evan Williams is looking forward to saddling Annsam, who was slapped with a 12lb rise for a 42-length win at Ludlow in December.

“He’s a raw horse. The handicapper absolutely hoofed him up for winning a bad race last time, (but) I’d be pretty keen to give it a crack,” said the Welsh trainer.

“He went up 12lb for winning what in effect was a ‘nothing’ race, having a school round.

“The handicapper is right 99 per cent of the time, so I hope he is right.

“Annsam is a nice horse, (but) he’s a raw horse.”

Sherwood confident Sevarano can sparkle in Reynoldstown

Oliver Sherwood is optimistic about the chances of Sevarano in the Bateaux London Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot.

With ante-post principals The Big Breakaway and If The Cap Fits notable defectors at Thursday’s declaration stage, Sherwood believes his representative has a “favourite’s chance” of landing Saturday’s Grade Two contest.

“I’m guessing one or two maybe didn’t want to run and leave their Cheltenham behind, whereas our horse isn’t even entered at Cheltenham and purposely wasn’t going to go there,” said the Lambourn-based trainer.

A talented hurdler last season, Sevarano looks likely to scale even greater heights over fences, having won two of his first three starts this season.

He could finish only fourth on his latest appearance at Newbury in December, but Sherwood has a valid excuse.

He added: “It was unfortunate what happened at Newbury. He slipped into the first fence, and it unnerved him, but he schooled super on Thursday morning and is in a really good place.

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“This is the time to step up in trip – I’ve been dying to do it – and he handled this sort of ground over hurdles last year. He’s a big, strong boy now as an eight-year-old – and I’m sure he’ll handle it.

“I’m very happy with him, and he doesn’t get a penalty for his two wins this season because they were handicaps.

“I think he’s going there with a favourite’s chance.”

A six-strong field is headed by the Fergal O’Brien-trained Hurricane Harvey, who must shoulder a 5lb penalty for winning the Grade Two December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster last time out.

“He’s having to carry a penalty, which isn’t ideal, but there aren’t many options for him,” said O’Brien.

“There was a novice handicap at Doncaster next week, but again he’d be giving weight away.

“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It was great to win a Grade Two with him, but it makes the rest of the season tougher. Having said that, you’d take a Grade Two every time.

“It’s a rich man’s problem, as they say.”

David Pipe’s Remastered faces a step up in class after winning his first two starts over fences at Carlisle and Wetherby.

Trainer David Pipe saddles Remastered on the Reynoldstown
Trainer David Pipe saddles Remastered on the Reynoldstown (David Davies/PA)

Pipe said: “He’s got a bit to find on official ratings, but he likes soft ground, three miles around Ascot will be ideal – and he jumps well.

“It was a decent enough race that he won first time over fences at Carlisle, and then it was just a two-horse race he won at Wetherby, but he deserves to take his chance and has conditions to suit.”

Full Back is in a similar boat after winning at Plumpton and Exeter for Gary Moore, who said: “Hopefully he goes very well. He wouldn’t want too much more rain, he just doesn’t like it too heavy. I know he won in heavier ground, but he’s got away with it a bit.

“He’s in a good place, and this has always been the target, so hopefully he can give a good account of himself.”

Demachine (Kerry Lee) and Kalooki (Philip Hobbs) complete the line-up.

Imperial Alcazar stays fresh for Festival

Fergal O’Brien will chart a direct course to the Cheltenham Festival with Imperial Alcazar.

The seven-year-old ran out a comfortable two-and-a-quarter-length winner of a Pertemps qualifier at Warwick last month, and is as low as 8-1 with some firms for the Final at Cheltenham on March 18.

While Imperial Alcazar is also entered in the Stayers’ Hurdle on the same day, O’Brien is looking towards the big handicap instead.

He said: “He’s in good form and goes for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham now, all being well.

“He runs well fresh, so he’ll go straight there without another run in between.”

Harvey heads for Towton

Hurricane Harvey features among 14 possibles for the William Hill Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby.

The Fergal O’Brien-trained seven-year-old has won two of his three chasing starts to date, kicking off with victory over the well-regarded Emitom at Uttoxeter back in October.

He then found Ga Law too good in the “Rising Stars” Novices’ Chase at Wincanton, beaten 22 lengths when conceding 8lb, but bounced back to victorious form when lifting the Grade December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster before Christmas.

O’Brien has entered Hurricane Harvey for the Virgin Bet Heroes Handicap Hurdle at Sandown as well, also on Saturday, but Wetherby remains the aim.

He said: “Wetherby is definitely his first preference. We’ve entered him in the hurdle at Sandown, just in case – but that might not be going ahead, it seems, and Wetherby would be the preferred option.

“We were delighted with him last time and we have been delighted with him all year, from his first win at Uttoxeter.

“It was good to get a nice win on the board with him the last day, and he’s a great horse for his owners.”

While Hurricane Harvey holds an entry for the National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, his trainer is far from certain he will line up there.

O’Brien added: “He’s in the old four-miler at Cheltenham because, when the entries were made, it wasn’t clear if the Irish horses would be coming across or what the situation is going to be with amateur riders. It was more a precautionary entry really.

“We’ll discuss it all after Wetherby hopefully, but we may just look to Aintree or Punchestown with him – those flatter tracks might just suit him a bit better.”

O’Brien also has Good And Hardy entered in Wetherby’s Grade Two feature.

Nick Mitchell’s Milanford finished a length and a quarter behind Hurricane Harvey at Doncaster, and he is another in the mix –  along with the Nicky Henderson-trained Dame De Compagnie, who hacked up on her chasing bow at Ayr last month.

Colin Tizzard has entered his Kauto Star Novices’ Chase runner-up The Big Breakaway – with others of note including Sevarano, Full Back, Kiltealy Briggs and Port Of Mars.

Silver signals bright future with polished display at Haydock

Fergal O’Brien believes the future is bright for Silver Hallmark following an impressive all-the-way victory in the Read Nicky Henderson’s Unibet Blog Novices’ Chase at Haydock.

A field of four runners went to post for the opener on Merseyside, with Henderson’s Allart the 10-11 favourite to double his Grade Two tally after a striking chasing debut at Ascot last month.

Silver Hallmark (2-1), narrowly beaten by Fiddlerontheroof on his first attempt over fences at Exeter in November, was sent straight to the lead on his first start since – and jumped well in the hands of Adam Wedge for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey.

His task was undoubtedly made easier when Allart crashed out racing down the back straight – but O’Brien’s charge can still be expected to go on to bigger and better things, judged on the way he powered through the testing conditions to score by four and a half lengths.

O’Brien did not make the trip to the north west, but said: “I’m delighted with him – he’s been very well at home.

“He came back from Exeter with a little nick, which took a bit of time to come right, but he’s been in great form.

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“Adam gave him a lovely ride. It was only his second run over fences and only the sixth run of his life, including his point-to-point. Haydock takes a bit of jumping, and I’m delighted with how it’s worked out.”

Silver Hallmark has not been entered for any of the novice chases at the Cheltenham Festival, with O’Brien instead eyeing a possible appearance at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.

He added: “We were in a quandary whether to stick over hurdles or go chasing with him, but Mr and Mrs Rucker (owners) said he was bought as a chaser – and I thought it was worth having a crack at a Grade Two today, and if he lost his novice status, so be it.

“I didn’t put him in any of the novice chases at Cheltenham, because I just felt he was lacking a bit of experience.

“Ground is important to him. I don’t think he wants it as bad as today, but soft ground would be important, so if it came up soft at Aintree then we’d definitely have a look at something like that.”

Faivoir lunged late to claim a last-gasp victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle.

Dan Skelton’s six-year-old faced a significant step up in class for this Grade Two test – and looked booked for minor honours jumping the final flight, with Donald McCain’s Minella Drama seemingly in control.

However, Faivoir ate into his lead on the run-in and got up in the dying strides to prevail by a neck at 7-1.

Winning jockey Bridget Andrews was emotional after the race as she reflected on the recent death of stable favourite Mohaayed, who was fatally injured at Market Rasen last Saturday.

Andrews had previously partnered Mohaayed to win the 2018 County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Faivoir winning at Cheltenham earlier this season
Faivoir winning at Cheltenham earlier this season (David Davies/PA)

“Last week was tough – Mohaayed played a big part in my career,” she said.

“I’m delighted for this horse today, and delighted for his owners. He’s actually been brilliant for me, because I’m four from four on him now.

“I think that trip (two miles) is fine for him on this ground. He’s still quite green and has a bit of an awkward way of going. He lugged in behind a little bit – but once I pulled him out and got upsides, I was away then.

“I don’t know what Dan’s plans are going to be. We tried him in a handicap at Sandown, and he didn’t really like the hustle and bustle.”

Following an inquiry, the Haydock stewards handed a four-day suspension to Andrews for careless riding, having edged left on the bend entering the straight and failed to “leave sufficient racing room for the two runners on her inside”.

Imperial rule delights Fergal O’Brien

Imperial Alcazar could have his sights raised to Grade One company after opening his account for the season in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at Warwick.

Making just his second start of the campaign, the Fergal O’Brien-trained seven-year-old, who holds an entry in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, took a giant step forwards in running out a convincing winner.

Steering clear of the late drama, which saw Flemcara, Espion and Ardlethen all come down at the last, the 5-1 victor galloped on relentlessly to score by two and a quarter lengths.

O’Brien said: “We’ve been talking the horse up to the owners for a long time. He has not had many runs and we kept him in bumpers for a long time. It is only his second run of the season and we have been very patient, but they have been rewarded today.

“We think he is a very nice horse and hopefully he will keep progressing.”

The Ravenswell Farm handler will let the dust settle before deciding which route to take with Imperial Alcazar, who has both the Stayers’ Hurdle and Pertemps Final as options at the Festival.

He added: “Definitely we would (treat him as a Stayers’ Hurdle type). We will have a look nearer the time who goes where. Whether things change with Covid as to who comes over from Ireland, so that is why we put him in the Stayers’. It’s a lovely problem to have.”

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Although Flemcara escaped injury following the incident at the final flight, there was a sad postscript to the race, which caused around a five-minute delay to the concluding bumper, as both Ardlethen and Espion suffered fatal injuries.

Clerk of the course Jane Hedley said: “Sadly we have lost both Espion and Ardlethen. They had fatal injuries. We gave them every chance, but we had no option in the end and they have been humanely euthanized. Flemcara galloped off which was a good sign.

“Everything was in control behind the screens which allowed us to carry on, which we did. The veterinary teams did their very best as ever, but unfortunately we couldn’t save them. The connections were there and were very upset, but they were philosophical.”

Gold Bullion is a name to note
Gold Bullion is a name to note (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Gold Bullion made a winning debut in the delayed bumper to complete doubles for trainer Paul Nicholls, jockey Harry Cobden and owner Malcolm Denmark.

Having secured Grade Two glory with Next Destination in the Hampton Novices’ Chase, the trio combined again with the five-year-old, who ran out a clear-cut four-and-a-half-length winner as the even-money favourite.

Assistant trainer Harry Derham said: “That was no surprise as he has been lovely the whole way through. He is a gorgeous horse that is so relaxed.

“He was green coming past the stands, that’s why Harry didn’t want to go too soon, but when he gave him a reminder he took off. He will be a serious novice hurdler over two and half miles.”

Sky Pirate looks to have a bright future
Sky Pirate looks to have a bright future (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Elsewhere on the card, Sky Pirate opened the door to bigger and better targets after continuing his progression over fences with victory in the Edward Courage Cup.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained eight-year-old defied an 11lb hike in the weights following victory at Cheltenham to make it two wins from as many starts since being dropped back to two miles.

Moving past long-time leader Generous Day approaching the second-last, the 13-8 favourite pulled out plenty to defeat Amoola Gold by two and a quarter lengths in the hands of Jonjo O’Neill junior.

The winning rider said: “He is a bit of an enigma, as he has never shown at home that he wants two miles.

“But we had been meaning to try it and it worked out well at Cheltenham and it has worked out well again today. He is an improver at this trip.

“I think people have been getting him slightly wrong as I’m just not sure he gets the two and a half we were aiming him at, but I think he stays two miles strongly.”

Following the race Sky Pirate was cut from 7-1 into 6-1 favourite for the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival by Paddy Power – a race which O’Neill junior believes could be a suitable aim.

He added: “He would (be a horse for a Grand Annual). He has won off 145 and won quite nicely. He is still a novice so we would have to have a look, but he will be entered up in everything I’d imagine.”

Will Sting strikes under Aidan Coleman
Will Sting strikes under Aidan Coleman (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Will Sting (7-2) made the most of a drop back to two miles when giving weight all round to claim the Pertemps Network Novices’ Handicap Hurdle by nine and a half lengths.

Jockey Aidan Coleman said of the Lucy Wadham-trained winner: “The drop back in trip helped him. They went quite quick on that ground and they probably stopped a bit in front.

“He’S a nice-moving horse. I’d not sat on him before, but that ground didn’t seem an issue even though it was different to what he won on around Huntingdon.”

O’Brien celebrates new milestone as Hurricane delivers in December prize

Fergal O’Brien reached a personal best of 64 winners in a season when Hurricane Harvey took the Grade Two bet365 December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster.

The Cheltenham-based handler was at the South Yorkshire venue to enjoy the moment rather than attend his local track.

“To get to 64 winners at this time of year is fantastic,” he said.

Hurricane Harvey (5-2) got the better of long-time leader Milanford to land the spoils by a length and a quarter in the hands of Paddy Brennan.

House Island was third with the favourite Ofalltheginjoints tailed off to be a disappointing last of four after never travelling or jumping well.

O’Brien said: “We are starting to grow up a bit because for the last few years we’d have probably ended up at Cheltenham trying to take on better horses there, but this was the right race to go for with him and it’s paid dividends.

“Connor (Brace) gave him a great ride first time and Paddy gave him a lovely ride the second. We got beat by a very good four-year-old (Ga Law) at Wincanton, so we’re delighted.

“He’s won his Grade Two and it’s great for connections. They have been great supporters of mine.

“I’d be lying if I said he was a natural. He takes a bit of work. I’m grateful to Martin Keighley who has a line of five fences. He’s let us go there and we do plenty of jumping with him at home.

“He’s a very honest horse and gets on with the job.”

O’Brien will give Hurricane Harvey’s next race some thought.

“He’ll go on any ground. We did think possibly about Kempton for the Kauto Star, but that just might come a bit soon, so we might put back on the backburner,” he added.

“We’ll enjoy today. There aren’t any people here, but it’s great to come here and we’re grateful.”

Brennan said: “It was his first time over three miles. It’s lovely to come here. He was in at Cheltenham, but three miles on a flat track is right for him and he is only going to improve.

“He’s done us proud. He’s won a Grade Two. We can’t ask for any more.”

Day to remember for Tom Buckley at Kempton

Conditional jockey Tom Buckley had more than one reason to celebrate the wide-margin success of Breffniboy at Kempton.

Not only did victory aboard the Johnny Farrelly-trained six-year-old in the Like Racing TV On Facebook Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle complete the first double of his career, but it also saw him ride out his 7lb claim.

Having travelled well throughout, the 7-4 favourite put the race to bed in a matter of strides once sent on by Buckley before cruising home to victory by 13 lengths.

Buckley said: “It’s my first double. I’m very thankful to a lot of people. It’s a great day.

“I knew this one had a good chance. His race last time was run on ground he didn’t like.

“I’m speechless. It’s my best day ever. I’ve had two brilliant rides for two brilliant trainers. You can’t ask for much more. Hopefully it’s onwards and upwards.”

Storm Goddess (centre) before going on to win the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (David Davies/PA)
Storm Goddess (centre) before going on to win the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (David Davies/PA)
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Storm Goddess denied Younevercall a third win in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle when getting up late on under Buckley to prevail by a nose – much to the surprise – and delight – of trainer Charlie Longsdon.

The Chipping Norton handler said: “I thought we were beat. I thought one more stride we would have won and I thought they had held on.

“If she had winged the last she would have won comfortably. She needs three miles now.

“Any Pertemps qualifier is good to win.”

Jack Quinlan got in on the double act, highlighted by a third course success for Mercian Prince (11-2), who jumped his rivals into submission to land the Every Race Live On Racing TV Handicap Chase by 12 lengths.

Winning trainer Amy Murphy said: “It is through no fault of his own that he has had a few wind issues. Some days it catches him out and on days like today, when he gets into a good breathing rhythm, he never misses a beat and shows all of his old exuberance.

“We put the visor on to keep him focused and that is the Mercian Prince we all know. It was fab to see him and he is Jack’s best mate and favourite horse in the yard by a mile.

“We gave him a little spin over hurdles with our 10lb conditional which has obviously done the trick.”

Mick Quinn scored plenty of hat-tricks during his time as a footballer and Pink Sheets completed one of her own to get the ball rolling for Quinlan with a tenacious victory in the Bet At racingtv.com Novices’ Hurdle.

The Newmarket handler said of the 85-40 winner: “ I love her to bits and we got her to have a bit of fun with.

“I thought she would be in the first three if not better, but I was a little bit apprehensive about taking on the geldings.

“She needs the better ground and it was either here or Huntingdon and we decided to go for this race and it has paid dividends. ”

Oscar Rose on her way to landing the Weatherbys TBA Mares' Handicap Chase (David Davies/PA)
Oscar Rose on her way to landing the Weatherbys TBA Mares’ Handicap Chase (David Davies/PA)

Fergal O’Brien moved to within two winners of reaching a half-century for the season after Oscar Rose put in an exemplary round of jumping in the Weatherbys TBA Mares’ Handicap Chase.

O’Brien said of the 9-4 favourite: “She was very good and I could not fault her there. Liam (Harrison) gave her a lovely ride.

“She was a bit keen over hurdles, but fences just help her as she backs off them a bit and gives herself a chance.”

10 Minute Preview: Cheltenham, Friday 23rd October

In this very quick (11 minute) video, I highlight a couple of horses I'm interested in at Cheltenham's Showcase meeting this afternoon. Both are proven in conditions and have a good chance to outrun their odds. Both are easy to find using Geegeez Gold's Instant Expert tool.

See what you think...

And don't forget our special Winter Season Ticket offer, which will give you access to all of these brilliant tools for the entire National Hunt season for just £149.

 

Check that out here

 

La Bague Au Roi out early at Perth

Warren Greatrex believes dual Grade One winner La Bague Au Roi has plenty in her favour as she returns to action at Perth on Wednesday.

The talented nine-year-old will begin what is to be her last season in training  in the Weatherbys Racing Bank David Whitaker Handicap Chase.

With the combination of a sound surface and a step back up to three miles expected to suit La Bague Au Roi, the Lambourn handler is confident of a big run.

Greatrex said: “I just thought that she would love the track and it is not a stiff three miles. This is the right sort of race for her.

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“She seems in good nick and has come to hand quick. She has got to give plenty of weight away but she is a high class horse.

“She runs well fresh, while she will love the ground and trip, so she ticks a lot of boxes. It is going to be her last season so let’s see if we can start on a high.

“She has lost no enthusiasm at home as she schools well and still enjoys her work.”

La Bague Au Roi failed to hit the heights of her novice chasing campaign during her second over fences last season, however, Greatrex believes there were some positives to take out of it.

He added: “Last season she was not at her best but she might have been having a bit of a hangover as she put everything into those Grade Ones the season before.

“It was a trainer error running her at Wetherby as the ground was very soft. That put her confidence back and she ended up having a hard race when there was no need for it.

“She did run well in the Peterborough Chase and the Listed mares chase at Doncaster. Her best run was probably in the Irish Gold Cup and if she runs like that she will be hard to beat as there is nothing of that class in the field.”

Jarveys Plate, seen winning over hurdles, will bid to get back to winning ways over fences at Perth (David Davies/PA Images)
Jarveys Plate, seen winning over hurdles, will bid to get back to winning ways over fences at Perth (David Davies/PA Images)

Fergal O’Brien hopes Jarveys Plate can rediscover the sort of form that saw him lower the colours of Reserve Tank on his chasing debut at Chepstow last October and get his career back on track.

He said: “After winning first time last year against Reserve Tank it looked like the world could be his oyster but the wheels subsequently fell off and I don’t really know why.

“He seems in good form and I just hope he goes well. He has got a good record fresh, while he won his bumper around Perth. He has got the ability so hopefully he is on a going day.

“Stepping back up to three miles should help him travel better. Warren’s horse will be hard to beat but if we have the Jarveys Plate we have at home he will give her a run for the money.”

NH Season Fast Starters

As I’ve alluded to in previous articles I would consider myself more of a flat game specialist, writes Jon Shenton.  However, with the onset of winter and the monumental battle of wills around when to put the heating on, perhaps you could argue that my timing is less than impeccable in terms of becoming a contributor to Geegeez.

Data are data, though – and in some ways the fact that I’m not invested so much in the history, the characters and the equine stars of the show arguably means I can be more objective about what I’m looking at.  In other words, the data can speak for themselves.  Every day is a school day and I’m hopeful that I can build some profitable and interesting angles to keep things ticking over during the cold, dark months when I’m wrapped in a blanket because I’m too tight to fire up the boiler!

In this article, I will try to unearth a bit of early season value with regard to the winter game.  That said, and as a starter concession, I still can’t work out officially when the National Hunt season starts.

As ever a reminder that analysing past performance is no guarantee of future spoils; but, as a minimum, it should help in generating ideas and approaches for evolve our knowledge and therefore our betting skill.

Let’s start with a broad-brush approach evaluating National Hunt runners by trainer during the months of October and November.  This time all the data have been crunched using the Query Tool on this very site, any runners on or after 7th October 2018 are not included.

All National Hunt runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter by trainer in October and November from 2012 onwards

The table above displays trainers ordered by the best return on investment (ROI) at starting price (SP).  Encouragingly, there are nine of them returning over 10% without diving any deeper.

Top of the tree and first cab off the rank is Henry Oliver, the Worcestershire-based trainer who is returning a very substantial 61% over the period in question: it’s stating the completely obvious but that’s worth more than a quick glance.   First stop is to check the context of this apparent seasonal bounty, it may be that Mr Oliver is an all year-round cash cow.

All Henry Oliver National Hunt runners with an SP of 20/1 or less from 2012 onwards

If you backed every Oliver NH runner from January 2012 you would have a neat 5% return to SP with 90 winners from 534 bets.  Not quite ‘cash cow’ status but there are certainly worse ways to put your money on the line.  The below graph shows how the 26.7 points of profit is split by month.

Monthly P&L to a £1 level stake for all National Hunt runners at 20/1 or shorter from the Henry Oliver stable from 2012 onwards

 

First thing to note is that, like a number of NH trainers, the summer months are fallow for Oliver’s charges.  December aside, Oliver is operating at a profitable level over the winter months and I wouldn’t put you off tracking all stable runners over the core NH season so certainly a trainer to follow.

However, we started searching for early season value and clearly November sticks out like Brian Blessed playing hide and seek, returning 94% profit to ROI.  The 20% October ROI is worth noting, too.

Trying to dive deeper into those autumnal runners, evaluating variables such as obstacle type, race class, horse age or date of recent run doesn’t generate anything of real material value.   If you’re nit-picking, Oliver’s horses are 0/11 for runs greater in distance than 2m 6f in those months and 5/58 overall, something to keep an eye on.

The last metaphoric hurdle is to understand the consistency aspect of the performance.

The table below shows Oliver’s October/November runs by year.  Maybe a little streaky but scintillating performance in 2013, 2015, and in particular 2017, with a bit of a washout in 2016.  Only one losing year though (excluding 2018 thus far for hopefully obvious reasons) means that this is solid enough to go on the list!

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All Henry Oliver National Hunt Oct/Nov runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards

Suggestion: Back all Henry Oliver runners in October/November at 20/1 or less

 

The second luminary of the list is Fergal O’Brien, who quite simply has the best (in my opinion) and most entertaining twitter profile of all of the trainers, well worth a follow (@FOBracing) if you’re active on that medium. The stable contains relative household names such as Chase The Spud, Cap Soleil, and their first Grade 1 winner Poetic Rhythm to name but three of them.

There is no doubt the yard has impressive credentials and performance has been very strong over recent years.  If you backed every single stable runner at SP from January 2012 you’d walk away with 3.7% more cash than you invested.

I think there are angles aplenty when it comes to O’Brien, most of which are for another day but with specific reference to the early season view there are a couple of options to home in on for profit. The first is National Hunt race code

All Fergal O’Brien Oct/Nov National Hunt runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by race type

All profitable, which is nice. The pertinent angle for me though is his performance in bumpers, where O’Brien has nearly double the volume of winners than expected with a 186% return to boot.  Yes, the sample size is small, but within the data there are ten winners from horses making their debut (from 22), indicating that the yard gears up to get quality horses (or horses ready to win) out on the track in the months of October and November. Generally speaking, the later in October, the better as the record is 1/11 from the 1st-16th.

Profit in relation to hurdles and fences is quite small over those two months; however, if we zoom in a little closer there is a quite telling split in monthly performance, again it looks like the stable is peaking in November.

All Fergal O’Brien Oct/Nov Hurdle & Chase runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by race type

It’s not an absolute rule, and certainly doesn’t mean that a horse on the track on the 1st November is in different shape to one on 31st October, but it does indicate generally that as we start heading towards the big November Cheltenham meeting, the O’Brien yard picks up pace and is a definite one to follow closely.

Suggestion 1: Back all O’Brien NHF runners in late October/November at less than 20/1 SP

Suggestion 2: Back all O’Brien Chase and Hurdle runners in November at less than 20/1 SP

 

Moving to the trainer in the bronze medal position in the opening table, Harry Whittington: the Lambourn-based outfit is growing rapidly, currently housing nearly 50 horses with an increasing number of runners per year. I like these yards that are growing, it often means they’re on an upwards trajectory and are worth closer review.

First port of call is checking the race type in the table below, a small number of runners but the bumper aspect doesn’t look entirely compelling so I’m happy enough to exclude and keep a watching brief.

All Harry Whittington Oct/Nov National Hunt runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by race type

Again, evaluating the profile of Whittington’s hurdle and chase runners across the whole year gives an interesting picture in terms of P&L.  The graph below shows that very same P&L by month to a £1 level stake, it’s fair to say that Q4 looks quite compelling – another yard that’s fast out of the blocks for the new season.

Monthly P&L to a £1 level stake for all National Hunt runners at 20/1 or less from the Harry Whittington stable from 2012 onwards

 

If we analyse the October to December runs in terms of race class as a differentiator there is a further shard of light to assist profitable punting.

All Harry Whittington Oct-Dec Hurdle and Chase runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by race class

 

The basement C5 races are easy enough to ignore in punting terms, most of them crossing over with the NHF group we already discounted; the Class 1 & 2 are less straightforward, particularly if the yard’s expansion means they may be knocking on the door of the higher echelons of the racing ladder. Here and now I’d be inclined to back the C3 & C4 horses and track the C1/2 runners for signs of improvement or add to a shortlist to back on their relative merits.

Suggestion: Back all Harry Whittington’s October, November and December Chase/Hurdle runners at less than 20/1 in Class 3 or 4 races.

 

The final trainer I’m going to run through from the initial table is Venetia Williams, largely due to her volume of runners: to deliver a 17% ROI across 440 runners in the months of October/November from 2012 onwards is impressive and merits closer scrutiny.  That’s not to say all of the other trainers are not worthy of further investigation and I’d definitely be inclined to sharpen the focus on Messrs Pauling and Keighley in particular.  Have a play on QT yourself and maybe post anything of interest (or otherwise) in the comments below.

Returning to Venetia Williams, the Grand National-winning trainer has a profitable record during the months in question, but the below table tells a stark tale.  Clearly, Williams has a knack for getting her cavalry of chasers ready early in the season

All Venetia Williams Oct/Nov National Hunt runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by race type

 

Again, if we look specifically at the month, the record in November is much stronger than that of October.

Perusing the “Venetia” page at her website www.venetiawilliams.com the following sentence caught my eye:

“Since then Venetia's career has flourished. Never one to expose her horses to the high risk of summer ground, each year Venetia can be seen with the big Saturday winners during the core NH season”

There is a common belief that Williams’ runners love soft turf, and the statement above also seems to indicate a preference to avoiding the risks associated with summer ground.  On Geegeez we like facts to back up a theory, so the table below shows Venetia’s chase runners in November by official going.

All Venetia Williams Chase runners in November with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards by official going

 

While there is confirmation that Williams’ runners prefer a softer surface, it is worth noting that the stereotyped ‘hock deep’ runner from this yard fares less well than those encountering merely ‘winter ground’, i.e. good to soft or soft.

There is one mild concern with the overall angle though, namely 2017 performance, showing a loss of 28%, this is also on the back of a moderate 2016.  It could be this angle has run its natural course, albeit I will be adding it to my own armoury this November.  Williams had a very quiet spell last winter, alluding to a potential problem in the yard so I’m just about happy enough to strike a line through 2017.  This is one for keen observation though.

All Venetia Williams Chase runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter from 2012 onwards on good to soft, soft or heavy ground by year

Oh, and incidentally the Saturday assertion in the quoted sentence does have a degree of credence too.

Suggestion: Back all Venetia Williams November Chasers on Good to soft or softer ground with a 20/1 or less SP (with caution)

- Jon Shenton