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They’d be Mad not to go for it

Captain Chris has had a long and illustrious career. The last few years have been blighted by injuries, yet whether he returns to the track or not he has given Philip Hobbs and owners Diana and Graham Whateley numerous thrilling days at the races.

No mug over hurdles, his career took off when sent over fences at the end of 2010. Beaten by Paul Nicholls’ Ghizao first time at Cheltenham, he came off second best once again to the same horse at Newbury when in receipt of 10lbs. A further second place finish when stepped up in trip for the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown, left trainer Hobbs with a tough decision as to the correct Cheltenham Festival target.

Many were surprised when Captain Chris was dropped back in trip to tackle the Arkle Chase, but the decision was emphatically vindicated when the horse stormed up the famous hill to defeat Finian’s Rainbow, despite jumping out to his right on numerous occasions.

Throughout his career, the habit of leaping out to the right has proved a barrier to further success at Cheltenham. Indeed since the Arkle success his four further career wins have all come on right hand tracks. It’s no surprise that Ascot and Kempton have become favourite destinations with his last victory coming in the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase when winning by a country mile.

That habit of moving out one way or the other when taking obstacles is far from ideal, though many horses have overcome the issue to win major events. Vautour so nearly did so in the King George just a few weeks ago.

And that brings us to the latest trainer with the same conundrum to ponder over. Gary Moore finds himself in the enviable position of having a top class novice chaser in the yard. Ar Mad was disappointing at Plumpton on seasonal debut, when taking on the larger obstacles for the first time. The habit of jumping out to the right was there for all to see, especially in the latter stages of the race.

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However, his three victories since, at Kempton and Sandown, have all been impressive. He took the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase in stunning fashion, and then overcame Henderson’s Vaniteux to win the Wayward Lad at Christmas. In the latter of those two he jumped perfectly straight for the majority of the race.

So has Moore overreacted to that first outing at Plumpton? The tightness of the track would certainly have helped to exaggerate the tendency to go right over the obstacles and a return to a more galloping track would be in his favour. Ar Mad was also ridden very differently that day, and in doing so he took a mighty hold, fighting for his head for much of the contest. His three victories since have all come with the jockey allowing the horse to charge along in front, a tactic which has clearly suited the exuberant chaser.

Yesterday Gary Moore informed us that the horse is currently on a break, and should he take in the Arkle, he is likely to go straight there. “Ar Mad is grand, but he's on a break at the minute, simply because there are no races for him now until Cheltenham,” said the West Sussex handler. “I've spoken to a lot of people I respect about this and some say he'll be fine and others say to stick to what you know,” Moore added.

After the latest win at Kempton his jockey Josh Moore said: “It would be a shame to miss an Arkle when you have the horse.” And having been adamant that his charge would not go Cheltenham, Gary Moore added: “It’s something we might just have to try.”

Captain Chris showed that an Arkle can be won by a horse that prefers going the other way. Watching that crucial Plumpton run again and again leaves me of the opinion that a change in tactics, coupled with a larger more galloping track will ensure that Ar Mad takes his place at Cheltenham. And there’s every chance that he’ll run an absolute blinder, though a certain Willie Mullins runner may prove more of an obstacle than the left-handed track.

A Seven Barrows Sensation – Memories of Kempton 2011

Binocular and Rock On Ruby in a Thriller

Binocular and Rock On Ruby in a Thriller

The year had started with England retaining the Ashes down under. On the Flat, Frankel had stormed to victory in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. A young boxer named Anthony Joshua had announced himself as a kid with a bright future when winning a silver medal in the World Amateur Championships. And Novak Djokovic lifted the US Open crown at Flushing Meadows. Some things never change.

It had been a hell of a year in sport when the winter of 2011 arrived. And during the King George meeting at Kempton unparalleled success went the way of one of the major forces in Jump racing. Nicky Henderson had a stack of quality horses at his disposal, and the master of Seven Barrows gobbled up a host of major prizes.

The Christmas Hurdle has often proved to be a thriller, and this one was no exception. The Champion hurdler of 2010, Binocular, managed to see off the future Champion Rock On Ruby in rip-roaring finish.

The ever gutsy Overturn had set off like a scolded cat, and turning for home had the two leading protagonists attacking on either flank. With AP driving for all his worth on Henderson’s champ, and Ruby Walsh aboard the future King, the pair approached the last locked in battle. In a pulsating finish it was Binocular that found a little more to claim victory.

Just half an hour earlier Bobs Worth had found both Grands Crus and Silviniaco Conti a little too nifty for him in the Feltham Novices’ Chase. The winner failed to build on the stunning success, whilst Silviniaco fell in love with the course. Bobs Worth was to find Cheltenham more to his liking when a few months later he took the RSA Chase. A year on and he was to have his finest hour, when successful in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Henderson had a double on the day with novice hurdler Tetlami adding to the Binocular win. One that just got away was the King George itself, when the reigning Gold Cup winner Long Run failed to change the course of history. Kauto Star’s date with destiny and an incredible fifth success in the race prevented Long Run from making it back to back victories. One of the all-time greats was in the twilight of his career, yet just 24 hours later a new superstar would announce his arrival.

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The following day Henderson was not to be denied when a stunning treble included wins for Finian’s Rainbow and rather fittingly the mighty Sprinter Sacre. The former took a cracking Desert Orchid Chase, getting the better of Wishfull Thinking in the shadow of the post. In March he was to win a dramatic Champion Chase at The Festival.

For Sprinter Sacre, things were just a little more straightforward. Only three went to post in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, with Peddlers Cross the odds on favourite. However, the former Champion Hurdle runner-up failed to land a blow, with Henderson’s gorgeous chaser simply scintillating. Occasionally looks are not deceiving. Sprinter Sacre had all the physical attributes necessary to become one of the great chasers. And so it proved.

The Seven Barrows handler has a terrific record with his young chasers in the Wayward Lad at Christmas. He’s turned out seven winners since 2000, including Simonsig in 2012. He relies on Vaniteux this time round, the horse having already won at the track on his chasing debut. He was mightily impressive that day, and many, me included, will be hoping to see another exciting performance on Sunday.

It could prove a thrilling day for Henderson, with Sprinter Sacre set to run in the Desert Orchid just half an hour later. The nine-year-old may well clash with Gary Moore’s former Champion Sire De Grugy. The former looked something like his old self when sauntering to victory in the Schloer Chase at Cheltenham, whilst Moore’s fella brought the house down with his success in the Tingle Creek.

Kempton 2011 proved momentous for Henderson and his team. But he’ll be more than ‘ho ho hopeful’ that this Christmas can deliver a Santa sack full of success.

King George on hold after Finian’s disappointing debut

Finian's Rainbow - last on seasonal debut

Nicky Henderson was so disappointed with the run of Finian’s Rainbow in Saturday’s Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot that he has ordered a thorough health check for the horse from his veterinary team. Finian’s Rainbow finished last of the four runners, almost 25 lengths behind the winner, a rejuvenated Captain Chris. Only then will he decide if last years Queen Mother Champion Chase winner will contest the King George VI Chase at Kempton’s Boxing Day meeting. Read more

BHA to look at fence bypass rules

The British Racing Authority has acknowledged that there is room for improvement in the application of the rules which direct horses round a hurdle or fence that needs to be bypassed. Read more

Henderson stable lad nets £1m gamble

I don’t know how Finian’s Rainbow’s lad slept on Wednesday night. If I had been sitting on his betting slip I don’t think I would have managed a single wink. By the close of racing on Wednesday, the lad, an Irishman in his late 40s, had seen Sprinter Sacre (8/11 in the Arkle), Simonsig (2/1, Neptune Novice Hurdle), Bobs Worth (9/2, RSA Chase) and Finian’s Rainbow (4/1, Champion Chase) go in. Read more

BHA says Champion Chase fence bypass handled correctly

Before the Festival started both the Cheltenham executive and the British Horseracing Authority expressed their hope that controversy about the use of the whip would not dominate the headlines. So far they it hasn’t. But I don’t suppose they thought for one moment that their joint handling of fence bypass procedures would be one of the main stories of day two. Read more

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Preview, Stats & Tips

Can Sizing win the Champion Chase again?

Can Sizing win the Champion Chase again?

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Preview, Trends and Tips

It's now just sixteen days until the Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012, and Wednesday's highlight promises to be a cracker. The eagerly awaited rematch between Big Zeb and Sizing Europe, with Finian's Rainbow and a host of aspirants snapping at their hooves, looks a race to savour.

But who has what it takes, on past trends and/or current form, to be crowned the Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 winner?

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Trends

Let's first take a look at the recent trends for the Champion Chase, some of which are pretty strong.

Champion Chase Age Trends - although ostensibly a two mile speed test, this race actually rides more like a two and a half miler, due to the ubiquitous end to end gallop and the merciless uphill grind to the finish.

So it is that older horses have tended to hold sway in recent years. In fact, whilst the most precocious of them all - Master Minded - won his first Champion Chase as a five year old (and his second at six), the last few years have seen just one other horse younger than seven prevail.

Indeed, Voy Por Ustedes was the only other sub-seven year old to win since Inkslinger way back in 1973! That doesn't bode well for Kauto Stone, who bids to add to the recent record of ex-French young'uns.

Azertyuiop was seven when winning, in 2004. Before that, the last 7yo's to oblige were Klairon Davis (1996) and Viking Flagship (1994).

The only entered horse of that age is Peddlers Cross who is far more likely to run in the Arkle.

Horses aged eight or nine have won seven of the last fourteen, and 16 of the last 16. This is the core age range to focus on.

On the other side of that, Martha's Son and One Man (1997/8), and Moscow Flyer (2005) were the only horses aged ten or older to have won since Badsworth Boy completed a hat-trick of Champion Chases in 1985 at the age of ten.

Big Zeb is eleven. Sizing Europe is ten.

Champion Chase last time out trends - ten of the last fourteen winners won their previous start. Of the other four, two fell or unseated, and two finished third.

Ten of the last twelve winners had won their last completed start. Sizing Europe last year was a notable exception to this rule.

Arkle runners in the Champion Chase trends - the previous year's Arkle has proved an extremely strong pointer for the Champion Chase, with Sizing Europe (2010 Arkle winner, 2011 Champion Chase winner) being the most recent to follow up a win or place in the Arkle with a win or place in the Champion Chase itself.

Previously, Forpadydeplasterer and Kalahari King (2010); Fair Along (2008); and Voy Por Ustedes (2007) all making the frame in the Champion Chase after doing likewise in the previous year's Arkle.

The 1-2-3 from the 2011 Arkle were Captain Chris, Finian's Rainbow, and Realt Dubh.

Captain Chris is not entered this year, and Realt Dubh hasn't been seen since finishing second in a Grade 1 on the 5th May last year.

Finian's Rainbow then is the most likely candidate from last year's Arkle alumni to make the frame here.

Champion Chase course and distance trends - All of the last thirteen winners had won a race over at least 2m1 1/2f (my thanks to Gavin Priestley's Festival Trends for this nugget).

I'msingingtheblues has never won beyond two miles one furlong, but would have had a limited chance in any case.

Ten of the last thirteen Champion Chase winners had previously won at Cheltenham, eight of them at the Festival itself.

Of this year's entries, only Big Zeb, Gauvain, I'msingingtheblues, Peddlers Cross, Sizing Europe and Wishfull Thinking can boast a previous win at the track.

Peddlers is going for the Arkle, and Wishfull has a breathing problem (according to his trainer). Gauvain is much more likely to run in the Ryanair Chase, and I'msinging isn't going to be good enough.

That just leaves previous Champion Chase winners Big Zeb and Sizing Europe.

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Form

The clear pick on form is Sizing Europe. He was the Champion Hurdle favourite in 2008, Arkle winner in 2010, and Champion Chase winner in 2011. He loves it here.

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Moreover, Sizing Europe is seemingly in the best form of his life, with back-to-back wins in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek and Grade 2 Tied Cottage (a TC double).

He has taken on, and beaten, many of his main rivals for Champion Chase 2012 glory, and is rated 177, ten pounds superior to anything else in the race.

Big Zeb has the next best official rating, coming in at 167 according to the Irish handicapper, which makes him better than any of the British challengers.

Somersby heads the home charge off a mark of 166, followed in by Gauvain, Kauto Stone and Wishfull Thinking (all on 162). Somersby's win in the Victor Chandler Chase last time out was a first Grade 1, and an affirmation of the faith many had retained in the beast.

Clearly talented, Somersby doesn't always put it all in. Saying that, a stiff two miles is probably ideal, and he has plenty of Festival placed form (3rd in Supreme, 2nd in Arkle, 5th in Champion Chase last year).

Very few of these are in winning form recently, with the exception of Zeb, Sizing and Somersby. But one who might surprise is Blazing Tempo.

This mare is incredibly versatile, having won a Grade 3 on heavy ground and the Galway Plate on good ground.  And she won another Grade 3 over two miles, whilst the Galway Plate was 2m6f! She's won in three small fields, and took the Galway Plate from 21 rivals.

For one so flexible, it's no surprise that she holds a number of entries, but this looks a much shallower race than the Ryanair, and I believe she has place chances at a very decent price... if she runs.

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2012 Tips

OK, so that's the trends and a whistle stop tour of the form. But who do I think will win?

The clear pick on form and most of the trends is Sizing Europe. He is in great form, has NEVER been out of the frame in fifteen chase starts, and is a deserving favourite for this race.

The problem is that I cannot back the horse at a best priced 11/10.

Looking for value elsewhere leads us to the trio of Big Zeb, Somersby and Finian's Rainbow, who are the next in the betting. Despite twice beating Noble Prince, Big Zeb has regressive Racing Post Ratings. That's hardly surprising for an eleven year old, and I couldn't have him after he was trounced by Sizing the last day.

Somersby beat Finian's Rainbow last time out in the Victor Chandler, but the latter has more scope to improve - albeit that he'll have to in order to get by his last time out conqueror.

But Finian's Rainbow has been beaten both times he's been to Cheltenham, and it's hard to see him preventing that becoming three times in a fortnight's time.

Somersby - on his day - would be hard to keep out of the frame in my view. And, at 12/1, he might be worthy of each way support. But... he's also entered in the Ryanair Chase, for which he's a shorter price.

Blazing Tempo is interesting at bigger prices, despite the same multiple entries conundrum. She's won her last three, and has been in the frame in eight of ten chasing starts. She also receives a 7lb mares' allowance, and 33/1 offers us something to hang on to despite the possibility that she may get outclassed here.

At the time of writing, only Ladbrokes and bet365 are non-runner no bet, which means if your horse doesn't run in the race you get your stakes back.

Due to the nature of the double entries on my fancied pair, and the fact that best prices are not available with the 'non-runner no bet' bookies, it's hard to recommend a wager right now.

STOP PRESS: Those clever souls at Corbett Sports have replied to my tweet all bookies, and gone non-runner no bet all races. Well done to them.

A bookie that listens?

Corbett Sports: A bookie that listens?

Champion Chase tips

Most likely Champion Chase 2012 winner - Sizing Europe - 11/10 general

Best Champion Chase 2012 each way play - Somersby (with a run) - 12/1 NRNB Corbett Sports

Best Champion Chase 2012 outsider - Blazing Tempo (with a run) - 28/1 NRNB Corbett Sports, 33/1 all in, run or not

 

Sat TV Trends: 21st Jan 2012

Nicholls Has A Great VC Chase Record

It’s the 25th Anniversary of the Victor Chandler Chase this Saturday, but can trainer Paul Nicholls win the race for a fourth year in a row - this time with Al Ferof? Read more

Hennessy Weekend Review

Festival fancies and frozen Folkestone's farce book-ended the weekend's limited action, dear reader, and I've cast my scrutinous beady over the proceedings to sort the genuine Cheltenham contenders from the fish in red clothing...

Given the severity of this ludicrously premature cold snap, Newbury performed some sort of minor miracle in staging both Friday's and Saturday's race cards (as well as Thursday's) as much of Berkshire shivered and shuddered through the first covering of the winter.

But in amongst all the hype around the Hennessy and the newbies noted in novices, were there Festival candidates on display? And, if there were, which ones were they? Read on, and see what I reckon...

Finian's Rainbow for the Arkle?

Finian's Rainbow for the Arkle?

Casting our minds back to last Thursday, Nicky Henderson unleashed high class hurdler Finian's Rainbow for his chasing debut in a warm looking novice event. Despite being up against just two rivals, the outsider Hell's Bay was already rated 143 over fences. Finian's cruised through the race and won on the bridle as he liked. However, he did make a couple of pretty shabby errors on the way round and his trainer will be at pains to improve the Rainbow's fencing prior to his next start.

Finian's Rainbow's long-term target is the Arkle, a race which perennially comprises a small field. 12/1 seems reasonable enough about a horse which is likely to be Henderson's first choice in the race, and about whom he said, "It's almost certain we will stay at two miles, the Arkle is there. I hope he's top class."

Although we haven't seen nearly enough of Finian's Rainbow to know whether he's the best horse for the Arkle, I'd be very confident that he'll be much shorter on the day should he line up. He's already just 8/1 with Ladbrokes (always the firm I look to first), and that tells me they're running scared of Henderson's hotpot.

In the Grade 2 Worcester Novices' Chase later on the Thursday card, the terrible news that high class novice Tell Massini was fatally injured cast a cloud over both the form and the story of the race. Objectively looking beyond that sad event, the winner Aiteen Thirtythree was always going to be a better fencer than hurdler, and perhaps had the best of his duel with the ill-fated Massini when that one came down in any case.

Aiteen Thirtythree was way too good by the line for next best, Voramar Two, with decent stick (137-rated) Swincombe Rock miles behind. A typical Nicholls / Barber massive-engined grinder with a touch of class, Aiteen Thirtythree is quoted as low as 12/1, and a general 16/1 for the RSA Chase.

Whilst he looks tailor made for that contest, Nicholls said afterwards that they'd be concerned about the 'hustle and bustle' of such a race, and wanted to bring him on more slowly, perhaps with a tilt at next year's Hennessy in mind. With two more chase runs under his belt between now and Cheltenham, I suspect that connections might change their minds, but at the price I'd be inclined to leave him alone from an ante-post perspective. (I like my ante-post bets to be specifically targeted at the races I'm wagering them in, where possible!)

For those brave enough to wager in the Champion Bumper before Christmas, more fool you! On a more empirical note, Balding Banker was a mightily impressive winner of the flat race on Thursday, coming far away from the rest of a fancied field and, with big margins between each finisher, the merit of the performance looks extremely robust. Of course, it remains to be seen what the horses in behind do next time out, but Henderson had two well backed beasties (one of them odds on), and Alan King had a nice looking recruit in second.

As I say, it's waaaay too early to be thinking about the Champion Bumper, but this must have been the smartest run seen so far this season in that sphere.

Friday's card opened with the unmistakable aroma of singed digits all across the Berkshire expanses as 1-4 favourite, Dolatolu, turned a 23 length winning margin at Sandown into a 27 length losing margin here. In truth, there was zero pace in the Sandown race the jolly had won and, with a quicker tempo here, he was found wanting plain and simple.

I'd be loathe to back the runner up at 33/1, and the winner, Smad Place, looks too short at 10/1. True, he won easily. True, his vanquisher on his final run in France, Taikanous, has gone on to win a nice pot in a chase race and looks a horse of real class (will we see him here in a year or two?).

Alan King: incredible Triumph Hurdle record

Alan King: incredible Triumph Hurdle record

But 10/1 is too short in a race that rarely has a favourite shorter than 4/1, or a field shorter than sixteen runners. Alan King has an exemplary Triumph Hurdle record and this may be his best prospect after the ill-advised (by me!) plunge on the stable's Franklino (0 from 2 so far...).

It's possible that the Triumph Hurdle winner hasn't even been bought out of a French paddock yet!

The Grade 2 Berkshire Novices' Chase over 2m4f featured another odds on favourite, and again the odds were rolled over, this time literally as well as metaphorically, when Spirit River came down at the eleventh of sixteen fences.

Sent off a 10/11 shot, Nicky Henderson's Coral Cup-winning hurdler from last year's Festival was doing things nicely enough until getting one line hopelessly wrong and giving Barry Geraghty no chance of hanging in there.

The winner was Cois Farraig, who toughed it out from Celestial Halo, the former Champion Hurdle second and fourth. The Halo is a classy enough beast, but his resolution generally fails close inspection and he'd definitely not be a wagering proposition for me in top company.

Whilst I have to salute the steel of the winner, I don't for a moment see him as a credible contender for novice chase honours and, at this stage, there'd have to be a big question mark about which race he'd run in. (I believe they're introducing a new intermediate distance novice chase between the Arkle's two miles and the RSA's three plus).

Onto Saturday, and a card whose jewels shimmered as much as the Newbury ground staff shivered in the early morning frosts. Newcastle's luckless abandonment saw the prompt re-routing of their prized asset, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, down to Reading way to add further sheen to an already impressive afternoon's sport.

As it turned out, the Champion Hurdler, Binocular, gave best for the second consecutive year in this contest, going down fairly tamely and under only mild urging from Tony McCoy. This was not his best, and he will of course improve for the run. That he is now a bigger price for Cheltenham should make Binocular more appealing to punters, not less, as this stop-start gallop on dead ground will hardly have played to his strengths.

Peddlers Cross a Champion Hurdle contender

Peddlers Cross a Champion Hurdle contender?

Be all that as it may, we can take nothing away from the winner, who will also not have been favoured by the totality of conditions here. Peddlers Cross is now unbeaten in all six of his starts, the last four of which have been in Grade 2 or higher company. He looked to have a lot to do in order to repel the waited with Starluck, who has strengthened up since last year and traveled beautifully through the race.

But, when push came to shove as it inevitably does, Peddlers was always holding the runner-up. In fact, watch the replay, and you might notice that on three or four occasions when Peddlers Cross saw Starluck get within half a length, he just accelerated away a little more.

Despite the moderate gallop, I'd say the form is strong, and I think Peddlers Cross now represents a serious challenge to Binocular's Cheltenham crown. With a best price of 6/1 now on Peddlers, and as big as 5/1 offered on Binocular, if you're not already on the former, the smart play may be to side with the latter.

As things stand in the Champion Hurdle market, the race is shaping up in rather magnificent fashion. We've got unbeaten 'could be anything' types like Peddlers Cross and potentially Cue Card, next to proven winners like Solwhit, Hurricane Fly and Binocular, with further spice added from the likes of Menorah and Silvianaco Conti. Bring it on! 🙂

The next of the Cheltenham winners to step up to the plate was long-standing champion staying hurdler, Big Buck's. He had a new pilot this day, with A P McCoy taking over from the injured Ruby, and the recalcitrant old monkey (BB, not AP!) was extremely well behaved for his first time baby-sitter. For all that he could do no more than win, and win well enough, I have a niggling doubt that old Big Buck's is not quite the horse he appears to be...

If there was just some sort of credible challenger in the staying hurdle ranks. Alas, each year, horses who are too slow for the Champion Hurdle tend to favour a chasing route to glory.

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Let me put it this way: quotes of 4/6 for the World Hurdle are hardly exciting from an ante-post play perspective (I'd want that on the day if he remained unbeaten this season and there were few likely dangers!). If any of Long Run, Quevega or possibly Grands Crus turned up in the race, I'd be inclined to take them at a price over the Big Buck's. Whether they'll instead go for the Gold Cup / Ryanair, Mares Hurdle, and something else respectively, remains to be seen.

Denman: no introduction needed

Denman: no introduction needed

Onwards, and upwards. A Hennessy of vast interest. Not just the usual exciting array of second season chasers bidding to bridge the battle-scarred no man's land between novice and top class ranks, but also the presence of a certain lovable, venerable, belligerent, doughty old boy in Denman. Is there a grander stamp of chaser in training right now?

I mean, forget the class of Binocular or Kauto Star, forget the speed of Big Zeb and Master Minded. Look at the raw power and will to win that the senior citizen, the veritable Chelsea pensioner, Denman exudes.

Of course, the race record shows Denman finished third. It also shows he gave the best part of two stone to both Diamond Harry and Burton Port when beaten around fifteen lengths here. Denman was his usual robust, honest, reliable self, and - forgive the sentimentalist bluster momentarily - cemented his place in my mind as my favourite chaser of the current generation.

I just much prefer his Gennaro Gattuso mentality over Kauto Star's Francesco Totti-esque

Gattuso: The Enforcer

Gattuso: The Enforcer

Prima Donna: Totti

Prima Donna: Totti

demeanour. I love his never say die attitude. He reminds me of me in some small way, and I salute all triers everywhere! 😀

Parking my affection for one of racing's waning stars, what of the aspirant waxers? Diamond Harry headed the charge at the business end, but there were many fancied in the pre-race market.

Perishers included Pandorama, who was hampered early but still should have shown more; Neptune Collonges, whose long-awaited return was terminated prematurely as he was brought down by the bungling Madison du Berlais; and Weird Al, who finished eighth of the ten completers, a mile back from the sharp end of the race.

Just as one swallow a summer does not make, nor does a single blip equate to a winter of discontent for these under-performers. However, the proverbial leap of faith is required before parting with readies on their respective next top drawer outings. Neptune was unlucky, in fairness, but the others have it to prove if they're to raise their game sufficiently to get serious with the big boys.

Up at the vanguard, and as predicted, the Gold Cup market had a little shake with Messrs Harry and Port (Diamond and Burton to give them their forenames) elevating their market positions as a result of their 1-2 here.

The winner, Diamond Harry, jumped brilliantly and I suspect couldn't have done more than he did here. He may have looked like there was something left at the end, but my suspicion is that he was all out.

When Burton Port learns to go over fences, rather than through them, he's going to be a phenomenal staying chaser. And indeed he's the one horse in this race that I'd consider has any kind of serious chance of challenging in the Blue Riband on Cheltenham Friday in March. He just bungles and clouts and otherwise disregards the impediments in his way.

By rights, Burton Port should have come down at least twice in the Hennessy. Stiff fences they are at Newbury, but they are no more lenient at Cheltenham and he's got to sort that out. If / when he does, he's got a serious engine and - unlike many pretenders to the Gold Cup crown - Burton Port stays (and stays and stays). Another fifty yards and he might have won on Saturday.

Funnily enough, as a consequence of the to'ing and fro'ing at Newbury in the Hennessy, our hope - Sizing Europe - has now been cut by a few more firms. The 33's I tipped the wink for was no more than 25's by lunchtime on Friday and, whilst there's still plenty of that price around, it's interesting (and possibly instructive) to note that Ladbrokes have now sliced him into a 16/1 chance.

Oh, the joys of an ante-post portfolio! Paper profits aplenty, but which - if any - ticket can we cash?!

A fine card at Fairyhouse was snowed off on Sunday and, with it still coming down outside here now, it looks like it might be a while before we see any more National Hunt action.

In the meantime, Geegeez Racing Club favourite, Always De One, gets a start this afternoon at Lingfield (12.45). It's a two miler, which is a lot further that Always has run so far, and Shelly - trainer Julia Feilden's daughter - has just her fifth public ride (having been a champion pony racer previously).

The truth is the partnership has a lot to do, but in a weak race with very little recent form to go on, she might sneak a place at an each way price with the stable in form.

********

Finally, the ten nominees for BBC Sports Personality of the Year have been announced and, unsurprisingly, Tony McCoy is one of the ten. I'm doing my bit to try to help Tony win, by starting a facebook fan page on the subject.

Now I don't really understand very well how facebook works, but if you're on that social networking site, do please 'Like' the Tony McCoy page. The more 'Likes' we get, the more 'Likes' we will get, such is the manner of facebook (as I understand it).

CLICK HERE TO SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION FOR AP McCOY'S BBC SPORTS PERSONALITY CREDENTIALS

Tony McCoy for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2010

Tony McCoy for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2010

That's all for today. If you have a view on the weekend action, or on how to use Facebook (!!!), please leave a comment below.

Matt

Impressive Start For Finian’s Rainbow

Trainer Nicky Henderson had a few mistakes to overlook in his charge Finian's Rainbow's first outing over fences, but was very happy with the impressive victory in the Rooney/Hall Novices' Chase at Newbury.

Barry Geraghty

Barry Geraghty

Sent off as race favourite in the three horse event, he had loads of energy for jockey Barry Geraghty to control, winning the event by a very comfortable twelve lengths from Hells Bay, with Sang Bleu further behind by twenty seven lengths.

"OK, he was untidy at one or two, but he got in and out of them, and he wasn't bad for such a big horse having his first run over fences," said winning trainer Henderson.

"You wouldn't mind giving him a run at Cheltenham, and he hasn't had a very hard race.

"I'd like to think he was very good, and the Arkle is there, so I hope he is top-class. I'm almost certain he'll stay at two miles."