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Haydock Grand National Trial Preview: Achille Has Claims For Form Reversal With Favourite

On Saturday we have Haydock’s Grand National Trial Handicap Chase to look forward, a race in which Neptune Collonges finished runner up in 2012 before landing the big one just six weeks later.

The off time is 2.40pm for this contest and whether it throws up another Grand National winner or not it should be a great race and a real test of stamina.

As usual I’ll be going through this race using a range of tools and data that are available with a Geegeez Gold subscription.

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Pace

Pace is one of the most crucial (and overlooked) factors in racing. Using the Pace Analyser we can see any potential pace bias over staying trips at Haydock.

In this kind of field size there is an edge towards horses that race closer to the pace.

The most common racing style for a winner is prominent and it’s interesting to compare the win percentages of 18% and 14.29% for front runners and prominent racers respectively to those provided by mid division (5.06%) and held up (7.75%).

Place percentages follow a similar trajectory which adds to the impression that there is a fairly strong pace advantage here and both front runners and prominent racers have strong IV figures 1.71 and 1.36 respectively.

We might gain further insight from looking at races only run on soft or heavy ground given the current going at Haydock is soft, heavy in places.

It’s a similar story again with prominent racers providing the most wins but with front runners having the best win percentage. Prominent racers seem to enjoy almost exactly the same advantage they do in better conditions but it is notable that front runners seem to perform better in the more testing conditions.

The fact that when you only look at soft or heavy ground races front runners perform even better and hold up runners perform worse suggests that the pace bias might be exaggerated in softer ground.

The above information is best used in conjunction with the pace data for each individual race. Each runner is assigned a ‘pace score’ every time they run based on what early position they raced in and this data is used to create an interactive pace map.

It looks highly likely that The Two Amigos is going to get an easy, uncontested lead in this race with no other real pace options in the race. Achille tends to race fairly prominently and has led in the past but he was held up last time so looks likely to be handy at best.

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If this race does end up suiting those up with the pace then Sojourn and Potters Legend could be the most inconvenienced by the pace setup.

Instant Expert

Instant Expert can give us a snapshot of each runner’s suitability to the important race conditions here. First let’s look at the place data.

Plenty of green on offer and very little red suggesting the majority of these are well proven in conditions. It’s worth noting that class data would include non handicap runs too which makes it a bit less relevant in the context of this race.

Sojourn and Notachance clearly go very well in this kind of ground whilst four runners come into this with a 100% place record at the course (Perfect Candidate and Lord Du Mesnil have both placed in all three runs here).

One of the more worrying red flags here is that Potters Legend has failed to place in two runs over this kind of distance. On closer inspection he has run well enough over a furlong shorter though.

Now let’s narrow things down for win purposes.

Another worry for Potters Legend, he’s just one from fourteen in these ground conditions. The Two Amigos and Achilles also have questionable win records on testing ground. Lord Du Mesnil and Perfect Candidate both score well across the board (disregarding race class) and that pair both have won two out of three here so the course clearly holds no fears for them. Based on Instant Expert alone they both seem decent each way bets.

The Runners

Let’s take a look at each runner in odds order.

Notachance

A very exciting prospect. He’s finished 1st or 2nd in five of his six chase starts and he’s won his last two, including the Warwick Classic Handicap Chase over a furlong further last month. He tracked the pace at Warwick last time out and a repeat of those tactics should give him an advantage here.

He’s up 7lbs for that latest effort but he’s completely unexposed at this sort of distance so it’s not unfeasible that he’ll have improved that much since his last run. There is very little in the formbook to suggest he won’t run very well once again in this race ahead of a possible tilt at the Scottish Grand National.

The Two Amigos

A consistent front runner who has hit the frame in all four starts since finishing 4th in this last year. He's 2lbs higher this time around but should get the uncontested lead he didn’t get last year and that should see him improve. Finishing 2nd to Secret Reprieve in the Welsh National last time out was certainly a decent trial for this and suggests he is as good as ever.

He hasn’t won for over two years now though which is a major concern and although he’s entitled to give his running once again, he does look vulnerable for win purposes, especially at the current odds.

His jockey, James Bowen, has been in great form in the past 30 days, generating an IV (Impact Value) of 2.53.

Enqarde

Been in very good form since joining Dr Richard Newland, winning twice, finishing a neck runner up and unseating his rider on his other start. With only one completed chase start on these shores he’s potentially well ahead of his mark considering the style in which he won (and he beat two last time out winners). He also jumped left when winning at Ascot so this course should suit better.

He’s the shortest priced contender who is yet to prove his stamina but that does also mean he potentially has more secrets from the handicapper than much of the rest of the field.

The Profiler is great for telling us the likelihood of a horse staying based on sire stats and although this could be the limit of his stamina, his sire’s offspring do have a good record over this distance with a 44.44% place strike rate. This suggests there is a good chance he stays and if he does he should go very well. He should also race prominently which will suit.

Sojourn

Not seen since finishing 2nd last time out here before Christmas having previously won a hot handicap at Carlisle.

The runner up and 3rd both won next time out and the 4th was runner up on his next start so to beat those runners by 15 lengths is quite impressive.

Trainer Anthony Honeyball has previously stated that the horse is probably best fresh so the recent break should have done him so good. In fact Honeyball has an IV of 3.52 with handicap runners returning from a break of 60+ days so that’s another bonus.

He’s got very few miles on the clock and does have to prove his stamina over an extra couple of furlongs but it should be no issue. He’s tactically versatile and another very strong contender.

Lord Du Mesnil

A possible good each way place according to Instant Expert with some strong stats for the most important criteria. He has course form figures of 112 and that includes two course and distance efforts. He’s only 2lbs above his mark when 2nd in this last year.

He hasn’t been in quite the same form this season, having not run brilliantly in either run. This and/or the Grand National have probably been the aim all season so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he steps forward from that form but he does come with risks attached given those two runs so isn’t quite the each way play he might have looked.

Achille

Runner up behind Notachance on his latest start, which came off the back of a 427 day break. Given he could come on for that run and is 3lbs better off with the winner for a half length defeat he’d have a fair chance of reversing form and looks a possible value play at the odds given his form line with the favourite.

He’s clearly not been easy to train but he’s been consistent on the track when getting there in one piece so his problems shouldn’t be too off putting. Reverting to slightly more aggressive tactics than last time out should suit and he’s very much respected.

Potter Legend

Potters Legend looked like he may be unsuited by the way the race will be run in the pace map and there were also some question marks when looking at Instant Expert, namely the going. He has won three times in his career on soft but he hasn’t won in six runs on heavy so the heavy in places is a concern. He’s a previous course winner but he doesn’t look amazingly handicapped and is yet to fully convince at the more extreme trips so there are enough negatives to go against him.

Ramses De Teillee

Beat reliable yardstick Yala Enki in November but has struggled twice in similar contests to this on his last two runs. He’s a previous course winner in a small field so perhaps the return to this venue will spark a return to form.

It's worth noting that trainer David Pipe is in excellent form at the moment, notably producing an A/E of 2.57 in the past 14 days. It’s possible that helps him return to form too but on the whole he remains a risky proposition.

Perfect Candidate

Perfect Candidate also looked a fair each way shout according to Instant Expert but he’s the complete outsider in the field. He’s gone up 8lbs for winning a course and distance handicap by a procession in which not many handled the conditions. He’s never finished worse than 2nd in three course and distance runs and the only real negative is this is a very exposed 14yo against some well handicapped rivals. If the ground was to deteriorate further he’d look a very interesting each way option but he’s going to need at least a couple of these progressive rivals to fail to give their running to win this.

Verdict

If the going was predominantly heavy on Saturday then Perfect Candidate would be the value each way call.

Notachance, Enqarde and Sojourn are the most interesting trio longer term. Notachance is really solid and looks to have a really good chance, Enqarde has a bit more risk attached but still has plenty of upside (potentially even more than Notachance) and Sojourn still looks well handicapped but was beaten last time out and does still have to prove he stays this extra couple of furlongs.

The value against the favourite though is surely Achille at 9/1. With that last run under his belt and a change to more positive tactics than were used last time he could potentially improve past Notachance, in the short term at least.

So Good For Honeyball and Dingle At Haydock On Saturday

The 2.40 at Haydock on Saturday, a handicap to be run over an extended 3m1f and shown on ITV4, looks a very interesting contest and hopefully one we can find an edge in using a selection of the brilliant data on offer through Geegeez Gold.

Pace

As with any race, pace and any potential pace bias is of great interest in figuring out this puzzle.

Using the Pace Analyser we can get a nice enough sample size on soft or heavy ground by using a slightly wider distance range (3m to 3m4f) and by including handicaps containing between 8 and 12 runners.

As is often the case, those nearer the pace tend to have an advantage over those that are ridden more patiently. This advantage is not necessarily considered by the bookmakers with several betting related metrics such as WIN PL and EW PL both showing that front runners and prominent racers produce far better returns than those that race in mid division or are held up.

Let’s have a look at the pace map for this race to see which runners might be advantaged by this bias.

We could be set for a contested pace here with Roll Again and Hill Sixteen often keen to get on with things. The four runners who are likely to be ridden most patiently in this race are all amongst the least well fancied in the market and if the two front runners to take each other on and compromise each other’s chances then from a pace perspective the most interesting runners in this contest are likely to be Lord Napier, Enqarde, Sojourne and Crixus’s Escape.

Instant Expert

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Instant Expert is always worth a look in every race, especially races that are set to be run on heavy ground as this one is.

There is a decent level of placed heavy ground form in handicaps here, Sojourn perhaps best on show with two places from two efforts in heavy. Roll Again is not only likely to be taken on for the lead but also failed to place on his only run on heavy ground. That run was two starts ago when beaten 97 lengths which is a massive worry but it was his first run for 248 days.

Hill Sixteen and Highest Sun seem reliable propositions in this race class. Lord Napier has failed to make the frame in three runs in this class and Crixus’s Escape is 0 from 2 in class 2 races.

Course handicap form is thin on the ground but Pop Rockstar does at least have a 50% place record at Haydock. Sam’s Adventure, Crixus’s Escape and Lord Napier all failed to place in their one handicap run here.

We have a distance range set in Instant Expert which is showing us data from runs between 3m and 3m2f. Sojourn now looks consistent both in the ground and at this trip with a 100% place record over these trips in handicaps from three runs. Lord Napier and Enqarde also have a 100% place record from fewer runs. Roll Again is once again a negative, as are Crixus’s Escape and Salty Boy.

Sojourn and Enqarde have both run well from limited opportunities in this sort of field size. Highest Sun, Pop Rockstar and Roll Again all get a ‘tick’ having provided more data. The negatives would be Crixus’s Escape and Lord Napier.

Highest Sun is well handicapped on older form as he’s now 8lbs lower than his last handicap win. The rest of the runners are either higher than their last winning marks or have never won a handicap before.

Now let’s take a look at the win data in Instant Expert:

Sojourn once again scores very well for both going and distance which proves conditions will be absolutely fine for him. We don’t know about the class or course for this runner but he’s potentially progressive in these conditions.

Sam’s Adventure and Hill Sixteen look largely good here whilst that comment could also apply to Pop Rockstar who generally scores well but has only won once from five attempts on heavy ground.

Lord Napier has a lot of warning signs across the board whilst it’s difficult to weight up Enqarde here with so few qualifying runs.

Other Angles

Roll Again has some interesting trainer snippets in his favour. For the distance range and last time out winners in handicaps his trainer has an IV of 1.64 and 1.51 respectively.

Three runners  whose trainers win more than their fair share of handicaps in general are Sojourn (IV 2.0), Crixus’s Escape (IV 1.78)  and Salty Boy (IV 1.67).

Sojourn is also highlighted for winning a race that was hot form. His win on seasonal debut in heavy ground has thrown up four subsequent winners and two next time out runners ups which shows that race in great light. He won that race by 15 lengths and although now up 11lsb, that could be lenient for winning a race of that depth in that kind of style.

The trainer and jockey combination for Crixus’s Escape is worthy of closer inspection. The Boanas/Quinlan double act have a 25% win strike rate over the past year and have produced an IV of 2.50. Sean Quinlan is also certainly a jockey in good current form, over the past 30 days he has generated a WIN PL of 30.25 if backed blind.

Lord Napier represents a trainer and a jockey who score well as individuals both over the long term (5 years) and the short term (30 days). You can see their stats below.

Verdict

Sojourn does look extremely solid from all angles here, representing Anthony Honeyball and Geegeez sponsored jockey Rex Dingle. It’s difficult to pick many holes in him and although he’s the early favourite, he still looks a fair price and should be perfectly positioned here. Picking a main danger is tough with many in with a decent chance but Crixus’s Escape does look interesting based on several angles.

Grounds For Concern For Leading Superior Mile Runner

There are plenty of big handicaps on Saturday and we also have Group 1 action so it should be a great day for betting whatever your race type preference. This week I’m going to look at another one mile Group race, having previewed the Celebration Mile last week at Goodwood. This week it's the Group 3 Superior Mile (1.45pm) at Haydock.

I’ll be using Instant Expert once again for this race but it’s worth noting that there are some more lightly raced types in this race compared to last week which means there will be a few more unknowns.

The Going

The ground is going to be a hugely important factor here with underfoot conditions currently described as soft, heavy in places on Friday afternoon. It’s due to be a dry weekend so we’ll probably be look at soft ground all over.

To get as much data into Instant Expert as possible I’m going to include data from ground described anywhere between good to soft and heavy.

Superior Mile Instant Expert

A few things initially stand out here. First of all Dark Vision has failed to place in all four starts on softish ground. He’d have half a chance on his best form but it looks as though a line can be put through this runner when there is cut in the ground.

Khaloosy and Kinross both have both encountered softer ground once and they both won those races.

Stormy Antarctic and Qaysar have both had plenty of experience in these kinds of conditions and both have strong records. Stormy Atlantic has placed in six of his eight runs on ground ranging from good to soft to heavy whilst Qaysar is three from five as far as placing is concerned. The pair both have three wins when the mud is flying.

The well fancied My Oberon and Top Rank are yet to run on softer than good whilst outsider Graignes is also an unknown as far as the ground is concerned.

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For those that are yet to run on softer ground we can get an insight into their suitability for testing conditions by using Instant Expert to look at sire data.

Superior Mile Sire Stats

Stormy Atlantic (Stormy Antarctic), Kingman (Kinross) and Dubawi (Khaloosy & My Oberon) all score well here and those sire stats aren’t contradicted by what we have seen from these offspring so far which is great. Comparatively the offspring of Dark Angel perform fairly poorly so Top Rank is far from guaranteed to enjoy these conditions.

Class

My Oberon has run once and placed once in class 1 races. Stormy Antarctic is by far the most experienced of these at this level with fourteen runs and six places. Dark Vision has two places from six attempts in class 1 races so he’s had plenty of tries at this sort of level without much success. Another strike against that runner.

Qaysar and Top Rank both step up in class whilst Khaloosy has failed to place in his only run in a class 1 with Kinross failing to place in two attempts in class 1 races.

Course

Not much course form on offer here but a big tick for Qaysar who has placed in two runs from three here. Both of those places were actually victories.

Distance

Top Rank has been most consistent at a mile to date, placing in all five starts, which we know were all at a lower level than this. At the other end of the scale Kinross and Qaysar have not been as consistent at this trip.

Field Size

Top Rank and Khaloosy have both placed in their sole start in fields of this sort of size. We have much more data for Stormy Antarctic, Qaysar and Dark Vision who are clearly comfortable in these mid sized fields.

A Look At The Form

We have plenty of question marks still as we only have limited data for the more lightly raced contenders.

Doubts Over Top Rank and Kinross Justified?

Top Rank and Kinross are two runners who are on the brink of having a line put through them based on the results from Instant Expert. Top Rank was beaten by a length in a handicap off a mark of 103 last time out. He’s now rated 106 which leaves him with 8lbs to find on the top rated runner here. He is lightly raced so may still improve but he’ll need to do so on ground he’s unproven on so comes with plenty of risk attached for a 6/1 chance.

Kinross has form on this sort of ground but it’s difficult to weight up as it was a wide margin maiden win. He did beat the now 97 rated Raaeb by 8 lengths (in receipt of 6lbs) so it was a smart effort on that occasion. His two runs this season have come in Group 1 company and he hasn’t been totally disgraced, especially as those runs came on faster ground. He’ll need to improve for the return to this ground though and he’s as yet unproven in ground quite this soft so backers are taking plenty of chances.

The Shortlist

There is little form that suggests Graignes is going to win this and the ground looks against Dark Vision so we are currently left with:

Khaloosy
My Oberon
Stormy Antarctic
Qaysar

First let’s look at the more exposed pair of Stormy Antarctic and Qaysar. Stormy Antarctic has had an official rating between 111 and 114 for the past 4 years which means we should know exactly how good he is. Instant Expert has shown that he is a horse with an okay record in better class races that relishes cut in the ground. On heavy ground he has form figures of 112, on soft ground he has form of 114 and that defeat came at the hands of Roaring Lion in a Group 1. Even on good to soft ground at a mile his form figures are 10222 with that blowout coming in the 2000 Guineas.

He clearly loves this ground but how good is he? He’s the horse to beat according to official ratings, although there are several possible improvers in this line up. He’s won two of his three starts at Group 3 level over a mile. His defeat came earlier this year at the hands of Century Dream. He carried a Group 2 penalty that day (which he doesn’t have to shoulder here) and that was his first start in almost 12 months so 4th was a decent enough effort. At Group 2 level at this trip he has finished 2nd and 3rd and the ground wasn’t quite as soft as he’d like on either occasion. He’s clearly good enough to win this sort of race and will be getting close to ideal conditions here.

Unlike Stormy Antarctic, Qaysar is completely unproven at this level. He’s improved each season though and is rated just 3lbs shy of Stormy Antarctic courtesy of winning a handicap over course and distance on testing ground by 4.25 length off a mark of 105. He’s failed to reproduce that form in two runs since but one of those runs was in a small field conditions race on fast ground and the other was in a York handicap off a mark of 111 and he was well enough beaten on his previous York run off a much lower mark. He’s probably not going to prove much better than his current rating but his best career run came here under similar conditions and a reproduction of that might see him reach the places.

Khaloosy and Oberon actually met last time in a Group 3 at Goodwood and My Oberon was 2.5 lengths in front of Khaloosy. My Oberon was also badly hampered by the winner so was value for further. Whilst My Oberon looked at home on the ground that day Khaloosy looked all at sea with the combination of fast ground and unconventional track clearly against him. Khaloosy is much better judged on his previous effort at Royal Ascot where he won the Britannia Handicap easily. That race has worked out well and beating Finest Sound (now rated 94) giving him 7lbs and a comfortable looking 4.5 length beating means he probably ran to a rating even higher than his current mark of 111 that day.

My Oberon has no soft ground form and although he’s bred to handle it, he’s previously been described by his trainer as ‘a fast ground horse’ so there have to be some reservations. Those same reservations don’t hang over Khaloosy whose sole run in testing conditions was by far his best.

Pace

We all know how important pace can be, especially in these smaller field races that can be run at a crawl on occasions. Here is the pace map for this race based on their last four runs:

Superior Mile Pace Map

As you can see, there doesn’t appear to be much pace in this contest so those that are able to sit handily could be advantaged as could be those who have proven themselves to be a bit ‘speedier’. Stormy Antarctic stays further than this so he’d ideally want a strong test and many of Qaysar’s best efforts have come when held up, although he is tactically versatile. My Oberon has a nice race style for this sort of set up but the question mark over the ground remains. Khaloosy was held up at Ascot but those were the right tactics to employ on the day and he’s been ridden much more prominently in his other runs.

Verdict

Assuming Khaloosy isn’t just much better at Ascot, he deserves another chance here and after just 4 career starts he should be able to improve past the extremely solid yard stick that is Stormy Antarctic. Meanwhile Qaysar isn’t a terrible bet for a place and could fill 3rd spot behind the other pair if things go to plan.