Tag Archive for: Monkfish

Lossiemouth team hoping ‘patient approach’ bears plenty of fruit

Connections of Lossiemouth are content to stick to the process and head to the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival after dazzling in her Trials day return to action.

Last year’s Triumph Hurdle scorer had not been seen since adding to her Grade One haul at the Punchestown Festival, with trainer Willie Mullins electing to tread a different path with his juvenile graduates this season and keep them under wraps until turning five at the turn of the year.

Sent to the Unibet Hurdle for her seasonal bow – on the same day stablemate and regular adversary Gala Marceau headed to Doncaster – she delivered a breathtaking display to dominate her elders and firmly dispatch Love Envoi, who was left trailing the best part of 10 lengths behind in second.

The manner of victory opened up the tantalising prospect of Lossiemouth taking on the likes of Constitution Hill and State Man in the Champion Hurdle.

However, Plan A has always been to head to the Mares’ Hurdle 40 minutes later on the opening day of the Festival, where as a best price of 4-5 favourite, she would have a fine chance of following in the footsteps of Vroum Vroum Mag (2016) and Benie Des Dieux (2018) by winning the Grade One contest for owners Rich and Susannah Ricci.

“The team were pretty happy she was in great form beforehand and she clearly was, but I think the manner of the victory surprised all of us,” said the owners’ racing manager Joe Chambers.

Lossiemouth impressed in the hands of Paul Townend
Lossiemouth impressed in the hands of Paul Townend (David Davies for The Jockey Club/PA)

“That was great to see and hopefully the patient approach we have taken with her will reward us as well as the season goes on.

“That (Mares’ Hurdle) has been the plan all along and continues to be the plan today. Things can change, but I think we will be leaning towards the Mares’ unless a number of things occurred to change our mind. She’s odds-on for one and 8-1 for the other.”

Meanwhile, there was a positive bulletin on Monkfish, who also sports the famous pink and green silks and made a winning return from 272 days off the track in the Galmoy Hurdle.

Rich Ricci has owned some star performers over the years
Rich Ricci has owned some star performers over the years (Nigel French/PA)

A Cheltenham Festival winner in both the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, injury has meant he has not visited Prestbury Park since he was victorious in 2021.

He holds entries for both the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup this time around and although connections are set to make a late call on which race gets the nod, a return to fencing for a crack at the blue riband is a real possibility for the 10-year-old.

“It was magic to see (him win the Galmoy) and he did well on his return,” continued Chambers.

“Touch wood he has been sound since and we will try to keep him sound between now and March.

“Our inclination has always been to go back over fences, but let’s see how things shape up and the respective races shape up between now and March. A lot could change, but if we can keep him in one piece we look forward to running him wherever that may be.

“It could be (the Gold Cup) and that’s what we would like to do, but we are still six and a half weeks out from that and we will probably leave that decision to the week of Cheltenham.”

Monkfish returns in style to claim Galmoy glory

Monkfish threw his hat into the Stayers’ Hurdle ring with a battling comeback victory in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park.

It is fast approaching four years since the Willie Mullins-trained chestnut edged a thrilling Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The following season, he looked a potential superstar in the making after winning three Grade Ones in his first four races over fences, including the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase back at Prestbury Park.

However, he suffered a shock defeat at the hands of stablemate Colreevy at the 2021 Punchestown Festival and was subsequently sidelined for two years.

He came within half a length of making a successful return at Fairyhouse last spring, but was well beaten back in Grade One company at Punchestown and had another nine-month absence to overcome ahead of this three-mile Grade Two.

A 13-8 shot in the hands of Paul Townend, Monkfish was settled at the rear of the four-runner field for much of the way before being delivered with his challenge in the home straight.

There was little to choose between the quartet on the run to the final flight, but it was the 10-year-old who finished strongest to score by five and a half lengths from the front-running Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero of six years ago, Summerville Boy.

Sponsors Paddy Power reacted by slashing Monkfish’s Stayers’ Hurdle odds to 16-1 from 66-1, although the champion trainer’s son and assistant Patrick insists plans are fluid at this stage.

Paul Townend and Monkfish after winning at Gowran Park
Paul Townend and Monkfish after winning at Gowran Park (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mullins said: “He hasn’t missed any training (this season), we just hadn’t got him out, so we were happy his fitness would hold up. We thought he was a Gold Cup horse once upon a time, but that is a great start to his season and hopefully he can build on it now.

“We were supposed to start him at Tramore on New Year’s Day but he got a little bang, so we decided to wait for this. He is in the Gold Cup and Stayers’ Hurdle but all options are open and it will be a case of what race suits, when he is ready.

“We won’t rush him back and Cheltenham is only seven weeks away, so he’ll probably go straight there. The decision regarding which race he runs in will be a Willie special.

“Ruth Dudfield does a fantastic job in keeping him sound and we’ll just hope he is OK in the morning. Touch wood, at his age, he will stand up to it.”

Classic Getaway, Monkfish and Bronn clash at Tramore

Willie Mullins has a trio of chances in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore on Monday.

Classic Getaway was a Listed scorer on his seasonal debut at Thurles in November, winning over two miles and six furlongs ahead of Haut En Couleurs and French Dynamite.

He was ridden by Danny Mullins on that occasion and will be once again in the Tramore Grade Three won four times in a row by dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo.

“Danny sticks with Classic Getaway having won with him already this season, he’ll have race fitness on his side,” said the Closutton trainer.

Monkfish is another runner for the all-conquering stable, a nine-year-old who returns to chasing after his successful novice career over fences was cut short due to injury in 2021.

He returned to action at the tail end of last season with two runs over hurdles and will now tackle fences for the first time in several years.

“Monkfish goes there with probably the highest rating over jumps, but it will be his first run this season in very testing ground,” said Mullins.

“Maybe he’ll love the ground, but we’ll see how he is.”

Bronn is the third Mullins runner and looks to return to form after a beaten run at Wexford last time where he met with a minor injury.

Mullins said: “Bronn came back in with an injury after his last run, I’m hoping to put a line through it. He’s another horse that will love these conditions.”

Away from Tramore, Mullins has a pair of good chances at Fairyhouse where Cheltenham Festival runner-up Allegorie De Vassy contests the Grade Three John & Chich Fowler Memorial EBF Mares Chase alongside stablemate Instit.

The Fairyhouse event will be a renewal of a rivalry between the two horses that saw them finish first and second respectively in the T.A. Morris Memorial Mares Chase at Clonmel in early November.

“Allegorie De Vassy shows a liking for Fairyhouse, the conditions should really suit her,” Mullins said.

“Instit is another one who has good Fairyhouse form so she should be a good second string to Allegorie De Vassy.”

Monkfish delights in comeback second to Asterion Forlonge

Asterion Forlonge denied Monkfish a dream return to action when winning the Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

The enigmatic winner was running over hurdles for the second time since pausing a chasing career that brought about mixed fortunes with some good performances but also several falls.

Monkfish, also trained by Willie Mullins, had been absent from the track for nearly two years due to injury but was a very highly regarded novice chaser prior to that.

Asterion Forlonge was the 11-8 favourite under Paul Townend as Monkfish went off at 11-4 and was ridden at the rear of the field by Danny Mullins.

Monkfish gave chase after the last fence and was closing as the line approached, but could not pass Asterion Forlonge and missed out by half a length.

Asterion Forlonge ridden by Paul Townend (left) win the Rathbarry and Glenview Studs Hurdle at Fairyhouse
Asterion Forlonge ridden by Paul Townend (left) win the Rathbarry and Glenview Studs Hurdle at Fairyhouse (Healy Racing/PA)

David Casey, Mullins’ assistant, said of the grey victor: “We’re delighted with him, he improved plenty for his run in Thurles and I think he’ll improve plenty from today as well.

“He did everything right, he’s had his issues and we’re delighted to get his head back in front today.

“He’s in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown and the plan at the moment is to keep him over hurdles for the time being. All going well I’d imagine he’ll go there.”

On Monkfish he added: “We’re thrilled with him. He had plenty of build-up work done, but he’ll improve again for it. Hopefully he’ll be sound enough to go to Punchestown as well, he’s in the same race.

“The idea is to keep him over hurdles for the end of the season and then maybe go back chasing next year. Hopefully he’ll come out of it well and we’re absolutely thrilled with the way he ran.”

Janidil fell with the race all but won in the Grade Two McInerney Properties Fairyhouse Chase.

Easy Game winning the McInerney Properties Fairyhouse Steeplechase
Easy Game winning the McInerney Properties Fairyhouse Steeplechase (Healy Racing/PA)

The 8-11 favourite for Mullins and Mark Walsh, the bay looked set to put a slightly disappointing Ryanair run behind him when galloping clear a long way from home.

Only stablemate Easy Game was in touch with him over the final fence, where he crumpled on landing and gifted the race to Townend’s mount – who had won the contest twice previously.

“Obviously we’re just fortunate we had one coming behind when Janidil took an unfortunate fall,” said Casey.

“It’s great for Easy Game to win the race for a third time. Obviously he had a little bit of luck on his side, but that’s what you need sometimes.

“He’s wonderful, I thought the ground would probably have gone a little bit soft for him today as he does like better ground. He was just there to pick up the pieces.”

On Janidil he added: “He looks fine, he looked like he jumped it well but just didn’t get out the landing gear or slipped on landing.

“Mark had given him a great ride and it looked like he was going to go and win the race so it’s very unfortunate for him and connections.”

French Dynamite hunting Grade Two honours for Morris

French Dynamite bids to cap a fine season with victory in Monday’s McInerney Properties Fairyhouse Chase at Fairyhouse.

Mouse Morris’ eight-year-old started the campaign with a win over hurdles at Thurles, but has since proven a consistent performer over the larger obstacles.

Runner-up in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November, he ran well for a long way when fifth in the Savills Chase over the Christmas period before finishing second to Fakir D’oudairies when returned to an intermediate trip in Thurles’ Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase.

He was last seen again running with real credit to finish fourth in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and his handler would love to see conditions dry out ahead of his Easter Monday assignment.

Mouse Morris with Mark Walsh
Mouse Morris with Mark Walsh (PA)

“He will need the ground to dry up because it is very tacky up there at the minute,” said Morris.

“I’m hoping it will and he seems none the worse for Cheltenham. He ran a good race in the Ryanair, the ground was a bit tight and it will depend on the ground again. If it dries up he will have a chance, but it’s a bit testing there at the minute, which wouldn’t be up his street.

“He’s run some great races and is very consistent and long may it last. It will be nice to win a graded race.”

Willie Mullins is responsible for three of the six runners that go to post in the Grade Two event and Easy Game appears the Closutton first string following victories over Kemboy at both Listowel and Gowran in the autumn.

The mount of Paul Townend has won 11 times over the larger obstacles and as well as looking to extend his current winning streak, is searching for a third-straight victory in this two-and-a-half-mile contest.

Easy Game looks for his third straight Easter victory at Fairyhouse
Easy Game looks for his third straight Easter victory at Fairyhouse (Niall Carson/PA)

Royal Rendezvous and Janidil are the others lining up for the Irish champion trainer, with the latter looking to return to the form that saw him score at Gowran in February following a below-par showing at the Cheltenham Festival.

“He didn’t jump great at Cheltenham,” said Frank Berry, racing manager for Janidil’s owner JP McManus.

“He was a bit disappointing there and his jumping let him down, but Willie thinks he has him back in good form and we’re hoping for the best.”

The green and gold of McManus appears to have solid representation in the Donohue Marquees Juvenile Hurdle, where again Mullins holds all the aces at the top of the market.

Blood Destiny was underwhelming when sent off 3-1 for the Triumph Hurdle, but returns to the scene of his prior 18-length romp attempting to get back on track, while stablemate Gust Of Wind ran with real credit in that Festival contest to finish fourth and is an improving juvenile.

Blood Destiny ridden by jockey Patrick Mullins (second right, red silks) in action as they compete in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival
Blood Destiny ridden by jockey Patrick Mullins (second right, red silks) in action as they compete in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival (David Davies for The Jockey Club)

McManus’ hopes, however, are pinned to Tekao – who was sent off the 3-1 favourite for the Fred Winter at Prestbury Park and before that finished third in a Dublin Racing Festival Grade One behind stablemates Gala Marceau and Lossiemouth.

“He didn’t behave himself particularly well before the race at Cheltenham and got lit up down at the start,” added Berry.

“He only jumped OK and was a bit disappointing, so we’re on a recovery mission and we’ll see how we go. You would hope he will run well, but he has to come back from a disappointing run.”

The leading owner is also represented by Padraig Roach’s Cougar – a Deep Impact colt who is two from three over obstacles.

Jockey Mark Walsh in the winners enclosure with trainer Padraig Roche and Frank Berry after winning the Value Cabs 3-Y-O Hurdle on Cougar during day two of the Ladbrokes Festival of Racing at Down Royal Racecourse (PA)
Jockey Mark Walsh in the winners enclosure with trainer Padraig Roche and Frank Berry after winning the Value Cabs 3-Y-O Hurdle on Cougar during day two of the Ladbrokes Festival of Racing at Down Royal Racecourse (PA)

“He jumped very well early on and probably got a few soft touches, but for whatever reason he didn’t perform very well at Leopardstown,” said Berry. “He’s after having a nice break, so we’re hoping he will run well.”

Dual Cheltenham Festival winner Monkfish looks to defy a 713-day absence when he makes his eagerly-awaited return in the Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Hurdle.

He forms one half of a formidable hand for Mullins in the Grade Two contest, with the master of Closutton also saddling Asterion Forlonge, who will bid to go one better than his Thurles second on reappearance.

Fil Dor (Gordon Elliott), Beacon Edge (Noel Meade) and HMS Seahorse (Paul Nolan) all disappointed in the Coral Cup when last sighted but attempt to bounce back here, while Paddy Corkery’s Master McShee completes the sextet taking part.

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Favourites – Bankers or Blowouts?

Pretty much the last spectator-attended action of last year was the Cheltenham Festival and, regardless of the 20/20 hindsight about whether or not it should have had the green light for crowds, this year's event will be contested behind closed doors. That it will be contested at all, and that the entirety of the preceding seasonal narrative has played out - weather notwithstanding - is a cause for celebration during these times where not a great deal has been worthy of such emotional uplift.

With just 21 days until tapes rise for the opening skirmishes of the 2021 renewal of #CheltFest (I can hear the grinding of traditionalists' teeth as I pen that incendiary soshul shorthand!), time is nigh to fix mental bayonets and consider, in the round, what may transpire three weeks hence.

In this piece, we'll look at the shorties: those favourites whose current top quote is 5/4 or tighter. Using the age old hackney of 'banker or blowout', and mindful that for geegeez readers (and value players everywhere) the very notion of a banker is anathema, I'll offer a view as to which side of the back/lay divide I'd currently like to pitch my punting tent.

A recent history of short priced favourites at the Cheltenham Festival

First up, a short history lesson. The main lesson of history is "don't believe the hype", a message that resonates far beyond Festival jollies but which was poignantly reprised twelve months ago when, of the six favourites sent off at 5/4 or shorter, five were beaten. Ouch.

If that was a storm in the 2020 teacup, how does a more extensive tract of past performance influence our appetite for piling in at the sharp end?

As can be seen from the table and summary row above, there have been good times and bad times since 2009, with the management summary being that this is one of the less bludgeoning methods of wagering self-harm. But, of course, not all shorties are made equal; so is there anything to be gleaned from dividing what is already a very small dataset still further?

Despite the answer to that question almost certainly being 'no', for the record here are a couple of logical splits:

A lot of data manipulation and a very short read later we can now say the answer is certainly 'no'; which is unsurprising given the maturity of, and liquidity in, these markets. Nevertheless, when the media cries "certainty" and the market posits 4/6, punters are well served to beware.

The full list of qualifying runners is below, and may bring back painful memories for some, yours true included!

2021 Cheltenham Festival Shorties: Banker or Blowout

There is a quintet of ante-post shorties for this year's renewal of the Fez (yet more trads reaching for 'off' switch!) and they shape up price wise like this:

Time to consider each horse's respective merits...

Arkle Challenge Trophy: Shishkin

Form this season

Unbeaten in three facile wins in novice chases, most recently in a brace of Grade 2's, with no horse yet landing a glove on him. In spite of the small fields - he beat a trio of rivals in each - the form is solid and the times have been good. His fencing style is economical and comfortable: he has barely put a foot wrong thus far.

Shishkin is now unbeaten in seven completed starts, having fallen on his hurdling debut.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Sent off 6/1 joint-third favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, he was hampered by a faller as the race was hotting up, but overcame that impediment to hold the late charge of Champion Hurdle fancy, Abacadabras. That was his only race at Cheltenham.

Obvious dangers

For a while this looked a matter of 'how far' assuming good health and a clear round, but the emergence of Energumene - an energumence? - as comfortably the best of the Irish has livened up the pre-race debate immeasurably.

On form, Willie Mullins' charge is a serious threat. But he does have a lot more questions to answer: how will he handle Cheltenham? Does he need to lead and, if so, how will he handle Allmankind? If he doesn't need to lead, he has yet to prove his effectiveness from further back. And how will he handle drier ground if indeed it pans out that way?

None of these are of concern to Shishkin, who looks sure to get his favoured lead - either from Allmankind, or that one and Energumene - and who will have every chance having dealt with all underfoot terrain, longer trips, and the Cheltenham contours already.

If Energumene and Allmankind lock horns on the speed, they may both pay for those exertions in the manner that Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir did in the 2018 renewal of this race, setting things up for a 14-length rout for Footpad. Shishkin is undeniably more of a horse than Footpad, and a tear up on the front end could see him record the largest winning distance of the meeting.

But if Energumene is ridden more conservatively, there are two possible dangers. The more obvious is that, in a fair fight, the Irish raider is simply better than the domestic challenger; the less obvious is that, by marking each other, the top two grant Allmankind - a very good horse in his own right - an easy and unassailable lead.

The other fly in the Shishkin ointment is the form of the Nicky Henderson yard, on the face of it at least: a single winner since 10th February, from 28 runners, is not the sort of record a Champion Trainer needs going into the biggest gig of the year. But, of course, we're not yet at the eve of Cheltenham and, in any case, that headline figure masks what have been largely acceptable (if not altogether pleasing) efforts from his Seven Barrows squad.

A place strike rate of 36% is more compelling, and a majority of runners have performed at least close to market expectation. Notably, the big guns - Chantry House, Champ - have run very well. Still, better will have been expected overall and better will be needed if Shishkin's price is not to flirt with odds-against between now and mid-March.

Verdict

Shishkin looks a superb athlete and a very fast horse. His trainer is having a wobble just now but knows better than anyone - even Willie M - how to campaign a precocious two-mile chaser. Having ticked the race conditions boxes, and with a pace setup almost certain to play to his A game, he looks a 'banker' (relatively speaking).

*

Mares' Hurdle: Concertista

Form this season

Lightly raced, as is often the modus operandi with Willie Mullins' better mares, Concertista has run just twice this term. She beat the same mare, Minella Melody, by nearly two lengths in a Grade 2 in November and then by more than six lengths in a Grade 3 at the turn of the year.

The hallmark of those runs, and indeed her run style generally, is being held together off the pace before cruising through to prevail comfortably. In so doing it is hard to peg the level of her form exactly, always leaving the impression there is more in the tank.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Presented off a layoff of eighteen months prior to the 2019 Mares' Novices Hurdle, Concertista saw off all bar Eglantine Du Seuil as a 66/1 chance that day. She had twenty rivals behind her and only a short head to the one in front. That singular race in the 2018/19 season meant she retained her novice status the following campaign and, lining up in the same race last March, she outclassed a similar 22-strong field by an emphatic dozen lengths.

This will be her third visit to the Festival and she offers very solid credentials on that score.

Obvious dangers

It very much depends who lines up on the day. If the ground dries out, it might be that connections of Honeysuckle decide to run over this two-and-a-half mile trip rather than the extended two of the Champion Hurdle. That would change the complexion markedly.

Likewise, though to a lesser degree, if Roksana stepped this way rather than to the Stayers' Hurdle, she would present a fierce challenge.

But there is very little depth to this field beyond the aforementioned three: they bet 9/1 Dame De Compagnie (who has been chasing, has four entries, and is far from a certain runner in this), 14/1 Verdana Blue (more likely for the County Hurdle, I think), and 20/1 bar (including Elimay, who more likely goes to the Mares' Chase).

Verdict

If Honeysuckle goes to the Champion Hurdle and if Roksana goes to the Stayers' Hurdle, Concertista could be the shortest priced favourite at the meeting. If Honeysuckle comes here, she may be 4/7 or so.

This is a ground dependant conundrum: drying ground would increase the chance of Honeysuckle running here, but decrease the chance of Roksana doing likewise. Concertista is expected to run here regardless (though she is still entered in both the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Chase).

The way to play this, if you're so inclined, is to back Concertista at 6/5 and Honeysuckle at 5/4, both non-runner no bet. Most likely, you'll have 6/5 about an odds-on shot and money back on the other; second most likely is that you'll have 5/4 about a 4/7 shot and a poor value back up ticket. That may not sound exciting right now but it is odds on to look value on the day.

*

Brown Advisory (ex RSA): Monkfish

Form this season

Another Willie Mullins inmate, Monkfish has been imperious this season in brushing aside talented opposition with relish. Monkfish with relish: tasty!

Lousy puns aside, he won his beginners' chase in a canter before being merely pushed out to record a pair of Grade 1 successes in recognised trials, by three lengths and then eleven lengths from the talented Latest Exhibition. He is by some margin the pick of the Irish challengers.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Not only is Monkfish unbeaten in three chase starts this term, he is also the reigning Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle champ, earning a hard-fought verdict over... you guessed it, Latest Exhibition. That was his only visit to Cheltenham so he is unbeaten in one both at the track and at the Festival.

Obvious dangers

It is quite hard to find 'obvious' dangers to Monkfish. He has blitzed the best of the Irish this season, and he did the same to the best of the British and Irish here last season over hurdles.

Of course, he's a novice and the fences have to be jumped, so that's a possible issue.

In terms of potential rivals, Royale Pagaille has looked a mud machine this winter, but that one has numerous other possible engagements, principally the Gold Cup itself. Moreover, the two horses are in the same Ricci ownership and will surely attempt to divide and conquer.

The only other possible issue is ground: good to something would present a challenge met only once previously, when Monkfish was beaten into second on debut in a 2m2f bumper at the Punchestown Festival in May 2019.

Verdict

It's double digits bar Fishcake - as Nicky Henderson once flippantly (and very amusingly, imho) labelled the jolly - and Royale Pagaille; and, with options over longer and shorter for shying rivals, this could cut up dramatically. Monkfish looks very strong in this division.

*

Champion Chase: Chacun Pour Soi

Form this season

Three runs, three wins, in Grade 2 and Grade 1 (twice) company, beating the right horses with nonchalance. He travels like a dream, jumps very well and, if he faces the starter at Cheltenham, will have managed more runs this season than in the previous two combined.

His form this campaign is well clear of any other two mile chaser on either side of the Irish Sea.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

It was all going so well, but then... Chacun Pour Soi was pulled out at the eleventh hour last year and, as such, has yet to race outside of Ireland. That leaves question marks not just over the track but also about travelling generally: he did come over on the boat last year but was withdrawn with a foot abscess.

Whilst it may very much be a case of abscess making the heart grow fonder (sigh), it also nods to this fella's hitherto fragility. Against that we do have a trio of scores, and an absence of scares, so far this term. But we have still to conjecture about his ability to handle the idiosyncrasies of Cleeve Hill.

Obvious dangers

He himself is the obvious danger. Will he stay in one piece? Will he handle the travel? Will he handle the track?

Of the other horses in the race, each has eroded his or her case at some point: Arkle winner Put The Kettle On was bashed by Chacun, albeit after what was a very hard race at Cheltenham first up this season, and she may bounce back training up to the race; Altior is patently not the horse he was; Politologue has a rock solid Champion Chase profile but not against the calibre of CPS; and Defi Du Seuil is a binary chap, more zeros than ones in recent times.

The leftfield option is First Flow, who was exhilarating at Ascot last time. He'd need supplementing, very likely, but he'd also need to improve another eight pounds on current ratings - less likely.

Verdict

Chacun Pour Soi has to contend with himself. His form is in another postcode to his rivals in a market still trying to get him beaten with the wonderful but past his best Altior and a sizeable group of second division chasers. A horse like Fakir D'Oudairies, who is 20/1 NRNB in a place because he's more likely to fly Ryanair, might be a feasible hail mary in a race loaded with if's and but's.

Those imponderables extend to the favourite which makes him unplayable outright at the prices for all that he is the outstanding logical choice. [I did flag him in a derivative market at more appealing odds, as I don't really seeing him finishing second or third. He will win, or something will have happened between now and the finish line, is my wagering opinion.]

*

Marsh: Envoi Allen

Form this season

Three runs, three wins this campaign have meant Envoi Allen is now eleven from eleven lifetime under Rules (plus one point to point), all of them as favourite and only once at odds-against (the 2019 Cheltenham Champion Bumper). The middle leg of his 2020/21 hat-trick was a comfortable verdict in the Grade 1 Drinmore, and it was little more than a schooling round against Grade 3 rivals last time. I wasn't as impressed as some with that most recent effort for all that he still bolted up.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Two tries at the track, both at the Festival, have yielded two victories; the Bumper score was by a narrow margin, his Ballymore victory more unequivocal. He beat 13 rivals the first day and eleven the second and, well, he just keeps winning.

Obvious dangers

This looks another case of getting to the start line. Unlike CPS, EA has been slated to start twice and has started - and finished first - twice. He's had an incident-free prep thus far and has jumped really well in his three chase races to date.

Still, those fences need to be jumped, and he has to arrive pristine at Prestbury. It is hard to nominate dangers thereafter.

Verdict

The Brown Advisory would have meant a likely clash with Monkfish, the Arkle a ding dong with Shiskin, Energumene and Allmankind. The Marsh feels a bit like the coward's route for a horse boasting his CV. More generously, it is the best opportunity to extend the winning sequence.

You can bet double figures any other horse likely to run in this race - single digit quotes about Energumene and Monkfish don't even appeal NRNB especially - and there has to be some each way value, though I've yet to go through the fine detail to find it.

What is clear is that, on form, Envoi Allen is different kit.

**

Summary

Last year, five of the six horses sent off at 5/4 or shorter were beaten. This year, we look set to have at least five runners priced in that same bracket. Mishaps aside, it is hard (for me, at least) to make credible cases to oppose any of the quintet.

But mishaps do happen: in 2020, Paisley Park had a palpitation, Patrick Mullins was carelessly ejected from Carefully Selected (very harsh on the jockey, apols, poetic license for a play on words), Tiger was Roll'ed over by a heretofore unconsidered French assailant, Defi did the Defi thing, and 'mon dieu' Benie was beaten by Honey.

Any horse could come down or have a heart murmur in the heat of combat; Shishkin could get beaten by Energumene; a previously unsighted dark horse could emerge in one of the novice chases (though that feels unlikely).

In short, stuff could - and at some point probably will - happen. But I'd be hard pushed to bet against any of this quintet in the win slot if they trotted round at the start. That's my view, uncontroversial as it is. What about you? Which horse(s) would you hang your hat on? And where are you looking to get a hotpot beaten? Leave a comment and let us know.

Matt

 

 

Monday Musings: Willie Mullings and A Plot Awry

The Dublin Racing Festival, two days of the best jump racing in Ireland and perfectly placed five weeks before Cheltenham to offer definitive clues about the likely destination of many of its major prizes, did its job this weekend, writes Tony Stafford.

It also made the more than considerable likelihood that Willie Mullins will see off Gordon Elliott as champion trainer once again in their homeland into a formality. Fifteen races, mostly Graded and bolstered by some very valuable and fiercely contested handicaps, were framed. Mullins won nine of them, four of seven on Saturday and five from eight yesterday.

Elliott won one, in his juvenile hurdle niche where he still has the stranglehold on Triumph Hurdle calculations after Mullins decided that he needed to give French Aseel a little more time to settle into the stable routine. Ruby Walsh, the most brilliant race reader (Flat and jumps to be fair) I’ve yet to encounter on television let us in on that secret when discussing the Elliott winner Quilixios, who has supplanted French Aseel as second favourite at 6-1 behind his unbeaten stable-companion Zanahiyr, a 5-2 chance.

But elsewhere at least three Mullins Cheltenham candidates cemented their claims on major prizes next month. Last year’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner, Monkfish, maintained his unblemished record over fences in the 2m 5.5f novice and is now an 11/10 shot for the Festival (RSA as was) Novices’ Chase over 3m1f. If you think he’ll go instead in the shorter Marsh Chase you can have 7/1. Don’t take it because he won’t!

Saturday’s bumper winner, Kilcruit, bred by Willie Mullins’ mother, is now the 6-4 favourite for the Festival Bumper after a 12-length romp under the breeder’s grandson Patrick in Saturday’s Grade 2 event. The only problem with taking that 6-4 is that there are sure to be other Mullins runners in the race; but they will need to be good to beat this one.

Incidentally, when he made his debut at Clonmel last season, Kilcruit was actually beaten, and at the time was trained by Willie’s brother and the rider’s uncle Tony, who had such a spectacular summer with the staying German-bred mare Princess Zoe, winner of the Group 1 Prix Du Cadran at Longchamp last autumn.

Kilcruit turned up in Willie’s string for his seasonal debut at Navan in December where he won by almost ten lengths and, up in grade, had even more real estate and a good deal of extra goodwill to spare over Saturday’s rivals.

A third certain Festival favourite will be yesterday’s easy novice hurdle winner, Appreciate It, now only 7/4 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. All three of these will have been heavily linked in multiple bets but the bookmakers are far less likely to be wrong-footed by these as they clearly were over the weekend by a very well-planned and almost as well-executed three-horse bet that could easily have repercussions for the far-sighted originators, or unscrupulous conspirators, according to where you stand.

Late on Saturday night, bookmakers, among whom Bet Victor have come forward to declare their hand, were assailed online by punters all wanting to back three horses, I would imagine in singles and linked multiples.

In Saturday night’s early betting they were all outsiders with only one – the middle leg, Blowing Dixie, at Southwell – having any realistic credentials according to yesterday’s Racing Post analyses.

Anyway, the three horses were firstly Fire Away, a 20/1 chance in the newspaper’s betting but double that the night before. In his last runs in Ireland he had been 7th of 15, beaten 38 lengths at 20/1; 14th of 25, beaten 25 lengths at 66/1; 8th of 11, beaten 26 lengths at 16/1; 6th of 8, beaten 39 lengths at 8/1; and PU of 16 at 8/1.

Those runs in Ireland took place between November 19th 2019 and March 2nd 2020. Transferred to Daragh Bourke’s Scottish stable he had three runs in late summer. They were 10th of 15, beaten 51 lengths at 50/1; 7th of 10, beaten 61 lengths at 20/1; and, last time out on September 16th, he started 50/1 and pulled up in a field of 11. Over the period his rating had fallen from an initial mark of 116 to 98.

Yesterday he was making his debut for a new stable, having joined Laura Morgan’s team near Melton Mowbray from Bourke only 11 days before the race. “He had two horses for sale and I originally had a different one in mind but chose him. I’m delighted I did,” she told Racing TV, understandably as he won the race unchallenged by 18 lengths at even money!

Leg two, Blowing Dixie, had won four races at Southwell, all of them over a mile and a half when trained by Jane Chapple-Hyam but, even so, for an 80-rated four-year-old Fibresand specialist to realise as much as £50k at last year’s July Sales at Newmarket might seem rather surprising.

Fetch it he did and, switched to the ultra-shrewd Iain Jardine, Blowing Dixie began a busy autumn schedule running six times between early September and late November. His card reads 7th of 7, beaten 25 lengths at 80/1; 8th of 9, beaten 22 lengths at 66/1; 7th of 8, beaten 28 lengths at 10/1; 10th of 13, beaten 21 lengths at 66/1; 5th of 6, beaten 16 lengths at 66/1; and finally 8th of 9, beaten 25 lengths at 17/2.

Starting for Jardine on a mark of 80, by yesterday he was down 15lb to 65. A 12/1 shot in the Racing Post, he started 4/6 and won by an easy two and a half lengths. His most obvious market rival, Drew Breeze, winner of two of his previous three races, started slowly and was never nearer than fifth of the eight runners, beaten 16 lengths at 13/8.

Daragh Bourke also figured in the third member of the overnight triumvirate. A former £260,000 buy from Tattersalls Cheltenham sale in 2017 after winning an Irish point and Galway bumper, Gallahers Cross didn’t win for Nicky Henderson and was sold on for £40k.

Between June 2019 and January last year he ran five times for Bourke beginning with an 8th of 9, beaten 48 lengths at 7/1, when the gloss of the decent placed Henderson form had not properly worn off. Next came an 8th of 10, beaten 62 lengths at 20/1; 11th of 12, beaten 54 lengths at 28/1; 7th of 7, beaten 39 lengths at 16/1; and, finally, last month, 7th of 8, beaten 50 lengths at 9/1. This time the official reaction to the string of poor performances was a reduction from 115 to 90.

So it is possible, even on the scantiest of scrutiny, to discern a pattern. Each of the three horses had a series of very poor runs from their respective (two, close together) bases in Scotland in the latter half of last year, and all three dropped just over a stone in the ratings and suddenly found form enough on the home gallops to persuade certain people to want to back them, and all on the same day.

The only thing that went wrong – possibly denying winning trebles into the thousands of odds against – was that Gallahers Cross, a 4-5 shot at the off, could finish only fourth of the seven runners, behind an all-the-way Paul Nicholls top-weight winner, Get The Appeal. Like Gallahers Cross, Get The Appeal is a son of Getaway.

As someone who set up a multiple bet many years ago which foundered at the final leg of four (when a future – two runs later! – Group 1 winner ridden by a multiple champion jockey finished unplaced), I can sympathise with those who thought their big pay day had come. On the other hand, any one of them whom I happen to know who didn’t bother to let me in on it – serves you right! But then, as with our try all those years ago that involved physically covering 300 betting shops, rather than pushing a few buttons on computers, two out of three isn’t bad.

Finally, it just remains to question how can any horse beat Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle after Saturday’s romp in the Irish Champion, a victory far more emphatic than last year’s? Tough, with plenty of stamina and unbeaten in one point-to-point and ten runs under Rules, surely the Henry De Bromhead mare can give Rachael Blackmore the distinction of being the first woman to win the Champion Hurdle. Sorry Epatante, unless Nico can contrive to make this a speed rather than a stamina test, her crown definitely looks to rest precariously on her head.

As Liverpool FC are finding, it’s one thing to win a championship, quite another successfully to defend it.