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Stat of the Day, 27th October 2018

Friday's Pick was...

1.20 Doncaster : Lola's Theme @ 13/2 BOG non-runner (withdrawn early on race day, citing the going) 

Saturday's pick runs in the...

3.10 Cheltenham :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Foxtail Hill @ 4/1 BOG  

...in a 7-runner, Class 2, Handicap Chase for 4yo+ over 2m on Good ground worth £37140 to the winner...

Why?

This 9 yr old gelding won this race last year off a mark 2lbs higher than today and although he hasn't raced in the last 189 days...(a) neither have most of his rivals and (b) when winning this last year, he was coming off a break of 192 days, so we know he can go well fresh.

He has 4 wins and 2 places from 17 efforts over fences and these include of relevance today...

  • 4 wins, 2 places from 13 in handicaps
  • 2 wins, 2 places from 8 on Good ground
  • 2 wins from 8 at 2m/2m0.5f
  • 2 wins, 1 place from 7 here at Cheltenham
  • 2 wins, 1 place from 7 with jockey Sam Twiston-Davies
  • 1 from 2 at Class 2 (but has won at Gr 3!)
  • and 1 from 1 over course and distance (last year's race)

His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies' handicap chasers are going well right now winning 6 of 22 (27.3% SR) for 4.59pts (+20.9% ROI) over the last 30 days, but that's no real surprise to me, because since 2013 during the May to October period, his 5 to 10 yr old male handicap chasers have won 56 of 243 (23.1% SR) for 166.9pts (+68.7% ROI) when rested for at least 16 days.

Of these 243 runners and of note today...

  • those ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies are 40/163 (24.5%) for 135.7pts (+83.3%)
  • on Good ground : 31/160 (19.4%) for 51.5pts (+32.2%)
  • at odds of 5/2 to 5/1 : 36/112 (32.1%) for 63pts (+56.2%)
  • in October : 27/93 (29%) for 70.6pts (+185.7%)
  • those returning from a break of 5 to 8 months are 12/53 (22.6%) for 23.3pts (+43.9%)
  • at Class 2 : 6/40 (15%) for 5.93pts (+14.8%)
  • 9 yr olds are 11/38 (29%) for 70.6pts (+185.7%)
  • those competing for a prize worth £25k to £40k are 3/16 (18.75%) for 14.46pts (+90.4%)
  • previous course and distance winners are 5/15 (33.3%) for 25.88pts (+172.5%)
  • and here at HQ : 3/10 (30%) for 15.32pts (+153.2%)

...AND...if you wanted just a handful of bets each year with a high strike rate and high yield, then Sam Twiston-Davies on those priced at 5/2 to 5/1 on Good ground or softer in September/October is 16 from 40 (40% SR) for 37.17pts (+92.9% ROI) with those coming off a break of 5 to 8 months winning 4 of 12 933.3%) for 9.64pts (+72%)...

...giving us... a 1pt win bet on Foxtail Hill @ 4/1 BOG, as offered by half a dozen firms at 5.25pm on Friday evening. To see what your preferred bookie is quoting...

...click here for the betting on the 3.10 Cheltenham

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

Missed Approach can land Sandown’s prestigious Gold Cup

A stunning six-timer on Wednesday, followed by a faultless display from a Mullins monster on Thursday, leaves poor old Gordon Elliott facing yet another frustrating finish to an otherwise sensational campaign.

Now apparently lacking the ‘zip’ for two, Mullins stepped Faugheen up to three miles to contest the Champion Stayers Hurdle. Sent to the front by young David Mullins, the 10-year-old absolutely tanked along, jumping like a stag throughout. He had the field in trouble from some way out, with only Cheltenham Stayers winner Penhill, putting up any sort of resistance. But Faugheen was not in the mood for company, and given a shake of the reins, pulled effortlessly clear for a 13-length success. Penhill and Shaneshill made it a one-two-three for Mullins.

He received a hero’s welcome in the winners’ enclosure, where an emotional owner, Rich Ricci, spoke to At The Races: “I’m absolutely delighted. It’s been a tough old season for him and for us. All of a sudden, he’s done that today and it’s magic. It’s credit to Willie as well. He’s amazing, as is everyone in the yard. While Cheltenham may have been disappointing, this makes up for it. This is fantastic and the reception he got here was brilliant. It’s a magic day.”

Little more than an hour after fantastic Faugheen, Punchestown was treated to fabulous Footpad. Foot perfect throughout, this outstanding novice chaser romped home by 12 lengths. His stunning display put the Closutton master more than 420,000 euros clear of a shell-shocked Gordon Elliott. Even a victory for the mighty Samcro over Mullins’ Melon in the Champion Hurdle today is unlikely to put the brakes on the Closutton express. Somewhat resembling King Canute, Elliott looks set to drown under this tsunami of Mullins winners.

Punchestown concludes on Saturday, as does the UK Jumps season, with a cracking finale at Sandown. Nicky Henderson will be crowned Champion Trainer for the second year running and his star chaser Altior will no doubt thrill an expectant crowd in the Celebration Chase.

The result of the Bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase looks far less assured, with a competitive field of 20 likely to go to post. Known as the Whitbread in the good old days, it’s a prestigious race that’s been won by some of the best. Arkle and Mill House landed the pot in the 1960s, whilst Diamond Edge became a Sandown superstar as the 70s became the 80s. Dessie won the race in 1988 and a few years back we were treated to a thrilling victory from a personal favourite of mine, when Tidal Bay hauled top-weight to an astounding 15-length success.

Following a first fence mishap at Aintree, Blaklion is tasked with heading the handicap for this assignment. Though he’s undoubtedly a warrior in testing ground, his chances of success under top-weight are surely enhanced by the current drier conditions. Nevertheless, this is a tall order, with only Tidal Bay lumping 11-12 to victory since the turn of the century. Only two others have managed to win with more than 11-stone on their backs in the past 20 renewals. The 2016 RSA winner is undoubtedly a classy staying chaser, and though he heads the betting, I fancy he’ll struggle under the welter burden.

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The same can probably be said of Regal Encore, who is a horse that has continued to surprise me this winter. His run in the Ladbrokes Trophy (finished third) was most unexpected, and that he then won a competitive handicap at Ascot in February proved that on a going day, he has a touch of class. Nevertheless, he’s now on a career high mark of 154 and though going right-handed will suit, he can be prone to jumping errors, when getting very low at his fences. It’s tough to be confident about this fella, though his odds of 16/1 are tempting.

The rest of the field carry 11 stone or less, and the trends suggest that this is where we should look in our search for the winner.

Missed Approach is currently tussling for favouritism and was last seen winning the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival. Noel McParlan will once again be onboard and claims a valuable 5lbs. He gave the horse a beautifully judged ride at Prestbury Park, leading from the off, yet saving enough for a titanic battle up the final hill. The Cheltenham success followed a wind operation and though the eight-year-old is up 8lbs for that victory, he is only 1lb higher than when running a cracker in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase back in November.

Along with Blaklion, Nigel Twiston-Davies has Bigbadjohn towards the head of the market. Formerly trained by Rebecca Curtis, this nine-year-old unseated his rider in the Topham last time, having previously won at Kempton. A mark of 138 lands him an attractive race weight of 10-3, though it has to be said that he’ll need to improve on what he’s shown so far this season. Despite his prominence in the market, he’s not one for my shortlist.

The Young Master won this race in 2016 and is now on a 13lb lower handicap mark. Fancied to go well in the Scottish National (tipped up by me), his race only lasted to the first, where Sam Waley-Cohen was bounced out of the saddle. Prior to that he put in a reasonable performance at Cheltenham, though will appreciate the better ground at Sandown. There’s no doubt that his jumping is a concern, but he now looks to be incredibly well handicapped.

Nicky Henderson has had a terrific winter and will be hopeful of a decent performance from Sugar Baron. He ran well in last year’s race, before being swamped by challengers after the last fence. A year older, it’s likely he’s a little stronger and certainly a little more experienced. He clearly performs well at the track, having finished a close runner-up in the London National back in December. This better ground is a must for the son of Presenting and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t on the premises.

Paul Nicholls has captured two of the last six and is likely to let Present Man take his chance. He’ll be partnered by winter sensation Bryony Frost. She rode him to victory in the Badger Ales at Wincanton last November on soft ground, though whether she can guide him to see out this extended trip has to be a concern. He didn’t appear to get home in the Ladbrokes Trophy, and was pulled up in this race 12 months ago. Despite all that, I fancy he’ll go well under the talented claimer.

Another horse that enjoys his trips to Sandown is Rathlin Rose. Trained by David Pipe, the 10-year-old has won three times at the course, and though he’s up 5lbs since his win at Ascot in March, a mark of 133 appears reasonable. This will be his toughest task to date and he’s no progressive youngster. Nevertheless, his course form gives hope of a strong performance.

Competitive as ever, this valuable and prestigious handicap is a tough one to call. I fancy that Missed Approach will go very close, especially with the assistance of 5lb claimer Noel McParlan. Those that take to Sandown often return and go well. Benbens and Sugar Baron may well go close, but it’s Rathlin Rose that I’ll be siding with for the each-way money.

Best of luck to those taking a punt.

Curtis takes the high road to Season Salvation

Joe Farrell caused a 33/1 upset when defeating Ballyoptic by a nose in a thrilling finish to the Scottish Grand National.

It’s been a challenging winter for Pembrokeshire trainer Rebecca Curtis, with the number of horses in her yard tumbling from around 50 to little more than 20. Winners have been hard to come by, so this success is a huge tonic for herself and the team.

“It’s amazing,” said Curtis, speaking to ITV Racing just after the result of the photo-finish was announced. “We’ve had a difficult season and to end it like that is just brilliant for us. I thought it was a big ask, he’s just a novice but he stays all day. It’s my first time in Scotland. I own a quarter of him, and thankfully it’s paid off. I’m drawing a line under this campaign, though this is a great way to finish.”

Adam Wedge was the victorious jockey and was clearly thrilled to have held-on in a pulsating finish. He’d kicked on with three fences to go and looked likely to win by some distance. But Tom Bellamy got a hell of a tune out of Ballyoptic late-on.

“He’s stuck his neck out,” said a thrilled and relieved jockey. “I could feel Tom Bellamy getting to me all the way, but he's tried his heart out. To come here today not knowing whether he would stay, it’s fantastic.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies will surely have Aintree in his sights for the runner-up. Ballyoptic remains on a workable handicap mark, though may have to be campaigned accordingly next winter. A temporary switch to hurdles would not be a surprise. Vintage Clouds had led for much of the race but had to settle for third. Doing Fine arrived late on the scene to snatch a fourth-place finish. Vicente had been looking to make it three in-a-row, and ran another cracker at the track, finishing a fine fifth.

As the Jump season draws to a close, action on the Flat stepped up a gear, with informative meetings at Newmarket and Newbury.

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Roaring Lion was all the rage in the Craven Stakes last Thursday, having proved himself to be one of the leading juveniles last summer. But it was Godolphin blue that shone brightest, as the Charlie Appleby-trained Masar romped to an impressive nine-length success. William Buick set the fractions and kicked for home almost three furlongs out. The chasing pack were left toiling with the winner instantly cut to single figures for the 2000 Guineas in a fortnight.

Appleby said of the winner: “William said he quickened twice, before the Dip and then up the hill. He’s got quicker but he’s also got stronger. People asked why we gave him a run in Dubai, but that was just to take the gas out of him and put some manners on him. He was always going to be a three-year-old and he looks to be a nice horse. We were confident coming into this race that we were a player and that he’d either win or finish second to Roaring Lion. The Guineas route will be foremost in our sights now.”

Just 24 hours after the Masar romp, we witnessed another stunning performance, this time at Newbury, when John Gosden’s Lah Ti Dar crushed a field of fillies over 1m2f. Stunningly bred, by Dubawi out of Dar Re Mi, this filly could be special. Apparently weak at two, this was her debut on the track and Frankie Dettori was impressed with the performance. She’s now third-favourite, behind a pair of O’Brien fillies, for the Oaks at Epsom.

Saturday at Newbury was supposed to revolve around a resurgent Expert Eye in the Greenham Stakes. Sir Michael Stoute’s colt had looked a future star when winning the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last August, but then flopped on his final juvenile outing in the Dewhurst. Sadly, he again fluffed his lines, though ran with more promise, finishing runner-up to James Garfield. Keen from the off, he came under pressure two furlongs out, and though gaining late-on, he never looked likely to get to the winner. He may well improve for fast ground, though it’s likely that he is not the star many believed him to be. The winner is undoubtedly good, though looks shy of top-class.

Raid was something of an eye-catcher back in fourth. Trained by David Simcock and owned by Qatar Racing, this was only his second career start and having been outpaced mid-race, he stayed on strongly in the latter stages. He should improve a bundle for this.

A little more than six exciting months lie ahead in this latest Flat campaign, and at its conclusion, many of the season’s best will head to America for the 35th Breeders’ Cup World Championships. This year’s glittering season finale comes from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. A few days ago, organisers announced details of qualifying races to be run around the globe.

“As international participation increases for Thoroughbred racing on a global scale, the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues to support horsemen and racing stables with important incentives, such as automatic starting positions and free entry fees, to qualify for the World Championships,” said Craig Fravel, Breeders’ Cup President and CEO. “We also recognize the outstanding work by our 28 racetrack and racing association partners around the world who conduct these Challenge races and thank them for their support and commitment to the series.”

There will be 11 such races held in the UK, five in Ireland and a further four in France. Four qualifiers take place at Royal Ascot, including the Queen Anne Stakes and the Diamond Jubilee. The Irish Champion Stakes is another notable entry on the list, along with elite juvenile events at Longchamp, the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere and the Prix Marcel Boussac. The winner of the Darley Yorkshire Oaks from York, for example, would automatically qualify for the Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs.

It’s a laudable effort by the Breeders’ Cup guys to promote the valuable and prestigious event across the globe, and may well tempt some to renew those passports for an early winter jaunt across the pond.

Weighing up the Festival Handicap eye-catchers

The Cheltenham Festival handicap weights were announced yesterday. The Irish landed seven out of 10 last year, including all three on the final day of the meeting. I thought for today’s piece I’d take an early glance and try and pinpoint a few eye-catchers.

Singlefarmpayment came within a whisker of winning the Ultima Handicap Chase 12 months ago and runs off just a 3lb higher mark (145) this time. He was in the process of running a huge race in the Ladbroke Trophy when coming down three-out, and in his most recent outing again blundered badly before being pulled up in the Cotswold Chase. That had all the hallmarks of a warm-up run with this race in mind. He has a cracking record at Cheltenham, and if he cuts out the mistakes looks sure to go close.

The Irish haven’t got the best of records in this, but Gordon Elliott had a sensational Festival last year, and has numerous chasers primed for the trip. Monbeg Notorious and The Storyteller are a pair of novices that have been going well throughout the winter. The former has been allotted a mark of 152 having won three of his five chase starts. There’s no reason why a sounder surface shouldn’t be ideal, being a seven-year-old by Milan, out of a Presenting mare.

The Storyteller struggled in Grade One company last time, though was only seven-lengths behind Monalee at the finish. His pedigree (by Shantou out of a Bob Back mare) suggests he’ll appreciate a trip, and a mark of 147 looks interesting. He’s always looked a talented sort and there’s a chance that better ground may see a marked improvement in performance.

Coo Star Sivola has finished third and fourth on his two previous visits to the Festival. If he rocks-up here off a mark of 142 he’s sure to go close.

The Irish ended a lean spell in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, when Tully East landed the spoils last year. The upper handicap limit has been raised from 140 to 145 for this year’s race, with De Plotting Shed given 143 and installed as favourite. His first run over fences was a cracker back in October when he chased home Presenting Percy. That fella is now the RSA favourite off a mark of 157. Better ground, coupled with this intermediate trip, look ideal for this Gordon Elliott chaser.

Any Second Now is another Irish raider of interest. He gets in off the top mark of 145, having spent much of the winter trying to keep tabs on Footpad over an insufficient minimum trip. He did finish a creditable second to Invitation Only back in December when running over this distance, and I fancy he has more to give.

I’m also a fan of Mount Mews, who is yet to fulfil his huge potential. He’s a giant son of Presenting out of a Bob Back mare and was last seen struggling to land a blow on Black Corton in the Reynoldstown at Ascot. Better ground and this trip look ideal, but his mark of 140 leaves Ruth Jefferson sweating as to whether he’ll get in.

The Pertemps Final, like all the Festival handicaps, will prove hugely competitive. A pair that interest me are Calett Mad for Nigel Twiston-Davies and Sort It Out for Eddie Harty. The former reverted to hurdling this winter with a fair degree of success. He won at Cheltenham in October before disappointing behind On The Blind Side in November. He then had a wind-op before a return to the track at the end of January. Beaten some way in an Albert Bartlett trial, his sights appeared to have been lowered when impressing in a Pertemps qualifier at Musselburgh.

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In March 2015, Sort It Out finished second in the County Hurdle at the Festival. He was then stepped-up in trip to win at the Punchestown Festival, defeating some decent types in the process. He missed the 2016/17 season and returned over fences this winter, when campaigned at the minimum trip. Never sighted in four outings, he was suddenly switched to hurdles in February when making eye-catching late headway in a Pertemps qualifier at Punchestown. He’s been given a mark of 141, and though now an exposed looking nine-year-old, he’s the type of JP McManus contender that warrants close inspection. The bookies are taking no chances as he’s currently priced up at 16s or less. Nevertheless, that makes him a decent each-way proposition.

Tully East is expected to head for the Brown Advisory Chase on the Thursday of the meeting, and having won at the Festival last year, looks likely to be sent off favourite. He’s off a mark of 148, which is plenty high enough when comparing to Road To Respect (A Gold Cup contender) who won last year’s renewal off 145.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Le Prezien would interest me more if arriving here. He’s run several crackers at the track over the winter and has been dropped a couple of pounds to 150 following his defeat in December, when stumbling badly at a crucial point in the Caspian Caviar Chase. Nicholls also has Romain De Senam entered off a mark of 142. He’ll need decent ground and is not certain to make the cut.

Another of interest is Foxtail Hill for Nigel Twiston-Davies. He won at the track in October and having since battled through ground he hates, is now back on an attractive mark of 143.

Gordon Elliott’s Squouateur is currently priced up as favourite for the Kim Muir, though may well miss the cut. Mall Dini is again interesting, having finished a close fifth in this 12 months ago (on the same mark of 143). He won the Pertemps in 2016 and as a returning Festival winner he must be considered a serious contender.

Cogry remains on a fair handicap mark of 138 and could run well for Nigel Twiston-Davies. He beat Singlefarmpayment at the course back in October and clearly enjoys the stiff finish. He’s proven over further and is adaptable with regards to ground conditions.

I also feel the need to mention Road To Riches, who is entered here off a mark of 142. Twice placed at the Festival, he’s now an 11-year-old and clearly past his best. If he arrives here, and if he gets an interesting jockey booking, and if the ground runs decent, then he would become a tempting each-way punt. There’s a lot of ifs, but he’s worth looking out for.

The Irish love the County Hurdle, with Willie Mullins having a particularly good record. The Closutton master has nabbed four of the last eight and has this year’s favourite, Max Dynamite. The eight-year-old hasn’t been seen over obstacles since finishing down the field in the Galway Hurdle last August. He’s only won once over the birch in eight career starts and though this is Mullins were talking about, I find myself looking elsewhere.

Of more interest is the young novice Whiskey Sour, also trained by Mullins. He’s two from three over hurdles and was last seen finishing fourth to Samcro at Leopardstown. He’s not good enough to win a Supreme or a Ballymore, and a mark of 141 makes him an attractive prospect for this handicap. He comfortably accounted for the Galway Hurdle runner-up, Swamp Fox, last summer and will therefore likely appreciate better ground at Cheltenham.

I’d also be interested in the Paul Nicholls-trained Divin Bere and Nick Williams’ Flying Tiger. The pair fought out last year’s Fred Winter and look reasonably handicapped at 141 and 140. Ground looks key to the Nicholls runner, whilst Flying Tiger has performed well in all conditions over the winter.

Gigginstown have a strong record in the Martin Pipe. Gordon Elliott’s Champagne Classic won last year and in 2014 Don Poli landed the prize. Sir Des Champs also won for connections in 2011 and I fancy Hardline could run a huge race if taking up this option. His pedigree suggests he’ll cope with a step-up in trip despite having performed well over the minimum throughout the winter. He’s four from nine over hurdles and his mark of 140 looks tasty enough to me.

Finally, the Grand Annual appears to be a race target for Don’t Touch It, trained by Jess Harrington (won last years with Rock The World). He’s yet to spark this winter but is expected to improve plenty for better ground.
Vaniteux is also of interest, having seen his handicap drop from 158 to 151. He moved to David Pipe at the start of this campaign, and it’s likely that this race has always been on the radar. He needs decent ground to perform at his best. If he has conditions to suit, he should go close.

Grand National Weights – A Tiger and a Lion catch the eye

The Grand National weights were announced last night, with recent Cotswold Chase winner Definitly Red top of the pile on 11-10.

Mightily impressive at Cheltenham last time, he was pulled-up early last year when impeded at Bechers. Though clearly talented, he’s not the biggest, and carting top-weight looks a tall order.

Bristol De Mai was allotted a pound less, but trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said the seven-year-old will not be running. Instead, he is likely to contest the Betway Bowl on the opening day of the Aintree meeting.

Gigginstown supremo Michael O’Leary has had plenty to say about the handicapper’s decision-making process and the treatment of his Irish raiders. The team have numerous entries as they look to add to the success of Rule The World in 2016. Outlander tops the Gigginstown contingent on 11-08 but is unlikely to head to Aintree, with Punchestown the preferred option. Sub Lieutenant and Valseur Lido come next, though it’s Tiger Roll at 10-09 and Thunder And Roses at 10-01 that catch the eye. The former heads to Cheltenham for the Cross Country next month having been an impressive winner of the four-miler at Prestbury Park last year. The latter was fourth in the Irish National last April and looks to be fairly treated on that performance.

Minella Rocco will head for the Gold Cup before Jonjo O’Neill decides on an Aintree bid. He’s been given 11-07, which looks fair enough for a horse that finished second in last year’s ‘blue riband’ at Prestbury Park. Jonjo was hardly exuding confidence when saying: “He’ll go for the Gold Cup first and we'll see what happens. You'd think he would make a decent National horse, but he's been a bit disappointing really and is not as economical as you would like. He's good when he's good, but you need a bit more consistency for the National.”

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Nigel Twiston-Davies was more bullish over race favourite Blaklion (given 11-06) when saying: “It would have helped if they had compressed the weights as usual, but it's not a huge weight range these days and Red Rum won with 12st. Quite a lot of horses, like Neptune Collonges and Many Clouds more recently, have won with big weights too. He’ll be ridden differently. I don't think stamina is an issue. He kicked on a mile out last year and was beaten only eight lengths. There's no blame on Noel [Fehily], but if he didn't kick on that early maybe that eight lengths could be found.”

Gordon Elliott has a strong team entered, with Noble Endeavor, Cause Of Causes and the aforementioned Tiger Roll catching the eye. The former is yet to be seen this season but will have a prep run prior to a National challenge. C Of C was runner-up 12 months ago and will again head to Cheltenham prior to Aintree. “You’d have to imagine Cause Of Causes is the principal one,” said the County Meath handler. “He looks like he has a lovely weight again and I thought he ran well on his first run back. He seems to come alive in the spring and I’d imagine he'll go the cross-country route at Cheltenham.”

The Last Samuri again showed his love of the course when running a cracker behind Blaklion in the Becher Chase in December. He’s been given a chance with 11-04, with his trainer Kim Bailey saying: “His weight is what we were expecting given his rating. If the weights stay as they are and don't rise, I think he would have more of a chance. I have been very happy with him since Cheltenham and he will have a prep race somewhere between now and Aintree. We have got several options, but there are no firm plans as we will have to see what the weather does first.”

Willie Mullins has a leading contender in Ladbroke Trophy winner Total Recall. Opinion varies as to the strength of that performance and it’s tough to judge whether 11-01 is a fair weight or not. Nevertheless, he’s currently second-favourite for the race and is without doubt a progressive sort. Patrick Mullins was representing his father and said: “It'll be hard for him with more than 11st, but he has an improving profile which makes him very interesting. He's a fantastic jumper, he handles big handicaps, and he should stay.”

Evan Williams has produced several National contenders in recent times, including Aintree regular State Of Play. Despite being a quirky character, I can’t help being drawn to Buywise who has been allotted 10-04. Down the field behind Rule The World when last tried in 2016, he’s since run a cracker last April at Cheltenham in the Ultima Chase and cruised to victory in a Veterans’ Chase at Sandown. Two-time National winning jockey Leighton Aspell has been aboard on his last two outings. Should the pair hook-up at Aintree, they’d be an interesting each-way proposition at big odds.

Others that caught the eye included Abolitionist (10-04), Three Faces West (10-03) and Final Nudge (10-02). The field is sure to alter plenty between now and five-day confirmations on April 9. The final declarations are made at 10am April 12. A maximum field of 40 go to post.

Shantou can Fly in Ascot Handicap

Finding a race to preview has proved difficult for this weekend. Un De Sceaux only needs to get round to win the The Clarence House Chase at Ascot. Whilst there’s every chance that the Haydock card will be lost to the weather. I’ve eventually come down in favour of the ultra-competitive Bet365 Handicap Chase at Ascot.

It lacks the cachet of a Clarence House or a Peter Marsh, but it’s competitive, and is certain to go ahead. Though Ascot could get a fair amount of rain overnight, the ground is currently described as soft, good to soft in places. The likelihood is that we’ll have testing conditions by the time racing kicks off early on Saturday afternoon.

Seven of the last 10 renewals have been run in testing ground (last year’s meeting lost to frost). Paul Nicholls has won three of those, with two victories coming in the last three. Hauling lumps of weight has surprisingly not proved to be such an issue. Four of the last 10 winners carried more than 11 stone, with Regal Heights in 2008, the last to win off top weight. Royal Regatta came close to repeating the feat in 2016 when runner-up to Dare Me.

Eight-year-olds have the strongest record in recent times, though only just. Dare Me was 12, and horses aged seven and 10 have took their fair share. Experience therefore appears quite important, with only a single six-year-old successful in the last 15 renewals.

That’s quite a concern for race favourite Acting Lass. Harry Fry’s seven-year-old is very lightly raced, with just five outings under rules. He is two from two over fences, with those victories coming in four-runner affairs. He jumped slightly out to his left at Leicester last time, which is another worry. There’s no doubting this fella is talented, and his form stacks up. He’s also proven in the conditions, but there’s enough niggling doubts for me to take him on.

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Guitar Pete will look to continue the improvement which saw him land a valuable handicap at Cheltenham last time. Certainly fortunate when Starchitect tragically broke down that day, nevertheless, Nicky Richards has this grey back to his best after several years in the wilderness. It may sound blatantly obvious, but jumping is key to this fella. He’s not the biggest, and can get in close at times. But the ground will certainly aid his chances, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t go close.

Nigel Twiston-Davies is having a terrific winter, especially with his chasers. Almost a 20% strike-rate from 160 runs over fences is a tremendous return for the Cotswold trainer. Robinshill is another that lacks experience with just four outings over fences, though he did have 16 runs over the smaller obstacles. He’s won his last two at Ludlow, though the strength of those victories is more than questionable. This is a whole lot tougher, though the step up in trip is probably in his favour. On the face of it this looks a tough ask. But the trainer has a habit of getting more than most from these young chasers in this type of race.

His neighbour, Fergal O’Brien, is also having a cracking season and has Master Dee entered. He finished a place behind Guitar Pete back in September at Market Rasen, though is far better off at the weights. He’s a consistent sort having never finished out of the first three in 20 career starts under rules. Rarely tried in testing conditions, that may prove an issue. But his handicap mark remains competitive, and his only previous trip to Ascot resulted in a victory over San Benedeto. He’s certainly a major player if lining up.

Shantou Flyer returned to form last time at Cheltenham, and both ground and trip should prove ideal. Mitchell Bastyan is booked to ride, and his 5lb claim could prove crucial. His last run at Ascot was in the Grade One Ascot Chase last February when runner-up to Cue Card. A repeat of that performance would see him right in the mix, and I fancy he’ll run a huge race.

Should the 12 declared make the start line, this should prove a cracking renewal. I’ll be siding with Shantou Flyer for yet another Cotswold trainer, Richard Hobson. If he doesn’t make the start, my cash will switch to the vastly improved Guitar Pete. Still on an upward curve, there’s more to come from the Nicky Richard’s trained eight-year-old.

Best of luck to those having a punt.

Stat of the Day, 1st January 2018

Saturday's Result :

11.30 Lingfield : Joegogo @ 10/3 BOG 2nd at 11/4 Led ridden over 1f out, headed inside final furlong, no extra closing stages.

Our first pick for 2018 runs in New Year's Day's...

2.35 Cheltenham :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Arthurs Gift @ 7/2 BOG

A Class 2, 4yo+ Handicap Hurdle over 3m on Heavy ground worth £15,640 to the winner...

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Why?

This 7 yr old gelding has won each of his last three starts, all under today's jockey Tom Humphries (claiming a useful 7lbs) including a course and distance success here in this grade last time out, 17 days ago, taking the horse's record under today's conditions to...

  • 3/5 in fields of 8-11 runners & 3/4 after a break of just 8-30 days
  • No run on heavy, but 2/4 on soft & 3/3 with today's jockey
  • 2/3 at Class 2 & 1/1 here at Cheltenham
  • 1/1 at this trip, leading to 1/1 over C&D (that win LTO!)

His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has a good record on heavy ground with his handicappers winning 36 of 228 (15.8% SR) for 57.6pts (+25.3% ROI) over the last 5 years, including...

  • males : 35/209 (16.75%) for 71.3pts (+34.1%)
  • December to March : 31/187 (16.6%) for 72.8pts (+38.9%)
  • at trips of 3m to 3m2f : 13/82 (15.9%) for 24.8pts (+30.3%)

AND...males running 3m to 3m2f in December to March are 12/60 (20% SR) for 42.3pts (+70.6% ROI)

Also, since 2010, Nigel's LTO-winning handicap hurdlers are 27/118 (22.9% SR) for 23.7pts (+20.1% ROI) when sent off at odds ranging from 13/8 to 8/1 (we should be safe there!), from which...

  • those who ran in the last 45 days are 24/101 (23.8%) for 22.4pts (+22.1%)
  • males are 25/100 (25%) for 27.9pts (+27.9%)
  • at 3m/3m0.5f : 6/25 924%) for 18.8pts (+75.2%)
  • at Class 2 : 8/24 (33.3%) for 20.8pts (+86.8%)
  • and on heavy ground : 5/20 (25%) for 6.8pts (+34%)

...giving us... a 1pt win bet on Arthurs Gift @ 7/2 BOG which was widely available from Betfair & Boylesports at 7.15pm on Sunday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 2.35 Cheltenham

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

Stat of the Day, 1st January 2018

Saturday's Result :

11.30 Lingfield : Joegogo @ 10/3 BOG 2nd at 11/4 Led ridden over 1f out, headed inside final furlong, no extra closing stages.

Our first pick for 2018 runs in New Year's Day's...

2.35 Cheltenham :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Arthurs Gift @ 7/2 BOG

A Class 2, 4yo+ Handicap Hurdle over 3m on Heavy ground worth £15,640 to the winner...

Why?

This 7 yr old gelding has won each of his last three starts, all under today's jockey Tom Humphries (claiming a useful 7lbs) including a course and distance success here in this grade last time out, 17 days ago, taking the horse's record under today's conditions to...

  • 3/5 in fields of 8-11 runners & 3/4 after a break of just 8-30 days
  • No run on heavy, but 2/4 on soft & 3/3 with today's jockey
  • 2/3 at Class 2 & 1/1 here at Cheltenham
  • 1/1 at this trip, leading to 1/1 over C&D (that win LTO!)

His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has a good record on heavy ground with his handicappers winning 36 of 228 (15.8% SR) for 57.6pts (+25.3% ROI) over the last 5 years, including...

  • males : 35/209 (16.75%) for 71.3pts (+34.1%)
  • December to March : 31/187 (16.6%) for 72.8pts (+38.9%)
  • at trips of 3m to 3m2f : 13/82 (15.9%) for 24.8pts (+30.3%)

AND...males running 3m to 3m2f in December to March are 12/60 (20% SR) for 42.3pts (+70.6% ROI)

Also, since 2010, Nigel's LTO-winning handicap hurdlers are 27/118 (22.9% SR) for 23.7pts (+20.1% ROI) when sent off at odds ranging from 13/8 to 8/1 (we should be safe there!), from which...

  • those who ran in the last 45 days are 24/101 (23.8%) for 22.4pts (+22.1%)
  • males are 25/100 (25%) for 27.9pts (+27.9%)
  • at 3m/3m0.5f : 6/25 924%) for 18.8pts (+75.2%)
  • at Class 2 : 8/24 (33.3%) for 20.8pts (+86.8%)
  • and on heavy ground : 5/20 (25%) for 6.8pts (+34%)

...giving us... a 1pt win bet on Arthurs Gift @ 7/2 BOG which was widely available from Betfair & Boylesports at 7.15pm on Sunday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 2.35 Cheltenham

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

Tizzard Star to Shine at Kempton

The King George VI Chase from Kempton is the highlight of the Christmas period, and one of the most prestigious events of the winter.

Its roll of honour is the stuff of legends, simply oozing quality, jam-packed with steeplechasing heroes. Jumping goliaths, Mill House and Arkle, won the race in the 60’s. In the 1970’s Pendil and Captain Christy were simply sensational. In the early 80’s the Kempton masses were thrilled by Silver Buck, Wayward Lad and Burrough Hill Lad. It was then the turn of the glorious grey Dessie.

Desert Orchid dominated the Kempton Christmas cracker in the latter part of the eighties, with four victories. Only in 1987 did the bold front-runner find one too good, when beaten by the Francois Doumen-trained Nupsala. He was taken-on for the lead for much of that renewal, and arguably set the race up for the French raider.

Doumen was back again at the start of the 90’s with The Fellow, followed closely by a quick-fire double from another wonderful grey, One Man. Best Mate added his name to the wondrous list with victory in 2002, and Kicking King struck for Ireland in 2004 and 2005. Then came Kempton’s greatest, Kauto Star. Five victories from 2006 to 2011 saw him surpass the achievements of Dessie. He truly is Kempton’s King George King.

Last year’s race went to Thistlecrack, a horse with the potential to emulate some of those former greats. A novice at the time, he was scintillating throughout the three-mile contest. It was a display of pace and authority that left his talented opponents powerless. The rigours of a King George aren’t for every staying chaser, but it proved ideal for Thistlecrack. Injury cut short his first season over fences, and his return over hurdles at Newbury proved underwhelming. Nevertheless, the sounds from Team Tizzard are positive, and if he’s back to the form of 12 months ago, he’ll prove hard to beat.

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The favourite for Boxing Day’s showpiece is the Nicky Henderson-trained Might Bite. He too looked sensational at Kempton 12 months ago. That is, until a final-fence blunder sent him crashing to the turf when clear of the field in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. He put that mishap behind him when winning at Cheltenham and Aintree, and returned to action in November with a comfortable victory at Sandown.

He looks hugely talented, though this is by far his toughest test to date. He got the better of Whisper as a novice chaser, and you’d fancy he has the potential to maintain that advantage. Whisper was beaten 30-lengths and 46-lengths by Thistlecrack over hurdles, and though comparison of codes isn’t always reliable, I’d fancy Might Bite needs to improve a ton to beat a match-fit Tizzard stable-star.

Bristol De Mai is second-best in the betting, having demolished the opposition in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. In testing ground he absolutely rocks, but can he prove as dominant on a sounder surface? There’s also a feeling that Haydock brings out the best in the Twiston-Davies chaser, and his record at the track certainly supports that theory. He came up short in the Gold Cup back in March, and again failed to spark at Aintree the following month. He may be a vastly improved horse after a summer in the field, but I’m not convinced. I also have issues with his jumping, which will be severely tested in a ‘full-throttle’ King George. Unless we get a substantial amount of rain over the weekend, he’s not for me.

I’m anticipating a huge run from Fox Norton. He was runner-up in the Champion Chase and filled the same spot in the Tingle Creek earlier this month. The tempo of this race should prove ideal, though whether his stamina will last into the latter stages is the crucial question. He’s never looked a true two-miler, always running-on strongly at the end of such events. Arguably his best performance to-date came in the Melling Chase at Aintree over 2m4f, when running away from Sub Lieutenant. He’d looked out-paced in that until getting on top in the latter stages. He certainly wasn’t stopping at the line.

Though Whisper ran a cracker in the Ladbrokes Trophy (Hennessy), I cannot see him turning the tables on Might Bite. He was clearly second-best to his stable companion last season, and I cannot see that changing. I’ve always thought that Whisper, though clearly a talented horse, is just shy of the very best. He may well run admirably, but I’d be shocked if he wins.

Repeat victories are common in the King George, and I’m convinced that a back-to-his-best Thistlecrack will be too hot to handle. Might Bite is a chaser of huge potential and may well pick up the pieces should Tizzard’s star fail to shine. Of the remainder, I fancy Fox Norton to run a huge race at a trip that should be to his liking.
Enjoy this Christmas cracker. And best of luck to those having a punt.

Caspian Caviar Gold Cup – The time is right for Le Prezien

Paul Nicholls aims for another successful Saturday, having last week captured the Tingle Creek at Sandown with Politologue.

The Ditcheat handler tops the training charts for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with four victories. Those wins have come since 2009, and he saddled four-year-old Frodon to victory 12 months ago. Tomorrow he heads to Cheltenham with a trio of challengers, including the top pair in the betting, who also sit at the head of the handicap.

Five-year-old Clan Des Obeaux tops the weights and arrives off the back of a decent performance at Haydock. He defeated Vintage Clouds in testing conditions despite having to give his opponent 7lbs. Prior to that, a couple of scrappy jumps late-on allowed Whisper to get the better of him at Kempton. He’s certainly got the stature for fences, but you get the feeling that this fella remains a work in progress. He looks ungainly at times, struggling to get that big frame organised at his fences. The famous hill should suit, but he’ll need to avoid errors in the latter stages if he’s to win this.

Le Prezien was third in the BetVictor last month behind Splash Of Ginge and Starchitect, but is slightly better-off at the weights. He wouldn’t want it as testing as last time, though does go well in soft ground. He clearly likes the track, and this trip looks his optimum. He’s a classy and consistent sort, and with Barry Geraghty on top, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t go close again.

Nicholls also has Romain De Senam among the 11 entrants. Though his breeding suggests testing conditions would be fine, his trainer has said that soft ground is far from ideal. He struggled in the BetVictor, when fading late-on for a fifth-place finish. It’s tough to see him turning that form around, though he is a progressive looking youngster.

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The same can probably be said of the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Foxtail Hill. I’m a fan of this horse, but he’s a ‘free-going’ sort and failed to get home in the testing ground of the BetVictor Chase. He beat Le Prezien over the minimum trip back in October, but I fancy we’ll need to wait until the Spring to see him back at his best.

Splash Of Ginge was the star of the show a month ago, and is by no means out of it this time, despite a 5lb rise in the handicap. Though not as desperate as November, the ground will still be soft, and as such the winner will need reserves of stamina to see-out the 2m5f trip. It’s also important to mention that this race is run on Cheltenham’s New Course which has a stiffer finish than the Old that hosted the BetVictor. I’m anticipating a bold run from the nine-year-old, who remains on a fair mark.

Ballyalton was fourth in the BetVictor, and is another that enjoys his trips to Prestbury Park. He’d be the first 10-year-old to win this race since 1974, though a season off the track means he has few miles on the clock. Like Le Prezien, he’ll likely go better on less testing ground, though has form with soft in the description. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him in the mix, though he’s vulnerable to a more progressive sort.

King’s Odyssey is third-best in the betting, and was tipped-up by Paul Kealy in his Weekender piece. Jumping is key to this fella, having come down when going well in last year’s race. His return at Carlisle was decent if not spectacular, and he does have the all-important course form, having won a novice handicap chase at the start of 2016. I’m not convinced he’s good enough despite a fair looking handicap mark. He’ll enjoy conditions, but I fancy errors are likely as the race hots up.

Starchitect only just failed to land the BetVictor and should go close again. A couple of slight errors at the last two fences arguably cost him victory that day, and with a clearer round he and Splash Of Ginge should again be side by side. He’s a leading contender.

Finally, a mention for the David Dennis-trained Deauville Dancer. He’s the 33/1 outsider of the field, and has been on the go since May. He’s run 10 times in that period, with nine of those coming over fences. He’s won five of them, and this six-year-old looks a much-improved horse. Though only a three-runner affair, his last performance at Doncaster was without doubt his best, and I was impressed by the accuracy of his jumping. His breeding suggests he’ll cope with conditions, and though this is by far his toughest test, he will be ably assisted by Aidan Coleman, who won this race aboard Niceonefrankie in 2014. The trainer almost captured the Badger Ales last month, and this fella has a chance.

Paul Nicholls has a strong record in the race, and I’ll be siding with Le Prezien to make it third-time lucky this term. He’s come close in his last two visits to the track, including that close third in the BetVictor. I’ll also have a small punt on Deauville Dancer. This could prove a step too far for the six-year-old, but he arrives in good order, and I’ll take a chance that there’s further improvement that will make him competitive at a big price.
Best of luck to those having a punt.

Twiston Shout – The New One goes for Fab Four

We’re back to Cheltenham this weekend for their two-day International meeting.

Thankfully the cold snap has passed and any lying snow in the Cotswolds has now melted away. The ground at Prestbury Park is described as soft, good to soft in places, with the likelihood of soft all round by the off.

The action begins on Friday, though it’s the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and the International Hurdle, both on Saturday, that are sure to provide the headlines. Nigel Twiston-Davies may prove a central figure as he’s responsible for three-time winner of the International, The New One, along with last month’s BetVictor Gold Cup winner Splash Of Ginge in the feature chase.

The former has been a stable star for many years, and has become one of the most popular hurdlers in training. Should he win Saturday’s Grade Two, it’ll be a record-breaking fourth victory in five years. He’s currently tied with Birds Nest and Relkeel with a trio of victories apiece.

The trainer appears as bullish as ever, saying: “He's in really good nick, it's his race and has been for three of the last four years. We gave My Tent weight last year and we've got to do it again this season, but he hasn't run this season so maybe he won't be quite as sharp. Richard Johnson rides and I thought it was a brilliant effort in the Greatwood. He was beaten only five lengths giving tons of weight away. He seems as good as ever.”

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Team Skelton continue to bang-in the winners, with a stunning strike-rate of 24%. Ch’Tibello returns to action, and gets a handy 6lbs from The New One. He was just two-lengths behind him in last year’s Christmas Hurdle off level weights, and the six-year-old is open to further improvement. Skelton said of his leading hurdler: “Soft ground has been very much in his favour, which is amazing because we always thought he wanted better ground. He won at Haydock last season in really heavy ground and ran well in the Kingwell. We haven't been to Cheltenham before with him but that doesn't hold too many fears. We get 6lb off The New One and it seemed a sensible race to aim for.”

Mullins may send young hurdler Melon over for the race, though punters should hold onto their cash until the ferry lands at Holyhead. Runner-up in last year’s Supreme, he looked good when winning the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal, though beat nothing of note. He’ll be giving plenty of weight to My Tent Or Yours and Ch’Tibello, but the opportunity of gaining further Cheltenham experience may sway the Irish trainer.

Twiston-Davies has arguably the better chance of lifting the International over the Caspian Caviar, though the ‘Ginge Army’ may disagree. Splash Of G is up 5lb for his victory last month, and conditions will again be favourable, though you fancy he’s had his day. Le Prezien is better at the weights and could again go close, having finished second and third in his last two visits to the track. Paul Nicholls has won four of the last eight renewals, and has a trio of contenders, including this fella.

Last weekend the Ditcheat handler said of his intended runners: “Romain De Senam wants really decent ground and it turned against him in the BetVictor. Clan Des Obeaux will go on any ground, but cut obviously suits him and he loves really soft conditions. I just want to be sure he's all right as it's not that far along from Haydock. Le Prezien is also likely to be confirmed.”

Clearly conditions have gone against Romain DS, whilst the other pair head the betting. Clan Des Obeaux is lumbered with top-weight, though he certainly has the frame for the job, and his close second to Whisper at Kempton in November reads well after the Ladbrokes Trophy (Hennessy) at Newbury.

Nicholls and Twiston-Davies took the main prizes last weekend, and a repeat performance is certainly on the cards.

Fox to Capitalize on Douvan ‘No Show’

The Douvan ‘no show’ is clearly a blow for Sandown and their feature, the Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday.

Nevertheless, no one should be surprised, as Willie Mullins has previous. Antepost punters must learn that lumping on a Mullins contender comes with a serious health risk. The trainer would say that his only loyalty is to the horse and the paying owners. Jump racing fans will be hoping that Douvan returns to his best sooner rather than later, and that a clash with the best two-milers takes place at Cheltenham in March.

The Tingle Creek was already missing one of the most exciting young chasers, in the Nicky Henderson-trained Altior. Stunning at the end of the last campaign when romping to victory in Sandown’s Celebration Chase, he’ll hopefully be back in time to lock horns with Douvan at Prestbury Park.

In the absence of arguably the most exciting pair of two-mile chasers, the money has come for the Colin Tizzard-trained Fox Norton. Impressive winner of the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham on his seasonal return, he has yet to run at Sandown, though did win the Champion Chase at Punchestown in April going right-handed. Robbie Power gave him a fabulous ride that day, bustling the horse along early to ensure the speedier Un De Sceaux didn’t give them the slip. He both outstayed and out-battled the Mullins chaser that day.

Of his six opponents on Saturday I’m struggling to find one that is likely to trouble the favourite. A back to his best Ar Mad may have what it takes to get Fox Norton out of his comfort zone, though Gary Moore’s brittle seven-year-old has only run three times in the past two years. If allowed to bowl along at the head of affairs, he could have plenty of these in trouble, and he did run well to finish fourth in last year’s renewal despite having made a serious error at a crucial stage.

Politologue is the other contender with the potential to improve and become a serious challenger. The six-year-old is trained by Paul Nicholls, who just happens to be the most successful handler in the history of the race. He has nine wins in total, with eight of those coming in the last dozen years. The horse was an impressive winner on his seasonal return, when giving weight and a beating to San Benedeto in the Haldon Gold Cup. I’d expect him to be up the front end with Ar Mad, though whether he can hold off the late rattle of Fox Norton has to be doubtful.

I can’t see beyond the favourite, though Ar Mad at 20s has to worth a punt on finishing in the top two.

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The other highlight of Saturday’s action is the Becher Chase at Aintree. The 3m2f trip over the National fences is always a major test for the staying chasers, but with ground described as ‘heavy’ this renewal looks sure to be a war of attrition.

Blaklion is as short as 5/2 in places for Saturday’s race, which seems incredibly mean for a 16-runner handicap of this nature. Nigel Twiston-Davies has had a terrific start to the campaign, and this fella ran a cracker on his seasonal debut when getting close to Bristol De Mai in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby. That performance came on soft ground and I’m convinced he’ll revel in conditions. He thoroughly enjoyed his last visit to the track, when looking the likely winner of the Grand National in April. He looks sure to go close, though is undoubtedly vulnerable to one off a low weight.

Vieux Lion Rouge and The Last Samuri are next best in the betting though I can’t see either beating the favourite. The former won the race last year with the latter third. Pipe’s chaser has gone up 10lbs since that victory and was 40 lengths behind Blaklion at Wetherby last time. The Last Samuri is likely to put-in a solid performance, but I can’t see him winning off top-weight.

As De Mee proved his liking for these unique fences when winning the Grand Sefton a year ago. He’s another that has seen his handicap mark suffer, and I’m far from sure he’ll enjoy the gruelling conditions. He’s talented, but he’s not for me in this ground.

Highland Lodge is not without a chance having won this race in 2015 and finished runner-up last year. He’s now an 11-year-old, though equine pensioners cannot be discounted from this. A 12, 13 and 14-year-old have won in the past seven renewals, and this fella is much better off at the weights with Vieux Lion Rouge this time around. The ground is no concern and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the shake-up.

Kerry Lee’s Goodtoknow will enjoy the test, having performed at his best in challenging conditions. He finished runner-up to One For Arthur in the Betfred Classic at Warwick back in January and then won in desperate ground at Hereford. He failed to see-out the trip in the National, but was prominent for a long way. I think he’ll run well.

Rogue Angel has proved a disappointment since winning the Irish National in 2016, but the nine-year-old has now dropped to a nice handicap mark and could go well. Mouse Morris won the ‘big-one’ with Rule The World and if this fella puts his best foot forward he’s capable of a huge performance. He was down the field in last year’s renewal though is 10lb better off. He led the Grand National for a long way in April before fading late-on. His odds of 18s look fair though not generous.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if Federici goes well from the bottom of the handicap. The eight-year-old is trained by Donald McCain, a man who knows a thing or two about the National course and how to win. Fifth in the Ulster National back in March, there is a slight concern over the ground, but the trip should prove ideal. He ran reasonably well in the Grand Sefton last winter, though would need a lifetime best to win this.

Despite my concerns over the weight he’s set to carry in such testing conditions I think Blaklion will take some beating. He’ll love the ground and a repeat of his run at Wetherby may well be good enough. Goodtoknow looks the main danger and will be my each-way punt.

Best of luck to those having a bet on Saturday.

Coneygree Top-Class – But Vyta to Roc at Newbury

The Ladbrokes Trophy Chase is Newbury’s feature on Saturday and has attracted a competitive field of 21.

First run at Cheltenham in 1957 and known as the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, the race has become one of the most eagerly anticipated in the National Hunt calendar and has a roll of honour to match the status with which it is held.

Chasing greats have captured the event, among them Mill House and Arkle in the 1960s. Diamond Edge, Bregawn, Brown Chamberlin and Burrough Hill Lad opened the 80s in style, whilst One Man in the 1990s and Denman in recent times added further lustre to this wonderful event.

It’ll likely take a while before we stop calling it the Hennessy, but it was Ladbrokes that took over as sponsors in February and the Ladbrokes Trophy has a decent ring to it.

As always, this year’s renewal has a hugely competitive look, with most of the field having a realistic chance of going close. The Willie Mullins-trained Total Recall heads most of the markets, though Harry Fry’s American is tussling for the honour of favouritism.

The former is an eight-year-old second-season chaser, and was impressive last time when romping to victory in the Munster National. He’s up 18lbs for that win, which seems quite a hike to overcome. This is a race that’s often won by those just out of the novice ranks, with seven-year-olds having a particularly strong record. As a novice chaser this fella was pretty ordinary at best. But Mullins took over training duties after the retirement of Sandra Hughes and there’s every chance that he has brought about plenty of improvement. Nevertheless, that patchy novice campaign along with a massive hike in the handicap is enough to make me look elsewhere.

American is interesting and was certainly more impressive as a novice. Three from three over fences, the seven-year-old has the right sort of profile and Fry sounds confident of a big performance. The horse is known to be fragile and as such has often run with plenty of juice in the ground. More rain would have been ideal, though the good to soft ground on Saturday should not inconvenience him. He’s a neat jumper and a strong traveller. Eight of the last 10 winners have carried more than 11 stone to victory and the 11-4 allotted to American shouldn’t put anyone off.

Singlefarmpayment is next best in the betting and the seven-year-old is another with the ideal profile. He’s only won once in six outings over fences, though has a trio of runner-up finishes. His performances at Cheltenham suggest he’ll have no issues with the 3m2f trip. His handicap mark looks fair for what he has achieved thus far. He’s a consistent sort that looks sure to be in the mix late-on, though I’m less sure he’s quite good enough to win.

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Only four of the last 20 winners were successful at odds of more than 10/1, with the biggest price of those being Madison Du Berlais in 2008 at 25s. Reasonably well-fancied young progressive types are therefore the horses we need to focus on.

Nicky Henderson has a strong record in the race, with three wins from the past dozen renewals. He has a pair of fancied contenders in Whisper and Vyta Du Roc. The former was runner-up in the RSA and again chased home the talented Might Bite at the Aintree Festival. Despite being a nine-year-old he has only run six times over fences. He won his seasonal return over an inadequate trip at Kempton and is without doubt a classy contender. It’s a tall order winning this off a mark of 161, though he’s hard to dismiss.

Vyta Du Roc was sixth last year and arrives off a 3lb lower mark. A solid performer last season without ever getting his head in front, his last success came at Ascot in February 2016 when defeating Minella Rocco. He’s a little one-paced but is on such an eye-catching handicap mark that I find myself drawn to him, like a moth to a flame. I’m sure he’ll go close.

Another leading trainer with a pair of contenders is ‘man of the moment’ Nigel Twiston-Davies. If Singlefarmpayment has a chance of winning, then so does his Cheltenham conqueror Cogry. The eight-year-old had four lengths to spare when they last met, with both likely to improve for the run. A one-time dodgy jumper, Cogry appears to have got his act together of late and was unlucky not to win the Scottish National back in April. He’ll love this trip and if Jamie Bargary can get him into a nice rhythm (as he did in the Scottish National) he could have a huge chance at a decent price.

The Cotswolds trainer also has Double Ross in the race. He was third in this 12 months ago and is a couple of pounds better off this time. A senior citizen at 11, there’s only been one previous winner at that age, and that was back in 1967. He was a 50/1 shot last year and I’d put no-one off having a few quid on him at his current price of 40s. Nige did the trick with Splash Of Ginge at big-odds just a few weeks back.

Though Mullins has the favourite, the Irish have a shocking recent record in the race. That’s a worry for the Noel Meade-trained A Genie in Abottle, though the six-year-old is probably not aware that he’s Irish. His third to Disko at Punchestown in April is strong form and he’s already had a couple of wins this term. He looks to be on a decent mark and will carry just 10-13, which I think is an attractive looking weight for such a talented horse. His one disappointing run came in the four-miler at Cheltenham when never looking likely to land a blow. He’ll have regular pilot Sean Flanagan back aboard tomorrow. First Lieutenant ran into a place for Gigginstown a couple of years back and this fella has every chance of going close.

Present Man is upped 4lbs for the Badger Ales victory and though Bryony Frost claims 5lbs this looks a much stiffer task for the seven-year-old. He should prefer Saturday’s conditions and at 16/1 is yet another with a decent each-way shout. Paul Nicholls has a good record in the race, thanks in the main to a Denman-Double. This fella has won half of his 10 chase starts and cannot be discounted.

Finally, a mention for the best horse in the race, Coneygree. What a story it would be if this fella was to emulate Diamond Edge in being a top-weight winning 10-year-old. Nico de Boinville is tasked with getting him into a rhythm. Should he be in front after the first circuit, few would dare bet against him. Incredibly talented, yet frustratingly fragile, Coneygree is the outstanding horse in this year’s field of 21. It’s a tall order, but who would be surprised if he pulled it off?

I find myself fancying four, but as greedy as I am I’ll only be punting on a pair. Whisper, American, Coneygree and Vyta Du Roc are the ‘Fab Four’, but my dosh will be going on the attractively handicapped Vyta and the outstanding chaser Coneygree.

Best of luck to those having a crack at this competitive renewal.

A Bristol Blitz – It’s De Mai All The Way

Bristol De Mai romped to victory in Saturday’s Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Simply devastating in the testing conditions, he led from start to finish, stretching effortlessly clear of his pursuers, hitting the line an incredible 57-lengths clear of runner-up Cue Card. It was a dream ride for Daryl Jacob who simply pointed the six-year-old in the right direction and then sat motionless for seven minutes. In his three racecourse victories, BDM has now amassed a cumulative winning margin of 110 lengths.

The winner has always been held in high regard by his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who said: “That was very good. I didn't have to worry about too much. I only had to worry about the last few fences and he jumped them well. We've had a brief chat and the idea would be the King George, the Cotswold Chase and then the Gold Cup. You might not get this ground (at Kempton), but we'll see.

“He goes out and has his own way of doing it. He has a big engine and can go faster than that. He's always worked fantastically well and he's a supreme horse. He's very much an Imperial Commander type - he's a big, strong, gorgeous horse. We were in a bit of a rush to get to the Gold Cup last year. He was ready, but I don't think he was at his best. From what he does at home you wouldn't think he's improved from last season, but he obviously has. He was beaten 20 lengths in the Gold Cup. It's a shame Sizing John isn't here so we could find out.”

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Owner Simon Munir was clearly thrilled with the victory and said: “That's absolutely amazing. It's wonderful. These are the days that one comes into racing for. Just speaking to Daryl and he's in a state of shock. He was saying he wanted to increase the pace. He thought everybody had fallen behind him. To win by 57 lengths is amazing. I thought it could be game over when he got in too tight two out, but he's a clever horse and he adjusts himself very well. The King George is what we're looking at.”

Though beaten out of sight, Cue Card did battle on bravely for second spot. Colin Tizzard looked a little shell-shocked, but gave an honest appraisal, saying: “The grey horse has run a marvellous race and galloped them all into the ground. He’s never come off the bridle really. I think he's (Cue Card) run on par with his other runs. He's just been beaten by a very good horse on the day. The winner blew the race away. He jumped round and galloped on and finished second. We'll go back home and see how he is.”

It’s tough to judge whether this was a below-par performance from the runner-up, as Bristol De Mai appears to do this to everyone at Haydock. It’s probably fair to say that he didn’t travel as well as he can. Harry Cobden was niggling away at him on the first circuit, and it appeared an effort to keep tabs on the winner. His jumping was solid throughout despite him being under pressure for much of the contest. It seems clear that his best days are now behind him. The Ascot Chase in February may be his last hope of further Grade One success. He has won the race twice and would be looking to emulate Monet’s Garden, in winning the race as a 12-year-old.

As for Bristol de Mai, all roads now lead to Kempton at Christmas. Despite having run 16 times over fences, this will be his debut at the track. He has won over fences at Sandown, though this will be more of a test of speed. He also needs to prove himself an elite chaser on a sounder surface. The King George will tell us whether this youngster is truly top-class, or rather a soft-ground bully. I for one, remain in the undecided camp.

Sizing John No Show A Blow

It came as something of a shock when yesterday Jess Harrington announced that her Gold Cup winner, Sizing John, would not be making the trip to Haydock for the Betfair Chase on Saturday.

“Sadly, he's not running because the ground is soft, heavy in places and there's a bit more rain due,” said Harrington. “It's just the ground. I've been a bit worried all week. I didn't mind soft, genuine soft ground, but when they start putting heavy into Haydock, it gets very heavy. Plan B will be the John Durkan and then we'll take it from there.”

There’s no doubting that the trainer has Sizing John’s well-being at heart. Nevertheless, her decision goes against the wishes of the late Alan Potts, who had targeted the £1million bonus offered by the Jockey Club for a horse winning the Betfair Chase, the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in the same season.

It’s hard to imagine that Alan Potts was solely driven by the thought of a million, but rather by the chance of creating a piece of history in emulating the achievement of the mighty Kauto Star.

Just a couple of days back, Harrington spoke of racecourse gallops, and of having the horse ‘as fit as I can have him’ prior to the trip over. Sizing John has won eight times under rules, with half of those victories coming on testing ground. His first attempt at three-miles came when winning the Irish Gold Cup in challenging conditions at Leopardstown. Those committing to a Haydock trip in November tend to know what to expect, with the last five Betfair Chase renewals being run on soft or heavy.

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Fans and punters will be disappointed by the decision, and the withdrawal certainly leaves the race looking a little threadbare on quality. Though the ground is likely to be better for the King George at Christmas, there must now be doubt over Sizing John’s participation in Kempton’s showpiece. The likelihood of the Gold Cup winner staying home throughout the winter has greatly increased since Harrington’s other high-class chaser Our Duke, is now on sick leave. He’s recovering from an operation on his back, and will likely be out until February, leaving an opening for a Harrington contender in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

With the headline act missing, Colin Tizzard will be far more optimistic that Cue Card can add a fourth Betfair Chase to his CV. Lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place, yet a victory for the stable star on Saturday would surely spark scenes reminiscent of those witnessed in 2011. Back then it was Kauto Star, also as an 11-year-old, that captured his fourth Betfair having been dismissed by many as on the wane. Those that were there will never forget the emotional return to the winner’s enclosure.

Last year’s Betfair Chase victory came on heavy ground, and arguably his best performance of last season came in testing conditions when romping home in the Ascot Chase. There’s little doubt that Cue Card now operates as well as any staying chaser when the mud is flying. Harry Cobden is tasked with keeping tabs on race favourite Bristol De Mai, who seems likely to be ridden positively by Daryl Jacob.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained seven-year-old also thrives in the prevailing conditions and is unbeaten at Haydock. In his two outings at the Lancashire track, he has won by a combined 54 lengths. He was mightily impressive in the Grade Two Peter Marsh Chase back in January, when cruising to a 22-length success as those around him floundered in the mud. Cue Card will be a much tougher nut to crack, but BDM looks a beast when conditions suit.

Despite the disappointment of a Sizing John no show, the sight of the old warrior pursuing the young pretender should still have pulses racing come Saturday afternoon.