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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.”

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.”

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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.

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.

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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...

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...

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  • 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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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.”

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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.”

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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.

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.

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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.

Ginge makes a Splash at Cheltenham

Splash Of Ginge battled his way through the mud for a thrilling victory in Saturday’s BetVictor Gold Cup.

Flagged up in my Friday piece as a decent each-way proposition, the nine-year-old, trained locally by Nigel Twiston-Davies, travelled powerfully throughout, and held off a persistent challenge from David Pipe’s Starchitect. Available at 50/1 on the course (yes, I was on), the winner was backed in to 25s before the off. With testing conditions, an attractive handicap mark, and a return to a track he enjoys in Prestbury Park, he had the look of a serious contender. And so it proved, with Tom Bellamy positioning him just behind the leaders, before making his move sweeping downhill towards the third-last fence.

The David Pipe-trained Starchitect was travelling every-bit as well, but Ginge was better at the second-last, and that proved crucial. Neat again at the final fence the length-and-a-half advantage was whittled away as the line approached, but Bellamy and his brave partner held on for a thrilling victory. An emotional winning jockey said: “When I looked at the race I thought he was over-priced. I was told to give him plenty of light, he was hanging left so I thought I'd be in trouble, but it worked out well. I've just started riding out for Nigel again and I've had two winners in a week for him now.”

When asked what it means to land such a big prize, Bellamy added: “It means an awful lot, in the fact that I lost my claim last year and it's been very quiet since, so hopefully that might get the ball rolling a little bit now.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies was winning his third BetVictor Gold Cup in 10 years, and said of the winner: “He has a big following does ol' Ginge. He has been a remarkable horse and just lost his confidence a bit over fences last season, so we put him back over hurdles and he has come back like a bull. He ran really well at Wetherby and as soon as this rain kept on and on we were hopeful, as the soft ground is the key to him. It is probably heavy ground now.

“He just doesn't notice it when it's this soft. It was the same when he won the Betfair Hurdle. It's just come right today. I think I'll be out with the owners tonight though - they'll insist on it! It's unbelievable, especially when it's a horse like that. He'd lost his way a little bit but it's great to give Tom Bellamy a chance as he's not having a great time at the moment. John (Neild, the owner) likes to give the young jockeys a chance so that's great.”

The November Meeting proved fruitful for the ‘Big Three’ of Nicholls, Henderson and Tizzard. There was a poignant success for Finian’s Oscar on the opening day, as Bryan Cooper steered the exciting five-year-old to win the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase. Carrying the famous silks of the late Ann and Alan Potts, Tizzard’s youngster found plenty from the back of the last and clearly has a bright future.

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The same combination of rider, trainer and owners took the Shloer Chase on Sunday, when Fox Norton proved far too good in testing conditions. With Altior out of action for a while, and Douvan yet to return from injury, Tizzard’s chaser could prove dominant over fences at two to two-and-a-half miles.

The trainer appeared to be leaving all options open for the winner, when saying: “He looks a heavier horse to me and that might be because he is older. The Tingle Creek will be next. It was always Alan Potts' wish to keep him away from Sizing John, who still has the chance of winning the £1million bonus. If Sizing John gets beat (in the Betfair Chase on Saturday) and we won the Tingle Creek, he is entered in the King George just in case. We must not pigeon-hole horses. When he can win like that I don't see any real reason why we should step him up, but the biggest and most prestigious races are over three-and-a-quarter miles.”

One of the meeting’s most exciting performances came from a juvenile in the Triumph Hurdle Trial, when Nicky Henderson’s Apple’s Shakira demolished the previously impressive Hobbs-trained Gumball. The sister of Apple’s Jade put 17-lengths between herself and the runner-up, and looks a thrilling prospect.

Henderson’s Thomas Campbell was another terrific winner, when lumping plenty of weight in capturing the listed stayers’ hurdle on Saturday. Still only a five-year-old, the son of Yeats coped admirably with the testing conditions, responding impressively to the urgings of conditional jockey James Bowen to pull clear late-on. There’s plenty more to come from this young hurdler, and it would come as no surprise if he were to take high-rank as the winter progresses.

Another young jockey making a name for herself is Bryony Frost. A week after winning the Badger Ales, she was steering the Paul Nicholls-trained Black Corton to yet another success. The young chaser was making it five in-a-row (all with Frost aboard) when taking the three-mile novices’ chase. Like Present Man a week earlier, this fella was expected to struggle in the testing ground. That certainly didn’t prove the case, as he stayed-on powerfully, stretching clear of his main rival Ballyoptic, to win by four-lengths. He continues to go from strength to strength and may well prove the type who takes to the four-miler at The Festival. There’s no doubt who’d be looking for the leg-up come March.

Hill can reach Gold Cup Summit for Twiston-Davies

All eyes will be on Cheltenham this weekend, and today’s piece focuses on Saturday’s BetVictor Gold Cup.

The Grade Three began life as the Mackeson Gold Cup and was first run in 1960. Starting as a two-mile chase, the trip was upped to 2m4f in the late 60s. Martin Pipe is the most successful trainer with eight victories, seven of those coming in a devastating spell from 1996 to 2005.

In recent years Jonjo O’Neill (3 wins), Nigel Twiston-Davies (2) and Paul Nicholls (2) have all enjoyed plenty of success in the race. Seven-year-olds have a terrific record of late, with six wins from the last 10. Indeed, the race tends to go to a progressive young chaser, often in their second season over the larger obstacles.

Despite the race often attracting a large field, upsets have proved rare. Only one of the last 10 winners could be described as unfancied, though in that period only one favourite has struck gold. As is often the case at the Home of Jump racing, previous track experience is a huge positive. Seven of the past 10 winners had previously won at Cheltenham. This racecourse is a unique test, and many horses fail the strenuous examination.

The favourite for Saturday’s renewal is top-weight Kylemore Lough, now trained by Harry Fry. Lumping just shy of 12 stone is often a reason to dismiss a horse in such handicaps, but last year’s winner carried 11-11, and four of the last 12 winners have coped with more than 11 stone on their back. This fella has enough Cheltenham experience, and appears to act on the track, though he’s finished fifth in his last two visits. He came close to winning the Caspian Caviar Chase last December (now 2lb lower), and a repeat of that performance would see him go extremely close. Can Fry get more out of him than Kerry Lee? I’m a fan, and I fancy he’ll run well.

The Alan Fleming-trained Tully East is next best in the betting. A second-season chaser, he won at the Cheltenham Festival in March, when ridden beautifully by Denis O’Regan. He travelled like a dream that day and appeared to win with something to spare. Nevertheless, he’s 10lb higher in the handicap, and though he has the right profile, he’ll find this race much tougher to win. He’s a player, though I worry about that handicap mark. Another concern is the poor record of Irish raiders.

Paul Nicholls has a couple of entrants, and both are prominent in the betting. Le Prezien has track winning form, though was runner-up on his last visit, when finding Foxtail Hill impossible to pass. The pair had a mighty tussle in October at two-miles, though the extra half-a-mile should prove no obstacle. The pair are handicapped to finish side by side again, and you’d fancy both will go close. They’re tough to separate.

Nicholls’ other hope is five-year-old Romain De Senam. He’s won his last two, but is up 6lbs and will find this tough. He was runner-up in the Fred Winter of 2016, and probably should have won that day. The track and trip look ideal, and Nicholls took this race in 2014 with Caid Du Berlais, also aged five. I can see him getting outpaced coming down the hill, but I fancy he’ll be finishing well. He has the right amount of experience, but I worry he’ll have too much to do turning for home.

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Ballyalton is an interesting contender. Back from injury, the Ian Williams-trained 10-year-old tuned up for this with a promising run over hurdles at Aintree. He won over course and distance at the Cheltenham Festival of 2016, and clearly enjoys his trips to Prestbury Park. He’s on a competitive mark, though his age is a negative based on the trends. Only three horses over nine have won the race.

The Pipe team have an outstanding record, though David has only managed the one success. Starchitect is two from seven over fences, and has a fair bit to find on Foxtail Hill, from their run at the course in April. Though talented, I don’t think this fella is quite good enough to win in this company.

One that is on a steep-upward curve is Jamie Snowdon’s Double Treasure. The six-year-old beat Two Taffs last time, though the runner-up was having his first outing of the campaign. He’s progressed dramatically over the Summer, but needs to find more if he is to be competitive here. Despite his four wins on the bounce, I fancy this could be a step too far.

There’s a couple I quite like at a price for the each-way punters out there. Theinval is trained by Nicky Henderson and was incredibly consistent during his first season over fences. He has some decent pieces of form to his name, especially the second-place finish to Cloudy Dream at Ayr in April. The sensational Fondmort won this race for Henderson in 2003, and this fella has a far better chance than his 25/1 odds suggest.

Another that interests me is the Twiston-Davies second string Splash Of Ginge. He rarely wins over fences, but his handicap mark has fell through the floor since the dizzy heights of 2015. He’s run well at Cheltenham in the past, and his last performance was encouraging. More rain would help, though I’m still tempted.

Greedy I know, but I’ll be backing three in the race. I fancy Nigel Twiston-Davies could have a day to remember, and I’ll be taking Foxtail Hill to win. He looks incredibly tough and is two from four in recent visits to the track. I’ll also have a little on Splash Of Ginge in the hope that the track and an eye-catching handicap mark spark a revival. Finally, I’ll be putting a couple of quid on Henderson’s seven-year-old Theinval. I’m convinced he’ll go close, though I do worry about his ability to cope with the famous hill.

Best of luck to all those having a punt.

Frustration Home and Away

It’s tough not to feel a little let down by the latest Breeders’ Cup.

Concerns over the tightness of the track prior to racing appeared justified, as luck played a far too significant role in the outcome of several races. A fast break from the stalls became crucial, especially for those drawn on the wide outside. The racing did prove dramatic, though hard-luck stories became the norm, with many high-profile thoroughbreds running no sort of race.

Gun Runner certainly did run his race. The Steve Asmusson-trained four-year-old led the Breeders’ Cup Classic from the off and stayed-on powerfully to beat a pair of Bob Baffert trained colts. Last year’s star Arrogate failed to spark, starting slowly and finishing a good half-dozen lengths adrift.

The Breeders’ Cup Turf went to Europe once again, though not to last year’s winner Highland Reel. O’Brien’s colt put in another solid performance in running a close third, though it was the Andre Fabre-trained Talismanic that ran-out an impressive winner. He got the better of Chad Brown’s Beach Patrol in an exciting three-way go for the line.

The Mile Turf went to American favourite World Approval. Few sob-stories here to be fair, as the favourite pulled away from the pack for a stylish success. Lancaster Bomber finished well for second, with Ribchester a little one-paced back in fifth.

There was more European success in the Filly & Mare Turf, with Godolphin’s Wuheida defeating O’Brien’s Rhododendron. The winner received a ‘Peach of a ride’ from William Buick, but the runner-up looked a little unfortunate. Pinned on the rail, Moore found a gap a little too late to catch the winner. Queen’s Trust was another who had a luckless passage. No room, no gaps, no chance. She flew home when Dettori finally found daylight, but the bird had long-since flown.

Frustration in America was mirrored in the UK and Ireland, with several high-profile jumpers fluffing their lines, and yet more concerns over the troubled Coneygree.

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The Charlie Hall clash at Wetherby between Cue Card and Coneygree failed to materialize. The low sun was blamed for the latter’s jumping error which caused his latest injury. Thankfully he looks likely to be back in action sooner rather than later, with Newbury in early December still a possibility.

“Obviously we were desperately disappointed because Nico said he felt unbelievable over the first two and then he thinks he was just simply distracted by the sun and just dived,” said trainer Sara Bradstock. “He's overreached at the next one because he's jumped too high. The reason it worried him was because he couldn't see the fence. He's such a good jumper. It's a slice into the bulb of his heel and before we have him jumping again, we will have to make sure it's not hurting him. That can take three or four days or, in the worse situation, three to four weeks.”

Cue Card came down five from home, with Paddy Brennan at the time saying the sun was also to blame. Thankfully rider and horse were fine, and the Betfair Chase at Haydock remains a possibility. Tizzard would not be drawn on targets when saying: “He fell again at a similar stage as where he did before. We've got to get our head round all that. There's no reasoning. We've looked at the race and he was going as easily as anything when he fell. He was perfectly well this morning and trotted out absolutely fine.”

The race eventually went to Bristol De Mai, who fought off stable companion Blaklion. It was a record fifth win in the race for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, and he was as bullish as ever when talking of future targets for the winner. Speaking to Racing UK he said: “It will be the Betfair Chase next for Bristol De Mai. He should get his soft ground and he likes it there although he has run some good races on good ground as well. I think he is a very serious contender for the Gold Cup. When he ran in it last year the ground was a bit quick for him and he didn’t run his best race. If he jumps like he did on Saturday he will be right there at the finish.”

Over in Ireland, Our Duke was strongly fancied to win the JNwine.com Chase, but Jess Harrington’s young chaser ran a stinker, trailing home last in a race won by Outlander. He did scope badly after the race, with the trainer saying: “Our Duke is sound, he scoped wrong. He has done it once before. They took some bloods from him [on Sunday morning] and we'll now put him on antibiotics. I just don't know and I'm scratching my head. He was gone after the first fence.”

It was only his fifth run over fences, and a brave decision from Harrington to take on such experienced campaigners at this point in his development. It was left to the Gigginstown pair of Outlander and Road To Respect to fight out the finish, with Gordon Elliott’s nine-year-old bouncing back to form for the win. The Lexus Chase at Christmas will be a target for both, and a chance for Our Duke to bounce back to form.

It’s Back to Blak for the Grand National

Finding the winner of the World’s most famous steeplechase is no easy task. But I wouldn’t be doing this job if I didn’t like a challenge, so let’s have a crack at uncovering this year’s Grand National hero.

It’s important to reflect on recent renewals when attempting to solve the Aintree puzzle, though a quick peek over the last decade or so, does nothing to settle my nerves for the task ahead. Last year’s winner, Rule The World, was a 33/1 shot who had failed to win any of his previous starts over fences. In 2015 and 2014 we had winners priced at 25/1, and in 2013 a 66/1 shot caused a mighty upset. Add to those a further pair at 33s and a 100/1 rank outsider, and you begin to appreciate the size of the task.

With a field of 40 going to post, I must first attempt to cull the no-hopers from the possible contenders. We have to go back to 1940 for the last seven-year-old winner, suggesting that the younger chasers probably lack both the mental and physical constitution for this marathon event.

There’s also a case to dismiss the chances of 12-year-olds, with only one in the last 20 years successful. But it’s likely we’ll have two in the field, and both have the perfect winning profile. Raz De Maree and Bless The Wings have excelled in similar staying chases, with the former runner-up in the Welsh National in December, and the latter filling the same position in the Irish National just 12 months ago. Of course, both have plenty of miles on the clock, but their recent form suggests they both retain plenty of ability.

So, with 37 horses still on my ‘contenders’ list, I now turn my attention to chasing experience. It’s no surprise that winners of the great race have been competing in all the usual trials, gaining that vital experience that will enable them to cope in a 40-runner marathon, with 30 fences to conquer.

Over the past decade, seven winners had run between 10 and 14 times over the larger obstacles. Rule The World, though a novice and a maiden over fences, had at least gained enough chasing experience, including a second-place finish in the Irish National. Many Clouds had just 10 outings over the larger obstacles before his famous win in 2015, but had won the Hennessy at Newbury several months earlier.

If I’m stringent in applying the ‘experience trend’, I am successful in excluding half a dozen or so from my ‘contenders’ list. Unfortunately, this application highlights the difficulty this year in reducing the number of potential winners. Definitly Red, Vieux Lion Rouge and Pleasant Company all fall short of the ideal level of chasing experience, and as such I should put a line through the trio. Yet all three are strongly fancied to go well, with Vieux Lion having experience in the right kind of races to go well tomorrow.

For many years, I would have no hesitation in putting a line through those carrying more than 11 stone. Hedgehunter carried a pound more when winning in 2005, though he was an exception at the time. However, in recent years, a combination of factors has resulted in horses winning despite carrying huge weights. The standard of competitors has certainly improved, with the handicaps from top to bottom becoming compressed. Doctor Harper on 10-6 and rated at 143, is likely to be at the bottom of the weights tomorrow. Hedgehunter was rated 144 when winning in 2005, yet carried a lofty 11-1.

Three of the last seven winners have carried 11-5 or more, though only Gilgamboa (fourth) carried more than 11 stone to a top ten finish last year. And though Many Clouds lumped 11-9 to victory, only one other carried more than 11 stone to a top dozen finish behind him. It therefore follows that we should still be safe in putting an upper-limit at around 11 stone for the likely winner.

If I ruthlessly draw a line just above those carrying 11-1, I can start to focus on the 20 plus contenders that remain on my list.

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I’m keen on Blaklion for Nigel Twiston-Davies. Last year’s RSA winner has failed to progress to the top-table, but he looks the ideal sort for this. He finished a creditable fifth in the Hennessy Gold Cup, off a mark of 154 back in November. He then ran arguably a career best at Haydock in the Grand National trial, off top weight, when trying to give Vieux Lion Rouge 6lbs. It’s a lack of gears that stops this fella from reaching the top. But he has a touch of class, and looks a thorough stayer. He should go close.

Vieux Lion Rouge has done little wrong this winter, and clearly holds strong claims. Both trainer and jockey are adamant that he has strengthened since last year’s seventh-place finish, when beaten a mile by Rule The World. That may be true, and he certainly wasn’t stopping at Haydock last time. He finished with a rattle to win the Becher, and certainly looks a more resolute character this year. It’s right that he’s towards the head of the betting.

I’m less convinced by Definitly Red, though he did run well in the Grimthorpe last time at Doncaster. His jumping can be a little patchy, and though he beat Blaklion at Wetherby in December, he was receiving a ton of weight on that occasion. He looks a horse that enjoys a smaller field, and I’d fancy he’ll be harassed into errors tomorrow.

One For Arthur looks a thorough stayer and could run into a place. He ran well in the Becher Chase and then stayed on well to take the Betfred Classic at Warwick. He lacks a prep-run, and the stats show that this is certainly a negative. Nevertheless, I think he’ll go well, though he probably lacks the class to win.

Paul Nicholls will be desperate for success, as he attempts to cling to his trainers’ crown. Vicente looked a promising sort last year, and ran a cracker to win the Scottish National. But he’s proved a major disappointment this winter, despite conditions often being in his favour. Nevertheless, I find myself drawn to him, as was owner Trevor Hemmings, who bought him in March. He’s worth a few quid at around 25/1.

Having discounted those above 11-1, I wish to give a mention to Paul Nicholls’ other leading hope, Saphir Du Rheu. He ran a cracker in the Gold Cup, and is without doubt a classy sort. He’s high enough in the handicap for me, and his jumping has proved an issue in the past. Nevertheless, if he gets into a decent rhythm, he could certainly run into a place.

Finally, a horse from left field that could run a huge race at a huge price. I was on Lord Windermere at 33s when he took the Gold Cup in 2014, and I’m unable to pass on the opportunity of backing him at 50s for this. He’s hopeless on soft ground, but is a different beast with conditions suit. His seasonal debut showed promise, and he has the ideal partner in two-time Grand National winner Leighton Aspell.

No doubt many of us will be scratching our heads as the winner crosses the line, but you need to be in-it to win-it. I’m all-over Blaklion for the win, and will be taking a punt at Lord Windermere each-way at 50s, and Vicente at 25s. Best of luck to all.