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Might just may on opening day- If Gold Cup hasn’t left mark

There’s no fewer than four Grade One’s on the opening day of the Grand National meeting, with the Bowl Chase and the Aintree Hurdle the feature events.

Might Bite will be a short-priced favourite for the Betway Bowl, following his runner-up finish in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and victory in the King George over Christmas. He’s without doubt the class act in a field of eight, though his performance will surely hinge on how he has recovered from those Festival exertions. It’s less than a month since he had that prolonged battle with Native River in testing ground, although his campaign had been light prior to that.

Might Bite landed the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at the corresponding meeting a year ago, following up on his success in the RSA. Both track and trip look ideal for this talented young chaser, and Henderson isn’t one for taking risks with his horses. The Seven Barrows handler must believe that the nine-year-old is fighting fit. If so, he’ll take all the beating.

Last year’s surprise winner, Tea For Two, looks to emulate Silviniaco Conti in achieving back to back victories. Cheltenham doesn’t appear to suit this fella, and he looks more at home on a flatter track. He ran well when third to Might Bite in the King George, and though I don’t fancy him to beat Henderson’s charge, he should run a decent race.

Double Shuffle was runner-up in the Kempton showpiece and will arrive here fresher than most. Tom George had a terrific Cheltenham Festival and this eight-year-old looks a rapidly improving sort. He’s another that has his work cut out to reverse King George form with Might Bite, though missing that arduous encounter in the Gold Cup should work in his favour.

Definitly Red appeared slightly outclassed at Cheltenham, and I’d be surprised if he wins this. Nevertheless, he has course form and if the ground is testing enough, he has the guts to run into a place. Brian Ellison was insistent that better ground would suit his horse, but I struggle to believe it.

Clan Des Obeaux could prove the surprise package. Paul Nicholls has captured three of the last eight renewals, and I can see this young chaser running a cracker. He looks a King George sort to me, and this race should suit. The six-year-old is taking on more experienced rivals but looks hugely talented. This step up in trip appears the main concern, though he didn’t appear to be stopping last time at Cheltenham over 2m5f.

Bristol De Mai is back on a flat left-handed track in testing conditions. He probably needs the ground to be bottomless, nevertheless, we can probably expect an improved performance from the seven-year-old. Nigel Twiston-Davies has also given him a wind-op and, should his jumping hold together, he could prove a serious challenger.

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Might Bite is a cut above these, and as long as the Gold Cup hasn’t left a mark, I’m confident he’ll win. If it has, then Clan Des Obeaux is the one I fancy to take advantage.

Sadly, we will not be seeing Buveur D’Air in the Aintree Hurdle. His absence leaves Jess Harrington’s Supasundae a short-priced favourite. Runner-up in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, the eight-year-old had previously landed the Irish Champion Hurdle at two miles. This trip ought to prove ideal for this grand looking son of Galileo.

Henderson sends 11-year-old My Tent Or Yours into battle. Runner-up in the last pair of renewals, he looked as good as ever when winning the International Hurdle at Cheltenham back in December. He was no match for Buveur D’Air in last year’s race, though I fancy Harrington’s fella is not in that league. This could be his final race and he rarely disappoints. It’s a tough ask at 11, though this race looks more open than the odds suggest.

The New One was a place behind My Tent in last year’s race. This appears his optimum trip, though he is undoubtedly a better horse going right-handed. The soft ground should suit him, and he looks a leading contender. He’s likely to be jumping out to his right all the way up the straight, and that must be a huge concern.

L’Ami Serge is sure to go well for much of the race and may well look a huge player approaching the last. However, he’ll need to battle at some stage, especially against the likes of The New One and Supasundae. And that will surely be his undoing.

Supasundae is progressive and should win, though his odds (currently evens) look a little skinny to me. On this ground I’d probably risk a punt on The New One.

Green and Gold – A dependable route to Grand National Profit

The hugely competitive nature off the Grand National ensures that no single trainer or owner can boast an outstanding record in the race.

Nigel Twiston-Davies is the only handler to have captured more than a single Grand National victory in the past 30 years. In the same period jockeys Carl Llewellyn, Ruby Walsh and Leighton Aspell landed a pair apiece.

As far as successful owners are concerned, there’s no doubting that Trevor Hemmings stands alone at the head of the field. Finding Grand National contenders has become a serious hobby for the wealthy businessman. And he’s proved particularly adept, with an impressive three victories in the past 13 years. Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds were the successful trio and he’ll be looking for a fourth on Saturday.

Irish racehorse owner JP McManus stands at just one victory in the world’s greatest steeplechase, though his recent record suggests that he is the one to keep onside if you’re looking to have a punt on Saturday.

Cause Of Causes was the latest to carry those famous green and gold silks to a prominent finish, when runner-up to One For Arthur last year. It was announced yesterday that the Gordon Elliott-trained chaser has been retired due to a recent injury picked up at Prestbury Park. Though not the biggest, the gutsy stayer was at his best on spring ground, adapting well to the unique national fences. He was also talented enough to land a hat-trick of victories at the Cheltenham Festival.

In 2016 the McManus colours were carried to fourth-place by the Enda Bolger-trained Gilgamboa. A year earlier Shutthefrontdoor managed a fifth-place finish, whilst in 2014 Double Seven came close to giving AP McCoy another win, before fading to third after the elbow.

Neptune Collonges landed a dramatic victory in the Grand National of 2012, chinning the McManus owned Sunnyhillboy on the line. It was a heart-breaking day all-round for the Irishman, as not only did he miss out on victory by a nose, but he saw his Gold Cup hero, Synchronised, fatally injured just a month after that glorious success at Cheltenham.

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In 2010 the McManus/McCoy combination had one of their greatest days, with the Grand National victory of Don’t Push It. The 10-year-old travelled beautifully throughout and cruised into contention two fences from home. When McCoy asked for an effort the horse gave an emphatic response. The pair returned a year later and ran a cracker off top-weight to finish third behind Ballabriggs.

Anibale Fly and Minella Rocco appear to be JP’s leading contenders for Saturday’s renewal. Both have placed in a Gold Cup, though will be asked to carry plenty of weight as a consequence. There’s a doubt, as the rain continues to fall, of Minella Rocco making the start-line. Jonjo O’Neill has remained adamant that his chaser needs decent ground, and that certainly won’t be the case at Aintree this weekend. Nevertheless, the eight-year-old has undergone a wind operation and connections may decide to take their chance.

Anibale Fly stayed on strongly to finish third in last month’s Gold Cup. That run suggested that a marathon trip such as the national would prove ideal. Tony Martin’s eight-year-old is by French stallion Assessor, and ought to therefore cope admirably with testing conditions. The concern is, of course, the 11-7 that he’ll need to haul over the 30 fences, though there’s no doubting his class.

Anthony Honeyball has had an outstanding season and has a decent contender in Regal Encore. Sporting the famous green and gold, this fella finished a respectable eighth in the race 12 months ago and ran a cracker when a staying-on third in the Ladbroke Trophy (formerly the Hennessy). He arrives here off the same handicap mark as 12 months ago and at 33s looks to have a great each-way chance.

A couple of weeks back I wrote of the potential contenders for Trevor Hemmings. He has a cracking national record and though the weather may rule out the Paul Nicholls-trained Vicente, he still has a pair of decent each-way propositions in Vintage Clouds and Warriors Tale. Both will appreciate testing ground, and in Sean Bowen, the latter has a jockey that excels in these marathon events.

This pair of wealthy businessmen share a common passion for our wonderful sport. And their continued success in the world’s most famous race, gives hope to punters, as they search for potential winners in this ultra-competitive event.

Hemmings hopeful of Grand National Fantastic Four

Racehorse owner Trevor Hemmings has an exceptional Grand National record, with three victories since 2005.

A wealthy businessman, octogenarian and owner of Preston North End FC, Hemmings has seen his green and yellow quartered silks carried to victory in the world’s most famous race by Hedgehunter in 2005, Ballabriggs in 2011 and Many Clouds in 2015.

Hedgehunter was trained by Willie Mullins and had been fancied to go well in the National as an eight-year-old in 2004. He led the field turning for home but ran out of steam before falling at the last fence. Just 12 months later he made amends in stunning fashion, winning by 14-lengths, with Ruby Walsh doing the steering. His class was confirmed the following year when runner-up in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and then filling the same berth back at Aintree off top weight, behind Numbersixvalverde.

It’s inevitable that the McCain clan should be involved in this tale of National glory. Trainer Donald, when responsible for the Ballabriggs success in 2011. This son of Presenting may have lacked the class of Hedgehunter, but certainly didn’t lack guts. The 10-year-old was ridden prominently throughout the race, and galloped relentlessly to the line, holding off Oscar Time by a couple of lengths.

The tragically ill-fated Many Clouds, had the class for a prominent finish in the Gold Cup of 2015 having already landed the Hennessy at Newbury and the Grade Two Cotswold Chase. His success in the 2015 Grand National was a mighty performance under the immense burden of 11-9. The eight-year-old had crept into contention on the second circuit, taking up the running five fences from home. Saint Are threatened all the way up the run-in, but Oliver Sherwood’s talented chaser galloped on to victory.

It’s fair to say that this trio of Aintree heroes were similar types. Robust, powerful gallopers with plenty of size and scope for the task in hand. Hemmings clearly has an eye and will be hoping that this year’s challengers can go close as he attempts a stunning fourth success.

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He’ll certainly be hoping for better fortunes from his dual Scottish National winner Vicente. Trained by Paul Nicholls, the nine-year-old son of Dom Alco only got as far as the first fence 12 months ago, yet just a couple of weeks later was winning north of the border for the second year running. It was a colossal performance under top-weight, as he thundered home to deny Cogry by a neck. His handicap mark at Aintree will be 5lbs higher than when winning at Ayr, though importantly in my opinion, he’ll be carrying just 10-13 over a marathon trip that ought to prove ideal. He needs to show that he can handle the unique Aintree fences (though these are less of a challenge nowadays). If he does, that fourth Hemmings success is a real possibility.

The owner recently purchased another nine-year-old National hopeful, also trained by Nicholls. That procurement likely came after Warriors Tale’s solid performance in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster. The son of Midnight Legend (same sire as Gold Cup winner Sizing John) was foot perfect throughout, and looked a certain winner before being chinned on the line by Wakanda. Back in December he’d put in another solid performance when just denied by Nicky Henderson’s talented chaser Gold Present. I’m not sure he’s quite good enough to win the Grand National off his mark of 149. Though Trevor Hemmings clearly thinks he has a chance.

One of the Hemmings team that may miss the cut is the Sue Smith-trained Vintage Clouds. This progressive young chaser is tailor-made for the National. Should enough drop out of the race, and he were to sneak in at the bottom of the weights, he’d prove a very interesting contender. A winner at Aintree back in October, this eight-year-old finished fourth in the Welsh National and recently stayed on gamely to land a third-place finish in the Ultima Chase at Cheltenham. He’s an out-and-out stayer, who I am sure, will land one of these valuable marathons at some point in his career.

Whether Vintage Clouds makes the race or not, Trevor Hemmings will arrive at Aintree hopeful of more Grand National glory.

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.

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.

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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.

Stat of the Day, 9th February 2018

Thursday's Result :

7.00 Chelmsford : Fareeq @ 3/1 BOG 2nd at 5/2  Slowly into stride, soon chasing leaders on outside, hung badly left from over 1f out, ran on inside final furlong, went 2nd last strides, no chance with winner...

We continue with Friday's...

4.45 Chelmsford :

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?

Volpone Jelois @ 4/1 BOG

A Class 5, 1m5.5f handicap on Polytrack worth £5,434 to the winner...

Why?

And another fairly simple approach with a 5 yr old gelding, better known as a hurdler. That said, he has made the frame in each of his four non-NH runs, all under today's jockey Megan Nicholls and mainly at Class 5, although he was a runner-up in his sole effort at Class 4 (over 1m6f) suggesting there's a win on the level in him somewhere!

Jockey Megan is 4 from 18 (22.2% SR) for 16.24pts (+90.2% ROI) on the level, riding for her famous father Paul since the start of 2017 and these runners include...

  • over 1m4f to 1m6f : 4/14 (28.6%) for 20.24pts (+144.6%)
  • at Class 5 : 2/6 (33.3%) for 15.48pts (+257.9%)
  • and at Class 5 over 1m4f to 1m6f : 2/3 (66.6%) for 18.48pts (+615.8%)

And further confidence is derived from the yard's recent form, winning 10 of 40 (25% SR) over the past 30 days rising to 8/28 (28.6%) over the last fortnight.

...pointing towards...a 1pt win bet on Volpone Jelois @ 4/1 BOG which was widely available at 6.20pm on Thursday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 4.45 Chelmsford

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!

The Lanzarote Hurdle – Nicky to nick-it from Nicholls

Kempton’s Lanzarote Hurdle was established in 1978 and originally run over two miles. In 2007 the race was extended to its current trip of 2m5f.

In the 10 renewals since the change in trip, just three winners have carried more than 11 stone to victory. Paul Nicholls and Nick Williams have landed three apiece in that period, with Modus winning for team Ditcheat 12 months ago.

Six-year-olds have been dominant in recent times, with the race tending to favour a progressive type with few hurdling miles on the clock. Three of the past 10 winners had only run three times over hurdles, prior to landing this valuable event. Despite the race usually attracting a fair-sized field, shocks have proved rare. Of the past nine renewals, Micheal Flips at 9/1 was the biggest price winner.

Nicky Henderson is responsible for the front two in the betting for tomorrow’s renewal. Diese Des Bieffes is only a five-year-old, and has had just three outings over hurdles. He was runner-up to classy novice If The Cap Fits last time at Kempton. Outpaced during that two-mile contest, he stayed on strongly in the home straight, and it would be a surprise if this extended trip didn’t prove ideal. He’s by popular French stallion Martaline, responsible for classy types including Dynaste, Disko and Agrapart. Leading juvenile hurdler We Have A Dream is also among his progeny. Henderson’s youngster is set to carry 11-2, though 5lb claimer Mitchell Bastyan appears booked for the ride. This fella looks to have a huge chance.

William Henry will carry top-weight and is challenging his stablemate at the top of the market. He came down on chase debut and has reverted to hurdles. A classy novice last term, he was runner-up to Wholestone at Cheltenham last January, with Poetic Rhythm five-lengths back in third. The strength of that form has been well advertised this winter, and of those at the top of the handicap, he looks the class act.

Bags Groove joins him at the top of the pile. Harry Fry’s seven-year-old won a Pertemps Qualifier at Kempton in November, but is raised 5lbs for that effort. This looks more competitive, and I’m far from sure that he has enough improvement left to win off this latest mark.

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Paul Nicholls has enjoyed plenty of success in the race, and has another leading contender in Topofthegame. The six-year-old is lightly raced, with just four starts under rules, and is another reverting to hurdles after falling on his only chase outing. He was some way behind William Henry in the race at Cheltenham, though was a huge raw baby at the time. There’s every chance that he can turn that form on its head, especially as he gets 6lb from that rival. He’s by Flemensfirth, and as such should have no problem with conditions. He should go close.

Nick Williams has a couple lurking at the bottom end of the handicap. With such an outstanding record in the race, the Devon trainer cannot be dismissed. Dentley De Mee looks the one to keep an eye on. The five-year-old has had just three outings over hurdles, and though he’ll need to improve plenty to be competitive here, there’s every chance that he could do exactly that. He gets the best part of a stone or more from the leading protagonists, and it would be no surprise to see him sneak into a place.

Owner JP McManus captured last year’s event, and has one of the favourites this time in the Alan King-trained River Frost. He was fifth in a strong renewal of the Silver Trophy at Chepstow in October, and that form certainly gives him a chance here. He too is lumbered with top-weight, and will be ably assisted by Barry Geraghty; twice a winner of this race in the last five years. This six-year-old is clearly a player, but I’m not convinced he’s quite good enough.

Siding with Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson is often a sensible decision, and I think the pair have this race between them. I’m just favouring Diese Des Bieffes over Topofthegame, though I fancy it’ll be close.

Best of luck to those having a punt.

Welsh National looks a Sweet Little Mysteree

First run at Chepstow in 1949, the Welsh National is this weekend’s feature event.

Rain caused the cancellation at Christmas, and though the ground remains heavy, the re-arranged fixture looks sure to go ahead. The marathon contest is run at a little over three and-a-half miles, and is certain to prove a gruelling test for a competitive field of 20 runners.

Vicente tops the weights and heads here after a pleasing return at Cheltenham in November, when a close second to Perfect Candidate off a mark of 150. He won the Scottish National on very different ground in April, and is now 5lb higher in the handicap. It usually takes a serious Gold Cup contender to challenge here off such a lofty weight. Native River managed it last year, and back in 2011 Synchronised carted 11-6 to victory. Vicente is good, but not quite in that league. He could run a huge race, but he’s up against it.

The same can be said of Rock The Kasbah and Beware The Bear, who are next in the weights. The former appears a doubt, with Philip Hobbs likely to decide this morning. The trainer is clearly concerned that the ground will be too testing. It’s a shame, as the horse clearly loves the track. But I’m inclined to agree with Hobbs on this one.

Beware The Bear won the Rehearsal Chase last month, though I’m not sure how. Seemingly beaten turning for home, he battled on bravely, and as the leaders faltered, picked up the pieces to lead after the last. A 4lb penalty isn’t severe, but he’s no Gold Cup winner and I can’t have him as the winner of this.

Chase The Spud will love the ground, and returned to action in style when winning at Haydock. He’s a relentless stayer and looks to be improving despite now being a 10-year-old. Nevertheless, he’s gone up plenty for his win in the Midlands National and that Haydock success. I’m not sure he has the class to cope with such a hike in the handicap.

Along with the top-weight, Paul Nicholls has Silsol entered. The nine-year-old rarely jumps a fence, but has performed to a high standard in staying hurdles. He beat Native River in last year’s West Yorkshire at Wetherby, but was somewhat below-par on his return from a year off when down the field in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Haydock. The ground shouldn’t prove an issue, and his chase mark is some 10lbs lower than that over hurdles. Bryony Frost takes a handy 5lb off his back, and if she can get him jumping he could run a huge race. He has a touch of class.

Though seven and eight-year-olds have dominated in recent times, Mountainous was successful at 11 in the 2015 renewal (ran in early 2016). That gives hope to those fancying Houblon Des Obeaux, who came third in this last year. He could head to Sandown, but should he take his chance at Chepstow, he’ll be a full 10lb better off this time around. He’s another with that touch of class, and I fancy he’ll run well.

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Wild West Wind lacks experience, though surprisingly, that rarely holds them back in this marathon handicap. The Tom George-trained nine-year-old took the trial in early December, and has been raised 4lb for that effort. I felt his jumping was a little ‘safe’ on that occasion, and this race is a much tougher task. He defeated 12-year-old Alfie Spinner (now 13) by a couple of lengths, but probably needs to improve a fair bit to land a blow here. I’m not convinced he’s good enough.

One equine pensioner that could again go well is the Irish raider Raz De Maree. Runner-up to Native River in last year’s race, he’s on a similar mark, and has the talented James Bowen in the saddle. The 5lb claim is a great help, and this young jock is one of the best. He could well run into a place.

Vintage Clouds is an interesting contender and has the right kind of profile. The eight-year-old is bred to operate in testing ground, and ran well last time behind Clan Des Obeaux. He needs to prove that these marathon trips truly suit, but I fancy he will. His best form has come on flatter tracks, and that’s a slight concern. Nevertheless, I fancy he’ll run well.

Mysteree certainly has proved his liking for a gruelling test of stamina, and he looks ideally handicapped to go close here. He’s not had a prep-run, and that has proved a negative in this race over the years. However, he goes well fresh, having won his last three seasonal renewals. He won the Eider Chase last year, and came close to landing the Midlands National. The ground is ideal, and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the first three.

Michael Scudamore took the 2012 renewal thanks to Monbeg Dude, and I fancy his sweet little Mysteree will do the business on Saturday. It’s going to be a slog, and he’s a slogger. I’ll also be placing a few quid on Houblon Des Obeaux, in the hope that he retains enough ability to make the most of his generous looking handicap mark. If Houblon heads to Sandown, I’ll splash the each-way cash on Silsol.

Best of luck to those having a punt.

A Thrilling Kempton Christmas Gathering

I went out and bought the Christmas TV magazine yesterday, and have started circling all the programmes that will excite me during the holiday period.

The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio and Shrek 2, instantly caught the eye. However, there’s no doubting the highlight at this time of year, and I don’t mean Christmas Top Of The Pops.

The channel may have changed, but Boxing Day racing from Kempton remains my ‘numero uno’ (The Wizard Of Oz is a close runner-up). The King George VI Chase is one of the most thrilling races of the winter with a truly wondrous roll of honour. Last year’s renewal was truly ‘Joyful and Triumphant’ for Team Tizzard, as Thistlecrack swept far more experienced chasers aside, to win in the style of a superstar. Things haven’t gone to plan since, but one of Jump racing’s major player’s is back for more, with his jockey at Kempton hopeful of a repeat performance.

Tom Scudamore told At The Races: “It felt like he had all his old spark, but just got tired from going to the second last (Newbury Long Distance Hurdle). He'd suffered an injury at Cheltenham and had plenty of time off the track. He'd been showing everyone the right signs at home. Joe and Colin (Tizzard) were happy with him, but unfortunately the time he had off just got the better of him at Newbury. Colin and Joe tell me he's been going very well at home, but the proof in the pudding will be on Boxing Day.”

Ruby Walsh knows a thing or two about Kempton’s showpiece, having ridden Kauto Star to a record-breaking five victories. Still recovering from injury, he believes that Nicky Henderson has the leading contender. Speaking to Racing UK he said: “Strictly going on novice form and the performance he was putting up in last year's Feltham, I'd be leaning towards Might Bite. I rode in his RSA and the gallop he went was phenomenal. Kempton will suit him, going right-handed. I think he'll be very hard to beat.”

Walsh also spoke of the Betfair Chase winner, Bristol De Mai, saying: “If we were to get a drop of rain and the track was to get a bit slower, then Bristol De Mai would have a chance. I would say he is an unbelievably strong stayer and that’s why, on testing ground, he just goes the same speed as he would on good ground and it kills off the opposition. I’m not saying he won’t go on good ground, it’s just can he burn the opposition off to the same effect as he does on soft ground?"

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Should trainers and connections hold their nerve, this looks to be a thrilling renewal, with a feel of the ‘changing of the guard’. We have a pair of six-year-olds in Bristol De Mai and Disko. The former fresh from that stunning success at Haydock, and the latter highly regarded by his trainer Noel Meade, and talked of as a Gold Cup prospect. There’s a trio of seven-year-old's, including Tizzard’s classy Tingle Creek runner-up Fox Norton, who steps-up in trip having come-up just short at two-miles. The race favourite; Henderson’s Might Bite, is just eight, and though Thistlecrack and Whisper are both nine, they have very few chase outings to their name.

The decision not to send Sizing John over for the prestigious event came as no surprise. But arguably the biggest name lacking from this year’s line-up is that of trainer Paul Nicholls. He’s won the race seven times in the past 11 years, with Kauto Star and Silviniaco Conti proving Kempton heroes.

Politologue’s win in the Tingle Creek at Sandown would have come as a huge relief to the Ditcheat handler, but the lack of a quality staying chaser in the yard will be hugely frustrating. The performance of Clan Des Obeaux last week at Cheltenham, will give hope of a Nicholls renaissance in this division. By next Christmas, he could be the one making his presence felt in the Christmas showpiece.

Colin Tizzard and Nicky Henderson have shared four of the last seven renewals and both have a pair of strong contenders this time around. Nigel Twiston-Davies will hope to spoil the party, but there’s no doubting that the staying chase landscape, and to some extent the Grade One picture, continues to change, with Team Ditcheat rarely invited to the gathering.

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 lacks Fizz as Nicholls makes it a Tingly Ten

At the highest level, Fox Norton’s vulnerability to a slicker and quicker two-miler proved his undoing, as Politologue held on for a thrilling victory in Saturday’s Tingle Creek at Sandown.

The six-year-old grey, trained by Paul Nicholls, jumped beautifully throughout and at the third-last came alongside Ar Mad at the front of affairs, with a couple of lengths back to Fox Norton. He maintained that advantage to the last and though the runner-up gained all the way to the line, he was never able to bridge the gap.

Nicholls was clearly thrilled with the victory, his tenth in the race: “That means an awful lot, we are just short of a Grade One horse and I always believed in this one. It was a good ride from Harry and I'm delighted for everybody. He is starting to look the proper job. I knew when he went to Exeter there would be huge improvement. No one ever believes you when you say they need a run, but he hadn't been back long enough really.”

The trainer added: “I knew they would go quick and his jumping stands him in great stead. Harry said he just cruises there and ends up idling in front. The faster they go, the more he can get a tow into the race. John (Hales, owner) has always wanted him to be a Gold Cup horse. I just thought at Haydock last season and at Cheltenham we were riding him wrong and doing the wrong thing. That's why I said we will go to back to two at Aintree and we were unlucky that day.”

Speaking to Racing UK a little later Nicholls added: “He’s only six and we’ll just go along with him quietly. That’s only his second run out of novice company and he’s won a Tingle Creek and a Haldon Gold Cup, which is what all those good ones I had before had done. His jumping is brilliant and that’s a big asset to him. We’ll possibly go to Ascot at the end of January for the Clarence House, but there’s one target, the Champion Chase, and that’s what we’ll aim at.”

Hales has owned other high-class two-milers including One Man and Azertyuiop, but had never previously captured the Tingle Creek. He said of the victory: “It is a wonderful win. I'm absolutely delighted. He is only a six-year-old. I thought we had a chance. I thought if we win this today, we've beaten a really good horse. It is a pity Douvan didn't come or Altior wasn't fit because I like to compete against the best and we don't duck anybody. But he a beat a very good horse and all credit to him.”

Harry Cobden had given the winner a perfect ride, and said: “He's a lovely horse, the first day I sat on him was at Haydock over two and a half on heavy ground, he took a bit of my heart that day and he's got it all now.”

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Tizzard appeared a little stunned at proceedings, but admitted that there were always concerns over the right trip for Fox Norton: “Whether he is a Ryanair horse or a King George horse I don’t know. We’ll think about it. I’m sure from now on he will go up in trip - we hankered on it all last year and it looks more like it every time we talk about it. We got in a bit tight at the last and the Paul Nicholls horse was away.”

It became a day of rare disappointment for the Tizzard team, when the decision to run Finian’s Oscar in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase backfired spectacularly. Outpaced on the flat and woefully ponderous at his fences, the five-year-old is clearly no two-mile chaser. Tailed off throughout the contest, he finished 61 lengths behind the impressive winner Sceau Royal and will not be seen over the minimum trip again. Along with Fox Norton, Tizzard will be stepping him up for the remainder of the campaign. Both could find themselves running over three-miles at Kempton during the Christmas period.

The Alan King-trained winner was foot-perfect throughout and zipped past Brain Power approaching the last fence. Henderson’s fella got in close and stumbled on landing, sending David Mullins to the turf, whilst Sceau Royal scooted clear for an 11-length success. North Hill Valley was the eventual runner-up in a dramatic renewal.

The winner is likely to be aimed at the Arkle, though the large galloping and undulating track may not play to his strengths as Sandown clearly did. He was laser-sharp over the obstacles and clearly that will be of benefit come March, though his ability to battle bravely up the final hill will prove just as crucial.

One horse that did battle bravely in testing conditions was Blaklion at Aintree. Punters latched on to the Twiston-Davies chaser, and he was sent-off a short-priced favourite for the Becher Chase. He proved himself the class act, travelling powerfully throughout before pulling clear for a nine-length success. The Last Samuri ran another cracker over the National fences to finish second. Both are likely to return for the ‘main event’ in April, though their respective handicap marks will make life awfully difficult.

Stat of the Day, 30th November 2017

Wednesday's Result :

3.55 Wolverhampton : Skyva @ 6/1 BOG WON at 7/2 Tracked leaders, effort on inner over 1f out, pushed along to lead near finish, wining by a head.

The last selection of another profitable month runs in Thursday's...

1.20 Taunton :

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?

Silent Steps @ 5/2 BOG

A Class 4, 4yo+Novice Handicap Hurdle over 3m on Good ground worth £4549 to the winner.

And a 6 yr old mare making a seasonal reappearance after also moving yards. She finished her last campaign well, coming home as a runner-up in each of her last two starts for trainer Nicky Henderson. People often think that if a horse leaves Nicky's yard, then it's already on the wane, but when you find that this girl has ended up with Paul Nicholls, that necessarily won't always be the case!

Paul Nicholls' horses with more than their fair share of races, especially at the smaller provincial venues, but are generally overbet and therefore poor value from a punting perspective despite the high strike rate, but if you dig deep enough, there are still some angles worth pursuing.

One of those angles is actually very simple...Back Paul's hurdlers at Taunton! Now that seems very basic/straightforward for an SotD angle, but since 2009 this approach has found 74 winners from 210 (35.2% SR)for level stakes profits of 40.5pts (+19.3% ROI), which is excellent for blindly backing a top trainer.

And I could leave it there, but you know I won't/can't! So, of those 210 Taunton hurdlers...

  • Class 4 = 45/127 (35.4%) for 30.4pts (+24%)
  • In Novice races : 49/121 (40.5%) for 19.5pts (+16.1%)
  • from November to January : 40/93 (43%) for 71.63pts (+77%)
  • in handicaps : 19/77 (24.7%) for 20.4pts (+26.5%)
  • 6 yr olds are 22/58 (37.9%) for 7.9pts (+13.6%)
  • at 3m/3m0.5f : 7/28 925%) for 4pts (+14.7%)
  • making their yard debut : 10/24 (41.7%) for 15.8pts (+65.6%)
  • females are 5/12 (41.7%) for 2.6pts (+21.5%)
  • and in Novice handicaps : 3/9 (33.3%) for 2.17pts (+24.1%)

...which points us towards... a 1pt win bet on Silent Steps @ 5/2 BOG which was widely available at 6.55pm on Wednesday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 1.20 Taunton

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!

Harry’s Game

Dan and Harry Skelton continue to make their mark, despite the big-guns beginning to unleash their major players.

Currently second in the trainers’ championship, the Warwickshire team made a fabulous start to the current campaign, and though realistic in their ambitions, will be hoping for further success, such as the promising performance from North Hill Harvey at Cheltenham on Sunday.

Ridden with supreme confidence by Harry Skelton, the imposing young chaser had the race won some distance from home. Cool and calm on top, Skelton met the last two fences on a perfect stride and the horse did the rest. He may not be a World beater, but this young chaser now has four wins to his name at Cheltenham, including last year’s Greatwood Hurdle. A fast run two-mile appears ideal, and there’s scope for plenty more improvement.

The way with which Harry goes about his business is testament to the professionalism of the Skelton’s. Completely immersed in all things Lodge Hill, Harry will be found working and schooling the equine team every day. A stylish, well-balanced young jockey (still only 28), he is particularly strong in a driving finish, low over the horse, getting every drop of effort from his mount. He shuns the limelight, despite himself lying second in the jockeys’ title race, instead praising big-brother Dan for supplying the quality ammunition.

It’s no secret that the Skelton’s are going places, but Harry is undoubtedly a vital component in the team’s success.

Another Harry who sees his stock rising at a rate of knots, is young Harry Cobden. Weather permitting, this coming Saturday he’ll be aboard chasing royalty in Cue Card. A regular these days for both Colin Tizzard and Paul Nicholls, and yet still just 19, this has been an incredible period for the young man from Somerset.

Another that graduated from the pony racing circuit, Cobden has already won his fair share of prestigious races. Paul Nicholls entrusted him with Old Guard in the Greatwood Hurdle of 2015, despite his lack of experience. The then 7lb claimer didn’t disappoint, timing his challenge to perfection before pulling clear after the last.

A year later, the young jock was landing his first Grade One, when driving Irving to a thrilling victory in the Fighting Fifth, defeating Apple’s Jade by a nose. At the time Cobden said of the victory: “To win a Grade One is what dreams are made of and I’m grateful to Mr Nicholls and the owners for putting me on him. To put a 3lb claimer on, in a race like that, may not be the done thing in some eyes, but thankfully the boss has faith in me.”

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The conditional jockeys title followed for the youngster, and those occasional ‘good rides’ have become a regular occurrence. He had a couple of victories at Cheltenham over the weekend. He was onboard Posh Trish for Nicholls in the listed mares’ bumper. And then rode Tizzard’s classy young hurdler, Slate House, to victory in the Supreme Novice Trial. He also came close to landing the BetVictor.com Handicap Chase aboard Vicente, rather ironically losing out to Paddy Brennan and Perfect Candidate.

On Saturday we’ll see if Paddy’s loss is Harry’s gain. Win or lose, there’s no doubting this young man has a bright future in the saddle.

You’d think a pair of upwardly mobile Harry’s would be enough for one article, but it would be unfair to leave out 23-year-old Harry Bannister, who is currently enjoying something of a purple patch. With four wins from his last eight rides, including a double at Southwell yesterday, this young man can do little wrong. Most of his opportunities are coming aboard horses trained by Harry Whittington (I know, hard to believe isn’t it), and a strike-rate of 22% is testament to just how well things are going this season.

But this wouldn’t be horse racing if several highs were not followed by a shattering low. And so it was at Cheltenham, when Whittington’s talented mare Glenmona, ridden by young Harry, stumbled in the back straight resulting in her death. Bannister will have been shaken by such a blow, but jockeys know just how quickly fortunes can change.

Despite the Cheltenham setback, this Harry double-act is clearly flourishing and let’s hope that there are many more successful days to come.

Some will feel that I missed a trick in not exploring in more depth, the achievements of Harry Fry in this piece, especially as he had a winner at Leicester on Sunday by the name of Old Harry Rocks. But this article was always intended to cover the emergence of young Harry’s in the saddle. And the trio profiled are certainly heading in the right direction.

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.

Hendo Blow – But it’s on with the Show

As attention turned to Cheltenham, Jump racing fans were rocked yesterday with the news that Altior will miss most of the season due to a breathing issue.

Nicky Henderson dropped the bomb, saying: “I'm really disappointed to report that Altior will miss the Grade One Tingle Creek at Sandown next month due to a wind problem that has surfaced, which means he will not be ready in time. He started faster work last week in the build-up to Sandown and did an excellent piece with Lough Derg Spirit last Tuesday. However, he made a whistling noise on Saturday, so we did an overland scope yesterday, which is basically galloping while being scoped.

“Between our own vet Dave Matterson and Geoff Lane they both concluded that he has a small issue with his wind whereby his larynx isn't opening sufficiently. After discussing the matter with his owners, Christopher and Pat Pugh, we decided that he will need a small procedure to rectify the problem.”

The trainer is hoping that his equine goliath will return in the Spring, in time for a tilt at the Champion Chase. Sprinter Sacre and Might Bite have had the same procedure in the past, to correct slight breathing problems. Altior’s return to the track looks assured, though the timing remains uncertain. Let’s hope he makes the end of season festivals, and again shows us what a fabulous racehorse he is.

With Defi du Seuil’s withdrawal from Sunday’s Greatwood Hurdle, it is a Henderson inmate that’s taken over at the head of the market. It’s hard to believe that a trainer so dominant in the Champion Hurdle has yet to capture this prestigious event. Jenkins is fancied by many to put that record straight. The form of his win at Newbury last November is strong, though Henderson maintains the youngster is badly handicapped.

He spoke earlier in the week, insisting: “He is handicapped on his reputation as a bumper horse, not on what he’s achieved. He was awful that day when he beat Bags Groove. He couldn’t jump a hurdle. Then he fell into one at Ffos Las in the most appalling race you’ve ever seen and somehow ended up on 137.”

Despite his handicap mark, Henderson does believe the horse is in good shape, adding: “He wants to jump this year and wants to work. If he is back to what he was as a bumper horse, he will be very good.”

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The Dan Skelton-trained North Hill Harvey took the Greatwood 12 months ago, and the stable had the runner-up, Superb Story, in 2015. Mohaayed is their representative this time, and he has been well supported in the markets. He has a winning profile and the trainer insists that he’s suited to better ground. Speaking last month, Skelton was clearly targeting this race with the five-year-old, saying: “We will run him fresh in the Greatwood Hurdle. He’s off a nice mark. We will plan his season from there. He’s got his experience and jumps nicely.”

The feature race on Saturday is the BetVictor Gold Cup, a race that Paul Nicholls has won twice in the past five years. The Ditcheat handler has a pair of strong contenders, and said of them: “This is the ideal race to run him (Romain De Senam) in, as he needs a real fast-run race, which he will get at Cheltenham, and he is in good shape.” The five-year-old has improved for a step-up in trip this term, though his handicap mark has suffered as a consequence.

Of his other entry, Nicholls said: “Le Prezien is in good order. He is rated 150 which is quite high. He is an improving game young horse that gets the trip, so he must have a chance.” He was a close second at Cheltenham in October, when beaten by Foxtail Hill over two miles. It would come as no surprise to see both go close again, with this two-and-a-half mile trip likely to suit the pair.

Colin Tizzard will be looking forward to the meeting, with Fox Norton and Finian’s Oscar expected to go well. Both run under the familiar colours of Alan Potts, who very sadly died earlier in the week. Alan’s death comes just three months after the passing of his wife Ann, and yesterday the family confirmed that horses under the ownership will run as planned. Speaking at Exeter yesterday, Joe Tizzard said: “We’ll certainly be running them because they’ve been planned out for this weekend. Alan was due to come to our place Thursday night and see the yard, then go to Cheltenham. It’s a real shock that he’s no longer with us.”

Potts’s daughter Julie is known to have shared her parent’s love of racing, though whether she’ll be at Cheltenham is unknown. Bryan Cooper will continue as main jockey for the English-based horses. “That’s how Alan wanted it, so it’ll stay like that,” Tizzard Jr said.