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Harry Cobden “Conditionally Speaking” 15th Nov 2016

After winning on Viconte de Noyer at Cheltenham Saturday

After winning on Viconte du Noyer at Cheltenham Saturday

It was a quieter week for me last week, though quality more than made up for quantity.

I rode a nice mare for Mark Tompkins at Huntingdon on Tuesday, called Sweeping Beauty and, though she was sent off at 50/1, she made a really eye-catching debut. She's quite a buzzy filly so we decided to drop her in. During the race, she travelled great and quickened up well when I asked her to finish second, only beaten two lengths by the winner. She might run at Warwick in a mares' bumper next and hopefully I'll have the ride on her because I think she will go very close.

Then it was all roads lead to Cheltenham for the really competitive Open meeting, where I had four rides on the Saturday, including Frodon in the big race, the BetVictor Gold Cup.

First up was the staying handicap chase, where I got the leg up on Viconte Du Noyer for Colin Tizzard. Looking at the race beforehand I thought it was a really bold decision by Mr Tizzard to run this horse at Cheltenham, stepping up in trip almost a mile and a half, because he ran a brilliant race at Aintree last season over two miles in the Red Rum Handicap Chase: getting hampered up the run in and only being beaten two lengths it was an excellent performance.

In the race itself, Viconte Du Noyer travelled and jumped great the whole way, and I was able to deliver him at the second last with his challenge. He went on to win by a length and a half after I'd tried to keep a bit up my sleeve to make sure we would get up that everlasting Cheltenham hill!

I'm very grateful to Mr and Mrs Potts for giving me the opportunity to ride for them in such a big race, and really pleased I was able to win for them.

In the big race of the meeting, I rode Frodon, a Grade 2 winner the previous Saturday. Still only four, he was travelling beautifully until he banked the fence at the top of the hill, four out, which finished his chances of winning this day. After that, I just coaxed him home to finish down the field. He remains a horse with plenty of upside for the season.

Millanisi Boy is a nice chasing type but he was a big price for the handicap hurdle over two and a half miles. I wanted to keep wide throughout because the inside was beginning to get very patchy, and turning in I thought I was going to win. But we just lacked a bit of toe up the hill, running a great race to finish third, eventually beaten four lengths. That was off a mark of 122, and his trainer, Richard Woollacott, is now thinking about going over fences with him, though he may have one more run in a handicap hurdle first. He should make up into a very decent chaser when the time comes.

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In the closing Listed mares' bumper, I was on board Pearl Royale, a really big imposing filly by Robin Des Champs. She was a no hoper according to the betting but, though very keen throughout, she was only beaten seven lengths by the winner, finishing a very eye-catching 5th. I think she will be a mare that we could be seeing a fair amount of in Listed mares' races in the not too distant future.

On Sunday, I had just the one ride, but it was on a very talented lad in the Greatwood Hurdle. I won the race twelve months earlier on Old Guard, my first big race success, and this year I rode Modus who is owned by Mr McManus. He was second at the Cheltenham Festival in the Champion Bumper of 2014 and it's always a positive when they've run well around Cheltenham.

In truth, he didn't really travel like a contender throughout most of the race but turning down the hill I had a lovely run up the inner which got me into a nice position before turning into the home straight. From there, I jumped the last upsides and probably nosed in front halfway up the run in, but unfortunately we got out-battled by North Hill Harvey. Still, it was a really nice performance by Modus, and I think he will be a serious two mile chaser in time.

It looks like being a fairly quiet week for me, though I'll probably be heading to Haydock on Saturday to renew my partnership with Old Guard in the Betfair Price Rush Hurdle. He's still only five, and this will be his first spin over hurdles since he ran behind Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle last December.

I may also get the call for Mr Mix in the Grade 3 Betfair Exchange "Fixed Brush" Handicap Hurdle. He ran a cracking race in the Silver Trophy last time, and would have nearly won but for stepping at the third last. Even so, he was only beaten two lengths, with Taquin De Seuil [BetVictor Gold Cup winner] a length behind, and that is very good form. He has a live chance in an open looking race.

Have a great week.

- Harry

Harry Cobden “Conditionally Speaking” 8th Nov 2016

It’s been another good week for me with four winners from eleven rides, and a personal milestone as well.

Last Thursday, Unify won her third novice chase, dropping back in trip from her last two runs. She travelled and jumped well to win by a length and quarter. She has her issues, so huge credit goes to Antony Honeyball who has done a brilliant job placing her in the right races.

Saturday was my eighteenth birthday, and I had a fantastic book of rides at Wincanton. Capitaine and Boa Island were very short priced favourites, both really nice progressive horses who travelled and jumped brilliantly to win very nicely.

Capitaine is still learning and was maybe a little bit keen here. But he’s classy and his owner and trainer will put their heads together about maybe stepping him up in grade next time.

The day got better with Frodon bolting up in a small but select field in the Grade 2 Rising Stars Novices’ Chase. He’s still only four and is very smart. Best of all, he gets a lovely weight chasing because of his age. He's an easy horse to ride because he jumps and travels so well throughout his races, and he gave me my highest level win, my first in Grade 2 company.

Southfield Theatre was very unfortunate not to win the Badger Ales Trophy Chase. Turning in to the straight I wanted to make ground on the leaders, and as we jumped the second last upsides I felt like I had it won. Coming down to the last with a half a length advantage, my lad just clipped the top of the fence and, very disappointingly, came down.

Annoyingly, I also came off Zubayr at the last. While he was probably held at the time, we were rallying and it might have been close. The main thing is that both are fine so they should be back in action soon enough. Mrs Yeoman, Southfield Theatre’s owner, was especially good about it considering there was a very trophy – and pot – up for grabs. I’m very thankful for her kindness, but disappointed he didn’t quite get high enough.

Although it was my eighteenth birthday, I just had a quiet night with no big celebration, because on Sunday, I was at Ffos Las for another nice couple of rides. City Supreme will definitely come on from his run, and with any luck the handicapper will drop him a couple of pounds for finishing 7th. He looks sure to be bang there next time.

Unify was unable to build on her third win in six weeks when only third in a handicap chase. She might find life a bit tougher now.

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I’m now up to 28 winners for the season, putting me nicely clear in the conditionals’ race at the moment. But I know I have to keep my head down, ride well, and continue to develop. I’ve been fortunate to have the support of Mr Nicholls and Anthony Honeyball, as well as a number of other very supportive trainers.

Looking forward to this week, I ride John Biscuit at Huntingdon today. He has to have a chance only going up three pounds for his win at Plumpton, and I’d be optimistic that he could be progressive now he's got his head in front. Off a mark of 82 he still looks well treated.

All going well I might get another chance to ride Frodon in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday. He was very impressive around Wincanton the weekend just gone, and I'm really grateful that Mr Nicholls and the owners, Mr Vogt and Mr Fogg, are thinking of keeping me on him. He's got a lovely weight and the track and trip should suit just right.

It was a busy Monday morning yesterday schooling some of the weekend runners. All the horses seem in great shape and it was very good to see Sam Twiston-Davies making an appearance this morning after his nasty fall at Chepstow’s opening meeting, Sam should hopefully be back race riding this weekend.

Sam’s fall and, much worse, Freddy Tylicki’s at Kempton are a stark reminder that all jockeys are only one fall away from serious injury. It is obviously a risky sport for all involved. The mood in the weighing room this week has been sombre, with plenty of the lads going to see Freddy.

One small silver lining is the attention the Injured Jockeys’ Fund has received, and the number of people who have contributed either directly to Freddy or to the IJF shows racing in a positive light at a very dark time.

Have a great week.

- Harry

RSA Chase 2015 Preview, Trends, Tips

RSA Chase Preview and tips

RSA Chase Preview and tips

RSA Chase 2015 Preview, Trends, Tips

It's the staying novice chase championship, and the RSA Chase has been the portent of numerous future top notchers, most recently Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth, winners of the last two Gold Cups.

RSA Chase Trends

As usual, trends cover the last seventeen renewals going back to 1997 (abandoned in 2001 due to foot and mouth), and are provided with thanks to horseracebase.com

Age: 13 of the last 17 winners (76%) were aged seven. Indeed, 13 of the last 15 winners were, but let's not cherry-pick! Those 13 winners came from just 49% of the runners. None of the 23 horses aged nine or higher has won, and only one placed.

Last Time Out:

Finishing Position: All seventeen winners since 1997 finished in the first three last time out, with nine winning (53%, from 48% of the runners); six finishing second (35%, from 20% runners); and two finishing third (12%, from 11% runners).

Grade: Although the four winners from 41 runners to have raced in Grade 1 company last time broke about even to level stakes, the four winners from 52 runners to have competed at Grade 2 level the last day were deeply unprofitable to follow. That was despite both being roughly in line with their 'expected' number of wins.

Those horses coming into the RSA Chase from a last time run in an ungraded event won eight of 106 starts - again, about what should be expected from that number of runners. In other words, there is very little to be gleaned from the grade of race last time.

Distance: None of the 44 runners stepping up from a race distance below 2m5f last time was able to win, while those to have raced between 2m5f and three miles the last day moving less markedly to the stamina-sapping three miles half a furlong here bagged 14 of the 17 renewals from 116 runners (82% winners from 56% runners). They were also worth a profit at SP of 21.33 points.

This looks a material factor.

Days since a run: Although Hanakham wheeled back to the track twenty days after his previous race back in 1997, all of the subsequent sixteen RSA Chase winners have had between three weeks and two months off the track. Further, those absent for between one and two months have claimed eleven of the seventeen (65%) from 83 runners (40%).

Course of last run: Since 1997, RSA Chase winners last ran at Ascot (3 from 31); Exeter, Fontwell, Haydock, Huntingdon, Kempton, Newbury, Punchestown, Sandown, and Wincanton (one apiece); and Leopardstown (5 from 35).

The following look noteworthy :

- The three Ascot to RSA Chase winners all ran in the Reynoldstown Chase, two winning and one finishing second

- The five Leopardstown to RSA Chase winners all ran in the Dr PJ Moriarty Novices' Chase, three winning, one second and one third.

- The thirty runners to have competed last at either Kempton or Cheltenham have scored just once between them, that being Lord Noelie, who took in a run of the mill novice chase at the first-named track in 2000. Only one other horse was placed in the RSA having run at these two premier courses last time out.

This year's Reynoldstown Chase will be run on 14th February, and the first two home should be noted. The result of the 2015 Dr PJ Moriarty Novices' Chase was:

1st Apache Stronghold
2nd Valseur Lido (beaten 1/2 length)
3rd Adriana Des Mottes (beaten 5 lengths)

Experience: Those with more experience of fences have fared best. To wit, those with between three and five chase starts under their belt claimed 14 of the last 17 RSA Chases (82%), from 134 runners (64%)

Interestingly, perhaps, those coming into the RSA Chase unbeaten over fences are just two from 33 since 1997, for a huge 86% loss on stakes.

Breeding: 15 of the last 17 winners have been Irish bred.

At this stage, those with the best trends fits include Sausalito Sunrise, Apache Stronghold, If In Doubt and Deputy Dan.

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RSA Chase Form Preview

This looks a cracking race, and it's one which is likely to be run at a very fast gallop with two of the first three in the betting confirmed front runners, and both of them unbeaten in three over fences.

We start with Kings Palace, who completed his fencing hat-trick with a hard fought win in a two horse novices' chase at Newbury on Saturday. While that was far from impressive, his two previous chase wins were: both of them typified by fluent jumping from the front, and comfortable margins over the same horse, Sausalito Sunrise.

He'd looked classy and a good jumper prior to the laboured effort at Newbury, where the ground could have been softer than ideal. Likely to be firmer turf at Cheltenham, my main worry is whether he can get his own way on the lead, which seems very important to Kings Palace. There is also the niggle about the way he folded in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival last year, and those two concerns are enough for me to overlook David Pipe's inmate at the price.

The other confirmed front runner is Coneygree, a novice who looks an absolute natural. Indeed, you'll be hard pushed to find a better round of jumping from a novice in a big race than his Denman Chase win.

Mark Bradstock's eight year old missed almost two years after a decent third to At Fisher's Cross in the Neptune Trial race in January 2013. Reappearing at the end of November last year, he's racked up three wins in Graded company: a Grade 1 (Feltham Novices' Chase) and two Grade 2's.

He is a most fluent jumper, and has a high cruising speed. Moreover, his beating of Houblon Des Obeaux and Unioniste in the Denman puts him on the fringes of the Gold Cup picture. Connections are reportedly very tempted by that race, but in my opinion it would be a mistake.

While I'll temper my feelings short of comparison with the ill-fated Gloria Victis, another impressive novice pitched in at the Gold Cup, I do feel that the RSA is the obvious race for Coneygree, and that there'd be nothing lost in waiting for next year for a tilt at the Blue Riband.

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Still, I'm not the owner and it's easy for me to be dispassionate about somebody else's horse. At any rate, it's very hard to countenance a bet on Coneygree in the context of his potential absence, and also mindful that he may not get his usual free rein in front of a high class RSA Chase field (or indeed in the Gold Cup itself).

Don Poli trumps both of the aforementioned pair in the betting, by dint of his Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase win at Christmas and, of course, of his Cheltenham Festival win last season in the Martin Pipe Conditionals' Handicap Hurdle. Unbeaten in two over fences so far, that's less experienced than all bar two of the last seventeen winners of the RSA Chase.

He too has alternative engagements, and there has been much chatter about Don Poli potentially going for the novices' chase (Toby Balding National Hunt Chase) so that trainer Willie Mullins' son, Patrick, can ride. Although that may be wide of the mark, it is a concern in a race where no bookmaker is yet non-runner no bet.

On the bright side, the horse he beat - and beat well - at Leopardstown was Apache Stronghold, himself winner of the PJ Moriarty Chase last weekend. The Moriarty is over three furlongs shy of the Topaz trip, and that looks to be Apache Stronghold's optimum, whereas Don Poli stays better, as he showed when looking set for defeat in that Christmas run.

I think Don Poli looks the most likely winner of the RSA Chase - largely in line with his ante post market position - but I'd far sooner wait until the day even though that probably means taking a shorter price. There's no sense in 9/2 about a non-runner when 7/2 or 4/1 may be available on the day!

It's 10/1 bar that trio, and that brings in the highly progressive The Young Master. Neil Mulholland's stable star has come from nowhere this year, having finished 9th of 11 in a Class 5 handicap hurdle in October 2013. That's the basement level but, since then, he's nabbed three handicap hurdles, two all weather handicaps on the flat, and four out of four chases.

He was disqualified from his win in the Badger Ales Trophy, due to having been ineligible to run, but that detracts not one iota from a tremendous performance. And The Young Master, still only six, looked progressive again when beating Houblon Des Obeaux in a Listed handicap chase at Ascot in December.

A strong stayer and most progressive - he's gone from a rating of 94 for that first hurdle win to a chase mark now of 151 - The Young Master would be more of interest to me if running again before Cheltenham, having not raced since before Christmas, and he's another I'd rather play at slightly shorter with fitness assured.

A trio of 14/1 chances follow: Valseur Lido, Southfield Theatre and Apache Stronghold. The last named looks quite likely to run in a different race and is excluded on that basis. Valseur Lido also has three entries, ranging from 2m4f to four miles, and his participation in the RSA Chase may hinge on which way stablemate Don Poli goes. If Don Poli goes the four-miler, Valseur Lido comes here. And if Valseur Lido comes here, he has a chance.

Although the Dr P J Moriarty was the furthest he's raced to date - 2m5f - he seemed if anything to be slightly outpaced by the winner when going down by half a length. He'd previously won the Grade 1 Drinmore Novices' Chase, although it should be said that race has been a poor form guide to Cheltenham Festival novice events.

Paul Nicholls trains Southfield Theatre, yet another with multiple entries as he is also in the four miler at this stage. Given that he's never raced beyond three miles over fences, it looks more likely he'll take in the RSA Chase. And I like his chance, despite it being possible to pick holes in his chasing form.

He's had four runs over fences, three of them wins, and they include a Grade 2 event. He was beaten in another Grade 2 at Newbury over three miles, but that was on soft ground. His best form is all on quicker surfaces.

Then, on 8th February, Southfield Theatre beat Melodic Rendezvous in a fair novice chase at Exeter. Although he wasn't fortunate to win that race, his main challenger fell at the last when upsides. That trial, over two and a half miles, would have been plenty short enough for the winner, with his Cheltenham race record showing a nose second to Fingal Bay in last year's Pertemps over three miles; and a short neck third in a 3m2f handicap hurdle, also last season.

So, we know he stays, we know he wants good ground (which he'll probably get), we know he acts on the track, and we know he's a sound jumper. In the circumstances, then, 14/1 looks good about a horse more likely than not to turn up, and with an almost perfect trends profile (he falls down on the last time out race distance stat, but should arguably be marked up for being able to win over a sub-optimal trip).

Ptit Zig comes next and looks more likely to run in the JLT where he has a very solid chance. We then go to the 25/1 shots, Apache Jack and Sausalito Sunrise.

Sausalito Sunrise fell behind Coneygree in the Feltham last time, and looks to have been foiled by an emphasis on speed over stamina in his last three runs. He's an out and out stayer, so chasing home Kings Palace twice in a sprint to the line; and then trying to hang on to Coneygree's shirt-tails around the more speedy Kempton Park was a tough ask. Three miles in a Championship event where they'll go mad from the tape rise looks ideal, and this normally sound jumper was sixth - albeit beaten far enough - in the Albert Bartlett last year.

The truth is he's probably not quite good enough to win. But, despite that, his form ties in well with two of the first three in the betting, and he's 25/1.

Apache Jack is a son of Oscar, sire of the last two RSA Chase winners, and was good enough to finish third in the Albert Bartlett last year. He definitely wants better ground than he's been racing on this season to date. Specifically, on ground described as soft or worse, his form is 76319231; on quicker turf, it reads 73134 (with the 34 being in Grade 1 Championship events).

Apache Jack would have been beaten last time but for the final fence fall of Gilt Shadow, but again that was on soft ground. With just two chase starts to his name, I'd like to see him race again before mid-March, but at the price I'm happy to take a fraction, given his proven good ground Festival form.

And, talking of big prices and that Albert Bartlett form, it might be worth hurling a couple of pence in the direction of 'potato race' second, Deputy Dan. His current odds of 50/1 are about right on the balance of his novice chase form, but he's surely better than he's shown to date.

I say "he's surely better than he's shown to date", but he actually might not be. However, here's the case for the defence: five chase starts in close proximity to each other may have over-taxed him; at least a couple of those were over shorter trips than ideal; and, none has been run at the rapid pace off which he seems to travel so well.

Making excuses for horses is an expensive habit but, at 50/1, I'm prepared to risk a tenner to a monkey that Oliver Sherwood might have two staying chase Festival hopes (Many Clouds being the other) capable of striking gold.

RSA Chase Tips

There are reasons to look away from the top of the RSA Chase market, at this stage at least. Kings Palace has questions to answer on Festival form and won't get a soft lead; Coneygree may run elsewhere, and even if he doesn't, won't get a soft lead; Don Poli may also run elsewhere, and is more inexperienced than most RSA winners; and, it's 10/1 bar.

Southfield Theatre will enjoy the ground and the trip, and has been brought to the boil nicely by trainer, Paul Nicholls. He looks very likely to take in this race. And, at the prices, I think Apache Jack has plenty of value meat left on his odds bone. Finally, for small money, Deputy Dan could truncate markedly for the RSA if taking up - and winning - one of his pair of Leicester engagements this week.

1 pt Southfield Theatre 14/1 general (all in run or not)

1 pt Apache Jack 25/1 general (all in run or not)

0.5 pt Deputy Dan 50/1 general (all in run or not)

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