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Clondaw Castle gives Tom George another big Kempton success

Tom George landed the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton for a third time as Clondaw Castle relished the step up in trip.

Having his first try over three miles, the nine-year-old was being rewarded for a string of consistent efforts.

Fourth in the Arkle as a novice, he was second in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree earlier in the season.

George had been keen to step him up in trip – but must have wondered if he had done the right thing when Richard Johnson and Mellow Ben set a brisk early gallop that looked sure to find out any rivals with stamina doubts.

With half a mile to run the pace was beginning to falter, but Jamie Moore made sure that was not for long as he took over on Erick Le Rouge.

He led at the second-last but Johnathan Burke had still to ask for everything on Clondaw Castle (17-2) who ran right through the line, coming away to win well by two lengths.

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Last year’s winner Mister Malarky was third, with Romain De Senam fourth. George enjoyed earlier successes in the race through the popular Nacarat, who struck twice, in 2009 and 2012.

George said: “I’m delighted. Jonathan Burke said they were going so quick that he could not have been any closer early on. They went a fair gallop around there. He had to sit tight and wait his moment, but once they started coming back to him, he knew he was always under control.

“He was probably a bit unlucky in the Peterborough Chase when he made a mistake or was almost brought down coming down the hill. The ground was very soft that day, but this is his ground today – a flat track over three miles, this is his optimum conditions.

“He was off 154 today, so that puts him into graded class which I’ve always thought he was. He is in at Cheltenham, but in the back of my mind, I’ve always had it that he will go from here (Kempton) to Aintree for the Bowl.

“He is capable of doing what Nacarat did, to be honest It depends what else turns up, but he will be a fresh horse. Nacarat won this and then won the Grade One there. He will keep on improving over three miles and has had a good long break before this. He should be off a mark of 160 by then and I think handicaps are out of the equation.

“I think the key is a nice, flat track and quick ground. I think he was a bit unfortunate not to have won the Old Roan Chase first time out this season when he was probably out in front a bit too long. He is still learning and hasn’t had that much racing.”

He added: “This race has been a special race for us. Nacarat won it twice and Double Shuffle was second in it twice, so we’ve had some good days here. It is important they keep the track as well, as you need good tracks where you get better ground, rather than keep going around on deep ground all winter.

“The season has been a frustrating one. There has been about five or six different factors and you put them all together and it becomes quite a big thing – a lot of bad ground and badly handicapped horses. I haven’t been concerned and we’ve sat tight.

Tom George has an affinity for Kempton
Tom George has an affinity for Kempton (Simon Cooper/PA)

“I’ve had two winners today and a big winner at Warwick on Friday, so the big thing is to sit tight when things aren’t happening and wait your moment, and hopefully everyone will be rewarded. From now until May is probably the biggest part of the season with lots of good races everywhere.

“I have got a lot of young horses and there is plenty to look forward to.”

The Colin Tizzard-trained Mister Malarky, meanwhile, looks set to take his chance in the Grand National.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He has run well today. With a lot of weight on his back, he has run a blinder. He has bounced off the ground. Harry (Kimber) got a really good start on him, which was important, and then he’s run his race. So, I’m pleased with him.

“I think we will go to the Grand National after that. I think it will convince everybody to have a crack at it on a bit of spring ground. We’ll probably swerve Cheltenham and go straight there.”

George duo out to enhance yard’s proud record in Kempton’s big handicap

Tom George has two lively contenders in Clondaw Castle and Double Shuffle as he bids to continue his fine record in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton.

Nacarat won for George in 2009 and 2012, and he has gone close on other occasions – most notably with Double Shuffle, who was runner-up in 2017 and 2019.

The Cotswolds trainer does not usually run two horses in the same race but is going against the grain on Saturday, because both deserve their chance.

“It’s a race we’ve done well in,” he said.

Trainer Tom George has a fine record in Saturday's feature handicap at Kempton
Trainer Tom George has a fine record in Saturday’s feature handicap at Kempton (PA)

“Those two horses both need to take their chance in it, although it’s not ideal running them against each other.”

This will be Double Shuffle’s fourth run in the race in its various guises, at a venue where he was also second in the King George VI Chase in 2017 and a course-and-distance winner just last month.

“Double Shuffle loves the track and likes good ground, and has run well in it before,” added George.

“He’s been struggling over the last year running on the wrong tracks on the wrong ground, wrong everything – and the handicapper hasn’t given him a chance – but I like to think he retains plenty of ability, and he’s in good form.

George believes the step up to three miles will suit Clondaw Castle.

“He’s ready for a step up to three miles. It’s what we’ve been waiting for, and this is a good opportunity to do it,” he said.

“He’s got plenty of pace. He was placed in an Arkle, but at the end of the day he’s going to be a stayer, so we should hopefully see plenty of progression stepped up in trip.”

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Cap Du Nord is among the opposition, having run third in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster – where his trainer Christian Williams felt the three miles in testing conditions just found him out.

“I think the ground will be perfect, and he’s acted round the track before,” said Williams.

Cap Du Nord is expected to be suited by the ground and trip at Kempton
Cap Du Nord is expected to be suited by the ground and trip at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He made a mistake at the second last at Doncaster, but I still think he’d have finished third – I just think he got outstayed by two more experienced horses, who were proper stayers.

“I think he jumped and travelled well in the race, but the ground just zapped him. It was great to be involved in a race like that and finish in the first four.

“This has been the plan since.”

Connections of Slate House are hoping the nine-year-old can return to the form that brought him Grade One success in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase over the course and distance on Boxing Day 2019.

“He is a Grade One winner around the track,” said Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father Colin.

“He ran a nice race over two and a half at Wincanton last time, and that just put him right for it hopefully. It is a competitive race – but I think it is the right race for him.

“Things haven’t quite gone to plan for him this season – and although he didn’t run badly at Wincanton last time, he is not the easiest horse to keep right, so we were a bit held up in the early part of the season with him.

“His next target has been this since Wincanton – and although it was probably a couple of weeks longer than what he needed, it was the right race to aim for.”

Black Corton bids to go one better than 12 months ago, when he was beaten two lengths by the Tizzard-trained Mister Malarkey.

“I’ve been waiting for this better ground for Black Corton – who had been working nicely with Secret Investor, gutsy winner of the Denman Chase last Sunday,” trainer Paul Nicholls told Betfair.

Black Corton will have to defy top weight in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase
Black Corton will have to defy top weight in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase (Julian Herbert/PA)

“I’ve left him alone in the worst of the winter, while the going was heavy everywhere, and he is ready to go again.

“Although Black Corton doesn’t get any help from the handicapper, it’s encouraging that he ran tidily in this race last year and always goes well fresh. He is ready and could go very well.”

The Ditcheat handler also saddles Southfield Stone, who was second in the Grade Two novice chase on this card last year.

“He won an all-weather bumper at Kempton the other day, has also won over hurdles at the track and all his best performances have come on good ground,” he said.

“As he has never run over more than two and a half miles, he is now stepping into the unknown over three miles for the first time. But I’ve always felt he would stay this far, particularly round this flat track on good ground. So there are plenty of plus points.”

Alan King is hoping Talkischeap can confirm his place in the Randox Grand National.

“I’ve got to run him – he hasn’t had a chase run since this race last year,” said the Barbury Castle handler.

“He needs a bit of practice, and we need to run him in this to qualify for Aintree.

“I think whatever he does he’ll improve for it. He has had the two runs on the all-weather – and they have certainly brought him on – but I’m just hoping for a good, solid run and then we can head towards Aintree.”

Chris Gordon expects Mellow Ben to run a good race
Chris Gordon expects Mellow Ben to run a good race (John Walton/PA)

Mellow Ben has run creditably in defeat several times at Kempton, and his trainer Chris Gordon believes that will stand him in good stead.

“He seems in very good form at home,” he said.

“He’s got some good form round there to make a good case for him.

“I think the ground will suit him. I’m looking forward to him running a decent race.”

George launches dual assault on Peterborough prize

Clondaw Castle and Bun Doran give Tom George a strong hand in the rearranged Fitzdares Club Loves The Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham.

High-class two-mile chaser Bun Doran will step up to two and a half miles for the first time since the spring of 2018 in a Grade Two contest that was saved from last Sunday’s abandoned meeting at Huntingdon.

Clondaw Castle was not due to contest the race last weekend, but is a definite contender at Prestbury Park judged on his Newbury victory of a fortnight ago.

George said: “Clondaw Castle was second in the Old Roan at Aintree on his first run of the season and won well at Newbury. He’s in good form I think he’s progressing well.

“He was also in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup on Saturday, but I was worried the ground might be too soft by then.

“We’re going into unknown territory with Bun Doran – stepping him up in trip. He’s too high in the weights for a lot of two-mile handicaps, so we’ll see how he gets on over two and a half. I’m open-minded about it really.”

Another leading fancy who was not due to run at Huntingdon is Kalashnikov.

Kalashnikov returns to chasing for Amy Murphy
Kalashnikov returns to chasing for Amy Murphy (Nigel French/PA)

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Amy Murphy’s stable star prefers a left-handed track – and having been just touched off in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle a few years ago, he clearly acts at Cheltenham.

“Kalashnikov is in good shape,” said Murphy.

“I was really pleased with his comeback effort at Haydock (over hurdles), where he got tired late on and probably didn’t stay three miles on that ground.

“The Peterborough Chase wasn’t Plan A, but now it is being run on a left-handed track, it made sense to go as he is much better going this way round.”

On the other hand, Paul Nicholls is not as enamoured the race was moved to Cheltenham for Dolos.

He told Betfair: “I was very keen on his chances in this race on Sunday at Huntingdon as he is well suited by racing on a flat track.

“Two and a half miles is ideal for Dolos, who is so consistent and again ran a fine race under top weight at Cheltenham in October when fourth to Rouge Vif.

“But I’d have been more confident if the race hadn’t been transferred from Huntingdon to Cheltenham.”

Nicky Henderson is once again the man to beat in the race, with both Top Notch and Mister Fisher declared.

Top Notch won his first Peterborough Chase at Taunton
Top Notch won his first Peterborough Chase at Taunton (Julian Herbert/PA)

Henderson has won the race seven times and is looking to join Henrietta Knight on eight wins, with Top Notch himself bidding for a Peterborough hat-trick on his reappearance.

Henderson told Unibet: “I am sure that the wind operation will help Top Notch. It has helped him, but it has held me up.

“It is possible that he might need the run, but he is able to do another piece of work (with the extra week), which might just help him.

“The rain came so suddenly before Mister Fisher’s reappearance at Cheltenham, really I should have taken him out, because we knew it was pointless running him, but the rain only came an hour before the race and we were committed.

“Nico (de Boinville) was well aware of it and he pulled him up in bags of time. It was horrible that day, we had a whole lot of horses that just couldn’t cope with it at all and he was one of them. He seems in really good form at home.”

Black Corton represents Paul Nicholls
Black Corton represents Paul Nicholls in the long-distance handicap chase (Mike Egerton/PA)

The Venetia Williams-trained Fanion D’Estruval and Glen Forsa from Mick Channon’s yard complete the field.

In the Grade Three Unibet Handicap Chase over three and a quarter miles, Nicholls runs top-weight Black Corton, who departed just after halfway in the race won by Imperial Aura at Ascot last time out.

“He was rather unlucky at Ascot last time when he stumbled on landing and parted company with Bryony Frost,” said Nicholls.

“Life isn’t easy for him off a mark of 160, but he seems very well and I’m putting on cheek pieces to try to sharpen him up a bit.

“He’s won twice at Cheltenham in the past and will run his usual genuine race, though he wouldn’t want too much rain overnight.”

Court Maid won a valuable prize at Fairyhouse just 12 days ago for the father and son combination of Tom and David Mullins – and turns out relatively quickly under a penalty.

Summerville may head to Newbury

The Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle could be next on the agenda for recent Aintree winner Summerville Boy.

Tom George’s 2018 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner kicked off last season over fences, before reverting to the smaller obstacles to win the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

The eight-year-old subsequently chased home Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle before finishing fifth in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival in March.

He made a successful reappearance in a two-and-a-half-mile conditions race at Aintree this month, and George is keen to give his charge another tilt at three miles – with a potential rematch with Paisley Park at Newbury on the cards.

“There is a strong possibility he might run in the Long Distance Hurdle,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“He had a good comeback at Aintree a couple of weeks ago. It is at the back of our minds he didn’t see the three miles out in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival, but he was only beaten six lengths.

“He was ridden very prominently in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and we tried to go with Apple’s Jade, but his stamina just ran out at the end.

“We have a few other things we can do with him. He has come on enormously since Aintree the other day.”

Haldon Gold Cup Trends

The focus is on Exeter racecourse on Tuesday 3rd November as they stage the 2020 Haldon Gold Cup Chase – a Grade 2 limited handicap run over 2m1f.

In recent years the likes of Cue Card and Politologue have used this race to get their seasons started!

Here at GeeGeez we've got all the key stats to look out for ahead of the 2020 renewal, this year run on Tuesday 3rd November.

Did you know? 12 of the last 18 winners were French-bred, while ALL of the last 18 winners returned 10/1 or shorter in the betting.

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Recent Haldon Gold Cup Winners

2019 - JANIKA (5/2 fav)
2018 – GOD’S OWN (7/2)
2017 - POLITOLOGUE (5/2 fav)
2016 – SIR VALENTINO (10/1)
2015 – VIBRATO VALTAT (5/2 fav)
2014 – GOD’S OWN (8/1)
2013 – SOMERSBY (9/2)
2012 – CUE CARD (5/6 fav)
2011 – MEDERMIT (7/2)
2010 – TCHICO POLOS (3/1)
2009 – PLANET OF SOUND (4/1 fav)
2008 – ASHLEY BROOK (8/1)
2007 – PABLO DU CHARMIL (9/2)
2006 – IMPEK (9/1)
2005 – MONKERHOSTIN (10/1)
2004 – AZERTYUIOP (6/5 fav)
2003 – EDREDON BLEU (7/2)
2002 -  EDREDON BLEU (10/1)

Haldon Gold Cup Betting Trends

18/18 – Returned 10/1 or shorter in the betting
17/18 – Had won a chase race over at least 2m2f before
17/18 – Having their 1st run of the new season
16/18 – Officially rated 150 or higher
15/18 – Had won at least 3 times over fences before
12/18 – Won by a French-bred horse
12/18 – Carried 10-9 or more
11/18 – Aged 6 or 7 years-old
10/18 – Winning distance – 3 lengths or more
10/18 – Finished in the top 3 last time out
10/18 – Ran at either Aintree (5) or Cheltenham (5) last time out
7/18 – Unplaced favourites
7/18 – Had won just 3 previous times over fences
6/18 – Winning favourites
5/18 – Had won over fences at Exeter before
5/18 – Carried 11-10
4/18 – Aged 7 years-old
4/18 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
3/18 – Trained by Tom George
3/18 – Ridden by Richard Johnson
3/18 – Won their last race
2/18 – Trained by Philip Hobbs
The average winning SP in the last 18 years is 5/1

 

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Imperial Aura aiming to build on Festival success

Cheltenham Festival winner Imperial Aura is one of six runners declared for Sunday’s Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase at Carlisle.

The two-and-a-half-mile Listed contest has an illustrious roll of honour, with subsequent Grand National hero Many Clouds (2014), the top-class Waiting Patiently (2017) and last year’s Betfair Chase scorer Lostintranslation among the recent winners.

This year’s renewal promises to be as informative as ever, with Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura the top-rated runner on his first start since winning the novices’ handicap chase at Prestbury Park in March.

“He’s in good form and ready to go,” said Bailey.

“He’s in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham (November 14), but we’ll see how he goes on Sunday before deciding what we do.

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“He’s in good shape.”

The Olly Murphy-trained Brewin’upastorm had a less favourable experience at Cheltenham last season, unseating Richard Johnson four fences from home in the Arkle Trophy.

The Milan gelding made a successful start to his chasing career at this venue last October and Murphy is looking forward to his return to action in Cumbria on Sunday.

Murphy said: “He’s in good form and will handle the ground fine – probably some of his best form is on soft ground.

“It’s very much a race to try to get his confidence back, as he obviously didn’t have a great time of it at Cheltenham and gave himself a bit of a fright.

“I’m really looking forward to running him and it looks a good starting point for the year. If he ran well, I thought we might look at something like the Peterborough Chase.”

Black Op has not been seen since filling the runner-up spot behind Slate House in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day of last year, with the outbreak of coronavirus putting paid to planned runs at the spring Festivals at Aintree and Punchestown.

Trainer Tom George said: “It will be good to get him back on track as he hasn’t run since last Christmas. We purposely missed Cheltenham, waiting for Aintree and Punchestown with him, and we ended up missing them all.

“This is a good starting point for him. The target is the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and he needs to have a run before then, so we thought this race would put him right for that.

“He’s in good form and we’re happy with him, but this is a stepping-stone.”

Anthony Honeyball’s Sam Brown, the Brian Ellison-trained Windsor Avenue and Ardlethen from Dan Skelton’s yard complete the quality sextet.