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Tizzard top in Tolworth

Finian’s Oscar ran out a comfortable winner of the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

In the absence of Nicky Henderson’s Kayf Grace, Saturday’s renewal looked to be a head-to-head between Tizzard’s exciting youngster, and the Paul Nicholls trained Capitaine. The pair battled for favouritism, and then continued the tussle on the track. In truth, the result rarely looked in doubt. Approaching two flights from home, Tom O’Brien made his move, and Finian’s Oscar swept clear. Capitaine tried to go with him, but a poor jump at the second last put paid to his chances.

Tizzard said of the impressive winner: “He’s a real professional horse. He's a gorgeous young horse, but we were worried we’d not done enough with him. He's only won a point to point and a novices' hurdle at Hereford, but the way he did it at Hereford, why waste him in a little race when you can have a go at this? He looked in control most of the way and he soon went five lengths clear. He stuttered into the last and I thought ‘is he going to stop’, but as soon as Tom got busy, he went on again.”

Of plans leading to The Festival in March, Tizzard added: “He probably will run again. I think the easiest option is to go two and a half, but he's got the speed for two and he stays.”

Bookies were taking no chances, and slashed his odds to 5/1 for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle. He’s generally a 10/1 shot for the shorter Supreme Novices’. With the ground likely to run quicker at Cheltenham in March, the chances are that he will head for the Neptune. The trip should prove ideal, though whether his performance on Saturday warrants such euphoria is questionable.

Capitaine floundered somewhat in the ground, having previously run below par at Haydock in testing conditions. It was also a surprise to see Sam Twiston-Davies riding such a patient race, after the horse had performed so well from the front at Ascot the time before. He’s a gelding that lacks gears, and was caught short when O’Brien kicked for home on the winner. Messire Des Obeaux, and numerous runners from Ireland, are likely to prove a far more serious test for Tizzard’s young novice in March.

One that looks likely to swerve the clash is the impressive Irish hurdler, Death Duty. He was in action at Naas yesterday, taking the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle. His task was made easier by the last flight fall of Augusta Kate. Willie Mullins’ mare was launching a strong challenge, and had every chance, when Ruby was forced to go long at the last. The mare crumpled on landing, leaving Death Duty in glorious isolation, galloping home to win by nine lengths.

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Of the victory, Gordon Elliott said: “To be honest, I thought they didn't go fast enough. Our lad is just an out-and-out stayer. They were upsides when the mare fell, so it's hard to say but the one thing you know about our horse is that he would have kept pulling out. Jack thought he had it covered. He has his job done again and that will be it now until Cheltenham.”

Doubts remain over the festival target, though Elliott appeared to be favouring the longer race when saying: “There is a long way to go between now and Cheltenham, but if the race was tomorrow, I'd be saying the Albert Bartlett, definitely. He's a proper, big three-mile chaser. At this stage, of all the good horses I've had, none of them were ever as good as hurdlers, but that doesn't mean they'll do it as chasers. I'd say he's a fair one.”

Mullins was philosophical in defeat, when saying of Augusta Kate: “She trotted up fine. I'm sure she'll be a little bit sore in the morning. She was running a good race and Ruby felt he had a little bit left, but there was still a lot of racing to do. The winner is a fair machine, so we're just happy our mare was running a good race. Whether she'd have won or not is another day's work.”

Festival targets remain a mystery, with Mullins adding: “We'll see how she comes out of the race and go from there.”

There’s no doubt that she was running a huge race when coming down at the last, and is now generally a 5/1 chance for the Mares Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Mullins already has the favourite for that particular race in Airlie Beach, and it would come as no surprise should one of them take their chance against the boys in the Neptune.

For now, it’s Death Duty and Finian’s Oscar that have enhanced their reputation, with the Cheltenham Festival looming large on the horizon.

Hobbs Can Depend On Tom

Tom O’Brien once again proved himself an able deputy for Champion Jockey Richard Johnson, when winning the Stella Artois 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

Johnson landed a double at Haydock for Hobbs, and rode Coneygree to second place in the Betfair Chase. Whilst at Ascot, O’Brien rode a cracker from the front, to lift the valuable Grade 2 chase with Royal Regatta.

Sent off a 10/1 shot, the eight-year-old is not the easiest of rides over fences, as he has a habit of hitting the odd one. Though talented, he struggles to put himself right at an obstacle, and so needs the jockey to do his utmost to ensure the horse arrives on a good stride. O’Brien did this perfectly; shortening him up when necessary, and asking for the ‘big one’ when given the chance. He needed a good leap at the last, as the tank was beginning to run empty with the line approaching.

That O’Brien is such a talented rider is no surprise. He spent five years riding out for Uncle Aidan, before arriving as a stable lad for Hobbs in 2004. He took the Conditional Jockey Championship in 2006 with a record number of winners.

In 2009 he had his most memorable ride to date, landing the Coral Welsh National, when partnering the Hobbs trained Dream Alliance. It was his first victory back in the saddle, having broken a leg and spent five months on the sidelines. The horse had also returned from a career threatening injury at Aintree in 2008.

The eight-year-old was sent off a 20/1 shot, and was given a peach of a ride by O’Brien. Positioned prominently throughout the race, the jockey made his move four fences from home. Bar an error at the last, he could be called the winner from some way out. Silver By Nature came with a late charge, but was unable to reel in O’Brien and his willing partner.

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The jockey has also shown his liking for the national fences at Aintree. His victory on Always Waining in the Topham Chase of 2012, was ironically at the expense of the Hobbs trained - Johnson ridden Chance Du Roy. He was then aboard the aforementioned Hobbs inmate, when winning the Becher Chase the following year.

Bearing in mind that Johnson rides the pick of the Hobbs yard, it’s to O’Brien’s credit that he already has 43 winners for the season, standing eighth in the championship table. A strike rate of 16% is not to be sniffed at, and the jockey followed his impressive victory at Ascot with a treble the following day at Uttoxeter. That successful day at the Staffordshire track included a win on 16/1 shot Tiquer, for the Somerset trainer Alan Jones.

With high profile meetings taking place on most weekends at this time of year, chances are that O’Brien will have plenty of opportunities to impress further. Though he must find it frustrating at times to be number two at the yard, he is at one of the finest. With Johnson boosted by the retirement of AP McCoy, there’s every chance that the spell as understudy will last for a good while longer.

Nevertheless, with the equine quality at their disposal, Philip Hobbs and his team are sure to have another profitable campaign. Tom is set to prove a major player in that continued success.

Stat of the Day, 18th August 2012

Stat of the Day 18/08

Stat of the Day 18/08

Stat of the Day, 18th August 2012

Matt is occupied elsewhere this weekend, so I'm dipping my toes back into the water in a bid to find a successful conclusion to what has already been a good week for us all involved with SotD. Dashwood failed to dash for us yesterday, but at 33/1 it wasn't a massive surprise, so no major disappointments there.

Our quest for a Saturday winner takes us North of the border today for a Class 2 Handicap Hurdle. We're expecting good ground for the eleven runners scheduled to tackle the 2m½f in the Summer Champion Hurdle aka the...

4.15 Perth

Our go-to trainer for Perth has to be Peter Bowen: he doesn't send hundreds of horses to Perth, but the few that do venture North are often well rewarded. In the past two years, he has only had ten representatives at this track, yet has managed to collect prize money on no less than seven occasions, courtesy of six winners and a place. This has rewarded his followers with a level stakes profit of 16pts from those 10 races.

During these fruitful times, Mr Bowen has called upon the services of Tom O'Brien for 8 of those rides: resulting in 4 wins and 2 places and the pair of them join forces again today for just the one ride on Kian's Delight, our SotD pick of the day.

Kian's Delight is a fast improving progressive type and ran really well last time out. On that occasion, he finished second behind Local Hero in a listed event at Market Rasen, despite running from 3lbs out of the handicap. A continuation of his progression or even a run to that same standard should be enough to see him home today in what looks a slightly easier task. With this in mind, the 5/1 BOG currently on offer from bet365, BetVictor and Paddy Power looks quite generous, so I'm in at that price. No half measures today: it's win only for SotD on this one. I'd expect that price to contract as the day goes on, so it would be wise to...

Click here for the latest odds for the 4.15 Perth.

TV Trends: Sat 14th Jan 2012

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Saturday TV Trends

Did you know that Barry Geraghty has a 48% strike-rate when riding over fences at Ascot? – Andy Newton looks at all the Saturday C4 races from a trends angle. Read more