Tag Archive for: Venetia Williams

Royale Pagaille shines in Peter Marsh repeat

Royale Pagaille knuckled down to register back-to-back victories in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock.

The Venetia Williams-trained eight-year-old produced a jaw-dropping display when sauntering to a 17-length success 12 months ago.

A year on the performance was not as spectacular, but he displayed plenty of heart under the welter burden of 11st 12lb to become the first horse to successfully defend the Peter Marsh since General Wolfe, trained by Williams, in 1999.

Royale Pagaille’s wide-margin success in the Grade Two contest last season earned him a tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in which he finished sixth and returned lame.

He made a promising start to the new campaign when runner-up to Gold Cup second A Plus Tard in Haydock’s Betfair Chase, only for another setback to rule out an intended tilt at the King George.

Ridden patiently by Charlie Deutsch on his return to Merseyside, the 5-2 favourite was coaxed into contention leaving the back straight and was soon challenging for the lead.

Sam Brown proved a willing opponent and refused to go down without a fight, but Royale Pagaille dug deep on the run-in to prevail by half a length, with Betfair cutting him to 16-1 from 25-1 for this year’s Gold Cup.

“I’m thrilled. It was tough today, it was a more competitive race than last year and he had loads of weight,” said Williams.

“They went a good gallop, I don’t actually think the ground is that bad and it didn’t look like he was travelling all that well but his jumping held up well.

“I thought Charlie gave him a superb ride, he had to battle all the way to the line.”

Williams had wanted to run n the King George but an injury picked up in the Betfair Chase prevented that.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that he missed a lot of work and he’d had three slaps down the shoulder before they even turned for home, so it was tough,” she said.

“He got a nasty wound on his hind fetlock joint and every time he move it opened up so he was confined to his box for quite a while.

“We could just do with a wet few weeks before Cheltenham now. Believe it or not this is the first time Rich (Ricci, owner) has seen the horse!”

Deutsch said: “That was a really good performance, he had to really tough it out.

“He didn’t travel like he normally does so I had to just sit for a while and try to make my way down the back straight but he jumped very well, bar one down the back.

“He was very good up the straight when I needed him but he was getting tired, he had to be brave.

“We need the rain at Cheltenham, last year on good ground it just caught us out.”

Ricci was visiting Haydock for the first time and was impressed.

“I haven’t been racing recently because of restrictions and this is my first time at Haydock, but I’ve got to say I love it,” he said.

“People are asking me for photos, I’ve been having drinks with them, they are all so friendly.

“As long as it is soft enough he’ll go to Cheltenham. Last year he finished sixth and he pulled two shoes off and finished lame. With his rating he’s got to go for it.

“We’re having a transitional season, we don’t have the likes of Faugheen or Douvan anymore, but I’m still as keen as ever – I absolutely love the game and days like this are fantastic.”

Royal Pagaille eyeing Peter Marsh repeat

Royale Pagaille bids to become the first horse in over 20 years to claim back-to-back victories in the Peter Marsh Chase on Saturday.

Four Cheltenham Gold Cup heroes are among the previous winners of the prestigious handicap, with Little Owl (1981), Bregawn (1982), The Thinker (1987) and Jodami (1993 and 1997) all on the roll of honour.

The last horse to successfully defend the Peter Marsh crown was General Wolfe in 1999 – and his trainer Venetia Williams will be hoping Royal Pagaille can repeat the feat at Haydock this weekend.

The eight-year-old produced a performance of rare dominance 12 months ago, with his 16-length romp earning him a 10lb rise in the weights and tilt at Gold Cup glory.

He returned lame at Cheltenham, but made an encouraging start to the new season when a clear second to Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard in Haydock’s Betfair Chase in November.

A further setback ruled out an intended tilt at the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, but Royale Pagaille will nevertheless be expected to put up a bold showing on his return to Merseyside.

Williams said: “It is nice to know we are going back to a course where he knows his way round there. The top-weight is 11-10 and it is not quite the same – half a dozen pounds less than in a normal handicap, but he is there for a reason, there because of what he has done before.

“He has to give away a lot of weight, but we hope he will go well.”

Richard Hobson’s Lord Du Mesnil bids to bag his fourth big-race victory at Haydock, having previously landed the Tommy Whittle, The Last Fling Chase and the Grand National Trial.

Runner-up in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby last month, the nine-year-old would become the first horse to win the track’s four major staying handicaps over fences, a fact not lost on his trainer.

“He’s come out of his Wetherby run really well and has been given plenty of time to recover from that,” said Hobson.

“It would be nice to do the four-timer, I don’t think anybody has done it in its current guise.

“He just loves Haydock, he’s really at ease with his action there and it’s all about having one speed where he can go in his conditions and keep it up – so the track brings the best out in him.”

Remastered was runner-up to Enqarde in the latest running of the Tommy Whittle five weeks ago after suffering a heavy fall on his previous outing in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.

Remastered is a major contender for the Peter Marsh
Remastered is a major contender for the Peter Marsh (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Trainer David Pipe said: “It was either run here or go to Lingfield on Sunday and we just felt he was probably better off in a handicap.

“We are hoping he will have come on for his last Haydock run. Conditions will suit and he will think he is running loose with the weight he has on his back.

“I don’t think we’ll know how much that fall at Newbury took out of him until after Saturday – I think his performance this weekend will answer that question.

“He came back quickly after that fall and hopefully there’s more to come.”

Empire Steel is a major contender for Borders-based trainer Sandy Thomson.

The eight-year-old was still travelling when falling four fences from home in the Rowland Meyrick, having finished second to Strictlyadancer at Haydock on his previous start.

Thomson said: “He has a nice weight on his back and we’re looking forward to it.

“Whether it was a blessing he came down last time I don’t know, but I think he would have had a very hard race and I don’t think he would be going on Saturday.

“He ran well at Haydock earlier in the season and we’re very happy with him.”

Three course winners in Sam Brown (Anthony Honeyball), Lake View Lad (Nick Alexander) and Sam’s Adventure (Brian Ellison) also feature in a 10-strong field.

Grand Annual ambitions for Warwick winner Brave Seasca

Brave Seasca continued his progression when making every yard of the running to win the Alder Demain & Akers PMS Oxford Edward Courage Cup Handicap Chase at Warwick.

The lightly-raced seven-year-old arrived off the back of wins at Warwick and Ascot – and had been so impressive he was racing off a mark 16lb higher than the first of those.

It appears the handicapper has still some catching up to do, though, as the in-form Charlie Deutsch and Venetia Williams combination landed another good prize.

The 4-5 favourite beat last year’s winner Sky Pirate, who went on to win the Grand Annual, by seven lengths, and that Cheltenham race is now in Williams’ sights. He can be backed at 16-1 with Paddy Power.

“I’m very happy. We can’t get too carried away as he was getting lumps of weight (20lb) from Sky Pirate, but you’d have to be pleased at his progression,” said Williams.

“I was actually shouting at Charlie to get on with it, but he knew what was under him and he went away again after the last.

“The Grand Annual would have to be given serious consideration now.”

Punctuation (15-8 favourite) fairly bolted up on his debut for Fergal O’Brien in the Start Your RacingTV Free Trial Now Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

A smart performer on the Flat for Andrew Balding, he had failed to transfer that ability to hurdles for Charlie Longsdon.

Having his first run since May and from a lowly mark of 95, Paddy Brennan just had to make sure he avoided any trouble on his way to winning by four and a half lengths.

O’Brien’s partner and assistant Sally Randall said: “We’ve spent a lot of time getting him right at home so to do it first time means a lot.

“He’s a confidence horse and whatever happened today it was all about the future.

“He’s a natural jumper, but he can get upset very easily. It worked out well today being the first race and we brought him in late.”

Sporting John booked his ticket in the Pertemps Final in March – should that be the route connections decide upon – with a straightforward success in the Pertemps Qualifier.

Philip Hobbs’ charge is now 8-1 for one of the most competitive races of the Festival having returned to winning ways under Aidan Coleman.

A Grade One winner over fences last year before falling at Cheltenham being pulled up Aintree, he had won and come fourth at Cheltenham in two races prior to this.

“His form was in the book and he’s won that off quite a high rating (151),” said Coleman.

“The race worked out perfectly, we were well placed turning in and the way the race developed you had to be in the firing line which he likes – everything went like clockwork.”

Run style analysis of a selection of National Hunt trainers

Regular readers will know of my interest in the impact of run style and, in this article, six National Hunt trainers come under the spotlight as I look for running style patterns which might lead to profitable angles, writes Dave Renham. The trainers in question are Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson, Jonjo O’Neill, Donald McCain, Venetia Williams and Alan King. I have looked at data between January 1st 2015 and December 31st 2021, seven years in total.

Before I start in earnest, however, a quick recap of running styles for all new readers and how Geegeez can help with understanding them.

The first furlong or so of any race sees each horse take up its early position and soon the horses settle into their racing rhythm. Normally these positions do not change too much for the first part of the race. The position each horse takes early can be matched to a running style - www.geegeez.co.uk has a pace section on its racecards that highlights which running style each horse has taken up early in a race. There are four run style groups, as follows:

Led – horses that take the early lead (the front runner). In National Hunt racing you generally get just one front runner, but occasionally there may be two or more horses disputing the early lead;

Prominent – horses that track close behind the leader(s);

Mid Division - horses that take up a more midfield position;

Held Up – horses that are held up near to or at the back of the field.

These running styles are assigned a numerical figure ranging from 4 to 1; Led gets 4, Prominent 3, Mid Division 2 and Held Up 1. Having numbers assigned to runners helps greatly with analysis as you may have seen in previous articles.

 

Run Style Analysis: All races

To begin with, let's take a look at all National Hunt races combined, breaking down the running styles of all horses for each of our six trainers. Connections, most notably the trainers, can clearly have a significant influence on the running style of their horses: most will give instructions to their jockeys before the race telling them how they would prefer the horses to be ridden.

Below, the table shows which percentage of each trainer's runners displayed one of the four running styles. I have included the figure for ALL trainers (1527 trainers combined!) as the 'control':

 

As can be seen there is quite a contrast; both Alan King and Jonjo O’Neill are clearly largely averse to sending their runners into an early lead. In contrast Donald Mc Cain, Venetia Williams and, to a lesser extent, Paul Nicholls seem happy to send a decent proportion of their runners to the front early.

In terms of their success with early leaders / front runners – all of them exceed 20% when it comes to strike rate (see graph below). For the record, 20% is the average winning figure for front runners in all National Hunt races.

 

Henderson and Nicholls have a simply stunning record with front runners – a strike rate for both of pushing 40%. Now I have mentioned before that if as punters we had access to a crystal ball pre-race to see which horse would be taking the early lead, it would be a license to print money. Here are the hypothetical profit/loss figures for the front runners of the six trainers to once again prove that point:

 

Combining all trainers in the list would have yielded an SP profit of £394.91 to £1 level stakes. Now, as we know, predicting which horse is going to take the early lead is far from an exact science. However, with some detailed analysis of the trainers in the race, as well as the horses concerned there will be opportunities to maximise our chances of nailing down the likely front runner.

 

Run Style Analysis: Chases

I have noted in previous pieces that front runners in chases make the biggest profits in terms of National Hunt racing, so let us see how our six trainers perform in these races. Here are their win strike rates with front runners in chases. In the table I have included their All races front running SR% to facilitate comparison:

 

Similar figures for each trainer although Alan King’s figure drop about 5%.

And here are the hypothetical profits from identifying and backing these front runners in chases over the course of the seven years in the sample:

 

All six trainers would have been in profit to SP – a combined profit of £350.38 to £1 level stakes indicates why chases are so ‘front runner’ friendly.

I have also looked at the percentage of their runners which displayed a front running style in chases – as with the All Race data I shared earlier, two trainers (King and O’Neill) are far less likely to send their charges to the front early:

 

It still staggers me every time I see trainers that send a low percentage of their runners to the front early. Just one in twelve of Jonjo O’Neill’s runners goes into an early lead in a chase. However, when they do, they win nearly 25% of the time (one race in four). Compare this to his record with hold up horses in chases. Nearly 45% of all Jonjo O’Neill’s runners in chases are held up early – but just 11% go onto win. It’s nuts! [For all that there might be other reasons for holding certain horses up on some occasions - Ed.]

Hold up horses do not perform well in chases either – to illustrate this here are the chase records of the six trainers with their hold up runners:

 

The summary on hold up horses is low strike rates and huge losses all round. This group will, of course, include a subset of no-hopers though, in relation to such high profile trainers, there will be fewer of these than for most other handlers.

 

Run Style Analysis: Hurdle races

Generally speaking, hurdle races do not offer as strong a front running edge as chases, but it is still preferable to lead early compared with other running styles.

With that in mind, let us review the hypothetical profits from our trainers' front runners in hurdle races:

 

Some good strike rates for Nicholls, Henderson and King, but not the wall to wall profits seen in the chases analysis.

It is noticeable that, as a whole, the six trainers send out a smaller proportion of front runners in hurdle races as compared to chases. This will be in part due to typically smaller field sizes in chases then in hurdles, but that doesn't fully account for the differentials. The graph below illustrates:

 

Alan King has sent just less than 4% of his hurdlers into an early lead despite these runners scoring 35% of the time. As a comparison, his held up runners (which account for 37% of all King's hurdlers) won just 13% of the time.

 

Run Style Analysis: Full Summary

To conclude, I'd like to share the individual trainer win strike rate data across all four running styles in different race types. I have included National Hunt flat races, too. These races do not give front runners as strong an edge although they still perform better than any of the other three running styles.

The table below gives a very clear picture as to why run style is so important. It shows the significant edge front runners have overall; it also shows that prominent runners perform far better than horses that race mid division or are held up.

 - Dave Renham

 

Farinet finds top gear at Sandown to leave Richard Hammond smiling

Horse power is something Richard Hammond is fully versed in. Or to be exact, the horse power you find in cars.

When it comes to the literal equine sense of the word, he admits that he is a little out of his comfort zone. Probably like being driven down a steep hill, over a cliff, by Jeremy Clarkson.

Hammond has always been the stylish one of the former, authentic ‘Top Gear’ trio – with their version of old-kids-doing-silly-stuff-in-fast-cars now showing in the guise of the ‘Grand Tour’ series.

In a Sandown winner’s enclosure that looked more akin to a ploughed field on Clarkson’s farm, Hammond was dressed to the nines.

He was there to support his wife, Mindy, who is co-owner of Farinet, who came good in the Read Nicky Henderson’s Unibet Blog Handicap Chase for Venetia Williams.

Yet in conditions that would doubtless have tractor drivers hopeful of a good pay-day pulling cars out of the quagmire, Hammond looked every bit the part.

Indeed, in his trilby, long, flowing scarf, and winning smile, he looked like a cross between Robert Downey Junior and someone auditioning for the lead part in Doctor Who.

“I love a day like this,” said Hammond. “My loyalty is such that I am here to very much support my wife Mindy – she is one of the owners of the horse and I love a day out. It’s exciting.”

The 52-year-old presenter, mechanic and writer is still wet behind the ears when it comes to horses.

Betting is not a strength, either, but he did admit to backing the 5-4 favourite.

“It did have a bet and it was the first bet that I’ve ever won!

Farinet on his way to victory
Farinet on his way to victory (Steven Paston/PA)

“We come racing a lot. Generally speaking, I’m scratching my head trying to work out how it all works.

“But on this occasion, I just put it to win on our horse.”

Not that he ventured into the colourful world of the betting ring on this occasion.

“Certainly not,” he laughed. “I just waited for someone to come and take my money off me.”

As he did so, Mindy was presented with a prize, something made of glass. The usual fare on such occasions.

“Oooh, look! She’s got a little gong! It’s all very exciting,” chirped Hammond.

“She loves it – but I have no idea how many horses we have. Honestly? You’d have to ask my wife.

“I occasionally throw some money into a canal somewhere and something runs about!

“But I love a day out and the atmosphere, and love the intensity of it, and love watching anybody do anything that they are enthusiastic about and they love. That’s satisfying.”

One thing he has learned about racing?

Back Venetia Williams horses when the deep winter ground arrives.

“Generally, that is a good idea,” he added: “I do know that much – and I was concentrating on that.”

Asked if he was about to send a very powerful car to whisk the equally fashionable trainer back to her base in Ross-on-Wye, Hammond added: “That is probably not going to happen!

“Nobody wants that… I’ve heard about her driving!”

Ever the cheeky chap.

And with an elegant swish of his scarf, he zoomed off to the safe confines of small room to be plied with champagne.

And you could not argue that it was unwarranted – he deserved as much for being the best dressed, and a winning smile that helped brighten up a gloomy day in Esher.

L’Homme Presse stakes Festival claim with dominant Dipper run

L’Homme Presse continued his progression with a splendid round of jumping as he dominated his rivals in the Paddy Power Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham .

The Grade Two contest, registered as the Dipper, had attracted a strong field with some promising types taking part in The Glancing Queen, Come On Teddy and Millers Bank.

But L’Homme Presse was sent off the 7-4 favourite off the back of wins at Exeter and Ascot – victories which had seen him rise 20lb in the ratings.

Having guessed at a couple of early fences, Charlie Deutsch let him stride on and he appeared to benefit from that, lengthening into his fences and stretching out the field.

The Glancing Queen had been smuggled into contention by Tom Cannon and at the second last was only two lengths down, still looking a threat.

But Deutsch just got a little lower in the saddle, gave his mount a squeeze and L’Homme Presse scooted clear to win by 10 lengths.

Fantastikas was prominent throughout and stayed on for third, just ahead of Oscar Elite.

The Venetia Williams-trained winner was cut to 10-1 from 16s for the Turners Novices’ Chase, formerly the Marsh, at the Festival in March.

“It was lovely to see him jump like that after the mare (Destinee Royale) had tripped up in the previous race,” said Williams.

“I was pleased with the way he quickened up, but he’s had three relatively quick races.

“I don’t think we need to be going up in trip just yet given he’s doing what he’s doing, but I really liked the way he quickened to the line.

“He’s won off 148 and was best in at the weights, but I don’t know where he will go or which race he could come back here for.”

Williams confident L’Homme Presse has bright future

Venetia Williams appears to have a yet another top young chaser on her hands after L’Homme Presse came home 13 lengths clear of Legends Ryde in the Howden Graduation Chase at Ascot under Charlie Deutsch.

The Herefordshire trainer has her string in fine form at present and supporters of the 6-5 favourite barely had a moment’s worry, particularly when main market rival Pencilfulloflead was an early faller.

‘Busy Man’ is the translation of the ex-French gelding’s name, yet Deutsch was far from busy under a horse he called “very straightforward”.

Williams was delighted that he had followed up his wide-margin chasing debut success at Exeter 15 days previously.

She said: “He is only a novice and there is no shadow of a doubt that the second-favourite didn’t complete – hopefully he is all right – which obviously made his task easier. But it is still a very nice performance for a novice.

“I have no idea where he goes. If you ask me what plans were, this wasn’t it.

“He always looked like a chaser not a hurdler. He is starting to look a very good chaser. He is a fluent mover and he is an intelligent horse.”

She added: “Andy Edwards (co-owner) bought him in France after he’d had a couple of runs and had a tendon injury. Andy gave him the time off and he came to me last season.

“He jumped left today, but he only did that when he got in tight to give himself a bit more room. They always do that here.”

Sporting the famous emerald green and gold hooped silks of JP McManus, Palmers Hill (7-2 co-favourite) followed up his recent successful seasonal bow at Wetherby with a nine-and-a-half-length victory over Diego Du Charmil in the Howden Handicap Chase.

Defying a 4lb penalty, the well-handicapped eight-year-old made a few jumping errors but overcame them and stayed on stoutly from the last to power clear of his eight rivals under Jonjo O’Neill Jr.

After a promising start to his career, things have not always gone according to plan, but trainer Jonjo O’Neill hopes he has turned a corner.

“He takes a chance or two, but he gets through it,” he said.

“He has his own system, really. But that’ll do if he keeps winning. He is in great old form at the moment, but he has his patches and he kind of disappears on you.

“I wish I knew why. His (digestive) system is not great. The vets have done all sorts of explorations with him – and they cost more than the horse did! He needs a bit of time between his races. But he’s won and that was nice.

“We liked him a lot very early on, but then he fell apart.”

Christmas is all about the anticipation. Yet for owners like Danny Charlesworth, the big celebration comes over five days in March.

The Cheltenham Festival is very much in the minds of connections of the Gordon Elliott-trained Ardhill (4-1 favourite), who landed a gamble in the opening Foundations Developments Novices’ Handicap Hurdle under a cosy ride from Adam Wedge.

Blinkers worked the oracle for the six-year-old, who came into the extended two-mile-seven-furlong contest with an 0-11 record. Yet he fairly scooted away from his 15 rivals, to score by seven and a half lengths.

Charlesworth, who has owned the likes of Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle winner Crack Away Jack, is eyeing the Festival meeting now.

He said: “We had a little bit on him each-way and we thought he would be in the frame, but we put blinkers on him for the first time.

“He wasn’t quite right last year and we knew he wasn’t right. We knew there was a few niggles. Gordon seemed to think he’d got him right and said he was really well at home and that he wanted to take him to Ascot.

“Hopefully he will go on for here and let’s hope he is a Cheltenham horse.

“We will have to go up the weights, but Adam said he should progress from this and if he does, then we will certainly look to do that.

“There are few races we can look at, depending on the going. Something like the Coral Cup or the Martin Pipe or something like that over two-mile-five (furlongs) or whatever.

“Adam said he travelled well the whole way round, but as soon as they slowed, he had to take a pull on him. I’m delighted with that.”

No King George bid for sidelined Royale Pagaille

The Ladbrokes King George VI Chase will come too soon for exciting chaser Royale Pagaille, according to his trainer Venetia Williams.

The seven-year-old completed a hat-trick of victories last season before finishing a fine sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Royale Pagaille made his return at Haydock last month, finishing runner-up to A Plus Tard in the Grade One Betfair Chase.

Hopes were high that the lightly-raced gelding, owned by Susannah Ricci, would be poised to run in Kempton’s Boxing Day feature. However, he remains on the easy list.

Williams said: “He won’t be running in the King George. I can’t say for sure how long he will be sidelined for.

“He got a wound at Haydock which had to be stitched and it has taken a while to get better.

“So, I can’t say when he will be back, but hopefully it will be some time in January.”

The in-form Kings Caple-based trainer is also mulling over options for Commodore, who jumped his eight rivals into submission at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The Agetur Classic Chase at Warwick is widely regarded as a trial for the Grand National, which Williams won in 2009 with 100-1 shot Mon Mome.

Yet after seeing Commodore record a 15-length success under Charlie Deutsch in fine style at Cheltenham, she remained coy about the possibility of sending the nine-year-old to Warwick on January 22 for the three-mile-five-furlong Grade Three event.

Williams said: “I’m not saying Warwick is a plan. I haven’t really had a chance to discuss it with the owners yet whether the Classic Chase is a possibility, so I’m not going to say that is the plan.”

One For Arthur landed the Classic Chase en route to victory at Aintree in 2017, and asked whether the Grand National could be a long-term target for Commodore, Williams teased: “You are ahead of the game with that!”

Racing Insights, 11th December 2021

Saturday's free feature is the fantastic Trainer/Jockey Combo (TJC) report, which brings together the form of trainers and jockeys into a single composite report that has produced excellent results for users. Quite simply, some trainers turn to specific riders when they have one ‘ready to win’. This report quickly identifies the most profitable combinations. Clicking on any row will reveal the entries for that trainer/jockey pairing. And clicking on the entry will open the race in a new tab.

HINT: Look for a good sample size – ideally five or more – combined with a decent win percentage (30%+), and a positive figure in the profit column.

And in addition to this report, we also have the following free races of the day...

  • 11.30 Fairyhouse
  • 12.05 Cheltenham
  • 1.50 Cheltenham
  • 3.22 Fairyhouse
  • 4.30 Newcastle
  • 4.45 Wolverhampton

The Venetia Williams/Charlie Deutsch trainer/jockey combo are in sparkling form right now and prior to Friday's racing where they have/had two runners at Cheltenham, the partnership had 7 winners and 4 further placers from just 19 runners over the past 30 days and with 2 more handicappers booked in at Cheltenham on Saturday, that's where I'm heading with this piece.

So, basically...

Both geldings will run in Good to Soft ground chases, the 6yr old Frero Banbou tackles an 8-runner, Class 2 affair over 2m½f worth just over £15,600 whilst the 9 yr old Cepage is entered into a 15-runner, Grade 3 contest over 2m4½f in search of a prize of over £74k!

Before we look at the individual horses, let's consider those 19 runners above, as they include...

  • 7 wins, 4 places from 18 over fences
  • 4 wins, 4 places from 14 male runners
  • 4 wins, 2 places from 10 on Good to Soft
  • 3 wins, 2 places from 5 x 6 yr olds (0/1 with a 9yo)
  • 2 wins, 2 places from 5 at Class 2 (1 from 3 at Class 1)
  • 2 wins from 3 over 2m4½f/2m5f (0/1 at 2m½f)
  • and 0/1 here at Cheltenham

Plenty of encouragement from those stats, so let's start with Frero Banbou in the 1.15 Cheltenham...

Frero Banbou has been improving with pretty much each run that has seen him finish 331443 over fences with his best run to date coming when 4th of 18 in the Grade 3 Red Rum handicap at Aintree back in April, which came despite a 13lb rise for winning a Class 3 contest at Sandown four weeks earlier. He didn't run again after that Aintree effort until reappearing in a Listed race at Ascot at the end of October, where he was 4th of 10 despite a drop in quality and a 2lb easing in weight. Since then, he has dropped down to this Class 2 level and was eased yet another 2lbs, but could only finish 3rd of 12, beaten by 8 lengths at Newbury a fortnight ago. He's back up a pound here and is still 10lbs higher than his win, which makes life tough, but he's certainly not out of it so far.

Based on relevant past exploits, Editeur du Gite would appear to be the one to beat, but without much green in evidence elsewhere, Frero Banbou remains in contention.

The pace stats here for this type of contest are as follows...

...telling us that the ideal profile is one that gets away sharpish and stays right on the pace throughout. Prominent runners do well for the place, but tend not to catch the leaders often enough, so let's see how this field normally run...

Well, again it's Editeur du Gite who's the one to catch again with a perfect 16 for front-running pace, whilst Frero might well end up mid-division here which won't really enhance his chances, despite his obvious ability.

*

Our second race is, of course, trickier with almost twice as many runners competing over further at a higher grade for much more money! So, here's the 1.50 Cheltenham featuring Cepage...

Cepage bears top weight here on his return from almost nine months off the track, during which time all bar one (stable mate Farinet) of his rivals have seen some action. For his part, he has made the frame in over half (10) of his nineteen starts over fences, winning four times, although he's only 1 from 9 at Class 1. He has a win and three places from eight runs on this track and gets on well with Charlie Deutsch. He was beaten by just over 10 lengths here last time out off a career high mark of 158 and is only eased a pound, so this is no easy ride for him, especially as he's 0 from 10 after more than a month off track.

...and his relevant form under today's conditions don't exactly scream "back me!", Siruh du Lac looks the one to beat, but his recent form is poor and jhe's certainly not the horse who finished 1131111 from Nov'17 to Mar'19, but if running like he could, who knows? Fusil Raffles is the only other without any reds (or blanks).

As for pace, it's a similar story to the earlier race, where the advice is to set the pace to get as close to the leader as you can. If, however, you can't get close, then hang back a but further and settle in mid-division for a late run...

And the runners' pace scores suggest that Cepage's stablemate Farinet is likely to set the fractions alongside the afore-mentioned Siruh du Lac, but with the latter finishing 7th of 8 at Class 2 LTO and failing complete his previous three runs, he'd not be one for me to hang my hat on...

Cepage looks like he's going to end up second rank (prominent) which isn't ideal and he's probably going to have to step forward a little or step back a bit.

Summary

I think Frero Banbou is good enough to make the frame in the 1.15 Cheltenham and there's not much between him and the likes of Amoola Gold or Cheddleton, but one of the three is likely to miss out, as I've got Editeur du Gite winning this on form, Instant Expert, pace and much more! So, my play here is EdG to win at 11/4. Frero is only 9/2, so I won't be backing him E/W either.

As for the 1.50 Cheltenham, I'm not keen on Cepage's chances at all, if I'm honest. Don't get me wrong, he's a good horse and more than capable of landing such a race on his day, but for me he's too high in the weights, would prefer softer ground, will probably need the run and won't be well positioned, so he's a no from me, even at 16 to 20/1. Based on the above, I like Fusil Raffles at 8/1 and I'd take a small E/W punt there, especially if I can get on with a firm paying five places. Midnight Shadow would be another possible at the same price, whilst Siruh du Lac could surprise a few people at 16's.

Commodore in charge at Cheltenham

Commodore produced a remarkable front-running display to run out a wide-margin winner of the Betfair Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.

Making his first appearance since being pulled up at Wincanton in February – and having undergone wind surgery during the intervening period – the Venetia Williams-trained grey was a sight to behold in the winter sunshine at Prestbury Park.

Pressed for much of the three-and-a-quarter-mile contest by Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Santini, Commodore produced some prodigious leaps while the rest of the field trailed by several lengths.

With Santini fading from the home turn, it was left to Irish raider Mister Fogpatches to try to chase down the leader, but Commodore never looked in any real danger of being reeled in and passed the post with 15 lengths in hand.

Williams said: “It was remarkable, I have to say – such a joy to watch.

“Being a grey is quite striking, but he’s such an intelligent jumper and Charlie (Deutsch) gave him a great ride.

“His relentlessness and the accuracy of his jumping was just amazing.

“He probably benefited from only being on 10st, perhaps. But when you get in a good jumping rhythm round here, it is such an advantage.”

Commodore and Charlie Deutsch in full flight
Commodore and Charlie Deutsch in full flight (David Davies/PA)

Deutsch said: “He’s always been a brilliant jumper and he’s a good front-runner. It suits because you can make use of him and he jumps so well.

“We got into a lovely rhythm. He’s not always the strongest finisher, but he stormed up the hill.

“I’m so delighted for his owners. He keeps running well, but hasn’t won for a while and to do it here is brilliant.”

Cloudy Glen claims Ladbrokes Trophy gold

Cloudy Glen landed a emotional success when causing a 33-1 upset in the Ladbrokes Trophy Handicap Chase at Newbury.

Wearing the second colours of the late Trevor Hemmings, who won this race with Trabolgan, Many Clouds and Cloth Cap, the Venetia William-trained eight-year-old held the persistent challenge of Fiddlerontheroof in the hands of Charlie Deutsch.

Hemmings’ first colours were carried by last year’s winner Cloth Cap, who helped set the pace from the outset.

There were a few casualties with Enrilo falling at the 14th fence and Remastered coming down when in contention and going well at the fourth-last fence, while the Irish-trained favourite Eklat De Rire was pulled up by Rachael Blackmore after the sixth-last obstacle.

Cloudy Glen led three out but Fiddlerontheroof looked the main threat and the pair had the race between them. It was the former who kept up the gallop to score by half a length. The pair pulled 28 lengths clear of Brahma Bull in third with Ontheropes fourth.

Cloudy Glen was a product of Hemmings’ Gleadhill House Stud, being a son of Cloudings who has provided many winners in the famous silks – not least Grand National hero Many Clouds.

Hemmings died last month at the age of 86 and Williams felt victory in this race was a fine tribute to the owner.

She said: “It was written in the stars. Trevor (Hemmings) was looking down. To have his two horses making the running in the Hennessy, turning for home. It is just unbelievable, isn’t it?

“He was just wonderful as an owner. He had the most wonderful, wicked little sense of humour.

“But he understood horses. You had to be patient. In his business he was really on it, but with his horses, he was so patient and knew what it took.

“This fellow was winning off one of the bottom weights and he has had a wind operation since the last time he ran. We couldn’t even do the galloping scope because he is such a quirky horse and he wouldn’t let the vet get anywhere near with that scope. But he has always been a weird one and he did a piece of work last week and I thought ‘blimey! Where did that come from?’.

“So, I decided then I was going to run him in this race.

“He will be out partying with us this evening, because he is that kind of horse!”

The Cloudy Glen team receive their trophies
The Cloudy Glen team receive their trophies (Steven Paston/PA)

She added: “He was always capable of pulling something out the bag, but you never knew if he would do it here or at Fontwell.

“I have to give a lot of credit to Charlie, who gave him an outstanding ride.

“I just can’t believe it – I am just so thrilled for Catherine and her family, who are here today. Power from above made it happen and it could not have been better.”

Fiddlerontheroof (left) had to settle for second
Fiddlerontheroof (left) had to settle for second (Steven Paston/PA)

Joe Tizzard felt Fiddlerontheroof might have won with a bit more luck.

He said: “He missed the last fence a little bit and he had to make up those three lengths when the horse (Remastered) fell. He has run a blinder and if he had not got tangled up, he would probably have won.”

Willie Mullins saddled both Brahma Bull and Ontheropes, plus Annamix who came to grief three fences from home.

He said: “We were very happy, because Ontheropes just found the pace of the race was too fast early on and just had the technique to jump and stay on and learn an awful lot. He was just a bit too slow early on.

“His jumping kept him in the race and Annamix was running a great race until he got tired and fell, but happily he is back safe and sound, so it’s all good.”

Williams looking to King George with Betfair runner-up Royale Pagaille

Venetia Williams has set her sights on the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase for Royale Pagaille after his fine run to be second in the Betfair Chase.

The seven-year-old proved no match for winner A Plus Tard at Haydock, finishing 22 lengths adrift of Henry de Bromhead’s deeply impressive victor.

However, Williams took plenty of heart from the outing as Royale Pagaille was a clear second best – beating third-placed Chatham Street Lad by a further 22 lengths in a race that saw Imperial Aura fall with Bristol De Mai and Waiting Patiently both pulled up.

Having won a three-mile handicap chase at Kempton last Christmas, Williams would have no hesitation in heading back there for next month’s King George, as long as Royale Pagaille recovers sufficiently from an outing on ground that was a bit quicker than ideal.

She said: “I’m absolutely thrilled, we’ve won the English division and obviously the winner is an outstanding horse, so you have to be delighted.

“He goes on this ground, but I’ve got to look at his legs for the next fortnight, that’s really why we look for the softer ground.

“We’ll probably go for the King George next, he’s won twice round here and once round Kempton so we’ll try again.”

Chatham Street Lad pleased Michael Winters in third
Chatham Street Lad pleased Michael Winters in third (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Michael Winters, trainer of third-placed Chatham Street Lad, was pleased with his charge’s effort, but admitted A Plus Tard was dominant under Rachael Blackmore.

He said: “It was about Rachael today. We were a bit anxious about the ground, but he has run well to be third.

“He can be a bit like a bulldozer with his jumping and take one or two fences with him. His jockey (Sean Quinlan) thinks that a sharper test will suit him and we could maybe look at something at Liverpool (Aintree) for him.

“His owner (Vivian Healy) is great and was keen to come here and have a go, so I’m pleased he ran well.”

Bristol De Mai could not make it a fourth Betfair Chase victory
Bristol De Mai could not make it a fourth Betfair Chase victory (Mike Egerton/PA)

Bristol De Mai was another for whom the unseasonably good ground was not ideal.

The popular grey was bidding to equal Kauto Star’s record of a fourth Betfair Chase success, but jockey Daryl Jacob pulled him up before the penultimate obstacle when his chance had clearly gone.

The rider tweeted: “Not Bristol’s day today. We’re all very disappointed but he doesn’t owe us anything.

“He’s absolutely fine, but the ground was too quick for him and I wanted to look after him.”

Simon Munir, who owns Bristol De Mai in partnership with Isaac Souede, added: “Bristol sound and well after his reappearance in the Betfair Chase. The ground wasn’t quite to his liking but the most important thing is that he’s OK and he’ll be back.”

Waiting Patiently (right) disappointed on his debut for Christian Williams
Waiting Patiently (right) disappointed on his debut for Christian Williams (Julian Herbert/PA)

Christian Williams had been hoping for a good showing from new recruit Waiting Patiently, but he was pulled up before the fourth-last fence by Brian Hughes.

The 10-year-old was also pulled up on his final start for Ruth Jefferson last season and Williams is planning a thorough examination.

He said: “It’s a bit of a headscratcher. Brian said that after he hit one he was never travelling. We’ll take him home, check him out and see if we can find anything.”

Imperial Aura fell at the 13th fence and trainer Kim Bailey reported him to be none the worse for his tumble.

Ibleo doubles up with comfortable Doncaster verdict

Ibleo’s fine run of form continued as he was the game victor of the Sky Bet Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Chase at Doncaster.

Placed second twice at the beginning of the season and then a winner at Sandown last time out, the eight-year-old has risen 15lb in the ratings this term already.

Jumping fluently throughout under Charlie Deutsch, the 6-5 favourite locked horns with The Big Bite over the last before pulling away to record a three-and-a-half-length success.

“I always look forward to riding him. He’s a brilliant jumper, he knows his job and he knows where the winning line is,” Deutsch said.

“He’s very straightforward, but fair play to Venetia (Williams, trainer) for keeping him in such good form all season.

“He’s done it very well, he’s really quick over his fences. He goes so fast and lets himself get very close as he approaches them, but he still seems to not lose any ground – he makes up ground when the others are jumping longer and higher.

“He’s got better and better as he’s got more confident.”

Sam Barton shed his maiden tag for Emma Lavelle and Adam Wedge when taking the Sporting Life EBF “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle at odds of 3-1.

The Trevor Hemmings-owned gelding finished second in a similar contest at Hereford in November and went one better this time to come home two and a quarter lengths ahead of 2-1 favourite The Edgar Wallace, with the rest of field a further 18 lengths behind.

“We were really pleased with him,” Lavelle said.

“He’s such a lovely, big horse, but he is just a big baby.

“He was a little green as you saw over the second from last, but he’s a horse that will improve with time and we hope there’s a lot more to come from him.

“The likely next step with him would be to go for the EBF final, but we absolutely hope he’d make a lovely chaser in time.

“He’s a perfect example of the Trevor Hemmings horse – he’s a big, strapping horse who we really like, we’re really pleased with him.”

Oliver Greenall’s Zalvados claimed a first victory over fences when taking the Sky Bet Britain’s Most Popular Online Bookmaker Novices’ Handicap Chase under Paddy Brennan.

The eight-year-old had finished second on four occasions, but ended his winless run with a comfortable seven-length success at a price of 18-1.

“It isn’t easy running on this ground, you need a horse to keep going,” Brennan said of the soft conditions.

“When they start pulling up early in a race it would suggest it’s really hard work, but I like riding him, he’s a challenge.

“There’s no life in the ground and the horses feel it, and feel it early, but it’s great to be racing.”

Lunar Sovereign then provided Brennan with a double when triumphing in the First Race Special On Sky Bet Tomorrow Novices’ Hurdle.

Following up a debut hurdle success at Wetherby in late December, the 9-2 shot crossed the line four and three-quarters lengths ahead of Alastair Ralph’s Jack Sharp, with 11-10 favourite Flinteur Sacre, full brother to Sprinter Sacre, well beaten in 12th.

Trainer Mark Gillard and son Theo then teamed up to take the Play ITV7 Tomorrow Novices’ Handicap Hurdle with the six-year-old Finisher (12-1), before the Sky Bet Extra Places Every Day Handicap Hurdle went the way of Laura Morgan’s J’Ai Froid (5-4 favourite), piloted by Max Kendrick.

Monday Musings: Two Major Contenders from Left Field

At the age of 25 back in 1978 Kim Bailey took over the training licence from his father Ken at their family farm in Brackley, Northamptonshire, with the experience of having learnt his trade from three training greats, Humphrey Cottrill, Tim Forster and Fred Rimell, writes Tony Stafford. In 1995 he enjoyed the almost unthinkable achievement of winning both the Champion Hurdle, with the novice Alderbrook, and the Gold Cup with Master Oats.

Until Saturday they had been the only Grade 1 wins on his card. Now, 26 years later and in his 43rd year as a trainer, the still-boyish Bailey, greatly to his own surprise, can refer back to a wonderful performance by the nine-year-old, First Flow. After an end-to-end battle he emphatically saw off reigning Champion Two-Mile Chaser Politologue in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase.

Kim Bailey has, over the years, gone through a number of transformations and training locations as well as a major domestic upheaval and a Henry Cecil-like slump. That must have caused this consummate horseman to question whether he should continue to pursue his career.

Throughout, Bailey has always had the respect of his fellow professionals, even in the darkest days. The same was true of course for the future Sir Henry before the arrival of Frankel and the subsequent great loyalty – hardly surprising one might say – of Prince Khalid Abdullah. The recent passing of Prince Khalid could have significant implications for the future of many of the present-day’s leading Flat-race trainers.

Bailey’s own darkest years came in the first decade of the present century when in the four seasons between 2004 and 2008 he won respectively only six, six, nine and finally three races. Those three in 2007-8 came from 131 runs and produced earnings of a little over £29,000. Nowadays he characteristically has one of the higher strike rates, operating at close to 18%. Less than three per cent must have given him kittens!

The Racing Post statistics for each trainer includes a section at the bottom entitled Big Races Won. Between March 2002 and November 2012, a full decade, none of the Bailey winners qualified for entry in that section.

In more recent times, he has built up his business again at a modern farm in Andoversford, 15 minutes or so from Cheltenham. A great adherent to modern technology, he was moving around his snow-covered 70-strong yard on Sunday morning, reflecting by video on the previous afternoon’s exploits by one of three chasers that could be lining up in the top races at Prestbury Park in six weeks’ time.

As he progressed with his commentary, all the time he was sharing the credit, principally to David Bass, whose opportunist ride on First Flow he described as “one of the best rides I’ve ever seen”. Also earning his gratitude were various key members of his staff. If ever there was a benevolent boss, it is Kim Bailey, who stresses that any success achieved by Thornfield Farm is very much a team effort.

That attitude will undoubtedly bring loyalty from the staff and he certainly has managed to keep a number of owners, among them First Flow’s, Tony Solomons, with him over many years. “Tony was one of my first owners all those years ago and I’m so happy for him. First Flow was not an expensive buy and he’s done so well for us,” says Bailey.

He certainly has. Saturday’s win for First Flow was his sixth in succession and his tenth in all from only 16 races over obstacles. The race was worth a few bob short of £60k and represented a nice early birthday present for his owner.

Tony rarely has more than a couple of horses in training but the retired banker also had tremendous success in recent years with the staying Flat handicapper, Nearly Caught. That smart gelding, trained by Hughie Morrison, won nine races and was placed 15 times.

His last win, as an eight-year-old, came on his final appearance when he easily won a Newmarket Listed race from an official rating of 107. That was his fourth Listed win, to which he could add a Group 2 victory at Deauville as a six-year-old. All of his five stakes wins and eight places came in his final three seasons’ racing.

While Bailey had some sparse years where major races were concerned, that could not be said of 2020 when he earned seven entries in that category. First Flow is joined by Imperial Aura and Vinndication as fellow high-class performers and Bailey hopes all three will make it to the Festival.

He regards Vinndication as a potential Gold Cup candidate. The eight-year-old is still lightly-raced and although he has yet to win going left-handed, he ran a blinder when only two lengths behind Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby when starting out the present campaign at the end of October.

Bailey aimed him at the Ladbroke (ex-Hennessy) Handicap Chase at Newbury the following month and the gelding was still very much in contention when unseating David Bass five fences out (his only non-completion) under a big weight. The trainer hopes he will be able to prepare him in time to participate.

Until Imperial Aura’s unexpected early exit from his Kempton Grade 2 target a couple of weeks back he had been carrying all before him, adding two nice wins to his Cheltenham Festival novice handicap chase victory in March. Another eight-year-old, like his two stablemates he also has an enviable win ratio, seven from 12.

Nothing succeeds like success. From the dark days Bailey has now put together seven highly rewarding seasons, all bar last term’s 32 (for obvious Covid) reasons bringing between 43 and 61 wins and at least £400k in earnings.

With £450,000 already this term and more than three months to go, he could even get close to the £696,000 of the extraordinary Master Oats/ Alderbrook campaign when he had 72 wins from 312 runs, especially if things work out at the Festival.

It is hard not to be excited by First Flow, but one other horse produced an even more eye-opening performance the same afternoon. The Venetia Williams-trained and Rich Ricci-owned Royale Pagaille turned the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock Park into a rout and must be followed over a cliff for the rest of the season and beyond.

This race has had a proud heritage since its inception in 1981, with its early winners including the three Cheltenham Gold Cup victors, Little Owl, Bregawn and The Thinker. Jodami made it four a decade later, while its best recent champion has been Bristol De Mai, also a three-time winner of the Grade 1 Betfair Chase over the same course and distance.

Royale Pagaille was bought as an experienced four-year-old by French agent Guy Petit out of the Francois Nicolle yard in November 2018 at Arcana for €70k. He had won one of ten starts, a minor hurdle race at Pau, although he did have plenty of experience over fences after that victory.

Sent To Venetia, it was more than a year before he saw a British racecourse and his two runs last season before racing was summarily curtailed were hardly  earth-shattering. First, in a two-runner Chepstow novice chase he found the 150-rated Vision Des Flos predictably too good, trailing home almost ten lengths behind. Then, in a three-runner chase at Huntingdon he was miles behind the lower-rated pair Equus Secretus (Ben Pauling) and Lies About Milan (Fergal O’Brien) who fought out a close finish over the near three-mile trip. Those performances gave little inkling of what was to come.

Hence when Royale Pagaille reappeared for this season at Haydock on December 2, the son of Blue Bresil was the 11/1 outsider in a four-runner novice chase over two miles and five furlongs. He confounded those odds, very easily coming from the back to draw clear of the Kim Bailey-trained favourite Espoir De Romay, who carried a 5lb winner’s penalty.

After that, on the second day of Kempton’s big Christmas meeting, his winning margin of just over three lengths might not have been extravagant, but the style of the victory off his revised mark of 140 was such that the chase handicapper raised him 16lb to 156.

At no stage on Saturday did it appear likely that Royale Pagaille would have any difficulty in defying his new mark, travelling and jumping with utter authority. Conceding 20lb to the proven staying handicappers Just Your Type and Potters Legend, he was already a long way clear of the pair at the last fence in the heavy ground and it seemed as though Tom Scudamore could have doubled the eventual victory margin of 16 lengths over Potters Legend had he wished.

That suggests to me the chase assessors will struggle to keep his new mark below 170 and at the present rate of progress, further improvement could easily be forthcoming. That already takes him right into the top echelon of chasers. For the record, in its 41-year history the Peter Marsh Chase has never been won by a horse younger than seven, Royale Pagaille’s age.

Bookmakers are quoting Royale Pagaille for four races at the Festival, but if he was mine I would find it difficult to disregard the big one. There are many instances of trainers thinking their emerging horses are not quite ready but with the number of pitfalls that can assail them, those delaying plans often prove fruitless with the horses never actually making it to a later Gold Cup. And this one already has eleven chase starts to his name, so is hardly an inexperienced novice.

I’m suggesting you take the 12-1 (unless you can get better) for the Blue Riband of the meeting.  If you prefer to be safe, he is 8-1 non-runner no bet.

Royale Pagaille connections to mull Cheltenham options

No early decision will be made on the Cheltenham Festival target of impressive Peter Marsh Chase winner Royale Pagaille.

Despite a 16lb rise in the weights for a win at Kempton over Christmas, the Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old won even easier at Haydock.

He holds four entries at the Festival in the National Hunt Chase, the Marsh Novices’ Chase, the Festival Novices’ Chase (formerly the RSA) and the Gold Cup itself.

Muddying the waters further is the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish, who is also owned by Susannah Ricci and a hot favourite for the Festival Novices’ Chase.

“There’s no bad news to report,” said Joe Chambers, racing manager for the owner, on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday.

“I think it would have been great if the two Sams (Sam’s Adventure and Sam Brown) had been able to complete the course and turn up as we’d have learned an awful lot more than we actually have.

“We put him in the Gold Cup opportunistically at the time because it was closing when the travel ban was coming in and we just thought for the sake of the initial entry fee we could always take him out at the next forfeit stage on February 9 if his next run didn’t go according to plan.

“But I guess we’ll be leaving him in it, and we’ll be leaving him in the novice races as well.

Royale Pagaille clears the last in splendid isolation
Royale Pagaille clears the last in splendid isolation (David Davies/PA)

“We’ll see what the handicapper says on Tuesday as to what the substance of the form is. We thought we got fairly hammered after Kempton as he went up not once but twice.”

The least likely option at this stage for Royale Pagaille would appear to be the Festival Novices’ Chase, should Monkfish run.

“All being well should Monkfish turn up are we likely to run two in that race? Probably not as I think Susannah has had 88 runners at Cheltenham and 67 have been sole representatives so it’s not really our MO to run two in the same race,” said Chambers.

“There are eight weeks to go and a lot of water to go under the bridge. We’ll see what the ground is like closer to the time and take it from there. As a handicapper he’ll be pushing into the 160s and that’s puts him bang in the frame of the seasoned three-mile chasers, I think.

“The conversation about running them both in the same race wasn’t realistic three weeks ago never mind six weeks ago but he (Monkfish) has to come through his own trials OK.

“What we won’t do is make commitments this far out, we’ve burned ourselves in the past doing that so we’ll take our time and keep the options open. Hopefully the horses will tell us which direction to go.

“If he goes up 10lb or so you could count on one hand the chasers rated higher than him. I know he’s a novice but it’s his third season as a novice and that was his 11th chase. I think Champ has only had three or four in comparison.”