British horse racing is well and truly back. The equine flu crisis that had put a stop to horse racing for almost a week returned on Wednesday.
On Saturday we had some high-class racing at Ascot and Haydock. In addition to an already good card, Ascot also hosted two races from the previous Saturday’s cancelled Newbury meeting.
You can read my thoughts on the weekend action and much more, including a couple of big race previews and the return of the Monday tip inside….
Nicholls Nets Eight
Paul Nicholls had a day to remember with eight winners across three cards. Five of his wins came at Ascot, two at Wincanton and one at Haydock.
Arguably his two best chasers Clan Des Obeaux and the increasingly impressive Cyrname stole the show at Ascot. The former continued his build up for next month’s Gold Cup with a comfortable win in the Denman Chase.
Meanwhile Cyrname who had demolished a field of class handicappers last month returned to Ascot to put in an even better performance to beat a select field of chasers in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase.
Making all Cyrname, seemed to gain length over his rivals at each fence. It was a testament to his performance that a horse with plenty of pace in Waiting Patiently couldn’t match the Nicholls horse. He came to challenge two out, but the eventual winner just pulled away to win by 17 lengths.
The drying ground probably wasn’t in the runner-up’s favour. It was much softer when Waiting Patiently won last years race. Still it seemed there was no real excuse on the day for losing horses.
Shades of Midnight, gave another boast to Paisley Park’s chances in next month's stayers hurdle. The Sandy Thomson trained 9-year-old has been mixing hurdles with fences this season. His ½ length by defeat by the ante-post favourite at Haydock back in November now looks good in hindsight.
He then went on to beat two rivals at 8/13 over fences at Kelso. Returning to hurdles and a track he goes well at the son of Midnight Legend made all to win the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle by 8 lengths.
He won’t be heading to Cheltenham to take on Paisley Park but the Aintree Stayers Hurdle is a possible target according to his trainer. As is the Scottish Grand National if the ground was to be soft or heavy. He’s potentially well handicapped over fences and would be a popular Scottish winner of the race.
Stamina Wins National Trial
Haydock’s feature race was the William Hill Grand National Trial Handicap Chase. At the beginning of last week there was heavy in the going description but come race time, the mild sunny weather had turned the going to good, good to soft in places.
Bishop’s Road bounced back to some like his old best under a very positive front running ride. He soon had his rivals jumping under pressure and only faded out of contention four out.
Welsh Grand National runner-up Ramses De Teillee took it up from the long-time leader. He looked like he was going to win coming to the last but was challenged by Robinsfirth and Chef D’Oeuvre on the run in.
In fact Robinsfirth didn’t look like he would win three out, but Sean Bowen kept the 10-year-old up to the task and his stamina really kicked in coming to the last. He just wore down the eventual runner-up in the final few yards.
In all truth the strong early gallop meant few got into the race. Progressive staying handicap chaser Two Amigos was going well enough when falling at the 14th and Royal Vacation, stablemate of the winner, travelled as well as anything but weakened out of it two out.
Only two lengths separated the first three home. You have to feel sorry for Ramses De Teillee, who’s now finished runner-up in two valuable handicap chases. The going would have been plenty quick for the 7-year-old as it would have been for Chef D’Oeuvre who really needs much softer ground.
Weekend Big Races:
There are a couple of big handicaps next Saturday. At Newcastle it’s the 4m Eider Chase and Kempton stages the 3m 888Sport Handicap Chase. At Lingfield, it’s Derby Day with the Winter Derby the feature race.
The mostly spring like weather looks set to continue. There doesn’t look to be much rain on the horizon for the south or east of the UK. It could even be milder next weekend than the one just gone.
There looks to be strong entry for the race but with underfoot condition set to be good to soft at worst. How many will run? Horses that handle a sound surface will be favoured.
Baywing, is 7lb higher than when winning this race last year. Not in the same form so far this season but he’s no doubt been targeted at the race again. Last year it was heavy and all his best form has come with more juice in the ground than likely on Saturday.
Daklondike, looks an ideal type for the race. However, the David Pipe trained 7-year-old is another who would prefer the mud.
Beware The Bear, was a good winner at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. He has winning form at the track and is effective on good to soft. He also looks the right sort for a marathon trip like this.
Calett Mad, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, has put in career bests on his last two starts. Having finished runner-up in the Border’s National two starts back. He also filled the same position in Warwick’s Classic Chase on good ground last month. Remains unexposed over marathon trips and his best four RPR’s have come on good or good to soft going.
Sharp Response, is another whose suited by a sound surface. He jumped well to win the North Yorkshire Grand National at Catterick on his last start. The field for that race wasn’t the biggest or best in terms of quality. Still there was plenty to like about his win. The 8-year-old heads the ante-post betting for the race.
Geronimo, trained by Sandy Thomson, is 2 wins from 4 runs since going over fences this season. Last time out he showed plenty of stamina to win over 3m 3f at Ayr on good to soft. The handicapper has put him up 10lb for that success which makes things tougher. He’s remains at the right end of the handicap though and is progressive staying handicapper who could improve for the step to 4m.
At this stage I am most interested in: Sharp Response (8/1), Beware The Bear (12/1) Calett Mad (14/1) & Geronimo (25/1). The first two named have obvious claims on recent form. However, at the prices I like the claims of Calett Mad and Geronimo.
888Sport Handicap Chase
The forecast weather for Kempton means this race is likely to cut up badly when final declarations are known.
Paul Nicholls saddled Rocky Creek to win this race in 2015 and anything he saddles would have to be on the shortlist.
Tom George won it 2012 and he could run Double Shuffle. The 9-year-old was beaten just ½ length in the race in 2017 off 5lb lower. His best performance on Racing Post Ratings (RPR’s) also came over C&D when runner up to Might Bite in the King George VI. He’s a best priced 14/1 but if he runs will be a lot shorter on the day.
Glen Rocco is a progressing well over fences and deserves to head the market at best priced 5/1. Runner-up to the improving Glen Forsa here over 2m 4 /12 f on Boxing Day. He improved for the step up 3m when an impressive winner last month. The handicapper has put the 8-year-old up 13lb but he looks capable of defying his new mark. His claims are obvious and is likely to be favourite on the day should he run.
Catamaran Du Seuil, is an interesting contender. He’s only six but has plenty experience over fences both here and when trained in France. A solid jumper who has a high cruising speed. Had no trouble winning at Wetherby on good ground on his seasonal reappearance back in November.
He was then sent off the 9/2 co-favourite for the Grand Sefton Stakes over the National fences but fell at the 6th. He never looked happy when well beaten in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham. But put up a much better show when runner-up to Saturday’s Ascot winner Calipto at Wincanton last month. He’s yet to run at Kempton but he’s 2 wins from 4 runs 3 placed when going right handed. Given his high cruising speed 3m around Kempton could be ideal.
With doubts as to who will run it’s a race to treat with caution at this stage but I like the claims of Glen Rocco (5/1), Double Shuffle(14/1) & Catamaran Du Seuil (20/1). The latter two make solid each-way appeal for those punters willing to take a punt that they take their places in the starting line up.
The last Monday Tip Touch Kick was a gutsy winner at Wincanton two weeks ago to continue the good recent run of form for the Monday column. This week’s selection runs at Carlisle.
3:35 – Mcgowan’s Pass, sole win last season came in a heavy ground maiden hurdle at Ayr. The lightly raced 8-year-old looked capable of further improvement this season. Well backed on his seasonal reapperance but sadly for his backers, including me, he got no further than the first hurdle.
Could have been expected to do better at Haydock on his last start, 58-days ago, when only 4th of 9 beaten about six lengths. Especially as he made what looked a promising move on the outside coming to two out. Steps up to 2m 3 ½ f and looks worth another chance to show that he's on a competitive mark. Lively each-way contender.
Until next week.