Author Archives: John Burke

Power Primed For National Success

Morning all,

Some horse races live up to the hype some don’t. Saturday’s Ascot Chase certainly did the former proud. On paper the race looked like the jumps race of the season so far and so it proved to be. A rejuvenated Cue Card was quickly away and helped to set what looked some seriously strong early fractions and was kept honest by the likes of Frodon and Speredek.

The strong pace was ideal for the eventual winner Waiting Patiently as the strong traveller was closing in on the front pair coming to three out. Just after the second last he took the lead from Cue Card and although Paddy Brennan got a big jump out of the 12-year-old at the last he was always being held by the winner.

Take nothing away from Cue Card who battled on all the way to the line and was back to the best he can be now given his age but he was no match for a highly progressive 7-year-old who made it 6 wins from 6 starts over fences and is destined for much better if he keeps sound.

It was an emotional win for Ruth Jefferson given what has happened in recent weeks and the win is a great testament to the training skills of the late Malcolm Jefferson who always believed that the horse could win a Grade 1 Chase.

Top Notch could have been expected to do better than his well beaten 4th. Like the winner he was given patient ride off the fast early gallop which should have suited the 7-year-old and he had got into contention four out but dropped out rather tamely coming to the second last. He is capable of better than this performance and like a few of the Nicky Henderson runners on the day he ran below par.

The other major disappointment of a great spectacle was the performance of Irish raider Coney Island whose jumping lacked any real fluency in the early stages of the race and in truth he was run off his feet. He made a bad mistake at the 10th and was wisely pulled up by jockey Barry Geraghty. There will be other days for 7-year-old who probably needs 3m but he will have to improve his jumping if he is to win a Grade 1 chase.

Grand National Weights Are Out

I thought I would give my Cheltenham tracker horses a miss this week, don’t worry it will be back next week, and instead have a quick look at the Grand National picture, now that the weights for the big race have been published.

Now the Aintree spectacular is not race to be taken seriously from a betting perspective but it’s a bit of fun and in the end that’s what betting on horses should be all about.

The race itself has changed in recent years due to the modifying of the Aintree fences and the handicappers in encouragement of higher class horses running in the race. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that five of the last seven winners have carried between 11-00 and 11-6 as class now does seem to come to the fore in the race

The great Nick Mordin identified 16 key factors that punters needed to take into consideration when looking to find the winner of the National. I won’t mention them on this occasion although I will revisit them closer to the race. Here are my four key trends:

Age: 8 to 11 year-olds
Won A Race 3m 1f+
Runs in 90 Days: 1 to 3
Handicap Chase Wins: 1 to 3

At the moment I will be noting all horses 10-10 or higher in the weights in addition to those trends above. Looking at the horses who take my eye at the moment and they are both trained by Gordon Elliott. The first is the 8-year-old Tiger Roll who last season won the 3m Munster National and the 4m National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

He isn’t the biggest horse in training but as he showed at Cheltenham if he gets in a good jumping rhythm he’s a really decent horse. At the 50/1 available with William Hill looks worth a modest each way bet at this stage.

The other Elliott horse is Ucello Conti, who I haven’t backed yet. The 10-year-old has still yet to win for the trainer but has run some tremendous races in big field handicap chases including over the National fences and was still going well enough at Bechers second time around when unseating his rider last year.

He will come into this year’s race fresher than last year and his second in the Paddy Power handicap Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas showed the old ability remains. He did run poorly and was pulled up in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park on his last start but I suspect something was amiss with him that day.

Monday Racing and Selection

Today we have jumps cards at Carlisle. Lingfield and Kempton host an evening all-weather card. For a Monday, not the worst days racing with two Class 3 handicap chases at Carlisle and Lingfield.

Lingfield

3:50 – A field of 9 are declared to go to post for the 3m 5f Surrey National. The inform Fergal O’Brien5 winners from 9 runners 56% +14.68 in the past 14 days – runs the 9-year-old Petite Power who caught my eye when finishing strongly to take 4th at Cheltenham three starts back and wasn’t disgraced when a staying on 5th in the 3m 3 ½ f Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen on Boxing Day. He has run well over fences here in the past over much shorter. The 55-day absence shouldn’t be an issue as he’s gone well fresh in the past. He is handicapped to go close in a race like this, if he stays the 3m 5f trip on such demanding going.

Petite Power – 13/2

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Haines Looks Primed to Strike

Kalashnikov Mows Down Rivals

The betting race of Saturday was the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but it was the seasonal returns by Native River and Altior that captured my attention there this weekend.

Native River put himself very much into the picture for next months Gold Cup with a second successive win in the Denman Chase. The 8-year-old jumped really well out in front and was much too strong for his two rivals. A frustrating winter for trainer Colin Tizzard, with Cue Card’s and Thistlecrack’s performances, could still yield a great spring for the trainer. The last few days have seen a notable upturn in the stables form and his runners this week will be worth noting.

Thirty five minutes later it was Altior to make a winning seasonal return when taking the Game Spirit Chase. Last year’s Arkle winner justified his short odds in dispatching the race fit Politologue by 4 lengths. Not surprisingly then that the 8-year-old was cut into odds on for the Champion Chase by a number of firms. Trainer Nicky Henderson will have left something to work on. He looks set to follow in the hoof prints of former stable star Sprinter Sacre and be crowned the Champion Two Mile Chaser next month.

Kalashnikov ploughed through the mud to land the Betfair Hurdle for rookie trainer Amy Murphy. He proved he was a well handicapped horse and continued the good record of novice hurdlers and even more so 5 and 6-year-old in the race as this age group has now won the last ten renewals of the race. Some races just seem to stand out on the key trends and the Betfair Hurdle is one of those races.

He will now head to the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham and he has to be a strong contender for the places at the very least in that race. I had advised him at 12/1 on Saturday morning to my subscribers for the race so it rounded off a good day for me and them.

Saint Calvados Jumps Into Arkle Picture

The performance of the weekend for me came not at Warwick. As the Harry Whittington trained Saint Calvados won the 2m Kingmaker Novices Chase. I have to confess that I backed Saint Calvados at 33/1 for the Arkle Novices Chase after his win at Newbury and that ante-post bet is looking plenty of value now as he is now as low a 6/1 with Bet365 and William Hill for that race. I don’t think I have seen a novice jump as well as he did in a long time, when making all, to make it three from three over fences.

Granted he has to prove he’s as effective on a sounder surface, jockey Aidan Coleman thinks he wont have any problem with it, although the horse does have a bit of a knee action. Likewise the 5-year-old has to prove himself on an undulating track like Cheltenham. Footpad remains the one to beat in the Arkle but for me I am more than happy to be on Saint Calvados each way at 33/1.

Cheltenham Festival: Horses for the Tracker

The 2m 4 ½ f Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival, is a race normally won by a future staying chaser. Since the race was first run in 2009, the likes of Don Poli, Killutagh Vic, Attaglance and Sir Des Champs have managed to get into the winners enclosure. The top performing trainer is Willie Mullins whose had 3 winners from 14 runners 21% +12.5 5 placed 36%.

Willie will no doubt have a few runners in the race but the one that stands out for me of his potential runners is Deal D’estruval. The 5-year-old won a 2m 5f Tramore maiden hurdle on his first start for the trainer on New Year’s Day and was backed into 9/1 for his handicap hurdle debut at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown. Despite the drop in trip to 2m he showed he was a well handicapped horse with an excellent 2nd placed effort in a 28 runner field.

He has been put up 6lb by the Irish handicapper for that performance and with the addition of the ‘Irish Tax’ by the British handicapper he should now be able to get into the Martin Pipe. For those interested he can be backed ante post at 14/1 with William Hill for the race which looks more than fair if he gets a run. A real ‘dark horse’ who looks set for improvement when stepped back up in trip and is one to keep onside in the spring.

Monday Racing

More mundane Monday racing for us, at least over jumps, with jumps action from Catterick and Plumpton and Wolverhampton hosts an all-weather evening card which to be fair does contain to Class 2 handicaps. Given the uncertainty regarding the weather it’s probably wise to head to Wolverhampton for today’s selection

Monday Selection

Wolverhampton

6:40 – Haines trained by Andrew Balding won this race last year off a 2lb lower mark and with the able William Cox taking off a valuable 5lb he is virtually running off last years mark. Has only had two starts since the spring and showed the benefit for his first run back when 2nd at Kempton last month. No doubt trainer Andrew Balding has aimed the 7-year-old at this race again and at around 4/1 he looks worth a bet.

Haines – 4/1

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A 33/1 Triumph Hurdle Contender?

Dublin Delivers The Goods

Wow! What a great two days racing we have enjoyed with Dublin Racing Festival. It threatened to be good and it delivered. This will be a great pre-Cheltenham treat for years to come. Well played to Leopardstown racecourse and the Irish racing authorities for giving us this high class meeting.

I have to say with the news about Racing UK taking over the coverage of Irish racing from At The Races, that channel deserves plenty of praise for the way they have promoted and raised the profile of racing over the Irish Sea to a UK audience and they didn’t let us down over the weekend either with the ever excellent Gary O’Brien and Kevin Blake doing a great job.

There are too many great performances for me to discuss in this weeks column but take your pick; Footpad, Min, Supersundae, Sancro, Total Recall and Monalee to name just a few of the winners.

‘Miracle Horse' Grabs Gold

However, there can only be one performance of the weekend for me and it’s Edwulf in winning the Irish Gold Cup. The 9-year-old broke down and collapsed after the last in last season’s 4m National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham. It was touch and go whether the horse would live or not. For an hour the visionary staff fought to save the horse. Thankfully he survived due to the care and attention of those looking after him and he returned to the track in December.

What a great tribute to the training skills of Joseph O’Brien to get him back onto the track again, let alone go onto win a Grade 1 race. As disappointing as it would be for punters who backed the more fancied horses in the race. This was a fitting and heartwarming climax for a fabulous two days.

We can forget “War Horse” racing now has its own “Miracle Horse”.

Cheltenham Festival: Horses for the Tracker

We're getting closer and closer to the start of the Cheltenham Festival and Cheltenham fever so here’s another horse for your Cheltenham trackers.

Despite Apple’s Shakira’s recent win on Cheltenham Trials Day and Mr Adjudicator’s battling performance to see off Farclas at Leopardstown on Sunday I think this years Triumph Hurdle is still more open than the ante-post betting on the race suggests. I am hoping that we haven’t even seen this year’s winner run on a UK or Irish racecourse yet.

My tentative pick for the race is the Paul Nicholls trained Sao. The ex-French trained juvenile will hopefully be having his first start for the trainer in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton later this month. The 3-year-old has two starts over hurdles in France last year falling in the first of them before going onto win the second. That day he beat Sunday’s Musselburgh winner We Have A Dream who is now second favourite on most bookmaker ante-post lists for the Triumph Hurdle. In the Adonis Hurdle he will probably be taking on recent Kempton winner, the Alan King trained, Redicean who is a best priced 10/1 for the Triumph.

Sao can still be backed at 33/1, just 16/1 with Paddy Power, with a number of firms and he will bid to do what Zarkander (2011), also trained by Paul Nicholls, and Soldatino (2010) did and win the Adonis before going onto Cheltenham glory the following month. In the past 10 years horses with this profile are 2 winners from 3 runners.

He could easily disappoint at Kempton but if he wins the Adonis he won’t be a 33/1 chance for the Triumph. I am happy to take a punt on him at those sort of odds 33/1 available with William Hill (money back if your horse doesn’t run at the festival).

Monday Racing

After the feast of the weekend it’s back down to earth with a bang with some mundane racing from Newcastle and Southwell over jumps and Wolverhampton for the all-weather fans. It’s to the latter track where I am going for today’s Monday Selection.

Wolverhampton

6:45 – Gabrial The Terror – The 8-year-old is on a bit of a losing run with his last win coming here back in March 2016. He is 18lb lower than for that win, so he’s dropped to a tempting handicap mark. Five of his career wins have come here, including over C&D, so if he is to take advantage of his mark it will be here. Last time out he ran a bit better than his final position of 5th suggests as he was slow away. He was staying on well enough over the 1m 6f trip to think the return to 2m will be of benefit to him. He will need all the cards to fall right if he is to win but if they do the 7/1 available looks fair value.

Gabrial The Terror – 7/1 or better

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Nicholls Outsider Looks 80/1 Gold Cup Value

Morning all,

Ladies Day at Cheltenham

Two weeks ago I was waxing lyrical about jockey Bryony Frost after her ride on Milansbar to win the Classic Chase at Warwick. I find myself this week doing the same thing again. Frodon took the big handicap on Cheltenham Trials Day and once again the win showcased the riding ability of the young jockey. Her knack for getting a horse settled and into a good jumping rhythm, I have already highlighted and it was once again in evidence in her ride on Frodon. This time though we can add racing intelligence to her resume.

Before racing, she had walked the course and noted that there was a fresh strip of ground on the inside due to rail movement. Thus, she was not going to give up the inside to anyone and racing on that quicker ground was evident as the horse speeded away from his rivals after the second last. On this occasion, she had out thought more senior jockeys who were making their efforts on the slower parts of the track. In some ways, the ride she gave Frodon was even better than the one she gave Milansbar, as she added an extra dimension to her race riding.

I doubt this will be the last time this season that I will start my Monday column praising this young jockey. It’s not just in the saddle where her talents are on show. She has that infectious personality that racing needs and sadly racing does lack those personalities that are able to reach out to the wider sporting population.

It was Ladies Day on Cheltenham Trial’s Day, as Lizzie Kelly also rode a winner on her Father’s Agrapart to win the Cleeve Hurdle. The mud-loving seven-year-old added to my bank balance so am slightly biased in regards to his performance. The rain that fell had turned the going to heavy which would always play to the strengths of Agrapart who just stays all day and found plenty for pressure to see of the strong-travelling Wholestone on the run-in.

We Definitely Didn’t See the Gold Cup Winner

On the subject of Cheltenham Trial’s Day, I suspect next weekend's Leopardstown Dublin Racing Festival, which is building up to be a feast of high-class racing action, will have more influence on Cheltenham in March than Saturday’s action.

I know Dave Orton from the Racing Post thinks that Cotswold Chase winner Definitely Red is too big at 20/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. If the 9-year-old was trained by a more fashionable trainer than Brian Ellison he would be half those odds after his Saturday win. Yes, he has now earned the right to have a tilt and jumps racings ‘Blue Riband’ race and in an open looking year he has a chance but he’s no Gold Cup winner for me!

Cheltenham Festival: Horses for the Tracker

Two weeks ago I put up Coo Star Sivola as one for your Cheltenham trackers. He was well backed into 3/1 for the race that Frodon won, he should have gone for the novice handicap chase 35 minutes earlier, but could only finish 4th. That said he was taking on more experienced handicappers and the six-year-old will have learnt plenty from the race. He’s not one to give up on and there remains a decent handicap in him off his present mark, on a sounder surface than he faced here.

This week’s horse for your Cheltenham trackers is Saphir Du Rheu for the Gold Cup. You’re probably thinking I have taken leave of my senses. Saying Definitely Red can’t win the race but then going on to put up the Paul Nicholls' horse as the value bet for the race.

Well here are my thoughts: Three of his best five Racing Post Ratings (RPR’s) have come at Cheltenham, two of those at the Festival. He was 5th in last years Gold Cup beaten just over 6 lengths by Sizing John. Looking back at the video of the race he travelled and jumped really well and was going as well as anything three out. All despite racing out widest and covering far more ground than those who finished in front of him. He will be making his seasonal reappearance next month probably in the Kelso race he won last year. In an open looking year I can see the 9-year-old reaching the frame this year and at 80/1 with William Hill (NRNB) looks a good each way bet. It’s just a shame that Bryony won’t be taking the ride.

Monday Racing

Well after the weekend action it’s back to more mundane fare with jumps meetings at Hereford and Plumpton over jumps and a twilight all-weather card at Wolverhampton.

Plumpton

3:25 – Tambura – The mare hasn’t really hit form this season but showed a bit of sparkle two starts back here before a slightly below par run at Ludlow. Back at her favourite track where she has won three times from seven runs is a positive and she is at her most effective in the mud. The 8-year-old now races off a 5lb lower mark than for her last win over C&D back in November 2016. On a winnable mark if she can return to something like her best.

Monday Selection – Tambura – 4/1

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