Author Archives: John Burke

Moore runner could be hard to catch at Fontwell…

Morning all,

A quick look back at the three best performances of the weekend seems the best way to start off this weeks column.

Politologue maintained trainer Paul Nicholls good record in the Tingle Creek Chase. Despite some sweating, at the start, the 6-year-old jumped and travelled better than his rivals and once he took up the running after two out there was only going to be one winner. The odds on favourite Fox Norton was never going as well as the winner and although he was closing on the winner right up to the line, the winner was always holding him as he's a horse that just seems to do what he has to do to win his races.

The two-mile trip on the drying ground was just too speedier a test for Fox Norton. Politlogue looks set for the Champion Chase where he will hopefully come up against the likes of Douvan and maybe Altior. This was his first success in Grade 1 company but it won’t be his last one.

On Sunday with no racing in the UK due to the freezing weather attention shifted across the Irish Sea with the seasonal reappearance of Gold Cup winner Sizing John and Un De Sceaux.

Sizing John’s backers must have been slightly worried when he made a mistake at the second in the 2m 4f Grade 1 John Durkan Trophy at Punchestown but any concerns they had were soon banished as the 7-year-old jumped much better through the race than his rivals and once he took over the running from his old rival Djakadam three out that was the race over and he won by an easy looking seven lengths.The runner up has won this race for the past two seasons and the market suggested that he was set for a third win as the Gold Cup winner drifted out to 2/1.

What a great start to the season over a trip, that I thought would be a shade below his best but the heavy ground brought his stamina very much into. Punters seem to be dividing into Sizing John and Might Bite camps for next years Gold Cup and it will take a big performance from the latter in the King George to dislodge Sizing John from his rightful place at the head of the ante-post betting for March.

Finally, a quick word on Un De Sceaux who returned to action with a bold jumping display to beat the useful Top Gamble by 25 lengths, giving that horse 8lb in the process in the big race at Cork on Sunday. He looked as good as ever and on heavy ground, he can beat anyone over 2m. As he proved when winning the 2m 5f Ryanair Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival on a sound surface he’s no ‘mudlark’ but he will always be vulnerable to speedier horses over the minimum trip on good ground. Should the ground be soft in March he can win a Champion Chase but what are the odds of the race being run on such underfoot conditions?

One For The Tracker:

I am turning away from Saturday’s big meetings at Sandown and Aintree, for this week’s horse for your trackers, and going for a horse that ran at Chepstow in the Welsh Grand National Trial.

Milansbar trained by Neil King had made a satisfactory seasonal reappearance at Catterick last month and showed the benefit of that run with a 2 ¾ length 3rd in a race he had finished 4th in last year. Racing off an 11lb lower mark and 3lb below his last winning mark the 10-year-old was outpaced at half-way but was staying on all the way to the line and his cause wasn’t helped by faller four out either and he can be rated slightly better than his final position suggests.

Even on heavy ground 3m is short of his best, he was only beaten 2 lengths in the 4m 1f Midland Grand National in 2016, he is a thorough stayer who has now dropped down to a winning mark. Another tilt at the Welsh Grand National looks likely, a race he was pulled up in last year as he was in his other races early this year. Whatever his fate back here in December there is a staying handicap chase in the gelding this season if his trainer can keep him sound.

Monday Racing and Selection:

The freezing weather looks set to be with us for at least another day and is set to play havoc with today’s meetings. Musselburgh has already been abandoned and Southwell’s all-weather flat card, on the fibresand, is subject to an 8am inspection. No inspection is planned at Fontwell where wind and heavy rain is forecast and the ground could well be heavy rather than the soft by the time of racing.

Last weeks selection Tambura was set a bit too much to do by her jockey on the good to soft going but stayed on well enough to take 4th at the finish. Softer ground would have been preferable for the mare who’s on a winning mark when she gets her optimum conditions. This week’s selection is from Fontwell.

Fontwell

2:15 – Only six go to post for this Class 3 handicap chase but a good case can be made for five of them. Fergal Mael Duin had finished 2nd in last years Southern National here and was well backed to go one better in the same race this year. Sadly for his backers his jumping wasn’t really good enough and he could only finish 6th of 10. Fontwell is the 9-year-olds track though with both his career wins having come here with form figures 1126. No problem with the ground either and if his jumping is better today he is handicapped to win a race like this.

The Gary Moore trained Leo Luna is another who likes this figure of eight track, with form figures of 11P2 and also races off his last winning mark. This is first run since running in this race last year and although he’s 0 wins from 7 runs 1 placed when returning from a 90+day break this former C&D winner shouldn’t be underestimated as he’s 3 wins from 10 runs 4 placed on soft or heavy ground. It’s also possible that he could get an uncontested lead here and if he does he will be hard one to catch.

Leo Luna – 6/1

All that’s left now is to wish you a profitable week’s punting.

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Mare Bids For Plumpton Three Timer!

Mullins In Total Ladbrokes Win

The Hennesey Gold Cup, the second best handicap chase of the National Hunt racing calendar after the Grand National. When the owners of the Hennesey brand gave up their long association with the great race last year, it was Ladbrokes who took over its sponsorship renaming the race the Ladbrokes Trophy in the process.

Now it will take a long time for people to stop calling the race the ‘Hennessey’, as its still run at Newbury, over the same distance and rarely produces a bad race. This years renewal was no exception as the ante-post gamble of the race Total Recall trained by Willie Mullins just got the better of the Nicky Henderson trained Whisper in a tight finish.

The front two pulled over 9 lengths clear of the third home which gives the form a solid look. The runner-up comes out of the race with great credit, as he was trying to give the clearly well-handicapped winner 14lb. Whisper defied my doubts that his jumping wouldn't be good enough in this company and looks worthy of a go at the Gold Cup on this performance although age maybe against him. He is now a best-priced 25/1 with Coral for Cheltenham on the back of this run. It may have a new name but it was the same pulsating race as ever!

There were no real hard luck stories. The 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree led to the 15th but once headed he soon weakened out of it and was pulled up. It looks like they will be giving the 10-year-old some sort of wind operation and maybe it’s too early to rule him out of winning again. You would expect connections to consider a tilt at the Grand National, a race that would be ideal for him. Backers of Singlefarmpayment may well think that he was still in with a chance when falling three out but he was under pressure at the time and I think he would have finished at best third if he had stood up.

The Newbury Ladbrokes Winter Carnival is a much better meeting now that it’s back to the two days. The three-day fixture was diluted in terms of race quality but a two day one means you now have two strong cards. As with a lot of these racing festivals, the ‘less is better’ maxim is correct.

In other news, it’s great to see the Racing Post have reintroduced race replays onto their website. Granted the replays are only available to Ultimate subscribers and not Essential members but if you’re serious about your form study you will be delighted like I am that previous race replays are once again available in the one place.

One For The Tracker:

This week’s tracker horse is the Oliver Sherwood Icing On the Cake. The trainer had indicated before the race that his horses had needed their first runs and that the 7-year-old was no exception. Held up, he made some good headway to three out and looked like he might play a part in the finish until his lack of race fitness told and he eventually finished a credible 5th. He has only had eight starts under rules winning a novice handicap chase at Newbury a track where he has also posted his best two performances according to Racing Post rating (RPR’s). He should come on well with this race under his belt and can win races off a mark of 128.

Monday Racing

After the last few days of top-class racing action over the last three days both sides of the Irish Sea, its back to more mundane Monday fare. There are jump meetings at Plumpton and Fakenham and there’s also all-weather flat action on the fibresand at Southwell. At least we can look forward to the weekend with Tingle Creek Day at Sandown and the latest running of the Becher Chase over the National fences at Aintree.

Plumpton

1:40 – It takes a brave punter to oppose an Anthony Honeyball runner at present as he is 6 winners from 15 runners 40% +13.18 and operates at a 30% win strike rate around Plumpton. He runs Act Now in this 3m 1f handicap hurdle and the mare is 2 wins from 2 runs at the course.

Another runner in the field who has a good record here is Tambura. The 7-year-old has had 3 wins from 6 runs at the course with her last two visits yielding form figures of 11. She has won this corresponding race in the last two years. The mare ran well for a long way on her seasonal reappearance when 4th at Chepstow 12 days ago. She should strip fitter today as all her five career wins have been when racing within 60 days off her last start, including 3 wins from 9 runs 7 placed when racing within 16 days of her last run.

She races off a 3lb lower mark than for her win in this race last year and she is handicapped to go close if at her best. Must have solid each-way claims, as long as the ground doesn’t dry out further, and the 8 declared runners stand their ground.

1:40 – Tambura – 7/1

All that’s left now is to wish you a profitable week’s punting.

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Temptation Awaits At Kempton

Morning all,

Nigel Still Has A Million In Mind

Bristol De Mai just galloped his rivals into submission in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday. The 6-year-old still has a chance of winning the million pounds on offer for a horse to win what could be described a National Hunt’s Triple Crown; the Betfair Chase, King George and Gold Cup.

Betfair Sportsbook now make him a 40/1 chance to do it and to be fair those odds still look a trifle skinny to me. The chances of soft ground or heavy ground at Kempton on Boxing Day seems unlikely to me and how good is the horse going right-handed compared to going left-handed. As for the Gold Cup, I just don’t think Cheltenham is his track.

He seems to have been chasing for years but he is still only a six-year-old so it may be a shade premature to pigeonhole him as a ‘mudlark’ who needs a flat or galloping track to be at his best. The Racing Post gave him a rating of 185 for the Haydock win and now all four of his best RPR’s have come on soft or heavy ground. The best two have now come at Haydock with the third highest rating coming on his previous start when winning the Charlie Hall at Wetherby.

No doubt he is on the upgrade but unless there was to be soft ground at Cheltenham I can never see him as a Gold Cup winner. Now the Grand National would be a different story but I doubt connections will be thinking about that race just yet. Personally, if he was mine I wouldn’t go to Kempton I would head over to Leopardstown and have a go at the Lexus Chase, as the track and going should be ideal for him.

As good as Bristol De Mai was on Saturday. I thought the performance of the weekend came from the Jedd O’Keeffe trained Sam Spinner in winning the Grade 3 Stayers Handicap Hurdle by 17 lengths. A good second, at Chepstow, on his seasonal reappearance, any doubts I had about 3m on heavy ground were completely blown away as the 5-year-old never saw a rival in making all for a very impressive win. The race had looked a very competitive one on paper but there was only one horse in it.

The handicapper will put him up into the low 150s after this effort and you would think connections will now be thinking about the Stayers Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival for him. The further he went on Saturday the better he looked. He is now a best-priced 33/1 with BetVictor for the Ladbrokes Staying Hurdle and given the lack of depth in the staying hurdle division he wouldn't be without a chance.

Of the rest it will be interesting to see what Tom George does with The World’s End, does he stay over hurdles or now go novice chasing? He was carrying a big weight here and also making his seasonal reappearance. I thought he travelled really well for a long way but a combination of fitness and heavy ground took its toll and he was a beaten horse two out. Hard to believe but he is the same age as Bristol De Mai but on better ground, there is plenty more to come from him if he does stay over hurdles and he is 25/1 with William Hill for Cheltenham’s Staying Hurdle.

One For The Tracker:

This week’s tracker horse comes from the race Sam Spinner won and it’s the runner-up The Dutchman. The 7-year-old was having his first start for Colin Tizzard, following a switch of trainers from Sandy Thomson. He finished 5 lengths of the 3rd home and hopefully the handicapper won’t put him up much for this performance. No problem with the 3m trip and he looks on a handy mark over hurdles and fences. There should be a handicap or two in the gelding in the coming weeks.

Monday Racing

The racing at Ayr has been abandoned so we are down to just meetings on Monday at Ludlow and Kempton. For a Monday both cards have a few decent looking handicaps to get stuck into and the Kempton card has a listed mare’s hurdle race.

Kempton

3:05 – Kings Temptation – The 5-year old looked well suited by the step up to 3m 1f at Huntingdon, staying on well enough to finish a ¾ 2nd to one of today’s rivals Night Generation, who he meets on 1lb better terms today, and he might well have won if he hadn’t have made a bad mistake three out. His trainer Ben Case had a winner at Ascot on Saturday and the selection looks to have decent each way claims once again.

Kings Temptation 1pt – each way

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Can Invicta Take Suzy Off The Cold List?

Cheltenham Look Back

Well, that’s three days at Cheltenham out of the way and an interesting November meeting it certainly was. The bookies had a couple of cracking days on Friday and Saturday as punters found it as hard a slog as the horses found going up the Cheltenham Hill on Saturday. On a personal level, a cracking days profit on Friday but a couple of mediocre days meant we made a small overall profit over the three days. Most of the shocks on Saturday came because the going changed from good to soft to soft bordering on heavy mid-way through the card on Saturday.

The watering that had taken place before the previous meeting had clearly made the water table at the track fairly high and as we know from past experience it doesn’t take much rain on a high water table to change the going. Granted Cheltenham got a lot more rain than had been expected and that allied to the watering that took place last month was of no help to punters.

The BetVictor Gold Cup was won by the Nigel Twiston–Davies trained 9-year-old Splash Of Ginge who was sent off at odds of 25/1. He was a well-handicapped horse at his best, racing off an 11lb lower mark than for his last win over fences in January 2015, also at Cheltenham, and was one of the few runners in Saturday’s feature race who really appreciated the testing conditions.

One of my bets for the race Starchitect ran a cracker to finish 2nd beaten just a neck at the line and if he had jumped the final two fences I think he would have won the race. Jumping is the name of the game though so I can’t have many complaints as I wasn’t expecting him to do that well on the ground.

I will end this short look back at the weekend on a sad note as the Ian Williams trained London Prize, who last weekend had won the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton, was still well in contention for yesterday’s the Greatwood Hurdle when falling two out and unfortunately sustained an injury which meant he had to be put down.

The 6-year-old had also finished 2nd on the flat in last months Cesrarewitch and was developing into a top-class dual purpose horse. He will be a sad loss to connections and those who backed the horse during his short career. For his trainer, who last week must have been on top of the world after wins by Saunter in the November Handicap and London Prize in the Elite Hurdle, it clearly exemplified the real ups and downs of the racing game.

Racing Mourns the Loss of Mary Reveley

Last week hundreds of mourners turned out for the funeral of trainer Mary Reveley. Mary who is still the most successful woman trainer of all time having sent out over 2000 winners on the flat and jumps from her base at Saltburn on the Yorkshire Coast. One of her earliest success stories, and one of my favourite northern sprint handicappers, that grand old servant King Charlemagne.

Back in the mid 80s I wrote to about a dozen trainers asking if they had any Pupil Assistant vacancies. Mary was the only one who got back to me. I can still remember the cold November evening when she called me to invite me up to her stables for a chat. I got offered the job as Pupil Assistant but sadly I was unable to take up the post due to personal reasons. How things could well have turned out differently for me if I had joined her team. Racing wont forget this no nonsense Yorkshire woman and nor will I. RIP Mary Reveley.

One For The Tracker:

I doubt it will be any surprise to readers to find that this week’s horse for your trackers comes from Cheltenham.

Trainer Philip Hobbs must have been delighted with the run of Three Faces West in the 3m 3f handicap chase on Saturday. Having his first run since making all to win at Newbury last December, he once again gave a bold front-running jumping display and gave it his all to three out. He eventually finished just over 17 lengths back in 3rd but given 5 of his 6 career wins have come within 16 to 30 days of his last race, with form figures of 11211, so this run was probably needed.

Indeed he did pull up on his seasonal reappearance last season. He hasn’t been the easiest horse to train as this was only his 12th career start. He remains a horse with potential over fences at 3m + having had 3 wins from 6 runs 5 places. The way he jumps means he can win a race or two this winter if he stays sound.

Monday Racing

The action is less exalted than the weekend racing. With jumps meetings at Leicester and Plumpton and Wolverhampton provides all-weather fans with a slice of flat racing. Here are some interesting stats from Leicester and Plumpton.

Leicester

David Pipe’s horses are going well at present after a fairly quiet autumn and it is worth noting his good record at Leicester. In the past 5 years he has had 15 winners from 34 runners 44% +16.24 A/E 1.49 (profit to BSP +20.57) 17 placed 50% at the course and he has 11 winners from 22 runners 50% +12.83 A/E 1.64 (profit to BSP +15.94) 13 placed 59% when teaming up with jockey Tom Scudamore. The pair combine with two today:

12:50 – Red Square Revival
1:50 – Delface

Plumpton

Trainer Anthony Honeyball hit form with a vengeance with three winners at Fontwell on Sunday and its worth noting he has a good win strike rate at Plumpton. In the past 5 years he has had 13 winners from 42 runners 31% -4 with all his runners here and 4 winners from 10 runners 40% +3 with his chasers. He sends just the one runner to the Sussex track today.

3:10 – Red Sox

One trainer who could do with a winner is Suzy Smith she is very much on the cold list but there were signs with a couple of her runners last week that a winner may not be far away. She saddles two today at Plumpton, her local track, and it’s a track where she has a good record with her handicap hurdlers. In the past 5 years she has had 14 winners from 43 runners 33% +71.38 A/E 2.19 (profit to BSP +92.01) 20 placed 47% in handicap hurdles at the course.

The 10-year-old Invicta Lake holds no secrets from the handicapper but he is now on a tempting handicap mark. Two of his career wins have come at Plumpton and four of his five career wins have come when racing between 16 to 30 days since his last start. He was having his first start for 625 days when tailed off here last month but he will have needed that run and if the trainers horses are indeed coming into form a much better show can be expected.

Monday Selection

Plumpton

2:50 – Invicta Lake – 12/1

All that’s left now is to wish you a profitable week’s punting.

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