Author Archives: John Burke

Thomson Hurdler Can Pass Carlisle Test

Morning all,

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.

Haydock Highlights

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.

Eider Chase

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.

The Shortlist:

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.

Verdict:

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.

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.

Verdict:

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.

Monday Selection:

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.

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.

Mcgowan’s Pass – 16/1 @ Bet365 & Betfred 

Until next week.

Racing Back For The Weekend And A Cheltenham Festival Tip

Morning all,

This time last week I was looking forward to my first trip to Huntingdon races.  Sadly flu put paid to my day at the races.  Not mine but equine flu and the biggest story in racing since the “foot and mouth” outbreak back in 2001.

You can read about my thoughts on the subject and also an ante -post bet for the Cheltenham Festival inside..

Racing in crisis

On Thursday the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced that there would be no racing until Wednesday at the earliest. You will be pleased to know. It’s not my intention to go through all the technicals of last weeks events, as they have been fully covered elsewhere.

As of the time of writing this post on Sunday evening. What do we know about the situation? Well one third of the 2000+ horses being tested by the Animal Health Trust for equine flu have tested negative which is encouraging. Still that means that two thirds have still to be tested.

Given the amount of horses still to be tested it’s hard to think that the BHA will be in a position on Monday to give the green light to resumption on Wednesday. However, what does the BHA do if a few cases are found? That’s when we move into uncharted and worrying territory. The BHA have now created a precedent. If there are more cases of equine flu will racing remain in lockdown?

Trainer’s start to break ranks

In the first 24-hours of the outbreak there was a general consensus in the racing community that the BHA had acted quickly and decisively. That consensus started to break down on Saturday. First, we had Nigel Twiston-Davies telling the Racing Post that the shutdown was a “massive overreaction”. Then other trainers also began to question the BHA’s decision.

Charlie Mann told the Racing Post on Sunday. “We get colds and sniffles and I completely agree with Nigel Twiston-Davies – it's absolutely ridiculous. We've got a cold and they're stopping racing because of it”.

Mann went onto say. “At worst, you close down the yard the infected horses have come from, so surely the right thing was to say to Donald McCain you can't run for two weeks until it's clear and we've tested them.”

Then unconfirmed reports began to emerge that the BHA were advised by the Animal Health Trust not to suspend British horse racing, on their initial findings. By then the authorities had already locked down yards and courses.

Racing needs certainty

The uncertainty is what is most worrying for those involved in the industry. One has to have a certain sympathy with the views put forward by Gaye Kellaway in the Racing Post when she says. “I think they should have immediately said no racing until March 1 to really stamp it out – like DEFRA did with foot and mouth”.

I have to say this is what I was expecting when the story first hit the headlines. Such a move would have at least dealt with all the uncertainty as to when racing would resume.

So, where are we now? I’m cautiously optimistic that racing will resume sometime this week but I don’t think the BHA will be announcing on Monday that its returns on Wednesday. Hopefully, next Monday I will be reporting on some top-class racing that has taken place at the weekend.

Naas keeps the show on the road

There was horse racing over the weekend at Naas, a shocker of a card, which ITV covered and on Sunday at Punchestown.

The Naas card was a weak one for a Saturday but there were a couple of notable performances.

The Martin Brassil trained City Island confirmed his well-being for a tilt at next month’s Cheltenham Festival. He only won like a 1/5 shot should win but at least his preparation couldn’t have gone better.

The 2m 5f Ballymore Hurdle is the 6-year-old’s target and he goes there a big contender. He’s as short as 8/1 for the race. However, Coral and Ladbrokes are a standout 12/1 which looks solid each way value to this particular pundit. If he was trained by Mullins or Elliott, he would be half those odds.

Band Of Outlaws, trained by Joseph O’Brien, a useful flat handicapper for the trainer. Continues to impress as a juvenile hurdler. He built on his Limerick win with a takin success on Saturday. His tactical flat speed came to the fore in a race that wasn’t run at a fast pace. Still on a day when it wasn’t easy to make up ground from the rear. Band Of Outlaws managed to do so.

His better fancied stablemate Konitho could only finish 5th. A combination of the slow early pace and good ground did for him on this occasion.

The winner will probably head for the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham. I just wish connections would let him take his chance in the Triumph Hurdle.

The second home, Maze Runner and third Coko Beach could also head for the Fred Winter. I wouldn’t be surprised if the winner of the Fred Winter comes from Saturday's race.

Next weekend's racing

If racing does return by the weekend, we have some good races to look forward to. There’s every chance that last Saturday’s Newbury card, including the Betfair Hurdle will be rescheduled. There are also good cards at Ascot, Haydock and Wincanton to get stuck into.

The feature races on the Ascot card are the 2m 5f Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase and the normally informative Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices' Chase over 3m.

Meanwhile at Haydock there’s a good-looking card of races with the highlight being the 3m 4 ½ f William Hill Grand National Trial Handicap Chase (Grade 3).

At Wincanton it’s Kingwell Hurdle Day, with the feature race being the Betway Kingwell Hurdle (Grade 2) over 1m 7 ½ f.

Saturday’s big race.

I am really looking forward to Saturday’s William Hill Grand National Trial Handicap Chase. The bookies have Robinsfirth and Wakanda. The first and second in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at the head of the ante-post betting for the race at around 7/1. Not far behind on a best priced 8/1 is Welsh Grand National runner-up Ramses De Teillee.

The claims of all three are obvious. However, it may pay to look beyond those two for the shortlist. The ones that look interesting at this stage are in no particular order: Ms Parfois (20/1), Beware The Bear (20/1), The Dutchman (16/1), Sharp Response (16/1), Impulsive Star (12/1) and Big River (25/1).

Good luck with this week’s punting.

Until next week

Nicholls To Kick On Today

Morning all,

Given the lack of racing on grass last week. I was wondering what I would be writing about in this week’s article. Thankfully, racing broke free of the weather’s icy grip over the weekend. As Sandown and Leopardstown both manged to stage fixtures.

Fingers crossed it looks like this week will be milder and wetter. However, I hope it’s dry on Thursday as I will be making my first visit to Huntingdon racecourse.

I’m covering plenty of of topics this week. From the Dublin Racing Festival to next Saturday’s Betfair Handicap Hurdle at Newbury. You can read about both and a bit more inside…

Dublin Racing Festival:

The inaugural Dublin Racing Festival only took place last year, but the weekend has already become the best two day’s racing outside of the big spring festivals.

This year’s festival saw no less than 8 Grade 1 races and 1.8 million Euro’s in prize money. It also produced racing that was in line with the amount of prize money on offer.

Despite the good ground the field sizes held up well on the Saturday. However, on the Sunday there were plenty of non-runners that could devalue the form.

On Saturday, two performances stood out for me.

Apples Has Champion Look

Apples Jade, was dropping back from 3m to the 2m distance of the Irish Champion Hurdle. It was a big ask but the 7-year-old showed her class and versatility by easily handling it.

Making all, she never really looked like she would be caught. Runner-up Supasundae was just a couple of lengths behind the mare coming to the final hurdle jumped but once asked to go clear she did just that and put 16 lengths between herself and Supasundae at the finish.

Granted she jumped a bit to her right at the hurdles which she can’t afford to do at Cheltenham but it now looks likely she will now take on Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle, rather than go for the easier option of the Mares Hurdle.

The Champion Hurdle was in need of a boast and hopefully it will have it with a Buveur D’Air v Apples Jade match up in March.

O’Brien’s Arkle Favourite

The Arkle Novices Chase could be one of the highlights of this year’s Cheltenham Festival. On Saturday Le Richebourg put himself right in to the mix for the race. The 6-year-old was a useful hurdler winning three of his eight starts. But he’s already a much better chaser, with form figures 11211 since going over the larger obstacles.

His only defeat coming when beaten ½ length by Delta Work over 2m 4f. The drop back in distance to 2m 1f has now seen the gelding post his best two Racing Post Ratings.

Once he gets into a good jumping rhythm, like he did in Saturday’s Irish Arkle, he’s a joy to watch. The stronger the pace the better he is and he now heads to Cheltenham the ante-post favourite for the Arkle Novice Chase.

Notebook Horse:

This week’s horse for your notebook is R'evelyn Pleasure, trained by Sean O’Brien, a trainer better known for his exploits in the Irish p2p field.

R'evelyn Pleasure an impressive winner over hurdles at Clonmel last March. The 7-year-old has since taken well to the larger obstacles since falling on his chase debut back in November. Since that mishap he hadn't finished out of the first two coming into Saturday’s handicap chase at Leopardstown.

Given the strong pace the race was run at, he did well to finish as close as he did at the finish doing best of those ridden prominently when finishing 4th, beaten 4 lengths. This was a very promising handicap chase debut. He also jumped much better than he had done in previous races. Hopefully he won’t go up too much in the ratings for this effort and looks capable of winning more races over fences.

Newbury: Betfair Handicap Hurdle

The highlight of next weekend's racing is the £155,000 Betfair Hurdle, which is now the richest handicap hurdle in the racing calendar. Last year’s renewal was won by Kalashnikov and other recent winners include My Tent Or Yours and Zarkander.

The race used to be one of the betting highlights of the season. With plenty of ante-post gambles being landed and thwarted. Despite the prize money on offer. In recent seasons some owners have preferred to wait for less lucrative races at the Cheltenham Festival.

All the emphasis on Cheltenham means that historic handicaps like the Betfair Hurdle have suffered from a decline in numbers and/or quality of participants. Let’s hope this year’s race attracts the sort of field that the prize money deserves.

Key Trends:

As the 2009 renewal was cancelled due to the weather. I am looking at some of the key trends for the last nine running’s of the race – 9 winners from 184 runners 35 placed.

Here are some of the headline stats:

Age: 5 & 6 yr olds – 9 winners from 112 runners 27 placed

Last Time Out Placing: 1st 2nd or 3rd – 9 winners from 95 runners 26 placed

Handicap Hurdle Wins: 0 – 8 winners from 95 runners 21 placed

Class Move: Same, Up 1 & Up 2: – 0 winners from 89 runners 8 placed

As these recent trends show. The race traditionally goes to younger horses that the handicapper hasn’t managed to get hold of yet. Not surprising then that the three at the head of the ante-post betting for the race: Al Dancer, Getaway Trump and Monsieur Lecoq have that lightly raced unexposed profile ideal for a winner of the race.

Monday Selection:

Taunton

4:15 – The best race on Monday is this Class 3 handicap chase at Taunton. The field size has held up with 11 declared to go to post. If the ground was softer, I would fancy Le Boizelo. However, it looks like it will be run on good ground.

A sound surface makes Touch Kick of plenty of interest. The 8-year-old has won two of his six starts over fences and the  Paul Nicholls trained horse made a pleasing seasonal reappearance when winning at Hereford over 2m 5f. No match for Aso when runner-up at Newbury on his next start. He was then sent off favourite, seemed ill at ease on soft ground, when 3rd of 11 at Chepstow on his last start.

The return to a sounder surface will suit and this looks an easier assignment than his last two starts. Just 2lb higher than for his Hereford win he can go close here if he stays the 2m 7f distance. At around 7/2 Touch Kick will do for me!

Touch Kick – 4/1

Good luck with this week’s punting.

Until next week

Tick Tock… Goes The Cheltenham Clock

Morning all,

The Cheltenham clock is ticking. Its hard to believe but we’re just 43 days from Day 1 of the “Greatest Show On Earth”. The Cheltenham Festival.

On Saturday we had Cheltenham Trials Day. Next weekend we have the Dublin Racing Festival and Scottish Cheltenham Trials Weekend at Musselburgh.

In this week’s article I am going to look at Frodon’s Gold Cup credentials. A Colin Tizzard trained runner who looks well handicapped if returning to fences. Oh, and why I think Gordon Elliott could be celebrating Grand National success in April. All this and more inside..

Frodon’s Cheltenham Conundrum

Just six runners went to post for this years Cotswold Chase, a race classed as Gold Cup Trial. However, recent years the stats suggest that it’s not been a good guide to events in March.

In the past 11 years only two horses who ran in the race have gone out to place in the Gold Cup: Djakadam who fell in the race before going onto finish runner-up to Don Cossack in 2016. The Giant Bolster won the 2014 Cotswold Chase before finishing 3rd in that seasons Gold Cup.

Frodon got an uncontested lead. Which enabled jockey Bryony Frost to slow and quicken the pace when she wanted to. As ever his jumping was excellent. However, there didn't seem to be much petrol in the tank at the finish. As he seemed all-out to hold off Elegant Escape

After the race trainer Paul Nicholls seemed to be of the opinion that the 7-year-old would head for the Gold Cup rather than the Ryanair Chase.

Can he win a Gold Cup?

Well we know he loves Cheltenham (4 wins from 10 runs 6 placed 60%). He’s ground versatile and an excellent jumper when he gets in a good rhythm.

Some solid positives there but there are two main reasons why he won’t win the Gold Cup.

Firstly, it’s highly unlikely that he will get a soft lead in a Gold Cup, with the likes of Native River in the field.

Secondly, the extra furlong he has to travel in the Gold Cup looks a step too far on the stamina front.

Yes, I can see him giving his jockey a great spin to two out before he weakens out of it.

The Ryanair Chase would seem a better option for Frodon  but I can see why connections will probably roll the dice and go for the big one at the festival, especially on a ‘soundish’ surface.

Elegant Escape Is All Heart

Runner-up Elegant Escape ran a perfectly good race with the Gold Cup in mind and I think he can reverse form with Frodon should they meet again in March. Especially if the ground is more testing than on Saturday.

Why do I think that? There are three main reasons:

Firstly, the Colin Tizzard stable hasn’t exactly been in great form of late just 4 winners from 44 runners.

Secondly, Elegant Escape has abundant stamina, as he showed when winning the Welsh Grand National.

Finally, the pace of the race is key. The more solid the gallop the better he jumps. A stop, start gallop like he got on Saturday really doesn’t help his jumping. The further they went the better he was. A soft ground Gold Cup run at a strong gallop would be ideal for the 7-year-old. If he gets those conditions I can see him going very well.

Notebook Horse:

This week’s notebook horse also comes from Trials Day and its West Approach, trained by Colin Tizzard. The 9-year-old was a distant second to easy winner Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle, beaten further than he was by the same horse at Ascot.

The 9-year-old isn’t a natural over fences but I think he’s handicapped to win a nice pot over the larger obstacles when everything falls right.

Will connections continue running Thistlecrack's half-brother over hurdles and head for the stayer’s hurdle? Or will he return to fences and a handicap like the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate on Day 3 of the festival?

I don’t think he has a realistic chance of beating Paisley Park in the stayers hurdle although he can reach the places.

So, I am hoping we’ll see West Approach in one of the festival handicap chases. It’s worth remembering he was a good third at Cheltenham on his seasonal reappearance and 5th in the Ladbroke Trophy in the autumn.

Can the Don Master The National?

After this season’s Becher Chase I put the Gordon Elliott trained Noble Endeavor on my shortlist for the Grand National.

Having watched the race again I am also coming around to the claims of Don Poli. The 10-year-old ran a fair race on his first start after 664 days off the track in the Becher. He ran well to half way before becoming detached and eventually being pulled up.

Granted he ran even worse when behind Presenting Percy over hurdles on Thursday. At least these poor runs have protected his mark and he should drop a 1lb or two further.

It could be he’s now gone at the game but I for one will be interested to see what weight the handicapper allots him for the National.

Monday Selection:

Ludlow

2:20Annie Bonny was to keen on her handicap hurdle debut at Leicester two start back. But ran a lot better when 5th of 10 at Chepstow three weeks ago. Doing her best work at the finish she should be suited by today’s 2m 5 ½ f at a track like Ludlow. She’s also fairly lightly raced to think that she maybe capable better still and I expect her to go close.

Annie Bonny – 9/2 or bigger

Good luck with this week’s punting.

Until next week

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