Saturday Selections

2pt win Arrivederci in the 1.50 Ascot at 15/2

2pt win Good Boy Bobby in the 3.00 Ascot at 9/2

1pt win Destined To Shine in the 3.50 Haydock at 9/2

2pt win Fearless in the 4.20 Haydock at 7/2

ARRIVEDERCI defeated two subsequent scorers at Wetherby in October and looked set to play a major role when falling at Haydock next out. He failed to make an impact when sent off a well supported 5/1 joint-favourite for the ultra competitive Grade 3 Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot prior to Christmas, however, he could easily return to form now stepping back up in trip.

Indeed, the progressive grey remains open to improvement over this distance and all three of his career victories have been achieved on soft ground. Jonjo O’Neill has his string in fine form at present having sent out 5 winners from 24 runners (21% strike rate) over the last two weeks. Therefore everything looks set for a bold showing.

GOOD BOY BOBBY split subsequent Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase scorer Master Tommytucker and subsequent Ascot scorer Dashel Drasher (all off level weights) when placing second at Haydock in November, and those rivals are now rated 159 and 152 respectively, which makes Good Boy Bobby an attractive proposition off a mark of 144.

Fourth in the Grade 3 Caspain Caviar Gold Cup on his only subsequent outing, Good Boy Bobby readily dispatched a subsequent scorer on his seasonal reappearance at Bangor and only narrowly failed to concede 5lbs to last month’s Grade 2 Peterborough Chase hero Mister Fisher as a novice at Cheltenham last season. Therefore he has plenty of solid form in the book.

Clearly Good Boy Bobby is effective going both left-handed and right-handed. However, he has been known to jump slightly to his right on occasions and I feel that he will be well suited by the nature of Ascot, especially if he bounces out prominently as he did at Haydock.

Six of his eight career victories have been achieved on soft or heavy ground and Nigel Twiston-Davies has sent out 6 winners from his last 22 runners, indicating that his string are in good shape at present. Therefore I am hopeful of a very big run off a nice weight of 11-2.

DESTINED TO SHINE ran out a comfortable winner at Uttoxeter in October and handled the testing conditions well when placing second over this course and distance last month, therefore he makes fair appeal off the same mark of 126 today.

Kerry Lee’s nine-year-old, who won at this venue over hurdles, was beaten 4 lengths by a well handicapped rival on that occasion and finished 26 lengths ahead of the third placed Frero Banbou, which demonstrated that he can be competitive off his current rating.

Current second favourite Reivers Lad has already proven that he can go well when fresh and fellow contender Black Pirate remains open to improvement in this sphere. However, Destined To Shine boasts a very solid profile and has been given 5 weeks to recover from last month’s exertions. A reproduction of that effort should see him go close.

Haydock concludes with a solid if unspectacular handicap hurdle over the minimum distance which could easily go the way of handicap debutant FEARLESS, who was in the lead and travelling well when unseating his jockey at three from home last time out.

Olly Murphy’s six-year-old, who cost connections £120,000 in 2018, boasts some decent form in novice company and heads into handicaps with six starts under his belt, therefore inexperience should not be an issue.

Fearless seemingly handled the heavy ground perfectly well at Ayr in November and has also ran respectably on soft ground too. His opening mark of 122 looks fair on the pick of his form, which includes a brace of solid efforts under a penalty during the autumn, and he could well prove hard to peg back if bowling out in front and jumping well.

Olly Murphy has sent out 8 winners from his last 30 runners – including 3 winners from his last 3 runners – and Fergus Gregory will claim a handy 3lbs. I’m sure connections will be bitterly disappointed if he doesn’t prove much better than his current rating in the fullness of time, and hopefully he can begin to show his full potential today.

Antepost Punting: The Grade 2 Mares’ Chase

1pt each-way Dame De Compagnie in the Mares Chase at 20/1

The 2021 Cheltenham Festival will feature the inaugural running of the Grade 2 Mares’ Chase, and the current antepost market is as clear as fog given the uncertainty surrounding long-time favourite Benie Des Dieux and last year’s Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On, who have the Mares’ Hurdle and Champion Chase as alternative targets respectively.

Current second favourite Colreevy landed the Grade 1 Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick on Boxing Day and could easily be a big player. However, as talented as she is, Willie Mullins’ mare seemingly needs hock deep ground in order to be seen to best effect.

Honeysuckle shouldn’t even be priced up for this race and Elfile is conspicuous by her absence, for all that she would be interesting if appearing over fences soon. Annie Mc was beaten a shade over 28 lengths when placing fifth in a somewhat unsatisfactory Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and 2017 Marsh Novices’ Chase victor Shattered Love is another contender whom would need very testing ground on the day.

Indeed, I am inclined to look for some potential value given the uncertainty over many and the required conditions for others, and it certainly doesn’t take the most intelligent of market experts to predict that last year’s Coral Cup heroine DAME DE COMPAGNIE will shorten significantly in the betting if making a successful chasing debut at Ayr tomorrow, therefore I am going to suggest taking the 20/1 that is currently available with Bet365.

The JP McManus owned eight-year-old goes particularly well in the Cotswolds boasting overall form-figures of 51511. Indeed, she is actually unbeaten (2-2) on Cheltenham’s new course – on which the Mares’ Chase will be contested – and all three of her Prestbury Park victories have been achieved over two-and-a-half miles – the trip over which the Mare’s Chase will be run – with her two defeats coming over 2 miles on the old course.

Dame De Compagnie has already proven her effectiveness on ground ranging from good to soft and this looks like her most likely target as Nicky Henderson potentially has Allart, Fusil Raffles and Chantry House, who is also owned by JP McManus, for the Grade 1 Marsh Novices’ Chase. Obviously handicaps are also an option, however, Mr Henderson does appear to have a slight preference for graded races, as he again demonstrated when running Mister Fisher in the rescheduled Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham as opposed to the Caspain Caviar Gold Cup just last month.

The British champion trainer recently confirmed (in his Unibet blog) that the daughter of Lucarno is fit and has schooled very well ahead of her chasing debut, stating; “she is fit and fully schooled to start her chasing career. She is electric over fences and I might even drop her back down to two miles because she enjoys it that much and is so quick.”

She will indeed start out over the minimum trip tomorrow, which is of no concern given that it is merely a suitable race in which to get her out and gain experience. It’s clear for all to see that she is a superior mare over two-and-a-half-miles and I’m sure that will be her trip come March.

Obviously we’re taking a risk by backing a horse that we are yet to see over fences. However, I feel that the potential reward outweighs that risk given all of the factors outlined above.

Saturday Selections (16/1/21)

2pt win Make Me A Believer in the 2.25 Warwick at 4/1

1pt win Captain Chaos in the 3.00 Warwick at 11/2

1pt each-way The Macon Lugnatic in the 3.35 Warwick at 25/1

1pt win Hugo’s Reflection in the 3.50 Market Rasen at 17/2

A few words on MAKE ME A BELIEVER from my Oddschecker Preview:

“Make Me A Believer demonstrated a determined attitude when making a successful racecourse debut in a hotly contested bumper at Chepstow last season, and he was unfortunate enough to bump into Nicky Martin’s exciting prospect Bear Ghylls on his hurdling debut at Lingfield in October.

The winner has won both of his subsequent starts including a handicap off a mark 130. While the third placed Take Your Time was successful next time before placing second in novice company at Chepstow and third on his handicap debut. Therefore that form of that Lingfield contest looks very solid indeed.

David Pipe’s six-year-old went to Cheltenham in December and again showed a tenacious attitude when out-battling Neil Mulholland’s promising inmate Any News in a ding-dong battle up the hill, clocking a 2 seconds quicker time than the handicap hurdle run later on the card. It’s fair to say that Make Me A Believer was firmly on-top at the line, and he will definitely be suited by stepping-up in trip on Saturday.

Make Me A Believer underwent wind surgery prior to that success and clearly remains open to significant improvement.”

It should also be noted that David Pipe is currently operating at a 25% strike-rate having sent out 5 winners from 20 runners in the last two weeks, which provides further reason for optimism.

A few words on CAPTAIN CHAOS from my Sporting Life guide:

“Captain Chaos very rarely shows anything that resembles noteworthy form prior to this time of year and boasts form-figures of PP0 in three starts this season. However, he has slipped 6lbs in the handicap as a result of those outings and is now rated just 2lbs above the mark from which he ran out a facile 54 lengths winner of the Grimthore Chase last February.

Indeed, the stamina-laden ten-year-old returned to form in this very contest last year when chasing home a clearly well handicapped winner in the form of Kimberlite Candy, and it would come as no surprise whatsoever if this race had nominated as his seasonal target from the second that he crossed the line at Doncaster 11 months ago.

Team Skelton were firing on all cylinders during December and they are undoubtedly a deadly duo when it comes to plundering long-term targets. Therefore I expect to see a much more competitive Captain Chaos at Warwick this weekend.”

The blinkers that Captain Chaos sported in this contest last year have been reapplied for the first time since his facile success in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster last February. They clearly have the desired effect and could easily facilitate a return to form.

The Macon Lugnatic & Hugo’s Reflection

I don’t tend to get involved with Pertemps Qualifiers too often as you never truly know what the end goal is. However, when I do, I like to side with those whom would require a rise in the handicap to grab a place in the final, as they will clearly be looking to win and not just creep into sixth! With this in mind I’m going to side with THE MACON LUGNATIC tomorrow.

Ben Pauling’s seven-year-old was well held on his seasonal reappearance at Cheltenham in October and will clearly need to improve markedly from that outing. However, he was pulled-up on his seasonal debut in 2019/20 before causing a 33/1 surprise at Doncaster next time out, therefore it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world if he bounced back to form on his second start of the season once again, especially with David Bass, who has been in the saddle for all three of his previous career victories, back on board.

The Macon Lugnatic defeated the rock-solid yardstick Sevarano at Doncaster before following up at the same venue three weeks later. Both of those victories were achieved over a trip just shy of two-and-a-half-miles and he gave the impression that he would be well suited by stepping-up in trip on each occasion.

The Shirocco gelding handled soft ground when claiming the scalp of Sevarano and his prominent style of running should keep him out of trouble. While the recent form of his yard (4 winners from 12 runners in the last 7 days) is also a positive.

It is also noteworthy that connections have decided to apply checkpieces on his first foray into handicap company, and a mark of 129 could easily underestimate his true ability.

Yes, The Macon Lugnatic still needs to prove his stamina after his no-show in October. However, that risk is clearly factored into his price.

My final selection tomorrow is HUGO’S REFLECTION, who will carry top-weight in the concluding two-mile-five-furlong handicap chase at Market Rasen.

Daryl Jacob enjoyed a fantastic five-timer at Wincanton last Saturday and it’s interesting that he’s going to Market Rasen for just one ride tomorrow, which may suggest that a big run is expected from Ben Case’s charge.

The Robin Des Champs gelding drops into class 5 company for the very first time over obstacles and he is now rated just 1lb above his last winning mark after pulling-up at Fontwell last month.

Already a course and distance winner, Hugo’s Reflection proved his effectiveness on soft ground at Fontwell in December 2019 and twice placed third off a 4lbs higher mark in October and November respectively.

Ben Case enjoyed a double at Doncaster on Monday and clearly has his string are in fine fettle at present. Therefore there are plenty of reasons to be positive about the chances of Hugo’s Reflection tomorrow.

Full Grade 2 Leamington Novices Hurdle Preview:

Antepost Punting: The 2021 Cheltenham Festival

1.5pts each-way One For The Team in the Ultima Handicap Chase at 20/1 (Bet365)

1pt each-way Embittered in the Grand Annual Handicap Chase at 16/1 (Paddy Power – NRNB) + 1pt win at 25/1 (Betfair)

Nick Williams plundered the Ultima Handicap Chase with Coo Star Sivola in 2018 and he looks to another ideal candidate this year in the form of ONE FOR THE TEAM.

Indeed, the shrewd handler often targets his better novices at Cheltenham Festival handicaps and also hit the bullseye with Siruh Du Lac in the 2019 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate. Therefore, there is a very good chance that One For The Team is being trained with the Ultima in mind.

This promising son of Shirocco was booked for second place when unseating his jockey on his chasing debut at Newbury in November, and he returned to the Berkshire venue three-weeks-later to split the potentially smart Next Destination and Philip Hobbs’ grey Kalooki – who won the aforementioned Newbury contest – in the Grade 2 Ladbrokes John Francombe Novices’ Chase, beaten just a length-and-a-half after staying on gamely from the final fence to the line.

One For The Team was outpaced when placing fifth in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, but again stayed-on nicely and was far from disgraced. He was raised 1lb to a mark if 141 following that outing, which is 1lb lower than the mark from which Coo Star Sivola triumphed two years ago.

Both Coo Star Sivola and Siruh Du Lac ran on Cheltenham’s trial’s day card in January before tasting Festival success 6 weeks later, and it’s very likely that One For The Team will be seen again prior to March as his jumping hasn’t always been foot perfect and further experience would clearly be advantageous. However, on a more positive note, he does possesses some valuable handicap experience from his time over hurdles, when performing consistently and butting heads with some solid opposition before scoring by 14 lengths at Newbury off a mark of 130. Therefore we know that he is capable of performing well in the heat of a competitive handicap.

Novices have a fine overall record in the Ultima Handicap Chase and, as mentioned above, I feel that this is a very obvious target. Therefore I’m happy to take some of the 20/1 currently available.

EMBITTERED ended his novice hurdle campaign with a rating of 149 following a hugely creditable third placed finish in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, when finding only the incredibly well handicapped Saint Roi and subsequent Galway Hurdle winner Aramon, both of whom played their cards much later, too strong in the finish.

Sent over fences this autumn, Embittered chased home the sadly ill-fated Easywork at Navan in November before finding only Andy Dufresne too good in Grade 3 company over the same course and distance in December. The Gigginstown House Stud owned six-year-old again ran well when placing fourth in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, and he may have finished much closer had he not suffered interference upon turning for home.

Joseph O’Brien’s inmate ran off a mark of 146 in March and looks likely to receive a chase rating around, or perhaps equal too, his current mark over timber, which should make him competitive given his scope for improvement. Indeed, the first four home in this year’s Grand Annual were rated 147, 149, 148 and 150 respectively, therefore a mark in the high 140’s is no barrier to success.

Embittered jumps quickly and slickly and we know that he well capable of performing to a high level in a strongly run Cheltenham Festival handicap. Therefore he makes plenty of appeal.

Antepost Punting: The Supreme Novices Hurdle

1pt each-way Blue Lord in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 33/1 (William Hill)

Ferny Hollow’s unfortunate setback left us without a horse in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and, in spite of looking at the betting at length in recent weeks, there had been nothing that had taken my fancy until today.

In a strange quirk of what I would like to believe is fate, I’ve plumped for the horse that was beaten today by the horse that chased home Ferny Hollow at Gowran Park in November, namely BLUE LORD.

The Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned six-year-old made a successful Irish debut at Punchestown in November on the back of a 436 day absence. We know from experience that Willie Mullins likes to give high quality french recruits plenty of time to settle into life at Closutton, and connections may well reap the benefits of that patience this spring.

The Blue Bresil gelding took a sizeable step-up in both class and trip to contest the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle this afternoon, and he was far from disgraced in chasing home the hugely exciting Bob Olinger, who we have already backed for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at 25/1 (and in the ‘any race’ market at 16/1).

While I was clearly paying close attention to Henry De Bromhead’s charge, my eye kept being drawn to Blue Lord, who was noticeably keen throughout the two-and-a-half-mile contest and therefore didn’t have enough left in the tank to challenge the impressive winner.

To the eye – I haven’t looked at the clock yet – they didn’t appear to go quick for the first mile-and-a-half and that obviously didn’t suit Willie Mullins’ charge. However, I can’t help but feel that he would be ideally suited by a strongly run race over the minimum distance – making the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle an obvious target.

Indeed, Elixir D’ainay finished second in the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle last year before dropping back in trip for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and he was in the process of running a mighty race in the Festival curtain raiser before being brought-down by his wayward jumping stablemate Asterion Forlonge.

I can see the Irish champion trainer making the same decision regarding Cheltenham Festival targets and I feel that there is a distinct lack of depth beyond Appreciate It and Metier in the Supreme betting. Therefore 33/1 about Blue Lord could look extremely big come the day.

Saturday Selections (9/1/21)

0.5pts each-way Sopran Thor in the 11.45 Chepstow at 33/1

2pt win Erick Le Rouge in the 1.10 Kempton at 5/1

2pts each-way Lord Du Mesnil in the 3.10 Chepstow at 12/1 (6 Places Available)

1pt each-way Solo in the 3.30 Kempton at 20/1

The opening novice hurdle at Chepstow is an uninspiring affair and it may worth taking a small each-way interest in SOPRAN THOR at a big double figure price given that this is a much easier contest than his two previous outings over hurdles.

Sixth in a relatively competitive heat at Ascot in October, Gary Moore’s six-year-old improved on that effort when placing fifth behind subsequent Grade 2 scorer My Drogo and the well regarded pair Sir Sholokhov (third) and Flinteur Sacre (fourth) at Newbury four-weeks later.

Sopran Thor raced keenly in rear on both occasions before making up ground at the business end of the race. Both outings suggested that tomorrow’s step-up in trip may suit him well, and he could easily prove grossly overpriced in a race that won’t take too much winning.

There is of course the risk that he may be being trained with handicaps in mind. However, that looks a risk worth taking at the price.

ERICK LE ROUGE landed the ‘Ladbrokes Where The Nation Plays Handicap Chase’ off a 3lbs lower mark 12 months ago and makes plenty of appeal in his quest to double up.

In fact, when you take into consideration Lizzie Kelly’s 3lbs claim last year and Chester Williams’ 5lbs claim tomorrow, Erick Le Rouge will compete off just a 1lb higher mark this year, which gives him a good opportunity to further enhance his already impressive course form at Kempton (1114).

His two runs this season offer little encouragement, however, he will be having his first outing since undergoing wind surgery when lining-up tomorrow and the drying ground will also be in his favour.

Erick Le Rouge has enjoyed a similar preparation to 12 months ago having not been sighted since November, which suits him well given that he boasts form-figures of 1119 following a break of 59 days or more.

Indeed, you can make a pretty solid case for Jane Williams’ seven-year-old in a race that is seemingly jam packed with horses that have something to prove. Therefore he looks the one to be on.

The Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton looks as competitive as ever, however, I’m going to give top-weight SOLO another chance in the hope that the step-up in trip and return to Kempton, where he was extremely impressive in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle last February, can see him bounce back to form.

Clearly a mark of 157 following that juvenile success was fanciful, and he will line-up tomorrow off a much more realistic rating of 144. We know from experience that many smart juvenile hurdlers want further in time and I actually thought that he ran well to a point in competitive handicap company at Sandown last month before being outpaced between the final flights of hurdles and coming home in fifth position.

The intriguing son of Kapgarde ran out an impressive 15 lengths winner – on heavy ground – over a trip of 2m1f110y in France, and if he is indeed as good as his eleven time champion trainer believes, then he could be more than capable off his current mark, especially if there is improvement to come over this longer trip.

Paul Nicholls’ has proven time and time again that he can land big pots with second season hurdlers, with Pic D’Orhy’s 33/1 success in last season’s Betfair Hurdle a shining recent example. Hopefully Solo can carry the same blue and pink silks to success at Kempton tomorrow.

Please click the link below for my thoughts on LORD DU MESNIL in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow:


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The 2021 Cheltenham Festival: Antepost Update

A quick look at every antepost bet advised for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, split into those whom are now shorter in the betting, those whom are now bigger in the betting, and those whom will not be taking their chance for one reason or another.

SHORTER (In race order):

1pt win Ballyadam to win any race at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival at 14/1 (currently 8/1)

Ballyadam won his first two starts over hurdles including the Grade 1 Royal Bond at Fairyhouse in November, however, he was undeniably disappointing when placing fourth in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas. That said, you could easily argue that his performance was too bad to be true and it’s possible that he is another Gordon Elliott trained horse who wasn’t firing on all cylinders this festive season. Jumping certainly appears to be his achilles heel at present. However, there is plenty of time to work on that issue and it’s fair to say that the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, it that indeed remains the target, is far from the strongest contest on paper at this stage, with only Appreciate It and Meteir currently impressing. Therefore he is no forlorn hope just yet.

1pt win Captain Guinness in the Sporting Life Arkle at 25/1 (currently 20/1)

Captain Guinness made an inauspicious start to life over fences when pulling-up abruptly mid race at Tipperary. Found to have suffered an irregular heartbeat on that occasion, Henry De Bromhead’s promising five-year-old returned to action at Punchestown in December and made light work of the 142 rated hurdler Midnight Run, jumping well en route to a comfortable four-and-three-quarter-lengths success. That was much more like it and although Shishkin is very much the one to beat judged on what we have seen thus far, I’m happy enough to be on Henry’s horse at 25/1.

1pt win Saint Roi in the Unibet Champion Hurdle at 20/1 (currently 12/1)

It was obviously disappointing that Saint Roi couldn’t justify favouritism at Leopardstown over Christmas, especially as Epatante’s Christmas Hurdle defeat seemingly left the door ajar for a challenger in the division. I wouldn’t entirely give up on last season’s County Hurdle winner just yet as we know that he likes Cheltenham and remains open to improvement. However, he clearly needs to take a big step forwards on what he has achieved thus far.

0.5pt win Bob Olinger in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at 25/1 – 1pt win Bob Olinger to win any race at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival at 16/1 (currently 10/1 & 8/1)

While Ferny Hollow’s injury has put paid to my antepost wager for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, it has allowed the mightily impressive Appreciate It to go down the 2 mile route, which is certainly good news for our bets on Bob Olinger. Obviously we still have the comfort blanket of our ‘any race’ wager at 16/1, however, I think he has the perfect blend of speed and stamina for the Ballymore and as impressive as antepost favourite Bravemansgame was in winning the Challow Hurdle at Newbury, he could just give Bob Olinger the perfect to into this race, which is often settled by a turn of foot rather than stamina. His runner-up effort behind Ferny Hollow was encouraging and he won as he should against inferior opposition at Navan. The Robcour owned six-year-old holds an entry in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle at Naas on Sunday, which will obviously tell us a lot more should he indeed take his chance.

1pt win The Big Getaway in the RSA Chase at 25/1 (currently 20/1)

The Big Getaway was very disappointing on his chasing debut at Navan but bounced back with an impressive performance at Leopardstown over Christmas. Last season’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle third jumped well and ran out an easy 10 lengths winner with decent types in behind, and although that was over two-miles-and-five-furlongs and Paul Townend was quick to suggest that that may prove to be his trip, I can’t help but wonder if those comments may be different if a certain Monkfish wasn’t also in the yard. I remain convinced that this fellow could be top class over 3 miles and hope that the presence of Monkfish doesn’t push The Big Getaway towards the Marsh.

1.5pt win Sir Gerhard in the Champion Bumper at 20/1 (currently 11/4)

Sir Gerhard has won both of his bumper starts to date and is currently the 11/4 favourite for the Champion Bumper in March after defeating promising dual scorer Letsbeclearaboutit in Listed company at Navan prior to Christmas. Connections have already stated that he will follow the Envoi Allen path to Cheltenham and will therefore have his next outing in the Grade 2 bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival in February. His turn of foot at Navan was particularly impressive given the testing conditions and I think it’s fair to say that he will be seen to best effect on a sounder surface, which will allow him to fully utilise his impressive range of gears. He is clearly a very exciting prospect is it’s exciting to have him on the antepost team at 20/1.

1.5pts each-way The Bosses Oscar in the Pertemps Final at 20/1 (currently 8/1)

The Bosses Oscar has been on my radar for quite some time and regular readers may remember that I advised backing him antepost for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle last season, when rewarding each-way support in finishing fifth. From that day onwards I was convinced that the Pertemps Final would be the plan this season and he is now the 8/1 favourite after qualifying at Leopardstown over Christmas. The Bosses Oscar won over a trip just shy of two-miles-and-seven-furlongs at Thurles in October before placing second behind subsequent Grade 1 winner Flooring Porter at Navan in December. It’s worth noting that the Pertemps qualifier at Leopardstown was run in a time 2.3 seconds quicker than the Grade 1 won by the aforementioned Flooring Porter just half an hour later, and a subsequent 5lbs rise in Ireland (now 143) will likely see him run off a mark in the mid to high 140’s at Cheltenham. Further improvement is almost guaranteed and you could almost mark up his effort at Leopardstown given the questionable form of the Elliott runners.

1pt win Thyme Hill in the Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle at 20/1 + 1pt win at 16/1 (currently 4/1)

Thyme Hill was very impressive when mastering Paisley Park in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November, and he was far from disgraced when placing second behind the former champion in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot last month. Philip Hobbs’ charge was keen in the early stages at Ascot and often gave his hurdles plenty of air. However, that was just his sixth start over hurdles and just his third run over three miles, therefore it’s fair to presume that he is still perfecting his jumping technique and he clearly remains open to further improvement over staying trips. I also wonder whether horse and jockey were so focussed on Roksana on the stand side that they were caught cold by the fast finishing Paisley Park on his outside. Indeed, it’s safe to say that Richard Johnson’s frustration was clear for all to hear! The Cleeve Hurdle on Cheltenham Trails Day remains an option, however, his master trainer has already revealed that he could go straight to the Festival. Either way, I remain incredibly optimistic about his prospects in the Stayers Hurdle.

1pt each-way Heross Du Seuil in the Triumph Hurdle at 40/1 (currently 25/1)

Heross Du Seuil was keen, green and wasn’t always fluent when making a successful hurdling debut at Kempton over Christmas, however, he should have learned plenty from that outing. Honneur D’Ajonc led when crashing out at the final flight of hurdles and it’s obviously impossible to know what would have happened had he stood up. However, Heross Du Seuil was staying on well – an asset that will serve him well at Cheltenham – and I do tend to agree with Nico De Boinville that he may have just about come out on top regardless. Zanahiyr is clearly a very worthy favourite and French Aseel and Quilixios have been visually impressive. However, no trainer can better Nicky Henderson’s seven victories in this race and Heross Du Seuil is currently the stable’s number one contender. It will be interesting to see how he gets on when next gracing the racetrack.

2pt win Minella Indo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 14/1 (currently 10/1)

Minella Indo won comfortably at Wexford and Navan before falling in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, when sent off the 5/2 favourite. Al Boum Photo naturally commands respect and I was very impressed by A Plus Tard, who will provide Henry De Bromhead with a strong second string to his bow. However, Minella Indo possesses all of the attributes to be a big player in Cheltenham’s blue ribband contest and he clearly goes very well in the Cotswolds. He ran out a good winner of the 2019 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on Cheltenham’s new course and I remain very keen on his prospects if none the worse for his fall.

2pts each-way Wide Receiver in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at 12/1 (currently 10/1)

Wide Receiver split subsequent impressive Grade 2 winner Ashdale Bob and facile Limerick scorer Shadow Rider when placing second over two-and-half-miles at Navan in November, and both that effort and his style of running suggests that he will be much better suited by intermediate trips, in spite of his festive success over the minimum distance. Indeed, it was a shrewd piece of planning to earn a rise in the weights over a trip arguably short of his best, and i am firmly of the opinion that he will relish stepping back-up in distance on a course that already puts an increased emphasis on stamina. Gordon Elliott has won this race twice in the last four year’s – with Champagne Classic in 2017 and Blow By Blow in 2018 – and was also responsible for runner-up Dallas Des Pictons in 2019. All three of those horses carried the familiar silks of Gigginstown House Stud – who have also plundered this prize with subsequent Grade 1 winners Sir Des Champs (2011) and Don Poli (2014) – and Wide Receiver looks likely to be their main hope this spring.

BIGGER (In race order):

1pt win Abacadabras in the Unibet Champion Hurdle at 10/1 + 1pt win at 7/1 (currently 16/1)

Abacadabras clearly needed the run when defeated in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal in October, and it perhaps wasn’t as disappointing as first thought given how well Aspire Tower, who received 6lbs, performed in the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown. Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up deserves credit for his success in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown as the race wasn’t run to suit and he hit the front much sooner than ideal. His fifth placed effort in the Matheson Hurdle was clearly disappointing, however, a number of Gordon Elliott’s big hitters ran below par over the festive period and Abacadabras was found to have mucus in his trachea post race. Therefore I would be inclined to forgive that poor showing and I am still firmly of the opinion that he will be seen to best effect when chasing a ferocious pace in the Champion Hurdle.

1pt win Chantry House in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at 25/1 (currently 33/1)

Chantry House looked better the further that he went at Ascot before disappointing at Cheltenham in December. He has undergone a small operation on his back since his trip to the Cotswolds and will hopefully be back in action soon. However, on what we have seen thus far, he will need to bounce back to his very best in order to feature in what could prove to be a classy renewal of the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

1.5pt win Queens Brook in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at 12/1 (currently 25/1)

Last season’s Champion Bumper third defeated two promising types on her hurdling debut at Fairyhouse and was only beaten a head by subsequent easy Listed scorer Skyace in Grade 3 company at Down Royal next time out. There was certainly no shame in finishing third behind the classy Concertista at Puchestown in December and she is clearly open to further improvement after just 3 outings over timber. However, it does appear that she needs further than 2 miles to be seen to best effect, and is now a 25/1 shot for this contest. While this race remains an option, I wonder if connections may be tempted to try and take advantage of the 7lbs mares allowance in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle or even the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle come the spring.

1.5pts each-way Holymacapony in the Albert Bartlett NovicesHurdle at 20/1 (currently 33/1)

Point-to-point winner Holymacapony was mightily impressive on his hurdling debut at Punchestown in November when proving 8 lengths too good for the Willie Mullins trained Gaillard Du Mesnil, who himself ran out an impressive 9.5 lengths winner at Leopardstown over Christmas. Henry De Bromhead’s five-year-old was sent off a strong 7/4 favourite in Grade 2 company at Navan prior to Christmas and all looked to be going to plan before he stopped quickly on the approach to three out. Clearly that wasn’t his true running and I am hopeful that he can bounce back prior to March. He is now available at 33/1 and I have certainly not given up hope.

GONE (in race order):

1.5pt win Ferny Hollow in the Skybet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 12/1

Suffered a setback and will miss the Cheltenham Festival.

1pt win Aione in the National Hunt Chase at 33/1

Suffered a setback and will remain over hurdles this season.


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Saturday Selections

1pt win Do Your Job in the 2.25 Sandown at 6/1

1pt win Grandeur D’Ame in the 2.25 Sandown at 22/1

1.5pts each-way Fingerontheswitch in the 3.00 Sandown at 12/1 (5 Places)

4pt win Monsieur Lecoq in the 3.35 Sandown at 7/2

Firstly I’d like to wish everyone a happy and healthy new year. 2020 was tough and hopefully we can rediscover something that resembles normality in 2021 with the help of the vaccine.

Back to the racing, and I will start by making my case for Fingerontheswitch in the increasingly popular Veteran’s Chase Series Final due off at 3pm.

There are plenty of seasoned performers who have any amount of back class heading into this contest and all will have been trained with this race in mind. However, you don’t have to dig too far back to find some quality form for Fingerontheswitch, as he was only beaten half a length in the Listed Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last January, and he will line-up off just a 3lbs higher mark tomorrow.

That impressive effort came hot on the heels of a runaway success in class 2 company at Kempton, albeit off a mark of 122, and his quiet outing at Haydock last month was almost certainly in preparation for this contest.

Neil Mulholland does very well with his staying chasers at Sandown and is currently operating at a 24% strike-rate having sent out 4 winners from 17 runners in the last two weeks, which is obviously a positive heading into this weekend.

Second behind the hugely progressive Copperhead at Wincanton in December 2019, Fingerontheswitch also seemed to elevate his form to a whole new level last season and he will again be partnered by Millie Wonnacott, who clearly gets on very well with the experienced eleven-year-old and will again take 7lbs off his back.

The soft ground isn’t ideal, however, the chase course at Sandown often rides quicker than the hurdles track and there is currently no rain forecast in the area either tonight or tomorrow, therefore hopefully conditions won’t be too bad, and it’s worth noting that connections have decided to reinstate the tongue-tie, which should help matters too.

Fingerontheswitch will carry just 10-4 tomorrow when taking into account Mille Wonnacott’s claim, and he makes plenty of appeal at a double figure price.

My last selection is Monsieur Lecoq in the concluding 2 mile handicap hurdle, and I feel that he has outstanding claims back in calmer waters with conditions very much in his favour.

Jane Williams’ seven-year-old was hugely progressive last season, winning the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las before placing third in the Grade 3 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, fourth in the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham, and third in the Grade 3 Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot off a 5lbs higher mark than that from which he will compete tomorrow.

Indeed, connections considered him good enough to contest the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle in February and although he has been disappointing in three subsequent outings, it should be noted that all three races were contested over trips just shy of two and a half miles, and he should be well suited by dropping back to the minimum distance tomorrow.

Monsieur Lecoq boasts form-figures of 12 at Sandown and won this race by 9 lengths in January 2019 before placing second in the Grade 3 Imperial Cup two months later. While all three of his previous career victories have been achieved on testing ground, therefore he has track, trip and ground firmly in his favour.

Jane Williams has achieved form-figures of F12 from just three runners in the last two weeks, and the faller was potentially unlucky as he was leading when over-jumping at the final flight of hurdles. Therefore her string are clearly in fine form at present and Chester Williams will take a handy 5lbs of Monsieur Lecoq’s back.

This is the first time that Monsieur Lecoq has dropped into class 2 company (over hurdles) since winning the Welsh Champion Hurdle in October 2019, and I am confident that he can make his class count tomorrow.

Please click the link below to read my thoughts on DO YOUR JOB and GRANDEUR D’AME in the Grade 1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown:

Antepost Punting: The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle

2pts each-way Wide Reciever in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at 12/1

Antepost betting on Cheltenham Festival handicaps is always fraught with danger. However, I am prepared to take the necessary risk for WIDE RECEIVER, who is already antepost favourite for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle given both his trainer, who we know loves to target this race, and his very attractive profile.

Gordon Elliott has won this race twice in the last four year’s – with Champagne Classic in 2017 and Blow By Blow in 2018 – and was also responsible for runner-up Dallas Des Pictons in 2019. All three of those horses carried the familiar silks of Gigginstown House Stud – who have also plundered this prize with subsequent Grade 1 winners Sir Des Champs (2011) and Don Poli (2014) – and Wide Receiver looks likely to be their main hope this spring.

The scopey son of Sholokhov ran out a game winner over 2 miles at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, posting a performance that will prompt a rise in the ratings that should almost certainly guarantee him a place in the above mentioned Cheltenham Festival contest, especially when the British handicappers have also had their say. However, it’s the form of his penultimate outing at Navan that really catches the eye.

Wide Receiver split subsequent impressive Grade 2 winner Ashdale Bob and facile Limerick scorer Shadow Rider when placing second over two-and-half-miles at Navan in November, and both that effort and his style of running suggests that he will be much better suited by intermediate trips, in spite of his festive success over the minimum distance. Indeed, it was a shrewd piece of planning to earn a rise in the weights over a trip arguably short of his best, and i am firmly of the opinion that he will relish stepping back-up in distance on a course that already puts an increased emphasis on stamina.

Purchased for the princely sum of £410,000 following an impressive 8 lengths success on his solitary start between the flags, connections will be hopeful that this hugely promising five-year-old will develop into a top class chaser in the fullness of time. However, as mentioned previously, this contest has often been used as a stepping stone by both trainer Gordon Elliott and owners Gigginstown House Stud, and Wide Receiver certainly appears to have the right profile. He therefore makes obvious appeal.

Potentially one selection to follow – will put out a new tweet if so.