Two out of three winners last week (poor prices I grant you – sorry), but Ron will not let me sit on my laurels and I have been out and about all week sorting out information for both Cheltenham and beyond. As you may have red in the last two weeks or so I have travelled to the Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson yards to assess their Festival chances, but since then I have been to Cheltenham racecourse (which is pretty spooky when empty!) for the announcement of the handicap weights and then on to Jonjo O’Neill’s yard closely followed by Nigel Twiston-Davies – so a bit of a whistle stop tour!
The handicap lunch was a new one on me (believe it or not, free lunches and small talk are not my scene), but I am really glad I went along to listen to the handicapper first (fact, figures, stats – more Ron’s cup of tea than mine), followed straight away by the trainers present to make their comments, good or bad, about their numerous runners (handicappers or not). First up was Alan King, who is having a season to forget so far but seemed pretty keen on the chances of Smad Place who is very much on target for the RSA Chase. His two out of three record over fences would be 100% had he stayed up at Huntingdon but it looks as though he may have learnt a lot from his fall and Alan made it pretty clear he is his main festival chance though if you are looking for a longer priced option, he also mentioned Meister Eckhart who he feels may have an each way squeak in the Coral Cup at much bigger (better?) odds. Next up was Martin Keighley who I have a lot of time for and he suggested that Annacotty was worth a look as he heads off to the the RSA Chase where he may well put in a better display than his odds imply. Champion Court will head to either the Byrne Group Plate or the Ryanair Chase and has good chances in either contest at his favourite track, while he described Any Currency as “my best chance at the festival; meaning I have little choice but to back him ahead of the Cross Country Chase at early odds of 12/1 (or bigger if I can find it), and I may even go for a small each way stable double with Benbane Head who is quietly fancied for the Pertemps Hurdle (25/1) – we all have to dream lol.
Young Harry Fry was next on the platform where he mentioned the wellbeing of Rock On Ruby who he thinks can use his festival experience to his advantage in the Arkle but no surprises there and we may be better off considering Vukovar who he likes a lot and heads to the JLT Novices’ Chase.
Nicky Henderson was as polite and articulate as ever but gave very little away other than the wellbeing of both My Tent Or Yours and Bobs Worth but did causally mention Ericht (who he also mentioned at his stables – coincidence?) who is entered in three races including the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase named after the trainer’s father and may well be his best chance of a handicap success, though I also noted he told us that Hunt Ball was down to the same mark he last won off of – you have been warned!
Nigel Twiston-Davies told us precious little with most of his handicappers looking likely to fail to make the cut in their preferred races (but more on him later), though he does feel Kaylif Aramis has chances in the Coral Cup or the Martin Pipe at double figure prices.
Charlie Longsdon is a trainer very much on an upward curve so I was intrigued to hear his take on things and he told us a lot more than most of us expected. Pendra (owned by J P McManus) has been off the track since December to protect his handicap mark and will appreciate stepping up to two and a half miles in whichever engagement he ends up at, while Cadoudoff is also thought of as quite well handicapped. Add Red Sherlock who has been “laid out for the Neptune” and the yard could be in for a good week so fingers crossed he gets the results his hard work richly deserves. Lastly, we were treated to a few words from the brilliant David Bridgwater who had most of us in stitches with his very laid back style! It would be fair to say he doesn’t have the strength in depth of some of his contemporaries and No Buts and Oscar Hill may yet prove to be his best chances, but he did at least confirm The Giant Bolster is in good form at home and heads to the Gold Cup at the top of his game. His form at his best puts him in with a chance (after all, he did win the Argento Chase when last seen and clearly loves the track), and at 20/1 most of us feel he is overpriced at the very least if he arrives in one of his going moods!
Moving on and the next morning saw an early start to visit Jonjo O’Neills yard and personally this was my first trip to Jackdaws Castle. WOW is not a word I think I have very typed before in my life but it suits the yard perfectly – no expense has been spared and I have never seen anywhere like it, from the rubberized paths for the horses safety to the swimming pool and solarium – no, for the horses! Greeted with a coffee and a bacon roll (thank you, they were needed), I have to say I was more impressed with the premises than his Cheltenham line up. All I can add is never play poker with Jonjo, he gives little to nothing away with just a few horses getting anything like a positive mention. More Of That will probably head for the World Hurdle and looks to have place chances at least, while Alfie Sherrin is in great shape (apparently) and heads off to one of three races but may struggle to get in. If he was close to positive at all then maybe Johns Spirit was the one ahead of the Byrne Group Plate (“in great form and working well”), though Taquin De Seul is the current star of the yard based on staff attitudes. All the snappers were pointed in his direction and he was the only horse singled out for individual attention, though whether he can see off a stellar field in the JLT Chase only time will tell.
After seeing everything (I made the most of it I assure you), we headed off to see Nigel Twiston-Davies to end my UK trainer tour pre Cheltenham. Nigel is always good company even if I do get the feeling he prefers horses to journalists (I can’t blame him), but he told us all he could and let us watch his string work as well so we could see they were alive and well. Naturally, The New One took centre stage and led the string out and looked as fit as you would expect and I have to say, Nigel did seem particularly bullish (unlike him). The horse loves Cheltenham, and has almost instant acceleration which is a potent weapon at the highest class and they seem pretty confident, if you can be in what is shaping up to be the best Champion Hurdle for many a year. Personally, I was more taken with Double Ross who looked a picture and was pulling double up the hill and is my idea of a winner for the yard, though they seemed to be less than clear of his likeliest target. He jumps well which has to be a positive and will be a double figure price wherever he goes – each way material for a stable very much in form?
As for this weekend, well unsurprisingly my time has been limited for formbook study so two simple (and perhaps obvious) bets at Doncaster will do for me this week. Layla Joan could yet be a class act and we won’t know how good she really is until something beats her, which hasn’t happened in her last four races. I doubt we get much of a price about her ahead of the 2.20pm (15/8 forecast) but she is going from strength to strength and looks worthy of a bet.
The 4.40pm however looks very likely to go the way of Nicky Henderson who sends Tistory here after the son of Epalo was a beaten in to second when in need of the run at Newbury. Recent schooling suggest he is back to his best at home and if he can transfer that to the track (no guarantee of course), then he will take all the beating here with Barry Geraghty doing the steering.
Selections this week:
Layla Joan 2.20pm Doncaster
Tistory 4.40pm Doncaster
Horses to follow: One new addition each for both jumps and flat
Little Jon – will be a different beast when sent over fences but the Twiston-Davies yard like him a lot and he will be well worth following long term.
***Entered at Cheltenham 14th March, unlikely to get in***
Lily Mars – one run in a bumper was enough to catch my eye and I feel she caught a tartar at Wincanton on her debut when she looked in need of the run. With that experience under her belt she ought to be placed to pick up a race, which should be enough to make us a profit.
***No current entries**
Rolling Star – a well-regarded young hurdler who won with any amount in hand at Haydock and seems certain to come on again for the run as per the Henderson yard this season
***Entered Cheltenham 14th March***
African Gold – a classy hurdler expected to be even better over fences, he rather let the side down on his chasing debut but is I am assured far better than that – he will win races over fences.
***No entries at present***
Opera Og – hopefully well handicapped off a rating of 117 (when last seen), the seven year old looked all over the winner at Bangor before fading badly to finish third. The lack of a run was clearly his undoing and with that run under his belt he should win next time out provided connections keep their sites lowered to a sensible level.
***Third last week when looking in need of the run***
Champagne Fever – on target at home for the Arkle Chase, held in the highest regard and schooling well for Willie Mullins, likely to have Ruby Walsh in the saddle, what more can a punter ask for?
***Entered at Cheltenham 11th March ***
Sire De Grugy – won as he pleased on his return and sure to improve considerably for the race for Sussex trainer and ex jockey Gary Moore.
***Entered at Cheltenham 12th March ***
Tominator – back in training at the Jonjo O’Neill yard they are very happy with him and he looks a picture – expect a few wins this season with the Chester Cup very much on the agenda.
***No current entries***
Mutakayyef – trained by William Haggas I had a quandary this week – do I or don’t I back the son of Sea The Stars? As with all the stable juveniles he was a shoe in to improve for the run but he is spoken of in glowing terms by gallop watchers in Newmarket. Fact is he ran as expected – slowly away, green as grass, and hampered as well, he will learn plenty from the experience and can be ignored at your peril.
***No current entries***
Freemason – a once raced juvenile owned by Highclere Thoroughbred Racing – Harbinger (a posh syndicate), he cost a whopping 150,000 Guineas so ought to be half decent – word is he is all that and more, so one to stay on the right side of.
***No current entries (unless you include the 2014 Derby!***
Idea – twice raced two year old trained by Sir Michael Stoute and said to be flying on the gallops. Won after a poor run at Windsor when last seen looking as green as grass and very much one to keep on the right side of – originally nominated by a post racing reader!
***No current entries***