National Hunt

Newbury Preview : February 17th

17 Feb
February 17, 2012

Newbury’s excellent Super Saturday card finally gets the go ahead with some both potentially exciting and informative contests scheduled. ZARKANDAR makes his reappearance ahead of a planned tilt at the Champion Hurdle. The fact remains he looks at least fairly handicapped in the context of his Triumph Hurdle form. The placed horses that day, Unaccompanied and Grandouet, have since won in graded company against their elders. It is highly unlikely that ZARKANDAR will get into what is the more richly endowed handicap hurdle in Europe off this rating ever again. With Cheltenham only a month away he is not going to be far away from full fitness particularly as he recently has had a racecourse gallop as part of his preparation. 3-1 is probably a square enough price but if the value is debatable, there’s little doubt that he should be favourite. There’s probably only three other entrants that really fancy their chances. Put another, ZARKANDAR is only around double the price to beat Hurricane Fly et al. at Cheltenham next month and it’s unlikely that any of tomorrow’s opponents will be there for the rematch.

The form of the Cheltenham RSA Novice ‘Chase 2010 has been phenomenal. LONG RUN won both last season’s championship events and Diamond Harry and Little Josh won the two major pre-Christmas handicap ‘chases. BURTON PORT was a respectable second to Diamond Harry at Newbury and now makes his first appearance since November 2010. He remains a representative of a very decent vintage and the fact he runs against the Gold Cup favourite, we will be wiser as to his prospects at Cheltenham. Taking a very small bet on him at 33-1 with Betfred for the Gold Cup has its advantages. The firm are offering non-runner, no bet and therefore if today is a complete blow out he will not run at the Festival and hence a refund will be due. Of course if he runs LONG RUN close, his price will contract.

Recommended bets:

1:15 Newbury ZARKANDAR

Cheltenham Gold Cup: BURTON PORT, 33-1 Betfred, non-runner, no bet.

Leopardstown Preview : February 12th

11 Feb
February 11, 2012

Leopardstown’s Hennessy meeting is set to take place on easing underfoot conditions with a mixed forecast.

The juvenile hurdlers open the card in what promises to be a competitive Triumph Hurdle trial. UT DE SIVOLA has been proficient in winning his first two hurdle starts in Ireland with noticeable quick jumping. Even though he is not a flat-bred, his jumps winning sire is noted for producing precocious National Hunt types. The better pace to this race will suit him compared to the relative crawl of his previous outing. HIS EXCELLENCY took the honours here at Christmas in a grade two event. He is notoriously quirky and is set to be ridden to deliver a late challenge once again. He is hard to rule out of the places in the event of a collapsing pace. I just get the feeling that if one of these is to progress and be a live contender for the main event at Cheltenham, it will be UT DE SIVOLA.

The second grade one novice hurdle event has not attracted the same quantity as the first but the quality is up to scratch. Again Willie Mullins supplies the favourite for the contest in the shape of SOUS LES CIEUX. He was an impressive winner at Fairyhouse in December before proving a shade disappointing back here at Christmas. He was not the first horse to have the edge knocked off him by winning the Royal Bond and then reappearing shortly after. The better ground would have also been against him but even in victory he has looked one paced and could prove vulnerable to horses with a turn of pace. Extremely heavy ground would go someway to negating his lack of foot but as conditions stand he will find winning this difficult. CASH AND GO was the victor here at Christmas using his change of pace to come clear with the runner-up. I get the sense that he would not be carrying the ‘Back In Front’ level of confidence from the stable heading to a Supreme Novice Hurdle. But that is a subjective point of view and his overall record is convincing. If SOUS LES CIEUX has a vulnerability to a slowly run contest, CAPTAIN CONAN has shown some aptitude to winning in such circumstances in taking the Tolworth Hurdle. It can be argued that had COLOUR SQUADRON not hung across the track, CAPTAIN CONAN would have had to settle for the runner-up slot. In winning a listed contest at Punchestown LORD WINDERMERE marked himself down as a very useful recruit. He virtually refused to canter to the start and then during the race he looked very green and thought about ducking out coming to the last. Even so, he still managed to prevail against more experienced opponents.

The novice ‘chasers take their chance in the Dr. P.J.Moriarty ‘Chase over an intermediate distance. We are virtually guaranteed a strong pace here since there are slight concerns for LAST INSTALMENT dropping back in trip. He is likely to be prominent early on and his accurate jumping will apply pressure. LAMBRO‘s form has received a boost when the horse he followed home at Naas, FLEMENSTAR, convincingly took the Arkle ‘Chase at Leopardstown. He steps up in trip which may well garner improvement. The others are solid horses who may well have their day but are unlikely to be contending in the Cheltenham championship events.

The feature race, The Hennessy Gold Cup, has unfortunately lost a few dimensions with the absentees but tomorrow’s winner will be none too concerned over that. QUEL ESPRIT seems to have been around a while and it is hard to believe that he is still only eight and as a result we may not have seen the best of him yet. Much has been said about his short price especially for a horse that had difficulty in completing the course for much of last season. A number of the remainder of the field have been equipped with various items of headgear in order to aid concentration or willing, which hardly smacks of encouragement. This could be a case of who enjoys getting into a decent rhythm will go a long way to winning this. CHINA ROCK is on the comeback trail and his hurdling prep had positive aspects to it. There is a suspicion that he doesn’t quite get home over the trip but in a race in which anything could win should the favourite suffer misadventure it is hard to rule anyone out.

Recommended bets:

Leopardstown 13:05, UT DE SIVOLA at 5-2.
Leopardstown 13:05 without the favourite, HIS EXCELLENCY each way at 9-1.

Leopardstown Review : January 28-29th

31 Jan
January 31, 2012

Leopardstown’s two day meeting provided its share of spectacles and memorable performances. SIR DES CHAMPS recorded the first graded race victory of the weekend when somehow finding a way to win the grade two novice ‘chase. He is beginning to look like a horse that just about does enough in winning. It may not always be pleasing on the eye but the fact remains he is unbeaten since relocating to his Irish stable and already numbers a Cheltenham Festival success amongst his wins. He has cemented his position on the list of likely novice ‘chase winners at this year’s Festival especially in light of Saturday’s weight carrying performance. HIDDEN CYCLONE‘s drift in the betting before the race didn’t auger well and he put up a bizarre performance. His fencing was less than accurate but even so, he looked likely to prevail turning into the homestraight before running around, seemingly less than fully concentrating on the task in hand. He may still be in need of experience before facing more accomplished rivals. Reportedly CITIZENSHIP had everything go wrong in the Hurdle before landing the prize. Clearly he remains progressive but there is some debate as to whether he won a strong renewal of the race and it will be interesting to see how he copes with a rise in class. It is possible that he has started to turn a corner but with his career record of only 4 wins from 30 attempts his profile is less than convincing. A horse with no such problems is the winner of the Leopardstown Handicap ‘Chase, SEABASS, who now boasts a near 50 % wins to runs record over fences. His biggest obstacle on the day appeared to be a loose horse which preceded him for much of the race but when he was set down on the run-in he showed a determined attitude to win decisively.

As well reported conditions changed markedly leading up to Sunday’s card. Rain persistently fell at the course before and throughout racing. The strong looking mare, BURN AND TURN initiated an opening race double for the sire Flemensfirth when staying on well enough to land the maiden hurdle. With a win in the bumper field and over hurdles she is now a valuable commodity. Another foray into graded company could now be expected but should she line up in a handicap race it will be well worth taking note. FLEMENSTAR dominating in winning the Frank Ward Arkle ‘Chase. The underfoot surface had eased well beyond the degree to which he would have felt necessary to show his best. His jumping was particularly convincing and down the backstraight he was noticeably fast over at least one of the obstacles. His form ties in conveniently with the another genuinely exciting prospect, BOG WARRIOR.

HURRICANE FLY did not disappoint those who had braved the elements to witness his return to action in the Irish Champion Hurdle. In what was a measured display he could be counted as the winner even before turning for home. He powered home after taking the last flight and appears to be on course to defend his Cheltenham title. OSCARS WELL again showed improvement to finally master THOUSAND STARS on the course but they are all in a different division compared to the favourite for the race in March. BOSTON BOB emulated his stablemate SIR DES CHAMPS in carrying a substantial penalty to victory, on this occasion in the grade two novice hurdle. In the field, BOSTON BOB and SEA OF THUNDER had the most obvious physiques that would enable them to adapt to ‘chasing in future. Both had size and substance but the winner showed abundant class in giving LYREEN WONDER a five length headstart approaching the the final hurdle and a convincing beating at the line. The pace was moderate up to the third last hurdle. By then visibility had been much reduced by the enclosing mist. The race itself turned into a sprint for home and MAKE YOUR MARK made up a lot of ground out wide to arrive in contention before tiring in the homestraight. In all probability he needs time to develop into the horse people hope he can become. There was plenty of backing for TOUCH BACK before the race as his odds halved in the betting. Strangely he was anchored in rear and could never become involved in the race itself. In view of the confidence that has already been placed in him he still warrants notice wherever he reappears next.

Leopardstown Preview : January 29th

28 Jan
January 28, 2012

The maiden hurdle which opens the card on the second day of Leopardstown’s mini-festival has attracted an intriguing set of entries. BURN AND TURN is a hard pulling type and will benefit from strong handling. The better ground will give him a chance of getting home. THOMAS EDISON has already been lauded on this site for his effort at Christmas. Clearly others were impressed and he has been purchased by Champion owner, J.P. McManus. TENNIS CAP hails from the all winning Mullins’ stable and merits respect since the yard has already bagged the two novice events here this weekend. The trainer’s recent run of form is noteworthy and it’s worth breaking down the numbers to reveal their significance. Over the last three completed seasons the Mullins’ horses have won nearly 25.5 % of their entries in Ireland. Including yesterday’s results this season’s strike rate stands at close on 31 %. It is highly unlikely that the stable remains a 25.5 % outfit but more efficient. Put another way, a 25.5 % yard would be bigger than 50-1 to post the sequence of winners and runners that the Willie Mullins team has put up since the first week of May. The recent effort over the last fortnight would rate as nearly a 43-1 shot for a stable with the capability of producing 25.5% winners to runners over a season. The conclusion is that Mullins has been outperforming since the beginning of the season rather than just over the past few weeks and to a higher degree. This points to a significant change surrounding the operation, possibly due to the influx of the Gigginstown and Wylie horses.

All concerned with the Frank Ward Arkle Novice ‘Chase have a keen eye trained on the weather. BLACKSTAIRMOUNTAIN was the victor when the majority of the field assembled here last month. He was the class of this field over hurdles and has made an impressive transition to the fencing sphere. He is such a good traveller on good ground that rain would not enhance his chance. Connections of FLEMENSTAR seem to be those who would appreciate rainfall most of all. This powerfully built gelding is the unknown quantity in the race and bar the favourite looks the most likely to graduate to championship level. Rain would also benefit NOTUS DE LA TOUR in his attempt to reverse form with BLACKSTAIRMOUNTAIN. Interestingly, he was shipped to race at Auteil back in June on forecast very testing ground. Surely he would never have set sail for France if he wasn’t at least ambivalent to soft underfoot conditions.

The Irish Champion Hurdle sees the eagerly awaited return of HURRICANE FLY. The result and the betting on the race revolves around him. Unless a bettor is in possession of reliable inside information, this is fantastic race to be watching. Only the filly, UNACCOMPANIED, on account of her generous weight allowance could inflict an honourable defeat on the favourite. The rest of the field have not shown the ability to beat an in-form HURRICANE FLY. An unimpressive performance could well see challengers diverted from the World Hurdle to the Champion Hurdle at the Festival, seeing as BIG BUCKS did little in winning the Cleeve Hurdle to persuade anyone further to take him on.

Singularly, the grade two novice hurdle is the race I’ve been looking forward most to seeing all weekend. There are at least four entrants due to race that have immense potential. SEA OF THUNDER looked set to run away with the Albert Bartlett hurdle at Cheltenham before blundering at the last. He had pricked his ears well before the flight and I suspect that the very close promixity of spectators and a television camera near the running rail had much to do with this. Another last hurdle leader at the same meeting found themselves in a similar predicament. The performance as a whole marked SEA OF THUNDER down as a live contender for the Festival edition of the Albert Bartlett. TOUCH BACK is highly regarded and he will add value to the form. This is a very stiff assignment for a second run over hurdles and only time will tell if he’s ready for such a steep rise in class. BOSTON BOB is the proven graded race winner in the field and as a consequence has a penalty to carry. If he can run away from this field under his burden, he will just about win the novice event of his choosing at Cheltenham. It’s hard to crab his progression but he could well put up an immense effort and still find one of these to beat him. At level weights he could well have been an odds on shot in the betting. MAKE YOUR MARK is the horse in the race that I would be most confident, that given even luck, will be in future be plying his trade in the highest class. There will be some long faces tomorrow if he doesn’t go at least close to winning this event.

Leopardstown Preview : January 28th

27 Jan
January 27, 2012

The new format for Leopardstown’s first meeting of the year whereby two fantastic cards are run on the same weekend has given the event the feeling of a mini-festival. Whilst the weekend’s races are important in their ownright, as ever there is always one eye on Cheltenham.

The two and half mile maiden hurdle features last year’s Cheltenham bumper runner-up in AUPCHARLIE. He has largely been disappointing and looks the type to run into the frame no matter what the class of the race but actually winning seems to be against his nature and he is not one to take a short price about. COMPETITIVE EDGE is a viable contender in this grade. Time will probably tell that he faced an impossible task when running against the potentially very decent MAKE YOUR MARK. Even so, he was heavily backed on the day as the each way alternative to the favourite before filling the runner-up slot.

The grade two novice ‘chase features horses with pretensions to make an impact on at least one of the Spring festivals. HIDDEN CYCLONE has already been given a big write up on this site but now looks less likely to head to Cheltenham. He has no doubt been finely tuned for this assignment and the P.J. Moriarty ‘Chase back here next month. He landed a little flat-footed after the last on his debut and then recovered to regain his momentum on the run to the line making the bare result look less than flattering. Singularly, however it was a most professional performance. SIR DES CHAMPS is a worthy opponent as he is both a proven graded novice ‘chase winner and a Cheltenham Festival victor. The five pound penalty he has to concede to the field could prove decisive but it would be disappointing if he is unable to beat any of them bar HIDDEN CYCLONE.

The feature handicap hurdle, the Hurdle, is as undecipherable as it usually is. Some speculative suggestions as to a group of horses that may make an impression based on the fact that they have bumped into well handicapped opponents in recent races, are given as follows; ASKTHEMASTER was a course winner at Christmas and even at the age of twelve appears to remain progressive. He is rated a lot higher over fences, with the pick of his form being a second placed finish at Cheltenham last season. The first time I saw him on course was when he lined up for the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse back in 2006. He didn’t look out of place in a grade one novice field that day. At 16-1 he can go well on the prevailing good ground. MADAME MADO was undeniably disappointing when only 17-2 to win a listed mare’s race here. In mitigation, conditions deteriorated rapidly before the race and the start was delayed. She raced well off the pace in the race itself and without getting a breather, she tired at the second last. It is interesting that as a valuable broodmare, she already has black type, she takes her chance in handicap company rather than the less crowded environment of pattern class. At 40-1 she is not without a chance.

The Leopardstown Handicap ‘Chase has also has attracted a fully subscribed field. I can’t help but get the feeling that some part of the decision to send SEABASS here rather than to the Thyestes ‘Chase was heavily influenced by the presence of the eventual winner, ON HIS OWN. Connections had clearly planned on going for a shot at a big pot this month given they still have a progressive horse on their hands. If you had backed MONTAN at Leopardstown over Christmas you must still be wondering how he didn’t win. He travelled and jumped superbly and was visibly being restrained, even towards the later stages, probably due to the trip being an unknown variable. It was his first effort at three miles. A particularly strong jockey has been booked for tomorrow’s assignment and a stronger pace will be of benefit. His weight is a slight concern but he gives the impression of a horse going places.

Recommended bets:

1:45 Leopardstown, Lay AUPCHARLIE at 2.52 or less

2:45 Leopardstown, Back ASKTHEMASTER at 16-1 (ew), Back MADAME MADO at 40-1 (ew) 5 places freely available.

3:20 Leopardstown, Back SEABASS at 7-1 (ew), Back MONTAN at 12-1 (ew).
ALTERNATIVELY; Back MONTAN (ew) in betting without SEABASS.

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