12:30 - JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle.
This race has thrown up some serious triumph hurdle contenders in recent years and it looks like this year?s renewal will be no different. A whole host of trainers had won this race over the years, with Allmankind taking home the spoils for Dan and Harry Skelton by a commanding 2 ? lengths. Paul Nicholls also has won this race in recent years after not having a winner in the race since 2012. Hot favourite Hell Red is owned by the same owners as 2018 winner Quel Destin and has leading claims. He fairly bolted up on his first start at Chepstow, destroying a field of 8 by an easy 12 lengths. He made all that day and could very well be ridden in a similar fashion here. He has a lot in his favour after that impressive win however this field will be a lot more competitive than that at Cheltenham. He is not the only one to win so impressively and with a field off 8 going to post on Saturday, there is some better each way value out there.
Third to Hell Red was Billy The Squid. The latter was a distant third and is much more exposed than a lot of these runners. He has had six starts over hurdles and is the lowest rated in the field. It would take something of a miracle for him to feature in the finish here and he will be looking for something in an easier field in the future. He has also been convincingly beaten by Balko Saint in an earlier race. Balko Saint was beaten at a short price on his last start but is not without a small chance here. Last seen at Fontwell he was second too See The Eagle Fly who was having his first start over hurdles. They drew a mile clear of everything else and although he was beaten, the winner could have improved for going over hurdles. He has not come out again, so it is hard to gauge that form. He will want a quick surface, but he is not guaranteed such conditions and could very well be a wait and play on the day pick. There would have to be significant improvement for him to win though.
Looking back toward the top of the market, there are two horses who have opposed each other already. Duffle Coat took home the spoils last time he and Cabot Cliffs met by an impressive 8 lengths. Duffle Coat took his hurdles very well and made it a hattrick of victories when taking the Listed race at Wetherby. Dropped out the back, he came with a sweeping run down the home straight. He was impressive but my eye was drawn to Cabot Cliffs who ran very valiantly in defeat. He won his first start over hurdles at Uttoxeter beating into second Magna Moralia who was only ? of a length behind Cornerstone Lad at Redcar. Cornerstone Lad is a 159-rated hurdler and if Cabot Cliffs can improve to anywhere near that level it may be enough to take this. There is a huge price difference between him and Duffle Coat, and I think they will be much closer this time. It was his first run this season and hopefully there will be a good pace for him to get in behind and come with a winning effort.
Probably the most interesting runner in the field is the David Pipe trained Adagio. A winner on the flat in France he was sent to Pipe to try his luck over hurdles and he did not disappoint. It was a messy start to the race but Adagio jumped with a fair amount of ability on his first start over the smaller obstacles. He beat the 78 rated flat horse Duke Of Condicote by a 7? length margin and looked good for every yard of that. He falls into the could be anything category and although I did like the performance, he would have to be something pretty special to take this. I would watch him with great intrigue, as he will be winning more races this season.
CABOT CLIFFS 0.5pts E/W @ 12/1 (General)
1:05 ? South West Syndicate Handicap Chase.
A Class 3 3m1f handicap chase that looks wide-open with horses rating from as low as 111 and as high as 141.
Bermeo arrives right down the bottom of the handicap off a measly mark of 111 and after scoring impressively over course and distance last time out, you can see why he is strong in the market. He is 7lb higher for that win however and faces much tougher rivals here but Angus Cheleda does take 7lb off his back. Other runners who get a fair bit of weight from the rest of the field include What A Moment and Young Turk, but both have been poor recently and will need to find a little bit more.
Richard Patrick is back in the yellow and purple silks to take charge of Storm Control for Kerry Lee. Despite not scoring in almost a year now, he has fallen to a workable mark of 131, 2lb lower than his latest effort at Wetherby, he could be interesting taking a massive step up in trip. The Venetia Williams horse Realm Keeper is another who could be interesting stepping up in trip after undergoing wind surgery in February. He makes his first run back since January, after being poor over hurdles in France (0-8), he has been switched back to chasing, where he looked most comfortable. Interesting after a long lay-off but easy to look elsewhere in thus field with only French form to go on.
Colin Tizzard has started to find his form again with a double at Exeter on Wednesday, and his runners are always worth a note at this meeting. Although his horse finished 31 lengths behind the eventual winner in the Grade 2 National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, Lamanver Pippin ended up finishing third, and looked like a real stayer over the 3m6f trip that day. He could be really interesting, but may need the run on his seasonal debut as so many from the Tizzard yard have done. Fergal O?Brien arrives with two runners in the race including course and distance winner Petite Power. He was very poor on his seasonal debut, however, so will need to bounce back to last season?s form. His other chance is the lightly raced Ocean Cove who is yet to score over larger obstacles and hasn?t looked like winning a race so far. He is 3lb lower today again, but he looks out of his depth.
Others making their seasonal debut include Equus Secretus, Arthur?s Gift and Fingerontheswitch. The former gets has gone up 5lb this season after David Bass rode the eight-year-old to victory in a Class 4 chase at Huntingdon, just about justifying even money, only winning by a head. Claimer Nick Phillips gets on-board today with his 7lb claim, but the horse will need to be at his very best to follow up. Arthur?s Gift has recorded only one win over fences, but when tried around the 3m trip, he seems to do his best work. The nine-year-old seemed to struggle a bit over an extreme distance in the Edinburgh National towards the end of last season. The return to 3m?f should suit but he seems to love the soft/heavy ground, so might be worth a market check if the heavens open. Millie Wonnacott seemed to get a very good tune out of Fingerontheswitch last season but is now replaced by Miss Victoria Malzard, hoping to carry on the consistency, with her 7lb claim. The ten-year-old?s previous run ended with him being pulled up after clouting the 13th fence in the Kim Muir, despite travelling strongly, but he was well behind the second in the race KILFILUM CROSS, and that rival must be in with a shout.
Despite being top weight on a mark of 141, a chance is taken on KILFILUM CROSS. Don?t let the fact that this horse has only one victory since being sent chasing put you off, as he still has the best form on offer in the field. His second in the Kim Muir has taken plenty of boosts with the winner coming second in Grade 3 company over in Ireland after being very well supported that day, behind a 160-rated horse. He?s coming into this race 1lb lower than his seasonal debut fourth at Fakenham over three miles, and that should set him up nicely for this race. With race fitness on his side, he can get his head in front once again here.
KILFILUM CROSS - 1pt E/W @ 5/1 (Sky Bet - 4 places)
1:40 - From The Horse?s Mouth Podcast Novices? Chase (Grade 2)
One of the most exciting races of the whole weekend takes place over two miles and involves some of the best up and coming Novice Chasers. A field of 6 go to post and there is a fantastic depth of talent from some of the top yards. Put The Kettle On won this race last year and went on to win the ultimate prize when clinching the Arkle at Cheltenham back in March. It seems only fitting that we therefore start with the Henry De Bromhead trained runner in this race, ZARKAREVA. After moving from A Boisbrunet in the summer of last year, when winning her only start in France; Henry De Bromhead most likely expected more than he got during her first campaign over hurdles. A disappointing first season saw her beaten a long way on all three starts and then fall on her final start over fences. This season however saw a revival in her fortunes. The application of a tongue strap has seen a dramatic change in fortunes, her latest win was by far her most impressive after she came from last to first, beating A Wave Of The Sea and Polished Steel. The latter is a solid yard stick rated 133, making this performance even more impressive. She took her fences brilliantly and he fact Henry De Bromhead has sent her over is a massive eye catcher. There are a few negatives by her name however as she is only four and has only gone right-handed in Ireland. But ZARKAREVA is a very young horse so this could be another learning curve however I would not be surprised to see her go very well.
Quel Destin most recent victory was on the flat at Bath, taking advantage of a 68-handicap mark. It was a good run, and he will be fit for this attempt over fences. He has enjoyed a fine time over hurdles achieving a mark of 156. Unlike most of his other rivals he has yet to have a go over fences and therefore it is hard to gauge how good he will be. However, if anyone can get a horse jumping well, it?s the master trainer Paul Nicholls and we will learn a lot from this outing. He?s only five and could still be improving but you would be a brave man to take the 9/2 available when we haven?t seen him jump a fence yet.
Next up are the two likely pace angles in the race. Gumball and Eldorado Allen are both front runners and have both opened their accounts over fences. The Phillip Hobbs trained Gumball was beaten by the market leader Fusil Raffles on his first start after running far too freely. He just didn?t find much after leading most of the race but that run was put behind him when winning on his next start at Uttoxeter. He beat the very well backed King Roland, but he looked like he needed the run, and I don?t think ran up to his true form. He?s the outsider of the field and while you couldn?t discount him entirely, I just don?t think he will quite have the class to compete here.
Eldorado Allen put up a very encouraging first effort when beating Stormy Island and ploughed through the last so is certainly better than the winning distance suggests. The Tizzard team had been in poor form, yet Eldorado Allen won first time up, when most looked to have needed the run. He could be open to even more improvement but wouldn?t want the ground to dry up too much.
The favourite Fusil Raffles is no doubt a worthy one. He carries a 3lb penalty but he couldn?t have been any more impressive. He has some quality hurdle form and jumped supremely well on what was only his seventh start, beating some interesting novices. He won very well on his last start at Cheltenham which gives him that all important tick next to his name that he handles the unique course. My only major concern would be the quality of opponent he beat, especially on his last start, and at around even money he looks to be a very short price.
ZARKAREVA 0.5pts e/w @ 10/1 (Betfair, Paddy Power)
2:15 ? Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
The first ?big handicap? of the season and one with a few very strong trends associated with it, starting with a nod to experience. All of the last 12 winners of this race have had at least two runs at this venue and all but one of those have had at least five chase runs. That?s a massive black mark in the column of ante-post favourite, Saint Sonnet, who would not only become the first five-year-old to win the race since Caid Du Berlais in 2014, but has only had three runs over fences in his life so far. Combine that with the abysmal record of favourites over the past decade (0/10) and this well-fancied, unexposed sort comes out as one of the worst value horses you could think of in terms of ticking the trends boxes.
His yard, however, is without doubt the best source of winners and placed horses in the past decade. Nicholls has not only saddled two of the last eight winners, but he?s also trained a placed horse in four of the last six years that he hasn?t won the race. Saint Sonnet still has to be respected as a result, as does the stable?s other runner, Brelan D?As, who was an agonisingly close second in the race last year. Two other yards have tasted success more than once in recent history, they are Jonjo O?Neill (2013 & 2016) and Nigel Twiston-Davies (2008, 2010 & 2017). The first named saddles Sky Pirate and the latter has Al Dancer representing his local yard this year.
When we consider the age of recent winners it is clear that seven-year-olds come out on top, having been successful in six of the last 12 renewals. No runner aged older than nine has won this since 1975, so the ten-year-old Aso is well up against it on the trends, while the record of five-year-olds is poor, with only one winner since the turn of the millennium. Six-year-olds have won the race four times since 2000, but recently, it?s seven, eight or nine-year-olds who have dominated ? 15 of the 20 winners have come from that age band.
The next trend is related to official ratings and the desired bracket is between 139 and 148. This accounts for nine of the last twelve winners, with only Al Ferof, Taquin Du Seuil and Splash Of Ginge having defied this stat, the first two higher and the last named lower. In terms of this year?s field it?s a negative for the top seven horses in racecard order and the bottom three ? interestingly, only seven horses fall into this bracket this year: Spiritofthegames, Saint Sonnet, Domaine De L?Isle, Brelan D?As, Kauto Riko, Fidux and Pinson Du Rheu.
Even though the weights can depend on the quality of those entered, it can often play a big part in the outcome of competitive races such as this. Since 2000 only Our Vic, Al Ferof and Taquin Du Seuil have carried more than 11st 3lb to victory, so combined with the likely soft ground, this suggests that all the horses above Spiritofthegames could have that count against them.
The final factor worthy of mention is the betting and even though favourites aren?t the ones to be with historically, this is not a race in which it is worth taking a punt on one at a really big price. In fact, eight of the last ten winners were sent off at an SP of 14/1 or less with Splash Of Ginge (25/1) the biggest priced winner in the last decade. The likes of Simply the Betts, Mister Fisher, Siruh Du Lac, Al Dancer, Slate House and Spiritofthegames are currently available at odds between five and ten to one.
BRELAN D?AS ? 8/8
Sky Pirate ? 7/8
Al Dancer ? 6/8
Taking all things into account, only one of the contenders match all eight of the key trends and it?s no surprise that he?s trained by Paul Nicholls, who has a sensational record in this. However, what is the surprise is that it?s not his 4/1 favourite, Saint Sonnet, but his 14/1 chance, BRELAN D?AS. He was an agonisingly close second in the race last year from a 5lb lower mark but even though he?s a bit higher in the weights this year, he?ll actually carry 1lb less in physical weight. This 2m4f trip and the likely soft ground combine to form his ideal conditions and his best efforts have come at this track in big handicaps previously, so there?s no reason why he wouldn?t put in another big run here. He was still going well off this mark in the Caspian Caviar when a bad error three out ended his challenge, so given some solid jumping and the brilliant form of his stable, he could go close.
Sky Pirate misses out on the full house of trends by just one, spookily reminiscent of his racing career, where second place, more often than not, is the order of the day. He often travels sweetly into his races, looking all over the winner, only to find absolutely nothing when push comes to shove ? again the case on his latest outing when second at Wetherby behind the well-handicapped Cool Mix ? so don?t be surprised to see his jockey motionless turning for home, before getting very animated for a short time with little response from the horse. However, even though we can bash the horse, he?s usually a good jumper, is very consistent and with just 10st 2lb on his back, could certainly place.
With six contenders level on six out of eight trends boxes ticked, we have to make a choice on who is the best of those to complete our shortlist and it?s a close race between Spiritofthegames, who is one of the most consistent handicappers at this level that you will ever see, and Al Dancer, who spent most of his novice season over fences running crackers at Graded level and embarks on his second season chasing with a first run in a handicap over the larger obstacles. While Spiritofthegames is a proven commodity in races like this and often goes well fresh, he was pulled up in this last year, so I?ll go with the potential of Al Dancer, who beat a good horse in Master Tommytucker at newton Abbot over 2m5f, while giving 6lb to that rival, who won in serious style at Huntingdon on Tuesday. On that evidence, a mark of 154 given to Al Dancer could well be lenient and if Nigel Twiston-Davies? charge can avoid jumping errors, his class should take him a long way with race fitness assured.
2:50 Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle (Listed Race)
Sometimes in these big handicaps it can pay to look at the trends. One of the most striking ones in this race is the success of horses who have carried less than 11 Stone. In the last 10 years only one horse has won this race when carrying more than that weight. That horse was First Assignment for Ian Williams. He bolted up that day and was clearly much better than his handicap mark suggested, so it may very well pay to look at horses lower in the handicap who are also quite unexposed. It seems only right to start with one of the three horses who carry more than 11 Stone. The first of these is the red-hot favourite, Tea Clipper. Trained by Tom Lacey he fits the profile of a fast-improving handicapper who could very well be miles ahead of his current mark. He went up 7lb for a 2-length win at Chepstow on his latest start, putting to a bed a field off mid 130-rated handicappers. He was clearly the best that day but would have to take another massive step forward to win this. I?m not sure he will be quite good enough to win this despite only carrying 11st 2lb, furthermore Tom Lacey has been in very poor form. He?s only had 1 winner in 23 attempts over fences and hurdles and because of this there could be one to take him on with lower down the weights.
Paul Nolan sends over the Irish raider, Mrs Milner and she?s one of the more interesting runners as she carries a very low racing weight and has taken the journey over from Ireland. Paul Nolan, like Tom Lacey has struggled to get going this season however he has had some near misses. She does have some solid form and is only a Five-year-old, Robbie Power gets the leg up which is a positive sign. She would have to improve significantly to take this renewal, after being raised 8lb by the British handicapper compared to her Irish mark. She could run into a place but there are too many question marks by her name to make her the selection.
Weather Front comes here for Iain Jardine and goes up to 3 miles for the first time. He looked to get badly outpaced last time out at Cheltenham and a step up in trip could very well suit. Despite finishing down the field he did not get dropped any weight, which would be a worry. He?s more of a watch and see if he gets the 3 miles and then plot him for another race when his mark is lower.
On The Blind Side is having his first run of the season after a mixed season over fences. Chances are this is more of a prep run for another crack at fences as his mark is quite high. He is second top weight but is on the same mark as his last hurdle success; this came a long time ago but any sort of return to this form could see him go very close. Golan Fortune won this race last year when only 2lb lower than his mark tomorrow. He is a very consistent performer, getting on very well with Mr S Lee, the jockey who rode him to victory last year. He is not without a chance and gets a first-time visor after what was a good fourth behind Unowwhatimeanharry at Aintree last time.
Goodmanpat looks to be quite well handicapped and carries a nice low weight. His return run was somewhat lacking, but he has shown to improve for a run which I?m sure he will do. He is a very appealing e/w price, but his form round Cheltenham is very poor. He has yet to show his best on an undulating track and I?m worried 3 miles round here could be to steep for him.
My pick comes from the in-form Kim Bailey yard. DANDY DAN drops back to hurdles after racing over fences for the last few years. It?s a striking move and with the yard in such good form it is hard to ignore. He falls just under the 11 Stone trend and posted a good effort on his seasonal reappearance. He is rated 11lb higher than his last run over hurdles in 2018, but this wouldn?t worry me too much as he was racing over a much shorter distance which proved to not be his optimum. I fancy his chances to go very close against the favourite and hopefully keep the good form going for the Bailey yard.
DANDY DAN 1pt e/w @ 9/1 (Betfair, Paddy Power - 4 places)
3:55 ?- Karndean Designflooring Mares' Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
The final race of the day is the traditional National Hunt Flat Race. One horse who immediately takes the eye is COLOURS OF MY LIFE for Alan King. At 20/1 he seems ridiculously big looking at his last run and his trainers record in the race. Alan King has won it twice in recent years and in 2018 won it with Glancing Queen for the exact same owners as COLOURS OF MY LIFE. His debut won saw him finish 5th but looking back he is much better than that. He looked to have the race sown up when travelling into first, about a furlong a half out but once he hit the front he found very little and will no doubt have learnt a lot from that and will be much fitter on this outing. The form of his first run is working out well with the winner taking a Mares Novice Hurdle, which is impressive on her second start. Related to some very good horses I think he is far too big a price and expect him to get a place.
The main fancy is a Dan Skelton runner, Elle Est Belle. Winner of her last start she beat a small field by a convincing distance. Although she was impressive, we don?t know what she beat, whereas with some of the others in this field the form is easier to read. She could be anything and the Skelton yard do very well with flat horses but at around 2/1 she is very short in quite a competitive field. Lady Jane P and Jersey Lady also won their first starts but by comparatively lower distances. Crucially, it is hard to tell how much they will have come on for that run but the horse in behind Jersey Lady has come out and won since. Oliver Sherwood has been in fantastic form so she could very well run very well again.
Uncanaver got off the mark at the second attempt when winning at Fontwell by a commanding 20 lengths. A J Honeyball has been in flying form and everything he trains at the minute seems to win or go very close. In the last 5 seasons he has had an impressive strike rate in bumpers, winning them at an emphatic 32% strike rate. He again has already got very short in the market and his win at Fontwell was over a smaller distance, when he got things his own way. While he has leading claims, I prefer to look for things with more of an each way chance because picking an outright winner can often be very difficult. Ishkara Lady won by a ? length at Uttoxeter after just under 700 days off the track. It was a brilliant training performance but since the start of the season Harry Fry?s form has slightly tailed off, so I would wait until they pick back up again before backing his runners with much confidence.
COLOURS OF MY LIFE 0.5pts e/w @ 20/1 (bet365)