Matt Tombs / Friday 4th April 2014 / 10:10
The times on the first day suggested good to soft ground and there may be significant rain overnight, (10mm in some forecasts). Genuinely soft ground isn’t out of the question tomorrow.
The Melling Chase (2m4f) is often the strongest Grade 1 run at around the intermediate trip, bringing together the principles from the Champion Chase and Ryanair. Last year saw arguably the race of the season with Sprinter Sacre destroying Cue Card and Flemenstar.
Unfortunately this year’s renewal is weak with only Module (164) and 11 year old Wishfull Thinking (162) rated even in the 160s. Module (11/2) is top rated on the strength of his 6¼l 3rd to Sire De Grugy in the Champion Chase. He looked there as if this step up in trip might suit, though he was disappointing on his only try at an intermediate trip this season in the Peterborough.
Rajdhani Express (5/1) is a lightly raced 7 year old who comes here fresh after just two runs this season. He was a fair 5th off 155 in the Paddy Power and then was 4½l 3rd to Dynaste in the Ryanair. He’s more obviously progressive than most of these but his price reflects that.
Wishfull Thinking (6/1) goes well here, especially in the spring on good ground. He was an impressive winner of the Manifesto 3 seasons ago and was a good 2nd to Finian’s Rainbow in this the following year. He’s won a handicap off 156 this year, (on unsuitably heavy ground at Cheltenham,) and this really looks his trip. He is 11 now though and, weak as this renewal looks, it’s not easy to see him actually winning.
It’s interesting that Willie Mullins has switched Boston Bob (8/1) from the Bowl over 3m1f, to this. 2m4f doesn’t look his trip but there’s nothing of the class of Silviniaco Conti or Dynaste in this and he’s the only Grade 1 winner in the field. He might well have beaten Lord Windermere in the RSA but for falling at the last, and on his first run of the season over fences was given a confidence boosting ride from the back to stay on to a never nearer 9l 6th to Dynaste in the Ryanair. He clearly has a bit to find with Rajdhani Express on that, but ridden more positively I can see him turning the tables. If there’s lots of rain then he’d be the value.
However, I’m going to take a chance that Ballynagour (7/1) can run two good races in a row. He was hugely impressive on his British debut just over a year ago at Warwick and was backed into 7/2f for the Byrne Group Plate (off 143) but bled, and then stopped very quickly having looked dangerous in this season’s Paddy Power. Down to 140, he was on a going day in this year’s Byrne Group Plate, absolutely hosing up in a first time tongue tie, which may have helped his breathing.
He may be best fresh, he may just have physical issues that stop him performing on occasions, but he’s had just 4 starts in Britain and if there is going to be a genuine Ryanair contender for next season in this, I think its him. He’s very much a win only bet given his profile but he really looked a class act last time and if his problems are behind him, he could look a big price in retrospect against a substandard field.
1pt Ballynagour to win the Melling Chase (3.05) @ 7/1
Every time I look at the 3m Grade 1 novices chase I fancy something different so I’m focusing on the novice hurdles. There are races where you look at the 5 day entries and fancy half a dozen and spend your time working out their respective chances, only for none to actually get declared. The Top Novices Hurdle (extended 2m) is one of those races.
My reluctance to back Josses Hill (7/4) might just be a case of my remembering how contemptuously Faugheen beat him last spring. The reality is that horses often improve out of all recognition early in their careers and the switch from a small yard to Seven Barrows obviously may have been part of such improvement. He’s the form pick on his Supreme 2nd and is a solid favourite, with the plus that Barry Geraghty now takes over - but its hard to argue he’s value at 15/8.
The Supreme form is also represented by 4th home Sgt Reckless (11/2) who was last for much of the way and stormed home once the race was over to be just 1½l behind Josses Hill. He’s also been beaten twice by Amore Alato (14/1) and I’d expected Sgt Reckless to be stepped up in trip on this sharper track. Amore Alato is interesting on the pick of his form (Vaniteux also behind him when he beat Sgt Reckless at Kempton.) If he gets an uncontested lead here, he could take some reeling in.
6 of the last 10 winners had come off the flat and despite being rated 27lb lower on the flat than Mijhaar (12/1,) King Of The Picts (33/1) has much the better hurdles form. He won an early season Grade 3, before being placed behind Grade 1 winners Very Wood, The Tullow Tank and Vautour on his next 3 runs. He has looked to get stuck in the mud in Grade 1s the last twice at Leopardstown, having travelled well. This better ground and sharper test ought to suit him and he looks a huge price in a race that might be more open than the market suggests.
1pt King Of The Picts to win the Top Novices Hurdle (2.00) @ 33/1
The other Grade 1 novice hurdle is the Sefton (extended 3m). This has thrown up plenty of funny results, (4 of the last 7 winners have gone off at between 16/1 and 33/1.)
Seeyouatmidnight (5/1) looks a fair way clear on form and coming from Sandy Thomson’s small yard he’s been continually underestimated in rattling up a hat-trick, at 66/1, 22/1 and 6/1.
He beat highly regarded types Regal Encore and Racing Pulse (12/1) in novice races, before taking the step into open company in his stride when winning the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock. That was on heavy ground but his breeding doesn’t suggest that he needs cut and he won his point on good. He looks to have a solid favourites chance and would be a shorter price if coming from a bigger stable.
Beat That (7/1) thrashed Albert Bartlett 4th Champagne West in November. He looked set to win a 2m4f Grade 2 at Sandown in December before getting the last all wrong and going down by 2½l to Killala Quay (who received 3lb) (7/1). Killala Quay has looked all about stamina and was again staying on having been outpaced when 6l 4th in the Neptune. Whilst the step up in trip promises to suit him more, Beat That looks less exposed and there may not be much between them again.
If there is to be another outsider win, who’d been kept to small races so far, it might be Themanfrom Minella (50/1). He hosed up at Huntingdon (extended 2m4f) last time in an ordinary race, but did so in the style of a really progressive horse. His breeding suggests this step up in trip should suit and he might be underestimated in a race where small yards have a good record.
I’d expected to be backing Seeyouatmidnight and I think he’s much the most likely winner, but in a race that throws up surprises, the best value is Themanfrom Minella who is progressing really well and might cause an upset.
1pt Themanfrom Minella each-way in the Sefton Novices Hurdle (4.15) @ 50/1
The Topham looks as open as ever. However, I’ve had my eye out for Giorgio Quercus, (25/1) who was brought down 4 out when in contention last year, (carrying my money). He’s 2lb lower this year off 134, despite beating subsequent Betbright Chase winner Bally Legend in November. He was then kept off until the Festival when a solid 6th in the Byrne Group Plate, which should have set him up perfectly for this. He’ll need more luck in running this year but he looks to have a great chance with a clear run off this mark.
1pt Giorgio Quercus to win the Topham Chase (3.40) @ 25/1