Fitness First

Fitness First

Sometimes at this time of year, picking the winner of a big race can almost be as simple as finding the horse that’s fit enough to do himself justice. In recent years horses have been much fitter for their seasonal debut but a good summer of grass and a dry autumn, (especially in Ireland), have left many running an ‘old fashioned’ seasonal debut. The first Grade 1 of the season at Down Royal, (3m, yielding,) was won in easy fashion by Road To Riches who’d won the Galway Plate and had a prep at Gowran last month. That’s not to say Road To Riches isn’t a top class horse – rather that you can’t tell from this, (last year’s runaway winner Roi Du Mee hasn’t won since.) We’ll know more about his Gold Cup, (25/1,) chances after he’s run in the Lexus.

The 4 who chased him home, Rocky Creek, Boston Bob, First Lieutenant and Ma Filleule did so at long intervals, all, with the possible exception of Rocky Creek, looking to blow up. Even allowing for that, Ma Filleule will need to improve enormously for the run if she’s to be winning a King George.

The Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, (3m1f, good), looked an easy opportunity for Silviniaco Conti if running to form. He’d begun to look quirky in the spring though and didn’t find much under pressure here. Paul Nicholls thought he had him fairly straight and it might be headgear is now firmly on the cards. 16/1 makes no appeal for the Gold Cup.

Menorah has always had jumping problems and looked a suspect stayer. On his day he’s a class act though, as when demolishing a fair field at Sandown at the end of last season over 2m6f. The emphasis was very much on speed here and I can’t see him getting the Gold Cup (20/1) trip unless they go very steadily. He’s disappointed twice in the Ryanair but if he puts it all together 33/1 would look huge.

The 3m Grade 2 Hurdle at Wetherby drew a disappointing 3 runners and with World Hurdle 3rd At Fishers Cross reportedly over the problems that plagued him last season, this looked to have a great opportunity. He was disappointing though and he may be one to be wary of. Cole Harden was a fair 15l 7th to Faugheen in the Neptune but has been a revelation since stepped up in trip. He was a good 4l 2nd to Beat That in the Sefton, (pair well clear) and won easily here, finding plenty. It’s obviously questionable what he achieved here but he’s an early contender for the World Hurdle, (20/1).

The Colin Parker Memorial Chase (for 2nd season chasers), at Carlisle (2m4f, soft,) has really grown in stature in recent years and usually produces a classy winner. Many Clouds had looked a good prospect, especially on soft ground, in his novice season. He took advantage of the 6lb he received from Eduard to win by 1¼l. He’s seen as a 3 miler but it’s noteworthy he’s 3/3 around 2m4f, but 0/4 over 2m7f+ over fences. He’s only quoted for the Gold Cup (40/1) at the moment and that’s not tempting. He puts his stamina credentials on the line in the Hennessy next.

Eduard comes out the best horse at the weights and Nicky Richards is in fine form – he just found the weight concession beneath him, but doesn’t have a great record fresh. He’s 25/1 for the Ryanair and that looks fair as few of those above him in the betting are likely to line up. Holywell was favourite in some Gold Cup lists but looks a completely different animal wearing blinkers than the cheekpieces sported here. 2m4f was hardly likely to suit this out and out stayer either. He looks like he’ll be campaigned with the spring in mind, but he would need a really strong gallop in the Gold Cup (14/1) as he lacks tactical speed.

The Champion Chase division is in desperate need of some new blood. Two Irish outsiders Moscow Mannon and Felix Yonger locked horns at Naas in a Grade 3, (2m, good.) Moscow Mannon was getting 9lb and looked like winning easily until making a mistake at the last but still had a comfortable 4¾l in hand at the line. Moscow Mannon is rising 9 but has only had 14 races and really looked to improve last spring, culminating in being touched off by God’s Own in the Grade 1 novice at the Punchestown Festival. He’s 33/1 for the Champion Chase but there is so little opposition in Ireland at the moment over 2m that he could arrive with a string of 1s next to his name and so is arguably back-to-lay material. Like most of the Mullins horses Felix Yonger is best judged after another run but I suspect he’s not going to be a Grade 1 horse, (also 33/1 for the Champion Chase.)

I’ve tended to underrate Don Cossack and I didn’t fancy his chances of conceding 2lb to Wonderful Charm in the 2nd season chasers event at Down Royal, (2m4f, yielding.) He jumped really well from the front and won by 8½l. Connections are looking at the Lexus and King George, (25/1 for the Gold Cup,) but so far he’s looked best at intermediate trips. He’s 16/1 for the Ryanair, which would look good value if that became his target.

Shanahan’s Turn was an impressive winner of a beginners chase at Punchestown, (2m4f, good.) He looked a natural, efficiently disposing of a decent prospect in Wounded Warrior, (who gave 1lb after Johnny Burke’s 3lb claim is considered,) by 3¾l. Shanahan’s Turn settled better in front here than he had when 10½l 5th to Beat That in the Grade 1 novice hurdle at the track in the spring. Chasing was always going to be his game and he looks a contender for novice Grade 1s. It’s not easy to tell his ideal trip at this stage – he’s 25/1 for both the JLT and RSA, which looks fair value.

Sgt Reckless wasn’t an easy horse to weigh up last season. He finished like a train to be 7½l 4th in the Supreme but didn’t find much when 6l 2nd to Josses Hill in the Top Novices. He made a successful debut over fences in a fair beginners at Uttoxeter, (2m, good to soft), travelling and jumping well. He wasn’t asked much of a question here but for a moment I thought he wasn’t going to find anything. He’s only run at around 2m so far so it might be he’ll benefit from a step up in trip, but equally he might not be straightforward. He pulled both front shoes off here, which should be taken into account. He’s 25/1 for the Arkle, but I’d want to see how he performs under pressure before considering backing him.

Apache Stronghold has always been hold in the highest regard by Noel Meade and he won at the first time of asking over fences when beating Thunder And Roses a cosy 3l at Down Royal, (2m4f, yielding.) He was a bit deliberate over the stiff fences early on but warmed to the task and quickened nicely on the bridle at the business end. Noel Meade is considering the JLT (14/1) and RSA (33/1) – he likes a sound surface so is the sort who might be underestimated if getting stuck in the mud over the winter.

The Grade 2 second season hurdlers race at Down Royal, (2m, yielding) attracted a cracking field. Sadly Triumph winner Tiger Roll went amiss and there was the first indication that Willie Mullins’ winter horses were really going to need their first runs when Arctic Fire blew up badly with the race at his mercy. That left the tough mare Little King Robin (who received 4lb) to record a 7th hurdles win since May. Her catch me if you can style made this a true test and she’s a great sight blazing a trail. She’s being aimed at the Mares Hurdle over 2m4f at the Festival, but whether those tactics would work as well there is questionable. She’s 8/1 but given it’d be a tap in for Annie Power you can’t back anything at that sort of price without knowing the plans for the favourite.

Finally, Paul Nicholls recently suggested Jonjo O’Neill (5/1) was the one to beat in the trainers championship. Looking at Jonjo’s Racing Post stable tour it’s hard to see where he’ll get the firepower for the big Saturday races. Nicholls suggested O’Neill’s owners had been much more active at the sales, so it might be O’Neill will be mopping up top novice’s races. Equally, it might be more that Nicholls, as he put it, is in a transition year, and Nicky Henderson’s injury jinx has struck again. With the likes of Alan King, David Pipe and Philip Hobbs all enjoying renaissances, there is more competition for the big races than for a few years, which must be healthy. In his stable tour Jonjo said “Edward Gillespie has been helping me circulate the word that everyone is welcome to have a horse trained here”. Some trainers are stuck in a bygone era, thinking it’s beneath them to tout for business. Given O’Neill’s yard is owned by JP McManus, prospective new owners might have been forgiven for thinking it was a closed shop. Jonjo is setting a fantastic example – the yard’s that actively seek out new owners, (and look after all owners,) will be the ones that flourish. With that attitude, it’d be great to see Jonjo crowned champion this season.

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Cheltenham Countdown

The best Cheltenham Festival blog on the planet returns for 2015!

Over the past three years our National Hunt expert Matt Tombs has held our hands on the road to the Cheltenham Festival, with analysis and bets through the season, but the main focus being on the four days in March that brings the racing world together.

Matt has turned a profit every year, and in 2014 ante-post bets on Jezki (12/1) and Balthazar King (33/1) ensured it was another successful Festival. View the archive of years past at 2014, 2013 and 2012.

You can also follow and contact Matt on Twitter.

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Cheltenham Portfolio:

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Bentelimar - Supreme Novices - 0.5pts e/w 50/1 - U/P

Un De Sceaux - Arkle - 1pt 6/1 - WON

Smashing - Arkle w/o Un De Sceaux - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Arctic Fire - Champion Hurdle - 1pt e/w 33/1 NRNB - 2nd

Polly Peachum - Mares Hurdle - 1pt e/w 10/1 NRNB - 2nd

Cause Of Causes - National Hunt Chase - 1pt 8/1 NRNB - WON

Wounded Warrior - National Hunt Chase - 1pt 10/1 - N/R

Vroum Vroum Mag - National Hunt Chase - 1pt 20/1 NRNB - N/R

Cocktails At Dawn - Novices Handicap Chase - 1pt 16/1 NRNB - U/P

Jarry D'Honneur - Novices Handicap Chase - 1pt 16/1 NRNB - N/R

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Nichols Canyon - Neptune Novices - 1pt 6/1 NRNB - 3rd

Arbre De Vie - Neptune Novices - 1pt 20/1 NRNB - N/R

Champagne West - RSA Chase - 1pt 16/1 - N/R

Valseur Lido - RSA Chase - 1pt 10/1 NRNB - N/R

Simply Ned - Champion Chase - 1pt e/w 33/1 - U/P

Sire Collonges - Cross Country - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Moon Racer - Champion Bumper - 1pt 12/1 - WON

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Apache Stronghold - JLT - 1pt 16/1 - 2nd

Caid Du Berlais - Ryanair Chase - 1pt 25/1 - N/R

Un Temps Pour Tout - World Hurdle - 1pt 20/1 - U/P

Whisper - World Hurdle - 1pt 20/1 NRNB - U/P

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Rich Coast - County Hurdle - 1pt 20/1 NRNB - U/P

Shantou Bob - Albert Bartlett - 1pt 25/1 - U/P

Martello Tower - Albert Bartlett - 1pt 12/1 - WON

Dynaste - Gold Cup - 1pt 25/1 - N/R

Smad Place - Gold Cup - 1pt e/w 25/1 NRNB - U/P

Current Event - Foxhunter Chase - 1pt 14/1 - U/P

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15 or more - Total Irish Winners - 1pt 9/1 - Lost

Mullins treble - Novice Hurdles - 1pt 20/1 - Lost

Fred Winter - Longest Winning SP Race - 1pt 20/1 - Lost

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Other bets:

Shanahan's Turn - Novice Handicap Chase - 1pt 12/1 - U/P

Pearlysteps - Champion Hunters Chase - 1pt 9/1 - 3rd

Rivage D'Or - La Touche Cup - 1pt 6/1 - U/P

Lots Of Memories - World Series Hurdle - 1pt e/w 40/1 - U/P

Ballynagour - Punchestown Gold Cup - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

No More Heroes - Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle - 1pt 10/3 - U/P

Ange D'Or Javilex - Martinstown Handicap Hurdle - 1pt 40/1 - U/P

Modus - Champion INH Flat Race - 1pt 5/1 - 3rd

Valseur Lido - Growise Novice Chase - 1pt 9/1 - WON

Mallowney - Boylesports Champion Chase - 1pt 13/2 - U/P

Saint Are - Grand National - 1pt 33/1 - 2nd

Corrin Wood - Grand National - 1pt 100/1 - U/P

Cole Harden - Liverpool Hurdle - 1pt 11/4 - 2nd

Nichols Canyon - Mersey Novices Hurdle - 1pt 7/2 - WON

Sizing Granite - Maghull Novices Chase - 1pt 6/1 - WON

Simply Ned - Melling Chase - 1pt 22/1 - U/P

Carraig Mor - Mildmay Novices Chase - 1pt 14/1 - 2nd

Roi Des Francs - Sefton Novices Hurdle - 1pt 13/2 - U/P

Blue Heron - Aintree Hurdle - 1pt 14/1 - U/P

Silviniaco Conti - Aintree Bowl - 1pt 3/1 - WON

Dresden - Red Rum Chase - 1pt 14/1 - U/P

Neverownup - Fox Hunter Chase - 1pt 40/1 - U/P

Wicklow Brave - Betfair Hurdle - 1pt 20/1 - U/P

Houblon Des Obeaux - Denman Chase - 1pt 10/3 - 2nd

On His Own - Irish Hennessy - 1pt 7/2 - U/P

Apache Stronghold - Flogas Novice Chase - 1pt 5/1 - WON

Un Temps Pour Tout - Cleeve Hurdle - 1pt 11/4 - 3rd

Robinsfirth - Classic Novice Hurdle - 1pt 8/1 - U/P

Arctic Fire - Irish Champion Hurdle - 1pt 12/1 - 2nd

Twinlight - Clarence House Chase - 1pt 6/1 - U/P

Katie T - Boylesports Hurdle - 1pt 12/1 - WON

Lord Windermere - Lexus Chase - 1pt 13/2 - U/P

Dedigout - Leopardstown Xmas Hurdle - 1pt 33/1 - U/P

Le Vent d'Antan - Beginners' Chase - 1pt 3/1 - WON

Al Ferof - King George - 1pt 6/1 - 3rd

Purple Bay - Christmas Hurdle - 1pt 20/1 - 2nd

Simply Ned - Dial-a-Bet Chase - 1pt 10/1 - 3rd

Corrin Wood - Rowland Meyrick - 1pt 8/1 - 3rd

Ma Filleule - King George - 2pts 33/1 - N/R

Hello George - Ladbroke - 1pt 14/1 - U/P

Caid Du Berlais - December Gold Cup - 1pt 7/2 - U/P

Zamdy Man - International Hurdle - 1pt e/w 12/1 - U/P

Dodging Bullets - Tingle Creek - 1pt 10/1 - WON

Irish Saint - Henry VIII - 1pt 13/8 - U/P

Ma Filleule - Betfred Chase - 1pt 9/4 - U/P

Benny's Mist - Grand Sefton - 1pt 12/1 - 3rd

Rocky Creek - Hennessy Gold Cup - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Aurore D'Estruval - Fighting Fifth - 1pt 4/1 - 2nd

Real Steel - Drinmore - 1pt 12/1 - 3rd

Tandem - Royal Bond - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Menorah - Betfair Chase - 1pt 9/1 - 2nd

Zamdy Man - Price Rush Hurdle - 1pt 25/1 - 2nd

Caid Du Berlais - Paddy Power Gold Cup - 1pt 16/1 - WON

Sausalito Sunrise - Club Novices Chase - 1pt 3/1 - 2nd

Simply Ned - Shloer Chase - 1pt 9/4 - 2nd

Regal Encore - Greatwood Hurdle - 1pt 16/1 - U/P

Jezki - Morgiana Hurdle - 1pt 4/5 - 2nd