Matt Tombs / Friday 9th November 2012 / 12:20
1pt Walkon to win the Paddy Power – 10/1 NRNB with Boylesports
My starting point when trying to find the Paddy Power winner is to remember just how well handicapped you need to be to win. To say you need to be well in to win a big handicap might sound a statement of the extremely obvious but I mean really well handicapped.
Imperial Commander ended the season 26lb higher than his winning mark, Exotic Dancer 33lb higher and Celestial Gold 25lb higher. All won off marks in the 130s – which illustrates there are often top class horses in the race that haven’t shown it yet over fences. Of course, not all Paddy Power winners scale those heights, this race proving the career highpoints for Great Endeavour, Little Josh and Tranquil Sea. Even those below average winners were 10-15lb better than the mark they ran from.
That’s why it’s rare for a mark over 150 to be defied in this race, (a decade since it happened when Cyfor Malta won off 154). Recent Ryanair winners have been rated 165-170, so even if it’s a below average renewal the likes of Grands Crus and Hunt Ball (both off 157) may have to put in a better performance to win this than the championship event as this distance, the Ryanair. If there’s an unexposed, Grade 1 horse in the making towards the bottom of the weights they’d need a Kauto Staresque performance to win. That ought to give the race a good betting shape as 3 of the 4 trading at shorter than 16/1 are rated 155 or more.
The only one of the three that looks as if he might be much better than his handicap mark is Grands Crus (3/1). He was a top staying hurdler (2nd in the World Hurdle) and thrashed Champion Court by 10l on the bridle over course and distance last season. Whilst I think he may well be a Grade 1 horse, he might be and still not win – Long Run was beaten in this off 1lb higher (4lb lower after his rider’s claim) before winning the King George & Gold Cup on his next two runs.
He has question marks to answer after his RSA flop, he ideally wants really soft ground (goes on good but given the stiffness of the task you want ideal conditions) and it’s not clear whether this is his trip or he’s a 3 miler – so he’s far from bombproof. He might run in the Betfair Chase, which increases the risk of backing him now (though 11/4 NRNB is available.) I’d love to see him hack up but he’s very short under the circumstances.
Hunt Ball (7/1) is easier to pass over. He’s 15lb higher than when winning what turned out to be a weak novice handicap at the Festival. Of those behind, only Saint Are has won over fences since out of nearly 30 runs. He’s a wonderful rags to riches story but he’s a lay for this.
For Non Stop (10/1) was a brilliant winner of the Old Roan off 151. Nick Williams yard is in better form than last year and he looks to be improving, but he was beating some badly handicapped rivals many of whom may have needed the run at Aintree. He’s shown his hand to the handicapper and to win this off 162 is too big an ask. He’d be better off in the race at Ascot the following Saturday that Champion Court has been diverted to, as that’s a conditions event these days.
On that basis, Walkon (11/1) looks the obvious one. He seems to be a horse who’s best fresh and he gets in here off 143 which looks a good mark judged on his seasonal debut at Exeter last year when comfortably beating Zaynar (levels) and Notus De La Tour, (who gave 8lb). For the 2nd season in a row his form fell away after a fine comeback run, (though his 3rd to Cue Card and For Non Stop, where he would have been closer but for mistakes 3 out and 2 out, looks better now).
He was tried over extreme distances at the end of last season but didn’t get home in the RSA or Scottish National. The winner of this is usually a stayer at the trip and so granted some cut he has a good chance. He also has the advantage of being handicapped on novice form over intermediate distances, which is often underestimated. His performance at Exeter is surely worth a mark well into the 150s and with more improvement to come, (he’s still only 7) he’s just the classy type who might be well enough in for this. However, Alan King is undecided whether to begin in the calmer waters of a graduation chase or run in this.
Of the remainder there are 4 I can see as realistic contenders as Ghizao (16/1) doesn’t look tough enough and the handicapper knows too much about Al Ferof, and Aerial, (both 20/1). I backed Micheal Flips (16/1) for the Jewson at long odds and he ran a fair race to be beaten 20l, leaving him on 145. He’s been put up by Pricewise though and the fancy prices have gone. It’s always galling if you abandon a horse just before it wins a big prize but I’m not convinced he’ll stay the trip well enough, so I’m reluctantly abandoning him.
It’s 11 years since Shooting Light won the equivalent handicap at Cheltenham’s October meeting before taking this. That October meeting has often been run on fast ground so maybe Nadiya De La Vega’s (20/1) win has been underrated. Shooting Light won that race off 123 and the Paddy Power off 137. She won the October race off 137 and is now on 145, so has a fair bit tougher a task. After only 8 races over fences and 11 in all she’s unexposed, but she’s a tricky mare and is the type I’d want to see the vibes for nearer the day before backing her.
Pepite Rose (20/1) was a revelation once switched to fences last season, rattling up a four timer, the last of which was a handicap off 135. She’s 10lb higher now and ran a decent race in the 2m4f novice Grade 1 at Aintree, travelling well and pecking 2 out, eventually beaten 15l by Menorah. She was the only one of the four in the Manifesto with no previous big race experience and as a 5 year old could be the improver in the race. Venetia Williams’ yard is normally quiet at this time of year but she’s been firing on all cylinders and this mare jumps and travels well enough to hold a position in this sort of contest. She had a perfect pipe opener at Ascot beaten just over 4l trying to give 26lb to the talented Gus Macrae.
Notus De La Tour (20/1) looks well handicapped off 144 on his novice Grade 1 placed form in Ireland last season. He has lots of speed – the issue with him is more whether he’ll stay this trip well enough. He’d looked a sound jumper, especially out of soft ground, before taking a nasty fall when a well backed 8/1 shot for the 2m5f open handicap at the Festival. If none the worse for that then he could easily progress in his 2nd season over fences and belie that mark. The water table will be a fair bit higher than usual and if we get a wet run up to the race, his ability to handle soft ground will be a big plus.
The art of ante-post betting is finding a horse who’ll shorten significantly by the off. Bookies offering non runner, no bet, well in advance of the race is a fairly new phenomenon but similar principles apply – if you can find a horse who’ll shorten markedly then, with the safety net of getting your money back if they don’t run, they can represent even greater value.
At this stage I like Walkon and Notus De La Tour most. Both may miss the race but are likely to be markedly shorter if they do line up, so NRNB may be a better medium than ante-post. Preference is for Walkon as I think For Non Stop won’t run and Hunt Ball will drift so he’ll be second favourite at the off. If Grands Crus goes to Haydock, he might well be the jolly. Additionally he’s 10/1 NRNB so we’re only losing 9% of our margin compared to ante-post. Notus De La Tour is 16/1 NRNB, so we’d lose 19%.
It’s the time of year where hope is prevelant for so many horses for the season ahead. Let Walkon put hope in your heart for a Paddy Power winner and then let’s look at the race again when the declarations are made next Thursday.