2018 Champion Hurdle ante-post preview

Entries have yet to be revealed for the 2018 Unibet Champion Hurdle, January 16 I believe is the date connections must enter, and the public can expect to see those names in the following days. Run over 2m½f on the Old Course on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, the race is a test of strong-travelling and quick-jumping ability around the Prestbury Park undulations.

2018 Champion Hurdle ante-post preview

Despite not getting a feel for what may line up in this year’s Champion Hurdle with preliminary entries not out, it’s safe to say the 2018 running is not shaping up to be a vintage renewal. As the market suggests, last year’s winner Buveur D’Air (4/6) is the horse to beat. Given the prices, there is little point wasting time on covering Nicky Henderson’s inmate for a blog of this type.

Essentially, on what we’ve seen this season – and last – he has the best form, is healthy and is maybe even still progressing. His two victories this campaign in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton came on the bridle; in the latter race he beat a 160+-rated The New One with ease despite conceding race-pace and position to his inform and classy rival.

He’s the horse to beat and he’s the right price.

Second-favourite is a previous Champion Hurdler (2015) in Faugheen (5/1), a horse who in his pomp was one of the greatest hurdlers of his generation, maybe even the greatest. His Irish Champion Hurdle thumping of Arctic Fire (beaten 15 lengths) and Nichols Canyon (beaten 28 lengths) is probably the best hurdling performance I’ve ever seen, but since that day in January 2016, Willie Mullins’s stable star has only run twice, due to injury.

He returned this season after an enforced 665-day break to win the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle by 16 lengths. On paper and visually, it was a sensational comeback, but I don’t think he was anywhere near the 170+ horse he previously was. In fact, I’d say he was a good stone below his best.

Subsequently, the ten-year-old fluffed his lines in the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, pulling up at odds of 2/11. Thankfully, the son of Germany was not injured and recent reports from Closutton are positive(ish). While the case, I find it hard to recommend a horse on the back of being pulled up, especially with a potentially downward spiralling profile.

A bigger threat – albeit one I doubt JP McManus and the Nicky Henderson will lose much sleep over – may come from Faugheen’s stablemate Melon (8/1). A readily held second behind Labaik in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, although he was beaten the son of Medicean deserves great credit for running so well on just his second ever hurdles start.

It was very much a baptism of fire and although he didn’t win, the fact he pulled eight lengths clear of the third was impressive. He was subsequently beaten at the Punchestown Festival, but that race didn’t go his way and in the circumstances he did well to finish second.

His seasonal debut victory at Down Royal in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle left me a bit cold, but the six-year-old took a huge step forward when running 3rd behind classy sorts in the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Despite racing too keen, being hampered at a crucial time and conceding weight to most of the field, to finish on the tails of My Tent Or Yours and The New One was a good run. He’s going the right way.

The above three horses aside, at the moment, I find it very tough to see another horse winning the Champion Hurdle, should the aforementioned trio get to Cheltenham in good order. The wonderfully admirable My Tent Or Yours (16/1) surely can’t win a Champion Hurdle at the age of 11.

To his credit, he could do no more than win the International on his seasonal debut, but the fact he got 6lb from The New One (2nd) and Melon (3rd) is off-putting, especially where the latter is concerned.

Can he run well and maybe hit the frame? Sure, he can, but it looks like he might be battling for one each-way spot should they all turn up and his price is only fair from that point of view.

There are quite a few in that boat, who could run into the frame. In that regard, I respect the likes of Defi Du Seuil (20/1), Mick Jazz (33/1) and Ch’Tibello (50/1) who are younger horses and should have more to offer.

Defi Du Seuil made a very disappointing start to his season in the Ascot Hurdle where a bad mistake at the third, and Philip Hobbs’s team not firing, didn’t help his cause. He hasn’t been seen since, but it’s encouraging he got an entry in the Betfair Hurdle.

While the case, I find it hard to recommend a horse on the back of such a poor run, despite there being reasons for the poor showing. He was a top-class juvenile hurdler last season, but open company is a different ball game and he had plenty racing for a young horse in the last campaign. The jury is out at the moment.

Mick Jazz and Cilaos Emery clashed in the Ryanair Hurdle that Faugheen pulled up in last month with the former being the main beneficiary, beating the latter, who has this week been ruled out of the Champion Hurdle through injury.

Gordon Elliott’s inmate will now go forward to represent this form, but it’s easily to be dubious about it with Faugheen not running his race and, the fact the winner maybe picked up the pieces from a horse who was in front far too early.

In Mick Jazz’s favour, you can see the sharp nature of the Old Course suiting his ability to travel sweetly. Furthermore, as a seven-year-old, it would be no surprise if he was still improving, especially coming from these (Gordon Elliott) quarters.

Dan Skelton’s Ch’Tibello was the other horse of interest from a betting perspective. The seven-year-old has done nothing but improve over the last two seasons and had some smart form behind Yanworth last season before injury ruled him out of the 2017 Champion Hurdle.

He is another who ran in the International behind My Tent Or Yours when beaten three lengths. On his first start since February, he ran a nice race, especially considering he looked a touch fresh and was also hampered in the straight.

It would be no surprise to see him turn the tables with the Nicky Henderson winner come March, but it’s possibly going to be tough to do so with Melon on 6lb worse terms.

Other horses to at least get a mention, but are not betting propositions for various reasons are Apple’s Jade (25/1) who looks set to run in the Mares’ Hurdle and The New One (40/1) who will surely – and finally – be asked to participate in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Alas, there is a potential fly in the ointment and a horse who could instil fear into the odds-on favourite, the enigmatic and wonderfully nutty chestnut, Yorkhill. Given his trainer (Willie Mullins), I’d expect to see the 2016 Neptune and 2017 JLT winner feature among the Champion Hurdle entries.

At the moment, it’s unlikely he’ll run here, but should Douvan, Min and Un De Sceaux all get to Cheltenham fit and well – and it’s a sizable if – there must be a chance Graham Wylie’s star horse is rerouted, especially if Faugheen didn’t happen to make the Festival.

I agree, it’s all ifs and buts, but stranger things have happen and Willie Mullins has always hinted at Yorkhill being a Champion Hurdler in his eyes.

The Final Verdict

As the prices suggest, Buveur D’Air is the horse to beat. Of the likely runners, I just don’t see any horse good enough to stop him in his quest for a second Champion Hurdle.

Faugheen looked well below, albeit his sky high, best in winning at Punchestown on his comeback from injury and has subsequently failed to complete.

Nothing came to light for that pulled up effort and reportedly, little strenuous exercise has been undertaken since. As connections turn the screw and try to get him to the peak of his powers, it would be surprise to see his huge but fragile frame fail him again. On that trail of thought, he’s impossible to recommend at this juncture.

So is the 11-year-old My Tent Or Yours, who has also had his injury problems. I’m sure he can run well again at the Festival, but running well this year could see him beaten 8 lengths back in fifth. He offers poor value from an each-way perspective.

Much more inviting prices are on offer about the unlikely winning trio of Defi Du Seuil (20/1), Mick Jazz (33/1) and Ch’Tibello (50/1), but should all of those ahead of them in the market turn up, they could all be fighting for one each-way place. In terms of each-way betting, that’s a hard sell in anyone’s book.

Factor in Defi Du Seuil’s poor recent form and Mick Jazz and Ch’Tibello needing to improve significantly, despite sexy prices, they can be left.

To my eye, the 2018 Champion Hurdle is not a race to try and get clever with. I want to be with those to the head of the market despite value potentially looking skimpy. I feel there will be better value bets to come, there are 27 other races after all!

At this time, MELON looks the best betting opportunity and he should be backed in the without Buveur D’Air market. I just can’t see him beating the favourite, but I’m confident in his ability to finish second.

There are so few horses in this year’s Champion Hurdle genuinely on an upward curve, especially with Melon’s type of ability. Like I said above, his seasonal debut underwhelmed me, but his International third was a huge step in the right direction.

He was taking on much more seasoned and at the time, much more classy horses in My Tent Or Yours and The New One. He’ll met the winner on 6lb better terms come March with the distinct promise of more to come. Furthermore, a stronger run race on quicker ground back on the Old Course are three more positives.

In a recent interview with The Irish Field, I was taken by Ruby Walsh’s suggestion that Melon’s last race had made a man of him and he’d come forward for the race. There is every chance of more to come.

Ruby’s full comment read, “He’s come forward for the run in Cheltenham. That was his first run with the big boys. He’s definitely a better horse for it. The Champion Hurdle will be a stronger-run race, and on a different track – it’s on the Old Course – so that will definitely suit him. You’d imagine he’ll go to Leopardstown. He hasn’t a lot of experience and will be improving every day.

With some bookmakers offering Non-Runner No Bet concessions, I’m also going to suggest a saver on Melon’s stablemate Yorkhill. If he was switched to this race, and it’s unlikely at the moment but we have non-runner safety net, he’d likely be second favourite.

Advice

2.5pts each-way Melon ‘betting without Buveur D’Air’ @4/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power) – 1/5 odds 1,2,3 – Non-Runner No Bet

1pt win Yorkhill ‘betting without Buveur D’Air’ @11/4 (bet365), 5/2 (Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power) – Non-Runner No Bet

3.00 Leopardstown – Paddy Power Steeplechase (December 27)

Now may be the time to act with regards backing OSCAR KNIGHT for the lucrative Paddy Power Steeplechase at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting. With €110,000 on offer to the winner, it’s a race many owners and trainers will be taking aim at, and I’m sure JP McManus and Tom Mullins are high on that list with this eight-year-old.

The former name needs no introduction while the latter is a trainer I have great belief in when he sets his mind on a target with a horse. His exploits with Alderwood case and point.

The selection was an excellent third in this very race last season despite not having a trouble free run. He was badly hampered as the race was just starting to unfold down the far side, but to his credit, he made relentless headway before they turned in, and he remarkably even led jumping the last.

He was outstayed close home by two other horses, his run petering out having made such a big move to get competitive, but it was still a fine run. He returns this year 6lb higher, but given he’s still a relatively light-raced eight-year-old, that rise is not a big concern.

A more pressing worry would be his jumping – he can be slow in parts. Hopefully Barry Geraghty or Mark Walsh take the ride as their experience could prove vital in hunting him round.

The son of Oscar comes into the race in good order on the back of two hurdle runs, the second of which he won. For me, that was a strong race for the grade. I just hope he can transfer that form over fences, I see no reason why he can’t.

It’s possible he goes off a fair bit shorter than the currently available 12/1.Hopefully we grab the early value and bag a nice Festive winner. Ho ho ho.

Advice

1.5pts each-way Oscar Knight @12/1 (Bet Victor, bet365, StanJames, William Hill)

 

 

Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe preview

A year on from Aidan O’Brien’s brilliant 1-2-3 in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, we are back at Chantilly for the 2017 renewal. Last campaign, the contest was run on much better ground than we can expect tomorrow. While the case, as long as too much rain doesn’t fall in Paris goingforward good to soft ground should be a fair playing field for most.

Below is my horse-by-horse guide. Good luck with your bets!

1. Zarak (25/1)

Impeccably bred son of Dubawi out of 2008 Arc heroine Zarkava, connections finally saw sense in stepping him up to 12f last time out when he was a ready winner of the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud in a useful time. That form is still some way short of winning an Arc however; the close proximity of the out of sorts My Dream Boat letting it down. Likely to be dropped in from stall 18 meaning he’ll need a great ride and some luck. Outside place prospects at best.

2. Doha Dream (150/1)

A 150/1 shot in the care of Andre Fabre, Doha Dream simply doesn’t look good enough and is a possible pace-maker for the owners Brametot. Look elsewhere.

3. One Foot In Heaven (100/1)

Not a straight-forward character as he can sometimes get behind and race keenly, but granted his ideal conditions – a strong pace and ground with some juice it – he’s a solid horse. It looks like he’ll get his ideal set up here which makes him well overpriced at 100/1 especially when you consider his excellent 6th behind Found here last year. He comes into the race fresher than most and is reportedly in good form. While not classy enough to win, he is one at a huge price in the place market to consider.

4. Ulysses (10/1)

Exceptionally bred son of Galileo, Ulysses lacks nothing on paper with regards his pedigree and trainer. More importantly however, the highly progressive four-year-old has done it on the track this season, winning the Eclipse and International. Despite being stretched over 12f at Ascot in the King George behind Enable, on a less demanding track under quicker conditions he can still have a major say.  Why? Quite simply, there are few horses in this field that can match his ability. His draw in one will mean he needs plenty of luck in running, but he’s good enough to win this. No doubt.

5. Cloth Of Stars (28/1)

Shaped with distinct visual promise in his Arc Trial when far too keen and in a poor early position with regards the pace. Given his trainer (Andre Fabre), there is likely to be significant improvement fitness wise, but he simply doesn’t look good enough. Likely has to prove his stamina for a strong-run 12f, too, and every drop of rain will be a negative. Vastly overpriced compared to the German raider and his Prix Foy nemesis Dschingis Secret, mind.

6. Silverwave (100/1)

Closely match with Zarak on his Grand Prix de Saint Cloud effort (2nd) and his Arc prep in the Prix Foy screamed just that, prep. Wasn’t given a hard time on softish ground and will likely improve significantly for the run, but he doesn’t look good enough to trouble the judge.

7. Idaho (33/1)

Quite simply not an American type track horse and his progressive look has been halted by being poorly placed in North America last time out. Second in an average Derby in 2016, but has improved this campaign; his third to Enable in the King George a career best. Probably has more to offer, but while the case, this strapping son of Galileo won’t enjoy the sharpish nature of Chantilly and he’s likely to be outpaced before running on. Outside place prospects.

8. Dschingis Secret (16/1)

Can’t say I know too much about this German raider, have only seen him race once, when winning the Prix Foy. Visually, he was a ready winner and clearly goes well on soft ground, but I think that form is pretty poor. Cloth Of Stars is not a genuine Group 1 horse, was pretty keen and highly likely had that race as a prep on ground he’d want much faster. Looks an awful price.

9. Satono Diamond (33/1)

Japanese raider who came to Europe with a big reputation before flopping in the Prix Foy. He’s hard to recommend on that evidence despite the fact he’s likely to improve. Wouldn’t want any more rain.

10. Satono Noblesse (250/1)

Stable mate of Satono Diamond and his likely pacemaker.

11.Iquitos (125/1)

Another German raider I know little about, but beating Best Solution like he did in July is not Arc-winning form and it’s best to look elsewhere.

12. Order Of St George (10/1)

Top-class stayer as his 2015 Irish Leger and 2016 Gold Cup victory at Royal Ascot indicates. Robbed of the Gold Cup double this season by a poor ride, but a change in tactics since that defeat to Big Orange has seen him destroy an Irish Leger field by 9 lengths. Despite having the stamina for 28f, there is little doubt Order Of St George has the class to be competitive in an Arc over 12f. He was a fine third to Found in last year’s race despite being a touch unlucky on ground that saw him vulnerable. On sod that is sure to be much slower, once given a prominent ride off good fractions, he has strong each-way claims especially with last year’s first and second not back to take him on.

13. Seventh Heaven (50/1)

A proper 12f Group 1 filly against her own sex as wins in last season’s Irish and Yorkshire Oaks suggest. Looked like she could potentially improve to take on the colts this season when bolting up in the Jockey Club Stakes, but suffered a setback soon after. Her prep run for the Arc was horrendous (ran to about 76) and while she’ll likely take a huge step forward, it won’t be good enough on ground that’s likely to be softer than ideal on a track that won’t play to her strengths.

14. Brametot (22/1)

French 2000 Guineas and Derby winner that fluffed his lines badly last time out. Subsequently found to have had a back injury and now in better form. Has a bad habit of starting slowly and should he do that from stall 4, he’ll need a fair amount of luck. Has stamina to prove over 12f, but his French Derby victory and pedigree suggest it’s well within his compass. Stamina may not beat him, but class might – not quite sure he’s good enough and his slow starting habit is undesirable up in class.

15. Capri (20/1)

Irish Derby and St Leger winner who is progressive. The former race fell in his lap a touch, but in the Leger he made no mistake in an event where there was no hiding place. He’s going the right way and should enjoy underfoot conditions. While the case, I’m not sure this track will bring out the best in him and he backs up two weeks after a gruelling victory at Doncaster.

16. Plumatic (80/1)

Lightly-raced, well-bred French contender that has yet to win at Group level. Tough ask to do it here.

17. Enable (11/10)

One of few horses to brighten up a rather dull 2017 Flat campaign. The daughter of Nathaniel has done nothing but improve this season; running to 97 in April and as high as 124 when winning the King George (late July), on my figures. Her latest Yorkshire Oaks victory was a step back in numbers, but in truth, there was nothing in that race to challenge her and she won easily, doing it the hard way from the front, something she’d never done before. The runner up, Coronet, ran well in the Leger and all her form looks incredibly strong. Obviously the one to beat.

18. Winter (10/1)

Over a mile, she has been the outstanding three-year-old filly of 2017, winning both Guineas and the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot. She showed she stayed 10f well enough when in winning the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood before being turned over last time out in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. Connections gave excuses for the defeat – she missed a week’s work due to a stone bruise – but visually she didn’t look too far below her best. While the undoubted class act over 8f against her own age group and sex, her level of form makes taking on older horses and colts a big step up in class. Factor in the doubts about her staying this trip and others appear better value.

Verdict

Of those to the fore in the market, Winter is the horse I can’t have at the prices. 10/1 looks a bit skinny about a horse I feel has plenty to prove against colts over a trip she may not stay. To my eye, Order Of St George holds the best chance of winning the Arc for Ballydoyle although it’s hard to fancy him for win purposes in terms of having a bet and he doesn’t offer much value each-way. The two three-year-old colts set to line up are Brametot and Capri. I’m not sure we have a good bunch of Classic middle distance colts this season, Cracksman is the best of them but he’s not here. Brametot’s habit of starting slowly on the back of an interrupted prep means I can swerve him. Capri is a tougher dodge as he is clearly progressive, but backs up quickly after a tough Leger victory. If you’re feeling lucky, One Foot In Heaven may be worth a small each-way play at 100/1 or a straight bet in the place only market (four places) may be better. He’ll come up short, but it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise to see him sneak into the places.

This sees me down to Enable and Ulysses, the two horses with by far and away the strongest form on offer in this year’s Arc, hence their market positions. That said, a ten-point difference between them looks far too wide. Enable is an even-money shot; that is a fair price. Ulysses is now a 10/1 play; that looks generous to my eye.

Sir Michael Stoute’s stable star has 4 ½ lengths to make up with Enable on their King George clash back in late July. On a less-demanding track, likely to be on better ground and on 4lb better terms, ULYSSES can close the gap. Furthermore, I think he has improved since they last met, hopefully strengthened up, too, as he’ll need to be at his very best to turn the form. On what we’ve seen so far, 10f is undoubtedly the selection’s best trip, but as stated above there are reasons that can allow him to stay this distance stronger later in the season.

Advice

1pt win Ulysses @10/1 (Betfair, Bet Victor, Paddy Power)

2.5pts win Ulysses ‘Betting without Enable’ @5/1 (Bet Victor), @9/2 (Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power)

 

 

 

 

Royal Ascot 2017 – Day Four (Friday)

2.30 Royal Ascot – Albany Stakes

At the prices, I simply can’t resist a bet on 66/1 shot ARMUM. Formerly trained by Jamie Osbourne, but moved to Ed Dunlop’s yard after being bought at the sales on Monday, this well-bred filly looks grossly overpriced.

The daughter of Society Rock has got a quality bloodline being a half-sister to last year’s Royal Ascot winner Ardad. In a pair of starts this season, she has improved nicely and, two characteristics of her game, are breaking quickly from the stalls and travelling well.

She did both last time out when winning nicely at Chester, but the most eyecatching element of the victory was how much she found off the bridle. Her former trainer said the ground last time out was too soft for her so if she improves again for today’s quicker surface, she could run huge. She’s a likable horse.

Advice

1pt each-way Armum @66/1 (general 1,2,3,4)

3.05 Royal Ascot – King Edward VII Stakes

I couldn’t put anyone off Crystal Ocean, he is without a doubt the one to beat, but in a race potentially being run at a lacklustre gallop, he may struggle on this ground if the race turns into a sprint.

At a much bigger price, without Crystal Ocean, GLENCADAM GLORY may be able to sneak into the places, now his habit of starting slowly from the gates appears to be cured. That inability to break on terms has cost him this season, but last time out in the Derby, he jumped on terms, only to be stuck out wide for the entire race.

To his credit, he ran on late, albeit past beaten horses. With circumstances highly likely to fall much better for him today, he can hopefully run well.

Advice

1pt each-way Glencadam Glory ‘betting without Crystal Ocean’ @18/1 (Betfair, bet365, Paddy Power)

3.40 Royal Ascot – Commonwealth Cup

One of the races of the meeting, featuring Blue Point, Caravaggio and Harry Angel. This will be brilliant. I won’t be having a bet, but shall be on the edge of my sit watching.

Advice

Go to the bar

4.20 Royal Ascot – Coronation Stakes

Aidan O’Brien’s Winter is obviously the one to beat, as the prices tell you, but as we saw with Churchill and Order Of St George, albeit for different reasons, there is no such thing as a certainty.

I can’t fathom the price of the French filly PRECIEUSE who should easily be half that on the back of her classy French 1000 Guineas victory. The form of that contest wouldn’t be as strong as the Guineas Winter won, but it was still a quality race and she won well.

The daughter of Tamayuz impressed with how she travelled into contention and how she saw it out. There was no fluke about the victory and it came in a decent time. She’s a bonkers price and worth a go.

Advice

1pt win Precieuse @12/1 (bet365, Paddy Power),

5.00 Royal Ascot – Queen’s Vase

Three high-class handicappers I really rate take each other on here, Desert Skyline, Stradivarius and Time To Study. Desert Skyline is the only one I’d have a worry about staying this 14f trip so it makes sense to concentrate on the other two.

With the ground potentially being quicker than ideal for Time To Study, STRADIVARIUS gets the nod. From early in his juvenile days, he has looked a proper staying animal and today’s step up in trip could unlock further improvement.

He bumped into a well-handicapped and nice-bred type last time out at Chester, when pulling clear of the remainder. If he is in the same form, he’ll go close.

Advice

2pts each-way Stradivarius @7/1 (Sky Bet 1,2,3,4)

5.35 Royal Ascot – Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes

The Queen’s Mainstream could bolt up here if he is in the mood, he looks a well-handicapped horse to my eye, but the problem is, he doesn’t win too often. He’s not straight-forward, but has so much ability. He’s one for your placepot, for sure.

Wadigor and Sixties Icon were the two I liked, but with lingering doubts about the latter seeing about a potentially strong-run 12f race, WADIGOR gets the nod. Roger Varian’s colt remains unbeaten in three runs, a trio of efforts which are highly progressive.

Essentially, I feel he is a Group class horse in a handicap. He’s got a top-class staying pedigree, albeit his sire is not as fashionable for some. His dam is from a classy 12f family and with today’s trip bound to bring out further improvement, he can hopefully send us home happy.

Advice

2.5pts each-way Wadigor @13/2 (Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5,6) @7/1 (Betfair, Paddy Power)

Royal Ascot 2017 – Day Three (Thursday)

2.30 Royal Ascot – Norfolk Stakes

Hopefully HAVANA GREY can get day three of Royal Ascot off to a flyer. Karl Burke’s speedy juvenile has been impressive in all three runs this season, improving with each start and now unbeaten in his last two.

His win in the National Stakes at Sandown last time out confirmed he is getting better and indeed, quicker. He’s a horse that jumps smartly, travels well and has a touch of class. His trainer thinks he has improved again, and if that’s the case, he’ll run well.

Advice

2pts each-way Havana Grey @8/1 (general – use 1,2,3,4 firms)

3.05 Royal Ascot – Hampton Court Stakes

Yet again yesterday, with Le Brivido winning the Jersey Stakes in great fashion, the French colts Classic form is increasingly looking top-class. With that the case, I’m hoping ORDEROFTHEGARTER can overcome his wide draw for Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore.

The son of Galileo had first-time cheek-pieces applied last time out, and they worked well, as he travelled through the race kindly before having his path blocked in the straight, looking unlucky.

With a better run through today, he will go close.

Advice

1pt each-way Orderofthegarter @5/1 (Betfair, BetFred, Paddy Power 1,2,3,4)

3.40 Royal Ascot – Ribblesdale Stakes

I’m not sure this looks the best renewal of the Ribblesdale Stakes, albeit we are dealing with young, well-bred and lightly-raced fillies. ALLURINGLY sets a decent standard on what we’ve seen, I’m not sure anything, even with significant improvement, will improve enough to beat her if she runs her race.

I was slightly disappointed with her in the Oaks when a well-beaten third, but she was behind two classy fillies and to her credit, she beat everything off easily. Today’s less stamina-demanding test should suit her strong-travelling abilities.

I’m hoping she can back up relatively quickly after her Epsom effort, but she has had three weeks to recover and is obviously in the best of care with Aidan O’Brien.

Advice

1pt win Alluringly @4/1 (general)

4.20 Royal Ascot – Gold Cup

I’ll keep this short and simple, ORDER OF ST GEORGE is the best horse in this race and he should win. He was a good winner of this race last year and he appears to be coming here in better order. If he runs his race, he’ll win.

Advice

2.5pts win Order Of St George @1/1 (StanJames), 10/11 (general)

5.00 Royal Ascot – Britannia Stakes

Another huge-field handicap to contend with here, 29 runners look set to do battle. Those drawn low could struggle again today, in this race the better early speed, crucial for towing horses into the race kindly, looks to be drawn high.

With that being the case, my two against the field are the huge-priced LESHLAA and the improving COLIBRI. The former comes here on the back of a disappointing effort, but that came on soft ground and that simply isn’t his bag. He is best judged on his Newmarket win beforehand where he and a stablemate pulled 8 lengths clear of the third, showing a closing kick to get competitive.

Colibri ran a cracker in a warm Sandown maiden on his only start this season. Travelling kindly out wide for most the race, he then swung wide coming into the straight, making a decent move to get competitive before his run just flattened out close home. He should improve for that and can hopefully go close.

Advice

1pt each-way Colibri @12/1 (Paddy Power & Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt each-way Leshlaa @40/1 (Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5,6)

5.35 Royal Ascot – King George V Stakes

A tough closing handicap, but I’m hoping the step back up in trip will bring out further improvement in TARTINI, who does plenty right in his races, but just looks a touched one-paced at times. I feel he is on a workable mark, and a strong-run 12 furlongs on this stiff track could prove ideal.

Advice

1pt each-way Tartini @14/1 (Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5) @16/1 (bet365, Bet Victor, Coral, Ladbrokes)

Royal Ascot 2017 – Day Two (Wednesday)

2.30 Royal Ascot – Jersey Stakes

The day two Royal Ascot opener doesn’t look a race to get too clever with; the market leaders look to hold outstanding chances, those being Le Brivido (11/4), Dream Castle (4/1) and Daban (15/2).

Without a shadow of a doubt, Le Brivido has the best form on offer and is the correct favourite, but his brilliant French 2000 Guineas effort came on ground with cut in it over a mile and it remains to be seen if he will perform as good over today’s fast-terrain seven-furlongs.

Those conditions will hold no fears for Dream Castle and Daban who have a similar level of ability, but with the filly carrying a penalty, it’s makes sense to give DREAM CASTLE the nod. Saeed bin Suroor’s son of Frankel was unraced as a juvenile, but is now quickly making up for lost time.

A strong-run seven-furlongs on this ground will prove to be his optimum in the short-term and it remains to be seen if the favourite can give him a head start and a beating.

At the prices, I also can’t resist a bet on SOLOMON’S BAY who is now going the right way after a disappointing start to the season. The ability he showed to travel and quicken in winning at Epsom last time out was impressive. He will need to improve, mind, but I think he can.

A strong-run, quick-ground seven furlongs will see him travel into contention nicely, I just hope he can sneak a place late or maybe cause a shock.

Advice

1.5pts win Dream Castle @4/1 (general)

1pt each-way Solomon’s Bay @33/1 (general)

3.05 Royal Ascot – Queen Mary Stakes

As much as I want to take on Wesley’s Ward’s criminally short favourite Happy Like A Fool (1-1) here, I’m going to take my medicine and play in the without market. Ward has made no secret of how high he rates this filly and to be fair to him, he has a habit of being right at this meeting. Mentally and physically, she is likely to be streets clear of the home challenge so it makes sense to duck her.

Horses drawn very low could struggle here, so the two I want on my side are NEOLA and OUT OF THE FLAMES. The former is a progressive filly who appears to be getting quicker. The fact she is far more streetwise than a lot of these fillies, along with her ability, will hold her in good stead.

The latter, is another filly that looks to be going the right way. She is progressive and has the early pace to run comfortable when the gates open, her ability off the bridle just adds to her chance. The Hannon team report her in good order with more improvement to come; with that being the case, she should run well.

Advice

1pt win ‘betting without Happy Like A Fool’ Neola @8/1 (Bet Victor, William Hill, 15/2 general)

1pt win ‘betting without Happy Like A Fool’ Out Of The Flames @9/1 (Sky Bet, 15/2 general)

3.40 Royal Ascot – Duke Of Cambridge Stakes

With Laugh Aloud out, this fillies and mares Group 2 has become easier to win. Her absence also means this race may not be run at a strong gallop, meaning those horses that need a well-run mile may be inconvenienced.

It could set up nicely for a horse with a strong-ability to travel. With this being the case, MIX AND MINGLE looks the value. Chris Wall’s filly is unbeaten in two starts this season and comes here at the top of her game.

Last campaign, she showed numerous glimpses of ability over a mile, without ever looking comfortable at the trip. She looked a seven-furlong filly in truth and maybe still is, but now she’s a year older and stronger, she may see out the mile better. The fast ground will be a big help, as will her ability to settle and straight-forward character.

On all known form, Qemah should be winning this, but she’s not straight-forward herself. She can be keen and today will be the fastest surface she has encountered. Usherette looked horse destined for the top last season before she bled. I’m not sure she has returned as good this season while Smart Call, to my eye, could be better over further.

Advice

1pt each-way Mix and Mingle @9/1 (general)

4.20 Royal Ascot – Prince Of Wales’s Stakes

The big race of the day and a cracker in store. On all known form, Highland Reel is the best horse in here. However, he is a proper 12f performer and today’s trip (10f) will surely be on the sharp side for the tough son of Galileo.

The fact he backs up relatively quickly after a gruelling Coronation Cup victory on fast ground, means he has every excuse not to be near his best today. Dropping in trip, he surely must set strong, even fractions to win, meaning he won’t have an easy race. It would be no surprise to see him completely flop in truth.

Jacks Hobbs is in a similar scenario to Highland Reel; in that he looks a proper 12f horse. Today’s trip and ground won’t play to his strengths.

The setup of today’s highlight looks likely to suit Decorated Knight and Ulysses, but I simply can’t understand the price difference between the pair, considering their form this season is similar.

Therefore, DECORATED KNIGHT is the undoubted value on the back of his recent Curragh Group 1 win. Roger Charlton’s son of Galileo impressed in that victory, travelling through the race like a class act, on ground that wouldn’t have suited, before getting to the front far too early, idling and winning readily.

He’s a hold-up performer with a change of gear and with Highland Reel and Jack Hobbs likely to take each other on early, once softened up, he could quicken by late. Whether he can fend off Ulysses is another matter, but he has a slightly kinder draw and that could prove telling.

Advice

2.5pts each-way Decorated Knight @9/1 (Bet Victor, bet365, Boylesports, Ladbrokes, StanJames)

5.00 Royal Ascot – Royal Hunt Cup

A huge-field handicap to get to grips with here, 29 runners going to post. Looking at the pace, those drawn very low could struggle, meaning Banksea and George William are ducked, despite looking ideal for this contest.

My three against the field would be REMARKABLE, HORS DE COMBAT and BALLET CONCERTO.

Remarkable is a risky bet, as last time out, he looked completely off mentally. He comes with risks, but I can forgive one bad day at the office, especially as he has plenty high-quality straight-track form.

Hors De Combat has been in good order this season, and is the most solid of the three bets. He was unlucky last time out, never getting a run, and granted better luck, can be in the shakeup.

Ballet Concerto looks on a winnable mark for a top-class team in Sir Michael Stoute and Ryan Moore. I have small doubts about him on the ground, but his last two efforts have come on undulating tracks, and that may well be why he has been below par. His run last time out was a good effort considering how unlucky he was.

Advice

1.5pt each-way Hors De Combat @20/1 (general)

1pt win Remarkable @25/1 (general)

1pt win Ballet Concerto @16/1 (general)

5.35 Royal Ascot – Sandringham Handicap

Two against the field here are GRECIAN LIGHT and PROSPER. Both these fillies have top-class pedigrees and are sure to be suited by the quick ground.

The former ran a cracker on her 2017 debut when far too keen on ground that would’ve been too soft. It’s a credit to her ability that she still manged to see her race out well enough. A stronger-run contest here could be right up her street.

The latter is a big price on the back of a poor run, but that can easily be forgiven. She would’ve hated the ground at Newbury and the trip clearly stretched her. She shaped much better than the distance beaten suggests and back on quicker ground down in trip, can go well.

Advice

1pt each-way Grecian Light @22/1 (bet365, Ladbrokes, 20-1 Coral)

1pt each-way Prosper @22/1 (bet365, 20-1 Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power)

Royal Ascot 2017 – Day One (Tuesday)

2.30 Royal Ascot – Queen Anne Stakes

On all known form, RIBCHESTER should be winning the opening race of the Royal meeting. A good third in last season’s 2000 Guineas before bolting up in the Jersey Stakes – at last year’s Royal meeting – all Richard Fahey’s charge has done since is improve and improve. There is no question, on what we’ve seen, the son of Iffraaj is the best horse in the race and probably the top miler in Europe.

The only potential negative is his draw in stall one, but he’s better drawn than his nearest market rival Lightening Spear and he should be able to get a nice lead off Deauville. If that transpires, he should win, if it doesn’t, he is good enough to still win.

Advice:

3pts win Ribchester @1-1 (general)

3.05 Royal Ascot – Coventry Stakes

Eighteen juveniles go to post for the Coventry Stakes. I’m big on experience in these kind of races, so with DE BRUYNE HORSE also having some of the best form on offer, I’m sure he’ll run big for the Richard Hannon team.

He was far too green to do himself justice on debut, but since that start, he has done nothing but progress. After bolting up at Ripon, I thought he was a good winner of the Woodcote Stakes at Epsom despite being slightly slow away, and not looking totally in love with the track. He showed a good attitude to win, he’s a likeable horse.

At the prices, I also can’t resist a bet on AQABAH, who now looks the value. I loved his debut win, which came in an extremely solid novice event here at Ascot. Despite conceding experience and not being given too hard a time, he got up late to win. He has since flopped at the Curragh, but that was down to the ground.

Despite not enjoying the rain-affected terrain that day, for a large chunk of the race he still shaped well. Now he gets back on faster sod, he should show his true colours.

Advice:

2pts each-way De Bruyne Horse @6/1 (general – 1,2,3,4)

1pt each-way Aqabah @25/1 (general – 1,2,3,4)

3.40 Royal Ascot – King’s Stand Stakes

The three to concentrate on here are those to the head of the market; Lady Aurelia, Marsha and Signs Of Blessing. On what we’ve seen this season, this trio look to have a few pounds in hands of the rest of the field.

I couldn’t put anyone off Lady Aurelia and Marsha, but the value bet looks to be SIGNS OF BLESSING. His form, albeit his best effort came on much softer ground, is right on a par with the two fillies and in fact, I think it’s stronger.

Last time out, in the Prix de Saint-Georges, he beat last season’s King’s Stand winner Profitable by 2 lengths, giving him 11lb in weight. Now, no doubt Profitable wasn’t at is his best, but still, that is a phenomenal performance.

The only worry is the quick ground, but if he goes on it, he’ll go very close. Francois Rohaut’s horse has been to Ascot twice and both times ran crackers.

Advice

1pt win Signs Of Blessings @13/2 (general)

4.20 Royal Ascot – St James’s Palace Stakes

This isn’t a betting race, for me anyway, but it’s one I’ll look forward to watching. Barney Roy and Churchill look to set to clash again having filled the first two places home in the opening Classic of the season, the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

Churchill came out on top by a length that day when he had the ideal run through and the run of the race while Barney Roy got a little behind, running keen and didn’t handle the track. Ascot will suit him much better, especially if they go a proper gallop.

His fans should just hope that Godolphin’s error in not putting in a pacemaker to help set a gallop, doesn’t come back to haunt him. He’s a big, long-striding animal and a start-stop, or sedate gallop, will almost certainly see Churchill confirm the form.

Advice:

No bet

5.00 Royal Ascot – Ascot Stakes

Nineteen runners go to post for this marathon trip, and my two against the field are SHREWD and YORKIDDING. The former returned to action 66 days ago at Musselburgh with a fine effort to finish a staying-on 8th on a track and trip that probably proved sharp enough for him.

With a run under his belt and him now stepping up in distance we could see an improved performance from a horse that was a good second in last year’s Ebor at York.

Yorkidding is a big price in comparison to the race-favourite Who Dares Wins when you consider she finished just under a length-and-a-half ahead of him in the Chester Cup. She is now 2lb worse off for that effort, which isn’t a positive, but the price discrepancy is too big.

Advice:

1pt each-way Yorkidding @16/1 (Coral, Paddy Power, Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5)

1pt each-way Shrewd @28/1 (Paddy Power, Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5)

5.35 Royal Ascot – Windsor Castle Stakes

The vibes around Declarationofpeace winning appear to be strong, Aidan O’Brien’s horse has been strongly punted all day and is now heading towards the 9/4 mark. I don’t want to back him at the price having been as big as 11/2, so I’m happy to have a bet in the without Declarationofpeace market.

Wesley Ward’s NOOTKA SOUND impressed me when winning her sole start on dirt in Keeneland and with her trainer reporting she is better on turf, she could take a bit of catching on this ground today.

At the prices, the other one I like is SOUND AND SILENCE, a horse that has shown a lot of speed and class at home before he made a winning debut at Newmarket. I was disappointed with his finishing effort next time out at Sandown when fourth in the National Stakes, a race I like in terms of juvenile form.

The son of Exceed And Excel impressed with how he went through the first three-quarters of that contest, but didn’t get home. After the race, connections reported he scoped dirty and that explains the last furlong.

Based on the early speed he showed, I liked him. Hopefully he should finish his race out today.

Advice:

1pt win Nootka Sound ‘betting without Declarationofpeace’ @4/1 (Bet Victor, Sky Bet, 7-2 William Hill)

1pt each-way Sound And Silence ‘betting without Declarationofpeace’ @14/1 (Bet Victor 1,2,3,4), @12/1 (Paddy Power 1,2,3), bet365 @11/1 (bet365 1,2,3)

Saturday 20 May 2017

1.30 Newbury – Aston Park Stakes

Today is last chance saloon for MIDTERM. He’s getting the profile of a nearly horse, but in his defence, I think the key to him could be cut in the ground. He handles fast terrain fine, but as we saw in his sound win at Sandown last season, soft conditions hold no fears for him; in fact, it looks like he could excel in them. He finally gets to run on his favoured surface today, so with Ryan Moore aboard with a first-time visor on, there cannot be too many excuses should he taste defeat once more.

Advice

2pts win Midterm @7/2 (general)

2.05 Newmarket – Betway Fairway Stakes

Call To Mind is probably the right favourite here, but the son of Galileo was quite green in winning last time out and I doubt he’ll be the finished article today. With him running on softer ground, up in trip and on a different type of track, I’m willing to take him on with the more experienced DESERT SKYLINE. All he did last season was improve with racing and the step up in trip. He a likeable horse with a quality pedigree and looks a fair bet here.

Advice

1pt win Desert Skyline @4/1 (general)

2.55 Newbury – Al Zubarah London Gold Cup Handicap

I’m keen to get after the favourite, Mucho Applause, as I think he’ll struggle to get home over this trip in the conditions. The standout horse for me is CENTURY DREAM, a son of Cape Cross who handles cut in the ground well. He had progressive form as a juvenile and he made a highly encouraging comeback this season at Sandown when plainly doing too much too soon, having run keen. The fact he stuck around late in the race is probably a testament to his ability and today’s easier course should suit him better. I’d be much more confident on his chance if the Simon Crisford horses were running better, but he looks to have a solid chance.

At the prices, the well-bred TIME TO STUDY is also worth chancing, despite me having slight concerns about his fitness first-time out and a potential lack of experience. The strapping son of Motivator will have no problem with today’s ground and he looks on a fair mark.

Advice

1.5pts win Century Dream @6/1 (general)

1pt win Time To Study @9/1 (general)

3.15 Newmarket – Betway Sprint Trophy Handicap

A competitive sprint handicap here with a couple of horses well capable of winning off their current marks. While he hasn’t done anything on the clock just yet, EKHTIYAAR is a horse I like and a horse I feel is fairly treated. He’s got a progressive profile and strikes me as the type of horse that would enjoy good, even fractions, as he tends to be a touch keen. He should get those and with the excellent Silvestre De Sousa booked off a low weight, he will go close if handling the ground.

Advice

1pt win Ekhitiyaar @5/1 (general)

4.40 Newbury – Haras De Bouquetot Fillies’ Trial Stakes

There’s no surprise to see Natavia being well-backed this morning, but her contraction in price now sees GRACIOUS DIANA as a fair bet. The well-bred and twice-raced daughter of Foxwedge looked a different animal when bolting up in great style over this course and distance 29 days ago. She won like a class act and is entitled to improve for that effort. She’s a straight-forward filly and that could be the deciding factor here.

Advice

1pt win Gracious Diana @100/30 (General)

 

 

Thursday 18 May 2017

3.30 York – Betfred Dante Stakes

At 50/1, CONTRAPPOSTO is worth an each-way bet in tomorrow’s Dante Stakes at York. Having shaped with promise in this season’s Craven Stakes at Newmarket, his price is a little bit of a head scratcher.

This is no doubt due to his low-key trainer, David Menuisier, who wouldn’t be a household name like O’Brien or Gosden. While the case, he’s a trainer I have time for and in this son of Cacique, he has a classy operator.

It took the selection three goes to break his maiden last season, but in fairness to the horse, he contested plenty strong contests and always acquitted himself well. He then ran below par in the Racing Post Trophy at the backend of 2016, but horses can do that late in the campaign.

His seasonal return in a strong Craven marked him down as an improved horse, despite his effort coming on ground likely to be quicker than ideal. He only has two lengths to find with Benbatl, an 8/1 shot, and the Craven is as strong a form-line as any in this race. The one mile trip at Newmarket was also on the sharp side for him so with him returning to soft terrain over further tomorrow, he is of interest.

While it’s unlikely he’ll win, he could easily run into the frame and it’s in this part of the bet he offers great value.

Advice

1pt each-way Contrapposto @50/1 (Paddy Power), 40/1 (Betfair, Bet Victor, Sky Bet, StanJames)

Saturday 15 April 2017

This is the first flat blog of the season. It’s still very early and I’m still re-jigging the memory and going through bits and pieces of last year’s form. I can’t be too confident with today’s selections, but I feel they offer value and some are potentially well-handicapped. We’ll see how we fair.

2.10 Cork – Most Stylish Easter Sunday Handicap

PORT MOODY appeared to take a step forward in a warm Naas maiden last time out, so much so, the handicapper raised him 3lb despite the fact he was beaten nearly 20 lengths. That was maybe a touch harsh, but it now looks a career best and with him stepping into handicap company for the first time, he is of interest.

Having been quite green and slow away on his debut last year, he took a step forward on his second start before looking off his game at Tipperary in his third run. As I say, last time out was a step in the right direction and he is entitled to improve.

For a low grade horse, he has a useful pedigree as his unraced dam is a half-sister to a pair of French 10f Gr 1 winners Wavering and Mandaean. Hopefully it’s a case of him now getting his act together.

Advice

1pt each-way Port Moody @16/1 (general)

3.00 Musselburh – totepoolliveinfo.com Royal Mile Handicap

A competitive one mile handicap here with many in holding chances. While the case, the potentially well-handicapped SOMNAMBULIST could go close if he is ready to fire. This son of Rip Van Winkle is a fine big type with great scope for improvement this season.

A horse with a classy pedigree in parts, he looked to be improving with every run last year. On debut he was very slowly away and green before shaping with potential promise. On his next two starts on Newcastle’s all-weather surface he showed fine improvement despite trying to make the running on a tough track to do so.

His forward-going style will be much better suited to Musselburgh’s sharp nature. If he jumps and gets a nice early position and is fit, he’ll go close.

Advice

1pt win Somnabulist @11/1 (general)

4.50 Kempton – Over 2,800 Flat Races On Racing UK Conditions Stakes

RED ENSIGN takes on just three others in this conditions race and is the outsider of the field, but I don’t think he has that much to find, because I feel the handicapper has over-rated his trio of rivals.

There is also a chance his competitors could prove better over shorter in the immediate short-term, as they can be keen and on their first starts of the campaign, they may be more exuberant than the norm.

If this transpires, Red Ensign’s proven stamina over the mile may kick in. That guaranteed staying ability also came over this course and distance and his ability to handle this surface could be another deciding factor.

Trainer Simon Crisford has made a brilliant start to his new career and has his team in good early form. Hopefully the selection is as forward as Crisford’s recent winners.

Advice

1pt win Red Ensign @6/1 (general)

5.00 Cork – corkracecourse.ie Handicap

There is a chance the handicapper has given TI AMO a fair crack at winning this seven-furlong handicap. Running over a mile and sometimes on soft ground has seen this daughter of Holy Roman Empire slide down the handicap, having shaped nicely in a couple of three-year-old maidens last season.

Ti Amo is a lovely big filly who moves quite nicely so I’m not sure soft terrain ever showed her off in the best light. Having been slow away and clueless on debut, she quickly got the hang of the game on her next couple of starts; jumping from the stalls nicely and showing early pace.

The problem is she hasn’t been seeing out a mile on soft ground too well, but a drop to 7f on good-to-yielding going at Cork today could be the key. Sadly, the ground in the straight at Cork is softer than the round course, but the drop in trip, could be the real unlocking of her ability. If she is fit, she’ll surely outrun her price.

Advice

0.5pt each-way Ti Amo @18/1 (bet365, William Hill), 16/1 (Betfair, Betfred, Sky Bet)