2018 Ryanair Chase ante-post preview

Run over 2m 5f on the New Course, the Ryanair still has its detractors, but like I say every year, it’s a race I like and it’s a race I’ll continue to enjoy. Since its inception back in 2005, the contest has only grown stronger and stronger.

Some of the biggest names in jumps racing have won the Thursday Grade 1; greats like Imperial Commander, Albertas Run, Cue Card, Vautour and last season’s hero, the wonderfully gallant and tough Un De Sceaux.

The latter named looks like he’ll be back this season, but is Willie Mullins’s inmate beatable at the age of ten? On paper, the 2018 renewal looks extremely competitive. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the field.

Ryanair Chase ante-post preview

Un De Sceaux (7/2) winning last season’s Ryanair Chase was one of the most jaw dropping and fun races I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t quite up there with Our Conor’s Triumph victory or Vautour’s JLT success, but it wasn’t far behind.

Having run away with Ruby Walsh before going out on the final circuit – making the great jockey look like a passenger – the tearaway’s relentless performance had his field cooked and beaten four from home.

Given the brisk fractions he set in the early and middle parts of the race, it was natural for him to tie-up a touch close home, but he never looked remotely like getting beaten, his speculator jumping applying further pressure on his rivals. He was value for more than his 1 ½ lengths success.

Willie Mullins’s charge has understandably only raced twice this season – his free-going character meaning he rarely has an easy race, connections correctly choosing to keep him fresh – and they have produced facile wins in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork and the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, a contest he won for the third year in-a-row.

Both have come on his favoured soft surface, but to be fair to the ten-year-old, he’s shown plenty times at Cheltenham, faster terrain doesn’t deter. He’s not getting any younger – none of us are – but he remains in great order.

While the case, on paper, and depending what turns up, he’ll need a career best, but he’s not too far below the level of last season and there is every chance, given his trainer, he’ll be peaked for March once again.

Depending where you look, Fox Norton (11/2) appears to be the favourite’s biggest danger. Colin Tizzard’s stable star had a fantastic campaign last season despite picking up an injury mid-way through. He was just touched off in the Champion Chase before he went on to Aintree and Punchestown to win Grade 1s.

He started his 2017/18 campaign well, winning the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham by 8 lengths before just being beaten half-a-length in the Tingle Creek at Sandown where poor tactics and some hesitant jumps cost him.

The son of Lando was then asked to back up 17 days later in the King George at Kempton – a race I stupidly backed him in – but this run clearly came too soon after Sandown and he was pulled up. While it’s admirable connections had a go, taking up their plan ‘B’ clearly backfired.

We haven’t seen Fox Norton since that dismal effort, but I have no doubt he’s a lot better than that. Obviously. There is more to come, but it would be nice to see it on the track. More positively, the step back up in trip here will be a big plus for him. There is no doubt he can win the Ryanair, but connections must get him back in good order.

Being out of form is something Top Notch (11/2) hasn’t experienced this campaign, Nicky Henderson’s pocket rocket being two for two since switching back to the larger obstacles having started the season with a hurdles prep behind Unowhatimeanharry at Aintree.

His next run saw Grade 2 success in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot in beating Double Shuffle and Frodon by 8 and 10 lengths, respectively, now looks like top-class form with the former finishing second in the King George and the latter bolting up off 149 in a competitive Cheltenham handicap.

Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s horse is not even close to being flattered by that victory. He oozed class at Ascot and simply had too many gears for horses now rated officially rated 166 and 164. If you believe those numbers – I’m still sceptical – there is a school of thought that the seven-year-old should be favourite.

Three weeks later he added the Peterborough Chase to his CV although he was workmanlike in doing so. A quick turnaround from a big Ascot effort and slower ground may have been to blame, but even so, his Ascot run marks him down as a bold player for this contest.

At the current stage of entries, Willie Mullins has a strong hand. The Irish Champion Trainer houses the current race favourite, but has also entered the likes of Bachasson, Douvan, Min, Killultagh Vic and Yorkhill.

Douvan, Min and Yorkhill have been discussed in previous blogs – the Champion Hurdle piece and the Champion Chase piece – but Bachasson and Killultagh Vic haven’t. It remains to be seen if both run here – the same can be said for the other trio – but Bachasson (20/1) is a horse floating under the radar a touch this season due to the tracks he has won at.

The seven-year-old has raced twice this campaign and won both starts in great style, at Thurles and Tramore. I really get the feeing there is more to come, but whether he can replicate those efforts on faster ground in more competitive races remains to be seen.

Killultagh Vic (20/1) was a horse I felt would deliver Willie Mullins the Gold Cup that he so badly seeks, but that was before injury intervened back in January 2016. The son of Old Vic returned from a lengthy layoff to win at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve, but is he still up to this level?

Since I got lazy and didn’t finish off this piece pre-Dublin Racing Festival, the above question has been answered. Killultagh Vic looks to have maintained a fair amount of his ability despite the serious nature of his past injuries. I suspect he would’ve just got home in the Irish Gold Cup before his final fence fall. He’ll probably head for the Gold Cup now.

Therefore, Douvan, Min and Yorkhill are more likely winners, but Yorkhill (12/1) is really the horse of interest. If you’ve read the other blogs, it’s clear how high I rate him. His victory in last season’s JLT was sensational and that form now looks top notch. See what I did there?

This free-spirited eight-year-old is not the type of horse to go and win 15 lengths, he’ll always only do bare minimum to get over the line, and that’s a trait I love. While his one length victory over Top Notch at last year’s Festival may look just satisfactory on paper, the reality is he was an easy winner of a race that continues to work out. Bookmakers are taking a small risk offering 12/1 about a horse of his ability.

Plenty obviously feel he won’t run here, but this looks the race for him. Ok, I understand Willie Mullins has the race-favourite, but given the number of quality animals in his care, Mullins will simply have to run two of his big names against each other, should they all get to Cheltenham in good order.

With Un De Sceaux being a ten-year-old, Douvan not looking likely to run in March and Min giving the impression he’s an out-an-out two-miler, Mullins may choose Yorkhill to bolster his chance here and win more of that dastardly Michael O’Leary’s money (I of course joke).

All the above was written before Yorkhill flopped at the Dublin Racing Festival. Having taken a big drift in the market before they jumped off, he ran accordingly. The usual hold he gives his rider never really materialised, and in truth, he just looked flat. This does curb the enthusiasm I had.

It seems crazy we’ve come this far down the preview and not mentioned the highly progressive and classy-looking Waiting Patiently (8/1). Formerly trained by Malcom Jefferson, who sadly passed away a couple of weeks ago, this seven-year-old son of Flemensfirth just looks a quality, young chaser heading firmly in the right direction.

He had some smart novice form last season, beating the likes of Forest Bhian and Politologue, but his latest 8 lengths success in a Kempton novice chase looks a career best in every sense of the word. In form, in style and on the clock, he is getting better. He jumps well; he’s economical, maybe too much so for two-and-a-half miles, but he is at least quick away from his fences.

The problem where Cheltenham lay, is Waiting Patiently needs to improve further. To be fair, I think that is certainly on the cards. The other issue may be ground related; connections don’t seem willing to risk their stable star on unsuitably quick terrain.

He appeared to handle decent conditions comfortably at Kempton last time out, but that came against inferior opposition. There is a good chance of much faster sod come March in unison with him taking on genuine top-class opponents. With that being the case, his price of 8/1 only looks fair.

A horse in a similar mould to Waiting Patiently – and also by Flemensfirth – but more proven is Coney Island (12/1). Trained by the underrated Eddie Harty and owned by JP McManus, this seven-year-old had some top-class novice form last season behind the likes Our Duke. In an interrupted campaign, he would also have the measure of horses like Anibale Fly, Disko and Road To Respect.

Coney Island would miss the 2017 Cheltenham Festival through injury and only made his belated return to action in December at Ascot in winning a conditions race by 9 lengths, hard held. The bare form probably flatters him a touch, but I’d still say it was a career best. When you factor in the distinct possibility of more to come, he’s an exciting horse.

The likes of Ar Mad (40/1), Balko Des Flos (12/1), Frodon (16/1) and Sub Lieutenant (20/1), for various different reasons, are interesting. Ar Mad is a horse I like, because he’s one of few who actually deserves his official rating, 159. We haven’t seen him since the Tingle Creek however, and while he’s overpriced, it’s hard to see him winning a Ryanair, especially given reservations about him running left-handed.

Balko Des Flos was a classy winner of the Galway Plate before seemingly going AWOL in his next two starts at Gowran Park and Clonmel. Maybe Henry de Bromhead gave his inmate a good rest after his summer exploits, and was slowly working him back to full fitness? Proper soft Irish ground is probably also a negative for him now, but back on a firmer surface last time out in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase, the seven-year-old son of Balko bounced back to form and produced a career best.

Under Denis O’Regan, Balko Des Flos jumped beautifully. He was fortunate in that he had plenty of space to be accurate at his fences, but he was deadly, and coming to two out, he had plenty of the field cooked. He was just outstayed late by a better horse on the day in Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Road To Respect, but the drop back in trip accompanied with a good gallop, could see him being the ideal Ryanair horse.

Frodon too, must get a positive mention on the back of his progressive, high-class handicap form which looks extremely solid. His latest success in the Crest Nicholson Handicap Chase at Cheltenham was impressive, the 17 lengths he won by telling that story. That did come on heavy ground however, and the handicapper has surely overreacted with his new rating of 164.

The question is, can he produce a similar performance against top-class horses on much faster ground? I have my doubts.

Finally, last year’s runner-up, Sub Lieutenant looks a big price at 20/1, for all he has been a big disappointment this season. He’s only run three times, but his first two efforts, especially his second run, were bitterly disappointing.

Last time out in the John Durkan, on ground that was surely way too soft to show him at his best, he took a significant step in the right direction. He hasn’t been seen since however, but it is encouraging he’s been left in the Grand National, so hopefully all is well.

At his best, he’s a genuine 160+ horse and as I say, on last season’s running in this, 20/1 is more than fair.

The Final Verdict

At this stage, the 2018 renewal of the Ryanair looks as exciting a race as we could have all season, and on the biggest stage. Now, we are sure to lose a couple of big names for one reason or another, but it’s a race full of strength in depth. There are so many 160+ horses entered, and they are followed by a handful of young guns who have the potential to explode onto the scene.

When you look at the race like that, it’s easy to take on the favourite, Un De Sceaux. Willie Mullins’s ten-year-old has showed this season in his two races that the fire still burns, but he’s won at prices of 4/6 and 4/9. He’ll take on his deepest field yet over this trip and at the prices, factoring in his age, you have to be against him at the stage.

I’d have Top Notch much closer in the betting to Un De Sceaux, based solely on his Grade 2 Christy 1965 Chase victory at Ascot. That form is phenomenal. The problem I have with Nicky Henderson’s inmate is there is every chance he could leave his Cheltenham race behind in running in the Ascot Chase on Saturday February 17th.

Having won the 1965 Chase, he went to Huntingdon three weeks later for the Peterborough Chase, but didn’t look anywhere near as impressive. Why? I think the quick turnaround didn’t suit him, and given he is not a robust horse, something similar could play out at the Festival.

At the prices, given his poor preparation, Fox Norton is easily avoided. At the start of the season, I thought he was the winner of this contest, but after a good opening pair of efforts to the campaign, his form tailed off and his training has been interrupted. He’s without doubt got a strong chance if at his best, but it’s not worth rolling the dice for now at circa 5/1.

Coney Island and Waiting Patiently could clash at Ascot this weekend, and that will tell us plenty. I’m a big fan of both horses, and when I said in the above intro to this section, “young guns who have the potential to explode onto the scene”, this pair top that list.

My gut feeling is this race could come too early in their careers, against proper, battle-hardened 160+ chasers. Neither have Cheltenham Festival experience either, so it makes sense to duck them now. Saturday’s brilliant Ascot Chase will tell us more.

Therefore, potential bets come in the form of Balko Des Flos, Sub Lieutenant and Yorkhill (Yes, him again – I must be as mad as him!). The most solid of the trio is BALKO DES FLOS, who will be coming here on the back of a career best.

Henry De Bromhead’s charge will also come here fresh, inform and with younger legs compared to respective rivals, meaning, at the prices, he looks a value bet against Un De Sceaux, Top Notch and Fox Norton.

At the prices, I’m also going to suggest backing the first selection’s stablemate SUB LIEUTENANT, who at 20/1 with the non-runner no bet concession looks a chance worth taking with the safety net there.

On this season’s efforts, he warrants to be that big, but his second in this race last season is some of the best form on offer here. He’ll only run if he’s right, and if he’s right, 20/1 is too big about a horse who at least took a big positive step last time out.

A quick final mention must go to Douvan and Min. The latter put down a strong Champion Chase marker when winning at the Dublin Racing Festival a couple of weekends ago, but with Douvan today been given an entry for this weekend’s Gowran Park card, should the former Supreme and Arkle winner make Cheltenham, a shuffling of the back could be seen. It’s just something to bear in mind.

Advice

2pts each-way Balko Des Flos @10/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, bet365, Paddy Power, Sky Bet – all NRNB)

1pt each-way Sub Lieutenant @20/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power – all NRNB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Champion Chase ante-post preview

The highlight race on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival is the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Run over 2m on the Old Course – just like the Champion Hurdle – it’s very much a test of jumping and travelling at speed.

Before the season started, on paper, this was shaping up to be one of the races of a lifetime, and I don’t say that lightly, but plenty of water has flown under the bridge, as we will discuss in more detail below.

Queen Mother Champion Chase ante-post preview

At the start of the season, the 2018 Champion Chase lured race fans into a potential clash with two of the game’s heavyweights, Altior (5/4) and Douvan (6/1). The former, the young pretender with an air of Sprinter Sacre about him; the latter, the unofficial king of the division on the comeback trail from injury.

Sadly, the perfect seasons that we wished for both leading into the Cheltenham Festival haven’t materialised. Altior was found to have a wind issue and was subsequently operated on. Douvan was all set to reappear in the Tingle Creek before being pulled out; his trainer Willie Mullins not fully happy with the gelding’s wellbeing.

Nicky Henderson has always said there is a sound chance of Altior making it back for Cheltenham, and he may run in the Game Spirit at Newbury in February. Willie Mullins on the other hand ruled Douvan out for the season before Christmas, but has since done a U-turn on that call, and there is a small chance of Rich Ricci’s star horse getting to Cheltenham.

With still so much up in the air concerning that pair, focus should be put on those horses fit and well. We’ll start with Paul Nicholls’s Politologue (9/2).

He was a horse I was lukewarm on throughout his novice campaign last season. I knew he was a graded animal, but at no stage did I feel he was top-class. I also had a small doubt about his ability to find off the bridle which is maybe not a surprise given the ease at which he travels.

Even after he had the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase at the Aintree Festival wrapped up before falling at the last, I still questioned him competing at the highest level. This season however, has proved my analysis of him all wrong. Why? Because he was being campaigned over the incorrect trip.

Since the team at Ditcheat have dropped the strong-travelling and quick-jumping grey back to 2m, he hasn’t looked back. His victories in the Haldon Gold Cup, Tingle Creek and Desert Orchid have proved three things.

One: he’s now a top-class horse. Two: he idles badly when he hits the front, and three; he finds off the bridle and battles, as we saw in the Tingle Creek in beating Fox Norton.

With so many horses struggling to make the track, this progressive seven-year-old must be fully respected. He’s a horse tailormade for the Champion Chase test.

He’s a different colour, but in many ways, Min (5/1) reminds me of Politologue. In fact, he’s Politologue, but Politologue on cocaine (or Lucozade for the kids reading). Willie Mullins’s inmate is himself a strong-traveller, but maybe too strong. He’s also a quick jumper, but maybe too bold. He does everything his peer does, but in excess.

Rich Ricci’s horse has only been seen twice this season so far. On the comeback trail from an injury that ruled him out of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, Min made his eagerly awaited return at Gowran Park. He would win a poor race on heavy ground at 1/9.

Much more was expected of him when upped in class to Grade 1 company at Leopardstown over Christmas. However, at odds of 2/7, he would be turned over by the gallant (essentially) 11-year-old Simply Ned. He did finish in front of the ‘winner’, but was correctly demoted having badly hampered his rival.

There is little doubt in my mind that Min was below his best this day, and while it was disappointing he lost, it was impressive how he quickened away from horses like Ordinary World and Ball D’Arc off the home bend before ‘losing’.

He at least travelled well, jumped boldly and battled late. I just get the feeling there is more in the tank and we may see it in his next run which could come at the Dublin Racing Festival.

In a race that has more questions than answers to the very top of the market, it’s a similar scenario as we go down the prices. For example, last year’s runner-up Fox Norton is an 8/1 shot, but he looks more a Ryanair horse and would be of interest in that race. The fact he disappointed in the King George at Kempton in his last run is also off-putting.

Un De Sceaux (12/1) is a horse that still looks to be in decent order at the age of 10. He’s only ran twice this season but he’s won both times; at Cork in the Hilly Way and at Ascot in the Clarence House. He’s another that looks more of a Ryanair type at this stage of his career. He’s the reigning Ryanair champion and I suspect that’s the race he’ll run in come March, unless we get bottomless ground.

Going down the list of remaining entries and I’m just not sure there are any horses with the capabilities of the above-mentioned sextet. Great Field (14/1) is intriguing but he has yet to race this season because of a setback and he may not make the Festival.

Ar Mad (33/1) could run a big race here especially if he got into a nice jumping rhythm, which he didn’t do the Tingle Creek, but he doesn’t look good enough in truth and there are questions to be answered about him running left-handed.

Charbel (25/1) is another classy horse – especially on quick ground – but he’s below the top bracket and jumps too hesitantly for a Champion Chaser. The likes of Politologue would eat him up jumping and constantly take lengths out of him.

Favourable mentions must go to the old boys Gods Own (50/1) and Special Tiara – both Grade 1 winners -who have achieved more than the likes of Ar Mad, Charbel and Great Field. The former is a spring horse who was fifth in this race last year, but in a likely stronger renewal with advancing years, he’s best watched.

Defending Champion Special Tiara (20/1) is now 11, but there is still plenty life left in the old boy, especially when he encounters his favourite fast surface. He’s classy and gallant enough to outrun his price of 20/1, but father time is not on his side and there is a fair chance of this year’s renewal being far stronger. On the other hand, should Altior and Douvan both miss the race, that 20/1 would look huge, especially from an each-way perspective.

Just like the ante-post Champion Hurdle blog, there is a potential fly in the ointment in this race, and it again comes in the shape of Yorkhill (5/1). Willie Mullins’s charge is a supremely talented, but nutty individual.

However, give him a left-handed track over two to two-and-a-half miles, and he’s a match for any horse in training. The chestnut son of Presenting has been to Cheltenham twice in March and won both times.

His Neptune Novices’ Hurdle and JLT Chase successes really got your pulse racing. With the form of last season’s success here working out so well, I find it incredibly hard to leave him out of any Cheltenham race he is entered for.

The Final Verdict

This year’s Champion Chase is a pretty tough race to be confident on in terms of having an ante-post bet. Altior and Douvan look a notch or two above the rest of the field at their best, but are by no means guaranteed to run. That’s true of all those entered, but their aforementioned problems mean it’s less likely they turn up or arrive in top order.

With that being the case – just like the Champion Hurdle – I really don’t see the point in swinging the bat at horses with sexy prices. Special Tiara was the only one of interest, but even that was limited, especially at the age of 11.

Reading between the lines, it really does look like Altior is more likely to make the race then Douvan. Whether he comes to Cheltenham on the back of a prep or straight here is to be decided, but given his wind issues and the likelihood of soft ground at Newbury for the Game Spirit, Nicky Henderson may choose a direct route to the Champion Chase.

If the case, I do feel the brilliant son of High Chaparral could be vulnerable. To win a Champion Chase or any race at Cheltenham, you need to be sharp and on your game; there is no room for error.

Furthermore, and call me crazy for suggesting it given his Cheltenham Festival record on the track, but I really don’t think the Old Course shows Altior off at his very best, and last season’s Arkle form is substandard because of that.

He’s such a long-striding horse who takes a while to get into top gear, the sharp nature of the track doesn’t allow him to fully use himself. If this take longer as he gets older? He could be got at. Tracks with long straights and stiff climbs like Newbury and Sandown are ideal for the eight-year-old, as we’ve seen in the past.

Therefore, at the prices, I’m willing to take Altior on, especially as he’s not certain to line up.

Douvan it seems is an unlikely runner, but the 4/1 non-runner no bet about him looks generous with the safety net there. Should he run, he’ll likely be half those odds, and if he does show, he’s likely to be in good order; no risks will be taken with his wellbeing.

The problem lay in Willie Mullins also having Min and Yorkhill in the race. There could still be a fair bit of juggling done yet, but what is noteworthy is how little faith the Mullins camp have lost in Douvan, despite him currently working his way to full fitness.

Should he not run, Min is likely to sub in for his stablemate, but Yorkhill could also run here. If Min, Un De Sceaux and Yorkhill all get to the Festival in good order, Willie Mullins will be left with no choice but to run two in the one race – in either the Champion Chase or Ryanair – but it’s tough to work out.

Given how exuberant Min is, it makes sense to keep him to two miles. Yorkhill is better equipped and has shown far more stamina compared to Min, so the Ryanair may end up being his destination. Un De Sceaux is almost certain to line up in the race he won last season, but at the age of 10, Willie Mullins may look to the Ryanair for a two-pronged assault, with Yorkhill.

This leaves us with Min and Politologue as potential bets. Like we discussed earlier, apart from their colour, these two are very similar in how they approach the game, and in ability. Both travel well and both jump accurately.

There is a feeling we may have seen the best of Politologue already this season and on his favoured underfoot conditions. Min on the other hand, still reeks of untapped potential who could prove even better on spring ground.

With that being the case, MIN gets the nod. I realise he must bounce back from a disappointing effort at Leopardstown over Christmas, but he disappointed in running to around 160. That’s a good level to disappoint at.

Now, time may prove that’s as good as he is, but getting him on some spring ground around a sharp track like Cheltenham could see him go close. He’s exactly the type of horse to worry Altior, who got a small fright, a very small fright albeit, off Charbel in last season’s Arkle. Min is without doubt a better horse than Charbel, and he could have more to offer.

I’m also going to suggest backing Douvan with the NRNB concession. Should he run, he’ll halve in price and we’ll get our money back on Min. If he doesn’t, nothing will be lost and Min could win it for Rich Ricci.

Advice

1.5pts win Min @4/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, bet365, Paddy Power, Sky Bet) – all Non-Runner No Bet

1pt win Douvan @4/1 (bet365), 7-2 (Betfair Sportsbook, Sky Bet) – all Non-Runner No Bet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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)