Yorkhill Sparks Excitement

Willie Mullins was left in a peculiar position, as we entered day three of the Cheltenham Festival.

Having been accustomed to ‘Ruby Tuesday’s’, where the grey-haired maestro would guide home many of Mullins’ machines to get punters off to a flyer, we were left open-mouthed as the pair drew blanks.

After 14 races, Mullins had no winners. Was this real life?

Rumours that all was not well in the Mullins yard began to surface and subsequently, his Thursday runners started the day rather week in the market.

Yorkhill, many peoples idea of a Festival NAP went from 11/10 to 6/4 on the day, though this in truth may well have been down to the horse in question, not the trainer.

No one can question Yorkhill’s engine, he is racings equivalent of a Porsche. Sharp, goes through the gears smoothly and often looks a million dollars. However, the horse has his quirks.

At Aintree last season, Paul Townend has his arms all but yanked out of their sockets for a large part of the race before the Graham Wylie-owned charge someone managed to reserve enough energy to scramble home.

It was here you realised just what he was capable of and it was arguably more eye opening than his Neptune victory, where he shattered the heart of the flamboyant Yanworth.

Yorkhill’s jumping career was solid but not spectacular. He jumped out to his left at times but no jockey had needed to get to the bottom of him.l in his two starts over fences pre-Cheltenham.

His performance at Leopardstown led to people to ask whether it was best for him to be out in front for so long, as he seemed to idle up the run in, having previously moved nicely clear.

This, coupled with an error-strewn opening to Yorkhill’s final public schooling session meant there were still plenty of questions to answer at Prestbury Park.

And answer he did. In some style.

He travelled powerfully for Ruby Walsh, having been buried towards the rear, a position in which he seemed thrive.

Moving through the race, he jumped impeccably, grew in confidence and approaching two out, he found himself with a dream run up the inside.

It was here you realised just what he was capable of and it was arguably more eye opening than his Neptune victory, where he shattered the heart of the flamboyant Yanworth.

Yorkhill’s jumping career was solid but not spectacular. He jumped out to his left at times but no jockey had needed to get to the bottom of him.l in his two starts over fences pre-Cheltenham.

His performance at Leopardstown led to people to ask whether it was best for him to be out in front for so long, as he seemed to idle up the run in, having previously moved nicely clear.

This, coupled with an error-strewn opening to Yorkhill’s final public schooling session meant there were still plenty of questions to answer at Prestbury Park.

And answer he did. In some style.

He travelled powerfully for Ruby Walsh, having been buried towards the rear, a position in which he seemed thrive.

Moving through the race, he jumped impeccably, grew in confidence and approaching two out, he found himself with a dream run up the inside.

He moved stylishly to draw alongside Top Notch, who was also moving well.

Yorkhill winged the second last and moved powerfully away. Top Notch hit the top of it and although he rallied well, he failed to ever get back alongside Yorkhill, as Mullins’ charge fought well to claim the JLT, meaning wins at back-to-back festivals.

Again, he didn’t do too much in front and idled slightly towards the line but the manner in which he took himself to the front, was eye catching.

His only defeat came at Punchestown, which arrived just two weeks after a tough race at Aintree.

Given a nice break between the races, he looks a machine and excitement is high ahead of next season.

He is versatile and has plenty of options available to him, which obviously isn’t ideal from an ante-post point of view but given the esteem in which he is held, you have to fancy he will be given a chance at the big one.

Although all the initial fancy prices have since disappeared, the 8/1 looks fair value and it would be no surprise to see him develop into an elite chaser.

Selection: Yorkhill to win the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup @ 8/1 (Various)

Follow Don Poli On Grand National Trail

After another emotional weekend at Cheltenham, the dust has begun to settle. Nicky Henderson’s stable star Sprinter Sacre was retired after a glistening caterer before Simonsig’a resurgence was tragically cut short after a fall on Sunday. It shows the lows of the game and my thoughts are with all at Seven Barrows.

Looking to the future, Nicky will have a number of big runners to try and have some small silver lining, with My Tent Or Yours and Vyta Du Roc looking to hold major claims shortly.

However today I’m looking slightly further ahead, bypassing even the Cheltenham Festival. The Grand National is a race for the nation, that the purists aren’t too keen on overly investing it.

With 30 fences and four and a half miles to travel, there is plenty that can go wrong but with recent moderation, fallers are rarer than ever.

So, it may be worth taking a small punt on a horse that looks tailor made for the race, given his class and scope to enjoy a stamina sapping trip.

That horse, is last years Cheltenham Gold Cup third, Don Poli. Having won twice at the Cheltenham Festival precious to that, including a staying-on effort in the RSA Chase, he’s proven he has tons of ability, though it’s always been fairly obvious that he’s not a horse blessed with raw speed.

Often referred to a ‘boat’, Don Poli stays on gamely in nearly all of his races, shown to full effect in last years Gold Cup, when he was woefully outpaced before rattling up the hill to take third.

A true test looks ideal for him and connections gave him a spin at Aintree last year, where he looked a sitting duck for the strong travelling Many Clouds (that years Grand National winner), before out battling him despite saddle problems.

It may have been a run to test out suitability for the track with a future Grand National run in mind and given Gigginstown often have a strong hand in the race (won it last year with Rule The World), it looks likely that Don Poli will have his season plotted around Aintree in April.

He has moved to Gordon Elliot’s yard after Michae O’Leary moved his horses from Willie Mullins and this may not be a bad thing with Aintree in mind.

Elliot sprung on to the scene as an exuberant young trainer as Silver Birch won the Grand National back in 2007, in a campaign that showed he could get one ready for its big day.

Mullins had struggled with Iuck and finding the ‘right horse’ at Aintree, so a move to Elliot could be a blessing for his National chances.

His last run is a slight concern, given he failed to show any remnants of last seasons quality but he was hampered and he is sure to strip fitter for that effort.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him revert to hurdles for a spell and maybe try his hand in a couple of big chases, which could see his mark slip for a crack at the big one in April.

Don Poli is currently available at 25/1, which seems fair at this point in time and bet365 are already offering five places.

Selection: Grand National – Don Poli @ 25/1 (Various)

Ten to Follow: National Hunt Season

 

The National Hunt season is fast approaching (though large parts of Twitter will damn you for admitting this) and this signifies that wonderful window of opportunity where one and all can unleash their ‘horses to follow’ for the year.

As old favourites are returning, exciting hurdlers and chasers are switching hands and those who have looked set to fulfil tremendous promise are set to be given the chance over the coming months.

It is always an exciting time of the season, with so much anticipation and a wonderful feeling that you could be getting some tremendous early value, with long-term projects around Cheltenham and Aintree followed with great scrutiny.

I’ve narrowed the list down to ten to follow this year and to set it apart from the usual group of animals that appear throughout the masses of lists that have been released and are set to be released, I’ve limited my ten to one per trainer.

This means there is more chance of variety and also stops me from naming 10 Willie Mullins machines that will mop up everything. Oh, and I’ve neglected to take the opportunity to mention Aux Ptits Soins and Yorkhill, not because I don’t rate them, but for the likelihood that they will appear in EVERY horses to follow list this year.

Chap (5-y-o gelding – Gabe Mahon)

First up is the exciting Chap, who created quite an impression on those who risked the rain to enjoy a Summer Nights – Sounds of the 80s evening at Aintree in May. Many could be forgiven for heading over to the stage ahead of an ordinary looking bumper to round off a tricky card, but those who stayed were treated to a performance to remember.

Chap was held up towards the rear by the talented Leo Mahon and it looked a reasonable pace by those up ahead, showed by the pair that raced prominently finished a solid third and fourth behind two that crept into the race. Chap was one of those who crept into the race stylishly, yet with twenty-runners there were still plenty in with a chance entering the final two furlongs.

The five-year-old caught the eye still firmly on the bit and he continued to improve to swoop past the field, taking up the running entering the final furlong up the long Aintree straight. He quickly put the race to bed, scooting clear when asked the question and he hit the line hard, suggesting there was still plenty in the tank.

There will be plenty of opportunity to get to the bottom of the gelding this year and he has the scope to improve when he sees a hurdle. He looks to have huge promise and he is one who may sneak under the radar on his first couple of starts.

Anibale Fly (5-y-o gelding – Tony Martin)

After finishing a close second to Jetstream Jack in a bumper that seen the field massively spread out, Anibale Fly was swiftly purchased by JP McManus to run in the famous green and gold silks. As he was sent-off 25/1 on debut it is fair to say the performance may have been somewhat of a surprise, yet he proved it was no fluke by getting off the mark at the second time of asking, comfortably seeing off six rivals.

He stayed on all the way to the line that day and this meant that he was given his chance in a hit-looking bumper at Fairyhouse on his final start of the season, coming up against a number of highly-rated animals including Au Quart De Tour, Space Cadet and Livelaughlove. It was the latter that gave Tony Martin’s charge most to think about but again, we seen the gelding’s fighting spirit as he nettled gamely all the way to the line to pick up the eventual runner-up, fifty yards from the line.

He crossed the line a length-and-a-quarter ahead of Willie Mullins’ charge and with Tony Martin likely to utilise his gameness over the hurdles this season, he could be in for a big year. He is a rangy gelding who looks suited to the obstacles and the strong-travelling battler could enjoy a stellar season for respected connections.

Limini (4-y-o filly – Willie Mullins)

It was hard to narrow down Willie Mullins’ legions of exciting novices’ to just one, yet after plenty of deliberation I’ve decided to let Limini fly the flag for the yard this year. The French import ran two nice races in defeat over 10f at Chantilly and then Longchamp before making the move across to Willie Mullins’ yard, where he created quite the impression on his sole start for the master handler.

Despite enjoying a lengthy break, the filly was sent off a warm favourite for her first start suggesting there may have been a level of confidence exuding from the stable. She tracked the leaders in fourth under Paul Townend before moving into the race in typical Townend fashion, creeping closer rather stylishly.

She made a mistake two out but was allowed time to find her stride again before she moved third entering the straight, edging into second ahead of the last and then finally edging ahead under hands and heels close home. She beat the battle-hardened Sandymount Duke who had race-fitness on his side and this was an effort that screamed promise.

The Rich Ricci-owned filly may not be allowed to go off too overpriced given her connections but she may well prove worth a close eye in the long-term ante-post markets before she makes her belated reappearance. She could well be the next in a long line of high-class hurdlers heralding from the stable.

Twelve Roses (7-y-o gelding – Kim Bailey)

Kim Bailey has assembled an enviable string for this season and it was hard to narrow it down to just one horse to follow for the year. The selected horse is Twelve Roses, who has become somewhat of a forgotten horse after spending over a year off the track.

The now 7-y-o enjoyed a stellar 2013/14, improving on a nice runner-up effort on debut to finish within a length of subsequent World Hurdle winner More Of That at Wetherby. It was a performance that looks even better in retrospect and he wasn’t disgraced when taking his place in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle, a series qualifier, at Newbury, where he finished a nice fourth off a high weight.

He hated the ground when floundering as favourite on Boxing Day at Kempton but after being given a break before an engagement at the Cheltenham Festival, he appeared to grow steadily and appreciate the return to a better surface. He was sent off 66/1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but he massively outrun his odds, staying on bravely to take a never nearer fifth behind Faugheen.

It looks as though a step up to three miles on good ground could be perfect and although he may well need his first run after such a lengthy break, he is worth keeping onside over the course of the season.

Bailey also has the exciting Charbel who has changed hands for a big fee following two victories and a nice fourth in the Punchestown Champion Bumper. He has a lofty reputation and he has scope to improve over a hurdle, so he could be in for a big year.

Moon Racer (6-y-o gelding – David Pipe)

I’ve tried to avoid the obvious choices for this year’s ten to follow but Moon Racer was impossible to leave off, having impressed massively over the course of last season. After springing a 50/1 surprise on debut at Fairyhouse, he was switched stables to David Pipe where he delivered a jaw-dropping performance at Cheltenham last October.

He led under Tom Scudamore and he moved nicely through the race before moving clear in the final couple of furlongs, hitting top gear to put real distance between himself the field. It was an impressive time and connections were extremely bullish in the aftermath, with the view of keeping their start at home until the Festival.

The form of that race worked out nicely with the second and third both going on to win impressively and as he arrived for the Cheltenham bumper, it was no surprise to see the money come. He was sent off 9/2 favourite and somewhat rescued punters with a scintillating success, making up plenty of ground to power clear, crossing the line one-and-a-half lengths ahead of Modus.

He has a real gear change and has plenty of speed to go with his reserves of stamina, so he should enjoy a big season in the novice hurdling ranks. He is well-built and should enjoy the challenge of the obstacles, so with his long-term aim undoubtedly the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he could be worth following all the way up the hill in March!

Penglai Pavilion (5-y-o gelding – John Ferguson)

John Ferguson has a plethora of unruly flat talent at his disposal this year with plenty of ex-Godolphin animals making the switch to the National Hunt sphere under his tutelage. There are plenty of eye-catchers in the impressive Bloomfields operation but one who is of real interest is the exciting Penglai Pavilion.

Having been trained by Andre Fabre in France during his early years, the son of Monsun fulfilled lofty potential on the level, taking fifth behind Treve in the 2013 Arc. He ran well out in Dubai before failing to land a blow when transferring to Charlie Appleby, although he was still competing at the highest level in extremely competitive group races.

It is interesting that they kept the faith for so long and didn’t attempt to drop him in grade, so the fact the was sent to John Ferguson must mean they have either lost faith in him, or they think he will better equipped over a longer distance and with a hurdle in front of him. I’m backing it’s the latter.

He scored with consummate ease on debut, making steady headway on the sound surface before pulling clear with plenty in hand. It was a performance to take note of and he was given one more outing before being put away for a break and again, he won with tons in hand, pulling clear from a long way out to score at a canter.

The form of those races leave a lot to be desired but he is yet to be tested and clearly has plenty more in the locker. He has valuable experience and the confidence boost of getting back to winning ways will mean he is ready to come out firing this season. His best flat form came on a softer surface but he has shown he can handle good or better over obstacles, so ground is no issue for him. He should mop up plenty of races and although it looks as though he would love the flat track at Aintree, he may well have enough about him to make his presence felt at Prestbury Park.

Cyrus Darius (6-y-o gelding – Malcolm Jefferson)

After a solid enough start when fourth in a Wetherby bumper on debut it was somewhat of a surprise to see what Cyrus Darius would go on to achieve last season. He switched to Malcolm Jefferson’s yard and after a nice enough third in a bumper last November, he was given a short-break before reappearing to tackle some hurdles.

He caused quite the impression on his hurdling bow, lowering the colours of odds-on favourite Course Dismissed at Newcastle, travelling into the race smoothly before pulling clear on the bit. He was heavily eased down and this ensured he was sent off 2/7 for his next start, where he landed the spoils unextended, with 23l, 28l and 16l separating the first four home.

The form of the races didn’t look anything special but the manner in which he had dismissed the field was eye-catching in itself.  He was sent to Aintree for a grade two Novices’ Hurdle and he wasn’t without support, as he was sent off 8/1 in a competitive looiong field.

Despite a mistake at the first (does have one in him, so hopefully Malcolm has sharpened him up) he travelled into the race in typical smooth fashion. With the leaders getting to work pretty seriously from a long way out, Brian Hughes eased the gelding into the race from three out, taking up second, travelling much the best.

He breezed into the lead approaching the last before being given a kick in the belly, moving clear of the field with plenty in hand. He beat some useful rivals, including Vago Collonges, Qewy and Glingerburn, all of whom are well-regarded and look to be horses who warrant their place in graded races.

The manner in which Cyrus Darius cantered past with ease means he can’t be taken likely and given the size and scope of the horse, it would be no surprise to see him make a real high-class chaser. I believe plans haven’t been confirmed as to whether he stays over hurdles or begins a career over fences, but wherever he heads, he is certainly worth following.

Drumlee Sunset (5-y-o gelding – Phillip Hobbs)

There a number of nice novices in the Phillip Hobbs stable this year and there is one of real interest in Drumlee Sunset. The son of Royal Anthem has only been seen once, when running out a ready winner of a competitive bumper, despite hanging left in the straight.

He wrestles for the lead early on in the contest and picked up it over seven furlongs out, with Richard Johnson allowing the gelding to stride on in front. He hung left when asked to assert but he still managed to stay on strongly, powering clear in the final hundred yards to claim a four-and-a-half length success over previous winner O O Seven.

He looked a strong, rangy gelding who will appreciate the test of a hurdle to keep his mind on the task and after performing credibly in the p2p sphere, he should know his job by the time he jumps a hurdle in public. He showcased plenty of talent when stretching out on debut under rules and after being given a lengthy break by the Hobbs team, he should be fit and raring to go this year.

Inner Drive (7-y-o gelding – Alan King)

Alan King didn’t have the greatest of seasons last year but he has a number of animals to keep him excited as we head into this National Hunt season, including the lightly-raced Inner Drive. After finishing a nice second on debut he moved across to the Alan King yard where he didn’t look completely wound-up on his stable debut, finishing second behind Vodka ‘n Tonic.

He was put away for a lengthy break before being brought back for a maiden hurdle at Huntingdon in March this year. He was well-backed and ended up going off favourite, scoring impressively against a field that ended up spread out by some distance.

He lowered the colours of the consistent Thedrinkymeister in a nice enough looking race before being sent to Newbury for a hot looking Novices’’ Hurdle. He took a keen hold after being help up towards the rear, before he made smooth headway into contention approaching three out.

After being urged to close approaching the last, he moved upsides the leader and began to battle it out up the straight. It was his first real eye-to-eye battle and to be fair to him, he held his own very well, only going down by a nose from the respected Rock The Kasbah.

He should come on massively from that effort and on a softer surface, he should enjoy plenty of success in the mid-range hurdling division.

Legend Lady (4-y-o bay filly – Oliver Sherwood)

The final member of the ten to follow for this year is Legend Lady, who may have slipped under the radar despite to excellent runs at the back end of last season. She was given her debut in a fairly average looking Taunton bumper but she managed to turn the race into a procession, travelling beautifully with a bit of cut underfoot before moving clear with a simple shake of the reins from Leighton Aspell.

She must have done enough to impress connections as her next and final engagement of the season came in the Listed Aintree Bumper which rounds off Grand National day. She was sent off at 40/1 but outran her odds to great effect, travelling nicely towards the rear before making nice headway from two furlongs out to run into sixth of nineteen runners.

It was a nice staying-on effort that suggests she may be more suited to further, with two and a half miles looking ideal for a first port of call this season. She has the opportunity to take in another bumper for a rather patient trainer in Oliver Sherwood but she looks to have the scope to progress over hurdles when given the nod later on in the year.

Sherwood is brilliant at placing his horses and it would be no surprise to see her mop up a couple of prizes before progressing to a decent level. She is an exciting filly who could have a touch of star quality about her.

Punchestown Festival – Day Five

The second race of the day at Punchestown is where we start off our final day at the venue, and the selection is Vesper Bell from the Willie Mullins yard. He has always been held in very high esteem by connections but failed to sparkle earlier in the season. However a valiant effort in the Grand National, finishing a fading thirteenth, is enough to show he is heading back onto the right track, and the shorter trip should suit on Saturday.

He seems to have turned a corner with his jumping, and should he manage to reproduce his effort from last year’s race, where he finished runner-up to the classy Goonyella, he should go very close. The 7/1 on offer is very fair each-way value, and it would be no surprise to see Ruby Walsh battling it out at the finish on-board the eight-year-old.

Next up is the Four Year Old Champion Hurdle is a very interesting race, with Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll and Aintree Grade One winner Guitar Pete re-appearing in this fascinating affair.

Both are high-class animals and look set to have a real chance, but it as outsider in the shape of Fox Norton who really catches the eye at a tempting 18/1. He missed Cheltenham to stay fresh for Aintree, where he traveled wide the entire way round. He was eased into the race approaching four out, and look set to be in with a major chance as the race began to heat up approaching the straight. However the extra ground he had taken it’s toll and he faded approaching the final two flights, finishing a disappointing sixth.

He finished an encouraging second behind the re-appearing Royal Irish Hussar at Market Rasen, before managing to reverse the form in a very impressive manner at Doncaster, when he landed a Grade Two Novices’ Hurdle, getting the better of Broughton, with Royal Irish Hussar 16 lengths further back in third.

He will come on for the Aintree run and the better the ground, the better his chance on Saturday. Nick Williams wouldn’t send him over without a real chance, and although this looks an extremely hot race, he has to have a major chance at a cracking each-way price.

Then, there is a very competitive affair in the Setenta Sports Handicap, in which Upsie looks to have a major chance for Willie Mullins, who has landed four of the last five renewals.

Ruby Walsh has opted for the mare (after JP McManus’ retained rider AP chose to ride favourite Regal Encore), and if she can follow on from her high level of form so far this season, she will go very close at 11/1.

She is two from two at Punchestown, including a win at last year’s festival, but arguably her best run was last time out, when finishing third behind Thousand Stars and Get Me Out of Here in a Grade Two at Fairyhouse. He was give a very patient ride by David Casey, who sat his mount fifth until getting serious after the proverbial bird had flown, but when he asked questions he got an instant response from the six-year-old and she flew home to finish third, nearly snatching the runners-up spot.

She is set to be ridden a lot more prominently under Walsh tomorrow, and although it is an extremely open race, she looks set to have a major chance at a brilliant price, where four places are paid with bookmakers.

Selections;

3:05 Punch: Vesper Bell @ 7/1 (Various)

4:20 Punch: Fox Norton @ 18/1 (Coral)

5:30 Punch: Upsie @ 11/1 (Ladbrokes)

 

Punchestown Festival – Day Three

The week seems to be moving at a rate of knots, as we pass on to Thursday and day three of the festival across the Irish Sea.

Ned Buntline can kick-start our Thursday with a win in the second race of the day, following a string of valiant efforts at the top level. He finished runner-up to Champion Hurdle hero Jezki in his debut bumper back in 2012, and has been a talking horse in the past for the Noel Meade yard.

There has always been extremely strong vibes around for the gelding, and his second in the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival show he is continuing on his journey to the top, after looking the likeliest winner the whole way around under the ever patient Paul Carberry.

He has only been raised two pounds for that effort, which looks extremely fair, and the Champion Jockey Tony McCoy takes over the reigns, in the colours of his boss JP McManus. It is an extremely open race, but back on the quicker ground, with a lenient handicap mark, Ned Buntline can take advantage and land a valuable prize on his way to better things next year, at an extremely tempting 11/2.

It could prove to be a quickfire double for JP McManus and AP McCoy, as World Hurdle third, and Aintree Hurdle runner-up At Fishers Cross lines up to battle with the mighty mare Quevega.

Quevega is the extremely warm favourite at 10/11, and is likely to go off a lot shorter with the majority of the Irish contingent seeing her as ‘the good thing’ of the week, thanks to her tremendous record which sees her unbeaten in her last nine runs, as-well as winning six out of eight attempts at Punchestown. However, At Fishers Cross has been running consistently well at the top level, and there has always been the belief he is yet to show us the best of his ability, even though he has produced some fantastic runs already in his career.

He traveled magnificently at both Cheltenham and Aintree, but failed to see out his races after forcing the pace at the wrong times. McCoy will have learned a lot from these races, and will be out to atone for making the error of opting for the wrong horse in the World Hurlde last time out. Quevega is a magnificent mare, but faces an extremely tough challenge tomorrow, so if McCoy can nick a few lengths from the front on the second circuit, it will be interesting to see how Ruby Walsh chooses to play his hand on-board the favourite, after usually swooping with a late run.

She will be very tough to beat, but the ultra-consistent At Fishers Cross is sure to be there battling it out at the finish, and the 9/2 on offer is too big to ignore.

The final selection comes in the shape of Balder Success, who landed the Maghull Novices’ Chase in tremendous fashion at the Aintree meeting. His mix of solid jumping and ability to see out his races means he will be extremely hard to beat, and the six-year-old heads the official ratings, which speaks volumes about his chances over in Ireland.

Alan King ensured his gelding missed Cheltenham in an attempt to arrive at Aintree as fresh as possible, before going on to prove his superiority in the two mile chasing division at Punchestown. Wayne Hutchinson takes the ride and the 11/4 looks extremely fair considering there are plenty of holes in the form of the favourite Champagne Fever, with the Arkle runners failing to fire next time out. He is worth chancing at the prices, and he should prove value against the Irish raiders.

Selections;

4:15 Punch: Ned Buntline @ 11/2 (Racebets)

5:30 Punch: At Fishers Cross @ 9/2 (Various)

6:40 Punch: Balder Success @ 11/4 (Boylesports)

Punchestown Festival – Day Two

After a magnificent opening day at Punchestown, with the highlight undoubtedly being Sizing Europe bowing out at the top, following a performance reminiscent to one of his high-class efforts in his younger years when winning the Champion Chase, we look ahead to a very open day two over in Ireland.

It will be hard to beat day one in-terms of class, following magnificent performances from Faugheen and Sizing Europe, however there is still potential for a few high-class performers to show their stuff on the big stage.

The likeliest candidate looks set to be Beat That, who was extremely impressive when landing the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree this month. He oozed class the whole way around, traveling like the best horse in the race and even managed to hit the second last quite hard, before pulling away after landing the last in great style. The six-year-old ending up crossing the line a comfortable four lengths ahead of his nearest rival, with the highly-rated Seeyouatmidnight a further 26 lengths back in third.

He looks a likely improver, and he looks as though he could maintain the hot streak for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty, who landed a winner on the opening day of the festival with Cool Macavity. Cheltenham Festival winners Don Poli and Very Wood line-up again for Gigginstown Stud, and look the main dangers, however it may pay to side with a horse firmly on an upward curve, in the shape of Beat That.

The Punchestown Gold Cup looks set to go the way of Ireland, with Lyreen Legend looking to have a great chance, facing his ideal conditions for the first time this season. He traveled smoothly throughout the Cheltenham Gold Cup, joining the leaders three out on the bridle, before jumping errors came into play, and he failed to see out the race. The drop down in trip, on quicker ground will suit him more than others and he looks set to go very close with the master of suspense Paul Carberry in the saddle.

It is an extremely open race, with On His Own and Boston Bob battling it out at the head of the market. However, there is no clear favourite in-terms of class, and the 8/1 for Lyreens Legend looks more than a fair each-way bet, with bookmakers paying out on the first three home.

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The final selection is in the Grade One National Hunt Flat Race, and goes the way of the masters of the bumpers, with Black Hercules who represents the duo of Willie and Patrick Mullins.

He was sent off a warm favourite for the Cheltenham Festival equivalent, but set too strong a gallop out in front and eventually faded back to fourth late on. He lost his unblemished record in the process and will be back out to atone for this, with Mullins opting to take the ride on the gelding as opposed to the more fancied Shaneshill for the same connections. He looks set to mount a real challenge from the front this time around, and he must manage the pace a bit better if he is going to reverse the form with the Cheltenham one-two who reappear in the shape of favourite Silver Concorde, and the aforementioned Shaneshill.

Patrick Mullins has a fantastic record riding in these type of bumpers, and he is an able replacement, taking over from Ruby Walsh. The 9/2 looks extremely fair, and should Mullins manage to continue his fine form with another winner or two earlier in the day, the price will not last too long.

Selections;

4:55 Punch: Beat That @ 2/1 (Various)

5:30 Punch: Lyreen Legend @ 8/1 (Winner)

6:05 Punch: Black Hercules @ 9/2 (Various)

 

Punchestown Festival – Day One

Arguably there is only festival in the world that comes close to matching the Cheltenham Festival for it’s raucous atmosphere, and that is the Punchestown Festival. Fortunately for us, it is that time of year once again and the countdown is nearing it’s end, as action gets underway on Tuesday afternoon.

After a record-break 2013 festival, Willie Mullins will be hoping to go close to matching his 13 winner figure, and his best chance of doing that on day one looks set to be with Faugheen.

The high-class gelding managed to keep his unbeaten record in tact despite noticeable jumping errors in the Neptune at Cheltenham, and came away from the week as one for the notebook. He showed his massive engine when powering away from the field by four-and-a-half lengths, and he is going to be extremely hard to beat on Tuesday afternoon.

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He looks a magnificent prospect for the future, and should he win impressively his price will shorten for next year’s Cheltenham Festival, as in 2013, this race was won by this year’s Champion Hurdle winner Jezki.

He is bidding for back-to-back Grade One glory, and already has course form, having beaten Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Josses Hill by a mammoth 22-lengths on his debut at the track last year. This form has been franked plenty of times, and he should take all the beating back in Ireland.

His 4/5 price seems very fair, and he is more than likely to go off around the 4/7 mark, with the Irish punters backing Mullins from the very start. However, it is another one of his runners that could go very close to matching Faugheen, in the shape of Wicklow Brave. We need to forgive his last run where he went out like a light, but earlier on in his career he had threatened to be a high-class hurdler, before fading away in his last two runs. He is an interesting contender, and should definitely be considered to make the placings at 14/1.

The Boylesports.com Champion Chase looks a very hot race, with Hidden Cyclone topping the market at 4/1. He has finished in the placings on his last six starts, including a valiant second behind Dynaste in the Ryanair Chase on his last visit to the track. He should go extremely close, but just seems to lack the required quality to get a win at the top level, consistently falling just short.

This means, we should side with Module, with Tom George’s runner bypassing Aintree when well-fancied, to have a crack at the Punchestown feature. He has been in great form this season, landing the Game Spirit Chase in tremendous fashion, before finishing a fair third behind the highly-rated Sire De Grugy at Cheltenham, in the Champion Chase.

A repeat of that run should see him go extremely close, and the decision to pull him out of his engagement on the day, at Aintree, suggests he holds high hopes of a big effort here at Punchestown. The in-form Barry Geraghty takes over from Paddy Brennan, and his mount should go extremely well in the flat track in Ireland, with the current 5/1 looking more than fair.

The final Grade One of the day could well make it a double for connections of Faugheen, with Djakadam looking set to hold a real chance.

He was travelling extremely well in the JLT Novices’ Chase, before coming down four from home, and he will be out to atone for that error on Tuesday. It is significant that Ruby has opted for Djakadam over RSA Chase favourite Ballycasey, as he must be performing with some vigor at home.

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The five-year-old receives nine pounds off his rivals, and this could be the difference between him and favourite Morning Assembly who comes into the race off a respectable third in the RSA. He is a high-class chaser in his own right, and is the worthy favourite if we’re going on form in the book. However Djakadam looks open to vast improvement, and the master handler Mullins should go extremely close to notching another winner, should his mount be none-the-worse for his Cheltenham fall.

The last selection of day one, is The Game Changer for Gigginstown Stud, whose runners have been in fine form of late.

The five-year-old was traveling extremely well before being hampered two out, behind the highly-rated Josses Hill in a Grade Two at Aintree. He ended up finishing well down the field after failing to recover from the mishap, but you can guarantee if he had managed to get a clear run, the result would have been a lot different and he would not be 16/1 for Tuesday’s handicap hurdle.

Davy Russell takes over the reigns, and should the gelding manage to settle early on, he will be able to mount a real challenge in what looks a very open race. The trip and ground look no bother to him, and with a clear run this time around, he should go very close at an attractive price.

Selections;

Win Patent: 42.2/1

4:20 Punch: Faugheen  @ 4/5 (Boylesports) 

5:30 Punch: Module @ 5/1 (Various)

6:40 Punch: Djakadam @ 3/1 (Boylesports)

 

E.W Singles & Double: 254/1

4.20 Punch: Wicklow Brave @ 14/1 (Betfred)

6:05 Punch: The Game Changer @ 16/1 (Bet365)

Cheltenham – Final day’s best bets!

Thursday was another day in favour of the bookmakers as not one favourite obliged, and both 25/1 and 50/1 winners were witnessed in the heart of the Cotswolds.

For our selections, we had our both members of our win double seen in second place, and our place double faded into an abyss. Whilst Ballynagour traveled like the winner throughout his race, before going out like a light when about to depart up the hill.

However we must put that behind us, and aim to enhance the profit we are already in for the week. A different approach is needed once more, as the fields are extremely open.

There is one win selection, and that comes in the 2:40, in the shape of At Fisher’s Cross.

Rebecca Curtis’ gelding comes into the festival boasting an impressive unbeaten record this season, notching four from four, including a Grade Two at Cheltenham in January.

The 6yo just got the better of The New One, who landed the Albert Bartlett here on Wednesday. The New One has been installed as one of the favourites for next year’s Champion Hurdle, and is clearly well thought of by trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies. This makes this piece of form by far the strongest in the race, and with it coming over course and distance, he is a worthy favourite.

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He has a high cruising speed and is a valiant battler, which could be an attribute needed if he is to land the spoils and give champion jockey Tony McCoy his first winner of the week.

His main opponent looks set to be Ballycasey for the in-form duo of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. He is unbeaten under rules over in Ireland, always coming home in front with seemingly bags in hand.

He is yet to be tested, and at 4/1, you would be taking a risk on how much he has improved, as he will have to take a massive step up in class if he is to successfully take down At Fisher’s Cross and get another on the board for Ireland.

Then, my advice is one more small e.w double on Cotton Mill and Sir Des Champs.

Cotton Mill was travelling well when ducking out last year in the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle at the festival, when well fancied.

He bounced back from this when finishing a close third in the Sefton at Aintree, before being put away for the summer. He has been seen once this year, when finishing a staying-on second behind the classy My Tent or Yours in a competitive Newbury Handicap.

This piece of form is incredibly strong when taking into account how well fancied My Tent or Yours was when finishing runner-up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, after side-stepping a potential Champion Hurdle tilt.

Cotton Mill’s jockey Denis O’Regan, will let him bowl along, and if he is allowed to dictate the pace, he will be in prime position to use his incredible flat speed to the best of his advantage.

He is the classiest in the race by some distance and if he’s on a going day, the 7/1 looks incredible value.

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This alongside the 4/1 for Sir Des Champs makes an irresistible 39/1 double.

Sir Des Champs looks set to round off a fantastic week for Willie Mullins by landing the feature race of the week, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He has had a solid campaign thus far landing the Irish Hennessey Gold Cup in thrilling fashion. His exemplary jumping style always gets him out of tricky situations he may find himself in, and with his unbeaten record at Cheltenham (2/2) he is a confident selection.

He has stiff competition in the shape of Bobs Worth, however Nicky Henderson’s 8yo still has a lot to prove against the top staying chasers such as previous Gold Cup winner Long Run and former Arkle winner Captain Chris.

Silviniaco Conti can’t be backed at the 7/2 on offer due to Paul Nicholls seemingly poor run of form, with the former Champion Trainer failing to have a winner so far this week.

This all points to Sir Des Champs having a marvelous chance of winning the prize and if he does just about fail, his consistency and jumping ability means you will get a strong run for your money regardless.

Advice:

3 points win: At Fisher’s Cross @ 3/1 (Betfair)

1pt e.w double: Cotton Mill & Sir Des Champs @ 39/1 (Paddy Power)

2013 so far – + 9.77 points

Cheltenham – Day three’s best bets!

After a rather disappointing day at the office, following a couple of no-shows and an unfortunate runner-up in the shape of Tofino Bay, we look ahead to Thursday where we will try and wrestle some cash off the bookmakers.

And with it comes a slightly different approach. With the amount of short-priced fancied horses running tomorrow, it could pay to ditch our each-way single, value, and chance our hand at a few multiples.

The opener looks set to go the way of Dynaste, who side-stepped a crack at the RSA (a race in which he would have won in my opinion) to go for this potentially easier task. The only real danger on paper looks set to be from Captain Conan and also Aupcharlie from the in-form Willie Mullins stable.

Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins pre race, before Back In Focus's impressive win

Mullins has had a fantastic festival so far, with five winners and Aupcharlie’s form took a massive boost yesterday when Back in Focus (who he just failed to beat at Leopardstown) and Tofino Bay (who he just went down to last time out) battled out a thrilling finish.

He finished third at the course on his only start, back in the Champion Bumper, and looks set to go off a lot shorter than his current 6/1.

However he may run in to one too good in the shape of Dynaste, who has been a revelation since turning to the bigger obstacles. His jumping is immaculate, and there is no question about his staying ability. These attributes combined with the fact that he has already won over fences at Cheltenham make the  7/4 on offer look big enough to tempt most.

For this reason, you could start the day with a Dynaste/Aupcharlie forecast and hope for a big return, or separate the pair and use Dynaste as the start of a win multiple, and Aupcharlie as the beginning of an each-way equivalent.

The next race could go the way of Paul Nicholls who is yet to get on the board this festival. He has made no secret that he feels Sam Winner could bounce back to form off a very generous mark of 140. The former Triumph Hurdle fourth had been out of sorts following his run at the festival, as he was sent on a chasing campaign.

However he has been brought back to the smaller obstacles, and over a course from where he has a 50% strike-rate, winning two from four, he has to be fancied. He has a brilliant action over hurdles, and a high cruising speed which is key to his chances.The current 9/2 strikes me as a solid each-way bet, and should be combined with Aupcharlie to hopefully make a solid start to proceedings.

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The win double is completed with First Lieutenant, who was well-fancied for the Gold Cup, before being pulled out for an attempt at the competitive renewal of the Ryanair.

He has been placed in three graded races this term, the most recent of which was when he was seen finishing a head second behind Tidal Bay in the Lexus Chase.

This is arguably the best piece of form on offer in the race, and the fact he has been put away especially for a crack at the festival, is an extra positive, and enhances the 11/4 shots claim.

He faces stiff opposition in the shape of former Champion Bumper winner Cue Card and last year’s Ryanair winner Riverside Theatre, however this has been a solid week for Ireland so far and I expect Davy Russell’s mount to do the business at what looks a lot bigger price than he should be.

The single of the day comes in the shape of a potential handicap-plot from the David Pipe stable, Ballynagour.

He won his sole start on British soil by 19 lengths, and is a relative unknown quantity. He never really got out of third gear that day, and although he will have to improve to land this, he looks as though he still had plenty in the locker and could well be a likely improver.

His rating of 143 could turn out to be incredibly soft, and the 7yo looks destined for bigger and better things. The 9/2 on Betfair won’t be around for long, and it could end up being one of the best backed horses of the festival.

Advice:

1 point win double: Dynaste & First Lieutenant @ 8.84/1 (Paddy Power)

0.5 point e.w double: Aupcharlie & Sam Winner @ 37.5/1 (StanJames)

1 point win: Ballynagour @ 4.5/1 (Betfair) 

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2013 so far – +13.77 points

Cheltenham – Day two’s best bets!

Following a sensational day for the blog yesterday with a 28/1 winner, 7/1 place and an 11/1 close fifth, from three selections, I’m hoping to keep momentum rolling with another few tasty value bets.

It was a day for the Irish as Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins stole the show with a magnificent treble. Champagne Fever, and Quevega came either side of a magnificent Champion Hurdle victory by Hurricane Fly.

Walsh and Mullins will go in to the second day buoyed with confidence and this could lead the bookmakers into shortening their mounts prices in even shorter, as Mullins look set to saddle the first three favourites on the card.

This opens up other horses value, as they begin to drift against the favourite. This leads us to the first bet of the day, Tofino Bay in the opener.

Dessie Hughes’ consistent 10yo has been placed in a Grade One, as well as winning a Grade Two this season, meaning he is arguably the classiest in the field.

Nina Carberry is a brilliant jockey over the staying chases and will be sure to give her mount the best possible positioning early on. As long as he settles, he will be right there near the end, and with his reliable jumping (never fell in his life), he looks a solid each-way bet at 35/2.

With Ireland having such a great start to the meeting, and the Gigginstown Stud silks being renowned worldwide, it us understandable as to why some other bookmakers have priced up at 8/1 – 10/1, he is likely to start around that price, so punish 32Red for their generous offer.

With Sprinter Sacre taking centre stage tomorrow, and maybe even for the whole week, it makes sense to just sit back and watch a thing of beauty.

There is no value in backing Nicky Henderson’s stable-star at 1/4, and with him looking almost certain to land Wednesday’s feature race, it will pay to just enjoy a magnificent spectacle of sheer jumping brilliance.

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However wait for forty minutes, and find yourself another solid bet. Tony McCoy is yet to get on the board for this year’s festival and will be looking to rectify this as soon as possible.

His best chance tomorrow looks set to come in the colours of his boss JP McManus, with Pendra looking likely to go off as favourite in the Coral Cup.

He has never been out of the first two, winning three of his four starts under rules. McManus decided to purchase the gelding following his last run, a gallant second in a Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January.

He looked the likely winner before being headed at the last, and with McCoy likely to make more use of the gelding tomorrow, the current 8/1 looks massive for such a consistent type.

Sneaking in on a relatively low weight only adds to the positives, and expect him to go off a lot shorter tomorrow.

paul nicholls

The third and final bet of day two comes in the Bumper, in the shape of Paul Nicholls’ Fascino Rustico.

It is interesting to see that the record-breaking £310,000 recruit has stayed on the level, instead of being sent over hurdles.

He ran away with his maiden National Hunt flat race showing an immense cruising speed, before being purchased by Aiden Murphy. He has been quoted as saying he purchased him as a replacement for Noland, with the idea he has the scope to jump a fence.

He slightly disappointed when last seen, finishing fourth over course and distance in November. However he will come on massively for the run and the fact that connections have opted to aim him at this race means that he has to be respected, and 33/1 is far too big.

Advice:

1 point e.w: Tofino Bay @ 35/2 (32Red)

1 point e.w: Pendra @ 8/1 (Betfred/Betvictor)

0.5 points e.w: Fascino Rustico @ 33/1 (32Red)

2013 so far – +14.08 points