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Below are a number of examples of horseracing and sport previews that went our way in most-recent date order including Rule The World (Grand National) ante-post at 50/1 and Wings Of Eagles (Derby) at 40/1 (and Serpentine at 25/1) to help give you a flavour of what presentation style to expect if becoming a member:
Coral Golden Mile - ORBAAN (WON 33/1)
The draw has been a huge factor as history says it will be hard for anything drawn in double figures. In fact, seven of the last eight winners were drawn between just 1-5 (and five of the last six drawn 1, 2 or 3). Just two of the last 18 winners have defied a double-digit draw partly because higher-drawn horses also have more of an early climb to overcome in addition to having further to travel. Looking at bigger prices of horses drawn low ORBAAN is drawn in stall 2 and is interesting having been a 66/1 sixth in last year’s renewal having been slowly away so he couldn’t take advantage of his 6 draw then and has since plummeted 15lb. Of course that is for a reason but he’s looking dangerously well handicapped for when it all clicks and he has run well on his last four starts. He’s a 33/1 outsider for David O’Meara. The stable won this race two years ago and had plenty of others run well in it. In fact, O’Meara runs six in today’s field of which Blue For You looks his number one hope from stall 1 and having finished runner-up the last twice, both at York and half a length behind Eilean Dubh last time. He is yet to win in four starts since leaving Dermot Weld but you sense that will be put right soon enough. In summary, David O’Meara targets this handicap and I’ll take his Blue For You (*finsished second*) as his most likely winner and Orbaan (e/w) as his best outsider.
EBF Mares' Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final - LARGY G (WON 50/1 before Rule 4 deductions)
The usual big field for the Grade 2 mares’ novices’ hurdle which is a limited handicap. Noel Williams won it with the favourite in 2016 and his Speech Bubble is the market leader after she was second to the subsequent Dawn Run winner, Love Envoi, in a Grade 2 at Sandown. As such she has top weight but this has historically been a race that favours lower-weighted runners. Just one winner has carried more than 11st 2lb in the last decade. Prior to that she won well here in January and was second in a listed bumper last season so has been well regarded from the outset. Williams also runs the 50/1 complete outsider in a place, LARGY G, who I think can outrun those odds off a low weight. She was third behind Speech Bubble here in January and is now 20lb better off after being beaten 17l when ran too keen early but stayed on late. She was 50s all round but been cut into 33/1 everywhere bar Bet365. In summary, Noel Williams saddles the favourite but I’ll chance his outsider instead, Largy G, to each-way stakes who meets her stablemate on considerably better terms than 73 days ago.
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle - BANBRIDGE (WON 16/1)
Joseph O’Brien’s BANBRIDGE is my overall fancy though. He had another of Elliott’s, Ad Fleuron, back in second over 2m last time out but had won over 2m5f earlier in the season so has the right blend of speed and stamina for this race. He is bred to better over this trip and looks potentially very well handicapped off 133 now he is upped back in distance. O’Brien plotted up Early Doors to win the Martin Pipe three years ago and I suspect this has been the long term plan for Albert Bartlett owner, Ronnie Bartlett, on Albert Bartlett day. In summary, I am backing Banbridge each-way at 16/1 (6 places) to close the meeting.
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle - THE NICE GUY (WON 18/1)
Ginto moves up in trip to 3m after winning a Grade 1 over 2m4f but that form hasn’t really worked out with the second, third and fifth all a bit disappointing since and I think he’s a vulnerable favourite. He dodged Sir Gerhard in the Ballymore for this but at the start of the season Elliott was talking more in terms of being the yard’s Albert Bartlett horse. In fact, I think the two market leaders are both vulnerable as I reckon that Henry Daly has been pressured to run Hillcrest here rather than wait for Aintree which would be absolutely perfect for him – flat track, hardly any Irish, fresher than those that ran in the Potato Race. Anyway, the lure of the Cheltenham Festival and all that has brought him here and I’d much rather have these massive horses on flat courses than undulating tests. Although Minella Cocooner won a Grade 1 last time out, I prefer Ramillies and The Nice Guy more for the yard. They met at Naas at the end of January over 2m4½f when THE NICE GUY came out on top by 12½l but Ramillies was having his seasonal debut and reportedly very much in need of that return effort. The Nice Guy was also having his hurdles debut but had won two bumpers earlier in the season. Let’s go 1pt win The Nice Guy.
London Bateaux Gold Cup - LARRY (WON 16/1)
Four of the last seven winners had not only had a run earlier in the season but had finished first or second on that most recent start so had proven race fitness on their side and shown their wellbeing to boot. Two of those winners were trained by Gary Moore (from just six runners) who runs LARRY who was given his seasonal debut 15 days ago in what was probably just a tee-up for today. He was well beaten in this handicap two years ago but is now 12lb lower. In summary, I am happy with Johnbb at 8/1 from Wednesday and rate Larry the most interesting double-figure-priced each-way alternative.
Champion Stakes - SEALIWAY (WON 14/1)
SEALIWAY has 10lb to find on official ratings. He was my big-priced Arc horse. Ran well too in fifth when given a bit too much to do and he was travelling as well as anything turning in. His effort flattened out in the final furlong trying 1m4f for the first time so I believe this 2f shorter trip will suit the r/u to St Mark’s Basilica in the Prix du Jockey-Club more. He’s fresh too after a summer off and the French have a terrific record winning 13 times going back to Flying Water in 1977. As such I’ll keep the faith in Sealiway who makes each-way appeal at 14/1.
Ebor Handicap - SONNYBOYLISTON (WON 12/1)
The Irish have really come to the fore over the last dozen years with four winners including a 1-2 in 2009 from few runners per renewal and all winners at double-figure odds; 25/1, 14/1, 20/1 and 16/1. They have also supplied a second and two thirds in the last six years. Johnny Murtagh has already trained an Ebor winner in Mutual Regard and therefore his SONNYBOYLISTON could have been having a little bit of a reccy when sixth in Hukum’s Group 3 over C/D last month having previously finished third in the Ormonde behind Japan and Trueshan, and winning at Listed level at Tipperary. At the end of the previous century by far the most noteworthy trend concerned the draw as a low stall was considered crucial to success but that is certainly no longer the case. In fact, 12 of the last 14 winners were drawn in double-figure stalls (14-22 fared especially well) so it has now gone the other way. I would argue that is partly because (a) the draw had become such a talking point given the long run of low-drawn winners that jockeys then drawn low tried to take advantage of that to attain a prominent position but in the process went off too fast and (b) they used to stick to the far rail upon entering the straight making a high draw tough to overcome but now they tend to race down the centre of the course. In summary, I’m going Irish. It’s hard to to in these big staying handicaps. Their strong showing in previous Ebor’s aside, both Sonnyboyliston and Mt Leinster have outside-half draws like the vast majority of winners this century and both of their trainers have laid one out to win the Ebor before.
Coventry Stakes - BERKSHIRE SHADOW (WON 20/1)
There are five contenders with a 1-1 record which is something I have liked down the years in the Coventry with 13 winners in the last 28 runnings and from nowhere near 50% representation. BERKSHIRE SHADOW had Gisburn behind when he made a winning debut at Newbury and the Hannon-trained runner-up has since impressed at the same track beating newcomers by 6l in a race they have won with Strong Suit and Canford Cliffs before they won the Coventry so I have this down as very good early-season 2yo form. Berkshire Shadow is drawn in stall 17 so will Oisin Murphy make a bee-line for the stands’ rail and hope that stretch of ground is favoured? As he has not run for 60 days, he has become somewhat of a forgotten horse despite his form being franked.
Gallagher Premiership Regular Season - BRISTOL (WON 25/1)
Pat Lam’s side are on an upwards trajectory and, in their third season back in the top flight, the European Challenge Cup holders look a decent bet to challenge for domestic honours. At the core of the Bears’ line-up are some outstanding players of Pacific Island heritage including Charles Piutau (who I rate the best rugby player currently operating in Europe) and Semi Radrada, to whom many others hand the same plaudit. BRISTOL will therefore be less impacted than many by international calls while I like the impact made by Ben Earl and Max Malins since their moves from Saracens. If Bristol’s smallish squad avoids too many injury problems and their decision-makers add a little more pragmatism to the flair which oozes from every pore, they should go very close. Having finished third last time round, at 25/1 they are outstanding value to finish top of the regular season table. Paul Matthew
Europa League - VILLAREAL (WON 18/1)
La Liga clubs take this competition very seriously as view it as a path to automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League given how hard that can be bearing in mind two of their four allocated spots are taken every year by the giants of the game, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Since 2006, Spanish clubs have won the Europa League on nine occasions. VILLAREAL are my idea of the best value at 18/1 after qualifying from their group stage with ease securing 16 points out of 18 and currently sitting in fourth place in La Liga just ahead of Barcelona and Sevilla. Fourth gets them into the CL but one would expect that pair of bigger clubs to eventually overhaul them and they won’t catch Atletico Madrid or Real Madrid who are already 6 points clear of third. Therefore winning this competition may be Villareal’s best chance of heading for Europe’s greatest prize next season. The Unai Emery Factor is a if not the key element to backing Villareal as he was at the helm when Sevilla won the competition three times running between 2014-2016. Then he also took Arsenal to the final in 2018 where they lost to Chelsea so I think that you can bet your bottom dollar that Unai is up for this and certainly knows how to get it done. He took over Villareal last summer and has clearly fitted in well given their league form.
Eurovision Song Contest - ITALY (WON 9/1 antepost)
The Eurovision Song Contest isn’t until May 22nd (I know you have it marked in your diaries!!!) but the way to get ahead of the market in the past was to listen to all the entries as soon as they were revealed and last week (end of March) I managed to get through all 40. After going through all the entries again and then those that have semblance of a chance a few more times, I am now ready to commit. I’ll spare you all the overall spiel until the preview the day before the Grand Final but I am ready to commit and I like ITALY who are currently 9/1. It’s a rock track and the closest act that I can compare them to would probably be Green Day in terms of their image, and in my view it is the best song in the competition. For all the politics, the best song still wins more often than not since jury votes were brought in to make up 50% of the total scores. That will be lost on most punters. I’ve not heard it live yet which is the niggle but if they can replicate the energy and charisma from the studio version and video to the stage, it could be quite a performance. Four of those in the higher echelons of the betting are the same artists that were set to represent their country last year and also to the fore in the market back then. The two favourites, Malta (will score higher in public vote) and Switzerland (likely to win the jury vote), have gone down the road of trying to emulate the last two winners, Israel and the Netherlands, but I think that after the year we’ve all just endured, maybe Europe might be ready for something like the Italian entry to shake up the competition, they are rarely out of the top 10 (six Top 6s without winning since 2011) and keen to win it and Europe loves a bit of Green Day.
World Snooker Championship - MARK SELBY (WON 17/2)
Onto the selection. MARK SELBY. A man on a mission. I’ve had him in my mind for this as soon as he lost 17-16 last August to O’Sullivan in the semi-final. They could meet again in the semi-final, and it’s safe to say if they do it will be a bit of a grudge match. They both had some unsavoury things to say about one another after that semi-final. Selby called O’Sullivan “disrespectful” for a few slashes of the balls. O’Sullivan called Selby a “bad loser” and told him to “get over it”. O’Sullivan has said that loss will haunt Selby for a while longer but could The Jester right those wrongs? He’ll be desperate to. I say that in a good way though. Determined is probably the better term. Selby has had one eye on this prize all season. No player has won more World crowns in the last decade (2010-2019) than The Jester. In lifting the trophy three times he took the scalp of O’Sullivan in his first win in 2014 - O’Sullivan’s only defeat in a world final. This season, Selby has made three ranking finals, winning two; the European Masters and the Scottish Open (back-to-back successes there). The loser was the one frame Shoot-Out and unfortunately as that is a ranking event (I still don’t know why!) it blots his streak of 11 ranking final wins in a row, dating back to 2016. He also made the semis at the English Open, World Grand Prix, Tour Championship and the Champion of Champions. So a very consistent season which I’m sure he’s more than content with. Selby had a candid interview with Rob Walker at the last BBC event at The Masters in January where he talked very openly about his struggles at a young age losing his father before he turned professional and that he very nearly took his own life. If you haven’t watched it, it’s well worth a watch on YouTube. I knew Mark very well at that age, always a lovely guy to talk to, with no side to him. It’s a wonderful success story from a child protégée to a world number one and champion of the world. His determination to succeed, the never-give-in mentality, all marks back to what his dad instilled in him as a junior. Selby was born for the test of The Crucible Theatre. Every strength required, Selby has it. The mental side. The stamina. The scoring. The consistency. The all-round game. You don’t need to be exceptional in every match. You can lose an odd session. It’s about doing it when it matters. Consistency. Selby is a master of session snooker. An unflappable granite of a man to have on your side.In summary, Mark Selby, even with a very tough draw (Maflin, then potentially Allen, Higgins, O’Sullivan and Trump/Robertson) is my pick for the 2021 World Championship. He’s in better nick this year to last, is the stereotypical big game player and the longer this tournament goes, providing that he’s still pitching, the stronger this guy will get. George Weyham
Kentucky Derby - MEDINA SPIRIT (WON 12/1)
The only American form that I am familiar with is The Breeders’ Cup but it’s usually some later-developing 3yo to be on rather than a 2yo precocious enough to win at the self-styled world championships. Bob Baffert’s colt was unraced at two as was his Triple Crown winner, Justify, when he won three years ago but MEDINA SPIRIT has run five times since January so is race hardened. Justify had three runs from February before winning the ‘Run for the Roses’ including the Santa Anita Derby, the race in which in Medina Spirit was second in last time out. The 5/2 market leader is Godolphn’s Essential Quality from one stall inside his main rival mainly based on his Breeders’ Cup win I would say from the 100/1 outsider, Hot Rod Charlie, though he has won both times at three including a defeat of Highly Motivated last time. Hot Rod Charlie has also given that form a boost winning last time out but Medina Spirit had him back in third prior to that. In summary, Medina Spirit each-way at 12/1 with firms offering four places.
Grand National - MINELLA TIMES (WON 11/1)
I am looking to a younger horse in the bottom half (preferably third) of the weights. I am going with MINELLA TIMES as a win bet, being an 8yo second-season chaser (second-season chasers are going for four wins in the last six runnings) racing off just 10st 3lb (the lower the weight the better for me) for the Cheltenham Dream Team of Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore. Watching how fast he jumps, I think he’ll absolutely love it around here. He wastes absolutely no time in the air and low, fast jumping has taken over since the fences were made easier. Tiger Roll wouldn’t have won the Grand National before those changes. Placed in two big handicap chases at Leopardstown this season, Minella Times has not raced beyond 3m so he has stamina to prove but the decent ground can play to his strengths and hopefully help him see out the trip.The race really does suit younger horses now as the last five winners were aged 8/9 compared to the previous five aged 10+. In summary, I am adding Minella Times as a win bet at 10/1 to add to our ante-post each-way positions on Any Second Now* (33/1) and Milan Native (40/1). *Finished third.
Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle - TRONODOR (WON 22/1)
Outside of following novices another angle is to keep it simple and just keep following the Irish bearing in mind they won all fIVE handicap hurdles at Cheltenham! They also have a healthy strike rate of six wins in the last 21 runnings given their runners have been few and far between recently averaging two runners for the last ten seasons. TRONODOR is their only runner for Denise Foster who of course recently took over from Gordon Elliott and it was he who trained the most recent winner of this prize (and a well-backed one at that from 16/1 into 8/1) plus the 2011 winner. Ninth in last season’s Fred Winter, Tronodor’s only run this season was at Downpatrick three weeks ago which smells of a tee up for this more valuable prize for which he has sneaked in off second bottom weight of 10st 4lb.
Coral Cup - HEAVEN HELP US (WON 33/1)
At the beginning of the season I stated that I wouldn’t oppose the Irish in the handicap hurdles at the Festival given how they have dominated the win and places in recent seasons. During this season they have also enjoyed their successes in other handicap hurdles in Britain, notably two big successes for The Shunter and there would likely have been others but for Covid restrictions. In terms of the Coral Cup, the Irish have won it on ten occasions since first run in 1993 and supplied the 2-3-4-6-7 last season. HEAVEN HELP US won the 20-runner mares’ handicap hurdle in first-time cheekpieces at the Dublin Racing Festival when returning to hurdling from getting trounced by Monkfish in a novice chase and is not to be underestimated for Paul Hennessy. If you are looking for a 33/1 each-way shot to six or seven places, she might fit the bill given the record of the Irish, Richard Condon taking off 7lb again and having won at Cheltenham before. She also meets the second-season hurdler and last-time-out winner trends. That Cheltenham success came in a maiden hurdle at 33/1 in October 2019 and, after being hampered at the third flight as a 100/1 outsider in last season’s Supreme, she was even more up against it so not disgraced finishing seventh. In summary, we’re ahead of the market with our ante-post interest on Craigneiche (*Finished 2nd*) but I seriously fear the Irish. Koshari and Grand Roi have been well found but Heaven Help Us hasn't at 33/1.
Queen Mother Champion Chase - PUT THE KETTLE ON (WON 16/1)
Rouge Vif is now 16/1 alongside last season’s Arkle winner, PUT THE KETTLE ON, who had him 19½l back in third on soft ground at the Festival, after he won last weekend. At the same odds I’ll take the one that can handle any ground and beat the other by the thick end of 20 lengths. She did so overcoming some long-standing trends too being the first mare to win since 1980 and defying an absence of four months (mainly to keep away from winter ground so she did well to win on this testing surface) which is most unusual for an Arkle winner. She couldn’t be in any better stable for a 2m chaser than Henry de Bromhead who took over from Arthur Moore as the best trainer of this specialist kind of horse and he has already won the Champion Chase with Sizing Europe and Special Tiara, and they didn’t have a 7lb mares’ allowance that the Arkle winner will enjoy. Not only that, but she is 2-2 on the Old Course over which the race is run and Arkle winners have a tremendous win-and-place record in the ‘Queen Mother’ as 16 of the last 18 to run finished in the first three with eight winning.Put The Kettle On’s neat and tidy jumping and uncomplicated style of racing won her the race. In summary, all in all I think 16/1 each-way to start the season is a fair price about an Arkle winner who is 2-2 on the course, seen that winning form franked this season, versatile re ground, trained by a handler that has saddled two other horses to win the race and will receive a 7lb mares’ allowance so I’ve backed Put The Kettle On. She is likely to start off in the Shloer Chase, hence why I want to get her on board now. A slight concern would be that she could contest the new Grade 2 Mares’ Chase instead but that is over 4f further (she does stay further than 2m), on the New as opposed to the Old Course where she is 2-2 and worth a lot less prize money.
Ryanair Chase - ALLAHO (WON 12/1)
There were two horses that I immediately knew I wanted to be with for next season’s Festival straight after they were beaten at Cheltenham a month ago; Abacadabras e/w in the Champion Hurdle and ALLAHO in the Ryanair so I am going in VERY early on my first instincts 11 months in advance. I always thought that Allaho would run in the RSA rather than Marsh so that Mullins could keep his best two novices apart (Faugheen being the other) but his free-going nature looked to cost him the race only being beaten a couple of lengths after being too keen in the first mile. Given that he was only a 6yo in a race where they historically struggle, allied to his free-going nature when surprisingly setting the pace, to still be in there battling at the finish, I felt that he shaped like the best horse in the RSA despite finishing third on what was just his third chase start. Given his age, his mighty frame still to fill and lack of general experience, I thought this was a terrific effort from a horse with a very big future ahead of him when he learns to settle better, which he will. There was much debate in the media beforehand as to which race Allaho should contest, with the vast majority of pundits feeling that his running style would be better suited to the Marsh, though Mullins never deviated from the RSA in his public comments. Judging by how the race panned out, the media may well have been correct as I reckon that he might well have won the Marsh over a 4f shorter trip given how he tanked through the RSA but was ultimately outstayed by Champ and Minella Indo. That pair are highly likely to be aimed at the Gold Cup rather than the Ryanair given their proven stamina having won Grade 1 races over 3m as novice hurdlers as well as finishing 1-2 over 3m last month so we wouldn’t have to worry about them. Would Mullins want to take that strong-staying pair on again with Allaho over an extra 2½f which he is uncertain to stay but they should relish? I have my doubts. Given how free Allaho was in the RSA, I’d expect Mullins to drop him just 3f on the stiffer of the two courses (his RSA run was on the sharper Old Course) for the Ryanair rather than gamble on how well he would stay an extra 2½f, especially as he does have the x2 reigning Gold Cup winner, Al Boum Photo, to represent him in the blue riband and whether he can win three on the spin will be the story of the week.I am also getting involved early as I could easily have recommended Un de Sceaux at 12/1 and Min at 8/1 for the Mullins stable during the autumns of the seasons when they won the Ryanair as it looked the obvious Festival target for the pair to me, but I didn’t and then their odds started to contract so I left them alone. As such, I don’t want to make that mistake for a third time and can see Allaho being nearer a best price 8/1 come November rather than the current best offer of 12/1. In summary, there is always guesswork involved in an early Ryanair bet in terms of race target but I see Allaho as much more likely to drop down 3f than be upped 2½f from his RSA run (there are no other options re the festival for him) on the way he shaped so fancy that the Ryanair will be his Festival aim. As such, I want to get involved early before others latch onto the same line of thinking. I see the best offer of 12/1 in plenty of places being nearer Ladbrokes’ current 8/1 when the season restarts in earnest. Let’s go 1pt win at 12s.
Pertemps Final - MRS MILNER (WON 14/1)
The Bosses Oscar has looked an obvious contender for this since he was a hampered fifth in the Martin Pipe last season for Gordon Elliott who has saddled two 1-2s in this Final in the last three years so I acted when he was 16/1 (each-way) before he contested and finished second in the Leopardstown qualifier which has featured three of the last five winners. Elliott is actually gunning for a fourth straight winner of the Final (or rather his stables are now under Denise Foster) and also saddled the third and fifth in 2018. Irish-based trainers were responsible for the 1-2-3-5 last season of which the 1-2-3 contested the Leopardstown. This season’s representatives from that race are Dandy Mag (1st), The Bosses Oscar (2nd), Mrs Milner (4th) and Anything Will Do (5th). Of the other qualifiers from Leopardstown outside of my ante-post, each-way recommendation it is MRS MILNER that I like most as she has some good Cheltenham form having only been beaten a neck by On The Blind Side there in November and the winner has run very well more than once since then franking that form. She fell early in a handicap hurdle last time over 2m2f which may have being used to inject a bit of pace into her but it’s her Leopardstown run that catches the eye as she was leading heading to the final flight before dropping away so this faster surface can help her. In summary, I am adding Mrs Milner each-way to our The Bosses Oscar (*finished second*) position at 14/1 each-way which is the general price with firms betting down to sixth.
Marsh Novices' Chase - CHANTRY HOUSE (WON 12/1)
I stated ahead of his chase debut at Ascot on Friday that, after Shishkin, in my view CHANTRY HOUSE was the second most exciting novice chase prospect trained in Britain for this season and he didn’t disappoint when making a successful start at his new discipline by 26 lengths, aided by the fall three out of his main rival, Pic D’Orhy, it has to be said just as the race was taking shape three out.. After not being perfect at a couple of fences mid-race, you had to like the way that he warmed to his task as the race progressed thereafter on a tricky track for a chase debutant and especially the spectacular leap he threw in at the final fence. He reportedly was blowing hard afterwards so you would expect a deal of improvement to come. What a shame that he has Envoi Allen in this 2m4f division to cope with or otherwise I’d see him as around 6/1 favourite but I do think that he’ll take some stopping en route to what I think has to be the Marsh after this chase win and his third in a hot Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as a big baby and embryo chaser after his trainer wanted to run him in the Ballymore but his owner wanted to split him and Sporting John up. I’m sure that Henderson will get his way this time with this half-brother to a 2m6f winner. Envoi Allen will take all the beating, that much is obvious, and he heads for the Drinmore this coming weekend at Fairyhouse, but there could still be a nice each-way angle with Chantry House in the Marsh at double-figure odds as I see the Irish superstar’s reputation frightening off a few contenders. This race looks the obvious target for Nicky Henderson’s former winning pointer who found Shishkin too speedy in the Supreme and is likely therefore to do so again in an Arkle (Hendo has already said he won’t go back down in trip) whereas he’s not had a crack at Envoi Allen yet over a more suitable trip for him. Plenty of water to flow under the bridge yet but I can see a scenario where Envoi Allen is a hot favourite and Chantry House is sent off second-favourite clear of the rest. In summary, I do really like Chantry House going forward and suggest backing him now each-way whilst double-figure odds are still available.
Clarence House Chase - FIRST FLOW (WON 14/1)
FIRST FLOW looks best placed of the remainder chasing a six-timer, having won over C/D earlier in the season when taking the Hurst Park Handicap and then following up in the Castleford Chase after which Kim Bailey signalled his interest in upping him in class for this Grade 1 prize. All five of those wins were on testing ground (x4 heavy) so Ascot in mid-January should be right up his street with the Clarence House regularly run on a testing surface. In addition, his best performances in novice hurdles were also on bottomless ground so the more it rains over the next ten days the better his chance. He is still 13lb behind Politologue on official figures but he has picked up a nice habit of winning handicaps by small margins this season so keeping himself ahead of the handicapper and therefore also making it harder to gain a true handle on his ability. He’s also at his strongest at the end of his 2m races and don’t forget that the Clarence House is over 2m1f. In summary, with conditions likely to suit I see First Flow running and running well at current odds of 14/1. Let it rain, rain and rain some more.
Savills Chase - A PLUS TARD (WON 16/1)
Given that he is at 16/1, I will chance a totally different form line to the aforementioned pair as I have been advocating for a while now that A PLUS TARD can improve for the step up to 3m after he was a staying-on third in the Ryanair when probably not at his best. His trainer was certainly disappointed with his run afterwards. I’ve even suggested that he might be a Gold Cup horse in time bearing in mind that he is still only six going on seven so was just five when took apart his field winning at the 2019 Festival and the owners would ideally like to keep him and the Allaho apart in March. At this meeting last year he took advantage of some rustiness of Chacun Pour Soi to win the Grade 1 over 2m1f but De Bromhead didn’t think that he would have the pace over 2m on the sharper Old Course on spring ground (it wasn’t) for the Champion Chase so he was sent to the Ryanair instead. That decision appears to be the right one judged by his defeat over 2m on his comeback run in October but he was also beaten in that Poplar Square Chase when needing the run last season before improving plenty to win at this meeting next time out, so expect a similar level of progression between his first and second chase starts here. He could have headed back to the 2m1f race to attempt to defend his title but the best 2m chaser around has had a run this time and, more significantly I suspect, the yard already have Notebook for that so, with Put The Kettle On heading to Kempton, running A Plus Tard over 3m in the Savills Chase gives the stable the opportunity to split up the trio. In summary, A Plus Tard is too classy to be a 16/1 chance in this race, especially being open to improvement tackling 3m for the first time so I have backed him. There are also some similarities that can be drawn with Sizing John who also had classy 2m form, was moving up in trip and a 7yo come March when he came from left field in a relatively short space of time to win the Gold Cup so, if I can make a case for A Plus Tard for the Savills, I am going to have to strike a little ‘action-sized’ e/w bet on him for the Gold Cup at as big as 66/1.
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf - AUDARYA (WON 14/1)
The Filly & Mare Turf has been a good race for the Europeans only trailing 12-9 having been comprehensively numerically outnumbered down the years, as they are again this year with four of the 14 runners. Peaceful is ‘our’ shortest-priced contender but needs to bounce back from a last of 12 in the Sun Chariot. I think the best e/w value of the European challenge is James Fanshawe’s improving AUDARYA. I like Tarnawa’s chances in the Turf later on the card which is a classier race than this and Audaraya ran her to a length when third in the Prix de l’Opera on Arc Day. Prior to that she caused a 48/1 surprise on the PMU when winning the Group 1 Prix Romanet on soft ground which Fanshawe wasn’t sure that she would like beforehand and it was even more testing when she ran so well on Arc Day. It could well be therefore that this faster surface will see her improve yet again and she may well be a bigger price on the American PMU than with industry odds if you can bet into those pools. In summary, Rushing Fall looks the pick of the home team and Peaceful the best of the Europeans but in pure value terms Audaraya makes each-way appeal and probably especially so if you can bet into the American pools.
World Snooker Championship 2nd Quarter - ANTHONY McGILL (WON (20/1)
Jack Lisowski for me is overrated. It will be no surprise if ANTHONY McGILL who is basically a Top 16 player, takes care of him in the first round. The Scot breezed through qualifying and has done well here before (when reaching the quarter-finals). John Higgins has reached a number of quarter and semi-finals (this season) but whether he’s been suffering a hangover from the three world final defeats in a row or it is age-related deterioration, I’m not sure. David Gilbert had a great run last year beaten narrowly by Higgins in the semi-final and was in brilliant form coming into that tournament. However, this season has not been so good. He had a decent run at the Masters and reached the final of the English Open losing 9-1 to Selby but, apart from that, a lot of first and second round defeats so I don’t really rate his chances that highly. He could easily get turned over by Kurt Maflin, another veteran who is having a bit of a renaissance.The last match of the quarter sees Mark Allen play Jamie Clarke who looked good in qualifying from what I managed to see. Allen’s never really turned up at the World Championship, for what reason I don’t know. He’s brilliant in amongst the balls but never seems to produce here. Maybe it’s the long format and physical and mental fatigue that sets in? It’s fair to say that he doesn’t look the fittest player on tour. It would be no shock if he gets turned over as he normally flatters to deceive in this event. I think McGill at 20/1 to win this quarter is too big. Paul Thompson
FA Cup - ARSENAL (WON 14/1)
Only a small stakes ‘action’ bet for me given that we don’t know how seriously which clubs are taking this competition until the semi-finals stage, and the luck of the draw of course, but ARSENAL fans need something to hold their hopes onto to this season and their performance to beat Manchester United over Christmas suggested that a much better second half of the campaign under Mikel Arteta was likely the first under Unai Emery. As such, I feel that they offer a little value at 14/1, especially with Liverpool (no certs to get past Everton as are likely to be fielding a weakened team) and Manchester City concentrating on the Champions League come March onwards (the title race should be as good as over by then), and Leicester, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United are more interested in fighting it out to claim two of the other four lucrative Champions League berths. Arsenal would be a little shorter than a best price 14/1 in a few places if they weren’t drawn at home against the Championship leaders, Leeds, for their tricky third round tie on Monday but the challengers strike me as less likely to be taking this competition less seriously than the Gunners so that they can keep their eye firmly on attaining one of the automatic positions to the Premier League, rather than ending in the playoffs.
Golden Boot - JAMIE VARDY (WON 20/1)
I also expect Leicester to fare well this season and can see JAMIE VARDY return to close to his best under Brendan Rogers (never looked happy bunny under Claude Puel) so backing their main man who no longer has any England commitments having retired from international football each-way at 20/1 (4 places) for the Golden Boot is my idea of a bit of value to keep us interested. He struck on 10 occasions in just 11 games under Rogers showing that his fire still burns bright for the right manager and he is also their penalty taker in a season where I’m sure VAR will produce a higher quota of those than usual.
The Derby - SERPENTINE (WON 25/1)
It’s another O’Brien contender that interests me more at the prices in SERPENTINE at 25/1+ with four places. The worry is that his trainer has said he could be a St Leger type and Emmet McNamara rides rather than a big name so the chances are that he’ll go forward (Ballydoyle don’t run pacemakers of course!) and although they can give us a good run for your money up to 2f/1f out, I’d rather back an outsider smuggled into it late and pick up what they can - like Wings of Eagles did. A Galileo-sired, 9l winner of his maiden over 1m2f in first-time cheekpieces just a week ago, this will be a skinner for the ante-post market if he can take the next step up the ladder, but stranger things. The dam was second in the Oaks and a three-parts sister to an Arc winner, so there has to be more to come too raised up to 1m4f. In summary, I’ll chance that Serpentine isn’t on pace-making duties with an each-way bet with a firm offering four places.
Dragon Stakes - A'ALI (WON 12/1)
A’ALI bids to get himself back on track after missing Royal Ascot following his flop in a trial. Last season’s Norfolk, Prix Robert-Papin and Flying Childers winner is back reunited with Dettori and respected having been the best of the 3yos at two. I don’t know what went wrong at Newcastle over 6f but this stiff 5f off a strong gallop looks made for him. In summary, Liberty Beach is proving stronger in the market that Lazuli this morning and I think that is right but if back to his best, double-figure-odds each-way about the x3 Group 2 winner as a 2yo, A’Ali, looks the best value option.
Merseyside Derby - NO GOALSCORER (WON 12/1)
I normally like to back the draw in the Merseyside Derby and three of their last five PL games ended with them sharing the points. Liverpool trounced Everton 5-2 at Anfield in December but this won’t be as blood and guts with no fans to work up and the last two derbies at Goodison Park ended 0-0 so the home team know how to frustrate the league leaders at home. In fact, it would also have been another 0-0 between the clubs last season at Anfield but for a freak goal in the last 30 seconds. NO GOALSCORER at 12/1 therefore looks big.
Boodles Handicap Hurdle - ARAMAX (WON 16/1)
Significantly, this juvenile hurdle featured last season’s Fred Winter (Boodles) winner and third and Gordon Elliott’s ARAMAX is the one to keep an eye on here with the Fred Winter in mind this time. I recommended Coko Beach e/w for Elliott for the Fred Winter at 33/1 after he was third in this race last year and he went on to finish second at the Festival. Aramax has had four runs (two in France and two for Elliott and McManus) but, only rated 127, they could be rightly worried that he won’t get in off that mark (129 was bottom weight last year) especially with virtually 4yo I read about being aimed at the Fred Winter rather than the Triumph this year, so ideally they want him winning here to try and make sure. I can see him being nibbled at in the FW market before this race at Naas takes place (currently 14/1-16/1) and wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to take a look re Cheltenham or straight back him for this race given the prize is a very likely spot at the Festival. I don’t mind saying that I’ve had an each-way nibble on Aramax at 16s for the Boodles (Fred Winter) and if he can win here, plus given who his connections are, I can see him starting something like a 4/1 favourite come the sixth race on the Wednesday of Festival week. I’d rather he didn’t win too well though! In summary, Aramax probably needs to win this to get in the Fred Winner or otherwise he would be staying in his box until Cheltenham. ‘Nuff said.
National Hunt Chase - RAVENHILL (WON 25/1)
Who will Jamie Codd pick up a spare ride on like with Le Breuil last year, that is the question? If you can work that one out in advance then you will be well ahead of the market with The Coddfather having ridden the winner on three occasions. Le Breuil wasn’t even an intended runner until Codd let Ben Pauling know that he was available the week beforehand so you can be sure that he will be getting in touch with trainers who are also not committed to run their entry, if it has any kind of a chance. Perhaps the 10yo, RAVENHILL, could be Codd’s mount given his association with Gordon Elliott? A narrow runner-up to Poker Party in the Kerry National back in September, although he is now aged in double figures, that fine run was only his sixth start over fences and he was previously fifth in the Galway Plate on just his fourth chase start - another good run in such a difficult roller-coaster race for a novice. Prior to that he won two of his first three chases in the summer. I mentioned Tiger Roll earlier who won this race three years ago and, back in the autumn of that season, he won the Munster National so Elliott has ‘previous’ when it comes to successfully tackling the NH Chase with a horse that has already cut the mustard in a competitive handicap chase in Ireland. In just being beaten in the Kerry National by a brilliant ride from Rachael Blackmore on the winner, Ravenhill has that. It didn’t work out for him for his next race as he fell at half-way when a leading fancy for the Troytown in November and we have not seen him since. Perhaps significantly, Elliott put Tiger Roll away for 134 days before he won this race so I quite like the fact that Ravenhill has not run since Navan and also that Elliott isn’t mentioning him anywhere. I was on a panel with Elliott that year in Ireland and he didn’t mention Tiger Roll either. I am not averse to putting up a 10yo for this race, in fact I did so two years ago when Rathvinden was successful (and another 10yo finished third). The NH Chase is not like the RSA and added maturity and experience is a positive.
Betfair Hurdle - PIC D'ORHY (WON 33/1)
The overall performance of five-year-olds since the mid-nineties has been particularly eye-catching being responsible for almost half of all win-and-place positions (33-67) going back to and including 1995 which is some achievement given they are at a considerable numerical disadvantage. Five-year-olds filled five of the first six places in 2016 after being responsible for five of the first seven places in 2014. With regards to weight, in addition to Punjabi, Rooster Booster also carried top weight into second place but just Persian War has carried over 11st 7lb to victory in the race’s history until Al Dancer last year. However, it was very much a weakened race last season switching to Ascot a week after Newbury was abandoned offering less prize money and just a 14-runner field as a consequence so I’m ignoring it for the purposes of this argument. The fact that Persian War, Rooster Booster and Punjabi were all Champion Hurdlers which tells us how hard it is to carry a big weight in this race in a normal renewal. The two previous winners successful off 11st 7lb were both trained by Martin Pipe so Gumball (7lb clear top weight at present) wouldn’t be for me. His presence means that PIC D'ORHY, Elixir de Nutz, Harambe, Not So Sleepy, Stolen Silver, Mill Green and Nelson River haven’t been brought into the 11st 7lb+ category and the first-named interests me most being a 5yo who may appreciate the drop back in trip for an in-form yard. In summary, the presence of Not So Sleepy and Ciel du Niege make this harder after they took up their entries but Thebannerkingrebel remains my idea of the most likely winner to extend the winning run of novices to nine successes in the last 11 years and Pic D’Orhy would be my pick of the 20/1+ shots with firms betting down to fifth or beyond for each-way purposes.
WGC-Mexico - PATRICK REED (WON 40/1)
PATRICK REED isn’t everyone's cup of tea but he has been plying his trade very efficiently since the turn of the year. Second at the Tournament of Champions and sixth at Torrey, he has had a couple of chances of glory already. I feel this week gives him his best chance yet, a course where his short game skills can prove very advantageous. He has been making steady progress during his visits here, improving from 61st to 37th, to a credible 14th last term. Not in any of these three years did he arrive here off the back of the couple of excellent displays outlined above, and this may be the time he shows his true skill set around here. I find Reed can often be overlooked in the markets due to the public's general dislike of him. I really couldn’t care less what sort he is if he lands us a 40/1 winner. And that price, on a course I really think will suit him, just looks too big. Ciaran Meagher
Peter Marsh Chase - VINTAGE CLOUDS (WON 10/1)
Sue Smith has trained four Peter Marsh winners this century and I wonder if this might finally be the day for VINTAGE CLOUDS to win a notable handicap chase? I’ve been with him a few times before off higher marks than his current 143 and a repeat of his second in last season’s Ultima off 1lb higher would probably be good enough. The problem is that he has two unfortunate experiences over the Grand National fences since then and didn’t look the same horse when a 20l third in the Tommy Whittle here before Christmas. The stable have been in better form lately though and sometimes a horse can underperform on its next start after a run over the National fences. Given his clear dislike of Aintree, I can’t see the National being on his agenda so races like this, the Ultima and Scottish National should be what connections are targeting with their ten-year-old who won over C/D here last season off the same mark that he runs off on Saturday when beating Takingrisks into second who has won two big handicaps since. If Vintage Clouds is right in the head after his two Aintree disappointments, I think that he is the one to beat. His Haydock record reads 12222F3213.
Welsh Grand National - POTTERS CORNER (WON 33/1)
Of the 25/1+ shots, the one I like most is the Midlands National winner, POTTERS CORNER, who won over hurdles at the course last weekend (I do like a course winner for this race) in his prep race and Christian Williams’ strong stayer will relish the additional 6f. I’d expect him to be a deal shorter on the day as the Welsh racegoers back one of their own and he deserves to be shorter regardless than 33/1 in a couple of places on his defeat of Ms Parfois at Uttoxeter over 4m2f back on heavy ground in March under James Bowen where just six of the 19 completed in an out-and-out stamina test. We’re getting good value on punter prejudice for him hailing from an unfashionable stable. The more testing the ground the better for this 9yo who will be having his first outing in four starts back over fences since he won the Midlands National. This has been his aim since March and, although he’s 10lb higher now, James Tudor took 7lb off his back when they won at the weekend and I will be surprised if they don’t utilise that claim again. In summary, I like low weights (the lower the better) with winning course form for the Welsh National so am backing Truckers Lodge (second) to win at 10/1 which is available in plenty of places and Potters Corner each-way at 33/1 and hope that it buckets down for him.
Becher Chase - WALK IN THE MILL (WON 10/1)
Two of the last three winners, Vieux Lion Rouge (2016) and WALK IN THE MILL (2018), feature again and I prefer last year’s winner of the pair off just 4lb higher than when he had Vieux Lion Rouge 4½l back in second. In fact, I prefer him out of all the 26 entries as I thought he won a little more cosily than the winning margin suggested and then fared best of the Brits in the Grand National beaten 16l into fourth by Tiger Roll. The Becher Chase has had some effect on the big one itself later in the season notably in 2003 when the 1-2 went on to fill the same positions with Amberleigh House reversing placings with Clan Royal. One For Arthur also gained some valuable course experience three seasons ago when finishing fifth ahead of winning the Grand National two starts later. However, Grand National experience has been a much greater guide to the Becher Chase than the other way round as half of the last 22 winners took their chance in the Aintree extravaganza back in the spring. In fact, the eight winners prior to Walk In The Mill last season (beat previous two course winners into second and third) had ran over the Grand National course before and, since 1997, only six winners were having their first experience of these unique fences in any race run over these obstacles and three of those were trained by Paul Nicholls. I particularly like the fact therefore that Walk In The Mill could win this race last year without previous course experience but now he is an old hand having his best two races over these fences. A run in the Badger Ales should have put him spot on just like a seasonal debut last season put him spot on before he took this race. In summary, I fancy Walk In The Mill can win the Becher Chase for the second year running in a race where the top five in the betting have a good record.
Ladbrokes Trophy - DE RASHER COUNTER (WON 12/1)
DE RASHER COUNTER is the one I am most drawn to of On The Blind Side’s chief market rivals. He was a progressive, staying novice on testing ground last season with his best performance was when winning the competitive 3m novices’ handicap chase off top weight at Uttoxeter on Midlands National Day on heavy ground for Emma Lavelle, surging clear to win by 6l so stamina is very much his strong suit. Newbury eight months down the line was highlighted as his target straight afterwards and a spin over hurdles last month was nothing other than a race to help reach peak fitness for the Ladbrokes Trophy. I do prefer a horse that has had a prep race these days for the Ladbrokes Trophy. The last six winners, for example, were given a prep race unlike in the Pipe era. The early value has dried up and you might not think of a horse like him should be around 10/1 for a ‘Hennessy’ of the good old days, but it just looks like a normal handicap to me this year lacking potential Gold Cup horses, like it was 12 months ago. In summary, I like second-season chasers with a prep run behind them and the pair that make most appeal are On The Blind Side who we have a price edge on having recommended him each-way at 25/1 just over three weeks ago and my on-the-day fancy is De Rasher Counter.
Ladbrokes Handicap Chase - OLDGRANGEWOOD (WON 12/1)
Harry Skelton is the regular jockey for both of the Dan Skelton runners and he rides OLDGRANGEWOOD who is off a 10lb lower mark than when he took this prize two years ago when my preference in the corresponding copy, so that chunky difference caught my attention. In finishing third to Riders Onthe Storm (my idea of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner in a fortnight’s time) on his first run after wind surgery he showed that his time could be close again as the winner looked lobbed in by the handicapper afterwards and it was also the right horse in Cepage that finished second, so I fancy that’s good form. A couple of runs earlier he was third to Kildisart in an 18-runner handicap at Aintree that also looks decent form and he is 2lb lower than for that run. In summary, Kalashnikov looks correctly priced at around 3/1 favourite but Oldgrangewood was my preference in this race two years ago and, 10lb lower this time, he makes each-way appeal at around 12/1 off what looked a good third in a warm handicap on his seasonal return.
British Champions Sprint Stakes - DONJUAN TRIUMPHANT (WON 33/1)
I've found The Tin Man and Librisa Breeze in this race for two of the last three years for this service so am hoping to extend that record. It’s that time of year for big-priced winners like Sands Of Mali in this race last year and I will suggest an each-way, ante-post punt on a similarly-priced contender to 12 months ago who I think is capable of causing an upset. There isn’t a great difference between the top sprinters and top handicappers and maybe this can be the day that DONJUAN TRIUMPHANT picks up a nice prize that he has been threatening to do for a couple of years and he is one of the soft-ground lovers that hasn’t been latched onto yet being a general 25/1 and 33/1 with Sky Bet. In my race previews earlier this year I have referred to him as a sprinter to be more interested in come the autumn and he put up a seasonal best effort last time out when a 2l second to Cape Byron over C/D earlier this month when too far back after blowing the start. By the time he was in top gear, the winner had flown. With an even break, he would have gone close but is available at four times bigger odds than the winner. Last year he outran his odds to finish third in this race (after he was fourth in the Haydock Sprint Cup) before winning on the final day of the turf season so this is his time of year with some good cut underfoot.
Cesarewitch - STRATUM (WON 25/1)
STRATUM was my ante-post outsider for the Ebor but was balloted out so stakes were returned and Willie Mullins brings him over for the same owner, Tony Bloom, whose Withhold landed a big gamble in the Cesarewitch two years ago. Since the Ebor he won a conditions race at Killarney by 12 lengths so, who knows, he may well have gone very close had he got in the Ebor. Mind you, he was sent off at 2/9 so was expected to cruise it. You might think that has affected his handicap mark but he was rated 100 going into Killarney and races off 99 here. True, he has been beaten at very short odds over hurdles since then but that makes me think that could have been a race just to keep him tied over until heading for a massive pot and we certainly have that here with almost a quarter of a million pounds on offer to the winning connections. The fact he is number 4 on the racecard here but couldn’t get in the Ebor tells us this is a far less classy handicap. In summary, Ranch Hand is my pick of the leading fancies with Stratum of each-way interest with firms offering places down to seventh or eighth on Saturday at 20/1+.
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - WALDGEIST (WON 16/1)
We were with WALDGEIST each-way in last season’s Arc at 33/1 from five months before the race and he was a little unlucky to finish fourth having not got a clear run 2f out after not being handed the best of draws (13 of 18). This time he is drawn well in stall 3. He is a better horse in France than on his travels, that much is evident from the fact that he is 0-6 when sent abroad but has won two Group 1s and three Group 2s in France. He did get to within 2l of Enable and Crystal Ocean in a well-run King George on his travels though which has to put him in the place mix, especially as Andre Fabre is brilliant at preparing a horse for the Arc having won it seven times (though not since 2006) and has also got a few big-priced, older horses into the frame to boot - Flintshire and Cloth Of Stars in recent years. Waldgeist was a ready winner of the Prix Foy and all looks set for him to run well in the race again. I can certainly see him placing so would very much consider him each-way without Enable once that market is up and running after the declarations stage. In summary, Enable should win a third Arc but I can let her go at odds-on and still support her in my heart by going with Waldgeist in a Without-Favourite market. He has a better draw than when an unlucky fourth last season and enters the race in better form than 12 months ago having beaten Ghaiyyath in the spring, ran Enable to 2l in the King George and impressed in his prep on Arc weekend. He shouldn’t be far away. Sotsass appeals more than Japan of the three-year-olds.
Prix de la Foret - ONE MASTER (WON 12/1)
I like ONE MASTER’s chances of winning back-to-back Foret’s and think that the 12/1 is worth taking about William Haggas’ mare before the decs tomorrow as, according to Martyn Meade in a recent interview, the second-favourite, Advertise, will wait instead for the British Champions Sprint at Ascot. Last season’s surprise 33/1 winner has been unfortunate not to add to that success this season. First time out in Ireland One Master was stated to be unfit by her trainer under a penalty and also ended up being the one that tried to chase down the winner who had set up a clear early lead so it was a decent return to put her right for Royal Ascot. Then she quickened up best of all to lead inside the final furling in the Queen Anne (interesting they went there rather than the Duke of Cambridge for fillies and mares) but she didn’t see out the stiff mile finishing a close-up third before she raced on the unfavourable strip of ground at Newmarket failing by a neck to give weight to Veracious who had the benefit of the golden highway leading up the stands’ rail. On her only other start she found 6½f a bit sharp when staying on for fifth in a Group 1 at Deauville only beaten 1¾l by Advertise when racing away from the main action. Back in mid-August a return to the Foret was the stated plan by Haggas who felt that her fifth in the Prix Maurice de Gheest was a good run on ground faster than ideal for her. All four of her runs this season have been on good ground or quicker and I would hope that there will be some juice underfoot for her on the first Sunday in October, though she handles better ground okay. From what we know, 7f is One Master’s ideal trip and this is the first chance that she has been given to run over it since taking this race last year. In summary, One Master looks a good each-way bet at 12/1 back at her optimum trip after running well in defeat in all four starts this season over too far or too short or when penalised or running on the wrong part of the track since taking this race last year, especially if Advertise and Laurens aren’t declared tomorrow as expected. At 12/1 ante-post, I make her the best bet on Arc weekend.
Prix de l'Abbaye - GLASS SLIPPERS (WON 20/1)
Finsbury Square and Gold Vibe lead the home defence that very rarely win the Abbaye. Finsbury Square comfortably beat Gold Vibe into second in a Group 2 at Chantilly last season but was well beaten in the Abbaye and has only had one run this season. Therefore Gold Vibe is preferred but he has 1¾l to find with Kevin Ryan’s GLASS SLIPPERS who took the Group 3 trial over C/D three weeks ago with Shades Of Blue separating the pair and is 20/1 in places. The winner was slowly into stride on that occasion so can certainly be marked up following up her Listed race success at Deauville so is a 3yo filly that has taken off since reverting her attentions to sprinting. In summary, Glass Slippers brings a different form line to most of the British and Irish contenders and is a fast-improving 3yo filly since the switch to sprinting so she appeals most without Battaash.
US Open - BIANCA ANDREESCU (WON 14/1)
BIANCA ANDREESCU is my outright fancy. The young Canadian has the potential to be a future World Number 1 in the not too distant future. The 19-year-old won in Indian Wells on this surface during the spring before having to withdraw prior to her second round match at the French Open with a shoulder injury that ruled her out until just a few weeks ago, but won her first tournament back won in Toronto on home turf, two weeks ago. What impresses me most with Andreescu is her record against top ten opponents, having beaten three along the way to claim her fourth career title and she has now won all seven of her matches against top ten opponents overall. She really does have the full package at 19 to win a Grand Slam on this surface so let’s hope it’s this fortnight. Carl Redden
Golden Mile - BEAT LE BON (WON 12/1)
One of the top heritage handicaps of the season and the draw has been a huge factor as history says it will be hard for anything drawn higher than 9. The market usually reflects this but Escobar (12), the Hunt Cup winner Afaak (14), the course winner now in first-time blinkers Dark Vision for Mark Johnston trying to win his fourth Golden Mile in 11 years (19) and the highly-progressive Indeed (16) are currently in the top six in the betting which makes BEAT LE BON (3) even more interesting. Just two of the last 16 winners have defied a double-digit draw and ten of those 16 were housed in one of the lowest five stalls (the last three winners were drawn in the lowest three stalls). Higher-drawn horses also have more of an early climb to overcome in addition to having further to travel. Beat Le Bon is best drawn of the top six in the betting in stall 3, he is also a course winner chasing a hat-trick who looks like he now needs this step up to a mile so Richard Hannon’s three-year-old has plenty of positives in his favour. Of the others drawn in single figures, they are older than I prefer for a handicap of this nature. In summary, Beat Le Bon is my pick.
Irish Open - ZANDER LOMBARD (Top South African) (WON 45/1)
ZANDER LOMBARD's recent displays offer little hope as, in truth, he has been awful since the Alfred Dunhill in December. But his displays both in Ireland and on the links in both Scottish and British Opens offer hope that Lahinch may spark a revival. Sixth last year in Ballyliffin, he followed that with flashes of brilliance at his next two stops. A Friday 66 at Gullane wasn’t enough to remedy an opening 74, but did again show his links ability. From there he produced thee excellent days at Carnoustie where he set out on the final day alongside eventual runner-up Justin Rose. Payday didn’t go according to plan but again he had displayed an aptitude for the sort of test he will face this week. He may continue in his current slump, but many a poor season has been halted with a visit to a completely different test of golf, and at 45/1 I am keen to give him the benefit of the doubt here. Ciaran Meagher
Champions League - LIVERPOOL (WON 12/1)
I may be a LIVERPOOL fan but I rarely tip them. However, I do think that they are value to go one place better than last season at 12/1 as I see them more like 8/1 shots even if they are housed in the same group as PSG. I quite fancy them to beat the French champions at home on Tuesday given their home form in the CL last season and I don’t really see a Sarri-less Napoli being a big threat now that their previous manager has moved to Chelsea having got the Serie A runners-up to over-perform last season. Crvena Vzezda (aka Red Star Belgrade) completes the group. In my pre-season Premier League preview I went for a Manchester City-Liverpool straight forecast at 7/2 and I’m not unhappy with that but, after the 5-5 start that Jurgen Klopp’s team have made with a far more steadfast defence than last season, I think that it will be much closer between the pair than I originally imagined so therefore feel that the price difference between the two clubs for the Champions League is too wide at 9/2 and 12/1. After all, they damn nearly won it last year after scintillating home performances to roll over Manchester City and Roma in the quarters and semis and who knows if Salah wasn’t substituted early in the final through injury, a wonder strike from Bale and two calamitous errors from Karius? Since then Liverpool have spent big to strengthen their squad so why shouldn’t they win it this time? And if they were to meet City at any point along the way, Klopp has a superb record against Guardiola.
Bet365 Gold Cup - TALKISCHEAP (WON 20/1)
I highlighted TALKISCHEAP as a horse that would very much interest me for the Bet365 God Cup if he wasn’t declared for the Scottish National two weeks ago so took the 20/1 each-way when that non-declaration for Ayr was confirmed. Since then King has been on fire on the flat with Chatez winning the Spring Cup at Newbury and having two good handicap winners at the Craven Meeting with Aweedram and Beringer so the stable couldn’t be in much better form. I had Talkischeap in mind as my Ultima horse for this season after a couple of good runs behind La Bague Au Roi in Newbury novice chases earlier in the season, and that form has been very well franked as she has won two Grade 1s since. On the first occasion, Lostinstranslation split the pair and he also went on to win a Grade 1, was second in two more and also won a Dipper, so that’s very solid novice form. Talkischeap then won a match (the r/u won a small race at Exeter last week) before two runs at Kempton, which I think is a bit sharp for him. On the latter occasion he was fifth after being sent off 4/1 joint-favourite for the valuable 3m handicap chase in late February which he contested rather than the Ultima. The plan was then to wait for the £100K novices’ handicap chase at the Scottish National Meeting but they decided to bypass the meeting altogether (was also in the Scottish National) and move him up significantly in trip for the season’s big finale, which I think will suit him. Novices should also be respected and Step Back made most to coast home by 14 lengths last season in his first season over fences. Hennessy was the previous novice to win in 2009 preceded by Puntal who cut out virtually all the running to score for first-season chasers in 2004 following up Beau's record 44 lengths’ winning margin in 2000 and Bounce Back's clear-cut success two years earlier. In summary, this is building up to be a better renewal than the last couple of years and hopefully you are also sitting pretty on Talkischeap at 20/1 after I highlighted him for this a couple of columns back in the Scottish National preview.
Irish Grand National - BURROWS SAINT (WON 16/1)
Willie Mullins finally got the Gold Cup monkey off his back so the updated most important race that he has yet to win is the Irish National and he has some fair chances to put that right this year. Just two horses in the last 20 years have carried over 11st to victory so I prefer BURROWS SAINT if he gets in being a novice who has improved with each of his three chase starts this season, and is set to run off a featherweight. Novices have a good record in the race with 19 wins since 1974. His latest run was a win over 3m in a Grade 3 novice chase at Limerick on his first try at that trip so he is open to more improvement for another step up in distance and in general terms. He ran over fences twice in France before sent hurdling when Mullins got him and was fourth to Duc des Genevries in a beginners’ chase at Gowran Park before returning to the same course to get off the mark over fences. In summary, I like a novice for the Irish National and Burrows Saint is my (ante-post) preference at 16/1.
Red Rum Handicap Chase - MOON OVER GERMANY (WON 12/1)
Novices have won nine of the last 17 runnings so, as with the Grand Annual, it is a strong handicap for first-season chasers. No one trainer has a particularly notable record and the Irish have won this race six times all told since it was first run in 1977 and the horse I like is MOON OVER GERMANY, a novice representing Henry de Bromhead who has had novices run well in the Red Rum before and has twice won the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase over 2m with horses who bypassed Cheltenham. Owned by Philip Reynolds (he of Presenting Percy and Mall Dini fame so likes one to be laid out for a big handicap) this 8yo is 0-4 over fences but shaped well in his first two chases before disappointing on his next two. If he re-finds his best form for this handicap, representing a brilliant trainer of 2m novice chasers, I like his chances off 10st 7lb at around the 12/1 mark.
RSA Chase - TOPOFTHEGAME (WON 12/1)
Since I started betting in the early 1980s I must have backed more RSA Chase winners than any other race over jumps or on the flat and we have two bullets struck at ante-post prices on Santini (16/1) and TOPOFTHEGAME (12/1) to take on the favoiurite and 6yo Delta Work with. I have to be hopeful as they both trade much shorter now and I don't like 6yos for the RSA. I couldn’t resist adding one of my pre-season ten to follow, Topofthegame, to my ante-post bet on Santini from way back in April after he was second in the Kauto Star as a win bet, a race in which horses placed second, third and fourth have a very good record in the RSA and where he had Santini back in third. The track certainly didn’t suit Santini and I saw him as the one of the pair to improve most for returning to a more galloping course. Given his interrupted schedule however, now I’m not so sure and can see Topfthegame confirming places as a result.
Mares Hurdle - ROKSANA (WON 16/1)
I want to find one to try and beat Benie des Dieux and I have come down in favour of ROKSANA who rates as a sporting each-way alternative at 16/1 three weeks in advance of the race. She caught my eye on her seasonal debut until two out in Buveur D’Air’s race at Sandown over an inadequate 2m having finished second to Santini over 3m in the Grade 1 at Aintree after winning a Grade 2 novice hurdle final at Newbury, and you know how highly I rate the winner. She has won on heavy and good ground so underfoot conditions wouldn’t appear to be important to her and this could be her ideal trip.
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase - ANY SECOND NOW (WON 10/1)
If ANY SECOND NOW runs at all at the Festival (he is also in the Leinster National on Saturday), it will be in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir according to his trainer, Ted Walsh, who he hopes will be the mount of Derek O’Connor. This is generally a good race for the very top amateur riders, the leading fancies and horses towards the top of the handicap (he will be 2lb off top weight at worst) and he will fit all three criterion. J P McManus loves the amateur rider races and has won two of the last six runnings and I can see Any Second Now going off favourite as he has twice been very well backed into favouritism on the day for two big handicaps in the last 12 months. In addition, there was also an almighty plunge on the Ted Walsh representative in this race three years ago, Champagne James, from 25/1 into 4/1 fav in the space of two days. A raw novice hurdler, he was looked after bypassing Cheltenham despite winning the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer and he has appealed as just the type for a big handicap since sent chasing. It makes sense to run Any Second Now here as he looked short of toe for the novice race last season and this is almost 5½f further. His best effort this season was when fifth in the 28-runner Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas when first-time blinkers were applied (it’s not a deal breaker but is worth highlighting that seven of the last eight winners of the Fulke Walwyn Kim wore some form of headgear) where he would have been closer but for a last-fence mistake. The last two Irish-trained winners also contested the Paddy Power Chase with Cause Of Causes (for the same owner) finishing twelfth and Spring Heeled was back in tenth and I just feel an extra 2f can bring further improvement out of my fancy who was staying on well at Leopardstown. He ran respectably again on last next start when not beaten far when third behind Chris’s Dream and Champagne Classic in a Grade 3 novice chase also over 3m, again staying on like an extra 2f wouldn’t go amiss.
Greatwood Gold Cup - SAN BENEDETO (WON 11/1)
Nick Schofield rides SAN BENEDETO who looks the best value of the Ditcheat team now that he has been declared here rather than at Doncaster, despite finishing last of ten behind Cyrname last time. The Handicapper is starting to relent though as he was dropped another 3lb for that effort down to 147 having been running in handicaps off 157 last season and his form from the last two seasons has been much stronger as we head towards and during the spring. His biggest win was the Grade 1 Maghull Chase taking advantage of Politilogue’s last-fence fall in 2017 when he wasn’t far behind at the time of the grey’s departure. He didn’t help his handicap mark when a 3½l second to Altior in the Celebration Chase last April though. Now we’ve hit March, this is the time that San Benedeto has bloomed in the past so I can see him improving plenty on this season’s efforts.
North London & Merseyside Derbies - DRAW-DRAW DOUBLE (WON 14.75/1)
I am just going to play it very simple and go to my default positon for big local rivalry games and back the draw in the North London derby and also in Merseyside derby at Goodison Park the following day. If one of them wins then that’s a profit but I also can’t resist a DRAW-DRAW DOUBLE at nearly 15/1. I was with the draw at Anfield in early December at 7/2 which it was all set to be until a last-minute of added-on time fluke gave all three points to Liverpool. Eight of their last 14 games have ended in a draw, the majority of which when Everton are the hosts. Tottenham are stuttering at present but Arsenal have been a far superior team at home than on their travels so this is a tough game to weigh up. Feels like a draw to me, which wouldn’t be a disaster for Spurs who are now surely out of the title race trailing by 9 points, but a point apiece would maintain their 4pts lead over Arsenal in their battle for third. Tottenham also have a trip to Dortmund on Tuesday. They should be safe holding a 3-0 lead from the first leg but Pochettino is still going to want to put out his strongest side in Germany, just in case.
Haydock Grand National Trial - ROBINSFIRTH (WON 8/1 - Exacta paid 55.90)
My preference is for ROBINSFIRTH who finished well to find just one too good here in the Peter Marsh on his seasonal debut 28 days ago and is likely to have sharpened up for that run and can reverse placings on better terms with Wakanda with that run now under his belt and over a longer trip that can favour Colin Tizzard’s 10yo more of the pair. He also lost ground with a couple of mistakes which hopefully can be eradicated and lost his place at a crucial time before staying on strongly so this extra half a mile should be right up his street. Tizzard also runs Royal Vacation who is a Grand National prospect after he followed up a good second at Cheltenham with a ready win in a decent race at Taunton but I just feel that Robinsirth is the one open to more improvement for the step up in trip though and the lesser exposed over fences having his eighth chase start and he was also second on his previous visit. In summary, I would give the edge to Robinsfirth over Ramses de Teillee with course form and a promise to step up on his seasonal debut and for a longer trip being key.
Long Walk Hurdle - PAISLEY PARK (WON 8/1)
I prefer PAISLEY PARK who could be the Sam Spinner of the 2018/19 campaign having won this season’s 3m handicap hurdle at Haydock where he needed every yard of the trip to get up on the line. There was a much smaller field than usual back in mid-November so some will crab the form but he won it off 11st 12lb (official rating of 147) whereas when Sam Spinner took a much more competitive renewal by 17 lengths in 2017, he was doing so off 139 and then went on to win this Grade 1. Paisley Park is now rated 152 whereas Sam Spinner was upped to 155 when contesting last year’s race so they would be on a similar progressive arc at the same stages of their career. I would say that Paisley Park still looks much more of a work in progress of the two and Emma Lavelle felt that he was babyish at Haydock which is why he needed all of the trip to get up on the line, more so than him lacking the pace to lay up when they kicked off the home turn. I would concur with that as he’s not slow by any means as we saw at Aintree on his previous start. If she is correct and he has mentally matured for that victory at Haydock, then I feel that there could be another good 7lb to come so I rate him the bet.
Sir Peter O'Sullevan Memorial Chase - KAPCORSE (WON 12/1)
Eleven have been declared for this 2m6½f handicap chase including the Paul Nicholls-trained Kapcorse who was one of my ten to follow in my pre-season Horses to Follow but he ran terribly here last month. They went a serious gallop in a race featuring lots of front runners and he plain got taken out of comfort zone so he’s worth another chance. A five-year-old owned by J P McManus who made a winning debut over fences at Bangor-on-Dee in April after four unplaced efforts over hurdles, there is little doubt where his future lies. Connections took advantage of those unplaced runs over timber as he was handed a lowly handicap mark of just 116 for his novice handicap chase debut and readily won by eight lengths. He has since been raised 12lb for that victory but this imposing-looking individual looked a natural over fences bar a peck at the final fence and started from a low base so more handicap successes look his for the taking. He is in the right hands to do just that and don’t be surprised if he ends up contesting high-quality novice chases sooner rather than later. He’s off the same mark here of 128 under Bryony Frost who rode him at Bangor and McManus will be keen to win this race honouring Sir Peter O'Sullevan.
November Handicap - ROYAL LINE (WON 9/1)
ROYAL LINE is trying to give John Gosden a sixh win in the race. He shaped much better than his seventh place in last year's race, is fresher this time and likes soft ground. He was produced to lead 1f out last year but then faded out of the frame but it must be remembered that he only made his career debut two months earlier and that was a fourth run in nine weeks so he was still a weak three-year-old. With another year on his back and having the look of a horse laid out for the race, it could be a different matter.
Ryder Cup Top Overall Points Scorer & Top European Points Scorer - FRANCESCO MOLINARI (WON 18/1 & WON 9/1)
If there is another European who could play all five games then I’d say it has to be FRANCESCO MOLINARI who is a different player this season having won the two biggest events on the European Tour so he is £1.5m clear in the Race to Dubai and also won an event by a wide margin in America. He is not in as brilliant form as he was in the summer but his three runner-up finishes on this track give him an edge and he will certainly play in both foursomes matches given his tee-to-green accuracy. Being the European Tour number one, he also looks a shoo-in for a morning fourballs game on Friday so he could easily play all five matches. Therefore 9/1 for Top European is too big as is 18/1 to be top points scorer overall.
Tour Championship - TIGER WOODS (WON 14/1)
With hitting fairways imperative here, and an excellent iron game from there, it would seem folly to ignore the claims of TIGER WOODS. Since Tiger returned to an old driver shaft prior to the Playoff Series, he has been splitting fairways with monotonous aplomb. This is a far cry from earlier in the season when it was that deficiency off the tee which cost him dear. His iron and wedge play is very very close to its brilliant best of years ago and if Tiger does play from the fairway this week it might just all come together. His opening 62 at the BMW was a joy to behold and it was only an ice-cold putter a day later that probably prevented what the whole of the golfing world now wants to witness. He seems to have his game face back on, even refusing interview after the final round of the Dell Tech, and a win seems to be very much on the horizon. Tiger doesn’t have any realistic chance of landing the FedEx outright, and this may be another helper in his quest for his next ‘W’. At 14/1, given the form he is in, and his undoubted suitability to the venue, he looks a worthwhile play to me. Ciaran Meagher
World Cup - FRANCE (WON 8/1)
It was almost a year ago when I first announced my intention in ‘Thought for the Day’ to back FRANCE after they beat England 3-2 in a friendly after which they were 8/1 to be crowned world champions. Since then I have made references to having backed France in some of my blogs, other ‘Thought of the Days’ and in From Soba To Moldova. I’m not one for tactical arguments, and I’ve read plenty of those in many a World Cup preview in the last few weeks, preferring to go with my eyes and instincts and a few stats to boot and it was the exuberance, flair, pace and team spirit of the French that really caught my attention during that game. I just thought that they were electric going forward and a sharper, more incisive and better team than the one that were beaten in extra time by Portugal in the European Championship final held in their own backyard. Man for man, France are potentially the most exciting outfit of the tournament. Despite reaching the Euro 2016 final, it is still mainly about potential with France which is exactly what football professional backers don’t like but, if it all clicks, then I think they are the team to beat with their bottomless pit of attacking options which meant that there was no place in the squad for Benzema, Martial, Payet and Lacazette for one reason or another. With so much attacking talent there were always going to be casualties. Instead they have Euro 2016’s top marksman, Griezmann, up front with in my view the under-rated Giroud (you certainly can’t knock him when he wears a French shirt) and the exciting Mbappe also set to start with Pogba in behind and Kante being the rock. There is pace galore even in defence.
Queen's Vase - AIDAN O'BRIEN TRICAST (WON - Paid £69.15 to £1 stake)
It has been the Aidan O'Brien, Mark Johnston and Sir Michael Stoute show since the turn of the century carving up 15 of the 18 runnings between them. I can see an AIDAN O'BRIEN 1-2-3 here as he goes for a fourth win in six years and with the next pair in the betting being very inexperienced so I wouldn't put you off various forecasts and trifectas with his trio.
PGA Championship - FRANCESCO MOLINARI (WON 22/1)
Having put up Noren last year, it proved an excellent week on the whole as the runner-up FRANCESCO MOLINARI was also one of my outright selections. I don’t recall backing him since, but think here and now is the time to place some faith in him again. Plenty of similarities between Wentworth and the top Italian tracks have been bandied about by leading Tour players and it is clearly somewhere the Turin man is very comfortable at. Never one of the game’s best putters, it is certainly of no inconvenience that Wentworth has been notoriously tough to make putts at. It makes it more of a level playing field with no one shooting the lights out on the greens and the Italian's tee-to-green game is a formidable weapon around here. A disappointing missed cut at The Players is the one blip on his card of late but that is a venue where missing a weekend is very forgivable. He will plot his way around here better than most and, though he has share of bridesmaid appearances, he warrants backing at 22-1. Ciaran Meagher
Bet365 Gold Cup - STEP BACK (WON 33/1)
Looking further ahead we have the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown where I hope to have uncovered a dark one in Mark Bradstock's STEP BACK who is a 33/1 chance. He it sitting 52nd on the entry list with a maximum field of 20 but 31 horses from higher in the weights ran at Aintree and/or take part in a race this weekend so he has a great chance of getting a run. I've had it confirmed that, all being well, this is the target for Step Back so I'm on each-way at 33s. Part of the thought process about betting today (9 days before the race) is that bookmakers will surely adjust their book in due course but I'm hopeful we'll beat them to the punch. His profile is a strange one for a major staying chase as, while he is eight years old, Step Back has only had five career starts under rules plus two point-to-point victories - so it's a calculated risk to bet given his price. In March 2017 he ran really well on just his second start in a high class Albert Bartlett featuring Penhill, Monalee and Wholestone amongst others. That race heavily favours experience so he did remarkably well. I'm unsure why we didn't see him until February 2018 but his comeback was noteworthy as he jumped superbly on chase debut at Chepstow and only lack of match practice stopped him beating Thomas Patrick (since won at the Grand National Meeting) at level weights. He then went to Sandown two weeks later, staying on well under kind handling into third, before thrashing a small but decent field on better ground at Fakenham. Both times hes run left handed over fences he's jumped really well but out to his right so this track will suit and whilst he acts on heavy he wants decent ground. Mark Ball
Triumph Hurdle - FARCLAS (WON 20/1)
FARCLAS is also an intended runner for Gordon Elliott in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle. According to Elliott, he has “improved an awful lot” for his very promising first run over hurdles and he was only 1¼ lengths behind Espoir D’Allen here last month when doing his best work in the final 75 yards so I think there is every chance of a form reversal even if the winner was value for more than the margin and was giving 3lb. Gigginstown gave Apple’s Jade her Irish debut in the same race at Christmas and she then came on a bundle to almost win the Triumph and the owners like to build up with the best juvenile and their Tiger Roll finished second here before then winning the Triumph. Their Petite Parisienne won the Spring Hurdle two years ago showing much improved form from her first run to her second. My gut is telling that Farclas is much the best juvenile that Gordon Elliott has having described Mitchouka (twice a runner-up to Espoir D’Allen) as not a Grade 1 horse and I think he fancies he might be able to improve beyond Gavin Cromwell’s unbeaten-over-hurdles favourite for the weekend. Five years ago in this service I put up Our Conor at 16/1 for the Triumph the Monday before he won the Spring Hurdle anticipating a big run and I’m going to try and repeat that success with Farclas to each-way stakes who is 20/1 in four places and a more than acceptable 16/1 in others.
Supreme Novices' Hurdle - SUMMERVILLE BOY (WON 16/1)
As I have talked myself into believing that Roger Brookhouse will run Black Op in the Ballymore after he would have won the Classic Novices’ Hurdle over 2m4½f on Trials Day but for a last-flight mistake, I am backing his SUMMERVILLE BOY each-way for the Supreme at 16/1. Does he really want both of them taking on the might of Samcro? I was worried that he could take up his Ballymore engagement but even the owner surely knows it makes sense to split them up and keep them at the trip where they have been performing well. Therefore I am happy to 16/1 in the ‘all-in’ market rather than 12/1 NRNB. Betfair agrees with me as he 160/1 on there for the longer race. There’s a chance Summerville Boy could go Ballymore and Black Op the Albert Bartlett so they will still be apart, but the Supreme-Ballymore option looks a lot more likely. In short, I think he’s the best of the Brits. Summerville Boy just isn’t that fashionable, hence why he is over double the odds of Kalashnikov, because he had beaten in races in the first half of the season. Certainly one of those came in a slowly-run affair that wasn’t run to suit him, but he should enjoy the usual helter skelter pace of a Supreme. I think there’s plenty more to come from him on better ground too.
Paddy Power Handicap Chase - ANIBALE FLY (WON 14/1)
The other horse to catch my imagination is ANIBALE FLY, another J P McManus-owned contender, who was a quality novice on his day last season (second in the Drinmore to Coney Island and also second to Disko at the Punchestown Festival) and he too had a run round in that same 2m chase as Squoateur on his only run this season. He is no stranger to winning big field handicaps having done so over hurdles at the 2016 Punchestown Festival and underfoot conditions are in his favour. In summary, my two against the field are the J P McManus-owned pair of Sqouateur and Anibale Fly.
Lavazza Silver Cup and Long Walk Hurdle Day (Ascot) - GOLD PRESENT (WON 17/2 & SAM SPINNER WON 8/1)
I prefer another form line from that Newbury Meeting, namely the 2m6½f handicap chase won by GOLD PRESENT who got up late to win suggesting that this longer trip, and also now having a run under his belt, can propel him forward by more than the 5lb he was raised for that success. Runner-up to Tully East in the novices’ handicap chase at last season’s festival, he has what it takes for big-field handicaps. In time I think he might be better than a handicapper and there is more to come from him on his first run over 3m with a run now under his belt.
SAM SPINNER is another handicapper that has improved in leaps and bounds and he’s the one I see as more likely to be new kid on the block. Never out of the first two in eight starts, he had the valuable handicap at Haydock sewn up a long way out and wide-margin winners of that race in the past have gone on to be high-class staying hurdlers. In summary, I’d argue the value lies with Sam Spinner at 8/1 as he’s improving mighty fast and, being hard to get a true handle on, it’s very possible he is still under-rated.
John Francome Novices' Chase - ELEGANT ESCAPE (WON 12/1)
Colin Tizzard’s has saddled the last two winners of this race in Native River and Thistlecrack so I’m thinking that he rates ELEGANT ESCAPE in pretty high regard despite being beaten into second on both his chase starts. There was no disgrace in going down to Mia’s Storm who Alan King has already mentioned the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day for and the RSA, and I suspect it was a different Ballyoptic that he couldn’t then lay a glove on at Exeter than the one that Black Corton turned over at Cheltenham. He was also well beaten in the top staying novice hurdles last season but there has to be a reason why Colin Tizzard keeps running him in these good races and quite a few of his best horses were slow burners. In summary, Black Corton sets the standard and deserves clear favouritism but it’s been a busy eight months for him and this is quick enough after his last win so I tried to find one to take him on with. I reckon Elegant Escape is too big at 12/1 and better than we have seen of him so far and he’d be worth an each-way shot at those odds if all five stand their ground.
BetVictor Handicap Chase - PERFECT CANDIDATE (WON 12/1)
A smaller field of nine than has been the case of late for the staying handicap chase in which I have done well in down the years and also hasn’t been a bad little pointer for the Grand National as a couple of Aintree winners later in the season have run in this contest in the last decade. I can see PERFECT CANDIDATE going well having blown the cobwebs away at the October Meeting which looked a prep for this race in which he was a close-up fifth two years ago a year after his trainer prepared the 1-2 and he looks the overpriced horse in the race for each-way purposes at 12/1. Fergal O'Brien has fond memories of this race so doubtless this handicap has been his aim since the end of last season.
Old Roan Chase - SMAD PLACE (WON 16/1)
SMAD PLACE was fourth last year beaten 4½l just behind Vibrato Valtat and is now 8lb better off with the 1-2, Third Intention and God’s Own, so he’s a definite player. Alan King’s horses are coming on for their first run but I still think 16/1 is too big about him for the Old Roan Chase.
City Of York Stakes - TALAAYEB (WON 14/1)
Six three-year-olds take on 14 older horses and it had been tough going for the Classic generation winning just once in 11 years until they took the last two renewals. Those last two winners, Fadhayil and Nemoralia, were 3yo fillies dropping in class having contested a Group 1 earlier in the season and the 1000 Guineas third and fourth, Daban and Talaayeb, fit that profile this time. On that Newmarket form when the pair were beaten only by Winter (won x3 Group 1s since) and Rhododendron (clear second to Enable in the Oaks), they have an outstanding chance. After the 1000 Guineas I thought that TALAAYEB was the one to take out of the contest as that was only her second start and she raced on her own for much of the last 2f. Her trainer has already brought back one Guineas-placed horse in the last few days from the wilderness with great success as Massaat won the Hungerford Stakes at the weekend and he has given this daughter of Dansili time to get over what was her ailing her when last seen 71 days ago. Massaat’s win was one of three winners for the stable on Saturday from three runners so the yard are bang in form and judged on her Guineas effort I don’t see dropping back to 7f being a big problem and stall 8 looks nice. This pair look a class above the four 3yo colts. Talaayeb is double Daban’s price at 14/1 so makes each-way appeal.
USPGA Championship - JORDAN SMITH (Top English) (WON 22/1)
Having put JORDAN SMITH up as a European Tour player to follow in my Irish Open preview, hopefully a few readers may have stuck with him for his victory in the European Open. He’s still very much in the formative stages of his career and this may very well be a step too far at this stage, but the 22-1 on offer for Top English looks worth a dabble here. I have Rose, Poulter and Fleetwood down as underpriced and am not too keen on Casey. Jordan averages barely under 300 yards off the tee and won't be as disadvantaged as the likes of Matt Fitzpatrick or Luke Donald. He’s a star in the making and the confidence gained from his debut win on the main tour may see him ruffle a few feathers this week.
Qatar Summer Handicap - SOLDIER IN ACTION (WON 11/1)
Fourteen older handicappers line up for this staying prize over 1m6f which has been won by the top weight on three occasions in the last decade. The Mark Johnston-trained SOLDIER IN ACTION has that honour this year after his win at the Derby Meeting and second off a big weight in the Old Newton Cup to Dylan Mouth. He has since finished third in a conditions race at Musselburgh and has course-winning form so I see another big run. I made reference in my blog on July 9th after the Old Newton Cup was won by the top weight just what a great record highly-weighted horses have had this season in the staying handicaps for older horses so I make no apologies for concentrating on them here. In addition to the 1-2 in the Old Newton Cup being the top weights, Higher Power and Thomas Hobson won the Northumberland Plate and Ascot Stakes respectively off 9st 9lb and 9st 10lb respectively. Other big staying handicaps for older horses such as the Chester Cup and Duke Of Edinburgh were also won by horses towards the upper echelons of the handicap plus the equivalent races at the Guineas, Victoria Cup and Derby meetings. The tough and in-form top weight Soldier In Action also shouldn’t be too far away and makes each-way appeal.
The Open Championship - JORDAN SPIETH (WON 16/1)
At 16-1 I simply cannot leave JORDAN SPIETH out here. He comes here off the back of a highly entertaining and slightly fortuitous win at the Travelers Championship. Out of character for Jordan, he seemed quite nervy over the closing holes, and it was only his incredible will to win, and the knack of pulling a rabbit out of the hat when needed, that got him over the line. What that will have done though, is reinstate the confidence that was slightly missing from his game this season. I had said on more than one occasion before that triumph that he was trending towards a huge week. Even in victory, he probably didn't achieve quite that, but he could be about to unleash ‘vintage Spieth’ here this week. So many Major courses are now brutally long, and can test Jordan’s driving but here we have the perfect set-up for him. He has been much straighter of late anyway, especially when he hasn't felt the need to try and force it out there. With strategy set to be a key component this week, I can’t think of any player who will set out with a more well prepared plan than Team Spieth. His scrambling ability really is a joy to watch, and successfully getting up and down from around 40-50 yards this week will determine whether a player has a chance to win here or not. Not as steeped in Open experience as Scott or Garcia, Spieth is however wise beyond his years and Birkdale as a tough and fair test of golf really does make for the ideal venue for the American. He brings recent winning form to the table and if he does stay straight off the tee, it’s going to take a big performance to beat him. Ciaran Meagher
The Open Championship - MATTHEW SOUTHGATE (Top English) (WON 45/1)
MATT SOUTHGATE is a tremendous exponent of links golf, and displayed that once again in the Irish Open two weeks ago. Only a ridiculously good performance from Jon Rahm bettered him, and having been on him Top 20 in last year’s Open, I am keen to have him on side again. He missed the cut at the Scottish last week, but given his overall links profile and massive price of 45-1 here, that is quite easily forgiven. Ciaran Meagher
Coral-Eclipse Stakes - ULYSSES (WON 8/1)
It’s probably not going to be the greatest surprise to you given that I retained ULYSSES in my Horses to Follow column from last season that I think he is the pick of the prices at 8/1 for the Coral-Eclipse on Saturday. Despite the Derby form being franked more than once, I’m still not convinced that the 3yo middle-distance colts this season are that special and I generally prefer an older horse in the big 1m2f-1m4f, all-aged races during the summer anyway unless there is an exceptional 3yo in opposition. Ulysses went into my Horses to Follow after he won the Gordon Stakes last season but was then a bit disappointing at Windsor before he was a good fourth given his lack of experience in the BC Turf when Dettori was one of the guilty riders that handed the race on a plate to Highland Reel by allowing him far too rope in the lead. Naturally, I expected the son of Galileo out of the Oaks winner, Light Shift, to improve between three and four being Stoute-trained and that is exactly what has happened as he impressed over the Eclipse C/D in the Gordon Richards when beating Deauville who has since won the Huxley Stakes and placed in the Queen Anne. On his only subsequent start Ulysses then put up a career best when a 1¼l third in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes. That run at Royal Ascot behind Highland Reel can be marked up as I felt that Jim Crowley hit the front too soon against a famed battler and that was all the encouragement that the hard-as-nails, globe-trotting, multi-Grade 1 winning 5yo needed to really put his head down and add the POW to his wins in the King George, BC Turf, Coronation Cup, Hong Kong Vase and Secretariat Stakes. I think that it would have been close had he challenged later so I’d expect him to reverse with Decorated Knight who just nabbed Ulysses for second. In summary, Ulysses is still on the upgrade and impressed over C/D in April and I'm hopeful that he can gve Sir Michael Stoute a sixth Eclipse joining Opera House, Ezzoud, Pilsudski, Medicean and Notnowcato.
ICC Champions Trophy Top Runscorer - SHIKHAR DHAWAN (WON 40/1)
SHIKHAR DHAWAN is something of an enigma - few batsmen can make the game look so hard and then so easy in successive innings - but it is hard to argue with his ODI record with an average rising 43 with nine centuries and 17 half centuries from 75 innings. He scored 412 runs in the last World Cup and it’s worth noting that he was the leading scorer in the tournament when India won the Champions Trophy here in 2013. Only David Warner and Gautam Gambhir outscored him in the recent IPL so his current form is no concern and the top price of 40-1 is huge. Paul Smith
The Derby - WINGS OF EAGLES (WON 25/1) SP 40/1
The eyecatcher in the Vase was WINGS OF EAGLES who wouldn’t have been on anyone’s mind for the Derby until he was even declared for that trial judged on his four runs as a two-year-old, though his fourth in the Zetland Stakes behind Coronet is working out well. Many punters won’t like taking a chance on the Ballydoyle horses that Moore discards but, get this, having conducted some research last week I discovered that Aidan O’Brien has won 18 classics in GB and Ireland that weren’t his shortest-priced runner; Rock Of Gibraltar, Winter, Ruler Of The World, High Chaparral, Qualify, Was, Frozen Fire, Soldier Of Fortune, Desert King, Seventh Heaven, Bracelet, Marvellous, Misty For Me, Halfway To Heaven, Imagine, Classic Park, Black Minnaloushe and Saffron Walden. Of those 18, ten were sent off a double-figure prices. Wings Of Eagles is a general 25/1 shot. He was settled out the back at Chester by Seamie Heffernan whereas the winner and third were in the van throughout, and then eased out wide to make his ground around the bend for a full 2f. Despite not appearing to enjoy the course even in the home straight, he finished well in the final furlong and was the horse to take out of the race. I’d be certain that he lost more ground running wide than the margin that he was beaten and he can be expected to improve a bundle for this seasonal return. O’Brien horses can just take off and keep on improving at a rate of knots so I am not that fussed he was no great shakes at two where he showed signs of inexperience when winning his maiden with a high head carriage. I’m very hopeful that the penny is now only just starting to drop with him and that he can make giant strides from Chester to Epsom. In summary, gun to the head and it would be Cliffs Of Moher but the each-way value of the race at the general 25/1 is Wings Of Eagles who shaped like the best horse in the Chester Vase to these eyes and it looks like the penny is only just starting to drop with him.
The Memorial - JASON DUFNER (WON 66/1)
I think that JASON DUFNER is very much worthy of support this week. He was very disappointing carrying my hard earned last week but in truth though, it was only one poor round from the former PGA Championship winner and that was in the worst of the conditions. Two late bogeys on Friday cost him a weekend’s work, and I am inclined to just draw a line under that. There have been plenty of examples in recent times of players disappointing at events they are ‘expected’ at, and then bouncing back with excellent efforts the following week. Less of that expectancy and pressure may just free them up. Dufner had been in superb form and, given that Muirfield is his ideal test on paper, I feel he is far too big here at 66-1. Ciaran Meagher
BMW PGA Championship - ALEX NOREN (WON 20/1)
Talking of players not returning from America for this, one player who will be more than happy to return to European soil, is my idea of the likely winner - ALEX NOREN. Successful on no fewer than four times last season, the big Swede has tried to crack the PGA Tour of late and he certainly hasn't been outclassed. He threatened a breakthrough win on US soil in the Wells Fargo before a disappointingly nervy Sunday scuppered his hopes. He bounced back quickly to once again contend at The Players. He again couldn't get the job done on Sunday but a top 10 in the best field assembled all year will have further boosted his confidence. In interviews during the Wells Fargo he consistently mentioned how ‘difficult’ he was finding it to adapt to the PGA Tour. Difficulty learning new courses, difficulty with new surroundings, difficulty fitting in. It struck of someone not quite confident enough to go and win. This bore out in his play under pressure, but returning this week to what he knows best, he can impose his class on this field and notch his biggest win to date. Sixth here in 2008 and eighth in 2015, either side of the Ernie Els changes, he should be able to cope with however it plays this week. In neither of those years was he anywhere near the player he is now. Given his recent displays in far better fields than this, I think he will go very close here. Ciaran Meagher
1000 Guineas - WINTER (WON 12/1)
I have a sneaky fancy for WINTER. The 16s has dried up from earlier in the week into 12s but the momentum behind her has a similar feel to that before Legatissimo won here two years ago. She was trained by David Wachman and had largely gone under the radar until a week before the race and Winter was also trained by Wachman last season until he packed the game up and she was sent to Aidan O’Brien. Unlike Legatissimo, she was beaten in her trial but as explained earlier that wasn’t unsurprising given his new handler’s modus operandi with 3yo fillies, and it was a really hot running of the Irish 1000 Guineas Trial. Winter needed three runs to get off the mark for Wachman eventually striking at Dundalk over 7f in August from a wide draw and the only other time we saw her she improved plenty to lose out by only a head to Hydrangea in the Irish 1000 Guineas Trial despite running too freely and racing on the outside - the same race in which Virginia Waters and Homecoming Queen contested. Back in third was Rehana who then won the Group 3 Athasi Stakes earlier in the week with Joseph O’Brien’s Moylare winner, Intricately, in fourth. Hydrangea sets a very good form standard herself having twice finished second to Rhododendron including in the Fillies’ Mile and was narrowly beaten into second in the Moyglare but she was well raced at two so is not open to as much improvement as Winter. In a race that thrown up its share of surprise winners, I have chanced Winter at 12/1.
Guinness Handicap Chase - SIZING GRANITE (WON 14/1)
Colin Tizzard sends over SIZING GRANITE and Viconte Du Noyer (won over 3m3f at The Open Meeting) and the first named strikes me as the one of the pair likely to be happier over this trip. His run in the Champion Chase was supposed to tee him up for the Melling Chase according to Joe Tizzard beforehand but on his next start he was sent to Taunton instead over hurdles! Mind you, the owner did have Fox Norton for the Melling. That run over hurdles at Taunton smelt as a prep for something and I’d suggest here it is. A Grade 1 winning novice chaser when he beat God’s Own at Aintree, he has the back class to end a superb spring for his owners off a mark of 146. Robbie Power rides him rather than Viconte Du Noyer for his same retainer. In summary, Sizing Granite is well handicapped if the Tizzards have got him back to close to his best and makes each-way appeal at around 14/1.
Punchestown Champion Hurdle - WICKLOW BRAVE (WON 18/1)
Last year’s winner Vroum Vroum Mag (beat Identity Thief into second) and the Irish St Leger winner Wicklow Brave also represent Mullins. VVM is the choice of Walsh, perhaps not unsurprisingly as she is owned by the yard’s principal patron, and travels like 2m should be no bother to her but I think we now know where she stands after splitting Apple’s Jade and Limini at Cheltenham and this is a much better and deeper renewal than the one she won last year. WICKLOW BRAVE interests me more at the prices (18/1 top price) as he ran really well in the Champion Hurdle on his first start over timber for 16 months having blown the start and the effort to get into contention then took its toll and he is now in first-time blinkers. He has each-way claims.
Alder Hey Children's Charity Handicap Hurdle - RATHER BE (WON 14/1)
I had better stay loyal to RATHER BE having backed him in the Martin Pipe only to be brought down at just the second flight in a race where his stablemate, Thomas Campbell (a horse I have trouble trusting), finished fifth and he’s the choice of Nico de Boinville with Jeremiah McGrath on Rather Be. Part of my argument then was that Nicky Henderson gave up a favourite’s chance to win a race he likes in the EBF Final with him to roll the dice in the boys’ race at the Festival and that he was open to improvement moving back up to 2m4f having run a close second over 2m giving an age allowance away to a tough 4yo on his previous start. The only novice to win in the first 14 runnings of this race was Ninepins but since then novices have become an increasing force in this event with a run of eight victories in the 15 runnings from 2002 including a 1-2 in 2015. In summary, tough but I’ll be kicking myself if I let Rather Be go unbacked and he wins in a race where novices and Nicky Henderson have a fine record.
Champion Bumper - FAYONAGH (WON 16/1)
Although not published yet, a little bird tells me that Carter McKay is officially top rated on 130 just ahead of Fayonagh on 129. This is interesting because although bumpers are all about potential it is worth noting that five of the last 14 winners were top rated by BHA, including the last two, and all five won at tidy odds. Official bumper ratings are not usually published but an exception is made for this race as they are used for the elimination process in the event of over 24 overnight declarations for balloting-out purposes. Although the favourite is top rated, when you throw in the 7lb mares’ allowance that FAYONAGH will receive, she then becomes a rather large 6lb clear here. Interestingly, Gordon Elliott didn’t declare her for the Listed Mares’ Bumper at Sandown tomorrow and she’s not a Gigginstown-owned mare so she’ll go where the trainer wants her to. On her only start since moving to Elliott she bolted up by 20l in a Listed Mares’ bumper at Fairyhouse last month. I like how quiet he has been about her on the Festival circuit, even nominating other horses as his fancy for the race. I feel obliged to add Fayonagh as it’s not often we can get 16/1 about a horse 6lb clear at the top of the ratings for a Grade 1 race so I want to take advantage before the price vanishes.
Genesis Open - DUSTIN JOHNSON (WON 9/1)
A player who does look ready to peak here, and certainly knows his way around, is DUSTIN JOHNSON. In recent years he hasn’t really done anything in the ‘downtime’ over the Xmas period and allows himself to play his way into form in the weeks after. A strong-finishing second in Abu Dhabi, followed by a predictable MC at Torrey preceded an excellent effort last week. Never really in the hunt with a winning chance, he barely looked to come out of second gear when ultimately finishing second. He was very positive in his post-round interview, saying he thought he had now found his game. He knows how suited he is to this week's test and will be delighted he comes here at the top of his game. Five top 4’s in his last 7 attempts here shows just that, and though I have said I am still sceptical about his ‘closing out’ ability, I believe he more than likely is better equipped now as a Major Champion than in those years of near misses. I have had a larger bet than normal for a 9-1 shot as he seems highly likely to contend again this week and, if the putter shows slight improvement, he will be very hard to beat. Ciaran Meagher
Phoenix Open - HIDEKI MATSUYAMA (WON 11/1)
Sometimes in gambling you have to accept the blindingly obvious and bet accordingly. Augusta apart, I think this venue is the one most suited to the game of HIDEKI MATSUYAMA. Fourth here in 2014 and runner up in 2015, he continued that progression to oust Rickie Fowler in an enthralling playoff last year. That alone entitles him to considerable respect here but, to put it mildly, Hideki is a completely different animal now. A WGC champion, and now multiple winner, he arrives at the top of his game. A rash of success before Christmas could never be sustained into the New Year but this will be the first event that he will have really targeted since. I imagine he exceeded his expectations last week at Torrey, it's simply not his cup of tea. Poa Annua will never be his favoured putting service and he will be much more at home on Scottsdale's Bermuda grass. The changes made here prior to 2015 make this a real ball-striker's test, and Greens in Regulation will be a massive factor in determining the winner, Matsuyama was first for GIR last year and, considering the level he is currently operating on, it's difficult to see him not reaching similar heights this time around. All in all, I make Matsuyama much the likeliest winner and he should be backed to do so. Ciaran Meagher
Punchestown Grand National Trial - BAIE DES ILES (WON 8/1) (Exacta paid £58.80)
Unlike in most recent seasons the Grand National Trial does feature a couple of horses already rated high enough to get a run at Aintree (I’m looking at 145 as the likely cut come April 8th) with Roi Des Francs (154) and My Murphy (147). It tends to be won by a horse on the upgrade with four of the last six winners aged no older than seven. The six-year-old BAIE DES ILES was last seen finishing fifth in the Welsh Grand National. She has had sufficient time to recover from that run in not as testing ground as Chepstow usually throws up. She was also sixth in the Irish Grand National (these are good efforts for a horse aged just five at the time) having previously finished fourth in a Grade 2 to Boston Bob and she also beat Bonny Kate here in a handicap chase 13 months ago giving 3lb and they race off the same terms today. I think that she can be force in the big marathon handicaps over the coming years if she can stay sound. In summary, aged only six, Baie Des Iles has done well so far and the liklihood is that there is more to come. She would be my preference with Sambremont (finished second) as the main danger.
Premier League - HULL to beat Liverpool (WON 13/2)
Liverpool were better when securing a draw at home at Chelsea midweek after going out of two cup competitions in a matter of days which underlines my view over the last few seasons that they raise their game for the better teams and can often look average against clubs they should beat with something to spare. If they can lose at home to Swansea who were bottom of the league at the time after failing to beat another strong relegation candidate in Sunderland, then they are very capable of losing away to the current bottom side, HULL CITY, who therefore look too big at 13/2 to me. The home side will be buoyed by holding Man Utd to a goalless draw at Old Trafford midweek having also beaten the same club a few days earlier in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final. They have also picked up 7 points out of 9 in their last three Premier League home matches beating Bournemouth and Swansea and drawing against Everton.
Most Receiving Touchdowns - JORDY NELSON (WON 16/1)
My fancy in the NFC would have to be the Green Bay Packers at around 4/1, who will see the return of WR JORDY NELSON to the fold. QB Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best in the game right now and his rapport with Nelson is incredible; no tandem in the league has a better back shoulder fade. In his last three full seasons with Rodgers, Nelson averaged 1,365 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns a season, with a high of 15 TD grabs in 2011. At 16/1 Nelson appeals. Ross Miles
Hennessy Gold Cup - NATIVE RIVER (WON 16/1)
The horse I like for the Hennessy ante-post is NATIVE RIVER at 16/1. He’s not flashy but that’s what I like about his profile for the race where a combination of youth, staying power, class and jumping prowess are the key ingredients. The winner of three of his seven novice chases last season culminating in a Grade 1 victory in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree where he travelled the sweetest I had seen him all season when donning cheekpieces for the second time (he finished second in the 4m NH Chase the previous time he wore them), he even made the running at Aintree and had two Cheltenham Festival winners in Blaklion and Un Temps Pour Tout back in third fourth. The last nine Hennessy winners had won a pattern race over fences. I’ve always liked that Aintree race as a guide to the Hennessy as it takes place over a longer trip than the RSA and it featured five winners from the late 1980s through to 2001. Many Clouds also contested it three seasons ago before he won the Hennessy the following autumn. Native River’s second in the NH Chase has worked well in one big staying handicap chase already as the fifth, Vicente, then came out and won the Scottish National but it is his staying Grade 2 novice chase victory at last season’s Hennessy Meeting which is the run that I am mainly backing him on having given 7lb and a 3¾l beating to Un Temps Pour Tout. Most of the market principals will be novices from last season and they have provided 11 of the last 17 winners. I also made a mental note of Colin Tizzard’s excellent Hennessy Meeting record last year where he had winners at 8/1 and 7/2 plus the 12/1 runner-up in the Hennessy (who was also third two years earlier at 33/1) and a 10/1 runner-up in a big-field handicap hurdle from his eight runners over the three days. I’d like to see Native River have a prep run as he was given two starts before he won at last season’s Hennessy Meeting, needing the first, though it was a warm novice chase at Chepstow when he finished third (Blalkion was one place behind him), to put him absolutely spot on and it wouldn’t bother me if he has was beaten in his trial. In summary, I feel that Native River has all the tools that you look for in a Hennessy winner and 16/1 makes plenty of appeal.
Sir Peter O'Sullevan Handicap Chase - O'MAONLAI (WON 18/1 into 12/1)
In this race last year I suggested O’MAONLAI each-way and he finished second at 25/1. He returns off a 3lb lower mark and, having also won at Newbury, you would think that Tom George has had this handicap in mind for a while. The problem is that he hasn’t come close to troubling the judge in three subsequent starts so he’ll be a similar price to last year. In summary, hard. Therefore I’d prefer to take a chance on a couple of bigger priced horses if wanting to get involved and I’d nominate Waldorf Salad (non runner) and O’Maonlai who are both 18/1+ and hope the 17 runners doesn’t drop to 15.
Stella Artois 1965 Chase - ROYAL REGATTA (WON 10/1)
I covered this race on Wednesday and suggested ROYAL REGATTA. He could be the one as he was just behind Vibrato Valtat in the Old Roan despite having an awful profile on left-handed tracks beforehand and he was still going alright in front until mistake three out ended his winning chance. Throw in his Ascot profile of only once finishing out of the first three in five chase starts and he looks a solid each-way proposition. A negative is that he won’t have Richard Johnson who is as at Haydock but Tom O’Brien knows him well and was third on him behind Silviniaco Conti in the Grade 1 here in February. He is the lowest-rated horse in the race but Royal Regatta's course profile suggests he can finish in the first three.
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - FOUND (WON 11/1)
The Arc trials are now all over and I have backed FOUND at 11/1. That might surprise you given that I have been against her all season but my main reason for my opposition to her in Group 1 races since she won the Breeders' Cup Turf is that I very much formed the opinion very early on was that her season was all being geared around the big autumn prizes. Well, here were are! All her runs this season just struck me as a precursor to her first main target of a stellar running of the Irish Champion Stakes which she almost won finishing second to a horse unlikely to be one of her rivals in the Arc and she she beat the rest readily. Last autumn, Aidan O'Brien's 4yo filly with an iron constitution ran the subsequent Arc winner, Golden Horn, to a length in the Irish Champion Stakes before finishing ninth in the Arc, second in the Champion Stakes and then reversing form with Golden Horn at the Breeders' Cup. I wouldn't be worried about her ninth in last year's Arc as she was drawn out wide which is usually hard to overcome, she was hampered 2f out when making her challenge and was then just looked after under hands and heels. At a double figure price and her consistency, I can't resist an each-way interest. Fillies have won won four of the last five runnings.
England v Pakistan Test Series - 2-2 (WON 14/1)
The idea of backing a flawed England at 4-11 for the series is wholly unappealing and it has the feel of a topsy-turvy affair ahead. The absence of Jimmy Anderson for the first Test, on a Lord’s wicket that is usually pretty docile at this time of year, will be a fillip for the visitors and they have too much about them to let England roll them over all summer. Neither side comes into the series with a batting line up that inspires maximum faith. England, Bairstow and Hales excepted, did little to enhance their reputations against a very ordinary Sri Lankan bowling attack. And make no mistake, this bowling Pakisatn bowling attack is not an ordinary one. Set to be spear-headed by Mohammed Amir, they can also call upon Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah, and England's batting should get a proper work over. For a correct series score interest, the 14-1 about 2-2 might be the way to play it. Paul Smith
Daily Telegraph Nursery (Glorious Goodwood) - TRIFECTA (WON £53.90 - Tricast £214.92)
Seventeen two-year-olds tackle this handicap over 7f so, once again, the draw is likely to be important. Horses drawn between 1-7 filled the first five places last year and horses drawn 1, 2 and 4 filled the first three places in 2013. In addition, horses drawn 1, 2 and 3 finished in the first five in 2012 and stall 1 won in 2011 so you may want to consider some exactas or trifectas amongst low drawn horses. Of those low-drawn horses, if you put a gun to my head I would nominate Teofonic from stall 4 for the Johnston yard that had the winner in 2014 and runner-up in 2015 who is out again quickly under a 6lb penalty for an easy 3½l win at Catterick eight days ago. Johnston is responsible for the three top weights with Montataire chasing a four-timer (not badly drawn in 8) and Bear Valley (also not badly drawn in 6) who made all to win at Epsom last time. A stable 1-2-3 is not out of the question with all three likely to be ridden prominently throughout. In summary, anything drawn higher than stall 8 is off limits. All three Johnston horses have been lucky in this respect and he could dominate the race. Teofonic would be my preference but I can’t resist perming them (the others being Montataire and Bear Valley) in exactas and a trifecta.
Longines Handicap (Lady Amateur Riders) - HAWKEYETHENOO (WON 12/1)
Not the race it used to be when Maxine Juster used to win it or Lydia Pearce or even Princess Anne since it was shuffled off terrestrial television coverage after De Beers discontinued their sponsorship of the day so, to the best of my knowledge, the winning jockey doesn’t receive a diamond anymore but it is still the most prestigious race of its type ahead of the Queen Mother’s Cup at York. It’s also a bloody nightmare year on year with a big field of exposed handicappers ridden by amateurs galloping down the straight 7f so pace judgement is vital and therefore an experienced lady amateur jockey is important. Carole Bartley seems to have going since I was a boy and she’s had her successes in this race and rides the veteran of the race HAWKEYETHENOO who is now a 10-year-old and finds it hard to win and is now on a losing run of 40. I think he can run well though as some of his best runs have been at Ascot including when he won the Victoria Cup over this trip on good-to-firm ground. He wasn’t disgraced last time out when beaten 3l at Doncaster and has been dropped 3lb for that so is down to a mark of 80, the lowest he has been for six years. In summary, you pays your money and takes your chance in a race like this as a punter and I’d have a little each-way tickle on the old boy and old girl, Hawkeyethenoo and Carole Bartley.
The Open Championship - HENRIK STENSON (WON 30/1) - One of just two pre-tournament outright recommendations
The two stats I like most in addition to the last six Open winners at Troon having won earlier in the year are that 10 of the last 11 winners had previously recorded a Top 6 position in The Open and 7 of the last 10 winners were in the Top 30 in the world rankings. Five of the last six Open winners were putting the final preparations to their game by contesting the Scottish Open the previous week, though only one of those could finish in the Top 10. The Scottish Open has been played on a traditional links since 2011 having previously been held at Loch Lomond so it acts as an ideal practice ground. HENRIK STENSON also finished T-13th (alongside Mickelson) and he has three Top 3s in The Open to his credit but the clock is ticking on the 40-year-old if he is to land that elusive Major championship. That said, age isn’t a barrier to success in The Open with three recent winners in their 40s and Zach Johnson was 39 last year plus 59-year-old Tom Watson also all but won it and a part-timer in Greg Norman was third aged 53 shortly afterwards. The Ice Man from Sweden won the BMW in Germany two starts ago and has certainly got the kahunas for it if he is in contention and it will have been encouraging with regards to Troon for both Mickelson and Stenson to recover from opening round scores of 76 to finish just outside the Top 10. The World Number 6, Stenson, is the man I would take above all others that played the Scottish Open last week.
I like PHIL MICKELSON's (finished clear runner-up to Stenson) chances of playing well this week as the pressure is totally off him unlike when he flopped when fancied for The Masters which he entered in very good form and the pressure he put on himself ahead of the US Open having finished runner-up six times. I also have my doubts about McIlroy who is 11/10 to win the Former Champion market so 11/2 each-way about Mickelson appeals in a field full of has-beens that will do well to make the cut except for Zach Johnson, Oosthuizen, Rory and Phil.
Wimbledon Ladies 'Name The Finalists' - SERENA WILLIAMS - ANGELIQUE KERBER (WON 14/1)
Serena Williams will try again to level Steffi Graff's record of 22 Grand Slams. The 6/4 looks short considering that she has flopped at the latter stages of the last three majors, however I do think that she will take all the beating at her favourite Grand Slam. Better value for Serena lies in the 'Name The Finalist' market where, with process of elimination, we can narrow it down to just a couple of challengers to join her in the final. The third quarter looks the strongest of the bottom half for contenders with Madison Keys and Angelique Kerber the two I like to make the final. The fourth quarter has last year’s finalist Garbine Muguruza housed in it and she is favourite to make the final after an emotional victory at the French Open claiming her maiden Grand Slam title but it could all be a bit much for a repeat run less than a month since her stunning triumph at Roland Garros and I favour Kerber or Keys should they meet in a semi-final. I prefer Kerber at the prices each-way at 25/1 and the 14/1 for Serena Williams & Kerber 'Name The Finalists'. Carl Redden
Northumberland Plate - ANTIQUARIUM (WON 16/1)
ANTIQUARIUM was also a beaten favourite last time out but if his fourth of seven at Newmarket on his only run this campaign was needed with a view to putting him spot on for this race then Charlie Appleby’s charge has a good shot at this. You may remember that he was second only to the highly progressive Dartmouth (won three Group races this season) in a valuable handicap at Glorious Goodwood last season and he was then only beaten 1½l by Polarisation in the Melrose at the Ebor Meeting so he knows his way around this big handicaps. The longer trip is a guess but Godolphin are often right in this respect despite him only finishing ninth in the Queen’s Vase last summer. That 2m race comes early for the trip in a 3yo’s career and he has finished second twice since over 1m6f. James McDonald is jocked up so I’d be very hopeful he will run even if the same connections are responsible for Polarisation (James Doyle jocked up). We know he acts on tapeta having won his maiden at Wolverhampton. In summary, lots of respect for Dannyday but at double his price at the general 16/1 I like Antiquarium’s each-way prospects.
Next Conservative Party Leader - THERESA MAY (WON 13/2)
Whatever happens on 23rd/24th June (EU Referendum), the impact for David Cameron looks profound. His party is divided and a loss for Remain would surely spell the end of his leadership and resignation as PM. Cameron is now 6/4 to step down as PM in 2016 with Boris Johnson favourite to take over as Conservative leader at 5/2. The 'Battle of the Bastards' would be dirty and without remorse with both wanting to paint the other as damaged goods post referendum. At which point enter another dark horse who has been uncharacteristically quiet during the referendum campaign - THERESA MAY. The Home Secretary is currently best priced at 13/2. She presents an attractive alternative to Boris (for Cameron loyalists) and Osborne (equally damaged goods if Leave win, as well as being the man who shot IDS). A Cameron to step down in late 2016 and May as next leader scenario is now a realistic outcome for the PM to pursue on the back of a referendum that has damaged his party and the country even if they edge it. Adam Hewson
Royal Ascot Ante-Post Group 1 Sprints - TWILIGHT SON (WON 8/1) & PROFITABLE (WON 8/1)
I wouldn’t be surprised if TWILIGHT SON reversed with Magical Memory (in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes) as he was giving away 5lb and giving up race fitness and raced away from the action at York on the slowest part of the track and could never get in it having been held up in rear. In fact, I expect him to so he rates as a bet at 8/1. We know that he is a genuine Group 1 horse having won the Haydock Sprint where he had Magical Memory back in third and I’d say his 2l second to the brilliant Muhaarar at Ascot on his next run is the best piece of form in the Diamond Jubilee. If that York run has put him spot on (his trainer said he needed it) then I make him the one to beat for a handler who has few peers when it comes to training sprinters. With only seven career starts behind him, there is also reason to believe that Twilight Son has stopped improving yet. The niggle is that he wouldn’t want it any faster than officially good ground but I think that at 8/1 that’s a risk worth taking. He is twice a winner on good-to-firm.
PROFITABLE interests me even more (for the King's Stand Stakes) now that (a) the forecast for the next week is for nothing but sunshine which means Mecca’s Angel has to be considered a likely NR (or not run to her best if they decide to take a punt and run) and nothing really coming out of yesterday’s Prix du Gros-Chene, the last main ‘trial’ which has been a fair guide down the years featuring five of the last 20 winners. That Group 2 at Chantilly went to Son Cesio who is not in the King’s Stand and who beat Catcall who was finishing runner-up in that contest for the fourth year running. As such, Profitable rates as a bet at top price 8/1 with Betbright or 7/1 general. I see him going off around 9/2 jolly on the day. He’s got the best from this season and is still improving and the international challenge looks relatively weak.
The Players Championship Golf - FRANCESCO MOLINARI (TOP EUROPEAN) (WON 40/1)
Sticking with straight hitters on this tight course and FRANCESCO MOLINARI is another player I want to be with this week having posted two Top 10s in five visits. He is not the fastest starter to the season but he usually comes good around this time (he often goes well in the PGA at Wentworth this month) and 9th and 17th place finishes on his last two starts is promising. I am not sure he has big enough balls to win an event as important as this as his putting can be flaky under pressure but I like the look of 40/1 each-way for Top European.
Surrey Stakes - SMUGGLER'S MOON (WON 16/1)
The interesting one, especially if the dead eight stand their ground for each-way purposes, is SMUGGLER'S MOON's who left his only run as a two-year-old miles behind after being gelded when beating 14 rivals in a Newbury maiden in April. The front two finished clear of the remainder and the runner-up then made all to win gamely at Salisbury next time. The way he picked up and stayed on strongly caught the eye and Brian Meehan was talking in terms of the Jersey Stakes afterwards which is a significantly stronger race than this so I am surprised to see him at as big as 16/1, especially given his scope for improvement on just his third start. In summary, all eight standing their ground would be nice for each-way purposes as Smuggler's Moon looks overpriced at 16/1.
French Open Ladies' Tennis - GARBINE MUGURUZA (WON 16/1)
The Spanish 22-year-old enjoyed a great season in 2015 and now looks like being the ready-made replacement to be World Number 1 when Serena Williams decides to ease back on her schedule. She has five career doubles titles to her name also. Such is her versatily, she possesses and all-round, solid, powerful game from the baseline and great touch at the net. She is currently sixth-favourite to win the French Open at 16/1 (general) where I would place her in the top three so she would appear to be cracking each-way value at half the odds to make another Grand Slam final or better. GARBINE MUGURUZA has reached the quarter finals in the last two yaers at the French Open so, with improvement shown during the second half of 2015 and her now-increased self belief, she looks a big price which is worth taking. Carl Redden
Scottish Grand National - VICENTE (WON 16/1):
Long-time subscribers will know that I like novices in the Coral Scottish Grand National and those that ran in the National Hunt Chase in particular. The 2013 winner, Godsmejudge, (who also finished second in 2014), had previously been placed in the NH Chase over 4m at the Cheltenham Festival as had the 2011 winner, Beshabar. The ‘Four Miler’ looks likely to be represented this year with Measureofmydreams (3rd) and Vicente (5th) amongst the leading fancies. Measureofmydreams may well start favourite being Mullins-trained for Gigginstown after his 7l third under Katie Walsh at the Festival. Not only does his NH Chase form look strong with the second, Native River, then going on to win the Grade 1 at Aintree last week, but his previous run when he would have finished second to Black Hercules but for the leader falling at the final fence, was franked when BH then won the JLT. Not hard to see why he is currently 8/1 favourite. I ike VICENTE's chances just as much though and he is twice the price at 16/1 so he rates as fair each-way value. Paul Nicholls’ novice, who gave 8lb and a beating to the subsequent Festival winner Un Temps Pour Tout back in October, was only 8l adrift of Measureofmydreams in the NH Chase and was not helped when hampered three out. Of the pair, he is the fresher having not previously run since mid December. I also like the trainer’s profile in the Scottish National as Nicholls has gone agonisingly close twice with Cornish Rebel and Ladalko (both beaten a short-head) and has also won the prize with Belmont King. He is a certain runner all being well according to Nicholls unlike his other three entries.
Grand National - RULE THE WORLD (WON 50/1)
I will tell you now which 50/1 shot I like for the race and many of you will think I have lost it. It’s the maiden over fences, RULE THE WORLD. Told you! Now the explanation. As you know he was my NH Chase horse as I felt that what he was crying out for was a marathon trip on spring ground. Unless we get a downpour then that’s what he will have more or less (they will water if necessary for safety). He didn’t make it to Cheltenham after a disappointing run nine days before the NH Chase on testing ground but the very fact that they ran in him that contest suggests that they had decided not to run at the Festival anyway. And why would that be? Being saved for the Grand National I would suggest having finished second in the Irish National (was considered the best guide up until a few years ago) on spring ground last season by Mouse Morris for Gigginstown. He could have run in the Irish National on Easter Monday, in fact you might have expected it having finished second last year, which leads me to believe that they have had Aintree in mind for a while and the same owner and trainer won that Irish National and also supplied the fourth so Mouse Morris’ team are in great nick and underlines what a good target trainer he is. No novice has won since 1958 but, more pertinently, he is a second-season chaser who is likely to have conditions to suit and many a Grand National winner ran well below their best in its previous race.
T20 Cricket World Cup - WEST INDIES (WON 12/1)
I can’t resist a saver on the WEST INDIES at 12/1. There’s always a chance that they could blow out completely but this is a squad full of T20 specialists and if they can negotiate the group stage then they have the ability to trouble anyone in the knockout phase. Forget their dismal Test outfit and moderate 50 Over unit – this is a format in which they are still more than competitive. The winners in 2012, they boast a squad full of T20 specialists, most of whom have stacks of IPL experience under their belt. Having resolved yet another contract issue which threatened to decimate the squad, this group of talented mercenaries can make a big splash. They have power at the top of the order and a varied bowling attack. Chris Gayle and Lendl Simmons are prolific in this format and Samuel Badree’s leg-spin, innocuous as it looks from the sofa, continues to prove invaluable. Brawn, rather than brain, will be their asset. Paul Smith
Ryanair Chase - TRIFECTA (WON £56.78)
In summary, I think Vautour will win comfortably with Road To Riches holding off Valseur Lido for second so the Irish can put their Ryanair hooddo to bed in style. There may be 15 runners but I couldn't put you off perming the three class Irish horses in combination trifectas. As far as I am concerned they have a class advantage over the remainder. I suggested doing that last year for the JLT and it came up trumps so maybe lighnting can strike twice. That's what I have done.
Superbowl Most Valuable Player - VON MILLER (WON 22/1)
On the defensive side of the ball, I think that VON MILLER is primed to have a big game. Miller is one of the league’s best defensive players and is due to negotiate a new contract this off-season. It’s widely rumoured he’ll become the league’s highest paid defensive player, so he will want to cement that pay day with a standout performance this Sunday. In the regular season, Miller tied Oakland’s Khalil Mack with 82 total quarterback pressures (sacks, hits and hurries), but led the league in pressures from the left side, with 70 (46 hurries, 18 hits, six sacks), where he blitzed for 73% of snaps. This is important because Carolina right tackle Mike Remmers ranked 60th against his peers for pass protection and is the obvious weak spot on the Panthers’ offensive line against the pass rush. Miller is also a stud against the run, ranking as a top-10 run defender for all edge defenders, so I’m interested in all Miller prop bets relating to his tackle and sack totals. Betfair are offering 5/2 Von Miller records the first Broncos sack, and even money on over 3.5 tackles. A more ambitious bet is Von Miller to be the SuperBowl MVP at 22/1. Adding in to my reasons for nominating Von Miller as MVP is an impression that the Panthers are being somewhat over-hyped, and that Wade Phillip’s aggressive Denver defense will be able to restrict and stifle Carolina, in a similar fashion as to two weeks ago against New England. Ross Miles
Paddy Power Gold Cup - ANNACOTTY (WON 16/1)
The horse I like to run well is ANNACOTTY who is 16/1 in a place but generally a 14s shot. I imagine his price has been cut a little following positive comments from Alan King in his Weekender column, and the switch from Keighley to King is one of the reasons I like his chance. His previous trainer won a Grade 1 novice chase with him eight starts back but his owner felt that Annacotty needed a change of scenery and he has been trained for the race since in the knowledge that he runs the track well having finished second and first in handicap chases on Festival Trials Day here for the last two seasons. Back in January he won over 2m5f here on soft ground so won’t mind any more rain and he is only 3lb higher here so, if the switch in stables can eke out just a little more improvement, then he is bang in this. He is another that likes to go forward but doesn’t have to lead – he tracked the leaders for his course win last season. Ian Popham keeps the ride as knows him so well.