SATURDAY FEBRUARY 28th:
It’s the last day of the worst month of the year! With it comes a hard set of racing programmes, so, swerving a couple of obvious but fragile selections, investment ought to be kept to a minimum.
LINGFIELD: 4.05: Although he picked up ground in the straight, a bad draw, allied to considerable kick-back, did not assist Smoothtalkinrascal last time at Chelmsford City. Racing from a tempting mark, it could be a different story now. All his best form has been over the minimum trip, and with the draw in his favour this time he is of some interest. Not always the safest of betting propositions (he can miss the break), he could be worth chancing at a double figure price.
NEWBURY: 1.45: In a race that for various reasons has attracted those on the easy list, Provo is the one to catch the eye. Having been prominent for a long way here three weeks ago over three miles, this drop in trip should suit.
2.50: This is the kind of puzzling race that encapsulates the day. However, I can pass on a word for Royal Guardsman, for whom a case can be constructed, particularly when one looks at his hurdle and bumper form before he attempted a largely unsuccessful spell over fences. A recent run has sharpened him up and, although outsider of the field in the ante-post market, it would be no surprise to see him attract some support and run accordingly.
DONCASTER: 1.25: In what looks like a two-horse affair, Cardinal Walter is given the nod over Fort Worth. Runner-up in a hot maiden at Newbury three weeks ago, this slight rise in trip should help.
MEYDAN FEBRUARY 26th:
2.45: As several could win on bits of form that they are not guaranteed to reproduce, it is hard to get enthusiastic about the day’s first event. As it stands Rafeej arguably has the best credentials but having apparently gurgled in running last time he cannot be backed with any confidence. In any event he is closely weighted with Nawwaar on their running here in December. Strategical and Ninjago try dirt for the first time and the other two appear equally dodgy.
3.20: The first three in the betting – One Man Band, Year Of Glory and Dubai Iconic – have obvious chances without looking sufficiently well in to look like punting material. Conquerant can enter the equation on revised terms after finishing second to One Man Band last time.
3.55: Local Time is presented with another chance to add to her tally in the desert in this Group 3 over a trip that should suit on running style but that has to be a concern on pedigree. With a cracking attitude, she will probably oblige but straw-clutchers in search of a bigger price prospect may conclude this trip will suit the striking Yodelling. She has plenty to find with Local Time and Good Place on their running here three weeks ago but is open to improvement in first time blinkers and therefore maybe the one to provide a shock if one is in store.
4.30: Paul Hanagan’s apparent reluctance to renew his association with Mastermind in favour of Tashbeeh is probably a crucial factor here. With most salient form lines tying in to Mastermind it seems reasonable to expect a bold showing from Tashbeeh who is well drawn but needs to hit the gates running on this his first appearance outside Australia.
5.05: After finishing in the exhausts of Faulkener and Safety Check with valid excuses (would only have finished closer), Shaishee may be a safer alternative than the ex-American Pazolini who, for all his record in the US (when on lasix), hardly inspires confidence in a first time tongue-tie.
5.40: Safety Check has been one of the stars of the Carnival so far, winning both his races with what looked like something to spare. This leap up to Group 2 company represents a step up but he appeals as the sort to stay with until beaten. According to official figures Darwin and Outstrip are the dangers but both have to bounce back to justify elevated ratings, meaning Soumillon rejects Anaerobio (closely coupled with Dark Emerald on last week’s runs) and Johann Strauss may hold better place prospects.
6.15: Belgian Bill has excellent prospects of reversing form with Tha’ir but after two fair spins round here, Norwegian Derby winner Eye In The Sky looks interesting, particularly as Soumillon seems to have elected to take the ride in preference to Flying The Flag.
KEMPTON SATURDAY FEBRUARY 21st:
2.35: Irish Saint is taken to exploit any weakness in God’s Own whose form of late demands improvement if he is to figure here. Thought to be marginally in need of the run at Sandown last time, Irish Saint jumped soundly and was only narrowly defied. He should be spot on for this.
3.10: After an excellent run at Cheltenham in a race that looks bombproof as regards its form, Vago Collonges is expected to prove too strong for Days Of Heaven (who can be temperamental but whose record fails to match that of the selection in any case) and The Grey Taylor, who takes a hike in class to contest this.
3.45: As the classy contender Easter Day has an obvious chance. Still travelling well when crumpling at Cheltenham’s third-last a month ago he looks favourably weighted, although it is worth cautioning that he has yet to actually win at this trip. The signs are he will get it, but until experiencing the rough-and-tumble of a handicap such as this that is largely conjecture. Fox Appeal is a solid second-best at present but has nothing in hand of the assessor. Le Reve may struggle to follow up on his Sandown win of three weeks ago, particularly from his revised mark which requires a personal best. This is surely a springboard for Godsmejudge, who is better over extreme trips and is likely to be targeted at one of the forthcoming Nationals. Rocky Creek would have a chance if anywhere near back to his best but the signs are that he carries no stable confidence. Last year’s winner (2lbs higher now) and Kempton specialist Bally Legend should not be completely overlooked but still looks up against it. Equipped with first-time cheekpieces, the one that appeals most is Tap Night. Not the safest of betting propositions, he looks worth chancing at current odds after staying-on strongly last time at Cheltenham. Now down amongst the dead men as far as his rating is concerned, he has a real chance if reproducing that latest run.
MEYDAN THURSDAY FEBRUARY 19th:
3.20: Medicean Man returned to action here with a promising run three weeks ago behind Ahtoug, but Hototo, Lancelot Du Lac, Sir Maximilian and Caspian Prince all enter the reckoning on recent form and if fit, High On Life could be included in an ever-growing list. Without any obvious clues, solving this typically tight and competitive handicap is largely reliant on guesswork.
3.55: After chasing home Frankyfourfingers last time, Haatheq takes a drop in grade in this handicap. However in the twilight of his career and from a wide draw, his task is far from straightforward. Cases can be made for Layl and Filfil but with the inclusion of several unknown quantities the race fails to stop there.
4.30: Hunter’s Light will be popular after a taking comeback in a handicap here three weeks ago. Having mixed it in Group class the standard of the rivals he faces in this Listed event is within his compass, but Calling Out (also kept elevated company in France last year) and Umgiyo and Mr Pommeroy threaten to provide testing opposition for a horse that is not wholly convincing.
5.05: I’m Back and Le Bernardin have made giant strides at this year’s Carnival and both have serious claims in this handicap. There should be little between them on running here in early January but although both have progressed to better things since, the handicapper may have the last word now. Given a 6lbs pull with I’m Back for a little over three lengths on this course three weeks ago, Artigiano looks interesting. A decent performer in the UK he acquitted himself well on his debut on dirt (very much a likely candidate for it on pedigree) and is likely to be sharper now. He could be too good for Le Bernardin, who is marginally preferred to I’m Back and Storm Belt.
5.40: A tidy winner of the Cape Verdi three weeks ago, Cladocera should once again be too good for her nearest pursuers on that occasion: Zurigha and Anahita.
6.15: Fourth behind Safety Check a month ago, Anaerobio merits consideration here despite top weight and meeting Eastern Rules (second then) on disadvantageous terms. However, Music Theory comes out the best at the weights and has such a clear-cut chance on these terms that he is hard to ignore.
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 14th:
Ascot: 3.15: At first glance expensive purchase Padge, who appears well-handicapped from 128, seems the answer to this. However, there is no sign as yet he is going to recoup the £160,000 connections shelled out. A fine-looking type, he races with the choke out and may not be the safest of betting propositions. His first run over hurdles remains his best – a tame effort at Cheltenham, where he looked like a barge on a Sunday cruise, and a scrambling success last time at Taunton have failed to alter that opinion. He may be better over further and with the steadying factor of fences. If this prediction turns out to be wrong, stand by for a bloodless victory. In the belief it may be partially correct value may lie elsewhere and in the shape of Minstrels Gallery, who to an extent has been-there-and-done-that. He ran a reasonable race last time when third at Cheltenham in a competitive handicap and should at least be on the premises here from the same mark.
3.50: Ptit Zig lays an unbeaten record over fences on the line here and should prove hard to beat. A winner over this track and shaping up like a chaser with enormous potential, he should be too classy for Baldur Succes and may have most to feat from Ma Filleule, who has disappointed in her two runs so far this season but who tends to peak at this time of year.
Haydock: This card could be all about Tony McCoy who has excellent chances of riding a big-race treble with At Fishers Cross (2.20), Monbeg Dude (2.55) and Aqalim (3.25). Risking looking foolish (not for the first time!) it is the last-named that appeals to me. He lines up having won two of his hurdle races so far and last time was beaten by a contender in the Grade 2 that is run thirty-five minutes later. A mark of 132 looks fair and he could have several bullets still lodged in the chamber. The possibility of drying ground will also be of help to a son of Raven’s Pass.
4.00: Ballagh showed the transition to Grade 2 company was not beyond him last time at Warwick where he jumped and travelled well before being outpointed from the last by Three Musketeers. Receiving 7lbs from Fletchers Flyer this represents a chance to go one better.
THURSDAY FEBRUARY 12th:
Meydan: 2.45: A step up in trip may be the ticket for Lanark who finished strongly last time over a mile to take third behind One Man Band. Clearly he handles dirt and, highly tried here on turf, he enters this handicap as something of an unknown quantity that is open to improvement. Layl was an impressive winner last time and although he gives the impression he has improved for the move to Dubai, he faces a tougher task now and is not certain to confirm placings with Jeeraan, who was having his first run of the season when third.
3.20: This is a tough turf contest in which several can be given chances. Rock Cocktail and Slumdogmillionaire have earned their respective places in the handicap and on the back of good runs last time have claims. Belgian Bill’s latest win has been boosted, however it is questionable whether he is the sort to record back-to-back wins. Pilote may be worth one last spin of the coin from a rare (for him) good draw. He travelled ominously well from a wide position last time when grabbing third place behind Hunter’s Light and may be capable of pulling out a couple of extra pounds now against several rivals with whom he is closely matched.
3.55: If he breaks on terms Maftool (a strong finisher last time after failing to hit the gates) should reverse Trial form with Mubtaahij and Ajwad in the UAE 2000 Guineas.
4.30: A reproduction of his last run would be enough to see 2013 Golden Sheehen winner Reynaldothewizard win this. However, now a pottery nine-year-old, he makes only limited appeal in an otherwise tight affair.
5.05: Third in the Group 1 Grand Prix du Paris and touched off in the Group 2 Prix Neil, Teletext is the class act in the Class 1 handicap – a race in which he appears to have been let in lightly. As this is his first run since September, fitness has to be taken on trust but it seems unlikely connections (who have retained him) would risk him in a handicap if he were thought be below par. He ought to be too good for his opponents. The trick that is Songcraft is always opposable but Excellent Result (closely matched with Al Saham, Fire Fighting and Eye In The Sky and the pick of James Doyle) may emerge as the best of the rest.
5.40: A good horse on his day with a good draw and a proven record on dirt, which his pedigree confirms, Tamarkuz – not always the easiest to predict – has the ability to win this if the pieces slot into place.
6.15: This is a tough finale. With infrequent winners Zahee, Elleval and Ocean Tempest among those with strong claims it may be best to pack up shop for the night.
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 7th:
Newbury: 1.15: A big day at the Berkshire track opens with a tough-looking novice hurdle. Cardinal Walter and Bouvreuil represent the powerhouses of Messrs Henderson and Nicholls and either could take this. Bouvreuil’s qualifications look marginally better after a fine third in a Sandown handicap on his debut in this country, but Cardinal Walter was impressive at Doncaster and despite the strength of opposition carries stable confidence. In a tough line-up that includes winners and a couple that have posted promise, Bouvreeuil is no more than a selection.
1.50: With the stable at last swinging into gear and with a tasty weight pull against Closing Ceremony on their running at Haydock back in November in his favour, the stage seems set for Milan Bound here. Closing Ceremony may be the victim of his own consistency now but in an event where not too many are feared, it is possible the handicapper has let Provo in lightly. Despite a fourteen month absence his fitness can be virtually guaranteed from his highly effective yard and he may represent the biggest danger.
2.25: The Denman Chase is not easy to solve. Coneygree jumps well but takes on seasoned chasers for the first time. Taquin Du Seiul has so far failed to make the transition from novice company although with his stable firing on all cylinders again he may prove a different proposition now. However, he has proved expensive to follow and his jumping looked sketchy last time. Houblon Des Obeaux and Unioniste would not normally be thought of as good enough in this grade, but the question remains how good a race this may turn out to be.
3.00: Sire De Grugy’s return may add clicks to the turnstiles but is unlikely to fire up the players. Obviously he is the best in the line-up but the percentage call is to swerve such as he when returning after injury. Those in opposition look well below the level he sets and punters looking for alternatives are not sure to lean in the right direction in any event.
3.35: The market domination by the brace of five-year-olds Calipto and Activial means those in search of value do not have to look far to find it. Calipto has the edge over Activial on last year’s form although Activial did take the eye when third in the Ladbroke. Both have the look of horses saved for this – as does On Tour who has solid form and left the impression after his latest win that he was still potentially ahead of the handicapper. He appeals as the best of a hatful of alternative candidates.
4.10: Kings Palace is presented with little more than a leg-stretching exercise in the novice chase – a race only disaster will prevent him from winning.
THURSDAY FEBRUARY 5th:
3.55: After the Group 1 event for Arab horses and a very tough-looking sprint handicap on turf, the UAE 1000 Guineas looks to rest between Local Time and Ad Idem. Only a short-head separated them last time they met here three weeks ago but this step up in trip looks more likely to suit Local Time, who was finishing strongly then and should confirm the placings over this extra furlong. Yodelling offers a threat of sorts, but on this first try on dirt and against rivals that are match-fit her task looks a stiff one.
5.05: Seasoned campaigner here and last year’s runner-up in this event, Star Empire had a perfect prep-race for this when third to Halfaguinea over an inadequate 1m 2f last time. Good run though that was, it is two years since this nine-year-old got his head in front and for win purposes he looks vulnerable. Last seen when a close third in a Group 2 over an extended two miles in France, there is no doubt about Rio Tigre’s stamina or his ability to handle a fast surface and he would be greatly feared if fully fit. Now locally trained, as there are limited opportunities during the Carnival over this trip, it would be a surprise if he is not capable of doing himself justice. However, a wide draw and his unconvincing jockey are causes for concern, meaning everything will have to fall in place in one neat slice. Famous Kid represents a wealth of untapped talent at this trip. Having finished second last time three weeks ago on dirt in a handicap that is working out, Famous Kid (also out in the best seats) receives plenty of weight and enters the reckoning.
5.40: Last year’s World Cup winner, African Story makes his reappearance here in a race that he failed to win last year when beaten by the enigma that is Prince Bishop. With both resurfacing after lengthy breaks it could be a similar story now. Although apparently the class acts (for all that last year’s World Cup was below standard), neither exactly provides collateral for proposed loans, meaning it may pay to look elsewhere. Frankyfourfingers has a couple of lengths to find on Surfer on their running last time but, unlike the winner that day he was having his first run of the season and improvement, particularly over this extended trip, looks guaranteed. Smart in France, he may reverse places, in which case he is liable to run his higher profile rivals very close.
6.15: Ajeeb steps back up to a much more suitable trip after finishing strongly when a close fourth to Hototo in a five furlong sprint here a month ago. Top weight may not prevent him from scoring. Music Theory may have looked slightly unfortunate when third to Safety Check at the beginning of January, but with the runner only pulling out what is necessary, that run threatens to be deceptive. Our Channel should appreciate this drop in trip after pulling too hard last time – a trait that prevents him from realising his full potential. Cheekpieces may also come to his assistance but he could be a sitting duck for Ajeeb’s turn of foot.