SATURDAY JANUARY 31st:
Sandown: 12.40: Old Guard can be forgiven for a poor run last time at Chepstow when bogged down in Chepstow’s glue. Previously he had looked a smart recruit when beating Karezak at Newbury and that is unquestionably the best form on offer. This small field may suit and he is preferred to French import The Saint James and recent Plumpton winner Pain Au Chocolat.
1.15: Only four turn out for the Listed hurdle but it should prove informative. Garde La Victoire and Jollyallan set a decent standard, whilst leading Triumph Hurdle candidate Bristol De Mai (who will do well to beat his older rivals) cannot be dismissed.
2.25: In what is likely to be a tight Grade 1 Scilly Isles Chase, Irish Saint is the one likely to operate best under these conditions. He jumped Ascot without a semblance of a mistake last time and is clearly heading in an upward direction. This trip may be on the sharp side for Champagne West – who looks more of an RSA candidate – whilst although clearly getting to grips with fences, Sandown threatens to expose any weakness in Splash Of Ginge’s as yet far from bombproof jumping. Gitane Du Berlais stuttered round when winning over fences at Limerick and will need to have learnt plenty if she is to beat these rivals. Grumeti is also asked to leap up in class.
3.00: Polamco has the look of a horse saved for this after what may have been a fortunate win last time at Newbury. He will need to improve again to confirm placings with Saffron Wells on revised terms as the handicapper has ensured they are again closely matched. Saffron Wells did travel last time at Kempton but was eventually dismissed by handicap blot Tea For Two. This stiffer track may be in his favour. Junction Fourteen lost no caste in defeat when unable to concede 12lbs to well-handicapped Batavir last time from this mark and looks poised to enter the argument.
MEYDAN THURSDAY JANUARY 29th:
2.45: Not A Given could be well enough in to double up on a recent win over this course, particularly as he returns to a trip at which he excelled in the US.
3.20: With useful form to his credit at Grade 1 level in South Africa, Banaadeer is the potential fly-in-the-ointment here. He could easily outclass these, but on what is his first venture on dirt and with fitness having to be taken on trust, unless the market speaks volumes, he may be best watched for now. A fast-finishing second to Hototo three weeks ago, Fityann should be thereabouts again, but the suspicion is an extra furlong may aid his cause. Speed Hawk and Ahtoug are others to consider.
3.55: Alreef comes out best here, although if prepared to forgive a below-par sixth last time (when Alareef was fourth), Muhtaram would enter the reckoning. However, from a yard whose horses have been slow to swing into action, Alareef may be the better option.
4.30: A close fifth to Belgian Bill in a scrum finish a fortnight ago, Slipper Orchid should be much sharper now. With the re-application of cheekpieces she looks primed to peak, chiefly at the expense of Zurigha.
5.05: Another Party may have been flattered by his recent proximity to Safety Check and in any event faces dirt for the first time – always a concern. A recent fourth to Reynoldthewizard, Muaanid has the best of the weights against several of these (United Color and Russian Soul) and already a winner on this surface in December, this represents an opportunity for him.
5.40: This is crunch time for True Story who returns to the major league after his listed win three weeks ago. A winner first time out here last year, Vercingetorix only lost an unbeaten record in the Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night and proved he could translate Dubai form when a gallant third in the QE II at Sha Tin. A dual Group 1 winner, Vercingetorix is taken to expose any weakness in True Story, who for all his ability and the hint a gelding operation may help him unleash it, was not entirely convincing with his attitude when winning the Singspiel three weeks ago.
6.15: Never in the hunt last week when fifth to Umgiyo, Pilote had earlier run with promise against True Story in the Singspiel and it could be premature to overlook him in this handicap. Any market interest in Italian Oaks runner-up Scighera (last seen nine months ago) should be noted as she enters this handicap from a temptingly attractive mark.
SATURDAY JANUARY 24th:
With the builders taking a day off, amid the iron carcasses comprising the skeleton that will become the new Cheltenham, it is Festival Trials Day. Hopefully the card will provide a ray of light on events scheduled for March on this penultimate Saturday in January…
Events start at 12.40 with the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial, for which Peace And Co is presented with the chance to vindicate his market position in the big race itself. It is a chance he should be capable of taking. His solitary outing in this country resulted in a facile success at Doncaster – a race that is sending out mixed messages. However, what is not in doubt is the authority with which he won. Of course we all know soft ground can produce misleading results but Peace And Co could not have been more impressive, recording a fast time in the process. At present only the brave will oppose him. Bivouac is extremely likeable and is improving fast but his unbeaten record is seriously under threat here. Zarib made a pleasing start to his new career at Newbury but faces much sterner opposition now and Ibis Du Rheu is an interesting recruit from France that will almost certainly benefit from the outing after a nine month absence.
1.15: Ned Stark should appreciate this return to handicap company after failing to cope with Ptit Zig and Champagne West here at the turn of the year. That said he appeals as more of a stayer (he was always a stride behind the game last time), meaning three miles may suit better. Stellar Notion may struggle to confirm Kempton running with Generous Ransom over this extended trip. Equipped with cheekpieces and from a stable in form, Generous Ransom represents value in a tricky but not impossible handicap.
1.50: Receiving weight from his rivals, last year’s RSA runner-up Smad Place is greatly favoured by conditions in this. He is now 12lbs better in with Hennessy winner Many Clouds on Newbury running and having travelled strongly for a long way must have a major chance of gaining revenge. We know he stays and that crucially he can handle this undulating track. Many Clouds was brought-down in the RSA but it is fair to say he was struggling at the time and would not have troubled Smad Place at levels. Of course a lot may have tilted in his favour since, but his workmanlike Hennessy win still suggests he is some way off Gold Cup standard. It is hard to foresee last year’s winner The Giant Bolster repeating the dose against this sort of opposition; whilst, although a winner over this trip, the suspicion is that testing ground and a truly run race will test Dynaste to the full. His best form is undoubtedly at shorter. To justify inclusion at this sort of level in the future, Smad Place has to win now and is the logical call.
2.25: The magnet is attracted to Easter Day here, who, if lining up, faces an easier task than that earmarked as his first preference at Doncaster. He jumped well in his comeback effort at Newbury, looking as if he would be sharper for the experience.
3.00: Value At Risk could hardly have made a better start to his hurdling career when skating away with a novice at Newbury. Having already posted definite promise in bumpers, his emphatic success (from moderate opposition it has to be said) only emphasised his potential. A win here will catapult him into the big time but his price already reflects his supposed ability. A return to timber for Present View is not altogether surprising as his jumping over fences is unconvincing, whilst Stiletto, Vago Collonges and Ordo Ab Chao represent untapped talent. Taken at face value Robinsfirth (a good second here last time) would appeal as the each-way alternative in a race likely to be won by Value At Risk but best watched.
3.35: A return to hurdles is likely to suit Saphir Du Rheu who was scaling the heights over timber at a rate of knots this time last year. There will be other days over fences when he is older and wiser; during the interim he can pick up further prize-money over the smaller obstacles. Conditions suit, as do they for Un Temps Pour Tout who is respected and whose presence (despite an absence since last May) is enough to prevent Saphir Du Rheu being nominated as a bet. The penalty threatens to thwart Cole Harden but even so he cannot be discounted.
4.10: Lightentertainment has an attractive profile and runs from a reasonable mark in a tough concluding handicap to the card. The question is whether this return to an extended two miles is ideal for a horse whose best form is over further. This is a race full of unknown quantities and for that reason an early exit from the ring is advised.
MEYDAN JANUARY 22nd
3.20: After the win of Le Bernardin last week, Henry Clay, who was in front of him when they finished second and third to I’m Back here two weeks ago, will be a popular selection now. He may win but Busker, who was fourth is marginally better off at the weights and could prove a serious threat this time. Dragon Falls also showed promise that day so separating the three today is no straightforward matter.
3.55: Assured on the surface and both by dirt stallion Street Cry, Cry Joy and Street Act head the market. The latter was comprehensively beaten by impressive Layl a week ago, whilst Cry Joy is fit from a spin round here three weeks ago. Malekov could be dangerous but his ability to handle this surface is an unknown.
4.30: After finishing third to True Story two weeks ago, attention is focused on Pilote now he is in handicap company. However this is a quality event with several participants on the verge of listed class at least. Umgiyo has acquitted himself in top company in South Africa but for all that, having only ever won a maiden, his claims are somewhat dubious. He could be a horse that runs well in defeat. A winner first time last year (won the Epsom Derby Trial) Our Channel is not very big and does not take much getting fit. Closely matched with Steeler on Betfred running at Goodwood (when too much use was made of him) this trip should be ideal and he is the selection.
5.05: Something of a leap of faith is required to side with Tamarkuz here as he is his own worst enemy at the stalls. He made life next to impossible last time when a fast closing runner-up to hat-trick seeking Faulkener and if he breaks on terms today he should account for these rivals. Chief danger is infrequent winner Haatheq (carries the first colours) but this is Tamarkuz’s race to lose.
5.40: Although upped in grade, Safety Check won with plenty to spare last time (hardly blowing a candle out in the unsaddling enclosure) and looking as if had plenty more to offer. He looks ready for this step up in grade. The Mike De Kock pair, Red Ray and Anaerobio have obvious claims at this level but their fitness has to be of concern.
SATURDAY JANUARY 16th:
One way or another racing looks assured to make the headlines after Saturday. Direct from intensive care, the participation of Sprinter Sacre in the Sodexo Clarence House Chase at Ascot means he will become Lazarus if he succeeds; a bloodied Lord Raglan from the Charge of the Light Brigade who was sent over the top once too often if not.
It’s not the task presented by the race itself that is forbidding (this would have been well within Sprinter Sacre’s remit some fifteen months ago and seen as a stepping stone to further glory), more that as a general rule, rather like humans, racehorses have a limited shelf life at the highest level. Therefore there is a train of thought that assumes after a heart murmur and a spell in the cardiac arrest unit, Sprinter Sacre is unlikely to leap directly from an ambulance and return with victory in a Grade 1.
His participation means racing will hold its breath for the four minutes or so it will take to run the event at 3.00. One of the best trainers of jumpers ever seen, Nicky Henderson has deliberated hard and long and now seems committed to run. Feeling his charge is back to his brilliant best he really has no alternative. And before any post mortem demands the trainer’s incarceration in a Turkish jail if it goes wrong, let’s be clear. The alternative to running Sprinter Sacre would be to retire him to a pasture without ever knowing if his departure from the routine he is used to and thrives upon was premature. Unfortunately we cannot list the power of speech amongst Sprinter Sacre’s many attributes; therefore the decision to race has been made on his behalf. Such a decision is fraught with danger but, partnered by one of the most sensitive jockeys currently riding and owned by people that know a thing or two about horses, he is in good hands. We wish him well…
Grey Gold and Somersby are unlikely to cash in on any possible misfire suffered by Sprinter Sacre. Dodging Bullets and Twinlight look the serious alternatives, but neither would be capable of toppling a Sprinter Sacre that was back on song.
With two highly promising novices waiting in the wings in the shape of Top Notch in the 12.40 and Out Sam in the 4.05 on the same Ascot card, not to mention Lyvius – who is not without a chance in the Grade 2 handicap hurdle at 2.25 – it is a big day for team Henderson. The first two mentioned ought to win without too much bother, although they are priced accordingly.
On the face of it with only four in the handicap proper, the 2.25 looks like a punter-friendly event. Garde La Victoire has already astounded this season when winning the Greatwood on this sort of ground from a stiff weight. A close fifth in the Ladbroke from top weight reinforced the notion he could not easily be dismissed in this sort of company. However, again he has to concede lumps to Lyvius, French import Willem and recent Sandown winner Rayvin Black, to whom, allowing for his rider’s claim, Garde Le Victoire has to give the thick end of two stone. Should he succeed it will be a performance out of the top drawer.
Haydock is hanging on to a decent fixture by its fingertips. An unfavourable weather forecast means even if racing takes place events may be unpredictable. Obviously The New One ought to oblige, but investment in the American dollar against the euro seems a safer alternative. Assuming he can put an unfortunate unseat behind him, Carraig Mor threatens to be too good for his opponents in the 2.40, but again makes limited betting appeal.
So, from this prospective it looks like a mid-season Saturday to observe through the shutters of winter. Barring actually paying the entrance fee at Ascot’s turnstiles, this way, as they haven’t yet figured out a way to charge us to watch, it should at least cost nothing.
THURSDAY JANUARY 15th:
Meydan: With a largely untried cast, it’s a day of conjecture in the desert…
2.45: Run on dirt and featuring contenders from three different countries, the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial plunges us into the dark. Ad Idem is obviously a leading contender for Mike De Kock, whilst Local Time looks the Godolphin pick on jockey bookings but has yet to race on this surface. Good Place ran to a similar level to her stable mate last season and being by Street Cry should not be inconvenienced by a surface both fillies are sure to have experienced in workouts. Kempton winner Comedy Queen (by dirt stallion Distorted Humour) completes a powerful hand for Godolphin in a race where clues seem essential.
3.20: Fit from a recent run at Lingfield and with form here and on dirt, there is every reason to expect a bold run from Energia Davos in this tight handicap. Le Bernardin will find this a tougher assignment than last week’s when he was third to I’m Back. With the right pedigree for dirt Famous Kid could be dangerous, as could be Pinzolo if handling dirt. Representing strong local form Storm Belt is another worthy of consideration.
3.55: Knavery, Simon Chrisford’s first runner as a trainer, looks the part here but has yet to race on dirt.
4.30: The UAE 2000 Guineas Trial is another event that poses more questions than it answers. Fifth in the Dewhurst and by Hard Spun, the jury is out on Maftool on this surface. A close up third in the Cornwallis, Volatile should be suited by this step up in trip but again has to prove he can cope with dirt, as does the Dundalk winner Unorthodox. Zephuros is another interesting contender on his first attempt on this surface, whilst the ex-Argentinian Ajwad – now with Mike De Kock – is another wild card that handles the surface but has to prove he is up to this class.
5.05: With favourable draws to assist, this could rest between Haafaguinea (good form here) and Mr Pommeroy (sold from France for a quarter of a million euros to a stable with an expanding record in the UAE).
5.40: Ticking the majority of boxes, Muarrab will be hard to beat here. A recent win at Jebel Ali was boosted by the recent run of Fityaan – who finished third that day. An improving Muarrab is closely matched with what is perceived as the main danger, United Color, and both line up fit after recent runs. They threaten to dominate this event with preference accorded to Muarrab.
6.15: Whatever his fate in this competitive handicap, as he is likely to need this his first run for almost a year, and representing a yard that is yet to crank up its strike rate, Captain Lars (not favourably drawn) looks a sure-fire future contender at this level before long. Progressive in South Africa last year, despite the negatives he could still prove too good.
SATURDAY JANUARY 10th:
A hostile weather forecast means it is a case of fingers crossed for Saturday’s programmes. With the threat of gale force winds – even snow in places – whatever transpires, an ability to cope with soft bordering on heavy ground would seem essential for those in search of prize-money at the two big venues.
Kempton: 1.00: In the belief that Cold March will have no problems with his obstacles (has fallen twice in the last six outings), he is nominated as the likely winner here. Following a silly error at the first on his British debut, he jumped soundly last time at Ascot when third to Dance Floor King. In the light of the winner’s close third last weekend at Sandown that form looks sufficiently solid to carry him close now, and this step up in trip should be in his favour.
2.40: The Lanzarote Hurdle over 2m 5f will provide a stiff test, one that may prove the undoing of several. A winner over this trip, Saffron Wells makes plenty of appeal in a handicap that may not be as desperately difficult to win as the numbers suggest. He was a good third to Polamco and Morito Du Berlais over this distance at Newbury in December after a two month spell on the sidelines – a run that needs little improving upon in this company from only a 1lb higher mark. His last three well-spaced out efforts all hint at a progressive profile and he is nominated as the value bet now.
Warwick: 1.55: Now stepped up to three miles over fences for the first time and receiving weight all round, former long distance hurdler Mickie is the suggestion here. If she is to reach a similar level over fences to that shown over timber, this could be her day to do so.
3.00: Shantou Bob is hard to get away from in this Grade 2; all things being equal he should get back on the winning trail. However, he faces several likely opponents that may have plenty more to offer; chief amongst these could be Ballagh who shaped well on his hurdling debut at Newbury when second to Different Gravey. It could be argued it is plenty soon enough to hurl him into this sort of company – one can only hope his stable has not jumped the proverbial gun. If not he can follow the market-leader home and may prove to be the value alternative at his likely odds.
SATURDAY JANUARY 3rd:
Sandown: 12.40: With an 8lbs differential it is not easy to separate Fighting Fifth runner-up Aurore D’Estruval and the useful Mischievous Milly. Both seem to have run to a similar level of form; and whilst we know Mischievous Milly stays, the drawback is she has not run this season. It seems reasonable to assume Aurore D’Estruval will get this trip, but you never fully know until they have done it. Therefore, although she appears to have the edge, which is albeit a narrow one, considering her price she looks a resistible betting proposition.
1.50: Mr Mole is only a begrudging tip here. Whilst entitled to confirm Exeter form with Brick Red, given he has an issue or two that is not certain. The inclusion of William’s Wishes – who may have been flattered last time in the Tingle Creek but who is still a decent performer at this level – means the percentage is to leave the race alone.
2.25: Once again we are faced with a disappointing turnout for a Grade 1. Regrettably it is only a matter of time before the authorities (whoever they might be these days!) take action to divert valuable prize-money away from conditions events that are under-subscribed at this time of year. Having looked smart in his two starts for Nicky Henderson, it looks likely that L’Ami Serge will successfully take this step to the top level at short odds.
3.00: Even with the assistance of his rider’s claim and the 12lbs WFA allowance, Bouvreuil faces a stiff task here for a four-year-old that will still be biologically three. We are largely guessing but unless the bush telegraph is beating his name throughout the village in a major way come race time, the inclination is to oppose him. After two excellent recent runs (a close third to Chesterfield reads well) Song Light has the look of a horse heading in the right direction. His rider’s claim (won on him last time) puts him at the right end of the handicap and means he receives in excess of a stone from Amore Alato, who looks something of a sitting duck from his current mark.
THURSDAY JANUARY 1ST:
Cheltenham: A new year kicks off with a very competitive novice hurdle at 12.10. It is entirely possible that at least one of these participants will be back here in ten weeks (yes, that’s all it is!) for the Festival. Brother Tedd and Zeroshadesofgrey face much more serious opposition than they have met so far on their way to chalking up impressive victories. As a result it is largely guesswork how they will fare now. At least the Newbury win of Different Gravey has a solid look to it, meaning he could be the sort to live up to an ambitious name. Days Of Heaven went on to win next time from that event and Seven Nation Army, who was fourth, went on to run Clean Sheet close on Monday. Thomas Brown heads the second wave but they have plenty to find. Although there will be other days, there was a lot to like about Different Gravey last time.
12.45: This looks like an event to file in the “too difficult” category. Cases can be made for several but they hardly look watertight. There should be little between Saint Are and Alfie Spinner on Becher Chase form when they finished third and fourth. Not for the first time Our Father ran like a non-stayer at Aintree and it is surprising that connections are persevering with him in an event that places such an emphasis on stamina. Of those to re-emerge from Liverpool, marginal preference is for last year’s runner-up in this Alfie Spinner, but he is vulnerable. Despite advancing years, Charingworth, who runs this track well, cannot be confidently ruled out. It is possible this marathon trip and the 5lbs claimed by the excellent Ryan Hatch will be responsible for Hollow Blue Sky figuring, whilst if in the same form that saw him skate away with a Ffos Las chase last time on only his second appearance over fences, despite a hefty weight rise, Cadeau George could be too good for some dyed-in-the-wool chasers who regularly play last-man-standing in this sort of event.
1.20: With the highly promising Ned Stark in this line-up, it could be a mistake to assume this Grade 2 chase rests between Ptit Zig and Champagne West. Ptit Zig certainly looks a worthy favourite judged on a proficient round of jumping at Ascot last time and he does possess a turn of foot that could settle the issue in the closing stages. A high class hurdler and the youngest in the field, he looks a top prospect that should take this stepping stone to the Festival in his stride. Champagne West was never in a satisfactory rhythm last time (connections blamed holding ground) but cannot afford to be out of kilter against rivals of this calibre. Ned Stark will probably need to get lucky to win here as his future looks to lie over further. Even so he has created a positive impression on his two runs over fences to date and, a safe jumper, will pick up any scraps left in his path.
1.55: Having won the Paddy Power here in November, Caid Du Berlais jumped sketchily from his revised mark next time before slithering to a full stop at the tenth. It is hard to be positive now. It is possible Splash Of Ginge may at last realise his potential over this sphere, whilst Dineur and Baileys Concerto (same horse on recent Aintree running) also have chances. Hunt Ball would not entirely surprise at a big price although the handicapper probably needs to relent a little these days. Even so he was not disgraced last time when faced with a very stiff task at Aintree.
2.30: Ulzana’s Raid and Sybarite are difficult to split after their running here last time, although Ryan Hatch’s 5lb claim could be the clincher in favour of Sybarite. However, they appear to have been patient with Knight Of Noir who ran to a similar level here last time when only just beaten by the useful Morito Du Berlais – to whom he was attempting to concede 15lbs. Such patience could pay dividends now. This step up in trip should not inconvenience Knight Of Noir who is taken to come out on top here and seen as the best betting opportunity on a tough betting card. Southfield Vic – who is stepping out of novice company big time here – will need to be pretty smart to foil this opposition.
3.05: The penalty combined with a nine month absence threatens to thwart Beat That who will nevertheless be the focus of interest here. Ready Relkeel winner Rock On Ruby will need to be at the top of his game to successfully concede 8lbs to Vaniteux, for whom a return to this extended trip promises to be in his favour.