I will begin this week’s column with a look at the weekend’s big horse racing action from the Cheltenham Trials Day and then have another look at a couple of horses that are worth having onside come March.
Weekend Review: Smad Wins Place in Gold Cup!
It was Cheltenham Trials Day on Saturday and I think most would agree that the meeting can be a great source of winners but it pays to look beyond the winners. The type of horse that I tend to concentrate on are those who that have run a bit below form without being to well beaten and have a preference for better ground, as this still looks the most likely going conditions that will prevail come March.
There was a surprise in the first race on the card the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial. Last year the race was won by Peace And Co who then went on to win at the Festival. This year’s renewal was won by the lesser fancied of the pair of Nicky Henderson runners. Protek Des Flos who went off 25/1 and his win was all about stamina, as he stayed onto strongly for his rivals. Clearly suited by very testing ground whether he will be as effective on better ground is questionable? Both the second and third will go onto win races and have futures but I doubt we saw the Triumph Hurdle winner in the race.
Djakadam came into the race as ante post favourite for the Gold Cup but his race here was over when he came down at the 10th fence. It was too early to say where he would have finished but he was travelling well when he came to grief. This wasn’t the best preparation for March as he sustained a cut after his fall. He was pushed out slightly in the betting for the Gold Cup on the back of this run. The departure of Djakadam meant that Hennessey Gold Cup winner Smad Place and last years Grand National hero Many Clouds were left to fight out the finish. The former looked to be travelling as well as Smad Place when joining the leader three out but it was noticeable that Smad Place’s jockey hadn’t really played his hand at that point. The Alan King trained horse returned to front running tactics after not going to the front in the King George at Kempton. The nine year old jumped superbly well throughout the race and is clearly better horse when going on from the front. It shows the depth of the field for the big race that Smad Place was only cut to a best priced 16/1 for March after his win. That price was soon taken and Smad Place is now a best priced 12/1 for Gold Cup Glory. Any doubts as to whether he goes for the Gold Cup or the Ryanair Chase at the Festival would have ended and he now has to head for the Blue Riband race! He was well beaten in the race last year but he is a better horse this time around. He shouldn’t be underestimated for the Gold Cup and I have had a small nibble on the horse at 12/1.
Alan King’s day got even better when his smart novice hurdler Yanworh won the Neptune Novice Hurdle Trial very impressively and was soon cut into favouritism for the Neptune at the Festival. He travelled strongly throughout the race and will be hard to beat in March if he gets plenty of give in the ground but it is worth noting that whilst he is 4/5 when he has had soft or heavy in the going description and his only go on good ground saw him finish 4th in he Champion Bumper at last years Cheltenham Festival. The Neil Mulholland trained Shantou Village was well backed before the race although he wasn’t proven on very testing going. Off since November this will have blown the cobwebs away and his 3/3 on good going. Connections will go to Festival hopeful that they will get closer to Yanworth in the Neptune.
Another impressive winner was Thistlecrack in the Cleeve Hurdle, who it has to be only did what he had to do when winning by 12 lengths from Ptit Zig with his main market rival Camping Ground not seeming to stay the trip. Thistlecrack hardened in the betting for the World Hurdle and is a best priced 6/4 for that race now. He will be a tough nut to crack at the Festival but I am still happy with my each way ante post bet in Alpha Des Obeux. A couple of horses worth bearing in mind for a handicap chase on the first day of the Festival are The Young Master and The Romford Pele, as horses that have run in the Cleeve Hurdle as a prep have a really good record in that particular race. Both horses are better on decent ground and are worth having on your radar for the first handicap on Day 1.
Like last week here is the section where you will find my Cheltenham Festival notebook entries.
Smad Place – Gold Cup – As long as they continue with the aggressive front running tactics I really think Smad Place is a serious Gold Cup contender and he looks the value bet to me at 12/1.
The Young Master & The Romford Pele – Horses running in the Cleeve Hurdle and then going onto the Ultima Business Soluions Handicap Chase on Day One of the Festival have a really good record. The Druids Nephew ran in the Cleeve Hurdle before winning he race in 2015 and from the same trainer The Young Master who seems to handle any going, having won on both heavy and good ground during his career. I have backed him at 20/1 for that race, as he will be a lot shorter come the day if he turns up. The Romford Pele is not a definite for the race but it looks an ideal target for the nine year old, given four of six career wins have come on good going.
This Weeks Eyecatchers
I have got four eyecatchers this week for you but if you’re with the Eyecatcher Pro software I have also added a couple of horses from last Thursday’s Meydan card that look capable of winning handicaps there in the coming weeks.
Tuesday January 26th
Ballybolley – Nigel Twiston – Davies – A useful novice hurdler who had looked like he could make a decent chaser but he has still to win after five attempts over fences. He travelled like the winner for most of the race before his stamina emptied after the second last. Given his five career wins have come over 2m 1f or less and he is 5/10 when good appears in the going description and 0/5 on soft or heavy. Two and half miles on heavy going here was just too much for the seven year old on this occasion. A winner twice at Aintree, he could well be aimed for a race at that Grand National meeting as he seems to go well on a flat track. A drop in trip and/or better ground will see him in a better light and he can win races over fences before the season is out when he gets his optimum conditions.
Friday 29th January
Coozan George – Malcom Jefferson – The seven year old had and won a bumper back in January 2014 but was 0/6 over hurdles although did run his best race over hurdles when a fair 3rd at Southwell in December. Making his chase debut in this 2m 3f handicap chase, he was given a nice patient ride from the rear, making steady headway he was getting closer to the eventual first and second when he made a bad mistake at the last. Could well have won the race if he hadn’t made that mistake! The first time tongue tie seemed to work and he clearly handled the decent ground he faced here. Should get further and can win races in this sphere.
Allbarnone – William Kinsey – The eight year old was having his first start since June in this 3m handicap hurdle and he came into he race with a 0/12 career record. Best when held up, he looked like the type who would be suited by a big field and so it proved here. Held up at the rear he was never really put into the race by his jockey but made some steady headway from three out and eventually finished 5th. Given his 219 day absence he is entitled to come on for the run and surely he is capable of shedding his maiden tag over hurdles when he gets some decent spring ground. Big fields hold no terrors for the horse but given his hold up style he will always be a hostage to fortune and needs all the cards fall right if he is to win.
Saturday 30th January
John’s Spirit – Jonjo O’Neill – It’s has been a bit of a lean time for Johns Spirit since he was only beaten a head in the 2014 Paddy Power Gold Cup. The handicapper is cutting the nine year old some slack and he is now 8lb lower than when second in the Paddy Power, he ran respectably in Grade 1’s after but was just out of his depth in that company. Was a well beaten 4th in this race but just isn’t suited by heavy going. Getting nicely handicapped now, three of his four wins have come over the Cheltenham, particularly the old course. A likely target at the Festival would seem to be the Byrne Group Plate a race he was 4th in 2014. Worth remembering he is also 1/3 at Sandown and has also run respectably at Aintree in the past. Worth keeping an eye on the horse when the gets spring ground. He is 5/21 when racing with good in the going description with an additional 7 placed efforts.
Good luck with your betting his week and as ever if you have any questions or comments about these notebook horses then leave me a message and I will reply when time allows.