Weatherbys' televised races weekend preview
Paul Jones of Weatherbys previews the weekend's big televised races, read his thoughts below.
It is disappointing that Westlin Winds misses this as he would have given a good line to the Mille Chief form as far as looking ahead to the Triumph Hurdle is concerned and I personally hope that Pistolet Bleu is turned over to enhance our already strong-looking position for the Triumph Hurdle but I suspect he will prove too good for these even giving the weight away.
A winner at this course 77 days ago when trained by Nick Williams, he has since been snapped up by leading owner Andy Stewart and sent to Paul Nicholls but his comments about his homework recently weren't exactly glowing but he could be the type that reserves it for the course.
The third (Olofi) came out of that Cheltenham race and won a decent juvenile hurdle at the December Meeting so that form received a boost meaning Pistolet Noir is a good way clear of of today's rivals according to the Form Book. Francois Doumen, J P McManus and A P McCoy combine with Good Lord who has finished second in all three of his hurdling starts in France but was a big disappointment at Newbury in December on his British debut.
The hope he can turn over Pistolet Noir is judged on the fact he started as skinny as 5/4 for a race won by Triumph Hurdle hopeful Advisor, who won again at Ascot last weekend, so he is clearly no mug and, to finish only seventh, something was clearly amiss and maybe being too keen too early finished him for home straight. I just have it in the back of my mind whether he is having a reconnaissance mission of the course with the Fred Winter in mind.
George Nympton represents Nick Williams who has a terrific line to the juvenile hurdling department having also won a Grade 1 with Me Voici and it is interesting he wants to let him take on his former stablemate Pistolet Noir. Second behind good types in Peter Grimes (being aimed at the Fred Winter) and Olofi (could go for the Triumph), he will need to step up on those efforts to beat Pistolet Noir but his trainer is a master at bringing them along steadily and I envisage him improving again to be in there battling away approaching the final flight.
I would hope that Theatrical Moment has only been declared under 12st 2lbs just in case Doncaster is surprisingly called off leaving Hey Big Spender off top weight. Colin Tizzard's magnificent looking specimen shaped like much the best horse in the 3m1f novice chase here in December but his stamina failed just as it started to really kick in for Inchidaly Rock and he was well beaten in the end.
The only sensible move was a drop back in trip which he has here and, if he jumps as well as he did back in December, then he is a big player. However, lurking right at the bottom of the weights is Venetia Williams' Plein Pouvoir and she has won three of the last five runnings of this race with similarly low-weighted runners which has helped her to record the most winners of any trainer on this card in the last decade with six in total.
Her seven-year-old finally got off the mark over fences at the eighth attempt at Wincanton on Boxing Day off 112 and he is 8lbs higher here but, if the mind has finally clicked and it comes up testing, then the combination of her trainer's record in the race and bottom weight will make him a popular choice in the press.
Francois Doumen's Doctor Pat is another the press will surely want to latch on to after two wins in this country on his last two starts where he is produced late on thus masking his true superiority so he is more than capable of defying an 8lbs rise since his latest success. Many others have chances so this is not a race I want to play in really unless they go too big about Plein Pouvoir.
The latest of the quality handicap chases at around this trip run at Cheltenham throughout the course of the season but this looks so much weaker than the other four similar races run here so far this season and may not take a huge amount of winning especially as Seven Is My Number and Exmoor Ranger appear more likely to take up their Doncaster engagement.
The Sawyer loved the heavy ground when making all in this contest 12 months ago and is brought out again quickly under a 10lbs conditional rider after his well-backed victory last week. Given the money was down last week at Ascot, I suspect that was the plan and this is an afterthought and he only held on by a neck enduring a hard race so will have to be as hard as nails to repeat that effort here.
Perce Rock is interesting coming over from Ireland for Tommy Stack and J P McManus but it just niggles me that this may be a sighter ahead of the Festival Plate in which he unseated McCoy last season four out when just starting to stay on.
Idole First is a previous winner of the Festival Plate so clearly like this course and distance and I can see a big run from here off a lower mark than winning that Festival handicap two seasons ago as the trainer gets them ready for this day and is in form. Being 11 years of age would ordinarily make me run a mile in handicaps but he has only run three times since that Festival win almost two years ago so he has fewer miles on the clock than you might think.
I suppose the worry is whether this is a pipe-opener for another crack at the Festival Plate with him after just one run this season but I still fancy taking an each-way chance. Rory Boy's jumping is very good for a novice and he catches the eye off a low mark and the yard had a welcome winner at Warwick on Thursday so I rate him a big threat.
The mare, Fit To Drive, was going okay when falling four out in the previous big 2m5f handicap chase here on New Year's Day when attempting for a four-timer so should be respected if she runs here rather than at Doncaster whilst Nycteos is the fly in the ointment for Nicholls and Walsh off a mark of 130 (won a Lanzarote Hurdle off this mark over timber) which I am sure is much lower than connections rate his true ability when puts it all together but things haven't gone to plan since he returned from injury.
No Denman so at least we don't have a three-runner race (that will come in the AON Chase in two week's time) and I have this between Madison Du Berlais and Carruthers as the Twiston-Davies pair of Knowhere and Ollie Magern have had their day and out of form, the novice Inchidaly Rock has the four-mile NH Chase on his Festival agenda so this could be too short for him at this level and Taranis will need the run according to Paul Nicholls following a 766-day layoff and Ruby Walsh is rarely on the wrong one and rides Inchidaly Rock.
Speaking of that novice, he looked to be coming off second best for most of the novice chase here over 3m1f only looking the part for the final half-mile so he will need to brush up his jumping and show more this time. As for Joe Lively, he won this race last season and this is effectively his Gold Cup so will be tuned to the minute but he has shown next to nothing in three starts this season so it would be too much of a leap of faith for me to back him.
Carruthers is the upwardly mobile horse of the race but I do wonder whether he and Joe Lively may get embroiled in a battle up front so I am narrowly favouring Madison Du Berlais. I can hear you now thinking out loud that surely he doesn't handle Cheltenham on all previous evidence but I take the view those runs were in viciously hot races and big fields and, looking at his impressive wins at Kempton and Aintree last season, I just feel he could be a horse that wants a small field such as this to show his best.
Yes he has won a Hennessy in a big field but that was off over a stone lower mark than he is currently now rated. I can see punters sending Carruthers off favourite as he is the sexy horse right now even though his form is 11lbs below that of Madison Du Berlais as he gets 4lbs and is the one moving forward but Madison Du Berlais is a class above him at present on pure form (beat everything bar Kauto Star in the William Hill King George VI Chase) and he strikes me as a horse that will continue to pop up when we start writing him off.
This is usually a big trial for the Festival novice hurdles and it looks that way again with General Miller and Royal Charm seemingly the main players looking to enhance their Cheltenham Festival prospects. The vibes I have been getting is that Royal Charm is held in very high regard by Paul Nicholls, probably more so than his stablemate Ghizao who was just run out of it by General Miller two starts back, in which case he looks the one to beat here and cement his position as the leading British hope for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle over 2m5f on March 17th.
General Miller was ridden to nab Ghizao close home on his hurdling debut so Nicky Henderson's novice could be better than the bare form and he was also unbeaten in two bumpers so this looks a good contest.
The yard will have to bounce back from any number of reverses last Saturday though having previously carried all before them. Evan Williams' Fiulin is an interesting debutant as he was rated 102 on the Flat for Marco Botti having won a Listed race and has been given entries for both the Champion Hurdle and World Hurdle so it will be interesting to see how much confidence there is behind him.
Bob N'You, William Hogarth and Restless Harry are all worthy of a place in this Grade 2 field but you have to suspect that one of either Royal Charm or General Miller will be a genuine Grade 1 horse so they are very vulnerable. Royal Charm for me.
No Karabak who looked to have a gilt-edged opportunity here but reportedly didn't quite scope as hoped but Alan King is still represented by Katchit for whom the step up to 3m could suit him judged on the way he kept battling away when second to Sentry Duty who beat him for speed over 2m5f here last time out.
Katchit does up his game for visits to Cheltenham, likes cut in the ground, and the yard are bang in form now so I envisage a big run particularly receiving 8lbs from Fair Along and Lough Derg and 4lbs from a number of other rivals and I am coming around to the thinking he is an each-way bet here.
The worry horse is the fast-progressing Lie Forrit who has to give Katchit 4lbs and Willie Amos seems confident he has got enough work into him after being held up the freeze. If that is the case then he is the one to beat and he never knows when he is beaten and is progressing with each start so we just don't know how good he could be.
Tidal Bay is the one bowled out of the back of the hand returning to hurdles and Howard Johnson even rang up Weatherbys to take him out of the Argento Chase on the same card so that he wasn't tempted to run him there instead after he had schooled over hurdles and apparently relished the change which, for a quirky horse no matter what anyone says, could be highly significant.
I do wonder however whether 3m on soft ground at hurdle-race pace will play to his strengths but, like Katchit, he is receiving weight from the other major players here so has my respect.
Time For Rupert won a handicap over course and distance here 50 days ago and is testing the water to see if it is worthwhile tackling the World Hurdle and is another I have time for but Mr Thriller has to overcome a moderate run last time, Chief Dan George wants flat tracks, Tatenen has become officially disappointing, Kayf Aramis and Golan Way are top class handicappers but are likely to struggle in Grade 2 company and Bouggler is not a certain stayer.
Wide open but I had heard before Aachen was heavily punted for the Lanzarote Hurdle after Pricewise put him up that he was one of Venetia Williams' worst affected by the freeze so badly needed that run (also his seasonal debut) so I would totally ignore that effort.
Given the trainer's current form and her record on this day plus Aachen will love the soft ground, is dropping back in trip to which he was impressing last season and looks more than capable of winning of his current mark, he could be worth a little dig here.
Sunday's races are from Punchestown, Plumpton and Hereford but it is more of a day for Cheltenham Festival clues than betting opportunities.
This cross country chase has been the key Irish guide to the Festival cross country handicap as the last four winners have finished first, first, first and second at Cheltenham in March. Enda Bolger runs five of the 14 runners but leaves Garde Champetre and L'Ami in their boxes and that pair are likely to head the market come the Festival again.
Best of his quintet on cross-country form is a toss up between Heads Onthe Ground and Freney's Well but as J T McNamara is on the former, you have to assume he is the stable number one and likely to go to Cheltenham afterwards with maybe Freney's Well more likely to run well in the La Touche Cup over 4m2f which suits him better.
Nelson's Spice is a new addition to the Bolger cross country ranks having won a 3m1f handicap chase for Jonjo O'Neill at Cheltenham's October meeting and Paul Carberry is an eye-catching booking. Silver Birch was carried out at Cheltenham last time out but I don't think he has the acceleration to win these races that often turn into sprints.
Golden Silver and Big Zeb are two of four possible Irish-trained Champion Chase contenders for which an argument can be made out for at the Festival (the others being Forpadydeplasterer and Barker) and they take each other on in this Grade 2 chase over 2m and should have it between them now that Mansony is on the downgrade and the other pair are outclassed.
Big Zeb has the stronger form on his second to Master Minded at Punchestown but is also the dodgier jumper and has to come off the back of a poor run in the Tingle Creek when never happy. He looked superb on his return so it is probably best to forgive him that Sandown effort as I never really fancied him to show his best around there and Golden Silver should give him a good lead.
That said, Willie Mullins' heavy-ground loving French-bred is in danger of being under-estimated and his Grade 1 win at Leopardstown over Tranquil Sea over Christmas was his second Grade 1 triumph and both were achieved in small fields which could be the key to him.
Most pundits seem to have written that form off arguing the runner-up is not a two-miler which could be the truth but the third has since franked the form and Golden Silver's front running style could force an error out of Big Zeb who ended up on the deck in this contest 12 months ago at two out when far from certain to pick up Mansony. If he starts at over 2/1, Golden Silver would represent the value here.
Interesting that Gary Moore is running Alhaque again just 8 days after making his juvenile hurdling debut when shaping well when fourth to Advisor at Ascot which suggests to me they want to get in three quick runs to qualify him for the Fred Winter so he is worth watching with a view to that race especially as his trainer loves to win big two-mile handicap hurdles and has had two placed runners in that Festival contest.
Hollo Ladies ships up here over 2m in this Grade 2 novice here having being taken out of the 2m4f Grade 2 event in which Quel Esprit got turned over last weekend and this trip should suit him better. A surprise winner of the Grade 1 over this trip at Leopardstown Christmas Meeting where he just edged out Saludos, they meet again here and many will fancy Saludos to reverse the neck deficit on 11lbs better terms.
Logic says Saludos is the one but it would not surprise me if Hollo Ladies confirmed that form even on such worse terms as I see him being as the more progressive. This is no two-horse race however as the tough Luska Lad is out again (though is held on that Leopardstown form) and Shane Rock represents the in-form Mouse Morris yard but I would take Hollo Ladies if pressed.
No betting interest as he will be long odds-on but this gives us another chance to evaluate Somersby though if he shortens more than half a point after beating this lot the bookmakers should hang their heads in shame. Den Of Iniquity is a fair sort but he is set to run at Cheltenham on Saturday as his first preference.
NH Chase clues here as Youngstown bids to add to his last two victories in this 3m2f novices' handicap chase. He should some beating too as he clearly stays very well (the owners are already talking in terms of next season's Grand National) and this doesn't look like it will take a lot of winning.