Good morning from the major who writes from a cool breezy corner of Worcestershire that dodged the white dusting that had folk in an ecstatic fervour yesterday.
The sermon recommended four horses and I think you can be quite impressed with their performance. None a single place was achieved. One was left sprawling and the closest we came was a 10/1, 7th of 18. I started with some good angles, excellent data, the latest news, recent evidence and strong trend data. I managed with unerring ease to sweep these obstacles from in front of me and deliver a relentless chain of disappointing runners.
I shall get a pin and hit the reset button.
Surely the most interesting and flaky ante post market has to be the Champion Chase? The front two are currently recovering from injury, Sire de Grugy and Sprinter Sacre, if they make the track and that is a big if, may be returning in the Champion Chase as a seasonal debut. Then it is 8/1 the field.
The next best is Al Ferof at 8/1. This is a new prominent player in the market after he finished a good 4th in the King George. Al Ferof previously was tailed off in the Sprinter Sacre 2012 Champion Chase but apart from that (which let’s be fair was a proper demolition job by the highest rated horse in training at the time), his record over 2m is very decent.
Some might think a Ryanair is the ideal spot for Al Ferof but I think he has a chance of picking up a Championship race because below him, the winning options become thinner and the rationale for backing them more obtuse.
Champagne Fever can be backed at 12s but he does not look a confident or high class chasing prospect. Dodging Bullets can be backed at 14/1 and I think would probably be my bet at the moment although the whole thing is in the air. There was nothing wrong with his Tingle Creek win which has him rated at 165, in the realm of the winner.
Dynaste and Un de Sceaux have a couple of speculative quotes. if Mullins was to enter one, I would have thought Vautour might be the plan and I must confess to having a 14/1 Paddy Power ticket on him. Seeing the carnage to come in the CC, I felt Vautour might be a late parachute entry but given his lacklustre display in Ireland over Christmas, perhaps the novice division races and particularly the JLT are more likely destinations.
Uxiazandre disappointed in the Emerald Isle as well and can be backed at 20/1.
On the other hand, Special Tiara ran with such enthusiasm including this spectacular leap when winning the Desert Orchid at Kempton. Barry Geraghty would have had his heart in his throat as the horse left the ground and the crowd gasped as they though Special Tiara had clearly got it all wrong but through the air the stag leapt and did not catch a twig. It was a rare sight. Quite a breath-taking performance overall. The way the horse attacked the course, it was all Barry could do to point and sit, Special Tiara was aggressive and impressive. Now rated in the mid 150s, still an outsider for the main event but a fun 25/1 one at that.
Anyway, let’s pick a few for Sunday and let’s hope we leave current form well behind.
Leopardstown, Limerick and Leicester.
One of the stand out points of this season for me is the performance of the Gordon Elliott yard. When Vautour fluffed his lines, it was Clarcam, Elliott’s runner that picked up the pieces with ease. He has a decent string and is increasingly looking the chief danger to the omnipresent, all-powerful Mullins.
He has four runners today, including Balbir du Mathan in the 1.20 at Leopardstown. This horse in an example of the powerful backing Elliott is getting being an expensive recruit from France. His Irish debut was going well, he looked the winner to me until falling 2 out in a race won by Adrian des Mottes. Finishing in the places that day was Thunder and Roses who was running a blinder back at Fairyhouse when he took a tumble.
Balbir likes to bowl along and while that is dangerous at a course like this, he might be forcing errors from the talented but potentially mistake prone Un Atout whose only defeat in this arena came at the hands of Champagne Fever, maybe not such as a badge of honour as it was.
Elliott, like Nicholls often brings his seasonal debutantes on a lot and I am hoping Balbir du Mathan can go close at a best price of 9/2.
Then the Christmas Hurdle and a bit of a mess of a Grade 1. At Fishers Cross owes a lot of people a lot of money but Curtis persists and in an attempt to revive his enthusiasm for the game, sends him across the sea. The horse has had his back problems and this is surely why his early promise has faded. Zaidpour is a horse that I would not put my enemies money on. 11/8, 5/4, 1/2, 6/4, 4/6, 11/10, 11/8, Evens, 1/4 – None of these prices stopped Zaidpour from losing. It is a little harsh for a horse worth a mark of 156 and 10 rules wins from 33 races, I guess expectations have just been higher from time to time.
That Ruby chooses Zaidpour over Briars Hill who on paper should have a great chance in this race and this division is telling. Is it the Ricci connection? Surely not, Mr Ricci, although able to call upon Ruby to ride his best, would surely not connect that thought and Zaidpour. The vibes for Briars Hill are not great, the horse is drifting, gallops reports a bit jaded. Maybe the horse has lost his mojo after breaking cheekbones in his fall in the Albert Bartlett?
The Major settles on Lieutenant Colonel. The horse failed to impress on chase debut and the call to return to the smaller obstacles paid handsomely when winning the Hattons Grace. It might not have been the strongest renewal of that race but it went away and did everything that could have been asked. Bryan Cooper has been a revelation himself, returning from injury this season. He is arguably the least exposed and 9/2 in a place with Ladbrokes is a good price.
Arguably the Lexus in 2012 was the race of the season and one that remains in the memory. Tidal Bay, came late under Ruby to nick it in a three-way photo, incredible scenes and tremendous warriors refusing to give any quarter.
The yielding ground has gone soft to heavy and so another stamina laden performance is assured from the winner. I think this might put pay to Sam Winner who looks to me a decent ground sort. It also asks a question of Bobs Worth who has underachieved after his excellent Gold Cup season.
The horses I think best suited to the race are Lord Windermere, Boston Bob, On His Own and Road to Riches.
On His Own is reaching his elder years and while a roll the clock back performance cannot be rules out, I would rather focus on the other three. Of the last twenty winners of the race, only two were over nine and one was the aforementioned incredible performance of Tidal Bay.
Ruby also shares the view having chosen Boston Bob as his preferred beast but again, this choice might not have been so hard and I am not sure that the nine-year old is the best on offer. Like Lord Windermere, he went to the John Durkan as a seasonal start and while the trip was too short for either horse, I just think their form is patchy. Odd thing to say about a Gold Cup winner I know.
That leaves me with Road to Riches. An improving horse, he much better suits the profile of runner I want for a Lexus and I think Bryan Cooper might be set for a big day as the youngster shows his progression at the top table. 7/1 with Paddy Power.
I am having a slice of the odds on Vercingetorix purely on reputation and my admiration for the Gordon Elliott operation. Don’t get too carried away clearly for such inexperience at 8/13 makes it an accumulator bet.
Keeping life simple, I am going to double this choice with Max Dynamite in the 2.05. It is 5/4 so won’t make you rich but I think the french form, the ownership and the trainer boil it up as a nice winner.
As for Leicester, it has been abandoned so my early card work was for nought!
My only other selection is Abbeygrey in the opener at Catterick. In those conditional jockey races, I always opt for the best rider and Ring is that. The money has come and 5/2 is all you can get. Have a slice.
I hope your dinner is better than the leftovers…. Courage, roll the dice.