Handicappers' Blog

The head Handicappers at the BHA analyse the pick of the recent action including Bristol De Mai’s second successive Betfair Chase victory at Haydock on Saturday.

  • Wednesday 28 November
  • Blog
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BRISTOL FASHION

Gallant grey Bristol de Mai confounded many by repeating his success in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday, writes MARTIN GREENWOOD

Last season BRISTOL DE MAI briefly entered the upper echelons of the steeplechasing world with a 57-length success (in desperate conditions) in the Betfair Chase, a few weeks after claiming the Charlie Hall at Wetherby. Much was said and hyped about how good he was at the time with various opinions suggesting he was either the new big thing or a horse flattered by other rivals failing to adapt to the conditions. Like most things in life, never mind racing, the truth invariably lies somewhere in between. While he failed to add to those victories later in the campaign, he ran fair races on two of his subsequent three starts and underwent a wind op prior to Aintree on his final outing when he finished second to Might Bite in the Betway Bowl.

The last-named horse was a warm favourite to take Bristol’s crown in the 2018 renewal of the Betfair Chase. Though only five lined up, possibly due to the unseasonably decent ground, it looked a fascinating affair, with the other three runners being Might Bite’s Cheltenham Gold Cup conqueror Native River, unexposed stayer Clan des Obeaux (who had finished third at Aintree) and the once very high-class but injury prone Thistlecrack.

The entire field were well bunched for the majority of the race and matters only began to take shape from turning in to the home straight. The first of the ‘big guns’ to crack was Might Bite, who was eased off after jumping the last, while Clan des Obeaux and Thistlecrack couldn’t sustain any meaningful effort, leaving Bristol de Mai having only Native River to beat. That he did in stout fashion by four lengths, with Native River eased around a length when clearly held.

Luckily, I didn’t have to contend with a 57-length win and with Clan des Obeaux and Thistlecrack not beaten that far, it gives sensible parameters on which to base the obvious ballpark minimums and maximums. I also looked at the historical standards and a time comparison with the concluding handicap on the card.

Standards wise, the 5 years of results I used, allied to the difference at the weights produced in this running, varied markedly (from 146 to 171), with an average of the those figures being in the low 160s and the median in the high 160s. Time wise, the Betfair worked out around 40 lbs quicker than the now 146-rated Vintage Clouds.

Taking all the pre and post-race information into account, I have raised Bristol de Mai 4 lbs to 169, which is 4lb lower than the figure he was awarded this time last year. Other than Clan des Obeaux just about recording a personal best at 160 (his Aintree run is almost a match following a collateral rise), I have left all the other ratings for now which means Native River and Might Bite still top the staying chase rankings on 176 and 172 respectively. However, Road to Respect (who scored at Down Royal) and Bristol de Mai have achieved the best performances this season, both on 169. It would be a knee-jerk reaction to suddenly reverse everything we knew from 2017/18, and with runs under their belts, I am sure we will learn much more as the season progresses.

HEADSCRATCHER

The fine run of 66/1-outsider Rayvin Black in the Coral Ascot Hurdle made for a ratings headache, as ANDREW MEALOR explains…

At first glance the result of the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle looked straightforward. 150-rated IF THE CAP FITS beat Old Guard, who was coming in off the back of a 154 performance when third in the Greatwood at Cheltenham just six days previously.Old Guard was giving 6 lb to the winner courtesy of the penalty he carried for his Grade 2 win last season, and the one and half lengths between them at the line (2 lb) tied in neatly with those pre-race ratings.

So far so good. However, only three and a half lengths behind them in third was outsider Rayvin Black, who on a mark of 132 was the lowest rated of the six runners coming into the race. He had been rated as high as 149 in his younger days but his maximum figure last season was just 135 (when beaten in handicaps off that mark). Rayvin Black was given a fine ride in a muddling affair by Thomas Garner, who tried to steal the race when going clear down the back straight. Rayvin Black was around nine lengths ahead three out and was still 6 lengths ahead two out (the first hurdle in the home straight) before reeled in after the last. Given how the race panned out and Rayvin Black’s overall profile, I took the view he was flattered to finish where he did in relation to the first two and have simply taken him back to his best recent figure (135). Time will tell whether that underplays his performance.

If The Cap Fits and Old Guard stay on their pre-race ratings. Top rated coming into the race was We Have A Dream (156), who was another penalised runner having landed the Grade 1 juvenile at Aintree last season. He’s now underperformed on both runs in open company this season, having also finished behind If The Cap Fits when third in the Elite Hurdle on his reappearance, and his mark has been dropped 4 lb to 152 as a result (which would give him a pull with the winner if the two were to meet in a handicap).

IMPRESSIVE START OVER FENCES FOR LALOR

The final day of the November meeting at Cheltenham featured a couple of decent two-mile chases, writes CHRIS NASH

First up were the novices in the Grade 2 Racing Post Arkle Trial. Only five went to post but three of them were Grade 1 hurdle winners and the other two had already won novice chases this season, so it looked a strong contest. And we duly got an impressive winner in LALOR. He had won the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April on his previous start and came here with a hurdles rating of 149. I was initially reluctant to say that he had achieved a higher figure than that in winning this Grade 2, but having looked through his hurdles form and consulted with my colleague, Dave Dickinson, we decided his Aintree form was now worth a figure of 151 and I used that figure as a basis for my assessment of this race.  

Dynamite Dollars was seven lengths away in second – he’d won a novice chase last time out and that form had been boosted so he retains his pre-race mark of 146, although I have him running slightly below that here (144).  This race often produces small fields so historical comparisons can be misleading but, for what it’s worth, the last five renewals produce an average figure for the winner of 146 and a standardised figure for this winner of 147. I am obviously higher than that initially but that reflects my faith in the strength of this contest.  

The Grade 2 Shloer Chase also featured on the card and it saw a winning return for SCEAU ROYAL who was one of the leading novices last season. His novice season was curtailed so we didn’t get to see him at any of the major festivals but his end-of-year rating of 159 saw him behind only Footpad (166) in the two-mile novice chase classification.

Sceau Royal is a sound jumper of fences and he saw this out best up the hill to beat Simply Ned by two and a quarter lengths.  The Shloer has been run as a Grade 2 only since 2015 so historical comparisons are limited. Those renewals give a figure for the average winner of 167 and a standardised figure for this winner of 165.  However, I have decided to rate this race lower due to the proximity of Simply Ned who, for all that he is an admirable horse, seemingly places limitations on this form having had a career-high mark of 161 (most recently in October 2015) and a recent best of 158 (when awarded an Irish Grade 1 in the Stewards room last December). He gave Sceau Royal 3 lb so they come out of this race with similar performances at the weights and I have both running to a figure of 158.  

Sceau Royal retains his pre-race mark of 159 and may well improve for the outing, but he will probably have to given that Altior sets the level for this division on a lofty rating of 175.

The next port of call for the leading two-mile chasers is the Grade 1 Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown on December 8th, and the novices also have a Grade 1 race on the same card in the form of the Randox Health Henry VIII Chase.

GREATWOOD A DIFFERENT RACE DUE TO LOW SUN

A few issues crossed my mind whilst dealing with the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle, the main race on the final day of Cheltenham’s November Meeting, writes DAVID DICKINSON

The big issue was the effect of the low sun, which resulted in three of the eight flights being omitted, those usually jumped as the first, second and last in the race. It was as usual a competitive contest, with the majority of the horses coming into the race boasting good recent form.

In my opinion, the lack of jumping put an extra emphasis on fitness and stamina, which became particularly notable on the long run from the last flight (usually jumped as the second last). There looked to be plenty with chances turning into the straight but the three returning from absences – Western Ryder, Nube Negra and Charli Parcs - all faded in the final furlong.

The winner, NIETZSCHE, came here in good form from the flat and clearly isn’t short on stamina, having won over nineteen furlongs over timber. Nietzsche won from out of the handicap but his new mark of 132 (up 9 lb in total but 6 lb higher than the mark he ran off) is just a couple of pounds higher than he ran off when third in the 2017 Fred Winter, which he might have won with a better jump at the last. He clearly goes well at Cheltenham.

By the end of the racing week, the Greatwood third Old Guard had reappeared over hurdles, running creditably over further (as mentioned above).

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