ON THE RADAR
Dan Skelton seems to have found Bedrock the ideal opportunity to break his duck over hurdles in the two-mile-three-furlong novices' contest at Warwick next Monday, 1 May. The four-year-old, a useful middle-distance handicapper on the Flat before being switched to jumps, was commended to Talking Horses readers earlier this month and, having taken on quality rivals on his recent runs - last time out finishing third behind Defi du Seuil at Aintree on 6 April - has much the best form claim at Warwick.
Newmarket's first two-year-old event of 2017, run over five furlongs of the Rowley Mile on 18 April, looked a solid enough contest and the second, Never Back Down, should soon gain compensation for his half-length defeat. The Hugo Palmer-trained colt was always close to the pace and, after throwing down a powerful final-furlong challenge, lost out only to the favourite, Sound And Silence. Palmer's charge, by Kodiac out of a Pivotal mare, seems sure, based on pedigree, to relish a longer trip in time.
A step up in distance appears certain to suit Roger Charlton's Natavia, whose debut came in the one-mile fillies' maiden on Newmarket's card the following afternoon. Charlton's three-year-old, sent off favourite after notable late support, almost justified her backers' faith, travelling strongly for most of the race before being beaten half a length by Dancing Breeze. A good-looking daughter of Nathaniel, who cost 600,000gns and holds an Oaks entry, Natavia will stay a mile and a quarter at the very least.
Whether that trip will ultimately best suit Musical Terms remains to be seen, but there is no doubt the William Haggas-trained son of Shamardal was battling on gamely at the end of the second division of a one-mile Newbury maiden on 22 April. Pushed along and seemingly outpaced in mid-division three furlongs from home, Haggas's colt began to respond in the closing stages and snatched the runner-up spot behind Duke Of Bronte virtually on the line. He should now have no problem breaking his duck.
Nicky Henderson has an exceptional record in the two-mile bumper that closes Ayr's Scottish Grand meeting - he has taken it five times in the recent seasons, including with the brilliant Sprinter Sacre - and Pym landed the spoils in this term's 22 April renewal. This four-year-old Stowaway gelding was always among the leaders and, after grabbing an advantage entering the final furlong, he strode away to score by four lengths. Related to a several talented performers, Pym is scopey enough for jumping.
Victory for Daban in the seven-furlong Group Three Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket on 19 April did not prove she is up to 1000 Guineas-winning standard but, when scoring by three-quarters of a length, she almost certainly earned her place in the line-up for next month's HQ Classic. John Gosden's filly, whose sole previous outing had been in an ordinary Kempton maiden, took a huge step forward when landing the Nell Gwyn - and, given Gosden's methods, is virtually guaranteed to progress still further.
Eminent also displayed marked improvement when taking Newmarket's Craven Stakes the following day, retaining an unbeaten record that began with a maiden-contest success, over the same mile at the same venue last September. Trainer Martyn Meade will be dreaming of 2000 Guineas glory after this Frankel colt's length-and-three-quarters win and, judged on Eminent's stylish defeat of Rivet, he will be at least a place contender in the 6 May Classic. A stiffer test should be OK for him by the summer.
Shutter Speed figured in Talking Horses early last October, before her racecourse debut, and deserves another mention thanks to her smooth victory in a mile-and-a-quarter conditions event at Newbury on 21 April. The daughter of Dansili, another from the Gosden stable, was never too far off the pace and, after leading with two furlongs left, shot clear to score by two and a half lengths. The form of this win is not up to Oaks level - and she needs to show she stays the extra distance - but a trial is on the cards.
DIGGING THE DIRT
Andrew Balding should have no difficulty finding a profitable opening for Meccabah after her second in what looked a solid one-mile maiden at Kempton on 24 April. By Makfi, hero of the 2000 Guineas in 2010, Meccabah raced just once as a juvenile last season, finishing 11th of 13. Like so many of her trainer's horses, however, she showed much improved form on this second start, taking the lead in the final furlong before going down by half a length to the well-backed favourite, Time Chaser. Balding's filly is related to a number of useful middle-distance winners, so ought to appreciate a step up in trip.
NOTED ON THE GALLOPS
Great Sound appears highly unlikely to take up his Derby entry - as he has still to make his racecourse debut - but this three-year-old Galileo colt goes sweetly enough at exercise to indicate he should score in a maiden early this season. A 320,000gns yearling purchase, John Gosden's charge is out of a mare successful over a mile and a half, and that distance - or perhaps a little further - ought to suit him best.
Richard Hannon's huge string of two-year-olds has not yet started to fire on all cylinders, even though the older horses in his care are faring tremendously well, but once it does I reckon it will pay to watch out for a colt called Maaward. By Kodiac, a stallion with whom the Hannon stable has enjoyed plenty of success, he moves nicely at home and has a pedigree that suggests sufficient pace for five furlongs.
STATS THE WAY TO DO IT
bet365 Gold Cup (Sandown, Saturday, 29 April)
Punters attempting to pick out the winner of the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown, staged this Saturday, 29 April, should be aware that favourites have an appalling record over recent years.
Not one market-leader has landed the British jumping campaign's last big chase in the past decade.
Second-favourites have been only a little more successful, with Hennessy - at 13-2 in 2009 - the sole runner in that category to collect within the last ten seasons.
Two third-favourites have scored, however, that pair being Hadrian's Approach (at 10-1 in 2014) and The Young Master (8-1 in 2016).
All told, six of the ten winners in the past decade - Monkerhostin (25-1 in 2008), Church Island (20-1 in 2010), Poker De Sivola (11-1 in 2011), Quentin Collonges (14-1 in 2013), Hadrian's Approach and Just A Par (14-1 last season) - started at double-figure odds.
Over the same period, runners aged from seven to 11 have shown themselves to be the most reliable candidates for a bet, taking every one of the renewals from 2007 onwards.
Eight-year-olds have been the most successful age-group within that timeframe, registering four victories, courtesy of Hot Weld, Hennessy, Poker De Sivola and Just A Par.
Next in the generational pecking-order are 11-year-olds, who have notched a trio of successes, thanks to Monkerhostin, Church Island and Tidal Bay (2012).
Two seven-year-olds (Hadrian's Approach and The Young Master), plus one nine-year-old (Quentin Collonges) have also taken the prize in the period under scrutiny here.
The candidates to avoid, it appears, are those of 12 years and upwards, because their record is poor, even where minor placings are concerned.
Weights in the top half of the handicap have proved difficult to overcome in the past ten seasons, with nine of the successful challengers carrying 11st or less.
The victories of Hot Weld (10st), Monkerhostin (10st 13lb), Hennessy (10st 7lb), Church Island (10st 5lb after his rider's 7lb claim was taken into account), Poker De Sivola (10st 12lb), Quentin Collonges (10st 12lb), Hadrian's Approach (11st), Just A Par (10st) and The Young Master (10st 12lb) ought to demonstrate how frequently lower-weighted runners have collected within the period under discussion.
It does have to be admitted that Tidal Bay was successful under 11st 12lb - but balanced against his victory is that of Hot Weld, which came from 11lb out of the handicap proper.
Punters who choose to assess fields using BHA ratings might like to consider the fact that six of the last ten winners had official marks within a relatively narrow 10lb band.
Four of those were rated in the low to middle 130s - Hot Weld (135), Hennessy (132), Poker De Sivola (136) and Quentin Collonges (135) - while the other two - Church Island and Just A Par - had respective marks of 142 and 140.
Last-time-out strikes do not seem of great significance, since just two winners in the last ten years - Hot Weld and Quentin Collonges - went to post having scored on their previous run.
Three had finished third or fourth on their most recent start - Tidal Bay (fourth), Just A Par (third) and The Young Master (third) - but five others - Monkerhostin, Hennessy, Church Island, Poker De Sivola and Hadrian's Approach - had failed to make the frame positions.
Just one trainer, Paul Nicholls, has lifted the trophy more than once in the period under scrutiny, his two successes being achieved by Tidal Bay and Just A Par.
Perhaps surprisingly, given Sandown's popularity as a jumps venue, Lacdoudal, the 2006 bet365 Gold Cup hero, was the last winner of this event who had previously notched a victory at the course.
BIG RACE FOCUS
Altior is definitely the form horse in Sandown's £125,000 bet365 Celebration Chase this Saturday, 29 April, but my figures (below) suggest his price is plenty short enough considering the opposition.
Nicky Henderson's seven-year-old, whose current mark is 165 on my scale, has 4lb in hand over the most able of his possible weekend rivals - Special Tiara (161) - so is clearly a worthy favourite.
Backing him at longish odds-on does not appeal to me as a wise investment, however, particularly at the end of the season on quick ground, and I would rather watch him win than back him to do so.
Sandown's £125,000 bet365 Celebration Chase entries
(ranked in order of ratings achieved by 25 April 2017)
|Rank||Name (age) (gender)||Trainer (country)||Rating*|
|1)||Altior (7) (gelding)||N Henderson (GB)||165|
|2=)||God's Own (9) (gelding)||T George (GB)||161*|
|2=)||Special Tiara (10) (gelding)||H de Bromhead (Ireland)||161|
|4=)||Josses Hill (9) (gelding)||N Henderson (GB)||154|
|4=)||Vaniteux (8) (gelding)||N Henderson (GB)||154|
|6)||San Benedeto (6) (gelding)||P Nicholls (GB)||147|
|7)||Theinval (7) (gelding)||N Henderson (GB)||146|
|8)||As de Mee (7) (gelding)||P Nicholls (GB)||143|
* God's Own ran at Punchestown on 25 April, so is assumed a non-starter at Sandown