ON THE RADAR
Sutter County has a great chance of notching his third success if he tackles the five-furlong conditions stakes at Wolverhampton this Saturday, 3 December. Mark Johnston's colt was first recommended to Talking Horses readers back in late March, after winning at Dunstall Park, and subsequently collected again in a novice event over the minimum trip at Newmarket. Unfortunately, Sutter County picked up an injury in that contest and, for a spell during the summer, lost his form. He came back to his best when second last time at Newcastle, though, and, based on that latest run, will be hard to beat this weekend.
Lough Derg Spirit may not have defeated any superstars when collecting comfortably on his debut in a two-mile novices' hurdle at Kempton on 21 November - but the style of his three-and-a-half-length success - and the elan with which he jumped - marked him out as a horse to follow over the next few months. Nicky Henderson's four-year-old was superb over the fences and, if required to, could easily have increased his margin of victory over Coup de Pinceau. A win under a penalty seems guaranteed.
The level of form shown by Acting Lass when taking a two-and-a-half-mile Hereford novices' hurdle on 23 November can hardly be described as outstanding, either, but he also looks capable of notching more victories this winter. Harry Fry's five-year-old, whose name is rather misleading because he is a gelding, grabbed the lead approaching the second-last and soon drew clear to score by 11 lengths. Out of a mare by Montelimar - and clearly not averse to soft going - he is bred to handle a longer distance.
Establishing a juvenile-hurdler pecking-order will take a while yet, but Domperignon Du Lys staked a claim to be considered among the most promising seen so far by taking a two-mile introductory event at Newcastle on 26 November. The son of Great Pretender, who has joined Nicky Henderson's stable after landing a bumper in France, tracked the leaders from the start and, despite a slight mistake at the fifth, he collected by eight lengths and two from the more experienced pair Nietzsche and So Celebre.
Altior has appeared in Talking Horses on several previous occasions, having first been recommended to readers as long ago as December 2015, but merits another favourable mention after his outstanding initial success over fences in a novices' event at Kempton on 21 November. The six-year-old, winner last spring of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, collected by 63 lengths from his sole rival, Black Corton, and, apart from one minor error, jumped beautifully. He seems certain to cope with a step up in grade.
Unowhatimeanharry has been progressing consistently since joining Harry Fry's stable and his victory in the three-mile Grade Two hurdle at Newbury on 25 November indicated he can handle competition at the highest level. Fry's eight-year-old, a smart novice last season, scored by six lengths on this first start in open company and, although he made a minor error at the final flight, generally negotiated the obstacles with aplomb. His record since joining his current yard now stands at six wins in six outings.
Willie Mullins has made it his habit recently to take the two-mile-one-furlong beginners' chase which this season was part of Navan's 27 November fixture (Douvan landed the prize in 2015) and his latest scorer, Min , seems sure to notch many more victories over fences. The five-year-old, beaten just once in three outings last term, when second in Cheltenham's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, returned to action with a ten-length success at the County Meath venue and should have trouble scoring again next time.
DIGGING THE DIRT
Whether Saluti was unfortunate not to land the second division of the six-furlong maiden at Kempton on 23 November is a moot point - the racecourse stewards decided against him - but there is no doubt that he was hampered in the closing stages by the head winner, Al Reeh. Saluti finished seven lengths clear of the third at the Sunbury venue and, in so doing, improved enough on his debut run to indicate it should not be long before he breaks his duck. Being by Acclamation, he might stay another furlong.
Cercle d'Or seems unlikely to scale the heights attained by her half-brother - 2015 Epsom Derby hero Golden Horn - but should, judged on the second she registered in a seven-furlong Chelmsford maiden the following day, be able to find a winning opportunity in the near future. She was beaten only half a length by Annie Fior, despite racing a little wider than might be considered ideal, and kept on bravely in the closing stages. Also by Acclamation, Gosden's speedy filly may be worth a try at a shorter trip.
NOTED ON THE GALLOPS
Hopes are high at Nicky Henderson's stable that Jameson , a newcomer to the Upper Lambourn-based trainer's academy, can make his mark as a novice hurdler this winter. Previously based in Wales with Paul Morgan, for whom he landed a Bangor bumper by ten lengths, the four-year-old son of Midnight Legend has worked well since joining his new high-profile yard and seems set to start over two miles.
John Gosden, as I predicted would be the case several weeks ago, is still sending out decent debutant two-year-olds on the all-weather and Bois de Boulogne is another with the talent to win a race before the end of 2016. Gosden's colt is by Street Cry, so should have no trouble handling artificial surfaces, and out of a mare who scored in a ten-furlong Haydock maiden prior to gaining places at Listed level.
STATS THE WAY TO DO IT
Becher Chase (Aintree, Saturday, 3 December)
Considering just one favourite has taken Aintree's Becher Chase in the past decade, anyone betting in this season's renewal, on Saturday, 3 December, might seem well-advised to tread carefully.
This Betfred-sponsored handicap, run over almost three and a quarter miles and the Grand National fences, has not, however, been quite as unkind to punters as that bald statistic may suggest.
True, only Hello Bud (at 15-2 in 2010) has scored as market-leader in the last ten years but, within that period, covering 2006 to 2015, a mere 50 per cent of the winners went off at double-figure odds.
Mr Pointment started at 15-2 in 2007, while Black Apalachi (15-2 in 2008), Vic Venturi (7-1) in 2009) and West End Rocker (10-1 in 2011) were other relatively short-priced scorers.
The quintet who came home first at twin-digit odds comprised a trio of genuine outsiders - Eurotrek (25-1 in 2006), Oscar Time (25-1 in 2014) and Highland Lodge (20-1 in 2015) - plus Hello Bud, sent off at 14-1 when registering his second win in 2012, and the 2013 winner Chance Du Roy (also 14-1).
Just one the last decade's winners - Vic Venturi - went to post with a latest-start victory to his name and that success was notched earlier in the relevant campaign.
Four others in the same period, though - Eurotrek, Black Apalachi, Hello Bud (2010), West End Rocker - had been pulled up last time out, while Oscar Time had unseated on his most recent start.
Concentrating on horses with convincing course form does not seem especially smart, as only Hello Bud (when collecting second time round in 2013) had previously notched a victory at Aintree.
Furthermore, just four winners from the last ten seasons - Eurotrek, West End Rocker, Hello Bud (again second time around) and Highland Lodge - had scored earlier over the big race distance.
Age looks a more profitable starting point for those wishing to cut down their betting options, since every one of the last ten Becher Chase winners was eight years old or more.
Nine-year-olds have compiled easily the best strike-rate in the renewals staged from 2006 onwards, thanks to the five victories achieved by Black Apalachi, Vic Venturi, West End Rocker, Chance Du Roy and Highland Lodge.
One ten-year-old - Eurotrek - plus one eight-year-old - Mr Pointment - have also been successful within the past ten seasons, while, remarkably, three winners - Hello Bud (12 in 2010, 14 in 2012) and Oscar Time (13) - have unquestionably been at the veteran stage when coming home in front.
Hello Bud - 5lb out of the handicap for his second victory - and Highland Lodge - 7lb wrong - are the only two winners in in the last ten years to have found themselves at that (apparent) disadvantage.
Successes have been registered from right across the weight-range, indeed, with Hello Bud and Highland Lodge carrying exactly 10st at the bottom end (the former in 2012 obviously) and Vic Venturi shrugging off 11st 12lb at the top.
Evaluating runners using official ratings has arguably been more productive, as seven winners in the past decade - Black Apalachi (138), Hello Bud (133 and 130), West End Rocker (137), Chance Du Roy (135), Oscar Time (136) and Highland Lodge (132) - had ratings in the 130s.
The remaining three - Eurotrek (147), Mr Pointment (146) and Vic Venturi (148) - raced with marks in the high 140s and, perhaps significantly, the first two of those were trained by Paul Nicholls.
Nicholls, along with the late Dessie Hughes (Black Apalachi and Vic Venturi) and Nigel Twiston-Davies (thanks to dual scorer Hello Bud), has the event's best training record in the past decade.
BIG RACE FOCUS
Bookmakers have Douvan as ante-post favourite for Sandown's Tingle Creek Chase this Saturday, 3 December, and my figures (below) suggest they are right to put him at the head of the market.
Whether he deserves to be as short as evens, however, is another matter, as his current rating (166 on my scale) does not rank him streets ahead of his rivals for the two-mile Grade One showdown.
Indeed, his trainer, Willie Mullins, has another with strong claims - Un de Sceaux (165) - while Tom George's God's Own (164) and the Gary Moore-trained Sire de Grugy (162) are not far behind.
With Moore's progressive six-year-old Ar Mad (156) also seemingly poised to tackle this weekend's contest, the 2016 Tingle Creek appears - at the moment, at least - an ultra-competitive affair.
Betfair Tingle Creek Chase entries
(ranked in order of ratings achieved by 29 November 2016)
|Rank||Name (age) (gender)||Trainer (country)||Rating|
|1)||Douvan (6) (gelding)||W Mullins (Ireland)||166|
|2)||Un de Sceaux (8) (gelding)||W Mullins (Ireland)||165|
|3)||God's Own (8) (gelding)||T George (GB)||164|
|4)||Sire de Grugy (10) (gelding)||G Moore (GB)||162|
|5)||Ar Mad (6) (gelding)||G Moore (GB)||156|
|6)||Vibrato Valtat (7) (gelding)||P Nicholls (GB)||155|
|7)||The Game Changer (7) (gelding)||G Elliott (Ireland)||150|
|8)||Sir Valentino (7) (gelding)||T George (GB)||147|