ON THE RADAR
Charli Parcs has an outstanding opportunity to bring his career record to three wins from three runs in Kempton's BetBright Genius Adonis Juvenile Hurdle this Saturday, 25 February. Nicky Henderson's charge was recommended to readers of Talking Horses in December last year and, after a first victory notched at Enghien, in France, scored subsequently by eight lengths at this weekend's Sunbury venue. Saturday's race conditions oblige him to carry top weight, but my figures indicate it will not stop him.
Dandy Mag beat what looked a moderate bunch of rivals in a two-mile maiden hurdle at Gowran Park on 18 February, even if the field was numerically strong. But, in scoring by five and a half lengths, he indicated he has inherited at least a good proportion of the talent regularly exhibited by his stablemate and ultra-versatile half-sister, Vroum Vroum Mag. Willie Mullins's four-year-old, having his first run in Ireland after two seconds in France, may never be a superstar but should stay farther and win again.
Gigginstown House Stud purchased Poli Roi for £300,000 after he won a point-to-point in November and the five-year-old son of Poliglote repaid a fraction of that considerable investment - €6,468, to be precise - by taking a two-mile bumper at Navan on 19 February. Gordon Elliott's charge collected by two lengths on this racecourse debut - cruising to the front approaching the final furlong to defeat the more experienced Impact Factor - and, as a half-brother to several jumps winners, could prove smart.
Jungle Cat faced a stiff task when taking on Ertijaal in a five-furlong Group Three event at Meydan in Dubai on 16 February, but posted a decent effort to fill second spot behind that well-backed favourite. The winner was recommended to readers of Talking Horses in January and looks sufficiently talented to collect at a higher level, so, by getting within two and three-quarter lengths of him, Jungle Cat gave notice that he can also score again soon. He already has a couple of six-furlong successes to his name.
Better-bred colts than Zarak are thin on the ground - he is by Dubawi out of the brilliant 2008 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe heroine, Zarkava - and, if he can register a victory in Group One company, he will become a hugely-valuable stallion prospect. Scoring at the pinnacle of Flat racing's Pattern may now be in his sights, too, after his stylish win in the ten-furlong Group Three contest on that same Meydan card. Zarak came home a length and three-quarters ahead and will eventually handle a mile and a half.
Nobody could realistically argue that this season's renewal of Haydock's Victor Ludorum Hurdle, run on 18 February, was a vintage edition of the Merseyside course's two-mile juvenile event. That said, I reckon it can safely be assumed that second-placed Zalvados will be able to land an ordinary novices' contest in the near future. The Oliver Greenhall-trained son of Soldier Of Fortune lost out by just two and a quarter lengths, despite a mistake at the final flight, and seems to be improving with experience.
An initial victory over fences is surely equally near to hand for Flintham, who took the runner-up spot in the three-mile Grade Two Reynoldstown Novices' Chase at Ascot a little later that same day. Mark Bradstock's eight-year-old - a half-brother by Kayf Tara to the Oxfordshire-based trainer's stable star Coneygree - enjoys setting the pace and, having established a useful lead two out, was caught right on the line. Flintham jumped left at a few obstacles and may be more comfortable racing ante-clockwise.
DIGGING THE DIRT
Beaten odds-on favourites are always disappointing for their backers and there is no doubt that Flight Of Fantasy was an expensive 10-11 shot when finishing third in a one-mile maiden at Lingfield on 18 February. Harry Dunlop's filly did not appear ideally suited to the sharp Surrey track, though, as, after forfeiting ground with a slow start, she only really got going in the final furlong. A return to Kempton - where she had twice previously been second - should prove beneficial for the daughter of Nathaniel.
NOTED ON THE GALLOPS
Punters who fancy Mutakayyef to win Lingfield's Group Three Betway Winter Derby on Saturday, 25 February, should have no worries about either the six-year-old's fitness or ability to handle the Surrey venue's all-weather surface. The William Haggas-trained son of Sea The Stars has recently been seen doing solid work on Polytrack in Newmarket and, on form, he looks a worthy favourite this weekend.
Turn Turk has not been seen on a racecourse since collecting a two-mile bumper at Worcester in June of last year, but recent workouts indicate she is almost ready for a return to action. Nicky Henderson's six-year-old mare won by a length on that midsummer debut start, staying on resolutely in the closing stages, and is ultimately expected to appreciate a longer distance, especially when she tackles hurdles.
STATS THE WAY TO DO IT
BetBright Chase (Kempton, Saturday, 25 February )
Statistics relating to the past decade suggest that runners with a last-time-out success on their CV are worth considering in the BetBright Chase, to be staged at Kempton on Saturday, 25 February.
Four of the last ten winners of this £100,000 three-mile contest - Simon (2007), Gungadu (2008), Nacarat (2009) and Opening Batsman (2013) - had scored on their final start before lining up.
The exceptions to the trend were Razor Royale (2010), seventh on his previous outing, Quinz (2011), who had filled third spot on his most recent start, Nacarat, fifth prior to notching his second win in the race in 2012, Bally Legend, runner-up as a prelude to scoring in 2013, Rocky Creek, pulled up immediately before collecting in 2015, and Theatre Guide, third when teeing-up for last season's win.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the above stats, this Grade Three event has, generally speaking, given punters a relatively easy ride in betting-market terms over the past ten years.
Admittedly, just one clear favourite has scored in the period under scrutiny - Gungadu (at 4-1) - but five other winners within the past decade - Simon (11-2), Quinz (8-1), Nacarat (9-2 in 2012), Rocky Creek (8-1) and Theatre Guide (6-1) - started at single-figure odds.
The four remaining successful candidates - Nacarat (2009), Razor Royale, Opening Batsman and Bally Legend - were sent off at 10-1, 11-1, 12-1 and 28-1 respectively.
Two second-favourites have registered victories in the past ten years - Nacarat (in 2012) and Theatre Guide - while five others - Simon, Quinz, Nacarat (2009), Opening Batsman and Rocky Creek - also figured among the first six in the betting.
Even Razor Royale started seventh-best in the market, in a field of 13, leaving Bally Legend as the sole genuine outsider to have collected.
Five of the last ten successful candidates - Simon (11st 5lb), Gungadu (11st 12lb), Quinz (11st), Nacarat (11st 8lb in 2012) and Rocky Creek (11st 11lb) - overcame a burden of 11st or above.
The five who did not within my chosen timeframe - Nacarat (2009), Razor Royale, Opening Batsman, Bally Legend and Theatre Guide - carried 10st 13lb, 10st 5lb, 10st 5lb again, 10st 12lb and 10st 6lb.
It is interesting, too, that six winners in the past decade - Simon (143), Gungadu (152), Nacarat (147 in 2009), Quinz (144), Nacarat (154 in 2012) and Rocky Creek (154) - came from an 11lb band in the official ratings.
The exceptions - Razor Royale, Opening Batsman, Bally Legend and Theatre Guide - were even more closely-clustered, starting with BHA marks of 141, 140, 138 and 139.
Age seems of little importance when assessing the field, as winners in the past decade have been as young as seven (Quinz and Opening Batsman) and as mature as 11 (Nacarat in 2012).
But earlier successes at the relevant distance are undoubtedly a strong pointer, with Simon, Gungadu, Razor Royale, Quinz, Nacarat (in 2012, obviously) and Rocky Creek all having previously scored over three miles.
Paul Nicholls and Tom George are the only trainers to have notched more than one winner of this race in the last ten years, the former's two victories coming via Gungadu and Rocky Creek, the latter's thanks to the twin successes of Nacarat.
BIG RACE FOCUS
This week's news that Thistlecrack will miss the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, due to be staged on 17 March, is undoubtedly a major blow both to his connections and jump racing's many fans.
Thistlecrack had been every bookmaker's short-priced favourite for the extended three-and-a-quarter-mile contest, ahead of his Colin Tizzard-trained stable companions Native River and Cue Card.
Now, after a hasty reshuffle of prices, required because Thistlecrack has developed a tendon problem needing a lengthy recovery period, Native River has assumed the mantle of market-leader.
My figures indicate, though, that Cue Card is the prime form contender for the race, his rating of 168 bettering those of Djakadam (166), Outlander (164), Don Poli (161) and Native River (160).
Even so, I cannot recommend backing Cue Card at this stage, as he will probably need a fair degree of cut in the ground to be seen at his best, and my advice to punters is to keep a weather watch.
Leading Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders
(ranked in order of ratings achieved by 21/02/17)
|Rank||Name (age) (gender)||Trainer (country)||Rating|
|1)||Cue Card (11) (gelding)||C Tizzard (GB)||168|
|2)||Djakadam (8) (gelding)||W Mullins (Ireland)||166|
|3)||Outlander (9) (gelding)||G Elliott (Ireland)||164|
|4)||Don Poli (8) (gelding)||G Elliott (Ireland)||161|
|5=)||Native River (7) (gelding)||C Tizzard (GB)||160|
|5=)||Sizing John (7) (gelding)||J Harrington (Ireland)||160|
|7)||Empire Of Dirt (10) (gelding)||G Elliott (Ireland)||159|
|8)||Champagne West (9) (gelding)||H de Bromhead (Ireland)||157|