Handicappers' blog

The head handicappers at the BHA look review the pick of the weekend’s action from Haydock and Ascot.

  • Thursday 20 February
  • Blog
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NATIONAL HEALTH

Just days after I revealed the weights for the 2020 Randox Health Grand National, some horses were already advancing their claims for the race, writes Martin Greenwood

The Grand National is unique in that it closes around two months prior to the race, meaning anything that happens afterwards cannot alter the weight carried on the big day. The normal penalty structure doesn’t apply, either, so any winners (or other horses due to go up) also escape without any extra weight. In 2019, 30 of the 40 runners that faced the starter were due either a rise or a drop from the rating they ran off, including Tiger Roll who was 8 lb well in.

The Unibet Grand National Trial at Haydock had several runners that also hold entries in the Grand National itself, but the surprise winner SMOOTH STEPPER wasn’t one of them. This looked a competitive race going in and there was late support for Yala Enki, however in event the runners were spread out all over Lancashire, which wasn’t surprising given the marathon trip in very arduous conditions.

The fast-improving Lord Du Mesnil looked like making it a four-timer and enhancing his own National claims under his customary front-running tactics. He had burnt off the majority of the opposition a fair way from home but couldn’t fend off the flourish of Smooth Stepper after the last. Smooth Stepper has gone up 8 lb to 144, back near his previous best figure, while Lord Du Mesnil is now 153 from 147, but of course the latter mark will be the one he can race off at Aintree. The 6 lb rise given to Lord du Mesnil is the same that I have awarded Ballyoptic for his win at Ascot (a personal best). He too is now ‘well in’ for the National but so far has a patchy record over those style of fences.

Earlier in the afternoon at Ascot a juicy-looking Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase looked likely to give us pointers for the major staying novice races to come. Unfortunately, the market leaders (and previously very promising pair) Sam Brown and Pym both looked amiss on the second circuit, leaving just the three to see out the business end of the race. That trio were closely bunched turning in but that soon changed as Copperhead quickly put the other pair to bed, strolling away in very impressive style.

COPPERHEAD continued his very upward profile and is now 155 (from 145), which puts him right up there with the best staying novices of the season. Of course, there is a chance that the Ascot race fell apart somewhat but it was hard not to be taken by this performance and I have taken a positive approach for now given he hammered the two decent novices behind him. The 155 matches Black Corton’s performance when he won the race in 2018.

RIDERS ON THE STORM LANDS EVENTFUL ASCOT CHASE

The feature at Ascot was the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase, in which the highest-rated chaser in training, Cyrname, was looking for back-to-back victories in the race. It promised to be an intriguing clash despite the small field but in the end it was a race which left us with more questions than answers, writes Michael Harris

Cyrname announced himself on the big stage with a seventeen-length success in this race last year but he clearly underperformed this time around and was beaten when falling at the last fence. He has plenty of form on soft ground though perhaps these very gruelling conditions didn’t suit. In any case, he remains on 177 courtesy of his defeat of Altior earlier in the season.  

RIDERS ONTHE STORM (remains on 162) had been very impressive in his two previous starts this season, firstly winning a handicap off 140 in the style of a horse who could make up into a graded performer, before a smooth success in a graduation chase at Ascot. This was a first Grade 1 success for him, though it may have been different had 40/1-outsider Traffic Fluide not fallen at the last fence when the race was still in the balance. Riders On the Storm had taken it up a fair way out and that probably left him vulnerable in the straight.

All in all – and factoring in that the remaining runner, Janika, came in off a couple of below-par runs and was again below his best – the Ascot Chase looks form to view very cautiously. I have the winner running below the level of his previous Ascot win and historically his performance of 158 is the lowest winning rating for the race in over 10 years. That said, Riders Onthe Storm still has the scope to improve further under more optimal conditions.

Traffic Fluide would surely have gone very close but for falling and he’s now back on 154, the rating he was allocated after his Ascot handicap success on his last run back in 2018. His Grand National entry rating of 149 remains unchanged and he’ll be able to run 5 lb ‘well in’ at Aintree.


EMITOM FIRMLY ON COURSE FOR STAYERS’ HURDLE

Having nominated EMITOM as a horse to follow at the backend of last season for 2019/20, it was pleasing to see the gelding get his career firmly back on track with a smooth success in the Rendlesham Hurdleat Haydock, writes Andrew Mealor

Beaten only by Champ in his four runs as a novice last season, Emitom was on something of a retrieval mission at Haydock having finished last on his belated return in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. His task was undoubtedly made easier by the clear underperformance of his main market rival The Worlds End but it was still an improved effort in scoring by a comfortable eight lengths from 2018 winner Donna’s Diamond.

Third home One Night In Milan had been beaten in handicaps on his previous three runs (albeit running well each time), including a close third off 142 at Musselburgh last time. A line through him has Donna’s Diamond (who ran a cracker after a year out, especially as he did best of the three who raced handy) repeating his 145 performance from two years ago. That suggests a figure of 153+ for Emitom, which also ties in with the recent averages/historical standards for this race.

That rating still leaves him with plenty to find with reigning champion Paisley Park (169) but it would be no surprise if he rated higher still in time given his overall profile, and he’ll be well worth his place in the field at Cheltenham.

Another who will likely have the Festival in his sights is RAMSES DE TEILLEE after a gritty success in the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle later on the card. Better known as a staying chaser last year, when runner-up in both the Welsh National and the Grand National Trial on this corresponding fixture, David Pipe’s gelding has made hay back over the smaller obstacles this season with three wins.  

Carrying a penalty for his wide-margin Grade 2 success at Doncaster earlier in the month, Ramses De Teillee was well suited by the stamina test under the conditions and ground his way back to the front on the run-in after runner-up Kalooki (143) had looked to be going best two out. He goes up 3 lb to 151, which matches his current chase rating.

The Grand National is probably Ramses de Teillee‘s main target but that rating puts him top as things stand among the staying novices in GB – 1 lb ahead of Kalooki’s stablemate Thyme Hill – and makes him an obvious contender for the Albert Bartlett should connections opt to go down that route. Soft or heavy ground would clearly aid his claims in that race given his abundant stamina and record under such conditions.

Handicappers' blog
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