Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Kilfenora Well Worth Crack At 3 Miles At Punchestown


When I saw the plunge on Nicat’s Benefit on Tuesday morning I was rubbing my hands in anticipation of a big run. Backed from as big as 33/1 into 8/1 at the off, some fingers were badly burned as she never looked like landing a blow. In what was a very strangely run race Nicat’s Benefit was never better than midfield, and perhaps she will be seen to better effect when Spring has properly sprung as both her wins came in March last year.
 
Kilfenora could bounce back from a poor effort last time.

Another horse I put up last time he ran was Kilfenora, and he too was very well backed from 20s into 8s. He was always out the back under Slippers Madden and eventually pulled up, but I think he is better than he showed that day at Leopardstown in that valuable handicap chase off a mark of 121 (17f sft). He had shaped much better previously at Navan (17f hvy), looking as though further might suit when finishing very strongly for 3rd.

I thought a fast run race over 17f would play to his strengths last time, but it wasn’t to be. Eddie Harty has had a rethink, and he is trying the 6yo son of Yeats at 3 miles back over timber at Punchestown in the Pertemps Qualifier this afternoon. He is rated 6lb higher (127) over the smaller obstacles and his only rules win came in a heavy ground 16f maiden hurdle at this meeting last year.

He signed off last season with a fine run over 22f on ground possibly quicker than ideal at Fairyhouse when 4th in a competitive handicap hurdle off a mark of 127, beaten 5L. Admittedly he is off the same mark here, but he kept on well at the finish that day after getting outpaced and the return to heavy ground and step up in trip could bring about some improvement.

He has been chasing this season and this will be his first run over timber since that fine run at Fairyhouse. This is a Pertemps Qualifier and perhaps the plan since Navan was to run in this, qualify for the Pertemps Handicap at the Cheltenham festival and try to sneak in off a low weight. First of all Kilfenora has to finish in the first six in this contest, and hopefully he can sneak into the first three at odds of 25/1.

STEVOS’ SELECTION: 16.45 PUNCHESTOWN-KILFENORA E/W @ 25/1  


Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Cheltenham Gold Cup Early Thoughts


So, with just three weeks to go until the start of national hunt racing’s blue riband meeting, plenty will have made their minds up on what they are planning to back. Lots will already be on ante-post too and this last couple of weeks seem to take an eternity if you are on one of the market leaders at double figure odds. For me personally, what can go wrong usually does go wrong when it comes to my ante post betting and I like to leave it as late as possible before parting with my money.

Midnight Jazz is the only horse I have put up so far (Mares’ Hurdle), and my reason for doing so was because I thought she would get better ground than she did last time out and her price would have shortened if she won. As it turned out the ground was very testing and though she ran her usual brave race she was just run out of it in the closing stages. She is widely available at 66/1 after that run and I still believe that she is capable of much better if getting her preferred good ground.
 
I think if Sizing John is 100% he is the horse they all have to beat.

Last year I was extremely sweet on Sizing John for the Gold Cup, and at the beginning of the season I couldn’t see anyone that could beat him. His scorching turn of foot is a potent weapon at the end of such a gruelling race and when he hosed up on his seasonal comeback at Punchestown in December I was sure he would go off a short price favourite for his repeat bid at the festival in March.

However, he ran a very flat race at Leopardstown over the Xmas last time out, beaten over 30L back in 7th. Crucially though, that run came just 18 days after his win at Punchestown and perhaps he had a harder race there than it looked. Harrington’s horses weren’t sparkling at that stage of the season either and for those reasons I think it is prudent to put a line through that tame effort. If he turns up at the festival in tip top shape I believe he is the horse to beat at odds of 7/1.  
 
Definitly Red has emerged as a serious Gold Cup contender

At a bigger price, I think Definitly Red has the credentials to give each way players a serious run for their money. Brian Ellison’s pride and joy has looked imperious in winning heavy ground Grade 2s at Cheltenham and Aintree by a combined distance of 15L on his last two starts and he is obviously getting better with age. The 9yo son of Definite Article is arguably even more at home on nicer ground but he has to put two poor previous festival runs behind him.

In 2015 he was pulled up in the Albert Bartlett and he was going backwards fast in the 4 miler back in 2016. He swerved the festival altogether last year in preparation for a tilt at the Grand National, but he was badly hampered early doors in that race and had no chance after. Maybe Ellison is using this as a prep race for the National, just like Many Clouds did in 2015, but the Cheltenham Gold Cup looks as open a renewal as there has been for years and at odds of 20/1 he is Definitly worth chancing each way.

STEVOS' GOLD CUP SELECTIONS: SIZING JOHN 7/1 WIN; DEFINITLY RED 20/1 E/W.

Nicat Could Benefit From Return To Clonmel


I thought Skewiff ran a massive race for us on Saturday considering she was given a ride that Adam Wedge would probably like to forget. Unlike on her previous couple of runs she settled very nicely at the rear of the field early on, jumping fluently and travelling well within herself.

She started to move into contention during the final circuit, but Wedge chose to chart a very wide course and after making up a lot of ground Skewiff was shuffled back. She had to be switched too before the last and when Wedge finally got stuck in she stayed on very well to get up for 6th. With a kinder trip next time she could go close in a weaker race.
 
Nicat's Benefit seems to love running at Clonmel.

I am a sucker for a horse that has strong course form, and in the 18.5f handicap hurdle at Clonmel Nicat’s Benefit certainly ticks that box. Liz Lalor’s 7yo daughter of Beneficial has an excellent record at the County Tipperary track and she returns for her first handicap start here off what looks a very workable mark of 102 with Roger Loughran booked for the ride.

Loughran was on board for her last win in a maiden hurdle over this course and distance back in March 2017. His form figures when riding her at Clonmel read 315, in comparison to form figures of 8880056P elsewhere. It is Lalor’s local track too and she has had 4 winners and 4 top four finishers from just 15 runners. A win strike rate of 27% and a frame hitting strike rate of 53%.

Nicat’s benefit has scored twice at Clonmel, in the aforementioned 18.5f maiden on heavy and also in a bumper on heavy (finished 2nd awarded race). Her other two visits resulted in a 3rd behind Chambord Du Lys in a maiden hurdle (16f hvy) and a well beaten 5th when well out of her depth in a Listed Chase here back in November.

She has looked  badly out of form so far this season, but she has been running at the wrong trips. 3 miles was too far for her last time when claimer ridden at Fairyhouse, as was 2m 5f at Tramore when she was pulled up on her penultimate start. She drops back to her optimum trip, Roger Loughran is back in the plate and she races off a mark of just 102, 14lb lower than her initial rating awarded after her easy maiden hurdle win here.

I think Trans Wood and Glens DD, two horses I have tipped up already this season, could easily sicken us. Especially Trans Wood, who stayed on eye catchingly over 2f shorter last time out when I put her up at Punchestown. However, the bookies haven’t missed either of those horses who are both around the 10/1 mark, and at 33/1 I would rather take a chance on Nicat’s Benefit each way for small stakes.

STEVOS’ SELECTION: 15.25 CLONMEL-NICAT’S BENEFIT E/W @ 33/1


Saturday, 17 February 2018

Skewiff Could Show Staying Power At Ascot



Lydia’s Joy drifted to as big as 40/1 at one stage during the day, but when the stalls opened he was a 12/1 shot. Somebody clearly fancied the son of Holy Roman Emperor to run a big race, but unfortunately things didn’t go his way. He broke a lot better than last time, and he wasn’t that far away as they turned for home.

He looked to be travelling okay on the inner, but Andrew Slattery charted an extremely wide course and it cost Lydia’s Joy any chance of getting into the race. The market support suggests he has shown plenty at home, but with a rating of just 38 he needs to show more on the track, and soon.
Evan Williams has a decent record at Ascot.
I thought the step up in trip would suit Lydia’s Joy at Dundalk, and I fancy Skewiff at Ascot this afternoon for the same reason. This unexposed 6yo daughter of Doyen was last seen finishing well beaten at Chepstow, but the heavy ground and 19f trip were against her and I think it makes sense to put a line through that run.

Her Welsh trainer Evan Williams doesn’t travel to Ascot all that often, but when he does he usually means business. Williams has a fine record at the track, sending out 11 winners and 37 top 4 finishers from 102 runners. That is a near 50% frame hitting strike rate, and she is one of two runners there for Williams on Saturday (Court Minstrel is the other).

It was Skewiff’s first run for almost 3 months last time, so she may well have needed it fitness wise. The drop back in trip was an interesting move too as she ran a lovely race on her previous start when a fast finishing 3rd over 21f at Ludlow on good ground. After watching that race back a couple of times it looked like she needed further to me, and moving back to 19f surprised me.

She was outpaced before staying on strongly close home when winning her bumper (16f gd/sft), and she needed every inch of the 2 mile trip when winning on her hurdling debut at Ffos Las. Her full brother Valdez is a Grade 2 16f winner and has won on soft ground, and a couple of her half siblings won at 13f, 14f and 16f on the level, so her pedigree suggests this trip could suit.

As for her rating of 115, I think it could be workable. This is just her second start in handicap company and the form of her run at Ludlow has worked out pretty well. Majestic Moll was just over a length ahead of her in 2nd and she hacked up in a novice next time. The 4th home has also won a novice since, while the winner fell when cruising in a handicap hurdle off 122. 

That effort at Ludlow over the longest trip she has tackled to date suggests to me that this mare is a stayer and physically she looks like one too. Adam Wedge is 2/3 on Skewiff and he takes over in the plate. Wth no rain forecast the course at Ascot could dry out and the more it does, the better it is for Skewiff. At odds of 25/1 she is the each way selection for small stakes.

STEVOS’ SELECTION: 16.10 ASCOT-SKEWIFF E/W @ 25/1 (4 PLACES POWERS)

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Lydia’s Supporters Might Be Jumping For Joy At Dundalk


Elzaa produced a bitterly disappointing effort at Fairyhouse, despite being apparently well backed throughout the day. It looks like it was shrewd punters rather than connections backing her judging by her performance, as she never looked like landing a blow. She can jump though, and she has form on good ground on the level so perhaps when the weather improves she might come into her own in handicaps.

Lydia's Joy wasn't far behind in form Bluesbreaker last time.
Friday nights at Dundalk usually produce a juicily priced winner or two, and one man that is no stranger to firing one in at rewarding odds is Anthony McCann. I was at the County Louth track a fortnight ago when Lydia’s Joy ran and I had a small e/w bet on him simply because of the stable’s form. McCann has his string in fine fettle and though he hasn’t had a winner from his last ten runners, he has rattled the crossbar more than once.


Lydia’s Joy showed very little when trained by Jimmy Larkin, but he showed plenty last time on his first run in over 6 months. He made his reappearance over 6f off a mark of 45 with Damian Melia claiming 7lb and it didn’t start well as he was slowest away from the gates by some distance. Melia didn’t rush him to get back into the race and he was happy to let him gallop away on the inner in the last three.

As they turned in Melia was kidding him along and he went for a run up the inner. To his credit Lydia’s Joy kept on pretty well in the final furlong and though he finished 8th he was only around 3L behind in form Bluesbreaker who finished 3rd and in close proximity to a few other horses rated in the low to mid 60s. It was a big step up on his handicap debut at Listowel and he should strip a lot fitter with that run behind him.

Lydia’s Joy is nicely bred, a 5yo gelding by Holy Roman Emperor and out of a dam related to a host of winners at up to 10f. The way he ran last time, and his pedigree, suggest that a mile could be perfect right now and McCann is claiming 10lb with talented young pilot Andrew Slattery. Lydia’s Joy is officially rated 38 but has to run off 45, so technically with Slattery’s allowance she is carrying 3lb less than she should be. At odds of 33/1 she could run well and a small each way bet is advised.

STEVOS’ SELECTION: 19.00 DUNDALK-LYDIA’S JOY E/W @ 33/1 (4 places available)

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

McAllister’s Mare Overpriced At Fairyhouse


Without Limites was ridden with a bit more restraint than usual on Sunday at Punchestown but we will never know if his stamina would have held out as he fell. He was still travelling well for Donagh Meyler when he tipped up at the 13th, just as the race was taking shape, and as he was sent off at just 8/1 it seems that connections expected a big run. He is not one to lose faith in yet as he is potentially a very well handicapped horse.
 
Without Limites could be worth keeping onside.

Tomorrow I am going back to the well with Elzaa, a mare I tipped up for her last run here at Fairyhouse. She was sent off at 33/1 for that mares’ maiden hurdle and she was a lot nearer the front than the back when taking a false step on the flat down the back and unshipping Adam Short. She was initially priced up at 66/1 for Wednesday’s race over the same course and distance and that has been snapped up. 50s can still be got though and at that price she is still worthy of a small each way bet.

The same reasons still stand for me fancying her as last time, and I think she looks booked for 4th at the very least here if putting in a clear round. It was frustrating because she jumped very nicely in the main here last time, and it wasn’t a hurdling error that caused her to get rid of her jockey. She fell when bang there with every chance at the final hurdle at Ballinrobe back in September and it was another decent effort to finish 6th of 18 behind Apparition at Thurles.

She should have no issues on the forecast testing ground at Fairyhouse on Wednesday as it was very testing for her best run at Ballinrobe. Adam Short keeps the ride and with his 5lb claim Elzaa has to carry less than 10 stone. She looks to be up against the three at the head of the market, but if one or more of them underperform she could be the one best placed to benefit and at 50/1 she is worth backing each way for small stakes.

STEVOS’ SELECTION: 13.25 FAIRYHOUSE-ELZAA E/W @ 50/1


Saturday, 10 February 2018

Step Up In Trip To Suit Limites At Punchestown


Coeur Blimey never travelled and barely jumped a hurdle fluently, yet he still managed to stay on late for a place for Lucy Gardner. He is clearly a horse with a huge amount of ability, but the cheekpieces had little to no effect on his jumping. In fact, that was probably the worst round of jumping I have seen from him yet, and until his trainer finds a way to improve his hurdling technique he will continue to be a frustrating sort. He is undeniably a well treated horse if he ever does get his act together.

 
Without Limites will relish the heavy ground at Punchestown.

Tomorrow is Grand National Trial day at Punchestown and with bottomless ground forecast the 28.5f trip will take a lot of getting. Liz Doyle has always spoken very highly of her dashing grey 6yo gelding Without Limites, and I think he ran a superb race upped in trip to 25f here last time out on his handicap debut on heavy ground. He was beaten 7L in 3rd off a mark of 128 after attempting to make all the running, but in my opinion it wasn’t a lack of stamina that beat him.

After jumping very well throughout he pecked on landing after jumping the 2nd last and that put him on the back foot immediately. He lost a fair bit of momentum and Finny Maguire had to get busy soon after, but he kept on galloping and didn’t look a tired horse to me. I think he just got outpaced by the first two in the last couple of furlongs after making that mistake and he should be able to travel better for longer over today’s marathon trip.

The handicapper has raised him a pound for that run here last time but he still gets to race off a lovely weight of just 10st 7lbs. The form of his last run has been franked in no uncertain terms by the 4th home, 6L behind Without Limites. Wishmoor won his next start and then followed up at Naas off 7lb higher on Saturday. That would suggest that Without Limites is potentially very well treated on just his second handicap chase start.

Donagh Meyler takes over in the plate and he has form figures of 21 on board this son of Martaline. He has a fine overall record when riding for Doyle too, partnering 5 winners and 8 2nds from just 29 rides. If he can poach an easy lead on Without Limites he could be hard to peg back, and this horse is yet to finish out of the first three in three chasing runs. Hopefully he can continue that sequence on Sunday and at odds of 20/1 an each way bet is advised.


STEVOS’ SELECTION: 16.20 PUNCHESTOWN-WITHOUT LIMITES E/W @ 20/1




Friday, 9 February 2018

Lump On Lucy At Newbury


Unfortunately, First Of Never was in need of the outing at Doncaster and he faded badly in the closing stages. I probably need my head examined, but I just can’t let go and back on better ground I will more than likely give him another couple of chances. Don’t worry though, I won’t be putting him up on the blog again anytime soon!!
 
Cheekpieces could do the trick for Coeur Blimey.

Tomorrow is Betfair Hurdle day at Newbury and the horse I would most love to see win is Lalor. The Woollacott’s deserve a day in the sun more than most, and he would be a fairytale winner for Kayley and the rest of the team. He is always a horse I have thought a lot of and I backed him at silly odds for the Supreme at the start of the season. He still holds an entry, but he would want to be winning this doing handstands to have a hope in that race.

The bookies haven’t missed Lalor and he is priced up at around 12/1. At double that price I think the first time cheekpieces could work the oracle on Coeur Blimey. Sue and Lucy Gardner team up with this 7yo son of Winged Love and he comes here on the back of a fine effort off the same mark of 132 in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton (21f soft).

He ran a cracker that day in 6th beaten just over 8L and his jumping was a lot better than it was on his previous start at Ascot in a Grade 2 heat. He is better off in the weights with Spiritofthegames who was 2nd that day and the drop back in trip should suit the Gardner’s horse better. All his best form has come at the minimum trip and a strongly run race over 2 miles will be ideal.

Lucy Gardner has been on board for both of Coeur Blimey’s win and she claims a handy 3lb. She may not be the most stylish of riders, but she knows how to win and she has done so on 38 occasions. All I know is that she has done me plenty of favours down through the years and she proved when landing a monster gamble on this fella in a Listed bumper at Ascot that she can get the job done when the pressure is on.

Coeur Blimey beat Ballyandy that day, the Cheltenham bumper winner in 2016 who is now rated 147 over hurdles. Coeur Blimey’s jumping has stopped him from hitting the same heights as Ballyandy, but if the cheekpieces sharpen that up I have no doubt that he has the engine to be a serious horse over timber. Hopefully he proves me right tomorrow, and at odds of 25/1 I think he is worth chancing each way.

STEVOS’ SELECTION: 15.35 NEWBURY-COEUR BLIMEY E/W @ 25/1

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Never Say Never


Sometimes you can end up on skid row by following a horse over a cliff, and I have been guilty of that on more than one occasion. Luckily for me though, most of the horses that catch my eye are usually of the higher priced persuasion and even if they don’t win it is still possible to turn a profit from each way bets. First Of Never is a perfect example of such a horse, and I have followed Lynn Siddall’s charge for a longer time than I care to remember.
Jamie Bargary comes in for the ride on First Of Never.
This very frustrating 12yo son of Systematic first caught my eye as a sprightly 8yo all the way back in March 2014, and I cannot believe he still hasn’t managed to win a race since then. The first time I ever backed him was in a 21f handicap hurdle at Towcester off a mark of 74 two months later, and he ran a lovely race to finish 4th of 17 at odds of 33/1.

I had snapped up 40s that morning so I was happy enough to sneak a place and he was placed again, this time when 2nd at Doncaster (19.5f gd/sft), two runs later and again he could be backed at very rewarding odds. However, the fact remains that after 33 starts First Of Never remains a maiden, with just 7 placed finishes to show for all his efforts.

I must need my head examined for thinking this fella is still capable of winning a race, but this time last year he ran a humdinger over today’s course and distance (gd) to finish a close up 3rd behind two rivals (Stepover and Calarules) rated 92 and 100 respectively. That effort came from 4lb out of the handicap, and 2f out he was travelling like a dream out in front before tiring after the last.

He is again running from out of the handicap returned to this course and distance for the first time since and Lynn Siddall has booked Jamie Bargary for the ride. First Of Never has lots of placed form on good to soft ground so once underfoot conditions don’t deteriorate he should be fine. He has run well fresh before, from five starts at Doncaster he has form figures of 23003 and at odds of 50/1 hopefully he rewards e/w support. If he doesn’t, I think it is safe to say I will never tip Never again.

STEVOS’ SELECTION: 16.40 DONCASTER-FIRST OF NEVER E/W @ 50/1

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Jump On Jazz At 66s For Mares’ Race At Festival

Most of the biggest trial races have now been run and I think everyone is a lot more the wiser as to what appeals to them for the Cheltenham Festival. On Day 2 of the Dublin Racing festival none of my selections hit the frame, but I think we may have witnessed something special from Samcro. The way he won suggested he is a horse with an insane amount of ability, and if Gordon Elliott gets him to the festival in top shape we could see a performance that will really get the pulse racing.

 
Samcro looked the real deal at Leopardstown.

I was a doubter before Sunday, but after watching him wipe the floor with some very useful horses I am now convinced that Samcro is the real deal. I hesitate to use the dreaded ‘B’ word that is loved by so many Irish punters, but from what we have seen he is the closest thing to a banker you can get. He should win whatever race he turns up in, and from what I have heard through the grapevine he will be heading for the Supreme. His price is long gone now though, and for a festival fancy at a much bigger odds just read on.

At last year’s Cheltenham Festival I thought Midnight Jazz had a very good chance of reaching the frame but she didn’t seem to show her best. My reason for fancying her was her superb effort when beaten by just a head by Vroum Vroum Mag in a Grade 2 heat at Doncaster, and I thought that if she could repeat that run at a track where she had run well before then she could easily sneak a place.

However, I don’t think Ben Case had counted on her being good enough to go to Cheltenham at the start of the season and because of that she was having her 6th run by the time she got to the Festival. On top of that, she had a very hard race against Vroum Vroum Mag on her previous start too. I think these factors combined to stop Midnight Jazz from producing her very best, and now that Ben Case knows she has the ability to compete at this level he has altered her training plan so that she should be peaking come March.

She has had just the two runs so far this season, making her seasonal reappearance with a quiet run at Ludlow at the start of December. Her only start since came at Sandown in a Listed heavy ground 20f hurdle and she ran a blinder to finish 2nd behind Poppy Kay, a very useful mare in her own right who has won 5 from 9 under rules, only ever finishing out of the money once. They will renew rivalries at Warwick on Saturday and I think Ben Case’s 8yo daughter of Midnight Legend could reverse the form.
Midnight Jazz putting it right up to Vroum Vroum Mag at Doncaster.
Midnight Jazz started last season with form figures of 12122, with that final second coming in that pulsating battle with Vroum Vroum Mag. The way she has started this term suggests that Case has left himself with plenty to work with fitness wise, and she should come on bundles for her first two runs back. She will also appreciate the likely better ground at Cheltenham too as her best form has come on good. I am expecting a big run from her on Saturday, and if she does manage to win I can see her shortening up for the festival.

If her form last season is anything to go by she should come on leaps and bounds for the outing at Warwick, and this time she will hopefully be heading to Cheltenham cherry ripe. She is usually a quick and efficient hurdler, and while she is a small mare she is as game as a pebble. She has run well at Cheltenham twice from three visits and she wasn’t disgraced in the Mares’ Hurdle when 10th in 2017. I believe she could be capable of better than that, and while Apple’s Jade will be hard to beat Midnight Jazz could sneak into the frame at odds of 66/1.


STEVOS’ SELECTION: MARES’ HURDLE CHELTENHAM: MIDNIGHT JAZZ E/W @ 66/1