Friday, 11 January 2019

Cheltenham Festival - Supreme Novices' Hurdle

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle gets the honour of opening the action at the Cheltenham Festival every year. This really is an honour that comes with a lot of pressure as the race is expected to set the tone for the four-day event. It is a National Hunt Grade one rated race that brings together horses of four years or more competing over a distance of two miles and half a furlong (3298 meters) at the Old Cheltenham Course.

A run of well over half a century gives the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle a rich history which makes it just the ideal event to open this popular festival in Britain.

Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh have had great runs in this opening race, each earning five wins in the trainer and jockey category respectively. They worked as a team between 2013 and 2015, sweeping first honours in all three years.

Mullins-trained Getabird is still favourite to win the 2018 event after winning both hurdle races he has started in with a considerable gap between him and the second placed finisher in the past season. First Flow, peerless in his last three jump races, is a close competitor.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

King George VI Chase Preview

The King George VI Chase, due off at 3.05 p.m. at Kempton on Boxing Day, once again looks like serving up a festive treat for National Hunt fans. The ante post market for the Kempton showpiece is dominated by last year’s winner, Might Bite (3/1, in a place), but Nicky Henderson’s nine-year-old is on a retrieval mission after trailing in last of five, beaten 28¾ lengths, behind Bristol De Mai (7/1) in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. Henderson believes Might Bite was unsettled by the big, solid fences at Haydock on that occasion, but his mercurial ‘chaser is short enough at the odds on offer.

Bristol De Mai finished 25¾ lengths behind Might Bite in this race last year, so Native River (15/2, in a place) and Thistlecrack (7/1), who were second and third, respectively, in the Betfair Chase, make more appeal. Native River, of course, beat Might Bite by 4½ lengths after an epic duel in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March and, while he has the ‘Blue Riband’ event as his main aim again this season, looks a leading contender if the going at Kempton remains on the soft side of good.

Thistlecrack, who won this race in 2016 before finishing fourth, beaten 5¾ lengths, behind Might Bite last season, suffered a stress fracture last January, which precluded a clash with Native River in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, the ten-year-old is now apparently fully recovered and, while he lacks experience over fences compared with his rivals, remains one to take seriously.

Waiting Patiently (5/1) hasn’t been seen since beating Cue Card by 2¾ lengths in the Ascot Chase, over 2 miles 5 furlongs, in February and, although he tackles 3 miles for the first time, is unbeaten over fences and doesn’t have much to find on official ratings. He could be a potential fly-in-the-ointment if fit and ready to go after a 312-day break.

Politologue (11/2) is another who needs to prove his stamina over 3 miles after winning over 2 miles 5 furlongs at Ascot, in his case in the Christy 1965 Chase, in which he beat subsequent easy winner Charbel by half a length. The exciting grey has 7lb, or 8lb, to find with the best of these of on official figures, but trainer Paul Nicholls believes he’ll stay 3 miles and, if so, must enter the reckoning.

At much longer odds, 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Coneygree (40/1, in a place), now rising 12 years of age, has had his problems, but deserves an honourable mention after a highly promising return to action when third of 15, beaten 5¾ lengths, in the Handicap Chase, over 3 miles 3½ furlongs, at Cheltenham last month under 11st 12lb.

Win or lose, Native River has done very little wrong in recent seasons and, with the going likely to remain on the soft side, makes most appeal at the odds on offer.

Selection: Kempton 3.05 Native River (15/2 with Betfair Sportsbook) to win

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Neptune Collonges Edges Out Sunhillboy to Win the 2012 Grand National

Grand National 2012
Shakalakaboomboom and Seabass were the hot favourites in the lead up to the 2012 Aintree National, with both backed into 8-1 joint favourites. Overcast skies were thankfully not accompanied by rain, as the excitement of the race reached fever point. It was this excitement that may have played its part in Tony McCoy’s mount Synchronised unseating the jocky at the tape, escaping the clutches of the stable hands and running free onto the course.

This was followed by further delays, as two false starts ensued from the over keenness of several riders. The anticipation reach fever pitch, as well as the fear that a repeat of the 1993 ‘non-race’ debacle could be realised.

They’re Underway!

Fortunately, that was not the case, as the race got under way to enormous cheers from the Aintree crowd.

The 80-1 outsider Viking Blond was the only faller at the first and all but Tom Scudamore on Junior and West End Rocker managed to clear the second unscathed. Neptune Collonges was the early front runner, closely followed by almost the entire field, with the race yet to take shape.

Over Becher’s for the first time, it was Katie Walsh ahead on Shakalakaboomboom, with the field stretching out as this tough fence reduced the field down to 33 with the exit of the ill fated Synchronised after unseating champion jockey A P McCoy. Going over Canal Turn, the order the remained the same at the front, with the other favourite Seabass well placed in 3rd.

The race reached its halfway point with Planet of Sound around 4 lengths ahead of a now 24 strong field and the pace was proving too much for many of them, causing the remaining runners to spread out over almost half a furlong.

After much jostling for position and several more fences, Becher’s was fast approaching with Richard Johnson on Planet of Sound leading, Shakalakaboomboom second and the 14 year old Hello Bud in third

The National course was really taking its toll, as Foinavon was cleared with the runners down to 16, who were themselves spread out, with the same three horses vying for the title and Neptune Collonges running well a few lengths back. The pace picked up turning for home with 8 horses within touching distance of the front and it was promising to be a tight finish.

Over the final fence, there was nothing to choose between Seabass, Neptune Collonges and Shakalakaboomboom and the excitement remained right to the line, with the Grey Neptune Collonge involved in a photo finish with Richie McLernon after making an amazing comeback to steal it on the line.

One of the most excitingly close Nationals on record was called in Neptune Collonge’s favour by the Judge and it was a fairytale for the horse who was running his last ever race, jockey Daryl Jacob and John Hales who had finally got himself a winner at the 52nd attempt.

What a day. What a race.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Jason MacGuire Triumphs on Ballabriggs to Win the 2011 Aintree Grand National

Grand National 2011
Just 12 months previously, A P McCoy had ridden Don’t Push It to win the 2010 Grand National and he was installed as joint 2nd favourite on the same horse alongside Silver By Nature ridden by Northern Irishman Peter Buchanan, both backed into 9-1. The most popular money however was on Ruby Walsh on The Midnight Club who was fancied as the 15-2 favourite.

Sunshine graced the start of the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National Grade 3 Handicap and by the 3rd fence, it was Ballabriggs making the running from Hello Bud, who came close in last year’s race. There had only been a few casualties by this point, with outsiders Becauseicouldntsee, Vic Venturi and That’s Rhythm the unfortunate trio.

The leaders fared well over both Becher’s and Foinavon, but that wasn’t the case for everyone as the field reduced further with West End Rocker, The Tother One, Dooney’s Gate and Barry Geraghty on Or Noir de Somoza all falling foul.

Jamie Moore

Santa’s Son had made his way through the melee to reach the front, guided by the brave Jamie Moore who had once been told he wouldn’t walk again after fracturing two vertebrae in a fall in 2004. Puppy Power had also joined the leaders on Killyglen and Hello Bud was tucked in behind.

The entire field had become quite closely bunched with the lead changing hands several times and Santa’s Son was still leading after clearing the Chair. However, this was short lived, as a strong looking Ballabriggs strode into the lead over the water and so it remained, with fence 20 being omitted from the race due to an obstruction.

Becher’s was also omitted just two fences later for the same reason meaning the race had experienced the first and second time it had ever happened.


Ballabriggs almost came a cropper over Valentine’s, but MacGuire somehow managed to hold on and held onto the lead, being pressed by Harry Skelton on Niche Market. How fortunate that was, as it was an advantage Ballabriggs would not relinquish again.

Despite being tested through the elbow by Sam Waley-Cohen on Oscar Time, Jason MacGuire claimed the £535,135 prize money for Trevor Hemmings and the accolades for himself. It had been a hot day in more than one sense and the extreme temperatures meant that Ballabriggs was too dehydrated to take his lap of honour, marking the first time a jockey had ever entered the winner’s enclosure without his champion horse.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Grand National thoughts and ones to watch in 2019

If there's one racing festival or rather a specific festival race that holds both worldwide and national appeal, it's the Aintree Grand National. Taking place each year in the village of Aintree in Liverpool, the Grand National was first run in 1839. That alone gives you a taste of just how steeped in tradition this handicap steeplechase event is. With prize money of over £1 million and TV audiences of around 8.5m viewers in the UK alone (and 600m worldwide) it's no wonder this is 'the one to win' for horse trainers, owners and jockeys alike.

Fun Fact: The Grand National TV audience is bigger than that of the Superbowl (111m in 2017) and UEFA Champions League (118m) combined!

It's no easy task to traverse the National course with 30 tough fences over two laps of the racecourse. This includes notorious fences such as Becher's Brook (described by some jockey's as feeling like 'jumping off the edge of the world') and The Chair (a 5ft 3 inch fence just ahead of a 6 foot open ditch). A combination of its difficulty and history is responsible for the Aintree course becoming something of a legend maker, with the likes of Red Rum achieving a place in racing royalty due to their Grand National successes. For those living under a rock, the Ginger McCain trained Red Rum was a three time Grand National winner in the 70s. Winner of the 2018 Grand National was Tiger Roll ridden by Davey Russell.

The much anticipated 2019 Grand National takes place on Saturday April 6th at 17:15 and already people are considering the odds and runners and who the potential winner may be, out of those horses that may line up on the day. Of course it's an impossible question to answer at this stage, but based on previous form, trainer comments and the like we have early ideas for potential runners and what their prospects may be.

We'll start with an obvious likely runner. Tiger Roll (currently 20-1), winner of the 2018 race is surely likely to attempt to go for back to back wins. Defending the Grand National crown in a rarity especially in the modern age, but 8 year old Tiger Roll is certainly up for the task, having shown his abilities not only in the National but also at Cheltenham and more besides.

Pleasant Company (25-1) was 2nd in the 2018 Grand National and so again it would also be no surprise to see him attempt to go one better in 2019. He eased around the course in 2018 when many struggled, and came close rallying towards the end, so who can blame trainer Willie Mullins for being optimistic. Mullins also trained Hedgehunter, who finished second back in 2006.

Other potentials for 2019 include Bellshill, Step Back, Total Recall and 2017 Grand National winner One For Arthur!