As I mentioned last week more and more my eyes are drawn to looking for horses that will be running at Cheltenham, Aintree and over the Irish Sea at the Fairyhouse and Punchestown festivals. This means the number of eyecatchers from the National Hunt sphere is now being much reduced as I also start to gear up for the start of the turf flat season next month. For the following few weeks all my eyecatchers will be horses that are being aimed at the spring festivals mentioned or at other specific big races.
My list of Cheltenham eyecatchers for the handicaps is coming along nicely and will be completed later this week they will then be added for subscribers to the Eyecatcher Pro software. As a bit of a taster as to what you can look forward too, I have had a look at a few of the horses that are entered and could run well in the Festival Handicap on Day 1.
Saturday Review: Zubayr Enters Triumph Picture
The Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday has been a guide in the past to next months Triumph Hurdle at the Festival. This years renewal was won by the Paul Nicholls trained Zubayr who was an expensive purchase at 380,000 euros in the summer. Green when twice running on the flat last year for Alain De Royer – Dupre, the four year old has also been slow to come to hand since joining his new trainer. Still looking a bit green when asked for his effort between the 3rd and 2nd last hurdles but the longer the race went on the better he looked and he ran out a fairly easy winner at the line. Trainer won this race with Zarkandar in 2011 and also went on to win that year’s Triumph Hurdle. Naturally his trainer was delighted with his horse’s performance and said after the race “ he has been slow to come to hand, but he has just started to come alive and I think we can get him better in three weeks´ time. I´m thrilled with him”. Was made a best priced 6/1 for Cheltenham on the back of his Adonis win and is certainly on my betting shortlist for that race.
Saturday’s two big handicap chases the Eider Chase at Newcastle and the Betbright Chase at Kempton had looked competitive on paper but were won fairly comfortably by Rocking The Blues and Theatre Guide respectively.
Meanwhile the two big races on the all weather at Lingfield on Saturday: the fast track qualifier for the Unibet All-Weather Sprint Championship over 6f here on Good Friday was won by Lightscameraction but couple of horses who finished behind the winner look worth watching out for on Good Friday are Line of Reason who was finishing strongly to take 4th on his first run since September and Alban Star, who had a poor draw and covered more ground than the others out wide in the straight, who won the All Weather Sprint Championship in 2014 and was second last year.
The Coral Winter Derby was won by Grendisar who made it 5/10 at Lingfield, over 1m 2f. After the race jockey Adam Kirby felt the six year old was still improving. He races best when coming off a good even gallop and should make a bold bid to make it six at the track in the Coral Easter Classic on Good Friday.
Cheltenham Eyecatchers: The Handicaps
ULTIMA BUSINESS SOLUTIONS HANDICAP CHASE – Day 1
Recent Ascot winner Sausalito Sunrise trained by Philip Hobbs is now rated one 163 and the top weight looks almost certain to take his chance according to his trainer. His participation in the race or not will have an impact on the weights the other horses in the race.
Last years winning trainer Neil Mulholand has been aiming The Young Master at this race and the seven year old has to be on your shortlist for the race and at the time of writing is a best priced 14/1.
Sadly the one that I liked for the race Minella Rocco hasn’t been given an entry for the race and looks like he will now go for the four mile National Hunt Chase. Another runner Minella Foru would also have had a chance here but is another who hasn’t got an entry in the race.
We know that owner J P McManus likes to plot out a horse for these festival handicaps and Upswing who was last seen when pulling up in the Welsh Grand National, where he was unsuited by the heavy going, he looks fairly treated off a mark of 139 for trainer Jonjo O’Neill who has a good win record at the Festival with his 3m plus chasers. Upswing who was second to Sausalito Sunrise would have a 16lb pull with that horse if he was to get into the race. The eight year old is best priced 20/1 for the race. Another who could be a McManus “plot” horse is the novice Regal Encore from the Anthony Honeyball yard, who ran well here last year over hurdles, is well suited by a big field and will appreciate better going. He has plenty of ability and the odds compilers at Bet365 and William Hill differ on his chances with former as low as 14/1 and Hills having the horse at 33/1.
Philip Hobbs also trains Fingal Bay who was 4th in the Hennessey Gold Cup and has won at the Festival over hurdles. Not sure he gets 3m 1f or is as good over fences as he was over hurdles but he is suited by good ground and is 5/10, never out of the first three, when good appears in the going description. Has be a major player at a best priced 20/1. Others for the shortlist are Salubrious, the Irish trained and well backed ante post Morning Assembly and the Job Is Right also have chances in what looks a cracker of a race.
Shortlist – The Young Master, Upswing, Fingal Bay & Regal Encore
This Weeks Eyecatchers
I have just got the four for you this week and one of those can only be loosely described as an eyecatcher.
Wednesday 24th February
Grandad’s Horse – Charlie Longsdon – The good going at Doncaster saw a much improved performance from the 10 year old who was a close up second to the Grand National bound Saint Are in the Veterans Chase. He has been lightly raced this season; this was only his 3rd start since April. He came into the race 5lb lower than his last winning mark back in December 2014. Eight of his twelve career wins have come on good or good to firm going, he is 11/20 15 places in field sizes of 11 & under, 8/17 when running between 16 & 30 days since his last run and he has won twice in April in the past. On the evidence of this run he can win a handicap chase off his present mark on good ground and in a small field. Ran at the Festival last year but doesn’t appeal as a bet there as it’s not his favoured track for me.
Thursday 25th February
California Chrome – Art Sherman – The 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero was not at his best when 2nd in last years Dubai World Cup. His first run since that race was a facile win at Santa Anita in January. Unlike last year he has now had a Meydan prep race and he won as expected, despite having to give lumps of weight to his rivals here. After the race his jockey felt “that he´s better than he was last year”. Was cut to 3/1 for the Dubai World Cup and looks the one to beat for me!
Saturday 27th February
Hadrian’s Approach – Nicky Henderson – The nine year old was only having his 3rd start since winning Bet365 Gold Cup Chase at Sandown in April 2014. That win was over 3m 5f and was all about stamina. Not surprising he found this 3m trip too short on his first start in over a year but ran respectably to finish in 7th. Is being aimed at the Grand National and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go well at Aintree if he gets ground no worse than good to soft but another tilt at the big race at Sandown in April would be a good idea. Can win another staying handicap chase of his present mark when getting his optimum going conditions!
Dusky Lark – Colin Tizzard – Twice a winner over hurdles last season, the gelding had run reasonably well on his chase debut back in December but had not really built on that promise on his next two starts. This was a step back in the right direction for the six year old that had looked to be travelling as well as the eventual winner when making a really bad blunder three from home. That effectively ended his chance although he was still keeping on well at the finish. Despite the 11 strong field this was a race lacking in depth for a Saturday handicap chase but he can surely win a small handicap chase on better spring ground.
A quick message for Eyecatcher Pro users I will be performing a cull of the some of the jumps and all weather eyecatchers later this week.
I will also be putting up selections each day of the Cheltenhan Festival within the software with notes as to reasons why they are an eyecatcher selection.
All that’s left is to wish you a profitable week and see you all next week.