Dark Horses: Rocky could provide knockout blow

rockyreefTHIS column will be hard pressed to out-perform last week’s efforts. A 40/1 winner was the coup de grace, and was backed up by a few other solid victories. But this page is as much about spotting potential and possible future winners as suggesting horses who will win on the day. Today the ground has turned soft at Windsor and has led to some significant non runners. But one horse who won’t mind the conditions is ROCKY REEF, pictured left.

Trained by Andrew Balding last season, Rocky Reef won twice and showed a liking for testing conditions. He has risen 10lb in the handicap since his 10 length victory at Doncaster in late October on soft ground. He should run well for his new connections although he may well benefit from the race on his seasonal reappearance. He is worth a small each-way interest.

 

Previous Dark Horse entries

WHICH horses have been catching pigeons on the gallops? Which animals are better than their bare form figures suggest? This regular column will try to pinpoint those elusive dark horses that may have slipped in under the radar and could run well at a decent price. Watch this space!

April 12

GARRYLEIGH is very highly regarded by David Pipe and should go very close in the 2.40 at Chepstow although he does look to be a chaser in the making.

ARALDUR has found some real consistency over hurdles and the fact he has top weight won’t bother him as he is such a giant. Chepstow and 2m 4f look tailor-made for him in the 5.00.

Alan King could have a good day and IRON CHANCELLOR should be noted at Wetherby (4.00). The better ground will suit and don’t be put off by his recent form figures as he ran extremely well at Newbury last time.

April 11

KING MURO won nicely yesterday and looks progressive. The others ran well and Atalanta Bay, who was as green as grass and became detached in her race, somehow finished fifth. One to note next time.

Today WHATEVER YOU DO is interesting in the maiden at Kempton tonight (6.30). She looks to be Richard Hannon’s second string even though Ryan Moore takes the ride. But she ran encouragingly on her 2yo debut at Salisbury although then seemed to flounder in the soft ground at Newmarket. I suspect she is a good deal better than the two zeros in her form figures may suggest.

TERRE DU VENT was only nine lengths behind Utopie des Bordes at Doncaster and then looked likely to win before fluffing her lines at the last at Southwell. Today is her first foray into handicap company and the better ground should suit her at Ludlow in the 4.10. I suspect the 5/1 won’t last too long.

Fergal O’Brien thinks a bit of MYSTIFIABLE and this grey gelding should be noted in the bumper at Ludlow. He ran a solid second last time out after being highly tried at Cheltenham. Finally Anthony Honeyball rates OSCARTEEA highly and he makes his bumper debut in the lucky last at Wincanton where FRED LE MACON is another worth a watching brief.

April 10

LADY LOCH obliged for this column at Pontefract yesterday and was well backed into 9/2 after starting as high as 8s in the morning. She looks a well handicapped horse. Some competitive but tricky racing today as the Flat season warms up with the listed Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham.

I’ll be focusing on the 5f maiden 3yo maiden at Catterick at 3.50pm. BAPAK MUDA showed excellent speed in two runs as a juvenile over 7f and 6f. The latter effort was in a warm  maiden at Doncaster and today is a step down in class. He is also reverting to 5f and the early speed he showed suggests he should be able to break quickly over this sharp course and he could take some pegging back. The early price of 5/1 looks quite generous.

The other horse to keep an eye on is RED TO AMBER in the 8.00 at Kempton. He dead-heated in a maiden over CD and his opening handicap mark looks lenient to say the least. He was also highlighted as Clive Cox’s Dark Horse in a Racing Post Stable Tour earlier this week.

I’ll also be keeping a watching brief on two others: KING MURO in the 1m 3f maiden at Kempton (6.30). Andrew Balding has always liked him although he will almost certainly come on for the race. And ATALANTA BAY in the 5.10 at Nottingham.  She didn’t show much in three runs as a two-year-old but connections like her and she could be one to keep on the right side of.

April 9

RICHARD Fahey has made a typically good start to the Flat season and he sends a strong team to Pontefract today. The one that interests me is LADY LOCH, the bottom weight in the class two handicap at 4.15. This filly took some time to get her head in front but after winning her maiden she ended her three-year-old campaign by running well off this mark in a decent handicap at Newmarket. I like her because she always tends to finish her races strongly and she is also handily drawn today. She will almost certainly come on for the run but looks to have more scope than most of her rivals and is worth an each-way interest.

April 8

MY word! Yesterday’s Dark horse Forresters Folly belied his odds of 40/1 to win at Ascot. Will struggle to top that this year, never mind today.

Two horses trained by Jamie Osborne come under the microscope at Kempton today. DALGIG was with Henry Candy last season and went into many notebooks after his debut performance at Newbury where he travelled sweetly before coming third to the very useful Race And Status. Today’s maiden at Kempton at 3.20 looks to have some useful types lining up but Dalgig should go well. Among the opposition, Marco Botti’s unraced Sedenoo is highly regarded and could be one for the future.

SONDEDURO caught the eye in his three-year-old season, winning once at Bath off a mark of 74. He has not been seen since contesting a useful handicap at Glorious Goodwood in August. He looks capable of being competitive off his current mark of 79 in Kempton’s 2.50 although he will probably come on for the run. He might be worth an each-way interest at around the 11/1 mark.

April 7

Ascot 2.15: TWELVE months ago, in this very race, FORRESTERS FOLLY came third at 50/1. He runs again today and is still a maiden over hurdles. He looked certain to break his duck at Uttoxeter last September but was beaten by the useful Dursey Sound. He has had a good break since his last race and has conditions in his favour today. Surprisingly he is as big as 33/1 and he offers solid each-way value.

March 28

TWO to keep a close eye on today. DEN OF INIQUITY is no spring chicken at the age of 12 and it seems an age since he went off as one of the favourites for the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival. But he clearly retains some ability and has been lightly raced. He was still in with a chance when unseating his rider two out at Newbury last time and could go well today (4.00) if Ffos Las survives the weather with his useful claiming jockey taking 7lb off. 12/1 seems too big a price.

MASHAARI was trained by John Gosden on the flat and had some useful form. He has been disappointing in two juvenile hurdles but is is sent to Southwell for one of their jumpers’ bumpers (4.35). A repeat of his win in a 2m 2f handicap on the level at York or his second to Swynmor at Pontefract would be good enough here and Danny Cook and Brian Ellison are in tip-top form.

March 24

BYGONES SOVEREIGN has had his problems but he put in an eye-catching performance at Newbury three weeks ago. Ridden then by Tom Scudamore, he travelled sweetly for most of the three-mile journey before getting tired. He was also hampered two out, which did not help his cause. Today he reverts to 2m 4f and has been dropped 5lb since Newbury. Young jockey Kieron Edgar takes the ride and takes an additional 8lb off him, which leaves Bygones Sovereign on an attractive mark at around the 5/1 mark.

March 1

 

 

TWO horses are of interest today. PALUS SAN MARCO has caught the eye with the ease in which he travelled on both his runs. He is on this blog’s horses to follow list and has enjoyed a nice break since his last run. A winner on the flat on good to soft ground, today’s better ground at Newbury should suit and he is worth an each-way look at 14/1 in the 1.50 despite there being a fair few unexposed beasts. The useful Killian Moore also takes off an additional 7lb.

Alan King thinks quite a bit of his Newbury bumper horse TAFFY DARE. He has evidently been working nicely and ran well in his first race despite a bad stumble. He looks interesting in the lucky last at 5.10pm.

February 27

ABOUT 15 months ago in the Hennessy Gold Cup won by Carruthers, SARANDO was travelling nicely on the heels of the leaders when he took a heavy fall. Just six at the time, he was a baby taking on battle-hardened warriors. The fall obviously took its toll because in seven runs since Sarando has seriously lost his way. Paul Webber has admitted that he is simply trying to rebuild his confidence in a bid to unlock his undoubted ability. Today he contests the 3m handicap hurdle at Bangor-on-Dee, the latest stage of the crusade to repair his confidence. But as his form has dipped, so has his handicap mark. It is now 120 over hurdles, down from a high of 139. There were signs of a return to form at Doncaster last time and he has been dropped another 8lb since. This is a talented horse and if he returns to anything near his best he will be in the shake-up today, so the 14/1 available early doors might be worth an each-way interest.

February 26

TWO catch my eye today. THE MUSICAL GUY is still a maiden but he has been knocking on the door and is better than his bare form suggests. His second to Godsmejudge at Folkestone in December is looking very good form. His best runs have been on decent ground and he should get that at Leicester today (4.00) after another dry night. He looks reasonable value at around 6/1.

THE MONGOLIAN has showed a flicker of ability in two starts and could put in an improved run if the cards fall his way at Catterick (3.00). He was well supported on his bumper debut 12 months ago but pulled a bit too hard and finished sixth. That was decent and he wasn’t totally disgraced at Wetherby in a novice hurdle in November. The better ground should help and if he can settle better he could provide an each-way alternative to the hot favourite and likely winner Buthelezi.

February 25

The last time I nominated SHUH SHUH GAH as a Dark Horse he was chinned on the line at 10/1. That race was at Plumpton over 2m 5f and today he returns to the course to tackle the opener over two miles. David Bridgwater’s six-year-old got stuck in the mud at Ludlow last time and didn’t seem to get home so coming back in trip today may just be a good move. He travels well and, remember, this fellow finished five lengths behind the ultra-talented Eduard and Duke of Navan in a bumper a year ago when with Malcolm Jefferson. Ourmanmassini could also run very well in the same race under Paddy Brennan.

February 22

Sadly, DEN OF INIQUITY, who was today’s original Dark Horse, has been declared a non runner. So in his place is the highly promising DOCTOR HARPER who runs in the bumper at Sandown. There is plenty of confidence behind him and he could even run in the Cheltenham bumper if he wins well today.

February 19

IF WETHERBY survives the frost, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Jonjo O Neill’s MINELLA FIFTY in the novice hurdle at 3.50. This attractive five-year-old caught the eye at Doncaster on his hurdling debut despite finishing down the field. He was given a very tender ride that day and as is normally the case with Jonjo’s young horses he should strip fitter today. Whispering Gallery will be a short price to follow up his facile debut win but Minella Fifty may offer some each-way value.

February 18

THE closing bumper at Southwell could be an informative contest. Two previous winners set the standard but both have to carry a 7lb penalty. Two others interest me. CHILL FACTOR was fancied on his debut at Doncaster and ran a good third to Dance of Time, whom he reopposes again today. He could go well but MYSTIFIABLE is of most interest. This grey gelding made his debut in one of the hottest bumpers of the year at Cheltenham won by Anonis in November. He was a bit keen that day but he still caught the eye. Today’s slightly better ground should suit him better and if Paddy Brennan can get him to settle he could be very interesting. Fergal O’Brien is enjoying a great season and this fellow is another lovely prospect.

February 16

OLD TRICKS is something of a course specialist at Wincanton. His two victories have come there and he has been placed twice. A bumper winner, he was a useful novice hurdler last season and was even rated good enough to run against Simonsig at Aintree. An abortive novice chasing campaign was shelved in December after two unsuccessful attempts but he has produced two eye-catching performances back over hurdles since. His rating over the smaller obstacles is 7lb less than a year ago and today young Brendan Powell claims three more off his back. His run behind Mr Watson at Cheltenham last time over 2m caught the eye, with him staying on nicely. Today’s longer trip at his favourite track will suit and I don’t think the early price of 9/1 will last too long.

February 12

DAVID Pipe has his string in fine fettle as the Cheltenham Festival looms large. Today he sends two horses on the long journey to Ayr, both to be ridden by Tom Scudamore. The stable had two bumper winners at Exeter on Sunday so Hidden Discounts is worth noting in the market in the lucky last.

But the really interesting runner is THE TRACEY SHUFFLE. This seven-year-old ran very well in the Cheltenham bumper in 2011 where he tanked along in front until tiring about two furlongs out. The highlight of his novice hurdle career was a good run at Punchestown last season but things did not go to plan on his chasing debut at Perth in the autumn when he crashed out at the second fence. Scudamore will be hoping to get this free-going front-runner into some sort of rhythm with his jumping and if he does he could be hard to peg back. Tap Night is the obvious danger but has to give away 7lb.

NB Former Dark Horse NUTS N BOLTS (see Jan 3 below) also runs at Ayr in the 4.30. The handicapper hasn’t taken too many chances with this progressive sort, but he may just have enough scope to follow up today.

February 8

I’M putting up three today. In the first race of a really good card at Kempton, FRANKLINO will probably be a warm order after a promising comeback run at Warwick. He is still a maiden but is well handicapped and has been dropped another 2lb. With the excellent Ian Popham on board, he should go very close to breaking his duck today.

Second up is MECOX BAY in the 3.45 at Bangor. Three noughts next to his form figures may suggest mediocrity, but he was far from disgraced on his last two outings. In his first stab at handicap company, he could run very well at around the 6/1 mark in what is a poor race.

Finally, ANNACOTTY is worth keeping a close eye on in the bumper at Kempton. Connections will be desperate that Champion Court does the business earlier en route to Cheltenham, but they are also keen on this point winner, who may well go into notebooks after today.

February 7

TWO previous Dark Horses run today. ZAMDY MAN is interesting in the Chatteris Fen Hurdle at Huntingdon but STANDING OVATION will have to improve to figure at Taunton.

But GARRYLEIGH is of most interest today. I’ve also put him in our Horses To Follow list after hearing that David Pipe is particularly sweet on him. He was even singled out by the trainer in his Racing Post column recently as one to keep on the right side of. Garryleigh won a point in Ireland in 2011 but has since had 18 months off. The bumper at Taunton looks a tasty affair with two previous winners in the field and few other likely newcomers but I would be surprised if Garryleigh isn’t in the mix.

February 6

GREEN FLAG isn’t so much a dark horse having already won a bumper and three novice hurdles. But I’ve highlighted him because today he’s been put into a competitive handicap against more streetwise and experienced opponents, particularly Knockara Beau and Quartz de Thaix. But Green Flag is a gorgeous horse: a big, scopey chasing type who really caught the eye winning over 3m at Ayr last time out. I’ll take him to ruffle the feathers of his elders in the Pertemps Qualifier at 4.05 today before going on to even better things. The 4/1 looks good value.

Former Dark Horse SHUH SHUH GAH reappears in the last at Ludlow. He was chinned on the line at a big price in his last race and has to contend with well touted runners from the Henderson and Nicholls yards today. But I liked the way he travelled and jumped last time, and he could reward each-way backers at around the 12/1 mark.

February 4

THE opening race at Doncaster is full of interest and a tasty appetiser before the Champion Hurdle trial later in the card. UTOPIE DES BORDES is a fascinating runner as this was the mare who beat Fago at Auteuil in November. Fago has since been purchased by the Wylies and is currently being well backed for the Arkle. But the way Utopie Des Bordes swallowed him up in that race suggests she could be something special. However she will be odds-on today and is no value. Call Me A Star sets a good standard on form and will appreciate the better ground. But the other one to watch is TERRE DU VENT. A listed race winner on the flat in France, he was highly tried in two runs over hurdles by Tom George last season, falling behind Grumeti when running well at Kempton and then finishing down the field behind Quevega at Cheltenham. The 12/1 available early doors looks good each-way value.

February 2

SHAMMICK BOY had a rating of 137 as a novice hurdler when he looked a useful prospect for Victor Dartnall. Things haven’t worked out for him over fences so he has been put back over hurdles this season. He ran well at Taunton last time and his mark has slipped to a career-low of 119. Despite top weight he looks to have a big chance in the opener at Wetherby today. He is as big as 12/1 early doors which looks good each-way value.

February 1

MARK Johnston has hit a rich vein of form in the past week on the all-weather and OFCOURSEWECAN should go close to giving him another winner at Lingfield (3.10) today. This three-year-old has two duck eggs against his name but he is from a winning family and has showed up well in his two races. He could take some pegging back if he is allowed to dictate and his early price of 6/1 looks decent value. Cousin Khee has won two NH bumpers on the all-weather and rates the biggest danger.

January 31

YESTERDAY was a good day. Our Notebook horse CENTASIA won at Ludlow and looks a big brute of a mare with a touch of class, while SAUSALITO SUNRISE was mugged on the line. He looks a shoo-in next time out. Yesterday’s Dark Horse Hoare Abbey was a non-runner but a previous Dark horse BUDDY BOLERO won easily at Leicester and looks a lovely prospect.

As for today, RUNAWAY GREEN caught the eye on his hurdling debut at Wincanton when finishing fourth to the promising Shutthefrontdoor. The seven-year-old grey jumped slickly and travelled kindly until tiring from the second last in testing ground under a tender ride. The Venetia Williams-Aidan Coleman partnership is in terrific form and the early price of around 16/1 looks tempting each-way value in the novices hurdle at Towcester at 3.20.

January 30

AFTER a weather-enforced hiatus, it’s good to be writing this column again with Leicester and Ludlow providing decent NH racing today. A previous Dark Horse (featured below on January 1) is in action. BUDDY BOLERO, who won at Exeter, goes at Leicester and looks to have a strong chance with AP McCoy on board, although nobody will be getting rich as he is already pretty short in the market. Today’s Dark Horse is HOARE ABBEY who first caught my eye in novice hurdles last season and who is better than his form figures may suggest. He fell on his chasing debut but jumped ok apart from one error when chasing home Brave Spartacus at Catterick last time. That would have done his confidence the world of good and conditions should suit in the 2m 4f handicap chase at 3.00. He is as big as 14/1 and he looks decent each-way value.

Elsewhere it could pay to keep an eye on two animals from our National Hunt Horses to Follow list. CENTASIA runs in the bumper at Ludlow and is expected to run very well, while SAUSALITO SUNRISE, who is very highly regarded, runs in the maiden hurdle at Ludlow in the Menorah colours.

January 16

 

 

ALL manner of nice horses on display at Newbury  today. There are a few likely types in the juvenile hurdle that kicks off the meeting including Seventh Sign who won three for Tommy Carmody on the flat in Ireland and is now with Alan King, whose juveniles have a good record at the Berkshire track. Fago is an interesting French recruit in the novice chase although he will have to be good to beat Colour Squadron while Uxizandre made a favourable impression over course and distance last time and could follow up in the novice hurdle over 2m 3f. But there are two that really catch the eye. URGENCE D’ESTRUVAL won over fences in France and made an eyecatching UK debut over hurdles at Sandown. She looks a decent bet in the mares’ novices chase at 3.00. And in the bumper it could pay to keep a very close eye on VENDREDI TROIS. Emma Lavelle thinks a bit of this four-year-old who has opened up at around 25/1. He is from the same family as Sprinter Sacre. Say no more…

January 15

REBECCA Curtis has a great record at her local course Ffos Las and she has several runners making the short trip there today. The one that stands out a mile is the scopey CHEAT THE CHEATER in the handicap hurdle at 3.15. The six-year-old has put in three decent performances over hurdles including when behind De La Bech in a warm 3m handicap at Ascot last time under AP McCoy. He impressed with his jumping that day and AP was gentle on him once it was apparent he wasn’t going to trouble the judge. Today is a much easier race over half a mile less and decent claimer Patrick Corbett takes off 7lb. Cheat The Cheater’s early price of 9/1 looks very good value.

January 13

DUKE of Navan and Woodpole Academy dominate the market for the opening novice hurdle at Kelso. Their form is strong and they both look lovely prospects. But for those seeking a little each-way value it could pay to keep an eye on RHYMERS STONE. The Lucinda Russell yard can do little wrong at present and although he is bound to benefit from the run this five-year-old has been exciting his trainer at home. Available at about 14/1 he gets a stone from the two market leaders if you include Craig Nichol’s claim and he could make the frame before going on to better things.

January 12

ARALDUR defied expectations to win on his seasonal reappearance and will strip even fitter in today’s Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton. He has only been raised 7lb which should not affect this giant of a horse. The 14/1 still available with BetVictor and Stan James looks generous. But keep an eye on his stablemate SECRET EDGE. He is a tough customer and had an excellent juvenile season, although the handicapper has made life hard for him so far this campiagn. But he has finally been given some leeway and he has been dropped 12lb since November. Useful claimer Peter Hatton takes off another 7lb so he has an each-way squeak at 33/1.

January 11

I expect SAUSALITO SUNRISE to be all the rage in the bumper at Huntingdon. Philip Hobbs is sweet on this five-year-old who is in the same ownership as Menorah and Captain Chris. But for a bit more value ALI BABA could be worth an each-way interest in the opener on the same card. Despite not being one of Alan King’s heavyweights, this fellow ran his best race over course and distance about 11 months ago but threw it away by hanging badly. Today could be his turn and he is better than his bare form figures suggest.

January 9

 

 

The opening juvenile hurdle at Doncaster is a decent contest. Handazan sets the standard but looks vulnerable to a group of useful-looking newcomers. Among them are Last Shadow and Little Dutch Girl. But although he isn’t a renowned trainer of juveniles Kim Bailey’s MILORD could be the one to watch. He has winning form on the flat on soft ground in Germany and even ran in the German Derby. Bailey has already spoken in glowing terms about him and he is said to have been extensively schooled. Stamina could be his weak point as he never ran further than 1m 3f on the flat but even if he doesn’t win today he could be the one to take from the race. His early price of 20/1 looks a little big.

January 8

 

 

THE bare facts suggest ARABIAN HEIGHTS finished 32 lengths behind Poet at Newbury last month. But that only tells half the tale. The former Mark Prescott-trained five-year-old, now with Alan King, was dropped out by Wayne Hutchinson and made stealthy headway up the long straight. He was still travelling kindly behind the leaders at the second last when he began to tire on his hurdling debut. Today at Leicester (2.40) there is no Poet in the field but there is another useful ex-flat horse in Whispering Gallery. But if Arabian Heights makes the sort of improvement you would expect from a first race then he could offer decent value at around the 5/1 mark.

January 7

THE novice hurdle at Taunton at 2.10 looks like it could be dominated by Messrs Nicholls, Hobbs and Curtis. The Paul Nicholls-trained four-year-old Saphir Du Rheu will almost certainly start a warm favourite. But it might be worth keeping a close eye on the David Pipe pair Military Precision and STANDING OVATION. Military Precision has been well backed in his last two races and ran well at Ffos Las despite pulling hard. But Standing Ovation first caught my eye in an Exeter bumper last May despite looking a bit weak. He hasn’t worried the judge in two runs over three miles since then when he ran as though he didn’t get home. So today he is dropped right back in trip to 2m 1f, and with Tom Bellamy claiming seven pounds and no ground worries, he could offer each-way value at a silly price if recapturing his Exeter form.

January 6

SHUH SHUH GAH had some decent bumper form in the north when trained by Malcolm Jefferson and the six-year-old is now with the upwardly mobile David Bridgwater. After falling at the first on his hurdling debut at Ascot he shaped nicely in a maiden hurdle at Fakenham. Held up, he raced keenly but caught the eye until tiring in the last three furlongs. He should strip fitter today and may offer reasonable each-way value at around 14/1.

January 5

WHEN ZAMDY MAN made all to win a decent maiden over a mile on Newmarket’s July course in the summer, the last race I expected to see him in was the Grade One Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. But Venetia Williams must think he is up to the job on his hurdling debut. He is up against a couple of exciting French recruits from the Nicholls and Henderson yards. Throw in the unbeaten Swnymor and Ruacana, and Zamdy Man faces a sink-or-swim task. But after his impressive maiden win, which came on soft ground, he acquitted himself well in decent handicaps at Glorious Goodwood and Newmarket. He will have been well schooled and his astute trainer would not be throwing him in at the deep end if she didn’t think he was good enough to be competitive. He may struggle to win but with eight runners anything around 20/1 looks generous each-way value.

January 4

VENETIA Williams enjoys her sorties north and her raiders should always be treated with respect. Today she sends three to Musselburgh and PENTIFFIC is the one that may have slipped in under the radar. This 10-year-old was in decent form at this time last year and was clear at the last when falling in the valuable Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster. He was still in contention at the Cheltenham Festival in the race won by Alfie Spinner until blundering three out. But after three moderate efforts this term his mark has slipped to an all-time low of 116, a full 15lb lower than when he ran in the Grimthorpe. There were also signs at Cheltenham in November that he retained most of his ability behind Swing Bill. Aidan Coleman takes the ride and gets on well with him, and he should run very well if anywhere near his best. The 5/1 still available looks generous.

January 3

The two duck eggs that are the latest form figures of NUTS N BOLTS may not inspire confidence. But this strapping seven-year-old is well regarded at the upwardly mobile yard of Lucinda Russell. He did well to win twice over hurdles last season for such a big horse and his victory over Super Duty at Ayr (the latter fell at the last when upsides) was particularly good form. Nuts N Bolts was given a pipe opener over hurdles in early October and was then raced over an inadequate two miles on his chasing debut when he was a bit novicey with his jumping. But Russell is expecting big improvement over his optimum conditions today: 3m 1f on soft ground, and at 5/1 he looks reasonable value to upset the warm favourite Real Milan.

January 2

I DOUBT many nine-year-old maiden hurdlers will make this list but I’ll make an exception for HILLVIEW BOY. Jim Goldie has had this horse in his care since he ran in four NH flat races in the 2008/09 season, culminating in a respectable performance in Aintree’s champion bumper. He has since been campaigned exclusively on the flat where he has won three times. But what should be noted is how highly tried he was on the flat last summer. He ran in quality handicaps: the Old Newton Cup, the John Smith’s at York and the November Handicap. He ran respectably in all these races. Today he makes a belated hurdling debut at Ayr and is up against a couple of younger, scopier types from the McCain and Russell yards. If he takes to jumping and transfers his flat ability he could burst those younger bubbles. He is available at around 12/1 and is good each way value.

January 1

ANYBODY with a passion for national hunt racing will have been waiting patiently for Ambion Wood to make his debut over fences. He looked every inch a chaser last season and he remains the apple of trainer Victor Dartnall’s eye. He is a fine prospect but he took a couple of runs to find winning form last season and fitness might be the only issue today at Exeter. He also has BUDDY BOLERO to contend with. David Pipe is bullish about this fella’s prospects over fences and he should relish the heavy ground. He is currently best priced at 4/1 and may upset Ambion Wood today, although the latter remains a lovely long-term prospect.

Also, keep an eye on another David Pipe horse E STREET BOY at Musselburgh in the 2.15. He travelled kindly at Hereford last time over an inadequate two miles and will be better suited by today’s 3m. I don’t expect the 11/4 to last.

 

TWO horses are of interest today. PALUS SAN MARCO caught the eye with the ease in which he travelled on both his runs. He is amongn this blog’s hortses to follow list and has enjoyed a nice break since his last run. A winner on the flat on good to soft ground, today’s better ground at Newbury should suit and is worth an each-way look in a race with a faire few unexposed beasts. The useful Killian Moore also takes off an additional 7lb.

Alan King spoke kindly about his bumper horse TAFFY DARE, who goes in the last at newbury. He has evidently been working nicely and ran well on his first run despite a bad stumble coming round the bend. He looks interesting.

April 12

GARRYLEIGH is very highly regarded by David Pipe and should go very close in the 2.40 at Chepstow although he does look to be a chaser in the making.

ARALDUR has found some real consistency over hurdles and the fact he has top weight won’t bother him as he is such a giant. Chepstow and 2m 4f look tailor-made for him in the 5.00.

Alan King could have a good day and IRON CHANCELLOR should be noted at Wetherby (4.00). The better ground will suit and don’t be put off by his recent form figures as he ran extremely well at Newbury last time.

April 11

KING MURO won nicely yesterday and looks progressive. The others ran well and Atalanta Bay, who was as green as grass and became detached in her race, somehow finished fifth. One to note next time.

Today WHATEVER YOU DO is interesting in the maiden at Kempton tonight (6.30). She looks to be Richard Hannon’s second string even though Ryan Moore takes the ride. But she ran encouragingly on her 2yo debut at Salisbury although then seemed to flounder in the soft ground at Newmarket. I suspect she is a good deal better than the two zeros in her form figures may suggest.

TERRE DU VENT was only nine lengths behind Utopie des Bordes at Doncaster and then looked likely to win before fluffing her lines at the last at Southwell. Today is her first foray into handicap company and the better ground should suit her at Ludlow in the 4.10. I suspect the 5/1 won’t last too long.

Fergal O’Brien thinks a bit of MYSTIFIABLE and this grey gelding should be noted in the bumper at Ludlow. He ran a solid second last time out after being highly tried at Cheltenham. Finally Anthony Honeyball rates OSCARTEEA highly and he makes his bumper debut in the lucky last at Wincanton where FRED LE MACON is another worth a watching brief.

April 10

LADY LOCH obliged for this column at Pontefract yesterday and was well backed into 9/2 after starting as high as 8s in the morning. She looks a well handicapped horse. Some competitive but tricky racing today as the Flat season warms up with the listed Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham.

I’ll be focusing on the 5f maiden 3yo maiden at Catterick at 3.50pm. BAPAK MUDA showed excellent speed in two runs as a juvenile over 7f and 6f. The latter effort was in a warm  maiden at Doncaster and today is a step down in class. He is also reverting to 5f and the early speed he showed suggests he should be able to break quickly over this sharp course and he could take some pegging back. The early price of 5/1 looks quite generous.

The other horse to keep an eye on is RED TO AMBER in the 8.00 at Kempton. He dead-heated in a maiden over CD and his opening handicap mark looks lenient to say the least. He was also highlighted as Clive Cox’s Dark Horse in a Racing Post Stable Tour earlier this week.

I’ll also be keeping a watching brief on two others: KING MURO in the 1m 3f maiden at Kempton (6.30). Andrew Balding has always liked him although he will almost certainly come on for the race. And ATALANTA BAY in the 5.10 at Nottingham.  She didn’t show much in three runs as a two-year-old but connections like her and she could be one to keep on the right side of.

April 9

RICHARD Fahey has made a typically good start to the Flat season and he sends a strong team to Pontefract today. The one that interests me is LADY LOCH, the bottom weight in the class two handicap at 4.15. This filly took some time to get her head in front but after winning her maiden she ended her three-year-old campaign by running well off this mark in a decent handicap at Newmarket. I like her because she always tends to finish her races strongly and she is also handily drawn today. She will almost certainly come on for the run but looks to have more scope than most of her rivals and is worth an each-way interest.

April 8

MY word! Yesterday’s Dark horse Forresters Folly belied his odds of 40/1 to win at Ascot. Will struggle to top that this year, never mind today.

Two horses trained by Jamie Osborne come under the microscope at Kempton today. DALGIG was with Henry Candy last season and went into many notebooks after his debut performance at Newbury where he travelled sweetly before coming third to the very useful Race And Status. Today’s maiden at Kempton at 3.20 looks to have some useful types lining up but Dalgig should go well. Among the opposition, Marco Botti’s unraced Sedenoo is highly regarded and could be one for the future.

SONDEDURO caught the eye in his three-year-old season, winning once at Bath off a mark of 74. He has not been seen since contesting a useful handicap at Glorious Goodwood in August. He looks capable of being competitive off his current mark of 79 in Kempton’s 2.50 although he will probably come on for the run. He might be worth an each-way interest at around the 11/1 mark.

April 7

Ascot 2.15: TWELVE months ago, in this very race, FORRESTERS FOLLY came third at 50/1. He runs again today and is still a maiden over hurdles. He looked certain to break his duck at Uttoxeter last September but was beaten by the useful Dursey Sound. He has had a good break since his last race and has conditions in his favour today. Surprisingly he is as big as 33/1 and he offers solid each-way value.

March 28

TWO to keep a close eye on today. DEN OF INIQUITY is no spring chicken at the age of 12 and it seems an age since he went off as one of the favourites for the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival. But he clearly retains some ability and has been lightly raced. He was still in with a chance when unseating his rider two out at Newbury last time and could go well today (4.00) if Ffos Las survives the weather with his useful claiming jockey taking 7lb off. 12/1 seems too big a price.

MASHAARI was trained by John Gosden on the flat and had some useful form. He has been disappointing in two juvenile hurdles but is is sent to Southwell for one of their jumpers’ bumpers (4.35). A repeat of his win in a 2m 2f handicap on the level at York or his second to Swynmor at Pontefract would be good enough here and Danny Cook and Brian Ellison are in tip-top form.

March 24

BYGONES SOVEREIGN has had his problems but he put in an eye-catching performance at Newbury three weeks ago. Ridden then by Tom Scudamore, he travelled sweetly for most of the three-mile journey before getting tired. He was also hampered two out, which did not help his cause. Today he reverts to 2m 4f and has been dropped 5lb since Newbury. Young jockey Kieron Edgar takes the ride and takes an additional 8lb off him, which leaves Bygones Sovereign on an attractive mark at around the 5/1 mark.

March 1

 

 

TWO horses are of interest today. PALUS SAN MARCO has caught the eye with the ease in which he travelled on both his runs. He is on this blog’s horses to follow list and has enjoyed a nice break since his last run. A winner on the flat on good to soft ground, today’s better ground at Newbury should suit and he is worth an each-way look at 14/1 in the 1.50 despite there being a fair few unexposed beasts. The useful Killian Moore also takes off an additional 7lb.

Alan King thinks quite a bit of his Newbury bumper horse TAFFY DARE. He has evidently been working nicely and ran well in his first race despite a bad stumble. He looks interesting in the lucky last at 5.10pm.

February 27

ABOUT 15 months ago in the Hennessy Gold Cup won by Carruthers, SARANDO was travelling nicely on the heels of the leaders when he took a heavy fall. Just six at the time, he was a baby taking on battle-hardened warriors. The fall obviously took its toll because in seven runs since Sarando has seriously lost his way. Paul Webber has admitted that he is simply trying to rebuild his confidence in a bid to unlock his undoubted ability. Today he contests the 3m handicap hurdle at Bangor-on-Dee, the latest stage of the crusade to repair his confidence. But as his form has dipped, so has his handicap mark. It is now 120 over hurdles, down from a high of 139. There were signs of a return to form at Doncaster last time and he has been dropped another 8lb since. This is a talented horse and if he returns to anything near his best he will be in the shake-up today, so the 14/1 available early doors might be worth an each-way interest.

February 26

TWO catch my eye today. THE MUSICAL GUY is still a maiden but he has been knocking on the door and is better than his bare form suggests. His second to Godsmejudge at Folkestone in December is looking very good form. His best runs have been on decent ground and he should get that at Leicester today (4.00) after another dry night. He looks reasonable value at around 6/1.

THE MONGOLIAN has showed a flicker of ability in two starts and could put in an improved run if the cards fall his way at Catterick (3.00). He was well supported on his bumper debut 12 months ago but pulled a bit too hard and finished sixth. That was decent and he wasn’t totally disgraced at Wetherby in a novice hurdle in November. The better ground should help and if he can settle better he could provide an each-way alternative to the hot favourite and likely winner Buthelezi.

February 25

The last time I nominated SHUH SHUH GAH as a Dark Horse he was chinned on the line at 10/1. That race was at Plumpton over 2m 5f and today he returns to the course to tackle the opener over two miles. David Bridgwater’s six-year-old got stuck in the mud at Ludlow last time and didn’t seem to get home so coming back in trip today may just be a good move. He travels well and, remember, this fellow finished five lengths behind the ultra-talented Eduard and Duke of Navan in a bumper a year ago when with Malcolm Jefferson. Ourmanmassini could also run very well in the same race under Paddy Brennan.

February 22

Sadly, DEN OF INIQUITY, who was today’s original Dark Horse, has been declared a non runner. So in his place is the highly promising DOCTOR HARPER who runs in the bumper at Sandown. There is plenty of confidence behind him and he could even run in the Cheltenham bumper if he wins well today.

February 19

IF WETHERBY survives the frost, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Jonjo O Neill’s MINELLA FIFTY in the novice hurdle at 3.50. This attractive five-year-old caught the eye at Doncaster on his hurdling debut despite finishing down the field. He was given a very tender ride that day and as is normally the case with Jonjo’s young horses he should strip fitter today. Whispering Gallery will be a short price to follow up his facile debut win but Minella Fifty may offer some each-way value.

February 18

THE closing bumper at Southwell could be an informative contest. Two previous winners set the standard but both have to carry a 7lb penalty. Two others interest me. CHILL FACTOR was fancied on his debut at Doncaster and ran a good third to Dance of Time, whom he reopposes again today. He could go well but MYSTIFIABLE is of most interest. This grey gelding made his debut in one of the hottest bumpers of the year at Cheltenham won by Anonis in November. He was a bit keen that day but he still caught the eye. Today’s slightly better ground should suit him better and if Paddy Brennan can get him to settle he could be very interesting. Fergal O’Brien is enjoying a great season and this fellow is another lovely prospect.

February 16

OLD TRICKS is something of a course specialist at Wincanton. His two victories have come there and he has been placed twice. A bumper winner, he was a useful novice hurdler last season and was even rated good enough to run against Simonsig at Aintree. An abortive novice chasing campaign was shelved in December after two unsuccessful attempts but he has produced two eye-catching performances back over hurdles since. His rating over the smaller obstacles is 7lb less than a year ago and today young Brendan Powell claims three more off his back. His run behind Mr Watson at Cheltenham last time over 2m caught the eye, with him staying on nicely. Today’s longer trip at his favourite track will suit and I don’t think the early price of 9/1 will last too long.

February 12

DAVID Pipe has his string in fine fettle as the Cheltenham Festival looms large. Today he sends two horses on the long journey to Ayr, both to be ridden by Tom Scudamore. The stable had two bumper winners at Exeter on Sunday so Hidden Discounts is worth noting in the market in the lucky last.

But the really interesting runner is THE TRACEY SHUFFLE. This seven-year-old ran very well in the Cheltenham bumper in 2011 where he tanked along in front until tiring about two furlongs out. The highlight of his novice hurdle career was a good run at Punchestown last season but things did not go to plan on his chasing debut at Perth in the autumn when he crashed out at the second fence. Scudamore will be hoping to get this free-going front-runner into some sort of rhythm with his jumping and if he does he could be hard to peg back. Tap Night is the obvious danger but has to give away 7lb.

NB Former Dark Horse NUTS N BOLTS (see Jan 3 below) also runs at Ayr in the 4.30. The handicapper hasn’t taken too many chances with this progressive sort, but he may just have enough scope to follow up today.

February 8

I’M putting up three today. In the first race of a really good card at Kempton, FRANKLINO will probably be a warm order after a promising comeback run at Warwick. He is still a maiden but is well handicapped and has been dropped another 2lb. With the excellent Ian Popham on board, he should go very close to breaking his duck today.

Second up is MECOX BAY in the 3.45 at Bangor. Three noughts next to his form figures may suggest mediocrity, but he was far from disgraced on his last two outings. In his first stab at handicap company, he could run very well at around the 6/1 mark in what is a poor race.

Finally, ANNACOTTY is worth keeping a close eye on in the bumper at Kempton. Connections will be desperate that Champion Court does the business earlier en route to Cheltenham, but they are also keen on this point winner, who may well go into notebooks after today.

February 7

TWO previous Dark Horses run today. ZAMDY MAN is interesting in the Chatteris Fen Hurdle at Huntingdon but STANDING OVATION will have to improve to figure at Taunton.

But GARRYLEIGH is of most interest today. I’ve also put him in our Horses To Follow list after hearing that David Pipe is particularly sweet on him. He was even singled out by the trainer in his Racing Post column recently as one to keep on the right side of. Garryleigh won a point in Ireland in 2011 but has since had 18 months off. The bumper at Taunton looks a tasty affair with two previous winners in the field and few other likely newcomers but I would be surprised if Garryleigh isn’t in the mix.

February 6

GREEN FLAG isn’t so much a dark horse having already won a bumper and three novice hurdles. But I’ve highlighted him because today he’s been put into a competitive handicap against more streetwise and experienced opponents, particularly Knockara Beau and Quartz de Thaix. But Green Flag is a gorgeous horse: a big, scopey chasing type who really caught the eye winning over 3m at Ayr last time out. I’ll take him to ruffle the feathers of his elders in the Pertemps Qualifier at 4.05 today before going on to even better things. The 4/1 looks good value.

Former Dark Horse SHUH SHUH GAH reappears in the last at Ludlow. He was chinned on the line at a big price in his last race and has to contend with well touted runners from the Henderson and Nicholls yards today. But I liked the way he travelled and jumped last time, and he could reward each-way backers at around the 12/1 mark.

February 4

THE opening race at Doncaster is full of interest and a tasty appetiser before the Champion Hurdle trial later in the card. UTOPIE DES BORDES is a fascinating runner as this was the mare who beat Fago at Auteuil in November. Fago has since been purchased by the Wylies and is currently being well backed for the Arkle. But the way Utopie Des Bordes swallowed him up in that race suggests she could be something special. However she will be odds-on today and is no value. Call Me A Star sets a good standard on form and will appreciate the better ground. But the other one to watch is TERRE DU VENT. A listed race winner on the flat in France, he was highly tried in two runs over hurdles by Tom George last season, falling behind Grumeti when running well at Kempton and then finishing down the field behind Quevega at Cheltenham. The 12/1 available early doors looks good each-way value.

February 2

SHAMMICK BOY had a rating of 137 as a novice hurdler when he looked a useful prospect for Victor Dartnall. Things haven’t worked out for him over fences so he has been put back over hurdles this season. He ran well at Taunton last time and his mark has slipped to a career-low of 119. Despite top weight he looks to have a big chance in the opener at Wetherby today. He is as big as 12/1 early doors which looks good each-way value.

February 1

MARK Johnston has hit a rich vein of form in the past week on the all-weather and OFCOURSEWECAN should go close to giving him another winner at Lingfield (3.10) today. This three-year-old has two duck eggs against his name but he is from a winning family and has showed up well in his two races. He could take some pegging back if he is allowed to dictate and his early price of 6/1 looks decent value. Cousin Khee has won two NH bumpers on the all-weather and rates the biggest danger.

January 31

YESTERDAY was a good day. Our Notebook horse CENTASIA won at Ludlow and looks a big brute of a mare with a touch of class, while SAUSALITO SUNRISE was mugged on the line. He looks a shoo-in next time out. Yesterday’s Dark Horse Hoare Abbey was a non-runner but a previous Dark horse BUDDY BOLERO won easily at Leicester and looks a lovely prospect.

As for today, RUNAWAY GREEN caught the eye on his hurdling debut at Wincanton when finishing fourth to the promising Shutthefrontdoor. The seven-year-old grey jumped slickly and travelled kindly until tiring from the second last in testing ground under a tender ride. The Venetia Williams-Aidan Coleman partnership is in terrific form and the early price of around 16/1 looks tempting each-way value in the novices hurdle at Towcester at 3.20.

January 30

AFTER a weather-enforced hiatus, it’s good to be writing this column again with Leicester and Ludlow providing decent NH racing today. A previous Dark Horse (featured below on January 1) is in action. BUDDY BOLERO, who won at Exeter, goes at Leicester and looks to have a strong chance with AP McCoy on board, although nobody will be getting rich as he is already pretty short in the market. Today’s Dark Horse is HOARE ABBEY who first caught my eye in novice hurdles last season and who is better than his form figures may suggest. He fell on his chasing debut but jumped ok apart from one error when chasing home Brave Spartacus at Catterick last time. That would have done his confidence the world of good and conditions should suit in the 2m 4f handicap chase at 3.00. He is as big as 14/1 and he looks decent each-way value.

Elsewhere it could pay to keep an eye on two animals from our National Hunt Horses to Follow list. CENTASIA runs in the bumper at Ludlow and is expected to run very well, while SAUSALITO SUNRISE, who is very highly regarded, runs in the maiden hurdle at Ludlow in the Menorah colours.

January 16

 

 

ALL manner of nice horses on display at Newbury  today. There are a few likely types in the juvenile hurdle that kicks off the meeting including Seventh Sign who won three for Tommy Carmody on the flat in Ireland and is now with Alan King, whose juveniles have a good record at the Berkshire track. Fago is an interesting French recruit in the novice chase although he will have to be good to beat Colour Squadron while Uxizandre made a favourable impression over course and distance last time and could follow up in the novice hurdle over 2m 3f. But there are two that really catch the eye. URGENCE D’ESTRUVAL won over fences in France and made an eyecatching UK debut over hurdles at Sandown. She looks a decent bet in the mares’ novices chase at 3.00. And in the bumper it could pay to keep a very close eye on VENDREDI TROIS. Emma Lavelle thinks a bit of this four-year-old who has opened up at around 25/1. He is from the same family as Sprinter Sacre. Say no more…

January 15

REBECCA Curtis has a great record at her local course Ffos Las and she has several runners making the short trip there today. The one that stands out a mile is the scopey CHEAT THE CHEATER in the handicap hurdle at 3.15. The six-year-old has put in three decent performances over hurdles including when behind De La Bech in a warm 3m handicap at Ascot last time under AP McCoy. He impressed with his jumping that day and AP was gentle on him once it was apparent he wasn’t going to trouble the judge. Today is a much easier race over half a mile less and decent claimer Patrick Corbett takes off 7lb. Cheat The Cheater’s early price of 9/1 looks very good value.

January 13

DUKE of Navan and Woodpole Academy dominate the market for the opening novice hurdle at Kelso. Their form is strong and they both look lovely prospects. But for those seeking a little each-way value it could pay to keep an eye on RHYMERS STONE. The Lucinda Russell yard can do little wrong at present and although he is bound to benefit from the run this five-year-old has been exciting his trainer at home. Available at about 14/1 he gets a stone from the two market leaders if you include Craig Nichol’s claim and he could make the frame before going on to better things.

January 12

ARALDUR defied expectations to win on his seasonal reappearance and will strip even fitter in today’s Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton. He has only been raised 7lb which should not affect this giant of a horse. The 14/1 still available with BetVictor and Stan James looks generous. But keep an eye on his stablemate SECRET EDGE. He is a tough customer and had an excellent juvenile season, although the handicapper has made life hard for him so far this campiagn. But he has finally been given some leeway and he has been dropped 12lb since November. Useful claimer Peter Hatton takes off another 7lb so he has an each-way squeak at 33/1.

January 11

I expect SAUSALITO SUNRISE to be all the rage in the bumper at Huntingdon. Philip Hobbs is sweet on this five-year-old who is in the same ownership as Menorah and Captain Chris. But for a bit more value ALI BABA could be worth an each-way interest in the opener on the same card. Despite not being one of Alan King’s heavyweights, this fellow ran his best race over course and distance about 11 months ago but threw it away by hanging badly. Today could be his turn and he is better than his bare form figures suggest.

January 9

 

 

The opening juvenile hurdle at Doncaster is a decent contest. Handazan sets the standard but looks vulnerable to a group of useful-looking newcomers. Among them are Last Shadow and Little Dutch Girl. But although he isn’t a renowned trainer of juveniles Kim Bailey’s MILORD could be the one to watch. He has winning form on the flat on soft ground in Germany and even ran in the German Derby. Bailey has already spoken in glowing terms about him and he is said to have been extensively schooled. Stamina could be his weak point as he never ran further than 1m 3f on the flat but even if he doesn’t win today he could be the one to take from the race. His early price of 20/1 looks a little big.

January 8

 

 

THE bare facts suggest ARABIAN HEIGHTS finished 32 lengths behind Poet at Newbury last month. But that only tells half the tale. The former Mark Prescott-trained five-year-old, now with Alan King, was dropped out by Wayne Hutchinson and made stealthy headway up the long straight. He was still travelling kindly behind the leaders at the second last when he began to tire on his hurdling debut. Today at Leicester (2.40) there is no Poet in the field but there is another useful ex-flat horse in Whispering Gallery. But if Arabian Heights makes the sort of improvement you would expect from a first race then he could offer decent value at around the 5/1 mark.

January 7

THE novice hurdle at Taunton at 2.10 looks like it could be dominated by Messrs Nicholls, Hobbs and Curtis. The Paul Nicholls-trained four-year-old Saphir Du Rheu will almost certainly start a warm favourite. But it might be worth keeping a close eye on the David Pipe pair Military Precision and STANDING OVATION. Military Precision has been well backed in his last two races and ran well at Ffos Las despite pulling hard. But Standing Ovation first caught my eye in an Exeter bumper last May despite looking a bit weak. He hasn’t worried the judge in two runs over three miles since then when he ran as though he didn’t get home. So today he is dropped right back in trip to 2m 1f, and with Tom Bellamy claiming seven pounds and no ground worries, he could offer each-way value at a silly price if recapturing his Exeter form.

January 6

SHUH SHUH GAH had some decent bumper form in the north when trained by Malcolm Jefferson and the six-year-old is now with the upwardly mobile David Bridgwater. After falling at the first on his hurdling debut at Ascot he shaped nicely in a maiden hurdle at Fakenham. Held up, he raced keenly but caught the eye until tiring in the last three furlongs. He should strip fitter today and may offer reasonable each-way value at around 14/1.

January 5

WHEN ZAMDY MAN made all to win a decent maiden over a mile on Newmarket’s July course in the summer, the last race I expected to see him in was the Grade One Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. But Venetia Williams must think he is up to the job on his hurdling debut. He is up against a couple of exciting French recruits from the Nicholls and Henderson yards. Throw in the unbeaten Swnymor and Ruacana, and Zamdy Man faces a sink-or-swim task. But after his impressive maiden win, which came on soft ground, he acquitted himself well in decent handicaps at Glorious Goodwood and Newmarket. He will have been well schooled and his astute trainer would not be throwing him in at the deep end if she didn’t think he was good enough to be competitive. He may struggle to win but with eight runners anything around 20/1 looks generous each-way value.

January 4

VENETIA Williams enjoys her sorties north and her raiders should always be treated with respect. Today she sends three to Musselburgh and PENTIFFIC is the one that may have slipped in under the radar. This 10-year-old was in decent form at this time last year and was clear at the last when falling in the valuable Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster. He was still in contention at the Cheltenham Festival in the race won by Alfie Spinner until blundering three out. But after three moderate efforts this term his mark has slipped to an all-time low of 116, a full 15lb lower than when he ran in the Grimthorpe. There were also signs at Cheltenham in November that he retained most of his ability behind Swing Bill. Aidan Coleman takes the ride and gets on well with him, and he should run very well if anywhere near his best. The 5/1 still available looks generous.

January 3

The two duck eggs that are the latest form figures of NUTS N BOLTS may not inspire confidence. But this strapping seven-year-old is well regarded at the upwardly mobile yard of Lucinda Russell. He did well to win twice over hurdles last season for such a big horse and his victory over Super Duty at Ayr (the latter fell at the last when upsides) was particularly good form. Nuts N Bolts was given a pipe opener over hurdles in early October and was then raced over an inadequate two miles on his chasing debut when he was a bit novicey with his jumping. But Russell is expecting big improvement over his optimum conditions today: 3m 1f on soft ground, and at 5/1 he looks reasonable value to upset the warm favourite Real Milan.

January 2

I DOUBT many nine-year-old maiden hurdlers will make this list but I’ll make an exception for HILLVIEW BOY. Jim Goldie has had this horse in his care since he ran in four NH flat races in the 2008/09 season, culminating in a respectable performance in Aintree’s champion bumper. He has since been campaigned exclusively on the flat where he has won three times. But what should be noted is how highly tried he was on the flat last summer. He ran in quality handicaps: the Old Newton Cup, the John Smith’s at York and the November Handicap. He ran respectably in all these races. Today he makes a belated hurdling debut at Ayr and is up against a couple of younger, scopier types from the McCain and Russell yards. If he takes to jumping and transfers his flat ability he could burst those younger bubbles. He is available at around 12/1 and is good each way value.

January 1

ANYBODY with a passion for national hunt racing will have been waiting patiently for Ambion Wood to make his debut over fences. He looked every inch a chaser last season and he remains the apple of trainer Victor Dartnall’s eye. He is a fine prospect but he took a couple of runs to find winning form last season and fitness might be the only issue today at Exeter. He also has BUDDY BOLERO to contend with. David Pipe is bullish about this fella’s prospects over fences and he should relish the heavy ground. He is currently best priced at 4/1 and may upset Ambion Wood today, although the latter remains a lovely long-term prospect.

Also, keep an eye on another David Pipe horse E STREET BOY at Musselburgh in the 2.15. He travelled kindly at Hereford last time over an inadequate two miles and will be better suited by today’s 3m. I don’t expect the 11/4 to last.

 

 

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