Back Virgilio at 100/1 for the Grand National

This is my third tip (so far) for the Randox Health Grand National on April 14th. As De Mee, my first, has been withdrawn, injured; hopefully most readers took the 50/1 NRNB that one.

Milansbar, tip number two, now looks as though he will definitely get in the race with Bryony Frost riding and should go off much shorter than the advised 50/1. Looking through the field again today for more value, I see one who looks potentially overpriced by some way – Virgilio, Dan Skelton’s horse – who’s available at 100/1 NRNB (non runner, no bet).

Most potential National bets are prominent in the minds of punters; horses like Saint Are and The Last Samuri who have run well there in the past. Or classier types like Minella Rocco or Blaklion. Most punters will not have heard of Virgilio; indeed, it was only when he caught my eye with his weight of 10.7 and his good trainer that I dived a bit more deeply into his form.

Skelton appears to have held the horse in pretty high regard when Virgilio was younger (he’s 9).  He won his first two races in Britain (Skelton has had him since the horse came from France), the first a Class 3 handicap by 12 lengths, and the second, a Class 2 Handicap (at Aintree) by 6 lengths (fav both times).  He started the next season with his hat-trick win, again at Aintree in another Class 2 Handicap before moving up to Grade 2 in the Relkeel at Cheltenham where he started 5/1 third fav but was pulled up, the trainer citing a breathing problem (Skelton was later to say the horse would not go back to Cheltenham as it was not his track).

Virgilio then dropped back into handicap company at Aintree, carrying joint top weight of 11.12 off a handicap mark of 148 to finish 5th of 22, keeping on toward the finish. Since then, he has not run again over hurdles. Virgilio finished that 2015/16 season by making his debut over fences, easily winning a Class 4 at Warwick by 13 lengths and he began the following season with a Class 2 victory at Newton Abbott.

Returning to Grade 2 company for the first time since the Relkeel, he was 7/4 and was pulled up in the three-horse Rising Stars Novices Chase won by Frodon. The Racing Post analyst simply says that the horse ran as if amiss (it was his first run right handed in Britain). The Skeltons kept the faith with another Grade 2 run at Newbury next time where Virgilio made a couple of crucial errors, although he would not have beaten the impressive winner Clan Des Obeaux.

Next time saw him back right handed at Kempton where he finished a fortunate second in the Kauto Star the day Might Bite fell when well clear at the last.  He challenged Might Bite again next time in his first Grade 1 outing, the Mildmay Novices Chase at Aintree where he was well beaten in 3rd, although he had a very stiff task at levels with Might Bite and Whisper who was second. Might Bite beat him 20 lengths and Whisper beat him 18.

Virgilio finished last season with yet another run at Aintree, and another win over 3m 1f, by 7 lengths, his jumping that day suggesting he was really getting the hang of the chasing game.  North to Aintree again in November last year for his seasonal debut and back down in trip to 2m 4f, he ran quite poorly and then pulled up 5 weeks’ later at Doncaster back over 3 miles. He was strong in the market that day in December; in the lengthy lay off since then, Virgilio has had wind surgery

On the face of his limited fencing experience, especially in big fields, and his form this season, I can see why 100/1 is available. But in view of his age and what still looks untapped potential, allied to the faith the Skeltons appear to have in him, and the fact that he’s been operated on for his wind, I think he’s well worth an each way bet on the NRNB basis. There’s also the fact that the flat track seems to suit him well; he’s won 3 from 6 at Aintree (NB: for those who are occasional punters, Aintree’s Grand National course is a separate one from its ‘standard’ course which is known as The Mildmay Course, the one on which Virgilio has appeared so far).

His jumping style, to my eye, looks well suited to the Grand National fences. Stamina is another question. He’s by Denham Red, the sire of Un De Sceaux, a 16f to 20f top-notcher, but also the sire of Ouzbeck, who won the Summer National over 3m 4f at Uttoxeter in 2010.  As noted, Virgilio has won over 3m 1f; the only other winning progeny of his dam Liesse De Marbeuf, did not race over as far as 3 miles in Britain or Ireland.

“Recommended bet” (see here) each way Virgilio for the Randox Health Grand National at 100/1 with Bet Bet365 who offer 1/4 odds first five and money back if the horse does not run.

Update, Monday, 9th April: Virgilio is now  80/1 with Bet365, but 100/1 is still on offer with Unibet and 888Bet along with the NRNB concession.

Enjoy the Grand National and don’t bet more than you can afford to lose with a smile.





Back Terrefort at 8/1 for the JLT

I’ve been impressed by the talent and tenacity of Nicky Henderson’s Terrefort this season, the grey gelding’s first in the UK. He won at Huntingdon off a mark of 137, powering away after the last, his jockey not breaking sweat.

The BHA handicapper was impressed and lumped him up a stone, to the dismay of his trainer. The new rating was put to the test in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown next time. In a cracking race, Terrefort jumped with accuracy and speed, the much bigger and stronger-looking Cyrname the only one who could go with him. Terrefort cleverly fiddled his way over two out after a sight misunderstanding with jockey Jacob, jumped the last well, and was always holding the rallying Cyrname.

The pair finished miles clear of the remainder – No Comment, Kalondra, and West Approach.  Cyrname is the only one from that race to have run since, winning at Kempton at 2/5.

Terrefort improved a fair bit between Huntingdon and Kempton according to his jockey, and I think it’s reasonable to assume he’ll have improved further. The stats appear at first glance to be stacked against him as a potential winner of the JLT, but I’m not particularly concerned by that. There have been just seven runnings of the race which achieved Grade 1 status only in 2014.

Terrefort is a 5-y-o. All JLT winners have been 6 or 7, but a quick dig through the race’s short history shows that only four 5-y-olds have run in it and the only one of them who was rated around the same as Terrefort – Bristol De Mai – finished second. All seven winners have run at the previous year’s festival whereas Terrefort was still in his native France then. Six of the seven were trained in Ireland, but Nicky Henderson has a fine festival record and I have no worries on that score.

Terrefort comes into this with a rating higher than four of the past seven winners.

I’ve a slight concern that all four of Terrefort’s wins have been right-handed, but I can see nothing in his jumping or general demeanour to suggest he’ll be unsuited to going the other way. In fact, he looks agile and nimble and Cheltenham ought to suit his style well.

There’s a fair chance that soft ground is important to him and if he doesn’t look like getting it, Henderson might take him out. On that basis, I *strongly recommend backing him at 8/1 with Bet365, who offer best odds guaranteed and money back if he doesn’t run.  I think he’ll be no bigger than 5/1 come the off next Thursday.

Good luck, and remember the lazybet motto: don’t bet more than you can afford to lose with a smile.


*For an explanation of ‘confidence terms used’, read this 

Betfair Chase News

Monday, November 20, 2017 – Haydock Park Racecourse and Betfair staged a media morning at Jessica Harrington’s yard at Moone, County Kildare in Ireland today ahead of the reappearance of Sizing John (5/2 with Betfair) in the £200,000 G1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park on Saturday, November 25.

The seven-year-old enjoyed a fabulous campaign in 2016/17, when he scored a trio of G1 victories in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup. Sizing John was trained by Henry De Bromhead up until September, 2016, when he joined Harrington.

The Betfair Chase forms the first leg of The Jockey Club Chase Triple Crown, which offers a £1-million bonus to any horse who can win the Betfair Chase, the G1 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day and the G1 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 16.

It was the wish of Sizing John’s owner Alan Potts, who sadly died last week at the age of 80, to mount a challenge for The Jockey Club Chase Triple Crown with Sizing John. Alan owned horses in partnership with his wife Ann, who passed away in August after a long illness.

Jessica Harrington said today: “If Sizing John is as good as last year, I’ll be happy. Sizing John is seven, rising eight, and in theory horses should be at their optimum in their seven to eight season and then they slightly start to go downhill. My only worry is the three hard races last year might leave a mark on him but he had hard races the year before and seemed to come out of it very well.

“He is a very relaxed horse and his real strength is that he jumps chase fences at two-mile speed against three milers. When he lands, you can steady him up and go again.

“It was after Sizing John won at Leopardstown that we decided to go for the Gold Cup rather than the Ryaniar Chase at Cheltenham. I wasn’t as confident as Robert (Power, jockey) that he would stay in the Gold Cup because in three months he had gone from two miles to three miles and two furlongs.

“The Betfair chase is bound to be a very good race. The Jockey Club Triple Crown will be very, very hard to win. If it happens, it happens. It’s like the Lotto – if your first number doesn’t come up, you know your fate.

“If we get over the first hurdle at Haydock, we have to go to Kempton and take on Might Bite, who looked very good the other day, and Willie (Mullins) will probably send over Djakadam too, so there will be plenty to take him on.

“I have Sizing John as fit as I hopefully can and he seems in good form. He was throwing his head around after he worked yesterday and looks good this morning but you never know until you get them to the racecourse.

Reflecting on her association with Alan and Ann Potts, Harrington continued: “I only trained for Alan Potts for 18 months. It was fantastic for him to send me a couple of fillies in the spring last year and then said in the autumn he told me he was sending me Sizing John and Supasundae.

“Alan was very good to me and brought some nice horses into the yard. He allowed me to do what I wanted last season and was under a lot of stress with Ann not being well at all.

“The great thing was that Ann made it to Cheltenham, Aintree, Punchestown and France, which she loved. As Alan said at her funeral, Ann did everything she wanted to do. Ann loved the horses, she probably had more affinity with them than Alan did, although in making decisions Alan always put the horses first.

“Before Ann died, all the horses were changed to Ann and Alan Potts Limited partnership and I believe the plan is for the horses to continue to run until they get old, like myself.”

Sizing John’s jockey Robbie Power added: “The Betfair Chase is the starting point for Sizing John. He is ready to go and we couldn’t be happier with him.

“He went very well after racing yesterday and schooled around Naas the week before and jumped super. He felt good at Naas and even better yesterday, so he is coming right at the right time.

“I have ridden around Haydock a few times before so I can’t use that as an excuse! Sizing John is very versatile – he has G1 form over two miles so the flat track won’t inconvenience him at all. He has plenty of pace and stays really well.

“From the first time I rode Sizing John, I always thought he wanted further. I am not saying at that stage I thought he was a Gold Cup contender. It is amazing when you talk about confidence in a jockey or a sportsperson, I think horses also need confidence.

“Sizing John had been getting his arse spanked by Douvan over two miles and when he won the Kinloch Brae at Thurles, his work improved in the build-up to Leopardstown and then when he won the Irish Gold Cup, his work improved again. He really got his confidence back by getting his head in front.

“His work from Leopardstown to Cheltenham was something we hadn’t seen before – he just got better and better. The last couple of weeks before Cheltenham made me hopeful he would win the Gold Cup and it was just a question of whether he would stay the extra two furlongs. I was confident he would stay and the good ground was key – he is a good ground horse.”

Power is retained jockey for horses owned by Ann and Alan Potts Ltd running in Ireland, with Bryan Cooper riding the horses in Britain.

Power continued: “The arrangement with Bryan Cooper works out fine. If the arrangement hadn’t been made, I would have been at Cheltenham yesterday and missed two G2 winners here.

“It suits Bryan to go over to England and I have a fantastic stable here with Jessie. She has first call on me and as long as I’m riding and as long as she wants me, she will have first call on me.

“Jessie has been very loyal to me over the years and we have some fantastic horses here. I am happy to ride all of the Potts’ horses in Ireland – there are also horses with Mouse Morris, Jim Dreaper and Jimmy Mangan.

“Alan said he wanted to go for a million pound bonus and I said fair enough! Alan is unfortunately no longer with us but Sizing John was Alan and Ann’s pride and joy, he was the horse they loved the most. Wouldn’t it be great if he could go and do it for them?”

The media also visited the yard of Gordon Elliott at Longwood, Country Kildare. Elliott is set to run Outlander (10/1), owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, in the Betfair Chase.

Successful in the G1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown last season, he disappointed when 10th to Sizing John in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup but bounced back to form with a victory in the G1 Champion Chase at Down Royal on November 4.

Gordon Elliott said today: “Outlander is a grand horse. He will probably travel over on Wednesday night and Jack Kennedy will take the ride.

“He had an operation for a kissing spine but it went grand and we got him back on track. We were just happy that he jumped a bit better on his first start of the season at Punchestown – it was a bit disappointing but I don’t think that he was fit enough.

“We put cheekpieces on him at Down Royal, when Jack gave him a great ride, and we are very happy with him.

“The Betfair Chase looks a good race but we will take our chance. He is in great form and bouncing. He looks great and we couldn’t be happier with him.

“If you go back to his Lexus run last season, it was very good. A lot of people fancied him as an outsider for the Gold Cup but he never jumped at all, which was obviously to do with his back.

“If he gets back to that Lexus run, he is good enough to line up at Haydock. The Down Royal run might not be strong enough form but his Lexus win would not be far off it. He can be a bit hit and miss, so hopefully he turns up on a going day.

“The heavier the ground, the better for Outlander. You have to respect Sizing John, Cue Card – when he is on a going day, he is brilliant – and Bristol De Mai. Every one of them in their own right is entitled to turn up but, if we get a bit of luck in running and everything works out, Outlander would have a good each-way chance.

“The chance of our lad winning the Triple Crown is very slim but, if you are not in, you can’t win so we will take our chance. I would love to have a horse good enough and Don Cossack on his day might have been the one, but it is hard to do.”

Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies, 13/8 Fav) is the 13/8 favourite with Betfair for Saturday’s race on the back of a half-length victory over stablemate Blaklion in the G2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on November 4.

The six-year-old has looked imperious in his two previous visits to Haydock Park, the most recent of which came in January when he sauntered to a 22-length success in the G2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase over Saturday’s course and distance.

Cue Card (Colin Tizzard, 3/1) is bidding to equal the great Kauto Star’s record of four Betfair Chase wins, having triumphed in 2013, 2015 and 2016. The hugely popular 11-year-old will be ridden by Harry Cobden for the first time.

The seven confirmations are completed by Tea For Two (Nick Williams, 10/1), who provided jockey Lizzie Kelly with her second G1 victory in the Betway Bowl at Aintree in April, Traffic Fluide (Gary Moore, 20/1) and Shantou Flyer (Richard Hobson, 50/1).

Betfair spokesman Barry Orr commented today: “It is shaping up to be another quality renewal of the Betfair Chase and, with rain forecast, the Gold Cup winner Sizing John has been deposed at the head of the market by Bristol De Mai, who is now 13/8 from 9/4.

“Cue Card is seeking a record equalling fourth victory in the race while Outlander has already won at the highest level this season so it should be a cracking race.”

The Betfair Chase – Betfair odds: 13/8 Bristol De Mai; 5/2 Sizing John; 3/1 Cue Card; 10/1 Tea For Two; 10/1 Outlander; 20/1 Traffic Fluide; 50/1 Shantou Flyer
EW 1/4 Odds 2 Places

The Jockey Club Triple Crown: 20/1 Sizing John, 80/1 Bristol De Mai, 14/1 Any Other Horse

Bet North Hill Harvey to win the Arkle

March could see the hottest Arkle Chase for many years. Petit Mouchoir and Footpad have already blazed early markers with fine victories this season, jumping being the highlight of both. Finian’s Oscar has been a much more careful jumper in his two fencing outings so far, but he could easily get slicker and his engine might prove the biggest among the two-mile novices. Brain Power is a horse I’ve always liked. He looks like a steeplechaser and his fencing debut is awaited with interest.

But the horse who’s shown he’s more than up to the challenge is North Hill Harvey. He won his second chase on the trot today with a fine performance at Cheltenham. Last time at the track he beat Sceau Royal and the promising Movewiththetimes who led Finian’s Oscar at the last yesterday.

For a 16/1 chance (four or five bookies offer that) North Hill Harvey has an awful lot in his favour:

  • He’s a fine jumper on the whole, especially at speed and should continue getting slicker
  • The trainer is still learning about him and might well be able to improve him a fair bit more
  • And, not least, he loves Cheltenham, being 3 from 5 there with excuses the other twice.

Also, he acts on any ground by the look of things. Today he ran off an official rating of 149. That will go up 7 to 10lbs in my view, putting him well within striking distance of achieving a 160+ rating come the Festival. Seven of the past 10 Arkle winners have been rated 161 or lower. When Nico de Boinville was invited to comment ob River Wylde’s performance today as runner up, a long way behind North Hill Harvey, he finished by saying, ‘and we were beaten by a good horse’. Nico has never been one for overstatement.

I think North Hill Harvey should be no more than 10s for this and I strongly recommend you bet him at 16/1. Each Way is not advised on antepost bets so far ahead of the meeting. If for some reason he misses the race, it’s as well to have just one stake riding on it.

Good luck