Fox Norton top value at 50/1 for Champion Chase

binocularsA thirty-grand two-mile handicap chase at Cheltenham today and Fox Norton could be called the winner well before they turned down the hill: he was absolutely tanking along. He threw some athletic, energetic leaps, even late in the race and his handicap mark should go up at least 10lbs to 156. That would still leave him a fair bit short of the mark of a normal Champion Chase winner, but he’s only 6 and looks to have come on a ton since last year.

Douvan is 1/1 fav for the Champion Chase just now, but given what can happen between now and then plus Willie’s penchant for changing a horse’s target, I think 50/1 Fox Norton is a good value bet to keep you warm between now and March.

His form suggests he might benefit substantially from a long rest between races and Nick Williams, who used to train him said early last year that he doesn’t want too much racing. Yet, he had a busy season, and finished 3rd in The Arkle.

Also, it might be that proper good ground is important to him and Cheltenham will open on good to soft at best, as it always does (the Champion Chase is on day 2).

Still, a wee bet at 50s represents value, even with those caveats. And, going by my experience, a wee bet is all you will get at 50/1. The only established bookmaker displaying that price is Bet365 who offered me a maximum of £2.50 ( yes, £2.50, not £25.00).

Good luck


Don’t back Don Cossack for the Gold Cup

riskAnother informative run from Don Cossack today. He has a very awkward action, especially behind where both feet come out almost like a breast-stroking swimmer – he tends to do it more with his off-hind. I suspect it’s this action that makes him tilt his head quite often (much more noticeable rounding bends, or when initially trying to pick up under pressure). His ears go one way, his nose the opposite. At Kempton his nose went left, at Aintree it went right. His long stride too makes it very difficult for him to put in a short one; he can do it, but it tends to break his rhythm and lose him ground. He also jumps quite flat at times, and I think he’s going to need an awful lot of luck at Cheltenham to win a Gold Cup.

He’s a horse I’ve always liked, and I backed him to win the Betfair Million (he did not run in leg 1). But the more I see of him, the more inclined I am to keep my cash in my pocket.

He has a mighty engine, but that action looks even more awkward coming down the hill at Cheltenham. All in all, I think he’s going to find things happening too quickly for him. It’s highly unlikely he’ll get into a rhythm, and he’ll probably belt at least one, and need scrubbing along. I don’t think headgear will make a jot of difference. He strikes me as a most honest horse, and not at all lazy; it’s just that when something happens that requires a quick move from him, he cannot make it; he’s just too big and gangly.

It’s not just errors that cause him problems. When Vautour took it up in the King George and raised the pace, Don Cossack could not go with them and got shuffled back. That pace increase happened as they went into a bend, which disadvantaged him further.

He’ll be a place lay for me in the Gold Cup where I suspect young Cooper will be aboard Don Poli.

12/1 a 3/1 chance in the Ryanair? Ptit Zig

P Zig

UPDATE: 11 January 2016  If you are a latecomer to this post, be aware that the trainer says that although PZ will get a Ryanair entry, he will return to hurdles on his next outing.

I’m afraid that since I tipped him, he’s managed to tip himself up – twice, and even if he runs in the Ryanair, the last thing you’d call him now is a value bet.

Apologies to those who took my advice at the outset!

Ante-post betting can be dangerous. If your horse doesn’t turn up on the day, your cash is lost. However, when you get it right, it can be lucrative, and give you a lot of personal satisfaction. When placing an ante-post bet, you need to weigh up the following:

Is the horse likely to run?

Which of its rivals in the betting are likely to run?

Will the price shorten significantly enough to justify the long term risk?

Is the animal sound enough to rely upon, barring accidents?

You can marshall facts, but the biggest decider will be your experience and, often, your instinct. From time to time, a race is priced which appears to throw up an opportunity as close to ante-post perfection as you’ll get. The last one I recall is the  2013 King George, when Cue Card was available at 12/1 early in the year, despite the fact that the front 4 or 5 in the betting looked doubtful runners. Had Cue Card not gone wrong two out at Kempton, the biggest ante-post bet of my fairly long life would have been landed. Still, a couple of years on, I think I might just have found another one.

Here’s the current betting from Stan James for the Ryanair Chase in March:

  • 11/4 Vautour
  • 5/1 Cue Card
  • 7/1 Don Cossack
  • 12/1 Ptit Zig
  • 12/1 Valseur Lido
  • 12/1 Sprinter Sacre
  • 12/1 Vroum Vroum Mag
  • 14/1 Simonsig
  • 14/1 Sound Investment
  • 16/1 Road to Riches

The current intentions  of connections, gathered from reading race reports, stable tours, blogs etc suggest that the following are likely to be seen in the Gold Cup, not the Ryanair:


Cue Card

Don Cossack

Road to Riches

The QM Champion Chase is the likely destination for Sprinter Sacre, who might be joined there by Simonsig (though I wouldn’t be surprised to see the grey return to hurdling full time).

Valseur Lido could also end up in the Gold Cup as connections appear to believe stamina is his strong suit. Vroum Vroum Mag might run in the Ryanair, but I doubt she’ll have accumulated sufficient tough-it-out experience by March. Also, she has yet to run left-handed outside France (she has an entry at Carlisle at the time of writing, another right-handed track).

Should all of the above pan out (unlikely, but far from impossible), that leaves the Nicholls pair, Ptit Zig and Sound Investment. The latter is a fast-improving handicapper, who could run well. Ptit Zig is a horse bordering on top class. He is also much more likely to run here than in the QM or the Gold Cup. The QM would mean facing a potential superstar in Un De Sceaux as well as a rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre. The Gold Cup would see him taking on arguably the best field in the history of the race, over a trip he’s not at all sure to stay.

Ptit Zig ran Vautour pretty close on Saturday, giving the Gold Cup favourite five pounds, a performance which brought brickbats raining down on the Irish horse rather than bouquets on PZ. I think it will turn out to be very good form indeed. Prior to that, Ptit Zig had won easily in Ireland on his seasonal debut. In the JLT, he was routed and gutted by Vautour, but so was everything else in that field. Ptit Zig does have a Cheltenham victory, having won there last January. Nicholls has always thought a lot of him (he ran him in the 2014 Champion Hurdle). I’ve a feeling Ptit Zig will progress this year much the way the yard’s Dodging Bullets did last year.

Crucially, Ptit Zig is the one horse in the above betting list who looks most likely to turn up in the Ryanair. Nothing is certain, but that risk is more than built into the price of 12/1.  If my hypothesis proves correct, he’s unlikely to be bigger than 3/1 on the day.

Good luck





Take 14s the superstar Vautour to land big double

vautourIt’s difficult to convey to you how good a bet I think this is. I could tell you how much I’ve staked, but that would mean little – you’d either go ‘Gulp!’, or ‘That’s peanuts!’, depending on your own staking levels.

This is like trying to explain how much you love somebody…you can describe all the physical attributes and linger over how that person makes you feel, but you can usually tell by the glazed looks that you’re not getting it across.

Like returning to an old holiday video of you and your darling walking in the sand at sunset, I’ve played again and again the recording of Vautour winning the JLT in March. I backed him that day. On the morning of the JLT I backed him for the 2016 Gold Cup, and told anyone else who’d listen to do the same. I was smitten before the race, mesmerised during it and stunned after it.

Watch it.

You must watch it. Preferably in HD if you’ve kept the CH4 recording. See how clever he is at the 4th and how flawless he is at the others, how majestic he is over the last three. Concentrate on his ears, and how he pricks them approaching each fence, then flicks them as he listens to Ruby. Home in on that long stride and the natural power that drives his athleticism in a way he seems to find joyful. Note how he is still pulling coming to three out, where Ruby has to steady him and, once he’s over and spots that turn for home, the zest with which he quickens…observe his rivals, multiple Grade 1 and Grade 2 winners as they come under panicked pressure long before they’re in the straight. Smile at how he romps toward two out and zings over it and sees the last and gallops toward it and pings it as though it’s the first, and at how he pricks his ears once more and responds to Ruby’s just-for-the-sake-of-it urgings as he comes farther and farther clear. Marvel at how much energy he shows afterwards, walking back in…

…and now, forget the doubts about stamina, ignore those who say he might not be as good right-handed, reject protestations that he’s not a midwinter horse, then type into your address bar, click horseracing, scroll down to where it says ‘AntePost Special Doubles’ and grin widely as you take 14/1 about this superstar landing the King GeorgeVI Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Then, pour a drink, and look forward to Boxing Day.

Hopefully, you’ll take this for the light-hearted piece that it is – though do not doubt that I think the world of this horse. But ante-post betting is a dangerous zone at any time. Vautour has been entered at Ascot on Saturday. He could fall and end his career there. He could step on a nail and miss Kempton. He could go wrong in a dozen different ways. I think 14s is a fantastic price, but please bear in mind the risks other than those that I might be wrong, and don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.

Good luck


Many Clouds superb value at 10/1 for The Gold Cup

spyglassMany Clouds first came to my attention when he won the Hennessy. I had missed his seasonal debut at Carlisle, but reviewing it, I was struck with the precision of his jumping, echoed today in his BetBright Chase win.

What impressed me in the Hennessy was his will to win, despite being very tired. He did not jump so well at Newbury as he’d done at Carlisle and perhaps they went a bit quick for him early.

Today I was hugely impressed with everything about him. He jumped beautifully, ears pricked some way from take-off and jumping with precision and efficiency. I prefer horses who jump like that. Sprinter Sacre and a few others can take the breath away at times, but you’re safer with horses who measure every fence confidently and spend little time in the air.

His ears never stopped flicking, showing he was always listening to his fine jockey Leighton Aspell. Between fences he just relaxed and his raking stride did the work naturally, saving much energy. Come battle time, he stretched his neck and they were never going to pass him, and I thought he won with quite a bit in hand.

His trainer Oliver Sherwood does not want fast ground for him in the Gold Cup, but perhaps too much has been made of his disappointing run at Aintree in April. That very tight track would not suit him at all, with the long stride he has. His galloping action does not suggest that he needs deep ground, and they won’t allow it to be faster than genuine good ground at worst in March.

He has everything going for him: jumps soundly, stays, battles, is now close to top class and still improving. His attitude and jumping ability are precious assets. I thought it remarkable how well balanced he was after each jump. For such a big horse, he’s entitled to look awkward at times, but far from it. He took the downhill fence with elan and composure.

I haven’t been so confident I’ve just seen a Gold Cup winner since I watched Denman win his RSA. Many Clouds reminds me of Denman, not least in the way he just lowers his head at the business end and rams his way past the post.

10/1 non runner no bet is available with Paddy Power, and I strongly advise you to take it.

Good luck


Take 20/1 Bobs Worth for the Gold Cup

18-03-2013 17-48-09It’s very rare for 3 good value bets to come out of a Gold Cup trial like the Lexus, but Road to Riches looks much smarter than the bookies offering 12s about the Gold Cup – should be half those odds imo.

Surprised too to see 33s available about Sam Winner for the Gold Cup after today – he ran a fine race and jumped superbly bar once.

And to top off the value, those going 20s about Bobs Worth might live to regret it. He’s always been a difficult horse to train, and until the last week or so was a doubtful runner for the Lexus. Wherever the training problems lie, he does not seem to have an obvious defect (to my eye, at least). For example, At Fisher’s Cross has looked very uncomfortable in most of his races over the last two seasons. He has an arthritis problem, and obviously connections do not believe it affects him during races, but it sue as hell looks like he’s in plenty discomfort at times.

Cue Card is another example. Since stopping to nothing in the 2013 King George, he’s been nowhere near the horse he was. He’s another who looks to have something ailing him, and it shows in his racing style. He’s always carried his head a bit high, but he seems to do so even more noticeably since Kempton. I’ve always believed that something ‘went’ that day a year ago, and he’s never recovered from it.

Anyway, I mention those two to draw the comparison with Bobs Worth: he does not race as though something is physically wrong with him, otherwise, I’d avoid him. It would help to know more about the ‘training problems’ Henderson has mentioned, though I doubt he’ll expand on them.

But many seem to have forgotten that Bobs Worth is a triple Festival winner, with a Hennessy and a Lexus also under his girth. Whatever training problems Henderson’s yard faces now, he invariably gets everything right for Cheltenham, and I’ll be taking some of that 20s in anticipation that he’ll get the horse bang on song for the Gold Cup.

Good luck, and a happy 2015.


Take 50/1 Purple Bay for the Champion Hurdle

binocularsWhen I tweeted this advice earlier in the week, I got one response: “you’re drunk”.

Many reading this might share that sentiment because Purple Bay’s profile is far removed from that of a typical champion hurdler these days. Musselburgh, Stratford, and Taunton have been his stamping grounds rather than Cheltenham, Sandown and Newbury.

He’s not trained by Nicholls or Henderson, but by John Ferguson. The jock who’s had most success on him is a 7lb claimer. But the manner of his victory in the Elite Hurdle last Saturday bore the stamp of a fast-improving horse, for whom a solid plan has been laid out.

Irving’s last flight fall in the race seems to have diverted attention from Purple Bay’s performance. He was first to come under pressure when hitting a flat spot turning into the straight, but when he got back on the bridle, he came away from his pursuers with ease and won with some authority, ears pricked and it took Mikey Ennis a while to pull up.

That was his first run since finishing 7 of 20 in the Galway Hurdle, a race which came within 12 days of his easy Market Rasen victory. I suspect his runs will be a bit more spaced out from now. He has an entry in the Fighting Fifth on November 29th.

At this time last year, Purple Bay had an official rating of 130. It’s now 161. The current champion hurdler Jezki is rated 169. At the front of the festival market are Jezki, Faugheen and The New One, a horse I’ve always liked but one I now believe is just lacking that killer touch.

I’m not saying Purple Bay will win the Champion, but 50s is way too big in my opinion. The experts believe the horse has quirks; other than the habit of hitting a flat spot, (and he seems to run around a bit approaching some flights) I’ve seen nothing to worry me enough not to back him at that price. He’s just 5 and will still be learning. He wouldn’t want to hit that flat spot at a critical stage in a Champion Hurdle, but the hill should be a significant advantage to his racing style.

If he turns up at Newcastle, we’ll learn an awful lot more about him. For now, I’m content to take the chance.

Good luck – and for those unused to ante-post betting, the usual warning: if your horse does not run in the event, your money is lost.