Antepost angles – Caspian Caviar Gold Cup

The December Gold Cup, as it is traditionally known, is a race that Paul Nicholls has had much success in down the years, taking four of the last eight renewals. Poquelin claimed back-to-back victories in 2009 and 2010, Unioniste romped to an 11-length win in 2012 and Frodon became his latest victor 12 months ago.

This year Nicholls’ hopes will be pinned on Clan Des Obeaux, who surely has a great chance of making it a famous five for the ten-time champion trainer. Beaten only a half length by Whisper on his seasonal return, that form now looks particularly good, with the Nicky Henderson horse now rated 169 following his gallant second in the Ladbrokes Gold Cup. The five-year-old then followed up with an impressive seven-length win at Haydock in testing conditions on Betfair Chase day and despite a seven-pound rise still looks fairly treated off 155.

The news that Waiting Patiently won’t run means that the Nicholls runner is likely to shoulder top weight but with Bryony Frost’s claim presumedly being called into service, the son the Kapgarde is still very competitively weighted, especially when you consider that he could end up being Gold Cup class if taking his run against Whisper on face value. The beneficiary of an off season wind op, he is part owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and could give the former Manchester United manager a return to the winner’s enclosure. He’s 8/1 to do exactly that and will surely be shorter on the day if lining up.

The forecast is for a pretty dry week in the lead up to Saturday, news that will be music to the ears of Ian Williams and the supporters of Ballyalton. Unfortunately there is no 33/1 about the ten-year-old this time around, as there was when tipped up here in the lead-up to the BetVictor Gold Cup, but the 12/1 available is still worth an interest with underfoot conditions likely to be far more suitable than when he was fourth in last month’s big handicap. He has remained on the same mark and is a major contender at a venue where he has only finished outside the first four once in six visits, and on that occasion he had More of That and Might Bite in front of him.

At a bigger price I also think Guitar Pete is worth a small dabble. Nicky Richards’ grey saw his chances gone before they had even got started in the BetVictor after being badly hampered by the first-fence fall of Thienval, an incident that left him trailing the rest of the field by five lengths or more and always struggling to get back in touch in the testing conditions. This time running off bottom weight and getting over one and a half stone off those at the top of the handicap, with better luck he could well be good value for a place at 33/1. Revitalised this season, not finishing outside the first two in five runs prior to last month, it’s been great to see him back in form, bringing back memories of his Triumph third and subsequent Grade 1 juvenile hurdle win at Aintree back in 2014.

Selections:

Clan Des Obeaux 8/1ew

Ballyalton 12/1ew

Guitar Pete 33/1ew

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Stick with Avenir D’Une Vie at Punchestown

There are a number of short priced favourites that I would expect to oblige on Sunday, including Un De Sceaux, Top Notch and Western Ryder but one shortie that I’ll be taking on is Willie Mullins’ Saturnas in the beginners chase at Punchestown. Making his debut over the bigger fences, if you look back at his novice hurdle season, even though he won twice I’m not convinced he has the form in the book to make him a 4/9 shot.

Instead I’d rather stick with Avenir D’une Vie, a horse that I’ve recommended on these pages the last twice he’s ran. Last time out he looked particularly unlucky, falling when jumping like a stag, bowling along in front at Punchestown. He’ll no doubt be setting the pace again here and if he can get round this time he holds a massive chance of at least being placed. His novice hurdle win at Fairyhouse last November was just as impressive as anything Saturnas did and he rates a cracking bet in my book at 11/2.

Also at Punchestown I’ll be eagerly watching the return of Getabird, who makes his debut over timber at 1.00. One of the best bumper horses last term before injury cut short his season, he can be smart over hurdles too and could well take high rank in either the Ballymore or Albert Bartlett divisions. He can be backed at 20/1 for the former, 25/1 for the latter or you can get three places at 12/1 in the ‘any race’ market with Hills.

Selections:

Punchestown 2.35 – Avenue D’une Vie 11/2ew

Antepost: Getabird 12/1ew – Any race at the Cheltenham Festival

Friday selections – Exeter, Sandown and Sedgefield

I don’t think it’s an underestimation to say that the Grade 2 Ballymore Novices Hurdle today at Sandown is the best novice hurdle race this side of the Irish Sea so far this season. It brings together the unbeaten White Moon, On The Blind Side and Red River, three of the most exciting performers we’ve seen in the novice ranks of any division. I’ve not hidden how impressed i’ve been with White Moon in his two wins, so it will come as no surprise that he’s my selection, getting five pounds from Nicky Henderson’s recent Cheltenham winner, On The Blind Side.

Stepping up in class today, if he does the business you can wave goodbye to the 20/1 that is still available for the Albert Bartlett, which I still think will end up being his destination at Cheltenham in March.

My other main fancy today also has a form line with White Moon. Watcombe Heights finished third behind the Colin Tizzard horse last time out at Exeter, 19 lengths clear of his nearest rival. The Martin Hill trained son of Scorpion returns to the track today, where he will face the same soft conditions he enjoyed last time. Charlie Deutsch’s claim takes off three pounds, giving him a nice racing weight and at 11/1 with some firms he’s been vastly overpriced. He’s the best bet of the day in my book.

Selections:

1.00 Exeter – Warthog 3/1

1.35 Exeter – Watcombe Heights 11/1ew (NAP)

1.45 Sedgefield – Wood Pigeon 11/2ew

2.30 Sandown – White Moon 15/8

Previously advised:

Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle – White Moon 25/1*

*click here for the rest of my Cheltenham Festival ante-post selections

Wednesday selections – Haydock & Dundalk

He pushed Barters Hill to within a length when the apple of Ben Pauling’s eye was at the height of his powers in January 2016 and was last sighted in a Grade 1 – today marks the return after 607 days off the track of Ballydine. Charlie Longsdon’s seven-year-old son of Stowaway was rated 145 over hurdles and will hope to scale similar heights in his chasing career, which starts at 1.20 at Haydock. Sidelined with a leg injury he suffered in the Sefton Novices Hurdle at Aintree 20 months ago, this marks the end of the long road to recovery but if he has retained most of his ability he should take a lot of beating on his return to Merseyside and the 5/1 available looks very good value.

Holding even stronger claims is my Wednesday NAP, Shivermetimbers, who runs in the novice hurdle that follows Ballydine’s comeback race. Venetia Williams hasn’t really got going yet this season – maybe the mud hasn’t been flying enough – but in this five-year-old she possesses a youngster with a potentially nice future ahead of himself. On his only run to date for jump racing’s fashion flagbearer, he beat Another Stowaway in a bumper at Warwick in March. Winning showing a likeable attitude, the second that day has since pushed Nicky Henderson’s smart On The Blind Side close at Aintree over hurdles, meaning that if Shivermetimbers’ form translates to timber then he should be hard to beat today. He comes up against the formerly 93-rated flat performer Niblawi, but he has to prove he can jump and i’d rather be with the national hunt bred horse.

I won’t usually tip all-weather runners but I will make an exception today as I feel Tower Bridge holds huge claims in the 4.45 at Dundalk. Joseph O’Brien’s four-year-old showed some very good form in bumpers, including a close up fourth behind Roaring Bull at the Punchestown Festival and two subsequent victories at Ballinrobe and Bellewstown. He flopped on his recent hurdles debut on soft ground but returning to a sound surface he could well pick up the winning thread again and is taken to score in the JP McManus green and gold.

1.20 Haydock – Ballydine 5/1

1.55 Haydock – Shivermetimbers 15/8 (NAP)

4.45 Dundalk – Tower Bridge 13/8

Tuesday selections – Southwell & Lingfield

Kim Bailey would appear to have some nice novices this season, none better perhaps than impressive Wincanton scorer Red River, whom we could see in action again this coming Friday or Saturday. On Tuesday he runs Station Master at Southwell, a five length winner last time out at Warwick, beating Rebecca Curtis’ Just A Thought, a mare who was placed in listed company last term in bumpers. Third on his hurdles debut at Exeter over an inadequate 2m 2f, Station Master finished in front of Enniscoffey Oscar that day, who franked the form with a 15-length romp at Doncaster last Friday, while the winner, If The Cap Fits, has since defied a penalty to go in again for Harry Fry.

Bailey’s six-year-old, who has Presenting in his bloodline, appreciated the step up in trip at Warwick and should be seen to good effect again over just short of three miles here. His main rival would appear to be current market leader, Follow the Bear, who was last seen down in seventh in a competitive handicap at Cheltenham last month. Before that Nicky Henderson’s charge was a well beaten third at Worcester and i’m not sure the form stacks up enough for him to be as short as 6/4 against the 9/4 of Station Master. The latter’s form is working out well and he’s my Tuesday NAP.

Half an hour after he has hopefully gone in for us runs a horse who could well be thrown into a handicap hurdle on his chasing level of form. Raz De Maree was second in the graded Cork National a month ago, a race he had won twice previously, and is rated 140 over fences. Less than two lengths behind Native River in second in last year’s Welsh National, Gavin Cromwell’s 12-year-old runs off a hurdles mark 24 pounds below his chase rating. What’s more, top Irish conditional Donal McInerney is over to ride and take off a further five pounds, meaning the veteran will feel as though he is running free. There shouldn’t be a danger of the race just being a prep for something else, as he’s already ran twice this season, so I’m smelling a plot up job and advise you take the 10/1 while it’s still there.

From one old stalwart to another as Persian Snow returns at Lingfield at 3.00, running for the first time since back-to-back wins at Ludlow last February and March. Those wins proved there is plenty of life left in the 11-year-old’s legs yet and he can continue winning ways in this Veterans’ Chase which also features old favourites Vino Griego and Grand Vision. I’m particularly loathed to back against Colin Tizzard’s grey, as he’s one of those I’ve pretty much supported every time he’s raced, going back to the days when he was third behind Brindisi Breeze and Boston Bob in the 2012 Albert Bartlett, but sometimes you have to let your head rule over your heart. Philip Hobbs’ Persian Snow is assisted by the seven-pound claim of David Maxwell and just might have a bit too much class.

Selections:

1.20 Southwell – Station Master 9/4 (NAP)

1.50 Southwell – Raz De Maree 10/1ew

3.00 Lingfield – Persian Snow 11/4

Sunday Fairyhouse selections

Apples Jade v Nichols Canyon, Death Duty v Rathvinden, Espoir D’Allen v Mitchouka and pretty much everything in the field of the Royal Bond, this Sunday’s card at Fairyhouse is the first of the season where we see some of the big guns locking horns and in some cases start to sort out some kind of pecking order.

This is particularly the case with the juvenile and novice graded races on an epic looking day of jump racing. The Grade 1 Royal Bond is a race won by subsequent champion hurdlers Jezki and Hurricane Fly down the years and has been dominated recently by Willie Mullins, who has tasted success in the last three renewals with Nichols Canyon, Long Dog and Airlie Beach. This year he relies on Makitorix to fly the Closutton flag, an 18-length winner at Listowel in September on his only Irish start. Although he won impressively it’s hard to say the form has any substance however.

Cases could be made for most of the seven-strong lineup, but without a doubt on bumper form the standout is Red Jack. The key bit of form comes from his win at Naas in January when he put not only the reopposing Le Richebourg to the sword, but also Cheltenham Champion Bumper second Debuchet. Noel Meade’s charge did what he needed to do, without being wildly impressive, on his hurdles debut back at Naas three weeks ago and comes here defending an unbeaten record. At 8/1 he is an outstanding price to keep that run intact.

Red Jack’s second bumper win last term saw him beat Dinons at Fairyhouse’s Easter Festival. Gordon Elliott’s runner got to within two lengths of the winner that day and makes his first appearance since on Sunday, where he looks great value at 9/4, in the last race of the day, to get his head in front before going hurdling.

Apples Jade‘s clash with Nichols Canyon is a fascinating narrative to the second Grade 1 of the day, the Hatton’s Grace. Another race won by both Hurricane Fly and Jezki, the mares dominated last year when Apples Jade got the better of Vroom Vroom Mag and I think she can make it back-to-back success. Not only does she get that crucial seven pounds off most of her rivals but she also has race fitness on her side after her win at Navan three weeks’ back, something that main opponent Nichols Canyon does not. It should be a thriller and if the mare can get her head in front i’m hoping it will make the O’Learys see sense and aim her at the Stayers Hurdle in March rather than the Mares.

Willie Mullins may lose the two big graded contests i’ve just discussed but he has my NAP in the handicap hurdle at 2.05 with Meri Devie. Second in a Grade 3 at Naas last month, the Graham Wylie-owned four-year-old was my fancy for the Triumph after her impressive win at the Leopardstown Christmas festival last season before injury forced her to miss Cheltenham. She did return at the Punchestown Festival, however, finishing third, ahead of the ill-feted Mega Fortune and just over two lengths behind winner Bapaume. She looks fairly treated on a mark of 136 for her handicap bow and at a juicy 8/1 looks the bet of the day.

Selections –

1.00 Red Jack 8/1ew

1.30 Apples Jade 6/4

2.05 Meri Devie 8/1ew (NAP)

3.40 Dinons 9/4

Saturday selections – Newbury, Fairyhouse & Newcastle

In the lead-up to Cheltenham The Storyteller was viewed as one of the good things for The Festival, before injury then robbed him of his chance to shine. Today Gordon Elliott’s six-year-old makes his chasing debut at Fairyhouse where he can hopefully land us a another first race NAP following Lostintranslation yesterday.

The son of Shantou put together some impressive performances over timber last season, not least of which a nine-length win over Willie Mullins’ Battleford at Thurles in January. He should have too much firepower for Sutton Manor and Livelaughlove today and has been backed accordingly since I put him up at 3/1 last night.

Fences appear to have been the making of Jessica Harrington’s Magic of Light – a six-length winner here last month over the bigger obstacles – and he’s a confident selection in the 12.50, while i’m very excited to see Blow by Blow back out again at 1.55. Stepped up in trip and with race fitness on his side, the real Blow by Blow can now step forward before moving onto bigger things. For me he’s still one of the main contenders for next year’s Albert Bartlett, as you may have already read in my latest Cheltenham antepost piece (click here if you haven’t).

And in the 2.30 at Fairyhouse Midnight Stroll can build on his success at Galway in October (when tipped up at 10/1 in this blog). The form of Robert Tyner’s five-year-old has since been boosted by Next Destination’s impressive 13-length win on hurdles debut, a horse that only beat Midnight Stroll by a neck in a bumper at the Punchestown Festival in April.

It’s a massive day at Newbury with the Hennessy, sorry Ladbrokes Trophy, taking centre stage. Good luck to those of you that followed my advice and got the 33/1 on Vyta Du Roc a few weeks ago.

Another horse tipped up at a big price in this blog recently that picked up some nice place money in The Greatwood for us was Old Guard. He remains on a good mark, with Bryony Frost again taking off five pounds, and should appreciate the step up to two and a half miles today. Recommended at 13/2 last night, he can now be backed at 7/1 and has to have a great each way chance.

Meanwhile, High Bridge has also been one of my go-to horses for the past year or more. He was advised at 12/1 when placing in a competitive handicap at Ascot last month, the form of which looks red hot following the subsequent wins of the first and second that day, Elgin and Limited Reserve.

Finally, over at Newcastle, other than Buveur D’air’s stroll in the park in what is the weakest Grade 1 I can remember, the highlight is the listed Rehearsal Chase. Kerry Lee’s Bishops Road was fourth in the race last year behind Definitely Red, Bristol De Mai and Otago Trail. This year’s renewal isn’t half as competitive and with the nine-year-old carrying ten pounds less he must have a massive chance.

Selections (prices as originally advised on Friday night)

12.15 Fairyhouse – The Storyteller 3/1 (NAP)

12.50 Fairyhouse – Magic of Light 9/4

1.50 Newbury – Old Guard 13/2ew

1.55 Fairyhouse – Blow by Blow 11/10

2.25 Newbury – High Bridge 3/1

2.30 Fairyhouse – Midnight Stroll 5/1ew (NB)

3.20 Newcastle – Bishops Road 9/2ew