February 16th Horse Racing Preview

khyber-kim-full_2901378[1]With Cheltenham approaching faster by the minute, Festival hopefuls are hoping to get the last minute prep run to put them in the ideal condition come their big race in March.

And potential festival stars are out in numbers at Ascot, Wincanton and Haydock this weekend all in hope of gaining one over their rivals.

The Betfair Ascot Chase is the days big feature race of the day. The strength in depth of the field is phenomenal with four out of the six runners being either previous or reigning festival winners.

2011 Arkle victor, Captain Chris, leads the market at 5/2 at Paddy Power and will take all the beating if his King George efforts are anything to go by.

Philip Hobbs’ stable star came from nowhere to jump away from Long Run at the last only to get outstayed on the run in to the line.

His form is boosted even further with victory over Finian’s Rainbow and Ghizao in his season return at Ascot in the Amlin 1965 Chase. He did have 10lbs in hand on Finian’s Rainbow that day but that by no means would have reversed the twenty-length hammering in which he gave the current Champion Chaser.

Finian’s Rainbow ran an absolute stinker in that seasonal reappearance but jockey Barry Geraghty was never confident giving away all that weight on such dire ground.

Although the ground is likely to be on the heavy side of soft, it will by no means be as traitorous as the race in November and connections are much more bullish of a performance this race, than they were last race.

At 7/2 with Coral, there is almost certainly value providing he can rekindle the form that saw him pronounced the best 2m chaser last year.

Finian’s Rainbow is a lot older than many may think at 10-years-old. He has matured late and it was last summer that for me saw him really grow up consequently leading to his blockbuster season last campaign.

However he looked to have slipped back into old habits last time out but should he have matured for that run, he will most certainly be a contender in this race and whatever race Nicky Henderson selects for him come March.

The youngest horse in the field comes in the form of the impressive, yet slightly complicated, Cue Card.

The Collin Tizzard trained seven-year-old has been destined for greatness ever since his eight length romp over Al Ferof in the 2010 Champion Bumper.

Big time success has somewhat alluded Cue Card since that victory but his record shows signs of consistency and his form is very boastful.

His latest outing in the King George can be discarded from the form books as he struggled to see out the trip and made two big errors early on. He did however still finish a respectable fifth in a very hard race.

His glorious demolition of Menorah and Edgardo Sol in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in November shows what he can do on his day and also showed his willingness to see out 2m4f.

He may have beaten very little that day but anything that wins a Grade Two by 26 lengths must be considered.

He has come closer than anyone to taking down the mighty Sprinter Sacre and looks the type who will only get better. He for me, is the one to beat.

Somersby is arguably the most frustrating horse in national hunt racing. His form just never adds up as he seems to turn up when least expected.

For that reason I would never rule Somersby out but I do think at 5/1 he is slightly on the short side as there is better in the field.

Paul Nicholls trained Ghizao is appealing at 10/1 for E/W backers as he is mighty fine jumper who should stay the trip. The ever popular Pigeon Island props the betting as the 66/1 outsider with this race coming probably a year or two too late.

With the weights for the Grand National being announced this week, there has never been a more appropriate time for the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock.

Rigadin De Beauchene is the 5/1 favourite for the race after his stunning victory in the Classic Chase at Warwick last out. Despite that victory the handicappers have only raised him 2lbs to 10-5 putting him in the ideal position to strike again.

His rivals come in the form of Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude (6/1) and runner up Tea For Three (11/2).

Monbeg Dude has been handed a 10lbs penalty for that victory but still looks well in considering the 12lbs he has in hand of Tea For Three.

The speculation of Grandouet’s Champion Hurdle chances has been rife in the racing news this week. A slight injury to Nicky Henderson’s hopeful has ruled him out of Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle leaving Paul Nicholls’ Zarkandar the outright favourite (4/9).

The ever improving Raya Star (4/1) looks to be his biggest test but it will surely be a procession for Zarkandar just to tune him up for the Champion Hurdle next month.

    5 Horses to Follow for National Hunt Season 2012

    With the clocks going back last week and the Breeders Cup being on this weekend you kind of know its the end of the flat season and it is time to embrace the jump season. Our Horse Racing Correspondent Tom Park has picked out his 5 to follow for the upcoming jump season. Do you agree with his selections? What are you 5 to follow please leave your comments below we would love to hear your thoughts. OK without further ado he is our 5 to Follow:

    Betting Portals 5 to Follow for 2012 National Hunt Season


    Darlan looked in sensational form in his first season over hurdles and will take his rise to senior field with a pinch of salt.
    Darlan scored on four of his six starts last year but if things had turned out differently and a little luck had gone his way he could easily be unbeaten going into this season.
    Darlan has an aura about him which is very different to his rivals. You get the sense this 5-year-old knows he is special and with a little luck on his side it would be no surprise to see him destroying the competition this season.
    Darlan won his first three starts at odds-on before falling 2 out in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in his first real test.
    The timing of his fall was critical to the race as he had just made a move on the rest of the field and would have taken all the beating in that race.
    Punters realised how unlucky he was not to score in that race and backed him in to 7/1 from 16s to win the Supreme Novices where again he fell short but stayed on very strong to finish second behind Cinders and Ashes.
    Trainer Nicky Henderson holds the horse in high regard and was not surprised one bit when Darlan romped home at Aintree at 7/4 a month later.
    Although I think this 5-year-old will take to fences eventually, another season over the smaller obstacles would seem the wiser choice with the Champion Hurdle the most likely of targets for the Darlan camp.
    Darlan is currently 16/1 to be crowned Champion Hurdler and it will be very interesting to see where this potential superstar goes this season and beyond.


    We are yet to see this much talked about horse travel over the Irish Sea and it may be that the first time we do will be for the Gold Cup.
    But don’t be surprised if this 7-year-old comes over in March and blows the racing world away, taking the jumps most prestigious prize in the process.
    Flemenstar was so impressive last year it was scary. The way he took a very competitive Irish Arkle field apart at a foggy Leopardstown made the hairs on my back stick up.
    He pinged over the fences similar to the likes of Kauto Star but the control in which he executed the jumps was like nothing I have seen before.
    Don’t get me wrong, this season is going to be no doubt more competitive but the fact he has never come over here before could turn him into the dark horse for the season.
    I think trainer Peter Casey will go for the Gold Cup (12/1) but he has other options such as the Ryanair (7/1) and should he not fancy the bigger trip, the Champion Chase (20/1).
    However from what we have seen from Flemenstar I think he needs 3m and I expect big things from this 7-year-old once he takes the ferry ride over from Ireland.

    Cue Card

    Collin Tizzard’s stable star had a very up and down novice season over fences which ended up with the talented 6-year-old finishing a very respectful second to Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle at the festival.
    However, a better ride from jockey Joe Tizzard in the London Pride Novices and a more fluid jump in the unseating of the jockey at Cheltenham, we could be talking about Cue Card in the same breath as Grands Crus.
    However, despite an encouraging end to the season over 2m, the prospect of trying to take the scalp of the imperious Sprinter Sacre may be too much for Cue Card and Tizzard may look to move him up in trip to 3m.
    We have seen many times before that some good novices come through the off season a more mature chaser.

    Grands Crus

    I think most racing fans would agree that Grands Crus’s failure to win the RSA Chase at Cheltenham came as a shock to the system.
    If you disregard that race Grands Crus is an out-and-out superstar. Second only as a top staying hurdler to Big Bucks, Grands Crus looked accomplished over fences and is a serious Gold Cup contender.
    I was surprised that trainer David Pipe didn’t opt for the Gold Cup last year with him previously having no problem entering his novices in the big races.
    It may have been complacent to think that Grands Crus would go to Cheltenham and take the RSA, but I think that was the thinking behind Pipe’s decision at last year’s festival.
    That defeat may spark a resurgent comeback and I predict big things from this French 7-year-old this season and could be worth every penny of his 20/1 (non-runner no bet) ante-post price for the Gold Cup.
    The way that Grands Crus won the Feltham on Boxing Day last year was simply dazzling and few would back against him winning the King George VI this year on the same day and track.
    Although he will very much be in contention in the Gold Cup, the King George may be an easier race as it does not include Gold Cup favourite Sir Des Champs. He is currently 6/1 to win the big race at Kempton.

    Boston Bob

    Boston Bob went quietly about his business in Ireland last year before falling to the late Brindisi Breeze at Cheltenham when going off 6/5 favourite.
    Despite that loss, Boston Bob was always a very fluent hurdler, winning a grade 1 in Navan, and should take to the fences should trainer Willie Mullins decide that as the route to take this season.
    Currently 8/1 favourite for the RSA Chase, bookmakers are certainly expecting him to go chasing this season.
    Due to him hiding on the other side of the Irish Sea last season, we have not seen too much of the impressive 7-year-old. However, we have seen enough to see that he should have no problem in the transition from hurdles to the bigger obstacles.
    There will be another year of strong novices this season and should the Neptune Investment Hurdle winner Simonsig also decide to go chasing, Boston Bob could have some serious competition with the impressive Fingal Bay already starting his season as a chasing novice.
    Although Simonsig looks the real deal, I think trainer Nicky Henderson will take Simonsig down the same route as Sprinter Sacre and go for the Arkle.
    That would mean him coming down in trip allowing Boston Bob to be the leading contender in the 3m novice division and at 8/1 is certainly one to keep an eye on.

    OK so they are our 5 to follow but who are your 5 to follow we would love you to join the debate, either comment below, or on Facebook or Tweet Us

    Also you can tweet Tom Park @Tom_Park4