In the first of a new weekly series of racing previews, WILL HOFFMANN looks ahead to Saturday’s racing and suggests a couple of bets
“Transitional” is the best description of this time of year. The best of the flat season is over, the best of the jumps yet to begin. I’ll concede to essentially having moved into jumps mode by this point, but it would be remiss to not make brief mention of the Vertem Futurity.
The last British Group 1 of the year has made headlines for the wrong reasons this week. Aidan O’Brien featured as the trainer of 11 of the 12 potential entries on Monday and, unsurprisingly, trains five of the six who have stood their ground. Criticisms of the ever dominant Ballydoyle operation are clearly wide of the mark. O’Brien is the best in the game and British racing has long been the beneficiary of his patronage.
If questions are to be raised then it’s of his British cousins who have failed to take advantage of what was only ever going to be a patchy field. Godolphin have been riding the crest of the wave this season but, despite their strength in depth, they’ve failed to enter even one of their lessor lights. It’s a stark reminder that money doesn’t always equate to a professional operation.
Mogul too short for Doncaster feature
The race itself isn’t really a betting medium with all of this in mind although, instinctively, I think Mogul is on the short side. He’s clearly Ballydoyle’s nominated numero uno and has the kind of regal name that they save for only their very best, but his wins have left me feeling decidedly “meh” about him. His stride suggests that this trip looks a minimum for him and that, ultimately, he’ll stay further. Speed kills in this game and several of these look pacier types than Mogul which would concern me.
Of course, Ballydoyle are also king of team-tactics and their modus operandi is to ensure that the race is run to suit their main hope. As such, you can expect to see a couple of these acting as sacrificial lambs and setting an honest tempo. With that in mind, and the galloping nature of Doncaster, Mogul may well be able to overcome any deficiency in his acceleration. A watching brief.
Before we turn to Cheltenham and a couple of bets I thought, because this is our first rodeo, that I should talk a little bit about my methodology. Over jumps, I keep records of the hurdle-to-hurdle sectionals of every British jumps race and use those comparisons to compile an internal set of ratings of horses and races. These play a big role, both in terms of identifying exciting performances but also, even more crucially, flagging performances which may be overrated by the market. As such, you’ll probably hear me refer each week to good or significant clock performances.
Saint Calvados not one to risk at Cheltenham
That being said, I think synthesis is probably the key descriptor I would use for my form study process. I blend my own ratings with more traditional means of form study: video analysis, visual performance, going, track suitability, lengths and measures. If science without religion is lame then the same can be said for speed ratings without reference to more conventional means.
The 3.10 from Cheltenham, a two-mile handicap chase, features the usual mix of exposed handicaps and more interesting, but riskier, unexposed types. Saint Calvados is a prime example of the latter, having long caught the eye of clock-watchers since his novice days but having been repeatedly spanked by Altior and Min when highly tried. Top-weighted off 155 here, that rating would certainly underrate him at his absolute best but would probably overrate his last five runs. There’s also a more than sneaking suspicion that Cheltenham doesn’t suit at all.
SELECTION ONE – KNOCKNANUSS
The other unexposed sort who caught my eye was Knocknanuss (pictured top of page). There can’t be many nine year old unexposed chasers but he looks a slightly rare breed. He came to novice chasing late, and electrically, building up a portfolio of wins which ultimately saw him go off 11/2 in an Irish Grade 1 (he fell) and 33/1 for the Arkle (he came fifth).
The latter performance is probably an accurate reflection of his ability but given he was “only” beaten 25 lengths by Duc Des Genievres, a performance amongst the very best at the Cheltenham Festival, a mark of 144 looks quite workable. This won’t be plain sailing, even so. There are three or four pace angles who will make his life unpleasant but he certainly catches the eye as being the one horse here who may have half a stone up his sleeve in these conditions. That alone makes him worthy of a few quid.
SELECTION TWO – CAPTAIN TOMMY
Staying looks to be the order of the day in the 3.45. Market leaders Aye Right and Tobefair are both dour stayers who will most likely be doing their best work late in the day. A similar description can probably apply to Captain Tommy who finally gets an opportunity to race over a stiff three miles. He’s clearly not a flashy sort at home but he overturned long odds-on favourite Umndeni at Wincanton before coming a never-nearer second at Perth.
That Wincanton run, in particular, attests to there being a little bit of scope off this mark as well as likely improvement for a lung-busting stamina test. You’d think he’d ultimately make up into a Welsh National type in time but the very fact that Harry Whittington is wanting to mind him with another season over hurdles would suggest to me he may have loftier ambitions than 135 in this code. He will hopefully begin to deliver on that ambition today.
3.10 Cheltenham. Back Knocknanuss at 9/2 or bigger
3.45 Cheltenham. Back Captain Tommy at 8/1 or bigger
Will Hoffmann will be writing regular racing previews on a Friday evening for Betconnect. November will be commission-free on all racing bets for Betconnect Pro members.