Thursday 6pm Not Sandown’s best quality card but the seven race Fakenham card is well above average supported by the likes of Messrs Nicholls, Henderson and Skelton. The Irish continue to have it in for the British Horseracing authority’s senior handicapper Phil Smith. I have to agree that some of his figures issued seem vindictive. Mind you the difference between English and Irish marks seems protectionist on both sides and don’t even get me started on their French equivalent!
On his regular Ask the Handicapper slot on ATR, head handicapper Phil Smith said: “We spend around an extra 18 hours a week, that’s about three hours a week for each of our six jumps handicappers, to keep [separate] Irish ratings. We do it because we want our handicaps to be as competitive as possible.” He added: “Years and years ago, we used to put them in off their Irish marks and it was tremendously successful for Irish trainers. So it was the English trainers who said that we should keep our own Irish ratings.” To justify his approach, Smith said: “Over the last eight seasons, in all handicaps in Britain, 11 per cent is the Irish strike-rate and ten per cent is the UK strike-rate. I’ve no problem with it being higher, they wouldn’t run one out of the handicap with no chance, for instance, but it’s amazing that we’ve been able to keep it consistent for so long. The Racing Post keeps their own ratings, they’re often different from ours. Timeform are often different from ours. Ireland are different from ours. It doesn’t mean they’re right or they’re wrong. What’s important is that you’re consistent with yourself.”
Friday Lucky 15
Fakenham 2.00 PRINCE OF STEAL 10/1 PP 9/1 general
Sandown 2.10 POUGNE BOBBI 7/4 BetFred 13/8 general
Sandown 2.40 COLINS SISTER 6/5 WH Evs general
Fakenham 3.00 RAKTIMAN 7/2 general
and here’s why
Fakenham 2.00 PRINCE OF STEAL What a curious little race! A five runner C3 2m 5f novice chase at Fakenham! I don’t like the three at the top of the market and I don’t think Bonnets Vino is good enough, although the trainer, Pam Sly, does well here. What’s worse the horse jumps right, not ideal on this tightest of tight left hand tracks, please note James Banks. Zeroshadesofgrey is a huge boat of a horse who needs six miles on a galloping track, just can’t believe they are running him at Fakenham! Omessa Has, Nicky Hendersons mare, was much touted on arrival from France but has shown nothing in three runs in the UK but she was on my radar for a handicap hurdle as I didn’t think Daryl Jacob was trying too hard last time! She was meant to be a chaser but there isn’t a lot of her and this isn’t Auteuil! Mr Mix could be anything over fences. Indeed this French bred son of Al Namix has probably been screaming for a fence but why give him his chasing debut at the very trappy Fakenham. Just don’t trust the horse! Indeed why are Messrs Nicholls and Henderson risking their inmates losing their novice status in March? Most odd. So the plusses for the selection. He won twice around this tight track as a hurdler and made his chasing debut here in a C3 event where he jumped beautifully making all until he ran out of petrol at the second last but was still in contention at the last when squeezed right up by the two in front, had nowhere to go and had an unlucky fall. If James Banks can get him to repeat the dose the fancied horses will have to get it right first time to beat him. Must watch contest.
Sandown 2.10 POUGNE BOBBI If you saw this lad in the paddock you would just know he was trained at Seven Barrows by Nicky Henderson. He is a tall, leggy, athletic, black horse and his trainer doesn’t run them too often within ten days under a penalty but that is negated by the claim of competent stable amateur Mr Hunt. 6yo Pougne Bobbi on just his second chasing start took apart a competitive field in a C3 Novice Handicap at Ludlow recently, making just about every yard, jumping straight and true, hardly touching a twig. Drops three furlongs here but his jumping will be a major plus at Sandown and I expect time to show that he was thrown in here off a mark of OR135.
Sandown 2.40 COLINS SISTER My notes say “useful but not Grade1”. Trainer Fergal O’Brien tells why she is ideally suited to this Grade 2, “We’ve waited a long time for this race. We are very lucky to have an owner and breeder that wants to take their time with her. There are lots of races we could have gone for before this one, but we wanted to keep her against her own sex for now. She did it well at Warwick on her penultimate start and did nothing wrong at Haydock last time. She has been very good so far. It is the right ground and the right trip, we just need a bit of luck on the day. I think the filly gets better the further she goes. In her bumpers last year she was never doing her best work until the end. We are hopeful of another good run.”
Fakenham 3.00 RAKTIMAN I think this is a good bit of placement by team England who send just the one horse from their Pontefract, Yorkshire base to Norfolk, Raktiman rated OR125 carrying top weight in this £8K 0-125 Class 3 2m 5f handicap chase. Raktiman ran his best race of the current campaign when a solid second to Templehills here just before Christmas and the winner has since won a C2 contest at Warwick and is rated a stone higher! The two market rivals in a tight betting heat are a Nicky Henderson nag that hasn’t run in close on two years and an Ian Williams bottom weight who is still an 8yo maiden after five runs in PtP’s and five under rules.
Thursday Lucky 15
What a bummer! Three seconds and a non-runner!
Kelso 1.55 SPANISH FLEET 2nd 10/3
Kelso 2.25 ONE FOR HARRY 2nd 5/1
Kelso 4.40 SOME REIGN 2nd 3/1
Leicester 3.45 WINNER MASSAGOT Non Runner
sportinglife.com Greatrex targets Festival glory February 16 2017, 12:55 GMT
Greatrex took out a licence in 2009 as a salaried trainer to Malcolm Denmark and, after relinquishing the role and moving to the famous Uplands training facility in 2012, where the great Fred Winter was based for many years, his career has gone from strength to strength. Cole Harden’s triumph was the highlight of an excellent season for the Lambourn handler, which ended with 51 winners and well over half a million pounds in win and place prize money. “Cole Harden winning the Stayers’ Hurdle was a fantastic day,” recalled Greatrex. “The horse had been prepared in tip top shape and we knew we had him in great form. Did I think he was going to win? No, but I definitely thought he could run a big race. “It was unreal watching it. Everything went like clockwork. You found yourself counting down the hurdles as he went along and it was becoming more and more real that he was going to win it. From when you start training, these are the sort of races you want to be winning. Everyone knows Cheltenham is our biggest meeting of the season, there are only so many races to be won, and we won one of the big four. To do that you definitely get looked at differently at by your peers because you are suddenly in the big league. There is more pressure afterwards because you are expected to do it year on year, but it proves to everyone out there that you can do it on the big stage. Cole Harden was a well-beaten fourth behind Thistlecrack in last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle but has produced two promising displays over hurdles at Cheltenham this season. The eight-year-old was third in the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day before finishing second to Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle favourite Unowhatimeanharry in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle on Festival Trials Day. “Judged on his last two performances, it looks like Cole Harden is on the way back,” said Greatrex. “The Cleeve Hurdle was basically his best run since he won the Stayers’ Hurdle and that was on ground that he doesn’t enjoy. He was suffering from a knee injury last year. He was finding it hard and I think it was getting him down. This season, he seems to have a new lease of life and his work has been brilliant. We haven’t had any hold ups at the moment and touch wood it all goes to plan between now and then because seems in as good a form as when he won it. I have got the utmost respect for the favourite Unowhatimeanharry. He looks very solid and is definitely the one to beat. If the ground came up good, he might be a bit more vulnerable than on softer ground, whereas we are the other way round. I don’t know what the Irish are bringing over but, after that run in the Cleeve, in my view we are the second best of the British runners. We know if we can get him there in top form he is capable of running a very big race.”
Greatrex’s Cheltenham contenders also include La Bague Au Roi, who was won six of her seven careers starts and is the leading British-trained hope for the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, Weatherbys Champion Bumper fancy Western Ryder and Keeper Hill, winner of the Listed Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon on February 9.
“La Bague Au Roi is doing really well,” reported the trainer. “We are really excited by her. She is going to Cheltenham with a leading chance and should run a huge race. She obviously won her three hurdles early on, then had a winter break and has been back for a few weeks now. She looks really, really well and has started doing some easier pieces of work. She has only disappointed me once and that was at Aintree last season when I am adamant she wasn’t right. Apart from that, she has looked extremely good and her hurdling has improved with each run. She beat some good yardsticks at Newbury on her last start – the second horse [Dusky Legend] was second to Limini at Cheltenham last year. She has been leading in her races but I don’t think she needs to and I actually think she might be better with a lead. We have been making the running because the field have been small and we didn’t want a falsely run race.
Western Ryder will go for the Champion Bumper, all being well. Like anything, I was gutted he got beat at Newbury but to give 21lb away to a horse that Nicky Henderson thinks the world of is a huge run. I think he will improve off the back of that, especially for a fast-run race on better ground. I think good ground and the whole atmosphere at Cheltenham will bring this horse alive. You would have to say he is one of the leading British hopes.
I am not totally sure what we are going to do with Keeper Hill. There is a chance he might go to Aintree instead. Nothing is set in stone at the moment and he will be left in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the next stage. He has come out of Huntingdon in great form. He didn’t do anything right and still managed to win, which is obviously the sign of a good horse, but it just depends whether or not he is ready for Cheltenham this year. He has got a huge career in front of him and I think he is a very good horse, but we have to go to mind him.
Missed Approach could be interesting if the ground came up on the soft side. It just comes down to whether I run him in the National Hunt Chase or the Kim Muir. He was well below his best in the Towton last time. We missed the first and he was on the back foot from there. It was chalk and cheese compared to his win at Lingfield before that.”