Matchbook Ambassador Tom Stanley shares his exclusive thoughts on ante-post fancies for Cheltenham picks out one to back at Kempton, and shares a valuable early lesson from his life in broadcasting..
Pleasure to see Paisley Park give Emma Lavelle her first Grade 1 at the weekend. I’ve long-known Emma and there’s no one more deserving. A warmness to match her determination. Her yard is always open, a yard full of happy, smiling staff. And well-fed staff too. Every winner brings doughnuts the following morning. This winner should ensure Krispy Kreme are kept in business for the entirety of 2019.
It was particularly satisfying to interview Emma after the win at Ascot. My first ever day presenting on course for Racing TV came on a Monday at Kempton back in November 2014. She’d just had a winner. It was two days after one of my favourite horses at the time, Le Bec, had run at Ascot. News had broken whilst we were on air that Le Bec had suffered a career ending and potentially fatal injury. News I wasn’t aware of.
I learnt a valuable lesson that day in running your likely questions by the interviewee before starting. As my questioning turned to Le Bec and his, as I put it, ‘disappointing’ run two days previously, Emma did well to just about hold it together and fight back tears. Awkward doesn’t quite cover it. She had every right to be angry with my green questioning but not a bit of it. That warmth didn’t drop a degree.
So it was a pleasure to interview her again in far more positive circumstances on Saturday. And Emma was quick to praise Andrew Gemmell, owner of Paisley Park. His plan, apparently. He’d been saying “82 days until the Stayers’ Hurdle” all morning. Blind since birth, hooked on racing from the time he first heard pounding hooves, I was struck by how many people said afterwards that they were thrilled for Andy. And then there was jockey Aidan Coleman winning his first Grade 1. This was one for the good guys.
Initial quotes of 14/1 for Cheltenham were probably about right. The two previous winners of the Long Walk didn’t make it round and the second home was a 40/1 shot who was reverting to hurdles after running a well-held fifth in the Ladbrokes Trophy. The third home, Top Notch, was having a sighter over hurdles before returning to a chase campaign and was apparently in need of the run. I was nonetheless very taken with his run and will be of interest in the Ascot Chase, a likely next engagement. A word, too, for Soul Emotion. He went down after the line but initial fears for his life appear to have been allayed. He should fully recover and may well go chasing now and drop back in trip. Obviously he has to prove he can come back from a scary experience but he could turn out the most talented horse in the race. One to watch.
All in all I’d be a little sceptical of the form and not be wading into the Stayer’s Hurdle market just yet.
New boy wows
In some ways, the most impressive performance on Saturday came from unknown quantity, Valtor. A nine-year-old making his UK debut, albeit for a very shrewd team, this was meant to provide a gauge of his Grand National credentials. Well, gauge that! He’s a very talented jumper of a fence and will not have done his National handicap mark any favours at all. That was a performance more in keeping with showing up for the King George on Wednesday.
He may not have age in his side but he does have latent ability and it’ll be interesting to see how he’s campaigned.
Another performance of ante-post price-shifting quality came from Vinndication on Friday. I love this horse. He’s not flash but a bold jumping display, encouraged along by his chief believer and partner David Bass, won him the race. He galloped away in the manner of a horse who will eat up three miles. The RSA seems a likely target and he can be backed at 16.5 on the Matchbook Exchange. That’s more than fair on the face of his win but I’m sceptical again. Not that I don’t think he’s good enough. He is. But he’s never been on a left-handed track on good ground and, knowing Kim Bailey, he’ll not chuck him into a race like the RSA unless everything is right.
This is a horse with a bright future and his trainer will do everything to ensure he gets there.
Finally, in the ante-post movers and shakers department, Angels Breath stirred up the Supreme market, and is now vying for favouritism at 10.0.
This point winner showed some impressive speed and his trainer nominated the Supreme as a likely target. It’s worth pointing out he’s in the same ownership as Al Dancer, who I put up as a bet for the Supreme last week, though we needn’t worry too much at this stage about whether or not both will run. His trainer’s post-race comments, “I have always thought he was special…there is a fair bit of improvement to come” are noteworthy. I’m niggled by the fact he only jumped four hurdles on Friday though due to the omission of the two in the home straight. And Thomas Darby, who had the best bit of form going into the race, was taken out on account of the ground.
I just can’t get excited by the 10.0 based on all that.
There’ll be more eyes ahead to March after this week’s action but, as far as a bet goes, I’ll turn my attention to Boxing Day.
To a race not previewed in this week’s podcast. The Kauto Star Novices’ Chase is a Christmas cracker. The current RSA favourite Santini plus Topofthegame, La Bague Au Roi, The World’s End. This is a belting renewal.
It’s the horse who sits just outside these (as I look at it currently) in the betting who I want to flag up, however. Bags Groove is a lovely jumper of a fence and he does it best when allowed to bowl along in front. I think that will be the case here, for all La Bague Au Roi made all last time out. She’s been seen to be versatile and I fancy Noel Fehily will be the most determined to take them along. Bags Groove doesn’t necessarily interest me beyond Christmas. This is his time. He can put his experience to good use and put others in behind under pressure from the tape.
Santini is a lovely horse, and probably the most talented in this field. Experience can count for plenty in this however. The last horse to win it on his second chase start was Coneygree. The last, least experienced before that was Long Run on his UK debut. This will be a serious test of jumping and the first time Santini will have gone this way around. I like him as an RSA prospect immensely but have reservations her about him here given his current price.
I’m backing Bags to find his groove and jump them ragged!
Each week, Tom hosts the Matchbook Betting Horse Racing Podcast as he is joined by guests such as Rory Delargy, Donn McClean, Sam Turner and Brendan Powell. Subscribe now to the Matchbook Betting Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, or on your preferred Podcast app by searching for ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast’.