'Obeaux' to hit high notes for Scilly success
Last weekend was bittersweet for this column, having tipped up Many Clouds in the Cotswold Chase. The word valiant comes from Latin, and means to have worth or to be strong - and Many Clouds certainly put in a valiant effort when beating Thistlecrack in what turned out to be one of the most epic battles we've seen in Cheltenham in quite some time.
To be honest, I was fully expecting Thistlecrack to win and that's why I suggested backing Many Clouds each-way which was still a fantastic bet at 8/1. As they battled up the hill, Thistlecrack pulled out in front and that was the cue for the in-running punters to try to buy some money, backing him right down to 1/50.
But somehow, a gallant fightback from Many Clouds ensued, and the ten-year-old put in a career best to beat the 4/9 favourite by a head.
Of course, we all know what happened next - Many Clouds collapsed and died shortly afterwards. The later post-mortem revealed that the 2015 Grand National winner suffered pulmonary haemorrhage, and it was not in any way related to the ataxia (loss of coordination of the muscles) he'd shown in the past.
As expected, some animal rights groups used the incident to claim that horse racing is cruel but the truth is, these incidents are very rare and it can happen outside of racing too when horses exert themselves.
Having owned a leg or two in some horses down through the years, I can confirm that they are generally treated like kings by most trainers and naturally enjoy running and jumping, albeit with some risk involved.
Put it this way, I had no health insurance for myself when I owned my first horse but I certainly had it in place for him. So to suggest that those involved in the sport have no regard for animal welfare is severely misguided - but I suppose that's an argument for another day.
I thought that ITV handled the situation quite well and trainer Oliver Sherwood's interview was raw, emotional and very moving. Despite the tragic incident, the racing world keeps turning and so too do the markets, with Thistlecrack eased a great deal in the Gold Cup betting from 8/13 out to 7/4. It hammers home the point I made last week about ante-post betting and how, these days, you are often better off waiting until the day of the race to place your bet. Anything can happen - even with the so-called certainties.
Getting back to today, the feature race is the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices' Chase (2.25 Sandown) and as usual, we have a small field with just five runners. I hope readers will forgive my lack of originality here but favourite Clan Des Obeaux ticks the right boxes for me priced around 7/4, in what's been a good race for the jolly recently with eight of the last ten successful.
Part-owned by former United boss Alex Ferguson, the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding was beaten into second in a Cheltenham Grade Two novice chase on New Year's Day at 10/11 by Nicky Henderson's Whisper, but it was simply one jumping mistake two fences out which cost him the race so he's worth another chance.
His previous win in a similar race in November suggested he's got plenty of potential as a chaser and his most likely target is the JLT Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, all going well today.
With three wins in a row, Henderson's Top Notch looks the best of the rest at 9/4 or thereabouts. Priced 1/8, 2/5 and 4/5 in those three races respectively, I'm not quite sure we have learned a huge amount about him just yet, and the latest win at Ascot was hard to assess due to the fog.
Very talented over timber, connections have entered the six-year-old in the Champion Hurdle as a back-up in case today's chasing test doesn't go to plan, but fingers crossed we'll have a good race with both Baron Alco and Le Prezien also in with a shout.
Shortly afterwards on the same card, Lord Of The Island is tipped around 10/1 in the Grade Three Betfred Mobile Heroes Handicap Hurdle (3.0) for Fergal O'Brien under William Twiston-Davies.
Third to Modus in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton last time out off the same mark of 129, the yard is having a good season and I suspect he may be a pound or two ahead of the handicapper.
Rolling Dylan will probably go off as favourite and that's no surprise considering Philip Hobbs' gelding has won or placed in all seven races to date.
But he's up 8lbs for his second place to Shantou in a handicap hurdle at Chepstow in December which seems harsh, and I've a feeling he'll struggle with that extra weight in the final half-furlong or so.
Back home at Fairyhouse, Jessica Harrington's Forge Meadow catches the eye in the Grade Three Coolmore Soldier Of Fortune Mares Novice Hurdle (2.50).
Successful in a bumper last year, she made a few mistakes but got the job done in a mares' novice hurdle at Wexford, beating John Kiely's Toe The Line into second. That horse has since gone on to win a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown and the selection looks one to follow for now.
She was fifth in the Royal Bond Novices' Hurdle at Fairyhouse last time but was out of her depth in Grade One company, and yesterday's odds of 8/1 seem generous. Willie Mullins' Asthuria is the early market leader but bookmakers are taking no chances at 11/10.
The Paul Henderson-trained Turban slips in nicely at the bottom of the weights for the Betfred Masters Handicap Chase (3.35 Sandown) and with eight runners set to go to post, I'm quite surprised to see him chalked up as high as 33/1 in the early markets.
Rated 133, the fact that he was pulled up in three of his last five races is probably scaring people off, but he wasn't disgraced when fourth of ten runners in a handicap chase at Kempton last month off a mark of 140 - which was clearly too high.
Formerly trained by Willie Mullins, he hasn't won a race in almost a year but a first-time hood seemed to help at Kempton. As the yard learn more about him, he may have a small bit of room for improvement off this rating.
2.25 Sandown: Clan Des Obeaux
2.45 Wetherby: Calett Mad
2.50 Fairyhouse: Forge Meadow
3.0 Sandown: Lord Of The Island
3.05 Lingfield: Decorated Knight
3.35 Sandown: Turban (e/w)
Do the double
Soccer: José Mourinho will bring his Manchester United side to Leicester tomorrow and the 7/10 about a Red Devils win looks about right. Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes side are not out of the clear when it comes to relegation, and bookmakers have them priced around 9/2 to go down. United look out of the running for the league but are 6/4 for a top-four finish.
Racing: The Marco Botti-trained Grendisar has won the Listed Betway Winter Derby Trial Stakes (3.05) for the last two years, and is sure to prove popular in the betting again today – but preference is for Roger Charlton’s Decorated Knight, under jockey Andrea Atzeni. A Group Three winner at Leopardstown last summer, the five-year-old is away from the track for 205 days which is a concern – but he has the form in the book to take this, and 5/2 seems fair.