Aso to get the season off to a profitable start at Wetherby
Met Éireann will tell you that winter begins in December, but for me, growing up, the first sign that the season was nearly here was my mother making delicious colcannon for dinner.
It's a nice hearty meal and the brother and I particularly looked forward to colcannon at Halloween, as there would be coins wrapped in tin foil stirred into the mix in the pot, so you might win a few bob with your dinner if you were lucky.
I'd say we were the last family in the estate to get a microwave, my father never trusted them, but I eventually won one in a raffle and he relented, and I remember he came home one Halloween night after a rake of pints and heated up his dinner. Unfortunately, there was a coin hidden in the colcannon so the microwave nearly blew up and that was the end of that.
Colcannon was one sign that winter was nearly here, but as I've often said on these pages, these days, another sign of winter is the jumps season kicking properly with the first Grade One of the season at Down Royal and the Grade Two Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
Seven horses go to post for the latter race (3.40) and it's a quality field with last year's winner Definitely Red, two-time Grade One winner La Bague Au Roi, and Welsh Grand National winner Elegant Escape all set to take each other on.
La Bague Au Roi will most likely go off as favourite and that's understandable considering how well the Warren Greatrex-trained mare has taken to fences, winning four of her five races last season. She was beaten by Kalashnikov in her final race of the season at Aintree, but she'll be more effective back at three miles today and is sure to be thereabouts.
It's a very competitive race though, so 9/4 seems a bit skinny. And I'm going to take a chance on one that risks being overlooked, Aso, which was trading at around 5/1 at the time of writing. Trained by Venetia Williams, the nine-year-old won a Grade Three Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in January, and while he subsequently flopped in February's Ascot Chase, he proved he deserves a seat at the top table when second to Frodon last time in the Ryanair Chase Cheltenham.
That was a bit of a shock as he'd gone off at 33/1, but he stayed on really well and traded at near 1/2 in-running. The fact that he's never raced at today's three-mile trip is perhaps the reason he's lukewarm in the betting, but having looked back over his races, I think it will suit him and I'm hoping to catch the bookmakers on the hop at those prices.
He hasn't yet raced this season but that's the case with the rest of the field bar Ballyoptic, and I'm never worried about backing Williams' horses after a break. In fact, her strike-rate with horses which haven't raced in 150 days or more is 13 per cent over the last decade, a good deal higher than average, and had you backed all of them you'd have shown a very healthy profit of 109 points. In other words, she has her team ready to go and it's worth noting that Aso won the Ladbrokes Handicap Chase at Newbury in November following a 397-day absence.
Getting back to Down Royal, I'm quite keen on Clan Des Obeaux at around 2/1 in the Grade One Ladbrokes Champion Chase (2.25), formerly known as the JN Wine Champion Chase.
Trainer Paul Nicholls has the record for the most number of wins in this race - with Taranis, Kauto Star (twice) and Kauto Stone - and it was interesting to read that the 2018 King George winner's regular jockey, Harry Cobden, believes Clan Des Obeaux is around 5lbs better when racing at right-handed courses.
After winning the King George and the Denman Chase, he appeared a little weary in the Gold Cup and the Betway Bowl so I'm going to overlook those performances as he's raced well in the past after a break.
Gordon Elliott's Delta Work will probably be the jolly here and he deserves his place at the top of the market having won the Champion Novices' Chase at Punchestown last time by twelve lengths, but like the Charlie Hall Chase, this is a competitive renewal so the 7/4 on offer is not outstanding value.
Do The Double
Both West Ham and Newcastle have beaten Manchester United this season, and for each side it was the last time they had a win. Otherwise, though, they’ve both been mediocre this term, especially Newcastle who are four points from the bottom with two wins in 10 games.
West Ham have fared slightly better with one extra victory leaving them in 10th place, and I reckon they’ll add to that tally today with a home win priced at 4/5 for the Magpies’ visit to the London Stadium.
Priced around 2/1, Ballyandy should be hard to beat in the Grade Two Bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby (3.05). Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, the eight-year-old wasn’t disgraced when shaking off the cobwebs in the Grade Three Silver Trophy Handicap at Chepstow three weeks ago, and with the ground expected to be on the softer side of good, conditions will be right up his street. Unowhatimeanharry is the biggest danger.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Relentless Dreamer chalked up at as high as 14/1 for the Grade Three Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot (3.20), which is an each-way steal in my opinion. Rebecca Curtis’s gelding comes here with a rating of 137, which gets him in at the very bottom of the weights with an even 10 stone, and that seems quite fair considering he won a handicap at Cheltenham in October off 134. He shaped reasonably well when third to Ballyoptic at Chepstow in a handicap off 1lb higher than today’s rating three weeks ago which should leaved him primed – I had assumed he’d be a single figure price for this.
2.05 Newmarket: Aberama Gold
2.25 Down Royal: Clan Des Obeaux
2.55 Down Royal: Real Steel
3.05 Wetherby: Ballyandy
3.20 Ascot: Relentless Dreamer (e/w)
3.40 Wetherby: Aso