Shorter trip to reveal L'Ami's fighting spirit
In a custom going back centuries, all petitions in the House of Commons which had a favourable outcome were placed in a large velvet bag, which still hangs behind the Speaker's chair. So when newspaper reporters were discussing a successful petition, they would often say it was 'in the bag' meaning it was effectively a done deal.
The Americans also lay claim to that phrase, and it seems that the now defunct New York Giants baseball team had a tradition whereby a bag of baseballs would be carried off the field at a certain point of the game if they were winning.
I think I'll go with the English on the etymology here but regardless of the phrase's origins, bookmakers have priced up the Clarence House Chase (3.0 Ascot) as if Un De Sceaux already has it in the bag with general odds of 4/7 available about Willie Mullins' nine-year-old. However, the meeting must pass an inspection at 6.30 this morning and at the time of writing that seems quite unlikely due to frost.
If it somehow does manage to survive, we have an interesting rematch in store with Un De Sceaux and Ar Mad, first and fourth respectively in the Tingle Creek last time at Sandown.
Forced into a battle with Sire De Grugy, it was a cracking race for Un De Sceaux in which the cream rose to the top - although Ar Mad wasn't disgraced after ten months off, and was rallying on the run-in.
Looking a little rusty, Gary Moore's gelding made a couple of mistakes when jumping, but should go a bit closer today priced around 13/8.
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Still though, with 6lbs in hand on official ratings on 169, it's hard to see Un De Sceaux getting turned over. At the prices, it's a race best watched without a bet.
Top Gamble has won a couple of Grade Twos and looks the best of the remaining four outsiders. Kerry Lee's charge ran very well in a handicap at Cheltenham last time and can pick up some money if Un De Sceaux or Ar Mad somehow fluff their lines although early odds of 12/1 are a fair reflection of his chances.
But it's Haydock which will determine whether I'm having champagne or a simple pint of plain tonight in the local in Ballybrack, where my dear mother will celebrate her 70th birthday.
L'Ami Serge will carry my biggest bet of the day around 6/4 in the Grade Two Stanjames.com Champion Hurdle Trial Hurdle (2.40).
Nicky Henderson's seven-year-old won a couple of novice chases last term, but connections are still trying to decide what direction to go with the horse after a decent second place to Agrapart in the Relkeel at Cheltenham.
Having hit 1/2 in-running, the tank appeared to empty up the hill but Haydock might suit a little better. Some questions have been raised about his appetite for battle, and he's now traded odds-on in-running without winning in five races straight at this stage.
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But the drop back in trip will almost certainly help and I think he'll get the better of The New One, which is looking for a hat-trick of wins in this particular race. Nicky Henderson's nine-year-old cost me a fair bit of money when second to Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle last time and I'm starting to wonder if he can be trusted.
His trainer said he's in good form but is quite concerned that he's to give weight away, and this renewal is probably a little better than the two he has won.
Fighting Fifth winner Irving is also worth a mention and connections are hoping for more rain which suits his style. He was a bit lazy in that race however, and somehow managed to get away with a couple of errors which would cause him trouble this afternoon also carrying 8lbs more than the selection.
As mentioned, Ascot is unlikely to go ahead but of all the outsiders today, Minstrels Gallery catches the eye around 33/1 each-way in the Grade Three Keltbray Holloway's Handicap Hurdle (2.25), so I thought it worth a mention just in case.
Lucy Wadham's gelding landed a couple of gambles on the all-weather last spring but returned to hurdles in November when third in a handicap off 128 at Market Rasen. In his latest outing, he was fourth of six at Doncaster in a similar contest off the same mark - but the winner had the run of the race and I'm not going to look too deeply into that piece of form.
Getting back to Haydock, Politologue is likely to go off as favourite in the Grade Two Star Sports Cheltenham Preview Evening Novices' Chase (1.30) but seems a little short in the betting to me around 13/8.
Paul Nicholls' grey made all in a novices' chase at Ascot last month in what appeared to be a stylish win - although the opposition was not very strong so I'm not getting too excited until I see more.
Priced in the region of 9/2, Waiting Patiently gets the nod instead. Malcolm Jefferson admits he's unlikely to be a Cheltenham horse but he has ability and is especially suited to the softer ground.
He was quite useful over hurdles but has now won a couple of novice chases with plenty in hand and perhaps his trainer risks playing down his talent a little here.
We'll know more after today, but he did beat Brian Ellison's Forest Bihan last time out and the form has been franked somewhat with Forest Bihan since winning a novice chase at Newcastle, albeit a three-runner race.
Dan Skelton's Its'afreebee looks the best of the rest, having beaten 2015 World Hurdle winner Cole Harden in a novices' chase at Wetherby last month.
A good case could be made for almost half the field in the Grade Two Peter Marsh Handicap Chase (3.15 Haydock) but a price of 14/1 or thereabouts for Bishops Road seems more than fair.
Kerry Lee's gelding was below form in the Welsh National at Chepstow last time but the handicapper has knocked 6lbs off his rating since. This proved stayer was reported to be sore afterwards but remains on course for the Aintree Grand National.
1.30 Haydock: Waiting Patiently
1.50 Ascot: Kotkikova
2.05 Haydock: Elgin
2.25 Ascot: Minstrels Gallery (e/w)
2.40 Haydock: L'Ami Serge
3.15 Haydock: Bishops Road (e/w)
Do the double
Middlesbrough have only scored 17 goals this season which is the lowest of any team. They are couple of places above the relegation zone but the bookmakers have them at 5/1 to go down and they're not out of the clear yet. Buoyed by a recent win over Palace, Slaven Bilic and his West Ham side come to town today and look good value to get one over Boro at 11/5.
Trained by Alan King, Elgin can boost his Supreme Novices' Hurdle credentials by winning the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle this afternoon at Haydock (2.05). He beat Dan Skelton's Mohaayed, which re-opposes today, in a novice race at Kempton over the Christmas - although he's now got a 7lb penalty to contend with so it won't be a stroll in the park. Early odds of 7/4 look about right.
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