epsom racecourse1

Handling soft ground can prove Vital at Epsom


I always say that the flat season is very much under starters orders at the time of Epsom’s City and Suburban Handicap and we have a fine card from the Derby venue today.

Recent rainfall along with the forecast for more showers ought to point us in the direction of soft ground specialists today and with that in mind Vital Evidence might be the one to be with in the Great Metropolitan Handicap at 2.20. After a few disappointing efforts last season , Sir Michael Stoute’s gelding served notice that testing conditions are very much his forte when he romped home on heavy ground at Windsor last October winning in the manner of a horse who was making up for lost time. On his seasonal debut a couple of weeks ago in the Roseberry at Kempton he was not disgraced running fifth behind a few all-weather specialists who had been in good form over the winter and spring on the artificial surface. That run should have blown the cobwebs away and he is likely to be more at home under today’s conditions.

Moving on, the City and Suburban Handicap is always a cracking contest with this year being no exception.I have a feeling there might be more to com from the likes of Soviet Rock, but I will give the nod to his namesake Rock Choir who appeals as the type who could prove better than her current rating of 94 now that she is a four-year old. In fairness William Haggas filly did not entirely convince last year but she kept good company running in listed races on three occasions. A full sister to Chorist, she comes from a family that progress very well given time and connections often remarked last year that we would not see the best of her until she developed further. Improvement is anticipated this year and she could start her season off well today with hopefully conditions not posing any problems given that she is a daughter of renowned soft ground sire Pivotal.

Finally Chatez might be worth a look in the concluding three-year old handicap.This son of Dandy Man and half-brother to Ghizao shaped respectable as a two-year old winning at Newbury on soft ground on his final start, a performance that was notable for him proving quite strong at the finish despite pulling off a slow pace in the early stages. The form got a nice boost when the runner-up Occupational ran well in decent company at HQ last week and an opening mark of 78 looks exploitable for Chatez.

Epsom 2.20: 1 pt ew VITAL EVIDENCE (15-2, Bet Victor)

Epsom 3.25: 1 pt win ROCK CHOIR (5-1, General)

Epsom 4.35: 1 pt win CHATEZ (5-1, General)

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 Handling soft ground can prove Vital at Epsom


Mark Walford

Pulling a few strings for a Bank Holiday winner

We have the usual vast quantity of meetings to choose from on a Bank Holiday, but everything revolves around the Irish National at Fairyhouse today and with the inevitable big field, I have two selections against the field here.  In addition I have a single selection from Britain with a small but select field for a handicap hurdle at Market Rasen the highlight.

Market Rasen 4.05: KING OF STRINGS (4-1 general)

Mark Walford took some time to get on the board having taken over the license from his father Tim in the winter, but things have come right spectacularly in April with four winners and King of Strings can add to that tally having run a most eyecatching race at Kelso last time out.

His ability to handle this rather tricky, sharp circuit is already proven as he won a bumper on debut here last season, despite getting hampered late on.  He made his hurdling debut at Kelso in December, keeping on nicely to be second in a big field of novices.

He was made favourite on the back of that effort for a similar contest at Musselburgh, but rather faded into fourth late on at a time when the yard was not at its peak.  However the way he travelled for the most part of his handicap debut at Kelso over 2m2f last time suggested he is much better than a 108 rated horse.  The fact he faded late on is a concern, but it could be that he needs firmer ground as such a good mover, and he gets the opportunity today to prove that theory correct.  Receiving heaps of weight from all his rivals today, he can use his natural pace to maximum effect, especially around this sharp circuit.

Fairyhouse 5.00: GOONYELLA (each-way 14-1 general) and DARING ARTICLE (each-way 16-1 general)

JP McManus is going all out for victory in this year’s Irish National with no less than six runners in the line up – however I have two rivals who look better placed for victory today and will take those two against the field.

Goonyella was one of the leading fancies for last year’s renewal only to pull up with a slipped saddle in the early stages.  He emphasised what a well handicapped horse he was at the time by winning the staying handicap at the Punchestown Festival later in the month, and his current season has been mapped around a National challenge this year.  Sent over to Chepstow for the Welsh version at Christmas, he endured a nightmare trip during the bad weather at the time so his eighth place on the day is safely ignored.  He has had just the one race since a Grade 3 novice hurdle at Clonmel where he performed way above expectations by chasing home subsequent Cheltenham winner Don Poli.  He could not be clobbered by the handicapper for a run over hurdles so still gets a nice weight today.  A pound lower than when fifth in the Troytown at Navan in November, the rain yesterday will have done no harm to the cause to bring his limitless stamina more into play.

Daring Article appears to have the right mix of experience without getting too exposed, and on the evidence of his form, the better ground should bring out the best in him.  He struggled in his novice season on very bad ground in the winter, making himself extremely well handicapped.  Having shown up better when fifth on the novice handicap on this card twelve months ago, he finished his season with a win over 3m at Punchestown on yielding going, beating a good yardstick in Stonemaster.  A first time tongue-strap helped too and he followed up first time out over 2m6f at the same track in December before the worst of the winter rain set in.  Given his preference for good ground he ran two fine races at Leopardstown this spring on softer ground than ideal, so despite climbing the weights, the step back up in trip on firmer going will suit ideally.

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 Pulling a few strings for a Bank Holiday winner

JP McManus

Please Talk to me at Fairyhouse


One of the traditional highlights of the Irish Racing Calender, Easter Monday at Fairyhouse and the Irish Grand National. A few selections from the card including two who carry the colours of the legendary owner JP McManus (pictured).

Given that most firms are going each-way five places on the main event, that can allow us a few cracks against the 30 thirty strong field. McManus saddles six in the line-up and top of my list has to be the durable Cause of Causes. This hardy bugger was a top class handicapper over hurdles and while he has yet to reach the same heights over fences the indication are that he is learning all the time and despite creeping up the weights with every run his new mark of 146 should remain within his compass.Gordon Elliot’s charge was slow at his fencing initially this season but put in a pretty fluent round in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham up until the final fence where a right horlicks of a mistake cost him victory against the Jim Culloty-trained Spring Heeled. Nonetheless that was a commendable performance pulling 19 lengths clear of the chasing pack and the indications are that another half mile will not prove any barrier for him today. Although effective on deep ground, it is fair to say he improved for quicker ground at Cheltenham and today’s conditions should be perfect for him. I backed him in both the Paddy Power at Leopardstown and the Kim Muir at Cheltenham and I felt he was very unlucky not to win both races. Perhaps he will gain his deserved hour in the sun today.

Heading list of dangers is last years third Home Farm. Arthur Moore’s charge deserves plenty of credit for that effort given his limited experience and tender age for a race of this nature last season. Moore has given him what I would call a classic “old school” Irish preparation for the race, not having him fully wound up all year and running below his best certainly in his last two races. I expect the gloves to be off today and this fellow will be primed for a massive effort. He remains feasibly handicapped and will mount a bold bid.

Finally deserving consideration is Daring Article. The drying round is a big plus for this horse and he has always shaped as if a strong test of stamina would be right up his street. His penultimate effort behind Hellberemembered at Leopardstown was very good and the extra mile today will be a big boost to his chances. If he does not get too far back when the tempo increases, he will be a big threat to all finishing strongly in the closing stages.

Elsewhere on the card, I have a particular liking for Please Talk in the handicap chase at 6.00 sponsored by Bill Cullen Motors. This horse is undoubtedly a well handicapped customer on the basis of a cracking effort at Leopardstown last season where he finished only just behind no less than Spring Heeled and Pineau De Re. Following an absence he returned with a satisfactory effort at Nass in March although I fail to understand why Noel Meade gave him another hard race on heavy ground at this venue a few weeks later. Carberry sensibly pulled him up on that occasion and provided those races have not left their mark, this horse could fulfil his potential under his optimum conditions today.

Earlier on the card, Under The Boardwalk appeals as having fair prospects in the 2M 6 F handicap Hurdle. A fair sort under both codes he will appreciate the drying ground and caught the eye in a Leopardstown chase back in January behind Helberemembered. Tony Martin’s charge has plenty of hurdling form also and the booking of Paul Townend suggests connections mean business.

I was bitterly disappointed with Seafood at Aintree where he dropped out literally like a light showing no fight whatsoever. However it might be too soon to write him off just yet and he may prove a more formidable force back on home soli. A repeat of his Leopardstown second to Courage would give him a squeak and he may benefit from the change back to a visor today having sported blinkers on both of his UK ventures.


Fairyhouse 3.45: 1.5 pts win UNDER THE BOARDWALK (6-1,Paddy Power); 0.75 pts ew SEAFOOD (12-1, Paddy Power)

Fairyhouse 5.00: 2 pts ew CAUSE OF CAUSES (14-1, General) ; 1.5 pt ew HOME FARM (12-1, General) ; 1pt ew DARING ARTICLE (16-1, General)

Fairyhouse 6.05: 2.5 pts ew PLEASE TALK (10-1, Paddy Power)

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 Please Talk to me at Fairyhouse

Art of Payroll

Looking to boost our Payroll at Fairyhouse


Some fine competitive racing on offer at Fairyhouse today for Easter Sunday and plenty of tough handicaps for us to sink our teeth into. I am the type of punter who is always looking for horses who are potential blots on the handicap and one such candidate is Blue Hell in the second race on the card, The 2 Mile Gleeson Butchers Handicap Hurdle. Tony Mullins charge has plenty to prove both in terms of handicap experience  and the formbook. We are going on stable whispers which is a dangerous game, but rumour has it this horse was well fancied for the Fred Winter at Cheltenham, but did not have a high enough handicap mark to gain a berth in that contest. Rated 119 on the basis of one hurdles outing in Ireland, the perception is that the son of Russian Blue has plenty more to offer and is potentially better than that rating. A former dual winner in the French provinces, it is hard to gauge the value of his debut effort at Fairyhouse in February but it has to be viewed more positively than negatively in view of the fact that it was a Grade Two contest. He moved quite pleasingly for the majority of the race before emptying in the home straight but left the impression progress could be anticipated.  Only a four-year old,he lacks the experience for a hurly burly handicap and is facing older opposition, but whether foolishly or otherwise, I cannot resist going for him.

A fascinating event , the Boyle Sports Handicap Hurdle follows at 3.40 with a field of top class handicap hurdlers going to post. The one I like is Art of Payroll (pictured with trainer Dessie Hughes) who created a taking impression on his penultimate start at Leopardstown and is probably a good deal better than his finishing place suggested in a competitive Aintree Novices event last time. A mark of ten pounds above his Leopardstown mark looks fair and he probably does not face anything near as good as Josses Hill and Sergeant Reckless who sprinted away from him at Aintree, after he was slightly impeded in some scrimmaging in the home straight. Carberry was not hard on him at Aintrre when the winning chance was gone and that patience could be rewarded today. I would be more confident if he had the services of the great Carberry again but hopefully Mark Enright can prove an able replacement and he appeals to me as the type who could loom up on the bridle and go very close in this type of race.

Likely dangers include Ally Cascade and also Sailors Warn who was a big eye-catcher over 7 furlongs at Leopardstown at the end of March. Sailors is one of those horses who seems to have been around for ever, but remarkably he is still only seven years old. Written of by veterinary surgeons two years ago, it is a great achievement for connections that he appears back close to his best again in the last couple of months. Well handicapped on his old handicap form, he could be ready for a big run today.

The 3Mile handicap at 4.10 is one of the most difficult races you are ever likely to see with a case to be made for several in the line up. I have a feeling that Noel Meade will visit the winners enclosure possibly on a couple of occasions today and with that in mind perhaps his Wounded Warrior is worth a small interest. A smart bumper horse he appeals a fairly treated off a mark of 130 and is probably the best horse in the race, whether he is forward enough to win today or not.

Across the water, Dildar might be worth a second glance in the 2 Mile handicap hurdle. A good third at Ascot last November, Paul Nicholls has avoided soft ground over the winter and that patience might be rewarded today.

Fairyhouse: 3.10: 2 pts win BLUE HELL (9-2, Ladbrokes)

Fairyhouse 3.40: 2 pts ew ART OF PAYROLL (8-1, General); 1 pt win SAILORS WARN (9-1, Sporting Bet)

Fairyhouse 4.10: 0.5 pts win WOUNDED WARRIOR (15-2, Bet Victor)

Plumpton 3.55: 1 pt win DILDAR (9-2, Ladbrokes)

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 Looking to boost our Payroll at Fairyhouse

Charlie Longsdon

Green for go at Towcester

Three meetings to choose from in Britain but with Musselburgh having moved most of their best races from the usual card on Easter Sunday to their Good Friday meeting, the highlight being the second running of the Sussex Champion Hurdle at Plumpton

Towcester 3.45: GREEN BANK (7-2 general)

We have a selection of rogues or ageing chasers for this staying handicap at Towcester and I am hoping that the younger legs of Green Bank will be fastest of a slow bunch today.

He came into his own last summer winning back to back races at Southwell over fences and then Market Rasen over hurdles.  On both occasions he raced prominently and does seem best when allowed to lead.  Looking at the profile of the horses in this race he looks the only likely pacesetter so could easily be allowed his own way in front.

His form tailed off in the autumn, but he was given a nice winter break by Charlie Longsdon and put in a much stronger effort at Chepstow on his return a couple of weeks ago when third to Master Neo despite racing on genuinely soft ground for the first time since coming over from Ireland.  The ground will be much drier today and that will be of great assistance to the selection who could take some passing if getting into a decent rhythm up front.

Plumpton 3.55: DILDAR (9-2 SportingBet)

It is fair to say that big money purchase Dildar has not exactly set the world alight over hurdles since joining the Paul Nicholls team from a solid flat career with Alain de Royer-Dupre in France, but the 6yo has still shown a decent level of form and might be maturing into the type of horse that is well capable of competing at least at this high level of handicap category.

He was good enough to finish fourth in a Group 2 at Saint-Cloud in 2011 – the race that Pour Moi used as his prep before a winning raid on the Epsom Derby the following month.  He raced only once more in France (second at listed level) before being purchased to join Nicholls.  Although he did win on debut at Taunton, his jumping was a major issue that season as he was already beaten when getting rid of Ruby Walsh late on at Kempton, and then made a series of errors when only third at Ayr.

He has been lightly raced since, competing only twice last season, starting with a promising second over Christmas at Kempton before being found out by heavy ground at Cheltenham the following month.  His one outing this term was a fine effort to be third to Pine Creek at Ascot in November whilst the ground was still decent.  Presumably he had met with another setback since, but he has a fine record fresh and seems best on good ground, so the lack of a recent outing need not be a concern.


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 Green for go at Towcester