All posts by Sean Trivass

Cheltenham Preview 2020: Colin Tizzard

Sean Trivass is a freelance sports writer and member of the HBF (Horseracing Bettors Forum) and would like to thank both Racenews and the various trainers and their staff for their help in producing these recent articles.

If you’ve enjoyed the articles, could you please take a couple of minutes to fill out this official HBF survey. Thank you.

I always thought the purpose of these pre-Cheltenham trips to the bigger National Hunt yards was to clear the murky waters and make everything crystal ahead of the very best racing on offer all season, but sadly that is rarely the case.

No sooner have I marked your card with a Henderson hotpot than Paul Nicholls tells me he has one who can beat it, and Monday’s visit to the Colin Tizzard yard possibly left me with more questions than answers as well.

First things first and Colin himself was unavailable (it was the same day as Robert Alner’s memorial service), so we were warmly greeted by ex-jockey and Colin’s son and assistant Joe, who is as informative and fun as his father, though perhaps not quite as dry witted.

Despite the recent weather we all made it through the twisting country lanes to arrive at the yard on time to be greeted by a cup of coffee (thank you and much needed), as well as a smile from the staff and others in the yard. With a stable to run we didn’t stand on ceremony for too long and the horses began to be wheeled out, generally one at a time, to discuss their wellbeing, form, and Cheltenham targets, all the while trying to read between the lines as to who was strongly fancied and equally importantly, who wasn’t.

Possibly to avoid any owner politics or shows of favouritism they came out in Cheltenham race order which meant we were introduced to Fidderlontheroof first, who certainly seems the apple of Joe’s eye. Tactically flexible, he has won his last two starts, making all in the first and coming from off the pace in the second, both at Sandown, with Joe saying:

Fiddlerontheroof has been in outstanding form this season and he has been kept fresh for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle ever since Sandown. I don’t mind if the ground is testing for him, a bit of rain this week will suit him as he handles soft ground really well. He will definitely want a bit of cut, he is a big, strong boy who can handle the softer ground.

“He is just a lovely, big horse. His form has been good, his coat has come right and he is going to be our only horse in the Supreme as Master Debonair will go straight to Aintree.”

Later on Joe confirmed he saw the six-year-old as their best chance at the meeting and, although he has to take on the likes of Shishkin and Asterion Forlonge to name but two, there was no hiding his bubbly confidence which is enough to tempt me in to opening the wallet at a best price of 8/1 for the Supreme on day one, though be warned, they seem to think he will be even better over fences in the long term.

With a price tag of 360,000 Euros The Big Breakaway had to be well above average to live up to the hype but in this case, money really does talk, and the son of Getaway remains unbeaten after a Quakerstown point to point win in Ireland and victories over hurdles at Chepstow and Newbury. Body language suggested he was very close to being the stable number one pick barring a slight lack of experience ahead of the Ballymore Hurdle.

He worked well at Larkhill the other day (the best ground in the country at present according to Joe), with his coat looking a picture though apparently, he hasn’t been clipped, he has just kept a gorgeous coat all winter.  Described as a “…a very very talented horse” who “jumps for fun” he looked a chaser in the making to me but as Robbie Power (jockey) seems very keen on him over hurdles too, who am I to argue?   

With Joe telling us all he had by far their best team of novices ever this year (keep an eye on both Harry Senior and Lieutenant Rocco in the Albert Bartlett, though apparently there is nothing between the pair), they could be in for a good four days, but there are others to mention including Gold Cup hope Lostintranslation who I know has a legion of fans. With Native River recuperating in his box before a return next season, it falls on the eight-year-old to represent the stable in the Blue Riband event on Friday, but they seem happy with his wellbeing and expect a decent showing.

With our voice recorders whirring away Joe told is that:

“The season was going perfectly after Haydock but the wheels fell off a bit at Kempton” (where he was pulled up).

“I can’t say that we actually found a specific reason for it, but we have tweaked his wind and he has had a soft-palate operation since. I think perhaps he had a harder race at Haydock than we thought – it was only three and a bit weeks before Kempton and perhaps it left its toll on him a little bit”

If you’re tempted to back him just be aware that he does prefer the better ground and I will be holding fire on my bets (if any) until race day, where a bit of good to soft may well see him getting competitive in a wide open field.

Moving on to those who are not yet household names to round things off, and I have reduced the list to a workable one of each way possibilities…

Highest Sun remains in the RSA Chase but that also looks the target of Copperhead who has every chance and is yet another to consider, leaving the Marsh Novices’ Chase as a more likely target for the former. The general thought was that the drop back in trip could suit after a poor effort at Newbury over further and he should go well and has an each way chance, though nothing more than that by the sound of it.   

Two livewires to mention to round things off and how about Lamanver Pippin in the National Hunt Chase that rounds off day one for starters? Will Biddick has been booked to ride which is a positive and as he worked well at Larkhill recently and was described as “not fully exposed” I see that as a signal that they think he has a decent enough chance.

Lastly, and who knows if this may be the only winner (or trail home stone cold last), I got the feeling that Beaufort West could ruffle a few feathers if he gets into the Martin Pipe that rounds off the whole meeting. He is also entered in the County Hurdle and could go well there as well, but I just sensed they hoped to get him in off a featherweight in the finale and that they still feel he is a step ahead of the handicapper – enjoy if that is the case.  

Cheltenham Preview 2020: The Handicaps

Time to talk all things Cheltenham once again and last Wednesday saw the annual ‘meet the handicappers’ shindig at Cheltenham racecourse where a pleasantly surprising number of trainers turned up to give us their views on their prospects for the four days that make up the Cheltenham Festival.

Oli Bell hosted on our behalf but (in my worthless opinion) was, on occasion, a little too leading with his questions (is that in vogue or something, they all seem to be at it lately?), so I have been particularly picky with those horses I have decided to pass on to you, with one per trainer perhaps the easiest way forward.

Philip Hobbs: Defi Du Seuil is one of his more obvious chances but even his trainer suggested the Ryanair would have been easier than the Champion Chase and we may be better off looking elsewhere. Jatiluwih should go well in the Pertemps Final and is worthy of each-way consideration, but Deise Aba came over as the one he liked the look of most, and he will be carrying my money in the Kim Muir on the Thursday at the current odds of 12/1.

Nigel Twiston-Davies:  As positive as always, Nigel feels Cogry can go well in his chosen engagement, while Ballyandy has form that makes him overpriced in the Champion Hurdle, which looks more open by the day. Despite that, Bristol De Mai is the one he wants to win with more than any, and he seems sure to go well in the Gold Cup, especially if the going remains on the softer side. As his trainer said:

“Bristol de Mai is in good shape ahead of the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. I am amazed that Santini is favourite for the Gold Cup and we are 33/1. We were giving Santini 2lb in the Cotswold Chase and looked all over the winner at the bottom of the hill, but then we slipped on landing and that cost us the race. I think we have a great chance”.

Olly Murphy: An up and coming young trainer but one look at the prices of his entries suggests he has the bookies running scared. Brewin’upastorm was described as his best chance heading into the Arkle Chase and who am I to argue, though he also seemed pretty keen on Skandiburg in the Pertemps Final, with the six-year-old mapped out for this specific race for six months or more ahead of race day.

Although Jonjo O’Neill looked bubbly and well (which is always a good thing to see), he seemed less than confident and is a trainer I can pass by betting wise for now, a remark that also applies to Neil Mulholland, though both may well have been keeping their cards close to their chests, of course. 

With Alan King equally non plussed about his chances with the exception of a big (placed?) run from Sceau Royale in the Champion Chase, we moved on to Warren Greatrex who has plenty of ammunition headed by each way chance Emitom in the Stayers Hurdle. A big run is on the cards, but I got the feeling that both Le Bague Au Roi (drops in to handicap company in either the Ultima or the Brown Advisory) or Bob Mahler have better chances. Warren said of the latter, who he seemed especially keen on:

Bob Mahler will go for the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase. He won the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh last time and is improving all the time. We won this race a few years ago with Missed Approach and he would have the same sort of profile”.

Last but not least we had a chat with Kim Bailey, who has a strong team at Cheltenham, saying:

“I have certainly got my best team coming here for a long time. I have five horses and I would not swap any of them. They are all in good form, they all look well, and they have been trained for their races, so fingers crossed they all get here in one piece.”

Imperial Aura came close to being the one I went for and will run well in the Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase, but my vote goes to Vinndication who was the first horse Kim chose to mention, adding:

Vinndication runs in the Ultima Handicap Chase. He worked this morning and I was delighted with him. He has only run once this season, which won’t do him any harm as he has not been chuntering around on heavy ground all winter. He has won seven out of nine.

“He got beat at Sandown last season and we weren’t hugely happy, but Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation were the two horses that beat him, so in hindsight it was a very good race”, which makes perfectly good sense to me and has already seen me open the wallet.

Cheltenham Preview 2020: Paul Nicholls

On Thursday morning we went to see Paul Nicholls to discuss his team for Cheltenham. Massive thanks to Paul for his hospitality, as we started with a look around the whole yard (and the chance to pat a few horses up close), before regrouping at the front to listen intently and snap off a few photos to boot. 

With a huge string of some of the best horses in the country we were limited to realistic numbers and I leave it up to you to decide if those he paraded are in fact his best chances, but we certainly saw some equine superstars.

Starting at the very top of the tree and the master of Ditcheat seemed delighted with the well-being of Gold Cup hope Clan Des Obeaux. He looked a picture to my eyes and worked well with Frodon at Wincanton according to his handler who also told us:

“Last year, we went from Kempton to the Denman Chase, which was put back a week, and then to Cheltenham. We are coming in with a different preparation this year because we have worked out that he is best when fresh. His best runs have been from Haydock to Kempton last season and then this season from Down Royal to Kempton. He is only eight and is bound to have improved.”

“He is very effective when he is very fit and very fresh – I think he is lethal on those terms. I think he is my best chance of the week.”

Fair to say he seems pretty keen on his chances and at 8/1 I won’t be putting anyone off, though that is three “tips” from trainers already in the last seven days and that’s before I visit Colin Tizzard on Monday!

Politologue and Diamond Dollars were brought out next and both head off for the Champion Chase which may yet be the race of the meeting. Paul pointed out that Politologue was giving Defi Du Seuil weight at Cheltenham in November and that he goes best fresh (hence his break), and in his words”

“He has had a great preparation and it does not matter how much it keeps raining because that will suit him. I think at 33/1 he is a lively outsider in the Champion Chase. He was not beaten far last year and basically jumped the last upsides Altior. He comes right at this time of the year and I was very happy with him this morning.”

Solo caught everybody’s eye next but it has to be added that even his trainer seemed slightly surprised by how easily he won last weekend, despite holding him in the highest regard. That win has seen him become the highest rated novice hurdler in the UK (157) which seems an over the top reaction, but as he is unlikely to be going down the handicap route, who cares?

Described as “…a big tank of a thing who takes loads of work…” he seems sure to keep on improving and, if that is correct, he can win the Triumph Hurdle before moving on to even bigger things over the years ahead, with fences the eventual aim.

Sir Psycho also runs in the Triumph and could well give the stable a one two, but others are worthy of a mention in other contests including Greaneteen, who is rated 150, which Paul seems to think is at the very least a workable mark. Although he thinks he is good enough to run in the Arkle, his mark seems to be swaying connections toward the Grand Annual instead where he looks to have every chance.

Finally, Thyme White heads off to the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and is yet another with a live chance of bringing home the bacon. Paul told us:

“He has a rating of 133 and I think he can do something off that mark. He is progressing and the Boodles is a race we have done well in. I would think this lad will have a leading chance. He is a proper horse who will make a lovely chaser one day.”… and that concludes my stable tours, for now.

Cheltenham Preview 2020: Nicky Henderson

Another year has flown by as we eagerly anticipate the Cheltenham Festival, and that means the obligatory media visits to some of the bigger and more powerful yards for a chat about their charge’s chances.

Monday saw me head on down to the Nicky Henderson stable at Seven Barrows to visit the challengers housed there as Nicky looks to catch or even overtake Willie Mullins as the most successful trainer in Cheltenham history.

After so many years at the top of the game Nicky is very media savvy and he even persuaded the rains to stay away for the majority of the time, as he paraded his horses and then spoke to us about his top prospects.

Others attacked their keyboards within moments of any interviews, with plenty trying to put words in to Nicky’s mouth “Horse X has a great chance in Race Z doesn’t he Nicky?”, which to me defeats the objective, and I prefer to sleep on things and try to read between the lines and even dare to interpret his body language – hence this day late assessment.

Naturally, with one of the largest strings in training, going through all his horses would be unrealistic, and as the handicap ratings aren’t out officially until next week there was little to no point in picking his brains there. That meant we worked through the stable stars instead, though the winds and busy stable schedule meant we only got to see a few of them in person. Enjoy.

First horse out was of course Altior, currently available at odds of 4/1 for the Champion Chase as he looks to win the race for the third year in a row at the age of ten. Nicky basically admitted (with the benefit of hindsight) that running him over two miles five on soft ground against Cyrname first time out for the season was an error, and that it exhausted the horse far more than hoped or expected.

Not seen again between November and February, Nicky insisted we should look on his comfortable if not exciting win at Newbury as his first real race of the season and, if we do, then he ought to improve and go to the Queen Mother with a far better chance than those odds suggest, especially for a horse who has only lost once over fences.

Value for money was the order of the day next with not one but five Champion Hurdle hopefuls paraded for us to admire. Epatante, Pentland Hills, Verdana Blue, Fusil Raffles and Call Me Lord will all run if everything is well and, although Epatante is as short as 11/4, I honestly felt Nicky was leaning towards two others.

His body language suggested Verdana Blue would be the best of them if she gets her ground but one glance out of the window at yet more rain creates an issue there. If the winds come and the going is good to soft or faster, I may well have a saver on her regardless, yet Nicky kept coming back to Pentland Hills. The Triumph Hurdle winner hasn’t been at his best yet this season but has had a small wind op since finishing second at Haydock and at odds of 5/1 I might yet be tempted.

Having sorted both the Champion Hurdle and the Queen Mother Champion Chase (I wish it was that easy!) we have the little matter of the Gold Cup on Friday afternoon where Santini seemed in very good sorts…

Second in the RSA Chase last year after a terrible preparation following foot issues and last minute flu vaccinations, Nicky was amazed to see him finish as close as he did (half a length adrift of Topofthegame), and reports that this season has gone pretty much as expected. A winner last time out in the Cotswolds Chase (which was always the plan), he saw off a spot on Bristol De Mai on ground heavier than ideal and, with plenty more to come (Nicky’s words not mine), he looks to have a lively chance of success, though it is a ridiculously competitive renewal.

Running through the others in brief (and not all of them, obviously) and we have to start in race one on day one (the Supreme Novice Hurdle), when Nicky is very keen on the chances of Shishkin who will probably be the only runner for the stable come race day. Nicky said:

“I would like to think that Shishkin is one of our best chances of the week. He is a genuine two miler. The Supreme is a nice race to win if you can because it gets the ball rolling and the pressure off a bit.

“I think Shishkin is very good and in his bumper and novice hurdle, he has looked very efficient. He has got to prove himself yet and this will be a much bigger test, but visually he has been very impressive. He does not seem to lack experience, as he races very professionally, and then you can press a button, which makes life easier for him”.

If that is correct, we could well see a winner on day one to get the ball rolling, though the Irish may well have other ideas!

Others worthy of a mention include Floressa “I think she has a great chance” (Mares Novice Hurdle), Might Bite (Cross Country), and Welsh Saint (10/1) and Diablo de Rouhet each way (25/1) for the Pertemps Final (both considered well handicapped), though any winners at Cheltenham are always welcome as Nicky will happily tell anyone who asks. 

Next week – off to Paul Nicholls weather permitting!