Saturday November 11th Wincanton 2.25 3m 1f Handicap Chase Soft/Good to Soft in places No rain forecast
Another tricky Saturday handicap. This one poses questions on fitness, possible future targets, the advantages of being prominent here at Wincanton in an evenly run race, which this looks likely to be, and, as ever, the potential improvement still resting in two or three of the runners.
From what I can see, Anthony Honeyball has never had an entry in this well established chase, yet he has 4 this year, more than a 3rd of the field. Sam Brown is the shortest of his representatives and has been backed into around 6/1. I see no value in this 11-y-o. He has some strong form, but a 3rd from 6 runs was the best he could do last season, when he failed to complete in half his races.
Also, one of his best performances was in first time blinkers in his final run last season (fell 2 out when looking the likely winner) and the blinkers have been discarded today. Perhaps connections believe they contributed to the fall. Sam Brown has won once right-handed, here at Wincanton, though in a 2017 Bumper. Still, there’s no evidence he does not act well this way around over fences.
One of Mr Honeyballs’ four does offer value: Blackjack Magic. The 8-y-o, 2 from 4 over fences with quite a bit of improvement likely to come. He has won right handed (Exeter) and ran a good 3rd at Wincanton in his hurdling days. The ground will be fine as will the trip. He had one disappointing run over fences on his penultimate outing in March when his jumping fell apart, so that must be borne in mind and does cool enthusiasm slightly. Still, he has time to learn and improve. Connections seem content to let him race prominently, though it would be an ultra-bold decision to take Frodon on. Frodon will be trying to give Blackjack Magic two stones bar 2lb – some task. The man doing 10st 2lb is Rex Dingle, a jockey I admire. That’s Dingle’s lowest riding weight in the past 12 months,and he rode at that on Wednesday for Jimmy Frost (unplaced at 20/1).
Nicholls has won this race 11 times and sends last year’s winner Frodon back (also has Threeunderthrufive) Frodon is wonderful and well loved by NH fans (he’s very close to the top of my list of favourite horses). Rightly so, not just for his ability, but his soundness, consistency, his fine jumping and his big heart.
It’s his seasonal debut here and he carries 12st. Neither factor has ever troubled Frodon who has won 6 times first time out, and 5 times carrying top weight in a handicap. The ground never seems to matter to him, and the even pace will suit his prominent style very well indeed, as will the track, where it can be difficult to come from off the pace. Still, everything Frodon has achieved will rightly be taken into full account by the bookies and there is zero value to be found, so I must move reluctantly on. It seems a bit odd that he appears here as second string as far as the market’s concerned to his stablemate and likely favourite Threeunderthrufive.
Threeunderthrufive is another mistake-maker, albeit a talented one. He has the excellent Cobden aboard for the first time in place of Adrian Heskin who has ridden him so far throughout his career. The change could help or hinder, who knows? Threeunderthrufive is unbeaten right handed, 4 from 4, which seems a big advantage. But only one of those was over fences (Exeter), His hurdle wins, were at Perth, Ludlow, and Musselburgh. He ran his best rating last time out when 4th in the Scottish National on good ground; little resemblance to what he faces here and, again, no value in him.
Another skinny priced one is The Big Breakaway, a horse with lots of ability who seems to have been around for a long time. But the cold facts state he has won just one steeplechase from twelve tries. His CV is blotted with ‘mistake’ and he makes no appeal at around 6/1
.So, where is the value away from Blackjack Magic?
The first chunk is in Certainly Red, a horse I followed last season and one I thought might eventually develop into a Grand National candidate. He is 4 from 8 over fences, 2 of those wins here at Wincanton (where he also won over hurdles). He improved noticeably last year: his Official Rating ladder since March: 116 124 122. 127. 135. 142 143.
Having won 4 of his 5 completed races by February ’23 (BD in the other) he ran in a hurdle at Ascot in April – no great show, and I wondered and still do at the reason for that. There will have been solid thinking behind it; his trainer Lydia Richards has handled him well, and being a ‘small name’ she always helps the SP. His final run was in the Bet365 at Sandown, where I thought he ran a decent race over that long trip, finishing 7th of 16. You can take the view that the race showed evidence the handicapper had at last caught up with him, and that might be so. But he has enough going for him here to carry my belief in him forward to this season.
The best value in the race is the outsider, Courtland, who enjoyed a fine summer over fences, especially around Worcester where he won three times. He had one victory at Market Rasen marking his suitability for going right handed. His last win was in August off an OR of 134. Reappearing at Aintree 2 weeks ago in the Old Roan (six jumps omitted) he’d gone up 10 lbs and never looked a threat.
The Old Roan was his second venture into Class 1 Handicap company (he finished a fine 2nd in the Summer Plate at Market Rasen in July) and despite the Liverpool run trainer Bowen obviously believes Courtland belongs at this level. There’s plenty of evidence in the form book that Mr Bowen often knows more than the bookies do about the company his horses should be keeping.
Although running mostly on good ground, Courtland’s 2nd best rating came on soft. This will be the longest distance he has run over, but this is probably to his advantage as I think there is more to come from him at staying trips. Courtland is a general 28/1 chance, but, as ever, can be backed through various EW extra offers at anything from 35/1 to 2 places to 15/1 to 6 places. The 15/1 will be my choice, though I ‘ll allso have a small win bet at 35/1.
Same betting variations on offer with Certainly Red at anything from 14/1 to 2 places to 25/4 to 6 places.
Blackjack Magic is 14/1 to 2 places to 25/4 to 6 places.
Good luck and, as ever. Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose with a smile.
A fine lesson for anyone who watched the winning trainer interviewed before the race. Anthony Honeyball told viewers the horse would probably need the race and it would set him up for later in the season. Those in the know (and I was not one) had been backing him relentlessly and carried on doing so. He went off at 5/1 despite being widely available at 12/1 to 3 places when I published the analysis on Friday evening. Never listen to trainers, owners, or jockeys. They are among the worst tipsters you will find, even when they are not trying to put you away.
Anyway, no complaints. Another winner for us and a profit-paying 4th in Certainly Red. Courtland was most disappointing, never going at all and I must conclude for now that he will not replicate his summer form over winter.