Today’s best bets, by Chris Cook
The latest chapter in the case of Gigginstown vs Phil Smith might be titled ‘Michael O’Leary Really, Really Means It’. Far from being reassured by the explanations of Britain’s top handicapper yesterday, to the effect that Irish horses get a fair shake in jumps handicaps here, the Ryanair boss has given quotes to the Racing Post expressive of outrage.
“I want to come back on some of the drivel spouted by the head of handicapping,” O’Leary began. Continuing in conciliatory vein, he referred to Smith’s words as “complete and utter contradictory nonsense”. O’Leary’s main bone of contention appears to be that Smith’s starting point when assessing the best Irish horses tends to be a rating that is several pounds higher than the official handicapper in Ireland has for the same animals.
“If Don Poli had had a reasonable handicap mark, been compressed down 4lb, 5lb, 6lb off his Irish mark … you might consider it, but he is clearly going nowhere,” O’Leary said. “None of the top three of mine – Outlander, Empire Of Dirt and Don Poli – will run if they are not going to be treated fairly. They can still go to Aintree [for non-handicaps] or to the Gold Cup and I’d rather they were running in conditions races anyway.”
So that appears to be that, since neither Smith nor anyone else has power to change the way horses are rated for this year’s Grand National, for which the weights were published on Tuesday. If I were a bookmaker, I’d take Don Poli out of my list for this year’s race after such a statement by the owner, which seems to leave no wiggle room for a change of mind.
Today’s jump racing is a little, er, flat. What it really needs is a gold medallist riding under rules for the first time, if you ask me. Ah well, we can’t have such treats every year.
Pugne Bobbi (2.10) might be the pick of the Sandown card, although 6-4 is not wildly exciting. Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old carries a penalty for a very easy Ludlow success on his handicap debut, which was just his fifth run of any kind. Henderson hasn’t always done well with his chasers in recent seasons but they’re winning at a rate of 31% this winter.
Henderson has inherited a 119-rated nine-year-old chaser, A Tail Of Intrigue, who makes his debut for his new trainer at Fakenham today after two years off the track. Victory would hardly be a surprise but Raktiman (3.00) will do for me at 9-2. This chestnut has shown very gradual improvement for Sam England and may finally have found a winnable opportunity here.
Excel Again (2.20) makes most appeal at 3-1 in Newcastle’s opening maiden. From the in-form James Tate yard and with plenty of winning siblings, he stayed on well to be a close third after showing greenness on his Kempton debut. This could be where we start to see a return on his six-figure purchase price.
Friday tips, by Chris Cook
1.30 Lake Chapala 2.00 Mr Mix 2.30 Stowaway Magic 3.00 Raktiman 3.35 Petite Power (nap) 4.05 Warden Hill 4.35 Wellingtonbridge (nb)
2.20 Excel Again 2.50 Merry Banter 3.25 Petite Jack 3.55 Casablanca 4.25 High On Light 4.55 Pickett’s Charge 5.25 Fairway To Heaven
1.40 Baraymi 2.10 Pougne Bobbi 2.40 Happy Diva 3.15 Troika Steppes 3.45 Early Du Lemo 4.15 Twenty Eight Guns 4.45 Wicked Willy
5.45 Hidden Gem 6.15 Tricorn 6.45 Fast Play 7.15 Flying Hope 7.45 Fear The Fury 8.15 Favourite Girl