RaceCafe..#1...Tipsters Thread.... Share Your Fancies For Fun...Lets See Who The Best Tipsters Here Are.
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The final Group 1 races of the English and French seasons were run last weekend.

At Doncaster, the course just about survived the autumn deluge passing a morning inspection but the ground was Heavy for the Kameko Futurity. The two "superpowers" of English and Irish racing, Godolphin and Coolmore, were in direct opposition. The former ran ANCIENT WISDOM who had won well in Group 3 company at Newmarket a fortnight earlier while Aidan O'Brien saddled DIEGO VELAZQUEZ for Coolmore. The latter was unbeaten in two including a good win in Group 3 company at Leopardstown over Irish Champions Weekend.

There was pre-race drama with the 50/1 outsider BATTLE CRY rearing and falling in the stalls. It was a nasty moment for jockey Ben Curtis who managed to climb to safety but was clearly in some discomfort while the horse, albeit safely extracted, looked dazed and a bit sorry for himself. The other horses took the drama well enough though both DIEGO VELAZQUEZ and DANCING GEMINI were trotted up to check they had not been struck by the flailing BATTLE CRY.

Kameko Futurity: 

ANCIENT WISDOM is clearly a relentless galloper and the pronounced knee action tells you all you need to know. He loves soft turf and I can imagine races in France and Ireland being on the agenda next year. What I can't see is him coming down Tattenham Hill on firm ground in June so anyone taking silly ante post prices for the English Derby will be praying for a really typical English summer. Take it a step further and I'd love to see him in a Paris quagmire next October.

He rallied well when headed and simply outstayed the other juveniles to crown another superb season for champion jockey William Buick.

DEVIL'S POINT ran a fine race in second and continued the strong sutumn form of his handler David Menuisier. Whether he's as good as SUNRAY is debatable but it wouldn't be the biggest surprise if this one lined up in the Poulains. GOD'S WINDOW also ran well on just his second outing and there will be plenty more to come from him next year.

DIEGO VELAZQUEZ travelled well enough but found very little in the final 400m. James Doyle reported after the race the colt had never really picked up on the ground - whether he was put off by the pre race antics I'm not certain. 

On then to Sunday and the Royal Oak at Longchamp where the ground was also Heavy. 

Prix Royal Oak: 

An absolute rout as the rapidly improving DOUBLE MAJOR put some decent stayers to the sword making almost all and coming home by seven and a half lengths. He won the Chaudenay last time over the same course and distance and ends his 3-y-o campaign winning four and finishing second in four of his nine outings. As a gelding, he'll likely be back next year and looks the new king on the French staying block. I'd love to see him come to England  - he won at Angers on Good ground so a sound surface could work for him.

SKAZINO ran home well for second while TASHKHAN fared best of the raiders. He was prominent throughout but had no chance with the winner to whom he was giving 8 lbs weight for age.

METIER ran okay while I thought NAVAL LEGEND was far too free in the ground. THE GOOD MAN was beaten 48 lengths in last place.

Also on Sunday, the first Grade 2 of the new chase season was run at Aintree. JETOILE struck gold at 25s to be the biggest success of young trainer Ryan Potter's career to date.

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The Breeders Cup gets a day closer and we've got final declarations and barrier draws for Friday.

Juvenile Turf Sprint - 1000m:

BIG EVS is narrow favourite after getting the four stall but he faces a formidable challenge from the filly CRIMSON ADVOCATE who was last seen winning the Queen Mary at Ascot. She's got the inside staill and if she can re-produce her Ascot form she's got a huge chance. NO NAY METS was ninth in the Norfolk but has won all his three American starts and is in two. 

Of the four Irish challengers,  CHERRY BLOSSOM may well struggle to lie up with these from eight and while VALIANT FORCE was good in the Norfolk he's in ten here and I'm far from convinced. TIGER BELLE (three) and GIVEMETHEBEATBOYS (five) are better drawn but have a bit to find on form.

Juvenile Fillies Turf - 1600m

A strong European challenge for this heat. PORTA FORTUNA won the Albany and last time won the Cheveley Park but that's over 1200m and this is further. We know CARLA'S WAY bounces off firm ground and her win in the Rockfel, albeit perhaps helped by a strong tailwind helping front runners, was nonetheless impressive and both have solid claims though from six and nine respectively, the draw could have been kinder.

SHE FEELS PRETTY won a Canadian Group 1 last time but has been drawn eleven while the French LES PAVOTS come sout of the car park gate (14). She could be one of those French horses who improves for fast ground but the draw is a big negative. CONTENT represents Ballydoyle but her form doesn't look good enough.

Breeders Cup Juvenile (Dirt) - 1600m

CUBAN THUNDER runs for Irish trainer Adrian Murray. The colt is 50/1 and you can probably add another zero in all honesty.

Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf - 1600m

European interest here comes only from three Aidan O'Brien challengers. UNQUESTIONABLE was second to the useful Rosallion in the Jean Luc Lagardere and that looks solid form. The eight barrier may be an issue but that's a problem for Frankie Dettori who is building up his knowledge of the track. RIVER TIBER won the Coventry and at one point was top of the pecking order at Ballydoyle but he has finished third to Vandeek in both the Morny and the Middle Park and I'm not convinced this distance will suit. It's hard to fancy the third runner MOUNTAIN BEAR, a Listed winner, in this company.

I'll start the preview of the big Saturday races tomorrow.

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On then to Saturday at Santa Anita and nine Group 1 races on a stellar Saturday evening (UK) card.

Filly & Mare Turf  - 2000m

A tasty clash between the top 1600m filly and the top 2400m filly over the intermediate distance. INSPIRAL won the Marois and the Sun Chariot and we know she likes decent European ground - hopefully the American turf won't be too fast for her. It's haer first run up at this trip but America's the place if you're having a first try stepping up in trip. Frankie rides and she's got a perfectly good draw in stall six.

WARM HEART was a strong performer at 2400m winning the Ribblesdale, Yorkshire Oaks and Vermeille and she's another who should enjoy the ground. I'm not convinced this is her race - I think she should have run in the Turf itself and she'll be caught out when the taps are turned on.

FEV ROVER raced in England as a younger filly but has thrived since crossing the Atlantic and won the EP Taylor at Woodbine last time beating the Godolphin filly WITH THE MOONLIGHT. IN ITALIAN is a very consistent performer and has run in four Group 1 races this campaign winning two and running second in two but this 2000m might stretch her stamina. 

Harder to fancy LUMIERE ROCK (third in the Opera last time) and STATE OCCASION.

INSPIRAL has a lot going for her and if ridden sensibly could have too much finishing speed - the one I fear of the locals is FEV ROVER.

MIle - 1600m

A race the Europeans usually win and this year MAWJ brings classic form to the table as the English 1000 Guineas where she beat the useful TAHIYRA. After a long break MAWJ returned with a win in the Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland which should put her spot on for this. Oisin Murphy rides her and she's drawn six while Will Buick is out in the car park on MASTER OF THE SEAS who won the Woodbine Mile before a close second in the Turf Mile at Keeneland. That's decent form but the draw is a big negative.

KELINA won the Foret at Longchamp and we know 1400m horses can run very well in this. She could be on the upgrade and I think she'll love the ground. The draw could have been better for her. The Japanese raider SONGLINE is next to her in ten - she won the Yasuda Kinen in the summer and her run in a Group 2 last time suggested she'll be spot on for this. 

MAWJ ticks most of the boxes and is drawn well - KELINA rates the main danger though SONGLINE has claims.

Turf - 2400m

For the Europeans, the race of the evening and a prize which usually goes back across the Atlantic. The English Derby first and second, AUGUSTE RODIN and KING OF STEEL, renew rivalry. The former won at Epsom and The Curragh, was wretched in the King George and then returned with a win in the Irish Champion. KING OF STEEL was second at Epsom, third in the King George, a length behind AUGUSTE RODIN in fourth in the Irish Champion and won the Champion at Newmarket barely a fortnight ago.

Both have big claims - whether either is a true 2400m I'm less certain but the trip and ground should suit them both.

One it will suit is MOSTAHDAF whose seven length fourth to Equinox in the Sheema Classic now looks a strong bit of form. His last two wins were in the Prince of Wales and the Juddmonte and the sharp 2400m looks tailor made. The two 3-y-o get 4 lbs which isn't insignificant. 

The French challenger ONESTO was third in the Arc but is held by both AUGUSTE RODIN and KING OF STEEL on Irish Champion form. 

UP TO THE MARK looks the best of the locals and his Manhattan win in June is decent form but he's never gone this far and I suspect this is going to be a strong pace. SHAHRYAR is the Japanese runner but his run at Sapporo last time was poor.

BOLSHOI BALLET was once English Derby favourite and has spent a lot of time in the wilderness. That said, he looked very good in the Sword Dancer last time and wasn't beaten far in this in 2021. He'd be my idea of an each way play. 

The two 3-y-o have both had long seasons and I just wonder...this looks tailor made for MOSTAHDAF and I think he'll win but I expect a good run from ONESTO who is lightly raced and watch for BOLSHOI BALLET to out run his odds.

Turf Sprint - 1000m

For some reason which may become obvious, the two sprints are at the end of the card after the Classic (best American Dirt horse ARABIAN KNIGHT takes on the Dubai World Cup winner from Japan USHBA TESORO). The Nunthorpe winner LIVE THE DREAM comes out of stall five and meets BRADSELL, whom he beat two lengths at York, on the same terms. BRADSELL, however, comes from two and he has to bounce back from a poor run in Ireland while LIVE THE DREAM was fourth in the Abbaye albeit from the wrong side of the track

The draw hasn't been kind to the top locals ARZAK and MOTORIOUS  and I just note TONY ANN in stall three - 25/1 in the UK and that looks a big price.

Quick update on other events - the Irish meeting at Down Royal which was due to feature the Grade 1 Champion Chase has been postponed a week owing to the heavy rain and flooding which continues to affect the British Isles. 

I'll have the final declarations for Saturday's UK jumps cards tomorrow - the final German Group 1 is at Munich on Sunday.

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It may be glorious sunshine all the way in Southern California but back in the UK, we've survived Storm Ciaran yesterday which led to the loss of Lingfield's opening jumps meeting.

At Wetherby, partial waterlogging of the track has been exacerbated by the rising levels of the River Aire and the stewards will be holding a morning inspection to decide the fate of Friday's meeting. With a largely dry day forecast, they may lose the Friday card and save the big Saturday fixture.

If the meeting survives, the ground is certain to be Soft, if not Heavy. Just four stand in the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase over 4800m. BRAVEMANSGAME was the best British chaser last year, winning the King George on Boxing Day and chasing home GALOPIN DES CHAMPS at Cheltenham. He was seven lengths behind at Prestbury Park but only a nose behind at Punchestown when third to the unconsidered FASTORSLOW. 

BRAVEMANSGAME won this off an 11 lb lower mark but he's going to take plenty of beating for all the ground is probably a notch softer than ideal. He beat AHOY SENOR 40 lengths in this and 33 lengths at Kempton and the latter was probably cooked when falling in the Gold Cup. To be fair, AHOY SENOR ran a fine race on his final outing when chasing home SHISHKIN at Aintree but for me the suspicion is he's a spring horse and the stable's good ones aren't really firing.

GENTLEMANSGAME is no relation of the favourite - he's from the Mouse Morris stable and won a Beginners chase at Leopardstown over Christmas - the same race GALOPIN DES CHAMPS had won in 2022 - beating I AM MAXIMUS who ended up running a close fourth in the Brown Advisory and winning the Irish National. GENTLEMANSGAME is basically just out of novice chase and while he gets weight, he may not have the savvy of the more experiences types. 

BRAVEMANSGAME is 4/6 and it's hard to look past him if he's fit.

The Grade 2 West Yorkshire Hurdle over 4800m is the first of the big staying races for the timber toppers. THYME HILL comes back hurdling after a mixed chasing campaign. He was very good at Kempton on Boxing Day last year but was well held at Cheltenham. We know this trip and ground hold no fears and the same is true of DASHEL DRASHER whose finest hour was in defeat at Cheltenham in the Stayers. Whether he's quite at the top of the tree or just in the higher branches I'm not certain.

These two dominate the six runner field - I think the ground will be too soft for BOTOX HAS.

It's not very original but THYME HILL looks hard to beat and I oddly enough prefer him at 15/8 to the Nicholls chaser at 4/6.

Five go in the final European Group 1 of the year - the Preis von Bayern - at Munich on Sunday. The ground is currently Good to Soft and the race is over 2400m. This time last year REBEL'S ROMANCE was winning the Breeders Cup Turf but he's been poor this season and needs a big return to his best. I think JUNKO will enjoy coming back to his trip where he was third in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud, a piece of form which should be good enough.

The biggest threat could be from Preis von Europa winner INDIA who holds both ASSISTENT and BEST OF LIPS on that form. She will like it as soft as possible and on some of her earlier French form has claims but JUNKO is the one for me.

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I suppose there are better places to be in November in the northern hemisphere than Southern California and while I'm a huge fan of Del Mar, Santa Anita, with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background, looks the sort of racetrack where I could happily spend several afternoons.

Low 80s on Friday for the opening day (known as "Future Stars Friday") where the championship races were exclusively for the 2-y-o colts and fillies.

The turf course rode Firm as you might expect but with no jar.

The opening race with European interest was the Juvenile Turf Sprint over 1000m. BIG EVS was favourite having won the Flying Childers at Doncaster to cap off a dominant season marred only by a disappointing effort in the Nunthorpe. He led a strong European raiding party including fellow British raider STARLUST and the Irish headed by Aidan O'Brien's CHERRY BLOSSOM and the outsider VALIANT FORCE. The Americans had NO NAY METS and Queen Mary winner CRIMSON ADVOCATE who had the advantageous one draw.

Juvenile Turf Sprint: 

A brilliant performance by BIG EVS who rounded off an impressive juvenile campaign with a first win round a bend. To see the Windsor Castle and Queen Mary winners going toe-to-toe for 600m isn't something you normally see but the filly ran out of petrol with 150m to go and Marquand went for home.

The pack were closing notably VALIANT FORCE and STARLUST (the latter didn't get the best of runs 300m down) to ensure it was a clean sweep for the Europeans. NO NAY METS was a close fourth but BIG EVS is that rarity - a European horse with enough speed to out run the Americans. How he'll go as a 3-y-o in Britain is anyone's guess - I would imagine a race like the King's Stand would be on the agenda. I wouldn't count out the second and especially the third who was six lengths behind VANDEEK in the Middle Park.

A tremendous result for trainer Mick Appleby (no relation to Charlie) who is better known here as the king of the synthetic surfaces hanging won the All-Weather Trainers Championship for a number of seasons but the Tapeta and Polytrack are a million miles away from California grass. Appleby got BIG EVS practicing round the tight Southwell home turn and it paid dividends.

The Juvenile Fillies Turf over 1600m looked a wide open race. CARLA'S WAY, the Rockfel winner, carried British hopes while PORTA FORTUNA and CONTENT ran for Donnacha and Aidan O'Brien respectively. The former had won the Cheveley Park at Newmarket over 1200m on her previous run. Favourite was the local runner SHE FEELS PRETTY who had been a convincing winner of the Natalma at Woodbine on her previous outing.

Juvenile Fillies Turf: 

A pulsating race and a desperate finish. Flavien Prat had been able to get HARD TO JUSTIFY from the twelve draw to sitting on the leader's shoulder and fortunately had not had to spend too much energy doing so and the steady fractions meant they could quicken from the front.

Oisin Murphy had a nice position on PORTA FORTUNA and didn't suffer in the run but track position was vital and that small amount he wa sobliged to sit off the early pace proved decisive in the sprint to the line. PORTA FORTUNA ran a blinder but she loves fast ground and it'll be interesting to see how they campaign her next season. SHE FEELS PRETTY was slightly unlucky as she got bumped 200m out and nothing was finishing faster than CONSENT on whom Ryan Moore had been forced to sit and suffer and indeed was last on the home turn. Moore got her up for fourth and she's the one I take from the race for next year in Europe.

Aidan O'Brien has come to dominate the Juvenile Turf over 1600m and with RIVER TIBER scratched in controversial circumstances by the on-course vets, Frankie Dettori lost the ride on UNQUESTIONABLE to Ryan Moore and the colt went off 6/4 favourite. The Americans didn't look strong and the second favourite was the Canadian MY BOY PRINCE who had won a small race at Woodbine impressively and was preferred to CARSON'S RUN, who had narrowly beaten him in a Group 1 in the summer.

Juvenile Turf: 

Another rout for the locals as UNQUESTIONABLE led home a 1-2 for Ballydoyle and Ireland with outsider MOUNTAIN BEAR following the favourite home. Ryan Moore always looked happy and in the end it was a fairly routine win - it paid a huge compliment to his Jean Luc Lagardere conqueror ROSALLION and both horses are clearly going to have classic aspirations next year.

Day One ended with the Europeans 2-1 ahead in the turf races and two very good juveniles who could be big players if we get some decent ground next summer.

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On then to Saturday at Santa Anita and a stellar card featuring no less than nine Championship races on the Dirt and Turf. European interest only in the latter races where the grass was still Firm.

The Filly & Mare Turf over 2000m looked an intriguing clash between the middle-distance horses coming back in trip and the milers stepping up. In the former category was the Ribblesdale, Yorkshire Oaks and Vermeille winner WARM HEART who had proved herself the top 2400m among the classic fillies.

INSPIRAL, on the other hand, had never raced beyond 1600m and wins in races like the Marois and the Sun Chariot showed she could mix it with the boys as well as the girls. The best of the Americans looked to be IN ITALIAN who had chased home GINA ROMANTICA (engaged in the Mile) in the First Lady at Keeneland.

Filly & Mare Turf: 

More domination by the Europeans on the grass with another 1-2 and an absolute thriller as INSPIRAL got Frankie Dettori out of trouble with a sustained run to cut down WARM HEART, on whom Ryan Moore had enjoyed the more conventional passage, in the final yards to win a neck. INSPIRAL had fluffed the start and was well back down the far side and was wide off the turn but she made up the ground in spectacular fashion in the final 150m.

She will apparently remain in training as a 5-y-o which is excellent news and I’m sure she will be a player once again in all the top mile races in Europe. WARM HEART did nothing wrong in defeat – whether she’ll be seen again is debatable but she will be a key broodmare for Coolmore continuing the all-powerful Galileo lineage.

MOIRA was the best of the locals in third – the Japanese WIN MARILYN was fourth while IN ITALIAN didn’t see out the trip and is probably better back at 1600m.

The Mile on the grass is a race the Europeans have often won in the 40 years of the Breeders Cup and perhaps one of the real champions, Goldikova, won it three times. Whether MAWJ will ever reach her dizzy heights is debatable but she did win the English 1000 Guineas beating TAHIYRA and returned after a long break with a fine win in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland.

The favourite also represented Godolphin though MASTER OF THE SEAS was trained by Charlie Appleby (MAWJ handled by Saeed bin Suroor). MASTER OF THE SEAS had also run well in a Guineas, the 2021 2000 Guineas when running second to Poetic Flare. Now a gelded 5-y-o, MASTER OF THE SEAS had enjoyed plenty of success in America with a win in the Woodbine Mile and a narrow defeat in the Coolmore Turf Mile.

However, he was drawn 14 – in the car park- and that seemed to be a huge negative for all he was supported in to joint favourite with the UK bookies. The other favoured runner was the Japanese SONGLINE who had strong Group 1 form back home while the best of the locals looked to be CASA CREED who won a strong handicap at Saratoga in the middle of August.

Mile Turf: 

Another astonishing race and this time it was William Buick who got a strong late finish from MASTER OF THE SEAS to run down MAWJ in the final couple of strides and win a nose. It was an excellent ride from Buick who had avoided the frenetic early gallop but still had plenty to do on the home turn. Oisin Murphy, as Ryan Moore had in the Filly & Mare race, had enjoyed a dream run and was in a strong position throughout going for home 300m down but the filly was simply mugged on the post by MASTER OF THE SEAS who has finally become the horse he threatened to be back in the spring of 2021. I wonder if he’ll head to Meydan from this.

MAWJ ran another excellent race and was unfortunate – she could obviously go to the paddocks now but it would be fascinating to see her as a 4-y-o miler, perhaps to take on INSPIRAL one day.

CASA CREED was a close third without ever looking like getting to the Godolphin fillies while GINA ROMANTICA gave us a form line in fourth suggesting the Mile and the Filly & Mare Turf are pretty closely matched in form terms.

It didn’t go well for SONGLINE who is a closer but didn’t pick up quickly enough and finished fifth.

On then to the Turf over 2400m which looked one of the best renewals of this race in recent years. The English and Irish Derby winner as well as the Irish Champion Stakes winner, AUGUSTE RODIN, looked to have a lot in his favour with a known favouring for quick ground and a suggestion early in the season a stiff 2000 or an easy 2400m would be the optimum trip.

KING OF STEEL chased AUGUSTE RODIN home at Epsom and had won the Champion Stakes in the Ascot mud on his previous run leaving a question over whether this was too soon after his Berkshire exploits.

MOSTAHDAF had won the Prince of Wales and Juddmonte International but runs over 2400m at Meydan and Kempton suggested an easy course might just allow him to see out the trip.

The money came for AUGUSTE RODIN who was sent off favourite with the UK bookmakers.

Turf: 

Some analysts have called this “one of the great rides” but if you’d watched Moore at Keeneland, you’d have realised he loves the rail run, “nipping up the inside” as we term it up here. This is the result of a riding education on a variety of tracks – it’s a manoeuvre you could use at Chester or another of the tighter tracks but Moore and the other British jockeys ride on a huge variety of courses.

It wouldn’t have happened if Christian Demuro hadn’t vacated the inside slot on SHAHRIYAR but as the challengers all got in each other’s way Moore got the run and when he asked AUGUSTE RODIN to quicken in the final 200m, the result was confirmed. Moore would later lose $20,000 of his winning fee for hitting AUGUSTE RODIN seven times rather than the permitted six but I don’t suppose he’s that bothered.

After the race, Aidan O’Brien joked about a Dirt campaign in 2024 and a tilt at the Classic but given the horse’s unique role as a bridge between the Japanese bloodlines (via his sire Deep Impact) and the Galileo bloodline (via his dam, Rhododendron). I imagine Coolmore have already got mating plans in place and we won’t see him on a racecourse again.

AUGUSTE RODIN has had a tremendous season winning the English and Irish Derbies and the Irish Champion Stakes. Fitting a cross noseband has helped the breathing issues which afflicted him in the King George.

The American UP TO THE MARK confirmed his status as the best middle distance turf horse in North America with a fine second place while SHAHRIYAR showed a real return to form in third and I wonder if we’ll see him in the Japan Cup in a few weeks.

KING OF STEEL was fifth with Dettori suggesting the hard race at Ascot had left its mark – I can’t help but think this one could be a serious 4-y-o as he’s a giant horse and will no doubt have plenty of physical development to come. Races like the Prince of Wales and Juddmonte could be on the agenda next year.

MOSTAHDAF was disappointing – he had good track position but he’s a 2000m horse and didn’t get home.

After the Classic, brought forward due to the popularity of college football, the card ended with the two sprints, the first on the turf over 1000m.

With Bradsell a late scratching, LIVE IN THE DREAM, the Nunthorpe winner, was bidding to follow up BIG EVS and prove too much for the American speedsters on grass.

Turf Sprint: 

On the home turn I thought LIVE IN THE DREAM might hold on but he had done too much to get to the speed and the petrol ran out in the final 100m. I thought AESOP'S FABLES ran a blinder from the outside gate and there was nothing finishing faster but jockey Gerardo Corales must have been watching Ryan Moore as he also took the inside track getitng past the pacesetter and just holding on from BIG INVASION who was arguably unlucky having clipped heels early and getting caught in traffic.

Another tremendous Breeders Cup for the Europeans who won all bar two of the Turf races but the truthis there are now two Breeders Cups - the Dirt races where the Americans dominate against a growing but still weak threat from Japan and the Turf where the Europeans (this time the British and Irish) dominate. As on the Dirt, the Japanese runners acquitted themsleves well but couldn't get a win. Back to Del Mar next year and it's getting boring with the meeting always shuttling between Kentucky and California - there is a chance the NYRA may be able to afford to have the meeting at Belmont once the track re-opens after its refurbishment in 2026.

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After a huge racing week across the globe, it's a slower pace in Britain and Ireland this weekend. The final scheduled turf meeting at Doncaster has been moved to the Tapeta at Newcastle and our very wet autumn continues to cause problems. Even the Grand National track at Aintree, due to host a race on Saturday, is waterlogged and that race may be abandoned.

At Wincanton, the Grade 2 Rising Stars Novices Chase on Saturday sees the very useful hurdler KNAPPERS HILL bid to erase the memory of a surprise reverse on chasing debut at Chepstow. He'll have learned a lot from that and I think the Irish raider CAPTAIN CONBY will follow him home.

The main meeting is in Ulster at Down Royal where the ground is Soft. The first Grade 1 of the Irish season is the Champion Chase over 4800m, postponed last Saturday. Only four stand but they are a quality group. Oddly enough, the highest rated, CONFLATED, is the outsider. He won the Savils at Leopardstown at Christmas and was third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, he was pulled up at Aintree and was a tame last behind MINELLA INDO at Punchestown on re-appearance. He needs to improve a lot.

MINELLA INDO was runner up in the 2022 Gold Cup but this year made no show and was pulled up. His return after a break was Punchestown last month was very good and if this horse can re-capture his 2022 form has a big chance. He's one of two from the Henry de Bromhead yard, the other being the enigmatic ENVOI ALLEN who won this last year and was many people's idea of the King George winner but he didn't get home at Kempton. Dropped back to 4050m at Cheltenham, he won the Ryanair in a thriller beating Shishkin who as we know won the big 4800m race at Aintree to get the top rating for an English chaser. He was third at Gowran on re-appearance.

The favourite, however, is the 7-y-o GERRI COLOMBE who comes into open company. He had a tremendous novice campaign winning the Faugheen and the Scilly Isles before just going down by a short head to The Real Whacker in the Brown Advisory at Cheltenham. He rounded off with a hugely impressive win in the Mildmay and even at this early stage he's second or third favourite for the Gold Cup in March. The others have had a run and he hasn't so if he finishes close up without winning it won't be an issue but a lot think he may just be top class and if so he should be too good for this admittedly small but very select field.

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Time for a bit of a catch up on the domestic scene.

Really sad news with a terrible injury suffered by Graham Lee at Newcastle on Friday evening. He was unseated from his mount at the start of a 1400m maiden. He's suffered serious head injuries and is in intensive care at Newcastle Royal Infirmary. We can but wish him well and this afternoon the Injured Jockeys' Fund have pledged as much help as the Lee family needs.

On a much brighter note, Aidan O'Brien revealed today AUGUSTE RODIN stays in training as a 4-y-o. This is exciting news and it'll be fascinating to see where they put the English and Irish Derby winner, the Irish Champion winner and the Breeders Cup Turf winner. I suspect he'll be campaigned more at 2000m and I could imagine the Eclipse, the Juddmonte and/or the Irish Champion being on the agenda and Aidan's comments at Santa Anits make me think the end game will be the Classic on the Dirt. If AUGUSTE RODIN could win both the Turf and the Classic his stallion value in both North America and Europe would be huge. He was of course from the last crop of Deep Impact out of a classic winning Galileo mare.

The jump racing season stutters into life up here sespite the unusually wet autumn. At Wetherby last weekend, GENTLEMANSGAME outpointed BRAVEMANSGAME in the Charlie Hall - the latter looked as though the run would help and he blew up approaching the last. I suspect he'll swerve the Betfair at Haydock and wait for Christmas at Kempton.

The Group 2 Mares Hurdle went to YOU WEAR IT WELL who beat LUCCIA pretty well. The former was runner up in the Challow last year and won the Mares Novices race at Cheltenham before finding open company at Aintree too much.

At Exeter on Friday, ELIXIR DE NUTZ won the 3850m Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup. He seems a fair way behind the likes of JONBON and EL FABIOLO but I imagine he could turn up in the Tingle Creek at Sandown. Trainer Paul Nicholls had another runner up with SOLO who was giving the winner 10 lbs and ran a fine race.

This weekend saw the delayed Champion Chase at Down Royal.

Just four went to post for the first Grade 1 of the Irish jumps season - favourite was last season's top Irish novice GERRI COLOMBE:

Champion Chase: 

Gordon Elliott saddled six winners on the first day of the Down Royal meeting and followed up with another five on the Saturday card including a 1-3 here led home by GERRI COLOMBE who was third over the last but battled back to snatch victory from ENVOI ALLEN and pace setter CONFLATED both of whom ran fine races. It's highly likely the first and third will re-match in the Savils at Christmas while ENVOI ALLEN might head for the John Durkan.

In England, the main card was at Wincanton where KNAPPERS HILL made up for a surprising reverse on his chase debut with an impressive near-flawless round of jumping. It'll be interesting to see if he runs over further at Christmas in the Kauto Star. The drying ground was a big plus for RUBAUD who made short work of his rivals in the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle. He looks best suited to decent ground and sharp tracks so perhaps Aintree more than Cheltenham.

Speaking of Cheltenham, the three day Open Meeting kicks off on Friday - more on that tomorrow. 

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The coming weekend sees the three day Open Meeting at Cheltenham - the ground at Prestbury Park is currently Soft, Good to Soft in places.

The opening day on Friday has two Grade 2 races - the first is a novice chase over 3200m. Very early days for this division and with the likes of FACILE VEGA due to run at Navan on Sunday, the British challenge needs to get into shape. However, just four have been declared and the highest rated is the Irish raider MIGHTY TOM who was second on chasing debut over 4000m  at Cork. Both JPR ONE and HOMME PUBLIC have won on chase debut but they were nothing races and I'd be having a punt on PETIT TONNERRE who has never jumped a fence in public. This 5-y-o mixed it at quite a high level over hurdles last season ending up seventh in the County Handicap at the Festival.

The Grade 2 for the older novice hurdles over 4000m sees champion trainer Paul Nicholls saddle CAPTAIN TEAGUE who may be the best British hope in the Ballymore next March. He was third in the Champion Bumper in March and bolted up on his hurdle debut at Chepstow. He's going to be very hard to beat and is 8/13. Three Irish runners line up against him and in all truth they shouldn't be good enough. I'm quite interested in MINELLA MISSILE who came out of the pointing field but won a maiden hurdle on debut and could be anything.

Saturday sees the Grade 2 Juvenile Hurdle over 3200m - we'll get final declarations tomorrow but it looks like the best 3-y-o hurdle of the season so far. BURDETT ROAD ran in Group 3 races on the flat and kicked off his hurdling campaign with an emphatic win at Huntingdon on good ground. Huntingdon is like Kempton, a sharp right handed track. Cheltenham on Saturday will be a very different proposition.

Sunday's feature is the Grade 2 Schloer Chase over 3200m, the first real opportunity for the speed chasers to get a run. With ENERGUMENE sidelined, the Champion Chase picture has opened up for all Willie Mullins has a more than adequate sub in the Arkle winner EL FABIOLO. The English challenge looks set to be heaed by JONBON and EDWARDSTONE - the former chased home EL FABIOLO at Cheltenham while the latter won the Tingle Creek before unseating rider at Kempton and running an awful race in the Champion Chase. JONBON looks the part and if ready first time up will take a lot of beating. The ground has gone against NUBE NEGRA while BANBRIDGE is one of the best jumpers of a fence I have seen - the problem is he doesn't quite have the speed between the fences though he won the Manifesto at Aintree in the spring.

Slightly outside my normal purview, we have a Group 2 in Bahrain tomorrow over 2000m on the turf. The race has a £500k first prize so has drawn a decent field from Britain and Ireland. Ryan Moore, William Buick and Oisin Murphy are all riding which shows how this jurisdiction is on the rise. As to the winner, Buick rides NATIONS PRIDE who has won Group 1 races in Germany and Canada since running third in the Dubai Turf last March. Moore is on POINT LONSDALE who ran fourth in the Champion Stakes last time - I suspect 2000m will be a bit sharp. The same may be true of the filly ABOVE THE CURVE who has mixed it at Group 1 level throughout the season but mainly over 2400m.

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Saturday's Grade 2 juvenile hurdle at Cheltenham has eleven declarations and while BURDETT ROAD has obvious claims the favourite is MILAN TINO who brings experience from France including a second in a Grade 2 at Auteuil. It's hard to read the French form but there's no denying the French imports do very well. Whether I'd be playing at 6/4 I don't know and with BURDETT ROAD also opposable I'm on AN BRADAN FEASA (literally "the salmon of knowledge") who was with Joseph O'Brien when winning on hurdles debut at Ballinrobe. I have to confess Ballinrobe is a right hand track but it's not quite as sharp as Kempton.

 

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I'll do a full update on the Cheltenham Open Meeting when time allows.

I will mention last Friday's Bahrain Trophy where former Aberdeen and Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson had the pleasure not only of being a part owner but in this instance the breeder of the winner SPIRIT DANCER who put up a career best to beat ISRAR and POINT LONSDALE on whom Ryan Moore had set the pace from the start to 200m out. It was a real bunch for the minors with three lengths splitting nine home between second and tenth. 

This weekend in the UK sees the first Grade 1 of the English jumps season at Haydock with the Betfair Chase over 4800m. Last year's winner PROTEKTORAT bids to follow up but the form of the Skelton yard has been a bit in and out. He has only three opponents but this is a serious race - CORACH RAMBLER, the National winner, is the outsider while ROYALE PAGAILLE could do with a lot more rain (a couple of drier days have left the Haydock chase course Soft). The problem for PROTEKTORAT is going to be BRAVEMANSGAME who was turned over in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby but it was widely felt the horse had needed the run and will be much fitter for this, his prep run before the King George on Boxing Day.

The Newton Novices Hurdle is a Grade 2 over 3200m and a chance for the northern novices to stake their claims. I quite like KAMSINAS who ran well at Cheltenham at the end of last month.

Two Grade 2 races at Ascot and again pathetically small fields. Just four go in the 1965 Chase over 4200m. SHISHKIN beat PIC D'ORHY in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase over this course and distance in February before a spectacular win at Aintree. I can't see why PIC D'ORHY shoud overturn a 16-length deficit on unchanged terms. 

The Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle over 3800m features the enigmatic GOSHEN who often runs well here and was a fine second in the Long Walk last December. Can he reproduce this form? I do think first time is the time to catch him so he has a big chance. He has to give 9 lbs to the useful mare THEATRE GLORY who was a fair sixth to Honeysuckle in the Fillies and Mares at Cheltenham.

Punchestown stages the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle - just four go to post, two Mullins runners and two from the Gordon Elliott stable. STATE MAN runs for the former and was the top Irish hurdler last season for all he was no match for CONSTITUTION HILL at Cheltenham. STATE MAN is 1/4 to follow up his 2022 win and it's hard to see any of these stopping him if he's fit.

Sunday sees the John Durkan at Punchestown and the likely re-appearance of the Gold Cup winner GALOPIN DES CHAMPS.

A good few thousand miles away, however, in Tokyo, we have the Japan Cup over 2400m and worth the small matter of £3.1 million to the winner. IRESINE is the sole European challenger - he won the Ganay in the spring but was beaten in the Foy before winning the Conseil de Paris last month. The problem is all his running has been on soft ground and it's never that at Fuchu Racecourse. He also has the not inconsiderable problem of the world's top rated horse in EQUINOX who was brilliant in the Sheema Classic and again in the Tenno Sho last month. His main problem might be the runaway Japanese Oaks winner LIBERTY ISLAND who could be anything and to whom he has to concede 9 lbs.

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A bit late but a chance to quickly renew last weekend's November (or Open) meeting at Cheltenham. The three days get the biggest crowds outside the Cheltenham but one day at the Festival is probalby as much as the three days of the Open Meeting combined but it's more for the locals and the purists than the March Festival.

The ground was near perfect - Soft for the most part, a little drier on the Friday perhaps.

The opening day saw two Grade 2 races - in the novice chase over 3200m there was an early opportunity for the British young chasers to establish their hierarchy. Unfortunately, the best horse didn't win the race as JPR ONE had these cooked when falling two out. In his absence, HOMME PUBLIC beat PETIT TONNERRE who ran a huge race on chasing debut. It's to be hoped JPR ONE gets a chance to confirm his status possibly in the Henry VIII at Sandown but whether any of them could live with the likes of FACILE VEGA or INTHEPOCKET from Ireland remains to be seen.

Champion Bumper third CAPTAIN TEAGUE is from the Nicholls stable and was the best of the young British bumper horses last term. He started well over hurdles at Chepstow and was expected to follow up in the 4200m Grade 2 but though he travelled well into the race he was outpaced up the hill by MINELLA MISSILE who had also won at Chepstow on hurdle debut but was a purchase from the Irish pointing field. Both horses could be decent and I think both will make good chasers next season.

Saturday was the big handicap but there was also the Grade 2 - the first significant race of the pattern - for the juvenile hurdlers. These are still 3-y-o and some have come off the flat. BURDETT ROAD drifted in the market to 9/4 but was too good for these. He won a 2000m handicap at the Royal Ascot meeting and ran in a couple of Group 3 races ending with a rating of 101. It's been a brave move to send him over timber rather than a synthetic campaign either in England or Dubai but it could well pay off though, as always, we don't yet know what the best of the Irish are.

Sunday saw the Schloer over 3200m for the speed chasers and last year's Arkle runner up JONBON put up a stellar performance to comfortably beat EDWARDSTONE and earn a quote of 1/4 for the Tingle Creek at Sandown in a couple of weeks. He's the nest British chaser but his nemesis from the spring, EL FABIOLO, looks to be his main threat with ENERGUMENE sidelined. EDWARDSTONE won the Tingle Creek last year and might do better on quicker ground but he's come up against a couple of exceptional chasers.

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Plenty to chew over from Ascot and Haydock yesterday but this morning saw the Japan Cup in Tokyo and the return of the world's best racehorse, on international rankings at least, EQUINOX. His main threat looked to be the new rising star on the Japanese block, LIBERTY ISLAND, who had run away with the Japan Oaks. IRESINE was the sole European challenger though the likes of Ryan Moore, Tom Marquand, William Buick and Hollie Doyle all had rides.

Japan Cup: 

PANTHALASSA once dead heated with LORD NORTH in the Dubai Turf but he went as though pursued by the hounds of hell with a 57 second first 1000m. That's Japanese racing and explains why they often do well in America and Australia where the running styles are similar.

EQUINOX was however superior in every sense and Christophe Lemaire never even picked up the stick - he's a seriously good horse, one of the best we've seen in recent times. He came home four lengths ahead of LIBERTY ISLAND who is clearly herself a very talented filly. Will Buick brought outsider STARS ON EARTH home in third while in fourth was DO DEUCE, who had beaten EQUINOX in the 2022 Japanese Derby - now he was six lengths behind. DANON BELUGA and VELA AZUL have raced outside Japan but were no match for the winner. IRESINE never got out of mid division.

Where does EQUINOX go from here? He could go back to Dubai for another Sheema Classic - I'd love him to come to Europe for the King George and perhaps the Juddmonte (what a treat that would be). He loves firm ground so while midsummer at Ascot might work, autumn in Paris probably wouldn't. I think he's better at 2400m but he can certainly cut the mustard at 2000m - the Aussies wouldn't see him for dust if he fetched up for the Cox Plate and he'd love the firm California turf for a Breeders Cup. 

I know there's an inate caution among owners but I really hope Ascot and other tracks do their level best to being the horse to a wider audience. His Sheema Classic win, when he saw off the likes of WESTOVER and MOSTAHDAF, has been fantastically well advertised in the past European summer.

 

Edited by stodge
my terrible spelling

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It seems my plans for EQUINOX were in vain as he has been retired to stud in Japan following his impressive win in last Sunday's Japan Cup. He will stand at the Shadai Stallion Station alongside his sire, KITASAN BLACK, with the stud fee still to be determined. Given the success of the pairing of Rhododendron to Deep Impact, it wouldn't surprise me if Coolmore were looking at sending more Galileo mares to Japan.

That's for another day - we're "enjoying" an early winter cold snap and while I think the weekend's turf action will survive, inspections have been called for tomorrow at Newbury and Doncaster and for Saturday at Newcastle.

Newbury stages a 2-day meeting, the highlight of which for punters is the Coral Gold Cup, which used to be called the Hennessey Gold Cup and was the first big open handicap chase of the season. With the coming of the Betfair Chase, it's lost a bit of that lustre as the very good chasers can go for a conditions race at levels rather then giving lumps of weight to handicappers as ARKLE famously did twice in the 60s when he gave 35 lbs and upwards and still won.. That was in 1964 and 1965.

The ground has dried significantly to Good to Soft, Good in places. The two Grade 2 races tomorrow start with the Novice Chase over 4000m. This sees the belated chasing debut of HERMES ALLEN who won the Challow last Christmas but was no match for the Irish at either Cheltenham or Aintree. This is no easy task, however, against some experienced chasers. MARBLE SANDS finished fifth when HERMES ALLEN was sixth at Cheltenham and won a nothing race at Ayr on chasing debut. NICKLE BACK was rated 125 over hurdles but is already 147 over fences following two facile wins  - he could be anything - whether he's a threat to HERMES ALLEN i'm not too certain.

The Group 2 Long Distance Hurdle over 4800m has attracted just six and to be honest the staying division is in a state of flux with no outstanding contender so far. MARIE'S ROCK had her first run at 4800m when chasing home SIRE DU BERLAIS at Aintree. She beat DASHEL DRASHER at Cheltenham last New Year's Day and while the latter has had a run at Wetherby, the fact is he probably wants softer turf. PAISLEY PARK is a wonderful veteran who was second to CHAMP in this last year and went on to win the rescheduled Long Walk at Kempton. I think Cheltenham isn't his track and first time may be the time to catch him so I'll be hoping PAISLEY PARK can turn back the clock one more time.

It's Good to Soft, Soft in places at Newcastle for Saturday's Fighting Fifth hurdle, a Grade 1 over 3200m. CONSTITUTION HILL faces four opponents and is 2/13 to follow up last year's success. He's unbeaten in seven hurdle races and last year won this, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, the Champion Hurdle and the Aintree Hurdle. Arguably stretching him to 4000m showed his one vulnerability but at 3200m he was dominant and STATE MAN was made to look second rate for all he is clearly the best in Ireland and bolted up in the Morgiana last Sunday.

Sunday sees three Grade 1 races at Fairyhouse, the Royal Bond, the Drinmore and the Hatton's Grace. In the last named, Ballymore winner IMPAIRE ET PASSE moves into open company against the winner of this race last year, TEAHUPOO who ended up a close third, beaten barely a length, in the thriller that was the Stayers Hurdle.

 

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Finally, and extremely late, the review of last weekend's jumps action up here.

Two Grade 1 races at Punchestown in Ireland and Haydock in England respectively. The Morgiana saw the seasonal re-appearance of the top Irish hurdler, STATE MAN, who had won this race last year and the Irish Champion Hurdle before finding a certain CONSTITUTION HILL nine lengths too good at Cheltenham. He faced three opponents but the fact he was priced at 1/6 told you all you needed to know.

Morgiana Hurdle: 

If you'd put £6,000 to win £1,000 you'd have had few worries. As a spectacle to live long in the memory, hardly. STATE MAN was barely out of third gear to win this and had a nice blow afterward. Presuambly he will go for the big hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas followed by the Irish Champion at the Dublin Racing Festival and then round 2 with CONSTITUTION HILL at Cheltenham. Will he get any closer next year? Maybe, but can I see him closing a 9-length gap? Not sure.

The Betfair Chase over 4800m at Haydock also had just four runners but it promised an interesting clash between BRAVEMANSGAME and PROTEKTORAT. The former won the King George and was runner up in the Gold Cup last season but had been beaten at Wetherby. The expectation was the Charlie Hall had put him spot on for his King George prep race. PROTEKTORAT won this last year but had finished ten lengths behind BRAVEMANSGAME in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. ROYALE PAGAILLE wwas a Haydock specialist but his form was on softer ground and he was well held on Gold Cup form finishing twelve lengths behind PROTEKTORAT. Making up the field was the National winner CORACH RAMBLER who had a lot to find on the numbers,. His re-appearance run at Kelso had been uninspiring but it's a long road from here to Aintree next April.

Betfair Chase: 

A turn up as ROYALE PAGAILLE emerged victorious for trainer Venetia Williams and jockey Charlie Deutsch. Previously, they'd thought of this horse more in terms of a National contender but he's now right in the Gold Cup picture. The extra 500m won't matter  but can I see him winning a Gold Cup? To be honest, no.

Connections of BRAVEMANSGAME were left bemused by his efforts. One or two pundits have always questioned whether this horse really sees out 4800m but you don't win a King George or run second in a Gold Cup as a non-stayer. The King George remains on the agenda but the suspicion is last year's races at Cheltenham and Punchestown have bottomed the horse a bit. We'll see.

CORACH RAMBLER ran much better in third and as you might imagine he was outpaced early before staying on in the straight. He's in the Becher over the National fences on the 9th and also in the Gold Cup and you could imagine him running on up the hill and into a place.

PROTEKTORAT ran a shocker - there was a sense he might have been too fresh and well. His jumping was erratic and he did far too much up front and by the end of the back straight he was completely cooked. Presumably they'll put him in the King George and a better effort wouldn't surprise but again can I see him winning a Gold Cup? In truth, no.

The paucity of the home challenge was laid bare here - Venetia's other contender, L'HOMME PRESSE hasn't been seen since coming down at the last in the King George. She said at Haydock the horse had been very slow to come to hand and probably wouldn't be ready for Kempton suggesting a run in the Cotswold in late January before a tilt at the Blue Riband.

KAMSINAS did me a nice favour in the Newton and he may be a quality northern contender for the supreme next March.

At Ascot, there was plenty of drama with SHISHKIN refusing to start in the 1965 Chase. He's a horse with known quirks but this was something new and his trainer Nicky Henderson, normally a loquacious and even-tempered soul, was left annoyed by events. This opened the door for PIC D'ORHY to win although I didn't think he jumped that well. He's in the Peterborough at Huntingdon and I'd run him in the King George if the ground was decent. He loves going right handed.

Trainer Paul Nicholls may have been frustrated by BRAVEMANSGAME's effort at Haydock but it was much better at Ascot as he nabbed a Grade 2 double with BLUEKING D'OROUX who is barely out of the novice grade but did this with authority and is clearly on the upgrade. STRONG LEADER ruined his chance by jumping left but was only beaten a length while THEATRE GLORY, who I thought was going to win two out, blew up approaching the last and couldn't quicken. She'll be much better for the run.

On to Sunday and another day at Punchestown with the Grade 1 feature the John Durkan over 3950m featuring the run of Gold Cup hero GALOPIN DES CHAMPS but he faced FASTORSLOW who had beaten both him and BRAVEMANSGAME at Punchestown in April.

John Durkan Memorial Chase: 

Such is the dominance of Willie Mullins he trained five of the six runners - unfortunately, he one he didn't train, FASTORSLOW, prevailed. This was a gutsy effort from the winner who we know likes it round here - I need convincing the very different test of Cheltenham over 1200m further will suit but he's not short of speed so the Ryanair would be an alternative. 

APPRECIATE IT looks the 4000m typoe on this evidence and might have held on had he not jumped left. That won't be a problem at a Leopardstown or Cheltenham and this rising 10-y-o could be at the top of his game.

GALOPIN DES CHAMPS ran a strange race - his jumping was still a bit novicey at times and given this trip would have been a long way short of ideal, he wasn't beaten far but, rather like BRAVEMANSGAME, you wonder if last season's exploits have left their mark. I imagine he'll go for the Savils at Leopardstown over Christmas.

We're left with a confused picture for the  Gold Cup - the Down Royal winner GERRI COLOMBE is apparently heading for the King George and is now 4/1 second favourite for the Gold Cup with GALOPIN DES CHAMPS 3/1 favourite and FASTORSLOW at 6/1. BRAVEMANSGAME remains the best of the British at 7s.

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News this afternoon tomorrow's card at Newcastle has fallen to frost and snow with the Fighting Fifth re-routed to Sandown next Saturday - great idea, run a race due to be run on a left-handed course on a right-handed track.

Newbury inspect in the morning but I think they might struggle having raced this afternoon. Not sure what entertainment we'll have tomorrow - we're in a break for the Falt jockeys so there's no synthetic action scheduled so if all the British and Irish turf meetingd are lost, the bookies are going to be moaning about lost turnover.

Sunday's card at Fairyhouse should survive as milder air is due in - the Royal Bond for the novice hurdlers has 8 runners. AN TOBAR from the De Bromhead stable is favourite having won his point by twenty lengths and hacked up in a maiden hurdle. There are a number of these who could be anything.

Five go in the Drinmore over 4000m for the novice chasers. LETSBEHONESTABOUTIT looked very good at Cork three weejs ago and was a decent novice hurdler  having run fourth in both the Albert Bartlett and the Mersey. You'd think 4800m wouldn't be a problem but he seems to have that bit of tactical speed at this distance.

Five also in the Hatton's Grace over 4000m for the hurdlers. IMPAIRE ET PASSE is a horse full of promise - he won the Ballymore at Cheltenham and they could have gone over fences with him but he may find another season over timber rewarding. Perhaps he'll move up to the staying ranks.

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I'll pick up on the weekend action just gone in a later contribution.

This weekend sees the main meeting at Sandown where the ground is currently Soft but with rain forecast.

Friday has two Grade 2 races - the Winter Novices Hurdle over 4000m has just five runners. All five won last time out and at least three are in the "could be anything" file. INSURRECTION represents Paul Nicholls and won at Exeter over 3200m last time but as an Irish point winner, stamina shouldn't be an issue. Nicky Henderson runs SOUTHOFTHEBORDER and the profile is very similar to that of INSURRECTION. Arguably, the hurdle won by SOUTHOFTHEBORDER was a notch stronger. 

PERSONAL AMBITION looked very good at Warwick and while he didn't win his Irish point, he was third to CANTICO and that one is held in high regard by Willie Mullins. 

Top rated is JOSH THE BOSS who has won at Warwick and Aintree - I just think he might be more of a 4800m type and might be done for speed. The same is likely of the Skelton candidate DEAFENING SILENCE who won well over 4200m at Exeter which is a very stiff galloping track.

We also have the Esher Novices Chase over 4800m for the young staying chasers. STAY AWAY FAY won the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham and wa sokay when winning on chasing debut at Exeter. I think the experience will have helped and I look forward to a better effort but he faces the useful GIOVINCO, a rare northern raider who won at Aintree last time having bossed novice hurdles at the likes of Carlisle and Perth last winter.

Saturday sees three Grade 1 races at the Esher venue on what is the best day of the jumping campaign so far.

The Fighting Fifth has been rescheduled from Newcastle last weekend and the new race has attracted eight entries with Henderson putting in both CONSTITUTION HILL and SHISHKIN who as we know blotted his copybook at Ascot. Henderson has expressed some concern over the chance of heavy ground at Sandown and I suspect he'd take the horse out if it went Heavy. CONSTITUTION HILL is miles ahead on the numbers and if he runs he wins. Take the favourite out and it looks a very open race.

The Henry VIII for the young speedy chasers over 3200m. JPR ONE bids to atone for his Cheltenham mishap but Sandown takes some jumping and I liked the way PETIT TONNERRE ran on up the hill at Prestbury Park. In a division with no obvious early British star to take on the likes of FACILE VEGA, it'll be interesting to see if we can establish a clear pecking order.

The Tingle Creek for the older speed chasers features Cheltenham winner JONBON who is 1/4 to follow up. He holds the likes of EDWARDSTONE and CAPTAIN GUINNESS comfortably on races both this season and earlier in the year.

Sunday should feature the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon but the course faces an inspection tomorroe because of heavy rain.

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A first look at the runners for the Hong Kong International races at Sha Tin on Sunday.

LUXEMBOURG represents Aidan O'Brien in the Cup while HORIZON DORE runs for France in a race seemingly dominated by local champion and last year's winner ROMANTIC WARRIOR who returns after his win in the Cox Plate last time.

TRIBALIST runs for Andre Fabre and CAIRO for Aidan O'Brien in the Mile but if either get anywhere near the likes of GOLDEN SIXTY and CALIFORNIA SPENGLE i'll be surprised.

HIGHFIELD PRINCESS was last seen winning the Abbaye but she is in the sprint along with AESOP'S FABLES who ran very well at Santa Anita for Aidan O'Brien. SWEYNESSE looks the one to beat.

WARM HEART was just outpointed by INSPIRAL in the Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita but back up to 2400m must have a serious chance in the Vase. SHAHRYAR returned to form at Santa Anita and is top rated while the German Group 1 winner JUNKO and the ex-UK galloper WEST WIND BLOWS (last seen campaigning in Australia) add spice to this event.

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Back to a chilly last weekend and with Newcastle lost to snow, Newbury staged the main British meeting and on Friday the only meeting.

The ground had dried to Good to Soft, Good in places and the Friday card had two Grade 2 races. The John Francome over 4000m for the intermediate novice chasers saw HERMES ALLEN enhance his reputation with a convincing win over NICKLE BACK. The winner will, I suspect, stay at this trip with STAY AWAY FAY the more likely Nicholls contender for the 4800m races. The long term aim for HERMES ALLEN would be the Turners over 4200m at Cheltenham but how he'll fare against the Irish remains to be seen.

The weakness in the home strength in the staying hurdle division was laid bare as the 10-y-o DASHEL DRASHER just held off the late finish of the 11-y-o PAISLEY PARK in the 4800m Grade 2. They are both wonderful old warriors who have done fantastically well for connections but the notion either of them can win a stayers at Cheltenham isn't one to be taken seriously. The disappointment was the mare MARIE'S ROCK who for me didn't stay the trip and will be back at 4000m after this.

On then to Fairyhouse on Sunday and Soft ground but a bright afternoon for the three Grade 1 features. First, the Royal Bond for the novice hurdlers over 3200m. This looked wide open with Willie Mullins running two and Gordon Elliott three but the narrow favourite was AN TOBAR from the De Bromhead stable.

Royal Bond Novices Hurdle: 

A 1-2 for Gordon Elliott but you'd have been hard pushed to name FARREN GLORY the winner even at the last. As is often the case in Ireland, it was a dawdle and then a 600m sprint and that doesn't suit some of these who look more like relentless gallopers. The winner took plenty of stoking along and didn't jump the last well but still stuck on too well for stable mate KING OF KINGSFIELD. The favourite AN TOBAR put up a solid effort in third and I suspect the faster gallop at Cheltenham in the Supreme will help a lot. BIALYSTOK ran home for fourth but I'm sure we'll learn more at Christmas.

The Drinmore is for the intermediate novices over 4000m - favourite was LETSBEHONESTABOUTIT who had placed well in the top staying novice hurdles last season and was unbeaten and impressive in two novice chases.

Drinmore Novices Chase: 

It's eight months since I AM MAXIMUS won the 5800m Irish Grand National over this track yet one of the quirks of the Irish novice chase pattern means he is still qualified for novice chasers - about the same as saying a Derby winner can run in a maiden. To be fair, it might have been unrealistic for a 5900m winner to have the speed to win over 4000m but with the other contenders not really getting home, I AM MAXIMUS had more than enough stamina.

FOUND A FIFTY wasn't helped by a mistake at the last but I think he would have been held while LETSBEHONESTABOUTIT travelled well to two out and found nothing. Sometimes bossing inferior rivals makes a horse looks better than he is and LETSBEHONESTABOUTIT was found out in this company.

Just five in the Hatton's Grace over 4000m for the hurdlers and an intriguing battle between Ballymore winner IMPAIRE ET PASSE who was making his seasonal debut and last year's winner of this race, TEAHUPOO who downed the great Honeysuckle in this before running a close third in that thrilling finish to the stayers at Cheltenham.

Hatton's Grace Hurdle: 

The front two dominated the race off the home turn and IMPAIRE ET PASSE looked to be travelling the better between the last two but perhaps the lack of an outing told against the battler TEAHUPOO who just wore him down in the final 100m. Both ran well and I look forward to them re-matching possibly at Leopardstown over Christmas. You'd think IMPAIRE ET PASSE might be the better longer term prospect but I'm also sure TEAHUPOO will win his share of good races and neither has much to worry about from the other side of the Irish Sea currently.

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Final declarations are through for Saturday's three big Grade 1 races at Sandown. The ground remains broadly Soft with some Heavy patches on the hurdles course but it's raining in London this evening.

Not many runners in the top races as is the story these days outside Cheltenham.

Six stand in the Fighting Fifth with Nicky Henderson keeping both CONSTITUTION HILL and SHISHKIN. The former is 1/5 and is 22 lbs ahead of the other hurdlers (only 12 lbs in front of SHISHKIN but that's a steeplechase rating) and assuming he's the same horse as last year, he wins. SHISHKIN wants further these days but could go well and if the favourite were to slip up, LOVE ENVOI would be the likely benficiary but it's hard to see.

Six also go in the Henry VIII over 3200m. I like PETIT TONNERRE at 12s but it's not really an each way price. JPR ONE is favourite but Sandown is no place for either a weak or extravagant jumper and I'd take him on at 7/4. COLONEL HARRY is a solid alternative - he was a decent novice hurdler in the north last year and jumped well at Chepstow on chasing debut.

Five stand in the Tingle Creek and JONBON is 2/9 to confirm Cheltenham form with EDWARDSTONE. Fans of this division will be keeping an eye on Cork on Sunday where Arkle winner EL FABIOLO makes his reappearance in the Grade 2 Hilly Way. I suspect he and JONBON won't meet until the Champion Chase at Cheltenham but they look the two dominant forces in the 3200m division with ENERGUMENE out for the season.

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Heavy rain is set to sweep across England and Wales tonight and there are inspections planned at Sandown and Chepstow tomorrow.

Nicky Henderson has been quoted as saying CONSTITUTION HILL will not run in the rescheduled Fighting Fifth if the ground at Esher is "attritional".

This afternoon's action took place on a glorious winter's afternoon - mild for early December. The Esher Novices Chase, despite only having four runners, weas not without incident. THE CHANGING MAN blundered and lost Brendan Powell five out when with the two market principals, STAY AWAY FAY and GIOVINCO and the loose horse then got completely in the way approaching the Pond Fence (three out) causing both his rivals to snatch up. GIOVINCO recovered the better and looked the winner at the last but the Sandown hill on soft or heavy ground puts a huge emphasis on stamina and STAY AWAY FAY has that in abundance and got past GIOVINCO in the final 150m to win a shade cosily.

On quicker ground, I'd want to be on GIOVINCO in any rematch and I wonder if the second will go to Kempton for the Feltham on Boxing Day.

The Heavy ground played its part in the Winter Novices Hurdle. INSURRECTION set a sensible pace on the ground and had SOUTHOFTHEBORDER beaten when the latter blundered away Nico de Boinville two out. PERSONAL AMBITION was let dwon by some poor jumping - I think he'll be much better on some decent ground. DEAFENING SILENCE raced in last and was produced by Harry Skelton to challenge INSURRECTION between the last two along with JOSH THE BOSS but the latter came to grief at the last leaving a match up the hill which DEAFENING SILENCE won

The winner will make a smashing chaser next year while INSURRECTION will no doubt head for the Albert Bartlett in due time.

With only 41 runners in the six races it wasn't a day for serious punting but nice to get out and about in the sunshine.

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Final declarations are through for the Sunday International races at Sha Tin.

Just nine go in the Vase and Ryan Moore is going to try to get to 8 st 5 lbs to ride WARM HEART who I think will take a lot of beating. JMac is on WEST WIND BLOWS which looks sensible but I can't see him giving the filly 9 lbs. LEBENSSTIL with Joao Moreira booked is an interesting Japanese colt.

10 go in the Sprint and the draw hasn't been kind to HIGHFIELD PRINCESS who is in stall nine. LUCKY SWEYNESSE is the local champion and it's hard to see past him.

14 go in the Mile and local champion GOLDEN SIXTY has the car park berth. That may not stop him but it gives the likes of CALIFORNIA SPENGLE a chance.

11 go in the Cup and the French 3-y-o HORIZON DORE brings top form having finished third in the Champion Stakes at Ascot. He gets weight from both LUXEMBOURG and ROMANTIC WARRIOR and the latter won the Cox Plate last time so comes here in top form.

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A tremendous morning (well, for me) of racing from Hong Kong and you can see why the HKJC is the power it is and the insane amounts bet on each race put the mean-spirited UK punters to shame. The four Group 1 races pitted the best of the locals against some decent foreign competition albeit a notch below the absolute beat.

The Vase over 2400m was perhaps the race where the local challenge was at its weakest. Ryan Moore rode the filly WARM HEART but faced challenges from both Japan and from France in the form of the recent German Group 1 winnert JUNKO.

Vase: 

I'm not sure about the commentator wittering on about how slow they were going (I can read sectionals) was helpful - he probably doesn't get to call many 2400m races. Ryan Moore got the filly in the perfect position and went on off the home turn but as with INSPIRAL in California, WARM HEART proved vulnerable to the closers and Maxime Guyon rode a superb waiting race on JUNKO sitting last and challenging in the straight with the Japanese challenger ZEFFIRO who had last time won a Group 2 handicap in Tokyo - the front two were split by a head with WARM HEART beaten two lengths back in third. LEBENSSTIL, the favourite, was last.

One then for France and the French master handler, Andre Fabre. This one could go to Dubai or we could see him over 2400m in England next season - whether he'd enjoy the end-to-end gallop of a British race I'm less certain - this was run like a French race. WARM HEART owes nothing to connections - whether she'll head to the paddocks or not I don't know.

On then to the Mile which looked dominated by the local champion GOLDEN SIXTY though he had been given the car park draw and some of those he routinely beats such as CALIFORNIA SPENGLE and the Japanese runners had claims.

Mile: 

A seriously impressive performance by GOLDEN SIXTY who took his win/place earnings to over £16 million with this win. He has that turbo charge 400m out that kills the opposition. JMac tried to guess the move on VENTURE BUBBLE and was closing at the line but the damage was done with Japanese challengers NAMUR and SOUL RUSH third and fourth. TRIBALIST did too much too early and CAIRO isn't really in this class.

On then to the Sprint and could the top European mare HIGHFIELD PRINCESS give the local champion LUCKY SWEYNESSE any problems?

Sprint: 

It didn't look likely 300m out as he looked to be in trouble but LUCKY SWEYNESSE showed why he's the best sprinter in HK wirth this commanding performance. JMac again tried to out think the local champion by going for home on VICTOR THE WINNER but his charge faltered badly in the final 100m and lost two places close home as  LUCKY WITH YOU and WELLINGTON (well held when tried in the UK) finishing strongly but LUCKY SWEYNESSE was too good.

HIGHFIELD PRINCESS was in a decent position but couldn't go with these 1200m specialists and that was her final race. Clearly, she'll be a popular broodmare - AESOP'S FABLES weakened to last.

Finally, the Cup, the feature over 2000m and an intriguing clash between the Cox Plate winner ROMANTIC WARRIOR and the Irish Champion runner up LUXEMBOURG and one of those rare occasions where the very best of Hong Kong and Europe clash.

Cup: 

An absolute thriller and a stellar ride from James McDonald who finally got some reward for his persistence as ROMANTIC WARRIOR just held on but Ryan Moore deserves plenty of plaudits for the ride on LUXEMBOURG - he followed ROMANTIC WARRIOR but just didn't have the tactical speed between 600-800m out but it should be remembered this was a horse once touted as an Epsom Derby contender so he was always going to finish strongly and so it proved but second was all he got.

The veteran HISHI IGUAZU didn't get the best of runs and was arguably unlucky to be beaten a head in third with PROGNOSIS, the Japanese raider, another to have problems in running but coming home strongly. The first five were split by a length in the end. HORIZON DORE jumped poorly and ran too free.

On the morning then, the three local champions all delivered the goods with GOLDEN SIXTY very much the star of the show. LUCKY SWEYNESSE was impressive - ROMANTIC WARRIOR had to dig deep. Up at 2400m the locals don't have much to offer and JUNKO took full advantage of a French-style pace to continue building his profile suggesting a lucrative 2024 campaign could be on offer - could he be a viable Arc challenger? Not much to show for the other Europeans in truth - the Japanese sent a fair team and copped some place money but we know the really big races this month will keep the very best at home.

That's pretty much it for the northern hemisphere season until we start it all again at Meydan next month.

 

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Another spell of heavy overnight and morning rain didn't stop racing going ahead at Sandown but left the hurdle course Heavy and the chase course Heavy, Soft in places. To no one's particular surprise, Nicky Henderson ruled CONSTITUTION HILL and SHISHKIN out of the Fighting Fifth. Both will now go to Kempton on Boxing Day - the former for the Christmas Hurdle and the latter for the King George.

With the big star absent, it was the chance for the second raters to shine and support came for YOUWEARITWELL who displaced morning favourite LOVE ENVOI in the pre-race exchanges.

Fighting Fifth Hurdle: 

NOT SO SLEEPY dead heated with EPATANTE way back in 2021 and it speaks volumes to the paucity of the quality of British hurdlers (CONSTITUTION HILL excepted) he can turn up and beat the aspiring younger ones so readily. He'll no doubt turn up at Cheltenham in March but unless he can claw his way into third or fourth place he'll be there to make up the numbers. I'm not sure the second or third enjoyed the ground and the one thing they can take is it's unlikely to be that attritional at Prestbury Park in March. I thought LOVE ENVOI got better as the way went on and especially up the hill where the ground was perhaps not quite so bad.

Two steeplechases over 3200m constituted (sorry) the other championship races. The Henry VIII was the race for the first season novices - JPR ONE had looked set to win a Grade 2 at Cheltenham before overjumping and losing his rider at the second last. However, COLONEL HARRY had looked very good at Chepstow on his chasing bow and was well supported into 2/1 against JPR ONE who drifted to 5/2.

Henry VIII Novices Chase: 

A turn up as 16/1 shot LE PATRON outstayed his rivals but this was much more a stamina test than usual and the fact the winner was proven at 4000m proved decisive. COLONEL HARRY and JPR ONE both threatened but neither for my money got home up the hill on the ground. How they will all fare against the Irish and on better ground remains to be seen. As for the winner I'd love to see him back up in trip - his astute trainer nabbed a big pot here - and he jumped really nicely out of the ground.

Although his stable mates stayed at home, Arkle runner up JONBON was a runner in the Tingle Creek, named after that superstar of the 1970s and was a strong favourite to confirm Cheltenham form with EDWARDSTONE

Tingle Creek Chase: 

Workmanlike tather than spectacular would be my assessment of JONBON's performance. The ground was plenty soft enough for him and probably blunted his greatest asset, his speed. Nonetheless, he mostly jumped well and was particularly good down the seven on the back straight. In the end, he was too good for EDWARDSTONE who put up a better effort and HADDOX DES OBEAUX who we know relishes heavy ground and ran a fine race trying to beat better horses on level terms. I'd love to see the third at Lingfield for the Winter Millions meeting in the New Year. JONBON and I imagine EDWARDSTONE will head for the Clarence House at Ascot.

The gauntlet was thrown down to EL FABIOLO and promptly picked up when the latter won the Hilly Way at Cork on the next afternoon. I didn't think he jumped the second fence or the last that well but he was too good for these and intriguingly Willie Mullins suggested a clash with JONBON at Ascot was very much on the table which would be a mouthwatering prospect.

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With the weather finally settling after the October and November monsoons, we should have a full weekend of action.

Cheltenham stages its two-day December meeting but this is a weekend of quantity rather than quality and the sole Grade 2 on Saturday is a 4800m novices hurdle which used to be called the Bristol but is now alos called the Albert Bartlett (which is the nbame of the equivalent championship race at the March Festival).

The ground is now Soft at Prestbury Park and the favourite is yet another ex-Irish point winner in SHANAGH BOB from the Henderson yard, I'm not sure it was the strongest Irish point he won a year ago - the second has placed in two Irish maiden hurdles this autumn and while he dotted up at Plumpton last month, he beat nothing.

I saw ILLICO DES COTTES at LIngfield when he ran second in a maiden hurdle and thought he was a decent sort while DESTROYTHEEVIDENCE will have a big chance if the ground dries appreciably as he's proven on Good ground.

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