Friday, 12th February 2016
Good afternoon, contrarians,
On the menu today….
In years gone by the Denman Chase (Newbury, Saturday 2.25) has served to inform the outcome of the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
In recent times Kauto Star, Denman and Coneygree each tasted success in tomorrow’s race before going on to strike gold at the Festival.
But I can say with some degree of certainty that it won’t be that way this year. Tomorrow’s renewal looks decidedly sub-standard.
Four of the 7 runners failed to complete last time out – 3 of them pulling up. None of tomorrow’s runners arrives at Newbury on what could be termed an upward curve of good form.
Six of the 7 runners have already raced between 15 and 28 times over fences. They’ve already had plenty of opportunities to show the extent of their capabilities. We are not looking at a bunch of unexposed up-and-coming talents.
Some have been going the wrong way. The Giant Bolster and Houblon Des Obeaux have been dropping through the handicap of late – suggesting that their best days might well be some way behind them.
The market has latched onto Rocky Creek as the most likely of this bunch to come out on top. You can see why….
His effort at Down Royal in October on his seasonal return when he ran 2nd to Don Cossack in the G1 JN Wine.com Champion Chase is the best semi-recent bit of form any of tomorrow’s runners brings into the race.
Allied to that is Paul Nicholls’s habit of finding a ‘live’ one for this – he’s won 7 of the last 14 renewals and found 3 additional placers. And the master of Ditcheat is the form trainer in tomorrow’s race with 7 winners from his 32 runners over the last fortnight.
I wouldn’t put you off backing Rocky Creek one if you like the 13/8 price tag. But for me that quote doesn’t exactly sing soprano and in a topsy-turvy looking race where nothing appears particularly convincing, I’m minded to chance something at a bigger price – playing for place money with the outside chance of an outright upset.
On paper David Pipe’s Ballynagour is the obvious danger to Rocky Creek. He’s the highest rated horse in the race and on his day he can look very smart. But I do have some reservations about his robustness.
The 10yo has had quite a few long breaks with one problem or another and, with rain due at Newbury tomorrow morning and the ground likely to be testing by the off, I wonder if that will suit his delicate constitution. Good ground has been required to see Ballynagour at his best over fences and at quotes of 9/4 this afternoon he’s short enough in the betting for my tastes.
You’d expect conditions to suit Houblon Des Obeaux and the best two runs of his chasing career came at Newbury in the 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup and in this race last year – when he was 2nd behind Coneygree.
But he hasn’t managed to run a decent race since then in 6 attempts and this term his jumping appears to have gone to pot. It would take a leap of faith to back him – whatever his price. At quotes of 7/2 I can justify looking elsewhere.
The one I’m going to chance to small each-way stakes at a price is BOB FORD at 16s.
In his last 7 races he’s produced 2 wins and failed to complete on the other 5 occasions – pulling up 4 times. But I am mindful that he was prepared for the abandoned meeting at Ffos Las last week where he was slated to defend his win the previous year in the West Wales National.
He was down to carry top-weight but Rebecca Curtis – who had 4 in the race – saw him as her best shot and expected a good run from him. If nothing else I expect him to turn up at Newbury race-fit and ready to do a job.
The other thing about him is that he seems to like the mud. He’s won 4 from 11 (placing twice) on heavy ground – and that should stand him in good stead tomorrow.
Of course, the horse is officially rated just 142. Ordinarily he wouldn’t figure in calculations for a G2 race. He wouldn’t be good enough. But this is no ordinary G2 race. All the runners have some form of question-mark hanging over them and the race is ripe for an unconventional outcome.
If Bob Ford can put it together with conditions to suit then he might be the one fit enough and firing sufficiently well to hit the frame (place terms are 1/4 1-2) unexpectedly. It’s a messy old race to try and call but – at the prices – Bob Ford is my preference.
The Contrarian Bet Box….
To recap where the value is tomorrow’s Denman Chase….
That is my take on tomorrow’s target races. You will no doubt have your own ideas – and that’s exactly as it should be. You can watch the action unfold live on C4 & RUK.
That’s all from me for today. Stay tuned for more contrarian big-race insight & analysis on Monday.
Against the Crowd