When Willie Mullins declared his possible hand for the Betfair Tingle Creek back in November, some mischievously commented that Nicky Henderson would “fill his trousers” upon reading the story and give the race a swerve with Shishkin.
In the end, the Seven Barrows horse duly didn’t turn up, for entirely understandable reasons as it transpired – poor blood counts and scopes – but there was no doubt it was a funny line, which resonated with many people, resulting in an unedifying and unwarranted trainer pile-on.
However, I just wonder whether it planted an early seed of thought in Henderson’s mind, as to the next time this type of discussion would rear its head.
And that is to get your declaration in early, which he certainly did when telling Nick Luck on Racing TV on Saturday that Shishkin had been given the green light to run in the Clarence House at Ascot on Saturday.
So is it now the turn of Mullins to stuff his strides with Energumene?
Obvious logic suggests that is now the most likely state of affairs – if the match-up is not to materialise, that is – and that goes firmly against what Betfair’s ante-post market has been telling us for the past few weeks.
Not so long ago, Shishkin hit a high of 4.67/2 on the market, and he was about a 11/4 chance this time last week – Energumene has hit a low of 1.81 – but it was all change after that Racing TV interview, when it was a case of fastest-fingers first in mopping up the Shishkin’s odds-against (I hope the press kept their hands in their pockets…).
No bet Friday, for me
Anyway, let’s get on with the weekend ante-post analysis (I was considering doing a Friday stand-alone piece on Lingfield’s ITV races on Friday but I couldn’t see a bet after the early, respective, 10s and 9s about Belle de Menech and Fantastikas went into freefall) as this column needs a cash injection about a barren spell since Tornado Flyer’s win in the King George, and that is why you should never go overboard about winners, and start with all this “Boom” nonsense on Twitter and the like.
We all know losing runs are never far off, especially at the prices this column plays at.
Just update your profit and loss, stick to your guns and MO and hopefully sound reasoning, and let your readers decide.
The good news is the big 2m chasing clash is still on after the midday entries on Monday, though the brilliant, dry weather forecast at Ascot this week will probably not be music to the ears of Mullins, whose charge is clearly well suited to very deep ground (the going is currently soft).
The bad news is that there are only three other entries.
And more troublesome news is that this glorious sunshine weather is set to continue all week, and the low sun is set to wreak even more havoc. You needed a Flat horse in the hurdles and chases on all courses on Monday.
The Betfair Sportsbook currently make it 1/2 Shishkin plays 9/4 Energumene, with 6/1 First Flow and 10/1 Hitman, and 50/1 the outsider Amoola Gold (though you will get bigger on all five on the win-only exchange).
In short, there is nothing bet-inducing in those prices, though a few weeks ago I backed last year’s winner First Flow at 5/1 each way, two places, in the belief that one of the big boys wouldn’t turn up.
That now looks a wrong assumption, but more of this on Thursday when we know what runs.
I am going to limit this ante-post column to Saturday’s racing (though we have ITV racing on Friday and Sunday as well this week), and so I may as well list those that are double-entered this week for the seven races straight away.
DOUBLE-ENTERED HORSE IN SATURDAY’S ITV RACES
13:45 Ascot: Ballybegg, Esprit du Large, Garo De Juilley, Garry Clermont, Goshen, Master Debonair, Skandiburg
14:20 Ascot: Galia des Liteaux, Gazette Bourgeoise, Legends Gold, Mollys Ollys Wishes, Tequila Blaze
14:55 Ascot: Fanion D’Estruval, Kauto Riko, Larry, Linelee King, Sopran Thor, Two For Gold, Zhiguli (in addition Five Star Getaway and Fusil Raffles are entered in Skybet Chase a week on Saturday)
15:35 Ascot: None
13:25 Haydock: Good Risk At All, It’s Good To Laugh, Risk D’Argent
14:00 Haydock: Garo De Juilley, Hunters Call, Rockadenn
14:35 Haydock: Bristol De Mai, Fado Des Brosses, Just Your Type, Lieutenant Rocco, Lord Du Mesnil, Remastered, Sam Brown, The Galloping Bear, The Two Amigos (Empire Steel, Enqarde and Lieutenant Rocco also entered in Skybet Chase a week on Saturday).
As you can see from the lists above, pricing up these races could not have been easy for the layers, with Lingfield’s three-day meeting putting a fair few spanners in the works. As a result the percentages they are betting to at the ante-post stage are understandably defensive.
And there are a few races which don’t have many entries to play with in the first place.
Duffield to deliver?
We will stick to Ascot for the time being though, and I would have had Unexpected Party as my clear favourite in the 2m3f handicap hurdle at 13:45pm (the first firm up had him as a 13-2 chance, co-second favourite of three behind 11/2 Garry Clermont – that’s how tight their percentages were in a 17-strong field, and the others books have followed suit).
I don’t think many people would disagree that Unexpected Party should be coming here on a four-timer after two less than ideal rides of late – the Sportsbook make him 5s by the way – but the handicapper has agreed and upped him 6lb for his second at odds-on at Wetherby on Boxing Day.
Garry Clermont is a huge danger to all but he is one of seven in here with alternative engagements (he is entered on Friday and Sunday too), and Born Patriot is the other one towards the top of the market who has to be given maximum respect.
I reckon he must have lost at least 10 lengths with his stuttering jumping when beaten 3 lengths by Kansas City Chief in a Pertemps Qualifier over 3m at Cheltenham in October, so he has to be of interest here, especially given the winner is now rated 11lb higher after a series of cracking runs since.
Of course, on the negative side, he steps down to 2m3f here and that would not appear ideal given his record to date, especially as the quicker tempo will put more pressure on his jumping you would think, albeit he does have a lightly-raced profile as a 6yo, so it may not be wise to class him as just a stayer just yet.
Furthermore, at the time of filing at 9am, I don’t know what mark he is due to run off here – god knows why the BHA can’t just publish their Irish ratings – and it is also possible connections are just having a sighter, Gordon Elliott style, to see if he has been raised for his Cheltenham run. Actually, I checked before publishing just after 11am, and they have upped him 3lb for it.
No, the one who is winking at me is N’golo.
Now, I appreciate I have a lot of history with this horse, which included an embarrassing 33/1 tip for the Supreme last year when he was trained by Willie Mullins, so I may be blind to his inadequacies.
But I was not the only one who saw fair more promise in his 13 length fourth at Haydock to Up For Parol on his debut for Ann Duffield (who bought him for just £14,500), as he went off at a Betfair SP of 83.77 there, only to trade at 2.9 in the run when looking dangerous in the straight.
The Haydock winner ran okay when sixth in the Lanzarote on Sunday (the second Stellar Magic, is in here, and the third has not run since) and the fifth won at Bangor last week, so I reckon the handicapper has been generous in dropping him 4lb. And he did make a very bad error when upsides the leaders 2 out at Haydock, too.
Do we go in now though?
The first firm up Monday made him a 20/1 chance, which was fair, so I was very happy to see the Betfair Sportsbook make him a 33/1 poke at 5pm on Monday.
Back each-way to small stakes at 33/1. 25s would be fine, and 20s the lowest acceptable price and I am happy to play three places, given the attractive price. 3lb claimer Niall Houilhan has been booked.
The action elsewhere
Even though five of the 10 are double-entered, I can leave the mares’ Grade 2 hurdle at 14:20pm well alone, but the 2m5f handicap chase at 2.55pm looked promising on first viewing, with seven of the 17 double-entered and two more entered in the Skybet Chase a week on Saturday.
However, on closer inspection nothing shouted at me at the prices.
Rising 2m star Tommy’s Oscar has only six to beat in Haydock’s Champion Hurdle Trial at 14:00, and probably a few less come Saturday, with his main market rival Hunters Call with options at Lingfield at Friday and Sunday.
He will be 5s on if Hunters Call goes elsewhere.
Jonbon may not be as short as that in the Rossington Main at 13:25pm and he could have more on his plate than his odds-on quotes suggest (he was as short as 2/5 on Monday), even if this race cuts up too (third favourite Good Risk At All is in a Warwick handicap on Saturday).
I have laid him for the Supreme but I don’t expect him to be undone here , even if he gets a truly-run race for the first time over hurdles, on probably the softest ground he has experienced under Rules.
The only other race that interested me from a betting point of view was the Peter Marsh, as this really has got the potential to cut up badly. Take a look at my list of double-entered horses and see how prominent many are in the market.
There are 17 entries but nine have immediate alternatives this week, and three could easily wait for the valuable Skybet Chase in January 29.
With that in mind, the early 5/1 about Royal Pagaille was never going to last, and he was quickly cut into 7/2 on Monday.
He is only 7lb higher than when running away with this race by 16 lengths last year (this renewal will admittedly be a lot stronger if the numbers hold up) and you can forgive him his run in the Gold Cup afterwards as he came back with a nasty injury (which has gone largely unreported).
He was then unfortunate enough to bump into A Plus Tard on his A-game in the Betfair Chase here on his reappearance and this represents an altogether easier assignment, even if he had a minor problem and hold-up afterwards (incurred a minor wound, which had to be stitched, in the Betfair, which meant the King George had to be bypassed) and has to carry top weight.
The 5/1 second favourite Empire Steel is clearly a big danger if rocking up, as the handicapper couldn’t touch him for his fall 4 out when going best in the Rowland Meyrick on Boxing Day . I know it was a long way out but it is hard to escape the conclusion that, at the very least, he would have improved on his current rating if standing up there.
But he is one of the favourites for the even more valuable Skybet Chase at Donny at the end of the month, so connections have a decision to make as to what contest he goes for.
In short, Royale Pagaille is a very solid favourite, but probably just his correct price now at 7/2.
So, just N’golo for me at this stage. What could possibly go wrong by siding with that hugely consistent grey who has done me proud in the past?