Tony Calvin backs three at cold Kempton


It is, of course, a total irrelevance in this bleakest of winters, politically and health-wise, but the Irish Horse Racing Board has come in for a bit of a kicking this week because of inaccurate race distances, and it seems with some good reason.

However, “we” also need to get our house in order this side of the water too.

There was a bit of a do when Wetherby announced late, day-of-race changes to the distances for their meeting on 27 December, adding a monumental 456 yards to the two 3m45yd chases on the card for example, but what do I see when I go on the Racing Post, Sporting Life and Timeform sites (and I assume all others) for these contests after the event?

Apparently, Remastered and Leverock Lass still over won 3m45yd.

The results have not been updated manually to account for the extra 2f and so, and I’d say that is even worse than being given questionable information from Ireland.

We know the correct distances raced in this instance, but no-one has even bothered to change it. To be fair, they may not currently be able to, but this needs to be addressed.

It needs sorting out, or the Irish may be throwing the stones back this way with some justification.

Hopefully, we can be sure of what we are getting at the three tracks covered by ITV4 on Saturday, if indeed any of them survive the weather.

Gardefort’s odds override doubts at Wincanton

Wincanton surprisingly passed a midday inspection on Friday (though they will undoubtedly look again in the morning), which means I have to have yet another rant at the state of novices’ chases in this country (from my betting point of view, admittedly).

Just three are entered for the 24k Grade 2 contest at 14:05 (and one of those would have run at Ffos Las on Thursday had that meeting been on), and this longstanding joke is not funny anymore.

We move on. The 2m4f handicap chase at 14:35 looks very tricky to call, with so many horses set to go into the race out of form and doubly-entered, too. That’s a pass, too.

The other ITV race, the seven-runner 2m handicap chase at 15:45 is obviously a win-only betting affair and I was going to leave this alone as well.

But I was expecting Gardefort to be a fair bit shorter than 11/2.

I was cursing at him at Ascot last time as I thought he was going to unexpectedly bounce back to form at 33/1 (traded at 1.62 in the run) and chin my 8/1 punt on Bennys King, but thankfully Gardefort couldn’t quite seal the deal and was beaten six lengths into second.

However, that was clearly a very good run against a well-handicapped horse, and the assessor has left him alone for it.

He is clearly thrown in on his mark of 124 if coming back to anywhere near his 2017 best – he was rated 145 after his Grand Annual second – and he also boasts a win and a second from two starts here.

The “bounce” factor, mythical or not – that Ascot run was his first for 588 days – is the worry here, but he is a bet at 6.611/2 for me. The price easily compensates for that doubt in my book, and even a reproduction of his Ascot run may suffice here.

He is adaptable pace-wise, so his jockey should be content to take a lead here if necessary (two other potential forward-goers in here).

Appealing pair to back against the field at Kempton

Kempton was the only ITV course that didn’t have to undergo an inspection on Friday but, with temperatures set to go as low as -3 overnight and into Saturday morning, and with the track not fully covered, that is no certainty to go ahead (8am inspection).

And, of course, these doubts about the weather have led to a fair few horses being double-entered (as with that Wincanton race).

But let’s get stuck into Kempton, and I’ll do it in chronological order.

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First up on the box is the 2m4f110yd handicap chase at 13:10 and I very much like The Bay Birch and A Toi Phil against the field at big prices, though I do appreciate that the 10/3 favourite Espoir De Romay could prove very troublesome off a mark of 140 given the way his Haydock second has worked out.

There are obvious doubts about the pair – hence their odds – but the handicapper has given The Bay Birch a huge chance here.

Okay, she has been well beaten in recent starts and it is a slight worry that all her best form has come left-handed (though she has won this way), but I thought she has shaped much better than the form book would suggest of late (the cheek-pieces experiment tried again last time has been ditched) and she has come down 10lb since the start of the season.

She will go very close here if reproducing the form of her Newbury fifth in November, a race where she was beaten only seven-and-a-half lengths. It has worked out okay too, with the runner-up beaten just a neck next time, the third was runner-up on his following start and the seventh won. She is 8lb lower here.

The 33/1 each way with the Betfair Sportsbook, four places, was never going to last – it was cut to 20/1 – so I am going to suggest a win-only bet on the Exchange at 23.022/1 and bigger now.

A Toi Phi was rated 159 in his Grade 2-winning pomp for Gordon Elliott but is down to a mark of 140 now on his second start for Gary Moore.

He shaped very well on his stable debut when fourth in the Denman Chase last February and he could prove very dangerous to all here if fully tuned on his first start for 11 months, for all he is getting on as an 11-year-old now.

I am personally going to have a decent saver on him, so I am putting him up here too at 21.020/1 or bigger, win-only on the Exchange. His best form in Ireland came over this 2m4f trip with a bit of dig.

I wouldn’t know much about his jockey, but 7lb claimer Niall Houlihan – I trust all of my 50yo+ readers immediately thought “Hot Lips” when clocking the surname – has a decent record this season with eight winners.

Double Shuffle gets the nod at favourite track

The two I liked most in the 3m handicap chase at 13:45 were West Approach and Double Shuffle.

West Approach is handicapped to win races if returning to the form of his second to Frodon off this mark at Cheltenham in October – the Ladbrokes Trophy winner Cloth Cap was 13 lengths away in third – but the obvious negative with him is that he has run like a drain in two starts since.

I nearly forgave him at 12/1+ on the Exchange as I can see the lesser stamina demands over 3m around here suiting him, but Double Shuffle looks a far more reliable proposition at his favourite track.

It is well known that the 2017 King George runner-up has put up most of his better efforts around Kempton and he clearly ran far better than the bare reading of his 22-length third here last time would immediately suggest.

He probably mixed it far too much on the front end throughout there and paid for it late on (the Betfair layers were alive to this as he never went lower than 6/1 in running) , and in any case the first two home, who were ridden far more patiently, were very well-treated animals.

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In the circumstances, I really like the fact that he got dropped a further 2lb for the run, and I expect James Bowen will be playing his hand much later this time around.

Back him at 8/1 each way, first four places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.

Younevercall can challenge favourite in Relkeel

McFabulous is clearly the right favourite, stepping down in trip, in the re-staged Relkeel at 14:20, but I would want bigger than 13/8 to be going anywhere near him.

He has plenty of potential but he is not even the pick of the weights on official figures, as that honour goes to Younevercall, only a longer nose away from being unbeaten in three starts here and a good fourth in the Long Walk last time.

I know aunties and uncles spring to mind, but one more runner in this seven-runner race and he would have been getting a serious each-way recommendation at 4/1. He has 2lb and more in hand of this field on official ratings.

As it is, nothing doing – though Younevercall would be the most attractive bet in the race at 4s on the Exchange – and the same applies to the four-runner Silviniaco Conti Chase at 14:55, a race in which Imperial Aura perhaps has more on his plate than Exchange quotes of around 10/11 suggest.

Still keen on Mount Mews

There is a full field of 20 for the Lanzarote at 15:30 and that handicap is far more my punting bag.

I put up Mount Mews at 20/1 ante-post on Tuesday and I was delighted to see him confirmed for the race, and in the anticipated first-time blinkers, too.

He remains a similar price and the case for him hasn’t changed. In fact, I will re-state in full here for those new to the party.

Going into Friday, his trainer Donald McCain’s last seven runners boasting form figures of 1111F21, and the faller was six lengths clear when coming down at the last. Serious nick.

It would be a touch foolish to have that as the sole basis of backing any horse, and it should be also noted that the horse was due to run over fences at Musselburgh (in blinkers) on New Year’s Day.

I remain unsure as to why he was taken out there, but maybe McCain had a re-think and thought his charge still had a handicap hurdle in him off a mark of 131.

And I can definitely agree there, and I can see the step down to 2m5f really suiting him on this easier track.

That rating of 131 is some 14lb lower than his career-peak in 2017 (when he was second in a Grade 1 at Aintree) and he was the left on that mark after finishing a head second over 3m1f at Carlisle last time (perhaps rightly so after the first and third were well beaten next time).

He looked sure to win that day when coming with a strong run after the last, having travelled like the winner – he hit 1.01 when taking it up on the run-in – but his run petered out late on over a trip that stretches his stamina on a course which has a notably stiff finish.

McCain presumably thought his charge could do with some help knuckling down at the business end of his races (the trainer is a respectable 24 from 169 with this option since 2006). He has actually traded at 1.01 and been beaten twice, as well as 1.23, 1.5 and 2.02 in-running reverses, for his backers at least.

I won’t put him up afresh here, but I am clearly still keen on his chances, for all Everglow, Misty Whisky (I wouldn’t be too surprised if she went off favourite now she has snuck in at the bottom of the weights) and Shang Tang look very dangerous opponents higher up the betting ladder.

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I’ll be straight up with you (as always): I also backed The Cashel Man at 25/1 and Dhowin at 20/1 on Thursday afternoon, but you can make a case for bundles of other horses in here, in addition to the trio mentioned above.

It really is a very, very deep race for just a 16k-to-the-winner handicap.

That fact deters me from putting up another selection, though Dhowin would be my second “tip” at 20/1+ if forced, as I thought he could have gone very close under a different, more aggressive, ride at Ascot last time.

And I know his trainer has been very happy with him since, so maybe a 3lb rise for that defeat may not stop this lightly-raced 7yo putting up a very bold show here. This could just be too hot for him, though.

Chepstow set to be incredibly testing

Chepstow has just passed a 2:30pm inspection on Friday afternoon, but I imagine they will be having another look on Saturday morning (they are, at 8am).

I wouldn’t be a massive fan of backing horses in what will undoubtedly be incredibly testing ground once the covers come off.

I’d rather be a layer than a backer if asked for a betting opinion on Nassalam at around 11/10 in the Finale Hurdle at 13:25 and the race would have a lovely betting shape to it if you knew all eight would run.

But Bannister is also entered at Kempton (though I am told Chepstow is definitely the number one preference for him) and this clearly has the potential to be one shy of 1,2,3 place terms, which takes away a lot of the interest. At this stage anyway.

Adagio is the solid alternative to the favourite, but nothing really floats my boat until I know the final field.

I went with The Two Amigos when I did my Welsh National preview on Boxing Day, and nothing has changed since then in the marathon test at 15:10.

Bar my thoughts.

No-one will be surprised if Secret Reprieve wins but he is still a 4/1 favourite worth opposing with his stamina to prove (though he does shape like he will stay), and this is no easy gig for an inexperienced seven-year-old who fell on his penultimate start.

But for some reason I went off my initial fancy when looking at this race afresh in the past 24 hours.

The Two Amigos is very likely to run his race with trip and ground and track sure to suit, but he was beaten over 10 lengths in this race last year off this mark, and I have just cooled on his chances a touch. This looks a stronger renewal, too.

I may still chuck a few quid (and it will just be a few) on him at 16/1+ win-only on the Exchange, and at Vieux Lion Rouge at around 33/1 – we shouldn’t forget the latter is a course winner who is also 8lb well-in after his Becher romp, for all he blew out when a 12/1 chance and pulled up in this race in 2018 – but I am not going to get sucked into recommending a tip just because it is a big race.

Touch wood, we get some racing to watch on Saturday. And a lot of it is on grass.