Tony Calvin’s far from over the Hill just yet


Strange days indeed with Clonmel (hopefully) and Taunton being broadcast on ITV4 on Thursday and, while it is great for the so-called lesser tracks to get a terrestrial airing, it is a shame that just two of the six races have attracted enough entries for three-places, each-way betting.

Some may say it is typical of me to come from this from a negative angle – and that is probably true enough in a sport in which plenty look at highly-questionable events through rose-tinted binoculars – but the 2m104yd handicap hurdle at Taunton at 14:05 is surely only going to be of punting interest to the heavy odds-on hitters.

Odds-on jolly could have ground issues

The first firm to price up this race on Tuesday made Tomorrow Mystery an 8/15 chance and, even to my outsiders’ eye, that actually looked a generous enough price. She is bigger on the exchange at the moment, too.

She is racing off the same mark as when bolting up in a conditional jockeys’ race at Newbury last week – she is officially 14lb well-in – and I imagine none of the opposition will want to get too close to her come the winning post in case they blow their mark.

However, before the money-buyers step in, you have to be aware that a lot of rain is forecast by some sites in the Taunton area on Wednesday night (some say 15mm) – it is currently good at the time of writing – and this horse has been kept away from soft ground all her life.

So, if you are minded to wade in at heavy odds-on – and she also meets two last-time-out winners here, both with respectable efforts on the clock – then I would certainly wait until you know what the weather has done on Wednesday night/Thursday morning.

This is a race in which the layers should have been dusting off their “without favourite” markets on Wednesday morning and recent Ludlow good-ground winner Robinshill, who has also won on heavy, looks the obvious candidate on that front.

But no prices at the moment obviously means no betting opinion. I really don’t get how some people can recommend a bet with no idea of the odds, or at least a stated guide price.

A few catch the eye but too many question marks to warrant a tip

There are also just seven runners in the 2m7f handicap chase at 14:40 and it is no surprise that the three horses that come into the race in decent nick dominate the early betting.

The weather-watchers will be on full alert for Irish Prophecy, as his Exeter second to El Presente last time was obviously franked by the winner in the Badger Beers last Saturday and that improved performance could possibly be put down to the first-time cheekpieces, which are retained here.

The 9/2 in one place on Tuesday looked good about a horse who was once labelled an “aeroplane” by his trainer after winning his first three starts.

But he has a marked preference for good ground, Emma Lavelle could be in better form (though she had a winner at Huntingdon on Tuesday and some cruel luck there, too), and he has been raised 7lb for Exeter, so he is another watching brief if you want to side with him. Good to soft would be fine.

Three of these have gone forward in the recent past, so we will hopefully get a truly-run race, but I couldn’t get excited by any of the seven at the current prices.

On Tour was interesting but he could be being readied for a shot at a veterans’ chase, so over to Clonmel.

Not something I expected to be saying this, or any other, year.

Sassy has a big chance if stamina holds out but the price has gone

Hopefully, we will be racing at Clonmel anyway, as the course reported they had 14mm of rain up to 3:30pm on Wednesday, it was still teeming down, and the ground had already turned heavy. There is an inspection at 7am on Thursday morning.

The track – and Irish racing in general, if truth be told – wouldn’t be my specialist subject on Mastermind (a very 50s thing to write, I know) so I asked someone in the know what to look out for.

Just tip the front runners” came the reply, which was a touch more lightweight than I was expecting, but any guidance was appreciated.

And quickly ignored.

Let’s kick off with 3m handicap hurdle at 13:50.

Westerner Point was ridden to the fore when winning this race last season and you would imagine he has been primed for this once again, especially given the fact that he was beaten just a head in this content in 2017, too.

He ran perfectly well when third in the Munster National last time and returns to hurdles off a 20lb lower mark, so the case for him is as easy to make as it is obvious.

Taunton hurdle 1280x720.jpg

Too easy and obvious, as his price of around 3/1 on the exchange does not get me preparing to unload as he will get opposition on the front end here, he meets some horses in fair nick, and I’d be very wary of all of the horses coming out of the race won by Agent Boru at Galway last time.

The runner-up Bothar Dubh has the clearer claims but I would be very worried about the fourth, Impatient Partner, if he can last home over this 3m trip in the ground (and the tongue tie is back on), the fifth Mon Lino shaped well on his first start since March (the headgear is also back on), and I was praying that the Sportsbook’s opening 20/1 about the eighth, Sassy Yet Classy, on Tuesday afternoon lasted until tipping time.

It didn’t so I won’t bore you with the full story, but suffice to say you can ignore her run last time – she was disputing the lead when a very bad mistake two out cost her all chance – and she had earlier stuck to her task well when winning over 2m4f at Navan in testing ground in first-time cheek pieces.

Her stamina for 3m is in question but, again, she is a big player here if getting home. But the price went, and so did my interest.

Falcon close to being a betting interest

We have another returning winner in the shape of Shattered Love in the five-runner mares’ chase at 14:25 and she shaped okay over 3m at Punchestown last month.

For all she is a Grade 1 winner over 3m, I think this is more her trip these days, and she’d probably be my favourite in here – not least because her four rivals like to go forward – though it is clear that Magic Of Light and Cabaret Queen are strong form rivals.

No bet.

The Grade 2 Clonmel Oil Chase at 15:00 is the highlight of the card but it looks a very tricky race to call, and one that is likely to revolve around the state of readiness of Cilaos Emery, even if he has a 5lb penalty and his stamina to prove in what promises to be bottomless ground.

I couldn’t see a bet, though Snow Falcon, who shaped well when sixth over 3m at Down Royal in Grade 1 company on his reappearance, would probably come closest if he was available at double-digit odds on the exchange near the off. However, that said, the ground will now be a massive worry for him.

Spancil can go well off falling mark

Right, enough of dancing around stale drinks and handbags at 3am and moaning about missed prices, let’s get to the bet. I have put 12s as a guide price but I think you will get bigger once the market gets meatier.

Step forward Spancil Hill at 13.012/1 or bigger in the 2m4f handicap chase at 15:35.

There is no denying he is a 10yo on the downgrade but he comes here after a decent couple of spins over hurdles, and the handicapper has given him a big chance on his return to fences.

He was pulled up when we last saw him over the larger obstacles but just two chase starts back (in September 2019) he finished a fair fourth at Roscommon in a better race than this off a 9lb higher mark.

I know it was a while ago but he is now only 5lb higher than when running away with a Wexford handicap back in April 2017 (by the small matter of 23 lengths), and hopefully he is ready to strike again after his opening two hurdle outings.

He can be clumsy at his fences but 2m4f on heavy ground are probably his ideal conditions – his proven stamina over 3m is a big plus here, though – and I would like to think he can at least be competitive in this modest handicap chase off his falling mark.

The reserve Vic’s Little Miss would interest me at 16/1+ if she sneaked into the race, so I will be keeping an eye out there.

Good luck. Back for the next three days, too.