Welcome to our latest column from Scott Armstrong of The Sportsman tipster service.
Each Friday, Scott provides us with a rundown of all the best weekend racing action – including the key horses to follow and those to oppose. You can also find a recap from him each Monday on the SBC Blog with his reaction to the weekend’s events. Thorough, frank and not afraid to take a contrary view, Scott Armstrong is a racing man whose opinion you can’t afford to be without.
The £200,000 Betfair Chase is the feature race of a superb Saturday’s racing with this year’s renewal being well up to scratch hosting four of the first seven in the betting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
There can be little argument that the best horse coming into the race is the 5-6 favourite Long Run. Nicky Henderson’s stable star is officially rated a mammoth 182 and has 11lb in hand, despite opposing four formidable rivals in a field of six. Still a youngster he has achieved so much already, dismantling the Cheltenham Gold Cup field by seven lengths, breaking the course record in the process and becoming the first six-year-old to win the race since Mill House in 1963.
It’s difficult to see Long Run being beaten and he could go undefeated through the course of the season. The concern is he won’t be cherry ripe for his seasonal reappearance. If Long Run is to be defeated over the next five months then it’s likely to be first time out and that’s why he is available at 5-6 rather than 4-7. There is no doubt this race will be used as a preparation for the King George though owner Robert Waley-Cohen has been sending out positive signals saying Long Run should not be inconvenienced by the lack of match practice. The youngster is also reported to have grown over the course of the summer.
Worries about jumping frailties from many quarters were quashed by Long Run’s ample rounds of fencing in his King George and Gold Cup successes. There is the exciting prospect that at only six-years-old he is open to further progression.
Kauto Star is vying for second-position in the market with Ruby Walsh on board at best odds of 7-1 and would be the choice of the heart if not the head. The winner of four King Georges and two Cheltenham Gold Cups this chasing legend’s place in folklore is assured. Paul Nicholls has reportedly got the eleven-year-old fitter than ever before at this early stage of the season. This race will determine whether Kauto Star can still be a force at the top of the staying chasers division this term. After last season’s Gold Cup owner Clive Smith said “He has been a wonderful horse…he’s been terrific” lapsing into speaking of Kauto Star in the past tense and the signs of father time taking its toll were evident in his last outing at Punchestown where he lacked his usual verve, failing to respond to Ruby Walsh’s urgings.
The robust Diamond Harry is a slight second-favourite at best odds of 6-1. Nick William’ eight-year-old has been plagued with problems with his latest setback ruling him out of the recent Charlie Hall and we therefore haven’t seen him on track since his brilliant win in the Hennessy Gold Cup almost a year ago. Diamond Harry has potentially the most scope for improvement in the field and the Williams team are confident with the horse going well fresh having won first time out in each of his four seasons of racing. Ideally he could do with a little juice in the ground but if Diamond Harry is to mix it at the top of the chasing game this term he must go close here on Long Run’s first seasonal appearance.
Weird Al is another open to improvement over fences having been lightly raced. With the benefit of having run already this season when landing the Charlie Hall Chase his trainer Donald McCain said “If there was a good time to take on Long Run, it would be first time out.” Weird Al had a gloomy 2010/11 season with breathing problems and a broken blood vessel. The ceiling of his ability is still an imponderable and his fine acceleration will always win him races but like the others in this field he has more to find to bring down Long Run.
Time For Rupert is a solid jumper, open to further improvement and has to be respected. Officially rated at 159 leaves him behind a few in the field though and a stiff three miles may not suit.
In conclusion Long Run is not anticipated to be fully tuned up for this, but is hard to oppose and with only two places on offer each-way bets don’t appeal.
Ascot plays host to a great card with both excellent chase and hurdles races.
The Amlin 1965 Chase sees big names Master Minded, Captain Chris, Somersby, Medermit and Kalahari King take each other on with Paul Nicholls’ Master Minded shading favouritism at 2-1.
Master Minded is defending his crown and is also out to silence the doubters after fading tamely in his comeback run in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree last month amid some uncharacteristically poor jumping. A typically bullish Paul Nicholls has stated Master Minded has come on significantly from his Aintree run. The Dual Queen Mother Champion Chase winner won’t have Ruby Walsh on board this time with Daryl Jacob taking the ride.
Captain Chris is the big danger to the favourite at odds of 9-4. Winner of the Arkle his speed has never been in doubt though he has shown a slight tendency to jump to the right. Last time out he suffered an unlucky defeat in the Haldon Gold Cup when unseating Richard Johnson at the final fence at Exeter. He looked like the winner previous to that mistake which allowed Medermit to take the race unchallenged. Captain Chris has suffered plenty of problems yet achieved much in a short space of time and is open to further progress. Medermit lies in opposition again but Captain Chris can avenge matters here. Somersby is third-favourite in the layers lists at 7-2. He came within a short head of beating Master Minded in the Victor Chandler Chase at Aintree but a place may be the summit of his expectations.
The race looks a close call between Master Minded and Captain Chris with the latter offering the better value at 9-4. (n.b. Captain Chris was withdrawn after this article was published)
In the following race, the Coral Hurdle, the genuine Oscar Whisky will be a tough nut to crack at odds of 5-4. Nicky Henderson is aiming Oscar Whisky at 3m this season in a bold attempt to take on Big Bucks. Officially the highest rated horse in the race at 165 this 2m 2f conditions event will give him serious match practice. A very worthy third behind Hurricane Fly and Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle, Oscar Whisky followed up with a scintillating performance when winning the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle. Overturn is second-favourite at 11-4 and has been a wonderful servant for Donald McCain being a chameleon over both codes having won the Galway Plate, the Northumberland Plate, and the Scottish Champion Hurdle over jumps while landing the Chester Cup on the flat. Overturn is 8lb better off on the weights with Oscar Whisky on Saturday and at greater odds would be my preference.
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