Peter Marsh Handicap Chase (Grade 2)

Sue Smith, unlikely to be be fined for a non-trier this afternoon...

The Peter Marsh is something of a punting graveyard, although that should be music to the ears of value players. For instance, if you had simply put a pound on every runner at SP this century you would currently be £29.25 up. Clearly, this is not a race where it pays to follow the head of the market.

That profit rises to £48.00 if you had just backed all runners that went off at 14/1+, including winners at 16/1, 16/1, 20/1 and 33/1 - two of those won from outside the handicap; Ebony Light who won in 2006 at 33's was 22lbs out of the handicap. It's that kind of race.

David Pipe has a good record. 1 win and 1 placed from 3 runners - the winner was Our Vic at 20/1 who I can still remember romping around in the mud, making all. Pipe is represented this year by Gevrey Chambertin, who enjoyed his finest moment over the fixed brush hurdles in a Grade 3 on soft, but who has proved less effective over the larger obstacles. It's the logical race for him, and no doubt they hope to get a soft lead and dictate (Bristol De Mai should make that tricky).

On the topic of slippery customers, the leading contender on all counts (and by some distance) is Sue Smith whose record this century is 3 wins and 4 placed from 11 starts, which improves to 5 win or placed from 6 when training for Trevor Hemmings at his favourite track.

This year they field the unexposed VINTAGE CLOUDS (can't imagine how he thought up that name) and he looks an obvious candidate for each way support at a general 10/1, 3x1/4, and quite probably laid out.

My plan though is to split stakes with SAUSALITO SUNRISE who has by far his best chance to shine for a while in handicap company. He's a really thorough stayer and classy with it, and the strong pace for the conditions is likely to play to his strengths.

0.5pt EW Vintage Clouds 10/1, 3x1/4
0.5pt EW Sausalito Sunrise 12/1, 3x1/4

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Betfred Classic Handicap Chase (Grade 3)

Kerry Lee trains Russe Blanc
Does Kerry Lee again hold the key to the Classic Handicap Chase?

The old Warwick National that was, which became the Classic Chase in 2004 and thereafter swiftly upgraded to Grade 3 status.

When you examine the winning times - which at Warwick is usually a much better idea than trusting official going - and then drill down on the data, the ideal profile for the race is: aged up to 10-y-o, weight up to 10-13 (when soft or heavy). Yards of particular interest are; A King, V Williams, P Nicholls & K Lee. 

To emphasise the importance of weight, claiming riders aboard mounts that meet the basic criteria of age and weight have an extremely good general record. Since 2000 from just 12 such qualifiers; 2 winners 5/1, 20/1 and three placed 11/2, 10/1, 9/1. A very high percentage win or placed, especially when you consider 4 of the losers were rank outsiders priced 33/1+. Kerry Lee would know, her father was responsible for 2 of the ones that made the frame. 

Run a hoof over this years' field and one name does jump out - French bred gelding RUSSE BLANC, who has the bonus of being in the care of none other than Kerry Lee and last years' winner to boot. The Lee family operate with great efficiency in extreme staying chases run in a bog and thus by trade, are nothing if not realists when it comes to weight. With Mr Richard Patrick's 7lb saving, Russe Blanc arrives here in the same net position as 2016. 

The yard are in form and Richard Patrick is regularly riding their winners. This has undoubtedly been the plan for a while and Patrick had a nice quiet spin aboard the selection last month. That day there were the signs of revival you'd expect to see before the anchor was deployed. This is a yard who play the handicap game very well and I suspect the market is writing him off much too quickly. 

Russe Blanc, 1pt EW 20/1+, 4x1/4 

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** Feedback: finished 9th after a bad blunder at the 10th spoiled his chance when going well - tough for Kerry Lee to see her 25/1 outsider Goodtoknow finish 2nd, she picked the wrong horse to invest the 7lb claim...shame for us too! As ever, the first 3 home were all aged up to 10 with no more than 10-13. Roll on next year **


32Red Casino Handicap Chase (Class 2)

The testing chase finish at Sandown Park
The testing chase finish at Sandown Park racecourse

Assuming the forecast is right and Sandown avoids overnight frost, the Esher venue hosts the best of this Saturday's action on Tolworth Hurdle day.

The final of the veterans' chase series is sure to prove popular with backers, but the race that interests me is the 2-mile handicap chase earlier on the card, which is normally won by an improving chaser with decent form.

This century, by far the most successful group of runners fit this profile - max 9 previous chase starts, single figure SP and a maximum handicap mark of 147.

Since 2000 this criteria has produced 28 qualifiers (generally around 3 or 4 per year) and from the annual short-list, the winner has emerged in; 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2015 & 2016. In fact, when you put a line through the years the race wasn't held, there has only actually been one failure since 2004.

Unusually, just one qualifier this year, the Tom Symonds trained HOLLYWOODIEN, a big imposing 6yo French import. Hollywoodien took a major step forward on his last start and dropping back to 2-miles looks fine at this stiffer venue.

Outside this trend a dark horse lurking is ex Gigginstown inmate BRIGHT NEW DAWN, on first start for Venetia Williams. He has quality form around right-handed tracks like Punchestown and has run very well in the past after a break. He's still only 10 and as a 9yo he won a better race than this from the same mark. If Venetia has sweetened him up, he represents a touch of value.

Hollywoodien, 1pt win 7/2
Bright New Dawn, 0.5pt win 10/1 generally

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** Feedback: both solid without being quite good enough on the day, 3rd and 4th respectively **



Betfred Wishing You A Happy New Year Handicap Hurdle (Class 2)

Geordie Des Champs trained by Rebecca Curtis
Geordie Des Champs, progressive for Rebecca Curtis and J P McManus

Thin pickings this Saturday with New Years' Day falling as it does on Sunday, but a decent card nonetheless at Newbury for Challow Hurdle day.

However the race that interests me is the handicap hurdle later on the card which in its short history as a class 2 has been completely dominated by upwardly mobile, progressive 5yo's - really no more than you would expect at this time of year, and there is a taking 5yo candidate in this field.

After his recent romp at Chepstow under a double penalty, the Challow Hurdle itself was mooted for Geordie Des Champs who instead stands aside for Baltazar D'Allier and takes his first step into handicap company with Barry Geraghty doing 10-06. That's 2lbs above his minimum to take the ride for Rebecca Curtis and J P McManus, a weight he's only done one other time this current winter season in GB or IRE.

Being first time out of novice company is certainly no barrier, a manoeuvre successfully completed by 2014 winner Polamco for Harry Fry. And the bonus here is that GEORDIE DES CHAMPS, who already looks well treated on OR 129, certainly appeals as one who will be better in a better race with a suitable pace to aim at.

The ground looks fine, as does the grade, the trip, track and opposition. He's bang on the right profile for the race, there's been good money for him overnight and yet the price is currently OK - certainly liveable compared to several recent winners.

3pm Newbury, Geordie Des Champs. 1.5pt win 7/2 generally

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** Feedback: The subject of a huge on course gamble by connections, ran a fine race to finish 2nd, pipped by another very progressive 5yo, the leaders miles clear **



The Victoria Cup (Heritage Handicap)

Excellent Guest wins the 2013 Victoria Cup, returned at 25/1
Excellent Guest wins the 2013 Victoria Cup, returned at 25/1

First published on a previous Key Racing News blog, 7th May 2016.

This century in renewals which took place at Ascot, there have been 21 runners in the first 5 who went off at prices ranging from 25/1 to 50/1, including winners at 25/1 (3 times) and 33/1. The most recent was Excellent Guest at 25/1 in 2013. Last year Lincoln was 2nd at 33/1 and Hawkeyethenoo was 3rd at 25/1. The year before Belgian Bill was 3rd at 25/1 and so it goes on. This is a race where it pays to look beyond the obvious.

All bar 20 of 21 were aged between 4 and 7yo and ridden by a jockey claiming no more than 5lbs. The clincher though are entries who last ran between 150 and 250 days ago. Most people would instinctively veer away from such types in a race like this, but when fishing for a price in this particular race, that's actually where your best chance lies. Under the above criteria; 10 win or placed (to 5 places) at SP's of 25/1 to 50/1 this century, from just 24 qualifiers - that's a 41.67% strike rate in the frame - including the winner in 2000, 2009 & 2013. Horses carrying 8-12 or less have done particularly well, but nothing can be excluded that qualifies.

If you're prepared to sit and fish year on year, over time you stand to do very well indeed. This year we have 2 possibles; Miracle Of Medinah and Red Avenger. The latter has no winning form at Ascot or on synthetics but will like fast ground and is back down to a competitive mark (former winner of the valuable Betfred Mile at Goodwood), and claims 5lbs. In truth this shapes like a pipe-opener to go back to Goodwood at some stage, but nevertheless he fits the profile.

Miracle Of Medinah will also enjoy fast ground and has form on synthetics. He's also a former winner of the Group 3 Tattersall Stakes at under today's rider (who has ridden 3 of his 4 victories). These all came as a 2yo, but since his mark became more workable he's twice gone close in valuable races at Chester in this grade or higher. He'll need a little support to come in to a 50/1 SP (currently trading 40/1 to 80/1).

Regardless of whether these yield anything in 2016, this approach turns the tables on the bookies and changes this to a race to savour where the enhanced terms play into the hands of patient players.

Herbie is one of the resident pro gamblers in ENIGMA:

** Feedback: No qualifiers this year; Red Avenger was non-runner, Miracle Of Medinah stayed unsupported at 66/1 SP. Looking forward to next year... **