Today’s best bets, by Chris Cook
Rich Ricci has dismissed fears that Faugheen may have been ‘got at’, or doped to underperform by some malign influence, when he ran so disappointingly at Leopardstown over Christmas. There was some loose chat at the time that the dismal efforts by both Faugheen and Sizing John (from another stable) that week were so bad as to be a cause for concern but Ricci says he has total faith in the security systems put in place by Faugheen’s trainer, Willie Mullins.
“I know Willie and he comes from an era that was different in racing,” Faugheen’s owner said at Cheltenham on Saturday. “He does worry about it and he takes security very seriously.
“I never thought the horses were got at, I think it’s difficult in this day and age. He takes it so seriously, he really does, not just at his own barns but also when he’s travelling them and it’s a good precaution to have but I don’t think they were got at.”
Ricci prefers to take the view that disappointing efforts that week were caused by the yard having an uncharacteristic “flat” period. “Maybe they were just flat, for once. Maybe it’s just one of those things. Everybody has a patch like that and he hasn’t had one for a long time. I’m hopeful that’s what it is but his security is so good, I don’t worry they can be got at.”
Faugheen is the even-money favourite to bounce back with a win in Saturday’s Irish Champion Hurdle. Now a veteran at 10, he was pulled up two from home in Leopardstown’s Ryanair Hurdle last time, having been sent off at odds of 2-11.
Turning to today’s action, a couple of runners appeal to me at Hereford, starting with Rambling Rector (1.40) at 9-2 in the opener. This is an Irish points winner who ran below expectations in quite a decent bumper at Warwick in March.
I’m prepared to forgive that, on the basis he was always likely to improve for time and obstacles, and he’s interesting on this hurdles debut, especially with Warren Greatrex’s horses faring so well. The favourite, Tossapenny, went close at Southwell last month but comes from the Evan Williams yard that has since gone off the boil.
Another Venture (3.40) looks a good favourite for an interesting handicap chase later on the card. He’s got a decent record in soft-ground handicaps, following his success at Chepstow recently, and still looks fairly treated. Odds of 9-4 are fine, in view of the lack of threat posed by rivals. Spookydooky has had a wind op which might revive his fortunes but Jonjo O’Neill’s runners have generally been below par.
Latest trainer form table
Donald McCain has been one of the most profitable trainers to follow since I’ve been doing this list and he’s well worth his place at the top this week. The Cheshire trainer has had 10 winners in the past fortnight and only needs one more to match his total for the whole of last season.
Nick Williams had a big Saturday, thanks to Agrapart, and Warren Greatrex also continues to do well. Paul Nicholls is on the way back after a slow start and came within a head of a big handicap chase double on Saturday, Warrior’s Tale being narrowly beaten in the Great Yorkshire. Tim Vaughan and Oliver Sherwood have both climbed the table.
At the other end, something seems amiss in the Cotswold area, as neighbours Nigel Twiston-Davies and Fergal O’Brien are very short of winners. Ben Pauling and Jonjo O’Neill, who also train in the area, are also finding winners hard to come by. It’s a pity to see Philip Hobbs back down at the bottom after a mini-revival at the start of the month. He’s only had five runners in the past week and would surely have had more if his horses were all healthy again.