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PRESENT MAN (Paul Nicholls), 11-2, official rating 151, tongue tie

Let us start with a plus - seven of his eight wins have been on level, right-handed tracks. But so have eleven of his fifteen defeats. Far less helpful is his record in longer distance races. There have only been two of them, the last couple of runnings of the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown. where he has shaped totally like a non-stayer in both of them. He was not hugely impressive in the Becher Chase last month either. And finally whilst he does not have to have a long break between races, it does help. It is not easy to be sweet on his chances but he is not the only one with problems to overcome.

REGAL FLOW (Bob Buckler), 11-2, or 138

When a hurdler he was not the most dynamic of winners, which is perfectly normal for horses in his stable. In accordance with official policy he has won six of his twenty-four chases although life has been tough since having a very productive winter of 2017/18 season. He was an unseater in the Becher Chase and after the last win he has been tenth in Nationals at Chepstow and Ayr. Stamina is proven, and he won over course and distance in March but the best form is assembled in muddier conditions - his wins on quicker were handicaps when rated 100 and 118.

THOMAS PATRICK (Tom Lacey), 11-2, or 147

The second half of last season went excellently for him, although it is noted that his only loss in the last four runs was over 3m 6.5f at Exeter, whereas the success were no further than 3m 2f. When he made his winter comeback a half length defeat at Sandown by Elegant Escape appeared to be a fine blow out but since then he has pulled up in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and been tailed off at Ascot. Those two runs have dented a previous love of soft going, but it is notable that his two runs on better ground (both novice hurdling) went quite poorly. The fear is that he has had a shot at the big time and is not quite good enough.

ROYAL VACATION (Colin Tizzard), 10-12, or 146, blinkers

Put up a bit of an ugly effort in the London National at Sandown last time but at least it required some in-form horses to beat him. Prior to that he has run really well to be a close second of fifteen at Cheltenham on his autumn return recovering a bit of credibility after struggling in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham and the bet365 Gold Cup in his short and ineffective spring campaign. He was not great in 2017 either (had a wind op a year ago) and we have to look back two years to see him being consistently convincing - which included a Grade 1 novice chase triumph at Kempton. Bringing back blinkers might inspire him.

TEA FOR TWO (Jane Williams), 10-12, or 153

Time may tell that his show in the King George was nothing to be ashamed of but it stands out as much heftier defeat than he got from Might Bite a year earlier. Prior to that he was seen off by a dozen lengths in the Peterborough Chase, which would be an inadequate stamina test for him against lesser horses than Charbel. It is also transparent that after that mighty challenge to Might Bite he went right off of the boil last season and even after a wind op he has not properly risen from the trough. It is possible that visiting this longer distance is well overdue. His jockey would be claiming seven pounds if this were a lesser standard of race.

THE LAST SAMURI (Harry Fry), 10-12, or 154

As was well publicised he had another change of stable without moving ownership this summer but the comeback run at Ascot was nothing out of the ordinary, although he was ten lengths ahead of Thomas Patrick conceding nine pounds, so in one instance he has a strong confidence booster, if it can be explained to him in horse language. There were excuses in that he had a wind op in August so may have been brought along cautiously and he has evolved into a specialist over the National fences at Aintree in recent years, although he has often been very lightly raced building up to the big one in April - in which he has been placed, despite having no win over longer than 3m 2f.

VICENTE (Paul Nicholls), 10-12, or 147

In the last year and a quarter races have been few and far between. Only one ended in a completion but fifth in the Scottish National is respectable enough work. The most recent close call in the book was a neck loss at Cheltenham in November 2017, which had been is comeback run after winning his second Scottish National earlier that year. And therein is the problem - the last time he won a race race that was not a four miler at Ayr was more than three years ago, chased by fellow stamina machines Un Temps Pour Tout and One For Arthur. Very sharp turns are not quite his cup of tea but at least Taunton has longish straights to wind up gradually on the last lap. Every success has been when hooded
EIRIK BLOODAXE'S DAILY RACING PREVIEW
The Plan is to pick a race each day and give it a fairly detailed preview - hopefully picking up a worthwhile punt, but not scrabbling around for one. In reality, the "every jumps day" might prove impractical. For instance, you have been to Plumpton, had a couple of pints, get the train back, go to the pub. There might well be time to go through a race and publish, but no-one wants the unintelligible guff. So The Plan and The Harsh Reality may not always coincide.

The verdict is simple for each horse: The more Axes the better, but lay, or at least avoid, the Stalins. Keep a wary eye on the Mysterons
In order to handle changeable ground, a preference table has been added - the key is:
Y+ = Strong preference      Y = OK      Y? = Probably OK      ?Y = Maybe OK      ? = insufficient evidence
?x = Maybe a problem      x? = probably a problem      x = definite problem      blank = no evidence to judge
Preferences
19th January,Taunton 2.50, Weatherbys  Portman Cup Chase (class 2)

Course: Right-handed, sharp, level

Distance: 3 miles 4.5 furlongs

Going: Good

Stables in strong form: Harry Fry

Stables in below par form: Bob Buckler

Claiming Jockey Watch: none.
This should have been an ideal race to select, full of exposed horses and only one youngster possibly growing into the stayer's job - Thomas Patrick. Instead we have a list most of whom have an alarmingly fundamental issue with the race conditions and not even an eighth runner to make each-way easier. What a dud of a decision.
THE BLOODAXE VERDICT
HorseGoing DistanceCourse Comments
HeavySoft Gd-SoftGoodGd-Fm3m 4.5fRHSharpLevel
------------------------ -------- -------------------------------------------
Present ManY?YYYYx?Y+YYproven to 3m 1f
Regal FlowYYxYYYYYY
Thomas PatrickYY+???YYYproven to 3m 2f
Royal VacationYYYY??xYYYproven to 3m 3.5f
Tea For TwoYYYYYYYproven to 3m 1f
The Last Samuri?YY+YYYYYY
VicenteYYYYYYYY?Y
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ROYAL VACATION,  THE LAST SAMURI
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Points of Order
$SIGNUP$
$VALIDATION$
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