Before we talk about any horses, this week's blog must start by praising the great AP McCoy.
Plenty has been said and written about the greatest jump jockey ever throughout his remarkable career. He continues to achieve the unachievable in his profession and to see him ride 4,000 winners at Towcester this week was incredible (and what a ride he gave Mountain Tunes!)
It only seems five minutes ago that we were all huddled at a soggy Plumpton for his 3,000th. He is a fine ambassador for our sport and has the sort of self motivation we all wish we could call upon.
In an age where we are constantly looking to attract new followers to racing I can think of no better advert than AP and I can't ever see his achievements being equalled let alone bettered. Well done champ!
Now to the racing, and following a successful tipping weekend last week with three winners from four selections at the Breeders' Cup and an each way tip for you on 60/1 shot Red Cadeaux who finished second in the Melbourne Cup, we have the almost impossible task of finding the winner of the November Handicap over one mile, four furlongs at Doncaster this Saturday, not just a season-ending ultra-competitive heritage handicap, but on testing ground, too!
In an age where we are constantly looking to attract new followers to racing I can think of no better advert than AP.
Quotes of the week
Conduct heads the market for a man who is very adept at placing horses in big handicaps, William Haggas. This six-year-old has only had five starts in his life having missed his entire four-year-old season due to a tendon problem.
He began his career with Sir Michael Stoute and then joined Haggas prior to this season and has only run twice for his new trainer this Autumn. Both of those starts were over 10 furlongs and he looks to be crying out for this trip and further. He is definitely a horse to have on your side but his price reflects that.
Joining him at the top of the market is Lahaag for another man that can get one ready for this type of race, John Gosden. This horse looks to be your typical future group performer in a handicap and conditions are ideal. Plus, Roger Charlton has booked the excellent Graham Lee for the Queen's Border Legend.
This horse is stepping up to the trip for the first time, too, and comes here off the back of a win at Nottingham. He loves cut in the ground so the ground will hold no fears and he is a relatively fresh horse. Charlton has his team in good form still.
Nicholascopernicus is also in with a shout for Ed Walker and in-form jockey Andrea Atzeni. This horse has run well on his last two starts, including over this course and distance, after a summer break. He races off the same mark as his latest which puts him in with a chance.
Charlie Hills advertised his skills on the international stage with a win at the Breeders' Cup meeting last week and he continues to impress since taking over from his father. Barry always targeted Doncaster with his runners and did particularly well on Town Moor and Charlie saddles Forgotten Hero in this.
He clearly isn't straightforward (he wears a hood) and can be keen, but will suit this type of contest as he appreciates a strongly run race. He has plenty of ability if things drop right. I think there could be more to come from him over this trip and he may be worth taking a chance on with a couple of shortish-priced horses at the head of the market.
Open Eagle hails from another trainer that does well with his handicappers, David O'Meara. This is an interesting horse who has only had the one start in the UK having being bought quite cheaply from Jean-Claude Rouget after a career in France that saw him win three races. He looks a good buy for 10,000 Euros and this appears within his compass after he won easily over ½ furlong shorter at Carlisle last time out.
Aiken is another from the Gosden stable and he wears blinkers for the first time, he wore cheekpieces last time out. He also has top weight to carry after a successful seasons as a three and four-year-old which saw him win six successive races progressing from handicaps to winning at Group 2 level.
This is his first run in a handicap since April 2012 and he will enjoy conditions, but he has been disappointing recently and needs the drop in grade, blinkers etc to revitalise him.
Bohemian Rhapsody has done well for Seamus Durack winning three handicaps, but this is a step up in grade. Hi There certainly doesn't mind testing ground having won at Newbury on heavy last time out. Richard Fahey is stepping him up to this trip for the first time.
He settles better nowadays though so there's no reason he shouldn't stay on what he shows on the track although his pedigree doesn't scream stamina. So, a difficult race for favourites so, I'm going to go with Forgotten Hero (14/1 with Sky Bet) to win the final big handicap of the domestic flat turf season.
Away from this weekend's racing it's the time of year that we are full of hope and expectation for the months to come and compile a list of 10 horses to follow for the rest of the National Hunt season.
At this time of year it always seems like the greatest list in the world and I hope it still looks that way come next spring. Here are 10 horses I think can win us some money over the winter.
1. Al Ferof - Paul Nicholls
This eight-year-old grey gelding is the winner of 8 of his 15 starts and is an interesting proposition returning from a year off the track with injury. He has spent his time off with Lisa Hales and has rejoined Nicholls looking better than ever. His trainer is sure to place him to good effect and I'll be surprised if he doesn't figure in some of the top chases this season. His first big task could be in the King George for which he is a 12/1 shot with Sky Bet.
2 Annie Power - Willie Mullins
This five-year-old chestnut mare is a superstar in the making and starts this season unbeaten in all seven starts. She is with the master trainer and will be hard to beat against her own sex and should hold her own when taking on the boys, too. She could start her season doing just that in the Morgiana Hurdle later this month.
3. At Fishers Cross - Rebecca Curtis
AP McCoy told me earlier this week that one of the races he would like to win that still eludes him is the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival. Well, this 6-year-old bay gelding could be the horse to give him that longed for win. He has eight wins from his 10 starts and looks a very smart staying hurdle prospect. He is currently 7/2 second-favourite for the Cheltenham race just behind 3/1 favourite Big Bucks. If there are any chinks in the latter's armour after his period on the sidelines this could be the horse to take advantage.
4. Champagne Fever - Willie Mullins
This 6-year-old grey gelding won a very classy renewal of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham back in March beating many people's idea of the good thing, My Tent or Yours. He has won six of his 10 starts and looks a leading two-mile novice chase prospect.
5. Cue Card - Colin Tizzard
This 7-year-old was beaten on his reappearance in the Haldon Gold Cup, but there were excuses. Many of the yard's horses have improved for their initial outings and he was giving an awful lot of weight away to his rivals in this limited handicap chase. He also slipped at an early fence which jockey Joe Tizzard felt affected his performance and he will also be suited to stepping back up in trip. His overall record can't be knocked as he has won nine from 18 including Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham and has plenty in his favour for a repeat bid in March. He is a top-class chaser and is 9/2 joint favourite to win that race again.
6. Jezki - Jessica Harrington
This five-year-old bay gelding is another that figured prominently in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle back in March finishing third. He has won eight of his 11 starts, including three Grade 1 Novice Hurdles. He made a satisfactory start to his season winning at Down Royal at the beginning of this month and looks a top-class two-mile hurdle prospect now he has that run under his belt. That race wasn't run to suit and he was stuck making his own running and he can progress from here.
7. Shutthefrontdoor - Jonjo O'Neill
This 6-year-old is another potential star for owner JP McManus. He has seven wins from nine starts and made a winning chasing debut at Aintree last month. He is bred to make a better horse over fences and whilst he won't be over-faced early on he should win his fair share of races and be capable of winning some decent races with experience.
8. Silviniaco Conti - Paul Nicholls
With the likes of Kauto Star and Denman retired Paul Nicholls looked like he lacked a star staying chaser. However, this 7yo did him proud winning the Charlie Hall, Betfair Chase and Denman Chase before falling whilst in the process of running a fantastic race in the Gold Cup and then finishing 3rd in the Bowl Chase at Aintree where a mistake may have cost him the race. He has 10 wins from 17 starts and should be even better with another season under his belt and is a serious contender for the top races. He is 8/1 with Sky Bet for the Gold Cup.
9. Sprinter Sacre - Nicky Henderson
What is there to say about this 7-year-old gelding? With 14 wins from 16 starts and an unbeaten record over fences the reigning Champion Chaser is peerless.
10. The New One - Nigel Twiston-Davies
Finally, I think this 5-year-old should be in everyone's lists. He has eight wins from 11 starts with a festival win in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle to his name, too. He has to take on the big boys this term, but judging on his reappearance at Kempton looks more that capable of that. The International Hurdle and Christmas Hurdle could be on his agenda en-route to Cheltenham once again. He is Sky Bet's 4/1 favourite for the Champion Hurdle.