Twiston-Davies’ Al Dancer has to shed pretender tag

Al Dancer failed to capitalise on his momentum in his first major test of the 2019/20 National Hunt season, finishing second in the Arkle Trial Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

The French thoroughbred was the leading contender for the meet, but he failed to rise to the occasion albeit in difficult conditions on soft ground. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge placed behind 6/1 outsider Put The Kettle On, who claimed a solid victory by two-and-a-half-lengths.

Past Failures

A victory in the event may have propelled the six-year-old to be the favourite for the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham Festival in March. As it stands, Al Dancer is now backed in the horse racing odds in the ante-post for the Arkle Chase at odds of 16/1 to claim the crown. There are a slew of talented horses ready to compete for the title, including Fakir D’oudairies, Laurina and Samcro. The coming months will see respective owners and trainers move their charges into position for the honours, and even if the French thoroughbred does face off against elite competition he does have a top-quality performance in his locker albeit it has not come to fruition on the major stage yet.

Twiston-Davies’ charge rode a four-race winning streak into Cheltenham Festival last year. He produced a dominant run at Cheltenham in the Catesby Handicap Hurdle in December, beating out his nearest rival by 11 lengths. Al Dancer continued in that manner with another brilliant outing at Ascot two months prior to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He finished three-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of the field to establish himself as one of the top two contenders for the crown in the Festival’s opening race.

However, he endured a terrible outing in the Novices’ Hurdle, crumbling down the stretch with Sam Twiston-Davies at the reins. The French thoroughbred placed in a disappointing 10th out of the 12 horses that finished the contest.

Undoubted Potential

After a seven-month absence, Al Dancer returned to the track for the Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. He was the odds-on favourite in a field that included Getaway Trump, and he duly delivered on expectations with a strong outing. Twiston-Davies guided his charge out of early trouble after making a mistake at the third fence. The six-year-old gradually moved into position before he made his move to take the lead over the penultimate hurdle. Al Dancer charged through to claim the victory by four lengths to atone for his underwhelming performance at the Festival.

As a result of his strong run, he was favoured again for the Arkle Trial Novices’ Chase. It presented an opportunity for the French thoroughbred to put down a marker as one of the firm challenges for the main event in March. However, he struggled to impose himself in wet conditions and failed to make the significant jump to move alongside Put The Kettle On.

Al Dancer did close on the final fence, but his rival had enough to break away down the stretch to claim the win. It was a decent outing, but both Nigel Twiston-Davies and his son Sam will be hopeful that there is more to come from the grey gelding at Cheltenham in the near future to avoid him becoming a pretender on the major stage.

Why Min Should Be Taken Seriously in Champion Chase

While much of the betting chatter around this year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival will inevitably centre around Altior and Douvan, there is another contender who might go quietly under the radar before coming up big on the day – Min.

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

The current ante-post betting picture looks like this:

Horse: Odds: (Ladbrokes)
Altior 11/8
Politologue 7/2
Yorkhill 5/1
Douvan 5/1
Min 5/1
Fox Norton 8/1
Great Field 14/1

The tight odds show that the Champion Chase is a little bit of a puzzle at the moment. You can keep up to date with the latest goings on in the betting markets (which will surely change over the coming weeks) for Cheltenham at, where you will also find information on picking up free bets for the 2018 Festival.

The two names that jump out of the list above are, of course, Douvan and Altior. What a race it would be if those two superstars were at their best? Both are regarded as among the best horses to have graced the Festival in the last decade, but both have big injury doubts hanging over their heads. Yes, both have been officially registered for the race, but neither Willie Mullins (Douvan’s trainer) nor Nicky Henderson (Altior’s trainer) are particularly confident of their participation.

Min Rarely Outclassed Over Fences or Hurdles

Which brings us to Min. Also trained by Willie Mullins, the 7-year-old has a record of five wins and two 2nds in his seven races. One of those 2nds was in his last race (Leopardstown, 27/12/2017), where he was demoted after being found to impede Simply Ned on the run in. The other was over hurdles, in what was Altior’s ‘breakout’ race – the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016.

Apart from those races, which were by no means poor showings, Min has been pretty much imperious over fences. If punters truly want to see Min’s class, take a look at his comeback race at Gowran Park in November 2017. While it was a small field, lacking the class of the runners at Cheltenham, Min’s 36 length victory was achieved without getting out of second gear. It was a big statement, which proved Min was 100% fit after a long injury lay-off.

There is certainly something exciting about Min, made all the more intriguing by the fact we have only seen him in action six times since he burst onto the scene by winning his debut at Punchestown in 2015. He is also a scrappy horse, has never fallen and is rarely spooked when running in close proximity to other horses in aggressive races. Such attributes will stand Min in good stead when it comes to the Champion Chase.


Min Can Capitalise on Injury Worries of Douvan and Altior

The point trying to be made here us that a fully-fit Altior or Douvan would likely be too much for Min to handle. But there is a strong likelihood that neither of these superstars run at Cheltenham. Moreover, if they do run, they may well be rushed back too soon from injury. Is Min capable of winning in such conditions? Absolutely. Even if Douvan and Altior do make a full recovery, is Min capable of pulling something special out of the bag to nick the win? Once again, absolutely. The great and the good of horse racing should not be surprised if that ends up being the case.

Might Bite Set to Step Up in Class in King George VI Chase

Last season’s RSA Chase winner Might Bite has opened up as the bookmakers’ favourite to win the King George VI Chase this year, where he is set to take the step up in class for the first time now he is out of novice company.

Nicky Henderson’s chaser made his seasonal reappearance at Sandown earlier this month, where he did not put a foot wrong in his victory as he prevailed by eight lengths. A return to Kempton on Boxing Day will come exactly 12 months after he fell at the last fence in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase where he had the race wrapped up before his mistake.

horse racing
Credit: Racing Post via Twitter

When Might Bite ended his 2016/17 campaign, there was no doubt he was the leading novice in his division. He led for the majority of the race in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. After jumping the last, the eight-year-old veered to the right, which allowed his closest challenger Whisper to make up ground up the hill at the Gloucestershire racecourse. Fortunately for connections, he found a second wind and got back up by a neck to land the 3m contest. Just weeks later, he followed that success up with victory in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at the Grand National meeting at Aintree.

Along with Might Bite, Champion Trainer Henderson has a number of novices who will be taking on the older generation in the new campaign, including Altior who is included in many pundits’ five horses to follow this season. If his novices make the step up in class successfully, he is likely to defend his title and become the Champion Trainer for the fifth time in his career.

Thistlecrack on Course for Return to Action

In 2016 Thistlecrack was one of the most impressive winners of the King George that we have seen in recent years. The first-year chaser blew a strong field that included Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti and, as a result, became the new favourite to win the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Sadly for connections of the former World Hurdle winner, he picked up an injury in January which ruled him out of the Festival.

Colin Tizzard’s runner has not raced since his setback 10 months ago, however, he did have a racecourse gallop a couple of weeks ago at Wincanton and connections have been positive about how their superstar has schooled in recent months.

Despite winning the King George in 2016, the nine-year-old has only ever run in five races over fences in his career so far. If all goes well at Kempton, he is likely to appear in January again in the Cotswold Chase before his first shot at the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

Thistlecrack recorded an official rating of 174 over hurdle and with a second win in the Boxing Day feature in the UK, he could at least match that figure over fences. The talented chaser is a top price of 7/2 to become the fourth horse in this millennium to defend its crown in the King George.

Gold Cup Winner Sizing John Expected to Line Up at Kempton

We could be seeing a lot more of the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John this season in the UK, as not only does he have an entry in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, he is included in the latest declarations for the King George.

HR 2
Credit: Racing UK via Twitter

Since stepping up to the 3m division earlier in 2017, Sizing John has been in the form of his life with victories also coming in the Irish Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup. Jessica Harrington’s runner won lots of prize money when he was campaigned over 2m, however, he often bumped into Douvan where he had to settle for second place in many of the top races in the UK and Ireland.

The seven-year-old was one of the youngest ever winners of the Gold Cup back in March, therefore, connections must be hopeful that their horse can continue to improve. He is 7/2 to come out on top at Kempton which is the second leg of the Chase Triple Crown this season.

The King George is part of a packed card on Boxing Day which also features the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase and all the leading races can be seen live on ITV1.

Don’t Touch extends unbeaten run to five at the Ayr Gold Cup

Don’t Touch raced to victory in the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup today to extend his unbeaten run to five, in what was an exciting race, with jockey Tony Hamilton only narrowly emerging victorious.

The favourite before the race was in fact Don’t Touch and was backed in at 6/1 by the bookies. Don’t Touch won by half a length with 50/1 outsider Poyle Vinnie finishing second. 33/1 Ninjago finished third, whilst 10/1 Toofi finished fourth in the 25-horse race.

On the road to victory today Don’t Touch became the the first three-year-old horse to win this race in 13 years.

Hamilton spoke after the win, and said he’s always had a special affliction with Don’t Touch.

“He’s a horse I’ve always loved and this is a race I’ve always wanted to win.

“He’s done it a bit too well really as I was in front too soon but we’ve got away with it.”

Trainer Richard Fahey had quite an extraordinary Saturday afternoon as he bagged not only the Gold cup win with Don’t Touch, but also the Silver cup with Tatilsu. With wins at Newbury and Caterick too, Fahey broke through the £3 million mark with prize money.

Fahey spoke of the difficulty of winning the Gold cup race, and the need for a special horse to do so.

“It’s been a while since we’ve won it, but it’s a race that’s very hard to win.

“You need a proper horse to win this. You’ve got to be progressive and nearly be a Group horse.

“For a three-year-old who didn’t run until May, it’s pretty special.”