Talking Horses: our tipping contest triumph and New Year’s Day pointers
Wood went to the top of the table in June and maintained a clear lead for the second half of the year, in a contest based on the total return to a notional £1 stake at starting price on all selections. The Guardian’s picks over the course of 2021 had the highest strike-rate of any tipster at 27.6%, and showed a return of just under 92% on turnover, nearly 2% higher than the runner-up.
In addition to individual winners at prices up to 28-1 during 2021, Wood’s selections at Royal Ascot in June showed a profit of £53.10 to a £1 level stake, including Perotto (Britannia Handicap) at 18-1, Lola Showgirl (Kensington Palace Stakes) at 12-1, two more winners at 10-1 and Subjectivist (13-2) in the Gold Cup, the feature event of the meeting.
Other big-race winners included Commanche Falls (10-1) in the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood in July and Midnight Shadow (9-1) in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November.
Cheltenham is preparing to welcome as many as 30,000 racegoers to its traditional New Year’s Day card and many will look no further than the course specialist Coole Cody when it comes to the feature race, a handicap chase over two-and-a-half miles.
The two courses at Cheltenham come alike to Evan Williams’s 11-year-old, whose three wins at this track include the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November 2020 and the valuable handicap at the December meeting three weeks ago.
That form looks like the strongest on offer, but a 4lb higher mark makes life more difficult for Coole Cody and while his bold, front-running style makes him tough to pass, Zanza (2.00), who was two lengths behind him in second last time, could be worth an interest to turn the tables.
That was Zanza’s second big run at Cheltenham in a row after finishing sixth in the Paddy Power, he is 2lb better off with the winner here and also runs in cheekpieces for the first time. That is another positive given that he comes from a yard which shows a level-stakes profit from more than 100 runners in first-time cheekpieces over the last 10 years.
Cheltenham 1.25: L’Homme Presse has made a flawless start to his chasing career and still had plenty left in the tank when he finished 13 lengths clear at Ascot last time. This is a significant step up in grade but he has only six starts to his name in all and should bridge the gap with something to spare.
Musselburgh 1.40: Stoner’s Choice remains on a fair mark based on his win at Kempton in November and the drop back in trip here should also be in his favour.
Musselburgh 2.10: First Impression unseated his rider before halfway over track and trip last time but has a big chance on his winning form at Wetherby in November.
Tramore 2.20: The dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo has had his Festival warm-up in this race for the last three seasons and should make it four in a row with a minimum of fuss.
Cheltenham 2.35: It takes a fair leap of faith to back Spiritofthegames here, even at around 16-1, as his 18-race losing streak stretches back to November 2018. He rarely runs a bad race at this track, however, reverts to hurdling off a competitive mark and should get the strong pace he needs to show his best.
Cheltenham: 12.15 Get A Tonic, 12.50 The Wolf, 1.25 L’Homme Presse, 2.00 Zanza (nap), 2.35 Spiritofthegames, 3.10 McFabulous, 3.50 Iliade Allen
Catterick Bridge: 12.25 Bob’s Bar, 1.00 Fame And Hope, 1.35 Tommie Beau, 2.15 Socialist Agenda, 2.45 Spot On Soph, 3.20 Bestiarius
Musselburgh: 12.30 Collingham, 1.05 Pitempton Power, 1.40 Stoner’s Choice, 2.10 First Impression (nb), 2.50 Amour De Nuit, 3.25 Morraman
Southwell: 12.33 Chillsea, 1.08 Paddy Elliott, 1.43 Lammas, 2.18 Arriviste, 2.53 Al Ameen, 3.28 Muscika, 4.00 Sky Power, 4.30 The Thin Blue Line
Exeter: 12.40 Gustavian,v 1.15 Dubrovnik Harry, 1.50 Gamaret, 2.25 Le Milos, 3.00 Keep Rolling, 3.35 Getaweapon, 4.05 Ben Bulben
Fakenham: 12.45 Powerful Position, 1.20 Hidor De Bersy, 1.55 Animal, 2.30 Ray’s The One, 3.05 Leave My Alone, 3.40 Henschke
Musselburgh 2.50: A small field but all five runners have a fair chance on their best form. Amour De Nuit is back below his last winning mark over fences and looks like the safest option.
Cheltenham 3.10: A fascinating renewal of the Relkeel Hurdle, with McFabulous marginally preferred to likely favourite Brewin’upastorm as he returns to action after a wind op. He has gone well fresh in the past and anything close to his winning form when this race was switched to Kempton last year could well be sufficient.