Badger Beer Chase | Fantastic day for Sam – The Top Three

Punchestown Festival

Today is a monster day for racing with the Badger Beer Chase highlighting Wincanton in the UK and the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Chase drawing attention at Down Royal in Northern Ireland.

The standard for this weekly series is for three selections from three races, however, there is a change today.

Two horses are top of my list for the Badger Beer Chase, and I don’t want to leave either out, so I’ll split the stakes and include them both.

So, let’s dive in.


12:40 Wincanton – Meatloaf @ 1/1 with BetVictor – 3pt Win

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Since 2013, Paul Nicholls has won seven renewals of the EBF Stallions “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle and Meatloaf could provide number eight for the Ditcheat-based yard.

The four-year-old by Doctor Dino was highly tried in bumpers last season, winning two and finishing second in one.

Looking at his two bumper victories, the first occurred at Wincanton with an impressive two-and-three-quarter length success, a race that saw both the second and fourth win their respective maiden hurdles this season.

The second success was on his final start of last season back at the same track when he beat Classic King by one-and-a-half lengths, a horse who bolted up by 10 lengths in a Wincanton maiden hurdle last month.

Today’s soft ground should suit well and having finished ahead of Dancing In Brazil, one of today’s rivals, at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, today looks like a perfect start to his hurdling career..


2:25 Wincanton – Ballygrifincottage @ 18/1 with William Hill – 0.5pt EW

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Coming into the Badger Beer, only two horses have had a run this season and those happen to be Courtland and Ballygrifincottage.

With the former being a horse with an unappealing profile for a test like this, I’m happy to leave him and side with the latter instead.

Dan Skelton’s eight-year-old has experienced just three spins over fences under rules so far in his career, one of which was a facile 11-length success on soft ground at Haydock in a good time.

Because of this impressive debut, he went off a well-backed 4/5 on his second start over fences in the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby, a race won by the now 142-rated City Chief.

Despite his price, he disappointed and pulled up after the 15th, though a post-race vet examination revealed he had bled from the nose.

Another pulled-up effort over hurdles finished his season on a downer, a stark difference from one year prior having concluded his 2021-22 campaign with a good fourth in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

Skelton has made it no secret this season that plenty of his horses will come on for their opening run of the campaign, something that should occur for Ballygrifincottage after his acceptable reappearance at Newton Abbot in October.

Off a mark of just 140, he should be well-handicapped based on how highly regarded he is within Lodge Hill and with the cheekpieces applied on his second start after a wind-op, all things seem to suggest that today has been a long-term plan.


2:25 Wincanton – Sam Brown @ 8/1 General – 1pt Win

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Although Ballygrifincottage is an interesting big-priced contender, there is no getting away from the attractive nature of Sam Brown in a race like this off a workable mark of 152.

As we saw with Frodon last year, high-rated horses can win staying handicap chases like this and it looks as if Anthony Honeyball’s 11-year-old could be well-handicapped on old form.

13 months ago, the gelding by Black Sam Bellamy finished a brilliant third in the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase to Bravemansgame, a subsequent Gold Cup runner-up, on his first run of the season.

Following that run, connections fancied him to win the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase on his next start (according to Honeyball when I spoke to him at the Punchestown Festival) but he disappointed in a time where the yard was slightly out of form.

Fast-forward to the Punchestown Festival in April, he had a starting price of 9/1 for the Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase and looked like the winner before his fall at the second-last fence.

Up just two pounds for that effort, he could be dangerous off 152 if he is fully up for the task on his seasonal debut and at 8/1, I’m willing to take the chance that he is as a win-only proposition.


2:45 Aintree – Fantastic Lady @ 11/2 with William Hill – 1pt EW

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Listeners of the Only Fools Love Horses Twitter Space on Sunday or YouTube video on Wednesday will know that Fantastic Lady is a horse I’ve had pencilled in for the Grand Sefton for a few weeks.

The eight-year-old mare has shown a good level of improvement since her first victory over fences at Warwick in January 2022 over two-and-a-half miles.

This steady rise through the handicap saw her pitched into the Grade 2 Pendil Novices’ Chase two starts later when third behind Pic D’Orhy – now rated 162 – and the subsequent Grade 1-winning Millers Bank.

Last season continued on the same trajectory as she bolted up over three miles to beat Zambella before a good second over the Grand National fences in the Topham in April and a promising third behind Hewick in the Grade 2 Oaksey Chase.

Although she received weight on her last start, getting to within eight lengths of Hewick, a horse who ran very well in the Gold Cup before falling, is good form and even the second, First Flow, franked the form thanks to his second in the Byre Group Handicap Chase last week.

This year’s Grand Sefton has apparently been the plan for a while and with trainer Nicky Henderson thinking of Grand National glory later down the line, a win today would start off Fantastic Lady’s season in a good way.

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