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No allowance needed: why a 25-1 shot should be added to your ante-post portfolio

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It’s been a while since the 7lb mares’ allowance debate first reared its head but, as ever in racing, it's a conversation that will be  recycled over the coming months. 

Roksana clearly needed the allowance to be competitive in a thrilling Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday, but we’re likely to see a mare who definitely doesn't over the festive period. 

Epatante should win her second Christmas Hurdle at prohibitive odds and Concertista would have received it if turning up in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown, but disappointingly it looks as if she will run in the mares' Grade 3 instead. I thought she was shaping up to be Epatante's biggest challenger in March.

Epatante: red-hot favourite for the Unibet Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day

I can't see much value on offer at Kempton, and my attention has been drawn to the ante-post markets for the Cheltenham Festival given they're sure to be impacted by the festive action.

Fittingly it is another mare who stands out a mile in the County Hurdle – a where she won't be eligible for that much-maligned 7lb – in Verdana Blue. 

The way she has been campaigned this season, combined with a rapidly declining rating, makes me think connections will take the handicap route this time around, and her trainer, Nicky Henderson, has won the County before with Thumbs Up (1993) and Barna Boy (1997). 

The last mare to win the race was Spirit Leader in 2003, but the case for Verdana Blue is not difficult to construct.

Admittedly she has been beaten at odds-on twice this season and finished 16 lengths behind Song For Someone in the International Hurdle last time, but her rating has dropped 11lb to 151 in 12 months as a result. 

Encouragement can be garnered from all three of those defeats, with the run at Cheltenham last time particularly eyecatching. She travelled strongly before encountering traffic problems due to the final flight being omitted due to the low sun (don’t get me started) on unsuitably soft ground (cough) before being eased up the hill.

Verdana Blue (near side) beats Buveur D'Air in the 2018 Christmas Hurdle

Let's not forget she is a Grade 1 winner after beating Buveur D’Air in the 2018 Christmas Hurdle and has already shown she is a potent force in handicaps when bolting up in the 2019 Scottish Champion Hurdle off a 3lb higher mark, albeit with Connor Brace’s claim taking 7lb off her back. 

Although she has never won at Cheltenham, her record includes an unlucky fourth off her current perch in the 2018 Greatwood Hurdle and a fifth in the 2019 Champion Hurdle on attritional ground, while her efforts on the Flat this summer (a Royal Ascot second and an Ebor third) indicate she hasn’t lost a great deal of her ability. 

Her profile is not dissimilar to a number of recent winners. Wicklow Brave won the race off 138 – and perhaps more pertinently was only just denied off 15lb higher in the 2019 Coral Cup – while Arctic Fire (158) and Ch’tibello (148) both won it after competing in Grade 1s. 

She can be backed at 25-1 for the County with Make Good, Buzz and Wild Max all shorter. Those three alone would all have lots to find with an on-song Verdana Blue, and it is hard to imagine her running in any of the other festival races or being anywhere near that price on the day.


Connection with our equine legends should last into retirement  

Jack Haynes did a sterling job covering this column in my absence,  tipping the Caspian Caviar winner Chatham Street Lad at 16-1. 

While he was banging in the winners I was lucky enough to be at Colin Tizzard's yard (for one day at least) and it was pure bliss to experience the unique buzz of a racing yard for the first time in at least a year.

There is nothing like seeing horses such as Thistlecrack and Cue Card up close and talking to the people who look after them. The visit made me realise how brilliant is must be to live near Living Legends in Australia or Old Friends in the US, which both provide a home for ex-racehorses where their adoring fans can visit them.

Charities such as Greatwood and The Racehorse Sanctuary do a fantastic job in Britain, and while you can visit ex-racehorses at the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket, so many of our favourites live fantastic lives but are never seen again by the wider public. I can't help but think this is a missed opportunity for British racing. 

Beauty Generation: Hong Kong's 2018 Horse of the Year was retired to Living Legends in Australia

Just last week Hong Kong's record-setting miler Beauty Generation was retired to Living Legends just six miles from Victoria airport, where local communities will be able to have a one-on-one experience, take photos, pat and feed a gelding who won more than £10 million in prize-money.

Living Legends also offers school excursions, work and university placements and its riders receive professional development such as dressage and showjumping coaching.

In the last five years it has also stepped up its retraining, meaning its retired champions can be ridden in front of the public and attend various events. 

Hurricane Fly, Beef Or Salmon, Hardy Eustace and Kicking King have been a standing dish at the Irish National Stud for a while now, and the sooner Britain has a well-established equivalent the better. I know I would be first in line to pay to visit.


Playle's play

Mr One More
1.15 Kempton, Saturday

Made a hugely eyecatching return to the racecourse when denied by half a length at Chepstow and this step up to 2m4½f looks exactly what he needs. His trainer Harry Fry won this race with Hell's Kitchen in the same silks in 2017 and this horse was classy enough to beat Summerville Boy as a hurdler. Alnadam has taken to chasing extremely well but a 8lb rise is plenty and he could set it up perfectly for the selection. 

Playle's lay

Cyrname
3.00 Kempton, Saturday

I'm well prepared to end up with egg on my face here but it's Christmas so I thought I'd keep things interesting. I still have doubts about Cyrname over three miles – I'm suspicious as to how much he had left under the bonnet in the Charlie Hall – and he never looked comfortable in this race last year. Frodon will surely try to make it a test from the front and I think Clan Des Obeaux can confirm last year's form. 


Read more from Maddy Playle: 

Yorkhill transformation a feat which deserves joyous celebration

Arkle dark horse has what it takes to tackle red-hot Shishkin

If racing is to develop it's vital it listens to those who speak out on race


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It is hard to imagine her running in any of the other festival races or being anywhere near that price on the day
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