Past Winners » Portrait King


Message of 22nd February:

I have been wanting to back Portrait King for the Eider since he won the Punchestown Grand National Trial two weeks ago and his trainer Maurice Phelan said that the Eider was the plan, if he got into the race.

Two slight negatives. Firstly, the Irish handicapper raised him 7lb for his Punchestown win, which was fairly lenient and left him on a really nice mark of 120. However, the British handicapper has added another 11lb for good measure, which leaves him on a mark of 131 for Saturday’s race, which is obviously not nearly as attractive. Secondly, I was hoping that, because he hails from a small Irish yard, he would be available at a decent price, so 7/1 is a little shorter than I had hoped.

Those negatives are easily addressed however. On the weight issue, while it is not ideal that he is 11lb higher in the UK than he is in Ireland, he is progressive enough to cope with that type of hike, and weight is not that big an issue in the Eider Chase anyway. Perhaps surprisingly for a staying handicap chase run over a marathon trip often in soft or heavy ground, the last eight winners have all carried 11st or more.

On the odds issue, there is not that much depth in the race and, after the initial disappointment, I have concluded that 7/1 is more than fair. Portrait King is a hugely progressive staying handicap chaser, who has improved markedly for stepping up to staying trips on his last two runs. He ran a cracker to finish second to Smoking Aces in the Porterstown Chase at Fairyhouse, over three miles and five furlongs, in early December, beaten just a length by the winner with the pair of them clear of some useful performers, including Sang Bleu and Sunday’s shock Ten Up Chase winner Lion Na Bearnai. He was up in the front rank the whole way that day, and was just mugged by a horse who had been held up out the back and given a well-timed ride.

In winning the Punchestown Grand National Trial, Portrait King stepped up on that performance – which was hardly surprising given that it was just his second attempt at a marathon trip – and exacted his revenge on Smoking Aces, who was well back in sixth place.

He travelled really well in the Punchestown race, he was again prominent throughout, he was the only horse still on the bridle turning for home, and he stayed on really well under just a hands and heels ride from Davy Condon to win nicely. The right horses – the progressive pair Up The Beat and In Great Form, who was on a hat-trick – chased him home and, all in all, the performance was rock solid.

Of course, the Eider Chase off a mark of 131 is a fairly big step up from that, but there is every reason to believe that the grey horse can make that step. Horses like Hedgehunter and Chelsea Harbour have won the Punchestown race and gone on to much bigger things.

Portrait King is only seven, he has raced just five times over fences in his life, and he has huge scope for progression. He relishes a thorough test of stamina on soft ground, which is what he should get on Saturday, but he also has pace. As well as that, he jumped a little to his left at Punchestown, so the move to a left-handed track should be in his favour.

Not many seven-year-olds win the Eider, but not many run in it (just nine since 2002), and Portrait King is a proven stayer at marathon trips. That aside, he fits nicely into the race trends, as a progressive 131-rated horse who is set to carry 10st 13lb. Six of the last 10 winners of the race carried between 10st 11lb and 11st 6lb, and Portrait King is one of just three horses who fit into that bracket as things stand. Also, Irish-trained horses have won two of the last 10 renewals from minimal representation.

Top weight Arbor Surpreme is the biggest danger in my book if he takes his chance. Highweights have a good record in the race, three of the last six winners carried 11st 12lb, and he is a classy individual who has run just twice over hurdles this season since joining Jonjo O’Neill. It may be that the trainer didn’t want to race him over fences before the Grand National weights came out in order to protect his mark, but the weights are published now, and Comply Or Die proved in 2008 that victory in the Eider Chase does not ruin your chance at Aintree. On the positive side, if Arbor Supreme does stand his ground, then Portrait King will remain on 10st 13lb.

Best odds of 7/1 are more than fair. I can see him going off much shorter on the day. With 17 horses entered at this stage, and the bookmakers betting ¼ the odds the first four a place, he is an each-way bet.

Message of 25th February:

I would have liked to have seen a little rain at Newcastle ideally for Portrait King, he was so impressive on his last run at Punchestown on heavy ground that you have to think that heavy ground would have played to his strengths. That said, we didn’t want a slog like we had when Companero did us a turn in this race last year, bottomless ground like that just turns it into too much of a lottery.

As well as that, Portrait King’s best run in a bumper was on yielding ground, and his best run over hurdles, when he was second to Lambro at Naas last March, was also on yielding ground. He should handle the ground then, it could inconvenience a couple of his rivals, who genuinely like soft ground, and the step up in trip to four miles and a furlong should compensate for the better ground. It is probably more a test of stamina that Portrait King requires rather than heavy ground, and he will get that today.

That aside, the race has worked out well for our ante post bet so far. Six horses came out, so there are only 11 runners, but our bet is still each-way the first four. Arbor Supreme has come out, which means that the weights have gone up, Portrait King now has 11st 8lb to carry instead of 10st 13lb, but that isn’t too big a negative. Highweights have a good record in this race, four of the last six winners carried 11st 6lb or more, and Portrait King is a big strong staying chaser. On the positive side, the withdrawal of Arbor Supreme has removed one of the main dangers in my book. As well as that, Pricewise have put him up this morning, he is now no bigger than 100/30, so we are on at a decent price.

All the other reasons for backing him on Wednesday hold true, Denis O’Regan is a great booking, and he should run a big race.