Sunday, November 30, 2008

Weekend reflections

Connections will take their time before making a decision on Inglis Drever's career after the current three mile hurdle champion sustained a hock injury and was pulled up on his seasonal debut at Newbury. Bookmakers have removed him from their lists for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham next March; Ladbrokes currently bet 3/1 Kasbah Bliss, 6/1 Punchestowns, Duc De Regniere, 8/1 Blazing Bailey, 12/1 Elusive Dream, 16/1 Pettifour, Mobaasher.

There was over £1.5 million in the Scoop6 bonus pool on Saturday, with eight tickets covering over half the fifteen strong field that went to post for the Hennessy. Given that winning trainer David Pipe had told those who would listen not to back his Madison Du Berlais as the yard was going through a quiet spell, it wasn't a surprise to find the pot unclaimed. The sum will be carried over, probably to Cheltenham on Saturday 13th December.

It's likely to be a long, pressurised week for Sam Thomas, due to ride Master Minded in Saturday's Tingle Creek at Sandown. On each of the past two Saturdays he has parted company with his charge at the final flight of the day's feature race. The unseating from Big Buck's in the Hennessy didn't look great - I'm sure he's watched the replay a few times and will feel he could have stayed in the plate.

Browsing in the Leamington branch of Waterstone's over the weekend I came across Ross Newton's book The Tail End System; I had barely managed a quick glance before Mrs Tips started giving me earache about the Christmas shopping. In a nutshell, Newton gives details of a system that looks to make profits from backing outsiders in British National Hunt races from October to May. An outsider is considered anything that starts at 10/1 or bigger and Newton goes on to identify the tracks where this type of wager is most successful. The top tracks include Musselburgh, Ludlow, Towcester, Carlisle, Catterick and Perth; the striking thing for me was that of those six, five race right-handed.

Those who race at Ludlow on a regular basis are bound to be familiar with The Feathers Hotel, parts of which date back to 1619. In an accident on Friday evening, a bus mounted the pavement and crashed into the facade. The driver appears to have collapsed at the wheel and died at the scene.

Finally, make a note of the new Racing Post website -

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hennessy Day at Newbury and Newcastle

Seventeen go to post at 2.40 tomorrow for the Hennessy Gold Cup. Paul Nicholls' Big Buck's is pretty short in the market given that no five year old has previously won the race. Two horses perceived to be 'well in' are at opposite ends of the handicap; Island Flyer scrapes in with ten stones but is due a hike in the weights while last week's Betfair Chase winner Snoopy Loopy carries top weight here but will be further penalised in the future. This may come a little too quick for Snoopy Loopy and the stable's other entry, Always Waining, makes more appeal as a potential each-way wager. Albertas Run beat Air Force One convincingly in last season's Sun Alliance Chase but that fact isn't reflected in the betting for tomorrow's event, mainly because Air Force One ran a very good trial for this at Ascot four weeks ago while Albertas Run was rather disappointing on heavy ground at Carlisle; further rain wouldn't suit either runner. I'm drawn to those at the bottom of the handicap and in a competitive event I'm going to side with Character Building who was third in this last year; he has been off the track after sustaining an injury but appears to have come back in fine form winning a hurdle race at Towcester. The each-way off-the-wall longshot is Always Waining who won a listed chase at Market Rasen with something in hand two months ago and was eighth in this last year. Going through his form he appeared mightily inconsistent throughout last season but if he's on song he could go well and in any case shouldn't be 40/1.

The best race on the card is the Long Distance Hurdle at 2.05. World Hurdle winner Inglis Drever makes his seasonal reappearance, as does Blazing Bailey. Both these are some way ahead of their rivals on ratings but I really like the unbeaten Pettifour, who won at Wetherby a month ago and may have a fitness advantage over the front two; I'm going to take a chance on him at this highest level. Strictly on the book Mobaasher should have the beating of Pettifour but last time he was worried out of it on the run-in by the selection; I'm left with the suspicion that Mobaasher may be something of a bridle horse. In a fascinating race Labelthou couldn't be totally dismissed if returning to form while I'll watch Hills Of Aran to see if he handles the step-up in class. This horse runs well for McCoy; had he been in the plate, I would have considered an each-way dabble.

The portents point to Punjabi in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, where the favourite has won eight of the last ten runnings. Barry Geraghty passed over a hatful of fancied rides at Newbury to take this one; in addition connections have targetted this race as the first leg of a possible treble that will land them £1 million. The Irish send over a strong challenge with Harchibald, Sublimity and Harper Valley while Blue Bajan will be worth monitoring for future reference but, given the above, I can't oppose the favourite in this.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Newbury notes - Friday

We have the Hennessy and the Long Distance Hurdle to look forward to on Saturday but tomorrow's card is strangely uninspiring - I won't be getting involved.

In the past the market has proved a decent guide to the opener with the first two in the betting winning seven of the past ten renewals.

Eighteen go to post in the handicap hurdle at 2.05 with Ballydub likely to be a poor value favourite on the back of his recent second to the impressive Punchestowns at Cheltenham. Henrietta Knight has had a couple of winners in the past week after a six-moth barren spell; she holds Ringaroses in high regard. Miko De Beauchene takes this in en route to the Welsh National at Chepstow on December 27th.

A disappointing turnout of just four for the Blue Square Novices' Chase at 2.40. I'd expected a better effort from Ring The Boss last time but he was comprehensively beaten by Breedsbreeze at Wincanton. Breedsbreeze had a five-day entry for this but the stable has opted to run Kicks For Free instead, so I'm guessing they must fancy their chance. Nicky Henderson fields The Market Man who has had his training problems but is a high class performer on his day. It's a race to watch rather than bet on.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Newbury notes - Thursday

On Racing Post ratings Over Sixty looks well clear of his rivals in the opener but he's been racing solely over the minimum trip, a comment that applies to several of them. Connections are aiming quite high with Tara Two Hills who was withdrawn from a Class 4 race at Exeter a couple of weeks ago on account of heavy going. She wears a tongue-strap (which I'm wary of on soft ground) but this mare is well-regarded by her trainer.

The beginners' chase (12.55) looks between Straw Bear and Pasco. I'm not a Straw Bear fan; his jumping hasn't impressed so far.

Although only six go to post, the novice chase (2.05) is a hot affair. Tartak has been talked up but this is his stiffest task to date and his first try over three miles. For those looking to oppose, Paul Nicholls' The Tother One looks the percentage call but on ratings Gone To Lunch is bang there and at 4/1 with McCoy in the plate he represents a value play. I'd expect a bold show from Hold Em but I suspect better ground would suit.

Nedd Ludd can be a bit hit and miss but he has come back from the summer break in good form. Priced up at 5/1 he's certainly worth a second look in the 3.15.

Over at Taunton Deep Purple features in the 1.40. Now, I'm not one to tell trainers where to run their charges, but sending any novice to Wetherby for their first try over fences has its risks. Last time out Deep Purple met plenty of trouble in running over those stiff Wetherby obstacles. Taunton should prove less testing, but in the Weekender published today Evan Williams says 'I think by the time we get to the spring he should be worth following'. Hint taken. The Racing Post predict 13/2 Mr Watzisname which is tempting.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Talking points

Kauto Star's stumble at the final fence in Saturday's Betfair Chase has generated plenty of discussion; certain people seem to think the horse's best days are behind him. When questioned on this matter at Aintree on Sunday trainer Paul Nicholls' reaction was 'Absolute bullshit!' Good to see Mr. Nicholls isn't standing for any nonsense. I thought Kauto didn't pick up as well as you would have expected in the home straight but he was upsides at the last and, in my opinion, would have gone on to win had he not fallen. Peter Bowen's 33/1 winner Snoopy Loopy has almost been forgotten in the fallout; the horse is one of twenty one five-day entries for Saturday's Hennessy. Although jockey Seamus Durack was hard at work a fair way out on this ten year old, once the old-timer got to the front, it looked as though there was still something left in the tank. He's currently 18/1 with Skybet if you're tempted...

Eight tickets shared the monster Scoop6 pot, each winning just over £437,000. The winners also have the chance to go for the nominated £1.5 million bonus race which is likely to be Saturday's Hennessy at Newbury. The Tote's turnover was £4.1 million; compare that to the £3.8 million taken by the Nanny on all races on Gold Cup day in March. On Tuesday some real shrewdies took the 50/1 offered about business breaking the £4 million barrier; by Friday the book was suspended with the price at just 2/1.

The one that caught my eye from yesterday's Aintree card was Serabad in the Toteswinger Handicap Hurdle. Having only recently returned to Peter Bowen's yard, the horse was thought to need the run but, carrying 11st 9lbs on soft ground, he won going away. The trainer's comment afterwards that there was more improvement to come is worth noting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Tote's biggest day ever...

A week ago a Tote representative described the forthcoming Scoop6 as the biggest day in their history. So excited were the Tote, they even made a reference to this blog on their own Scoop6 blog! Seven days later, and we look forward to a day's racing that will knock last week into a cocked hat; some reports estimate £5 million will be up for grabs. At the time of writing doubts surround the participation of two runners in the six selected races; according to my elementary maths, this reduces the possible number of winning combinations from 4,181,760 to 3,484,800. Two potential non-runners and my chances of winning increase by over 696,000! There seems little doubt that the pool will be won this weekend. It's ironic that the all-weather, so often perceived as racing's poor-relation, provides the main backdrop to this richest ever pot. For those interested in trying to collect those all-weather millions, I again offer two suggestions per race which should be used as nothing more than a starting point; good luck to you all...

2.10 Lingfield: Markab, My Gacho;

2.40 Lingfield: Spring Goddess, Secret Night;

2.45 Haydock: Bill's Echo, Naunton Brook;

3.20 Lingfield: Bronze Cannon, Re Barolo;

3.30 Huntingdon: Rebel Melody, Low Delta;

3.50 Lingfield: Ceremonial Jade, Prohibit.

Ascot tomorrow

Kauto Star and champion hurdle favourite Binocular are expected to win their races at Haydock tomorrow but for betting purpsoes they make no appeal and are likely to start long odds on. At Ascot the highlight is the Coral Hurdle (1.55) run over a trip just shy of two and a half miles. Probable favourite Crack Away Jack is of interest but four year olds have a poor record in this, a fact that puts me off Alan King's Franchoek as well. I'd expect the distance here to be no problem for Franchoek as earlier in the season the trainer talked of his charge as a possible for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham next March (which is run over three miles). Paul Nicholls' Elusive Dream is respected but I have to stay with Nicky Henderson 's mare Chomba Womba who did this blog a favour a fortnight ago. That day she claimed the scalp of current champion hurdler Katchit, but we should remember that, although it was visually most impressive, she was receiving lumps of weight and the champ wasn't fully wound up. Forecast to be sent off around the 3/1 mark, Chomba Womba represents a value play against Crack Away Jack.

From one Jack to another... Jack The Giant, an intended runner in last week's Paddy Power Gold Cup, was withdrawn on account of the soft ground. He turns out in tomorrow's 1.20 instead and looks the one they all have to beat.

Although there are only five runners in the novice chase at 2.30, it looks trappy. I've never been totally convinced by Poquelin while Psychomodo won here last time out but gave ground away at every obstacle by jumping left throughout. I'll watch this one from the sidelines.

Oslot appears the percentage call in the 3.05 but I'm prepared to give Mahogany Blaze another chance after his second behind Ashley Brook in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Open review

Controvesy reigned on the opening day of the Open meeting with Hoopy's amateur jockey Mr J. P. McKeown 'borrowing' another rider's whip to galvanise his mount to victory in the first, and then Davy Russell legitimately cutting a corner on the cross country course as his mount Dix Villez took the spoils by three lengths from heavily-backed favourite Garde Champetre.

On Saturday Imperial Commander won a most competitive Paddy Power Gold Cup in fine style; jockey Paddy Brennan subsequently described the horse as the best he had sat on. Immediately after the race connections talked of going to Newbury for the Hennessy in a fortnight's time but now the possibility has been raised of returning to Cheltenham for the Boylesports Gold Cup on December 13th.

Ruby Walsh took a crashing fall from Pride Of Dulcote who was travelling like the winner in the three mile handicap hurdle. Walsh was taken to Cheltenham General Hospital and later had an operation to remove his spleen. He's likely to be out of action for a while.

Sunnyhillboy's victory in Saturday's finale meant the bumper Scoop6 pot wasn't won. Spare a thought for the holder of the ticket who had selected 66/1 chance Maneki Neko; the horse took up the running at the second last only to be headed by the eventual winner at the final flight. £2,037,527 is carried forward to Saturday. With the credit crunch biting hard, I hear Alastair Darling is set to try a few lines this weekend - the goverment needs all the money it can get its hands on.

On Sunday the Greatwood saw Aigle D'Or (7/4f) narrowly fail to give sixteen pounds to Numide (5/1), going down a head on the line. This was a sterling weight-carrying effort.

Weight will stop a train, or so they say, but the most impressive performance of the whole meeting was Punchestowns winning 'on the bit' while carrying top weight in the Intermediate Hurdle. I wonder if the World Hurdle is now on his agenda.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cheltenham Open meeting - Sunday

The feature of the final day of the Open meeting is the Greatwood Hurdle which is due off at 2.20; the first two in the betting have won seven of the last ten renewals. This evening both horses set to carry 11st 12 lbs, Ashkazar and Blue Bajan, are declared 'doubtful'; given the testing conditions, it's hardly surprising. For those with any money left after the first two days, Pigeon Island is a tentative each-way suggestion.

I'll watch the opener without getting involved. Arkle favourite Tatenen looks the one to beat but Straw Bear's jumping is likely to come under close scutiny. Not being the biggest of animals, he may find jumping out of this sort of ground over these stiff fences difficult; this test is certainly likely to pose more questions than the obstacles at Exeter did on his chase debut. It's also worth remembering connections re-routed him here after withdrawing him from another Exeter engagement on account of the soft / heavy going. I wonder if they're considering withdrawing him again...

I was impressed by the victory of Hell's Bay in the Persian War at Chepstow three weeks ago. Several commentators have put up Diamond Harry for the 3.30, but I'm going to stick with the Paul Nicholls' inmate until he's beaten.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Tote's big day

A Tote representative has been quoted as saying that tomorrow will be the biggest day in their history. There's £2 million plus up for grabs in the Scoop6 pot; with that sort of money on offer, it seems churlish not to have a go. I've done some limited spadework. If you're the sort of character who sees the virtually impossible as just another challenge, I suggest you use the two selections per race listed below as nothing more than a starting point...

2.00 Cheltenham: Halcon Genelardais, Simon;

2.35 Cheltenham: Imperial Commander, Bible Lord;

2.55 Wetherby: Killard Point, Ice Tea;

3.10 Cheltenham: Sullumo, Copsale Lad;

3.25 Wetherby: Edas, Smoothly Does It;

3.45 Cheltenham: Hernando Royal, Gloucester.

I wish you the very best of luck.

Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup

Twenty go to post for tomorrow's Paddy Power Gold Cup run over two and a half miles at Cheltenham. The market has proved a reasonable guide over the past ten years with the winner coming from the first three in the betting on seven occasions. Paul Nicholls' Silverburn is likely to start favourite but I have no qualms in opposing him on grounds of value. In addition I think there's a possibility he'll have trouble handling the cut and thrust of this big field. Nicky Henderson fields Barbers Shop and Fleet Street. I'm put off by the fact that this race was clearly plan B for Barbers Shop; if he wins, expect the press to send plenty of deferential comment the way of the owner, Her Majesty. Imperial Commander is respected; of the horses at the top of the market, for me the Twiston-Davies inmate makes most appeal. Alan King's Ouzbeck has made striking progress this autumn and beat a number of tomorrow's rivals last time out. He's been raised a hefty-looking eleven pounds for that victory and the soft ground might not suit. Since finishing second behind Ouzbeck, Yes Sir has gone on to win but he looks another who would prefer better ground. The one I like with a racing weight is Andy Turnell's Bible Lord. This horse was third behind Ouzbeck over course and distance on his first run of the season; he's entitled to improve for that and at the weights has fair prospects of reversing the placings. Going through his form of last season, if I have a reservation, it's that his jumping can let him down a little when things hot up at the business end of a race. Priced up at 11/1 he appeals as a decent each-way wager in this ultra-competitive handicap.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cheltenham Open meeting - Friday

The first day of Cheltenham's Open meeting features the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at 3.00 run over a distance one furlong short of four miles. Irish trainer Enda Bolger fields two in an attempt to win this for the fifth consecutive year, Spot Thedifference having won the four previous runnings. After passing the winning post in last year's renewal, the incomparable fourteen year old collapsed and many feared the worst but he just needed a little rest and was soon back on his feet! On official ratings, Garde Champetre has something to find with several of these but he has course and distance winning form and had a pleasing pipe-opener over hurdles three weeks ago at Thurles. He's prefered to L'Ami - both horses are owned by one J.P. McManus.

The Graduation Chase at 2.25 has attracted a disappointingly small field of just four runners. Nicky Henderson had intended to run Barbers Shop in this but the stable has decided to withdraw Jack The Giant from the Gold Cup on accont of the ground; Barbers Shop, owned by The Queen, has been re-routed to Saturday's feature. On paper this now looks a match between Battlecry and Ornais, with the consensus being the latter will struggle to give the former seven pounds on soft ground. I'm inclined to agree, although on official ratings there's little between the two. At the likely prices on offer, this is a race to watch rather than bet on.

In the novices' hurdle (1.50), Leo's Lucky Star has the form in the book and is a play against likely favourite American Trilogy while Razor Royale has a fighting chance in the finale. Last time out he was upsides Ring The Boss when clipping the top of the second last and coming down; I thought he would have gone on to win that and is worthy of support here against the Nicholls' trained favourite Herecomesthetruth.

Monday, November 10, 2008

In brief

Cheltenham's three-day Open meeting starts on Friday. The unique Cross Country Chase is the feature on the first day, the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle the feature on the final day and sandwiched in between, on Saturday, is the highlight of the whole meeting, the Paddy Power Gold Cup. It's early days yet but one horse I won't be backing (on grounds of value alone) is Paul Nicholls' Silverburn - at the time of writing the horse is 7/2 favourite with most bookmakers but only 100/30 with the Tote. In the past I've found the trainer has tended to be pretty bullish about this half-brother to Denman but in my mind the horse hasn't always delivered. I think two and a half miles will suit but it's interesting to note that Silverburn has only won once when racing over further than the minimum trip; last season he didn't appear to stay three miles. During the week I'll look closely at Nicky Henderson's runners as well as Alan King's Ouzbeck, (apparently preferred by stable jockey Robert Thornton to Il Duce), although the layers aren't taking any chances by pricing him up at just 8/1. Meanwhile Finger Onthe Pulse has the Rehearsal Chase as his target.

It's not that often BBC Radio Four throws up a racing story but sixteen stone Dominic Prince, journalist and jockey, has wasted to a mere twelve in a journey he describes in 'Jumbo to jockey'. The programme is to be aired on 23rd December with an accompanying book due out next spring.

Talking of books, another to hit the market just in time for Christmas is Brough Scott's 'Of Horses and Heroes: A Racing Tribute'. Thought I'd mention it, in case you were struggling to come up with ideas for a Christmas present...

It would appear it's not just the banks that have been affected by the credit crunch. Bookmaker William Hill has begun negotiations with several of the aforemetioned banks about refinancing a large chunk of debt. Hmmm... no sympathy from these quarters!

I was preparing to monitor Straw Bear and (the somewhat salaciously-named) Tara Two Hills at Exeter tomorrow. Straw Bear hasn't been declared on account of the ground and I guess the same comment applies to the other horse as well. Last week Steve Taylor's 'Behind The Stats' column in the Weekender highlighted Alan Honeyball's operation, with Tara Two Hills being aimed at the mares-only novice hurdle due off at 4.10. At the time of writing the going at Exeter is described as heavy, waterlogged in places. There's a 7.30 inspection scheduled for the morning - my guess is we'll be lucky to see any racing at Exeter tomorrow.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Wincanton tomorrow

There's a decent card tomorrow at Wincanton tomorrow where the going is described as soft. The highlight is the Elite at 2.50 in which champion hurdler Katchit attempts to give a stone and upwards to all his rivals. It's a big ask - I'm not sure the champion has reached peak fitness yet. The two I'm interested in are Takeroc and Chomba Womba; I think I'll be bold and take a chance with Nicky Henderson's mare Chomba Womba as she offers better value and the stable are in great form.

In the Grade 2 Novices' Chase at 2.20 I prefer Ring The Boss to likely favourite Breedsbreeze.

Several of the five day entries for the Badger Ales Trophy at 3.25 have elected to run in the 3.35 at Sandown instead. In a competitive event, I'm drawn to horses at the lower end of the handicap, especially given the testing conditions. Island Flyer has been well tipped up and will be popular but I prefer a little each way on an outsider in this; I considered Aztec Warrior but the stable form is off-putting so I'll take a flyer on Ardaghey (16/1) who likes racing right-handed on soft ground. His first run of the season wasn't encouraging so I'm more hopeful than confident.

Nicky Henderson's Hora has been raised a stiff-looking eighteen pounds after her last win but is still likely to start favourite for the mares' handicap hurdle. I'm interested in Creswell Ruby even though she's racing off a mark five pounds out of the handicap. Five pound claimer Charlie Huxley helps the cause; I'll consider an each-way punt at around the 10/1 mark.

Over at Sandown Indian Groom (1.55) will be no price whatsoever but should be watched as his defeat of Black Jacari at Market Rasen six weeks ago came as something of a shock to the stable who thought their charge needed another four weeks' work. Connections have let more competitive opportunities pass by in the interim so he will be expected to take this on the way to better things.

There's a guaranteed £1 million up for grabs in this week's Scoop 6 - all you have to do is pick the winner of five races at Doncaster (including the November handicap) and the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton. I wish you the very best of luck!

Monday, November 03, 2008

The winter game

With the onset of winter, the jumping stars are making a welcome return to action. Kauto Star put in an exhibition round at Down Royal on Saturday and goes to Haydock in three weeks time. Arkle winner Tidal Bay won at Carlisle on Sunday, easily beating the other three runners which included the Royal and Sun Alliance winner Albertas Run over a distance of two and a half mile miles. Connections of Tidal Bay haven't yet decided over which distance(s) they're going to campaign their star this season; a hint has been dropped that he may take on Master Minded in the Tingle Creek at Sandown - Paul Nicholls has picked this up and is quoted as saying Tidal Bay will have to improve some more to get close to his charge. Albertas Run looks to have the Hennessy at Newbury as his target.

Nicky Henderson's Afsoun started long odds-on for his chasing debut at Warwick earlier today; Barry Geraghty just managed to get his mount home after the partnership made a mistake four out. I always think Warwick is a tricky course for the inexeprienced novice - the fences come thick and fast down the back straight and jumping is at a premium.

Exeter host the Haldon Gold Cup tomorrow. Twist Magic is likely to start favourite but I won't be rushing to back him running at this stiff course over a trip just shy of two miles two furlongs with the going described as good to soft. Having just looked through his form of last season, I still harbour suspicions the horse is something of a short finisher. Finding the winner isn't easy nonetheless - Natal should be competitive using last season's Kerrygold Champion Chase as a guideline but he would prefer better ground while Howle Hill can often ruin his chance with one erratic jump. In a trappy affair I'm considering taking a chance on Mahogany Blaze, a young horse with potential, from a yard bang in form. I'll see what the market looks like in the morning.