Friday, February 27, 2009

Doncaster, Newbury and Kelso

I know you'll find this hard to believe but this evening the internet is running slower than most of my selections. The feature race at Newbury tomorrow is the Gold Cup in which seventeen are set to race over a distance of two and a half miles; I wouldn't touch this race with the proverbial bargepole. Of those at the top end of the market Hold Em had a hard enough race at Kempton last week, Ouzbeck jumped rather erratically before unshipping his partner at the third obstacle at same meeting while Starzaan has legs like glass, plenty of ability and a tendency to show his best in small fields on flat tracks.

At Doncaster the Grimthorpe Chase makes more appeal as a betting medium. Alderbrook will be popular as the drying ground is bound to suit but he hasn't won for nearly two years. I know I'm taking a chance but I quite fancy David Pipe's Comply Or Die in this. He hasn't shown his form so far this year but the blinds are put back on here, the stable are bang in form and the trainer issued an upbeat update about his charge earlier in the week. The Racing Post tissue prices the selection at 12/1 which looks decent each-way value; he'll either run a blinder or a stinker.

Back at Newbury Amble Forge will be worthy of close inspection in the 2.05. In a recent 'Straight From The Stable' feature in the Weekender Colin Tizzard highlighted this horse as his pick. I quote: "... he is still progressing and I would be disappointed if he couldn't win again before long." If there's a query it's the fact that two miles might well be his trip and the additional two and a bit furlongs here may not be right up his street but the better ground should help. The Veterans' Chase would seem to be there for Church Island but he can't be guaranteed to reproduce his decent effort of ten days ago; I'll watch from the sidelines. J P Magnier takes the mount on Bellvano in the bumper just seven days after the partnership got no further than the starting post at Kempton. I've seen two differing opinions in this week's Weekender about what happened - one saying a false start should have been called, the other citing jockey error. The horse is clearly very well regarded but I wouldn't be taking any risks at a short price.

At Kelso Cloudy Lane has scared off the opposition for the 3.35 while the feature hurdle at 4.10 looks between Wendel and Alfie Flits. On ratings Charlie Mann's charge is the top animal and is preferred; Alfie Flits ran well last week at Kempton but this may come too quickly.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

England to beat Ireland before Cheltenham?

Ireland entertain England at Croke Park this Saturday in the RBS Six Nations Championship. To my mind Martin Johnson's England showed plenty of improvement in their last match against Wales. They asked serious questions of the hosts, succeeded in scoring two fine tries, for the most part demonstrated resolute defence and, with more self-belief, could well have won that test match. Of course, the yellow cards were problematical but at the end of the game there were just eight points between the sides. As the final whistle sounded, there was no showboating from the Welsh players - the looks on their faces told you what we all knew - they'd been in an almighty tussle and were simply glad to have come through on top. Two weeks on and my guess is Martin Johnson will have made every attempt to address the disciplinary problems that have plagued the side. If you accept the above, then you'd have to be interested in the 11/4 Paddy Power are offering about an England win at Croke Park - Blue Square and 888sport only go 15/8.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Weymouth wagers win £1 million

Every now and again you hear a betting story that warms the cockles of your heart. Last weekend troubled Weymouth were set to entertain Rushden & Diamonds in the Blue Square Premiership. Late Friday it emerged the first team were to go on strike as no medical insurance was available. Weymouth fielded a teenage team which promptly lost 9-0, but their fans, obviously in the know, helped pull off one of the biggest betting stunts in non-league football history by betting Rushden & Diamonds and taking over £1 million from the layers. The team were duly given a standing ovation at the end.

Perhaps we should note the quotation made by Steve Palmer, deputy sports editor at the Racing Post: "Non-league football is one of the few sports where punters can get an edge on the bookmakers."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A few Festival fancies

The business section in Friday's Times reported decent results for bookmakers Ladbrokes. Apparently the average spend at their outlets is a meagre £8.40; that compares pretty well to the sort of bills I get lumbered with on an average trip to the shops. In order to save money, I'm thinking I should go to the bookies rather more often than the shops. Even when my selections fail to oblige (most of the time), I can console myself with the thought that I would have spent a hell of a lot more had I gone shopping.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share with you my current Festival thinking, just in case you wanted some suggestions should the opportunity arise for you to pop in to your local turf accountants and save yourself some money in the next two weeks. You know, next they'll be telling us our money is safer with a bookmaker than a bank, but we already knew that...

Tuesday March 10th
Arkle - not a race I'm particularly keen on. My two against the field at this stage are Kalahari King (10/1, prefers decent ground) and Forpadydeplasterer (12/1).
Champion Hurdle - Binocular looks different class and has a racecourse gallop booked at Kempton on Wednesday. Having said that, he offers no real value. Two each way shots against the favourite are last year's runner-up Osana (10/1) and current champion Katchit (14/1) provided a recent break from stable routine has re-kindled his interest - keep an eye out for updates from trainer Alan King.

Wednesday March 11th
Champion Chase - Master Minded looks set to start the shortest price we've seen at the Festival for many a long year. I'm looking for an each-way longshot; the best hint I've come across so far is Mark Winstanley's tip for Briareus (25/1) but other suggestions welcome.
RSA Chase - I prefer What A Friend (6/1) to Cooldine while Gone To Lunch (10/1) is not the best horse in the race but his jumping should stand him in good stead.

Thursday March 12th
World Hurdle - Kasbah Bliss offers no value. I wouldn't write off Punchestowns but think there's more to come from Big Buck's (6/1). Lough Derg (33/1) must have an each-way chance. [Connections indicate they're leaning towards a run in the Coral Cup on the Wednesday for which LD is priced up @ 25/1 with William Hill - 23.02.09.]

Friday March 13th
Two for the Triumph Hurdle - Starluck (13/2) and Walkon (5/1).
Gold Cup - I took 3/1 Kauto before Denman's return. The vibes from the Nicholls' stable suggest it's a race against time to get Denman ready so if I'm going to hedge I'll consider doing so with Neptune Collonges (6/1).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kempton and Newcastle

A field of twenty will face the Kempton starter for the Racing Post Chase which is due off at 3.10. Bookmakers bet 10/1 the field bar Big Fella Thanks who is priced up 7/2 favourite. Hold Em gets into this with a featherweight and his third behind Breedsbreeze in the Feltham catches the eye. He's been tipped up during the week and will appreciate the drying ground but he didn't jump well last time out at Cheltenham. Nicky Henderson's Fleet Street is another well fancied runner but I'm going to have a small each-way interest in Twiston-Davies' Battlecry who had some decent form to his name as a novice and would have a chance in this if back to his best. The yard has been through a lean spell but have had a couple of winners recently - I'm hoping Battlecry can be competitive.

Top flat recruit Ainama has been put in a short-priced favourite for the potentially trappy Dovecote Novices' Hurdle at 2.05. Last time out Alfie Flits beat Dee Ee Williams in the Rossington Main at Haydock - the second and third that day, Son Of Flicka and Mcmurrough, didn't do the form any favours when finishing down the field in the Sidney Banks Memorial at Huntingdon yesterday. On official ratings Alan King's Trenchant is bang there with a chance although it is noted the horse needs another run to qualify for the Fred Winter at Cheltenham. Nick Gifford has been quoted as saying he'd easily forgive his charge's below par run at Haydock as the horse got wound up in the preliminaries. That being the case, I'm prepared to give Dee Ee Williams another chance - he should represent a value play against the favourite and is likely to appreciate the better ground. My Triumph Hurdle fancy, Starluck, bypasses this which I consider no bad thing.

Helium has the best form on offer in the Adonis and so gets the vote while I'd consider an each-way wager on King Jack in the opener if he were priced up at 10/1 or bigger. He took a tumble at Doncaster last time out but is more likely to show his form on good ground. I'll consider King's Legacy in the bumper and prefer Ouzbeck to the occasionally quirky Herecomesthetruth in the Pendil at 2.35.

The Eider at Newcastle will be a four mile slog on heavy ground. Jass has been allocated top weight but conditions look right up his street; jockey James Reveley helps the cause by taking off a handy-looking three pounds.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sidney Banks Memorial at Huntingdon

Some interesting contenders in the competitive-looking 3.25 at Huntingdon tomorrow. I'm not a fan of Mahonia who has a couple of disappointing runs to put behind him. Earlier in the season Donald McCain made no secret of the fact he holds Son Of Flicka in very high regard - the horse's second behind Alfie Flits in the Rossington Main at Haydock reads well. That day Mcmurrough was half a length further behind in third but on that occasion the latter-named was receiving four pounds whereas here they re-oppose at level weights. The extra half mile or so should suit both; I'm guessing connections of Mcmurrough fancy they can turn the placings around as they've opted to take up this engagement rather than the easier-looking Blue Square Poker Novices' Hurdle at Ayr. Helpston wouldn't be one to dismiss lightly either; Pam Sly's charge is tipped up in today's Weekender, with plenty being made of the fact the weather had held up this horse in his work when he failed to give eight pounds to Pause And Clause. The stats indicate the market is generally a good guide to this - six of the last seven winners have been sent off favourite. Son Of Flicka is the best horse on RP ratings and is marginally preferred.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The week in focus

Paul Nicholls was surprisingly upbeat about Denman on Saturday's Morning Line. To my mind the trainer appeared to hint that, with hindsight, he may have sent his charge to Kempton a little undercooked. It's too early to write 'the tank' off just yet but bookmakers aren't taking any chances by offering just 5/1 last season's Gold Cup winner can repeat the trick next month.

As Tom Scudamore passed the winning post on Madison Du Berlais at Kempton, he beckoned to his rivals (in particular Ruby Walsh on Denman) to try and keep up. A week later and another big chase, this time at Ascot, but there was no waving from Tom this time around - he was too busy pushing and shoving on Tamarinbleu who was left for dead by Voy Por Ustedes' classy display.

My advice to rookie paddock watchers, particularly when the going is on the soft side, is to look for the biggest horse in the field and bet it. In future similar advice offered to Eurostar passengers entering the country means they'll probably chance upon Mark Wallinger's sculpture, 'the Angel of the South'. The work is to be modelled on his own stallion, a grey called Riviera Red, but will be thirty three times bigger. Riviera Red won a Class 7 Classified Stakes at Lingfield on Tuesday.

With the Festival just around the corner, you may be interested to learn that The Raceform Update Cheltenham Guide 2009 will be available (from all good newsagents) on Friday 27th February, priced very reasonably at £2.99. Now, I really must go and order my tickets for Champion Chase Day...

Valentine's Day falling on a Saturday often leads to disagreements in the Tips' household. I know I'm the wrong side of twenty seven, but Mrs Tips is still not amused when I suggest a trip to the races as 'something affectionate we can do together' on the special day. Originally hailing from Wrexham, it appears I'm not the only one who lacks something in the romance department. This year Arriva Wales put on a 'love bus' in the area in an attempt to encourage romantics to hop on and 'pop the question' . There were no takers. My guess is the locals know full well that getting hitched is going to cost them a little bit more than a day return to Llangollen.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ascot and Haydock

Ascot selections for tomorrow, weather permitting...

The question in the opener is whether Breedsbreeze will stay this stiff three miles on heavy ground. He jumped well around Kempton in the Feltham but I'm not convinced he does stay, so Carruthers, receiving seven pounds, gets the vote.

Alan King has worries about the trip on heavy ground for Voy Por Ustedes so I'll chance David Pipe's Tamarinbleu returns to form at a track he likes.

Wendel and Chariot Charger looks the main players in the 2.45 but it looks a pretty close call.

Over at Haydock the opener will be worth watching as current World Hurdle favourite Kasbah Bliss is expected to collect on the way to better things. In the ultra-competitive Blue Square Gold Cup Glasker Mill would have an each-way shout on his recent second in the Peter Marsh while Stow is the top-rated horse in the 2.25 and has a favourite's chance. Tarablaze represents a play against likely favourite Massasoit in the 2.55.

At Wincanton there's an all hurdles card. It's worth noting that Nicky Henderson has warned Punjabi is likely to come on for the run which makes the Kingwell look rather tricky.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Greatest jockey

On a wet and windy Monday afternoon at Plumpton racecourse A P McCoy rode Restless D'Artaix (13/8f) to victory in the Tyser & Co Beginners' Chase and in doing so recorded his 3,000th winner. McCoy, not one given to public outbursts of emotion, declared himself 'ecstatic'. Needless to say the tributes have poured in; a selection of my favourites...

Nicky Henderson: "You'll never see numbers like this again."
Carl Llewellyn described McCoy as the greatest jump jockey of all time.
Simon Holt: "He's been a regular performer of miracles for all these years."
John McCririck: "The man is a colossus, we have never seen his like before."

In an age when the wage of a pampered Premiership footballer can easily reach £100,000 a week, the dedication and humility of A P McCoy stand out like a beacon. Tony McCoy, true sporting legend, we salute you.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Displacement activity

I'm sure you'll have noticed that the latest cold snap has led to a marked reduction in the number of betting opportunities presenting themselves to racing fans. In an attempt to address this shortcoming, at the back end of last week I picked up a boxed version of Chad Valley's 'Gallop' game. For those who are unfamiliar with this product, think Waddington's 'Escalado' except it's manufactured by Chad Valley.

We've run a number of six runner races over the one mile two furlong straight course, watching several thrilling finishes in the process. There was drama indeed in last Thursday's 12.35, pictured above with the runners approaching the four furlong pole. The current leader, Plastic Showman, a 5/1 shot carrying the yellow silks, went off like a scalded cat and started to drift towards his right as he tired. The trainer had decided to put up a lightweight amateur who struggled to keep the mount straight, depsite having the whip in the correct hand.

Near the finish the horse veered violently when still in the lead, dumping the unfortunate jock onto the turf in the process, and gifting the prize to the only grey in the race, Little White Lie (14/1). A stewards' inquiry followed but the result was allowed to stand.

A photo was called for the minor placings with Brown Envelope (green colours nearest the camera) just pipping Bay Leaf (3/1) on the line. The 11/8 favourite, furthest from the camera in the light blue, appeared to have been given far too much to do by his jockey and was allowed to come home in his own time. When interviewed after the race the trainer said he thought the firm going hadn't suited the horse. The one bookmaker at the track reported there were no suspicious betting patterns on the race but he had noticed a large lump of Blu-Tack stuck to the favourite's tail as he crossed the line. The matter has been referred to the Jockey Club, although a date has not yet been set for the hearing. No matter what anyone tells you, it has to be better than all-weather racing, doesn't it?

Matters arising

Now I'd be the first to admit that this blog brings to tipping what Todd Carty brings to ice-skating but every once in a while, working on the premis that if you throw enough darts one day you'll hit the bull, I manage to get it right, so I pray your indulgence, dear reader, and ask you allow me to point out that I hinted (a mere hint, you understand) last week might be the time to strike an ante-post bet on Kauto Star for the Gold Cup at 3/1. Denman's disappointing display at Kempton yesterday has seen Kauto's price shrink to 6/4 with several bookmakers while the former favourite is now generally a 4/1 shot.

There could be no disguising connections' dismay with Denman's demise yet full marks to Paul Nicholls for coming on national television just minutes after the race to air his views. While I think it's too early to write the horse off, and Kempton's right-handed track clearly didn't suit, you can't help but wonder after that return whether we've seen the best of him - perhaps last season's sensational Gold Cup victory has shattered 'the tank'.

With the start of the Six Nations, as an introduction to the England - Italy international, the BBC ran a little preview that featured several Italian rugby players parading in their pants, much to the delight of Mrs Tips. The piece proved rather prescient as, unfortunately, in the match itself, the players were pants.

The other day a colleague of mine was on the verge of landing a touch. He'd done the homework and with a little less than two minutes to the off, he logged on to ready to strike his bet. He made his selection, clicked on the button and was greeted with this message...

So near and yet so far...

Friday, February 06, 2009

The return of Denman

With Newbury abandoned, Denman is diverted and will make his eagerly-anticipated return in the Levy Board Chase at Kempton tomorrow, provided the course passes an 8.00am inspection. He's likely to start long odds-on; here are a few reasons why you should be wary about taking short odds...

- he hasn't run for 330 days
- he was extremely ill in the autumn with a fibrillating heart
- this is the acid test - nobody knows for certain whether he has fully recovered from the illness
- trainer Nicholls has had to build the horse back up whereas last year the reverse was the case - connections were keen to run him to gain some fitness
- Paul Nicholls: "Kempton is obviously not ideal, and I would never have wanted to run him in a King George round there..."
- Of his fourteen runs, only three have been on a right-handed track - two at Wincanton and one at Exeter.

For those looking to oppose, Albertas Run would have made much more appeal on better ground while course and distance winner Joe Lively comes to this in good form and is a potential front-runner but he had a hard enough race at Cheltenham two weeks ago. Madison Du Berlais isn't the best of jumpers and Trabolgan's return in December was rather disappointing. You pay your money and take your choice - the percentage call is Denman and plenty in racing will be hoping 'the tank' does his stuff. Of the opponents, Joe Lively looks to have the best chance should the favourite disappoint but this is a race to watch for future reference.

In the novices' hurdle at 1.40 Pause And Clause is the top-rated animal; his second behind Mad Max at Newbury is good form and the longer trip here should suit. In the 3.25 Lightning Strike will be popular but doesn't have an awful lot of experience over the larger obstacles. Charlie Mann's Moon Over Miami is a free-running sort often best coming off the pace. He can be temperamental and often gets upset by the preliminaries but has ability and on a going day wouldn't be without a chance. At the 6/1 reported by the Racing Post he'd be worth an interest provided he doesn't get too worked up beforehand. Leading Contender is the top horse in the Rasher Frith Memorial Beginners' Chase but has been off the track for well over a year; that being the case, a chance is taken at a price with The Cool Guy who was running a respectable race at Chepstow last time before tiring in the heavy conditions. The shorter trip should help but the stable's form is an obvious worry. In an open-looking bumper to finish with, Phillip Hobbs' Tzora should be thereabouts.

McCoy's quest for 3,000 winners continues tomorrow with four rides booked - Abutilon (2.15), Albertas Run (2.50), That's An Idea (4.00) and Quipe Me Posted (4.35).

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Points of (some) interest

Ferdy Murphy's Kalahari King won the John Smith's Race Extra Smooth Novices' Chase at Musselburgh today and is now quoted as low as 10/1 for the Arkle. At the same meeting Nicky Henderson won the Triumph Hurdle trial with Giorgio Quercus but hinted the horse may miss Cheltenham in favour of either Aintree or Punchestown.

Paddy Power has taken a particularly dim view of Big Zeb's fall at Punchestown this afternoon and now price the horse at 14/1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

At Sandown on Saturday Celestial Halo beat Osana but of the two I, in common with many I suspect, prefer the latter. Osana is currently quoted 10/1 second favourite for the Champion Hurdle with Celestial Halo 12s.

In the last fortnight Christian Williams has ridden two Saturday big-race winners for the Nicholls yard, both at Doncaster - Big Fella Thanks and I'msingingtheblues. It looks as though Sam Thomas is paying the price for a couple of high-profile falls earlier in the season. Any talk of Doncaster and you immediately think of the St. Leger but you wouldn't be advised to stay in the Grand St Leger Hotel if the recent report compiled by The Times' mystery guest counts for anything.

Listening to Radio Five Live's broadcast of the Liverpool v. Chelsea match, I heard the commentator tell listeners that he'd just received some racing news - Tony McCoy did not win the 4.10 at Fontwell. For that matter neither did Dominic Elsworth, Jamie Moore, Christian Williams, Aiden Coleman and Jack Doyle amongst others. Tom O'Brien, who did win the 4.10 at Fontwell, also failed to get a mention. You can understand why the champ, still two winners short of the magical 3,000, will be glad when the milestone has been reached and business can return to normal. If the predicted snow arrives, it's likely he'll have to wait towards the end of the week before he can try again.

Denman is scheduled to make his reappearance this weekend, either at Newbury on Saturday or over in Ireland on Sunday. I'm not a great one for ante-post betting but perhaps now is the time to consider the 3/1 offered by Coral and William Hill about Kauto Star to win the Gold Cup. If Denman's return proves to be below par, Kauto is likely to shorten; even if Denman delivers, Kauto still has an excellent chance, particularly if the race is run on decent ground.

Finally, here's a salutary tale to finish on. A colleague of mine popped into a William Hill shop early last week, took a pre-printed football coupon from one of the several holders found in such establishments and invested £2 of his own money on an eight match accumulator. The writing at the bottom of the slip indicated he would collect £70 should his eight predictions come to pass. As a matter of interest, he later logged onto his computer, typed in the same eight selections on the William Hill website and was horrified to discover that the online payout would be £88. Fortunately for him, West Brom failed to beat Manchester United.