Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two selections for New Year's Day

Firstly, let me take this opportunity to wish all readers a very happy and prosperous new year. I'm pushed for time, so just two selections for tomorrow. At Cheltenham only five go in the Dipper Novices' Chase; Punchestowns won't be much of a price but I'm not inclined to oppose even though there are some talented rivals in the field.

In the 3.35 at Exeter I go for Tocca Ferro. As part of a Racing Post Stable Tour item a couple of months ago trainer Emma Lavelle said the following about her charge: 'We like him... There are certain horses you get that give you that extra special feeling and he would be one of those... I'm dreaming about collecting a big trophy with him.'

Monday, December 28, 2009

The rescheduled Long Walk Hurdle

There's a very good card at Newbury tomorrow with the highlight being the rescheduled Long Walk Hurdle at 2.40. The press has built this up into a match between Big Buck's and Diamond Harry but we can expect improvement from Karabak (who, according to John Francome, nearly blew the stands down after finishing six lengths behind Zaynar in the Coral Ascot Hurdle some six weeks ago) while Fair Along has been known to sulk on occasions in the past but is good on his day. On official ratings Fair Along is the third best horse in this eight runner race, needing to find just three pounds with Diamond Harry, yet Paddy Power offer 25/1 this evening - that has to be worth an each-way dabble with the stable in such good form, provided of course the eight make it to the start. The same layers go 12/1 Karabak which also looks tempting each-way value if you fancy that one. I expect all those taking on the current holder of the World Hurdle title here would have preferred to have done so at Ascot as Big Buck's has never raced right-handed - the snow stopped that taking place.

The Graduation Chase (1.00) looks trappy enough and should prove useful for future reference. At the weights Roll Along should beat these but he disappointed on his first run for Twiston-Davies when an even money favourite at Carlisle. I harbour a suspicion he may just prefer better ground than he's likely to encounter tomorrow.

In the Challow Finian's Rainbow went into many notebooks when winning here by fifteen lengths last month. He has another five furlongs to travel tomorrow but the last time he didn't give the impression that would cause a problem. Others worth a mention include Reve De Sivola, Manyriverstocross and Duke Of Lucca while Kennel Hill ran a stormer at odds of 100/1 when second to Tell Massini in the Albert Bartlett Bristol Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham just over a fortnight ago.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Welsh National thoughts

A very quick post on tomorrow's Welsh National at Chepstow where twenty are set to face the starter at 2.10 provided the course passes the 8.00 am inspection. Grand National winner Mon Mome heads the weights - the going is reported as soft, heavy in places. A colleague asked me for an opinion a week or so ago - my two against the field are Lucinda Russell's Silver By Nature ('We go there with a serious chance', Weekender 16-20.12.09), priced up at 11/1 with Coral this evening and Philip Hobbs' Kornati Kid ('Great big horse, who could be very good this season if he gets lucky', Racing Post, 19.10.09), priced up at 16/1 by William Hill.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Boxing Day selections

The weather is likely to have its say with many of the scheduled cards, so I've concentrated on the King George meeting at Kempton and added a couple of observations for Wincanton which doesn't have an inspection planned at the time of writing.

My local Ladbrokes has a big sign in the window, encouraging punters to come in and have a bet on 'Kauto Star Day'. I'm a Kauto Star fan and hope to see the great horse win the King George for the fourth time but I won't be backing him at 4/7. I'm going to bet an each-way chance at bigger odds and the three that make most appeal are Barbers Shop, Deep Purple and Nacarat. Nicky Henderson's Barbers Shop finished fourth in the Hennessy and has plenty to find on official ratings but this three mile trip should suit better; 18/1 in places is tempting. Deep Purple proved he stays three miles when winning the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and has since won a competitive-looking Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon. This is a step up but the handicapper rates him the fourth best horse in the race (behind Kauto, Imperial Commander and Madison Du Berlais). The stable is in form - 14/1 is generally available. I've a mention for front-runner Nacarat as Tom George's stable jockey Sam Thoams has chosen this one rather than Tartak. Nacarat won the Racing Post Chase over course and distance in impressive fashion last February. He clearly likes Kempton but his two runs this season have been dismal; having said that, Tom George's yard is firing again now. I've already taken out a small interest in Barbers Shop; looking at the above, the percentage each-way call appears to be Deep Purple.

The Christmas Hurdle (2.30) is intriguing. Binocular is the best horse in the race but he disappointed badly in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle the last time, a race won by Go Native who reopposes here. That race was something of a tactical affair; once again it's not immediately obvious where the pace will come from. A mention for Starluck, a speedy course and distance winner; he's a horse I like but as a four-year-old looks up against it. The word is Binocular is back to his best but I'm tempted to go with Go Native - Noel Meade has won this race in the past with Harchibald (twice) and Jazz Messenger.

Many will think the Feltham (1.55) is there for Nicky Henderson's French purchase Long Run, receiving weight from all his rivals; the owner's son takes the ride. Having had my fingers burnt in this particular race on a couple of occasions in the past, I'll watch from the sidelines; the Kempton fences are plenty stiff enough for novices learning their trade.

Bellvano, currently second favourite behind Dunguib for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, is likely to be a short price in the opener. Inventor beat King Olav one and a quarter lengths at Ascot seven weeks ago (Manyriverstocross third); on the bare form King Olav might be expected to reverse placings eight pounds better off but the winner won well enough. Philip Hobbs' Menorah is well regarded and didn't appear to appreciate the set up in trip the last time while course and distance winner Cootehill is likely to race from the front. The winner has come from the first three in the betting eight times in last nine years; Bellvano is the one to beat but I'm going to play King Olav each-way if the price is big enough.

At Wincanton Nick Gifford's Royal Wedding is noted in the 2.20 although the yard hasn't had a winner for well over a month. Some interesting runners in the 3.25 - Ashkazar was sixth in the Boylesports International at Cheltenham a fortnight ago. Venetia Williams, another who hasn't been in the best of form, fields four, stable jockey Aidan Coleman opting for Chief Yeoman. Aachen is well regarded but in contrast to most of his opponents this is his first run since the spring. In the concluding bumper I'd be tempted to take a chance with Megastar if not priced up favourite - the last time he had Nicky Henderson's Master Of The Hall back in fourth and that one has won since; the jock's seven pound claim offsets the penalty incurred for the win.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Rescue required

There is something awful about Christmas.

A typical conversation around this time of year starts with the opening gambit 'What are you doing for Christmas?' In very general terms people tend to reply in one of two ways. The first reply is along the lines of they're going to relatives which means they won't have to worry about the cooking. What this *really* means is they would prefer not to go to the aforementioned relatives but from the gastronomic perspective at least there is some small consolation to be gained and appreciated. The second reply is along the lines of they're having people around. What this *really* means is they would prefer not to have the relatives around and they won't even have the consolation of not having to do the cooking.

As if all that wasn't enough to ruin your Christmas, you know that for months the BBC has charged its EastEnders scriptwriters to build up to yet another disaster / murder that will befall some poor unfortunate on the very evening of Christmas Day itself. I have never worked out why the really big horrors in EastEnders happen on a Christmas Day.

Fortunately the racing is there to keep us half sane. The reason you tend to have to queue to get on your local track on a Boxing Day is self-evident - both the people who went to their relatives for Christmas and those who had their relatives around for Christmas want to get away from their relatives. This year however there is a potential problem on the horizon in the shape of the weather. The 'cold snap' looks set to continue which is likely to spell trouble for the majority of turf fixtures scheduled to race on Boxing Day and heap further misery on those trying to avoid their relatives. Kempton Park has taken the precaution of covering the track but simply isn't anywhere near big enough to cater for all of us desperate to get away from our relatives.

I'll have to watch on telly and hope an each-way wager on 16/1 shot Barbers Shop in the King George can bring some light relief this Christmas time...

Friday, December 18, 2009

The north wind doth blow...

...and we shall have snow. Saturday's cards at Ascot and Newcastle have already fallen to the weather while the meeting at Haydock is subject to an inspection at 8.00 tomorrow morning. The clerk of the course describes himself as 'quietly confident' but, given the predicted temperatures, I'm more cautious. Had Ascot gone ahead, the main attraction would have been the clash between Big Buck's and Diamond Harry in the Long Walk Hurdle. It would have been the first time the two market leaders had raced right-handed, and I'd come up with this cunning plan to bet Philip Hobbs' Fair Along at a big-looking 16/1. Never mind... The Long Walk Hurdle has now been rescheduled for Tuesday 29th December at Newbury.

Should Haydock get the green light, plenty will be looking to solve the feature, the Tommy Whittle Chase, in which fifteen go to post for the three mile event. Keith Reveley's Jass is a horse I like but I suspect this trip may be his absolute minimum - he stayed on well when fourth in the Rehearsal at Newcastle three weeks ago after losing his place three quarters of a mile out. I don't think this track will play to his strengths. One that would be of some interest at a price is Mark The Book. Still a novice, he has had his training problems and didn't race in 2008 due to a tendon injury; prior to that Philip Hobbs thought the horse could go to the top. He gets in here with a racing weight but does look a little short on experience with some battle-hardened opponents in the field. I'll probably watch from the sidelines.

The opener is worth noting, with Howard Johnson's Quwetwo trying fences for the first time. My Moment jumped well to win at Warwick the last time - the fences come thick and fast down the back straight at Warwick. If I play I'll chance Ferdy Murphy's Bedlam Boy. In a recent RP Stable Tour article, his handler said the horse had some wear and tear in the joints but 'a real engine'; he's a natural front-runner, a style that suits this track.

That mention of Warwick reminds me of an offer I saw on a flyer in our local paper. Two adult tickets for £20 to any of the following meets - New Year's Eve, Classic Chase day (Saturday 16th January) and Kingmaker Day (Saturday 13th February). If you want to take up this offer, ring the course (0844 579 3013) and quote the reference 'winterflyer'.

Earlier in the week Richard Johnson rode his 2,000th winner on Fighting Chance at Newbury. There have been several tributes - I liked this piece in Tuesday's Times, written the day before Johnson became only the second jockey to reach this landmark.

With the reduced racing on offer tomorrow, there's the distinct possibility I could get roped into Christmas shopping; I've come up with a cunning wheeze if Mrs T. suggests the unthinkable. Throughout the week I've been sending a daily tweet to My Winning Chance in an attempt to win free entry into a draw to win a racehorse. My name didn't come out of the hat, but I just started dreaming, as you do. Before I knew it, I was on the Allertons website, designing my own racing silks. Think I'm going to have to do a bit more work on that, rather than traipse round the overcrowded city centre shops...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas considerations

From Cheltenham yesterday - the Twiston-Davies outfit seems to have found the key to Khyber Kim who is now 12/1 for the Champion Hurdle in March while Poquelin's clear victory in a competitive-looking Gold Cup was impressive. The Ryanair Chase at the Festival is his target now for which he's quoted at 5/1. Three pound claimer Danny Cook won't have fond memories of yesterday's race - he took the wrong course on Our Vic and, according to Alistair Down, will now be referred to BHA HQ as this is his second such transgression in the past twelve months.

Over at Doncaster the underrated Graham Lee was seen at his very best, taking the two concluding chases on Watch My Back and Calgary Bay.

For those of us still living in the world of analogue televsion, the news that the Teletext News and Information Service is closing down on December 14th / 15th is little short of a disaster. A reduced racing service continues on Channel 4; I've hung on in there for as long as possible but I think D-day (Digital day) draws ever closer in the Tips' household...

A couple of football related items... Firstly, a mention for the manic Stuart Hall whose football reports are pure joy; he's set to celebrate his eightieth birthday this Christmas Day. Recently asked if he'd ever thought he'd still be working at this ripe old age, Mr. Hall's reply was along the lines of 'I've never considered this work'. Marvellous stuff. Secondly, a colleague in his late twenties recently went into a William Hill shop in a different part of town intent on placing a £2 football accumulator wager. He walked up to the bloke behind the counter, clutching two one pound coins in his sweaty palm, and was promptly asked for ID! When he questioned the cashier (along the lines of 'Eh?'), bloke replied 'Well, I haven't seen you in here before.' Bookmakers knocking back opportunities to make money - it must be the recession.

...and two TV items to conclude with. The BBC's 'Live Sports Personailty of the Year' starts at 7.00 this evening. I shall be watching because, no matter what you think, it takes a special sort of skill to condense a racing year into two minutes forty odd seconds. Clare Balding's Inside Sport interview (entitled 'Kieren Fallon - The Road To Redemption') is likely to be far more interesting and is scheduled for transmission at 11.25pm on Monday evening.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cheltenham's Boylesports Saturday

The ground rides soft for tomorrow's Boylesports meeting at Cheltenham, with the first race due off at 12.10. Seven go to post in The International which looks at the mercy of top-rated Celestial Halo who is priced up at 8/13 this evening. The current champion hurdler Punjabi makes his seasonal debut here having missed the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle; trainer Nicky Henderson has said recently the horse 'has done plenty of work but is a notoriously stuffy individual', a comment that could equally apply to my mother-in-law. I won't get involved as I'm not inclined to oppose the favourite; his connections have decided not to run Oslot as a pacemaker, an idea which was mooted earlier in the week.

Similarly Zaynar will be long odds on in the finale, the Relkeel. He can't be opposed but again I won't play.

The feature on the card, the Gold Cup Handicap Chase, is a far more open event with seventeen set to face the starter; the favourite hasn't won this race in the last twelve years. I've been on the lookout for an each-way chance set to carry less than eleven stones. Keith Goldsworthy thinks conditions will suit the ultra-tough Hold Em who gets in here with bottom weight and is 14/1 with Coral; Razor Royale would be worth a second look but I think I'll take a chance with Skippers Brig. Nicky Richards' charge should revel in the testing conditions - William Hill offer 12/1 this evening.

Tom George's horses are only just starting to run better - Je Ne Sais Plus was the yard's first winner for a while when being awarded today's finale at Doncaster in the stewards' room. On ratings his Tell Massini looks the one in the Albert Bartlett Bristol Novices' Hurdle. Both The Minack and Lord Generous are interesting in receipt of three pounds, with preference for the former - I'll indulge if he's priced around the 3/1 mark.

Finally, there are some interesting individuals in the opener. The word appears to be for Ultimate while Olofi's third over course and distance behind Pistolet Noir last month reads well. Hector's House won a seller at Sedgefield on Tuesday but Sergeant Pink may be of more interest following his win on soft ground at Market Rasen nine days ago. I've heard a whisper for George Nympton on the couple of occasions he's run, although he'll have to step up on what he's shown so far to be competitive here. Nick Williams' yard is in good form - I'll consider a small each-way interest.

Postscript - specialist miler Cesare will be interesting to watch as he makes his hurdling debut over two miles in the 1.00 at Doncaster. He may well stay the trip but I wouldn't bet on it...

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A couple of small notes...

An article in Friday's Guardian highlighted Channel 4's desire to save money without cutting its racing coverage. Bosses aiming to save £10,000 per programme are examining the manner in which presenters are used - Nick Luck looks set to become anchorman on The Morning Line.

Unfortunately the Racing Post's campaign to try and ensure Tony McCoy was one of the finalists for the 2009 Sports Personality of the Year has failed. McCoy rode his 3,000th winner, Restless D'Artaix, at Plumpton in February, but it would appear that the wider public aren't really all that interested.

A letter from Charlie Flindt of Alresford, Hampshire was published in The Times earlier this week. Apparently Google released its list of 'most searched words and terms' on December 1st, yet included figures for the whole of December. Mr Flindt enquires 'Is there any chance of it publishing all the racing results for the next month?' If only...

Finally, it has taken a long time but I'm starting to realise what many of you know already - that the tips on this blog are not the road to untold riches. Obviously I'm disappointed but you'll be pleased to hear I'm still keeping an eye out for new opportunities... At Liverpool earlier in the week I was fortunate enough to be in a position to give an impromptu concert at the world famous Cavern Club (picture below); halfway through my routine, for some unfathomable reason, the audience started to boo the previous act all over again. I think I could be on the verge of something big...

Friday, December 04, 2009

Tingle Creek day at Sandown

Precautionary inspections have been called for tomorrow's cards at both Sandown and Wetherby; the feature of the day is the Tingle Creek Chase run over two miles at Sandown. Last year's winner Master Minded, beaten by Well Chief at Cheltenham three weeks ago, misses this renewal as, following that surprise defeat, it was discovered he was suffering from a stress fracture to a rib. Five are set to face the starter, including Well Chief, but the race has a very trappy look to it; picking the winner won't be easy. Big Zeb has been marked up favourite but I'm inclined to oppose on two counts. Firstly, his trainer said earlier today he was worried about the soft ground for his charge. Secondly, of the eleven chases this horse has started since December 2007, he has won on four occasions but has notably fallen on four occasions. Failing to complete 36% of the time looks high in anybody's book and Sandown is a course that takes more jumping than most. On official ratings Paul Nicholls' Twist Magic is the one to beat but this horse is not one to trust implicitly. On his day he is very talented but he has run some stinkers in the past and on the odd occasion has shown a reluctance to start. Having said that, Sandown is a course he appears to like as he won this event in 2007 and was in the process of giving stablemate Master Minded a fright when coming to grief two out last year. Well Chief is ten years old, will be eleven in a month's time, but doesn't have a lot of miles on the clock. The trouble connections have had with this horse's legs has been well documented. His defeat of Master Minded the last time reads well, although he was in receipt of ten pounds and the current champion was subsequently found to have a problem. Barry Geraghty appears to have deserted Forpadydeplasterer for Big Zeb; McCoy comes in for a fine-looking spare ride. On official ratings Arkle winner Forpady has enough to make up with three of the field to get competitive. In the last few days I've read a comment that connections were going to use this race to determine whether to go up in distance with their charge - he finished fourth in the 2008 Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival which is run over two miles four plus. Mahogany Blaze appears a little outclassed but tactics will play a part in this small field as it doesn't look immediately obvious where the pace is going to come from. A trappy event - provided there are no obvious signs of temperament in the preliminaries, I'll take a chance with top-rated Twist Magic.

Only four in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase in which Emma Lavelle's Crack Away Jack will be expected to prevail against some useful opposition. A race to watch rather than bet on.

Some well known names in the opener - it will be interesting to see how Silverburn fares on his first run for Evan Williams. In a recent stable tour item his handler said, 'We're taking things one day at a time.' He could offer some each-way value for those brave enough to take the chance. Nick Gifford's Alderluck will be popular but former Lanzarote winner Nycteos catches my eye with just ten stones four on his back. He threw Ruby off at the second flight last Friday, having been off the track for nearly eighteen months. Perhaps he's still a little fresh but I prefer him to Ballyfitz who tries hurdles after jumping problems in two big chases in recent weeks and Fred Winter winner Silk Affair.

In the novices' hurdle Sonowyouno has to give eight pounds to the rest of the field on ground that is described as soft, heavy in places. I wouldn't be in a rush to take a short price and will consider opposing with Nicky Henderson's Master Of The Hall who has been described as having 'a high cruising speed'.

Kilbeggan Blade has won the last two renewals of the finale and has conditions to suit but Tom George's yard hasn't had a winner for a while. I would be prepared to forgive Never So Blue's last run at Cheltenham and will consider a small each-way interest if the price is right. Russian Trigger won the Midlands Grand National in March and should come on for his first run since the summer break three weeks ago. However he is one who needs to learn to respect the obstacles; connections hope he'll prove good enough for the Aintree National in the spring.