Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Day 2011

There's a tricky-looking card on offer at Cheltenham tomorrow for the first day of the new year. Seventeen go to post in the feature, the Chase, at 2.35; in my book a number of the runners have issues in the jumping department - I'm going to leave well alone but must say it's fantastic to see Mister McGoldrick in the line-up at the age of fourteen.

The form of the Relkeel run over the course and distance three weeks ago is a decent starting point for the Cheltenham & Three Counties Race Club Hurdle at 12.55. Karabak beat Any Given Day and Celestial Halo the last time but has to concede four pounds to both those opponents tomorrow; plenty will think Karabak can do just that - according to today's Times connections intend to go straight to the World Hurdle with their charge if he does the business here. Having said that, others will fancy Donald McCain's Any Given Day to reverse the placings. At the weights Celestial Halo is the one to beat but I note he's never won at this distance while Nicky Henderson's Oscar Whisky, fourth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last March, is given every respect. This evening layers go 9/4 Karabak, 3/1 Any Given Day, 7/2 Celestial Halo and Oscar Whisky; at those prices Celestial Halo gets the vote.

In the Dipper (2.00) Hell's Bay would make some appeal each-way at a price but I'll take a chance with David Pipe's Mr Thriller - this one was in the process of giving Time For Rupert a run for his money when coming to grief two out the last time. Nicky Henderson's Master Of The Hall is feared.

I intend to have a small speculative wager on Milton Harris' grey Rose Of The Moon in first. In a stable tour article last month the handler told us this one has already schooled over fences and is described as 'an exceptional prospect'. Finally the concluding bumper looks the best race of its type we've seen this season. Roger Charlton's Keys will generate a lot of interest as will Cinders and Ashes and facile Exeter winner Cousin Khee.

Postscript: Some people simply never learn and have asked me to take a quick look at tomorrow's all-hurdle card at Exeter on their behalf. The feature Bathwick Tyres Handicap Hurdle at 2.15 looks very competitive. This evening's tissue has David Pipe's Hunterview at 16/1 - I can't see that price being available tomorrow but if it is, it would look very good each-way value. Hunterview hasn't shown his best of late but if the gelding bounces back he has a shout - he beat Advisor at Ayr in April and was beaten under six and a half lengths conceding 17 pounds to Salden Licht at Plumpton last January. Other Exeter suggestions (for the brave only):

12.40 Mr Hudson / Filbert
1.15 Bermuda Boy
1.45 Baby Car
3.25 Spanish Cruise
In the bumper (4.00) I note Sam Thomas is booked to travel from Cheltenham to ride Morgan's Bay for Tom George.

Whatever happens, let me take this opportunity to wish all readers a very happy new year...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Frozen courses

Probably the only thing I have in common with Kempton's clerk of the course Barney Clifford is the fact we both took a peek under the covers this morning and didn't particularly like what we saw. Kempton's Boxing Day card has been abandoned; Monday's revised eight-race card at the track is now subject to an inspection on Sunday (Boxing Day) at 2.00pm.

At the time of writing the current state of play is:

Boxing Day 26th December

Kempton Park - abandoned

Fontwell Park - 11.00 am inspection Christmas Day

Huntingdon - abandoned

Market Rasen - abandoned

Towcester - abandoned

Wetherby - abandoned

Wincanton -abandoned

Wolverhampton - inspection 6.30 am Boxing Day

Leopardstown - abandoned. Rescheduled Thursday 30th December

Limerick - abandoned

Down Royal - abandoned

Monday 27th December

Chepstow - abandoned. Welsh National meeting rescheduled January 8th

Kempton Park - inspection 2.00 pm Boxing Day

Southwell - no inspection currently planned

Wetherby - inspection 9.00 am Boxing Day

Leopardstown - abandoned

Tuesday 28th December

Catterick - abandoned

Ffos Las - course currently covered

Leicester - inspection 8.30 am Boxing Day

Wednesday 29th December

Kelso - abandoned

Thursday 30th December

Haydock - inspection 11.00 am Tuesday 28th December

Makes grim reading, doesn't it? Pass the port, please...

Friday, December 17, 2010

No escape for the wicked...

It's a grim-looking picture for Saturday's scheduled turf cards. Ascot and Newcastle have already abandoned their fixtures while Haydock is subject to an inspection at 8.00 tomorrow morning. The track has frost covers in place but an inch of snow will cause problems as will the overnight temperature which is set to reach minus 5.

It looks as though the suggested displacement activity will be doing some 'last minute Christmas shopping'. The sheer agony of it all... Whatever, somebody has certainly splashed out on a Christmas present this year; an undisclosed buyer recently paid a record £10 million for George Stubbs' masterpiece Brood Mares and Foals.

A bit nearer to home, I'll be thinking more along the lines of Claire's Accessories myself...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Early Christmas treats at Cheltenham

There's an exceptional eight-race card at Cheltenham tomorrow; highlights include the Relkeel Hurdle (1.20), the Tingle Creek (1.55), the Vote A.P. Gold Cup (2.30) and the International Hurdle (3.05).

Quick pointers on the main races follow...

12.10 Triumph Hurdle trial: Sam Winner, currently 5/1 favourite for the March showpiece, is likely to start odds-on after his impressive course and distance win four weeks ago. Nicky Henderson's filly A Media Luz will be of interest to many; she gets a weight allowance from the rest of the field and ran in the French Oaks this summer. An outsider to catch my eye is John Harris' Tom Wade. On his penultimate run at Ludlow claimer Kyle James was unseated three out when disputing second in the race won by Akula. The next time the bay gelding led over the last at the same course but was caught on the line by Al Dafa; Al Dafa went on to be beaten by the well-regarded Marsh Warbler the next time. Not the strongest lines of form, I agree, but this evening a couple of layers offer 16/1 Akula while Tom Wade is 100/1 - at that price I'll have a small each-way interest.

12.45 Following his course win over two and a half miles last month Time For Rupert is 6/1 favourite for the RSA Chase in March. At that same meeting Chicago Grey looked set to go and win his race when coming to grief two out. Quinz looks to have more scope of the Hobbs pair; a big sort who jumped well to beat experienced handicappers at Ascot the last time, he's the top-rated animal (of those with a rating) and looks a value play at 11/2 against favourite Time For Rupert.

1.20 The Relkeel looks difficult. Aidan Coleman marked punters' cards when Quartz De Thaix won at 14/1 the last time. The jock is sweet enough on the chance of this course and distance winner here - I'll have an each-way interest at around the 10/1 mark.

1.55 The vibes from Ditcheat suggest Master Minded is back to his best following a wind operation in the summer; I'm not going to play in the Tingle Creek. It will be interesting to see whether Nick Williams' Gauvain can build on an impressive win over course and distance the last time.

2.30 The Vote A.P. Gold Cup looks most competitive. Robinson Collonges is one with potential in abundance but so far he's only raced in small fields in this country which is off-putting. I put up Great Endeavour for the Paddy Power four weeks ago. Timmy Murphy raced his mount wide for most of the trip but the horse didn't jump that well and tired in the closing stages finishing sixth behind Little Josh. David Pipe expects improvement for that run so I'll give Great Endeavour another chance.

3.05 The International (or The Bula as it's known to old-timers like myself) is intriguing and should be noted for future reference. Five of the nine runners are four-year-olds and two of those four-year-olds, Cristal Bonus and Silviniaco Conti, have to give weight to the others. Greatwood Hurdle winner Menorah, now five, is best in at the weights and has consequently been priced up favourite. Colin Tizzard's Cue Card looked exceptional winning the Festival bumper last March - his trainer has opted for the bold approach going for this. Looking at the ratings and the odds Clerk's Choice appears overpriced at 14/1 with Coral. This one had some well-regarded types behind when winning on his penultimate start but got stuck in the mud at Haydock the last time. I'm prepared to forgive that run but would be worried the trainer may have missed work with his stable star during the recent cold snap. Silviniaco Conti is lightning quick over the obstacles (beat Karabak at Ascot last time - a pointer will be gleaned by Karabak's run in the Relkeel at 1.20) and merits the utmost respect. A fascinating contest - of the principals I'm tempted by 3/1 Silviniaco Conti but will have an each-way wager on Clerk's Choice at 14/1.

3.40 In the finale Emma Lavelle's Highland Valley is a chaser in the making who may appreciate more cut, a comment that applies could apply to Golden Chieftain too. Teaforthree won over the distance the last time; with McCoy up I'll consider an each-way wager at 10/1 (in the unlikely event I have any money left).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Thoroughbred locomotives

As any self-respecting trainspotter of a certain age will tell you, eight of the 22 Class 55 Deltic locomotives that provided the horsepower on British Railways' East Coast main line service during the 60s and 70s were named after racehorses; apparently this practice continued a tradition originally started at Finsbury Park by the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). The racehorse names chosen weren't those of platers that managed the odd win here and there in lowly Newton Abbot claimers - several were Derby winners. In time most of these railway workhorses were carted off to the knacker's yard but a couple of examples have been preserved and a number of nameplates survive.

Those nameplates appear to be worth a penny or two today, going by an article in the most recent edition of Railways Illustrated magazine (January 2011). Andrew Watts reports that at a recent auction in Hampshire, despite strong interest, Crepello (1954 Derby winner) failed to make its (rather ambitious?) reserve price of £24,000. The highest price obtained for any Deltic nameplate is £31,400 for The Duke of Wellington's Regiment in 2002; the most paid to date for a racehorse nameplate is £11,000 for Nimbus (1949 Derby winner) in 1998.

For the sake of completeness (and because, with the racing programme severely curtailed, I don't know what to do and desperately need to avoid Christmas shopping) here's a list of the eight racehorse Deltics:

9001 / 55001 St Paddy (1960 Derby winner)
9003 / 55003 Meld (1955 1000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger winner)
9007 / 55007 Pinza (1953 Derby winner)
9009 / 55009 Alycidon (1949 Ascot Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup winner)
9012 / 55012 Crepello (1954 Derby winner)
9015 / 55015 Tulyar (1952 Derby winner)
9018 / 55018 Ballymoss (1957 Irish Derby winner)
9020 / 55020 Nimbus (1949 Derby winner)

Let's hope racing resumes soon - otherwise I'm likely to end up going off the rails.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Suggested reading during a cold spell

The big freeze means there's no jump racing tomorrow. The Tingle Creek has been re-scheduled to 1.55 Cheltenham Saturday December 11th provided, of course, the weather relents; the course hope to lay down covers this Sunday.

Meetings already abandoned include:

Sunday 5th December: Kelso, Clonmel, Punchestown
Monday 6th December: Bangor-On-Dee, Musselburgh
Tuesday 7th December: Sedgefield
Wednesday 8th December: Hexham.

What to do? Why not try a little race reading...

Ruby: The Autobiography by Ruby Walsh

Kauto Star & Denman by Jonathan Powell

McCoy: A Racing Post Celebration by Brough Scott

The Cheltenham World of Jump Racing by Mick Fitzgerald

Lucky Break by Paul Nicholls

Frankincense and More: The Biography of Barry Hills by Robin Oakley

Kinane: A Remarkable Racing Family by Anne Holland

In The Frame: Great Racing Photographs by Edward Whitaker

Dark Horses Jumps Guide 2010-2011 by Marten Julian

Fallon: The Biography by Andrew Longmore

Freud On Course: The Racing Lives of Clement Freud by Clement Freud

Rodders of Arabia by Rod Simpson with Stuart Brodkin

Eclipse by Nicholas Clee

Sunday, November 28, 2010

One day after the Hennessy

Diamond Harry's victory in yesterday's Hennessy appears to have generated a difference of opinion amongst the odds compilers; Nick Williams' gelding is quoted 16/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Coral while Labrokes and totesport offer a miserly-looking 8/1.

Although coming home some 15 lengths third behind Diamond Harry, Denman still put in a fantastic performance at the weights. Owner Paul Barber reported his pride and joy was in 'mint condition' following the race; that's very good news indeed - just for a fraction of a second as they walked back to the unsaddling enclosure I wondered whether, understandably, the great horse looked a little unsteady on his feet. I've just finished reading Jonathan Powell's Kauto Star and Denman -it's easy to forget that this horse was very ill suffering from atrial fibrillation of the heart (irregular heartbeat) after his Gold Cup victory in 2008.

There's more positive news this evening concerning Noel Fehily - it was feared the jock had broken his wrist in a fall at Newbury on Friday. Agent Chris Broad reports the wrist may not be broken; Noel goes back to hospital early in the week for an X-ray after the swelling has gone down a little.

The cold spell looks set to play havoc with this week's turf fixtures. Monday's card at Ffos Las together with Tuesday's meetings at Hereford and Southwell have been abandoned while Saturday's Tingle Creek fixture at Sandown has already been deemed at risk.

It's envisaged that Tony McCoy will be named as one of the ten personalities who will contest the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year 2010. The continuing rumblings about the ride McCoy gave Get Me Out Of Here at Ascot on 30th October have generated some unwanted publicity for the champ at a time when he could really do without it. At The Races presenter Sean Boyce gives a detailed exposition of events on his blog while The Guardian's Greg Wood accuses McCoy of petulance.

Finally, on Saturday evening, after the excitement of the Hennessy, Mrs Tips and I settled down for the next installment of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. Half way through the live show a pre-recorded piece was shown in which the remaining contestants, dressed in cowboy-style uniforms, assessed their chances using suitably extravagant Wild West language. The backdrop for Pamela Stephenson's monologue included what looked to be a rather large plastic horse; quick as a flash Mrs Tips pipes up, 'That plastic horse - it's showing a damn sight more interest than your each-way selection in the Hennessy.' Cutting.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hennessy day 2010

Every now and again you hear people talk about the glorious uncertainty of racing; Noel Fehily will hardly be describing that uncertainty as glorious this evening. Having built up a decent relationship with Paul Nicholls in recent weeks, and with the plum ride on Kauto Star to look forward to over Christmas, the jock suffered a suspected broken wrist when Rivaliste fell in a handicap chase at Newbury earlier this afternoon. He is destined for a spell on the sidelines.

Whatever, the show goes on (provided, of course, the frost covers are in place and the snow stays away). The highlight of tomorrow's excellent card at Newbury is the Hennessy Gold Cup, with strong support provided by the re-scheduled Fighting Fifth in which champion hurdler Binocular makes his seasonal debut, the Gerry Feidlen and the Long Distance hurdle.

Denman tops the weights in the showpiece and attempts to make history by becoming the first horse to win the Hennessy three times. The vibes coming from the Nicholls stable have been particularly positive; the layers make the ten-year-old chestnut their 4/1 favourite. This looks a fiendishly competitive race though, probably the best Hennessy we've seen for a number of years, yet only seven of the eighteen are set to carrry their long handicap weight. Of the fancied runners Weird Al is the one I like - he was my idea of the RSA winner at Cheltenham last March but he picked up an injury a week or so before the race and missed the date. He dead-heated with Little Josh over an inadequate two and a half miles at Carlisle at the end of October; two weeks later Little Josh came out to make all and win the Paddy Power Gold Cup. The Hennessy often goes to an emerging type - eight of the last ten winners have been aged either six or seven - so he certainly has the right profile while trainer Ian Williams boasts a 20% strike rate in the past fortnight. Of the bigger priced runners, I considered Silver By Nature but suspect he'd want deeper ground while Neptune Collonges would be a live threat if back to his best following a long lay-off - this one was just seven lengths behind Denman in the 2008 Gold Cup and has a big pull at the weights. Niche Market ran a cracker for the blog in this race last year finishing third at 33/1 while Colin Tizzard certainly rates Hey Big Spender who beat Big Fella Thanks at Carlisle the last time. The name Harry Findlay will be forever associated with Denman but he's likely to have divided loyalties here with his Big Fella Thanks in with a fighting chance. For a longhsot I'm going to stick my neck out and chance a little each-way on Razor Royale, mainly on the back of a Twiston-Davies comment earlier this autumn that he considered this horse the one from his yard who would give Imperial Commander most to do in a Gold Cup. The horse travelled well for a long way on his seasonal debut at Cheltenham a fortnight ago but then disappeared in a similar manner to that used by several girls I once knew. That was a bit disconcerting, as is the fact stable jock Paddy Brennan prefers Weird Al and - ideally - the gelding would want more cut yet the books are offering 66/1 about a horse that won the Racing Post Chase. On the grounds that a layer is never going to give you those sort of odds about a cert, I'll have a little each-way on Razor Royale.

Just five in the Fighting Fifth with champion hurdler Binocular pleasing connections and unsurprisingly marked up an odds-on chance. I'm wary as the race could become tactical; three of the five - Binocular, Starluck and Nearby, look as though they want holding up. It's a guess but I envisage Bygones of Brid making the pace with Peddlers Cross in attendance while the others bide their time. On ratings Starluck is the one who would benefit should something go amiss with the favourite - I'll consider betting Peddlers Cross (3/1 at Ladbrokes) and Starluck (5/1 generally and should be suited by this flat track) as those odds combined offer better value than the odds-on about Binocular.

In a competitive-looking Gerry Feilden Tocca Ferro is one I particularly like who has done me a favour in the past. Although he only won a head at Ascot the last time his trainer told the Weekender [17-21.11.10] that he was 'a very easy winner' who 'hit the front and just idled. He has gone up 8lb for that head win but that doesn't worry me as there is more to come.' Olofi's form reads well (fifth in the Greatwood) as does Kauto Relko's third behind Nearby at Aintree on his penultimate start.

Just six in the Long Distance hurdle with Big Buck's long odds-on. He's not entirely straight-forward; I always think Ruby Walsh knows and rides this one very well. Using official ratings as a guide Duc De Regniere has 12lb to find at the weights. Nonetheless Nicky Henderson's charge has the advantage of a run under his belt this season - 7/1 is on offer for those brave enough to consider opposing. I won't be one of them.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Racing bytes

Imperial Commander took the Betfair Chase in impressive fashion at Haydock yesterday. Coral has taken a stance betting 11/8 Kauto Star 13/2 Imperial Commander for the King George on Boxing Day; Long Run is generally available at 7/1. Earlier today Sam Twiston-Davies' burgeoning career took another giant step forward when Hello Bud collected the Becher Handicap Chase but, speaking personally, this weekend's stand-out performance was Silviniaco Conti's facile victory in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot; layers quote Paul Nicholls' four-year-old at 14s for the Champion Hurdle and 10s for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham next March.

Two older members of the training fraternity have been in the news over the past few days. On Thursday Reg Brown, 89, saddled Tiptronic to take Hereford's opening juvenile hurdle at odds of 100/1 (112.3/1 on the Tote) while Michael Banks, a mere youngster by comparison at the age of 70, was inclined to blame the ground for the defeat of the well-fancied Clerk's Choice in yesterday's four-year-old hurdle at Haydock.

Matt Crawley put in a superb round of riding at Musselburgh on Friday aboard Lastroseofsummer. In the course of the race the rider lost both irons and then the saddle slipped but the seven pound claimer kept the partnership intact to win the Scottish Mares' Maiden Hurdle at odds of 11/2. Pulling up proved slightly more difficult - the mare unceremoniously dumped the jock on the turf after they'd passed the winning post. Something of a lady's prerogative, I suppose...

Adapted from a piece in last Monday's Times which looked at family ties in racing... Niall "Boots" Madden could finish no better than fifth in the Grand National but son Niall "Slippers" Madden won the 2006 running of the great race aboard Numbersixvalverde. 12-year-old brother Tom "Socks" Madden is now cutting his teeth in pony races... [Socks and Teeth? What's all that about?]

Finally, I see Irish point winner Kilcrea Kim takes on seasoned handicappers in the Gwynne Price Handicap Hurdle at Ffos Las tomorrow. The novice beat Drill Sergeant eight lengths on his seasonal debut which looks decent enough form but the chestneut gelding is priced up 7/4 favourite in the tissue this evening which doesn't make much appeal at all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Haydock or Ascot?

Tomorrow's feature at Haydock is the Betfair Chase (3.25) in which Gold Cup holder Imperial Commander returns following the summer break. Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies feels his charge is further forward than this time last year when the gelding was beaten a nose by Kauto Star in this very race. I've watched that finish several times and still find it difficult to believe Kauto held on; Kauto goes straight to Kempton this year in an attempt to win a record-breaking fifth King George. On official ratings Imperial Commander has 22 pounds in hand over his nearest rival Planet Of Sound - the race doesn't make that much appeal as a betting medium. What A Friend, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, has an awkward head carriage but is in no way ungenuine and may yet develop into a serious Gold Cup contender; it looks as though Sam Thomas prefers this one over Charlie Hall winner Nacarat who I always feel tends to show his very best form on good ground. Philip Hobbs' Planet Of Sound surprised a few (myself included) when taking the Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown in April although there is a slight query about that form with old-timer War Of Attrition in second and Denman failing to run to his mark. There was also a question mark over Planet Of Sound's jumping in his younger days and I'm still not totally convinced. A race to savour and enjoy rather than bet on; Imperial Commander is taken to oblige.

Smallish fields are the order of the day in several of the other Haydock races. On ratings Dunraven Storm is the pick in the opener but Toubab has very smart form to his name while Clerk's Choice can't be opposed in the 1.50 but will be no price whatsoever. I'm tempted to risk Toubab at around 3/1 on the back of his fourth at this track in the Swinton and his second behind subsequent Triumph winner Soldatino in the Adonis at Kempton. In addition Dunraven Storm ran second to Cue Card just eight days ago at Cheltenham and may not have had time to fully recover.

The Coral Hurdle at Ascot is intriguing. This evening the books have Zaynar 6/4 favourite with both Karabak and Silviniaco Conti 4/1. On ratings the former, a course and distance winner, has every chance and looks a value play at the price while the latter has looked very quick at the obstacles in two novice hurdles. The other value play for me is Restless Harry who is hugely talented but pretty highly strung. Jockey Henry Oliver can consider himself lucky to have kept the ride after missing the start at Chepstow the last time and then, according to the handler, giving the horse no sort of chance at all. The gelding is known to have an aversion to travelling but if he gets to the start in one piece, 14/1 with Stan James a quarter the odds a place looks decent each-way value provided, of course, the eight declared all run. Selections: Karabak win, Restless Harry each-way.

Those thinking Master Minded is a source of easy money in the Amlin 1965 Chase (2.05) should note the horse has never won at the trip. Albertas Run would have been the play had the ground been quicker but I'll watch from the sidelines.

Finally a quick pointer to Aidan Coleman's blog post at where the jock has a good word for Venetia Williams' Quartz de Thaix who runs in the 1.30 at Aintree on Sunday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A quick round-up

Three taking performances from the three days of Cheltenham's Open meeting...

Friday: Cue Card looks the real deal, rated 156 by Timeform. Ladbrokes quote 3/1 about Colin Tizzard's charge for the Supreme and 16/1 for the Champion.

Saturday: Sam Winner proved aptly-named, taking the juvenile hurdle in emphatic fashion, with some well-fancied types well-beaten behind. Now 7/1 favourite for the Triumph.

Sunday: Ghizao, the outsider in a field of five, jumped impeccably to take the novice chase; now 12/1 favourite for the Arkle.

A couple of incidents from last Wednesday had the commentators' tongues wagging. Conditional jockey Christopher Timmons seemed to have a handicap hurdle at Bangor in the bag on Jeanery (4/1) but he eased his mount down and mistook where the winning post was positioned with the result he was done on the line by 5/1 shot Monsieur. Over at Huntingdon Medermit was sent off 1/5 favourite for a novice chase but he refused at the sixth; jockey Wayne Hutchinson said the horse had been spooked by a fence attendant.

These days it's only on very rare occasions that I take my ageing burnt fingers into a betting shop but last Friday morning I'd had a bit of stinker with work so at dinner time I popped into the local Ladbrokes just as a beginners' chase from Newcastle was on screen. It was run-of-the-mill fare but the odds-on favourite crashed out at the fifth which left the race at the mercy of second favourite Lord Larsson; that one drew clear from the home turn to win as he liked. Richie McGrath had been hard at work on Mr Syntax trying to close down the leader but the gelding made a very bad mistake four out and the jock did well to keep the partnership intact. That's how I saw it but this elderly punter, who had just invaded my personal space, started to slate the rider, bemoaning the fact that he wasn't even trying on the second and denouncing the performance as 'an absolute disgrace'. On occasions such as this I find distraction a useful tool - 'What price was that winner?' I enquired. 'Dunno' came the reply. At which point I made a quick exit.

Now, there's race-riding and there's writing - I know nothing about the former and wouldn't claim to know very much about the latter. David Pipe's stable jockey Tom Scudamore knows an awful lot about race-riding but his column, which started up again in last Thursday's Times, isn't always the easiest of reads. Still, Tom concluded this week's effort with a telling piece of advice he once received: 'Some of the horses will disappoint, some break even and some exceed all expectations. As long as you meet somewhere in the middle you're doing OK.'

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cheltenham Open meeting 2010 - Sunday

A few notes on Sunday's card... The official going for Saturday's races was good to soft, good in places but it was noticeable that several finished very tired; the two handicap chases were both won by horses that made all from the front.

Sunday's feature is the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at 2.20 in which 18 are set to face the starter. Khyber Kim came of age to win this under a big weight last year and then went on to finish a fine second to Binocular in the Champion Hurdle last March. Philip Hobbs will be hoping his Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Menorah can prove to be just as good. Nicky Henderson's charge General Miller beat Menorah a head at level weights at Aintree in April, having the misfortune to fall at the first in the Supreme. On a strict interpretation of the form the Henderson horse should come out on top in receipt of five pounds but that Aintree performance from Menorah still looks very good - there isn't much between them. Olofi catches the eye towards the bottom of the handicap following a decent show at Chepstow but four-year-olds have a poor record in the race with just one win in the past decade while by contrast five-year-olds have won on six occasions.

The opener is interesting and should prove useful for future reference. Kilmurry won here last month (Ghizao 11 lengths second) while Captain Chris tries fences for the first time after finishing second to Silviniaco Conti in the Persian War at Chepstow. A feature of SC's performance that day was the speed at which he jumped his hurdles - Paul Nicholls had intended to send his charge novice chasing but that all changed with the benefit of hindsight and it's now the Hobbs team who have opted for the chasing route. Philip Hobbs has said of CC, 'I sincerely hope and believe he could turn out to be very, very good.' The gelding was reported to have made a noise after winning at Kempton in March and I see he wears a tongue tie for the first time tomorrow. On official ratings Radium is weighted to have the beating of Kilmurry but the one with the most experience over the larger obstacles is Loosen My Load trained in Ireland by Henry De Bromhead. By coincidence Kilmurry was formerly trained by De Bromhead - the Weekender reports that when both horses were in the same yard Loosen My Load was considered the better animal. A fascinating contest awaits.

I was prepared to consider Tataniano as a play against Forpadydeplasterer in the 1.45 provided, of course, the price was big enough - on official ratings Paul Nicholls' gelding has plenty to find at the weights. Unfortunately the layers have the two protagonists pretty evenly matched and as a result there's little value to be had. A note in the Weekender indicates Tataniano wouldn't want it too testing, so that's another plan scuppered; apparently owners The Stewart Family have the Tingle Creek at Sandown in their sights...

In the concluding bumper I shall keep a close eye on Milton Harris' gelding Rose Of The Moon. This one was described in a recent stable tour article as 'an exceptional prospect' and he showed plenty of fighting spirit to hold Emma Lavelle's well-regarded Koup De Kanon a neck at Uttoxeter last time; the stewards had a look afterwards but allowed the grey to keep the race.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Paddy Power Gold Cup day 2010

Twenty are set to go post in a competitive-looking renewal of tomorrow's Paddy Power Gold Cup (Rory Boy declared doubtful this evening), a race that throws up some strong statistical trends. Five favourites have won in the past ten years while the winner has come from the top three in the market on seven occasions; it's worth noting that eight of the last ten winners had won at Cheltenham previously and eight out of ten had also won over the distance of two and a half miles. In addition in the past decade five winners were aged seven and three aged six. Market leader Long Run is a precocious talent and according to David Pipe, trainer of second favourite Great Endeavour, a certainty. Long Run has plenty of weight to carry for one so young although the owner's son claims a handy five pounds - on balance 3/1 doesn't represent value and if things get tight at the business end, I'd be concerned a proper jock would gain the uppper hand, so I'm looking elsewhere. Great Endeavour is progressive and has a racing weight together with every chance although Tom Scudamore's column in Thursday's Times failed to mention this one by name; whatever happens here, the trainer tells us David Johnson's grey will have an entry for the Hennessy at the end of the month. Mad Max is a big horse with power to burn who travels up with the pace; several commentators fancy this one - 9/1 at William Hill may appeal to some betting each-way. In an open race, I'll side with Great Endeavour who looks to have the right profile.

In the opener I think Architrave is the best juvenile seen out so far this autumn but the layers tell us Nicky Henderson's French-bred gelding Titan De Sarti is the one to fear. The market has proved a reliable guide in the past decade with the winner coming from the first two in the betting on seven occasions. Two Kisses is a game filly who is likely to find one or two too good but on Racing Post adjusted ratings Zakeeta, another filly, is in with a shout and makes some appeal each-way at around 16/1. Architrave has to give weight to most of this field but I'm going to stick with him until he's beaten - Architrave gets the nod.

The 1.20 is trappy enough. Wayward Prince beat Colin Tizzard's Cannington Brook 11 lengths in a three mile novice hurdle at Aintree last April. The former has since collected a Class 3 novice chase at Huntingdon and is priced up favourite here while the latter is well regarded but didn't jump well in two tries over fences last autumn. Chicago Grey won here in October - Hell's Bay a remote fifth - and is respected but Tizzard will have a rough line through Hell's Bay (finished second behind the impressive Time For Rupert earlier today). I'll chance Cannington Brook's jumping (each-way) provided the layers offer 16/1 or more.

Finally, I've spent no time whatsoever on the 1.55 but I'd be interested in Razor Royale on the back of Twiston-Davies saying the gelding was the biggest threat in his yard to current Gold Cup holder Imperial Commander. This one won at this meeting last year although he had had a warm-up six weeks earlier; 12/1 is the price this evening.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cheltenham Open meeting 2010 - Friday

Very quick thoughts on tomorrow's card...

Eleven are declared for the feature, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase run over three miles seven furlongs. This evening the going on this course is reported as good to firm, good in places. J P McManus owns and Enda Bolger trains three of the runners - Garde Champetre, Heads Onthe Ground and Freneys Well. Those who believe in horses for courses are likely to be well-acquainted with Garde Champetre who has a great record round here and unsurprisingly has been chalked up a short-priced favourite; the Garde Royale gelding collected the spoils last year ahead of stablemate Heads Onthe Ground and Sizing Australia and is once again reunited with excellent female jockey Nina Carberry. At the weights the Venetia Williams trained Flintoff (owned by Paul Beck and Freddie Flintoff) is bang there with every chance but he's an enigmatic character who in the past has tended to show his best when there is plenty of cut in the ground. Connections expect a decent show from Joe Lively who tries these fences for the first time while Charlie Mann's Mr Big completed the Velka Pardubicka in the Czech Repulbic on his last start and could be overpriced at 33/1 (William Hill, Paddy Power) on ground that is likely to suit.

Whatever Joe Lively's fate in the Cross Country Chase, the Tizzards will be hoping exciting prospect Cue Card can do the business in the 1.50. I still have a soft spot for this horse even though I tipped him at 40/1 for the Cheltenham bumper but then forgot to have a wager myself! Unfortunately Cue Card won't be that price tomorrow and I expect Philip Hobbs' Dunraven Storm to be a lot closer to the winner than he was last March. Irish runner Ballyadam Brook is of interest as is Paul Nicholls' King Of The Knight - Noel Fehily deputises for the injured Ruby Walsh.

The concluding novice chase looks a cracker and should provide some pointers for the season ahead - Weird Al (Ian Williams) dead-heated with Little Josh (Nigel Twiston-Davies) in last year's running. Time For Rupert, second in the World Hurdle to Big Buck's, tries fencing for the first time, as does David Pipe's Mr Thriller and Nick Williams' Reve De Sivola. I'm considering an each-way investment in a couple of outsiders - the marvellously-named The Giant Bolster (16/1 with bet365 this evening) won the Fred Rimell Memorial Novices' Chase at Worcester just over three weeks ago but jumped right-handed at the final two flights and Hell's Bay, another from Colin Tizzard's yard. I put this one up at a price for the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Novices' Chase last month - he was bang there with two to jump but faded badly to finish fifth. Initially I thought that's another of my hopeless longshots down the pan but a few days later I saw a report in the Racing Post saying the gelding had lost a shoe. Formerly with Paul Nicholls, this one comes with plenty of caveats but he has ability and Colin Tizzard recently reported his charge was now 'as sweet as a nut'; apparently the handler has received several expression of interest from potential owners since the horse has come into the yard. Stan James offers 66/1 this evening - that has to be worth a small each-way interest.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Ups and downs

It's all in a day's work for a jockey... While Paul Hannigan was collecting his first Flat jockeys' title at Doncaster on Saturday following a titanic struggle with Richard Hughes (final score: Hannigan 191 - Hughes 189), Ruby Walsh was riding Kauto Star and The Nightingale to victory in the two big races at Down Royal. Then disaster struck - Walsh suffered a double leg fracture when his mount Corrick Bridge fell in the Rainbow Telecom Handicap Chase. Walsh faces a protracted period on the sidelines and that enforced absence leaves champion trainer Paul Nicholls with something of a headache. A poll on the Racing Post website indicates 39% of their readers think Sam Thomas should get the leg up on Nicholls' best horses. The big Cheltenham Open meeting starts on Friday - watch this space as they say.

The failure of racing and the bookmakers to come to an agreement on the levy is likely to have serious implications for the future funding of the sport. The government's Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is now charged with making the decision. Journalist Greg Wood wrote a bitingly critical piece in Tuesday's Guardian in which he argued that Paul Roy's position as chairman of the British Horseracing Authority was no longer tenable - watch this space as they say.

Viewers of BBC1's business reality show The Apprentice will know that Lord Sugar's prize for this week's winning team was a day out at 'Royal Windsor' races; I did note Lord Sugar failed to point out to winning contestants that it was a Monday afternoon meeting in mid October... Anyway, Synergy members enjoyed a slap-up meal and a glass of champagne before the serious business of finding winners began. Overseas property developer Jamie Lester, who incidentally had set up his own company by the age of 24, was shown striking a £2 wager (in what one could only describe as a rather extravagant manner) with well-known layer Barry Dennis. 'Two pounds on the nose Green Earth!' cried Mr Lester about his selection in the first. Now, given that the winner of The Apprentice is likely to pull a job that will pay in the region of £100,000, Mr Dennis might have expected to have taken a slightly larger wager from Mr Lester but the layer was politeness itself, merely commenting on the fact that this particualry punter 'liked it on the nose'. I harboured further concerns regarding Mr Lester's business nous. At the pre-race meal he stated it was a 5/1 chance any of the five at the table would make the final and 10/1 any of them would win the competition outright. 'Nice' said Stella but consider this - at the time of filming, it would have been known that there were ten contestants left in the competition. Assuming for the sake of argument each of those contestants had an equal chance, it looked to me as though Mr Lester was selling 9/1 chances at 10/1. And we all know that's the road to rack and ruin...

For those who simply have to know - Green Earth finished ninth of fourteen in the Windsor, Ascot & Eton Express Nursery Handicap (div 1) run at Windsor on Monday 12 October 2009; the race went to the rather appropriately named Agony And Ecstasy.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Friday fireworks?

Plenty of weekend fireworks to look forward to on this soggy bonfire night including the Breeders Cup at Churchill Downs, the final day of the Flat season at Doncaster (with the jockeys' title still undecided) and the return of Kauto Star in the Champion Chase at Down Royal.

Having said that, Wincanton stages a top class card tomorrow, the feature being the Badger Ales Trophy due off at 3.20. The question is to what extent will the predicted rain affect the going, currently described as good. Last year's winner Ellerslie George sports blinkers for the first time after two below par efforts at Market Rasen and Chepstow. Paul Nicholls fields two, Meanus Dandy and Niche Market; the latter has his first run for the champion trainer, having previously been in the care of Bob Buckler. On his seasonal reappearance in this race 12 months ago Niche Market finished well down the field but three short weeks later the gelding ran the race of his life to finish third behind Denman in the Hennessey at odds of 33/1. Perhaps connections intend to follow a similar route again although Nicholls is likely to have done a bit more work with his charge than Buckler had done at this stage last year. Meanus Dandy on the other hand was well beaten at Cheltenham in October (Ouzbeck six lengths ahead in third) - the application of first-time blinkers doesn't look encouraging. The Pipe yard has three entries with Tim Murphy's mount The Package the favourite this evening. This one has talent in abundance but he's not the most straight forward and can easily get excited - I recall him throwing away a Class 4 novice chase at Ludlow just over twelve months ago. In a recent stable tour Philip Hobbs said of Triggerman, 'Although he won two noivce hurdles at Wincanton, he's suited by a galloping track', while I'moncloudnine was only just run out of it on his seasonal reappearance at Bangor. I've never found the Badger Ales particularly easy (Swansea Bay was my last winner in this in 2003); I'moncloudnine looks young enough, open to improvement and he won't be inconvenienced by further rain so I'll have a small each-way wager - Stan James and Victor Chandler go 12/1 this evening.

The Elite Hurdle should prove informative. Australia Day, Barizan and Black Jack Blues like to race from the front and there is a danger they'll set this up for something coming from behind. Australia Day broke the course record at Kempton the last time but rain will be a hindrance while Barizan was slightly disappointing on his return - comments from connections after that run appeared to indicate they'd maybe look at novice chasing so I'm not tempted to chance him here. Nearby has surprised connections with two wins but Rebecca Curtis' Black Jack Blues looks progressive and gets the nod with claimer Aodhagan Conlon taking off a handy-looking seven pounds.

A mares' handicap hurdle at Cheltenham last April suggests there won't be much between Alasi and Banjaxed Girl in the 1.40. If Nicky Henderson's Kerada is marked up as a short price favourite, I'll chance top weight Banjaxed Girl provided the ground isn't too soft.

The market suggests the novice chase at 2.45 is between Robinson Collonges and Wishfull Thinking. The former, a striking grey, looked most impressive at Bangor the last time while the latter fell at the first in an Aintree novice. Philip Hobbs, not one known for recklessly talking up his charges, said recently of Wishfull Thinking, 'He's in grand order and I hope he has a big future over fences.' You pays your money and takes your choice - the Hobbs horse has raced mostly with plenty of cut in the ground - I'll stick with Robinson Collonges.

A couple of quick notes for Sandown. Two of Charlie Longsdon's caught the eye - Songe (runs in the 2.20) won as he liked the last time. The handicapper has done his worst and raised the Hernando gelding thirteen pounds for his trouble but there could be more to come. The concern would be his fencing at a track where jumping is at a premium - he's inexperienced compared to several of tomorrow's opponents. Meanwhile Bun Oir has his first run for the Longsdon yard in the juvenile hurdle, having come over from Jessica Harrington's in Ireland. Only four go in the novice chase - Pepe Simo didn't jump well at Fontwell the last time and although connections report they have done plenty of schooling I wouldn't be tempted at a short price.

Finally Kauto Star returns to action after his horrendous fall in the Gold Cup. At the time jockey Ruby Walsh was on record as saying he was just grateful the bay had walked away unscathed from the incident. The Star will reach the age of eleven in less than two months' time - is he as good as ever or will we see a sign that his powers are on the wane?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thoughts on Halloween

Quick notes from Wetherby yesterday... Deep Purple ran a fine race in the Charlie Hall - Evan Williams' charge was fairly eating up the ground at the finish, much as he did in the race last year. The Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on December 9th is the next stop. Interviewed on Channel 4 by Derek 'Tommo' Thompson, owner Graham Wylie put up three to keep an eye out for - Tidal Bay (finished third behind Fair Along in the John Smith's Hurdle), Presenting Forever and On His Own; the last named has a five day entry in the 3.10 at Hexham on Friday. Coastley was going well enough for a 28/1 shot in Fair Along's race but put in a howler at the ninth flight that practically stopped him in his tracks. He was pulled up shortly afterwards but could be of interest in the future, a comment that also applies to Gary Moore's Bogside Theatre who ran well for a long way at the head of affairs before taking a crashing fall three from home - the obvious concern is the mare's confidence will have been affected. Calgary Bay, a big-looking beast, appeared to be travelling sweetly and set for a place at least as the principals came to the top of the final bend but the gelding found disappointingly little when asked a question. Perhaps Martin Todhunter's outsider That's Rhythm (finished fifth) will be worth a second look when dropped a little in class. Gilbarry went into many notebooks when taking the opening novice chase by beating 6/5 favourite Osric, the pair 30 lengths clear of Knockavilla in third.

This season Paul Nicholls has moved stables and now writes a column for Betfair. The Racing Post, not to be outdone, hit back by announcing on Saturday they had signed up Nicky Henderson. In his first piece for the trade paper the Lambourn trainer kept punters in the picture by indicating many of his string were two weeks away from where he wanted them to be.

Weird Al returned to the track at Carlisle earlier today; Ian Williams' charge got up on the line to dead -heat with Little Josh over a trip that is probably short of his best. I was surprised to see Cape Tribulation sent off favourite for this intermediate chase; the bay didn't jump all that well at Hexham the last time veering left on occasions - that trait was evident again. He lost his position from the eleventh and was soon pulled up.

With Cheltenham's Open meeting less than a fortnight away, a quick reminder that Cheltenham Racecourse station is currently closed due to a landslip south of Gotherington Halt. Repair work has started - the latest estimate I have is that services are unlikely to be restored before mid summer; further details on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway website.

Finally, as highlighted on The Morning Line, Donald McCain's Drill Sergeant (formerly with Mark Johnson on the Flat) is blessed with ability but comes with quirks. Holding a fifteen length advantage in a Haydock novice hurdle, the Rock Of Gibraltar gelding pulled himself up at the the exit to the stables, going from first to last in a matter of strides. McCoy worked the magic though and the 11/10 favourite still ran out the winner, beating Brother Bob a length. In a recent stable tour article Donald McCain had said, 'It is possible we will ride him more positively in the future over 2m...' My guess is connections will be reviewing that approach. Incidentally, the form appears to pay a compliment to Kilcrea Kim who beat Drill Sergeant over two and half miles at Bangor. That one has a five day entry in the 1.35 at Exeter on Tuesday.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tricks and treats at Wetherby, Ascot and Newmarket

Eight go to post in tomorrow's Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby where the going is currently described as good. Last year's winner Deep Purple was allowed to go off at 9/2 on that occasion as punters weren't convinced Evan Williams' charge would stay this three miles one furlong but the gelding proved the doubters wrong by leading in the final strides to hold 2/1 favourite Tamarinbleu a head. This year the task looks much stiffer with Deep Purple having to concede four pounds and upwards to the rest of the field; nonetheless connections expect a decent run. Nicky Henderson's Barbers Shop is likely to be popular but in my mind The Queen's gelding is best at around two miles six; he has won once over three miles (at Sandown) but I'm not convinced he really sees out a three mile trip, so over 25 furlongs here I expect something to beat him. The Tother One is another one who can win on his day but he has his quirks - I recall him throwing away The Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival two years ago by hanging right, swerving left and then hanging right after hitting the front two from home. Tom George's Nacarat has won most of his races on right-handed tracks but took the Handicap Chase at Doncaster last year before going on to win the Racing Post Chase at Kempton; in that same race this year he was just pipped by Twiston-Davies' Razor Royale. The handler informs us his charge will appreciate the better ground but in the past the grey has had a tendency to throw in the odd poor leap and the fences take some jumping at Wetherby. Knockara Beau is one I like but he hasn't won over the trip and last season his fencing didn't always stand up to close scrutiny while previous winner Ollie Magern is surely past his best. I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss Calgary Bay (14/1 with Ladbrokes) who makes some appeal as an each-way proposition provided of course the eight start - the Taipan gelding had a decent enough warm-up at Cheltenham a fortnight ago. In an open-looking race, at the prices available, I'll support Nacarat, 5/1 with William Hill this evening.

Fair Along, who has been known to sulk in the past, did this blog a favour when winning the John Smith's Hurdle last year but this time around Duc De Regniere and Tidal Bay look tough opponents. The weights favour the former but I'll watch from the sidelines.

Some quick pointers for the Ascot card... Othermix catches the eye in the 2.25. Second in the Jewson at Cheltenham, this grey has his first run for Ian Williams and on official ratings has ten pounds in hand over likely favourite Pause And Clause. Nicky Henderson's Radium is feared - the trainer has taken four of the last six runnings. Course and distance winner Dunraven Storm (3.00) would be worth a second look if not marked up favourite while Tocca Ferro (4.15) was found to be full of mucus after finishing seventh in the Imperial Cup at Sandown in the spring. Trainer Emma Lavelle thinks the five-year-old gelding can win off his current mark of 126. If nothing else you should get a run for your money (with a price thrown in) from front-running course and distance winner King Edmund in the 4.50 while trainer Philip Hobbs said of Persian Snow (5.25) in a recent stable tour: 'This is one I really like...' The feature on the card, The United House Gold Cup (3.40) looks very difficult - top weight Carruthers will only take his chance if the rain arrives in time.

Finally for those who like to take their racing with a right royal touch thrown in, tomorrow's opening maiden fillies' stakes at Newmarket will fit the bill. Carousel, owned by The Prince Of Wales and The Duchess Of Cornwall, will take on nineteen opponents including Starlight Walk owned by Her Majesty The Queen. Commentators tell us Carousel has a much better chance than Starlight Walk but before the family arguments start it's worth remembering The Queen could still cut it later on in the afternoon when Barbers Shop takes his chance in the Charlie Hall Chase.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Some Sunday snippets

Following a number of disappointments last season, Alan King would have been keen to hit the ground running this weekend. Some of the yard's big names returned to action but I'm guessing the handler won't be full of smiles this evening. At Aintree yesterday Mille Chief finished fifth, over fifteen lengths behind the Philip Hobbs trained winner Nearby while at Chepstow Lidar's first try at two and a half miles in the Persian War Novices' Hurdle saw the chestnut gelding pulled up three from home. Earlier today trainer's pick and Triumph Hurdle favourite Franklino could only finish third, seventeen adrift of 50/1 winner Mason Hindmarsh and Pena Dorada. At least Medermit (1/5f) won on his chasing debut but it was something of a bloodless victory against two rivals and his tendency to jump low would be a cause for concern in the future.

There were no problems for Cheltenham bumper winner Cue Card though - the King's Theatre gelding won at Aintree this afternoon on his first try over hurdles (at the rather prohibitive odds of 1/2).

On the first day of conditional trading, shares in the betting exchange operator Betfair showed a profit of 20%, finishing the day at £15.50, £2.50 ahead of the offer price of £13. According to The Times, founders Edward Wray and Andrew Black sold shares to the value of £14.4 million and £16.5 million respectively; Mr Wray's stake is now valued at £180 million while Mr Black's is worth £172 million. Unconditional trading in the shares starts on Wednesday.

Wanted: agreement on the horse racing levy before the end of this week - otherwise the Government will be called on to step in.

Julian David Bonhote Wilson, the former BBC racing correspondent, wouldn't necessarily be everybody's cup of tea but you can't help admire the bloke. In a Weekender interview he slates current BBC coverage, comparing the corporation's output in the 1980s (100 days) to the present day (12 days). Asked if he's ever thought of giving it all up, he replies at least once a month and when asked who he would invite to a dinner party at home, he comes up with '...and any good-looking intelligent, wealthy woman, who ended the evening with the magic words..."Will you buy me a horse?"'

Finally, just in case you missed them, recently compiled a selection of comedy racing clips. My favourite has to be Lee Mack as the Fast Talking Jockey on The Sketch Show. Enjoy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Jumpers from the top drawer for Aintree and Chepstow

Some well-known jumpers look set to return to the fray tomorrow...

At Aintree Alan King's Mille Chief will be a warm order in the opener. This one was ante-post favourite for the Triumph last spring but missed the race due to injury. In this week's Weekender King tells us his charge has 'grown significantly' and states '...I could not be more pleased with his progress...' This is far from a one horse race though; Westlin' Winds put up an eye-catching performance to take third at Chepstow a fortnight ago while Philip Hobbs' Nearby surprised his handler by winning at Bangor, although on that day the challenging Rebel Dancer fell at the last when in with every chance.

Only six in the Roan Chase at 3.25 but it looks difficult to call with three course and distance winners in the field, including last year's winner, the front-running grey Monet's Garden. Good ground is the key to Albertas Run who has won first time out four times in the past five seasons while Barry Geraghty takes the ride on Poquelin for the Nicholls stable as Ruby Walsh is serving a one-day suspension. Tom George's Tartak was a major disappointment when sent off favourite for this last year - I distinctly remember the colt's jumping disintegrating as I watched. On RP ratings Tartak is well clear of his rivals; this year connections have done more with their charge and have been quite bullish. The layers appear undecided this evening, but a couple have Tartak 5/2 favourite while Albertas Run is 7/2. At those prices Albertas Run looks the value play provided the rain stays away.

Just four in the novice chase at 5.10 but all eyes will be on Alan King's Medermit who tries chasing for the first time. Betfred and Stan James have this one 8/1 favourite for the Arkle next spring - in the Weekender the handler reports his charge '...has done a fair bit of schooling and looks the part.' A speed track such as Aintree wouldn't be my idea of the best place to start a chasing career but others in the field make little appeal. The J P McManus owned Rock Noir found disappointingly little when appearing to be running all over Cockney Trucker at Huntingdon while Wessex King gives six pounds to all his opponents.

At Chepstow the Persian War Novices' Hurdle at 3.35 should prove informative. On official ratings Captain Chris is the one they have to beat and will be priced accordingly. Connections want to run here but they want rain as well and as a precaution have left the Presenting gelding in the 4.30 at Aintree on Sunday (in which Cheltenham bumper winner Cue Card also holds an entry). Silviniaco Conti goes chasing after this while Alan King has always been very keen on Lidar and is hoping for 'a big improvement' for this step up to two and a half miles. On the exchanges this evening Lidar is priced up around 14/1 - if that price materialises tomorrow Lidar offers decent each-way value while Nicky Henderson's Cavite Beta could be anything.

The Silver Trophy run thrity five minutes later is very competitive. In a recent RP stable tour article Philip Hobbs described Duke Of Lucca as a 'really exciting prospect' while Restless Harry, a favourite of mine, tends to show his best with plenty of cut underfoot. Tullamore Dew's second in the Coral Cup at the Festival reads well but it's difficult to gauge how far forward Nick Gifford's string is.

Finally in the opener I'll consider taking a chance with Tim Vaughan's Bens Moor provided the price looks reasonable. In a recent Weekender article the trainer said of his charge, 'He is a gorgeous big horse who is massively exciting.'

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Racing briefs

The last running of the Champion Stakes at Newmarket brought an emotional win for Henry Cecil's Twice Over; thirty five minutes earlier the same trainer had taken the other Group One race on the card, the Dewhurst, with the precociously talented Frankel. Frankel is now a best-priced 5/4 to win next year's 2000 Guineas; both Coral and William Hill bet odds-on at 4/5!

Cheltenham's Saturday Showcase threw up a surprise or two, with the victory of 14/1 chance Clerk's Choice in the hurdle very impressive. Well-fancied pair Royal Mix and Barizan were over 21 lengths adrift so trainer Michael Banks clearly has something to go war with this winter. Colin Tizzard's Kilmurry jumped well to take the Kleinwort Benson Novices' Chase; the horse prefers decent ground and the plan appears to be to return for the Festival in March.

Quick ground at Kempton today saw a number of races cut up badly; Medermit (seventh in the Champion Hurdle), Cue Card (Cheltenham bumper winner), Menorah (winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle), Lidar and Captain Chris all missed potential engagements. The latter-named retains his novice status until the end of the month and could be rerouted to Chepstow on Saturday for the Persian War Novices' Hurdle. Trainer Philip Hobbs in a recent Racing Post stable tour article said of his charge, "I sincerely hope, and believe, he could turn out very, very good." Menorah is likely to go straight to the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham's Open meeting next month.

That talk of Kempton reminds me that Robert 'Choc' Thornton is currently employed as the face of racing at the south London track. I recently received a flyer from the course with a picture of the jock in racing silks and a rather sturdy-looking hedgetrimmer ready to shave at least an inch off the top of one of the steeplechase obstacles. Choc may be out of the saddle recovering from injury at the moment but he's certainly keeping himself busy as he's also writing a column for the Racing Post.

Finally a possible longshot I'll keep an eye out for this week is John Harris' Tom Wade - this one holds an entry in the opening juvenile hurdle at Ludlow on Thursday. Sent off at odds of 66/1 on his debut at the track a couple of weeks ago, the gelding was disputing second when unseating seven pound claimer Kyle James three out in a race won by Akula (who in turn had finished fifth behind one of the best juveniles seen so far this season, Architrave). Charlie Poste has been booked for the ride.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cheltenham Showcase and Newmarket Champions

Nostalagia will be the order of the day with the last running of the Champion Stakes at Newmarket tomorrow; the race will be run at Ascot next year. On a top class card Frankel's clash with Dream Ahead in the Dewhurst will be one to savour; earlier this week Frankel was reported to have beaten his lead horse twenty five lengths on the gallops - naturally the layers have taken this into account and make Henry Cecil's colt an odds-on favourite (8/11) this evening. On ratings Dream Ahead is the one to beat - priced up at 3/1 in a six runner race, he will make some appeal for those brave enough to oppose but I'll watch from the sidelines. Thirty two runners face the starter in the Cesarewitch due off at 3.40. Horses that have been running over the sticks have a good record in this. If you leave out Caracciola (won at odds of 50/1 in 2008) the longest priced winner in the past decade was sent off at 16/1; two favourites have won in that time, Darley Sun and Detroit City, both sent off at 9/2. Nicky Henderson's Sentry Duty goes well after a break and has been talked up during the week but I feel is often better with plenty of cut underfoot. For those who must have a bet, My Arch (has form over hurdles) is the suggestion. Kieren Fallon rides Deauville Flyer in the race but the jock has a quiet word for Ollie Pears' charge in his column in the Weekender; Coral offer 14/1 this evening.

At Cheltenham I'm looking forward to the return of Barizan in the hurdle. This horse attempted to make all in the Triumph here in March and went down one and a quarter lengths to Soldatino. He was then beaten by Orsippus (40/1 that day) at Aintree before gaining his revenge over that opponent at Punchestown two weeks later. The top two have to give the rest of the field eight pounds which, on official ratings, makes Paul Nicholls' Royal Mix the top rated animal. I can't oppose Barizan; trainer Evan Williams has had four winners from 21 runners in the past fortnight, a strike rate of 19.05%. Wayne Hutchinson reports that Gilded Age is likely to come on for the run.

In the opener I've never been convinced by Aiteen Thirtythree after he finished a well-beaten third behind Reve De Sivola in the Persian War Novices' Hurdle on soft ground at Chepstow last year. In a recent stable tour article Nicholls described the Old Vic gelding as 'immature mentally' last term but is now 'coming along nicely'. Connections state they intend to go novice chasing after this run. Tim Vaughan describes the five-year-old Old Vic mare Pure Anticipation as 'a nice prospect for staying novice hurdles' while Acey is of interest on his first run for the Twiston-Davies team. Pure Anticipation, priced up at 8/1 in this evening's tissue, looks an each-way play against likely favourite Aiteen Thirtythree.

With regard to the novice chase at 3.50, Philip Hobbs' Balthazar King kept on gamely exactly one week ago to overturn the Nicholls hotpot Watamu Bay at Chepstow. Watamu Bay jumped markedly right on that occasion and was only beaten half a length in the end so you'd expect something to beat the Hobbs horse here. Paul Nicholls will think his entry, Picture This, is the horse to do just that. Quoting the champion trainer on his charge: "He is one I can't wait to send chasing this season." I've always thought Billy Magern the poor relation compared to Ollie [Magern] but the gelding looks progressive nonetheless while Ian Williams' Wayward Prince is another to consider. In my book the percentage call is Picture This who would be worth an interest if tonight's tissue price of 7/2 is freely available on the day. I haven't completely disregarded Hell's Bay. The gelding has his own ideas about the game but is not without ability. He was formerly with Paul Nicholls but the champion trainer had obviously had enough. This one looks the type that could benefit from moving to a smaller establishment and Colin Tizzard must have done something right as the horse trotted up at Newton Abbot on his first outing for connections. Tizzard isn't one to to take a charge to Cheltenham on the off-chance so I'd be tempted into a small each-way wager on Hell's Bay at tonight's tissue price of 16/1. [Incidentally, can't wait to see the yard's Cue Card this season. Had an entry in the 5.10 at Kempton on Sunday but that option hasn't been taken up.]

The concluding bumper has entries that catch my eye (and probably nobody else's) including Nicky Henderson's Lets Get Serious (will the layers offer 4/1? Probably not!) and Richard Johnson's mount Sir Benfro.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Anticipation, fun and misuse of the whip

As the National Hunt season moves into gear, I'm reminded of the old saying: horse racing - half the fun is in the anticipation. Here's a selection of early seaon targets for some well known horses, as noted in Saturday's Times:

Twist Magic (P. Nicholls) Haldon Gold Cup, Exeter

Tataniano (P. Nicholls) Cheltenham Open meeting

Kauto Star (P. Nicholls) Down Royal, November 6th; King George

Denman (P. Nicholls) Hennessy Gold Cup, Newbury

Imperial Commander (N. Twiston-Davies) Betfair Chase, Haydock

What A Friend (P.Nicholls) Betfair Chase, Haydock

Master Minded (P.Nicholls) Ascot, late November

Additional running plans noted include:

Big Fella Thanks (F.Murphy) Hennessy Gold Cup, Newbury

Wolf Moon (M.Keighley) Cheltenham Showcase meeting, October 15th

Total Submission (M.Keighley) Cheltenham Showcase meeting, October 15th

Benbane Head (M.Keighley) Cheltenham Showcase meeting, October 16th

There's a whisper in some quarters that Nicky Henderson can take the trainers' title this season. John O'Hara's comment is worth noting: 'In all my time of talking to trainers for the Weekender I have never seen a jumps yard more full of quality than the one Nicholls is preparing for the 2010-11 season'. William Hill bet 4/9 Nicholls, 2/1 Henderson, 20/1 bar.

In a driving finish at Chepstow yesterday Ruby Walsh managed to get the Paul Nicholls trained Escort'men home a nose in front of 2/1 favourite Olofi ridden by Paddy Brennan. After Walsh had dismounted, he had recourse to resort to the whip once again before weighing in as a gentleman dressed in a red T-shirt entered the winner's enclosure and attempted to mount the chestnut gelding. The offender was promptly chased off by Walsh, the threat of a slap from the persuader enough to bring the him into line. The culprit was quickly escorted from the premises. Good Lord! Just what is the world coming to? Rumours that Walsh was subsequently given a one day ban by local stewards for misuse of the whip are wide of the mark.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Chepstow's first meeting

Over the years tomorrow's Chepstow card has come to be seen by many traditionalists as the first meeeting 'proper' of the new National Hunt season. A few years ago Philip Hobbs was a trainer to note here but in more recent times Paul Nicholls has used the meeting to set down a marker. Of course, the world and his wife is now fully aware of the above - a while back I set about trying to exploit this fact by opposing fancied runners from the Nicholls stable, the theory being that the yard may not be quite in full swing and many of the horses not 'cherry ripe'.

This approach hasn't really been that successful - here's a quick summary of how Nicholls-trained horses ridden by Ruby Walsh have fared at this meet over the past four years:

Tito Bustillo won 11/8f
The Gossmoor Yank third 11/4f
Gullible Gordon won 4/6f
Tot Of The Knar third 100/30
Classic Swain second 7/2jf
Murrell second 8/11f

Five Dream fourth 7/2 2f
Herecomesthetruth won 10/11f
Bold Policy fifth 4/1 2f
R Rien De Sivola won 8/1
Tchico Polos won 5/2 2f
Tataniano won evens fav

Natal UR 100/30f
Gwanako won 6/1 2f
Petit Lord won 6/5f
Qrackers second 5/1 (beaten by 4/11f Franchoek)
Pertinent F 4/1 2f
Hercomesthetruth fifth 7/4f

Bold Fire tenth 9/2
East Lawyer PU 8/1
Hot N Holy won 9/4f
Chaninbar second 5/1 2f (beaten by 4/11f Katchit)
Armariver second 3/1 2f (beaten by 4/11f Massini's Maguire)
Earth Planet won 11/4 2f

Those looking for value should note that the Nicholls runner has won the past four runnings of the 3.25.

I intend to oppose Escort'men in tomorrow's 4.00 race. This horse won the Dovecote at Kempton in impressive style last February but his subsequent effort at Aintree was disappointing; I'm not certain whether he's better going right-handed or whether he can handle an undulating track - certainly his hold-up style of racing won't be suited to Chepstow. Having said all that, I should point out Nick Mordin rates Escort'men 'a Champion hurdle prospect'. I'll take a chance with Tom George's course and distance winner Olofi who won the juvenile hurdle at this meet last year.

Gullible Gordon will be popular in the 5.10 but this is a competitive handicap. Twiston-Davies has his team in fine form (9 wins from 32 runs in past fortnight) so last year's winner Beat The Boys isn't lightly dismissed. Le Beau Bai is interesting, especially with a seven pound claimer up. Connections are likely to be aiming for another stab at the Welsh National but I'm tempted to take fitness on trust and have a wager on Richard Lee's Le Beau Bai.

In the opener I'll monitor the market to decide whether Alan King's Groove Master is a play against the Nicholls favourite Domtaline (third in the Prix Wild at Auteuil, a race that historically throws up plenty of future winners according to the Weekender) while in the concluding bumper Kartanian is likely to have his work cut out giving seven pounds to Merehead.

Over at Bangor the 5.15 looks a hot novice for the time of year. Henry Daly's Wessex King was withdrawn at Uttoxeter on Sunday presumably on account of the heavy ground. The going may be more to his liking here but the opposition is far stiffer; the race should provide some valuable pointers for the weeks ahead.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A pick of grass

Epsom Derby winner Workforce disappointed badly in the King George at Ascot but the colt was back to his brilliant best this afternoon to take the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe by a head from Nakayama Festa with the filly Safarina a further two and a half lengths away in third. Winning his first Arc, trainer Sir Michael Stoute was quick to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to jockey Ryan Moore who was right out the back as they turned for home and rode a fine race to weave his way through the field and pip the Japanese runner at the post. Teddy Grimthrope, racing manager for winning owner Prince Khalid Abdullah said: "...I think there is a good chance [Workforce] will stay in training at four."

There was a twist in the race for the Flat jockeys' championship when Richard Hughes was hit with a six day ban for careless riding in the concluding handicap at Wolverhampton last night. Earlier in the evening Hughes had received a separate one day ban for excessive use of the whip when beaten a neck on Tallawalla by (the somewhat suitably named) Miss Whippy. He is set to appeal the six day suspension - should that appeal fail, Hughes' chance of taking the Flat jockeys' title looks all but over.

Noted at Huntingdon today - Cockney Trucker (7/2) won the novice chase from the front despite hitting a couple of the obstacles rather hard. Philip Hobbs' inmate certainly didn't look a natural over fences but, having said that, he still managed to beat odds-on shot Rock Noir (8/11f) seventeen lengths; the favourite emptied alarmingly quickly two from home. Songe (11/4f) won the competitive-looking Class Three chase in most convincing fashion and can expect a hike up the handicap for his troubles. Songe's victory was the first part of an across-the-card treble for trainer Charlie Longsdon who won the penultimate race at Uttoxeter with Young Albert (17/2) and the finale back at Huntingdon with Rey Nacarado (100/30f) owned by the intriguingly-named partnership Runthatbymeagainagain.

Finally The Sunday Telegraph reports that today's Huntingdon meeting has become known for the Mascot Grand National but this year's event has been hit by a boycott. Several club mascots are complaining many of the competitors are 'ringers' who just dress up as a mascot for the day. All is not well in the mascot world.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Cambridgeshire (with some Sunday signals thrown in)

The Cambridgeshire tops a difficult-looking card at Newmarket tomorrow with 35 set to face the starter at 3.40 on ground described as soft. This evening John Gosden's Nationalism is the layers' favourite, as low as 7/2 with Boylesports while both Coral and Ladbrokes go 6/1. In the last ten years four horses have carried more than nine stones to victory; given the state of the ground and the competitive nature of this handicap, I've concentrated my efforts on those runners allocated less than nine stones. Elliptical, whose owners Keen As Mustard are unlikely to be put off by bad weather, was regarded unlucky when going down a head to Tartan Gigha over course and distance back in May. Gerard Butler's inmate has won on soft in the past although most of his recent form is on better ground but the booking of Christophe Soumillon certainly catches the eye; connections anticpiate a bold show. Both Emirates Dream and Absinthe have recent winning form in similar conditions; the latter could be anything but was reported to have scoped dirty after a piece of work two and a half weeks ago. Plenty of commentators have talked up the chances of Luca Cumani's Start Right (an each-way shout according to Fallon in the Weekender and he'll be pleased with a draw nearer the stands side in stall 9) and of John Gosden's supposed second string Taqleed. A J Martin, renowned for pulling off handicap coups over the sticks, travels over from Meath to saddle Pires, a brown gelding who counts Ruby Walsh and Johnny Murtagh amongst his previous pilots, while I had a second look at Smokey Oakey depsite the price as he'll appreciate the easy ground; he has been out of form of late and on balance looks unlikely to give part-owner Judi Dench a day to remember. In an impossible race, a chance is taken with Pires (each-way). It's worth noting that Skybet offer a quarter the odds six places while several layers pay on the fifth spot including bet365, totesport, Betfred, Victor Chandler, Blue Square and Stan James.

Sunday's highlight is the Arc (Longhamp 3.05) and Cavalryman has quickly caught my eye. The colt secured third in this race last year behind Sea The Stars when drawn wide in stall 19. He hasn't really hit form since his move from Andre Fabre but has a better draw on this occasion together with the assistance of Dettori in the plate; 20/1 is the price this evening.

From the Arc on a Sunday to a Huntingdon novice chase on a Sunday - the Emma and Megan Deanus Novices' Chase should prove useful for future reference. Nigel Twiston-Davies saddles Cootehill, Philip Hobbs Cockney Trucker while the J P McManus owned Rock Noir makes his chasing debut on a course where the fences are stiff enough. At the same meeting novice Songe looks quite highly tried in the handicap chase at 3.30 while Kahfre (4.05) won well at Plumpton the last time.

Finally another Sunday novice chase to take in - this time at Uttoxeter. Only six go in the Novices' Chase at 3.20 but Darstardly Dick, Wessex King and Shadow Dancer all look interesting contenders.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Trains to Cheltenham Racecourse station suspended

The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway runs heritage steam and diesel train services on The Honeybourne Line between Toddington in The Cotswolds and Cheltenham Racecourse station; these services have proved particularly popular with punters during the Cheltenham Festival meeting in March.

Last April a landslip south of Gotherington Halt station resulted in services to Cheltenham being suspended while tests were carried out to determine the cause and extent of the problem. The repair bill has come in at £1 million; as insurance cover is limited to £500,000, an emergency appeal was launched earlier this month to raise the outstanding amount.

All of which is not good news for the 650 volunteers who run the line which carries in the region of 75,000 passengers every year. A programme of works lasting 26 weeks has been drawn up - it looks unlikely that services to the racecourse will be operational in time for next year's Festival.

And then, to add to it all, last weekend thieves ran off with £4,000 worth of cast iron bench castings from the racecourse station.

Friday, September 24, 2010

From Ascot to Market Rasen

Canford Cliffs misses tomorrow's Queen Elizabeth II showpiece at Ascot which means French-trained colt Mafki is likely to start odds on and Rip Van Winkle is the most likely to benefit should something go amiss. The only time the favourite has been beaten was in the St James's Palace Stakes over course and distance back in June but a valid excuse emerged for that effort after the race - the bay was found to have a throat infection. French entries haven't done particularly well in this event in recent years (last win 1993); the books offer 11/4 for those tempted to oppose with Rip Van Winkle. This evening's going report is good to soft, soft in places; the race looks an intriguing contest but doesn't make that much appeal as a betting medium - I'll watch from the sidelines.

The National Hunt season starts to pick up around this time of year. Nigel Twiston-Davies made his customary raid on Perth's two day meeting earlier in the week - he came away with a tally of six winners from thirteen runners and Lambs Cross added to that score by taking the opener at Worcester this afternoon. Market Rasen stages an interesting-looking card tomorrow with Betfair sponsoring six of the seven races (as well as preparing for a stock market flotation!) Of those six races, three are preceded with the slogan 'Read Paul Nicholls Exclusively On Betfair'. Readers may recall Mr Nicholls previously wrote a column for The Racing Post but I assume that paper's reporting of Mr Findlay's split with the yard after Mr Findlay was warned off (a decision later rescinded) didn't meet with unanimous approval down at Ditcheat.

The feature is the listed handicap chase at 3.20 in which sixteen are set to face the starter. To say Peter Bowen has targeted the race may be considered something of an understatement - he fields five of the sixteen (including last year's winner Valley Ride) while David Pipe has four entries although there must be a doubt about Frosted Grape taking his chance from out of the handicap, having finished a well-beaten favourite at Worcester earlier this afternoon. Top weight Grand Slam Hero is respected but in an open contest (7/1 the field this evening), 9/1 Peter Bowen's No Panic looks reasonable value and is worth an each-way interest.

Last year the juvenile hurdle (2.50) was won by Barizan off a rating of 140; several commentators thought that too high but the horse proved them wrong running a blinder in the Triumph and winning the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown. Two Kisses is the top-rated for tomorrow's renewal (130); Brendan Powell's filly looks interesting as does Architrave and Beyond (stablemate of Barizan). Using the official ratings as a guide, I have to go for Two Kisses.

Finally I see Chris Bealby has a quiet word for Persian Gates who makes his chasing debut in Singleton Birch Handicap Chase at 3.55. The chestnut gelding has schooled well at home and the trainer thinks his charge is well handicapped.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Scottish Salmond and flying dismounts for Ayr

Something of an eventful day for Frankie Dettori at Ayr yesterday...

A change in Ryanair security procedures meant Dettori was not allowed to board his intended internal flight from Stansted to Prestwick using his driving licence as ID. Another Ryanair money-making stunt perhaps? Unperturbed, the jock went back home, dug out his passport, took a later flight and promptly rode Dandy Nicholls' Redford to win the Ayr Gold Cup at odds of 14/1. This was Dettori's second successive victory in the race, having run off with the spoils last year aboard Clive Cox's Jimmy Styles. The First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond MP presented the booty and then appeared on television shortly afterwards to inform Channel 4 viewers that Dettori had said his mount Vesuve would win the Doonside Cup. I'd imagine that viewers who took the hint will be on good terms with themselves today as the 2/1 second favourite held market rival Kings Gambit (15/8f) a neck on the line. Other viewers, probably of Scottish descent, might well remark that's the first time the First Minister has ever given them something for nothing. Needless to say, viewers in the latter category are also likely to have based any judgement on the First Minister's previous form, so they probably wouldn't have bothered to have a bet anyway. Poor old Alex Salmond - can't do right for doing wrong...

Tommo's recorded interview with Scottish trainer Jim Goldie (JG) before the Gold Cup also brought a smile. Tommo kicked off with the fact that a Scottish trained runner hadn't taken the race since 1975 but Goldie appeared to have a very good chance with the aptly-named Hawkeyethenoo. A rough transcript follows:

JG: Winning this race, it would be like Scotland winning the World Cup!
Tommo: And you haven't done that for a long time!
JG: No, and neither have you!

Finally a Scottish footballing story from The Galloway News to finish with. Last Saturday Threave Rovers were due to play Crichton at Castle Douglas in the semi final of the Cree Lodge Cup. After a pre-match incident between the Threave keeper and a Crichton striker, Rovers offered to remove their player from the town so that the match could go ahead. Crichton rejected this offer on the grounds of safety with the result the match was abandoned. C'mon lads, it's only a game...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ayr Gold Cup

There is likely to be plenty of debate surrounding the draw for tomorrow's Ayr Gold Cup, with today's official going described as good, good to soft in places. In the Ayr Bronze Cup ran at 4.30 this afternoon the first four home came from stalls 25, 22, 12 and 26, suggesting that high numbers might be favoured. Those of a patient disposition can wait for the running of the Ayr Silver Cup at 2.15 before striking a wager but, of course, the best prices are likely to have disappered before then. Dandy Nicholls has a phenomenal record in this race, having taken five of the last ten renewals; often though, the yard's lesser fancied runners have run off with the money as the recorded SPs show - two at 33/1 and others at 18/1 and 16/1. This evening the stable's Victoire De Lyphar heads the market and is as low as 11/2 with Coral. In the past decade only one animal has carried more than nine stones three to victory (Advanced in 2007) while horses older than six have a poor record. In the quest for a little value in an ultra-competitive event I'm tempted to take a small each-way interest in Noverre To Go at 25/1. Tom Dascombe's four-year-old gelding has a racing weight which is further reduced with five pound claimer Ross Atkinson in the saddle. His draw towards the far side is favourable but any further rain would hinder his chance.

On official ratings Richard Hannon's Libranno has the beating of his field in the Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury. He disappointed in the Prix Morny the last time but if you forgive that effort the layers' price of 11/4 looks enticing. Crown Prosecutor will be a threat while Temple Meads didn't quite appear to stay the six furlongs in the Gimcrack at York but we can expect a very different ride tomorrow with regular pilot Richard Mullen back in the plate. The plan appears to be to ride more of a waiting race. Connections were extremely bullish their charge would stay the trip before York so I'm inclined to give the colt another chance although on ratings he has plenty to find with the Hannon horse. Temple Meads is priced up at 9/2 with Totesport this evening and narrowly gets the nod ahead of Libranno.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mixed musings of an inconsequential nature

In last month's Yorkshire Oaks Sariska refused to leave the stalls allowing Henry Cecil's Midday to collect the spoils. Three and a half weeks on and something remarkably similar happened in the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp this afternoon; once again Sariska failed to come out of the stalls and Midday took the spoils. Connections immediately retired Sariska while Skybet have shortened Midday to even money for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

There was a bit of a turn-up in yesterday's St. Leger at Doncaster where the Godolphin even money hotpot, Rewilding, failed to fire, coming home a well-beaten sixth behind John Gosden's 12/1 chance Arctic Cosmos. Corsica (40/1) from the Mark Johnson yard ensured there was no hanging around, setting a searching gallop and staying on stoutly to finish third, beaten a nose for second by the Aidan O'Brien trained Midas Touch. Meanwhile over in Ireland Olivier Peslier brought 13/8 favourite Sans Frontieres to the front with a well-timed run to record a comfortable three quarter length win from market rival Profound Beauty. This represents a first Group One win for owner Sir Robert Ogden; connections have indicated that the Melbourne Cup in November is 'very much on the cards.'

Some potentially interesting race readers to keep an eye out for with (the threat of) Christmas just around the corner...

Ruby: The Autobiography by Ruby Walsh [publication date to be announced];

Kauto Star & Denman by Jonathan Powell;

Gentlemen and Blackguards: Gambling Mania and the Plot to Steal the Derby of 1844 by Nicholas Foulkes;

Race Profiles - Jumps 2010-2011 by Dr Peter May;

No Angel: The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone by Tom Bower [publication date to be announced].

Plenty has been written over the past week on the antics of England and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney. By some distance the most amusing article I came across was Frank Skinner's piece in Friday's Times. I had to smile at this particular line: 'Ms Thompson said, on one occasion, when Rooney approached her in a hotel, that Michael Owen looked at him with disgust. Apparently this caused Owen to pull a muscle in his face and he has been out of action for six weeks.'

Last night the contestants in Strictly Come Dancing 2010 were allocated their dance partners and told to go away and practice for three weeks. The layers, never ones to miss an opportunity, have already priced up the field. Mrs Tips comes into her own with this sort of stuff - her verdict on Gavin Henson was particularly harsh (in case you were tempted by 20/1); personally I thought Gavin bore a remarkable resemblance to Fireman Elvis Cridlington of Fireman Sam fame.

Finally, one of next Saturday's features is the Ayr Gold Cup; the Morning Line guest, advertised in advance, is the Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP MP. Forget the politics, Alex Salmond rates an entertainment in his own right and ranks high on a list of people I'd care to have dinner with. I shall rise early in time for next Saturday's scheduled transmission.