Sunday, January 31, 2010

Weekend notes

Big Zeb bounced back to form to take the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown earlier today; the trainer feels he has now sorted a problem the horse had with ringbone on his off-fore. This evening Ladbrokes bet 7/1 Colm Murphy's charge for the Champion Chase.

The abandonment of Doncaster yesterday meant that Nicky Henderson's Mad Max missed his intended engagement while Henrietta Knight's Somersby is likely to be re-routed to Doncaster next Saturday after Hereford was called off earlier today. One name missing from the list of runners in Saturday's Cleeve Hurdle was Karabak - Alan King's charge scoped dirty and as a result was kept at home in his box.

Paul Nicholls rightly took the plaudits for bringing Taranis back from a long layoff to win the Argento Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday. However, over the past couple of days a number of his more fancied chances have failed to deliver - both Tataniano (2/11f) and Aiteen Thirtythree (7/4f) were turned over at Newbury on Friday while Pistolet Noir (8/15f) and Royal Charm (5/4f) disappointed at the Festival Trials Day.

Well done to fellow blogger Ben Aitken whose book 'Narrowing The Field: Using The Dosage Method to Win at National Hunt Racing' received a favourable review in the Racing Post before Christmas but reached another level with a review in last Sunday's Observer. Perhaps now is the time to invest in a copy with just six short weeks before the Cheltenham Festival.

Tennis correspondent Mrs Tips' verdict on the Australian men's final: Federer awesome, Murray work in progress.

One footballing item - a Lee Dixon comment overheard in today's radio coverage of the Arsenal v. Manchester United game: 'It's hard enough staying on your feet when you're playing against Rooney, but if you're going to fall over, you're giving yourself a mountain to climb.' I'm not certain I know what he was trying to say there...

Finally a recent tweet from @Huntingdonraces suggested we ditch flowers and chocs for Valentine's Day and take a loved one racing instead. I tried that before but Mrs Tips was singularly unimpressed. Here's an alternative suggestion - ditch the loved one for the afternoon and go racing on your own - much more fun!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Festival Trials Day

With forecasters predicting temperatures in the region of minus three tonight, tomorrow's meetings at Cheltenham, Doncaster and Uttoxeter are all subject to 8.00 am inspections; Cheltenham has the frost covers in place so looks to have the best chance of staging racing, the highlight being the Argento Chase at 2.35 with the Cleeve Hurdle (3.40) providing good support.

Only seven go to post for the trappy-looking Argento Chase which is run over a trip just short of three and a quarter miles; the bookmakers think it's between three - Carruthers, Madison Du Berlais and Inchidaly Rock. On official ratings Madison Du Berlais (50s for the Gold Cup) is the one to beat but he appears to give his best performances on flat tracks; having said that, the stable is on fire with six winners from fourteen runners in the past two days. With Denman heading for the Aon Chase at Newbury (rather than running here), Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride Inchidaly Rock (5/1 favourite for the National Hunt Novices' Chase at the Festival) of the two Nicholls runners - this one has won over course and distance but has a bit to find with a couple of his opponents. Carruthers (33/1 for the Gold Cup) is a trail-blazer who does it all from the front and is at his best dominating in small fields - at the back of my mind though I can't help recalling his fourth in last year's RSA Chase where, over this course and distance, he made a serious blunder four out that effectively put paid to his chance. I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss last year's winner Joe Lively either from Colin Tizzard's in-form yard - for those prepared to take the chance he could prove very good value. Connections of Carruthers have indicated they'll consider the Gold Cup if things work out here and he looks the percentage call so gets the vote - his lack of chasing experience in comparison to the rest of the field is the concern. It's worth noting the favourite has failed to win this in the last ten years.

Thirteen go in a most competitive renewal of the Cleeve Hurdle. That tough little course and distance winner Lie Forrit (20/1 for the World Hurdle) makes the journey down from Hawick and is likely to start favourite. Katchit is the top-rated animal in the field but there has to be a concern about him seeing out the trip, a comment that also applies to David Pipe's Mr Thriller. Both Tatenen and Tidal Bay revert to hurdles after experiencing trouble jumping fences while Kennel Hill should be given a wide berth following his display of petulance with a race at his mercy two weeks ago. Course and distance winner Fair Along is respected and looks overpriced at 10/1 with Ladbrokes this evening but Time For Rupert (33/1 for the World Hurdle) is one that I like. I tipped him each way for the Ascot Hurdle but he finished out with the washing - the next time I missed him and he won at 16/1. He's well-regarded by connections - I'll back him each-way provided the odds are big enough.

The market tells us the 3.10 is between Nicky Henderson's General Miller (20/1 for the Neptune at the Festival) and Paul Nicholls' Royal Charm (12/1 for the Neptune) - the word is that General Miller is one of the stable's best novices. You pay your money and takes your choice. If you held a gun to my head, I'd go with Royal Charm but, in search of some value, I'll consider Restless Harry whose second in the Challow at Newbury on heavy going indicates this trip shouldn't be a problem. Stratford-on-Avon trainer Robin Dickin has told the Weekender he has his charge in 'better shape' for this test than for the Challow.

Pistolet Noir (10/1 second favourite for the Triumph at the Festival) looks the one to beat in the opener but he's likely to start odds-on.

Whatever happens, one thing is for certain - several more Cheltenham clues are likely to be uncovered with the Festival little more than six weeks away.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Festival clues...

The Festival clues season has started in earnest. At Haydock yesterday reigning champion hurdler Punjabi was beaten fair and square by Medermit on ground that was probably soft enough - Alan King's charge, in receipt of four pounds, has now finished in front of Punjabi in his last two races. Beaten a neck by Go Native in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle (after being hampered at the last), Medermit goes straight to the Champion and looks to have a live chance - certainly his price this evening (16/1) makes more appeal than 6/1 Go Native. I wouldn't rush to write off Punjabi either who is also a 16/1 chance (with Skybet) for the showpiece.

Solwhit's victory earlier today in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown has seen both Paddy Power and Boylesports install him as their new 3/1 favourite for the Cheltenham equivalent in March. It may be worth noting this quote from trainer Charles Byrnes, "But that's him today - take it or leave it, there's no improvement to come."

Henry de Bromhead's An Cathaoir Mor won the Arkle Chase but isn't certain to make it to Cheltenham. Books have reacted by shortening Captain Cee Bee (beat this winner at Naas)
and Sizing Europe (stablemate of this winner).

Diamond Harry's chase debut at Haydock yesterday went as smooth as you like - Nick Williams' charge is now 5/1 second favourite for the RSA Chase behind Nicky Henderson's Punchestowns.

Nick Mordin's column in this week's Weekender highlights the fact that in the past five years the animal with the highest Racing Post rating has won the Festival bumper on four occasions. So far this season the mare Araucaria has the highest RP rating obtained in a bumper (132) - Nick helpfully points out that at 16/1 she represents decent value. That led me to wonder when was the last time a filly / mare won the race. I was at the track to see Hairy Molly win the 2006 renewal but on checking the formbook was somewhat disconcerted to discover that Hairy Molly was actually a bay gelding... I didn't have to go back too much further - in 2004 two mares fought out the finish with Total Enjoyment beating the Jonjo O'Neill trained Refinement two and a half lengths. The second that day returned a year later to finish fourth in the same race, ridden on that occasion by one K. Fallon.

In an article in Saturday's Guardian, Michael Owen describes racing as his 'main passion outside of football' so he may make it to this year's Festival but he says he'll 'never want to train'. Look out for more Festival clues next Saturday at the Festival Trials Day...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ascot and Haydock

Tomorrow's feature at Ascot is the Victor Chandler Chase which is run over two miles one furlong. Twist Magic did this blog a favour when making all to win the Tingle Creek at Sandown in early December; he's the top-rated horse here and this evening is generally priced up the 11/8 favourite. Although blessed with plenty of ability, TM has never been one to trust implicitly; having said that, I've seen a couple of reports this week claiming he's now a reformed character. Trainer Paul Nicholls has expressed some slight reservations about the suitability of this track for his charge. On grounds of value I'm considering opposing him here with Nicky Henderson's Petit Robin - Tony McCoy takes the ride as stable jockey Barry Geraghty is engaged at Haydock. Petit Robin was third behind Master Minded in last year's Queen Mother at Cheltenham and just for a fraction of a second looked as though he might cause an upset as they rounded the home turn; since then he has taken the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on his seasonal debut and can be expected to come on for that run. Looking through the form I think he may have a slight preference for going left-handed but the stiff track and soft ground should suit, even though all his victories to date have come on flat tracks. Throughout the week Coral has stood apart from other layers offering 11/4 Petit Robin - I'll take a chance at that price.

I wouldn't be inclined to oppose Whiteoak in the mares' hurdle while Francois Doumen tends to do well with the horses he brings over at this time of year. Moneywise would be worth a second look in the opener but Spiv is probably best watched in the 1.30.

Only four go to post in the opener at Haydock where the going is reported as soft, heavy in places on the chase course. Nicky Henderson's Radium is likely to go off odds-on while this represents a set up in class for Peddlers Cross. Donald McCain rates his charge highly - Peddlers Cross gets the vote.

A tentative suggestion in the Tim Moloney Handicap Chase is Venetia Williams' Never So Blue (apparently owned by 'The Moody Blues'). This one was well-backed the last time in the London National at Sandown but didn't appear to stay the trip. Earlier today jockey Aidan Coleman pointed out in a guest blog at Racing UK that the horse has already won at Haydock; he rates his mount 'a proper stayer' and it was the Sandown course that didn't suit. I'll consider a small each-way interest at around the 12/1 mark.

Only four in the novices' chase at 2.20 but it looks decidedly tricky; the eventual winner is likely to end up near the head of the market for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham on March 17th. Diamond Harry has won over the course and over the distance but tackles fences for the first time in public - the reports are he's schooled well. Alan King's Bensalem is well-regarded but was held up in the recent cold spell. The chances are that comment will also apply to the horse with the most chasing experience in the field, Knockara Beau. KB is a horse I like but he has to give three pounds to Bensalem and seven to the other two. Peter Bowen's Mumbles Head finished four lengths behind Albert Bartlett winner Weapon's Amnesty in a three mile novice chase at Newcastle the last time - the shorter trip here should help; on official ratings he's bang there with a chance. This may well go to the horse that jumps the best - on the grounds of value I'll chance Knockara Beau.

Current champion hurdler Punjabi will be expected to beat his three opponents (one, Afsoun, from the same stable) on the way to defending his title at Cheltenham in March while the feature here is the Peter Marsh Chase in which Mon Mome heads the weights; that one has the Grand National in April as his target. Cloudy Lane won this last year carrying eleven stones ten and is respected. In a competitive renewal course and distance winner According To Pete will be popular - if I get involved I'll take a small each-way interest in Mr Strachan (12/1 with Paddy Power this evening). This one, from a yard that had a winner at Catterick earlier today, has a nice racing weight but a tendency to put in the odd poor jump here and there. Let's hope the application of first-time cheekpieces help eradicate the errors.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Racing returns

Jim Best's 5/1 shot Anak won the first jump race run for thirteen days when taking the opener at Kempton yesterday. Two and a half hours later Andy Turnell's Micheal Flips took a competitive-looking renewal of the Lanzarote with the minimum of fuss, having eight lengths to spare over 9/2 favourite Duc De Regniere at the line. This evening the winner is quoted a 20/1 shot with William Hill for the Totesport Trophy at Newbury on February 13th.

At Huntingdon I thought Prince Louis put in a reasonable performance finishing second to Celian in the aptly-named Totescoop6 Beats The Freeze Handicap Chase. This was his first run in eleven months and his first for the Charlie Mann yard; he jumped left throughout and will surely be seen to better effect on a left-handed track.

Retirement looked on the cards for Blazing Bailey if he didn't show some spark in the Beginners' Chase at Ffos Las earlier today. In the event he was beaten just a neck by Tony McCoy's mount The Sliotar - I presume the retirement plans are now on hold. McCoy went on to ride a treble at the course. Over the past couple of days the champion jockey has been linked with the ride on Denman in the Gold Cup. Speaking on New Year's Eve, Denman's trainer Paul Nicholls told The Mirror '...I'm not going to announce anything until after the Aon.' This evening Paddy Power offer the following prices about Denman's jockey for the Gold Cup - 2/5 Tony McCoy, 4/1 Sam Thomas, 5/1 Ruby Walsh, 20/1 Christian Williams.

We think we've seen off the last of the white stuff and then the forecasters threaten us with the possibility of more snow to come in the week ahead. It's getting that desperate - if we're hit with another freeze, I'm going to consider investing in a 3D TV. Wednesday's Times informed us England's home Six Nations Rugby Internationals will be screened live in cinemas using the technology - fans will know what it feels like to be tackled by Jonny Wilkinson. I was just wondering if the BBC will be in a position to transmit this year's Grand National in 3D...?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Jumping comes back at Kempton

Tomorrow Kempton looks set to host the first jumps meeting since Plumpton on January 3rd, the highlight being the Lanzarote Hurdle (run over two miles five furlongs these days) at 2.45, while Huntingdon hold an inspection at 8.00 in the morning. The first question to ask after such a protracted break is how have the various trainers managed to cope with the wintry conditions. Paul Nicholls has managed to keep his string ticking over; at the start of the year, as in the past, he inoculated all his charges against equine flu - traditionally this is a quiet time for the stable. Nicky Henderson sent out three winners on Southwell's all-weather bumper card on Wednesday but in this week's Weekender Alan King, whose string were slower out of the blocks than usual in the autumn, concedes that the snow is likely to have set him back again.

With so many unknowns, I intend to play cautiously and will give the form a few days to settle down again. Thirteen go to post in the Lanzarote, with the in-from Nicky Henderson operation looking to hold a strong hand with Tasheba and Duc De Regniere. Stable jockey Barry Geraghty rides the former but it would be unwise to discount the Duc - Tanya Stevenson (@TheFemale) pointed out on Twitter earlier in the day that the horse has won all his three starts at the track; in addition claimer David Bass takes off a handy-looking seven pounds. In my book one who could have more to come is Aachen - I was prepared to consider an each-way dabble at around 12/1 but he's priced up at 8s this evening and has been off the track a while so I'll watch his progress but won't get involved.

The 12.55 sees the eagerly-awaited chasing debut of Nicky Henderson's Mad Max. Eighth behind Mikael D'Haguenet in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham last time out, Mad Max is a giant of a horse who should certainly benefit from jumping a fence. Having said that, he's had a couple of breathing operations since that run - I'm never keen on taking short odds about a horse who has had such an operation and returns to race on soft / heavy going. There's only five in the field and I know I'm going out on a limb but I think there's more to come from Nick Gifford's Dee Ee Williams - I'll consider opposing if tonight's tissue price of 5/1 is available on the day.

With an official rating of 144 Kennel Hill sets the standard in the novices' hurdle at 1.30 but it's interesting to see the Nicholls yard reoppose with The Minack who was beaten fifteen lengths by KH over three furlongs further in Tell Massini's race at Cheltenham. I tipped The Minack the last time; at the likely prices on offer I may give him another chance as he lost any hope with a howler three out. Trainer Nick Gifford had a good word for Ashleys Lad.

Another Twitter titbit from @TheFemale points out that in the finale only one favourite has obliged in the last ten years. The Weekender reports that Nick Gifford has kept his string going in the snow - provided the stable's runners have run respectably beforehand I'll consider taking a chance with Tullamore Dew.

Those looking for a slightly different approach after the cold spell may want to note the following trainers whose horses ran well enough on the all-weather at Southwell earlier in the week: N. J. Henderson, Mrs L. Wadham (included 33/1 winner), C. Mann, C. T. Pogson, J. Howard Johnson, G.L. Moore, D.E. Cantillon, I.Williams and N.T. Chance. Good luck!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Figures in the snow

The big freeze has ensured a paucity of form figures for jumping fans to study this week. Here are some alternative figures that have come to my attention recently...

William Hill reported that on blank racing days they were seeing a ten-fold increase in the number of bets taken on virtual racing. Julian Muscat's piece in Wednesday's Times quotes David Hood, William Hill PR director: "In the last week alone we have taken over 300,000 individual bets."

Tom Scudamore, who missed a double at Plumpton last Sunday as the result of a suspension, informed readers of the same newspaper on Friday he hadn't earned a penny since December 29th and was roughly £10,000 out of pocket. Riding fees are reported to have risen recently by 3% but, of course, if the weather doesn't relent, an additional 3% of nothing equates to absolutely nothing.

Racing for Change launched a ten-point plan with the aim of modernising the sport; a tweet to me from @Mulldog quite rightly intimated it's likely to take a lot more than ten points. The recommendation that appears to have received most press coverage from the RfC report is the proposal that in spring British racecourses will look to trial decimal odds in an attempt to attract younger people to the races. Apparently 11/10ths of the younger generation just don't get fractions.

On Friday Alan King's Karabak was well-backed for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. He's now quoted at 6s and 7s (from 10s).

Finally I'm informed the highlight of Bonhams Spring sale is 'a highly important racing painting by Munnings'. 'The Start, Newmarket' is scheduled to go under the hammer on Wednesday 17th March with the price estimate quoted as £500,000 - £700,000. Excuse me, old boy, doesn't that clash with Champion Chase day?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Guest blogger - ex-boss goes to Chepstow's Welsh National meet

A couple of weeks ago an unusual thing happened. My former boss, apparently enjoying a blissful retirement now (although I only learned of that a couple of weeks ago) contacted me straight out of the blue, asking for a view on the Welsh National at Chepstow as he happened to be going to that meeting over the Christmas break. Immediately I was presented with a dilemma - should I go for 'payback' and deliberately tip Mr. N a couple of duff horses (Dream Alliance looked to have plenty going for it - form figs of PUPP, off the track for 18 months and then second place in a Class 3 handicap hurdle seven weeks previously) or should I do the honourable thing, put in the homework and then watch the selections run in the manner I thought the duff ones would. After considerable deliberation I took the latter option and, at the same time, secured Mr. N's agreement that he would write a report on his day at the Chepstow races.

For the record, I've edited the original in places, leaving in just one or two disparaging remarks about the blog, just to give the piece that air of authenticity.

Here's the report...

I have been anticipating for several months now the brother’s invitation to go to the Welsh Grand National meeting at Chepstow less than two National trips from his home in South Wales, so it was good to hear that racing was actually on just seconds after we shelled out our cash to join the large and enthusiastic crowd. Armed with a good commentary on the likely National field from PG Tips, and a good check on the rest of the runners that morning, hopes were high for a good day.

As the only regular, if now lapsed, punter in the group comprising one sister one daughter and the one and only Mrs N I dutifully explained how to read form, what C and D meant, the significance of the going and that the usual suspects such as AP McCoy and P Nicholls were unlikely to go away empty-handed. Against my better judgement I was persuaded to join in the spirit of the day and bet on the first race which I had studiously ignored as it was a six horse beginners race. Swiftly spotting the value I opted for Starburst Diamond and, repaying my faith, he was in just the right position coming to the turn but forgot about the impending jump. There were only two fallers at the entire meeting - I had picked one of them. Now I know why in the past I stuck to the Flat. My horses need all the help they can get; putting obstacles in the way doesn’t help. To add insult to injury the sister backed the winner, Mark the Book, based on the sensible reasoning that she has a friend called Mark!

Full result:,12658,350833,00.html

Form and Experience 0 Random Selections 1

Much better field for the second race which I had studied and concluded that Buck the Legend was as good a chance as any and at a reasonable price. Daughter meanwhile opted for Magic Sky persuaded not so much by the tempting odds and promising form but because the jockey’s name was the same as one of her best friends. She soon learned that form and experience are better guides than the jockey’s name as Magic Sky trailed the field for most of the race whilst Buck the Legend was handily placed throughout. In the long and punishing finishing straight I was just explaining to the daughter that Mr Tips had suggested that the course was too tough for any horse to come from behind to win, as Magic Sky found a sprinter's turn of foot and ran away with the race. A veteran of two Royal Ascots including one where she actually watched some racing, this was her first winner and a nice lucrative one at that.

Full result:,12658,350834,00.html

Form and Experience 0 Random Selections 2

The brother (whom we whisper quietly is a banker) was enjoying his role of taking all of our money and investing it on our behalf in a range of sure fire winners offering enticing returns so it was no surprise that on the next race we all lost our investment whilst he backed an 8-1 winner Money Order not because it was a crafty JP McManus raider but because it had money in the name!

Full result:,12658,350835,00.html

Form and Experience 0 Random Selections 3

In the big race I referred to Mr Tips’s commentary and followed his advice looking for a good e/w bet and opted for one of his list of potentials, Kornati Kid, but also slipped a little bet on Silver by Nature based on my own research. The Kid was prominent for a long time raising hope and tracked Silver by Nature for most of the time. By the turn for the straight the Kid was shot but Silver by Nature had moved up to dispute the lead and had plenty in hand looking nailed on to repay my faith. All the grey had to do was clear the last which of course it hit, lost momentum and the race. A large family loss all round.

Full result:,12658,347307,00.html

Sang Bleu looked a Nicholls/McCoy certainty in the next race but the odds prohibitive so I intended to pass until I was told I had to have a go so I went with the favourite on the nose, where else? The wife meanwhile, unable to bet her preferred tip the non runner Hector’s House (don’t ask), switched at the last minute to Me Voici which of course beat mine in a driving finish after McCoy had somehow managed to hit the last hurdle probably burdened with my expectations.

Full result:,12658,350836,00.html

Form and Experience 0 Random Selections 4

Astonishingly, or inevitably depending on who you are, exactly the same thing happened in the next race. The wife, getting the hang of it now, beat me to the McCoy mount so I looked for value lower down the pecking order and opted for Volador which had good form and had raced here before. It proved my only drag of the day at 9-2 and my third 2nd place whilst Mrs N cleaned up again with Be There in Five.

Full result:,12658,350837,00.html

Form and Experience 0 Random Selections 5

And finally to put the tin hat on it the brother showing just how banking works put a few bob of his previous winnings on Crannagmore Boy which romped home for his second win of the day. Mine is still running I think. Why did he pick this one? Because it was running in gold, the colour that Wolves play in and his mate supports Wolves!!! From now on I am choosing horses by the colour of the jockeys socks - I can’t do much worse.

Full result:,12658,350838,00.html

Final Score
Form and Experience 0 Random Selections 6

Despite this and the bitter cold, a brilliant day out at a very nice friendly course which even offered decent real ale. There was a fine tribute to the Welsh Guards who turned out to loud applause and Land Of My Fathers was sung beautifully by Sara Kempe before the big race. Shame about the losses. So what’s running tomorrow….

Footnote - I'm thinking of offering Mrs N a month's trial -PG.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Sandown's Tolworth meeting

Cheltenham went ahead today after surviving three (?) inspections. Tomorrow's Tolworth meeting at Sandown has to survive a 7.30 am inspection - 95% of the course isn't covered so it must be odds against racing. I've been hit by a particularly nasty dose of the manflu with the result that I'm bailing out here and now and going straight to bed (with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label). I know this is the first post of the decade and I realise, dear reader, this lays me open to plenty of disrespect on your part - did I hear the term 'wuss' muttered in the background? Quite frankly, I have to say, I'm beyond caring...

Normal service to be resumed as soon as possible....