Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bits and pieces...

 Regular readers will know that Cheltenham was something of an unmitigated disaster for yours truly this year but a couple more points come to mind... Full marks to Ruby Walsh on two scores. Firstly, Walsh, who had dropped his whip just before the final flight in the World Hurdle, knew Big Buck's had saved his bacon and told it exactly as it was in the post-race interviews; secondly, the same jockey made a particular point of going to congratulate Gold Cup winning rider Sam Waley-Cohen as the horses circled waiting to return to the unsaddling enclosures. Well done Ruby Walsh on both counts.

The latest Cheltenham fashions included horse shoes that look like hooves which were available for purchase at £1,300 a pair. The latest extreme-sports craze is apparently 'horse-boarding' where a competitor stands on a skateboard and is pulled by horse at speeds up to 35 mph!

The best bit of news I heard at the this year's Festival - a colleague had recently purchased an annual membership badge at Hereford for just £100. With 19 fixtures scheduled throughout the year, that works out at £5.26 per meet - what a bargain!

The Daily Telegraph boasts a long, proud tradition of horse racing coverage and clearly Martin Smith has been delving into the their archives. Kings, Queens & Four-Legged Athletes: The Daily Telegraph Book Of Horse Racing was published recently and recalls many a memorable racing occasion. Available from Amazon at £13.79, free postage & packing thrown in.

Finally I have a confession to make. I'm not quite sure but I think I'm starting to develop a crush on the teacher taking Paddy Power's adult education class, in much the same way as Peter Kay has a fancy for Clare from work. Maffs has never been one of my stronger subjects (nor spellng for that matter), so I thought I'd join Victor (Meldrew?) and William (Hague?) and ask for the extra lessons. Of course, it's highly unlikely such classes, held weekly in Room 6B, will ever result in any improvement in the quality of the tips published here, but I'll let you know how I get on anyway.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Newbury one week after Cheltenham

One short week after Sam Waley-Cohen rode Long Run to victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, much of the press foucs moves to the Flat, with the Dubai World Cup meeting at Meydan and the Winter Derby at Lingfield.

I'm sticking with the jumpers at Newbury where the two mares' finales form the backbone of the card. Ten go in the novices' chase at 2.15 with Nicky Henderson's Kerada likely to be priced up favourite as she bids for a four-timer. I'm inclined to oppose on grounds of value alone and a quick look through the form shows that six of her seven wins to date have come when the word soft has appeared in the going; the exception was a bumper race in 2008. She beat Asturienne six lengths with something in hand at this course back in January but that one reopposes tomorrow with a 14 pound pull in the weights - the handicapper looks to have given Alan King's charge every chance. Having said that, writing in the Weekender, King doesn't rate her one of his best chances of the week although the hint is the cheekpieces helped at Plumpton last time (Evella well beaten) and they're applied again tomorrow. Trainer's comment: 'She has bags of ability.' The bottom two are set to carry more than their long handicap weight while the five-year-old Sway is declared doubtful. Cool Friend is priced up at 12/1 in the tissue and makes some appeal. You have to forgive her last run at Exeter where, after a mistake early on, she never featured and she has more a lot more second places to her name (seven) than wins (three) but she should appreciate the better ground. I'll back Cool Friend each way provided she's priced up around the 12/1 mark.

The mares' novices' hurdle finale looks difficult. Nicky Henderson won this last year with Ryde Back; this year he saddles four of the 18 runners with stable jock Barry Geraghty aboard Line Freedom. I'll sit this one out.

In the opener Two Kisses is consistent and a good yardstick but she's had a long season and you suspect something will come to beat her. Moose Moran was well behind the filly the last time but prior to that Nicky Henderson's grey had finished fourth to Kumbeshwar at Sandown - that one went down a neck to What A Charm in the Fred Winter at the Festival. At one point connections were thinking of the Triumph Hurdle for Moose Moran who held a rating of 100 on the Flat; Moose Moran is given another chance.

Two jockey bookings catch the eye in the 3.25 - Ruby Walsh on Maktu and Barry Geraghty on Theatre Dance while two trainers stand out on recent form - Charlie Longsdon (Rey Nacarado) has had six winners and six seconds from 22 runners in the past fortnight while David Arbuthnot has sent out three winners and a second from his last five runners. Winterwood finished second to Bai Zhu earlier today so wouldn't be certain to take part but Ogee will have his supporters after finishing fourth in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster three weeks ago. Theatre Dance should handle the ground - he gets a tentative vote in a trappy-looking affair provided he's priced around 7/1.

Kid Cassidy looks the one in the John Haine Memorial Novices' Hurdle but he'll be no price while in the bumper I'll keep an eye on Jumps Road who was well-beaten behind Ericht (subsequently sixth in Festival bumper) and Bygones In Brid (18th in Festival bumper) last time but looked more suited to this distance at Fontwell the time before. Word is Broomfield is highly-regarded but the gelding was slightly disappointing here three weeks ago.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Champion Chase Day 2011 - a perspective

We received an early reminder on the crowded train to Cheltenham that, with St Patrick's Day falling on Thursday, Wednesday was Ladies' Day at this year's Festival. Two smartly dressed members of the fairer sex stood right next to us and promptly took off their heels, thereby revealing carelessly painted toenails and assorted bunions; all of a sudden the 'full English' started to weigh a little heavier on the stomach...

The Virgin ticket inspector, a polite wag, politely asked passengers to remove bags off seats so that 'some of the humans could sit down'. The train pulled in on time, the ladies slipped their heels back on and everyone left the station with an air of keen anticipation. My colleague and I had decided to walk to the track, taking liquid refreshment at The Rotunda Tavern along the way, where the Guinness went down well and was very reasonably priced.

On the long run to the course we were bombarded by leaflets, free offers and the like. A charming young lady with long blonde hair approached and promptly gave me (and several others) a scarf, dubious yellow in colour, with Betfair written on it in large black lettering. This struck me as something of an ambush marketing stunt; racing is certainly less strict than some other sporting events I've attended (Wimbledon, for example) where you're obliged to discard offending freebies or entry is forbidden. As soon as I was on course a punter came and enquired where I'd acquired my scarf. 'You're not going to believe this', I replied, 'but a smiling young lady approached me on the way up here and just gave it to me.' Barely seems plausible, does it? Just for half a second I think he thought I was having a laugh...

On The Morning Line one layer had reported Tuesday's turnover down 50%. The ring in Tatts felt half full on Wednesday. Ten minutes before the RSA, I saw something that would have been nigh on impossible in years gone by - a woman freely wheeled a child in a buggy between the various bookmakers' pitches. She stopped at one as the youngster seemed particularly interested in AiteenThirtythree at 15/2, yet right next door the same horse was available at 17/2. Tsk, tsk.

A paddock tip before the first, ' of the greys will win...', proved prescient; I just wasn't cute enough to take it seriously. Oscars Well travelled extremely well in the next and was considered the moral victor by many but there was a surfeit of disappointed backers when Bostons Angel fought back to beat Jessies Dream a neck in the RSA.

A feature of the Champion Chase market was the strength behind Master Minded who went off 2/1 favourite; I was surprised as last year Ruby had indicated that the gelding appeared reluctant to let himself down on quicker ground. Blog selection Big Zeb looked to have seen off that particular threat two from home but he had no answer to Sizing Europe after the last. My colleague, attending the Festival for the first time, was on the winner at 10/1, or so I thought... Meeting up after the race, I gave him the thumbs up but there was an air of abject dejection that told me all was not well. Distracted by placing a bet on French Opera for his partner, he'd quoted the wrong racecard number to the layer and only realised after the off; he'd mistakenly bet Master Minded instead of Sizing Europe and had only checked his partner's ticket. I wasn't too hard on him as years ago I'd done something similar at Ludlow except on that occasion I was lucky enough to collect on the mistaken wager. Back at the office the next day others were less forgiving, describing the mishap as 'a schoolboy error'. It was the closest we came to a winner all day.

Carlito Brigante won the Coral Cup in something of a common canter but if I heard a later tannoy announcement correctly, jockey Davy Russell weighed in two pounds heavier than he had weighed out. That generated some discussion on the terraces.

The most stirring finish of the day was in the Fred Winter where What A Charm, in receipt of more than a stone from Kumbeshwar, prevailed by a neck; by this time my back had gone and the legs were about to follow suit.

A number of runners in the bumper were skitty beforehand and reluctant to go to post. Willie Mullins' Lord Gale threw amateur jockey Mr P W Mullins right in front of us. The chestnut gelding was loose for a while and when eventually remounted was still very reluctant; in the race he pulled up inside the final furlong. Winner Cheltenian cost £210,000, Ann and Alan Potts' Go All The Way cost £310,000 - this one was noted doing his best work in the final four furlongs. 33/1 chance Aupcharlie caught the eye and looked a possible winner at one point while Harry Rednapp's Bygones In Brid finished well down the field in 18th but was described by Alan King as the best he has ever entered in this event.

Stories were swapped in The Centaur after racing. There it dawned on me that, had I undertaken the racecourse's offer - pay full Tatts price for a ticket and get a full refund if a lady trains a winner - I would have been entitled to the refund; Jessica Harrington trained the RSA winner Bostons Angel. In Thursday's Times Alan Lee reported 250 spectators had taken up the offer and that had cost the racecourse £10,000.

Not much luck on an overcast day but the Guinness was good and, no doubt, I'll do it all again next year.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Midlands Grand National 2011

After Long Run's historic win at Cheltenham earlier today, the racing roadshow moves on with the Midlands Grand National the feature at Uttoxeter tomorrow. 18 runners face the starter where the going is described as soft, good to soft in places. I'm guessing the ground will be pretty tacky as it has been drying out for a few days now. Top weight Synchronised won this last year but carries another seven pounds on this occasion and has to give a minimum of 13 pounds to the rest of the field - it looks a big ask. Synchronised's victory apart, in the previous eight runnings the biggest weight the winner has shouldered is 10-9; half the field have to carry more than their allotted handicap weight but in 2002 The Bunny Boiler was nine pounds out of the handicap when winning at odds of 5/1. Paul Nicholls' Tricky Trickster has had a breathing operation since we last saw him in November and has the Aintree National as his target. Companero took the Eider at Newcastle three short weeks ago in atrocious ground (Belon Gale and Ballyfoy pulled up) - he's 11 now and may not have had sufficient time to recover. I like Richard Lee's diminutive gelding Le Beau Bai; ideally he needs more rain in the ground and does find himself getting detached in his races but at 12/1 with Skybet he's worth an each-way wager in a difficult-looking event - the majority of layers are offering a quarter the odds four places.

Burnt fingers

An old boss of mine used to say, 'If you've got bad news, look them in the eye and give it to them straight.' So here goes - the profit/loss figures for the blog's highlighted selections at this year's Festival to a £1 level stake (as always, settled at SP):

Peddlers Cross WIN 9/2 - second
Medermit WIN 11/4f - fourth
Banjaxed Girl E/W 8/1 - seventh

Big Zeb WIN 3/1 - second
Aiteen Thirtythree WIN 8/1 - pulled up
The Giant Bolster E/W 20/1 - unseated rider
So Young WIN 2/1f - third

Grand Crus WIN 7/2 - second
Fiveforthree E/W 12/1 - eighth
Knockara Beau E/W 33/1 - fourth; returned 4.62

Imperial Commander WIN 4/1 - pulled up
What A Friend E/W 25/1 - fourth
Kilcrea Kim E/W 6/1 - fifth

Total wagered: £13.00
Total returned: £4.62
Profit/loss -£8.38
Loss as % of turnover 64.46%

The figures make for grim reading, with not one single winner all week; Knockara Beau's fine fourth in the Pertemps Final prevented a complete whitewash. The performances of note (!) finished second - Peddlers Cross, Big Zeb and Grand Crus, while What A Friend ran a stormer in the Gold Cup but failed by a nose to make third.

I'm away to sit in the corner and lick my wounds.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cheltenham Festival 2011 - Friday

Friday's Gold Cup is the highlight of the whole meeting; here's a couple of stats for starters... Last ten-year-old to win the race - Cool Dawn (1998); last horse older than ten to win - What A Myth (1969); last six-year-old to win - Mill House (1963); last amateur rider to win - Mr Jim Wilson aboard Little Owl in 1981. Last year's winner Imperial Commander is sure to put up a stern defence of his title this year - the current champion has won four of his five chase starts at this track. Long Run is a precocious talent and his performance in the King George was exceptional; his jumping was much better on that occasion and he has to be considered a serious contender. Having said that, the current price of 5/1 offers no real value and if it's close on the run up the hill, amateur pilot Sam Waley-Cohen is likely to be outfought by a professional jock. I prefer Kauto Star to Denman on this ground - I always thought Denman better with cut underfoot; it will be crucial for Kauto to get into a rhythm early on. It looks very open this year - I'm going to side with Imperial Commander (9/2 this evening with William Hill). From the outsiders I've considered both China Rock and What A Friend in the past few weeks. The former doesn't look guaranteed to stay - the majority opinion in discussions with colleagues after racing yesterday was Mouse Morris' gelding was unlikely to see out the trip. That being the case, I'll take a small each-way interest in What A Friend, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson. This one is entitled to improve on the better ground; although he's been called some names in the past, he's not without ability and the fitting of first-time blinkers should help. Coral are currently offering 40/1.

I fancied Bobs Worth for Wednesday's Neptune but connections preferred the Albert Bartlett instead. He's no value at around 3/1 and has yet to race over this distance; I'll bet Kilcrea Kim each-way (10/1 Coral).

Invariably the Triumph is a rough race; you could make a case for several which is why I won't be getting involved. Let's just hope we see a great renewal of the Gold Cup in 2011, Cheltenham's centenary year.

Quick picks on World Hurdle day 2011

No winners and too many Guinness at Cheltenham yesterday - report to follow.

Strapped for time, so just a couple of tentative suggestions for St Patrick's Day...

World Hurdle: I'll chance Grand Crus (currently 100/30 at William Hill) against favourite Big Buck's and take an each-way interest in Fiveforthree (14/1 Paddy Power).

Pertemps Hurdle: Knockara Beau each-way (25/1).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cheltenham Festival 2011 - Wednesday

Wednesday's feature is the Champion Chase due off at 3.20. On ratings there's little to choose between 2009 winner Master Minded and last year's victor Big Zeb. Normally in such circumstances I would tend to favour the younger horse, Master Minded, but ten-year-old Big Zeb doesn't have a lot of miles on the clock and will appreciate the good ground. Last year Master Minded finished a well-beaten fourth in this - immediately after the race Ruby Walsh indicated his mount may have been feeling the quicker ground. Paul Jones unearthed an interesting stat in his Cheltenham Betting Guide - of the last 12 Arkle winners to contest this race the following year five have won, five have finished second and two have claimed third spot; Sizing Europe is 9/1 with Coral this evening and makes some appeal as an each-way wager. There's a suspicion Somersby may get outpaced but then stay on up the hill while Woolcombe Folly has progressed rapidly through the season and has some more to find here. Captain Cee Bee isn't lightly dimissed and was regarded by McCoy as his best chance of a winner at last year's Festival; in the event the gelding finished down the field in the Arkle after breaking a blood vessel. Having said all that he was beaten just under eight lengths by Big Zeb in December; Big Zeb is taken to repeat last year's win.

Time For Rupert is the clear form choice and favourite for the RSA Chase at 2.40. He has been touted as banker material by many with the result the market has had a lop-sided look to it for months. Tonight they bet 9/1 the field bar one; that looks tempting. Picking holes in Rupert's case isn't easy but he would prefer more cut underfoot and he did miss an intended engagement at Cheltenham in January due to a low-grade infection. On official ratings Paul Nicholls' Aiteen Thirtythree has just two pounds to find with the favourite yet the picture is complicated somewhat by Walsh opting to ride Mikael D'haguenet for Willie Mullins - Nicholls appeared particularly frustrated by that decision. Wymott is interesting in first time cheekpieces and I have to give a mention to blog favourite The Giant Bolster who may find them going a bit fast on quicker ground but will certainly stay the trip - connections are convinced they have the makings of a Gold Cup horse. I'm going out on a limb here - in the past both Mikael D'haguenet and Aiteen Thirtythree haven't totally convinced with their jumping but of the two I prefer Aiteen Thirtythree (9/1 Coral) as a play against the favourite and I'll take an each-way chance with The Giant Bolster (18/1 Paddy Power).

In the Neptune Nicky Henderson's Bobs Worth looked something to have a bet on in this but the yard has declared Minella Class instead; Bobs Worth appears to be heading for the Albert Bartlett on Friday. In which case I'm not inclined to oppose the Irish runners - I'll side with Willie Mullins' market leader So Young.

Others sporting each-way chances I'll consider on course: Aberdale in the opener - Skybet pay a quarter the odds four places in this race; Ballyhaunis in the Coral Cup at 16/1 (most firms paying a quarter the odds five places) and Raise The Beat who'll handle underfoot conditions in the concluding bumper - Harry Redknapp's Bygones In Brid is a 25/1 chance in the same race...

Good luck everyone!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cheltenham Festival 2011 - Tuesday

Tomorrow the show begins... The Festival is a marathon not a sprint - in the past a cautious approach on the first day has served quite well. This year there are more temptations than normal, with the bookmakers already talking about impending doom if the four favourites oblige (Cue Card, Medermit, Menorah and Quevega); such talk looks like a layers' ploy to increase turnover.

Even without defending champion Binocular, the Champion Hurdle (3.20) is a very open race. Of the market leaders I much prefer Menorah and the unbeaten Peddlers Cross. Top-rated Hurricane Fly may want more cut, a comment that also applies to Oscar Whisky, while Dunguib has had an interrupted preparation. Khyber Kim's second in last year's race reads well but on official ratings Mille Chief has a bit to make up with several of these and five-year-olds have a poor record in the race. Peddlers Cross did the blog a favour at this meeting last year so Peddlers Cross (9/2 with Stan James this evening) gets the nod.

Favourites don't have a good record in the Arkle (2.05) recording just one win in the last ten runnings (Azertyuiop in 2003) but the biggest priced winner in that time was 9/1 chance Well Chief (2004) so the market has been a reasonable guide. On the book it looks between Medermit, Ghizao and Finian's Rainbow with Irish raider Realt Dubh respected. Alan King has been bullish about Medermit in the build-up and there was plenty to like about his victory over two and a half miles at Sandown the last time as he travelled and jumped well. Ghizao is top-rated but owner Andy Stewart believes Medermit is the one to beat. Finian's Rainbow didn't impress with his fencing at Warwick and appears to have drifted in the betting today. Medermit is the selection.

In the opener (1.30) I'm a Cue Card fan but won't be getting involved at around 2/1. Interesting to see Ruby Walsh on Nicholls' Al Ferof while connections of Marsh Warbler have taken this option rather than Friday's Triumph Hurdle as the ground is likely to have more cut. The four-year-old is one I like but has it all to do racing against his elders here.

Trends for the 2.40 point to a horse that is fairly prominent in the market and carries less than 11 stones - both Reve De Sivola and Sunnyhillboy fit the profile but neither looks guaranteed to stay. I wondered whether Razor Royale was showing signs of coming back to form last time at Kempton.

Having won the last two renewals of the mares' hurdle (4.40) Quevega is unsurprisingly priced up favourite. On official ratings Banjaxed Girl is the next best in the race - she makes some appeal each-way at 14/1 (Betfred). Sam Twiston-Davies rides although I note stable jockey Paddy Brennan is on the shorter-priced L'accordioniste who disappointed at Ascot where she didn't jump well but the mare is quite clearly held in high regard.

Three selections for tomorrow in an attempt to keep my powder dry for Wednesday...

Good luck everyone but remember the old saying - Beware the Ides of March - the day Julius Caesar was killed in 44 B.C.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sensational start to Festival week

Something of a sensation at the start to Festival week with Tuesday's Champion Hurdle favourite Binocular withdrawn from the race on the advice of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). Having received legitimate medication for the treatement of an allergy, Binocular continued to test positive for the substance over the weekend; connections were left with little choice but to withdraw their charge as it appears clear the horse would have tested positive for the banned substance had he defended his title in the Champion. This was probably the last thing trainer Nicky Henderson wanted following his three month ban and £40,000 fine, having being found guilty of administering an anti-bleeding drug to The Queen's hurdler, Moonlit Path, a year ago. The vet in that affair, James Main, was later struck off by The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Several layers have agreed to refund ante-post bets on Binocular while Betfair has declared void bets struck on the horse between 0800 and 1000 on Sunday morning.

Revised Champion Hurdle betting this evening: Menorah 100/30 favourite (bet365), Hurricane Fly 7/2, PeddlersCross 4/1, Oscar Whisky 8/1, Khyber Kim 12/1, Mille Chief 14/1. Of the market leaders, the price about Mille Chief is the one that appears to have contracted the least. Spare a thought too for Paul Townend who has done nothing wrong in riding Hurricane Fly to victory three times this season but he finds himself riding Willie Mullins' second string Thousand Stars while Ruby Walsh takes over on Hurricane Fly.

Talking of Ruby Walsh, earlier in the week I received what appeared to be a letter from the man himself and this afternoon he actually rang me up! Of course, he competely ignored everything I said on the phone but insisted I took out a subscription to Racing UK and pointed out I could win my subscription back with RUK's 'Ruby Tuesday' promotion. It's that time of the racing year - more offers than you can shake a stick at.

Additional snippets...

Geraghty has chosen Spirit Son in the first race on the first day
McCoy picks up the ride on Sprinter Sacre in the same race
Aegean Dawn is now likely to run in Wednesday's Coral Cup
Imperial Cup winner Alarazi is favourite for Friday's County Hurdle (8/1 totesport)
Choc Thornton rides Neptune Collonges in the Gold Cup, Daryl Jacob What A Friend
Tranquil Sea misses Thursday's Ryanair after a bad scope
Paddy Power offers to refund losing bets on the first race if Cue Card wins
Sam Winner is set to run in Friday's Triumph Hurdle.

With 3mm rain last night, the going on the Old Course has been eased to good to soft, good in places. A drop of rain would enhance Khyber Kim's chance in Tuesday's Champion Hurdle according to connections speaking on Saturday's Morning Line.

As always in Festival week, I aim to post selections the night before racing. I'm going to Cheltenham on Wednesday this year so will post Thursday's picks on Thursday morning. Below - profit/loss figures for the blog's highlighed selections to a £1 level stake over the past four years (just to give you an idea what you might be letting yourself in for...):

2010 +£5.75
2009 +£7.50
2008 - £4.99
2007 +£6.45

Of course, past performance is no guide whatsoever to future performance...

And finally... The lead property for sale in the 'Bricks And Mortar' supplement of Friday's Times was A.P. McCoy's 'lavish home' Lodge Down House. Amongst other features the property boasts a games room, a family room, a boot room as well as TVs in two bathrooms. 'The McCoys are splitting the estate to build a house and racing stable complex and are selling Lodge Down House with ... the best 38 acres of land.' A.P. looking to the future and contemplating retirement from the saddle perhaps? The property comes with a £2.5 million price tag - I had booked an appointment with my mortgage adviser for tomorrow morning but unfortunately it appears I've been beaten to it - the property is already under offer.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Washing machine failure provides timely boost to betting bank

I can't quite believe it - a tale for those who might be persuaded that insurance salesmen are little more than glorified bookmakers. On Tuesday our Bosch washing machine stopped working with three short weeks left on its extended warranty. Chief washing machine operative, Mrs Tips, logged a call with the helpline; a washing machine engineer appeared, took one look at the aforementioned piece of equipment and without hesitation declared it a write-off. The terms of the extended warranty state that if a repair cannot be effected, a new replacement machine will be provided. Now I know the more churlish amongst you will point out that my extended warranty premiums will have contributed to the purchase of the new machine but there's no getting away from the fact it *feels* like I've just bagged myself a free washing machine that would have cost in the region of £350 to replace, and all this in the week before Cheltenham. Those funds can now be diverted to the betting bank before the scheduled trip to the Cheltenham races on Wednesday; perhaps there is a God after all...

I'm not tempted to risk any of those gains at Sandown tomorrow where 24 go in the feature, the Imperial Gold Cup. Ante-post favourite Aegean Dawn has been withdrawn following a lacklustre performance on the gallops earlier in the week; apparently it's now doubtful whether he'll turn up for either of his Festival appointments, the Coral Cup on Wednesday or the County Hurdle on Friday, although this evening layers still quote Henderson's charge 8/1 for the Coral Cup and 10/1 joint favourite for the County. All that puts David Pipe's Arrayan firmly in tomorrow's spotlight. A £75,000 bonus is paid to a horse that wins the Imperial and then goes on to win any race at the Festival - the Pipe yard has pulled the trick off in the past with Olympian (1993), Blowing Wind (1998) and Gaspara (2007). There's (perhaps a bit more than) a hint the yard has left top weight Ronaldo Des Mottes in here to keep Arrayan's weight down - if Ronaldo was a non-runner, the weights would rise seven pounds and give Arrayan a burden of 11-1; as it is the gelding has 10-8 to carry with Barry Geraghty deputising for suspended Tom Scudamore. In the past decade only two horses have carried more more than 11 stones to victory - Polar Red (11-1) in 2002 and Korelo (11-6) in 2003, both trained by... Martin Pipe! The yard has taken five of the last ten runnings and is primarily responsible for the fact that six favourites have obliged in the same timeframe. Via Galilei will be popular having hurdled fluently and won with his head in his chest at Newbury last week - the gelding holds an entry in the County Hurdle, as does course and distance winner Song Of Songs who didn't appear to enjoy chasing but definitely prefers a right-handed track and is 40/1 this evening. Owned by J P McManus, I suppose we should take the hint if the price contracts sharply... If you're tempted, note that several layers pay a quarter the odds five places including Sky Bet, Betfred, Paddy Power and Stan James.

Starluck is long odds-on for the novice chase at 4.10. I'll watch his jumping closely on this particularly trappy course for novices; if all goes well, he heads to Aintree.

Other Festival updates in brief...

Weird Al (Ian Williams) goes in the Gold Cup (40/1 Coral)
So Young (Willie Mullins) now heads the market for the Neptune (7/2 generally)
Choc Thornton rides Somersby in the Champion Chase - spare a thought for Hadden Frost
Our Girl Salley (Prunella Dobbs) misses Cheltenham after a bad scope
Bothy (Brian Ellison) is set to run in the Coral Cup
Zaynar (Nicky Henderson) goes for the World Hurdle (20/1 in places)
Planet Of Sound (P. Hobbs) is likely to miss the Gold Cup
Brian Ellison will wait until Monday before deciding Marsh Warbler's target

And finally...
The Cheltenham Old Course was watered for a second consecutive day today.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Pre-Cheltenham chit-chat

In brief...

Riverside Theatre misses the Ryanair - a hairline fracture of the pelvis has been diagnosed;

Earlier in the week Diamond Harry suffered an injury and misses the Gold Cup;

Connections of Starluck have decided to swerve the Arkle, prefering to go to Sandown on Friday and then on to Aintree;

Doncaster winner Montbazon misses the Festival bumper and heads to Aintree instead;

Newbury winner Fine Parchment has the Topham Chase as his target;

Coral, bet365 and Paddy Power now offer non-runner no bet on all Festival races;

Jason Maguire's ban has been reduced - he rides Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle;

A stat from Paul Jones: in last year's Festival handicaps just nine of the 44 win/place positions were filled by horses starting at under 10/1;

Another Paul Jones stat: Of the last 12 Arkle winners to contest the Champion Chase the following year, 5 have won, 5 have finished second and two have taken third spot - Sizing Europe is 14/1 with bet365.

Cheltenham going is now reported as good to soft;

And with St Patrick's Day just around the corner, Heinz have launched HP Guinness Sauce - jolly tasty it is too!

Last night I spent an hour or so on the phone talking Cheltenham horses with a fellow racegoer. He was of the opinion that Willie Mullins' 2008 Neptune winner Fiveforthree offered decent each-way value in the World Hurdle - William Hill bet 16/1 this evening which looks tempting.

Ian King, Business Editor at The Times, writing in Saturday's paper... 'The Cheltenham Festival doesn't start until a week on Tuesday, but one could be forgiven for spotting jostling in the stalls yesterday at Aviva's results presentation.' Starting stalls? At the Cheltenham Festival? Tut, tut.

Here's a (not-totally comprehensive) list of racing people mentioned in the The Times' Sport Power 100 - a countdown of sport's most influential people; last year's position is shown in brackets.

21 (7) Sir Alex Ferguson, owner
24 (15) Sheikh Mohammed, Godolphin owner
31 (new) David and Simon Reuben, Northern Racing owners
36 (95) Rio Ferdinand, owner
42 (76) Ralph Topping, William Hill chief executive
43 (64) Harry Rednapp, owner
54 (new) Simon Bazalgette, Jockey Club Racecourses chief executive
68 (70) Nic Coward, Chief executive, BHA
87 (77) Edward Wray and Andrew Black, co-founders, Betfair.

Finally, looking a little further ahead, as part of the Racing For Change initiative 25 racecourses are offering free admission to their fixtures in April. That has to be worth a look, doesn't it? The final free meeting takes place at Doncaster on Friday 29th April, the day of the Royal Wedding; Alan Lee reports in Saturday's Times that all the free tickets for that particular meeting are likely to have been snapped up by the end of this week (and it's not hard to see why...) If you've missed the boat, don't worry - other meetings are scheduled at Leicester, Perth, Fontwell and Bangor-On-Dee (where a paddock ticket will set you back £17). That looks a small price to pay if it means you avoid all the media hullabaloo that surrounds any Royal Wedding - I'm off to order mine right now!

Friday, March 04, 2011

North and South selections

With Cheltenham a little over a week away, I'm never quite sure what to make of the intervening Saturday cards...

Newbury's meeting in support of Greatwood tops the bill but it looks a jolly difficult card with 17 set to contest the highlight, the Wiltshire County Show Supporting Greatwood Gold Cup Handicap Chase. If I had to nominate one at the meeting, I'd keep a look out for Benbane Head in the opener. This one was put up by Peter Naughton as a free tip for the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham five weeks ago. In the event the chestnut gelding was declared a non-runner but he holds Festival entries in the World Hurdle and the Pertemps Final. Naughton had thought Keighley's charge was destined for the Albert Bartlett but the handler seems quite sweet on stablemate Champion Court for that particular event. It's worth noting that Barry Geraghty rides two for Henderson, Silicium and Oasis Knight, at Kempton before dashing to Newbury where he rides another two for Henderson and Gus Macrae for Rebecca Curtis. McCoy travels in the opposite direction, riding four at Newbury before travelling to Kempton to partner Nomansland for, er, Nicky Henderson!

11 go in the feature at Doncaster, the Grimthorpe Handicap Chase at 3.15. The going is described as good and a few of these are likely to appreciate the better ground including Ogee, Merigo, Character Building and favourite Presenting Forever whose trainer Howard Johnson fears former charge Killyglen. In an open event I'll take a small each-way interest in Character Building. At the age of 11 there's a suspicion his best years could be behind him but the stable are in fine form at the moment; Coral, Hill and Stan James offer 14/1 this evening which is bigger than most prices on the exchanges. In the Weekender Alan King has a word for Montbazon in the bumper (4.25) - he was expecting a strong challenge from Paul Nicholls' Broomfield but that one goes in the finale at Newbury and could represent a play against likely favourite Hit The Headlines there. On the back of comments made in a stable tour article last month, I'm going to forgive Colin Tizzard's Theatrical Star his last effort at Hereford and take an each-way interest provided the price is big enough.

At Kelso the Trevor Hemmings owned BallaBriggs, currently second in the market for this year's National, is favoured by the race conditions and is the one to beat in the 3.40 but he's priced accordingly. Jimmy Moffat's stats for the season make grim reading with just one win from 92 runs but the handler seems bullish enough about his charge Chief Dan George - at around 11/2 I'll take the chance. In the 4.15 Storm Brig has three pounds to find with Desert Cry on official ratings but I prefer Alistair Whillans' bay in what looks a competitive event.