Friday, March 28, 2014

Two low-key jumpers

The Flat takes centre stage this weekend with big meetings at Doncaster and Dubai, while Stratford and Uttoxeter offer more humble fare over the sticks.

Two jumpers caught my passing interest, both declared to run at Warwick a week last Wednesday but both withdrawn, possibly on account of quicker ground.

Prouts Pub (Stratford 1.55) had previously won a bumper on the all-weather at Lingfield. He has his first run for Nick Gifford who has sent out three winners from just 10 runners this month. Likely favourite Massena sets a reasonable standard off a mark of 128 but was beaten at Taunton on Monday.

Miss Lucky Penny (Uttoxeter 3.55) was withdrawn from the mares' handicap hurdle won impressively by Polly Peachum. Previously she had been beaten threequarters of a length by Wily Fox on her handicap debut at Warwick and connections have decided to have another go - Will Kennedy replaces five pound claimer R J McCarth in the saddle. At the weights there's little between the pair but I'm guessing Miss Lucky Penny will be ridden closer to the pace this time...

Friday, March 21, 2014

Polly, Molly and the Midnight Lights...

A couple of months back I managed to bag myself a couple of free tickets to Warwick races; I asked my youngest offspring if she cared to accompany me to their final jumps meeting of the season on Wednesday and she answered in the affirmative.

A spot of lunch in the Zetland Arms, washed down with a selection of our favourite beverages, was followed by a short stroll to the course just in time for the opener.

Warwick (something of a favourites' course? Five out of seven obliged on this card...) hasn't been particularly kind over the years but the night before I thought I'd winkled out something to have a bet on in the shape of Polly Peachum in the mares' handicap hurdle. The Racing Post tissue said 7/1 but unfortunately Kevin Morley ran a piece in sister publication RP Weekender on the Wednesday morning which highlighted her chance.

In the paddock beforehand Polly took a particularly keen interest in the spectators who reciprocated that interest by backing her in to 3/1 favourite.

Out on the track she appreciated the better ground (good to firm in places) and scooted up the home straight to win unchallenged by some 14 lengths. With a mares' listed handicap already to her name, she was entitled to win this Class 4 event as she did; the time however was slower than the opening maiden hurdle.

All of which led me to take a closer look at the mares' listed race at Newbury tomorrow (2.55).

Top weight Toubeera stands her ground but has to give at least 13 pounds to her field; the bottom six race off a mark higher than their long handicap rating (although in some instances this is negated by a conditional jockey's claim).

In the past decade a five or six year old has taken the spoils on nine occasions while three trainers boast a decent recent record (or perhaps I should say a recent decent record) - Nicky Henderson, Oliver Sherwood and Alan King.

Henderson saddles Polly Peachum's stablemate Free Thinking. This one was beaten by Molly's A Diva in a Sandown bumper on heavy ground last year but Molly finished well behind Alan King's Midnight Cataria over three miles at Ludlow the last day.

King's other runner The Pirate Queen held Oliver Sherwood's Luci Di Mezzanotte (pig Latin / Italian translation: Midnight Lights) a head in a Taunton bumper last year; the last day Luci finished fourth, seven lengths adrift of Toubeera in third, over three miles at Doncaster and is weighted to turn that form around. Previously she was beaten 19 lengths by Woodland Walk, second to Polly Peachum in Wednesday's race.

Polly, Molly and the Midnight Lights, and I haven't even managed to mention Lily, Joanne or Mrs Peachey yet - it's all a trifle confusing...

The Sporting Life tips up Luci Di Mezzanotte and that tip reminded me the mare was on my radar last year.

At 20/1 Luci Di Mezzanotte is the each-way selection in Newbury's 2.55.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - betting debrief

A little self-depreciation, it's good for the soul - here's a record of the blog's highlighted selections to returned SPs over the four days of the Festival...

Tuesday                                                    RET
My Tent Or Yours   2nd    3/1    1pt WIN  0.00
Vaniteux                  3rd   11/1   0.5pt EW 1.88

Red Sherlock           9th     7/2   1pt WIN  0.00
Sam Winner             5th   12/1  0.5pt EW  0.00
Captain Conan        PU    7/2    1pt WIN  0.00

Dynaste                   1st    3/1    1pt WIN   4.00
Reve De Sivola        8th  33/1   0.5pt EW  0.00

Kings Palace           F     5/2      1pt WIN  0.00
Triolo D'Alene       10th  10/1   0.5pt EW 0.00

Total outlay: 9.00 pts
Total return:  5.88pts
Profit / loss: -3.12pts
Win strike rate: 11.11%
Loss as % of turnover: 34.67%

I harbour no plans of giving up the day job and, of course, I'll be doing it all again next year...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - Friday

Fourteen are set to face the starter in tomorrow's Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20), the highlight of the week.

On ratings last year's winner Bobs Worth has three pounds in hand over Silviniaco Conti, ten pounds over Last Instalment and more over the remainder of the field. Nicky Henderson's charge was beaten the best part of 40 lengths behind Cue Card on his seasonal debut in Haydock's Betfair Chase but bounced back to form to take the Lexus at Leopardstown. He remains unbeaten at Cheltenham in five runs.

In a TV interview Ruby Walsh told viewers that if the ground stays good, Bobs Worth wins, a reference to the fact that Silviniaco's chance would be better served by more cut underfoot. Bobs Worth looks the most likely winner but at around 2/1 Bobs Worth isn't worth a bet in my book and, to be honest, I'm struggling to find an each-way alternative at a price that makes some appeal.

McCoy has already given away the winners of the Champion Hurdle and the World Hurdle so far this week. In this race perhaps we shouldn't read too much into the fact he was released from the ride on Teaforthree by trainer Rebecca Curtis and has been snapped up by Nicky Henderson to steer the Hennessy winner Triolo D'Alene. This one worked well recently and still holds a Grand National entry... 20/1 for the Aintree showpiece next month, he's as low as 8/1 with Ladbrokes for this yet is rated some 22 pounds inferior to his stablemate.

Over the years The Giant Bolster has done this blog a good turn or two; on his day he's a talented individual (finished second at odds of 50/1 in the 2012 renewal) and he obliged nicely the last day but he's quirky and you can never be certain he'll turn up in the right mood. Tom Scudamore gets the best results but the jumping, fragile on occasions, could be shown up on quicker ground.

Triolo D'Alene (12/1 Paddy Power / bet365) is the best each-way shot I can come up with. At seven years of age there may be improvement to come and he'll certainly appreciate good ground.

The Albert Bartlett (2.40) is intriguing.

Briar Hill from Willie Mullins' yard puts his unbeaten record on the line; unsurprisingly he's a short price to emulate stablemates Vautour and Faugheen by coming home first in a novices' hurdle. The challenge from this side of the Irish Sea is headed by David Pipe's course and distance winner Kings Palace, Challow Hurdle winner Captain Cutter and Deputy Dan. The last-named took the Leamington Novices' Hurdle at Warwick in January but that day Mullins' Rathvinden (third in the Neptune on Wednesday) fell when well in contention and Killala Quay pulled up (subsequently fourth in the Neptune) which detracts a little from the form.

Quoting Mullins from the Weekender (5th March): 'He has to be one of our better hopes for the week.'

That said, on official ratings Kings Palace has nine pounds and upwards in hand over his field.

I've had my fingers burned earlier in the week opposing a Mullins hotpot (Faugheen) with a Pipe horse (Red Sherlock) but at the prices Kings Palace (7/2) is my play against the favourite while Captain Cutter's chance is respected.

And on the final day it's all to play for in the race for top rider with Walsh, Geraghty and Scudamore on three winners apiece...   

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - Thursday

The tips may have fallen by the wayside but one thing I did predict last night has come to pass - the price of my RP Weekender has gone up...

The aforementioned publication bills tomorrow's World Hurdle (3.20) an 'epic battle' between Annie Power and Big Buck's yet Annie Power has never raced over this trip while at the age of eleven, Big Buck's may not be as good as he once was. There are some fancy prices around - Celestial Halo, two and a half lengths second behind last year's winner Solwhit, is 25/1 while Reve De Sivola, fourth in the same race, is quoted at 33/1. Essentially that's because last year's race was run on heavy while this year the official going is currently described as 'good to soft' but is likely to ride quicker than that. Before this year's Cleeve Hurdle jockey Richard Johnson hinted Reve De Sivola had lost his chance in this event last year by having a hard race in the Cleeve so connections have been cute enough to make the necessary adjustments this time around.

The ground has gone against the horse but Reve De Sivola has done this blog a favour or two in the past and 33/1 (bet365) is just too big and too tempting...

For the brave only, Reve De Sivola is an each-way suggestion.

More Of That has been touted in a few quarters as a more circumspect each-way wager; that's certainly the case but the gelding isn't certain to stay the trip and was passed over by McCoy (favours At Fishers Cross) on the back of those doubts.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a report that Daryl Jacob had put up Al Ferof as his banker at the meeting. The Ryanair (2.40) will be no walk in the park with Benefficient and Dynaste, first and second in last year's Jewson, amongst the opponents. Dynaste disappointed badly when sent off 100/30 joint favourite for the King George at Kempton but he was found to be wrong that day and has had treatment on some pulled back muscles. If Dynaste is back to his best he looks the most likely winner; quoting David Pipe in the Weekender: '... he worked very well last Thursday - and in that case he will take some beating in the Ryanair Chase.'

On the back of that comment Dynaste gets the nod.

I haven't looked at the opener, the JLT Novices' Chase at 1.30, in any great detail but on ratings Oscar Whisky, a previous course and distance winner, is certainly worth a second glance - he's marked up at 6/1 with most bookmakers.                

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - Wednesday

At 5/2 Sire De Grugy heads the market for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at 3.20.

That's a short enough price about a horse that has been beaten on his two previous runs at the track (by Captain Conan in November 2012 and Kid Cassidy a year later), would prefer more cut underfoot and is probably better racing right-handed. Had Sprinter Sacre been in the line-up, Sire De Grugy wouldn't be running but that comment applies to a few in the field.

Captain Conan probably needed the outing when third to Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December but he hasn't been seen since; it's a worry he comes to this without a recent run. Kid Cassidy was receiving ten pounds when beating Sire De Grugy three and a quarter lengths in the Schloer Chase; the favourite looks weighted to reverse that form.

Just three favourites have obliged in the past decade and only one horse older than nine has won in the same timeframe, the great Moscow Flyer in 2005.

Somersby seems to have been around forever but is just ten years old and has been in decent form this term, winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter before finishing four lengths behind Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek. He unseated Dominic Elsworth in this race last year, a trick he repeated the last day at Ascot. Hardly an ideal preparation but you might say that is factored into a quote of 16/1...

I'll chance that Nicky Henderson has Captain Conan back to his best; both Coral and William Hill offer 5/1 this evening.

The RSA (2.05) has a decidedly open look to it with many of the fancied runners bringing relatively little chasing experience to the table - two or three runs in smallish fields is a comment that applies to  Ballycasey, Corrin Wood, Morning Assembly, Smad Place, Sam Winner and Le Bec.

You certainly cannot say the same about Carlingford Lough who won the Galway Plate last July and came home second in the Kerry National at Listowel in the autumn; he looked unfortunate to unseat last time in a race won by Ballycasey. The bigger prices have disappeared now though and only one eight year old has come home first in the past decade - Rule Supreme in 2004.

With the ground drying out, I'll take an each-way interest in Sam Winner (14/1 Coral).

In the past couple of weeks TheTimes' Andy Stephens has attended a few Festival Preview Nights in the company of Patrick Mullins, son of trainer Willie. Patrick is quoted in today's paper as saying: 'Faugheen is much better than Rathvinden...'

Faugheen is the top-rated animal in the Neptune at 1.30 but has been the subject of a couple of negative vibes here and there in the build-up while Red Sherlock beat Rathvinden two and half lengths in receipt of three pounds the last day. I was impressed with Red Sherlock then and will stay loyal to David Pipe's charge. A much-improved performance from Charlie Longsdon's Killala Quay is expected while Nicky Henderson's Royal Boy has been paid a compliment by stablemate Josses Hill (previously beaten 22 lengths by Faugheen in a bumper) who came home second in the Supreme earlier today.

Course and distance winner Red Sherlock (9/2 Paddy Power) gets the nod.

Finally, you know you're getting old when you see the Coral Cup entries headed by Dunguib at the ripe old age of eleven. It seems only yesterday he won the bumper by an astonishing ten lengths but all that happened way back in 2009...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - Tuesday

The highlight on the opening day is a vintage renewal of the Champion Hurdle (3.20).

On official ratings Hurricane Fly has six pounds in hand over his nearest rivals. He bids to become the first ten-year-old to win since Sea Pigeon in 1980; conversely, there are relatively few miles on the clock and many will be tempted by 3/1 available in several places. The New One was beaten by My Tent Or Yours at Kempton the last day; Cheltenham's stiff uphill finish will play to his strengths but he hasn't always been the most circumspect at his hurdles. Our Conor won last year's Triumph by a staggering 15 lengths but in the past this has proved difficult for five-year-olds with just two wins recorded since 1970 - Night Nurse (1976) and Katchit (2008). My Tent Or Yours is one of three J.P. McManus owned runners - Captain Cee Bee has been supplemented and looks likely to act as pacemaker. My Tent was beaten half a length by Champagne Fever in the Supreme last year and of the principals is the only one not to have won at the course previously. A close call, as indicated by Timeform's ratings...

For me, it's between Hurricane Fly and My Tent Or Yours; I'll side with My Tent Or Yours.

The Irish boast a good record in the opener (Supreme Novices' Hurdle at 1.30) and look to have a strong hand again; on ratings Willie Mullins' Vautour is the one to beat. Nicky Henderson has had a runner placed on six occasions in the past seven years. Stable jockey Barry Geraghty prefers Vaniteux to Josses Hill - the latter underwent a tracheal wash in the week; the results have come back clean and he takes his chance with Alan Tinkler in the plate.

Vaniteux rates an each-way play at around 12/1.

I don't like to overplay on the first day but layers, keen to bolster turnover (and therefore profit), come up with more special offers than you can shake a stick at - the latest from William Hill is even money Ruby Walsh to finish the meeting top jockey.

After Tom Scudamore had ridden Baltimore Rock to victory in Sandown's Imperial Cup on Saturday, one of the Channel Four racing team pointed out that Tom Scu looked to have a decent book of rides in the week ahead (includes Red Sherlock, Kings Palace, Dynaste and Vieux Lion Rouge).

Five times in the past decade three winners has been sufficent to take the top rider prize and Walsh can no longer rely on the support of Paul Nicholls.

33/1 Tom Scudamore is a big enough price for those prepared to take the chance in a market that isn't always easy to call; of course, by this time tomorrow evening, Walsh could already have a treble in the bag...

Friday, March 07, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - early thoughts

Ten of the fourteen declared for tomorrow's Imperial Cup at Sandown hold entries in the races at next week's Cheltenham Festival; William Hill offer a bonus of £100,000 to the horse that wins the Sandown showpiece and then goes on to win any race at Cheltenham.

Many think Regal Encore shouldn't be opposed; four favourites have obliged in the past decade but the past three winners have been returned at odds of 20/1, 20/1 and 10/1.

With four days to the Festival, I'm keeping my powder dry. Here's some early thinking on selected Festival races.


Over the years my record in the opener (Supreme Novices' Hurdle 1.30) serves as little more than an egregious example of horse race tipping; for some reason this year's renewal has caught my imagination. Favourite Irving looks strong; it's worth noting all his races in this country have been on right-handed tracks. Irish runners boast a good record; Vautour has been slick at his flights to date and handler Willie Mullins states in his Weekender stable tour 'He would be one of our most exciting chances of the week...' On the lookout for some value, I thought I'd come up with something in Josses Hill. This one is priced 16/1 yet has an official rating of 148 (Irving 143); however, vibes from the Henderson stable indicate Vaniteux has made significant strides recently. I'll wait to see what Barry Geraghty chooses - the yard has had a runner placed in six of the past seven renewals.The Liquidator is another worth a second look. Paddy Power offer to return stakes on this race if your selection finishes second, third or fourth, an offer they modestly describe as 'Cheltmental'.

The Champion Hurdle winner is likely to come from Hurricane Fly, The New One, Our Conor and My Tent Or Yours. Hurricane Fly bids to become the first ten-year-old to take the crown since Sea Pigeon in 1980; the only other ten-year-old to succeed since the war was Hatton's Grace in 1950. Five-year-olds don't have a great record either; Our Conor bids to become just the third five year old to win since Night Nurse in 1976 - Katchit obliged in 2008. I feel The New One is probably better suited by further while My Tent Or Yours had a very slight setback earlier in the week but is now reported fine. At the prices currently available 5/1 My Tent Or Yours is a value play.

At the age of ten Quevega bids to win the Mares' Hurdle (4.00) for a record sixth time. She's not getting any younger but on ratings has plenty in hand over her rivals - a race to savour, perhaps,  rather than one to bet on.


Eight weeks ago I tipped Charlie Longsdon's Killala Quay in a race at Warwick; the horse ran a stinker on desperate ground and was pulled up. The trainer has since reported Killala was wrong that day and is now in much better form. The gelding goes in the Neptune (1.30) and may not be quite good enough to make a place but is overpriced at 33/1 (Skybet).

The RSA Chase (2.05) looks a very open affair. Some of the value about Carlingford Lough has disappeared and I think Corrin Wood is more likely to run in the four mile chase. Two at double-digit prices I'll look at more closely are Sam Winner (12/1) and O'faolains Boy (14/1) .The latter was on the radar but I missed him at Ascot last time; plenty will think the race was set up for him that day but Rebecca Curtis implied there was maybe a bit more to come from a horse they've held in high regard for some time. The worry would be he's probably better served by cut underfoot...

Sire De Grugy is the best horse in the Champion Chase but immediately after he was beaten by Kid Cassidy over course and distance in November connections declared Cheltenham's undulations didn't suit their charge and they would miss this race. The defection of Sprinter Sacre has forced a re-think; the gelding has been given a spin around Plumpton (!) - an undulating, left-handed track - in preparation. I still feel the favourite is at his best going the other way around; I'll look to oppose. 20/1 Somersby (rated 5lbs inferior to Sire De Grugy) looks a big each-way price.


Daryl Jacob has put up Al Ferof (Ryanair, 2.40) as his banker. He won't have things all his own way if Dynaste runs here rather than in the Gold Cup.

The World Hurdle (3.20) is intriguing. Unbeaten mare Annie Power puts her record on the line on her first attempt at this trip. Big Buck's is a legend in his own right but at the age of eleven I'm not sure whether his powers are on the wane... McCoy has chosen At Fishers Cross, a horse that has had a troubled season but appeared on the way back the last day. Reve De Sivola wants soft but is no 25/1 shot; he disappointed in the Cleeve but in a pre-race interview jockey Richard Johnson inferred that by winning that same race the previous season connections had in effect scuppered their World Hurdle chance and they weren't of a mind to repeat the same mistake this year.

Friday... Gold Cup day. Bobs Worth is unbeaten at Cheltenham and has won ten of his fourteen starts. Silviniaco Conti looked certain to be involved in the finish of last year's race before coming to grief three out. Champion trainer Nicky Henderson v. former champion Paul Nicholls. And this year Ireland has a creditable challenger in Last Instalment. I'll make a decision later in the week...

As always for the Festival, I'll post a blog with selected selections each evening before the following day's racing.

To conclude I'd intended to pass on a word for the appropriately-named Timesishard in Sunday's 4.10 at Market Rasen but handler Graeme McPherson decided the beast didn't want to run in that particular race so he didn't bother to declare him. Drat.