Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A flutter on the football?

Wrexham have been rooted at the bottom of League Two for most of this season. Back in October things looked pretty bleak and on the surface they don't appear any better now with the club five points away from safety. Nonetheless I detect improvement over the past couple of weeks. Manager Brian Little has brought eleven new signings to the club in the January transfer window and has also made a bid for Chester's Kevin Ellison. The last three matches have yielded five points with a win against MK Dons, and draws against Bradford City and Morecambe. Scoring goals remains a big problem (just nineteen in the league to date) but there's a hint of light at the end of the tunnel. The plan is to avoid becoming isolated over the next few games; the run-in to the end of the season contains a number of matches against teams currently in the lower half of the league. The new faces appear to have brought a new resolve to the club, as shown by the fact they came from behind twice at Morecambe. I'm not keen on football betting but I shall be monitoring bookmakers' prices on individual matches in the forthcoming weeks and will consider a wager on the club avoiding relegation.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Trials' verdict and other matters

While Jeremy Paxman concerns himself with trials of Marks & Spencer's underpants, the rest of us are more concerned with the results of yesterday's trials at Cheltenham. Inglis Drever's victory marks him out as potential banker material for the Festival. Franchoek (4/1) rightly heads the Triumph market and you'd assume there was more to come from Aigle D'or. Maljimar won impressively but both Patman Du Charmil and Nacarat went hell for leather up front and that looked to set the race up for something coming from behind. It's academic in any case as trainer Nick Williams has said he intends to send Maljimar to Newbury on March 1st.

On Friday Kieren Fallon was banned from riding worldwide for a period of eighteen months. His split with Coolmore was announced quickly afterwards. Fallon has lodged an appeal, publicly stating that this is not the end of his career and that he will return to race-riding.

It's somewhat ironic that a guy called Ben Gallop should have to explain the BBC's decision to withdraw several aspects of its Ceefax racing service. Over the past few months I've manged to steadily wean myself off - I think I can live without it now.

I'm acutely aware of the dearth of winners provided by this blog over the past few weeks. In a desperate attempt to address this troublesome situation I shall be watching a programme entitled 'Derren Brown: The System' which Channel Four is broadcasting this coming Friday, February 1st, at 9.00 pm. Quoting from the TV schedule in front of me: '"Is it possible," wonders Brown, "to predict every time which horse will win?"' If it is, I'll pass on the details here.

Finally, I'd hardly describe myself as the most romatic of souls but, with Valentine's Day just around the corner, the Weekender's recent offer of 15 words for a tenner looked tempting. I mulled it over but reasoned that Mrs Tips never reads the Weekender anyway, so I stuffed the money on Blazing Bailey at Cheltenham yesterday. Some you win and...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Cheltenham and Doncaster

With a little over six weeks to the Cheltenham Festival, punters will be analysing tomorrow's action for potential clues. Eight go to post in the Letheby and Christopher Chase at 2.40. Exotic Dancer looked the proverbial good thing for this before picking up an injury; connections feel he's still on course for the Gold Cup. There are question marks against several of the runners here; Simon should run his race on ground that suits. The early tissue has Evan Williams' State Of Play a 10/1 shot which looks too big to me. This horse needs a decent pace which he didn't get in the Lexus. His sixth in last year's Gold Cup reads well and he's closely matched with Our Vic on official handicap ratings. If 10/1 is available, I'll have an each way wager.

Inglis Drever is the top rated horse and likely favourite for the Cleeve Hurdle but he's worth taking on; I've seen two or three reports of the recent bad weather affecting Howard Johnson's gallops. The obvious contender is Alan King's Blazing Bailey. On official ratings Francois Doumen's Millenium Royal should be competitive, will handle the ground and has won over the trip; he's worth an each way interest at around 10/1.

The 3.15 looks between Franchoek, Tatenen and the Peter Bowen trained Serabad. The Bowen stable has been out of form recently. Franchoek has beaten Tatenen; some commentators feel the latter named can reverse placings. I'm going to sit this one out.

In the opener Keith Goldsworthy's Hold Em is interesting. Having previously raced over two miles on decent ground, last time out he went and won over two and a half miles on soft. A few days ago Teletext reported the trainer as saying this horse easily had the beating of the 140 rated Hills Of Aran on the home gallops. Using that as a benchmark, he should be in the shake-up here, so I'll take a chance with Hold Em.

It's worth noting that Mick Fitzgerald has chosen to ride at Doncaster; the two that catch the eye are Khyber Kim in the opener and Chomba Womba in the 1.55, but both will make little appeal as betting material. I've done no work on the ultra competitive Sky Bet Handicap Chase (3.00) but Rambling Minster is of interest. The yard is in decent form and the conditional jockey takes an additional five pounds off - the horse has a reasonable each way shout.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Exotic Dancer suffers setback

The news this morning that Exotic Dancer has pulled a muscle in his hind quarters and will not run in Saturday's Letherby and Christopher Chase now puts an entirely different complexion on that race. A more detailed examination of the horse is scheduled to take place on Friday when, presumably, we'll know whether his participation in the Gold Cup is under threat.

There are two reasonable looking cards at Doncaster and Newbury tomorrow. At Doncaster interesting runners include the well-touted Blue Bajan in the first while Olmeto Collonges and The Apprentice are declared for the finale. Last spring Henrietta Knight put up Olmeto Collonges as one to keep an eye on; this season generally his efforts have been disappointing. He's tried over hurdles here having fallen in a novice chase last time out; I'm not tempted. The Apprentice was all out to win at Plumpton just over five weeks ago and has a little to find.

Over at Newbury I'll be watching David Pipe's Quaddick Lake who returns following a break. This horse fell at the last on his penultimate run when looking all over the winner. Next time out he disappointed badly at Cheltenham's Open meeting in November, but he's clearly held in high regard. Big Buck's takes on four opponents in the 2.05, having been sent off a warm favourite last time only to be beaten by Moon Over Miami. BB didn't jump particularly well on that occasion and may need time. Here, Charlie Egerton's Kruguyrova is top rated by the Racing Post and would provide some value if BB were to be sent off favourite.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weekend round-up

Haydock fell to the weather but there was drama aplenty at Ascot with Twist Magic beaten soundly by Tamarinbleu. Paul Nicholls blamed the heavy ground while Teletext reported that jockey Ruby Walsh told the trainer after the race TM would win the Champion Chase on decent ground.

Tamarinbleu's performance reminded me somewhat of Lough Derg's front running exploits when taking the Long Walk Hurdle last month. A David Pipe trained outsider at Ascot, ridden from the front by Tom Scudamore, gallops his rivals into submission to secure a big prize - could this be the beginning of a trend?

I know many heathens don't understand horse racing's appeal but the graphic pictures the BBC transmitted, after the race, of Nigel Twiston-Davies urging Mahogany Blaze to the line spoke volumes. The horse was collared in the shadow of the post by Nick Gifford's Wee Robbie; Twiston-Davies, literally quivering, practically rode the finish himself. That's why we do it, for the sheer damn excitement of it all.

As has been widely reported, Tony McCoy is on the mend following an operation on his back earlier in the week. He remains confident he'll be riding at the Cheltenham Festival. I dare say he'll be aiming to return before then in order to build up his physical fitness.

The abandonment of Haydock meant there was no Scoop6 this weekend, but I'm sure it remains a mystery to many punters why, when racing is taking place on a Saturday, they can't have a Scoop6 bet.

The BBC's Ceefax racing service is suffering death by a thousand cuts. The Teletext service is now far more comprehensive, although I've found the RSS feed provided by the site flaky on occasions.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Haydock and Ascot tomorrow

The clerks at both Haydock and Ascot have said they're optimistic racing will take place tomorrow but, having just seen the weather forecast, I think it will be a close call; both courses are scheduled to hold inspections in the morning.

In the opener at Haydock Paul Nicholls' Five Dream will be sent off a short priced favourite. In the previous eight runnings of this race the winner has come from the top three in the betting. For me the interesting one is Sir Harry Ormesher. This horse has decent form with Deep Purple on unsuitably fast ground; he was pulled out of the Tolworth two weeks ago and is known to appreciate some cut, but whether he'll act on going this heavy is another matter altogether. Looking back through his form, I see he has previously boiled over in the preliminaries; I'll consider an each way dabble at around 12/1.

The Champion Hurdle Trial (1.25) looks a match between Afsoun and Straw Bear and I prefer Straw Bear. Torkinking is only small but as tough as old boots, will probably make the running and has conditions to suit. If he's allowed an easy lead, he could possibly stay on into a place.

The Peter Marsh Chase looks very competitive; the one that catches my eye is Simon who will act on the ground and stay all day.

In the finale What A Buzz is a strapping horse with reasonable each way prospects who has run well on heavy ground previously, but I'll wait until tomorrow before deciding whether to back him or not.

At Ascot I'll be watching the Victor Chandler Chase and the Lightning Novices' Chase closely but I won't get involved. Twist Magic is expected to win the VC and shore up his position at the head of the Champion Chase market, while the novice chase looks between Mahogany Blaze and Marodima. I prefer the former, although, as the season has progressed, I think Marodima has learned to settle better. Wee Robbie is highly regarded but has been racing over further and could possibly come on for this, his first run of the season.

Generally, with the size of tomorrow's fields on the small side, I thought it might be worth looking at a Scoop6 wager, but the crafty devils at Totesport have included four all-weather races from Lingfield for this week's offering. For the record the races are: Lingfield 1.55, Lingfield 2.25, Lingfield 3.00, Haydock 3.05, Lingfield 3.35, Haydock 3.40.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Early Festival thoughts

The current wet spell is playing havoc with most fixtures, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to look forward to the Cheltenham Festival which is just eight weeks away. In the Gold Cup market they bet 11/1 or bigger bar the two, Kauto Star and Denman. Last Friday evening I had a protracted conversation with a fellow racegoer who hopes to get to Chepstow on Friday; he pointed out that 11/1 about Exotic Dancer with Hill's was a great each way bet. I'm not keen on ante-post punting but that does strike me as decent value. Harry Findlay, Denman's owner, is on record as saying he'll really fancy his horse to win if the ground turns up soft; we'll just have to wait for the day to see if conditions suit.

In the Champion Chase they bet 12/1 or bigger bar Twist Magic and Voy Por Ustedes. I can't recall such a one sided ante-post market for this race. The trouble is I think the bookmakers have chalked it up more or less right. My one (half baked) idea is to look a little more closely at Don't Push It who was disputing third with Twist Magic when both horses fell independently in last season's Arkle. If truth be told, I'm convinced Don't Push It is really a two and a half mile horse.

I'll give Blazing Bailey serious consideration in the World Hurdle; he's currently priced at 6/1. In the Arkle, a most difficult race, Charlie Mann's Moon Over Miami always seems to run well over this course while I think better ground could bring out some improvement in Here's Johnny in the Royal & Sun Alliance Chase. Finally Deep Purple will warrant respect if the ground is good and he runs in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

If only it were that simple...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Racing returns

Tony McCoy has broken a bone in his lower back and is likely to be out of action for at least six weeks. His agent says he aims to be back in time for the Cheltenham Festival which starts on Tuesday March 11th.

Carruthers won the Leamington Novices' Hurdle at Warwick yesterday in convincing style but we should note Peter Bowen's report today that stable star Souffleur, who finished a well beaten third, coughed afterwards.

Hill's have signed up to TurfTV. By my reckoning, of the big bookmakers, only Fred Done has yet to subscribe to the service.

Until the end of January Timeform are making one card per day available to download free of charge. As always, you're required to fill in your personal details; if you sign up, don't forget to tick the appropriate box indicating you don't want to receive their literature which, I am sure, will contain several pictures of the smiling Jim McGrath.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Warwick and Kempton

Fourteen go to post for the Classic Chase at Warwick tomorrow. The preview in the Weekender highlights the fact that since 1991, when Aquilifer carried eleven stones seven pounds, no horse has won this carrying more than eleven one. Of the lighter weighted runners, the two that stand out are Arnold Layne and High Chimes. Course and distance winner Arnold Layne has been in good form, likes to race from the front and has Tony McCoy on board. Evan Williams' High Chimes finished a good third behind Cloudy Lane in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock three weeks ago. I'd expect the horse to see the trip out on his first attempt over this marathon distance. Earlier in the week the one I really fancied was Kilbeggan Blade after his impressive victory at Sandown but he's allocated top weight here. I still expect a bold show and will consider an each way wager if the bookmakers are offering 10/1 or bigger. My feeling is that High Chimes' third behind Cloudy Lane reads better than Arnold Layne's form and his price offers better value, so High Chimes gets the vote.

There are only six runners in the Leamington Novices' Hurdle but it looks fascinating. Peter Bowen's Souffleur is the clear form choice but there may be a question as to where the pace in this race will come from. On official handicap ratings Hills Of Aran has the beating of Nenuphar Collonges. I shall keep an eye on Just A Thought, stepping up in trip here, who ran well on soft ground in some decent bumpers last year - will he try to nick it from the front?

In the opener at Kempton Zanir would have a chance of overturning likely favourite Red Flare while in the Lanzarote at 3.15 Panjo Bere looks unexposed and Rio de Janeiro is weighted to get closer to Nycteos. I give Paul Nicholls' Nycteos the vote.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

John Smith's People's Race 2008

John Smith's have recently announced the names of thirty two rookie jockeys who hope to progress to ride in the 2008 People's Race at Aintree on Grand National Day, Saturday 5th April. Following the first selection stage to be held in mid January, a maximum of sixteen contestants will be required to undertake further training. This year's intake includes two teachers, a public house licensee, a scrap metal dealer, a marketing officer from the University of Leeds, a nail technician, a shepherd and a 56 year old police officer from Coventry. Let the fun begin...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Short snips

Warwick plays host to the three mile five furlong Classic Chase on Saturday - interesting entries include Paul Nicholls' Trust Fund, Arnold Layne, Kilbeggan Blade and the Hennessy second Dream Alliance.

In the Grade Two Leamington Novices' Hurdle on the same card Peter Bowen has entered Challow Hurdle winner Souffleur; others to catch the eye include Carruthers, in whom Lord Oaksey owns a share, recent Cheltenham winner Hills Of Aran and Alan King's Nenuphar Collonges. It's a few years since I've been to this meeting but, as I write this, I'm certainly tempted...

Breedsbreeze's victory in the Tolworth Hurdle on Saturday served to highlight the current differences between owner Jim Lewis and Henrietta Knight, as Lydia Hislop points out in The Times. What a contrast from when Best Mate was winning three Gold Cups.

After being jocked off some decent looking rides over the Christmas period, leading conditional rider Paddy Merrigan went AWOL, but now looks to have rebuilt bridges with the Peter Bowen yard.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Sandown and Wincanton

The Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown tomorrow looks an intriguing race. In the last ten years the winner has come from the first two in the betting on eight occasions. On both official handicap and Racing Post ratings Alsadaa is the top rated horse but the trainer has stated publicly she won't run him on testing ground. Deep Purple is unbeaten over hurdles but all the form is on good or faster ground. Breedsbreeze and Calgary Bay have something to find but will handle the ground, while Sir Harry Ormesher was beaten three and a half lengths into fourth by Deep Purple last time and could get closer here with conditions to suit. It's a close call but I'm going to take a chance on Deep Purple handling soft ground; connections clearly think he's something special.

The following handicap hurdle at 3.10 is very tricky but I'm considering an each way wager on Astarador at around 14/1, the horse having finished third in last year's Tolworth. He hasn't seen a racecourse for just under a year and has enough weight in this, but he will handle the ground and the stable are in good form.

Over at Wincanton course and distance winner Miss Mitch is clearly top-rated in the novice chase at 1.45. Henrietta Knight likes Olmeto Collonges but the stable are out of form; Miss Mitch gets the vote.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Ladbrokes take TurfTV

I suppose it was inevitable. Once Coral decided to subscribe to TurfTV, other High Street bookmakers were bound to follow suit. The lead story in today's Racing Post outlines the details of Ladbrokes' five year deal. Hill's and Betfred are currently in negotiations. Yet, less than a month ago, representatives from several of these bookmaking firms were telling anyone who would listen there was no way they'd sign up to a deal with TurfTV...