Sunday, March 30, 2008

Grand National countdown

The news today that both Kauto Star and Master Minded will run at Aintree later this week adds spice to a meeting which culminates in the Grand National on Saturday. At this early stage, I thought I'd point out the horses I'll consider more closely in the run up to the race...

Cloudy Lane - 6/1 favourite thrown in at the weights but doesn't look guaranteed to stay.

Simon - fell at Valentine's on the second circuit last time when in with a shout.

Comply Or Die - won the Eider Chase a month ago, thereby dispelling stamina doubts.

Slim Pickings - third last year.

Bewleys Berry - going well when fell at Becher's on the second circuit last year.

McKelvey - injured himself on the run-in when finishing second to Silver Birch. Recovery has been a slow job and two recent hurdle runs suggest he has it to do.

Philson Run - fourth at 100/1 last time; a little long in the tooth now but trained specifically for this.

Comply Or Die aside, the Pipe stable has other interesting entries including Vodka Bleu (put up recently by David Pipe as value at 50/1), Over The Creek (not guaranteed to run but was third in the Welsh National and has beaten Simon at Cheltenham) and the much improved Madison Du Berlais who could ideally do with less weight.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Turf 'n' Dirt

Many in racing tend to complain that 'mares only' races can be rather uncompetitive; that comment certainly doesn't apply to the Mares Only Novices' Chase Final at Newbury tomorrow, with seventeen going to post. The market has proved a decent enough pointer in the past with five favourites obliging in the last nine years. Guillaume Macaire's Souri Des Champs looks set to carry the mantle of market leader and her chance is respected. Top weight Back On Line ran well to finish third in the four miler at the Festival two weeks ago but this may come a little too quickly; by way of contrast the Alners' entry, Miss Mitch, arrives fresh having been given a mid-season break. Nicky Richards thinks highly of Scarvagh Diamond but, using the market as a guide, I'll side with Souri Des Champs; James Reveley's five pounds claim looks particularly useful here.

In the opening claimer at Bangor Len Lungo's Delightfully has something in hand over all her rivals on the ratings but needs to settle a little better than she has in the past. On paper the Novices' Hurdle at 3.00 looks between course and distance winner Rightway Star and Isn't That Lucky. Isn't That Lucky finished mid-division in last year's Champion Bumper at the Festival while Rightway Star finshed behind Theatrical Moment in the Aintree Bumper. Since then, Isn't That Lucky has beaten Nicky Henderson's Schiehallion at Sandown and receives seven pounds here so Isn't That Lucky is marginally preferred. In the concluding hunter chase Lady Myfanwy has been in good form recently - I'll check the market before deciding whether to invest.

I like Soapy Danger more than Munsef in the Doncaster Shield, although both horses are closely matched. Alfie Flits has not been declared which means there will be little value in the betting market.

From the turf to the dirt - Channel 4 are set to broadcast the Dubai World Cup live at 5.30pm from Nad Al Sheba. Most observers won't contemplate defeat for odds-on shot Curlin. Nick Mordin, using his speed ratings, puts a case for Godolphin's Jalil in the Weekender and bullish noises having been eminating from that camp over the past couple of days. Curlin hasn't been done any favours with a wide draw in berth twelve while Jalil will come from stall eight; 7/1 are the odds of reward on offer for those prepared to oppose the favourite.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

John Smith's People's Race 2008 update

This week has seen the build-up to Aintree's Grand National meeting, which culminates with the Grand National itself on April 5th, slowly gaining momentum. In the forthcoming days we can also expect to see more media coverage of the rookie riders taking part in this year's John Smith's People's Race which will be run on the same day over a distance of nine furlongs. The John Smith's website now lists the final ten contestants and Ladbrokes are cunnningly tempting you with prices about the individuals concerned. As at this stage we don't know the names of the horses the contestants will be riding, I'd be wary about having a bet. Readers may remember that last year's 5/4 favourite, Instructor, decided to dump his rider, a plumber from Manchester, at the start; Paul Nicholls' Hoo La Baloo, ridden by Kevin Old, a 44 year old pawnbroker from Bournemouth, took full advantage to collect the spoils. It looks as though Ladbrokes have decided to take no chances this time around, shortening Jane Belcher from 3/1 in to 5/2 favourite - Jane, a 44 year old careworker from Bristol, is set to ride a horse from the Nicholls yard...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Irish Grand National

Ordinarily I wouldn't look too closely at this twenty six runner handicap but I'm intrigued by the fact that this evening's Racing Post reports the ground at Fairyhouse to be drying out. The money has come by the bucket load for Royal County Star which means the bookmakers have been rushing for cover - the horse is currently the 9/2 favourite. Provided the rains don't arrive, I'll consider two each way shouts against the field; Noel Meade's Mattock Ranger, priced at 20/1 with Paddy Power, is a proven stayer, having won the Cork National over three and a half miles last November and another 20/1 shot, Sir Frederic, whose trainer has previously stated that better ground will suit his charge.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Saturday

Tomorrow at 4.00pm Doncaster hosts the Lincoln on what is traditionally considered the first day of the new Flat season. I've always considered the race a bit of a lottery and won't be getting involved. Several of the fancied ante-post runners, including Zaahid and Don't Panic, failed to make the cut and race in the Spring Mile at 2.50 instead. With the ground riding good to soft, the general opinion seems to be that high drawn runners could be at a disadvantage. Rio Riva has been touted in several quarters during the week, was second in this race last year (when run at Newcastle), is joint top rated in The Racing Post, will handle the ground and has a decent draw in stall five; that's a number of positives but, as I've indicated, I won't be playing.

The jumping cards on offer are not out of the top drawer. At Haydock Captain Oscar looks the one to beat in the concluding bumper while, a bit further north, in Carlisle's opener several of the runners are closely matched. King Mak would have won last time out at Market Rasen but for trying to demolish the last fence - he gets the vote here.

Only six go to post at 3.30 for Newton Abbot's best race of the day and question marks surround all the participants. Likely favourite Squires Lane might be considered somewhat fortunate to have won last time; here he's taking on horses that have been running in better class races without showing too much form. Both Mister Ed and The Risky Viking are preferred to the twelve year old Paxford Jack. The Peter Bowen stable hasn't had the best of seasons but is now returning from a quiet spell but I'll take a chance with Nick Williams' The Risky Viking if he's priced up around 4/1.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

McCririck goes part-time

Today's Racing Post leads with the story that Channel 4 chiefs have decided to reduce the number of Saturdays John McCririck will appear on our screens, with immediate effect. I dare say there are some of you out there who will consider this jolly good news but, as you might expect, Mr. McCririck is not so chuffed. He claims this measure has made him a part-timer. Now, I know it's a bit rich when somebody who tends to work Saturdays only complains of being made a part-timer, when the likes of you and me are working five days and more each week, but such are the inequalities of the world in which we live. Rumours that Channel 4 desperately wanted Mr. McCririck to cut back on the outlandish outfits are wide of the mark, as is the suggestion that Angus 'Statto' Loughran is viewed as a possible replacement.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Festival aftermath

Exactly one week ago I received an unsolicited copy of a glossy magazine called 'The Festival' in which Edward Gillespie, Managing Director of Cheltenham Racecourse, informed me 'The 2008 Festival has all the ingredients to be a year to remember.' I'll remember it primarily for the fact that, on the one day I was due to attend, the racing was abandoned. I suppose it's an ill wind - I came home with more money in my back pocket than ever before; perhaps the Wednesday's racing should be abandoned every year...

Without doubt the outstanding performance of the meeting was Master Minded's effortless nineteen length defeat of Voy Por Ustedes in the Champion Chase. Master Minded is the first five year old to win this race; with the benefit of hindsight, the 3/1 SP was huge - it will be a long time before we see bookmakers again offering those sort of odds about this particular indvidual.

While Denman powered to a famous victory in the Gold Cup, Kauto Star's jumping on occasions verged on the shoddy. In today's Times Harry Findlay, co-owner of Denman, is reported to have taken £600,000 from the bookies. One Findlay quote - "I see my life as a casino. Money is chips to play life with." It would be unwise to write off Kauto Star on this one performance; looking ahead, will Denman's connections be tempted by a tilt at next year's National?

Ruby Walsh (RW) deserves a mention for talking to camera immediately after Kauto's defeat. Ruby's line was that his mount was never really travelling and, on the day, the best horse won. Channel 4's Derek Thompson (DT) then asked, in his own inimitable fashion, whether he (Ruby) had any regrets having chosen Kauto rather than Denman...

RW - That's probably the most ridiculous question I've ever been asked.
DT - I know it is but I have to ask it.
RW - No, you didn't have to ask me. You can only ride one. I picked the wrong one. That's racing.

Well said Ruby.

Inglis Drever is special and goes into the record books as the first horse to win the World Hurdle three times. I've watched the video of this year's running again and again and on each occasion, three out, I think he can't win. Before the race connections said they'd consider retiring their stable star if won. Now, I wonder if they'll be tempted to return next year?

On the punting front Mrs Tips did rather well this year with a winner each day (but, I should point out, her selections were not proofed beforehand to the Racing Post). In marked contrast, I managed just two winners and a number of placed horses - details shown below. Disappointing, I know, but both Jim McGrath and John Francome came away from the meeting with only one winner each, so I'm in decent company...

Selections 15
Wins 2
Placed 5
Win strike rate 13.3%

E/W selections placed 2
Win selections placed 3

Stake 15
Return 11.01
Profit / Loss -4.99

Both of my readers will be interested to know I have no plans to give up the day job.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cheltenham Festival - Friday

The Gold Cup, due off at 3.30 on the revised nine race card, is the highlight of the week. For what seems the majority of the season, this race has been built up into a showdown between the two Paul Nicholls' trained runners Kauto Star and Denman. I'm firmly in the Kauto Star camp, but it has the look of a race to savour rather than one to bet on. If I get involved I'll have a small each-way interest in Exotic Dancer, currently 14/1 with Corals. For those who haven't come across Harry Findlay, co-owner of Denman - should his horse win, you'll wonder how you'd never heard of him before.

Nineteen go to post at 2.50 for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle. The main chances appear to be Carruthers, owned by Lord Oaksey, Gone To Lunch, The Tother One and Lodge Lane. It's questionable whether Lodge Lane will stay while The Tother One has won over two miles six and looks as though he definitely will. Carruthers was impressive when slamming Souffleur amongst others over two miles five at Warwick; he was allowed a soft lead that day in desperate conditions and it subsequently came to light that Souffleur coughed after the race. Gone To Lunch's third in the Cleeve behind Inglis Drever and Blazing Bailey reads well; on official handicap ratings he's the top horse here and so Gone To Lunch gets the vote.

Labelthou is the top rated horse in the opener; this game mare excels in testing conditions but I don't think she'll get her ground here. Of the others I fancy Nicky Henderson's Chomba Womba over Sweet Kiln and Theatre Girl.

Franchoek looks the one to beat in the Triumph but his price offers no value whatsoever in what is traditionally a rough race. Franchoek's trainer, Alan King, won this last year with Katchit, who won the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday, so connections obviously know what's required.

Earlier in the week I tipped Forpadydeplasterer to take the Ballymore Novices' (1.05). This horse needs some cut - I wouldn't want to see the going changed to good before the running of this race. Nicky Henderson's Aigle D'Or looked rather green when beating Hold Em three and a bit lengths; Aigle D'Or is priced amongst the favourites whilst Hold Em is as big as 28/1 in some lists. This horse had a hard race last time out but is as tough as old boots - I may take a small each-way interest.

Finally, as I said earlier in the week, the Coral Cup is a minefield - Mendo is the each-way selection for those who crave a wager.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cheltenham Festival - Thursday

Thursday's selections from the ten race card (!) include the selections from Wednesday's meeting that was abandoned due to high winds.
14.55 The Listener
15.30 Inglis Drever

Gone with the wind

Well, in over twenty five years of following National Hunt racing, the postponement of racing at Cheltenham on Wednesday ranks as one of the biggest disappointments I can recall. I am still shocked; I can't quite believe what happened. I left Coventry at 07.30; the weather was clear and blustery. At 08.30, approaching Cheltenham on the M5, I received two texts from friends informing me the day's racing had been called off due to the high winds. I can only describe the whole epsiode as 'surreal'. Let's be clear about this - the postponement was necessary not for racing reasons but for health and safety reasons connected with the temporary structures erected on the course. Personally I feel the postponement could and should have been announced much earlier; I shall be claiming my full refund in due course. The Racing Press / Establishment will do their best to make the best of this bad job but there are a lot of unsatisfied customers out there and I'm just one of many. When I should have been enjoying a Guinness and swapping form notes before the first, I was back in Coventry, checking out the sell-by date on yoghurts Mrs Tips had included on the weekly shopping line - what a stinker!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mrs Tips' Wednesday tip

Mrs Tips, whose selections are doing markedly better than mine (nothing unusual there), makes Twist Magic her best bet on the Wednesday card.

Cheltenham Festival - Wednesday

I'll be at Cheltenham tomorrow, drinking Guinness, savouring the atmosphere and freely giving my hard-earned to those bookie chappies who, in exchange, will present me with a piece of paper and the forlorn hope I might actually get something in return. The betting experience is somewhat similar to the shopping at Argos experience. For those interested, here's where I'll be throwing my money tomorrow.

The highlight is the Champion Chase, due off at 3.15. Paul Nicholls tells us that, at home, there's not much between his two market leaders, Master Minded and Twist Magic; Ruby Walsh has opted for the relatively inexperienced Master Minded. I don't know when a five year old last won this race (if at all) but it's certainly not in the last ten years. Many of those who saw Tamarinbleu beat Twist Magic at Ascot are of the opinion TM will not reverse the form and, on balance, I agree. Last year's winner Voy Por Ustedes commands respect - jockey 'Choc' Thornton rates the horse his best chance of a winner all week - but he's appeared a little short of his best this season. The Pipe stable has taken the bold option by declaring Tamarinbleu, who stays further, for this two mile championship; the horse has shown marked improvement with the fitting of blinkers. On official handicap ratings Twist Magic is the best horse while on Raceform ratings Tamarinbleu is the one to beat. My guess is Tamarinbleu will race pretty prominently and, at the prices available, offers the best value so Tamarinbleu gets the vote.

The stats send out mixed messages for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase. Interesting outsiders include Oscar Park, Starzaan and Joe Lively but all three are aged nine and a nine year old hasn't won this since 1992. Of those three, I suspect Starzaan won't stay, while Joe Lively has course and distance form and is top rated by Raceform but ran a bit of a stinker last time out behind Albertas Run at Ascot. Albertas Run is top on official handicap ratings but no horse that has won the Reynoldstown has gone on to take this in the last ten years. Charlie Mann's entry Air Force One was second to Albertas Run at Ascot but connections feel confident they can reverse the form. It's a close call but I'm siding with Albertas Run.

I'll support two Irish trained horses - Padydeplasterer in the opener and Noel Meade's Corskeagh Royale each-way in the concluding bumper. In between, as always, the Coral Cup looks a minefield but Noel Chance's Mendo will carry my shrapnel (each-way) while in the four miler Back On Line from the in-form Venetia Williams stable is of interest as is Vic Dartnall's Here's Johnny at a bigger price provided he's not lost interest. The first time cheek pieces will hopefully help him concentrate and Miss Grundy is an excellent jockey.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cheltenham Festival - Tuesday

The Champion Hurdle is the highlight at the first day of the Festival; this year the current holder of the crown, Sublimity, takes on sixteen opponents. We haven't seen a lot of Sublimity this year and he appears to have had an interrupted preparation. On official ratings Sizing Europe is the best horse in this race and for that very reason he's the bookmakers' favourite - favourties have a good record, having won five of the last ten runnings. David Pipe's Osana was beaten four lengths by Sizing Europe whilst conceding six pounds to that rival in testing conditions last November. The Pipe team took the Imperial Cup on Saturday with Ashkazar so the stable look in good form. I'll support Osana but Sizing Europe is feared.

Fourteen go to post in the Arkle at 2.35. Regular readers will know I think Moon Over Miami is overpriced at around 14/1 - the question mark surrounds his temperament which let him down badly at Warwick last time. A number of fancied runners in this don't have a lot of chasing experience including Noland, Ring The Boss and Leslingtaylor. To be fair, Noland's jumping has looked good whereas Tidal Bay's was anything but when beaten by Leslingtaylor at Doncaster and added to that the Howard Johnson stable is just emerging from a quiet spell. If Moon Over Miami handles the preliminaries, the race will be run to suit this course and distance winner - he rates an each-way wager.

As you'd expect, the opener is extremely competitive. I will take a chance on Evan Williams' Deep Purple provided there's not too much overnight rain. I think this horse is underrated and worth an each-way interest at around 14/1.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Sandown distractions

Tony McCoy has been passed fit to ride and returns to the saddle at Sandown tomorrow. Mrs Tips informs me she dreamt about the champion jockey last night but, unfortunately, he didn't give her any Cheltenham winners.

I have to admit that during the week I've been concentrating on next week's Cheltenham form, so I haven't looked at this Sandown card in much detail. Five year olds have won the Sunderlands Imperial Cup, due off at 3.15, on five occasions in the last ten years and Gary Moore's Mon Michel looks reasonably handicapped here. The horse was due to run in the Totesport Gold Trophy last month but suffered a setback and had to miss the race; the stable still carried off the main prize with 14/1 shot Wingman. I think the good ground will suit and with the trainer's son Jamie in the saddle Mon Michel rates a decent each-way chance in an ultra-competitive race.

For future reference I'll keep an eye on two front-running chasers returning after a break - Etoile Russe in the 4.25 and Dev in the finale. Etoile Russe faces just three opponents, two of whom, Gentle John and Wogan, have question marks against their jumping while likely favourite Takeroc has his first run in this country after winning over further on soft ground in France. I'll consider taking a chance on ER's fitness if the RP tissue price of 6/1 is available at the off.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Straight forecast for Cheltenham?

The weekend before the Festival, the calm before the storm, tends to be a tense time for owners, trainers, jockeys and, of course, punters alike. One thing for certain is that tomorrow we'll know whether champion jockey Tony McCoy has been passed fit to ride following his fall at Warwick in January. On the other hand the weather has a much more uncertain look, with, at this stage, wet conditions now looking more likely than not for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Many of the preview articles in the Weekender and the Raceform Update Cheltenham Guide have been written on the understanding that the ground will ride just on the soft side of good and progressively dry out through the week. If the forecast rain arrives, the ground is likely to ride much softer at the start of the meeting. As always, I'll be at Cheltenham on Wednesday but with the uncertainty surrounding the state of the ground, I have decided to resist a couple of early 'nibbles' in the local bookmakers' outlets and will now probably wait until the day before getting involved.

The racing might be low key at the moment but Howard Johnson, together with supporters of World Hurdle favourite Inglis Drever, will have been pleased to see Companero win at Carlisle today following a lean spell for the stable.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Some press cuttings...

The well-named Gee Dee took the opener at Market Rasen this afternoon; needless to say, I didn't have a penny on.

Sir Peter O'Sullevan, 'The Voice of Racing', celebrates his 90th birthday tomorrow. Earlier today I browsed through my copy of his 'Calling The Horses' (published in 1989) and admired some of the photos. Like many I suspect, the two horses I always associate with this master of understatement are Be Friendly and Attivo.

Those perturbed by Mr Pointment's disappointing effort in The Grimthorpe yesterday will be relieved to learn that wasn't the horse's true running - he broke a blood vessel during the race. Skybet are out on a limb by offering Mr P. at 25/1 for the Aintree marathon.

Cheltenham is just over a week away and bookmakers are queuing up to tempt you with their free bet offers. Before diving in, it may be worth noting The Times' report that TV advertising has helped Ladbrokes to a 46% increase in profits. The majority of bookies now go non-runner no bet on Festival races but it's always worth confirming the fact. This year, as yet, I haven't seen Raceform Update's Guide to the Cheltenham Festival on our newstands. As soon as it appears I shall purchase a copy - if you only buy one Festival preview publication, this has to be the one.

Finally, off-topic I know but I couldn't resist, I'm going to suggest that the Conservative peer who recently branded nurses 'grubby, drunken and promiscuous' has probably been watching too many epsiodes of Casualty on a Saturday night...