Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jumps season review 2007/8

This hasn't been the most successful of seasons for me personally and, worse still, I haven't managed to get to a meeting since Aintree last October. The biggest disappointment had to be the abandonment of the Wednesday card at the Cheltenham Festival on account of high winds.

Some things never seem to change - Tony McCoy was champion jockey and Paul Nicholls champion trainer; Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins took the equivalent honours in Ireland. David Johnson was top owner.

This was Denman's season, although he never carried any of my money. His performance in the Hennessy was exceptional, as was his Gold Cup victory. Master Minded's performance in the Champion Chase will live long in the memory. Kauto Star won the Order Of Merit after a prolonged duel with Lough Derg.

Last year Katchit was nominated blog horse of the year. Although I didn't tip him as often this season, I was tempted to nominate him again following his tenacious victory in the Champion Hurdle. Instead, I'm going to nominate Reg Hollinshead's Norma Hill. Back in August I tipped the mare and she duly obliged at 20/1 - we haven't seen her out since.

The New Year started well enough; I took 14/1 offered by Betfred about Hills Of Aran at Cheltenham and Keith Goldsworthy's gelding did the necessary. It proved a false dawn and the beginning of a downhill slope, with too many losers, particularly around February / March time.

The Grand National tips were a little nearer the mark with three of the four selections finishing in the first five home.

The focus shifts to the Flat now, with the Guineas taking centre stage at Newmarket next weekend.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sandown finale

I've just watched 8/13 favourite Ask hold Hattan half a length in Sandown's Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes. The jolly has held on well enough and you'd expect improvement, this being his first run of the season, but he didn't certainly didn't win in the manner you'd want from an odds-on shot.

On paper the 7.15 at Bangor this evening looks between Quizzene and Abstract Art; I prefer the latter and will get involved if 5/2 becomes available.

Tomorrow's dual code card at Sandown acts as the final curtain for this jumps season, the highlight being the Bet365 Gold Cup. Ten of the declared nineteen run from out of the handicap; will the Scottish National winner Iris De Balme be able to take this long distance chase just one week later? The way the horse sprinted up the home straight at Ayr suggested there was more to come - amateur Charlie Huxley keeps the ride here. I've lost patience with Ungaro; perhaps it's a little unkind but in my book he has become 'difficult to win with'. Royal County Star comes over from Ireland after a mid-season break and second place in the Irish National. He is set to run off his correct mark here, looking a player from a yard that knows the time of day. Royal County Star gets the vote.

On official ratings Monet's Garden is the one to beat in the Celebration Chase while Full House will appreciate good ground and could be considered an each-way longshot in the competitive-looking 2.10 provided he's fit enough to do himself justice on this his first run for six months.

I don't really study Flat form. In the Bet365 Mile Sir Michael Stoute's course and distance winner Rob Roy is officially the top-rated animal; on his seasonal debut he takes on seven opponents, six of whom have already had the benefit of a run this year. I will consider taking a chance if the horse is priced around the 7/2 mark.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wrexham wrelegated

After losing 2-0 at Hereford last night, Wrexham will be playing in the Blue Square Premiership next season. It has been a long tough season. Here are some of my memories of League football at Wrexham... 

Mid 1960s - my first game - Wrexham Reserves 2 Witton Albion 3 in the Cheshire League. I attend several reserve games with my father; I'm regularly 'lifted' over the turnstiles. 

First League game - Wrexham 1 Crewe Alexandra 0. Crewe score but Wrexham keeper Gordon Livesey is injured in the process and the referee disallows the goal. 

Watch several matches from the balcony of The Turf, the public house that overlooks the ground. 

Late 1960s - promotion from Division Four. Eddie May equalises late on against Oldham Athletic to maintain our unbeaten home record. Albert Kinsey is the league's top scorer. 

First game the following season in Division Three - Wrexham beat Bury 3-2 after going two down mid-way though the second half. 

1974 - Wrexham embark on a Cup run that sees them beat Middlesborough at The Racecourse, and Southampton at The Dell, Dave Smallman scoring the winner in both matches. Wrexham are drawn away to Burnley in the quarter finals; Bob Lord, Burnley chairman, refuses to allow Match of the Day cameras at the game; Wrexham lose 1-0. 

Late 70s - John Neal builds a team the like of which we have never seen before. In 1976/7 season Wrexham need a point from their final two games to reach Division Two for the first time in their history. They lose both home games, 4-2 to Crystal Palace and 1-0 against Mansfield. The following season Wrexham are promoted to Division Two as champions, beating Rotherham 7-1 in the final game of the season. 

Mid/late 80s - relegation from Division Two sees an exodus of decent players and soon we're playing in Division Four again. 

Early 90s - Brian Flynn takes over as manager. Club finish bottom of Division Four but are not relegated. 

Following season Wrexham beat Arsenal 2-1 in the Cup, scoring twice in the last ten minutes. Flynn builds a neat passing team that holds its own in the top half of Division Three. 

Late 90s onwards - club hits on hard times, enters administration and is relegated to Division Four. Future of the club is uncertain; property developer, having claimed to acquire the ground (for a song), wants to sell, realising a handsome profit in the process. In court, after protracted wranglings, judge rules in favour of the club. 

"Wrexham Lager, Wrexham Lager, 
Feed me till I want no more, want no more, 
Feed me till I want no more."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bits and pieces

Tomorrow Great Leighs in Essex will go into the record books as the first new British course to stage racing since Taunton opened in 1927. I think it's fair to say that they've met with more than their fair share of delays on this project; let's hope everything operates smoothly from hereon in. To ensure the course's infrastructure is properly tested, the first few meetings at Great Leighs are 'invitation only' events and, yes, you've guessed it, they forgot to invite me. If you're keen to get to a meeting in the coming week, you could do a lot worse than Sandown's combined flat and jumps card on Saturday, with the Bet365 Gold Cup (formerly Whitbread Gold Cup) serving as the finale to the National Hunt season.

Watching a review of this week's Guineas trials on televison, Infallible looked impressive in winning the Nell Gwyn but John Gosden clearly rates Natagora. Twice Over held Raven's Pass, the pair clear, in the Craven; both John Francome and Jim McGrath envisage the same outcome should the pair reoppose in a fortnight's time. John Dunlop's Muthabara won the Dubai Duty Free at Newbury despite looking backward in her coat - you would expect her to improve significantly, although it was interesting to hear the trainer rate her as 'good but not fantastic' before the race. Mick Channon's yard is under a bit of a cloud at the moment; Nahoodh took a walk in the market and went on to disappoint but she is clearly held in very high regard. 6/1 shot Paco Boy took the Greenham and will probably be supplemented; Sir Michael Stoute's 11/8 favourite Confront didn't handle the soft ground. To my mind this Greenham form looks weaker than the Craven.

Missing a birthday - a mere peccadillo, isn't it? Three weeks ago this blog celebrated its second birthday with over three hundred and forty posts. I know what you're going to say - you wouldn't care if the tips were half decent. The truth is I only do blogging so I don't have to watch East Enders...

On the footballing front, Wrexham's 1-0 defeat of fellow strugglers Notts County appears to have postponed relegation from the Football League for another few days. The inevitable now looks likely to become reality at Edgar Street on Tuesday evening when promotion-chasing Hereford entertain The Dragons. I feel a little like someone who works on obituaries at a newspaper - I've done the preparation, I know what has to be said, it's just a question of when it comes about...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Scottish Grand National

Twenty four go to post in tomorrow's Scottish Grand National at Ayr but there's a peculiarly lop-sided feel to the race with only three horses racing off their correct handicap mark. Miko De Beauchene has been in good form this season, has a nice racing weight and will handle the conditions. He's my idea of the winner and is likely to trade around the 6/1 mark - I should point out that in the past this hasn't been a particularly lucky race for me. Those looking for something at a bigger price with an each-way shout may want to consider Ossmoses at around 12/1 or Philson Run at 20/1. Ossmoses ran well enough after a long layoff last time out and will handle the ground; I'm concerned that on his second run back after such a long layoff he may 'bounce' and you could easily argue that the value has disappeared from the odds on offer. Philson Run appeared unlucky to fall early in the Grand National at Aintree. He's had a light campaign and comes to this relatively fresh. The soft ground will help - it will stop the others getting away - and I think he has reasonable place prospects. Being of Scottish descent, Mrs Tips always takes a keen interest in this event; she has put up Leading Man and Kilbeggan Blade as her two against the field.

The Scottish Champion Handicap Hurdle is due off at 3.00; note that this is a limited handicap, with only five of the seventeen participants racing off their correct rating. In a very difficult race I may have a speculative each-way punt on Bywell Beau at around 25/1 - he will certainly handle the ground.

Noland will be long odds-on in the 2.30 Future Champion Novices' Chase but I'll consider opposing with Starzaan, particularly if the price is 6/1 as today's Sporting Life tissue indicates. The conditions of this race mean there's just one pound between the two using official handicap ratings. Two and a half miles, soft ground and a flat track suit Starzaan who, despite his age, has relatively few miles on the clock.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sporting snippets...

Racing takes place at Cheltenham on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evening this coming week, while Ayr race on Friday and Saturday, with the Scottish Grand National the highlight.

I'm not an avid follower of the The Times' 'Ask Lucia' feature, where readers are encouraged to write in to Lucia van der Post with their fashion queries. Anyway, Mrs Tips brought my attention to last Friday's column which carried the headline 'I want to look gorgeous at the gee-gees'. A female reader with £500 to spend was seeking advice on what to wear; just one week after the Aintree meeting, Lucia was pulling no punches. "Well, we certainly got a lesson last week in how not to do it. The pictures from Aintree were awful. Quite apart from the vulgarity of so much flesh on display (the cleavage, the thighs), I wondered how many of the women ended up with pneumonia." Yikes. Ms van der Post advocates the Carla Bruni approach - 'the combination of beauty and demure clothes' - but isn't convinced you can pull it off with a meagre £500 in your purse. Different world, isn't it?

It was a case of footballing highs and lows in the Tips' household this weekend. My home town team, Wrexham, suffered another defeat that brought relegation from the Football League a step closer but Mrs Tips' home town team, Queen of the South, beat Aberdeen 4-3 to reach the Scottish Cup Final for the first time in their history - well done Queens!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Newbury and Uttoxeter

I have to confess I've found it difficult to drum up much enthusiasm for the fare on offer tomorrow. At Newbury The Bathwick Tyres Handicap Chase looks a little sub-standard for the money on offer. The trip is just short of two miles three and the one to catch my eye is Venetia Williams' Misty Dancer. He's joint top-rated with Mister Quasimodo on Racing Post ratings and comes to this fresh compared to most of the other runners. Mister Quasimodo is useful but somewhat inconsistent- he strikes me as a horse for whom it all has to go just right. The drying ground won't necessarily suit Mister Q or, for that matter, top weight Kalca Mome so I see the dangers as Its Crucial and King Louis. I'll pass over Its Crucial as his jumping can be sketchy but I can see King Louis coming from behind to get involved at the business end. Misty Dancer is the selection.

Seventeen go to post in the mares only novices' hurdle at 3.30 - Otarie looks the form pick. Appleaday hasn't won over fences yet but he ran a decent race here last time out and gets the vote in the 4.00, although the fact the stable hasn't had a winner over jumps for the best part of two and a half months is a major concern.

At Uttoxeter it's a surprise to see Saintsaire running in the Claiming Chase at 4.55. He's easily the top-rated horse, having kept much more exalted company than this, and is likely to start odds-on. I won't be rushing to back him as he's never struck me as the most resolute and he's done most of his racing over two to two and a half miles; this is just shy of two miles seven and the going is soft. Those looking to oppose will need to consider Mr Boo, Lawyer Des Ormeaux and Willies Way - if I decide to play, I'll take a chance that Mr. Boo can act on the ground.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Relegation beckons...

When we were kids there was a rule in our house - no boasting when you win, no sulking when you lose. I still try to abide by that rule but, as the end of this football season approaches, I'm finding it increasingly difficult. It's not so much I have a case of the sulks as a case of downright depression. I have supported Wrexham Football Club for most of my life; there can be little doubt now that they will lose their Football League status in May. I accepted the unthinkable a couple of weeks back when we played out a hapless no-score draw at home to Dagenham and Redbridge. Interviewed after the game, manager Brian Little talked about preparing for next season in 'The Conference'. In my lifetime Wrexham have finished bottom of the Football League on two occasions - once in the mid-sixties when they were 're-elected' (as used to happen in those days) and once in the early nineties, when, for some reason I don't recall, relegation from the league was suspended. They are likely to finish bottom this season after 87 years of League football. The warning signs have been there for all to see - victory against Boston United in the final game ensured survival last year. Yet, twelve months on it's come to this. Without judging, I point out that Darren Ferguson, a former club captain who was keen to learn the ropes while still a player (and whose father knows a thing or two about football management), was denied his chance. Darren has gone on to prove his worth at Peterborough United who are currently challenging for the League Two championship; Wrexham will start next season in the Blue Square Premiership.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Notes from the National

The new 'improved' start worked a treat, with the field on their way at the first time of asking. Makes you wonder what all the fuss was about...

One firm went 8/1 no fallers at the first fence; those brave enough to take the odds will have been on good terms with themselves. Jockeys' reactions after the race were noted on The Sporting Life website where Wilson Renwick's quote caught my eye, "The way he [Backbeat] jumped the first I didn't think he'd get very far." The horse fell at the second.

Unusually in the Tips' household, Mrs Tips was on jolly good terms with herself. Independently she tipped Comply Or Die, King John's Castle, Slim Pickings and Bewleys Berry to various members of the extended family. With baited breath we await her straight forecast selection for the Scottish National which takes place at Ayr a week on Saturday, April 19th.

I placed some of my National wagers at the local William Hill outlet early in the morning; they appeared to be experiencing intermittent problems with the communications equipment. The middle-aged lady behind the screen informed me that nobody really cared any more - when it was raining and you had to use the staff toilet, the rain came through the ceiling and fell on your head. Priceless.

My guess is that Comply Or Die is the first blinkered horse to win the National in a long time. If I get the chance, I'll trawl through some old form books...

Friday, April 04, 2008

Grand National selections

Forty will line up for tomorrow's Grand National at 4.15. In recent years the starter has encountered inexplicable problems when trying to send them on their way; let's hope the new man on the rostrum is up to the task. Two horses look well in at the weights - Cloudy Lane and Comply Or Die. Favourite Cloudy Lane is bypassed as he offers no value at all (as low as 9/2 with Ladbrokes) and I still need to be convinced he stays this marathon trip. Here are my selections...

1. Slim Pickings - third last year and may well have finished closer but for hitting the last; trained specifically for this. Best priced 12/1 with Ladbrokes.

2. Comply Or Die - has a nice racing weight and proved he stays over four miles by winning the Eider Chase at Newcastle in February. Generally a 10/1 shot.

3. Simon - going well when falling at Valentine's last year; has a touch of class and the weight to go with it. 12/1 with most bookmakers.

4. Bewleys Berry - likes Aintree and looked a player when falling at Becher's on the second circuit last time; 14/1.

Those looking for slighter bigger odds may want to consider an each-way wager on either Point Barrow (appears overpriced at 25/1 with Ladbrokes) - he was favourite for this last year but has been a little below his best this term, or Philson Run (28/1 with Corals) who would benefit from a drop of rain. Good luck!

I think the John Smith's People's Race is scheduled to be run at around 1.00pm (before the opener). I'm not sure if this will be televised live, but it will be worth watching should you get the chance. Well done to all the amateur jockeys - win or lose, tomorrow will be a day they'll all remember for the rest of their lives.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Aintree Friday

Friday is Liverpool Ladies' Day. The star attraction, arguably, is the champion two mile chaser, Master Minded, in the Melling Chase at 3.10. He runs over two and a half here, but such was the authority of his victory at Cheltenham the starting price will be prohibitive; a race to savour.

The opener looks like a re-run of the Royal & SunAlliance three weeks ago. Battle Cry ran well at a big price on that occasion, finishing third behind Albertas Run. AR is likely to start favourite but Aintree may be more suited to BC's style of running. Big Buck's is a young horse with an engine but he isn't the most trustworthy at the obstacles. Many will fancy Roll Along to reverse Cheltenham form with AR but I'll be tempted to take a chance on Battle Cry provided the price offers value.

Souffleur and Tazbar apart, the protagonsits in the 2.35 met recently in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham. On that occasion Nenuphar Collonges came out on top but The Tother One, ridden by Sam Thomas, appeared to throw the race away by wandering violently left then right between the last two flights. It was hardly Sam Thomas' most illustrious moment but, full credit to the man, he went out thirty minutes later to win the Gold Cup on Denman. That said, it's not surprising to see Ruby Walsh back on board here. I fancied Gone To Lunch for the Cheltenham event but he ran a strangely subdued race before staying on to finish fifth. Tazbar and Souffleur come to this fresh. Tazbar is very highly regarded and beat Souffleur easily at Haydock in February, but the Peter Bowen stable was under a cloud at the time. All things considered, I'll support The Tother One with Ruby in the plate.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Aintree Thursday

Over the years I've found this meeting extremely tricky. Many of the entries have been trained primarily for Cheltenham in March; just three short weeks later and Liverpool pops up. How much has Cheltenham taken out of the top horses? Will the selection act around Aintree? In the past, for me personally, a cautious approach has proved the better course to follow.

Five go to post in the totepsort Bowl at 2.35 including Kauto Star. It's interesting to note that in today's Weekender a couple of commentators are prepared to take on the Gold Cup second with Gungadu. I'd be wary about betting KS at short odds as, to my mind, he had quite a hard race behind Denman. Exotic Dancer may have come on for the run at Cheltenham following his training setback while Our Vic should have no stamina concerns on this flat track. A trappy affair that I'll watch from the sidelines.

I'd expect Inglis Drever to take the opener but his price will make little appeal. The 3.10 looks between Celestial Halo and Binocular on paper; Harper Valley can be a tricky ride and has something to find with the two top-rated horses but his defeat of Franchoek last December reads well. Speaking of Franchoek, he tries two and a half miles for the first time in the 4.55; I'm not convinced it will prove his best trip and may oppose with Donald McCain's mare Whiteoak.