Friday, October 31, 2008

Saturday selections for Wetherby

2.20 My Petra
3.00 Pettifour
3.35 I'll give State Of Play another chance at these weights...

Monday, October 27, 2008


European horses took five of the nine races at Santa Anita on Saturday. As Raven's Pass crossed the line to take the Classic, my mind wandered back to an interview the trainer gave after his charge had beaten Henrythenavigator a length in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. He told onlookers that they'd spent a lot of time teaching the horse how to relax; it's certainly paid dividends as John Gosden becomes the first British trainer to take the Classic's $5 million first prize.

Robert 'Choc' Thornton rode a good race aboard Squadron at Aintree yesterday. The Nicholls' yard fielded Pierrot Lunaire, an animal that was talked of as a potential Champion Hurdle horse. He may still be, but Thornton cranked up the pressure on the French horse as they raced down the far side and had the odds-on shot beaten at the last. The favouite took a crashing fall there and was severely winded - he was given plenty of time to come round and eventually walked away sound.

John Smith's are now looking for entries for The People's Race 2009. If you fancy your chances as as a budding jockey, further details and an application form are available from the website.

I missed Bill's Echo for a second time - at Stratford on Saturday; this time the beast won at 7/2.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Chepstow and Aintree

Chepstow's card tomorrow looks more interesting than Aintree's offering. Alan King's Junior makes his seasonal debut and is the top-rated animal in the opening Persian War Novices' Hurdle over two and a half miles. There are plenty of respected opponents in the field including Tarablaze, Gray Mountain and Khachaturian, all of whom have had a run in the last three weeks. Khachaturian may try to make all and will be dangerous if allowed a soft lead but at the weights Junior has to be the selection.

Only five go to post in the Beginners' Chase at 2.20; on paper it looks a match between Big Fella Thanks and Wichita Lineman. Wichita missed his intended comeback race at Southwell earlier in the week on account of the ground. Paul Nicholls' Big Fella Thanks looks the one to beat; the trainer commented last Sunday that the yard had been concentrating on schooling the novices over the past few weeks.

Hills Of Aran has some good form to his name and makes some appeal as an each-way wager in the 2.50. The horse didn't appear the easiest of rides last year, often coming on and off the bridle in his races, and there's still a slight suspicion he might be better going the other way round. He's had a pipe-opener on the Flat, Keith Goldsworthy's team are running to form and he'll handle any rain that falls between now and the off.

The going at Aintree is currently described as good to soft. Tatenen will be a warm order to take the 1.35 for Nicholls but I'm tempted to go against the crowd and take a chance with Striking Article who jumped well when winning at Hexham two weeks ago - he could anything.

Burntoakboy is a speculative choice for the Veterans' Chase (2.05) but he should improve for his recent pipe-opener while I'm prepared to give Black Jacari another chance in the juvenile hurdle (2.40) following his defeat at Market Rasen by Indian Dream. That day Black Jacari hung away from the running rail as they came up the home straight; racing left-handed here should suit better.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Breeders' Cup 2008

The Breeders' Cup meeting takes place at Santa Anita over the next two days, with five races on Friday and nine on Saturday. Times shown below are UK times.

Friday 24th October

20.35 Fillies and Mares Sprint
21.15 Juvenile Fillies Turf
21.55 Juvenile Fillies
22.35 Filly & Mare Turf
23.15 Ladies Classic

Saturday 25th October

18.10 Marathon
18.50 Turf Sprint
19.30 Dirt Mile
20.15 Mile
20.55 Juvenile
21.35 Juvenile Turf
22.15 Sprint
23.00 Turf
23.45 Classic

This week's Weekender incorporates an illuminating guide, describing the Santa Anita course as 'Chester with Polytrack'. The general consensus appears to be that it's a disadvantage to be drawn wide. By far and away the most intriguing race is the Classic, the final race of the whole meeting, where Henrythenavigator, Raven's Pass and Duke Of Marmalade throw down a strong European challenge to American champion Curlin. There are queries about the ten furlong trip for both Henrythenavigator and Raven's Pass; Nick Mordin takes the view Henrythenavigator will stay the better but, barring mishaps, I intend to take a chance on Raven's Pass lasting home, particularly as the early pace is likely to be slow.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The intray

This weekend I couldn't help but spare a thought for Eddie Ahern. After finishing second on the appropriately named Times Up in the 2.00 race at Newmarket on Friday, Eddie left the weighing room and went for a bit of a walkabout. When he returned, he found he'd missed the deadline to weigh out on his next intended mount, Charlie Farnsbarns in the 3.10. Able deputy Ryan Moore guided the 50/1 outsider to a one and half length victory over 5/2 favourite Bankable. Poor old Eddie! Instead of collecting his share of the £36,000 win prize money, he was served with a £140 fine. Still, things looked a little better on Saturday afternoon when he took the mount on another 50/1 shot, Caracciola. Caracciola won the Cesarewitch by three lengths.

Snap Tie turned over champion hurdler Katchit at Kempton on Sunday. After the race Katchit's trainer Alan King said he was disappointed (with the result) but satisfied (with the performance).

Sticking with Alan King, in a recent stable tour feature he indicated there are plans to race Franchoek over further (than two miles) in the coming season. The trainer feels the horse could make up into a World Hurdle contender.

Tomorrow Exeter hosts the inaugral running of the Best Mate Beginners' Chase at 3.10. The race has attracted some interesting entries including Straw Bear, Pasco, Or Bleu and Sir Harry Ormesher. I had planned to go to Ludlow on Thursday as I haven't been there for a few years but unfortunately something has turned up and I can't make it - the bookmakers will have to get their dinner money from somebody else. A course I've never visited is Hexham but a few friends made it up there a week last Saturday. They didn't leave the course 'with a carrier bag of bookies' loot', but they felt the course was small, friendly with good viewing, although there were no large screens in place. The course is situated on a hill - the weather was sunny but the wind chilling. Entrance into the parade ring and the stables was included in the £10 admission price. I think I'll try and make the effort to get up there sometime in the foreseeable future.

Finally, I have been reminded that it was Robbie Box (not Fox) that featured in the BBC series 'Big Deal'. Should you wish, you can buy the complete Series 1 from Amazon for just £17.98. Hmmm... think I'll give that one a miss.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Weekend highlights

New Approach tries for his third Group 1 win of the season in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket tomorrow but I won't be tempted into getting invovled. Last time out the Derby winner had to be kept up to his work to fend off Traffic Guard half a length; my guess is more will be required here and he could be vulnerable.

Invariably you can find a few jumpers in a Cesarewitch field and this year is no exception. On June's Ascot Stakes' form there's nothing between Missoula, Mamlook and Liberate. Although Missoula won the race, you could take the view that Mamlook would have collected the spoils with a clear run. While Missoula has been busy since, the other two come to this fresh. The Pipe yard hasn't really hit form this season so I'm going to have a small each-way interest in Philip Hobbs' Liberate who wears cheek pieces for the first time which, I hope, will help him concentrate that little bit more in the closing stages of the race. Jamie Spencer takes the ride.

Cheltenham's first Saturday card of the new season serves up some competitive-looking fare. In the feature handicap chase at 3.25 Ouzbeck is worth a mention but this looks a stiff task for a novice, particularly one who unseated his rider last time out. A number make their seasonal debuts but I'm siding with Lord Ryeford who has decent form this summer; the going and the trip are right up his street.

No selection for the Mick Fitzgerald Novices' Hurdle run thirty five minutes later but this race will be worth noting for future reference. Incidentally Mick's autobiography, entitled 'Better Than Sex', is now available from all good bookstores; quite a catchy title - I reckon it could be a bestseller!

Kempton hosts a fine card on Sunday, the highlight being the return of champion hurdler Katchit in the 4.35. A recorded interview with Katchit's trainer, Alan King, has been available on the Racing Post site over the last few days. By my calculations it was filmed roughly a fortnight ago; in it the trainer comments that his charge has 'thickened out' but is 20 kilos above his racing weight of last season. Teletext report today that the horse is expected to 'come on for the run'. That being the case, I won't be in a rush to take a short price about the champ; two to consider as plays against him are Snap Tie and Katies Tuitor.

In the same video, Mr. King is quite bullish about Greenbridge who runs in the 2.50. Greenbridge has schooled very well and the trainer admits that he's 'excited about him'. I'll take the hint, although he won't have it all his own way with Paul Nicholls' I'msingingtheblues also in the line-up.

Top-rated horse Woolcombe Folly looks the answer to the 3.25.

Provided the prices aren't too short, two other King inmates I'll consider on the card are Saticon in the opener and Nikos Extra in the 5.05.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Matters arising...

One approach I've tried in the past when searching for value is to oppose Paul Nicholls' runners early in the season, before the stable gets into full swing. Mr. Nicholls' four-timer at Chepstow on Saturday, complemented by Breedsbreeze's victory at Bangor, would appear to indicate I'll need to come up with something different this year.

Talk of Paul Nicholls and before long the subject of Denman crops up. The horse is a best-priced 13/8 shot to win the Gold Cup for a second time next March. The Aon Chase at Newbury in February is pencilled in as his target; no horse has returned to action so late and gone on to win chasing's Blue Riband in the last twenty years. Alan Lee's piece in Saturday's Times contained this interesting quote from the trainer about his charge: "It worried the hell out of me until we knew what it was ... He was losing condition and getting so tired he wouldn't even put his head over the door. The treatment knocked him back further but there's an 85 per cent chance he'll have no further problems..." Denman is presently confined to his box.

I didn't get time to look at the Bangor card before my post on Friday evening. More's the pity as I would probably have referred to an earlier blog note on Bill's Echo. "Bill's Echo ... will be worth a second look next time out." The blessed beast won Bangor's 2.25 at odds of 14/1.

You knew it had to happen - connections have decided to retire unbeaten filly Zarkava to stud. Her victory in the Arc will live long in the memory.

With the demise of Superform I have just purchased The Form Book Jumps Annual for the first time. This definitive reference work retails at £30 but is available from Amazon for just £19.50 with free delivery thrown in - the best book bargain I've bagged in ages!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chepstow and Hexham

Chepstow is the location for the BBC's first televised jumps card of the season, the action starting at 1.25 with the charmingly named 'Get Your Chips @ Handicap Chase'. In a previous life this race was sponsored by Mercedes Benz and was a significant milestone in the build-up of the National Hunt season. Last year's winner Bowleaze isn't easy to catch right but I always think winning course form is a big plus at this venue. Many are returning from their summer break so fitness and/or freshness can be a problem. It's hard to be confident about Boychuk; if on form he'll be on the premises. I'll also watch with interest front running Ice Tea's performance. On a course that favours front runners, he could be competitive if his jumping stands up.

Crack Away Jack, winner of the Fred Winter juvenile hurdle at Cheltenham in March, returns in the 2.00 race and has already been the subject of plenty of column inches. He'll be popular but Alan King's Squadron catches the eye and is the selection.

Taking a short price about a Paul Nicholls runner is often a dilemma at this stage of the season when you can't be certain the yard is fully wound up. The obvious one to put up against Herecomesthetruth in the 2.35 is Twiston-Davies' Crescent Island but that one ran out last time. I'll leave this race alone.

Wake Board went into many people's notebooks when winning impressively at Bangor last tine out; he gets the vote in the 3.40.

A couple of friends are going up to Hexham tomorrow; earlier in the week I was asked to look at the card and come up with suggestions. It's not the best of cards - here are the selections with particular caution advised in the latter races.

2.15 Striking Article
2.45 Laureldean Melody
3.20 Just For Men
3.50 Shankly Bond
4.25 Youngstown
5.00 No selection
5.35 Bracken Lad.

Monday, October 06, 2008

After the Arc

The BBC's Arc coverage certainly succeeded in conveying the excitement and sense of expectation from the track; it was unfortunate that post-race analysis had to be cut short following the delayed start. I didn't think Zarkava would win, but I certainly wouldn't have appeared on national television, as Rishi Persad did, saying 'If Zarkava wins, I'll walk home.' I wonder how far north of Paris he is...

One small correction - Zarkava's win from stall number one was the first time a horse has won from that berth since 1964.

From the sublime to the ridiculuous - the false start in the earlier Prix de l'Abbaye threatened to cast a cloud over the whole meeting. Stall 17, housing Jeremy Noseda's Fleeting Spirit, failed to open. The race was eventually re-run at the end of the day with Marchand D'Or collecting the spoils.

With everyone's attention on Longchamp, Wacky Macky Bear's victory in the 10th Mascot Grand National at Huntingdon has gone practically unnoticed. The Saffron Waldron Town mascot was winning the race for the second year in succession.

Christmas is coming. Two books on my present list are Ed Whitaker's 'In The Frame: Great Racing Photographs' and Andrew Longmore's 'Kieren Fallon: The Biography'. The latter text doesn't appear to be available in hardback at the moment; according to Waterstone's, the paperback is due to be published in February 2009.

Steve Coogan is to star as Bob 'Bing' Crosby in 'Sunshine', a bittersweet drama from the BBC about a workshy binman who develops an addiction to gambling; the first episode is tomorrow at 9.00pm. It brings to mind Robbie Fox from twenty odd years ago in a series I can't remember the name of. In all honesty this doesn't really make much appeal - I'll probably see how it starts off.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Arc

Sixteen go to post for what looks a very strong renewal of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, billed as the richest turf race in the world. Opinion is divided about the unbeaten filly Zarkava who showed an exceptional turn of foot to win the Vermeille after forfeiting six lengths at the start. A repeat of that trick tomorrow from stall one will make winning all but impossible. This is the first time she races against colts and geldings and older horses; at the prices available I'm prepared to take the favourite on. Of the O'Brien pair, I prefer Soldier Of Fortune to Duke Of Marmalade as he comes to this a fresh horse. 'The Duke' is tough but has had a long hard season; I note he's drawn in stall fourteen - in the last ten years only two horses have won from a double figure draw. Overnight rain will improve Soldier Of Fortune's chances but will hinder The Duke. In the Weekender both Nick Mordin and Alistair Whitehouse-Jones use the stats to select Vision D'Etat. It promises to be a fascinating race; I take Soldier Of Fortune to collect the spoils. The best each-way value could be Mick Channon's Youmzain who was a close second in this last year behind Dylan Thomas. Whatever happens, let's hope we have a race to remember.

Friday, October 03, 2008

From Newmarket to Fontwell

Tomorrow thirty five go to post at Newmarket for the Cambridgeshire run over a trip of nine furlongs; the market has proved a reasonable guide over the years. Firstly, let me admit that the Cambridgeshire is not one of my favourite races. At the time of writing Luca Cumani's Swop is 8/1 favourite with most bookmakers but Ladbrokes have taken a stand by offering 10s. Prince Kalamoun has been steadily backed through the week while I wasn't too convinced by Ask The Butler's performance when sixth behind Presvis at Newbury a fortnight ago. Sir Mark Prescott fields two, Master of Arts and Caravel. The ground looks to have gone against the former; as the trainer feels there isn't much between the two on the gallops I'll risk a small each-way investment on the lightly-weighted Caravel at around 16/1 - over the past ten years eight winners have carried less than nine stones.

The jumps season is gradually building momentum and Fontwell stages an interesting card with the first race due off at 2.15. The handicap hurdle at 5.10 is competitive; top weight Winsley Hill will be popular after his second behind King's Head at Plumpton recently. In the closing stages of that race Alrafid made up plenty of ground to finish fourth on his comeback after a break. If he can build on that effort course winner Alrafid should be on the premises and rates an each-way bet at around 8/1. The performance of Postmaster in the 3.25 will provide a pointer as he was beaten a neck into third by Winsley Hill at Plumpton with the selection four lengths behind.

Postmaster is the top-rated animal in the 3.25 but faces an improving sort in David Pipe's Phoenix Des Mottes. The Pipe runner is likely to start favourite but Evan Williams' charge would offer some value if 3/1 became available.

On official ratings Tayarat is the one to beat in the opener. His jumping was far from perfect last time on his first try over hurdles but he still managed to finish second, clear of the rest of the field.

Only eight go to post in the 4.35 but a couple could go off like scalded cats. Soleil Fix is one of them and is of interest but on balance this looks just a little too trappy.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Tommo tips a treble!

Earlier today I was alerted to the fact that Derek 'Tommo' Thompson and former Flat jockey Richard Fox were opening a new Betfred shop in Coventry city centre. I've been trying to keep out of betting shops recently, what with the credit crunch and Mrs Tips badgering me all the time to switch the heating on, but this just seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so I popped in during the dinner hour to check out the fun. There were plenty of free bets up for grabs with Tommo asking punters (mostly) racing questions and Mr. Fox chipping in with a sly quip here and there. The double act liberally interspersed their well-rehearsed racing stories with advertisments for Tommo's tipping line. At one point punters were asked to guess which famous film Foxie had recently appeared in. The wags suggested Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, E.T. and Lord of the Rings but it turns out Mr. Fox has doubled for Ron Weasley in one of the Harry Potter movies. Tommo's tour-de-force was to walk the office, pointing out his four best bets of the day. Bless my old boots, three of them obliged - Ouqba at Salibury (15/8f), Enticement at Nottingham (11/4f) and Stevie Junior at Kempton (4/7f). His other selection, Damini (evens favourite), came in fifth. Apparently the Channel Four presenter expects something of a surprise in Sunday's Arc but for details of that you'll have to ring his (premium-rate) phone line number nearer the time. I'm currently considering that option...