Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Twitter Guide to the Grand National entries

The beauty of Twitter is its 140 character limit. Here are my notes on the entries for this year’s Grand National - with no more than 140 characters per entry…

Cloudy Lane Small horse, big weight
Chelsea Harbour Ninth last year, prefer some cut
Snowy Morning Third last year, out of sorts this year
Knowhere Near enough when falling at Valentine’s (second time) last year; 66/1 looks big
Comply Or Die Last year’s winner ran decent trail at Cheltenham after two poor efforts; each-way claims
Ollie Magern Front runner who likes Wetherby; not the biggest individual - others preferred
Black Apalachi Won The Becher over National fences in November; needs soft
Hear The Echo Won the Irish National last year and aimed at this; interesting
Preists Leap Wants plenty of rain before the off
My Will Fifth in Gold Cup, first in the betting, no value
Eurotrek At thirteen probably too old now
State Of Play A chance at his best but has disappointed too often before for my liking
Big Fella Thanks At seven probably not experienced enough
Mon Mome Tenth last year; each-way shout if in the mood
Silver Birch Won the 2007 running but been off injured a long time
Butler’s Cabin Good chance if he can get past Becher’s where he fell last year; needs McCoy in the plate
Offshore Account Unexposed dark horse at around 40/1
Parsons Legacy Chance if he’s in the mood but not for me
Reveillez Unlikely
Fundamentalist His best years appear behind him
Golden Flight Formerly with Guillaume Macaire; beaten long way at Cheltenham Festival three weeks ago
L’ami Gave Mick Fitz horror fall last year; now with Enda Bolger who may have worked the oracle
Battlecry Not really built on last season’s achievements as a novice
Cornish Sett Bit of a character who finished twelfth last year and could run well; 33/1 shot
Fleet Street Has stamina doubts
Musica Bella Long time since a French horse won this
Can’t Buy Time Fourth in the Cheltenham four miler, not getting up the hill; take the hint if AP rides
Darkness Considered good prospect once but picked up an injury. Each-way chance if jumping holds out
Irish Invader Good form, prefer soft, each-way claims providing he stays
Rambling Minster Ticks the right boxes, the percentage call (if there is such a thing in a race like this!)
Southern Vic Ruby Walsh prefers My Will
Kilbeggan Blade Has nice racing weight and should stay but I think he prefers going right-handed
Brooklyn Brownie Second over National fences in Grand Sefton last November; not guaranteed to stay
Himalayan Trail Won Midlands National for Sue Smith; reasonable each-way claims at 33s
Arteea Hard to fancy
Cerium 500/1 chance sums it up
Idle Talk Never been the best of jumpers but finished fourteenth last year; of limited appeal
Kelami Fell at the eleventh last year and has shown no form since
Zabenz Twelve year old who looks past his prime

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Weekend notes

Expresso Star proved to be the proverbial Group horse in a handicap, taking Saturday's Lincoln by two and and a half lengths from Zaahid. Bookmakers had indicated earlier in the week that they feared Expresso Star. In Saturday's Racing Post Kate Miller of William Hill notes the eventual winner was the only loser in their book; the money arrived for the horse over the past fortnight.

This week's racing will be dominated by the big Aintree meeting which starts Thursday. If allowed to take his chance, Denman will be worth watching on the first day in the Totesport Bowl Steeple Chase. Trainer Paul Nicholls in yesterday's Racing Post: "I'm making Denman my pigeon catcher as no horse has impressed me more since Cheltenham." Denman was 7/1 to win the Gold Cup two and a half weeks ago; at the time of writing he's odds on with Betfair to take this event. Friday is Ladies' Day - I guess there will be plenty of opportunity to spot the rich and famous - and news is that apparently Wayne Rooney's wife Coleen is expecting their first child. Saturday is the day of the big race itself, the Grand National. The National is the one omission on Tony McCoy's impressive CV - this will be his fourteenth attempt to land the spoils. His mount, Butler's Cabin, currently trades at around 10/1.

After watching ITV's tribute to Brian Clough earlier in the week, my mind wandered back to the days of black and white television, John Rickman, the 'ITV Seven' and racing results which were displayed on screen in a grid/table type form that, I'm guessing, had to be written out manually, probably by one of the ladies you could see working behind Dickie Davies. I'm sure it was Graham Goode who used to say '...and now for some full SPs' by way of introduction. Will we ever see the like again?

What's Paul Merson doing these days? Well, he's struck himself an advertising deal with a bookmaker called Better... I have nothing else to say.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Wedding day winners?

I have to go to a family wedding in Herefordshire tomorrow; as old age creeps up on me, in my mind I've found the terms Schadenfreude and weddings become ever more closely associated... What I tend to do on occasions such as this is go through the runners the night before, looking for names of horses with wedding day connotations and then, if asked, suggest to interested guests they bet those particular beasts. You won't be surprised to learn that over a ten year period the wedding day selections have performed much better than the selections I make using my normal methods. Mrs Tips and I have quickly perused tomorrow's runners at Doncaster and Kempton - Mrs T. likes Quiet Elegance, Bond Together, Grand Passion, Hearts Of Fire and Could It Be Magic while I much prefer Don't Panic, Against The Grain, Outrageous Request and Pullyourfingerout (those are the ones I was allowed to publish).

It's the first day of the Flat tomorrow. The highlight is the Lincoln at 3.55 which, as usual, has the look of a bookmakers' benefit. A decision on the participation of ante-post favourite Expresso Star is unlikely to be made before trainer John Gosden has walked the course. Earlier in the week the Racing Post informed us the layers were being kept awake at night worrying about this Expresso Star; now it's looking even money he'll run. I'm steering well clear.

It may be the opening day of the Flat but the big name jocks are riding at the Dubai World Cup fixture. If you fancy a flutter I recommend using Nick Mordin's analysis in the Weekender as a starting point; Nick is particularly bullish about Casino Drive and correspondingly negative about the opponents he faces in the Dubai World Cup due off at 5.30.

If I can find a betting shop in the local High Street, I'll cut away from the festivities for five minutes and stick a fiver on something at Uttoxeter or Lingfield. Tomorrow's meet at Uttoxeter is billed as 'Lambrini Classic Raceday' - make of that what you will - Scutch Mill gets the nod in the seller. Paul Nicholls is usually complimetary about his charges but this evening on Teletext he's not particularly complimentary about Predateur in the 3.45; I'll look to oppose the likely favourite, although making a case for any of the others looks hard work. The market says Sandhurst but Personal Column should handle the ground, has run in better class races and will offer some value against the front two.

Lodge Lane has been chalked up favourite for the 4.00 at Lingfield and would win if at his best but he's been nowhere near recently, pulling up on the last two occasions; connections try blinkers for the first time. Charlie Mann's Fair Point had a hard enough race in the Festival four miler so comes with reservations but makes more appeal than King Jack on his first outing over the larger obstacles. Quickbeam ran an awful race at Wincanton so I'll chance Lucy Wadham's Backbord to win my hotel bar expenses in what looks a rather trappy event.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Odds 'n' ends

The Flat turf season starts this weekend with Doncaster's two-day meeting - the highlight is Saturday's William Hill Lincoln Handicap which is run over a mile. John Gosden's Expresso Star is as low as 4/1 in places; yesterday Teletext indicated the trainer thought reports of the colt's well-being had maybe got a little out of hand... Saturday is also World Cup day in Dubai with live coverage scheduled on Channel Four.

Those who prefer the jumping game will be looking forward to the Aintree three-day meeting which starts the following Thursday and culminates in the Grand National on Saturday April 4th. My Will's fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup has seen him come in for plenty of support for this four and half mile marathon - he's currently 10/1 favourite. Kim Muir winner Character Building looks to have a leading chance; Teletext report this evening that connections have received several offers for the horse from interested parties. If a sale is agreed, there is a stipulation that the horse will remain with current trainer John Quinn. I thought last year's winner Comply Or Die showed his first form this season when running a decent trial in the William Hill Chase at Cheltenham to finish seventh; he wouldn't want the ground too quick and is currently priced around the 20/1 mark. Tom George has booked Graham Lee for Kilbeggan Blade who is another that prefers cut (and, quite possibly, right-handed tracks).

One jockey who won't be riding in this year's National is Seamus Durack who led over the first but then took the wrong course and completely missed the second (the water jump) on Maree Hall at Stratford on Saturday. The infamous Huntingdon five (Graham Lee, Henry Oliver, Jamie Moore, Michael O'Connell and Danny Cook) all committed a similar indiscretion on Sunday but their bans will start after the big race.

Finally, a little music to finish off with, I think... The Ballad of Ruby Walsh by Irish singer Christy Moore. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Notes from a Saturday at Stratford

Glorious sunshine in the morning led to an off-the-cuff decision to go racing with daughter and her friend in the afternoon. I hadn't done the homework, so we only had a couple of small bets but it was all very pleasant...

The ground looked pretty quick but they didn't go particularly quick in the opening two mile three novice hurdle. Early doors Liam Treadwell was allowed something of a soft lead on 28/1 outsider Sargentos; the jockey must have thought Christmas had come early, because he cannily increased the leeway with the result that by halfway it was in the region of ten to twelve lengths. Those chasing got to work and had greatly reduced the margin coming to the end of the back straight but 5/4 favourite Deep Squeeze had used plenty of energy to get competitive and couldn't reel in the leader who won by two and a half lengths for local trainer John Allen. There appeared to be a bit of money for the Pipe trained The Accordionist but the gelding was never better than fourth and weakened from two out; on this showing two miles on decent ground looks his trip. Overheard in the Club Enclosure from one of the course's security personnel: "That's the biggest fix here today..."!

The two mile six and a half furlong seller looked a weak affair. Eleven year old The Wooden Spoon (4/1 co-favourite) showed plenty of determination to see off his rivals up the home straight. I'd picked up a word for 14/1 shot Starstruck Peter who looked to be going best of all as they came around the home turn but he faded to finish a one-paced third. Both the other co-favourites, Cantabilly and Super Ross, fell, at the fourth and fifth respectively. Unsurprisingly there was no bid for the winner.

Nacimo was priced up favourite in the Racing Post for the Gerry Holloway 60th Birthday Handicap Chase but he was declared a non-runner. In his absence Milton Des Bieffes looked the one to beat; he had recently won over course and distance and could easily be forgiven his last effort over a shorter trip - I took 13/8. He went off in front, got close to one early on but then proceeded to jump really well and stayed on up the home straight to collect by seven lengths. Winning owner Nick Shutts, interviewed over the PA after this race, was almost apologetic for withdrawing his A Few Kind Words from the 4.35; they've clearly had to be patient with that one and the ground here was clearly too fast - the hint was he could win races if kept sound. Beforehand I'd feared Hen Knight's Musical Chairs who was backed from 11/2 in to 4/1 and finished second; there may be a race in him in due course.

Drama aplenty in the conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle at four o'clock with Present falling at the sixth, bringing down 3/1 favourite What Happened and badly hampering Little Hotpotch - Carey Williamson had no chance and was unseated. A thrilling finish followed with Heebie Jeebie (16/1), Bolton Hall (9/1) and Quiny Boy (11/2) all leading at different points up the home straight. Bolton Hall looked to have fought off Heebie Jeebie but Quiny Boy, a tricky ride I'd say, decided to put it in and won in the final stride.

To my mind the market for the novice handicap chase at 4.35 had a decidedly lop-sided look to it. All the money was for Paradise Expected but this event appeared a relatively open affair and so it proved. Of course, all you had to do was pick the winner... That proved beyond me; I chanced Twiston-Davies' Bali Bay who didn't jump well and was beaten some way out. I've been experimenting with Twitter recently and tried for the first time texting to the service (from the paddock) where eventual winner Jackella (7/1) was on his toes. In the race Jackella's saddle slipped early on; coming to two out, amateur rider James Tudor lost his irons completely but still managed to get his mount home in front - an excellent display of horsemanship. 16/1 chance Maree Hall jumped the first in front and then missed out the water jump and had to be pullled up.

In the concluding bumper I quietly fancied Daaloob (5/2) against market leader Sure Josie Sure. The selection saw off his market rival but had no answer to 22/1 winner Extreme Conviction.

Whilst writing this, I had to nip out of the room for a 'comfort break'; on returning I found that other members of the Tips' household (the rotters) had raided the computer and added the following, completely unsollicited...

"'Fish Fingers was quite a star turn until one furlong out...' And, anyone who has paid attention and can fill in the gaps will win fifty pence!"

What does that mean?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Winter Derby

A week on from a vintage Gold Cup and the talk is of Kauto Star running at Punchestown and Denman at Aintree - I'm just finding it hard to get motivated by tomorrow's jumping cards. Newbury looks typically trappy - over the years I have been singularly unsuccessful in predicting the outcome of the mares' finals; having said that, I can't fancy Ping Pong Sivola in the 2.50 just nine days after she finished second in the Festival Plate at Cheltenham.

Funnily enough the ones that catch my eye run in bumpers. The Trevor Hemmings owned pair Peveril and Wymott start at Haydock and Bangor respectively. In this week's Weekender Donald McCain states they intended to run Wymott in the Haydock event 'unless the owner has something better in it'. Peveril, trained by Nicky Henderson, has been declared for Haydock, will have the assistance of McCoy in the saddle and is likely to start the short-priced favourite. Wymott goes to Bangor instead, doesn't want soft, is unlikely to get it and will perhaps start at a marginally better price. In the Stratford bumper David Pipe's filly Sure Josie Sure will be popular receiving weight from all her rivals but I'm tempted to oppose with Tim Vaughan's Daaloob; the Pipe yard has a poor win strike rate over the last fortnight (4.84%) in marked contrast to Tim Vaughan (25%).

All of which leads me on to the weekend's big race, the Winter Derby (Lingfield 3.05), which is run on the first day of spring. Now, if I know relatively little about about jump racing, I know absolutely nothing about the all-weather. Still, for reasons unknown, this race has caught my imagination. Likely favourite Premier Loco has been well-tipped (with accompanying puns about his 'steaming in' etc.) yet, to date, he hasn't won over the distance. Earlier in the week I half fancied Scintillo at a price and swapped notes with Sandracer on his blog about that one's chances. At the time the beast was around 16/1 but in the meantime he went and won a five runner event at Kempton and now trades at 8s in places. In discussions Sandracer mentioned Mick Channon's Halicarnassus and, to my mind, that one now looks a value play at around 16/1. The horse is drawn on the wide outside of the twelve runners which may be considered a disadvantage but the trainer was pretty upbeat about his charge in a mid-week interview, saying the horse was a Group 3 animal that had been running in better class races of late. At the prices on offer, I'm going to chance the top-rated Halicarnassus each-way at 16/1 (or maybe even bigger...)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Champion Chase Day 2009 - a view from Tatts

I made it to the Cheltenham Festival last Wednesday, the first time I've manged to get to a racecourse in the last eighteen months. Here's how things looked to an ordinary punter with a ticket for Tatts...

Two things I'd temporarily forgotten about this meeting quickly came back to mind. Firstly, once you've parked your car, you don't sit down again until after the racing has finished; by mid-afternoon the legs and back had started to ache... Secondly, when you go racing with friends and colleagues, not only do you lose money on your own losing selections, you end up losing money on your friends' losing selections as well.

The drive along the A40 into Cheltenham and to the course itself was completely trouble-free and traffic-free too, in marked contrast to previous years. The Times reported the crowd for the day to be in the region of 47,000 - this was the first time in the last ten years I have had a completely uninterrupted view straight down the course. A pint of Guinness in The Guinness Village cost £3.60 where Steve Bruce, the Wigan Athletic manager, was spotted. Later, near the paddock, one J. P. McManus walked past - I'm sure I heard him whisper 'Good blog, P.G.' to which I replied 'Thanks, J.P.' but I'm not sure he heard me...

As I've already hinted the reduced crowds meant it was fairly easy to secure decent viewing positions both in Tatts and in the paddock. After Tricky Trickster's victory for the Million In Mind Partnership in the opener, a couple of us struck up a conversation with a delightfully well-to-do lady whose brother-in-law was a member of the syndicate that had, by this point, practically taken over the winners' enclosure. Apparently bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley does the buying and sellling; they have a 'general clearout' around May time, which I guess was the reason why Twiston-Davies was keen to seek out a new buyer when talking to the Channel Four cameras. Alistair Down's quips on air about 'the tweedy set' and someone offering him £500 if he could find a Labour voter amongst the winners captured the scene perfectly.

Mikael d'Haguenet looked good in the paddock and was well-backed before the Ballymore. I saw 3/1 in places before the price contracted in to 9/4; he started 5/2 favourite. Connections think he could be a Gold Cup horse in time.

The Market Man sweated up badly before the RSA Chase. This looked a brutal race with Carruthers and Lightning Strike taking no prisoners by setting a blistering gallop from the off that had several in trouble on the first circuit. Gone To Lunch was one example of a horse that normally jumps well but was out of contention by the half-way point. I'm sure I saw 100/30 Cooldine in the ring but it didn't last long - all the money was for Ruby's mount. At the end Cooldine was the only one still galloping. Sam Thomas was given a two-day suspension for failing to ride out What A Friend for fifth position. As if that wasn't bad enough for the jock, Twist Magic, his ride in the Champion Chase, dumped him on the turf in front of the grandstand. Twist Magic did not look on good terms with himself.

Marodima's antics, breaking the tapes twice before the start of the big race, received short shrift from the punters around me - many suggested he should be withdrawn. Personally I thought Nick Scholfield did well to hold on to the horse. Master Minded's victory had an air of anti-climax about it. Several bookies in the ring decided to bet without the favourite but on many boards there were no clear signs to indicate this; after the race at least two of these bookies displayed the result as 1. Well Chief, 2. Petit Robin, 3. Newmill. For a minute I thought Newmill had run on for third place -all very confusing!

The ring was very quiet before the Coral Cup. A colleague had received two tips 'from an Irish source', one of which was for Kirbybroguelantern in this. I took 40/1 each-way and had a jolly decent run for my money, with the horse up there all the way and a close third two out before he faded to finish a respectable sixth. The other tip was for Alexander Severus in the Fred Winter. This opened 4/1, was backed in to 5/2 favouritism, and came there travelling on the bit two out. 'Easy!' cried my colleague. It turned out to be anything but as the horse found nil for pressure and finished fourth; he looks something of a bridle horse to me and is one to be wary of.

In the bumper ante-post favourite Sicilian Secret was very weak, drifting out to 9/1. The money came for Dermot Weld's Rite Of Passage but the stand-out horse in the paddock was eventual winner Dunguib who looked a picture. I harboured doubts about his amateur jockey in a race as competitive as this but plenty backed the horse, the price contracting from 13/2 to 9/2. Those who took the odds never had a moment's worry as the horse destroyed his field with a scintillating turn of foot. We all left the course that evening knowing that in Dunguib we had seen an exceptional animal.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cheltenham Festival profit / loss account 2009

For the record, here's the profit / loss details on the blog's highlighted selections to a £1 level stake over the four days at the Festival.

Osana E/W Unplaced
Punjabi E/W WON 22/1 returned 14.75
Comply Or Die E/W Unplaced
Gardre Champetre WIN WON 7/2 returned 4.50
United WIN 2nd
Can't Buy Time WIN 4th
Mikael d'Haguenet WIN WON 5/2 returned 3.50
Gone To Lunch WIN PU
Briareus E/W Fell
Serabad E/W Unplaced
Miss Sarenne WIN Unplaced
Rite Of Passage WIN 3rd
Kasbah Bliss WIN 4th
Starluck WIN 4th
Trenchant E/W 5th
Cape Tribulaton WIN 4th
Kauto Star WIN WON 7/4 returned 2.75
Exotic Dancer WIN 3rd

Total wagered £18.00
Total returned £25.50
Profit / Loss +£7.50
Win strike rate 22.2%
Profit as % of turnover 41.6%

[Notes: I've only included blog's highlighted selections; non-highlighted opinions contained both winners and losers. For example, the two Arkle opinions (Forpadydeplasterer and Planet Of Sound) were first and third respectively at 8/1 and 10/1.]

Much to my surprise, the figures read reasonably well. Of course, it would have been a completely different tale had Punjabi not managed to hang on in the Champion Hurdle by a fast-diminishing neck...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter

Those who like a challenge (and have money left over after the Cheltenham Festival) may want to consider the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter; the starter is scheduled to send them on their way at 3.10. Twenty are set to go to post but with underfoot conditions on the soft side at least three are expected to be withdrawn - Alderburn, Dom D'Orgeval and and Martha's Kinsman. Over the years Irish runners have fared particularly well in this race so it's no surprise to see Jessica Harrington's Badgerlaw priced up as favourite with Hold The Pin and Operation Houdini also holding prominent positions in the betting; in the past eight renewals, the winner has come from the front two in the market on five occasions. I've been on the lookout for a home-based runner with a weight under eleven stones. Neither Appleaday nor Kilcrea Asla is guaranteed to stay the distance; the booking of Barry Geraghty for Gidam Gidam catches the eye but there's a suspicion the horse may prefer better ground. Companero looks like a horse who will be suited by soft ground and will stay all day - he's reluctantly passed over as he's just a little too high in the handicap for my liking, so I'll probably take an each-way chance with Flintoff who runs some good races and some bad. Owned by Andrew Flintoff and Paul Beck, he comes to this fresh and hails from a stable that is in fine form at the moment. The amateur rider takes off a handy-looking five pounds - the selection is currently priced at 16/1 with William Hill.

In the 3.40 Fiendish Flame is likely to go off favourite and try to make all but that will be no easy task with top weight on soft ground; jockey A P Lane claims three. Kadouchski is bang there on RP ratings yet is priced up at 14/1 with bet365; it's easy to forgive his last run as he probably didn't stay the two miles four furlongs at Sandown and in any case was beaten by a horse called Silk Affair which won the Fred Winter at Cheltenham on Wednesday. Having just written that, I'm going to go away and do a bit more work on that race...

In the 4.10 Ogee, formerly with Sir Michael Stoute on the Flat, is likely to go off favourite. He's a decent benchmark but has plenty of miles on the clock; preference is for Nicky Henderson's Acordeon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cheltenham Festival - Friday

The highlight of the whole week is tomorrow's Cheltenham Gold Cup due off at 3.20. Sixteen go to post in the showpiece with ante-post favourite Kauto Star attempting to become the first horse in history to reclaim the prize; Kauto's trouble-free preparation could be worth its weight in gold. By contrast stable companion Denman's troubles have been well documented. More positive noises have been coming from connections over the past week or so but, talking with companions yesterday at Cheltenham, I couldn't find anyone who wanted to bet Denman. Second favourite Neptune Collonges, third in this last year, looks fairly priced but fell whilst in the lead in the Lexus; opinion is somewhat divided as to whether he would have beaten Exotic Dancer that day had he stood up. There doesn't look an awful lot between the two and at current odds Exotic Dancer makes more appeal. A case can be made for David Pipe's Madison Du Berlais following his emphatic defeat of Denman at Kempton; the cheekpieces appear to have helped this horse enormously. His record at this track isn't good and at the back of my mind I still can't help but feel things just fell right for him last time. Of the other runners prepare for a Royal onslaught in the media if the Queen's Barbers Shop puts in a decent show; I think this horse will be better next year. Air Force One has had something of an interrupted preparation following an injury sustained in the King George but Albertas Run could be given a squeak on drying ground - he won the RSA Chase over the Old Course here last year. I take Kauto Star to defy the history books; I bet the horse at 3/1 before Denman's return - if I decide to hedge I'll go with another horse that has had a clean bill of health all season - Exotic Dancer.

The opening Triumph Hurdle for four year olds is traditionally a rough race. I've liked Starluck all season - he's done this blog the odd favour - and prefer him marginally to the top-rated animal Walkon and likely favourite Zaynar. Walkon's stablemate Trenchant is worth a mention after his defeat of Ainama in the Dovecote at Kempton. That victory surprised connections and more or less forced them to go for this - Ainama finished eighth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle on Tuesday. Trenchant is worth an each-way interest at 20/1.
Dave's Dream hacked up in the supposedly competitive Sandown Imperial Cup on Saturday and goes for the £75,000 bonus by attempting to win the County Hurdle at 2.05. Nicky Henderson has thought long and hard about whether to save the horse for another day but the lure of the money has proved too tempting. Dave's Dream may well win but none of the runners will be carrying my money.
On official ratings the Albert Bartlett looks between Pride Of Dulcote, Cape Tribulation and Alpha Ridge. Cape Tribulation was seriously impressive when winning at Doncaster last time; I'm tempted to take a chance on his handling the track as my mind goes back to Pride Of Dulcote falling here in a listed handicap hurdle last November that resulted in Ruby having his spleen removed. Carl Llewellyn runs Den Of Iniquity - this one was once highly regarded but has clearly had plenty of problems.
For those who like a bet in the Foxhunters Eugene O'Sullivan's Juveignuer is top on official ratings and has previously won at Cheltenham. Nicky Henderson used to train this one, didn't he?
I won't be participating in the final two events that bring this year's Festival to a close. If you must get involved, here's a simple observation - you can be certain that the Pipe stable will be trying for all their worth to win the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle while Nicky Henderson has long held an ambition to win the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase Challenge Cup.
And then we'll do it all over again next year...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cheltenham Festival - Thursday

I've just returned from Wednesday's meeting (having considerably less money in my pockets than I started the day with) so just a brief note for tomorrow's Ladies' Day event. The highlight is the World Hurdle due off at 3.20. Talking through this race with fellow racegoers earlier in the bars, I, along with most people it would seem, can't see Kasbah Bliss being beaten. Second in this race last year, he won the Blue Square Hurdle at Haydock in impressive fashion when it was generally accepted the horse wasn't fully wound up. If you're brave enough to oppose, you'll need to look at both Punchestowns and Big Buck's. On official handicap ratings Punchestowns has two pounds in hand over Big Buck's. The market takes the view that Punchestowns can reverse Cleeve Hurdle form with Big Buck's as the going was particularly heavy that day. Paul Nicholls in his Teletext column this evening is quite bullish about Big Buck's though, saying the horse won't mind better ground - my reading of the comments is that the trainer thinks he can confirm placings with Punchestowns. He certainly isn't a straightforward ride; when winning last time, to me there looked more in the tank. Fair Along is entitled to run a nice race at a price as well, but Kasbah Bliss has to be the selection.
Many will see Voy Por Ustedes as banker material as well. I'm not so sure and, as I haven't had time to do the work on the race, I'm going to abstain. I'll blog my impressions on today's racing over the weekend, when my aching bones have had time to recuperate...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cheltenham Festival - Wednesday

I've been going to Cheltenham on the Wednesday for the past ten years or so; I'm hoping this year will be better than last when strong winds blew the tents away and the day was abandoned. The feature is the Queen Mother Champion Chase at 3.20 in which Master Minded will go off the shortest priced favourite for a Festival race I can remember. He's currently 2/7 (which is no price to the likes of you and me) but he is likely to win doing handstands. I've been on the lookout for an each-way wager in this race for some time; Mark 'The Couch' Winstanley gave me inspiration a few weeks ago when putting up Briareus so that will be my bet.

The opener has provided some shocks over the years but here probable favourite Can't Buy Time is in good form and has a sound chance. Earlier in the week I thought I'd unearthed something to have a bet on with Niche Market who finished fourth last year at 66/1; this year he's 6/1. Bob Buckler's team hasn't been on fire recently so Can't Buy Time get the vote.

The form horses in the Ballymore are Diamond Harry, Karabak, Mikael d'Haguenet and Mad Max. Mad Max is a giant horse who has had a small wind operation and may just make a better chaser. Diamond Harry looked plenty lean enough last time out, so slight preference is for Mikael d'Haguenet over Karabak. I'm vexed to have missed 50/1 Knockara Beau for this; he beat Wendel twenty seven lengths at Kelso last month after which trainer George Charlton indicated connections were going to bypass Cheltenham as they thought their charge would be better suited to Aintree. A change of heart followed and it looks as though plenty have taken the hint as the horse now trades at just 20/1. I may have a small each-way interest on course.

The RSA Chase is trappy (a comment that could be applied to all the Festival races...) Ruby Walsh clearly prefers Cooldine to What A Friend; I'll be interested to read what Paul Nicholls has to say about What A Friend in tomorrow's Racing Post. Carruthers likes to go off in front but there's a suspicion he's at his best in small fields. My reading of the market is that there has been steady money for Gone To Lunch over the past few weeks; he's now 6/1 in several places. He's a decent jumper who will stay the trip and with McCoy in the plate, he's the selection.

The Coral Cup looks typically impossible but Lough Derg's declaration means that over half the field will be carrying more than their allotted long handicap weight. In the past the Pipe operation (and several others too for that matter) has used such a ploy to keep the weights down for another stable entry - Great Endeavour (9-11) is the one that catches the eye here. Having said that, Lough Derg is as tough as old boots and could easily be there at the finish. If I were sentimental I'd consider the well-named Gee Dee [Nen] but I'm going for an old favourite of mine, Serabad. Five year olds don't have a very good record in this but Serabad, in first time blinkers, has a nice racing weight and is worth an each-way interest at 25/1 with Ladbrokes. Further rain will help his cause.

Miss Sarene missed the chance to become famous by falling at the last when on the verge of giving McCoy his 3,000th winner. McCoy's back in the plate again and the trainer descibes his charge as 'having an engine'. That'll do for me in the Fred Winter. In the concluding bumper I'm still trying to work out which is Willie Mullins' best chance. Several think Sicilian Secret on the back of an impressive gallop after racing at Leopardstown, while Ruby Walsh has the ride on Quel Esprit. I'm probably going to side with Dermot Weld's Rite Of Passage.

My two regular readers regularly complain about the quality of the tips on this blog and claim, quite rightly, they make more money on Mrs Tips' tips. So, Mrs Tips' selections for tomorrow are:

1.30 Can't Buy Time 2.05 Quwetwo 2.40 Casey Jones 3.20 Petit Robin (each-way nap as there's a small robin flying around our back garden at present) 4.00 Great Endeavour 4.40 Art Exhibition 5.15 Some Present.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Cheltenham Festival - Tuesday

Tomorrow the long wait will be over and the Festival fun starts. Two things I always try to to keep in mind at this stage - firstly, more than half the fun of racing is in the anticipation and secondly, the Festival is a marathon not a sprint.
Having had a quick look through the first day's card, I'd have to say I don't feel particularly confident. The Champion Hurdle is the highlight with favourite Binocular the clear form choice but there's plenty queueing up to take him on. Twenty four will face the starter at 3.20; I can't remember so many runners in a Champion Hurdle for many a long year. Signifcant rain is expected overnight and the layers have started to push out Binocular's price - he's generally a 13/8 chance at the moment. I'm not interested at those odds - instead I'm going for a couple of each-way chances. Osana (12/1) was second last year and is entitled to run well here; his front-running style should give us a run for our money but making all to win is going to be extremely difficult. I may also have a small each-way interest in Punjabi, third in this last year, who looks overpriced at 33/1 with Hills.
I never bet the opening race, but if you want to, I suggest you bet with Paddy Power who will refund your losing single win / each-way stake if current favourite Cousin Vinny obliges. Second favourite Torphichen is one of many with a chance.

In a recent Festival preview Ruby Walsh was reported to have said you'd only have a bet in the Arkle if you were addicted. Eighteen go to post for what is likely to be a notoriously rough race. I'm likely to abstain but for those who need their fix, my two against the field are Planet Of Sound, tipped up by Philip Hobbs as his best chance of a winner at the Festival, and Padydeplasterer who will appreciate this stiff course and any further rain that falls.
I fancied Comply Or Die a couple of weeks ago at Doncaster on the back of a positive bulletin from David Pipe but he was withdrawn on account of fast ground. He turns out in the William Hill Trophy and looks an overpriced each-way wager at 33/1. Jonjo O'Neill has stated that favourite Wichita Lineman is one of his best chances at the meeting.
Course specialist Garde Champetre gets the vote in the Cross Country Chase while on ratings the mares' hurdle looks between Quevega, United and Chomba Womba. It's a close call but I'm going to side with United. Chomba Womba disappointed last time out; she's had a rest since and makes some appeal for those prepared to bet each-way 13/2.
A final word of warning - this is just day one - if you're harbouring doubts, keep your money for another day! Good luck to you all...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The final countdown...

Channel Four's racing coverage on Saturday was liberally interspersed with visits to Cheltenham and impromptu weather forecasts. At present the going on both courses is described as good to soft, good in places but a significant amount of rain is expected Monday evening / early Tuesday morning. If the rain arrives, the going on the first day could well be changed to soft. The advice from most pundits is if you haven't had a bet yet, you're better off waiting till the day.

A couple of weeks back I put up a few Festival fancies, so I thought it only fair to give an update in light of recent developments and the fact that rain is expected.

Arkle: Kalahari King is unlikely to get his ground and is discounted. Forpadydeplasterer will but this year's Arkle is looking increasingly hard to call.
Champion Hurdle: Binocular looks the class act. About two weeks ago Nicky Henderson indicated his charge had been held up in his work by the cold snap. Since then the trainer has said he has the horse where he wants him. As an each-way play against the favourite I don't think there's much between Osana and Celestial Halo - I'll stick with Osana. Connections have toyed with fitting blinkers to Katchit but decided against. In yesterday's Racing Post David Ashworth, reporting from a Festival preview evening in London , quoted Choc Thornton: "...it will be a minor miracle if Katchit is in the first four..."
Champion Chase: Still think Briareus each-way will be my bet on the day.
RSA Chase: I'm dithering about What A Friend. Ruby has chosen Cooldine - another quote at the aforementioned Festival preview evening, this time from John Francome: "Ruby Walsh told me that Cooldine was a much better horse than What A Friend."
World Hurdle: Kasbah Bliss looks solid; Punchestowns and/or Big Buck's appear, to use a phrase I've heard several times this weekend, 'an each-way bet to nothing'.
Triumph Hurdle: Still like Starluck and Walkon with preference for the former.
Gold Cup: Haven't hedged with Neptune and at this stage not in a rush to do so.

A couple more Festival snippets for you... Paddy Power will return losing win and each-way singles on the opening race if Cousin Vinny collects the spoils; I haven't done the work on that race but Torphichen is worth a second look. A lot of the value has been snapped up about Whiteoak in the Champion after the horse was recommended on a telephone tipster line. I'm still half tempted by Ladbrokes 20/1; a mare hasn't won the Champion Hurdle for fifteen years - Flakey Dove in 1994. If ever you were in doubt that the Festival was about selling, then a look at The Festival magazine (sent out free to ticketholders and given away with today's RP) should put your mind at rest...

Back to Sandown on Saturday... The phrase 'our very own' was used any number of times to describe Channel Four presenter Jim McGrath whose Fresh Air Amd Fun took the three mile handicap chase. The irony in it all was that winning jockey Tony McCoy had 'Timeform' emblazoned prominently on his silks yet Jim McGrath took the decision to leave the organisation at the beginning of the year.

Finally, a few football facts to finish off with. The Damned United is set to go on general release at cinemas on March 27th; the film, based on David Peace's novel, tells of Brian Clough's forty four day reign as manager of Leeds United. Son Nigel, currently manager at Derby County, won't be attending the premiere - Saturday's Times quotes Nigel as saying 'I don't want to see the film.' Fair enough. Last week Glasgow Celtic stuck seven past hapless St Mirren in the Scottish Premier League so the 8/1 bookmakers offered about St Mirren taking their revenge a week later didn't look particularly generous. The St Mirren players had different ideas though and upset the odds by beating the current champions 1-0 in the Scottish Cup. Football, eh? To conclude, here's a snip from Paul Merson's sixty second interiew in Saturday's Times:
'What's the most expensive thing you've bought?
A £50,000 straight forecast on the horses. It didn't come in.'

Friday, March 06, 2009

Imperial Cup Day at Sandown

The Imperial Cup, a two mile listed hurdle race, is the feature at Sandown tomorrow with twenty one set to face the starter. A £75,000 bonus payment is up for grabs if the winner then goes on to take any race at Cheltenham next week, so it's all to play for. In recent years the Pipe stable has regularly chased this coveted double, being successful on three occasions with Olympian (1993), Blowing Wind (1998) and Gaspra (2007). David Pipe has whittled down his original five entries at the five day declaration stage to two, Mr Thriller and Seven Is My Number; stable jockey Tom Scudamore rides Mr Thriller, the well-touted 11/4 favourite. I'm going to pass over both Pipe runners because, in the case of Mr Thriller, I'm not keen on four year olds giving weight away to most of their older, battle-hardened rivals in an event such as this while, in the case of Seven Is My Number, I still harbour painful memories of watching this horse being hammered in a Newbury bumper on admittedly desperate ground just over two years ago. Numide is bound to be popular but, with Cheltenham just around the corner, I much prefer a small each-way bet on an outsider. European Dream ran well enough last time behind Carrickboy on ground softer than ideal and over a trip that probably stretched the stamina at Market Rasen. The stiff two miles on better going here should suit - the selection is priced up generally at 33/1.

As I hinted above, for me and many others I suspect, every year this Saturday is the calm before the storm of the Festival - I'm trying to 'keep my powder dry' but might be tempted to oppose form pick Deep Purple in the novice chase if he's priced up favourite as the Evan Williams yard is currently going through a lean spell. Restless D'Artaix is famous for having given McCoy his 3,000th winner but Geraghty is in the plate today while McCoy rides Song Of Songs. On RP ratings Song Of Songs has something to find with the Henderson horse but if I indulge I'll go with McCoy's mount.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Weekend chit-chat

Philip Hobbs was the guest on Saturday's Morning Line and, as you'd expect, much of the talk centred around his Festival entries. He appeared quite keen on Snap Tie in the Champion Hurdle (provided the ground remained good) and put up Planet Of Sound in Tuesday's Arkle as his best chance of the week. Mike Cattermole highlights the same horse as one of his best bets in the Raceform Update Cheltenham Guide.

After masterminding a Liverpool victory against Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday, it was back to earth with a bump for Benitez on Saturday. At The Riverside Benitez, the Liverpool manager, saw his team beaten 2-0 by Middlesborough. At Kempton Park racecourse Benitez, the nine year old gelding, was sent off at 20/1, weakened up the home straight and was pulled up two out. It's interesting to note that the horse is owned by the Lord Helpus Partnership; Liverpool supporters, perhaps?

Spare a thought for four Chesterfield fans who travelled 150 miles down to Brentford expecting to see their team play on Saturday. The fans had misread the fixture list and were two weeks early - their team fought out a 1-1 home draw with Barnet, just around the corner from where the four unfortunate fans had started their journey!

My in-house tennis correspondent, Mrs Tips, informs me that at present Andy Murray would appear to be suffering from a mild form of glandular fever. Apparently Roger Federer suffered something similar last year which may have contributed to a loss of form. I mention this just in case you're thinking of backing Murray for the Men's Championships at Wimbledon in June...

Finally I'm indebted to Sandracer, editor of the excellent sandracer.com racing blog, for bringing to my attention two links that demonstrate perfectly the parsimony of our friends in the bookmaking industry. You may have followed the discussion in the comments under the 'Weymouth wagers win £1 million' post below, but if you never venture into such dark electronic places, here's a summary. Sandracer commented that he'd heard a bookmaking firm say they were around 30k down on the match in which Weymouth, fielding a teenage side, lost 9-0 to Rushden & Diamonds; I'd heard a figure of £100k quoted. All of which led us to agree that you can't always believe what a bookmaker tells you. Sandracer then goes on to recall how William Hill posted profits in the region of £64 million in 2007, two days or so after crying wolf when centenarian Alec Holden collected £25,000 having placed a £100 bet a decade previously that he would reach the ripe old age of 100. Here's William Hill representative Rupert Adams' reaction: "These age wagers are starting to cost us a fortune and from now on we are going to push out the age to 110." Marvellous stuff.