Sunday, September 27, 2009

Matters arising...

A couple of performances impressed over the weekend - Rip Van Winkle's determination when challenged by Zacinto in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and Barizan's victory in the juvenile novice hurdle at Market Rasen. Barizan raced off a mark of 140 which some (myself included) thought may have flattered a little but he hurdled fluently and won as he liked. I'd heard a quiet whisper for the second, Classic Contours, who finished a respectable thirteen lengths second - that was a decent enough effort on his first try over hurdles and he looks one to keep in mind for the future in this sphere.

I have a confession to make - after watching Richard Dunwoody dance the 'Cha Cha Cha' in Saturday night's Strictly Come Dancing, I picked up the phone, tears still rolling down my cheeks, and voted for the man. What a star! Unfortunately, it was all to no avail and 'Richard Dun-goody' was promptly dumped out of the competition in no uncertain terms, like a novice chaser falling at the second. Of course, the BBC has missed yet another opportunity to increase its diminished racing coverage.

Around this time of year books start to appear on the shelves of shops, just in time for Christmas. In Waterstone's (Coventry) the other day I came across a copy of Fallon: The Biography by Andrew Longmore and Paul Nicholls' autobiography Lucky Break while Saturday's Times printed extracts from Michael Henderson's 50 People Who Fouled Up Football. I quote the author: 'There is no joy in English football today, and little dignity. The game is richer to the tune of many billions, yet it is poorer in spirit... Football has been shamed by people who do not hold its best interests at heart.' Amongst the fifty named and shamed are Piers Morgan, Alan Hansen, Nigel Kennedy, Victoria Beckham, Alan Green ('a man who speaks almost exclusively in capital letters'), Don Revie, Billy Bragg and even the fans themselves. I think I'm going to have to order a copy...

Football may have its billions but during the BBC's coverage of the European Eventing Championships this afternoon I watched Clare Balding interview one Piggy French who had just won herself a silver medal. 'Piggy French? Do people like that still exist?' I hear you cry; well, quite clearly, they do. You'll be pleased to learn that Piggy isn't her real name - Simon Barnes informs us her name is Georgina - the family nickname came about as her older sister thought she looked like Piglet from Winnie The Pooh. Different world altogether, isn't it?

Finally, I bring to your attention something I've spent a long time waiting for - left-handed underpants. According to aptly-named underwear seller Horn, 'They'll save left-handed men vital seconds.' It's all just pants really.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Market Rasen ruminations

Only five declared for the big race at Ascot tomorrow, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and Mastercraftsman is likely to be withdrawn if Rip Van Winkle makes it to the start. Rip, the clear form choice, is my idea of the winner but he'll be no price so I've decided to look at Market Rasen's National Hunt card instead.

In the opener I'm considering Philip Hobbs' Bruslini but he's been off the track a while, may be a little ring-rusty and fitness has to be taken on trust.

The 2.05 handicap hurdle looks very competitive. Likely favourite Cootehill from the Twiston-Davies yard is a favourite of mine and did this blog a favour when taking the Summer Hurdle in July at 13/2. A few in that race reoppose here including the two that dead-heated for second, Danehill Willy and Ameeq, together with Ellerslie Tom and Katies Tuitor. I have to express some reservations about Twiston-Davies' stable form. Normally at this time of year the yard hits the ground running, having had the two day Perth meeting earlier in the week as an early target. This year things don't appear to have gone entirely to plan; just one winner (Billie Magern) from thirteen entries at Perth doesn't read well - seven of those runners were sent off favourite. The yard's three runners at Worcester today have all finished unplaced. At the weights Danehill Willy should finish in front of Ameeq, the latter being kept busy on the Flat over the summer. I note that McCoy has ridden Danehill Willy in his last three runs but here he's jumped ship and is booked to ride Alison Thorpe's consistent gelding Nortonthorpe Lad. McCoy gave up his rides after the first at Worcester today, having taken a heavy fall at Fontwell on Thursday. If the champ is back riding tomorrow, I'll have an each-way wager on Nortonthorpe Lad who is priced up at 12/1 in this evening's tissue.

Barizan brings the best form into the juvenile novices' hurdle at 2.40 but I expect Forty Thirty to run a big race. In the recent past Alan King has used this race to introduce both Katchit and Franchoek; the stable's entry last year however - Black Jacari - proved a disappointment, winning just one Class 4 hurdle in his subsequent ten starts. Tombov is one to keep an eye out for in the market but I'm going to stick by Forty Thirty who won for this blog last time out. It's worth noting the favourite has failed to win the last five renewals.

I'll maintain a watching brief in the listed handicap chase at 3.15. Always Waining would make plenty of appeal if he was certain to carry his effort through but I've had burnt fingers with this one many times before. Two I'll keep a close eye on for future reference - Paul Webber's De Soto and Oumeyade having his first run for Donald McCain.

By declaring King Troy for the novice rather than the handicap chase, Alan King has taken the easier option with the seven-year-old gelding; King Troy is the selection in the 3.55.

The finale is trappy - I won't have a bet. Brendan Duke's Mister Benedictine is a horse I like and he'll like the ground but he hasn't won over this trip and I can see a couple further down the handicap going past McCoy's mount in the closing stages.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Looking ahead

This is my favourite time of year - the leaves on the trees are changing colour, there's a nip in the early morning air and ever so slowly the National Hunt season is beginning to take shape. If anticipation is (more than) half the excitement of racing, then this is a time of excitement and anticipation. There was no jump racing last week but Perth holds its two-day meeting on Wedensday and Thursday (a meeting the Twiston-Davies stable regularly targets), Worcester race on Friday and then Market Rasen holds its two-day meeting over the forthcoming weekend. Of course, the big meeting on Saturday takes place at Ascot where the feature race will be the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes; a work colleague is going and has asked me for a few pointers - he really should know better. Last year I did promise myself I'd get to Ludlow's first jumps meeting (Thursday October 15th) but events have overtaken me and I don't think it's going to happen. As they say - the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Overheard comment from Mrs Tips while watching Joe Calzaghe and Kristina Rihanoff during last night's Strictly Come Dancing: 'It looks as though she is trying to dance with a wardrobe.' In my time I've turned a few heads on the disco dancefloors of the country for the completely wrong reasons, but even I could see what Mrs T. meant. Before Joe had set foot on the dancefloor, he was the bookmakers favourite for this year's title; Betfred are currently offering 33/1.

Finally Guinness celebrates its 250th birthday on Thursday 24th September; I shall partake of the odd pint (or two) - it would be downright rude not to!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ayr Gold Cup, Newbury and Newmarket

When the draw was made for the Ayr Gold Cup earlier in the week, those first out of the hat went for the high stall numbers in the belief that was where the advantage lay; the first seven home in today's Bronze Cup all came from single figure berths. Twenty seven are set to go to post for tomorrow's renewal of the Gold Cup over a trip of six furlongs. The race, as always, is ultra-competitive and has something of the look of a bookmakers' benefit about it. Those who can wait will have a further clue to any draw advantage as the Silver Cup is due off at 2.05. Given the result of today's Bronze Cup I've decided to opt for a low-drawn horse. Dandy Nicholls, who has won this race five times in the last nine years, saddles likely favourite Evens And Odds (drawn 3) - in a race of this nature his price is unlikely to offer much value. I'll have a small each-way investment on Jim Goldie's course and distance winner Hogmaneigh (drawn 2). There appears plenty of speed nearby, the horse should run his race with the stable in reasonable form (6 wins from 37 runs in the past fortnight) and Coral stand out this evening by offering 22/1 - most firms go 18s.

In the Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury Radiohead is the one they all have to beat but the World Trophy at 3.25 looks far more difficult to solve. On official ratings J J The Jet Plane should win with something to spare but he disappointed somewhat in the Golden Jubilee at Royal Ascot and has since moved to Richard Hannon's yard; I won't get involved.

For some unfathomable reason the two and a quarter mile Cesarewitch Trial (3.20 Newmarket) has caught my imagination. Several of these like to race from the front including Ragamuffin Man, Saga de Tercey and Aajel - if they take each other on early, the race could be set up for a hold-up horse. The first-named was beaten fair and square by the second-named last time out and should confirm the form. The Weekender quotes Saga de Tercey's trainer Alan Swinbank after that victory - "He runs like a good horse and could be our next really good one." He is likely to start favourite but I haven't totally ruled out the top-weighted grey Aajel who won a Class 3 at Yarmouth last time easily, his first run since September 2007. I'll chance Aajel as he's likely to offer better value and Marcus Tregonig's stable boasts an impressive 31% strike rate over the past fortnight (6 wins from 19 runs).

Finally, for those who like to keep a tab on these sort of things, Tom Dascombe sends out his first runner from his Michael Owen / Andrew Black backed stable; top weight Emerald Rock goes in the 9.20 at Wolverhampton.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Channel 4's coverage of the St Leger at Doncaster highlighted the tradition where the town's first-born child on the day of the race is given life membership of the track when reaching the age of sixteen; this year's recipient was Thomas Peter Talbot who entered this world thirteen minutes after midnight on the day in question.

Now I admit I was dozing a little but I'm sure I heard Channel 4's Jim McGrath say something like this during commentary. 'It's a glorious day to be watching horses. Of the four-legged variety, several look [well with the sun on their backs]'. Now, was Jim McGrath trying to make a statement there about the existence of horses with more / less than four legs?

On an altogether more sombre note, following the recent tragic deaths of two apprentice jockeys, Jamie Kyne and Jan Wilson, Julian Muscat wrote an excellent piece in Tuesday's Times that highlighted the spartan existence of the racing apprentice.

If you're a jump jockey, the chances are you won't get a chance to ride in the Derby; that said, the next best thing has to be a ride in the Jump Jockeys' Derby Handicap. Sam Thomas won Thursday's renewal over Epsom's Derby course on the appropriately-named Epsom Salts, the horse carrying the burden of eleven stones and five pounds to victory!

Of some potential interest to some readers - former Southampton player Matt Le Tissier's admission in his recently published autobiography that he was part of a failed betting scam is likely to result in both the FA and the police asking further questions; in South Africa a pigeon has carried 4Gb of data to its destination faster than broadband; and if you want a big win at the races for a small stake, Kevin Knight's experience would suggest you're better off knowing nothing about racing whatsoever...

Finally my junk mail item of the week comes from Virgin Trains. I quote: 'Treat yourself like Royalty with First Class travel... Whether you are attending the unveiling of a stately home's new garden, your brother's birthday, or any other engagement, it's always nicer to have some special treatment on the way.' Attending the unveiling of a stately home's new garden? Where did that come from?

Friday, September 11, 2009

St Leger day in England and Ireland

Only eight go to post for the St Leger at Doncaster; on paper the race appears to be between the first four in the betting - Kite Wood, Changingoftheguard, Monitor Closely and Father Time. Of that quartet, Henry Cecil's Father Time looks to offer best value as the horse is bang there with a chance provided you forgive his last effort in the Great Voltigeur. Kite Wood has a favourite's chance but I'm slightly put off by the fact he would prefer more cut. Changingoftheguard will not be inconvenienced by fast ground but there are reservations about the ability of Monitor Closely to last home. The winner has come from the first three in the betting on nine occasions in the last ten years, with the favourite obliging six times. I'll take a chance with Changingoftheguard.

At the Curragh I can't oppose the legendary Yeats. Whatever happens, we have to bear in mind that, with the advancing years, this could be the last time we'll see him on a racecourse.

Others I'll take a closer look at before the off include Cat Junior in the DFS Park Stakes at Doncaster, Mac Love in a tight-looking Group 3 at Goodwood (2.40) and Cloudy Start in the 3.55 at Chester.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Some selections for Saturday

Noted amongst the also-rans in this week's epsiode of Dragons' Den, a cameo appearance from 'self-styled Lord Brett Little and trainer Edward Creighton'. The pair were asking the Dragons for an investment of £150,000 to put into their venture T.U.R.F (The Ultimate Racing Fraternity). Dragon Theo Paphitis' conclusion - 'I'd rather back a pantomime horse...' You're likely to feel much the same way about the suggestions made below.

The Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown (3.50) has been billed as a clash between Sea The Stars and Fame And Glory. The participation of the former is dependant on the going, currently described as yielding to soft, soft in places; John Oxx is likely to wait until the last moment before making his decision. On official ratings Rainbow View is the one to beat in the 2.40; the filly hasn't managed to get her head in front this year but this represents a jolly good opportunity - the fitting of cheekpieces for the first time should help her concentration.

This side of the Irish Sea many will be of the opinion Kieren Fallon can land the Group 1 Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock, courtesy of High Standing. This looks trappy to me with Fleeting Spirit and Main Aim formidable opponents - I'm steering well clear.

At Stratford the opening juvenile hurdle looks quite interesting for the time of year. Forty Thirty won well last time at Bangor and is taken to continue his progress. One to watch out for in the market is Irish raider Choisir Breeze while Tom Dascombe's Lambourn Genie goes hurdling after disappointments on the Flat. In the 3.20 Mutual Friend tries two and a half miles for the first time; the Pipe team are in good form at present so Mutual Friend gets the vote over Truckers Delight. In the competitive-looking 3.50 I'll have a second look at Michael Hourigan's Some Craic - this one ran well over course and distance on his penultimate run. The Jigsaw Man is the one to beat in the finale, but he'll be priced accordingly.