Sunday, February 28, 2010

Doc Martin, Andy Murray, Choc Thornton, Avram Grant and the man who ate his winning lottery ticket...

There was plenty of action at Fontwell this afternoon... First time blinkers appeared to rekindle Trenchant's appetite as Alan King's charge won the Grade Two National Spirit Hurdle while Martin Clunes, star of Men Behaving Badly and Doc Martin, was hoping Buffalo Stampede, the horse owned by his TV company, would prove a star in the making - unfortunately the beast hadn't read the script and trailed in last of the seven finishers.

The Times reported recently that tennis ace Andy Murray had his first taste of the races and was suitably impressed. Mind you, it was at Dubai's Meydan racecourse and is a world away from a Monday afternoon card at Plumpton in the middle of winter...

A couple of Festival titbits - Robert 'Choc' Thornton appears to have picked up two decent spare rides in Somersby (Arkle) and Twist Magic (Champion Chase). The Weekender reports that Choc was approached about Twist Magic last week - a decision was made after Oh Crick finished a well-beaten fourth in Ascot's Betfair Chase. Oh Crick will now go either for the Champion or the Grand Annual; if connections take the former option, Wayne Hutchinson will ride. I'm sure Choc won't need me to remind him that last year Twist Magic dumped pilot Sam Thomas on the turf right in front of the stands as they went to post. Nigel Twiston-Davies' Imperial Commander worked with a stablemate after racing at Kempton on Saturday and is reportedly in good health and on track for the Gold Cup.

100 days to the World Cup in South Africa and people are starting to talk about football's financial crisis. Following their coverage of the Manchester United v. Aston Villa Carling Cup final this afternoon, the BBC ran a trailer for a Radio 5 Live progamme Business Of Sport which will discuss the issue on Tuesday evening at 20:00. I suspect much of this has been brought about by Portsmouth becoming the first Premier League side to go into administration - manager Avram Grant considers the League's nine point deduction unfair. Now I have every sympathy with this view but such events are a common occurence lower down the footballing hierarchy and have been for some time. Contrast Portsmouth's situation with that of Chester City who were expelled from the Blue Square Premiership on Friday morning following a meeting at Rushden. Chester started the season on -25 points and were still in negative territory when they played their last game; the club is now up for sale for just £1. The men with the money - what have they gone and done to the beautiful game?

Finally, you would be tempted to place a headline 'Man Eats Winning Lottery Ticket' in the same bracket as 'Routemaster Discovered On The Moon' or 'Politician Tells The Truth'. On Friday a passenger travelling from Krakov in Poland to East Midlands Airport with Ryanair won 10,000 euros (roughly £8,930) on a scratchcard. When he was informed there wasn't enough cash on board to pay him immediately, he became agitated and promptly ate the winning ticket, thereby forfeiting any chance of collecting his prize. Understandably, the man wishes to remain anonymous...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Racing Post Chase day at Kempton

I had this surefire winner lined up for the Eider at Newcastle and then the weather went and intervened. Honest.

Fourteen go in tomorrow's feature at Kempton, The Racing Post Chase, which is due off at 3.05. Tanya Stevenson posted a tweet earlier today pointing out that nine of the past ten winners carried over ten stones twelve to victory; that particular stat narrrows the field down to just three - Madison Du Berlais, Nacarat and Ollie Magern. This track suits Madison who will sport blinkers for the first time; the concern is that the Pipe yard has had just one winner form thirty two runners in the past fortnight. Ollie Magern is priced up at 50/1 which leaves previous winner Nacarat, 7/2 favourite at the time of writing, the most likely winner. I'm not particularly tempted at that price. Of the others it's worth noting Ruby Walsh has said he doesn't intend to put up any overweight on Fistral Beach while it will be interesting to see how Atouchbetweenacara runs having left Venetia Williams stable only to return after one disappointing run for Tim Vaughan in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last December.

Champion hurdle hope Punjabi faces five opponents in the opener; two of his rivals have been off the track for more than a year while Spider Boy had his thirteenth birthday on January 1st. Nicky Henderson will be pleased to get this run into his charge before the Festival - I, along with plenty of others, shall look for clues as to whether stable jockey Barry Geraghty will opt to ride Punjabi over Zaynar in the Champion Hurdle.

The tissue has The Nightingale at long odds on in the Pendil; I'm tempted to take a chance on Tom George's Othermix at a price. His record doesn't read very well but he's highly regarded at home.

Alan King thinks Triumph Hurdle favourite Mille Chief is right out of the top drawer. If he runs in the Adonis tomorrow he'll be long odds on but there's a rumour he picked up a knock earlier today and may be doubtful. On official ratings Mille Chief is only two pounds better than Ultimate so that one should be thereabouts with a three pound pull at the weights. Ultimate can prove a useful yardstick here as he was beaten six lengths in receipt of three pound by Carlito Brigante (7/1 for the Triumph) at Musselburgh the last time.

Finally a quick word for the fabulously-named The Giant Bolster who is declared in the opener at Fontwell on Sunday; he'll be worth a second look. This one did us an each-way favour at 25/1 the last time, beaten six lengths by Nicky Henderson's Peveril. Peveril has gone in again earlier today at Warwick and it's worth noting that The Giant Bolster holds entries in the Neptune, the Coral Cup, the Albert Bartlett and the Martin Pipe Hurdle at the Festival.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday snippets

Following Denman's defeat last weekend, champion jockey AP McCoy came in for some unjustified criticism from certain quarters after being unceremoniously dumped on the Newbury turf. Alan Lee penned a piece in Tuesday's Times defending the champ while yesterday Harry Findlay, joint owner of Denman, was at pains to point out to the TV cameras that the bookies currently have Denman priced correctly for next month's showpiece; in this week's Weekender paddock judge Ken Pitterson also observed Denman was carrying condition. Nonetheless the casual observer who watches a bit of TV racing on a Saturday afternoon will be left with the distinct impression that these days it's Ruby Walsh who is riding the big race winners. Two articles in the weekend's papers aim to redress the balance - David Walsh conducts an in depth interview with McCoy in today's Sunday Times while Tony shared the secrets of his success with readers of yesterday's Daily Mail.

The loss of Wincanton's Kingwell Hurdle card on Saturday has left Nicky Henderson with a headache as he tries to get another run into Punjabi before the Festival. The trainer is now pinning his hopes on the addition of a two mile hurdle race to Saturday's Kempton card - a decision will be made tomorrow. If that plan falls through, I guess a racecourse gallop will be on the cards for the current champion hurdler who is known to be quite a stuffy horse.

Me Voici (11/10f) looked the part when taking the Victor Ludorum at Haydock yesterday; bookmakers offer 25/1 about the winner for the Triumph but connections indicated they may miss the race. It's worth noting that in this race Venetia Williams' Stars Du Granits opened 100/30 on course, was backed in to 2/1 second favourite but got no further than the second flight. Similarly Monsieur Jourdain (25/1) threw away any chance he had with a terrible jump when in the lead four from home.

Following the death of former jockey and writer Dick Francis last Sunday, I was surprised by the number of people who came up to me and said they hadn't realised he was on board when The Queen Mother's Devon Loch famously 'did the splits' within sight of the winning post in the 1956 Grand National. There have been several tributes to the great man - I favoured this obituary in Monday's Daily Telegraph.

Finally to finish with... The Festival is a little over three weeks away - get yourself in the mood with this behind-the-scenes look at the the making of the Cheltenham Charity Song.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Saturday digest

With overnight temperatures forecast to go down to minus three, inspections are scheduled for all tomorrow's turf cards; the covers are in place at Ascot but clerk of the course Chris Stickels doesn't envisage any problems.

Nicky Henderson has probably had better weeks with Binocular being scratched from the Champion Hurdle entries on Wednesday and Zaynar being turned over at odds of 1/14 at Kelso on Thursday. Normal service was resumed today with Oscar Whisky's easy victory in the Kylmar Novices' Hurdle - that one now goes for the Supreme Novices' at Cheltenham next month; William Hill bet 16/1. The trainer will be hoping to start tomorrow's proceedings with a short-priced double courtesy of Finian's Rainbow in the opener and Burton Port in the next, the Reynoldstown Novices' Chase.

Only six go in the Betfair Ascot Chase but it's still very competitive. Several of these are closely matched - on official ratings Philip Hobbs' Planet Of Sound is the one to beat; he hasn't raced this far previously and jumping proved his undoing here the last time when one bad mistake handed the initiative to Albertas Run. Herecomesthetruth has a mind of his own and seven pounds to find with the Hobbs horse but Paul Nicholls clearly expects a big run in a race that has been the target for some time. The other one I'd consider is Alan King's Oh Crick. He was beaten by Planet Of Sound in the Haldon Cup on his seasonal debut (with the yard stuggling to find form) but made eye-catching progress the last time when staying on into third behind Twist Magic in the Victor Chandler. The extra distance here should suit - the 8/1 on offer this evening from totesport is tempting. However I'm going to side with Herecomesthtruth who is 3/1 with most layers at the moment.

Menorah, currently 8/1 second favourite behind Dunguib for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, will be short odds to take the 3.45

If the Haydock card gets the green light, the Blue Square Gold Cup will be the highlight run over three and a half miles on ground described as heavy. Several of these met in the Welsh National at Chepstow over Christmas; that day Dream Alliance collected the spoils although he was very nearly reeled in by the fast-finishing Silver By Nature. That one reopposes here on two pounds better terms for threequarters of a length beating - there shouldn't be much in it at the line. The form of Lucinda Rusell's stable (one win from twenty runs in the past fortnight) is a concern. Le Beau Bai is on the small side for a chaser but may well take to this tight track while Coe has a decent record here over jumps - two wins and three placings from six runs. Last year's National winner Mon Mome has his share of weight as you'd expect but he's made steady progress through the season - Venetia Williams' yard is in better form now - at around 12/1 I'll have an each-way bet.

There are some interesting contenders in the 2.30. Bouggler ran well for a long way when beaten by Tidal Bay at Cheltenham the last time but I note that stable jockey Jack Doyle is on Pause And Clause here. Souffleur's fourth behind Mamlook at Ascot looks good given the winner that day ran fourth in the totesport Trophy at Newbury a week ago; that's the first piece of form Souffleur has shown for some time - I'll take an each-way interest at around 10/1 provided eight go to post.

Wincanton is a speed track - Punjabi is worth taking on with Starluck (6/4) in the Kingwell Hurdle (3.50). Henderson is on record as saying that although the champion is straighter than this time last year, the heavy ground will not suit.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

One small Valentine's Day massacre

I was cold-called by a computer software salesman on Friday morning.

Standard salesman practice dictates that, in the first instance, you should engage the potential customer in trivial anodyne conversation, thereby ensuring some form of engagement, before moving on to the business in hand, often referred to as 'the kill'. This salesman's opening gambit was along the lines of 'Doing anything nice for Valentine's Day?' That gave me the best belly laugh I've had this year.

The salesman, let's call him John, even though his real name was Pete, started to swap Valentine's Day notes with me, you know, the sort of you-can't-do-right-for-doing-wrong stuff; of course, I could only empathise. John told me that as he was about to walk out of the house yesterday morning, he heard his partner's voice coming from the bathroom - 'Think on!' she had cried. Just that and nothing else. Think on? What's that supposed to mean? You're immediately transported to that awkward bloke sort of situation from which there's no escape. You want to do the right thing but you're doomed; you may have had your own ideas but all of a sudden you're riddled with doubt - you don't know what to do for the best.

This year, unusually, I was ahead of myself and had managed to procure a reasonable card and thought of a gift all on my own for the first time in over twenty years. So, feeling confident, whilst supping a glass of wine on the Friday evening I told Mrs Tips the salesman story. Next day in town Mrs T spots something, comes up to me and says in that knowing way of hers... 'Think on!'

Needless to say, I did 'a Denman' and messed up, big time. And as if all that wasn't bad enough, Mrs T had told me on Saturday morning that Tricky Trickster was gong to win the Aon 'because it's a good name and I like Ruby Walsh'.

Still, it's a bit too early to totally write off Denman just yet...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Newbury and Warwick

The highlights at Newbury tomorrow include Denman and A P McCoy in the Aon at 2.30 and the current champion chaser Master Minded in the Game Spirit at 3.40. I'm not inclined to oppose Denman who should win to set up the much-anticipated Gold Cup clash with Kauto Star but I wouldn't be in a rush to back Master Minded in this, his first run after an operation on a fractured rib; co-incidentally one of tomorrow's rivals is named Fix The Rib - is that some sort of omen? Earlier in the week Paul Nicholls indicated Master Minded was roughly 80% ready and the vibes coming from the yard are positive enough. Alan King's Voy Por Ustedes is another likely to come on for the run so, for those brave enough to oppose, Fix The Rib from Gary Moore's in-form stable will be of interest. This one has plenty to find on official ratings and has a preference for better going but he likes to set off in front and had a refresher on the all-weather two and a half weeks ago after a fall in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas. The market leader has won three of the last eight renewals with the second favourite obliging on the other five occasions. This evening Fix The Rib is priced up at around the 8/1 mark -I'll take a chance.

Only four in the opener but it's far from straightforward. Diamond Harry, 6/1 joint second favourite for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, was impressive at Haydock the last time, looking to have the beating of Alan King's Bensalem when that one fell heavily three out; the race is half a mile further this time. Inchidaly Rock took a soft fall at Cheltenham a fortnight ago but on official ratings looks the one likely to give the favourite most to do. A fascinating contest with Diamond Harry the percentage call but only just - at the prices on offer I won't get involved.

No bet for me in the Totesport Trophy either with twenty four set to face the starter. If you can't resist temptation, the bookmakers offering each-way a quarter the odds the first five places are bet365, Skybet, totesport, Boylesports and Paddy Power, with several of those layers also offering best price guaranteed. Of the three Pipe runners I was impressed with Mamlook at Ascot but he hasn't won off this rating previously so perhaps Ronaldo Des Mottes is the stable's main chance.

Five go in the Kingmaker at Warwick where all eyes will be on Long Run, currently the other joint second favourite for the RSA. A precocious talent, Long Run went into many notebooks when winning the Feltham at Kempton over Christmas despite throwing in some novicey leaps at the obstacles; that race was over three miles but this is over the minimum trip. A school of thought has sprung up over the past week or so that goes something like this - Long Run could win here and then go for the Arkle (instead of the RSA) at the Festival. If you subscribed to that school of thought, then you will have considered taking an interest about the horse in that race (he's currently priced 8/1) as if he wins, that price is bound to contract. Today however trainer Nicky Henderson seems to have poured cold water on the theory by saying his charge is '99% certain' to run in the RSA. Two miles at Warwick takes some jumping with both King Edmund and Take The Breeze front-runners. At the prices on offer I'll chance Take The Breeze.

Finally some interesting contestants in the competitive-looking novices' hurdle at 3.55. Kennel Hill is one to be wary of while Aidan Coleman has said he'd expect a good run from Spit. The Giant Bolster won well at Market Rasen before being somewhat outclassed behind Duke of Lucca at Newbury. He carries a penatly here for his win but has had a break and will handle the ground; I'll consider a small each-way wager at a big price.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Thinking about the Festival...

Earlier today at Leopardstown Joncol pipped Cooldine in a thrilling finish to the Irish Hennessy; the winner is now a 7/1 shot with totepsort for the Ryanair Chase. The runner-up delighted Willie Mullins with his effort. Last year's RSA Chase winner has been out of sorts so far this term but the handler thinks his charge will come on for the run - Cooldine is quoted at 14/1 for the Gold Cup with most layers, behind Kauto Star (5/4) and Denman (9/4).

Saturday's Racing Post confirmed that Tony McCoy will ride Denman in the Aon Chase at Newbury on Saturday and in the Gold Cup itself. Over the coming weeks we can expect plenty of hype as the media build the race into a Kauto Star / Ruby Walsh versus Denman / Tony McCoy stand-off.

The Festival is just over five weeks away. For the past ten years I've attended Champion Chase Day on the Wednesday but this year I haven't purchased my ticket... The thought of the crowds and having nowhere to sit for eight hours show I must be getting old - these days I'm just as happy with a low-key jump meeting at a gaff track. I'm sure I'll come round... There's still a long way to go but, for those interested, here's my current thinking on a selection of the races.

Supreme Novices: I saw Dunguib's exceptional win last year and have been a big fan ever since. Unsurprisingly, I'm not alone. For those looking to oppose, the ante-post favourite's hurdling was far from fluent at Leopardstown this afternoon.

Arkle Chase: A race I try to avoid. Hen Knight's Somersby would be of interest.

Champion Hurdle: As open as I can remember. Still have plenty of respect for Punjabi (overpriced at 14/1) but will wait to see if Barry Geraghty deserts the champion in favour of Zaynar. Medermit (14/1) was unlucky to be beaten a neck by Go Native (6/1) in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle and looks better value than that winner in the market. The form of Alan King's yard has been patchy this year.

RSA Chase: Punchestowns oozes class and deserves his prominent position in the market. I was more perturbed than many by Long Run's jumping at Kempton; a stat that will need to be checked - when was the last time a five-year-old won this race? Diamond Harry has limited chasing experience but Weird Al jumped well at Wetherby yesterday, collecting his third chase win on the bounce.

Champion Chase: Will watch Master Minded's return in the Game Spirit at Newbury with interest. Following Taranis' victory at Cheltenham on Janaury 30th trainer Paul Nicholls indicated that Master Minded had only recently started work again. One of the sayings often repeated around this time of year is you want an animal that has had an uninterrupted preparation for the Festival races. Might be harder to come by this time with the weather playing its part but Master Minded can hardly be said to have had an uninterrupted prep. I think the occasion will get to Twist Magic but like Ferdy Murphy's Kalahari King.

Champion Bumper: A couple of weeks ago Nick Mordin, writing in the Weekender, highlighted that the RP top-rated horse has won the bumper on four occasions in the last five years. Recently Dermot Weld's Elegant Concorde has shot to the top of a market that can be fairly volatile. This time last year Willie Mullins' Sicilian Secret was widely touted but on the day drifted out to 9/1, finishing sixteenth of the twenty four runners.

World Hurdle: Despite the odd quirk, Big Buck's looks bomb-proof. Nearer the time I'll consider Karabak, Tidal Bay and Time For Rupert.

Triumph Hurdle: Often a very rough race and not one I'm particularly keen on. Will check out Carlito Brigante.

Gold Cup: Kauto Star for me - with bookies going 14/1 bar two I'll be looking for some fancy prices about an each-way longshot.

One tip for the Festival that is certain to give value for money - make sure you purchase Raceform Update's Festival Preview usually published at the beginning of March.

Finally, I couldn't sign off without a comment on the first weekend's rugby internationals. The England v. Wales game was littered with mistakes, mostly on the Welsh side, but I thought some of the BBC's camera work in that game verged on the atrocious - in particular the spider-cam coverage did nothing but detract from the action on the field.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Saturday fare

Earlier today Alan King went to Bangor with three fancied runners but they were all turned over - Asturienne (2/7f), Devil To Pay (5/6f) and Pennek (9/4).

A couple of Festival fancies take their chance at Sandown tomorrow but they'll make no appeal as betting material - Binocular faces just two opponents in the opener while Punchestowns would be expected to take the 2.35 on the way to the RSA Chase at Cheltenham. Nicky Henderson's According, currently second favourite for the Triumph Hurdle, is likely to start at a cramped price in the 2.05 - he boasts smart form on the Flat but has yet to jump an obstacle in public. Killyglen catches the eye in the Totesport Masters Handicap Chase - the yard is in form but after a break of 70 days you can't help but wonder what the plan is. If I have a bet at Sandown I'll have a small interest in Song Of Songs in the finale. He sometimes finds the fences getting in the way but on right-handed tracks this one has won four times from seven attempts, finishing second, third and fourth on the other three occasions. Consigliere, receiving seven pounds, beat the selection sixteen lengths at Newbury in November and rates a danger, with the jock claiming a handy-looking three pounds.

There are plenty of runners at Doncaster, no doubt tempted by the prospect of better ground; however this evening the going is described as good to soft, soft in places. Hen Knight has chosen to withdraw Arkle Chase fancy Somersby from the Lightning Novices' Chase in which just five go to post. Following a breathing operation Nicky Henderson's giant of a horse Mad Max won well enough on his seasonal debut in the soft ground at Kempton. On official ratings he has it to do giving seven pounds to El Dancer and Woolcombe Folly but I wouldn't be inclined to oppose.

The feature is the Blue Square Handicap Chase at 3.25 - I can't deny I'm a bit concerned to see my Champion Chase fancy, Kalahari King, head the weights for this fifteeen runner handicap with underfoot unlikely to suit. Lennon ran a good race after a long layoff in the Victor Chandler a fortnight ago - he may well bounce on this second run but at 16/1 I'll take a small each-way interest.

In the four miler at four o'clock I'll have a second look at former pointer Knighton Combe who looks to have been trained specifically for this race.

Paddy Brennan has a couple of good rides at Wetherby on Battlecry and Weird Al. The latter, a 12/1 chance for the RSA Chase at the Festival, takes on old adversary Knockara Beau (33/1 for the same race) in the 2.50. On official ratings KB is the one to beat but this step up to three miles one furlong isn't certan to suit. A race to watch with Cheltenham in mind...