Sunday, March 28, 2010

Further Festival fallout...

Further Festival fallout noted recently... two articles by Ruby Walsh written for the Irish Examiner; in the first Ruby explains that Kauto Star's chance in the Gold Cup went with that mistake at the eighth while in the second the jockey questions the wisdom of marketing the Cheltenham showpiece as a two horse race.

Not to be outdone, Ruby's sister Katie gave an interview to the Irish Independent following her two wins at the Festival on Poker De Sivola in the National Hunt Chase and Thousand Stars in the County Hurdle.

Meanwhile on Friday The Guardian ran a piece that nominated the five unluckiest losers at the Festival - how many of your wagers qualified?

The celeb gossip website published an introductory guide to the Festival for those new to the racing experience. At one particular juncture the article states Denman's jockey is 'Rob Bryden, sorry, champion jockey AP (Tony) McCoy'. Mrs Tips comments: 'Rob needs to do a lot more wasting to get the real AP look.'

Earlier in the week there was fallout of a different type for Sky Sports presenter Chloe Everton who was ordered to take down her Twitter page after a number of her tweets were considered 'too racy' by TV station managers. Poor old Chloe - what's a girl to do these days? Just what she would have made of the five-year-old mare Big Knickers finishing third in the 5.30 at Plumpton on Monday evening is anybody's guess; the comments-in-running included 'held up towards rear'. I'm sure several racecourse commentators can't wait to include any of the following in future commentaries - Big Knickers pulled up / brought down; Big Knickers out the back struggling with a big weight; Big Knickers just held on; Big Knickers stayed on (up the hill); Big Knickers looking comfortable; Big Knickers squeezed for room; Big Knickers out with the washing etc, etc. Feel free to make up your own.

After all that I think I need a drink. Luckily, I know the just the place, pictured below...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bangor and Newbury

It barely seems a week since Paddy Brennan rode Imperial Commander to victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Tomorrow the first big race of the Flat season, the William Hill Lincoln, takes place at Doncaster racecourse while the Dubai World Cup takes place at Meydan racecourse - given the choice, where would you rather be? Presumably Paddy Brennan (7 winnners from 40 rides in the past fortnight) had the choice where to ride tomorrow and he's chosen to go to Bangor-On-Dee rather than Newbury, even though he rode a winner at the Berkshire track earlier today (Carlitos in the 2.20); does that suggest the yard fancy Made In Japan in the competitive-looking Tommy Shone Handicap Hurdle at 4.20? Made In Japan, once with Philip Hobbs, has never been easy to catch right but he has some decent form to his name - the second to Time For Rupert at Cheltenham last December reads well given the winner that day found only Big Buck's too good in the World Hurdle at the Festival last week. The tissue has the horse priced up at 10/1 - I'll have another look in the morning before deciding whether to take an each-way interest.

There are two listed mares finals at Newbury; several owners will be hoping to collect so their charge can then be sent to the paddocks in possession of the coveted black type. The hurdle race (2.15) is difficult with eighteen going to post but the chase looks fractionally easier with just nine set to face the starter. Likely favourite Carole's Legacy has won three over the larger obstacles this term - two of those victories have included the scalps of three of tomorrow's opponents - Cool Friend, Wychwoods Legend and Daraz Rose. Nicky Henderson's charge then went on to run a stormer in the mares' hurdle at the Festival ten days ago, finishing second behind Willie Mullins' Quevega; there must be a fair chance she will not have fully recovered from her exertions and therefore is passed over. Alan King's Over Sixty is respected but the yard has been in patchy form all season - King admitted on Monday he had lost owners and couldn't wait to start the new season with a clean slate. Calusa Crystal could be anything - she won easily at Warwick the last time and, according to her trainer, will be suited by a bit of cut; this will be the furthest she has tried. Cool Friend has a lot of seconds to her name but was beaten only a nose by Carole's Legacy at Exeter in December (weighted to turn that form around) and then ruined her chance against the same horse with a poor jump at the final fence at Ffos Las in January; since then she has run second to the well-regarded Awesome George. The bottom four race from out of the handicap - it's a close call but as Philip Hobbs' operation is in decent form, I'll take a chance with Calusa Crystal.

Back at Bangor the trade union Unison sponsors the opening and closing events - I considered ringing up the local branch for the inside word. On official ratings Santera looks the one in the claimer while in the concluding bumper the J P McManus owned Off Gallivanting has certainly been off a while - 332 days to be precise. Market rival Carribs Leap has to concede ten pounds (inclusive of the jockey's claim) so Off Gallivanting, who has missed a few potential engagements of late, gets the vote.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Those Festival fancies - future plans

In no particular order, reported plans for some of the fancies and flops of last week... Details on other runners added to this post as they become available over the next few days.

Denman: totesport Bowl, Aintree or Guiness Gold Cup, Punchestown; Grand National 2011

Kauto Star: returns next term 'provided he shows the willingness and fitness to reappear'

Master Minded: to be checked out by vet today

Time For Rupert & Big Buck's: John Smith's Liverpool Hurdle, Aintree

Forpadydeplasterer: Melling Chase, Aintree or Kerrygold Champion Chase, Punchestown

A New Story: Irish Grand National, Fairyhouse

Carlito Brigante: Ballymore Champion 4-y-o Hurdle, Punchestown

Knockara Beau: Cheltenham Gold Cup 2011

Punjabi: Rabobank Champion Hurdle, Punchestown; possibly novice chasing next term

Starluck: Rabobank Champion Hurdle, Punchestown

Deep Purple: Melling Chase or totesport Bowl, Aintree

Barizan: Matalan Hurdle, Aintree or Ballymore Champion 4-y-o Hurdle, Punchestown

Big Zeb: Punchestown

Ballabriggs: Topham Chase, Aintree

Peddlers Cross: Aintree possible

Cue Card: Punchestown possible

Captain Cee Bee: No decision


Added Tuesday 23rd March

Copper Bleu: Betfair Novice Handicap Chase, Punchestown

Menorah: connections prefer Punchestown to Aintree

Solwhit: Punchestown

Long Run: King George 2010, Kempton

Weapons Amnesty: roughed off for the summer

Dunguib: Rabobank Champion Hurdle or Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle, Punchestown

Sizing Europe: Ryanair Novice Chase, Punchestown

Diamond Harry: Aintree possible

Reve De Sivola: John Smith's Sefton Novices' Hurdle, Aintree

Poker De Sivola: Scottish Grand National, Ayr preferred to Irish Grand National, Fairyhouse

Chief Dan George: Grand National, Aintree

Albertas Run: Melling Chase or totesport Bowl, Aintree

Binocular: Aintree Hurdle, Champion Hurdle 2011

Twist Magic: Celebration Chase, Sandown

Mon Mome & Tricky Trickster: Grand National, Aintree

Medermit & Karabak: Punchestown possibles

Imperial Commander: totesport Bowl, Aintree

Powerstation: Punchestown

Khyber Kim: Aintree Hurdle

Baby Run: Foxhunters' Chase, Aintree

Manyriverstocross: Ebor, York

Tell Massini: roughed off; chasing next term

The Package: Grand National, Aintree

Restless Harry: 2 mile 5 furlong novice hurdle, Cheltenham April meeting

Any Currency: bet365 Gold Cup, Sandown


Added Wednesday 24th March

Get Me Out Of Here: Aintree possible

Calgary Bay: totesport Bowl or handicap, Aintree

Somersby: totepool Manifesto Novices' Chase, Aintree


Added Thursday 25th March

Oh Crick: Red Rum Handicap Chase, Aintree

Chamirey: Aintree or Ayr

Kalahari King: Melling Chase, Aintree

Zaynar: Aintree Hurdle

Buena Vista: John Smith's Handicap Hurdle, Aintree

Barbers Shop: Guinness Gold Cup, Punchestown

Cooldine: Guinness Gold Cup, Punchestown

Ogee: Mildmay Novices' Chase, Aintree

Becauseicouldntsee: Grand National 2011, Aintree


Added Friday 26th March

Cappa Bleu: Leaves Evan Williams' yard to return to Sheila Crow for autum pointing campaign

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Festival review 2010

Firstly, the profit/loss details on the blog's highlighted selections at this year's Festival to a £1 level stake...

Punjabi WIN 15/2 - unplaced
Garde Champetre WIN 7/4f - fifth

Poker De Sivola E/W 14/1 WON - returned 8.75
Peddlers Cross WIN 7/1 WON - returned 8.00
Punchestowns WIN 2/1f - fifth
Kalahari King WIN 9/2 - third
Shot From The Hip WIN 3/1f - unplaced

Poquelin WIN 11/4f - second
Karabak E/W 15/2 - fourth

Tell Massini WIN 100/30f - pulled up
Kauto Star WIN 8/11f - fell

Total wagered £11.00
Total returned £16.75
Profit/loss +£5.75
Win strike rate 18.18%
Profit as % of turnover 52.27%

Surprisingly, the figures read well enough. Wednesday was the lucky day - you may have noticed a more conservative approach thereafter... Some others mentioned in dispatches also performed with credit, most notably Cue Card who won the bumper at 40/1 (paid 60/1 on the Tote) and 14/1 Ryanair winner Albertas Run. Having gone to the trouble to dig out Colin Tizzard's quote about Cue Card the night before, you would have thought I'd have taken the trouble to place a bet but I didn't; at around 5.25 Wednesday evening I received a text from a colleague at the track who had bet the horse on the Nanny - that's racing!

This time last week media talk was of the four 'bankers'. Of the four - Dunguib, Master Minded, Big Buck's and Kauto Star - only Big Buck's obliged, making this a Festival for the layers. Commentators estimate the bookmaking industry is £60 million up over the four days.

Congratulations to connections of Imperial Commander who won the Gold Cup with authority. The decison to bill the showpiece as a two horse race (Kauto v. Denman) looks flawed now. I was amazed to hear Ms Fiona Bruce tell the nation on Friday's ten o'clock news that 'an outsider' had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup. If Imperial Commander was an outsider at 7/1, what was 250/1 shot Mr Pointment? A rank outsider possibly - I suppose we'll have to put it down to cutbacks in the BBC's racing coverage.

There were some notable performances over the four days but one that will live with me for a long time was Barizan's effort to make all in the Triumph. I've replayed that race a couple of times - had he not run down the last obstacle and landed in something of a heap, he would have gone extremely close; to me it looks as though he starts to make some ground on winner Soldatino as they climb the hill to the line - the form book reads 'rallied towards finish'.

Friday was Nigel Twiston-Davies' day. After taking the Gold Cup, elder son Sam Twiston-Davies rode the stable's Baby Run to victory in the Chrisitie's Foxhunter Chase. By this time the rain had started to get into the ground; fans of the slow-motion finish were in their element - for a moment I thought I was watching the final stages of a three mile handicap chase at Towcester. Not to be outdone by his elder brother, the younger Twiston-Davies was caught on camera running around in a highly-excited manner and then doing a quick 'live' interview. Some words of advice for this young man... I have no problems with your wagging off school, especially if you want go to the races, but don't do live TV interviews from the track as the chances are somebody will snitch on you. I fear a visit to the head teacher's office for a severe 'dressing down' will be on the cards tomorrow morning...

Finally, with the return of the Flat just around the corner, a quote from Kieren Fallon who was unfortunately punched by an owner while unsaddling Elna Bright at Lingfield yesterday: '...but I'm all right - he hits like a girl!'

Friday, March 19, 2010

Midlands Grand National anyone?

After a bookies' week at Cheltenham (review to follow in a separate post), there's the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter tomorrow for those with any cash left. Somebody who should have plenty of fifties in his back pocket is Nigel Twiston-Davies after the yard finished the last day of this year's Festival with a 748/1 treble courtesy of Imperial Commander in the Gold Cup (7/1), Baby Run, ridden by son Sam Twiston-Davies, in the Foxhunter Chase (9/2jf) and Pigeon Island in the finale (16/1). With the stable in such fine form, I had this idea to back one of theirs in the Uttoxeter feature but guess what - they don't have one entered.

Eighteen have been declared; the going is currently described as good, good-to-soft in places, but the way the rain is falling in Coventry at the moment I'm guessing it'll ride soft on the day. In the last ten years the race has been run eight times with the winner never carrying more than ten stones nine and on each occasion being aged between seven and nine. Of the eighteen, the four I've concentrated on are the Philip Hobbs pair Ballydub and Mark The Book, Sherwoods Folly and Irish raider Inoma James. Hobbs, in fine form at the Festival, fields three, the other one being Kornati Kid who is highly regarded but didn't appear to take the preliminaries at all well in the Welsh National the last time - his chance had gone before the start. The trainer picks out Ballydub in first time blinkers as his pick of the three. Sherwoods Folly has had a decent break coming to this and makes some appeal off a light weight while the chance of Inoma James is more obvious - he won the Grand National Trial at Punchestown at the end of January on heavy ground. Irish-trained runners have a good record in this race, having won three times since 2002 - I'll take an each-way interest in Inoma James at around 9/1.

Of those near the head of the handicap Le Beau Bai looks on the small side for a big weight while Synchronised was declared for the four mile National Hunt Chase at the Festival on Wednesday but was then withdrawn, presumably on account of the ground; underfoot conditions will be more to his liking here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cheltenham Festival - Friday

The Gold Cup, the feature race of the whole meeting, is due off at 3.20. He'll be no price but I cannot desert Kauto Star. The media has played its part in building this into a Kauto v. Denman battle but McCoy's mount fluffed his lines the last time at Newbury - significant rainfall would improve Denman's chance but that seems unlikely. Trainer Paul Nicholls is on record saying that Imperial Commander represents the biggest threat to the main protagonists; 8/1 with most layers, the each-way appeal has disappeared and at the back of my mind I can still see his howler at the second in the King George, a jump that effectively put him out of the race. Cooldine is similarly priced so if you're looking for an each-way alternative to the favourite Tricky Trickster is the suggestion - he runs in this on the way to next month's Grand National for which he's currently 10/1 joint favourite.

The opener, the Triumph Hurdle, is invariably a rough race and not one I particularly like. Early season Barizan was quite highly-rated and Evan Williams looks to have freshened him up for a stab at this. Carlito Brigante is my idea of the winner but at odds of around 9/2 I won't get involved.

The Albert Bartlett looks fascinating with many of the leading contenders having shown their best form with cut underfoot - how they handle tomorrow's conditions is anybody's guess. Silver Kate is a tough likeable mare who tends to race from the front which is likely to leave her vulnerable here. Favourite Tell Massini won in impressive fashion the last time while Restless Harry did this blog a favour over a shorter trip at this course seven weeks ago. Kennel Hill is one to be wary of while both Possol and Cappa Bleu have been trying their luck over fences. I'm going to take a chance with Tell Massini.

The Pipe yard will be keen to take the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle and my guess is that's why Ashkazar is priced up 9/2 favourite. There's been a hint of a plot brewing with his last couple of runs but I won't be tempted.

Similarly Nicky Henderson fields three in an attempt to take the finale, named after his father. French Opera, with David Bass claiming seven, has a clear chance while stable jockey Barry Geraghty rides You're The Top and A P McCoy Pepsyrock. I'll watch with interest from the sidelines.

And that will be that... We'll come back next year and do it all over again!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cheltenham Festival 2010 - Thursday

I'm a little pressed for time, so just a couple of selections for Thursday's card...

The feature is the World Hurdle at 3.20 in which 14 go to post. Paul Nicholls' Big Buck's won this last year and will start long odds-on. Whilst acknowledging he's supremely talented, I should point out that he's not entirely straightforward and is often described as something of a character; for that reason alone I couldn't entertain taking such a short price. Last year he was tried initially over fences but it was the return to hurdling that made him; this year Tidal Bay could be placed in the same category after his impressive win in the Cleeve six and a half weeks ago. TB has the look of an each-way bet to nothing as does Karabak, although it's interesting to note that the latter's trainer Alan King has sounded far more bullish about Katchit's prospects, that one apparently having really come to himself in the last fortnight. This evening Coral bet 22/1 Katchit while William Hill go 12s. Katchit each-way is very tempting but on official ratings he has twelve pounds to find with his stablemate so I'll back Karabak each-way against the favourite at around 8/1. I note that Coral go 80/1 Cape Tribulation which looks big for a horse that has some smart form to his name including fifth in last year's Albert Bartlett behind Weapon's Amnesty (won the RSA earlier today) and second behind Zaynar in the Relkeel. He has won over this trip but has been running over two miles recently - at the price I might have a small place bet.

It looks a classy renewal of the Ryanair at 2.40. Alan King's Voy Por Ustedes was odds-on for this last year - he finished second to Imperial Commander after a bad mistake four out - yet this year he's 16/1! Admittedly he has been a little hit and miss of late but that still looks decent each-way value. Albertas Run is another who could run well at a price - I always feel the key to this horse is good ground and he'll get that tomorrow. Deep Purple is bang there on ratings and has been given plenty of time to recover after breaking a blood vessel in the King George over Christmas. Since its inception in 2005 the winner has come from the first three in the market and on that basis it looks between Poquelin, Tranquil Sea and Barbers Shop. On official ratings Poquelin has at least four pounds in hand over his market rivals so he gets the vote.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cheltenham Festival 2010 - Wednesday

For the first time in well over ten years I'll be missing the Wednesday card at the Festival. Enough of that, let's get on with the job in hand...

The feature is the Queen Mother Champion Chase at 3.20 in which nine go to post. The current two mile champ, Master Minded, attempts to become only the second horse to win this on three consecutive occasions - Badsworth Boy achieved the feat 1983-85. This horse has had an operation for a cracked rib over the winter; his demolition of a small field in the Game Spirit the last time appeared to indicate the horse was back to his best. He put in several spring-heeled leaps although he nearly came a cropper with a bad blunder at the last. Visually the performance was impressive but Voy Por Ustedes didn't run his race and the third that day, Fix The Rib, finished third in a Class 4 novice hurdle at Taunton on Monday. If the real MM turns up, quotes of 5/6 will look generous afterwards but on grounds of value alone I'm going to look elsewhere. Twist Magic, despite continuing to display signs of temperament, has shown marked improvement this season; having said that he hasn't run well here in previous years so I'm going with Ferdy Murphy's Kalahari King. This one won the Arkle last year, will appreciate drying ground and put in an excellent performance on his seasonal debut to take Doncaster's Blue Square Handicap Chase - that was five and a half weeks ago.

Long Run, already spoken of as a future Gold Cup winner, is favourite for the RSA but I can't have him. Only two five-year-olds have taken this since 1950, on occasions his jumping has been sketchy and, in addition, his jockey is an amateur. If it's close on the run up the hill, Mr Sam Waley-Cohen is unlikely to prevail at the finish. Diamond Harry is another whose jumping hasn't convinced - my original selection in this was Weird Al but he picked up an injury just a few days ago. Punchestowns comes here with less experience over the larger obstacles than is ideal, he's had an injury scare over the last fortnight and he made a big blunder at Sandown before going on to score. I'll back Punchestowns in a race that has thrown up its fair share of shocks in the past - four of the last ten winners were priced in double figures, Hussard Collonges going in at 33/1 in 2002.

In the Neptune I'm going to take a chance on Peddlers Cross showing further improvement for the step up in trip; connections had considered a run in the Supreme. I think Rite Of Passage looks vulnerable; Finian's Rainbow is respected but no seven-year-old has won the last ten renewals. I have to mention The Giant Bolster, a big horse who got bogged down in the mud at Fontwell the last time. He's out of his depth here but is one to keep an eye on.

In the opening four mile National Hunt Chase Coral's 18/1 about Poker De Sivola offers some each-way value. Favourite Massasoit can be a tricky ride for a pro so makes even less appeal with an amateur up. Two others worthy of consideration are Synchronised - the Jonjo O'Neill operation has won this race four times since 2002 - and Abbeybraney.

Over the years I've burnt my fingers often enough in the Coral Cup (and more recently in the Fred Winter as well) to make me want to watch from the sidelines. In the Coral On Raglan Road should be noted - before today he was the only horse to have beaten Dunguib; he's been off the track nearly a year but comes to this backed by positive comments from the stable. Five-year-olds have a poor record in the Coral - invariably a rough race - which is a negative for likely favourite Quantitativeeasing. Jockey Tom Scudamore has put up Hunterview in the Fred Winter as his best chance of a winner this week while top weight Stars Du Granits was a market mover the last time in Haydock's Victor Ludorum (ran on soft ground) but he got no further than the second flight - Me Voici went on to collect the spoils.

In the bumper, I'm going to refer to an article Nick Mordin worte in the Weekender about six weeks ago. Nick pointed out that in this race, over the past five years, the Racing Post top-rated animal has won four times. When that article was published Araucaria was the top bumper horse seen out - since then the mare has been beaten easily by Shot From The Hip; in theory, that one should be thereabouts. It's worth noting that Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride Al Ferof (in preference to anything from the Mullins stable) and I have to give a quick mention to Colin Tizzard's Cue Card. Quoting Colin from a recent Straight From the Stable article in the Weekender: 'I said before he won [his last race] he was the best bumper horse I've had and nothing has dissuaded me since from that view.' A couple of layers go 40/1 this evening - I may be tempted into a small each-way interest.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cheltenham Festival 2010 - Tuesday

The waiting is nearly over... The first race of the 2010 Cheltenham Festival, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, kicks off this year's extravaganza at 1.30 - listen for the roar as the starter lets them go. Over the years I've adopted a cautious approach on the first day and, on balance, it has proved the correct approach.

This year Dunguib will be sent off odds-on in the opener; his victory in last year's bumper was generally regarded as exceptional. Having said that, the last time he ran he didn't jump the hurdles particularly well. Those looking to oppose will have to consider Get Me Out Of Here who won the totesport Trophy in the manner of a very good horse - Oldrik, fifth in that race, franked the form with a battling second in the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday. However GMOOH returned from that race with a nasty gash in the leg and will have missed some work. I've seen the odd word for David Pipe's Dan Breen at a price but this is a race I'll watch from the sidelines. Fiulin, a son of Galileo, is an interesting runner having been bought out of Marco Botti's yard for £280,000. He won a listed race on the Flat and also beat The Betchworth Kid so quotes of 150/1 about his chances are perhaps a little unkind.

The Arkle is a tough race and one I always avoid. For those braver than me, Somersby is the selection. If you fancy Captain Cee Bee, note that only two nine-year-olds have won this since the war and only one favourite in the last decade.

There are plenty with chances in the ultra-competitive William Hill Trophy. Alan King's Bensalem has a nice racing weight while Ferdy Murphy's New Alco is very talented but has been off the track a long time - his target is next month's Grand National. The tentative suggestion for those who can't resist is Character Building each-way.

This year's Champion Hurdle looks wide open - a case can be made for the majority of the twelve runners. Go Native sets the standard and will land the WBX Triple Crown (with the accompaying £1 million bonus likely to be of some interest to connections) if he wins here, having already taken the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. I'm avoiding Binocular and Solwhit as they've had an interrupted preparation and the three five-year-olds (Starluck, Zaynar and Jumbo Rio) as horses from that age bracket generally have a poor record in the race. Punjabi did this blog a favour last year at odds of 22/1 - he'll be a lot shorter tomorrow but I'm going to stick by him, with Khyber Kim a live threat. Should KK collect the spoils, I'd imagine Nicky Henderson will have mixed feelings as he used to handle that one...

In the Cross Country Chase I take Garde Champetre, ridden by Nina Carberry, to continue Enda Bolger's fine record in the race while the market tells us the finale is between Voler La Vedette and Quevega. Preference is for the former but I shall watch from the sidelines.

Before the first day, it's worth recalling - half the fun of horse racing is in the anticipation.

Good luck to one and all!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On the eve of the Festival...

... here's an eclectic mix of facts and figures in an attempt to whet your appetite.

Media talk is of the 'big four' - Kauto Star (Gold Cup), Big Buck's (World Hurdle), Master Minded (Champion Chase), Dunguib (Supreme Novices' Hurdle) - and they're all likely to start at evens or shorter. Several layers appear keen to win their money early, targetting Dunguib in the opening race on the first day. I'm a fan, having seen his exceptional win in last year's bumper, but I won't get involved here. Last time out Dunguib's jumping was far from fluent and here's another negative - over the past decade 23 seven-year-olds have contested the race but only one has won - Captain Cee Bee in 2008.

Tony McCoy put up Captain Cee Bee in the Arkle as his best chance this year but only two nine-year-olds have won the race since the war, the most recent being Danish Flight in 1988. The Arkle also happens to be a poor race for favourites with just one obliging in the last ten years.

Ruby Walsh has the pick from the powerful yards of Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls; he has committed early to Blackstairmountain (Supreme) and Quel Esprit (Neptune). I remember Mick Fitzgerald once describing Ruby as someone 'who plays his cards close to his chest'. He certainly made the right choices last year as he came away leading rider with seven winners.

Nine of the last ten Champion hurdlers have previously won at Cheltenham which may be something of a concern to fans of Solwhit. Five-year-olds don't have a good record in the Champion; the three entries from that age bracket this year are Starluck, Zaynar and Jumbo Rio. Of course Katchit was the exception when he claimed the spoils in 2008.

Trainer Enda Bolger and owner JP McManus have won four of the five runnings of the Cross Country Chase.

Dermot Weld trains Rite Of Passage, the current favourite for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, but the handler has just one winner at this meeting to his name and that occured twenty years ago.

Those who fancy Long Run should note that only two five-year-olds have taken the RSA Chase since 1950; having said that, the favourite has won the last three renewals.

Master Minded attempts to become only the second horse to win three consecutive Queen Mother Champion Chases - Badsworth Boy was the first to achieve the feat (1983-1985).

I was considering Pettifour for Wednesday's four mile National Hunt Chase. @jpfestival visited the Twiston-Davies yard last week and asked assistant trainer Carl Llewellyn about that one's chances. The word is he'll stay every yard of the trip but they have reservations about his jumping. This race has thrown up some big-priced winners in the last ten years - one at 40/1, two at 33/1 and one at 25/1.

It's no surprise Wednesday's Coral Cup is sponsored by a bookmaker as it usually has the look of a bookmakers' benefit. Five-year-olds have a poor record - the stats point to a six or seven-year-old carrying under eleven stones. Five of the last eight winners have run in Newbury's totesport Trophy.

Many think Big Buck's bombproof in Thursday's World Hurdle; favourites have won only three of the last ten runnings. Trainer Paul Nicholls is on record as saying he considers Tidal Bay the biggest threat to his horse.

The market has proved a reliable guide to the Ryanair Chase with all five winners coming from the top three in the betting.

It's Paul Nicholls' Kauto Star for me (and plenty of others) in the Gold Cup. According to the handler Imperial Commander is the horse that could take the trophy away from his yard.

That's it for now; I'll try to post selections on a daily basis throughout the Festival. In the meantime, good luck to one and all at the greatest jump meeting in the world.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Saturday before the Festival...

I always try to treat the Saturday before the Festival as a time for quiet reflection - the calm before the storm; essentially it's a time to keep your powder dry. Sandown's feature tomorrow is the fiercely competitive Imperial Cup in which 24 are set to face the starter. This year, noticeably, there's not one runner from the Pipe yard. Over the past decade, suprisingly for such a competitive race, the favourite has won on five occasions. During the same time period the winner has carried less than eleven stones on eight occasions while novices have a very good record - four and five years olds have won six renewals. One I have a liking for is Tocca Ferro; I've used this Emma Lavelle quote about her charge in the past... 'We like him... There are certain horses you get that give you that extra special feeling and he would be one of those... I'm dreaming about collecting a big trophy with him.' I wonder if the Imperial Cup is the big trophy Ms Lavelle has been dreaming about... I'll probably take a small each-way interest, watch the race and then turn my attention to next week's jamboree.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Weekend observations

Big Fella Thanks shot to the top of the Grand National ante-post market following his impressive win at Newbury yesterday; this evening most firms go 10/1 for next month's showpiece but both Stan James and Paddy Power quote 8/1.

Staying with yesterday's meet at Newbury, Tony McCoy and Paddy Brennan fought out the finish to the Veterans' Chase, McCoy taking the spoils on 9/1 shot Eric's Charm; last week the same two jocks were involved in a tight finish to the Racing Post Chase, Brennan coming out on top in that duel aboard Razor Royale. I really thought Brennan had this one in the bag as his mount Knowhere jumped the last marginally better than his rival and looked to take it up on the run to the line. However, after a couple of slaps with the stick, the horse veered out left and then had to be brought back right to avoid the running rail as the line approached; this manoeuvre resulted in the horse losing both momentum and vital ground while McCoy steered the straight course to victory. I was left with the feeling Brennan had been mugged on this occasion...

These days trying to purchase a copy of Raceform Update's Cheltenham Festival Guide from a local newsagent is as difficult as backing a 10/1 winner. I went to pay for mine yesterday and the guy behind the counter commented, 'They've all been after that this morning!' I'm not surprised - his was the only shop in Coventry city centre I could find selling the publication. As I started reading, the first stat to strike me may concern those who think Dunguib is banker material for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle - in the last decade 23 seven-year-olds have tried to win the race but only one has been successful - Captain Cee Bee in 2008. Following on from that, Captain Cee Bee, now a nine-year-old, is 7/2 favourite for the Arkle with most firms - only two horses from that age bracket have won that race since the war.

Two racing programmes to note in the coming week...
Thursday BBC4 21:00 Storyville - Race Horses.
This film follows three horses from Paul Nolan's Wexford stable over a racing year. David Charter (The Times) describes the programme as 'horse heaven'.
Friday Radio4 11:00 Racing Ahead.
Chris Ledgard looks at the problems facing the racing industry as the TV market shrinks and bookmakers look to exploit other avenues.

Betfred have been quick to pick up on last week's story of the unfortunate punter who ate his winning lottery ticket when he realised Ryanair staff couldn't pay him 10,000 euros mid-flight. Spotted in a Fred Done shop window - Goat eats winning football ticket but Fred pays up without a bleat!

The backdrop to this Saturday's Morning Line looked like something you'd come across in a residential care home for the elderly. In that vein, Lesley Graham had something of a 'senior moment' when she referred to that well known jockey Ruby McCoy. Apparently his friend and weighing room colleague Tony Walsh was none too pleased when he heard of Graham's gaffe.

Finally, this is what happens when sports stars stop playing sport and start singing instead... The Cheltenham Charity song is released tomorrow, money raised going to four racing charities. If Petula Clark isn't really your kind of thing and you prefer something a little more raunchy, then take a peek at Rafael Nadal's performance with Shakira in Gypsy. No sign of any trouble with the knees there, Mr Nadal...

Friday, March 05, 2010

Doncaster's Grimthorpe Chase

The penultimate Saturday before Cheltenham and everyone seems to have half an eye on the Festival races... This afternoon trainer Nicky Henderson confirmed that former RSA favourite Punchestowns has a problem with his near-fore - stable companion Long Run now heads that market, priced up at just 2/1 by both totepsort and Ladbrokes. In a separate development Binocular, having been ruled out of the Champion Hurdle a couple of weeks ago with a muscle problem, may now take his chance - his participation depends on a workout next week.

The going at Doncaster tomorrow is described as good, good to soft in places - the first piece of decent ground we've seen for a while.

The feature is the highly-competitive three and a quarter mile Grimthorpe Chase for which fifteen have been declared; many of the field, including former National winner Comply Or Die and Aintree regular Cloudy Lane, will see the race as a trial for this year's four and a half mile marathon in April. Henry Daly's Possol could well start favourite as he's likely to appreciate the better ground but he has his fair share of weight; in addition, favourites have a miserable record in this - no wins in the past seven renewals. Rather than turn out here connections of the progressive Sa Suffit have opted to go to Kelso for the Premier Chase (which could be considered a tip in itself, although I note the gelding hasn't won beyond two and a half miles). Two that would be a danger if returning to form are Charlie Mann's Air Force One and Howard Johnson's Killyglen while Gidam Gidam's victory here last time over four miles would suggest that one needs a real test of stamina - the drying ground may not suit. For me Coe has disappointed once too often in recent weeks but at the bottom end of the handicap former Eider winner Merigo is worth a second look - he finished second in a hurdle race at Warwick three weeks ago but was disqualified as jockey Dougie Costello failed to draw the correct weight. Wogan doesn't have many miles on the clock but former Scottish National winner Iris De Balme will need to build on a reasonable return over hurdles after a long spell on the sidelines. The market has proved a decent guide in the past with the winner starting second, third or fourth favourite on six occasions in the last seven runnings - of the top four Iris De Balme makes most appeal at around 10/1 and looks worth an each-way interest but my money will be on Merigo at odds of 12/1 or bigger.