Sunday, September 26, 2010

Trains to Cheltenham Racecourse station suspended

The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway runs heritage steam and diesel train services on The Honeybourne Line between Toddington in The Cotswolds and Cheltenham Racecourse station; these services have proved particularly popular with punters during the Cheltenham Festival meeting in March.

Last April a landslip south of Gotherington Halt station resulted in services to Cheltenham being suspended while tests were carried out to determine the cause and extent of the problem. The repair bill has come in at £1 million; as insurance cover is limited to £500,000, an emergency appeal was launched earlier this month to raise the outstanding amount.

All of which is not good news for the 650 volunteers who run the line which carries in the region of 75,000 passengers every year. A programme of works lasting 26 weeks has been drawn up - it looks unlikely that services to the racecourse will be operational in time for next year's Festival.

And then, to add to it all, last weekend thieves ran off with £4,000 worth of cast iron bench castings from the racecourse station.

Friday, September 24, 2010

From Ascot to Market Rasen

Canford Cliffs misses tomorrow's Queen Elizabeth II showpiece at Ascot which means French-trained colt Mafki is likely to start odds on and Rip Van Winkle is the most likely to benefit should something go amiss. The only time the favourite has been beaten was in the St James's Palace Stakes over course and distance back in June but a valid excuse emerged for that effort after the race - the bay was found to have a throat infection. French entries haven't done particularly well in this event in recent years (last win 1993); the books offer 11/4 for those tempted to oppose with Rip Van Winkle. This evening's going report is good to soft, soft in places; the race looks an intriguing contest but doesn't make that much appeal as a betting medium - I'll watch from the sidelines.

The National Hunt season starts to pick up around this time of year. Nigel Twiston-Davies made his customary raid on Perth's two day meeting earlier in the week - he came away with a tally of six winners from thirteen runners and Lambs Cross added to that score by taking the opener at Worcester this afternoon. Market Rasen stages an interesting-looking card tomorrow with Betfair sponsoring six of the seven races (as well as preparing for a stock market flotation!) Of those six races, three are preceded with the slogan 'Read Paul Nicholls Exclusively On Betfair'. Readers may recall Mr Nicholls previously wrote a column for The Racing Post but I assume that paper's reporting of Mr Findlay's split with the yard after Mr Findlay was warned off (a decision later rescinded) didn't meet with unanimous approval down at Ditcheat.

The feature is the listed handicap chase at 3.20 in which sixteen are set to face the starter. To say Peter Bowen has targeted the race may be considered something of an understatement - he fields five of the sixteen (including last year's winner Valley Ride) while David Pipe has four entries although there must be a doubt about Frosted Grape taking his chance from out of the handicap, having finished a well-beaten favourite at Worcester earlier this afternoon. Top weight Grand Slam Hero is respected but in an open contest (7/1 the field this evening), 9/1 Peter Bowen's No Panic looks reasonable value and is worth an each-way interest.

Last year the juvenile hurdle (2.50) was won by Barizan off a rating of 140; several commentators thought that too high but the horse proved them wrong running a blinder in the Triumph and winning the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown. Two Kisses is the top-rated for tomorrow's renewal (130); Brendan Powell's filly looks interesting as does Architrave and Beyond (stablemate of Barizan). Using the official ratings as a guide, I have to go for Two Kisses.

Finally I see Chris Bealby has a quiet word for Persian Gates who makes his chasing debut in Singleton Birch Handicap Chase at 3.55. The chestnut gelding has schooled well at home and the trainer thinks his charge is well handicapped.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Scottish Salmond and flying dismounts for Ayr

Something of an eventful day for Frankie Dettori at Ayr yesterday...

A change in Ryanair security procedures meant Dettori was not allowed to board his intended internal flight from Stansted to Prestwick using his driving licence as ID. Another Ryanair money-making stunt perhaps? Unperturbed, the jock went back home, dug out his passport, took a later flight and promptly rode Dandy Nicholls' Redford to win the Ayr Gold Cup at odds of 14/1. This was Dettori's second successive victory in the race, having run off with the spoils last year aboard Clive Cox's Jimmy Styles. The First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond MP presented the booty and then appeared on television shortly afterwards to inform Channel 4 viewers that Dettori had said his mount Vesuve would win the Doonside Cup. I'd imagine that viewers who took the hint will be on good terms with themselves today as the 2/1 second favourite held market rival Kings Gambit (15/8f) a neck on the line. Other viewers, probably of Scottish descent, might well remark that's the first time the First Minister has ever given them something for nothing. Needless to say, viewers in the latter category are also likely to have based any judgement on the First Minister's previous form, so they probably wouldn't have bothered to have a bet anyway. Poor old Alex Salmond - can't do right for doing wrong...

Tommo's recorded interview with Scottish trainer Jim Goldie (JG) before the Gold Cup also brought a smile. Tommo kicked off with the fact that a Scottish trained runner hadn't taken the race since 1975 but Goldie appeared to have a very good chance with the aptly-named Hawkeyethenoo. A rough transcript follows:

JG: Winning this race, it would be like Scotland winning the World Cup!
Tommo: And you haven't done that for a long time!
JG: No, and neither have you!

Finally a Scottish footballing story from The Galloway News to finish with. Last Saturday Threave Rovers were due to play Crichton at Castle Douglas in the semi final of the Cree Lodge Cup. After a pre-match incident between the Threave keeper and a Crichton striker, Rovers offered to remove their player from the town so that the match could go ahead. Crichton rejected this offer on the grounds of safety with the result the match was abandoned. C'mon lads, it's only a game...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ayr Gold Cup

There is likely to be plenty of debate surrounding the draw for tomorrow's Ayr Gold Cup, with today's official going described as good, good to soft in places. In the Ayr Bronze Cup ran at 4.30 this afternoon the first four home came from stalls 25, 22, 12 and 26, suggesting that high numbers might be favoured. Those of a patient disposition can wait for the running of the Ayr Silver Cup at 2.15 before striking a wager but, of course, the best prices are likely to have disappered before then. Dandy Nicholls has a phenomenal record in this race, having taken five of the last ten renewals; often though, the yard's lesser fancied runners have run off with the money as the recorded SPs show - two at 33/1 and others at 18/1 and 16/1. This evening the stable's Victoire De Lyphar heads the market and is as low as 11/2 with Coral. In the past decade only one animal has carried more than nine stones three to victory (Advanced in 2007) while horses older than six have a poor record. In the quest for a little value in an ultra-competitive event I'm tempted to take a small each-way interest in Noverre To Go at 25/1. Tom Dascombe's four-year-old gelding has a racing weight which is further reduced with five pound claimer Ross Atkinson in the saddle. His draw towards the far side is favourable but any further rain would hinder his chance.

On official ratings Richard Hannon's Libranno has the beating of his field in the Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury. He disappointed in the Prix Morny the last time but if you forgive that effort the layers' price of 11/4 looks enticing. Crown Prosecutor will be a threat while Temple Meads didn't quite appear to stay the six furlongs in the Gimcrack at York but we can expect a very different ride tomorrow with regular pilot Richard Mullen back in the plate. The plan appears to be to ride more of a waiting race. Connections were extremely bullish their charge would stay the trip before York so I'm inclined to give the colt another chance although on ratings he has plenty to find with the Hannon horse. Temple Meads is priced up at 9/2 with Totesport this evening and narrowly gets the nod ahead of Libranno.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mixed musings of an inconsequential nature

In last month's Yorkshire Oaks Sariska refused to leave the stalls allowing Henry Cecil's Midday to collect the spoils. Three and a half weeks on and something remarkably similar happened in the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp this afternoon; once again Sariska failed to come out of the stalls and Midday took the spoils. Connections immediately retired Sariska while Skybet have shortened Midday to even money for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

There was a bit of a turn-up in yesterday's St. Leger at Doncaster where the Godolphin even money hotpot, Rewilding, failed to fire, coming home a well-beaten sixth behind John Gosden's 12/1 chance Arctic Cosmos. Corsica (40/1) from the Mark Johnson yard ensured there was no hanging around, setting a searching gallop and staying on stoutly to finish third, beaten a nose for second by the Aidan O'Brien trained Midas Touch. Meanwhile over in Ireland Olivier Peslier brought 13/8 favourite Sans Frontieres to the front with a well-timed run to record a comfortable three quarter length win from market rival Profound Beauty. This represents a first Group One win for owner Sir Robert Ogden; connections have indicated that the Melbourne Cup in November is 'very much on the cards.'

Some potentially interesting race readers to keep an eye out for with (the threat of) Christmas just around the corner...

Ruby: The Autobiography by Ruby Walsh [publication date to be announced];

Kauto Star & Denman by Jonathan Powell;

Gentlemen and Blackguards: Gambling Mania and the Plot to Steal the Derby of 1844 by Nicholas Foulkes;

Race Profiles - Jumps 2010-2011 by Dr Peter May;

No Angel: The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone by Tom Bower [publication date to be announced].

Plenty has been written over the past week on the antics of England and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney. By some distance the most amusing article I came across was Frank Skinner's piece in Friday's Times. I had to smile at this particular line: 'Ms Thompson said, on one occasion, when Rooney approached her in a hotel, that Michael Owen looked at him with disgust. Apparently this caused Owen to pull a muscle in his face and he has been out of action for six weeks.'

Last night the contestants in Strictly Come Dancing 2010 were allocated their dance partners and told to go away and practice for three weeks. The layers, never ones to miss an opportunity, have already priced up the field. Mrs Tips comes into her own with this sort of stuff - her verdict on Gavin Henson was particularly harsh (in case you were tempted by 20/1); personally I thought Gavin bore a remarkable resemblance to Fireman Elvis Cridlington of Fireman Sam fame.

Finally, one of next Saturday's features is the Ayr Gold Cup; the Morning Line guest, advertised in advance, is the Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP MP. Forget the politics, Alex Salmond rates an entertainment in his own right and ranks high on a list of people I'd care to have dinner with. I shall rise early in time for next Saturday's scheduled transmission.

Friday, September 10, 2010

St Leger day 2010

Two St Legers take place tomorrow with ten set to face the starter in the English version at 3.20 while eight go to post in the Irish equivalent twenty five minutes later.

Doncaster plays host to the 233rd running of the world's oldest Classic horse race; tradition has it that the first born child on the day of the race is granted life membership of the track on reaching the age of sixteen. Racing may well have tradition aplenty but, as today's Daily Telegraph reports, all is far from rosy in racing's garden. On paper Rewilding looks to have this renewal at his mercy and has been priced up accordingly - this evening the layers go 8/1 bar the Godolphin hotpot. A couple of quick stats - six favourites have obliged in the last decade while only six fillies have won the race since the war, the last to do so being User Friendly in 1992. Having said that the last six Oaks winners have finished in the places so Snow Fairy may make some appeal as an each-way wager (8/1) although connections admit they don't know whether she'll stay the trip and are unlikely to let their charge take her chance should heavy ran arrive before the off. James Given's Dandino is progressive but I'm not really inclined to get involved; if I relent I'll consider Sir Michael Stoute's Total Command each-way at 33/1. [How often do you seen one at that price for this trainer? Well, twice in the last month actually!] The Sadler's Wells colt didn't appear to stay the trip when third in the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot and is forgiven his ninth in the Voltigeur behind Rewilding as the trainer reported his charge had suffered from a skin and joint infection before York and as a consequence needed the outing.

The Irish St Leger at the Curragh looks a more competitive affair with several layers going 9/4 each of two Profound Beauty and Sans Frontieres. John Dunlop's bay gelding Tactic (8/1) beat the first-named over course and distance at the end of June but has since disappointed in the Goodwood Cup and current stable form is poor. Jeremy Noseda expects a big run from Sans Frontieres who looked good winning the Geoffrey Freer on soft ground at Newbury last time out; connections will consider a tilt at the Melbourne Cup if all goes well here. In a trappy-looking race, I side with Dermot Weld's Profound Beauty.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Weekend snippets

Cape Blanco (6/1) provided something of a shock at Leopardstown yesterday by making all to win the Irish Champion Stakes by five and a half lengths from stablemate Rip Van Winkle with Twice Over a short head behind in third.

Tony McCoy has been in fine form this weekend with a treble at Worcester today on Another Trump (3/1), Pinerock (3/1) and Drill Sergeant (10/11f) to add to his victory on Russian George (3/1) at Stratford yesterday. The winning distances in two of those events were recorded as a short head and a head - McCoy has ridden four winners from seven rides since Friday.

BBC4 screen This Sporting Life this evening at 10.00pm, a film that's a particular favourite of mine. Richard Harris stars in the lead role as Frank Machin, a rugby league footballer from Wakefield.

As pointed out on Saturday's Morning Line, this Youtube clip has gone viral... A race caller at Monmouth in the US had a bit of fun when two horses fought out a finish, one named My Wife Knows Everything, the other named The Wife Doesn't Know. Needless to say, My Wife Knows Everything came out the winner (because she actually does).

Two poetry points to finish on. Firstly, I was intrigued to learn over the weekend that poet John Cooper Clarke is now on the GCSE syllabus - unfortunately that's thirty five years too late for me. Secondly, here's a poem by John Masefield (1878-1967), who was on the O level syllabus (as it was known) thirty five years ago...

An Epilogue

I have seen flowers come out in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the Gold Cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust, too.

Friday, September 03, 2010

First Saturday in September at Stratford

Straford's first Saturday in September often offers an interesting card and tomorrrow's is no exception with three Class 3 races to take in.

The opener can throw up an interesting sort - Forty Thirty won this last year and was then quietly fancied for a race at Market Rasen three weeks later but Sheena West's gelding was emphatically put in his place by Barizan. Many thought the handicapper had overrated that winner when he was beaten by Pistolet Noir in the soft at Cheltenham but trainer Evan Williams knew what he was doing, giving his charge an extended break before bringing the bay back with an almighty effort to make all in the Triumph; compensation came with victory in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown. In tomorrow's event Peter Bowen's mare Tout Regulier is well in at the weights and a course and distance winner to boot while Milton Harris' Saltigoo is forgiven his last effort on soft ground at Newton Abbot - nonetheless that one has been kept busy over the past three months; Milton's other runner, That's Some Milan, could be anything. Tout Regulier looks the percentage call, the yard having had three winners from ten runners in the past week.

The beginners' chase is trappy - Emma Lavelle's Ravenclaw looks by far the most interesting.

In the feature at 3.55 De Soto from Paul Weber's nearby Banbury yard would be worth a second look on the back of his one length second to Grand Slam Hero at Ffos Las at the beginning of June. Last time out the gelding disappointed on softer ground at Bangor; here he sports a tongue tie for the first time. Priced up at 14/1 in the tissue De Soto would rate a reasonable each-way shot should that price become available on the day.

Plenty with chances in the 4.20 handicap hurdle where the market has proved a reliable guide in the past - the winner has come from the first three in the betting on seven of the last eight renewals.

Inmate, an easy winner last time out, will be popular in the 5 o'clock but he'll be no price and I've found it difficult to build up any enthusiasm for the others (e.g. Cortinas third in a seller last time). In the bumper Peter Bowen brings out Whereveryougoigo carrying a seven pound penalty for his Hereford win three days ago. I'm tempted to oppose with Robin Dickin's chestnut mare Music In The Air.