Sunday, January 30, 2011

The day after the Trials

Two stand-out performances at yesterday's Trials Day were Grand Crus' victory in the Cleeve and Wishfull Thinking's display in the Murphy Group Chase. Grand Crus is now 3/1 second favourite for the World Hurdle while Philip Hobbs indicated connections will wait for the ground before deciding whether to go for the Jewson or the RSA with Wishfull Thinking. Generally I don't tend to play ante-post but the RSA market looks rather lop-sided at the moment - Time For Rupert 5/2, 14/1 bar. I always think a trouble-free preparation is important for Cheltenham and the RSA favourite missed his appointment here on account of a low-grade infection. Wishfull Thinking is 16/1 for the RSA, 10/1 for the Jewson but those prices led me to consider Robinson Collonges who has now missed his intended race on two consecutive Saturdays as a result of abandonments. Back at the beginning of November Paul Nicholls' charge looked to be running all over Wishfull Thinking in a novice chase at Wincanton but crumpled on landing three from home; current quotes about Robinson Collonges include 33/1 for the RSA, 20/1 for the Jewson and 14/1 for the Centenary Novices Chase (which is to be run on the opening day).

Along with many I suspect, I wasn't impressed with Punchestown's jumping in the Argento but after the race Nicky Henderson indicated Barry Geraghty "...was very pleased with his jumping." The handler is keen to get another run into a horse that takes "...a massive amount of work to get ready."

Talking of trials, a couple of weeks back I was offered a free one by Dave Rensham at Racing Trends and I decided to take up the offer. Dave's email cribsheet has landed in the inbox on a daily basis and contains a wealth of statistical information on the following day's racing. Now I know stats are stats and they're not necessarily for everybody but I think they're useful in exploring different angles - of particular interest to me were the positive / negative sire stats together with pace stats - suitable 'in running' trading opportunities were highlighted. Further details are available on the website - a monthly subscription costs £29.99 which works out at just under £1 a day.

The 'all new' Morning Line hit our screens for the first time on Saturday but looked remarkably similar to the old version with a few gimmicks and cosmetic changes thrown in (including a cyan settee that presenter Nick Luck seemed particularly proud of for some reason.) The Mac and Tania's Betting Guide item, in which a guy called Hamish, sporting a tweed jacket, asked about the different types of bets he could strike, didn't really work, neither did the technology in the attempted Skype-type link up with trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, ironically based ten miles or so down the road... Kim Bailey's impressive performance in the Guest Test just about saved the day.

Taken from Saturday's Times Magazine - What I've learnt by A.P. McCoy:
"Racing has never been a rich man's sport."
I'm with you there, Tony.
Mind you, I'm sure several owners would tell us that even if you come into this game rich, you won't be leaving it rich...

Finally, with Cheltenham just over six weeks away, it seems a bit early to be talking about Grand Nationals but apparently the good people of Harrogate are set to play host to the UK's first 'rabbit grand national'. Quick - pass me tablets - I can feel a headache coming on.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Festival Trials Day

Inspections have been called for tomorrow's three turf cards at Cheltenham (8.45 am), Doncaster (7.30 am) and Uttoxeter (8.00am). One of the features at Cheltenham's Festival Trials Day is the Argento Chase at 2.30 in which six are set to face the starter (although Taranis is declared doubtful this evening); the disappointment is that current RSA Chase favourite Time For Rupert misses this after contracting a mild infection. Punchestowns is likely to head the market depsite being beaten a head by Pride Of Dulcote the last time; that race was run in a fast time and, writing in the Weekender, Nick Mordin states he 'won't hear of defeat for him [Punchestowns]'. On official ratings Tidal Bay is the best horse but you couldn't depend on him to put his best foot forward while Coral's 10/1 about Neptune Collonges would have looked big once upon a time but the grey has been out of sorts in two runs this term following 18 months on the sidelines. The Tother One is a tricky hold-up sort of a ride so I'm wondering whether McCoy may try to make all on Neptune Collonges... I'm not overly confident about Punchestowns who doesn't have that much chase form to his name - I'm not going to play.

Sixteen declared for the Cleeve at 3.35 in which Tidal Bay beat Time For Rupert five lengths last year. Tom Scudamore has been particularly bullish about Grand Crus, pointing out he thinks this one can give Big Buck's a run for his money in the World Hurdle come March. If that's to come about, the grey will need to take this and he may just prefer a bit more juice in the ground. Plenty have tipped up Alan King's Bensalem but I'll have an each-way wager at 10/1 on Restless Harry, a favourite of mine. Two in the field worth monitoring - Knockara Beau, fifth in the Neptune two years ago but one who really hasn't progressed as one would have hoped over the larger obstacles and Benbane Head, a free tip put up by Peter Naughton. Peter advises only a small interest in this race (80/1 with William Hill) but tells us Benbane Head is one to bear in mind for later in the season - the tipster has already backed Martin Keighley's charge for the Albert Bartlett at the Festival.

Another disappointment is that Alan King's Smad Place misses the opener on account of an unsatisfactory scope. Steve Gollings, trainer of Local Hero, is set to find out how good his charge is tomorrow - AP McCoy thinks the gelding has 'a serious engine'. Colin Tizzard fields the likely favourite in Third Intention but the yard hasn't had a winner since January 2nd. Local Hero looks the percentage call but in search of a bit of value I'm tempted to take a chance with Paul Nicholls' French import Indian Daudaie provided he's priced up 4/1 or bigger.

Sky Bet go 9/1 about another of my favourites, The Giant Bolster, who is set to carry top weight in the novices' handicap chase - I'll take an each-way interest.

The going at Doncaster is good, good to firm in places. I fancied Rose Of The Moon in the 2.45 but those damned bookie chappies have priced up Milton Harris' grey the 11/4 favourite. If Doncaster is called off, the gelding will be re-routed to the Neptune at Cheltenham - Coral offer 14/1 for that race which makes far more appeal from a betting perspective.

In the feature, the Sky Bet Chase, my two against the field are two that have featured in this blog in recent weeks. I considered I'moncloudnine for the Welsh National three weeks ago but was put off by the trainer's comments that his charge operates better on better ground. In the circumstances I'moncloudnine ran better than expected finishing third and will have underfoot conditions to suit here. King Fontaine was the suggestion for last week's abandoned Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock; the Trevor Hemmings owned gelding looks to hold every chance in this competitive event and handler Malcolm Jefferson boasts a 30% strike-rate in the past fortnight. I'll bet King Fontaine each-way at 12/1 with the sponsors who pay five places provided 18 make it to the start.

To finish, allow me to suggest a fantasy 'grey' treble for the dreamers amongst you...

Neptune Collonges (2.30 Cheltenham)
Rose Of The Moon (2.45 Doncaster / 3.05 Cheltenham)
Grand Crus (3.35 Cheltenham)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekend snippets

Festival clues aplenty at Leopardstown today where Willie Mullins won the Irish Champion Hurdle with Hurricane Fly as well as the opening maiden hurdle with Day Of A Lifetime. This evening Paddy Power offer 5/1 about Hurricane Fly for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March while Day Of A Lifetime will be entered in both the Supreme Novices' and the Neptune - Coral go 20/1 about the gelding for the opening race of the Festival.

Mullins' grey Flat Out looked set to be involved in the finish of the Arkle Novice Chase but came to grief two out when in the lead; Realt Dubh and Noble Prince fought out a ding-dong battle to the line with the former prevailing by a short-head. Best prices about these for the Cheltenham showpiece in seven weeks' time - Realt Dubh 14/1 (William Hill), Noble Prince 20/1 (Stan James), Flat Out 16/1 (Coral).

At Ascot yesterday Master Minded didn't jump with his usual zest when taking the Victor Chandler by a short-head from the fast-finishing Somersby; as a result Paul Nicholls' charge is out to 5/2 for the Queen Mother Chase while Somersby is generally a 10/1 chance. In the post-race interview McCoy implied he hadn't given his mount the best of rides by sending him to the front too soon on the testing ground. The hard luck story was Kalahari King who was all but carried out by the riderless Petit Robin but then stayed on well to take fourth. Connections had been bullish before the race and now go straight to Cheltenham for the Ryanair - totesport's 16/1 looks tempting given the likely better ground will suit Ferdy Murphy's charge.

One that sluiced up at this meeting was Grandouet who is now as low as 6/1 with some firms for the Triumph. Although the gelding won without a bother, the second, Brendan Powell's game filly Two Kisses, could be considered a useful enough yardstick but nothing more. Connections aim to go to Kempton for the Adonis before Cheltenham which should prove informative. The Triumph is a rough enough race at the best of times - 6/1 Grandouet makes no appeal whatsoever.

Pat Rodford's mare Sparky May caused something of an upset by beating even money favourite Carole's Legacy four lengths in the mares' hurdle. Sparky May is now quoted 8/1 for the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle while Carole's Legacy is out to 16/1. Willie Mullins' Quevega has won the past two runnings of the race and is just 5/4 to complete the hat-trick.

More clues to ponder over next weekend when Cheltenham hosts the Festival Trials Day...

In the meantime, three quick points to finish with...

1. Keep an eye out for the revamped Morning Line next Saturday;
2. Check out the triple dead-heat at Romford dogs last Wednesday;
3. Spare a thought for Mischief the horse who recently got stuck in a neighbour's swimming pool.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ascot and Haydock

Both Haydock and Wincanton hold early morning inspections tomorrow but there's nothing planned at Ascot where the feature is the Victor Chandler Chase at 2.25. Last week Paul Nicholls' odds-on chance Kauto Star was turned over in the big race of the day - he won't want a repeat with Master Minded who is priced 4/6 favourite with most layers. On official ratings Master Minded has fifteen pounds and upwards in hand over these rivals so there will be plenty of us trying to pick one at a price that can run into a place. Earlier in the week Ferdy Murphy was upbeat about Kalahari King's chances but I've always felt this horse is better on decent ground; the Ryanair at Cheltenham is his target which would suggest connections think he may prefer further now he's getting older. I'll take an each-way chance with Nick Williams' Gauvain (20/1 Stan James and bet365). This one fairly bolted up at Cheltenham on his first run for the yard but then failed to build on that effort when a well-beaten fifth behind Master Minded in the Tingle Creek. The stable wasn't in the best of form at that time but things look better now with three winners, nine placed in the past fortnight - I'm hoping Gauvain can bounce back.

Last Friday I pointed out that Paul Nicholls' win strike rate in the previous two weeks was 11.11% compared to Nicky Henderson's 36.84%. A week later and the Nicholls figure has improved to 19.35% but Henderson's is an incredible 42.86% (18 wins from 42 runs) - his runners are likely to prove popular tomorrow at a track where he has traditionally done well. Carole's Legacy will be amongst the best supported and on form and official ratings she's the one to beat in the 1.50 but I'll chance L'accordioniste if the mare is priced around the 11/4 mark. Sparky May isn't lightly dimissed.

No selection in the 2.55 but there are some interesting contenders nonetheless including Soldatino (last year's Triumph winner), Notus De La Tour (second in the Fred Winter) and Walkon (second to Zaynar in the 2009 Triumph), although Walkon only goes here if Haydock is called off. Writing in the Weekender Alan King has a mention for new arrival Bygones In Brid now owned by Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp. I thought I saw the horse declared here but the similarly-named Bygones Of Brid is trained in Newcastle by Karen McLintock and is owned by Mr James Callow. Bygones In Brid is expected to run in a bumper before the end of the month.

Some small fields at Haydock where Peddlers Cross bids to keep his unbeaten record in the Champion Hurdle Trial - of course, he'll be no price whatsoever. Thirteen go in the Peter Marsh where Nina Carberry's mount Becauseicouldntsee and Maktu, fifth in the Welsh National, caught my eye but also everyone else's unfortunately. Palypso De Creek was second to Our Vic in this last year but has been well out of from this term. In an open event Trevor Hemmings' course and distance winner King Fontaine (13/2 Coral) is the tentative suggestion.

The Liverpool Echo Novices' Chase is intriguing. Course and distance winner Wymott receives weight from all his rivals and is marked up favourite but on their day any of the five could win. Robinson Collonges looked highly tried when ninth behind seasoned handicappers at Cheltenham the last time - on the book he appears to have the beating of Philip Hobbs' Wishfull Thinking, one held in high regard by his handler. Cape Tribulation is talented but something of an enigma while the marvellously-named The Giant Bolster fell the last time when in the mix in a race won by Time For Rupert. For those prepared to oppose, Robinson Collonges would appear the percentage call (9/4 generally) but Stan James' 16/1 about The Giant Bolster is too big and can be taken each-way a quarter the odds.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The day after the King George...

Kauto's brave attempt to win the King George for a fifth consecutive time failed yesterday but talk of his demise and early retirement are perhaps premature after it came to light that the eleven-year-old burst a blood vessel in yesterday's race. Fighting talk from owner Clive Smith indicates he doesn't think age has caught up with Kauto - connections are to prepare for another tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. Layers take differing views this evening - Betfred offer 7/1, Stan James and William Hill 12/1.

Nicky Henderson had a fabulous day training five winners, including the winner of the King George, Long Run. Well done to amateur jockey Mr Sam Waley-Cohen who gave his mount a fine ride. Off the top of my head, the last amateur I can recall winning a high profile race is Mr Marcus Armytage who rode Mr Frisk to victory in the 1990 Grand National in a record time. Marcus Armytage now earns a living as a racing reporter for The Daily Telegraph.

If jumping is the name of the game, two horses whose jumping really caught the eye were Long Run and Binocular. Connections have clearly been hard at work with Long Run and it paid dividends yesterday. In the post-race interview Sam Waley-Cohen indicated this horse had problems shortening up at fences and Yogi Bresner had been called in to help. In the Christmas Hurdle Binocular was frighteningly quick over the obstacles - JP McManus' gelding is now as low as 5/2 to retain the Champion Hurdle in March.

Nicholls' other runner in the King George, The Nightingale, was disappointing - Sam Thomas pulled up the gelding three from home; later the horse was found to be suffering from a fibrillating heart, a condition from which stablemate Denman suffered in 2008.

Finally - bookmaker reaction to Henderson's five-timer? Half the odds on the handler winning the trainers' title!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Kempton and Warwick

There are nine races to lose your money on at Kempton tomorrow, the highlight being Kauto Star's attempt to become the first horse to win the King George VI Chase five times. Layers think this one is a foregone conclusion; the ease in the ground is unlikely to suit a number of Kauto's opponents including Planet Of Sound, RiversideTheatre (in which actor James Nesbitt owns a share), Albertas Run and Nacarat. Early in the week the value disappeared about The Nightingale (now 9/1 in places) - the gelding tries three miles for the first time here. Long Run is very talented and would be of some interest but for me his jumping is still a problem; when he won the Feltham over course and distance just over twelve months ago he hit a few on the way round and still has a tendency to throw in the odd poor leap. A stat which could be something or nothing - in the last fortnight Paul Nicholls has had 4 winners from 36 runners (11.11%) while Nicky Henderson has had 14 winners from 38 (36.84%). Over the years Nicholls has tended to inoculate his charges against equine flu at this time of year - traditionally this is a quiet time for the stable. The King George looks a race to savour rather than bet on - I hope to see Kauto Star collect the spoils and enter the history books in the process.

Only six go in the Christmas Hurdle but it looks intruguing. I always think Kempton is Starluck's course after his easy win in the juvenile hurdle two years ago and he could be considered slightly unfortunate to go down by a short-head to Go Native in this last year; the grey may just appreciate slightly better ground. On a line through Peddlers Cross (beat Starluck and Binocular the last time at Newbury) Donald McCain should have a decent enough idea of Overturn's chances - this one can make the running but I've never considered Kempton a course for front runners. At the prices available I'm going to bet the Champion Hurdle runner-up Khyber Kim (3/1) as a play against likely favourite and current Champion Hurdler Binocular.

The Lanzarote looks difficult - Palomar was of interest and Brian Ellison is in very good form (6 wins from 23 runs in past fortnight) but the gelding doesn't looks certain to stay the trip - priced at around 9/1 I've decided not to play. Having just written that though, Coral's 18/1 about Songe looks far more tempting...

The big race at Warwick, where an 8.00am inspection is planned, is the Classic Chase at 3.20 in which sixteen are set to face the starter. Conditions will suit market leader Le Beau Bai from Richard Lee's yard - the trainer bagged a nice double at Hereford on Thursday - while Aidan Coleman has talked up Officier De Reserve (10/1 totesport) a couple of times this season. Provided the meeting gets the green light I'll take a small each-way interest in the other one from Lee's yard, Incentivise - VC offer 12/1 this evening.

It has to be said Warwick's chances don't look particularly good with the track reported unraceable earlier today. However if they do go, another I'll consider at a big price is Tom Wade in the opener. The heavy going is a complete unknown but this one ran well for a long way at 100/1 behind Sam Winner the last time.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Telling it as it is...

John McCririck just didn't appear in one of his better moods on Saturday's Morning Line.

At one juncture the pundit sought to make the point that Tony McCoy 'told it as it was' in his column in The Daily Telegraph in contrast to Richard Johnson, formerly of The Times but now writing for The Daily Mirror. Whereas McCoy voiced his fears over the weight Synchronised had been allocated in the Welsh National, by contrast Johnson in his column said all his booked rides looked to have a nice chance etc. - in effect McCririck was making the point that Johnson's comments didn't really add value. Fair enough, but when taken to task by John Francome, McCririck blustered on, insisting that it was champ McCoy who 'told it as it was'.

Just under six hours later, McCoy rode Synchronised (carrying eleven stones six pounds) to victory in the Chepstow showpiece.

Trying to tell it as it is - not an easy thing to pull off in the racing game. Horses, as we know all too well, they make fools of you. As for McCririck - will he survive The Morning Line re-brand scheduled to hit our screens at the end of the month?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Chepstow's Welsh National card

With Sandown's Tolworth fixture subject to a 7.30 inspection tomorrow morning, I've concentrated on Chepstow's Welsh National card.

Twenty have been declared for the feature which will be run over a distance just shy of three and three quarter miles on ground that is likely to be testing in the extreme. Over the past ten years only one horse has carried more than eleven stones to victory (Halcon Genelardais in 2006) and six of those ten winners have carried less than ten and a half stone. One favourite has obliged during the same time period, Silver Birch in 2004. Many think Synchronised is a good thing but I've been on the lookout for something carrying a racing weight at an each-way price. I'moncloudnine from Neil Mulholland's in-form yard fits the bill; however in a recent stable tour article the handler told us his charge is entered here as the owners are from the area but the bay gelding would prefer decent jumping ground - the plan appears to be the National next April. I'm undecided on which of Victor Dartnall's pair to go for - both would have a decent chance on their best form but both are prone to the odd jumping error here and there. Of the two Exmoor Ranger finished third behind Midnight Chase the last time but carries his share of weight here while Giles Cross ran well for a fair way before being pulled on his seasonal debut. In the week I saw a comment from the handler that indicated very soft / heavy ground was more likely to suit Giles Cross, so I'm going to take a small each-way interest in course winner Giles Cross.

The top two in the ante-post market for the Triumph Hurdle take each other on in the 1.10. On ratings Sam Winner is the one to beat and is priced accordingly. Alan King has indicated in the Weekender that Smad Place missed an engagement at Newbury last week after connections weren't 100% satisfied with the way their charge had scoped; nonetheless a big run is expected tomorow. In Thursday's Times Milton Harris admitted to 'aiming high' with Royal And Ancient but Marsh Warbler is a favourite of Brian Ellison - the Malton handler boasts a 25% strike-rate over the past fortnight. Houblon Des Obeaux will like the ground but appears to have a stiff introduction to British racing here - writing on his blog jockey Aidan Coleman advises a watching brief on this occasion. As a play against the odds-on favourite, I'll chance Marsh Warbler each-way provided eight make it to the start - Victor Chandler and Paddy Power both offer 8/1 this evening but Coral go 5/1.

Only seven in the opener but it looks trappy so I'm not going to get involved. Big Knickers goes in the maiden hurdle (2.50) and is a favourite of mine as, if nothing else, the mare provides me with an opportunity to rattle out the old schoolby gags... Having said that, Neil Mulholland's charge isn't without ability. Her last run can be safely ignored as the trainer has told us she was 'over-trained' for her hurdling debut at Worcester. She has been given time to recover from that and will appreciate the underfoot conditions here - Big Knickers should warrant an each-way interest...

In the concluding bumper Saint Luke has to concede seven pounds to all his rivals which won't be an easy task in the ground. Tenby Jewel was well beaten at Fontwell earlier today (and may not run here) so for those who want to oppose, Dai Burchell's point to point winner Beat All Out is the suggestion.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Noted this new year

Oscar Whisky's odds for the Champion Hurdle shortened markedly after yesterday's emphatic victory in the Cheltenham & Three Counties Race Club Hurdle; William Hill go 12s, Blue Square 16s about Nicky Henderson's six-year-old.

The father and son combination of Colin and Joe Tizzard experienced the highs and lows of the jumping game in the space of thirty minutes at Cheltenham yesterday. Stable stalwart Joe Lively had to be put down after breaking a leg when hampered at the twelfth in the Raceodds Handicap Chase. Half an hour later Hell's Bay brought some consolation to the yard by holding Medermit to take the Dipper Novices' Chase.

Flat trainer Roger Charlton is looking to have his first runner at the Cheltenham Festival in March after Keys held Cinders And Ashes a short-head in the concluding bumper. A stewards' inquiry followed but the placings remained unaltered - both horses are 16/1 with Victor Chandler for the Weatherby's Champion Bumper in March.

Over at Exeter three pound claimer Danny Cook had an interesting time aboard David Pipe's even money favourite Spanish Cruise in the 3.25. The rider was almost unseated at the start, losing his irons until after the first in the process. Spanish Cruise then went to the head of affairs but looked in trouble two out when pecking on landing and forfeiting the lead to 7/1 chance Sea Saffron. Cook perservered with a strong challenge and managed to get his mount back in front in the shadow of the post - the winning distance was recorded as half a length.

For reasons I won't go into, just before Christmas I needed a blagger's guide to classical music - Stephen Fry's Incomplete and Utter History of Classical Music was a recommendation that came my way. This work I found rather hard work - I ended up spending too much time trying to separate the wheat from the chaff (bit rich that, coming from me, I know, but what the hell!) Fortunately, Santa brought me Ruby: The Autobiography - altogether a much easier and much better read all round.

To conclude, two other books to look out for in the January sales... The Horse: A Celebration of Horses in Art by Rachel Barnes and Simon Barnes is a big book (43.4 cms x 36.6 cms) that will require a big coffee table while Dominic Prince's Jumbo to Jockey: Fasting to the Finishing Post could prove a source of inspiration to those who, like me, need help in the dieting department following the over-indulgences of the Christmas period.