Sunday, May 29, 2011

In the frame...

Earlier this week Daryl Jacob was appointed Paul Nicholls' second jockey. Having read Lucky Break and Ruby: The Autobiography, I wondered whether Nicholls would have perhaps considered an alternative arrangement this time given that first choice Walsh missed much of last year's core NH season with a broken leg. Of course, Walsh is peerless and returned to action in March to ride five Festival winners. Nonetheless hints of tension in the partnership were inevitably present - Nicholls was known to be disappointed by Walsh's decision to ride Willie Mullins' Mikael D'Haguenet ahead of Aiteen Thirtythree in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham. In the Weekender Alistair Whitehouse-Jones reports that trainer Nick Williams has acted quickly and appointed James Reveley as a replacement for Jacob but hints that Reveley's reluctance to relocate south could lead to problems in the future.

It may be very early days in the new NH season but I've seen snippets from Simon Holt and Alan Lee suggesting two jockeys who could give current champion A P McCoy a run for his money this year are Jason Maguire and the aforementioned Daryl Jacob.

Mickael Barzalona rode a double at Newmarket yesterday and later Barcelona won the Champions League Final at Wembley, but did anyone else think Paddy Power were sailing close to the wind with the advertisement that interspersed Channel 4's racing coverage? A young lady showed viewers a mobile device displaying the message 'Barcelona win normal time, refund losing bets'; the lady in question then encouraged punters to go to a specific web address. In actual fact the refunds applied to Paddy Power's correct score, scorecast and first/last goalscorer markets only; although full details were displayed in 'small print' on screen, I thought the deliberate impression created was the refund applied to all bets struck.

Finally, a couple of horses you may wish to follow if, unlike Ryan Giggs, you're a fan of Twitter...

Twitter horse Trending @Trending_Horse trained by @jeremygask website:

The People's Horse @peopleshorse website:

Student Horse Tae Kwon Do @StudentHorse His progress has been mentioned on the blog previously; he obliged at odds of 9/2 at Fontwell earlier today.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday night ramblings

There's a decent enough card at Stratford tomorrow evening but I imagine the attendance is likely to suffer as Manchester United play Barcelona in the Champions League final at Wembley. The going at the Warwickshire track is described as good, good to firm in places, with 18mm of rain falling on Thursday. 11 go for The Gambling Prince Trophy at 7.20; a case can be made for most of them. Invisible Man pipped Swing Bill a neck at Worcester ten days ago with Commemoration Day another ten and a half lengths back in fifth; the winner that day may well struggle to confirm placings on the revised ratings. Two Welsh handlers in good form are Rebecca Curtis and Peter Bowen; the former trains The Jigsaw Man but I'm tempted to take an each-way chance with Bowen's Sunday City (16/1 in tonight's tissue). This one isn't easy to catch right and isn't certain to give his running but he retains some ability having won the Macer Gifford Handicap Chase at Huntingdon last autumn and appeared somewhat unlucky when slipping up at Ludlow on his penultimate run.

Another Welsh handler in form Tim Vaughan (25% strike rate in past fortnight) saddles The Ferbane Man in the Warwickshire Hunt Handicap Chase at 7.55. This one is a trier and a stayer but in a stable tour article last October the handler said 'He loves bottomless ground and grinds the opposition down.' With the going on the quick side I'll watch from the sideleines.

The booking of  McCoy for Amercian Art in the opener catches my eye. The champ has ridden Rebecca Curtis' well-regarded gelding Praxiteles before. I'll check the price before deciding whether to bet.

I'm sure Sir Alex Ferguson would welcome any diversion from the pressures of the build-up to a Champions League final but his two runners at Sandown last night failed to oblige. Pausanias finished fourth in a listed stakes while the somewhat inappropriately named Magic City could only finish third despite being sent off 10/11 favourite in another listed event. The irony is Magic City was beaten by Pyman's Theory, part-owned by Michael Owen. After pulling a stunt like that, I'd expect Owen to be leaving Old Trafford during the close season. Blue Bajan, a former Swinton Handicap Hurdle winner, took the two mile Henry II Stakes.

Following on from that prompt, horses with jumps form racing over a distance of more than one and a half miles on the Flat tomorrow include Cotillon, My Arch, La Estrella and Kayef in Haydock's opener; of these, Cotillon and Michael Scudamore's Kayef are of interest. The latter has a Sandown juvenile hurdle to his name and finished down the field in the Fred Winter at the Cheltenham Festival. The colt doesn't look the easiest of rides but ran well to finish a close-up fourth at Ascot the last time, priced 33/1. Coral bet 16/1 for tomorrow's race.

In Catterick's 4.05 Micky Hammond's Heart Of  Dubai won over course and distance the last time but isn't guaranteed to reproduce that effort while mare Madamlily looks to have a tough enough task giving weight to all her rivals.

Newmarket's finale includes Veiled, Gifted Leader and Blue Spartan. Nicky Henderson has booked Kieren Fallon for Veiled. Gifted Leader has won a Stratford Class 3 hurdle; rated 130 over hurdles, the gelding goes off a mark of 77 here and would be of some interest for each-way punters if priced up at 16/1 (as in tonight's tissue). The grey Blue Spartan looks sure to appreciate this trip.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


A good weekend for the Coolmore operation with Aidan O'Brien's son Jospeh claiming his first Classic winner aboard Roderic O'Connor in yesterday's Irish 2000 Guineas while earlier this afternoon Misty For Me took the Irish 1000 Guineas. This evening William Hill is best-priced about both horses for Epsom - Roderic O'Connor is quoted at 20/1 for the Derby and Misty For Me 10/1 for the Oaks.

There was plenty of media hype surrounding Hungarian sprinter Overdose, aka the Budapest Bullet, and his attempt on Haydock's Temple Stakes. In the event the Bullet proved to be a blank, trailling home a disappointing seventh. After the race pilot Andreas Suborics indicated the horse may appreciate more give underfoot following his recent training problems.

Plenty think Carlton House is something of a shoo-in for the Derby. Generally the market has proved a very good guide to the race (no winner priced bigger than 7/1 in the past decade) and the right vibes have been coming out of the stable. Nevertheless, three reasons to be wary...This year's Dante was a muddling affair with the time (2m 13.49) over three seconds slower than the Middleton Stakes (2m 10.05) run half an hour earlier; the colt isn't guaranteed to stay; the current price offers little in the way of value.

Many years ago an acquaintance of mine described our sport as 'a game of regrets', pointing out that even when you've lucky enough to have backed a winner, you're somehow troubled by the fact you hadn't increased your stake money. Last week my particular regret was not to have chanced Moorlands Jack on his first try over hurdles at Uttoxeter. In a Weekender Stable Tour article last September handler Tim Vaughan was particularly sweet on the (then) unraced  five-year-old, commenting the bay gelding would be 'speedy enough to win first time out'. Two below par efforts in bumpers didn't look encouraging going into the Uttoxeter race but the trainer's faith wasn't misplaced as 20/1 chance Moorlands Jack won despite being less than fluent at a couple of his hurdles. I'll monitor progress with interest. Others worth a second look if appearing in the foreseeable future include recent Perth winner Lewlaur Supreme, David Pipe's bumper winners Swing Bowler and Barney Cool and Paul Webber's Monkey Milan who took a Towcester bumper - jock Denis O'Regan was reported keen not to use the whip on this rather green five-year-old.

Finally, where's the value? £50 million for Chelsea footballer Fernando Torres or £53 million for Waterstone's 300 High Street bookstores?          

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday night thoughts

In recent weeks rumours have been rife in racing and the national press concerning an ongoing investigation being conducted by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). Earlier today the result of that investigation was made public as the BHA charged four jockeys and one ex-rider with breaking the rules of racing by conspiring to commit a fraudulent or corrupt practice in ten separate races run between January and August 2009. The four jockeys were named as Paul Doe, Greg Fairley, Kirsty Milczarek and Jimmy Quinn; former rider now trainer Paul Fitzsimons faces similar charges, as do two licensed owners and six other persons. The date of the hearing has been set for Thursday 20th October; unsurprisingly the jockeys charged, who can continue to ride, have vowed to clear their names. Unfortunately episodes such as this have become all too familiar in recent years.

Regular readers will know that I've decided to focus on horses with form over the sticks running in races over further than one and a half miles this Flat campaign. Nicky Henderson's Oasis Knight goes in the 3.10 at York; this one won a two and a half mile novice hurdle at Aintree a fortnight ago sporting first time blinkers. The gelding's second to subsequent Supreme Novice winner Al Ferof  in February reads well enough and the blinds remain on here but on official ratings he has enough to find with two or three of these. Palomar was third in the Lanzarote at Kempton last January but has ten pounds more to find and makes little appeal.

In Chester's 4.35 Cotillion, Bollin Felix and Comedy Act have all collected over hurdles this winter. Both Cotillion and Bollin Felix probably prefer cut while Comedy Act is of some interest. Formerly with Sir Mark Prescott this one sold for 125,000 guineas at the Newmarket sales and at one point was quoted a 25/1 chance for the Triumph Hurdle. He's not lived up to expectations - connections try cheekpieces for the first-time here. He represents nothing more than an each-way longshot but has a decent draw next to the rail in stall one.

Nicky Henderson's First Point is rated 140 over hurdles yet races off a mark of 70 in Newbury's 8.15; the booking of  Kieren Fallon catches the eye and the yard has had five wins from 26 runs in the past fortnight. In the same race Gunslinger looks an outsider but Ian Williams' Rebel Dancer boasts decent form with a second to Tocca Ferro to his name. He failed to get competitive in the Swinton at Haydock the last time but I'd forgive that effort and the quick ground shouldn't pose a problem.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Recent racing titbits

I don't know why but since the royal wedding matters royal continue to crop up. A couple of weeks ago the Daily Mail reported that the Queen had looked after Frankie Dettori's lost dachsund Scruby. Then at York last Thursday Midday won the Middleton Stakes while half an hour later the Queen's Carlton House won the Dante in some style. Her Majesty's colt, apparently gifted to her by Sheikh Mohammed, is now a short-priced favourite for the Epsom Derby on Saturday June 4th. All that has encouraged further royal foraging - Marcus Armytage in the Daily Telegraph pointed out that:

The Queen has never won the Derby - in 1953, the year of her Coronation, Aureole finished second to Pinza;

The last monarch to win the Derby was King Edward VII in 1909 with Minoru.

Professor Gerda Reith of Glasgow University has carried out research of a different kind and discovered that the use of Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBTs) in betting shops can lead to problems. 'Betting machines are particularly risky because of the enormous speed at which they take gamblers' money.'

Today's students are likely to be familiar with the idea of running up big debts, so perhaps it's unsurprising to see the BHA trying to entice them into the world of racehorse ownership. Love The Races has leased Tim Vaughan's Tae Kwon Do to a select band of students until the end of June as part of a prize in a recently-held comeptition. Last time out the gelding ran better than his 14/1 market price would have suggested beforehand, finishing third in a handicap hurdle at Wincanton. I'd imagine connections will be keen to land a small race before the lease runs out. In a somewhat similar vein Bangor blog selection Wake Board won with his head in his chest on Saturday despite pulling hard through most of the race and a hiccup two form home; have current connections found the key to this enigmatic individual?

Finally, I leave you with the thought that you tend to come across a different type of woman in the jumping game. At the Punchestown Festival Ladies' Day recently Daybreak presenter Grainne Seoige turned up wearing steel toe-capped heels, no doubt of particular use when dealing with the unwanted attentions of over-amourous male punters keen to try their luck...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Notes for Bangor

This evening the going at the north Wales track is described as good but rain is forecast.

In the opener Alan King's 114-rated Dineur was beaten two lengths by 80/1 chance Alta Rock at Market Rasen the last time over a distance of two miles three furlongs.The shorter trip here should help as should the gelding's preference to race up with the pace; Alta Rock has come out and won again since. Donald McCain's Dunowen Point has started favourite on three occasions and disappointed each time - connections have given their charge a break; trainer comments 'he has a great attitude...' [Weekender 13-17.10.10]. Jennie Candlish's course and distance winner Tarn Hows makes more appeal; the stable has had two winners from five runners in the past week - one on the Flat at Warwick and the other over fences at Uttoxeter. Any rain would help Tarn Hows' cause but Dineur looks the safer option.

In the Brookes Bell Novices' Handicap Hurdle at three o'clock J P McManus' Fishoutofwater is likely to go off favourite. I'll oppose with Spirit Of Barbados. Andrew King, West Country correspondent for the Weekender, reports plenty of money for this one the last time at Chepstow - the Sporting Life records eight wagers of £1100-£1000.  The gelding got no further than the first, running out with Rhys Flint before throwing the jock; Richard Johnson takes over tomorrow.

Only five in the novices' chase at 3.35 but it looks trappy enough. Princeful gets the nod; further rain would help.

In the handicap chase Marked Man can be opposed on account of his age while What Of It has been running in hunter chases. Mare Play A Cord is the likely favourite but she faces no easy task giving weight to her opponents. Once upon a time Wake Board was well-regarded but just seven runs for four different trainers since 2008 is disconcerting; it looks as though he was bought out of a seller on his penultimate run. Trevor Hemmings' grey Our Bob has had a wind operation to accompany his training problems. It's a high risk approach but I'll chance Wake Board as a play against the jolly.

In the mares' hurdle Irene Kennet could be considered worthy of each-way interest if priced around 10/1.

The concluding hunters' chase is likely to see last year's winner Ice Tea go off odds-on. Fourty Acers won for David Pipe three weeks ago and on ratings has every chance for current connections but in the past the chestnut gelding has hindered his chance on left-handed tracks by jumping right. He comes here in good order, having won a two runner point very easily in April, and could offer value against Ice Tea.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Quick points

Haydock's Swinton Hurdle looked extremely competitive beforehand but Nicky Henderson's Eradicate ran out an impressive 13 length winner and in the process became the first horse to win consecutive runnings of the race.

In Ireland overall attendance at the Punchestown Festival was, remarkably, higher than last year while Paul Townend claimed his first champion jockeys' title.

The decsion of connections to go to Royal Ascot with 2000 Guineas winner Frankel means Thursday's Dante Stakes at York should prove informative. At the time of writing, 11 are declared; in the ante-post market layers seem unable to choose a favourite from World Domination, Seville and Carlton House, owned by The Queen.

My mate Mike Cattermole didn't appear at the top of his game during Channel Four's coverage from Ascot on Saturday. Immediately after three pound claimer Gary Bartley had ridden Hawkeyethenoo to victory in the Victoria Cup, Cattermole used the rather dodgy link... 'Let's find out what it was like on top - Emma's with the winning jockey.' He then went on to call 5/1 favourite Horseradish the fourth horse home when in fact the favourite had been pipped a nose for that spot by 9/1 chance Brae Hill. I'm not going to be too harsh on uncle Mike - I'm sure he'll improve as the season progresses...

Finally, for reasons beyond comprehension, last week's royal wedding continues to haunt. A couple of days ago a colleague approached and asked if I'd appointed Angela Rippon to work as a correspondent for the blog. It transpires the lady in question has been appointed PG Tips' Official Royal-Tea Expert. I suspect that on current form Ms Rippon has more chance of tipping you a winner than me; in the words of songwriter Irving Berlin:

'There may be trouble ahead
But while there's moonlight and music
And love and romance
Let's face the music and dance.'

After that I'm off for a lie-down.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Brief notes for Haydock & Hexham

Twenty three are declared for tomorrow's Swinton Handicap Hurdle at Haydock - the tapes go up at 3.40. Last year's winner Eradicate heads the field but stablemates Rebel Now (half-brother to Binocular) and Higgys Ragazzo (carrying enough weight for a four-year-old) are likely to be of more interest this time if we believe the layers have priced the event correctly. Five and six-year-olds have won nine of the last ten renewals while the winner has come from the first three in the market on six occasions in the same timeframe. The one that catches my eye is Hunterview. Ante-post favourite for the Sandown Imperial Cup, David Pipe's charge was unfortunate to miss the cut for that race but then ran well for a long way in the County Hurdle at the Festival before putting in a slightly below par effort in the Scottish Champion Hurdle. Hunterview tends to race prominently which should serve him well on this sharp track; the handicapper has dropped the gelding four pounds for his last effort so I'm hoping he can be competitive here. At 16/1 the selection holds a reasonable each-way chance - Sky Bet bet a quarter the odds five places.

Othermix is likely to go off favourite for the two and a half mile novice chase but faces no easy task conceding six pounds to three opponents who are not lightly dimissed. Nafaath has clear potential while Paul Nicholls' Red Harbour would represent a play against the jolly if rain were to arrive to ease the going.

Donald McCain may have won the Chester Cup with Overturn on Wednesday but at the other end of the scale he has been a staunch supporter of Hexham down the years. The handler, boasting a 25% strike rate over jumps in the past fortnight, sends four on the long trip north from his Cholmondeley base tomorrow. Omokoroa is the one to beat in the 4.25 but perhaps the most interesting is The Weatherman who makes his debut in the concluding bumper.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

In a nutshell...

Those lucky enough to be at Newmarket yesterday saw something exceptional when Frankel demolished his field to win the 2011 2000 Guineas by six lengths; the crowd's applause commenced with two furlongs still to race. Earlier this afternoon Dettori rode 16/1 chance Blue Bunting to victory for the 'Boys in Blue' in the 1000 Guineas.

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the legalisation of UK betting shops. The spartan establishments those of us of a particular age used to frequent in the mid sixites bear no resemblance to our modern shops. Sound only commentaries, betting shop tax, it was something of a 'guilty pleasure'. Some complain the prevalence of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) threaten to turn today's shops into glorified amusement arcades, yet in 2008 these machines became the first product to earn more for Ladbrokes than horse racing. Money talks, as they say.

All that contrasts markedly with the tales of chicanery and criminality I'm currently reading about in Nicholas Foulkes' excellent book 'Gentlemen and Blackguards: Gambling Mania and the Plot to Steal the Derby of 1844'; the paperback version is due to be released on May 26th.

The Punchestown Festival starts on Tuesday - latest declarations here. I've blogged selected races from this meeting in the past but due to commitments can't this year (probably something of a blessing!) Where possible, I'll post some selections...

A final footnote on the royal wedding... One of the troopers from the Household Cavalry was thrown from his mount as the wedding procession made its winding way from the Abbey back to Buckingham Palace. The thoroughbred sped past the newly-married couple and headed for Hyde Park barracks where it was caught; rumours that Her Majesty is considering supplementing the beast for this year's Derby are apparently wide of the mark.