Friday, June 29, 2012

Northumberland Plate 2012

A halt was called to proceedings after the fourth at Newcastle yesterday and today's card abandoned following severe storms in the area. At the time of writing an inspection has been scheduled for 8.00 am  Saturday morning for this prestigious card   - here's my view on the race they call the 'Pitmen's Derby'.

Regular readers will be aware I like to back a horse with jumps form in this race - that angle didn't lead me to last year's winner, Tominator, but the corresponding blog post did point out that horses with NH form boast a decent record over the past decade. In that same timeframe only one animal has carried more than 8-11 to victory - Bangalore (9-5) in 2002 - which doesn't bode well for market leaders Ile De Re and Gulf Of Naples, especially as conditions underfoot are likely to prove extremely testing.

The market hasn't proved very much help with recent winners priced at 33/1 (Mirjan 2004, Toldo 2006); 25/1 (Tominator 2011); 16/1 (Som Tala 2009) and 14/1 (Arc Bleu 2008, Overturn 2010). Just the one favourite has obliged in the past ten renewals - Juniper Girl (5/1) in 2007.

In recent years horses drawn high have tended to fare better but, on balance, I still prefer a horse with a low draw near the rail - I always think a decent pitch early on is vital in this event.

Those with NH form to their name in tomorrow's field are: Ile De Re, Blue Bajan, Crackentorp, The Betchworth Kid, Merchant Of Dubai, High Office, Halla San, French Hollow and Trovare. Both Ile De Re and Blue Bajan have their share of weight; Ile De Re won the Chester Cup last time out - the Weekender informs us the last horse to complete the double in the same year was Attivo in 1974. Although set to carry 9-0 after winning a fortnight ago at York, Crackentorp isn't readily dismissed - the gelding missed the cut last year and appears to have each-way claims this time; he has a reasonable draw and hails from a stable in form. You could never be certain The Betchworth Kid would put his best foot forward but he ran third last time with The Merchant Of Dubai finishing well beaten in ninth; however The Merchant led two out before fading in that race and makes more appeal to this observer. Richard Fahey's comments on his pair High Office and Halla San are worth noting. High Office may struggle to see out the trip while Halla San was retired at Beverley on Tuesday but is given this last chance as it's such a big race; Fahey clearly rates Lexington Boy his best chance. On his seasonal debut French Hollow ran a decent trial under a big weight to finish second in the Pontefract Cup and has to be of interest but Trovare was well beaten three days ago when suffering traffic problems on the all-weathger at Kempton.

My shortlist consists of Crackentorp, Merchant Of Dubai and French Hollow. Crackentrop has been raised five pounds for his York win, so Merchant Of Dubai is the each-way selection (28/1 Skybet at the time of writing). Skybet also stand out offering 33/1 about French Hollow while rivals Ladbrokes only go 16/1; I'm tempted. Most layers are paying a quarter the odds four places.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Royal Ascot 2012 - Saturday

Without doubt the star of tomorrow's show will be Australian sprinter Black Caviar who bids to record her 22nd consecutive win in the six furlong Diamond Jubilee Stakes at 3.45. Thousands of  fans who have followed the mare half way across the globe promise to generate an atmosphere the like of which Royal Ascot has never seen before. At 1/4 'Nelly' as she is affectionately known is no betting proposition but this is a race to watch, savour and enjoy.

I've had a grim time of it at Royal Ascot this year and I'm far from certain to buck that trend in the concluding Queen Alexandra Stakes, the longest race in the Flat calendar. Horses with form over the jumps have done well in this event over the years, a fact our friends the bookmakers are well aware of.

Those who saw Willie Mullins' Simenon hack up in the Ascot Stakes on Tuesday will be keen to play up their winnings here as the gelding races off the same mark (95); Elyaadi (90) finished 14th in the same race. On official ratings Overturn has plenty in hand over all these rivals; Donald McCain's charge held an entry in Thursday's Gold Cup but obviously connections decided this was the easier task. Having said that, it's worth noting he hasn't won beyond 19 furlongs and was withdrawn from this event last year on account of the soft ground. 2011 winner Swingkeel appears to have been laid out for this again - he goes off a mark four pounds higher and may struggle to concede weight to 18 of his opponents in these conditions. Paul Nicholls saddles Amercian Trilogy, his first runner at Royal Ascot, who will go in the ground and certainly stay the trip. Other jumpers with half decent NH ratings include Kangaroo Court (probably prefer better ground, a comment that also applies to Scotsbrook Cloud) and the two mares Cloudy Spirit and Golden Sunbird. Overturn looked a decent each-way bet for the Gold Cup at around 20/1 but I'm not convinced he'll see out the extra distance in the ground. Simenon is feared but at 16/1 with BetVictor American Trilogy is the each-way selection.

This year's renewal of the Hardwicke Stakes (3.05) looks particularly intriguing with John Gosden, who recorded a 142/1 treble earlier today (Newfangled 7/4f, Fallen For You 12/1 and Gatewood 3/1f), saddling Aiken while likely favourite Sea Moon is trained by Sir Michael Stoute who also welcomed home a winner earlier today - Estimate is owned by Her Majesty The Queen, reported to be 'delighted' with her victory.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Royal Ascot 2012 - Friday

Short on time for Friday's selections so brief notes only - given the sort of form I've shown so far this week, it's probably a blessing in disguise...

Maybe might have been of interest in the Coronation Stakes (3.45) but she looks unlikely to run. John Gosden's Elusive Kate was another filly to catch my eye but she's making her seasonal debut and connections seem to indicate she won't necessarily find underfoot conditions to her liking. Bugie D'Amore, fourth behind Laugh Out Loud at Chantilly, is expected to come on for that run but is nothing more than a tentative each-way suggestion.

Astrology is the clear form selection for the King Edward VII Stakes (3.05).

The Queen is still looking for a winner at this meeting - her filly Estimate takes on the colts in the Queen's Vase (5.00) run over two miles. Given the rain that's fallen, the trip will take plenty of getting for these three-year-olds. Minimise Risk finished seventh in the Derby but I'm going to take an each-way chance with Macbeth (8/1) who has a win over a mile and a half on soft ground in Ireland to his name.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Royal Ascot 2012 - Thursday is Ladies' Day

The highlight on Ladies' Day is the Gold Cup (3.45), one of my favourite races at this meeting, run over two and a half miles.

The formidable Yeats, trained by Aidan O'Brien, won four consecutive renewals (2006-09) before Dermot Weld's Rite Of Passage sprang a surprise at odds of 20/1 in 2010. Normal service was resumed last year when Coolmore's Fame And Glory landed some sizeable bets beating Opinion Poll three lengths (with Askar Tau a further five and a half lengths away fifth). The form is in the book and the layers aren't taking any chances this time with Fame And Glory (rated 120) odds-on in most places at the time of writing - Blue Square stand out offering 11/10.

Several see Jamie Spencer's mount banker material but others are more cautious, arguing this year's race is more competitive. I'm in the latter camp and was disappointed to see Donald McCain's Overturn, second in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, omitted from the final declarations - he would have ensured a strong gallop from the off. On official ratings Opinion Poll (116), Colour Vision (117) and Saddler's Rock (114) are within striking range of the favourite - under the conditions of the race the last two named also receive two pounds from Fame And Glory. Colour Vision didn't look guaranteed to stay another two furlongs when third in the Cesarewitch last autumn so I'm going to chance Saddler's Rock against the favourite (9/2 in most places). For those possessing an adventurous disposition, I wouldn't put anyone off considering Askar Tau each-way (50/1 BetVictor); this one was in the mix last year and only beaten out of a place in the final furlong.

To a certain extent the Ribblesdale (3.05) looks like a re-run of the Epsom Oaks with six electing to do battle once again. Of course, there's no guarantee they'll finish in the same order, especially as this year's renewal looked a pretty rough affair throwing up any number of hard luck stories. The troubles of the The Fugue have been well documented  - the Weekender's Topspeed columnist Dave Edwards informs us that hand-held split timings show The Fugue came up the Epsom straight faster than Derby winner Camelot the following day. The question is can the fillies in question reproduce similar efforts three weeks on... Kailani was one of those badly hampered in the Oaks; this filly should appreciate the easier ground and at 12/1 she strikes me as reasonable each-way value.

Finally, I won't have a bet in the Norfolk (2.30) but Mick Channon's Cay Verde looks the one to beat.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Royal Ascot 2012 - Wednesday

Earlier today Frankel (1/10f) took the opening race at this year's Royal Ascot, the Queen Anne Stakes, by an astonishing 11 lengths; afterwards connections confirmed what many suspected - the colt appears to be improving!

In Diamond Jubilee year traditionalists will be hoping Carlton House, owned by the Queen, can oblige in the 150th Anniversary Of Prince Of Wales's Stakes at 3.45. Royal trainer Sir Michael Stoute suffered a torrid time of it last year and was slow enough out of the stalls this season but the winners are starting to flow. On official ratings, Carlton House has six pounds to find with Aidan O'Brien's So You Think; at the time of writing Coral are the only layer to offer even money about Coolmore's representative. Before getting stuck in, it's worth noting that So You Think has run twice over this course and distance and has been beaten on both occasions - a neck by Rewilding (rated 121) in this race last year and three quarters of a length by Cirrus Des Aigles in the Champion Stakes in October. Although Planteur (rated 121 here) finished fourth behind Rewilding and So You Think last year, Marco Botti's charge has since finished in front of So You Think in the Dubai World Cup in March. If the principals turn up and run their race, So You Think wins but at the prices on offer I'm going to take an each-way interest in Planteur at 9/1.

Should you be looking to win a life-changing amount of money [I know, you wouldn't be reading this blog anyway], the annual cavalry charge that is the Royal Hunt Cup wouldn't be the first race where you'd consider placing your wager; nonetheless it's still an amazing spectacle. This year I've been particularly devoid of inspiration - in fact it has been so bad I went and had a look at what the bookmakers' reps were tipping; you know it's bad when you start asking bookies for tips. Two things stood out - they all reported money for Edinburgh Knight and a couple had a quiet word for Mabait (25/1). At the time of writing four layers are paying five places in this race: Paddy Power; BetVictor; bet365 and Boylesports. If you decide to play, I wish you the very best of luck.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Royal Ascot 2012 - Tuesday

In Diamond Jubilee year the royals have had their fair share of media exposure and there's bound to be more to come in the week ahead. Those interested in the Queen's interest in horse racing may be interested in Julian Muscat's book Her Majesty's Pleasure: How Horseracing Enthralls the Queen.

Of course, book publishing is much like horse racing in that everyone wants to back a winner. Orion Books have the autobiographies of Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy in their stable but Jon Wood and Jemima Forrester will be hoping they have hit the jackpot with their latest acquisition, having shelled out a six figure sum for a 'racy romantic trilogy' which is likely to appeal to fans of works such as Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. According to Saturday's Times, Fifty Shades ' the fastest-selling paperback in Britain since since records began, overtaking Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling.' Until yesterday evening I thought it was a book about British summers over the past half century.

From the racy to the racing...

The going is reported as good to soft, good in places, for the first day of Royal Ascot which may inconvenience some but is unlikely to inconvenience superstar Frankel who is currently quoted at 1/5 to win the Queen Anne.

In the King's Stand I intend to take a small each-way interest in Stepper Point (50/1 generally). This one disappointed on his seasonal debut in the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket but came back to form at Chantilly the next time when beaten just under two lengths by Wizz Kid, widely tipped for this. It's worth noting that at the time of writing not all layers are offering each-way terms a quarter the odds.

The favourite has obliged in the St James's Place Stakes (3.45) on seven occasions in the past decade while Aidan O'Brien has saddled the winner on six occasions in the past 12 years. Those stats point to Power - I looked closely at Brian Meehan's Most Improved but recent stable form is not encouraging.

I like to back a horse with NH form in the Ascot Stakes (5.00). Nicky Henderson's mare Veiled did the blog a favour winning this last year (Elyaadi has finished second in a race at this meeting in the past two seasons) but Veiled races off a mark seven pounds higher this time. Willie Mullins' Simenon is respected but I'll take an each-way interest in Ashbrittle (tissue price 12/1). This one finished tenth in last year's race off a mark of 92 when trained by Ralph Beckett. On that occasion the gelding was done for toe half a mile from home so I'm hoping slower underfoot conditions will help David Pipe's inmate find the improvement required - he goes off 88 this time with Paul Hanagan doing the steering.

Finally, a book to finish off with... In Royal Ascot week, I was contemplating purchasing Gentlemen's Pursuits: A Country Miscellany for the Discerning (published this week) but I've decided to stick the money on a horse instead, primarily because I'm not really very discerning at all.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Odds 'n' sods

Call me a miserable old sod but I can't help thinking the time between the Derby and Royal Ascot is something of a fallow period. To be fair, Willie Carson has tried to spice things up a little with comments such as these taken from last Saturday's Independent:

"There are hardly any world class jockeys riding in Britain today"


"Look at the jump jockeys. There must be nearly 15 of them that are top-class. But on the Flat there is this dearth. I suppose there are no jocks like me any more: no more tiny little wimps. I was a war baby, see. De Sousa's not world-class, Hanagan's not - not yet, nowhere near. They have to break through."

Hmmm... interesting. What Willie would make of Willy Twiston-Davies who has had nine rides on the Flat since pulling up Battlecry in a three mile chase at Wetherby at the end of May is anyone's guess.

My Coral Champions Club membership has generated interest, the club having three with Jeremy Gask - Cool Marble (unplaced in two handicaps at Ascot and Sandown this season); Bahama Spirit (seventh of nine on her seasonal debut earlier today - in the mix at the furlong pole before weakening); and unraced two-year-old Never A Quarrel (making use of the phrase that enticed punters back in the 1960s: 'There's never a quarrel when you bet with Coral'.)

Some NH trainers are in decent form at the moment... Figures for the past fortnight include Jonjo O'Neill (7 wins from 22 runs, 31.82%), Paul Nicholls (3 wins from 8 runs, 37.5%), Tim Vaughan (9 wins from 33 runs, 27.27%) and Peter Bowen (6 wins from 24 runs, 25%). At Worcester Like Minded is of interest in an interesting beginners' chase at 2.45. Although beaten when odds-on on his chase debut, the gelding has since finished mid-division in the Martin Pipe hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and in a listed handicap hurdle at Aintree.

Friday, June 01, 2012

2012 Derby Day deliberations

For some reason or other Queen Elizabeth II has been in the news a bit recently.

Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of her coronation and to mark the occasion Epsom have named the Coronation Cup (2.40) the Diamond Jubilee Coronation Cup. Of course, the feature is the Derby with just nine set to face the starter (4.00). Most observers think Camelot is something of a shoo-in with the result Aidan O'Brien's colt will start odds-on and will probably be sent off one of the shortest-priced favourites since the war - the shortest priced winner of the race was Ladas who took the 1894 renewal at odds of 2/9.

If you're not convinced Camelot is the stuff of legend, you may want to look to Andrew Balding's Bonfire to start the fireworks. Those watching the BBC's final coverage of the event would also be well-advised to prepare themselves for some loud shrieks in commentary from Andrew's sister, Clare, if Bonfire has the merest hint of a chance in the final furlong. At 5/1 the colt offers value against the favourite but his temperament could be considered slightly suspect - if I were betting this one, I'd want to be absolutely sure he'd handled the preliminaries before parting with the stake money.

Main Sequence is unbeaten but this represents a set up in class and I may be star-gazing but Astrology could act as pacemaker for his stablemate. Mickdaam looked anything but an easy ride when winning the Dee Stakes at Chester but should confirm form with Balding's second string Minimise Risk.

Hayley Turner becomes only the second female ever to ride in the race - Alex Greaves finished last on Portugese Lil in 1996. Hayley's mount, Cavaleiro, is probably overpriced at 66/1 but still has plenty to find.

During the week money has come for Thought Worthy (now 16/1) - this one beat Rugged Cross a neck and three quarters of a length in the listed Fairway Stakes at Newmarket last month. Thought Worthy is worthy place material but for the more adventurous Rugged Cross (50/1)  is put up as the each-way wager given that Newmarket effort was on his seasonal debut and there could be improvement to come.

Her Majesty's Carlton House, third in last year's Derby, added to royal celebrations with an assured victory at Sandown yesterday evening and Harvest Song tries to repeat the trick for the owner in tonight's 6.40 at Stratford.

I admit I've haven't been paying attention but I feel as though I've sleep-walked into this weekend and have just been given a slap across the face with a wet fish.Those looking to avoid the pomp and circumstance integral in any royal celebration may want to consider this alternative NH itinerary over the next few days...

Friday evening: Stratford - first race 5.40;
Saturday: Watch the Derby on the big screen at Stratford - evening's racing commences at 6.00;
Sunday: Head north to Uttoxeter - first race 2.10;
Monday: Back south to Towcester - first race 2.20;
Tuesday: Head west to Ffos Las - first race 2.30.

Other suggested itineraries welcomed.