Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

2012 is likely to go down as the wettest year on record and 2013 starts in much the same vein as Cheltenham's New Year's Day card has already been abandoned on account of a waterlogged track.

Channel 4's new-look racing team, headed up by Clare Balding, will now start their coverage with live action from Musselburgh where the going is currently described as soft, good to soft in places.

In a piece in The Times trainer Nicky Henderson has told Alan Lee '...he will be reluctant to run several of his key Festival hopes again on heavy ground before the meeting in March.'

With the weather having had a key impact on the NH season so far, as an end-of-year exercise I've drawn up a brief list of horses I'd expect to see improvement from on better ground...

Rock On Ruby

Cinders And Ashes

Hunt Ball

Captain Chris

and finally the appropriately-named

New Year's Eve

The horse of 2012 has to be the extraordinary Frankel (spelt Frankle in a caption in today's Times!) who won 14 races and £2,998,302 in prize money.

I wish readers all the very best for 2013.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A chance in the Challow

Quick post on Newbury's card tomorrow where the feature Challow Hurdle is due off at 2.45, provided the rains stay away, of course.

Six declared with the two four-year-olds in the field, Donald McCain's Clondaw Kaempfer and Paul Nicholls' Easter Day, joint top-rated on 140. Jonjo O'Neill's three entries in this race over the past decade have all obliged - Coolnagorna (4/6f in 2002), Wichita Lineman (11/4 in 2006) and Backspin (5/1 in 2010); this year he saddles Taquin Du Seuil who has won two of his three outings this term, the defeat coming behind My Tent Or Yours (goes in the finale at 3.50) at the beginning of November.

Since 2002 four-year-olds have taken just two renewals (Souffleur in 2007 and Reve De Sivola in 2009); favourites have won five runnings. Taquin Du Seuil is the selection.

Cue Card won last year's running of the 1.35 - Tenor Nivernais represents a play against likely favourite Colour Squadron who has his first run over fences on this his seasonal bow.

In the finale Fix It Right ran well for a long way behind The Italian Yob at Exeter earlier in the month and looks to hold place prospects on this more forgiving track.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Boxing Day at Kempton 2012

Looking back at previous posts penned at this time of year, I couldn't help but think 2009's offering, entitled ' Rescue required', still hits the nail on the head...

The persistent rain is likely to affect several cards (Huntingdon already lost) but, all being well, Kempton's traditional Boxing Day card will go ahead as planned where the King George VI Chase is the feature. Ten declared for what looks sure to be an intriguing renewal.

Last year Kauto Star beat Long Run one and a quarter lengths (Captain Chris a further 17 lengths behind third). Kauto was scheduled to parade before this year's renewal and, as far as I'm aware, the rather public tiff between owner Clive Smith and Paul Nicholls shouldn't affect that arrangement; whatever, the great horse won't be running in the race itself and Long Run is priced up favourite. Nicky Henderson's stable star was beaten by Silviniaco Conti on his seasonal debut in the Betfair Chase at Haydock four and a half weeks ago; after that run connections hinted they may change tactics - I'm expecting to see Long Run ridden more prominently.

I'm sure we've heard racing people say that if any horse is ever going to get a three mile trip, he'll get it at Kempton (or Ludlow even) - Cue Card and Riverside Theatre, second and third in the market, have never won over the distance which is a concern, although the trainer of the former, writing in the Weekender, thinks his charge will ('... and in his current form is a major player') while the latter, owned by the Jimmy Nesbitt Partnership, has been aimed specifically at this race.

Nicholls relies on Kauto's half-brother Kauto Stone this year; the lack of big-race experience may worry some but it's worth noting four six-year-olds have taken this in the past twenty years, three in the past decade - Kicking King (2004), Kauto Star (2006) and Long Run (2010).

Grands Crus took last year's Feltham over course and distance but it's difficult to be confident here after his disappointing run in the Paddy Power Gold Cup; Tom Scudamore appears to prefer this one to The Giant Bolster. McCoy rides David Bridgwater's Gold Cup second who, in my opinion, is still a little underrated.

I think Philip Hobbs could have Captain Chris in better form than last year - I would have considered an each-way wager had the ground been better -  but, with the rain around, The Giant Bolster is the each-way selection at 10/1 or bigger. The worry is all his chase runs have been on left-handed tracks.

Countrywide Flame is as tough as old boots and did this blog a favour winning the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle; visually that was most impressive. Connections offered the ground as the reason behind Cinders And Ashes' disappoinitng defeat that day - the stable are in better form now (four wins from nine runners in past week). I'm loathe to desert Countrywide Flame but a four-year-old hasn't won this since Kerawi (1997) so course and distance winner Darlan offers slightly better value and is the tentative selection in a trappy-looking affair.

Dynaste looks the one to beat in the Feltham but he'll be no price.

Have yourselves a happy little Christmas!

Postscript (added 24.12.12 21:00): Of course, as Tom Scudamore is retained by David Pipe, he has never been in a position where he has had to choose between Grands Crus and The Giant Bolster. Writing in today's Times, Scudamore says 'I am hoping that a recent breathing operation has restored his [Grands Crus'] powers.'

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ascot Long Walk Hurdle

Busted for time this evening after Christmas beverages (hic)...

With Big Buck's out for the remainder of the season, the Long Walk  has the look of an open contest. I'm not convinced favourite Smad Place will stay the trip (particularly on heavy ground) so Trustan Times is the selection whilst Cucumber Run (14/1) appeals as the each-way wager provided eight make it to the start.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cheltenham before Christmas

Christmas just around the corner but we've witnessed a distinct lack of Christmas spirit between trainer Paul Nicholls and owner Clive Smith in what The Times dubbed the 'Kauto Star wars' earlier this week. Smith's decision to pursue a career in dressage with Kauto has clearly upset those at Ditcheat. Thursday's Daily Mail painted a graphic picture of the extent to which this relationship had broken down when Smith took Nicholls to task over his pronunciation of the horse's name; after all those glory days, it really is sad to see the partnership end this way but, as in most sports, money talks and we should never forget it's an owner's prerogative to do as he (or she) wishes as the owner is the one who pays the bills.

Tomorrow's feature at Prestbury Park, the Paul Stewart Ironspine Charity Challenge Gold Cup, will be run on testing ground. At the time of writing several layers have Walkon and Unioniste 9/2 joint favourites with Cristal Bonus a 6/1 chance; in the past decade just one favourite has obliged while all winners have been aged between six and eight years old in the same timeframe, sats which don't bode well for Unioniste. Walkon has an obvious chance on his three lengths second to Al Ferof in the Paddy Power Gold Cup run at this track over a similar distance and on similar ground four weeks ago (Nadiya De La Vega third, Quantitativeasing and Micheal Flips both pulled up). Alan King's charge looks the percentage call but in the past I've never found the grey easy to catch right and have had my fingers burnt on a couple of occasions. I'll give Walkon another chance.

The conditions of the International Hurdle (3.05) favour Zarkander and Paul Nicholls' five-year-old has the benefit of a run under his belt; he's priced up favourite. The last reigning champion to take this was Comedy Of Errors in 1973 but I'm tempted to chance Rock On Ruby who has won after the summer break in the past two seasons. Harry Fry was not a name known to many when the gelding took the crown last March - at that time Mr Fry was in charge of Nicholls' satellite yard and my guess is both the trainer and jockey Noel Fehily will be pretty keen to show that was no fluke. This evening Labrokes, Paddy Power and Stan James all offer 9/4 - sponsor Stan James also offers a free £10 bet if you bet £10 on this race. Rock On Ruby is the selection.

Our Father went into many notebooks last time and is declared for the novice chase at 12.45. Court In Motion, his main opponent, has the 1.45 at Lingfield as the preferred engagement; the ground for that Lingfield race is described as heavy. Court In Motion has never won over three miles whereas the trip and ground should suit Houblon Des Obeaux and Venetia Williams had a double today with Tenor Nivernais (7/1 Bangor 12.00) and Plein Pouvoir (12/1 Cheltenham 12.45).

If I remember correctly the Relkeel (3.40) has struggled for entries in the past and just three for tomorrow's renewal does not look good.              

Friday, December 07, 2012

From Sandown to Aintree and back

Tomorrow's Tingle Creek has been billed a match between Sprinter Sacre and Sandown specialist Sanctuaire; that's about the long and short of it and at the prices on offer I'm not tempted to play. Trying to pick holes in the form looks something of a futile exercise. I note that both race keenly and like to get on with it (as, indeed, does Kumbeshwar and Doeslessthanme) which on this testing ground could, in theory, lead to the race being set up for something to come from behind - you can have 40/1 His Excellency if you like - but the stats suggest there's no real value to be had as six favourites have obliged in the past decade with 2002 winner Cenkos (6/1) returned at the biggest price during that timeframe.

Underfoot conditions appear to have frightened off a number of the interesting five day entries on the rest of Sandown's card (Overturn, My Tent Or Yours, New Year's Eve, Cotton Mill) so I've decided to take a look at Aintree's Becher Chase run over the National fences where the going is currently described as heavy.

I tipped West End Rocker at 14/1 to win the race last year and, unusually for one of my selections, he came home in something of a common canter. On the back of that performance, I tipped the same horse for the National in April but he got no further than the second. A fortnight later connections brought him out for what was supposedly some compensation in the Betfred Gold Cup (at Sandown) but the gelding ran an absolute stinker out the back, eventually being pulled up. At the time trainer Alan King made comments about the horse having had a bad experience at Aintree and not liking the fences there which I thought odd given the same beast had won the Becher. Much later the handler put it down to the brouhaha of the occasion but I'm wary; on top of that tomorrow's pilot, Choc Thornton, has never won on the horse.

Martin Keighley's Any Currency was my fancy for the finale at Sandown until I realised the Becher was the target! This one failed to make the cut for the National in April but stayed on into third behind Tidal Bay in the Betfred Gold Cup after losing his position mid-race. He comes here with two runs under his belt but in an interview connections appeared ambivalent as to whether their charge would take to the obstacles; if he does, next year's National definitely will be on his agenda.

Nine of the past ten winners have been aged eight or older which puts me off Join Together, Problema Tic and bottom one Ballyvesey.

For this I do tend to prefer one with form over these fences; of the market leaders Big Fella Thanks makes most appeal to this observer - his record in the National reads sixth in 2009; fourth in 2010; seventh in 2011. Now with Tom George, the horse blundered and unseated Paddy Brennan last time out but is forgiven that particular lapse. At an each-way price I was very tempted by Any Currency (12/1) but marginally prefer another lightweight in the shape of Kim Bailey's Midnight Haze who finished a very distant 15th behind Neptune Collonges in the National; he's priced up at 25/1 with Coral this evening.

Two selections against the field - Big Fella Thanks (7/1 generally) and Midnight Haze each-way (25/1 Coral).

Finally, I have to return to the finale at Sandown, the London (rather than Aintree) National. If they do race at Aintree, just five will face the starter at Sandown where the Paul Nicholls trained favourite Tempo De Cotte is worth opposing on the back of his disappointing fourth at Plumpton last time - his first run in this country. Golan Way is a law to himself (refused to race on his seasonal debut last year) but if in the mood could easily win - trainer Sheena West saddled 7/1 chance Captain Cardington to take the opener at the course today - but the Trevor Hemmings owned Lively Baron carries just ten stone five and with Dickie Johnson in the plate is the selection.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Race reading this Christmas

If the thought of Christmas with the family fills you with horror, perhaps some of the following tomes might help to ease the pain...

Frankel: The Wonder Horse Racing Post and Andrew Pennington

Kauto Star: A Steeplechasing Legend Andrew Pennington

Black Caviar: The Horse Of A Lifetime Gerard Whateley

Racing Crazy: The Best Of David Ashforth David Ashforth

The Secrets Of Pricewise James Milton
 Once we have all read and inwardly digested this work, I presume Pricewise will have no secrets remaining and as a result will be left looking for work...

When Racing Was Racing: A Century On The Turf Adam Powley
 Something of a trip down memory lane for miserable old buffers such as myself...

Lord Derby And His Horses: A Tory Grandee And The Turf Quintin Barry

Britain And Ireland's Top 100 Racehorses Of All Time Robin Oakley
 Panned in no uncertain terms by one 'Stoker Devonshire' in the Spectator (Oct 27 2012) - his review concludes with the quote: 'This is a lazy little book...' Private Eye (No. 1326, 2-15 November 2012, p28) points out this is worrying as Oakley is the Spectator's racing correspondent, going on to suggest 'Stoker' is in fact his Grace the Duke who may just have half an eye on Oakley's job...

My Animals And Other Family Clare Balding       
  Ms Balding's surprisingly self-deprecating look at her early years; somehow, Clare's 'old school' grandma manages to steal the show...   

And finally...

Fifty Sheds Of Grey: A Parody: Erotica For The Not-Too-Modern Male C.T.Grey