Friday, March 29, 2013

At Easter - to play or not to play?

Just a brief post this evening as I don't intend to play tomorrow.

Winners are difficult to find at the best of times. If you're considering a wager at Dubai or even Doncaster, you may wish to note Alistair Whitehouse-Jones' comments in the Weekender:

'By all means enjoy this weekend's Dubai World Cup, but you'd be crackers to have a bet in it. Since moving from Nad Al Sheba to Meydan in 2010 it has become harder to predict than the Lincoln, with not one single-priced figure horse finishing in the first three.'

Quickly looking at the Haydock card, the opening Tim Moloney Chase is interesting but it's difficult to gauge the extent to which recent snowfalls have affected trainers' schedules, particularly those based in the North. In a short piece on the Sporting Life website, Sue Smith gave a glimpse into some of the problems encountered.

The biggest temptation to the resolve is likely to come in the shape of Newton Abbot's SIS Handicap Chase at 3.55. Worth over £15,000 to the winner, there are just five declared for a trappy-looking handicap.

Ulck Du Lin, trained by Paul Nicholls, is priced up favourite; the youngest horse in the race has the assistance of Ruby Walsh in the plate but is tasked with carrying top weight on heavy ground. Just fifteen days ago Nicholls' charge was pulled up in the Grand Annual at the Festival and looks vulnerable.

The outsider in the field Falcon Island has form this season behind both Ulck Du Lin and Eastlake. He was beaten thirteen and a half lengths by the former at Ascot when conceding seven pounds and then went down eigtheen lengths to the latter at Sandown giving away ten pounds. On the revised terms he is entitled to be competitive and Brendan Powell Jr can claim a further three. Priced at 12/1 with Paddy Power this evening, that resolve not to play is being tested somewhat...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Tight at the top of the Blue Square Premiership...

Rank may be suffering from a bout of the Blue Square blues as it tries to ditch the loss-making bookmaker but, just as it was last year, it's extremely tight at the top of the Premiership - the Blue Square Premiership.

On March 4th betting to win the Conference outright was as follows:

Grimsby 9/4f
Wrexham 11/4
Mansfield 4/1
Kidderminster 5/1
Newport 8/1

Two weeks later the prices are:

Mansfield 5/4f
Wrexham 100/30 (bet365)
Kidderminster 7/2 (Coral)
Newport 8/1 (Bet Victor)
Grimsby 20/1 (Bet Victor)

On Sunday Grimsby play Wrexham at Wembley in the final of the FA Trophy. Whilst both clubs insist the league is priority, both appear to have been distracted by this engagement, particularly The Mariners who have lost their last four games - both Forest Green and Macclesfield are now chasing Grimsby's promotion play-off place.

A feature of Wrexham's season has been the dropping of points at home against clubs they might have expected to beat.

Draws against Gateshead, Tamworth, Southport and Alfreton are starting to look expensive. The Welsh club has the most difficult run-in, scheduled to play Mansfield twice and Kidderminster at home. In addition the sharing of the Racecourse Ground with a rugby league team through the majority of the season has not been ideal and played its part in the postponement of the Mansfield fixture on Tuesday.

The Stags are on a phenomenal run. Following their 2-1 defeat at home to Liverpool in the FA Cup third round on 6th January, they have lost just two games - at home to Kidderminster and away to Newport - have won their last nine in a row and on current form look like champions elect.

A fortnight ago Newport County (8/1) were a value play for the title but a home defeat by Kidderminster in the interim has hurt prospects.

Of those teams challenging for the title, Newport's fixture congestion is the most severe - the club's call for the season to be extended, reiterated by Ebbsfleet boss Liam Daish, is likely to fall on deaf ears as the Champions League final is scheduled to be played at Wembley on May 25th.

Kidderminster currently sit top of the league on goal difference having played more games than all their rivals. Two away games, at Luton and Wrexham, will be keenly contested.

This evening Mansfield are in pole position and the layers have priced the market accordingly but we should expect a few twists and turns before the end of the season; the two games against Wrexham will be key.

Those wanting to take a view may wish to await the outcome of Sunday's FA Trophy final before risking long-time league leaders Wrexham at around the 100/30 mark.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cheltenham Festival 2013 - the debrief

From a betting perspective, something of a curate's egg of a Festival - the favourites seemed to oblige when I took a chance and the outsiders obliged when I supported the favourite. It was ever thus.

Here are the profit / loss figures for the blog's Festival selections at recorded starting prices:

Tuesday 12th March
Dodging Bullets           9th   12/1    0.5pts EW  0.00
Zarkander                   4th     7/2        1pt WIN  0.00
Countrywide Flame     3rd   16/1    0.5pts EW  2.50
Fruity O'Rooney         5th   10/1     0.5pts EW  1.75 (layer pays 5 places)

Wednesday 13th March

Pont Alexandre          3rd    6/4F       1pt WIN  0.00
Unioniste                    4th    5/2F       1pt WIN  0.00
Milord                         4th   16/1      0.5EW       2.50
Sgt Reckless              13th   8/1         1pt WIN  0.00

Thursday 14 March

Dynaste                    2nd  11/8F       1pt WIN  0.00
Ely Brown                 6th   20/1       0.5EW       0.00
Cue Card                  1st     7/2          1pt WIN 4.50
Oscar Whisky           PU     9/4F        1pt WIN 0.00
Hunt Ball                   4th     8/1         0.5EW    1.40 (Rule 4 10% deduction)

Friday 15 March

Long Run                 3rd     7/2           1pt WIN 0.00
The Giant Bolster     4th    16/1         0.5EW    0.00

Total outlay:  15pts
Total returns: 12.65pts
Profit/loss:     -2.35pts
Win strike rate: 6.67%
Loss as % of turnover: 15.67%

An honourable mention must go to Ely Brown (20/1) who ran a fine race in Thursday's Pertemps Final but faded out of the placings up the famous Cheltenham hill.

For the future:The New One following his victory in the Neptune.

Ride of the week: Liam Treadwell on the front-running Carrickboy who obliged at 50/1 in Thursday's Byrne Group Plate.
Quote of the week, courtesy of Channel 4's Simon Holt: 'Sprinter Sacre - a steeplechaser from the gods.'

Upset of the week: 20/1 shot Oscar Delta's unseating of 18 year-old amateur Jane Mangan when appearing to have Friday's Foxhunter Chase in safe-keeping. Form book reads: '3 lengths clear last, staying on looked in command when jinked left and unseated rider flat.'

And finally spare a thought this evening for J.T. McNamara who remains in an induced coma following his fall from Galaxy Rock in Thursday's Kim Muir.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cheltenham Festival 2013 - Gold Cup day

Tomorrow's Gold Cup looks an intriguing renewal with 11 declared and the winner most likely to come from the first four in the market. In the past decade the favourite has obliged on six occasions; in that timeframe Synchronised was the biggest-priced winner, returned at 8/1 last year.

Nicky Henderson's Bobs Worth, rated 171, appears the worthy favourite. Small but with the heart of a lion, he won the RSA Chase last year, the Hennessy in December and is unbeaten at the track.

The worry is his preparation; he was forced to miss an engagement in the Argento Chase on account of a 'low grade' infection. Supporters point out that he has run well previously following a long lay-off but in the past 20 years every Gold Cup winner had seen the racetrack after the Christmas Day.

Ireland's main hope is Sir Des Champs. Last season he won the Jewson at the Cheltenham Festival and went on to take the Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival over a trip of three miles one furlong. This one clearly likes the track and supporters expect further improvement over the extended trip here. Off a rating of 168, he has something to find with the other principals.

On official ratings Silviniaco Conti (175) is the best horse in the race. This season he has beaten Wayward Prince in the Charlie Hall, Long Run and The Giant Bolster in the Betfair Chase and The Giant Bolster again in the Denman Chase, giving that rival four pounds on that occasion.

The slight worry is that all his wins at three miles plus have come on flat courses and there's a question as to whether he'll act on this track and see out the extended three mile two furlongs with the stiff uphill finish. In 2010 he won the Coral Hurdle over two miles three and sixteen months ago as a novice was quick enough to win over two miles five at Wincanton.

Long Run won the 2011 Gold Cup recording a rating of 179 in the process; his third in last year's renewal was given a mark of 182 yet this season he has struggled, given 172 for his neck defeat of Captain Chris in the King George at Kempton.

Amateur jockey Mr Sam Waley-Cohen, the owner's son, is on record as saying ideally he'd like to fit cheekpieces to his mount half way through the race; clearly that's not possible so connections will try the sheepskin aids for the first time tomorrow. This one is not the most fluent of jumpers and has a tendency to throw in the odd howler here and there, yet often his momentum seems unaffected. Following his jumping performance in the Feltham in 2009, a race he won, I never thought he could win a Gold Cup but, yet again, I've been proven wrong.

You pay your money and takes your choice; 6/1 Long Run looks reasonable value for a horse that's been there and done it before.

The each-way chances appear to be Captain Chris, Cape Tribulation and The Giant Bolster.

Captan Chris has had an excellent season and looked unlucky in the King George, although he came on the scene from a different parish that day. Better ground will suit but connections say he prefers to race right-handed.

At the age of nine Cape Tribulation is in the form of his life and in Denis O'Regan has the perfect partner for his hold-up style of running.

I backed The Giant Bolster each-way at 66/1 last year and just for a moment I thought he might win. He didn't and in the past placed horses haven't tended to improve enough to win. His jumping can look a little fragile on occasions but he certainly acts on the the track.

I'm aware Long Run bids to become only the second horse in history to regain the Gold Cup (and Oscar Whisky's run earlier today is an additional worry) but at eight years of age he's young enough. I take Long Run to win (6/1 Ladbrokes) with The Giant Bolster the each-way chance at around 14/1.

I've been impressed with Gevrey Chambertin this season and David Pipe will have done his utmost to ensure the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle is won for his father but the grey has his share of weight (although Tom Bellamy claims six) and there's no value in his price.

In similar vein, thirty five minutes later Nicky Henderson saddles six of the 24 runners in the race named after his father.        

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cheltenham Festival 2013 - Thursday

Struggling for time today, so quick picks for tomorrow's races...

1.30 Jewson: On official ratings Dynaste has upwards of nine pounds in hand over the field and is the form selection.

2.05 Pertemps Hurdle: Paul Nicholls has said Sam Winner is his best chance of a winner at the entire meeting while Dan Skelton put up American Trilogy as the stable's best outsider of the entire meet. A look through American Trilogy's form suggests he may not quite stay this trip - I prefer Warwick winner Ely Brown who has shown plenty of improvement for Charlie Longsdon and rates an each-way wager at around the 20/1 mark.

2.40 Ryanair Chase: Only eight runners but a rather trappy looking affair. Riverside Theatre, owned by James Nesbitt and partners, beat Albertas Run in this last year; Albertas is probably past his best at the age of twelve but he has proved a fine servant who shows his best form on good ground. Cue Card has been diverted from the Champion Chase, First Lieutenant the Gold Cup, while Menorah doesn't jump well enough. In the past eight renewals the winner has come form the first three in the bettng on seven occasions - First Lieutenant hasn't won since his novice days so Cue Card gets the vote.

3.20 World Hurdle: No Big Buck's so an open-looking affair. Reve De Sivola's neck defeat of Oscar Whisky at the track seven weeks ago is a key piece of form. Doubts about Oscar Whisky's ability to stay the trip were dispelled that day and the drying ground may just help Nicky Henderson's charge - I'm going to give Oscar Whisky another chance...

4.00 Byrne Group Plate: Ballynagour made an impression on his debut in this country for the Pipe yard but course and distance winner Hunt Ball is given an each-way chance over this trip on drying ground.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cheltenham Festival 2013 - Wednesday

Traditionally Wednesday's highlight is the Queen Mother Champion Chase; this year's renewal looks a race to enjoy rather than bet on as Sprinter Sacre looks set for an exhibition round.

Nicky Henderson's star has frightened off most of the opposition - with just seven in the field my cunning plan to chance Mail De Bievre each-way has been thwarted. Tom George's inmate has been supplemented at a cost of £17,500 and boasts decent French form over two and a half miles; he raced freely while jumping with exuberance on his debut for the yard before appearing to run out of petrol over the three mile trip at Newbury.

Feedback from a couple of Festival Preview evenings makes me loathe to oppose Willie Mullins' Pont Alexandre in the Neptune; for future reference Sizing Gold is reported to be held in high regard by connections.

With Dynaste heading for the Jewson on Thursday and Back In Focus going in the first race on this card, the RSA market has an open look to it. Houblon Des Obeaux has appeared awkward over the fences on occasions while Hadrian's Approach is a robust sort who tends to throw in a poor leap every now and again. This is a big ask for Goulanes on only his second try over the larger obstacles while Lord Windermere has never raced beyond two miles five before. Of the Willie Mullins pair Terminal is rated four pounds higher than Boston Bob yet the former is 25/1 while the latter is priced up favourite. By opting to ride Unioniste, Ruby Walsh has chosen to ignore their chances and, as Walsh has already shown exemplary powers of decision-making (Champagne Fever and Hurricane Fly), Unioniste gets the nod.

The Coral and the Fred Winter look extremely difficult; one that caught my eye in the 4.40 was Kim Bailey's Milord. This one brings decent Flat form to the table and ran well behind Chatterbox (goes in the Neptune at 2.05) last time out. For those who must, he's an each-way chance at around 20/1.

Over the years I've usually gone to the track on the Wednesday - unfortunately I won't be there this year - and the concluding bumper is a race I always like; this year's field contains several interesting runners. Back in November Mick Channon had to withdraw Sgt Reckless from the bumper at the Open Meeting on account of a small setback. The Times' racing correspondent Alan Lee reported Channon as saying the horse would have won, a nugget that I duly reported on the blog. I can now report that in the intervening four months Sgt Reckless is the name of the horse that has generated the most Google hits on the blog - make of that what you will. In early January Sgt Reckless traded at 33/1 but he's now 7s and Flat jockey Richard Hughes has obtained a special licence to ride in tomorrow's race.

The four-year-old Le Vent D'Antan heads a strong Irish challenge while Willie Mullins saddles three with Walsh riding Briar Hill and Mr P. Mullins Union Dues.

40/1 looks a big a price about Pure Science. After the withdrawal of three runners last week (including Imperial Commander from the Gold Cup) the form of the yard is a worry but The New One's running in the Neptune should provide a yardstick.

I'm Fraam Govan is owned by Sir Alex Ferguson while most of the four-year-olds catch the eye. Joseph O'Brien, another Flat jockey, rides Shield for his father Aidan and I've heard a word for Vieux Lion Rouge and Johnny Og - both will be worth monitoring in the future.

This year I've come across more tips for this race than I can shake a stick at but the selection has to be... Sgt Reckless!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cheltenham Festival 2013 - Tuesday

The feature on the opening day, the Champion Hurdle, sees 2011 winner Hurricane Fly trying to regain his crown - the last horse to pull off this particular trick was Comedy Of Errors in 1975. Since the great Sea Pigeon won back-to-back victories in 1980/81, only two nine-year-olds have come home in front - Royal Gait (1992) and Rooster Booster (2003).

The stats may be against the favourite but his racecourse record stands the closest of inspections - 15 victories and two defeats in 17 outings.Those who want to oppose may wish to do so with Paddy Power who offer money back on all losing win wagers (up to a maximum £100) if 'The Fly' wins.

With underfoot conditions predicted to be soft, the ground appears to have gone against Cinders And Ashes and would be a slight worry for last year's winner Rock On Ruby. Trainer Harry Fry boasts a strike rate of over 30% (17 wins from just 55 runs) in this his first full season; the handler has decided to fit blinkers to his charge for the first time.

A worry for all particpiants is the lack of an obvious pacemaker in the race; a tactical running of the Champion Hurdle looks a distinct possibility. The ground holds no fears for Zarkander - his defeat of Grandouet and Rock On Ruby in the International last December was impressive but he received two pounds from the runner-up and four from the current champion that day.

Henderson saddles three - Binocular, another nine-year old looking to repeat former glories, Grandouet and Khyber Kim. This is just the season's second racecourse outing for both Binocular and Grandouet.

A fascinating renewal - Zarkander is the selection while Countrywide Flame (16/1) rates a value each-way wager, although in the past thirty years only two five-year-olds have taken the crown - See You Then (1985) and Katchit (2008).

William Hill pay a quarter the odds five places in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle - two each-ways suggestions against favourite My Tent Or Yours together with the rest of the field - Melodic Rendezvous and Dodging Bullets.

The Arkle is a race to savour rather than one to bet on. The build-up has concentrated on Simonsig and the front-running Overturn. The latter-named has done this blog many a favour over the years but he wouldn't want the ground too soft; Simonsig is preferred while Tom George's Majala could run a race that belies his price.

One other suggestion for the opening day - Alfie Sherrin pipped an old favourite of mine Fruity O'Rooney (no relation to Wayne) one length in last year's running of the JLT Speciality Handicap Chase (Our Mick third). Fruity races off a mark one pound lower this year and his second behind Katenko last time out catches the eye - Our Mick was travelling well in that same race on his seasonal debut when unseating Jason Maguire three from home. Our Mick heads the market, having the look of one laid out for this, but Fruity O'Rooney races prominently and can establish a rhythm from the front - he rates an each-way bet at around the 10/1 mark.

Postscript [added 11.03.13 14:00]: Melodic Rendezvous not declared for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle following a bad scope.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Nicholls top Festival trainer?

The top trainer market for the 2013 Cheltenham Festival is dominated by Nicky Henderson (4/6f) and Willie Mullins (2/1) yet last year's champion NH trainer, Paul Nicholls, can be backed at 10/1 in places (Betfred, William Hill).

Most of us understand why Henderson and Mullins are at the head of affairs but 10/1 is a big enough price about Nicholls who has traditionally fared well at this meeting so I thought I'd do some basic spadework on the trainer's horses for next week.

Here's a selection of his entries (with indicative prices only) which were correct (I think) at the time of publishing this post...


1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle: Dodging Bullets (9/1)
2.40 JLT Speciality Handicap Chase: Rolling Aces (12/1)
3.20 Champion Hurdle: Zarkander (9/2)
5.15 Pulteney Novices' Handicap Chase: Rebel Rebellion (20/1 [runs 4.25 Sandown, Sat.])


1.30 John Oaksey National Hunt Chase: Hawkes Point (16/1)
2.30 RSA Chase: Unioniste (4/1)
3.20 Champion Chase: Sanctuaire (16/1)
4.00 Coral Cup: Wonderful Charm (was 7/1 but drifting), Salubrious (20/1), Brampour (33/1)
4.40 Fred Winter Hurdle: Saphir Du Rheu (7/1), Pitt Zig (9/1)
5.15 Weatherbys Champion Bumper: Fascino Rustico (16/1)


1.30 Jewson Novices' Chase: Unioniste (14/1)
2.05 Pertemps Final: Sam Winner (4/1), American Trilogy (20/1)
2.40 Ryanair Chase: Ghizao (33/1)
3.20 World Hurdle: Wonderful Charm (12/1), Celestial Halo (33/1), Prospect Wells (40/1)
4.00 Byrne Group Chase: Poquelin (20/1), Domtaline (20/1)
4.40 Kim Muir: Harry The Viking (16/1)


1.30 Triumph Hurdle: Far West (4/1)
2.05 County Hurdle: Mr Mole (6/1 [runs Imperial Cup, Sat.]), Hinterland (20/1), Edgardo Sol (25/1)
2.40 Albert Bartlett: Aaim To Prosper (20/1), Aerial (33/1), Easter Day (33/1), Pay The King (40/1)
3.20 Gold Cup: Silviniaco Conti (4/1)
4.40 Martin Pipe: Salubrious (14/1)
5.15 Grand Annual: Ulck Du Lin (8/1), Toubab (16/1), Shooters Wood (16/1), Edgardo Sol (25/1)

Henderson deserves his position at the head of the market but there are some reasonable chances listed above which makes the 10/1 on offer look big to this observer.

Late tweet from the trainer himself - he rates Sam Winner his best chance of the week and is 'very hopeful' about Zarkander and Silviniaco Conti.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Doncaster's Grimthorpe Chase 2013

I always try to conserve funds at this time of year, with Cheltenham just around the corner, so just the one suggestion from tomorrow's cards...

Twelve go to post in Doncaster's Grimthorpe Chase (2.55); the bottom three race from out of the handicap.

Both Calgary Bay and Join Together are tasked with giving significant weight to their opponents in a race where the winner has tended to come from those carrying less than 11 stones.

Join Together, second in the Becher at Aintree last December, looks to be using this as a stepping stone to the National. Paul Nicholls' charge heads the market followed by Emma Lavelle's Court By Surprise who won over three miles at this track on December 15th (beat Night In Milan, Corkage, Ikorodu Road, Quentin Collonges and Mr Moonshine that day); the negative is that was 77 days ago and the yard hasn't had a winner since.

Ikorudu Road is one that I like and he likes it here having won last year's runnng although he may have been slightly fortunate to benefit from the final fence fall of Pentiffic; he races off 138 tomorrow, a mark 8 lbs higher.

Trainer Keith Reveley thinks there isn't much between his pair, Corkage and Night In Milan. Both charges have mixed hurdling and chasing of late - in particular Corkage will need to establish a decent rhythm early as he tends to race up with the pace. The market clearly prefers Night In Milan (7/1) while Corkage is on offer at 14/1 in places.

Mr Moonshine was 38 lengths behind Court By Surprise in December but his subsequent second to Cape Tribulation (has gone on to win the Argento at Cheltenham and now quoted a 25/1 chance for the Gold Cup) in Wetherby's Rowland Meryck reads well.

Evan Williams' Mr Moss is possibly a liitle less exposed than some of these but has form behind Wyck Hill to his name and has had this as his target for some time.

At the prices, I'll take an each-way interest in last year's winner Ikorodu Road (10/1 Ladbrokes. Coral).