Friday, May 31, 2013

Thoughts on the 2013 Derby day

Twelve go to post for the 2013 Epsom Derby tomorrow, with Aidan O'Brien responsible for five of the field. On ratings Dawn Approach is some way clear of his rivals and is priced accordingly; the query is whether this relaxed individual will stay the trip. Generally the market tends to give a good guide - in the past decade, the winner has come from the first three in the betting on nine occasions.

Maybe I'm getting old, but I'm afarid this year's renewal just hasn't inspired. I'll have a small each-way wager on Galileo Rock (sired by 2001 winner Galileo), priced at 40/1 at the time of writing with Stan James, Bet Victor and bet365.

A couple of jockeys have been in the news this week...

Media coverage of Dettori's return to the saddle earlier today brought to mind the parable of the prodigal son and is likely to appear incongruous to many both inside and outside the sport given the Italian has just served a six-month ban following a positive drugs test.

On Monday it was announced Paul Nicholls was to split with Ruby Walsh. The travelling has been an issue to Walsh for some time - I half expected the announcement this time last year.

On Derby day I like to have a bet on the jumpers, just for the sheer hell of it. The opening seller at Hexham looks trappy so I'll take the chance with Baccalaureate in the competitive-looking handicap hurdle at 3.20. This one ran well on his first run for Sue Smith's yard follwing a long lay-off; he might well 'bounce' this time but the tissue price of 13/2 is tempting...    

Friday, May 24, 2013

Randomly noted...

Hot on the hooves of the Godolphin doping scandal, this week jockey Eddie Ahern received a 10 year ban for breaching three BHA rules, a ban he will contest with the support of the Professional Jockeys' Association.

In other news...

Dettori's return to the track following a six month ban has been delayed but he remains hopeful of riding in the Epsom Derby on June 1st.
In Wednesday's Racing Post Lee Mottershead reported that in the period from January 1st to April 27th 2013 viewing figures for Channel 4 Racing were down on 22 of the 25 broadcast days, while the audience for The Morning Line fell 277,000 during the Cheltenham Festival.

And Royal Ascot has appointed its first 'official partner' - Swiss watchmakers Longines. Chris Cook of The Guardian wonders, quite wryly, whether this partnership will lead to the publishing of acccurate sectional times at the track...


Last weekend's post made mention of Oliver Sherwood's mare Luci Di Mezzanotte. She didn't run at Bangor but did turn up for a Wetherby Maiden Hurdle yesterday and obliged at odds of 4/1.

Tomorrow sees the traditional Bank Holiday card at Cartmel; these meets are something of an institution in their own right but I'm afraid the place has never been particularly kind to me.

Down the country a bit and across to the left, the 6.40 novice hurdle at Ffos Las has caught my eye. The David Pipe trained Third Of The Third, owned by course boss Dai Walters, is likely to be sent off favourite but both Groomed and top weight Lord Grantham are closely matched on ratings. RPR/ OR ratings show Third Of The Third 132 / 113, Groomed 131 / 112 and Lord Grantham 129 / 120.

Granted, Lord Grantham has to give weight to all his rivals but Jake Greenall's three pounds allowance offsets some of the burden and Henry Daly's charge looks likely to stay the trip better than Groomed; I'll consider opposing the favourite with Lord Grantham at around the 3/1 mark.

Finally it's interesting to see the well-named Mad Moose running in a listed event on the Flat (2.20 York). After refusing to race at both the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals this spring, Mad Moose appears to have taken a a bit of a liking to the Flat game and his recent second at Chester behind Mount Athos (probably bound for the Melbourne Cup in November) reads well enough, although that form should be treated with plenty of caution.

Trainer's son Sam Twiston-Davies rides 'The Moose' over the sticks; brother Willie takes over here. Songcraft is the class act and the percentage call in the race; it remains to be seen whether Mad Moose can confirm recent improvement.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A bumper weekend...

Looking at the five day declarations earlier in the week, I'd identified a couple running in bumpers that were of some interest while everyone else was concentrating on the Flat.

Oliver Sherwood has his team in good form at the moment and Luci Di Mezzanotte's head second to The Pirate Queen from the Alan King yard last time read well. King's inmate finished fifth in the Aintree listed mares' bumper on her previous run. Luci had an entry in the Bangor bumper at 4.50 on Saturday but it looks as though Fergal O'Brien's previous winner Down Ace has scared her off...

Peter Bowen's Rolling Maul held a couple of weekend options at Uttoxeter and Stratford on Sunday but the handler has decided to take up neither - instead Bowen sends The Road Ahead to the Warwickshire track where Prideofthecastle from David Pipe's stable is likely to provide a stern test.

It's also worth noting that Propsect Wells, well beaten behind Zarkander in the Aintree Hurdle last time, tries fences for the first time on Stratford's card.     

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The 2012/13 jumps season - a personal view

Champion jockey: A P McCoy
Champion trainer: Nicky Henderson
Winning owner: J P McManus
Leading conditional rider: Lucy Alexander

2012 was the second wettest year on record and all that rain left an indelible mark on the season.

From late summer onwards, the layers had Nicky Henderson long odds-on to take the trainers' title from Paul Nicholls but the Ditcheat handler clocked some notable victories in the autumn including the Paddy Power Gold Cup with Al Ferof and the Paul Stewart Ironspine Charity Challenge Gold Cup with Unioniste.

Al Ferof gave Walkon 16 lbs and a three length beating and was 5/1 for the King George at Kempton before sustaining an injury that wrote his season off. The legendary Big Buck's suffered a similar fate after winning in a common canter on his seasonal debut at Newbury.

Unioniste's Cheltenham victory, beating the hapless Walkon 11 lengths, was all the more remarkable as the horse was just four years old; some may have thought his subsequent defeat in the RSA Chase at the Festival a disappointment but the gelding is likely to strengthen up over the coming summer.

The season's headline horse was Henderson's Sprinter Sacre, described by Simon Holt as 'a steeplecahser from the gods' and that's exactly what he is. He beat Sizing Europe 19 lengths in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a trip of two miles, and is quoted as short as 6/4 by William Hill for the next running of the King George, run over a trip of three miles.

If Sprinter Sacre was Henderson's headline horse, stablemate Bobs Worth wasn't far behind. The gelding won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in December and then added the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the spring, making ground from an unpromising position four out to win going away and maintaining his unbeaten track record in the process.

Hurricane Fly reclaimed the Champion Hurdle and no doubt intends to return next year but two other Festival performances stick in the mind - Liam Treadwell's front-running ride on 50/1 winner Carrickboy in the Byrne Group Plate and Oscar Delta's unseating of amateur Jane Mangan with the CGA Foxhunter Chase apparently at his mercy.

The BBC boasts a long distinguished history in the coverage of televised horse racing; the Corporation was due to bring that coverage to a conclusion with Chepstow's Welsh National meeting but the wet weather put paid to those plans.

Ironically Channel Four's re-vamped racing offering, handled by production company IMG Sports Media, covered the re-arranged card nine days later but those expecting to see the much-advertised Clare Balding on their screens were to be disappointed; apparently Ms Balding's contract covers just 88 days of the racing year...

Two weeks later, in an article in the Racing Post, Carl Hicks, the man at the helm of Channel Four's coverage, gave himself a rather generous-looking seven out of ten to date despite some initial technical mishaps. The station's televising of the Grand National didn't do much to boost the mark in my humble opinion but that proved of little consequence as racing was busy breathing a huge sigh of relief as all participants, both equine and human, came home safe and sound.

Ryan Mania's victory in the Aintree showpiece on the unconsidered Auroras Encore, a 66/1 chance, was manna from heaven for the media. On the very next day on his very next ride Mania was unfortunate to suffer neck and back injuries when falling from Stagecoach Jasper at Hexham; he was flown by air ambulance to hospital in Newcastle and the modest jockey's fame increased a further tenfold.

This year blog horse of the year goes to Countrywide Flame who took Newcastle's Fighting Fifth in a common canter and ran exceptionally well at odds of 16/1 to finish third in the Champion Hurdle.

I made it to the track just once this season - Warwick's Classic Chase day in mid January. The thing I remember most about the meeting was John Craven appearing particularly animated after Ely Brown's victory at odds of 12/1 in the three mile handicap hurdle. The inference in that last comment is that my own selections ran particularly poorly...

Finally, to conclude the review, a word for Lucy Alexander. Alexander rode 38 winners and in doing so became the first woman as well as the first Scot to win the Conditional Jockeys' Championship. Aged just 22 she is already the most successful female NH jockey of all time - well done Lucy!