Friday, June 28, 2013

Northumberland Plate 2013

Some old favourites line up for this year's renewal of the John Smith's Northumberland Plate including Tominator, successful in 2011, Blue Bajan and Ile De Re who carried 9-03 to victory last year, holding Crackentorp half a length.

That was a notable performance, particularly on heavy ground; Ile De Re became only the fourth horse in the past 20 years to carry more than 9-0 to victory (the others being Bold Gait 9-10 1995, Celeric 9-04 1996, Bangalore 9-05 2002) and just the second favourite to oblige in the past decade.

The draw is key - it's important to secure a decent pitch early on; lower numbered stalls are more highly prized although Overturn won from berth 21 in 2010 and Tominator from stall 14 the following year.

Richard Fahey's pair Address Unknown and Ingleby Spirit finished first and second from good draws in the Chester Cup last month but are drawn 15 and 18 respectively for tomorrow's event.

I usually select an animal with jumps form for this marathon.

Alan King's Ardlui catches the eye and has been well-touted. The gelding missed a Royal Ascot engagement for this (a bonus) while The Betchworth Kid ran seventh for the stable last year; having said that, he has his share of weight to carry.

John Quinn's yard is in reasonable form at the moment. Moidore was well beaten behind Ardlui on his penultimate start at Ripon but next time ran six lengths second to Well Sharp at York conceding two pounds; that one franked the form in no uncertain terms by going on to win the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Moidore looks likely to appreciate any rain that might arrive and is the each-way suggestion at around the 12/1 mark.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Royal Ascot 2013 - Saturday

Two selections for the final day of  Royal Ascot...

In the Hardwicke Stakes (3.05) Mount Athos could well be sent off favourite but there's a question as to whether this is his optimum trip these days. A four-year-old has won the last five renewals while a six-year-old has won twice in the past decade; course and distance winner Ektihaam gets the vote. The favourite has obliged on five occasions in the last ten years.

The concluding Queen Alexandra Stakes is the longest race in the Flat calendar.

Last year Shahwardi finished seven lengths adrift of Simenon, a gallant second in this year's Gold Cup. On that form Shahwardi has an obvious chance but I like to pick one with NH form. Nicky Henderson won this in 2009 with Caracciola (as well as the Ascot Stakes with Veiled in 2011) and saddles Courtesy Call here. This one was second in a Newmarket Cesarewitch trial last September when trained by Mark Johnson and finished fourth behind Irish Saint in the Adonis at Kempton on his first run for the yard. He took an ordinary novices' hurdle at Taunton last month off a mark of 123 and has the look of one prepared for this race.

Mad Moose is appropriately named and not certain to consent to face the starter while at the age of ten Junior's best days are probably behind him.

First Avenue won the Imperial Cup at Sandown in March but wouldn't be certain to appreciate the additional six furlongs here. That comment also applies to Rebecca Curtis' Meganisi - booked jockey Brendan Powell booted home Glen Countess to win the Grimsby and Immingham Stevedores Novices' Handicap Chase at Market Rasen for his father earlier today.

Cloudy Spirit is a grey mare who will stay the trip but she's unlikely to be quick enough.

I'm tempted by Meganisi but in a Weekender Stable Tour last October the handler described a trip of two and a half miles as 'possibly a little too far for him as he has bags of speed'. The fitting of a first time tongue-tie could help the cause but I'm going to take an each-way interest in Courtesy Call (9/1 with several layers this evening). For the brave, double those odds are available about Meganisi with Coral.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Royal Ascot 2013 - Friday

Victory for The Queen's filly Estimate (7/2f) in the Gold Cup earlier today went down well with plenty of punters; it was only slightly less well-received chez moi as the favourite battled on dourly to hold blog selection Simenon a neck on the line...

I'm still looking for a first winner at this year's meet and tomorrow's card looks decidedly difficult.

Battle Of Marengo, beaten two lengths into fourth in the Epsom Derby 20 days ago, is the clear form choice in the King Edward VII Stakes but the colt offers no value and there is a danger he may not have fully recovered from those exertions.

Lady Cecil recorded a poignant victory with Riposte in the Ribblesdale earlier today and saddles Disclaimer in the Queen's Vase In Memory Of Sir Henry Cecil. Coolmore's Leading Light, sired by Montjeu, has to give weight to all his rivals but has the more favourable draw and is well clear on ratings. This is a tough race over two miles for these three-year-olds and will prove even more so if the forecast rain gets into the ground. Disclaimer (9/2) offers some value against favourite Leading Light and is the suggestion in a difficult-looking contest.

Those considering a wager on either of the top two in the feature Coronation Stakes, Just The Judge and Sky Lantern, should note that they have both been drawn wide, in stalls 17 and 16 respectively.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Royal Ascot 2013 - Thursday: jumpers for Ladies' Day?

The Ascot Gold Cup is one of my favourite races on the Flat - this year's renewal looks very open with 18 set to face the starter. The Queen's filly Estimate gets her allowance and is bound to be popular but this looks a tough ask. Colour Vision had Saddler's Rock half a length and a neck behind in third when winning last year's renewal but the latter-named appeared unfortunate that day while Dermot Weld's 2010 winner Rite Of Passage is talented but fragile. Earlier in the week I fancied Simenon for this but the threat of rain is a worry; nonetheless Willie Mullins' charge won the Ascot Stakes and the Queen Alexandra Stakes four days later at last year's meeting so it's no surprise to see connections going for gold. Much of the value has disappeared from Simenon's price (7/1) and on official ratings he has enough to find with a few in the field. I'll stay loyal to Simenon but Saddler's Rock had both Colour Vision and the selection behind in last year's Goodwood Cup (run over two miles) so I'm considering a saver on Saddler's Rock...

Away from the posh coats and fancy frocks of Royal Ascot, I intend to chance Awaywiththegreys on his first try over fences at Ffos Las (7.05). Propsect Wells will make the market but in a Weekender Stable Tour (published 03.04.13-07.04.13) handler Peter Bowen said:

'He won a couple of novice hurdles in June and October last year, ending up with a rating of 133, but he will be much better over fences and has schooled brilliantly. He has had a break for the past few months but will be back for the summer and is definitely one to follow first time out which will be in early May.'

Propsect Wells was rated 149 when winning the Game Spirit at Fontwell in February but was turned over at odds of 1/4 on his chasing debut at that track and may not be the most natural chaser in the making.   

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Royal Ascot 2013 - Wednesday

The highlight is the Prince of Wales's Stakes at 3.45. Al Kazeem appeared to beat Camelot fair and square in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh. The Fugue has the fillies' allowance, conditions to suit and would appeal as an each-way wager at a slightly bigger price. Maxios looks a value play (11/2 or bigger) in a race French-trained runners have won three times in the past six years - the favourite has obliged on five occasions in the past decade.

The Duke of Cambridge Stakes is usually run as the Windsor Forest Stakes. There have been some big priced winners in the past ten years including Peeress (14/1 in 2005), Spacious (10/1 in 2009), Lolly For Dolly (11/1 in 2011) and Joviality (11/1 last year); the favourite has won on just two occasions. On official ratings Lady Cecil's Chigun has one pound in hand over Duntle while both fillies have won over the course and distance; Chigun gets the vote. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Royal Ascot 2013 - Tuesday

Things will be different at Royal Ascot this year...

Firstly, Sir Henry Cecil, with 75 winners the most successful trainer of all time at this meeting, will not be present. His passing has been mourned by racing people around the world.

Above all else I will always associate the trainer with the Ascot Gold Cup at a time when the race and the great stayers were adored by the public. Le Moss beat stablemate Buckskin in 1979 and repeated the trick the following year beating Ardross three quarters of a length in a thrilling duel inside the final two furlongs.

Ardross was subsequently sold out of Kevin Prendergast's yard in Ireland and in 1981 turned up to collect the spoils, this time trained by H.R.A. Cecil. The following year the horse came back to win the same race on his fourth run of the season, breaking the track record in the process. Marvellous memories indeed...

This year sees Channel 4 cover the meeting for the first time, with every race scheduled to be shown live; presenter Clare Balding received an OBE for services to Broadcasting and Journalism in the Queen's Birthday Honours on Saturday.

Traditionalists have bemoaned the arrival of Royal Ascot coverage interrupted by advertisements but times have changed... The racecourse has struck its first sponsorship deal for this meeting in 302 years - Swiss watchmaker Longines is Royal Ascot's 'official partner' in a five year deal worth £7 million.

Reassuringly, other things are likely to remain much the same as ever, such as the below-par performance of the blog's tips. Here are brief comments for Tuesday's card...

In the opening Queen Anne Stakes 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom looks the one to beat but he'll be no price. Those looking to oppose will point out the trip is shorter than ideal and connections wouldn't relish soft ground if rain came. The each-way value about Elusive Kate disappeared in the week.

Shea Shea will be a warm order for the King's Stand but only two favourites have obliged in the past decade (Miss Andretti 3/1 2007 and Scenic Blast 11/4 2009). Currently priced at around the 2/1 mark, I'm not tempted.

It was a surprise to many to see Dawn Approach declared for the St James's Place Stakes after his performance in the Epsom  Derby two and a half weeks ago. Aidan O'Brien's Irish 2000 Guineas winner Magician looks a threat but a minor setback in the past few days is a concern - Coolmore has also declared Mars, sixth in the Derby, as insurance. Connections have long been sweet on Toronado but he has enough to find on the book. Dawn Approach, racing back over a mile, is the percentage call but you couldn't have foreseen that performance at Epsom on Derby day - I'll watch from the sidelines. The favourite has obliged on six occasions in the past ten years.

My each-way chance in the Coventry is Wahaab at around 12/1.

I always like one with NH form in the Ascot Stakes (5.00). Last year Simenon took the spoils for Willie Mullins and then four days later added the Queen Alexandra Stakes for good measure; I'll look closely at Simenon if he goes in Thursday's Gold Cup - he met trouble in running last time in the Chester Cup. This year Mullins saddles Midnight Oil, rated 135 over hurdles in Ireland, and the Motivator gelding is the each-way suggestion at 10/1. On a line through Bondage this one wouldn't have much in hand over Philip Hobbs' Big Easy (fifth in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham off a mark of 136) but Hobbs' charge was slightly outpaced that day and that is a concern here.

Friday, June 07, 2013

An evening session

In the Racing Post this week Steve Dennis has written a series of articles ('Evening Sessions') looking at selected evening meetings from around the country; today's piece about Kempton bemoans the lack of atmosphere at the Surrey track.

Yesterday evening, for the first time in quite a while, I watched a race in a bookmaker's shop. If Steve thinks there's no atmosphere at Kempton, he should have been in the Coral shop where I managed to catch the second half of the 6.25 from Worcester.

As I departed the deserted premises, a voice from somewhere beyond the counter pointedly exclaimed, 'That'll be one pound please!'

The comment must have been aimed at me - there was no else in the shop.

Have to smile, don't you?

There will be no lack of atmosphere at tomorrow's evening meeting at Stratford.

In the opening novices' handicap hurdle I'll back Peter Bowen's Vinnie My Boy. In the Weekender Stable Tour (3-7 April 2013) the handler said of his charge, 'He is a very smart horse...[who] has been handicapped on his soft-ground form but is better on faster.' Since that comment the horse has run twice, finishing third on both occasions on good to soft and soft ground. He should get quicker ground here and the application of first-time cheekpieces should help the concentration. The tissue shows 8/1 about Vinnie My Boy so I'll take an each-way interest at that price, though probably not at the Coral outlet mentioned above...

Well Mett ran well on his first try over the the larger obstacles in a beginners' chase at Wetherby 11 days ago; he'll stay the trip but faces a jolly stiff task giving weight to more experienced rivals in the 6.45.

The Class 2 chase and hurdle (at 7.45 and 8.15) look pretty competitive but course and distance winner Up To The Mark would be of interest in the 8.45 provided first-time blinkers can work their magic.

Clondaw Draft looks the one to beat in the bumper.