Saturday, 18 October 2014

A right good go

I was ready to bemoan the quality of Champions Day and hark back, again, to the balance of the pre-2011 Champions Stakes fixture that also boasted the Cesarewitch and the Dewhurst. Not least since the defections of Australia, Kingman and The Grey Gatsby had taken some gloss off the day.

But I’ve been around that particular nostalgic hamster wheel before. We are where we are. I have warmed to the Qipco series, even though some of the divisions are a little thin. Overall, the programme deserves this end-of-season climax. If only the weather would oblige a little more often.

So what of the quality of the racing? In this well thought out piece, Jamie Lynch of Timeform poses the question “is British Champions Day the best laid plan?” and answers with, “under the circumstances, yes. It might not do what it says on the tin and, related, it probably doesn't have the right name, but as a day, a draw and a definition for British racing it's a work-in-progress that's both working and in progress.”

This will be the richest day’s racing ever hosted in Britain. Churlish then to sit on my hands. Particularly as I appear to be plunging down the vertiginous slopes of a punting trench the depth of the Marianas trench. I’ve forgotten what a winner feels like.

Yesterday, the latest episode in a pattern of choking muggings unfolded when Present View chucked away a winning position by slamming into the last hurdle at Cheltenham. The vital momentum he sacrificed gave Sam Twiston-Davies aboard Vicente all the encouragement he needed. Not for the first time in this fledgling season that Twiston-Davies has impressed from an apparently forlorn position. It could be a big year for the carrot-topped stable jockey to the champion trainer.

Back to the flat then, for the season showstopper. Only one way to combat a losing streak. Stand square-jawed and resilient in the face of adversity and get stuck in. I’m going to give the card a right good go.

1.45 – Long Distance Cup
At 5-2, I’m happy with Leading Light. He’s by far the best horse in the field and should go as well as anything on the ground. It’s unlikely that Joseph O’Brien will ride as bad a race again as he did in the Irish St Leger (although he also rode a shocker the day before aboard Australia when he was comprehensively out-ridden by Ryan Moore piloting The Grey Gatsby). Forgotten Rules seems short on the basis of what he’s achieved, but will like the ground. I like Pallasator on this ground too.

2.20 – Sprint Stakes
I’m a big fan of G Force. He had been unlucky in running over a couple of good 5f races before the step up to 6f made all the difference in the Haydock Sprint Cup. There is reason to believe he won’t be massively inconvenienced by the ground. I can’t abandon him now (even if 7-2 is tight enough) although others may go better through the slop: Gordon Lord Byron, for instance, whilst some of the other mudlarks look too far out of form: Maarek and Jack Dexter. Viztoria looks more of a threat, as does Eton Forever. I’m relying on the class of O’Meara’s charge to get him home.

2.55 – Fillies & Mares
This has a wide open feel about it. At the prices, I like Cubanita, who seemed to run well at Newbury last time after a break and has Group winning form on heavy. That could be key, with question marks about the others, though it will need a career best from the Ralph Beckett inmate to take it.

3.30 – Queen Elizabeth II Stake
The first of the day’s two super-big races and it is a really good one. 2000 Guineas winner Night of Thunder should be popular with ground conditions likely to suit and a good run last time out in France. There are others I want to back though and I’m struggling to pin it down. Custom Cut still looks massively progressive and has a great attitude, serving up the big questions from the front. Integral won her last race that way too. Take out her poor performance in Deauville when in-season and she too looks a serious improver. A doubt might be around her ability to dominate against the chaps and with others who like to cut out the pace.  I really like Tullius on this ground as well, but this is tough and may be beyond him. Graphic is almost certainly out of his depth, but this is so, so his ground and at silly prices I’ll take a place only bet. Tough call, but the win wedge piles on Custom Cut on the basis of his visually impressive win at Newmarket.

4.05 – Champion Stakes
And so to the day’s biggest race, a mere £¾m to the winner. Almost a no bet race, though. Everything seems to be in place for the wonderful Cirrus Des Aigles who comes here in imperious form and on a surface that will suit. I don’t like the price, of course, and I may just have a small interest in Ruler Of The World instead. He ran well in this last year and is arguably better over 10f than 12f. Not convinced about the ground, but at a best-priced 8-1 I’ll have a nibble.

I haven’t even mentioned the decent card at Cheltenham. Changing of the seasons. I’ll probably have a right good go over there too.

Sunday, 12 October 2014


All that late Summer flat smash-and grab-seems like a long time ago. Tiggy Wiggy, G Force, Nafaqa. Ah, splendid stuff. Now in the fag end of the season, confidence has leached away like a Tory safe-seat majority. The list horses are dispiritingly uncompetitive and I’ve inevitably hung on to some for too long. Over-a-cliff-itis. My Achilles heel. A twitter compatriot made me laugh the other day when he said his "nag-me’s" were coming through and now all he needed to do was work out why he had put them in there in the first place. I know the feeling.

Outside the mini-projects that keep me interested throughout the flat, I’m finding that I’m off the pace in the big handicaps too; and properly struggling in the graded pool. Arc weekend was a washout in punting terms.

Though it’s hard to feel anything other than warm, moist-eyed, tingly emotions at the performance of Treve in the big one. The style of her swooping victory was sensation enough, without the stellar training achievement provided by the resilient, faithful Criquette Head-Maarek. Treve’s fragile season has been well documented and to peak a horse in this manner is special. You want icing on the cake? Well, in a positively received u-turn for which Mssrs Miliband, Cameron or Clegg would willingly have pawned their black hearts, the Treve team decided to keep the wonder mare in training next season.

So any doubts about the horse’s constitution or concerns around the reported ‘kissing spine’ can, we assume, be managed through a careful training programme. The prospect of Treve returning to Longchamp in October 2015 at five is proper dreamweaver territory. A prospect to entice, though to treat with the requisite caution, of course. Lots of water to pass under the bridge, etc., etc

The only possible loser is stud-stallion Dubawi who will have to wait another year before he girds his loins before Al Shaqab’s pride and joy. I imagine he will have other business to keep him out of mischief in the meantime.

That this decision is the exception rather than the rule for the finest flat performers is a source of constant angst amongst racing fans. It is precisely the stud fees commanded by the likes of Dubawi, as well as the prospect of lucrative broodmare offspring, that curtails many a glittering career. Coolmore fees for their top-rated stallions have barely dropped from pre-recession levels; and the investment required for a pop of Galileo is not even publicly declared.

I suspect this is an overly simplistic, reactionary view. I’m intrigued by the economics and statistics around this and plan to explore a bit further. At least that way I’ll have less time for daft bets. Because I’m making a ham-fisted start to the jumps campaign too.

I’ve dabbled ineffectively in a couple of half-decent races at Chepstow, Newton Abbot and Market Rasen to little effect. Maybe I should take comfort from the fact that Taquin Du Seuil looked as far off the pace as me on Friday in Devon. He’ll be back once he loses some condition. Let’s hope the same can be said for me.

The early days of the jumps season are increasingly phoney war territory. Years ago, I had a very fixed view that Tipperary’s decent card in early October marked the launch point. The Tipperary Hurdle – now the Istabraq Hurdle – was the first meaningful Grade 1 of the Autumn and it traditionally threw up Champion Hurdle contenders. Istabraq, of course, farmed it, and others to go on and figure prominently at Cheltenham were Back In Front, Harchibald and Intersky Falcon.

The race was down-classed to a Grade 2 in 2006, Since then, Go Native has been the only winner to emerge as a genuine Champion Hurdle candidate. That was in 2009. This year’s renewal lacked any strength in depth. Rebel Fitz is a useful horse, but he’s unlikely to be in the Champion Hurdle mix next March. A sign of the changing times, though Ireland still presents the best racing over the obstacles this time of year. There is the odd decent race over this side of the Irish Sea but the quality doesn’t really ramp up until the last couple of weeks in October.

Nevertheless, a couple of my 40 follow chaps and chapesses are out today at Ffos Las. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Fergal O’Brien’s The Govaness in the maiden hurdle. Plenty of interest to be gleaned from low profile Autumn cards, despite the paucity of top class action.

Oh, and a quick explanatory PS. Anyone who read my post about the Champion Hurdle earlier this week might have detected an slight variation from the usual Mug Punting style. Truth is I took the King’s Shilling and succumbed to the offer of an advertising fee in return for an article with links to a well-known bookmaker. (Other bookmakers are available…) Well, one has to earn a crust somewhere along the line. Not sure I’ll be repeating the experiment though. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

2015 Champion Hurdle

The 2015 Cheltenham Festival is now just five months away and the excitement for this showpiece of the national hunt season is already starting to build. It will all begin on March 10th and the highlight of day one is undoubtedly the Champion Hurdle. Run at a ferocious clip over a trip of two miles, this grade 1 race is open to horses aged four years and upwards, and is run on Cheltenham’s Old Course.

Being the premier hurdle race of the season, this event attracts the very best hurdlers from the UK and Ireland, and has been won by some real legends of the sport down the years. Notable Champion Hurdle winners include Istabraq, See You Then, Persian War and Sea Pigeon to name but a few. The Jessica Harrington trained Jezki will arrive in Prestbury Park as the defending champion following his impressive victory in the 2014 renewal, when seeing off both My Tent Or Yours and The New One.

The layers at Betfair have put the Irish raider in as their 6/1third favourite behind the unlucky in running The New One, and exciting youngster Faugheen. Jezki confirmed his improvement by beating Hurricane Fly comfortably two months after the Festival and looks set to make a bold attempt at successfully retaining his crown.

The NigelTwiston-Davies trained The New One is the current favourite for next year’s Champion Hurdle, with odds of 9/2 currently available on the exchange at The six year old son of King’s Theatre was particularly unlucky when being badly hampered during the early part of the 2014 Champion Hurdle and following that interference, his chance looked to have gone completely. However, The New One showed just what a tough and talented horse he is by battling his way back through the field and using his powerful turn of foot to take third spot in the race. A previous Festival winner in 2013, The New One gained compensation for his defeat at Aintree in the Doom Bar Hurdle where he coped with the step up to two mile four furlongs, but was made to fight all the way to the line by 2012 Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby. Harry Fry’s horse looks very unlikely to try and recapture his Champion Hurdle crown next year and is available at odds of over 100/1 for small money at Betfair.

Arguably the biggest danger to The New One’s bid to win the Champion Hurdle will come from the Willie Mullins trained Faugheen. Unbeaten in his six career starts to date, Faugheen is one of the most exciting hurdlers to be seen for many years and this horse has the potential to dominate the Champion Hurdle for many years to come. The manner of this horse’s victories in both the Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham as well as the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown suggest that Faugheen is a very special thoroughbred indeed. At last year’s Cheltenham Festival, Faugheen had any amount in hand when accounting for a field of top class novices and he was even more impressive at Punchestown, with his nearest rival a full twelve lengths away.

The layers on the Betfair betting exchange are not prepared to go any bigger than 5/1 about this horse and I can completely understand why that is the case. It will be interesting to see where Willie Mullins chooses to send Faugheen for his seasonal debut, but another top class display could well see the horse’s Champion Hurdle price shrink further. Punters may do well to take the 5/1 available at Betfair now.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

40 jumpers to follow 2014-15

This season's picks for the 40 to follow project:

1. AS I AM – Don Cantillon
Bred and owned by the trainer, showed great attitude to win a decent Cheltenham mares hurdle in the Spring and now goes chasing. Good ground is important.

2. BLUE HERON – Dan Skelton
Maiden win over hurdles was stylish and is still learning  - only 5 runs – so more to come from a horse at an up and coming yard.

3. CAPOTE – Jonjo O’Neill
Point winner and picked up two good novice hurdles en-route to a 4th at Aintree behind the very good Beat That. Staying novice chases likely to be the aim.

4. CAROLE’S DESTRIER – Neil Mulholland
Overall form is a little patchy but the best is good and under right conditions (needs give, and about 2½  miles) should be an interesting novice over fences.

5. CHAMPAGNE WEST – Philip Hobbs
Upwardly progressive profile last year culminating with a good 4th to Very Wood in the Albert Bartlett. Graduate from the 13-14 list and good things expected.

6. CHEZZY – Fergal O’Brien
Taking a flyer on a bumper winner from a yard I like. She did the job very well at Carlisle, but little strength in depth, so this is all about perceived potential.

7. DEEP TROUBLE – Ben Case
Tricky customer, but good 7th in County Hurdle and left that behind with a win in a valuable Punchestown handicap. Chasing (and tail flashing) on the agenda.

8. DIAMOND KING – Donald McCain
Blundered away an otherwise perfect record at Bangor in Dec. Not yet been set any challenging targets and hopefully he’s matured for a stronger campaign.

9. DEPUTY DAN – Oliver Sherwood
Perhaps an obvious pick. Lovely, easy travelling sort with a touch of class. Idled away his chance in the Albert Bartlett, but big targets should be within scope.

10. EDUARD – Nicky Richards
Tenderly handled novice chaser confined to small fields, but began to deliver the promise at Ayr in April. Should kick on this term. May start in the Old Roan Chase.

11. FLETCHER’S FLYER – Harry Fry
Tough, game sort of the type that perennially appear on this list. Willing effort to land decent bumper at Punchestown in April and rates a decent prospect.

12. GAELIC MYTH – Kim Bailey
Ludlow bumper winner in the Spring. Responded well when asked for an effort and likely to make a mark novice hurdling.

13. GARDE LA VICTOIRE – Philip Hobbs
Left for dead by Vautour et al in the Supreme, but found a better level of form for a step up in trip and decent novice chases should prove within scope this term.

Bit of a talking horse last season and didn’t entirely deliver. Arguably now represents decent handicap value to go with his touch of class.

15. GREAT TRY – Paul Nicholls
Not easy finding anything from the Nicholls’ yard that is below the radar, but this easy bumper winner is the best shot I’ve come up with.

16. GREEN FLAG - Lucinda Russell
Committed staying handicap sort who didn’t quite capitalise on his potential last term. On the list here in the hope there is more value to be squeezed out.

17. HIDDEN CYCLONE – Shark Hanlon
Had a much better season in 13-14, making up for a poor one before it. Can land a couple of decent graded events at up to 2½m. Relatively low mileage.

18. HUFF AND PUFF – Venetia Williams
Tough sort out of multiple Grade 1 flat winner Azamour, but may make his mark over fences this season at 2 to 2½ miles. Decent ground looks important.

19. LADY BUTTONS – Philip Kirby
Big prospect from Kirby’s low key yard. This one was 2nd in the listed mares’ bumper at Aintree and should do well up in trip over hurdles.

20. LEGACY GOLD – David Pipe
3 from 4 in novice hurdles last season before underperforming in the Silver Plate at Kempton when fav. Assuming he learns to settle, remains a good prospect.

21. LIVELY BARON – Donald McCain
Slow burn handicap chaser, best with a test of stamina, likely to be placed by his trainer to profitable effect.

22. MARCILHAC – Venetia Williams 
A Venetia mudlark who ran well in handicap hurdles last season, but, with a French chase victory under his belt, likely to take on fences this season.

23. MEADOWCROFT BOY – Alistair Whillans
Though well beaten by Zamdy Man and Un Temps Pour Tout in Haydock’s Supreme trial, his previous 3 wins indicate this is one still worth following.

Not far off top class under his ideal conditions, which is over 3 miles with plenty of give in the ground and probably at Punchestown.  Will be seen in decent chases.

25. MOSSPARK – Emma Lavelle 
Found out on good ground at HQ, but had shown plenty of promise beforehand on softer. Has a point win and likely to be seen novice chasing to good effect.

26. NED STARK – Alan King
Only seen twice last season, but encouraging progress. May tackle fences over extended trips this term.

27. O’FAOLAINS BOY – Rebecca Curtis
Owes this list nowt. Two money spinning wins last season, including the RSA Chase. Over the top at Aintree. Should compete in all the top staying chases.

28. PRESENT VIEW – Jamie Snowdon
Massive strides last season, culminating with the novice handicap chase win at the Festival. Makes the list on the basis that the progress has not yet halted.

29. RHYTHM STAR – Jamie Snowden
A couple of low key bumper wins to his name and his shrewd trainer will find him some handy novice hurdle openings.

30. ROYAL BOY – Nicky Henderson
Stuttering career, having run in the Tolworth twice and in a novice chase in between, this horse obviously has class and, if injury free, should make his mark.

31. SAUSALITO SUNRISE – Philip Hobbs
Graduate from last season’s list. Did very well over hurdles and set to be better over fences. Best when some cut in the ground at around 3 miles.

32. SILVER GENT – Donald McCain
No world beater, but a dour, battling handicap hurdler who has found is mojo grinding out races at the sharp end. Likely to pick up a couple more.

33. SIR VINSKI – Nicky Richards
Stylish bumper winner by 4-time Irish St Leger winner Vinnie Roe, likely to pick up a few nice races on the northern circuit.

34. THE SKYFARMER – Philip Hobbs
Eyecatching progress in first ½ of last term, but struggled in deep ground and then the wheels fell off at the Festival. Retained here on basis of that earlier form.

35. THE GOVANESS – Fergal O’Brien
Decent effort in the Aintree mares’ bumper, giving weight on the basis of an earlier win at HQ. Stamina in the pedigree and should hold her own.

36. UPSWING – Jonjo O’Neill 
Marginal decision to retain on the list from last year. Dodgy jumper, but seems to like deep ground and the step up to 3 miles worked well. Bit more to come.

37. UXIZANDRE – Alan King
Likeable attitude and touch of class. Responded well to front-running tactics at Cheltenham and Aintree. Needs to go left handed.

38. VOLCANIC – Donald McCain
Joined McCain’s stable in March and quickly racked up 3 novice hurdle wins from 4 outings. Scope to build on that this season.

39. WADSWICK COURT – Charlie Longsdon
Idled badly to throw away a Class 2 novice hurdle at Ascot following two decent efforts. With the right trainer to find the key to him and surely more to come.

Great engine and generally progressive, but slack jumping cost him two wins and a frame finish in a G1 novice hurdle. Risky proposition, but potentially exciting.

Friday, 12 September 2014

September roster

Quick update, mainly because the last few weeks have been reasonably profitable. August update here for reference. G Force was mightily impressive in the Sprint Cup, the extra furlong was the making of him. A big run was on the cards after his hampered effort trying to follow Soul Power’s weave through in the Nunthorpe made his apparently poor finishing position look deceptive. Euro Charline also did the business in France, though I was far too spawny with my staking. And Nafaqa won well today in a curious betting heat that saw my fiver at 4-1 this morning turn into 8-1 this afternoon. The money came in shovel loads for White Lake. This was the first bet on Nafaqa, who has been on the list since Royal Ascot, but only ran once since at an unbackable price in July. Tiggy Wiggy also continued his wonderful Summer.

At the other end of the success continuum, Madeed has been dumped after a couple lacklustre runs. Telescope was outclassed in the International, but is retained here for a tilt at some Stateside targets; and American Hope put in a lacklustre effort last time, but stays on the list for now. Cock Of The North and Graphic also lost. Mind of Madness, scratched last time, has been out and won at 4-1 after having his sights lowered. Swings and roundabouts.

A few of these are out tomorrow: Room Key is an outsider in the Champagne Stakes; Aljamaaheer (back up to 7f and on ground he should love) and Es Que Love (chances) both go in the Park Stakes in what could be an exacta race; and Windshear puts his stamina credentials to the test in the St Leger. I like his chances based mostly on his Gordon Stakes performance behind Snow Sky.

Here are the results since the last update:

Balance b/f
16th Aug
Euro Charline
2 win @ 10-1
20th Aug
5 win @ 5-1
21st Aug
Tiggy Wiggy
10 win @ 15-8
22nd Aug
G Force
2.5 e-w @ 25-1
23rd Aug
5 win @ 7-2
23rd Aug
American Hope
3 win @ 13-2
24th Aug
5 win @ 5-2
30th Aug
Cock Of The North
3 win @ 6-1
5th Sept
10 win @ 5-4
6th Sept
G Force
4 win @ 11-1
6th Sept
Es Que Love
2.5 e-w @ 20-1
12th Sept
5 win @ 8-1
Balance at 12th Sept

This is all good fun, of course, and clearly the flat game is easy. Ahem. The serious business of the jumps game is just around the corner. Time for me to get cramming on the forthcoming season’s 40 to follow stable.