Friday, 27 January 2012

Dabbling

I’ve been dabbling again. But I’ve got my fingers mildly burnt this time. I was looking for a bit of value in the World Hurdle market. I don’t seriously think Big Buck’s will be beaten. Nevertheless, there are a number of interesting contenders in this year’s renewal and as a point of principal, a market leader as short as this must be taken on.

The vague smell of scorched digits permeates the airwaves because I backed Voler La Vedette on Thursday before the Galmoy Hurdle. SportingBet’s stand out 16-1 was too much to resist. I had visions of a cosy win for the much-improved mare forcing a sharp contraction of those flabby odds. As it is, her 1 length defeat to Zaidpour is not quite the disaster for this bet that I first thought. I can point (with slightly charred extremities) to the heavy ground that was massively to Zaidpour’s advantage as well as the slow pace and masterful tactics of Ruby Walsh.

I’m still hopeful that Voler will line up for the World Hurdle. Her other serious option is the Mares race that Quevega has made her own. This is a strong possibility, but I’m banking on the Murphy team leaning towards this more prestigious event. If she did, what of the opposition, aside from BB? Oscar Whisky is improving with every race, but 3m may not be his optimum trip. With Spirit Son out of the Champion Hurdle and a potentially revealing race for Hurricane Fly on Sunday, it’s easy to make a case for Oscar turning up in the hurdle Blue Ribband instead. Well, that’s the case I made in the white heat of a tempting ante-post market anyway. The main opposition is likely to be from her compatriots. Willie Mullins could have four in the line up. Mikael d’Haguenet is interesting now back to something close to his best. But his target is unknown and there will be absolutely no clues from Mullins anytime soon. 3 miles would be a new trip and he hasn’t always shaped like a stayer. Thousand Stars is more likely for this, alongside So Young and Mourad who has some questions to answer at HQ tomorrow. The race has a very open look about it beyond the great Big Buck’s. Or am I just clutching at straws with blackened pinkies?

I’ve also got behind Peddlers Cross for the Arkle. This was a much more predictable, perhaps inevitable, bet. Peddlers has long been a favourite of mine and arguably I should have got onside at the very start of the season when double figure prices were available. In fact I chose to wait, hoping that connections would choose the longer trip. Even more so after his drubbing by Sprinter Sacre. McCain, however, has stuck to his guns, and blamed his Kempton defeat on a small problem with the horse. That first fence blunder wouldn’t have helped him settle at any rate. Plenty of others have made the case that I’m now repeating about Peddlers being suited by a stiffer, galloping track and an uphill finish that seemed to stall Sprinter Sacre in the Supreme last year. I also thought that the time was right for the bet after Al Ferof’s run in the Victor Chandler. Some firms shortened him for the Arkle after his run in open company. Indeed Timeform have come out and given him a whopping old rating. But I wasn’t convinced about the way he travelled, needed niggling early enough and was beaten a decent margin by (admittedly vastly more experienced) average Grade 1 horses. So I’ve put my money where my mouth is, though it may be words I’m eating come March instead. Looking forward so much to this race and I hope Al Ferof runs here and not in the Champion Chase. Of the other live candidates, both Cue Card and Menorah will need to brush up their jumping. The latter positively scares me with his guessy tendencies, giving the impression that his honest trainer has mistakenly applied a blindfold instead of cheekpieces.

For once, I’ve not been sucked into the bigger prices. Though Blackstairmountain has some appeal at 14-1 (he runs on Sunday) and the flakey, raw-talented Kid Cassidy at 25-1 could be a real revelation if he ever decides to settle. He takes on Menorah’s blindfold at Doncaster on Saturday with earplugs and a nose net. I kid you not!

Indeed, the weekend will see a seismic shake up in the Festival targets and ante-post markets. Barely a race will be left unaffected after the completion of really good-looking trials at Cheltenham, Doncaster and Leopardstown. In advance of my RSA hope Hidden Cyclone’s run on Saturday, his trainer has already helpfully cleared up the subject of his Cheltenham bid. There won’t be one. Staggeringly, JJ Hanlon is not sending this stellar prospect to the greatest show on earth because he’s ‘a bit nervous about the ground’ and would prefer ‘another year on his back before we run him on it’. If he dances up on Saturday against Sir Des Champs I will be spitting hot bullets of poisonous vitriol. Prepare to stand back.

Safe to say that I’ll be plunging back into the RSA market once the weekend’s events have been settled. And I fully expect to be dipping crispy digits into a couple of the other markets too.

Enjoy the action. It should be excellent.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Each Way Theft

It’s Mug Punting Saturday! I feel the need for a shockingly conceived, poorly executed, cheaply staked each-way Lucky 15. A cheery, comforting bet on the Channel 4 races is very much needed on this wintry Saturday afternoon.

Working out a sloppy Lucky 15 is as much intellectual rigour as I can muster right now. The grey matter took a pounding last night. The Cunninghams were round. That's probably sufficient explanation. Mrs A's sweet-spiced kilo of fillet steak was an unconfined joy. The many fine bottles of accompanying Rioja and real ale were also very welcome. The company was exemplary. And as the last bottle was drained and the castle doors bolted at about 3am, I didn't need to ponder for too long where, exactly, the night had gone.

So I offer up my soothing combination more in hope than expectation.

2.20 Haydock - Mister Marker, 13-2
Much better over hurdles than recent disappointing fencing form. Acts on soft.

3.10 Ascot – Wishfull Thinking, 15-2
Needs to go close now that Pricewise has put him up to win the Champion Chase, and almost bound to now that I’ve kicked him out of my Ten To Follow. 

3.30 Haydock – Take The Breeze, 8-1
Winless for yonks, but signs of improvement over Christmas and will find his favoured heavy ground here. Jockey’s claim takes off a few pounds.

3.45 Ascot – Renard, 12-1
Close to the bottom of the handicap and still going right way though not nailed on at this trip.

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....What a shambles. 4th, 6th, 5th and 5th. That doesn't add up to much each-way thievery at all. But it was a pleasant Saturday afternoon's racing, all the same. So how did I end up outside in the biting wind, balancing dangerously on the sloping roof tiles and hanging on to the edge of the bathroom window frame? Because I was putting up a bird box. No ordinary bird box this one. It has fibre-optic cables and power wires linking up to a camera which will hopefully beam us lots of pictures of little Blue Tits raising their young come May. It's a bit Big-Brother isn't it? 

Even the simplest of jobs seem to become over complicated. I found myself amongst a tradesman's bazaar of power drills, screwdrivers, plugs, instructions, cables and tea cups. Ducking in and out of the window every 20 minutes to catch the races didn't help.

But anyway, job done. Bird box up and wired in. Punting wedge committed and lost. I did enjoy Somersby's well-deserved moment of Group 1 joy though. Henrietta Knight in good form and looking well; partner Terry Biddlecombe back on track after his stroke. It's taken them a while to find the key to this horse, but yesterday's win was compelling evidence of progress. 

Today I've got an interest in Blazing Tempo in the 2m chase in Ireland, a bigger interest in Red Rocco over a 3 mile trip novice hurdle trip for the first time at Towcester and a desperate stake in Granville Island finding any kind of form at Market Rasen in a novice hurdle. 

And to complete the multi-tasking theme of this weekend, we are off to Maldon for a windy game of crazy golf and a large bag of salty chips!

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Somewhere between the grinding road works near St Albans and junction 29 of the M25, Maldon became Southend-on-Sea. We convinced ourselves that this afternoon, we needed the brash, gaudy baubles of Essex's biggest resort more than the genteel charms of the River Blackwater's oldest town. 

Despite Blazing Tempo's profitable win at Fairyhouse, this destinational decision was still the best result of the day. A good, hearty tramp along the shingle beach, a refuel in the cafe overlooking the sea, a low-level gamble on the- two-penny falls and a train trip to the very end of the pier. All in gorgeous sunshine, filtered by a good honest north-westerly. 

End of the pier show

Kursaal Flyers, 'Little Does She Know' circa 1976 anyone?

Arty lamp-posts on the prom

Helter-Skelter





Monday, 16 January 2012

Outsiders 2: The Sequel

Well I was delighted to see that nice young Pricewise man from out of the Racing Post put up Oscars Well for his Champion Hurdle ante-post bet the other day. I assume he saw my post a couple of weeks ago, was seduced by the inescapable logic, and followed me in. Possibly.

January has been pretty quiet so far and I’ve been having a look at the Queen Mother Champion Chase market. Much as I love this race as a dramatic spectacle of white-knuckle, precision jumping, I rarely plunge into the ante-post markets with any vigour.

However, this year’s renewal is taking an interesting twist. Sizing Europe and Big Zeb are solid market leaders and I can’t really quibble with their credentials. But in looking for some value to take on these two, I’m persuaded that the opposition is a bit thin. Finian’s Rainbow didn’t impress that much at Kempton over Christmas and needs to improve to take this. He may well do so on Saturday in the Victor Chandler. But at a best-priced 6-1 I’m not interested. Leaving aside Nicholls’ team for a moment, many of the potential rivals look Ryanair-bound: Wishfull Thinking, Noble Prince, and at bigger prices Gauvain, Realt Dubh and Somersby.

So what of Team Ditcheat? This ante-post punt revolves around trying to second guess the plans of the champion trainer. Always a risky business. Here goes: I don’t believe Al Ferof will end up in the champion Chase. He could come out and smash the Victor Chandler field on Saturday. If he does, he’ll probably deserve his place in this line-up and I’ll eat my words. But it’s surely a risk pitching him into the big time and I can’t see that Nicholls has another live Arkle shout (possibly Poungach if he takes to fences, but he’s likely to need further). Kauto Stone would be interesting, but he’s surely another with Ryanair written all over him. He’s much shorter in that market than here. Ghizao is probably best at this trip, but not good enough. So my value punt is Hold Fast at 33-1 with Totesport. It is inconceivable that the champion trainer will not have a live chance in a race where he has such a wonderful track record. Hold Fast won a fair Sandown handicap well in early January with improved jumping. He’s not a fully-fledged Champion Chase contender yet, but if he shows the same rate of progress next time out (possibly another handicap at Donny on 28th) then he could be this team’s first choice. He won’t be 33s by then. Interestingly Ladbrokes who are NRNB on this market are offering Hold Fast at 14-1 and Kauto Stone ay 16-1. Tempting, but I’m here for the real value and am happy to expose myself on this half-baked theory.

Inexorable logic takes me next to the Ryanair Chase. This looks like a much more competitive affair. The sort of race in which I can see myself having any number of unwise dabbles with every twisting trial and trainer blarney. For now, I’ll settle for an each way shout on Realt Dubh. He’s been off the track since narrowly failing to beat Captain Chris at Punchestown last May and earlier in the Arkle at the festival. In between he landed a Grade 1 at 2 ½ miles beating Noble Prince who fell when looking well set. On a strict reading of form, you’d have to say those two still hold the edge. But with Realt Dubh trading at 20-1 and Noble Prince generally 4-1, the former is very much the forgotten horse. Noel Meade has had the Ryanair as his long term target after a setback in early season. He’ll have one outing in February before Cheltenham and on good ground he should easily outrun that 20-1 tag. He’ll need to impress first time out and has a bit of catching up to do. The slight concern is that the festival comes too soon. But you have to have an opinion and I’m looking at the value call here.

I think that lot might have shaken Pricewise off my tail....


Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Outsiders

It’s as if a switch has been flicked. Blinking into the howling gale of a New Year, with Christmas Tree shredded, cards recycled and industrial-size pork pies scoffed, my focus has changed. I’m compelled to peer into the future. The ending of one Festive season seems to clear out just enough mental clutter to make room for another. Driven by a body clock ticking to a seasonal tempo, I am helpless to resist. Involuntarily, my brain has become hard-wired into the Oddschecker Cheltenham Festival countdown clicker: 67 days, 23 hours, 24 minutes, 15 seconds as of this afternoon. My ante-posts bets are now being struck.

Every year I self-medicate caution and restraint. “Don’t go crazy on the ante-posts, Davoski. You know your stats show they don’t really pay”. But the drugs don’t work. I get sucked in, fuelled by eye-catching holiday winners, nagged by juicy but often fleeting prices and pressurised by the diminishing time to festival kick off. I need a suit of shiny ante-post armour to protect my fragile confidence as I gambol through the gates of Prestbury Park every March. 

And every year I claim to have a plan. A fig leave to delude myself that ante-post punting is not just reactive, scatter-gun mayhem. This year’s strategy, then, is all about big value. (Do I say this every year?) At least at this stage. Because I know full well that I will resort to the usual pebbledash favourite-backing panic by 13th March.

So here is my progress.

Novice hurdlers
The festival targets for many top novice prospects remain unclear at this relatively early stage. Nicky Henderson in particular is noted for staying his hand until close to race day. Bobs Worth last season was well-backed for the 2 ½ mile Neptune and yet turned up to win cosily in the 3m Albert Bartlett. Henderson once again has a very strong team. I’ve plumped for a couple of his that look to be shaping nicely. Tetlami has shown very good form in two wins this season after coming back from injury. Next stop should be the Tolworth later this month which will inform how far he has progressed. But in a very open looking Supreme market I’ve taken the 20-1 e-w currently on offer. Steps To Freedom and Prospect Wells are obvious dangers with the best form in the book so far. Simonsig could be Henderson’s other representative in this race and he looks very classy too. Plenty of others yet to show their hand – including Weld’s pair Waaheb and Galileo’s Choice, and O’Grady’s Cash And Go. So plenty of scope to go in again. Particularly if Tetlami shortens up.

My other Henderson punt is Broadbackbob. One of my 40 to follow picks for the season, he was subsequently bought out of Steven Crawford’s small but perfectly formed County Antrim yard where he had run well behind Steps To Freedom and Montbazon in the Aintree Champion Bumper. He has since won two pretty competitive novice events and I like him. All the usual qualifications about targets and unknowns apply to this market too – but that’s surely the fun/risk of ante-post punting. Market leader Fingal Bay is a possible for the three-miler, and in truth that market currently seems to have more shape about it with some really good looking horses from Ireland like Mount Benbulben and Boston Bob possibly heading that way too. So I’m happy to side with my fellah at 33 win/7 place on Betfair.  

Novice Chasers
What a bumper bunch this year. Sprinter Sacre, Al Ferof, Peddlers Cross, Cue Card, Grand Crus, Bobs Worth, Blackstairmountain, Last Instalment, Bog Warrior. The list goes on. Sprinter Sacre was breathtaking when beating Peddlers Cross at Kempton. Like others, I think Peddlers would be much nearer at Cheltenham which demands a different style of jumping and that hill. But McCain has already been talking about stepping up in trip. In time that’s likely to be his forte. For now he might turn up in the Jewson. Grand Crus might end up in the Gold Cup. That seems to be the way connections are leaning. He was deeply impressive in the Feltham. I had a few small doubts before hand, but none afterwards.

I’m leaving the Arkle alone for the moment. No real value shout leaps out at me yet. But in the RSA, I’ve had a dip with Hidden Cyclone who was an impressive winner on his chasing debut and has the required bags of scope to improve. At 25-1 each-way, he’s a speculative bet as he’s not beaten much yet. I see him as a staying chaser in the making, and an ideal type for the RSA. Though I notice he’s a shorter price in the shorter distance Jewson, so connections may have other ideas.

Champion hurdlers
I’ve been saying all season that Oscars Well needs further than 2 miles to be seen at his best.  But Jessie Harrington has nailed her colours to the champion hurdle mast. And I’ve started to come round a bit. Of course, the hill will play to his strengths, as will goodish ground and a strongly run race. I was mildly encouraged with his run behind Unaccompanied and Thousand Stars in the Festival Hurdle over Christmas where he looked to have them on the stretch two out. I’m also persuaded that Jessie will have him right on the boil come March. Further encouragement came when I spotted Ladbrokes had a non-runner-no-bet market on the Champion Hurdle and at 25-1 I felt I had nothing to lose. With question marks over the fragile Hurricane Fly, Oscars Well is a reasonable each way shout at worst. But we still want to see him over further…. Outside Ireland, it’s that man Henderson again. I’m looking forward to seeing Spirit Son come out - he’s my idea of a Champion Hurdle type, Grandouet has already slammed down his challenge and Binocular is back in the frame after a terrifying McCoy Christmas Hurdle drive. I’ve got a sneaky for Rock On Ruby too, but 2 ½m might be his optimum and Nicholls also has Zarkander. Intriguing renewal this year.

Gold Cupsters
Have pretty much failed to find the big value so far. I keep looking at Captain Chris, but worry that he didn’t convince over the trip in the King George. The Jewson may be the more obvious target. Pricewise disagrees and has put him up for the Gold Cup, so the best value has already gone anyway. And I also keep looking at Weird Al at 25-1. The Charlie Hall was good form and his 10 lengths 3rd to Kauto in the Betfair Chase was better. But he may be more of an Aintree horse and he’s unlikely to visit both. The Irish picture has been muddied by Synchronised – previously thought a national type – in the Lexus Chase by crushing two or three of the home team’s more realistic Gold Cup fancies. He has to rate a contender now. Take out Long Run and Kauto and the field looks a bit thin. The more I write about it, the more I’m convinced Weird Al has credible place prospects. Even if he doesn’t show up, that NRNB at Ladbrokes is hooking me in again. OK, I’m on!

More soon. Inevitably.