Sunday, 16 June 2013

Royal Ascot already


I’ve been rubbish at any sort of punting for the last few weeks, successful or no. With Royal Ascot on the horizon, I intend to make concerted effort next week.

Sad to note that Sir Henry Cecil won’t be there. He lost his long fight with that vile disease cancer in the very season after the retirement of the best horse he ever trained. It's easy to over romanticize the relationship between Cecil and Frankel. But for all the world it looked like the wonder-horse’s perfect season gave HRAC something to live for last year. The racing public has no real access to the private world of the Cecils (nor should it) so who knows what combination of treatment, support and will power was keeping the master trainer going. But there is no cheap sentimentality in suggesting that Frankel was a big factor. Indeed Cecil admitted as much in a very brief interview after the horse’s final appearance at Ascot in October.

My own fondest memory of Cecil's valedictory season is inevitably tinged with healthy northern bias. The touching and heartfelt reception he received from the knowledgeable racing folk at York after the International in August was as deserved as it was generous. The master of Warren House had been away from the races since early Summer before arriving on the Knavesmire to witness (arguably) Frankel's most devastating performance. This frail, hoarse, wracked and riddled gentleman had become a national institution by then and was given a standing ovation by a crowd who appreciated the effort it had taken for him to get there.

Cecil had many the qualities that endear him to the British public: an aristocratic, charming, polite and slightly aloof character with a whiff of roguishness and a hint of controversy (witness the high profile fallouts with owners over the years). An immensely likeable man who, latterly, was filled with oodles of humility. More than anything, an instinctive horseman who tenderly nurtured the talents of a staggering number of classic and Group One performers. For an insight into the impact on genuine racing fans, have a read of this excellent blog by Horseracingchat

I did indulge in a small spot of punting a week or so ago when good friend Julie and her book club pals had a trip to Bath races. I like the ambition that this particular book club is showing. Julie asked if I had any hot tips for the meeting. Bath racecourse, the highest flat track in England, is more celebrated for its imperious aspect over the Mendips than its quality of racing. 

I had a look at the card all the same and texted Julie a couple of likely sorts from Richard Hannon in the 2 yo maidens and one or two outsiders who might like the drying ground. One of the Hannon runners won, admittedly at a skinny enough price and then in the very last of an eight race card, Powerful Wind screamed home by 3 lengths in a 5f sprint at 8-1. I was feeling very smug. My phone rattled and I clicked to read the surely congratulatory text. “Thanks for the Powerful Wind tip. Unfortunately we left before the last.”

This was not the first time I’d experienced such a thing at Bath. A good few years ago, I’d bunked off early from a conference in the area to catch the action at Bath. I’d asked sprint specialist Bacchy if he had any advice. He came up trumps in the last, some dodgy class 6 5f event. However, I had had a retched afternoon and, faced with a long journey back, cut my losses and headed home. Bacchy’s tip Hello Roberto scrambled home by three parts of a length at 6-1. I felt sick.

I’ll be looking for a bit more follow through at Royal Ascot next week. So much to look forward to, despite recent defections.

The Queen Anne is a strong event to kick off the week. I’m looking forward to seeing Animal Kingdom whose form is over the horizon from the rest of the field. I like Elusive Kate (8-1) who could go close if Animal Kingdom has a blip here. Aljamaaheer is progressive and I may attempt to extract some value at around 14-1.

The St James Palace is fascinating. Two of the principals are on a recovery mission. Dawn Approach after blowing out in the Derby and Toronado after the 2,000 Guineas. In the meantime, Magician looked all class in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the form was franked by Trading Leather at The Curragh last week. He’ll give Dawn Approach a race even back over that one’s optimum trip.

Wednesday’s Prince of Wales is equally fascinating where Camelot will try to overturn the recent Irish Tattersalls Gold Cup defeat by Al Kazeem. He may have his work cut out. I like Mukhadram who has the progressive and unexposed profile that suckers me in every time. 12-1 would be attractive. This is a high class field though. The Fugue and Maxios bring Group 1 credentials and Side Glance and Red Cadeaux bring successful globetrotting experience.  

When Times Up puts it all together under the right circumstances he can be a proper Group 1 performer. He had the winner of the Gold Cup behind him when winning the Doncaster Cup last season, but may have needed his run at Sandown in May when giving weight away all round. In an open looking renewal of Thursday’s Gold Cup, 10-1 about the Ed Dunlop charge will see me nibbling away.

Plenty of interest later in the week, of course. Others on my list, should they turn up in the right races are Battle of Marengo (not given the best ride in the Derby), Fiftyshadesofgrey (a rare 2 y-o to have caught my eye), Remote (franked by Baltic Knight on Saturday), Kitten On The Run (Luca Cumani plot horse, I swear) and Windhoek (Mark Johnson’s best horse at the moment).

Back in the ring to take another swing…


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