Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Chasing losers

In an avalanche of follow-them-over-a-cliff misguided loyalty, my early season flat profits have been largely eroded.

Royal Ascot was a shocker. The one bright spot was Profitable about whom I have been on the right side of the argument in his three wins this season. He obliged on a stunning opening day in the King’s Stand.

That was it. Nothing else. Part of the trouble was backing a few near misses in the preceding weeks. Encouraged by selections that ran well on the undulations of Epsom Downs, I pretty much blindly backed Architecture in the Ribblesdale (left her race behind in The Oaks), Haalick in the Jersey (outclassed at that level), and Make Fast in the Sandringham (possibly unlucky).

Other ill-judged Ascot allegiances included sprinter Suedois in the Diamond Jubilee on the basis of a good run in the Duke of York; Muntahaa in the King Edward VII after an impressive maiden win; and most woefully, Pallasator in the Gold Cup after his Henry II Stakes win on good ground, ffs!

My niece Robyn went to the Royal meeting on Prince of Wales Stakes day. She asked me for some advice and after a little thought, I duly offered up a whole bunch of losers.

“Hi Dave, thanks so much for the tips”, she messaged, “unfortunately I didn't have any winners but did make some back on a second!”

That would be Al Johra, beaten a country mile by Wesley Ward’s bullet, Lady Aurelia.

“A fantastic day out though!!” she continued “We had the hats and afternoon tea. Then to finish it off I saw the Queen!”

“Sorry about the rubbish tips I replied”

“No, thanks for those. I'd have had no idea what I was doing otherwise!”

So touching to be thanked for finding some losers. Like she couldn’t do that by herself. Sharp quaffed boy in the office didn't see it that way when I also offered him some dross. I shouted out Suedois for his girlfriend who was Royal Ascot-bound on the Saturday. He had asked for a pointer or two. This one ran well, but, was still a well beaten 7th.

There were no thanks from quiff-boy. Robyn could teach him some manners. He simply questioned whether I had ever given him any winning tips at all. Ever! I protested that this was miles away from the actuality. When my mate Tim's cousin Paul Stafford who is a trainer in County Dublin sent over three runners to a mid-week Musselbrugh, I told the boy that one of them would win. It's not my fault he steamed in to the wrong one. I also devilishly encouraged him into the famous Mullins' four timer at Festival 15, when Annie fluffed the last. Three winners out of four, right there.

A few of us caught the last knockings of Gold Cup day in Billy Hills after watching England v Wales in the pub. The only bright spot in England's desperate Euro 16 campaign. I was steaming that afternoon. Not just because we were ordering double rounds resulting from the five-deep scrum at the bar; but also because the informal fanzone created by the manager had us shoe-horned in front of the telly, shoulder to sweaty shoulder with dozens of others. The beers flowed and the sauna cooked.

I've got a couple of footie bets still alive. Poland outright at 50/1 each way is probably worth laying off now they are down at 18s. Part of me thinks they will give Portugal a game, so I might sit tight. Belgium outright at 12/1 also looks like one with which to enjoy the ride. Other combos, top scorers and group winners went out with Croatia’s last 16 exit.

The other big event on which I've been on the wrong side of the argument is of course the EU Referendum. On a strict value play, the Leave market was clearly the rick in the market. For once, I couldn't bring myself to bet against my better judgement. Leaving the EU seems wrong on so many levels.

Even a week later, by turns, I’m still numb, confused and angry. Quite apart from the crushing negative ramifications for the economy, equality and social justice, I also realise just how little I have in common with the majority of English people. A stranger in my own country. Ironic. That so many people voted to leave in the areas receiving the greatest amount of EU aid was baffling. The protest vote was pointless and misdirected. The racism underpinning the immigration row was vile and has unleashed hate crime on British streets. The lies peddled by Johnson, Gove and Farage were unforgiveable.

A mate commented that his solitary protest would be not to give up his seat on the bus “to the old folks who have messed up our future”.

And the bright spot? Like they have at the end of the news? Well, I drew Iceland in the office sweepstake..!



Sunday, 26 June 2016

Four blokes at the Oaks

I’ve now been in every enclosure at Epsom racecourse. Granted, as bucket list-ticks go, this would rank a little below hang-gliding down the Grand Canyon or slamming a Ferrari around Silverstone. But then again I’m not very good with heights and I don’t drive.  

Ladies Day at the Derby meeting is a favourite day out and one with a rich history for the lads. Catching the Oaks card from the Lonsdale Pedestrians completed the nap hand at this fine track. The enclosure was a right bastard to find though. None of the stewards had a clue. First I went under the track via a foot tunnel, then sent left past the funfair and into a gravelly coach park. That was clearly all wrong. I retraced my steps and struck determinedly right, which was right. Eventually I snaked my way round the back of various pavilions and found the entrance that was no more than a gap in the chain link fence, policed by a steward with a cash apron round his middle. Very low tech. I put away my contactless credit card.

The Lonsdale, it became apparent, was really where all the vintage open top double-decker buses parked up. They had disgorged corporate jolly-seekers into private gazebos erected at the front, with pretty trestle tables straining under the weight of prawn vol-au-vents, cucumber sandwiches and high-end picnic food. I was taking in this charming scene, strolling down the side of the track when the lads hailed me with chuckles of derision at my lack of alertness. Bryn, Nick and Bacchy had been there about twenty minutes and I was soon joining them in Doom Bars.


The enclosure had a strange aspect. The ground fell away towards us from the main stands on the posh side of the course, continuing the uniquely testing adverse camber up the home straight. This meant we were looking up at the track. I commented that you’d be able to see the horse’s knackers, such was the odd angle. Bacchy muttered into his pint a derisory comment about “the Oaks being for fillies, Davoski”. Yes, yes, I know.

We were in good company over here. A dead ringer for Kid Creole and at least two of his Coconuts wandered past a few minutes later. Floppy fedoras, white tailored jackets and bright neckties. Maybe they were the lookey-likey entertainment in a corporate tent later. They left before the last, accompanied by tuneful strains of ‘Oh Annie, I’m not your Daddy’ from our approximate location.


The Doom Bar bar was housed in a polished aluminium airstream caravan conversion and stood next to it was a little two-wheeler extension purveying German sausages. Perfect to wash down the beer, though the frankfurter and chilli combi I opted for was perhaps unwise. The bratwurst would have been a better alternative.  

Later on in the afternoon, Bacchy unveiled his carefully honed technique of minesweeping unwanted and discarded corporate booty. His first sortie turned up a bottle of Faustino IV vino tinto from under the noses of a gaggle of lairy city bankers. I couldn’t for the life of me work out how he was getting away with it. After the last, I played his wingman, stood as a diversion near a bin full of expense-account fizz, pretending to text. I was so engrossed in my role that a good few seconds had passed before I clocked that Bacchy had rejoined the other two with a half-full bottle of Prosecco sticking out of his jacket pocket.

There was no such smash and grab on in the races. A winner in the first on the head-bob for me and Bryn suggested the makings of a good day. That was as good as it got. I’d shouted out Legendary Lunch as the winner about two furlongs from home. Ridiculously early. Blue Jacket screamed down the outside  and looked for all money  like he’d won. The replay confirmed that it was the Hannon horse that had held on by a lucky short head.

The rest of my selections ran to a similar script in so far as they made much of the running, but unlike the Lunch they failed to hold on. Muggings aplenty. What About Carlo, Custom Cut and Stamp Hill in the last all fared similar fates. Most achingly, Architecture, my nap of the day, was beaten in similar fashion. Frankie pulled the Hugo Palmer filly out wide with two to go and set sail. Once again I was screaming her home as the winner way too soon, jumping around like a skittery novice. The odds on favourite, Minding had met early trouble. Once Ryan Moore got her organised she mowed down Architecture with alacrity. Bacchy looked at me and said, “What’s the matter with you Davoski? Calling these horses the winners too early?” I shrugged. "Still in national hunt mode. Everything happens too fast on the flat for me!”

If I was in near-miss territory, Nick was smashing in to the bullseye. “Imshivalla will like the soft ground” he declared, nose firmly in the RP give-away supplement. Richard Fahey’s charge galloped home unopposed at 25/1. Sensational scenes. Bacchy was at it as well. Smuggler’s Moon taking the Surrey Stakes at 14/1, eased down before the line. 
Imshivalli on Oaks day
By the time we left, we were all a little wobbly. Nevertheless, I was staggered that no-one wanted to go to the funfair beautifully and invitingly laid out before us on the heath. We had been talking up the rides so much, I just thought it was a given. I struck out across the grass and realised no-one was with me. “I don’t really think it’s a good idea, do you?” said Bryn, with his sensible parent face on.


Instead, Bacchy and I headed for the curry house whilst Bryn and Nick went off to Epsom BR. A curry made not have been a good idea either.

It started off so well, chatting to other racegoers about the day. I even gave the manager a pukka tip for the Derby. “Harzand”, I said. “Dermot Weld is serious about this one.” Hope he remembered. Hope Bacchy did, or I’m gonna be on the end of some more aftertiming slander.

"Harzand will win the Derby?"
The arrival of the food, bizarrely, inclined us into a steep dive. I contrived to knock the naan bread onto the floor as I reached over for the lime pickle, which Bacchy had typically been hogging. Being the gent he is, Bacchy attempted to retrieve the naan. Still sitting in his chair he lunged and tipped in one smooth motion. A fall flat on to his face was narrowly avoided by him planting a spread palm on the floor. That hand was now supporting the weight of his entire body, tilted at a geometrically pleasing 45 degrees. He was trapped. One move of his hand and he’d be over.

Once I stopped laughing I stood up to help him. I tripped on the metal naan bread tray and lurched forward into him, almost knocking him out of the chair. That’s when the waiters came to rescue us. Not even offering up the winner of the Dash would have saved us then.

We made it safely to the right train, going the right way. A minor achievement, though as Tattenham Corner is the end of the line, conditions were overwhelmingly in our favour. Bacchy, sorry to report, had completely zoned out by this stage. He muttered something about an ambitious plan to meet his wife and daughter in town. A long odds-against scenario, I reasoned clearly (even in my inebriated state). I looked up, and after a bit of frenetic texting, Bacchy was soundly asleep with his head resting on the back of the seat in front.

He didn’t move until Clapham Junction. At which point I had to wake him so that I could clamber passed and get out. “Top day Davoski. Christ I’m wankered.” His blurry, half open eyes struggled to focus on me. The crimson blotch on his forehead  where he had been leaning on the seat completed a particularly debonair look for a classy Epsom Oaks day.

For my part, Mrs A tells me that after I landed home in a wide-eyed state, I announced in a booming voice, with animated gestures, at many and regular intervals, how lucky I was not to be too pissed after all the alcohol consumed during the day.

The next day, I registered through fuzzy receptors that Harzand did indeed win the Derby and that I had expunged the various betting and sundry expenses of the previous day. It remains unlikely that I’ll be back to Chillies Contemporary Indian Diner of Tattenham Corner to crow about the result.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Awtaad joins illustrious entries at Royal Ascot

With next week’s events at Royal Ascot already looking likely to feature one of the highest quality fields in recent history, with a record number of overseas entrants taking part, the further announcement that Awtaad will be joining the list of names will certainly only increase expectation among race goers. The Irish 2,000 Guineas winner will take part in the St James’ Stakes, with trainer Kevin Prendergast hopeful of further success, 40 years on from his Irish Guineas victory with Northern Treasure.

Awtaad will be joined in the race by Zonderland who is fresh off the back of an impressive victory at Sandown, and the duo will be looking to cause an upset by finishing ahead of current race favourite The Gurkha. As shown by the odds at bookies.com, the Aiden O’Brien trained horse is ahead of Galileo Gold and Massaat in the racing odds, having won the Poule d'Essai des Poulains at Deauville in only its third ever competitive race.

With over 160 international entries descending on Ascot this year, the meeting certainly has a different feel in the build-up this year, with US star Tepin perhaps being the standout name among the record figures. The former Breeders Cup Mile winner will take part in the much coveted Queen Anne Stakes, and with best odds of 3/1 from bookies.com, it is difficult to see any other winner at this stage.

Elsewhere, Japanese horse A Shin Hikari is set for a run in the Prince of Wales Stakes, and is also the favourite in the racing odds at Ascot. The five-year-old will face stiff competition from Time Test and New Bay among others, in what is looking likely to be one of the more open races at this year’s event.

Organisers are unsurprisingly delighted with both the quality and quantity of entrants this year, with over 300,000 visitors expected to embark on the iconic venue this summer. One disappointment for officials however is the withdrawal of famous Australian horse Chautauqua. Generally considered as the best sprinter in the world, trainers Michael, Wayne and John Hawkes have decided to withdraw their prized asset from the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, having been the early favourite in the racing odds.


Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Architecture


I’ve been watching rather more flat racing in recent weeks than I might normally expect at this time of year. (Where have all those Summer jumps fixtures come from the last few weeks? Bizarre!)

This culminated in a rather splendid four-timer on Temple Stakes Saturday which included Profitable in said feature race at 9/1, followed by Mobsta over in Ireland on his favoured soft ground, whom I screamed home at 16/1. 

Don’t give me that aftertiming twaddle. This is not a tipping site. You’ll just have to take my word for it. If you want provenance, Profitable was put up in a handy little guide of 60 unexposed types I purchased from Picks From The Paddock in April. I shortlisted a few that I liked the look of. Profitable aside, the rest have either run like dogs or started at 5/4 and ridiculously shorter still. I’m ahead here though. Together with the Palace House Stakes win at the end of April, the Clive Cox improver has paid handsomely for the guide and a few other bets as well.

Mobsta, on the other hand was all my own… lucky break.  I had backed him at Doncaster in the mud, then he struggled on better ground in better company next time out at Newmarket. After that I didn’t pay too much attention to his entry in the Greenland Stakes. It was Nick Luck that sealed the 16/1 deal on that Irish 2,000 Guineas afternoon when he said that the heavens had opened in Ireland ‘for all you Air Force Blue backers’. Never mind the O’Brien flop, I thought, get on the Channon beast.  

I should have stopped there. Not a squeak since.

We move on. In a bid to dispel any developing theories that I’m a Sprint Monkey (oh, how I wish…) there follows a short Oaks preview. On Friday, the lads are returning to Epsom for the fillies middle distance classic for the first time since the beautiful Sariska bumped and ground her way to a messy short head victory, powered by our ante-post punts, back in 2009.

I was planning to write a proper Oaks preview and then found that Jason Heavey over at Horse racing Chat has provided a perfectly well-reasoned and readable piece to which I couldn’t add a whole lot more. Except to put up a different selection. I particularly agree with the comments about the shallow field and paucity of the opposition to Coolmore.

I am opposing Minding. Happy to take that view on the basis of the likely soft ground and the stamina doubts. Take her out and there is a much more open feel to the race. I liked the way that Architecture shaped on her first run of the season in the Lingfield Oaks Trial. She still looked green in the early stages, but improved as the race unfolded and gave race-fit Seventh Heaven a decent scrap.

She will like the ease in the ground on Friday, having won her maiden on good to soft, and should come on a bundle for the Lingfield effort. There’s a question mark about the trip, as there are with many of these. She will also need to settle better in the early stages. There’s no better jockey than Frankie to do that, and teaming up with the mercurial Hugo Palmer, there’s plenty of reason to suggest the 11/1 with Paddy Power is decent value.