Monday, 12 February 2018

A Grand Plan

Me and my mouth.

For some while I had been bragging to a work colleague that he should give me a straight grand to gamble with over the course of the Jumps season. In return, come April, I’d hand him back a guaranteed £1,100. A six-month 10% profit margin that he would never secure in the High Street banks or would struggle to match on the stock markets.

The incentive for me in the deal would be that any profit I made over £1,100 was mine to squirrel away. The grand would act as an investment, a pump-priming scenario. My staking is typically a lilly-livered affair because I never allow any bank of profits to build up. They are usually creamed off into the beer and kebab account, instead of fuelling a more structured punting strategy. I was supremely confident, based on my stats, that I’d land a few hundred quid’s profit.

I’d mentioned this offer to any number of people, but only Pete from the office took me seriously. Even then, the transaction took ages to set up. He never seemed to have a thousand quid lying around at the right time. Tsk.

Then a conversation in the staff room last October went something like this:
“Dave, is the betting offer still on?”
“What? The grab-a-grand? Yeah, though I’m maxed out with work at the moment. I’m not doing much punting. Could start it at Christmas?”
“Ah. Well I might not have the money at Christmas!”
“Oh. Ok then, let’s do it then!”
 I got home that night to find £1,000 nestling in my account.

It was time to put the money where my big mouth is. And through Christmas, cresting the New year, the plan was unfurling like a glorious route map to Cheltenham. I was up on the deal by a decent three-figure margin.

Then I embarked on the sort of crippling run that frays nerves, strips resolve and shreds reason.

38 bets struck since then, powered by £420 of stakes without returning a single winner. There were a few skinny place returns skulking away in the midriff of poorly constructed each-way Lucky 15s. These amounted to no more than £40. But not one bona-fide, first-past-the-post winner amongst them. It’s barely credible. Looking for the value inevitably means there will be gaps between winners, but my New Year optimism has foundered on a slew of dispiriting results. Soooo many seconds. I’ve hit the bar more times than Oliver Reed and George Best on a weekend bender.
The sequence was broken by Casse Tete on Saturday at Warwick, when he overhauled a tiring Kylemore Lough gunned for home too early by his jockey. Only 6/1, but I’ll take it. Re-set. Go again.

As an antidote to the mayhem in this struggling strategy with Pete, I’ve found myself casting an eye over the non-runner-no-bet markets for the Festival.

About time too.

I was impressed by Vision Des Flos at Exeter on Sunday in a listed novice hurdle. Much improved for the application of a tongue tie, I suspect, rather than the wind-tinkering -  declarations for which have proved to be no friend of the punter. As likely an explainer is the return to form of Tizzard’s stable after some deep mid-winter blues. Maybe the €270,000 investment in this beast is not yet wasted. He won by 30-odd lengths and was visually attractive in the way he pulled away from at least three fair-ish rivals. I’ve taken 1pt e-w at 25/1 for the Ballymore novice hurdle and a saver of 33/1 for the Supreme.

The record of Warwick’s Kingmaker Chase in setting up Cheltenham coronations is strong. Flagship Uberalles, Voy Por Ustedes, Cenkos, Finians Rainbow and Long Run all have this race in their ceremonial progression. The track demands a decent round of jumping. Five stiff fences in a line down the back straight provide a real test of rhythm and fluency. A test that Saint Calvados passed with A*s. His victory on Saturday was the sort of purring, classy demolition job that had me drooling. Yes, he’ll be up against many people’s banker of the meeting in Footpad. I don’t care. I want to be cheering on this brilliant jumper for the little guys. Who knows how he will handle the undulations of Cheltenham, or likely better going. If he comes close to finding the rhythm of Saturday, he will be a sight to savour.  8/1 win only.

I’ve burnt my fingers somewhat in the Champion Hurdle. I found the 5/1 on offer with Stan James prior to the Irish Champion Hurdle too good to resist. Of course, the bet still stands should Faugheen turn up at Prestbury Park. But the likelihood that he will and then go on to win seems remote. A great shame. Faugheen versus Buveur D’Air would be something special, though I’m sure Faugheen in his pomp would have seen him off. We can only speculate. And maybe reserve a little space for wishful thinking.

A bit of a punt in the RSA Chase. At 16/1 e-w, I’m putting a lot of faith in the view that Mia’s Storm hated the ground in the Kauto Star Novices Chase at Kempton over Christmas. Her two previous outings over fences were very good, including a smart win over Elegant Escape. The race has a more open feel about it than the market suggests, though this is far from a confident bet. This is a race I’ll return to.

I loved the performance of Time To Move On in his debut bumper at Exeter in December. Always travelling supremely well, Barry Geraghty brought her wide to find better ground, covering much more ground than his rivals. He still won by an eased down 10 lengths. I backed him for the Bumper at 16/1 only a few days before his return to Exeter on Sunday. There he carried his 7lb penalty easily, idled in front but still looked class. Happy enough. Only just wish I’d got on earlier.

Sticking with the irrepressible Fergal O’Brien, Poetic Rhythm was my first ante-post strike at 25/1 not long after the Challow Hurdle at Newbury. He caught my eye after what now looks like a half decent Persian War renewal back in October. He is not as classy as some but has guts and determination. He goes straight to the Albert Bartlett (I hope).  

Finally, a long shot for the Gold Cup with an old buddy who settled his debt with me in the King George at Christmas. Double Shuffle stayed on well to hurry up Mite Bite at 50/1 and I snaffled a decent bit of place money. I’m a big fan of Tom George’s charge whom I believe to be still on the upgrade, but who needs the right conditions. A truly run race on good/good-soft ground at 3 miles-plus is his game. Despite what most pundits will tell you, I don’t believe he was desperately flattered by his proximity to Mite Bite. They are just pissed off that so many good horses on paper misfired on the day. Double Shuffle is also entered in the Ryanair but I can’t for the life of me think that is the right race.

That’s it for now. Meanwhile, back to the Grand grind. I remain confident.



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