Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Progress on ante-posts


There are only five weeks to go before the Horseracing Olympics get under way in the shadow of Cleeve Hill at Prestbury Park. The Cheltenham National Hunt Festival is just around the corner.

I've been going every year since 2000. Each year, at about this time, I start to worry, agitate, stress about the state of my ante-post bets. These bets are usually struck months ago to keep me warm through the dark days of Winter. Bets to pull from my kit back during the festival like precious gems. Cheering on horses that I've backed at double figure prices months ago that trot to post as short priced favourites. It is the stuff of dreams. Every so often these big, ambitious bets pay off. Just now and again a horse backed at a massive price sometime in October on the basis of gentle tropt round Exteter can pay off. These are the moments you live for. The moments that keep the dream alive and also lull you into overconfidence. Down the years I remember the big pay outs, the smug feeling as the bookie counts out the wedge into my graspings paws. But I also know that the other side of this deal is about horses that end up a bigger price on the day than when you backed them, or worse, horses that don't even make it to the hallowed event - dead, injured or simply not good enough. And bottom of the barrel are those outrageous ante-post doubles where the first leg is a loser. These bets simply get forgotten about. Too embarrassing to own up to.

This year, I've taken a different approach. I've been disciplined, measured. In control. I've tried to focus on the Championship races where I know I'm strongest.

Here is the list, and my assessment of their chances.


Arkle Chase: Marodima at 25-1 each way. Thought this was a sound bet when I struck it just after Christmas. He trounced a couple of decent types like Mahogany Blaze and Moon Over Miami round Sandown. Came out again last week and tried to win a race at breakneck pace on bottomless ground. Finished down the field, well beaten. His trainer Paul Nicholls says he's unlikely to be aimed at Cheltenham now. So one down already.

I've also taken an outrageous price about Silverburn in the same race. Also a Nicholls horse, I backed him on Betfair (thank the Lord for Betfair) at about 94-1 just before Christmas when he was still being thought of as a three-miler. Something about his form last season made me think he wouldn't stay and so it proved when he ran in the Feltham Novices Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. Whether he'll actually make it to the Arkle line up is another question (he has an entry and the talent). He may end up running at 2.5 miles. But a moral victory for me if nothing else!

Champion Hurdle: What a race this is shaping up to be. The old guard (Hardy Eustace, Brave Inca, Macs Joy) got blitzed last year by new kid on the block Sublimity (one of my successful ante-post punts). He has headed the betting for a long time this year, but then Osana stamped a massive claim to be taken seriously after an impressive win in the old Bula and next Sizing Europe - who beat Osana in the Greatwood Handicap at Cheltenham earlier in the saeason - came out and demolished a select field at Leopardstown to leap to favouritism. I missed the race , but all the commentators were blown away by this effort. I'm on Amaretto Rose from Nicky Henderson's yard at 33-1. She's not been out this year, so another risky one. Due to make an appearance on Saturday. That should tell me whether the 33s is value or not!


Ballymore Properties Novice Hurdle: I'm on Trafford Lad at 16-1 each way. I'm happy with the price on the basis of what he's done in Ireland, but the form for this race is a bit sketchy. Also, the addition of the 3 mile novice hurdle on Friday messes up the minds of ante-post punters. It's now even harder to guess which race the top trainers might be aiming their horses at. I've backed Crocodiles Rock at 28-1 but he's a Jonjo O'Neill horse and he likes to aim his stayers at the three-miler. Very much the case this year I suspect. Could be another duff one.

SunAlliance Chase: A race I always get involved in months before the off. Can't help myself. Every season I see a decent staying novice chaser win well and I want to back it immediately for this race. So I've shown some self-restraint this year and backed a nice prospect of Philip Hobbs', Lead On at about 27s on Betfair. And now I hear the trainer thinks he's best at 2.5 miles and may go for the Jewson. Trouble is, in my heart of hearts, I knew this too. The bet is a bit too speculative. This is another race where some trainers still have cards to play. I also think that I haven't seen any superstars in this division - with the possible exception of Glencove Marina who's is now out for the season - so it could still be wide open come the big day. I'll get involved agian before then though!


Nothing yet! See, I said I was being strong! The World Hurdle would be my main play here and I will get involved soon. Inglis has come out and franked his class again and again this season so he's really hard to oppose. But if My Way de Solzen is aimed at this race after bitterly disappointing over fences this season, he could still be value as a former winner. We'll see.

The Ryanair over 2.5 miles is also one I will be looking at more closely over the next couple of days. This race is fast becoming a festival favourite and has now been booted up to Grade 1 on the basis of a couple of strong recent renewals.


Spa/Brit/Bartlett Hurdle (whatever it's called this year!): I've followed some of the form this year and there has been an interesting group of races involving Souffleur, Nenuphar Collonges, Carruthers and then some decent Irish form to chuck into the mix, so this is shaping up nicely. I'm on Nenuphar from the Alan King yard at 18-1. Not exactly given away, but he'll love the trip and I think there's a bit of class about him. He's actually a chaser, but has been given a hurdle campaign this year, oddly enough.

The Triumph is always a massive ante-post bonanza. But this year I am staying clear. I always get suckered into backing a bunch of outsiders for this one and they never go anywhere near. So I'm learning the lesson of my stats which tell me that I can't read the form of this one to save my ante-post life. So I'm out of it until much closer to race day.

So that's it for now. I expect the decent cards at Sandown and Doncaster will, no doubt, put paid to a few more of these!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Towcester Races April 2007

I want to use this blogspace to record my trials and tribulations being a small time mug punter: having a bit of a laugh following the horses, sometimes winning, usually losing, but always making the most of it. For my first blog entry I'm going back to last April to record a top day out at Towcester races......

......Today I am going to Towcester Races. The day has broken blue, clear and gorgeous: a clean Spring day with hot Summer temperatures in a climate changing world. I do a spot of gardening before making for the track. Potting on the poppies sowing the sunflower seeds before reaping a harvest at the races. Well, that's the plan.

I go by public transport to Towcester, but the bus connection at Northampton lets me down so I end up flagging a taxi. Cabbies are always worth a laugh. This one is no exception. “Gambling, eh?”, he says. “Gambling. I went in that casino last month.” He nods over the road. “ 'Do you wants some chips?' says this girl in a short skirt. 'No thanks', I say. I've already eaten! Harrharrharrggghhh!” Everyone's a winner. It turns out that he's studying for a psychology degree and he wants to work with autistic children. Never judge a book, as they say.

Towcester Racecourse has been running a fantastic free entry policy for the last couple of years and it has paid off handsomely by increasing the attendance threefold in that time. Today is no exception and there is a good crowd here in time for the first race. The gaggle of girls by the running rail in skimpy outfits and high spirits could be mistaken for a hen party if it wasn't a Monday afternoon in the middle of Northamptonshire.

The racing is admitedly poor, however. In the first race a rank outsider called Chain wins in what the race announcer describes as 'dramatic fashion'. That's dramatic as in Laurel and Hardy to my eyes. First the leader blunders the 4th last, leaving his pursuer clear in the lead until, with two fences left to jump, he ejects his jockey via the side door. The new leader is the favourite Carthy's Cross who is miles clear coming up the hill for home. But he begins to lose interest all by himself and, despite the frantic urgings of his jokey, he virtually stops. The hitherto tailed-off Chain suddenlt scents an impromtu victory. He closes down Carthy's Ctross and snatches the race with 200 yards to run, accompanied by cries of anguish from the legion of punters who have backed Carthy's Cross.

This sets the tone for me really. Not only do I fail to find a winner in any of the six races, but I also manage to squeeze vinegar all over my burger. An easy mistake. Who would expect a brown squeezy bottle to contain anything but brown sauce? Even a pint of John Smith's Snmoothflow, purchased from the well-appointed, newly constructed grandstand bar can't swill the taste of acetic acid from my mouth.But the weather is fine, the crowd in hearty voice and the racing entertaining. This is better than working!

So I head for home after the final race and pick up the number 502 to Northampton station a little poorer in pocket but much the richer in spirit.