Thursday, 30 September 2010

40 to follow

Every year I pick 40 sturdy steeds to bear the burden of punting wedge through the winter months. It’s previously been a successful project and I’ve turned a profit every year bar one since 2002. Some years are better than others. Last season was a bit marginal.

For the last two years, my Dad, my brother and I have pitted our 40 to follow lists against each other. 1point stake per run, win only. Dad’s cleaned up both years.

The competition runs from 1st October to 31st April. Here is this season’s stable:

1.             Alfie Spinner             Nick Williams
Decent prospect for good quality 2 ½ m novice chases. Best form on soft. Good hurdle campaign with progressive profile. Represents up and coming trainer.

2.             Alasi                           Paul Webber
Another with a progressive profile, although not too many wins in the book. This mare could go novice chasing up to 3 miles.

3.             Babysitter                  Nigel Twiston Davies
Classy on best form, though capable of howlers. Sure to get plenty of early opportunities over fences from the prolific NTD.  2 ½ m likely to be the trip.

4.             Bally Wall                    IR Ferguson
3 miles won’t be far enough for this dour stayer from tiny Northern Irish yard.  Capable of landing a nice handicap. No obvious ground preferences.

5.             Barizan                         Evan Williams
Top season as a juv hurdler, trailblazing from the front. Pipped in two Grade 1s before landing the spoils at Punchestown. Will be tough this year but is so game.

6.             Benny Be Good           Keith Reveley
Unexposed hurdler last year likely to be sent novice chasing this term. From a shrewd yrd. Will probably want 3m on soft.

7.             Cannington Brook        Colin Tizzard
Went close in top staying novice hurdles last year after switching from fences. Future lies back over the big ones. Could be a big year for the Tizzard stable. 

8.             Coastley                        David Carr
Still relatively unexposed handicap hurdler with scope to improve. Good ground up to 3m around northern gaffes.

9.             Dance Island                 BI Case
star of small string from midlands handler. Scope to improve in staying chases on soft.

10.             Dare Me                       Philip Hobbs
Bright prospect from very decent trainer. Impressed as runner up in April’s quality Aintree bumper.

11.             Diamond Frontier       Howard Johnson
Handicapper who might spring a surprise or two in 2m chases in desperate ground around northern bogs. 

12.             Duke of Lucca             Philip Hobbs
Another lovely prospect from a powerful yard. Consistent in staying novice hurdles last year. Could go chasing.

13.             Foynes Island              Philip Hobbs
Interesting novice hurdler showing plenty of potential in a couple of outings last year. Another from the Hobbs yard. Hobbs Monkey? Me?

14.             Hidden Universe          Dermot Weld
Apart from a blip in the Cheltenham bumper this classy beast from a shrewd yard has an exceptional profile. Sure to go well in novice hurdles.

15.             Jubail                             Alan King
Low profile juvenile hurdler from a trainer who knows how to bring them on. Encouraging signs in seasonal debut last week.

16.             Kempes                         Willie Mullins
An old favourite. Very consistent last year except in one run on atrocious ground. Never stopped improving and did best when stepped up to 3m.

17.             Luska Lad                      John Joseph Hanlon
Tough as old boots on soft/heavy ground in top quality 2m novice hurdles last year. Should make his mark this season.

18.             Megastar                        Gary Moore
Winner of the Aintree Bumper in April. Looks a strong renewal. One to look forward to in novice hurdles.

19.             Michel Le Bon               Paul Nicholls
Impressed in novice chases before injury curtailed his season early. Assuming full recovery, will do well up to 3 miles.

20.             Mister Marker                Nicky Richards
Quiet season for Nicky Richards last year, but this one was 3 from 5 in handicap hurdles. Fancied to go on this season.

21.             Omix D’Or                      HJ Evans
One for mid-division marathon staying chases on bottomless ground. Will never set the world alight but could still be on the upgrade.

22.             Overturn                         Donald McCain
Exciting prospect for top quality 2m hurdles. Made his mark this Summer on the flat too.

23.             Peddlers Cross              Donald McCain
All quality. Unbeaten. Graduate from last year’s 40 TF list. Could be anything this year from the Champion Hurdle through to the RSA Chase. Bring it on.

24.            Praxiteles                         Rebecca Curtis
Bit of a long shot. Good form in low-grade Summer novice hurdles. Needs to step up.

25.             Rackham Lerouge          Nicky Henderson
Henderson has a powerful string of novice chasers again. This one cut the right profile last term.

26.             Restless Harry                Henry Oliver
Had a blinding season last year before crashing out in the 3m novice hurdle at the Festival. All about guts. Should be interesting to follow this year.

27.             Sa Suffit                           JPL Ewart
Consistent sort on soft ground in handicap chases from an up and coming Scottish yard.

28.             Silver By Nature              Lucinda Russell
Another for staying handicap chases on bottomless ground. Progressive profile, though the slight worry is the handicap mark will find him out this year.

29.             Spirit River                       Nicky Henderson
Lovely, quality 2 mile hurdler. Lightly campaigned last term. Could be another contender for the Champion Hurdle to add to the stable’s riches in this theatre.

30.             Somersby                         Hen Knight
Classy novice chaser last year handled tenderly by the increasingly flakey Henrietta Knight. Could be campaigned for the Gold Cup.

31.             Summit Meeting              Jessica Harrington
Quietly campaigned novice hurdler from classy stable expected to go on this term.

32.             Swincombe Rock             Nigel Twiston Davies
Bright prospect for 3m staying novice chases.

33.             Tillietudlem                       JS Goldie
Ran up impressive sequence in handicap hurdles last term before reverting with success to the flat this summer. Good ground essential. May be given a break.

34.             Tanzanite Bay                   Lucinda Russell
Low profile, but encouraging outings in bumpers last year. Long shot but could be interesting in novice hurdles.

35.             Tara Royal                         Donald McCain
Impressive jumping debut in the Spring and could develop into decent prospect with good yard.

36.            The Package                       David Pipe
Bit of a risk, this one. Quality, improving horse, but if he’s campaigned for the National he’ll be no betting proposition until then.

37.             Vino Griego                        Gary Moore
Another graduate from last year’s list. Never really delivered his potential then and given another chance here on the basis of scraps of form. 

38.             Whipperway                           Sheena West
Ran away with an average juvenile hurdle in September. Looked stylish, but much bigger tests to come. Genuine stable.

39.             Weird Al                             Ian Williams
Looked seriously good in staying novice chases before injury curtailed his campaign. Assuming full recovery could be a quality prospect.

40.             Wymott                              Donald McCain
Good form last year and will be aimed at staying novice chases this. Another from the McCain team.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Bigger than the Pope

Freddie Flintoff has retired from competitive cricket. This is no surprise. Last Summer, Fred traded the remains of his gladiatorial test match career for some time and surgical expertise that might eke out a one-day future at the highest level. But it was not to be. His crippling knee injury is not improving and on Friday he took the advice of his medical team to call it a day.

In some ways it is an old story. When he left the Ashes stage in September last year for another knee op, not many of us believed he would be back. So it was a mild surprise to see such blanket coverage of this decision last Friday. In fact the Metro declared it to be more significant than the Pope’s arrival in Edinburgh. Based on trend analysis of tweets during the day, Freddie knocked the Pope into a cocked mitre. Freddie Flintoff is bigger than the Pope. It’s official. Well, in the Twittersphere at least.

There can be no doubting Flintoff’s hero credentials, though. The epic Ashes series of 2005 produced, without doubt, the most sustained high quality drama I’ve witnessed anywhere on a cricket pitch. Good test matches have their ebbs and flows, their moments of glory, skill and passion. But that series had enough adrenaline and emotion to make the X Factor look plastic. (What? It’s not for real?) Never mind u-turns, plot twists and shimmies to make Eastenders look prosaic. Not to mention enough comparisons with greatness to exhaust a hackneyed purveyor of similies (that’s me). Just one more similie, then: that of a heavyweight boxing match where two world-class fighters at the peak of their powers slug it out, toe-to-toe over the maximum distance, neither knowing when they are beaten and both conjuring up more big shots when each looked floored.

This prompts to me relive right now, in unapologetic partiality, that golden Summer of triumph. Duck out now anyone who is wincing at the prospect of overblown sentiment and nostalgia.

Twenty20 was a fresh, untried format in those days. (It has since been shamelessly over-exposed, the ECB yet again killing the golden goose.) When England  beat the Aussies in this exciting new competition early that Summer, we dared to hope that something good was on the cards. We were drinking in The Phoenix, round the back of Buckingham Palace, and watching the encounter on the big screen. The Phoenix became the backdrop to our Summer. Me, Nick, Bryn and Steve, amongst a cast of thousands, engineered late lunches and early departures to ride the rollercoaster.

The Aussies’ comfortable win at Lord’s in the series opener was enlivened by Harmison genuinely striking the fear of God into their top order. But was otherwise grim viewing. England bounced back in some style. At Edgbaston,the sight of Trescothick bludgeoning Lee and co to the four corners of Birmingham on the firs day had the pub reeling and goggled eyed. That positivity led to the first 400-run+ day in the history of the Ashes. It set up a strong position for England. The final day saw Australia defy and yet again defy England’s victory charge with low order batsmen repelling missiles from Freddie, Hoggard and Harmison. Bret Lee was stood firm with first Warne and then Kasprowicz. Only a few deliveries remained when Harmison forced Kasprowicz* into evasive action with yet another brutal throat-ball. It popped up to the slips and England had won a rip-snorter. The scenes of victory included the now iconic (an over-used term, but possibly appropriate here) image of Flintoff consoling Bret Lee with a word and a gesture which captured forever those fleeting moments of poignancy in combat.

At Old Trafford, we were treated to a majestic first day ton from Vaughan. England dominated, though Warne took his 600th test wicket (cue a generous standing ovation), as well as a first innings 90; and McGrath ripped out another five-fer. By the last day, Monday, we piled down The Phoenix to watch as much of Australia’s chase as possible. They needed a further 399 to pull off a World Record 423 winning run chase. England needed 10 precious wickets. The pub was packed. This series had ignited everyone’s imagination. 20,000 were locked out of the ground that morning. I think they must have all got on the train and emptied into our pub.  The Polish barmaid, bless her, was overwhelmed and perplexed. Nothing in her career thus far had suggested a slow Monday lunchtime in a Westminster would unleash a blizzard of business. We tried to explain the significance of the quickly unfolding events. We failed. England failed, too. But only marginally. Australia were nine down as the overs ran out with Brett Lee – again - and Glen McGrath fending off Steve Harmison and Freddie at full throttle. Thrilling stuff.

One-one then, and on to Trent Bridge. England again off to a flyer. This time Flintoff hit a blistering ton, and England forced Australia to follow-on  for the first time in 17 years. Matty Hoggard and Simon Jones reverse swung England into the ascendency on a peach of a Sunday afternoon. That left England with 129 to win. Which, in the spirit of the series, became a nail-biter. Hoggard and Giles saw England nervously home. We counted down the runs single by single. 

That was a great day all round. Nick and I had taken our families to Aldburgh in Suffolk for the Bank Holiday weekend. Great weather, great apartment, outstanding company. On the Sunday morning we informed the girls we’d be playing golf and that it would be great if there was Sunday lunch on the table when we returned. Well, sure enough, after a great nine holes at the wonderful Aldburgh golf club we tucked into delicious roast beef and all the trimmings. There was a bit of giggling and knowing looks from the wives, yet we thought nothing of it. But as soon as the plates were licked clean, they shot out of the door with a barbed “OK boys, see you later.....maybe!” and disappeared, leaving us with a mountain of washing up and the kids in need of entertainment. Turned out they had ensconced themselves in a beach-side pub with a bottle of wine and spent the afternoon tittering about their perfectly executed revenge.

Well, the flip-side suited Nick and I perfectly. Once the DVD was running on the other telly and a few cans of Boddies had been acquired, we blissfully rose and fell on the tide of England’s fortunes in Nottingham. The perfect outcome for all concerned! The beers were for us, not the kids. I’d just like to be clear about that.

The decider at The Oval caused some family tensions of a slightly higher order. Ben had speculatively e-mailed the lads back in March about desire for Sunday tickets at the Oval. Ben was a bit apologetic because Sunday was the only day available. A bunch of us signed up thinking that either the series or the Test Match, or both, would be dead by then.  It was nice, for a change, to be spectacularly wrong.

The tensions arose when I dug out the tickets to find that Sunday 11th September was the day of daughter number 1’s 8th birthday party. She was having about a dozen hyperactive friends over for a couple of hours of cake eating and screaming. “Got anything on that day, Dad, or shall we move it to the weekend after?”, said Mrs A, sometime in mid-August. “No, no that’s fine. Can’t see what else would be happening then”, I blithely replied. I can even remember thinking that the cricket season would be well over by then.

Just to put this in context, tickets for this match, the decider in the finest series seen in a hundred years, were changing hands on e-bay for a minimum of £500. I did a shameful thing. I sold my ticket for a grand. No I didn’t! I went to my lovely daughter, put a comforting arm around her shoulders and said “Would you mind if I didn’t come to your birthday party, darling? I’d only get in the way.” See? Shameful!  “No, that’s OK, Daddy. I think Granny and Grandma are coming”. Helen looked at me with narrowed eyes and a thin smile. “You’ll pay!” she murmured. I still am. In many ways. My act of familial betrayal is aired every time we turn our attention to planning Elizabeth’s party.

Because of rain interruptions, the match was finely poised by the time Sunday 11th September came around. Me, Nick, Bryn, Ben and a couple of his mates took our seats in the Lock Stand and soaked up the atmosphere. Team England had risen to the occasion. Vaughany and his troops bounded on the pitch to the rousing thump of Jerusalem. The day belonged to England. Early and timely wickets from that man Flintoff and Hoggard stopped the Australian charge in its tracks.

By mid-afternoon, England were batting. Shortly after Strauss was bowled by Warne, the umpires conferred in the middle under glowering clouds. The light was offered to the batsmen and they headed straight for the pavilion. The place erupted. Never have I known the crowd rapturously cheer a decision to suspend play. The irony was not lost on us and we couldn’t shake the grins off our chops. Every minute was precious and this was a key moment. Play resumed for only a short session later in the day. Hysterically, the Aussies – Warne and McGrath most notably - came out wearing shades and sun cream to hoots of approval from the crowd.

The next day we were predictably down The Phoenix as early as possible. My boss was there. His boss was there. Everyone was there. The place was stuffed. We coaxed Pieterson to his maiden ton, willed Warne to spill the one slip chance that came his way (“Warne’s just dropped the Ashes”), and cheered England to a position of safety. The match was drawn and we won the Ashes 2-1. Cue the clich├ęs: Epic, thrilling, heroic, intense, once-in-a-lifetime. And profitable: I’d backed the correct series outcome at 12-1. The reaction was, in truth, a little over the top. MBEs all round, open-top-bus-ticker-tape parade. But at the time I lapped it up.

And Freddie was Man of the Series. He had embodied the talent, tenacity and team spirit of the encounter. He had lived it large on the field and off.  This was to be his finest moment. Those injuries mounted up and he never hit such heights again. But who could? England lost (2007) then won back the Ashes (2009), but Freddie and the quality of the competition were not close to the level attained in 2005.

So, bigger than the Pope? Well, my Mother-in–Law wouldn’t think so. She got up at 1.30am this morning to board a coach and battle through multi-tiered security checks so that she could sit in a field in Birmingham this afternoon to squint at a giant screen of the Pope preaching to her and 80,000 others about a dead vicar.  I don’t think Freddie quite commands that devotion. But for a time in 2005 he was pretty close.

*... and not Lee as previously stated. Colin, ta. As you say, schoolboy error. 

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Another Lost Weekend

Last Saturday’s punting was not a complete disaster. But it was pretty grisly viewing. One clear cut winner at pretty skinny odds and a hole in the secret off-shore gambling account is all I have to show for some furrowed brow effort and stubby pencil scribbling.

Sans Frontieres, the one winner, did the job very nicely in the Irish St Leger, though. I enjoyed that. He was given a supremely confident ride by French jockey and avid paintball competitor, Olivier Peslier. I  momentarily thought too confident when Sans Frontieres was out the back turning for home, particularly on slow ground, but the horse found plenty of gears and cruised passed Profound Beauty no more than 100 yards from the post. He beat Laheeb last time out who has come out and won since (despite the burden of my wedge), so the form is holding up well. Honestly, it’s like joining the dots sometimes. Couldn’t be easier. Sans Fronitiere heads to Melbourne now where he will meet the runner up again in the showstopping Melbourne Cup.

Elsewhere, Approve probably showed up best of the losers. He got the 7 furlongs well but bumped into something close to the top drawer in Saamid. The Godolphin horse easily justified his odds-on price with an effortless win and immediately received quotes ranging from 12/1 to 7/1 for the 2000 Guineas next May. But I like Approve well enough for another day. Masamah crucially missed the break in the Portland and ran his race well enough but without ever getting into contention after that.

And that was pretty much it. Nothing looked remotely dangerous from the remaining selections. So no hyper-ventilating; very little swearing at the telly; and no mirthful teenagers sniggering at my equine exhortations….

Sunday meanwhile, was a little more dramatic. It marked the end of a chapter. The end of my love affair with the gorgeous, classy and now it appears, moody, Sariska.

I’ve harped an about her rivalry with Midday before. Sariska’s refusal to start in the Yorkshire Oaks last time was a big plot on her reputation. Nevertheless, trainer Michael Bell was clearly persuaded to give her another chance. “We have nothing to lose”, he said of the dual classic winning filly. So she lined up in Sunday’s Grade 1 Prix Vermailles at Longchamp. Joining these two old foes was the unbeaten French filly Sarafina and soft ground-loving High Heeled. But it was a rerun of the Yorkshire Oaks with Midday winning authoratively and Sariska again planting her sourpuss feet and refusing to start. There’s a great photo in the Racing Post of jockey Jamie Spencer looking like a right turkey in the stalls, blinking tamely back at the camera as the rest of the field tear down the track.

Michael Bell was, under the circumstances, genuinely hilarious when he called time on her career by saying "It is rather annoying as we know we can potentially beat that lot. It's rather like having a Ferrari with no keys." Fantastic. Like a fool, I still love her though. What memories. This undeserving and faintly comical final curtain simply adds a smidgeon of mystique to her reputation. In some ways, the only loser is Midday again. Whilst Sariska refused to race there will always be the smallest trace of tarnish about these victories. I know you can only beat the ones that turn up, but what if Sariska had started….

But it ‘s time to move on from the flat. Yes, just like that. We are entering my favourite time of the year. September is the when I stew over the form book, RP database and my fragile grasp of last season’s events to pick my 40 to follow: a privileged bunch of nags who will spearhead my assault on the new jumps season. I can feel my pulse quicken a fraction just at the very thought of it. This chosen few will be revealed soon…. Nearly as dramatic as Strictly this isn’t it? Bet you can hardly wait.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

When Saturday Comes

Another big race Saturday. They just keep coming. It's St leger Day on both sides of the Irish Sea and a sparkling supporting cast of quality fare is on offer too. Whilst I'll struggle to luxuriate in a feet-on-the-sofa, peel-me-another-grape TV-fest like last Saturday, I do hope to catch some of today''s best action. Equally, I'll struggle to luxuriate in the success of last week's bets. But for the record, and to prove it was all a complete fluke, these are today's mug punts:

  • 2.10 DoncasterApprove: Pretty consistent in top company all year. This step up to 7f is an unknown, but all evidence suggests it is likely to suit. 5/1. 
  • 2.45 Doncaster - Masamah: The phenomenal Portland Handicap. I've backed the winner of this previously, Hogmaneigh, who lines up today. This year, I've had some success following top weight Masamah who is a lightning bolt from the gates. Back in trip, no ground concerns, could be on the premises come 2.46:30pm. 20/1ew.
  • 3.20 Doncaster - Joshua Tree: The world's oldest classic. Suffers in profile because the 1m6f trip is considered too far for lucrative future stud-earnings. Rewilding has solid form, as does Midas Touch. This outsider from the O'Brien yard could be progressing nicely and may be the surprise package at 11/1. 
  • 3.35 Chester - Bikini Babe: Difficult race where all have chances on the basis of bits and pieces of form. This Mark Johnston horse is the tentative selection. 5/1.
  • 3.45 Curragh - Sans Frontiers: The Irish St Leger, open to older horses, unlike the English version. It is to an older horse that I look. Very impressive last time out at Newbury. Kite Wood could be he danger if rediscovering early season form. 5/2
  • 3.55 Doncaster - Shakesperean: Very impressive at his best over this optimum 7f trip, especially when allowed to dictate from the front. Chucked in a couple of howlers this season too, so Frankie needs to pull out his top notch front-running tactics. 13/2 
The drain is holding up, for those interested in this blog's sub-plot!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Driving ambitions

My driving instructor was going on about gees gees the other day. I’d let it slip that I was a fan of the horses and liked a punt. “It’s so cruel though. The horses bleed from their noses and suffer burst blood vessels every time they race.”  “Well that’s not exactly true”, I said, struggling to maintain the correct line on Hemel’s Magic Roundabout at the same time as fiddling with the blinker thing. “And when it comes to the jumps, there are just too many deaths. I disapprove”. “Yeah, but things are improving, these horses have the best possible care - whoops!” Grinding noises suggested I’d engaged an inappropriate gear. Again.

It was no use, Guy had me at a disadvantage. There was no way I could refute his arguments whilst trying to turn off the radio turned on by mistake and peering through wipers set to intermittent on this beautiful day. (Overtures of Mike’s New car!:

Driving for me is a bit of a saga. Truth is I’ve left it a bit late to learn. My overstuffed brain is a stuck in its ways and doesn’t want to pick up any new tricks. Like clutch control, for instance. It seems unable to communicate simple messages like STOP to my right foot. Or is it left? I’m outside my comfort zone inside that Ford Focus and I don’t much like it.

I tried learning to drive for the first time over ten years ago. Mrs A was expecting daughter no 2 and I thought I’d just hop into a motor, grab a few lessons and pass my test in time to be a useful 2nd driver in the family by the time the baby arrived. Well that little fantasy crashed and burned  - not quite literally – one Saturday just before Christmas on the unsuspecting streets of Tring. “Never mind the handbrake! What about the f***ing steering wheel?”, screamed my then driving instructor. I was gently manoeuvring the car towards a small crowd of Christmas shoppers staring back at me with rising panic. Seems that my grappling with the sticky handbrake after a tricky uphill junction had knocked me slightly off course. Anyway, disaster was easily averted with a hasty spin of the wheel and we wobbled off down the High Street.

“Could you pull over here, please?”  asked Pete in a much more civilised voice. I executed a perfect kerbside stop.  Pete cleared his throat in a rather embarrassed way. “Mr Atkinson” (he always called me Dave) “I’d like to apologise. I’ve never sworn at a client before. Have you thought about learning in an automatic?”  That was pretty much it for that set of lessons.

So back to Guy. Does he have a case? It’s a fact that on average one horse a day dies in training or on the course. That’s pretty harrowing.  On the other hand, there are about 17,000 racehorses in training in the UK. They are bred to race. Without racing there would be significantly fewer horses. They are beautiful, magnificent animals that grace their surroundings and it is a privilege to see them in full flight. The vast majority are incredibly well cared for with excellent facilities and devoted stable staff. The authorities are incredibly hot on trainers who abuse or mistreat their horses.  And casualty rates are declining.
I tried to make these points to Guy. “It’s a much safer sport than it used to be. Look how they’ve tamed the Grand National course”.  He gave me a side-long glance. Yeah, but one death is one too many isn’t it? That was great clutch control.” I beamed inwardly. “You stopped to let that car through and moved off again perfectly. Only you were in second gear. You should have been in first!” I stopped beaming. I was never going to convince him that these sad deaths were the acceptable price we paid for the thrills and adrenaline rush of a spectacular sport. But it’s true that those running the game have been too complacent, too out of touch with issues of concern around rehabilitation, welfare and safety at the tracks. Mistakes are still being made.
There’s some way to go for the sport I love. Same goes for me and the driving. Inevitably Guy got the last word. “It’s just a too exploitative for me. Bit too many revs there, Dave.” A young Mum pushing a pram gave me a nervous wide-eyed stare as I raced the rpm counter through the 6,000 mark trying to make a gentle uphill left.  I only want to drive so I can get to a few more race meetings!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Telly addict - the results are in

0301 33091. Sounds like a phone number. Gamblers Anonymous possibly? In fact, it is the results of my misspent afternoon in front of the telly on Saturday.

Plenty of thrills and drama along the way but wins with Cape Blanco at 13/2 and Laheeb at 9/4, together with a place token on Braveheart Move who eventually went off at a whopping 25/1 gave me a plenty nice return of  +9.75 points.

Cape Blanco was the highlight, never sighting a rival in a tour de force from the front in the Irish Champion Stakes. For a while I thought he was fulfilling pace maker duties, but from 2 furlongs out he powered up again and stormed further clear. marvellous. Braveheart Move very nearly fulfilled that Jonjo scam in the staying handicap at Haydock. A place return was all I had to show for his game run. Laaheb’s performance was a joy to behold though. Not least for number one daughter and her friend. Peeking round the door of the living room, she said, “Watch my Dad when he’s cheering his horses on!”. They proceeded to roll around the floor in unconfined mirth at my histrionics in front of the telly. “Go on Laaheb. Go-on. Go go go go. Watch them two on the inside. No the other two! That’s it. Hang on, on, on. Yes Yeeees. Yesyesyes. Hahaha!!” Quite restrained I thought.

0301 33091 – maybe it’s the number for Dynarod. The drain’s not fixed….

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Telly addict

Decent racing on the box today. Time for a couple of bets. I’ve got one of those delicious Saturdays with nothing specific planned. That is, except to unblock the drain in our back yard - again - that is causing a persistent and unwelcome backlog.

It seems a while since I had a Saturday like this. Summer weekends are busy and packed with competing priorities. But school reopens on Monday, so a chilled weekend is overdue that will involve the girls finding that none of their school uniform fits, Mrs A cajoling some violin practice out of them and me sampling the top notch action from Haydock, Leopardstown, Kempton and Thirsk on the quiet.  Will I be rumbled?

  •             2pm, Haydock: Tricky, trappy conditions race over a mile. Eight runners with mixed form, some of whom have been round the block more than once, none of whom can be ruled out absolutely. Nightmare for punters really. But this is Saturday afternoon’s TV coverage opener, so let’s see what we can plunder….Awzaan has the best form on offer and likely to be favourite back from injury after a sparkling 2yo campaign and a run in the 2000 guineas. That lay-off worries me. I’ll pitch for Desert Myth from the (currently sluggish, admittedly) Stoute yard at something around 9/2. He has a progressive profile, ran very well over this trip at Goodwood last time out and is unencumbered by penalties. Come on the myth!

  •            2.15pm, Kempton: Bloody all weather. I don’t usually getting involved on account of fodder dished up on this surface being lower than a snake’s belly. So today’s fixture is a welcome surprise, kicking off with this Group 3. It’s a 2-year-old race. By this stage of the season there’s usually better form clues on offer than when these babies are debuting in the Spring. But even so, I don’t concentrate on the 2yos much. Should really leave this one alone too and play to my strengths instead. Will I? No. I’ve seen two of this run. Hooray has the best form, winning the Lowther at York last month. But I was very taken with the way Signs in the Sand won a soft ground maiden at Newmarket. This is a massive step up and although the 9/4 is a bit skinny, I’ll go with what I’ve seen.

  •           2.30pm, Haydock: Oh Lordy! A 17 runner sprint handicap! I need my mate Bacchy to tell me about draw advantages, track conditions and running styles here. He’s a successful sprint specialist. I’m an unsuccessful generalist specialist. OK, let’s look. A few non-runners – that helps. Hmm, they’ve all got bits and pieces of form though. This is horrible. The Racing Post sheds no light. The phrases ‘can’t rule out’, ‘has to be respected’ and ‘comes into calculations’ occur about 12 times. The tentative selection is course and distance winner Favourite Girl from the Easterby yard. Solid form before a poor effort over arguably the wrong trip last time out. Let’s hope she rediscovers the front-running winning ways at 14-1 each way.

  •             2.45pm, Kempton: Back to the all-weather for a middle distance group 3 featuring some old friends. Laaheb is a horse I’ve had some success with this year and last. He’s been progressing and arguably his best race was last time out at Newbury when hampered at a slightly longer trip. Today’s conditions should be OK. He’s my boy at 11/4.

  •              2.55pm, Thirsk: By now if I’m win-less, five races in, I’ll be sinking into frustration and numbing despair. I’ll have shouted at the telly a couple of times and the house will be empty, everyone else having recognised the warning signs from about 2.15pm. So George Adamson can reinvigorate our afternoon at 4/1 in the splendid old tradition that is the Hambleton Cup.

  •         3.05, Haydock: Should I still be potless, this 17 runner staying handicap is just the thing to get me back on track. Not. The girls’ violin practice will be kicking in any time here, testing my fracturing nerves. My screams of agony/ecstacy [delete as appropriate] will rise above a scratchy Le Marseillaise duet as Braveheart Move spectacularly lands a typically brazen Jonjo O’Niell plot/sinks without a trace [delete as appropriate] at 14/1 each way.

  •          3.20pm Kempton. Another wide-open impenetrable mile handicap that can propel me out of the bowels of the afternoon. Can you smell the fear? I think it’s the drains backing up again. Getcarter is an old friend who rescued me, Bacchy and Bryn at Salisbury last year. But he’s never won over a mile. Should I pass over him this time? Yes. I am swayed by the track form of Highly Regal who seems to be a specialist under these conditions. I’m on at 12/1. 

  •          3.35pm, Haydock: two absolutely marvellous Grade 1 races to end today’s TV spectacular. At least I can luxuriate in top quality thoroughbred action which will, I fear, merely be the fig leaf to hide my gambling wounds. First up, the Sprint Cup from Haydock. Impossible to see beyond Starstpangledbanner here. He has been a monster in Group 1 6f races this year. Although beaten in the Nunthorpe at York last month over a furlong shorter, he seems head and shoulders above this lot. He’ll be short enough though.

  •          3.45pm Leopardstown: The Irish Champion Stakes, another event with a rich heritage. This renewal features a small but nevertheless glittering roll call of group 1 winners from Britain and Ireland featuring this year’s classic crop and champion older horses. Rip Van Winkle sets a high standard, beating Twice Over in a thriller at York last month. Those two will run their races, but I’ll oppose them with the longer priced Cape Blanco who looks the real deal when putting his best put forward (the Curragh, York), but is also capable of some underwhelming efforts (Chantilly). 13/2 is enough to persuade me that the real Blanco turns up today.
OK, back to the drains…..