Thursday, 29 November 2012

Tattoos, vinyl and psychobilly

This blog post by a photographer Mrs A has come across in her music business dealings made me laugh out loud. Reminding me of my troubled and haphazard route to Wilko Johnson’s book signing this Summer. I think I’ve found a kindred spirit. So cue a non-racing post.

I’m thoroughly enjoying reviewing a few gigs and CDs for my mate’s music website. On Friday I went to see Viva Le Pink in Camden. I hooked up with my old mate and music biz veteran, Cookie and we sought out The Black Heart boozer round the corner from the World’s End. I thought I’d been in most of the drinking dens and music venues in Camden. But not this place. It was a revelation. Neon crucifixes and warped posters adorn the walls and there are more tattoos in your face than on a trip to Southend. And not the LOVE/HATE knuckle jobs either. These were full sleeve fantasy depictions, swirling Celtic images and complicated rose and thorn creations. There was even a stout on tap called Camden Ink.

The place was heaving. We fought our way to the venue upstairs, squeezing between (and sometimes over) sweaty bodies, to arrive mid set for the support act Ruckus dishing out a fearsome punk/rockabilly growl that could only have been the product of a Stray Cats/Misfits one night stand. We hung around long enough to get signed in on the guest list. “We’re on Viva Le Pink’s guest list”, I grinned at the bruising bouncer on the door. He dismissively pointed me to a table on the right. I could see Missy Le Pink, leader of the band we had come to see, sat behind the table, leopard print coat covering up her stage attire. I tried again. “We’re on the guest list”, I grinned at the bloke minding a cash box and a book of raffle tickets. In my quiet little world this is the only time I get to feel like I’ve got some status. I’m special, important, a VIP: I’m on the guest list. Usually, it’s only because I’m Mrs A’s ‘plus 1’. Not this time though. I was there in my own right and I had my own plus 1.

Missy looked over at me and nodded when she heard the words ‘guest list’. The puffed up moment of self importance was very quickly popped. Raffle ticket man pulled out a scrappy piece of paper that looked like second hand bog roll. There were a few blotchy, indecipherable marks splattered across it. He flipped the paper over, looked a bit blank, shrugged his shoulders at us and scribbled an ‘x’ in red felt tip on the backs of our hands. No red carpet tonight then.  

After a pint downstairs, we came back for the end of the ‘Rockin Raffle’. Viva Le Pink had promoted this debut show themselves. This included sponsorship by Missy’s own tattoo lotion business. It seemed at first that every prize in the raffle was a bottle of the said lotion, though I did see a few t-shirts and other merchandise being passed around. 

If the raffle was a good idea, then the pole dancing routine was a stroke of genius. This may surprise many readers, but I’ve never seen a pole dancing routine up close and personal before.

The dancer in question was tiny, lithe, sinuous and 60% tattoo covered. Apparently, pole dancing has been shedding its sleazy, strip joint reputation over the last ten years and is now seen in some of the most respectable gyms and dance clubs. There is undoubtedly an erotic element to the pole dancing experience, but I was more impressed with the athleticism, balance, control, poise and all round strength of the performance. I had barely begun to ponder these conundrums and debate their finer points with Cookie when the band hit the stage. We were treated to a slap of fully charged psychobilly with trolley loads of energy and a good few original tunes chucked into the covers mix. Here's the official review. If the invention and effort of tonight's showcase is anything to judge by, they will go far.

Before the gig, I'd met Cookie in the Euston Tap, a reasonably new boozer shoehorned into one of the two Victorian lodges that flank the former Euston Grove in front of the station. The lodges used to usher horse-drawn traffic through under the iconic and lamented Euston Arch and onto the platforms. I can feel a historical footnote coming on…*

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get here. It’s a cracking pub. Eight regularly changed cask ales on offer together with and a further 16 on keg and a plenty of speciality bottled beers. The adjacent remaining lodge is now ‘The Cider Tap’.

Cookie is a legend at EMI. He's worked there for the thick end of 35 years and has seen it all. He had brought along a copy of ‘Now 82’ for my girls and described working on the very first ‘Now That's What I Call Music’ eons ago. One of Cookies chores at the time was to obtain the permissions from Danish Bacon to use the image of the pig that adorned the first few album covers. What a sexy industry.

Mrs A worked on that first collection too. As it happens, we pulled out three boxes of vinyl from the loft only last weekend to fuel a night of sad musical nostalgia with some friends.  One of the boxes revealed the first six ‘Now’ double albums nestling between a limited edition Metallica 12 inch box set and Bowie's ‘Absolute Beginners (extended version)’. That’s neither alphabetical, not chronological. Who filed them is what I want to know.

It was a cracking night. But the boxes will go back into the loft now and instead I’ll haul out, using an ‘A’ frame and a small electric winch, six boxes and four bags of Christmas decorations. *groan*. Still. At least there is Newbury's Hennessy meeting to get me through the weekend.

* Euston Arch, a widely revered symbol of the railway age was ripped down in a shameless act of architectural vandalism in the 1960s when such treasures were less well respected than now. The demolition was part of the station redevelopment that resulted in a larger “dingy, grey, horizontal nothingness" of a structure. This I can attest to on the basis of 15 years of commuting through this grim, soulless wind tunnel. The two lodges just off Euston Road are all that remain of the original station. Eminent historian Dan Cruickshank spent 15 years locating the stones of the arch. He found that they had reached an ignominious end as in-fill for an off-shoot of the River Lea in the East End. He now heads a campaign to have the Doric arch rebuilt as part of the next generation of proposals to revamp Euston Station. More power to him.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Open Closure

Last weekend’s racing at Cheltenham lived up to the billing. And, as usual, it shook up the embryonic Festival markets too.

Dynaste, fulfilling all my anticipation for the Steel Plate and Sections Novice Chase, looked like a classy recruit to the division. He looked full of running when comfortably taking the scalp of Fingal Bay. It’s arguable that Fingal Bay’s form can have holes picked in it. His best win came at Sandown at the Tingle Creek meeting where the form is artificially enhanced because of the subsequent exploits of Simonsig, though at the time was pretty green. Nevertheless, it is encouraging the way that Dynaste travelled, jumped smartly and was clever at a few fences when awkward. Three miles should not be a problem. David Pipe could have a couple to choose from in the staying novice chase division. Our Father could hardly have been more impressive in disposing of two-time chase winner Sire Collonges on his fencing debut. But the one question mark here is what Our Father can do on better ground. All the evidence is that a deep surface is required to see him at his best. This was heavy ground in all but name – the winning time was 42 seconds outside standard.

In fact the most disappointing aspect of Saturday was the failure – yet again – of Simon Claisse to give the punting public a fair crack of the whip. Declaring the ground soft (good to soft in places) after significant overnight rain was shown to be very wrong just a few minutes after 12.45 when mud-spattered potential Triumph Hurdle candidates staggered over the line as if they had hauled canons through the Somme. After the fourth race, the official going was changed to soft (heavy in places). This after not one more drop of rain had fallen on the course. What had changed? I can see that the turf had become more poached, but why wasn’t it possible to give this going description at 10am?

I got mullered by Claisse once before. The run up to the Festival in 2007 had been extra-ordinarily wet. Trainers and punters alike were predicting heavy going on the first day. However, a quick shuftie at the long-range weather forecast with about a fortnight to go showed plenty of dry weather around. I took a punt on the healthily lengthy odds on good-soft for the official going and spent more time watching the clouds than I did plotting up outrageous Lucky 15s. The weather faired up in run up and the ground had been drying out all week. Nevertheless, on the first morning, Claisse stuck rigidly to his soft ground call. I was dumb-struck.  After horses in the Supreme and Arkle blazed down the track, fairly bouncing off the turf, the description was changed to good to soft everywhere. All too late for my inspired piece of weather based punting. In fact the times in the RP the next morning pointed to ground barely a fraction slower than plain old good going. I chuntered about that for the rest of a moderately successful festival. And I’m still moaning 5 years later.

Going back further, I remember quoting Ferdy Murphy from a Racing Post interview just before the 2004 Festival:
“I have an owner in the pig business and he has a ten-day forecast for the Cheltenham area that predicts showers for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with rain on Tuesday. If that’s right I would be happy. If it isn’t I wouldn’t be.”  
Might as well get Ferdy doing all the going descriptions. They can’t be less amateurish, misleading and inaccurate than the official ones.

Back to Friday. Dodging Bullets ran soundly enough in winning his novice hurdle (and bringing home the second leg of my spawny double after Dynaste earlier) where no-one wanted to make the pace. The jockeys sat around looking at each other for about 30 seconds after the tapes went up. Ruby had to cut out the running himself and said afterwards that Dodging Bullets was “starting to get there”. Nicholls may run him (the horse, ahem, not Ruby) in the Christmas Hurdle before taking the novice route at the festivals.

Pipe and Nicholls dominated the first two days with four wins each. But it was the latter who took the meeting’s premier race for which the former’s Grand Crus started favourite. Al Ferof clearly revelled in the conditions, but carrying 11st 8lb through a bog demands maximum respect. It was noticeable from early on how well he was travelling in comparison to his final three races last season. Ruby didn’t have to niggle or cajole at any point until asking him to make his way home from two out. Walk On chased him hard and comes out of the race with an enhanced reputation. Nadiya La Vega was a long way behind in third, but hung on to land me a scratching of place money. Grand Crus was disappointing. A lost shoe does not fully explain the performance. The subsequent news from the Pipe camp is that that he may have a “cauterising procedure”, known as a wind op to me and you, to rectify what seems to be a breathing problem. This is something, it has to be said, that John Francome picked up on the day when remarking on the way the horse held his head. I’ve come to realise what many others have probably known for a long time, that Johnny is by far the best judge on Channel 4 of a horse’s demeanour, appearance and well-being.

Sunday’s card suffered from multiple going-related withdrawals, including Sprinter Sacre who is being saved for the Tingle Creek now. Good. I’m going. In his absence here, the race was a strange affair. Wishfull Thinking who has a great engine, managed his first win in 18 months again after some bad mistakes and even worse riding decisions from the hapless Dickie Johnson in too many races last season. He clobbered plenty here too, but Doeslessthanme – one of the many horses to have improved by stones since being released from the dead-hand training of Howard Johnson – could not concede weight. He might be interesting on better going.

Captain Conan just about lived up to his promise in the Arkle trial. This wasn’t spectacular, but questions about his resolution were answered, at least on this very soft going, by the way he stayed on up the hill from the improving Sire De Grugy. The very pick of CCs best form is when there is plenty of give underfoot. I like Sire De Grugy a lot and he’ll win races, but most likely at a notch below this level. He takes is racing well and is also best on soft. 

Olofi hadn’t won in almost three years before taking the feature handicap hurdle. But there have been plenty of near misses and Tom George reckons he’s had more bad luck than most. So this win isn’t begrudged. Cash And Go interests me. I backed him in the Deloitte in February when he found nothing off the bridle and was later found to be lame (in the same race that Captain Conan was well beaten). He returned here, now with Nicky Henderson, with a much more convincing run and likely there’s more to come.

The very decent staying novice hurdle, penultimate race of the meeting, has had a string of winning and placed horses go on to Festival glory, including a couple of my old chums Black Jack Ketchum and Nenuphar Collonges. The winner of this year’s renewal Coneygree looks handy, bred by the late John Oaksey and related to Hennessy winner Carruthers.  I’m sure plenty will have also noted the eye-catching hurdles debut of Creepy from Martin Keighley’s yard. He won’t be 25-1 next time out.

As a post script, I was pleased to see another ex-HoJo improver, Back In Focus win well over 2m6f in a novice chase at Punchestown. Whilst unproven on a decent surface, I’m still anticipating big things from this Willie Mullins inmate. Can the juices for the Festival already be cooking? 

The bandwagon moves on to Haydock for the Betfair Chase and lots of Kauto Star nostalgia on Saturday. Here is a good preview from horseracingchat to set the mood - be sure to read the comment from @mulldog.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Power up

A great post here by Horseracingchat delving into the history of the Mackeson Gold Cup. It prompted me mark the start of the Open meeting at Cheltenham meeting with an affectionate reminisce and a preview of my own.

The Paddy Power meeting is usually regarded as the first in the season’s crown jewel festivals, glittering alongside the Hennessy meeting, the King George at Kempton and the Spring Festivals at the top of the pile.

I first became aware of it in the days of Mackeson’s long and fruitful association with the Gold Cup until 1995. The race regularly produced high calibre winners who have won top honours elsewhere. The pick is probably Bradbury Star.

My anticipation of the fixture was ramped up around the turn of the century when, in company with a few of the lads, the Friday of the meeting became a diary date for an afternoon skiving off work, lounging in the Jugged Hare over a few London Prides and dashing round to the Ladbrokes next door, usually leaving insufficient time for Nev to get his complicated combination trifectas down before the tapes went up. “Scuse me mate, can you watch our pints”, would be the shout as we hurtled through the engraved swing door, only to see some amateur jockey flailing away like a lion tamer after misjudging the grind of the hill up to the finish and getting caught by something out of the pack. (Like in 2001 when Samuel Wilderspin buried my wedge when catching an almost stationary Guns N Roses in the last 50 yards, despite his young jockey’s fervent urgings. Yes, the pain is still palpable. Sometimes the losers are more memorable than the winners).

The card on the first day has seen an overhaul and that amateur jockey’s race is  no longer the opener. The day is known in our circles as Latalomne Friday after Bacchy confidently pro-punted Brian Ellison’s horse in the 2m handicap chase in 2001 and smashed in to fancy prices for the Champion Chase at the same time. Latalomne coasted home that Friday and ran an absolute blinder in the Champion Chase. He came down at the infamous second last with the race at his mercy. TV images of jockey Vinnie Keane punching the turf in despair are only marginally more memorable than Bacchy’s haunted, ashen face next to me in the Grandstand.  We coined the term feeling flatalomne in the aftermath, but those words don’t really do the moment justice.

The other decent race on Latalomne Friday is the 3m novice chase. Denman and Imperial Commander have won this en route to big things. But on too many occasions I have taken this race as too literal a barometer for the RSA at the Festival. Martin Pipe, who turned this fixture into a Pond House benefit for so many seasons, sent out Standin Obligation to dazzle back in 2006. In the boozer afterward, Bacchy and I were mulling the performance and attempting to be as rational as possible. But we were both clearly very impressed with what we had seen. Sinking pints during such discourse does not help logical thought. By the end of the afternoon we had called up William Hill and staked far too much on his RSA chances at far too short a price. He ran dreadfully in his next two races and didn’t even show his long face at the Festival. Poor.

I’m looking forward to seeing Fingal Bay in this year’s renewal, though I think he’s vulnerable. He only does enough and I’m not convinced about how much he does of the bridle. Dynaste could give him a real race and Nicholls looks to have found a useful French recruit in Unioniste. This will be a good race to watch.

In Latalomne’s race, I have Arctic Ben running from the 40 to follow project, which is just about washing its face so far. Arctic Ben has the right profile and likes a scrap, but ideally likes bottomless ground. Nonetheless I’ll have an interest in him here.

Dodging Bullets won here last month in a 4 year-old hurdle. Another 40 to follow horse, he comes here with a great chance, though he’ll be short enough. Tominator will be the big danger. A real moneyspinner for me on the flat this Summer, he took to hurdles with alacrity last month and in the care of Jonjo O’Neill, I can’t wait to see him convert his talent to the jumps.  

The opening day of The Open meeting also sees the opening exchanges in the Tote Ten To Follow competition.  I enter every year with high hopes. The lads have a side competition (almost inevitably) around this too, with slightly tweaked transfer rules. My chase-heavy, bonus-targeted  stable this term is:  Finian’s Rainbow (King George, Ryanair), Silviniaco Conti (King George, Gold Cup), Simonsig (Arkle, Jewson, er, Champion Hurdle?), Sprinter Sacre (Champion Chase), Big Buck’s (World Hurdle), Zarkander (International, Champion Hurdle), Hurricane Fly (Irish Champion Hurdle, Champion Hurdle), Flemenstar (Irish Hennessy, Ryanair, Gold Cup), Grand Crus (Paddy Power, Hennessy, Ryaniar), Bob’s Worth (Hennessy, Gold Cup). In the bag isn’t it?

I tend to have better results at the main event on Saturday than on the opening day. The Paddy Power is one of my most successful big handicaps. Cyfor Malta, Celestial Gold, Tranquil Sea and L’Antartique have been high points. Celestial Gold was a particularly sweet moment to savour back in 2004. It came at the start of a crazy tipster offer I’d put up at our girl's primary school promises auction. The offer was a simple £2 bet at my expense based on my selections every day for a month, starting with the Paddy Power Gold Cup. The lucky bidder got to keep any profit on selections. Unfortunately, the lucky bidder in question got carried lashed at the auction and bid all the way up to £140 for the service. Needless to say I didn’t win all his money back! But Celestial Gold at 12-1 was a cracking way to start and briefly allowed me to dream.  I vividly remember dancing round the living room, flushed of face and jibbery, as he extended up the hill.

The 2012 renewal looks hot with a string of current and potential Grade 1 performers. Grand Crus will love the trip and has plenty of class, but is a skinny price and he’s got it all to do off 11st 6lb. Hunt Ball is fascinating perched on the same weight. Keiran Burke’s rags to riches charge last year was only found out in the Grade 1 Betfair Bowl and surely will have improved since. His exuberant racing style is only matched by his owner’s e enthusiasm. Expect to see the horse campaigned in every staying chase between now and Punchestown in April. There are a couple here with reputations, if not quite as tarnished as Newsnight’s, then at least lacking in lustre: Al Ferof off 11-8 has something to prove and Quantitaveasing has failed twice after a clear cut and promising success here a year ago.

One I like at double figure prices is another Henderson inmate, Nadiya De La Vega. Her win here last month reads well. Maybe she lacks for a little consistency but the pick of her form gives her a shout here and she’s one I liked in novice chases last season.  This is a great race though, with so many live chances and a plot more complicated than Abu Qatada’s extradition case.

The supporting card is shaping up nicely too. If Problema Tic lines up in the three-mile chase earlier, I’ll be on him and the three mile handicap hurdle looks to be hot too.

Sunday’s highlight has traditionally been the Greatwood Hurdle, rechristened the Racing Post Hurdle this year. It’s history is studded with winners who have achieved high rank: Sizing Europe, Rooster Booster, Detroit City for starters. Hard to know if there’s a star in the field this season. But half an hour earlier, we see the seasonal debut of one who burns with searing intensity. Sprinter Sacre will be unbackably short in the Schloer Chase, but his reappearance is one to set the pulses racing.

A meeting with a rich history. And plenty to look forward to this weekend.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Something for the weekend?

For sheer diversity, quality and globalism, the racing calendar rarely gets better than this Saturday. Races from Britain, Ireland and the States encompassing hurdles, chases and the flat are run on both turf and dirt and include 21 listed and graded races, bulked out by nine straight Grade 1s at the Breeder’s Cup.

The prize money on offer at Santa Anita’s is, of course, staggering. The two-day meeting claims to be the single richest sporting event in the world with well over $25 million on offer to lucky connections. The Classic (on current lists, the third richest race in the world after the Dubai World Cup and the Arc) and Turf pay out over $3m each to the winner. Hell, even Bo Derek likes it! “The fastest horses in the world will be coming to Santa Anita to compete in the Breeders' Cup in November. It's the richest, most exciting event each year and makes most other sporting events look, well, quaint.” So there you have it.

But at my shivering core I remain a solid jumps man. Sorry Bo. So let’s start the previews in quaint and homely West Yorkshire.

12.35. A lunchtime start is needed to squeeze in this good seven-event card. This is an excellent race to kick off the action. I only hope enough people get down the A64 and past the queuing Saturday shoppers to see Overturn’s debut over fences. This won’t be a betting proposition as McCain’s stable star (although there are others who could rightly claim that mantle) will be unbackably short. The race will be all about how well this extra-ordinarily talented, gutsy and versatile gelding takes to fences. Ulysse Collonges brings some reasonable French chase form on heavy ground to his British debut, and is most likely to pick up any pieces should Overturn fragment.

1.40. I backed Our Island to distraction last season, on each occasion being convinced that there as enough latent talent, particularly in testing conditions over long trips, for him to get his head in front. Sadly this didn’t happen until last month, when I let him go off an unbacked favourite in a little event at Kelso. He didn’t beat that much there and I refuse to revert to losing ways with him in this better class race off top weight. Fill The Power has an almost identical profile, having been campaigned in similarly lofty races last term. He is discounted for the same reason. Brady may be reinvigorated by a fresh challenge tackling fences for the first time, but is also considered risky after two flops. Preference is for Micro Mission to find improvement for her fencing debut behind Our Island in that Kelso race and assert with a weight advantage.

2.40. A listed mares only hurdle. Une Artiste is a class act and will be looking to assuage her bad behaviour last time at Punchestown where she threw her toys out of the pram. Alasi won this last year, though a weaker renewal. There’s nothing here to suggest she has the beating of Une Artiste. Baby Shine makes more appeal, but at the prices I prefer to side with She Ranks Me around the 7-1 mark. On the book, she has plenty to find with the principles, but the price reflects that and she is 40 To Follow mare, so it would be churlish to desert her this early in the season.

2.50. One could set one’s watch by the seasonal reappearance of Tidal Bay, Restless Harry and Fair Along in this race. Tidal Bay just needs marathon trips these days, as his tremendous win in the Betfred Gold Cup showed in April. He might not have enough furlongs to warm to his task here, though. The other two are previous winners of this event, but are massively inconsistent. Cape Tribulation had a belting season last year, winning at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals. He is feared here, though has plenty on his plate out of handicap company. However, I am all in with the other market principle, Smad Place (another of my 40TF horses), third in the World Hurdle after an interrupted season, and a contender on the up slope rather than the downturn.

3.25. The archetypal small but select field, suffering, as I’ve said elsewhere, because of the prominence of new kid on the block, the United House Chase at Ascot. I’m playing a value call on Planet Of Sound at 11/2 here. He should like this flattish track and genuine good to soft will be fine. He has class but needs the cards to fall his way to show it. In the Grand National he was absolutely tanking, and was undone by  Dickie Johnson acted like a six-month conditional in gunning him round in front when stamina was always a question. Ridden with a touch more restraint he should be lively in what is a tough race to crack. Time For Rupert showed a return to something like old form in a strangely run Gold Cup and Silviniaco Conti brings high quality, but I’d argue, too highly rated, novice form and will be favourite. Midnight Chase might want a more undulating track, though I like him a lot. Master Of The Hall is a difficult one to weigh up. The best of his form is probably a bit short of what is needed here.

2.35. A big handicap hurdle and one that sees two of my 40TF selections at either end of the weights. I love the attitude of both of them. Raya Star hardly missed a beat last season, only missing the frame in Newbury’s former Tote Trophy from a clutch of top handicaps. I had expected Alan King’s charge to go chasing. Another handicap, now off top weight, looks tough. Il De Re, on the other hand, is absolutely hurled in on the basis of his flat form (Chester Cup and Northumberland Plate winner and not disgraced on Champions Day last month). 3-1 looks skinny though. I don’t fancy either of their prices. There are plenty here at bigger odds with strong claims. But with two 40TF entries I can’t duck out. Maybe a low stakes combi-exacta with Jonjo’s It’s A Gimme who looks primed for this.

3.10. Another very decent 3 mile chase and a competitive field. Two Nicholls’ horses head the weights, but Poquelin can’t be fancied off 11st 12lb. His recent form doesn’t stack up to that much and I’m happy to discount. Join Together has more chance. Early season form last year would have put him bang there, but a shocker in the RSA and a poor effort behind Silviano Conti at Aintree mean there are question marks. Duke of Lucca is interesting. Frustrating over hurdles, he seems to be delivering on his potential over fences, and is learning his trade well. He’s one for the short list. But I’ll stick with 40TF entry Alfie Spinner. After being set too many tough tasks against top drawer novices last season, here he has a chance, though (just) out of the handicap and ideally preferring softer ground, he’s much better than he showed last year. At 7/ or 8/1, I’ll play.

Down Royal
2.25. The day’s third high class 3m chase, a Grade 1 and Down Royal’s best race of the year. Sizing Europe has already augmented his splendid record this season by emphatically claiming a Grade 2 2m chase at Gowran. With 11 chase wins, he is the absolute class act in this field. But he’s been beaten in this race twice and 3 miles clearly isn’t his ideal trip. First Lieutenant will be much nearer to him than at Gowran where he looked very undercooked. There are a few here with questions to answer: Joncol, Kauto Stone, Quito De La Roque. I’m prepared to give Realt Dubh a shout at 7-1. Still lightly raced, he will have some improvement in him. This Noel Meade charge ran Sizing Europe to 2 lengths at Punchestown over an inadequate two miles in April, and has looked like he needs a trip for some time now.

Santa Anita
10.18. Though the card is star-packed and the quality undoubted, there is in truth very little here for me. I was more lively on the punting front when the Filly & Mare Turf and the Marathon were run on the Saturday. Their switch to the Friday a couple of years ago has diluted my interest here. It will be a great spectacle and I’ll enjoy the coverage. But I don’t do the juveniles, I don’t do the dirt and I know nothing about the American runners. I have no angles on any of that form. So, with a staggering leap of logic, I’ll only get involved in the Turf. St Nicholas Abbey is priced up with UK bookies to be favourite. I can see why: won this last year and has top quality form on firm going. On the other hand (there’s always one of those…), his form is a notch below the level of last year. His only win this season was in a weak Coronation Cup renewal. I like Shareta. Good overall standard of form before coming unstuck in the Arc (like St Nicholas Abbey). Always a risk that a race like that leaves its mark, but I’m a sucker for the fillies and I’ll take her prominent style of racing against Point Of Entry for the home team who seems to have an impeccable record this year. 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Transition Time

There’s a vomiting pumpkin on the doorstep and there are seven teenagers in the living room disguised variously as Freddie Kreugers, Ozzy Osbournes and L’il Devils screaming their hearts out to Psycho and The Hole.

If it’s Halloween then its time for the final reckoning on the Summer’s side project, Twenty to Follow on the Flat. Unlike this evening’s festivities, I’m keen to keep this low key. After success over the winter jumps and a bountiful return on the flat last year, it is with some pain and a meek voice that I report a return to the red. The 20 horses yielded a mere 14 wins from 74 runs (18.9%) and a desperate £20 loss to an even £1 stake. More grim than the emo-impersonating trick-or-treater that turned up at the door tonight. Even when I analyse real (as oppose to theoretical) staking, the picture hardly improves. By avoiding bets on no-hope runners and odds-on shots, coupled with some more strategic  bets on better value prospects, I still returned a -4.5 point loss.

In truth, this project has been a damp squib all round: the weather and the non-appearers combined with some woeful selections to deliver a dreary dollop of punting misery. I can only genuinely point to one bright spot in the gloom. Mince has developed into a proper group class 6f performer over the Summer. Her trainer Roger Charlton knows a thing or two about sprinters and coaxed Mince to a streak of four straight wins and a total of 5 victories from 8 runs on all manner of underfoot conditions. A lovely filly. Too many others failed to recapture previous form (like Modun, for instance - yet another horse that bin Suroor has failed with); didn’t build on earlier glimmers of talent (Tawaasul, Thimaar, Born To Sea); or never had any in the first place (Jupiter Storm, Beggars Banquet).

If I’m looking for grains of comfort, I would argue that had the season finished on the last day of August, I would have returned a two point real wedge profit and a level stakes loss of merely £7. But it didn’t. And frankly that would be nothing to boast about. It’s just that the Autumn of this project became a tiny horror show that might rival the movies playing in the room next door. Move along now. Nothing to see here…

This is transition time in horseracing. Not just in terms of the seasons, although this weekend demonstrates that admirably: two very decent fixtures over the jumps in the shape of Wetherby’s two-day Charlie Hall meeting and the Unicoin Gold Cup at Ascot. If, and this is only a slim chance, the action in West Yorkshire and Berkshire is not quite enough to sate the appetite, there’s the small matter of the Breeder’s Cup over in California.

The retirements of Frankel and Kauto Star within a couple of weeks of each other also point to changing times in the game. I may be wrong, but it’s hard to believe we will see horses of their ability, success and popularity again for a very long time. Their departure gives us cause to marvel at their achievements and for the industry’s stakeholders to pray for new ones to take their place.

We had a trip to Yorkshire last weekend, where the most intense debate was about our 40TF jumps competition. Dad and Bruv are much more focused on National Hunt than I am and with the season zipping along nicely we were all a little fazed by the (for me typical) sluggish starts by our respective stables. Of my bunch, Get Me Out Of Here has won nicely in a graded hurdle event and has every chance of further success in what is an open-looking 2- 2½m division. Hidden Cyclone, whilst landing the odds in a decent chase at Naas, looked less convincing in bunny-hopping the last and hanging left.  Others have looked rusty, novicey and have been frustratingly beaten at short odds. I tried to move away from the obvious horses this season, but it’s inevitable that the profiles and bits of form that catch my eye will have done the same for plenty of others, including the odds-compilers.

Dad and Bruv have renewed their Wetherby membership and were looking forward to the Charlie Hall meeting this Friday and Saturday. Always an informative fixture, the track seems to have overcome its problems of a couple of years ago when bone hard ground with poor grass coverage after some A1 alterations had a massive impact on entries and quality of racing. Hopefully that’s all behind them now. The fields for this meeting look generally strong, though the Charlie Hall itself seems to increasingly lose out to the Unicoin Gold Cup at Ascot.  We can anticipate the archetypal ‘small but select’ field.

It wasn’t just the racing banter that was wild on our trip up north. On the A64 (not that far from Wetherby, as it happens) we encountered a spooky October blizzard and later visited a suitably dramatic Whitby Abbey enduring a North Sea gale. Perfect Halloween fodder.